Posts Tagged ‘Orlando Magic’

Mavericks’ Rondo has orbital, nasal fracture


VIDEO: Rajon Rondo suffers an injury against the Orlando Magic

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Dallas Mavericks point guard Rajon Rondo is out for the foreseeable future with an orbital fracture to his left eye and a nasal fracture. He suffered the injury during Saturday’s game against the Orlando Magic.

The Mavericks’ leader in assists, Rondo will miss tonight’s game against Minnesota as well as road games this week against the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings. Rondo’s status will updated later this week, according to the team, as more information becomes available.

Rondo suffered the injury just 98 seconds into the game against the Magic. He tripped over the leg of Magic point guard Elfrid Payton and took an accidental knee to the face from teammate Richard Jefferson, who was sprinting down the court on a fast break and did not see Rondo on the ground.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 30


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe aiming for September return | Report: Howard could miss ‘extended time’ | Report: Vaughn on thin ice in Orlando | Shaw blasts Nuggets’ effort

No. 1: Kobe targeting September return; Kupchak still back Bryant — The torn rotator cuff in Kobe Bryant’s right should was officially surgically repaired on Wednesday. With that out of the way, most are wondering when (or if) he’ll be back on the court for the L.A. Lakers. According to a report from ESPN.com, Bryant is aiming to play again in September and, per Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, Bryant still has the full support of GM Mitch Kupchack.

Here’s ESPN.com’s report on Bryant’s shoulder:

Kobe Bryant addressed his expectations a day after shoulder surgery Thursday night in a brief interview with ESPN, saying he planned on being ready to play come September for the Los Angeles Lakers’ training camp.

“Yeah, that’s the plan,” Bryant said.

Bryant said his rehab over the next couple of months will involve “a lot of patience.”

“Sore, but it’s OK,”  Bryant said of his shoulder.

Bryant said media opinion on whether he should return for a 20th season or retire wouldn’t affect his decision.

“I don’t really listen much to what people have to say to be honest with you,” Bryant said.

Bryant was back at the Staples Center for a brief visit with former teammate Pau Gasol before the Lakers faced the Chicago Bulls.

The former teammates spoke privately before Bryant left. Bryant said he wasn’t feeling well enough, 31 hours after the operation, to go on the court.

Bryant is expected to need nine months to recover from his third straight season-ending injury, a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder suffered last week that he had surgically repaired Wednesday.

If Bryant meets that timetable, he could return to basketball shortly before the start of the 2015-16 season, the final year of his contract with the Lakers.

Bryant, who will be 37 this summer, is the NBA’s highest-paid player at $23.5 million this season. He is under contract for $25 million next year.

And here’s Bresnahan on Kupchack talking about the Lakers’ future with Kobe and beyond:

Kobe Bryant was all smiles when he talked about his $48.5-million contract extension in November 2013, saying he would “run through a wall” for the Lakers to prove they were right and everybody who doubted them was wrong.

But were they right?

It’s a simple question that goes directly to the center of a struggling franchise and its rapidly aging megastar.

“One hundred percent. We have no regrets at all,” Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said Thursday.

Why?

“Because he’s worth every penny of it.”

Kupchak acknowledged that the Lakers, who ended a nine-game losing streak Thursday and are foundering with a 13-34 record, would need a talent upgrade next season. The catch: They have room for only one maximum-salaried player.

“To me, a big part of Kobe’s contribution next year is if we can improve this team during the off-season,” Kupchak said.

“Our coaches and players have been instructed to win games. Maybe I used the wrong word. I don’t have to ‘instruct’ the players to win games and try to win games. I don’t have to instruct [Coach] Byron [Scott]. That’s why they’re here.”

One player Kupchak expected to return next season was Bryant. It would be his 20th, all with the Lakers.

“I don’t think he’s retiring,” Kupchak said. “I spoke to him [Thursday] morning. The doctor’s prognosis was released yesterday and [Bryant] said he was looking forward to training camp. That’s what we expect.”


VIDEO: Mitch Kupchack addresses Kobe Bryant’s comeback trail and more

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eastern Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Western Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All-Star reserves to be announced tonight on TNT


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Wiggins, Carter-Williams headline BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge


VIDEO: USA vs. World in new format for Rising Stars

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge has always served as All-Star Weekend’s showcase for first- and second-year NBA players, using a variety of different formats from rookies versus sophomores to a fantasy draft.

This year, though, it’s us against them. No matter which team you’re rooting for.

This season, the Rising Stars Challenge introduces a new format, with players from the United States going against a team of international players. The rosters were selected by the league’s assistant coaches, with one ballot for each of the NBA’s 30 teams. Both 10-man rosters include four guards, four frontcourt players and two players regardless of position. Each team also features a minimum of three first-year players and three second-year players among its 10 spots.

This year’s edition showcases 10 of the top 15 picks from the 2013 NBA Draft, and all four participants in the 2015 Sprite Slam Dunk. The Minnesota Timberwolves are the most represented team, with four Timberwolves split evenly between the two teams. The Utah Jazz will have three players involved, and the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic each are sending two players.

Team USA is heavy on perimeter and wing players, including Utah’s Trey Burke, Detroit’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad, and Orlando’s starting backcourt of Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo.

The World Team will be heavy on big men, including Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Minnesota’s Gorgui Dieng, Utah’s Rudy Gobert, Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic and Boston’s Kelly Olynyk. Canada will be the most represented international country with Olynyk and Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins.

The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 13, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The head coaches for the 21st BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge will be assistants from the 2015 NBA All-Star Game coaching staffs. Hawks assistant coach Kenny Atkinson will lead the World Team, and Golden State Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry will coach the U.S. Team. The game will be televised live on TNT at 9 p.m. ET.

USA Team
Trey Burke (Utah)
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Detroit)
Michael Carter-Williams (Philadelphia)
Zach LaVine (Minnesota)
Shabazz Muhammad (Minnesota)
Nerlens Noel (Philadelphia)
Victor Oladipo (Orlando)
Elfrid Payton (Orlando)
Mason Plumlee (Brooklyn)
Cody Zeller (Charlotte)

World Team
Steven Adams (Oklahoma City)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)
Bojan Bogdanovic (Brooklyn)
Gorgui Dieng (Minnesota)
Dante Exum (Utah)
Rudy Gobert (Utah)
Nikola Mirotic (Chicago)
Kelly Olynyk (Boston)
Dennis Schröder (Atlanta)
Andrew Wiggins (Minnesota)

Morning shootaround — Jan. 13


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Thibodeau lays into Bulls after loss | Story behind KG-Howard scuffle | Blatt clarifies his ‘max’ player comments | Anthony knows surgery is inevitable

No. 1:  Thibodeau rips into Bulls after loss to Magic — Had Pau Gasol not dropped a career-best 46 points on the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday, the Chicago Bulls could be looking at a four-game losing streak. The Bulls have lost three of their last four games, including a surprise loss at home last night to the Orlando Magic. Afterward, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau wasn’t exactly happy with the effort his squad displayed. Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times has more:

It’s been more than a year since Tom Thibodeau brought out “the circle.’’

It’s a mythical place in the mind of the Bulls coach that measures his players, measures the man.

After Monday’s embarrassing 121-114 loss to the Orlando Magic at the United Center, the talk of “the circle’’ was front and center from Thibodeau.

Specifically, which of the Bulls players were going to be in, and which wanted out.

“You can make an excuse every night in this league if that’s what you choose to do, whether it’s new players, the schedule, the start, who’s out, who’s in,’’ an angry Thibodeau said after the game. “There’s an excuse every night. You can’t do that. We have to make good. Either you’re in the circle or you’re out of the circle. You want to be in? Let’s go. You don’t want to be in? That’s fine too. Let’s go.’’

The circle seemed pretty empty against the Magic.

For a Bulls team that’s made its reputation under Thibodeau as one of the stingiest defenses the Association has? Blasphemy as far as the coach was concerned.

“Every aspect,’’ Thibodeau said, when asked what part of his defense needed to improve. “We gotta decide what we’re going to be. If we’re going to come in and just try to outscore people, we’re not going anywhere. I know that doesn’t work. We’re going to have to bring a lot more intensity and the only you bring a lot more intensity is gotta work a lot harder. It’s really that simple.’’

There wasn’t a lot of argument from his players, either.

Pau Gasol, fresh off a career-high 46 points in the win over Milwaukee on Saturday, however, took it a step further, not hiding his anger.

“I am upset. I am upset,’’ Gasol said. “We’ve given away too many home games against teams that we shouldn’t. That has to stop.

“Defensively, we struggled. There was no energy, no aggressiveness, no engagement from our team. So we’ve got to improve … dramatically. Just no energy, not really working together, and that’s something that has to change, has to improve. Can’t give up 120 points … 121 … so that’s something we have to reflect on. If we really want to do something here that’s something that can’t happen.’’


VIDEO: Derrick Rose talks after the Bulls’ home loss to the Magic

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 2


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Scott: Kobe’s minutes ‘experiment’ working | Kings seek to improve defense | Consistency next goal for Magic

No. 1: Scott: Kobe’s minutes limit working; Nuggets’ Shaw has his doubts — Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant is averaging 35.2 minutes per game, which is a slight tick down from what he was averaging (34.7 mpg) during a six-season stretch from 2007-13. This season, coach Byron Scott has tried to limit Bryant’s minutes at times and held him out of a few games for rest, too. Scott told ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Arash Markazi that his tactic is working, but a former Bryant teammate (and current Denver Nuggets coach) Brian Shaw has his doubts about the strategy:

First, here’s Scott talking about his Kobe minutes plan:

Byron Scott’s plan for Kobe Bryant this season is more of an ever-changing experiment than a set-in-stone policy.

After resting Bryant for three of the Los Angeles Lakers’ games last week, Scott wanted to see how Bryant would perform with the added rest and playing about 32 minutes per game, down about five minutes from what he averaged the first month of the season.

Bryant responded with 10 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists in his first game back Sunday, then with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists Tuesday.

“So far, the experiment is working,” Scott said. “We’re just going to keep at it and see how it turns out.”

Although Bryant has been more of a facilitator in his return, Scott was quick to shoot down the notion that the veteran star has changed his game after taking some time off. He is simply taking what defenses give him and not forcing the issue as much as he previously did, according to the coach.

“When you guys say this is a new Kobe, this is not a new Kobe,” Scott said. “This is a guy who’s been doing this for 19 years. Against Denver [on Tuesday] there were times they were coming and double-teaming him and we kept our spacing, which was great, and made some great passes to guys who made shots. I don’t think it’s a new Kobe at all. It’s just an old Kobe doing the same old things he’s been doing.”

And here’s Shaw, expressing some concern over this new Bryant plan, to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

A longtime friend and former teammate wasn’t so sure Bryant would agree to a reduction in playing time.

But Brian Shaw didn’t talk directly to Bryant about it.

Bryant seemed fine with Coach Byron Scott’s idea to trim his playing time by two to three minutes a game.

“When I was younger, I could play those minutes. I could handle those minutes. Now I can’t,” Bryant said. “There’s no use in fighting it. You accept it, you play around it and you figure it out.”

Scott said he wanted to reduce Bryant’s minutes from 35 to 32 or 33 a game. Shaw, now the Nuggets’ coach, was less optimistic Bryant would go along with it.

“I think it works early in the game … he’ll come sit down willingly,” Shaw said. “But if it’s in the middle of the game and it’s close, he wants to win worse than anybody else out there, so it’s good luck trying to keep him out of the game if you’re trying to keep him to a minutes schedule.”


VIDEO: Byron Scott discusses his minutes-management plan for Kobe Bryant

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Morning shootaround — Dec. 27


VIDEO: Check out all the highlights from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Josh Smith makes winning debut for Rockets | Magic rouses LeBron, Cavs take win | Watch out Kobe, here comes Dirk | Bucks looking for different advantages

No. 1: Josh Smith makes winning debut for Rockets — There’s no place like home for the holidays … as long as you have a home. After being waived earlier this week by the Detroit Pistons, Josh Smith agreed to a free-agent deal with the Houston Rockets. Friday night he made his debut for the Rockets in Memphis against the Western Conference power Grizzlies, tallying 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists in Houston’s 117-111 overtime win. As Jonathan Feigen writes in the Houston Chronicle, Smith provided the Rockets exactly what they were looking for when they signed him…

The Rockets had no intention of relying so heavily on forward Josh Smith with the ink on his contract barely dry.

They did not even intend to play him so long into the night.

The Rockets knew they wanted Smith the minute the Detroit Pistons cut him loose.

They needed him as soon as they plugged him into the rotation.

With the Grizzlies defending Smith with Vince Carter, the Rockets went to him again and again down the stretch Friday night, not only helping key a comeback to a 117-111 overtime win but offering a glimpse of the sort of talent they had plugged into the mix.

“They think big of my talents,” Smith said. “This is a team that instills confidence in all of its players.”

With the two-season disaster in Detroit rapidly behind him, Smith had 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists in his Rockets debut, tacking on the game-winning free throws in overtime when he grabbed consecutive offensive rebounds and then knocked down a pair of free throws for a four-point lead.

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No. 2: Magic rouses LeBron, Cavs take win — The Orlando Magic are still in the nascent stages of their rebuilding plan, and as such still have lessons to learn. Last night, hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were without an injured Kyrie Irving, the Magic learned an important truth: You come at the King, you best not miss. With Orlando leading the Cavs 64-62 in the third quarter, Magic forward Tobias Harris and LeBron James got tangled under the basket and exchanged some heated words. Whoops. As Chris Haynes writes, Harris woke a sleeping giant, helping push Cleveland to the win…

James looked out of sorts. Disinterested. He had three turnovers in the first 10 minutes.

Orlando was up 64-62 in the third quarter and a coasting James was 5-for-13 from the field. The Magic was on pace to steal one. Harris, acting as the catalyst, had 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting.

Then things suddenly changed.

Midway through the third, Harris was facing up James on the baseline and to create some separation; he flung his elbows around in the vicinity of James’ face. James backed up to avoid the connection, but he took exception and said something to Harris.

The two jawed back and forth at one another and had to be separated. While walking away, Harris yelled, “Stop flopping.”

“He barked up the wrong tree,” the Cavs’ Dion Waiters said of Harris after the game.

A sleeping giant was awakening.

Two possessions later, James stole a crosscourt pass and shot out on a one-man break. Orlando’s Elfrid Payton managed to get a hold of James from the back and James took him along for the ride to finish the left-handed layup, plus the foul.

The four-time MVP proceeded to trot past Orlando’s bench to have a few words before taking his foul shots. Just like that, James was awakened.

“That’s the best player in the world,” the Cavs’ Kevin Love said. “That’s something you don’t want to do.”

From that point on James dominated Harris, going 5-for-7 in the final 17 minutes. He scored 15 of his game-high 29 points in the fourth. After that alteration with James, Harris only scored one point. He finished with 17 points on 6-for-12.

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No. 1: Watch out Kobe, here comes Dirk — Much was made earlier this season of Kobe Bryant‘s pursuit of Michael Jordan and the third spot on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Last night there was another repositioning of the list, though a few spots down from Kobe and MJ. Dallas’s Dirk Nowitzki moved into 8th on the all-time scoring list, passing Elvin Hayes in a 102-98 Dallas win over the Lakers. As Dirk joked after the game, he’s now got Kobe squarely in his sights, writes ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon

“I told [Kobe] that I was going to catch him,” Nowitzki said after his Dallas Mavericks defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 102-98 with Bryant resting and watching from the bench. “But that’s going to be tough.”

Nowitzki now stands eighth among scorers in NBA history, five spots behind Bryant, after passing Hall of Fame forward Elvin Hayes on Friday night.

Nowitzki needed six points entering the game to pass Hayes, who finished his career with 27,313 points, and did so on a midrange jumper off a feed from Monta Ellis on the opening possession of the second half.

Nowitzki, who has been battling a stomach illness for about two weeks, finished the game with 14 points in 24 minutes, giving him 27,322 points in his career.

“I’m fortunate to have great teammates to put me in position to keep scoring, even as I’m older,” said Nowitzki, a 36-year-old who has spent his entire 17-year career with the Mavs. “It’s been fun. Still competing at a high level and hopefully will win a lot more games these last couple of years, which really means more to me right now than all the points. But it’s definitely been a fun ride.”

Hayes is the second top-10 all-time scorer passed by Nowitzki this season. Nowitzki bumped Hakeem Olajuwon to No. 10 on the list in a Nov. 11 win over the Sacramento Kings.

Nowitzki, who is averaging 18.5 points per game this season, likely will pass Moses Malone (27,409 career points) in early January to move into seventh on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

With 32,365 points and counting, Bryant is almost certainly out of reach for Nowitzki. However, Nowitzki should pass Shaquille O’Neal (28,596 points) next season and has a chance to move into the top five by passing Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) before he retires.

***

No. 1: Bucks looking for different advantages — The Milwaukee Bucks were purchased by a collection of investors led by some New York financial titans in 2013, and since then they’ve been attempting to build a stronger infrastructure for the franchise, in some ways by utilizing some creative thinking. One way they’ve done that: Spending money on people who do things NBA teams have traditionally undervalued, or perhaps not valued at all. For instance, as Kevin Randall writes in the New York Times, the Bucks recently hired a “facial coding expert”…

So in May, the team hired Dan Hill, a facial coding expert who reads the faces of college prospects and N.B.A. players to determine if they have the right emotional attributes to help the Bucks.

The approach may sound like palm reading to some, but the Bucks were so impressed with Hill’s work before the 2014 draft that they retained him to analyze their players and team chemistry throughout this season.

“We spend quite a bit of time evaluating the players as basketball players and analytically,” said David Morway, Milwaukee’s assistant general manager, who works for the owners Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry. “But the difficult piece of the puzzle is the psychological side of it, and not only psychological, character and personality issues, but also team chemistry issues.”

Hill contends that faces betray our true emotions and can predict intentions, decisions and actions. He employs the psychologist Paul Ekman’s widely accepted FACS, or Facial Action Coding System, to decipher which of the 43 muscles in the face are working at any moment. Seven core emotions are identified: happiness, surprise, contempt, disgust, sadness, anger and fear.

Before the 2014 draft, Hill spent 10 hours with Milwaukee’s team psychologist, Ramel Smith, watching video of various college prospects and picking apart the psyches of potential picks. The Bucks had the No. 2 selection over all as well as three second-round picks, one of which they traded.

A vexing player at the top of the draft was Dante Exum, a point guard from Australia who was projected to be taken among the top four selections. Smith had done player personality analyses but wanted to validate them by having Hill present his player assessments first. The Bucks selected Jabari Parker with their top pick, and Exum fell to Utah at No. 5.

“Nothing against Exum, but emotional resiliency, stability and an immediate, assured presence were all key considerations in support of selecting Parker,” Hill said.

Until he sustained a severe knee injury on Dec. 15, Parker was among the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year honors, averaging 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds. Exum is averaging 4.9 points and 2.0 assists coming off the bench for the Jazz.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jared Dudley couldn’t miss last night in Atlanta. Like, literally, he couldn’t miss … Kenneth Faried was basically unstoppable for Denver last night … After passing him on the all-time scoring list, Kobe Bryant said Michael Jordan urged him to now go after Karl Malone … Did Kevin Garnett play his final game in Boston? … Quincy Acy got a one-game suspension for his Christmas Day scuffle with John WallDajuan Wagner is in the early stages of mounting a comeback

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 17


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Turning toxic in Los Angeles? | Beal is back | Thunder, Rockets combine for ugly battle | Revisiting the ‘Melo trade

No. 1: Turning toxic in Los Angeles? — The Los Angeles Lakers entered this season with high hopes. Sure, the roster wasn’t as strong as it has been in years past, but they had a healthy Kobe Bryant, and if there’s anything we’ve learned through the years, it’s to not bet against Kobe. But the power of positive thinking apparently doesn’t extend to defensive rotations or offensive consistency, as the Lakers have gotten off to a franchise-worst 1-9 start. And last night’s 136-115 loss to the Warriors may portend even worse things ahead, as some players seem to be unhappy with Kobe’s volume shooting while coach Byron Scott wasn’t thrilled with the team’s defense, writes ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Baxter Holmes:

Scott lambasted his team’s effort, saying that he showed video to his players at halftime of them jogging when they should’ve been running. They didn’t change.

“I can fix that, basically, and [I] will starting Tuesday,” Scott said.

That’s when the Lakers will play the Hawks in Atlanta.

“It’s just going to be a very short leash,” Scott said. “If I see, in my eyes, that you’re not giving that effort, then I’ll just pull guys out.”

He added, “I think we have some guys right now, because of some of the injuries that we have, that feel that they’re almost entitled because they’ve got to play. Well, we’re losing anyway, so I ain’t got to play you.”

Then there was Bryant, who scored 44 points on 15-of-34 shooting from the field in 31 minutes. It was his most points since he tore his Achilles in 2013, and it came on a night when he wasn’t sure if he’d play with a viral infection anyway.

Kobe's shot chart vs. Warriors

Kobe Bryant’s shot chart vs. Golden State

But Bryant shot the ball like it was a hot potato, launching it almost the second he caught it, no matter where he was, no matter how contested the shot was.

He shot 13 field goals in the first quarter; the rest of the Lakers shot 15.

He had 24 shots at halftime; the rest of the Lakers shot 32.

At intermission, he was on pace to set a new career-high for field-goal attempts in a game, besting the 47 he shot in November 2002 against Boston.

But for as much as he shot, and for as much as he scored, the Lakers kept falling further and further behind, eventually by as much as 38.

“We look up there, and we see that we’re winning by 30, 40 points, that 44 is really irrelevant,” Warriors backup center Marreese Speights said.

All the while, the Lakers looked far less like a team and more like one player.

In their locker room after, frustration boiled over more than at any point this season — and it was quite clear which direction most of it was aimed.

Said Carlos Boozer: “A lot of times we run a set, but Kobe is extremely aggressive. And then we try to hit the glass, get it off the glass. We’ve got to find a balance. It can’t be lopsided. We’ve got to find a balance.”

Said Jeremy Lin: “The game of basketball is … we’ve got to do it together. It can’t be … if I go into a game concerned about myself, then in some ways that’s detrimental to the team.”

Lin later added, “There’s so many things wrong right now. At the top of the list, I would say communication, trust and effort.”

Bryant defended his volume shooting, using metaphors about crime.

“Obviously I’d rather get guys involved early, but if a purse gets stolen in front of you, how many blocks are you going to let the guy run?” he asked.

“You going to chase him down and keep him in sight yourself or just wait for the authorities to get there, or decide to let him run and wait for the authorities to get there? It’s a tough thing.”


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks after the Lakers’ loss to the Warriors (more…)

‘Dwight The Movie’ Hits The Internet

dwight

Dwight Howard’s desire to have coach Stan Van Gundy removed while with the Magic is just one moment detailed in the documentary (NBAE via Getty Images).

A new documentary on Dwight Howard, detailing the eight-time NBA All-Star center’s career from his prep days in Atlanta to his search for redemption now with the Houston Rockets, has a running time of 72 minutes.

One of the challenges to the filmmakers – it’s an EPIX.com production – was to produce something more compelling and revealing than a few awkward, extemporaneous and notorious minutes captured on tape after a morning shootaround in April 2012.

You remember that media session, right? That was when Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy revealed to the reporters in attendance that his franchise star had asked management to fire him, moments before Howard strolled over unaware, threw an arm around Van Gundy’s shoulders and smiled broadly.

Footage of that uncomfortable 1-2 punch to the Magic’s plans is video gold and it is accounted for in “Dwight Howard: In The Moment.” Howard’s happier days – his arrival on the NBA scene as the No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft, his development as the league’s premier, post-Shaquille center and his trip with Orlando to the 2009 Finals – are captured as well.

The production tracks Howard’s parting with the Magic, his trade to the Los Angeles Lakers and, after one dismal season in L.A., his half-step out of the spotlight and the dampened expectations that have followed him to the Houston Rockets.

So as to not steal too much thunder from the film – or from Marc Stein‘s informal transcription of key moments for ESPN.com – we’ll limit our excerpting to a little more Howard-Van Gundy friction as it played out behind the scenes in Orlando:

 

Dwight on asking Magic management to make a coaching change after Orlando’s first-round exit in the 2011 playoffs:
“We shouldn’t be losing like this. I wanted to win. And I went to management and I said: ‘Guys, I’m a player. I just want to give my two cents. I think that our coach has lost his touch with the team. Great coach, but I think he’s lost his touch, I think he’s lost his voice. And I think it’s time that you guys get a new voice.’ I said, ‘I love him as a coach, but I think we need a new voice.’ … Six weeks [later], they finally respond [and say], ‘We’re gonna keep Stan.’ So I’m like: ‘OK. That lets me know how you guys feel about your leader expressing how to make the team better.’ ”

Dwight on the trade demand that soon followed:
“That summer I just thought about what I needed for my career. And when I got back [to Orlando], I let those guys know that I wanted to be traded. … I just wanted a change for myself. I didn’t want it to be done publicly. I just wanted it to happen silently. And I’d go to a new team, start fresh. Well, it didn’t happen that way. … The season comes around and they asked me to come to the office, shook my hand and they said, ‘We’re gonna trade you tomorrow.’ The next day the trade didn’t happen, but they came out and said I wanted to be traded. And that’s when everything went downhill. And I feel like I should have came out and said some things at that point to let people know what was going on, but in that situation I really didn’t know what to do.”


VIDEO: A new documentary takes a closer look at Howard’s career