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Posts Tagged ‘Steph Curry’

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 — Dec. 27


VIDEO: The Fast Break: Dec. 26th

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Curry makes fan, not foes, cry | Cavs kicked in keister | Melo anything but after Knicks meltdown | Phoenix phails vs. Philly

No. 1: Curry makes fan, not foes, cry — You can be impressed with Golden State’s Steph Curry all over again because he was named the Associated Press 2015 Male Athlete of the Year, joining LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird as the only basketball players to win that award in its 85 years. Or you can admire him, instead, for the consideration he demonstrated for a single fan, at the end of a long road trip, on the Warriors’ only night of defeat so far this season. Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal-Times was on hand to chronicle a memorable evening and special moment from earlier this month between Curry and a fan of his dating back to his Davidson days, and the tale lent itself to a Christmastime telling:

When the unbeaten Warriors rolled into Milwaukee on Dec. 12 for their only appearance against the Milwaukee Bucks, Barry Hankel wanted to give his wife a special present — tickets to the game and perhaps the opportunity to meet her favorite player.

Barry sought to bring some joy to his wife, who has been living a nightmare for almost two years. In March of 2014, while the Hankels were residing in Green Bay, Becky learned she had a myofibroblastic tumor, a rare cancer that occurs mainly in the soft tissue and internal body organs.

“The doctor who gave me the results was taken aback,’’ said Becky, a 2001 graduate of Union Grove High School whose maiden name is Thom. “He had never heard about it. It’s not very common.’’

The cancer settled in Becky’s lower left leg. She underwent radiation treatment followed by surgery in June of 2014 at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

An infection arose and lingered, eventually creeping into a bone and necessitating another trip to the Mayo Clinic, where she underwent three more surgeries.

Becky’s problems didn’t stop there. Three months ago in Janesville, she broke her leg while waiting in her car for her two children — Lexie, 8, and Liam, 5 — to get out of school.

“And all of a sudden, I heard a pop,’’ Becky recalled. “I felt immediate pain.”

That meant yet another trip to the Mayo Clinic for her fifth operation. This time, doctors determined Becky needed to have her leg amputated below the knee.

The surgery was deemed successful and Becky said she is cancer free. While she is using a wheelchair, a prosthetic is on the way. Finally, there is light at the end of a seemingly endless tunnel for the Hankels.

Considering the physical and mental hardships his wife had to endure and the strain his family has been under, Barry thought attending the Bucks-Warriors game would be therapeutic.

And it was. In the days leading up to the game, Becky excitedly went online and purchased Curry jerseys for the entire family.

The game was thrilling and memorable as well. Before a raucous capacity crowd of 18,717 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, the Bucks — Becky’s favorite team — snapped the Warriors’ winning streak. Curry, Becky’s favorite player, finished with 28 points.

Becky’s memorable night didn’t end there. Raymond Ridder, the Warriors vice president of communications, arranged for Becky and her family to have a private meeting with Curry, just outside the Warriors’ locker room.

“Becky was ecstatic,’’ Barry said. “She’s wanted to meet him forever. When he came out of the locker room, Becky got up out of her wheelchair and said to him, ‘Can I give you a hug?’ And he said, ‘Of course.’ ”

Becky agreed it was an unforgettable occasion, saying she’s still having difficulty comprehending that she got to meet Curry.

“I remember seeing people who would meet a celebrity, like their favorite singer or player, and they’d start to cry,’’ Becky said. “And I would say to myself, ‘Why would they do that?’ But when he came out of the locker room, this emotion came over and I said ‘Oh, my God’ and cried.”

(more…)

With Irving back, can Cavs finally soar?

VIDEO: Kyrie Irving is ready to return to the court.

Now that Kyrie Irving is back on the floor, can the Cavs finally discover a new “normal?”

You have to feel for the Cavs a bit. Well, sort of. Ever since LeBron James boomeranged back to Cleveland, the team he envisioned never quite took the floor. At the start of last season, the new club had to deal with transition pains caused by a new coach and the arrival of four key pieces on the rotation: LeBron, Kevin Love, JR Smith and Iman Shumpert.

And then, once the introductions were finally made two months into the season, injuries hit. Anderson Varejao was done for the year. When the playoffs began, Love was finished. Shortly after the NBA Finals began, Irving was finished.

And this season, Shumpert has dealt with injuries, which prevented him from delivering anything more than a newborn baby.

LeBron joked that it was “normal” for the Cavs to deal with being incomplete, but today was a step in the other direction when Irving declared himself fit for duty, having healed from his knee injury.

With a simple Michael Jordan-style “I’m back” tweet, Irving has changed the dynamics of the club. He gives the Cavs one more All-Star on the floor, one more scoring option, one less reason to rely so much on LeBron. The Cavs managed to go 17-7 anyway, which is scary once you think about it, how the rest of the teams in the East had their opening and none took advantage of it.

Irving will suit up Sunday against the Sixers, a great team to use as a warm up, which will give him a few days to prepare for the Christmas Day showdown against Steph Curry and the Warriors. Remember, when the Warriors took the Cavs in six games during the Finals, LeBron saluted the champs but also said he wished the Cavs were fully healthy. And that remark took a life of its own, with the Warriors feeling stung by any accusation that they were lucky. Which they were, from the standpoint of avoiding a major injury, unlike OKC and a few other contenders.

“I’m pretty (bleeping) excited,” Irving said at practice, and that pretty much sums up the feeling of his teammates.

The trick now is for the Cavs and Love in particular to mesh with Irving on the floor. In the absence of Irving, Love has played his best ball in Cleveland by far, and feels comfortable with more touches. It’ll be up to coach David Blatt to devise a way to make everyone feel productive and happy.

Irving has practiced pain-free for weeks, and it’s reasonable to suggest he’ll need a few games to get his NBA stamina back. But look: The Cavs have added a three-time All-Star who’s in the prime of his career at age 23. How can it not work?

Morning shootaround — Nov. 29


VIDEO: The Fast Break: Nov. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Rush puts latest ‘wow’ in W’s | Wizards hard to please in swoon | LeBron saves day, J.R.’s D | McCollum’s audience of 1

No. 1: Rush puts latest ‘wow’ in W’s — All right, the Golden State Warriors are just messing with The Association now. Racing to their 18-0 record, the NBA’s defending champions are posting stupid numbers of superiority and seem almost to be handicapping themselves just for sport. For instance, reigning MVP Steph Curry scored 17 points in the first quarter of his team’s victory over Sacramento while taking only six shots. Draymond Green, who in previous generations might have gotten dismissed as a ” ‘tweener” and been sent packing to multiple teams as a seventh or eighth man, became the first Warriors player since Wilt Chamberlain to post consecutive triple-doubles. Golden State already has outscored opponents by 288 points in just 18 games, ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss reports, and then – even as Harrison Barnes goes out for what could be a couple weeks there’s the whole Brandon Rush thing Saturday:

So, how does a team that averages a blowout top itself? On Saturday night, joyous surprise came in the form of a quick strike Brandon Rush throwback game. He was called upon to replace Harrison Barnes (sprained ankle) in the starting lineup, to some surprise. He didn’t deliver much in the beginning but owned the third quarter like Klay Thompson in disguise. Rush scored 14 points in a 3-minute, 49-second stretch that was shocking, fun, and possibly cathartic.

Rush has a history here, having done nice work for a very different Golden State team, not entirely long ago. On the 2011-2012 Warriors, he was the rare good role player, a glue guy in a situation too shattered to matter. On Nov. 3, 2012, against the Grizzlies, a Zach Randolph shove sent Rush’s career into dormancy. He’d scored 2,639 points in his four-plus seasons before his ACL injury. In the two seasons that followed, he scored 109.

In the background, he has been a vocal part of the locker room, originator of the, “Get what you neeeeed!” catchphrase, meant to inspire work between practices. He’s a popular teammate, someone people here have been pulling for to finally reclaim what he lost. That was palpable in the frenzy of his 14-point explosion. Teammates were clearly looking for Rush, hoping to extend his moment.

After a dunk over contact, Rush was found for three consecutive 3-pointers. Then, during a timeout, interim coach Luke Walton and assistant coach Jarron Collins decided to carry the fun further, calling up “Elevator Doors” for the suddenly hot Rush.

“Elevator Doors” is a play that looks like its namesake. An offensive player runs off the ball between two screening teammates, who converge together to block his defender — the closing doors. It’s a play normally called up for the best of shooters, as it creates a 3-pointer on the move. You’ll see Curry get this play call. You’ll see Thompson get this play call. Something crazy has to happen for almost anyone else to ditch the stairs and take the lift. Since three straight 3s qualifies, Rush got the call, got the ball and … splash.

The crowd went nuts, only outdone by a Golden State bench that might have accidentally created dance moves never before invented.

***

No. 2: Wizards hard to please in swoon — All it took was a playoff sweep of the Toronto Raptors for the Washington Wizards and their fans to go all-in on the small-ball, pace-and-space style of offense so popular throughout the league. All it has taken to shake them from that embrace is four defeats, strung together last week in five nights against Indiana, Charlotte, Boston and Toronto. That shiny, new attack doesn’t look so dazzling anymore, and center Marcin Gortat sounded ready to throw it under the bus to get his old bruise buddy, Nene, alongside him again in a big-man tandem that, weeks ago, seemed prehistoric. Gortat also wasn’t happy with what he termed “negativity” in Washington’s locker room, saying: “”It’s not even fun coming here anymore.” Here is an excerpt of J.Michael’s Wizards insider report for CSNMidAtlantic.com:

“We missed some shots but it’s tough also because with the system we play, four outside one inside,” he said after 16 points and 10 rebounds in Saturday’s 84-82 loss to the Toronto Raptors. “I’m by myself over there fighting for the rebounds. Usually you got two, three guys inside the paint so it’s a little bit different without Nene being at the four.”

Nene, who started alongside Gortat as the power forward, missed Saturday because of a left calf strain. Even though his career rebounding numbers are modest (6.6), Nene tends to clear the traffic around the rim to allow Gortat to rebound.

Of course, last season Gortat wasn’t happy on the offensive end because being on the floor with Nene being there clogged the paint and caused difficulty for him, as well as John Wall on drives, to operate. The idea of moving Nene to the bench and sliding in someone who has three-point ability into that role opens the floor but usually comes at the cost of rebounding.

The Wizards are 6-8 and struggling with their identity, and minus-28 in rebounds during this four-game losing streak. Playing the old way got them to the Eastern Conference semifinals two years in a row.

Kris Humphries had started every game at power forward as his three-point shooting evolved but has only made one deep ball in the last five games. For the first time Jared Dudley, who is undersized at 6-7 and was a teammate of Gortat’s with the Phoenix Suns, started there Saturday. He had seven points and four rebounds.

“Jared is a different player. He’s giving a lot to the team. I love to play with him,” Gortat said. “But just as Jared is giving us offensively great opportunities, we’re suffering on rebounds a little bit. It is what it is.

“Coach [Randy Wittman] is still looking for the right guy at the four spot. … It’s tough. Everybody has to do more now, including me. It’s not easy.”

***

No. 3:LeBron saves day, J.R.’s D — A late-game mistake nearly torpedoed the generally good defensive work that Cleveland’s J.R. Smith turned in on Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson. But LeBron James‘ late-game heroics averted that particular disaster on a night in which the two Cavaliers – a study in contrasts in so many ways, in demeanor and drive – were their team’s best story. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com saw it as further steps in the championship contender’s progress toward the goal:

There they stood next to each other in the back corner of the Cavaliers’ locker room Saturday: one with aspirations of being known as the G.O.A.T., the other narrowly avoiding becoming the goat for the night, thanks to his ambitious friend hitting a game winner that absolved his defensive sin in the previous possession.

For James, there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary about his final stat line of 26 points, nine rebounds and five assists or anything too outlandish about him hitting the clincher; he has done it plenty of times before. But it was the nature of his final shot — an eight-foot, driving hook shot over the 7-foot Brook Lopez — that made it unique.

“I don’t think I’ve ever made a game winner off one of those,” James said. “I’ve made layups. I’ve made pull-ups. Obviously I’ve made step-back jumpers. I’ve probably never made one of those for a game winner. So, I might go to the skyhook next time. … Brook, he did not think in his wildest years that I was going to shoot that one.”

For Smith, unfortunately, there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary about his ill-advised foul on Joe Johnson’s 3-point attempt with 15.2 seconds left and the Cavs leading by three. Smith has committed mental mistakes by fouling in inappropriate situations before, be it Friday night against Charlotte on a Nicolas Batum 3 or the mountain of miscues he had late in Game 2 of the Finals. But it was his overall defensive effort — a career-high four blocks, three steals and the primary defensive assignment on Johnson to begin with — that warrants mentioning

“I know as long as I can bring that enthusiasm and toughness on the defensive end, then we will have a better chance of winning than if I’m just making shots,” Smith said. “I have to be a two-way player.”

It could be seen as troubling that Cleveland needed the double-rainbow-like performance to win a home game against a Brooklyn team that’s now 3-13. There could be legitimate points made about Cleveland’s big-man trio of Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao and Timofey Mozgov — making a combined $28.7 million this season — combining on the court for just 12 points on 5-for-18 shooting, 20 rebounds and six turnovers against the Nets. There certainly has been a bit of hand-wringing among team observers wondering when the on-court product would actually look as good as the Cavs’ 13-4 record is.

The flip side to that: You have developments such as Smith becoming a key cog in Cleveland’s fourth-quarter, switch-everything defensive lineups and encouraging quotes such as James crediting coach David Blatt for the “designed play.” However, Blatt passed the praise to his star player, saying, “Just the way I drew it up. … Give it to No. 23.”

Like James and Blatt’s relationship, or Smith’s commitment to something other than taking contested jump shots to James putting in so much time in practicing a specialized shot such as that running hook that he would actually feel confident enough to use it in crunch time, Cleveland’s season goals are all about growth.

***

No. 4:McCollum’s audience of 1 — When Portland shooting guard C.J. McCollum sank the first four shots he took against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Trail Blazers’ eventual home victory Saturday, he simply was following instructions. His own instructions. Turns out, McCollum – who scored 19 points in the first half and finished with 28 points as Portland won for the third time in four games – had given himself a rather demanding pep talk before the game and Jason Quick of CSNNW.com was on hand to witness it:

It was a mostly silent Moda Center when CJ McCollum took the court about two hours before Saturday’s Trail Blazers game. The music had yet to start blaring from the speakers above, and there were only a limited amount of players on the court.

It was quiet enough to hear McCollum engage in what would be an important conversation … with himself.

“Get up!” McCollum told himself as he attempted a shot.

The next shot, it was the same thing. “Get up!’’

And so it went for the next 15, 20 minutes.

“Get up!” … Swish … “Get up!” … Swish.

Nearly every shot was accompanied by a reminder to both get arc under his shot, and lift from his legs.

“Sometimes, my shot is a little flat,’’ McCollum said. “I’m shooting more of a line drive, so I just remind myself that I’ve got to get it up.’’

McCollum, who is averaging 20.4 points while shooting 46 percent from the field and 39 percent from three-point range, says he often talks to himself during shooting routines. Usually, he talks to himself in his mind during morning sessions at the team’s practice facility. Other times, he is more audible. Either way, he find the personal reminders offer “positive reinforcement.”

“We shoot so many shots that sometimes, you baby it, hold back a little bit,’’ McCollum said. “So I remind myself to get it up, let it go.’’

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: It has taken the proverbial New York minute for the Knicks and their fans to swap out the question mark after Kristaps Porzingis‘ name with an exclamation point, and our man Lang Whitaker tells the tale of New Yorkers’ newfound 7-foot-3 source of hope and optimism … Detroit coach and basketball boss Stan Van Gundy had center Andre Drummond in his crosshairs, asking more from the big man who has given the Pistons so much this season, at least in terms of gaudy rebounding numbers. … Here’s some video of Kobe Bryant on that kid McCollum’s growth in Portland, on the young Lakers and on the inevitable march of time. … Here at HangTime HQ, we can’t remember the last time Father Time grabbed 18 rebounds in a game but we do know when San Antonio’s Tim Duncan most recently accomplished that. … The Bulls need Derrick Rose to play more like Derrick Rose, especially when trying to score, though some doubt he’ll ever quite make it back. … Did someone say back? That’s what Rockets fans wonder, while waiting for Donatas Motiejunas to come back in his recovery from back surgery. … ICYMI, this Philadelphia 76ers fan’s lament does some serious Sixers ‘splaining. … The way Brook and Robin Lopez mock-bicker and tease each other – over their cats, their personalities, you name it – you might find yourself wishing they were conjoined rather than merely identical twins.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 27


VIDEO: Warriors star Stephen Curry sits down with TNT’s Rachel Nichols

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Ambitious Warriors aiming for 33-0 | Kobe’s farewell tour bottoms out | Inside the Cavaliers’ players-only meeting

No. 1: Ambitious Warriors aiming for 33-0 — They’re not going to hide it. And that might be a good thing. The Golden State Warriors, as ambitious as any defending champion in recent memory, are on a historic pace right now. They’ve already taken care of the best record to start a season in NBA history (16-0 and counting heading into tonight’s game in Phoenix, 9:30 p.m. ET NBA TV). They want more. They want the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers’ record for the longest winning streak in NBA history, the sterling 33-0 mark that has stood for decades. No sense in being bashful when you’re already on pace. Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group has the details:

To Stephen Curry, the longest winning streak in NBA history — 33 games for the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers — is something different.

The 16-0 Warriors might not have known much about the record they broke for the most consecutive wins to start the season until recently when they started to get closer. But as they play at Phoenix on Friday, the Warriors are embracing their next chase of history.

“We talk about 33,” Curry said in a conference call with international reporters. “I think I’ve probably talked about it more than anybody else on the team, just because I know about the history and just really how hard it is.

“We’ve had like two 16-game winning streaks the last two years, and those are pretty special feats. For us to have to double that output, I mean we’re going to play hard and hopefully close in on that record, but it won’t be a disappointing effort if we don’t get there. Because there are so many talented teams in this league and for us to just be playing at a high level right now, that’s what we’re worried about. And if we close in and get to 29, 30 games, we’ll talk about it a little bit more.”

The Warriors have won 20 straight regular-season games dating to last season. The 33-game Lakers streak is both the single-season record and one including streaks that cover multiple seasons.

“Yeah, they could do it,” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said of the Warriors being the team to win 33 straight. “Because they’re good enough.

“It’s a very young league, and so they’ve managed to put together a team of extremely intelligent players and extremely versatile players and great shooters. And so I see no reason why they couldn’t continue to extend it.”

Warriors interim head coach Luke Walton had expressed concern after the Warriors reached 16 wins on Tuesday with a victory against the Lakers that with their place in the record books, the players might have a different intensity level and see their level of play go down.

Still, there are other records to threaten.

“Thirty-three is a special number,” Curry said. “So there’s obviously still milestones that we can continue to go after, but you go after them by how you approach each day.”

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Nov. 22


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Nov. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Cuban lets loose | Deron Williams rebounds | Fast-improving Favors is officially a Utah favorite | Warriors not stressing over record

No. 1: Cuban lets loose — The most sought-after interview in the NBA never changes. It’s significant time with Mark Cuban, the Mavericks owner and the maverick owner who always speaks his mind, which he can literally afford to do. Cuban is always entertaining and forthright and pretty much on-point with his thoughts on basketball or really anything you ask of him. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe managed to get some time with Cuban and we’re all better off for it:

He remains the most entertaining owner in the NBA, and he’ll offer an opinion on anything he is asked, making him one of the most transparent figures in sports.

Cuban was asked about the firing of Kevin McHale by his rivals, the Houston Rockets. Cuban has had very public feuds with Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, especially when the Mavericks nabbed swingman Chandler Parsons from the Rockets with a mega-deal in July 2014.

“I like Kevin, I feel bad for him personally, but the rest of it? Whatever,” Cuban said. “I mean, we’ve been in a high-expectation position before. We go to the Finals, we started 0-4 [in 2006-07], and it’s ‘what’s wrong?’ and we came back to win 67 games and lose in the first round.

“So I’ve said it before, the hardest thing for an NBA owner to do is hire a coach. The easiest thing to do is fire a coach. The reason it’s hard to hire a coach, coaches are great at date-face, they know exactly what your weaknesses are and they know exactly how to sell to those weaknesses, so it’s really difficult to pick it right and it’s 90 percent luck.”

Cuban recently signed his coach, Rick Carlisle, to a five-year extension.

“If the hardest thing to find is a good coach, you marry him, you put a ring on it,” Cuban said.

Asked about the escalating salary cap that will kick in next season with the new television contract, Cuban said, “It’s going to change a lot. More from a strategy perspective, it makes the value of draft choices go through the roof because they’re pegged at a certain price. Minimum contracts will go through the roof. Anybody that signs for the mid-level, the value goes through the roof.

“It’s going to be a lot of tough decisions. And in reality, if everything sticks to the projections that we come up with, the cap will go down after that. So that changes what you do as well.

“It will be really interesting. There will be some guys that will get way paid. When guys are making $30 million-plus, it’s going to be tough to have more than one of them.”

Cuban said he has no issues paying players such exorbitant salaries because that is the price of a championship.

“What’s a championship worth?” he said. “I always look at it as a team. The biggest mistake people make in this business is they say this player is worth ‘X.’ That’s never the case. When you insert that player as one of 15, if he can increase the value of [the team], he’s cheap.

“I remember back when we [acquired] Erick Dampier [in the middle of a $49 million contract] and everybody said we were idiots. Without that big body, we don’t go to The Finals, and we still should have won that Finals if it weren’t for three blind mice [i.e. the officials].”

***

No. 2: Deron Williams rebounds — OK, there’s no sense in proclaiming him the leader for comeback story of the year, since Paul George is way ahead and probably won’t look back. But Deron Williams is experiencing somewhat of a rejuvenation in Dallas after being dumped by the Nets and declared finished as a productive player. He’s hardly in All-Star form, yet the Mavericks are surprisingly flourishing right now and Williams is one of the reasons. Last season in Brooklyn, he was on the bench in tight games in favor of Jarrett Jack. But now, the ball’s in his hands and the Mavericks have confidence in him. More importantly, Williams has confidence in himself. Here’s Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News with the details:

He was a crunch-time beast Friday as the Mavericks weathered a hard push from Utah, steadied themselves behind their point guard and whipped the Jazz 102-93 at American Airlines Center for their sixth consecutive victory, matching their longest streak of last season.

At 9-4, the Mavericks hit the road for a three-game trip starting Sunday at Oklahoma City.

Williams finished with 23 points, eight assists, six rebounds and three steals. His 3-pointer after a nice feed from Raymond Felton with two minutes to play put the Mavericks up 95-87. He added to that cushion with a pair of free throws — running his streak to 35 without a miss this season — as the Mavericks finished off the Jazz, who fell behind by 20 but got as close as five down the stretch.

Williams missed almost all of training camp with nagging injuries and had a knee problem early in the regular season. He has rounded into form nicely of late. He took over the Boston game on Wednesday with 11 fourth-quarter points and was every bit as dominant against the Jazz.

Williams isn’t quite ready to pronounce himself as the Mavericks’ closer, but he’s certainly sent a message that he’s capable of doing so.

“Everything’s coming together,” he said. “It’s still early. I don’t want to get ahead of myself. But I definitely feel more comfortable out there. I’m getting opportunities in the fourth. I’ve had a chance to have the ball in my hands at the ends of games, and I can make plays not only for myself and others.”

It’s a nice feeling, one that Williams hasn’t enjoyed often enough in recent seasons. He got overlooked or overshadowed too many times in Brooklyn.

“There were times when I did a lot of standing, a lot of watching,” he said. “And that takes away your aggressiveness. That’s not what I’m good at.”

***

No. 3:Fast improving Favors is a Utah favorite — Interesting thing about Deron Williams: He cost the Nets a lot, and not just $100 million. Remember, the Nets surrendered a promising teenage power forward named Derrick Favors to get Williams, and years later, it’s clear that Utah came out ahead. Favors’ game is maturing and he’s becoming a double-double guy, following previous Jazz low-post beats who collected doubles, Karl Malone and Al Jefferson. The sixth-year forward spent time with Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune, who offers this:

“I think last year was my first time having fun again, playing basketball,” Favors said. “I got comfortable with talking to the coaches. I felt more responsible and got more comfortable as a team leader. I have more responsibility offensively and defensively. I feel better in my role, and I think that’s made me open up a lot more.”

As the Jazz prepare to face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday, Favors is shining in his role as a difference-making power forward.

Favors, in his sixth season out of Georgia Tech, is averaging 16 points and nine rebounds per game, to go with 1.5 blocks. He’s been a hub offensively in the post and on the perimeter when he drifts to 15-18 feet from the basket. Defensively, he’s been almost spectacular, not just blocking shots, but in pick-and-roll coverages and defending the perimeter against stretch power forwards and smaller guards.

Beyond the numbers, Favors is playing with an edge previously unseen. For the first time in his career, he’s showing emotion on the floor, scowling after snatching rebounds, celebrating after baskets. People are noticing. Whispers around the league suggest Favors could have a shot at the All-Star Game, if he continues to play well and if the Jazz find consistency in the win column.

Yet, he remains unfazed.

“I think I’ve played well, but I feel like can play a lot better,” Favors said. “As far as offensively, I feel like I can play better, like there’s more stuff I can do. As far as being an All-Star, you never know. You never know how stuff works out, as far as how political the process is.”

So, how has Favors been able to explode? He said the maturation has been six years in the making. He came into the NBA a raw specimen, a 6-foot-10 athletic man-child with few refined skills.

As the No. 3 pick of his draft, Favors was supposed to dominate from the jump. He didn’t, and needed time to adjust, something the then-New Jersey Nets decided they didn’t have enough of. So Favors was brought to Utah in the Deron Williams trade.

Favors was stung by that trade, and to this day plays with a chip because of it. He felt discarded, unwanted at a young age, and was stung by the criticism of him needing development.

The result today is a Favors with an offensive game that’s becoming more well-rounded by the year. He has a consistent jumper. He’s effective with his back to the basket. He’s always been great rebounding the ball for points and he’s becoming a better passer.

***

No. 4:Warriors not stressing over record — How did we make it this far in the Morning Shootaround without the obligatory Warriors mention? OK, here it goes. The Warriors can tie the NBA record for fastest start tonight against the Nuggets and maybe you’ve heard about that. Well, if you believe the Warriors, they’re taking this historic start in stride, which is in their best interest. Nothing makes these guys sweat, which is easy to avoid when you have Steph Curry on the squad, hitting jumpers, and others filling in. Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle is with the gang and filed this observation:

The Warriors go for 15 wins in a row Sunday night, and they’ll have to descend about 2 miles in order to reach Pepsi Center’s mile-high altitude. This is a team that is locked in and loosey-goosey, a dangerous combo.

Luke Walton, the interim head coach, was talking Friday night about the Warriors’ team vibe. Apparently, behind closed locker-room doors, these fellows laugh a lot. Walton recalled a pregame moment from last season’s NBA Finals. The Warriors were coming off a loss, they were in trouble, looking beatable in Cleveland.

Steve Kerr and his assistants were huddled in their own locker room minutes before show time, mapping last-minute strategy. They were also wondering about the emotional state of their players.

From next door in the Warriors’ locker room, peals of raucous laughter rang out.

Kerr said to his staff, “I guess they’re going to be all right.”

They were. They are.

In this expert’s opinion, the Warriors will not go 82-0 in this regular season. But whatever losses they suffer won’t be due to the pressure finally getting to them.

One of the key elements Kerr brought to the Warriors — and it remains solidly with them even during his absence from bench — is that, dammit, you’d better have fun.

That’s why the Warriors end many practices with a wild free-for-all shooting contest, as mature as a food fight.
Kerr’s philosophy is that this is dead-serious business, but it’s basketball, played best with a soaring spirit and childlike exuberance.

“Fun, that’s the No. 1 priority,” Draymond Green said Friday night. “That’s what coach Kerr has preached from Day 1: Have fun. Got the best job in the world, we come to play basketball for a living, with guys that we like.”

So the streak is not weighing on you?

“Absolutely not. Not at all.”

Of course, it’s easier (I’m guessing) to have fun when you never lose. There will be sterner tests ahead of the Warriors’ joviality. Right now, they’ve got the top down and they’re enjoying the ride.

But enjoying it too much? If Kerr were speaking publicly these days (no timetable on his return, by the way, but indications are that his recovery is progressing) he would likely express some concern about his team getting a little too loose.

Kerr wants the Warriors to be lightning-fast and creative, but not sloppy and careless. He convinced his team last season that it’s possible to be fast and smart.

The last three games, team leader and floor general Stephen Curry has crossed over into Kerr’s concern area, to the point where Kerr kidded Curry about how much money he’s losing to his mom in their ongoing turnovers bet.

Curry averaged 3.9 turnovers last year as the league MVP. He said before the season that, because of the team’s maturing and his own off-season training, he expected turnovers to go down. Sure enough, through the first 11 games, Curry averaged 3.1 turnovers.

But the last three games Curry turned the ball over seven, seven and six times. Too many.

Walton said Curry’s recent turnover flurry was partly due to opponents’ scouting and scheming for Curry’s tendencies, and the Warriors’ coaches and Steph would need to counter.

But some of it is just Curry’s attack/create mentality. He’s not looking to make crazy passes just to show off, but he is constantly seeking a higher level of basketball, which steepens the risk-reward curve.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Gregg Popovich is amazed that folks in San Antonio want to name schools after him. … Dwyane Wade is getting older and he’s getting smarter. … Lance Stephenson was supposed to help the Clippers, remember? What happened? … Toronto must find a way to minimize the absence of Jonas Valanciunas, out with a broken bone in his non-shooting hand, and good luck with that. … Meanwhile, Brandon Jennings is getting close to making his return.

Bulls’ Rose won’t play vs. Warriors


VIDEO: BullsTV previews tonight’s Bulls-Warriors game in Oakland

Even as a best-case scenario, Derrick Rose figured to be no more than a game-time decision to play for the Chicago Bulls against the Golden State Warriors tonight (10:30 ET, ESPN). But Rose never even made it that far, his sprained left ankle still too sore to compete – especially against defending MVP Stephen Curry and his championship teammates on their blistering 13-0 roll.

Coach Fred Hoiberg ruled out Rose when talking with Bulls reporters at the team’s shootaround Friday morning, reports K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

With backup point guard Aaron Brooks (hamstring) also out, Chicago will resort to Plan C, Plan D or anything it can muster to defend against Curry and the NBA’s most lethal attack. Some of those limited options were kicked around as they prepped for the matchup, as chronicled by Johnson in the Chicago Tribune:

If Rose joins Brooks on the sideline, Kirk Hinrich will spend at least some time on Stephen Curry. Hinrich is coming off an impressive 6-for-7 night that featured strong defense and a critical 3-pointer late.

That performance won’t do much for the Curry assignment, which has been a nightmare for the entire league.

“It’s impossible to guard,” Hinrich said. “It’s just ridiculous what he’s doing.”

In this sense, the Bulls must show similar fortitude to what they displayed last January when they posted the last regular-season victory by a visiting team in Oakland, Calif. Curry is going to hit shots, regardless of who is guarding him.

Not hanging their collective heads when he does and limiting the damage of others is the only chance at victory.

“You can’t just give him one look. He’s too good; he’ll figure it out,” Hoiberg said. “You have to throw different guys at him, different coverages, and understand and know that he’s going to hit some crazy shots. You’ve got to keep playing. And they will go on runs. You just have to try and limit them.

“But you have to put your game plan around the superstar. You did it when you played the old Bulls teams with Michael [Jordan]. With LeBron [James], obviously, that’s where it starts with that team. Same thing with Golden State and Steph but knowing they have other guys who can hurt you as well.”

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 215) Featuring Craig Sager

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The game just wasn’t the same without Craig Sager, TNT’s legendary sideline reporter whose battle with leukemia robbed us of his presence last season.

But Sager’s back and in vintage form this season.

He’s working the sidelines and showing off that wardrobe in the way that only he can. And he joins us on Episode 215 of The Hang Time Podcast to talk about his comeback, Stephen Curry‘s wicked start, the epic early struggles of Kobe Bryant, Anthony Davis and James Harden and all of the other surprises that have marked the first week and change of this NBA season.

Like us, Sager isn’t completely sure what to make of teams like the Detroit Pistons, off to a fabulous start under Stan Van Gundy. They look ridiculously good right now, but will it last? And is there any hope for teams like the Lakers, a crew drowning with a mismatched roster headlined by one of the game’s all-time greats who is suffering through one of the worst stretches of his 20-year career?

We discuss all of this and much more on Episode 215 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring TNT’s Craig Sager.

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

***


VIDEO: TNT’s Craig Sager was in vintage form on Halloween in New Orleans

Morning shootaround — Nov. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: The Fast Break, Oct. 31

Curry re-inventing NBA highlights | Failure to launch in Houston | Melo owes Dudley thank-you note | No holdout hangover for Cavs’ Thompson

No. 1: Curry re-inventing NBA highlights — Perhaps the second biggest knock against the NBA among casual and non-fans – the first being the fallacious need to only see the final five minutes of any game to know what happened – is that the highlight reel of any given night’s action is merely a montage of dunk after dunk after dunk. It’s never been all that accurate, but Golden State’s Stephen Curry has been putting the lie to it like never before. The Warriors point guard can and regularly does dazzle in a dozen ways without ever getting above the rim, from his long-distance splashes to ridiculous blind passes that can turn a series of quick-cut throw-downs into a CSPAN snooze-fest. After Curry lit up the New Orleans Pelicans for 53 points Saturday, our own Fran Blinebury wrote about Curry’s continued ascendancy. And Ethan Sherwood Strauss’ recapped Curry’s early-season domination:

“How far was I off?” Curry, now done with his phone, wanted to know how his 118 points through the first three games stacked up next to Wilt Chamberlain’s record through three. When told it was 156 points, Curry recoiled, “Oh God!” So yes, there are limits to what this guy can do. It’s just not clear we’ve found those limits yet. This is true maybe for the third season in a row. Curry is the rare NBA player who wasn’t expected to become a superstar until the day he became one. [Anthony] Davis? LeBron James? Kevin Durant? They were anointed prior to greatness. Curry has rudely jumped the line. And as he embraces the new reality, he’s only improving, it seems.

“He’s getting to the hole a lot better,” [teammate Draymond] Green assessed. “He can choose the spots when to go, he’s turning the corner like crazy, getting to the hole.” With each game, Curry develops a keener sense of how defenses react to his 3-pointer. The headline after this particular outing might be “53 points” or “28 points in the quarter.”

For much of the second half, Curry also devastated the Pelicans with his passing. If you require attention from half court forward, that attention can be leveraged in many ways. Curry is finding the ways.

To hear him tell it, the recent explosion isn’t about being ranked fifth among MVP candidates by NBA GMs, or what Ty Lawson said, or what Kyrie Irving said, or even what Alvin Gentry said when the current Pelicans coach and former Warriors assistant called Davis and James the league’s two best players.

When asked about his motivation, Curry, ever the optimist, says, “Take advantage of the opportunity.” He continues, “People think we weren’t supposed to be the champs last year, I wasn’t supposed to be MVP, whatever. But I want to go out and play well and be better than I was last year.”

The improvement is somehow starting to perpetuate. Rhetorical savant Green, between pregnant pauses, says it best: “You know it’s one thing to play like it. It’s one thing to score like it. It’s one thing to have a season like he had last year. But you get that mindset and everybody know? And see it?” His face contorts, as though moved by sympathy for the victims. “It’s tough. And I tell him, ‘You acting like it.’ That’s dangerous.”

***

No. 2: Failure to launch in Houston — Missing key pieces through the preseason was a strong indicator that the Houston Rockets might not get the sort of lift-off their talents and past experiences suggested for this 2015-16 season. But getting pummeled the way they did by the Nuggets and the Warriors went beyond even tamped-down expectations, and had Houston’s players and coaches working hard and thinking harder in practice Saturday to find solutions before their game Sunday at Miami, as reported by Jonathan Feigen:

The Rockets would not make excuses, or even cite reasons for their stumbling start to the season. With the bulk of their rotation out for the majority of the preseason, they were not ready for the start of the regular season. But why they have crashed no longer was the point.

Instead, Dwight Howard said the Rockets needed to be humbled and have been. James Harden said he needed more work and then worked overtime. Ty Lawson cited pace and pushed it through a practice that even Kevin McHale called “great.”

The problems, and probably their cause, had been obvious. The search for solutions had them pointing to attitude and execution.

“We got to lock in and get to business,” Harden said. “No more cooling around. We’re too cool, walking around cool. Even myself, as a leader. I just have to pick up my mojo a little bit.”

Whether attitude adjustment, extra work or mojo elevation will be enough to turn things around, with a back-to-back beginning Sunday in Miami, is less clear. But if the Rockets needed to learn the hard way, as Howard, contends, they have gotten hard lessons part out of the way quickly.

“There’s only one way, that’s up,” Howard said after the Rockets opened the season with consecutive 20-point losses. “We got to keep fighting, trust each other and things will change. The two losses are something we needed. We needed a wake-up call. We needed to humble ourselves, come in every day at practice, forget what happened last season, any accolades that we won in the past. It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is this moment.”

The formula to turn things around is not complicated. The Rockets have done too many things badly to correct them all in one practice, but focused on playing with more pace, spacing and ball movement offensively and on closing off the paint defensively.

“We had a great practice,” McHale said. “We watched film. Guys moved the ball, moved their bodies. But we’ve had some good practices. We haven’t had any carry over to the games. At a certain point, you are either going to get it and play up to your potential or we’re going to get waxed by 20 again.

“This is a no-mercy league. Nobody cares if you’re hurt or whatever. You didn’t have enough guys for training camp. No one cares about that stuff. They care about trying to kick your tail that night. We had (ours) handed to us the last two games.”

***


VIDEO: Anthony dominates Wizards on Saturday

No. 3: Melo owes Dudley thank-you note — There was talk of payback and revenge in the New York Knicks’ post-victory locker room in Washington Saturday, with Carmelo Anthony‘s big game against the Wizards seemingly motivated by some barbs tossed his way by Washington’s newly added forward Jared Dudley. “Overrated” was the one-word summary of Dudley’s comments, yet Anthony was anything but that in lighting up the Wizards for 37 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Of course that’s what Dudley had been talking about – Anthony’s inconsistency not at getting buckets but in boosting the play of his teammates by using his overall game. Key boards and dimes were part of the veteran New York forward’s repertoire in this one, reported Newsday’s Al Iannazzone, basically validating what Dudley had said:

Carmelo Anthony rediscovered the shooting rhythm he had been looking for, and the sight of Jared Dudley helped him find it.

Over the summer, the Wizards forward called Anthony the most overrated player in the NBA. He later retracted it and apologized, but Anthony heard about it and said he circled this game on the calendar.

Anthony played brilliantly and scored 37 points to lead the Knicks to a hard-fought 117-110 road win Saturday night, spoiling the Wizards’ home opener at Verizon Center.

“It becomes competitive at that point. You just want to go out there and show what you are made out of,” Anthony said. “[This] is one of those nights. It had nothing really to do with him, but this was a game that I circled on my calendar. I’ll see him three more times.”

At the morning shootaround, Anthony made it sound as if it would be a little while before he got his stroke back. He entered the game 14-for-43 from the field and missed his first two shots Saturday night.

But he made his next eight attempts and finished 11-for-18 from the field and 4-for-5 from three-point range. He hit a huge jumper over Dudley with 1:35 to go that gave the Knicks (2-1) the lead for good.

Anthony, who had seven rebounds and four assists, iced the game with four free throws in the last 20.4 seconds.

“There was a composure and a poise to everything that he did,” Derek Fisher said. “He got the shots that he wanted when he wanted them. He also made plays to make other people better.”

***

No. 4: No holdout hangover for Cavs’ Thompson — Even though Tristan Thompson got his business done in time to preserve the consecutive-games-played streak of which he is justifiably proud, it seemed almost certain that his contract holdout through much of the preseason would lead to a slow start off the Cleveland Cavaliers’ bench. That has not, however, been the case. In fact, through Cleveland’s first three games, Thompson not only was doing the same things – rebounding, defending, hustling – he did so well in The Finals to boost his offseason price tag to $82 million, he arrived late but in shape and had added a new wrinkle in rim protection. Folks at The Q vividly saw that Friday against Miami, as Marla Ridenour of Ohio.com chronicled:

In the fourth quarter of the Cavaliers’ 102-92 victory in Friday’s home opener at Quicken Loans Arena, the Cavs’ sixth man was incensed that the Heat’s Dwyane Wade had just “crammed it” on him. Thompson said he was determined to get even and didn’t care who would pay.

So when [Chris] Bosh took a pass from Goran Dragic and drove the lane for what looked to be a left-handed slam, Thompson launched and blocked the shot with his right hand. The post-play celebration of the monstrous rejection included a mini-salute from LeBron James.

Those who wondered how long it would take Thompson to get back in the flow after his training camp holdout ended on Oct. 22, just five days before the season opener, might have been saluting as well.

Thompson finished with a season-high 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting with nine rebounds and one assist in 26 minutes.

That was his only blocked shot, but it showed the emphasis Thompson is putting on that part of his game, especially when center Timofey Mozgov is not on the court.

“Going into the playoffs last year they were saying we don’t have rim protectors outside of Moz,” Thompson said after the game. “I took that challenge upon myself going into this season, if Moz isn’t in I’m still rim-protecting. Let the guards know it’s OK if they get beat off the dribble because I’ll meet them at the rim.”

Thompson ended his holdout by signing a five-year, $82 million contract and he didn’t need long to shake off the rust. But the Cavs expected that from Thompson, who ran his string of consecutive games played to 291, second-longest in the league behind the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan (324).

“He’s one guy that never gets out of shape. We know how durable he is,” James said, knocking on the blond wood of his locker. “It’s like counting, counting, counting how many games continuous he’s played.

“When you have someone who knows the system … he’s learned the offense really fast. He’s one of our best defenders and he plays above the rim. We love it.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: In two games and a little more than 24 hours, Phoenix’s backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight got the better of Portland guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, boding well overall for the Suns. … Josh Smith didn’t have any problem when DeMarcus Cousins recently said he hated the L.A. Clippers. Smith hates all his opponents. … Speaking of Cousins, the Sacramento big man is listed as day-to-day while dealing with a sore right Achilles tendon. But that might not adversely affect his newfound knack for launching 3-pointers, a trend our Scott Howard-Cooper noted. … As his former running mate LeBron James copes with some physical nods to Father Time, Miami’s Dwyane Wade spoke about aging and adaption in a piece by our Steve Aschburner. … In one more NBA.com staff ICYMI, NBA.com’s Shaun Powell looks at Kent Bazemore and the shoes of DeMarre Carroll that the Atlanta Hawks would like to see him fill. … Many from the NBA’s coaching fraternity – Gregg Popovich, Rick Carlisle, Doc Rivers, George Karl, Mike Malone, Fred Hoiberg, Tom Thibodeau and others – paid their respects Saturday at a funeral service for Minnesota’s Flip Saunders. Earlier in the week, MinnPost.com’s Britt Robson shared personal thoughts on Saunders that you might have missed in the outpouring of grief and memories. … You can’t exactly clip-and-save digital content, but you might want to print out the 2015 D League draft board that featured Jeff Ayres and Jimmer Fredette. Then again, you might not. … James put Halloween to extra-good use, partying like it was “Nineteen-ninety-nine.” …

Morning shootaround — Oct. 31


VIDEO: Top plays from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Joakim Noah said he never asked to come off the bench | Brook Lopez is strictly a post player but an all-around person | Billy Donovan finds the right fit in OKC | A Q and A with Gordon Hayward

No. 1: Joakim Noah said he never asked to come off the bench — The Bulls are looking a bit different under new coach Fred Hoiberg than they did under Tom Thibodeau. Specifically, Joakim Noah isn’t starting. As the Bulls try something new, there was a bit of a mixup. Did Hoiberg tell Noah to be a sixth man, or did Noah volunteer? The center set the record straight, when asked if he took himself out of the starting lineup: “No.” Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago has further details:

The topic has been hovering around the Bulls since training camp, as Hoiberg explored all his options and ultimately decided to insert second-year big man Nikola Mirotic into the starting lineup on opening night instead of Noah. The story line came back to light on Thursday when a Hoiberg Q-and-A with Grantland’s Zach Lowe was posted. In the exchange, Hoiberg said Noah was the one who started the conversation about coming off the bench this season.

“Jo actually came to me and talked to me about that,” Hoiberg told Lowe. “He said, basically, ‘I’ve always played well with Taj [Gibson].’ He said he thought Niko and Pau played very well together, so let’s go that route. It was actually Jo that started the whole conversation. He came to me. That says a lot about him.”

Before the Bulls’ 98-94 overtime loss at Detroit on Friday, Hoiberg said he didn’t feel a need to clear the air with Noah.

“Did he specifically say I want to come off the bench? No. Nobody wants to come off the bench, but it’s the decision that we came up with,” Hoiberg said. “He’s been great. He’s been as enthusiastic as anybody over there on the bench when he’s not in the game, and he’s always going to bring it when he’s on the floor, so no, things are fine.”

For his part, Noah has never seemed outwardly angry about what’s going on and doesn’t want to rock the boat as a team leader.

He has struggled in his first two games off the bench to find his rhythm, though, failing to register a point. Noah does have 15 rebounds and six assists in his first two games and appears to be feeling good after struggling with the effects of offseason left knee surgery a year ago.

“I just want to do what’s best for the team,” Noah said. “I think we’re 2-0 right now. We still have a lot of room for improvement. What I said doesn’t matter. I think right now we’re doing what’s best for the team, and we just got to keep building off that.”

***

No. 2: Brook Lopez is an all-around person — The Renaissance man of New York works in Brooklyn and stands over seven feet tall. They don’t come more educated or diverse than Brook Lopez, the Nets’ center who might be one of the bright spots for the rebuilding team this season. The former All-Star opened up recently about his upbringing, his twin brother Robin (who plays across town with the Knicks) and his passion for many things. Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York was there to write it all down:

He reads. He writes. He sketches. He loves Batman comic books, Disney movies and Michael Jackson’s music.

He already has pitched an animated television pilot, politicked to play a Wookiee in a future Star Wars picture and hopes to pen an action-adventure novel someday.

Oh, and you likely didn’t know, Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez is also learning to play the piano and speak Japanese.

Yes, Japanese.

“I always go to Japan in the offseason, so I’m trying to get better at it,” Lopez told ESPN.com recently, noting that he’s also working on learning “the Kanji,” Chinese characters that are used in the modern Japanese writing system.

“I know some words. I’m getting there.”

Basically, if Lopez isn’t the most fascinating man in the NBA, he’s certainly up there. His best competition might be his own 7-foot twin brother Robin, who now plays for the rival New York Knicks.

Brook Lopez made up his mind pretty early on — he was going to follow in his mother’s footsteps.

“I can remember in second grade coming back from school and telling my mom, ‘You know what, before I play in the NBA, I want to go to Stanford,'” Lopez said. “Because of her, I had everything figured out.”

To her comic book aficionado sons, Deborah Ledford might as well have been Wonder Woman, raising the four of them — Alex, Chris, Brook and Robin — as a single mother on a high school mathematics teacher’s salary.

“She sacrificed so much for us,” Brook said. “She’d always be driving Alex and Chris around, getting them to basketball practice, and then she’d go pick them up and get Robin and me to wherever we needed to be. She was constantly chaffeuring us around. And then she’d get groceries for us and come back with bags upon bags upon bags, just loads and loads, and they’d last for like…two days.”

At 6-feet, Ledford had flirted with swimming in the 1968 Olympics before not making the squad and eventually attending Stanford herself.

“Our mom used to read to us every night,” said Chris, who has lived with Brook in New Jersey ever since he was selected by the Nets with the No. 10 overall pick in the first round of the 2008 NBA draft.

“And she just went through a plethora of children’s books and stories, so that was instilled in us from an early age.”

The Lopez’s maternal grandmother, Inky Ledford, had a massive library of children’s books at her Fresno, California, home — and the boys were frequent visitors.

***

No. 3: Billy Donovan finds the right fit in OKC — Well, here we are, one week into the NBA season and Billy Donovan hasn’t changed his mind and gone back to the University of Florida. That’s what happened years ago when he took the Orlando Magic job and then called it quits just, oh, 10 seconds later. Anyway, you can hardly blame Donovan for waiting until the right gig opened up. And when you have the chance to coach Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in their primes, that qualifies as the right gig. Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel has more:

 He was hired to lead an even stronger NBA club — the Oklahoma City Thunder. This time, he’ll coach three players with All-Star Game credentials: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka.

“This opportunity came across that was very unique in my opinion,” he said. “If it didn’t, I’d still be at Florida.”

Donovan, who won back-to-back national championships at UF, said other NBA teams had reached out in the ensuing years. Reportedly, Cleveland (pre-LeBron’s return), Minnesota and Detroit were among the suitors.

He insists that there was no grand plan to leave the Gators for the pros.

“I’ve always believed you wake up and where you are that day, you do the best job you can,” he said. “Then if opportunities open up, they open up. It wasn’t anything about having a plan.”

The OKC job surprisingly opened after Scott Brooks was fired with another year on his contract.

Donovan was lucky because a lot of terrific college coaches – from Rick Pitino to John Calipari – usually are stuck with bad teams.

“The one thing for me..I knew it was a good team, but you have to feel good about it. Happiness inside a job has to do with the people you work with everyday,” Donovan said.

Especially if those people are named Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka.

Donovan’s no dummy. He’s also aware of the pressure coaching the contending Thunder, particularly since Durant can become a free agent this summer.

Durant says he “enjoys” being around Donovan, who seems to be adjusting well to life as an NBA coach.

“I’m working equally as hard or harder as I was in college,” he said. “It’s just things are a little bit different.”

***

No. 4: Gordon Hayward opens up with Q and A — The Utah Jazz are off to a decent start, which includes a blowout victory in Philadelphia, and one of the intriguing players is Gordon Hayward, naturally. After having his big contract matched by the Jazz two summers ago, Hayward was a borderline All-Star last season and hopes to take the next step this season. He discussed that and more when he sat for a quick interview with Scoop Jackson of ESPN:

Scoop: How big of an adjustment can it be to inherit that “No. 1 option” role for a franchise?

Hayward: It’s just a learning curve, honestly. I think it’s one of those things where, you know, if you play one way probably the first three years in the league and then you are asked it do something different. It’s just a role change, something you have to get adjusted to. You know, defenses are now keying on you and playing things differently to where you are at all of the time. That’s a huge step and something, like I said, that I was able to kind of learn and do for two years.

Scoop: Have you ever walked into an opponent’s locker room before a game and seen your name at the top of the white board just to see their defensive strategies they have planned for you?

Hayward: I have not [laughing]. I’ve never seen that. Or a scouting report on me or on our team.

Scoop: You have to sneak and do that. It’s one of those “No. 1 option” things.

Hayward: I should definitely do that.

Scoop: Do the media and other players underestimate you?

Hayward: I don’t think they do anymore. I think they probably did when I first came in the league — 100 percent did. But this is my sixth year, and I think they definitely respect me as a player now.

Scoop: I’ve heard you referred to you as “the Jazz’s version of LeBron James” in that you do everything for the team. When you hear that, how does it make you feel?

Hayward: It’s definitely pretty humbling to think that someone would say that, but I think it’s just something where I just try to be an all-around player and try to do a lot for the team. And yeah, I think LeBron’s a guy that obviously does that for his team no matter which team he’s on, and he’s probably one of the best ever to do that. So, but for me, if I’m not scoring I need to be assisting or making plays for other people or rebounding or just doing whatever I can to get guys in position where they can be successful.

Scoop: Do you think of yourself in that vein? In that, you “have to be LeBron” for this franchise?

Hayward: I think so. I think that it is a lot of responsibility but something that they have trusted me with and I definitely have to be active and have to affect all parts of the game in order for us to be a successful team. I’ve never been a guy that’s going to go out and just affect one part of the game. I think that I’ve always been somebody that tries to affect multiple parts of the game, and I think we have a lot of guys that can do a lot of different things, so it’s not just me. We’re a versatile team. I’m excited about where we can go.

Scoop: Utah went 19-10 after the All-Star break while holding opponents to a league-low 94.8 points per 100 possessions. Was that just a good two months or was that indicative of what this team had become?

Hayward: Yeah, I think that’s definitely our identity and definitely what’s going to have to be our identity moving forward if we want to be successful, especially in the West. Defense is something that can go with us wherever we are at. We are going to have times when people’s shots are off and we’re just not feeling it offensively, but if we continue to play defense like we did at the end of the year — something that I think we are very capable of doing — we can always stay in games and give ourselves a chance.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jodie Meeks will be out for a while in DetroitSteph Curry is about to be immortalized in wax … The Suns were “equipped” to show their respect for Steve Nash, whose jersey has been retired … There was a Mother Nature problem in San Antonio so Tony Parker had an excuse to miss practice.


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