Posts Tagged ‘NBA’

Blogtable: Thoughts on NBA, referee’s new agreement

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: Next Team USA coach? | Point guards for 2016? | Thoughts on NBA-refs deal?



VIDEOJoe Borgia explains the changes for next season

> While not yet official, it appears the NBA has reached agreement with its referees through the 2022 season. Is this a big thing, a little thing, or much ado about nothing?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: It’s a big thing, because we hear the whining and grumbling that goes on when even the best in the business make calls that some player, coach, executive or owner doesn’t like. Imagine the decibels and frequency of such fussing and fuming if suddenly the league were policed by replacements or newbies. Besides, the completely electronic, eye-in-the-sky, make-every-foul-call-from-Secaucus-replay-center system isn’t quite up and running yet. That’ll kick in around the 2029-30 season.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It’s only a big thing if it didn’t get done and the game was tarnished and diminished by replacement referees. It’s a very big thing if the league and the Players Association can now learn from this experience and get to work on a new collective bargaining agreement to avoid a work stoppage.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: A pretty big thing because it eliminates the possibility of a very big thing. Important labor deals should never be shrugged off, just because it came without hard-line comments or a work stoppage. In addition to being a pretty big thing, it’s a good thing.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I say it’s a little thing. You can’t dismiss the significance of it because anytime the league can tie up the refs for a reasonable length of time is great. Why risk having the game soiled by inexperienced refs? But it’s not a big thing because, with all the money coming into the league, it was only a matter of time before the refs got their cut. They were in no danger of holding out. Everyone wins in this deal.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Big thing. It’s good that the best refs in the world are her for another seven years. It’s comforting that there was never a hint of an issue that would affect the season. And it’s important that the league continues to give these guys what they need behind the scenes as they put them under more scrutiny, via the Last Two Minute reports, in public.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I think it’s big enough. Any time you can broker labor peace ahead of a deadline, it’s a victory. And in an effort to make sure that men charged with one of the most difficult jobs in sports (you try keeping up with the tallest and most graceful group of professional athletes on the planet) understand the investment the league has made in them is for the long haul, this goes a long way. I’m not here to disparage replacement referees, but I want to see them under the bright lights about as much as I do replacement players … and that’s never!

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It is big. The NBA is seeking to deepen its partnership with referees by pursuing greater transparency and self-reflection. The league wants referees to continue to view themselves as servants to the game to an ever-increasing degree. An extended and bitter contract negotiation would have undermined the big-picture goal; by agreeing to new terms without public drama, the league and its referees can move forward with less acrimony than in previous years.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI guess it’s something, but I don’t think it’s a big thing. Even if the NBA had to use replacement refs, there are so many replay and review mechanisms currently in place that I’m not sure how much damage they could have done. I guess it does put an end to my feature idea — “NBA Behind the Scenes: I was a replacement ref.”

Report: NBA, refs union reach tentative agreement on new deal

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The NBA and the union representing the game’s officials have reached a tentative agreement on a new, seven-year deal that will run through the 2021-22 season, according to a report from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.

A vote on final ratification of the deal is expected to come Thursday in Chicago, where the union’s members are scheduled to gather. More from Yahoo! Sports:

The NBA and the NBRA opened talks with a year left on the existing collective bargaining agreement, and will replace the final season of the current five-year agreement with terms on a new deal, sources told Yahoo Sports. The referees’ new deal will include substantial raises for referees and the staffing of the league’s replay center in Secaucus, N.J., with refs, sources said.

The NBA will be generating significantly more revenue with a new $24 billion television contract beginning in 2016.

 

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 193) Featuring Kyle Lowry

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — It’s been a revealing season for Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors. They’ve been one of the best teams in the NBA and yet an afterthought for some, as teams in Atlanta, Cleveland and Chicago — and that’s just in the Eastern Conference — have garnered more and more of the spotlight.

Lowry, of course, is used to being overlooked and underrated. He’s dealt with it his entire career.

And that won’t change just because he earned his first All-Star nod this season and is the catalyst and leader, on and off the floor, for one of the top teams in basketball. In fact, we’re certain that Lowry and the Raptors will have to continue to scrap for anything they get … which exactly the way Lowry likes it.

We dig deep on his journey — past, present and future — on Episode 193 of the Hang Time Podcast … Featuring Kyle Lowry.

We also discuss the hottest topics of the day, including Dwight Howard‘s looming return in Houston, the University of North Carolina math being applied in Braggin’ Rights, our dime store March Madness predictions, the NBA’s version of March Madness, Wednesday’s monster mash between the top of the heap Warriors and Hawks, what happened to Rick Fox‘s beard and LeBron James‘ headband (did they go off to the same remote island?) and so much more.

You get it all on Episode 193 of The Hang Time Podcast … Featuring Kyle Lowry …

 

LISTEN HERE:

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

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


VIDEO: The Game Time crew talks to Kyle Lowry after his triple double

Blogtable: Extend the 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: Extend the season? | Rethinking age limit? | Upset-minded East playoff team?



VIDEOThe Starters give their view on extending the season into July

> The NBA says it is considering spacing out the 82-game regular season, and San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is already on record saying he won’t be working in July. Are hot dogs, apple pie and basketball a good mix on Independence Day?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: NBA in July? No thank you. The season goes deep enough into the calendar as it is, players already are squeezed for offseason recovery and down time, there is lots of business already requiring the summer months (draft, Las Vegas, free agency, FIBA). The obvious fix is to shorten the preseason by a week to 10 days, play three or four tuneup games instead of seven or eight and start the NBA schedule a week before Halloween.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The idea is a bigger dud than a wet firecracker on the Fourth of July. The season is already long … too long. With many players choosing to play for their national teams — Tony Parker and Nicolas Batum have already said they’re in for France at EuroBasket next summer — the offseason time to rest and heal would be shortened further.  On one hand, the commissioner talks of trimming off a few preseason games to provide more down time.  On the other, he has already lengthened the All-Star break to a week to make less.  The only truly serious solution to the problem of debilitating fatigue is simple — a shorter schedule, say 66 or 70 games. That would require owners netting less money from fewer home games and require players taking a corresponding cut in contracts. Both sides, of course, are due a windfall when the new TV contracts kick in. But neither side is willing to forgo a dollar. So it is all talk, some of it just silly, with a few cosmetic changes.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Sure. It will look weird at first and feel strange on the body clock because other big events will have to be pushed back –the Draft, NBA Summer League –but that’s nothing compared to the benefit: better play. Fewer back-to-backs or three games in four nights is a good thing for rosters and, therefore, a good thing for fans. There has to be some give as most people agree the extended All-Star break is a valuable rest stop and the idea of a little more breathing room in the schedule is a positive. Turning another page on the calendar, and it might not since that would mean the season going some two weeks longer now, would be a small price to pay.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: No, no, no! Basketball isn’t meant to go beyond Father’s Day, let alone July 4th. Stretching the season is a sure way to turn off some hardcore fans (casual fans would flee like Russell Westbrook on the fast break). If the owners and players and networks really cared about the quality of the game, they would agree to play a 70-game schedule, eliminate exhibition games, start the season by mid-October, eliminate four-games-in-five-nights, reduce back-to-backs, and return to best-of-five for first-round playoff series. Which means, it’ll never happen because money always gets in the way.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I don’t like the idea of pushing into July. I’m all for limiting the preseason to just one or two games and starting the regular season in mid-October, though. That should eliminate four-games-in-five-nights scenarios and reduce the number of back-to-backs. And I think a 72-game schedule (three games against each team in your conference, two against the opposite conference) would help alleviate wear and tear and put extra value on every game.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m with Pop on this one. There is no need to drag the NBA season into July. That’s Summer League time anyway. I understand the need, for some, to always be about the business of advancing things and tinkering with things for the sake of tinkering. Growing the game (the number of teams, the size and scope of the pool of players, viewership around the globe, etc.) has always the been the rule. And we’ve all benefited from that growth. But bigger isn’t always better, at least not in this case. If we’re going to mess with the NBA schedule, the move needs to be pushing back the start of the regular season until Thanksgiving or Christmas and shortening the 82-game season by roughly 12 games. I don’t think there is any doubt that fans would appreciate the quality of that sort of NBA season over the quantity that Pop (and so many others of us opposed to a 4th of July NBA Finals) is balking at with the spaced out 82-game regular season.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comEverything changes. Of all the changes that have transformed the NBA since the 1979 arrival of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird — overhauls of salary structure, media coverage (including social media), refereeing, global drafting and on and on — the idea of tacking on a few more days is almost not worthy of argument. As the money and the demands grow ever larger, it’s inevitable that the season will keep growing longer.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To be honest, nothing other than Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum are a good mix on Independence Day. The NBA season need to be done by then, and preferably a few weeks before then. The obvious way to fix this — to space out the schedule while ending the season before July — is to shorten the season. It doesn’t have to be radical — maybe you could shave off 6 or 8 games. Or just cancel the preseason and back up the start of the regular season by a couple of weeks. Either way, whatever you do, I think we all agree that our Independence Day should be properly celebrated by sitting back and watching Randy Quaid invoke the words of his generation while flying a fighter plane nose-first into an alien spaceship. Not by watching the NBA.

NBA postpones tonight’s games in New York area due to weather conditions


HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The NBA has postponed the New York Knicks-Sacramento Kings game and the Brooklyn Nets-Portland Trail Blazers game tonight due to blizzard conditions expected in the New York area.

The Kings-Knicks game has been rescheduled for Tuesday, March 3 at 7 p.m. ET at Madison Square Garden. The Blazers-Nets game has been rescheduled for Monday, April 6 at 7 p.m. ET at Barclays Center.

The Trail Blazers-Nets game was originally scheduled to air tonight on NBA TV but has now been replaced by the Minnesota-Oklahoma City game at 8 p.m. ET.

Cuban rides with Silver on gambling

HOUSTON — If NBA commissioner Adam Silver needs a wing man to help his bid to get sports betting legalized in the United States, Mark Cuban is just a text message or phone call away.

The Mavericks owner agreed with Silver’s recent op-ed column in The New York Times on the subject of gambling on professional sports and says he expects it to be legalized in the U.S. soon.

“I agree 100 percent,” Cuban said Saturday night before his Mavs played the Rockets at the Toyota Center. “I think we’re the world’s biggest hypocrites when we say, ‘Oh, we don’t want you betting on our games,’ and then we get all excited about the sports betting line and people go to Vegas on trips won from the NBA or NFL. I mean, it’s hugely hypocritical.

“I just think that Adam did the exact right thing. I think by focusing on the federal regulations and making the changes there, that it will change. It’s just a question of when. I think over the next three to five years, it will change.”

In his piece in the Times, Silver said gambling on the NBA and other sports leagues should be subject to strict regulatory requirements and technological safeguards and the U.S. could take a lead from the sports betting laws in England. Outside of Nevada, sports betting is currently illegal in the U.S.

“All you’ve got to do is look overseas,” Cuban said. “You can go and legally bet on the NBA in the U.K. and a bunch of other countries, and they’re actually big customers of NBA video.

“It’s crazy that we allow it in the rest of the world but it’s really upsetting that sports leagues don’t think Americans are good enough to gamble on our sports, but the rest of the world is. That’s un-American.”

Ten (or so) intriguing games for 2014-15

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, here in 2009, haven't squared off since February 2010 (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, here in 2009, haven’t squared off since February 2010 (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

LeBron James is in Cleveland, Kevin Love soon will be (barring a startling change of direction), and so the eyes of the NBA world will focus there as well, from the very beginning of the season to around the middle and obviously to the bitter/glorious end.

When the Cavaliers go to Rio de Janeiro for an Oct. 11 preseason game, the Heat are the opponent, which should lead to the ultimate in commanding the spotlight: an exhibition game that will generate attention. It’s going to be that kind of 2014-15, with Cleveland dominating the 10 games (or so) to watch that initially jump out with Wednesday’s release of the full NBA schedule for 2014-15 (you can see the full 2014-15 national TV schedule here

HANG TIME: Digging deeper into the 2014-15 schedule

Cavaliers at Heat, Dec. 25, American Airlines Arena, Miami (5 p.m. ET, ABC)

It’s on the Christmas schedule, which is a big deal. It’s James’ first game back in Miami, which is a big deal. Put them together, it’s a very big deal. That goes for hype and network marketing more than anything, because this won’t be like the scorching emotions when LeBron returned to Cleveland for the first time while playing for the Heat. He didn’t just perform open-heart surgery without anesthesia on South Florida. Still, the buildup will be a sight anyway.

Mavericks at Spurs, Oct. 28, AT&T Center, San Antonio, (8 p.m. ET, TNT)

Another season opener, another banner raising. The Spurs get their latest celebration in front of an in-state rival and an opponent hoping to become a primary challenger in the Western Conference following the arrival of Chandler Parsons and the return of Tyson Chandler. Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan and the San Antonio machine does not like pageantry. They’ll put up with nights like this, though.

Cavaliers at Timberwolves, Jan. 31, Target Center, Minneapolis (8 ET)

The teams first meet Dec. 23 in Cleveland — a nice schedule stretch for the Cavaliers, with the possible Love reunion game against the Wolves followed by the James reunion game against the Heat –- but the location of this second matchup makes it a much bigger deal. This would be Love as a Twin Cities visitor. This is fans having a chance to get a few things off their chest now that his situation has finally been untangled. If it gets untangled.

Bulls at Knicks, Oct. 29, Madison Square Garden, New York (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

This will be the return of Derrick Rose to the NBA, after the very promising return of Rose to Team USA and the opportunity to build more momentum with the international games before training camp. Because Rose matters so much to the team that could, health willing, become a serious threat in the East, this early read will be valuable. The Chicago start is particularly worth watching since the Bulls’ second game, Oct. 31, is at home against Cleveland.

Clippers at Warriors, Nov. 5, Oracle Arena, Oakland (10:30 ET, ESPN)

Not just this game, but the whole four-game season series, really, including one of the Christmas showcases. The teams had several confrontational moments that threatened to turn ugly last season, then went the full seven games in the first round of the playoffs in a series hijacked by the Donald Sterling mess. It was always a fun matchup. Now it could build into must-see TV, with the twist of L.A. native Steve Kerr new to the Golden State sideline.

Bucks at Nets, Nov. 19, Barclays Center, Brooklyn (7:30 p.m. ET)

Not that New York fans would ordinarily ever try to make life uncomfortable for an opponent, but this time the opponent is ex-Nets coach Jason Kidd, now manning the sidelines for Milwaukee. So the Bucks might want to pack ear plugs. One other bit of advice: This wouldn’t be a good night for Kidd to play the “Hit me” card. Someone not on his own team might take him up on it.

Five games, Dec. 25 (12 p.m. ET – 10: 30 p.m. ET)

The lineup for the Christmas extravaganza: Wizards at Knicks at 12 p.m. ET (ESPN), Thunder at Spurs at 2:30 ET (ABC), Cavaliers at Heat at 5 ET (ABC), Lakers at Bulls at 8 ET (TNT), Warriors at Clippers at 10:30 ET (TNT). Washington becomes a featured attraction around the league, San Antonio and Oklahoma City meet after likely opening the season as the two best teams in the West, LeBron to Miami and much more. Go ahead and just put the TV at the head of the table.

Bulls at Lakers, Jan. 29, Staples Center, Los Angeles (10:30 ET, TNT)

There was no animosity when Pau Gasol left — certainly nothing like the Lakers and the league have seen in other situations — so this game won’t come with much tension around the buildup. But Gasol’s 6 ½ seasons, three All-Star appearances and two championships in Los Angeles counted for a lot, in what the titles meant to the legacy of Kobe Bryant and the push that should land Gasol in the Hall of Fame (especially considering his international play). He will say all the right things about coming back. And, given the direction of the team he left behind, the L.A. fans who were so hard on him would be smart to show some appreciation.

Mavericks at Rockets, Nov. 22, Toyota Center, Houston (8 p.m. ET)

The Parsons exit from Houston as a restricted free agent was not smooth, from the front offices trading jabs to James Harden’s dig about role players to Mark Cuban and Parsons clubbing it the night the offer sheet was signed. With two Texas teams wanting to prove they belong in the upper-echelon of the conference, this would have been a good season series to watch anyway. It just got better.

Bucks at Timberwolves, Nov. 26, Target Center, Minneapolis (8 p.m. ET)

No. 1 draft pick (Andrew Wiggins) against No. 2 (Jabari Parker) was supposed to happen when the Cavaliers played the Bucks. Then came the reported agreement to send Wiggins to Minnesota as part of the James trade. So the draft-related focus shifted to the Twin Cities. The Bucks took Parker with the intention of playing him mostly at power forward, so actual head-to-head matchups may be rare. But this will still be a compare-contrast that will last for years.

Hang time podcast (episode 158): the Sterling verdict and featuring Bob Rathbun

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Banned for life!

Those three words, those three simple words uttered by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Tuesday, will alter the landscape of the league for generations to come.

The racist and bigoted comments from longtime Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling will not be tolerated. Silver made that clear in response to a nasty exchange between Sterling and a lady friend of his that surfaced over the weekend.

We dive in on the fallout, the playoffs and all that comes with it this time of year in the NBA on Episode 158 of the Hang Time Podcast: The Sterling Verdict and featuring the TV voice of the Atlanta Hawks Bob Rathbun.

The Washington Wizards have already pulled off the first shocker of the playoffs, sending the Chicago Bulls fishing. Can the Hawks really pull off this first round upset of the Pacers? And the Grizzlies over the Thunder? The Trail Blazers over the Rockets?

Dive in for all of that and more on Episode 158 of the Hang Time Podcast: The Sterling Verdict and featuring Hawks TV voice Bob Rathbun …

LISTEN HERE:

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

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


VIDEO: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver annouces that he has banned Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life

Morning Shootaround — March 24


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Woodson takes blame, Knicks postseason hopes on the brink | Bryant confident as ever Lakers will get back to the top | Heat defensive focus lags, struggles continue | Thunder will contend as long as Westbrook’s knee holds up

No. 1: Woodson shoulders blame as Knicks fall to Cavs, postseason hopes hang in the balance — Done in by Jarrett Jack. Is that the epitaph that will be written on this season for the New York Knicks? After Cleveland’s veteran point guard, filling in for All-Star Kyrie Irving, shredded them late to snap their eight-game win streak, it’s a legitimate question. Knicks coach Mike Woodson took the blame, a noble endeavor considering he was going to get his fair share anyway. But the Knicks’ postseason hopes hang in the balance every night and losses to the likes of the Cavaliers destroy the cause, as Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com points out::

Atlanta lost on Sunday afternoon, so the Knicks knew exactly what was at stake when they took the court on Sunday evening. That made the loss to the Cavs all the more catastrophic.

“We didn’t handle our business,” Woodson said, “and I’ve got to take full responsibility for that.”

“It’s tough,” Carmelo Anthony said. “We should’ve won this game. We gave it away. They earned it. They beat us.”

The Knicks were up 15 at the half but allowed Cleveland to score nine straight to start the third quarter.

“I thought we came out a little flat,” Anthony said.

Anthony led the Knicks with 32 points but went cold late, missing 11 of his last 13 shots and all five in the fourth quarter.

The Knicks as a whole went 5-for-18 in the fourth and missed 11-of-15 3-pointers in the second half.

“They were just scrapping more, I think,” J.R. Smith said. “They were more hungry than us in the second half. … It’s a huge opportunity lost, one we can’t afford. But we can’t get it back. Just got to go out there on the road and win some games. Hopefully, [the Hawks] keep losing.”

That’s what the Knicks have been left with in this roller-coaster season: hoping the eighth-place Hawks can continue to give away their lead.

For what feels like the 30th time this season, the Knicks failed to do that. And it leaves Woodson and his team in a difficult spot. According to Elias Sports Bureau, just one team in the past 30 years has overcome a deficit of more than four games with 14 games or fewer to play in the regular season to make the playoffs.


VIDEO: Sunday’s top 10 plays

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No. 2: Kobe in touch with Jim Buss, confident Lakers will get back to winning ways — Whatever he lacks in good health Kobe Bryant more than makes up for in unabashed confidence in himself and the Los Angeles Lakers resilience. This despicable season will be forgotten, as soon as he can get back to health and as soon as Jim Buss and the rest of the Lakers’ front office brass finish their franchise makeover. These tough times, Bryant insisted during an interview with ESPN’s sports business ace Darren Rovell, will not last. He did, however, acknowledge that things are going to be different without Dr. Jerry Buss around to fix the Lakers’ issues:

Bryant, who signed a two-year, $48.5 million extension with the team in November to lock up his 19th and 20th seasons in L.A., reiterated his message of urgency to Buss to return to the top as soon as possible.

“This organization is just not going to go [down],” Bryant said. “It’s not going to take a nose dive. But I think we need to accelerate it a little bit for selfish reasons, because I want to win and I want to win next season. So, it’s kind of getting them going now as opposed to two years from now.”

Despite already airing his concerns about what direction the Lakers might be heading, Bryant said his faith is as strong as ever in the Lakers’ ability to bounce back to contender status.

“Extremely confident,” Bryant said. “That was one of my concerns [when he re-signed] and they assured me, ‘This is fair for you for everything you’ve done for the franchise and will continue to do while being able to construct a team that is going to contend for a championship here over the next couple of years.'”

Bryant also responded to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban‘s assertion that “I don’t know if the Lakers will ever be the Lakers,” because of the absence of longtime owner Dr. Jerry Buss, who died last year.

“It will be different,” Bryant said. “You can’t lead the way [Dr. Buss] did. Because Jeanie is different. Jimmy, who is running basketball operations, is different.

“So they have to find their rhythm and get in sync with each other and figure out exactly what their leadership style is going to be. It’s nearly impossible to try to separate basketball operations from the business standpoint so you got to kind of get in sync that with that and have one voice that is leading that charge. But once that happens, the idea might take shape. But you can’t look at what Dr. Buss did and say, ‘I’m going to try replicate that,’ and be exactly what he was. That’s just not going to happen.”


VIDEO:
Mavericks guard Monta Ellis was a flash against the Nets Sunday

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No. 3: LeBron and Spoelstra point to lagging Heat defense as their struggles continue Bellyaching about your team’s energy, effort and championship focus in the wake of seven losses in your last 11 games is not a shocker, not even for the Miami Heat. But it’s good to get some specifics. And the Heat, fresh off of yet another head-scratching defeat (Saturday night in New Orleans), provided plenty. And it’s all about their defense, which has been uncharacteristically porous of late. That’s something everyone, from coach Erik Spoelstra and LeBron James and Chris Bosh, in the Heat camp can agree on. Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel highlights the particulars:

    “We’re not accustomed to this type of play, these types of standards, particularly on the defensive end,” coach Erik Spoelstra said before giving his team Sunday off in advance of Monday’s visit by the Portland Trail Blazers to AmericanAirlines Arena. “And if we want to change, we have to look inward. Every single one of us, including the staff, including the players, have to make changes.”

Forward LeBron James said the Heat are failing on the defensive end both individually and collectively.

“First of all,” he said, “you have to guard your man, and rely on help second. But when you break down, you’re going to have to rely on the help, and we’re not getting both.

“First of all, guys are not playing their man. And guys get beat, which you will be, which will happen in this league, because there’s great players, the help comes. We’re not doing anything.”

Factor in the Heat’s longstanding rebound issues and the defensive pressure has been unrelenting.

“Sometimes we get stops and we don’t get a rebound. Sometimes we don’t get stops,” forward Udonis Haslem said. “It’s a lot of different things. At this point, we’ve got to put it all together, we’ve got to get stops and rebounds. We can’t get a stop and then give up an offensive rebound and get another 24 [seconds on defense].

“We’ve got to guard the ball, and then when the ball gets in the paint, we’ve got to step up, we’ve got to contest. Shot goes up, we’ve got to box out both bigs and got to get it and go.”

The frustration has shown on the court and in the locker room.

“Defensively, we can’t stop a nosebleed,” center Chris Bosh said. “No good blitz, the pick and roll coverage, one-on-one defense, everything is bad.”


VIDEO: Check out the Kevin Love Show from Sunday, starring … Kevin Love!

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No. 4:Thunder’s title hopes rest on Westbrook’s knee — Miami and Indiana aren’t the only places where championship hopes are in doubt these days. Folks in Oklahoma are also wondering just how fragile their title aspirations are in the wake of yet another knee scare from All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook. Even with MVP frontrunner Kevin Durant destroying the competition night after night, the Thunder’s confidence is tied directly to the health of Westbrook and that knee. It’s a dangerous way for an entire state and fan base to live. But it’s the only way they, according to Barry Tramel of the Oklahoman:

Nobody in our state slept well Friday night. Starting with Scotty Brooks, Sam Presti, Westbrook’s clothier, Rumble, that woman who screams “Russellllllllllllllllllllllll” during his foul shots and most everyone with a cable or satellite dish in every hamlet from Tuskahoma to Tonkawa.

For about 20 hours or so over the weekend, we all wondered if Russell Westbrook’s knee was tore up again. Westbrook limped off the court in Toronto on Friday, and the wind was replaced by “aarghs!” and “gulps” sweeping down the plain.

Of course, now word is that Westbrook is OK and might even play either Monday night (Denver in OKC) or Tuesday night (at Dallas). Whew. That was close.

Thunderland knows the feeling of life without Westbrook. Knows it all too well. And it stinks. When Westbrook went down with a torn meniscus in the Houston series last playoffs, the Thunder scraped by the Rockets, then was bullied by the Grizzlies in a five-game series defeat. When Westbrook has sat out periodically this season, the Thunder has mostly struggled, save for a magical 10-game winning streak in January during which OKC was the league’s best team.

Westbrook’s latest scare is reason to ask this question. Is the Thunder better prepared to play without him this season than last season? If Westbrook limps off in some game soon, or in the middle of a playoff series, is the Thunder better-equipped to survive?

Depends on what survival means. Win the NBA championship? No. Not going to happen without Westbrook riding shotgun.

But go deeper in the playoffs? Win a tough West semifinal? At least challenge the Spurs or the Clippers or whoever emerges as the Western Conference elite? Yes.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: This is a different Raptors team than you are used to, one that is rising to the late-season challenge … Andre Miller finally clears the air about what went down in Denver … No one is doing it better these days than the bench mob from Phoenix … Kobe Bryant announces his partnership in a new business … Rockets big man Dwight Howard is practicing but remains “day-to-day” with that tender ankle … The surprising comeback for Steve Nash has already hit yet another injury snag

ICYMI of the Night: Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins wants you to know that this is his world and the rest of the big men in the league are just living in it …


VIDEO: DeMarcus Cousins goes hard for his 32 points and 12 rebounds

Howard Had No Idea Shoestrings Incident With J.R. Smith Would Lead To This!




VIDEO: Knicks guard J.R. Smith has some issues with shoelaces, as Shawn Marion finds out

ATLANTA — What started as fun and games between old friends has morphed into a full-blown mess for New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith. A mess Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard never saw coming.

Long before his $50,000 fine and benching and all of the trade rumors cranked up, Smith was just messing around with Howard during a Jan. 3 game in Houston and playfully untied Howard’s shoe at the free-throw line. He would later get Shawn Marion‘s shoelace in a game against the Mavericks  and attempted to get Josh Smith‘s (he ended up settling for Greg Monroe‘s) in a game against the Pistons on Tuesday before Knicks coach Mike Woodson and the fun/foolishness police at NBA headquarters caught up with him.

Woodson unloaded on Smith Wednesday, saying he needed to “grow up” and stop the silliness and the league followed up with that hefty fine for “recurring instance of unsportsmanlike conduct.”  Woodson benched Smith for Thursday’s win over the Miami Heat and now the fallout and trade chatter is cranked all the way up heading into this weekend.

“It was just a guy trying to have fun,” Howard said Friday morning at Philips Arena before the Rockets faced the Atlanta Hawks. “I didn’t think it would turn into a big fine. It’s crazy.”

Howard, always a prankster, had plans for retaliation.

“I tried to get him back,” he said. “But I’m glad I didn’t … could have lost some money.”

It could wind up costing Smith a whole lot more than just cash.


VIDEO: The Inside crew discusses J.R. Smith and his future with the Knicks