Posts Tagged ‘Steve Aschburner’

Morning shootaround — Nov. 29


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook’s historic return | Scott rips Lakers’ mental approach | West recalibrates view of Pacers | Stoudemire sick of Knicks’ excuses

No. 1: Westbrook’s historic return — Never before in NBA annals, according to the authorities at the unassailable Elias Sports Bureau, had a player scored so many points with so many assists in so little time. And then Russell Westbrook did it Friday night against New York in what was his comeback from a 14-game injury layoff (broken hand), the sort of contest through which many of his peers might have eased themselves.

Westbrook, Oklahoma City’s irrepressible point guard, scored 32 points with seven rebounds and eight assists in just 24 minutes as the Thunder clobbered the Knicks by 27 points (and led by as many a 37). Going off one night, that gym where OKC plays ought to be renamed the “Westbrook” Energy Arena rather than Chesapeake, because he brought a bundle of heavy voltage. Here is some of the recap from Darnell Mayberry of the Daily Oklahoman:

It started in the pre-game introduction line.

Russell Westbrook raced onto the court so fast you would have thought he was shot out of a cannon. All the energy that he had pent up for the past 14 games exploded from his pores before his name was even announced over the public address system.

That’s when you knew the type of night it would be.

Back in the lineup for the first time since breaking his right hand on a fluke play against the Clippers on Oct. 30, Westbrook wasted no time showing the NBA he was indeed back.

New York was in town on the wrong night.

The Elias folks attached an asterisk to Westbrook’s distinction – no one in the shot clock era had ever gone for 32 points and eight assists in 24 minutes or less, but c’mon, do we really think some old-timer did it without the imperative for his team to shoot in 24 seconds? Here’s more from Mayberry:

He made 12 of 17 shots, three of his four 3-point tries and five of his seven free throw attempts.

He netted a game-high plus-24 in the plus-minus category.

“An area that’s not shown on the stat sheet is his ability to raise the level of his teammates,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “That’s what the great ones do, and that’s what he did tonight. I thought everybody responded when he was on the court. He did a good job of getting guys involved.”

Westbrook was nearly flawless in his first shot at it in four weeks. And it was clear early on that he couldn’t wait to get back on the court.

“You get so used to sitting on the side…and now I got an opportunity to go out and hear my name called. You never want to take that for granted,” Westbrook said. “Never. At any time. So I was just hyped to be able to hear my name and run out on the floor.”

***

No. 2: Scott rips Lakers’ mental approach — Minnesota rookie Zach LaVine scored a season-high 28 points off the bench against his boyhood hero and LaVine’s team won the game, beating the Lakers by one point at Staples Center. That hero, Kobe Bryant, scored 26 points on 18 shots and was the only starter on his club in the black on plus/minus.

And still, the best performance of the night came later, when Lakers coach Byron Scott vented about his team’s lackadaisical approach. At 3-13 after the loss, L.A. cannot afford to look past the Sixers, never mind the Timberwolves. But that’s what happened and it bit them hard, according to ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Baxter Holmes. Just like the animals in the metaphorical zoo Scott spoke about afterward:

“Do you ever go see the gorillas, the elephants, the lions and the monkeys, and they’re looking right back at you?” Scott asked. “That’s what Minnesota was doing. They were looking right back at us.”

They looked at the Lakers, now 3-14, as an easy target — and rightfully so.

He raised his voice, all but shouting. He pounded the table before him in the postgame news conference. He beat his hands into it four times — hard.

“There’s nobody in this league that we should be looking at thinking, ‘This is an easy win,’ ” he boomed, beating the table as he spoke. “Period.”

Was this rock bottom? So far, yes. It’s still November. It can — and probably will — get worse.

***

No. 3: West recalibrates view of PacersDavid West had begun the season more plugged into the disappointment of Indiana Pacers fans than into the stay-upbeat-and-sell-tickets approach of his bosses within the organization. West knew the Pacers’ chances of chasing an NBA title had taken serious hits with the departure of Lance Stephenson and then the gruesome, season-crushing leg injury of All-Star wing Paul George. West said as much as 2014-15 began, advising all on Media Day that the team’s ambitions needed to be scaled downward.

Then West watched from the side, nursing an ankle sprain through the first 15 games, as Indiana went a surprisingly resilient 6-9 without four of last year’s starters (George Hill was hurt, too) and a couple key reserves. By the time he got in on the action Friday with 18 points, six rebounds and four assists in a victory over Orlando, the Pacers’ sixth victory in the past nine games, the veteran power forward was ready to re-adjust his expectations. Mark Montieth of Pacers.com chronicled the upturn in West’s mood:

“These guys compete and play hard, and they do that at a very high level,” he said. “They’ve won some tough road games by being competitive and engaged and having a fight about them, which is one of the reasons I was anxious to get back out there. You appreciate that. You appreciate how hard they’ve competed while being undermanned.

“I’m just feeding off these guys. I’ve watched them for the first month or whatever. We’ve got some good guys who can cut off the basketball, guys who can execute, so we’re just going to keep getting better.”

He said that with a lilt in his normally gruff voice. It’s clear he’s revised his realism.

As injured veterans return – C.J. Watson also came back on Friday and scored nine points on 4-for-4 shooting, Roy Hibbert could return for Saturday’s game in Cleveland and George Hill is still a couple of weeks away with an injury coach Frank Vogel revealed in the pre-game to be a torn quad muscle – the continued improvement seems likely.

So, what does the Media Day realist believe the team’s ceiling is now?

“I’ll evaluate that when we get there,” he said. “I don’t know. I’m going to enjoy this this year and try to do something special with this group. The thing that people had overlooked is that we’re in the East, so we’re not going to be out of it.

“Before the season (began) I didn’t realize how hard these guys were going to play. Donald (Sloan) hasn’t played major minutes in his career but all of a sudden he’s out there. But he’s a competitive dude. Solomon (Hill), he competes every single play. And that’s inspiring. You want to get in the trenches with guys like that.”

***

No. 4: Stoudemire sick of Knicks’ excuses — When the best news the New York Knicks can offer is an updated medical report suggesting that Carmelo Anthony’s sore back is 80 percent healthy – spasms vs. structural damage is what passes for good fortune these days – it’s clear there are serious issues within Phil Jackson’s, Derek Fisher’s and Anthony’s crew. Sure, Russell Westbrook was back Friday but 2014 MVP Kevin Durant still was out (right foot surgery). So Veteran forward Amar’e Stoudemire called out the Knicks on their courage and desire after that loss in OKC, the most lopsided of their dreary season. Marc Berman of the New York Post offered details:

“They played like they wanted it more,’’ Stoudemire said of the Thunder. “At this point, I don’t see how a team wants it more than we do. It’s unacceptable. We should be in desperation mode. We’re a team that’s fighting for a win. Right now we got to have a higher sense of urgency and more enthused and mentally involved.’’

The Knicks were without Carmelo Anthony (back spasms) for the second straight game, but it seemed as if they were lacking passion.

“[Oklahoma City] came out with a lot of energy and it seems as if we got taken back by that,’’ Stoudemire said. “We have to have a lion’s heart and can’t be afraid of teams coming out and playing with that type of aggressiveness. We have to retaliate.”

Stoudemire was one of the few Knicks to play aggressively. He scored 20 points on 7-for-8 shooting, 6-for-10 from the line, with nine rebounds off the bench.

“It’s intensity level at this point,’’ Stoudemire said. “The learning process is there. We can’t keep saying we’re learning. We’re learning. Teams want it more than we do. We can’t say we’re still learning. We can’t say we had an off night shooting. That happens, but you can still win the ballgame with defense. We have to become students of the game and become masters of our craft.’’

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The mood in Milwaukee is changing, top down and inside out, according to our own Steve Aschburner. And it served the 10-7 Bucks well again in their victory in Detroit. … Folks in Portland like their big-small combo of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, but Memphis’ version – Marc Gasol and Mike Conley – left town with a victory and the league’s best record. … Clever Heat fan suggests that Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose considering teaming up to job-share. … One more to go – Saturday night in Utah – on this seven-game, 12-day trip for the Clippers and it’s already been a success (5-1) thanks to the victory in Houston. … Doc Rivers sounds like he’s throwing his hands up over James Harden throwing his arms up, but it’s meant as a compliment to the Rockets guard.

 

Hey, 19! Kids all right in Bucks-Wolves

parker

The Bucks’ Jabari Parker is second among rookies in scoring at 11.7. (NBAE via Getty Images)

Basketball fans had a full slate of college hoops games available on their cable and satellite systems Wednesday night. Or, if they preferred their competition a little younger, they had the Milwaukee Bucks facing the Timberwolves at Minnesota (8 p.m. ET on League Pass).

The game at Target Center almost deserved to have beer sales suspended in a nod to the tender years of the youngest Bucks and Wolves. In Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine of Minnesota and Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker of Milwaukee, there likely would be four teenagers in the same NBA game for the first time ever. The two Bucks and Wiggins have been starting and, since LaVine has averaged 22.7 minutes in his last seven appearances, the odds were high that all four would be on the court at the same time.

Separately, the two sets of teammates had become the first players under age 20 to start for a franchise since Josh Smith and Marvin Williams did it for the 2005-06 Atlanta Hawks.

The game already had marquee power based on the matchup of No. 1 pick Wiggins and No. 2 pick Parker for the first time in a regular-season game. The two were on parallel tracks last season at Kansas and Duke, respectively, and were considered a coin-flip right through Draft night in June as far as NBA potential. Wiggins, acquired from Cleveland in the Kevin Love trade, leads all rookies with a 12.5 scoring average. Parker is close behind, averaging 11.7 points and 5.9 rebounds to Wiggins’ 3.5.

LaVine was a raw, somewhat surprising lottery pick by the Wolves at No. 13 out of UCLA, and has averaged 5.3 points and 2.3 assists while shooting 33.3 percent in 19.1 minutes. Antetokounmpo was a virtual unknown taken straight from Greece by Milwaukee with the 15th pick in 2013, but he has grown two inches since then and is averaging 11.8 points and 5.5 rebounds while shooting 48.1 percent.

A closer look at the pink shoes the Wolves will wear during Wednesday's game. (Courtesy of Timberwolves)

A closer look at the pink shoes the Wolves will wear during Wednesday’s game. (Courtesy of Timberwolves)

Both franchises seem delighted with their youngsters as the foundation of their rebuilding teams. But as far as the teenaged thing goes, it’s a one-and-done Wednesday; by the time Minnesota plays at Milwaukee on Jan. 9, Antetokounmpo (born Dec. 6, 1994) will already be more than a month into his 20th year.

Another factoid about the Bucks-Wolves game in Minneapolis: Minnesota players will wear pink shoe laces to honor Lula Hall, mother of forward Thad Young who died Nov. 13 after an 18-month bout with breast cancer.

 

“It’s one of those things, I urge all women to get breast exams and make sure you stay healthy,” Young told reporters Wednesday morning.

Blogtable: LeBron teams, then and now

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: Miami 2010 vs. Cleveland 2014 | POR, TOR or WAS? | Tick, tick, tick in OKC


LeBron James (left) has played in 158 playoff games. Kevin Love, zero. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

LeBron James (left) has played in 158 playoff games. Kevin Love, zero. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

> Think back … what’s the difference, talent-wise, between LeBron’s first team in Miami and this Cleveland team? Can this Cleveland team be as good as that Miami one? As constituted, can it be better?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Looking back at the 2010-11 Heat, there was a lot of ordinariness on that roster with LeBron James. But – and this is a Rick Mahorn-sized “but” – Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were more advanced as teammates, having played in 72 postseason games to Kyrie Irving‘s and Kevin Love‘s none. Erik Spoelstra already had coached 160 NBA games with two playoff appearances. And Mike Miller and James Jones, same as James, Wade and Bosh, were four years younger. Also, Udonis Haslem brought toughness that these Cavaliers could use. My sense is that Dion Waiters is a more talented but more headstrong “little brother” than Mario Chalmers was. And a final thought: The rest of the league might be past the shock and awe with which it regarded that earlier Super Friends edition – it was an unnerving assemblage of talent, shown to be fallible and beatable over time.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Talent, schmalent.  If it were just about raw talent, Tracy McGrady would be walking about with more rings than a Beatles drummer with tinnitus.  LeBron arrived literally on stage in Miami with two other guys who had talent plus the veteran game smarts and battle scars to be championship contenders.  I’ll drop another Sixties reference and ask the Jimi Hendrix question: Are you experienced?  Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love do not have a single playoff game on their resumes and have never before had to get in sync with another All-Star caliber teammate. When you ask if these Cavs in their first year together can be better than that Heat team, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have every right to say, hey, you, get off my cloud.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: LeBron’s first team in Miami had Dwyane Wade, a great advantage in experience: Wade had already won a title. He knew exactly what it took. But the core of this roster in Cleveland can get there. It can be as good as Miami. While this is a wobbly start amid great scrutiny, it’s no more unsteady or under brighter lights than the Heat of James’ previous lifetime. “Spoelstra should be fired that first season because the Heat will never win with him,” … remember? In fact, the pressure was greater then as LeBron was being condemned almost everywhere outside South Florida. The Cavaliers can absolutely find their way. Maybe it will be a repeat of Miami and it will take a season. But, yes, it can be as good.

Kyrie Irving (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

Kyrie Irving (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: That Miami team had Dwyane Wade, already a certified NBA champion. If anything, Wade had to teach LeBron how to win, and now here is LeBron trying to distribute wisdom in Cleveland. Also, keep in mind Erik Spoelstra had taken the Heat to the playoffs without LeBron, while David Blatt is new to this NBA thing. All of that was/is in Miami’s favor in any comparison talk. That said … there’s plenty of time for the Cavs to prove themselves, in the end, as good as the 2011 Heat, although nobody seems to be saying that too loudly right now.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The biggest difference is that the Heat’s three stars were all two-way players. Dwyane Wade isn’t the most disciplined defender, but he’s an impact player on that end of the floor and much better than Kyrie Irving. And Chris Bosh is a much, much, much, much, much better defender than Kevin Love. His importance to the Heat’s pick-and-roll defense can’t be understated. At the point that the 2010-11 Heat were 9-8, they ranked sixth in defensive efficiency. The Cavs will get better defensively (they rank 19th through Tuesday), but given their current personnel, they won’t be as good as the Heat were on that end of the floor.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The difference between the two is simple. The Miami Big 3 all had playoff experience and, in Dwyane Wade’s case, championship experience. The Cleveland Big 3 has no playoff or even winning regular-season experience outside of LeBron. And the fact that people overlooked that when they put the Cleveland crew together mystifies me. I don’t think this Cleveland group can be better. I think Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, at this stage of their careers, are as talented individually for their positions as you could want. But I don’t think they are better players than Wade and Bosh were in 2010.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: That Miami team operated as an established program committed to the values of defense and teamwork as set forth by Pat Riley. This Cleveland team has none of that. The Cavaliers spent the last four years without LeBron flailing for the kinds of answers that were taken for granted in Miami. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving know nothing about what it takes to win in the playoffs. I don’t see how LeBron can do better now than his first team did in Miami, because this organization in Cleveland has so much more to learn from top to bottom.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To me the most glaring difference is that the 2010-11 Heat played Mike Bibby at the point some. Mostly stationary by that point and not a great defender (who was eventually benched during the Finals), Bibby could still run a team and had loads of veteran savvy. Kyrie Irving is all guts and speed and quickness, but he lacks a certain steadiness this Cleveland team could use at the top. Not saying he can’t uncover that by the time the postseason rolls around, but for now he has work to do.

Aldo Avinante, NBA.com/Philippines: The main difference between LeBron’s first team in Miami compared to Cleveland is their overall NBA experience. Dwyane Wade was already a Finals MVP, Chris Bosh has led the Raptors to the playoffs in several seasons and they signed veteran players to complement the team. While in Cleveland LeBron will have to do the heavy lifting in terms of leadership chores. They have the personnel and talent to be as good as that team but it’s up to LeBron to nurture this young group into a mature squad.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: The 2010-11 Heat were way more deep than these Cavs. LeBron, Wade and Bosh were obviously the most talented players on that roster, but coach Spoelstra had a lot of options for the supporting cast. These Cavs have three phenomenal players in LeBron, Irving and Love, a good center in Varejao, a veteran in Marion, an interesting youngster in Thompson and … that’s pretty much it, at least for now with Miller, Jones and Dellavedova dealing with injuries. Once they’re back, coach Blatt will still need a rim protector and a wing defender. These Cavs need way more depth to be as good as the 2010-11 Heat.

XiBin Yang, NBA.com/China: On the paper, this Cleveland team could be great, and I do think LeBron and Kevin Love were a natural fit.The only difference is Kyrie, who just stepped into his fourth year in the league. Maybe he’s not explosive as Wade in 2010, but he can also go to the basket at will, not to mention he’s a much better 3-point shooter than Wade. As LeBron said, guys need some time to figure out how to play winning basketball. But the only question is, can Kyrie figure out how to sacrifice his ego before LBJ is past his prime? Per NBA.com/Stats, in the seven losing game of the Cavs, Kyrie’s got a higher USG (24.7%), and the team played a slower pace (93.22). Kyrie’s isolation is a good show down the stretch, but that’s not the type of winning basketball. They definitely could be better, only after Kyrie, who doesn’t have that kind of blood connection with the city of Cleveland, realizes that truth of the game.

Akshay Manwani, NBA.com/India: The difference is not so much talent-wise as much as it is about experience. The biggest advantage LeBron’s Miami had was that the stars and the coach, Erik Spoelstra, had significant postseason experience. Dwyane Wade had won a ring in 2006 and LeBron had made his way to the NBA Finals in 2007. That helped them navigate the turbulent waters of the rough start and turn into winners. Here, at Cleveland, besides LeBron, neither Kyrie Irving nor Kevin Love has ever been to the postseason. David Blatt is still learning the NBA’s ropes. So they have to come to terms with a winning mentality on the fly. Can they be better?   Sure, they can. For that to happen, Love must play the five spot a la Kevin Garnett in Boston and Brooklyn or Bosh with Miami. That would allow Cleveland to outrun their opponents, spread the floor and free up the paint for James. Also, instead of Love sacrificing his scoring averages and field-goal attempts, Irving has to sacrifice his scoring average and become more of a facilitator. Right now, Irving’s assists average (4.8) is at an all-time career low.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: The big difference is experience. In Cleveland there is no Flash, no Bosh and no Allen. Love and Irving have all the potential in the world, but none of them have proven themselves in postseason basketball. Moreover they have a rookie coach who is trying the adjust in the NBA playing style. I am sure that the Cavs will get better, because they have the most important thing: talent. Don’t forget that back in 2010 when LeBron took his talents in Florida, the Heat had a 9-8 start.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: The main difference is the experience. LeBron had Dwyane Wade on his side. A superstar, Finals MVP and NBA Champion. In addition Chris Bosh, who came to South Beach as the All-Time Leading Scorer of the Toronto Raptors. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love might be as talented as Bosh and Wade, but they haven’t the experience yet. Both haven’t played any postseason game. This is the first time in his career Irving has teammates who are better than he is. He has to adjust his game and that needs time. The same with Love. He’s now only the third option. That’s quite new for him. Give them the time they need and you will receive a big outcome.

Blogtable: Hot start, staying hot

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: Miami 2010 vs. Cleveland 2014 | POR, TOR or WAS? | Tick, tick, tick in OKC



VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan steps into the studio with Ernie, Greg Anthony and Chris Webber

> Which of these teams do you believe can best maintain its hot start? Which team has the most room for improvement? Your picks: Portland, Toronto, Washington.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comGimme the Trail Blazers. As much as I like the Raptors and the Wizards – and as desperately as the Eastern Conference needs them for depth and swagger – I’m not sure their ensemble approaches will hold up as well over the long season as Portland’s reliance on All-Stars Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. The Blazers’ depth concerns me but Nene’s sore foot is a red flag for the Wizards, in my view, and Toronto still seems to lack experience or a strong enough veteran influence to ride out the season’s rough spots. Happy to be proven wrong on all counts.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: While the Cavs try to figure out a way to play together and the Bulls try to figure out a way to keep Derrick Rose on the court, coach Dwane Casey has the Raptors playing confident and effectively at both ends and could be on their way to the No. 1 seed in the East.  The Blazers are just as solid and have added depth in Chris Kaman and a healthy C.J. McCollum.  I’d put them just slightly behind the Raptors because they play in the much tougher West.  Because Bradley Beal has just four games under his belt and the Wizards rank just 20th in offense, they’ve got the most room to improve.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Tough call because I thought all three of the teams were the real deal all along, so I don’t see hot start as much teams that will be at or near the top the entire way. (Not at the same win pace, though. The Raptors aren’t going to win 70.) But most room for improvement? The Wizards. Bradley Beal is a difference maker, and he has barely played. Otto Porter, in his second season, will continue to develop and become an important contributor. Plus, unlike the Blazers, Washington and Toronto have the benefit of being in the East.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Of the three, only the Wizards were missing a big piece (Brad Beal) for much of November and so I’ll go with them, in terms of maintaining their start and showing the most improvement. Remember, the Wiz play in the (L)East, which gives them an envious advantage over the Blazers, and their bigs are better than Toronto’s bigs.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI believe in Portland, because their improvement has come mostly on defense, which is an extension of in-season improvement last year. In the same vein, we can’t forget that Toronto was 41-21 after the Rudy Gay trade last season. And really, Washington has the most room for improvement, having just got Bradley Beal back and still waiting on Martell Webster. They have a strong defense, but desperately need the floor spacing those guys provide on offense. So, I guess I like all three of those teams.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: All three of them have a great chance to sustain this early season effort, provided they stay healthy at key positions. But I think the Raptors, given their position in the Eastern Conference, have the best chance to grind all the way through this season at a high level. Their make up, from head coach Dwane Casey to catalysts Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan all the way down to crucial role players like Lou Williams, James Johnson, Amir Johnson and Greivis Vasquez, gives them the sort of sound foundation that lends itself to long-term success.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Let’s go with the Raptors as the team most likely to stay on top, because they’ll face the least resistance from their weakling division. The Wizards will show the most upside as Bradley Beal keeps working his way back in and Paul Pierce becomes more ingrained.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: One thing’s for certain: All three of those franchises have fan bases that are fired up and ready to see their team contend. I love Toronto. They’re deep, they have a nice mix of quality and different positions, and they’re playing in a depressed division with a lot of teams they can beat up on. Washington is the team of that trio which gives me a bit of pause. Getting Beal back is helpful, yes, but they’ve got several players with a history of injuries, and I still think they could use one more veteran off the bench to add depth and help stretch the floor.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: I believe this time the Blazers will remain constant. Their starting five is as good as ever, Damian Lillard improved again and finally arrived in the point guard elite. And LaMarcus Aldridge is a beast of a power forward. But the most important thing is that they finally have a bench mob. Chris Kaman and Steve Blake fit perfect and they help with their experience. But I think that Toronto and Washington will easily reach the playoffs as well. Paul Pierce is a perfect addition for the Wizards. The young core will learn intangible much from him. Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. and Glen Rice Jr. have lots of room for improvement. And if the frontcourt stays healthy it can cause big matchup problems.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: I really like all three of them. I believe that the Wizards have the complete package to because the underdog that can make a lot of noise this season. Now that Beal is back they have a great duo in the backcourt, they have a lot of bodies in the frontcourt, they have a great bench (don’t forget Paul Pierce), so they have it all.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: I bet on Toronto to keep doing what they’re doing right now. They’re deep, talented, they’ve great offense and good defense, they’re well coached. Portland has the most room for improvement: Lillard had a slow start, Batum came back few games ago from an injury, their bench is finally giving them something. And Washington? Great, interesting team: they can be dangerous

Aldo Avinante, NBA.com/Philippines: The Washington Wizards are the best equipped team to maintain their hot start, they did damage minus Bradley Beal, one of the top young shooting guards in the game. They are a complete team from top to bottom with the addition of veteran leader Paul Pierce they will be able to take in stride any challenges ahead because he is there to guide them. “The Truth” picked wisely in the past off-season.

Akshay Manwani, NBA.com/India: I will go with Portland because they do play in the tougher conference which is the West. Also, Toronto, which has the best record of the three at the moment, has played just four games on the road. Besides that, the core of Damian Lillard, Robin Lopez, LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum are as good as you will get across the league. And Lillard and Aldridge are qualified stars, who can turn a game on its head with their performances. Surprisingly, I think Toronto can still improve. As good as Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas are, they lack the same intimidating presence of Nene and Marcin Gortat in Washington or Aldridge and Lopez in Portland. The frontcourt is something Toronto can improve upon and should look to do so before the mid-season trade deadline.

XiBin Yang, NBA.com/China: The Raptors finally regained their identity. With the loaded roster, they could be a really good team in the regular season, when they’re playing that Canadian team basketball. They’ve got a good chemistry, an enhanced defensive mind, and amazing rotation lineups. Each night there could be one guy step up in the Air Canada Centre. My pick on the team which could still improve more is the Wizards. When you got John Wall making plays, Bradley Beal and Pierce stick to their spot, you really should be a better offense team. They’re already  a better team than last year, even if the Wizards’s offense(104.8 on ORtg, 20th in the NBA) has not fully clicked yet.

Blogtable: Does OKC have enough time?

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: Miami 2010 vs. Cleveland 2014 | POR, TOR or WAS? | Tick, tick, tick in OKC



VIDEO: Do the Thunder make the playoffs? The Starters can’t agree, either.

> Russell Westbrook is coming back soon. KD may not be far behind. Gut feeling: Will their returns be in time for the Thunder to make the playoffs?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Make the playoffs? I say yes. Let’s do the math: Oklahoma City won 72 percent of its games across three seasons prior to this one (166-64). So might the Thunder be able to win at a 70 percent clip over, say, their final 60? If they did, they’d pick up 42 victories. Add the five or six they should have over their first 22 games and that gets them to 47 or 48. They’ll be dealing losses head-to-head with their rivals for the West’s 8th seed, too, so those games will count double. Of course, if OKC pulls this off, it might be gassed by the playoffs, but that wasn’t the question then, was it?

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook
(Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It’s getting tougher and tougher each day and every additional loss will mean the Thunder will have to expend more energy.  At this point, I still think they make it, just barely.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Yes. I don’t have any sound evidence to back that up, no home/road splits or back-to-back numbers. It makes sense, though. The Thunder at full strength can make up six games, the distance to catch No. 8, in five months. They won’t get to No. 1 and they may not even get home-court advantage, and then that becomes an issue for their playoff chances. But making the playoffs? As long as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook return on schedule and the first four weeks of the season don’t turn out to be the start of a season-long epidemic, yes.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: You take two of the top 10 players off a team for a month and, yeah, we can expect a drastic and perhaps sudden improvement when they finally suit up again. The West is a dangerous place to start slowly and for the most part would prove unforgiving to almost any other team … except one bringing back Westbrook and Durant. Getting a top-four spot seems next to impossible, I’ll admit. That’s a mighty steep climb in a conference with the Spurs, Warriors, Rockets, Blazers, Clippers and Grizzlies. If that’s the pecking order, that means OKC must overtake the Mavericks and Suns, and I like Durant and Westbrook in a fight for the seventh or eighth spot.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Yes, because I don’t believe the Kings can keep up a 50-win pace. The Suns and Pelicans are good, but not 50-win teams either. So there’s a playoff opening available if Durant and Westbrook stay healthy and can win 47 of their final 66 games, which is the winning percentage they had last season with Westbrook missing 36 games. It should be noted that OKC has played one of the league’s toughest schedules thus far. They’re the only team that hasn’t played an opponent that played the night before.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: They are so upside down right now in the standings, I just don’t see the return of Westbrook soon and KD a little later, will be enough to get the Thunder to the 50-win plateau it will take in the Western Conference to be in the playoff mix. There’s a ton of ground to be made up right now and if they can’t get those guys back healthy and in a groove before Christmas, it’ll be a monumental effort for them to get back into the playoff race. And I’m not dismissing the power of two superstars when healthy. But we don’t know how effective either one of them will be when they return, let alone when they’ll both actually be back and leading the Thunder charge.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: They absolutely will make the playoffs. And if they do, they’ll have an authentic chance to become the first bottom-half seed to win the championship since the No. 6 Rockets prevailed in 1994-95.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I was doing the math yesterday during the Hang Time Podcast, and they’d have to go something like 45-22 the rest of the way in order to make it to 48 wins, which was the threshold for making the playoffs in the West last season. But our podcast guest Greg Anthony had a great point: The better way to look at it is that the Thunder are currently six games back of the 8th place team, which as of today is the Clippers. And with 67 games remaining, I think a full-strength Thunder team could absolutely make up that difference the rest of the way. My only concern is that the complementary players, who have been asked to do so much in the meantime, will still have something to give.

Akshay Manwani, NBA.com/India: The sensible reasoning on the Thunder’s chances of making the playoffs appears to be slim. But I disagree. I think OKC will make it, riding on some really sensational, turbo-charged performances by Westbrook and Durant. And it’s not only emotion that dictates gut feeling, but even the numbers don’t seem to be insurmountable. Remember, last season Dallas were the No. 8 seed with a 49-33 record. That leaves OKC requiring to win 46 of their last 67 games i.e. an expected win percentage of 0.686. In their last three regular seasons, OKC has had a win percentage of 0.710 or more (and much of 2013-14 was despite Westbrook’s absence), so 0.686 shouldn’t be that difficult for the Thunder to emulate with both their All-Stars back.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: The Thunder need Westbrook and Durant now, at their best, to make the playoffs. Last season, Dallas finished 8th in the West with 49 Ws. OKC has three right now, so they probably need 46 more. In 67 games. They need to start amassing Ws right now, hopefully with Westbrook back starting Friday and KD well before Christmas. Maybe it’s already too late.

Aldo Avinante, NBA.com/Philippines: Yes, they are too talented together to not to make a run at the playoffs. OKC will string together a couple of win streaks throughout the season. KD and Russ are two transcendent players in one team, the Thunder will not be denied an invite in the postseason party.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: Before the two superstars got injured, we would include the Thunder in the contenders list. So that means that with both of them back, OKC can go out there and get a lot of wins. Their start is awful, but they can still make it to the playoffs. If — and here comes the big “if” — they stay healthy and don’t lose time trying to find their chemistry as a team.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: It will be hard. If the Thunder would play in the East – no problem! But in the loaded Western Conference it will be a very, very difficult journey. On the first view it’s only five games to the 8th seed. Westbrook and Durant might be back, but they will need time to be back on their top level. It’s the first big injury of Durant and he must learn to handle with it. Westbrook knows how long it takes to get the rust off. Besides that it’s a matter of head. Russell had three bigger injuries in a short time. That won’t leave him untouched. They should try it, but don’t force it. The team is still young and they have one more shot in the next year. And in private: To win the championship they need a better bench anyway.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 26


VIDEO: All the highlights from Tuesday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry’s MVP case | Who’s scapegoating Chandler now? | Not panicking in Windy City … yet | Slow going in Detroit

No. 1: Curry’s MVP case — If the first level of staking a claim to the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award is impressing teammates, Golden State’s Stephen Curry already has that cinched. Curry’s ‘mates and coaches were again effusive about his talents and his season after he dropped 40 points, seven assists, six rebounds and three steals on the Miami Heat in a cushy victory in south Florida Tuesday.
Consider center Andrew Bogut, who took to Twitter:

And then there was this, as reported by the Contra Costa Times:

“Who better than him…at the point guard spot,” [forward Draymond] Green said. “I don’t know someone that’s better than him, so I definitely think he’s taken over that top spot at the point guard spot. Obviously, with winning comes accolades, so we keep continuing to win, all that stuff will take care of itself.”

“He’ll be an All-Star. He’ll be all that stuff. You continue to win games, and those wins add up, it’ll be hard to deny him the MVP.”

[Said coach Steve Kerr]: “I know I wouldn’t trade him for any point guard in the league, that’s for sure.”

***

No. 2: Who’s scapegoating Chandler now? — Dallas center Tyson Chandler didn’t appreciate it when New York basketball boss Phil Jackson piled on, not merely trading the big man to Dallas but then scapegoating Chandler and guard Raymond Felton for the teams’ dismal 2013-14 season. He’ll get his chance to demonstrate just how much that irritated him when he and the Dallas Mavericks face Jackson’s Knicks Wednesday night. As reported by the New York Post’s Marc Berman, Chandler is playing well (10.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.4 blocks) for the 10-5 Mavericks and seems to have moved on mentally from the maneuver but it still could – and probably should – impact the teams’ clash in Dallas:

“I don’t know why they did that,’’ Chandler said of Jackson’s remark about needing to change the chemistry with the Chandler-Felton trade in late June. “Only they can answer that question. I’ve since then moved on and don’t pay it any much attention. I know a lot of the media will be returning and me going against my former team. But in all honesty I’ve kind of swept it behind. It’s in the past and under the rug and I’m moving on with my future here.’’

Despite winning Defensive Player of the Year and earning his first All-Star berth as a Knick, it did not work out perfectly for Chandler in New York. He got hurt at all the wrong times after signing with the Knicks months after winning an NBA championship. Last year, Chandler broke his leg four games into the season amid a hot start. By the time he returned, the Knicks had too much ground to make up in the playoff race and he never got his timing back.

Chandler was blamed for too eagerly criticizing former coach Mike Woodson’s defensive schemes. Whispers Chandler was one of the dreaded locker-room “finger pointers’’ have also surfaced. They are odd accusations for one of the NBA’s noted leaders. Of course, it could be a smoke screen for the real intentions of Jackson, the Knicks’ team president, shipping out a player who didn’t fit into his triangle offense because he’s not a good jump shooter or post-up guy. Chandler is, however, a ferocious defender and the current Knicks don’t defend a lick.

***

No. 3: No reason to panic in Chicago. Yet – Thanksgiving is hours away, so Chicago Bulls fans – and NBA followers who delight in superstar talents – can feel grateful that Derrick Rose hasn’t suffered any season-ending injuries through the first four weeks of the season. OK, so the fact that his legs have been as healthy as the ones sticking up out of your bird Thursday does remain an issue for coach Tom Thibodeau and his club. Maybe the good news is that Thibodeau now has joined the ranks of the other cautious folks in the Bulls organization in protecting their resident hothouse flower – the coach was the one who shut down Rose at halftime of the team’s loss at Denver. Here is quotage and more from Sam Smith of Bulls.com:

Perhaps Rose should not have played in the second of the back to back after being back just one game after missing four with a hamstring injury. Thibodeau may have realized that as he said he approached Rose at halftime and suggested Rose not play the second half. Rose remained in the locker room to get treatment, but said he suffered no setback and Thibodeau agreed it was merely his own personal concern. Though Rose clearly was not moving well, hesitant to drive to the basket and slow to react on defense.

Though Rose said after the game with two days off he is looking toward playing Friday in Boston, you’d have to wonder what the hurry is given players staying out two to four weeks with hamstring injuries.
Returning from two years of knee injuries, such ancillary injuries are expected to be part of the process. Perhaps frustrating, they need to be dealt with in a rational and not emotional manner. It seemed at halftime Thibodeau understood that.

“It was really nothing that happened,” Thibodeau said after the game. “Other than I didn’t want to take any chances with him. The way the game was going, the way we were going, I just felt at that point I wanted to go a different way. He’s didn’t reinjure himself or anything like that. I just didn’t want to take a chance. We’ve got a couple of days now, regroup and the way they were playing, the way we were playing I wanted to see if we could change it with a different type of ball pressure. I knew the start of the third quarter (with the Bulls trailing 56-49 at halftime), the defensive transition and the speed of the game (needed to increase). That was my big concern and I didn’t want to take a chance there. That’s basically it.”

Similarly, Rose agreed.

“It wasn’t anything where I was limping or I pulled it again or anything,” said Rose. “It was just that I wasn’t moving the way I wanted to while I was on the floor. I wasn’t able to affect the game the way that I wanted to, so I came in here and talked to Thibs and we agreed on just sitting out. He initiated it and I agreed with him… “

***

No. 4: Slow going in DetroitStan Van Gundy looked sweaty and anguished even in the best of times during his days in Orlando, a natural worry-wart for whom mistakes and losses always loomed larger than victories and success. So you can imagine how he’s doing these days in Detroit, where the Pistons have nothing in common with Van Gundy’s 2009 Finalist Magic team and where he shoulders an even greater burden with dual responsibilities on the sideline and in the front office. On the day they dropped to 3-11 by losing to Milwaukee Tuesday, Van Gundy spoke to Detroit News writer Vince Goodwill and others about the difficult conversations he and owner Tom Gores have been having as they try to balance the development of a young team with the urgency to compete every night:

Van Gundy, after a chunk of games that has his team at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, paying an early deposit with the 76ers for a good seat at next May’s draft lottery, has begun to realize that balance is probably more delicate than his dual titles as coach and president of basketball operations.

“I don’t think it’s gonna be overnight,” Van Gundy said. “I’d like it to be. Tom would like it to be, but I don’t think it’s gonna be an overnight thing.”

“[Monday] night it was an hour and a half, just talking about our roster and where we’re headed and the whole thing. What I feel good about, what I don’t like. It was two days of texts.”

Whether it’s a 90-minute conversation or the usual text communication that happens 4-5 times during the week, much of the focus is on where things stand currently, as this wasn’t the start either envisioned.

“We talk once a week or so. [Monday] night for a long time,” Van Gundy said. “I think that we’re very much aware of what his thinking is and feeling and he is of mine and we’re on the same page. I don’t think somebody in my position can have much closer communication with an owner than I do. I can’t imagine that.”

The urgency is the conversations is certainly a point of emphasis, but Van Gundy said “I don’t think anyone’s on the ledge right now.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: NBA commissioner Adam Silver met with Milwaukee community leaders to discuss the need and timetable for a new downtown arena. … First you get the $4.85 million to spend, in the form of a disabled player exception for veteran guard Steve Nash. Then you have to find someone on whom to spend it. The Lakers can look for help but can they find it? … Even spotting the Pelicans 37 points when they were missing Rudy Gay (right Achilles strain) and Darren Collison (left quadriceps), the Kings were 10 points better in New Orleans. … If by “We’re not a 3-11 team” Kobe Bryant means the Lakers aren’t likely to sputter at that pace to an 18-64 record, he might be right. But they are bad, especially on defense.

 

 

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.