Posts Tagged ‘Pau Gasol’

Morning shootaround — Feb. 1


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Gasol: Bulls’ lack discipline | LeBron has high praise for Coach Lue | Middleton plays second fiddle no more | Warriors’ other All-Stars carve up Knicks

No. 1: Gasol: Bulls lack discipline — After more than half a season of struggling to operate consistently on a high level, reality has set in for Pau Gasol and the Chicago Bulls. After Sunday’s listless effort in a loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles, their second worst loss of the season, reality has set in for a team thought to be a legitimate contender this season. The Bulls’ lack of discipline has cost them and will continue to do so, perhaps even tonight in Utah against the Jazz (9 ET, League Pass), writes Nick Friedell of ESPN.com:

Pau Gasol has been in the NBA long enough to be painfully honest.

That’s why the 15-year veteran was so blunt in the criticism of his own team after Sunday’s disheartening 120-93 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

“We’re not disciplined,” Gasol said. “Yep. We’re not. That’s it. It’s true. It’s a fact.”

The Chicago Bulls are so unpredictable that they have become predictable. When they play well, as they did in an impressive win against the hapless Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night, they are not able to sustain the solid play. Their six-game winning streak a month ago was the outlier, not the rule.

“It’s been the story of the year,” Bulls guard Derrick Rose said. “The story of the year. If I could put a finger on it, I swear I would. I watch a lot of basketball, and the only thing I can think of is just that effort and sticking with the game plan.”

The Bulls’ single biggest flaw, aside from the fact that players such as Doug McDermott, Tony Snell and Nikola Mirotic have not proven to be as good as advertised this year after being given plenty of opportunities, is that this group just isn’t as mentally tough as it has been in years past. Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg has discussed the issue several times during the season and was again frustrated with the lack of passionate play at times on Sunday. To blame the issues on Hoiberg, the first-year head coach, wouldn’t be fair, because the troubles the Bulls are having with inconsistencies are the same ones that started to creep up last season in Tom Thibodeau‘s final year at the helm.

The Bulls’ problem is they don’t seem to have any clue how to fix the problems. More than halfway through the season, this is who they are: an inconsistent bunch of athletes who still don’t appear to enjoy playing with one another.

“We’re letting guys do whatever they want to do out there,” All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler said. “Not putting bodies on people, not rebounding, letting guys get to their strengths. That’s the will if you want to. Defense is all about toughness. When we’re not guarding anybody, we don’t look very tough.”

Stop me if you’ve heard that before.

Bulls players are sick of talking about the problems, but not enough to create change from within.

“You’ve just got to keep talking about it,” Hoiberg said of trying to build up the mental toughness that hasn’t been there all year. “That’s what you got to do. You’ve got to fight through it. Again, I’ve been saying this all year. I hate to sound like a broken record. We are a really good team when things are going well. We can go out there and play with a swagger and a confidence. But we lose that, we lose that when things aren’t going well. They scored 69 points in the second half. You ain’t beating anybody when that happens.”


VIDEO: Bulls lose to Clippers in L.A.

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All-Star Starters Announced

VIDEO: Lakers forward Kobe Bryant gained the most votes for the 2016 All-Star Game.

HANG TIME BIG CITYThe 2016 NBA All-Star Game will showcase several players who have battled back from injury to return to All-Star form. It will also likely serve as a farewell to the leading scorer in All-Star Game history, Kobe Bryant.

And if the starting lineups are any indication, NBA fans appear ready to embrace small ball.

Bryant, in his 20th NBA season, announced in November that this will be his final campaign. Though he missed the last two All-Star games with injuries, Lakers guard Bryant led all NBA players in voting this season through the first three voting updates. In each voting update, Golden State’s Stephen Curry, last year’s leading vote-getter, was second behind Bryant. Bryant finished with 1,891,614 votes, ahead of Curry’s 1,604,325.

NBA All-Star 2016After missing significant time last season, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Paul George have all had terrific first halves to the season, and fans rewarded their excellence with All-Star starting spots. While Durant was the leading vote-getter in 2014, injuries last season relegated him to a reserve role in the All-Star Game. Anthony started last season’s All-Star Game in New York, but had season-ending knee surgery shortly after the game. George missed most of last season recovering from a broken leg. This season, all three have produced at an All-Star pace and have their teams in playoff contention.

Anthony (567,348) edged Chicago’s Pau Gasol (566,988), who started last season, by only 360 votes for the final starting position in the East frontcourt.

For the second year in a row, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry made a late charge into the Eastern Conference starting five. Last year, with help on social media from Canada’s prime minister and hip-hop star Drake, Lowry made up a 100,000 vote deficit in the last two weeks of voting to pass Dwyane Wade for a starting spot. This season, Lowry again received a late endorsement on Instagram from Drake, and Raptors fans voted often via Twitter, helping Lowry (646,441) tally enough votes to leapfrog Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving (580,651) and start in the Eastern Conference backcourt with Wade.

Alongside Bryant and Durant in the Western Conference frontcourt, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard will make his All-Star debut as a starter. Golden State’s Draymond Green, who leads the NBA in triple-doubles this season with eight, held a 12,000 vote lead over Leonard for the final spot in the Western Conference frontcourt in the most recent voting returns. The Warriors (39-4) and Spurs (36-6) have the two best records in the NBA this season. Dallas center Zaza Pachulia also made a late push, from eighth to fourth in voting for the West’s frontcourt, thanks to a concerted effort to get out the international vote. Pachulia ended up falling just 14,000 votes short of winning a starting spot, finishing ahead of Green.

Green’s absence from the starting lineup also means there are no All-Star starters who regularly play center for their teams. While both Pau and Marc Gasol made the starting lineups last season, James and Durant would seem to be the most likely candidates to start at center for their teams, or at least the tallest starters available.

Besides Green and Irving, several players are noticeable by their absences. In the Western Conference, Houston’s James Harden scored 29 points in last year’s All-Star game and finished second to Curry in regular season MVP voting. Harden finished fifth among Western Conference guards with 430,777 votes, behind Curry, Westbrook, Chris Paul (624,334) and Klay Thompson (555,513). Clippers forward Blake Griffin has been an All-Star in each of his five NBA seasons, and was voted in as a starter last year, but injuries this season have meant he’s played in just 30 games thus far. Anthony Davis was voted a starter a year ago, but an injury-riddled start to the Pelicans’ season likely hampered his chances. Davis finished ninth among Western Conference frontcourt players.

In the East, Washington’s John Wall was voted to start a year ago, but hasn’t been in contention for a starting spot this season in any of the voting updates, as the Wizards have stumbled to a 20-21 start. Wall (368,686) finished sixth among Eastern Conference guards.

The 65th NBA All-Star Game will be exclusively televised on TNT from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Sunday, Feb. 14.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Frontcourt

LeBron James, Cavaliers — After James took the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals last season, he has led the Eastern Conference in voting this season. An 11-time All-Star, James is shooting a career low 29-percent from the three-point line, but has also averaged 25.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg and 6 apg for the 29-11 Cavs, who are in first place in the Eastern Conference.

Paul George, Pacers — After suffering a compound fracture of his right leg during a USA Basketball scrimmage in the summer of 2014, George missed most of last season, before returning for the final six games. This season, the two-time All-Star George has played in all 42 of Indiana’s games, averaging a career-high 23.7 ppg, along with 4 apg and 7.4 rpg.

Carmelo Anthony, Knicks — Last season, shortly after appearing in his 10th NBA All-Star Game, Anthony had season-ending knee surgery. This season, Anthony is averaging 21.7 ppg in 40 games, and last night passed Larry Bird for 31st place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Anthony has assumed a leadership role for the rebuilding Knicks, who after winning just 17 games a season ago, are currently 22-22 and in contention for a playoff appearance.

Backcourt

Dwyane Wade, Heat — At 34 years old, Wade is a 12-time All-Star. After missing significant chunks of the last few seasons with various injuries, this season Wade has played in 40 of Miami’s 43 games. Wade is averaging 18.1 ppg for the Heat, who are 23-20.

Kyle Lowry — Thank the north. After making his All-Star debut last season and leading the Raptors into the playoffs, Lowry has been even better this season. Through 42 games, the 29-year-old Lowry is averaging a career high 20.9 ppg and 5 rpg, along with 6.5 apg.

WESTERN CONFEERENCE

Frontcourt

Kobe Bryant, Lakers — For the first time in his career, Bryant was listed among frontcourt players, and he ran away with the vote. A 17-time All-Star, this season has turned into an extended farewell tour for Bryant and the Lakers, who are 9-35 so far this season. Bryant is averaging 16.3 ppg in 36 games this campaign.

Kevin Durant, Thunder — Durant missed most of last season after suffering a foot injury, and underwent several foot surgeries. But this season the 27-year-old Durant has returned to form, averaging 26.5 ppg through 37 games for the Thunder, who are 32-12 under first-year coach Billy Donovan.

Kawhi Leonard, Spurs — The San Antonio Spurs have won five titles during the Gregg PopovichTim Duncan era, and while they’ve usually employed an understated form, it’s been hard to overlook them this season, as they’ve racked up a gaudy 36-6 record to start this season. The 24-year-old Leonard has been sensational for the Spurs, averaging a team-high 20.1 ppg as well as playing arguably the best on-ball defense in the NBA.

Backcourt

Stephen Curry, Warriors — Last season’s NBA MVP has been even better this season. A two-time All-Star, Curry has helped the Warriors get off to a 24-0 start while averaging a career-high (and NBA-leading) 29.9 ppg. Remarkably, Curry has done this while playing just 33.9 mpg, while shooting 51 percent from the field, 45 percent behind the three-point line, and 91 percent from the free throw line.

Russell Westbrook, Thunder — Westbrook scored 41 points in last season’s All-Star Game, winning the All-Star Game MVP. This season, the 27-year-old Westbrook has been as dynamic as ever, averaging 24 ppg, 9.8 apg and 7.1 rpg, along with a league-leading 2.5 steals per game.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 19


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs fall flat vs. Warriors | George won’t yet commit to Olympic team | Is it time to trade Pau? | Pelicans running out of time

No. 1: Cavs’ performance vs. Warriors raises many questions — By halftime last night, the much-anticipated showdown between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers was effectively over. The Warriors built a 70-44 lead at Quicken Loans Arena and, really, had the game in hand much sooner than that (say by the middle of the second quarter). Afterward, the Cavs found themselves with a five-game losing streak to the defending champs and an 0-2 mark against them this season. Our Steve Aschburner was on hand and has more on just what Cleveland has to do in the wake of such a disastrous loss:

It was the Cavaliers, the presumptive class of the Eastern Conference, soiling themselves. At home. In a statement game. To a degree heretofore unseen.

Here was a one-game argument for 1-through-16, conference-less playoff seeding, in hopes that the Warriors and the Spurs could meet in the Finals and spare us four out of seven like this.

As a franchise, Cleveland had endured worse home losses before — but never with LeBron James. This one bottomed out in the biggest deficit of his career (43 points) and ended with the most lopsided losing margin (34). He wound up with a personal-worst of minus-34 — accomplished in a mere three quarters, because the Cavs’ subs actually outscored the Warriors’ subs in the backupalooza, meaningless fourth.

“They came in and gave us a good ol’ fashioned a-kicking,” James said. “They got a little bit of whatever they wanted.”

The Warriors have been the better team five consecutive times now, dating back to Games 4, 5 and 6 of the Finals and including both the Christmas meeting in Oakland and this one. That’s not nothing — even if the Cavaliers want to shrug off its significance and minimize any possible carryover should they face Golden State again in June, there’s no guarantee the Warriors will play along. Just because this drubbing doesn’t become some psychological hurdle to the Cavs doesn’t mean it won’t provide a psychological edge to the Warriors.

Golden State rolled out of Cleveland late Monday knowing that it put on a devastating performance, on demand, two nights after its clunker at Detroit. Cleveland knows that, on a big stage with its full cast healthy and accounted for, it froze and forgot its lines. The satisfaction from the Cavs’ recently completed 12-day, six-game trip — they went 5-1 — already is vapor, and in a lot of ways, they’re almost starting over.

“We do understand we’ve got to get better,” James said. “We’re 0-3 against the top teams in the West. … We’ve got a long way to go.

“We’ve got to get back to the basics. When you play against teams like this … you’ve got to have just a laser-sharp mentality. Both physical and mental. You can’t have lulls because they make you pay.”

“There’s nothing to say,” James said, when asked if he had aired out his teammates for the stink bomb outing. “It’s easy to say something when it’s bad. For me, I like to get on us when we’re doing well, to try to keep us focused. I’m not a kick-a-man-when-you’re-down type of guy.”

While James and the Cavs weren’t inclined to overreact, they had no assurance Golden State wouldn’t bookmark Monday’s game as a confidence booster for June. Remember how Doc Rivers hid money in the ceiling at Staples Center several years ago, confident that his Celtics team would get back to L.A. for the Finals?

The Warriors could have stashed their goggles somewhere in their locker room at the Q and nary a soul could have blamed them.

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Noah dislocates shoulder, raising ‘bigs’ questions for Bulls

VIDEO: Bulls center Joakim Noah re-injures left shoulder.

CHICAGO – Joakim Noah grabbed at his left shoulder, ran beyond the baseline and cut loose with anguished expletives. Tied up with Dallas’ JaVale McGee, the Chicago Bulls center suffered a dislocation of his left shoulder in the second quarter against the Mavericks at United Center and once he made a U-turn, sprinted immediately to the Bulls’ locker room. He was done for the night.

The bigger question is how long Noah might be out overall and what that might mean both to his season and any notions Chicago might have about sorting out their multiple-bigs situation at the February trading deadline. It’s the same shoulder Noah hurt on Dec. 21, suffering what then was called a sprain against Brooklyn that cost him nine games.

He only returned Monday against Washington and, in three games back against the Wizards, the Bucks and the 76ers, averaged 3.0 points and 10.7 rebounds. But the season has been a struggle for Noah from the start – he lost his starting spot when new head coach Fred Hoiberg opted to team first Nikola Mirotic, then Taj Gibson at power forward. The 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year was averaging 4.4 ppg, 9.0 rpg and 22.5 mpg, mostly off the bench.

Noah, who will be a free agent this summer, hasn’t been able to showcase his talents. The Bulls are 8-2 in the games he has not played. But even if Chicago were to explore trade scenarios involving Noah, he might be seen as damaged goods if his latest shoulder injury requires surgery or a long layoff. And the Bulls don’t have long-term stability at the center spot, with Gasol saying earlier in the season he would likely opt out of his contract this summer.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 13


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Green likely to rest next 2 games | Wall needs MRI on knee muscle | Report: Davis to sign D-League deal | Rose’s knee to be re-evaluated | Mavs still struggling against elite squads

No. 1: Warriors likely to rest Green in next 2 games — Golden State Warriors power forward Draymond Green has made a pretty solid case already this season that he’s perhaps the most versatile player at his position. If nothing else, he’s proven to be quite durable and resilient this season, what with the 36.1 minutes a game average and five triple-doubles he’s amassed since Dec. 1. As the schedule picks up for the Warriors, though, the team doesn’t want to burn out Green and is more than likely going to rest him over the next two games. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has more:

The Warriors plan to rest their versatile power forward the next two games (Wednesday at Denver and Thursday at home against the Lakers), leaving open only the slight possibility that the vociferous competitor might persuade them otherwise.

Green is averaging a team-high 34.9 minutes per game, and joins Andre Iguodala as the only Warriors to play in each of the team’s first 38 games. He averaged 37 minutes per night when Harrison Barnes missed 16 games from Nov. 28 through Jan. 2.

The Warriors are in a grueling portion of the season, which with Thursday’s game, will have included five games in seven nights. The fourth game during that stretch is the always-arduous trek to Denver — a trip that usually involves losing an hour because of the time change, a long bus ride from the airport to the hotel and a game played at altitude.

Green is averaging 15.2 points, 9.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists and was third among Western Conference frontcourt players in the latest All-Star balloting, with updated results expected to be released Thursday.

His legs hurt, but he never wants to sit.

“They always want to play, but they also understand the big picture,” Walton said. “Earlier in the season, it was tough to have them included in the conversation, but this is a hard part of the season. Guys are worn down, and I think they understand now that if we come to them with the training staff saying it’s a smart idea to give them a night off here or there, they’ll be more receptive to that.”

Green had a long chat with head coach Steve Kerr and general manager Bob Myers after Tuesday’s practice. If Green is persuaded to rest the next two games — an official announcement is expected at Wednesday morning’s shootaround — the Warriors could play small by starting Barnes at power forward or go with a more conventional lineup by inserting reserve big men Marreese Speights or Jason Thompson.

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Morning Shootaround — Jan. 4


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry questionable for Warriors next game, Green is a go | Butler wants nothing to do with Jordan comparisons | Heat starters finally in positive territory | Z-Bo remains a bright spot for Grizzlies | Kupchak knows Lakers can’t move on until Kobe does

No. 1:Curry questionable for Warriors’ next game, Green is a go — The Golden State Warriors are justified in their concern for reigning KIA MVP Stephen Curry, who is battling a shin injury that could allowed him to play all of 14 minutes in the team’s past three games. Curry is questionable for the Warriors’ game against Charlotte tonight (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). It’s a good thing the Warriors have Draymond Green healthy and fully engaged. He’s doing everything humanly possible to compensate for Curry’s absence, doing his “Dray-Magic” routine on the regular. As Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group suggests, Green’s heroics know no bounds:

In the wake of the latest and most monstrous triple-double of his career — 29 points, 17 rebounds and 14 assists against the Denver Nuggets — Draymond Green seemed more delighted by the little challenge he won with coach Luke Walton.

It came in the first quarter of the Warriors’ early blitz. Green already had buried his first three 3-point shots as the Warriors raced out to an 11-2 lead in the first 2:18. During a Nuggets timeout, the Warriors huddled at the bench and, well, here’s Draymond to tell the rest:

“I was able to get it going and my teammates started to look for me. Then Luke drew up a play for me (during the timeout) and told me I wasn’t going to make it on the fourth one. So I had to knock that one down.”

And of course, he did. Nailed it. Nuttin’ but net, followed by a smile and a knowing smirk at the guy striding in front of the bench. Drain-mond. Trey-mond. Call him what you will, but make sure you call him unique and oh-so special, a man you can dare to do something and he’ll damn near kill himself trying.

If you want to know why Walton has been such a wonder as Steve Kerr‘s interim replacement, it’s stuff like this. He’s not so far removed from his playing days that he hasn’t forgotten how to play the game within a game, the mind game that gently goads a player to a new level of greatness.

Whatever competitive buttons he’s pushing with Green, he’s hitting all the gobble holes in the pinball machine. Draymond is lighting up everywhere and giving multiple replays. It makes you wonder what Walton might do next to keep his most versatile player at this astonishing level of play.

Hey, Luke, how about this one? Tell Green he’s played OK so far this season, but add that he’s probably reached his ceiling, and that there’s no chance he could ever become the NBA’s MVP. Yep, that might touch off a fresh bell or whistle.

One could argue fairly convincingly that through 33 games, Green has been the best all-around player in the league — and the most valuable — even over teammate and defending MVP Stephen Curry. True, he’s not off the charts in any one statistical category. He’s averaging 15.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.4 assists. But as a composite, those numbers are pretty untouchable. And he’s shooting 41.4 percent from beyond the arc, up eight percentage points from his career best last year (33.7) .


VIDEO: Draymond Green racks up his league-leading 6th triple-double

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Warriors End 2015 As Real Winners


VIDEO: GameTime: Top 10 Plays of 2015

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — It was a good year for the Golden State Warriors. They won their first championship in 40 years, showing the league that you can win at a fast pace along the way. Then they began their title defense by setting an NBA record with 24 wins to start a season.

In total, the Warriors went 88-17 in 2015, including the postseason, falling just short of the record for most wins in a calendar year.

20151231_most_wins

It was a good year for Warriors individual accomplishments, too. Stephen Curry earned the regular season MVP award, Andre Iguodala was Finals MVP, Draymond Green was the runner up for Defensive Player of the Year, and Klay Thompson earned his first All-Star selection.

Curry ranked in the top 10 in points, assists, steals and 3-pointers for 2015. Green ranked in the top 10 in total rebounds and steals, and came three assists short of the top 10 in that category. Thompson ranked fifth in total points and second in 3s, while Andrew Bogut ranked ninth in blocks.

Here are the statistical leaders for the 2015 calendar year. All stats include the postseason…

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20151231_15_points

20151231_15_rebounds

20151231_15_assists

20151231_15_steals

20151231_15_blocks

20151231_15_3pointers

20151231_15_dbl_dbls

Curry may have led the league in total points in 2015 had he played the last two games. Instead, James Harden topped the list, scoring the most points in a calendar year since Kevin Durant scored more than 3,000 in 2012.

20151231_pts_by_year

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 24


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nowitzki moves up, Mavs get win | Suns throw in towel against Denver | Hawks starting to soar | Butler wants to lead Bulls

No. 1: Nowitzki moves up, Mavs get win Wednesday night the Dallas Mavericks visited Brooklyn, which meant the return of Deron Williams to the borough where he formerly played. But with Williams out injured, leave it to the 37-year-old Dirk Nowitzki to post a performance worthy of the Big Apple. Not only did Nowitzki pass Shaquille O’Neal for sixth all-time in scoring in the NBA, but he also hit the game-winner in overtime to give the Mavericks the victory. And as Eddie Sefko writes in the Dallas Morning News, in some ways it was business as usual for Nowitzki

“Way back when I was a skinny 20-year-old, bad haircut, bad earring, not the most confident guy,” he said, before stopping, clearly thinking about the enormity of having only five players ahead of him on the all-time scoring list.

“Sounds pretty good, huh?” he said. “It’s a dream come true.”

And the way he passed Shaquille O’Neal on Wednesday couldn’t have been more fitting. He nailed a midrange jumper early in the second quarter against Brooklyn, took congratulatory hugs from teammates and coaches, then, a couple hours later, slipped to the basket for the winning layup in a 119-118 overtime victory that the Mavericks needed a lot more than Nowitzki needed any milestone.

Along the way, the Mavericks needed a lot of help from a guy who’s only 23,607 points behind Nowitzki on the scoring list.

J.J. Barea had a career-best 32 points, including several key 3-pointers, paying big dividends for coach Rick Carlisle starting him in place of the injured Deron Williams.

“I think the coach threw me in there early to give us a little energy early and I got in a rhythm and was able to help my team out big time,” Barea said. “I wanted to get to 30 (points in a game) before I finished my career.”

But even he knew this night was not about him, even though he’s never had a better statistical night. He hit his first eight shots and finished 13-for-20 and also dished out 11 assists.

“I’ve been through all the battles with him and seen him break all kinds of records,” Barea said. “But this one is amazing.”

Nowitzki started fast with six points in the first six minutes. Early in the second quarter, he got the ball on the left wing and wasted no time, pulling up and nailing an 18-footer for the record.

“It was a special moment for me,” he said. “I saw the whole team getting up and everybody gave me a hug and I’ve obviously been blessed in this organization for a long, long time.

“There have been a lot of great players who didn’t score as many points because they were cut short by injuries. I’ve been lucky. And we got the win. It would have felt really salty flying home with a loss.”


VIDEO: Arena Link — Dirk Nowitzki

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No. 2: Suns throw in towel against Denver The current Phoenix Suns feel light years removed from just two seasons ago, when they unveiled a small ball lineup that raced through the Western Conference and nearly earned a playoff berth. These days they are in flux, with forward Markieff Morris recently assigned to the bench. Last night the Suns lost at home to an undermanned Nuggets team, as Paul Coro writes in the Arizona Republic, while Morris evoked Robert Horry … and not in a good way…

In one of their more advantageous scenarios of the season, the Suns posted another dreadful loss with play so frightful and no signs of stopping. The bow on Wednesday night’s stocking of coal came when Markieff Morris added to a season of distraction by harkening back memories of Robert Horry’s towel toss at Danny Ainge by tossing a towel toward coach Jeff Hornacek in Wednesday’s fourth quarter.

The Suns lost 104-96 at Talking Stick Resort Arena to a Denver team playing a night after losing at home to the last-place Los Angeles Lakers and was missing five players (two starters) with no backup point guard available.

That is not all that surprising any longer for a team that has gone 5-14 since Nov. 22. How the Suns fell behind by 22 points, rallied to lead by three, started each half with new lineups and lost is now of less interest than Morris’ towel toss.

Much like Horry on a 10-21 Suns team in 1997, Morris was upset about being pulled from the fourth quarter from a 12-19 Suns team. With 9:47 to play and Denver leading 84-75, Morris was taken out of the game and he threw the towel while barking at Hornacek. Hornacek picked up the towel and threw it back Morris’ way with his own upset words for him.

“He’s mad about not playing,” Hornacek said. “I look at the stat sheet. He’s a minus-13 in 12 minutes. So there, I took him out. … He thinks he’s better than that. Show me.”

Hornacek said the Suns staff will discuss possible discipline for Morris, who has created a stir since the offseason when he asked to be traded after his twin, Marcus, was dealt. Markieff did not arrive in Phoenix until it was required for training camp. He lost his starting job earlier this month.

In January, Marcus also engaged in a shouting match during a game with Hornacek. He apologized publicly and to Hornacek after the game.

“That’s between me and ‘H’ (Hornaceck),” said Markieff, who made 2 of 8 shots and had one rebound Wednesday. “It’s not for media. It’s something between me and him that happened. We’ll talk about it.”

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No. 3: Hawks starting to soar They won 60 games a season ago, including a 19-game win streak, but thus far this season, even with a winning record, the Hawks have mostly flown under the radar. That may be changing now. Wednesday night the Hawks got their fifth win in a row with a convincing home victory over the Detroit Pistons, and the Hawks are now in second place in the Eastern Conference. As Brad Rowland writes for Peachtree Hoops, the Hawks hacked Andre Drummond and got a big night from Jeff Teague to get the win…

The game was highly competitive early on, with Detroit taking an 18-14 advantage after a 7-0 run. That momentum would not last particularly long, however, as Mike Budenholzer employed the aforementioned “Hack-a-Drummond” strategy freely from that point forward, and that seemed to turn the tide. Dennis Schröder exploded for seven straight points to end the opening quarter (11 in the period), and in a flash, the Hawks were in control.

The “big” spurt was yet to come, though, and it appeared to close the second quarter. Atlanta raced to a 26-9 run to end the half, with Jeff Teague taking things over, and he finished with 13 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds before the break. That big run netted the Hawks a 61-45 lead, and on the defensive end, Atlanta was quite effective in holding the Pistons to just 33% shooting (27% in the second quarter) in addition to the poor free throw shooting from Drummond.

To begin the second half, the Hawks quickly increased the lead to 22 points, but the margin settled into the mid-teens for much of the remainder of the contest. In truth, Atlanta didn’t play particularly well down the stretch, including a third quarter in which they allowed 50% shooting to Detroit, but the Pistons were never able to seriously challenge on the scoreboard until the closing minutes.

Detroit managed to climb within an 8-point deficit within the final two minutes of game action, using an 11-4 run to force a timeout from Budenholzer with 1:52 left in the game. Though it wasn’t pretty, the Hawks managed to salt the game away for good using a Jeff Teague basket (that was actually a goaltend from Andre Drummond) to push the lead back to 10 with 41.1 seconds remaining and that was the end of the threat. From there, Atlanta put away a 7-point win and the winning streak reached five games in pleasing fashion.

It was a big night from Teague, and that was the biggest individual story. He has struggled, at least relatively, to this point in the season, but this may serve as a “breakout” from the 2015 All-Star, as he finished with 23 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds while keying everything Atlanta did offensively. In support, Paul Millsap added 18 points and Al Horford chipped in with 15 points in his own right, but this night was about Teague and a strong team effort on the defensive end.

***

No. 4: Butler wants to lead Bulls As the Chicago Bulls try to right the ship and find some offense to go along with their defensive prowess, reports of unrest continue. According to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, as the Bulls consider roster moves, some players aren’t thrilled with Jimmy Butler‘s attempts to position himself as the leader of these Bulls…

While Jimmy Butler won the self-appointed leadership role unopposed, not everyone associated with the Bulls is a supporter.

One source told the Sun-Times that there are several players that often simply laugh when told of Butler’s latest thumping-of-the-chest leadership proclamations, and while Derrick Rose seems to be completely detached from the situation, his camp is very annoyed by all things Butler these days.

A veteran that is behind the Butler push, however? Well, it just so happens to be the one player in the locker room with two championship rings.

“I don’t mind those comments,’’ big man Pau Gasol said, when asked about Butler declaring himself the leader throughout this season. “I think those comments are positive. Those comments and attitudes don’t raise my eyebrows. I think it’s good certain guys want to take ownership and say, ‘Hey let’s go.’ ‘’

Gasol said that Butler worked his way into that role of leader, and was obviously paid like it this offseason, when the Bulls gave him a five-year, $92.3 million contract extension.

“I don’t disagree with it,’’ Gasol said. “I think Jimmy is obviously one of the main guys here.’’

He’s more than that. He’s the future. His deal is guaranteed through the first four years, with a player option of $19.8 million following the 2019-20 season.

Basically, last man standing of all the veterans on the roster.

Gasol has a player option at the end of this season, and there continues to be more whispers that he’s done with the Bulls experiment, while Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks each come off the books when this season comes to an end.

Rose and Taj Gibson are free agents after next season, while the Bulls own the $5.175 million option on Mike Dunleavy for the 2017-18 season.

The likes of Gibson, Noah and Gasol might not even see the end of their current contracts, as several sources indicated that the Bulls are taking calls on all three players as the trade deadline draws near.

Noah’s value has taken a hit this week with a small tear in his left shoulder, and the center told reporters on Wednesday that he is looking at a two-to-four week window now. Not the best news for a player that was starting to look like his old self.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The NBA debuted a new public service announcement campaign against gun violenceSteph Curry says he’s the best player in the worldKobe Bryant and Kevin Durant exchanged shoes after playing against each other … Mark Cuban says Rick Carlisle’s threat to trade players was a motivational moveAlan Anderson looks to be out for a few more weeks. Meanwhile, John Wall has his own set of injury issuesNik Stauskas says he’s the hardest working guy on the Sixers … The Houston Rockets are trying to help former players stay on top of their health

Blogtable: Butler’s desire to lead is __?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Who is the best frontcourt? | Butler’s desire to lead is __? | Christmas Day Gift



VIDEOJimmy Butler reacts after loss to Nets

> Jimmy Butler’s desire to become the leader of the Chicago Bulls is ___.

David Aldridge, NBA.com: Understandable, but a little premature. He had a great season last year, but Chicago still has a lot of guys with pelts whose opinions should be heeded first: Noah and Gasol come to mind. And while Derrick Rose‘s game has deteriorated, and while he’s not the most vocal guy, he still has to have some sway in the locker room. It will be Butler’s team very soon, but a max contract does not automatically make you the team spokesman.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comUnderstandable, for two reasons. One: Everything Butler has achieved in basketball, he has identified and seized. Having reached All-Star/max-contract status, it seems only logical he would reach next for something intangible and team-focused. Two: Chicago’s roster has a leadership void. Derrick Rose‘s personality meant he would only be a leader-by-example in the best of times, and Rose’s play is a nightly reminder that these aren’t his best of times. Pau Gasol is too centered and mature, maybe, to bring the histrionics that sometimes are required of locker-room leaders. Joakim Noah has been the Bulls’ heart but his role has been diminished, coming off the bench. Unfortunately for the Bulls and Butler, grabbing at leadership rarely works. At its best, it gets bestowed upon someone by ready and willing followers. That hasn’t happened with Butler and this bunch, and it remains to be seen whether it will.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Admirable.  But if you have to say it, you’re not actually getting it done.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comAdmirable. Great. All the positive adjectives. How could there be something wrong with wanting that role? He’s got the credibility on the court to back it up. That doesn’t mean there won’t be some rough moments and it doesn’t mean he has to be the leader, as opposed to one of them. The players will decide whether he is worth following, but trying to assert himself in that job is fine.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com Ambitious? Look, I like the kid. He’s come a long way, and he’s the best player on the Bulls and perhaps Top 20 in the game. But leadership is new to him; he even admitted as much. Eventually I think he’ll learn how and when to criticize and what buttons to push. He’s going about it clumsy now, but he’s the future of the Bulls and he’ll figure it out.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: … off to a rough start. The Bulls’ 15-11 record actually belies how mediocre they’ve been. Fred Hoiberg was supposed to improve the offense, but no team has regressed more on that end of the floor. So it’s easy to understand Butler’s frustration. But calling out your coach after a game, when you have other veteran leader types in the locker room, might not be a good look. And Monday’s loss to Brooklyn is a good indication that what he said didn’t exactly galvanize his team and get them on the right track.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Righteous. Locker room leadership has been a casualty of the current hoops culture, where guys are always trying to keep the peace and avoid internal conflict at all costs. Listen, a little creative friction in a group dynamic can be healthy, if everyone involved is mature enough to handle the truth. I don’t have a problem with what Butler said, where and when he said it and with him refusing to back down after his words created negative headlines. The Bulls need a leader. They need someone to step into the void and speak on what ails them. Who better than their best player and driving force?

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com… to be commended and encouraged. He isn’t happy to have just surpassed expectations on his way to earning a big contract. Butler wants everything — just so long as he understands the responsibility of backing up his words with actions, whether on the court or in the locker room with his teammates.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Misguided? Admirable? Necessary? The thing is, all of those answers may have a bit of truth in them, at least to some degree. Clearly, someone on that team needs to take the lead, as right now they seem to be in a downward spiral that just won’t end. The season is still on the early side, sure, and the Bulls are still four games over .500, but they have the pieces and the defensive ability to be so much more, not a team that loses home games to the Brooklyn Nets. Maybe Jimmy Butler is the man that can lead them to where they need to be.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 22


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

The Thunder are rolling | As the Bulls turn | Garnett makes final(?) visit to Boston | Blazers’ backcourt in good hands

No. 1: The Thunder are rolling For a team with championship aspirations, it was exactly the kind of game they needed to win: A close game, on the road, against another contender. And for the Oklahoma City Thunder, just as important was how they beat the Los Angeles Clippers, with their superstar duo of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant taking over down the stretch, hitting key shots and getting a huge defensive stop. It was the Thunder’s eighth win in nine games, and don’t look now, but the Thunder have climbed among the Western Conference’s elite. As Anthony Slater writes in The Oklahoman, they’ll take it…

With 5.8 seconds left on Monday night in the Staples Center, Kevin Durant’s all-world offense put the Thunder in front.

Then just before the buzzer, his underrated defense sealed OKC’s biggest road win of the young season — 100-99 over the Clippers in Los Angeles.

As an emotional but surprisingly sloppy game navigated toward the finish, the pendulum of momentum swung wildly in the final minutes. Both sides nailed big shots, but committed equally huge turnovers.

With 10 seconds left, after a Chris Paul steal and layup, the Clippers had a one-point lead. OKC called timeout and then Billy Donovan called Durant’s number.

Off the ensuing inbound, Durant raced toward the right wing, created enough space against solid defense from Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and then rose for a 19-footer with the game in the balance.

“It was the most care-free I felt the whole game,” Durant said. “Try not to think about it. If I miss it, store it in the memory bank and be better next time. If I make it, move on.”

On this night, Durant’s made it. But it may not have been his biggest play of the game.

Now leading 100-99, the Thunder still needed a stop. And it had trouble creating them against Chris Paul on Monday night.

Paul finished with 32 points and 10 assists, done on an efficient 11-of-19 shooting. But his biggest attempt was a miss.

Paul, like Durant, drove right as the final seconds ticked down and found one of his most comfortable spots. From about 12 feet out, Paul hit Serge Ibaka with a little stepback and seemed to create enough space to get off a short fadeaway.

But Durant left his man, Wesley Johnson, in the corner and surprised Paul, reaching over just in time to slightly block the fadeaway, causing it to fall far short of the hoop.

“He had no other choice but to shoot it,” Durant said. “I knew he was gonna shoot it, so I wasn’t gonna sit there and let him. It was a second on the clock. He had no other options. And he’s 6-feet and I’m 6-11.”

As the ball bounced away and time expired, Durant let out a yell and huge fist-pump, untucking his jersey and staring down the courtside row that featured Drake and Floyd Mayweather.

“I feel like my defense has grown,” Durant said. “Coaches challenged me at the start of the year just to step it up to another level on the defensive end. I’ve just been trying to play as hard as I can.”

***

No. 2: As the Bulls turn The Chicago Bulls had a high profile coaching change during the offseason, swapping out Tom Thibodeau for Fred Hoiberg, while mostly keeping their core players intact. Yet there has been more than enough drama early on this season, with the most recent bump in the road coming from Jimmy Butler, who said Hoiberg needed to “coach harder.” Getting a win can fix a lot of things, but last night the Bulls couldn’t even get that against the struggling Nets, losing 105-102, and possibly losing big man Joakim Noah for an extended time. As Nick Friedell writes for ESPN.com, right now the Bulls have a few things that need fixing…

“We had no togetherness at all,” Hoiberg said. “We had no toughness.”

When the eulogy of the 2015-16 Bulls is written at the end of the season, that may well be the opening line.

All the flaws the Bulls were supposed to fix in the wake of Jimmy Butler calling out his new head coach after Saturday’s loss to the New York Knicks were as clear as they ever were on Monday. Players coasted through much of the game against a weaker opponent. Rotations and pairings didn’t have consistency and went through spells of inefficiency. The defense, which has been solid much of the season, was porous most of the night. For all the talk and good vibes emanating from the Advocate Center on Monday morning after Butler said he cleared the air with both his teammates and coach, the Bulls still looked like a team with no identity and no answer on how to find one.

“What was missing tonight, I feel, has been missing a lot of the games,” Bulls big man Pau Gasol said. “I think it’s just a sense of urgency. We cruise for most of the game and then when we have our backs against the wall we turn it up, we pick it up and we try to give ourselves a chance. But some of those times it’s just too late and then other teams are in rhythm, they’re confident, and you lose games like this one.”

Losing games is one thing; losing games fewer than 48 hours after your best player called out your first-year head coach is another. For the Bulls to perform this way against a Brooklyn team that came into this game with a 7-20 record and a five-game losing streak is embarrassing to a group of players that came into this season believing they could contend for a championship.

“We were outplayed in every aspect of the game,” Butler said.

When asked for an explanation as to why the intensity isn’t there consistently for this group, Butler didn’t have a good answer.

“There is no explanation, truthfully,” Butler said. “It’s supposed to be there all the time. We talk about it. Obviously it’s not. It is a concern. We have to fix it as a group.”

In order to fix these problems, that would mean the Bulls would have to come together as a group. With the way they have performed this season, and for much of last season, there’s no reason to believe that’s actually going to happen. The Bulls look like a group that doesn’t like playing with each other. The unity that was prevalent in years past is gone. Butler has been vocal about being the leader of this group, but in order to be the leader players have to want to follow what a person says. Up to this point in the season, the Bulls still don’t have a leader. They haven’t taken to Hoiberg’s system and they haven’t responded to Butler’s challenges.

“We all have to take responsibility,” Gasol said. “We all have to take it personally. This has to hurt. If it doesn’t hurt, then we have a problem that might not be correctable.”

That’s the problem for the Bulls. They say the right things but they don’t follow the words up with the right actions. When asked about Butler’s comments, Gasol, who wasn’t in New York City on Saturday after being given the night off to rest, actually seemed to agree with Butler’s sentiment. The veteran believed Butler should have kept his commentary “indoors” but didn’t condemn him the way he could have.

***

No. 3: Garnett makes final(?) visit to Boston Minnesota big man Kevin Garnett has been sitting out the second half of back-to-back games, a kind of self-preservation employed by many NBA veterans. But it meant that Garnett didn’t play last night in Boston, a homecoming game of sorts for the Big Ticket, who won a title in 2008 as a member of the Celtics. With the clock ticking on Garnett’s career, it was perhaps KG’s last visit to Boston, and even if he wasn’t going to get off the bench, as Steve Bulpett writes in the Boston Herald, fans in Boston couldn’t wait to shower KG with love…

Kevin Garnett was stoic for nearly 47 basketball minutes and the time in between.

The Garden crowd had gone from several “We want KG” chants to a “KG-KG-KG” shout to a “Thank you, KG” refrain, but the object of the affection, in uniform but not playing for the Timberwolves on the second day of a back-to-back, held his emotions in check.

Then Brad Stevens called a 20-second timeout with 1:02 left, ostensibly to get his starters out of the game — and maybe to help Jordan Mickey get his varsity letter.

Then the disco beat began to thump from the speakers above.

Then “Gino,” the Celtic video victory cigar, appeared on the video screen in all his American Bandstand glory, and Garnett could hold it in no longer.

He smiled. He pointed to the screen. He laughed. He turned and acknowledged the crowd that had been showering him with love all evening.

Yes, Kevin Garnett — the man so compulsively competitive that he swats away opponents’ shots taken after the whistle — was digging the scene with his team down by 15 points.

With the home team ahead by as many as 22 in the last quarter, the given was that Gino would make an appearance. The only question was whether KG would have the same reaction he used to when the video was a more frequent part of Celtic home games, a love affair that began for Garnett during the 2007-08 championship season.

But Gino was the irresistible force last night.

“That was classic,” said Garnett after the 113-99 final. “That was like cherry on top for me. My teammates were looking at me like, ‘What is this?’ I was like, ‘I’ll explain it later.’

“But thank you. Thank you for whoever put the Gino on. I know my guys here put it on for me, so I appreciate it. I appreciate that.”

Longtime Celtics fan Wilson Tom got Garnett a “Gino” T-shirt before the game, but KG chose to wear Wolves’ warmups instead of civilian clothing, which probably served to raise the fans’ hopes.

“On back-to-backs, very difficult for me, regardless of what I look like out here,” Garnett said as he stood by a wall in the hallway outside the visitors’ dressing room. “I think that’s a tribute to, you know, obviously a work ethic and things I put into this. Making 39 look like 25 these days. But it’s very hard. It’s hard to even come into this building and not want to, want to play.

“But the appreciation that not only the city, but the Mass. area and the northeast, they’ve given me, the love is unconditional. I’m very appreciative. I definitely heard all the chants.”

He appreciated, too, the spontaneous outpourings from the crowd, though the one about wanting him begat some mixed emotions.

“I really wanted them to stop that, because I didn’t know if Sam (Mitchell, the coach) was going to actually put me in,” KG said with a laugh. “I was like, please, please. But it was cool. Like I said, appreciation is . . . unconditional appreciation is overwhelming. So thank you guys for that. I appreciate that.”

(Little chance of Mitchell being sentimental. He seemed perturbed when asked about the fans’ shouts for KG. “It was nice,” he said after a pause.)

Garnett drank it all in, as he did when he first returned as a Brooklyn Net.

“I think I’ll always have that kind of reaction here,” he said. “Boston’s always been a special place in my heart, probably always will. That outcome tonight wasn’t the way I wanted it to be, (but) it was a great homecoming. It felt really good to be in the building.”

Asked what Boston meant to him, KG didn’t hesitate.

“Everything,” he said. “It meant everything. I like to say that Minnesota made me a young man. I grew up when I came to Boston. I learned a lot coming from the Minnesota situation and I applied it in my Boston situation. I got all but great memories here.”


VIDEO: Garnett receives standing ovation in Boston

***

No. 4: Blazers’ backcourt in good hands When LaMarcus Aldridge announced this summer that he was leaving for Portland for San Antonio, and Wesley Matthews also decamped for Dallas, it raised as many questions in PDX as it did answer them in their new cities. But the emergence of C.J. McCollum, alongside All-Star Damian Lillard, seems to have answered a lot of doubters. And as our Shaun Powell writes, the Blazers have a backcourt ready to carry them for the foreseeable future

The teammates that play together, hang out together and carry the Blazers together also managed to get injured together in the same game. And so, we’ve learned something else about the quickly-formed bond between guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum: They even limp alike.

This is bad, because the Blazers were missing their heart and soul Monday against the Hawks. But in a warped kind of way, this is good, because their two most important players once again have shown to be clearly in step even when those steps are painful.

“They’re so much alike,” said Blazers coach Terry Stotts. “That’s why they’re great together. They compliment each other well because of the problems they cause for other people and their ability to create for each other.”

Lillard has plantar fasciitis in his left heel and missed a game, a first for him in four-plus seasons; his streak of 275 straight games played is third-longest among active players. Also on Sunday against the Mavericks, McCollum sprained both of his ankles; he also sat against Atlanta but could return sooner. Lillard and McCollum perhaps carry bigger backpacks than any tandem in basketball, definitely from a buckets standpoint. They generate 44 percent of Portland’s points and just over half of Portland’s assists. Any basketball that the Blazers use have more fingerprints from Lillard and McCollum than pebbles.

With the Blazers in the beginning stages of a rebuild, Lillard and McCollum are all that separate the Blazers from being the Sixers of the Western Conference. Or close to it. The hope in Portland is that once the Blazers are ready to win again, McCollum and Lillard will still be in their prime and not worn down from the experience.

At the moment, they’re dangerous together, two smallish guards with the right amount of quickness and shooting to cause headaches and matchup issues for teams, and their development has been both effortless and rapid. They are more peanut butter and jelly than oil and water, showing no signs of conflict or inability to share the wealth and load.

“We’ve been talking about this for a long time,” said McCollum. “We knew this was inevitable. We knew it was going to happen eventually. We just didn’t know when.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Joakim Noah will have an MRI today on his injured shoulder … John Wall injured his ribs during a win against the Kings, but says he doesn’t expect to miss any gamesDeron Williams says maybe he just wasn’t built for New YorkDavid West on his decision to leave Indianapolis for San Antonio … The Rockets say reports of Dwight Howard‘s unhappiness brought them together … The Sixers say Joel Embiid is making stridesKristaps Porzingis would like to sell you a mattress