Posts Tagged ‘Nikola Vucevic’

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.

Sixers’ Collins Out As Coach, In As Adviser



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – For any father or son, the reasons Doug Collins gave for leaving his coaching job with the Philadelphia 76ers for a less taxing consultant’s role make perfect sense.

Collins has grandchildren he wants to spend more time with in his golden years, he wants to watch his son, Chris Collins, now the coach at Northwestern, thrive in the family business.

After giving the last 40 years of his life to the game he loves and the merciless grind that is the pursuit of a championship ring, Collins wants his next four or five years to be on his terms.

“There’s a lot of things I want to enjoy,” Collins said. “I think it’s every man’s dream to be able to live that life that you work so hard to try to live. And that’s what I want to do.”

He knew it at Christmas, when he had to be away while “the grandkids were opening their presents,” that he was done coaching, that he didn’t have the energy to give to the profession the way he knows great coaches have to if they’re going to do the job the justice it deserves.

It wasn’t about wins and losses, Collins said this morning as he addressed the media in Philadelphia. No amount of either would have changed his mind. The sacrifices had become too great, the benefits, financial and otherwise, that come with a NBA coaching job were outweighed by the important moments a proud father and grandfather had to miss.

“I didn’t get down to a Duke game last year,” Collins said. “My son … I want to see him grow, want to see him coach. That’s important to me.”

If only Jrue Holiday, Even Turner, Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes and the rest of the players he coached through a tumultuous season this year in Philadelphia had been just as important. Collins never told them of the exit strategy that had been brewing for months. They were left to the rumblings that grew into rumors the past couple weeks and into full blown hysterics last week.

Collins is a brilliant basketball mind. No one disputes that. And he’s a fine coach, as passionate as he is relentless about teaching the game and as focused and fanatical as they come in his profession. Widely regarded as one of the best analysts around, Collins chose to dive back into coaching three years ago with the franchise he’s always considered home.

He was not pushed out the door. Sixers owner Josh Harris made that clear before Collins said a word this morning.

“Doug is not being pushed out,” Harris said. “I would love to have him back as my coach. This is his decision … I want to make that unequivocally clear.”

A decision that no doubt became clear to us all during that infamous February postgame rant when Collins seemed to crack under the pressure of a season gone awry. “Go back and listen to the transcript,” Collins said. “I didn’t throw anybody under the bus. I spoke the truth. We played our best basketball after that.”

Andrew Bynum, the Sixers’ prized summer acquisition from a blockbuster trade that saw Andre Iguodala, Nikola Vucevic and Moe Harkless traded away for the All-Star center, didn’t play a single second this season.

Instead of contending in the Eastern Conference a season after a surprise run to the conference semifinals, the Sixers finished ninth in the East and four games out of the eighth and final playoff spot, despite playing their “best basketball” in the six weeks after his frustrations boiled over.

I don’t care how diplomatic they try to be, the Bynum debacle stained this season for Collins, Harris and the entire organization.

“We spent $84 million and don’t have much to show for it,” said Harris, who was extremely careful when talking about Bynum and what the Sixers’ plans are regarding the soon-to-be unrestricted free-agent big man. “You look at our cost per win, and its pretty low.”

Collins plans to serve as an adviser to Harris the next five years, a time-frame both men referenced, as they work to increase that cost per win number.

His days of, as he put it, “trying to be Frederick Douglas, Dale Carnegie, Dr. Phil and then trying to draw up a play to win the game,” are over. He said he won’t get the coaching itch again.

He’ll leave that to guys like Michael Curry, the only one of his assistants to get a public endorsement for the coaching vacancy in Philadelphia during Monday’s festivities.

“Michael Curry has been a head coach before,” Collins said. “What he’s done here defensively has been remarkable. I think Michael’s ready. The thing about it is, they are going to get a great coach. This is a great city …  to me, this is a win-win. They get a great a coach and it gives me a chance to do some of the things I want to do.”

http://www.nba.com/2013/news/04/18/sixers-collins-resigns.ap/index.html

Report: Sixers’ Collins To Resign



HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – After an experiment gone terribly wrong, Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins could be gone.

Collins has already informed ownership that he does not plan to return to the Sixers’ bench for the final year of his contract, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:

Collins, 62, has one year left on a four-year deal, but has told management he won’t return in that job. Collins’ possible return to the franchise in another role – perhaps in the front office – hasn’t been ruled out, a source said.

Ownership wanted him to return for the final season of a contract that would’ve paid him $4.5 million, one source said, but Collins informed owner Josh Harris of his decision to leave in recent days.

The news comes just hours after USA Today reported that John Langel, Collins’ agent, said: “[Doug is] the coach, and he’ll continue to be the coach.”

A summer trade for Andrew Bynum forced the Sixers to take apart the team that surprised with last season’s run to the Eastern Conference semifinals. Andre Iguodala (Denver), Nikola Vucevic  and Moe Harkless (Orlando) helped form the nucleus of what was expected to be one of the most promising young teams in the Eastern Conference before the blockbuster trade, which also involved the Magic sending Dwight Howard to the Lakers.

But Bynum missed the entire season with knee issues that ultimately required surgery. The Sixers season fizzled as well; they are ninth place in the East, leaving a frustrated Collins to try and pick up the pieces.


On The Clock: Finding Order In The Chaos





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Nine days.

That’s all the time we have left in the NBA regular season to sort out all of the issues facing us. And, Naismith knows, we have plenty of them.

Nine more (game) days to weave through the months of drama and finalize the playoff order in both the Eastern and Western Conferences, to see who will snatch this season’s scoring title, to see if the Los Angeles Lakers can salvage the dumpster fire that their season has been since training camp … there’s a host of other loose ends that need to be tied up before the postseason tips off.

We already know the eight players in the Eastern Conference. The Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks have clinched their playoff bids. All that’s left is to firm up the order beneath the Heat, who have a 10-game cushion in the standings.

The Knicks and Pacers are battling for the No. 2 seed (just 2.5 games separate the two). The Knicks surged ahead on the strength of their current 12-game win streak, fueled by their MVP candidate Carmelo Anthony and the streaky J.R. Smith.

The Nets are doing whatever it takes to hold on to their top four spot in the standings, and the coveted home-court advantage that comes along with it.

But at least the pecking order is pretty much set. Not so in the other half of the bracket.

SORTING OUT THE BOTTOM OF THE WEST …

The order in the West remains a bit muddled. The San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver Nuggets, Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies are playoff locks. The Spurs have already wrapped up the Southwest Division crown and the Clippers secured the first Pacific Division title in franchise history with their win over the Lakers Sunday at Staples Center.

“It just feels like something we were supposed to do,” Chris Paul said after shredding the Lakers for 24 points and 12 assists. “It means we’re headed in the right direction. We’re not satisfied. We understand this is something small compared to the big picture.”

The bottom of the standings in the Western Conference will come into a clearer focus in the last nine days. The Jazz have a half-game lead over the Lakers for the eighth and final spot in the playoff chase, courtesy of their huge win Sunday night over the Golden State Warriors.

The Jazz have four games remaining: against Oklahoma City on Tuesday, against Minnesota on Friday and in Minnesota on April 15, and at Memphis on April 17, the final night of the regular season.

The Lakers have a slight schedule advantage. Of their five remaining games just one (Wednesday night’s tilt in Portland) will come away from the Staples Center. But their last three will be against playoff teams; Golden State on Friday, San Antonio on Sunday and Houston on April 17.

The Jazz own the head-to-head tiebreaker, the Lakers the favorable schedule. As suspected, this one could come down to the final night of the season.

WHAT RACE FOR THE SCORING TITLE?

The three-time scoring champ doesn’t want a fourth title. Not right now.

Thunder superstar Kevin Durant said as much about his battle with Anthony for the scoring crown.

“He can have it,” Durant said last week, before admitting that he is rooting for Anthony to snag his first scoring title in his 10th NBA season.

Durant obviously has more pressing matters to occupy his time, namely the Thunder’s battle with the Spurs for the top overall seed in the Western Conference. OKC’s loss Sunday to Anthony and the Knicks didn’t help that cause.

Best guess: Anthony gets the scoring title (he’s scored 36 or more points in four straight games) and the Spurs get the top seed in the West.

EAST MATCHUPS UP FOR GRABS, AFTER HEAT-BUCKS 

If form holds in the Eastern Conference, the No. 1 Heat will face off with the No. 8 Bucks, a matchup tilted heavily in favor of the league’s best team.

Everything else after that, however, is literally up for grabs.

The difference between the six other teams is negligible on any given night. With experienced playoff teams like the Bulls, Hawks and Celtics lurking in the bottom half of the East bracket, the higher seeds have to be extremely careful with home-court advantage.

The Celtics and Bulls, in particular, are teams adept at ignoring the obvious and playing above their heads in the playoffs. Two physical teams like this, built with defense in mind — teams that have shown themselves capable of pushing the Heat to the edge (remember the Bulls snapped the Heat’s 27-game win streak) — should have no problem making life difficult for higher seeds in the first round of the playoffs.

STILL HOPE FOR ROSE …

The Bulls have the one variable in the playoffs that could change the entire postseason landscape in former MVP Derrick Rose, who made it clear over the weekend that he has not abandoned the idea of suiting up this season.

Time is obviously not on his side. But that doesn’t seem to be an issue for Rose or the Bulls, who would surely welcome back their All-Star — their best player — to a team that has survived without him quite well.

With just six games left, Rose will have to accelerate his decision-making process and come up with an answer sooner rather than later. After weeks of speculation to the contrary, might Rose actually be ready for a return?

It certainly seems that way based on what Rose told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

“Oh, no,” Rose said, when asked if he’d announce he’s sitting out this season. “I’m keeping it open.”

After Sunday’s game against the Pistons, the Bulls have just six regular-season games remaining.

“I’m not trying to think about that right now,” Rose said. “I’m just trying to get better. I’m just trying to help my teammates, give them confidence to go out there and play hard. I’ll play whenever I’m ready to play. Who knows when I’m ready to? Right now, all I can do is just cheer on my teammates.”

Rose first scrimmaged on Feb. 18 and has said whether he returns is as much a mental hurdle as a physical one at this point. Playing on a minutes limit wouldn’t bother him.

“I wouldn’t mind at all,” he said. “Of course I want to play more. But it’s not that big. I’m going to play whenever I’m ready. I don’t care if it’s 15 or 40 (minutes). I just love the game too much. Like I said, I’m just waiting and praying about it. And hopefully I’ll be out there soon.”

Bulls fans are waiting and praying as well, hoping that not only can Rose return but that he can thrive on his surgically repaired knee.

VUCEVIC CHASING HOWARD FOR REBOUNDING TITLE

No one gets a fancy trophy for winning the league’s dirty work award, the rebounding title.

But wouldn’t it be something if Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic (11.8 rebounds per game) was able to catch and pass former Magic and now Lakers big man Dwight Howard (12.5) for the top spot? Vucevic has turned out to be the surprise gem of the multiple-player and multiple-team deal that sent Howard to Los Angeles and Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia.

Raise your hand if you saw that coming …

TROUBLE FILLING OUT YOUR ALL-NBA BALLOT?

If you are struggling with who goes where on your All-NBA first-team ballot, welcome to the club.

Outside of LeBron James and Paul, there are some extremely difficult choices that have to be made. Who gets the nod between Anthony and Durant at the other forward spot? And do you go with Marc Gasol at center and Kobe Bryant at shooting guard?

That relegates worthy candidates (based on the position-specific nature of the All-NBA team) like Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Howard and Tim Duncan to the second team, even though you could make a compelling case for each of them, too.

At least we have time to think about it … well, nine game days.


Morning Shootaround — March 27

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: Is there any other choice this morning but that OT thriller between the Mavs and Clippers from Dallas? The Mavs have now won seven of their last 10 games to pull within a game of the L.A. Lakers for No. 8 in the West while the Clippers are struggling a little and lost their long-held No. 3 seed in the West to the Denver Nuggets with this defeat. The Clips might not have been in this position had Blake Griffin‘s amazing shot with :00.4 left counted, but he was called for an offensive foul in the must-see play of the game. Still, credit to the Mavs, who are truly not giving up on this dream of making the playoffs this season and have a healthy Dirk Nowitzki ready to lead them to their goal.

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News of the morning

Magic to shut down Vucevic for season? | Del Negro not worrying about future | Banged-up Celtics falling fast in East | World Peace diagnosed with torn meniscus

Magic’s Vucevic done for season?In case you missed it, Nikola Vucevic is fourth in the league in rebounds per game (11.5) and is third overall in total rebounds (780), trailing only Omer Asik and Dwight Howard. Pretty impressive stuff for a player thought of as a throw-in/afterthought in the Howard mega-deal that sent the ex-Magic big man to the L.A. Lakers last summer. While Vucevic has enjoyed a breakout season, he won’t play in tonight’s game against Charlotte and hasn’t played since March 19. Vucevic is recovering after getting hit in the mouth vs. Indiana and has been dealing with concussion symptoms since then. Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel has more on Vucevic, whom the Magic may just keep out of the lineup for a while:

Nik Vucevic, who is recovering from a mild concussion he sustained on March 19, won’t play when the Orlando Magic play the Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday night.

Vucevic said Tuesday he wasn’t scheduled to accompany the team to North Carolina, but he said he expects to play again this season.

“I’m getting better,” the 22-year-old center said. “I’m better day-by-day. I’ll leave it up to the trainer and the doctor.”

Vucevic suffered his injury when he absorbed an elbow to his mouth against the Indiana Pacers. The shot left him a bit dazed and left him wondering whether he had lost any teeth.

In the days that followed, he said he had a headache and some sensitivity to light.

After some tests, a doctor determined he had sustained a concussion.

In Dec. 2011, the league instituted a concussion protocol.

Physician Jeffrey Kutcher, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Michigan and the director of the NBA’s concussion program, consults with all teams on the return-to-play schedules of players who have suffered concussions.

Coach Jacque Vaughn might decide to not to play Vucevic even after Vucevic receives a medical OK to play again. Vaughn has been cautious in putting players back on the court after injuries.

Vucevic wouldn’t speculate on how close he is to playing again.

“I don’t know,” he said. “All that is up to the trainer. I just follow what he says.”

Del Negro not fretting futureA cursory search of this very blog for the term “Del Negro” brings up a smorgasbord of posts about L.A. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro and his seemingly always-tenuous future with the team. Del Negro has, throughout his nearly three full seasons on the job in L.A., become a popular whipping boy whenever things go a little bit south in Clipperland. Such is the case again for the Clippers coach. He is operating on the last year of his contract and hasn’t been offered an extension by the team, but Del Negro tells the Los Angeles Times’ Broderick Turner the future is the last thing on his mind:

Del Negro was asked by a member of the media in front of the group about his coaching future with the Clippers.

The Clippers picked up Del Negro’s contract last year, but he wasn’t given an extension. His deal expires when the season is over.

“I enjoy the pressure,” Del Negro said. “That’s what it’s about. I love the competition. Could things be a little bit better in certain areas? Of course. But all those things get answered at the end of the year.

“Our focus is on tonight’s game and on this season and all those things get answered at the end of the season, one way or the other,” he said.

The Clippers are playoff-bound for the second consecutive season under Del Negro. It will be only the third time in franchise history the Clippers have had consecutive playoff appearances.

Del Negro was asked if his future was tied to how far the Clipper go in the playoffs this season.

“No, my future is great,” Del Negro responded. “I’ve got a great future, no matter what. I’ve been pretty fortunate, so I don’t really worry about that stuff so much. Like I said, all those things take care of themselves when we finish.”

Celtics falling fast in East raceWith no Kevin Garnett and no Courtney Lee last night against the Knicks, the Celtics were at a decided disadvantage before the game ever began. Throw in a four-game losing streak heading into last night’s contest and mix in the overall sloppy play of Boston throughout its 100-85 beating and the Celtics now sport a five-game losing streak and have fallen to No. 7 in the East. Worse yet for the Celtics is that Milwaukee is just 1 1/2 games behind them and owns the tie-breaker, too. Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe has more on the late-season stumbles of the Celtics:

For the first time since Rajon Rondo went down with a season-ending knee injury in January, it seemed as though the Celtics had finally – if not reluctantly — succumbed to the reality of their limited roster. A 15-point home loss to a shorthanded team will do that.

“It’s been like that for us all season long, it just seems like it gets worse and worse,” captain Paul Pierce said of the injuries. “We can’t feel sorry for ourselves.”

The Celtics have lost five consecutive games, and as Garnett is expected to miss up to two weeks with inflammation in his left ankle, a rather gloomy question looms:

Is this what the Celtics can expect while their defensive anchor is out?

“No,” a defiant coach Doc Rivers said. “Guys, I think you’ve been around me long enough. Kevin’s not playing. I don’t worry about it. I really don’t.

“Somebody else has to play better. A lot of guys. It’s not going to be one guy. But overall, we were pretty bad [Tuesday]. Kevin had nothing to do with that.”

After a tight start, the Knicks, who won their fifth straight, utilized a back-breaking 14-0 run in the second quarter to separate themselves. A J.R. Smith 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer gave New York a 15-point lead entering the fourth.

The fans began to file out midway through the final quarter, having seen enough.

“We just didn’t have it,” Rivers said. “I wish I knew why.”

The Celtics had talked in weeks past that they weren’t concerned with trying to move up in the standings to try to earn home-court advantage.

Now, such a possibility is gone.

If the Celtics end up tied with the Bucks in the final playoff spot, Milwaukee will own the tiebreaker as they’ve beaten Boston in three of their four matchups this season.

Which means the Celtics would be the East’s eighth-seeded team and would face powerhouse Miami in the first round of the playoffs.

“Listen, the decision we’re making with Kevin is the right one,” Rivers said. “But we still want to win games.

“We’re not going to let one game say that we’re not going to win any more games. It’s silly to me to even think that way. We have to get ready for tomorrow and go from there.”

World Peace suffers torn meniscusThings can’t seem to ever turn around for the Lakers. After a fairly successful start to March, L.A. has lost three in a row and holds a one-game lead over both Utah and Dallas for the No. 8 seed in the West. Now comes word that small forward Metta World Peace, who has started 64 of the 70 games he’s played in this season, has a torn meniscus in his left knee. The injury deals a big blow to L.A.’s hopes of holding on to that last playoff spot and, worse yet, the Lakers have yet to find out precisely how long World Peace will be out. Sean Highkin of USA Today has more:

The Los Angeles Lakers took a serious setback Tuesday, when the team announced forward Metta World Peace has a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee. World Peace was injured during the Lakers’ loss Monday to the Golden State Warriors, and the team announced in a news release that an MRI showed a meniscus tear. He will be flown to Los Angeles — the Lakers are on the road to face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday — for further evaluation before a timetable for his return is determined

The loss of World Peace comes at an inopportune time. The Lakers are clinging to a one-game lead on the Utah Jazz for the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs, and with Pau Gasol finally healthy, coach Mike D’Antoni hoped to use the final weeks of the regular season to get his starting five reacquainted.

The loss of their starting small forward will likely force the Lakers to start Antawn Jamison alongside Earl Clark and Dwight Howard in the frontcourt. Not only will Jamison be playing out of position, but has the potential to take away one of the team’s most consistent scoring options off the bench.

ICYMI of the night: J.R. Smith went wherever he want and did whatever he wanted in last night’s win against the Celtics, as this play shows … :


Bynum Deal Burns Sixers





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Anyone reading between the lines two weeks ago should not have been surprised by tonight’s news that Andrew Bynum‘s season is over before it ever started and that he’ll need surgery on both of his ailing knees.

Bynum’s fate was sealed months ago, during training camp, when we all learned that the knee issues that have plagued him throughout his career were flaring up again after that blockbuster summer trade that sent the Los Angeles Lakers’ big man problem to Philadelphia for the Sixers to deal with.

The jaw-dropping part of this whole mess is anyone being shocked that it’s come to this: Bynum’s tenure with the Sixers consisting of not one single second of actual game action in Philly.

“After many months of rehabilitation and consulting with numerous doctors, Andrew and the doctors treating him determined that this is the best course of action at this point,” Sixers General Manager Tony DiLeo said in a statement. “We will continue to monitor and evaluate his status moving forward.”

Moving forward?

Bynum is an unrestricted free agent this summer. That’s a Bynum-filled headache the Sixers don’t need after paying him $16.9 million this season to model his wardrobe and throwback hair styles on the bench while his teammates suffered through a brutal season that was supposed to be filled with so much more.

DiLeo and the Sixers would be wise to let someone else take the next multi-million dollar risk on Bynum’s shaky knees. They’ve already poured more than enough money down that drain.

That offseason trade, a blockbuster 12-player deal involving four teams that had Sixers fans dreaming about being contenders, wound up being productive for everyone but the Sixers. Dwight Howard‘s season with the Lakers has been rough, but they are in playoff position right now and at least have hope for the future. Andre Iguodala has adjusted well in Denver, playing a similar role to the one he played for the Sixers, helping the Nuggets to a playoff spot and a 12-game win streak. And Orlando has made good use of Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and Arron Afflalo.

The Sixers got a wanna-be dominant big man with bilateral knee bone bruises that have bothered him all season, a one-time All-Star with knees that might never support a bid for a second, third, fourth or fifth All-Star nod. A September trip to Germany for the Orthokine therapy injections that worked wonders for Kobe Bryant, and more recently Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams, did absolutely nothing for Bynum.

A Sixers team that was supposed to be primed for a climb up the ladder in the Eastern Conference playoff chase after a surprise run to the conference semifinals last season has suddenly turned into the poster child for thinking and long and hard before you act on the next so-called “blockbuster” deal.

Bynum’s absence has taken a toll on all involved, including Sixers coach Doug Collins, who reached his boiling point late last month after a loss to Orlando when he vented his frustrations about how things have unfolded.

“The team that we tried to put together we’ve never seen,” Collins said after that Orlando loss. “And so I think, when you take a huge piece away from it, your warts show.”

Direct shots at Bynum and the summer deal gone wrong were included in his 10-minute rant.

“We made a huge deal. And we have nobody playing as part of that deal,” Collins continued. “How many teams can give up Andre Iguodala, Moe Harkless and Nik Vucevic, and have nothing in return playing? That’s tough to overcome, right? That’s just the facts. I’m not looking for any out. But that’s the facts. Nik Vucevic had 19 rebounds tonight. Spencer [Hawes] had one. I think Lavoy [Allen] had two.”

Promising young point guard Jrue Holiday has done his part. He became an All-Star this season and kept the Sixers afloat for a while, when everyone still believed that Bynum would actually hit the floor at some point.

But like everyone else in Philly, Holiday got burned by the Bynum deal.

And the ashes will blow through the franchise for a while, kicking up every time someone mentions Bynum’s name or the blockbuster that went up in smoke on the Sixers.

Sixers Hit Rock Bottom, Collins Rants


.
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – It’s been a pretty miserable season for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Because they’re in the Eastern Conference, the Sixers were just four games out of a playoff spot when they took the floor against the Orlando Magic. But not once in the last 3 1/2 months have they ever resembled anything close to a playoff team. And not once has Andrew Bynum been close to actually playing in a game.

Well, things clearly hit rock bottom for Philly on Tuesday night when they lost by 14 points at home to the Orlando Magic, a team that was 3-28 (1-14 on the road) since Dec. 21, had traded one of its best players five days ago, and was looking like it would hold the No. 30 spot in our Power Rankings for the rest of the season.

The embarrassing loss, the Sixers’ sixth straight, was apparently the breaking point for Sixers coach Doug Collins, who had some interesting things to say in his post-game press conference. Collins basically avoided all blame for his team’s struggles and mostly threw his players under the bus.

And he came out firing right away. First, he called the game “mind-numbing.” Then, he used a Pat Summit story to say that a coach can’t control energy and effort, and gave the reporters in the room a look that said, “See what I’m saying here?”

Collins also brought up his own effort as a Sixers player for comparison.

“I gave my body to this franchise,” he said. “I was never booed as a player. Never. I ran through my sneakers.”

There were references to the fact that Bynum hasn’t played a single minute this season…

“The team that we tried to put together we’ve never seen. And so I think, when you take a huge piece away from it, your warts show.”

And there were more obvious criticisms of his players…

“I did not think our guys prepared themselves during the [All-Star] break to come back to play.”

More of the I’m-doing-everything-I-can talk….

“If everybody looked inside themselves as much as I did, this world would be a CAT scan. OK? Believe me, there’s not two days go by that I don’t go to Rod [Thorn], I don’t go to Tony [DiLeo], ‘What can I do? Can I do anything different? How can I be a better coach? How can I be a better leader? How can I help these guys?’

“Sometimes, you’ve got to help yourself, you know? Sometimes you’ve got to help yourself. Youth is a very blaming thing.”

“My job is to not put that kind of product on the floor. I’m incredibly hard on myself. I love it when the fans start yelling at me. I’m not playing. You didn’t yell at me when I played. Why are you yelling at me when I’m coaching?”

Want another way to say that the coach can’t control energy and effort? Here you go…

“They say it’s a players’ league. Well, then take ownership. Take ownership. That’s all I’m asking. Take ownership of what you’re putting out there. To me, I’m a day’s work for a day’s pay kind of guy. That’s all I’ve been ever taught.”

I did my job, but they’re not doing theirs…

“There’s nothing wrong with our preparation. I looked out there to start the game, three guys weren’t even sweating when we started the game! They were going to ease themselves into the game. You’ve got to get sweaty. You’ve got to be ready to go.”

Spencer, I coached Nik Vucevic. I knew Nik Vucevic. Nik Vucevic was a player of mine. Spencer, you’re no Nik Vucevic…

“We made a huge deal. And we have nobody playing as part of that deal. How many teams can give up Andre Iguodala, Moe Harkless and Nik Vucevic, and have nothing in return playing? That’s tough to overcome, right? That’s just the facts. I’m not looking for any out. But that’s the facts. Nik Vucevic had 19 rebounds tonight. Spencer had one. I think Lavoy [Allen] had two.”

Finally, about 10 minutes into the press conference, Collins falls on his sword … sort of …

“I don’t want you to feel like I’m up here blaming. I don’t want you to think I’m making excuses. That’s not what this is about. I’m not a blamer. I’m not an excuse kind of guy. No one takes this harder than I do. Nobody. I’m a guy, who, when I have coached, I’ve always been able to find some answers. And I have not been able to find answers. And from my standpoint, that is very disappointing, because I’m paid to do that.”

The Sixers next play on Thursday, when they visit the Bulls (who also suffered a pretty embarrassing loss on Tuesday) at 8 p.m. on TNT. Should be interesting.

***

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.