Posts Tagged ‘san antonio spurs’

New faces, new places for All-Star starters

VIDEO: Stephen Curry is the leading vote-getter for the NBA All-Star Game starters

NEW YORK CITY — The 2015 All-Star Game will feature several first-time starters, as well several players making return All-Star appearances while representing new places. But perhaps the most surprising news from the All-Star voting results is a changing of the guard atop the polls.

NBA All-Star 2015Cleveland’s LeBron James, last season’s overall vote-getting leader while a member of the Miami Heat, led the voting through each of the initial voting updates this season. But a late push from Golden State’s Stephen Curry made the Warriors guard the overall leader, with 1,513,324 votes to James’ 1,470,483.

The other big surprise in final voting totals was the rise of Toronto’s Kyle Lowry. In the first voting totals, announced on Christmas Day, Lowry was in fourth among Eastern Conference guards, behind Washington’s John Wall, Miami’s Dwyane Wade and Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving. Irving started last season’s game for the Eastern Conference and went on to win the All-Star Game MVP.

In the most recent results, announced two weeks ago, Lowry had leapfrogged Irving to move into third place but was still over 100,000 votes behind Wade, with 406,974 votes to Wade’s 507,326 . But the Raptors campaigned hard for Lowry, with social media support from people like hip-hop star Drake and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which apparently rallied enough support to push the 28-year-old Lowry, who has never been an All-Star, into the starting lineup. Lowry finished with 805,290 votes to Wade’s 789,839.

Last season’s second-leading vote-getter was Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, with 1,396,294 votes. Durant went on to win his first NBA MVP award. But Durant has missed 23 of OKC’s 42 games this season while recovering from a foot fracture, while his teammate Russell Westbrook, himself a three-time All-Star, has missed 14 games with a hand injury.

For the second year in a row, forwards and centers were lumped into one frontcourt category. Each conference’s starting five will include one of the Gasol brothers — Memphis’ Marc for the West and Chicago’s Pau for the East, in his first season as an Eastern Conference player. New Orleans big man Anthony Davis, who one year ago made his All-Star debut as a Western Conference reserve, will join Marc in the Western Conference starting lineup, giving the West plenty of size along the front line.

Some players are noticeable by their absence. Despite winning the NBA title in dominant fashion a season ago, no San Antonio Spurs players were named to the starting lineup in the West. And in the East, no Atlanta Hawks charted among the top five, even though the Hawks currently are 35-8 and have a six game lead atop the Eastern Conference.

Houston’s James Harden probably has the best claim to a starting spot among those not voted to the starting fives. Harden currently leads the NBA in points per game at 27.2 per night. This year he was the only player over a million votes (1,069,368) not to make the starting lineup.

But could history repeat itself? Last season Harden was selected as an injury replacement for Kobe Bryant in the Western Conference starting lineup, and the announcement earlier today that Kobe Bryant suffered a torn rotator cuff last night puts his participation this year in doubt. If Bryant is unable to play, the Western Conference All-Star coach, Steve Kerr, will select his replacement in the starting lineup from among the players selected as reserves, where Harden would seem to be a lock. The reserves will be announced next Thursday night, Jan. 29.

Golden State’s Kerr will be the first rookie coach to coach in an All-Star Game since Larry Bird in 1998. Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer, who is just in his second year as an NBA head coach, will coach the Eastern Conference All-Stars.

The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be exclusively televised on TNT from Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Feb. 15.

THE EAST

Frontcourt

LeBron James, Cavaliers — No surprise that the league’s reigning best all-around player made the cut. After flipping from Miami to Cleveland in the offseason and a slow start with the Cavs, James recently sat out 8 games to recuperate from nagging injuries. In five games since returning, King James has averaged 30.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg and 6.0 apg.

Carmelo Anthony, Knicks — This must be a high point in an otherwise rough season for Anthony, who has averaged 24 ppg and 6.7 rpg in 33 games for the woeful Knicks, who are just 7-36 on the season. Anthony will likely be the only New York or Brooklyn representative in the game.

Pau Gasol, Bulls After 13 seasons in the Western Conference with the Grizzlies and Lakers, a move East to Chicago has vaulted Gasol into his first All-Star game since 2011, and the first All-Star start of his career. It’s well-deserved: At 34 years old, Gasol is averaging 18.7 ppg along with a career-high 11.4 rpg.

Backcourt

John Wall, Wizards — After making his first All-Star appearance one year ago as a reserve, this season Wall was voted in as the leader among Eastern Conference guards. The 24-year-old Wall is having a breakout season, leading the Wiz to a 29-14 record while averaging 17 ppg and leading the NBA at 10 apg.

Kyle Lowry, Raptors In his ninth NBA season, for the last few seasons Lowry has been the Eastern Conference player probably most deserving of an All-Star nod that never came. This season, Lowry is averaging 19.8 ppg, 7.5 apg and 4.9 rpg, career highs across the board.

THE WEST

Frontcourt

Blake Griffin, Clippers — All-Star Weekend is nothing new for Griffin — he’s been a participant every year since 2011, the same year he won the Slam Dunk Contest by leaping over a car. But his game has evolved over the years, using less power and more touch. This season Griffin is averaging 23 ppg and 7.6 rpg for the 28-14 Clippers.

Marc Gasol, Grizzlies — The younger Gasol brother has made just one previous All-Star appearance, in 2012. But Gasol was named the Defensive Player of the Year last season, and this season has assumed a central role in the Memphis attack, posting 8.2 rpg along with a career-high 19.3 ppg.

Anthony Davis, Pelicans – The Unibrow is officially among the NBA elite. After a summer anchoring the gold medal-winning USA Basketball team in the FIBA Basketball World Cup, Davis has continued his strong play into the season. The versatile 21-year-old seven-footer, in just his third NBA season, is currently averaging a double-double, with 24.3 ppg to go with 10.4 rpg, as well as leading the league with 2.9 blocks a night.

Backcourt

Stephen Curry, Warriors – Thus far this season, Curry has been the best player for the league’s best team. In his sixth NBA season, Curry is averaging 23.2 ppg and 8.1 apg for the Warriors, who began the season 16-0 and are currently 34-6 overall.

Kobe Bryant, Lakers — After sitting out last year’s game while recovering from an Achilles tendon injury, the Mamba was again selected an All-Star starter, although like last season, an injury could curtail his participation. Even at 36 years old, the 16-time All-Star has remained effective, averaging 22.3 points per game this season in 35 appearances.

Blogtable: Texas-sized showdown?

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: Midseason surprises? | Texas playoff showdown? | What to do with Austin?



VIDEOThe Spurs won their last game vs. the Rockets, which came in late December

> We’d love to see a good Texas showdown in the first round of the playoffs, so which would be the better one: Spurs vs. Rockets, Spurs vs. Mavs, or Mavs vs. Rockets? Why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’ll take Spurs vs. Rockets, please, just because of the contrast in cultures, styles, team-building, new Big 3 vs. historic Big 3, you name it. James Harden in perhaps an MVP season against Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Beverly pestering Tony Parker, Dwight Howard against Tim Duncan and San Antonio’s other bigs – the only downside would be catching all the games on TV and going forward three rounds without one of them.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Any combination would make for a dandy series, but I’ll go with Spurs-Rockets. Since the arrival of Dwight Howard last season, Houston is 5-1 against San Antonio. This could be a changing-of-the-guard type series as the Rockets use younger, stronger legs to press an advantage against the aging veterans of the Spurs. But at 38, Tim Duncan has been performing like an ageless All-Star and the Spurs’ pride wouldn’t go down without an epic fight. Bring it on.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: No real preference, but I’ll go Mavericks-Rockets. Other people will look forward to a return to the sniping, Chandler Parsons against his old team, Mark Cuban against the Houston front office. I would like the collision of the very good Mavs offense against the very good Rockets defense. That would be a fun watch.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Mavs-Rockets, no doubt. I mean, even though Chandler Parsons has already seen his old team and will again before the playoffs, the temperature goes up a tick in April. Toss Mark Cuban into the mix and it becomes even more toxic. This could be Dirk Nowitzki‘s last good chance to go far in the playoffs, so the Mavericks might feel a little desperation.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’d happily accept any of the three, but put me down for Rockets-Spurs. San Antonio is always going to be my first choice for any matchup, as long as they keep playing the same style, keep executing at a high level, and keep Boris Diaw around. Houston provides a contrast in style, star talent, and the defense that has had the most regular-season success against the Spurs over the last two years. Before we get there though, I’d like to see the Rockets add one more guy who can create off the dribble. Their offense misses Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Given the intertwined histories of all of these franchises, we couldn’t go wrong with any of these proposed matchups. Still, there’s something about the bad blood that simmers between the Mavericks and Rockets makes that the series I’d love to see. James Harden and Rajon Rondo, Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Smith, Dwight Howard and Tyson Chandler, Monta Ellis and Patrick Beverley and, ultimately, Trevor Ariza and Chandler Parsons. All of those matchups, combined with the underlying drama involved, would make for a crazy competitive first-round series. There would be as much (or more) drama in this series as there would be the rest of the postseason combined.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Spurs vs. Mavs would be tremendous. Both teams know how to win championships (now that Dirk Nowitzki has been joined by Rajon Rondo), both coaches are among the NBA’s smartest, and both offenses tend to be efficient and explosive. The Mavs went seven games in the opening round last year with the Spurs, who lost only four additional playoff games on their way to the championship. A rematch would be even more competitive.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: There’s a lot of history between each of these teams, and from a schadenfreude/front office perspective, watching Houston and Dallas in the first round might be the most entertaining. But from a basketball perspective, I’d really like to see San Antonio go up against Houston. Even as the Spurs have struggled through injuries and a rigorous first-half schedule, they’ve remained relevant to the postseason picture. Once they’re at full-strength, I’d love to see their pace-and-space attack against Houston’s read-and-react offense. How would San Antonio slow down James Harden? How would Houston defend San Antonio’s ball movement? However it shakes out, it will definitely be must-see TV.

James, Curry remain All-Star voting leaders

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The King still reigns.

In the latest NBA All-Star balloting results, released this morning, Cleveland’s LeBron James remains the leading overall vote-getter. James, who had 552,967 in the initial voting results, has 775,810 votes in the second balloting totals.

Golden State’s Stephen Curry, who was the leading Western Conference vote-getter in the first results, remains atop the Western Conference though just behind James in overall balloting, with 755,486 votes.

NBA All-Star 2015The top five players in each Conference remain unchanged in the second results. Kobe Bryant and Curry are the top guards in the Western Conference, with Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol the top three frontcourt players. Tim Duncan and James Harden are the two Western Conference players closest to moving into the starting five, with Duncan roughly 50,000 votes behind Marc Gasol, and Harden about 180,000 votes behind Kobe Bryant.

In the Eastern Conference, the only move among the starting five is a flip-flop between two starters. Chicago’s Pau Gasol, who was roughly 18,000 votes behind New York’s Carmelo Anthony in the first voting returns, has moved into second place among Eastern Conference forwards, with 372,109 votes to Anthony’s 365,449.

Chris Bosh is currently in fourth place among Eastern Conference forwards, about 70,000 votes behind Anthony for a starting spot.

John Wall and Dwyane Wade remain atop the Eastern Conference guards, with Kyrie Irving about 90,000 in third, about votes off the pace.

The biggest gainer overall is Portland’s Damian Lillard, who was eighth among Western guard in the first results, but has jumped to fifth in these second results, leapfrogging Russell Westbrook, Klay Thompson and Rajon Rondo. Lillard, however, remains about 550,000 votes behind Bryant for a starting guard position.

The team most under-represented in regard to their record is the Atlanta Hawks, who currently have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference at 23-8, but their highest-ranked player in the second voting results is Paul Millsap, who is 13th among Eastern Conference forwards (34,751 votes).

This year, for the first time ever, fans have the power to vote for any active player in the NBA using the new online ballot. The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be played in New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks, on Sunday, February 15, 2015. The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night — including the Sears Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Sprite Slam Dunk — will be held at Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets. The recently-debuted uniforms feature nods to all five boroughs of New York City.

Blogtable: NBA Person of the Year?

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: Person of the Year? | Rondo or J-Smoove? | Bulls bound for Finals?



VIDEORelive the best on-and off-court moments from 2014

> Time magazine editors choose a Person of the Year based on who they think most influenced the news — for better or worse — during that calendar year. Going by that criteria, who should be the NBA’s Person of the Year for 2014?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: We’re not as desperate as mainstream media to stay relevant, so I won’t suggest a “shock” pick – no Donald Sterling, thank you. And while new commissioner Adam Silver had a great “rookie” year, from his handling of the Clippers owner’s mess to his negotiation of the new TV rights mega-deal, I prefer my NBA Person of the Year to not be a “suit.” So I’m going with LeBron James. Maybe not the most creative pick, but his final days with Miami, his refreshing decision to return to Cleveland and the ongoing angst over the Cavaliers’ spotty start – despite all the talk of learning curves and (ahem) patience – have dominated the league’s storylines.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comGregg Popovich. He’s been at the top of the game for quite a while, but 2014 was the year when the entire world finally got validation that Popovich is more than just a grumpy face. He channeled the anger and disappointment from the 2013 Finals loss into a fire that drove the Spurs to redemption. He did it with a masterful use of his roster, conserving veterans Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker and at the same time forged a deep bench that would be critical in the playoffs. By the time he got the Spurs back to The Finals last June, Popovich practically had them playing to a musical score in an artistic display of basketball. In winning titles 15 years apart with only one common player — Duncan — Popovich chiseled himself a spot on the Mt. Rushmore of coaches.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comPersons — plural — of the Year. The San Antonio Spurs. I was going to go with Tim Duncan or Gregg Popovich or the Popovich/R.C. Buford combo vote, and then decided it was impossible and unnecessary to split them apart when the group win be so Spur-ish anyway. Did they influence the news the most? No. By that criteria alone, the one-man news cycle, LeBron James, is the winner. But San Antonio influenced the league the league the most. Another title, another calendar year of setting the standard for play and work off the court, another 12 months, into the start of the new season and the final weeks of 2014, of Duncan reaching new heights of impressive when it didn’t seem possible. I can’t wait to ride down the river after presenting the award.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comAdam Silver took over the commissioner’s job and found a live grenade on his desk in about 15 minutes. The way he handled the Donald Sterling situation — swiftly yet not recklessly, and definitely forcefully — gave him a higher profile and approval rating than his more famous NFL counterpart (Roger Goodell). For this particular designation, Silver has lapped the field.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comGregg Popovich. The Spurs were the story of the 2013-14 season, recovering from the ultimate heartbreak in the 2013 Finals, getting back there through a deep Western Conference, and then, eviscerating the two-time defending champs with five games of the best basketball we’ve ever seen. San Antonio’s sustained success over the course of 17 seasons, on both ends of the floor and from the top of their roster to the bottom, has a lot of the league trying to imitate them. Several teams were talking “more ball movement” in training camps and we’re seeing the Spurs’ maintenance program for their vets make its way around the league as well. Tim Duncan is the best player of his generation and there are a lot of reasons why the Spurs are what they are, but Popovich has his hand in everything and is the face of the franchise

Sekou Smith, NBA.comNBA Commissioner Adam Silver is the runaway winner. He wasted no time ridding the league of the Donald Sterling disaster and has shown an ability to lead in ways that his predecessor and current peers in the other major professional sports wish they could under extreme circumstances. We all wondered how things would be different during the Silver administration … and we found out immediately. Doc Rivers, for his leadership of the Los Angeles Clippers throughout the Sterling affair, and LeBron James, who kept us all guessing during the summer before shaking up the league once again by going home to Cleveland (close enough to Akron to qualify as home), round out the top three on my ballot.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comIt has to be LeBron ahead of Adam Silver, because this league – more than the NFL or the MLB – is about the players. LeBron was “person of the year” in 2010, and the decision he made back then was bookended by his return to Cleveland last summer.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To me there are two obvious options, both involved in the same story but from different sides. Donald Sterling was probably the biggest NBA news story of 2014, after his now-infamous racist comments went public and stirred up controversy at the worst possible time for his basketball team. (Well, his former team.) But to me the NBA Person of the Year should be the guy who stepped up and took on Sterling, NBA commissioner Adam Silver. That press conference where Silver announced Sterling’s ban occurred just weeks into Silver’s new gig as commissioner. There were more eyeballs on him than he probably thought imaginable, and Silver handled the moment with aplomb. And actually, even with 20/20 hindsight, it’s hard to find any part of the Silver/Clippers saga that Silver didn’t tackle about as well as it could have been tackled. Factor in Silver inking bank-busting media rights deals this fall, and even though he’s only been on the job since February, Adam Silver has had quite a 2014.

Kevin Durant sits out vs. Spurs

Kevin Durant won't play today against the San Antonio Spurs.

Kevin Durant won’t play today against the San Antonio Spurs.

From NBA.com staff reports

UPDATE, 3:25 p.m.: 

Thunder star Kevin Durant will miss his fourth straight game with a sprained right ankle.

He sat out again Thursday on the road against the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. Durant was injured last Thursday in a loss at Golden State.

Durant missed the Thunder’s first 17 games because of a fracture in his right foot. The reigning NBA Most Valuable Player is averaging 22.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists in nine games this season.

The first meeting between last season’s Western Conference finalists, the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder, will be lacking in some star power today.

According to ESPN.com, reigning MVP Kevin Durant will not play in today’s game (2:30 p.m. ET, ABC) as he continues to mend from a sprained right ankle:

Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant has been ruled out for the team’s Christmas Day game against the defending champion San Antonio Spurs.

This will be the fourth straight game Durant will miss after spraining his right ankle. He also missed 17 games to begin the season with a broken right foot.

Durant sprained his ankle last Thursday against the Warriors after stepping on Marreese Speights‘ foot shortly before halftime.

Durant, 26, is averaging 22.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists this season.

The Thunder (13-16) have lost their past two games and are 7-2 with Durant on the floor and just 6-14 without the reigning league MVP.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 23


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Start up the J-Smoove sweepstakes | Wade: No boos for LeBron, Heat fansBulls at their best with Butler and Rose | No timetable for Leonard’s return

No. 1: Report: Heat angling for Smith; Rockets may have best shot at him — Shortly after the Detroit Pistons waived forward Josh Smith yesterday, the rumor mill and Twitter speculation started up about where he might land next. (Our Fran Blinebury detailed six possible destinations here.) The Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks are thought to be the favorites to land Smith due to his connection with various players on each team (Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard) and the free-spending/roster-altering ways of each team’s GM (Mark Cuban and Daryl Morey). ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that the Miami Heat may also be in the mix after they made a small roster move last night:

The Miami Heat have formally applied to the league office for a Disabled Player Exception in the wake of Josh McRoberts‘ season-ending knee injury in a move they hope will help them land free agent Josh Smith, according to league sources.

Sources told ESPN.com on Monday night that the Heat have launched the application process in hopes of being granted the exception before Smith picks his next team once he clears waivers.

At present, Miami can offer only a $1.4 million veteran minimum contract to Smith, but a DPE after losing McRoberts would be valued at $2.65 million.

Sources say the Houston Rockets, however, remain confident they have the inside track to land Smith even if Miami is granted a DPE this week, given Houston’s clear need at power forward and Smith’s close friendship with Rockets center Dwight Howard.

Sources say the Rockets, with Howard leading their recruiting pitch, believe Smith will ultimately choose Houston over Miami and the Dallas Mavericks, whose recruiting effort is being spearheaded by guard Rajon Rondo — another of Smith’s close friends.

“He’s just as close to Dwight as he is to Rondo,” one source said late Monday, “and Dwight wants him.”

ESPN.com reported earlier Monday that the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Clippers were also in the mix for Smith with Houston, Dallas and Miami. Grantland’s Zach Lowe subsequently reported that the Memphis Grizzlies had also joined the race.

Prior to Monday’s game, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban confirmed to local reporters that his team was trying to lure Smith to join the newly acquired Rondo as a power forward and small-ball center off the bench. Despite the fact it can offer him only a minimum salary, Dallas will try to sell Smith on the idea that he would assume the role of Brandan Wright.

“Josh is super talented and he fits the profile of the guy we love to bring in here,” Cuban said. “He’s one of those guys that gets a bad rap … and we have a great track record of bringing the truth out about guys like that: Monta [Ellis], Stack [Jerry Stackhouse], Jet [Jason Terry].”

But the Rockets, sources say, are convinced that their status as a title contender — along with Howard’s presence and the minutes they can offer Smith at his preferred position of power forward — will ultimately win out once Smith clears waivers.

The Philadelphia 76ers are the only team in the league with sufficient salary-cap space to claim Smith before he becomes a free agent Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET. But sources said Monday the Sixers have no plans to do so.

Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the Rockets are the clear-cut favorite to pick up Smith and Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes that the Rockets admit they have interest in Smith:

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s holiday shopping did not end with last week’s three-team deal.

Following the Detroit Pistons’ stunning decision Monday to release 6-9 forward Josh Smith, the Rockets will make a run at Smith once he clears waivers Wednesday, a person with knowledge of their thinking said.

The Rockets have long sought Smith, 29. They tried to acquire him as a free agent in 2013 but could not work out the sign-and-trade agreement with the Atlanta Hawks that was necessary after signing Dwight Howard.

Smith instead signed a four-year, $54 million deal with the Pistons.

The Rockets have had talks with the Pistons about a trade, but with Howard and James Harden, the Rockets’ highest-paid players, off-limits, there was no way to put together a deal with an exchange of corresponding salaries.

Though the Pistons were unable to deal Smith, the Rockets could have stiff competition to land him if they pursue it. The Mavericks have room in the frontcourt after dealing Brandan Wright. Also, Smith played at Oak Hill Academy with new Mavericks guard Rajon Rondo.

The Clippers also are expected to show interest.

The Sacramento Kings often have tried to trade for Smith and also would pursue him as a free agent.

Teams may not talk to Smith or his representatives until he clears waivers Wednesday, but players are permitted to speak to one another. At least one Rocket has his number.

And, lastly, don’t count on the Philadelphia 76ers surprising everyone by landing Smith …


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses the future for Josh Smith

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Dec. 16


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kings, Malone were a stylistic mismatch | Monroe denies trade rumors | Bucks win thriller but lose Parker | Blazers lose Lopez for ‘a while

No. 1: Kings, Malone were a stylistic mismatch — Two days after the surprise firing of coach Michael Malone in Sacramento, we’re finally starting to get a few explanations. In a session yesterday with the media, Kings GM Pete D’Allesandro said it didn’t matter what Malone’s record was, it was more about the team’s style of play and philosophy. As Jason Jones writes in the Sacramento Bee

Malone was a coaching disciple of defensive-minded Jeff Van Gundy and Malone’s father, Brendan, an assistant with the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons when they won NBA championships in 1989 and 1990.

But defense is not what the front office or ownership wants to sell to fans.

“It wasn’t about wins and losses,” D’Alessandro said. “I didn’t really care about what our record was. It’s about who we want to be, what we want our identity to be as a team.”

That vision is a team that plays a fast-paced offensive style Tyrone Corbin will try to implement as interim coach.

D’Alessandro would like to see the Kings play like the Rick Adelman-coached Sacramento teams more than a decade ago, when they piled up wins with a dynamic offense – especially with the new downtown arena expected to open in 2016.

“What we’re trying to do is put a style in that reflects the Sacramento fan base, which to us is a free-flowing, up-and-down style of play,” D’Alessandro said. “That’s what we’re striving for; we have time now to install it before we get there. I think it’s going to ignite the arena when we’re playing with the style of play we intend to play with.”

Now the questions are whether the Kings, 11-13 overall and 2-7 without Cousins, have the players to make that style work and direct the team long term.

D’Alessandro wouldn’t commit to Corbin for the rest of the season, though he said Corbin has his support. The Kings are interested in veteran coach George Karl, an analyst for ESPN who was fired by Denver following the 2012-13 season, according to league sources. D’Alessandro worked with Karl in Denver.

Chris Mullin, a Hall of Fame player and an adviser to primary owner Vivek Ranadive, might be interested in the job, league sources said.

Until a permanent coach is hired, Corbin will have the challenge of changing the team’s style.

“It’s so new right now,” Corbin said. “I’m just trying to weather the storm right now and get these guys ready to play a game (Tuesday).”

***

No. 2: Monroe denies trade rumors — A day after a story in the Sporting News reported that he “badly” wanted to be traded by the Detroit Pistons, both Greg Monroe and Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy strongly refuted the rumors that Monroe was on the block. As Vince Ellis writes in the Detroit Free-Press

“They put that stuff out there, say somebody said it and then I got to answer for it, I really don’t have time for that,” Monroe said before tonight’s game at the Los Angeles Clippers.

On the rumors, he added: “It’s getting more irritating. We lost 13 games in row, won a couple of games, and now you got to hear this.”

Sporting News writer Sean Deveney, citing sources, says Monroe “badly” wants out of Detroit and that the team is seeking a first-round pick in return.

He emphatically said he is open to re-signing with the Pistons.

Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy also denied the aspect of the Sporting News report saying the Pistons were seeking a first-round pick for Monroe. “I don’t know where that stuff comes from,” Van Gundy said. “We haven’t talked to anybody about trading Greg Monroe.”

***

No. 3: Bucks win thriller but lose Parker — On the one hand, it was a big night for the Milwaukee Bucks in the desert, as they battled the Phoenix Suns and won on a game-winning buzzer beater. But on the other hand, the Bucks had to play most of the second half without rookie of the year candidate and franchise building block Jabari Parker, who went down with a non-contact knee injury and wasn’t able to return. As Charles Gardner writes for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Parker’s left knee buckled without contact as he made a drive in transition and he was unable to leave the floor under his own power. He was carried off the court by teammates Zaza Pachulia and Johnny O’Bryant.

“As of right now we don’t know anything. They’ll do all the tests tomorrow and we’ll be able to report something then,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said after the game.

Pachulia, who played a key role in the Bucks’ comeback victory, said all of Parker’s teammates were wishing him the best.

“I hope he’s going to be OK,” Pachulia said. “He’s a great young player. This team and this organization, the whole city counts on him. He has a lot of years ahead of him in his great career. Injuries are part of the game.

“I hope it’s not anything serious. We are all praying for him.

“It was tough to see your teammate going down and not being able to walk himself. We’ll see what happens tomorrow. The doctor is going to make a decision, obviously. But we want to him to have a speedy recovery, whatever it is. We really need him.”

Parker was driving to the basket but his knee gave way before he had mild contact with the Suns’ P.J. Tucker. A double foul was called on the play but there was little contact to merit that.

Jared Dudley said Parker “is the franchise.”

“He’s young; he’s a rookie,” Dudley said. “The good thing about it is he was smiling when he came in, so that’s always good. He was in, I don’t think it was a cast, but something where you couldn’t bend it, obviously.

“He’ll get an MRI. We’re hoping it’s just a sprain where you get him back in a couple weeks. You don’t want to have anything with him, so keep him in your prayers.”

***

No. 4: Blazers lose Lopez for ‘a while — Meanwhile in Portland, the Blazers knocked off the defending champion Spurs, but in the process lost starting center Robin Lopez to a fractured hand. According to Portland coach Terry Stotts, Lopez will be out “a while,” and having to make do without Lopez is not something that the Blazers are relishing, writes Joe Freeman for The Oregonian

“I don’t even want to think about having to play without RoLo,” All-Star point guard Damian Lillard said.

Lopez said he wasn’t sure how he suffered the injury, but it looked like he smacked his hand against the back of Boris Diaw‘s head while pursuing a rebound under the hoop. Lopez didn’t show any immediate pain or discomfort and he continued to play with the fracture for a few minutes. Eventually he was pulled from the game, however, and preliminary tests indicated that he fractured his hand in two places.

“At first I thought I just jammed a finger or something,” Lopez said. “I didn’t hear a pop and I didn’t feel any pain or anything. So I was just trying to shake it off. But as play went along, my hand never could regain any strength, so I figured I was more of a liability out there.”

The true liability lies in Lopez’s absence, particularly a lengthy one. In many ways, he’s the heart and soul of the Blazers’ starting lineup, a selfless, rugged, lane-clogging big man who is the unsung hero to their free-wheeling offense and linchpin to their improved defense. Lopez is averaging just 9.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, but his value is not measured solely in statistics. He’s the team’s best screener, best interior defender and most unselfish player.

How important is he to the Blazers’ success? They are 73-34 with him on the roster and last season — his first in Portland — he was an integral part of the first Blazers team in 14 years to win a playoff series.

“I don’t like it, I don’t like it, I don’t like it,” LaMarcus Aldridge said, when asked about the prospect of playing without Lopez. “That’s it. I can’t get past I don’t like it.

***

SOME RANDOM LINKS: Pacers owner Herb Simon says he’d be fine with a trade to bring back Lance Stephenson, but it’s not his call … Billionaire businessman Warren Buffet sat courtside in Cleveland last night to see LeBron James play … Kobe Bryant on passing Michael Jordan and the time he almost quit basketball for soccer … Mike Fratello will remain coach of the Ukraine National Team for at least a few more years … Darko Milicic will make his kickboxing debut later this week …

Morning shootaround — Dec. 13


VIDEO: Top plays from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Swaggy P goes primetime | Down goes Davis | Nets’ patience running short | Pistons snap 13-game skid

No. 1: Swaggy P goes primetime — Last night in San Antonio with the Lakers in town, all eyes were on Kobe Bryant, who entered the night 31 points from passing Michael Jordan for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. But during the pursuit of the record — and one day after Kobe publicly criticized his teammates while the media was at practice — something interesting happened: The Lakers knocked off the Spurs in overtime for their second straight win. And while Bryant finished with 22 points, the game-winning bucket came from Nick “Swaggy P” Young, who, according to ESPN’s Baxter Holmes, fully enjoyed the moment

Nick Young is all jokes, all the time. But Friday, after playing the surprise role of hero in an overtime win here against the San Antonio Spurs, the quirky Los Angeles Lakers guard turned his cartoonish personality all the way up.

Exhibit A, referencing his remarkable, go-ahead 30-footer with 7.4 seconds left in a 112-110 victory, a highly contested prayer of a heave that turned AT&T Center silent:

“Once it left my hand, I kind of knew it was cash,” Young said. “I’m like, ‘I don’t miss.’ That’s my new name — ‘I.D.M.’ Call me ‘I.D.M.’ You feel me?”

Exhibit B, referencing his game and season-high 29 points off the bench on 9-for-14 shooting, including 6-for-9 from 3-point range:

“Man, you know, I’ve just got to do what I’ve got to do when I’ve got to do it,” Young said. “So basically, I’m just doing what I’ve got to do every time that I step on the court to do what I’ve got to do. You feel me?”

Then Young offered more not-so-veiled remarks — hard truths and backhanded compliments, if you will, that made it once again difficult to tell when exactly he’s joking and when he isn’t.

Such as here:

“I’m glad I had a chance to hit a game-winner with somebody like Kobe [Bryant] on the floor, who normally has the ball in his hands all the time,” Young said.

Or here, when he nodded to Bryant’s chase of Michael Jordan for third place on the all-time scoring list (Bryant stood 31 points shy of passing Jordan entering Friday):

“No offense to Kobe, but I didn’t think I was going to get the ball that much [Friday],” Young said. “I thought he was going to break that record — at least get 40 or 50 [points]. With all the cameras that were around, I didn’t think I was going to get the ball that much.”

Young, known as “Swaggy P,” in a nationally televised game indeed stole the spotlight away from Bryant, who many expected would gun for Jordan’s record. Instead, Bryant shot 7-of-22 from the field and scored 22 points, leaving him nine shy of passing Jordan’s total (32,292).

“It’s going to come,” Bryant said of the milestone.

But the fun-loving Young also touched on Bryant’s trash-talking tirade in practice Thursday, when Bryant called his teammates “soft,” comparing them to Charmin toilet paper, among other things.

“When I’m out there, I don’t play like Charmin,” Young said. “I like Scott Tissue. It’s a little rougher.”

***

No. 2: Down goes Davis — One of the most versatile players early this season has been New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, who has averaged a double-double and established himself as an MVP contender even with the Pelicans hovering around the .500 mark. But early in the first quarter last night against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Davis went down with what is being called a “chest contusion.” While the Pelicans managed to hang on for the win without Davis, they obviously need to get him back if they want to continue to fight for a playoff spot. As John Reid writes

Despite Friday’s win, the focus was clearly on Davis’ health. He never came out the locker room after suffering the injury. The Pelicans had initially listed him as questionable to return.

However, when the Pelicans took the court before the start of the third quarter, there was no sign of Davis. At the end of the quarter, the team announced that Davis would not return.

It appears unclear when Davis’ chest problems began. But midway in the first quarter, forward Tristan Thompson bumped into Davis at mid-court. However, Davis continued playing.

During a timeout with 5:44 remaining in the opening quarter, Davis had his hands on his chest appearing to be in discomfort. He returned to the court but asked out of the game at the 5:30 mark.

“I just know when he was on the bench, he was wincing as if he couldn’t breathe,” Williams said. “So I was hesitant to put him back in the game and he then he wanted to go back out. We watched him for awhile and he took himself out. That’s when I knew he didn’t feel right. And he was waiting for himself to feel better when he was in the back (locker room), but it never came back. So we’ll have a better idea of what’s going on (Saturday).”

***

No. 3: Nets’ patience running short — Reports of the Brooklyn Nets’ hastened demise have been greatly exaggerated…this according to Brooklyn GM Billy King. At a press conference last night, speaking before the Nets’ 88-70 win over Philadelphia, King said stories about the Nets attempting to quickly trade their core three are exactly that: Stories. With the team currently sitting at 9-13, however, King acknowledges an urgency to get things turned around. As the New York Post reports

“My job is to listen to people and to make calls and to make calls back,” King said before the Nets’ 88-70 victory over the 76ers on Friday night at Barclays Center.

“Does that mean we’re having a fire sale? Absolutely not. I’m doing my job, as well as asking the players and the coaches to do their job. But my job is to work the phones, see what’s available.

“If things make sense you make trades. If they don’t, you don’t do it. But we’re not shopping or having a fire sale.”

King’s comments came in the wake of reports Tuesday the Nets had made their three highest-paid players — Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez — available in trade discussions recently after Brooklyn got off to a rough start for a second straight season.

But while King said there are reasons why the Nets haven’t played up to expectations, he wasn’t ready to say everything about the team’s slow start could be attributed to outside factors.

“I think one, Brook was playing himself back into shape, after being out so long,” King said. “I think a lot of guys were trying to adjust to the new system.

“But some guys just haven’t played up to the level we need them to play.”

The Nets have sputtered out of the gate each of the past two seasons, and since the start of training camp, coach Lionel Hollins repeatedly has said he expects them to play much better in January and February than they are now, once the group grows more comfortable with him and vice versa.

King, however, said the Nets can’t afford to simply wait for things to get better with time. They entered Friday with an 8-12 record and were riding a three-game losing streak.

***

No. 4: Pistons snap 13-game skid — When Stan Van Gundy signed on this summer to take all things basketball for the Detroit Pistons, there was an expectation that things would improve from last year’s 29-53 season. Thus far, however, things have been worse before they got any better, as the Pistons entered last night with a 3-19 record and 13 consecutive losses. But the Pistons finally got summer signee Jodie Meeks back from injury, and went into Phoenix and squeaked out a 105-103 win to end the streak. As Vincent Goodwill writes

All the stops were pulled Friday, as Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy went back to Greg Monroe in the starting lineup, used Jodie Meeks for the first time this season and even did what he’s been previously reluctant to, playing his two point guards simultaneously.

The Pistons were desperate, doing everything they could to counteract the balanced Phoenix Suns attack.

Buzzer-beating triples, passionate pleas to the officials followed by calm diplomacy when the emotion died down, but in the end, they had to make plays, and did just enough to beat the Suns, 105-103, at U.S. Airways Arena.

Easy, it surely wasn’t, and the ending will never be confused with being smooth or a coaching clinic, as the Pistons nearly gave it away multiple times in the final minutes.

Andre Drummond, an unlikely figure to be sure, hit one of his two free throws with 2.5 seconds left to give the Pistons a two-point lead before the Suns’ final attempt made its way to Drummond’s massive mitts before the buzzer sounded, ending the misery, punctuating his 23-point, 14-rebound night.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the player who was alleged to have “no heart” by Suns forward Markieff Morris during their earlier meeting, hit a corner 3-pointer with 1:13 remaining to break a 97-all game, and the quiet kid shot a cool stare at the Suns bench on the way downcourt, the last of his 14 points.

“Ha! Nah, I did kind of look at the bench or whatever, let them know I do have heart. I’ll take that shot any day,” Caldwell-Pope said with a bit of a grin afterwards. “It felt good. Jodie had a nice cut to the basket, (Eric) Bledsoe helped and I was wide open. I spotted up and knocked the shot down.”

Meeks played 22 minutes off the bench, hitting four of his 10 shots to score 12. Meeks, who’s rather mild in most instances, was fouled with eight seconds left after a Goran Dragic layup, and after his two made free throws, pounded his chest in joy.

***

SOME RANDOM LINKS: Don’t look now, but the Hawks have won 9 straight … The Knicks got a win but lost Iman Shumpert with a dislocated shoulderDion Waiters spent the night in Cleveland after experiencing abdominal pain … Bulls forward Doug McDermott will undergo an arthroscopic procedure on his knee … Jermaine O’Neal will make a decision about returning after the holidays … While Kobe closes in on Michael Jordan’s scoring record, Byron Scott doesn’t think anyone will catch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar … Someone allegedly stole a truck filled with 7,500 pairs of LeBron‘s signature shoes

Morning shootaround — Dec. 11


VIDEO:
Highlights from games played Dec. 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nets move Kirilenko | Knicks project united front | Rondo, Stephenson get physical | Warriors introduce new arena redesign

No. 1: Nets move Kirilenko — It’s not a member of their core, but the Nets have agreed to a trade that clears a bit of cap space. Forward Andrei Kirilenko goes from Brooklyn to Philadelphia, saving the Nets some cash, and the Nets add forward Brandon Davies and his non-guaranteed contract. As our John Schuhmann writes, it sure looks like neither player may be long for his new team…

Brandon Davies isn’t completely awful, but his contract is non-guaranteed, so the Nets could waive him and not have to pay him anything. Assuming they do, the trade would save them about $6.6 million in luxury tax payments, in addition to about $2.6 million of Kirilenko’s salary. If they include another player in the deal, they save more.

The deal will also give them a trade exception and an open roster spot. Both of those give them a little more flexibility in making future trades.

The Sixers get a little closer to the salary floor, not that it matters. They probably won’t keep Kirilenko, who hasn’t played since Nov. 13, hasn’t made a shot (or been in the Nets’ rotation) all season, and is dealing with a personal issue that has kept him away from the team.

***

No. 2: Knicks project united front — The Knicks have only won four games this season, but that hasn’t kept them from making headlines early on. According to a report yesterday from ESPN’s Chris Broussard, things behind the scenes with the Knicks have been as calamitous as their play on the court has been. Writes Broussard…

The New York Knicks were en route to their fifth straight loss last week against Brooklyn when a frustrated Tim Hardaway Jr. screamed angrily, “Get the rebound!”

Certain his second-year teammate was speaking to him, Carmelo Anthony approached Hardaway on the way down the court and used an expletive to ask Hardaway who in the world he thought he was talking to.

Anthony, according to sources, used another expletive in telling Hardaway he was going to beat him up when they got into the locker room after the game.

While the two players never wound up fighting, the episode was emblematic of the volatile state of the Knicks. Off to their worst start in franchise history at 4-19, the Knicks are a team full of discord, defiance and doubt, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

“Nobody’s taken a swing at anybody, but there’s a lot of arguing and cursing each other out after games,” one source said.

In addition to the Knicks’ lack of chemistry, sources say the players believe coach Derek Fisher’s insistence on running the triangle offense is another key reason for New York’s struggles.

After the ESPN report was published, the Knicks players met with the media while on the road in San Antonio and said things were not as bad as they sounded, noting that they had recently held a player’s-only meeting to help get everyone on the same page…

The Knicks started the day tied for the most losses in the league — seemingly ripe conditions for a story to emerge about internal discord. The article said that Anthony had a verbal spat with teammate Tim Hardaway Jr. during a game last week against the Nets. The report also said that Knicks players told Anthony that they were unhappy with his style of play — that he was not playing team basketball — and also that many players were displeased with Coach Derek Fisher’s systems.

Neither Anthony nor Hardaway denied on Wednesday that they had clashed on the court, but both men said the issue was behind them and described a fruitful mentor-student relationship. Anthony, meanwhile, reiterated his commitment to the team and to perfecting Fisher’s system, including the triangle offense.

As far as hearing criticism from his teammates, Anthony revealed that there was a players-only meeting on Saturday at the team’s practice facility in which various concerns were raised, but he denied it had become particularly contentious.

“Everybody had a platform to speak their piece, and what they felt about what’s going on, and how we can better the situation,” Anthony said. “But it wasn’t no pointing fingers or anything like that, or solely pointing me out to be blamed.”

While reports of relationship issues may be overblown, a 4-20 record doesn’t lie: The Knicks lost big last night to a Spurs team missing Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard.

***

No. 3: Rondo, Stephenson get physical — During last night’s Celtics/Hornets game, with both teams desperate for a win, two of the NBA’s more competitive players found themselves in a battle neither could really win. Boston’s Rajon Rondo and Charlotte’s Lance Stephenson ended up banging into each other more than once, and as Jay King writes, to hear Rondo tell it, there may have been some flopping involved…

About five minutes into the third quarter of a 96-87 Boston Celtics loss, Rondo threw a high elbow that sent Stephenson tumbling to the court. The Charlette Hornets wing stood up and got in Rondo’s face; later in the same possession, after what looked like some jawing, both players were hit with technical fouls.

Asked about what happened, Rondo initially said, “Nothing at all. I said something to him and I didn’t know what I said could get a tech.”

Pressed on the elbow, the Celtics guard obviously implied Stephenson took a dive.

“He weighs about 60 more pounds than me, but that’s part of his game,” Rondo said.

“The game is contact. The game we play is contact. Whatever you saw, I don’t know,” he added. “I am strong. But I don’t think I was that strong on that play in particular to knock him down.”

Rondo notched his third triple-double of the season with 12 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds, but committed three costly turnovers down the stretch. He also got beaten baseline by Kemba Walker for an and-1 with 3:46 left that pushed Charlotte’s lead to 90-85.

“We did (let an opportunity slip away),” Rondo said. “It started with me. I had some key turnovers in the fourth that I should have been able to take better care of the ball. And Kemba Walker had a backdoor play layup. So we’ve got to do better as a team, as a whole. And it starts with myself.”

***

No. 4: Warriors introduce new arena redesign — A few months ago the Golden State Warriors showed off pictures of their planned arena in San Francisco. It was touted as a step forward for the franchise, which currently has the best record in the NBA and has been based in Oakland’s Oracle Arena since 1971. There was one thing people noticed, however, about the new arena drawings: From above, it seemed to look like a toilet. Rather than sit with those criticisms, yesterday the Warriors dropped new sketches of the planned facility that should streamline the exterior of the new space

Gone is much of the rectangular viewing deck that, when coupled with the oval arena, gave the overhead view of the place the appearance of a giant toilet seat with the lid down. The deck has been shaved down to about half its old size, dropped about 13 feet below the roof line and given a sweeping curve.

“We are trying to flush the toilet bowl forever out of people’s consciousness,” said Warriors arena consultant Jesse Blout.

Instead, it looks more like an old Discman CD player, less likely to be the butt of humor.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dwight Howard hopes to return Saturday for the Houston Rockets … Tom Thibodeau says any talk of trust issues in Chicago is “garbage.” Taj Gibson respectfully disagreesByron Scott is thinking about starting Kobe Bryant at point guard … The Mavericks are considering options regarding adding another big man … ABC is developing a sitcom about a foreign-born NBA player and his translator.

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 30


VIDEO: Highlights of the six games played Saturday, Nov. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Raptors Go Forward Without DeRozan | Cavs Heavy On Defense | Warriors Go Green | Rondo’s Free-Throw Woes

No. 1: Raptors Go Forward Without DeRozan — The Toronto Raptors are off to an Eastern Conference-best 13-3 record to begin the season, and a large part of that has been the play of DeMar DeRozan. The 6-7 guard has averaged just over 19 points per game so far and, along with Kyle Lowry, led the team in minutes played through the first 16 games. But on Friday against Dallas, the usually-durable DeRozan suffered a torn tendon that will may keep him out of action for a while. In his absence, reports the Toronto Star, the Raptors must look to the “next man up”…

It’s impossible to know when he might return; the only North American professional athlete to be diagnosed with the same injury was New England Patriots receiver Danny Amendola, who was out of action for about a month. But every athlete is different, with different pain thresholds and recovery times, so comparing one to another is a stretch. And there is no history to look at where DeRozan is concerned.

The 25-year-old has been remarkably healthy in his five-plus seasons in the NBA, missing just 11 of 410 games before Friday night.

Two seasons ago, he played in each of the team’s 82 games, then 79 of 82 while becoming an Eastern Conference all-star in 2013-14.

Injured on a seemingly harmless slip early in the second half of Friday’s game, DeRozan is the team’s leading scorer, averaging more than 19 points a game, and has been a perfect complement to backcourt mate Kyle Lowry.

He was instrumental in helping Toronto get out to a franchise-best 13-3 start to the season, a record that puts the Raptors atop the Eastern Conference. It should provide a big enough cushion in a weak conference that an extended DeRozan absence won’t harm their place in the standings.

DeRozan travelled here with the team Saturday, as the Raptors begin a west coast trip of three games in four nights with an outing against the Lakers on Sunday night.

The Raptors have been relatively injury-free this season and last, although forward Tyler Hansbrough has missed five games with a shoulder injury and James Johnson sat out three with what the team called a “severe” ankle sprain.

On each occasion, coach Dwane Casey and his players have relied on the “next man up” cliché to suggest that no one is irreplaceable, that the team’s depth can carry it through any injury.

Casey does have options to replace DeRozan in the starting lineup on a team that generally uses 10 men each night.

He could insert Lou Williams, often the first backcourt player off the bench, into DeRozan’s starting role if Casey wants to enhance the first unit’s scoring potential, or he could move the more defensive-minded James Johnson into that spot and shift Terrence Ross to a shooting guard role.

***

No. 2: Cavs Heavy On Defense — Don’t look now, but after a middling start, the Cleveland Cavaliers have won three straight, including Saturday’s 109-97 win over Indiana. And to explain their strong play of late, the Cavs point at least in part to improved effort on the defensive end, particularly from two-thirds of the Big Three. Coming into the season, neither Kyrie Irving nor Kevin Love were known for their defense. But as ESPN’s Dave McMenamin writes, that could be about to change

Irving credited his turnaround to his summer spent with USA Basketball, an experience that Cavs coach David Blatt also cited as a reason for Irving’s improved 3-point shooting (he’s shooting a career-high 43.6 percent from deep).

“I just try to stay in front of the ball as much as possible so it’s not as much pressure for other guys to help me,” Irving said, emphasizing the importance of stopping dribble-penetration at the point of entry so the Cavs’ big men aren’t always being pulled away from their man or from the rim. “I’d rather help other guys and be in position to help and stop my guy instead of the other way around and always being ‘that guy’ on film. I was on film a lot the last three years [laughing]. You get tired of it after a while, so you want to be that guy that your teammates trust on a day-in, day-out basis.”

For Love, it’s all about the All-Star forward trusting the defensive schemes that the Cavs have in place, according to Blatt.

“In general, I would like to say, I think Kevin Love is playing the best defense of his career so far,” Blatt said. “He can get better like all of us can, but he’s doing a good job. He’s buying into the system, into the principles, and he needs to continue to do that and we need to continue to involve him in the way that we are.”

While Irving wasn’t shy about his desire to become a “great defender,” Love seems to know his limitations.

“I’ve never really been known for that in my career,” Love said. “Being a lockdown defender is something that I know I’ll never be, but as far as being a team defender, being in the right spots, being physical, doing those things, I can get a lot better at that and just continue to break down film and see where I can get better out there. So yeah, I think it’s something that I can continue to buy into and get better at.”

***

No. 3: Warriors Going Green — The Golden State Warriors are off to a franchise-best 13-2 start, a record they’ve reached without starting forward David Lee, who is recovering from a hamstring injury. In Lee’s place, the Warriors have gotten stellar play from Draymond Green, who has become a leader of this Warriors team, writes the Oakland Tribune

“He’s in a lot of ways our heart and soul and just plays with such passion at both ends,” Kerr said before the Warriors faced Detroit on Sunday in Green’s home state. “I think it’s contagious.”

Green has been in the starting lineup for the entire season as the Warriors are off to a franchise-best 13-2 start, but it took a little time for him to get comfortable with Kerr and the flow of the new coach’s ball movement-oriented offense.

It didn’t get done through fun and games.

“The first two weeks he was very frustrated,” Kerr said. “I was all over him. He didn’t quite understand why we were trying to install a new offense.

“He’d take some wild shots, and I’d yell at him, and he’d wonder why I was yelling at him. But it all came from the right place. We were all just trying to get better.”

Green, who was accustomed to being challenged in practice by fiery Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, saw that he needed to learn when to pass and set screens along with how to pick the right times to shoot the 3-point shot that he had worked on all offseason. There were times when a confused Green thought he was doing what he was told when it wasn’t the case in Kerr’s mind.

“He was at it every day, like on me, pulled me to the side,” Green said of Kerr, who encouraged the player to watch film of San Antonio’s Boris Diaw as a model of how to function.

“He’s got a little hot side to him, and a lot of people don’t know that. He’ll just snap real quick. Like it’ll come out of nowhere, snap!”

Green made the necessary adjustments and averages 12 points, 7.3 rebounds and three assists, shooting 34 percent from 3-point range while serving as the vocal leader, versatile defender and replacement in the lineup for David Lee, who is recovering from a hamstring strain.

“Everybody always says I reached my ceiling,” Green said. “I don’t care what people think.

“I don’t believe in a ceiling. I believe in a work ethic.”

***

No. 4: Rondo’s Free-Throw Woes — Coming into this season, Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo was shooting 62-percent on free throws for his career. But this season, for reasons that remain unclear, Rondo is just 9-of-28 from the line for a 32-percent total. And on Friday night against Chicago, Rondo missed two free throws with the game tied late. According to the Boston Herald, Rondo says he’s going to address the problem the the only way he knows how: By putting in work…

“Most of them hit the right/back side of the rim. I don’t have an answer right now,” he said. “It’s about practice. I’m looking at my follow through. All of my misses have been the same, so I’ll be in the gym again tonight and continue to work.”

Rondo isn’t ready to do something more exotic — none of that underhand style that Rick Barry made famous, and a frustrated Wilt Chamberlain used as a last resort. No talking to the ball, like Karl Malone.

“I haven’t thought about talking to myself,” Rondo said, smirking at the idea. “I just think about continuing to work, spending more hours in the gym if I have to. Not just the free throws. I’ve missed a lot of fourth-quarter shots I usually make. I have to work on those shots as well.

“I still want to get fouled. I try to get fouled,” he said. “I can get into a better rhythm, but it’s not mental. I’ve been in the paint trying to get rebounds, trying to stay aggressive. My game is driving. That’s what I do best.”

***

SOME RANDOM LINKS: Sounds like Gregg Popovich could be returning soon for the Spurs … The Lakers are looking to add bodies to their injury-depleted roster … Raymond Felton says Tyson Chandler was not a distraction with the Knicks … The Timberwolves have signed Jeff Adrien