Posts Tagged ‘Mike D’Antoni’

Bazemore hopes to stick with Lakers, learn from Bryant


VIDEO: Kent Bazemore gets loose for a nice dunk against the Kings

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Tiny Kelford, N.C., is a place where kids still play basketball outdoors on patches of dirt. Fortunately for Kent Bazemore, outside the three-bedroom, two-bath, single-wide trailer he grew up in with his mom, dad and younger brother, a concrete slab sat vacant. It was big enough so that if you put up a basketball goal at each end it would suffice quite nicely as a full-length basketball court, and a magnet for kids throughout rural Bertie County.

Thank goodness for that slab because Glynis Bazemore was dead set against her two young boys, Kent and WyKevin, going off to play basketball one block over at the park where they’d be out of her sight.

So she brought the park home.

“I’d have a yard full of guys on a Saturday on up until a Sunday afternoon because, understand you had to go to church,” Glynis said. “After that they would play basketball until the sun went down.”

The single pole with a light bright enough to play through dusk turned the Bazemore home into something of a rustic Rucker Park from the time Kent was an absurdly tall and skinny 10-year-old until he graduated from Bertie High School, a gangly, 6-foot-5 playmaker overlooked by every major Division I program.

“We had one [basketball] goal that went in and then the kids from our neighborhood, we put up some money, gave it to my mom, she drove like 30 minutes away, got us another basket and so we got another one at the other end and we would go at it,” Bazemore told NBA.com during a recent telephone interview.

A Feb. 19 trade has elevated him from a towel-waving bench-warmer with the Golden State Warriors to a productive rotation player with his favorite team as a child, the Los Angeles Lakers.

“It got really popular. Other kids would drive from other parts of the county and kids would take like 25-minute drives, they were bringing their own groups of 4-on-4,” Bazemore said. “We would have tournaments all day. A lot of nights you go home with big scars on your legs, falling on your hip on the cement and you had to play through it, you just kept playing. It’s amazing how I’m able to still walk now going through the things I’ve been through playing in good, old Kelford, North Carolina.”

Childhood dream realized in L.A.

In star-studded L.A., Bazemore, a free-agent-to-be, is getting a golden chance to audition for the Lakers as well as every other NBA club. An exuberant, high-motor, blue-collar gym rat, Bazemore went undrafted in 2012, one year after earning National Defensive Player of the Year honors as a junior at Old Dominion, where he graduated with two degrees ( criminal justice and human services). He wants to stick with the Lakers long term and relishes the possibility to play alongside his favorite childhood player-turned-teammate, Kobe Bryant, regardless of the growing tales of the superstar’s grating, overly demanding ways.

“Shoot, that would be a dream come true, and with the track record he has, the body of work he has, I would be all ears,” Bazemore said. “For a guy who’s been through everything he’s been through, playing half of his life in this league, winning multiple championships, why not listen? If I got to go against him every day, I know I’m not cheating myself, so I would look forward to it. In all honesty, I don’t think he’s that tough to play with. If he demands a lot, he just wants to be great. You can’t really knock that.”

Bazemore’s camp believes if he continues to contribute as he has in his first 10 games, the struggling Lakers, seeking to rebuild their roster and needing inexpensive, athletic players around Bryant next season, will make the $1.1 million qualifying offer this summer. That would make Bazemore, 24, a restricted free agent and allow L.A. to match any team’s offer. With no qualifying offer, Bazemore becomes an unrestricted free agent.

“The Lakers, I think,” said Calvin Moore, Bazemore’s former coach at Bertie High School, “found a diamond just like Old Dominion did.”

In logging nearly 30 minutes a game in coach Mike D’Antoni‘s free-wheeling offense, the southpaw Bazemore is averaging 14.6 ppg on 45.9 percent shooting and 40.4 percent from 3-point range. He’s started eight games and recorded career highs of 15, 17 and 23 points in each of his first three games, the latter coming against Indiana when he went toe-to-toe with Paul George, even frustrating the All-Star into 2-for-11 shooting in the first half of a game the Pacers eventually won. Nonetheless, Bazemore’s presence, and his impressive wing span, were duly noted.

Moore sends many texts to his best and always hardest-working player from what were gritty BHS basketball teams filled mostly with football players. During the Pacers game, he couldn’t stop messaging Bazemore. At halftime, he cautioned Bazemore to be alert for George’s adjustments even though he knew Bazemore wouldn’t see the texts until after the game.

“That’s one of the things from high school: You’re going to play defense, some things are non-negotiable,” Moore said. “He just took it and ran with it and I think he can do the same thing for any team he plays with in the league.”

Bazemore honed craft in Golden State


VIDEO: Kent Bazemore’s passionate support on the bench was a hallmark of his Golden State days

The Golden State Warriors v Dallas Mavericks

Kent Bazemore deeply valued his 2012 Summer League experience.

In 44 games with Golden State this season, Bazemore averaged 6.1 mpg and 2.1 ppg. The Warriors swapped Bazemore’s potential for the need-it-now veteran reliability of point guard Steve Blake. Bazemore said he holds no grudges and praised Golden State’s ownership and management for inviting him onto their Summer League team in 2012 and then signing him to a two-year contract. He thanked the Warriors’ coaching staff, saying “they were all out for my best interests” and blamed himself for the need for a trade by not being ready to assume the backup point guard role.

“Steve Blake is a great fit for them because I’m not your prototypical point guard and we experimented with that,” Bazemore said. “That’s my fault if you ask me. I wasn’t ready to take on that role. They gave me every opportunity to show that.”

Over the last season and a half, Bazemore put in lengthy hours with Warriors assistant coach Joe Boylan. The two formed a partnership and a friendship, and Bazemore said he will reunite with Boylan this summer to train. He wants to work on playing lower with the ball so smaller guards can’t crowd his 6-foot-5 frame. (Boylan couldn’t comment on this story because Warriors coach Mark Jackson does not allow his assistants to speak to the media in-season.)

“The thing with this league is you create relationships far beyond basketball,” Bazemore said. “For me, playing right now, he’s [Boylan] probably the happiest guy on earth. I would turn 45 minute-workouts into 2 ½-hour workouts just trying to make six shots from one spot when I first got to Golden State and he’d be the one chasing down all those rebounds.

“As time went on I got a lot better, the workouts got shorter and there were days where I would breeze through them. But we would always work hard; show up early, leave late.”

Lessons from home still ring true

The foundation of which started with those scrapes and bruises on the cement court, but mostly from the ground rules set by and the constant encouragement from his mom. She worked three jobs for years up until only last month, finally deciding to give up the school-bus route as well as being a short-order cook at her brother-in-law’s restaurant, Bazemore’s Country Kitchen, which Kent swears serves the best food in Bertie county, population 20,000. She still has her job of the last 20 years, though: teacher’s assistant at the local elementary school.

She instilled in Kent and WyKevin, a junior forward and third-leading scorer for Winston-Salem State University, humbleness and accountability, demanding nothing lower than a B in every class or no basketball.

She still texts both boys Bible scriptures and positive notes before every game they play. She still lives in the same house in Kelford where she watches every one of Kent’s games on NBA League Pass, despite many 10:30 p.m. ET tipoffs. Even through all those Warriors games where her son didn’t play, she never went to bed before 1:45 a.m., after Kent would reply to her postgame texts.

“I would text him I love him, you done good,” Glynis said. “I don’t care if he got 24 seconds.”

When the Warriors played at Charlotte, about a four-hour drive from Bertie County, the Bazemores’ church pastor organized a field trip for the Feb. 4 game. They took two buses that included some 40 kids from all over the county. Before they left, Bazemore sent money to his mom so they could all eat along on the way at Golden Corral. At the game, Bazemore signed autographs and took pictures with every person that came on those buses. He got in the game for 1 minute, 58 seconds.

“That’s where he gets his humbleness from because he knows his struggles, he knows what’s got him there and he knows what it takes to stay where he’s at,” Glynis said. “And just looking at him out there now, being with the Lakers, just being able to get that opportunity means a lot. That’s all he wanted was the opportunity, and I know he has put the work in.”

Bazemore’s sudden outburst, combined with his size and upside, will assuredly earn him a contract next season. Whether it’s with L.A. or elsewhere is irrelevant. For Bazemore, it’s the natural extension of what he’s always done: working to beat the odds.

“Coming out of high school I had this big chip on my shoulder,” Bazemore said. “I would drool at the chance to get to play these teams that overlooked me and try to destroy them. But one thing they don’t put on draft boards, one thing they don’t say about kids coming out [of high school] is how hard they work and how successful they want to be.

“That’s one thing you can’t really measure in a kid.”


VIDEO: Kent Bazemore talks after he signed his first contract with the Warriors

Drubbing a long time coming for Lakers


VIDEO: The Clippers hand the Lakers their worst-ever loss

It was humiliating. It was a new low when that didn’t seem possible. It was historical.

It was a matter of time.

In reality, something along the lines of the Lakers’ 142-94 loss to the Clippers on Thursday night had been coming for a long time. For most of the season, actually. The Lakers continuously have tempted fate by running out the kind of lineups they would use in an exhibition game.

Except this one counted. So when the Lakers went with the Kent Bazemore-Wesley Johnson-Pau Gasol-Jodie Meeks-Kendall Marshall look, with Robert Sacre, Ryan Kelly and Jordan Farmar getting the most minutes off the bench, last night — the largest margin of defeat in franchise history — is what happens.

That could be it for actual implications, though. Lakers’ backers who are seething this morning might not want to hear that. Fans of every other team laughing away may not want to believe it. But 142-94, and an 84-point margin of defeat in the last two flailing attempts at the Clippers, does not tell a besieged front office anything it didn’t already know.

There will be major changes to the roster in the summer. Those were coming anyway.

Yes, these are the kinds of losses that get a coach fired. Except, again: Bazemore, Johnson, Gasol, Meeks, Marshall, Sacre, Kelly, Farmar. That crew playing against the surging Clippers, a team challenging for the West’s top spot.

Every indication from management is that coach Mike D’Antoni is safe because an October lineup is no way to judge a coach. The Lakers, in fact, were seen by many to have overachieved in the first quarter of the season while waiting for Kobe Bryant to return from his torn Achilles’ tendon. That backing came with the Lakers headed for their first sub-.500 finish since 2004-05.

Could one game change that support?

That one Thursday night could. But there’s a very good chance that owner  Jim Buss and GM Mitch Kupchak, the men at the top of basketball operations, understand that the same thing would have happened with someone else on the sideline. They know this because the actual worst losses in Lakers history came with the likes of Pat Riley and Phil Jackson as coach.

This was only the worst statistical defeat, after all, not the worst worst. The Memorial Day Massacre in Game 1 of the 1985 Finals was lower, and that made the eventual series win by the Lakers, capped in the same Boston Garden, sweeter. The shame of the Game 4 loss to the Mavericks in the semifinals of the 2011 playoffs, when the Lakers lost their composure and the series, was more embarrassing. There are others.

The greatest Lakers wins can’t come in March. Neither can the most painful losses. It doesn’t work that way around the organization.

For now, there are only words. As Bryant recently told a Los Angeles radio station, Power 106, speaking of the season in general:

“This year, we all know it’s been a real tough year for us, right? So what I’d like everybody to do is to really just sit back and just absorb this year. Take it all in. Sit back and watch and listen and hear all the hate that’s being thrown at us and remember every person that’s kicking you when you’re down, because next year it ain’t gonna be this way.

“Appreciate it now. Let it sit in now, because revenge is sweet and it’s quick.”

Well, at least it’s sweet.


VIDEO: Coach Mike D’Antoni discusses the Lakers’ big loss to the Clippers

Driving Oscar To The Hoop


VIDEO: The Starters pick movie roles for some of the NBA’s biggest stars

It was just last week when LeBron James had to disappoint fans in the basketball and cartoon worlds by shooting down rumors that he was getting ready to star in “Space Jam 2″.

Oh, what heartbreak not to have LeBron and SpongeBob SquarePants go toon-on-toon against Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny to settle the G.O.A.T. debate once and th-th-th-at’s all, folks!

But with the Oscars ready to tip off Sunday night, it occurs to us that there were plenty of movies released in the past year that could use a slam dunking NBA touch:

Monuments Men — Who needs a fourth stone head to construct a Mt. Rushmore in Miami when more than enough in their own granite-hard trio to chase a third consecutive NBA title? Everybody from Indiana to OKC and points all around are trying to steal away with the priceless Larry O’Brien Trophy, but LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are counting not one, not two, not …


VIDEO: LeBron James makes his famous ‘Mt. Rushmore’ comments to Steve Smith

Frozen — After winning the MVP award in 2011, Derrick Rose has the next two seasons of a budding superstar career put on ice with major injuries to both knees. A hopeful city of Chicago that was ready to usher in the post-Jordan championship era has turned cold.

American Hustle — When Rose went down on Nov. 22 and was once again lost for the season, everyone expected his teammates to roll over. They even traded away a big offensive gun in Luol Deng, but producer Tom Thibodeau has done a combover and is pulling off the greatest con since ABSCAM with the Bulls sitting at No. 4 in the East with home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference.

The Lego Movie — First-year general manager Sam Hinkie arrives on the job in Philly and promptly locks himself in his room, where he spends all hours of the day and night trying to fit together dozens of little pieces into something that will one day look like a competitive basketball team. Or a rocketship.

Almost Human — He’s almost tall enough to bump his head on the backboard, but has 3- or even 4-point range from practically anyplace on the court. Not since the menacing Gort touched down in “The Day The Earth Stood Still” has anyone appeared as unstoppable as box-office smash Kevin Durant.


VIDEO: Kevin Durant has simply been on fire in February

Vampire Academy — The front office in Brooklyn hatches a plan for world domination by forming an army around the walking undead creatures of 36-year-old Paul Pierce, 36-year-old Jason Terry and 37-year-old Kevin Garnett. But rather than biting opponents on the neck, they were mostly toothless, ineffective and scared nobody.

Paranormal Activity — It was one to thing leap over a Kia at All-Star weekend and turn every game into a slam dunking highlight reel. But Blake Griffin eventually tired of being typecast and under new director Doc Rivers has worked on his shot, expanded his repertoire and now does unearthly, inexplicable things that nobody thought possible just a couple of years ago.

Dallas Buyers Club — For all the money, all the bombast and all the talk about positioning the Mavericks to be big players in the free-agent market and getting Dirk Nowitzki a superstar playmate after dismantling his 2011 championship, Mavs owner Mark Cuban struck out on Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. Right now, he’s where he used to be: stuck in the sale aisle at Sam’s Club.

Gravity — He’s 35 years old, has played 17 full NBA seasons, has more miles on his odometer than a hand-me-down pickup truck and is trying to come back from a torn Achilles tendon and a fractured knee. Yet, 16-time All-Star Kobe Bryant simply won’t acknowledge what Isaac Newton learned sitting under the apple tree — what goes up, must come down.


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks during the All-Star Game about being a spectator this season

Philomena — When the losingest, ugliest, most painful season in modern team history finally and mercifully limps to the end, executive VP of player personnel Jim Buss fires Mike D’Antoni and at a star-studded Hollywood news conference. Buss then introduces a 68-year-old Irish widow with a vaguely reminiscent limp, wearing a gray wig and with a familiar twinkle in “her” eye and says Phil-omena is back to put everything right with the Lakers.

I, Frankenstein — Team president Larry Bird wasn’t happy enough with having the best record and the most fearsome, downright scary defense in the league that was sewn together with Paul George, Roy Hibbert, David West and Lance Stephenson. He performs more surgery in his lab by adding Evan Turner to bolster his Pacers bench and now thinks he’s ready to take down that other monster: the Miami Heat.

The Nut Job — Everybody in the world thought Dwight Howard was out of his mind for the way he slow-walked his ugly departure from Orlando and then bolted out the door of the royal Lakers, leaving $30 million on the table. But who’s crazy now as Howard rides tandem with James Harden and has the Rockets looking like one tough nut to crack in the playoffs?

Despicable Me — As if he hadn’t done enough already to polish his reputation as someone who cannot be trusted as the cornerstone of a franchise and leader to take the Kings back to the playoffs, DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t even bother to get one of his minions to slug Patrick Beverley in the stomach and just does it himself, earning a fine and one-game suspension.

Endless Love — Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager team up for a buddy movie where they criss-cross the country in an old VW bus, stopping at thrift shops to buy old horse blankets and bedsheets while exchanging long hopeful questions and grumpy one-word answers.


VIDEO: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has some good-natured fun with Craig Sager

The Wolf Of Wall Street — He bats his eyes at the Lakers. He flirts with the Bulls. He head fakes in the direction of any other would-be suitor that will glance his direction and then, Carmelo Anthony decides he’s got the world on a string living the high life … and hungrily signs on for a repeat performance of his lone wolf act. Then, the reviewers in the New York media give him a standing ovation and immediately declare the Knicks contenders.

Pompeii — After Isiah Thomas and Jerome James and Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton and Andrea Bargnani, a massive volcanic eruption like the one that came from Vesuvius in 79 A.D. hits Madison Square Garden. The past is finally buried under a blanket of lava, giving away at last to a new beginning.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 12


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Motivated LeBron backs up Rushmore talk | Latest loss strikes a nerve with Lakers | Bennett’s big night lifts Cavs | No comeback for Rose, Noah problem for Bulls

No. 1: Fired up LeBron fuels Mount Rushmore talk himself – Agree or disagree all you want with LeBron James and his assertion that he’ll be on the NBA’s Mount Rushmore when his career ends, you have to like what all of the chatter is doing for his game and the Heat’s season. The Heat might not be on their way to another 27-game win streak, but James has found the motivation needed to overcome the rough patches of this season. LeBron is feeling his words right about now, Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com writes, he’s walking the walk and backing up all of his own talk:

James’ seasonal slogan might just as well be what he said Tuesday, “I’m feeling good right now.”

He has the occasional frustration with a wayward loss, such as over the past weekend in Utah when he played a dud game. He’ll get a little irked when it’s mentioned that Kevin Durant may have closed the gap on him for best player on the planet status. But, generally, James has been skipping on air since he stood on top of the podium after Game 7 in Miami last June holding both gold trophies with that “what can you say now” grin across his face.

The mindset will eventually be challenged but not for awhile. Until then, James will be feeling quite good about himself.

That was at the root of why he was willing to declare in a recent interview with NBA TV that, “I’m going to be one of the top four that’s ever played this game, for sure. And if they don’t want me to have one of those top four spots, they’d better find another spot on that mountain. Somebody’s gotta get bumped.”

When James listed what he felt was the current NBA Mount Rushmore, he named Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Oscar Robertson. It is hard to decide which would create more conversation, James’ statement or his choices of the peer group.

Feeling so good about himself and put at ease by interviewer Steve Smith, James continued by claiming that he’d been cheated in the NBA Defensive Player of the Year voting the past two years.

“To be honest, I feel I’ve been snubbed two years in a row [on the award], and I’m serious,” James said. “And that’s one selfish thing about me … I feel like I should have won it.”

Yes, that is James insisting that he’s not getting enough credit for something. He’s just letting it all go. In the golden era of his career, he clearly figures, why shouldn’t he? He fears no reprisal and, at least now, isn’t too worried about any opponent.

“We’ll play anybody, it doesn’t matter,” James said as he was basking in the win. “It doesn’t matter who it is. We’re not running from anyone.”



VIDEO: LeBron James talks Mount Rushmore with Steve Smith

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No. 2: Latest loss strikes a nerve with Lakers – Steve Nash exiting a second straight game with a nerve issue is problem enough for the Los Angeles Lakers. But dropping yet another game on their home floor is perhaps even more troubling for the Lakers, a team quickly falling down the rabbit hole of this season. Tuesday night’s loss to the Utah Jazz marks the Lakers’ sixth straight home loss at Staples Center, once a fortress of solitude for the team … but no more. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times explains just how severely off track things are for Kobe Bryant‘s crew:

Home bitter home.

The Lakers used to consider Staples Center a haven of victories, a bedrock of five championship runs since the building opened in 1999.

Now they might as well play at a local park.

They lost to the lowly Utah Jazz on Tuesday, 96-79, falling to 8-15 at home and losing six consecutive games at home for the first time since 1992-93.

It’s the cherry on top of several scoops of problems.

Steve Nash left the game for good at halftime, felled again by the same nerve irritation in his back that sidelined him almost three months.

The nerve damage starts in the back and presents itself in his hamstring, making it feel as if it’s strained or pulled.

Whatever euphoria he felt last Friday — 19 points and five assists against Philadelphia on his 40th birthday — was almost absent after Tuesday’s game, though he tried to be upbeat.

“I think I need a little more time to get over the hump,” he told The Times.

He considered sitting out before tipoff but knew the Lakers were short-handed without six injured players.

Nash didn’t look quite right while he played, totaling two points and two assists in 17 minutes. He made one of four shots in his 10th game this season.

The Lakers are shrugging. They don’t know exactly what to do.

“I imagine it’s day to day. I don’t know anything else,” Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said of Nash’s status. “I haven’t really talked to him.”

Nash’s injury dented some mild excitement the Lakers felt before the game. They were expecting five of their six injured players back shortly after this weekend’s All-Star break.

The lone lingering one, though, was Kobe Bryant, who might be the last Lakers player to return, according to a person familiar with the situation.

He continues to have swelling and pain in his fractured left knee and figures to trail Pau GasolJordan FarmarJodie Meeks and maybe even Xavier Henry in getting back to the court.

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No. 3: A breakout night for rookie Bennett lifts Cavaliers – It’s taken a while, months basically, but Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Anthony Bennett has finally decided to join the party. Bennett, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 Draft had his breakout game in a win over the Sacramento Kings Tuesday night in Cleveland. It was a much-needed breakthrough for Bennett, whose season has been anything but spectacular up to this point. While Michael Carter-Williams, Trey Burke and Victor Oladipo have all moved past him in the Rookie of the Year race, Bennett is doing well to just ease his way into the public consciousness right now. Mary Schmitt Boyer of the Plain Dealer explains:

Rookie Anthony Bennett drilled a 3-pointer and threw his arms up into the air to celebrate late in the Cavaliers 109-99 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night at The Q.

“I was just having fun,” said Bennett, who registered his first double-double with career highs of 19 points and 10 rebounds in 29:45 as the Cavs avenged a 124-80 loss in Sacramento on Jan. 12 and improved to 19-33, winning three in a row for the first time since Dec. 7-13.

When was the last time he had fun on the basketball court?

“I don’t remember,” Bennett said. “Today?”

The timing was bittersweet as Bennett, whose selection as the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft has been widely criticized, and his slow start undoubtedly contributed to the firing of general manager Chris Grant last week.

“I’m sure Chris Grant is smiling at home, and deservedly so,” said Sacramento coach — and former Cavs assistant under Mike BrownMike Malone, whose team dropped to 17-35.

Bennett, who had shoulder surgery before the draft last summer and was unable to participate in summer league, has been coming early to practice and staying late, working to regain the form that made him a star last season at UNLV.

His teammates celebrated with him after Tuesday’s breakout game.

“He played a heck of a game tonight,” Kyrie Irving said. “It was awesome. I was a fan.”

Added Luol Deng, who led the Cavs with 22 points, “He’s going to get it. These kind of games are going to come more often.”

***

No. 4: No return for Rose this season, Noah problem for the Bulls? – Hoops fans in Chicago have played this game before and lost, so there is no reason to dive in again this time. Derrick Rose, no matter how many times he hits the floor to shoot before the Bulls play, is not coming back this season. It is NOT happening … right? But if All-Star center Joakim Noah has his way, the dream of a Rose return is still alive. That said, if Noah keeps up his current ways (a triple-double Tuesday night in a win over the visiting Atlanta Hawks), it’ll be much easier for Bulls fans to stomach another season without Rose in uniform. Joe Cowley of the Sun Times delivers the details:

The door was closed — slammed shut months ago by Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau when he said Derrick Rose was lost for the season after tearing his right meniscus Nov. 22 and undergoing surgery.

On Tuesday, center Joakim Noah wedged his size 18 foot into that door, keeping the dream alive for a small minority that believes in unicorns, dragons and quick Rose recoveries.

Asked if he thought Rose could play this postseason, Noah said, ‘‘That’s not my decision. That’s nobody’s decision. It’s all about how he feels. Regardless of what happens, we’re going to be supportive.’’

It went by many different names last year: ‘‘The Return,’’ the Rose watch, the story that wouldn’t die. But in the end, the Bulls never ruled Rose out for the season in his recovery from a torn left anterior cruciate ligament, so hope stayed alive until the final minutes of a Game 5 loss to the Miami Heat in the second round of the playoffs.

The consensus on ‘‘The Return II’’ has been that there wouldn’t be one. But Noah’s comments came on the same day Rose was going through shooting drills with reporters watching, and the story gained legs again — little ones.

‘‘He’s working really hard,’’ Noah said. ‘‘He’s always around the team, being a great leader, showing support to his teammates. Just watching him work every day, I think, is extra motivation for us to go out there and go harder.

‘‘He’s doing a lot more than shooting around. He’s in the gym nonstop, just working on his body getting better. That’s what it’s all about. He’s a big part of this team. He has that mentality of having no regrets. Just give it everything you got. If you can go, you can go. If you can’t, you did everything you could to make it.’’

Thibodeau said Rose was running on the treadmill, but when asked if that was a new development, he quickly said no.

‘‘Still nowhere close to practicing or anything like that,’’ he said, ‘‘but he’s doing well overall.’’


VIDEO: The Fan Night Top 10 delivers a dazzling array of highlights for your viewing pleasure

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Charlotte Bobcats, following the lead of the Phoenix Suns, are simply playing too well to tank … Portland forward Nic Batum can’t fight it anymore, gives up the kudos to Kevin Durant as the best (one-on-one player in the league) … The streak continues for Kyle Korver, thanks to his work in his old stomping grounds … The Miami Heat’s core group is doing the heavy lifting right now and might have to the rest of this season

ICYMI of the Night: NBA TV’s Steve Smith dives deep with LeBron James in this exclusive interview, and yes, there’s more to the interview than the Mount Rushmore talk …


VIDEO: LeBron James talks about what motivates him with NBA TV’s Steve Smith

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 10


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pistons’ Gores has more decisions ahead | Clippers soar in Paul’s return | World Peace has advice for Smart | No change in Kobe’s plans; another setback for Nash

No. 1: Pistons owner Gores has more work to do fix Motor City mess Tom Gores took the first step in attempting to fix the mess that is the Detroit Pistons by firing his head coach, Maurice Cheeks. That’s only the beginning of the heavy lifting he’ll have to do to fix what ails the once-proud Pistons, according to Terry Foster of the Detroit News., who reiterates what our Steve Aschburner said in the immediate aftermath of Cheeks being fired. And the list is long and starts with Pistons president Joe Dumars and includes several players who should all be in the crosshairs for a franchise that expected so much more from this season:

Gores owns this shipwreck and he probably doesn’t know what to do with it. Let me give him some advice:

He’s already issued his playoff-or-else edict for the season and can’t back down now. However, he can’t ignore long-term goals — that should be his most pressing concern.

Rodney Stuckey, Greg Monroe and Charlie Villanueva have been dangled as trade bait. The Pistons could go one of two ways. They could trade these pieces and try to get a small forward that could help them win now. Or they could trade these guys to free up cap space and retain their draft pick by slumping to one of the eight worst records in the league.

Option No. 2 means the Pistons would miss the playoffs for a fifth straight season. I am OK with that as long as they have one of the league’s eight-worst records so they can keep their pick in this talent-heavy draft.

The Pistons are a half-game behind Charlotte for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The last time the Pistons made the playoffs as an eight seed was 2009. They were swept by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

How did that experience work out? The Pistons are 132-226 since.

The Pistons likely would play the Pacers as an eight seed or the two-time defending champion Heat as a seventh seed. Both teams would sweep the Pistons. So what is the point?

The Pistons are a young team and playoff experience is an important learning experience. However, the Pistons might get drummed out before they can get their notebooks out.

“I still have a lot of hope for this season and I expect our players to step up,” Gores said.

Speaking of players, black marks on Cheeks’ record undoubtedly were the run-ins he had with Josh Smith and Will Bynum — which continue a trend of Pistons players having too much say. Does anyone remember the John Kuester mutiny?

Gores has to provide direction to this franchise. He has to establish a vision. If he doesn’t the Pistons will continue to play in front of a lot of empty seats.


VIDEO: Detroit became the first team to fire its coach this season

***

No. 2: Lob City was alive and well in Chris Paul’s return to the Clippers – Life without Chris Paul for the Los Angeles Clippers was certainly manageable. In fact, Blake Griffin ripped it up in Paul’s absence. But it’s good to have their All-Star point guard and floor leader back, as the world saw Sunday in the Clippers’ rout of the Philadelphia 76ers. It was a welcome back party, of sorts, that signals a second-half charge for the Clippers that should include a rise up the Western Conference food chain. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times recounts the return of Paul in the biggest (literally) win in franchise history:

It was Showtime at Staples Center on Sunday night, starring the return of Chris Paul, the comeback of Blake Griffin from an injury scare and the rest of the Clippers playing their roles.

Playing in his first game since he separated his right shoulder Jan. 3 at Dallas, Paul had seven points and eight assists in the Clippers’ show-stopping and franchise-record-setting 123-78 victory over the overmatched Philadelphia 76ers.

With Griffin overcoming a bruised left shin suffered in the first quarter to score 26 points, grab 11 rebounds and hand out six assists, the Clippers set a franchise record for biggest margin of victory.

The Clippers held the 76ers to an opponent franchise-low 27% (27 for 100) shooting. The Clippers set a franchise record for biggest lead at the half when they opened a 69-30 lead after two quarters.

They built a lead as big as 56 points, their largest of the season. So after missing the last 18 games recovering from his injury, this is what Paul came back to.

“It felt great to play,” said Paul, who played 22 minutes 44 seconds. “It’s one of those things you never know what it’s going to be like until you actually get out there and compete and play. It just felt good.”

Griffin went down late in the first quarter after Tony Wroten slipped while driving and stumbled into Griffin.

After he limped to the locker room with head athletic trainer Jasen Powell, Griffin checked back into the game with 7:31 left in the second quarter.

In case anyone was wondering if Griffin was fine and that he and Paul were on the same page, they got their answer twice in the second quarter.

Paul had a breakaway layup, but threw the ball off the backboard, allowing Griffin to catch it and throw down a windmill dunk.

Then later in the second quarter, Griffin dribbled up court, made a behind-the-back pass with his left hand to Paul, who threw a lob that Griffin dunked, bringing the crowd to its feet again.

So, Griffin was asked after the game, how hard was it play with Paul again?

“It was tough, but we managed,” Griffin deadpanned, laughing along with the media.


VIDEO: Who didn’t get dunked on Sunday? The Top 10 plays includes plenty from the Clippers

***

No. 3: World Peace has words of wisdom for Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart – If there is any one man on the planet who knows what Oklahoma State Marcus Smart is feeling in the aftermath of the fan-shoving incident he was in the middle of Saturday night, it’s veteran New York Knicks forward Metta World Peace. He, as Ron Artest then, was at the epicenter of the infamous Malice at the Palace of Auburn Hills. World Peace insists there are plenty of lessons to be learned from what Smart is going through now and will during and after his three-game suspension:

World Peace said Smart — who is projected to be a high NBA draft pick — might benefit from learning how to deal with obnoxious fans at age 19, before he becomes a pro and millions of dollars are on the line.

“Just in general, I heard the kid is pretty good and a potential pro,” World Peace said Sunday before his game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. “So those types of challenges on the court when you’re playing and fans are rooting against you — that was a great lesson learned, so that hopefully when he does become a pro, he’ll be able to kind of withstand the fans that are rooting against him on the road.”

World Peace also said Smart needs to learn to control his energy.

“I think that emotion and that fire could be directed towards winning on the court instead of directed other ways,” he said.

World Peace said given the chance, he would advise Smart to be aware of the big picture when making decisions.

At 19 years old, when I came out of St. John’s, I was fresh out the ‘hood. I was fresh out of Queensbridge,” he said. “So my mentality was still struggle, defensive and things like that. I wasn’t really conscious. I’m 34 years old now. So he’s a young kid. I wish I would have listened when I was a kid to my elders or people who had my best interests at heart, and then I wish I would have been more conscious at that age also. Those are two things that, if you were to reach out to a kid like Marcus — a talented kid, future leader in the community — you would tell him those things.”

World Peace said more guidelines should be in place for college fans because college players don’t get paid. He said fans should have more leeway at NBA games.

“As far as the pros, people pay to come and see us, and I appreciate it because I’m able to take care of my family,” he said. “So I don’t really judge fans about what they say, good or bad.”

***

No. 4: No change for Kobe’s return and another injury scare for Nash – For all of us who think we know what’s best for Kobe Bryant, save the advice. Bryant isn’t making any changes to his comeback plans for the Los Angeles Lakers this season. He told ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin as much over the weekend:

Despite continuing to be sidelined with a left knee injury and seeing his team continue to fall further out of the playoff picture, Kobe Bryant remains steadfast in his intention to return to the court this season.

“My plan hasn’t changed,” Bryant said Sunday at an event to promote his newest signature sneaker, the Nike Kobe 9 Elite Masterpiece. “I’m just going about it every single day just trying to get better. That’s my job. My job is to get my butt back out there on the court when I’m healthy enough to play and that hasn’t changed.”

Bryant, out since Dec. 17 with a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee and averaging 13.8 points, 6.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 42.5 percent shooting this season, has missed the Lakers’ last 26 games. He missed the Lakers’ first 19 games this season because of a torn Achilles in his left leg.

The 18-year veteran is scheduled to be re-evaluated after the All-Star Game next week, but wouldn’t venture a guess as to when he could actually return to game action.

“That I don’t know,” Bryant said. “It’s completely out of my control. I really got to sit here and just wait until this thing heals up and then go out there and do what I do.”

He reiterated his confidence that he would not miss the rest of the 2013-14 season, however.

When asked what his best-case scenario would be upon a return this season, Bryant replied: “Play like me. That’s it.”

The news on Steve Nash isn’t quite as positive. He didn’t finish Sunday’s game against the Bulls, exiting with a nerve irritation in his left leg. He’s scheduled to be evaluated today. But things don’t look good for the NBA’s elder statesman:

Nash received contact to his left leg from Chicago’s Kirk Hinrich as he turned the ball over with 9:18 remaining in the third quarter. The contact was near the same spot where he suffered a fracture in the leg last season. He stayed in the game until there was 5:00 remaining in the quarter and went straight to the locker room.

“I just took a knee to the spot where I broke my leg,” Nash said. “Ever since I did that I’ve had a lot of nerve issues there and it just really flared up on me. I don’t think it’s going to be a long-term thing at all. Hopefully it’s something that can just settle down this week, hopefully by Tuesday.”

The Lakers host the Utah Jazz on Tuesday.

“[Once] that nerve flared up and I started to compensate, I wasn’t going to be very effective … and I also was going to risk going back on all that work I did to get back on the court,” Nash said.

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said Nash’s back started to tighten up from the nerve issues, causing the veteran point guard to limp on the court.

Nash, who turned 40 on Friday, had played in three of the Lakers’ last four games after missing nearly three months of game action because of nerve root irritation in his back and hamstrings.

“It wasn’t like I broke it again,” Nash said. “I just kind of irritated the nerve and I’m hopeful that all the stuff that I’ve been doing will be able to overcome that little bit of irritation. It’s kind of transient and hopefully I’ll wake up tomorrow and feel better.”


VIDEO: See how easy Kevin Durant makes it look in the Nightly Notable

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: You’ll have to forgive the Magic for acting like they won a championship when they knocked off the Pacers but every win, especially against an elite team, matters when they come as sparingly as they do in Orlando … Acting Cavs GM David Griffin says they are buying at the trade deadline in Cleveland … Thunder star Russell Westbrook is gearing up for his return after the All-Star breakRick Carlisle couldn’t resist the inevitable Dirk Nowitzki-Larry Bird comparisons over the weekend in Boston …

ICYMI of the Night: The Clippers went to town in their rout of the Sixers and no one had more fun in the blowout than the Clippers’ All-Star power forward Blake Griffin, who shows off a bit with one of his many dunks …


VIDEO: Blake Griffin goes off the glass, courtesy of Chris Paul

Nash, Blake To Return Vs. Wolves

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Steve Nash is back. Steve Blake is, too. It’s been a long time and a lot of losing for the purple-and-gold since either guard last took the court. But tonight at Minnesota, the two Steves will be in the starting lineup for the 16-31 Los Angeles Lakers.

Nash, who turns 40 on Friday, has played in just six games this season and has been out since Nov. 10 battling nerve damage stemming from the fractured leg he suffered early last season. Blake played in 21 games before a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow took him out on Dec. 21.

Backup point guard Jordan Farmar is also expected to suit up tonight for the first time since Dec. 31. He’s been out with a hamstring injury.

L.A. wasn’t exactly barnstorming the league on Blake’s last day with a 13-14 record, and Kobe Bryant only days earlier having fractured his knee after playing just six games in his return from the Achilles injury. Since Blake last touched a basketball in a game, the Lakers have gone 3-17.

Blake was having a fine season, averaging 9.8 ppg and 7.7 rpg. While he was only making 39.8 percent of his overall shots, he was hitting 40.0 percent from beyond the arc. There’s no reason to think he won’t pick up where he left off and give the Lakers’ offense, 12th in points per game in the Western Conference, a boost.

As for Nash, there’s just no telling what to expect.

There’s also another angle to the return of the two Steves: emergency replacement point guard Kendall Marshall. The 2012 lottery pick castoff of the Phoenix Suns was plucked from the D-League and has performed admirably in a tough spot. He’s averaged 10.5 ppg and 9.6 apg.

He loses his starting job and a lot of minutes, too. How much better will the Lakers be? Obviously they’ll be more competitive with more NBA-tested players handling the ball. But, don’t expect this group to rocket up the standings even when (and if) Kobe make his return sometime after the All-Star break.

As for Marshall, he’s been a great story of perseverance. Hopefully, he won’t just get lost on coach Mike D’Antoni‘s bench.

Space, Speed And 3s Is The NBA Way


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew breaks down why 3-point shooters like Kyle Korver are valuable

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Kevin McHale insists there’s little difference between how he coaches his Houston Rockets today and how his Boston Celtics played 30 years ago.

“We do play the same,” the towering Hall of Fame power forward said. “It was a different game, but we ran up and down, we shot a lot of shots in the first six, seven seconds of the shot clock because we ran it down, threw it in the post and shot it. Look at the early ’80s, we were averaging 115, 116, 117 points. You usually don’t get that by walking it up and down.”

The 1983-84 champion Celtics averaged 112.1 ppg, yet in those glorious run-and-gun, team-oriented days, all that scoring ranked just seventh in a 23-team league. Imagine the offensive explosion then had those teams known what we know now about that strange 3-point arc.

“We all looked at it,” said McHale, a rookie the season after the NBA implemented the arc, “and thought, ‘Why the hell do they have a line way out here?’ “

A low-post machine, McHale attempted 157 3-pointers in his career. Larry Bird took 194 of the 393 taken by the 1985-86 champion Celtics. In the first 49 games this season, the Rockets’ tandem of James Harden and Chandler Parsons have combined for 463. The Rockets have launched 1,279.

Last year they shot it from everywhere and at any time, 2,369 in all, second-most only to the New York Knicks, who set the all-time record with 2,371 attempts. New York also made 891, the most all-time.

Today’s game is different. It has shifted 180 degrees from the plodding, back-it-down offenses spanned in the 1990s and does draw back more to the freewheeling 1980s, only with a new set of philosophies. Today’s offensive style is dictated by a slew of predominant words and phrases: Analytics. Pace. Ball movement. Spacing. Speed. Stretch-4. Small ball. Drive-and-kick. Corner 3.

Do-it-all point guards are at a premium. Floor-spacing, sweet-shooting big men are coveted. Three-point shooting is king.

“I’m not surprised because statistically everybody is going to that kind of metrics,” said Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, who introduced the league to this stream of unconventional offensive tactics when he took over the Phoenix Suns more than a decade ago.

“We did it before, but I think you can measure even more now, and I think that shows you if you want to win, that’s the way you should go. And then Miami tops it off by winning two championships by doing it.”

West among best at quick way to play

Many of D’Antoni’s concepts, considered radical at the time, are commonplace now to varying degrees in nearly every NBA coach’s playbook. They are prevalent especially among Western Conference clubs powered by dynamic, often ultra-athletic point guards — from Chris Paul to Russell Westbrook to Tony Parker to Damian Lillard to Stephen Curry — who play fast, penetrate, pass and shoot from distance. The Heat, of course, are led by de facto point guard LeBron James.

“Without penetration you don’t get those uncontested 3s, so you have to have people who penetrate and create shots for other people,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “That’s how it happens. Without the penetration it would all be contested, percentages would go down and people wouldn’t be shooting very well. But most of them are uncontested.”

Nine of the league’s top 10 teams in pace (the number of possessions per 48 minutes) and 12 of the top 16 play in the West. The top five teams in 3-point attempts, and nine of the top 12, also play in the West, the far superior conference this season.

When the Memphis Grizzlies meet the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight (8 p.m. ET, League Pass) in a rematch of last season’s Western Conference semifinals won by Memphis, it will again be a battle of contrasting styles. OKC, even without their injured three-time All-Star Westbrook, is athletic and fast. The Thunder pushes the pace, currently ranking seventh in the league, averaging 97.84 possessions per 48 minutes.

The Grizzlies boast talented point guard Mike Conley, but run their sets through skilled, low-post big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. They rely on those interior size mismatches (and gritty defense) to compete in an expanding era of fastbreaking, 3-point-shooting, “small-ball” lineups in which a power forward serves as a center and a traditional small forward plays the “4″ and “stretches” the floor.

Memphis, although moving the ball with more vigor and shooting slightly more 3s during their January hot streak, is the conventional NBA offense that has been made unconventional.

The need for 3s

Memphis’ management team is heavy into analytic data, and first-year coach Dave Joerger was eager to quicken Memphis’ offensive pace, but it hasn’t happened. They rank last in the league in pace, averaging 92.15 possessions. They’re also last in 3-point attempts (14.3 per game) and 3-pointers made (5.1 per game).

Houston has outscored Memphis from beyond the arc by a staggering 618 points; Golden State and Portland, tied for No. 1 with 450 made 3s, by 651. Memphis and last-place Utah, 24th in made 3-pointers, are the only teams in the West that average fewer than 100 points per game.

“It’s almost like if you don’t shoot 3s you can’t win,” Popovich said. “So many players are good at it, shots get off so quickly and are so numerous that it’s a huge part of what almost everybody does. It’s just tough to score and to win without making 3s.”

Desperate for it, Memphis traded slump-ridden Jerryd Bayless to Boston for Courtney Lee, who has provided a jolt, knocking down 44.1 percent of his 3-point shots. He, along with Gasol’s return from injury, helped spark Memphis to 11 wins in its last 13 games and a return to playoff contention.

The Grizzlies recently beat Houston twice in back-to-back games. They limited the Rockets to 87 and 81 points despite taking 40 fewer 3-pointers and being outscored by 36 points from beyond the arc. But can the Grizzlies survive with size over speed and scoring 2-pointers instead of 3s?

“I don’t know whether we can or we can’t,” Joerger said. “The league is being ruled by playmakers, shooting and IQ right now. Teams are playing multiple — forget about shooters — they’re playing multiple playmakers now. A lot of centers are, let’s just say, fairly strictly pick and rim-run, and [you] play four [players] around those guys and stretch it out, and then let guys just play against a [defensive] close-out.”

Time marches on … and pace picks up

D’Antoni says Don Nelson‘s Mavs in the early and mid-2000s, with Steve Nash as point guard, were first to empower the “stretch-4.” Nelson didn’t try to turn 7-foot forward Dirk Nowitzki into a back-to-the-basket player. He granted him free range to shoot 3s.

Popovich recognized the coming wave earlier than most through those early battles against Dirk and then D’Antoni’s Suns.

“San Antonio has been a top 3-point shooting team for probably seven, eight or nine years now,” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, whose “Flow” offense, led by smart, selfless players and talented passers and shooters, produced the 2011 championship. “They jumped on it early on and other teams have followed suit.”

The Spurs won three championships with stifling defense and methodical halfcourt execution in the mid-2000s. But Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford knew they had to evolve around their Big Three of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Parker with a roster based on pace and perimeter shooting. On their way to the 2013 Finals, San Antonio ranked sixth in pace, seventh in 3-pointers made and fifth in 3-point percentage.

In his typical gruffness, Popovich said of the style, “I hate it; if you want to win, you got to do it.”

In 2002-03, the Spurs attempted 1,270 3-pointers en route to their first title. Each year after their 3-point attempts increased. They shot 1,561 in 2006-07, the year of their third title. Last season they shot a franchise-record 1,764, which they might surpass this season.

“It was gradual, I remember that,” Ginobili said. “When I got here [in 2002-03], it [the offense] was very slow. Every possession had to feed the post and play from there. But then it slowly started to shift to a faster pace. At the beginning, he [Popovich] wanted it, but we were just not used to it, so that’s why it took a couple years until we really started doing it.”

Back in Houston, the Rockets keep running and spreading the floor even with the addition of traditional-type center Dwight Howard. Their pace (97.94) ranks seventh in the league, down slightly from last season, as is their 3-point attempts (26.1, almost three fewer a game), because of the ability, and necessity, to feed Howard in the post.

Meanwhile, everybody else continues to pick up the pace. The Rockets were No. 1 in the league last season at 98.64 possessions per 48 minutes. Now five teams average at least 99 and Philadelphia is over 102. Twelve teams average at least 97. In 1996-97, the first year advanced statistics were recorded, only two teams finished with more than 93 possessions per game.

What does the future hold? The Rockets’ NBA Development League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, are launching 3′s at a stunning — or alarming, depending on your perspective — rate of 48.5 per game. Fourteen of the 17 teams are operating at a pace of 100 possessions or better per game.

Yet leave it to Howard, with four career 3-pointers to his name, to lend some perspective to all these supersonic numbers.

“Once the playoffs start, it’s a halfcourt game and you’ve got to be able to execute in the halfcourt on offense,” Howard said. “We have to learn how to do both — be able to play fast, get up and down the court, get some easy shots. But we also got to learn how to slow it down and get a good shot every time.”

Perhaps some things never change.

Young, Augustin Shine As Understudies


VIDEO: The Bulls outlast the Lakers in an overtime thriller

CHICAGO – The guy in purple and gold with the nifty Nike low-cuts, playing shooting guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, tormented Chicago all evening. He scored 17 points in 20 minutes in the first half, coolly drained three free throws near the end of regulation to tie, then scored five of the Lakers’ seven points in overtime.

The Bulls’ point guard, meanwhile, was just as busy, scoring 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting – and an uncommonly hot 5-of-7 from the arc – to lead Chicago to a two-point victory. He didn’t get to the foul line all that much (2-of-3) and his four assists were matched or surpassed by four teammates. But the Bulls need scoring these days from the guy dominating the basketball, so the point guard gave them that.

Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose? Nope. Not unless you squinted really, really hard, at which point you might have mistaken crew chief Joey Crawford for George Clooney.

It was Nick Young and D.J. Augustin, respectively, on Understudy Night at United Center Monday. They took on the roles normally played by the more famous-but-injured stars and nailed those performances that it drove some of the conversation afterward.

“I can’t play like Kobe. There’s only one Kobe, right?” said Young, who had 29 points against Toronto 24 hours earlier and has scored 28 or more in three of his last four games.

A couple teammates within ear shot started to react to that storyline. Lakers big man Jordan Hill, dressing a few feet away, laughed and said, “Kobe gets dimes, he gets assists. He gets rebounds.”

“Kobe’s been a great mentor to me,” Young said, sounding a little embarrassed. “Just telling me all kinds of things during games. That’s been unbelievable for me this whole year, learning from one of the greatest players to play this game.”

Denials aside, the apparent ease with which Young and Augustin have stepped into their teams’ voids has some folks asking that age-old NBA question: Individual talent or system? No one is suggesting that either has swiped the superhero cape out of Bryant’s and Rose’s closets quite yet, but this is more than Little Man clomping around in Dad’s shoes. Both came off the bench Monday but played starters’ minutes, which will keep coming.

If Young can parlay a half season of some on-court and more off-court wisdom from Bryant into 29 points a game, if Augustin can air-drop into Chicago seven weeks ago, learn Rose’s lines and hits his marks at game time, there is more going on here than impersonations.

“I know Coach [Tom Thibodeau] is just giving me ultimate confidence and running a lot of pick-and-roll stuff, which I feel comfortable with,” Augustin said. “That’s what I’ve been known for.”

It’s no small feat for Young to find his scoring opportunities within Mike D’Antoni‘s game plan each night for the Lakers, though having Bryant, Steve Nash, Steve Blake and even Xavier Henry sidelined has cleared the way lately. Augustin’s responsibilities for Chicago include running the offense and finding open teammtes in their spots.

But then, Nate Robinson plugged the Rose hole last season to great effect. Augustin has done it without a training camp, on the fly, with a team freshly demoralized by another Rose knee injury.

“D.J.’s playing great basketball for us,” center Joakim Noah said. “He’s playing really confident basketball right now. He’s a good fit. He makes the right play all the time. The right pass. The big shots. He can really shoot the ball.

“We need scoring. And he’s been doing a good job of just getting guys the right shot, and scoring as well.”

In his past six games, Augustin has averaged 18.0 points, 7.0 assists and 2.8 assists. Rose, in the 10 games he logged before going down with a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee, had worked back to 15.9 ppg, 4.3 apg and 3.2 rpg.

“All I’m thinking about right now is just going out and playing hard,” Augustin said. “Whatever Thibs runs, whatever plays he runs, I’m just trying to run it and do the best I can. Like I said, he runs a lot of pick-and-roll stuff. That’s what I’m comfortable with and it’s working for us.”

Augustin, in fact, said, he is feeling Charlotte-comfortable again. That’s the last place he played this much — 29.3 minutes per game in 2011-12 with the Bobcats, on par with the 29.4 he’s averaging for the Bulls — and the last place he was this productive.

“I didn’t get an opportunity the last two years in my career,” Augustin said. “When I was in Charlotte, I played the same way I’m playing now. The last two years at Toronto and Indiana, I didn’t get an opportunity. When I play a lot of minutes, I think I play pretty good.”

Young’s minutes — with Bryant limited to a six-game cameo appearance in December between his Achilles tendon comeback and his current left knee fracture — are up to 28.7, his most since 2010-11 in Washington. His per-36 stats — 21.4 points, 16.8 FGA — are personal highs, if not at Kobe levels.

“Each guy’s an individual,” D’Antoni said before tipoff Monday. “Nick does a great job. He’s got a lot of energy, he brings a lot of energy. He’s a good guy. A good teammate.

“When he gets the ball in his hands, he can score. That’s what he does. You can see the joy on his face when he’s playing and he has no fear. So the fourth quarter is no problem, but it could be the first quarter, second quarter. He’s still coming at you.”

It’s the NBA equation: Talent plus confidence equals success. At the moment, it happens to be coming for the Lakers and the Bulls, respectively, from familiar spots.


VIDEO: Nick Young takes it up strong on the Bulls’ defense

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 18




VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Kobe’s return | Rondo returns | Durant explodes | Rubio’s thrill is gone | Red-hot Grizzlies

No. 1: Bryant has no intention of sitting out — It doesn’t matter that if his Lakers continue to plummet in the standings. It doesn’t matter if the team might be better off the long run — and for the end of his own career — by getting a high lottery pick and maybe a budding young star. It doesn’t even matter what legend Magic Johnson thinks. Kobe Bryant says he has every intention of returning to the court this season because, well, as he told Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com, he’s Kobe and that’s all he knows:

“The only thing I can afford to consider is getting better, getting stronger,” Bryant said before the Lakers’ 107-104 win over the Boston Celtics on Friday. “I can’t allow myself to think any other way. I can only think about the next step. To do anything else becomes distracting if you allow yourself, if you give yourself wiggle room to not push yourself as hard as you possibly can. To think about sitting out and this, that and the other, your motivation is all wrong. I refuse to think that way.”

Magic Johnson disagreed, as the former Lakers star questioned whether Bryant should come back at all this season in an interview with the Los Angeles Times this week.

“What is he coming back to? He’s not going to be able to stop the pick and roll, all the layups the Lakers are giving up,” Johnson told the newspaper. “He’s been hurt twice, give him the whole year to get healthy.”

In the same interview, Johnson called hiring Mike D’Antoni last season a “wrong decision.”

“Normally I don’t hear it until [the media] brings it up,” D’Antoni said, adding that he has never spoken to Johnson in person since joining the Lakers. “There’s voices everywhere, and it’s a hard job to do no matter what team you’re with. You do the best you can and you feel like every day is a new battle, and everybody has their opinion. There’s a saying about that. … So, that’s the way it is. You go on and do your job.”

Bryant, sidelined since Dec. 17 when he suffered a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee during the Lakers’ 96-92 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, said he will return this season so long as he is medically cleared.
“We’ll see where it’s at in February and see if it’s good to go,” Bryant said, pushing back his return timeline ever so slightly, with D’Antoni having recently said Bryant would be re-evaluated Jan. 27, at the conclusion of the team’s current seven-game trip while the Grammy Awards take over Staples Center.

***

No. 2: Rondo looks and feels good in first game of season — It was his first game in almost a year, but Rajon Rondo showed no ill effects of the surgery to repair his torn right ACL. Even though the Celtics let the Lakers close with an 11-0 run to win the game, the new team captain told A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com that overall conditioning in his biggest hurdle going forward:

“I felt pretty good,” said Rondo, who didn’t have any significant pain but knows that could change within the next 24 hours. “When I got back in the second quarter I got pretty winded, but that was expected. Other than that, I didn’t feel like I was limited to anything tonight.”

Rondo has reiterated time and time again that his conditioning, more than anything else, remains his biggest hurdle.
For the 19-plus minutes he played, Rondo didn’t appear to show any concern or apprehension on the floor relative to his surgically repaired right knee.

In fact, the biggest issue facing Rondo going forward doesn’t appear to be what he’s doing on the floor.
It has to do with what happens when he’s not on the floor for long stretches of time, something that will inevitably happen as long as he has to play with minute restrictions.

Prior to Rondo’s first game, head coach Brad Stevens said he would be limited to 18-20 minutes per game.
It is unclear how long he will have minute restrictions.
“Coach (Stevens) and I talked about my minutes, how we were going to spread it out, you know, five minutes a quarter,” Rondo said. “I think that’s the best way to do it.”

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No. 3: Durant takes his game to new heights with 54 points — If there comes a times next May or June when Kevin Durant is raising the MVP award above his head, will this have been the night when he wrestled the trophy out of the grasp of LeBron James? K.D. took on the Splash Brothers Friday night and gave them a dunking with a career-high 54 points on just 28 shots and staked his claim in leading the Thunder past the Warriors. Berry Trammel of The Oklahoman says it was Durant’s best night ever:

“He’s a special talent, a superstar basketball player, an all-time great,” said Golden State coach Mark Jackson.
The game started as a sharpshooting duel between teammates. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, who put the gold in Golden State, seemed to be playing a solitary game of H-O-R-S-E in the first quarter.

But by game’s end, there was no doubt who wore the crown. This was Durant’s finest offensive game as a pro.
Durant made 19 of 28 shots and virtually matched the long-range bombs of Curry and Thompson. The Warrior backcourt duo each nailed two 3-pointers in the first seven minutes and each nailed three treys in the first quarter.
Curry and Thompson finished with a combined 63 points. Curry had 37, making six of 10 3-pointers; Thompson had 26 points, making six of nine deep balls.

But Durant finished five of eight on 3-pointers. His 19 field goals tied a career high. The only two times he’s made more than 16 baskets in a game, he’s gone 19 of 28 overall. Friday against Golden State and Feb. 2012 against Denver, when Durant scored 51 points in a 124-118 Thunder victory.

But this performance was better. That Denver team included Andre Iguodala, one of the NBA’s few defenders capable of giving Durant a rough time, but Iguodala missed that game.

Now a Warrior, Iguodala played 29 1/2 minutes Friday night but was no match for Durant.

“The great players, you can play great defense and he can have numbers,” Jackson said. “It’s just a question of making him work. He hit some tough shots, some incredible shots. Give him credit.”

Durant now is averaging a career high 30.6 points a game this season. He was asked to carry a heavier load when Russell Westbrook underwent another surgery just after Christmas, and Durant has responded. He’s averaged 36.8 points the last five games.

***

No. 4: Rubio says he isn’t having any fun these days playing ballRicky Rubio says a lot of the blame for the Timberwolves disappointing 18-21 start to the season should be placed on his shoulders. The flamboyant point guard admitted to John Krawcyznski of the Associated Press that he just isn’t enjoying playing the game this season:

“I’m going to be honest. I’m not feeling comfortable out there,” Rubio told The Associated Press after a light practice on Thursday. “I’m not being myself and the team is noticing. I just have to be back where I was, be myself. I’m working on that. It’s something that’s missing. It’s tough for me, too.”

Rubio’s shooting numbers have never been great, but harping on that always seemed to be nitpicking for a player who sprinkled magic point guard dust all over the court — slipping passes through a defender’s legs for an open 3-point shot, picking a player’s pocket to start a fast break and seeing windows open before the defenders knew what hit them.

Even when he wasn’t starting his rookie season, the arena would crackle when he stepped to the scorer’s table to check in and his teammates’ eyes would widen in anticipation of a passes that came from impossible angles. It was still there last season when he returned from a torn ACL in December, even though his body took some time to ramp back up to the NBA’s pace of play.

“It’s basketball. I love it,” Rubio said. “But I’m just not having as much fun as it used to be. I know it has to be professional. But I just want to have fun. It’s hard to find it right now.”

***

No. 5: The Grizzlies are finally making their move –Just in case anybody forgot how important Marc Gasol is in Memphis, the All-Star center made a game-saving deflection to clinch a win over the Kings. The Grizzlies are now 3-0 since he returned to the lineup after a knee injury, have won five in a row overall and have crept back above the .500 mark and into the playoff picture in the West. Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal has the details:

Gasol said later that he got fortunate on a gamble. But nothing about the Grizzlies’ season-high, five-game winning streak could be reduced to a stroke of luck.

The Griz (20-19) moved above .500 for the first time since early December and now they can claim a steadily improving defense. Memphis trailed 86-79 with 5:19 left and allowed Sacramento just one field goal the rest of the game.
Gay’s putback dunk cut the Grizzlies’ lead to a point with 38.9 seconds left. There had been no movement in the score when the Kings received the ball with 15.1 ticks remaining.

The Griz were as disruptive on the final possession as they had been the second half of the fourth quarter. Gay had the ball slapped away twice as he tried to attempt a game-winner from 15 feet. The Kings never got a clean look at the basket down the stretch.

“We’re making the right decisions at the right time,” Conley said after scoring a game-high 25 points. “I told the guys that it’s good to have games like this where you have a little adversity and come back. Those are the ones you learn from the most.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: J.R. Smith shows signs of positive life in Knicks loss … DeAndre Jordan wants to be more than just a dunker Jimmer Freddette could be turning a corner with steady playing time.

Lakers Give Marshall A Second Chance

Milwaukee Bucks v Los Angeles Lakers

Kendall Marshall is making the most of his time at the helm for L.A. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

DALLAS – All week in Reno, Nev., the D-League Showcase has provided some 200 basketball players — some former NBA first-rounders, some with legitimate NBA service time and many more who fell through the cracks — a stage to perform in front of a horde of NBA team decision-makers.

Kendall Marshall is not among them. He almost assuredly would have been as a member of the Delaware 87ers if not for an unbelievable string of injuries to all three of the Los Angeles Lakers’ point guards. On Dec. 21, the Phoenix Suns’ No. 13 pick in 2012, who was traded to Washington on Oct. 25 and waived that day, became the Lakers’ emergency plan.

“Honestly,” Marshall told NBA.com Tuesday night, “I’m just thankful for the situation I’m in. I’m trying to make the most of it, trying to get better and find a way to help this team.”

Instead of playing his heart out during this five-day stretch in northwest Nevada on a shoestring D-League salary of about $25,000, Marshall is auditioning nightly — strange to say of a lottery pick one year removed, but altogether true — in front of league executives on the biggest stage. And as of Tuesday he’s doing so on a fully guaranteed contract for the remainder of the season at about a half-million dollars.

Still, it guarantees nothing beyond a few more weeks, perhaps more, of genuine playing time for the former North Carolina Tar Heel, a heady although not overly athletic, smooth-passing point guard aptly nicknamed “Butter.” Soon Steve Blake will return from an elbow injury. Jordan Farmar will come back from a hamstring injury. Steve Nash is targeting a February return.

For Marshall, the time is now. In his first two starts, the 6-foot-4 southpaw unleashed flashbacks to Linsanity with a combined 32 assists and 29 points. In eight games, including starting the last four after point-guard fill-in Xavier Henry went down with his own knee injury, Marshall has 56 dimes. A quick study in coach Mike D’Antoni‘s point-guard friendly offense, Marshall is averaging 9.1 ppg, 7.0 apg and 3.0 turnovers. Before a brutal 2-for-13 (1-for-6 on 3-pointers) shooting night in Wednesday’s loss at Houston, L.A.’s ninth in 10 games, he had shot better than 56 percent overall and made half of his 22 3-point attempts.

Considering he jumped head-first into a bare-bones Lakers lineup, Marshall’s performances have ranged from impressive to steady, and have, at the least, provided the Lakers’ offense with structure and some rhythm. He had managed to keep his turnovers down until the last two games with six in each, but some of that falls on teammates unable or unprepared to handle his thread-the-needle passes through traffic.

His best game remains his first as a starter on Jan. 3 when he outplayed rookie and No. 9 pick Trey Burke, scoring 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting, with 15 assists and six rebounds to beat Utah and snap the Lakers’ six-game skid.

And think about this: Marshall has gone from averaging 14.6 mpg in just 48 games as a rookie last season with Phoenix to playing 37.6 mpg in seven games with Delaware to now having logged more than 38 minutes in three of his four starts with the Lakers.

“He’s passing the ball, he’s finding a lot of seams,” said Henry, who grew up playing against Marshall in AAU tournaments from the time they were 9 years old through high school. “As our only true point guard right now he’s moving the ball pretty well and getting us into stuff fast. That’s good for us because we have a lot of guys that can score and play the game, but we don’t have that true point guard right now because everybody’s injured.”

The Suns envisioned Marshall, ironically, to be Nash’s replacement and as something of a Nash starter kit — crafty, smart, good floor vision, excellent facilitator. Marshall doesn’t possess tremendous speed or athleticism and when new management took over in Phoenix last offseason they weren’t enamored with him. They already had Goran Dragic, then drafted super-athletic Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin and traded for Eric Bledsoe to run new coach Jeff Hornacek‘s up-tempo attack.

At the Las Vegas Summer League in July, Goodwin outplayed Marshall and the writing was on the wall.

“I thought there was a chance I might be traded,” Marshall said. “I didn’t know they would wait until right before the season started. Obviously, the timing was unfortunate. The whole situation was unfortunate.”

Phoenix packaged Marshall with center Marcin Gortat in a trade with Washington just days before the season opened. Marshall’s agent called him 45 minutes after he found out he had been traded to tell him the Wizards would waive him.

Marshall, 22, was out of the league. With rosters set and no offers forthcoming, he signed with Delaware, the Philadelphia 76ers affiliate in the D-League, after Thanksgiving. The weeks in between went by brutally slow as he simultaneously concentrated on picking up his career while trying not to become negatively consumed by his circumstance.

“You want an honest answer?” Marshall said when asked who or what he leaned on during that time. “Vine, the social media site. I met a lot of friends on there that half of them didn’t even know I played basketball. So it was cool to interact with people that I wasn’t constantly hearing about what I was going through. So honestly that’s what kept me positive throughout that couple of weeks of not being in the league.”

Now comes the question of whether he can stick in a league predicated on athleticism and at a position dominated by speed.

“I joke with him all the time about how he can’t jump and stuff like that,” Henry said. “He’s not the fastest guy, but he just plays it smart, he knows what he has to do to complete his task. He’s smart with the game of how to make things happen. That’s what he does.”

Added Marshall: “Fifty percent of this league doesn’t get by on their athleticism. A couple of guys we played against [Tuesday at Dallas]; Dirk [Nowitzki] never relied on athleticism, Jose Calderon has never relied on his athleticism and they found a way to be successful. It can be done. But it’s just a matter of going out there and doing it and finding ways to do it.”

That’s the opportunity Marshall has in front of him, not in Reno for Delaware, but on the NBA stage for the Los Angeles Lakers. His audition will continue until likely the Lakers’ regulars return and reclaim their spots.

“My only objective right now is to help this team,” Marshall said. “That’s all I’m worried about is finding ways to win games and continue to get better.”