Posts Tagged ‘Oklahoma City Thunder’

Westbrook’s face fixed, will sit Sunday; Irving out; Bosh goes home

VIDEO: Westbrook hurt in loss vs. Blazers

There are sports injuries too gruesome to watch in replay – Joe Theismann’s, Shaun Livingston’s and Paul George’s leg fractures all spring quickly to mind – and then there are those you have to look once, twice, even three times to comprehend.

Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook‘s fracture to the zygomatic arch bone in his right cheek qualifies as one of the latter. Westbrook got kneed in the face by Thunder teammate Andre Roberson on an inbounds scramble late in their club’s loss at Portland Friday in a game that saw him record his third straight triple-double. Westbrook, already on the floor, lay on his stomach momentarily. After he got up, photos showed an odd indentation or depression in his face. Royce Young of ESPN.com passed along the day-after basics following surgery Saturday to repair Westbrook’s face:

He has been ruled out for Sunday’s game at the Los Angeles Lakers and will be re-evaluated next week to determine when he can return to play.

Westbrook had his third consecutive triple-double against the Blazers, scoring 40 points with 13 rebounds and 11 assists. He had a historic February, averaging 31.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and 10.3 assists, numbers that only ever have been totaled by Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson.

Kevin Durant is set to be re-evaluated for a minor procedure he underwent last Sunday and could return as soon as this coming week. In seven games without Durant in February, Westbrook averaged a triple-double — 31.2 points, 10.0 rebounds and 11.3 assists.

Westbrook, 26, is averaging 26.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 8.1 assists in 45 games this season. He missed 14 games in November because of a fracture in his right hand.

Newly acquired D.J. Augustin will start in place of Westbrook on Sunday against the Lakers.

Young also had speculated on what this injury might mean to Westbrook’s well-known sense of fashion:

But here’s the really pertinent stuff:

Meanwhile, Cleveland also will be without its All-Star point guard Sunday at Houston. Kyrie Irving continued treatment Saturday on the left shoulder strain that caused him to miss the Cavaliers’ game at Indiana Friday, his team announced, and will not join the team for its matinee clash with the Rockets. Irving’s status will be updated Tuesday morning prior to the Cavs’ home game that night against Boston.

Craving some good news on the NBA health front? The Miami Heat and their veteran power forward, recovering rather nicely from the condition that ended his 2014-15 season, were happy to oblige late Saturday afternoon:

Morning shootaround — Feb. 28


VIDEO: Recap Friday’s 14 games with the Daily Zap

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rondo: All is well in Dallas | What’s wrong with the Wizards? | Bulls win, despite losing Gibson | Shorten the schedule?

No. 1: Rondo: All is well in Dallas — After an on-court blowup earlier this week between Dallas coach Rick Carlisle and point guard Rajon Rondo, the Mavericks suspended Rondo for one game. Dallas lost that game without Rondo, against Atlanta, but in the meantime, Rondo says, he and Carlisle have been working to get back on the same page. And as ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon writes, Rondo is now hoping to focus on moving forward and keeping the Mavs in the playoff picture…

“I just got built-up frustration,” said Rondo, who has had a couple of long individual meetings with Carlisle since their blowup. “I take a lot of the blame for what I’ve been doing on the court, but just a little frustrated. The most important thing is communication with Coach. I’ve talked to a lot of the coaches, I’ve talked to a lot of staff members.

“Coach and I, when I first got here, we were talking a lot and watching film after every game. He’s backed off a little bit with the addition of Amar’e [Stoudemire], trying to help get him up to speed. Our communication was great at first. Not that it wasn’t so great, but it’s just that we weren’t communicating enough. That shouldn’t be the case the rest of the season.”

Rondo, a four-time All-Star who arrived in Dallas on Dec. 18 as the featured player in a blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics, has a reputation for being difficult to coach. He frequently butted heads with Doc Rivers in Boston, but the Celtics won a title and advanced to another NBA Finals during their time together.

“I’ve been in this situation before,” Rondo said, chuckling. “Everyone’s personality is different. The personality and the DNA is different.

“I don’t think this is a problem at all. We lost a game [Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks], which hurt us seeding-wise, but we have to continue to move forward. I spoke with pretty much everyone in the organization, and everyone is on the same page.”

Rondo declined to discuss how play-calling responsibilities would be handled going forward. Carlisle has handled the vast majority of play-calling, which bothered Rondo, a nine-year veteran known for his basketball intelligence.

Carlisle, who stressed the importance of Rondo to the Mavs after the suspension was announced Wednesday, said he is done discussing the incident with Rondo.

“I know that you guys need to ask him a couple of questions, but I’m done talking about it,” Carlisle said. “Our other players are done talking about it. It’s over. In terms of NBA time, it’s light-years ago.”

***

No. 2: What’s wrong with the Wizards? — The Washington Wizards entered this season expected to not only contend for the Southeast Division title, but the Eastern Conference crown as well. But even with injuries slowing their roll this season, the Wizards are in a tailspin right now, last night losing to the Philadelphia 76ers, Washington’s sixth loss in a row, its longest losing streak in two seasons. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, the Wizards’ loss was “code red for a team that just one month ago harbored title aspirations”…

It came on the heels of a team dinner Thursday. All 14 players dined together at a Brazilian steakhouse, which was captured in an Instagram post by Marcin Gortat with the caption “Team dinner…Staying together!”

The off-court camaraderie didn’t remedy their on-court ailments. A night later, they were dreadful in a loss to a team they dismantled by 35 points last month. The loss was the Wizards’ 11th in 13 games and 13th in their past 17 and could leave them in sixth place in the Eastern Conference depending on the Milwaukee Bucks’ fate against the Los Angeles Lakers late Friday night.

“I wouldn’t say rock bottom. It’s a tough stretch,” all-star guard John Wall said. “We’re still above .500, but the main thing is we got to get back to playing the right way. Until we do that, we’re going to keep losing games. The way we’ve been playing, you can lose to anybody in this league.”

Washington entered the night averaging a league-low 15 free throw attempts and shooting 23.3 percent from beyond the three-point line over its past five games. Without Bradley Beal (fibula), Paul Pierce (knee) and Kris Humphries (groin) available, the trend continued.

When the Wizards (33-26) last played in Philadelphia on March 1 of last year, Trevor Ariza, now a member of the Houston Rockets, made eight three-pointers and scored 40 points. On Friday, Washington made just 4 of its 17 three-point attempts (23.5 percent) and scored 39 second-half points.

The Wizards shot a paltry 32.3 percent from the floor and attempted 12 fewer free throws than Philadelphia. The 76ers were held to 35 percent shooting but outscored Washington by 28 points from the three-point arc and free throw line.

“We had some good shots, but we’re not making shots,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “[We’re] not playing with confidence right now. We’re short-cutting everything. To get out of this rut that you’re in, you can’t do that offensively. We have to execute offensively, and we took short cuts, which turned into bad shots. Until we execute, it’s going to stay like this.”

***

No. 3: Bulls win, despite losing Gibson — The Chicago Bulls continue seeing both sides of the coin. Earlier in the day, the Bulls announced that surgery on Derrick Rose had been successful, and they were putting a 4-6 week timetable on his return, which, even on the long end of that schedule, would have Rose back before the end of the regular season. Last night, without Rose, the Bulls beat the surging Timberwolves, 96-89. But taking the bad with the good, the Bulls lost big man Taj Gibson to a sprained ankle. With the Bulls struggling to stay healthy, Joakim Noah has been able to resume his old point-forward role and keep the Bulls above water, as ESPNChicago.com’s Nick Friedell writes

“That part I think is innate,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said of Noah’s passing ability. “He had great vision and decision-making ability. He’s got a very unorthodox game in many ways. But he’s got great vision, and if a guy’s open just a little bit on a cut, he can get it there. So it’s a big plus when you have a big guy that can pass like that.”

For his part, Noah wasn’t biting on how much fun he was having in his old role. He discussed how the Bulls run a read-and-react offense and try to find the open man.

“I enjoy winning,” Noah said. “It was fun to win today. We just got to keep improving.”

Noah’s offensive game has taken a back seat to Pau Gasol‘s throughout the season. Now that Noah is back to feeling like himself as he continues to shake off the lingering effects of offseason knee surgery, it’s going to be interesting to see how his game responds once Gasol and Rose are back on the floor. In the meantime, Noah, like the rest of his teammates, is just hopeful Rose will be back sooner than later.

“It’s tough when your best player is out,” Noah said. “But I think today was positive news. Derrick’s a warrior. He’s going to fight as hard as he can to try his best to come back this year. We just got to keep building and keep getting better until he gets back.”

***

No. 4: Shorten the season? — At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston this weekend, at least some part of the conversation has been about the length of the NBA season. The NBA has played an 82-game schedule since 1967-68, but with the recent drumbeat to reduce wear-and-tear on players and reduce the amount of back-to-back games, is it worth considering shortening the season? As Brett Pollakoff writes for NBCSports.com, the recently retired Shane Battier suggests slicing 22 games off the schedule…

“To me, 82 is here because somebody is making a lot of money,” Mike D’Antoni said Friday, as part of a panel discussion at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. “Usually that’s the bottom line. They’re making money, it hasn’t been a disaster, and it’s a little more like a marathon, and that’s just the rules. 82 isn’t going anywhere.”

As D’Antoni summed up succinctly, without a large amount of data available to essentially prove that an 82-game schedule significantly puts the league’s players at risk, the financial incentive not to touch that magic number of 82 will remain too strong. And Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren echoed those remarks.

“It’s not just the number of games, it’s in what time frame,” Zarren said. “So there may be some tweaks that happen soon in the NBA to that. It’s a much more realistic thing than cutting games, because it’s in everyone’s interest to grow the pie, and cutting the number of games cuts ticket sales, which shrinks the pie.”

Those are realistic perspectives, but they’re ones that come from a coach and a member of the front office.

On the player side, Shane Battier came up with a number of games that he believes would be ideal — not only to protect the athletes, but also to make the games that are played much more compelling.

“Personally, I think a 60-game season would be perfect,” Battier said. “Every game matters more. You can’t sleepwalk through a few weeks of the season — it does happen — and then all of a sudden wake up near the All-Star break and turn it on. Fans just want to see the best basketball players in the world at their highest level going head-to-head.

“Every team has a certain number of throwaway games. You just know. You just know you’re not winning tonight. You don’t have it. And then after the game, coach knows it, everybody knows it, coach comes in, says ‘Alright, bring it in guys. We’ll get ‘em tomorrow. 1-2-3 team!'”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Thunder lost the second half of a back-to-back, but not because of Russell Westbrook, who posted his third-straight triple-double … Don’t be surprised if the Knicks make a run at Reggie Jackson this summer … Is Baron Davis mounting a comeback this season? … Catching up with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has reinvented himself in retirement as a culture vulture

Morning shootaround — Feb. 26


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Feb. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Garnett talks the talk upon return | Timeline for Rose | Sullinger vows to trim down | Carter-Williams caught off-guard | Kobe: NBA was out to get Lakers

No. 1: Garnett talks the talk upon returnKevin Garnett’s return to Minnesota was a success, in regard to the atmosphere in the Target Center and the result on the scoreboard. And Garnett’s impact on the Wolves went well beyond the five points, eight rebounds and two blocks he tallied in less than 19 minutes. NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner made his own return to the Twin Cities and wrote about the conversations Garnett had (and will continue to have) with his new teammates

“Today it was just so over-the-top. I did not know the city missed me like this. I don’t think you could ever wish or ever think that a city loves you like this, but to see it is reality and I am very appreciative.”

That was the storybook of Garnett’s return.

The playbook? That was all the basketball stuff Garnett participated in and, even more so, didn’t participate in. He logged 18:38 in his first game back, about what coach Flip Saunders has in mind for most nights. Which meant that Garnett sat, and often will sit, on the bench for 29:22, watching this team he’s getting to know on the fly.

It went like that all evening. Whoever sat down next to Garnett got an earful of … you name it. Defensive positioning. Ball-skill fundamentals. Fun with phonics.

“That’s what I do,” Garnett said. “I was just trying to give the guys some insight, if not perception. Show ‘em what I was seeing. Just slow ‘em down a little. Nothing extra or different from what I usually do.”

***

No. 2: Friday could bring surgery and timeline for Rose — The Bulls received brutal news on Tuesday when they learned that Derrick Rose had a torn meniscus in his right knee for the second time in 15 months. But they might not lose Rose for nearly as long this time, and there’s a chance he could return in the postseason. We’ll all know what the timeline is after Rose has surgery, which could come Friday, writes K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune

Thibodeau said surgery hasn’t been scheduled, but sources said while it’s mostly Rose’s decision, it will happen sooner rather than later, likely Friday because of minimal swelling. Team physician Brian Cole, who also repaired Rose’s first torn meniscus in November 2013, will perform the procedure. Rose underwent surgery two days after that injury.

An official timeline for Rose’s return won’t be known until Cole performs the surgery, but multiple sources expressed strong belief that this tear isn’t as significant as the one Rose had in November 2013. Sources added the expectation is that this procedure will remove a small cartilage tear, suggesting a shorter rehabilitation period.

Two other sources said Rose was told after the initial surgery that a future tear was possible, if not likely, and that a second procedure typically involves “cutting” or “snipping” the damage. That generally involves a rehabilitation process of three to eight weeks.

***

No. 3: Sullinger vows to trim downJared Sullinger is out for the season with a stress fracture in his left foot and has averaged just 57 games in his first three years in the league. The foot injury isn’t related to the back issue he dealt with as a rookie, unless you choose to blame his weight for both. Sullinger doesn’t think his weight was a factor, but says he plans on using his time off to get in better shape, as Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston writes

“Freak accidents happen. I just have to come back better,” Sullinger said.

Pressed on what he hoped to get out of recovery, Sullinger added: “A little bit of everything — change the physique, change the way I look. That’s the biggest thing, I think. I’m tired of looking on camera and just seeing how I look, seeing how I play during extended minutes. Conditioning is going to be a big factor. Conditioning is going to be hard because all I can do is ride the bike. We’re going to find ways, we’re going to find ways to get me in the best shape possible.”

Sullinger had pledged to get in better shape this summer and did report for camp looking trimmer, but appears to have added weight during the season.

“I got in better shape, but there’s another level to it,” Sullinger said. “There’s always another level to everything. I just have to take it to another level. This year I came back in a little bit better shape. Obviously, it wasn’t good enough. Now I just have to get back to the grit and grind, kind of break my body down just to build it back up. I think that’s what I’m going to do this summer.”

***

No. 4: Carter-Williams thought he was part of Sixers’ long-term plan — In his first game with his new team, Michael Carter-Williams got a win against his old team, scoring seven points and dishing out eight assists in the Bucks’ 104-88 victory over the Sixers. Before the game, Carter-Williams said that he thought he was part of the long-term plan in Philly, and that coach Brett Brown might have disagreed with Sam Hinkie‘s decision to trade the Rookie of the Year for the Lakers’ top-five protected pick. Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News has the story

He was reflective on his time in Philly, and seemed to be still somewhat baffled at what went down with him getting moved to Milwaukee in a three-team trade in which the Sixers ended up with a first-round pick from the Lakers, which is top-five-protected this season, top-three-protected for the next two seasons.

“I think the ultimate thing that it comes down to is coach Brown coaches and Sam [Hinkie] does the moves,” said MCW. “I think that’s what it comes down to and I think that’s the agreement and that’s all I really know. I think that if it was up to coach Brown, I don’t think I would have been moved, to be honest.

“I was pretty up to speed and pretty involved (disbelieving laughs). As far as I heard I was involved in the long-term plan, especially with me, Joel (Embiid) and Nerlens (Noel). It was really us three that was the core group and were told that we we’re going to be (there) for a pretty long time and we really want to build around. I understand that things change and plans change. I guess that Sam and the rest of those guys thought that to move me was the best move. That’s on them and it is what it is.”

***

No. 5: Kobe: NBA was out to get the LakersKobe Bryant certainly isn’t afraid to express his opinion. And you might say that he’s a little bitter about the events of 2011. In an interview/profile in this month’s GQ (Warning: some naughty language within), Bryant tells Chuck Klosterman that the ’11 lockout and subsequent veto of the Chris Paul trade were meant to “restrict the Lakers,” and only the Lakers …

The Lakers are not going to make the playoffs this year, and it seems unlikely that they will challenge for a title next year. So if titles are your only goal, why even play these last two seasons?

I know what Mitch [Kupchak, the Lakers GM] tells me. I know what Jim and Jeanie [Buss, the team owners] tell me. I know that they are hell-bent about having a championship caliber team next season, as am I.

But how could that possibly be done? Doesn’t the league’s financial system dictate certain limitations?

Well, okay: Look at the [2011] lockout. That lockout was made to restrict the Lakers. It was. I don’t care what any other owner says. It was designed to restrict the Lakers and our marketability.

The Lakers specifically, or teams like the Lakers?

There is only one team like the Lakers. Everything that was done with that lockout was to restrict the Lakers’ ability to get players and to create a sense of parity, for the San Antonios of the world and the Sacramentos of the world. But a funny thing happened, coming out of that lockout: Even with those restrictions, the Lakers pulled off a trade [for Chris Paul] that immediately set us up for a championship, a run of championships later, and which saved money. Now, the NBA vetoed that trade. But the Lakers pulled that **** off, and no one would have thought it was even possible. The trade got vetoed, because they’d just staged the whole lockout to restrict the Lakers. Mitch got penalized for being smart. But if we could do that…

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Wesley Matthews came up big in a big game for the Blazers … after which the Spurs’ Tony Parker admitted that he’s strugglingEvan Turner messed around and got a triple-doubleGeorge Karl needs a little patienceRajon Rondo and Rick Carlisle had a second angry exchange after the Mavs’ win on Tuesday … Mitch McGary is a hustler, homey … and the Suns will have new uniforms for Thursday’s game against the Thunder.

ICYMI: Rookie Markel Brown showed us that they may have picked the wrong Net for the dunk contest:


VIDEO: Play of the Day – Markel Brown

2015 Trade Deadline Live Blog


VIDEO: Trade Deadline Show wrap-up

Thursday started a little slow, but by the time 3 p.m. rolled around, the action was fast and furious, culminating in a flurry of deals that sent several quality point guards across the country.

Here’s a breakdown of every trade made in the hours leading up to the deadline, as reported.

To MIL: Michael Carter-Williams, Tyler Ennis, Miles Plumlee
To PHI: LAL pick (protected)
To PHX: Brandon Knight, Kendall Marshall

To BOS: Isaiah Thomas
To PHX: Marcus Thornton, CLE pick

To DET: Reggie Jackson
To OKC: D.J. Augustin, Enes Kanter, Steve Novak, Kyle Singler
To UTA: Grant Jerrett, Kendrick Perkins, OKC pick (protected), 2nd round pick

To BOS: Luigi Datome, Jonas Jerebko
To DET: Tayshaun Prince

To HOU: Pablo Prigioni
To NYK: Alexey Shved, 2 2nd round picks

To HOU: K.J. McDaniels
To PHI: Isaiah Canaan, 2nd round pick

To MIA: Goran Dragic, Zoran Dragic
To NOP: Norris Cole, Justin Hamilton, Shawne Williams
To PHX: Danny Granger, John Salmons, 2 1st round picks

To DEN:
To PHI: JaVale McGee, OKC pick (protected)

To BKN: Thaddeus Young
To MIN: Kevin Garnett

To SAC: Andre Miller
To WAS: Ramon Sessions

To DEN: Will Barton, Victor Claver, Thomas Robinson, POR pick (protected), 2nd round pick
To POR: Arron Afflalo, Alonzo Gee

Five takeaways

1. The Thunder remade their bench.
Enes Kanter‘s defense is disastrous and Steve Novak hasn’t been in an NBA rotation in two years, but D.J. Augustin gives Oklahoma City more of a floor general on its second unit and Kyle Singler adds shooting (41 percent from 3-point range this season) to complement their stars. With Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison already on the frontline, Kanter’s defense might not be as much of an issue as it was in Utah.

2. If Dwyane Wade is healthy, the Heat will be a tough out.
Goran Dragic is the best point guard Wade has had in Miami (if you don’t count LeBron James as a PG) and will take some of the ball-handling burden off of Wade’s shoulders. Dragic pick-and-pops with Chris Bosh will be deadly.

As they stood on Wednesday, a healthy Heat team could have been a tough opponent for a high seed in the East that didn’t have much playoff experience. Now, they’re downright scary.

3. The Blazers are all-in.
With one of the best starting lineups in the league, the Blazers added Arron Afflalo to a bench that already includes Steve Blake and Chris Kaman. And playing alongside LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard should help Afflalo shoot threes more like he did last season (43 percent) than he has this season so far (34 percent).

Anything can happen in the Western Conference playoffs, but the Blazers just improved their odds of making a deep run.

4. The Sixers didn’t believe in Michael Carter-Williams
Or they didn’t believe he was a star. So they traded him for another chance at a star, a Lakers pick that’s protected 1-5 this year and 1-3 each of the next two years. Carter-Williams’ length was one ingredient to the top-12 defense that Brett Brown had built this season, but Sam Hinkie is still kicking that can down the road.

5. Did the Bucks take a step back to save money?
Brandon Knight may have been an All-Star had Jimmy Butler not been able to play on Sunday. And the Bucks broke up a team that won eight of its last nine games going into the break, perhaps to avoid paying Knight (a restricted free agent) this summer.

But the Bucks’ defense, which already ranks second in the league, may have improved with the addition of Carter-Williams. Put his wingspan together with that of Giannis Antetokounmpo and John Henson, and the Bucks can cover the whole court with just three guys.

– John Schuhmann

(more…)

Heat, Thunder could benefit from easy remaining schedules


VIDEO: GameTime: Will the Thunder make the playoffs?

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The unofficial second half of the season gets underway Thursday night with a TNT doubleheader featuring four Western Conference teams looking to improve their position in the standings.

With about 2/3 of the season complete and 432 games left to play, there’s still much to be determined. It will mostly be determined by how each team plays, but also by who each team plays and where each team plays.

With that in mind, we have a breakdown of each team’s strength of schedule going forward.

First, a little explanation. Basic strength of schedule looks at the cumulative record of a team’s opponents. To get a little more advanced, we can look at the average NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) of those opponents. A team’s point differential is more indicative of future success than its record.

But there are other factors to how easy or difficult a team’s schedule is. There’s home vs. away and there’s back-to-backs, both for the team and their opponents.

We can account for those by adjusting the opponent’s NetRtg in either direction…

  • plus-2.6* for a road game.
  • minus-2.6 for a home game.
  • plus-2.3** when the team is playing the second night of a back-to-back and the opponent isn’t.
  • minus-2.3 when the opponent is playing the second night of a back-to-back and the team isn’t.

* Home teams have outscored road teams by 2.6 points per 100 possessions this season.
** When one team played the night before and the other didn’t, the rested team has been a plus-2.3 this season.

So the toughest game a team could play would be vs. the Warriors (+12.3) at Oracle Arena (+2.6) on the second night of a back-to-back, when the Warriors didn’t play the night before (+2.3). Nine different teams, including the Spurs on Friday, play such games.

The easiest game would be vs. the Sixers (-10.3) at home (-2.6), with rest and with Philly playing the second night of a back-to-back (-2.3). Three teams — Miami, Denver and New York — play such games.

There’s some math involved, but it’s not too complicated. With that in mind, here’s a look at the Eastern Conference, sorted by average adjusted opponent NetRtg (toughest schedule at the top, easiest at the bottom), but with traditional measures of strength of schedule as well.

20150219_east_sos

A couple of notes on the East…

  • The Cavs not only have the toughest schedule in regard to the records of their remaining opponents, they’re also on the road for 16 of the 27 games, including 14 of the next 19. That could make it harder for them to make a run at the No. 2 seed.
  • No team in the league has more remaining road games than the Raptors (18).
  • Of the six teams that have a shot at the last two playoff spots, Charlotte and Detroit have the toughest schedules, while Miami and Indiana have the easiest.

Here’s the West…

20150219_west_sos

  • The Mavs play the toughest set of opponents, but a lot of them will be on the second night of a back-to-back.
  • The Grizzlies have the most remaining back-to-backs. Two of the 10 will finish with visits to the Clippers.
  • The Warriors’ 21 games against teams currently over .500 are two more than any other team has.
  • The Thunder not only have Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and some pre-break momentum, but they have an easier schedule than both Phoenix and New Orleans in the battle for the eighth playoff spot. They have the most home-heavy remaining schedule in the league.

If you added a recency factor and used numbers from after Christmas instead of the whole season (which would account for improvement from the Hornets, Pistons and Thunder and regression from the Heat, Kings and Lakers), the schedule would look even easier for Oklahoma City. It would look tougher for Chicago and Washington.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reunion for Wolves, Garnett? | Jerome Kersey, Blazers great, RIP | Kanter not signing Jazz tune on deadline | Ainge and Celtics will take your calls

No. 1: Reunion for Wolves, Garnett? — He spent the meat of his certain Hall of Fame career in Minnesota, often frustrated, always brilliant, and in the end was thrilled to leave. Now, well in his twilight, and perhaps staring at the end of the road, will Kevin Garnett‘s journey finish up where it started? On the eve of the trade deadline, there apparently is enough of a thaw, at least on the Wolves’ end, to make this happen. The Wolves have struggled since Garnett left, never making the playoffs or having a winning season. And of course, they’ll struggle even if they bring him back for a curtain call because they’re loaded with young players. But from a sentimental standpoint, this would be heartwarming. Garnett remains a sports icon in the Twin Cities and the applause for him in a Wolves uniform would be thunderous. But nothing happens unless he wants it to happen. He must approve any trade, and with precious little left in the tank, wouldn’t Garnett rather be someplace warm and with a chance to win a title, like, with old friend Doc Rivers in LA? Anyway, here’s Marc Stein of ESPN:

Garnett has insisted in recent weeks that he is not in the market for an in-season exit from Brooklyn, largely because he does not wish to displace his family ‎in the middle of the season.

But the Wolves, sources say, are hopeful that the chance to play out what might be his final NBA season as a member of the team that drafted him out of high school in 1995 — and under longtime coach Flip Saunders — could lead Garnett to reconsider. Such a trade, of course, would also mean the hypercompetitive Garnett has to leave the Eastern Conference playoff race to join a team at the bottom of the West.

Saunders remains close with Garnett and is said to covet a reunion to bring back the most popular player in Wolves annals as a mentor to the many youngsters on the current roster, headlined by 2014’s No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins.

And in Young, Minnesota possesses a player the Nets have coveted for some time. Brooklyn GM Billy King drafted Young in Philadelphia and would presumably welcome his addition now as the Nets try to fortify their roster in search a playoff berth in the East.

The Los Angeles Clippers and coach Doc Rivers have been openly hoping Garnett would seek a buyout from the Nets before March 1 to become eligible to play in the playoffs for another team. But Garnett has left the impression he has little interest in a buyout.

“I haven’t thought too much of my own personal [situation],” Garnett recently told Nets beat writers. “When that road comes, I’ll cross it and I’ll deal with it. A lot of things with [my] family situation and things, it’s not just convenient to get up and move, to change things. It’s not as convenient as it once was when I was younger. I have a lot more responsibilities and things to take into account.”

In the same interview, Garnett insisted he was all-in with the 21-29 Nets, despite the fact that close friend Paul Pierce left Brooklyn over the summer to sign in free agency with the Washington Wizards.

‎In November, Garnett told Yahoo! Sports that he wants to buy the Timberwolves someday. But he has said little about how much longer he intends to play beyond this season, which is Garnett’s 20th as a pro.

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Durant backs off media edginess

Kevin Durant averaged 32 points a game last season in winning his first MVP. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Kevin Durant feels if the Thunder had been healthy, they would be near the top in the West. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Kevin Durant either reconsidered some of his caustic comments that began at All-Star Weekend. Or he got tired of the heat he suddenly was taking and decided affability is a lot easier road to travel than candor when headed toward NBA free agency in 2016. Or maybe one of his many sponsors suggested that an edgier Durant would be costing himself, and them, way too much money if his likeability took a dive.

Whatever the reason, Durant walked back the tone if not entirely the content of the criticism he directed at the media in New York a few days ago. He also clarified some comments in a GQ article that was posted to the magazine’s Web site Wednesday. Durant spoke with reporters after the Oklahoma City’s first post-All-Star practice Wednesday, with Darnell Mayberry and Anthony Slater of the Daily Oklahoman chronicling it in Q&A fashion. Bottom line: “I had a moment. I hope we can get past it.”

Here are some notable excerpts:

Story in GQ created some buzz, specifically the quote about your players not being as good in the past. What specifically did you mean?

I think my words were misinterpreted a little bit. I read that this morning and felt bad, but I was just talking in terms of how the public views our team, how everybody views us. Everybody talks about the James Harden trade to this day. Everybody else is asking about a player that’s a three-time All-Star, leading scorer in the league, so we can’t do nothing about that. I never wanted to slight my teammates like I did, but just from the outside looking in, that’s how people view us. That we got worse. But we can’t control that. That’s what really I was trying to say, so I’m sorry if my words got misinterpreted, but I never want to slight my teammates.

And:

A lot of people on the outside looking in think that might be a factor in your decision next summer, the fact that they traded James and the talent hasn’t been the same as in the past and you haven’t been to the Finals since. What impact does that decision in 2012 make on your decision next summer?

None. None. We’re still a good team. Still a good team. Let’s be real now. We’d still be up there if we didn’t have injuries. If I wasn’t out, if [Russell Westbrook] wasn’t out, we’d be up there. So don’t act like we a bad team or we got worse. Nah, we had injuries. It’s a part of the game and I understand that, not crying about it. But that’s what happened. We lost Russell for a playoff series, we lost Serge [Ibaka] for a playoff series. Stuff like that happens, but to say all because we lost James we didn’t make it to the Finals. Everybody’s going to have their opinion, especially with the time winding down and the summer coming up with me, but I love where I’m at right now and I’m just trying to focus on that every single day.

And:

We’ve sort of gotten to know you a certain way the first six, seven years and this year you’ve been edgier, you’ve been more outspoken. How do you explain that shift?

Let’s be real. Let’s look at the whole thing. I’ve been in the league eight years. The media and myself have had a great relationship for eight years. I said something. Two days in a row I said something. Am I allowed to be upset one time? Am I allowed to be mad? Am I human? Do you look at me that way? I can’t say nothing wrong? We had great communication for eight years and it’s still that way. But I had a moment. Everybody in life has one. You had one for sure before but it’s not broadcasted like mine. I was more so trying to take up for my teammates, my coach and every guy in the league that gets scrutinized and I don’t like. Maybe I shouldn’t say nothing about it. I had my moment.”

Morning shootaround — Feb. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rockets on outs for Dragic? | Assessing Reggie Jackson’s worth | Lakers, Clippers slide in ratings | Andrew Young supports Ferry

No. 1: Rockets on outs for Dragic? — Bittersweet might be the best way to describe it, the way the NBA trade deadline follows just days after Valentine’s Day each year. One moment people are flush with romance and gazing longingly into each other’s eyes, the next they’re casting covetous glances at a neighbor’s point guard. Or they’re trading away a player before that player can dump his team, a league transaction as the equivalent of a pre-nup agreement. Then there’s the unrequited love of deals that never actually get consummated, which is what the Houston Rockets were nervous about as Phoenix guard Goran Dragic hit the market this week. The good news for Houston was, Dragic definitely was available. The discouraging news, though, was that the Suns playmaker didn’t have the Rockets on his short list of trade destinations. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle broke down the Rockets’ potential heartache:

With Dragic – who said last month that he would consider all of his options, including the Rockets and Suns – listing the Knicks, Lakers and Heat among teams he would target as a free agent, the Rockets would be considerably more hard-pressed to gamble on a trade deadline move for Dragic.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has previously gone after a deal for a player that had shown no interest in signing with the Rockets when he pursued a deal with Denver for Carmelo Anthony. He also was willing to close a deal with Orlando for Dwight Howard when Howard at the time was interested in signing with Brooklyn, if he opted out of his Orlando contract to become a free agent.

Those deals were never completed, with Anthony going to the Knicks and Howard agreeing to opt in with Orlando, only to be traded to the Lakers the next off-season.

The Rockets were very interested in trading for Dragic with no guarantee that they could keep him. But unlike the seasons in which they pursued Anthony or Howard, they are not lacking in star power and as open to making a long-shot deal to land and eventually try to keep a foundation piece.

The Rockets could still be willing to make a deal centered around the first-round pick they acquired from the Pelicans in the trade of Omer Asik, an asset they primarily picked up to strengthen their position in a trade during the season. But it could be difficult to give up a rotation player, particularly a player signed beyond the season, in a trade for Dragic, who could leave after the season.

***

No. 2: Assessing Reggie Jackson’s worth — Lose a player for nothing or give him away for next-to-nothing. Often, that’s what it comes down to at the deadline for teams whose players can hit free agency in a few months. Whether they’re unrestricted and certain to leave or restricted but likely to fetch a price too high to match, the players’ current teams have to ask the same question a prospective suitor faces: What is this guy worth for two months and whatever playoff run follows? The Oklahoma City Thunder were mulling that in regards to guard Reggie Jackson as Thursday’s trade cutoff approached, as reported by the Daily Oklahoman:

As the clock ticks, Jackson’s name remains one of the hottest on the market. There’s a general feeling that the Thunder, a calculated and forward-thinking organization that has always tried to maximize its assets, doesn’t want to lose him for nothing this offseason when he hits restricted free agency. So a trade would seem likely.

But it’s a bit more complicated than that.

With the Thunder still harboring playoff and title hopes, Jackson remains a key contributor. He is OKC’s best playmaker off the bench and remains capable of taking over and changing games, which he’s done multiple times the past two years. The Thunder’s talent level and championship probability takes a dip without him.

That, of course, changes if Sam Presti can swing a deal that nets the Thunder a contributor in return. But by solely moving Jackson, that’d be tough.

Any franchise interested in Jackson would likely be a non-playoff team needing point guard help — a Knicks or Kings type. It would be a move for the future. But trading for Jackson wouldn’t guarantee he’d be on the roster next season.

Plus, Jackson’s cheap $2.2 million deal complicates things even more. Most of the potentially available rotation players around the league — Brook Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Wilson Chandler — make far more than Jackson. The Thunder would have to add more money (potentially Kendrick Perkins) into that type of deal.

***

No. 3: Lakers, Clippers slide in ratings — The show-biz capital of the world isn’t easily impressed with entertainment that isn’t first class, and that apparently extends to the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers this season. According to the Los Angeles Times, both teams have seen the telecasts of their games dip in the ratings. The NBA is trying to stay in front of technology, including a lot of younger fans’ switch from traditional TV viewing to using their tablets and smartphones to access entertainment, but this still is a trend that bears watching, considering the money at stake in broadcasts rights fees and advertising rates. Here is some of the L.A. Times’ report:

Nielsen ratings for the Lakers in the Los Angeles market are at an all-time low, dipping below a 2.00 rating for the first time, according to the ratings firm.

The Lakers’ 1.95 rating on Time Warner Cable SportsNet is down 25% from this point last season and puts the team on pace to break the record low 2.11 figure it posted for the 2013-14 season.

The Clippers are averaging a 1.10 rating on Prime Ticket, a drop of 13% from the same point last season. The ratings gap between the Lakers and Clippers is the lowest on record.

The Lakers (13-40) are on pace for the worst winning percentage in the franchise’s 66-year history. Making them all the harder to watch has been the absence of veteran stars Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash and rookie Julius Randle.

The Lakers’ TV ratings have declined in each of the three seasons they have partnered with TWC, which is paying the team $5 billion over 25 years. The team’s ratings are down 57% from only two years ago, when it posted a 4.63 during Dwight Howard’s one season in L.A.

The Clippers (35-19) are only one game worse than they were at this point last season on the way to a franchise-record 57 victories. They also had avoided injuries to top players before All-Star forward Blake Griffin was diagnosed last week with a staph infection in his right elbow that required surgery.

“The schedule has presented several challenges thus far, including fewer prime-time games and multiple matchups versus marquee events such as Monday Night Football,” said Steve Simpson, senior vice president and general manager of Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket. “That said, with the exciting brand of basketball the Clippers play, we are optimistic as we head into the second half of the season.”

***

No. 4: Andrew Young supports Ferry — As the Atlanta Hawks continue to have their way in the Eastern Conference as the NBA’s biggest surprise team of 2014-15, their exiled general manager, Danny Ferry, remains M.I.A. due to the controversy last summer over some racially insensitive (and tape-recorded) remarks. Ferry’s sabbatical hasn’t been turned into a pink slip, though, and a number of folks inside and outside the NBA have spoken up in defense of his character. Now Andrew Young, the former mayor of Atlanta and a longtime civil rights leader, has added his name to that list, saying “Hell no” when asked by a local TV station whether Ferry should be fired. Here’s more from ESPN.com:

Asked by WSB TV’s sports director Zach Klein whether Ferry should lose his job, Young responded, “Hell no.”

Ferry took a leave of absence from the Hawks on Sept. 12 after a recording of him making inflammatory comments about Luol Deng on a conference call was made public. Since Ferry’s departure, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer has presided as the head of basketball operations, with assistant general manager Wes Wilcox also active in day-to-day proceedings.

On the call, Ferry characterized Deng as a player who “has a little African in him,” and added, “He’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front and sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.”

Young said that were he the decision-maker in the Hawks executive offices, he would’ve encouraged Ferry to stay on. He added that he doesn’t believe Ferry is a racist.

“No more than I am,” Young told the Atlanta station. “That’s a word that you cannot define, ‘You are a racist.’ You can’t grow up white in America without having some problems. You can’t grow up black in America without having some subtle feelings.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: One reason Sacramento’s new hire, George Karl, has been so successful as an NBA coach might be all the games he got to play against the Kings. … It’s going to be a busy day for trade deadline rumors, so add this to the list: Detroit and Brooklyn might be circling a Brandon Jennings-Joe Johnson maneuver. … Milwaukee’s Brandon Knight, another restricted free agent this summer, didn’t squeeze onto the East All-Star squad but is highly valued by the trade-meisters. … The folks at SheridanHoops.com kick around some trade speculation too, including Utah’s Enes Kanter to OKC? …

Morning shootaround — Feb. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Amar’e gets Maverick | Report: Bucks, Sanders talk buyout | What’s next for Marc Gasol? | A weekend with Westbrook

No. 1: Amar’e gets Maverick — Just hours after securing his release from the New York Knicks, according to multiple reports, Amar’e Stoudemire and the Dallas Mavericks have reportedly reached an agreement on a deal to bring Stoudemire to the Mavs. After writing a poem to say goodbye to Knicks fans, Stoudemire will chase a championship with the Mavericks, teaming with his former Knicks teammate Tyson Chandler to provide an interior presence for Dallas. As ESPN’s Tim McMahon writes, after considering several offers, Stoudemire ultimately decided Dallas was the best fit for his skill set…

The Mavs could only offer the prorated veteran’s minimum to Stoudemire, who was in the final season of a five-year, $99.7 million deal with the Knicks.

Dallas was attractive to Stoudemire in part because of a pick-and-roll-intensive offense that plays to his strengths. The Mavs also have a highly respected medical staff, led by Team USA athletic trainer Casey Smith, that will maximize Stoudemire’s chances of staying healthy for the stretch run and playoffs while dealing with chronic knee problems.

The Mavs envision Stoudemire as a key bench player who will back up center Tyson Chandler and also see spot duty at power forward behind Dirk Nowitzki. He will provide the Mavs with a quality replacement for Brandan Wright, the high-efficiency reserve big man the Mavs gave up in the December deal to acquire Rajon Rondo.

***

No. 2: Report: Bucks, Sanders talk buyout — As recently as two seasons ago, Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders was considered one of the NBA’s most promising young big men. But since then, it’s been a slow decline. Sanders has dealt with injuries and suspensions, and hasn’t played this season since just before Christmas. Now it seems that perhaps the Bucks have had enough and are ready to move on without Sanders, writes ESPN’s Marc Stein

Buyout discussions have begun between the Milwaukee Bucks and Larry Sanders that would make the recently suspended big man a free agent, according to league sources.

Sanders has served a 10-game suspension for violating the league’s anti-drug program but has not returned to the team and is not expected to play for Milwaukee again. He has been listed as out for “personal reasons” in each of the Bucks’ past three games.

The 26-year-old has been adamant that he wants to resume his NBA career despite the personal struggles that have resulted in two league suspensions in less than a year.

“Soon you all will know the truth,” Sanders tweeted last week.

When asked last week about Sanders’ status, Bucks coach Jason Kidd told local reporters: “That will be determined during the break.”

***

No. 3: What’s next for Marc Gasol? — The Memphis Grizzlies may be chasing a title, but after his gig starting for the Western Conference All-Stars, it’s probably worth remembering that Grizz center Marc Gasol will be one of the most sought-after free agents this summer. USA Today‘s Sam Amick caught up with Gasol during All-Star Weekend, and Gasol says leaving Memphis would not be easy, if it comes to that…

“The city of Memphis and the franchise means a lot to me,” he told USA TODAY Sports. “It’s not going to be easy for me to leave a place like that.”

Not only do the Grizzlies have the edge of being able to offer him a five-year deal as opposed to the four-year offers every other team is limited to, but the ‘Grit & Grind’ Grizzlies remain a close-knit group that is playing the kind of elite basketball (39-14) that certainly qualifies as championship-caliber. The Knicks, Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and others have long been expected to come after him, but he knows as well as anyone that he won’t find this mixture of relationships and ring-worthy talent anywhere else. At least not at the start.

From his close friendship with point guard Mike Conley to his connection with forward Zach Randolph (“My man,” he calls him) to Tony Allen and the rest of the lot, there are roots that run much deeper than they do in most NBA locker rooms. There’s an impressive body of work serving as the foundation, too, a winning percentage of .635 since the start of the 2010-11 season and years of playoff battles that they hope have steeled them for the coming challenge.

“Basketball is about relationships,” said Marc, who played his high school basketball in Memphis while watching Pau play for the Grizzlies, then returned (after playing professionally in his hometown of Barcelona) to begin his NBA career in 2008. “The bond that you create by playing together, going through battles together. The trust that you build goes a long way. It goes beyond the game of basketball. Those guys, you could see them 15 or 20 years from now, when everybody is older and it’s a little tougher to walk, you’ll see each other and your brain is going to immediately think back to those memories that you created.

***

No. 4: A weekend with Westbrook — Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook is one of the NBA’s most dynamic players and personalities, as furious on the floor as he can be off of it, with a diverse set of interests. In New York for All-Star Weekend, where he ended up walking away with the All-Star MVP, Westbrook maximized the time by running all over the city to make appearances, and he brought Bleacher Report along for the ride

The following day, Friday, around 11:30 a.m., Westbrook arrives for All-Star media availability, located at the Sheraton Times Square Hotel. This marks one of the few times of the year when every kind of question you can imagine gets thrown at a player.

“Russell, do you wish you guys ever wore tiny, little shorts?” His answer: “No.”

“Who’s the sexier Van Gundy, Stan or Jeff?” His answer: just shakes his head.

Then there’s the influx of international media—this year, a record 534 members from 52 countries—who ask for acknowledgement of their fans.

“Please give us a message to Japanese fans.” His response: “Hello, Japanese fans all over the world. Thank you for your support.”

Compared to the previous night, Westbrook, wearing all Jordan Brand gear, including the Air Jordan 1 Fragment Design sneakers, is completely different. Many times, he looks down during questions and looks away while responding. His answers are short—usually one word or one to two sentences—similar to other basketball interviews he’s done in the past. Smiles and long answers are sparse. A lot of “I don’t knows.” For some, he has the look of “Where have you been?” as he quickly shakes his head to disregard the question.

“He doesn’t like to talk about basketball,” his younger brother, Ray, 23, says. “We just talk about life, play video games.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: According to this report, the Utah Jazz plan to hang on to Enes KanterJermaine O’Neal says he doesn’t feel comfortable committing to a team at this point … Goran Dragic‘s agent will meet with Suns management today … Austin Daye has signed with the D-League

Blogtable: Thankful for a break

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: Team that needs a break? | Top Popovich memory? | East’s future title team?



VIDEO: Blake Griffin is expected to miss at least a few weeks as he recovers from surgery

> It’s an extended All-Star break this season, with most teams getting at least 7-8 days off between games. Which team needs this break the most?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comIt’s easy to look at teams’ records over their past 10 games or so and point to the one(s) limping into the break at 3-7 or 2-8. But there’s no assurance stepping away from the court will fix anything. My answer is Sacramento – the Kings look like they’ll have a new, permanent coach in George Karl, clearing their air and bringing changes for what’s left of this regular season. 

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe Rockets and Clippers in the Western Conference can use the break just to keep the clock ticking on the rehab times of Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin. But the Rockets have demonstrated all season that they’re still capable of riding James Harden to wins and DeAndre Jordan showed the good things that can happen when he stepped up Monday night. But the team that could benefit most is Miami. The time off will help Dwyane Wade’s hamstring recover and to make sure Hassan Whiteside’s ankle is 100 percent. The Heat will need them both healthy for the stretch drive if they’re going to hold onto a playoff spot.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Clippers and Trail Blazers come to mind first. Not because they have hit a bad stretch, although that too, but because of the prominent injuries. Blake Griffin may be back soon and LaMarcus Aldridge gets a few days to rest his injury, too. Being able to heal without missing a game for a week or so is a help. That would be the case anyway, but especially in the cage match that is the Western Conference standings.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Clippers. They just finished up a tough Grammy road trip and when they return from the break, 11 of their next 14 games are against teams with winning records. Oh, and did I mention Blake Griffin needs perhaps three weeks to heal from elbow surgery? Done, then. Doc Rivers needs this time to help them regroup, find a system to use in Griffin’s absence, and also to study who might become available at or after the trade deadline to improve the bench.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comWith a lot of guys picking up injuries in the last couple of weeks, there are a lot of teams that could use the break to reduce the number of games those guys miss. And obviously, the most important of those guys is Blake Griffin, not only because he’s a great player, but because the Clippers’ bench is so awful. He’s still going to miss a lot of games after the break, but every little bit helps and seven days off is seven days closer to Griffin’s eventual return.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThe rest that comes with this extended All-Star break will be enjoyed by all 30 teams. But no one needs the time to fine tune things more than the Oklahoma City Thunder. They need to take a deep breath before making their second half playoff charge. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook need a little practice time with Mitch McGary, the Thunder’s second-half X-factor, and they need to make sure they get everyone the needed time to recharge their batteries for what is going to be an absolutely wild ride to the finish.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThere must be a dozen title and/or playoff contenders who are going to benefit. But I’m going to focus on the Thunder, who are fighting with the Pelicans and Suns for the final playoff spot and can use these extra days to renew the health of Kevin Durant.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogUm, all of them? Honestly, I can’t think of a team that doesn’t need a break, except for maybe Atlanta and Golden State, who have been so hot they may not want to disrupt their rhythm. I guess one team that may appreciate a rest more than most is Oklahoma City, which faces an uphill task the rest of the way as they try to fight their way not only toward finally getting everyone healthy but also up and into the postseason. And unlike most teams on the outside looking in, the Thunder will the hunted not the hunters, so they’ll have to do this with a target on their backs. Rest up, Thunder. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.