Posts Tagged ‘Mike Woodson’

Hang time podcast (episode 151) featuring Tina Cervasio of MSG Network

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — As soon as Phil Jackson accepts the most challenging mission of his professional career, running basketball operations for the New York Knicks, the rest of us can get back to normal.

Any day now PJax, we do have a regular season to finish here Zen master.

Good luck to anyone trying to figure out how having Jackson on board helps fix a Knicks team that is saddled with bad assets through the end of the 2014-15 season, a superstar, Carmelo Anthony, some believing is eyeing his escape route and a head coach in Mike Woodson who has repeatedly been undercut?

There are, of course, some $15 million reasons for Jackson to come out of quasi-retirement to take the job. But it’s still a seemingly impossible task, fixing the Knicks.

We do our best to sort it all out on Episode 151 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Tina Cervasio of MSG Network.

We also have the latest installment of “Are You Kidding Me?” featuring special guest debater and Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas, filling in this week for fellow Hall of Famer Reggie Miller, squaring off with the Dean of Discipline Stu Jackson. They tackle LeBron‘s black mask and the “one and done” rule and whether or not it harms the NBA game.

And someone had a perfect run in this week’s edition of Braggin’ Rights.

Check out all of that and more on Episode 151 of the Hang Time Podcast Featuring Tina Cervasio of MSG Network …

LISTEN HERE:


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

PJax to the Knicks looks inevitable …




VIDEO: The Game Time crew talks Phil Jackson to the Knicks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – All that’s left now is for Phil Jackson to send out the public smoke signal that he’s back, after all of these years, in the fold in New York.

Jackson and the Knicks, according to multiple sources, are working through the sticky points of a deal that would bring him back to the league in a front-office capacity, and not as coach of the Knicks (a job, mind you, that is currently occupied by Mike Woodson).

The latest report says that Jackson and the Knicks are expected to come to an agreement by week’s end, as ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard reports Tuesday morning.

Phil Jackson and the New York Knicks are expected to finalize a deal that will give the legendary coach control of the club’s front office by the end of this week, according to a league source.

“Everything is pretty much done,” the source said. “There are just some little things here and there that need to be worked out, but the Knicks are very confident that this is essentially done.”

An official announcement may not come until next week, the source said.

Make no mistake, though: it’ll take all of the legendary coach’s Zen powers to help fix what ails the Knicks. In short, they are a mess right now. A lame-duck coach. A superstar (Carmelo Anthony) basically being forced to consider his free-agent options elsewhere this summer. And a roster bogged down with so many bad assets that legendary front office maven Donnie Walsh (the man who once tried fixing this mess) couldn’t fix it all.

Most of us have no idea how Jackson will fare in a job he’s never actually done before. But when you’ve accumulated the sort of championship hardware he has over the years — he played on the Knicks’ 1970 and ’73 title teams and won 11 more titles as a coach with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers) — the benefit of the doubt is included in the compensation package.


VIDEO: NBA TV looks back on Phil Jackson’s legendary career

If anyone alive who has had a hand in the NBA game can clean up the mess that is the Knicks, it has to be Jackson. Be it good fortune or shrewd calculation, or a healthy dose of both and plenty of blind luck, Jackson always seems to find himself in the middle of championship-level success. Why wouldn’t the Knicks want to find themselves affiliated with the same things?

Jackson was supposed to be the savior in Los Angeles, where Kobe Bryant and the Lakers could use some divine intervention these days. But Jim Buss had other plans, ones that didn’t include retaining the services of his sister Jeanie‘s boyfriend in any capacity. (Ask the Lakers how that worked out.)

Now he’ll get the chance to see if his magic works from a different angle, as the man pulling the strings from on high as opposed to doing it with direct contact with the players. I defy anyone to challenge Jackson’s coaching credentials.

For all the grief he gets for having won with the likes of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in Chicago and Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in L.A., among others, it should be noted that the only member of those Hall of Famers he coached that has won a title without him is Shaq. And remember, Shaq did so alongside Dwyane Wade and perhaps the only other coach (not named Gregg Popovich) of his generation to approach Jackson’s level, Heat boss and former coach of the Showtime Lakers, Pat Riley.

Jackson doesn’t have to sully his reputation by trying to salvage a Knicks team that is clearly beyond repair. But he could send his mythical aura into a new stratosphere if he were somehow able to clear the debris from the wreckage that is these Knicks and bring a championship flair back to Madison Square Garden.

That’s why Knicks owner James Dolan had no choice but to seek out the services of the one man whose name is synonymous with success, the one man whose mere mention sends fans into flights of fancy about championship parades … even when their haven’t been any such plans in the works for decades.

Anyone worried about this not working out for the Knicks in the long run clearly hasn’t paid attention to the tire fire that goes on in Manhattan on the regular. Everyone can worry about the minutiae later. Right now, it’s simply about convincing Jackson to share some of that good vibrations that have followed him throughout his career. If it ends horribly, as predicted here (and almost everything and everyone Dolan and the Knicks come in contact does), so what?

Jackson will still walk away unscathed. He’ll keep his spot on the Mount Rushmore of coaches in the history of organized sports and will still be a living legend in every corner of the basketball world.

Change isn’t always a good thing. But in this instance, it’s the only thing that can save the Knicks.

And the agent of that change, barring any last-minute surprises, appears to be none other than Phil Jackson, whose basketball life and career could come full circle with his reviving the franchise he helped win two titles a lifetime ago.

Morning Shootaround — March 8


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played March 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers’ woes start from within | Other side to that coin was Rockets’ paybackPhil Jax rumors blow up in New York | Pierce sees Rondo as the next, well, him | Noah bored by whines about “tampering”

No. 1: Pacers’ woes start from within – To hear Indiana coach Frank Vogel, his team’s claim on the NBA’s best record this season put a target on the Pacers’ backs, turning them into every opponent’s favorite target. While that might be true to some extent, the slump in which Paul George, Roy Hibbert, David West & Co. find themselves now – after suffering their third consecutive loss in the 112-86 rout at Houston Friday – owes more to what Indiana isn’t doing at either end of the court the way it had through the schedule’s first four months. Only the Rockets and the Los Angeles Clippers have avoided a three-game losing streak now, with the Pacers turning to post-game meetings and some mirror-gazing to check theirs, as ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst wrote from Houston:

The Pacers have now lost three in a row for the first time all season and fallen back into a tie with the Heat in the loss column for the best record. But the chase for that top seed, which has been a Pacers priority all season, was not on their minds as midnight passed in that quiet locker room.

“We haven’t talked about the [No. 1 seed] in awhile,” Hibbert said. “We just need to win games at this point. Something has got to change. Something is going to be addressed.”

There were warning signs even when the Pacers were on a five-game winning streak recently as they had to work harder than expected to beat bottom-feeders like the Boston Celtics, Utah Jazz and Milwaukee Bucks.

“Every team we play is playing above themselves,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Our guys can talk about being the hunted but it’s a different thing to feel it. These teams are coming at us with great force and we’re going to have to rise to the challenge.”

Teams running up the score against the Pacers is not normal. But over the last 10 games their league-best defense has not been league best.

They are allowing 46 percent shooting and 100 points per game in that span. In the first 40 games of the season when they distanced themselves from the rest of the league, they allowed just 41 percent shooting and just 88 points a game.

“We have to get back to what the Indiana Pacers used to be,” George said. “When teams came to play us, they knew it was going to be a long night.”

***

No. 2: Other side to that coin was Rockets’ payback – Twenty-six points isn’t 34, the number Houston’s players had in mind as a way to avenge their 33-point smackdown by Indiana in Indianapolis in December. The Rockets “only” pushed their lead to as many as 32 before settling for the final margin. But as Jonathan Feigen wrote in his Houston Chronicle blog, team and individual payback was very much in play, as the league’s hottest team in calendar year 2014 starts to sniff its potential:

“That’s all we talked about, every time out, every possession, how they blew us out,” Dwight Howard said. “We didn’t want that to happen. We wanted to get payback.”

Yet, as the Rockets put together a stretch [James] Harden would call their best on both ends of the floor, he could have been thinking of much more than just the third-quarter run to a 30-point lead.

“Always wanted to get back against them,” Harden said after scoring 16 of his 28 points in the knockout punch of a third quarter. “The third quarter was probably the best I’ve seen us play offense and defense in one quarter. We were rolling. These last weeks we’ve been rolling on both ends.”

At that moment, as the Pacers called time out the rout was certain, Harden could have been celebrating his own turnaround against the Pacers. When Harden was done for the night before the third quarter had ended, he had made 10 of 17 shots, including 4 of 7 3s. In his seven previous games against the Pacers, he had made 28.4 percent of his shots, just 24.6 percent in his three games against them with the Rockets.

He could have been thinking off the credibility the Rockets had added to their 2014 rise to a 22-6 record, the NBA’s best since New Year’s, a season-best seven-game home winning streak or their 12-2 record since the start of February when the only losses were in the second half of back-to-backs.

Had he thought of it with the pairing of a win against Heat to go with the blowout of the Pacers, he even could have been marking their season-long dominance of the Eastern Conference in Houston, with the Rockets 14-0 against Eastern Conference teams.

In many ways, however, he might have just enjoyed the clearer-than-ever signs of how much the Rockets have progressed in the months in between.

“We’ve been playing well since the beginning of the New Year,” Harden said. “We kind of got a feel for each other now. We’ve gotten better. We’ve gotten healthy.

“When we hold the ball and let them set up defensively, then they’re great. But if we play fast like we did and make plays for each other, it’s hard to beat.”

***

No. 3: Phil Jax rumors blow up in New York — The man had taken sabbaticals before. He roared off on his motorcycle after helping Chicago win its sixth NBA championship in eight years in 1998 and sat out the following season before acquiescing to coach Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant with the Los Angeles Lakers. He stepped away again in 2004-05 to recharge and get healthy, then came back for six more seasons and two more Lakers championships.

But Phil Jackson is going on three years now off the NBA stage and out of the daily sports spotlight, so it’s totally understandable that he might be getting a little restless. That restlessness might or might not – remember, we’re talking both rumors and Jackson weighing multiple options at this point in his life (age 68) – land him in New York, running or coaching the Knicks. Here’s some of what ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne wrote on the topic:

 Phil Jackson is “ready to go back to work,” a source with knowledge of his thinking told ESPN.com on Friday.

The former Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls coach has spent the last couple of years working to improve his health — which included several surgeries and a successful fight against prostate cancer — and writing a book. But the itch to return to the NBA in some capacity is strong.

While Jackson has made it clear to any team that has approached him that he prefers a front-office role that would allow him to shape and mold a franchise the way Miami Heat president Pat Riley has, he is open to the possibility of coaching for a short period of time if it was necessary in a transition period for a franchise with championship aspirations, the source said.

He would not consider any coaching position that did not have a significant guarantee of personnel power as well, sources said.

***

No. 4: Pierce sees Rondo as the next, well, himPaul Pierce, the beloved forward who returned to Boston again Friday in the jarring black-and-white of the Brooklyn Nets, has seen this Celtics movie before. He knows what it must be like for former teammate Rajon Rondo, who is used to better times and has to endure the losing and no longer sees respect or fear in foes’ faces. But Pierce doesn’t worry about the feisty Celtics playmaker because he sees better days ahead, per A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com:

“They’re a young team,” Pierce said. “They got a mix of some veterans, some young guys developing. They’re only going to get better.”

And a significant part of that improvement in Pierce’s eyes, is point guard Rajon Rondo.

Rondo continues to look more and more like the four time All-Star that he is, and not the player on the mend from a torn right ACL injury in January of last year.

On Friday, he had a team-high 20 points to go with nine assists and seven rebounds.

“Rondo is ready to lead,” Pierce said. “He’s leading them right now, moving them into the next generation of Celtics. Their future is going to be very bright.”

But in order to fully appreciate what awaits them at the end of the journey, first they must navigate a path that, for now, will be difficult when it comes to winning games.

Seeing the big picture when he was a young player in Boston wasn’t easy for Pierce who admits Rondo’s better prepared for what lies ahead than he was.

“Rondo understands,” said Pierce, adding “He understands a little more than I did at the time. When I first got here (in Boston), I was in rebuild mode, made the playoffs and went back to rebuild mode. Same with him (Rondo). He came in, we were rebuilding. We went through a phase where we were winning. Now he’s back in rebuild mode, but he’s still young enough to see it out to still be in his prime. I know the Celtics are going to do whatever it takes, to get back to that top level again.”

***

No. 5: Noah bored by whines of “tampering” – So what if it was true that, at some point during All-Star weekend, Chicago center Joakim Noah teased, suggested or even downright pleaded with New York’s Carmelo Anthony to consider signing with the Bulls this summer rather than the Knicks or the Lakers? If that’s “tampering,” the SEC needs to throw a net over the entire NBA for insider trading violations. After the summer of 2010, when Miami’s Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh came together after huddles and strategy sessions great and small … after the Rockets’ Chandler Parsons inundated Dwight Howard with text messages daily leading up to his choice of Houston over the Lakers … the reports that Noah told Anthony he’d be best off by choosing Chicago seem like so much trash-talking or idle banter. Knicks coach Mike Woodson needs to focus on Xs, Os, Ws and Ls, too, more than on some alleged he-said, he-said distraction. Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times addressed some of what seems much ado about nothing:

Noah was asked about the Anthony rumor after the morning shootaround and never denied it, but he chalked it up as nothing more than March gossip.

“What are you talking about, the gossip going on?’’ Noah said.

“You want me to address that? I don’t feel like addressing it. I really have nothing to say.’’

When asked if the story was accurate, Noah said, “Doesn’t matter. What does that have to do with our team now? It doesn’t matter.’’

[Coach Tom] Thibodeau did take exception to Knicks coach Mike Woodson telling a radio station that Noah broke league rules and was tampering.

“You know, legally, nobody can recruit anyone,’’ Woodson said.

“To me, it’s just a bunch of nonsense,’’ Thibodeau said. “We don’t pay any attention to it, just get ready for [the next game]. . . . It’s all nonsense. We’re just concentrating on our next opponent.’’

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Whew! They must be breathing easier in Milwaukee now, knowing that veteran Drew Gooden, on his second 10-day contract with Washington, won’t have vengeance on his mind when the Wizards visit Saturday night for the way the Bucks warehoused him last season (while paying him a whole lot of cash). … If Sam Malone could do it, maybe Paul Pierce could too: Open a bar or restaurant back in Boston when his playing days are over. Pierce was pondering the future Friday night. … Will Saturday’s clash with UNC be Jabari Parker‘s final home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, or might he return for his sophomore year rather than enter the NBA Draft pool? OK, we’ll play along. … Knicks center Tyson Chandler didn’t really mean to mock Kevin Love‘s defense, Chandler said via Twitter a day later. … Patty Mills listened to Spurs coach Gregg Popovich — wise move, Patty — and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Morning Shootaround — March 3


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Mar. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Riley speaks on Heat | Melo to the Bulls … at some point? | Spurs finally back to normal | Markieff Morris holds the key for the Suns | Stan Van Gundy is no fan of analytics

No. 1: Heat boss Riley sends cautious message about team, season – Perhaps it’s his personal history with trying to three-peat that’s on Heat boss Pat Riley‘s mind these days. Reality has a way of creeping into the consciousness for a man who has seen and done as much as Riley has over the course of his career. And that could explain his cautious message to Heat fans over the weekend, words spoken at a charity function, words that are sure to make their way to the locker room. And maybe that’s what Riley, always the master motivator, was trying to do all along. If he feels his team needed to be poked or prodded from on high, he took matters into his own hands. More from the Associated Press report:

“We’re playing very well right now, but every day you keep ratcheting up what you need to do to get ready for what you know is going to be an incredibly competitive playoff,” Riley said. “Right now, you have to keep in mind we have a long way to go.”

The Heat (42-14) will head into Monday’s home game against Charlotte winners of seven straight and 10 of 11. They still have to wait seven weeks before the playoffs.

“Everybody thinks it’s right around the corner. No, a lot of stuff can happen,” Riley said. “We’re in home-court advantage races, not only in the West but in the East. That’s not an objective.

“The objective, I think according to Coach (Erik Spoelstra), is that (we) stay on track with the defense and the rebounding, and I think we’ll be OK.”

Riley touched on several other topics during a brief meeting with reporters.

• On LeBron James: “The fact that he’s a confident player right now, probably the most confident player in the NBA, and it’s not born out of arrogance or born out of anything else other than the main thing, which is winning. He wants to win. That’s all it’s about.”

• On Dwyane Wade, who this season has been managing sore knees: “Dwyane is an 11-year veteran and he knows his way around the block. He knows what he has to do to get himself ready. Again, I go back 11 years with him, and I’ve seen him from the beginning to where he is today. He’s a smarter, more efficient in using his energy.”

• On not signing former Heat swingman Caron Butler, who signed with Oklahoma City on Saturday after being bought out by Milwaukee earlier in the week: “We love Caron. We reached out to him but he was very definitive with what he wanted and I don’t think it’s something we could have promised.”

• On 7-foot center Greg Oden, who has returned after missing nearly four years due to knee injuries: “He’s gone through a lot and I just cross my fingers, and knock on wood every day that he stays healthy. And if he does, he’s going to get better. And if he gets better then we’re going to be better. That’s why we brought him in.”

***

No. 2: Melo’s dilemma, Chicago or New York? – If Carmelo Anthony’s going to chase a championship at this stage of his career, Frank Isola of the New York Daily News suggests he start studying up on the situation in Chicago. Our Steve Aschburner has already highlighted the deep-rooted cultural differences between Melo and what he’s used to and what the Bulls are used to under Tom Thibodeau … and the gulf is wide. But time is running out on Melo and the Knicks, who fell hard against Joakim Noah and the Bulls Sunday. Melo has to have an escape plan in place and Chicago wouldn’t be a bad place to land, if chasing a title is truly at the top of his to-do-list:

A young fan seated behind the Knicks bench held up a sign encouraging Carmelo Anthony to consider the Bulls — again — when he weighs his free-agent options this summer.

“I saw a lot of signs,” Anthony said in delivering perhaps the best cryptic message of his career.

“It was a good sign,” he would later say. “I mean the kid went to art class … not the message.”

Anthony’s words are becoming more scrutinized, especially with July 1 drawing closer and his future already having been linked to the Bulls, among other teams.

He was admittedly “embarrassed” by the Knicks’ 109-90 loss on Sunday, yet also impressed with the Bulls’ resolve. Deep down, Anthony knows Chicago could be his best free-agent option.

The Bulls can offer Melo a stable franchise with a fierce, battle-tested roster as well as a superb head coach. The best the Knicks can do is the most lucrative payday, which may be too good to reject.

But if you take Anthony at his word, that winning a title is his top priority even if it means taking less money, well then there are few places better than Chicago.

“I don’t know, man. They always are a team who’s going to be there, who’s going to compete, who’s going to play hard,” Anthony said. “For whatever reason that is, I don’t know if it’s their system, if it’s Thib’s system. For whatever reason they’re always going to be there and compete.”

The Bulls apparently do have interest in Anthony, whom they pursued three years ago in a trade but couldn’t land. Chicago was not thrilled about dealing Deng, the emotional leader of the team whose personality and competitive fire would complement Anthony. Imagine if after all the assets the Knicks gave up to land Anthony he goes to the team that kept its core intact, has an MVP-caliber point guard and a brilliant head coach.

You better believe Melo sees signs. He sees a Knicks organization in utter disarray. He sees himself missing the playoffs for the first time in his career and it makes him sick to his stomach.

He sees LeBron James poised to win another title and sees Chris Paul with a loaded roster in Los Angeles.

The sign he should be looking for as it relates to the Knicks is a yellow one that screams, “Caution!” The Knicks’ plan is simple: re-sign Anthony and add a free agent the following summer. Makes sense. Maybe they’ll sign someone like Rajon Rondo, who has his own knee issues and who, unlike Rose, can occasionally be a head case. However, selling Anthony on the 2015-16 season is a risky proposition.

***

No. 3: Finally, Spurs get back to normal with Parker’s return – Tony Parker‘s return to the lineup for the San Antonio Spurs didn’t necessarily make global waves in the basketball atmosphere. But it should have. The Spurs have not been their usual selves without him. And for months they’ve battled injury after injury to their core group, issues that all teams face in some form, fashion or another. Still, it caused more than a little teeth-gnashing in San Antonio. Dan McCarney of the Express News explains how Gregg Popovich and crew handled the mess:

Parker’s return brought an end to a two-month crisis, started by Tiago Splitter’s sprained shoulder against the Clippers on Jan. 4, during which the Spurs missed at least one and as many as four key players for 24 straight games. They went 16-8 during that span, dropping just one game further behind first-place Oklahoma City to sit 1 1/2 off the pace in the Western Conference standings.

While Spurs coach Gregg Popovich couldn’t care less about seeding — “It doesn’t matter. It never has,” he said after Sunday’s game — [Manu] Ginobili and Parker are thrilled.

“Sometimes you do have a lot of injuries during a season,” he said, “but not five core players together. Pop and the team really had to figure it out. Grab players and change positions. We had Nando (De Colo) and Cory (Joseph) playing (shooting guard) a lot, even (small forward). So it’s remarkable we managed to stay in the second spot with a good record. I’m proud of this team.”

Said Parker, “It feels great to have everybody back. Hopefully, everybody can stay healthy and try to make a run at it. Everybody recharged their batteries. Everybody should be fresh. Every year I like our chances so as long as we stay healthy and play our best basketball when the playoffs come. That’s the main thing.”

***

No. 4: Markieff Morris serves as Suns’ biggest key – The “Year of the Dragon?” Maybe not in Phoenix. Sure, Goran Dragic has been great this season for the Suns. He’s high on the list of most improved players in the league and also has earned a spot on the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder. But the Suns’ biggest key this season? That honor belongs to Markieff Morris. That’s right, Markieff Morris. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic provides some context:

The Suns were piling up points early Sunday night, but their defensive stops could not keep up until Markieff Morris and Ish Smith entered the game.

Markieff Morris’ presence can swing a game, and it usually has been for the better — like Sunday night, when he posted 12 points, five rebounds and three assists in 14 first-half minutes to swing the Suns from trailing to a double-digit lead.

“Of maybe all of our guys, he’s probably the biggest key,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “If he plays well, we usually have a pretty good chance of winning the game. When he isn’t active, then we struggle. We rely on him a lot coming off that bench, and we run a lot of stuff to him. He’s a great passer. He’s probably one of our better passers on the team.”

The Suns need Morris to be aggressive in the post to create plays for himself and others, especially when Goran Dragic is resting. He has become a Sixth Man Award candidate by scoring in double digits in 21 of the past 22 games. The last Suns reserve to do that was teammate Leandro Barbosa, when he won the Sixth Man Award seven seasons ago.

The Suns have not strayed from the usual starting five except for injuries, using the second-fewest total of starters this season (seven) in the NBA. Morris’ connection with his twin, Marcus, makes it an effective bench unit with Smith pushing the tempo.

As a bench player, that sometimes means that Markieff Morris plays the rest of either half because he is going so well. He closes tight games with Hornacek usually trying to get a brief fourth-quarter rest.

“You say we’ll ride him out and see if he gets tired and he’s been able to get through that and finish a lot of games,” Hornacek said

***

No. 5:  Van Gundy dismisses analytics crowd – John Schuhmann and the rest of the stats-loving/analytics crowd might want to cover their ears whenever Stan Van Gundy speaks, because he is not a fan. And that’s the politically correct way of saying that the former Magic and Heat coach has not been converted to the analytics age of the game. Not yet at least. Van Gundy went off o the analytics movement during his time at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, expressing his displeasure with many of the folks who have championed the cause. Brett Pollakoff of ProBasketballTalk has more on Van Gundy’s analytics inquisition:

Van Gundy posed legitimate questions that would theoretically need to be addressed before the basketball purists at the NBA level take the data as gospel, and making sure that whoever is identifying certain play types and quantifying them knows basketball, and is doing that job to the specifications of a particular head coach.

“I don’t trust most of it,” Van Gundy said, beginning an exquisite rant on the topic. “I read some of the stuff that people write on ESPN.com, you know, I’ll read stats on pick and roll defense and stuff that came off Synergy or somewhere else — I don’t know who the hell is recording that information!”

“I read a thing in the playoffs last year that said that New York isolated like 17 percent of the time,” he continued. “I’m watching their games, they isolate half of the time, at least. So I don’t know who’s recording that. If there’s a pick and roll, and they throw it back to Carmelo and he holds the ball and isolates for eight seconds, that’s a pick and roll play, not an isolation? And a lot of pick and roll stuff … you know, I read a thing today from ESPN the Magazine on Paul George being the best pick and roll defender in the league on the ball handler. Look, a lot of pick and rolls … there’s pick and rolls designed to score, and there’s pick and rolls you run to get into something else. If you’re recording it and you’re treating those two things the same, then you don’t know what you’re doing.”

Van Gundy really does like the additional available data — he just needs to be able to trust that whoever is compiling it has the same standards basketball-wise that he does. Ironically enough, I overheard a statistician type at one of the panel discussions explaining to a colleague that of course he watches games — but only to enhance his data set.

“I mean, I do watch the games,” this person said, “to to try to pick up on some things that maybe my numbers aren’t catching.”

This is obviously completely backwards, and as far as Van Gundy is concerned, there’s simply no substitution for the eye test.

“To me, I think that a lot of the analytic stuff can be very useful, but if you’re using that in place of sitting down and watching film yourself and seeing what’s going on, you’re making a big mistake,” Van Gundy said. “And I don’t want to offend anybody, but I think one of the problems with analytics — I think it’s good; I used it, I love looking at it — but one of the problems is, there are a lot of people in a lot of organizations who don’t know the game, who all they know is analytics and as a result, that’s what they rely on. And they will use that to supersede what guys like us see with our eyes. And I think that’s a major mistake. There’s no substitute for watching film over and over and over again, and the only numbers I trust are the ones that my people believe.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jimmer Mania is on and popping in Chciago … Some “tanking” going on in Orlando? … Andrew Bynum is reportedly ready for action and is saying it loud and clear, “I want to play” … Jeremy Lin goes up before the All-Star break but has come crashing down since … Thunder will work without two defensive cornerstones for the foreseeable future

ICYMI of the Night: The Phoenix Suns want you to know that the Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors aren’t the only Western Conference playoff teams capable of going off from distance. They peppered the Atlanta Hawks from deep Sunday, raining down 15 made 3-pointers in smashing a pie in the face of their guests …


VIDEO: The Suns let it fly from deep in a win over the Hawks

Morning Shootaround — March 1


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron’s mask dilemma | Knicks eyeing Jackson as Woodson’s replacement? | OKC and Butler a perfect fit | Bulls confidence soaring during current run | Colangelo: “I tried to tank”

No. 1: LeBron’s black mask days appear to be over after just one game – Well, it was fun while it lasted, LeBron James in that black mask to protect his broken nose. Our Bleacher Report brother Ethan Skolnick broke the news that the NBA prefers LeBron wear the clear mask and no the black carbon-fiber shield he wore during Thursday night’s win over the Knicks. And according to Skolnick, this isn’t just the league being heavy handed. It’s more about them sticking to the precedent that’s already been established in regards to goggles and facial ware being clear so there is no advantage for the player who is forced to play with goggles or a mask (go figure):

In an email, Skolnick explained why the league prefers a clear mask as opposed to a black one: “The reason the league prefers the ‘clear’ is so that opponents can see a player’s eyes. They have set rules about goggles, which came into play with (Dwyane) Wade in New York in 2011.”

Defenders already have enough trouble stopping James. If they’re unable to read his eyes as a means of guessing where he plans to attack, guarding him would become even more impossible.

Still, this change will be a bummer for the Internet world. Twitter exploded with various comparisons, GIFs and Photoshop creations as King James donned the Zorro-esque mask in a 108-82 win against the New York Knicks Thursday night.

LeBron isn’t going to let the black mask go away without a bit of a fight. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reports that an appeal has been filed and that LeBron, while prepared to comply with the league’s request, would like to continue wearing the black mask. It’s complicated, of course, as is anything this seemingly trivial:

“It is our understanding LeBron used the black mask because a clear one he was comfortable with wasn’t ready,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank said.

James appealed the decision and is still trying to get clearance to wear the black mask because he likes the lightness and fit of it, a source said. He also said he liked the style and how it matched the Heat’s black throwback uniforms. It gave him no issues when he put up 31 points on 13-of-19 shooting in the Heat’s 108-82 win against the Knicks.

But James is preparing to use a clear mask Saturday, though he still may find a way to personalize it.

The black mask was a huge hit among fans, and James and several teammates posted pictures with it on social media. On Friday, the Heat started selling T-shirts with a masked James on them.

“Only LeBron can make breaking your nose look cool,” Heat forward Shane Battier said.

***

No. 2: Knicks eyeing Mark Jackson as Mike Woodson’s eventual replacement? – The Knicks are in the midst of an absolutely dreadful stretch right now, one that has brought into question the futures of almost all involved but especially coach Mike Woodson and resident superstar Carmelo Anthony. Anthony will make his own decisions about his future, this summer in free agency. Woodson, however, will see his fate decided by the Knicks’ big bosses. And if the fans get their wish, a familiar face would be the choice to replace Woodson. New York native and former Knicks point guard Mark Jackson, who happens to have a job coaching the Golden State Warriors right now, is the dream pick, according to Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News:

The big meeting took place right out on the Garden floor, for all to see.

Knicks president and GM Steve Mills and his top lieutenant, Allan Houston, were double-teaming Mark Jackson a little more than an hour before the Knicks pulled a no-show and were routed by Jackson’s Warriors, 126-103, on Friday night.

Go ahead Knicks fans, dream a little.

We can tell you on good authority, no job offer was made. We know this because it was just small talk, chit-chat among old friends.

But it was fairly obvious to everyone in the place that the Knicks have a crush on their old playmaker.

Early in the game, they paid tribute to Jackson on the big scoreboard with a nice video of his career, showing some of his highlights during his two-part career in New York.

Then came the ultimate tribute, at the end of the video, when the PA announcer introduced Jackson, saying, “Once a Knick, always a Knick.”

When they say that about you at the Garden, you know you’re family.

Even MSG Network seemed to be doing its best to give Jackson an inordinate amount of air time in its postgame coverage.

It sure does seem as if the Knicks have their eyes on Mark Jackson, out of Bishop Loughlin and St. John’s.

It’s not as if Jackson hadn’t been back at the Garden before this night. So their show of affection seemed a tad excessive.

But maybe the Garden was just sending signals about who it wants to coach down the line. Jackson got his win, which wasn’t very hard to do. His meal ticket, Stephen Curry, notched his triple-double and there were still two minutes left in the third quarter. His team rebounded nicely off a 20-point loss two nights earlier in Chicago.

Mike Woodson is walking around with a look on his face as if he knows the end is near. Well, after these final 23 games.

“I’m not aware of it, I’m coaching my basketball team, so I haven’t kept up,” Jackson said beforehand about his old team.

Of course he was playing dumb.

He called the Knicks “a dangerous team.”


VIDEO: Masked LeBron was great against the Knicks but will he make another appearance in black?

***

No. 3: Butler a good fit for Thunder on and off the court – The Thunder ended that skid with Russell Westbrook back in the lineup, courtesy of Kevin Durant‘s 30-point second half in a win over Memphis Friday night. But they’re focused on regaining their winning ways and more right now. Caron Butler is set to join the Thunder’s title quest now that his buyout in Milwaukee is complete and once he’s cleared waivers. As Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman makes clear, Butler is an excellent fit for the Thunder’s culture, on and off the court, and should be play an integral role in whatever they do going forward this season:

You’ve probably read or heard about all that he brings: toughness and experience, professionalism and character, defense and 3-point shooting.

But what few among us know is why Butler, free to sign with any team after being bought out by Milwaukee on Thursday, chose to come to Oklahoma City.

For now, all we can do is assume it’s because the Thunder gives him a chance to win his second championship. But there’s got to be something more.

That alone is something other franchises, like Miami, Indiana, San Antonio, Houston and the Los Angeles Clippers, also could offer. And the Thunder, for myriad reasons, couldn’t offer the most money or the most minutes or the biggest and best metropolis.

So what’s bringing Butler to OKC?

One reason could be the Thunder’s culture closely matches Butler’s mentality.

Butler would become only the second player the Thunder has signed after another team agreed to a buyout. Derek Fisher in the 2011-12 season became the first.

Both carried with them well-established reputations for being upstanding citizens, community-minded individuals and championship-driven players. Their attraction to Oklahoma City could say as much about the Thunder as it does about them.

It could say the Thunder is now a prime destination for players who want to win.

***

No. 4: Bulls confidence soaring after latest show of toughness – The Chicago Bulls take pride in their toughness. Coach Tom Thibodeau has instilled that in them from the start. And with leaders like Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich around to spread the message, it’s no wonder the Bulls are thriving during what would be tumultuous times anywhere else. They know that no matter the circumstance, no matter who is or is not in uniform, they will compete to the very end. They showed off that intestinal fortitude in an eye-opening comeback win over the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas Friday night. It was the Bulls’ eighth win in 10 tries. They are cut from a completely different cloth than any other team in the league in that regard, notes Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com:

The difference between the Bulls and many other teams in the league is that they rarely lose focus on what they are trying to accomplish. They believe in themselves and they believe in coach Tom Thibodeau’s system. They believe, no matter how good their opponent might be, that they can win each night. That’s why, when they got into a 16-point hole in Friday’s first half and had to knock down shots late in the game, their demeanor never changed. They never stopped believing that tough defense and big shots would be the elixir against a Mavericks team playing some of its best basketball of the season.

“I just think we didn’t panic,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said, “I think guys understood what we have to do. … We’re just focused right now. Our defense is really clicking. Our offense is really clicking. Guys are really taking big-time shots, we’re never panicking late, we’ve been in this situation. Our poise is just through the roof right now and we’re really in a rhythm.”

That’s the key for Thibodeau’s team as it streaks into March. The rhythm Gibson talked about was missing before the turn of the new year. The same Mavericks team came into the United Center in late December and beat the Bulls by 22 points. Gibson and his teammates are finding ways to adjust on the fly, something that was apparent in the defining fourth quarter, when the Bulls tightened up their defense and held the Mavericks to only six makes from the field in 25 attempts.

“We’re tough whenever we’re playing defense,” Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler said. “Rotating, getting into the ball. I think that’s where the basketball starts for us. We let our defense dictate our offense.”

The Bulls are only going to go as far as their defense takes them this season. That’s why Friday’s comeback win meant a little more to them. They realized yet again that they have the ability to shut down good teams on the road — a trait that will serve them well in the playoffs. They realized that they could overcome their surroundings, as Mavericks owner Mark Cuban barked at officials under the basket and Dallas assistant coaches Mike Shedd and Mike Weinar screamed out most of the Bulls’ sets whenever Thibodeau made a call. It’s games like this, victories like this, that remind the Bulls just how important the little things are to winning.

“I feel like when people call you resilient that’s a compliment,” Noah said. “But we just got to stay hungry, stay hungry, keep this mindset, we got punched in the face early in the game, we stuck with it and we kept fighting. I think that’s what this team represents. We got one of our best wins of the year today.”

***

No. 5: Ex-Raptors boss Colangelo: “I tried to tank” – The Colangelos, the first family of basketball to many, has upheld the NBA shield for decades. But Bryan Colangelo, the former boss of both of the Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors, admitted committing the cardinal sin for a franchise when admitted to trying to tank with the Raptors a couple of years ago. Colangelo came clean on a panel discussion at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston. Colangelo said he did so during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, a move he said was a basic necessity for the Raptors, given their predicament at that time. USA Today Sports’ Sam Amick delivers the details:

As part of a Basketball Analytics panel in which a current proposal was discussed in which the league’s draft lottery system would be replaced by a structure in which the incentive for losing would be eliminated, Colangelo shared the sort of story that the NBA community is well aware is somewhat commonplace but that executives typically keep to themselves.

“I like (the proposal) because there’s no assurances (of getting a good pick) when you do tank,” Colangelo said. “Admittedly, I will say, I tried to tank a couple years ago.

“And I didn’t ‘come out and say, ‘Coach (Dwane Casey), you’ve got to lose games.’ I never said that. I wanted to have him establish a winning tradition and a culture and all of that, but I wanted to do it in the framework of playing and developing young players, and with that comes losing. There’s just no way to avoid that, but I never once said, ‘You’ve got to lose this game.’ “

Colangelo reflected on the ripple effect of that season, as the Raptors finished 23-43 and ultimately drafted Terrence Ross out of the University of Washington with the eighth pick. Because Toronto had finished with the same record as the Golden State Warriors, they had a coin flip to determine which team picked first.

Less than a year later, Colangelo was, in essence, replaced by former Denver Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri. Colangelo stepped down as team president three months later.

“Just one less loss (that season) would have put us in a coin toss for (the Portland Trail Blazers’) Damian Lillard potentially (he was taken sixth), and that was a need that we had on our team that year, a point guard need,” Colangelo said. “So it would have kind of taken us on a whole different route in this rebuilding process, and of course if we had lost a lot more games we would have had better odds to get (the New Orleans Pelicans’) Anthony Davis, the big prize that year. We’re looking at it, and it didn’t work out.

“There’s no assurances (in the lottery). I do like the certainty of the (proposed) process. I think there are some merits to obviously take it to the next extent, except I wish we could start it sooner because there really is some ugly basketball being played.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Friday night was a bonanza for mercurial performances around the league. Not only did Kyrie Irving go off for his first triple double … but Goran Dragic scored a career-high 40 points in the Suns’ win over the Pelicans … and Jordan Farmar made Los Angeles Lakers fans forget their woes, at least for a moment, with a career-high 30 points of his own in a win over the Sacramento Kings … Rachel Nichols sat down with Nets center Jason Collins for an in-depth interview about the veteran big man’s journey back to the NBA … and finally, the “Fire Woodson” chants and boos are getting louder and louder at the Garden

ICYMI of The Night: Steph Curry, needed just three quarters to record a triple double and help the Warriors dump the Knicks at Madison Square Garden 


VIDEO: Steph Curry loves working at Madison Square Garden

Brutal Knicks Wasting Melo’s Best




VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony’s 44 points came in vain as the Knicks lost to Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — If and when Carmelo Anthony decides to leave New York, he’ll be justified in departing the premises.

The Knicks are wasting the prime of Anthony’s career, his best years, with a staggeringly putrid season that has included on-court foolishness (yes, I’m looking at you J.R. Smith) rivaled only by even more bone-headed decisions off the court (really Raymond Felton?).

For years, ‘Melo has been an easy target for haters who insist he isn’t LeBron James or Dwyane Wade or Kevin Durant. He’s the only member of the top five of that vaunted 2003 Draft class without a ring (yes, even Darko Milicic has one). But he’s done yeoman’s work this season, most of it in vain. Because the Knicks can’t get right. Injuries, dysfunctional chemistry and an overall lack of clear thinking on the part of a several folks has led to the tire fire we are all witnessing.

The Knicks have been scrambling all season trying to clean up this mess, a futile effort to clean up a mess of their own making. Waiving Metta World Peace and Beno Udrih, as they did Monday, won’t do it. They tried to move Felton prior to and up until last week’s trade deadline but could not find a taker … anywhere.

Throw the shade on Anthony or Knicks coach Mike Woodson or whoever you’d like, but make no mistake, this is a systemic problem with the Knicks that has no quick fix. We’ve heard for years that you cannot afford to “rebuild” in New York, that the rabid fan base will not allow it. That’s nonsense. The only way you get out of this mess if you are the Knicks is if you rebuild and start that process now.

And again, that is why no one should be upset with ‘Melo if he decides he wants no part of a rebuilding effort at this stage of his career and decides to chase a title elsewhere by using his free-agent escape hatch this summer.

The Knicks’ current free fall, nine losses in 11 games after Monday night’s crushing home loss to Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks at the buzzer, only exacerbates the problems of this season. They are running out of time to salvage this thing. They are six games out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase, a post currently occupied by an Atlanta Hawks team that has won just once in its last nine games and is limping to the regular-season finish line.

The Eastern Conference, after Indiana and Miami, is basically a blank canvas and the Knicks aren’t even capable of joining that party. It’s a disastrous way for ‘Melo to spend what could (and probably should) be his final season in New York.

“It’s a damn shame,” Woodson said of the way the Knicks are squandering Anthony’s splendid individual work this season. “The way he’s played, it’s a damn shame that we’re in the position we’re in, because our team doesn’t deserve [it] and he definitely does not deserve the position that we’re in.”

Making matters worse long-term for the Knicks is that they’re loaded with awful contracts that make it virtually impossible to rectify this situation before ‘Melo can walk. The only tradeable assets the Knicks may possess are Tim Hardaway Jr. and Iman Shumpert, young talents with reasonable contracts that New York would need if it decides to start rebuilding.

They’re on the hook for $50 million in salary for Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani in the 2014-15 season. And that does not include the more than $10 million owed to Smith and Felton that same season.

While we’re staring at the numbers, it should be noted that a max-deal in New York would net ‘Melo some $129 million. The most he could get from another team is $96 million. That’s a huge amount of money to leave on the table. But it wouldn’t be unprecedented. Dwight Howard made that extremely tough choice last summer, opting to chase his title in Houston rather than staying in Los Angeles with the Lakers in an environment that didn’t agree with him.

‘Melo’s specifics are different. However, the decision could end up being the same. And who could blame him for fleeing the scene of the crime that is the Knicks right now?


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony talks after the Knicks’ home loss to the Mavs

Time To Step It Up For The Stretch Run


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony talks about the challenges facing the Knicks

Now that the slam dunking, 3-point shooting and other wretched excess of NBA All-Star weekend is in the rearview mirror, even those of us who aren’t 7-footers can stand on our tip-toes and see the playoffs from here.

There’s jockeying the standings to be done: Races for the No. 1 seeding in both the Eastern and Western Conference, the long-shot hopefuls trying to sneak in at the No. 8 spot and the down-to-the-wire elbowing for home-court advantage in the first round.

While Kobe Bryant continues driving himself to make it back onto the court this season because, well, he’s Kobe Bryant, there are a handful of other players and teams who need to step up their games coming down the homestretch:

Deron Williams — After a slow start a year ago, Williams found his stride and finished strong, averaging 22 points and 10 assists per game in the second half of the season. While the Nets have picked themselves out of the bottom of the garbage heap of the East to climb into the No. 7 spot in the standings thanks to Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett finally starting to come around, the most expensive roster in the league isn’t going anywhere in the playoffs if Williams can’t bounce back again and lead them. Is it the ankles? Is it the lack of confidence that he has mentioned? Or is he simply at the end of the line as an elite level point guard in his ninth season? Williams has scored 20 points just once since Jan. 4 and has only two games of handing out double-digit assists in 2014. He was even challenged to a 1-on-1 duel by coach Jason Kidd at a recent practice to try to light a spark.

Carmelo Anthony — He doesn’t show an interest in defense and, yes, he can turn Knicks games into a circus where he’s in the center ring and everyone else watches him hog the spotlight and the ball. Yet if it weren’t for Anthony carrying the offensive load, New York would be buried deeper in the standings. His PER of 24.61 is the second best of his career. Even at 20-32, the Knicks are within striking range in the East and Anthony is going to have to find a way to lift up his teammates — and save the job of coach Mike Woodson — rather than just outshine them before going into his summer of free agency. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if J.R. Smith stopped his clown show and got back to playing basketball at least part time.

Timberwolves — The clock is ticking. Not just on another season when the Wolves were supposed become a playoff team that is slipping away. It could — and should — be ticking loudly on the end of Kevin Love in Minnesota. Two more seasons until Mr. Double-Double can fly out of the icy north to a landing some place where they actually do more than just talk about making the playoffs. Healthy again, Love is back to putting up big numbers. Yes, he’s faltered at times down the stretch as the Wolves have lost a ton of close games. But it really is a case of not having a supporting cast around him that has shown much inclination for improvement. That’s you, Ricky Rubio. Reports have said G.M. Flip Saunders is willing to trade anybody on the roster except Love in an attempt to keep him in Minnesota. But as another year comes off the calendar, you have to wonder if it isn’t already too late.

Manu Ginobili — Sidelined since the end of the January with a strained hamstring, the San Antonio firecracker is scheduled to jump back into the lineup this week. He’s not on this list due to underperforming but for how much the Spurs need him back in their lineup to get the fire burning again. Tony Parker got a chance to get a head start on his All-Star break because he has simply looked worn out this season after going all the way to The Finals last June and then playing for the French national team in EuroBasket. Tim Duncan is showing more and more of his age at times and there are rumors that he is thinking of retiring at the end of the season. The Spurs have played miserably against the top contenders in the West — just a single win over a Clippers lineup without Chris Paul. They need Ginobili to come back strong and healthy and durable to be considered real playoff contenders again.

Andre Iguodala — When the Warriors brought him in from Denver, the belief was that he’d upgrade the roster at both ends of the floor. They figured he’d be the slashing, penetrating force of the past, adding another scoring option and helping Stephen Curry distribute the ball and being a solid wing defender. While he’s helped move the ball and been solid on defense, the problem has been a lack of offensive production. He’s scoring just 9.6 points per game, the lowest since his rookie season in Philly. The Warriors don’t need him to challenge Curry or Klay Thompson as a big gun every night, but occasional flashes of firepower will be necessary if the team hopes to climb out of the No. 8 spot in the West and reach the preseason goal of a top four finish. Iguodala has scored 20 points only once since the opening week of the season.

Five Story Lines For The Stretch Run

As All-Stars scurry back from New Orleans and everybody else from beaches near and far, we’ve reached the point when the 82-game trudge can no longer be pronounced a marathon.

The actual midpoint of the season passed weeks ago, but the annual All-Star break officially kick starts the so-called second half — or more like the stretch run. Most teams have only 30 or fewer games left to make their move. This is a sprint now.

With nine games scheduled for Tuesday night, we pull back the curtain on five second-half story lines (excluding Thursday’s trade deadline at 3 p.m. ET) to ponder:

1. Can any team in the disappointing East challenge the Heat and Pacers?


VIDEO: LeBron James and Paul George talk about the Heat-Pacers rivalry

“I don’t know,” Indiana big man Roy Hibbert said. “Toronto’s playing pretty well. Washington’s right there. Chicago’s been playing well even after trading Luol [Deng], so I’m not jumping forward to the second, third round or whatever. I’m just going to have to take care of business. We don’t want any surprises.”

It’s the Pacers’ and Heat’s world, with Indiana holding a tenuous, 2 1/2-game lead over the two-time champs. Circle March 26 and April 11 on the calendar. Those final two Heat-Pacers battles will be intense and could determine the top seed. Indiana dearly wants it for a potential East finals Game 7 against Miami in front of its home fans.

As for the rest of the bunch? Only Toronto and Chicago are above .500. Washington recently got there with some impressive wins only to slip below just before the break. Brooklyn, anyone?

It seems this will remain a two-team slugfest for the East crown.

“Right now that’s how it seems, but you never can know how the season can turn and the playoffs go,” Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall said. “If we figure out a way to play every game like we played against OKC, the Blazers and the Heat, I feel like we have a great chance to be a 3-seed or a 4-seed. But we have to do that for these last 30 games.”

2. Does Russell Westbrook’s imminent return make Oklahoma City the West (and overall) favorite?


VIDEO: Kevin Durant talks after his monster performance in the 2014 All-Star Game

Westbrook could play as soon as OKC’s first game back Thursday against the Heat. OKC was playing its best basketball of, arguably, the Thunder era in the weeks prior to Westbrook leaving the lineup in late December to undergo a third right knee surgery in less than a year.

Led by Kevin Durant, the Thunder surged in Westbrook’s absence and took over the West’s top seed, a spot they’re unlikely to surrender with Westbrook. Some suggest he’ll negatively alter the established on-court chemistry. Don’t bet on it. Some time will be needed for players, like Reggie Jackson, who stepped into larger roles and will now resume previous ones.

“I don’t think it will be too much of an adjustment,” Durant said. “He’s a dog, man, you just got to let him go out there and be him. He has great intentions, he’s a team-first guy, so it’s going to work.”

The league has been warned.

3. Will Kevin Durant win his first MVP award (and fourth scoring title)?


VIDEO: LeBron James and Kevin Durant put on a scoring show in the Thunder-Heat matchup

He’s certainly the leader starting the stretch run. But LeBron James‘ final performance before the break at Golden State reminded everybody that he’s not going to give anything away. That said, Durant’s numbers in the 26 games without Westbrook border on ridiculous: 35.0 points, 6.3 assists and 7.5 rebounds a game, with 52.7 percent shooting (including 39.9 percent beyond the arc). OKC went 19-7.

“As far as MVP, I have no control over votes,” Durant said. “I just go out there and play and I let the rest take care of itself. I always have confidence in myself. I never let anybody take that away from me. I just got to keep taking it a day at a time.”

MVP or not, it would take a near-miracle for Durant not to win a fourth scoring title in five seasons. He could have won it last year, too, but seemed to back off as Carmelo Anthony made a late charge. Durant is averaging 31.5 points a game this season; Anthony, in second place, is next at 27.3 ppg.

4. How will the rest of the season affect decisions facing Carmelo Anthony, Steve Nash and Kevin Garnett?


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony talks during All-Star weekend about his long-term future in New York

Anthony said all the right things during All-Star weekend: He’s focused on making a playoff push; he can attract other top players to New York; he’ll take less money in his next deal if it will help build a title contender.

All that said, New York’s heavy contract burden next season will prevent it from making significant upgrades this summer. The books clear in 2015 when players like Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kyrie Irving (restricted) can hit the market, but that doesn’t guarantee anything. The Knicks looked to be turning a corner in early January, but it was fool’s gold. Could a frustrating end to this season sour Anthony, who turns 30 in May, enough to seriously consider a new address?

If he’s serious about contending now, he’ll have to consider options such as Chicago — even if wife LaLa prefers the Big Apple or Tinseltown over the Windy City.

As for Nash, 40, and Garnett, who turns 38 in May, this might be the end of the line. Nash has valiantly rehabbed for most of the last two seasons since joining the Lakers, and even in his recent return he’s continually dealing with pain. The Lakers aren’t likely contenders next season, and no team is likely to trade for Nash, who is still owed $9.7 million next season.

Garnett is averaging 6.8 points and 6.8 rebounds a game in a forgettable first season with Brooklyn. The Nets will likely make the playoffs in this underachieving Eastern Conference, but unless they put together an inspiring run, Garnett might not feel inspired to do it all over again.

Of course, the elephant in the room is that both players would walk away from a pile of cash. Garnett has $12 million left on his deal for next season. They won’t say it, but at this point both franchises would probably prefer these soon-to-be Hall of Famers hang ‘em up.

5. Will Kobe Bryant play this season and where will the Lakers finish?


VIDEO: At the All-Star Game, Kobe Bryant talks about his rehab work and more

On Sunday at the All-Star Game, Kobe said his recovery is “coming slowly,” but he did not suggest that his season is done.

“I am,” he said when asked if he’s hopeful he’ll play. “I just need to keep my blinders on and just focus on getting better myself and going from there.”

He’s played in only six games this season and fractured his knee after coming back from Achilles surgery last April. Is it wise to play? The Lakers are an impossible 13 games out of the final playoff spot and, at 18-35, are tied for last in the West with the Sacramento Kings.

If Kobe plays, it will have zero effect on the Lakers’ ability to creep toward a playoff berth, thought it might serve to satisfy his appetite to play. A few more meaningless wins will mean fewer ping-pong balls in the lottery. If Kobe sits it out, L.A. could finish dead last in the West. It currently has more wins than only three East teams.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 13


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron’s game-winner takes Heat into break | Wade’s All-Star status in the air | Rose not thinking about a return | Another scare for Gasol, Grizzlies | Knicks hit another low point

No. 1: LeBron’s game-winner takes Heat into break — The Miami Heat seemingly cruised through the first 50 games of the season, but as they head into the All-Star break, they’re very much in striking distance of the Indiana Pacers, thanks to Dallas’ win in Indy on Wednesday and LeBron James‘ fadeaway, 3-point game-winner in Oakland. It was one of the more incredible shots of the season so far, and it sent the Heat into the break on a high note. Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report was there:

As Andre Iguodala, defiant defender, would say after the 111-110 defeat, “There’s nothing I would change. He just made a tough shot.”

But, for the James and the rest of the Heat, so few words would not suffice. This was a shot to savor, a shot that sent them into the All-Star break on a serious sugar high, with another sweet road win against a strong Western Conference squad. This was a shot by someone who has never made one like this from this range in this circumstance since joining Miami, or at least none that he or his teammates could remember.

This was a shot — this step back 27-footer just before the buzzer — that really shouldn’t have happened, not if the Heat had held a large lead, and not if Erik Spoelstra had stuck with his plan.

***

No. 2: Wade’s All-Star status in the air — That win came without Dwyane Wade, who was a late scratch with a sore left foot. Wade was voted in as an East starter for the All-Star game, but has missed 15 games this season and wasn’t sure what was wrong or if he could play on Sunday. Marc J. Spears of Yahoo!Sports has the story:

The 10-time All-Star said he had numbness in his left leg in warm-ups before the game after “the nerve kind of shut down” and kept him from having feeling in his left foot. Wade said his injury was “drop foot,” also known as foot drop, which causes an inability to lift the front part of the foot.

“It’s one of the most bizarre things…,” Wade said. “Hopefully, the numbness wears off more and more as it started to do throughout the game and throughout the rest of the night. By [Thursday] hopefully it subsides and we will go from there.”

Wade was still expecting to take the Heat team plane that arrives early Thursday morning in New Orleans for NBA All-Star Weekend rather than return to Miami. Wade, who described himself as day-to-day, plans on getting treatment from the team’s trainer in New Orleans in hopes of remedying the injury before Sunday.

***

No. 3: Rose not thinking about a returnDerrick Rose spoke to the media at a charity event on Wednesday. And while he didn’t say anything to absolutely rule out a return this season and Joakim Noah seemingly left the door open on Tuesday, Rose said that he’s just taking his knee rehab step by step. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune was there with the story:

Bulls’ doctors, management and confidantes of Rose ruled him out for the season following surgery to repair the meniscus he tore in his right knee on Nov. 22. But speaking for just the second time publicly since the injury, Rose again couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge that as reality.

“I haven’t even had a chance to think about it,” Rose said Wednesday night at the Bulls’ charity gala at the United Center when asked if he’s done for the season. “I’m just worrying about my next stage in this process and that’s running right now. I’m on the AlterG (an anti-gravity treadmill). Hopefully be running without it pretty soon.

“I’m not keeping (a return) open. I just said right now I’m not thinking about it. I’m not running yet. When I get off the AlterG, that’s when I’ll consider coming back or not.”

General manager Gar Forman reiterated the Bulls have no plans for Rose to return this season.

Rose did say that he’d like to play for USA Basketball this summer.

***

No. 4: Another scare for Gasol, Grizzlies — Speaking of knee injuries, Marc Gasol reinjured his left knee in Wednesday’s win in Orlando. The early feeling is that this isn’t as bad as the injury that kept Gasol out 23 games earlier in the season, but the knee will be checked out on Thursday. The Grizzlies won 14 of their last 18 games heading into the All-Star break, but are still on the outside of the playoff picture in the West. Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal has the story from Orlando:

Griz center Marc Gasol left the game midway through the third quarter after aggravating a left MCL injury that cost him 23 games earlier this season. Gasol returned to the locker room after he banged knees with Magic point guard Jameer Nelson.

The 7-foot Spaniard didn’t return for the Grizzlies’ second straight victory heading into the NBA’s All-Star break. Gasol downplayed the situation after the game.

He will, however, have an MRI test during the break to determine the seriousness of his injury. There is swelling and Gasol walked with a limp.

“It’s scary when it happens, but I think we’re going to be OK,” Gasol said. “We’re going to get it checked to make sure everything is OK. But it feels a lot better than it did the first time.”

***

No. 5: Knicks hit another low point — While the Heat went into the break on a high, the New York Knicks don’t have much to celebrate. They blew a 12-point, second-half lead and lost to the Kings at home, a result that will only fuel more speculation about Mike Woodson’s job status. Peter Botte of the New York Daily News was at MSG with the story:

No one should have been surprised that the Knicks appeared to have a collective eye elsewhere for most of a game that Carmelo Anthony had declared a must-win heading into All-Star weekend.

Certainly not owner James Dolan, who sat slumped in his front-row seat along the baseline watching Mike Woodson and the Knicks suffer yet another brutal home loss on Wednesday night, falling, 106-101, in overtime to lowly Sacramento at the Garden.

The Knicks’ fifth loss in six games can’t do much to alter the perception that Woodson’s job is in serious peril — or lead anyone to believe that this team magically will be able to turn around its tumultuous season when it reconvenes Tuesday in Memphis.

“I am not thinking about that at this point,” Anthony said of Woodson’s job status. “That has been an ongoing issue, ongoing story. Every day is a new story so he is still here and that is what we are dealing with.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo details Chris Grant‘s mistakes in Cleveland … Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal has some good notes about the Cavs’ turnaround since Grant’s departureAvery Bradley suffered a second ankle sprain last week and the Celtics aren’t sure when he’ll play again … Eric Bledsoe is making progress toward a post-break returnThe Knicks still want Kenneth Faried … and Pierre the Pelican has a new look (video).

ICYMI of The Night: James Harden beat the Wizards with a Eurostep around Kevin Seraphin:


VIDEO: Harden Seals the Deal.

Pistons Can’t Hit From Outside

The List

Lowest effective field goal percentage from outside the paint

Team FGM FGA FG% %FGA EFG%
Detroit 585 1,791 32.7% 44.4% 40.5%
Charlotte 757 2,139 35.4% 52.7% 41.9%
Chicago 722 2,044 35.3% 52.7% 42.2%
Minnesota 728 2,144 34.0% 50.6% 42.5%
Philadelphia 633 1,866 33.9% 43.2% 42.9%

%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts
Effective field goal percentage = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA

The Context

Who would have thought that the worst jump-shooting team in the league would be the one starting Josh Smith at small forward?

The Pistons rank 29th in mid-range field goal percentage (34.8 percent) and dead last in 3-point percentage (30.6 percent). They’re the third worst 3-point shooting team of the last 10 years, ahead of only last season’s Timberwolves (30.5 percent) and the 2011-12 Bobcats (29.5 percent).

It doesn’t help that the Pistons start the erratic Brandon Jennings and the inexperienced Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the backcourt. In fact, all 10 Pistons who have attempted at least 45 shots from outside the paint have shot them at a level below the league average.

But Smith is the main culprit, having taken 350 shots from outside the paint, with a brutal effective field goal percentage of 34.4 percent.

Pistons shooting from outside the paint

Player FGM FGA FG% %FGA EFG%
Brandon Jennings 139 420 33.1% 60.5% 42.9%
Josh Smith 101 350 28.9% 49.2% 34.4%
Rodney Stuckey 84 215 39.1% 48.2% 42.6%
K. Caldwell-Pope 67 211 31.8% 65.5% 41.7%
Kyle Singler 49 153 32.0% 49.8% 45.1%
Will Bynum 34 91 37.4% 44.4% 43.4%
Greg Monroe 25 84 29.8% 15.9% 29.8%
Gigi Datome 19 66 28.8% 82.5% 33.3%
Chauncey Billups 21 62 33.9% 82.7% 45.2%
Charlie Villanueva 12 45 26.7% 69.2% 36.7%
Others 34 94 36.2% 15.7% 47.9%
Total 585 1,791 32.7% 44.4% 40.5%
League Avg. 793 2,111 37.6% 52.8% 46.2%

The issues of playing Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond together have been addressed in this space before. Of late, the defense hasn’t been as bad as it was earlier in the season, and coach Mo Cheeks isn’t playing the three bigs together as much, but the Pistons still struggle to score with them all on the floor together.

Pistons efficiency with Smith, Monroe and Drummond on the floor

Months GP MIN MIN/G OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Oct.-November 16 300 18.8 100.2 106.7 -6.5 -29
December 17 331 19.5 102.0 111.7 -9.7 -50
Jan.- February 14 203 14.5 101.3 105.3 -4.0 -21
Total 47 834 17.7 101.2 108.3 -7.1 -100

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

So it seems clear that, with the trade deadline now only 15 days away, the Pistons should think hard about shaking things up. Reportedly, they’d prefer to move Smith, who’s in the first year of a four-year, $54 million deal. Obviously, they’d have an easier time finding a taker for Monroe, who’s in the last year of his rookie contract.

Any team trading for Smith would obviously do so with the intent of playing him (primarily) at power forward. But moving Smith to the four on a permanent basis (with the Pistons or some other team) isn’t necessarily going to keep him from shooting jumpers.

Smith has played 834 minutes with Monroe and Drummond. He’s played 97 minutes with *other combinations where you could say he’s the small forward. And he’s played 717 minutes at the four.

* Combinations of Monroe, Drummond, Josh Harrellson, Jonas Jerebko and Charlie Villanueva.

And in those 717 minutes, Smith has attempted about the same percentage of his shots from outside the paint as he has when he’s played the three.

Josh Smith shooting from outside the paint

Position FGM FGA FG% %FGA EFG%
At SF 48 193 24.9% 49.5% 30.8%
At PF 53 157 33.8% 48.9% 38.9%
Total 101 350 28.9% 49.2% 34.4%

In fact, in two of his last three seasons in Atlanta, Smith attempted more than half of his shots from outside the paint. When Smith was with the Hawks, a coaching change seemed to make the difference. In six seasons under Mike Woodson, Smith took only 37 percent of his shots from outside the paint. In three seasons under Larry Drew, he took 49 percent of his shots from outside the paint.

That’s the same rate as this season. The problem is that Smith’s shooting — both inside the paint and outside it — has been much worse than it was in his last few seasons in Atlanta. His defense has also regressed.

That all goes beyond what position he’s playing. The Pistons can improve their perimeter shooting by acquiring a small forward who can actually shoot, but (unless they somehow find a taker for that contract) they still need Smith to play better.

The Video

Here are Smith’s 20 shots in Miami on Monday, when he shot 4-for-4 in the restricted area and 1-for-16 outside it.

On the other hand, Smith had one of his best shooting games of the season a couple of weeks ago against the Clippers. He shot 6-for-8 from mid-range. Here are those eight shots, which aren’t exactly more pleasing to watch (he banked the first one in).

The bottom of the list

It shouldn’t be any surprise that the Golden State Warriors are the best jump-shooting team in the league, with an effective field goal percentage of 49.5 percent from outside the paint. What is a surprise is that Andre Iguodala has been nearly as good a jump-shooter (55.1 percent) as Stephen Curry (55.6 percent).

Next best are the Heat (49.4 percent), followed by the Hawks (49.4 percent), Spurs (49.2 percent) and Mavericks (49.2 percent).

Trivia question

Of the 166 players who have attempted at least 100 shots both in the paint and outside the paint, only one has shot better (we’re talking standard field goal percentage, here) from outside than inside. Who is he?

More jump-shooting notes

  • Smith isn’t the worst jump-shooter in the league. Of 223 players who have attempted at least 100 shots from outside the paint, Tyreke Evans has the lowest outside-the-paint effective field goal percentage at 25.2 percent. If you’ve ever watched Evans take one of his lazy-looking jumpers, you shouldn’t be surprised.
  • It should also be no surprise that Kyle Korver is at the top of the list, with an effective field goal percentage of 64.2 percent from outside the paint. No. 2 is Anthony Tolliver (62.9 percent).
  • Smith ranks 216th on the list, and no one below him has taken anything near 350 shots from outside the paint.
  • East teams have an effective field goal percentage of 45.4 percent from outside the paint. West teams: 47.1 percent.
  • Eight of the 10 teams with an effective field goal percentage of less than 45 percent from outside the paint also rank 20th or worse in offensive efficiency. The exceptions are Memphis (18th in offensive efficiency) and Minnesota (ninth). While they don’t shoot very well, the Wolves rank in the top 10 in offensive rebounding rate, turnover rate, and free throw rate.

Trivia answer

Damian Lillard has shot 41.2 percent in the paint and 42.4 percent outside the paint. On the opposite side of the spectrum is teammate Nicolas Batum, who has the biggest discrepancy between paint field goal percentage (71.7 percent) and outside-the-paint field goal percentage (36.3 percent).