Posts Tagged ‘Rockets’

Morning shootaround — Jan. 31




VIDEO: The Fast Break: Jan. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Cavs take down Spurs | Rockets rip refs | Barnes bails out champs | McCollum carves niche
No. 1: Lue, Cavs take another step forward — It’s been barely a week and only five games, but Tyronn Lue has the Cavaliers playing with more zip and zest, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com. The team is now 4-1 since Lue took over as head coach for David Blatt and was humming on all cylinders in taking apart the contending Spurs on Saturday night:

“I don’t put a lot of emphasis on it,” Lue said. “I just want to make sure our style of basketball is what we want to play. I know it’s a big game because it’s the San Antonio Spurs, but it’s only one game for us. If we take care of our business and do what we’re supposed to do, we don’t have to beat this team until June.”
Skeptics will say this was a classic case of an underpromise and overdeliver by Lue. If you set expectations low, you can control the threshold for what is deemed a success.

However, after watching the Cavs completely handle the Spurs 117-103 while playing a get-it-and-go brand of basketball that Lue introduced the team to when he took over a week ago, it’s easy to see the merit in Lue’s point.

If the Cavaliers can beat a great team such as the Spurs, albeit without Tim Duncan, just a week into playing this way and can look like the best version of themselves while doing so, how good can they look in four or five months, when the games really matter?

There was a lot to like about this game, starting with the offensive balance among LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, who all topped the 20-point plateau for the second consecutive game.

“I think our team responded well, playing fast, getting easy shots, Kyrie and LeBron attacking early, and then Kevin in the low post and making jump shots, so I thought tonight was a picture-perfect way of how we want to play,” Lue said. “The guys came out and executed it.”

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Howard ejected again; Rockets rip refs


VIDEO: Wall, Wizards send Rockets to third straight loss

After missing half of last season due to injuries, Dwight Howard seems back to being a part-time player.

The Rockets center was ejected for the second time in two nights as the Rockets lost back-to-back games, this time to the the Wizards 123-122 at the Toyota Center on Saturday. Howard was also not around for the finish Friday night in Oklahoma City. He is now tied for the league lead in technical fouls with 11 on the second after picking up four in the space of just over 24 hours.

Following the game, Rockets coach J.B. Bickerstaff tore into the way this game was officiated and for what he says is a consistent pattern.

“It’s not fair the way referees officiate Dwight,” Bickerstaff said. “You go back and look at the clip; they initiate contact with him. They grab him. They hold him. Dwight gets punished more than anybody in the league. The referees have to be held accountable. They want to keep the game clean, the referees have to do their job. They can’t over and over again have the same situation.

“At some point in time if you want to protect the league’s players on a night in, night out basis, this crew is no exception. They allow people to hit him, they allow people to grab his neck. They allow people to grab his arms, hold his shoulders. He’s going to get hurt. The reason why he has the back problems, the knee problems, is because people jump on his back, people hold on his shoulders. These referees need to be held accountable for letting people attack Dwight and [be] dirty.

“They [Wizards] are not clean with the way they play. Cheap is one thing. Grabbing somebody’s arms. Grabbing somebody’s shoulders, that’s not clean basketball and it’s not just tonight. If the referees did their job in the first place, it would not have escalated to these situations. And we lose Dwight twice in a row now in crucial situations.”

Howard picked up his first technical with 6:16 left in the second quarter after he had been fouled from behind by Washington’s Jared Dudley as he tried to score. While Dudley was eventually hit with a flagrant foul following a video review, Howard reacted immediately by placing his hands on Dudley’s shoulders and neck area to demonstrate what had been done to him.

Howard’s second technical and ejection came with 8:08 left in the game, when he and Nene tangled under the basket.

“The rulings on Nene and Howard were Nene was initially issued his first technical for wrapping Howard in the upper torso area,” said lead official John Goble. “Howard was then issued a technical for pushing Nene. Nene was then issued a second technical for continuing to taunt Howard after that.”

Nene was also ejected from the game.

“Some of the stuff was uncalled for and it wasn’t basketball,” Howard said. “I can see it being physical. Wrestling in the paint, that’s one thing. But doing arm bars … this is basketball, not UFC. Stuff like that could cause players to get injured. I don’t want that. Just play basketball.

“I would never intentionally try to hurt anybody. So I wouldn’t want people to intentionally try to hurt me.

“Tonight I hurt my shoulder. It popped a couple of times from getting it yanked on in different ways and stuff like that. But I’m not gonna sit up here and complain about it. There’s nothing I can do but just continue to play.

“I wasn’t frustrated at what was going on. But I think some of that stuff that’s going on needs to be made aware of. Guys going around your shoulders and your neck. That’s supposed to be a certain call. It’s called for other people. But when it happens to me it’s like a regular foul. I won’t complain about it, but I don’t think it’s cool. Because a lot of injuries that I’ve had have come from getting fouled.

“I want to play in this league as long as possible. But getting injured because people are blatantly trying to hurt you is not cool.

“I don’t purposely go into games trying to find ways to get out of them. So that’s never in my thought process. I’m just upset tonight that I got kicked out for a reaction. But I don’t know how else to react when you’re getting put in multiple arm bars. Forgive me for being human.”

Bickerstaff said the Rockets have communicated their concerns with the league office.

“Tons,” he said. “Our owner [Leslie Alexander] and Daryl [Morey, the Rockets general manager] have done a great job of supporting Dwight and having communication with the league about he is refereed. It didn’t stop there tonight.”

“We don’t like to blame referees. Tonight, there were too many calls that were critical missed and they went the other way,” Bickerstaff said. “There was a phantom Pat Beverley foul. There were our plays getting to the rim. Tonight, the referees had a lot to do with the outcome and it shouldn’t be that way. Referees should be invisible. These weren’t.”

Dwight Howard leaves with ankle injury

VIDEO: Dwight Howard hurts ankle.

Dwight Howard of the Rockets left Wednesday’s game against the Pistons and was not expected to return after injuring his left ankle in the opening minute in Houston.

The initial diagnosis was a sprain.

Howard, third in the league in rebounding coming in at 12.4 per game, suffered the injury in a collision with teammate Ty Lawson, after Detroit’s Andre Drummond, fighting for position near the free throw line, moved Howard into Lawson’s path. Lawson went into the back of Howard’s lower left leg, causing the ankle to roll.

When Howard got off, he was able to walk off the court on his own, but went straight to the locker room.

 

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 18


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING
No panic in Warriors after another loss| Kevin Durant loves the media | Kyrie says Cavs are in a better space | The Clippers’ schedule is about to crank up

No. 1:  No panic in Warriors after another loss — It’s happened so rarely this season that the shock of it all could be a little much to take for the Golden State Warriors. They’ve walked off the court after a loss just four times all season, but lost their second straight road game Saturday night in Detroit. But there is no panic now that the Warriors have come back to earth, a bit, from their unbelievable start to the season. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle explains:

The Warriors’ post-practice session Sunday started with Draymond Green playfully mocking Luke Walton’s work ethic and ended with Stephen Curry proudly wearing a Carolina Panthers cap while singing the team’s theme song.

If the Warriors are panicking about their declining play during the past 11 games, including an 18-point spanking by Detroit on Saturday, they sure weren’t conveying it before flying to Cleveland for an NBA Finals rematch.

“There’s no need to panic, turn on each other or point a finger. We all sucked,” Green said. “… You want to keep the environment loose. You don’t want to tense up and feel like it’s the end of the world and play like that. Yeah, we have to play with a chip on our shoulder, and we have to play with that fire and intensity, but you don’t want to play like you’re in a panic.”

The Warriors (37-4) will have a good barometer for their keep-it-loose approach during the next five games. They play road games at Cleveland and Chicago before hosting Indiana, San Antonio and Dallas — teams that went into Sunday’s games a combined 131-68 (.775).

To have success during the challenging stretch, the Warriors know they’re going to have to play better than they have in the past 11 games.

“It matters to us, every game that we don’t play well. We’re trying to figure it out,” Curry said. “At 37-4, I’m happy that it bothers us. … It shows that it’s a long season, but we’re on a mission to do something big this year. The game (Saturday) night was not in line with our identity and who we are as a team.”

The Warriors went 28-2 in their first 30 games, beating opponents by an average of 13.4 points per game. They’ve gone 9-2 in their past 11 games, beating opponents by an average of 4.8 points per game.

***

No. 2: Kevin Durant loves the media —  He has a strange way of showing it, but Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant does not hate the media. In fact, Durant said he has nothing but love for the folks covering him and his team on a regular basis. Sure, he’s had some heated exchanges with reporters recently and has criticized the media for not holding his Thunder in the same regard as other elite teams around the league, for “nit-picking” the way he and Russell Westbrook operate, for disrespecting Kobe Bryant and various other perceived transgressions. But in the end it’s, all love. Erik Horne of the Oklahoman has more:

“I also have something else to say, if you guys don’t mind. I was talking to Matty earlier and I’ve seen over the last couple days – couple of years, actually – that I hate the media. I actually do love you guys. If I hated someone I wouldn’t talk to them. I wouldn’t interact with them. I wouldn’t laugh and joke with them. I wouldn’t talk with them about anything other than what you guys ask me. When I disagree, that doesn’t mean that I hate you guys, so … my whole deal is to spark a conversation and hopefully we can talk about the topic, or whatever it is at hand we can talk about, and we all can grow from it. That’s my whole deal.

“I know I’m not necessarily talking to all you guys – all you guys with all these mics here. My whole thing is when I disagree that doesn’t mean I hate you, that just means … what you guys really wanted is someone who’s open and honest with you and who’s opinionated and that’s who I am. I haven’t changed, I’m the same person. I just grew as a man. Hopefully you just appreciate it and know that I don’t hate you. That’s a harsh word and my mom never brought me up to be a hater of anyone. I always believe that if I’m open and honest and opinionated that I can grow as a person and hopefully you can learn that’s what I’m about, and hopefully you all can get better. The main goal is to help the fans know the game a little bit more than they know today, so that’s my goal and hopefully that’s your goal instead of getting headlines and clicks. That’s my take on it, that’s the last time I’ll talk about it, but I had something I had to get off my chest. I appreciate it.”


VIDEO: Kevin Durant clarifies his recent comments about the media

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No. 3: Kyrie says Cavs are in a better space — It stands to reason that weeks after Christmas, the Cleveland Cavaliers are something of a different monster than the one we saw that day against the Golden State Warriors. Kyrie Irving, who made his debut just a week before that game, is in a different place now. He says the Cavs are in a better space. And he’s ready for tonight’s rematch of the rematch between The Finals combatants (8 p.m. ET, TNT). Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com has the details:

In the first meeting between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, an NBA Finals rematch, point guard Kyrie Irving was playing in his third game, trying to get back in rhythm after a rehab-filled off-season.

Heading into Monday night, another crack at the league’s best team that celebrated inside Quicken Loans Arena about seven months ago, Irving feels different, inching closer to his old form.

“A lot better,” Irving said following Sunday’s practice, the first workout since returning home from a season-long six-game road trip. “Definitely trying to prove it out there every single time I go out there and play. Just trying to continue to be better every single game for my teammates.”

Since that Christmas Day showdown, an 89-83 loss, Irving has hypnotized defenses with his slick ball handling, made a pair of clutch three-pointers in the closing minutes and had a few scoring outbursts. He has given Cleveland an offensive boost, averaging 103.8 points in his 12 games.

“Coming back it was a tough adjustment at first, missing a few shots here and there, being on the minute restriction, just had some things to get used to,” Irving said. “And as I continue to progress and the more games I play, the better I am getting.

“I just didn’t want to come in and break anyone’s rhythm. We had a great thing going, and me just being an added piece, just wanted to come in and make it seem seamless and do whatever it takes to win. I mean, it was a tough transition coming back, I’m not going to lie, but I think it’s getting easier and easier every single game.”

Irving is averaging 17.0 points on 42 percent from the field, including 26 percent from three-point range. He’s also averaging 3.8 assists and 2.8 rebounds.

His numbers are down and his play has been dotted with inconsistency. But Cavs head coach David Blatt is focusing on the positives.

“Kyrie has been doing well,” Blatt said Sunday. “I said on a few occasions after some of his bigger games that still we had to understand and show patience. And he has gone more or less up and down a little bit and it’s totally understandable. He missed a long time, came off a serious injury. But he’s worked hard and he’s played well since he’s come back. Some games better than others. And it’s just part of the process and we understand it. And that will continue for a little while.”

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No. 4: The Clippers’ schedule is about to crank up — Winning feels great, and the Los Angeles Clippers have been doing it as well as anyone lately — even after their 10-game win streak was snapped Saturday — as they head into tonight’s matchup against Houston (10:30 p.m. on TNT). But the schedule is about get a lot tougher and Clippers coach Doc Rivers knows what’s coming. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times explains:

Starting with Monday night’s game against the Houston Rockets at Staples Center, five of their next six opponents have records above .500. And the only team below .500, the 20-22 New York Knicks, has been playing better recently.

Not only that, but five of the six games are on the road, including a back-to-back set at Cleveland and New York on Thursday and Friday and, after a game at Toronto on Sunday, another back-to-back Jan. 26-27 at Indiana and Atlanta.

“I don’t look ahead but to the next game, obviously,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said Saturday night after the loss to the Kings at Staples Center. “[But] defensively we’re a better team. And that’s all you need to be is a better team defensively. Offensively, I’m never that concerned about us. I think most nights we’re going to be a good offensive team. . . . I just think our team has grown and that’s where we’re a better team.”

Only two of the opponents during the 10-game win streak were above .500 when the Clippers played them, and only one is now. They won nine of the games without Blake Griffin (partially torn left quadriceps) and went 1-1 in the games DeAndre Jordan missed because of pneumonia.

The Clippers are hopeful Jordan can return against Houston, and they expect Griffin to return during the trip — hoping it will be at Cleveland but figuring it’s more likely to happen at Toronto or Indiana.

The fact that the Clippers haven’t faltered without Griffin prompted a question to Rivers: Had they sent a message to the NBA about how strong they can be despite missing their All-Star?

“No, we’re not trying to send any messages,” said Rivers, whose team didn’t practice Sunday. “We’re just trying to win games. The messages have to be sent at the end of the year by winning.

“We just have to keep getting better. I think through this stretch we have improved as a basketball team. And I think when DJ comes back first and then Blake, we’re going to be a much better team because of all of this. But we’ve still got a long way to go. Neither one of them are back yet. So, we’ve just got to keep plugging away.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: If you had plans Saturday night and missed out on the raucous celebration at The Palace of Auburn Hills, relive the moment the Detroit Pistons retired Ben Wallace‘s No. 3 … Washington Wizards swingman Jarrell Eddie has found his dream job … You won’t have to think long and hard about who has been voted the NBA’s dirtiest player (here’s a hint, it rhymes with sell him a nova) … Even after all of these years, Kobe Bryant is still reaching milestones in the Lakers’ record books

Morning shootaround — Jan. 11


VIDEO: The Fast Break: January 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

The call for Cal to save the Nets | LeBron survives pregame plunk, lifts Cavaliers | Warriors stealing glances at all-time record | Lillard backs up his words with actions in win over Thunder

No. 1: The call for Cal to save the Nets — For what seems like the umpteenth time, there is a NBA coaching opening with John Calipari‘s name written all over it. With Lionel Hollins out as coach in Brooklyn (and Billy King reassigned within the organization), Calipari’s name has surfaced immediately as a possible replacement, even though he has routinely denied in any interest in leaving Kentucky. That won’t stop the rumblings about Cal being the right name for the job, writes Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

The Brooklyn Nets will undoubtedly make the celebrity hire here because the team’s Russian owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, simply wouldn’t have it any other way.

That’s why John Calipari goes right to the top of any and all searches when you have a desperate billionaire who is looking to make a big splash calling the shots. Do the names James Dolan and Phil Jackson ring a bell?

Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé, who thinks he’s John Wooden because he once coached his daughter’s fifth-grade team to a championship, was ready to offer Calipari everything last summer before Coach Cal decided to return to Kentucky and wait for something better/more lucrative to come along.

Now it’s Prokhorov’s turn. Prokhorov woke up Sunday, looked at his terrible club and with his deep accent essentially mumbled: “I must break you.”

Billy King, the general manager, was reassigned while head coach Lionel Hollins was canned.

You don’t blow up your organization six weeks before the trading deadline unless you have a plan in place, right? Only Prokhorov, Nets CEO Brett Yormark and Dmitry Razumov, the owner’s right-hand man behind the Iron Curtain, know for sure.

Calipari is the primary target, according to several sources close to the Nets and Calipari. It will take a lot to get him, which means power and money, perhaps even a small piece of ownership. Remember, Cal’s not the desperate one here.

Calipari has been down this road before with the Nets and knows he’ll have to hire a smart general manager to handle the day-to-day business. The job requires heaving lifting. The Nets are in a complete rebuild without many assets.

The disastrous trade with the Celtics will haunt this franchise for a decade. Boston owns the Nets’ first-round pick in 2016 and 2018 and has the option to swap first-round picks in 2017. The Nets will have to start rebuilding through free agency and if we know one thing about Calipari it’s that he can recruit his designer suit off.

Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski digs into exactly what it might cost to get Calipari to Brooklyn, which surely will not come cheap if he’s right:

For the $123.2 million in luxury tax that Prokhorov has paid out, he’ll be toasted on the verandas and yachts of rival owners who’ve bathed in his wayward excesses. They pocketed his millions, pilfered his picks and beat the Nets senseless.

Prokhorov has drained his franchise’s natural resources – unloading seven first-round and 11 second-round picks in the five-plus years of deposed general manager Billy King’s regime. The Nets have no present, no future, no identity. They’re too impatient to hire an accomplished NBA GM and slowly, surely work themselves out of this ditch.

As much as anything, that’s why Nets CEO Brett Yormark is determined to repackage John Calipari as a franchise savior. The Nets couldn’t get star players to sell tickets and TV ratings, so he wants to try a star college coach. Again.

Yormark is pushing Prokhorov to reach back to the Nets’ Jersey roots, dust off a failed ’90s experiment and sell it as something sparkling and new. Twenty years ago, the Nets stunned everyone with a five-year, $15 million contract for the UMass coach. For Calipari to consider the Nets – and, yes, the Sacramento Kings, too – league sources tell Yahoo Sports that the teams have been informed of his asking price: 10 years, $120 million.

When Calipari spoke with minority ownership in Sacramento last spring, he told them that it would take an offer of $11 million-plus a year to get his attention, league sources said. Calipari turned down a 10-year, $80 million-plus offer with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014, because he wouldn’t leave Kentucky with only an incremental raise on what is now an $8 million to $9 million annual package on campus.

Cleveland’s offer has become a baseline for Calipari’s contractual demands: He wants the 10 years and now the $12 million a year that Phil Jackson makes to run the Knicks.

Calipari’s sell will be this: As his old Kentucky stars – DeMarcus Cousins (2018), John Wall (2019) – become free agents, he’ll have the Nets positioned to sign them. His former players have largely kept excellent relationships with him, but there are those close to them who say that most of his ex-stars remain reluctant to committing to 82 games a year of Cal’s abrasive style. It wore out players fast in the 1990s in New Jersey, and Calipari would need to bring a different disposition to the NBA and prove that he’s willing to treat NBA players like men, not teenagers.

Around Calipari, there are some who prefer him to take the Kings job, because there’s more of an infrastructure in place. Brooklyn has been left in shambles, with immense limitations on reshaping the roster. Nevertheless, New York is New York, and Calipari has never stopped thinking about redeeming himself in the pros. His enshrinement into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in September makes it even easier to justify the years of NBA losing that will likely prelude a turnaround, because he no longer needs to keep shining that résumé for Springfield.

For Calipari, the perfect scenario will be engaging the Kings and Nets in a bidding war. In that instance, Prokhorov could be hard to beat. So now, there promises to be two parallel searches for the Brooklyn Nets’ next GM and coach: one that includes traditional candidates; and one that is the dance with Calipari. There were cringes within the Nets over the PR ramifications, but ownership plans to use King as a consultant on the search process.

Between now and the end of the college basketball season, Calipari will issue his typical denials on a return to the NBA, but talks will be ongoing and the leveraging intense. Calipari has always wanted back in the NBA, and the Nets give him a chance for everything he wants: the money, the power, the geography.

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No. 2: LeBron survives pregame plunk, lifts Cavaliers — LeBron James took a ball to the face during his pregame warm up routine before Sunday’s game against Philadelphia. He got the last laugh, though, finishing with a season-high tying 37 points and saving his best for the finish in the Cavaliers’ win. Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com explains:

Perhaps the signs were there during pregame warmups, as an errant pass plunked James in the face, leading to chuckles on social media.

The Cavaliers just didn’t look like themselves, far from the East’s best.

There were a few different chances to stretch the lead and turn the outcome into a laugher, just as they had done during the first two stops of the current six-game road trip.

But the plucky 76ers kept fighting.

In the NBA, though, fight and determination only take a team so far. Oftentimes having a four-time MVP, a player capable of single-handedly taking control, can erase an otherwise frustrating night.

That’s what James did, putting on a show for the near-sellout crowd in Philadelphia.

With the Cavs’ clinging to a two-point lead, 81-79, Cavs head coach David Blatt put his star back in the game.

James, who has traded the new-school “dab” celebration and his familiar “Silencer” for the mid-90’s “Raise the Roof,” lifted his team to victory before heading to Texas for a tough three-game stretch.

A 22-foot jumper ignited a 14-0 run, pushing the Cavaliers’ lead to a game-high 16 points past the midway point of the final period. James scored 12 of the 14 points during that stretch and did it in a variety of ways. There were pull-up jumpers, three-points bombs and circus layups.

James finished with 37 points, tying his season-high total, on 15-of-22 from the field. He also added nine assists, seven rebounds and two steals in 37 minutes. As James was scorching, the rest of his teammates were struggling, showing frustration on a cold shooting night.

James could sense it and took it upon himself to change it.

“I was able to get enough of a break to get a little energy,” James said after the game. “I understand when I go back into the game I have to make plays. They needed me to put the ball in the hole tonight, especially in the fourth quarter.”

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No. 3: Warriors stealing glances at all-time record — The Golden State Warriors can’t help themselves. Even with the San Antonio Spurs hot on their trail and plenty of potential roadblocks between them and history, they refuse to be intimidated by the thought of chasing a 73-win season. They remain on pace to top the 72-win mark set by Michael Jordan and the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. With a win over the Miami Heat tonight they’d be halfway there, writes Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group:

With so many team and individual milestones to keep track of, it was easy to overlook that the Warriors’ 35th victory of the season put them halfway to 70 wins after just 37 games.

Another victory against the Miami Heat on Monday night at Oracle Arena will put them halfway to 72, the NBA regular-season record established by Chicago Bulls in 1995-96.

So is it OK to start talking about chasing the record yet? After all, the Warriors need to go “only” 38-7 the rest of the way to finish 73-9 and break the mark.

After Game 37 a year ago, the Warriors were 31-6, and they went 36-9 from there. That’s not far off from 38-7, so if nothing else, they are making it more plausible with each victory.

The Warriors will begrudgingly talk about the record if asked. But they still don’t really like thinking about it and won’t for a while.

“People ask us after games what it feels like to be whatever our record is at that point, and you get reminded where we are,” Stephen Curry said after the Warriors beat the Sacramento Kings on Saturday night. “But when we’re out there on the floor, we’re not playing like if we lose, we’ll be off the pace. There’s no pressure when we’re out there, so that’s a good feeling.”

The pressure is certain to mount if the Warriors continue to stay ahead of the Bulls’ pace, but that will be difficult in itself. Michael Jordan and Co. were 34-3 after 37 games and would win seven in a row from there to go 41-3 before their fourth loss. They did not lose in the entire month of January that season, going 14-0.

The Warriors would rather not know the specifics.

“We understand what the big goal is, but in the moment, we just try to play well and do what we do, and hopefully that means we’ll get wins,” said Curry. “You hope to bottle up those emotions as you go through the season, because you can’t fast-forward to April and think about if we’re going to be within striking distance of the record or whatever.

“We want to be healthy and we want to be playing well, and if we have an opportunity at the end of the season to go get it, we should go get it, because that’s a huge record most people thought could never be broken. So we’ll talk about that when we get closer. But for now, let’s stay in the moment and play free, play our game and have fun doing it.”

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No. 4: Lillard backs up his words with actions in win over Thunder — A day after declaring his intentions for the franchise and the city of Portland, Damian Lillard backed up his words with decisive and explosive actions to lead the Trail Blazers past Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder. It was a vintage performance from one of the league’s most dynamic players. It also reinforced Lillard’s message, his vow to carry the team and city on his back, if need be, as they scratch and claw their way back to respectability. It was “Lillard Time” when it mattered most against the Thunder, writes Mike Richman of the Oregonian:

You have seen “Lillard Time” before. But not quite like this.

Damian Lillard scored 17 of his 31 points in the final 3:07 of the game, connecting on five three-pointers to power the Trail Blazers to a 115-110 comeback victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder Sunday night at the Moda Center.

“That was quite a performance by Dame in those two minutes,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “We were battling the whole game and he came up big. I mean, he hit five threes in two minutes. You don’t see that very often.”

While Lillard was spectacular, dropping long-range step backs with defenders right in his face and adding a familiar tap of his wrist in the process, the Blazers pulled out the win on the defensive end.

Lillard hit back-to-back threes to cut a seven-point Thunder lead to 107-104 with 2:11 left. After Thunder big man Steven Adams split two free throws, Allen Crabbe got in on the long range assault, hitting a three-pointer from the wing to cut the lead to one.

Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook pushed the lead back to three with two free throws, only to have Lillard tie the game at 110-all with a deep three-pointer right over the outstretched arm of Westbrook.

The Blazers defense backed up Lillard’s firepower. Al-Farouq Aminu came away with a key steal, tipping a pass from Thunder big man Serge Ibaka that led to a transition opportunity for the Blazers. Lillard, who had already made four three-pointers in the quarter, didn’t wait long to get another shot up, quickly hoisting a three-pointer from the right wing to put Portland up 113-110 with just over a minute remaining.

“It’s like that sometimes. When you see the ball go in a few times and then the team is defending you the way we defended and you just keep getting it back,” Lillard said. “You get a stop and you keep getting the ball back. I just wanted to ride it out and I was able to do it tonight.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: John Wall is doing his best to strike a balance while grinding through an injury-riddled season for the Washington Wizards … Spurs veteran David West had a special rooting interest in the Army All-American bowl over the weekend in San Antonio … Tired Jazz whip brutal Lakers, who worked without Kobe Bryant for the seventh time this seasonLuke Walton has fond memories of playing in Sacramento, dating all the way back to his high school days … The Detroit Pistons are eyeballing a top four spot in the Eastern Conference standings and all that comes with itZach Randolph and the Grizzlies keep it grimy and rolling at home

Morning shootaround — Nov. 27


VIDEO: Warriors star Stephen Curry sits down with TNT’s Rachel Nichols

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Ambitious Warriors aiming for 33-0 | Kobe’s farewell tour bottoms out | Inside the Cavaliers’ players-only meeting

No. 1: Ambitious Warriors aiming for 33-0 — They’re not going to hide it. And that might be a good thing. The Golden State Warriors, as ambitious as any defending champion in recent memory, are on a historic pace right now. They’ve already taken care of the best record to start a season in NBA history (16-0 and counting heading into tonight’s game in Phoenix, 9:30 p.m. ET NBA TV). They want more. They want the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers’ record for the longest winning streak in NBA history, the sterling 33-0 mark that has stood for decades. No sense in being bashful when you’re already on pace. Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group has the details:

To Stephen Curry, the longest winning streak in NBA history — 33 games for the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers — is something different.

The 16-0 Warriors might not have known much about the record they broke for the most consecutive wins to start the season until recently when they started to get closer. But as they play at Phoenix on Friday, the Warriors are embracing their next chase of history.

“We talk about 33,” Curry said in a conference call with international reporters. “I think I’ve probably talked about it more than anybody else on the team, just because I know about the history and just really how hard it is.

“We’ve had like two 16-game winning streaks the last two years, and those are pretty special feats. For us to have to double that output, I mean we’re going to play hard and hopefully close in on that record, but it won’t be a disappointing effort if we don’t get there. Because there are so many talented teams in this league and for us to just be playing at a high level right now, that’s what we’re worried about. And if we close in and get to 29, 30 games, we’ll talk about it a little bit more.”

The Warriors have won 20 straight regular-season games dating to last season. The 33-game Lakers streak is both the single-season record and one including streaks that cover multiple seasons.

“Yeah, they could do it,” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said of the Warriors being the team to win 33 straight. “Because they’re good enough.

“It’s a very young league, and so they’ve managed to put together a team of extremely intelligent players and extremely versatile players and great shooters. And so I see no reason why they couldn’t continue to extend it.”

Warriors interim head coach Luke Walton had expressed concern after the Warriors reached 16 wins on Tuesday with a victory against the Lakers that with their place in the record books, the players might have a different intensity level and see their level of play go down.

Still, there are other records to threaten.

“Thirty-three is a special number,” Curry said. “So there’s obviously still milestones that we can continue to go after, but you go after them by how you approach each day.”

*** (more…)

Rockets turn back page for Bickerstaff


VIDEO: Shaq and Kenny discuss the Rockets’ firing and where they go from here

HOUSTON — The situation was unpleasantly familiar. Late in the third quarter and the Rockets down by 17 points.

But on the first night of what they hope will be a turnaround to a miserable start that cost Kevin McHale his job, the Rockets showed their first real sign of fight in the season.

It took a running 30-footer by Corey Brewer with 0.9 seconds left in regulation time to give the Rockets a chance to pull out a 108-103 over the Trail Blazers and give J.B. Bickerstaff his first career win as a head coach.

“It’s what we needed,” Bickerstaff said. “The way it happen, I say, is the way it needed to happen. You know, our guys were down. We’ve been down before. Ten point leads stretched to 20 point leads. So for us to be down in the fourth quarter and show perseverance, show fight, show the grit, toughness and togetherness speaks volumes for our guys. Speaks volumes for the commitment to what we’re trying to do.”

The earliest change in the Bickerstaff era was replacing point guard Ty Lawson in the starting lineup with Jason Terry. But the most noticeable difference was the Rockets finally not hanging their heads and packing it in when Portland built a 69-52 lead.

This time James Harden flashed back to last season’s form and went on the attack in the fourth quarter and finished with 45 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds and five steals. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the first player in NBA history to post those numbers in a single game since steals became an official stat back in 1973-74.

More important for the Rockets, Harden became the spark the turned into the raging fire that led to 56 wins a year ago rather than the disinterested 32 percent shooter of this season’s 4-7 start.

“There was a concentration,” Bickerstaff said. “There was a focus. There was a commitment to it. Hard, difficult. No matter what the situation was, he fought through it. He prepared his guys. He talked to his guys.”

Bickerstaff said his plan is to take the Rockets back to playing their style from last year.

“I think it’s to get back to who we were, who we’ve been. Who we were when we had our most success. Last year we were a 5-6 (ranked) defensive team in the league. You look at where we are this year and we’re near the bottom. We’re a transition team and some of that stems from our defense. We get out and run because we created so many turnovers last year. So that’s the plan. We got to get back to that. We’ve got to be aggressive defensively, turn people over. We’ve got to protect the paint. We’ve got to protect one another and we’ve got to get out in transition and make people pay.”

The Rockets began collecting payment through the last 12 minutes of regulation tine.

“We started playing the right way, the way we’ve been playing the last year or so,” Brewer said. “We made a lot of shots. We got a lot of open looks.

“We had extra fire because we lost four in a row. Doesn’t matter what happened today, whether coach got fired or not. We needed a win and we got a win.”

A new beginning, they hope, that came in an old, familiar way.

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 1

Houston, we have a problem | Rondo and Russell, Louisville’s finest to battle and bond | No worries for the Warriors | Cavaliers have to fight against themselves in Philly

No. 1: Houston, we have a problem — A rough start to the season is one thing. It could happen anywhere, even in a place like Houston, where James Harden and the Rockets were supposed to be ready for prime time after a deep playoff run last season. Well, this might be more than just a rough start. No team in NBA history has lost its first three games of a season by 20 or more points. The Rockets lost to Miami by 109-89 Sunday after leading by as many as 21 earlier in the game. Per Elias, that’s the first time a team has lost a game by 20 or more after leading it by 20 or more since the Los Angeles Clippers did so on March 18, 2000. Three straight 20-plus point beatings is as many as the Rockets had all last season. Houston, we have a problem. A serious problem, as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle noted in the aftermath of Sunday’s third straight clunker:

Remember all the times last season that the Rockets, playing with Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones out, argued James Harden’s MVP case by asking to imagine them without Harden to carry them?

There is no need to imagine any longer.

With Howard and Jones unavailable on Sunday, Harden’s spectacular shooting slump to start the season moved to new brick-laying levels that the shorthanded Rockets could not begin to overcome.

The Rockets blew a 21-point second half lead and were blown out by the Miami Heat, 109-89, their third 20-point loss to open the season as Harden scored just a pair of second half points, both from the line.

Harden took 10 3-pointers and missed them all, falling to 2 of 33 from beyond the arc. Yet, despite his shooting problems, five of his seven second-half shots came from beyond the arc, the last easily swatted away by Heat center Hassan Whiteside.

Harden was 2 of 15 overall, scoring 16 points with 12 coming on free throws.

With Howard unavailable to rest in the first game of a back-to-back and Jones out because of a cut on his right eyelid, the Rockets went with a small lineup and got 21 points from Marcus Thornton in his first start. But he had just two in the second half as the Rockets offense crashed and burned.

The Rockets had just 26 second-half points, making 11 of 36 shots with 12 turnovers.

***

No. 2: Rondo and Russell, Louisville’s finest to battle and bond — Louisville natives Rajon Rondo and D’Angelo Russell share more than just the same position, city roots and high school coach (Doug Bibby). They also share similar hoop dreams for this season, as both hope to help lift their respective teams from the lottery and into the Western Conference playoff mix. As much as the Sacramento Kings’ veteran Rondo will battle against the Los Angeles Lakers’ rookie Russell, and Rondo schooled Russell and the Lakers in their first meeting Friday night, he’s also willing to serve as a mentor for someone who has followed in his footsteps. Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com details the connective tissue shared by Louisville’s finest:

“Their games are definitely different: D’Angelo is a little more methodical; Rajon is cat quick,” Bibby said. “But their passing and their basketball IQ was definitely something that I noticed that was very similar when I first got D’Angelo.

“Their ability to see two plays ahead and their passing ability to see things that a very few percentage of ball players and point guards can see — it was very, very similar.”

Bibby wanted to guide Russell along Rondo’s path, but he didn’t need to show Russell much film of Rondo, since all Russell needed to do was turn on the television and watch Rondo star in nationally-televised games with the Boston Celtics alongside Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.

“It was great, just knowing that he was so successful from the same city, the same high school,” Russell said.

Rondo feels the same way, and he’s intrigued. He recently picked Bryant’s brain about Russell, and Rondo and Russell have now exchanged numbers. A potential mentorship appears to be underway.

“He’s a great young kid,” Rondo said. “I’m happy for him. I’m happy another kid from my city made it.”

Russell mentioned Rondo as a player that he wants to model his game after, but things are a bit different now that he will face Rondo in head-to-head matchups.

“It’s hard to say that at this level now when you’re competing, because I’m looking at it like, that’s a weakness,” Russell said. “Like [Rondo could say], ‘This kid looked up to me, I’ve got him.’”

***

No. 3: No worries for the Warriors — Lucky, huh? The Golden State Warriors don’t need luck when they have the reigning KIA MVP, Stephen Curry, shredding the opposition. Any worries about how this team would handle success, the adversity of losing coach Steve Kerr or big man Andrew Bogut have been answered emphatically by the reigning champs hardly any anyone picked to do it again. Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group explains why those in the know in the Bay Area were never worried about this team:

Rather than showing signs of a championship hangover, MVP Stephen Curry and the Warriors appear to be better than ever.

No Steve Kerr? No Andrew Bogut? No problem.

The Warriors are 3-0, winning by almost 17 points per game as they return home to face Memphis on Monday night for a fourth straight game against a 2014-15 playoff team.

“People think we weren’t supposed to be the champs last year,” Curry said Saturday night after scoring 53 points at New Orleans. “I wasn’t supposed to be MVP, whatever. But I want to go out and play well and be better than I was last year.”

Curry has scored 118 points in the three games (39.3 average) and is shooting 58.8 percent. His 53 points Saturday night — one short of his career high — came in 36 minutes. Nobody since Kobe Bryant in 2005 has scored so many points in so few minutes; Kobe had 62 in 36.

“I’m feeling pretty energetic, pretty strong out there on the floor,” Curry said. “I’m playing free, just having fun. Usually good things happen when all that comes together.

“I’m in a good spot right now.”

***

No. 4: Cavaliers have to fight against themselves in Philly — The Cleveland Cavaliers will face plenty of trap games and sticky situations this season, such is the case for a team nearly every pundit is picking to win it all this season. And they’ll face one of those instances today in Philadelphia, where a 76ers team that has issues of its own wouldn’t appear to present much of a challenge to the visiting Cavaliers. That’s exactly why the Cavaliers have to fight against themselves in the City of Brotherly Love. Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com provides some context:

It’s been hard for players to get up for games in Philly.

Instead of putting their players through such an uninspiring contest, opposing teams typically sit their best players against the Sixers. Why risk an injury?

Philadelphia presents a challenge some coaches believe isn’t worth the hassle, but the Cavaliers will accept.

“Everybody will play,” Cavs coach David Blatt said after Sunday’s practice. “…”We know that we have an opponent to play and a job to do.”

If the Cavaliers are a legitimate title contender, games like these are what a championship mentality and culture. The objective is to dominate your opposition early and make it an easy night.

“It’s something that we addressed,” Cavs power forward Kevin Love said of staying focused. “We know that we’re going to get everybody’s best shot so in that regard, we know they’re going to come out and fight. But we have to be in the right mindset every single game. And I think it helps that we’re on the road as well because we’ll have that us-against-the-world mentality.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Move over everyone else, the Spurs Big 3 of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are now the winningest trio in the NBA history … It’s early, of course, but the Milwaukee Bucks did not script the opening stages of this season this way. … Jeremy Lamb is close to locking up an extension with the Charlotte Hornets, a reported 3-year, $21 million dealDeMarcus Cousins has even more reason to hate the Los Angeles Clippers now that he’s listed as day-to-day after suffering an Achilles injury against Blake Griffin and Co. … The Toronto Raptors are perfect, so far this season, but Raptors coach Dwane Casey insists that he doesn’t really know where his team is right now in the grand scheme of things. …

Morning shootaround — October 17




VIDEO: Highlights from Friday’s preseason games

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Embiid’s attitude a problem? | How Monroe chose Milwaukee | Harden to remain Rocket | Carmelo in a good place | Kobe, Lakers playing it safe
No. 1: Embiid’s attitude could be hampering recovery — The start to Joel Embiid’s NBA career has been a long, painful, well-documented tale of frustration that now extends into a second season on the sidelines. According to Brian Geltzeiler of SI.com, in addition the bones in his feet, Embiid’s attitude has gotten in the way of the rehab and recovery process and caused friction inside the Sixers organization:

The friction may come to a head, though, over Hinkie’s decision to select Kansas center Joel Embiid at No. 3 overall in the 2014 draft. Embiid was considered to have can’t-miss talent and upside, but was red-flagged by multiple teams that season because of back and foot issues that surfaced during and after his only, injured-shortened season as a Jayhawk.

Embiid was selected with the hope that he would follow the same pattern as (Nerlens) Noel, who was coming off an ACL tear when he was picked in 2013, and missed his rookie season (which helped the Sixers be bad enough again to land the Embiid pick). Noel was excellent as a rookie in 2014–15, especially as the anchor of a surprisingly decent Philadelphia defense. Hinkie certainly was aware of Embiid’s physical issues when he took a calculated risk to select him, but it’s unclear whether he understood the depth of Embiid’s attitude concerns, which have only worsened as a pro.

The fact that (coach Brett) Brown sent Embiid home from a West Coast road trip last season for being insubordinate to the team’s strength coach and training staff is well documented, but according to a source, the tipping point in the decision was Embiid physically threatening the strength coach on that road trip. According to sources, this followed a pattern of insubordination from Embiid during the rehabilitation of his initial foot injury that sidelined him for the entire 2014–15 season, where he would repeatedly refuse to answer questions from the training staff about his workouts and therapy sessions.

Embiid’s lax approach to his rehab and the circumstances surrounding the second foot surgery he needed this past summer — which appears like it will cost him the entire 2015–16 season — has caused the organization much anxiety. The simple task of getting Embiid to consistently wear his walking boot was a challenge for the franchise, and multiple sources suggested that some people in Philadelphia’s front office wonder whether a second surgery would have been necessary if Embiid had worn the boot as much as he was told to.

***

No. 2: Why Monroe spurned Knicks, Lakers — Sometimes it really isn’t about the highest pile of cash. Sometimes it’s not the allure of Hollywood or the bombast of Broadway that turns a player’s head. Free agent Greg Monroe could have chased the cachet of the glamor teams in Los Angeles or New York over the summer, but wound up choosing the Midwestern charm of Milwaukee. Michael Lee of yahoo.com caught up with the big man for an insightful look at the decision:

I don’t try to make rash decisions. I just try to take everything into account,” Monroe said. “Most people say, ‘Dang, how could you pass up on all that money?’ I come from a family where you always make do with what you have, you work for what you get. And talk about a regular job. What was the qualifying offer? Over $5 million? Everything is relative and people are different, but I know how I was brought up and how I was raised. I was living perfectly fine throughout my whole rookie deal, so that was still a raise.”

Before free agency began, Van Gundy called Monroe and both thanked the other for how they handled an awkward season. Monroe had just grown frustrated with a franchise continually in flux. He played for five different coaches, had to adjust his game when Andre Drummond emerged quicker than expected, when the team added an odd fit in Josh Smith and again, when Van Gundy implemented a more wide-open system in which Monroe wasn’t an ideal component.

Monroe remained so confident in his eventual payday that he finally bought his mother her dream home before entering free agency. For Monroe, it was his way of making good on the pledge made in a card he gave for Mother’s Day after he declared for the draft. “The card read, I gave to him all his life, now it’s his turn to give to me and whatever I want, or whatever I need, I got it,” Norma Monroe said in a phone interview. “It was overwhelming. I stood there, bust out in tears.”

Milwaukee was always a special place for Monroe since it was where he received the Morgan Wootten Award as national player of the year before participating in the McDonald’s All-American game at the Bucks’ home arena in 2008. In his short time since joining the Bucks, Monroe has quickly taken to the city, purchasing an apartment with a view of Lake Michigan. When he sat down to dine at a restaurant recently, a fan thanked him for picking the Bucks.

“I’m not sure what he was thanking me for,” Monroe said with a shrug.

Monroe wasn’t running away from expectations in New York or Los Angeles; he was lunging into the type of scrutiny he long desired. The pressure won’t be solely on him to elevate one of the league’s rising young teams, but Monroe won’t deny that some exists. “I always feel like I have to deliver, no matter what. I know they’re hungry, and I’m starving to get to the playoffs,” Monroe said. “But coming here, they’re asking me to do things that I’m already comfortable doing. And a guy like me, I have a lot of pride. So I always have the mindset that I want to be everything they think I am. I want to be worth every penny, however you want to say it. That’s what drives me. This is always a great opportunity in my eyes. I try not to take it for granted.”

***

No. 3: Harden plans to finish with Rockets — It’s difficult to find anything wrong with James Harden’s career these days. First team All-NBA, runner-up in the scoring race and for the MVP award. But just in case anybody had a doubt, the unstoppable scoring machine told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle that he plans to finish his career in Houston:

“I’m at a good stage right now,” Harden said. “Everything is flowing. Everything is what I imagined it would be. My family is great. Friends. Everyone is in a good place right now.

“Obviously, my work place is amazing, people I’m surrounded with, that I come to work with every day. I’m in a happy place. Fans here in Houston show me so much love and support. Everything is flowing in a positive way right now. I’m all smiles.”

That all begins on the court, where Harden is coming off his best season and said that despite his happiness with how things have gone, is hungry for much more.

“Always,” he said when asked if he is still has the same desire. “I’m the last one on the court. I’m still hungry. I have a long ways to go. I’m just getting started.”

As for where it will all end, Harden did not entertain a thought of changing anything. Comfortable as he is in the spotlight, he showed no signs of a pull from Hollywood for a return to his native Los Angeles. He had little reason to want to want to change.

Signed through the 2017-18 season, when asked if he intends to play the rest of his career in Houston, Harden did not hesitate.

“Definitely,” Harden said. “Definitely it’s going to end here.”

***

No. 4: Anthony’s mind, body appear healed — Despite the injury problems that forced him to shut down the 2014-15 season early and despite the Knicks’ inability to sign a top tier free agent over the summer, Carmelo Anthony’s friends and teammates have been a star and leader in camp who is back in a good place mentally and physically, according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

“Carmelo is in a great place,” says one friend. “I think he’s going to have a big year.”

Anthony is the Knicks’ longest- tenured player as well as the club’s most accomplished. He’s also coming off two straight seasons without a playoff berth and understands that if he’s healthy and at the top of his game the Knicks could go from being a 17-win team to a playoff club.

Anthony has publicly acknowledged that the Knicks did not land a top-tier free agent over the summer but knows that team president Phil Jackson did upgrade the roster.

There have been several reports that if the Knicks were to struggle, Anthony may eventually seek a trade. (He has a no-trade clause and would have to approve of any deal.)

But Anthony is a long way off from trying to orchestrate a move out of New York. Instead, he has talked about leading by example and even said he wants coaches to challenge him more.

“I think it’s well documented that when quote-unquote best players and star players allow themselves to be held accountable, it makes it easier for everybody else to fall in line and accept the coaching and teaching that every player needs,” Derek Fisher said.

“I don’t think that’s any different from any other situation and it works the same for us. In terms of the difference in feedback, we came into last year and were very intent on making sure guys had everything they needed from us to try and help them be the best they can be on the floor. That intent hasn’t changed. We’re just trying to be as efficient as possible. Hopefully it will work for Carmelo as well as all of our guys.”

***

No. 5: Kobe to sit out —When you’re 37 years old and entering your 20th NBA season, there’s no such thing as being too cautious. So the Lakers aren’t fretting about Kobe Bryant’s lower leg contusion, just being prudent in holding him out of tonight’s game against the defending champion Warriors, according to Baxter Holmes of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

“He came out [Friday] and got some shooting up, but, again, for precautionary reasons there’s no need to have him try to play [Saturday] when we’ve got two more preseason games after that and six days before the start of the regular season.”

(Coach) Byron Scott further framed the decision as precautionary by noting Bryant would stand a better chance to play if Saturday’s were a regular-season game.
“I think if [Saturday] was a regular-season game, there would be a much better chance of him playing, but since it’s not, there’s no need for him to play [Saturday] night.”

Bryant’s status moving forward will depend on how he feels, Scott said. After Saturday’s game, the Lakers have a preseason game Monday against the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center and then face the Warriors again on Thursday in Anaheim.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kevin Durant would like to own the Washington Redskins…There are currently no talks between the two sides in the Cavaliers-Tristan Thompson standoff…Andrew Bogut believes Harrison Barnes will stay with the Warriors…Dirk Nowitzki feels good finally making his preseason debut on Friday night.

Morning shootaround — Oct. 12



VIDEO: Highlights from games played Oct. 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Harden exits preseason game with bruished right knee | No timetable for Kerr’s return | Kobe has no plan to rest in preseason, or at all | DeMarcus Cousins is living the big man’s dream

No. 1: Harden exits game with bruised right knee — Houston Rockets held their collective breath for a moment Sunday when James Harden suffered a right knee contusion in the first half of a preseason game against Orlando and did not return. Harden played just 13 minutes in the game, a 123-119 loss. Of greater concern for the Rockets, of course, is making sure Harden’s bruised knee is healthy and ready to go when the regular season starts, as the Houston Chronicle‘s Jonathan Feigen explains:

Suddenly, the to-do list, with all those check marks right where the Rockets would have wanted them, was meaningless. The first line, where the goal listed was to stay healthy, had made everything else too secondary to celebrate.

The Rockets had gone from clicking to limping when James Harden and Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier collided late in the first half, with Harden slowly walking off with a bruised right knee.

Rockets coach Kevin McHale said that he had been given no update on the severity of the injury after the Magic had rallied back from a 22-point first-quarter deficit to take a 123-119 win. Harden left without speaking, but did not seem to have difficulty walking.

Rockets players did not seem overly concerned, offering an indication of Harden’s reaction.

“He said it’s not really that serious,” Rockets guard Ty Lawson said. “We just want him to get better and get healthy so he can get back to playing well.”

The Rockets began the game playing exceptionally well, but that soon became secondary to one fast break and one slow walk to the locker room.

Harden had just returned to the game with four minutes left in the half when he lost the ball on a drive and never quite got in front of Fournier on a break the other way. Fournier’s left leg banged into the side and back of Harden’s right, and both went down. Harden limped behind the baseline floor seats at State Farm Arena and then straight to the locker room with a shout that sounded more from frustration than pain.

“You kind of know if it’s serious,” said Corey Brewer, who was waiting to check in for Harden before Harden even reached mid-court. “I think he just bumped it a bit. Preseason lasts a long time. He has time to heal.”


VIDEO: James Harden bumps his knee vs. Magic

***

No. 2: No timetable for Kerr’s return — A rare spinal fluid leak during July surgery on a ruptured disc in his back is the cause for Steve Kerr‘s indefinite leave of absence from the Golden State Warriors, Kerr told reporters at the team’s practice Sunday. Kerr went into detail about the cause of his absence to clear up any confusion and to reiterate that there is no timetable for his return. Diamond Leung of The Bay Area News Group has more:

Eleven days after the Warriors announced Kerr would temporarily step aside to focus on rehabilitation, he gave his first interview after Sunday’s practice and detailed why he doesn’t know when he will return to coach the team.

“The leak is fixed, but still getting some symptoms,” Kerr said of his follow-up surgery early last month. “And that’s why I’m out.

“And because I’m still having symptoms, it makes it difficult for me to be on the floor. And so the prospects are good. I’m going to heal. The doctor says everybody’s body is different. It’s a matter of your body sort of recalibrating. And unfortunately, it’s not like a sprained ankle, one to two weeks. There’s no telling. It’s a little bit open-ended, but everybody’s very confident everything will be fine.”

Kerr said he has not questioned his long-term future as a coach going through the grind of an NBA schedule.

“I’m 50 years old,” he said. “I’m in good shape. I’m in good overall health. This is a unique circumstance, and once it’s resolved, I’ll be fine.”

Kerr said he wanted to be upfront with fans and media members about his condition after declining an interview request Friday while attending the Cal volleyball match.

“I’m not going to put a timetable on when I’m going to come back,” Kerr said. “I have to get my health right before I can coach the team, before I can bring the energy that’s necessary to coach the team.

“When you are forced to be away, it hurts.”


VIDEO:
GameTime’s crew discuss Steve Kerr’s injury and how it affects the team

***

No. 3: Kobe has no plans to rest in preseason, or at all — Easing into his 20th NBA season is not the way Kobe Bryant plans on doing things for the Los Angeles Lakers. In fact, he’s doing anything but this preseason, and according to coach Byron Scott, has not even discussed it. Mark Medina of The Los Angeles Daily News has more:

As he sheds off rust without showing any setbacks with his surgically repaired right shoulder, Kobe Bryant left the Lakers feeling encouraged for two reasons.

In the Lakers’ 126-83 victory over Maccabi Haifi on Sunday at Staples Center, Bryant took advantage against the Israeli professional team by posting a team-leading 21 points on 6-of-10 shooting, 4-of-6 from 3-point range and 5-of-5 from the foul line in 19 minutes. Lakers coach Byron Scott also reported feeling “very optimistic” that he will play in all of the team’s four remaining preseason contests.

“He wants to play every game,” Scott said.

That seems unlikely to happen, though, for the 82-game regular season. Bryant may sit out for at least a portion of the Lakers’ 18 sets of back-to-backs.

“We haven’t talked about that yet,” Scott said. “I talked to him a week ago and said, ‘We need to sit down and talk about back-to-backs and pick and choose which ones you’ll play in and which ones you’ won’t.”


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks after the Lakers’ preseason win

***

No. 4: DeMarcus Cousins is living the big man’s dream — Sacramento Kings coach George Karl clearly knows the way to his big man’s heart. All he had to do was get DeMarcus Cousins out of the paint to make the Kings’ All-NBA center to smile. Cousins has been experimenting with his perimeter game during this preseason and it’s not just a gimmick. He’s polishing up his handle and working on his shot from deep as he dives into every big man’s dream. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee has the details:

Cousins will not be shunning the post this season. But coach George Karl has said he will move Cousins all over the court. That includes allowing Cousins to shoot threes.

So meet Cousins, the floor spacer. He has never liked being labeled as just a post player, so this season he will have the opportunity to show he’s more than that.

“I don’t really consider myself a center,” Cousins said. “I’m just a basketball player. There’s so much I can do on the floor. People get stuck on the word ‘center,’ ‘big man’ and (are) kind of ignorant to the situation. I can’t really worry about that. I just go out there and do my job.”

And like anyone else, when there are changes to the job, there is an adjustment.

“It’s weird kind of floating out there,” Cousins said. “It’s a different thing, but I know it’s going to help the team, too. It’s just something I’ve got to adjust to and get used to.”

“It’s fun, but it’s also a process,” Cousins said. “This is my first time, but this is what the preseason is for, to knock the rust off, figure each other out and hopefully prepare for how we’re going to play during the season. I think we’re on the right path.”

When Karl was hired last February, he said he thought Cousins could be just as good a face-up player as he is in the post. Karl was also intrigued with Cousins’ ability to dribble and pass the ball.

“I do have those skills but it’s still an adjustment,” Cousins said. “This isn’t just pickup at the park, it’s an adjustment.”

Cousins’ expanded freedom on the court will cause a problem for defenses. Teams that defend Cousins with a bigger player will have to deal with how to match up with him on the perimeter.

If teams counter with a smaller player, Cousins can work closer to the basket where his size and strength are advantages.

“I think Cuz will figure out a balance between what shots we want from him,” Karl said. “Some teams will let him go outside, some teams will let him go inside.”

***

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