Posts Tagged ‘Nikola Vucevic’

Harden, trio of Hawks and first-timer Thompson highlight All-Star reserves


VIDEO: Trio of Hawks headline All-Star reserves for East

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The 2015 All-Star Game will definitely have star power.

Boldfaced names like Chris Bosh, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook headline the list of players selected by coaches to be reserves for the 64th All-Star Game, which will take place Sunday, February 15, and televised exclusively on TNT.

NBA All-Star 2015The list of players chosen for the game seems to suggest that the coaches voting for the reserves valued familiarity — 11 of the 14 have previous All-Star experience. Meanwhile, a team that prides itself on succeeding without stars also made a mark. The Atlanta Hawks ended up having a trio of players — Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague — named reserves for the Eastern Conference team, which will be helmed by Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. But while the Hawks are 38-8 and hold a commanding seven-game lead over the rest of the conference, this apparently wasn’t enough to secure a spot for Atlanta’s fourth All-Star candidate, shooting guard Kyle Korver.

Still, the Hawks lead all teams with three players in the All-Star Game. Chicago, Cleveland, Golden State, the Clippers, Miami and Oklahoma City all had two players each. The last time the Hawks had three players in an All-Star Game was 35 years ago, when they sent John Drew, Eddie Johnson and Dan Roundfield.

While the willing can argue around most of the selections, it’s worth remembering that the All-Star reserves were selected by opposing coaches. So those who made the cut were probably chosen as some vague combination of mutual respect, lifetime achievement and time spent worrying about playing against them.

Perhaps the most surprising selection was in the Western Conference, where coaches chose Oklahoma City’s Durant. Although Durant was last season’s MVP and a “star” by any definition, he has played in less than half of Oklahoma City’s 46 games this season, while averaging 25.6 points in those games he has played.

The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be exclusively televised on TNT live from New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden on Sunday, February 15, 2015.

Eastern Conference

Chris Bosh, Heat — With LeBron James gone, Bosh has assumed a larger role, averaging 21.3 points his highest total since the 2009-10 season, and posting a 28.7 usage rate, tying his career high. This is Bosh’s 10th consecutive All-Star Game.

Jimmy Butler, Bulls — Made himself into a genuine offensive threat for Chicago to go along with his already terrific defense. Averaging a career-high 20.1 points. This is his first All-Star Game.

Al Horford, Hawks — While Horford’s numbers are nothing spectacular — 15.3 points and 6.8 rebounds — his return from two pectoral injuries has anchored the Hawks’ interior and provided a paint presence. This will be Horford’s third All-Star Game, following selections in 2010 and ’11.

Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers — After being voted as a starter for last year’s All-Star Game, Irving messed around and won the game’s MVP award with 31 points and 14 assists. This season he’s struggled to be comfortable alongside LeBron James and Kevin Love, although last night’s 55-point explosion would seem to suggest he’s found his way.

Paul Millsap, Hawks — Maybe the best post player in the Eastern Conference. After making last year’s All-Star Game, his first, Millsap has added 3-point range this season and frequently bails out the Hawks at the end of shot clocks when Atlanta’s pace-and-space offense breaks down.

Jeff Teague, Hawks — The straw that stirs the drink for the Hawks. In his sixth season, has developed into an elite point guard with a complete game, and has managed to find the consistency he lacked earlier in his career. Averaging 17 points and 7.5 assists, both career highs.

Dwyane Wade, Heat — A 10-time All-Star, Wade has played in 35 of Miami’s 45 games, averaging 21.4 points and 5.4 assists, and has the highest PER (22.55) of any shooting guard in the Eastern Conference. Wade’s availability for the All-Star Game may be in question after injuring his right hamstring on Tuesday.

The Lowdown — Things are a bit more cut-and-dried in the Eastern Conference than the West. Korver stands out by his absence, apparently a victim of his teammates’ success. It’s hard to justify omitting a player with the highest 3-point shooting percentage in the history of the NBA, but it’s equally difficult to defend giving four of the Eastern Conference’s roster slots to players from one team. Milwaukee’s Brandon Knight has also drawn acclaim as the Bucks have bounced back from last year’s disastrous season and are in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Orlando center Nikola Vucevic is averaging a double-double, 19.5 points and 11.2 rebounds, and despite his team’s 15-33 record, an argument can be made for his inclusion.


VIDEO: First-timer Thompson headlines All-Star reserves for West

Western Conference

LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers — Portland’s big man is averaging a career-high 23.6 points as he attempts to play through a torn thumb ligament. This will be his fourth consecutive All-Star Game.

Tim Duncan, Spurs — The Big Fundamental’s numbers aren’t eye-popping, at least not for him — 14.7 points, 10.1 rebounds. But Duncan is a 14-time All-Star and has been the most consistent player during the first half of the season for the reigning NBA champions. Hard to leave the 38-year-old home in what may be one of his final campaigns.

Kevin Durant, Thunder — A five-time All-Star, when healthy Durant is arguably the best player in the NBA. The issue this season has been health, as Durant has nursed a broken foot and a sprained toe, missing 25 of Oklahoma City’s 46 games this season.

James Harden, Rockets — A no-brainer for the coaches, and the player most likely to get the injured Kobe Bryant‘s starting spot, although that choice ultimately belongs to Western Conference coach Steve Kerr. Harden is currently leading the NBA in scoring at 27.3 points and, with the Rockets rolling at 32-14, a legitimate MVP candidate.

Chris Paul, Clippers — CP3 has long been one of the best all-around point guards in the NBA, as evidenced by seven All-Star appearances in nine seasons. Paul leads the league in assist-to-turnover ratio and has the Clippers firmly in the Western Conference playoff race.

Klay Thompson, Warriors — Thompson is perhaps the best two-way guard in the league, and has teamed with Curry to make the Warriors the best team in the NBA this season. Thompson is averaging a career-high 23 points, and his 52-point game last week probably didn’t hurt his case. This will be his All-Star debut.

Russell Westbrook, Thunder — Westbrook is one of the most dynamic players in the NBA, and after a few injury-plagued seasons (and a broken hand earlier this year) has bounced back to lead the Thunder while Durant has been out. Westbrook is averaging a career-high 25.2 points this season for the 23-23 Thunder.

The Lowdown — Unlike in the East, the competitive Western Conference provides more opportunities for debate. (Also, it’s worth noting that with Kobe Bryant out, NBA commissioner Adam Silver will be adding at least one player to the roster.) With Paul and Westbrook on the team, a few deserving point guards find themselves looking in from the outside. Last year, Portland’s Damian Lillard made his first All-Star Game, but despite averaging a career-high 21.8 points, didn’t make the cut this season. Memphis point guard Mike Conley has directed the Grizzlies to a 33-12 record, behind only Golden State in the West. And in Phoenix, Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe could each make a case for a New York visit. Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki has made a dozen All-Star Games, but will be staying home this year, along with his teammate Monta Ellis. And Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins has had a big season, averaging 23.8 points and 12.3 rebounds, both career highs. Great numbers, but apparently not good enough in the Western Conference.

All-Star reserves to be announced tonight on TNT


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew picks their East All-Star reserves

HANG TIME BIG CITY — For the Atlanta Hawks and the 2015 NBA All-Star Game, it’s not a question of if a Hawk will make it, but rather, how many of them will be there?

TNT will exclusively televise the announcement of the 2015 NBA All-Star reserves tonight during a special one-hour edition of “TNT NBA Tip-Off presented by AutoTrader.com” at 7 p.m. ET.

The Hawks lead the Eastern Conference by 7 games with a 38-8 record, but had no players finish among the Eastern Conference leaders in fan voting. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer has already been tapped to coach the East, and with the League’s coaches choosing his reserves, the New York-hosted All-Star Game could have a distinctly Southern flavor. A couple of Hawks are in contention for roster room, like former All-Stars Paul Millsap and Al Horford, as well as guards Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver. The last time the Hawks had more than two All-Stars was in 1980, when they sent John Drew, Eddie Johnson and Dan Roundfield.

If four Hawks make the roster, which Eastern Conference players will be squeezed out? Chicago’s Jimmy Butler is probably as close to a lock as there is in the East. The Bulls shooting guard, who was named Eastern Conference player of the month for November, is averaging a career-high 20.1 points per game while leading the NBA in minutes per game, at 39.5 a night.

Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving finished fourth among Eastern guards in fan voting, after winning the All-Star Game MVP last season, but with his 55-point effort last night against Portland, Irving seemed to send a message that he belongs in this season’s game. Miami’s Dwyane Wade was among voting leaders in early returns before being passed late for a starting spot by Toronto’s Kyle Lowry. Wade, who is averaging 21.4 ppg this season, has made 10 consecutive All-Star Games. Wade has missed 10 of Miami’s games this season, and a hamstring injury may affect his availability for the All-Star Game.

In the frontcourt for the East, the coaches have some tough choices to make. Kevin Love was a starter last season in the Western Conference, but the move to Cleveland to take a supporting role has dropped his ppg from 26.1 a season ago to 17.1 as a Cavalier. Miami’s Chris Bosh has made nine consecutive All-Star appearances, and his chances this season should be bolstered by his 21.3 ppg average, his highest rate since 2009-10 when he was a member of the Toronto Raptors.

Orlando center Nikola Vucevic has put up terrific numbers — 19.5 ppg and 11.2 rpg — but for a team that is 15-33 and near the bottom of the conference. Detroit’s Greg Monroe is averaging a double-double — 15.2 ppg and 10.3 rpg — for the first time in his career and has been an integral part of the Pistons turning things around midway through the season.

Houston’s James Harden merits serious MVP consideration, and should headline the Western Conference reserves. The only question involving Harden, who leads the NBA at 27.3 ppg, is if he will be selected by Western Conference coach Steve Kerr to replace the injured Kobe Bryant in the starting lineup. Kerr’s choice is complicated by the stellar first half of Golden State shooting guard Klay Thompson, who staked his claim to an All-Star (and possible starting) spot last week with a 52-point night against Sacramento.

Also out West, will the coaches select Oklahoma City star (and reigning NBA MVP) Kevin Durant? He has battled injuries and played in just 21 of Oklahoma City’s 46 games this season, but he’s been terrific (25.6 ppg) when he has played. Likewise, teammate Russell Westbrook, a three-time former All-Star, is among the league leaders in points (25.2 ppg) and steals (2.3 spg), but has missed 14 games.

Besides Westbrook, there are several point guards who have built strong cases for their inclusion. Memphis’ Mike Conley has never been an All-Star, but his Grizzlies have had a sparkling first half of the season and, at 33-12, are No. 2 in the Western Conference. Portland’s Damian Lillard made his first All-Star Game a year ago, and this year has improved his numbers across the board, averaging 21.8 ppg and 6.2 apg. And don’t forget about Clippers guard Chris Paul. The sheen may have worn off Lob City, but the seven-time All-Star is still averaging 17.5 ppg and 9.7 apg for a 32-14 Los Angeles squad.

In the frontcourt, Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins is averaging 23.8 ppg and 12.3 rpg, both career highs. He’s also shown emotional growth, collecting just four technical fouls this season after totaling 16 last season.He also played a key role in Team USA’s gold-winning performance at the FIBA Basketball World Cup. Despite a torn ligament in his thumb, Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge has postponed surgery and is averaging a double-double for the Blazers. Or, could coaches reward Golden State forward Draymond Green, perhaps their most versatile player and a key cog in the Warriors’ early run?

Finally, might 38-year-old San Antonio Spurs big man Tim Duncan make his 15th All-Star appearance? Duncan, who last played in the 2013 All-Star Game, is currently averaging 14.7 ppg and 10.1 rpg for the defending-champion Spurs, who are in sixth place in the West.

The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be exclusively televised on TNT live from New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden on Sunday, February 15, 2015.


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew picks their West All-Star reserves

Blogtable: Your All-Star reserves are …

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: Your All-Star reserves | Reflecting on Klay | Bold second-half prediction



VIDEOInside the NBA’s crew picks their Western Conference All-Star reserves

> All-Star 2015 reserves will be announced tomorrow on TNT. But you get to go first: Select seven reserves for the East, and seven for the West (and remember it’s two guards, three frontcourt players and two others regardless of position).

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com:

East guards: Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague.
East frontcourt: Paul Millsap, Chris Bosh and Al Horford.
East wildcards: Kyle Korver and Kyrie Irving.

The biggest question for me in picking All-Star reserves is, how many Hawks? Would two Atlanta players be too few? Would four be too many? Nah, I don’t think so. That’s the beauty of an ensemble team, much like Detroit a decade ago, and I think there’s room without glaring omissions.

West guards: Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant.
West wildcards: Chris Paul and Klay Thompson. West injury replacement for Kobe Bryant: James Harden.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com:

East guards: Jeff Teague and Jimmy Butler.
East frontcourt: Chris Bosh, Al Horford and Paul Millsap.
East wildcards: Kyrie Irving and Dwyane Wade.

West guards: James Harden and Damian Lillard.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Tim Duncan.
West wildcards: Klay Thompson and Mike Conley.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com:

East guards: Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague.
East frontcourt: Paul Millsap, Chris Bosh and Nikola Vucevic.
East wildcards: Kyle Korver and Kyrie Irving.

Vucevic may not be a popular pick, but his numbers are undeniably good. He shouldn’t take a hit because Orlando has youth and injuries.

West guards: James Harden and Chris Paul.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Tim Duncan.
West wildcards: Damian Lillard and Klay Thompson.

Yeah, I know it’s Kevin Durant. But when the competition is this intense, missing about half the games is a difference maker for best play of the season. Besides, there will be at least one (Kobe Bryant) and maybe two (Aldridge) injury replacements coming. There’s still time for Durant and Westbrook.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com:

East guards: Jeff Teague and Jimmy Butler.
East frontcourt: Paul Millsap, Chris Bosh and Al Horford.
East wildcards: Kyrie Irving and Brandon Knight.

West guards: Klay Thompson and James Harden.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant.
West wildcards: Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook.
West injury replacement for Kobe Bryant: James Harden.

Really didn’t sweat too much about these selections. Even though he’s missed a chunk of games, I’m sorry, KD is an All-Star. I’m not going to punish him. Didn’t Magic Johnson make the team when he missed the entire season? OK, then. It’s an All-Star Game and people want to see KD.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com:

East guards: Kyle Korver and Dwyane Wade.
East frontcourt: Chris Bosh, Al Horford and Paul Millsap.
East wildcards: Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague.

West guards: James Harden and Chris Paul.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Tim Duncan.
West wildcards: Damian Lillard and Klay Thompson.
West injury replacement for Kobe Bryant: Russell Westbrook.

The East is pretty cut and dry and I’m keeping Kyrie Irving off the list, because he still doesn’t play both ends of the floor and the Cavs would be terrible without LeBron James. The West is much deeper, but the picks were still fairly simple. My toughest omission was actually Zach Randolph, because 21 games from Kevin Durant isn’t enough for me.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:

East guards: Kyrie Irving and Jeff Teague.
East frontcourt: Chris Bosh, Al Horford and Paul Millsap.
East wildcards: Jimmy Butler and Marcin Gortat.

West guards: Klay Thompson and James Harden.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Tim Duncan.
West wildcards: Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook.
West injury replacement for Kobe Bryant: Monta Ellis.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com:

East guards: Jeff Teague, Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler and Kyle Korver.
East frontcourt: Chris Bosh, Al Horford and Nikola Vucevic.

West guards: James Harden, Chris Paul, Klay Thompson and Mike Conley.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I know some guys have missed chunks of time due to injury, but I want some stars in my All-Star Game, which affects my selections.

East guards: Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague.
East frontcourt: Nikola Vucevic, Al Horford and Paul Millsap.
East wildcards: Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving.

West guards: James Harden and Klay Thompson.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant and Tim Duncan.
West wildcards: Russell Westbrook and DeMarcus Cousins.

All-Star reserves picksFor more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Blogtable: Down, but on its way up

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: Questions for the Cavs | The scoring champ | Utah, Orlando or Sacramento?



VIDEO: The Jazz finally may be on the right track

> Which of these down-on-its-luck franchises strikes you as on the fastest track forward: Utah, Sacramento or Orlando?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Give me Orlando. They strike me as having the best fit of young pieces – Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Mo Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon – to develop together, if they can manage to score enough points along the way. Sacramento should have been better by now, and for every Kings player who intrigues me, there’s another who cancels out the optimism. Utah’s talent is good but a new coach and system suggests a reset of the learning curve.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Can I say Philadelphia?  Even with more bumps and plenty of pain ahead this season, the Sixers are stacking young talent and will get more from the 2015 Draft. But if you’re making me pick from these three, I’ll go with the one that has the best player. That’s the Kings. DeMarcus Cousins, for all the known questions about attitude, could be a franchise-carrying talent. The Jazz and Magic are scoops of vanilla ice cream: filling but hardly exciting.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I keep wanting to believe in the Kings, to believe in DeMarcus Cousins, to believe in new ownership, new management and coach Mike Malone. But, man, they really make it hard. In Orlando, I do like their young talent, but I’m not sold on Jacque Vaughn at the helm and I think there will be a coaching change at some point. Utah has fully committed to a youth movement and I’m sold on Trey Burke and have high hopes for Dante Exum as a game-changing playmaker. Gordon Hayward has to step it up to an All-Star-caliber level, so we’ll see about that, but there’s other young, emerging talent and more picks in the trove. They got the coach question out of the way and Quin Snyder will breathe some freshness into the program. Maybe this is my West bias coming into play, but I’ll take Utah over Orlando by a smidgen.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comOrlando. For one thing, the Magic are in the East, which gives them an easier path to the back of the playoff pack, even this season despite a lot of youth. For another: Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton. That’s a nice foundation built on defense and rebounding. They obviously have a lot of growing to do while relying heavily on two rookies and a second-year player, but that’s a lot of potential for the fast track.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m not very excited about the 2-3 year prospects of any of these teams. The Kings have the best player of the three, but nothing around DeMarcus Cousins (or a clear plan of action) that says they definitely have a shot at making the playoffs in the next three years. The Magic and Jazz both have a decent collection of young talent, including rookie guards – Elfrid Payton and Dante Exum – with high ceilings, but nobody that is definitely a future All-Star. If I have to take one team, I’ll take Orlando, just because they’re in the Eastern Conference, where a playoff spot can be had with a decent amount of talent and good coaching.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: All three of the these teams believe they have the ideal core group in place for lift off. The promise of what could be always rules the day in lottery land. The one place where I believe that there has been a true altering of the DNA for the better is in Utah. The continued stockpiling of versatile, young talent is at a point where the process can be accelerated a bit this season. Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Dante Exum, Alec Burks and even new coach Quin Snyder will operate without the added pressure of playoff expectations, which are not realistic for the Kings or Magic either. The Kings and Magic, however, are still sorting through their talent base to see who does and does not fit. The Jazz already know who and what they have.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Utah and Orlando are each inching forward, not a slowly as Philadelphia, but at intentionally deliberate paces. But from the ownership down, Sacramento seems like a team that doesn’t want to wait any longer. While Utah and Orlando each have a few nice young pieces, the Kings have players like DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay who are further along than most of the guys in Orlando and Utah. They’ve got a new arena on the way, and there seems to be a real urgency to win and win now.

Morning shootaround — Oct. 22


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bryant shrugs off ESPN article | Reports: Magic, Vucevic nearing extension | Pacers have trouble finding offensive rhythm | Kaman suffers odd injury

No. 1: Kobe shrugs off article about him being a difficult teammate — If you somehow missed it the last few days or so, ESPN The Magazine recently published a big article on Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant as he enters the twilight of his career. The story contends that a big reason why the Lakers have had trouble in recent years landing marquee (or even middling) free agents is because other players are reluctant to play alongside Bryant. The story generated a lot of buzz yesterday and after the Lakers’ preseason loss to the Phoenix Suns, Bryant addressed the story’s main points. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Jovan Buha has more:

In his first time speaking to media after an ESPN The Magazine article suggested that he played a significant role in the Lakers’ recent slide over the last few years, Bryant, known for speaking candidly, responded with a seemingly diplomatic answer.

“It’s not the first one and it won’t be the last one,” Bryant said following the Lakers’ 114-108 preseason overtime loss to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday. “One thing I’ve come to understand over the years is that you’ll have a bad story that comes out on a Monday and it seems like it’s the end of the world and it seems like everybody’s taking shots at you. But time goes by and then you look back on it and it was just a Monday.

“Then you have another great story that comes out maybe a month later, or something like that, and it’s a fantastic story. And then there’s a bad story that comes out one month after that. So you understand that it’s a cycle, and things are never as good or as bad as they seem in the moment in time.”

Bryant continued, explaining his rationale behind remaining upbeat despite the current state of the Lakers franchise.

“Stay focused on the bigger picture and things are never as bleak as they seem at the time,” Bryant said. “I just kind of roll with it.”

Bryant’s teammate, guard Jeremy Lin, was also asked about the appeal of playing with Bryant, and had nothing but positive things to say.

“I’ve said it from the very beginning: What I’ve seen, my personal experience with him, which is the only thing I can speak on, it’s been great,” Lin said. “From Day 1, from the minute I was traded until now, it’s just been constantly him trying to be a leader, being a good leader, a communicator, teaching me, teaching me, teaching me and doing it in a mentorship-type way.”


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant scored 27 points in L.A.’s preseason loss to Phoenix

(more…)

At Draft, time to move on … for most

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

BROOKLYN, N.Y. –- The 76ers want to keep dragging it out, running a Four Corner stall on their fans and whatever portion of the roster actually makes it into uniform. They are now routinely acquiring top prospects on draft night who can’t or won’t play anytime soon, building toward 2017 at the earliest.

Meanwhile, the rest of the league is moving forward. There was a draft Thursday night at Barclays Center, a trade a few hours earlier and, right in the middle of the first round, a great moment for basketball that wasn’t about basketball at all. A lot of immediate impact was made on a day seemingly about patience.

Stall ball was out. Effects that will be felt in 2014-15 were in.

Even for the sev … en … ty … six … ers.


VIDEOThe Bulls selected Jusuf Nurkic, who was later traded to the Nuggets

The Nuggets make a playoff push

Acquiring Arron Afflalo from Orlando at a very low price — Evan Fournier and No. 56, probably makes Thursday a good day no matter what. But Denver followed up by trading down, turning No. 11 into 16 and 19, and still coming away with Jusuf Nurkic, a lottery candidate and the second-best center prospect in the draft.

Giving up Doug McDermott, the 11th pick, was big when the shooting boost would have helped, but the Nuggets got a lot deeper, more physical and possibly added two starters, Afflalo and Nurkic, a strong inside presence who projects as a dependable big man. The question is whether he will fit with the preferred Ty Lawson/Kenneth Faried up-tempo pace.

Denver missed the playoffs last season by 13 games, a sizable gap to close in the ultra-competitive West. But if Danilo Gallinari is healthy for the start of the season and soon able to play without time restrictions, that’s basically two veteran additions along with first-round picks Nurkic and Harris.


VIDEO: Joel Embiid may be the best talent in the draft … but he may not be able to play for a year

The 76ers’ slow-speed chase

Each addition would have been understandable by itself: Nerlens Noel via the lottery last June despite a knee injury; Dario Saric at 12 this year in a trade with Orlando despite expecting to be in Europe two more years; and Joel Embiid at No. 3 despite recovering from a fractured back and suffering a foot injury that could easily keep him out all 2014-15. They’re all talented players.

But Philly went from the Noel patience play directly into another with Embiid and Saric. The Sixers essentially spent three top-12 picks in two years on players they knew had a chance to miss at least one entire season. Going for the Embiid-Saric double had emerged as a possibility before the draft, except that the Sixers couldn’t really do that before Noel spent a day in uniform. Could they?

They did.

It’s difficult to say a team that went 19-63 may not improve. A franchise that goes backward from that has to be trying to be worse.

But welcome to it. Maybe it pays off in the long (long, long, long) run. The immediate impact, though, is Philadelphia will be very bad again and expect a lot of people to sit through it.


VIDEO: Julius Randle is ready to help out Kobe Bryant in L.A. right away

The Lakers get help now

The Lakers didn’t find a trade to add a veteran to avoid a rebuilding job and Kobe Bryant‘s glare. But Julius Randle was the best possible outcome if they found themselves stuck with the seventh pick.  He can be good now, equipped to stand up physically to most NBA power forwards despite being 19 years old, able to score inside though he played only one season in college.

Randle won’t get outworked, won’t get pushed around and you can throw him the ball in the post. That’s not a bad starting point. The prospect with a high motor just has to add a mid-range game to become a problem of All-Star proportions for defenses.

Randle isn’t just part of the hoped-for bridge to the Lakers’ future. He is someone who can help now. He is one of the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year.


VIDEO: Elfrid Payton figures to make Orlando a much better team next season

Another step forward for Orlando

Needing a point guard after playing Victor Oladipo out of position last season, the Magic got out of the way of the Dante Exum-Marcus Smart decision,  instead using No. 4 on power forward Aaron Gordon. Then they circled back for the point guard.

Elfrid Payton, the 10th pick acquired from Philadelphia as part of the Saric deal, was the best true distributor in the draft, impressing teams with size, defense and bursts of speed to be rated behind only top-six choices Exum and Smart at the position. Oladipo will move to shooting guard for his second season, where he will need to relocate the dependable jumper from his college days at Indiana. Gordon steps in at power forward. Nikola Vucevic returns at center. That’s a good foundation for a playoff team.

By late Thursday night, the inexperienced Magic had the chance to immediately become a challenger. Oladipo will defend. Gordon will defend. Payton will defend. Vucevic, Tobias Harris, Kyle O’Quinn and Payton will rebound. This is a building team, and a team building a personality.


VIDEO: Adam Silver welcomes Isaiah Austin to the podium

The commissioner’s credibility boost

Adam Silver, the emcee of the Draft for the first time, didn’t need the votes. He already universally won high marks for the handling of the Donald Sterling ouster, heard plenty of cheers when he appeared on stage to begin the proceedings Thursday (in an obvious jab at predecessor David Stern) and has said and done all the right things since taking over as commissioner in February.

But then came Thursday. Silver, at the podium, announced that the league had drafted Isaiah Austin from Baylor. Austin stood up from his table in the Green Room (actually an area on the floor in front of the stage), accepted a blue cap with the NBA logo on it and everybody stood and cheered.

Less than a week after learning he had Marfan syndrome and that his career was over, the Baylor power forward — projected as a second-round pick — was wiping tears from his eyes as he walked on stage for the traditional handshake and pictures with the commissioner. The audience kept applauding. And when Austin followed that with stops for TV interviews, just like all the other top picks, the draft was halted so people in attendance could hear and allow Austin to promote awareness of the disease.

The league struck exactly the right tone. Everyone came off looking good. It was an immediate impact.

Back And Forth With Bones: Magic-Wizards

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Back and Forth With Bones is an e-mail exchange between NBA.com’s John Schuhmann and NBA TV’s Brent Barry during a Monday night game. This week, they sat down (Schuhmann at home in New Jersey, Barry in the studio in Atlanta) to watch the 6-10 Orlando Magic visit the 8-9 Washington Wizards.

Pre-game

Schuhmann: Hey Bones, we got Magic-Wizards tonight.

The Wiz have won six of their last eight games with an improved offense (103.5 points per 100 possessions vs. 98.5 in their first nine games). For the season, they’ve been great on both ends of the floor with John Wall, Nene and Marcin Gortat on the floor with two of the Trevor Ariza/Bradley Beal/Martell Webster group, outscoring opponents by 14.3 points per 100 possessions. But all other lineups have been dreadful. So depth is an issue, especially with Beal out.

They’re a jump-shooting team. Only two teams (New York and Portland) have taken a lower percentage of shots from the paint. But they’re tied with the Heat for the league lead in corner 3-pointers. Wall has 32 assists on corner 3s (10 more than anybody else in the league) and Ariza and Webster are tied for second with 23 corner threes.

So that has to be a priority for Orlando’s defense, which ranks 26th in defending corner 3s and has been pretty bad over the last nine games after a strong start. I don’t know if Jameer Nelson is available (and the Magic offense has been pretty awful with him off the floor), but the Wall-Victor Oladipo matchup should be fun.

The Wizards have been a good defensive rebounding team with Gortat and Nene on the floor together, but pretty awful when one or both sits. So Nikola Vucevic could have some success if either gets in foul trouble.

Thoughts?

Barry: Yes, Randy Wittman is auditioning players to help take the load off of the starting group. But this game is interesting to me in that there is a lot of positivity regarding the Wizards recent play. Can they accept and continue what it is that has gotten them there?

With Beal out, I am stoked to see Martell Webster getting quality starter minutes, though 40-plus (in three of those) is too many. He’s just ready to get in there and mix it up, being a pro.

Watching John Wall balance out his game tonight will be key. Quality possessions against a team in Orlando that competes and shares the ball on offense are a must. The bigs must stay out of foul trouble for Washington.

Orlando is not a huge dribble-penetrate attack team other than Oladipo. It’s interesting that the Wiz have had this stretch with Beal (NBA minutes leader and their leading scorer) out.

Is Arron Afflalo an Eastern Conference All-Star? Hard to say he hasn’t played like one.

Schuhmann: Nah, the East All-Stars should just be six players each from Indiana and Miami.

Barry: Add four from the West to the East. Any player born east of the Mississippi can qualify for East team headed to NO!

(more…)

Thursday Night Lights On TNT




VIDEO: Clippers coach Doc Rivers breaks down his team’s loss to Orlando

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – If the Los Angeles Clippers are using these early season games as measuring-stick contests to see where they stand against other members of the NBA elite, tonight’s game in Miami against the Heat will serve as the ultimate examination.

In fact, tonight’s TNT double-header — Clippers-Heat at 7 p.m. ET and Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets facing the Los Angeles Lakers at the Toyota Center at 9:30 p.m. ET — should have been dubbed Thursday night lights, given all of the star power that will be on display.

The Howard-Lakers saga has been overcooked for months now and we’ve done our fair share of cooking around here. Howard has clearly tried to move on, while the Lakers are doing their very best to do the same, sans Kobe Bryant, for the time being. Howard needs to get on the floor against the Lakers for the first time since he bolted via free agency to give us all a little closure on the entire mess … at least until they meet again.

Howard will have the home crowd on his side tonight, he can expect a much different environment when he returns to Los Angeles to face the Lakers at Staples Center. But Dwight and the Rocket have moved on and are thriving early on this season.

Meanwhile, Clippers coach Doc Rivers continues to vet his team. He has to find out if they have the championship mettle needed to finish the journey while the Heat don’t have to worry about that. They know what’s at their core. Of all the teams on the big stage tonight, the Clippers are the ones with the lingering questions.

They’ve been overwhelmed and worked over twice already this season by teams that were not supposed to be their equal. The Lakers ambushed them on opening night and Nikola Vucevic and the Orlando Magic got them Wednesday night.

Is this going to be a recurring theme for the Clippers, playing down to the competition?

Will Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan continue to get outplayed by guys like Vucevic, grinders who are not wowed by the shock and awe of the Lob City duo’s highlight work?

The Clippers lead the league in scoring (119 points a night) while also leading the league in points allowed (just over 112 points), making them the most exciting and vulnerable team in the league at the same time. Rivers knows better than to allow his team to continue down this path, as he explained to reporters after the loss to the Magic.

“I thought we were very casual in our approach tonight, and that’s me,” Rivers said. “I’ve always got to get them ready and I didn’t … Offense is always fool’s gold. You got to defend to win. The good part about tonight is that it was proof. When we started to get stops, we started scoring. It’s difficult to run when you’re taking the ball out of bounds every time.”

Battling the Magic is one thing. Trading blows with a Heat team that has been on red alert for statement games night after night over the past three seasons will take a colossal effort from Chris Paul and his crew. The world will be watching to see if the Clippers are up to the challenge. The Heat recognize the world is always watching to see if there will be any chinks in their armor that gets exposed by another “contender.”

The fact that we get all of that, with the Howard-Lakers drama as a nightcap, is a bonus for everyone watching.

Thursday night lights on TNT … it has a nice ring to it, no?

Vucevic Wears Scars Of Progress

Coaches are always looking for those signs of production that go deeper than stats in a box score. Scratches on the back. Black and blue marks on the shoulders. Welts on the chest or even the side of a face.

Nikola Vucevic probably couldn’t have looked more beat up if he were a crash test dummy, and that had Magic coach Jacque Vaughn grinning from ear to ear.

Vucevic blocks Howard

Vucevic blocks Howard (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

“I love it,” Vaughn said. “He has a bruise on his arm and under his eye a little bit, so that means he came to play. You should go home every night with some sort of scar, scab or Band-Aid to prove that you came to play. So he got a couple of bruises and I loved seeing it.

“He just has to understand that [physical play] is part of the game. Everyone understands that when you are a big there is more contact down low than there is up top, so accept that that’s the way it is and embrace it. Just do what you have to do to survive in this league and he’s learning to do that.”

As the Magic continue to shape and establish a roster that is full of solid, athletic, potentially explosive prospects at forward and guard, it is the development of Vucevic in the middle that will likely determine how fast Orlando returns to the playoff race.

The 22-year-old center has already shown in his first two NBA seasons that he has offensive moves around the basket and was a surprise last season as the league’s second-leading rebounder (11.9 per game). But there remained questions about his ability to defend the rim and not get outmuscled in the paint.

So it was nothing less than a revelation Wednesday to see Vucevic go toe to toe with the big man he’s replacing in Orlando, more than holding his own against Dwight Howard. He opened the night by blocking Howard’s shot in the low post on the Rockets’ first possession and then played aggressively by fronting and denying passes.

“You’ve got to do your job early against a guy like Dwight because he’s very physical,’’ Vucevic said. “If you let him catch it deep there’s not a lot that you can do. So I was trying to be as physical as I can be. I tried to make him catch it as far away as I could and my teammates did a great job of helping me on the backside when I was fronting him. I tried to limit him as much as I could and still help on the guards when they drove.’’

It was more than just limiting Howard to a 2-for-6 shooting night. It was the way that Vucevic never backed down from the rippling muscles of the would-be Superman.

“I am going to have to play physical against a player like Dwight, against all of the best big men in the league,” Vucevic said. “It is not trying to feel comfortable playing a physical style. It is just what I must do.”

The Magic, of course, have already received credit, though a year late, for getting the most out of the complex deal that sent Howard out of town. They are the only team that has any of the principals left from the trade — Howard gone from the Lakers, Andrew Bynum from the Sixers and Andre Iguodala from the Nuggets.

It figured that Orlando was getting a potential scoring piece on one wing in forward Maurice Harkless, but Vucevic was more of a question as someone who might give up on defense anything that he added offensively. In his first two seasons in the league, he had a tendency to avoid contact.

If that can change, so can the character of the young Magic. That’s why standing in and standing up to Howard was so important.

“It tells me I can go against the best players in this league,” Vucevic said “I think I held my own pretty well. I think I limited him pretty well. Obviously, it wasn’t easy. It took a lot of energy to do it, but it showed me that I can do it. I’ve got to keep building myself, keep going and keep working. When I go against the best guys, it’s only going to make me better.”

Those scars and bruises are signs of progress.

Top 10 Stat Lines of 2012-13

By Jonathan Hartzell, for NBA.com

If you look near the benches after every timeout, and especially after each game, you will see a floor littered with stat sheets. Usually these white pieces of paper show pretty unremarkable lines for players and instead are used to gauge the team as a whole. But on some nights, individual stat lines stand out from the rest and allow us to see who is truly outstanding.

Here are the top 10 stat lines of the 2012-13 season:

10. Nicolas Batum, Portland Trail Blazers

December 16, 2012 vs. New Orleans Hornets – 11 points, 10 assists, 5 rebounds, 5 steals, 5 blocks

 

A 5/5/5/5/5 stat line is incredibly rare in the NBA, with it only occurring 15 times since the 1985-86 season. But the feat Batum accomplished against the New Orleans Hornets of 10/10/5/5/5 is an even more uncommon stat line with Jamal Tinsley in 2001 being the only other time it has occurred. Batum is the prototypical player to accomplish this type of box score with his all-around game which allows him to have the length to block shots as well as the speed to steal. The Trail Blazers won the game 95-94 over the Hornets thanks to a game-winning jumper from Damian Lillard.

9. Samuel Dalembert, Milwaukee Bucks

February 5, 2013 at Denver Nuggets – 35 points, 12 rebounds, 17-21 FG

 

This game came out of nowhere for Dalembert. The Bucks big man saw only six minutes of playing time in the Milwaukee’s previous game and the only reason he got into this game against the Nuggets was early foul trouble to Larry Sanders. But Dalembert jumped on his opportunity and exploded for 35 points on 17-of-21 shooting. He made his first nine shots and finished the first half with 21 points on 10-of-11 shooting. Dalembert did a great job, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger fluke game from anyone this season.  The Nuggets beat the Bucks 112-104.

8. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks

April 2, 2013 at Miami Heat – 50 points, 2 assists, 2 rebounds on 18-26 FG and 7-10 3P

 

Anthony put on a scoring show against the Miami Heat, who were without LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in early April. This game could be higher on the list if Anthony collected stats in anything else besides points, but he didn’t. It was Anthony’s third 50-point game of his career and his first since 2011. The Knicks defeated the Heat 102-90.

7. Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic

December 31, 2012 vs. Miami Heat – 20 points, 29 rebounds (11 off., 18 def.), 2 blocks, 3 steals

 

The last day of 2012 was a special one for Vucevic as he became the first player to score 20 points, grab at least 29 rebounds, and block 2 shots since Dikembe Mutombo in 2011, and only the fifth player to do it since 1985-86. This feat becomes even more special when you factor in that Vucevic is just 22 years old. It shouldn’t be a surprise to see him put up lines similar to this more often as his career progresses. The Heat defeated the Magic 112-110.

6. Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies

December 4, 2012 vs. Phoenix Suns – 38 points, 22 rebounds, 3 blocks, 15-22 FG, 8-8 FT

 

This was the only game Randolph reached the 30-point mark all season and he decided to also grab 22 rebounds while he was at it. He is only the third player to accomplish this box score of at least 38 points, 22 rebounds, and 3 blocks since 1985-86 and his 15-of-22 shooting was the best shooting night of his career. The Grizzlies beat the Suns by a score of 108-98.

5. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

January 18, 2013 at Dallas Mavericks – 52 points, 9 rebounds, 21-21 FT

 

52 points is special, but what Durant did at the free-throw line is what’s incredibly rare about this box score. A perfect night from the stripe with more than 21 attempts has occurred just two other times since 1963-64. Even though Durant benefited from the game going into overtime, his ability to draw fouls and consistently connect at the line is a rare combination. Durant led the league in free-throw percentage last season at 90.5 percent while also being second in free-throw attempts. The Thunder beat the Mavericks 117-114 in overtime.

4. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

March 6, 2013 at New Orleans Hornets – 42 points, 12 assists, 7 rebounds, 14-21 FG

 

Bryant has collected at least 40 points and 12 assists only twice in his Hall-of-Fame career. And he did it in back-to-back games last season. The first occurrence was this game against the Hornets, where Bryant erupted to score 13 of his 42 points during a 20-0 run to lead the Lakers back from a 25-point deficit. He played like classic Kobe and forced many to momentarily forget the disappointment of the Lakers’ 2012-13 season. The Lakers defeated the Hornets 108-102.

3. Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls

February 28, 2013 vs. Philadelphia 76ers – 23 points, 21 rebounds, 11 blocks

 

Take a moment to look back at Noah’s box score again. A 20-20 game is impressive in itself, but you get an historic box score when you also add in 11 blocks. This 20-20-10 feat has been accomplished by only Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Shawn Bradley, and, now, Noah since 1985-86. And of that group, Noah blew them all away in shooting percentage as he went 8-of-12 shooting and 7-of-9 from the line. As Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said after the game, “He was spectacular.” The Bulls beat the 76ers 93-82.

2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

February 27, 2013 at New York Knicks – 54 points, 11-13 3P, 7 assists, 6 rebounds

 

This could easily be labeled as the game which Stephen Curry emerged as a star in the NBA. His 54 points is the fifth highest scoring game for an opposing player in Madison Square Garden and the four players in front of him are a special group: Michael Jordan, Rick Barry, Wilt Chamberlain, and Bryant. And none of those four players also recorded 7 assists during their scoring outburst. He was simply in another zone and it was a privilege to watch. This box score would be No. 1 if the Warriors did not lose the game to the Knicks 109-105.

1. LeBron James, Miami Heat

February 26, 2013 vs. Sacramento Kings – 40 points, 16 assists, 8 rebounds, 14-23 FG

 

The most incredible thing about this box score from James is it doesn’t seem too remarkable for his standards. However, a stat line of 40 points with at least 16 assists and 8 rebounds had never occurred in the NBA before this game. James benefited from his opponent being the hapless Kings along with teammate Dwyane Wade pouring in 39 points. But neither of those factors should diminish the remarkable statistics he collected in late February to help the Heat beat the Kings 141-129.