Posts Tagged ‘san antonio spurs’

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

Morning shootaround — Nov. 20


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blatt wants more from all of Cavs | Kidd rips into Nets’ brass | Carter’s emotional tribute in Toronto | Cuban touting new in-arena technology

No. 1: Blatt wants better play across board from Cavs — The Cavs had last night’s game against the Spurs in a situation they couldn’t have dreamed up better: down one point, with LeBron James bringing the ball up court with seconds left to go in the game. But as James crossed halfcourt, he lost his dribble, Manu Ginobili scooped up the loose ball and San Antonio had a 92-90 win. Afterward, coach David Blatt pointed out how the Cavs can’t keep counting on LeBron to save their bacon every night, writes Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group:

That last possession is not what put the Cavaliers in a situation where they are now standing a subpar 5-5. James had a rough go offensively. Spurs foward Kawhi Leonard did a phenomenal job shadowing James and forcing him into help zones.

James ended the night with 15 points on 6-of-17 shooting, with six rebounds and nine assists.

“Kawhi is a really, really good defender and T.D. (Tim Duncan) is kind of always protecting the paint,” James said. “They want everybody in the paint to try to make it tough on me. I missed some shots. They did a great job forcing me into some tougher shots that didn’t go for me.”

When James doesn’t play well offensively, the Cavaliers tend to follow suit. He is averaging 32.6 points and shooting 53 percent in wins and 19.2 points and 39 percent in losses.

Those numbers are not a newfound revelation, but according to head coach David Blatt it shouldn’t be an excuse for others not to bring it.

“What I would say to that is we all have to step up,” Blatt said. “Not just one guy. One guy is not responsible for a whole team. I’m not going to throw out any names or throw anybody under the bus, but the thing about a team is, if everyone is engaged, I think each and every guy has to step up and make himself felt and contribute what he can to the game.”

Clearly not enough guys stepped up in James’ time of need. But overall, Blatt felt his team came ready to play, which was not the case Monday in a home loss to Denver.

“I thought we played it with the right level of intensity, focus and determination,” he said.

Defense wasn’t the issue this time. Blatt made it a point to single out Kyrie Irving, calling it his best defensive game of the season for his play on Spurs guard Tony Parker, who was 2-of-7 and had eight points in 33 minutes.

Coughing the ball up is what players harped on. The last thing any team wants to do is hand the Spurs’ efficiently-run offense extra possessions.

“Turnovers killed us,” Anderson Varejao said. “At the end of the game we had a couple of bad ones and I believe that’s why we lost.”


VIDEO: The Spurs handle the Cavs in an early season East vs. West showdown (more…)

Fixing defensive downfalls remains job No. 1 for Cavaliers


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses what the Cavs must do to shore up their defense

CLEVELAND – It sounded like the old Steve Martin joke, advising people how to be a millionaire and never pay taxes (“First, get a million dollars. Then…”). Someone asked Gregg Popovich how he and his San Antonio coaching staff get players not known for their defense to “buy in” to the Spurs’ system so they uphold that team’s stingy reputation.

“I don’t bring anybody in like that,” Popovich said after the Spurs’ shootaround session Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena. “Except maybe [Marco] Belinelli. He’s trying.”

Even the trigger-happy Belinelli got vetted through Tom Thibodeau‘s five-guys-on-a-string tactics in Chicago for a year before Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford signed him in July 2013.

The Cavaliers imposed no such prohibitions when they came together this offseason, parts being bolted around LeBron James in a flurry of trades and free-agent acquisitions. The incumbent backcourt of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters had no particular defensive chops. Power forward Kevin Love racks up formidable rebounding numbers but otherwise hadn’t shown much defensive proclivities. Center Anderson Varejao is energetic and aggressive in the paint, but Love and Tristan Thompson aren’t bonafide rim protectors. Shooters Mike Miller and James Jones are, well, shooters. And even James’ defense seemed to slip a notch in his last season with Miami.

Through nine games, Cleveland’s defensive rating of 108.3 was tied for fifth-worst in the league. That’s not just worse than his Heat team’s performance last season (102.9), it’s worse than the 2013-14 Cavaliers managed (104.8) on their way to a 33-49 record.

The Cavs have given up 100 points or more seven times, and their defensive effective field-goal percentage of .536, which adjusts for the premium on 3-pointers, is third-worst in the NBA, better only than the Lakers (.551) and Minnesota (.559). The breakdowns in Cleveland’s schemes are clear, from zone coverage to pick-and-roll misdirections to some poor or lazy individual habits.

So while everyone has focused on the blending of offensive styles and responsibilities of James, Love, Irving and the rest, Cleveland opponents have found it awfully easy to score – a flaw the Cavaliers can’t afford to ignore.

“I don’t think it’s something you learn on the fly,” James said Wednesday. “I think it’s something you work on every single day. You teach it, you preach it, you demand it. I didn’t come [into the NBA] as being a big defensive guy. I played defense and my high school coaches did preach it, and we knew in order to win, we had to defend. This is a different level.

“When [former Cavs coach] Mike Brown came to this team, that was just his whole mindset, saying, ‘If we don’t defend, we can’t win.’ And he preached it every day. It was just instilled in us as players. You’ve got to teach it, you’ve got to preach it, you’ve got to demand it every single day.”

Sounds like current Cavs coach David Blatt is there now, too.

“You have to raise the level of expectation,” Blatt said the other day, “and the level of accountability, and you have to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Sometimes if you’re not blessed with great individual defenders, your principles have to be that much stronger, and your helps and your court recognition have to be that much better. And that’s why it’s taken us longer in that area of the game than on the offensive end.”

San Antonio, by contrast, ranks third in the NBA in defensive rating (96.0) after finishing fourth (100.1) last season and tied for third (99.2) two years ago. A team whose main pieces have been together for multiple seasons might be expected to have an edge, though effort and priorities matter as much or more.

The Cavs’ familiarity will grow, but it’s on them to drag the defense along. Bumping up Shawn Marion‘s minutes has helped some, and there has been chatter about pursuing Timberwolves wing Corey Brewer in trade. Still, a roster overhaul is unlikely and any defensive makeover will require lipstick (and more) on what so far has been a pig.

“Defensively we just need more than anything to just trust each other,” Love said. “We’re all capable, especially as a team. We’ve got to take the individual battle. But at the end of the day, we need to trust each other that we need to help each other out.”


VIDEO: LeBron James is driven to get the Cavs back to winning consistently

 

Morning shootaround — Nov. 15


VIDEO: Highlights from Friday’s NBA action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Duncan tops 25K, joins Kareem | Close doesn’t count for Sixers | The name is Harris. Joe Harris | Burke’s unlikely buzzer-beating accuracy

No. 1: Duncan tops 25K, joins Kareem — Not to detract from Tim Duncan‘s tremendous milestone evening Friday in Los Angeles, but once again the numbers crunchers and the young’uns who chronicle NBA exploits neglected a little bit of history.

When folks noted that Duncan scored the 25,000th point of his Hall of Fame-bound career and joined some elite company in San Antonio’s 93-80 victory over the Lakers, they were accurate without being exactly right. Yes, Duncan boosted himself onto the same level as the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in reaching 25,000 points, 14,000 rebounds and 2,500 blocks. But it’s not quite true that the two big men are “the only players in NBA history” to surpass those thresholds.

To put that another way: You can’t blame Wilt Chamberlain for the fact that the NBA didn’t track blocks during his career. Or, for that matter, it’s not Elvin Hayes‘ fault that the league only began toting blocks in 1973-74, in his fifth pro season.

Chamberlain absolutely swatted an average of 179 shots annually over his 14 seasons – the Dipper might have rejected that many in a month in his prime – and that’s all it would have taken for him to reach 2,500. With 31,419 points and 23,924 rebounds, Wilt established thresholds that would take Duncan a while longer to reach (even Kareem, with 17,440 boards, never really got close in rebounds despite playing 20 seasons).

As for Hayes, it seems fair to suggest he would have averaged 145 over his first five seasons, considering he averaged 195 over his next eight. That’s all the Rockets and Bullets Hall of Famer would have needed to get to 2,500 blocks, to go with his 27,313 points and 16,279 rebounds.

None of this more-proper perspective, though, should take anything away from the celebration of Duncan’s sustained excellence, as reported by the San Antonio Express-News’ Dan McCarney. Abdul-Jabbar was even in the house at Staples Center to witness it:

“Unbelievable player,” Duncan said of Abdul-Jabbar, who reacted with clear appreciation to several of Duncan’s baskets during the game. “A way better scorer than I ever was at any point. I did see him; it was great to see him. It’s fun to be in a category with someone like that.”
“It means I’ve been playing for a very long time. It’s fun to hear about, but it’s something I’ll look back at later on.”
Even at 38, with his contract set to expire this summer, that still might not be for some time given how well Duncan continues to play. He had 13 points and 11 rebounds in just 25 minutes against the Lakers, his sixth double-double in seven games to push his career total to 803. Duncan entered Friday’s game ranked third in rebounds per game at 11.5, and fifth in total rebounding percentage at 20.3.

“When you play for 48 seasons…no, the guy is unbelievable,” Manu Ginobili said. “He’s going by some legends, but he’s already a legend. He’s one of the best players to ever play. It’s not that I’m surprised. Sometimes we hear 25,000 points and say, ‘Wow,’ but it’s Tim. So it can happen.”
Said Gregg Popovich, “I told Aron Baynes, ‘It’s no big deal. If you shot as much as Tim, you’d have 25,000 too.’ “

***

No. 2: Close doesn’t count for Sixers — There’s no getting around it: 0-9 is 0-9. And if you’re an NBA fan of a certain age, that links the 2014-15 Philadelphia 76ers to the dreadful 1972-73 version, which also started the season winless through its first nine games. Finishing with an all-time worst 9-73, Philadelphia was winless through most of the rest of their games, too.

For a few fleeting moments Friday night in Houston, though, the Sixers looked to be on the verge of a W that didn’t stand for woeful. They led 87-86 with less than 20 seconds left, only to see second-year guard Michael Carter-Williams lose the ball off his leg on a drive to the basket. Rockets star James Harden shoot free for a layup at the other end and a rare Philadelphia game that featured 16 lead changes and 16 ties ended like the other eight before it this fall.

Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer had more:

This is the same Sixers team that was outscored by a combined 85 points in their previous two contests against the Dallas Mavericks (53 points on Thursday) and Toronto Raptors (32 on Sunday).
“Obviously, the win is the thing that we didn’t get and what hurts most,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “I think [the outcome] is a fantastic reflection of what they can be. It’s a sign of not feeling sorry for ourselves, and them coming back with fight.
“Those are the things you sort of leave the game with.”

***

No. 3:The name is Harris. Joe Harris — Unheralded is one thing, disrespected is something entirely different.

You can be excused if you never heard of Joe Harris before Friday night because the 6-foot-6 swingman from the University of Virginia was a second-rounder in the Draft in June, the 33rd player picked overall, after averaging 12.6 points in four college seasons. He had more than the usual amount of shade thrown on him first by the clamor over the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first pick, No. 1 phenom Andrew Wiggins, and subsequently by LeBron James‘ return to his home market and the Cavs’ trade for All-Star forward Kevin Love.

Harris’ rookie experience took a significant turn Friday in Boston, however, with his contributions to Cleveland’s comeback victory over the Celtics. He scored six points, played 19 minutes and was good for a plus-24 on a night when the other three subs who played – Tristan Thompson (minus-9), Mike Miller (minus-15) and Dion Waiters (minus-14) – all were in the red.

The night started out with some all-too-familiar dismissiveness directed toward Harris:

But by the end, there were raves about Harris afterward from both inside and outside the locker room, as enumerated by Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal in his usual postgame countdown:

1. With the way he is progressing and as well as he is playing, Joe Harris will be the starting shooting guard sooner rather than later. Much sooner. As in within a couple of weeks (or less), one source with knowledge of the team’s thinking said. At least one member of the Cavs’ brain trust is already in favor of the switch.

2. It was the rookie second-round pick – not Dion Waiters or Mike Miller – playing the final six minutes of Friday’s tight game. The Cavs closed the night with Kyrie Irving and Harris in the backcourt, Shawn Marion and LeBron James in the frontcourt and Kevin Love at center. That’s a lineup they could use more and more going forward.

3. Harris plays with high energy. He defends, he keeps the ball moving, he cuts hard to the basket. He does everything the Cavs need him to do, including knocking down open shots. He is a great fit with this starting lineup because he doesn’t need the ball, but he’s more than capable of knocking down open shots.

4. “Joe Harris is going to be a big piece for our team,” James said. “He’s going to have his rookie mistakes, we know that, but mistakes can be covered when you play hard. That’s one thing that kid is doing.”

5. According to the Cavs’ stats, he shot 57 percent on corner 3-pointers one year at Virginia. That shot will be available to him all night on this team, just like the huge corner 3 he made in the closing minutes Friday to pull the Cavs within 116-113.

***

No. 4: Burke’s unlikely buzzer-beating accuracy — This season already has produced its early share dramatic, game-winning buzzer beaters (GWBB) that we at Hang Time HQ like to rate according to our Horry Scale. That’s named, fittingly, after the much-journeyed NBA role player who won himself and his teams a total of seven championship rings, building his brand as an amazingly clutch shooter with a flair for postseason dramatics.

We warehouse them over in the All Ball Blog, and the latest one came Friday night from Utah’s Trey Burke, an unlikely source given his 30.7 field-goal percentage prior to the game. Our man Lang Whitaker rated Burke’s GWBB on the Horry Scale, and here’s a glimpse at the Difficulty section. Go check it out in full to see how it ranked in Game Situation, Importance and Celebration:

With 2.3 seconds left on the clock, the Jazz didn’t have to rely on a catch-and-shoot. Two-plus seconds is enough time for at least a dribble, maybe even a pass.

But it looked as if the play wasn’t even drawn up for Burke to get the shot. Burke began in the far corner and set a screen for Gordon Hayward, who already had 33 points on the night. Hayward popped to the top of the key and looked to receive a pass. But Knicks forward Quincy Acy denied the look to Hayward, just as Burke flashed to the ball around the free throw line. Burke caught the ball, dribbled left into the corner, and fired up a fadeaway jumper over J.R. Smith, who was all over Burke and contested the shot well. But Burke cleared just enough space with a step-back move to release the jumper, and he drilled the shot as the buzzer was ringing.

Smith actually defended fine on the play — he went under three separate screens and stuck to Burke on the shot. Burke had to make a perfect play just to clear room for the shot. And Burke played it perfectly.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Pelicans needed those big beaks for all the franchise offensive records they racked up in their blowout of the Timberwolves. … J.J. Redick was scratching his head over both the Clippers’ odd layoff and their recent performances. … Rajon Rondo passed Paul Pierce on the Celtics’ all-time assists list and did it in 644 fewer games. Of course, their job descriptions have been a little different. … Eye-yi-yi: More eye trouble for Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard. He says not to worry. … And you thought it would never end – Houston’s streak of double-digit 3-point field-goal games is over. … Don’t blink: Brandon Jennings played some stalwart defense in Detroit’s overtime victory over OKC.

 

Morning shootaround — Nov. 11


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Leonard confident he’ll remain a Spur | Lowry driving Raptors’ early season success | Reports: Lakers granted disabled player exception

No. 1: Leonard doesn’t plan on going anywhere come free agency – From Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving (No. 1 overall pick in 2011 Draft) to Denver’s Kenneth Faried (No. 22) and other names in between, several players taken in the first round of the 2011 Draft were locked into contract extensions before the Oct. 31 deadline. One such player who was not inked to a deal was San Antonio Spurs forward (and reigning Finals MVP) Kawhi Leonard. As such, he’ll enter restricted free agency this summer, which is creating a little bit of angst among Spurs nation. However, as Leonard tells Sam Amick of USA Today, there’s little reason to fret he’ll leave San Antonio:

Gregg Popovich‘s wry humor sparked laughter among the media, but he’s as aware as anyone that Leonard’s situation is a somewhat-serious matter. Leonard is the sort of young talent who needs to feel loved, to know that all the talk about how his role is so vital will be backed up on the floor. In that regard, this night was huge.

Leonard, known for his reserved and quiet nature, was more candid than ever afterward. He boldly discussed the difference between talk and action, saying of Popovich’s comment, “It’s better to really walk it instead of just hearing them talk about it.” And in a discussion with USA TODAY Sports, Leonard, who will be a restricted free agent next summer, said he knows his days of playing fourth fiddle to Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and point guard Tony Parker eventually will come to an end.

The Spurs have big plans for this summer, among them the idea of replacing Duncan with a free agent such as Marc Gasol if “The Big Fundamental” retires as expected. And with Leonard’s salary cap hold proving so prohibitive had he received the extension he so desired, he’s confident their vision will be realized.

“I was never upset about (the extension),” Leonard said. “I mean they explained to me what their deal is and why they didn’t do it yet. That’ll play out. I’m just here to play basketball and have fun and try to win another championship. If I think about that, then I’m not going to be the same player that I am and will be just out of it.

“I can’t be impatient. It would show on the floor, and I won’t compete if I’m thinking about getting the ball. I’m just going out there to do my role, the same role — defense first and then see how the ball turns out on the offensive end.”

So even with this game taking place in Los Angeles, not far from his Moreno Valley, Calif., hometown and with about 10 family members and friends on hand, Leonard swore his mind didn’t wander to a day where he doesn’t wear the silver and black. He’s all in when it comes to San Antonio, especially if most nights are going to be like this.

“I don’t think I’m going anywhere,” Leonard said. “I mean they love me here. I like the organization, and if it was up to me, I want to finish out with one team like a lot of great players have done, to stay with one organization their whole career and just be loyal to that. You never know. We’ll see what happens next summer, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be in a Spurs jersey for my whole life.”


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard stars in the Spurs’ win against the Clippers

*** (more…)

Spurs rest stars in Houston


VIDEO: Spurs edge Hawks on Wednesday

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – We’re just 10 days into the season, but the San Antonio Spurs’ maintanence program has begun.

The Spurs announced Thursday afternoon that Marco Belinelli, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills and Tiago Splitter will not play in Houston in the first game of TNT’s double-header (8 ET).

Belinelli left Wednesday’s win over the Hawks with a groin injury. Splitter played in his first game on Wednesday, but reinjured his right calf. Mills is recovering from shoulder surgery and isn’t expected back until at least January.

Duncan and Ginobili are healthy, but they are just getting their first night off of the young season as their team plays its first back-to-back. Of course, it’s not the first time that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has rested healthy stars for a national TV game.

This could have been a great test for the 5-0 Rockets, but Popovich doesn’t care about making statements in the regular season and the Spurs’ role players sometimes step up and provide just as tough a challenge. When Popovich famously kept Duncan, Ginobili, Danny Green and Tony Parker out of a game in Miami in Nov. of 2012, the Heat needed a Ray Allen three in the final minute to pull out the win.

Report: Spurs, Leonard unlikely to reach extension

HANG TIME BIG CITY — NBA teams have until midnight tonight to reach extensions with players drafted in the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft. Some players, such as Charlotte’s Kemba Walker and Denver’s Kenneth Faried, have already agreed to long-term deals with their respective teams. But according to a report this morning, perhaps the most valuable player from the class of 2011 may not reach an agreement in time.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs are unlikely to make a deal before tonight’s deadline:

Sources told ESPN.com this week that Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs, despite more serious discussions between the parties in advance of the Halloween buzzer, are unlikely to come to terms during this extension window, setting up the 23-year-old to become a restricted free agent in July.

‎Negotiations, however, do remain alive going into the final day for at least three other prominent 2011 first-rounders: Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio and Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson.

Leonard has been billed as the Spurs’ future face of the franchise for some time — long before he emerged as the star of San Antonio’s five-game destruction of the LeBron James-led Miami Heat in the 2014 NBA Finals — and had his agent, Brian Elfus, in San Antonio this week to negotiate with Spurs officials.

But sources say that San Antonio prefers to wait until the offseason to address Leonard’s future in the name of maintaining maximum financial flexibility.

That strategy does come with an element of risk, since Leonard is sure to attract max offer sheets of varying contract lengths on July 1, his first day as a restricted free agent. But the Spurs would have the right to match any offer Leonard gets next summer in that scenario and would be able to do so with a better feel about how much longer stalwarts Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili want to keep playing. If the Spurs were to extend Leonard’s contract now, and then either Duncan or Ginobili — or both — decides to retire, San Antonio’s cap space to replace them would be lessened significantly.

Not coming to an agreement hardly pushes the Spurs into crisis mode — they still retain Leonard’s rights, and next summer, when Leonard becomes a restricted free agent, the Spurs will have the right to match any contract offer he receives. But after Leonard’s performance in the NBA Finals, he seems primed for a breakout season, and it is highly likely he could draw a maximum contract offer from a franchise looking for game-changing building block.

Not coming to an agreement with Leonard would seem to indicate that the Spurs are comfortable letting another franchise set the market for Leonard. And with San Antonio’s big three of Duncan, Ginobili and Tony Parker getting older, how the Spurs respond to an offer to Leonard will shape their franchise for years to come.