Posts Tagged ‘Omer Asik’

Morning Shootaround — April 23



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played April 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Stephenson, Turner had fight in practice | Asik wants to slow Aldridge | Report: Dolan, Jackson clashing over moves | Pierce calls Nets ‘soft’ after Game 2 loss

No. 1: Report: Stephenson, Turner had fistfight at practice — In Game 2 of the Pacers-Hawks first-round series, Indiana (for one night, at least) looked like the team that dominated the Eastern Conference at times this season. The Pacers’ win evens the series 1-1, but shortly after that victory, a report from  Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski surfaced about just how tenuous the Indiana locker room chemistry may be. According to Wojnarowski, Pacers swingmen Lance Stephenson and Even Turner got into a pretty heated scuffle during the team’s practice before their Game 1 opener against Atlanta:

On the eve of this Eastern Conference series, the wobbling No. 1 seed punctuated its final playoff preparations in a most self-destructive way: Two Indiana Pacers dragged a cursing, cut Evan Turner out of the Bankers Life Fieldhouse court, untangling him from a practice-floor fistfight with teammate Lance Stephenson.

Turner hadn’t been the first Pacer to lose his temper with Stephenson these tumultuous several weeks, and Stephenson’s relentlessly irritable nature suggests Turner won’t be the last. These scrapes aren’t uncommon in the NBA, but this confrontation had been weeks in the making and that reflected in the ferocity of the encounter, sources told Yahoo Sports.

“This stuff happens, but the timing wasn’t ideal,” one witness told Yahoo Sports.

These two guards have struggled together since the deadline deal brought Turner from Philadelphia to Indiana. Suddenly, Turner is learning to play without the ball in his hands, and Stephenson is relearning the balance of passing and shooting. Truth be told, there were probably Pacers willing to let Stephenson and Turner beat the dribble out of each other. Still, Luis Scola and David West finally grabbed an enraged Turner and separated Stephenson.

“We know that Larry [Bird] and Donnie [Walsh] and [Kevin Pritchard] put a team together to try and win a championship this year,” Hibbert told Yahoo Sports. “We know that’s the goal, and we know that’s the kind of talent we have here. It’s up to us now to do it, to get it done.”

Bird made two significant deals to fortify this title run – Turner for Danny Granger, and the signing of Andrew Bynum – and those haven’t worked for him. Bynum could be done for the season with his knee problems, and perhaps everyone underestimated how much Granger had left in him, and how awkwardly Turner would fit into the Pacers.

Yes, Turner’s finding his way with these Pacers, and maybe that started on the eve of these NBA playoffs with a challenge of the Brooklyn kid who calls himself Born Ready. These things happen in the NBA, and eventually someone else will make a run at Lance Stephenson.


VIDEO: Go inside the Pacers’ huddle during the Game 2 victory

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No. 2: Asik wants chance to slow AldridgeThe Houston Rockets and their fans likely still have nightmares from their Game 1 loss at home in which Portland Trailblazers All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge burned them for a Portland playoff record 46 points. Coach Kevin McHale remains coy about what adjustments he’ll be making for Game 2 tonight, but one player who wants more of an opportunity to stop (or at least try to slow down) Aldridge is backup center Omer Asik, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

“We are going to do some stuff differently,” McHale said. “You watch the game and find out what it is.”

Asik, however, said defending Aldridge is the top priority and that if he is back on him the plan will be to battle him better before Aldridge catches the ball, rather than after he is going up for his shot.

“The first thing is to stop LaMarcus Aldridge,” Asik said. “He killed us almost last game and going into this game, we have to do our best to help him stop a little bit more.

“I wasn’t able to do much because I wasn’t able to play much. I always try to make it hard on him before he catches the ball, to make him maybe tired before he gets the ball. He is one of the best power forwards in the league. It’s hard to guard him but we will try our best.”


VIDEO: TNT’s crew looks ahead to Game 2 of the Blazers-Rockets series

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No. 3: Report: Jackson, Dolan clashing over moves?New Knicks GM Phil Jackson has already made one personnel move since taking over in New York a month ago — the firing of coach Mike Woodson and his staff on Monday. According to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News in a lengthy story, Jackson has other personnel moves in mind … and he’s finding himself clashing with team owner James Dolan on some of those moves already:

Just one month into his role as Knicks president, Jackson has already clashed with Dolan, the chairman of Madison Square Garden, over personnel decisions, the Daily News has learned. According to a team source, Jackson is looking to remove several staff members, which is commonplace when a new administration takes over, but Dolan opposes removing certain employees.

According to the source, Dolan’s reaction to Jackson’s request was to tell the 11-time NBA championship coach to simply focus his attention on building a winning team. To say that “minor friction,” as one Garden source called it, can be classified as Jackson’s honeymoon with Dolan being over may be stretching it a bit.

But at the very least it proves that Dolan — surprise, surprise wasn’t being entirely truthful last month when he claimed he was “willingly and gratefully” giving up control of the basketball decisions to Jackson, the Hall of Fame coach.

With Jackson, Dolan has not tried to meddle in player moves. At least not yet. Instead, Dolan’s interest is to retain several staff members in their current positions, which raises an obvious question: Why?

It is unclear which employees Jackson wants to remove, but with the entire coaching staff fired on Monday, it is most likely personnel with the medical staff, front office and/or the media relations staff. Bleacher Report reported that Steve Mills, Allan Houston and Mark Warkentien could all be reassigned or possibly dismissed.

Among the coaches fired on Monday was long-time assistant Herb Williams, who is well-liked in the organization. Within one hour, there was a report that the organization would “encourage” the next head coach to keep Williams. It was an odd story, which read like it was planted by someone other than Jackson, because why would Jackson fire Williams and then encourage the next coach to rehire him?

Dolan’s interest in keeping certain employees could be something as innocent as wanting to remain loyal to workers with whom he has grown close. The more plausible theory is that Dolan doesn’t want to fully cede control of the team and that certain employees who serve as pseudo organizational spies are too valuable to lose.

Last month, Jackson admitted that he would not have taken the job without the guarantee that he had complete control of the basketball operations. But in less than six weeks, it appears that Dolan has shattered his own world record for meddling.

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No. 4: Pierce calls Nets ‘soft’ after Game 2 loss — Brooklyn Nets forward Paul Pierce was the decided hero of Game 1 against the Toronto Raptors, nailing big shot after big shot to salt away the victory. In Game 2, as our John Schuhmann wisely pointed out, Pierce played a lot like Raptors star DeMar DeRozan did in Game 1 … and vice versa. Following Toronto’s 95-90 win, Pierce and Co. felt like they left a win North of the border and Pierce wasn’t shy about faulting Brooklyn’s play down the stretch. Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com has more:

A frustrated Paul Pierce felt the Brooklyn Nets were “a soft team” on defense and in the paint during a 100-95 Game 2 loss at Toronto.

But Kevin Garnett believes there will be nothing soft about the Brooklyn home crowd when the Nets return to Barclays for Games 3 and 4 of this best-of-seven series.

“We know it’s going to be a rowdy environment, like it should be,” Garnett said. “I don’t know if you can say ‘F Brooklyn’ and then come into Brooklyn. So we’re about to see what it’s like.”

Garnett’s comment is in reference to Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri shouting “F— Brooklyn!” at a Raptors pep rally before Game 1 outside Air Canada Centre on Saturday. Ujiri was fined $25,000 by the NBA for the expletive.

Jason Kidd’s team was up 69-64 with 11:20 remaining before allowing Toronto to score 36 points and make 12-of-16 shots (75 percent) in the fourth quarter. The Nets were also battered on the glass, outrebounded 52-30 by the younger and more athletic Raptors.

The Nets also couldn’t contain DeMar DeRozan, who exploded for 30 points, 17 coming in the fourth.

“I thought guys stuck to their man individually for the most part and didn’t help one another and that is the big part of our defense,” Pierce said. “Sink and shrinking the floor, locking down the paint, tonight too many touches for them in the paint, too many paint points, and we didn’t rebound.

“We gave them everything they wanted, 50 points in the paint, and [19] offensive rebounds,” Pierce added. “We were a soft team tonight.”


VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan talks about the Raptors’ big Game 2 victory

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Hey, Bulls center Joakim Noah — what’s your view on losing in the playoffs? … For the Kings fans out there, GM Pete D’Alessandro talked about what he hopes to do next in Sacramento … Could former Wolves coach and current team GM Flip Saunders end up being the team’s coach again? … Legendary Italian league coach Ettore Messina could be high on the Utah Jazz’s prospective coaches listHakeem Olajuwon was at Rockets practice Tuesday, working with Dwight Howard … Hawks guard Jeff Teague cooled off drastically in Game 2 against the Raptors …

ICYMI(s) OF THE NIGHT: DeMar DeRozan showed off his All-Star skills in Toronto’s Game 2 win over Brooklyn, and this monster dunk on the Nets was one that we (and a lot of Raptors fans) enjoyed …


VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan skies in for the power jam on the Nets


VIDEO: Raptors fans at Maple Leaf Square react to DeRozan’s big jam

Asik insurance works like a Dream

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Omer Asik blocks Luc Mbah A Moute at the rim

The video clips are almost comical, like a string of bad dancing outtakes on YouTube gone viral.

There is 51-year-old Hakeem Olajuwon spinning and whirling and rolling though the lane with the ball in the palm of one hand, moving as graceful as a swan.

Here is Omer Asik looking more than just a little bit like an ugly duckling as he tries to simulate those steps in 1-on-1 workouts following a Rockets practice.

But after having his feathers ruffled by the pursuit and capture of free-agent Dwight Howard last summer, Asik has at long last stopped splashing and is helping keep the Rocket afloat.

After averaging a double-double a year ago in his first season as a starter, this is not the role Omer Asik wanted to play. But it’s the one the Rockets need him to play as Howard has sat out the past three games to rest a strained left ankle.

It’s the reason why Daryl Morey never rushed to deal away Asik during the offseason and why the general manager refused to hit the panic button when the 27-year-old eventually demanded a trade. Morey even went so far as to sit on his hands through a self-imposed deadline to trade his discontented big man back in December.

In short, the sizable Asik is too big an impediment in the middle of the Rockets’ defense and much too huge an insurance policy.

That’s what coach Kevin McHale had maintained all along, even when a failed experiment to play Howard and Asik together in the starting lineup ended after just eight games.

Now, with Howard sidelined and again a game-time decision to play Monday night at Charlotte, Asik has filled in admirably, averaging 11 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.3 blocked shots and 2.3 assists as the Rockets have won three straight games.

“He’s a big part of what we do,” McHale told reporters. “He’s so good defensively, rebounds. He’s right on point with all of his calls defensively. Dwight gets a chance to rest a little bit and Omer gets a chance to play a little bit more. They’re probably both good things.”

There is no reason to think Asik will have a change of heart for the long term benefit of his career. Following his consistent play last season, the 27-year-old has proven that he can be a full-time starter in the league and that is the path he wants to pursue. The Rockets could trade him — and the $15 million he has due on the last year of his contract — this summer, especially if they are trying to clear out salary cap room to pursue Carmelo Anthony.

For now Asik is not only a capable fill-in while Howard mends, but can give the Rockets considerable front-court depth in the playoffs. With a pair of rim-protecting 7-footers in the rotation, the Houston defense can consistently stop opponents from attacking in the paint.

“People are afraid to go in and challenge both of them,” point guard Jeremy Lin told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. “I don’t think anyone thinks of Omer as, ‘Oh, we’re going to pick on Omer tonight.’ Or if they do, they’re dumb. I don’t think anybody is that dumb.”

And Morey wasn’t dumb enough to acquiesce to Asik’s demand for a trade and move what is literally his biggest insurance policy without getting a significant return. Word was that he was seeking a first-round draft pick for Asik. What the front office and the coaching staff counted on was that, after recovering from from thigh and knee injuries that kept him out of action for two months, Asik could be convinced that he’d play a significant role in the Rockets’ drive for the playoffs and hoped-for success in the postseason.

That’s finally come to pass and is the reason why the 7-foot Turk with the often lumbering moves can be seen listening, nodding and taking in pointers from the balletic Olajuwon after practices. They’d never make much of a comfortable dance pair, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t benefits.

“Look at him and look at me,” Asik says with a laugh. “I can never do those things that made Hakeem one of the all-time great players. But he is helping me a lot. He is showing me basic moves and how I can do things to improve.

“He is the best fundamentally, I think, in NBA history. I can’t be like him, but I’m trying to learn something from him.”

Morning Shootaround — March 14


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Rockets could push for ‘Melo | Pau backs Kobe’s L.A. viewpoint | McHale: Noah should win DPOY | Bynum focusing on playoff role | Jazz home-game attendance in major slump

No. 1: Report: Rockets could push for ‘Melo — The rumors about where Carmelo Anthony might sign this summer have been buzzing ever since he said he’d opt out last October. While the Los Angeles Lakers and perhaps Chicago Bulls have led most of the chatter — as well, of course, is the option that ‘Melo will stay in New York — a new team may be entering the fray. Marc Berman of the New York Post reports that the Houston Rockets could make a big push for Anthony this summer:

Could Carmelo Anthony rocket off to Houston?

According to a league source, the Rockets will make a bid for Carmelo Anthony this summer, even though they probably won’t have cap space and would have to orchestrate a creative sign-and-trade. The source said Houston asked the Knicks about Anthony before February’s trade deadline.

The Knicks have held discussions with the Rockets about power forward Omer Asik. Even though Rockets president Daryl Morey is the pioneer of advanced statistics and Anthony has never fared well in some efficiency categories, Morey’s old-school instincts believe he could form a terrific Big 3 with Dwight Howard and James Harden. Rockets management also believes Anthony has made advancements in the grit department the past two seasons.

The only way the Rockets can get under the cap is by dealing the expiring contracts of Jeremy Lin, who is entering the poison pill year of $15 million, and Asik, also scheduled to make $15 million.

But even if the Rockets don’t, a desperate Knicks team could take on Lin or Asik and draft picks if Phil Jackson doesn’t believe in building around Anthony. The Knicks still would be set for 2015’s free agency and Lin wold be a drawing card during a season the Knicks may want to tank and fall into the lottery.

Howard has been most outspoken in encouraging Anthony to consider smaller markets than New York just like Howard did in eschewing Los Angeles.

The Lakers, Clippers and Bulls are other potential destinations for Anthony, who said his “first priority’’ is to remain a Knick if he likes their future blueprint.

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No. 2: Pau glad Kobe called out Lakers’ front office — If you somehow managed to miss it Tuesday night or all day Wednesday, Kobe Bryant — in announcing his season was over — was not happy when asked about the Lakers’ long-term outlook and front office (you can read all the quotes here).In short, Bryant is wondering what kind of direction the Lakers are going and he’s not about to wait around for a full rebuild. While what L.A. does next is anyone’s guess, teammate Pau Gasol supported Bryant’s words, writes Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:

The bond Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol formed runs in many directions, and it doesn’t just include winning two NBA championships and meshing complementary personalities together.Gasol also supported Kobe Bryant for publicly questioning the front office. Those included issues ranging from wanting executives Jim and Jeanie Buss to improve their relationship, decide Mike D’Antoni’s future as head coach and build a championship caliber roster this offseason.

“I’m glad that he spoke his mind,” Gasol said following the Lakers’ 131-102 loss Thursday to the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. “He wants to win. He’s got two years under contract with the franchise. He wants to be in the best possible position to win. Whether you do that publicly or internally, that’s totally up to you. He spoke his mind and you have to respect him for that.”

Will the Lakers pull that off?

Perhaps easier said than done.

Meanwhile, the Lakers don’t expect LeBron James to leave the Miami Heat if he opts out of his contract. The Lakers aren’t thrilled about Carmelo Anthony should he opt out of his deal with the Knicks. The Lakers wouldn’t want to spend a max-level contract on Cleveland’s Luol Deng and on Toronto’s Kyle Lowry. GM Mitch Kupchak had suggested earlier that the Lakers may use their financial flexibility more conservatively both to save up for a star-studded 2015 free-agent class and because of recently-imposed harsher penalties for high-spending teams.

“It makes things harder for teams, but it is what it is,” Gasol said. “The rules keep changing over the years. But you have to adjust and make the best out of it.”


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant sounds off on the Lakers’ future during his news conference

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No. 3: McHale backs Noah for DPOY — Rockets coach Kevin McHale knows a thing or two about defense. As a player, he was an All-Defensive Team first or second teamer six times, is the Celtics’ second all-time leading shotblocker and, oh yeah, currently coaches former three-time Defensive Player of the Year winner Dwight Howard. So it carries some hefty weight when McHale, speaking before last night’s Rockets-Bulls game in Chicago, says that Joakim Noah of the Bulls is the DPOY. Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com has more:

Kevin McHale said Thursday that Bulls center Joakim Noah should win the league’s Defensive Player of the Year Award based on his performance this season.

The Houston Rockets coach knows a special defensive big man when he sees one. He was one himself, being selected multiple times to the NBA all-defense team. He has also coached two previous award winners in Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard.

McHale included Noah in that elite category Thursday. Noah is averaging 12.2 points, 11.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.5 blocks this season.

“He’s played very well,” McHale said after his team’s shootaround at Moody Bible Institute. “He should be defensive player of the year. He’s done a great job with these guys. They’ve been winning a lot just on his energy and effort, his kind of determination and toughness. Those are all qualities everybody appreciates.”

McHale was complimentary not only of Noah’s defensive game but of his offensive one as well.

“He’s just more confident in what he’s doing,” McHale said. “He’s making plays with the pass. He’s driving and kicking. When he was coming out, I thought he’d be a pick-pop-and-drive playmaking 4. He’s doing more of that now.”


VIDEO: Joakim Noah talks after the Bulls’ win over the Rockets Thursday

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No. 4: Bynum embracing long-term view to season, playing time — Center Andrew Bynum made his Indiana debut on Tuesday night and gave Pacers fans a nice taste of what he can bring to the court: eight points, 10 rebounds and solid interior defense in about 15 minutes. Bynum won’t play tonight in Philly (7 p.m. ET, League Pass) and told Pacers.com’s Mark Montieth that he’s more concerned with gearing up for the playoffs than getting in tons of regular-season game action:

Short-term, Andrew Bynum sat out the Pacers’ practice on Thursday, will sit out their game in Philadelphia on Friday, and then return the following night in Detroit.

Long-term? That question mark will follow him everywhere he goes for the remainder of the season, particularly on the walks from the training room to the basketball court. Does the 26-year-old eighth-year pro have enough left in his knees to recapture something resembling his All-Star level of two seasons ago, or is backing up a healthier player his future job description?

“I don’t think back-to-backs are prime right now,” he said, resting in an end zone seat at Hinkle Fieldhouse following the team’s workout. “There’s two more left after this one, and we don’t want to risk anything. It’s more about being healthy for the playoffs.

“I’m pleased with the way it’s responded to the treatment I’ve been getting. I don’t have any swelling, just general arthritic conditions, I guess. We want to calm it down. Everything is about not causing a flare-up that causes me to miss four or five consecutive days. If I can play two really strong hard days and take a day off and it’s fine, that’s the remedy we want. We don’t want to have any bone bruises or flareups, because that’s when you start to lose conditioning.”

Bynum is to the Pacers what Greg Oden is to Miami: a talented 7-foot center with tender knees, being nursed along in hopes he can be a difference-maker in the quest for a championship. They’re in a gimpy-legged race to the finish line, and who remains healthiest could have a lot to say about who reaches the NBA Finals.

As for Bynum, the Pacers would be thrilled to keep getting what they got in Tuesday’s game against Boston.

“He got me excited,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said Thursday. “He’s one heck of a basketball player and he’s really going to help us. Now it’s a matter of getting as much work as we can in with him while managing the soreness in his knees. Hopefully come playoff time he’s healthy and as far along as we can get him.”

Beyond that, Bynum has no way of knowing what lies ahead. But he wants as much as he can get out of his remaining years.

“I think I have to monitor my body, always staying in shape, being more professional,” he said. “A lot of times in the summer I would take two months off and then attack it like a boxing training camp where I’d go for eight weeks twice a day, really hard. I obviously have to change that. It’s a young man’s game, and I’m still young in the human sense, but as a basketball player, a thoroughbred, I’m pretty old. So I have to revamp my training strategy.”


VIDEO: Andrew Bynum talks after Wednesday’s practice about his role and his debut

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No. 5: Jazz home-game attendance in sharp decline – Given that the Utah Jazz are firmly in rebuilding mode and are tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the worst record in the Western Conference (22-43), the fact that attendance is down in Salt Lake City isn’t shocking. But according to Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune, the rabid fan base in Utah has taken attendance for the team’s home games to levels not seen since before 1991:

As he walks out onto the court with his team before each home game, of course Tyrone Corbin sees them.

“You notice,” the Utah Jazz coach says. “You notice the green seats.”

And for Corbin, who spent three seasons in Utah as a player and a decade as a coach, he’s seen more of them this season than ever before. With the Jazz, owners of a 23-42 record, firmly in rebuilding mode, attendance — an average of 17,947 announced fans per game, though there are often far fewer than that actually in the building — has dropped to the lowest the franchise has seen since moving out of the Salt Palace and into the Delta Center in 1991.

It’s a four-percent decline from a season ago, and a nine-percent decline from a peak of 19,908 six seasons ago when the Jazz won the Northwest Division and made it to the Western Conference semifinals.

The drop, however, was not unexpected for a franchise that let four of its five top scorers from last year leave for free agency to make playing time for a younger, developing base.

“We anticipated that we would have a slight decline,” Jazz president Randy Rigby said.

It would be a hit to the bottom line, Rigby added, especially in one of the league’s smallest markets, where ticket sales are a “critical component” of financial viability. Helping ease concerns, Jazz officials believed the team had a fan base that was “supportive of the plan and strategy.”

With just nine home games remaining in the season, franchise leaders have been happy with the numbers they’ve drawn. After drawing the ninth-most fans in the NBA on average last season, the Jazz have dropped to 14th-most and are still above the league average of 17,297. Among teams with losing records this season, only the New York Knicks, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics are drawing more fans.

Commitment to the rebuild took faith and market research. Rigby said Jazz officials also heard the message from fans last season that they would endure rebuilding, taking “short-term pain for a long-term reward.”

“They’ve been very supportive of the plan and the strategy,” he said.

And as the season draws to a close, Rigby is still preaching “patience in a very impatient business.”

“We all want to have a winner sooner than later,” he said. “But we’re not going to skip steps. We’re going to do it right, so we can have something that will be sustainable for a long period of time.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: In a Q&A on the team’s website, Kings GM Pete D’Alessandro said he hopes Rudy Gay sticks with the team long term … It doesn’t seem likely that Al Horford will be be back anytime this season … Jazz veteran forward Marvin Williams is having an MRI on his back today … Wizards guard John Wall says the reason Kemba Walker gets calls is because he screams a lot … The Blazers got some bad news: both LaMarcus Aldridge and Mo Williams will be out for a little while … Milwaukee’s guard rotation of Nate Wolters, Brandon Knight and Ramon Sessions have been playing well lately …

ICYMI of the Night: The Bulls’ Taj Gibson made up for his dunk fail the other night with this monster slam on Omer Asik last night …


VIDEO: Taj Gibson powers one down against the Rockets

What The Contenders Could Use

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The trade deadline is Thursday afternoon, the race for the 2014 NBA championship is relatively wide open, and there are plenty of players available for the right price.

So, the league is seemingly ripe for a ton of action at the deadline. But the whole “the right price” thing could limit the number of deals that are made. Buyers may be hesitant to give up first-round picks for players that they’re only “renting” for a few months, and sellers may prefer to keep their guy if they’re not getting the assets they want in return.

But maybe a deal could be made that turns a contender into a favorite or a tier-two team into a contender.

Here’s a look at what those teams could use — from a numbers perspective – to put themselves over the top (in the case of the contenders) or in the mix (in the case of the next group).

OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions

Oklahoma City (43-12)

OffRtg: 107.6 (6), DefRtg: 99.3 (3), NetRtg: +8.3 (2)
The Thunder are the most complete team in the league, the only one that ranks in the top six in both offensive and defensive efficiency. And their bench has been terrific, even with Russell Westbrook‘s knee surgery forcing Reggie Jackson into the starting lineup over the last seven weeks.

The only lineup numbers that look bad are those of their original starting group, which has been outscored by 5.7 points per 100 possessions and which will be back together when Westbrook returns on Thursday. In 280 minutes, the lineup has scored just 97.5 points per 100 possessions, a rate which would rank 29th in the league.

In general, the Thunder have been much better playing small. In fact, they’re a plus-203 in 1,954 minutes with two bigs on the floor and a plus-204 in 694 minutes with less than two. Some added depth on the wings could make them even more potent.

Indiana (41-12)

OffRtg: 102.4 (18), DefRtg: 93.8 (1), NetRtg: +8.6 (1)
The Pacers are, statistically, the best defensive team since the league started counting turnovers in 1977. And that may be enough to win a championship.

But they’re a below-average offensive team and only seven of those have made The Finals in the last 30 years. The Pacers turn the ball over too much, don’t get to the rim enough, and aren’t a great 3-point shooting team.

George Hill is a key cog in that No. 1 defense and the starting lineup scores at a top-10 rate, but Indy could certainly use a more potent point guard, or at least a third guard that can create off the dribble. Their bench is better than it was last season, but it still struggles to score.

Danny Granger has a large expiring contract, but acquiring a player on a deal that goes beyond this season could compromise the Pacers’ ability to re-sign Lance Stephenson this summer.

Miami (38-14)

OffRtg: 109.8 (1), DefRtg: 103.4 (16), NetRtg: +6.4 (5)
Is the Heat’s defensive drop-off a serious problem of just a case of them being in cruise control most of the season? Their ability to flip the switch on that end of the floor will depend on Dwyane Wade‘s health and Shane Battier‘s ability to play more minutes than he has been of late. As much as rebounding is an issue, so is defending the perimeter. And if there was a way they could add another shooter/defender on the wing, it would help.

Rebounding is an issue. The Heat have rebounded better (on both ends) with Greg Oden on the floor, but he’s played just 78 minutes all season and compromises their offense to some degree. So he’s probably not going to neutralize Roy Hibbert in a matchup with the Pacers.

San Antonio (39-15)

OffRtg: 107.5 (7), DefRtg: 100.4 (5), NetRtg: +7.1 (3)
The numbers look good on the surface. Only the Thunder rank higher than the Spurs in both offensive and defensive efficiency. But their defense has failed them, allowing 111.5 points per 100 possessions, as they’ve gone 2-8 in games against the other teams over .600 (every team on this list, except Golden State). Last season, they allowed just 101.8 in 22 games against other teams over .600.

Injuries have played a role in their defensive decline and if the Spurs are healthy, they’re still a great team. But there’s no getting around that, going back to Game 3 of the 2012 conference finals, they’ve lost nine of their last 11 games against Oklahoma City and could certainly use more athleticism up front with that matchup in mind.

Houston (36-17)

OffRtg: 107.7 (5), DefRtg: 102.1 (9), NetRtg: +5.6 (6)
If there’s a fifth contender, it’s the Rockets or the Clippers, two more West teams that rank in the top 10 on both ends of the floor. Houston is actually the only team that ranks in the top five in both effective field goal percentage and opponent effective field goal percentage.

Their defense hasn’t been very consistent though, and it’s allowed 106.1 points per 100 possessions in 22 games against the other eight West teams over .500. And that’s why they might want to hold onto Omer Asik. One of their biggest problems defensively is rebounding, especially when Dwight Howard steps off the floor. Only the Lakers (15.8) have allowed more second-chance points per game than Houston (15.1).

Portland (36-17)

OffRtg: 108.7 (2), DefRtg: 105.7 (23), NetRtg: +3.1 (10)
Diagnosing the Blazers’ issues is pretty easy. You’re simply not a contender if you rank in the bottom 10 defensively. The worst defensive team to make The Finals in the last 30 years was the 2000-01 Lakers, who ranked 19th and who, as defending champs, knew how to flip the switch. They ranked No. 1 in defensive efficiency in the postseason.

Not only are the Blazers bad defensively, but the their bench is (still) relatively weak. Lineups other than their starting group have outscored their opponents by just 0.2 points per 100 possessions, the worst mark among the teams on this list (even Golden State). So they’re going to be tested with LaMarcus Aldridge out with a groin strain. They’ve been outscored by 8.3 points per 100 possessions with Aldridge off the floor.

L.A. Clippers (37-19)

OffRtg: 108.7 (3), DefRtg: 102.2 (10), NetRtg: +6.5 (10)
The Clippers are very similar to the Rockets. They rank in top 10 defensively, but have struggled on that end of the floor against good teams. Furthermore, though Howard and DeAndre Jordan rank in the top four in rebounds per game, their teams rank in the bottom 10 in defensive rebounding percentage.

Blake Griffin and Jordan rank 2nd and 3rd in total minutes played, and the Clippers basically have no other bigs that Doc Rivers can trust for extended stretches in the postseason. Though the Clippers’ injuries have been in the backcourt, they’re more in need of depth up front.

Golden State (31-22)

OffRtg: 104.2 (12), DefRtg: 99.5 (4), NetRtg: +4.7 (7)
The Warriors and not the Suns (31-21) are the last team on this list because they have a much better defense and a higher ceiling. They also have a much easier schedule, which could allow them to get into the 3-5 range in the West, going forward.

Golden State’s issues are pretty simple. Their starting lineup has been terrific on both ends of the floor, but their bench … not so much. Things have been a little better with Jordan Crawford in the mix; They’ve scored 104.5 points per 100 possessions with Stephen Curry off the floor since the Crawford trade, compared to the putrid 86.7 they were scoring without Curry before the deal. But one of their most important defensive players – Andrew Bogut – is banged up and their D falls apart when Andre Iguodala steps off the floor.

The Trade Deadline: Let’s Make A Deal?




VIDEO: Thunder guard Reggie Jackson gets it done on both ends

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The clock is ticking.

The trade deadline is near. It’s time for general managers and front office executives around the NBA to earn their money. Fix your team. Make it better. Pave the way for a brighter future by pulling the trigger on the deal, blockbuster or not, that creates the space for your franchise to go to the next level — whatever that level may be.

It’s easier said than done in most cases, mostly because a willing partner is needed to complete the trade dance. And everyone is out to fleece their potential partners in one way or another. Whether we see a blockbuster deal or not, we are guaranteed to see a flurry of activity by Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline.

A team’s wants and needs are two very different things. We’re focusing on what is needed here, which should coincide with what these teams want out of the trade deadline. Planning for the future is fine, but these deals are designed for immediate returns for (almost) all involved …

1. Reggie Jackson to the Bulls – Jimmy Butler to the Thunder 

The skinny: This is a nuts-and-bolts trade for both teams, one that doesn’t rise to the blockbuster ranks by any means. But this deal involving youngsters with extremely manageable salaries allows the Thunder and Bulls to shore up their key weaknesses. Jackson would be Derrick Rose insurance for the Bulls, a young point/combo guard who could be groomed to play alongside a healthy Rose whenever Rose returns. He’s acquitted himself well in Oklahoma City in Russell Westbrook‘s absence but will be reduced to a role player when Westbrook returns and assumes his position alongside Kevin Durant (which is expected to happen Thursday). Butler fits the Bulls rough-and-rugged mode perfectly, but if they are in rebuilding mode, he’s expendable. He offers the Thunder something they simply don’t have on the roster right now, and that’s a player capable of matching up with elite small forwards on defense. Imagine him in a Thunder uniform in The Finals going after LeBron James the way Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard did last year.

2. Rajon Rondo and Kris Humphries to the Pacers — Danny Granger and George Hill to the Celtics

The skinny: This is a risky move for a Pacers’ team that has rock-solid locker room chemistry and has played at a consistently high level without boasting an elite point guard. Hill, an IUPUI star, is a hometown guy and is widely regarded as one of the league’s most respected professionals. He’s a guy Pacers All-Stars Paul George, Roy Hibbert and team leader David West trust to run the show. But Rondo gives the Pacers the chance to add a game-changer at point guard, a guy who, come playoff time, has an edge in either the talent and/or championship-experience department with any other East point guard. The hang up, of course, is going to be Danny Ainge trying to do his usual and shake everything he can out of the Pacers’ pockets in the name of his rebuilding efforts. Granger and Hill are established players who could help facilitate any rebuilding plans for the more immediate future. Of course, Pacers boss Larry Bird doesn’t have to play ball. He doesn’t have to deal. He can go to battle in the playoffs with the roster as is, though there is a consensus among most observers that an upgrade at the point would give them a clear edge in matching up not only against the Miami Heat but any team that they could potentially face in The Finals, were they to reach that summit.

3. Harrison Barnes, Marreese Speights and Jason Smith to the Cavaliers — Austin Rivers, C.J. Miles and Anthony Morrow to the Warriors — Earl Clark and Dion Waiters to the Pelicans 

The skinny: Believe it or not, the Cavaliers are just three games out of the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase as the post-All-Star break portion of the season kicks off. As Kyrie Irving showed us at the All-Star Game, he knows how to shine amongst other elite players on his team. Since he hasn’t had any suit up with him in Cleveland, Thursday’s deadline is acting general manager David Griffin‘s opportunity to upgrade the crew around Irving and see if the playoffs can become a reality. Barnes needs a fresh start somewhere, as a starter, and would be a great running mate for Irving and Luol Deng. Both Speights and Smith would provide much-needed big man depth. The Warriors get role players to help fill out their roster and Waiters, a HT fave whose talents have never shined in Cleveland the way they have when we’ve seen him during All-Star weekend or during his stints with USA Basketball, gets a fresh start of his own in New Orleans. He and Anthony Davis could help elevate the Pelicans to a playoff-level team in the future.


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving stole the show at All-Star Weekend

4. Omer Asik to the Hawks — Elton Brand, Gustavo Ayon, John Jenkins and a Draft pick to the Rockets

The skinny: This is certainly not the way Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is used to doing business. He’s used to fleecing much more from the opposing team’s executives (that mode of operation would explain the bevy of assets the Rockets have piled up the past few years). Brand and Ayon aren’t big names but when healthy, yet they have been surprisingly productive for the Hawks. That said, the Draft pick is the Rockets’ real prize … that and getting Asik out of town. And that’s where the needy Hawks swoop in and rescue their season — they had lost five straight heading into All-Star weekend. Asik helps stabilize the frontcourt rotation and joins All-Star Paul Millsap as the staples up front for a team that still has lofty aspirations for playoff positioning. Fellow All-Star center Al Horford is not walking through that door in Atlanta as his torn pectoral muscle will keep him out of action until well into the summer. Adding a physical presence like Asik at a relatively reasonable price makes a ton of sense for the Hawks right now. And the three of them together in the future is complicated, but certainly something Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer could tinker with and make work.

5. Emeka Okafor, Alex Len and Chris Singleton to the Grizzlies — Zach Randolph to the Wizards — Trevor Ariza, Jan Vesely and Eric Maynor to the Suns

The skinny: Randolph and Marcin Gortat balancing the frontcourt in Washington with All-Star point guard John Wall and sharpshooter Bradley Beal would be an interesting mix for a Wizards team that is definitely on the rise in the Eastern Conference. Just think of Randolph and Gortat as the Eastern Conference version of Randolph and Marc Gasol (Grit and Grind lite?). The Wizards have been an above-average team defensively, and now they’d add some serious toughness in Randolph. The Grizzlies need a building block for the future and would get that in Len, who was always viewed as a long-term project when the Suns selected him with the 5th pick in the 2013 Draft. The Suns are taking the opportunity to seize their surprising playoff moment in the Western conference with the aid of quality veterans in Ariza and Maynor and would also have a developmental prospect to work with in Vesely. There’s always a healthy dose of risk involved when you talk about trade deadline deals. And this one would come with plenty for all involved.


VIDEO: John Wall talks with the Game Time crew after shining on All-Star Saturday night

Rockets Still Adjusting To Expectations




VIDEO: Ahmad Rashad goes one-on-one with Rockets superstar Dwight Howard

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kevin McHale has been at this long enough to know that “title talk” in July, even when you have all the ingredients seemingly in place, is delusional.

So many things can happen between winning the free-agent sweepstakes and winning a Larry O’Brien trophy that banking your season on winning the NBA’s summer title (last summer it was wooing the top free agent on the market, Dwight Howard, to Houston) means next to nothing to the Rockets’ coach. A Hall of Famer and champion during his playing days with the Boston Celtics, McHale that once the reality of the regular season sets in, none of that summer hubbub matters.

And make no mistake, the Rockets are in the midst of adjusting to that new reality. The expectations haven’t changed, the ultimate goal is still trying to get on par with the rest of the best in the Western Conference. They’re still aiming for that No. 1 spot and a chance to play for that title trophy … but it just may not be as soon as many Rockets fans hoped.

Injuries to key players (it’s not an excuse, it’s a fact), growing pains, significant off-court drama (Omer Asik) and general inconsistency throughout the season’s first two months have the Rockets sitting outside of the top four in the Western Conference standings in advance of tonight’s matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder (9:30 p.m. ET, TNT).

“I think we’re still in the searching mode,” McHale said recently. “We had so many injuries that it’s hard to get any symmetry. We’ve had two or three main eight or nine guys out for stretches. So where are we at? We’re still searching, trying to find ourselves. And at a certain point, if you never do find it, it’s called lost. But I assume we’re going to find it at a certain point. We’re in that phase where I think we’re getting a lot better in some areas, but it just seems like it’s the two steps forward-one step back phase right now.”

James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Patrick Beverley, Jeremy Lin and Asik have all missed games with injuries since the start of training camp, squashing any chance the Rockets had of developing the chemistry McHale knew Houston would need in order to try and live up to its summer and preseason hype.

Howard is the only Rocket to have played in all 39 games this season, which is an impressive bounce back from the tumultuous season he had alongside Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol with the Los Angeles Lakers last season.

In fact, Howard is the one certainty the Rockets have been able to count on this season.

His work ethic, attitude and spirits are at all-time highs. The petty chatter and foolishness that marked his lone season playing alongside Bryant in the L.A. fish bowl have dissipated with the change of scenery.

“From what I understand he’s been fantastic in every way imaginable,” said a former Eastern Conference executive now working as a scout. “He’s back to the Dwight he was before the past two years changed so many people’s perspective on him. He’s back to working without all that added stress and it shows. He’s playing with that energy we used to see from him in Orlando.”

McHale confirmed as much about Howard’s transition and fit with the Rockets.

“That’s the positive,” McHale said. “Dwight’s playing a lot better. I think we’re figuring out how to get Dwight the ball a lot better. We’re not missing him as much. We’re starting to figure out the angles we have to get at to get him involved more and to get easy baskets and stuff. We put in some different stuff offensively and defensively that works, because I don’t know if you knew this or not but everything works on paper. So I just think everybody, the staff and this entire group, is getting more accustomed to each other and how we’re going to have to operate. You know, hopefully, in the future you can bring back the entire core group healthy and then you can know what works and what doesn’t work.”

The dynamic inside-out duo of Howard and Harden definitely works. It is the Rockets’ answer to what the Oklahoma City Thunder (with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook – when healthy), Los Angeles Clippers (Chris Paul — when healthy — and Blake Griffin) and San Antonio Spurs (Tony Parker and Tim Duncan) boast. The Rockets’ stars have found a way to thrive without either star having to subjugate their game for the other to flourish.

Harden is the league’s fifth-leading scorer (24.6 points) and Howard is a walking double-double with his customary perches among the best rebounders (4th in the league, 12.7) and field goal percentage leaders (5th in the league, 58.0 percent). But they’re also still in the midst of getting comfortable playing off of one another.

“It takes time,” Harden said. “We knew it wasn’t going to happen overnight. But we’ve got a good team. When you get new faces, though, you have to give it time, you have to adjust.”

That’s not a problem for Howard. No transition could be tougher than the one he tried to make in Los Angeles last season. He never fully embraced the change of working in coach Mike D’Antoni‘s system and the Lakers’ faithful never seemed to fully embrace him as the future of the franchise. That made for a messy breakup totally understandable to anyone paying attention to the details of what went down.

Whatever hiccups he had playing with Kobe, Howard is working hard to avoid with Harden. They’re developing some synergy and continuing to explore the boundaries of what they can do.

“It’s getting better,” Howard said. “We talk every day. We try to find ways to get better between me and him, pick and roll situations, where he likes the ball and where I like the ball and stuff like that. It takes a while. This is our first games together. But we should have it by the time the end of the [regular] season comes.”

Whether or not that’s in time to pave the way for a deep playoff run remains to be seen.

Then again, those plans have been adjusted, right along with the Rockets’ championship expectations.


VIDEO: Chandler Parsons joins the Inside the NBA crew to talk all things Rockets

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 24


VIDEO: Highlights from all of Monday’s NBA games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Melo sprains ankle | Pierce, Nets implode, Kidd explodes | Dirk climbs all-time list | Wade sits, LeBron shines | End of the Lottery?

No. 1: Melo leaves with sprained ankle– As if enough hasn’t happened to the New York Knicks in the season’s first two months, now they’re dealing with a sprained left ankle to their best player, Carmelo Anthony. The club’s leading scorer limped to the locker room in the third quarter of New York’s 103-98 win over Orlando. Yes, the Knicks still managed to hold on and win. Oh, to make matters worse, point guard Raymond Felton, who had just returned from injury, left in the fourth quarter with a strained right groin. Both players will be reevaluated Tuesday and Anthony insisted he’s hoping to play on Wednesday, Christmas Day, when the Knicks play host to the Oklahoma City Thunder (2:30 ET, ABC).

More from Peter Botte of the New York Daily News:

“It’s on. I still have it. It ain’t going nowhere, so I’ll be there,” Anthony said of his sprained ankle. “Hopefully, I’ll be there. … It’s Christmas in the Garden. I don’t want to miss that game. I don’t know, I’m hard-headed sometimes when it comes to that. But I’ve got two days.”

The Knicks (9-18) constructed a 24-point cushion at halftime and still led 72-52 when Anthony went up for a rebound of his own miss and landed awkwardly, with his left foot coming down on the foot of Orlando forward and Long Island product Tobias Harris with 7:26 remaining in the third.
“Melo’s a tough kid. He don’t sit down very often,” Mike Woodson said.

Anthony, who also battled knee and shoulder problems last season, described this ankle injury as “not as severe” as one that kept him out of two games this time last year.
Still, Anthony limped to the bench and remained there for several minutes while receiving treatment from trainer Roger Hinds. During a timeout with 5:43 remaining in the quarter, the pending free agent headed for the locker room and did not return.

“The pain was too much. I was actually trying to walk to see if I could get back in the game. There wasn’t no reason for me to go out there and risk it anymore,” Anthony said. “But I’m walking. I think I caught it before it rolled all the way, but it rolled pretty bad. We’ll evaluate everything (Tuesday), but the good thing is I am able to walk with a little bit of pain.”

Felton was back in the lineup after missing the previous six games with a strained left hamstring, scoring 13 points with four assists in 25 minutes before he collapsed to the floor following a midair collision with Jameer Nelson with 3:21 to go.
Felton, who also missed time earlier this season with a pinched nerve in his hip, admitted he “felt a pop” in his right groin.

***

No. 2: Pierce ejected, Kidd explodes – With the Nets down 19 points to the East-leading Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn’s Paul Pierce, in the midst of a horrible personal season, took down Indiana’s George Hill on a fastbreak. The play was ruled a Flagrant 2 resulting in the automatic ejection of the former Celtics great. But that’s not as bad as it got. Following the Nets’ 103-86 to fall to 9-18, rookie head coach Jason Kidd went off on his underachieving team that just two days ago lost All-Star center Brook Lopez to a broken foot. Kidd’s most damning quote of his club: “Well I think it is getting very close to just accepting losing. We are kind of getting comfortable with losing. And we got to make a stand with that because when things get tough, do we just give in and most of the time right now we do.”

ESPNNY.com’s Mike Mazzeo has more:

The Nets came into the season with the NBA’s highest payroll — an estimated $190 million counting the impending luxury tax — and extremely high expectations. But they’ve failed to meet them.

During the summer, Nets general manager Billy King mortgaged the future, relinquishing several future assets to acquire veterans Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry in an effort to try and win now. But so far, it hasn’t worked out.

On Monday night, Garnett and Pierce both left without talking to the media. Pierce was automatically ejected after being accessed a flagrant foul 2 for clotheslining Pacers point guard George Hill, who tried to finish a layup in transition with 4:22 remaining in the third quarter. He could face a fine or suspension from the NBA league office as a result.

Pierce (0-for-7) was held scoreless for the first time since March 9, 1999 — the 16th professional game of his 16-year career. Garnett went 3-for-10 from the field in 19 minutes. Both players have struggled mightily while trying to fit in with their new team for the majority of the season.

Told of Kidd’s comment, point guard Deron Williams said, “I’m not. I’m not comfortable losing. It’s not fun. Not only when we’re losing during the game, but when I go home sitting there and thinking about it, it’s not fun.”

***

No. 3: Dirk passes English, destroy RocketsEvery few games it seems Dirk Nowitzki is passing another legend of the game on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. On Monday night, Nowitzki overtook Denver great Alex English for No. 13. The Mavs’ sweet-shooting 7-footer did it in style, dropping 31 points on Dwight Howard and the Rockets to move to 2-1 against their Southwest Division rival this season. Nowitzki, of course, traveled to Los Angeles with owner Mark Cuban and coach Rick Carlisle over the summer to recruit the free-agent Howard, who preferred the situation in Houston. Nowitzki scored 10 points in the final nine minutes to help Dallas protect the lead and end a two-game skid.

Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News was there:

Dirk Nowitzki simply said: Come on, boys, and climb on my back.
“Listen, he’s the great Dirk Nowitzki,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “The guy has changed the game with the way he plays. The game is not the same. He changed the power forward game forever, and it’s reflected in the modern game now. He’s a great player.”

Nowitzki piled up 31 points, including 10 points in the final nine minutes when the Mavericks were protecting a nice lead they had earned in the third quarter. Along the way, Nowitzki passed Alex English for 13th place on the all-time NBA scoring list.

His play was made possible in part by the shooting of Vince Carter, Jae Crowder and Jose Calderon, all of whom loosened up the Houston defense in a third quarter that the Mavericks won by 15 points to turn the game around.

“They had a lot of respect for our shooting at that point,” Nowitzki said. “So they were a little hesitant to double me. And I got to take advantage of the matchups when they play me with 6-7, 6-8 guys and I can shoot over them. That’s what I’ve been doing my whole career.”
And so the Mavericks still have not had a three-game losing streak this season. They stopped the skid at two with their gutsiest victory of the season.

It’s worth noting that the Rockets were playing without leading scorer James Harden (ankle), point guard Patrick Beverley (hand) and center Omer Asik (thigh).

As such, the Rockets leaned heavily on Dwight Howard, who was a beast all night. But the Mavericks held most of the other Rockets in check in the second half.

.***

No. 4: Wade sits, LeBron shinesThe Miami Heat continued their cautious approach toward Dwyane Wade and his cranky news, sitting the superstar yet again Monday night against the Atlanta Hawks. This time it seemed it would be too much for Miami to overcome. Then again, they do have LeBron James, who had 38 points and one massive late fourth-quarter dunk over Paul Millsap that helped get the game to overtime and allow the Heat to take a 121-119 decision.

David J. Neal of the Miami Herald has more:

No Dwyane Wade. Later, after an elbow to the jaw, no Chris Bosh, either. But the Heat still had a LeBron James, and could pull a Michael Beasley off the bench. And then a Ray Allen and, even for the last 2.3 seconds, Bosh.

Which is how the Heat outlasted the Hawks 121-119 in overtime Monday night. Allen got the Heat to overtime. Beasley provided the game-winning free throws. Bosh provided the long arms.

“The one thing I did like about this game, in the last couple of years with this group, if we’d given up 17 threes in a game, we don’t win that game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Heat’s ninth win in a row over the Hawks. “It would collapse our spirit and our mind.”

Beasley had 10 points. Allen had 19. James scored 38 points on 16 of 28 shooting, six of his last seven as the Heat came from 11 down in the second half. As remarkable, James had six assists without a turnover. About the only thing James didn’t do well was hit free throws (two of six).

“For the basketball aficionado out there, this is a game where you see his full skill set,” Spoelstra said.

***

No. 5: End of the LotteryWith a multitude of front offices seemingly setting up their teams to be very bad this season with an eye toward what is believed to be a very talented draft class, and the league quite sensitive this whole notion, a proposal for a change to lottery system might be floated to owners in 2014.

Grantland’s Zach Lowe has the story:

We can also search for solutions, and there are lots of folks in the league office and among the 30 teams who find tanking abhorrent — who bristle at the idea that the league has incentivized teams to be anything but their best every single season. One detailed proposal, submitted by a team official, has gained initial traction among some high-level NBA officials — to the point that the NBA may float the proposal to owners sometime in 2014, according to league sources. Other top officials in the league office have expressed early opposition to the proposal, sources say.

The Proposal

Grantland obtained a copy of the proposal, which would eliminate the draft lottery and replace it with a system in which each of the 30 teams would pick in a specific first-round draft slot once — and exactly once — every 30 years. Each team would simply cycle through the 30 draft slots, year by year, in a predetermined order designed so that teams pick in different areas of the draft each year. Teams would know with 100 percent certainty in which draft slots they would pick every year, up to 30 years out from the start of every 30-year cycle. The practice of protecting picks would disappear; there would never be a Harrison Barnes–Golden State situation again, and it wouldn’t require a law degree to track ownership of every traded pick leaguewide..

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni tells fans to find another team if they’re discouraged … According to a report, attempts to revive Kyle Lowry trade talks failed … Metta World Peace to have same blood-spinning procedure as Kobe Bryant … In wake of Brook Lopez injury, Nets will file the paperwork for a Disabled Player Exemption

Making A List, Checking It Twice …

We’re making a list, checking it twice. On Christmas Eve, it’s time to remember who’s been naughty or nice in the first two months of the 2013-14 season:

Naughty — Nets — There isn’t enough coal in Newcastle to fill up the deservingly drooping stocking that hangs over a forlorn and underachieving mantle in Brooklyn. Why would anyone think it would make sense to trade for 37-year-old Kevin Garnett, 36-year-old Paul Pierce, 36-year-old Jason Terry as part of $102 million-payroll and put the whole thing in the hands of a guy who had never coached a game in his life? Then Jason Kidd gets extra naughty by intentionally spilling a drink when he doesn’t have a timeout against the Lakers. They have a mediocre offense and the 29th-rated defense. Now they lose Brook Lopez to a broken foot. So it won’t be a Happy New Year either, Billy King.

Nice — LaMarcus Aldridge — From Damian Lillard to Nicolas Batum to Robin Lopez to coach Terry Stotts, there are many contributors to the rousing start to the season by the surprising Trail Blazers with the best record in the league. But no one has done more to elevate his game and his team to the elite level than Aldridge. He labored faithfully through seven seasons with a roster that virtually fell apart around his ears, listened to so much talk of trades and has come back to deliver a magnificent season that has him firmly in the MVP conversation.

Naughty — Knicks — Remember when they used to play basketball in New York? The Manhattan edition of the NBA can’t shoot, doesn’t rebound and Carmelo Anthony is saying the Knicks’ troubles are all in their heads. Would that be the heads of the players and the coach who can’t think to call a timeout in the final seconds to set up a shot? If things don’t turn around fast, Mike Woodson’s going to be the fall guy even though there have been enough injuries to fill an ER and the myth of the Knicks as true playoff contenders entering the season was no more real than a team of flying reindeer pulling a sleigh across the sky.

Nice — Suns — If you went to a Las Vegas sports book during training camp and plopped down a sizable lump of cash on the Suns to beat the over/under prediction of 21.5 wins, you’d probably be only a week or two away from returning to book a penthouse suite with your winnings. First-year coach Jeff Hornacek has his club riding the backcourt pairing of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic with a rotating cast of other contributors to a 17-10 record and a spot right in the thick of the tough Western Conference playoff race. When the Spurs were in town last week, the entire Phoenix roster had played the same number of NBA games in their careers combined as 37-year-old Tim Duncan.

Naughty — Ricky Rubio — Sure, it’s fun to sit in front of the big screen TV and keep hitting the rewind button on the DVR to replay all of those behind-the-back, no-look, over-the-shoulder, through-the-opponent’s-legs, thread-the-needle, oh-my-gosh, how-did-he-do-that, head-on-a-swivel, slicker-than-a-greased eel passes that get his teammates easy layups and dunks. But come on, two years plus into your NBA career, you’ve got to be able to knock down a wide open jump shot when teams give them to you. Which they do and which you don’t. Which is a big part of the reason why your Timberwolves are healthy and still underperforming.

Nice — Kevin Love — After missing 91 games over the past two seasons to injury, Love’s return to good health and a nightly spot in the lineup has been a sight sweeter than sugar plums dancing in the Timberwolves’ heads. How does a guy who is always a threat to score 30 points and pull down 20 rebounds get better? He becomes a better passer, nearly doubling his assists to 4.2 per game. Outside of The King down in South Beach, there’s just nobody in the league you can count on more every night.

Naughty — Grizzlies — There are more excuses than places to hear the blues in Memphis. But the bottom line is that even before Marc Gasol was sidelined with a knee injury, the Grizzlies were going south. They simply haven’t bought into new coach Dave Joerger, still can’t shoot from the perimeter and Zach Randolph seems to have lost his inspiration. The Grind House was a fun place while it lasted.

Nice — LeBron James — Maybe the only thing that stops him from winning MVP No. 5 — and third in a row — is boredom. Not his. Ours. He’ll never completely win over the entire public the way Michael Jordan did simply because of the times in which we live. The age of social media allows critics to throw stones and pick nits. There has simply never been anyone this big and this strong and this fast and this complete with still such a large part of the meat of his career ahead of him.

Naughty — Westbrook critics — Now that Russell Westbrook has recovered from two surgeries, returned to the Thunder lineup and shown not the slightest loss of his swagger, is there anyone who still thinks Kevin Durant and the OKC franchise would be better off without him?

Nice —Kendrick the Bouncer — It had to bring a smile to the face — if not a tear to the eye — of every old school scrapper who’s ever laced up a pair of sneakers and just gone after it when Kendrick Perkins unceremoniously ran Joakim Noah out of the Thunder locker room. That’s enough of the 21st century touchy-feely, we’re-all-buddies atmosphere that persists these days. Not enough get-outta-my-face growling between rivals. A team’s locker room is its castle and the only thing that could have made it better is if Perk dumped him into a moat.

Naughty — Omer Asik — Let’s see. For two seasons in Chicago you were averaging just 13 minutes per game and getting relative peanuts. The Rockets signed you to a free agent contract that pays $25 million over three years and last season you started all 82 games and averaged a double-double. That’s nice. But then they signed All-Star Dwight Howard in July. He’s much, much better. You’re still getting your $25 million. Didn’t you read the line about you better not pout? So we’re making our list, checking it twice and — ho-ho-ho — you’re definitely on it.

Money Talks, Asik Doesn’t Walk

Omer Asik's "poison pill" contract may have backfired on Houston (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

The “poison pill” in Omer Asik’s contract may have backfired on Houston. (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

HOUSTON — Follow the money. It’s an adage that’s been around as long as Deep Throat whispering to Bob Woodward in a garage.

The Rockets’ efforts to trade discontented center Omer Asik by their self-imposed deadline this week have ended in large part because other teams are leery of the structure of the Turkish 7-footer’s contract and the cash payments due. As a result, even though the official NBA trade deadline is not until Feb. 20, a league source said Asik could wind up staying in Houston for the length of his deal.

Asik signed a three-year, $25 million contract with the Rockets in the summer of 2012, which included a so-called “poison pill” final season salary of $15 million that was put in place to discourage his previous team, the Bulls, from matching the offer. Even though the money can be spread out evenly over the deal and applied to the salary cap at $8.3 million in the 2014-15 season, many of Houston’s would-be trade partners balked at laying out so much cash for a 25-30 minute per game player.

Asik averaged 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds while starting all 82 games for the Rockets last season. But he has repeatedly asked to be traded ever since the club signed free-agent center Dwight Howard in July. Coach Kevin McHale tried Howard and Asik together as a Twin Towers combination in the starting lineup to open the season, but pulled the plug on the experiment after eight games when there was little chemistry or effectiveness at both ends of the court.

After Asik begged off playing on Nov. 14 at New York and then repeated his trade request, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey stepped up his efforts to make a deal, talking at times to the Sixers, Celtics, Hawks, Bucks, Cavaliers and others. A deal that would have brought Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee and a draft pick to Houston was discussed more than a week ago and rejected by the Rockets.

Evidently, the more that Morey pressed to move Asik, the more other teams expressed their reticence and began to lower their offers.

A hint that no deal was forthcoming may have come from McHale both before and after Wednesday night’s 109-94 win at home over the Bulls. On two different occasions, the head coach made reference to “when Omer gets back.” Asik has been sidelined since Dec. 2 with a severely bruised thigh that eventually caused a fluid build-up around his knee.

The Rockets would like nothing more than for Asik to accept his role as Howard’s backup, giving them a chance to keep a good rim protector on the court at all times. However, that will require a significant attitude adjustment by the 7-footer who has pouted openly and made no secret of his desire to go to a team where he could be a full-time starter.

There is nothing to stop Morey from continuing to peddle Asik around the league. And the market could percolate as the Feb. 20 trade deadline approaches. But it is that clever contract with the $15 million final year payout that landed him with the Rockets that could keep them stuck with him.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 19


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wade to the Heat’s rescue | Asik Boston bound? | Report: Lakers holding on to Gasol | Warriors catching Spurs at the perfect time

No. 1: Wade rides to the rescue in Heat comeback – LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen all made big plays during the Heat’s wild comeback against the Indiana Pacers, but it was the performance of Dwyane Wade that truly stood out in a contest that felt much more like a playoff game than it did a regular season game in December. His game-high 32 points provided the Heat the opportunity needed to storm back and snatch the game. It was work that we’ve seen sparingly from Wade this season as he nurses the soreness in his knees. It’s finishing work the Heat will need more of, particularly in their matchups against the Pacers, writes Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald:

The Heat trailed 88-80 after Pacers firebrand Lance Stephenson converted a driving layup, but the Heat’s defense steadied itself from there and, thanks to some clutch three-pointers, the home team outscored the Pacers 12-4 over the final 4 1/2 minutes.

“We just kept grinding,” said Dwyane Wade, who finished with a game-high 32 points. “We knew we were getting some good opportunities, but we just couldn’t pull it as close as we wanted, but we knew we weren’t far out of it.

“We got some great defensive stops that allowed us to get out in transition and get some easy baskets and get us back in this thing. You don’t want this team in half-court every possession, so we had to get stops, and we went with the bigger lineup with [Chris Bosh] and [Chris Andersen], and we were able to get more rebounds and get out and go a little bit.”

Wade was 8 of 11 in the second half and matched Paul George point for point in the final 24 minutes of the game. Both players had 18 points in the second half; George finished with 25 points to lead Indiana.

Pacers forward David West was an unstoppable force for long stretches in the second half until Heat coach Erik Spoelstra plugged Andersen in the paint alongside Bosh. The combination, along with James at his hybrid point-forward position, came through with needed stops.

A running dunk by Wade with 2:47 remaining cut the Pacers’ lead to three points, and, after a pair of missed jumpers by the Pacers, Bosh knocked down a three-pointer with 90 seconds left to tie it at 92-92. Bosh finished with 15 points.

“Our guys are fearless, no question about it,” Spoelstra said. “They would want to play every single game like this, with this type of intensity and drama and having to make big plays down the stretch.”


VIDEO: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade’s highlights against the Pacers

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No. 2: Asik could be headed for Boston at any moment: – All that’s left for the Houston Rockets to do is finalize whatever the best deal is for their disgruntled big man Omer Asik. The Boston Celtics have emerged as the clear frontrunner, according to multiple reports, including one from our very own Fran Blinebury (who reports that Rockets GM Daryl Morey is weighing all of his final options before executing a deal by his self-imposed deadline that ends today). Rockets coach Kevin McHale and Celtics boss Danny Ainge have a longstanding relationship as former teammates, friends and trade partners (Kevin Garnett …), so Asik going to Boston will shock no one. Still, there are other possibilities in play until something gets done officially:

The rumor mill had the Celtics as the frontrunners to land the 7-footer with an offer of Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee and a first-round draft pick, a deal first reported by Yahoo! Sports. The teams were said to be haggling over the draft pick, which would be protected to some degree in the 2014 lottery.

Such a trade would fulfill Morey’s desire to get a backup center, a shooter and a draft pick. However, Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald wrote that Celtics president Danny Ainge made that offer a week ago, but was turned down at the time by Morey.

The Rockets general manager sent word out around the league on Dec. 6 that he would entertain offers for Asik and choose the package he liked best by Dec. 19, the last date that any players obtained are eligible to be dealt again by the Feb. 20 trade deadline. Since that time, Morey had talked with many clubs, including the Sixers, Cavaliers and Hawks. The Knicks and Trail Blazers were also said to have expressed interest.

Asik has been sidelined for more than two weeks with a thigh injury that eventually caused swelling around his knee.

With Paul Millsap the ideal acquisition for the Rockets to put on their front line next to Dwight Howard, it was interesting to note that Morey began following the Atlanta forward’s official Twitter page —@paulmillsap4 — a short time before the Rockets tipped off against the Bulls on Wednesday night. It is certainly not out of the question that the social media conscious Morey was just having fun dropping a red herring.

If the deal with the Celtics should prove to have legs, it would reunite Howard and Bass, who played together for two seasons in Orlando. At just 6-foot-8, Bass would certainly be an under-sized backup for Howard. He does not have range out to the 3-point line that the Rockets crave, but can knock down mid-range shots to open things for Howard around the basket.

The Celtics could perhaps sweeten their offer by substituting forward Jeff Green for Bass. But Green’s contract, which has two more seasons at $18.4 million due, is not the kind that would normally appeal to Morey, who values keeping salary cap flexibility for his next deal, which is always just around the corner.

VIDEO: The Game Time crew examines the merits of a Rockets-Celtics deal for Asik

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No. 3: Gasol no longer on the trading block? – You can go ahead and remove Pau Gasol‘s name from the list of big men who could be moved … right now. According to a report from ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein, the Lakers are no longer shopping their four-time All-Star. Gasol and Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni got sideways last week but repaired the damage quickly and moved on. Now, instead of his name being swirled around in trade rumors alongside Houston’s Asik, Gasol appears to be safe … for now:

The Lakers entered the 2013-14 campaign fully intending to keep Gasol for the whole season and then to explore the feasibility of re-signing him in the summer. But ESPN.com reported last week the Spaniard’s recent public complaints about how he’s been used in D’Antoni’s system, as well as some subpar play, prompted L.A. to begin assessing its trade options.

However, the way Gasol quickly made amends with conciliatory comments about D’Antoni during the team’s recently completed 2-2 road trip has eased concerns. Gasol had 21 points and nine rebounds in the Lakers’ 96-92 win in Memphis on Tuesday night, after totaling 16 points and 10 rebounds Monday night in a loss to Atlanta. In the two games, Gasol made 16 of 21 shots to raise his overall shooting percentage to .439.

“I just think people go through periods of slumps where you question things,” D’Antoni said of Gasol after Tuesday’s win. “Like I said, we were out of whack. Different things go on. But Pau’s an All-Star, he’s one of the best players in the league, he worked through it and he’s back to normal.”

Sources told ESPN.com this week that the Lakers, before Gasol’s resurgent play, engaged in exploratory talks with several teams but never got too far with any of the calls.

Among the teams they spoke with were the Rockets, sources say, but those conversations never got serious, even with Houston determined to trade disgruntled center Omer Asik before a self-imposed Thursday deadline.

Sources say the Lakers do have certified interest in Knicks center Tyson Chandler, but New York appears to have no interest in fielding offers for Chandler at this time, having just welcomed the former NBA Defensive Player of the Year back to the lineup after a fractured fibula sidelined Chandler for the past 20 games.

ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard reported Saturday that the Lakers, facing a slew of injuries in the backcourt, made an inquiry about the Knicks’ Iman Shumpert, but sources say those talks were likewise merely exploratory.

The Lakers are still assessing their long-term plans and whether there’s a way to keep Gasol beyond this season, with the 33-year-old headed for unrestricted free agency in July. Sources say that team officials have communicated to Gasol in various ways that they remain interested in keeping him in L.A. beyond this season.

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No. 4: Warriors surging, catching Spurs at perfect time – It certainly sounds good in theory, the Golden State Warriors finally catching their breath after a road-heavy start to this season and now catching the defending Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs when they are on their heels a bit, and at Oracle Arena. The Spurs will be without Tony Parker (shin contusion). The Spurs, of course, have a way of destroying the best plans, as Matt Schwab of the Oakland Tribune points out:

The reigning Western Conference champions will return to Oracle Arena on Thursday night, playing on back-to-back nights on the road, without injured point guard Tony Parker (shin contusion).

But don’t try selling any softened Spurs scenario to Warriors coach Mark Jackson.

“With no Parker, it makes a difference, but they still find ways to execute and hurt you,” Jackson said. “Kory Joseph had success against us in the playoffs. Patty Mills can disrupt the game. He has a scoring mentality. They added (Marco) Belinelli, so they’ve got guys that know how to win ballgames.

“It’s still going to be a challenge for our defense and us overall.”

The Warriors got their mojo back in a 104-93 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday, as David Lee became David Lee again with 21 points and 17 rebounds, and Andre Iguodala returned triumphantly from a 12-game absence after suffering a strained left hamstring. Klay Thompson helped limit Eric Gordon to five points on 1-for-9 shooting in 24 minutes, employing what Jackson called “elite defense.”

Moreover, Stephen Curry continued his electrifying run with 28 points and 12 assists. The pieces all fit together, just as they did during an 8-3 start to the season before Iguodala went down.

“Really good team effort,” Iguodala said. “We moved the ball really well, but at the same time Steph was in a really good rhythm within the flow of the game. It was really helpful when we defend the ball like we do, and when we move the ball and he’s able to attack without having to force everything.

“Everything was just comfortable, in a rhythm. You could tell he was in his comfort zone, and the same with David Lee.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Clippers pop the Pelicans, thanks to DeAndre Jordan‘s stellar work … It wasn’t pretty, but the Knicks get it done in the clutch against the Bucks … Kyle Korver is working on more than just a 3-point streak, the Hawks’ shooter is doing it from all over … Pistons’ big man Andre Drummond has only scratched the surface of his immense potential.

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: A little friction in Miami (between LeBron James and Mario Chalmers) never hurts, especially when you finish the way the Heat did against the Pacers …


VIDEO: Passion is the name of the game in Miami, at least for LeBron and Chalmers