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Posts Tagged ‘Paul George’

Morning shootaround — April 17




VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING
It’s all about Curry’s ankle | Brooks eyeing Lakers | Familiar Raptors headache | Bradley injury could doom Celtics
No. 1: All eyes are on Stephen Curry’s ankle — Yes, the Warriors dominated, owned, locked up and threw away the key on the Rockets from the moment they walked onto the court at Oracle on Saturday. But after a 104-78 thumping in Game 1 all that anybody in the Bay Area — and all around Dub Nation — could think about was Stephen Curry limping off the court with a “tweaked” right ankle. Our own Scott Howard-Cooper says Curry seems to be the only one not worried about the injury, but Warriors coach Steve Kerr was taking no chances:

It was Stephen Curry and ankles, it was the first 48 minutes of what could be months of playoffs, and it was every bit the rout that could have been expected in a 1-8 matchup. He was lucky the Warriors hadn’t wrapped him in a mass of down pillows and called the cops to escort him home at halftime.

“Well, he saw I was writing the five players’ names on the board who I’m sending out there and he saw his name wasn’t on there and he was incredulous,” Kerr said. “And I said, ‘I don’t like the way you’re moving right now.’ He said, ‘No, I’ll be all right,’ and of course he’s going to say that. He’s a competitor. He wants to play. But we’re not going to let him play if there’s any risk of making it worse. Obviously we’re hoping that we’re going to be in the playoffs for the next couple of months. So we don’t want to make any chances.”

Including in Game 2 on Monday. More will be known as the Warriors gather for a workout Sunday morning at their practice facility, namely whether the joint stiffens and swells overnight, but Kerr is calling him questionable for now with Golden State obviously wanting to avoid an ankle that remains problematic for weeks.

“Right now I don’t see a scenario where I’ll be out,” Curry said after scoring a game-high 24 points despite playing just 20 minutes, making eight of 13 attempts overall and five of seven behind the arc. “Obviously if it’s not right and at risk of further injury and what not, that’s the only thing that I think we have to worry about. Pain tolerance and all that stuff, I kind of know what I can deal with on the court. But you don’t want anything more serious to happen favoring the ankle or what not. So that’s what we’ll pay attention to the next few days.”


VIDEO: Curry tweaks ankle

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Numbers preview: Raptors-Pacers


VIDEO: Raptors vs. Pacers: By the Numbers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Is this the year the Toronto Raptors get it done?

In their 21-year history, the Raptors have never won a best-of-7 playoff series. Their only series victory came in 2001, when the first round was a best-of-5. Each of the last two seasons, they had home-court advantage in the first round, lost it in Game 1, and got knocked out by a lower seed. So, after a third straight year of setting a franchise record for regular-season wins, there’s added pressure on Dwane Casey and his team to finally take the next step.

The Indiana Pacers are back in the playoffs after a one-year absence. They said goodbye to the frontline that helped them get to the conference finals twice and tried to change their identity, but eventually settled back into being a team that played two traditional bigs, did its best work on defense, and struggled to score.

This is the only first-round matchup between a team that ranks in the top five in offensive efficiency and one that ranks in the top five in defensive efficiency. And it may be determined by the Pacers’ ability to score against what has been an improved Toronto defense.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the 2-7 series in the East, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Toronto Raptors (56-26)

Pace: 95.3 (29)
OffRtg: 107.0 (5)
DefRtg: 102.7 (11)
NetRtg: +4.3 (6)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Indiana: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Raptors notes:

20160414_tor_shooting

20160414_east_playoff_teams

Indiana Pacers (45-37)

Pace: 99.0 (10)
OffRtg: 102.4 (23)
DefRtg: 100.2 (3)
NetRtg: +2.2 (11)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Toronto: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Pacers notes:

20160414_ind_shooting

The matchup

Season series: Raptors won 3-1 (2-0 in Toronto)
Oct. 28 – Raptors 106, Pacers 99
Dec. 14 – Pacers 106, Raptors 90
Mar. 17 – Raptors 101, Pacers 94 (OT)
Apr. 8 – Raptors 111, Pacers 98

Pace: 98.5
TOR OffRtg: 100.2 (14th vs. IND)
IND OffRtg: 98.9 (19th vs. TOR)

Matchup notes:

Morning shootaround — March 26


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Dallas capable of 2007 payback? | Rest takes priority for Spurs | Pistons getting cozy at home | Gentry gets ‘confidence’ vote

No. 1: Dallas capable of 2007 payback? — It’s not the ideal way to go about knocking off one of your conference’s elite teams. But if the Dallas Mavericks have to go the underdog route and angle for a first-round upset of the NBA defending champion Golden State Warriors, well, they know such a crazy thing can happen. Back in 2007, it was Golden State in eighth place in the West, ousting a Mavericks team that won 67 games and was hoping for a return trip to the Finals that spring. Dallas played well enough in its loss to the Warriors in Oakland Friday – with star Dirk Nowitzki sitting for rest – to entertain such thoughts, wrote Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com:

“They did it to us, so hey, you never know,” said Mavs guard J.J. Barea, a rookie towel-waver on that 2006-07 Dallas team who scored 21 points as a fill-in starter in Friday’s 128-120 loss to the Warriors. “We could do it to them.”

If the playoffs started now, the Mavs would have the opportunity to trump the “We Believe” bunch for the biggest postseason upset in NBA history.

Those Warriors in ’07 had good reason to believe they could beat the Mavs. Golden State swept the season series, including a blowout in the final week when coach Avery Johnson foolishly rested his stars instead of attempting to prevent the Warriors from making the playoffs. It also helped that Golden State had Don Nelson, who knew all the deep secrets about Dirk’s game, scheming to stop his former prodigy.

These Mavs, who have a coach in Rick Carlisle whose schematic sorcery pushed the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the first round a couple of seasons ago, can convince themselves that they can compete with the best team in basketball.

Dallas players point to their Dec. 30 rout of the Warriors without focusing too much on the minor detail that reigning MVP Stephen Curry sat out that game. And the Mavs’ two meetings with the Warriors this month were close well into the fourth quarter.

“We’ve definitely proven we can play with them,” guard Raymond Felton said after scoring 17 points. “We’ve proven we can beat them. … If that happens that we play them in the first round, it’s going to be a battle, that’s for sure.”

There’s no such thing as a moral victory for a team that’s fighting for its playoff life. However, the Mavs hopped on their bus for the drive to Sacramento with their heads held high after somehow making it a one-possession game with a few minutes remaining despite Nowitzki and Deron Williams wearing warmups and watching from the bench, and Chandler Parsons viewing from home hours after undergoing season-ending knee surgery.

“If we’re at full strength, I think we have the firepower to put up a fight,” said center/forward David Lee, sporting the championship ring he received in a pregame ceremony before putting up 12 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists in his Bay Area return.

“They would obviously be the heavy favorites, and they’ll be the heavy favorites against anybody they play not named the San Antonio Spurs.”

One minor problem for the Mavs: They’d have to figure out a way to stop the Splash Brothers, who have combined to average 71.5 points in the Warriors’ two wins over Dallas in the last week.

It’s unclear how much help Dallas owner Mark Cuban might be if the teams clash in the postseason. Cuban, who did not travel to Oakland for Friday’s game, got busy from afar with criticizing the game’s officiating. He put out some strong stuff for the 4.9 million followers of Twitter feed about which he might just hear from league HQ:

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 No. 2: Rest takes priority for Spurs — For many NBA fans, this is Easter Weekend and will be celebrated as such right through Sunday. For the San Antonio Spurs, it’s more like Festivus – as in, “the rest of us.” Rest annually is a priority for the Spurs at this time of the season and rest is what several of the Western Conference powerhouse’s key players were scheduled from what otherwise would have seemed a crucial clash with the Oklahoma City Thunder Saturday:

Granted, in the case of forward Kawhi Leonard, injury is the concern rather than fatigue. Leonard still is nursing a bruised right quadriceps suffered against Miami Wednesday. It kept him out of the Spurs’ game against Memphis Friday, a game from which coach Gregg Popovich withheld Danny Green, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills. Leonard’s sore thigh muscle remains too “tight” to play, but the plan to sit out Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker from Saturday’s ABC prime-time game at OKC and a Grizzlies rematch Monday in Memphis is entirely discretionary. We’ve all been down this road before with the Spurs, per ESPN.com.

That’s a luxury San Antonio can afford, considering the win Friday night locked up no worse than the No. 2 seed for the Western Conference playoffs with 10 games remaining in the regular season. The Spurs can now rest key veterans as the regular season comes to a close, which in turn increases the minutes for inexperienced role players such as Kyle Anderson and Jonathon Simmons, as well as newcomers Andre Miller and Kevin Martin, who could all be called upon during the postseason.

The victory on Friday was San Antonio’s 37th straight at home, which ties the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls for the longest home winning streak to start a season in NBA history

“You just try to do your best,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “You don’t want to decondition them and you don’t want to lose rhythm. But you want to rest.”

LaMarcus Aldridge made that an easier proposition by knocking down 7 of 8 shots in the first quarter on the way to 17 points, the most he has scored in a single quarter all season. Aldridge poured in a total of 32 points, including 21 in the first half, while

Duncan started off the opening half hitting 4-of-5 for eight points. He also recorded five rebounds and five assists before finishing with 12 points and eight rebounds.

Heading into the game, Miller averaged 8.3 minutes in his previous 10 contests, while Martin averaged 10.4 minutes over the same span. The duo contributed 16 and 34 minutes, respectively, versus Memphis and gained a level of comfort in their new surroundings and new teammates that could pay dividends for San Antonio in the postseason.

Duncan called the situation “a good experience game for a lot of different guys, a good execution game for us. A lot of these guys haven’t been in our offense and executed everything perfectly to this point.”

They didn’t execute perfectly against the Grizzlies, either. But that’s inconsequential as the Spurs accomplished their goal of keeping everyone as healthy as possible heading into the playoffs, while providing needed game experience for their role players.
“It’s obviously good for these other guys to get minutes and play in situations where they get used to the guys,” Popovich said. “Kevin just got here. Kyle has … rarely started. It’s all good experience. It can only be good for them.”

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No. 3:  Pistons getting cozy at home — If a man’s home is his castle, as the old saying goes, the Detroit Pistons’ Palace (of Auburn Hills) has been their refuge and salvation in chasing a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Two-thirds of the way through their franchise-record nine-game homestand, the Pistons are 5-1 and now two games in front of the Chicago Bulls for eighth place in the East standings, thanks to their impressive victory Friday over conference rival Charlotte. Detroit scored 72 points in the first half and survived a considerable late scare from the Hornets. While veteran teams in Chicago and Washington deal with East angst, the young Pistons took another step in their quest to play with the league’s big boys. Here are some details from the Detroit News:

Throughout their up-and-down season, the Pistons have been plagued by stretches of playing to the level of their opponent. In several of their marquee games, the Pistons have come up with an empty effort.

Not this time.

In a critical matchup for their final playoff push, the Pistons played one of their best games of the season, against a team that had dominated them in both meetings this season.

Reggie Jackson said it was as satisfying a win as the Pistons have had this season, especially given the implications.

“Definitely with the way we’ve been punched in the mouth by them twice, especially with the position we’re in, fighting for a playoff spot,” said Jackson, who had 17 points, six rebounds and seven assists. “This is one of the better wins for us, where we felt like we controlled the game. The only thing better would be if we closed out those last few minutes.”

In those last few minutes a 26-point lead with 7:49 remaining shriveled to five with 37.6 seconds left. But the Pistons were able to close it out, with four free throws in the final stretch

That lapse normally might have driven coach Stan Van Gundy berserk, but given the need for wins to solidify a playoff spot, he wasn’t nearly so critical.

“We need to win and move on,” Van Gundy said. “We played 39 great minutes. We really outplayed a very good team for 39 minutes and then their last five guys played really well. Against their best players, we were dominant and it was a great 39 minutes.”

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 21 points and seven rebounds, Marcus Morris 20 points and seven rebounds and Andre Drummond notched his 60th double-double of the season with 18 points and 14 rebounds for the Pistons, who are 5-1 — ensuring a winning record — on their nine-game home stand.

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No. 4: Gentry gets ‘confidence’ vote — When you add up the pieces – 45 defeats against just 26 victories, an emergency room’s worth of injuries and the capriciousness with which NBA head coaches get fired these days – you might reasonably conclude that New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry would be dealing with some job insecurity. But Gentry doesn’t see or feel it, nor should he if we’re to take Pelicans GM Dell Demps at his word. Demps gave Gentry the proverbial vote of confidence Friday for reporters while expressing some for himself, according to ESPN.com:

With Alvin Gentry standing by his side, New Orleans Pelicans general manager Dell Demps dismissed a report indicating friction between the two and emphasized his support for the head coach.

“I just want to say, my confidence in Alvin has not wavered,” Demps said Friday. “The only regret that I have is that our team is not at full strength. And Alvin hasn’t had the opportunity to coach the team at full strength. I think he’s done a fantastic job.”

The Vertical reported earlier Friday in a video on its website that Demps has second-guessed Gentry often this season, including in front of Pelicans players and staff and opposing teams.

But Demps, in his first interview with local media since September, disputed the claim
“I told [Gentry] this last week: I think our guys are playing hard. Last night was a great example of how hard our guys played and competed,” Demps said. “All the credit goes to Alvin and the coaching staff. I think our guys are still getting better, I think guys are showing up and working every day, and they’re buying in.

“I’m thrilled with the system, I’m thrilled with everything that’s happened. And I think it’s irresponsible reporting for someone to come and say something like that. Because it’s totally untrue.”

Coming off a 45-win campaign that saw them earn their first postseason berth since trading Chris Paul, the Pelicans were widely expected to make a leap this season.

But injuries have ravaged the roster. New Orleans, now 12th in the Western Conference with a 26-45 record, has lost 243 games to injury and shut down five players — Anthony Davis (left knee), Tyreke Evans (right knee), Eric Gordon (right finger), Quincy Pondexter (left knee) and Bryce Dejean-Jones (right wrist) — for the rest of the season.

Asked if he has any concerns about his job security as a result of the struggles, Demps said, “I feel great about my job. I come to work every day, and I feel great about it.”

Gentry, in the first year of a four-year contract that he agreed to amid last season’s NBA championship run with the Golden State Warriors, said he expects to be back in New Orleans next season.

“Yeah, I do. I do,” Gentry said. “I don’t have any doubt about that. I’ll be back, and we’ll be much better because we’ll be much healthier.”

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Hard to blame a Splash Brother for some sibling overconfidence these days:

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: D’Angelo Russell’s “ankle touched the ground when I rolled it” but the Lakers are hoping the “crazy pain” he felt is nothing serious for the rookie. … The Houston Rockets are getting effort and production from James Harden that, let’s face it, without which they they can’t survive as a playoff aspirant in the West. … Kevin Durant, who won’t have Kawhi Leonard to worry about on the court Saturday night in OKC, stands by his long-ago opinion and still likes Paul George’s game better than Leonard’s. … David Lee had to wait longer than the rest of them, but he got both his 2015 NBA championship ring and some overdue love from the fans in Oakland Friday. … As the days dwindle down to a precious few…

Morning shootaround — March 25


VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs come out flat vs. Nets | George injures leg vs. Pacers | Gibson ’embarassed’ by Bulls’ recent losses

No. 1: Cavs come out flat in loss to Nets — Some nights in the NBA, it’s just not your night — no matter how good your team may be. At a cursory glance, that might be the storyline as the Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers lost on the road to the Eastern Conference cellar-dwelling Brooklyn Nets, 104-95. Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com was on hand for the defeat and notes that despite an otherworldly performance from LeBron James, the Cavs showed troubling signs in the loss:

On Thursday evening at Barclays Center, the rebuilding, interim coach-led 20-win Brooklyn Nets defeated a disinterested, lifeless Central Division champion Cleveland Cavaliers squad 104-95.

“Tonight we took a step backwards and we can’t afford to do that late in the season like this,” James said after scoring 30 points on 13-of-16 from the field. He converted his first 11 field goals and was a nightmare to deal with as he got inside the paint whenever he wanted.

He was asked if he took what the defense gave him.

“It’s what I took,” he quickly replied. “They didn’t give me anything. That’s what I took.”

It’s too bad James’ moody, locked-in demeanor didn’t rub off on his teammates. Excluding his performance, the rest of the Cavaliers shot 36.6 percent from the field and was 10-of-38 from the arc. Cleveland was down nine with 2:01 remaining and could not find the basket for the life of them. Before Jordan McRae made a meaningless three-pointer with nine seconds left, the Cavaliers had missed 10 straight shots and mustered all of nine points in the period.

Kevin Love (11) was 5-of-14 and had a dreadful 0-5 outing from long distance while Kyrie Irving (13 points) missed 16 of his 22 shots. For the second time in less than a week, he skipped out on speaking to the media.

Bad shooting nights happen and it’s excused. But what isn’t excusable is lacking a professional approach. Despite head coach Tyronn Lue urging his team to not take the court with a complacent attitude, that’s exactly what occurred.

They came out lackadaisical and entitled. Their passes weren’t zipped, but rather floated and telegraphed. What was supposed to be hard cuts to the basket looked like pre-game walk-through drills. Lue walked away from his postgame presser disgusted with how his team performed.

“If we don’t compete for 48 minutes, things like this will continue to happen,” he said.

“I started my postseason mindset a little early this year, understanding everything we’ve been through this year both on and off the floor,” James said. “I just want these guys to understand how important this moment is. We have a great opportunity to do something special, at least compete for something special.”

There’s a sad truth. In the three games Love has sat out this month, the Cavaliers have outscored their opponents by an average of 23.3 points. Moreover, opposing point guards seem to have a field day when going up against Irving.

Shane Larkin entered the game averaging six points and four assists, but left the arena with 16 points, seven assists and was 7-of-10 from the floor. It’s a trend that keeps repeating with quick guards against Irving.

“What bothers me is our effort sometimes and making sure our guys are understanding the moment that we have,” James said. “And that’s the only time I can get a little frustrated because I understand the moment that we have and it’s not a given that every year you have a team like this where you have an opportunity to do something special.”

Time is running out.

Flipping the switch seems like a dubious path to victory. There have been too many bad losses. Over time, it’s a pattern, and patterns are hard to break.


VIDEO: LeBron James says the Cavs ‘took a step backwards’ on Thursday

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Morning shootaround — Feb. 15


VIDEO: Relive the 65th NBA All-Star Game

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Wolves shopping Rubio | Kobe bids farewell to All-Star weekend | Whiteside unlikely to have long future in Miami | George iffy about 2016 Olympics

No. 1:  Report: Timberwolves shopping Rubio before deadline: The Ricky Rubio era in Minnesota could soon come to an end. The Timberwolves are reportedly shopping their one-time point guard of the future. The emergence of back-to-back Verizon Slam Dunk champion Zach LaVine has given the Timberwolves a different option at the position, writes Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

Zach LaVine was nothing short of spectacular in winning his second straight Slam Dunk title on Saturday and by the end of this week he may win something else; the starting point guard job for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Incumbent Ricky Rubio is readily available and the feeling is that the Spanish guard could be moved prior to Thursday’s NBA trade deadline.

Phil Jackson is in the market for a point guard but it’s hard to envision the Knicks having the assets to acquire the 25-year-old Rubio, whose season average in points (9.7), assists (8.6) and minutes (30.3) are down this year.

Jackson wants desperately to make the playoffs – as evidenced by his quick trigger decision to fire Derek Fisher 136 games into his tenure – but finding an upgrade in the backcourt is tricky.

Houston’s Ty Lawson has been a bust with the Houston Rockets but perhaps he can turn his career and the Knicks season around over the last 27 games. Ditto for Brandon Jennings, who is also on the Knicks radar.

The Clippers are making Blake Griffin available even though the injured forward is recovering from a second surgical procedure to his right (punching) hand and may not play again this season, especially if he’s traded to a team out of the playoff race.

Denver, Boston and Atlanta cannot be ruled out but if Griffin remains with the Clippers after Thursday this may be something the Knicks and Carmelo Anthony may want to consider over the summer.

A Griffin-for-Anthony trade makes sense on a number of levels including the fact that Anthony and Chris Paul have for years tried to become teammates.


VIDEO: Relive the 2016 Verizon Slam Dunk contest

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No. 2: All that’s left for Kobe now is goodbye The Kobe Bryant farewell tour won’t see another stop as big as All-Star weekend and Sunday’s 65th All-Star Game. His Los Angeles Lakers are not in the playoff equation in the Western Conference, so there will be no walk off into the postseason sunset for Bryant. That means, today marks the start of his long goodbye from the game he has been an integral part of for more than half of his life. Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical explains:

This is your life, Kobe Bryant. This was your goodbye. That’s how All-Star weekend had played itself out, how the relentlessness of Bryant’s 20 years had been honored. For all these years, Bryant never felt terribly compelled to gift the most intimate details of his craft. He gassed himself to understand the nuances of it all, and never, ever wanted to cost himself a competitive advantage. Bryant didn’t want only to win, but destroy you, too. The force of his will was nothing short of predatory.

Everything has changed now. Bryant has let go. He’s let go of it all. The competition is gone, and Bryant is shaping his legacy. He isn’t chasing championships, nor playoffs, nor competitive genius. At times this season, he has traveled the NBA and had his opponents searching out informal sessions of wisdom. There were times that rival players were uneasy about approaching Bryant, uneasy with what could be a most uninviting vibe.

Now, Bryant stood inside a third-floor corridor at the Air Canada Centre and embraced everything. The All-Star game MVP, Russell Westbrook, marched past Bryant clutching his trophy. He had grown up in Southern California, and told The Vertical that as a kid he had “gone to the Lakers’ championship parades to see Kobe.” Indiana’s Paul George had 41 points for the East, and nothing made him feel better lying in that hospital bed 18 months ago than Bryant reaching out, encouraging him to fight his way back.

Across his final season, Bryant has torn down the walls and let everyone close to him. Across this All-Star weekend, the NBA’s best players found themselves making personal, private pilgrimages to him.

“It feels like I’m passing on all the knowledge that I’ve gained in this game,” Bryant told The Vertical. “These kids, they grew up watching me. They were my daughter Gianna‘s age [10] when they started to watch me play. When we talk now, they’re asking me questions about things that they’ve watched and observed from my career. They want deeper insight. For me, it’s been really, really interesting. That’s part of the weekend that I most enjoyed – more than everything else. Just sitting down and talking to the guys individually. Steph. Kawhi. Draymond. These guys, they were just picking my brain and that’s … that’s … special.”


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant reflects on his final All-Star Game appearance

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No. 3: Whiteside’s future in Miami in jeopardy? The Miami Heat’s development of Hassan Whiteside‘s was always a low-risk, high-reward proposition. If the talented 7-footer could find a way to curb his enthusiasm for nonsense, the Heat could very well have uncovered one of the league’s most talented big men. But the experiment has hit a rough patch, one that could that lead to Whiteside’s exit prior to Thursday’s trade deadline, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

In many ways, power forward Chris Bosh is the ideal center in today’s NBA game. And he could end up back there next season if the Heat moves on from Hassan Whiteside, whose future here looks increasingly questionable.

Even before his ejection angered Heat officials Tuesday, there have been serious reservations inside the organization about giving Whiteside the type of contract Miami believes he could attract in free agency, one that could start at $17 million or more.

ESPN’s Chris Broussard said the Heat is gauging trade interest in Whiteside, and two people in contact with the Heat told me that Miami appears open to considering a Whiteside trade, if it can dump other salary and get quality talent back, because it knows it’s going to be uncomfortably costly to keep him. Heat officials have expressed frustration with him, for reasons we explained in last Sunday’s column.

But the Heat also knows the odds would be against a trade this week because he’s earning just $981,000 (causing cap complications) and the team acquiring him wouldn’t have any financial advantage in re-signing him.

Also know this: Pat Riley is not going to commit long-term financially to a roster that isn’t close to a legitimate championship contender. So that factors into a Whiteside decision this summer if his contract prevents other significant moves (and it certainly would make it very difficult if he commands a stratospheric salary).

If Whiteside makes it past the trade deadline, it likely would take impeccable maturity, elite production, no lapses in judgment, a deep playoff run (with Whiteside playing at a very high level) and/or striking out on a few top free-agent options for the Heat to seriously consider giving Whiteside an enormous deal this summer.

So with the cap jumping from $70 million to $89 million, what could Miami realistically achieve in free agency with or without Whiteside?

Whiteside and Dwyane Wade would potentially command a combined $30 million of the $37 million Miami is projected to have available — a figure that would grow to $43 million if the Heat can somehow can dump Josh McRoberts’ contract without taking money back.

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No. 4: George’s comeback complete, USAB future uncertain Paul George used Sunday’s All-Star Game as his personal reminder that he was officially back from the gruesome injury that cost him most all of the 2014-15 season. He just barely missed Wilt Chamberlain‘s All-Star Game scoring mark and led all scorers with 41 points. But as good as it felt to finally get back on the All-Star stage, George has some decisions to make about the rest of his season and summer, as he explained to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports:

“I knew this is where I belong,” George told Yahoo Sports. “I just felt good and felt confident after I hit shot after shot. Having this long journey, the long rehab that was really the only thing on my mind was enjoying being back here. It was about making shots.

“Of course, personally I wanted a good showing. But it wasn’t really about that. It was just about enjoying being back in this moment.”

George is averaging 23.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and four assists for the Pacers this season. He believes he is showing the same stellar athleticism that he displayed before the injury. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who coached the West All-Stars, said what he is seeing in George now is “pretty incredible.”

“Every time he runs up and down the floor and jumps up for one of those dunks and everything, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, the human body is amazing,’ ” Popovich said. “To come back and play at this level athletically, it just stuns me every time I see him out there.”

George was one point shy of matching Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain‘s All-Star scoring record of 42 points set in 1962. George and East coach Tyronn Lue said they had no idea the record was that close. George expects to get “madder and madder” during his flight back to Indianapolis because he didn’t break the coveted scoring record.

“Had I known, I would have gone for the two on my last shot instead of going for the three,” George said.

George has played in all 53 regular-season games for a Pacers team that is expected to make the playoffs. He is also a member of USA Basketball’s 31-man roster that has to be trimmed to 12 before the 2016 Rio Olympics. While USA Basketball executive director Jerry Colangelo has promised George a roster spot, George said his body might not allow him to take the trip to Brazil.

“I had a long year,” George told Yahoo Sports. “This has been a long year coming from rehab. I just know how my body has taken these first 50-plus games, not knowing what these playoffs are going to do to my body. So there is a decision coming at the end of the year, is the smart thing to continue on or take a little bit of time for some rest and let my body heal?”

George, a Palmdale, Calif. native, said he became emotional every time he had a one-on-one opportunity with Kobe Bryant, who was playing in his last All-Star Game. George also met Hall of Famer Michael Jordan for the first time over the weekend.

“I had a special weekend,” George said.


VIDEO: Best from Paul George’s 41-point performance in the All-Star Game

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Chris Paul says he ‘plans on’ breaking the All-Star Game career assists record … Some fresh speculation about how Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook could end up with the New York Knicks in 2017 … Kobe Bryant going one-on-one with Chris Paul‘s son … ICYMI, Batman and Superman stopped by Inside the NBA last night … Everything you need to know about NBA All-Star 2016 that you might have missed is right here

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.


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