NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Irving’s big game at MSG draws compliments — Dressed in his newly released line of Nike sneakers, Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving ran roughshod over the Knicks last night at Madison Square Garden. Irving totaled 37 points — including a late, clutch layup — that lifted Cleveland to its fifth straight victory and got him plenty of praise from his teammates afterward. Northeast Ohio Media Group’s Chris Haynes has more:
“Man, I think he’s right up there at the top and he’s still so young,” Kevin Love said. “He’s only going to get better. He does whatever we need to win and tonight it was scoring the ball. He loves the bright lights, too. He always plays well when we need it.”
After the game, head coach David Blatt referred to Irving as a two-way player. That wasn’t an applicable moniker in the past. His much-improved defense has elevated his game to different altitude.
And he’s nowhere near close to a plateau. The Garden couldn’t bottle up his unlimited ability. He was too big for the Knicks. The Big Apple got a taste of an All-Star on the rise destined to give them fits for many, many years to come.
“He has the potential to be the best guard in our league,” Tristan Thompson said. “I think he’s probably one of the most complete players in our league. His defense is getting better and that is taking him to another level.”
Entering the game, he was averaging 29.0 points at Madison Square Garden. It’s his highest scoring average in any road arena. It’s plain to see – Irving revels in the New York stage.
“Spectacular,” LeBron James described Irving’s performance. “Anytime we needed a bucket, he made it. Anytime we needed some energy, he gave it. I took over the point guard duties as far as getting guys involved and he took over the scoring. And we needed it.”
Irving has cemented himself as one of the finest finishers around the rim. He doesn’t use much athleticism to maneuver around bigger defenders in the paint. He’s simply crafty. He can make the basketball do tricks on the glass and somehow it finds its way in the bottom of the net.
It doesn’t matter which hand he goes up with, his craftiness is ambidextrous.
“I always knew he was a great finisher. I think he’s even better than what I even thought,” James said. “As far as finishing around the rim, he’s probably one of the greatest this game has ever seen. I’ve never seen someone finish how he finishes underneath the rim. It’s unbelievable. With both hands.”
No. 2: Raptors ready to honor McGrady tonight — About two or so weeks ago, the Memphis Grizzlies visited the Toronto Raptors in a big West vs. East showdown that had an always interesting subplot for Raptors fans: the return of Vince Carter as well. That night, the team paid tribute to Carter and the former Toronto superstar was overwhelmed with emotion during the in-game salute. Tonight against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Raptors will honor another former star (and subsequent favorite target of Raptors’ fans ire), Tracy McGrady. Josh Rubin of The Toronto Star has more:
T-Mac is coming back, after all.
Fourteen years after he left town to escape Vince Carter’s shadow, Tracy McGrady is getting honoured by the Toronto Raptors on Friday night as part of their 20th anniversary celebrations. McGrady, who’s in town for GM Masai Ujiri’s Giants of Africa fundraiser honouring Nelson Mandela, will be introduced to the crowd during the game. A highlight reel of his time in Toronto will also be shown.
While Carter drew an unexpected standing ovation during a video tribute last month at the Air Canada Centre, it’s unclear whether Raptors fans will be equally magnanimous with his distant cousin. Like Carter, McGrady was heavily booed in subsequent visits to Toronto after leaving the Raptors.
The talented, athletic small forward left Toronto in 2000 after the end of his three-year rookie contract. His departure left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Raptor fans, who had staged a vocal public campaign for McGrady to re-sign. McGrady, who had come off the bench in his first two seasons, had just become a starter, and together with Carter, helped lead the team to its first-ever playoff berth.
He went on to put superstar numbers with the Magic and the Rockets.
In a 2013 interview with the Star’s Dave Feschuk after retiring from the NBA, McGrady expressed regret for leaving what could have turned into a contender (in the 2000-01 season, the Raptors fell one game short of the Eastern Conference final).
“In hindsight, looking back, obviously I wish I had stayed in Toronto,” McGrady said. “There’s no doubt we could have contended for a championship. I think about that often.”
No. 3: Report: Mudiay’s future in China in doubt — As our Scott Howard-Cooper pointed out a month or so ago, NBA scouts were gearing up this season for at least one trip — and perhaps more — to China to watch top prospect Emmanuel Mudiay. The 18-year-old phenom has had a solid run for the Guangdong Southern Tigers, but an injury has sidelined him of late and has his future with the team in doubt. Adrian Wojnarowski of YahooSports.com has more:
Mudiay, a potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft, has missed four consecutive games with an ankle sprain and will be replaced – at minimally in the short term – with veteran NBA guard Will Bynum on Friday, sources told Yahoo Sports.
Bynum is finalizing a deal for the rest of the season in Guangdong, but has yet to sign the contract, a source said. That could come within hours, however. Chinese teams are allowed only two American players on the roster, but Bynum can replace Mudiay as the teenage American star is rehabbing his injury, sources said.
DraftExpress.com – the No. 1 site for NBA draft information – has Mudiay as the No. 2 overall projected pick in the 2015 draft.
Mudiay was unable to qualify academically to play basketball for coach Larry Brown at Southern Methodist University, which led to him accepting the $1 million-plus contract and an endorsement deal with Under Armour.
Mudiay, 18, has played 10 games in China, averaging 17.7 points, six rebounds and six assists. NBA executives who’ve watched him told Yahoo Sports he’s only enhanced his draft value with his performances in China so far.
It is possible that Guangdong could release Mudiay and pay him the balance of his contract, or hold onto the teenager and watch how Bynum impacts the team until Mudiay’s ankle allows him to return to the lineup. Eventually, Guangdong could make a decision on which guard to keep – and release the other. Nevertheless, it would be an immense investment to bring Bynum over on a guaranteed $1 million-plus agreement – only to use him for one or two weeks.
Mudiay has to protect his draft value, and his representatives will be exceedingly careful to make sure he doesn’t risk further injury or poor performance in China. If released, Mudiay could simply return to the United States and train in preparation to begin predraft workouts with NBA teams prior to the June draft.
NBA teams planning to scout Mudiay in China had been on hold with the uncertainty surrounding the guard’s availability. Several teams – including San Antonio and Phoenix – sent representatives to scout Mudiay early in the season, but many more curtailed planned trips in recent weeks.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kobe Bryant and Rajon Rondo had breakfast together yesterday in Boston, and there’s really nothing more to the story than that … Minnesota Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders confirms that Ricky Rubio won’t be back until at least January … Ivan Johnson has signed into the NBA D-League … The New Orleans Pelicans may sign ex-Mavericks point guard Gal Mekel soon … Indiana Pacers forward David West has more thoughts on the recent police-related deaths in the news …
ICYMI of the Night: Remember when Amar’e Stoudemire used to do this sort of thing every night? …