Posts Tagged ‘Nerlens Noel’

Five teams already looking ahead

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

The start of the playoffs is just over the horizon and there will be plenty of unexpected bounces before the 2014 NBA champ is crowned in June.

But you can’t blame a handful of teams from already taking an early peek at what will surely be better times ahead next season:

 


VIDEO: Joakim Noah joins Arena Link after a recent Bulls win

Chicago Bulls – There’ s still plenty of havoc to be made by Joakim Noah and his “no tanking here” gang. Sitting in the No. 4 spot in the East, the Bulls are already shuffling their hooves at what could be another rip-snorting first-round series against the Nets and possibly a chance to put a few bruises on the Pacers or two-time champions from Miami down the line. But while it’s unrealistic to think Chicago can go all the way this season, the title hopes are back in view next October. Starting, of course, with a healthy return by Derrick Rose, the Bulls get their former MVP and most talented player back onto the court to supplement a lineup that has Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler.

While the dealing away of Luol Deng didn’t sink the Bulls in the standings, it brought a first round draft choice that the Cavs had picked up from Sacramento. They saved $20 million on Deng’s contract next year, can amnesty the vastly overpaid Carlos Boozer and be at the front of the line to make a recruiting pitch to head of the class free agent Carmelo Anthony. The lure of Phil Jackson‘s zen magic will probably make it tougher to get him out of N.Y., but if he really wants to make a run at a title instead of just being hero-worshipped, Melo would jump at the chance to join the Bulls where a recuperated Rose gives them the 1-2 punch that is almost necessary these days to be elite. As much fun as they’re having now, the real excitement could return next season.

 


VIDEO: Thaddeus Young, Jarvis Varnado discuss the progress and potential of Nerlens Noel

Philadelphia 76ers — It can’t get worse than losing a record-tying 26 games in a row, can it? It will still be only Year Two in general manager Sam Hinkie‘s long-term building project for the future. But at least next season the Sixers will be able to put a team out on the floor that has more than just Michael Carter-Williams, Thad Young and Tony Wroten as real NBA talent that could be part of something positive down the road. Hinkie has cleared out the payroll, but it’s far too early for the Sixers to even give a thought to luring free agents to Philly. They’ll have two lottery picks — their own and the Pelicans’ spot from the Jrue Holiday trade — and go digging for bargains with another pair of picks in the second round.

Of course, there’s the big bonus of finally getting big man Nerlens Noel into the lineup, after he sat out all of this season with a torn ACL. Noel has been champing at the bit to play now, but the team will hold him back till summer league and then turn him loose. Hinkie is positively giddy about what a bulked-up, more physically fit Noel will be able to do. The Sixers are not even dreaming of playoffs, just putting the building blocks in place.

 


VIDEO: Andrew Nicholson talks about staying positive in Orlando

Orlando Magic — Two years ago, Rob Hennigan dealt away Dwight Howard and the instant reaction from many corners was that the rookie GM had been fleeced. Of course, the way things turned out in L.A., Philly and Denver, it seems that Hennigan was the one doing the fleecing, picking up Nic Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and Arron Afflalo, who are now main parts of a young roster on the rise. Mix in last year’s top draft pick Victor Oladipo with Tobias Harris, Kyle O’Quinn and Andrew Nicholson and while the Magic are again near the bottom of the standings with the third-fewest wins in the league, there has been a method to Hennigan. The jury is still out on making Oladipo a point guard, but he’s clearly a talent.

Hennigan is following in the footsteps of his mentor Sam Presti in OKC, constructing a roster that is flexible in terms of both talent and salary. The Magic are not beholden at this point to a single individual and are willing to be in the trade market for any upgrade that makes sense at any position. Then toss in the potential of adding an Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker to the lineup and the Magic are suddenly a team back in the spotlight with a new franchise star and a future that could lead back to chasing the playoffs maybe even as soon as next year in the Eastern Conference.

 


VIDEO: Giannis Antetokounmpo is adjusting to life in the NBA and U.S.

Milwaukee Bucks – As bad and depressing as things got for the Sixers during their 26-game losing streak, the fact is they were never able to drop below the Bucks in the standings. This is the worst team in the league, but it doesn’t have to be this way in 2014-15. For one thing, it’s about timing in the draft. The Bucks have been fortunate enough to win the lottery twice in the past, getting Glenn Robinson with the No. 1 pick in 1994 and Andrew Bogut in 2005. “Big Dog” had had his moments and Bogut is playing nicely these days for the Warriors, but neither was ever the kind of game-changer than can take a franchise to the top.

Now with the deepest lottery in a while, it seems that Milwaukee is in a can’t-miss position. GM John Hammond is said to be setting his sights on center Joel Embiid, who could anchor the middle of a lineup with exciting rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo and Larry Sanders, who hopefully can get his head back into the game and save a career that could go off the rails. Hammond unloaded the contracts of Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal at the trade deadline and would probably like to jettison O.J. Mayo. Brandon Knight has been up and down, but shows that he can score. Rookie Nate Wolters has probably exceeded expectations and creates optimism for the future.

It’s Antetokounmpo who creates the most excitement with his raw talent and potential. Whether they go with Embild with their first pick or Wiggins, Parker, Julius Randle or Dante Exum, this time the Bucks could get the game changer they need at a time when owner Herb Kohl is trying to sell the franchise. This could be a lineup worth buying and watching next season.

 


VIDEO: Dwight Howard explains why he likes it in Houston

Houston Rockets — Yes, yes, yes. The Rockets are already a top four seed in the rugged Western Conference and have flexed their speed and muscles and shooting prowess against some of the best teams in the league this season. The pairing of Dwight Howard with James Harden has given Houston the 1-2 All-Star punch that was expected. Yet even with some folks tabbing the Rockets as a dark horse threat when the playoffs begin, the truth is their best days are still ahead. Wheeler and dealer GM Daryl Morey knows that his job is not yet done and that’s why he’s played the payroll and salary cap like a Stradivarius and will again have the Rockets in position to make a run at at the biggest names on the free agent market this summer. If he deals Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik ($15 million each next season), the Rockets could offer close to the max.

Howard and Harden are still getting to know each other and this team might need to experience the pain of a playoff loss to get recommitted and take things to the next level. The Rockets could also use another scorer/defender on the wing to go toe-to-toe nightly with the elite contenders. LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony? Let us saddle you up as part of the posse, pardner. Of course, it’s unlikely that James is going anywhere. But Anthony would have to have give long and serious thought to Houston if he decides that the magic of Jackson isn’t going to turn the Knicks around in the next year or two. Put Melo in a lineup with Howard and Harden and the 145 points the Rockets rung up the other night against the Lakers could become a nightly occurrence. If not Anthony, Bosh could return home to Texas. The Rockets made a free agent pitch for him several years ago and his adaptable skills could fit in nicely on the front line.

The Rockets will be different next season. They always are. And with Howard and Harden as anchors, now different means better. The start of next season can’t come soon enough in Houston.

Morning Shootaround — April 9


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers to rest starters down stretch | Nowitzki now a top 10 all-time scorer | Nash’s hits milestone, but will he play again? | Kupchack won’t consult Kobe on D’Antoni | Noel says knee is ’100 percent’ healthy

No. 1: Pacers to rest starters down stretch — In Sunday’s eventual blowout loss at home to the Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel decided to bench/rest All-Star center Roy Hibbert in the second half to give him rest. Could more of the same be in store for Indiana’s other starters as the season winds down? It seems so, writes Zak Keefer of The Indianapolis Star, who reports that Vogel is more interested in the Pacers playing well than he is in their chase with the Miami Heat for the East’s No. 1 seed:

In an unusual turn of events, Pacers coach Frank Vogel gave his starting unit their second consecutive day off Tuesday, and said after practice he will continue resting some of them during the team’s final four regular season games.

“I think rest and healing up is part of the solution,” Vogel said. “It’s not the whole solution, but it’s part of it.”

The only Pacers’ starter at practice was recently-benched Roy Hibbert, who watched in street clothes from the sideline. He did not speak to the media following practice.

Vogel, long a proponent of the team’s stated goal – to earn the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed and gain home court advantage throughout the conference playoffs – sounded more like a coach focused on healing his roster in the final week of the regular season than finishing with a better record than the Miami Heat.

He was asked if his team has ceded the No. 1 seed to Miami, which leads the Pacers by a full game heading into Indiana’s date in Milwaukee on Wednesday.

“No,” Vogel said. “We’re two games back right now. Obviously it was a goal, it is a goal of ours, but at this point, playing well is our top priority. Part of that is being fresh going into the playoffs.

“We feel good if we have the No. 2 seed, and we still feel we can attain the goals we have.”

Vogel added that he will rest some of his starters over the regular season’s final stretch, and did not commit to starting Hibbert (or any of them) on Wednesday.

More than one starter – including Paul George and David West – came to him recently and asked for some additional rest down the stretch.

“A couple of them said they think that would help,” Vogel said. “They said it in a very positive way. (Our) group came in very encouraged after the other night.”

***

No. 2: Nowitzki passes ‘Big O’ for No. 10 on all-time scoring list — Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki has been toiling as a top-flight scorer in the NBA for the last 14 or so seasons. With each game — and each solid scoring performance — he’s climbed the all-time scoring charts and, last night, reached another milestone in his future Hall of Fame career. He’s now the 10th-leading scorer in NBA history after passing Oscar “Big O” Robertson last night with a free-throw line extended jump shot. Our Jeff Caplan details Dirk’s magical moment:

Dirk Nowitzki, with a patented fallaway jumper from a few feet off the right elbow, surpassed Oscar Robertson as the NBA’s 10th-all-time leading scorer.Nowitzki, 35, joins the most exclusive of NBA clubs in which each member is recognized simply by first name or nickname. Dirk, the Dallas Mavericks’ sweet-shooting 7-footer and an original stretch-4, certainly has that covered.

“Amazing, amazing. I mean top 10 is unreal,” Nowitzki said following the 95-83 victory at Utah. “It’s been a crazy ride. Passing Big O, who obviously averaged triple-doubles numerous seasons, is unbelievable. It feels surreal still. All night I wasn’t really trying to think about it, I was trying to concentrate on the next shot. I knew how many points I needed, but I wasn’t really trying to think about it. I was trying to think about the next shot and how I could get open.”

Nowitzki, the 2007 regular-season MVP and 2011 champion and Finals MVP, now has 26,714 career points. He has also surpassed 30,000 total points that includes 128 postseason games.

Fresh off being named the Western Conference’s Player of the Week, a four-game stretch in which he averaged 25.3 ppg, Nowitzki has propelled Dallas to a 4-0 road trip that has it in the driver’s seat to secure one of the final two playoff spots.

The Mavs (48-21) have three games left. They play San Antonio at home on Thursday and then finish with critical games against Phoenix at home on Saturday and then at Memphis on Wednesday.

Nowitzki, who struggled to regain his All-Star form last season after undergoing knee surgery during training camp, was devastated when the Mavs missed the playoffs for the first time since 1999-2000.

He started this season, his 16th, at No. 17 on the league’s all-time scoring list. Along the way he’s moved ahead of Jerry West, Reggie Miller, Alex English, Kevin Garnett, John Havlicek, Dominique Wilkins and now the Big O.

Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant, No. 4 on the all-time list with 31,700 points, 592 behind No. 3 Michael Jordan are the only active players in the top 10.

This is Nowitzki’s final year of his contract, but he has made it clear that he plans to re-sign with the Mavericks for another two or three seasons.

“This is my 30th year in the NBA and one of the few times I’ve truly been in awe of an accomplishment,” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, who has been with Nowitzki since the start of the 2008-09 season. “Top 10 all-time scorer is an unbelievable accomplishment because it’s a level of excellence that’s beyond belief, and then it’s being able to do it over an extended period of time with consistency. So one of the really unique accomplishments.

“And he’s going to keep eating up more people. He’s got a long way to go.”


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki runs wild against the Jazz in Salt Lake City

***

No. 3: Nash has milestone moment, but is career nearing end? — With a nice little dish to streaking teammate Jodie Meeks off a Houston Rockets turnover last night, Steve Nash passed Mark Jackson for No. 3 on the NBA’s all-time assists list. That dime further bolstered Nash’s already rock-solid Hall of Fame career and provided a bright spot in what has been a disappointing rebuild of a season in Lakerland. However, as ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin points out: could this game be not only Nash’s last one this season, but of his career?

With his fifth assist of the night coming on a lead pass to Jodie Meeks for a fast-break dunk with 2:13 remaining in the second quarter, Nash moved past Mark Jackson for No. 3 on the all-time assists list, giving him 10,335 for his career.

Nash was subbed out of the game a minute later, and the 18-year veteran received a standing ovation from the Staples Center crowd as public address announcer Lawrence Tanter acknowledged the achievement.

It could very well be the last time the former two-time MVP is on the court this season — or perhaps in his career.

Nash finished with three points, five assists and three rebounds in 13 minutes in the Lakers’ 145-130 loss to the Rockets and did not play in the second half after suffering what he described as a “bite” in his hamstring when he tried to “open up and sprint” early in the game.

“Since I had a pretty good setback today, I probably won’t play again [this season],” Nash said after the game. “But if I get a good recovery over the next week, I’d love to play again. But again, a big goal for me was to not go into the summer injured, and the fact that I had a setback today is kind of frustrating. But hopefully it’s something that I can work through quickly here, and if I work through quick enough, I’d love to play again. But it’s probably doubtful.”

Nash was playing in just his 15th game of the season after being sidelined for extensive periods because of nerve root irritation in his back and hamstrings. He has one year remaining on his contract with the Lakers, set to pay him $9.7 million, but Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni expressed doubt regarding Nash’s chances of returning for a 19th season.

“It’s too bad everything comes to an end, and he’s had a great career,” D’Antoni said after the game, adding several times he felt “lucky” to have coached the eight-time All-Star in both Phoenix and L.A.

“It was great he got that tonight. You hate that he has to do it on one leg. He was literally playing on one leg tonight,” D’Antoni added.

D’Antoni would not definitively draw the curtain on Nash’s career, however.

“I don’t think anybody, they can’t tell that,” D’Antoni said. “He’ll try, I’m sure. A lot of it’s mentally, whether he can do it mentally, because it’s going to take a lot, a lot of work and some luck and then the franchise and the management and Steve will sit down and they’ll make that determination.”

When asked whether Nash displayed any emotion in the locker room as if it were his last game, D’Antoni said, “I don’t think he’s there yet at all.”

After accomplishing the mark, Nash reflected on his journey through the sport of basketball.

“All of this is beyond my imagination and wildest dreams,” Nash said. “So to be able to share that end of the assist ladder with some players that I looked up to and emulated, and to be in their company, is phenomenal. I don’t play for the records. I play because I love to play, I love to play and be a part of a team. But I guess it’s something that maybe one day I’ll appreciate, all hours I spent, all the extra hours I spent trying to get better.”

Nash was almost unable to play long enough to set the record Tuesday.

“He came to me during a timeout and said he tweaked it and his hamstring’s on fire,” D’Antoni said. “And then I go, ‘Well, you want out?’ And he goes, ‘If I come out, I might never go back in.’ So, I go, ‘Well, OK, so it’s either the record or we’ll carry you off the floor.’ And that’s kind of the way it went.”


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew discusses Steve Nash’s accomplishment last night

***

No. 4: Kupchak won’t consult with Kobe on D’Antoni’s future — The recent state of the Lakers in the Western Conference hierarchy has given their fans reason to question the front office at times. But those in power in Lakerland are apparently happy with the job that GM Mitch Kupchack has done over the years and agreed to a multi-year extension with him yesterday. As Kupchack and the rest of the Lakers’ brass attempt to lead L.A. out of this rare dark period, many decisions must be made. One of those revolves around what to do with coach Mike D’Antoni, who may or may not have star Kobe Bryant‘s full support. Kupchack, however, told USA Today‘s Sam Amick that Kobe’s view on D’Antoni won’t shape what the Lakers choose to do with the coach:

On the night that news of his multiyear extension was first reported by ESPN, Kupchak sat down for an extensive interview with USA TODAY Sports to discuss the storied franchise and its uncertain future.He may not be different, but he fully expects the current climate to change over time. Yet as he knows as much as anyone, it’s just a matter of how long it might take.

Q: Your fans are going through culture shock right now. They’ve had a good run, but this generation hasn’t seen a season like this.

A: Well, I don’t know how you define ‘generation.’ I guess you could say that, but 10 years ago we had a year like this. But we haven’t had a year like this in the last six or seven years, that’s for sure. But we’ve had a bunch of years like this since I’ve been here. I’ve been here since ’81, and there were three or four years in the early ’90s, and then we had that year in ’04. But we haven’t had a year like this in eight or nine years, that’s true.

Q: So that being said, Mitch, what’s your outlook? Is it a situation where you have that experience from the past and you’ll apply it here and move forward with confidence that this too shall pass, or where is your head at?

A: I’m confident that over time, that we’re going to be able to assemble a team that’s competitive, fun to watch. The advantages that this franchise and this city have always had remain, which is our fan base, it’s a great city, players like playing here, there are a lot of diverse components of this city that attract players. The organization itself, its legacy. So those things don’t change. Now the collective bargaining agreement changed considerably (after the 2011 lockout) the playing field. That’s just the way the owners wanted it, and as a manager all we’ve ever said is just give us the rules and we’ll play with the rules. But for example, when we signed Shaquille O’Neal (in 1996), Orlando made an offer and we topped it, and then Orlando topped it, and then we traded two players and got more cap room and then we topped it. They could have topped our offer and they chose not to.

So it could have kept going back and forth because there was no max salary, and there was no home-team advantage — 7½ percent (annual) raises versus four (percent), a five-year deal versus a four-year deal, those rules didn’t exist (the current CBA gives the incumbent team this edge). So the playing field is considerably different. But having said all that, our advantages remain the same. And considering where a lot of teams have ended up in this kind of position, we have a lot of flexibility going forward. We don’t have a lot of players that are good players but not great players who are on long-term deals. Those kinds of contracts can sometimes bury an organization for four or five years. Going forward it’s pretty clean, so it’s up to us to use that money wisely. We are going to have a good (draft) pick this year, so those are the advantages that we have. The short answer is that yes, I’m hoping to be very competitive in a year or two, but the key really is over time.

Q: So on my short list of things to get clarity on is the dynamic between management and Kobe. You guys give him the extension, and I think the question a lot of people have now is that — because of what he has done for the organization, because of what you think he can do in the next couple of years — you do the extension but maybe Kobe doesn’t still have the same voice that he had in the past and now it’s time for the bosses to be the bosses. He’s the one pressing the agenda, saying he’s not going to wait and be patient (during a rebuild).

A: Not really.

Q: You don’t think so?

A: He had that one outburst, but I think he got caught up in all the sensation of the moment — is Phil going to stay or is he going to go? He wants the same thing we want, which is to win as much as possible as soon as possible. I meet with him. (It’s) not on a regular basis, but in the last two or three months we have met several times, and he gets it.

Q: Is that the norm or is that more than normal?

A: Well, it’s more than normal because he’s more available. He’s hurt. I see him in the locker room, we talk. So that’s all that was. That’s all it was.

Q: Will he factor in on the decision about Mike?

A: We will not consult with him. No, we won’t consult with him.

Q: Because when he was asked about Mike last week, the perception was that he didn’t go to bat for him publicly. That started the storyline of “Well, Mike’s not coming back because it doesn’t seem like Kobe wants him back.”

A: We won’t consult with him. Our decisions going forward — we’re not going to do knee-jerk stuff. We’ll let the season end, and take some time. We’ve got a lot of injuries and surgeries to sort through. That’s a lot to accomplish. We have the draft coming up?

Q: Do you have clarity on that (D’Antoni) decision yet?

A: No. No. In fact, I told Jimmy [Buss] let’s get to the end season, take some time off…then review the season. Look at our roster. I mean we have a plan. We’ve aligned our contracts in such a way where we’re at a position where we’re not financially stuck. But there’s a lot we don’t know. We don’t know where we’re going to get our pick. Are we going to be sixth, are we going to be eighth, are we going to be two or three? We don’t know. We know who may be a free agent, but we don’t know for sure until June 30.

So we know a lot, and we’re set up to take advantage of the situations — whether it’s to make a trade, take back a player, get a good draft choice, pursue free agency. But once again, it’s a different world than it was 20 years ago. And as much as we’d like to be very competitive and competing for a championship next year, it may or may not happen, ok?

Q: So how’s Kobe going to handle that?

A: He’ll be fine. He’s got no choice. He’ll be fine. When we lose, he’ll rant and rave and be upset and be hot and won’t talk to anybody, but that’s the way it is. You’ve got to take the good with the bad.

Q: But with all the talk about Phil here, those people don’t often talk about how you’re still here and what you’ve accomplished. Does that ever hit your ego, that idea that there’s not more talk about “In Mitch we trust”?

A: Well the people that I need to know trust me, and they made it clear that they do. I understand from the public’s point of view that Kupchak doesn’t hold a candle to Jackson. Once again, it’s a good story so that didn’t really bother me. But the people in the organization certainly — Jimmy, and I know Jeanie — trust me too. And for over 30 years, Dr. Buss showed incredible trust and loyalty to me. So to me, that’s what was important. That was it.

Q: Was there any internal discussion about Phil coming back, and where did you stand on that? How did that go?

A: Yeah. Yeah. I mean there was nothing formal. This went on for a year or two.

Q: But the most recent one.

A: Well I don’t know when the most recent one was. We discussed a year or two ago about how could we — and this was Jimmy and I and I know he may have discussed it with his family — and it was open for discussion. And it was kind of a standing understanding, but I think Jeanie said it best two weeks ago. At the end of the day, there was no position for a person of his stature.

Q: What does that mean? Can you translate that? Because what it sounds like to me is that Phil is a larger-than-life figure and if he’s coming he wants final say. Was that a factor?

A: Well I’m not sure that it got to that, but what we talked about was involvement and being a piece, a part of it. But based on where he ended up and what he got, it’s easy to see why he did what he did. It’s a no-brainer. Before you even get to the money, he got a wonderful — a challenging — but a wonderful opportunity. Logistically, he has got to work it out but, um, you know, it’s one of those things where I’m not sure if it’s what he was looking for but when it came on the table you can’t turn it around.

***

No. 5: Noel says his knee is ’100 percent’ healthy — The Sixers, last we reported in this space, seemed to be pretty convinced that rookie big man Nerlens Noel won’t be hitting the court until the Summer League. Noel, understandably, wants to play sooner than that. But in his first comments to the media in months, said he understands Philadelphia’s reasoning in taking it slow with him as he recovers from a torn ACL injury suffered in Februrary 2013. He also told the assembled media that his knee is ’100 percent’ and he’s jumping higher than before, too.

Calling his rookie season “a great learning experience,” Philadelphia 76ers center Nerlens Noel said Tuesday he still hopes to make his NBA debut in one of the team’s final five regular-season games but realizes the team’s cautious approach with him has been for the best.

“Obviously I do want to play,” Noel told reporters in Philadelphia. “I’m a 19-year-old who’s been sitting down on the sideline really wanting to get out there and show my abilities and to be able to play ball.

“It’s been tough, but it’s something we had to do.”

Noel was cleared for “limited on-court work” in January, but Philadelphia at the time said he still needed to meet “several benchmarks” in order to play for the team “to ensure a long, productive NBA career.”

On Tuesday, Noel deemed his knee “100 percent,” saying he’s gained over 3 inches on his vertical leap since before the surgery and overall is “stronger and moving around well.” He’s also overhauled his shot with the help of 76ers coach Brett Brown.

“I am very encouraged,” Noel said. “Through the past year since I had my injury, I have pushed myself through thick and thin and I’ve had some struggles and I’ve just stayed with it.

“I definitely worked my butt off to get where I am at now.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kansas star center, Joel Embiid, is expected to announce he’s entering the 2014 Draft … The Rockets still aren’t sure when Pat Beverley or Dwight Howard will return to the lineup … Is Evan Turner the “selfish dude” center Roy Hibbert was referring to a few weeks ago? … Shotblocking legend Dikembe Mutombo says that a legendary story about him in college is untrue … Last night might have been the final matchup between Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and Timberwolves coach Rick AdelmanRay McCallum is getting a ton of experience in his rookie season with the Kings

ICYMI(s) of the Night: Two future Hall of Famers — Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash — etch their names deeper in NBA lore, and, oh yeah, a game-preserving block by a rookie on the league’s reigning MVP. Not a bad night at all in the NBA …


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki scores to pass Oscar Robertson’s as the NBA’s 10th all-time leading scorer


VIDEO: Steve Nash records this assist to pass Mark Jackson for No. 3 on the all-time assists list


VIDEO: Mason Plumlee gets up to reject LeBron James’ dunk on the game’s final play

 

Morning Shootaround — April 3


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Knicks back in playoff race | Noah: Bulls won’t be ‘soft’ down stretch | Hollins ready to coach again | Noel readying for Summer League play | D’Antoni, Kaman bury hatchet?

No. 1: Knicks show playoff fight vs. Nets — Entering last night’s Knicks-Nets game at Madison Square Garden, New York found itself on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture and facing a Brooklyn team that has perked up over the last few months. But an inspired performance from Carmelo Anthony and the rest of the Knicks powered New York to a 110-81 rout that, combined with Atlanta’s home loss to Chicago, lifted the Knicks into the No. 8 spot in the East. While New York has the playoff berth this morning, finishing off the task is a tall order … and one that it may be up to, writes George Willis of the New York Post:

Maybe this how it’s going to work out for the Knicks. Maybe this is the way they’ll secure the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference and qualify for the postseason.

The schedule that sees them playing their final seven games against teams with winning records was supposed to work against them. But maybe just maybe, it will work for them as it did Wednesday night against the Nets at Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks played with energy, passion and aggression, shooting 60 percent from the field, forcing 15 steals and dominating in rebounds 41-23. The Nets, meanwhile, looked like a team hung over after a playoff-clinching celebration.

The team that set a franchise record with its 14th straight home win one day earlier played uninspired against the Knicks.

“We’re playing for something,” Knicks point guard Raymond Felton said. “They’re already in the playoffs. We’re trying to get into the playoffs and capitalize on these wins and see what happens.”

Next come the Wizards on Friday, followed by games against the Heat, Raptors, Bulls, the Nets again and the Raptors. All those teams have clinched playoff berths.

Jobs and even careers are hanging in the balance. Newly named Knicks president Phil Jackson was at the Garden, trying to figure out who might stay next season and who needs to leave.

Coach Mike Woodson’s chances of remaining go from slim to none if the Knicks don’t make the playoffs, and the idea of remaining with the franchise might not be as attractive to Carmelo Anthony when he becomes a free agent in the offseason.

“We want to get there,” said Anthony, who scored 23 points. “That’s the goal. Despite this up and down season, it will be a big deal to get in the playoffs. That is our goal and we are fighting right now.”

Though percentage points ahead of the Hawks for the eighth spot, the Knicks will need to keep winning to secure their position.

The Hawks have what is viewed as a more favorable schedule with games against the Bobcats, Bucks, Pistons and Cavaliers. But those teams have nothing to lose, while the teams the Knicks play have less incentive to win.

Maybe this is how it’s going to work out for the Knicks.


VIDEO: Coach Mike Woodson talks about New York’s big win against Brooklyn

***

No. 2: Bulls won’t try to lose way into better matchup — Given Chicago’s never-say-die attitude since coach Tom Thibodeau has been at the helm, what Bulls center Joakim Noah had to say after last night’s win over the Hawks should come as no surprise. The Bulls are the East’s No. 4 seed and would face a surging Brooklyn Nets squad if the playoffs started today. That matchup might be a challenge for Chicago in some senses, but don’t expect it (or Noah, for that matter) to try and lose games and get into a better matchup, writes Nick Fridell of ESPNChicago.com:

The Chicago Bulls didn’t tank games earlier in the season when they lost Derrick Rose to another season-ending knee injury and traded Luol Deng to Cleveland, so they aren’t going to do so now even if it means a better matchup in the playoffs. Bulls center Joakim Noah made that clear after the his team’s 105-92 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night.

“We’re just trying to play good basketball,” Noah said. “There’s no way in hell we’re going to try and lose games to match up against anybody. I think whatever happens, happens, so we’re just going to keep playing our game, keep winning as much as we can, and then (we) can’t wait for the playoffs.”

“I think losing games to try to play somebody, I think that’s soft,” Noah said. “That’s soft. We’re not soft.”

Noah’s comments shouldn’t come as a surprise given how outspoken he was when it came to the notion of tanking games earlier in the year. When asked in January what he would say to fans who thought the Bulls should lose games on purpose to give themselves a better chance in the draft lottery, Noah made his feelings known.

“What do I say to those fans?” Noah told ESPNChicago.com after the Bulls’ 128-125 triple-overtime victory Wednesday over the Orlando Magic. “I don’t say nothing to those fans. It’s all good. You’re allowed to have your opinion. It’s just … that’s not a real fan to me. You know what I’m saying? You want your team to lose? What is that? But it’s all good.”


VIDEO: The Bulls pick up a win in Atlanta on Wednesday

***

No. 3: Hollins ready to coach again– Former Memphis coach Lionel Hollins has done OK for himself since the Grizzlies decided not to renew his contract after last season’s end. He’s working parttime for NBA TV and co-hosting an NBA show on SirusXM Radio and enjoying life away from the NBA grind. But Hollins, as Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune reports, sounds more than ready to get back into a coaching job should one present itself:

Life is uncomplicated for Lionel Hollins these days.

The former Trail Blazers guard and NBA head coach is working as a studio analyst for NBA-TV and hosts a two-day-a-week NBA talk show on Sirius radio.

“I get to see my kids more often. Recently saw my grand baby in Arizona. I’m reading books again. Went grocery shopping the other day. I get to spend a lot of time on my charity. Get to support the charities of other people who have supported mine over the years.

“The freedom to not be in a gym, at practice, in a meeting … I’ve had an opportunity to enjoy what life is all about again.”

Though Hollins has enjoyed his time away from coaching, don’t get the wrong idea. Hollins would have liked nothing more than to have been on the bench with the Grizzlies when they played Portland at the Moda Center on Sunday. He’d love to be coaching Memphis, or another team, when the playoffs arrive in a couple of weeks.

“Of course,” Hollins says when asked if he’d like to return to the coaching ranks. “I miss coaching. What I miss is the teaching … the development of the team and the players. … the players working together and watching them grasp it mentally, and then have them go out and do it physically.”

Hollins pauses, then adds, “Don’t take this the wrong way. I mean no disrespect to Dave Joerger (his successor as Memphis coach). But anybody (the Grizzlies) hire, if he lets the players play the way they want to play, they’re going to win. They know how to win. When I got there, they didn’t know how to win.”

Hollins fell victim to a change in ownership and management. Former owner Michael Heisley sold the club to a group led by California tech billionaire Robert Pera, now 36. Jason Levien, an attorney and former sports agent who had worked in the front office of the Sacramento Kings, became CEO and managing partner of the Grizzlies. Levien took over the basketball operations from Chris Wallace, who remains the club’s vice president/general manager in title only.

“It seemed like they had their minds made up when they came in,” Hollins says. “They had an agenda of how they wanted to do things, and what they wanted to spend. I didn’t fit into that.

“I can accept that. It’s their prerogative. But when you look at the big picture, you say, ‘Wow, you’ve had some pretty good success.’ If I were at FedEx, for instance, I wouldn’t fire the employees who made it successful.”

The bottom line is very important to Pera and the new ownership group. Money surely played a part in Hollins’ demise, but there were other issues.

In the weeks that followed Hollins’ ouster, other reasons emerged through “inside sources.” That Hollins couldn’t accept analytics and the advanced scouting metrics that are becoming increasingly in use in pro sports. That he clashed with John Hollinger, the one-time Portland resident who is an analytics devotee hired last season by the Grizzlies as vice president/basketball operations. That Hollins bellyached about the midseason trade that sent small forward Rudy Gay to Toronto for Tayshaun Prince, a deal that save the Grizzlies millions in future salary. That Hollins was having increasing problems communicating with his players.

There is some truth to all of this. Hollins is an old-school coach, a strong personality who has developed a coaching style through the years based on a high level of expertise and intuitiveness about his players and how to put together a team. There was an incident with Hollinger at practice, during which Hollins loudly objected to his interference with a player. Hollins says he spoke with Hollinger afterward and that both men apologized to each other. (Hollinger did not return a pair of phone messages.)

“I have no problems with John,” Hollins says. “I have no problems with analytics. The only problem I have is with the idea there’s just one way to do things. You look for every advantage and whatever tools you can utilize to help your team be better. Part of that is having relationships with the players I have to deal with every day.

“It’s not just numbers. I’m dealing with emotions and egos and sensitivities and insecurities. It’s easy to say these guys need to play so many minutes and this group is the best group to have on the floor at the particular time. It’s not cut and dried like that.

“I want to be perfectly clear, I have no problems with analytics. I expressed that to management here. If there is a sophisticated mechanism to help us win, I’m all for it. But there has to be a balance. I don’t think basketball is as numbers-oriented as baseball, for instance. A coach knows who he can count upon at different times during a game. It’s why I trusted Zach (Randolph) to walk up there and make free throws at the end of a game. It’s a feeling that has nothing to do with numbers. The experiences a coach has cannot be discarded completely.”

After being fired, Hollins interviewed for vacancies with Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers.

“With the Nuggets, I don’t think I was high on their radar,” he says. “If Doc (Rivers) had stayed in Boston, I think I’d have been the Clippers coach. Doc was the better fit, and he’s a great coach. They made a good hire there.”

Hollins says he chose not to pursue an assistant coaching job in the NBA. “I’ve been a head coach the last five years,” he says.

Would he take a head coaching job in college? “It would have to be a really good opportunity,” he says.

Does Hollins think he’ll get another NBA head-coaching job?

“I have no idea,” he says. “I think I will, but with certainty? No. I have confidence I will, yes. But we’re in a crazy business.”

***

No. 4: Sixers won’t see Noel take court until Summer League – If you’ve paid attention to the comings and goings of hobbled Sixers rookie Nerlens Noel and the team’s plans to get him ready for the NBA, you already know the team has been rebuilding his jumper, watching him progress in workouts and drills and saw him try to tease of a debut this season (which Philly quickly shot down). While Noel won’t play this season, one place you will be able to see him is during the 2014 Summer League, writes Dei Lynam of CSNPhilly.com:

The date Nerlens Noel tweeted that was speculated as being his Sixers debut is only three days away.

Noel had fans excited when he initially sent that message out on social media, but now it’s the big man’s coaches that are getting riled up about his progression.

“The first thing that I have fallen in love with is that he is beyond competitive,” coach Brett Brown said after Thursday’s practice. “There is a dog in him, a toughness in him that I misjudged.

“He doesn’t talk a lot, but he is a fantastic listener. You go through all those months shooting one-handed with him and then you see him come out here.”

With just eight games remaining it seems unlikely Noel will participate in a contest this season. However, Brown would not confirm that. The coach simply reiterated the special ability he sees in the center and how that bodes well for the franchise’s future.

“He is a fierce competitor and that is the number one quality for me that makes someone special,” Brown said. “Then you get into the athleticism. He has a bounce. People that can block a shot, hit the floor and go back up are special and he can do it with both his right hand and left hand.”

Noel will likely participate in a game for the first time since February of last year during this summer when the Sixers field a summer league team. When Noel does finally take the court how will that year and a half out of action with an ACL tear impact his game?

“He’ll do what everybody does — he will play too fast,” Brown explained. “He will try to rush things. He won’t let the game come to him. He will try to impose himself on the game. He will be very erratic. He will be turnover prone and foul prone.

“He’ll do all those things, but that’s to be expected. But for him to be doing what he is doing now in itself is exciting and this city should be really excited.”

Brown doesn’t know how much or how little the Sixers will play Noel whenever the center returns to game action. The coach just knows it will be a process and he will trust his gut.

“We won’t make him play 38 minutes and try to force feed it,” Brown said. “We will go at a pace that is realistic and see how he goes. It will be more of a gut-feel formula than anything. We won’t be shy with him, but we will be smart.”


VIDEO: Brett Brown talks about Nerlens Noel’s progress of late

***

No. 5: D’Antoni, Kaman burying the hatchet? — Just a little over a week ago, Lakers center Chris Kaman was openly complaining to the media about coach Mike D’Antoni‘s gameplan and useage of him this season. But it appears a chat with D’Antoni’s agent may have helped Kaman see just how hard D’Antoni’s job has been and softened the tension between the two, writes Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

Warren LeGarie, the agent for embattled Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, was doing all the talking.He was doing the pointing, jabbing his index finger into Chris Kaman’s chest. LeGarie also stood up periodically to yell down at the Lakers center hunched in a courtside seat Tuesday night, ball in his lap, postponing his pregame court work to listen.

Head bobbing in emphatic declarations, LeGarie gestured numerous times toward the Lakers bench where D’Antoni is positioned during games. Kaman threw his hands up a few times but had little to say to LeGarie, who represents so many NBA coaches and executives that he qualifies as more of a power player in this league than any 7-footer.

Kaman is the type who has done far more talking than listening in his life, and some of his talking this season has been about D’Antoni’s rigid, uncommunicative, distrustful coaching of the Lakers while not giving Kaman consistent playing time. Just one week earlier, Kaman had revealed that D’Antoni hadn’t talked to him for the previous three weeks.

D’Antoni has one more guaranteed season left on his Lakers contract, and the club is leaning toward retaining him despite some privately disgruntled players and massive public disdain. It’s not clear which way the organization will go with him.

But Kaman’s 15-minute conversation with LeGarie ended with the agent yelling two words to Kaman: “Thank you. Thank you.”

After the Lakers’ 124-112 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers was complete, I asked Kaman about his pregame chat with LeGarie and whether it had given him any new perspective on D’Antoni’s situation.

“We were just talking,” Kaman said. “We were just talking about everything. He’s just a good buddy of mine.”

I asked Kaman where he stands now in his feelings about D’Antoni.

“It’s been a tough year for him, as it has been for a lot of guys,” Kaman said. “Me, in particular, just being in and out, in and out, just trying to figure my way through all of this, I can sort of put myself in his shoes and try to look myself in the mirror and say, ‘What would I do if I was him?’ And it’s hard to answer that question; it’s a tough position.

“Especially with all the injuries we’ve had and all the different things we’ve had to go through, I think it’s no easy task for a coach. Especially with the Lakers. This is a first-rate organization, and they do things better than most. They’re used to winning, and it’s a lot of pressure. And all these injuries didn’t make it any easier for him.”

Bear in mind, just one week ago Kaman was saying this season was “by far” and “tenfold” worse than any other in his 11-year NBA career.

While not naming a name and saying “it doesn’t get anyone anywhere” to spout negativity with the season a lost cause, Kaman said last week that the key to good coaching is “being a mediator as opposed to being someone in authority all the time. It’s about putting little fires out—small fires here or there—and keeping everybody’s egos together and managing that. Players know how to play if you give them enough guidance in the beginning.”

Late Tuesday night, when I asked Kaman if D’Antoni’s communication could’ve been better, Kaman said generously: “It always can be better with any coach, not just Mike. It’s such a big balance to be a head coach. It takes a lot. It takes a lot out of you. You see guys who can’t even finish years sometimes; they have to defer and hand it over to someone else. It drives people nuts.

“It takes a special person to coach a team, and in this day and age, the way the game is played, it’s a lot of pressure. You get two, three years, maybe, and then you’re outta there if you don’t produce. It’s no easy task. So I’ve got to look myself in the mirror and put myself in his shoes; it’s tough. It isn’t easy. With all the injuries and everything, it’s hard to say what would’ve happened if we would’ve had a healthy team.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Some potential bad news for the teams gunning for this year’s NBA Draft Lottery: Kansas’ Joel Embid and Duke’s Jabari Parker may end up staying in schoolDaniel “Boobie” Gibson is eyeing a comeback next season … Lakers young big man Jordan Hill will not re-sign with L.A. unless he will have a bigger role next season … Pistons forward Jonas Jerebko, who has a player option for next season, will decide to stay or leave based on Detroit’s next coachDonnie Nelson says he expects Samuel Dalembert to be back on the Mavs next seasonGreivis Vasquez has learned to humble himself as a backup point guard in Toronto …

ICYMI(s) of the Night: Ummm, why was Marcin Gortat in the middle of the Celtics’ huddle last night?

You all know we love Kenneth Faried around here when he’s in full “Manimal” mode, as he was last night against the Pelicans.

And, lastly, there are deep 3-pointers … and then there’s this shot Paul George nailed last night against Detroit …


VIDEO: Marcin Gortat joins the Celtics’ huddle


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried runs wild in Denver’s win over New Orleans


VIDEO: Paul George nails a stand-still 3-pointer from just inside halfcourt

Morning Shootaround — March 12


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Knicks, Jackson have agreement in place | Report: Kobe done for 2013-14? | Westbrook, OKC stymie Beverley, Rockets | Noel unlikely to suit up this season | Bynum impresses in Pacers debut

No. 1: Report: Knicks, Jackson have agreement in place — In the case of Phil Jackson returning to the NBA in a front-office role with the New York Knicks, it looks like all that needs to happen next is a news conference date and time. According to Marc Berman of the New York Post, Jackson and Knicks officials have agreed to a deal in principle and all that’s left is to have loose ends tied up by each sides respective legal teams. The news that Jackson and the Knicks had a deal was reported yesterday by ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard, but Berman provides additional details on the move:

Phil Jackson has reached an agreement in principle to oversee the Knicks basketball operations and “president’’ will be in his title, according to a league source.

All that’s left is the lawyers finalizing the last contract details by week’s end before Jackson officially returns to the organization that drafted him and where he won two titles as a player.

The Post has learned Jackson gave the Knicks a verbal commitment on Saturday. The Garden still will not comment on Jackson’s status.

Knicks president/general manager Steve Mills will remain on board in a revised role and work with Jackson. Knicks owner James Dolan hired Mills because of his vast network of contacts with NBA agents and GMs. That isn’t the strong suit of Jackson, winner of 11 titles as coach of the Bulls and Lakers.

Some issues during the last couple of days revolved around his living arrangements. Jackson lives in Marina Del Rey, Calif., with his fiancée, Lakers president Jeanie Buss. Jackson is expected to live in New York during the season, but do some commuting. Buss visits New York on business periodically.

Jackson has spoken fondly about his mentor, former Knicks coach Red Holzman, who Jackson said was the reason he wanted to get into coaching.

“There’s no doubt Red took special affection toward our relationship,” Jackson told The Post in 2004, when he was about to break Red Auerbach’s coaching-title record. “He always called me after a winning season. When it was Bulls-Knicks in the conference finals, he always made a point of seeking me out, right up until the end. I’m sure he’s somewhere up there smiling down.”

Now it appears Jackson will attempt to help resuscitate a Knicks franchise that has collapsed this season. The Knicks began to rebuild in 2008 to get under the salary cap in an attempt to sign LeBron James.

Apart from last season’s No. 2 seed, the results didn’t materialize, with the Knicks a long shot to make the playoffs and looking to rebuild again with Carmelo Anthony as their centerpiece. Anthony is a free agent this summer and doesn’t know Jackson well, but Jackson has 11 championship rings with which to woo Anthony.

Jackson does have experience building an NBA roster. Before his coaching exploits with the Bulls and Lakers, he worked for five seasons in the defunct CBA in Albany, where he constructed fluctuating rosters in a chaotic environment.


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses the pending union between Phil Jackson and the Knicks

***

No. 2: Report: Kobe done for the season? — Perhaps the one thing Los Angeles Lakers fans had to hold on to in this abysmal season for them was seeing Kobe Bryant suit up for the last handful of games. Apparently, not even that is going to happen, writes Kevin Ding of BleacherReport.com. Our own Sekou Smith breaks down the news that Bryant is likely to be officially shut down for all of 2013-14 by the end of the week:

Kobe Bryant‘s 2013-14 season is soon to be declared officially over after just six games. All that’s left is the word from either Kobe or the Los Angeles Lakers, according to a report from Bleacher Report columnist Kevin Ding.

It’s yet another blow in a season full of them for Lakers fans, who have been reeling since last summer when Dwight Howard bolted from the scene via free agency for Houston. Bryant missing the remainder of the Lakers’ season, though, is just the latest dagger

Some of us have been calling for Bryant, as well as Steve Nash, to punt the remainder of this injury-plagued season for a while now. There’s nothing that can be salvaged from the wreckage of the tire fire that has gone on since last summer. Not even a few late-season appearances from one of the most beloved Lakers of all time.

When the trade deadline came and went last month and Pau Gasol was still a part of the team, it was clear that the Lakers were waving the white flag on this season and preparing for the future with a healthy Bryant as the centerpiece.

The timing of this pending announcement comes during the same week former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who joined forces with Bryant for five of his 11 titles as a coach, is set to be announced as the basketball operations chief (the title is reportedly still being negotiated) of the New York Knicks.

The Lakers chose Mike D’Antoni as their coach last season over a third round of Jackson, who has chosen not to return in that capacity this time around.

Bryant apparently won’t come back in any capacity this season, either. All that’s left is the official announcement, which could come before the end of the week.

***

No. 3: Westbrook, OKC get better of Beverley and Rockets — Houston Rockets point guard Patrick Beverley has made a name for himself on the court this season for his defensive grit and all-out energy ways. He’s made one off the court, too, both this season — and in the past. Just yesterday, we pointed out how Beverley had taken some verbal shots at Portland Trail Blazers All-Star guard Damian Lillard by saying that he ‘whines’. Perhaps what Beverley is best known for — other than his play this season and some of his chatter — is that he was the player who tried to steal the ball from Russell Westbrook as Westbrook was calling a timeout during last season’s OKC-Houston playoff series. That move played a part in Westbrook suffering a string of right knee injures that has had him in and out of OKC’s lineup all season. A similar incident took place last night, as our Jeff Caplan reports, but in the end, Westbrook and OKC prevailed:

Loud City vented on the Rockets’ alley cat of a point guard Patrick Beverley, who returned to the scene of the crime for the first time Tuesday night bearing no remorse, no regrets and certainly no apologies.

He did come looking to scrap and claw and needle his nemesis Russell Westbrook, and it took only 44 seconds into it for the lid to pop off with the first of three intense entanglements between the two before this wild and woolly game throughout, won by the Oklahoma City Thunder, 106-98, was barely seven minutes old.

With six minutes to go in the opening quarter, Beverley solidified his role as No. 1 villain in these parts with a bold, deja vu move, running up on Westbrook as the Thunder point guard dribbled toward the OKC bench to call a timeout, just as he had done in that fateful Game 2 of the first round of the 2013 playoffs. Instead of Beverley going low as he did last April, a move that tore the meniscus in Westbrook’s right knee and landed him on the operating table — and then back there twice more — and OKC’s championship dreams on life support, Beverley went high, practically body bumping Westbrook and planting both his palms on Westbrook’s chest.

Westbrook bowed up, Beverley didn’t back down and tempers revved on both sides. The officials huddled and emerged with a technical foul on Beverley.

Was the ballsy play a message from Beverley?

“No, no messages,” the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder said. “That’s how I play against everybody. No personal battles out there today, just try to go out there and fight and do what I do to try to help my team win a basketball game today.”

It was Westbrook’s night, facing Beverley again, staying cool when the Houston guard tried to stir it up and producing a mostly composed effort that included no turnovers in 15:31 of action in the second half. Before and after the game, Westbrook was short on words, saying he held no grudges, that he’s only out to win. His coach, Scott Brooks, had more to say.

“You guys know I love Russell, and this is why I really love him — he doesn’t like the 58 point guards that he plays against,” Brooks said. “He’s not out there to make friends, he’s not out there to be anybody’s buddy and he competes with everything he has in his body. He’s about playing the right way, about playing a game that we as a coaching staff, as fans, as an organization can be proud of. And that’s what he does every single night. I will never ever think anything else that he does, he just plays the way it’s supposed to be played.”

What did Brooks think about Beverley lunging at Westbrook near the sideline again?

“You saw the same thing I saw,” Brooks said. “There’s really not much to talk about. We played a good basketball game and I’ll just leave it at that. I’m not worried about what they do and don’t do. I’m worried about what we do.”

It made this third consecutive win over the Rockets this season all the more impressive. Dwight Howard, up against rookie Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka, had just nine points and 10 boards. Ibaka had 12 points and 16 rebounds. Newly signed Caron Butler, who has quickly supplanted youngster Jeremy Lamb, brought spurts of tenacious defense plus 11 points and five rebounds in 29 minutes.

There was no doubt Beverley came in bearing fangs, but Westbrook ultimately provided the much bigger bite.


VIDEO: Westbrook, Beverley get physical in first half during a timeout call

***

No. 4: Despite tweet, Noel unlikely to play this season — Just two days ago in this very space, we informed you of a tweet by injured Sixers rookie Nerlens Noel that simply read “4-14-14″ and led some to believe that he would make his NBA debut on that date. However, that may not be the case, reports Marc Narducci of The Philadelphia Inquirer, as team officials reportedly are not counting on Noel suiting up at all this season. Despite that news, Noel continues to practice with the team and took part in four-on-four drills yesterday, too:

Rookie center Nerlens Noel continues to impress observers in the closed-door sessions during 76ers practices.

Though a source with knowledge of the situation doesn’t expect Noel to play this season as he recovers from last year’s knee surgery, all who see him are encouraged about what he will bring to the future.

On the one-year anniversary of knee surgery, Noel remains a mystery, at least to the public.

The team sees him every day and considers him and rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams the foundation of what is hoped will be a promising youth movement.

The Sixers say that Noel isn’t obligated to talk to the media until he goes through five-on-five full-court workouts.

Others are more than willing to act as a mouthpiece.

“He is one of the quickest guys I have seen off his feet,” forward Thaddeus Young said after Tuesday’s practice.

As for Noel’s recent tweet of “4-4-14″ that supposedly means he would like to play on April 4 at Boston, coach Brett Brown said he hasn’t brought it up to his rookie and he won’t.

“I have purposely ignored it,” Brown said.

***

No. 5: Bynum impresses in Indiana debut — One of the best ways to endear oneself to a new basketball team is with rebounding, defense and some occasional offense … and that’s exactly what Andrew Bynum provided in his Pacers debut last night against the Celtics. The former Cavs, Lakers and Sixers center finished with 10 rebounds, clogged up the paint on defense and had nine points to boot while showing flashes of his All-Star form at times. While he’s still rusty and getting acclimated to his new NBA home, he made a solid impression on his teammates, writes Phil Richards of The Indianapolis Star:

Just for starters, and this was one, Andrew Bynum and Indiana appeared to be a good match. The Pacers are 1-0 with him in uniform, a convenient 94-83 whipping of the Boston Celtics that broke a four-game losing streak.

“I felt great. Couldn’t do anything wrong today,” the 7-foot, 285-pound strongman said after working the Celtics for eight points, 10 rebounds and an assist in 15 minutes Tuesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “All the rebounds came my way and I just grabbed them.

“Looking forward to the next game.”

He had impressed in recent practices but his teammates were eager for a real look. So was the sellout crowd of 18,165. It welcomed him warmly.

Bynum didn’t disappoint. He pushed around the Celtics not-so-big big men, Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger. Mostly, he rebounded. And rebounded. And rebounded.

“He did well, not forcing anything, playing a dominant, smash-mouth type of play,” Pacers guard George Hill said.

“There’s not much on the court he didn’t do for us tonight,” Pacers wing Paul George said. “He really did a great job of controlling the paint, on the boards, and offensively, he was huge.”

Bynum, 26 is a seven-year veteran who earned a reputation for being immature at times, even indifferent. After sitting out the entire 2012-13 season because of his aggrieved knees, he signed as a free agent with Cleveland during the offseason.

He played only 26 games before the Cavaliers suspended him, then traded him to the Chicago Bulls, who released him Jan. 7.

When the Pacers signed him it prompted concerns not shared by management that he might adversely impact team chemistry.

So far, so good.

“He’s really bought into the whole locker room,” George said. “He’s been a great teammate.”


VIDEO: Andrew Bynum talks after his debut with the Indiana Pacers

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kevin Durant plays coy about the whole beef between him and rapper Lil B … Manu Ginobili and the rest of the Spurs can see that Tony Parker‘s break during the season is starting to pay off now … Golden State recalled Nemanja Nedovic from the NBA D-League yesterday … Detroit showed some rare defensive chops in toppling Sacramento last night … Great look from the always solid Jason Quick of The Oregonian on LaMarcus Aldridge’s impact on Portland’s playoff hopes

ICYMI(s) of the Night: Whether they like it or not this week, a bunch of notable players (we’re looking at you Corey Brewer, Taj Gibson and Dwight Howard) will probably find themselves on Shaqtin’ A Fool after spectacular on-court fails like these …


VIDEO: Corey Brewer blows a breakaway dunk


VIDEO: Taj Gibson gets rejected by the rim on a power jam


VIDEO: Dwight Howard throws a perfect pass … to an out-of-bounds Omer Asik

Sixers Keep Boldly Moving Forward


VIDEO: Sixers GM Sam Hinkie talks about the team’s trade deadline moves

Sam Hinkie can’t yet put a pin in the exact place on the map, but he does know where he’s going.

Forward.

You might not like the speed. You might even turn your nose up at the route this season or the blighted scenery that will make up the rest of the schedule.

But you’ll have to admit it’s different — and in the long run preferable — to the hamster wheel that’s taken the 76ers nowhere fast for more than a decade.

That the first-year general manager chose to unload Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen for a pocketful of beans and expiring contracts was simply a continuation of the plan he’s been trying to execute from his first day on the job.

You can’t build something new and lasting on old ground if all you do is switch out the furniture and slap on a fresh coat of paint. That’s really all the Sixers had been doing since back in the days when Allen Iverson and Larry Brown were driving each other crazy all the way to the NBA Finals.

Over the past several years, all the Sixers could hang their jerseys on was a first-round upset of the Bulls in the 2012 that was only accomplished because Derrick Rose had crumpled in a heap.

What’s been needed for quite some time has been for somebody to come in and blow the whole thing up and start from scratch, disregarding all of the old ways and the ingrained local Philly network.

Hinkie has no problem being that guy.

When he finished at the trade deadline, Hinkie’s swapping had produced six second-round draft picks, five new players, a bundle of expiring contracts and $30 million in salary cap room for the summer.

It’s amazing how much fuss there was over letting go three members of a team with a 15-41 record. It’s mind-boggling that even a few folks might have been confused by Hinkie’s actions.

“I think all three of them are playing at a career-best level,” Hinkie told reporters at a news conference on Friday. “Sometimes it’s about the timing of the league. Some of those guys belong in a place. Evan is in Indiana. Indiana is going to be playing in at least May if not June, and this is a time for him to be there. And some of the things we took back are set for the future, or a second in this year’s draft or something else. Those are things that are more appropriate for where we are.

“We’re trying to acquire things that will help us move forward, and the net result of what happened is we picked up six additional second-round picks. Sometimes it’s the players you select, sometimes it’s the players you can trade for in using them, sometimes it’s the combining them to move other places to do other things.”

Of course, Hinkie already got the ball rolling last summer when he made the stunning deal that sent All-Star Jrue Holiday to New Orleans for Nerlens Noel, who has not yet played, and then used the No. 11 pick in the draft to pluck Michael Carter-Williams, who appears to be an elite point guard for the next decade.

The Sixers have the potential for a pick in the top three of this year’s draft and another in the top 12, coming from New Orleans, along with all the second-round picks.

“I think it’ll make our phone ring, for one,” Hinkie said. “And I think it’ll give us choices.”

Sure, it might require covering your eyes if you happen to be forced into the Wells Fargo Center anytime between now and April, and you might not like the NBA system that almost demands a stripping of all assets as the quickest and most prudent way to start over. But it is the system, and in the end, the idea is to work within it. Hinkie’s old boss Daryl Morey and former team owner Leslie Alexander in Houston chose not to hit rock bottom, yet over the past 17 seasons the Rockets have only one playoff series win while constantly reshuffling their deck. Now the Rockets have Dwight Howard and James Harden, but was it worth nearly two decades of tap dancing in mediocrity? The path by Hinkie could and should be shorter to rebirth.

“You often don’t know, so you don’t know how it might play out, and you don’t know what might be available,” Hinkie said. “Lots of things come across the transom, lots of things you look at. It’s part of what we try to do, to have a lot of interesting opportunities to look at. It’s important.

“I think many years will come and go where you’ll have lots of opportunities and you’ll say no to all of them, and it will look like nothing happened because nothing actually transpired. This year, enough things came along that were interesting. I would say that some of the picks — people sort of lump picks together, ‘Aw, it’s just a second’ — some of the picks are quite interesting, some of the picks are quite high and could be even higher. That has real value.

“I think as we get close to the draft, the talent evaluators all start to downplay expectations, ‘Oh, it’s not quite as good as we thought.’ It looks quite strong. All the best teams have been built around great players. Great players. And we’re going to be particularly focused on that for a while in finding great players who can lead us forward.”

Someway, somehow. Which is better than continuing to run in circles.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 7


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Paul expected to return Sunday | Lillard looking forward to busy All-Star weekend | Pistons’ Cheeks, Bynum not talking to each other | Sixers’ Noel continues to progress

No. 1: Paul expected to return to lineup Sunday – The L.A. Clippers have held up pretty well since All-Star point guard Chris Paul went down with a shoulder injury on Jan. 3, going 11-6 during that stretch. They’ll likely be happy come Sunday, though, as Paul is expected to be back in the starting lineup, writes Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

Point guard Chris Paul, who has been sidelined since Jan. 3 with a separated right shoulder, likely will return to the starting lineup Sunday when the Los Angeles Clippers play the Philadelphia 76ers.

Paul has been participating in contact drills and shootarounds, but the Clippers have not had a full practice in almost two weeks, preventing him from practicing with the team.

The Clippers canceled practice Thursday and are expected to sit Paul for Friday’s game against the Toronto Raptors. If Paul practices Saturday without any problems, he will play Sunday.

“He did some one-on-ones today at shootaround and looked pretty good, so I think he’s very close,” coach Doc Rivers said Wednesday. “I don’t think he’ll play Friday but he could play after that. He took contact today in one-on-ones, but it’s still not a 5-on-5.”


VIDEO:Doc Rivers talks about how Chris Paul is healing up and more

***

No. 2: Lillard embracing his busy All-Star weekend As of a week ago, Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard locked up his first All-Star berth when he was named as a Western Conference reserve. Apparently, just playing in the NBA’s showcase event wasn’t enough for him as Lillard yesterday was announced as a participant in All-Star Saturday’s BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge, the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest and the Foot Locker 3-Point Shootout. In short, Lillard is going to be a busy guy in a week or so, but tells USA Today‘s Sam Amick he’s more than looking forward to a jam-packed couple of days in New Orleans.

“A lot of people don’t get the opportunity,” Lillard told USA TODAY Sports by phone.”So I just felt like it was something that had never been done, and I’m capable of doing all the things that need to be done in all the competitions, so I figured why not go out and be the first one to do everything and get that experience?”

As Lillard knows, though, there will be some who question his decision to take on so many tasks during this time that serves as a much-needed breather for most of his colleagues. And as is typically the case when it comes to Lillard, he’s not concerned with the critics.

“The skills competition takes two minutes on the court, the dunk contest maybe will be three or four minutes on the court, and three-point shooting is about two minutes,” said Lillard, whose Blazers (35-14) are the surprise team in the NBA this season. “And it’s not like the rookie-sophomore game is a real regular season game, so I mean I’m looking at maybe an hour total of actual activity with all five things. People think there’s more energy being exerted than there actually is. It’s really not that much when you think about the time that you actually spend doing it.”

Lillard said he’s looking forward to the three-point contest more than the rest.

“That’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said.

As for the dunk contest, he’s in the beginning stages of coming up with a creative way to compete with the likes of defending champion Terrence Ross (Toronto), Paul George (Indiana), John Wall (Washington), Ben McLemore (Sacramento) and Harrison Barnes (Golden State).

His personal favorites from years past were Dwight Howard’s 13-foot dunk in 2007 and James “Flight” White‘s flight crew jam from the most recent All-Star weekend.

“I like stuff like that,” Lillard said. “When there’s a story attached to it, I like all that…The dunk (contest) will be fun. I think there will be a lot of surprises. People don’t really know that I can dunk.”


VIDEO: Damian Lillard has had plenty of memorable dunks this season

***

No. 3: Tension rising between Pistons’ Cheeks, Bynum A near-complete overhaul of the on-court product in Detroit hasn’t gone how the Pistons’ brass has hoped it would this season. New coach Maurice Cheeks has had his struggles with frontcourt stars Josh Smith and Andre Drummond this season and now, he and veteran Detroit guard Will Bynum aren’t getting along. In Detroit’s blowout loss to Orlando on Wednesday, Bynum was pulled from an ugly loss to the Magic about midway through the second quarter. Bynum got into a heated argument with Cheeks and had to be pulled away from him by Chauncey Billups and Smith. Brendan Savage of MLive.com has more on the spat between player and coach:

After practice Thursday, Cheeks said he hadn’t spoken with Bynum about the incident – Cheeks also became testy when pressed about it – while Bynum said he wouldn’t initiate a conversation with Cheeks and didn’t think they’d speak.

“It was in the heat of the moment,” said Bynum, who was the last player off the practice floor. “I care. It’s hard for me to sit back and act like I don’t care because I do. All I’m really concerned with is winning. If I see something that’s not right, sometimes in the heat of the moment you kind of say something.

“I don’t regret it. I regret the fact that maybe I was a bit too passionate about it. But other than that, I don’t.”

Will Bynum approach Cheeks?

“Nope.”

Does he think they’ll speak?

“Nah.”

“We’re going to have disagreements,” Cheeks said. “You’re not always going to agree. That’s part of it. At times you’re going to have disagreements. That’s OK. They don’t agree with everything I say and I don’t agree with everything they say.

“That’s part of it.”

Bynum, in his sixth year with the Pistons, has come off the bench in 28 of the 31 games he’s played this season. Bynum started the first three games of the season when Brandon Jennings was sidelined with a fractured jaw and impacted wisdom tooth.

Cheeks admitted that – like many coaches – he’ll give his starters a little more leeway when they make mistakes.

“That’s been around a long time, been around for years,” Cheeks said. “Starters sometimes get a little bit more leeway than guys come off the bench. That’s the way it is.  I’m probably a little bit harder on guards and point guards than normal because I think they have a huge impact on the game.”

When the line of questioning went back to the incident with Bynum, Cheeks appeared a bit irritated and asked a reporter if he was defending Bynum.

“If I’m going to have a conversation with Will, if I have a problem with Will, he and I will probably have a conversation at some point,” Cheeks said. “I will say this again: Through my years – coaching, playing – starters usually have a bit more stretch. They do.

“That’s probably not going to change. That’s it. I don’t know any other way to say it.”

***

No. 4: Noel looks solid in drills for Sixers — The last we heard about Philadelphia 76ers rookie Nerlens Noel in mid-January, he was cleared by the team for some on-court work and could play in an actual NBA game in a few weeks from now. That timeline appears to be in tact as Noel was seen working out yesterday with Philadelphia’s assistant coaches and put on an impressive display of low-post moves, writes Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News:

For nearly 30 minutes after the team’s practice yesterday, Nerlens Noel put on an impressive display of moves close to the basket under the guidance of assistant coaches Greg Foster and Billy Lange. The workout mostly consisted of baby hooks from each hand after quick moves across the lane. Noel also caught passes on the wing and made quick, one-dribble moves to the basket, mostly finishing with dunks where his head was close to the rim. His surgically repaired left knee seemed very sound for the workout and his excitement couldn’t be denied.

“You can see, even though it’s just sort of shadow boxing, you can’t help to see how quick he jumps, his athleticism, his length,” said coach Brett Brown. “It is exciting to just look out there and see what you project to be. He doesn’t appear to favor [the knee] at all. Things are going well. All those things that we have to get through in order to at some point get him on a court, are going well.”

Brown said that the next steps are to get Noel to play with others and, of course, against others. That’s when he will have to make unscripted cuts that will be the true test of how strong his knee is.


VIDEO: Sixers coach Brett Brown talks after the team’s Thursday practice

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Carlos Boozer sat out the Bulls’ game against the Warriors because he hurt his calf muscle while warming up in the locker roomKemba Walker thinks the Bobcats deserve (and need) to be in the playoffs more than they need to be in the Draft lottery again … Former Knicks, Nets and Timberwolves star Stephon Marbury was ejected from his first game back in the Chinese Basketball Association for throwing a punch

ICYMI of the Night: Two blowout-ish games last night but that doesn’t mean we’ll deny Draymond Green his props for this nice dunk on Joakim Noah


VIDEO: Draymond Green finishes strong over the Bulls’ Joakim Noah

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 16


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rondo to be on minutes limit in debut | Oden happy to make season debut | Cuban wants one last fine from Stern | Noel progressing, can do some on-court workouts | Howard won’t be in Dunk Contest

UPDATE — 11:39 a.m.: Celtics president Danny Ainge says Rondo, barring any setbacks today, will play Friday vs. the Lakers

No. 1: Rondo expected to play Friday vs. Lakers — From yesterday’s trade (which sent de facto point guard Jordan Crawford to Golden State) to an assignment (and recall) to the NBA D-League, things are clearing in Boston for Rajon Rondo to make his season debut. Coach Brad Stevens said Rondo enjoyed his (albeit) brief stint working out with the Maine Red Claws and, according to A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com, Rondo is expected to play between 18 and 20 minutes when he does debut. ESPNBoston.com’s Chris Forsberg reports that Rondo was actually active for last night’s game against Toronto, but didn’t log a minute:

Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo is still expected to play Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers, although he would be limited to 18-20 minutes according to coach Brad Stevens.

Stevens, who would not say if Rondo was in fact going to play Friday, did have Rondo on the bench dressed in uniform on Wednesday night.

However, Stevens made it clear after Boston’s 88-83 win over Toronto that there was never any plan to play Rondo against the Raptors.

Not even when the game got tight in the fourth quarter and the Celtics were in desperate need for someone to do what Rondo does best – pass the ball.

Up by three points with less than a minute to play, Boston had to call its final time-out because Jeff Green could not in-bound the ball immediately.

Coming out of the timeout, there was never any thought about putting Rondo out on the floor in that situation.

When asked if Rondo would have played if it were an emergency, Stevens quickly shot that down as something considered.

“Well we were up three points with no timeouts trying to get the ball in-bounds and one of the best passers in the world sitting right next to me, so, no,” Stevens said. “He would not have been. I told [assistant coach] Jay Larranaga he was next, and [assistant coach] Walter [McCarty] was right after him, depending on what we needed. So that’s the way we were going to roll tonight.”

And here’s Forsberg’s report on Rondo as well:

Thin on bodies, the Boston Celtics activated Rajon Rondo for Wednesday night’s game against the Toronto Raptors, but the point guard did not play and is still targeting Friday’s visit from the Los Angeles Lakers for his 2013-14 season debut.

“[Rondo is] going to go through and do some [pregame] shooting, and there is a chance that he would suit up tonight,” Stevens said before the game. “But I don’t see a chance that he would play tonight, that it would be more about getting back into that rhythm of pregame activity.”

“I think [Rondo] enjoyed it because they kept score. His team usually won,” Stevens said. “But it was more about getting up and down the floor more than anything. I got asked the other day, if and when he comes back, if there would be a minute restriction, and the answer is yes. We’ll cross those bridges with exact numbers when we get there. And go from there. But he looked pretty good.

“[The D-League workout] accomplished what we wanted to accomplish. I have not talked to anybody, including Rondo, since the workout was over. I watched it for a few minutes, and then I left. Because I needed to — obviously, we’ve got a lot going on around here, but we have a game tonight.”


VIDEO: Brad Stevens talks before last night’s game about Rajon Rondo’s D-League work

***

No. 2: Oden happy to get his first NBA minutes — You’re probably already well aware that Greg Oden got his first NBA regular-season minutes since 2009 in the Heat’s blowout loss to the Wizards last night. And, as our own Sekou Smith framed it after the game, this is the first of several big baby steps for the former No. 1 overall pick. But what you might not know is all the details leading up to Oden’s activation and debut last night, which ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh details below:

Greg Oden was smiling about basketball again.

It took him four years to get back to this place. Four years, two microfracture surgeries, a broken knee cap and a battle with alcoholism later, Oden sat at his locker grinning in front of a pack of reporters. The former No. 1 pick in 2007 had played in a regular-season game again, the first time in 1,503 days.

No one really saw this coming. On the morning of Wednesday’s game, the Heat didn’t even know that Oden would make his season debut. They didn’t even think he’d be activated on the roster.

But around noon, a spot opened up for Oden. The Heat traded long-time reserve center Joel Anthony to the Boston Celtics along with two draft picks.

Toney Douglas, the former Golden State Warriors point guard whom the Heat traded for, would not arrive in the nation’s capital in time for the game.

So, Oden’s time had come. The Heat players found out about the trade over lunch and shortly after, Oden got word: he’d dress for the game.

“I didn’t know if I was going to play or not,” Oden said. “But I got out there and I did. And I’m happy I got the chance.”

Why bring Oden in then?

“We were down by 30,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.

As if there weren’t enough Heat surprises, Oden came out in the second half with the rest of the starters, subbing in for Shane Battier who watched the third-quarter’s opening minutes from the bench. The aggressive approach ensured that Oden wouldn’t get stiff like he did after four minutes of action in the preseason game in New Orleans. Oden rode a bike during halftime and Spoelstra gave him the nod.

Oden’s final line in eight minutes of action: six points on two dunks and a pair of free throws along with two rebounds. Not captured in the box score were several altered shots and screens.

“It felt good, just being able to be back out on the court,” Oden said. “Honestly, the big thing is, to be able to have now that connection now with my teammates. I’ve been here, I’ve been around, but when you’re not playing, sometimes deep down you don’t really feel part of the team as much. I’m happy I can do that now.”

LeBron James said he didn’t even know that Oden was playing until he saw his fellow No. 1 overall pick lacing up his basketball shoes just before the game.

“Oh, you active?” James recalled asking Oden. “I had no idea.”

James assisted on Oden’s second dunk of the game out of a pick-and-roll, something we’ll probably see many times again if Oden can stay healthy. But it was Oden’s first dunk that James couldn’t believe.

“How is this possible that every time you sit out long periods of time, you decide to come back and you keep getting a dunk on your first attempt?” James said. “That’s pretty cool, man. Hopefully he can continue to stride, getting three minutes a half to five minutes a half to 12. He can be a big plus for us. Obviously in the short amount of minutes tonight, he was pretty good for us.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew talks about Greg Oden’s impact on the Heat

***

No. 3: Cuban wants one last fine from Stern — Since becoming owner of the Dallas Mavericks in 2000, Mark Cuban has racked up plenty of fines from the NBA for his outspoken nature regarding officiating, the league office and, at times, commissioner David Stern. With Stern set to retire from his post in about a month, Cuban told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein that he wants to get one last fine from the outgoing league boss if for nothing more than old times’ sake. (Worth noting: Cuban may get his wish sooner than he thinks. He walked on the court to berate the officials after the Mavs’ loss to the Clippers last night … fast-forward to the 2:08 mark to see what we mean.):

In an interview with ESPN.com this week to reflect on David Stern’s 30-year run as NBA commissioner, which ends Feb. 1, Cuban said he has been telling Stern for months that he is determined to get dinged one last time before his longtime foil leaves his post.

“We talk about it all the time,” Cuban said. “I’m going to have one final fine before he leaves.”

The outspoken owner made the comments in a lighthearted manner before the Mavericks went to Los Angeles on Wednesday night and suffered a disappointing 129-127 defeat to the Clippers that prompted a heated Cuban to walk onto the floor after the final buzzer at Staples Center and chastise the referees who worked the game.

As Mavs owner, Cuban has been assessed 19 league fines that were made public, 13 of which were triggered by either criticizing referees or interacting with them in ways the NBA deemed inappropriate.

Cuban has paid in excess of $1.8 million in fines during his 14 years of Mavs ownership. The most expensive of those sanctions was the infamous $500,000 that Cuban was docked in January 2002 for declaring he wouldn’t hire then-NBA head of officiating Ed Rush to manage a Dairy Queen. The most recent was a $50,000 fine assessed in January 2013 after Cuban responded to a home loss to New Orleans by tweeting: “Im sorry NBA fans. Ive tried for 13 years to fix the officiating in this league and I have failed miserably. Any Suggestions ? I need help.”

Yet Cuban has mostly praise for Stern with slightly more than two weeks to go before Stern’s longtime deputy Adam Silver takes over and the longest tenure of any commissioner in North American professional team sports comes to an end.

“One reason that I truly respect David is that he followed the rules,” Cuban said. “He didn’t want to be king. He wanted to be successful and make the NBA successful. He was less concerned with his legacy than with creating results for the NBA. He knows that the results will stand the test of time and define his legacy.”

Cuban said he would give Stern “an 85 to 90″ out of 100 when grading his three decades in charge and said his only bone of contention with the commissioner during his time in the league — besides the state of officiating — was the amount of money invested in China at Stern’s behest in the continued pursuit of globalizing the NBA brand.

“He’s always been receptive [to me]. We kind of have two relationships. There’s the public relationship about the officiating. And then there’s the business side. On the business side, we get along great.

“On the officiating side, that’s probably the one thing I’d say he’s failed miserably on, but I understand where he’s coming from, because he doesn’t have a horse in the race. Win, lose or draw, as long as the business of the NBA is good, he’s happy. I obviously have a completely different perspective, and that’s where we clash. He doesn’t care who wins. That’s the difference, because I do.

“But on the business side, we’ve agreed far more than we’ve disagreed.”

***

No. 4: Sixers’ Noel OK’d for ‘limited on-court work’The last thing we told you in this space about Sixers rookie Nerlens Noel, it was that Philly’s coaching staff was working on a ‘total rebuild’ of his shot. In addition, Sixers coaches were warning fans that Noel may not even take the court this season. Some of that news has changed, however, as ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman reports that Noel has been cleared by the team for some on-court work and he could play within 4-6 weeks:

The Philadelphia 76ers have cleared rookie center Nerlens Noel for “limited on-court work,” but several benchmarks remain before he can return to game action, the team announced Wednesday night.

“After careful consideration and numerous discussions with our medical and performance teams, the consulting physician and rehabilitation staff, and Nerlens’ representatives, some of the restrictions on Nerlens have been lifted and he is now able to participate in limited on-court work,” 76ers president and general manager Sam Hinkie said in a statement.

“There are several benchmarks Nerlens still must meet, and during that time we will closely monitor his progress and regularly evaluate his status. Our goal remains the same, which is to give Nerlens every opportunity to ensure a long, productive NBA career.”

Noel, who suffered a torn ACL in February while playing for Kentucky, visited Dr. James Andrews in Florida last week.

“He is doing excellent, and the team is taking good care of him,” Andrews told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Andrews said he was unable to provide more information because of privacy laws, but sources told ESPN.com that Noel, the No. 6 pick in this past June’s NBA draft, could return to game action within the next four to six weeks barring a setback.

“He tested really well, and his knee looks great,” one source said. “Dr. Andrews suggested he be cleared to do on-court drills, but the team still has to clear him.”

CSNPhilly.com reported that Noel was seen playing one-on-one against assistant coach and former NBA big man Greg Foster on Tuesday.

***

No. 5: Howard won’t participate in Dunk Contest — Back in 2008, a young Dwight Howard — then with the Orlando Magic — burst onto the national scene with his performance in the Dunk Contest during All-Star weekend in New Orleans. Since then, Howard’s star has risen and fallen, and with the All-Star weekend being back in the Big Easy, there was some thought that Howard might give the Dunk Contest another try. That’s not going to happen, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Howard, who won the 2008 dunk contest at New Orleans Arena, said the NBA invited him to dunk again this season in New Orleans, but he declined.“Couldn’t do it,” Howard said.

Howard, 28, said he would participate again, “If I wasn’t so old. I’m getting up there in age, man, I tell you. I got a lot of years.”

Howard, however, said he had thought about that night just because with the return to New Orleans.

“It was a night to remember,” Howard said. “It was probably one of the best memories of me being in the NBA being in the dunk contest here in New Orleans. The fans were amazing here. Every time I come in this building, I get chills thinking about it.”

“I remember that whole experience,” Howard said. “Being here, the fans were amazing. I saw in past years, nobody tried to really engage the crowd. I like to entertain. I tried to really engage the fans, give them something they’ll remember.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Veteran guard Keith Bogans has been ‘excused’ from team activities with the Celtics … In an interview with an Italian media outlet, Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari isn’t sure when or if he’ll return this season … Fantastic read about Blazers guard Wesley Matthews and the strained relationship he has with his dad … Clippers coach Doc Rivers can’t help but marvel at Dirk Nowitzki‘s career … Ex-Spurs forward Richard Jefferson sounds a little bitter about all the hype Kawhi Leonard is getting in San Antonio

ICYMI(s) of The Night: On a 12-game night, it’s tough to find the best plays because so many of them stand out. But today, we’re going with a pair of nice backdoor alley-oops — one from Nicolas Batum to Damian Lillard and another one from Giannis Antetokounmpo to Larry Sanders:


VIDEO: Damian Lillard skies high on the baseline to finish off Nicolas Batum’s alley-oop


VIDEO: Giannis Antetokounmpo finds Larry Sanders for the reverse alley-oop

Tough Circumstances, But 76ers Push On


VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses Evan Turner and the Sixers

DALLAS – This might be the worst season to be a Philadelphia 76er. One day, it might be looked upon by these players as the most meaningful of their careers.

Before it even started, they were blown off as losers, expected to pile up losses at potentially an historic rate. It is a roster in the early stages of long-term construction, patched together with veterans Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young, exciting No. 11 pick Michael Carter-Williams (and injured No. 6 pick Nerlens Noel) and undrafted rookies and grunts added from the end of other teams’ benches.

First-year coach Brett Brown‘s starting lineup in Monday’s 97-94 loss at Dallas, a hard-fought game lost during a faulty stretch late in the third quarter and into the fourth, did not include Carter-Williams (foot) for a fourth consecutive game. It did include Grizzlies’ castoff Tony Wroten going for 19 points with five steals, and James Anderson, the former Oklahoma State swingman who has swung in and out of San Antonio, Houston and the D-League, scoring 14 points with seven rebounds in 42 minutes.

Hollis Thompson, Lavoy Allen, Darius Morris and Brandon Davies combined to play 58 minutes off the bench. Ultimately the kind of mistakes — an unforced turnover, a rushed possession, a lost rebound — that doom young teams sabotaged their hard work and the Sixers lost a third consecutive game and fell to 5-7. But the fight was there.

“I kind of think it starts from the top and [Brown's] attitude is pretty infectious in that regard,” Hawes said. “Coach has done a great job since Day 1 of being realistic and really letting us play and letting us all continue to improve. We all still have a lot to learn from what he’s bringing to the table and a lot to improve on, and I think when you look at it through that lens it keeps you motivated.”

Brown, his unmistakable New England accent ever-apparent despite more than a decade working in San Antonio under Gregg Popovich, pedals passion, genuine hard work, accountability and camaraderie.

“At the end of the day, we’re a hard-working team,” Young said. “So that should tell you a lot right there.”

Ask the Heat, Bulls and Rockets. Philly’s beaten all three. Ask the underachieving Nets and Knicks. Both are looking up at the Atlantic Division-leading Sixers.

Young, who once called Elton Brand, Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams and Jrue Holiday teammates, said this team’s daily goal is straightforward.

“To get better as a team, to help the growth of the young guys and to go out there and build something that in the future we can go out there and be ready to win basketball games or playoff series,” Young said. “That’s the biggest thing right now is the growth and development of what we’re trying to do here.”

Which, of course, begs the question: Why? On most nights the squad is severely undermanned. The veterans — Young, Evans and Hawes — could eventually be traded and each could be resentful of the franchise’s direction.

“All of us in this room, we plan to win games and we plan to keep on trying to win basketball games,” Young said. “I’m here, I’m ready to work, so are the rest of the guys. That’s the main focus. We’re just thinking about winning basketball games.”

The day after the Sixers’ worst loss of the season, a 37-point whipping Saturday at New Orleans, Brown, as is his custom, led a brutally candid film session, then transferred the discussion from the screen to the practice floor.

“I feel that by keeping it candid and by putting it all in perspective that we can inch along and continue to improve as a team, and keep our guys improving, either as a group or individually,” Brown said. “I hope that that’s the formula to keep all of us together over a long year [that] at times is going to be one where we experience some losses. We just have to go head-down and stay focused on continuing to try to get better.”

After returning to the hotel a worn-out unit, Brown called a team dinner.

“I like seeing our guys interact together, and the group is good. The group stays together,” Brown said. “The veterans have been doing what veterans should do in relation to keeping the young guys on track; the young guys are pliable, they listen, they want to get better. I’m proud of the camaraderie and the chemistry we’ve shown to date, albeit an early period of time, even when we’ve taken hits.”

The next night against Dallas, unbeaten at home, the Sixers jumped out to an 8-0 lead, played tough defense, but couldn’t contain Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and Shawn Marion long enough to get to the finish line. Still, in a season where wins won’t always go in the win column, and hard truths will be gashed wide open, Brown could honestly say he got the positive response he hoped for in the aftermath of the New Orleans blowout.

“The truth — in relation to ‘this is your rotation’ or ‘this is a problem that we have as a team’ — has to be our compass,” Brown said. “Anything short of that, I’m doing them a disservice. This group wants to be coached, it has to be coached. When it starts getting to the stage where people feel uncomfortable accepting that type of educating process — it’s not a personal thing — then we may have some problems or maybe this isn’t the program for them.

“And that’s the mission we’re all on, to keep this thing real, to keep it tight, to keep it candid, to be positive, to be down when people need to be told the truth, and life moves on.

“And that’s the only way I know how to do it, and I hope it’s the right way.”

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 14


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Nov. 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Brown: Sixers rebuilding Noel’s jumper | Nets enter ‘desperation’ time | Rivers a fan of flopping rule | Lakers’ sellout streak ends

No. 1: Sixers coach says Noel a ‘total rebuild’ – Before the season even began, Sixers coach Brett Brown was cautioning Philly fans that they may not see prized rookie Nerlens Noel any time this season. While that may still be the case in Philadelphia, Brown and the Sixers’ coaching staff are working with the big man — who is recovering from an ACL injury he suffered while at the University of Kentucky — to hone his game. Brown spoke with Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today and talked about how fixing Noel’s offensive game might be categorized as a ‘total rebuild’ of the player’s game, shooting stroke and more:

That getting-hurt part — he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee against Florida in February — has kept Noel on the sideline since he was acquired by the Philadelphia 76ers in a draft night trade with New Orleans, who selected Noel sixth overall.

But as he rehabs, the Sixers are rebuilding Noel’s jump shot from scratch.

“It’s really hard, but if we can, we have the perfect environment to do it — a full year,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said.

Noel came to the Sixers with gifted natural abilities. He can run and jump. At Kentucky, Noel kept it simple. The Wildcats wanted him to get down the the floor, dunk, score easy baskets, defend, rebound and block shots.

Noel did not take one shot beyond 17 feet at Kentucky, according to Synergy Sports, which tracks every play in college basketball and the NBA. The three shots Synergy categorized as jump shots were baby hooks in the middle of the lane and not traditional face-up jumpers with a guide hand on the ball.

“Everybody’s tweakable,” Brown said. “You bucket them into, ‘Is it a total rebuild?’ I think Nerlens is a total rebuild.”

The Sixers want him to develop a shot and expand his game, and at 6-11 and thin, Noel needs more to his offensive repertoire. Philadelphia is returning to basics in the reconstruction of Noel’s shot, starting with one-handed shots and the elbow under the basket — the way shooting is taught at a young age.

“What happens is when he does the offhand comes and elbows start going out,” Brown said. “When he just goes one-handed, he gets his elbow under it. It’s a good-looking shot.”

The 76ers are rebuilding and Brown, the team’s first-year coach, loaded his staff with strong player development coaches, including former NBA big man Greg Foster. After a recent Sixers practice, Noel spent extra time with Foster, and Brown stopped to watch Noel shoot free throws. Brown thinks that if Noel can improve his shot at the foul line, he will be effective with the shot at other spots.

“You start with the free throws, but that carries over to now he’s going to turn and face (the basket),” Brown said. “He really likes Kevin Garnett and those jump-shooting bigs. At some point, he aspires to be one of them even though he’s a post player initially. The free throw is the thing that carries over to other parts of his game. Hopefully, we get that right.”

Brown has a willing participant. He said Noel wants to improve his shot and is open to advice.

“He’s great. It’s his future,” Brown said. “I really mean that. He’s wide-eyed and open. He’s a willing learner because he knows. He’s looking for advice. He’s looking for somebody to help him. That’s my job. I’ll be really disappointed if in April we don’t look back and say we made good ground and we helped his shot.”

***

No. 2: Nets enter ‘desperation’ time — When a team plays the Sacramento Kings and manages to see star big man DeMarcus Cousins foul out of the game after just 22 minutes, it has to be feeling good about its chances to win. But the complete opposite is what happened to the swooning Brooklyn Nets last night in California. The Kings simply out-efforted the Nets en route to a 107-86 loss that marks the early low point for the struggling New York team, writes our own Scott Howard-Cooper:

“This is a new group, Jason Kidd, one of that group, said on a couple occasions late Wednesday night. He’s got seven games on the bench, from future Hall-of-Fame point guard to coach. He’s got Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry, who have barely disrobed from Celtics green. He’s got 32-year-old Andrei Kirilenko, who arrived as the youth movement, along with rookie Mason Plumlee, in the rotation.

So it’s settled. The Nets need time together.

“We’re going to use that excuse for now,” said Terry, clearly choosing not to.

The Nets can’t even get together on an alibi. The championship hopefuls are 2-5 after getting blasted Wednesday night at Sleep Train Arena by a Kings team that hasn’t been able to play hard for 48 minutes. They are questioning their heart, not to mention the explanations by their coach, and worse of all, there is no such thing as a wake-up call.

“We win the next one, you’ve still got a long way to go,” Terry said. “It’s a long season. You’d like to say, ‘Stay even-keeled.’ But for us right now, this is desperation. Everyone that steps on the floor on Friday should feel desperation and come out and play with a sense of urgency. If you don’t you’ll be looking at another loss. It’s what it is. These teams that we’re playing are desperate, they’re playing with a much more sense like this is their championship. We’re not meeting that intensity level.

“Talking’s over with. There’s too much talking. We’ve done enough talking and now it’s time for some action.”

And:

“… If we were playing five-on-five pickup at the park, you’ve been getting your a– whooped three or four runs now, OK? When are you going to pick it up and get a game, get a win, stay on the court? That type of mentality.”

This is immediate scrutiny for all the Nets, but Kidd most of all. All the talk about Coach On The Floor during his playing career, all the assurances that he would be able to transition from teammate/respected opponent/friend to a boss who would make the tough calls, and the honeymoon could be tracked with a stopwatch. He needs to come up with something and fast. Or at least something other than a way to slow down the calendar to get the new roster more time to come together.

“It’s not a good feeling in here,” Garnett said in the visitor’s locker room. “But nobody said this process was going to be easy. No one [else] is giving a [expletive] or caring if we’re getting beat or not. Just us. I think the mentality here now is just it’s all of us in here. We’ve created this hole and it’s up to us to get ourselves out of it.”

***

No. 3: Rivers supports anti-flopping rules – Before the start of last season, the NBA released its terms to curtail flopping in the league, which can be found here. Many flopping warnings and $5,000 fines have been doled out since then (quick trivia: Reggie Evans was the first player fined for a flopping violation) and the reaction to the rule among players and coaches has been mixed at times. Clippers coach Doc Rivers, though, is in support of the rule and spoke about that point before last night’s Thunder-Clippers game, writes Brett Pollakoff of ProBasketballTalk.com:

“I was the best flopper in the world, so it’s hard for me to ever talk about flopping,” Rivers said. “I just think it’s always going to be a certain part of it. It’s almost natural; when you get hit, you want to sell it.

“I think the NBA is doing it the right way, honestly,” he continued. “It’s not like they’re sending letters every day. If it’s something egregious, they’ll do it. But I think it’s much to do about nothing in the long run, because I don’t think we’ve over-done it. I was worried about that when we first put it in, but I think the NBA’s done a really good job with it.”

***

No. 4: Lakers’ home sellout streak comes to end — Since Dec. 6, 2006, the Los Angeles Lakers have sold out every game during that span, a streak that runs to 270 regular-season games and 320 total if you include playoff games. That run came to an end on Tuesday night against the New Orleans Pelicans and now the Lakers find themselves trailing the Clippers for the longest home sellout streak in town, writes Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times:

The Lakers suddenly have some catching up to do with the Clippers, and not just in the Pacific Division standings.

The Lakers’ home sellout streak ended at 270 games Tuesday night when the team drew 18,426, just short of the capacity of 18,997, during a 116-95 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans at Staples Center. The Lakers had sold out 320 straight games including the playoffs.

The last non-sellout for the Lakers at Staples Center came Dec. 6, 2006, against New Orleans/Oklahoma City, when they drew 18,535.

Meanwhile, the Clippers have sold out 97 consecutive home games dating to Feb. 2, 2011, and remain on track to reach 100 games Monday against the Memphis Grizzlies, according to a team spokesman.

The Clippers are also making gains on their hallway rival in the secondary ticket market. According to a Forbes.com report, the average price for the Clippers’ two home games against the Lakers this season is $40 more than the price when the Lakers play host to the Clippers.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Golden State’s plans for a new arena overlooking the San Francisco bay may not be as sure of a thing … After being ejected in last night’s game against OKC, Clippers forward Matt Barnes took to Twitter to vent a little Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried is trying to tune out all the trade rumor talk

ICYMI Of The Night: You’re not a hip point guard in the NBA, apparently, if you’re not nutmegging the opposition to get the ball to your star. Mario Chalmers did it Tuesday night for LeBron James and Ricky Rubio did it last night for Kevin Love


VIDEO: Ricky Rubio nutmegs the Cavs’ defense to find Kevin Love

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Faried on trading block | D-Will participates in some drills | Brown clarifies thoughts on Noel | Redick returns to practice | Heat enjoy buzz-free preseason

No. 1: Report: Nuggets interested in dealing ‘Manimal’If you’ve been around the Shootaround since last season, you know how big of a fan we are of Denver’s energetic, dunking-machine-of-a-power forward Kenneth Faried. While there’s nothing concrete, and the Denver-area newspapers have nothing to say on it, Grantland’s Zach Lowe has an item in his NBA preview that says he expects Faried’s name to be shopped about this season:

Call this a semi-educated guess. Multiple sources around the league have reported in the last month that Denver has put out targeted feelers on Faried, gauging his value and demanding very good return. The Nuggets, for their part, deny they’ve put Faried’s name out there at all. Faried is entering the third season of his four-year rookie deal, and given his per-game numbers, he figures to get paid on his next contract. If the Nuggets believe Faried has hit his ceiling, and that his game lacks the all-around polish Brian Shaw has said he wants from his big men, it would make sense for Denver to see what it can get. Let’s be clear: Faried has a lot of value, and no trade is ever “likely”; there are just too many roadblocks to go that far.

***

No. 2: D-Will participates in some practice drills — The Nets got a bit of good news on Tuesday as All-Star point guard Deron Williams took part in some 5-on-5 drills for the first time since training camp began. He’s not expected to play in tonight’s game against the Celtics in Boston (7 ET, ESPN) or in the Nets’ preseason finale on Friday against the Heat (7:30 ET, NBA TV), writes Mike Mazzeo of ESPNNewYork.com:

“It was good to get back out there,” said Williams, who is still recovering from a sprained right ankle injury he suffered during an offseason workout in Utah. “It was only for like 15-20 minutes, but to do contact, 5-on-5 half-court, you’re not part of the cheerleading squad. So it was definitely good to be out there.”

“I don’t see it (playing Friday) because of how slowly (trainer) Timmy (Walsh) is progressing me,” Williams said. “How do you go from playing 15-20 minutes of practice to going up and down (in a game)?”

Williams plans on participating in Wednesday’s morning shootaround. He thinks it will be a big test for his ankle to see how it responds after doing so much Tuesday.

“I’m just gonna ice (and do) everything I’ve been doing,” he said. “When I leave here it’s usually fine. It was sore the last couple days. I took yesterday off and today it felt better. Like I said, tomorrow’s going to be telling, because this is the most I’ve done. So if it feels great tomorrow, just keep progressing.”

Williams is just starting to get acclimated to playing with new starters Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

“I didn’t feel in sync at all because I haven’t played basketball (full-go),” Williams said. “But it felt good to get out there.”

Williams says it’s a bit troubling that his first game could be the regular-season opener Oct. 30 in Cleveland, but “it’s how it is.”

Nets coach Jason Kidd said Williams looked “rusty,” but Kidd was also encouraged at the same time.

“I think it’s great. I think we put a plan in place and he’s following it,” Kidd said. “But the biggest thing is his body is responding. So for him to be able to do 5-on-5 with the first group is always promising. We’ve been waiting, but we have to be patient.”

***

No. 3: Brown clarifies statement on rookie Noel — Yesterday, we told you in this space that Sixers coach Brett Brown told reporters he didn’t expect top pick Nerlens Noel to play at all in 2013-14. At practice on Tuesday, Brown attempted to clear up what he meant by his statement, writes Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer:

At Tuesday’s practice, Brown said the decision whether the rookie will play “is going to made by a variety of a lot smarter people that me. Who knows what’s going to happen with Nerlens? We hope he can come back.”

The 6-foot-11 center is still recovering from a torn anterior ligament in his left knee.  He was expected to be sidelined until December while he recovered from the injury, suffered in February during his lone season at Kentucky.

The Sixers acquired the sixth overall pick from New Orleans in a draft-day trade for all-star point guard Jrue Holiday.

***

No. 4: Redick hopes to play Friday vs. Kings — The Clippers haven’t gotten much time to see how J.J. Redick will play alongside Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the rest of L.A.’s crew because he’s been out of the lineup. Redick suffered a thigh bruise during the first day of practice and has been slowly working his way back. He told ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Arash Markazi that he’s hoping to get in some game action on Friday against Sacramento:

After being sidelined with a left quad contusion for two weeks, Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Redick has returned to practice and is expected to play in the preseason game against the Sacramento Kings on Friday.

“My assumption is Friday would be a go,” Redick said Tuesday. “There might be some minutes restrictions but there was no residual soreness from yesterday so I should be a go.”

Clippers coach Doc Rivers said there’s a chance Redick could play in Wednesday’s preseason game against the Utah Jazz if he feels he can but Friday is more likely.

“It depends on how his body reacts,” Rivers said. “We’ll see.”

“It wasn’t serious but significant enough where two weeks of rest was the required time off,” Redick said. “It wasn’t just a thigh bruise. I probably would have been able to play through that.”

He was signed and traded to the Clippers in July in a three-team deal and is projected to start in the backcourt alongside Chris Paul.

Redick’s biggest issue with being sidelined is missing time to get comfortable with his new teammates and players.

“I think the frustrating part is not being part of the process and not getting to take every step with your teammates,” Redick said. “It’s one thing to sit out a couple games during the season, here and there, 30-40 games in. But training camp and the first two months of the season is when you get accustomed to a new situation, but there’s nothing you can do about it. Injuries are a part of it.”

***

No. 5: Heat enjoy a rare quiet preseason – Since joining forces three seasons ago, Miami’s LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have grown used to being the No. 1 story from the preseason to the postseason. However, things have been different for the Heat this preseason as other squads — such as the Knicks, Bulls and Pacers — have garnered more attention. That’s just fine with the Heat’s stars, writes Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

For now, the Miami Heat are enjoying the silence.

Even though it’s just preseason, the Heat are having one of the most distraction-free training camps of the Big Three Era. The outside “noise” coach Erik Spoelstra often talks about is non-existent.

At least for now.

“Most of the things you hear outside are probably anything that LeBron (James) does when it comes to ESPN and what’s coming up next,” guard Dwyane Wade said. “It has been quiet from that sense. There’s other story lines right now but the season is just starting so there’s still a lot of time.”

“Everybody is pumping up all the other teams,” center Chris Bosh said. “I was actually thinking about that this morning, just on the journey that we’ve been on. When you’re trying to defend your title, everybody tells you why you can’t do it and why every body else can. It’s just something else that you fight through.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Good look at what might be facing OKC shooting guard Jeremy Lamb this season … Yao Ming‘s long-ago efforts to help end Chinese citizens’ consumption of shark fin soup is paying off … The Bucks are still trying to figure out what Giannis “The Alphabet” Antetokounmpo’s role is

ICYMI Of The Night: Jazz rookie Justin Holiday gets his welcome to the NBA moment in the preseason, courtesy of the Lakers’ Xavier Henry