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Morning shootaround — March 26


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Dallas capable of 2007 payback? | Rest takes priority for Spurs | Pistons getting cozy at home | Gentry gets ‘confidence’ vote

No. 1: Dallas capable of 2007 payback? — It’s not the ideal way to go about knocking off one of your conference’s elite teams. But if the Dallas Mavericks have to go the underdog route and angle for a first-round upset of the NBA defending champion Golden State Warriors, well, they know such a crazy thing can happen. Back in 2007, it was Golden State in eighth place in the West, ousting a Mavericks team that won 67 games and was hoping for a return trip to the Finals that spring. Dallas played well enough in its loss to the Warriors in Oakland Friday – with star Dirk Nowitzki sitting for rest – to entertain such thoughts, wrote Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com:

“They did it to us, so hey, you never know,” said Mavs guard J.J. Barea, a rookie towel-waver on that 2006-07 Dallas team who scored 21 points as a fill-in starter in Friday’s 128-120 loss to the Warriors. “We could do it to them.”

If the playoffs started now, the Mavs would have the opportunity to trump the “We Believe” bunch for the biggest postseason upset in NBA history.

Those Warriors in ’07 had good reason to believe they could beat the Mavs. Golden State swept the season series, including a blowout in the final week when coach Avery Johnson foolishly rested his stars instead of attempting to prevent the Warriors from making the playoffs. It also helped that Golden State had Don Nelson, who knew all the deep secrets about Dirk’s game, scheming to stop his former prodigy.

These Mavs, who have a coach in Rick Carlisle whose schematic sorcery pushed the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the first round a couple of seasons ago, can convince themselves that they can compete with the best team in basketball.

Dallas players point to their Dec. 30 rout of the Warriors without focusing too much on the minor detail that reigning MVP Stephen Curry sat out that game. And the Mavs’ two meetings with the Warriors this month were close well into the fourth quarter.

“We’ve definitely proven we can play with them,” guard Raymond Felton said after scoring 17 points. “We’ve proven we can beat them. … If that happens that we play them in the first round, it’s going to be a battle, that’s for sure.”

There’s no such thing as a moral victory for a team that’s fighting for its playoff life. However, the Mavs hopped on their bus for the drive to Sacramento with their heads held high after somehow making it a one-possession game with a few minutes remaining despite Nowitzki and Deron Williams wearing warmups and watching from the bench, and Chandler Parsons viewing from home hours after undergoing season-ending knee surgery.

“If we’re at full strength, I think we have the firepower to put up a fight,” said center/forward David Lee, sporting the championship ring he received in a pregame ceremony before putting up 12 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists in his Bay Area return.

“They would obviously be the heavy favorites, and they’ll be the heavy favorites against anybody they play not named the San Antonio Spurs.”

One minor problem for the Mavs: They’d have to figure out a way to stop the Splash Brothers, who have combined to average 71.5 points in the Warriors’ two wins over Dallas in the last week.

It’s unclear how much help Dallas owner Mark Cuban might be if the teams clash in the postseason. Cuban, who did not travel to Oakland for Friday’s game, got busy from afar with criticizing the game’s officiating. He put out some strong stuff for the 4.9 million followers of Twitter feed about which he might just hear from league HQ:

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 No. 2: Rest takes priority for Spurs — For many NBA fans, this is Easter Weekend and will be celebrated as such right through Sunday. For the San Antonio Spurs, it’s more like Festivus – as in, “the rest of us.” Rest annually is a priority for the Spurs at this time of the season and rest is what several of the Western Conference powerhouse’s key players were scheduled from what otherwise would have seemed a crucial clash with the Oklahoma City Thunder Saturday:

Granted, in the case of forward Kawhi Leonard, injury is the concern rather than fatigue. Leonard still is nursing a bruised right quadriceps suffered against Miami Wednesday. It kept him out of the Spurs’ game against Memphis Friday, a game from which coach Gregg Popovich withheld Danny Green, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills. Leonard’s sore thigh muscle remains too “tight” to play, but the plan to sit out Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker from Saturday’s ABC prime-time game at OKC and a Grizzlies rematch Monday in Memphis is entirely discretionary. We’ve all been down this road before with the Spurs, per ESPN.com.

That’s a luxury San Antonio can afford, considering the win Friday night locked up no worse than the No. 2 seed for the Western Conference playoffs with 10 games remaining in the regular season. The Spurs can now rest key veterans as the regular season comes to a close, which in turn increases the minutes for inexperienced role players such as Kyle Anderson and Jonathon Simmons, as well as newcomers Andre Miller and Kevin Martin, who could all be called upon during the postseason.

The victory on Friday was San Antonio’s 37th straight at home, which ties the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls for the longest home winning streak to start a season in NBA history

“You just try to do your best,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “You don’t want to decondition them and you don’t want to lose rhythm. But you want to rest.”

LaMarcus Aldridge made that an easier proposition by knocking down 7 of 8 shots in the first quarter on the way to 17 points, the most he has scored in a single quarter all season. Aldridge poured in a total of 32 points, including 21 in the first half, while

Duncan started off the opening half hitting 4-of-5 for eight points. He also recorded five rebounds and five assists before finishing with 12 points and eight rebounds.

Heading into the game, Miller averaged 8.3 minutes in his previous 10 contests, while Martin averaged 10.4 minutes over the same span. The duo contributed 16 and 34 minutes, respectively, versus Memphis and gained a level of comfort in their new surroundings and new teammates that could pay dividends for San Antonio in the postseason.

Duncan called the situation “a good experience game for a lot of different guys, a good execution game for us. A lot of these guys haven’t been in our offense and executed everything perfectly to this point.”

They didn’t execute perfectly against the Grizzlies, either. But that’s inconsequential as the Spurs accomplished their goal of keeping everyone as healthy as possible heading into the playoffs, while providing needed game experience for their role players.
“It’s obviously good for these other guys to get minutes and play in situations where they get used to the guys,” Popovich said. “Kevin just got here. Kyle has … rarely started. It’s all good experience. It can only be good for them.”

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No. 3:  Pistons getting cozy at home — If a man’s home is his castle, as the old saying goes, the Detroit Pistons’ Palace (of Auburn Hills) has been their refuge and salvation in chasing a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Two-thirds of the way through their franchise-record nine-game homestand, the Pistons are 5-1 and now two games in front of the Chicago Bulls for eighth place in the East standings, thanks to their impressive victory Friday over conference rival Charlotte. Detroit scored 72 points in the first half and survived a considerable late scare from the Hornets. While veteran teams in Chicago and Washington deal with East angst, the young Pistons took another step in their quest to play with the league’s big boys. Here are some details from the Detroit News:

Throughout their up-and-down season, the Pistons have been plagued by stretches of playing to the level of their opponent. In several of their marquee games, the Pistons have come up with an empty effort.

Not this time.

In a critical matchup for their final playoff push, the Pistons played one of their best games of the season, against a team that had dominated them in both meetings this season.

Reggie Jackson said it was as satisfying a win as the Pistons have had this season, especially given the implications.

“Definitely with the way we’ve been punched in the mouth by them twice, especially with the position we’re in, fighting for a playoff spot,” said Jackson, who had 17 points, six rebounds and seven assists. “This is one of the better wins for us, where we felt like we controlled the game. The only thing better would be if we closed out those last few minutes.”

In those last few minutes a 26-point lead with 7:49 remaining shriveled to five with 37.6 seconds left. But the Pistons were able to close it out, with four free throws in the final stretch

That lapse normally might have driven coach Stan Van Gundy berserk, but given the need for wins to solidify a playoff spot, he wasn’t nearly so critical.

“We need to win and move on,” Van Gundy said. “We played 39 great minutes. We really outplayed a very good team for 39 minutes and then their last five guys played really well. Against their best players, we were dominant and it was a great 39 minutes.”

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 21 points and seven rebounds, Marcus Morris 20 points and seven rebounds and Andre Drummond notched his 60th double-double of the season with 18 points and 14 rebounds for the Pistons, who are 5-1 — ensuring a winning record — on their nine-game home stand.

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No. 4: Gentry gets ‘confidence’ vote — When you add up the pieces – 45 defeats against just 26 victories, an emergency room’s worth of injuries and the capriciousness with which NBA head coaches get fired these days – you might reasonably conclude that New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry would be dealing with some job insecurity. But Gentry doesn’t see or feel it, nor should he if we’re to take Pelicans GM Dell Demps at his word. Demps gave Gentry the proverbial vote of confidence Friday for reporters while expressing some for himself, according to ESPN.com:

With Alvin Gentry standing by his side, New Orleans Pelicans general manager Dell Demps dismissed a report indicating friction between the two and emphasized his support for the head coach.

“I just want to say, my confidence in Alvin has not wavered,” Demps said Friday. “The only regret that I have is that our team is not at full strength. And Alvin hasn’t had the opportunity to coach the team at full strength. I think he’s done a fantastic job.”

The Vertical reported earlier Friday in a video on its website that Demps has second-guessed Gentry often this season, including in front of Pelicans players and staff and opposing teams.

But Demps, in his first interview with local media since September, disputed the claim
“I told [Gentry] this last week: I think our guys are playing hard. Last night was a great example of how hard our guys played and competed,” Demps said. “All the credit goes to Alvin and the coaching staff. I think our guys are still getting better, I think guys are showing up and working every day, and they’re buying in.

“I’m thrilled with the system, I’m thrilled with everything that’s happened. And I think it’s irresponsible reporting for someone to come and say something like that. Because it’s totally untrue.”

Coming off a 45-win campaign that saw them earn their first postseason berth since trading Chris Paul, the Pelicans were widely expected to make a leap this season.

But injuries have ravaged the roster. New Orleans, now 12th in the Western Conference with a 26-45 record, has lost 243 games to injury and shut down five players — Anthony Davis (left knee), Tyreke Evans (right knee), Eric Gordon (right finger), Quincy Pondexter (left knee) and Bryce Dejean-Jones (right wrist) — for the rest of the season.

Asked if he has any concerns about his job security as a result of the struggles, Demps said, “I feel great about my job. I come to work every day, and I feel great about it.”

Gentry, in the first year of a four-year contract that he agreed to amid last season’s NBA championship run with the Golden State Warriors, said he expects to be back in New Orleans next season.

“Yeah, I do. I do,” Gentry said. “I don’t have any doubt about that. I’ll be back, and we’ll be much better because we’ll be much healthier.”

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Hard to blame a Splash Brother for some sibling overconfidence these days:

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: D’Angelo Russell’s “ankle touched the ground when I rolled it” but the Lakers are hoping the “crazy pain” he felt is nothing serious for the rookie. … The Houston Rockets are getting effort and production from James Harden that, let’s face it, without which they they can’t survive as a playoff aspirant in the West. … Kevin Durant, who won’t have Kawhi Leonard to worry about on the court Saturday night in OKC, stands by his long-ago opinion and still likes Paul George’s game better than Leonard’s. … David Lee had to wait longer than the rest of them, but he got both his 2015 NBA championship ring and some overdue love from the fans in Oakland Friday. … As the days dwindle down to a precious few…

Report: Pelicans’ Davis out 3-to-4 months after surgery


VIDEO: Anthony Davis will miss the next 3-to-4 months recovering from knee surgery

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — New Orleans Pelicans All-Star Anthony Davis will miss the next three to four months of basketball activity after undergoing surgery on his left knee, according to a report from Marc J. Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

Last week the Pelicans shut Davis down for the remainder of this season after it was determined that needed knee and shoulder surgery. After further evaluation, however, it has since been determined that Davis does not need shoulder surgery.

Justin Verrier from ESPN provides some details, courtesy of Dr. Neal ElAttrache:

“[Davis] reports only mild soreness in his shoulder which occurs very infrequently after games,” ElAttrache wrote in a medical report released by the Pelicans. “Anthony has not missed any playing time due to his shoulder. He denies recurrent instability, feels that his shoulder is strong, he has no apprehension and feels that he is able to perform at 100% of his capacity regarding his shoulder.

“We would recommend surgery for recurrent instability or pain that limits training, performance or playing time. Currently, Anthony is doing a good job of maintaining his shoulder without surgery and it is safe to play in his current condition. We would recommend a conservative approach for players like this. If he develops problems which affect his performance, we would repair his labrum at that point.”

Based on this timetable Davis would not be available for this summer’s Olympic competition in Rio Di Janeiro. He won gold in London Olympics in 2012 and in the 2014 Fiba World Cup in Spain.

Davis, 23, played in just 61 games this season, a career-low, averaging 24.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks.

Morning shootaround — March 22


VIDEO: Highlights from Monday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


VIDEO: OKC gears up for its showdown with Houston tonight

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(more…)

Pelicans may shut down Davis

Anthony Davis, the New Orleans big man whose inability to play a full NBA schedule has troubled the Pelicans and their fans since his arrival, will play his fewest games yet this season.

Coach Alvin Gentry acknowledged to reporters after the team’s practice Saturday that Davis might be shut down due to injuries and miss the Pelicans’ final 14 games. As reported by John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

… Gentry revealed for the first time on Saturday that Davis has been playing with a shoulder injury, too.

”Obviously he has an injury on his knee and something with his shoulder,” Gentry said. ”I think they are going to talk to doctors this afternoon and we’ll know a lot more then.”

With 14 games remaining and the playoffs virtually out of reach, Gentry was asked if the franchise would be more inclined to consider shutting down Davis.

”I wouldn’t say no to that,” Gentry said. ”I think we got to be smart collectively, along with him. Like I said, I think we’ll know a lot more after they talk to doctors today.”

Davis was seen after Saturday’s practice, but Gentry said he did not participate.

After Gentry spoke with the media, the team issued its injury update via Twitter:

Participating in 61 of New Orleans’ first 68 games, Davis, 23, has averaged 24.3 points, a career-best 10.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in 35.5 minutes. In his three previous NBA seasons, the 6-foot-10 forward/center has been limited to 64, 67 and 68 games by various injuries. Just this season, Davis has lost time to a right hip contusion, a sore right foot, lower pack pain, a sore left shoulder and a concussion.

He hurt his left knee Friday and was done before halftime against Portland after teammate Jrue Holiday ran into him as Davis set a screen, the collision caused when Blazers guard C.J. McCollom veered between the two Pelicans.

New Orleans has sagged under injuries all season, its players missing a total of 223 games heading into the weekend. The Pelicans, 1-6 in the games Davis has not played this season, began Saturday’s action in 12th place in the Western Conference.

Update: Before Sunday’s game against the Clippers, coach Alvin Gentry confirmed that Anthony Davis will miss the remainder of the 2015-16 regular season.

Morning shootaround – March 12


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Damian Lillard says don’t compare me to StephDavis copes with tough season for New Orleans | Heat still in a holding pattern over Bosh | Raptors have a duo in the front court, too

No. 1: Damian Lillard says don’t compare me to Steph Let’s be fair to Warriors coach Steve Kerr. He said he voted for Damian Lillard to make the All-Star team (Lillard didn’t). But when Kerr said, off-hand, that Lillard reminded him of Steph Curry after Lillard torched the Warriors last month in a Blazers’ win, it didn’t sit well with Lillard. The teams played again Friday night but Lillard had his say prior to the game and spoke with Joe Freeman of the Oregonian:

It was intended to be a compliment.

But it was perceived as a slight.

After Damian Lillard torched the Golden State Warriors for a career-high 51 points and the Trail Blazers beat the unbeatable by 32 points, Steve Kerr was asked about Lillard’s remarkable individual performance.

“He looked like Steph Curry out there,” the Warriors’ coach said, following the Blazers’ 137-105 victory in the first game after the All-Star break.

Nine days later, after Lillard scored 33 points in a 111-102 victory over the Indiana Pacers, an Indiana-area reporter asked the Blazers’ All-Star point guard if he was trying to impersonate Curry when he punished the Pacers for 20 first-quarter points.

“I don’t impersonate anybody, man,” Lillard replied to the question, clearly annoyed. “I was being Damian Lillard.”

Lillard has been one of the NBA’s best players since the All-Star break, averaging 33.5 points, 5.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds over 11 games. He’s scored at least 50 points twice, at least 40 points three times and at least 30 points eight times. He’s shooting 48 percent from the field, including 42 percent from three-point range, and the Blazers (34-31) have amassed a 7-4 record, surprisingly remaining in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.

But along the way, instead of celebrating the individuality of Lillard, some have branded him Curry Light. They see an athletic point guard with a propensity for hitting deep three-pointers, making clutch fourth quarter shots and showcasing slick handles. They see a player with a small-school background and ties to Oakland. And they can’t help but see the reigning MVP.

Well, that can’t help but make Lillard feel disrespected.

“I respect Steph Curry,” Lillard said Thursday. “Because what he’s doing is amazing. But I’m my own man. So don’t come to me and say I’m impersonating him. You telling me I’m impersonating somebody by doing well at my job is disrespectful.”

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No. 2: Davis copes with tough season in New Orleans Raise your hand if you thought Anthony Davis would have this kind of season in New Orleans. He started slowly and didn’t get the fan vote to start the All-Star Game. Also, the Pelicans struggled despite being healthier than in the past. Finally, it doesn’t appear they’re headed to the playoffs. Davis is wrapping up a decent season personally, and recently had a sit-down with Justin Verrier of ESPN:

That’s the scary part: When you have the 11th-best season ever, how far does up go? The Pelicans clocked in at third in Zach Lowe’s preseason League Pass rankings with a simple explanation: “Anthony Davis is limitless.”

It hasn’t exactly been a ski lift to his summit since, with the Pelicans’ injury woes and adaptation to just his second NBA head coach pushing Davis one step back before any leap toward the league’s top pound-for-pound player. But with nights like Wednesday, or the 59 points and 20 rebounds he piled on the Pistons two weeks ago, that ascension doesn’t feel so far away anymore.

In the meantime, Davis has welcomed some of the spoils of his newfound stardom. He’s fast becoming the guy you’ll see over and over again during commercial breaks of national NBA games. He’s diving headfirst into first-person media. He will also make a guest spot in the latest “Barbershop” movie, set in his hometown of Chicago, poking fun at the eyebrow that seems to be his meal ticket in that realm.

“Yeah, just embracing it,” he said. “The opportunity doesn’t come around a lot for guys. When I get the opportunities I try to embrace them and have fun with it. It’s all gonna go by so fast. Everybody tells me, ‘Your career goes by fast. Just like that — snap of a finger.’ So any time I get a chance to do anything, whether it’s a movie, commercial, appearance, whatever, I try to have fun and enjoy as much as possible.”

Unlike his lofty basketball pursuits, about which he has rarely if ever demurred, Davis is a bit more conservative when it comes to these sorts of roles.

“Nah. I mean … of course, people know who I am. But I don’t feel like I’m a celebrity,” he said. “I don’t look at myself like that. Of course when you go out and people ask you for your autographs or pictures, it kind of puts in perspective how, I’ll say how big of a name you are. But I don’t go anywhere like, ‘I want front-row seats.’ That’s not me. … I don’t really look at myself like that.

“[The movie] came to me. Or, my agency. But that’s because it was in Chicago, it has ties with Chicago and all that, so I think that was a big factor. But, even still. Being in a movie is pretty fun. I guess I don’t really see myself in that light. I guess because I’m so laid back and chill. If I was more outgoing or … Hollywood, I guess. I don’t know. [Laughs.] That’s not me. I’m just real chill.”

After all, he is 23.

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No. 3: Heat still in a holding pattern over Bosh There’s no need to rush anything, given the circumstances and history. So nobody’s putting any sort of urgency in Miami as it pertains to Chris Bosh. His health is still a concern and a mystery to those outside of the organization as he continues to weigh whether to return this season, and if so, when. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, other than saying Bosh is in the team’s thoughts, remains relatively mum. Here’s Michael Wallace of ESPN.com:

In his most extensive comments on Bosh since the Heat’s leading scorer has been out, Spoelstra said that the 13-year veteran will work out with the team when it returns from its current three-game road trip.

“We love Chris, and he’s in a great place right now,” Spoelstra said after the Heat’s morning workout at the United Center in Chicago before Friday’s game against the Bulls. “He’s working out right now in Miami. When we get back, we’ll be able to do some workouts with him. But more than anything else, he’s in a good place mentally. We don’t have a timetable or anything like that. We’re just happy he’s healthy.”

Spoelstra’s comments came a day after Bosh released a statement through his public relations firm that said he does not have deep vein thrombosis — or blood clots in his leg. In the statement, Bosh also said he is working with the Heat to explore precautionary treatment options and “taking every necessary step” to make sure he remains free of the condition moving forward. Bosh’s statement did not disclose his specific condition.

“I have been working out, training with the team, watching film of the games, walking through plays and have attended home games despite not being visible to the public,” Bosh said in the statement released Thursday. “I remain positive that I will be able to return this season.” Bosh, 31, was in the midst of his best season in six years with the Heat when he was held out of the All-Star Game last month for what the team initially indicated was a calf strain. Multiple league sources confirmed Bosh’s condition was more serious than the strain, but team officials have declined to provide specific details.

This is the second time in as many years that Bosh’s season has been interrupted by a health scare. Last season, Bosh missed Miami’s final 30 games to treat a blood clot that had traveled from his calf to his lung and led to his dealing with severe pain and being hospitalized for several days.

Heat forward Luol Deng said he’s hopeful Bosh will be able to rejoin the team on the court this season. Bosh leads the team with an average of 19.1 points a game, and his 81 made 3-pointers this season are already the most he’s had in any season of his career.

“Chris has been working out; he’s been following guys and talking about what we can do better as a team,” Deng said Friday. “He’s all-in even though he’s not playing right now and not traveling with the team. For us, it just shows us who he is. Even though he would love to be playing and be part of what’s going on right now, he’s doing all he can to let us know he’s still invested.”

According to league sources, Bosh still has medical hurdles to clear before he’s allowed rejoin teammates on the court for any extensive basketball work. Team executives also declined comment Friday when asked about Bosh’s treatment status.

It also remains unclear whether Bosh’s personal medical advisers are in total agreement with the Heat’s and NBA’s medical team regarding all aspects of his health status and clearance required to play. For now, Spoelstra said both Bosh and his teammates are encouraged by his progress in recent weeks. The Heat (37-27) are fourth in the Eastern Conference standings with 18 regular-season games left and have won eight of 11 games since losing Bosh at the All-Star break.

“He’s been able to do individual workouts with the coaching staff, but it’s not about that or a timetable right now,” Spoelstra reiterated. “We’re just happy he’s around and he’s healthy. His spirits are good. We love him, and I love his spirit in being around the team.”

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No. 4: Raptors have a front court duo, too The success of the Raptors is dictated mainly by a pair of backcourt guards who made the All-Star team and cause hell for the other team. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are having solid seasons, but the difference in the Raptors, and maybe the factor that could carry them over the top, is Bismack Biyombo and Jonas Valanciunas and how well the big men are working together and complementing each other. Here’s Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun:

Head coach Dwane Casey would also tell you that his team would not be in this position without the top centre combination in Raptors history, starter Jonas Valanciunas and defensive stopper Bismack Biyombo.

Valanciunas, the fifth pick of the 2011 draft, is playing the best basketball of his career. His scoring and efficiency are up and so is his rebounding and all-around defence. He has scored at least 10 points in a personal-best 16 consecutive contests.

Biyombo has been the ying to the Lithuanian’s yang, emerging as one of the best defensive players in the league after signing a bargain-basement deal with the Raptors last summer.

Biyombo was selected only two picks after Valanciunas in 2011, but strangely, the Charlotte Hornets elected to part ways with the 23-year-old, thinking his progress had plateaued.

To Toronto’s pleasant surprise, that line of thinking was way off. While Biyombo has gotten better offensively, most notably, in his ability to catch the ball, shoot free throws and go up faster, he has made the most strides at the other end.

“He’s much more than I expected,” Casey admitted after a Raptors practice on Friday.

“I didn’t know that he would have that much impact on our defence. He’s a huge addition for our team, gives us an air of toughness, physicality … I can’t think of how many games he’s won for us with his defence. His energy, his spirit,” Casey said.

By all accounts, the scrimmages between the team’s top two pivots have been great theatre and both believe they are benefiting from competing against each other in practice and by watching each other play during games.

“Yeah, you see someone doing something good, you want to learn and be better,” Valanciunas said. “He’s motivating me every day to work hard and go in the right direction.”

That goes both ways.

“It has been great because we’ve got to push each other,” Biyombo told the Toronto Sun.

“At the end of the day, JV and I both knows that if us as bigs, we can play different, at a high level, the team is going to be special and it’s going to be a team that challenges a lot of people.

“It’s an excitement, a challenge, but at the same time, it’s a learning process for both of us.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: A tough season for Philly’s Jahlil Okafor is officially over after the first-round pick was shut down to rapid a torn meniscus. Okafor’s surgery was deemed “minor” by the Sixers … Marc Gasol might be recovered enough to play for Spain in the Rio Games, or maybe not. It’s still iffy … Would the NBA dare even think about expansion? NBA commissioner Adam Silver gave his thoughts … Former Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen is OK with those Kawhi Leonard comparisons … Phil Jackson is still big on Carmelo Anthony and so can folks please stop with those trade rumors? … Remember when the injury-plagued Grizzlies were forced to play a journeyman guard named Eddie Gill for 48 minutes? Didn’t think so.

Morning Shootaround — March 6


VIDEO: Recap Saturday night’s eight-game slate

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jimmy Butler returns | Beal injured | Mohammed: “I’m back” | Krause retires

No. 1: Jimmy Butler returns After missing ten games with a knee injury — during which his Chicago Bulls posted a 3-7 record — Jimmy Butler returned to action last night against the Houston Rockets. Butler picked up where he left off, as the Bulls got a much-needed win. As ESPN’s Nick Friedell writes, for a Bulls team clinging to postseason hopes, Butler’s return should be crucial…

Jimmy Butler didn’t miss a beat in the box score during Saturday’s much-needed 108-100 win over the Houston Rockets. After missing a month because of a left knee strain, the All-Star swingman racked up 24 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists to help the Chicago Bulls snap a four-game losing streak. Butler did everything the Bulls needed him to do. He was solid defensively while guarding James Harden, and he gave the Bulls the scoring punch they’ve been lacking without him. But after the game ended, the proud 26-year-old knew there was something missing from his game that wouldn’t appear within the gaudy numbers.

“I need to get in there and run some laps,” Butler said. “I’m out of shape.”

It didn’t matter that Butler was winded. He gave the Bulls what he had when they needed a win to right their dwindling season. With Butler back and Nikola Mirotic reappearing after missing over a month because of complications related to an appendectomy, the Bulls finally appeared almost whole in a season in which their starting five of Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol and Butler had yet to play a game together all season. It’s no wonder why Gasol called Butler’s and Mirotic’s presence the lineup “critical.” Butler set an example early that the rest of his teammates followed.

“Jimmy makes a huge impact on both ends of the floor,” Gasol said. “Especially on the defensive end. His physicality and his activity and energy make a big difference because it kind of picks everybody up as well and sets a tone for the rest of the guys.”

Aside from Butler’s return, the key for the Bulls is that they found a team in the Rockets that’s even more dysfunctional than they are. Watching the Rockets make mistake after mistake was similar to watching the way the Bulls have played many times during the season. The teams combined for 43 turnovers, 25 of which came from the Bulls.

That’s why any optimism coming from the Bulls’ locker room has to be tempered by the fact that Chicago beat a team even more underwhelming than itself. The good news for Fred Hoiberg‘s beleaguered group: With 21 games left, Butler has the ability to serve as a stabilizer for a team that still talks about making a push into the playoffs. Butler’s return gives the Bulls something they haven’t had much of in weeks — hope.

“It’s huge,” Rose said of Butler’s return. “Whenever he’s got the ball, you got to stick both of us. It’s hard to pay attention to both of us when we’re on the court. And we get to catch the ball with a live dribble so that helps the team out a lot.”

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No. 2: Beal injured — Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal has consistently been counted among the NBA’s most promising young players. For Beal, though, injuries have seemed to consistently hinder him from taking that next step. After breaking his nose in January, Beal had been playing with a protective face mask. But last night, after finally being able to take off the mask, Beal suffered a pelvis injury. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, for a Wizards team fighting for a playoff berth, a healthy Beal is necessary…

He helped the Wizards record 64 first-half points in the crucial matchup between teams vying for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Then the evening went askew.

The fourth-year sharpshooter exited with 6 minutes 17 seconds left in third quarter of the Wizards’ gut-wrenching 100-99 loss, after falling hard on his right hip when he collided with Pacers big man Myles Turner at the basket. Beal remained on the floor in agony for a couple minutes and needed assistance walking off to the locker room.

Beal, 22, was diagnosed with a sprained pelvis and didn’t return. He declined to speak to the media after the game and the team didn’t have an update on his status. Beal has missed 21 games this season because a shoulder injury, a stress reaction in his right fibula and a concussion.

Washington’s second-leading scorer, Beal is expected to travel with the team to Portland Monday for Washington’s three-game road trip, but whether he will play Tuesday against the Trail Blazers is uncertain. Garrett Temple would return to the starting lineup if Beal is ruled out. Temple tallied 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting in 26 minutes Saturday, shooting 24.6 percent from the field and 24.1 percent from three-point range. He has also shot 58.3 percent from the free throw line in his 10 starts since the break.

Gary Neal missed his 12th straight game Saturday with a right leg injury that he described as neurological. But the team, he said, was still unsure exactly what is wrong.

The firepower Washington holds with Beal in the starting lineup was evident Saturday as the Wizards posted 37 points in the first quarter. Beal finished 12 points on 5 of 13 shooting in 24 minutes before departing.

“We had gotten off to such slow starts the last couple games, I think we were down 12 in the first quarter in Minnesota,” Coach Randy Wittman said, referring to the Wizards’ win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday. “Just trying to get a better start and we did.”

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No. 3: Mohammed: “I’m back” — The Oklahoma City Thunder had an open roster spot, and to fill that open slot, they went after NBA veteran Nazr Mohammed, who they had to lure out of what he called “semi-retirement.” In a first-person piece written by Mohammed, he explains why he returned, and what he thinks his role will be with the Thunder…

It’s official. “I’m back.” I’ve always wanted to say that…like I’m MJ or something LOL. I’m officially back in an NBA jersey, and I could not be more excited for this opportunity.

You may not have noticed that I have been in what I call semi-retirement. And by the way, I’ve been calling it semi-retirement for two reasons. The first is that a 37-year-old professional athlete doesn’t really retire; we just transition to our next careers. The second reason being that in pro sports, most of us actually “get retired,” either because the phone is no longer ringing for your services or you’re no longer able to accept playing for just any team. As a young player, your only desire is to be in the NBA. As you get older, your desire is to play for certain organizations with certain circumstances, making it a little tougher to find the right fit. Mine was a combination of all of the above. Most of the teams that I had interest in didn’t need my services, and I didn’t have the desire to go just anywhere. And some teams just didn’t want me.

With all that being said – DRUMROLL PLEASE – I am now a proud member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the very team I competed for a Championship with in 2012. I was days away from turning “semi-retirement” into full retirement when I received word from Sam Presti that they had interest in me returning to OKC as a player. That quickly changed the course of my plans and forced me to do some real soul-searching to see if this was something my family and I wanted.

I believe in staying prepared for the opportunities that I think I want, whether they come to fruition or not. You can do no greater disservice to yourself than to secretly want something, but then be unprepared if the opportunity presents itself. I stayed prepared, but when I didn’t foresee any viable opportunities coming my way during “buyout season,” I contemplated shutting down my court workouts and facing the reality that my life as a basketball player was over. I started seriously considering accepting and starting one of my post-career opportunities. I even agreed with Debbie Spander of Wasserman Media Group to represent me if I chose to pursue broadcasting as my next career. But my agent, Michael Higgins, suggested that I give it a few more days to evaluate the landscape.

Like I said, I had a short list of teams that I would undoubtedly come out of semi-retirement for. Of course OKC was on my short list, which consisted mostly of teams I played for in the past. When I spoke to the Thunder, their first question was, “How does your body feel?” Anybody who follows me on social media knows that I’m probably a little addicted to my workouts. I’ve kept up my same training regimen (court work three to five times a week, conditioning, and lifting weights) with my guys at Accelerate Basketball, so I knew I was prepared physically. They happen to train Steph Curry too, so you know my jumper is wet right now LOL! After being a part of two NBA lockouts, I’m the master of staying prepared even when I don’t know when my season will start LOL. But the first thing I thought about was my family and whether or not they could handle me being away for the next few months when we were just getting acclimated to a new city and our new schedule (which had me as a big part of it for the first time in my kids’ lives). I knew I needed to talk to them before making a final decision. Regardless, I was shocked, flattered and excited for an opportunity to go into a comfortable situation.

I brought the offer to my wife and kids to see how they felt. My oldest son (10) is an OKC fan, so he was excited. And I better add that he’s a Steph Curry and Jimmy Butler fan too (he’d be mad if I didn’t include that!). My oldest daughter (13) was almost giddy with excitement for me. I’m starting to think they don’t love having me around, but I’ll save that for another blog down the road LOL. I also have a younger daughter (6), and she was very happy, although I’m not sure she truly grasps time and how long I will be gone. My wife, who knows how much basketball has meant to me, was very supportive. We’ve experienced mid-year trades and things like this before, so we know how to handle it. The only difference now is that the kids are older, and their schedules are a little more hectic with school, sports, practices, tournaments, etc. Now with me not being able to help out with that, more is on my wife’s plate. But we’ll figure it out. Whenever we get a day off, I’ll probably try to fly home, even if I just get to see the family for a few hours. We’ll do a lot of FaceTiming. When their schedule permits, they’ll be flying to OKC. We’ll make it work.

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No. 4: Krause retires — The Warriors have been trying to put together the greatest regular season in NBA history, topping the 72-10 record of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. That Bulls team was constructed by general manager Jerry Krause, who this week announced he was retiring from scouting at the age of 76. K.C. Johnson from the Chicago Tribune caught up with Krause and heard some great stories, particularly about Michael Jordan and those Bulls…

Nicknamed “The Sleuth,” Krause’s second stint leading the Bulls didn’t start promisingly either despite inheriting Michael Jordan, whom Rod Thorn had drafted.

In Stan Albeck, he whiffed on his first coaching hire. And Jordan broke a bone in his left foot in the third game of the 1985-86 season, leading to the first of many spats between him and Krause when Jordan wanted to play sooner than he was ready. Krause, Jerry Reinsdorf and doctors ordered a more conservative approach.

“Do I regret that I had not a great relationship with him? You know what? We won a lot of (expletive) games,” Krause said. “Right or wrong, when I took that job I thought the worst thing I could do is kiss that guy’s (rear). We’d argue. But I remember about two years after I traded Charles (Oakley) for Bill (Cartwright). He and Charles were as tight as can be. He called over to me at practice and said, ‘That trade you made was a pretty damn good trade.’ I just looked at him and said, ‘Thank you.'”

Krause replaced Albeck with Doug Collins, a surprising hire given Collins had no coaching experience. It worked, and, augmented by the dominant 1987 draft that netted Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, the Bulls kept knocking on the Pistons’ door.

When they lost to Detroit in six games in the 1989 Eastern Conference finals, Krause and Reinsdorf stunningly replaced Collins with Phil Jackson. Krause had hired Jackson as an assistant coach — one of his two Hall of Fame coaching hires along with Tex Winter — out of relative obscurity from the Continental Basketball Association.

“Everyone thought I was nuts,” Krause said. “I had a feeling about Phil. He has an amazing ability to relate to players.”

Jackson’s first season produced more heartbreak, a seven-game loss to the Pistons in the 1990 Eastern finals. Two days later, Krause said he walked into the Berto Center and almost the entire team was there, working with strength and conditioning coach Al Vermeil.

“I knew right then that we weren’t going to lose to the Pistons again,” Krause said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James passed Tim Duncan to move into 14th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list … Eric Gordon broke his right ring finger for the second time since January … Manu Ginobili returned from injury and scored a season-high 22 points, as the Spurs went to 30-0 at home … The Phoenix Suns are reportedly targeting Chase Budinger … While it’s not a full update on his status, Chris Bosh says he’s feeling goodChris Andersen says he’ll always remember his time in Miami … During a concert in Oakland this weekend, Prince gave a shoutout to Steph Curry

Morning shootaround — March 4


VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron dismisses criticism of Miami trip | Warriors tie all-time home win streak | Gentry sorry for rant after loss to Rockets

No. 1: LeBron dismisses criticism of Miami trip — The Cleveland Cavaliers host the Washington Wizards tonight (8 ET, ESPN) in what will be Cleveland’s first game since a Monday victory against the Indiana Pacers. Cavs star LeBron James spent part of the layoff not in Cleveland but in Miami, where he worked out with former Heat teammate Dwyane Wade. James drew criticism for that move but felt no need to explain it in a Thursday interview with reporters. ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin was on hand for LeBron’s interview and has more:

LeBron James was in no mood to justify using consecutive off days for the Cleveland Cavaliers this week to fly to Miami and spend part of that time working out with former Heat teammate Dwyane Wade.

“I don’t care,” James said after Cavs practice Thursday when asked about the perception of him spending time with a potential playoff foe during the season. One of James’ trainers, David Alexander, posted a video of the pair in his Florida gym Wednesday.

The Cavs are currently the No. 1 seed in the East and the Heat are No. 4, meaning the two teams could meet in the conference semifinals should the standings hold and both advance out of the first round.

Much how James was irked by being asked about flying to attend Ohio State’s national championship win over Oregon the night before a Cavs game last season, he had little interest in explaining his two-day trip to Miami.

“What do I go there for? Go there ’cause I want to,” James said. “I would love to go to L.A., but I’ll take 2½ [hour flight] over 4½. I’ve got a house in L.A., but it makes more sense for me to go south than go west. But I go because I want to.”

When James finished his remarks to the media for the day, he made reference to the Miami line of questioning again.

“That’s cool? I’m OK to leave when I want to leave?” James facetiously asked. “Be back at my work on time, two hours before? OK. Last one to leave the gym. OK. Thank you. Love you guys.”


VIDEO: LeBron James talks after Thursday’s practice

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Morning shootaround — March 3


VIDEO: Highlights from Wednesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant: Thunder ‘fooling ourselves’ about status | Bulls’ Butler making progress | Right shoulder bothering Kobe | Gentry: Pelicans’ playoff hopes are over

No. 1: Durant: Thunder ‘fooling ourselves’ about being great team — The Oklahoma City Thunder have the fourth-best winning percentage in the NBA and are steamrolling their way to another Northwest Division title. Yet, something is lacking with this crew — especially when the stakes are raised and they play a top-level opponent. Last night, OKC blew a 17-point lead en route to a 103-98 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers and afterward, Thunder star Kevin Durant did not mince words about what he thinks of his team. Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk.com has more:

There’s an identity crisis in Oklahoma City.

“We want to be a great team, we’re fooling ourselves,” Kevin Durant, arms resting on his thighs and looking at the ground after his team blew a 22-point lead and lost to the Clippers Wednesday. “If we want to be a great team the way we’re playing, we’re fooling ourselves. We want to win a bunch of games in the regular season, that’s cool, but we’re fooling ourselves with the way we’re playing.”

There was a lot of soul searching after the game as the Thunder kept the locker room closed after the game for longer than normal; and then their stars took their time to gather themselves before addressing the media. It’s to be expected in what is the latest in the line of “worst loss of the season” games for the Thunder.

“What kind of team do we want to be?” Thunder coach Billy Donovan asked. “Because to (win) is going to require a level of sacrifice from every player. I think this is something where you see in the first half what a team like this is capable of, and then can you sustain it? Can you keep playing that way? They do it for long stretches, but then we have these lapses.”

The Thunder have lost five-of-seven since the All-Star break, including a couple of heartbreaking come-from-ahead losses. Don’t sell this to Durant as a wake-up call for the team.

“We’ve already lost too many games we’re supposed to win. We can’t just keep talking about wake-up calls,” said Durant, who had 30 points on 27 shots in the game. “We’ve got 20 games left or whatever it is. We can’t have no wake-up calls at the end of the season. We’re supposed to had those. We’ve got to be locked in from the beginning, from shootaround.”

“I’ve said this before, the best thing for this team is adversity,” Donovan said. “We need adversity. It doesn’t need to be easy, in my opinion…. Now here is an adverse situation, what do we do with this in terms of going forward? When we get leads like this, can we sustain playing the right way on offense and defense?”


VIDEO: Clippers storm back to overtake Thunder

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Morning shootaround — Feb. 28


VIDEO: The Fast Break: February 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

And Everest is just a mountain.

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

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

From there?

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

“He’s one bad …

“Shut your mouth.

“We’re talkin’ ’bout Steph!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it never came.

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

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

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

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

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


WATCH: Curry vs. Durant Duel In Oklahoma City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogtable: Would you build around Anthony Davis or Damian Lillard?

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


BLOGTABLE: Build around Lillard or Davis? | More likely to miss playoffs: Rockets or Bulls? | Thoughts on Russell as starter?



VIDEOWhen will Anthony Davis go for 50-plus again?

> If you were building a team in today’s NBA and could choose one of these players as your cornerstone, who would it be: Damian Lillard or Anthony Davis?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Anthony Davis. No disrespect, Dame. But one of y’all is 6-foot-3, and the other is 6-foot0-10. I know today’s NBA game is all about small ball, and that Lillard’s lethality will be more valuable than ever in future seasons. I cannot, though, give up “The Brow” if I have a chance. He can score, as Sunday’s 59-point masterpiece against showed. Maybe Dame is a better game-in, game-out scorer. But Davis can control games with rebounding and defense as well. There’s simply more small guys who can play than big guys, so if you have the game’s best young big on your side, you have someone who cannot be easily replicated, or defended.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comCan we give the “little man” thing a rest, please? From the Golden State-inspired pendulum swing to the 3-ball to the “frontcourt” slur of All-Star balloting, traditional NBA big men are becoming an endangered species. But this one is a no-brainer. Give me a remarkably skilled 6-foot-10 player (Davis) over a remarkably skilled 6-foot-3 guy (Lillard) every day and twice for proverbial Sunday matinees. You’ve got a lot better chance finding a point guard to complement Davis and defensively challenge Lillard than you do the other way around with some replacement big. Besides, Davis is three years younger and if I’m the GM, I want to hang onto my job those extra seasons.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: So here’s one more chip for Damian Lillard to carry around on his shoulder. But the decision here isn’t even close. You’ve got to take the still 22-year-old, 6-foot-10 forward with the skills to do just about anything on the floor offensively and also dominate a game just by playing defense. It’s Anthony Davis all the way and I’d be shocked if even one of the 30 NBA general managers — including his own — would choose different.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Anthony Davis. That’s no slight on Lillard, a star for many years to come and the driving force behind the Portland Trail Blazers emerging as one of the feel-good stories of the season. But Davis can be a bigger star on both sides of the ball. That ability to greatly impact on both sides of the ball gives him an edge. And while I’m not as much of a proponent of the old theory of leaning toward a big over a small, given the changing NBA, it doesn’t hurt when the big can play two positions.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Anthony Davis all day. And that’s no disrespect to Dame, who would’ve — should’ve — been on the West team in the All-Star Game if not for all the Kobe Bryant love. Davis is just 22 and hasn’t touched his prime yet and is big and can impact games on both ends. Come to think of it, is this a trick question?

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Damian Lillard is the closest thing to Stephen Curry. As a primary ball-handler who can pull-up, drive or pass on pick-and-rolls, he forces defenses to change up their coverages. But there’s still a big difference between Curry and Lillard in regard to what percentage of those pull-up shots go in the basket. Anthony Davis still has a step or two to take in his development on both offense and defense, but he has the tools to be the best two-way player in the game. That should be easier to build around, though the Pelicans obviously don’t have the right complementary pieces at this point and Terry Stotts has done a fantastic job in Portland to have the Blazers in playoff position.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: His age, skill-set, ceiling and transcendent talent make Anthony Davis the pick here. But I’ll give credit to Damian Lillard for being a franchise cornerstone you can build a potential playoff team around right now. That’s a role Davis played last year for the Pelicans, securing their trip to the playoffs with yeoman’s work in the regular season finale against the San Antonio Spurs. This is a great question, though, with both of these guys coming off of monster, 50-plus-point outings this past weekend. Lillard is one of nearly a dozen elite point guards in the NBA right now. But Davis is one of barely a handful of players his size or taller capable of playing the role of game changer on a nightly basis. His unique profile is simply too special to overlook in this instance.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: You couldn’t go wrong with either one. As much as Lillard’s maturity and leadership skills are to be respected in addition to his talent, you’d have to choose Davis because his blend of size, skills and perspective is almost impossible to find these days. Based on his age and upside, especially at the defensive end, it’s understandable why Davis is regarded by many GMs as the most valuable talent in the league.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogMy answer may anger Damian Lillard and propel him to yet another level of greatness, but I’d go with Anthony Davis. Not only is Davis three years younger than Lillard, and a better defensive player, but the real reason I’d select AD is that finding a basketball player with AD’s combination of size and speed and skill and strength is almost a once-in-a-lifetime discovery. Not to say that finding another Lillard would be a simple task, but it’s easier to go out and get a competent point guard than it is a big man. Especially one like Davis.


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