Posts Tagged ‘Steve Aschburner’

Rockets turn to players-only meeting, await results as schedule turns

VIDEO: James Harden talks after the Rockets’ practice Tuesday

Sometimes the best thing that can come out of a players-only meeting is a newfound appreciation for the team’s schedule.

That’s not to say that the Houston Rockets haven’t been in need of something – anything – to address their turnovers, squandered leads, lethargy and two longer-than-any-last-season losing streaks of three and four games. But players-only meetings often reek of both desperation and window-dressing, with as much potential to make things worse if the wrong people say the wrong things as to make anything better.

Here’s one tangible reason that the Rockets’ closed-door session before practice Tuesday might actually pay off: their schedule gets friendlier. Houston hasn’t exactly run a gauntlet through its first 11 games — no Cleveland, no San Antonio, no Atlanta — but it did face six opponents who currently are over .500. The cumulative record of its foes so far is 61-52 (.540) and even if you factor out the results of their games against the Rockets, it dips only to 54-48 (.529).

In their next 10 games, beginning at home Wednesday against Portland, the Rockets will tackle teams with a combined 43-58 (.387) mark, counting the Grizzlies and the Knicks twice each. Four of those games will be on the road, with three sets of back-to-backs in the 10.

Still, it’s possible that clearing the air or cleaning up some miscommunication could benefit Houston on the court. It’s even possible that James Harden, Dwight Howard and the rest get a placebo effect – if they believe the meeting was helpful, they might actually play in a way that reinforces that.

And if neither of the above apply? Well, there will be plenty of time to hand-wring over that. For now, here is some of Calvin Watkinsreport for

“What happens in the room, stays in the room,” center Dwight Howard said following practice. “It was good for us to sit down and talk but it’s a long season and you can’t get caught up in losing a couple of games and getting upset and so frustrated and feel like it’s the end of the world. It is embarrassing. We hate to lose but at the same time we have a long season and we can’t think negative when we lose. We have to try and find the positive in any situation. You keep thinking negative, then negative things will continue to happen to you. You got to stay positive and fight through it. All this stuff will build our character.”

After the Rockets opened the season 0-3, they went on a four-game winning streak, which included consecutive road wins over the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Clippers.

But the Rockets have lost their last four games and failed to reach 100 points in each. Houston is averaging 20 fewer points in their losses.

Whether or not the meeting will result in ending the losing streak is uncertain. The Rockets need their best player, James Harden, to pick up the scoring load. Harden has seen his scoring average drop from 38.5 points per game in victories to 20.9 in losses. In wins he shoots 46.4 percent from the field but that dips to 30.2 percent in losses.

“It was a good talk for us,” Harden said. “We hadn’t had an opportunity to communicate like that since the season had been going. It was good for us to communicate and each guy basically said what their role was and every single night they’re going to contribute to that role. After the talk we had a really good practice, guys communicated we worked hard and now it’s about carrying it over. It’s about doing it on the floor.”

Jonathan Feigen, longtime Rockets beat writer for the Houston Chronicle, tweeted out guard Ty Lawson‘s take on the meeting:

Blogtable: Take your pick — Anthony Davis or Andre Drummond?

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: Advice for the Lakers? | Anthony Davis or Andre Drummond? | Early-season surprise?

VIDEOTake a closer look at Andre Drummond’s hot start to 2015-16

> My initials are A.D. I stand about 6-foot-11, I’m 22-years old and I’m the best big in the NBA. Am I Detroit Pistons big man Andre Drummond or New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Ooh, you’re tricky, Blogfather. But it’s Anthony Davis. His offensive game is much more diversified than Drummond’s, though Drummond is getting better with every minute, I grant you. I need more than a few admittedly great games from the other AD before I overthrow The Brow as the best young big in the L.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comSome might say you’re a bad speller because the best big man in the NBA has the initials D.C. (DeMarcus Cousins) or soon maybe KAT (Karl-Anthony Towns). But for the purposes of this question, I’ll go with Davis. Love Drummond as a paint dominator and his 20-20 games for Detroit definitely are welcome throwbacks in a “strettttch” era. But New Orleans’ cornerstone guy is more versatile, more mobile and more refined as a defender. I’m not wild about having him hoist 3-pointers – as an opponent I’d welcome that compared to other damage Davis could do – but he’s more of a moving target in terms of game-planning to cope with him.

Fran Blinebury, Not to dismiss the strong start to the season by Andre Drummond, but Anthony Davis has more skills at more places all over the court. He’s still the pick as the one player to build a team around.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Anthony Davis. While the start for Andre Drummond has been swimming in positives, Davis is still the better two-way threat. Drummond has the chance to become the best interior presence in the game and Davis the biggest presence, period. If anyone wants to get off the Davis bandwagon after a couple weeks of the season, I’ll take the extra seats.

Shaun Powell, Right now? Andre Drummond, if only because he’s doing a Wilt Chamberlain on the league. This is the Drummond we thought we’d see once the Pistons waived Josh Smith last season and let Greg Monroe go in free agency. That doesn’t mean Anthony Davis isn’t more valuable (he is) or won’t eventually put his name in the Kia MVP discussion (he will). But for now, give Drummond his due.

John Schuhmann, Anthony Davis, because you’re more skilled. Both guys are big and bouncy, with the ability to run the floor, catch and finish, and protect the rim. Drummond is a monster on the glass and has a burgeoning post game, but Davis can step out and make a jumper, which is the most important skill in this league. Coach Stan Van Gundy has done a nice job of building around Drummond, but Davis’ versatility makes that job a little easier.

Sekou Smith, You are Anthony Davis. Yes, you’ve had a rough start to this season and your New Orleans Pelicans just got their first win of the season last night in the Alvin Gentry era. But you don’t have to worry about being tossed of your big man throne after two outlandish weeks from that other AD, who has been nothing short of magnificent for the Pistons. Anytime you find yourself in the same category basketball-wise as Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, you’re doing something serious. There might not be as much distance between the two of you in the coming years, but right now Davis still has more to his game than Andre Drummond.

Ian Thomsen, You are Anthony Davis. I opt for you because of your versatility and the current style of NBA play, which is built to bring out the best in you. Drummond, exceptional as he is, is playing against the current and cannot make his free throws. Davis can cover more of the court and will not face matchup problems when opponents go small. In spite of the Pelicans’ inexplicable start, Davis is the guy.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: I’m sorry, how are the initials “A.D.” short for DeMarcus Cousins? Because Cousins is the best young big man in the NBA right now. OK, he’s 25, not 22, but even in the midst of the perpetually in flux situation in Sacramento, Cousins has been a double-double machine. Davis has had plenty of plaudits this summer, though if anything those were based on what we think Davis will become, not what he is right now. And Drummond is playing incredible basketball right now, for sure, but I’d like to see him sustain it more than seven games.

Blogtable: Early-season surprises?

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: Advice for the Lakers? | Anthony Davis or Andre Drummond? | Early-season surprise?

VIDEOHow good can the Timberwolves be in 2015-16?

> We’re two weeks into the new season. What didn’t you foresee in this opening stretch that you maybe should have?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Completely whiffed on Detroit. I thought the Pistons would only be marginally better, but they seemed to have skipped a whole level of improvement. Someone asked me if I thought they’d be top four in the east and I told them they were crazy. Still think I’m right. I think. Andre Drummond‘s numbers are insane but it’s Reggie Jackson that has been the biggest revelation to me so far.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comOpening the season by playing six of your first eight games on the road – including a five-game West Coast trip – is a sure way to sputter, yet I still assumed the best about the Memphis Grizzlies. I’ve enjoyed watching that old-school crew for years now and have gotten comfortable with their status as contenders-on-the-verge-of-breakthrough. But their coach, Dave Joerger, was right when he said last week the Grizzlies were looking a little old. This team didn’t sufficiently address its shooting need in the offseason and now, in this pace-and-space NBA, points are really hard to come by for Memphis. So, frankly, is court coverage based on opponents’ 3-point percentage thus far (40.4). Mario Chalmers as the cure? Not feeling that.

Fran Blinebury, I’ll admit that I didn’t expect Steph Curry and the Warriors come back this season and take their game to an even higher level. After all, they won 67 games en route to the championship and seemed to be at the peak of performance in closing out the Cavs in The Finals. Maybe it is the confidence that comes from having done it. Maybe they’re spurred on a perceived lack of respect and the few folks who picked them to go back-to-back. Maybe they got tired of the summertime talk about the Spurs, Thunder and Clippers in the West. But the reigning Kia MVP Curry has been off-the-charts and the entire Golden State team over-the-moon amazing and could be a real threat to win 70. On the downside, there’s the Pelicans. But nobody saw all the injuries coming.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Deeee-troit basketball. I liked the Pistons a little before the season, figuring they were good enough to be in the playoff conversation but picking them 10th in the East. I thought Andre Drummond would be an All-Star candidate. I did not see this opening statement coming, though. They have been winning on the road, winning on the second night of back-to-backs and winning overtime games, all while continuing the search for shooting. Let’s see where they are at the end of the month, after the current six-game trip ends Sunday and a another series of tests follow, mostly at home. If it’s December and the Pistons are still heading in a good direction, this could be a season of statements.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comThe wise guy response: The Kings haven’t imploded yet? What’s taking them so long? But seriously, the Warriors blowing teams away is something that could’ve been anticipated. Remember, not only did they win the title last season, but did so with players largely on the upside. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green haven’t reached their potential and Curry is the MVP. I’d also give a shout-out to the Pistons’ fast start.

John Schuhmann, That the Minnesota Timberwolves would be able to compete with (and beat) some of the best teams in the league. Ricky Rubio still isn’t a 3-point shooter, and that’s an issue. But I forgot how much of an impact he has on his team’s numbers, especially defensively and especially with Zach LaVine being the only remaining option at point guard when Rubio was hurt last season. I assumed the Wolves would be at the bottom of the Western Conference with the Lakers, but this team should stay in the middle of the pack. I don’t mind saying that I’m surprised by how good Karl-Anthony Towns is already, but I feel dumb not knowing how much of a difference that a healthy Rubio would make.

Sekou Smith, These young Minnesota Timberwolves came out of nowhere for me. Much like their Eastern Conference counterparts in Detroit, the Timberwolves have piled up an intriguing collection of talented youngsters who appear ready for prime time sooner than expected. Andrew Wiggins looks like he’s ready for a breakout season and Karl-Anthony Towns is absorbing every bit of the wisdom Kevin Garnett and coach Sam Mitchell have to offer. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise, though, has been the play and steady guidance of Ricky Rubio. A 4-0 road record so far for a team that won seven road games last season is another positive. And these guys are playing with a spirit that will serve them will this season and beyond.

Ian Thomsen, I should have known that Detroit would be stronger. There have been a lot of early surprises — for better in Minnesota, Utah and Portland, and for worse in New Orleans and Memphis — which might not hold up over the length of the season. But Detroit is going to be respectable all year long because coach Stan Van Gundy is a proven winner who will get the best out of Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson and their teammates. He has created a floor-spreading system that has served him well before.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: I didn’t think the Atlanta Hawks would be better than they were last season. And after watching them early on, I think the Atlanta Hawks are better than they were last season. Sure, they lost DeMarre Carroll and Pero Antic, and they may not win 60 games again, but this Hawks team is deeper, more versatile, and I think altogether more talented than last year’s team. Part of that is the emergence of Kent Bazemore, who is a capable defender and skilled offensive player, as well as the acquisition of Tiago Splitter, who still doesn’t seem totally in sync with the team but gives the Hawks needed size and bulk. The rest of the Eastern Conference may have improved, but for a team that so highly values player development, I’m not sure why we didn’t suspect that these Hawks would return with sharpened talons, too.

Blogtable: Advice for the Lakers?

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: Advice for the Lakers? | Anthony Davis or Andre Drummond? | Early-season surprise?

VIDEOIs Kobe Bryant holding back the Lakers?

> The Lakers are struggling. Is there a roster move, a lineup change or something else this team can do to salvage the season? Or should Lakers faithful just accept another lost campaign?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: No magic bullets. This is rebuilding. But they can’t have one foot in and one foot out. They have to commit fully to it, and that has to come from the top — the very top — of the organization. If Jim and/or Jeanie Buss tells coach Byron Scott he has to start playing the young guys more down the stretch, he’ll play the young guys. But they can’t leave it up to him if that’s what they want. EVERY coach is going to try and win the game they’re playing that night, because that’s how they’re judged.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comHow long were things rough in Cleveland after LeBron James left? Four seasons, until James came back. What did the Cavaliers do in the interim? They twice drafted No. 1 overall (Kyrie Irving, Anthony Bennett) and folded in a pair of No. 4 picks as well (Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters). Then they did their feeble best to build around that. The Lakers haven’t suffered nearly as long or as much – it only seems like it because of their storied tradition and lofty expectations – since the Kobe BryantDwight HowardSteve Nash thing flopped in 2012-13. They’ve only had a No. 2 (D’Angelo Russell, just getting going) and a No. 7 (Julius Randle, who promptly got hurt) to work with, as high draft help. And Kobe sort of left without leaving, further limiting payroll and playing options. The Lakers’ best course would be to take their lumps again, make this all about Bryant’s farewell and focus on the money they’ll have to spend in the next two summers.

Fran Blinebury, It’s over. It’s been over since Kobe’s body began to break down, the Lakers signed him to the “thanks for the memories” contract that devoured the salary cap and Pau Gasol left. Those things happened more than a year ago. This is just reality.

Scott Howard-Cooper, I wouldn’t call it a lost campaign as long as there is valuable progress. That means developing the prospects, especially Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson. The losses are going to happen no matter what. But if they come because of inexperience and benefit the future, the organization and fans will be able to find positives. If they come while coach Byron Scott places a priority on winning now and leans heavier on the veterans, then it tips toward a lost season. That could deliver a few extra victories, but not enough to make a difference. As for a potential roster move: there is none, or at least none that will make a big difference. Two names bring real returns, and Randle and Russell are the future, not the trade bait.

Shaun Powell, This season was predetermined when the Lakers kept their No. 1 pick and refused to surround Kobe Bryant with win-now talent. The message was: We’ll use this season to say good-bye to Kobe and hello to D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle. No sense crying about that, and no sense trying to suddenly change the plan after a few weeks of the season. Their fans understand. Everyone understands.

John Schuhmann, It’s a lost season in regard to competing for a top-10 spot in the Western Conference. It can be a productive season in regard to player development, but is Byron Scott the right coach for that? He says he cares more about winning games than developing the trio of Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell. Heck, is Scott the right coach for winning games? If the Lakers have any chance of being competitive, they need to play defense. His teams have finished in the bottom five in defensive efficiency each of the last four full seasons he’s coached and this one currently ranks 29th.

Sekou Smith, It would take roster moves, lineup changes and small miracles for the Lakers to change the trajectory of this season. It’s time to look to the future and the continued development of the young talent on the roster. Let’s be honest. Things look bleak right now in Lakerland. And it’s all self-induced. The Lakers have made a series of mistakes that have led to this dark time when Kobe Bryant should be going out in a blaze of glory instead of fading into the shadows. What looked like a quick-fix super team of Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash went up in smoke and the Lakers have yet to recover. They need to ride this season out and see where life takes them at season’s end.

Ian Thomsen, This season is about Kobe Bryant‘s potential farewell and the development of Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. Then there is also the goal — the only other reward appropriate to their suffering — of “earning” a Top 3 selection in the lottery and thereby prevent their protected first-round pick from being forwarded to Philadelphia. Since the Lakers are going to be bad anyway, they should aim to be very bad.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: Oh, there’s a roster move they could make that might make their team better in the short-term, but would almost assuredly improve them in the long-term. It’s also a trade that would make a lot of Lakers fans revolt, but it should at least be discussed: The Lakers should trade Kobe Bryant. Kobe might be playing down his value right now, but he’s the one player with worth that goes beyond the basketball court. The Lakers still have two first-round picks outstanding, and Kobe might help re-fill those selections. Let the young guys play, and embrace the rebuilding right now which needs to happen sooner or later.

Kobe would participate in 2016 Olympics

VIDEO: Will this be Kobe Bryant’s final year in the league?

Back in January 2014, Kobe Bryant said he had no interest in participating in the 2016 Olympics, teasing that he might head to Rio de Janeiro as a spectator to see then-teammate “Pau [Gasol] win another silver medal.”

Fast-forward 22 months, though, and Bryant’s tune has changed. Reflecting perhaps a newfound sense of basketball mortality, the Los Angeles Lakers star told the Associated Press in Miami Monday that he very much would welcome a roster spot on Team USA. It would, in theory, give Bryant a chance to end his playing career on a high note that, after five NBA championships and two previous Olympic gold medals, he isn’t likely to get with the Lakers anymore.

The idea of Bryant adding Rio to his Olympic tours in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012 was revived over the summer in a conversation he had with Jerry Colangelo, the chairman of USA Basketball. Bryant, so limited the past couple seasons by injuries, was given a pass from Team USA’s Las Vegas mini-camp in August.

Still, Colangelo indicated he would keep a spot warm for Bryant and told reporters: “He also mentioned to me in a private conversation that if he had his druthers, he would love to ride off into the sunset playing one more time and winning the gold medal. And that would be the end. But he was very quick to say, ‘But I don’t want a spot. I need to earn the spot. I need to be capable of playing at that level to be considered.’ And I said, ‘You got that. That’s always there for you, Kobe.’ ”

The idea of Kobe getting not just a gold watch on his way out the door but a gold medal with a heavily favored Team USA generated strong opinions, pro and con, in August. But seeing and listening to Bryant in the early days of a 2015-16 NBA season that might wind up being his last may have softened some of the critics. Based on his comments about joining the league’s other stars for a final go-around, it sounds like this all has softened him as well:

”It would mean the world to me to be around those guys,” Bryant said in an interview with The Associated Press. ”I think to be able to have a chance to continue the relationship that I already have with most of those guys, talking and just kind of being around each other and understanding that this is it, it’s just us being together, that would be fun.”

Bryant is in his 20th season with the Lakers, and questions have been rampant for some time whether this NBA year will be his last. Bryant has suggested that he’s leaning in that direction, though has stopped short of making a true retirement announcement.

The 12 players on the list for Rio is expected to be revealed in June.

”How I feel now is that I feel like I can add value from a leadership perspective and a defensive perspective,” Bryant said. ”I can still move extremely well defensively.”

Bryant will turn 38 two days after the gold-medal game in Rio. He has been on five different USA Basketball national teams, with those teams combining to go 36-0 in international competition. If he is picked for Rio, he and other veterans like LeBron James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony would have a chance at becoming the first U.S. men to win Olympic basketball gold three times.

”I would like to play,” Bryant said. ”I think it’d be awesome. A beautiful experience. I’m a global kid. I grew up in Italy, I know a lot of athletes from different parts of the world, from different sports. It’d be great to play in that environment.”

Report: Kings’ Collison out indefinitely

VIDEO: Warriors knock off Kings in Sacramento

Just when it looked as if the Sacramento Kings were getting healthier, what with big man DeMarcus Cousins‘ expected to return from a sore Achilles tendon Monday night, things headed the other way for guard Darren Collison. The veteran guard’s left hamstring strain might require more time, according to

… Collison missed Saturday night’s game with a left hamstring injury. From his courtside seat, he informed that the injury required an MRI and the results were “not good.”

Collison confirmed that he would be out several days at minimum while the team’s medical staff waits to see how his body responds to treatment.

The 28-year-old guard is averaging 15.8 points and 5.2 assists in 30.7 minutes a night. George Karl has praised Collison’s versatility throughout training camp and into the regular season, and even used him in the starting lineup against the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 8

VIDEO: The Fastbreak: Saturday, Nov. 7


No call means no Clippers’ comeback | George eager to challenge James | Timberwolves throw OT shutout at Bulls | No holdout hangover for Cavs’ Thompson

No. 1: No call means no Clippers’ comeback — We’re not going to take seriously that old saying about a picture being worth a thousand words. If we did, this Morning Shootaround would wind up unacceptably short and fail to provide the minimum daily nutrients for hungry NBA fans. Still, if you sought out one thing to capture what happened to the Clippers in their game against Houston at Staples Center Saturday night, this shot of L.A coach Doc Rivers would pretty much cover it:

The trigger for that anguished, incredulous look was Dwight Howard‘s defense of the rim in the final half minute that wasn’t ruled a goaltending. Blake Griffin missed a layup and a tip-in, either of which would have tied the game at 107-107, but his tip never fully got a chance when Howard batted at the ball to send it across the rim and eventually squirting out of bounds. A review of the possession – reviewing Howard’s maneuver isn’t permitted per NBA rules – determined it was Rockets’ ball and Ty Lawson‘s free throws sealed it for Houston. There were other factors in the outcome, certainly – Chris Paul (groin) did not play for the Clippers, while Patrick Beverley (concussion), Terrence Jones (eye) and Donatas Motiejunas (back) were out for Houston – and James Harden‘s 46 points had a little something to do with it. Still, as reported by the L.A. Times’ Ben Bolch:

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said the play involving Howard should have been called goaltending.

“I just thought it was a very clear one to call, but that’s not why we lost the game,” Rivers said. “I didn’t think we played very well and I didn’t think we had a great sense of urgency.”

And the Associated Press chipped in:

Paul, dressed in street clothes, came on the court during a timeout to make a case with one of the referees.

“That’s textbook goaltending,” Griffin said


No. 2: George eager to challenge James — When Paul George and LeBron James clash Sunday afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) in one of the day’s two matinee games, it will be more than just a meeting of two guys with first-name-worthy surnames. It will be George’s first time on the court in opposition to James in more than 17 months. And if it doesn’t yet rekindle the same rivalry that existed between the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat during James’ time in South Florida, facing the Cavaliers star in his second tour with Cleveland still packs significance for the Pacers’ young cornerstone guy. George’s eagerness for the matchup was reported by the Indianapolis Star:

The NBA’s landscape, for years, has shifted on James’ play, his dominance and his free-agent decisions. Now back with the Cleveland Cavaliers, James has built his hometown team into the clear favorite to advance through the Eastern Conference and return to the NBA Finals.

George, after missing almost the entire season last year, is eager to once again face James.
“I’m excited. I’m very excited,” he said after a brief practice Saturday. “I’m one of LeBron’s biggest supporters. I look up to him, and he’s always been great to me. It’ll be exciting to have that matchup again. I’m one person in this league that really enjoys big matchups and enjoys competition.”

Their last meeting was Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. James wore a Miami Heat uniform, and the Pacers were anchored by Roy Hibbert and David West. George scored a game-high 29 points. James finished with 25 and led the Heat to a 117-92 win that clinched their spot in the NBA Finals.

Two months later, James returned to Cleveland. A month later, George suffered an open fracture of the tibia and fibula bones in his lower right leg during an intrasquad scrimmage of the USA Men’s Basketball team.

This season, James and Kevin Love have led the Cavaliers to a five-game winning streak entering Sunday’s game. George, after struggling to score in the Pacers’ 0-3 start, has found his rhythm and has led the team to three consecutive wins.

George said the Cavaliers are the ideal opponent for the Pacers to gauge themselves against this early in the season.

“That’s exactly what it’ll be,” he said. “Just finding our way, seeing where we’re at, where we compete, where we match up against the team that went to the championship last year. That’s where this team is wanting to go late in this year, so to be the best, you have to beat the best.”


No. 3: Timberwolves throw OT shutout at Bulls — It’s still early enough in the season to attribute the Chicago Bulls’ offensive inconsistency to the new style they’re playing under a new coaching staff headed by Fred Hoiberg. Nonetheless, when a team is celebrating its 50th season as an NBA franchise and manages to do something it never had done before in all that time, it is worth noting: the Bulls went scoreless in the extra five-minute overtime period in losing at home Saturday night to the visiting, and apparently underestimated, Minnesota Timberwolves. Chicago was outscored 9-0 in OT while suffering through a 1-for-20 shooting freeze that began midway through the fourth quarter. Mike McGraw of the suburban Daily Herald provided details of what bore little resemblance to the Bulls’ spirited victory Thursday over OKC:

“I just don’t understand it, how you can play with as much energy as we did two nights ago and then just to expect to show up, I guess, and win the game,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I don’t know. It’s tough to even fathom how that can happen.

“You get 82 opportunities to put your uniform and go out and get up for the game, play for your teammates and do everything you can to win. We didn’t do that tonight.”

Hoiberg is a first-year coach, but basing effort on the quality of the opponent has been a Bulls problem for a few years. Last season especially the Bulls made a habit of losing to subpar teams at home. Maybe Minnesota will end up having a good season, but for now this counts as a bad loss.

Derrick Rose did most of the fourth-quarter scoring against Oklahoma City. He didn’t score at all down the stretch against Minnesota, finishing with 11 points on 3-of-13 shooting.

“It’s all about effort. We’ll get tired of getting our butt whupped one day,” Rose said. “It’s all about just bringing out that championship-caliber effort every night. We’ve got to stay more consistent. We have to stay together while we’re out there.”

Rose wasn’t the only one who struggled. Jimmy Butler went 4-for-15 from the field. Nikola Mirotic was 1-for-8. Pau Gasol led the Bulls with 21 points and 14 rebounds.

Gasol, who won two championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, had some pointed words in the locker room.

“There are certain things you have to bring every night in the NBA in order to win games, and we didn’t bring that tonight,” Gasol said. “We allowed them to hang around all game long and at the end we paid the price.

“We’ve got to make up our minds on what we want to do going forward, what kind of team we want to be. Do we want to be an up-and-down team and a team that does OK but doesn’t really have a chance to win a title?

“So far, that’s what we’re showing.”


No. 4: Bucks reach back to own the future — Some NBA teams drip with history. Others have to grab it where they can. The Celtics and the Lakers never are going to lack for impressive alumni clubs and legacies that date back 50 and 60 years ago to some of the league’s most revered names and moments. Then there are the Milwaukee Bucks, who have known some really good times with the likes of Don Nelson, Sidney Moncrief and Ray Allen, but only one stretch of greatness. That run included the franchise’s only NBA title in 1971 and another trip to The Finals in 1974, and it was all made possible by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson. The two Hall of Famers were in Milwaukee Saturday as part of new Bucks ownership’s ongoing, multi-faceted push to revive the NBA market. Gary D’Amato of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was there:

The Big O might be a few pounds over his playing weight and the Big Fella is looking a bit fragile physically after battling heart problems and leukemia, but if you squinted hard enough it was 1971 again and the Bucks were running roughshod over the NBA en route to a 66-16 record and the franchise’s only championship.

“Milwaukee was a great NBA town when I played here,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “We won the title once and vied for it a couple other years. People didn’t like coming here to play. They got whipped, pretty much.”

Can Milwaukee be that town again?

You wouldn’t have bet on it a few years ago, but unless we’re being sold a slickly marketed bill of goods — and that certainly doesn’t appear to be the case — it almost seems inevitable.

The franchise has been infused with energy, and even though the team hasn’t won a thing yet there’s an unmistakable swagger that starts at the top and permeates the organization. On opening night, co-owner Wes Edens introduced the Bucks as the “2016 champions” — a joke, perhaps, but one with a serious undertone of “Just watch us.”

“In talking with the new ownership, I’m really impressed with their vision and the fact that they’re looking to go all the way to the top,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “That’s their focus. They’re not going to wait for it to happen. They’re going to be proactive about it.”

The vibe seems to be catching on in a city that had been largely apathetic about its NBA franchise for far too long. Even Mayor Tom Barrett was emboldened at the tailgate party, shouting into a microphone, “The Bucks are back! The Bucks are back! Milwaukee is back!”

Of course, the most important piece of the puzzle is putting a good product on the court. Time will tell, but even Abdul-Jabbar thinks the Bucks are close to being a contender.

“I’ve seen them play a couple times this season,” he said. “I think they’ve got good players. They may be one or two players away from winning it all.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Coach Byron Scott said the Lakers, when evaluating Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis prior to the Draft, felt it would take the lanky young man a while to develop. Turns out the Lakers got that wrong. … Sometimes the most telling column on a score sheet is a fellow’s minutes played. Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker logged 24 Saturday, just 24 hours after playing 17 Friday, and that quick turnaround meant something in the Bucks forward’s recovery from ACL surgery. … Meanwhile, Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll might have to yield to the plantar fasciitis foot pain that has hobbled him lately. … And if we’re talking foot pain, it’s a good bet we’re talking Brooklyn center Brook Lopez at some point. The Nets big man with the history of right-foot issues had one again that forced him off the floor Saturday. Nothing broken, it turns out, but his status still is to be determined. … Deron Williams and the Dallas Mavericks got some positive reinforcement in beating New Orleans that they hope nudges the former All-Star point guard to bigger, more satisfying performances. … It might not seem fair to focus the burden of a team’s luxury-tax liability on the last player or two on a roster, but that’s how it goes for the players whose salaries aren’t guaranteed. Consider Jared Cunningham, whose $980,00 contract could end up costing the Cavaliers about $5 million by the time it and the taxes it triggers are lumped onto Cleveland’s massive payroll. …

Globe’s revised ’50’ maybe not so nifty

Dave Bing and Billy Cunningham may not mind at all. Bill Walton, Dave Cowens and James Worthy stay pretty busy and might not have time to worry about it. A few others – Dave DeBusschere, Pete Maravich, Bill Sharman – are peacefully past the point of fretting.

None of which means the Boston Globe will get no grief from the family, friends and fans of the former NBA players it is hypothetically ousting from the NBA’s well-known 50 Greatest Players list. The Globe, and specifically columnist and longtime NBA writer Gary Washburn, became the latest outlet this weekend to “revisit” the better-than-Hall-of-Fame fraternity put together by the NBA in 1996-97 to celebrate the league’s 50th anniversary.

In updating and accounting for players whose careers continued past or have unspooled entirely since that season, the Globe identified 13 current or more recent greats to add. Which, of course, meant shedding an equal number to maintain that magic number of 50. In addition to the fellows mentioned above, these five were unceremoniously dumped by the Boston newspaper: Sam Jones, Earl Monroe, Willis Reed, Nate Thurmond and Wes Unseld.

That’s a tough purge.

In truth, obviously, there really was nothing magical about 50. It offered a nifty 50-for-50 hook for the exercise, same as the league’s “silver anniversary” announced in 1971 produced a roster of 25 legends. The most logical way to update the list of 50 would be to wait for the next notable anniversary – say, the 75th in 2021-22 – and bump the number of honorees by 25.

That way, even with a few revisions and (ahem) dis-invitations, there would be plenty of room for newbies such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant Kevin Durant, Allen Iverson and Kevin Garnett without requiring a whole squad of Hall of Famers to head to the lifeboats.

Then again, no one attempts a re-visit like this without understanding the consequences, in terms of Web site comments, nasty emails and wholesale second-guessing and even mockery. Washburn and the Globe seemed to anticipate as much in laying out the parameters for what might seem to some to be shameless click-bait but is hard to resist for hardcore NBA fans:

It was not easy. Some Hall of Famers had to be removed to make room for new players. Production in one era had to be compared with production in another. Players who accumulated great individual statistics had to be compared with those who were great winners and had more team success.

In addition, the Globe did what the NBA didn’t do 19 years ago: We ranked the players, 1 to 50, which should prompt even more debate.

This was an even more arduous task.

Where do you rank someone such as George Mikan, the first dominant center? Do you rank one player over another because he won more championships? Where do you place those whose careers were shortened by injury or who decided to retire in their prime?

Hopefully, this exercise will offer an opportunity to appreciate the greats of the past as well as acknowledge the current players who have achieved greatness.

So check it out and feel free to use it as sports bar conversation.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 7

VIDEO: Top 10 plays from Friday’s action


Cousins to return vs. Spurs? | For Kobe, victory lap beats farewell tour | Imagine Celtics’ Stevens with All-Stars | Joerger on the hot seat?

No. 1: Cousins to return vs. Spurs? — The good news for the Sacramento Kings and their fans is that center DeMarcus Cousins, sidelined since suffering a right Achilles tendon strain on Halloween, expects to play Monday night against the San Antonio Spurs. The bad news is, that timetable would mean Cousins will miss the Kings’ meeting Saturday night with Golden State. Sacramento is 0-3 since Cousins went out last weekend and 6-31 in its last 37 games forced to play without him. So this injury update from Yahoo! SportsMarc Spears arrives not a minute too soon:

“I feel good. If it were up to me I would be playing tonight,” Cousins told Yahoo Sports prior to the Rockets game.

Cousins averaged 26.5 points and 12 rebounds the first two games before injuring his right Achilles tendon in 15 minutes of play against the Clippers on Oct. 31. Kings general manager Vlade Divac told Yahoo Sports there was a “50-50 chance” Cousins would play on Monday and said he would return no later than Wednesday against the Detroit Pistons. Cousins shot prior to the Rockets game.

“Our doctors are worrying about Cousins over the long haul,” Divac told Yahoo Sports.


No. 2: For Kobe, victory lap beats farewell tour — He isn’t looking for any Harley-Davidson motorcycles or vintage rocking chairs as lovely parting gifts. The applause from rival teams’ fans is appreciated and a little surprising to him but certainly not expected. Overall, in fact, Kobe Bryant would be fine if folks made a small deal rather than a big deal out of what could be his final NBA season. Were it entirely left up to him, he would settle for toting back to Los Angeles a steamer trunk full of W’s, in the way his Lakers team picked up its first victory of the 2015-16 season at Brooklyn Friday. What could be Bryant’s last weekend in New York as an active NBA player triggered all sorts of interesting stories, including this one from Yahoo! SportsAdrian Wojnarowski:

The long goodbye for Kobe Bryant made it out onto the road on Friday night, the Barclays Center in Brooklyn playing the part of the prelim to a Sunday matinee at Madison Square Garden. Bryant could feel the strength starting to regenerate in his legs here, delivering him a modest improvement over a dreadful Staples Center performance on Tuesday.

As Bryant begins what appears in every way to be his farewell tour, the truth becomes clearer and clearer to him. He isn’t chasing the playoffs, nor a championship. Kobe Bryant is chasing a ghost.

“I get held to much higher standards than most of my peers,” Bryant told Yahoo Sports on his walk out of the Barclays Center. “If I have a bad shooting night, it’s, ‘He’s in the grave. He’s in the coffin.’

Look around the league, and other players have bad shooting nights – and it’s just a bad shooting night.”

But the expectations that they have for me, they’re actually something that I appreciate. Achilles injury. Fractured knee. Torn shoulder. Twentieth year in the league. Thirty-seven years old. All that, and the expectations are that I average 30 points.

“But I appreciate those standards, because it’s something that still pushes me, still drives me.”

He laughs and nods in agreement with himself.

“Let’s see what I can do,” Bryant said.


No. 3: Imagine Celtics’ Stevens with All-Stars — Before USA Basketball announced its wise and proper choice of San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich to take over as coach of Team USA when Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski steps down after the 2016 Olympics, much speculation about Coach K’s replacement included Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens. Stevens’ reputation as a respected and admired sideline strategist, teacher and mentor got polished a little more with Washington forward Jared Dudley‘s comments. Dudley talked up Stevens’ coaching chops to

On top of all that is Stevens’ ability to manage a team, which Dudley said is obvious to players around the league.

“With Stevens to do what he’s done here (in Boston) — I mean, imagine, give this guy a couple of All-Stars, what he could do,” Dudley said. “But that being said, he hasn’t had that. He has good players, young players, hungry. And to be able to, with a young team where guys want to get stats, and sometimes that’s a little more important than winning, buying in, he’s done a great job.”

“Just knowing his Xs and Os, ball movement, giving players chances to play,” Dudley said. “Obviously it’s a lot easier when you don’t have any stars, technically, on this team, but they can play 15 guys on any given night, any given day. His Xs and Os out of timeouts are great.

“They were first half of the season dead in the water. To have a young team compete, come back, make the playoffs, and we saw them improve year by year. So when it comes to the rest of the body, taking days off, knowing when to prepare, put the time in, Xs and Os. Then he’s a young coach on a young team that would be hard to win. He found ways, and that puts him up there.”

Over the summer, Dudley told Grantland’s Zach Lowe he would put Stevens in his “top two or three” coaches to play for. Coaching isn’t the only factor when players decide where to sign, of course, but Dudley estimated it’s about “30 to 40 percent” of the equation.

“Obviously the big thing here is money,” Dudley said. “The big thing is how good the team is, and city and coach go hand in hand. You’ve seen LeBron (James) go back to Cleveland and it was a rookie coach. So obviously it didn’t matter to him to a certain degree. But you saw guys go to Doc Rivers. You saw LaMarcus Aldridge go to Pop (Gregg Popovich). So it does matter. And usually when you have a good coach, more times than not it’s a winning situation. So it makes it a lot easier.”


No. 4: Joerger on the hot seat? — A 1-2 record in their past three games and a 3-3 start to this season through six is not what the Memphis Grizzlies and their followers had in mind. Nor was hearing head coach Dave Joerger comment on how “old” his guys were looking. But with veteran stars who look a little out of place in the new, smaller, long-distance NBA, the Grizzlies aren’t apologizing or protesting too much over the urgency that’s leaked into their season a mere 7.3 percent of the way through their schedule. Beat writer Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal looked not just at Memphis’ record but at the way in which the team has been losing:

[General manager Chris] Wallace, though, sounds confident that what ails the Grizzlies is easily fixable.

“Overall, we’re not playing extremely well on either side of the ball. No one is satisfied with the start,” Wallace said. “But we’re a team that’s faced adversity in the past. It’s a very resilient group that’s proven we can get off the mat and win games. We’re 3-3. We’re not 0-6. Granted, the aesthetics in three losses haven’t been good, but those losses don’t count three times in the standings.”

The Griz have lost by 30 points (against Cleveland), 50 (Golden State) and 19 (Portland). Memphis trailed by 26 late in that road loss at Portland. The Griz have been out-hustled and flat-footed in every defeat. The extended times of disinterest and lack of fight are major concerns.

Players routinely express frustration about a sudden lack of chemistry and execution.

Opponents are shooting better from 3-point range against the Griz (41.5 percent) than the Griz shoot overall from the field (41.4 percent). And Memphis is nowhere near its defensive prowess of the past five seasons. The Griz rank 26th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, allowing 107.9 points per 100 possessions.

In other words, the first six games have made it look as though the Grizzlies’ patented grit-and-grind style is just about in a grave.

A recent article even suggested that Griz coach Dave Joerger is on the hot seat, a candidate to be fired early this season because Memphis has trailed by 20-plus points for 62 minutes over the first six games.

The Griz operated from a 20-point deficit for a total of 88 minutes during the entire 2014-15 season.
Wallace defended his coach.

“When things aren’t going well, there’s always a lot of noise from the outside,” Wallace said. “You can’t let it permeate the air you’re breathing as a team. You just have to keep your head down and do what you’ve done in the past to be successful.

“I don’t see Dave on the hot seat. We’re six games into the season. We’re struggling right now, but Dave’s a proven commodity and he’s got a talented staff.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The flip side of the Lakers’ first victory of the season in Brooklyn was the Nets’ continued slide toward irrelevance. … Chris Bosh is making his own comeback this season but the Miami forward spoke in Indianapolis Friday of Paul George‘s for the Pacers. … An 0-3 start for Indiana has been spun more recently into a 3-0 stretch that has the players and coaches accentuating the positives. … “Old school” Lakers coach Byron Scott and “new age” draft pick D’Angelo Russell may have found their time machine to help close philosophical or personality gaps between them. … theorizes on how life might have been different had the Nets drafted Kobe Bryant 20 years ago. … Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker is said to be in the market for new representation, severing his ties to agent B.J. Armstrong and the Wasserman Media Group. … By the time this season is half over, former Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau probably will have had contact, inside and outside the gym, with most of the coaches and teams of the NBA. And we’ll still likely see dispatches informing us of Thibodeau’s travels and meals with notable league executives. …

Blogtable: Is Clippers-Warriors the best rivalry in the NBA?

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: On Popovich & Kobe’s careers | Clippers-Warriors rivalry | Who will shoot it the most?

VIDEOThe Clippers ousted the Warriors in the 2014 playoffs

> The 4-0 Clippers face the 4-0 Warriors for the first time this season tonight (10:30 ET, ESPN). Is this the NBA’s best rivalry today? And what could happen tonight that would make this rivalry even better?

Steve Aschburner, I can’t think of a better rivalry at the moment, based on the excellence of both teams, the Warriors’ status as the hunted and the Clippers’ offseason upgrades as hunters. There have been sufficient barbs between key members of both teams to spice things up, and the unapologetic glee with which Golden State goes about its dominance is in stark contrast to Los Angeles’ prickly, telling-us-more-than-showing-us sense of superiority. How to make this rivalry even better tonight? Three possible ways, as I see it: An outcome that swings on a controversial play or call, ideally one of those “our bad” gaffes the NBA acknowledges 18 hours too late to matter. Or a blowout in either direction that stokes the losers’ emotions for the Nov. 19 rematch and two more after that. Or a play in which (pick one) Lance Stephenson, Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Paul Pierce or Austin Rivers appears to do harm to Steph Curry — nothing serious, more insult than injury — causing Warriors fans’ title defense to flash before their eyes.

Fran Blinebury, Until these two teams hook up in a truly contentious, hotly competitive playoff series, it’s like a lot of what passes for 21st century culture — loud talk. It’s certainly not Philly-Boston, L.A.-Boston, Chicago-New York, Detroit-Anybody of the old days. Of current day rivalries, I’d probably put it behind Cavs-Bulls. Of course, that could change if Blake Griffin swings down on a rope from the rafters tonight, scoops up Steph Curry and slam dunks through the hoop at the other end of the floor. Or Draymond Green does so much yapping that his wide-open mouth actually takes a bite out of Chris Paul.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Yes. The strange thing, as someone who believes that rivalries are truly made in playoff matchups, is that the Warriors and Clippers had that necessary ingredient, but without the animosity. The emotions then were about the Clippers and Donald Sterling and, in fact, players from a lot of teams and Donald Sterling. The physical play and verbal scrapes between the teams have mostly been in the regular season and the offseason. The only thing that happens tonight that makes the rivalry better is either a great finish, maybe of the overtime variety, or the kind of ugliness the league office doesn’t want to see to make the rivalry better. What really makes the rivalry better is another playoff meeting.

Shaun Powell, Definitely the best rivalry because they see each other multiple times, are loaded with All-Stars and yes, a touch of danger and violence is always a possibility. Mostly, they’re both good and realistically capable of arm-wrestling for the West title. It’s hard to imagine anything making this better, other than a meeting in late May with a trip to The Finals on the line.

John Schuhmann, We don’t have any real rivalries these days, but Clippers-Warriors is definitely the best imitation of one. They’re two of the five best teams in the league, they’re in the same state, they don’t like each other, and they’re not afraid to make that clear, both on the court and off it. It could heat up tonight if the Clippers become the first team to knock off the champs, Blake Griffin dunks on Draymond Green, and Chris Paul puts Stephen Curry on his rear end with a crossover and step-back jumper.

Sekou Smith, Sure it is. Bad blood always makes a great rivalry. And there is more bad blood bubbling between these two teams right now than anywhere else in the league. The Warriors have what the Clippers are hunting and appear to be poised to get another one, based on extremely early reviews. The battles within the battle — Stephen Curry vs. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin vs. Draymond Green, for starters — crank up the drama even more. They’ll take this rivalry to historic levels when they face off again in the playoffs with a chance to play for a championship on the line. What makes this even more fun is the way guys on both sides have embraced the notion of an old fashioned blood feud. They don’t play nice, ever, which gives this a real throwback feel.

Ian Thomsen, It is the best, and maybe the only, rivalry. And it would be ratcheted up further if the visiting Clippers were to play them tight by making early November feel like late May while finding some way to bring Steph Curry to ground after his meteoric start to the season.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: This is the best rivalry in the NBA today, because these are two of the best teams in the NBA, playing in the same division of the league’s best Conference. The rivalry is certainly magnified right now because both teams are playing great. And as good as the Clippers have been — 4-0, and winning each game by 8.5 ppg — the Warriors have been even better. There was a lot of talk last season about how the Warriors had a historically good season, but this they’ve been even better this year — 4-0, averaging 119 ppg, winning by an average of 25 ppg. Thus far, teams haven’t had much luck trying to run with Warriors, so maybe the answer is to try and slow them down. I’m sure at some point, some team will try to get physical with the Warriors. I’ll say this: I know the Clippers aren’t afraid of the Warriors. Of course, that lack of fear is a two-way street when these teams meet.