Posts Tagged ‘Spurs’

Duncan: I’ll decide when it’s time


VIDEO: Tim Duncan sees a lot of potential in the Spurs this season

NEW YORK — In the minds of so many fans in the outside world, it was a perfect ending to the Tim Duncan story.

Standing amid the blizzard of confetti falling from the rafters, doused in the celebratory champagne, embraced by all of his teammates, Duncan could have used the moment of his fifth NBA title to walk off into the sunset as a champion.

Of course, fans on the outside have never gotten into the mind of the future Hall of Famer Duncan.

“As far as me talking about walking away after a win to go out on a high note? No,” Duncan said at Friday’s All-Star media day session. “That would be letting other people dictate my terms.”

Duncan chose instead to sign a one-year, $10 million contract to return to the Spurs and as he approaches his 39th birthday in April, isn’t thinking yet that this is the end. Especially since he’s averaging 14.5 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots this season.

“I’ll decide when I want to walk away,” Duncan said.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 9


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played Feb. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron calls out Love … and it works | Clippers in a tail-spin | Karl and Kings close on a deal | Dwight Howard the big cheerleader?

No. 1: LeBron calls out Love … and it works — Even when he’s being a bit of a heel, LeBron James gets it right. He called out Kevin Love, who has admittedly struggled with his transition from focal point in Minnesota to third option in Cleveland behind James and All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving. That he took to Twitter to do it will bother some, okay plenty of folks, with old school sensibilities about how to lead. But it’s hard to argue with the results. Love had one of his best games of the season Sunday in a win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group has more:

LeBron James has nearly 18.7 million followers on Twitter, but a tweet he sent at 11:37 Saturday night was likely, almost certainly, directed at a single person.

His teammate, Kevin Love.

James posted to his Twitter account: “Stop trying to find a way to FIT-OUT and just FIT-IN. Be apart of something special! Just my thoughts.”

Those words — “fit out” and “fit in” — were the same Love used to reporters in October when discussing his adjustment to playing for the Cavaliers.

“it’s not a coincidence, man,” James told a few reporters, following the Cavaliers’ 120-105 win over the Lakers Sunday. Love scored a season-high 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.

“I lost the Finals in 2007, 2011 and 2014 and that was the same day I came back to Cleveland. Put it together, seven, 11, 14. Coincidence” James said, proving his point.

For reference, it is indeed true that James announced his decision to return to Cleveland via free agency on July 11, 2014.

James was asked about his tweet following Sunday’s game and Love’s big night. James nearly recorded a triple-double with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists — three of those assists went to Love on three-pointers.

“It wasn’t even about this team, it was more about people in general,” James said initially, to a larger group of reporters. “It was just a general thought that I had, and obviously whatever thought I had people try to encrypt it and Da Vinci Code it and all that stuff. It’s just a general thought, that’s all that is.

“And people are always trying to fit out instead of fitting in, instead of being a part of something special. And that’s all that was about.”

In October, Love told reporters that “I’m just trying not to fit in so much” and that nameless Cavs teammates had told him to “fit out and just be myself.”

“Fit in” and “fit out” of course, were written in all caps in James’ tweet.


VIDEO: Kevin Love talks after the Cavs’ win over the Lakers

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Morning Shootaround — Feb. 7



VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Davis delivers | Hawks are No. 1 | LeBron hurt in loss | Spurs beat Heat again | CP3 moving on
No. 1: Davis’ brow beater saves the day — We’ve all seen Anthony Davis do plenty of amazing things this season, but on Friday night he topped himself with another first. He capped off an incredible 41-point night with a stunning, 28-foot, double-clutching 3-point, buzzer-beater that delivered a win at Oklahoma City and allowed the Pelicans to gain a critical split of their back-to-back set of games against the Thunder. It was next step up in carving the growing reputation of the 21-year-old star and Davis’ first 3-pointer of the season. Maybe best of all, it wasn’t the play that coach Monty Williams drew up. John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune has the details:

”The play was supposed to be a lob just throw it at the rim and try to go get it,” Davis said.”’But they went under and I kind popped and I saw KD (Kevin Durant) and I think that was West (Russell Westbrook) on the other side flying in to me, so I double pumped and just threw it up there.

”I double pumped, but I tried to look to see if it came off the right finger. I was falling so I couldn’t really see the shot. But I could see that it was on line and I knew the ball was in the air before the red light came on.”

Appearing to be on a mission in his third season to get the Pelicans in playoff contention in the tough Western Conference, the ninth-seeded Pelicans (27-23) moved a game behind the eighth-seeded Phoenix Suns and they have a two-game lead over Oklahoma City.  The Pelicans, who play host to the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night at the Smoothie King Center ( 7 p.m. ET on NBA TV), won three of the four games against the Thunder. In December, Davis scored 38 points to lead the Pelicans to a 101-99 victory at Oklahoma City.

Davis said never made a 3-point under such conditions before. From his ability to take over games with his shot-blocking, mid-range shooting, inside play, there is little question about Davis’ emergence as a rising elite player.

”That’s just a superstar shot,”Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson said.”You rarely see a shot like that go in and leave it to Anthony to make it. It’s just crazy, but he has the ability to make shots like that. Beyond his game-clinching 3-pointer, Davis helped carry the Pelicans beyond their own miscues late in the game.

***

No. 2: Hawks take over top spot in NBA — It’s not often that the game lives up to all of the hype and those rare occasions are usually memorable. Take the Super Bowl for instance. Take Friday night’s showdown between the top two teams in the NBA. With the Warriors in the house and Atlanta in a frenzy, the Hawks delivered in a big way with a victory that elevated them to the best record in the league. Our man Sekou Smith tells the tale of a wonderful tale that’s been a decade in the making:

Ten years ago today the Hawks were in the midst of what would be a 13-69 season, a low point for a franchise that had seen plenty of dark days, far too many to regurgitate for long-suffering Hawks fans who lived through every painful misstep.

Friday night, they delivered in ways that not only stirred the emotions of a fan base and city, they  also checked every basketball box on the way to an unbelievable sense of what might be this morning. At 42-9 and the clear class of the Eastern Conference, the Hawks have become the model for downtrodden teams around the league. They are 14-3 against the mighty Western Conference, have won 35 of their last 38 games, own a 25-3 on their home floor, and remain on pace for a 68-win season. They are also making a mockery of any doubts about their ability to sustain this beautiful, pace and space game being cultivated under the meticulous and watchful eye of Mike Budenholzer.

It’s hoops karma that took years of hits and misses to get right, a gestation period not everyone could stomach, that has birthed a full-blow movement in a city where this wasn’t supposed to be possible.

Make no mistake, from the heart of the city to the suburbs that sprawl in every direction, it’s real.

I’ve been here for every step, sometimes closer to it than in recent years but always watching, and it is as real as the traffic congestion and late arriving crowds and finicky fans everything else that comes along with professional sports in this complicated and diverse metropolitan area of 6 million people.

Through the haze of a yet another pair of say-it-ain’t-so moments, courtesy of owner Bruce Levenson and exiled general manager Danny Ferry, these Hawks have provided a storyline that overshadows all of the foolishness.

From their All-Stars, the deserving trio Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Paul Millsap, to their equally deserving other stars, Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll, to super subs like Dennis Schroder and Mike Scott (all brilliant in their own right at times in the win over the Warriors) the Hawks have stumbled upon the winning formula for capturing the imagination of basketball fans around the globe and most importantly here at home.

“It was amazing,” Teague said of the playoff-like atmosphere. “The crowd was into it. Everybody was into it. Kyle was yelling out. That was a first. It was a good game.”

***

No. 3: Cavs loss leaves LeBron in pain — It was one thing to see their 12-game winning streak come to an end Friday night at Indianapolis. But more painful for the Cavs were wrist and ankle injuries to LeBron James and an offensive foul call against The King that proved pivotal in enabling the Pacers to claim the win. Joe Vardon of the Cleveland Plain Dealer delivers the news:

James re-injured the sprained right wrist he originally hurt on Jan. 27 in Detroit that caused him to miss a game last week, when he was fouled on his way to the basket with 48.6 seconds left in the third quarter by Indiana’s Roy Hibbert.

He stayed in the game and scored nine of his 25 points after that, but asked out of the game with 12.4 seconds remaining and Cleveland trailing by five because of what he described later as a recurring ankle injury.

The loss snapped Cleveland’s 12-game winning streak and left the Cavs one game short of tying the franchise record for consecutive wins, set (and tied) the last time James played for Cleveland in 2009-10.

James has already missed a career-high 10 games due to injury this season, and the Cavs are 2-8 in those games. But the last one went well – a 99-94 win over Portland Jan. 28 when Kyrie Irving scored 55 points.

“It’s going to hurt a lot worse tomorrow,” James said, speaking primarily of the wrist. James had a chase-down block, a dunk, and scored six consecutive points early in the fourth quarter.

“It’s the same thing,” James continued. “I already know and I’m not looking forward to it. I’m going to start my treatment tonight and just try to stay on it so hopefully I can go on Sunday.”

James fell hard to the floor and stayed down for several seconds when he was fouled by Hibbert, reminiscent of the original injury suffered against the Pistons.

That night in Detroit, James was trying to block a shot when he fell hard on both hands. It wasn’t immediately clear which wrist he’d hurt, and he scored 10 points against the Pistons after the injury.

This time, James switched between clutching the right wrist and showing signs of frustration. Hibbert was called for a flagrant foul on the play.

“It’s been better,” James said. “It’s scary for me sometimes, you know, I’ve broke my wrist before on those type of plays. I’m thankful that I could just get up, again, and hopefully I’ll continue to do that.”

James told Cavaliers coach David Blatt to remove him from the game late in the fourth, then was seen grabbing his lower legs while the team huddled for last-ditch comeback. James later told the Northeast Ohio Media Group he’s been hobbled a bit by a sore right ankle since Jan. 21, when he tweaked the ankle against Utah.

***

No. 4:  Spurs on the rise — It didn’t have nearly the same atmosphere as the previous time the Spurs and Heat met in San Antonio last June. But with their win over Miami and the upcoming Rodeo Trip looming, it looks like the defending champs are finally healthy and ready to stake their claim as a force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference. Our own Fran Blinebury was on hand for the Spurs’ latest step forward:

However, the Spurs still can think ahead because of all that they’ve endured and still managed to keep themselves afloat.
“Baby steps,” said Parker.

But the challenge is all in the deep, choppy waters of the Western Conference. For while the Spurs closed out a 10-4 month in January — second-best in the West behind Golden State — have won nine of their last 11 games and just wrapped up a 5-1 homestand, they remain stuck at the No. 7 spot in the playoff race, though tied in the loss column with the Mavericks and Clippers, the two teams just ahead.

Now they head out on their annual Rodeo Road Trip. The Spurs will play nine straight — broken up by All-Star Weekend — away from home that will cover 8,084 miles and won’t play their next home game until March 4. But the yearly forced evacuation by the San Antonio Livestock Show & Rodeo has been both therapeutic and a proving ground since it began in 2003 with the move to the AT&T Center. The Spurs have never had a sub-.500 record on the rodeo trip.

This time it’s coming just as all of the sore hamstrings, wrists, shoulders and assorted achy parts are on the mend and could give the defending champions an opportunity to get back in touch with who they are and forge an identity for the stretch run and looming postseason.

“We definitely want to find a rotation where everybody knows their role and get ready for the playoffs, because it’s going to come fast after the All-Star break,” Tony Parker said. “Everybody knows, with nine games, it’s gonna go super fast. So hopefully everybody can stay healthy and Pop can make his decisions and get a rotation and we can start playing good basketball.”

***

No. 5: Paul says ref criticism not about gender — If there’s one thing Chris Paul would like to put in the past as much as the Clippers’ current three-game losing streak, it’s the self-created furor over his criticism of referee Lauren Holtkamp on Thursday night in Cleveland. Speaking prior to Friday, Paul said his blast had nothing to do with Holtkamp’s gender, according to Melissa Rohlin and Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times:

“You know, last night was about a bad call,” he said, “that’s all.”

Paul is under heat for his comments about Holtkamp following a technical he received during Thursday’s 105-94 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was given the technical in the third quarter after the Clippers tried to quickly inbound the ball after a Cavaliers free throw.

“We’re trying to get the ball out fast every time down the court and when we did that she said, ‘Uh-uh,’ and I said, ‘Why uh-uh?’ and she gave me a tech and that’s ridiculous,” the Clippers point guard said. “If that’s the case, then this might not be for her.”

Holtkamp, 34, is in her first full season as an NBA referee and is one of two active female officials. Some questioned whether Paul’s comments were sexist.

“Like I said, last night was about a bad call, that’s it,” Paul reiterated.

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said he didn’t approve of Paul’s remarks, but he said there were no sexist undertones behind them.

“I just think he was upset at the technical,” Rivers said. “I don’t think the technical was warranted either, to be honest, but that’s not a gender issue. That’s an issue that you disagree with the tech.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Mavericks might be first in line if Amar’e Stoudemire is cut free by the Knicks… The Players Association is firmly in Chris Paul’s corner in Ref-Gate….Anthony Davis shows up in the Horry Scale…The Hawks have had talks with Ray Allen…Long time veteran referee Norm Drucker, the only man to toss Wilt Chamberlain out of a game, dies at 94.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Hawks’ party doesn’t have to end with streak


VIDEO: Davis, Pelicans end Hawks’ streak at 19

The Hawks aren’t exactly the first bunch of visitors to leave town with a pounding in their heads after a stop in New Orleans.

But just because the rip-roaring, can-you-believe-it, franchise-record 19-game winning streak came crashing down 115-110 on Monday night, it doesn’t mean the party in Atlanta has to end.

Of the previous seven teams in NBA history to win at least 19 consecutive games in a single season, five went on to win a championship.

The first things first and the immediate challenge is not to suffer from a post-streak hangover. More times than not, it happens.

Here’s a look back at how the other streakers continued:

Lakers 1971- 1972 — 33 in a row.

The streak ended with a 120-104 at to the Bucks at Milwaukee on Jan. 9 The Lakers with Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich won just two of their next five games, but later had a pair of eight-game win streaks and closed out the regular season on a 10-1 run. Record: 69-13.

In the playoffs they beat the Bulls 4-0, Bucks 4-2 and the Knicks 4-1 in The Finals.

Champions.

Heat 2012-13 — 27 in a row.

The streak ended with a 101-97 loss at Chicago on March 27. The Heat with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh went just 2-2 in their next four games before closing out the regular season with an eight-game win streak. Record: 66-16.

In the playoffs they beat the Bucks 4-0, Bulls 4-1, Pacers 4-3 and Spurs 4-3 in The Finals.

Champions.

Rockets 2007-08 — 22 in a row.

The streak ended with a 94-74 loss at home to the Celtics on March 18. The Rockets with Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming (injured and lost for the season in Game 16) lost the next night at New Orleans and won just three of their next eight games. The Rockets lost two of three to end the regular season. Record: 55-27.

In the playoffs the (without Yao) they lost in the first round to the Jazz 4-2.

1970-71 Bucks — 20 in a row

The streak ended with a 110-103 loss in overtime at Chicago on March 9. The Bucks with Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson lost three straight games and finished the regular season just 1-5. Record: 66-16.

In the playoffs they beat the Warriors 4-1, Lakers 4-1 and Bullets 4-0 in The Finals.

Champions.

1999-2000 Lakers — 19 in a row.

The streak ended with a 109-102 loss at Washington on March 16. The Lakers with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant came right back to rip off another 11-game winning streak and closed out the regular season 14-3. Record: 67-15.

In the playoffs they beat the Kings 3-2, Suns 4-1, Trail Blazers 4-3 and Pacers 4-2 in The Finals.

Champions.

2008-09 Celtics — 19 in a row.

The streak ended with a 92-83 loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles on Dec. 25. The Celtics with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen lost again the next night at Golden State. They lost seven of nine games immediately following the streak, but closed out the regular season on a 12-2 run. Record: 62-20.

In the playoffs they beat the Bulls 4-3 and lost to the Magic 4-3 in the second round.

2013-14 Spurs — 19 in a row.

The streak ended with a 106-94 loss at Oklahoma City on April 3. The Spurs with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker went just 3-3 to close out the regular season. Record: 62-20.

In the playoffs they beat the Mavericks 4-3, Trail Blazers 4-1, Thunder 4-2 and Heat 4-1 in The Finals.

Champions.

VIDEO: Top 10 plays from Hawks’ win streak

Morning shootaround — Jan. 17


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blatt’s curve ball works wonders for Cavaliers | Russ goes wild on Warriors | Raptors are no match for Hawks | Kawhi’s comeback sparks Spurs

No. 1:Blatt’s curve ball works wonders for Cavaliers — Give David Blatt credit for recognizing a crisis and figuring out his own way of handling it, so to speak. All the denials in the world won’t make the Cleveland Cavaliers’ issues go away. The only thing that will quiet the current storm surrounding this team is winning. And the Cavaliers, after a 1-7 slide and six straight losses without LeBron James in the lineup, are suddenly on the other side, winners of two straight games after their Los Angeles sweep. They wrapped it up with Friday’s win over the Clippers. But the best move Blatt made came before Thursday’s win over the Lakers, when the coach threw a curve ball of his own into the mix and changed the tenor of things for all involved. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group explains:

Blatt has acknowledged that he’s continuing to make adjustments and admitted to having room to grow in his first year as an NBA head coach. Part of coaching is about feel and instincts, gauging what the team needs at that moment in time.

The best call Blatt made to get his team in the proper mindset against the Lakers was tricking his team into thinking they had practice the day before.

“(Bowling) didn’t seem to affect too many people’s jump-shots. This man (J.R. Smith) was throwing a six-pound ball around,” Love revealed. “Those events are fun. We were able to go out there and bowl, eat bad food and enjoy ourselves. It had us loose for the game.”

Loose hasn’t been a word affiliated with the Cavaliers of late; tense, or uptight would probably be better descriptors. There is a lot of pressure placed on this organization — from ownership, to management, on down to the players. It has been a tough road thus far.

Over the past month, the Cavaliers have either played a game off a single-day rest or participated in back-to-backs. It’s been that long since they’ve had two days or more off in between games. It’s good to get away sometimes.

Chemistry off the court is just as important as on the court. Or in a bowling alley.

“I was happy,” Kyrie Irving said after registering 22 points. “One thing that’s never seen on camera and I consistently say it, this is the closest team that I’ve been on. We always have fun whether we’re getting ready for a game or a practice or we go bowling, it’s a team activity that we just personally enjoy.

“We enjoy being around one another and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Obviously there’s things we’ve got to fix out there on the court, but relationship- wise, we couldn’t be any better.”


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving and the Cavs lit up Staples Center two nights in a row

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Morning shootaround — Dec. 21


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Ellis steals show in Rondo’s debut | Rockets can’t keep pace with red-hot Hawks | No such thing as fatigue in Portland

No. 1: Monta Ellis steals the show in Rajon Rondo’s debut — Rajon Rondo’s big night in a Dallas Mavericks uniform turned into a showcase and reminder that Monta Ellis has been and is the key to the season for the new-look  Western Conference contender. Rondo was solid but hardly spectacular in his Dallas debut. Ellis, on the other hand, was off the charts. Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com sets the scene:

So much for the theory that the addition of Rajon Rondo to the Dallas Mavericksbackcourt would disrupt Monta Ellis’ rhythm and detract from the go-to guy’s game.

OK, one game certainly isn’t a big enough sample size to draw any grand conclusions, but the guard duo’s debut together was pretty encouraging, even though it came against the San Antonio Spurs’ junior varsity squad.

“He scored 38 points, so I didn’t hold him back too much,” Rondo said after the Mavs pulled out a 99-93 victory the day after he arrived in Dallas as the headliner in a blockbuster deal with theBoston Celtics. “We both like to dominate the ball, but I think we played well off each other tonight.”

There is ample statistical ammunition, traditional and advanced, for questioning how well Rondo and Ellis can co-exist offensively. Start with Rondo’s poor shooting percentages and the impact that has on the space Ellis will have to create on the pick-and-rolls that are the meat and potatoes of the Mavs’ magnificent offense.

You can dive deeper into the data to make the case, citing usage percentages and Synergy stats. Just make sure to include the basketball IQs of Rondo and Mavs coach Rick Carlisle in the conversation, too.

Geniuses tend to figure out how to put puzzles together pretty well.

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Is overtime pushing Spurs over limit?


VIDEO: Blazers hand Spurts 2nd straight 3OT loss

SAN ANTONIO — The last time an NBA team played back-to-back triple-overtime games in 1951, the United States and Cuba also had official diplomatic relations.

The last time an NBA team played back-to-back triple-overtime games, the shot clock had not yet been invented.

The last time an NBA team played back-to-back triple-overtime games, Tim Duncan had only been in the league for a dozen or so years.

OK, I made the last one up.

But you’ll have to excuse the 38-year-old Duncan if he stays in bed rather than makes it out for opening tip Saturday night in Dallas. Or the entire Spurs roster just pulls the covers over their heads.

In the space of three nights, the Spurs played the equivalent of more than 2½ games, lost them both and also found out that Kawhi Leonard is on the shelf for a couple more with torn ligaments in his right hand. Roughest stretch since those final 28 seconds in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals.

For the short-handed Blazers, playing without injured starters Robin Lopez and Nicolas Batum, the 129-119 decision was a testament to their resolve and sheer grit after falling behind by six in each of the first two overtimes and added another chapter to the growing legend of Damian Lillard ( 43 points).

“It turned into one of those games where players have to play and I thought our team did a great job in the first two overtimes of just overcoming the bad starts,” Lillard said. “We saw how they were guarding L.A. (LaMarcus Aldridge) on the block, really trying to give him a hard time, sending a lot of guys at him. I knew I was the next guy in line to start attacking. I got a few shots to go, got in a rhythm and I just decided to keep attacking.”

For the Spurs, who are always trying to balance rest for a veteran core with the need to compete in the rugged Western Conference, it was a physical blow that they just didn’t need. San Antonio has lost six of its last 11 games, is battling to hang onto the No. 7 spot in the West and now has run up big minutes on two key players. Duncan has played 91 minutes in the two interminable losses to Memphis and Portland and Manu Ginobili has played 71. The Spurs were without Tony Parker (hamstring) and Leonard.

“It’s a different group every night,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “It would almost be better if you had two guys injured and you knew it for three months. It is different every night and it keeps them out of rhythm. We are wearing some guys down. Timmy is a big worry in that respect and so is Manu.”

Duncan scored 23 points and had 16 rebounds in the loss to the Grizzlies came back with 32 and 10 against the Blazers and was still active at both ends, blocking shots deep into the overtimes.

“Unheard of,” Duncan said. “I didn’t think obviously it would get to this point. … We expended a lot of energy. We put everything into it and we played hard.

“In that situation I am not drained. I am running on adrenaline and I am ready to go. I know I will feel it tomorrow.”

Spurs’ Leonard has torn hand ligament

Kawhi Leonard will be sidelined indefinitely after tearing a ligament in his right hand, he told Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News.

Leonard will miss his second game in a row and his fourth in the last six outings as the Spurs face the Trail Blazers in San Antonio. He told the Express-News he has to wait for the swelling to subside before considering a return.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! reported Leonard will miss “a couple games.”

The Spurs are 17-9, good for seventh place in the Western Conference, and in a particularly tough stretch of schedule. After Portland, they next play the Mavericks in the scheduled Dallas debut of Rajon Rondo, Clippers, Thunder, Pelicans, Rockets, Grizzlies, Pelicans again, and Wizards.

Leonard is averaging 15.2 points, second on the team behind Tony Parker, and 7.6 rebounds.

Coach Pop out with “medical issue”

It’s not unusual to get the pre-game notification that coach Gregg Popovich is going to rest at one or more of his veteran players.

It’s part of the Spurs’ way.

But tonight at home against the Pacers it will be Popovich himself who’ll be out of action at as he is undergoing what is described as “a minor medical issue.”

Drawing the Xs and Os in Popovich’s place will be assistant coach Ettore Messina, who joined the Spurs staff this season. The Italian-born Messina is a four-time Euroleague champion.

Messina got his first taste of being in charge with the Spurs when he ran the show in a preseason game at Phoenix as Popovic stayed at home in San Antonio. The Spurs lost 121-90, but it should be noted that Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili also did not travel to Phoenix and Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Patty Mills were sidelined with injuries.

Popovich could miss several more games.

 

 

Morning shootaround — Nov. 16


VIDEO: Highlights from Saturday’s NBA action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron loves seeing the Hawks| Knicks ready to fight for Marc Gasol? | CP3 rescues the Clippers | Rockets talking mental toughness

No. 1: LeBron loves seeing the Hawks — Perhaps this is his way of taking out his frustrations on the San Antonio Spurs. Since he couldn’t do it against the real Spurs, LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers went in on the Atlanta Hawks Saturday night in record fashion. LeBron, as Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group makes clear, loves seeing the Hawks:

LeBron James’ body language spoke volumes Saturday night.

Consider what was said in the second quarter of the Cavaliers’ 127-94 thumping of the Atlanta Hawks.

Cleveland was on its way to a 71-point first half, had drained its first 11 three-pointers, and would end the half with assists on 22 of 25 field goals. James wasn’t sprinting so much as he was gliding around the court, tossing one-handed, no-look, razor-sharp passes into traffic for layups.

The way he was moving around the court, his leg churning like pistons and eyes up, looking for open teammates with a little grin on his face – was a look seldom (if ever seen) on James since he returned to the Cavaliers.

He looked like he was having fun.

“I have fun every time I step out on the basketball court – win, lose, or draw,” James said. “I have a love for the game, I have fun, I show it on my face sometimes more than others. Inside, the kid is always excited to put another uniform on and go out and play.”

***

No. 2: Knicks ready to fight for Marc Gasol? — Leave it up the Knicks, a team struggling in every facet in this early season, to worry about free agency before Thanksgiving. They are already poised to pick a fight with the reigning world champion San Antonio Spurs … for Marc Gasol, who by the way is busy leading his Memphis Grizzlies to the top of the Western Conference standings right now. Those little details won’t stop Knicks Nation from dreaming about what could be. Frank Isola of the Daily News has more:

Phil Jackson has made a career out of taking pot shots at the San Antonio Spurs so even if the Knicks president doesn’t respect Greg Popovich’s club he should fear them.

The Knicks’ main free-agent target, Marc Gasol, is also being targeted as a possible replacement to Tim Duncan assuming Ol’ Man Riverwalk retires this summer. The Knicks will be players for the Memphis center mainly because of the first three rules of real estate — location, location, location — and because Gasol is familiar with both Jackson and Derek Fisher since older brother Pau spent the best years of his career with the Lakers.

Otherwise, staying in Memphis will be appealing to Gasol, whose team is a legitimate championship contender. The Grizzlies can offer Gasol the most money, and he has grown to love the city, having lived there since high school when Pau broke in with the Grizzlies.

Coincidently, Pau considered the Spurs this past summer but took more money to join the Chicago Bulls, much to Jackson’s chagrin. When Pau signed, Jackson tweeted a photo of lightning striking the city of Chicago. He might end up tossing his iPhone in the East River if Marc signs with the Spurs, arguably the best run franchise in all of pro sports. They also have the nucleus to remain a contender for years to come.

Signing with the Knicks strictly for basketball reasons is a tougher sell, although his Spanish teammate, Jose Calderon, will be a key part of the recruiting pitch. History, however, is not on the Knicks’ side. The last major free agent to make a significant impact was Allan Houston all the way back in the summer of the 1996. Back then, Jeff Van Gundy was winning big as the head coach, and Jim Dolan was learning to play the guitar, not running the Garden. Crazy coincidence, no?

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No. 3:CP3 to the rescue for Clippers — It’s an act Chris Paul will probably have to perform more often than he wants to this season, rescuing the Los Angeles Clippers from despair the way he did against the Phoenix Suns. But that’s the burden he signed on for when he became the face of the franchise. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times explains:

After taking four days off to collect themselves after a difficult loss to San Antonio, Chris Paul made sure the Clippers played better basketball.

Paul took over the game in the third quarter and then saved the Clippers from imploding in the fourth, pushing Los Angeles to a 120-107 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night at Staples Center.

Paul scored a season-high 32 points on 10-for-13 shooting, including five for six on three-point shots. He had nine assists and five rebounds in helping the Clippers score a season high in points.

When the Clippers’ 26-point lead was cut to 11 points late in the fourth quarter, Paul went to work.

He scored seven consecutive points in the fourth to help the Clippers pull out a victory in which six players scored in double figures.

He made two free throws, a three-pointer and a jumper.

The Clippers outscored the Suns, 42-20, in the third quarter in opening their big lead.

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No. 4: Rockets talking mental toughness – The Houston Rockets have clearly turned a corner on the court from last season. They look every bit as fit to chase a championship as we thought they should have and would have a year ago. But the real test is about the mental toughness needed to win it all. And the Rockets are working on that, as should be expected after a narrow escape against the lowly Philadelphia 76ers. Jenny Dial-Creech of the Houston Chronicle explains:

After barely pulling out an 88-87 win over Philadelphia on Friday night, the Rockets practiced Saturday in preparation for their third set of back-to-back road games this season.

On Sunday, the Rockets will play at Oklahoma City and on Monday they will travel to Memphis.

“We already know these are two playoff teams,” guard Jason Terry said. “Both of these teams, barring they stay healthy, will be in the playoffs this year. Oklahoma is a tough team. We know their system very well.

“Memphis is a division opponent. It is sort of a rivalry. You have to say that because they are in the division so you never want to lose division games. It will be a tough challenge because they have two great big men that are the toughest two tandem in the league and you have a great, young point guard in Conley who pushes the tempo and is always on the attack.”

Terry said that headed into the road trip, he felt the Rockets were mentally stronger than ever thanks to the close call against the Sixers.

“We grew as a team,” he said. “On this journey that we go on through the regular season, there are going to be times where your mental toughness is tested and (Friday) was one of those times. We got back late from Mexico City. We didn’t practice. We came right back here and the game came so fast against a team that lost by 50 the night before. They were ready, they were hungry, they challenged us and we weathered the storm. I learned a lot about us, about our mental toughness. It’s good to see, and it’s good to see early on in the season. It won’t be the last test, but we passed the first one.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Magic finally get Victor Oladipo back in their starling lineup … The Chicago Bulls love what Pau Gasol brings to the Windy City  … Bradley Beal targeting a return to practice this week with the Wizards … Warriors coach Steve Kerr is keeping his (starting lineup) options open … The Milwaukee Bucks’ dedication to defense is paying off