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Blogtable: Top 5 MVP contenders next season?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: MVP favorites for 2016-17? | Lottery-to-playoffs in 2017? | Who wins Raptors-Heat series?


> Steph Curry is now a two-time Kia MVP. Looking ahead, who are your top five candidates for next season’s MVP?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comAt the rate he and his team are going, Stephen Curry could be an MVP candidate again, but my hunch is the media beast will demand someone new. So how ’bout Draymond Green? If the Warriors continue their ride atop the league, their versatile and loquacious big-small man might get some love for the impact he has on Golden State’s lineups and success. Then there’s Kyrie Irving, who may be ready to ease LeBron James‘ load sufficiently and thus relieve him of some MVP votes. Damian Lillard might make the leap from snubbed All-Star to serious Podoloff trophy candidate, if he can coax another improved season out of the Trail Blazers. What I’m seeing right now in the playoffs suggests Kevin Durant isn’t going to be content with one MVP – and (wink wink) he might not be splitting votes with Russell Westbrook next season. For a long shot, considering the heavy lifting required, give me Anthony Davis over Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. Of course Davis would have to stay healthy while also keeping a few teammates out of the trainers’ room to boost New Orleans big-time in the standings.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook. That is purposely in alphabetical order. It’s challenge enough narrowing the list of possibilities to five. I would love to squeeze Damian Lillard, Chris Paul and maybe a few others on as well. But I will give my very top candidate: Leonard. That’s with the understanding that a lot can change between now and the start of the season, since roster moves obviously effect roles.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI believe we’ll have the usual suspects once again: Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin. My choice is Westbrook, even if Kevin Durant signs elsewhere. Westbrook is that good, and more important, he’s due.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comCurry, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James are obvious answers. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant finished fourth and fifth while on the same team this year and could earn more votes if they’re on different teams next year. Honestly, it’s hard to find someone who finished outside the top five this year that could crash the party next year, unless TNT’s therapy session for Dwight Howard on Tuesday somehow hits home and leads to much better chemistry and much better defense in Houston (or wherever Howard goes this summer).

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m seeing a list of the usual suspects, with Steph gong into the season as frontrunner followed by Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Shuffle that list up any way you’d like, but if we’re at this point in May of 2017 with the same names finishing in the top five, I won’t be shocked.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Curry will be there, obviously, and so will LeBron James, as always. Kevin Durant will be another MVP candidate, wherever he is next year. I’m looking for Blake Griffin to demand consideration on the hunch that he’ll be motivated to make amends for this season. I’m also looking for a big bounce-back year from Anthony Davis; but if Durant should wind up leaving OKC, then I’ll move Russell Westbrook into MVP consideration ahead of Davis.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Well, Curry clearly remains the favorite, and I’m also loath to remove any of the other guys I voted for this season: Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. But for the sake of argument, and who doesn’t enjoy a good argument, we should probably also be willing to discuss Draymond Green, who continues to prove his worth to the NBA’s best team. The other guy who should probably be in the mix is Chris Paul, who carried an injured Clippers team to a top spot in the Western Conference.

Blogtable: Which team will go from lottery to playoffs next season?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: MVP favorites for 2016-17? | Lottery-to-playoffs in 2017? | Who wins Raptors-Heat series?


> Of the 14 teams in next week’s Draft Lottery, who could be playing (instead of watching) at this time next year?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comAre we counting the Boston Celtics and the Toronto Raptors, who have lottery presences thanks to Brooklyn and Denver, respectively? Toronto is playing at this time this year, and the Celtics are one solid piece, i.e., a lottery player, away from May competition (though a veteran star is the real need). If we’re limiting it to teams that earned their lottery status via losing, I think Washington has the best chance to advance two steps because of its proven rotation players (if kept together), its appeal to at least one significant free agent this summer and the distaste management had – and thus, the mandate given to new coach Scott Brooks – for falling out of the playoffs this year. John Wall, Bradley Beal and the rest have to be peeved, too, to have missed out, considering the trajectory on which they’d had themselves.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comIf you’re talking about the conference finals, none of the above. But if you just mean winning one round of the playoffs, then I’ll go with Washington and Chicago as a longer shot.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Jazz, possibly the Bulls depending on several key TBA roster decisions. I could see the Bucks getting back and the Magic taking that next step forward. But that is obviously based on 2015-16. Offseason moves can change everything, including once we know the lottery order.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comThe easy answer is the Celtics, who own Brooklyn’s pick. But if we discount them, then I’d say the Bulls, for two reasons: They have an All-Star in Jimmy Butler and they play in the East. A wild card would be Minnesota — look for a big sophomore season from Karl-Anthony Towns — but being young and in the West isn’t a great combination.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I probably answered the Utah Jazz to this question last year, (Editor’s note: Actually, it was OKC) but I’ll do it again anyway, because they have a big frontline that gives them a chance to be a top-five defensive team. They need to get more creative offensively, but the continued development of Rodney Hood will help on that end of the floor.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Utah Jazz have been knocking on the door for the past two seasons. I hope they finally find a way next season. The Minnesota Timberwolves are my darkhorse pick to chase the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference playoff race. If the Giannis Antetokounmpo point guard experience works out in Milwaukee, I’m going with the Bucks as the team ready to invade the party in the Eastern Conference.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Wizards missed the playoffs by three games. A healthier season for John Wall and Bradley Beal can move them into the postseason, and new coach Scott Brooks can help them reach a strong seed. But the truth is that we’re flying blind on this question in advance of the least predictable summer in memory. Who knows what these rosters are going to look like three months from now?

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Well, clearly, the Minnesota Timberwolves are poised to make a leap, with the addition of Tom Thibodeau and a roster of exciting young players. But the Western Conference remains no joke, and the Wolves would have to be a dozen wins better than they were last season just to sniff the No. 8 seed. I think the team best poised to make a leap out of the lottery is Washington, which has a new coach with fresh ideas and already has a superstar in John Wall.

Morning shootaround — March 30


VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors tie franchise wins mark | Westbrook miffed over Jackson’s celebration | Kidd: Giannis to start at point next season | Reports: Lakers’ Russell losing teammate support after video emerges

No. 1: Warriors tie franchise mark for victories — Just a season ago, the Golden State Warriors did what was considered a long shot for them entering 2014-15 — to not only rise to the top of the Western Conference standings, but also amass the most wins in franchise history (67-15) en route to an NBA title. Here the Warriors are again with 67 wins, only this time they’ve got eight games left and a more than realistic shot at breaking the NBA’s single-season wins mark of 72. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle was on hand for last night’s demolishing of the Washington Wizards and has more on Golden State:

The Warriors put together one of their best defensive games since March 16, generally taking the life out of the Wizards for a 102-94 victory at Oracle Arena in front of a national TV audience.

The Warriors forced 17 turnovers, allowed Washington to shoot only 41.9 percent from the floor (21.7 percent from three-point range) and limited an opponent to fewer than 100 points for only the sixth time in the past 26 games.

“I thought our defense was pretty solid,” said coach Steve Kerr, who still harped on getting beat backdoor and some transition flaws. “We guarded the three-point line really well. We challenged all of the three-point attempts that they put up. We did have some breakdowns that were sort of head-scratchers.

“We can still get better, but overall, the intensity and energy were pretty good.”

Just in time to secure some more history.

The Warriors (67-7) tied the franchise mark for wins in a season and remained one game ahead of the pace set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who won an NBA-record 72 games.

The Warriors need to go at least 6-2 during the season’s final eight games to break the record, and five of those games are at home, where the Warriors extended their regular-season winning streak to a league-record 54 games, 36 of them this season.

“Mind-boggling,” Kerr said. “I could have never imagined anything like this, but a lot of things have gone our way this year, and the guys have done an amazing job, coming off of last year, of focusing on getting better and trying to continue the rise.…

“It’s not easy to do in this league. It takes a lot of energy, so I’m really proud of them for the way they’ve competed.”

“As you go through the season and kind of get lost in the journey, we should be able to accomplish both: be a better team and better our record, which we’re on our way to doing,” Stephen Curry said. “For us to be playing at such a high level for two straight years and to have our eyes set on the ultimate goal, it’s fun.”


VIDEO: Warriors handle Wizards, get win No. 67

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Blogtable: Antetokounmpo’s future as a point guard?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Lessons learned from Warriors-Spurs, Round 2? | Giannis’ future as a point guard? |
State of Cavs as playoffs near?



VIDEOAntetokounmpo makes history for the Bucks

> Since moving to point guard, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo has been dazzling. How high could Antetokounmpo’s stock rise in this new ball-handling role?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: We literally have seen nothing like this — a 7-foot point guard! My reflexive reaction was to say ‘yeah, but he still can’t shoot,’ which is true. But he’s lessened the impact of that — at least so far. Since the All-Star break, he has a PIE of 16.8, which is 12th-best in the league over that period — better than past and present All-Stars like LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Dirk Nowitzki, and Paul George. Those are also all guys who have really picked up their games the second half of the season. He mitigates the shooting issue by going to the rim, and, really, who has the length to swat at the ball when he has it in his hands? I’m still not convinced this is a long-term solution for the Bucks at the point, but you can’t ignore the numbers or the impact.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: This guy is going to be an All-Star at one position or another, and even the “backcourt” and “frontcourt” designations on that ballot might not be broad enough to accommodate his skill set. The difference in Antetokounmpo being thrown in at point guard occasionally in his first two seasons and even earlier in 2015-16 vs. the guy now who is directing traffic and taking charge as Jason Kidd‘s surrogate is remarkable. He needs shooters and he himself has to keep working on his range to soften up defenses, but that’s going to come — fast.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comNot sure what this means. Are you asking to place the bar now at Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, LeBron James level? Not yet off small sample. Let’s just say that right now stopping Giannis Antetokounmpo is tougher than spelling his name.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The phrase “unlimited potential” comes to mind. This is what coach Jason Kidd had in mind two summers ago when he began to experiment with the idea of point guard Giannis. And this is just Antetokounmpo warming up. He could be even better there in the future. Hello, very interesting possibilities for the Bucks.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: He is Not A Point Guard. Period. It’s nice that he’s having some fun here in the dog days of the season when there’s nothing on the line, but he and the Bucks are better off using him at the swing position and finding a real point guard this summer. My choice: Rajon Rondo.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comHis stock was already high, no matter what position he was playing. But if the ball is in his hands and he’s making plays, his inability to shoot becomes less of a problem. He still needs to improve in that regard, but if the Bucks can consistently get him (and those long strides of his) going downhill with the ball in his hands, he’s going to be a serious problem for opposing defenses.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Giannis is on his way to shattering whatever expectations I had for him after that impressive first glimpse he provided during his rookie season. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Jason Kidd, one of the best point guards of all time, recognizes something in Giannis that leads him to believe he can best fulfill his immense potential by using him as a facilitator. Giannis definitely has All-Star potential, even if he was playing a more traditional position or role for the Bucks. As a point-forward, the possibilities are endless, depending on how well he masters that role.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Wasn’t this always his promise — to become the NBA’s longest, sleekest point guard? As always, the key will be whether he can apply those strengths on the ball at the defensive end. Because then Antetokounmpo can have a profound influence.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: He has been interesting, but I think there’s a ceiling, as teams will start adjusting and forcing him to shoot more or handle the ball in places where he’s uncomfortable. Thus far, his transcendent athleticism has allowed him to flourish. But while Giannis might be able to play the point guard position, that doesn’t make him a point guard. As a former high school back-up point guard, I can attest that point guard is as much a state of mind as a position. If this is a long-term thing, Giannis has a lot of learning to do. Perhaps Giannis at the point is better as a change of pace to occasionally catch opponents off their guard.

Morning shootaround — March 22


VIDEO: Highlights from Monday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant questionable vs. Rockets | Why LeBron unfollowed Cavs on social media | Wade to Davis: Don’t rush back | Hammond praises Antetokounmpo’s development

No. 1: Durant (elbow) questionable tonight vs. Rockets — The Oklahoma City Thunder were not their sharpest right after the All-Star break, amassing a 4-8 mark after March 12 loss on the road to the San Antonio Spurs. Things have picked up a bit lately for the Thunder, though, as they are in the midst of a four-game win streak as the Houston Rockets visit tonight (8 ET, TNT). However, it’s not all positive for OKC as leading scorer Kevin Durant has an elbow injury that may keep him out of tonight’s game. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman has more:

Late in the third quarter on Saturday night in Indianapolis, Kevin Durant flew in for an acrobatic block, but was undercut and fell hard on his right elbow.

He stayed down for a little while, wincing in pain during a timeout, but remained in and closed out the game. But after an off-day Sunday, he didn’t practice on Monday. Durant was seen walking across the floor with an ice-pack on his elbow.

“Did a little bit on the side,” coach Billy Donovan said. “But in terms of the contact stuff we did, he didn’t do anything.”

Does Donovan expect Durant to be available against the Rockets on Tuesday night?

“Gonna see how he’s doing tomorrow, but it’s nothing too serious, nothing that’s a major problem,” Donovan said. “He’s got some discomfort, but we’ll probably find out (if he’s available) at shootaround.”


VIDEO: OKC gears up for its showdown with Houston tonight

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Morning shootaround — March 18


VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs gearing up for Warriors | Okafor’s surgery delayed | Barnes, Henson get chippy at end of game | Biyombo delivers for Raptors

No. 1: Spurs handle Blazers, start prepping for Warriors — The San Antonio Spurs surged past the Portland Trail Blazers last night en route to a 118-110 win thanks in large part to a 39-point third quarter. The victory marked San Antonio’s 43rd straight at home as a showdown with the NBA-leading Golden State Warriors on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC) looms. Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com was on hand in San Antonio last night for the win and reports on how the Spurs are officially gearing up for their big showdown:

It would have been understandable for the Spurs to look past the Portland Trail Blazers, who they trounced 118-110 on Thursday, with an eye toward Saturday’s matchup against the Golden State Warriors. Even in the visiting locker room prior to Thursday’s game, a couple of Trail Blazers dressing for warm-ups figured San Antonio would overlook them in anticipation of the clash against Golden State.

No chance.

Starting with the team’s 109-101 triumph March 10 over the Chicago Bulls, a victory that kicked off its current five-game homestand, and leading into Saturday’s rematch against Golden State, the San Antonio Spurs appear to be as healthy and locked in as the unit has been this season.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich made sure of it, calling back-to-back timeouts with a little more than four minutes remaining and his team up 15 points on Portland.

“Stay focused, stay focused,” said point guard Tony Parker, who finished with 18 points and 16 assists. “Pop’s always been like that. It’s a 48-minute game. He was trying to prepare us for Saturday because, on Saturday, if you rest one minute [Golden State] can go up 15-0 real quick in a minute. That’s why he was like that.”

ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives the Spurs a 66 percent chance of beating the Warriors, based on a variety of reasons. The Spurs lead the NBA in scoring margin, which historically has been more predictive of future success than a team’s win-loss record. Coming off a full day’s rest, as there’s no practice scheduled for Friday, San Antonio will host a Warriors team fresh off an outing the night before in Dallas. The Spurs are 34-0 this season in the AT&T Center.

LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard, meanwhile, finally have emerged as San Antonio’s top scoring threats. Popovich believes Tim Duncan’s eight-game absence — starting with the Jan. 25 meeting against the Warriors and ending on Feb. 10 — sped up the development of chemistry between Aldridge and Leonard.

They scored 22 points apiece and combined for four blocks against the Trail Blazers.

“[Aldridge] and Kawhi both, I think they were trying to fit in, trying to see where things are, and they’ve gotten to the point where they’re taking over,” Duncan said. “They understand that we’re going to ride them, and that builds their confidence.”

Chemistry also seems to be peaking between Aldridge and Parker over the past several games. Seven of Parker’s assists against the Trail Blazers flew Aldridge’s way.

“Love playing with him,” Parker said of Aldridge. “I know exactly where he’s going to be. It’s funny because even if he hits five shots in a row, they’re still staying with me, and I’m like, ‘Go to LaMarcus. Go guard him.’ They still give him that wide-open shot. He got a lot of shots tonight, and he’s been knocking them down. I feel like L.A. is feeling more comfortable with the system. He’s playing great.”

“It’s going to be a big one. Obviously, they beat us pretty bad in the first one,” Parker said. “So it’s our second time playing them. It’s going to be a good test. The whole stretch these last four games, all of them were great tests for us.

“They’re the defending champs, and they’ve been playing unbelievable this year. We’ve been playing great too. So we get another shot at it.”

Duncan initially tried to take a measured approach in expressing his thoughts about Saturday’s matchup, but excitement ultimately won out.

“We’re going to show up for the game and we’re going to play it. It’s not going to change our season or anything else,” Duncan said. “It’ll be a great matchup for us, two of the best records in the league, and they’re playing exceptionally well. So it’s a good test for us; a playoff type of atmosphere, playoff type of intensity, a good experience for us. But I’ll leave it at that.

“We’re sitting in a great position right now. On top of that, we’re healthy, which is a big part of it. But to have someone like [Golden State] to continue to put the pressure on us, it’s great. It’s great for our focus. It’s great to have games like this. It’ll be a lot of fun, and we’re excited about it.”

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Morning shootaround — March 17


VIDEO: Highlights from Wednesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors head on road looking sharp | New images of Bucks’ proposed arena unveiled | Bulls’ Gasol to miss more games | Waiters returns to OKC lineup

No. 1: Warriors embark on road trip looking sharp — The Golden State Warriors haven’t lost a game since a March 6 slip-up on the road against the Los Angeles Lakers. Since then, they’ve won six in a row — all of them in the friendly confines of Oracle Arena — as they ready for a three-game road trip (highlighted by a Saturday showdown with San Antonio on ABC). As they get ready to leave town, Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle points out that last night’s win against the New York Knicks might have been one of the Warriors’ most complete efforts in a while:

When this week’s defensive assignments were rattled off to Draymond Green, he said: “Man, tough, right?”

What’s becoming increasingly clear is that Green actually was talking about how tough it was going to be on his opponents.

A game after helping limit Anthony Davis to 6-for-20 shooting, Green made New York’s 7-foot-3 rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis a non-factor during a 1-for-11 shooting performance that allowed the Warriors to run away with a 121-85 victory Wednesday night at Oracle Arena.

“I thought Draymond was brilliant,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “A great night for him. He was passing the ball, rebounding, defending and taking care of the ball. … He sees the game. He knows what’s happening at all times. Tonight was a fantastic game for him.”

Green had six points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, and the Warriors outscored the Knicks by 31 points in his 29 minutes.

Of course, these Warriors aren’t about individual accolades. They’re chasing team history.

The Warriors (61-6) have won an NBA-record 50 straight regular-season home games and remained a game ahead of the pace of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who won a single-season-record 72 games.

“History,” Warriors reserve big man Marreese Speights said. “We keep making history. Everything we do from now on is history.”

After a blip in Los Angeles on March 6, the Warriors resolutely marched through a 6-0 homestand, settling their play and monitoring minutes just in time for a three-game trek to Dallas, San Antonio and Minnesota.

“That was probably our most complete game in a while,” point guard Stephen Curry said. “Forty-eight minutes of complete focus.”

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Morning shootaround — March 11


VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Cousins’ in-game rant led to suspension | LeBron, Kobe entertain in final showdown | Spurs happy Martin is aboard | Sanders opens up on why he left NBA

No. 1: Report: Cousins’ in-game rant led to one-game suspension — The relationship between Sacramento Kings All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins and his coach, George Karl, has been well documented as at times icy. The pair have had their run ins over the years and such was the case on Wednesday night in an eventual home loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. According to The Vertical’s Chris Mannix, Cousins blasted Karl during the game for not sticking up to the officials more for him:

The reason for DeMarcus Cousins’ tirade on coach George Karl was the Sacramento Kings star’s belief that his coach hadn’t done enough to defend him to referees in a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night, league sources told The Vertical.

The Kings suspended the All-Star center for Friday’s game against the Orlando Magic for conduct detrimental to the team.

Cousins was seen unloading on Karl during a timeout in the 120-111 loss to the Cavaliers at Sleep Train Arena. Kings guard Rajon Rondo tried to calm Cousins down as he screamed and motioned at Karl.

Cousins continued to vent at Karl in the locker room after the game and later got into a heated discussion with vice president of basketball operations and general manager Vlade Divac, sources told The Vertical.

The disconnect between Karl and Cousins has been consistent over their almost two-season partnership, and Karl’s job security is bleak heading into the offseason. Early in November, Cousins ranted at Karl in a locker-room incident after a loss to the San Antonio Spurs that led to a series of meetings throughout the organization.

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Butler, Mayo and Cousins in NBA’s ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ matinee


Since it’s Throwback Thursday on social media, we might as well throw it all the way back to that iconic 1966 “spaghetti Western” starring a young Clint Eastwood and directed by Italy’s Sergio Leone that has become a favorite of headline writers and those trading in triplets of all sorts.

In fairly rapid succession Thursday afternoon, the NBA produced news that broke down along the lines of “The Good, the Bad & the Ugly.”

First “the Good:”

This is good news in a macro sense because anytime an All-Star player learns that an injury is less severe than initially feared, fans across the NBA should feel relieved, if not rejoice. It’s good news for the Chicago Bulls at the micro level, though, because any hope that team has of righting itself in time for a serious playoff run in the East bracket requires the services of Jimmy Butler. Here is more detail from Mike McGraw, Bulls beat guy for the suburban Chicago Daily Herald:

Butler, who missed 11 games with a left knee strain, made a successful return last Saturday in a win over Houston, but experienced swelling in the knee after the game. He sat out Monday’s victory over Milwaukee and will not be with the team when the Bulls play tonight at San Antonio. It’s not yet clear whether Butler might play in Friday’s home game against Miami.

Butler has had two MRI exams on his left knee, so structural damage wasn’t the concern when the all-star shooting guard chose to get an opinion from Dr. [James] Andrews. The Bulls have 20 games left to secure a playoff spot. As of Thursday morning, they were in eighth place in the East, a few percentage points ahead of Detroit.

 

Next came “the Bad,” lousy news that even ruthless Lee Van Cleef would Tweet “SMH” over:

The Bucks issues a release quoting general manager John Hammond and stating that Mayo suffered the fracture when he tripped down some stairs at his home. Milwaukee’s backcourt situation already was injury-riddled, with Michael Carter-Williams shut down for hip surgery and Greivis Vasquez sidelined by ankle surgery. Reporter Shams Charnia of Yahoo! Sports’ The Vertical fleshed out Mayo’s predicament:

Mayo, 28, sustained the injury this week and surgery is a possibility, sources said.
Mayo … has averaged 7.8 points, 2.9 assists and 2.6 rebounds in 41 games (24 starts).

He is in the final season of a three-year contract he signed with Milwaukee in 2013.

 

That left – cue the mournful harmonica music of maestro Ennio Morricone – “the Ugly,” provided not surprisingly by the Sacramento Kings and chief migraine-inducer DeMarcus Cousins:

As if Cousins picking up his 15th technical foul of the season wasn’t disruptive enough in Sacramento’s home loss to Cleveland Thursday, the big man appeared to berate head coach George Karl during a timeout in the fourth quarter. Witnesses said Cousins was upset that Karl hadn’t argued foul calls on his behalf.

James Ham, Kings Insider for CSNBayArea.com, offered some context to Cousin’s one-game rip for conduct detrimental to the team:

[Kings GM] Vlade Divac and the Sacramento Kings have put their foot down. … Video was captured of Cousins yelling at the 64-year-old Karl during a timeout.

At one point Rudy Gay and assistant coach Corliss Williamson tried to intervene, and finally point guard Rajon Rondo stepped in between the two as they both sat in a team huddle on the sidelines.

The Kings are mired in a tough stretch over which the team has gone just 1-7 and watch their playoff hopes fade. Tension has been high as the Kings head towards their 10th straight lottery season. Cousins picked up his 15th technical foul during the game for arguing a call and he was in no mood to talk after the game.

This suspension comes on the heels of Karl informing the media late Wednesday that he will miss Thursday’s practice due to a cancer related procedure.

 

Before we leave this film classic, let’s give it the credit it deserves for Eli Wallach‘s character, Tuco, offering a bit of invaluable basketball advice: “When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.”

 

Morning shootaround — Feb. 28


VIDEO: The Fast Break: February 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Steph Curry is a baaad man! | Durant’s lapses costly to OKC | Pelicans’ Davis sits down again | Carmelo’s dwindling NY days

No. 1: Steph Curry is a baaad man! — Not all late-February, NBA regular-season games are created equal. That was readily apparent to anyone who attended, tuned into, listened to or heard about Golden State’s remarkable comeback overtime victory at Oklahoma City on Saturday night. This was one – from Andre Iguodala‘s too-cool-for-school sinking of two late free throws to force the OT to Steph Curry‘s audacious game-winner from 35 feet – that seared itself into basketball fans’ memories. Some behind-the-scenes Warriors drama was the focal point of the postgame story from ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss. Meanwhile, our man Fran Blinebury of NBA.com painting some vivid imagery of the night that’s worth recalling in the light of day:

Ice water has Steph Curry running through its veins. Penguins look at him and shiver. The other side of the pillow thinks he’s cooler.

This isn’t funny anymore. Because the basketball world is going to pull all of its collective muscles reaching for newer, bigger, grander descriptions.

The official play-by-play sheet called it simply a 32-foot pull-up jump shot.

And Everest is just a mountain.

When Russell Westbrook missed the jumper near the end of overtime, Andre Iguodala grabbed the rebound and shoveled it ahead to Curry, nobody inside Chesapeake Energy Arena or the rest of the TV-watching, tongue-swallowing world could imagine what would happen next.

Curry didn’t run, he walked. More than walked, he strolled. A casual, carefree dribble or two across the mid-court line and then a look, maybe just a glance, a motion as nonchalant as flicking a speck of dust off your shoulder.

From there?

That 3-point rainbow that gave the Warriors a stunning 121-118 win over the Thunder Saturday night was probably the flat-out coolest thing since Shaft. Can’t you hear Isaac Hayes and the theme music?

“He’s one bad …

“Shut your mouth.

“We’re talkin’ ’bout Steph!”

It was his 12th trey of the night and he became the first player in NBA history to make at least 10 from the behind the arc in back-to-back games. It gave him 288 3-pointers on the year, breaking his own league record with six weeks still left in the season. His 46 points gave him a scoring average of 43.6 for the week.

“Obviously what Steph did was — what’s the expression? — from the ridiculous to the sublime,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “That’s where we are at this point.”

The Thunder were just in a scramble to get themselves back down the floor to guard against a last shot, but not that kind. Not one from the Texas border. Andre Roberson was lost in transition and can be seen in the replays for eternity making a desperate and frantic run when he realized it was happening.

“Honestly, I don’t know exactly where I am,” Curry said. “It’s not like I’m calibrating it in my head: ‘All right, 38 feet, 37, 36. … It’s just literally you’ve got a sense that you’ve shot the shot plenty of times. You’re coming across half court and you’re timing up your dribbles and want to shoot before the defense closes in. That was pretty much my only thought.

“When I got the ball, I knew coach had said if we got a stop and a clean rebound, push it. I looked up. … There was about five or six seconds left and the way they had shuffled around in transition, I was kinda just go at my own pace and rise up. I got my feet set and watched it go in.”

The shot went in and allowed the Warriors to become the first NBA team to clinch a playoff berth in February since the 1987-88 Lakers. It was a franchise record 29th road win of the season.

Now, with 17 of Golden State’s last 24 games of the season home at Oracle, the 72-win NBA record of the 1995-96 Bulls is not only possible, but likely. Why not 73? Or 75? Over even running the table to 77?

***

 No. 2: Durant’s lapses costly to OKC — There’s a flip side to every incredible comeback story. Whether it’s a moment of panic, a detail left unattended, an inch too far this way rather than that or a timeout not called by a rookie NBA head coach, there are always several – sometimes dozens – bits of alternate realities that could have dramatically changed the outcome. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman looks at Golden State’s stirring overtime triumph from the perspective of what went wrong for the Thunder:

Minutes before Stephen Curry dropped a 35-foot moonshot dagger straight through the heart of Oklahoma City, the Thunder controlled the clock, the ball and the game. As the final seconds of regulation ticked down, Kevin Durant secured a crucial inbounds pass, up two, and anticipated the foul that would set up potential game-clinching free throws.

But it never came.

The Warriors trapped and waited. Durant seemed to panic. And what resulted was the most crippling play in the Thunder’s heartbreaking 121-118 overtime loss to the Warriors.

Everyone will remember the incredible Curry shot. But what set it up was Durant’s turnover at the end of regulation, the worst of the Thunder’s 23 giveaways.

Down 103-99, Klay Thompson hit a layup to cut OKC’s lead to two with 11 seconds left. Russell Westbrook snared it right out of the hoop, raced to the baseline and immediately inbounded to an open Durant. Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala converged in the corner, right in front of the Thunder bench, and trapped.

OKC still had a timeout. So why didn’t Billy Donovan call it?

“I just basically told the guys, you have one timeout and if you can’t get it in quickly, go ahead and take it,” Donovan explained. “I probably should’ve helped Kevin there when he came inbounds. I think maybe he was waiting for a foul and maybe I could’ve jumped in and helped him.”


WATCH: Curry vs. Durant Duel In Oklahoma City

***

No. 3:  Pelicans’ Davis sits down again — The New Orleans Pelicans’ 2015-16 season has been littered with injuries like discarded beads and shattered hurricane glasses strewn about Bourbon Street after a weekend of revelry. The latest was frequent injured-list denizen Anthony Davis – the Pelicans’ brilliant young big man sprained a toe during warmups for Saturday’s game against Minnesota and was held out as a precaution from what became New Orleans’ 112-110 loss to the Timberwolves. John Reid of the New Orleans Times Picayune chronicled the Pelicans’ latest tale of ailment and woe, this one linked to Wolves rookie Karl-Anthony Towns‘ and Minnesota’s dominance in the paint (50 points scored from there) owing to Davis’ injury:

While Eric Gordon made his return on Saturday night after missing 16 games with a fractured right ring finger, Pelicans star Anthony Davis returned on the injured list.

Davis sprained his right big toe during pregame warmups and was held out from playing in Saturday night’s 112-110 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Without Davis, the Pelicans gave up 50 points in the paint and couldn’t hold a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.

It was Davis’ seventh game he has missed this season due to injury. In all, 12 players have combined to miss a total of 162 games since opening night loss to Golden State in October.

”It’s crazy,” Gordon said about Pelicans’ persistent problem with injuries. ”You know A.D., he can do different things. He’s a dominant force inside and you definitely need that towards the end of the game.”

Gordon was called for a blocking foul on Andrew Wiggins with 3.6 seconds when the score was tied at 110. Wiggins made both free throws to seal the win for the Timberwolves.

”I tried to make sure my feet was out of the restricted circle, so it’s tough,” Gordon said. ”You definitely don’t want to get to that point where it gets toward the end of the game. Tonight, we mostly beat ourselves.”

In the fourth quarter, the Timberwolves outscored the Pelicans 18-4 on points scored in the paint. Minnesota also made 60 percent of their shots (14 of 23) and guard Zach LaVine, who won the dunk contest during All-Star Weekend earlier this month, scored 11 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter.

***

No. 4: Carmelo’s dwindling NY daysCarmelo Anthony remains out of sync with the New York Knicks and vice versa. When the irrepressible scorer has been at the peak of his powers, the Knicks generally haven’t been ready to win. And by the time they are, frequently enough to contend for a playoff berth, a high seed and more, Anthony will be past his prime. That’s the dilemma Harvey Araton explored in his column for the New York Times Sunday:

… Anthony is as polarizing a figure to Knicks fans as any politician. That smile in Indiana undoubtedly fueled critics’ claim that he cares more about his brand than his much-discussed chances of winning a championship.

Amateur psychological evaluations aside, nobody knows what is in Anthony’s head, or heart.

However relative Anthony’s personal or team aspirations are at any given moment, he can only talk himself into believing he can attain both during his remaining contractual years in New York with the most optimistic of arguments.

Clearly, Anthony wants to stay in New York, but come July, he will be watching to see if [Phil] Jackson can land an impact free agent — not the best bet in a limited class and with impending cap space everywhere.

Miami, the Knicks’ opponent Sunday, could be the kind of team Anthony would consider waiving his no-trade clause for, although Chris Bosh’s health uncertainty could complicate the matter. Either way, Pat Riley — Jackson’s Heat counterpart, fellow septuagenarian and rival — will be more invested in retooling, not rebuilding.

Riley would probably at least be able to promise Anthony a return to the playoffs, something Jackson, in all likelihood, could not. Rebuilding is a process, not a proclamation. Consider teams like Detroit, Milwaukee, New Orleans — well ahead of the Knicks on the trail of developing talent yet still straining for mediocrity.

If Jackson can procure a young asset and a draft pick in a trade, Anthony will have pardoned himself for the original sin of forcing the Knicks to unload a bundle of resources on Denver when he might have signed as a free agent for the following season and cost the Knicks nothing.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The opportunity to add greybeard Andre Miller will mean the waiver wire for guard Ray McCallum. … Thunder assistant coach Monty Williams will remain on indefinite leave while dealing with the tragic death of his wife Ingrid in a Feb. 10 car accident, OKC head coach Billy Donovan said. … Lot of frustrated Bucks fans will disagree, but a case can be made that big-ticket free agent Greg Monroe has been neither the solution nor the problem for Milwaukee this season. … Golden State is ahead of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ pace for setting the NBA mark for most victories in the regular season. … ICYMI: LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki and other NBA stars took to Twitter in the aftermath of Curry’s logic-defying, back-breaking game-winner at OKC. …


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