Posts Tagged ‘Paul George’

Analytics Art: The three worst shooters of the week in the NBA

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

For NBA players marred in consistent shooting slumps, battling back can be an arduous task. The only way to break out of a cold spell is to keep shooting, but prolonged bouts of poor efficiency can weigh on a player’s confidence and exacerbate the problem.

Each week, the team at PointAfter will look to find guys mired in said slumps. We’ll peg a guard, wing player and forward/center who simply couldn’t find the touch during the trailing seven days.

Note: All statistics in this article cover games between Jan. 15-21.

Guard: Kobe Bryant, Lakers

Picking on Bryant is old hat at this point. And while the 37-year-old has been battling soreness in his Achilles and shoulder, even that excuse wasn’t enough to save him from worst shooter of the week status.

The man nicknamed “Vino” has turned to vinegar throughout most of his retirement tour, and the trailing seven days was an evident struggle. He converted 30.8 percent of his shot attempts, posting back-to-back five-point performances on Jan. 16 and 17.

In 31 minutes of a 112-93 loss against the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday, the “Black Mamba” went 4-of-13 from the field (2-of-7 from deep).

Lakers team doctor Gary Vitti has suggested Bryant should shut it down for one-to-two weeks in order to get healthy, but anyone who’s followed Kobe’s career knows that’s not going to happen. As he has all season, he’s simply going to have to fight through it.


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant’s Top 10 plays from 2015-16

Wing: Paul George, Pacers

Following recovery from a broken leg that forced George to miss all but six games last season, he exploded out of the gates in 2015-16. After knocking some initial rust off, the 25-year-old averaged 29.5 points per game while shooting 47.5 percent from the field and a scorching-hot 49 percent from beyond the arc.

Since that time, however, George has cooled off quicker than a superheated nickel ball put on ice. He converted just 37.1 percent of his attempts throughout December, and he’s shooting 40 percent from the field and 30.3 percent from long range thus far in January.

As such, the past week has not been kind to George, either. He went 6-of-19 shooting in a loss against Washington on Jan. 15. He made 6-of-12 shots in a loss against Denver, but then regressed back to 5-of-12 shooting on Jan. 19 against Phoenix. All told, the two-time All-NBA Third team member made a lackluster 39.5 percent of his shots and 26.3 percent of his treys.

George was voted an All-Star starter for 2016, and while he was more than deserving through a brilliant month of November, he hasn’t found the same stellar rhythm since.


VIDEO: Paul George talks about his season to date

Center: Andre Drummond, Pistons

Throughout the first two seasons of Drummond’s NBA career, the big man out of UConn converted more than 60 percent of his field goals. For the most part, he limited himself to shots right at the rim. But now, the 22-year-old is attempting to expand his offensive repertoire — with mixed results.

Detroit’s center certainly hasn’t been terrible while trying to extend his shooting range with baby hooks instead of rim-rattling dunks, but his efficiency in the restricted area has only been about league average (obviously not great for a guy his size).

The trailing seven days were particularly difficult for Drummond, as he went 6-of-20 in a surprise win over the Golden State Warriors and 8-of-17 on Jan. 21 against New Orleans.

For the week as a whole, the former lottery pick converted just 42 percent of his attempts. Interestingly, the bulk of Drummond’s woes occurred right at the bucket.

Of course, field goal shooting wasn’t even the worst of it. Drummond made just 36.8 percent of his free throws over the past week — including a ghastly 13-of-36 (!!) showing against the Houston Rockets on Jan. 20.

Not only is Drummond’s 35.8 percent shooting at the charity stripe the worst in the league (by far), it would also be the worst mark in NBA history — below Wilt Chamberlain’s 38 percent mark set in 1967-68.

To say his performance at the free throw line has been ugly simply doesn’t do it justice.


VIDEO: Andre Drummond delivers a solid performance against the Pelicans

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

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.

All-Star starters announced tonight on TNT

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The polls are officially closed, and now it’s just a matter of time before we find out if Kobe Bryant will go out on top.

The 2016 NBA All-Star Game starters will be announced tonight, live on TNT at 7 p.m. ET. In this his final NBA season, Bryant has led the NBA in All-Star voting since initial totals were announced, with 1,533,432 overall votes in the latest returns. Bryant has maintained a consistent lead over last year’s leading vote-getter and MVP, Golden State’s Stephen Curry, and has already surpassed Curry’s league-leading total of 1,513,324 votes from last season.

NBA All-Star 2016Curry (1,206,467) was second overall in the most recent voting returns, and was joined in the potential Western Conference starting five by his Warriors teammate Draymond Green (499,947), who was clinging to a slim lead over San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (487,626) in the last update. The Warriors, of course, have put together a historic first half of the season, with a 39-4 record through today, while Leonard’s Spurs are right behind them at 36-6.

Another contest worth watching is in the Eastern Conference backcourt. While Miami’s Dwyane Wade (736,732) seems to have a starting spot secured, in the most recent updates his probable backcourt mate was Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, who had 399,757 votes. Just behind Irving was Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, with 367,472 votes. Last season Lowry overcame a similar deficit in the final days to vault into the starting line-up. With the 2016 All-Star game in Toronto, it will be interesting to see if Raptors fans across Canada were able to marshall sufficient support for Lowry as the clock ticked down.

In the Eastern Conference frontcourt, while LeBron James and Paul George appear to have starting sports secured, the third position may still be up in the air. In the most recent voting returns, New York’s Carmelo Anthony (368,336) passed Detroit’s Andre Drummond (361,307) and was holding a slim lead for the final starting nod.

The starting lineups will be revealed during a special one-hour edition of “NBA Tipoff presented by Autotrader” featuring Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith. The special will air prior to TNT’s exclusive doubleheader featuring the Clippers at the Cavaliers (8 p.m. ET) and the Spurs at the Suns (10:30 p.m. ET).

NBA All-Star 2016 in Toronto will bring together some of the most talented and passionate players in the league’s history for a global celebration of the game. Along with the NBA All-Star Game, the Air Canada Centre will also host the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, Feb. 12 and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night on Saturday, Feb. 13. Other events at NBA All-Star 2016 include the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and the NBA Development League All-Star Game presented by Kumho Tire.

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.

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Jan. 16


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Noah’s shoulder jeopardizes his, Bulls’ fates | Thunder getting overlooked, underloved? | Bird unhappy with Pacers’ style slippage | Long trip leaves Cavs in good place

No. 1: Noah’s shoulder jeopardizes his, Bulls’ fates — Your first instinct was to look around for Boston’s Kelly Olynyk. He was the culprit involved in the NBA’s previous most notable shoulder injury, locking up Cleveland’s Kevin Love in the first round last spring and sending the former All-Star forward off to surgery, done for the rest of the playoffs. This time, though, it was Dallas’ JaVale McGee getting tied up with Chicago’s Joakim Noah, with Noah suddenly pulling away and running off the court while shouting anguished expletives. Noah’s left shoulder dislocation was a significant re-injury of the same shoulder he had sprained before Christmas, and according to Bulls beat writer K.C. Johnson, it has the frustrated center and his teammates rattled while awaiting the outcome of an MRI exam. Meanwhile, any plans by Bulls management to explore the trade market for Noah, an impending free agent, probably have been diminished:

A Saturday MRI will produce an official prognosis and whether surgery is needed, but the injury likely will have major ramifications for the franchise — and for Noah. The Bulls have gauged the market for Noah in advance of next month’s trade deadline, an option that is in serious jeopardy now.

More powerfully, the Bulls waited two weeks to clear Noah for contact practices and officially rule out surgery for his last injury, which involved a small tear. If surgery is needed this time, could Noah, an unrestricted free agent, have played his last game for the franchise that drafted him in 2007?

“It didn’t look good,” coach Fred Hoiberg said.

“It’s devastating,” Derrick Rose said. “He’s a big piece.”

No two injuries are the same, but [Love] took more than four months to return to basketball activity after dislocating his shoulder in last season’s playoffs.

“I’m frustrated for him,” Taj Gibson said. “He felt so good coming into this game. We don’t know the severity of it but the look on his face was just crazy. He had put so much work in to get back to the team.

“It just makes my stomach sick. You’ve been going to war with this guy all kind of different circumstances over eight years, a guy you pride yourself with, especially with practice and he’s one of the emotional leaders, it hits you in the heart. Seeing him on that table like that, I kind of got flashbacks to when Derrick got hurt. You don’t want to see your man go down like that. It’s frustrating.”

***

No. 2: Thunder getting overlooked, underloved?— No one would welcome additional, legitimate championship contenders for the Larry O’Brien Trophy this June than the NBA. It just so happens that the defending champions, the Golden State Warriors, are as good as or maybe better than they were last season. The San Antonio Spurs have a history of success unrivaled for duration since the Bill Russell-era Boston Celtics. And the Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James, who has taken his team to five consecutive Finals. Outside of those three franchises, though, the league’s other 27 teams have more skeptics than supporters when assessing their shot at a spring ring. Royce Young of ESPN.com took a hard look at where the Oklahoma City fit among the top contenders, and wound up re-visiting a familiar topic – media disrespect – with former MVP forward Kevin Durant:

A couple of hours before the Oklahoma City Thunder squared off against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night, Michael Wilbon said on “Pardon The Interruption”: “There’s only three teams in the NBA, right now from where we sit, who can win the championship, who can even play for the championship.”

Those three: the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs and the Cleveland Cavaliers. “That’s it,” Wilbon said. “That’s the list.”

The Thunder went on to effortlessly roll over the young Wolves 113-93, as expected, improving to 29-12. At the midway point of the season, that puts the Thunder on a 58-win pace, which in the past 10 seasons on average is good for the second seed in the Western Conference, and has been good for the No. 1 seed twice. With a robust margin of victory of +8.2, on paper, the Thunder look like a surefire contending power.

But plenty of people around the league seem to share the same sentiment as Wilbon. It’s Warriors, Spurs and Cavs, and then everybody else.

The question is, where are the Thunder?

“Man, the [media and experts are] always trying to nitpick us,” Kevin Durant told ESPN.com. “I mean, they don’t like us. They don’t like how Russell [Westbrook] talks to the media, they don’t like how I talk to the media. So obviously, yeah, they’re not going to give us the benefit of the doubt.

“Especially since we’ve been together so long. Some of these teams are new, except for the Spurs, who have won. But we haven’t won and we’ve still got the same core, so they don’t expect us to win. It is what it is, who cares about them. They don’t mean nothing, the critics. Their opinions, everybody has one, but we don’t really care about them. Every day we’re just going to keep grinding this thing out. We feel like we can compete with anybody.”

***

No. 3: Bird unhappy with Pacers’ style slippage — Change is hard, especially when the state from which one is departing worked so darn well. The Indiana Pacers committed to a pace-and-space attack over the summer, shedding the “smash mouth” style built around center Roy Hibbert and power forward David West that had produced consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference finals. There were growing pains early – Paul George didn’t like the idea of being stuck as a “power forward” – but George, his teammates and coach Frank Vogel worked out the kinks for a satisfying start. But Indiana has dropped nine of its past 15 games since starting 16-9 and whether in response to opponents’ tactics, George’s sputters after his early MVP form or just lapsing into old habits, the Pacers have slowed down and gone bigger. That had Larry Bird, the team’s president of basketball operations, displeased when he spoke to Nate Taylor of the Indianapolis Star:

“I just can’t get a handle on it right now because these guys are up and down,” Bird said in a telephone interview just hours before Friday’s game against Washington. “I can’t tell you what is best for us right now. We’ve had success with the small lineup, but we’ve had success with two big guys in there. It’s going to take a little bit more time, but I would like to have won more games up to this point. I don’t think any of us feel comfortable with how we’re playing and the way things are going.”

What Bird does not want the Pacers to do is waver from the new offensive philosophy they developed in the offseason.

“I’d like to see teams match up with us instead of us worrying about who certain guys are going to guard on the other teams,” Bird said. “Let’s see if they can guard us. If you’ve got good ball movement and you’ve got guys hitting shots, it makes it pretty easy.”

After talking with Bird after Thursday’s practice, Vogel returned to the spread lineup to start Friday’s game for the first time since Dec. 31. The results were not what Bird desired. The Pacers fell behind early to the Wizards and struggled throughout in a 118-104 blowout loss. The Pacers missed 14 of their 17 3-pointers and were outrebounded by the Wizards 54-35.

Bird and Vogel have talked almost every day throughout the season. Vogel said their conversations have not changed much, but he mentioned before Friday’s game that every aspect of the team is in flux, from which lineup should start to which players should be on the court in the final minutes of games.

Vogel said he has favored the big lineup because it has a strong defensive rating of 89.4, a statistic that measures points allowed per 100 possessions, entering Friday’s game. The spread lineup’s defensive rating is 106.3.

***

No. 4: Long trip leaves Cavs in good place — Fatigued yet fulfilled, the Cleveland Cavaliers returned home in the wee hours Saturday from a long road trip that may have positioned them just right for another push to the Finals. The mood of their leader, LeBron James, was evident in a Tweet James posted upon getting home:

It also was clear in James’ comments after a breezy 20-point victory at Houston to conclude the trip that Cleveland might just be revving up to keep playing for another five months. Here is an excerpt from Dave McMenamin‘s piece for ESPN.com:

After traveling nearly 6,000 miles over the course of a six-game, 12-day trip — enough distance to go from New York to Los Angeles and back again — the Cleveland Cavaliers walked out of the Toyota Center on Friday night having picked up five wins on the journey and a boost of confidence to take into the second half of the season.

“The only thing I care about is how I lead these guys every single night, and I know we can compete with any team in the league and it doesn’t have to be a regular-season game,” LeBron James said afterward when asked if it bothered him that some were judging the Cavs because of that Spurs loss [Thursday]. “I know, you give us four games and it’s time to lock down in a playoff series, we can play and we can beat any team in this league. So that’s my feeling and that’s what I know.”

The certainty in James’ words was significant, as the 5-1 trip seemed to solidify the notion that his Cavs had indeed turned the corner. They won in just about every imaginable fashion — blowing it open late in Washington; thoroughly dominating in Minnesota; toying around with the competition in Philadelphia; coming from behind in Dallas and making big plays down the stretch; and then, in Houston, shooting only 39.1 percent as tired legs resulted in missed jump shots, but determined defense wouldn’t let them lose as the Rockets shot even worse at 35.1 percent.

They’ve now won nine of their past 10 games, heading into a home date with the Golden State Warriors on Monday, and are starting to look like the team that became a juggernaut in the second half of last season through the playoffs, until injuries derailed them in the Finals.

“I think just being on the road, just together for 12 days just brought us together more,” Cavs big man Tristan Thompson told ESPN.com. “And you can see it on the court. There’s more flow. Guys are understanding where guys are going to be at.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Byron Scott is talking about playing the Lakers’ young guys more over the second half of the season, though it’s hard to imagine Kobe Bryant‘s Farewell Tour yielding to any sort of organizational-development agenda. … We can understand why the Brooklyn Nets would be interested in Tom Thibodeau to bail out their dismal operation, but we’re unclear as to why Thibodeau would be interested in the Nets. … San Antonio has been so good for so long, it’s kind of unfair to the rest of the league, according to USA Today. … The first priority with Nene always seems to be, getting him healthy .The second is keeping him that way, because his impact on the Washington Wizards is considerable. … This Miami Heat teams lacks some of the self-assurance and self-awareness that the Big Three edition owned, says one insider. … There are Bulls fans who wish that Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose got along as famously as Butler and his Hollywood buddy Mark Wahlberg.

Bryant, Curry, James maintain leads in final All-Star voting update

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — With just one week before All-Star starters are announced, good luck catching Kobe Bryant.

In the third returns of All-Star voting, released today, the Lakers’ star guard maintained his commanding overall lead in voting, with 1,533,432 overall votes. Bryant, the leading scorer in All-Star Game history who is playing in his final NBA season, held onto a cushion of about 300,000 votes since the last round of voting over the next-highest vote-getter, Golden State’s Stephen Curry (1,206,467).

In the Eastern Conference, Cleveland’s LeBron James (830,345) leads all players, ahead of his former Miami teammate Dwyane Wade (736,732). Indiana’s Paul George (569,947) seems to be destined to start alongside James. For the final Eastern Conference starting frontcourt spot, despite a vigorous social media campaign from the Detroit Pistons, center Andre Drummond — the NBA’s leading rebounder — has dropped to fourth after holding the third spot through the first two rounds of balloting results. With these latest totals, New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (368,336) has surpassed Drummond (361,307) to move into the potential starting five.

While Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant (774,782) seems to be a lock to join Bryant in the Western Conference frontcourt, the race for the final starting spot remains tight. After moving into the starting five in the last voting update, Golden State’s Draymond Green (499,947), who leads the NBA with eight triple-doubles this season, has maintained a slim lead over San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (487,626) for the final spot in the Western Conference frontcourt.

Another race worth keeping an eye on is the Eastern Conference backcourt, where Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving (399,757) is currently in the lead to start alongside Wade, although the host city’s Kyle Lowry (367,472) isn’t far behind. Last year, Lowry used a late, social media-fueled push to overcome Wade and make it into the starting five.

Lowry has just a few more days if he wants to make a similar run this year: Voting will conclude Monday, Jan. 18 at 11:59 p.m. ET. The starters will be announced live on TNT on Thursday, Jan. 21 (7 p.m. ET) during a special one-hour edition of TNT NBA Tip-Off presented by Autotrader.com. All-Star Game reserves, selected by the NBA’s coaches, will be revealed on TNT on Thursday, Jan. 28.

The 65th NBA All-Star Game will be held on Sunday, Feb. 14 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. TNT will televise the All-Star Game in the U.S. for the 14th consecutive year.

NBA All-Star Voting 2016 presented by Verizon is an all-digital program that gives fans everywhere the opportunity to vote for their favorite players as starters for the All-Star Game. New to the voting program this year, fans can cast their daily votes directly through Google Search on their desktop, tablet and mobile devices. They can also vote on NBA.com, through the NBA App (available on Android and iOS), SMS text and social media networks including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as well as via Sina Weibo and Tencent Microblogs in China.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 3


VIDEO: The Fast Break: January 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry reinjures leg, Warriors win in overtime | Jack injures knee, will have MRI | Pistons, Pacers end with theatrics | Pop says Crawford will be missed

No. 1:Curry reinjures leg, Warriors win in overtime After leading the Golden State Warriors to a historic 29-1 start to the season, Stephen Curry missed the last two games while resting a shin injury. It is no coincidence that the Warriors went 1-1 without Curry, the NBA’s leading scorer at 29.7 points per game. Curry made his return last night against the Denver Nuggets, but had to exit in the second quarter after aggravating his injury. As Ethan Strauss writes for ESPN.com, even down to six players, the Warriors managed to win in overtime even without the MVP…

After missing the two previous games with a left shin contusion suffered Monday against the Sacramento Kings, Curry reinjured the shin and departed to the locker room with 2:15 remaining in the second quarter.

According to Curry, the injury occurred when a Nuggets player made contact with his leg in the second quarter.

“I got kicked,” Curry said after the game.

Curry confirmed it was a reinjury of his earlier contusion and said he was hit “right in the same spot, playing defense. It’s funny. I guess whenever you hurt something, [if] you try to play through a little bit of discomfort and try to get out there, something happens. Just got to deal with it.”

Curry’s injury left the Warriors with only six available players due to myriad other injuries.

Of the overtime victory Golden State gained despite depletion, Curry praised, “Chips stacked against them, short bench, guys playing 40-plus minutes, found a way to scrap and claw, get stops down the stretch, fight through the fatigue factor, make a couple plays on the offensive plays as well. Gutsy win.”

On how he felt going into the game, Curry said, “I felt pretty good, just somewhat fresh legs and didn’t have to compensate for anything. Just sucks that was the spot that I got hit in. See how it feels for Monday.”

Further elaborating on his prognosis, he added, “I know exactly what happened. It’s just a matter of how it feels tomorrow and go from there. It’s not as bad as the first time it happened, so that’s good news.”


VIDEO: Curry reinjures left leg

(more…)

Blogtable: Your All-Star starters are …?

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: NBA Person of the Year? | LeBron in Top 5 in two categories? |
Your All-Star starters are …?



VIDEOShould the Warriors have five All-Star starters?

> We’ll give you a chance to change your mind in a few weeks, but give me your starting five (East and West) for February’s All-Star Game, based ONLY on performance this season.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

EAST
G Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
G Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
F LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F Chris Bosh, Miami Heat
F Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

WEST
G Stephen Curry
, Golden State Warriors
G Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
F Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
F Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

EAST
G Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
G John Wall, Washington Wizards
F LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

WEST
G Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
F Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
F Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

EAST
G Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
G John Wall, Washington Wizards
F LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

WEST
G Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
F Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
F Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

Shaun Powell, NBA.com

EAST
G Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
G Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
F LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

WEST
G Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
F Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
F Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

John Schuhmann, NBA.com

EAST

G Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
G John Wall, Washington Wizards
F LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

WEST
G Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
F Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
F Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

Toughest calls were Drummond over Chris Bosh and Wall over Reggie Jackson.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:

EAST
G DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
G John Wall, Washington Wizards
F LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
F Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

WEST
G Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
F Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
F Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com

EAST
G DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
G Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
F LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

WEST
G Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
F Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
F Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog

EAST
G Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
G John Wall, Washington Wizards
F LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
F Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

WEST
G Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G James Harden, Houston Rockets
F Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
F Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

Sure, Kobe’s on-court performance hasn’t been great, but to me this isn’t the All-NBA team, this is the All-Star team, and Kobe Bryant is one of the NBA’s biggest stars. And in this final season, I want to see Kobe on one of the NBA’s biggest stages for one final time.

 

Kobe, Curry lead in initial All-Star voting returns

HANG TIME HQ — The All-Star Game may be heading north of the border this season, but in the initial voting returns, the West is winning.

The first voting results for the 2016 All-Star Game, to be held in Toronto, were announced today, and Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has a commanding lead in overall totals. Bryant has 719,235 votes in the initial returns, the most of any NBA player. Bryant, who announced earlier this season that this will be his final NBA campaign, is on track to make his 18th All-Star appearance.

The second-leading vote-getter early on is Golden State’s Stephen Curry, who has 510,202 votes. Curry was last season’s leading vote-getter, and went on to win the NBA MVP award as his Warriors won the NBA Championship. This season, the Warriors have gotten off to an epic start, winning 27 of their first 28 games. His teammates Klay Thompson (4th) and Andre Iguodala (7th) are among the West’s leading guards, and Draymond Green (5th) and Harrison Barnes (14th) are among the West’s leading forwards.

Cleveland’s LeBron James leads the Eastern Conference with 357,937 votes, while his former Miami Heat teammate Dwyane Wade trails James by roughly 57,000 votes. Indiana’s Paul George (283,785), who missed most of last season after a compound leg fracture, trails only James among Eastern Conference forwards. Detroit’s Andre Drummond (148,278), averaging 18.2 ppg and 16.1 rpg, and who has never made an All-Star appearance, is currently in third place.

The 2015 Eastern Conference All-Star roster was dominated by the Atlanta Hawks, who sent coach Mike Budenholzer as well as four players (Al Horford, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague). In the initial returns this season, only Millsap is among the Eastern Conference leaders, 13th among forwards with 10,501 votes.

The 65th NBA All-Star Game will be held on Sunday, Feb. 14 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. TNT will televise the All-Star Game in the U.S. for the 14th consecutive year.

NBA All-Star Voting 2016 presented by Verizon is an all-digital program that gives fans everywhere the opportunity to vote for their favorite players as starters for the All-Star Game. New to the voting program this year, fans can cast their daily votes directly through Google Search on their desktop, tablet and mobile devices. They can also vote on NBA.com, through the NBA App (available on Android and iOS), SMS text and social media networks including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as well as via Sina Weibo and Tencent Microblogs in China.

Blogtable: Has Leonard, Green, George or Butler developed most?

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: George, Leonard, Butler or Green — who has developed most? |
How will Warriors fare on their road trip? | East hierarchy after December?



VIDEOHas Paul George or Kawhi Leonard made the bigger jump this season?

> Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Draymond Green: Which player has surprised you the most with his development so far in the NBA? And, if you were an NBA GM, which of these four players would you move heaven and earth to trade for?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: As far as development, I’ve got to be honest and say Jimmy Butler. He’s the one who, in all my wisdom, I watched upon his arrival in Chicago in 2011 and figured, “End-of-bench guy.” I saw flaws – flat shot, short arms, straight-up-and-down stance, small reputation at Marquette – but obviously didn’t see the hard work and drive going on behind the curtain. Trade for? Kawhi Leonard, because I think he still has untapped offensive upside to go with his athleticism and size, on top of all that Spurs pedigree. Of course the Bulls guy probably will prove me wrong again.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThey’re all A-listers. But in terms of surprise would have to go with Paul George because he’s the only one of the foursome making a comeback from a horrific injury. He’s actually playing the best basketball of his career. As a GM, in a close race I’d go after Kawhi Leonard. He’s the best shooter and gets the edge as defender over Draymond Green.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Draymond Green. It’s not even close. He was drafted in the second round amid concern over whether he was a small forward or a power forward and then he turns into a critical part of a championship team while playing power forward and center. The Warriors didn’t even take him until their third pick of the 2012 draft, and now he’s going to be an All-Star in 2016. No one in any front office saw this coming. Who among the four players mentioned I break the bank to acquire depends on what my team looks like.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com The choice is Draymond Green, a second-round pick in 2012 who has developed into one of the league’s best all-around players (passing, defense, rebounding, 3-point shooting, leadership). Leonard had all the tools except outside shooting, Butler was already an ace defender and George was a lottery pick. That said, I’d go hardest to get Leonard, because he’s on a reasonable contract and I think his ceiling is higher than the rest. He’s just now learning how to score, and we know about his D.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I didn’t watch any of these guys in college, but Draymond Green has to be the biggest surprise, in that he’s gone from second-round pick to one of the dozen best players in the NBA. He’s the most important part of the best defense in the league and has become a terrific pick-and-roll playmaker who keeps a top-5 offense rolling when defenses take the ball out of Stephen Curry‘s hands. I’d love to trade for any of them, because they’re all impact players on both ends of the floor, maybe the four best two-way players in the league. But my vote is for Leonard, who’s more than a year younger than any of the other three, is becoming a go-to guy on offense, and still has more developing to do.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Kawhi Leonard’s development has surprised me the most, given that I was not well-versed on him or his game when he was drafted. His improvement on the offensive end, complete with 3-point range and deft ballhandling skills, give him a wealth of skills on both ends of the floor that few players in the league possess. It’s funny, Paul George, Draymond Green and Jimmy Butler are three of the other guys in the league I’d put in that same category. As far as which one of these guys I’d make moves to trade for as a GM, George would top that list, but any one of these guys would be an extremely valuable addition to your franchise.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com Green has been the biggest surprise — he was a second-round pick who within three years was winning a championship with Golden State. But right now you’d have to say that George is the only player on this list who could become the No. 1 star on a championship team, because he can create his own shot and can rank among the best wing defenders in the NBA. Here’s the problem: You’re not going to be able to trade for him unless moving “heaven and earth” means including someone like LeBron James, Steph Curry or Anthony Davis.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI’d say all of these guys have developed into great players, but for me the most spectacular development has been that of Kawhi Leonard, who along with a terrific offensive game has turned into the NBA’s best one-on-one defender. Which isn’t to detract from George, Butler or Green — they are all similarly great defenders and have the ability to score when necessary, with PG having perhaps the best offensive game of any of these four players. But for me, Leonard’s transformation into the player he is today is the most stunning, and the most promising, when you consider how much further he may still go.