Posts Tagged ‘Steve Aschburner’

Unexpected beasts, leasts suggest surprisingly wide-open East


VIDEO: The NBA TV crews divines the Raptors hot start

Don’t poke at your remote or punch at settings on your touchscreen if you feel a little cross-eyed looking at the Eastern Conference standings. They aren’t what we thought they’d be, to do a 180 on the NFL’s Dennis Green/Bears rant from a few years back.

They aren’t even close, actually, after three full weeks of the 2014-15 regular season.

Most of the respected media outlets didn’t imagine Toronto as the East’s top dog, nor Milwaukee as a playoff team, nor Cleveland as a team that grind along below .500 as Thanksgiving approached.

Few if any expected Orlando to be well in front of New York at this or any other point of the schedule, and Charlotte was a trendy enough pick that some imagined home-court privileges for the Hornets in the first round.

Not many knew what to make of Atlanta, though it generally wasn’t good, but the Hawks weren’t dismissed nearly as readily as Boston was in the “experts’ ” preseason picks. One thing all the geniuses could agree on was Philadelphia’s spot at the shovel end of this circus train, but that had less to do with crystal balls and algorithms than it did with the Sixers’ stated ambition of zero ambitions.

But look where everyone is now.

The East standings are so jumbled, compared to what most expected, that it raises a few questions:

1. Might the door be open for some upstart teams like the Raptors and the Wizards to challenge presumed favorites, the Cavaliers and the Bulls?

2. Will clubs like the Bucks and the Magic have to reassess their goals and factor in playoff possibilities?

3. At what point, if any, do the Knicks borrow from the Sixers and start playing for the bottom in a stink-tank for lottery odds?

4. Who pays all these so-called experts in the first place?

Here’s a look at the predicted order of finish in the East by three heavyweight NBA outlets:

Sports Illustrated: 1) Chicago, 2) Cleveland, 3) Toronto, 4) Washington, 5) Miami, 6) Charlotte, 7) Brooklyn, 8) New York, 9) Indiana, 10) Atlanta, 11) Detroit, 12) Milwaukee, 13) Boston, 14) Orlando and 15) Philadelphia.

BleacherReport.com: 1) Chicago, 2), Cleveland, 3) Toronto, 4) Atlanta, 5) Washington, 6) Charlotte, 7) Miami, 8) Brooklyn, 9) New York, 10) Indiana, 11) Detroit, 12) Milwaukee, 13), Orlando, 14) Boston and 15) Philadelphia.

ESPN.com: 1) Cleveland, 2) Chicago, 3) Toronto, 4) Washington, 5) Charlotte, 6) Atlanta, 7) Miami, 8) Brooklyn, 9) Detroit, 10) New York, 11) Indiana, 12) Milwaukee, 13) Boston, 14) Orlando and 15) Philadelphia.

The real standings, as of Saturday morning, looked quite different from any of the three lists above. There were myriad reasons, from the small sample size of games played and untimely injuries to the friendliness of some clubs’ schedule in opponents or road demands.

Those sorts of things will equalize to some degree as the season plays out. But other factors specific to each team, good or bad, could linger and become part of who they are and where they finish come April.

Here’s a snapshot three weeks in of a conference that didn’t figure to be deep or great when play started but at least looks (euphemism alert!) more interesting now:

1. Toronto (10-2)

Average predicted finish (in ranking cited above): Third

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Attitude. The Raptors played for development long enough. After four years with coach Dwane Casey and 48 victories in 2013-14, the time was ripe to play for something bigger. The roster is deep, the schedule was kind and the Raptors ranked high at both ends (second in ORtg, seventh in DRtg). But the sense of mission hasn’t been greater in years.

2. Washington (8-3)

Averaged predicted finish: Fourth

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Home court. The Wizards had no homecourt edge last season and it cost them when they dropped four of their five playoff games at Verizon Center. This season, they opened 4-0 at home, then followed up a disappointing loss to Dallas with an in-command triumph over Cleveland.

3. Chicago (8-5)

Average predicted finish: First

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Injuries. Even folks who thought Derrick Rose might have to sit some nights while battling soreness in his second comeback from knee surgery didn’t imagine him racking up two sprained ankles and a strained hamstring so soon in this season. Joakim Noah started slow after offseason knee clean-up, and Pau Gasol, Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson all have been hurt recently. “Next man up?” More like the setback are starting to catch up.

4. Atlanta (6-5)

Averaged predicted finish: Seventh.

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Passing. The Hawks have been moving the ball great, and that’s essential when you have a balanced offense that can’t – and doesn’t have to – feed just one particular scoring star. Their 64.4% assist percentage is third highest in the NBA. [Note: SI fell prey to trendier picks, put Atlanta 10th and dragged down its predicted finish.]

5. Milwaukee (7-6)

Average predicted finish: 12th

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Defense. The Bucks ranked last in defensive rating in 2013-14, but Jason Kidd and his staff seem to have lit a fire under their overhauled bunch. The Bucks have pretty good depth for a mediocre or worse team, interchangeable parts that can reward Kidd’s search for a hot hand.

6. Miami (6-6)

Average predicted finish: Sixth.

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Dwyane Wade. The Heat are about where folks expected, but they were 5-3 until Wade started missing games. Without LeBron James, they can’t overcome his absences the way they did in the past.

7. Cleveland (5-6)

Average predicted finish: Second

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Unfamiliarity. It’s harder to put together an insta-contender than we thought, perhaps. When Boston did it in 2007-08 and Miami did it (with a few more growing pains) in 2010-11, they had stars in sync – players who knew themselves and each other well enough to fit securely and quickly. The Cavaliers have James in mid-prime but Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love fresh from lottery-team training wheels. And a rookie NBA head coach. Might take months rather than weeks.

8. Orlando (6-8)

Average predicted finish: 14th

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Youth. In this case, the Magic’s heavy lifters might be so young they don’t yet realize what their limitations are supposed to be. Tobias Harris, Evan Fournier and Victor Oladipo have overachieved, even as Aaron Gordon suffered a broken foot and Elfrid Payton took a step back.

 

9. Brooklyn (5-7)

Average predicted finish: Eighth

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Schedule. The Nets weren’t happy but they were 4-2, until heading West for an 0-3 slap. They haven’t recovered, dropping home games against beatable Miami and Milwaukee. With as many vets as Brooklyn has, it should travel better.

10. Indiana (5-7)

Average predicted finish: 10th

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Deep reserves. For all the Pacers’ injuries and setbacks – not just Paul George (leg fracture) and Lance Stephenson‘s departure but having David West, George Hill, C.J. Watson, Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles sidelined too – some of the bench players (Solomon Hill, Luis Scola) have stepped up. And late addition A.J. Price stepped in nicely. Keeping things afloat might keep Indiana in a playoff hunt.

11. Boston (4-7)

Average predicted finish: 13th

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Potency. Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley have contributed offensively without much fanfare and Boston’s offense (third in FG%, second in assists) has swamped several opposing defenses.

12. Charlotte (4-9)

Average predicted finish: Fifth

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Lance. Though we’re loathe to put too much rise or fall on an individual, there’s no denying everyone had higher hopes for Stephenson in the early season, including himself. The defense isn’t up to Steve Clifford standards either (18th, down from sixth last season).

13. New York (3-10)

Average predicted finish: Ninth

Biggest factor in rise/fall: The triangle. ‘Cuz Adam Silver said so. Also disjointed, sometimes at cross-purposes and lots of pedigree that hasn’t proven anything here yet.

14. Detroit (3-10)

Average predicted finish: 11th

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Scattershooting. Offense has been in scarce supply for the Piston, who rank 28th in offensive rating, 29th in effective field-goal percentage, 29th in true shooting percentage and 27th in assist percentage. The disappearance of center Andre Drummond (from a 22.6 PER last season to 11.5) is vexing as well.

15. Philadelphia (0-12)

Average predicted finish: 15th

Biggest factor in rise/fall: None. The Sixers are right where they wanted to be and right where the basketball world picked them. Congrats, fellas!

Morning shootaround — Nov. 22


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wall aces crash course | Crisis time in Cleveland? | Report: Jeff Taylor won’t appeal | Scene of the ouch! for Bulls

No. 1: Wall aces crash course — Two nights earlier, Washington point guard John Wall had been in the middle of a crash-and-burn against the Dallas Mavericks. Coach Randy Wittman directed some criticism directly at his point guard while imploring the Wizards to prove they truly had grown up.
That crash-and-burn turned out to be a crash course for them, Wall in particular, as Washington righted itself in a key third-quarter stretch to beat the highly touted (if currently sideways) Cleveland Cavaliers in the first sellout of the season at Verizon Center. Here’s how Michael Wallace of ESPN.com saw the performance as more than just a one-off for the hungry Washington team:

Two days after Wall was called out and took responsibility for the Dallas loss, he shouted back with one of his most complete games of the season. It was a transformation from third-quarter scapegoat on Wednesday to third-quarter catalyst Friday, having scored 17 of his game-high 28 in that period.

Wall relished the opportunity for redemption on several levels. In addition to his stretch of turnover problems Wednesday, Wall also missed 12 of his 17 shots against the Mavericks. That kept him in the practice facility for an extended shooting workout that lasted nearly an hour after Thursday’s practice.

Another motivating factor, although Wall repeatedly downplayed it publicly, was his matchup with point guard Kyrie Irving, who was selected No. 1 overall a year after Wall was taken with the top pick in 2010. Wall has felt overlooked and underappreciated nationally when compared with Irving.

And it was also an opportunity for Wall to shine in a nationally televised game and return some of the same lessons on patience and process to the star-studded but struggling Cavaliers that [LeBron] James, then with the Miami Heat, used to routinely offer to Wall during tough stretches for the Wizards. The Wizards (8-3) are off to their best start in 40 years, but they lacked a signature victory over a quality opponent after losing to Miami in the season opener and recently to Toronto and Dallas.

***

No. 2: Crisis time in Cleveland? — At the other end of the floor in Washington on Friday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers were in such disarray that even those inclined to cut them slack – Hey, this is what Miami went through with its initial Big Three team in 2010 – were backing off that rationale. These Cavaliers have issues specific to them, because their roster is different from that Miami squad and so is their personality. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are not Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, in terms of their games or their accomplishments when they teamed with LeBron James four years ago. And though he might over time establish himself as a peer, coach David Blatt is an NBA tenderfoot compared to Erik Spoelstra when he had “The Heatles” land in his lap. Spoelstra already had coached two full NBA seasons, which gave him 164 games and two playoff appearances in this league more than Blatt arrived with this summer. The Cavs’ senior traveling beat writer, Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal, offered his impressions after the disconcerting, double-digit loss Friday in his enumerated fashion. Here are some of his thoughts:

1. Eleven games into the season, the Cavs are in the dark, David Blatt is concerned about everything and LeBron James is quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. If there is a “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” fire alarm inside Cleveland Clinic Courts, you get the feeling Lou Amundson is looking for the hammer.
2. I’m not sure how we’ve advanced so quickly from James saying he was happy with the progress the Cavs made in Thursday’s loss to the Spurs to now James writing this King quote on Twitter: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” It all feels like a bit of an overreaction, even though admittedly this was a terrible loss to a quality opponent.
3. The most alarming part of this loss, at least for me, was the awful body language displayed by most everyone – beginning with James. He failed to get back defensively on multiple plays, hung his head and walked off the floor when he was clearly irritated with a Dion Waiters 3-point attempt and simply did not set the right example. He wasn’t alone, but as the leader of the team the rest of the players are going to follow his lead.
4. He got away with some pouting in Portland. I understood the message he was delivering about sharing the basketball and selfish behavior. But he can’t keep doing it. James admitted Friday he saw the bad body language displayed by just about everyone.

7. In their recent four-game winning streak, which included victories against the Nuggets, Pelicans, Celtics and Hawks, the Cavs averaged 119.3 points, 28 assists, 11 turnovers and shot 51 percent. In the three losses since they’re averaging 88.3 points, 18 assists, 17 turnovers and are shooting 41 percent.
8. There is no excuse, ever, for a team with this much offensive firepower to score 78 points in a game. It was easily a season low, as was the 36 percent shooting night.

***

No. 3: Report: Jeff Taylor won’t appeal — Given the length of the suspension (24 games) imposed by NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Charlotte’s Jeff Taylor for his domestic assault case, it was expected that the NBA players’ union would step up to challenge the penalty. It was, after all, far longer and more harsh than had been imposed in the past for similar and even worse transgressions, as pro sports and the culture at large look anew at such incidents. What wasn’t expected was that Taylor might opt not to appeal, accept Silver’s determination rather than seek arbitration, get his name and reputation out of the media and serve out the final 13 games (on top of 11 already missed) before resuming his NBA career. But that’s what Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported:

Despite the pronounced public backing of his union, Charlotte Hornets forward Jeff Taylor will not file an appeal to the NBA for a 24-game suspension centered on a domestic abuse incident, league sources told Yahoo Sports on Friday.

National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts ripped NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s punishment as “excessive and without precedent” in a statement on Thursday. The union was eager to challenge the NBA on the severity of the suspension based on the league’s collective bargaining agreement.

Nevertheless, Taylor, 25, and his agent chose to accept the suspension and sit the remaining 13 games until he can return to the lineup. Taylor has already missed 11 games stemming from the incident, which occurred prior to the start of the Hornets’ training camp in late September.

Taylor could’ve appealed the decision to an independent arbiter, but Silver and the NBA believed strongly that the commissioner has wide authority to consider domestic violence cases on a per-incident basis.

Taylor pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor domestic violence charge in Michigan. Taylor had a physical encounter with a woman with whom he was having a relationship at an East Lansing, Mich., hotel.

***

No. 4: Scene of the ouch! for Bulls — Maybe no one ever promised the Chicago Bulls a Rose Garden on their visits to Portland, but this Moda Center trend is getting ridiculous. Playing in the arena where they lost Derrick Rose last November to a second season-scuttling knee injury, the Bulls knew a day earlier they’d be without Rose again (left hamstring), as well as Pau Gasol (left calf) and Kirk Hinrich (chest contusion) when they faced the Trail Blazers on Friday night. So the outcome, a lopsided 105-87 loss, wasn’t a surprise. But adding another injury — Taj Gibson (left ankle) to their already lengthy list of sidelined vital pieces was. And it won’t service Chicago well as it continues its lengthy “circus trip” that won’t end until December. Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com had details:

Every time the Bulls come to Portland lately it seems as if something bad happens. Friday night’s game was just the latest example of that. Damian Lillard dominated a depleted Bulls’ squad … The Bulls came into the game having lost eight of their last 10 games in Portland, giving up an average of 101.5 points in each contest according to ESPN Stats & Information. After the Trail Blazers’ latest triumph, the Bulls have now lost seven straight games here.

Aside from the loss, the bigger issue on this night for the Bulls was the fact they lost [Gibson] to a sprained left ankle that could keep him out a little while. Gibson had to be helped off the court by his teammates in a scene similar to the one Rose endured last season. While Gibson’s ankle injury isn’t nearly as serious as Rose’s knee injury was, it had to feel like déjà vu for Bulls’ personnel to see Gibson head to the locker room on crutches and in a walking boot after the game.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t want to hear about the parallel storylines after the game, believing the injuries Rose and Gibson sustained could have happened anywhere.

“I don’t get caught up in that stuff,” he said. “Injuries are part of the game. If a guy gets hurt, he gets hurt. But it’s not the building, it’s not any of that stuff. Injuries are part of the game so you just deal with them.”

His players understand that, but they didn’t feel the same way about the bad mojo that seems to come their way every time they play in Portland.

“F— this place,” one player muttered in the locker room as he peeled off his jersey.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Breaking: Indiana’s Paul George is still out – and likely to stay that way, no matter how good he looks in civilian life. … Ever wonder what Dallas owner Mark Cuban has to say during games (other than to referees, that is)? HBO’s Real Sports provides answers. … Phoenix guard Eric Bledsoewalks back” some of that bravado about the University of Kentucky being able to whomp the Philadelphia 76ers. … That might have changed anyway if a report about Andrei Kirilenko landing in Philly proves to be accurate. … The Minnesota Timberwolves walked in the Indiana Pacers’ shoes, having to face the NBA champions without four-fifths of the Wolves’ starting lineup. And no, wise guys, it wasn’t a good thing.

 

Report: Nets’ Kirilenko may soon be bought out or traded

It seems almost inevitable now, according to the New York Post, that small forward Andrei Kirilenko is facing a limited future with the team.

The 6-foot-9 Russian forward wasn’t with the Nets on their trip to Oklahoma City Friday and San Antonio Saturday for personal reasons apart from basketball. But Kirilenko’s lack of involvement when around – just 36 minutes in seven games, scoring a total of three points – had the Post’s Tim Bontemps assessing the likelihood that the player and his $3.3 million expiring contract either will be traded or bought out:

Sources said no buyout negotiations have taken place yet, but that it’s possible the team could try to trade Kirilenko and his $3.3 million expiring contract. If such a trade were to materialize, it would likely be after Dec. 15, when all rookies and players signed to contracts this summer are eligible to be moved.

If a trade doesn’t materialize, it seems inevitable that a buyout would be reached at some point.

When asked if he could elaborate on the situation after the team’s morning shootaround [in Oklahoma City, coach Lionel] Hollins said he could not. Asked if he was expecting Kirilenko back with the team once the Nets returned home, Hollins said, “I don’t know.”

Either way, it’s hard to see Kirilenko in a significant role with this team again.

He was made a healthy scratch for losses to the Heat and Bucks at home this week, and after the Miami defeat on Monday said he felt fine physically and had “no idea” what he had to do to get back into Hollins’ rotation.

Those who thought Kirilenko’s kinship and shared heritage with Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov would serve him well (and even smelled something fishy) when he turned down a one-year, $10 million option from Minnesota to sign a two-year, $6.5 million deal with Brooklyn might want to reconsider, if they haven’t yet.

Back issues limited Kirilenko to 45 games last season in which he averaged 19 minutes, 5.0 points and 3.2 rebounds. As Bontemps noted, he wasn’t used in two of the Nets’ 12 playoff games against Toronto and Miami, and his hopes of a greater role with Hollins replacing Jason Kidd as coach have not materialized.

Relax? Easier said than done for LeBron


VIDEO: LeBron James says being patient this season has been a challenge for him

Maybe if Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers weren’t otherwise indisposed, LeBron James could have called on him to offer words of advice to Cleveland fans worried about, and NBA experts critical of, the Cavaliers’ unimpressive 5-5 start.

But it’s not clear that James’ message is as simple as “Relax.”

James’ needle was pointed in that direction when he announced his return to Cleveland in July, though that part of his message might have gotten swamped in the exuberance of The Decision II. He has said at various times in the preseason and early season that it would take time for the re-tooled Cavs to find their groove and identity. Heck, James said it in several ways as recently as Wednesday night, after a 92-90 home loss to San Antonio had them sifting through the disappointment for bright spots like some wannabe lottery team.

But his tone had shifted significantly by Friday morning, after Cleveland’s shootaround in Washington for its game with the Wizards (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). Had Rodgers shown up to drop a “R-E-L-A-X” on James at the Verizon Center, the four-time MVP might have sacked him. As reported by Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group:

“That’s my biggest test,” [James] said. “My patience, I have a low tolerance for things of this nature, so it’s something I’m working on as well, which I knew from the beginning, that it was going to be my biggest test to see how much patience I have with the process.

“What helps me out is that I’ve been through it before, but at the same time, I’m a winner and I want to win and I want to win now. It’s not tomorrow. It’s not down the line. I want to win now. So, it’s a fine line for me, but I understand what we’re enduring right now.”

That differs from the essay James penned with SI.com’s Lee Jenkins when he chose to return to Cleveland over extending his stay with the Miami Heat. Remember?

I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested.

For the record, the Heat started 9-8 in James’ first year in south Florida, teaming with stars (Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh) who were more advanced in their own careers than Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. But they figured things out in time to reach The Finals.

Also for the record, the Cavs faced a tough back-to-back this weekend against the Wizards on the road and then home against Toronto Saturday. Oh, and the Packers were 1-2 when Rodgers urge calm on the cheeseheads of Packers nation. They’ve gone 6-1 since.

Fixing defensive downfalls remains job No. 1 for Cavaliers


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

Blogtable: Eye-opener out of the gate

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


BLOGTABLE: Stumbling in the East | Revisiting the Sixers’ plan | Early season eye-opener


> Give me a lesser-known player who is opening your eyes. What do you like about him?

Jimmy Butler (Gary Dineen/NBAE)

Jimmy Butler (Gary Dineen/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comLooks like I was wrong about Chicago’s Jimmy Butler – again. I didn’t share the Chicago Bulls’ high hopes for Butler when they drafted him No. 30 in 2011; “short arms, flat shot, plays too straight-up-and-down” was my initial impression. And I didn’t agree with Butler’s decision not to nail down a contract extension by the Oct. 31 deadline (too much risk to eke out another 10 percent raise or so on the $40 million or so the Bulls offered). But Butler’s do-everything impact for Chicago, combining Luol Deng‘s and Derrick Rose‘s responsibilities on many nights, has him in line for a much bigger payday. And his offensive game has grown (21.3 ppg, 13th in true shooting percentage, 17th in PER). But I don’t mind being wrong – when Marquette University’s annual pledge drive calls next year, I can point them in yet another direction of fellow alums (Doc Rivers, Dwyane Wade, Wesley Matthews) who have all the money.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: In a season when every inhale, exhale and twinge from Derrick Rose is worthy of re-tweets and headlines, Jimmy Butler has been the driving force behind the Bulls at both ends of the floor.  After the two sides couldn’t come together on a contract extension, he’s driving toward restricted free agency next summer as the No. 1 option in the Bulls’ offense while also guarding the best perimeter players on opposing teams.  That’s making your case.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: There’s probably several good answers, but Courtney Lee jumps to mind for me because the Grizzlies have been terrific and he supplies a lot of what they need by hitting shots, especially 3-pointers, for a team slightly below average in scoring. On a team where everyone else gets the publicity — Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, Tony Allen — Lee has been invaluable to the start. Jimmy Butler and Reggie Jackson should be mentioned as well, although I think both have been improving for a while. I don’t know that either qualifies as “lesser known.”

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’m sure his early numbers are partly due to being on a team that can’t score and also not having Michael Carter-Williams around much, but Tony Wroten is making the most of his opportunity. He came into this season as a guy who could reach the rim but couldn’t shoot a lick, and yet he’s making 34 percent of his threes (up from a career 26-percent) and leading the Sixers in scoring, assists and steals which, I know I know, is only worth so much. Honorable mention to Garrett Temple keeping the seat warm in DC for Bradley Beal, and Donald Sloan holding it down for George Hill in Indy.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comSolomon Hill is a guy who spent a lot of time on the inactive list as a rookie last year and who looked a little overwhelmed at the start of this season. But he’s shown a lot of improvement as the depleted Pacers have won three of their last four. I don’t know if he’s ever going to be a full-time starter in this league, and he basically “opened my eyes” in one game, looking rather comfortable running the pick-and-roll and finding good shots against the Bulls’ defense on Saturday. But he could be a solid rotation guy as the Pacers get healthy, with this experience as a starter being an important part of his development.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI’ve got to give it up to Donald Sloan in Indiana. When opportunity knocks, you have to be ready to pounce. And that’s exactly what Sloan has done. The chance for a journeyman to be showcased doesn’t come along very day. The injury to George Hill provided the opening Sloan needed to prove his worth and he’s run with it. He’s cooled off a bit recently. And that’s to be expected. But he started off the season like wildfire and produced one half of the best duels of the season with his career night against John Wall and the Washington Wizarsds. Sloan will likely return to the anonymity of the Pacers’ bench. Until then, however, he;d be wise to stay on the attack

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comEvan Fournier stepped in for Orlando’s Victor Oladipo (who recently returned from injury) and proved to be a versatile scorer and playmaker. Fournier is seven years younger than Arron Afflalo, for whom he was traded; and he’s providing better shooting and production than Denver is getting from Afflalo.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogAtlanta’s Dennis Schröder seems to have turned some kind of corner. He didn’t play much as a rookie, but this season seems to have bumped Shelvin Mack from the rotation and has bettered his career highs several times. He has such a unique combination of athleticism and speed that he could make a real impact off the bench this season for the Hawks. If you don’t believe me, ask Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan.

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: There’s been plenty of surprising performances to start the season, with one of the most surprising being the Bucks’ 6-5 start and the performance of Brandon Knight. The fourth-year point guard came over in a trade for Brandon Jennings and now looks to be the better player. There were knocks on his ability to run an offense competently, read passing lanes and just pick up the general nuances of being a point guard. He’s slowly starting to arrest some of those fears as his stocks begin to rise. His 17.9 points, 6.6 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 39 percent shooting from deep has been eye catching. Maybe working with one of the best point guards in NBA history is rubbing off on him.

XiBin Yang, NBA.com/China: Jimmy Butler. Maybe he’s well known now, but he’s a no-brainer to me. We love him because we love to see him play that kind of hustle, grind, bloody games, and we thought he could be a key 3-D guy in a championship team. On the other words, we never thought he could be that good. He just established himself into a go-to guy on a terrific team (21.3 PPG,6.2 RPG,3.9 APG). Look at his number, he’s literally a better version of Luol Deng, even if this just his third year in the league. Statistics cheat, but the ball don’t lie.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: Nikola Vucevic is becoming a force in the paint. He is averaging 18.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, great numbers for a 24-years-old center. There are not many other players than have his touch around the basket and, above all, his consistency.

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA.com/Argentina: Chris Copeland, who was a rookie at age 28 for the New York Knicks, has made a place for himself in the NBA after going through Spain’s second division and minor leagues in Germany and Belgium. This season, he’s taking advantage of an opportunity and his game is reflected in the stats.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: Of course, as a German I have to pick Dennis Schröder. He made a big jump this summer. The debut with the German national team gave him a big boost. He had to take a leading role in the team and he mastered it with bravery. Schröder plays with more confidence, his body language changed completely and that helps on the court. His turnover ratio is way better (still not perfect) than last year, he added the left-handed layup to his game and improved his jump-shot. With his new confidence he gained the trust of his teammates and coach Mike Budenholzer. Or have you expected that the Hawks will play ISO for Schröder? No one could do that after his difficult first year. He’s finally arrived in the league, but it’s still a long way to go.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: I’m really loving the improved play from Jimmy Butler this season. While the top items of concern in Chicago seem to be Derrick Rose’s health, Joakim Noah‘s play or Pau Gasol‘s addition, I feel that Butler has emerged as the breakout star of the season. He has taken advantage of his offensive opportunities in Rose’s absence (and even his presence) and continues to be one of the top perimeter defenders in the league. I like that he’s asserting himself more aggressively on both sides of the floor this season: In a few years, I feel he has the potential of becoming one of the most-feared wing players in the league.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: Jimmy Butler is becoming a lethal 2-way player, probably one of the biggest reasons why Chicago can survive without Derrick Rose. He was a defensive specialist, he’s adding a lot of offensive moves and he’s averaging 21.3 points per game. I really like his versatility, his strength, he’s ability to defend the best opponent on the perimeter and be a factor offensively.

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For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Blogtable: Slipping (already) in the East

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


BLOGTABLE: Stumbling in the East | Revisiting the Sixers’ plan | Early season eye-opener


> Which Eastern Conference team (discounting Cleveland) is not nearly as good as you thought it might be at this point of the season?

Charlotte's Lance Stephenson and Steve Clifford (Kent Smith/NBAE)

Charlotte’s Lance Stephenson and Steve Clifford
(Kent Smith/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI expected more out of Charlotte than a 4-7 start and, especially, its porous defense so far (106.2 defensive rating, 21st in opponents’ field-goal percentage). Coach Steve Clifford‘s team has to clamp down better than that. Lance Stephenson has been underwhelming and Michael Kidd Gilchrist hasn’t been healthy, but a 3-3 start fizzled when the Hornets headed West. Losing to the Lakers? That’s so 2009-10. The schedule softens up a bit for the next three, then rematches at home loom with Portland and Golden State. The Hornets’ big boss would make sure to clean those up if he still were playing, so let’s see if he can inspire his crew.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Maybe they should have kept that Bobcats name in Charlotte. Except for that one wild game-winning shot, Lance Stephenson has not provided an upgrade and the defense has fallen off badly.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Everyone is pretty much where I thought they’d be. If I had to make picks, I’d say the Knicks and Hornets are slightly under, but not enough to qualify as “not nearly as good” as I figured. I had both around .500 (Charlotte) or a few games under and making the playoffs (New York). The danger sign for the Hornets now is they’re starting to have a lot of blowout losses. That’s a very bad look.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I realize they’re on their fourth coach in three years and just returned from a trip out West but is this really what the Nets have become, a hum-drum team — in the East, no less? They’ve been called out by Joe Johnson, who hasn’t whined since he was spanked to life at birth, and also Lionel Hollins. The coach questioned their toughness which could’ve been a swipe at Brook Lopez (who at this stage of his career isn’t going to morph into a young Kevin Garnett) and their identity, or lack of one. All told, the Nets aren’t dropping any hints of being a contender, now that Deron Williams is no longer a top-5 point guard, and what you have is the increased likelihood of this being the Same Old Nets.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comCharlotte’s had a disappointing start. The former Bobcats have two new starters and have played one of the East’s tougher schedules thus far, but they’ve been just average defensively and much worse offensively, with losses to both the Knicks and Lakers. Brooklyn has also had some bad results, but also has two new starters and doesn’t have the system continuity that the Hornets do. This team had a better start last year, in Steve Clifford’s first season as a head coach.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Based strictly on potential, I expected the Bulls, Cavaliers, Raptors and Wizards to sit at the head of the class in the Eastern Conference this season. And for the most part, they have played their respective roles this season. The wild card team in that top group was supposed to be Charlotte. But they’ve struggled with the adjustment to new expectations this season. They have not looked like the team I thought they would with Lance Stephenson playing alongside Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson. Steve Clifford is an excellent coach, so I’m sure they’ll figure the chemistry out as the season goes on. But I expected them to get off to a much better start than what we’ve seen thus far.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I don’t know what to make of Lance Stephenson’s impact on the Hornets. He’s their leader in rebounds and assists, which is impressive; and he’s been scoring more efficiently in recent games. But between his addition and the subtraction of injured Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte looks less cohesive and more fragile.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogCharlotte. Sure, we knew there would be some growing pains incorporating Lance Stephenson into the offense, but they’re 4-7 (and one of those wins came on a miracle buzzer-beater from Stephenson). What’s more surprising to me is that after being so good defensively last season, this year the Hornets are in the bottom half of the League in defensive rating. The rebranding campaign has been great, but if they keep playing like the Bobcats of old, I’m not sure that it’s going to matter all that much.

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA.com/Argentina: I was hoping Brooklyn would have a more positive/winning record in the first month.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: I had high expectation on the Charlotte Hornets. I thought Lance Stephenson would be the missing puzzle piece to be top 5 in the East. But they still have to figure out how everything works out together. Marvin Williams is not the Marvin Williams we knew from Utah and the departure of Josh McRoberts has hurt. But it’s still early in the season and I’m sure the Hornets will get the turnaround soon. Lance is not the offensive weapon I’ve expected, but he helps with his all-around game. So, give them some time. The Hornets will buzz!

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: The Hornets have played below expectations so far given what they were able to create last season. I must admit, I wasn’t on board with Lance Stephenson being the answer to their offensive problems, I still think his game lacks consistency and he has a propensity to do inefficient things (shooting too many long 2s and whacky contested shots off the dribble). Still, this team won 43 games last season, owned a top-5 defense, committed the fewest turnovers, and on paper, improved in the offseason. Plus we were expecting the overall upward curve of Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. It might sound simple but I can’t see this team creating an efficient offense given the way the roster stands currently. A whopping six players are shooting below 40 percent and they’re all guards who were supposed to propel them. They need shooters!

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: The Pistons! I expected more of them. They have a great front-line (Monroe, Drummond, Smith) and all the pieces of the puzzle to find their way to the postseason. But they are playing terrible on the road and have won only 3 out of 11 games. Not the best start for a team that regrouped this summer and tried to turn a brand new page.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: To be honest, beyond the Bulls and the Cavs, there are no Eastern Conference teams that I had expected to be elite anyways, just ‘good’ in relative to other Eastern squads. With that said, I was expecting better things from Charlotte. The Hornets have started 5-7 – bottom of their division — and if you take away a couple of game-winning shots, they’d be 3-7 right now. I was expecting that the core of Kemba, Lance, MKG, Big Al would be able to help this team take a small step forwards, but some early teething troubles have them taking a step back. It will take some ironing out in the backcourt power-struggle between Kemba Walker and Lance Stephenson to get the wheels rolling.

XiBin Yang, NBA.com/China: The Brooklyn Nets, no doubt about it.They hired a new coach, and the comeback of Brook Lopez is a big help, but they need some time to come together. Obviously, what made them lose in past games is the poor defense (107.5 at DRtg). When Brook steps into the paint, opponents just shoot a sky high percentage in the field (52.6% when he’s on the court). However, their roster is still loaded, and I think coach Hollins,who is good at coaching big man, will figure out how to play defense when their most dominating big man is on the floor. Maybe they could make a run after the All-Star weekend.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: The obvious answer would be the Knicks, but I thought they were not a playoff team, so I’m going to say the Hornets. I thought they could be up there with the Raptors and the Wizards, battling for the third spot in the Conference behind Cleveland and Chicago. But Lance Stephenson is not even near to the All-Star player he was last year with the Pacers. And the Hornets are struggling, with a 4-7 record, a defense that allows more than 100 ppg and a team still looking for its identity.

For more debates, go to #AmexNBA

Blogtable: Revisiting the Sixers’ plan

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


BLOGTABLE: Stumbling in the East | Revisiting the Sixers’ plan | Early season eye-opener


Philadelphia's Michael Carter-Williams and coach Brett Brown. (Glenn James/NBAE)

Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams and coach Brett Brown. (Glenn James/NBAE)

> You knew they would be bad, but this? Are you still on board with the Sixers’ grand rebuilding plan? What would you do as GM?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: On board? ON BOARD? I’ve felt this sink-and-stay-on-the-bottom strategy was an abomination from the get-go. And if I were the Sixers’ GM, I’d plead temporary insanity and throw myself on the mercy of the court, i.e, Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham, Allen Iverson and all the other Philadelphia greats. This has to be aggravating to those guys, to see the once-great Sixers brand dragged through the NBA mud, all to chase teen-aged help. I didn’t want to see the league’s owners change the lottery system – the worst teams should get the best help in the draft – but in Philadelphia’s case I was ready to make an exception. And frankly, I expected better, as far as an outraged reaction, from the allegedly brassy Philly fans. If they’ve gone soft, all sports hope is lost.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Of course, we knew they would be this bad. They simply don’t have many NBA players. If you were on board last year — and I was — you have to be on board this year. It would be like trying to change your mind after you leapt off the diving board. All Sam Hinkie can do is keep his seat belt fastened and hope that next season he’s putting out a lineup that includes a healthy Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. One area of concern is Michael Carter-Williams. He’s putting out signs that another full season of beat-downs could break him.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comI was not on board in the first place. Looking long term is one thing, but the 76ers are doing a disservice to their fans and anyone else paying to see the product. It’s not just the lack of warm bodies. The Sixers who are healthy and in the United States too often look lost on the court, making them a mess beyond the obvious mess. What would I do as GM? I dangle Dario Saric. If the offers are not good, fine. But that’s the kind of move that could land a decent package, and I’d still have Joel Embiid coming next season plus someone else from high in the lottery.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comSorry to all the traditionalists out there, but I support what Sam Hinkie is doing. He’s trying to sift through as many players as possible to see who stays and who goes. Yes, the downside is the potential for embarrassing nights when the Sixers are barely competitive, and a few wasted seasons. But remember, next summer they’ll have a more experienced Nerlens Noel, a healthy Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, a high pick from the next draft and gobs of cap space. Basically, he’ll have assets to keep or trade and I suspect the turnaround for the Sixers will be steady if not drastic (how could it not be?).

John Schuhmann, NBA.comNothing that’s happened in their first 10 games was unexpected, and I still like the long-term potential of Michael Carter-Williams, Joel Embiid, K.J. McDaniels, Nerlens Noel and Dario Saric. That’s a lot more young talent than some other bad teams have. But I do wonder about morale in that locker room when you’ve been put in a position to fail so miserably, when there are new guys coming in almost every week, and when some of your teammates could be swapped for a second-round pick at any point.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: For a second there I thought you were asking about the Los Angeles Lakers. The Sixers are playing down to the lowly expectations I had for them this season, and then some. I knew they would play some cover-your-eyes basketball this season but they’ve gone above and beyond being awful. I’ve never been “on board” with the scorched earth plan that is underway in Philly. I don’t believe in a process that demands you tear your program down to the ground in order to build it back up. If I were the GM … I’d throw out whatever blueprint we’ve been working with and come up with something new, and fast.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comI would not give up. Now is not the time for surrender. If it is possible to acquire a player for the long term then do so, of course; but you should not give up now that the reality is worse than you may have imagined it would be. So far you have an encouraging rookie-of-the-year point guard in Michael Carter-Williams, a potential dominator in Joel Embiid, and two more promising big men in a league that is starved for size. Get through this year, somehow, and then pounce.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Do they actually have a GM? I feel like this is what happens in franchise mode in NBA2K when someone gets a little too aggressive with the settings in an effort to have less competition from the CPU-controlled teams. When the Sixers traded for Marquis Teague and then waived him, I knew this kind of result was on the table. And look, we all knew the Sixers were trying to be not good, but right now they aren’t even competitive, which is a whole other thing.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: You cannot be on board with any team that has an 0-10 next to its logo. Things are not good for the Sixers. They are lousy on offense (worst in the league) and horrible on defense (third from the bottom), so nobody can be optimistic. Perhaps if Carter-Williams gets more games under his belt (has come from the bench in three matches because of injury) he will make a solid duo with Tony Wroten and help the city of brotherly love win a few. What would I do if was a GM? I would try to be patient and built around Carter-Williams, adding some veteran help next to Noel and in the guard position.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: They’ve a very tough path ahead, but I still think the Sixers are exactly what they wanna be: a disastrous team, looking to rebuild via draft. They just got Michael Carter-Williams back, they’re giving Nerlens Noel time to grow and they’re waiting for the potential star Joel Embiid. There’s no coming back from where they’re right now: their only option now is stick with the plan and hope for the best. They probably have at least a couple of tough seasons ahead, but at least they’ve a plan. And it could work.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: I was never on board with the Sixers’ plans — sure, they have figured out a clear loophole in the system where losing could ultimately get them high draft picks, but in the process, they are bringing a culture of negativity around their young building blocks like Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel, and Joel Embiid. Even if the team has the pieces to start winning in the future, I fear that the bad habits might stick with the franchise and its players long-term. It might be a little too late to change things now, but if I was GM, I would stop trading away important cogs for spare change/picks, fire coach Brett Brown, and rebrand the image of the team as a hard-working unit. The lottery picks might be coming their way anyways: they might as well start learning how to win games, too.

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: I guess you have to stay on board because it’s not even close to being complete. It’s far too early to label the plan unsuccessful because it has only just begun. The measure of success here is clearly not wins and losses, it’s assets acquired and being able to position themselves for top picks. So far, they’ve brought in Nerlens Noel, Michael Carter-Williams, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric and it would be premature to criticize any of those guys. They’ll no doubt bring in more top picks as the next few drafts arrive. If I was GM today I’d continue with the plan. They have the right head coach, they’re slowly building a core of young players and the way to continue building is through the draft.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: There is no alternative. They’re on their way and have to get it done till the end now. They decided to do it this way. It’s a ugly way, but the Sixers’ fans are on their side. So from their point of view everything is OK. They will get another high draft pick and will get the missing shooting guard. Then they get it on with MCW, maybe Saric, Noel and Embiid. Not so bad. But something should be done about tanking. No one should get in the temptation of being bad.

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA.com/Argentina: The known rebuilding plan or the one managers claim to have is novel because no other franchise has ever contemplated rebuilding in this way. And at the same time, it’s questionable because I’m not even sure the public believes it; they’ve removed their support and their average viewership has suffered. If I were the GM, I wouldn’t have a team with an average age of 24. Youth can win games, but championships are won by veterans.

For more debates, go to #AmexNBA

‘Rose sits’ is ‘dog bites man’ of news biz

CHICAGO — Derrick Rose is not going to play for the Chicago Bulls vs. the Indiana Pacers Saturday night at United Center.

Rose will miss his fifth game out of the 10 Chicago will have played by night’s end, and the 159th of the Bulls’ 174 regular-season contests since the start of the 2012-13 season.

So here at Hang Time HQ, we have a proposition for the denizens of this blog in keeping with the truest definition of news, which is to say, that which is unusual: How ’bout we throw headlines at you when Rose does play rather than when he does not?

It might be simpler all around if, for the foreseeable future, everyone’s default position is that Rose will be too dinged up in one extremity or another to perform at the level he expects of himself. Or at a level where he can make a difference in the outcome, even if he’s less than 100 percent. Or without the risk of limping in his post-NBA years, by which time we’ll all be watching games and reading blogs from microchips planted in our corneas.

The details of this one, and why Rose will make the Pacers feel a little less injury-sorry for themselves, is that the mild hamstring strain the Bulls point guard suffered late Thursday’s victory at Toronto had not responded completely to treatment. Kirk Hinrich is slated to start in Rose’s spot, while the oft-hobbled and much-scrutinized 2011 MVP remains listed as day-to-day. Sidelined for four previous games by sprains in both ankles, Rose has been limited to cardio work on a treadmill and stationary bike the past two days.

“He needs a little time,” coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters after the team’s morning shootaround. “He said he’s feeling a lot better today, doing more. So we’re just going to work our way through it.”

Morning shootaround — Nov. 15


VIDEO: Highlights from Friday’s NBA action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer had more:

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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