Posts Tagged ‘Phoenix Suns’

Morning Shootaround — March 25


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers find life at top tough | Butler delivers for OKC | Grizz shift into playoff mode | Dragic weighing national team decision | Charlotte hoping for All-Star Game bid

No. 1: Pacers finding life at the top hard — Expect to read more on this today from our Steve Aschburner, who was at last night’s Pacers-Bulls tilt from the United Center. But as Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com points out this morning, the Indiana Pacers — who are just two games ahead of the Miami Heat for No. 1 in the East — have had a rough time since about February of maintaining their torrid early-season winning pace:

Somewhere along the path to a magical season the Indiana Pacers lost their innocence. Now they’re losing their way.Monday night the Chicago Bulls beat the Pacers with one of their signature defense-based wins 89-77, avenging a loss in Indianapolis last week. It was the seventh time in the last 12 games the Pacers have gone down. Previously, they’d lost seven times over a span of 28 games. They didn’t even have their seventh loss of the season until Jan. 8.

“We started off this season so great and we were excited for the end,” Pacers star Paul George said. “But we forgot about the middle and the middle is the toughest part.”

But the Pacers have so far been slow to readjust their comfort zones. Instead, they’ve been slowly getting frustrated with each other in the classic mode of a team that is underachieving.

Several Pacers players have pointed to February when things started turning for them, a month when Larry Bird signed Andrew Bynum and traded long-tenured Danny Granger for Evan Turner in an effort to bolster the roster heading into the playoffs. The Pacers’ players, however, were stunned by both moves. Granger’s departure was treated like a mini-funeral.

“Larry is the man is charge,” Hibbert said. “He made the decisions and we have to go out on the floor and figure it out.”

Then, two weeks ago, Bird lashed out publicly at his players and his coach. Vogel has built a reputation for being positive, sometimes coming off as downright cocky. He has an air of assurance about him that he’s passed to his players, the sort of vigor that had them talking about getting the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference back in the first days of the season.

Though its defense has been a little less consistent than desired in the second half of the season, what is causing the team the most angst is its offense. In losses to the Grizzlies and Bulls in the last few days, the Pacers have failed to crack 80 points in back-to-back games for the first time in seven years.

There are slumps abounding. Over the last 15 games, Hibbert is averaging just nine points and shooting just 44 percent. After he shot 56 percent in February, David West is shooting just 46 percent in March. George is shooting just 37 percent in March and averaging 19 points, well below his season average.

It’s also not hard to miss how annoyed some Pacers are with Lance Stephenson, the young sparkplug guard who was a huge key to their early season. Stephenson has four triple-doubles this season but at times he’s been too focused on getting those stats, robbing rebounds from teammates and generating some frustration.

Other times he flat-out hogs the ball. And while this happens with many players on every team, the tolerance for the younger and rougher Stephenson is much less than for the veterans elsewhere on the roster.

On Monday, Stephenson had no assists and four turnovers in 30 minutes in the loss. When he drops his head and ignores open teammates, heads shake and shoulders slump visibly. After averaging nearly six assists a game in the season’s first three months, Stephenson is averaging only three assists over the last two months.

“We have [guys trying to be heroes] at times and we choose the wrong moment at times,” George said.


VIDEO: Pacers players discuss the team’s loss to the Bulls in Chicago

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No. 2: OKC’s bench delivers vs. Nuggets — With their All-Star tandem of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook — as well as solid contributions from Serge Ibaka — the Oklahoma City Thunder’s starting lineup never seems to be lacking in scoring punch. But once the bench crew steps into the game, how well OKC’s offense fares can be a game-by-game roller coaster ride. That instability might be nearing its end, though, especially if new addition Caron Butler puts in performances like he had last night against the Denver Nuggets. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman has more on Butler’s play:

For the final month before the All-Star break, without Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant captured headlines with his fantastic play and his team’s surprising success.

But the Thunder’s impressive late January run was about far more than Durant. He was the catalyst, but the consistent roster-wide contributions helped spur the 10-game win streak and the 15-2 close to the first half.

For the first 11 games after the break – an anemic 5-6 run – that was missing. But of late, it has returned, an impressive four-game win streak culminating in a 117-96 domination of the Nuggets on Monday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Durant, predictably, was the leading scorer with 27. But on a night where he shot below 50 percent (10-of-21), his team shot above it.

Reggie Jackson had an efficient 16 points and 11 assists, needing only six shots. Steven Adams scored in double-figures for the first time since January. And even Nick Collison dropped in 10, including a corner 3-pointer that drew the loudest ovation of the night.

But Caron Butler shouldered the biggest non-Durant end of the scoring load. In 29 minutes, Butler had his best offensive performance since joining the Thunder, going for 23 points on 10-of-19 shooting.

“He’s getting more and more comfortable every single game,” Durant said of the Thunder’s newest member.

But Butler’s most important offensive contribution on this night – and the most encouraging sign moving forward – was his ability to take advantage of mismatches in the low post.

With so much length and size at rare positions, the Thunder forced the Nuggets to throw smaller defenders at Butler. He exploited it on multiple occasions, dropping in easy short range jumpers.

“He had that post-up working tonight,” Durant said. “They have that smaller guy on him, and he takes advantage. That’s what we need him to do.”

On Monday, the Thunder played with the kind of confidence, effort and balance that allowed them to not only survive, but thrive without Westbrook before the All-Star break.


VIDEO:
Reggie Jackson and others discuss OKC’s blowout win against Denver

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No. 3: Grizz getting into playoff mode? — Since the All-Star break, the Memphis Grizzlies have rolled up a 13-5 mark that has included wins over the playoff-bound Clippers, Bulls, Bobcats, Blazers and Pacers. After last night’s wire-to-wire drubbing of the faltering Minnesota Timberwolves, Memphis has amassed 10 straight wins at FedEx Forum and is looking more and more like a powerful playoff team, writes Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal:

Memphis’ 109-92 victory Monday night accounted for its 10th straight in FedExForum, and perhaps sent a message to the teams floating around them in the Western Conference standings. The Grizzlies look like a team that’s moved beyond simply trying to make the playoffs to one seeking to steal a higher seed that didn’t seem possible two months ago.

The Griz improved to 42-28, ensuring that they will finish with a winning record for a fourth consecutive season. That, however, is something the Griz expect to make a footnote in this campaign. Memphis sits a half game ahead of Phoenix in the seventh spot and remains within striking distance of the fifth and sixth seeds. The Griz are just 2½ games back from fifth place.

The Griz improved to 31-3 when leading after three quarters while the Timberwolves fell to 3-24 when they trail at the start of the fourth. Minnesota entered the game averaging 106.5 points, fourth-most in the NBA. This was the 11th straight game that the Timberwolves allowed their opponent to score 100-plus points.

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No. 4: Dragic weighing decision on national team – The Phoenix Suns are staying in the thick of the Western Conference playoff chase thanks to the play of star point guard Goran Dragic. It’s been a banner year for the Slovenian standout and while he’s hoping Phoenix can complete its playoff push, he’s still weighing whether or not to suit up for his country’s national team in the World Cup in Spain this September, writes Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic:

With the Suns enjoying a 6-1 stretch, Dragic’s results are back to the norm of his outstanding season by no coincidence. He is shooting 53.8 percent overall and 46.2 percent on 3-pointers over the past seven games with averages of 18.1 points and 4.7 assists.

The team success makes him feel emotionally better but the physical wear and tear still exists and makes him consider not playing for his Slovenian national team this September at the World Cup in Spain.

“Sometimes, it is too many games,” Dragic said. “I still have to sit down with my national team and talk with them about making a decision if I’m going to play or not. I’m thinking more toward not playing and trying to get my body some rest to be fresher for the next season.

“That is hard because, back home, all the people judge you that you have so much money and you’re a star and now you don’t want to play for the national team. That bothers me a little bit but those people don’t know how the season goes, how many games it is and being in a different hotel every night. I’m more on the plane than in my car.”

Playing for Slovenia when it hosted last summer’s European Championship helped Dragic come into the season in a good rhythm but he is feeling the effects of nine consecutive months of basketball at times as the Suns’ playing time leader and primary point guard most of the season.

“I think I feel pretty good, especially my legs are not so heavy like 15 games ago,” Dragic said. “Even if you’re tired for the last 12 games, you have to go through that and try not to think about it so much.”


VIDEO: Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic lead the Suns to a win in Atlanta

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No. 5: Charlotte needs arena upgrades before it can host All-Star Game — It’s been 23 years and counting since the city of Charlotte hosted the NBA All-Star Game … and it might be a few more years before it gets to host it again. Commissioner Adam Silver was at last night’s Houston Rockets-Charlotte Bobcats game at Time Warner Cable Arena and said while he’s hopeful that a basketball-mad city like Charlotte will host a future All-Star Game, some upgrades to the arena must take place first. Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer has more:

First, he said, the city must upgrade Time Warner Cable Arena, which needs $41.9 million of work, according to a list of needs compiled by the Charlotte Bobcats and the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.

“I’d love to bring the All-Star Game back here,” Silver said before the Bobcats game with the Houston Rockets. “This is a wonderful community, a hotbed of basketball, not just pro but college as well.”

He added: “There are some upgrades to the building that are needed. I know those discussions are underway right now. It’s part of the understanding here that the building remain state-of-the-art. Nothing dramatic is needed. But certainly an upgrade to the scoreboard, some things with the suites and the lighting.”

The Bobcats’ 25-year arena lease calls for the city of Charlotte to keep Time Warner Cable Arena among the league’s most modern. After the first seven years, the lease requires the city to make improvements, so long as half of other NBA facilities have them.

The team has requested money to upgrade suites, overhaul restaurants, build a new play area for children and move the ticket office, among other improvements.

The city said it will scrutinize the list of requests to see what is required under the lease agreement.

Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon said the prospect of hosting the league’s All-Star Game shouldn’t make the city spend more money than necessary.

“The city should only be guided by what it’s obligated to do by way of the agreement,” he said.

City Manager Ron Carlee said the city must study the “business case” for possibly making additional upgrades to the arena.

“What kind of opportunity will there be (for improving the arena)?” Carlee said.

Silver said awarding the 2017 event should come in about a year. Then he reiterated his link between Charlotte’s chances and those upgrades.

“The team has time,” Silver said. “The first order of priority is making sure the building issues are dealt with.”


VIDEO: Adam Silver discusses what it would take for Charlotte to host a future All-Star Game

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tim Duncan says he’s taking it “game-by-game” about whether or not he’d retire at the end of this season … Five minor investors have been added to the Hawks’ ownership group … The New Orleans Pelicans might have found a go-to combination in the duo of Anthony Davis and Tyreke Evans … Lakers guard Nick Young says close to $100,000 worth of clothing, jewelry, shoes and luggage were stolen from his house during a home game … Good little chat with Steph Curry about his golf game, the Warriors-Clippers rivalry and more … What kind of chance does Mitch Richmond have at the Hall of Fame? Our Scott Howard-Cooper examines it … Former high-flying Raptors swingman Jamario Moon is thinking about an NBA comebackBrandon Jennings is hitting his stride at long last for the Pistons …

ICYMI of the Night: Sometimes a play can personify the style of play of a team. Such is the case with this defensive sequence by the Bulls and a hustle follow-up jam by Taj Gibson


VIDEO: Taj Gibson follows up the Jimmy Butler miss with a power jam

Morning Shootaround — March 7


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Leonard delivers against LeBron, Heat | James open to talking with Pacers’ GeorgeNoah has sprained thumb | Raptors to use retro unis next season | Hornacek proud of Suns’ improvement

No. 1: Leonard proves difference against LeBron, Heat — Third-year Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard has only been back in the San Antonio lineup since Feb. 26 after missing a couple of weeks with a broken hand. Since his return, the Spurs have gone 5-0 and won four of those games by 10 points or more. Last night, in the Spurs’ 24-point romp of the Miami Heat, Leonard proved crucial in frustrating star LeBron James all game long. Our own Fran Blinebury was on the scene and has more on Leonard’s impact on the victory:

Hitting the runway in his league-mandated attire, James clanked open jumpers, had layups roll off the rim and missed a dozen of the 18 shots he attempted.

Or just maybe it was the 6-foot-7, 230-pound Kawhi Leonard that he had to wear like an annoying hair shirt up and down the AT&T Center court all night long.

“He’s a good young player,” James said.

Yes, and Kate Upton would make an acceptable prom date.

Long, larcenous and learning how to assert himself in an orbit just outside the Tim Duncan-Tony Parker-Manu Ginobili triangle, Leonard is exactly the kind of disruptive force that would fit perfectly into the Heat’s attacking, pressuring, blitzing defense.

These finally are the Spurs as they hoped they’d be back when training camp opened with the scars still fresh from the painful seven-game loss to Miami in The Finals last June.

This is the Leonard that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich once labeled “the future face of the franchise” and yet the same Leonard that Popovich says still defers too much at times to the three veterans that anchor the lineup.

“I tell him, ‘The hell with those other guys. Just play your own game and forget about them,’ “ Popovich said. “He is just growing day by day. He is starting to feel confident in his role and taking pride in being a defender and a rebounder first. Then, [he needs to work on] letting his offense come naturally and not thinking about it too much.”

Leonard missed 14 games with a broken bone in his right hand before returning to the lineup a little more than a week ago and it’s since then — with improved health of the entire roster — that the Spurs have begun to look like a team that not only has an ax to grind, but is capable of swinging it deep into another playoff run. He officially got credit for five steals, but there were so many other times when he changed shots, altered passes, forced the Heat to try to go around him, effectively disrupting their rhythm.

“He was a pest,” said Duncan. “That’s what we need him to be. He stuck his hand in there, knocked some balls away, got some steals. He contested shots…So we need him to be that kind of guy.”

The guy who makes LeBron James rip off his uncomfortable mask in frustration and point a finger of blame at those form-fitting short sleeves on his jersey.

A tailor-made hair shirt for the occasion.


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard talks about his play in the Spurs’ win over the Heat

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No. 2: LeBron open to chatting with Pacers’ George — As we mentioned in this space yesterday, Pacers swingman Paul George told BasketballInsiders.com recently that he hopes to one day talk with Heat star LeBron James about a variety of topics. Would James be interested in having such a conversation? According to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com, LeBron has an ‘open door’ policy with other players on such a thing:

LeBron James would be open to mentoring rival Paul George this summer if he’s asked by the Indiana Pacers’ star, James said Thursday night.

In an interview this week with BasketballInsiders.com, George said he hoped he could spend some time talking to James this summer to get some advice.

“It would be great to be able to pick his brain, pick his mind and just talk about the game because I think he’s a player that can help me get to the next level and continue to keep going to the next level,” George said. “I wish some day we have that relationship where he is someone I can talk to — not during the season because I’m too competitive during the season — but maybe in the summertime.”

James’ Miami Heat and George’s Pacers have faced off in the playoffs in each of the last two seasons and currently are in a heated race for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. James has worked out with rivals during past summers, notably the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant.

“Pick [my brain] like Hannibal Lector?” James said jokingly. “You know me, I don’t mind it at all. I don’t mind giving guys [advice], whatever he wants to ask. Guys know I have an open door/phone policy.”

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No. 3: Noah has sprained thumb — All-Star center Joakim Noah suffered a thumb injury against the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night and his status going forward may be in question. Nick Fridell of ESPNChicago.com has more on Noah’s injury, which is being termed a minor one:

UPDATE: Noah is expected to play tonight vs. the Grizzlies per coach Tom Thibodeau

Initial tests run on Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah’s injured right thumb revealed a sprain, according to a league source.

It is unclear whether Noah will have to miss any time or will be available to play Friday night against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Noah injured the thumb during Wednesday night’s win against the Detroit Pistons. He didn’t want to go into detail about the injury after the game, calling it just a “boo-boo,” but he did wear a protective brace on it as he headed out of the Palace of Auburn Hills.

The Bulls have to be extra cautious with the injury. Noah has become their most valuable player and is in the midst of the best stretch of his career. He racked up his second triple-double in three games in Wednesday’s win as a focal point on both ends of the floor. More importantly, Noah tore ligaments in the same thumb during the 2010-11 season and had to miss two months after having surgery to repair it.

The key for the Bulls will be to see how he responds to treatment. He has shown a high pain threshold in the past, having played with the ligament tear for almost a month before having surgery in December 2010.


VIDEO: Bulls.com takes a look at Joakim Noah’s impact on the team this season

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No. 4: Raptors to wear original jerseys for select games next season — Over on the All Ball Blog, our own Lang Whitaker has kept track of any and all possible uniform changes for the Toronto Raptors, with talk of a black-and-gold number the most common topic of discussion. While we have no idea if or when the Raptors will change their colors, one thing is certain: they are going back to the purple “dino” jerseys for select games next season. Raptors.com has more:

The Toronto Raptors announced today the return of the team’s original purple jersey for select home games during the 2014-15 season. The throwback uniform will be worn as the franchise celebrates its 20th Anniversary in the National Basketball Association.

“We are excited to bring back a piece of team history as part of our 20th Anniversary celebration,” said Masai Ujiri, President and General Manager of the Raptors. “Our fans have shown affection for the original purple uniform and I think our players will enjoy the chance to wear them next season.”

The front of the uniform top features the unique Raptors font in silver with the team’s dinosaur motif in action with basketball in hand. The uniform showcases the original team colours of Raptor Red, purple, black and Naismith Silver, the latter in honour of Dr. James A. Naismith of Almonte, Ontario, the multi-faceted Canadian who invented basketball in 1891. The uniform also features the unique jagged pinstripe design.

The club will announce details at later dates regarding 20th Anniversary events to be held throughout the 2014-15 campaign.


VIDEO: Raptors will go back to the ‘dino’ unis for select games next season

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No. 5: Hornacek proud of every player’s improvement on Suns — As another week of the NBA is nearly in the books, the standings continue to sport the Phoenix Suns in the middle of the Western Conference playoff chase. That something few thought we’d be able to say in early March about this Suns team, but Phoenix has taken pride all season in exceeding expectations. From new coach Jeff Hornacek to a rag-tag bunch led by Goran Dragic and Co., the Suns seem to have improved in every way imaginable from last season. As Paul Coro from The Arizona Republic notes, Hornacek has trouble picking any one player who has improved most:

When you are arguably the NBA’s most improved team, singling out which player has improved the most is like choosing a favorite child.

Suns coach Jeff Hornacek can’t do it.

“They’ve all done something more than they’ve done last year,” Hornacek said.

The Suns are vying for most improved team with Portland but with a completely different dynamic. The Suns had three players who were on the active opening-night roster for each of the past two seasons. They had a first-year head coach with a new staff. The canvas was blank for roles and reputations, creating an environment for many players who were still trying to prove themselves in their careers to advance as Suns.

As the sage veteran, Channing Frye was just trying to rediscover his game after a year away from basketball. He has seen the maturation in teammates around him and gives credit to that environment created by Hornacek and the front office.

“They felt like this year they’re going to get a real opportunity,” Frye said of his teammates. “We all do something different and so they’re flourishqing in that role. When you have a coach like Jeff, even though you make mistakes, you’re still going to get opportunities if you put in work outside the court. With some teams, they go in as the one piece and that piece is interchangeable and they don’t feel like they’re important. But everybody on this team is important. Everybody is doing the best they can and staying ready every night.” The reason we’ve been successful is, at any moment, somebody could get their chance so they’re staying ready. That is really the pressure for everyone to constantly get better and be ready and to really embrace what we’re trying to do.”

Frye calls it a tie for most improved Suns player between Gerald Green and Markieff Morris.

Green, on his seventh NBA team, was coming off two seasons in Russia and a season in Indiana that ended with him out of the rotation and on the trade block. Now, he averages more than 15 points, increasing his 3-point shooting percentage from 31.4 last season to 38.1 this season, entering Thursday night’s game, with 6.3 attempted per game.

“The coaches have really done a great job of putting us in places to be successful,” Green said. “Everybody gets an opportunity to go out there and play. Jeff has confidence in everybody. A lot of coaches don’t do that. He’s just so positive and has so much energy and faith in us.

“I still feel like I’ve got a lot to learn and a lot to prove. I still have so much that could get better.” I could get better at my ball-handling. I could get better at my defense. I could get stronger. I feel like my decision-making could get better. My pick-and-roll could be better. I’m blessed to have the season we’re having but to me, if we don’t make the playoffs, this season means nothing to me.”

Yet, each one of the three veterans has improved.

“You learn the game a little bit more,” Hornacek said. “The young guys learn more with their skills and adjustments to playing every night and more minutes whereas the veteran guys learn the little things, things that maybe they couldn’t score on in their first three or four years, they’re now knowing the little nuances of the game that they’ve seen over and over and over and they feel comfortable and maybe more relaxed.”

Dragic’s rise has been more celebrated because he turned into a star in the absence of Eric Bledsoe, who might have been a Most Improved Player frontrunner had he not been hurt twice this season to only play 24 games. Dragic’s perimeter shooting has been the vast improvement but he also has better command of the team in half-court offense and draws fouls more than ever.

“Goran has stepped his game up to another level,” Hornacek said.


VIDEO: Gerald Green and the Suns discuss their upset win over the Oklahoma City Thunder

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James has been given the OK by the Heat to attend Zydrunas Ilgauskas‘ jersey retirement ceremony on Saturday … Great feature on everyone’s favorite Milwaukee Buck: Giannis Antetokounmpo … The Wizards are reportedly ‘likely’ to sign forward Drew Gooden to a second 10-day contract … Wolves center Nikola Pekovic is being kept on a strict minutes limit … Blazers All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge says he’s been forcing shots of late

ICYMI of the Night: With two blowouts in the books last night in San Antonio and Los Angeles, we figure it’s a good time to give Gerald Green some shine after his 41-point night against the Thunder …


VIDEO:Gerald Green scores 41 points as the Suns top the Thunder

Blogtable: Remembering Steve Nash

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


Deciding factor, KD vs. LBJ | Next step after preps | Remembering Nash



VIDEO: Nash on his career and overcoming injuries

Mike D’Antoni says Steve Nash may be done for the season. He may be done for his career. If so, how will you remember him?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: My personal memory of Nash is my first glimpse of him, sitting in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ locker room in the spring of 1996 after a draft workout for the team. He looked impossibly young and innocent, all smiles, and he happened to be wasting his time: The Wolves were going to figure out some way to land Stephon Marbury in that draft, either by selection or trade, to team with buddy-at-that-time Kevin Garnett. Never, ever imagined that kid would become a two-time MVP and, as the premier point guard of his generation, a certain Hall of Famer.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comGreat ball handler, creative passer and sparkplug to those fun to watch run-and-gun Suns teams. But in no sane world should he ever have been a two-time MVP, especially when Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant have only one apiece.

Steve Nash, June 1996 (Andy Hayt/NBAE)

Steve Nash, June 1996 (Andy Hayt/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I’ll remember Steve Nash in a Suns uniform with his stringy hair bouncing up and down as he dribbles, dribbles, dribbles from the top of the key to the baseline, under the basket, through the trees, out the other side and back into the paint for a fallaway 8-foot floater that tickles the twine.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: As a guy with bad hearing. He didn’t listen when most every college in the United States said he wasn’t good enough to deserve a scholarship. He didn’t listen when NBA people said he was too slow to make it big as a point guard in the pros. He didn’t listen when Mark Cuban said Nash wouldn’t hold up long enough to earn the kind of contract other teams were willing to offer — before Nash won MVPs in Phoenix. Nash has been a brilliant point guard and one of the best parts of the league for a generation, all while exceeding expectations.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’ll remember Nash as a brilliant pick-and-roll point guard, who made creative passes with incredible vision. I’ll remember him as the floor general of the league’s most efficient offense for nine straight seasons (with two different franchises). And I’ll remember him as a funny and thoughtful interview. I hope he’s not done.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: If Nash is done for the season, that’s fine. I’ve said for weeks now that he and Kobe Bryant should spend the rest of this season in designer duds on that Lakers bench and plot their revenge, as Kobe mentioned on radio recently, for the 2014-15 season. I’m conflicted on Nash’s career. He was a breath of fresh air when he transitioned from an All-Star point guard in Dallas to an All-Star in Phoenix and helped turn the Suns into one of the most entertaining teams of his generation. A great player? No doubt. An all-time great player? Yup. But a back-to-back MVP during the primes of Kobe, Tim Duncan and Shaq? I’ve never been able to reconcile that one (let’s just say I didn’t vote Nash No. 1 on my ballot in either of those seasons). Nash did his thing. He was fantastic. but he didn’t vote for himself. The blame should be shouldered by some of the other guys commenting here and the scores of other media types who voted and got caught up in the Suns’ narrative, which was no doubt a compelling one. Either way, Nash will be remembered as one of the greats of his era and all time. He’s earned that distinction.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: Early in Nash’s career, I went to Toronto one summer to write a profile of Nash for SLAM magazine. I spent a day with Nash walking all around Toronto, from visits at Much Music to a speech to the kids at Jane & Finch. At the time, Nash was a burgeoning All-Star, and he wasn’t recognized that often. A few years later, Nash had become one of the most famous people on the planet. You can debate whether his MVPs were deserved, but the truth is Steve Nash is a two-time MVP who had a huge impact on the game of basketball, both in the NBA and internationally. And maybe that’s good enough.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: I still believe Nash’s career isn’t over. Call me a dreamer, but I think a fighter like him can’t accept going down like that. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer, the best PG of the 2000s and one of the best PGs ever. He deserves a ring. So I still expect to see him with a Laker uniform next season. He probably won’t win the title he deserves, but I’m sure he’ll give it another shot.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: Whatever memories I have of Nash, it will be in his Phoenix Suns jersey. Really, as the executor of Mike D’Antoni’s’ ‘Seven Seconds or Less’ he played quite a few memorable seasons with the Suns, which earned him MVP honors and in 2005 and ’06. But above all, it was the bloodied nose, the swollen eye, the leave-it-all-out-on-the-floor attitude for which Nash will endure in my mind.

Emeka Enyadike, NBA Africa: Steve Nash is the epitome of greatness, and what a career he’s had. How I would like to remember him: I think of him every time I see the movie “White Men Can’t Jump.” Steve went into the court like someone going into his neighborhood courts for a pick-up game. He was always relaxed. 2005 was the year I’ll never forget because of how he helped to change the fortunes of the Suns. We also love Steve even more here in Africa because he was born here in Johannesburg. Despite his British and Canadian citizenships, he was our gift to the game.

Selcuk Aytekin, NBA Turkiye: Steve Nash is one of the greatest playmakers and one of the best shooters in league history. His ability and playing style are purely unique. He is only missing a championship ring, but over the course of his time in the NBA, he’s put up 17,361 career points and 10,296 assists. Numbers don’t lie, and they tell the story of a living legend.

Pick-and-roll Data Likes The Suns

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – On the Washington Wizards’ first possession of their big, triple-overtime win in Toronto on Thursday, John Wall and Marcin Gortat ran a side pick-and-roll. The same primary action produced two big free throws in the final minute of the second overtime and a huge three-point play in the third OT.

SportVU cameras captured every pick-and-roll run in the 63 minutes of basketball at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday. The folks at STATS LLC have been tracking pick-and-rolls via SportVU this season, opening a new door as we look to learn more about the game, and have provided some of the data to NBA.com.

Note: All pick-and-roll stats included are through Wednesday’s games.

Heading into Thursday’s game, Wall and Gortat had run almost 200 more pick-and-rolls than any other combination in the league. They’ve been a pretty solid combination, with the Wizards scoring 1.06 points per possession when the pair ran a pick-and-roll. That mark is a notch better than the league average of 1.03 (on pick-and-roll possessions) and ranks 87th among 209 pairs of teammates who have run pick-and-rolls on at least 100 possessions.

But there’s a big difference between a Wall-Gortat pick-and-roll and a Wall-Nene pick-and-roll, which has produced just 0.85 points per 100 possessions. That’s one reason why Washington ranks 29th in pick-and-roll efficiency (better than only the Milwaukee Bucks).

Wizards’ most-used pick-and-roll combinations

Ball-handler Screener Scr. P&R Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss
Wall Gortat 784 731 772 1.06
Wall Nene 349 324 275 0.85
Beal Gortat 240 226 224 0.99
Wall Booker 147 139 128 0.92
Beal Nene 121 116 110 0.95
Wall Ariza 111 111 119 1.07
Ariza Gortat 113 108 105 0.97
All other combinations 1,295 1,249 1,077 0.86
TOTAL 3,160 3,004 2,810 0.94

Wall has been more likely to pass to Nene than Gortat, but that hasn’t been a good idea, as Nene has shot just 16-for-48 (33 percent) on those plays.

John Wall pick-and-roll partners

Screener Scr. P&R Poss. JW FGM JW FGA JW FG% JW PTS Pass to S S FGM S FGA S FG%
Gortat 784 731 74 183 40.4% 171 188 42 85 49.4%
Nene 349 324 24 71 33.8% 56 129 16 48 33.3%
Booker 147 139 15 49 30.6% 33 34 6 13 46.2%
Ariza 111 111 14 23 60.9% 41 29 5 9 55.6%
Seraphin 85 81 4 11 36.4% 10 27 3 15 20.0%
Others 149 143 6 22 27.3% 17 25 2 10 20.0%
TOTAL 1,476 1,386 131 337 38.9% 311 407 72 170 42.4%

You see that Wall has shot worse when he’s come off a Nene screen, perhaps because Gortat sets a better pick and/or because Nene’s defenders are more mobile and able to defend Wall on a hedge or switch.

The Wizards will miss Nene, who’s out six weeks with an MCL sprain, but mostly on defense. The Wizards have allowed slightly less than a point per possession when he’s been the big defending a pick-and-roll. They’ve been almost seven points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor.

Offensively, they’ve been a point per 100 possessions better with him on the bench. And their pick-and-roll game might actually get better in these six weeks without him.

Top of the list

The Dallas Mavericks have been the most prolific pick-and-roll team in the league, but the Phoenix Suns have been the best, scoring 1.09 points per pick-and-roll possession, just a hair better than the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers.

Most points per pick-and-roll possession, team

Team Screens Scr/100 Rank P&R Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss
Phoenix 2,640 47.8 24 2,162 2,362 1.093
Houston 2,480 44.2 27 2,091 2,282 1.091
Portland 2,805 49.7 23 2,295 2,499 1.089
Oklahoma City 2,834 50.0 22 2,354 2,554 1.08
New York 2,782 51.9 16 2,292 2,452 1.07
Miami 2,768 54.0 12 2,145 2,294 1.07
Dallas 3,955 69.6 1 3,031 3,226 1.06
San Antonio 2,752 50.7 20 2,224 2,361 1.06
Indiana 2,420 44.6 26 2,015 2,139 1.06
Toronto 3,529 66.2 2 2,696 2,848 1.06

Scr/100 = Screens per 100 possessions

The Suns’ success starts with Goran Dragic and Channing Frye, the aggressive ball-handler and the 6-foot-11 floor spacer. They’ve been the league’s top pick-and-roll combination among those with at least 100 pick-and-roll possessions.

Most points per pick-and-roll possession, tandem

Team Ball-handler Screener Scr. P&R Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss
PHX Dragic Frye 425 392 510 1.30
MIA Wade Andersen 131 124 160 1.29
OKC Durant Collison 119 114 143 1.25
OKC Westbrook Durant 156 148 185 1.25
NOP Holiday Anderson 130 125 156 1.25
SAC Thomas Gay 168 165 202 1.22
POR Batum Lopez 183 180 220 1.22
POR Williams Lopez 121 111 135 1.22
IND Stephenson Hibbert 147 144 175 1.22
OKC Durant Perkins 209 196 238 1.21

Minimum 100 pick-and-roll possessions

Dragic has run almost the same amount of pick-and-rolls with Miles Plumlee (407 screens on 390 possessions) as he has with Frye (425, 392). But the Suns have  scored only 1.03 points per possession on the Dragic-Plumlee pick-and-rolls. Clearly, Dragic prefers to have a screener who pops out for a jumper, rather than one who rolls to the rim.

On those 390 Dragic-Plumlee possessions, Dragic has passed the ball 232 times, but only 59 times (25 percent) to Plumlee. On the 392 Dragic-Frye possessions, he’s passed the ball 234 times, and 113 of those passes (48 percent) have gone to Frye.

Overall, the Suns have been efficient when Dragic has the ball, scoring 1.16 points per possession from his 1,238 pick-and-rolls. That’s the best mark among 46 starting point guards and other high-usage perimeter players who have been the pick-and-roll ball-handler for at least 300 possessions. And who’s next on the list might surprise you.

Most points per pick-and-roll possession, ball-handler

Ball-handler Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss. Top Partner Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss.
Goran Dragic 1,172 1,361 1.16 Channing Frye 392 510 1.30
DeMar DeRozan 690 793 1.15 Amir Johnson 261 303 1.16
Kevin Durant 732 813 1.11 Serge Ibaka 284 286 1.01
Jeremy Lin 528 586 1.11 Dwight Howard 166 181 1.09
LeBron James 659 729 1.11 Chris Bosh 188 225 1.20
Damian Lillard 1,121 1,238 1.10 LaMarcus Aldridge 441 526 1.19
Dwyane Wade 469 516 1.10 Chris Bosh 155 144 0.93
Jrue Holiday 783 859 1.10 Anthony Davis 245 256 1.04
Monta Ellis 1,451 1,583 1.09 Dirk Nowitzki 500 554 1.11
George Hill 619 672 1.09 David West 258 279 1.08

Among 46 starting point guards and other perimeter players in the top 25 in usage rate.
Top partner = Player with whom he’s run the most pick-and-rolls.

DeRozan’s numbers seem a little fluky. He’s shot just 41 percent out of pick-and-rolls, has recorded an assist on just 5.8 percent those 690 possessions (the fourth lowest rate of the group), and averages less than one secondary assist (where his pass directly leads to somebody else’s assist) per game. But he has drawn fouls on 9.4 percent of his pick-and-roll possessions, a rate on par with that of LeBron James.

Some more notes from this list…

  • It’s interesting that James has had good success with Chris Bosh, but Dwyane Wade hasn’t. Wade has actually shot better (18-for-32) than James has (14-for-31) coming off Bosh screens, but Bosh has shot better when receiving a pick-and-roll pass from James (15-for-22) than he has when getting one from Wade (9-for-25). The shooting numbers, of course, are some small sample sizes.
  • Of the 46 pick-and-roll ball-handlers I looked at, the most likely to shoot is Tony Wroten, who has taken a shot on 31.0 percent of the screens he’s come off of. Next on the list are Nick Young (30.7 percent), Reggie Jackson (30.0 percent), Jamal Crawford (29.6 percent) and Rudy Gay (29.6) percent.
  • The players least likely to shoot are Kendall Marshall (12.4 percent), Patrick Beverley (12.9 percent), Mario Chalmers (14.5 percent), George Hill (15.9 percent) and Ty Lawson (16.3 percent).
  • James (20.1 percent) is less likely to shoot than Chris Paul (21.3 percent), Dragic (21.7 percent) or Wall (22.1 percent).
  • The guy most likely to pass to the screener is Stephen Curry. Of Curry’s 830 passes out of pick-and-rolls, 56.3 percent have gone to the screener. Next on the list are Russell Westbrook (55.3 percent), Michael Carter-Williams (52.1 percent), Deron Williams (50.7 percent) and Kyrie Irving (48.7 percent).
  • The guy least likely to pass to the screener is James Harden (27.2 percent). So when they come off pick-and-rolls, Curry is twice as likely to pass to the screener than Harden is. After Harden comes Carmelo Anthony (27.4 percent), James (28.0 percent), Jrue Holiday (29.0 percent) and Tyreke Evans (30.3 percent).
  • Six of the 46 have shot better than 50 percent when coming off a pick-and-roll: Chalmers (54.8 percent), Dragic (53.2 percent), James (52.5 percent), Wade (51.3 percent), Kevin Durant (50.2 percent) and Tony Parker (50.2 percent).
  • Get this: Durant has recorded an assist on a higher percentage of his pick-and-roll possessions (13.0 percent) than James (10.3 percent) and more than twice as often as Paul George (6.0 percent).

Location is key

SportVU keeps track of where every pick-and-roll takes place. As you might expect, the closer to the basket the screen is set, the more likely the offense is to score. The most efficient pick-and-roll spot on the floor is at the high post (around the foul line, inside the 3-point arc), which produces 1.05 points per possession.

But high post pick-and-rolls account for only 4 percent of all pick-and-rolls. The most common location is the top of the key, which sees 41 percent of pick-and-roll action. Next is the wing (foul-line extended), which sees 28 percent and the “sideline point” area (out by the coach’s box line) at 25 percent.

Pick-and-rolls by location

Location Most PCT PPP Best PCT PPP Worst PCT PPP Lg. avg. PPP
Center Point NOP 53% 1.05 POR 42% 1.12 MIL 41% 0.90 41% 1.02
Wing CHI 39% 1.05 GSW 16% 1.11 ORL 19% 0.93 28% 1.02
Sideline Point DAL 32% 1.10 OKC 31% 1.17 WAS 25% 0.92 25% 1.03
High Post PHI 7% 1.03 HOU 3% 1.31 GSW 3% 0.80 4% 1.05
Corner MIA 7% 0.97 MIN 2% 1.28 BOS 3% 0.76 3% 0.99

PCT = Percentage of total pick-and-rolls run from that location.
PPP = Points per possession on pick-and-rolls run from that location.

We’re just scratching the surface here. And that’s the issue with SportVU. There’s so much data to digest, it has to be compartmentalized and put into the proper context. But we’re really starting to see how much it has to offer.

Next week, I’ll take a look at pick-and-roll defense. (Hint: Indiana good, Portland bad.)

Blogtable: Writing An Ending In Phoenix

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


Getting Evan | Defensive showdown | The story of the Suns



VIDEO: Phoenix Suns Top 5 Plays of the Week

The Suns have been a great story. Do you see a happy ending in Phoenix?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The Suns already have locked up a happy ending to this season, regardless of playoff positioning. They already have won more games than last season, have significantly improved both offensively and defensively (from 29th and 23rd in 2012-13, respectively, to 8th and 14th now), are above .500 on the road and, in Jeff Hornacek, have a keeper and a leading candidate for Coach of the Year. They won’t win their last game unless it’s No. 82 (and they miss the postseason entirely), but Phoenix is way ahead of schedule in the happy department.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: A couple of weeks ago I thought they were cruising toward the most surprising playoff berth in years.  But the Warriors have stopped their free fall and, more critically, the Grizzlies have quietly turned around a bad start.  They’re 18-7 in their last 25 games and gaining fast on the last playoff spot in the West. As long as the Marc Gasol-Zach Randolph combo stays healthy, the Grizzlies will be the team that squashes the fairytale ending in Phoenix.

Jeff Hornacek, Goran Dragic (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Jeff Hornacek, Goran Dragic (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Even if they slip out of the playoffs by the end of the year, the big picture view can only be seen as a happy ending. Remember, no one thought this team would win 25 games. I do think, however, the Suns will hold on and make the playoffs. It looks like Eric Bledsoe will return soon and that will give the club a big boost heading into the final month of games.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: It’s pretty much impossible not to see one. Barring an epidemic of serious injuries or a 25-game losing streak, the Suns will have accomplished more in about three-fourths of the season than anyone could have imagined. It’s late-February and they’re on pace for the playoffs. The attitude, a big concern for new GM Ryan McDonough when he came in, has been great. A lot of players, some carryovers and some newcomers, improved. Trades and free-agent signings paid off. Jeff Hornacek as coach and McDonough were rookies on the job who performed like veterans. Phoenix would have to work very, very hard to turn that into an unhappy ending.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: If you’re talking about a playoff berth, the answer is no (as much as I’d love to see them in the postseason). They have the toughest remaining schedule of the four teams competing for the last three playoff spots in the West, with an absolutely brutal April. And they’re now just a game in the loss column ahead of the Grizzlies, who would have the tiebreaker thanks to a 3-0 head-to-head record so far. Eric Bledsoe’s return would help them defensively, but there’s still no indication of when that return will be. The Suns will have three or four first round picks in this year’s Draft, though. And that could certainly produce a different kind of success.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comIt depends on what we’re talking about when the words “happy ending” in this case. If it’s simply making the playoff field, yes, I think a “happy ending” is in the offing. That said, the Suns will have to fend off Memphis and Minnesota to hold on to that eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference playoff chase. The best part is the Suns seem built for the grind that will come over the next couple of months. They won’t shy away from the fight that is sure to come with trying to hang on to one of those playoff spots. But as long as they remain reasonably healthy, I think they have as good a chance as any team in the mix for that eighth and final playoff spot. The only problem is what you get for bagging that prize … a date with the Oklahoma City Thunder or San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: For the Suns, isn’t any ending other than finishing at the bottom of the West a happy ending? Going into this season, I don’t think anyone predicted the Suns would even be hanging around the postseason race, much less in the thick of it with just weeks to go. Hopefully Phoenix fans can appreciate that even if the Suns don’t make the playoffs, they’ve shown that they can win and play hard even when undermanned and outmatched. They’ve still got salary and roster flexibility to play with down the road, but for now, let’s just appreciate what a great ride it’s been for Phoenix this season.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: It depends on the subjective definition of ‘happy’. In many ways, this is already a happy ending for the club: instead of being last in the conference, they have surprised everyone and are currently holding a playoff spot. Their future is secure with young players to build around like Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, the Morris twins, Miles Plumlee, and rookie Alex Len. They have an expiring contract of Emeka Okafor that will clear up cap space and they could have a number of first-round picks in the loaded 2014 draft. As for this season, I see them making the playoffs but losing in the first round. For a team that finished bottom in the West last year, I would consider that and their exciting future a happy ending.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: If the definition of happy ending is making the playoffs then yes, they’re a good shot to make it. Currently they’re two games clear of Memphis. If the definition is winning a playoff series then no, I don’t think they can touch any of the top four teams in the West.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 13


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron’s game-winner takes Heat into break | Wade’s All-Star status in the air | Rose not thinking about a return | Another scare for Gasol, Grizzlies | Knicks hit another low point

No. 1: LeBron’s game-winner takes Heat into break — The Miami Heat seemingly cruised through the first 50 games of the season, but as they head into the All-Star break, they’re very much in striking distance of the Indiana Pacers, thanks to Dallas’ win in Indy on Wednesday and LeBron James‘ fadeaway, 3-point game-winner in Oakland. It was one of the more incredible shots of the season so far, and it sent the Heat into the break on a high note. Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report was there:

As Andre Iguodala, defiant defender, would say after the 111-110 defeat, “There’s nothing I would change. He just made a tough shot.”

But, for the James and the rest of the Heat, so few words would not suffice. This was a shot to savor, a shot that sent them into the All-Star break on a serious sugar high, with another sweet road win against a strong Western Conference squad. This was a shot by someone who has never made one like this from this range in this circumstance since joining Miami, or at least none that he or his teammates could remember.

This was a shot — this step back 27-footer just before the buzzer — that really shouldn’t have happened, not if the Heat had held a large lead, and not if Erik Spoelstra had stuck with his plan.

***

No. 2: Wade’s All-Star status in the air — That win came without Dwyane Wade, who was a late scratch with a sore left foot. Wade was voted in as an East starter for the All-Star game, but has missed 15 games this season and wasn’t sure what was wrong or if he could play on Sunday. Marc J. Spears of Yahoo!Sports has the story:

The 10-time All-Star said he had numbness in his left leg in warm-ups before the game after “the nerve kind of shut down” and kept him from having feeling in his left foot. Wade said his injury was “drop foot,” also known as foot drop, which causes an inability to lift the front part of the foot.

“It’s one of the most bizarre things…,” Wade said. “Hopefully, the numbness wears off more and more as it started to do throughout the game and throughout the rest of the night. By [Thursday] hopefully it subsides and we will go from there.”

Wade was still expecting to take the Heat team plane that arrives early Thursday morning in New Orleans for NBA All-Star Weekend rather than return to Miami. Wade, who described himself as day-to-day, plans on getting treatment from the team’s trainer in New Orleans in hopes of remedying the injury before Sunday.

***

No. 3: Rose not thinking about a returnDerrick Rose spoke to the media at a charity event on Wednesday. And while he didn’t say anything to absolutely rule out a return this season and Joakim Noah seemingly left the door open on Tuesday, Rose said that he’s just taking his knee rehab step by step. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune was there with the story:

Bulls’ doctors, management and confidantes of Rose ruled him out for the season following surgery to repair the meniscus he tore in his right knee on Nov. 22. But speaking for just the second time publicly since the injury, Rose again couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge that as reality.

“I haven’t even had a chance to think about it,” Rose said Wednesday night at the Bulls’ charity gala at the United Center when asked if he’s done for the season. “I’m just worrying about my next stage in this process and that’s running right now. I’m on the AlterG (an anti-gravity treadmill). Hopefully be running without it pretty soon.

“I’m not keeping (a return) open. I just said right now I’m not thinking about it. I’m not running yet. When I get off the AlterG, that’s when I’ll consider coming back or not.”

General manager Gar Forman reiterated the Bulls have no plans for Rose to return this season.

Rose did say that he’d like to play for USA Basketball this summer.

***

No. 4: Another scare for Gasol, Grizzlies — Speaking of knee injuries, Marc Gasol reinjured his left knee in Wednesday’s win in Orlando. The early feeling is that this isn’t as bad as the injury that kept Gasol out 23 games earlier in the season, but the knee will be checked out on Thursday. The Grizzlies won 14 of their last 18 games heading into the All-Star break, but are still on the outside of the playoff picture in the West. Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal has the story from Orlando:

Griz center Marc Gasol left the game midway through the third quarter after aggravating a left MCL injury that cost him 23 games earlier this season. Gasol returned to the locker room after he banged knees with Magic point guard Jameer Nelson.

The 7-foot Spaniard didn’t return for the Grizzlies’ second straight victory heading into the NBA’s All-Star break. Gasol downplayed the situation after the game.

He will, however, have an MRI test during the break to determine the seriousness of his injury. There is swelling and Gasol walked with a limp.

“It’s scary when it happens, but I think we’re going to be OK,” Gasol said. “We’re going to get it checked to make sure everything is OK. But it feels a lot better than it did the first time.”

***

No. 5: Knicks hit another low point — While the Heat went into the break on a high, the New York Knicks don’t have much to celebrate. They blew a 12-point, second-half lead and lost to the Kings at home, a result that will only fuel more speculation about Mike Woodson’s job status. Peter Botte of the New York Daily News was at MSG with the story:

No one should have been surprised that the Knicks appeared to have a collective eye elsewhere for most of a game that Carmelo Anthony had declared a must-win heading into All-Star weekend.

Certainly not owner James Dolan, who sat slumped in his front-row seat along the baseline watching Mike Woodson and the Knicks suffer yet another brutal home loss on Wednesday night, falling, 106-101, in overtime to lowly Sacramento at the Garden.

The Knicks’ fifth loss in six games can’t do much to alter the perception that Woodson’s job is in serious peril — or lead anyone to believe that this team magically will be able to turn around its tumultuous season when it reconvenes Tuesday in Memphis.

“I am not thinking about that at this point,” Anthony said of Woodson’s job status. “That has been an ongoing issue, ongoing story. Every day is a new story so he is still here and that is what we are dealing with.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo details Chris Grant‘s mistakes in Cleveland … Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal has some good notes about the Cavs’ turnaround since Grant’s departureAvery Bradley suffered a second ankle sprain last week and the Celtics aren’t sure when he’ll play again … Eric Bledsoe is making progress toward a post-break returnThe Knicks still want Kenneth Faried … and Pierre the Pelican has a new look (video).

ICYMI of The Night: James Harden beat the Wizards with a Eurostep around Kevin Seraphin:


VIDEO: Harden Seals the Deal.

Blogtable: Who Needs A Break?

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


Fixing the Pistons | Take a break | Three simple words


It’s All-Star time: Which team needs this break the most?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comThe Timberwolves have dropped four in a row and seven of their last 10 heading into their pre-All Star finale vs. Denver Wednesday. They’re banged up (Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin) and even their coach, Rick Adelman, had to miss their most recent game (personal reasons). At 24-28, this season hasn’t gone at all the way the organization and fans had hoped, and a newly blueprinted practice facility across the street from Target Center in downtown Minneapolis isn’t going to keep Kevin Love around if it doesn’t get used consistently in late April and May, never mind June. That’s down-the-road fodder for worrying, though – the Wolves need a breather right now, for they return from the break having to face Indiana, followed by a five-game trip out West.

Tony Parker of the Spurs (Allen Einstein/NBAE)

Tony Parker of the Spurs (Allen Einstein/NBAE)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe Spurs are beaten up, broken down, aching, ailing, worn out. And old.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: First inclination is to say the Sixers after getting blown out by 45 and 43 points on consecutive nights. Not sure I’ve ever seen that before. But whatever Philly does the rest of the year is only consequential in terms of ping-pong balls. The Warriors and Suns really need the time off. Golden State is dealing with some internal turmoil and needs to get things straightened out over the break. Phoenix just has to be dead tired and will need the rest to go for one of the more improbable playoff runs in recent memory. I guess that’s one positive to Goran Dragic not making the West squad.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThe Spurs. They need pages turning on the calendar without games being played. The more days that pass, the closer they are to good health, or at least better health, without having to play with the patchwork lineup. The closer they are to good health, the more Spurs-like they will seem.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: My initial answer was the Timberwolves, but break or no break, they’ve probably sunk too far to have a shot at the playoffs. The Warriors, meanwhile, had sunk to the eighth spot before getting some help from the Heat and Bobcats on Tuesday night. David Lee and Andrew Bogut have been banged up and their starting backcourt has been taxed by their lack of depth. This team can be great on both ends of the floor when it’s playing well, but it’s been barely treading water since the end of its 10-game winning streak five weeks ago.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Philadelphia 76ers need the break to get here … last weekend. These epic losses are getting ridiculous. It’s one thing to be a young team, a lottery team, and an uneven bunch that simply is not ready for prime time on a nightly basis. It’s another thing to get your doors completely blown off the way coach  Brett Brown‘s team has here recently. They’ve given up 108 or more points in seven straight games, all losses, and surrendered a mind-boggling 123 points each in back-to-back losses to the Los Angeles Clippers (123-78) and Golden State Warriors (123-80). Again, the All-Star break cannot get here fast enough for our friends in Philly.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: I have found myself increasingly interested of late in the happenings in Golden State. Mark Jackson‘s honeymoon period seems to be over, as he and Andrew Bogut publicly disagree over injuries, and ownership has made it clear that they aren’t happy with several home losses the Warriors have had lately. To me it just feels like every one could use a vacation to refocus. It wouldn’t hurt to spend a few days not only looking ahead at how far they have to go, but also remembering just how far they’ve come.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: The Atlanta Hawks. Of the top eight teams in both conferences, no team other than the Hawks have lost successive games. The Hawks, on the other hand, are in the midst of a four-game slump and fell below Chicago in the East standings after their loss to the Bulls on Tuesday night. They could use the All-Star break to regroup, take a bit of a breather and fight their way back to the No. 3 or No. 4 spot in the East.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: The teams that will make the most out of the All-Star break are the veteran crews of the league, the Nets in the East and the Spurs in the West. San Antonio had 5 losses in their last 10 games, so they could use the time off to find their breath and regain their focus. Brooklyn, on the other hand, hopes to give some rest to the veteran players. The All-Star Weekend is like a psychological barrier. It can turn out to be the check point where the Nets push the button and get into post-season mode.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: It’s too easy to say the Lakers, but how can you not? Their injury list is longer than their rotation and a break is much needed. Guys like Pau Gasol and Steve Nash would benefit a lot from a week off and coach Mike D’Antoni could use that time to figure out the rotation. Waiting for Kobe Bryant, who is too proud and competitive to give up on the season.

Blogtable: The Suns With Pau

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


The Suns with Pau | The Wizards? Really? | Blake, Kevin or L.A.?


Pau Gasol (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Pau Gasol (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Imagine the Suns with Pau Gasol: Could he make a big difference?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’d like to see Phoenix acquire Gasol, so that 37 years worth of trade rumors about him can finally be put on mute. He would help the Suns, a finesse big man in the tradition of Alvan Adams, and certainly grab the attention of whichever top-4 seed drew Phoenix in the first round. The Suns’ surprising season and Jeff Hornacek‘s COY-worthy work deserves a boost, I can envision Goran Dragic clicking instantly with Gasol on the floor and this Rent-a-Pau move would provide a welcome anti-tanking storyline.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: While I think Gasol has consistently been underrated during his time in L.A., I don’t see a move to Phoenix elevating the Suns significantly in the playoff hierarchy. I don’t believe they would want to change what they’re doing now to get the ball inside and I don’t think Gasol is that inside force that’s going to carry a team anyway. And his addition isn’t going to make them a threat to win several — or maybe even one — round of the playoffs. Making the playoffs is an admirable and reachable goal for a team that most thought was tanking at the start of the season, but I wouldn’t give up a valuable first-round draft pick and derail future plans.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comI think it would be a great move for Phoenix. The Suns’ front line isn’t exactly a scoring machine, but it is a blue-collar, hard-working group. Gasol would add a touch of sophistication and fit perfectly alongside the stretch-4 Channing Frye. You’ve got to admire the job young center Miles Plumlee has done (9.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg), and his game would really benefit from being around Gasol, who is masterful in the low block. The Suns need a proven, low-post option in the playoffs. My only concern is Gasol’s seemingly constant slew of minor injuries. Aside from that, he’s a great fit for the Suns and it could really fire up Gasol, whose energy, in my opinion, has been drained by an ongoing mental wrestling match with Mike D’Antoni.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: At what cost? I like Gasol on the Suns if the price is Emeka Okafor and the Indiana pick in 2014. But Okafor and a choice that could be in the teens? Or Okafor and a decent prospect? No deal. If I’m Phoenix, I’d like to get better for this season, but the long term, the next five to seven seasons, remains the priority. In that perspective, Gasol at the right cost would be a nice addition as a potential rental before free agency. He would help on the boards, be a positive in the locker room and add playoff experience if the Suns get there.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: He would help, because they don’t really have a back-up center and a Gasol/Plumdog center rotation would be strong. But he wouldn’t necessarily make a significant difference, because they’ve been very good (+6.5 points per 100 possessions) with Channing Frye and Plumdog  on the floor together. Their biggest issue is defensive rebounding, and while Gasol is a very good defensive rebounder, plugging him in at center doesn’t exactly help their floor-spacing power forwards rebound better. It would be cool, though, if the Lakers could help upgrade one of the teams ahead of them and make the West playoff picture that much stronger.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThe Suns are legit without Pau, one of the best surprise stories in recent memory. But a skilled, veteran big man like Pau could push them into another category altogether. They lost a little of that post presence when they traded Marcin Gortat. Pau would be an upgrade in that department. So yes, I think he’d make a significant difference for that Suns team if I’m imagining him with Goran Dragic and the rest of coach Jeff Hornacek‘s scrappy crew.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blogI think he could make a significant difference for the Suns. Pau may be older and no longer the player he used to be, but he also hasn’t been used in the post as much the last few years in Mike D’Antoni’s perimeter offense. With Phoenix’s uptempo offense, though, Gasol has the ability to play in the post as well as keep pace with his teammates. Also, Jeff Hornacek has shown a terrific acuity for making the best out of what he has.

Aldo Miguel Aviñante, NBA PhilippinesPau Gasol would provide a good, solid veteran presence in the middle for the young, athletic Suns squad. He will give them stability and experience and will prevent any sudden fall in the standings because of his leadership. He can play the pick and roll with Goran Dragic and play the high post and give beautiful passes to a cutting Eric Bledsoe, he will make the Suns a force to be reckoned with.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA GreeceI like them a lot. But I ‘m not sure if Pau Gasol is the right fit. He is a great post player, but the Suns are thriving in a certain up-tempo  playing style emphased in transition. Frye and the Morris twins are great pick-n-pop players that stretch the floor and Miles Plumlee is the quickest big guy around, a player that is very dedicated in pick-n-roll situations. The current front-line matches well with the guards, and that’s why the Suns have one of the best offenses in the league. So, as much I respect Pau Gasol, Phoenix seems like a bad idea.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA BrasilPau Gasol could still make an impact in an NBA contending team. The Suns’ defense might suffer a little bit, but Gasol could give them an offensive force on the block, and a guy who could teach Miles Plumlee a thing or two. Yeah, I think it might be a good fit.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 5


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Suns halt Pau trade talk | Report: Bobcats interested in Turner, too | Stoudemire ready for more minutes

No. 1: Report: Suns halt Pau trade talks; Gasol needs more time to heal up– For now, it seems, the Pau Gasol-to-Phoenix trade is off the table. The Los Angeles Lakers big man had a hot topic of late as interest in a trade between the two teams heated up over the last few days. However, according to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, the Suns are pulling out of the deal because they feel the Lakers are asking too much for Gasol:

The Phoenix Suns have stopped talks to acquire Pau Gasol because they feel the Lakers want too much for the veteran post player, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Phoenix could own four picks in the June draft, and the Lakers coveted one of the more valuable two — the pick the Suns could potentially get from Minnesota or the one they might receive from Washington.

Both of those picks are protected and will revert back to Washington and Minnesota if they stumble. The Wizards’ pick is top-12 protected, so the Suns technically own it at this point (17th overall before Tuesday’s games), while the Timberwolves’ pick is top-13 protected, meaning Minnesota holds it right now (12th overall before Tuesday).

Phoenix also has its own pick (22nd overall as of Tuesday afternoon) and Indiana’s pick (currently 30th) in the draft, which is considered one of the best in years.

The talks could, of course, resume before the Feb. 20 trade deadline but the Lakers were reluctant to deal Gasol without receiving what they felt was adequate compensation.

Gasol is currently sidelined about two weeks because of a strained groin, Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said Tuesday. Gasol received a platelet-rich plasma injection Monday to help the healing process.

That healing process may take a little longer than expected, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com, who says Gasol could miss two more weeks:

The Los Angeles Lakers extended the expected return timeline for injured forward Pau Gasol on Tuesday. Gasol, who received a PRP injection to his strained right groin from Dr. Steven Yoon in Los Angeles on Monday, will now be sidelined at least two weeks, according to the team.

Gasol, originally expected to miss one week after aggravating his groin in the Lakers’ 110-100 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats last week, did not accompany the Lakers on their three-game road trip through Minnesota, Cleveland and Philadelphia. He will now miss an additional three games at least — at home against Chicago, Utah and Oklahoma City — before being re-evaluated sometime during All-Star weekend.

The Lakers and Phoenix Suns are currently entrenched in trade talks involving Gasol, according to ESPN.com. The Suns have expressed concern with Gasol’s health, according to ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne. The Lakers have one game between the All-Star break and the league’s Feb. 20 trade deadline, at home against the Houston Rockets on Feb. 19, so if cleared, Gasol could theoretically prove his condition level in time for a deal to still be facilitated.


VIDEO: The Timberwolves handle the Lakers in Minneapolis

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No. 2: Report: Bobcats show interest in Turner As we mentioned around here yesterday, Sixers swingman Evan Turner is seeing his name bandied about more and more in the trade rumors. One team that has shown interest in him — to go along with the Suns and Thunder, reportedly — is the Charlotte Bobcats. While no deal appears imminent for Philly’s leading scorer, writes Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, there is interest in him on the Charlotte side:

The Philadelphia 76ers are open to trading forward Evan Turner and the Charlotte Bobcats have looked into acquiring him, an NBA source confirmed to the Observer Monday.

Turner, a 6-foot-7 forward, averages 18.1 points and six rebounds this season for the 76ers. He could potentially add the scoring punch the Bobcats need to reach the playoffs for only the second time in their decade-long history.

The question becomes what the Bobcats would be willing to offer, considering Turner would become a restricted free agent this summer. The team with his rights would have to make Turner a qualifying offer of about $8.7 million to restrict him.

As far as making a Turner trade work under the salary cap, the Bobcats have Ben Gordon’s expiring contract, worth $13.2 million in cap value this season.

Nothing about the Bobcats’ interest appears imminent to making a deal.

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No. 3: Stoudemire: Woodson keeping me off court New York Knicks power forward Amar’e Stoudemire is averaging 18.9 mpg, his lowest total since 2005-06 (when a knee injury limited him to just three games that season). He has played 30 minutes or more just three times this season and of late, is averaging 16.3 mpg over his last six games. Stoudemire insists he his healthy and ready to take on a bigger role, but says coach Mike Woodson is keeping him from doing so. ESPNNewYork.com’s Ohm Youngmisuk has more:

Amar’e Stoudemire says there aren’t any medical limitations on how much he can play right now.

The veteran forward said his playing time is decided by Mike Woodson. And the proud Stoudemire clearly would like to play more, starting Wednesday night at home against Portland.

“From a doctor’s standpoint, there hasn’t been limitations since the first week of the season,” Stoudemire said when asked if he wanted to throw out any minutes limitations in an effort to help the New York Knicks make the playoffs. “So we can’t keep saying limitations — that’s a coach’s decision at the end of the day.

“I feel great,” he continued. “I am ready to play. But it’s up to him if he wants to play me or not.”

Stoudemire was asked if he is getting back to where he was before injuring his ankle.

“I feel great man,” Stoudemire said following Knicks practice after Woodson had already spoken with reporters. “It don’t take much for me. I have been playing at a high level my entire career. I know what it takes to get back to the top of the game.

“I know what it takes to feel confident,” he continued. “That’s never going to go away. It’s just a matter of how the coach is going to play me. I am available if they need me. If not, then we go with that.”

Woodson typically likes to play Carmelo Anthony at power forward and Tyson Chandler at center. Still, Stoudemire says he has let Woodson know that he wants to play more.

“Yeah, I talk to Coach all the time about it,” Stoudemire said. “He knows I am ready. He knows how hard I train. He watches me in the weight room and also on the basketball court. The whole training staff knows, the Knicks organization knows how hard I train.


VIDEO: Amar’e Stoudemire talks after practice about wanting more game minutes

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: If you missed it last night, Sixers rookie Pierre Jackson scored a NBA D-League record 58 points … Good in-depth look at what’s wrong with the Cavs’ offense … Bulls GM Gar Forman was disappointed Carlos Boozer didn’t his complaints about playing time in-houseTracy McGrady‘s dream of playing a little baseball is getting closer to reality, perhaps … Wolves are looking forward to opening their new practice facility

ICYMI of the Night: Lakers fans have had a drama-filled season, but getting Steve Nash back on the court last night made things a little more pleasant …


VIDEO: Steve Nash tosses a half-court alley-oop to Wesley Johnson

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 4


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Suns, Lakers still talking Pau | Lakers may get Nash back tonight | Report: Sixers shopping Turner | Warriors put new arena plan on hold

No. 1: Report: Suns, Lakers still talking Gasol deal — A days worth of buzz around the Internet about a potential Pau Gasol-to-Phoenix trade hasn’t scuttled the deal. Phoenix remains open to acquiring the former All-Star big man, but is waiting to see how he mends from a strained groin before going further, writes Ramona Shelbourne and Marc Stein of ESPN.com. As well, the other option to consider for the Suns, writes Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic, is how Gasol would fit into a pretty tight-knit bunch in Phoenix:

The Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns engaged in a fresh round of trade discussions Monday focused on four-time All-Star center Pau Gasol as both sides continued to assess their options in advance of the Feb. 20 trade deadline, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

Sources told ESPN.com that, while there is substantive interest on both sides, it’s believed Suns officials want to see how Gasol recovers from a strained groin before deciding whether to take talks to the next level.

Gasol noted on his Instagram page that he’d received a PRP injection on his groin on Monday.

One option for the Suns, by virtue of their $5.6 million in available salary-cap space, is swapping the expiring contract of injured big man Emeka Okafor for Gasol, even though Okafor’s $14.5 million salary this season falls well shy of Gasol’s $19.3 million. A trade for Okafor’s expiring deal would save the Lakers $4.8 million, taking them less than $3 million away from the league’s luxury-tax threshold, meaning one more smaller deal before the trade deadline could conceivably be enough to take them out of tax territory completely.

Because the trade would not bring the Lakers all the way under the luxury tax, sources said L.A. remains insistent on getting back draft picks or young players in addition to salary cap savings for the 33-year-old center.

The Lakers are also comfortable with keeping Gasol beyond the deadline to maintain as much financial flexibility for free agency this summer and beyond, sources said.

While it is attractive to try and get under the luxury tax threshold this season, it is not imperative, and the Lakers believe they have several other options to do so, sources said.

And here’s Coro’s report on how the Suns’ players are viewing potential trade talks:

The Suns are exploring many options for the Okafor trade chip, but Gasol leaked to light. Even with Gasol’s $19.3 million contract, the Suns could make the deal because of their cap space. But it would come at a cost of about $7 million for what the Suns would lose in Okafor contract savings and take on in prorated payroll.

The greater cost to weigh with Gasol, or any other deal, would be the effect on the team’s rhythm and chemistry with two months left. The Suns have risen from a last-place pick to the eighth-best NBA record somewhat because of how the team bonded on being young and lacking big-name stars. Gasol is a four-time All-Star who, at 33, is older than all of the Suns and currently is out because of a groin injury.

“I know he’s a great guy,” Suns guard Goran Dragic said. “He is not a troublemaker. He would be a good fit. You never know. He played for the Lakers so many years. They’ve got that three-angle offense, and it’s a totally different offense than we’ve got here. We have to run. We like to run.”

The attention is on Gasol, but the Suns have considered other players. Those have not been revealed, but they could involve other teams with no postseason aspirations. Philadelphia has Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner for youth. Milwaukee has Larry Sanders to fortify a front line’s defense and rebounding. Orlando has Arron Afflalo, a defensive, shot-making guard.

Falling short of a sure thing such as Kevin Love becoming available, there is no certainty to a midseason acquisition improving a 29-18 team.


VIDEO: Suns coach Jeff Hornacek talks about the team’s recent success

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No. 2: Lakers get point guard reinforcements tonight?– A lack of depth at point guard — along with an injury to that Kobe Bryant guy — have played a big part in the Los Angeles Lakers’ freefall from fringe playoff contender to third-worst team in the Western Conference. Things might look up a little bit tonight in Minnesota (8 p.m. ET, League Pass) as point guards Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar might all be available to play. Trevor Wong of Lakers.com and ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin have more on the Lakers’ backcourt:

Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar all participated in a second straight practice on Monday before the Lakers departed for their three-game road trip.

“They’re all good,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “I think they’re all ready to go. There’s a possibility all three could play (at Minnesota).”

Blake addressed the media post practice and did not explicitly state he’d suit up at Minnesota, but acknowledged he’s felt much better with two consecutive days of practice.

“We’ll see,” he said. “I felt pretty good today. We’ll see how I feel when I wake up and go from there.”

Farmar, who has been out of action for one-month plus, echoed similar sentiments regarding his imminent return.

“I’m not sure about tomorrow,” Farmar said. “We’ll see. I’m available if they allow me (to play).”

Big man Pau Gasol will not play against the Wolves (strained right groin), which could also mean changes for the L.A. frontcourt, writes McMenamin:

The coach said he wondered if Nash, out since Nov. 10 with nerve root irritation in his back and hamstrings, would ever make it back to the court.

“With the age and how his back is, yeah, I definitely [wondered],” D’Antoni said. “Again, it just shows his perseverance to overcome whatever just to play. He wants to play, obviously. And he’s done an unbelievable job to get himself ready up to this point and we’ll see how it goes.”

Gasol’s absence and the presence of the three point guards will present D’Antoni with lineup options. He said either Chris Kaman, Jordan Hill or Robert Sacre could fill in as the starting center.

The question remains whether Kendall Marshall, who has averaged 11.9 points and 11.5 assists in 15 games as the starting point guard, will suddenly find himself without a role.

“I think he knows he’s going to play,” D’Antoni said. “Whether he starts or whether he doesn’t, he’ll have to [get used to the fact that] it won’t be the same. He’s not going to get 35 minutes no matter what he does. So, that’s how the NBA is and he’ll have to keep carving his niche out. He’s played well, so he’s got to continue that.”

Kaman, who received a Did Not Play — Coach’s Decision in 10 of the Lakers’ 15 games in January, sympathized with the position Marshall is in.

“I think Kendall is kind of in a whirlwind right now, trying to figure out what to do,” Kaman said. “The poor guy has been doing it on his own for the last month and a half and now that everybody is back, he’s like, ‘What am I doing? What do I do?’”

For his part, the 11-year veteran Kaman said he has stayed ready to play.

“Unfortunately it comes with someone getting hurt before I have a chance to play, but it’s part of the game,” he said. “You kind of wait your turn.”


VIDEO: Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni discusses the team’s injured point guards

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No. 3: Report: Sixers shopping swingman Turner The Philadelphia 76ers are in the midst of a rebuilding season, but despite the struggles that come with that, swingman Evan Turner is enjoying his best season as a pro. Turner leads the Sixers in scoring (17.9 ppg), has delivered a couple of game-winning shots this season and generally is developing into a solid starter in the NBA. But Turner is also in the last year of his rookie contract and is hearing his name bandied about in trade talks. The Sporting NewsSean Devaney writes that several teams are inquiring about Turner, but his ability to potentially be an unrestricted free agent next summer might hold up any deals:

The Philadelphia 76ers, deep into a rebuilding project that kicked off last June on draft night with the trade of All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday, have been stepping up their efforts to make a move before the trade deadline, and swingman Evan Turner has been at the forefront of those discussions, sources told Sporting News.

The Sixers are eager to net a draft pick for Turner—they’ve also shopped free-agent-to-be center Spencer Hawes and forward Thaddeus Young—and that has been a hang-up in their efforts to find a trade.

The problem, one league executive said, is that Turner can become a restricted free agent this summer—or unrestricted, if the Sixers decide not to extend the $8.7 million qualifying offer he is slated for this offseason. If Turner is to become an unrestricted free agent, trading for him now makes little sense.

.,.

The Thunder, who will own Dallas’ draft pick this year if it is outside of the Top 20, expressed interest in Turner earlier in the year. A source said, too, that Phoenix—which potentially has four first-round picks in the 2014 draft and would be willing to part with at least one—discussed Turner with the Sixers, but nothing solid resulted.

For Turner, now in his fourth season after having been the No. 2 overall pick in 2010, none of this comes as a surprise. Once the Holiday deal was announced, he knew the Sixers would be taking a step backward, and that he might not factor into the rebuilding plan.

That was confirmed this fall when not only did he fail to reach a contract extension with the team (players drafted in 2010 were extension-eligible this offseason), but there were not even any discussions between new Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie and Turner’s agent, David Falk, on a contract.

“I never expected to get a contract extension, especially when we switched GMs, you know?” Turner said. “I always said, Mr. Hinkie is going to do what he wants to do, and he has his own vision and everything like that. So when you trade an All-Star like Jrue, I mean, what occurs next isn’t going to surprise me. I was just trying my best to keep focused, keep helping the team win and getting better.”

Averaging 7.2 points as a rookie and 9.4 points in his second season caused him some anxiety—he was all too aware that he was already being labeled a disappointment and a bust, and he took that to heart.

“That’s what the No. 2 tag comes with,” he said. “Sometimes there are people who write stuff and say stuff that don’t even watch the game, you know what I am saying? I enjoyed my first two years.

Turner admits that dealing with the criticism was hard for him. He had been a star at Ohio State, and signed with Falk (who was retired) mostly because Falk had represented Michael Jordan. While Turner never expected to be Jordan, he did expect to be a star in the league.

“I was young,” he said. “When it came down to it, I got blamed for dang near everything. I wasn’t this, I wasn’t that. You become insecure about it.”

After the Sixers’ loss on the road to the Brooklyn Nets last night, Turner responded to the trade rumors with the following comment (per the Philadelphia Daily NewsBob Cooney):

“I really don’t read the paper; whatever is going to occur is going to occur,” said Turner, who is having his most productive season with a team-leading 18.1 points a game entering last night’s game against the Nets. “I just focus on the next day. That’s the honest-to-God truth. Until it happens, it’s nothing to really worry about.

“I bleed Sixers red, white, blue. At the end of the day, I never really worry about it. If something needs to be discussed, [his agent] will let me know. Other than that, you go with the flow and go about your business. Whatever happens, happens.”

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No. 4: Warriors put new arena plans on hold Way back in May of 2012, Golden State announced it would be building a new arena on the San Francisco waterfront with hopes of opening it in 2017. Since then, renderings have been released and Warriors fan fervor over the new digs has been rising all along. Apparently, that excitement will have to be put on the shelf for a while, per Phillip Matier And Andrew Ross of the San Francisco Chronicle. The Warriors are halting plans on the arena for at least a year, if not longer:

The Golden State Warriors are putting their goal of opening a waterfront arena in San Francisco by 2017 on hold for a year – and maybe longer.

“It’s about getting it right, not about getting it done fast,” said Warriors President Rick Welts.

In the past 20 months, the team has produced three rough designs in an attempt to come up with one palatable to its prospective waterfront neighbors and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, which must approve the deal. In the meantime, cost estimates for preparing Piers 30-32, on which the arena would sit, have doubled to $180 million.

The Warriors’ acknowledgement that a 2017 opening won’t happen comes just days before arena opponents are expected to turn in more than 15,000 signatures for a measure that would require the Warriors – and any other developer – to win voter approval to exceed current height limits along the waterfront. The deadline is Monday.

“We are going to ensure that the Warriors arena goes before voters,” said Jim Stearns, the political consultant who is running the campaign for a June vote with the backing of the Sierra Club and others opposed to the 18,000-seat arena.

Backers had to gather the valid signatures of 9,702 registered voters to qualify their measure for the ballot. “The fact that this could get the needed signatures in just three weeks is a reflection of the kind of passion that is behind it,” said former Mayor Art Agnos, the most prominent politico opposing the Warriors’ proposal.

Meanwhile, the team is in talks to stay at Oracle Arena in Oakland beyond the 2016-17 season.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Thunder star Kevin Durant maintains his position that he’s not a fan of the ‘Slim Reaper’ nickname … Nuggets coach Brian Shaw expects Andre Miller to talk to him — not the other way around — if he wants back on the team … Rookie phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo has a bright future, but how can he realize it? … Good look at what role Andrew Bynum might serve with the Pacers this season … Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey says the team isn’t ‘on the same page’, but he’s open to remaining in Detroit long-term, too … Austrailian Draft prospect Dante Exum already has ideas on where he’d like to play in the NBABrandon Knight has his first hero moment in Milwaukee as the Bucks top the Knicks

ICYMI of the Night: In case, for some reason, you forget just how freakishly athletic LeBron James can be, this alley-oop against Detroit last night was a great reminder …


VIDEO: LeBron James gets up for the power alley-oop slam