Posts Tagged ‘Mo Williams’

OKC shopping should start with Carter

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

The aging Vince Carter still has enough in his tank to put a contender over.

The aging Vince Carter has enough in his tank to give a title contender a significant boost.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – As the free agency clock ticks down, the spotlight is shining brightest on Miami’s Big Three, on Carmelo Anthony‘s decision and on the Lakers’ wishful pursuit of a superstar (or two).

And then there’s that little ole team on the Oklahoma prairie that no one’s talking about. The one with the league MVP, the All-Star point guard and the game’s fiercest shot blocker. The one that’s played in three Western Conference finals in the last four years and if not for key injuries in these last two postseasons might have built upon its lone NBA Finals appearance in 2012.

The one that’s missing one final piece.

Oklahoma City Thunder enter free agency, not as big spenders and not needing much, but with a silver bullet in-hand (the full mid-level exception worth $5.3 million) and a specific target: A hired gun.

Signing a veteran knock-down 3-point shooter is crucial for this franchise on the doorstep. A Big Three of sorts that specializes in the long ball is set to hit the open market at the stroke of midnight: Vince Carter, Mike Miller and Mo Williams.

The 37-year-old Carter arguably stands as the most intriguing of the three, a reformed skywalker as he beats back Father Time and now a dead-eye 3-point shooter who has been called the league’s best bargain and most underpaid player during his three seasons with Dallas.

Carter, who has hit 40 percent of his 3s in the last two seasons with Dallas, and averaged 11.9 ppg last season, has stated his desire to remain with the Mavs, and Dallas wants him back. But Carter will also be pursued by a handful of contenders and teams on the verge of contending. A league source indicated that Oklahoma City, Miami, Toronto and Portland will give Dallas competition for Carter’s services.

Any one of those three free agents would be a boon to the Thunder’s second unit and each could play a key role spacing the floor and splashing open 3s while on the floor with league MVP Kevin Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook, who was headed to a fourth consecutive All-Star berth until another knee surgery forced him out just after Christmas.

The Thunder’s core — Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka — is obviously set and they rely heavily on drafting and player development to fill key roles. Reggie Jackson has emerged as a terrific reserve point guard. Shooting guard Jeremy Lamb could potentially move into the starting lineup next season. The Kendrick Perkins problem was lessened last season with the emergence of 7-foot rookie center Steven Adams.

However, the 3-point shooting issue remains. Thabo Sefolosha lost his touch from the deep all season and specifically in the postseason. The Thunder’s defensive-minded starter the last five seasons is now a free agent, and will likely move on. Veteran small forward Caron Butler, an early March addition, shot poorly in the postseason and he, too, will likely be headed elsewhere. Jackson, although an improving 3-point shooter, was still just 33.9 percent last season. And Lamb, at 35.6 percent, struggled in the season’s second half and lost his job to Butler.

OKC does believe it could find in-house help from second-year stretch-4 Grant Jerrett, a 2013 second-round draft pick, who shot 36.4 percent from deep for the Thunder’s D-League affiliate in Tulsa, Okla. But the 6-foot-10 project out of Arizona didn’t play a minute for the big club once he was signed in April.

The 6-foot-8 Miller almost signed with OKC last summer after Miami used the amnesty clause to set him free, but he ultimately returned to Memphis, which finished last in the league in 3-point attempts per game. So he might relish a chance to play with two superstars in an offense that will guarantee him more looks.

Williams, who opted out of his final year in Portland at $2.8 million, is a terrific shooter and can switch between the 1 and 2. He lacks the size of the other two, but was a big part of the Portland’s surge last season.

Other free-agent candidates include Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, P.J. Tucker, Josh McRoberts and C.J. Miles.

Here’s a look at my top three:

 

Vince Carter 

Age: 37 (Jan. 26)

2013-14 salary: $3.18 million

2013-14 stats: 81 games; 24.4 mpg; 11.9 ppg; 3.5 rpg; 2.6 apg; 40.7 FG%; 39.4 3FG%

Pros: Has adjusted his game with his age to become a knock-down 3-point shooter — and he can still get to the rim more often than expected; a solid locker-room leader for a young team that probably grew up watching him in dunk contests; and Mavs coach Rick Carlisle has consistently lauded his defensive effort.

Cons: He’s prone to forcing too many contested jumpers; at some point the body is going to give out and Carter, although extremely well-conditioned, does turn 38 during the season.

 

Mike Miller

Age: 34 (Feb. 19)

2013-14 salary: $884,293 million (owed $12.8 million by Heat for 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons)

2013-14 stats: 82 games; 20.8 mpg; 7.1 ppg; 2.5 rpg; 1.6 apg; 48.1 FG%; 45.9 3FG%

Pros: Still a deadly 3-point shooter as Thunder fans can attest during the first round as they gasped in fear every time he lined up from the top of the arc; Just being on the floor would space it better than with any combination OKC put on the court last season.

Cons: He’s been susceptible to back issues, but he stayed healthy last season and played in all 82 games while still logging 20 minutes a game. He’s risky, but as just a threat to make 3s, is worth it.

 

Mo Williams

Age: 31 (Dec. 19)

2013-14 salary: $2.8 million

2013-14 stats: 74 games; 24.8 mpg; 9.7 ppg; 2.1 rpg; 4.3 apg; 41.7 FG%; 36.9 3FG%

Pros: He’s acknowledged he’s on the back portion of his career, so he knows his rightful place is coming off the bench and sparking a team with instant offense — exactly what the Thunder needs; can play the 1 and 2, and is a good passer.

Cons: His size could be a detriment since the Thunder are likely to let the 6-foot-5 Sefolosha walk in free agency and already have the 6-foot-3 Jackson likely coming off the bench. If Lamb proves he’s not ready to be a starter, OKC could prefer a two-guard with more size.

Blazers in hole, need to dig deeper

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

VIDEO: The GameTime guys preview Game 3 between the Spurs and Blazers

PORTLAND, Ore. — Dig deeper.

That’s the answer for the Trail Blazers, even though they’re already standing in an 2-0 hole.

LaMarcus Aldridge says they’ve got to play better. Damian Lillard says they have to play harder.

“Everybody has to play better, starting with me,” Aldridge said.

“It’s going to be tough, but we have confidence in what we can do on our home floor,” said Lillard.

But as the Western Conference semifinal series resumes tonight with Game 3, the Blazers will have to go deeper into their suspect bench with reserve guard Mo Williams sidelined by a groin injury.

“We anticipate that he will not play,” said coach Terry Stotts.

Portland is a young team, with no starter older than 28, but even young teams can get worn down. The Blazers compensate for a water-thin collection of reserves by playing their starters more, with three of them averaging at least 41 minutes in the playoffs and another logging 39 per night.

Williams suffered the injury in the Game 6 close-out win over Houston in the first round and labored to shoot just 3-for-11 with four turnovers in Game 1 against the Spurs. In Game 2, Williams played just under nine minutes before the injury flared up again and he was forced to the bench.

For a team that is being overwhelmed by San Antonio’s depth — the Spurs regularly use 10 players — and with Lillard already up to 43.3 minutes per game in the playoffs, the loss of Williams is significant.

“I would assume that Earl [Watson] will get some minutes and Will Barton will get some playing time,” Stotts said. “With Mo averaging his 24 minutes, some of them are at point guard and some of them are alongside Damian. His 24 minutes will kind of be spread out among at least two or three other players.

Barton was on the court for less than 90 seconds total in the entire first-round series win over the Rockets, but has played 20 minutes in two games against the Spurs. In Game 2 on Thursday night, he shot 5-for-5 for 13 points in 12 minutes and during the second quarter was the often the only Blazer who was on the attack offensively.

“Will comes in ready,” Stotts said. “He loves to be on the court and I think that showed when he made his first two shots in maybe a minute of being on the court.”

Lillard becomes one for the ages

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Damian Lillard joins Arena Link to discuss the big shot

PORTLAND, Ore. — Teammate Thomas Robinson says you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. This was just a start for the kid.

If that’s the case, Damian Lillard‘s next trick will likely be a re-creation of that old McDonald’s commercial with Larry Bird and Michael Jordan: “Over the freeway, through the window, off the scoreboard…”

It wasn’t just a dagger through the heart of the Rockets. It was the kind of shot that defines a career, creates a legend and trails you like a permanent ray of sunshine long after the sneakers and jersey come off and the hair has turned gray.

The official play-by-play sheet called it a “25-foot, 3-point jump shot.”

And Moby Dick was just another whale.

“I’ve seen him do that kind stuff, make shots like that for the past two years,” said Wes Matthews. “From the first day you saw him out on the practice court, you could tell from the way he carried himself. He’s just, well, different.”

It’s the difference that allows a neurosurgeon to poke around inside somebody’s brain with with the sheer confidence, maybe the utter arrogance, that he just won’t slip with the scalpel.

It’s the difference that diamond cutter has when he knows that he won’t turn that big, expensive bauble into cheap rock with a bad tap on the chisel.

“I mean, I got a pretty good look,” said the 23 year old who might as well be an ageless Yoda doing tricks with a light saber. “Once I saw it on line, I said that’s got a chance. It went in, but it did feel good when it left my hands.”

It came after Chandler Parson‘s out-of-the-blue put-back had given the Rockets a 98-96 lead with 0.9 seconds left.

“The first thing I did when I saw Parson’s shot go in was look at the clock,” Lillard said. “I saw there was time. I knew we would have a shot. I just didn’t know what kind.”

It was the kind of shot that will replayed on the giant video screen at the Moda Center or whatever new-fangled arena comes next for as long as they play basketball in Portland. The biggest last-second shot in Blazers’ history.

It came fittingly on a night when the franchise honored the legendary coach Jack Ramsay, who led the Blazers to their only NBA championship in 1977 and died on Monday.

Rip City — R.I.P. City — indeed.

Up on the screen, there was grainy old color film of Dr. Jack in his wild ’70s disco era plaid pants and wide collars jumping for joy as his share-the-ball Blazers clinched the title.

Down there on the court, just an hour or so later, there were the linear descendants of those Blazers — who move without the ball, do all the little things and play unselfishly — leaping into each other’s arm.

“When he made the shot, I didn’t let him go for the next three minutes,” said LaMarcus Aldridge, the workhorse who carried the Blazers, averaging 29.8 points in the series.

It was not just a Portland moment, but an NBA moment, the kind that should be frozen in Jurassic amber.

Lillard’s was the first buzzer-beating shot to clinch a playoff series since John Stockton did it to the Rockets’ ancestors in the 1997 Western Conference finals.

Put it a gold frame and hang it behind a velvet rope with:

Ralph Sampson‘s rim-rattling prayer that beat the Lakers and sent the Rockets to the 1986 Western Conference Finals.

Garfield Heard‘s heave for the Suns that forced triple overtime at Boston Garden In the 1976 Finals.

Derek Fisher‘s running miracle with 0.4 seconds in Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference finals that beat the Spurs.

– And yes, even Michael Jordan‘s hanging, leaning, drifting to the side jumper over a helpless Craig Ehlo in the Bulls’ Game 5 clincher of the first round in 1989.

That last one started a legend. To hear the Blazers tell it, their second-year guard is already writing the first few chapters of his own.

“Oh, he’s doing things all the time in practice and all season long in games that you just don’t expect and maybe don’t think are possible,” said center Robin Lopez.

“I’ve been around the NBA for 10 years and played a lot of games with a lot of players and seen a lot of things,” said guard Mo Williams. “I’ve seen shots, yeah. Have I seen a shot like that? Noooooo.”

It ended a series that had three overtime games, only one margin of victory that was by more than single figures. The only double digit lead of the night lasted just 16 seconds. The biggest lead of the second half by either team was four. The cumulative score of the entire series had the Rockets ahead by two points.

Just like they led by two with 0.9 seconds left and when Lillard zipped away from the defender Parson and came zooming wide open right toward the inbounding Nicolas Batum.

“I clapped my hands at Nico,” Lillard said. “He threw it to me and I turned. The rim was right there.”

And Lillard let it fly.

If we ain’t seen nothing yet, that next chapter will be a doozy.

Blazers get double dose of injury news


VIDEO: LaMarcus Aldridge suffers a back injury in last night’s loss to the Spurs

From NBA.com staff reports

The Portland Trail Blazers have been one of the clear surprises in the Western Conference standings this season, at times finding themselves in the upper crust of the league thanks to the play of All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge and a somewhat-improved bench that boasts sixth man Mo Williams. But the Blazers, who are working on a 2-5 record in March and have lost four straight, now will see their depth considerably sapped.

Aldridge, who suffered a back injury in last night’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs, will miss at least two games with a back contusion while Williams, who hurt his hip in Tuesday night’s loss to the Grizzlies, will be out two weeks with a right hip strain.

Aldridge’s injury was particularly frightening for Blazers fans. He had to be helped off the court and did not return. Williams missed last night’s game in San Antonio.

Is Aldridge’s pick-and-roll defense a problem for Blazers?


VIDEO: LaMarcus Aldridge talks after the Blazers’ win against the Hawks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – When we looked at the teammates that had defended the pick-and-roll the best on Wednesday, Mo Williams and Robin Lopez were sixth on the list, but the Portland Trail Blazers were nowhere near the top 10 in team rankings.

According to SportVU, the Blazers ranked 26th in pick-and-roll defense through Monday’s games and are up to 22nd after a game against the reeling Hawks on Wednesday. They’ve allowed 1.06 points per pick-and-roll possession overall, even though they’ve been pretty good when Lopez has been the guy defending the screener, allowing just 1.01. That ranks 55th among 134 players who had been the screener’s defender on at least 200 pick-and-roll possessions through Wednesday. Not great, but above-average.

Note: All stats included here are through Wednesday, March 5.

But near the bottom of the list is Lopez’s frontcourt-mate, LaMarcus Aldridge. The Blazers have allowed 1.17 points per possession when Aldridge has been the guy defending the screener. Of those 134 players who have defended at least 200 pick-and-roll possessions, only one – Trevor Booker – has a higher mark (1.18).

The discrepancy between Lopez’s and Aldridge’s numbers is rather remarkable, because both bigs basically defend pick-and-rolls the same way (though Portland will mix things up a little with Aldridge). While the Pacers drop back with their centers and show high with their power forwards, both Aldridge (most of the time) and Lopez drop back…

20140307_aldridge_pnr

20140307_lopez_pnr

Who are they guarding?

Is it a power forward vs. center thing? The players Aldridge is guarding (Dirk Nowitzki, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, etc.) are generally more potent offensively than those Lopez is guarding. And the biggest difference in Aldridge and Lopez’s numbers is the field goal percentage that the screener has shot when he has got the ball…

Pick-and-rolls vs. Lopez and Aldridge

Defender Scr. Poss Opp PTS PTS/Poss BH FGM BH FGA BH FG% S FGM S FGA S FG%
Lopez 948 908 914 1.01 140 347 40.3% 59 131 45.0%
Aldridge 734 703 826 1.17 102 249 41.0% 75 132 56.8%

BH FGM, FGA, FG% = Ball-handler shooting
S FGM, FGA, FG% = Screener shooting

But other defenses in the West don’t have the same discrepancy.

When the starting power forwards from the other top 10 teams in the West have defended the screener on a pick-and-roll, the opponent has scored 1.02 points per possession. And when the starting centers on those same teams have defended the screener, the opponent has scored 1.02 points per possession. No discrepancy at all.

The Suns’ pick-and-roll defense has been slightly better when Miles Plumlee has defended the screener than when Channing Frye has, and the same goes for the Warriors, Andrew Bogut and David Lee. But none of the other nine teams has nearly the difference that we see with the Blazers.

The eye test

Watching film, Aldridge doesn’t come across as a noticeably bad pick-and-roll defender. He’s usually in the right position, he doesn’t get caught standing still, or get turned around and lost on possessions (like a couple of bigs in New York).

The Blazers track every defensive possession themselves and say that Aldridge grades out closer the league average on pick-and-rolls (and that Lopez still grades out as better). And when we look at the 57 percent that the screener has shot on Aldridge-defended pick-and-rolls, we’re only talking about 132 shots, not the greatest sample size.

But Synergy Sports grades him as “poor” in regard to defending the roll man. And it’s not hard to find examples (via NBA.com/stats video boxscores) where he fails to close out and lets an opposing big shoot in rhythm…

You can also find examples of him closing out fine, but other West power forwards grade out better via SportVU. The screener takes more shots and shoots them better against Aldridge than any of the other nine guys listed below (from the other West teams at or above .500), even though they’ve all had to defend Aldridge himself, who has attempted almost 200 more mid-range shots than any other player in the league.

Pick-and-roll defense, West power forwards

Defender Scr. Poss Opp PTS PTS/Poss Rk S FGM S FGA S FG% Rk
LaMarcus Aldridge 734 703 826 1.17 10 75 132 56.8% 10
Tim Duncan 849 817 854 1.05 8 42 96 43.8% 4
Channing Frye 729 698 755 1.08 9 39 96 40.6% 2
Blake Griffin 925 896 935 1.04 7 46 91 50.5% 7
Serge Ibaka 733 706 687 0.97 2 32 71 45.1% 5
Terrence Jones 584 561 560 1.00 4 30 72 41.7% 3
David Lee 657 629 592 0.94 1 31 77 40.3% 1
Kevin Love 638 609 593 0.97 3 38 71 53.5% 9
Dirk Nowitzki 668 645 659 1.02 5 44 85 51.8% 8
Zach Randolph 794 767 788 1.03 6 48 98 49.0% 6

Right shots, wrong results

Again, we’re only looking at 132 of the 5,350 shots that Portland opponents have attempted this season. And the Blazers do force the right shots.

The intent of their drop-back scheme is to force the least efficient shots on the floor, between the restricted area and the 3-point line. And 45.4 percent of Portland opponents’ shots have come from there. That’s the fifth highest mark in the league, behind only teams that rank in the top five in defensive efficiency. Portland also ranks in the top 10 in percentage of jump shots that they’ve contested.

But their opponents have made 41 percent of those shots between the restricted area and 3-point line, the fourth highest percentage.

Highest percentage of opponents shots from between
the restricted area and the 3-point line

Team FGM FGA FG% Rank %FGA
Indiana 943 2,462 38.3% 7 48.5%
San Antonio 974 2,469 39.4% 15 48.2%
Golden State 964 2,503 38.5% 8 47.9%
Chicago 905 2,377 38.1% 4 47.6%
Portland 994 2,428 40.9% 27 45.4%

%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts

Whether that’s a case of bad luck or because they don’t really contest that well, that’s still just 0.82 points per attempt, which is fine defensively. The Blazers also rank 11th in 3-point defense and second in defending the restricted area.

So, in terms of defending shots, the Blazers do a pretty good job, despite the Aldridge pick-and-roll issue. They rank seventh in opponent effective field goal percentage. But they rank 19th in defensive efficiency, mostly because they force the fewest turnovers in the league, just 12.3 per 100 possessions. And they force only 11.3 with their starting lineup on the floor.

In part, that goes back to their pick-and-roll defense. Not only do the bigs drop back (which means that ball-handlers don’t have to pick up their dribble and make a pass as often), but the guards (especially Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews) don’t apply much pressure up front and can get caught on those screens. No Blazer ranks in the top 80 in steals per game.

Still, the Blazers are OK when Lopez defends pick-and-rolls. And it may be that his ability to stop the ball-handler and stay in contact with the roll man that allows his teammates to better defend their own guys. If Aldridge is a step slower, that can have a domino effect two or three passes away.

Trending up?

The Blazers actually have the No. 1 defense since the All-Star break. That number has been schedule-aided though, as they’ve played the Jazz, Lakers, Hawks, and two games against the depleted Nuggets. It also may have been aided by Aldridge’s absence in the first five post-break games, as they found some defensive success playing smaller and quicker.

Aldridge is back and we’re going to find out if the Portland defense is really improved over the next 10 days, when five of their six games are against teams that rank in the top 12 offensively (and the other is against the improved Grizzlies).

A five-game trip begins against the fourth-ranked Dallas offense on Friday and we’ll see how well Aldridge contests Nowitzki.

McCollum Returns To Different Blazers


VIDEO: C.J. McCollum hits his first NBA 3-pointer

HANG TIME WEST – That’s 10 games with the Trail Blazers, and 10 indicative games at that, with an average of 14.3 minutes per — a decent workload for someone returning from a serious injury and regularly playing in the fourth quarter as a rookie on a team in win-now mode.

C.J. McCollum, quickly playing a role for the Trail Blazers, is back, all right. Just not to the same Trail Blazers and not to the role envisioned.

Once upon a time – in June – McCollum was the No. 10 pick in the draft with the perfect landing spot. He would not have a path to the starting lineup the way a lot of other lottery choices are handed big minutes as investments in the future, but it was easy to project McCollum as a key part of the rotation at a time Portland made beefing up the bench a priority. He was a combo guard who could play behind or with Damian Lillard, and being a backcourt fit with Lillard made for a good career path there. Not only that, but the Lehigh product had held Lillard up as an example of what was possible for a mid-major guy who used all four seasons of college eligibility and had to answer questions about whether he had a position. To then get to play with Lillard, for a blossoming team in a city that loved its NBA, was close to ideal.

It began to change about six weeks later, when the Trail Blazers signed Mo Williams, another guard. The real hit, though, came when McCollum was diagnosed in October with a fractured left foot. Rather, another fractured left foot, the same injury that ended his senior season at Lehigh two months early.

This time, it cost McCollum much of his first training camp and nearly the first 2 1/2 months of the regular season. By the time of his Jan. 8 return, the Trail Blazers had gone from a team with playoff potential and a built-up bench to the reality of 26-9. Williams had gone from being a late signing, in August, to playing well at backup point guard. So much had changed around McCollum.

“It was a roller coaster,” he said. “Playing well, getting hurt in college, you rehab, you come back, you get drafted and get in a position to contribute to a great team in the NBA, then get hurt again. But that’s what life’s about. Different obstacles. It’s more about how you overcome them. I think that makes you a better person.”

The sudden twists have continued. While McCollum has played at least 11 minutes in all 10 appearances, there has essentially been no such thing as a Lillard pairing.

So far:

McCollum has been with Williams for 10 games and 126 minutes.

McCollum has been with Wesley Matthews, the starting shooting guard, for 10 games and 79 minutes.

McCollum has been with Lillard for three games and nine minutes.

“It’s a long season,” McCollum said at the time of his return. “You need a lot of bodies out there to contribute and help out the team in different ways. I don’t feel any pressure. I wouldn’t feel any pressure if we didn’t have any guards. I just kind of approach it every day and just make sure I’m in a position where I’m bettering myself and making sure that I’m ready because at some point my number’s going to be called. I just want to make sure that I’m able to perform at a high level.”

Coach Terry Stotts had an established rotation and a team that was slightly wobbling at the time. He needed stability, not to experiment with the rotation. That has remained in place through the end of month, with three losses the last five games, but McCollum is still getting good minutes for a rookie coming off an injury and when every change in the standings matters. These are not the Blazers just trying to make the playoffs.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 9


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Eight teams interested in Bynum | Report: Knicks gauging trade market for Smith | Deng denies he sought $15M-a-season deal | Report: Blazers’ Williams will opt out of deal | Rivers: I’m ‘always a Celtic’

No. 1: Report: Suitors lining up for Bynum — Despite his fallout with the Cleveland Cavaliers that resulted in his being traded to Chicago for Luol Deng (and the Bulls’ waiving of him a day later), no less than eight teams are pursuing Andrew Bynum. According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, Bynum is expected to sign with a team by the end of this week. Which team it will be, however, remains very much up in the air:

Eight teams have contacted Andrew Bynum’s representatives about adding the 7-foot center to their rosters, according to a source close to the situation.

The Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers are widely believed to be among the teams interested in acquiring the two-time championship center.

One league executive who recently spoke with Heat president Pat Riley told ESPN.com, “I’m certain that Riley is going to go hard after Bynum.”

Sources told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein on Wednesday that the Dallas Mavericks are among the eight teams that have registered interest in Bynum this week. But Dallas — one of the prime bidders for Bynum’s services this past summer before he signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers — is limited to offering him a minimum salary.

Sources say, furthermore, that the Brooklyn Nets are not planning to pursue Bynum despite being granted a disabled player exception worth up to $5.25 million in the wake of Brook Lopez‘s season-ending foot injury. The Atlanta Hawks, meanwhile, are “unlikely” to lodge a bid for Bynum to replace the injured Al Horford, according to one source close to the process.

Bynum’s decision will come down to several factors, according to the source. He will consider playing time, the club’s chances for playoff success and money.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be a contender,” the source said of Bynum’s choice. “He’s looking to play and be utilized.”

Miami has its midlevel exception available as well as a need for a viable big man to combat Indiana’s Roy Hibbert.

The Clippers, on the other hand, are limited to offering Bynum the veteran’s minimum.

Bynum is expected to clear waivers Thursday at 5 p.m. ET.

***

No. 2: Report: Knicks gauging trade interest in Smith — A season ago, J.R. Smith was the Sixth Man of the Year Award winner and a key component to a division-winning New  York Knicks team that reached the Eastern Conference semifinals. Little of that is the same this season for both Smith and the Knicks as player and team have struggled to find a rhythm on the court. As well, Smith has gained some of his most notoriety this season not for his 3-point shooting or his contributions on the court, but for his efforts at untying opponents’ shoes that netted him a $50,000 fine from the league office. While Smith’s shoe incidents hasn’t led to him being on the trading block for New York, writes Ian Bagley and Marc Stein of ESPN.com, it hasn’t necessarily helped, either:

While they acknowledge that a trade may be difficult to pull off, the New York Knicks in recent days began exploring the potential market for guard J.R. Smith, ESPN.com has learned.

Sources close to the situation said Wednesday that the organization has become increasingly frustrated with Smith’s on- and off-the-court transgressions and may feel that a fresh start would be best for all parties.

Wednesday’s fine didn’t necessarily push the Knicks over the top, but one source with knowledge of the team’s thinking said the organization has become “fed up” with Smith’s erratic behavior.

Coach Mike Woodson hinted at that frustration Wednesday when he called Smith’s conduct “unacceptable” in an interview with ESPN New York 98.7 FM’s “The Stephen A. Smith and Ryan Ruocco Show.””I’m not happy about this, because he was warned, he comes back and he makes the same mistake, and it’s not right,” Woodson said.

“It’s just got to stop. I keep saying this every time something pops up, but it’s got to stop.”The coach later added that Smith has been “unprofessional about how he’s approached this whole thing. Something’s gotta be done. It has to stop. I’ll address it tomorrow when I see him, and then we’ll go from there.”

Smith can’t be traded until Jan. 15 because the Knicks are over the salary cap and Smith signed for more than 120 percent of his previous salary.

The Knicks, furthermore, privately acknowledge that it will be difficult in the current climate to trade Smith, who has two seasons left after this one on a three-year, $18 million contract.

***

No. 3: Deng denies asking Bulls for $15M-a-season deal — As we told you in this space on Tuesday morning (the day after the Andrew Bynum-for-Luol Deng swap between the Cavs and Bulls), Chicago apparently made one last-ditch effort to keep Deng in the fold before trading him. According to Yahoo!Sports.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Bulls offered Deng a three-year, $30 million extension that he balked at days before the swap with Cleveland. But Deng, in his first news conference with the Cavs, told the Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson that he never asked the Bulls for a $15 million-a-season extension — as was reported during the summer — as he detailed his departure from Chicago:

He’s not bitter. And despite reports, he never asked for $15 million a year from the Bulls, who traded Deng to Cleveland on Monday in a financial move to create flexibility for the future.

“My thing is in the summer, I never came with a number,” Deng told the Tribune. “I heard on the radio that I asked for 15 (million). I would never ask for a number. We came to (general manager) Gar (Forman) last summer and we wanted to sit down and talk. And Gar didn’t want to talk. They felt like they wanted to wait and see how everything goes with Derrick (Rose).

“Three days before the trade, Gar called me upstairs and put three years, $30 million on the table. Take it or leave it. No negotiation. I said no and that was it. But 15? That’s the only thing that upset me. I’m not upset with the organization. I want everyone to understand that. If I was a GM, would I make that move? Maybe.

“I wanted to be in Chicago. I thought I was going to end my career there. Not talking during the summer, did that hurt me? Yeah. And then you come back with 10 (million). Who knows what I would’ve taken in the summer? That’s the part that is really bothering me. Other than that, I have no issues at all.”

“They paid me,” Deng said, referencing the $71 million extension he signed in 2008. “I can’t be mad at that. You don’t have to tap me on the shoulder every day. That’s not me. That’s not my personality.

“I had an opportunity to play for a great organization. I’ve been very lucky to play 10 years for the only team that I ever knew as a kid. I only knew Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the Bulls when I was 7 years old and in Egypt. For me to be the fourth-leading scorer on that team, did I ever think a refugee kid in Egypt would even play for the Bulls? There’s a lot of amazing things that have happened.”

Deng saw the comments his teammates made in the wake of his trade, the ones that made it clear he’ll be remembered for more than being a two-time All-Star. He appreciated those.

“I wish (the trade) was face-to-face so I could say good-bye to my teammates,” Deng said. “I had to call them and talk to each one. There are workers at the stadium, people at the Berto, I wanted to say good-bye face-to-face. After nine or 10 years, those are not just people you work with. Some of them, I’m closer to them than teammates. The way I went down, I wish it wasn’t a phone call.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew breaks down how Luol Deng will help the Cavs on the court

***

No. 4: Report: Blazers’ Williams will opt out this summer — Point guard Mo Williams has been a vital part of the Portland Trail Blazers’ revival season and often teams with star guard Damian Lillard in the backcourt for key stretches each night. But Williams, who signed a two-year contract with Portland last summer, says he’s opting out of his deal this summer. The good news for Blazers fans, though, is that Williams wants to stay in Oregon and is simply looking for a longer term deal, writes Chris Haynes of CSNNorthwest.com:

Portland Trail Blazers guard Mo Williams tells CSNNW.com he will opt out of his deal with the team at the conclusion of the season and become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

The veteran guard, who head coach Terry Stotts considers the best backup point guard in the league, says this decision was always the plan and adds that his main objective is to secure a lengthened contract with the Trail Blazers.

“I would like to be here long term,” Williams revealed to CSNNW.com. “My goal is to work something out with Portland this summer. I like it here and I want to make this place home.”

Williams said team chemistry, camaraderie and fan support are why he and his family are drawn to the city.

“With our team, we have a makeup of individuals that do something really, really good and when we mesh together, it’s like gumbo,” he explained. “That’s the best example I can give you of our team. Some teams have a dish where you got your steak, potatoes and asparagus. We’re gumbo. Without one of the ingredients, the gumbo just doesn’t taste well. But when everything is in that pot, it’s just like grandma did it.”

***

No. 5: Rivers ‘always a Celtic’ in his heart — One of the key storylines of the offseason was Celtics coach Doc Rivers leaving Boston to head to L.A. to try and work his magic and turn the Clippers into a Finals-qualifying team. But in leaving Beantown, Rivers angered a fan base that remembered him saying he was a “Celtic for life” after signing his last contract extension in Boston. Rivers addresses that departure and many other topics in a wide-ranging interview with The Boston Herald‘s Steve Bulpett and Rivers says that no matter what team he coaches, Boston will always be a part of his heart:

It was less than three years ago that this newly baptized Angeleno, having signed a five-year contract extension with the Celtics, proclaimed his undying loyalty to Boston. Most people believed him, but Kris Rivers wasn’t buying it.

“My wife would tell me all the time,” said Rivers. “She’d say, ‘You love it there and I get that, but you know who you are. You need something.’”

That it would be the Clippers isn’t something he could have foreseen. But as he sipped on a glass of pinot noir Sunday, Rivers admitted last summer wasn’t the first time he’d made a move for the door in Boston.

“I left three times,” he said. “I really did. The year we won it, I was done after the year. I was going through my dad thing (his father’s passing), and I was just going to go home and do nothing. In 2010, I was definitely gone. After that last game, I almost said it. I was very close to saying it in the press conference after we lost to the Lakers. I was emotional and I was just going to leave.

“After the Miami loss (in 2011) when I said, ‘I am a Celtic,’ that’s when I got defiant about not leaving. It’s amazing how you go up and down. But I felt like I couldn’t leave then. It wasn’t the right time. We had Paul (Pierce), Kevin (Garnett) and, at the time, Ray (Allen), and I just thought it would be bad form. I couldn’t do it to them.”

Looking back on a trail of mixed messages and emotions, Rivers shrugged.

“It’s what you believe at that moment,” he said.

Back on the deck at Shutters, he insisted that he’s moved on from last summer’s Celtics divorce, but he hasn’t completely reconciled the departure.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be comfortable with it, honestly,” he said. “I don’t think you can get comfortable with it. Danny and I did get together on it at the end, but I just thought after a while it got to the point of no return.

“It was just hard for me. I’m not sure anyone can understand. I fell in love with where I was at, but after the season I realized I just didn’t want to get into the whole rebuilding thing. I didn’t have it in me. Once I came to that conclusion, now I’m a mess. Do I stay and do it anyway? I thought about it and decided I just couldn’t.

“I’ve never had that type of feeling for a place. I was in Atlanta eight years and it was great. Orlando is nice and playing for the Knicks was nice, but nothing like Boston. And I don’t think I can ever get that again, no matter what I do. That’s just hard.”

“I don’t give a (expletive) what I do the rest of my life, I’m always going to be a Celtic,” he said. “It’ll never go away. I don’t give a (expletive) what I do. I think even if I win 10 championships here, it’s different when you win with the Celtics. There are only a few organizations in sports that have that history and have that following, and I was with one for nine years.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Raptors are fairly convinced that Kyle Lowry will sign a long-term deal with them this summer … Bucks rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo has a must-read blog entry on the Greek sports site Sport 24 (h/t BrewHoop for the translation) … For some reason, Blazers center Robin Lopez has a beef with the Toronto Raptors’ mascotLeandro Barbosa is happy to be, as he puts it, “back with the purple” in Phoenix

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: In the first quarter of last night’s game against Boston, Blake Griffin gave his dunking partner in crime, DeAndre Jordan, a fast-break slam thanks to his nice outlet pass. Then, in the third quarter, Griffin targeted Kris Humphries and made him his latest dunk target …


VIDEO: Blake Griffin gets up to dunk over the Celtics’ Kris Humphries

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 29


VIDEO: The Daily Zap, a quick rundown of the 12 games played Dec. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bosh rises to sink Blazers | Smith lashes out at Cheeks | Clippers interested in Bynum? | Wolves back to .500

No. 1: Bosh rises to sink Blazers — On a night the Miami Heat were looking to avoid consecutive losses for the third time this season, LeBron James sat out with a groin injury and Dwyane Wade didn’t have it going. But there was the often overlooked member of the Big Three, Chris Bosh, an All-Star in his own right, standing by to save the day. The Heat’s power forward outplayed LaMarcus Aldridge, posting 37 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds to beat the Portland Trail Blazers, the West’s No. 1 team. In the final huddle Heat coach Erik Spoelstra drew up a play, but Bosh overruled it, wanting to take the 3, and Spoelstra smartly rolled with it. After Bosh drilled the shot, the Heat bench, including James, erupted and showered Bosh with a wild celebration that revealed how big that win was and how much Bosh’s teammates enjoy seeing him succeed.
Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report provides the details:

“My call at the end of the game was much more conservative,” Spoelstra said, after the Heat’s 108-107 victory. “I drew something up to get him on the move, and he said no, I want it for three.”

Bosh wanted the extra space, especially since he knew his momentum would take him away from the hoop anyway.

He wanted the extra point too.

“I told him I wanted to go for the jugular,” Bosh said.

“So he overruled it and became a prophet,” Spoelstra said. “Why did I even diagram something else for him? I mean, he already hit two threes. He was feeling it, he wanted it, and as soon as he said it, I said, ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’ It was much better than what I had planned.”

It was. So much better.

Norris Cole inbounded to Dwyane Wade from the left side, with Mario Chalmers running Damian Lillard down the baseline from right to left, while Ray Allen occupied Mo Williams‘ attention on the left wing. It was similar to the previous play, in which Allen’s screen freed Wade for a slam.

Bosh set a brush screen—and this time, Aldridge left him to help Nicolas Batum chase down Wade.

“My job was to drive his man to me,” Wade said.

It went just as they planned.

“It didn’t really go exactly like that,” Wade said.

OK, it didn’t. Wade lost the handle briefly, before chucking the ball behind him on one bounce, fortunate that Williams didn’t budge.

“He threw a crazy pass a little bit, I’m not going to lie,” Bosh said. “But I was able to see it, nobody was in the vicinity, so I didn’t have to rush, and I was able to lock into the goal the whole time.”

Bosh collected it with his left side touching the three-point line, backing up, stepping in and launching from 26 feet with 2.6 seconds left.

With 0.5 seconds left, it fell through.

***

No. 2: Smith lashes out at Cheeks — The Detroit Pistons were on the verge of hitting .500, but have now lost four of five and two in a row, blasted on back-to-back nights by Orlando and then at Washington on Saturday. And now the Pistons have the first signs of internal conflict brewing with big free-agent acquisition Josh Smith unhappy about being benched for the entire second half and suggesting that coach Maurice Cheeks called him out for not playing hard. As David Mayo of MLive reports:

Josh Smith didn’t play the second half of a 106-82 blowout against the Washington Wizards, the second time head coach Maurice Cheeks has made that decision this season.

This time, Smith suggested Cheeks called him out for not playing hard, and that he took “real offense” to the accusation.

Smith also was benched the second half of a Nov. 12 game at Golden State.

“Like I told y’all before when we had this conversation, when you hit adverse times, characters are gonna be tested,” Smith said. “It’s either that we’re gonna come closer together and make it all one team, or are you gonna use a scapegoat to get away from what’s really at hand?”

What’s really at hand is the Pistons (14-18) have lost four of five, bombed in a two-game road trip against sub-.500 teams this weekend, and now have their first hint of internal upheaval.

How long it lasts remains to be seen.

Asked if Smith will start Monday’s home rematch with the Wizards, Cheeks replied, “I assume he will. I don’t know why he wouldn’t. We’ll wait until that next game gets there.”

Smith said he isn’t inclined to have a personal discussion with Cheeks about their disagreement before the next game.

“To me, it’s over with,” Smith said. “But you know, some people hold grudges longer than others. I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m not saying that he (Cheeks) does. I don’t know.

“But I’m not the type of person that really likes to go all the time in the coach’s office and have one-on-one sitdowns. I’m more of a team morale guy, worrying about what we can do, as far as teammates are concerned, to make ourselves more successful.”

***

No. 3: Clippers interested in Bynum?The former Lakers big man, troubled by knee injuries and possibly a lack of desire to play at the highest level, was suspended indefinitely by the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday for conduct detrimental to the team. Reports have the Cavs eager to deal Andrew Bynum. The Clippers, in need of frontline support behind center DeAndre Jordan and power forward Blake Griffin, could be one team interested in trying to make it work with the troubled 7-footer who had not long ago put himself in the discussion alongside Dwight Howard as the league’s top center. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times breaks it down:

The Clippers would have interest in Bynum if he was released by the Cavaliers, according to several NBA executives who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

But according to one Eastern Conference executive, the Clippers would have competition for Bynum because the Miami Heat also would have interest in the seven-footer.

The Clippers have the NBA-maximum 15-player roster and would have to waive a player if they were to sign Bynum, who is still only 26.

The Cavaliers signed Bynum to a two-year, $24-million deal over the summer. But only $6 million of Bynum’s $12.2-million contract for this season is guaranteed if he is waived before Jan. 7.

The Eastern Conference executive said it’s possible Bynum will be released by the Cavaliers in early January if they can’t trade him so the team is not on the hook for the last $6 million Bynum would be owed.

Bynum has averaged 8.4 points and 5.3 rebounds in 20.0 minutes in the 24 games he has played with the Cavaliers. He had 18 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes when he started for the Cavaliers against the Clippers on Dec. 7

.***

No. 4: Wolves back to .500It had been since Dec. 10-11 that the Minnesota Timberwolves had won consecutive games. A team expected to make the playoffs this season following last year’s disastrous injury problems, the Wolves have yet to find any consistency and have lost late leads in multiple games. On Saturday night, they avoided a letdown on the second night of a back-to-back, blowing out woeful Milwaukee to get back to .500. They haven’t won three in a row since starting the season with three consecutive victories. They’ll get the chance to match their season-high win streak at home on Monday against the Dallas Mavericks, a team they handled twice in November. Kent Youngblood of the Minnesota Star Tribune has the story:

The message, at halftime, was something like this: Don’t let it happen again.

The Timberwolves were winning against the lowly Bucks on the road Saturday night, but Milwaukee was getting too many easy baskets and points in the paint. This was feeling a bit too much like last week’s game against the Lakers. Or the week before in Boston, when the Wolves had followed an impressive win with a listless loss.

Not to worry.

With Kevin Love leading the way, the Wolves scored the first 14 points of the third quarter and built their lead to as much as 31 late in the quarter at Bradley Center. That was enough to withstand some shoddy play by the bench to start the fourth quarter. The result was a 117-95 victory that ended a three-game road losing streak and put the Wolves (15-15) back at .500 with five of their next six games at home.

“We haven’t played great in the second night of back-to-backs,” said Love, who scored 33 points with 15 rebounds. He made four of six three-pointers and had six assists. It was his 10th consecutive game with 25 or more points, most in the league this season, and his fifth game with at least 30 points and 15 rebounds.

The Wolves, who won Friday against Washington, have won two in a row, sweeping both ends of a back-to-back for only the second time in eight tries this season. Love and center Nikola Pekovic (19 points, 11 rebounds) took advantage of a Bucks lineup missing 6-11 John Henson. Kevin Martin added 20 points and Corey Brewer had 12.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Deron Williams‘ season keeps getting uglier as Nets get crushed by superior Pacers … Knicks hope to get Carmelo Anthony back for tough Texas road swing. … Bradley Beal makes welcome return 24 hours after limping off the floor and helps Wizards rout of Pistons … Nets center Brook Lopez will undergo foot surgery next Saturday

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 15


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Mo Williams uses Trail Blazers win as therapy | Lakers call Knicks, talk trade | Rondo won’t play until New Year | Paul talks the talk 

No. 1: Blazers’ Williams rides emotional wave in Philly — Portland guard Mo Williams had a hand in the Trail Blazers’ 3-pointer-fueled barrage against the Philadelphia 76ers. But unlike his teammates, it wasn’t all smiles for the veteran point guard. He played with a heavy heart while dealing with the loss of a loved one. That didn’t stop him from joining the party as the Blazers made a franchise-record 21 shots from deep. On a night when LaMarcus Aldridge did his usual MVP work and Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nic Batum, Dorell Wright and rookie Allen Crabbe all took part in the 3-point party, the three 3s that Williams knocked down had extra special meaning, as Joe Freeman of The Oregonian explains:

On Dec. 5, Williams’€™ uncle, Jerome Coleman, died after a lengthy fight with colon cancer. He was 63. Coleman’s funeral was Saturday morning in Mobile, Ala., and Williams wasn’€™t about to miss the chance to say goodbye to “€œUncle Roni.”€
So after the Blazers’€™ Thursday night victory over the Houston Rockets, Williams left the Moda Center and boarded a charter flight to Mobile. He didn’t sleep a wink the entire way, touching down in Mobile at 8:30 a.m. What followed was an emotional whirlwind of consoling family, attending memorials and taking part in countless talks that reminisced about “Uncle Roni,” the older brother of Williams’€™ mother.
“I’€™m just emotionally drained,” Williams said after the game. “Time will heal. Basketball will help. But you still have those times where you just can’€™t let it go. Being at the funeral, holding my grandma, holding my mom, then jumping on the flight coming here. It’€™s been a draining day.”€
The NBA allowed the Blazers to set up a charter flight for Williams so he could play Saturday, and the moment he walked into the visiting locker room — about 90 minutes before tipoff –€” his stress and sadness washed away. LaMarcus Aldridge cracked a joke at his expense as soon as he saw his teammate, and Williams smiled for seemingly the first time all day. Then he dove into his pregame routine.
There were no deep talks. No one asked for stories about the funeral. It was as if it was any other day. And it was exactly what Williams needed.
“That was kind of therapeutic for me, being around the guys,” he said. “Throughout the game, they didn’€™t beat me up with the fact that they knew I was going through something. They just treated me like they treat me every day. I needed that.”€

***

No. 2: Knicks fielding calls on Shumpert and Chandler? — Kyle Lowry is low-hanging fruit, as Kobe Bryant would say, when it comes to trade talks. The Los Angeles Lakers apparently have something a bit more aggressive in mind since they are now engaging the New York Knicks in discussions about two of the teams main rotation players, the seemingly always available Iman Shumpert and defensive anchor Tyson Chandler, according to ESPN’s Chris Broussard:

No trade is imminent, and sources say the Lakers’ call was more about doing their due diligence; it’s well-known Shumpert is available. The Lakers are unlikely to make a deal before the end of their current four-game trip, which concludes Tuesday night in Memphis.

But with Steve Blake, who is expected to miss at least six weeks with an elbow injury, joining point guards Steve Nash and Jordan Farmar on the injured list, the Lakers could be interested in strengthening their backcourt.

Shumpert is more of a shooting guard, but with Bryant taking on more of a playmaking role — averaging a career-high 6.7 assists while attempting fewer than nine shots a game — since returning from a torn Achilles tendon last Sunday, it’s easy to see the two playing together.

Shumpert is struggling through a disappointing season, and the Knicks have discussed trades involving him with several other teams, including the Denver Nuggets and Toronto Raptors.

Sources say the Lakers also are interested in another Knicks player — center Tyson Chandler. The Lakers did not inquire about Chandler when they called about Shumpert, but they are weighing whether to propose a Pau Gasol-for-Chandler trade, according to sources.

The Knicks are not looking to move Chandler — several teams have contacted them about him, sources said — but if a club agreed to take back struggling guard J.R. Smith, the Knicks would consider such a deal.

***

No. 3: Rondo won’t play until January — There won’t be any speculation about an earlier than anticipated return date for Boston’s All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo. Now that he’s been cleared for full contact, Celtics coach Brad Stevens moved swiftly to ease the pressure on his star by announcing that he won’t play in a game until January, at the earliest. That gives Rondo a minimum of at least two and a half weeks to get himself ready for live action and potentially much more time if he doesn’t progress as the Celtics hope. But is he, as Mark Murphy of The Boston Herald examines, the missing piece for a Celtics team that has already surpassed most people’s expectations?:

And Rondo, according to Stevens, looked “pretty good.”

“Rajon is doing more and more in practice every day. He had a good trip yesterday as far as getting good news,” said the Celtics coach. “He’s on schedule to be closer, but it still seems like we’re not going to see him on the court this month. Hopefully, the beginning of January he’ll be closer.

“He’s been cleared for that in practice. He wasn’t cleared 100 percent until yesterday,” said Stevens. “But he’s done more and more, and today was the most he’s done. He looked pretty good.”

Though Stevens repeatedly has said his system is designed to fit Rondo back into the team as seamlessly as possible, the coaching staff actually has to start the implementation process.

“I haven’t thought a ton about it, because it really hasn’t presented itself,” said Stevens. “My focus is what we’re going to do on Monday, but certainly your focus is on not only getting him into it, but also how you’re going to manage everything around that.

“Certainly there’s a lot of players who play at a high level (on this team),” he said. “The key is to continue those guys playing very well, and add in another very good player.”

***

No. 4: Paul lives up to his own words for Clippers — It’s a bit early in the season for must-win declarations, but the Clippers’ Chris Paul doesn’t care. He’s mandating that his team step their collective game up and that starts with the man in the mirror. And that meant he had to prove his point against the Wizards, wearing them out to the tune of 38 points and 12 assists. He joined Clyde Drexler as the only player in the last 40 NBA seasons to post a 38 and 12 line while also shooting 78 percent or better (he was 10-for-13) from the floor. Drexler did it when Paul was barely out of diapers ((Nov. 13, 1990). But Paul’s point was made, writes Jovan Buha of ESPNLosAngeles.com, so much so that Doc Rivers shouldn’t have to come up with any fire and brimstone speeches now that the Clippers’ road trip is over:

Paul stood by his bold statement, scoring 38 points — the most since his 42-point performance on Halloween against the Golden State Warriors — on 11-of-14 shooting and dishing out 12 assists in the Clippers’ 113-97 victory at Verizon Center. He’s the first player since 2009 to go for 38-plus points, 12-plus assists and three-plus steals in a game, and he already has done it twice this season.

While Clippers coach Doc Rivers disagreed with the notion that the game was a must-win at shootaround, he admitted that going 3-4 against mainly sub-.500 Eastern Conference teams would be a major disappointment at any point in the season.

“I think they’re a little frustrated on this trip,” Rivers told reporters. “They think it should have gone better. It still can go well. If you win this game, 4-3 on a seven-game trip — that’s good. It’s not what we wanted. We want to win all seven of them. But you just keep plugging along.”

With the win, the Clippers finished the trip above .500 at 4-3 and are now 16-9. That isn’t necessarily where they expected to be at this point in the season, but at the very least Saturday’s win showed that if they need to win a tough road game to ease their mental psyche, they can.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Bulls’ Joakim Noah insists we’re going to find out what his team is about now that they are facing another round of adversityMike Woodson has grown tired of J.R. Smith’s antics, the break up can’t be far off … and make sure and take a look at Ray Allen becoming the sixth active player to join the 24,000 point club.

ICYMI: Josh McRoberts didn’t have the Dunk of the Night, that honor was bestowed upon his Bobcats teammate Jeff Taylor, but he did get loose against his former team for Saturday night’s Play of the Day …


VIDEO: Josh McRoberts shows off his bounce against his former team

Hot Matthews Huge To Blazers’ Start


VIDEO: LaMarcus Aldridge had a 30-21 game as the Trail Blazers beat the Warriors

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – A number of reasons are emerging to explain the Portland Trail Blazers’ 12-2 start. Camaraderie shown in another comeback win Saturday over Golden State following a second-half dust-up seems just as strong of one as LaMarcus Aldridge‘s monstrous start that included 30 points and 21 rebounds against the Warriors for Portland’s 10th consecutive victory.

Second-year point guard Damian Lillard is scintillating and it sure seems that the new starting center Robin Lopez and a bolstered bench spearheaded by Mo Williams have quickly meshed with the remaining cast, and that all involved are all-in with second-year coach Terry Stotts.

“That inspired us,” said Wesley Matthews, one of three players, along with Williams, ejected after Saturday night’s shoving match. At the time, the Blazers trailed by 10 and then outscored Golden State 42-20 for the 113-101 win. “We got better from it, we got stronger from it. Mo and I were continuing to cheer. They couldn’t hear us, but we were continuing to cheer.”

Need an overlooked reason for Portland’s inspiring start to a hope-filled season? Look at Matthews, the fifth-year shooting guard. If you haven’t noticed, Matthews is shooting the lights out.

Before getting tossed Saturday night, Matthews had dropped five 3-pointers and was 8-for-9 from the floor for 23 points in 26 minutes. It was his sixth 20-point effort in the first 14 games, already one-third of the 18 he had last season in 69 games played.

Not bad for a guy who wasn’t even included on the All-Star ballot. Wesley called the omission “ridiculous,” and he’s certainly making it look that way.

Matthews is making defenses pay for their choices. Left open on the weak side, the 6-foot-5 shooting guard is beating scrambling close-outs and knocking down shot after shot, and at career levels. He’s averaging career highs in scoring average (17.3 ppg), field-goal percentage (56.8) and 3-point percentage (52.5). He’s also averaging a career-best 4.6 rpg, nearly two more a game than last season.

Matthews has helped to super-boost a Blazers offense that is averaging 104.0 ppg, up from 97.5 ppg last season. A year ago they finished 15th in the league in offensive rating (102.9 points scored per 100 possessions).  This season they’ve surged to fifth at 107.1. When Matthews is on the floor, Portland’s offensive rating is 108.2.

Interestingly, Matthews’ usage (percentage of a team’s offensive possessions that a player is used) has dipped from last season (19.1 percent to 17.2 percent, ranking 69th among guards) as his shooting percentages have soared.

His effective field-goal percentage (adjusted for made 3-pointers being more valuable than 2-pointers) is an astounding 70.3 percent, second in the league among guards behind New York’s Pablo Prigioni, who plays 18 mpg compared to Matthews’ 34.0 mpg. Last season, Matthews’ eFG% was a mediocre 54.0 percent.

No guard in the league boasts a higher true shooting percentage (adjusted to include the value of 3-pointers and free throws). Matthews is at a whopping 71.4 percent, up from 57.4 percent last season.

The Blazers’ teamwork and tenacity are proving that their win streak is no fluke. Matthews might not be able to keep up his scorching start to such a degree, but if he remains anywhere close, Portland is going to continue to be a team that leaves defenses scrambling for cover and searching for answers.