> All-Star 2015 reserves will be announced tomorrow on TNT. But you get to go first: Select seven reserves for the East, and seven for the West (and remember it’s two guards, three frontcourt players and two others regardless of position).
East guards:Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague. East frontcourt:Paul Millsap, Chris Bosh and Al Horford. East wildcards:Kyle Korver and Kyrie Irving.
The biggest question for me in picking All-Star reserves is, how many Hawks? Would two Atlanta players be too few? Would four be too many? Nah, I don’t think so. That’s the beauty of an ensemble team, much like Detroit a decade ago, and I think there’s room without glaring omissions.
West guards:Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. West frontcourt:LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant. West wildcards:Chris Paul and Klay Thompson. West injury replacement for Kobe Bryant: James Harden.
East guards:Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague. East frontcourt:Paul Millsap, Chris Bosh and Nikola Vucevic. East wildcards:Kyle Korver and Kyrie Irving.
Vucevic may not be a popular pick, but his numbers are undeniably good. He shouldn’t take a hit because Orlando has youth and injuries.
West guards:James Harden and Chris Paul. West frontcourt:LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Tim Duncan. West wildcards:Damian Lillard and Klay Thompson.
Yeah, I know it’s Kevin Durant. But when the competition is this intense, missing about half the games is a difference maker for best play of the season. Besides, there will be at least one (Kobe Bryant) and maybe two (Aldridge) injury replacements coming. There’s still time for Durant and Westbrook.
East guards:Jeff Teague and Jimmy Butler. East frontcourt:Paul Millsap, Chris Bosh and Al Horford. East wildcards:Kyrie Irving and Brandon Knight.
West guards: Klay Thompson and James Harden. West frontcourt:LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant. West wildcards:Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. West injury replacement for Kobe Bryant:James Harden.
Really didn’t sweat too much about these selections. Even though he’s missed a chunk of games, I’m sorry, KD is an All-Star. I’m not going to punish him. Didn’t Magic Johnson make the team when he missed the entire season? OK, then. It’s an All-Star Game and people want to see KD.
East guards:Kyle Korver and Dwyane Wade. East frontcourt:Chris Bosh, Al Horford and Paul Millsap. East wildcards:Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague.
West guards:James Harden and Chris Paul. West frontcourt:LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Tim Duncan. West wildcards:Damian Lillard and Klay Thompson. West injury replacement for Kobe Bryant:Russell Westbrook.
The East is pretty cut and dry and I’m keeping Kyrie Irving off the list, because he still doesn’t play both ends of the floor and the Cavs would be terrible without LeBron James. The West is much deeper, but the picks were still fairly simple. My toughest omission was actually Zach Randolph, because 21 games from Kevin Durant isn’t enough for me.
East guards:Kyrie Irving and Jeff Teague. East frontcourt:Chris Bosh, Al Horford and Paul Millsap. East wildcards:Jimmy Butler and Marcin Gortat.
West guards: Klay Thompson and James Harden. West frontcourt:LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Tim Duncan. West wildcards:Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. West injury replacement for Kobe Bryant:Monta Ellis.
> We’re about one week past the halfway point of the season. Still plenty of ball to be played, so give me one bold prediction for the second half (the key word being “bold”).
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The Clippers will make it out of the West to reach The Finals.And here’s a second bold prediction to bolster the first: They’ll acquire Kevin Garnett from Brooklyn one way or another (buyout by Nets?) to heighten their intensity and tighten their defense. Point guard Chris Paul is acutely aware of his window and his horizon, and he’ll draw out some of the Clippers’ untapped potential. This team will remember, too, how unfairly it got derailed last postseason.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Thunder do not make the playoffs. Since a seven-game win streak immediately upon Kevin Durant’s return to the lineup, OKC has struggled to find consistency and rhythm in its game. That’s a fatal flaw with little margin for error in a brutal Western Conference race.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Clippers lose in the first round of the playoffs. This is the ultimate in flawed crystal ball-ness because a lot will depend on the matchup, not just L.A. itself. But this is a hurting team, and that comes from someone who picked the Clips to win the West a season ago. They have so many ingredients to be good, even championship good, but the defense has taken a giant step backward and the bench is weak. There is still time to recover — and for me to change the pick once the opening series is set. But there is reason to be concerned.
Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Bold: OKC won’t make the playoffs. Everyone keeps waiting for the Suns to falter, and yes they’re young and vulnerable to a degree. But even if the Suns do collapse, New Orleans will make it ahead of OKC. And of course, coach Scott Brooks will suffer as a result.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Come April 1, the Boston Celtics will be in the mix for a playoff spot. That might not be very bold considering the state of the bottom half of the Eastern Conference, but it’s bold considering the state of the Celtics (still in tear-down mode). They have the seventh best NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) in the East, having played the fourth toughest schedule. But they have a deflated record because they’re 8-16 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes. Still, having gone 3-2 on their trip West (with only Wednesday’s game in Minnesota remaining), they’re just a game in the loss column behind the eighth-place Hornets. They have an easier remaining schedule than Brooklyn, Charlotte or Detroit. And they have a positive point differential (plus-24) in almost 900 minutes with neither Jeff Green nor Rajon Rondo on the floor.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The key word is “bold” which usually translates to “crazy” or at least “preposterous.” I can live with that. So here goes “bold;” Kevin Durant shakes off these toe, foot and ankle injuries and takes his All-Star snub personally and goes on a tear for the ages to claim his second straight MVP trophy,leads the Thunder to a playoff spot and then guides them through the Western Conference playoff chase all the way to The Finals. You said “bold,” right?
Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Pacers will make the playoffs — which will be a big surprise, even in the horrid East, considering the injuries and hard times they have endured since last summer.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The Cleveland Cavaliers will win the Eastern Conference. Right now the Cavs are a dozen losses behind the Hawks for the No. 1 spot in the East, but the bulk of Cleveland’s record belongs to the Cavs of LeBron James before he took that eight-game break. The Cavs are currently riding a seven-game win streak, all of which have been decisive wins. They’ve embraced an uptempo offense, James is playing like the MVP, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving seem more comfortable and new guys like J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov clearly fit in well. My bold prediction may fall flat and Cleveland may not be able to catch the one spot in the conference, but it’s clear the Cavs are back.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Welcome back Cleveland. And hello Chicago.
The two Eastern Conference favorites from the preseason find themselves looking up at the Atlanta Hawks, Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors a little past the halfway point of this NBA season. There is still plenty of time, of course. Nothing is set in stone just yet.
But it’s time for the Bulls and Cavaliers, fourth and fifth in the standings, respectively, to crank it up. And they’re going in different directions. LeBron James and the Cavaliers are rolling of late, winners of six straight games.
The Bulls, meanwhile, are just 4-6 in their last 10 games and have replaced the Cavaliers in the crosshairs. No one is questioning David Blatt‘s coaching ability these days. LeBron James the leader? Not a problem when you’re rolling.
But in Chicago, folks are wondering about these Bulls.
Was Derrick Rose right to go off about his team? Has Tom Thibodeau‘s act finally worn thin? And is Joakim Noah really as valuable as it seems? We answer all of those questions and plenty more on Episode 187 of The Hang Time Podcastfeaturing NBA.com’sSteve Aschburner …
No. 1: Hollins addresses stats slander — It’s a players’ league and a young man’s game, so one of the worst things that can be said about an NBA coach or front-office executive is that he’s set in his ways, out of touch and otherwise resistant to change. That was the impression left in 2013 after Memphis coach Lionel Hollins wasn’t brought back by the Grizzlies -– he wasn’t adept at advanced analytics, or so they said. And that’s a subject with which Hollins took some umbrage recently, according to the New York Post:
“I’m going to take a breath,” Hollins said after a long pause, “and say it’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard because every coach uses stats.
“Now, do I understand some of the stats that are out there that are new? No. But I can learn them.”
As a former player — Hollins was the starting point guard of the 1977 NBA champion Trail Blazers — and longtime member of the league, it’s easy to assume Hollins has no interest in looking at the advanced stats that have become a key part of how the league is analyzed, viewed and run.
But Hollins has referenced advanced statistics throughout the season, particularly in terms of lineup data, and said he uses stats to try and reinforce why he’s making various decisions with his players.
“When I talk to a player about his play, I have to have stats to show him,” Hollins said. “When I talk about lineups, I have to have stats that show why I’m making a change and not just because I’m making a change. Players like to know that.
“It’s a part of the game. I know which combinations play well together from stats. I look at stats just about every day. So it’s a misnomer, and it was what it was and it’s over.”
No. 2:Kobe’s ‘Jordan as teammate’ scenario — It’s fun for sports fans to indulge their zaniest “What if?” fantasies, kicking around hypothetical scenarios and imagining all sorts of different results (What if the Red Sox hadn’t sold Babe Ruth? What if Bobby Orr‘s knees had held up? How might things have gone differently had Michael Jordan not retired that first time?). Apparently, it’s fun for some of the principal players to indulge in the daydreaming as well, and Kobe Bryantoffered up a doozy to the Washington Post when he talked about his notions, sparked by friction with Shaquille O’Neal, of teaming up with Jordan on the Wizards more than a decade ago.
According to two people with knowledge of the situation, after Jordan decided to sell his minority ownership stake to resume his playing career with the Wizards, Bryant informed him several times he wanted to play for the Wizards — under the assumption that Jordan would return to the front office once his playing days were over.
The Wizards never had the assets to discuss a trade for Bryant, so the only chance the organization would have had to make a run at him was when he became an unrestricted free agent in 2004. Jordan, however, wasn’t allowed to recruit Bryant because [owner Abe] Pollin decided in May 2003 not to let him continue running the team. While Jordan’s ability to land Bryant was no guarantee, a person close to him said Jordan was “confident” he would have made it happen.
With the Wizards taking a different course under Ernie Grunfeld and eliminated as a possibility, Bryant resisted overtures from Chicago, New York, Denver and the Clippers and elected to remain a Laker. Bryant signed a seven-year, $136 million contract the day after the Lakers dealt O’Neal to Miami, ensuring there would be no extreme Alpha-male contest for control of the team. Had he joined Jordan in Washington, Bryant is certain only one result would’ve unfolded.
“We would’ve put together a great team and we would’ve won championships,” Bryant said. “Listen, man. There are not a lot of players in this league that say, ‘Come hell or high water, we’re going to get this [expletive] done.’ People can look around and joke around about winning, saying they want to win. For me, it’s a matter of life or death. It was that important to me. And if it’s that important to me, I’m going to get there.”
No. 3:Wall: Wizards deserve two All-Stars — A more current and probably realistic scenario involving Wizards teammates is the prospect of point guard John Wall having company on the Eastern Conference All-Star squad next month in New York. Wall, who will start for the East, believes that Washington’s first-half performance in 2014-15 and its place in the standings merit another such honor when the conference coaches’ ballot determines the All-Star reserves. They’ll be named Thursday, with Wall among the team’s fans in pulling for center Marcin Gortat or shooting guard Bradley Beal:
Gortat is averaging 12 points and ranks 20th in the NBA with 8.2 rebounds per game. His 13 double-doubles are 21st in the league. Beal is averaging 14.8 points and is seventh in the league in three-point field goal percentage at 44.1 percent. He missed the Wizards’ first nine games due to a fractured left wrist and came off the bench for four games upon his return. Beal is in his third season, but is still the youngest player on the Wizards at 21 years old. For what it’s worth, analyst Shaquille O’Neal thinks both Gortat and Beal should join Wall.
“Right now it’s up to the coaches, but if I end up losing it then I think it’s going to be more about politics,” Gortat said with a smile.
The Wizards haven’t sent two players to an all-star game since Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison represented the organization in 2008. This year, Gortat and Beal face stiff competition. Gortat will be up against Chris Bosh, Kevin Love, Joakim Noah, Nikola Vucevic, Paul Millsap and Al Horford in the frontcourt. In the backcourt, Dwyane Wade, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose and Jeff Teague are among the choices.
“I think someone else from my team should be in there with me,” Wall said. “And it’s crazy that if [Anthony] had surgery, if his knee didn’t get better, then [Gortat] would’ve been a starter. That would’ve been the funny part about it. But yeah, I think someone from my team, whether it’s him or Brad [Beal], is well-deserving of another spot from my team.”
No. 4: Shaw cries foul over ruling — The debate rages on –- do you foul or do you not foul when your team has a three-point lead near the end of the game? –- but the Los Angeles Clippers were spared any second-guessing Monday against the Denver Nuggets. The Clippers fouled not once but twice, yet avoided sending Danilo Gallinari to the line with a chance to tie when Matt Barnes‘ contact with the Nuggets forward was ruled a non-shooting foul. Which was an interpretation quite different from the one Nuggets coach Brian Shaw had as he watched the moment play out, as reported by the Denver Post:
Down three points with nine seconds left, the Nuggets ran a play that got Danilo Gallinari a good look at a 3-point shot. And he pulled up for that shot. As Gallinari went up, Clippers forward Matt Barnes pulled down his right arm — his shooting arm. Gallinari switched the ball to his left hand and put the attempt up.
A foul was called. But not a shooting foul.
Gallo was deemed to not be in the act of shooting. So instead of getting three free throws for one of their best shooters from the stripe, the Nuggets, instead, had to take the ball out of bounds again. The Clippers then fouled Darrell Arthur and put him on the free throw line to shoot two.
Asked about his level of frustration with the non-call, Gallinari simply grinned and said, “I’ll let the people watch the replay and make their own judgment.”
Shaw, however, steamed.
“It’s frustrating when night-in and night-out all of those kind of calls go against us,” he said. “And the explanation of i changes all the time, when we get an explanation. Or they admit that they made a mistake after the fact when it’s already cost us a game.”
In the age of social media, pro athletes not only circumvent traditional media to break news but to break hearts as well.
That was the case Sunday with injured Detroit Pistons point guard Brandon Jennings. While reporters and fans waited for and relied on traditional channels for the official word on Jennings’ status – the point guard went down in anguish with an apparent torn Achilles tendon in the third quarter of Detroit’s game at Milwaukee Saturday – it was Jennings who actually delivered the bad news.
Jennings put out a non-confirmation confirmation of the injury with a simple Tweet that spoke to the expected surgery-and-rehab for such an Achilles tear:
There were early reports that the Pistons might get active in the trade market or look to a D-League addition like Lorenzo Brown, who went to camp with the Pistons and made the minor league’s first all-star team during last week’s Showcase.
The Detroit Pistons are “strongly considering” calling up Lorenzo Brown from the D-league. (Via Shams Charania)
No. 1: Aldridge 1, injured thumb 0 — Black was going to be the color of the night heading toward the Portland Trail Blazers’ home game against Washington Saturday, the proper attire for the sort of mourning already going on over forward LaMarcus Aldridge‘s injured left thumb and the six-to-eight weeks Aldridge likely was going to miss recuperating and rehabbing. But then Aldridge surprised Blazers fans by announcing that he would postpone surgery and try to play with the torn ligament. And he did just that in Portland’s 103-96 victory, putting the “triumphant” into his return with 26 points, nine rebounds and one splint. Here’s some of the quotage from the Blazers’ locker room:
Head coach Terry Stotts: “Well it was a win that we needed to get. Understatement: it was good to have LA back. I’m glad he had a good game with the thumb and the splint. It was very encouraging.”
Blazers guard Wesley Matthews: “He was big time. Even if he didn’t have the monster game that he did, I think just his presence and his sacrifice of his own body and for him to recognize how special this season is and can be and continue to be, for him to give that up to be out there with us in the trenches, it speaks volumes. … He can’t sit out. He doesn’t want to sit out. He loves this game and figures if he’s got something to give, he’s going to give. I can relate to that.”
Aldridge: “I felt okay. There was a few moments where I got it hit or whatever, and it was kind of tender. But for the most part, it was okay. … I was just trying to work with it. I kind of figured it out as the game went on, how to use it or whatever, and I kind of played with it.”
More Aldridge, on the Moda Center crowd reaction: “It was humbling. I thought they definitely showed me love and they respected what I was doing at that moment, trying to play through it, so that was humbling.”
Not all was sweetness and light on the injury front in Portland, however. Wing Nicolas Batum sat out Saturday’s game after aggravating a right wrist injury Thursday against Boston. He initially hurt it when he took a spill in Milwaukee Dec. 17. Here is an update from The Oregonian:
Batum missed the next game, Dec. 19 at San Antonio, then played in the next two games before sitting out the Dec. 23 game at Oklahoma City. He said he has aggravated the injury several times – usually when he falls to the court. On Thursday against Boston, it was a third quarter fall that took him out of the game and ultimately led to him missing Saturday’s 103-96 victory over Washington.
Batum, who is wearing an immobilizing brace, said he is unsure whether he will rest and let the wrist heal, or continue playing through discomfort during the Blazers upcoming trip at Brooklyn, Cleveland, Atlanta and Milwaukee.
He is averaging 9.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 38 games. He is shooting 38.7 percent from the field and 27.6 percent from three-point range, figures he largely attributes to his ailing wrist.
“It’s my shooting wrist,” Batum said.
No. 2:Pistons fear Achilles worst for Jennings — The pain in which Brandon Jennings writhed on the court at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee Saturday night — you could almost feel it. The way the Detroit Pistons’ point guard grimaced and banged the floor with one hand, while grabbing at his left ankle with the other, was palpable. Jennings, who had been rejuvenated along with the Detroit Pistons since they reconfigured their attack in a post-Josh Smith world, suffered a serious injury when he took a defensive step back on an inbounds play, and most who saw the replay and its aftermath immediately began to think of a torn Achilles tendon. That included teammate Caron Butler, as chronicled by the Detroit News:
“I saw him in pain, just the way he was. It was the second time I’ve seen something like that,” Butler said after Saturday’s game.
If Jennings didn’t know exactly what it was at the time, Butler had a good enough idea, remembering a former teammate Pistons fans should be familiar with.
“Chauncey Billups,” Butler said, his face cringing at the memory of Billups’ Achilles tear in 2012 when both were members of the L.A. Clippers.
“It happened in Orlando. We were playing good basketball, Chauncey was playing great. I was right next to him. He asked, ‘Did you kick me?’ I said, ‘Nah, I didn’t touch you.’ He was on the ground grimacing so he got up and went back down because he couldn’t move. He just started hopping.”
The Pistons know how important Jennings has been, averaging 19.8 points since Smith was released. They were expecting a medical update Sunday, with backup D.J. Augustin poised to step into a bigger role again this season the way he did in Chicago when Derrick Rose got hurt early last season.
Like a quarterback, Jennings touched the ball every single play he was on the floor, the most improved player in the last 15 games. Averaging 21.3 points and 7.5 assists on 44-percent shooting tells only part of the story.
“He’s tapped into a part of his DNA that says he’s a star and he’s got to that place,” Butler said. “And we were riding him out. Greg and Andre and everybody’s gonna have to raise the bar.”
“He’s been the guy who’s been our catalyst offensively,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “He’s been averaging 20 a game, high-assist, low-turnover, playing at the highest level of his career. Was a huge factor in the previous 15 games so, it’s a major, major loss.”
No. 3:Waiters believes he has grown — Dion Waiters was back in Cleveland with his new team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, in anticipation of Sunday’s clash with the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. He’s the shooting guard traded a couple of weeks back in the deal that delivered New York’s J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland, part of a roster makeover credited – along with LeBron James‘ spa-shutdown of two weeks to heal and invigorate – for the Cavs’ boost in play. Waiters didn’t sound like an eager participant but he did submit to and answer questions from the media, including ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin, on topics such as being scapegoated and his rapport with star teammates past and present.
“I ain’t really care what nobody say. It ain’t affect me. I slept good every night. I slept good every night. So, I mean, that’s what comes with the territory. That’s what comes with it when you got somebody like LeBron who brings all that attention around the team when we wasn’t used to having that. So the littlest things that you do, they be like the biggest. It’s so crazy. But it is what it is. I’m not in that situation anymore. Over here it’s still the same situation, but it’s different. I’m happy, I’m comfortable already two weeks in and I feel like I’ve grown. I’ve grown in a short period of time as a player and off the court.”
Waiters is averaging 11.4 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.8 steals on 39.8 percent shooting from the floor and 25 percent shooting from 3-point range in eight games with the Thunder. His production is nearly identical to the 10.5 points, 1.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.3 steals on 40.4 percent from the field and 25.6 percent from 3 that he averaged for Cleveland this season before the trade.
The difference is in the win-loss column. The Thunder are 5-3 since acquiring Waiters. The Cavs are on an upswing as well, winners of five in a row.
“Both teams are doing great — winning,” Waiters said. “Everybody seems at ease now and that’s what it’s about, just being happy, being comfortable and having fun, getting an opportunity. That’s what it’s about.”
While his relationship with James has apparently ended, Waiters explained why reigning MVP Kevin Durant has embraced him.
“From the outside looking in, he probably saw how things were looking or how I’m always the odd man out and things like that. How it was going, how my name was always in something and half the time it probably never was me,” Waiters said. “I was that guy who you point the finger at, but I was fine with it. I could take it. I didn’t have no pressure on me. I didn’t have no pressure on me. My job is to go out there and play basketball, get as many wins as we can as a unit and unfortunately, it didn’t work out. And I think the organizations made great decisions on the moves and it’s helping both teams.”
No. 4:Lakers didn’t treat Bryant properly? — We return now to our regularly scheduled injury news – notice a trend in these daily reports? – and to the suggestion by ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Baxter Holmes that the Lakers, and specifically coach Byron Scott, could have handled the early days of Kobe Bryant‘s shoulder injury better. Instead, by letting Bryant continue to play after an overload of early-season minutes, Scott’s decision might have contributed to the torn rotator cuff on which they’ll all be updated Monday.
In hindsight, these issues appear greatly troubling, because just as Bryant must treat every aspect of his health, training and diet so seriously at this age just so he can perform, so too must the Lakers, and especially Scott, be ever so cautious with him.
That’s all the more true because Bryant is the Lakers’ sole attraction during an awful season, the lone reason for fans to tune in or attend games, all they really have to look forward to until the draft lottery. From a business sense, Bryant is their cash cow — their extremely well-paid cash cow — and thus missteps are extremely costly.
Where does blame lie? Certainly some falls on Bryant. He’s as powerful as any figure within the Lakers’ organization and as powerful as any player within any NBA franchise. If he wanted to play fewer minutes, he could have. If he wanted to get his shoulder examined earlier, he could have. The only person who could’ve stopped Kobe was Kobe, but he didn’t, because Kobe is Kobe. He believes he will overcome.
So the blame truly falls on Scott, who hasn’t been shy about admitting his fault in the issue. And, to a greater degree, the blame truly falls on the entire organization for not stepping in at some point earlier on when Bryant was playing all those minutes.
The hits just keep on coming for Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, with the team’s announcement Thursday afternoon that the 36-year-old shooting guard suffered a torn rotator cuff Wednesday against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Initially, it was thought that Bryant had only aggravated a longtime injury to his right shoulder in the second half. But as reported by beat writer Mike Trudell of Lakers.com, an MRI exam done in San Antonio early Thursday revealed the tear.
Bryant, who had taken off the previous two games, was scheduled to return to Los Angeles later in the day and to be examined by team doctors Friday, the club announced. “An update on his condition will be issued at that time,” the news release said.
The MRI on Kobe Bryant’s right shoulder showed “a tear of the rotator cuff.” Full press release attached: pic.twitter.com/2GAd8Vzw3L
Bryant had been playing recently on a minutes restriction, so by the time he did re-enter the game, the Lakers trailed by 12 points. He took his final two shots, making one, then sat down with 1:09 left.
He didn’t sound worried about the aggravated shoulder immediately after the game, treating it much the same as he has assorted minor hurts and ailments in recent seasons.
“I feel fine,” he told reporters afterward. “We make a lot of it, but the reality is I’m doing some pretty phenomenal things in 30 minutes. My body is not that [messed] up.”
It looks to be for now, though, possibly taking the whole “Should the Lakers shut down Kobe for the season?” debate out of his or the team’s hands. The roster for the Western Conference All-Stars just got a little looser but the Lakers’ and Bryant’s situations seem to have gotten murkier.
The NBA officially crunched the numbers Thursday morning, noting that Kerr’s Golden State Warriors already had clinched the West’s best record through games played Feb. 1. That’s the cutoff date for designating the All-Star coaches. Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer and his staff had earned the honors with the East All-Stars with the 35-8 Hawks’ home victory over Indiana earlier Wednesday evening.
Kerr’s spot on the West sideline for the annual showcase Feb. 15 at Madison Square Garden was assured with the Warriors’ 126-113 victory over Houston in Oakland. It left Golden State with a league-best record of 34-6 with five games remaining through Feb. 1. Even if it were to lose all five, Kerr’s club would sit at 34-11, .7555, at the cutoff.
Portland, at 31-12 with six games before Feb. 1, could get no higher than 37-12, .7551. Memphis would reach 35-12, .744, if it were to win its five games over the next 11 days. Dallas would max out at 36-13, .734, while both Houston and the L.A. Clippers can do no better through Feb. 1 than 34-14, .708.
Had Portland beaten Phoenix Wednesday, the Trail Blazers and coach Terry Stotts might have gotten to 38-11, .7755, pushing the All-Star honor closer to the deadline. But few can quibble with Golden State’s status as the conference’s and the league’s most successful team through the first half of 2014-15.
The Warriors, who won a franchise-record 17th consecutive game, are off to their best start in the Golden State era. They are one of only 10 teams in NBA history to have won at least 34 of their first 40 games. Golden State ranks No. 1 in field-goal percentage (.487), as well as No. 1 in defensive field-goal percentage (.421). Its average margin of victory (11.8) is the fattest since Kerr played with the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (12.2).
Kerr becomes the first rookie coach to earn the All-Star berth since Indiana’s Larry Bird worked the East’s bench in 1998. He will be Golden State’s first All-Star coach since Don Nelson in 1992.
Kerr, a former 3-point specialist for Chicago and San Antonio, general manager in Phoenix and savvy broadcast analyst, downplayed the achievement as he and the Warriors drew close. “It’s more just keep getting better to me,” he told reporters. “Keep improving, keep taking another step forward. And if we do that, there’s a lot of good stuff to come.”
Most head coaches cite their staffs, who join them on All-Star Weekend, and Golden State is no exception, with Ron Adams, Alvin Gentry, Luke Walton, Jarron Collins, Bruce Fraser and Keke Lyles all contributing. The Warriors players seem to value their input, according to a report Wednesday on MercuryNews.com.
“They do a great job of preparing us,” center Andrew Bogut said. “Ron Adams and Alvin Gentry and those guys, they do a really good job for us with our scouting reports and their preparation.”
Bogut noted that the biggest thing he noticed with Kerr’s staff members was that they had “no agendas” and didn’t play favorites.
“It happens on a lot of teams, just to try to align themselves with certain guys in case there’s coaching changes or whatever, and that happens I’d say in 80 percent of NBA teams,” Bogut said. “I don’t see that on this team with this coaching staff. They’re comfortable in their own skin. I think that starts from Steve Kerr because he’s told these guys, ‘Do your job. I don’t expect you guys to get involved in politics.’ “
With both All-Star coaching staffs in place, the players come next. All-Star starters will be named on TNT Thursday evening, with reserves coming next week after a vote of conference coaches. Stephen Curry is expected to start for the West for the second straight year, but Kerr called it “criminal” if Golden State were to have just one All-Star. In his view, backcourt ‘mate Klay Thompson should go to New York, too.
Said Kerr: “Klay deserves it. To me, the thing with the All-Star game that I’ve always felt long before I came to Golden State is the best teams deserve the benefit of the doubt. Players who put up stats are really good. Players who put up stats and help their team win a ton of games are All-Stars, and that should absolutely put Klay in the game.”
The Atlanta Hawks have sparked debate in recent weeks regarding the 2015 All-Star Game in New York next month, with folks wondering if their ensemble style will be sufficiently honored when the East squad’s reserves are chosen by the conference coaches.
Budenholzer, in his second season with Atlanta (35-8), earned the honor when the Hawks beat Indiana Wednesday night at Philips Arena. The victory clinched the best record in the conference through games played on Sunday, Feb. 1, the cutoff for determining the All-Star coaches. Joining Budenholzer will be assistants Kenny Atkinson, Darvin Ham, Taylor Jenkins, Charles Lee, Neven Spahija and Ben Sullivan.
“It’s a credit to our players, our front office and our entire organization,” Budenholzer said. “I really feel strongly about our assistant coaches; I think they do an amazing job. It’s a great honor but it’s our players that put us in this position. It’s the players that deserve the credit.”
By beating Indiana, Atlanta stretched its winning streak to 14 games, matching the longest in franchise history, and won for the 28th time in its past 30 games. Six Hawks scored in double figures, as Atlanta shot better from 3-point range (13 of 29, 44.8 percent) than the Pacers managed overall (31 of 78, 39.7 percent). And yet it was marksman Kyle Korver‘s dunk in the first half that had people talking.
The 33-year-old got loose on a break and threw down for the first time since Nov. 16, 2012. That one, at Sacramento, came 199 games ago according to STATS. It was, by their count, Korver’s 16th dunk in 12 NBA seasons.
Korver has a good chance to join Budenholzer in New York, given his reputation among the league’s coaches and his statistically eye-popping season so far in shooting 50 percent, overall, 50 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent on free throws. But then, strong cases can be made as well for point guard Jeff Teague and big men Paul Millsap and Al Horford.
There’s uncertainty, too, in naming Budenholzer’s counterpart as coach of the West All-Stars. The same Feb. 1 cutoff is in play and Golden State’s Steve Kerr began Wednesday as the favorite owing to the Warriors’ 33-6 mark. But four more teams – Portland (Terry Stotts), Memphis (Dave Joerger), Houston (Kevin McHale) and Dallas (Rick Carlisle) – all were in striking distance with 10 days left.
> We’re halfway through the season. Who or what has been the biggest surprise these first 41 games? And biggest disappointment?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Anyone around the league who claims they saw the Atlanta Hawks doing this should be selling cars or running for office. No bleeping way. Year 2 under coach Mike Budenholzer, Jeff Teague‘s blossoming, Kyle Korver‘s outlier first half statistically and a pass-first, ensemble approach is one of the NBA’s best stories. As for disappointments, I’m looking at the Brooklyn Nets. Even though they’re reaping what they sowed with big talk, overspending and acquiring some wrong guys, it’s disheartening to see the Brooklyn honeymoon fizzle so fast.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Two words nobody ever expected to be typing before the season began: Atlanta Hawks.Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, et al have risen under the brilliant coaching job of Mike Budenholzer to become a stylistic clone of the defending champion Spurs and the best team in the Eastern Conference. To lift what has been a moribund franchise for more than three decades, is positively breathtaking. When it comes to disappointments, all conversations will begin and end in Cleveland, where LeBron James returned home to acclamation and promptly found himself knee-deep in team-wise cluelessness. But let’s not let Lance Stephenson off the hook for all he hasn’t done in Charlotte. Possibly the worst $27 million anybody has ever spent.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Surprise: Hawks. I thought they would be good. But like fourth-in-the-East good. Capable of winning a series or two, not at the elite level yet. This, though. To be 10-2 against the West along with 17-5 on the road, not to mention the long win streak of the moment, is filled with positives for an organization that really needed good news. Disappointment: Cavaliers. Easy call.I’m also disappointed in the 76ers. That roster should have the fewest wins in the league. Come on, Philly, don’t let the Knicks out-bad you. You worked too hard to be the worst.
Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Surprise to the Hawks, disappointment to the Knicks. Well, yeah, I can hear folks now: What about the Cavs? And that’s valid. However, I had a hunch the Cavs would need time (though not this much time) after blending in a new coach and three stars and also losing Anderson Varejao. LeBron said as much last summer. The Knicks are flat-out an embarrassment and, unlike Cleveland, have given up.As for the Hawks, they may be based in the East but they’re beating up good teams from the West. Unreal for a team that won 38 games last season and didn’t add anyone.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: My first answers are the Hawks and Cavs, for obvious reasons.But I’ll add the Bucks and Pelicans to mix things up. Milwaukee has taken advantage of the relative weakness of the Eastern Conference and doesn’t have a lot of quality wins, but I’d assumed that they would be one of the teams being taken advantage of (again). Jason Kidd has taken a young cast without a star and turned it into the most improved defensive team in the league. That was supposed to be New Orleans, with the addition of Omer Asik and development of Anthony Davis. But New Orleans has taken only the smallest step forward on defense and still ranks in the bottom six of that end of the floor. I didn’t think that they would make the playoffs, but with that frontline, I thought they could at least make a big jump defensively.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Until someone slows them down the Hawks remain the obvious and easy answer for the biggest surprise. No one saw this coming. NO ONE!But I think you could make just as strong an argument for the Portland Trail Blazers. Those 19 home wins and the way Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge both played throughout the first half of the season certainly fueled this team. They have some of my favorite role players (Nic Batum and the ridiculously underrated Wesley Matthews) on their roster, too. They didn’t add any star power over the summer or do anything to suggest they were ready for a leap into the top two or three of the West. Coach Terry Stotts has done a great job, but sustaining this flow becomes the challenge for the second half of the season. It’s tough to get up there to the top of the standings. It’s even tougher to stay there for the long haul. The biggest disappointment … the options are endless. Based on my own internal expectations, it would be hard to top the New York Knicks. Don’t get me wrong, I knew they were going to struggle with the transition. But the worst team in basketball, worse than Philadelphia or Minnesota? I didn’t see this face-plant coming.
Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Hawks are absolutely the biggest surprise, so much so that the other unforeseen performances – by the Warriors, Grizzlies, Rockets and Bucks – don’t seem so surprising by comparison. The biggest disappointment has been the Cavaliers: Not so much for their record as for the way they’ve reacted. I figured by now they would be showing more camaraderie and character and leadership, especially at the defensive end. And if there is any hint that their failure to pull together is the fault of the coach then further shame on them.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The Atlanta Hawks have been nothing short of shocking. I say that as a native Atlantan and former Hawks season-ticket holder who watches every Hawks game and even wrote the NBA.com Hawks season preview. If I didn’t see a 33-8 start coming I don’t expect anyone else to have suspected it either. On both ends of the floor, night after night, the Hawks have been a total delight to watch, and they deserve every watt of the spotlight they’re receiving. As for the flip side of the coin, it’s not altogether their fault, but the Oklahoma City Thunder’s start to the season has been brutal. And sure, significant injuries to your two best players are always trouble, but the Thunder have to start winning consistently right now just to have a chance at making the playoffs. 20-20 is supposed to be the result of Russell Westbrook‘s fashion glasses, not OKC’s record halfway through the season.