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Posts Tagged ‘Stan Van Gundy’

Pistons win ‘biggest game’ so far, while Bulls sink further in East

CHICAGO – The Chicago Bulls were all about clinching playoff spots Saturday night.

For Miami. For Charlotte. Just not for themselves with their 94-90 loss at home to the Detroit Pistons.

Instead of seizing the two-fer opportunity against the Pistons (who were playing the tail end of a back-to-back) and at least keeping pace with the Pacers (who rallied to win in Philadelphia), the Bulls dug their hole at the bottom of the Eastern Conference bracket a little deeper. At 38-38, they remain in ninth place, two games behind Indiana and 2.5 behind Detroit.

Chicago has six games left and holds the tiebreaker against the Pacers but lost it, along with the game, against the Pistons. In the four-game series against Chicago, including five overtime periods, Detroit outscored the Bulls 440-439 in 217 minutes but wound up 3-1.

Stan Van Gundy had billed this one, coming in, as the biggest game of the season for his club. So when they closed it out, the Pistons coach didn’t back away from its significance.

“Up to this point,” he said, qualifying it just a bit. “Hopefully there are even bigger ones to come. But for four of our starters – and they all agreed – that’s the most meaningful win of their NBA careers. All of our starters except Reggie [Jackson]. But we’ve got bigger things to do. So we’re not there yet.”

Detroit closed out the playoff-style game by holding Chicago to 7-of-23 shooting in the fourth quarter, while its 11-of-16 work from the foul line was better than their 9-for-18 through three quarters. Aron Baynes, Marcus Morris and Jackson were a perfect 8-for-8 in the final 2:17, with Van Gundy sitting center Andre Drummond for the final 5:22 after he bricked nine of his 10 free throws.

“He was 1-for-10 – he made the decision easy tonight,” Van Gundy said. “In a close game like that, we can’t be playing or hoping for one point at most when they’re playing for two or three. You can’t do that. You’re putting too much pressure on your defense.”

Chicago has been putting too much pressure on its entire game after flopping in that gauntlet last week against the Knicks, the Knicks again and the Magic. Taking even two of those would have them in seventh right now, a game up with the tiebreaker over ninth-place Indiana. Now?

“We are well aware of our situation,” veteran Pau Gasol said. “The math is probably against us at this point.”

With Derrick Rose (left elbow) and Taj Gibson (rib contusion) out, and with the four starters besides Jimmy Butler shooting zero free throws in a combined 112 minutes, the offensive load fell to Butler. He posted the first triple-double of his career – 28 points, 17 rebounds, 12 assists – but he shot 10-of-25, dominated Chicago’s stagnant offense down the stretch and was exhausted before the final horn.

“He put up good numbers. He shot a lot of shots, too,” said Morris, who stayed physical with the Bulls’ scorer until Van Gundy switched Kentavious Caldwell-Pope onto Butler late. “Hopefully that’s what happens. He’s a good player, an All-Star. I love Jimmy, one of my closest guys in the NBA. Great player. He’s just one of those guys, we go back and forth.”

There’s no back or forth for the Bulls now, just falling down and looking up at the Pistons, the Pacers and six other East rivals in the standings.

Morning shootaround — March 26


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Dallas capable of 2007 payback? | Rest takes priority for Spurs | Pistons getting cozy at home | Gentry gets ‘confidence’ vote

No. 1: Dallas capable of 2007 payback? — It’s not the ideal way to go about knocking off one of your conference’s elite teams. But if the Dallas Mavericks have to go the underdog route and angle for a first-round upset of the NBA defending champion Golden State Warriors, well, they know such a crazy thing can happen. Back in 2007, it was Golden State in eighth place in the West, ousting a Mavericks team that won 67 games and was hoping for a return trip to the Finals that spring. Dallas played well enough in its loss to the Warriors in Oakland Friday – with star Dirk Nowitzki sitting for rest – to entertain such thoughts, wrote Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com:

“They did it to us, so hey, you never know,” said Mavs guard J.J. Barea, a rookie towel-waver on that 2006-07 Dallas team who scored 21 points as a fill-in starter in Friday’s 128-120 loss to the Warriors. “We could do it to them.”

If the playoffs started now, the Mavs would have the opportunity to trump the “We Believe” bunch for the biggest postseason upset in NBA history.

Those Warriors in ’07 had good reason to believe they could beat the Mavs. Golden State swept the season series, including a blowout in the final week when coach Avery Johnson foolishly rested his stars instead of attempting to prevent the Warriors from making the playoffs. It also helped that Golden State had Don Nelson, who knew all the deep secrets about Dirk’s game, scheming to stop his former prodigy.

These Mavs, who have a coach in Rick Carlisle whose schematic sorcery pushed the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the first round a couple of seasons ago, can convince themselves that they can compete with the best team in basketball.

Dallas players point to their Dec. 30 rout of the Warriors without focusing too much on the minor detail that reigning MVP Stephen Curry sat out that game. And the Mavs’ two meetings with the Warriors this month were close well into the fourth quarter.

“We’ve definitely proven we can play with them,” guard Raymond Felton said after scoring 17 points. “We’ve proven we can beat them. … If that happens that we play them in the first round, it’s going to be a battle, that’s for sure.”

There’s no such thing as a moral victory for a team that’s fighting for its playoff life. However, the Mavs hopped on their bus for the drive to Sacramento with their heads held high after somehow making it a one-possession game with a few minutes remaining despite Nowitzki and Deron Williams wearing warmups and watching from the bench, and Chandler Parsons viewing from home hours after undergoing season-ending knee surgery.

“If we’re at full strength, I think we have the firepower to put up a fight,” said center/forward David Lee, sporting the championship ring he received in a pregame ceremony before putting up 12 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists in his Bay Area return.

“They would obviously be the heavy favorites, and they’ll be the heavy favorites against anybody they play not named the San Antonio Spurs.”

One minor problem for the Mavs: They’d have to figure out a way to stop the Splash Brothers, who have combined to average 71.5 points in the Warriors’ two wins over Dallas in the last week.

It’s unclear how much help Dallas owner Mark Cuban might be if the teams clash in the postseason. Cuban, who did not travel to Oakland for Friday’s game, got busy from afar with criticizing the game’s officiating. He put out some strong stuff for the 4.9 million followers of Twitter feed about which he might just hear from league HQ:

***

 No. 2: Rest takes priority for Spurs — For many NBA fans, this is Easter Weekend and will be celebrated as such right through Sunday. For the San Antonio Spurs, it’s more like Festivus – as in, “the rest of us.” Rest annually is a priority for the Spurs at this time of the season and rest is what several of the Western Conference powerhouse’s key players were scheduled from what otherwise would have seemed a crucial clash with the Oklahoma City Thunder Saturday:

Granted, in the case of forward Kawhi Leonard, injury is the concern rather than fatigue. Leonard still is nursing a bruised right quadriceps suffered against Miami Wednesday. It kept him out of the Spurs’ game against Memphis Friday, a game from which coach Gregg Popovich withheld Danny Green, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills. Leonard’s sore thigh muscle remains too “tight” to play, but the plan to sit out Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker from Saturday’s ABC prime-time game at OKC and a Grizzlies rematch Monday in Memphis is entirely discretionary. We’ve all been down this road before with the Spurs, per ESPN.com.

That’s a luxury San Antonio can afford, considering the win Friday night locked up no worse than the No. 2 seed for the Western Conference playoffs with 10 games remaining in the regular season. The Spurs can now rest key veterans as the regular season comes to a close, which in turn increases the minutes for inexperienced role players such as Kyle Anderson and Jonathon Simmons, as well as newcomers Andre Miller and Kevin Martin, who could all be called upon during the postseason.

The victory on Friday was San Antonio’s 37th straight at home, which ties the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls for the longest home winning streak to start a season in NBA history

“You just try to do your best,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “You don’t want to decondition them and you don’t want to lose rhythm. But you want to rest.”

LaMarcus Aldridge made that an easier proposition by knocking down 7 of 8 shots in the first quarter on the way to 17 points, the most he has scored in a single quarter all season. Aldridge poured in a total of 32 points, including 21 in the first half, while

Duncan started off the opening half hitting 4-of-5 for eight points. He also recorded five rebounds and five assists before finishing with 12 points and eight rebounds.

Heading into the game, Miller averaged 8.3 minutes in his previous 10 contests, while Martin averaged 10.4 minutes over the same span. The duo contributed 16 and 34 minutes, respectively, versus Memphis and gained a level of comfort in their new surroundings and new teammates that could pay dividends for San Antonio in the postseason.

Duncan called the situation “a good experience game for a lot of different guys, a good execution game for us. A lot of these guys haven’t been in our offense and executed everything perfectly to this point.”

They didn’t execute perfectly against the Grizzlies, either. But that’s inconsequential as the Spurs accomplished their goal of keeping everyone as healthy as possible heading into the playoffs, while providing needed game experience for their role players.
“It’s obviously good for these other guys to get minutes and play in situations where they get used to the guys,” Popovich said. “Kevin just got here. Kyle has … rarely started. It’s all good experience. It can only be good for them.”

***

No. 3:  Pistons getting cozy at home — If a man’s home is his castle, as the old saying goes, the Detroit Pistons’ Palace (of Auburn Hills) has been their refuge and salvation in chasing a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Two-thirds of the way through their franchise-record nine-game homestand, the Pistons are 5-1 and now two games in front of the Chicago Bulls for eighth place in the East standings, thanks to their impressive victory Friday over conference rival Charlotte. Detroit scored 72 points in the first half and survived a considerable late scare from the Hornets. While veteran teams in Chicago and Washington deal with East angst, the young Pistons took another step in their quest to play with the league’s big boys. Here are some details from the Detroit News:

Throughout their up-and-down season, the Pistons have been plagued by stretches of playing to the level of their opponent. In several of their marquee games, the Pistons have come up with an empty effort.

Not this time.

In a critical matchup for their final playoff push, the Pistons played one of their best games of the season, against a team that had dominated them in both meetings this season.

Reggie Jackson said it was as satisfying a win as the Pistons have had this season, especially given the implications.

“Definitely with the way we’ve been punched in the mouth by them twice, especially with the position we’re in, fighting for a playoff spot,” said Jackson, who had 17 points, six rebounds and seven assists. “This is one of the better wins for us, where we felt like we controlled the game. The only thing better would be if we closed out those last few minutes.”

In those last few minutes a 26-point lead with 7:49 remaining shriveled to five with 37.6 seconds left. But the Pistons were able to close it out, with four free throws in the final stretch

That lapse normally might have driven coach Stan Van Gundy berserk, but given the need for wins to solidify a playoff spot, he wasn’t nearly so critical.

“We need to win and move on,” Van Gundy said. “We played 39 great minutes. We really outplayed a very good team for 39 minutes and then their last five guys played really well. Against their best players, we were dominant and it was a great 39 minutes.”

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 21 points and seven rebounds, Marcus Morris 20 points and seven rebounds and Andre Drummond notched his 60th double-double of the season with 18 points and 14 rebounds for the Pistons, who are 5-1 — ensuring a winning record — on their nine-game home stand.

***

No. 4: Gentry gets ‘confidence’ vote — When you add up the pieces – 45 defeats against just 26 victories, an emergency room’s worth of injuries and the capriciousness with which NBA head coaches get fired these days – you might reasonably conclude that New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry would be dealing with some job insecurity. But Gentry doesn’t see or feel it, nor should he if we’re to take Pelicans GM Dell Demps at his word. Demps gave Gentry the proverbial vote of confidence Friday for reporters while expressing some for himself, according to ESPN.com:

With Alvin Gentry standing by his side, New Orleans Pelicans general manager Dell Demps dismissed a report indicating friction between the two and emphasized his support for the head coach.

“I just want to say, my confidence in Alvin has not wavered,” Demps said Friday. “The only regret that I have is that our team is not at full strength. And Alvin hasn’t had the opportunity to coach the team at full strength. I think he’s done a fantastic job.”

The Vertical reported earlier Friday in a video on its website that Demps has second-guessed Gentry often this season, including in front of Pelicans players and staff and opposing teams.

But Demps, in his first interview with local media since September, disputed the claim
“I told [Gentry] this last week: I think our guys are playing hard. Last night was a great example of how hard our guys played and competed,” Demps said. “All the credit goes to Alvin and the coaching staff. I think our guys are still getting better, I think guys are showing up and working every day, and they’re buying in.

“I’m thrilled with the system, I’m thrilled with everything that’s happened. And I think it’s irresponsible reporting for someone to come and say something like that. Because it’s totally untrue.”

Coming off a 45-win campaign that saw them earn their first postseason berth since trading Chris Paul, the Pelicans were widely expected to make a leap this season.

But injuries have ravaged the roster. New Orleans, now 12th in the Western Conference with a 26-45 record, has lost 243 games to injury and shut down five players — Anthony Davis (left knee), Tyreke Evans (right knee), Eric Gordon (right finger), Quincy Pondexter (left knee) and Bryce Dejean-Jones (right wrist) — for the rest of the season.

Asked if he has any concerns about his job security as a result of the struggles, Demps said, “I feel great about my job. I come to work every day, and I feel great about it.”

Gentry, in the first year of a four-year contract that he agreed to amid last season’s NBA championship run with the Golden State Warriors, said he expects to be back in New Orleans next season.

“Yeah, I do. I do,” Gentry said. “I don’t have any doubt about that. I’ll be back, and we’ll be much better because we’ll be much healthier.”

***

Hard to blame a Splash Brother for some sibling overconfidence these days:

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: D’Angelo Russell’s “ankle touched the ground when I rolled it” but the Lakers are hoping the “crazy pain” he felt is nothing serious for the rookie. … The Houston Rockets are getting effort and production from James Harden that, let’s face it, without which they they can’t survive as a playoff aspirant in the West. … Kevin Durant, who won’t have Kawhi Leonard to worry about on the court Saturday night in OKC, stands by his long-ago opinion and still likes Paul George’s game better than Leonard’s. … David Lee had to wait longer than the rest of them, but he got both his 2015 NBA championship ring and some overdue love from the fans in Oakland Friday. … As the days dwindle down to a precious few…

Morning shootaround — Feb. 23


VIDEO: Highlights from Monday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Varejao should play Wednesday | Anthony: Knicks’ instability ‘a lot to go through’ | ‘Too much risk’ for Pistons in Motiejunas trade | Buss assesses state of Lakers

No. 1: Warriors hoping Varejao can chip in immediately — The Golden State Warriors are hoping the Cleveland Cavaliers’ loss at the trade deadline will be their gain in the long run. The Cavs had to cut fan favorite Anderson Varejao in order to pull off their trade with the Orlando Magic for Channing Frye. Varejao, who was dealt to Portland in the trade and later cut by the Trail Blazers, found a new gig soon as a backup center for the defending-champion Warriors. As Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle writes, Varejao will likely play Wednesday vs. Miami and will have a chance to show he can contribute:

“He’s hard not to like,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “He’s a guy who gives effort multiple times in one possession and competes every second he’s out there.

“With the enthusiasm he plays with, and from what I gather, his personality in the locker room, he’s going to be a fan favorite … just like he was in Cleveland.”

The 33-year-old also considered signing with San Antonio after being released by the Trail Blazers and clearing waivers, but he has some strong ties with the Warriors. He played with lead assistant coach Luke Walton, backup point guard Shaun Livingston and reserve big man Marreese Speights in the NBA and with reserve guard Leandro Barbosa on the Brazilian national team.

“I’m glad I came here, because I can tell that they love each other. That’s what it’s about,” Varejao said. “When you want to win, you have to be like they are: friends who have fun out there (on the court) and fun in the locker room.”

The Warriors favored Varejao, because he’s a true center. Thompson is a hybrid power forward/center. Backup center Festus Ezeli will be rehabbing his surgically repaired left knee until at least mid-March; starting center Andrew Bogut returned Monday after missing Saturday’s game with a sore right Achilles.

Varejao is similar to Bogut on offense, favoring playmaking over scoring and seemingly being a natural fit in how the Warriors use their centers in dribble handoffs and as the hubs to make passes to backdoor cutters.

Varejao will be given a video playbook and is expected to practice with the team Tuesday. Kerr believes the center’s instincts for the game will help him incorporate quickly.

***

(more…)

Anthony Davis shines with transcendent performance


VIDEO: Anthony Davis dropped a NBA season-high 59 points on the Detroit Pistons

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Anthony Davis served up a reminder Sunday of why so many NBA pundits and observers pegged this season as his opportunity to take his game to the next level.

His 59-point, 20-rebound effort in a win over the Detroit Pistons was jaw-dropping in both effort and result. Davis became just the fourth player in NBA history to pile up that many points while also grabbing 20 rebounds (Shaquille O’Neal did it once, Elgin Baylor twice and the great Wilt Chamberlain did it 33 times, including 17 times during the 1961-62 season).

It was a transcendent effort from one of the truly unique talents the league has seen. Davis, just 22, and having barely scratched the surface of what he can do in this league, showed off all facets of his current offensive arsenal. He finished with authority around the rim, was precise off the dribble and with his mid-range game and even stepped out beyond the 3-point line a couple of times for good measure.

It was a virtuoso performance that left Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy shaking his head and accepting blame for his team not being able to contain Davis, who admitted to surprising himself with his performance.

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical the same:

Ever seen something like it? “I haven’t,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry told The Vertical in a text message. “Not by a big with that skill level.”

This season had been targeted as Davis’ MVP breakthrough, his time. Now, he’s nowhere near the conversation. Sit down with him, and the sense comes quickly: That’s the least of his concern. Winning matters to him, and that’s how Davis wants to be judged. Chris Paul pushed his way out of New Orleans, but Davis is starting a new five-year deal, and he’ll have to find a way to become part of the solution there.

Throughout All-Star weekend, Davis probed the biggest winners in the NBA. Throughout this lost Pelicans season, Kendrick Perkins has been guide to his personal inventory of franchise star stories – from Kevin Garnettand LeBron James to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

“Perk tells me stories from 10 years ago, and says: As the franchise player and leader of this team, you have to do this, you have to do that,” Davis told The Vertical.

Davis listens, but here’s the truth of the matter: The franchise star job demands that you learn through experience. Otherwise, everything will devour you. Davis is so gifted, so dedicated. And he takes everything – the losing, the unrealistic insistences that he ought to be to able to win all alone – in the most personal way possible.

“It’s tough,” Davis told The Vertical recently. “You start hearing all the white noise. ‘They lost three in a row, and it’s Anthony Davis’ fault.’ The blame gets put on you. Of course, there are other factors that go along with it – like the praise when you are winning. But to handle that when you’re so young, and haven’t really accomplished anything, it’s tough – especially when people put you on a pedestal. ‘He should be doing this, he should be doing that.’ It’s frustrating.

“It’ll make you overthink your game. You start thinking too much. You start listening and trying to figure out, ‘Well, I’m going to try to do this,’ and it takes you away from your game. Now, you’re losing more because you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do.”

Davis said Gentry challenged the Pelicans to be the best team in the league after the All-Star break, a task that will be difficult given the way the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs have been grinding all season.

The more realistic task, even with Stephen Curry playing the way he has all season, is for Davis to be the best player in the league the rest of this season.

That’s what many thought he’d do last summer, after his breakthrough effort in pushing the Pelicans into the playoffs. Injuries and the adjustments from an old system to Gentry’s didn’t allow that to happen early on this season. But Sunday’s effort could be the start of something spectacular for Davis the rest of the way …

***


VIDEO: Anthony Davis joins the Game Time crew after his 59-point, 20-rebound effort in a win over Detroit

Morning shootaround — Feb. 22


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Feb. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors beef up big man ranksVan Gundy takes blame for Pistons’ surrender to Davis | Lakers to start Russell the rest of the way | Was Lebron was right about Waiters?

No. 1: Warriors beef up big man ranks — What do you get the (championship) team that seems to have everything? Another big man, if you are the Golden State Warriors. They’ve added former Cleveland center Anderson Varejao, a LeBron James favorite during their time together with the Cavaliers, who helps bolster their big man ranks with both Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli ailing. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle provides the details on the Warriors’ big man insurance policy:

The Warriors went without a center in their starting lineup out of necessity in Saturday night’s victory over the Clippers.

The team, however, didn’t consider that a long-term option, and on Sunday, it reached an agreement to sign free-agent center Anderson Varejao to a veteran minimum contract, league sources confirmed.

The Warriors cut forward/center Jason Thompson to clear roster room for Varejao and complete the move, which first was reported by the website, the Vertical.

Varejao, who’s 6-foot-10, had spent all of his 12-season career with the Cavaliers before being traded last week.

He was averaging career lows in points (2.6), rebounds (2.9), blocked shots (0.2) and minutes (10) for Cleveland before being sent to Portland in a trade-deadline deal Thursday. The Trail Blazers immediately cut him in a salary-cap move, and the Warriors expressed interest in the 33-year-old. They beat out other playoff teams who tried to ink him once he cleared waivers Sunday.

“I have not been notified of that, but it makes perfect sense, right?” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said Friday night when told that his team’s interest in Varejao had been reported by ESPN. “I don’t even know if I am allowed to even mention his name. I can get fined by the NBA. I don’t even know what the rule is.”

The interest increased when starting center Andrew Bogut was forced to miss Saturday’s win at Staples Center because of a sore right Achilles tendon. Backup center Festus Ezeli is on the shelf after undergoing left knee surgery and is expected to miss at least another month.

With Bogut and Ezeli out, it was thought that Kerr might give either Marreese Speights or Thompson a start in the middle against the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan, who’s 6-11.

Instead, the Warriors went small with 6-6 swingman Brandon Rush joining the starting five. That moved Harrison Barnes to power forward and shifted 6-7 Draymond Green to the center spot. Green responded with his league-leading 11th triple-double in the Warriors’ 115-112 win.

Varejao twice averaged double-doubles in his career (2011-12, ’12-13), but his numbers have fallen considerably since then. He didn’t play in the Cavs’ six-game loss to the Warriors in last season’s NBA Finals.

***

 No. 2: Van Gundy takes blame for Pistons’ surrender to DavisAndre Drummond had no chance. Neither did Tobias Harris or anyone else the Detroit Pistons tried to throw at Anthony Davis Sunday, when Davis dropped a NBA season-high 59 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in the New Orleans Pelicans’ win at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy didn’t blame his players, though. He owned up to this one, pointing the finger at the man in the mirror after Davis etched his name in the history books with his monster performance. John Niyo of the Detroit News explains:

There was no voiding Sunday’s result, though, and rather than ripping his team, the Pistons coach ripped himself for the effort against Davis, who finished 24-of-34 from the field to post the NBA’s single-game high for the season and the best ever at the Palace, topping LeBron James’ 48-point outburst in the 2007 Eastern Conference finals. Davis had 51 points in the final three quarters alone, and later shrugged, “After a while, you feel like any shot you put up is going to go in.”

“That one’s on me,” Van Gundy insisted. “You’ve got to come up with something. A guy can’t get 59. That’s terrible coaching. Terrible.”

Whomever you want to pin it on, the Pistons have now lost eight of their last 10 games to fall two games below .500 for the first time all season — and two games out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference.

And before you blame this latest skid solely on new faces and changing roles, remember the Pistons are 5-11 since that roof-rattling win over Golden State in mid-January.

They’re 6-13 in the last six weeks, with a road game at Cleveland on tap.

That might explain why Van Gundy had little interest Sunday in talking about the pending trade or the depleted lineup or the possibility changing roles might have something to do with his team’s disjointed performance at both ends of the floor.

Davis lighting up The Palace scoreboard certainly wasn’t the only issue Sunday. Marcus Morris, whose duties were altered the most by the trade with Orlando for Harris, finished with a season-low two points in 34 minutes. He and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — coming off a core-muscle injury — are a combined 10-for-45 from the field in the two games since the All-Star break.

“Why would the trade set it back?” Van Gundy countered, when asked about Morris. “He’s struggling. I don’t know if it’s with the multiple roles or if he just can’t get the ball in the basket. No excuses, though.”

But answers? We’ll see, especially now that Anthony Tolliver’s status is in limbo as well. In his second game as a starter following the trades — a place-holder for Harris as he gets adjusted to his new team — he limped off the court following a collision with Andre Drummond in the first half Sunday. Tolliver was headed for an MRI after the game, another troubling sight for a team that’s headed the wrong direction in the standings.

“I think everybody’s frustrated,” Van Gundy said. “Nobody likes to lose. Of course everybody’s frustrated. We’ve just got to keep playing through stuff.”

***

No. 3: Lakers to start Russell the rest of the way — After a nearly three-month stint coming off the bench, Los Angeles Lakers rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell is back in the starting lineup and apparently there for good. Russell and Lakers coach Byron Scott have had their issues this season, but with the team’s season headed for an ugly finish of the Kobe Bryant farewell tour, it’s time to let the rookie go. Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com has more:

“It was just time,” Scott said when asked why he moved Russell back to the starting lineup, where Russell spent the first 20 games before being moved to the bench in December.

“Each month he has seemed to get better,” Scott continued. “He’s really starting to understand what this game is all about. He still needs to pick it up at times. Obviously on both ends he needs to continue to work, but I like what I saw [Sunday], and I like what I’ve been seeing from him over the last couple months.”

Russell’s playing time — and lack thereof at times — has been the biggest hot-button issue surrounding the 11-46 Lakers in what is on pace to be the worst season in franchise history. Scott has often benched Russell in the fourth quarter or, in one instance, pulled him for “trying to take over the game.”

“I get this question asked all the time. I don’t really care,” Russell said of starting versus coming off the bench. “I just want to play the right way. If that’s coming off the bench or starting, I just want to make an impact right away. I wish we could’ve won, just so I could feel better about it. But I trust coach’s decision and go with it.”

What does Russell hope to accomplish in the final 25 games?

“I just want to get better,” Russell said. “Coach always said, you’ve always got something to play for no matter how many games we’ve got left. However many games we’ve got left, I feel like I’ve still got something to prove.

“And I don’t want anybody to take it the wrong way, but you feel like your best players are your starters. And I feel like I’m going to keep the confidence and say that I’m one of the best players, so I feel like I just want to keep proving that I deserve to start, deserve to be out there and play crunch time minutes.

“With these last few games, I want to show that I have to be out there, like build that trust with my coach that he has to put me on the floor.”

Russell said being in the starting lineup along with guard Jordan Clarkson and forward Julius Randle will allow the trio of promising young players to build even more chemistry together.

“We can grow. We can play a lot tighter,” Russell said. “There’s a time when you can learn from each other as far as when one or them or myself mess up, we can figure out how to grow or we can watch film together. We should’ve done it earlier in the year, but I guess we were caught up in different ways. We can really take this time to grow together.”

***

No. 4: Was LeBron right about Waiters?Dion Waiters wasn’t a good fit in Cleveland once LeBron James decided to bring his talents home to northeast Ohio. So when the Cavaliers traded Waiters and went instead with J.R. Smith, much was made of the move. People wondered if LeBron and Cleveland had given up on Waiters too soon. But maybe LeBron was right, per Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman, who highlights the struggles of Waiters against his former team after the Cavaliers thumped the Thunder Sunday:

Waiters was awful for the second straight game. He followed a pointless Friday night game against Indiana with an equally fruitless game against his former team.

Waiters made LeBron the General Manager look incredibly wise. Waiters famously was traded by the Cavs to the Thunder 13 months ago because LeBron preferred to play with the mercurial J.R. Smith. The same J.R. Smith who made five of eight 3-pointers Sunday for Cleveland.

Meanwhile, Waiters missed his first seven shots, including an air-balled 3-pointer and a wild drive in which the ball bounced off the backboard 13 feet off the ground. Waiters made only his last shot, a 16-footer with 3:40 left in the game. That basket came with the score 109-88.

By the third quarter, Billy Donovan was designing plays for Waiters to boost his confidence, the Cavaliers were letting Waiters shoot and he wanted no part of it, preferring to drive and pass and keep the embarrassment to a minimum.

Seemed clear that Waiters was pressing to produce against the Cavs, who discarded him. Just as he did back in December, when Waiters scored four points on 1-of-7 shooting and the Thunder lost 104-100.

“Nah,” Waiters said. “Shots I normally make, I just missed. It’s going to come around. I ain’t worried about it.”

You can’t blame Donovan if he’s worried about it, though the Thunder’s first-year coach stood by his man.

“I’ve got confidence in Dion,” Donovan said. “When a guy’s not shooting the ball well, to me, that’s when you gotta really trust him. Obviously Dion hasn’t shot the ball great, but the guys in that locker room still believe he can help us.”

Donovan is right. He has no choice but to trust Waiters.

Not in the starting lineup. As soon as Andre Roberson is healthy, he needs to get back to opening games. The Thunder starting lineup with Roberson has been fantastic two years running, so even when Waiters is hitting, Roberson should be the starter.

But the Thunder has to have Waiters contributing offensively. His defense is solid. And who else off the bench is doing anything? Anthony Morrow can’t defend, and he’s made just 5-of-20 on February 3-pointers. Kyle Singler? Newcomer Randy Foye is available, but he’s 32 and on the downslope.

Waiters has to play and play well for the Thunder to prosper. The Cavs proved that.

“They were loading up on Kevin and Russell quite a bit,” Donovan said. “I thought our offense was OK in the first half. But when we did move and share the basketball, and found Dion or found different players, we didn’t make enough shots. For Dion, I thought he had some good looks tonight and it didn’t go down.

“I think maybe pressing’s probably a good word. Maybe he was a little bit. I don’t think it had anything to do with Cleveland as much as it had to do with probably coming out of last game.”

Maybe. But I don’t buy it. Looked like Waiters desperately wanted to prove LeBron wrong and instead proved him right.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Pistons are still waiting to get clearance on their trade for Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus ThorntonKobe Bryant never shied away from the legacy of Michael Jordan in Chicago … Tonight’s Warriors-Hawks matchup (8 p.m. ET, NBA TV) at Philips Arena lacks the sizzle of last season’s tilt between the best of the best … The Indiana Pacers’ gamble on Myles Turner continues to pay off handsomely for Larry Bird … Dallas coach Rick Carlisle is looking forward to adding a quality veteran in David Lee today

It’s open season on coaches in NBA


VIDEO: Derek Fisher got ejected for arguing a call earlier this season. The Knicks fired him today.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Technically, the New York Knicks “relieved” Derek Fisher of his duties as coach today, which is a fancy way of saying they fired Phil Jackson‘s hand-picked choice to lead the franchise.

Kurt Rambis has been elevated to the top job in Fisher’s place, leaving yet another franchise with an interim (or replacement) in place of the coach they started with this season. It’s the latest in a somewhat shocking run of coaching decisions around the league.

And it just goes to show that no matter if you’re winning or losing, when it’s open season on coaches in the NBA, anybody could be on the firing line — just ask George Karl, who is reportedly on the hot seat in Sacramento.

Kevin McHale was the first to go this season, lasting just 11 games in Houston before being shoved out and replaced by J.B. Bickerstaff. Lionel Hollins got the boot in Brooklyn after a dreadful start and was replaced by Tony Brown. David Blatt, fresh off of a trip to The Finals and his team sitting at 30-11 and first place in the Eastern Conference, was next. Tyronn Lue was tabbed as his successor and is 6-3 since making that 18-inch move over to the big chair. And just last week Jeff Hornacek was tossed out in Phoenix and replaced by Earl Watson.

And now comes the news that Fisher, a Phil Jackson disciple but a coaching novice, is out after a season and a half and just 136 games (with a woeful 40-96 record).

With the Knicks mired in a 1-9 slide, including five straight losses, and seemingly no relief in sight, Jackson apparently decided that enough was enough. We’ll find out what the final straw was late today when Jackson addresses the media after practice.

But it’s clear that in New York and everywhere else, if ownership and the front office believe that there is a disconnect (real or simply perceived) between the talent on the roster and the coach responsible for getting the most out of that talent, the coach is expendable.

The five coaching changes prior to All-Star Weekend is the most since the eight coaching changes prior to the break during the 2008-09 season.

The term “crazy season” is usually reserved for the rumors and drama surrounding this month’s trade deadline. It seems a more appropriate title for all of the coaching changes going on this season.

Blatt’s contemporaries, notably Rick Carlisle in Dallas and Stan Van Gundy in Detroit, expressed their outrage when he was fired and Cavaliers GM David Griffin did his best to explain why a coach with a sterling record was out of his league, and ultimately out of a job, trying to coach a star-studded roster.

Carlisle and Van Gundy should know better than anyone how this works, since they were both fired from previous jobs in the league where they were wildly successful.

There is no real rhyme or reason to these things. Sometimes it’s a gut feeling, sometimes it’s the things we can’t see from the outside and sometimes it’s just clash of personalities or philosophies that lead to a coaching divorce.

Fisher had no coaching experience prior to being selected to coach the Knicks. And he wasn’t even Jackson’s first choice, that would have been Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who in hindsight obviously made the right choice.

The most important choice for Jackson going forward is getting it right this time. He’ll have his pick of out-of-work coaches, like Tom Thibodeau, or he can wait on an up and coming assistant like Luke Walton. Whatever his choice, it has to be someone that can get the most out of the Carmelo AnthonyKristaps Porzingis combination and perhaps more importantly, someone with the toughness and resolve to survive the “crazy season” expectations that all of these franchises are caught up in.

Data curated by PointAfter

Morning shootaround — Feb. 6


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Griffin not going anywhere, says Doc | Time for a Pistons’ shakeup?Lue remains work in progress | All eyes on Warriors vs Thunder

No. 1:Griffin not going anywhere, says Doc — Well, that was quick. When the day began, there were rumors floating that Blake Griffin and the Clippers were on the outs and he was headed elsewhere by the trade deadline. On the surface, that didn’t seem plausible; why would the Clippers be willing to break up a potential 50-win team at mid-season? ell, the denial of sorts came quickly; Doc Rivers emerged to back his power forward. There was also other Griffin news; ESPN reported that his hand required an additional surgery to repair the injury, although the timetable remains the same, four to six weeks. Here’s James Herbert of CBS Sports recapping the Griffin trade buzz, from start to (we think) finish:

The Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets reportedly talked about a Blake Griffin trade, but it sounds like the superstar isn’t going anywhere. Clippers president and coach Doc Rivers strongly denied the rumors before Friday’s game against the Orlando Magic.

“Blake’s ours and he’s going to stay ours,” Rivers told reporters, via the Los Angeles Times’ Ben Bolch.

Forbes’ Mitch Lawrence reported that the Clippers are calling teams, including the Nuggets, about Griffin, and Denver is “somewhat leery” of doing a deal because he can enter free agency after next season. The Orange County Register’s Dan Woike, however, reported that the Nuggets placed the call about Griffin and the Clippers weren’t interested. The Times also reported that multiple teams had reached out about Griffin, but the Clippers, again, plan to keep him.

Given that Griffin is a top-10 player by any measure — we ranked him No. 7 before the season and he outperformed expectations before he hurt his quad and, later, reportedly punched the Clippers’ equipment manager — it is easy to take Rivers at his word. Perhaps, if Los Angeles suffers another disappointing loss in the playoffs, it will make sense to consider breaking up the core of Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan. There is no reason, though, to rush into a trade now, unless an unbelievable offer is sent the Clippers’ way.

As CBS Sports’ Matt Moore noted, Rivers’ team is in win-now mode. There are not many scenarios where trading away a 26-year-old franchise player helps you win in the short term. It’s OK to fire up the trade machine and dream up some crazy swap, but don’t count on anything actually happening.

The trade deadline is Feb. 18.

***

 No. 2:Pistons need a shakeup? — These are weird times for the Pistons. On one hand, they’ve clearly established themselves as a playoff-caliber team this season, and boast first-time All-Star Andre Drummond, the first Pistons No. 1 pick to be named to the game since Grant Hill in 2000. On the other hand, the Pistons often seem that they’re stuck in mediocrity, and you wonder if coach Stan Van Gundy, who doubles as the organization’s shot-caller, will attempt a trade in order to quicken the rebuilding process. Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press thinks that would be a good idea:

The Pistons need a trade, especially if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s core muscle strain sidelines the athletic defensive specialist longer than they hope. The conjecture might make Van Gundy uncomfortable, but he must make a realistic expectation for his team in the second half of the season. If he defines a successful campaign as simply ending the franchise’s six-year playoff drought, then he should ride out KCP’s absence and the roller-coaster inconsistency of a young team that frustrates as much as it excites.

But if Van Gundy believes the right trade at the right price could make the Pistons a genuine first-round playoff threat instead of an early sacrifice, coach Van Gundy should convince president Van Gundy to pull the trigger on a deal that could give the Pistons more experience, athleticism and depth.

The Pistons looked bad even in victory Thursday night. They beat New York, 111-105, but it was inexcusable to give up a 27-point lead to a team that played as though it wanted to be anywhere else but the Palace. The Knicks finally got their first advantage of the night with a little more than 2 minutes remaining.

The Pistons nearly embarrassed themselves before a national television audience. TNT was in town for the game, making it the first time the Pistons have played on the national network since the 2008-09 season.

Reggie Jackson saved Detroit in the closing moments with two three-pointers.

They’ll miss Caldwell-Pope. The Pistons announced following the game he will be re-evaluated following the All-Star break, meaning he’ll miss at least another four games.

Van Gundy previously said he’s content with his current roster, but that’s more about throwing people off the scent. His most valuable trading asset is Jennings, even though the point guard has an expiring contract that might dissuade many teams from returning phone calls.

“I got an e-mail from (general manager Jeff Bower) with all the discussions that have gone on, and there was no mention of Brooklyn and there was no mention of Brandon,” Van Gundy said.

Longtime NBA reporter Chris Sheridan reported on his website Thursday the Pistons have talked with the Nets about trading Jennings for Young, a 6-foot-8 athletic wing who’s in the first year of a four-year contract paying him $11.2 million this season.

Van Gundy referred to the report as “made up (blank).”

There have been reports that the Pistons are interested in New Orleans forward Ryan Anderson, who once played for Van Gundy in Orlando. But Anderson is on an expiring contract. He’ll be a free agent next summer. And unlike past years, there will be far more teams with money to spend considering the massive influx of national television revenue dollars expected to dramatically pump up the 2017 NBA salary cap.

Van Gundy might get even angrier as the deadline approaches and more trade rumors will be thrown against the wall. But the potentially extended loss of Caldwell-Pope places more pressure on the Pistons making a move in the next two weeks.

***

No. 3: Lue remains work in progress — After losing his first game as coach of the Cavaliers, Tyronn Lue‘s imprint of the team appeared to surface and the Cavs finally at least looked and sounded comfortable this season. That said. Luke understands the perils of a rookie head coach, especially in mid-season and particularly with a team that has understandably adopted a “championship or bust” motto. His predicament was broken down the other day by Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe:

“It’s a lot of thoughts,” he told reporters this week. “There’s a lot of stuff you have to put in and so much stuff you have to do. I wrote a lot of notes and went over them the next day.”

That next day, a Saturday, when Lue addressed the media, he promised to be “better” than Blatt and to invigorate Kevin Love, whose production had been inconsistent and whose place in the offense was rather confusing. Love did not want to be a traditional “Stretch 4” in the Cavaliers offense.

But there he was, the burly 6-foot-10-inch, 250-pounder standing at the 3-point line to stretch the floor. Lue has emphasized that Love receive the ball more at the elbows — corner of the key — and score from the inside out.

Love is averaging 20.4 points in his past five games as the Cavaliers attempt to rise to the level of the best teams in the Western Conference. Cleveland is the prohibitive favorite to reach the NBA Finals but getting there would mean little if the Cavaliers get embarrassed by the Golden State Warriors — again.

The Warriors laid a 34-point beatdown on the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena in a Jan. 18 game that marked the end of the Blatt era. General manager David Griffin’s decision to fire Blatt was heavily criticized around the league, with James assigned most of the blame for the fact the players were disconnected with the coach.

Lue relayed the message immediately that he was not going to serve as the buddy-coach to make LeBron and the rest of the guys feel comfortable. He said LeBron and Kyrie Irving were not in good enough shape to run a more up-tempo offense.

That multiyear contract gives Lue the security to make his own decisions and trust his own instincts. Seven months younger than Brad Stevens, Lue is one of the new younger NBA coaches — born in the mid to late 1970s — teams are beginning to trust.

The Phoenix Suns named former guard Earl Watson as interim coach this week. Watson is 36. Perhaps what Stevens has exemplified to NBA teams is that younger coaches are not exactly pushovers and perhaps more in tune with current players and more open to the analytical side of the game.

Lue has fresh ideas on how to improve the Cavaliers. He wants more passes on offense and less one-on-one play, despite the presence of the most unstoppable one-on-one player in the game. He also suggested the players actually participate in the pregame introductions at home because it engages the crowd more. Under Blatt, the players wouldn’t even acknowledge their intros.

It’s touch-and-go for Lue at this point. He is going to coach the Cavaliers his way and bank on his past experience and tireless work ethic to aid his progress. His rise has been rapid but there is a sense that the Cleveland organization is in better hands.

Sacrificing everything for the ultimate goal is the message Lue is trying to relay.

“Winning takes care of everything,” he said. “Winning two championships with the Lakers for me, people probably wouldn’t even know who I was. I was the 15th man that first year and people love me in LA. I was part of a team, part of a championship. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”

***

No. 4: All eyes on Warriors vs. Thunder — The Super Bowl will be held Sunday just down the Bay in San Jose, but first the San Francisco-Oakland area will be buzzing about one of the more anticipated games of the season, the first between Oklahoma City and the Warriors. So far, the Warriors have beaten all serious comers, including the Cavs and Spurs, and so is OKC next? Steph Curry caused a minor stir a week ago when he answered “A win and a win” when asked about this weekend; he was referring to his game and also his Carolina Panthers against the Broncos. Here’s a sneak preview from Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle:

The NBA community has been waiting for more than three months for this matchup: a star-studded tilt between the league’s top two offenses and a game that added another layer of drama this week when it was reported that the Warriors are the favorites to land Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant this summer.

“There are only two teams that can beat (the Warriors): the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs,” Charles Barkley said. The Warriors have “that swagger. When you become a great player, you develop a certain thing, where you think, ‘I’m the baddest S.O.B. out here. There’s nothing they can do.’ Steph (Curry) has that right now, but let me tell you something: That team in Oklahoma City, I might even put them ahead of the Spurs, because they’re the only team that can score with those guys.”

The Warriors (45-4) lead the NBA in scoring (115.4 points per game) and are No. 2 in field-goal percetage (49.1).

And lately, they’ve been even better. During the league’s longest active winning streak (eight games), the Warriors are averaging 123 points per game.

The Thunder (38-13) are second in scoring (109.7 points per game) and are third in field-goal percentage (47.6).

And, just like the Warriors, they’ve been even better of late. Oklahoma City has won 12 of 13 and has averaged 120.3 points during a five-game winning streak.

“There is no team in the NBA that has more talent than Oklahoma City. No team. They’re two-deep at every position,” Barkley said. “… As great as Russell (Westbrook) is, I wish he would just say, ‘I’m not going to worry about scoring. I’m just going to slow down Steph Curry.’ I don’t think anybody can stop Steph Curry.

“But (Westbrook) doesn’t play with the same energy on defense that he does on offense. Ain’t no player in the NBA faster than him going downhill. But he doesn’t say, ‘I’m going to stop my man, and I’m going to make a difference by stopping Steph Curry.’”

Curry and Westbrook won’t be matched up one-on-one throughout the game, but when the point guards are going at it, they should provide highlights fitting the stage. With hordes of celebrities and national media in the Bay Area for Super Bowl 50, the Warriors have had to add auxiliary press seating grander than what was used during the 2015 NBA Finals.

Curry is coming off Wednesday’s 51-point outburst, during which he made 11 three-pointers in Washington. Westbrook recorded his third straight triple-double the same night, with 24 points, 19 rebounds and 14 assists in a 117-114 victory over Orlando.

“The improvement Russell Westbrook has made is glaringly different this year,” Smith said.

Said O’Neal: “When you’re the underdogs, but you feel like you’re the best, you really come in and play. Against Golden State, you have to do everything right. I know K.D. and Westbrook are definitely going to bring their ‘A’ games.”

Durant, the league’s third-leading scorer (2.4 points per game behind No. 1 Curry), considers Golden State his top potential landing spot if he leaves Oklahoma City this summer, according to a Yahoo.

“Who knows what will happen?” Curry said. “Where he’ll end up, only Kevin knows that.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James doesn’t want hack-a-whomever to go away, even though Cleveland opponents target Tristan ThompsonJimmy Butler is no doubt feeling a lot better now that his injury Friday was diagnosed a knee sprain. Also, he’s super-tight with Broncos’ receiver Demaryius Thomas, so guess who he has in the Super Bowl?… PJ Tucker doesn’t want to get traded. Got that, Suns? … Chandler Parsons is sometimes on the bench during crunch time but Rick Carlisle says not to worry … Marc Gasol is already a big fan of Kristaps Porzingis, but who isn’t?

Morning shootaround — Feb. 5


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Ballmer: Griffin will face ‘consequences’ for fight | Ainge says no trades imminent | Report: Bucks willing to deal | Johnson fills in nicely for Pistons

No. 1: Ballmer says Griffin will face ‘consequences’ for scuffle — The Los Angeles Clippers are about a week into the four-to-six-week timeframe they’re looking at being without All-Star power forward Blake Griffin. He is out with a broken hand, suffered during an off-the-court fight with a team equipment manager in Toronto a few weeks ago. While the NBA is investigating the incident, team owner Steve Ballmer says there will be repercussions for Griffin, writes Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times:

In his first interview since Blake Griffin punched out the team’s assistant equipment manager, the Clippers owner sounded as if he was prepared to discipline his All-Star forward.

Asked Wednesday night if he felt it necessary for the Clippers to take the kind of action that would represent what they stand for, Ballmer didn’t hesitate.

“There needs to be consequences,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Citing a team investigation into the incident that resulted in a broken right hand for Griffin, Ballmer didn’t offer any details, so it’s not known whether the Clippers might add to whatever punishment the Kia pitchman receives from the NBA. Still, Ballmer made it clear that employee-on-employee violence would not be tolerated.

If his actions back his words, good for him.

Ballmer was measured when speaking of Griffin, condemning the player’s actions without tossing him under the proverbial bus.

“Just remember, Blake is a key part of his team,” Ballmer said.

At this moment, the courtside goofball in Ballmer emerged, as he extended his arms to mimic an embrace.

“We will welcome him back,” he said with a smile as broad as his shoulders.

This is something of a new experience for Ballmer. As the chief executive of Microsoft, he said there were times when key employees under-performed as a result of doing something stupid. However, he conceded, “We didn’t ever have a situation quite like this.”

Ballmer continued, “You know, everyone’s going to heal, and we’re going to have an opportunity to move forward. We’re going to finish our investigation, decide what needs to happen and move forward. Blake’s a key part of our team. There’s no question about that.

“He certainly has been remorseful, which is great, and we’ll find a way to move past it. That’s part of life. An important part of life is learning how to have consequences.”

***

No. 2: Ainge says no trades imminent for Celtics — Yesterday we brought you news that the Houston Rockets were reportedly not going to try and deal center Dwight Howard, who was recently linked to a trade with the Boston Celtics. Does that mean Howard is staying put for sure? Who knows. But according to Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, Boston isn’t looking to make a trade just yet — although he is (as always) in talks with other front offices about possible deals. A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNewEngland.com has more:

Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations, spoke about the importance of trust in what was the biggest trade he has pulled off to date – landing Kevin Garnett from Minnesota in 2007.

“The biggest trade we made was with my best friend in the business, Kevin McHale,” Ainge said on 98.5 the Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich Show.

At the time, McHale was the General Manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“It wouldn’t have gotten done if not for Kevin and I, because there had to be so much trust going back and forth,” Ainge said.

But when it comes to evaluating players and their potential fit with the Celtics, Ainge leans on himself and his staff.

“The relationship is important but I don’t necessarily listen to their evaluation,” Ainge said.

That becomes quite topical now with the Celtics having had some discussions with the Houston Rockets about Dwight Howard who played for McHale in Houston prior to McHale being fired earlier this season.

While Ainge did not speak specifically about Howard and Boston’s level of interest in the former eight-time all-star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year, there’s not a team in the NBA that Ainge hasn’t had a conversation with recently.

But does that means he’s close to making a major deal.

Nope.

“Most of the time, ninety-nine percent of the things talked about and discussed, don’t happen,” Ainge said. “This time of year there’s a lot of discussions. It’s really hard to predict if there’s any deals there. Usually they happen at the very end, the very last day.”

“I do feel like we need to make improvements on our team, but not necessarily at the trade deadline,” Ainge said. “We can’t force anything. Right now, there’s nothing on the table, there’s nothing imminent. We’ve just had a lot of discussions and hope that next week come trade deadline (Feb. 18, 3 p.m. EST) we’re prepared to make the right decisions.”

***

No. 3: Report: Bucks willing to deal Carter-Williams, Monroe — The Milwaukee Bucks have been perhaps the most disappointing team of 2015-16, especially given their offseason splash. The Bucks added one of the biggest free-agent fish in the pond, center Greg Monroe, to a squad that surprised many and made the 2015 playoffs. A young core of Monroe, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and guard Michael Carter-Williams seemed poised for at least a repeat (if not an improvement upon) last season. Yet as the trade deadline nears and the Bucks fall further and further out of the playoff race, Carter-Williams and Monroe could be dealt, writes Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times:

Clearly, Bucks officials are deeply concerned. That’s reflected in their ongoing discussions with other teams about potential trades before the Feb. 18 deadline.

Based on conversations with several NBA execs from the Eastern and Western conferences, the Bucks are more than receptive to playing “Let’s Make a Deal.’’

And that includes possibly moving Michael Carter-Williams, who has been consistently inconsistent since joining the Bucks. Carter-Williams has had some dynamic games this season, like an 18-point, 13-assist outing against Sacramento and a 20-point, 12-assist showing against Chicago.

On the flip side, Carter-Williams had only two assists in 26 minutes against Portland on Wednesday night, one assist in 27 minutes against Memphis last week, and zero assists in 25 minutes against Miami two weeks ago.

But Carter-Williams isn’t the only frontline player the Bucks are apparently willing to move. A much bigger surprise is the Bucks have made it known that center Greg Monroe is available at the right price, according to some NBA officials.

Monroe has been a double-double machine, having recorded 26 this season. That ranks sixth in the league behind Detroit’s Andre Drummond (40), Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (33), Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins (28), the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan (28) and Chicago’s Pau Gasol (27) and just ahead of Washington’s John Wall (25), Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns (25) and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis (24).

But Monroe’s man-to-man and help-defense remain suspect. And he most definitely isn’t the rim protector the Bucks sorely need. He is averaging a mere 0.9 blocks per game this season, which ties him with L.A. Lakers forward Brandon Bass for 46th in the league.

Justified or not, Monroe is being targeted as one of the primary reasons for the Bucks’ defensive deficiencies this season. After being one of the elite defensive teams in the league last season, the Bucks are now one of the worst, giving up 103.3 points per game compared to 97.4 last season.

Clearly, the pieces to the Bucks’ puzzle aren’t fitting. Several league officials said they would be surprised if the Bucks didn’t make a major trade.

“From what I’m hearing is they (the Bucks) are willing to trade anybody not named Parker, Antetokounmpo or Middleton,’’ an NBA executive said. “I even heard they’d listen (to offers) for Parker and Middleton, but it would have to be some crazy offer.

“They want to do something; they know they have to do something. That group they have isn’t working.’’

***

No. 4: Johnson fills in nicely for Pistons — A great number of folks were predicting big things for Detroit Pistons rookie Stanley Johnson after his solid showing at NBA Summer League. He was tops on our Rookie Ladder after Summer League and was a dominant force in the Orlando Summer League. Once 2015-16 got started, though, Johnson was more or less relegated to a reserve role. But an recent injury to third-year guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope opened the door for Johnson to start last night and he delivered with flying colors, writes Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

Stan Van Gundy said earlier this week he was looking for ways to get more minutes for Stanley Johnson. Losing Caldwell-Pope to a core muscle strain that will keep him out at least until the resumption of play following the All-Star break on Feb. 19 isn’t the desired method, but Johnson at least proved more than capable of shouldering greater responsibility in the 111-105 win over the Knicks.

“I thought he was tremendous,” Van Gundy said after Johnson logged 44 minutes and led the Pistons with 22 points plus nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and a blocked shot. “Second start of his career. Thought he played real well. We were even going to him down the stretch before Reggie hit the threes. We were running plays for him. Fearless. Getting better all the time. Not afraid to make plays.”

As impressive as it is for a rookie to shoulder 44 minutes and still have enough left to make a handful of the game’s biggest plays in the fourth quarter, Johnson’s play doesn’t really come as a surprise to his teammates. They’ve seen his readiness and his confidence since the early days of training camp.

“It’s awesome. He’s a really good player,” Tolliver said. “We’ve known it the whole season. He’s getting a great opportunity now with KCP out. He’s just really still learning the game. That’s a good thing for him because he’s going to have a bright future, as long as he keeps his head on straight and continues to work hard and play hard like he does.”

Jackson said he and Reggie Johnson discussed strategy on the plane ride back from Boston. What was it? Johnson wouldn’t say, but figures that when Caldwell-Pope comes back, the Pistons now have another tool in their belt to throw at teams.

“What me and Reggie did tonight was different,” Johnson said. “I think it helped a little bit, so I think when (Caldwell-Pope) gets back, having ways for guys who can do stuff like that is going to make it tough for (opponents) to play.”

“Amazing,” Jackson said of Johnson’s contributions. “We talked about it on the plane, the game plan coming in between us two, how we were going to approach this game. He did everything that he told me he was going to do. He’s definitely somebody who has the utmost confidence in himself and he’s one of those, he says he’s going to do it then he’s going to go out and compete. He came up tremendously big.”

Van Gundy sensed some of his veterans feeling the heat as the Knicks took big chunks out of the lead, but not his youngest player.

“We were struggling. I decided to start going to him,” Van Gundy said. “I thought some of our other guys maybe tightened up a little bit and that’s not him. Pretty amazing for a 19-year-old kid.”

Somebody said to Van Gundy, “He relishes the moment.”

“Yeah, he does. He and Reggie both. It’s good to have a couple of guys like that. … I think Stanley’s going to be a really good player. And he handled huge minutes tonight on the fifth game in seven nights, played (44) minutes and played real well. Nine rebounds, made some really good passes. Just played extremely well.”

“I knew I was going to walk into heavy minutes,” Johnson said. “For me going into the game, I was like, ‘How do I keep up (Caldwell-Pope’s) defensive intensity and offensively – we don’t play the same, so I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it in his way, but I thought I could help out on both sides.”

Yeah, you could say he helped out. Just a little.


VIDEO: Balanced Pistons hold off Knicks in Detroit

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Indiana Pacers executive and Hall of Famer Larry Bird has some pointed thoughts on the lifespan of NBA big men … ICYMI, a quick rundown of everyone who will be participating in the State Farm All-Star Saturday events, which includes the Verizon Slam Dunk Contest and the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest … NBA commissioner Adam Silver says the ‘Hack-A-‘ rule will soon be changing … The San Antonio Spurs will be without Manu Ginobili after he underwent testicular surgery … President Barack Obama had a lot of fun with the Golden State Warriors yesterday … Kind of a cool photo gallery — re-drafting the 2007 NBA Draft

Morning shootaround — Jan. 24


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Jan. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs lose in Lue debut | Stan Van Gundy rips Blatt firing | Kerr, Myers find support in pain | Scola the Explorer

No. 1: Cavs lose in Lue debut Just hours after replacing David Blatt as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Tyronn Lue made his head coaching debut at home in a nationally televised game against the Chicago Bulls. And while Lue talked about wanting to make the experience more fun for his players, as Chris Haynes writes for Cleveland.com, that turned out to be easier to talk about than actually make happen, as the Bulls won 96-83…

The Cavaliers showed energy, but lacked any efficiency — showing no shooting touch on the floor or at the foul line. They missed beyond the arc — making just four of 24 attempts — and at the foul line, where they were 9-of-22. By game’s end, they left the floor to boos from the home crowd.

During Lue’s pregame presser, he said one of the problems was that his team needed to start having more fun post David Blatt.

“I don’t think they’re enjoying it,” Lue said. “That was a part of our speech today. The game will pass you by. No matter how great LeBron is, Kyrie, Kevin, the game will pass you by. … I want them to just enjoy the moment now.”

To help cater to a new pleasurable basketball experience, before the game the Cavaliers did something they haven’t done since mid-November: they participated in the starting lineup introductions. Before, the players would just stand in a huddle as the public address announcer announced each starter.

That was the full degree of Cleveland’s (30-12) fun.

Initially into the contest, it looked as if the Cavaliers were energized and full of life by jumping out to a 7-2 lead. But that vigor slowly evaporated and old habits of isolation ball crept back in. They went scoreless in the final 6:26 of the opening quarter, missing their last 16 shots.

Ball movement could have been better, but for the most part Cleveland just couldn’t hit a shot. It was brutal to watch as they shot a horrific 37 percent from the field for the night.

When the buzzer sounded for halftime and the Cavaliers were down five, a frustrated LeBron James slammed the ball to the floor as he headed to the locker room. He had missed all three of his first half free throws. By game’s end, the Cavaliers were 9-of-22 from the charity stripe — and that required an 8-for-11 stretch to finish the game. Chicago capitalized on those missed opportunities, expanding its lead to 17 with 42 seconds remaining in the third.

An exasperated sellout crowd booed the home team, which trimmed the deficit to nine on a James layup plus free throw with 2:55 left in the game. A pair of free throws by Smith chipped it to eight seconds later.

But the Bulls found Taj Gibson for a difficult layup with a foul on James, pretty much ending any suspense. There was no overcoming that margin on this cold shooting night.

James was an assist shy of claiming his his first triple-double of the season. He finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds, but was 11-for-27 shooting. Smith put in 18 points on 17 shots. Love was the only player to make half his shots, finishing with 14 points and five boards and Kyrie Irving registered 11 points on 16 shot attempts.

Lue informed the media at morning shootaround that he would go with a 10-man rotation in order to develop an identity with the second unit. Veteran James Jones, who was out of the rotation under Blatt, was the first to sub in. Mo Williams, who hadn’t played in 10 of his last 13 games, soon after entered. The surprising aspect is that Lue used 10 players in the first quarter, showing how serious he is about improving his bench.

The results didn’t prove beneficial. Chicago’s bench outscored Cleveland’s 22-8.

With the franchise invested in Lue for the long haul, his objective is still to win games, but he also wants to restore his team’s passion.

“I’m not really worried about, right now this early, about the games, I really just worried about the spirit is more important than anything,” he said. “Getting our spirit right, getting our spirit together and I think everything else will take care of itself because we got a lot of great players.”

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 22


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Remembering Kobe’s epic game | Van Gundy blasts Pistons’ commitment | Aldridge: Picking Spurs over Suns was ‘very close’

No. 1: Remembering Kobe’s 81-point night — It may seem hard to believe, but it has been 10 years since Kobe Bryant dropped 81 points on the Toronto Raptors. ESPN.com’s Arash Markazi has a great oral history on the game, we have an entire section of this website dedicated to Kobe’s career and the Los Angeles TimesMike Bresnahan, who covered the game that night, provides some great stories from the event, too:

Lawrence Tanter had already witnessed plenty from his courtside view as the Lakers’ public-address announcer.

He was there when the Lakers beat the hated Boston Celtics at the Forum for the 1987 championship. He saw Bryant throw a lob to Shaquille O’Neal in a back-from-the-dead rally in the 2000 playoffs. And he watched the Lakers somehow outlast Boston in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals.

For Bryant’s 81-point outburst, though, Tanter remembered the pen-on-paper challenge for official scorer and longtime friend John Radcliffe.

“He was having a very difficult time finding room in the boxes on the scorebook to put all these points down that Kobe was scoring,” Tanter said. “It was a tedious effort on his behalf to do that because he’d never faced anything like that either. He just kept going, ‘Man, I’ve got to write smaller.'”

Suddenly, Luke Walton wasn’t the cool, collected guy with the quick wit and stentorian voice.

Long before he became the successful interim head coach of the Golden State Warriors, he was a reserve Lakers forward. A pass-first player his entire career, he asked for an assist from Bryant after the Toronto game.

“It was one of the few times I felt like a fan instead of his teammate. I had him sign a ticket for me after the game,” Walton said. “It was incredible. You look up at the scoreboard and see it at, like, 72 and then 78 and then all of a sudden it says 80, and it looks like the scoreboard is broken. I really didn’t even fully grasp it until I went home and watched it on tape that night.”

Bill Macdonald was the ebullient host of Lakers’ pregame shows for Fox Sports West.

He was asked to step up a bit that night and took the place of Lakers play-by-play announcer Joel Meyers, who was contractually allowed by the team to call three NFLplayoff games, including the NFC championship on radio that day in Seattle.

Macdonald had experience broadcasting other sports, but nothing like the Lakers. Certainly nothing like that night.

“I figured this was going to be the only Laker game I ever broadcast. It didn’t matter to me that it was a nondescript Sunday in January, a bad Laker team against a not-very-good Toronto team,” Macdonald said. “The first half was just awful. The Lakers were horrible. They needed every single one of Kobe’s points in the second half to come back.”

Phil Jackson, a share-the-ball proponent who won 11 championships in 20 seasons as an NBA coach, including five with the Lakers, was complimentary of Bryant’s effort at the time but noted, “it’s not exactly the way you want to have a team win a game.”

He chuckled this week when that quote was read back to him. He did it again when told Bryant’s score by quarter — 14, 12, 27 and 28. And again when reminded of Bryant’s shot total — almost one per minute.

“That’s exhausting,” Jackson said. “That’s pretty amazing. The kid is unbelievable.”

Toronto swingman Jalen Rose was the one who guarded Bryant the most. Maybe it’s a form of psychological self-defense, but rather than dwell on Bryant’s point total, he remembers Bryant’s demeanor.

“Kobe never bumped his chest. He never pointed in the crowd. He never trash-talked,” said Rose, now an ESPN analyst. “If Kobe had behaved like that, he wouldn’t have got to 51, let alone 81, because we would have wanted to physically harm him on the court.”

“The greatest thing about Kobe’s 81-point game was that actually wasn’t his best game to me. His best game was actually against a good team, the Dallas Mavs, when I think he had like 60 in three quarters.”


VIDEO: Relive Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game

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