Posts Tagged ‘Steph Curry’

Morning Shootaround — March 17


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

OKC’s latest collapse cause of concern | Jackson’s ways should work in N.Y. | Wade’s historic shooting season | Davis puts on another show for Pels | Thompson works with a heavy heart

No. 1:  Repeated defensive collapses cause for serious concern — Forget about who was in street clothes (Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins) or who was in uniform but did not play (Russell Westbrook). The Oklahoma City have legitimate cause concern these days because they have apparently lost their defensive mojo since the All-Star break, struggling yet again to defend the way you expect an aspiring championship outfit to work on that end of the floor. What once looked like just a temporary glitch in the Thunder’s matrix is starting to look like something much more serious, as Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman detailed after the Dallas Mavericks worked the Thunder over:

Dallas 109, OKC 86, the Thunder’s worst home loss (23 points) since April 2009, the franchise’s inaugural season in the metro.

“The timeouts…well we didn’t need them at the end of the game,” Brooks joked.

Once again, as has been the case during this recent tailspin, the problems started on the defensive end.

Whether it was a lack of energy, lack of effort or lack of proper personnel — with three starters sidelined — the Thunder just couldn’t get nearly enough stops.

Dallas scored 29 points in the first quarter, 30 in the second and 32 in the third, grabbing and building what was a 21-point lead heading to a meaningless fourth.

Overall, the Mavericks shot 53 percent from the field and a scorching 13-of-24 from deep. Countless perimeter breakdowns led to uncontested jumpers and slow rotations allowed an array of easy buckets at the rim.

And as the steady flow of Maverick points piled up on Sunday night, the Thunder’s timeout huddles grew increasingly more animated. But that genuine displeasure didn’t translate to the court. When the ball was in play, there seemed to be a general disinterest.

“Seemed like we wasn’t there. We just coasted,” Kevin Durant said. “No excuse. None. We gotta figure it out. We’re pros. We gotta learn on the fly. All of us. We gotta act like we care.”

It’s déjà vu for a Thunder team that looked like it had solved its defensive woes the past two games, but instead reverted back to the plodding form that now has OKC 5-6 since the All-Star break.

“Just an overall theme of not good enough on the defensive end,” Nick Collison said. “I’d like to see us be a lot more consistent here finishing up the year.”


VIDEO: Thunder coaches and players discuss OKC’s home loss to the Mavericks

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No. 2: Phil’s winning ways will work in New York, so says Scott Williams – If Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant spoke up on Phil Jackson‘s behalf, no one would be surprised. Alpha dogs sharing fond memories about the man who helped them to some of their greatest success  would be nothing out of the ordinary. But Jackson’s is routinely praised by all of who have played and worked under him, stars and role players alike. Milwaukee Bucks assistant and former Chicago Bulls big man Scott Williams is a staunch believer in Jackson’s powers, and he witnessed that power before the word Zen was ever used in relation to Jackson. While everyone waits to see what Jackson will do his his first days in charge of the Knicks, Williams is predicting big things, writes Kevin Armstrong of the New York Daily News:

“I knew Phil before he was the Zen Master,” Williams said. “Everyone sees the big, beautiful skyline of a career that he has, 11 (coaching) championships and all. I was there when they were still digging out the foundation, frustrated that they couldn’t get past the Pistons. We were hell-bent on getting the one seed in the conference just to get home court.”

Jackson, the architect of dynasties in Chicago and Los Angeles, will bring his towering legacy to midtown Manhattan Tuesday when he is introduced to his former city as president of the Knicks.

Once a free-spirited cog in Red Holzman’s wheel, Jackson will come full circle as he searches for answers to a riddle that has baffled all executives and coaches in recent years: How will he fix the Knicks?

Former players like Williams believe he will bring in smart basketball people who understand his system and vision.

“His championship pedigree, his intelligence, his creativity is a fresh approach to the game,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said.

Williams recalled the early days of Jackson in Chicago, and noted that Jackson gained more confidence in his coaching as the Bulls became more comfortable with the triangle offense and the idea of “playing on a string,” a unique structure to the team that depended not only on Michael Jordan’s talents but the consistency within the moving parts.

“The game’s evolved now, there’s more banging now, but it was fun,” Williams said. “He gives you a lot of those tips from a guy who played 10 years in the league.”

There will be stress that comes with the job and dealing with Dolan, but Williams noted that Jackson’s willingness to study philosophy and psychology helped him build relationships.

“Ahead of the curve, not just barking at guys,” Williams said.


VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses what Phil Jackson must fix with the Knicks

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No. 3: Where does Wade’s historic shooting season stack up? – No one is touting Dwyane Wade for postseason honors, not with his maintenance program garnering more headlines than his actual play this season. But Wade is putting together a historic season, nonetheless, one that has been largely overlooked … until now, thanks to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. Jackson highlights Wade’s shooting performance this season, the best by a shooting guard in 3-point shot era. The fact that he’s doing it in the Heat’s Big 3 era makes it perhaps even more impressive:

Wade is shooting 55.1 percent from the field –– something Michael Jordan never did over a full season. Jordan’s high: 53.9 in 1990-91.

And if he stays above 54 percent, it would be the highest by a shooting guard since Atlanta backup Mike Glenn shot 58.8 in 1984-85. The highest field-goal accuracy by a starting shooting guard in the three-point era was Otis Birdsong, at 54.5 percent in 1980-81.

What’s more, Wade is on pace to lead all shooting guard in accuracy for the fifth time in the past six seasons. (He was beaten out by Wilson Chandler in 2009-2010). Wade has topped 50 percent only once before – 52.1 last season.

Shooting 54 percent, let alone 55, “is something I’ve never done before, so it would be great,” he said. “I take pride in my field-goal percentage, have always cared about it. I was 49.6 percent in college. I wanted to be at 50. I try to take good shots.”

For perspective, only one other NBA guard has shot better than 50 percent this season: Phoenix’s Goran Dragic at 50.8.

So what’s the biggest difference? Wade said he worked on his mid-range game and post game during the offseason, and the results are dramatic.

Consider that Wade is shooting 53 percent from 3 to 10 feet, well above his 46.4 career mark. From 10 to 16 feet, he’s at 47.5 percent, a huge jump from 38.1 in his career.

He’s shooting 55 percent when he posts up, up from 48 percent last season: “I’m pretty good on the post game. I added that. I didn’t have it in college.” He also has diversified his game by polishing his Eurostep move and adding a hook shot.

Wade has taken only one heave at the end of a quarter after shooting 17 over the past five seasons. Will he avoid those shots to keep his percentage high?

“I haven’t been in that position [to take them],” he said, with Wade usually on the bench at the end of the first and third quarters. “It depends on how I’m going. Sometimes, I’ll want to shoot. Sometimes, I’ll dribble it out.”

It also helps his percentage that he shoots three-pointers sparingly (he’s 9 for 27), after launching 243 in his final season playing without James. Wade noted the Heat already has enough three-point shooters without him lofting a lot of them. But Indiana coach Tom Crean, his friend and former coach at Marquette, said last summer that it’s a part of his game he will need to polish as he gets older.


VIDEO: Dwyane Wade delivers in Miami’s win over Houston

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No. 4: Davis shows off his brains as well as his talent on career night – Pelicans big man Anthony Davis has made a fantastic transition from college star to NBA All-Star. But it’s been more than just his raw talent and physical gifts. As was on display during his career-night against the Boston Celtics Sunday, Davis beats you as much his with his mind and his sky-high basketball IQ as he does anything else. Nakia Hogan of the Times-Picayune has the details from Davis and Pelicans coach Monty Williams, who has been instrumental in the development of the young star:

Davis, playing a career-high 48 minutes, scored a career-high 40 points and had a career-high 21 rebounds, marking the first time in franchise history anyone has ever reached that statistical feat. He also had three blocks, making him only the eighth player in NBA history to have at least 40 points, 20 rebounds and three blocks in a game.

“When you go for those kind of numbers that’s a lot of God given talent,” Williams said.

And maybe even more important, Davis didn’t have any mental lapses down the stretch.

In fact, in the closing seconds of the game, Davis had the ball and an open lane to the basket. But instead, he pulled the ball out and passed to Anthony Morrow, who passed to Brian Roberts, as the Celtics tried to foul in an attempt to stop the clock.

It was a heady play, and the Pelicans ran out the clock to snap their two-game losing streak.

“That’s the kind of play that a younger guy probably would go and dunk the ball just to get two more points,” Williams said. “But we don’t need that. We don’t need to stop the clock.”

Immediately after the final buzzer, Davis looked to Williams and pointed his right index finger at his head, acknowledging to his coach he knew he had made the smart choice.

“I was letting him know that I have a little bit of basketball IQ,” Davis said jokingly. “Not much, just a little bit. Alexis (Ajinca, Pelicans center) was trying to tell me ‘I thought you were going to go and dunk it.’ But I know a little bit.

“I just know I wanted the game to be over with. I didn’t want to give them a chance to get another look off. So even if they would have fouled or I would have made the basket, they would have had probably three or four seconds to try and get a shot.”


VIDEO: Pelicans big man Anthony Davis had a career night in a win over the Celtics

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No. 5: Emotional Thompson lifts Warriors at the end The Splash Brothers were on their mark throughout their unbelievable comeback win over Portland. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 64 points and two clutch 3-pointers (from Thompson) in a game that the Warriors trailed by 18 points before staging their furious rally. While it was a showcase for all involved and certainly for those who watched, it was an emotional night for Thompson, who worked with a heavy heart after attending the funeral of his grandfather before coming up with those late-game heroics. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has more:

Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson high-stepped toward halfcourt and greeted Draymond Green with a leaping shoulder bump.

“I’ve never seen him that emotional,” Warriors power forward David Lee said. “I even saw him actually pump his fist one time, which is more emotion than I’ve seen in two or three years combined.”

Thompson had plenty of reason to break from his usual stoicism, having left his grandfather’s funeral just in time to make the game and then knocking down two three-pointers in the closing minute to clinch a 113-112 victory over the Trail Blazers on Sunday at the Moda Center.

The third-year guard missed a game Friday for the first time in his career, snapping a franchise-record 214-game streak, and then took three flights from the Bahamas to get to Portland between 1 and 2 a.m. Sunday.

He certainly appeared fresh by the fourth quarter, when he scored 15 of his 27 points to complete the Warriors’ comeback from an 18-point deficit. With the score locked at 107-107 and 54 seconds remaining, Thompson drilled one three-pointer, and with the Warriors trailing 111-110 and 11.9 seconds left, Thompson hit another for the game-winner.

“We wanted to get this one for him,” said Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, who had 37 points and joined Thompson in combining for 51 of the team’s 69 second-half points. “We understand that he’s been through a lot this week and traveled a lot of miles. He compartmentalized it for about two hours to come out and play, and that was big for us. We needed every play he made.”


VIDEO: Klay Thompson saves the day for Golden State in its win over Portland

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Mavericks have had enough of home after the longest home stretch any of them can remember … No one, and we mean NO ONE, does 50-win seasons like the San Antonio Spurs … Blake Griffin‘s game just keeps getting better, and that includes more than just his shooting touch and aggressiveness … The return of Eric Bledsoe has been great for the Suns, they’ve won two of three since he came back. But will it be enough to save their playoff hopes?  …

ICYMI of the Night: Jazz big man Derrick Favors is playing on a team that is struggling this season, but that hasn’t kept him from turning in his best season as a pro. He was particularly impressive in defeat against the San Antonio Spurs last night …


VIDEO: Derrick Favors shows off his goods against the Spurs

Pool of talent exists beyond 1-and-dones


VIDEO: Damian Lillard has enjoyed the Blazers’ quiet rise to contention this season

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – On the one-and-done issue, second-year All-Star point guard Damian Lillard has no issue with commissioner Adam Silver‘s desire to raise the minimum age to enter the league from 19 to 20.

After all, the Portland Trail Blazers’ No. 6 overall pick in 2012 turned 22 a few weeks after the Draft. He played four seasons at little-known Weber State in Ogden, Utah. Lillard’s rookie teammate, guard C.J. McCollum, turned 22 a few months after the Blazers made him the No. 10 pick in the 2013 Draft. McCollum played four years at tiny Lehigh in Bethlehem, Pa.

“I definitely don’t think guys should be able to leave [for the NBA] after high school,” Lillard said during the All-Star break. “Back in the day there were guys like LeBron James coming out, Kevin Garnett. I don’t think you have that anymore, guys that can come in and do what they do. As far as college, it’s different situations. My freshman year in college, I wasn’t ready to be an NBA player. What was best for me was to play four years of college. Some guys, Anthony Davis, 6-foot-10, great defender, it was perfect for him, it was time for him to be an NBA player.”

Every few years there will be a special talent such as Davis, who was the top pick in 2012. He seemed ready to enter the big leagues at age 18 or 19. But would it have benefited Davis’ Kentucky teammate, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, to spend another season with the Wildcats rather than go No. 2 overall (at 19 years old) to the Charlotte Bobcats in 2012?

“A lot of it is mental and having that college experience helps because I was in that situation so many different times when my team depended on me to make a play, to make a shot, bring us back, stuff like that,” said Lillard, who has hit four game-winners this season. “Just having that experience over and over and over those four years helped prepare me for whenever that came up in the NBA.”

Of course that’s the overriding argument for raising the age limit. The NBA wants players entering the league to be more physically and emotionally prepared for life on and off the court. Coaches at major programs crave more continuity for their programs.

But is the one-and-done issue really a problem?

Of the 18 first- and second-year players at last month’s Rising Stars Challenge game during All-Star weekend, 16 of them attended college (two were international players). Twelve played beyond one season. Six played two seasons and three each played three years and four years.

Only four were one-and-done: Davis, Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal, Pistons center Andre Drummond and Thunder center Steven Adams.

One-and-done hasn’t exactly opened the floodgates to players declaring for the Draft after one college season. Still, the blue-blood collegiate programs, with such small windows to compete for a championship with top recruits, are on the hunt for high school players physically prepared to play as freshmen. It leaves a large pool of talented players to fall through the cracks and land at smaller, so-called “mid-major” programs.

Once there, they tend to stay for multiple years, allowing for maturation and development in bridging the gap from 18 years old to 21 or 22.

“We have a better understanding of everything because we’ve been through a lot,” said McCollum, whose rookie season was stunted by a broken foot late in training camp. “Going to small schools, not being recruited, you go through a lot, having to earn everything, having to work really hard, and you have to take advantage of moments because at a small school you don’t play a lot of big teams so you have to capitalize on a small window of opportunities.”

Since Blazers general manager Neil Olshey used consecutive top 10 draft picks on two four-year, mid-major players, it wasn’t surprising to find him in the stands at the University of Texas at Arlington on a bitterly cold early February night. He was there getting a first-hand look at a junior point guard in the Sun Belt Conference.

Elfrid Payton,” Lillard said, totally aware of the 6-foot-3 Louisiana-Lafayette prospect, a potential late first-round, early second-round draft pick.

Olshey wasn’t alone as Bucks general manager John Hammond also made the trip. In addition, 20 other NBA teams dispatched scouts to the game as front offices canvas smaller programs more than ever.

“I think there’s always been talent [at smaller schools], I just think guys like Steph Curry, Paul George, myself, Rodney Stuckey, I think that as guys are successful in the NBA, they’re [front offices] starting to pay closer attention to mid-majors,” Lillard said. “I don’t think it’s new. I think there’s probably been a lot of guys that just got overlooked, that didn’t get the opportunity. The good thing is the guys that I just named are opening up doors for guys like Elfrid Payton.”

Curry played three seasons at Davidson. George spent two years at Fresno State and Stuckey played two years at Eastern Washington. Lillard could have also named Kawhi Leonard (two years at San Diego State), Kenneth Faried (four years at Morehead State) and Gordon Hayward (two years at Bulter).

The few sure-fire one-and-done players at the marquee schools get the lion’s share of attention. But players are everywhere, players you’ve never heard of, but maybe should have and perhaps will.

Like Damian Lillard.


VIDEO: After a long wait, Portland’s C.J. McCollum got to make his NBA debut

MVP Ladder: Masked LeBron Still The 1!



VIDEO: The man in the mask, LeBron James, resembles the superstar who worked 52 games this season without the mask

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Mask or not, LeBron James is ready for a three-peat run with the Miami Heat. If we’ve learned anything about the reigning two-time NBA and Finals MVP over the past few seasons, it’s that when he’s ready to take his game to the next level it’s hard for anyone to match him.

James has lifted the Heat back up the past month and put them right back into position as the best team in the league, the records say otherwise but we all know the Heat would be favored against anyone in a best-of-7 series if we started the postseason right now. James also holds on to the top spot in the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder this week, his jaw-dropping work all month punctuated by a wicked performance in the mask Thursday night against the New York Knicks on TNT.

Shaquille O’Neal (in 2003) and Wilt Chamberlain (in 1966) are the only players to put together a month worth of work like LeBron has produced for the Heat (30 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists and shooting better than 57 percent for a calendar month), winners of six straight games. That’s elite historical company by any measure.

Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Paul George and Steph Curry round out the top five of the Ladder this week with Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves joining the party at No. 9.

Dive in here for more on who made the cut on this week’s KIA Race To The MVP Ladder!


MVP Ladder: LeBane James Lives



VIDEO: There is no stopping LeBane … er, LeBron James when makes up his mind to attack the basket

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Now we know exactly what LeBron James is willing to go through to get his job done … another man’s flesh if need be.

James powered through Serge Ibaka‘s left arm for the final two of his game-high 33 points (in 33 minutes, he also scored his team’s first 12, too) in the Miami Heat’s win over the Oklahoma City Thunder Thursday night on TNT. He’s ready to go through Kevin Durant as well, if need be, to reclaim his perch atop the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder.

He assumed the top spot this week, the culmination of a four-game stretch that has seen him average 37 points on better than 60 percent shooting as the Heat, winners of four straight and eight of their last 10 games, close in on the Indiana Pacers and that top spot in the Eastern Conference standings.

Bloody nose or not, LeBron continues to remind us that he’s the most powerful force in the league when he’s at the top of his game … #BaneJames as he coined it on Instagram:

Durant, Blake Griffin, Paul George and Steph Curry round out the top five of the Ladder this week.

Dive in here for more on who made the cut on this week’s KIA Race To The MVP Ladder!


New Age: Dirk, D-Wade Now Old Guard

Dirk Nowitzki (left) and Dwyane Wade  (the elder statesmen in New Orleans.

Dirk and Dwyane Wade (12 and 10 All-Star appearances, respectively) are the elder statesmen in New Orleans.

NEW ORLEANS – Feeling old? A few All-Stars are.

“I was looking at Dirk and Tony and me and now I’m like one of the older guys,” Clippers All-Star point Chris Paul said. “I was looking at Damian Lillard and wondering what he must be thinking.”

Paul is only 28 and still very much in the prime of his career, but his sort of sudden discovery underscores the tremendous youth movement happening in the NBA. Youthful stars like the 23-year-old Lillard, who has taken Portland and the league by storm in just his second season, seem to be everywhere and making the older guards like Paul, Tony Parker, 31, and others ponder where the time’s gone.

“Who’s the oldest player here?” asked Dwyane Wade, hardly old at 32, but whose troublesome knees have added some years as he makes his 10th appearance in Sunday night’s 63rd All-Star Game.

The oldest would be Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, who turned 35 last June. Kobe, who was voted in by the fans as a Western Conference starter, but won’t play because of a knee injury, turned 35 in August.

“We were just talking to [DeMar] DeRozan and Kyrie [Irving] and Paul George,” said Wade, one of only two Eastern Conference All-Stars in their 30s; Joe Johnson is also 32, about six months older than Wade. “When we came in it was Jason Kidd, Kevin Garnett, these players that we had so much respect for were at the All-Star Game, they were the older guys that had been around for 10 years, and now we are.”

Dirk, Kobe and Parker now have 34 All-Star appearances between them. The West’s starting five — Steph Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin — have a combined 15. None are older than 25. So this could become a very familiar-looking All-Star starting group.

“It’s weird not see all these guys,” said Nowitzki, a 12-time All-Star, who made his debut in the 2002 game. “Tim Duncan, every year I’ve been an All-Star, Tim was here, KG was here, Kobe was here, Shaq was here every year. So I miss these guys a little bit and now I’m the oldest guy here which feels a little weird because in my head I don’t really feel 35, 36. But I’m definitely enjoying these young guys and I’m enjoying these last couple years competing against these young guys, and then I’ll slowly go away.”

The sudden youth can be startling. In the West, six of 12 All-Stars are 25 or younger and that number actually jumped to seven when second-year Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, 20, replaced Kobe. Including Davis, 10 players on the West roster are 28 or younger.

In the East, George, 23, Kyrie IrvingDeMar DeRozan  and John Wall are all 24 or younger. Nine players are 29 or younger with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Paul Millsap all being 29. Bosh turns 30 next month, while Joakim Noah turns 29 on Feb. 25.

“It’s crazy,” Wade said. “It goes so fast and at the same time to still be here is an unbelievable honor. It goes, man, you’ve got to enjoy it along the way. You see the young guys coming up and they are the future of the NBA and one day they’ll be doing the things that we’re doing, looking back like, ‘Man, how fast did it go?’”

LeBron: Time To Build Another Mountain


VIDEO: LeBron speaks at Friday’s All-Star Media Day

NEW ORLEANS — LeBron James wasn’t backing away from his Mt. Rushmore comments that stirred up a fuss. The other day he told Steve Smith on NBA TV that he hoped to one day knock either Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan or Oscar Robertson off and claim his own spot.

But he did offer a creative solution.

“It’s hard to knock anybody off,” James said at the NBA All-Star Media Day. “There needs to be another mountain built. I mean there’s too many guys.

“Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) and Kobe (Bryant) were two guys that came to my mind, too. I definitely was thinking about Kobe as a top four of all-time. Kareem, for sure. There are so many greats that played this game.”

Give the four-time MVP credit. He also didn’t back down from his stated goal of becoming known as the greatest player of all time.

“There’s no reason I couldn’t be No. 1,” he said. “That’s my goal. That’s my personal goal.

“Anytime I bring up a subject or answer a question, guys like to dissect it and make it bigger or smaller than what it is.

“My personal goal is to be the greatest of all time. I don’t really care what other people say, where they put me, how they define me. You could have a poll of 100 people, what do they think, that’s not for me to care about. For me, I have an opportunity to maximize my career and be the greatest of all time. I feel like I can do that. That’s my personal goal.”

It’s the fishbowl world that James lives in. Most of the time we hear athletes dance around questions, never put themselves out there on the line with an honest answer. Then LeBron steps up to the line with a direct response and he gets whipped from some corners for it.

What’s wrong with a 29-year-old who is already a 10-time All-Star, with an armload of individual awards, two championships and four NBA Finals appearances saying that he wants and expects the most out of himself? He didn’t disparage anyone. If anything, he simply put more pressure on himself to perform and deliver.

James sat for 30 minutes before a horde of TV cameras, microphones and notebooks and was engaging with every answer on Friday.

He was told that when Kevin Durant was asked, on a scale of 1 to 10, how much does he dislike being compared to James, K.D. said 25.

“I don’t mind,” James said. “You’re always gonna be linked to somebody. Early in my career I was linked to Kobe. Now I’m linked to K.D. You’re always gonna be linked to somebody. It’s how you handle it. I don’t get caught up in it.

“I don’t think I’m compared to him. They just talk about the two best players in the game and which one is better. Which one can score better? Who’s the MVP? Who’s gonna win the next championship? They don’t ever compare our games too much. We’re two different players.”

He was asked about his 36-point, 13-rebound, nine-assist game when he nailed down a 111-110 win at Golden State with a 3-pointer to beat the horn.

“I just had a conversation with Steph Curry,” James said. “He talked to me about what I was doing. I asked him what was he doing shooting all them step-back 3s in the third quarter. The hesitation on Rio [Mario Chalmers] and going for the and-1. It’s great to be around your peers. People recognize what others are doing throughout the NBA season. I’m happy I was able to put on a performance right before All-Star to be fresh on guys’ minds.”

Then James was asked if his proclivity in the last couple of years to step up big late in games was the result of any work with a psychologist.

He grinned.

“Yeah, I work with a psychologist,” LeBron said. “Her name is Spalding. She goes into the rim and that’s what happens.”

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 146) Featuring Pacers Guard Lance Stephenson

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Now that we have that pesky Super Bowl behind us (especially you Peyton Manning) we can move on to the more important business of 2014, and that’s analyzing the NBA landscape after the first half of the season.

Some of our preseason predictions don’t look nearly as good now as they did in theory … months ago. Some of the teams we assumed would dominate the conversation are doing it for all of the wrong reasons, while the pleasant surprises have been plenty. No individual has surprised us more than enigmatic Pacers swingman Lance Stephenson.

We take all that in and serve it up on Episode 146 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Indiana Pacers’ swingman Lance Stephenson, whose omission from the Eastern Conference All-Star reserves list remains a sore spot with us here at the headquarters.

The Golden State Warriors have been added to the “List” and we delve into what’s gone wrong with Steph Curry and crew since they returned from that spectacular road trip last month. We tried our best to make some sense of what the Los Angeles lakers are trying to do with Pau Gasol and discuss a host of other hot topics from around the league.

Check out our new segment, In Focus, featuring some of the best TV and radio calls from around the league, and the latest installment of Braggin’ Rights (still on top), as well.

Check it out on Episode 146 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Lance Stephenson.

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 and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– 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: Pacers swingman Lance Stepheons gives up his body for the job

Blogtable: Stop Doing That, Please

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


MVP: KD or LeBron? | A should-be All-Star? | Player’s flaw?



VIDEO: Stephen Curry talks about his big season to date

If you could get one player to stop doing one thing on-court – a habit, a particular pass or shot he keeps blowing, something he does too much and drives you nuts every time you see it — who and what?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comRajon Rondo letting an inbounded ball dribble and roll too long before picking it up and going. Don’t mean to pick on Rondo – he’s just one of many, including Ty Lawson, Kyrie Irving and a bunch of mostly point guards who have bought into this false economy. Sure, once in a while the ball is delivered in a way that it can be chaperoned for a few extra feet while keeping the game clock from starting. But often, it’s angled toward the sideline and losing its speed, so finally grabbing it and veering back on course eats up whatever seconds allegedly were saved. Meanwhile, it gives a defender an opportunity to pounce. It’s a Joe College move and the sort of false hustle/smarts that makes sliding into first base such a laughable MLB play.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comJ.R. Smith: touching the basketball.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: My first inclination is for Steve Nash to stop licking his fingers. So gross. But we haven’t seen all that much of Nash this season, so I’ll give him a reprieve. My other beef is with another crafty guard with an oral fixation. Hey Steph Curry, keep that mouth piece of yours where it belongs — in your mouth. He especially seems to love to dangle the thing after dropping a ridiculous 3-pointer and then incorporates the dangle with a half-crazed stare as he awaits the opponent at the other end.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: That habit a lot of top players have of getting hurt has become old. I’d like that to stop. I don’t have one player fixing one thing. I would like to see a lot of guys hit a mid-range jumper, even the guys who do well on 3-pointers. I would even take it beyond just players. I would like to see word come down from NBA HQ to make the game the thing, not a layer, even the top layer, in the entertainment experience.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comKevin Love needs to stop admiring his shot and get his butt back on defense. The Wolves rank near the bottom of the league in transition defense, in part because Love often stands idly by as the opponent is running down the floor

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m terribly uncomfortable whining about something like this, truly … players are entitled to their rituals and habits, I’ll take a pass over another dribble almost every time and nobody ever sets out to miss a shot on purpose. I made a resolution for 2014 to stop worrying and whining about things that don’t change the course of my day (or my life, for that matter) and this, my friends, definitely falls into that category. But since we’re going there, I need a player with Ricky Rubio’s talent to stop passing up open looks, wide-open quality looks, because he has no confidence in his shot. Rubio isn’t the threat he should be because he hasn’t fine-tuned his shooting stroke. He’s a brilliant passer and no one will dispute that, but there’s no way he maximizes his immense potential (and no way the Timberwolves get his best) if he cannot round out his game with a more aggressive approach and a more confident and polished stroke.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: From the beard to the range, I love nearly everything about James Harden. Except one thing — the way he flings his head back when driving to the basket in order to draw fouls. It wouldn’t bother me so much if Harden didn’t do it so often, jerking his head back almost every time he drives to the basket. The thing is, it’s hard to criticize someone for doing something that works — Harden shoots eight free throws a game, gets easy points from the line and keeps opponents in foul trouble. But just because it gets called doesn’t make it right.

Karan Madhok, NBA IndiaI scream at the TV set every time Pau Gasol settles for a mid-range jumper, and this has been happening for a few years now. Gasol is one of the league’s last standing big men with genuine sublime offensive post moves, and has the ability to create for himself and dish out beautifully under the basket or with his back to the basket. A quick look at his short chart says that Pau is a better-than-50 percent shooter under the basket and can hit the mid-range jumper in front of the basket, but the percentages start to fall in most shots taken from the mid-range from either corner. Plus, aesthetically, that jumper is an eye-sore, especially when I know how gifted he is when he drives in. Attack the basket, Pau!

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: I hate it when Rajon Rondo hides his mouth-piece inside his jersey. It drives me crazy, because I can’t understand why he does it. Why have a mouth-piece if you don’t intend to keep it in you mouth at the first place!

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: Is there any other possible answer here than erasing the 3-point shooting from Josh Smith? Just stay on the block, Josh!

USA Basketball’s Changing Faces




VIDEO: Kevin Durant is the present and future face of USA Basketball

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Roster turnover has been the hallmark of USA Basketball’s program under the leadership of managing director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski. From one group of stars to the next, the brain trust of the organization has found ways to integrate the next generation of stars into the perfect mix with the already existing core group of stars that helped revitalize the program into the world’s most dominant group.

And this latest incarnation, the 28-man 2014-16 Men’s National Team roster announced this morning, includes a whopping 12 Olympic  gold medalists and a perfect blend of next generation stars (Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, Paul GeorgeDeMarcus Cousins, etc.), current NBA superstars with extensive USA Basketball experience (Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Stephen Curry and LaMarcus Aldridge, etc.) and program stalwarts (LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard).

As my colleague John Schuhmann points out, continuity is the greatest strength for USA Basketball now. The blend of 14 veterans and 14 newcomers on the National Team roster reflects that continuing effort from Colangelo and Coach K to build a program capable of functioning for years to come, as the names and faces of the stars in the player pool change.

Veterans Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are no longer a part of the player pool but that opens the door for up and coming stars like Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard and Andre Drummond to see if and where they fit.

“This roster is the strongest roster we’ve ever had,” Colangelo said during a Thursday morning teleconference.

It should be when you consider all of the talent they had to choose from. A 12-man roster for this summer’s World Cup, which starts in late August in Spain, and the 2016 Olympics in Rio will need come from this 28-man group, though Colangelo and Coach K were quick to mention that the mix remains fluid and that things could change.

“The pool is fluid,” Krzyzewski said. “Nothing is concrete. Life is fluid and especially life in the NBA.”

Veteran stars Durant, Love and James Harden have already committed to playing in Spain. Indiana’s George and London gold medalist Davis is also believed to be one of the frontrunner’s for one of those 12-spots on the World Cup roster.

But there are no guarantees.

“We don’t talk about locks because its unfair to all of the great players we have on our roster,” Colangelo said when asked specifically about George, who is expected to be announced later today as an Eastern Conference All-Star starter. “But suffice it to say we fell in love with [George] when we brought him into one of our camps and few years back. He’s become one of the outstanding young players in the NBA. His versatility makes him a very valuable asset on any team. If you’re talking odds, he’s probably a good bet. But again no one has a lock. All of our people know they have to earn it.”

The most interesting part of the selection process will involve the big men, where the numbers have filled out considerably since the last time the National Team was headed to a competition.

“We’re excited about the post because we have more guys than we’ve had before,” Krzyzewski said. “Aldridge, Cousins … for Dwight Howard to be back with the group, he was such an integral part of the Beijing Olympics. And one of the merging stars in the NBA in Anthony Davis. It’s more big guys than we’ve had before. In London, at the end of the gold medal game, my four and five were Carmelo and LeBron James, and that’s not bad. But hopefully, all of these guys are healthy and don’t have any contract or health issues … that would be utopia.”

As the rest of the international competition will attest, having a fluid 28-player pool like the one Colangelo and Coach K will choose from certainly qualifies as a basketball utopia. Changing faces while maintaining continuity in the program at the same time.



VIDEO: Anthony Davis is one of the new faces of USA Basketball

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 20


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant’s beautiful mind | Heat hunting for inspiration | Magic hit the floor to end skid | Dragic has to sustain his energy for Suns

No. 1: Durant’s got it between the ears, too – Seven straight games with 30 or more points from the greatest scorer in the game should surprise no one. Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant can do 30 a night with his eyes closed. And when you are a scoring genius and think through the game the way Durant does, eyes opened or closed … it doesn’t matter. At least that’s the way Thunder coach Scott Brooks explained (sort of) to Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman after Durant and the Thunder dismantled the Sacramento Kings:

Durant hit his scoring average, needing only 15 shots (and 10 makes) to score 30 points for a seventh straight game.

But his nine assists — the most he’s recorded in the last 25 games — was a more encouraging and revealing sign of the Thunder’s impressive night.

“I just love the way he thinks,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said of Durant. “He thinks about the team … He took 15 great shots and made 10 of them. Everybody else got involved and had an opportunity to score.”

The biggest benefactor was Serge Ibaka, who scored 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting. But he wasn’t the only one.

For the first time this season, OKC had six players in double-figures: Durant, Ibaka, Reggie Jackson (16), Thabo Sefolosha (10), Jeremy Lamb (10) and Nick Collison (10).

“When we move the ball like that,” Durant said of the Thunder’s 23 assists, “everybody touching it, that helps our defense as well.”

And so it did on Sunday night, allowing OKC to stifle every King not named Isaiah Thomas (a career-high 38 points), holding Sacramento under 100 points for only the third time in its last 16 games.

“They, for years, do a great job of turning you over,” Kings coach Mike Malone said, pointing to his team’s 20 giveaways. “But more importantly, (they) convert them.”


VIDEO: Check out Kevin Durant’s seventh straight 30-point outing for the Thunder

***

No. 2: What’s Miami’s motivation at this point of the season? – The two-time defending champion Miami Heat have a problem. They cannot seem to locate the proper motivation at this stage of a regular season that they know means little if they don’t finish it off with another parade. They have the luxury of not being pressed about finding it immediately, courtesy of a weak Eastern Conference playoff field that includes just the Indiana Pacers and Heat at the top. But, as Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald points out, they still have to find something to motivate them, some sort of rallying cry for the second half of the regular season:

Last February, the Heat watched the Super Bowl in Toronto, listened to Shane Battier give a theatrically hilarious, yet poignant speech on the team bus, and then won 27 games in a row. The streak was such an important part of the Heat’s season that the team’s ownership inscribed the accomplishment on the championship rings.

Players have called that day in Toronto one of the most memorable of their careers, and Sunday in Atlanta was a similar experience.

Of course, up until now, little has been memorable about this season, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, the Heat is 29-11 through the first 40 games of the season. Last season, before the streak, the team was 28-12 at this point, and on the way to 28-13.

On Monday, the Heat plays the grand finale of an unconventional six-game road trip that has dragged on for 11 days. Miami has played five consecutive games against teams with losing records and will end the road trip against the Hawks (20-19), who have the fourth-best record in the East, but are without their best player, forward Al Horford, for the remainder of the season.

The Heat’s overtime victory against the Bobcats on Saturday salvaged the six-game swing, which began with back-to-back losses to the Knicks and Nets, and gave Miami a chance to break even on a road trip that began with three consecutive losses.

“We haven’t lost three in a row in a very long time, so we got to put together a run and head into this All-Star break and this is the way to do it,” said Heat forward Udonis Haslem, who had 10 rebounds against the Bobcats. “You look at the two teams that we’ve beaten, they’re young, they’re energetic, and even though their record doesn’t say so, those are the teams we struggle with, the teams that are .500 and below, so for us to come out here and be professional and get this win says a lot.”

Of the Heat’s 11 losses, nine have been to teams currently with losing records. The Bobcats were in position to become the 10th team on that inglorious list, but a staunch defensive effort by the Heat forced overtime, and the Heat dominated the extra period for a 104-96 victory.

“We were really upset with ourselves and we had to be honest,” Chris Bosh said of the Heat’s first-half effort against the Bobcats. “Charlotte is a good team, but 60 points in a half is too much. I don’t care if you’re playing the best offensive team in the league, that’s too much.

“They just seemed to be scoring at will, and we wanted to change that. We didn’t do a very good job of defending in the first half, but we picked it up in the second and got the win.”


VIDEO: The top five plays from Sunday’s action around the NBA

***

No. 3: Magic hit the floor to end their skid – When you are mired in a complete free-fall, any solution to get out of that mess needs to be considered. For the Orlando Magic, a team that endured a 10-game slide before ending it with a win over Boston Sunday, elbow and knee pads were the solution. Actually, they didn’t sport the elbow and knee pads, but they could have used them with the way they hit the deck repeatedly against the Celtics, according to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

After their losing streak reached 10 games, Orlando Magic players and coaches realized something fundamental needed to change. Not X’s-and-O’s, but something intangible.

Players and coaches talked together when they gathered for practice Saturday.

Whatever they had been doing during the first half of the season, and especially during their 10 consecutive losses, wasn’t working. They faced a choice: Either they would make a change and modify their collective spirit, or the second half of their season would devolve into a freefall of epic proportions.

They made that adjustment Sunday night. Magic players repeatedly dove to Amway Center’s parquet floor to collect loose basketballs. They covered for each other when they made defensive lapses. And that sustained intensity and improved cohesion, they said, played a direct role as they beat the Boston Celtics 93-91 and ended their losing streak.

“I could feel no personal agendas,” Arron Afflalo said after the win. “I could feel nothing but five guys who were on the court and the two guys who came off the bench really looking for a way to get a victory tonight.”

Afflalo scored 20 points, tied a career high by grabbing 13 rebounds and dished out six assists.

He also provided one of the game’s key baskets, tying the score 89-89 on a driving layup with 1:08 remaining.

After Rajon Rondo missed a jumper on Boston’s ensuing possession, Jameer Nelson drew a foul with 35.3 seconds left and hit a pair of free throws.

Boston’s Jeff Green countered a few seconds later, scoring on a layup as Afflalo fouled him. But Green missed the foul shot, and Victor Oladipo fell to the floor to corral the loose ball.

“When you have a mindset of just playing hard from the jump, you just continue to play hard,” Oladipo said. “When your teammates have your back, when they’re positive throughout the game, it’s hard not to be involved and it’s hard not to be focused and locked-in all night.”

***

No. 4: No slowing down for Dragic without Bledsoe – Goran Dragic doesn’t have the luxury of slowing down at the catalyst for the Phoenix Suns, not without Eric Bledsoe healthy and in the lineup. That means the veteran point guard has to keep his motor cranked constantly for a Suns team trying to stay afloat in the Western Conference playoff chase. Dragic’s ability to sustain his high level of energy could very well be the key to the Suns’ season. He has to hold up. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic explains:

It is becoming taxing for Suns point guard Goran Dragic to take on more playmaking and more of the burden to score with more defensive attention on him. All the while, he is guarding the playmaker on the other side, a duty that usually fell to Bledsoe.

“I’m not thinking about that,” Dragic said. “If I’m going to think about how I’m tired, then it’s going to be even worse for me. I just try to battle. I try to be positive. I’m from Slovenia so back home it’s no excuse if you’re tired. Even when I was growing up, my father always said there’s going to be some hard days so you have to go through that. You can sleep after the thing that you do, if it’s work or a basketball game. Now, I’m feeling tired. But when the game is going on, I’m not thinking about it so much.”

Dragic had averaged 41.3 minutes over the previous three games entering Sunday night’s game against Denver. He does not back off his effort and now has a collapsing defense concentrating on him too.

“That’s always a concern, trying to keep an eye on a guy’s minutes and seeing if he’s getting worn out,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “We’ve had a pretty tough stretch of games where they haven’t had a lot of rest. When we’ve had days off between games, we’ve limited them from really doing anything trying to get their legs back. As we move forward, it doesn’t get any easier but we’ve got to get through that time.”

Dragic gave the Suns control Sunday night with 15 rebounds and six assists and he got some needed rest in return, logging only 24 minutes.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Are there rotation changes coming in Denver? Could be … Jonas Valanciunas gets benched for not producing … The Bucks get yet another lesson, this time from the best in the business … Danny Ainge assess all things for the Celtics at the halfway mark of the season … LaMarcus Aldridge will go left if need be for the Trail Blazers

ICYMI(s) of The Night: DeMar DeRozan has blossomed into a potential All-Star and the scoring leader for the playoff-bound Toronto Raptors. But he’s still one of the league’s elite above-the-rim finishers, as he shows here:


VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan is what we call a finisher, especially above the rim