Posts Tagged ‘Sacramento Kings’

Warriors Trio Headlines ‘Big’ All-Star Saturday Night

VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew gives analysis.

NEW YORK CITY — All-Star Saturday night is going to be big. Literally.

Tonight’s announcement of the participants for All-Star Saturday night revealed a lot of familiar names and faces, but also a couple of intriguing players taking part in contests they haven’t been involved with in previous years. And while the Golden State Warriors have been nearly unstoppable on the court this season, on Saturday, Feb. 13, in Toronto’s Air Canada Centre (8 p.m. ET, TNT), the Warriors’ big three will attempt to bring home several different kinds of hardware.

NBA All-Star 2016The evening will open with the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, which will be radically different this season. Last year, the event was populated entirely by point guards, with Houston’s Patrick Beverley winning over Brandon Knight. This season, Beverley is slated to return and compete against several guards, such as Portland’s CJ McCollum, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas and Jordan Clarkson from the Lakers.

But the twist here is that they will be in a field that includes several big men, including Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins and rookie Karl-Anthony Towns. It will also be interesting to see what kind of performance we get from New Orleans’ multi-talented center Anthony Davis, who played guard throughout high school before a growth spurt moved him to the post. And the leading contender among the big men participating must be Golden State’s Draymond Green, who currently leads the League in triple-doubles with 10.

VIDEO: Wolves’ Zach LaVine will defend his title.

We can also safely assume that the evening will close with a bang. Last year’s Verizon Slam Dunk was one of the most electrifying contests in years, as then-Minnesota rookie Zach LaVine completed a series of athletic jams. LaVine will return this season, and be challenged by a field that includes Denver guard Will Barton, who has had something of a breakout campaign in this his fourth NBA season.

LaVine and Barton will be joined by two big men, in a contest where big men have traditionally struggled to score highly. Second year Orlando forward Aaron Gordon has had plenty of athletic dunks in his short NBA career, and Detroit center Andre Drummond has also shown plenty of bounce and skill around the basket, as the NBA’s leading rebounder this season.

In between these events will be the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest, which in a league increasingly reliant on the three-point shot, is rapidly becoming the evening’s signature event. While last year’s three-point contest was recognized as having one of the sweetest-shooting fields in the history of the event, this year’s event appears to be equally star-studded:

VIDEO: Steph Curry will bring his sharp shooting to Foot Locker Three-Point Contest

Stephen Curry – Curry won last year’s event, then went on to win the NBA’s MVP award and an NBA title. Leads the NBA this season in three pointers made (232) by a wide margin (77 more than his Golden State teammate Klay Thompson).

James Harden – The Houston guard finished just behind Curry in last season’s MVP voting, and the Rockets have gotten off to a slow start this season. Still, Harden is third this season in total three-pointers made (140).

Klay Thompson – The other Splash Brother has a chance to outshine Curry. Thompson is making 43-percent of his three-point attempts this season.

Khris Middleton – The Bucks swingman is averaging a career-best two made three-pointers per game, and knocking them in at 41-percent clip.

Kyle Lowry – The Raptors guard will surely enjoy a home court advantage. Lowry is averaging a career-high 2.8 threes per game, and making them at a career-best 39 percent success rate.

JJ Redick – Clippers guard Reddick has always been known as a sharp-shooter, but this season has been his masterpiece. In 45 games for Los Angeles, Redick has made 120 threes, converting at a league-best 48-percent clip.

Chris Bosh – Why just have big men in the other two Saturday night contests? To be fair, the power forward Bosh has made himself into a good three-point shooter, and he’s relied on his long-range shot more than ever this season. Consider this: During Bosh’s first nine NBA seasons, he attempted a combined 228 threes; This season he’s attempted 213 threes in Miami’s first 50 games.

Devin Booker – Booker is the youngest contestant (he’s 19 years old) in the three-point shootout, but he’s already proven he’s one of the NBA’s best shooters, connecting on threes for the Phoenix Suns at a 42-percent rate this season.

State Farm NBA All-Star Saturday Night will be televised live exclusively on TNT on Saturday, Feb. 13, from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada.

 

Blogtable: Player who is most likely to be traded first is _____?

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


BLOGTABLE: Thoughts on Rockets? | Player most likely to be traded? |
One player you’d love to see in Dunk Contest?



VIDEORyan Anderson sizzles in a win against the Kings

> Most likely to be traded before the Feb. 18 deadline: Rudy Gay, Jeff Teague, Markieff Morris, Ryan Anderson or Kevin Martin?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Kevin Martin. This league is still about offense and he’s a proven offensive commodity that could help a lot of contenders. And there’s no future for him in Minnesota, which has Andrew Wiggins penciled in at the two for the next dozen or so years. 1A) Markieff Morris. Full dumpster fire in Phoenix, and the Suns have to start cleaning things up. Sending the disgruntled Morris (and his very reasonable contract) anywhere else is a necessity for GM Ryan McDonough, who’s now on the hot seat in the Valley of the Sun.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Markieff Morris. While Gay and Anderson are best equipped to immediately help a playoff aspirant, while Teague would be much-sought as a point guard around whom a team could organize, while Martin doesn’t fit on a young team in “sell” mode, Morris has the added factor of being actively unhappy where he is. Phoenix has let his situation fester too long already.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comMarkieff Morris. If you’re cleaning house, you might as well sweep into every corner and get rid of all the unhappy pieces.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Ryan Anderson. An unrestricted free agent-to-be, on a team that has the chance to make a playoff push to salvage what would ordinarily be a bad season? If the Pelicans were certain Anderson is definitely part of the future, that would be one thing. But this may be the chance to get something for him, and to get something to boost their playoff hopes.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’ll take Markieff Morris, even though the Suns might not have much leverage, since everyone knows Phoenix wants to dump him. I have my doubts about the perceived demand for Rudy Gay, the asking price for Teague could be too steep (ditto for Ryan Anderson) and the best chance Kevin Martin is moved is if he’s a throw-in since he’s well past his prime.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comRyan Anderson has the easiest contract ($8.5 million expiring) to trade, but the Pelicans are still just three games out of eighth place in the loss column. The Suns may have a high asking price for Morris right now, and there’s some risk in trading for a known malcontent with three more years left on his deal. But at some point, Phoenix will have to take what they can get and some other team will be will to take a risk on a versatile forward who’s still just 26 years old.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Markieff Morris. You saw him on display in Tuesday night’s loss to Toronto, when he made the most out being inserted into the starting lineup and reminded everyone just how devastating a scoring and rebounding stretch big man he can be. The Suns would be wise to continue to showcase him in the lead up to the trade deadline. And I suspect there are plenty of teams interested in adding a player with his, skill, range and brute force to their mix just in time for the playoffs.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comMarkieff Morris. The Suns have already fired the coach and are looking to the future. Morris is not going to be part of that future. Why make a miserable situation worse by holding onto an unhappy player? They should focus on creating positive energy among their young core. Unloading Morris may also improve their position in the lottery.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog I’ll go with Ryan Anderson. He’s got an expiring contract, and he’s on a squad that isn’t going to be a playoff team. Most importantly, though, he’s a power forward who can actually knock down 3-pointers, which is a skill you can’t ever really have enough of. I can think of several teams with postseason aspirations — Atlanta? Dallas? The Clippers? — that could use another outside shooter.

Irrelevant no more: Steady Celtics guard Thomas makes All-Star turn


VIDEO: Relive great moments from Isaiah Thomas’ solid 2015-16

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

To say Isaiah Thomas has come a long way in his NBA journey would be an understatement. The diminutive floor general, listed at a generous 5-foot-9, was consistently overlooked in the 2011 NBA Draft and wound up being that class’ “Mr. Irrelevant” for being selected with the final pick (No. 60 overall to the Sacramento Kings).

On Thursday, it was announced Thomas was voted an Eastern Conference All-Star for the first time in his career. He’ll also be the first player ever to ascend from the last pick in the NBA Draft to All-Star status, according to Marc D’Amico of Celtics.com.

That’s an incredible point of validation for Thomas, who was selected after fellow point guards Nolan Smith, Norris Cole, Charles Jenkins and Josh Selby. Those four guys have combined for 1.6 win shares, and Cole is the only one still in the NBA.

As for Thomas? He’s collected 29.2 win shares and counting — more than Klay Thompson and the 2011 Draft’s No. 1 overall pick, Kyrie Irving.

The Los Angeles Lakers bungled four shots at drafting Thomas in the second round of 2011, taking point guards Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock and forwards Chukwudiebere Maduabum (who they traded to Denver) and Ater Majok. The latter two never suited up in an NBA game, while Morris and Goudelock combined for negative win shares. In short, the Lakers’ passing on Thomas in favor of those unheralded prospects was a complete and utter failure.

Interestingly, scouting reports didn’t even paint Thomas in an aggressively negative light. NBADraft.net pegged Thomas as a “crafty scorer” who possessed “good speed” and “excellent quickness.”

The negatives, as you might expect, focused almost exclusively on being vertically challenged.

“Very small, even for a point guard,” the report reads. “Ability to get inside will be largely negated by the size of NBA players,” was another note followed closely by, “Will struggle to matchup (sic) with NBA guards defensively.”

And, as Matthew Kamalsky wrote for DraftExpress in 2009, “One thing that scouts won’t be questioning is what Thomas can do when he puts the ball on the floor.” He went on to praise the youngster’s “absolutely outstanding first-step” and “excellent speed in transition.”

He also proved to be an assassin in the clutch. While suiting up for the University of Washington, Thomas hit a difficult step-back fadeaway at the buzzer to beat Arizona in the Pac-10 Tournament championship.

He possessed an impressive skill set and didn’t shy away from big moments, which you’d think NBA scouts would value. Somehow, Thomas tumbled down draft boards, but once he arrived in Sacramento, he made an immediate impact … and kept on improving.

Thomas averaged 11.5 points, 4.1 assists and 2.6 rebounds while sinking 37.9 percent of his 3-pointers as a rookie. His second season was much like his first and in his third season, he blossomed with averages of 20.3 points and 6.3 assists in 72 games (54 starts).

He left Sacramento as a free agent and landed with the Phoenix Suns via a sign-and-trade deal. In Arizona, his numbers took a dip as he filled a role as the sixth man behind Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. But a trade deadline-day deal in 2015 Boston gave him a fresh opportunity that he ultimately parlayed into his first All-Star game.

Through 47 games (44 starts), Thomas is averaging career bests in points, assists, rebounds, steals and free throw percentage. The Celtics (26-21) are No. 5 in the East thanks in large part to Thomas, who leads Boston with a 28.9 percent usage rate.

Individual and team accomplishments point to Thomas earning a nod. But the Washington product also stacks up quite well when compared to his peers.

Among NBA point guards, Thomas ranks tied for fifth in player efficiency rating behind Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry. All four of those guys are All-Stars as well (sorry, Damian Lillard).

From being passed over 59 times in the 2011 Draft, to being traded by twice to making his first All-Star team, Thomas has had to silence doubters all along the way. For those who believed in him, this moment must be pretty sweet.

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

Morning shootaround — Jan. 29


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Kings willing to deal Gay | Wizards hold players-only meeting | Lillard using All-Star snub to fuel playoff push | Riley: LeBron never asked for Spoelstra to be fired

No. 1: Report: Kings willing to deal Gay — A mere 20 days and a handful of hours separate us from the NBA Trade Deadline and as we get closer, the chatter is starting to pick up. One name to keep an eye on, per ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, is Sacramento Kings swingman Rudy Gay. According to Stein, the Kings are willing to move the talented scorer … with some caveats, of course. He’s got that information and more in his roundup of trade chatter:

The Sacramento Kings are indeed willing to trade Rudy Gay, sources say, after fairly frequent speculation on that topic in recent weeks.

However …

It’s conditional willingness.

Sacramento is said to be seeking a quality young player in return if it parts with Gay. Or a player they like with at least one year left on his contract after this season, which would give the Kings some insulation against trading for someone in February who turns around and leaves town in July. (Gay, 29, is scheduled to earn $13.3 million from the Kings next season before he’s forced to decide on a $14.3 million player option in 2017-18).

In short: Sacramento isn’t outright trying to move Gay but would be willing to do so in the proverbial “right deal.”

Sacramento, for example, rejected New Orleans’ recent offer of Eric Gordon and Alonzo Gee for Gay before Gordon suffered a fractured finger that will keep him out until after the deadline. They don’t want to move him just for the sake of it.

Much like the Atlanta Hawks are doing with point guards Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder, Memphis is doing the same with free agents-to-be Jeff Green and Courtney Lee.

Which is to say: not flat-out shopping them, but taking the temperature of the market for both players, since that’s what you’re supposed to do with players like Green and Lee who can leave Memphis without compensation in a matter of months.

What the Grizzlies aren’t looking to do, sources say, is break up what they like to call Mount Grizzmore. All of the latest signals suggest they have no interest in parting with either Zach Randolph or Tony Allen before the deadline …

First Joakim Noah was lost to a potentially season-ending shoulder separation. Now Nikola Mirotic is out until after the All-Star break thanks to emergency surgery this week to remove his appendix.

Those injuries, sources say, have greatly increased the likelihood that Taj Gibson will be staying put now, since Chicago suddenly doesn’t need to make a trade to create more playing time for promising rookie Bobby Portis.

The reality is that rival executives have maintained for some time that the Bulls preferred to deal Noah, in the name of making sure they got something for their longtime emotional spark in the final year of his contract, rather than parting with Gibson.

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 27


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Making sense of Griffin scuffle | Kobe: Lakers fans didn’t ‘appreciate’ Gasol | Lowry not fretting wrist injury | Cousins calls fan voting for All-Star Game unfair

No. 1: Clippers, Rivers try to make sense of Griffin incident — If you missed it yesterday, perhaps the oddest story to date this season came to light when it was revealed that Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin broke his hand after he got into a fight with a team staff member at a Toronto restaurant. The staff member was identified by several media outlets as Griffin’s friend and team equipment manager, Matias Testi and Griffin, as a result of his injury, will be out at least four to six weeks. The team issued a statement about the incident and Griffin took to Twitter to address it, too, but in short, the Clippers’ players, coach Doc Rivers and the organization as a whole are trying to dig out from this situation.

We start first with Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times, who provides detail on the Griffin-Testi relationship:

 His name was invoked in the Clippers’ locker room after almost every game.

“‘Tias!” center DeAndre Jordan would declare loudly, as if he wanted to make a show of what was coming next. “Where’s ‘Tias at?”

Mathias Testi would appear and Jordan would invariably ask the assistant equipment manager to fetch a piece of clothing or maybe some lotion. Testi faithfully retrieved the item, even if he did occasionally dawdle or mutter something under his breath.

To the uninitiated it might have resembled a mild hazing ritual, but there was always a playful undercurrent between Testi, Jordan and teammate Blake Griffin. Their relationship felt like something out of the buddy comedy “Entourage,” with Testi playing the role of the relative nobody along for the ride with his celebrity friends during dinners and other outings.

That friendship unraveled Saturday when Griffin repeatedly punched Testi during an altercation at a Toronto restaurant, resulting in a broken bone in Griffin’s right hand that is expected to keep the All-Star forward out for an additional four to six weeks at a time when he had already missed a month because of a quadriceps injury.

Testi, 29, returned to Los Angeles, as did Griffin, after the incident and Griffin underwent a procedure on his hand Tuesday morning, the team said.

The altercation started inside a restaurant with a back-and-forth exchange that led the friends outside, with Griffin throwing multiple punches, according to a league executive with knowledge of the situation who was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Rivers said he was unsure whether the men were drinking at the time of the altercation but “I don’t think alcohol had anything to do with this.”

It was not immediately known whether Testi would pursue legal action against Griffin or the Clippers. He remained employed by the team.

The altercation put some of Griffin’s teammates in the awkward spot of being caught between allegiances.

“I’m friends with and love both parties,” Jordan said. “It’s out of my control, but hopefully we can figure out something.”


VIDEO: The Starters: Should Clippers be worried about Griffin’s injury?

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 8


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Cavs’ Williams gets second opinion on thumb | Russell promises bigger things are in store for him | Report: DeRozan to opt out | Fredette still hoping for another NBA shot

No. 1: Report: Cavs’ Williams to get second opinion on thumb — The Cleveland Cavaliers have struggled with injury issues all season long and backup point guard Mo Williams is the latest name to land on that dubious list. Of late, Williams’ right thumb has been troubling him — the same thumb which Williams had two surgical procedures on in the past. According to Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal, Williams is getting a second opinion on what’s ailing him of late:

Cavaliers guard Mo Williams traveled to New York during Thursday’s off day to receive a second opinion on his sore right thumb, a league source confirmed. Williams missed a week in December after reaggravating a thumb that has twice needed surgery to repair ligament damage.

Dr. Michelle Carlson, who practices in New York, performed both procedures — first in 2008 and again in 2013. Williams posted a picture to his Instagram account Thursday of a framed photo of him standing next to Carlson with the caption, “Best hand specialist in the world. New York weather off the chain today.”

Williams had pins inserted in the thumb during the previous procedures and has limited dexterity as a result, but he told the Beacon Journal last month he did not believe this injury was as serious as the two previous times he needed surgery.

Williams missed two months after surgery in 2013. The first surgery was performed following the 2007-08 season.

Williams has fallen out of the rotation with the return of Kyrie Irving, although it’s unclear now if the thumb was also a factor. He has not played in either of the Cavs’ two most recent games and only played during garbage time of last week’s blowout victory against the Orlando Magic.

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Morning Shootaround — Jan. 3


VIDEO: The Fast Break: January 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


VIDEO: Curry reinjures left leg

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 1


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kerr getting closer to return | Report: Nash, Sarver to buy Spanish soccer team | Early opens up about robbery, shooting | Time for Kings, Cousins to shape up

No. 1: Kerr getting closer to return to Warriors’ bench — Last year couldn’t have gone much better for the Golden State Warriors. Not only did they close out the 2015 portion of this season with an NBA-best 30-2 mark, but they finished with the second-most wins in a calendar year in NBA history, too. Last night, they handled the Houston Rockets on the road in a game that may very well have been interim coach Luke Walton‘s finale as the lead man. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has more on coach Steve Kerr potentially returning to the bench this weekend:

Head coach Steve Kerr, who has been on a leave of absence while recovering from two offseason back surgeries and a spinal fluid leak, traveled with the team for its back-to-back set in Dallas and Houston — something he hadn’t done since the Warriors played at the Clippers on Nov. 19.

During the 17-day home span before the Texas two-step, Kerr was more involved in practices and game-planning. He even addressed the team after Monday’s sloppy first half against Sacramento.

Most signs are pointing toward Kerr’s return to the bench in the near future, maybe even Saturday for a home game against Denver.

Walton said Kerr wanted to make the trip to see how his body and mind would respond to the travel and because he was going stir crazy when the team was on the road.

“He seems good,” Walton said. “He’s in good spirits. He’s furious at me for getting him another loss (Wednesday) night, but other than that, he seems like he’s handling it pretty well.

“If it is (my last game), it was a lot of fun. I’ll be thrilled to have Steve back coaching us again, but I haven’t spent any time thinking about this possibly being my last game as head coach.”

The Warriors responded to their 114-91 loss in Dallas on Wednesday by getting contributions from nine of their 10 healthy players. Stephen Curry (lower leg) and Festus Ezeli (toe) missed their second consecutive games, and Leandro Barbosa(shoulder), Harrison Barnes (ankle) and Kevon Looney (hip) were left in the Bay Area to continue their recoveries.

The Warriors (30-2) haven’t lost consecutive regular-season games since April 5 at San Antonio and April 7 at New Orleans, and they seemed determined not to let it happen again.

 

“I can’t wait to have Steve back. When he’s back in the gym, we’re on extra edge, because it’s like, ‘Oh shoot, we don’t want to disappoint Coach,’” Klay Thompson said. “When he does come back — whenever that is — I hope he gets a huge ovation, because he’s the one who puts this all together.…

“Shoot, this won’t be Luke’s last game as a head coach. He’s got a great future in this league. His record exemplifies that, and he’s a lot of fun to play for. He keeps it light around here, but we also respect his knowledge. There’s a reason we’re 30-2.”


VIDEO: Golden State handles Houston on the road

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Morning shootaround — Dec. 18


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Next man up is new normal in Cleveland | Riley says Heat not looking to trade | Howard responds with love in Houston | Shumpert truly delivers

No. 1: Next man up is new normal in Cleveland The Oklahoma City Thunder entered Cleveland having won six games in a row, but the Cavs used a strong second half run to build an insurmountable lead and win, 104-100. While Kyrie Irving has still yet to return from injury for the Cavs, LeBron James once again stuffed the stat sheet, finishing with 33 points, 11 assists and 9 rebounds to lead the way for the Cavs. And as our Steve Aschburner writes, it’s still early, but the Cavs look locked in:

No Kyrie Irving (recovery from knee surgery), Iman Shumpert (groin) and Mo Williams (thumb sprain) meant minutes and opportunities for others. No biggie for the Cavs, for whom short-handed is the new normal. You have to go back eight months and 44 games, to the postseason opener against Boston, for a game in which Cleveland had all its guys healthy.

“Our motto is the next man up,” said James, who now has a 16-4 personal record head-to-head (regular season or playoff) against OKC’s Kevin Durant. “There’s no excuses around here. Whoever’s in the lineup is ready to go.”

While OKC was missing the playoffs last spring, done in by Kevin Durant’s and Russell Westbrook‘s injuries, Cleveland was busy getting resourceful. The Cavs beat the Celtics, the Bulls and the Hawks, and pushed the Warriors to six games in the Finals, by leaning on the likes of Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson like never before. James at times seemed startled by how much those role players could handle, but by doing so they toughened up and built a bond.

That was evident again Thursday. Thompson gave the Cavs repeated extra chances by grabbing 15 rebounds overall — 11 on the offensive end — to go with 12 points. Dellavedova chipped in his own double-double with 11 points and 10 assists. Veteran Richard Jefferson scored 13 points and wild card J.R. Smith was big early, both scoring and making timely defensive plays.

This essentially was the crew that pushed Golden State to an extra level of great last spring. It’s the team that, with Irving, Shumpert and Williams all due back soon, knows how to fold back in talented players because it did that over the second half of last season. It’s the biggest reason Cleveland stands alone as a legit contender from the East, while the Thunder will slug it out with two or three rivals out West.

Durant and Westbrook combined for 52 points and Serge Ibaka added 23 more, but the OKC bench went from good enough in the first half to ghastly in the second. New coach Billy Donovan appeared to get caught in his rotations, asking the Thunder to survive too long with neither of its two scoring stars on the floor. Enes Kantner was a liability defensively and two-way mishap Dion Waiters reminded the sellout Q crowd why their team is better off without him.

James and the Cavs are playing chess right now relative to the Thunder’s checkers. He knows what Cleveland needs to win a title because he’s been there and done it so recently. The Thunder went to the Finals in 2012 but in this what-have-you-done-lately league, that’s old news in a rapidly changing game.

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No. 2: Riley says Heat not looking to trade The Miami Heat are currently 15-9, good for fourth place in the Eastern Conference. But we know team president Pat Riley is always looking to improve the roster, which could involve making a trade somewhere along the way. A recent report had center Hassan Whiteside on the trade block, and yesterday Riley spoke to the media to say he wasn’t ready to make any moves, at least not quite yet, as Manny Navarro writes in the Miami Herald:

“I can guarantee you there have been no discussions about the BS that you have read in the newspapers the last couple of days,” Riley said of rumors Whiteside could be headed to Houston or Sacramento. “I like our team and I want to see where we’re headed.”

Riley said he expects the Heat, which plays the Toronto Raptors at 8 p.m. Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena, will be “one of [the teams] that is going to be for real” when that 40-game mark is complete Jan. 15.

What does he like about this Heat team?

“Well, we’ve got great depth,” Riley said during a five-minute interview with The Miami Herald and a two local TV stations Thursday during a holiday event for veterans at the Miami VA Fisher House. “I think we have a three-tiered team which is we have a group of great veterans, mid-aged veterans, and then we have youth. We have a lot of spirit. There’s a lot of energy with our young guys.

“Probably some of our best defenders are our young players. They’re trying to get their offensive games to match their defensive games.”

He also likes the leadership that team captains Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem have brought.

“They have no idea how proud I am of them and how they conduct themselves every single night, good or bad — to the community, to the media,” Riley said. “It’s not easy. This league is not easy, and when there’s a high-expectation level, then you’ve got to deal with the consequences of winning and the consequences of losing, and I think our guys do it very well.”

He said coach Erik Spoelstra has done “an exemplary job.”

“I think he’s finding his way to the heart of his team and how they’re going to play, how he can adjust and make those adjustments,” Riley said. “Contrary to what a lot of people think, we have a team that can play big. We have a team that can play medium. And we have a team that can play small. You don’t want to get caught up in any one thing. You just want to create your own identity, which is what I think [Spoelstra is] talking about. Whether you’re big or you’re small, that’s how you’re going to play. I think we’re showing that.”

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No. 3: Howard responds with love in Houston The Houston Rockets got off to a slow start, including firing coach Kevin McHale. Part of their inconsistent play has come from center Dwight Howard, the former All-NBA player who has suffered various injuries in recent years, and has seen his production fluctuate. But recent reports of Howard wanting out in Houston are, at least according to Howard, not true, as Jonathan Feigan writes in the Houston Chronicle:

“The one thing that I don’t want to happen is people to assume that because things are not going quite well for us that I’ve quit on the team and take away from all the positive things we have done, despite the loss, making the city feel like they’re unwanted,” Howard said on Thursday. “There’s a lot of negativity going around. I haven’t caused it. I haven’t said anything negative to anybody about this team or this situation. I’ve just been trying to find ways to make this situation better, trying to grow as a man, as a basketball player.

“You just try to laugh at it. I don’t want to go out and persecute the people that persecute me. That’s the hardest part. The first reaction is to go back at them. You just have to respond with love.”

A report at sheridanhoops.com on Tuesday cited sources saying Howard is “extremely unhappy” with his role with the Rockets and predicted he would be traded to the Miami Heat. Howard called the report “lies.”

Howard can expect to hear plenty from the Lakers fans tonight at Staples Center. He has often laughed at the taunts in Los Angeles, even singing along with chants in his first return to play the Lakers after signing with the Rockets.

“If they boo me, they boo me,” he said. “Just going to say, ‘Hey, I love you guys. If you boo me, I’m going to respond with love, just try to have a good game, not get frustrated with whatever happens on the floor. I don’t want to smile too much because then I’m (said to) not take it serious. I don’t want to not smile too much because then I’m (called) unhappy. Just going to stay positive.”

Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said he has over the years talked to some players when they have been subject of trade rumors or other media reports. With Howard, Bickerstaff said they have talked often throughout the season, but did not consider that necessary with this week’s reports and that neither took them seriously.

“There’s certain guys that need to be talked to more about those situations and other guys, it doesn’t bother them. I try not to bring attention to it. If a guy does have a problem or a question and he brings it to me, then I’ll talk to him. For the most part, I try to ignore it because there’s so much noise out there.

“We’ve joked about it. We’ve laughed about it. I don’t think it needs to be addressed. I don’t know when I’ve seen him ‘extremely unhappy.’ We’ve had plenty of conversations. We’re in a good place.”

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No. 4: Shumpert delivers One of the Cavs out with an injury last night was forward Iman Shumpert, recovering from a strained groin. Which meant Shumpert happened to be at home on Wednesday when his pregnant fiancé, Teyana Taylor, unexpectedly went into labor and gave birth. As ESPN’s Dave McMenamin writes, Shumpert ended up having to play doctor and delivered his daughter before the paramedics arrived…

The baby, Iman Tayla Shumpert Jr., was born at 6:42 a.m, according to the post. Taylor nicknamed her “Junie.”

Taylor wrote that she did not realize she was in labor until she could feel her baby’s head. She said Shumpert used the cord from a pair of headphones to tie off the umbilical cord as the couple waited for the ambulance to arrive minutes later.

The birth came about three weeks before the expected due date of Jan. 16, 2016, which Shumpert previously shared on his Facebook account.

Shumpert and Taylor got engaged in November, with Shumpert proposing to her with a ruby engagement ring on the night of her baby shower.

Shumpert was ruled out of the Cavs’ game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night with a right groin strain. According to the Cavs, his playing status is questionable moving forward.

Before the 104-100 win over the Thunder, Cleveland coach David Blatt said Shumpert had yet to be re-evaluated by the Cavs since the team returned from Boston, because he was excused to be with his family.

“Due to the recent events, we’ve allowed Shump to do more important things,” Blatt said. “The doctor will get his hands on him, hopefully, [Thursday] evening. Then we’ll be a little bit smarter [about his status]. But he’ll be down for a few days for sure.”

Then Blatt cracked a joke about Shumpert’s surprise delivery skills.

“Dr. Shumpert now,” Blatt said. “And congratulations to Teyana, as well.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Scary moment in Cleveland last night, as LeBron James dove for a loose ball and slammed into Ellie Day, the wife of professional golfer Jason Day, sitting courtside. She was taken away on a stretcher and, according to Cleveland.com, treated and released from a local hospitalSteve Kerr hopes to be back on the Warriors’ bench in the next “two to three weeks” … Are the Sacramento Kings interested in trading for Kevin Martin? … Mike D’Antoni was spotted in Philadelphia, presumably there to meet with the Sixers about a job as an assistant … The Milwaukee Bucks held an “informal” meeting with Carlos Boozer in Los Angeles … The Bucks also took a team bonding trip to AlcatrazThe Currys and Drake made a postgame trip to In-N-Out …

Morning shootaround — Dec. 17


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe fine with missing —  or making — All-Star Game | Report: Howard doesn’t desire trade | Report: Kings working to deal Butler

No. 1: Kobe fine with making — or missing — 2016 All-Star Game — There’s still plenty of time to make your voice heard and vote in the 2016 All-Star Game. With this being Kobe Bryant‘s farewell season in the NBA, will he garner enough votes to get a spot (as it is unlikely  he’ll be voted in as a reserve by the coaches)? For Bryant, making his final All-Star Game — or missing it — seem to be of equal value to him, writes Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com:

Though NBA commissioner Adam Silver recently told Sirius XM NBA Radio that Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant “deserves to be” at the 2016 All-Star Game, Bryant said he is fine if he doesn’t make what would be the final All-Star Game appearance of his storied career.

“I mean it would be great to play in it. If I’m not in it, I’m not going to beat myself up over that either,” Bryant said after practice at the team’s facility Wednesday. “I’ll support the game no matter what. Support the players no matter what.”

If the 37-year-old Bryant were voted into the game, it would mark his 18th all-time selection, one shy of the NBA record held by fellow Lakers icon Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Bryant, who is retiring after this season, has started in 14 All-Star Games.

“It would be great, but at the same time I’ve played in a lot of them, so it’s always great to have the younger guys step up and get their opportunities as well,” Bryant said. “I’ve played in quite a few. If I’m fortunate to be there, I’ll be extremely grateful for that. If I’m not, at the same token, I’ll be extremely grateful for the opportunities I’ve had.”

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