Posts Tagged ‘Suns’

Report: Rockets to hire D’Antoni

After an extensive search that included interviews with a dozen candidates, the Rockets have chosen veteran Mike D’Antoni as their next head coach.

Despite his resume and reputation on the offensive side of the ball, the Rockets opted for the 65-year-old D’Antoni because he plans to have a veteran staff that includes Memphis Grizzlies defensive coordinator Jeff Bzdelik, the Washington Wizards Roy Rogers and possibly Toronto Raptors assistant Rex Kalamian, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical:

The terms of the contract, which are still being finalized, call for D’Antonio to receive $16 million for four years with the final season at the team option.

D’Antoni made his biggest mark on the game during his time in Phoenix from 2002 to 2008, where his “seven seconds or less” offense was run by two-time MVP point guard Steve Nash. The Suns were 253-136 during his tenure and reached the Western Conference finals in 2005 and 2006, losing both times to the Spurs and Mavericks.

Since leaving Phoenix, D’Antoni has coached the Denver Nuggets, New York Knicks and L.A. Lakers, posting a record of 202-290.

The arrival of D’Antoni could also signal another step in the departure of center Dwight Howard from Houston. Howard can opt out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. The pair did not get along in their one season together with the Lakers (2012-13).

Morning shootaround — April 2




VIDEO: Highlights from Friday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Warriors’ home streak snapped | Lakers try to heal No. 2 | Morris lost trust | Barea delivers for Mavs | Rookie fires back at Durant

No. 1: Celtics take down Warriors — After setting an NBA record with 54 consecutive home wins, going undefeated at Oracle for more than 14 months, dominating many visitors and wriggling off the hook in handfuls of other testy situations, what did the Warriors do when they were finally beaten on their home court by the Celtics Friday night? Applaud, of course. That was the reaction of Golden State coach Steve Kerr as a tribute to both the Celtics’ effort and to the historic feat that had been accomplished by his own team in establishing such a run of dominance. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle was there to document the end of the streak:

“I congratulated them,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said after one of the quickest postgame locker room meetings of the season. “Are you kidding me? We won 54 home games in a row. What our guys have accomplished is incredible. I don’t know if people understand the intensity and the work that it takes to put together a streak like that.

“To compete night in and night out, when you’re worn out, it takes a lot out of you — especially when every game is the opponent’s biggest game. People are coming after us. I told the guys how proud I am of putting together an amazing streak.”

The Warriors (68-8) were the first team among the four major professional sports leagues to reel off a home streak of 50 games, and they were five games from becoming the first NBA team to finish an undefeated home season.

They hadn’t lost at home in the regular season since Jan. 27, 2015, when Chicago knocked them off in overtime. The Warriors now need to win five of their final six games to break the NBA’s single-season victories record, which was established by the Bulls in 1995-96.

Despite being down nine points with fewer than 5½ minutes to play, it looked briefly as though the Warriors might at least send Friday’s game into overtime. Trailing 109-106, Stephen Curry and Harrison Barnes missed game-tying three-pointers in the closing seconds.

“We’ve gotten away with some games that we probably shouldn’t have won on shots like that,” Curry said. “Tonight, it wasn’t our time.”

***

No. 2: Russell and Young trying to pick up the pieces — While a forgettable season inexorably winds down to the end of Kobe Bryant’s career, the Lakers are trying to move past the unforgettable controversy involving rookie D’Angelo Russell and teammate Nick Young. Russell, who secretly videotaped a private conversation with his teammate, said he’s giving Young his space to let the festering wounds heal, but added that he would have been willing to defend himself if it had come to that. Bill Oram of the Orange County Register has the details:

Russell has been contrite and poised when addressing the awkward situation. But if the issue had escalated to more than a verbal altercation?
“I’d get physical back,” he said.

Russell said he and Young have tried to solve their problems “the right way,” and that the issues in the locker room never got to the point of violence, “but if it does you’ve got to deal with the consequences.”

Russell and Young both practiced Friday, (coach Byron) Scott said. It remains unclear how willing to forgive Young is, with various gossip outlets reporting that his engagement to Australian rap star Iggy Azalea is on the brink of collapse.

“It’s kind of at this point where you need your space,” Russell said, “and you can’t force peace if it’s not there. You’ve got to let the time heal it.”

Scott said he did not know what would happen to Russell’s relationship with Young, who is under contract for two more seasons. Before the video surfaced last week, the two were exceptionally close, with Russell among those attending a birthday party for Young’s son.

“Will they ever be buddy-buddy again?” Scott said. “I don’t know. But they do have to coexist as long as they’re both here, and I think they can.”

***

No. 3: Morris says he could no longer trust Suns — Before going out and scoring 21 points and grabbing nine rebounds to help the struggling Wizards keep their Eastern Conference playoff hopes alive, Markieff Morris took the occasion of his return to the desert to say he wanted out of Phoenix because he just didn’t trust the Suns any longer. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic caught up to Morris:

“I always felt free to play,” Morris said before his first game against the Suns, his NBA home for 4 ½ seasons. “It was just tough to do certain things with no trust and play for people that you really don’t trust.”
Morris would not specify whom he mistrusted.

“I ain’t getting into that but I’m happy where I am now,” Morris said. “I look back on the happy years I had here. It was definitely a great time.”

Morris, 26, was considered a key building block for the Suns and he backed up that assertion by improving his play annually. He became a candidate for the NBA Sixth Man Award and NBA Most Improved Player and was empowered as a future leader of the franchise.

When an assertion was made that the Suns traded their best player in February 2015, Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough contented that the Suns’ best players – Morris and Eric Bledsoe – were still on the roster.
“I’ve seen this play out before,” Morris said. “There have been a couple players I’ve been here with that have been the best players on the team that came back next year in a new uniform so it’s nothing new.”

During Morris’ tenure, Goran Dragic asked to be traded because he was disgruntled, Isaiah Thomas was traded because he was not content with his role and Steve Nash, Grant Hill and Channing Frye said they wanted to stay in Phoenix before negotiations soured them on returning.

“I’ve seen so many do it,” Morris said. “I just didn’t think it would be me like that but it is what it is.”

Morris was traded to Washington in February for the Wizards’ first-round draft pick, which conveys to Phoenix if it is No. 10 or lower. The draft slot is working out ideally for the Suns with Washington currently slotted at No. 12 unless long-shot draft lottery odds changed that.

***

No. 4: Barea leads another big Mavs win — Point guard J.J. Barea spent Thursday back at home in the Dallas area for the birth of his daughter, but arrived at The Palace of Auburn Hills in time to deliver another clutch performance that keeps the Mavericks in the thick of the tight Western Conference playoff race. Barea has been on a scoring tear of late and Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News was on hand to see the latest outburst:

What the Mavericks did have going for them was J. J. Barea, who continued one of his hottest streaks of his career with 29 points. He’s averaged 24 points in the three-game winning streak and this game came after he was in Plano Thursday for the birth of his daughter, Paulina Barea Ortiz.

“One of the best (weeks) ever,” Barea said. “My daughter’s healthy and everybody’s happy and we’re winning some games. I’m playing pretty good. Other than 2011 championship week, this is pretty good.”

Barea’s play was crucial. He had a huge second quarter when the Mavericks scored 15 consecutive points to go up 40-25.

Detroit, playing their ninth consecutive home game, came back to tie the game at 58 in the third quarter.

Barea refused to go down, however. His 3-pointer and midrange jumper rebuilt the Mavericks’ advantage to 86-79. The Pistons hung around, but Wesley Matthews’ three-point play with 2:38 to go made it 93-85 and the Mavericks walked out of the Palace at Auburn Hills winners for the fifth season in a row.

It was against some tough odds with only Barea and Devin Harris available at point guard.

“Our guys are dropping like flies,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “Hopefully Ray will be OK. J.J. flew in today and was big for us. I thought defensively we played a solid game. It was a big win for us with some key guys out.”

On Barea, coach Rick Carlisle added: “He was tremendous. We’re all very happy for him. He’s got to be really happy and I think there was probably a little inspiration seeing his daughter come into the world. It’s a great day.”

This also was the third consecutive game that the Mavericks have held an opponent under 90 points, easily a first for this season. Zaza Pachulia and Salah Mejri also had a nice defensive night against Andre Drummond, the Pistons’ dominant big man who had 17 rebounds, but only 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting.

“A combination of (a slower) offensive tempo and defensive intensity,” Carlisle said about what’s brought about the defensive uptick. “The guys are buying into a style of play that puts us in a better position to defend. Going forward, sometimes, we got to go a little faster, sometimes we got to tempo it down. We’re trying to do whatever it takes.

***

No. 5:Pistons rookie “not scared” of K.D. — The war of words continues between the Pistons and Thunder. First the OKC players didn’t like the way their former teammate Reggie Jackson celebrated a bit too much after a win on their home floor. First Russell Westbrook and then Kevin Durant expressed their displeasure. Now it is Detroit rookie Stanley Johnson who is fanning the flames in the verbal skirmish as he fires back at Durant, according to Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

At first, Stanley Johnson could see the Oklahoma City Thunder’s point.

Maybe teammate Reggie Jackson enjoyed himself a bit too much toward the end of the Detroit Pistons’ 88-82 victory Tuesday night at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

But things changed when he read the comments from Thunder superstar Kevin Durant, who said “I wanted to play against Detroit, for sure, but you know, it’s Detroit. Who cares about Detroit?” to explain his reasoning for skipping the game.

Johnson said such comments were “uncalled for” and said Durant “disrespected” the franchise.

“If he wanted to have an impact on the game, he should have just played,” Johnson said after this morning’s shootaround.

He continued.

“No one is scared of playing against him on this side of town,” Johnson said. “Next year we have two games scheduled, and I know, for me, it’s circled on my schedule from now on.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James moved ahead of Oscar Robertson for 11th place on the all-time scoring list … Isaiah Thomas is wasting no time making his mark on the Celtics … Keith Smart hopes to return to Heat soon following battle with cancer … Festus Ezeli gets his April Fools Day revenge on Andre Iguodala … Obscene gesture costs Lakers’ Julius Randle $15K … Steve Kerr’s attempt at humor falls flat in Warriors locker room … NBA veteran Terry Porter takes over as new head coach at University of Portland.

Report: Humphries, Suns in buyout talks

The Suns and recently acquired forward Kris Humphries are in advanced talks on a buyout agreement, according to Michael Scotto of Sheridan Hoops, adding that the Hawks are the favorites to land Humphries if he does become a free agent.

The veteran power forward was dealt from Washington to Phoenix just before the trade deadline in a move that also sent a protected first-round pick and DeJuan Blair to the Suns and Markieff Morris to the Wizards.

 

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 226) Back Together Again

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — It took a while, nearly two months, but the crew is back together again. And just in time for the latest “Game of the Century” on Super Bowl eve (Thunder visiting the Warriors), a vintage effort from Kobe Bean Bryant and next week’s All-Star extravaganza in Toronto.

That’s right,  The Hang Time Podcast crew is reunited this week to discuss, debate and drill down on the hottest topics around the league — and yes, that means the elusive Rick Fox has finally been located.

He’s been busy the past couple of months doing prep work for the All-Star Game’s visit to his native Toronto (where he swears we’re going to be on the VIP list at Drake‘s restaurant and every other hot spot throughout All-Star Weekend).

We needed the entire crew to sort out the mess in Phoenix (Earl Watson taking over for Jeff Hornacek), to address the rumors that Kevin Durant could be headed to join Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors in free agency, the state of the Lakers (and their precocious rookie D’Angelo Russell, who is caught in the middle of a tug of war between his coach Byron Scott and the man who trained him in the lead up to the Draft, Clippers’ analyst Don MacLean), the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers under Tyronn Lue (and the new super friends LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love) and so much more.  some wicked resistance from the champs, who shouldn’t have to do anything else to convince the remaining non-believers that luck had nothing to do with their championship run last season.

Crazy season (the NBA trade deadline) is near, so you’ll have to forgive us for diving in on so many different topics. But it’s been so rare this season that we’ve been at full strength that we simply could not resist.

Check it all out on Episode 226 of The Hang Time Podcast where the crew gets back together again.

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

***


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant turned back the clock on the Minnestoa Timberwolves for a season-high 38 points in the Lakers’ win

Suns fire Hornacek in wake of 2-19 skid

From NBA.com staff reports

The Suns have fired head coach Jeff Hornacek following Sunday’s 91-78 loss to Dallas. The news was first broken by Yahoo! Sports Adrian Wojnarowski and was confirmed by the team Monday morning.

The Suns issued a statement Monday that read: “The Phoenix Suns have relieved Jeff Hornacek of his duties as head coach following his two-plus seasons in the position, the club announced today.

The Suns plan to have an interim head coach in place by Tuesday.

Hornacek was named the 16th head coach in franchise history on May 28, 2013, returning to the team with whom he spent his first six professional seasons as a player. In two-plus seasons as head coach of the Suns, Hornacek’s teams compiled a 101-112 (.474) record, including a 14-35 (.286) mark this season. In Hornacek’s inaugural season of 2013-14 the Suns went 48-34 followed by a 39-43 record last season.”

Suns GM Ryan McDonough will address the move to the media following Monday morning’s shootaround.

Sunday’s loss, however, was Phoenix’s 19th defeat in 21 games, a nosedive that cost two assistant coaches their jobs shortly after Christmas.

Here’s more from Wojnarowski on the Suns’ late-night decision to change coaches:

General manager Ryan McDonough informed Hornacek of the decision upon the Suns’ return to Phoenix after a 91-78 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday night.

For the 14-35 Suns, the situation turned into an impossible task for Hornacek. A month ago, ownership fired Hornacek’s top two assistant coaches, leaving him with an inexperienced staff. The team also lost Eric Bledsoe to a season-ending knee injury and has been dealing with an unhappy Markieff Morris the entire season since his twin brother, Marcus, was traded in the offseason.

The Suns were missing four players, including their three top scorers in Hornacek’s final game as coach.

“We’re going to try to get things changed around,” Hornaceck said at the time. “We’re not quitting on anything. We’re just going to continue to work and try to implement a couple of different things and see if we can get it going. Whatever happens after that, you can’t get concerned about that.”

But Hornacek lasted little more than a month after the assistants’ dismissals, ending his Suns tenure at 101-112 in two-plus seasons.

Hornacek’s stint with the Suns, for whom he played from 1986 to 1992, started well enough with a 48-34 season in 2013-14. But they fell to 39 victories last season, and at 14-35 are on pace to finish with their worst record since they joined the NBA as an expansion franchise in 1968-69.

They have the NBA’s worst record since Dec. 20, ranking last in offensive rating (96.3 points per 100 possessions), defensive rating (111.0/100) and point differential (minus 14.7/100) over that span. The swoon was compounded by the loss of leading scorer Bledsoe, who is out for the season with a torn meniscus.

Wojnarowski reports that the interim coach is expected to be one of their two current assistant coaches: longtime NBA guard Earl Watson and former Developmental League coach Nate Bjorkgren, both of whom were elevated on the staff after the December shake-up.

Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic has more on what’s next for the team, both on the coaching front and overall:

The Suns will interview assistant coaches today before choosing an interim head coach. Corey Gaines, a former Phoenix Mercury head coach, was promoted from player devlopment assistant to assistant coach before this season. Earl Watson and Nate Bjorkgren, a former D-League head coach, were promoted to front-row assistants on Dec. 28 following the firings of assistant coaches Mike Longabardi and Jerry Sichting.

The Suns were expected to contend for a playoff spot this season but are headed for a sixth consecutive non-playoff season, the longest postseason drought in franchise history. The Suns have lost 14 consecutive road games, tying for the franchise’s second-longest streak, but have been a difficult situation for Hornacek since the offseason, when his contract’s team option year for 2016-17 was not exercised and the Markieff Morris saga began with a trade request following his twin’s trade to Detroit.

The Suns returned seven players from last season’s 39-43 team, which lost 10 of its last 11 games after injuries and three deadline trades took it out of playoff contention. Five players remain from Hornacek’s rookie head coaching season, when the Suns were a surprise success at 48-34.

Hornacek, 52, was 101-112 in his three seasons as Suns head coach. He is the NBA’s fourth head coach to be fired, joining Houston’s Kevin McHale, Brooklyn’s Lionel Hollins and Cleveland’s David Blatt.


VIDEO: Suns fall apart down stretch in Dallas

 

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 222) Featuring Greg Anthony

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Commissioner has spoken.

He believes Kobe Bryant belongs on center stage at NBA All-Star Weekend next month in Toronto. And judging by the returns from the All-Star balloting, the fans not only agree with Adam Silver, they plan on making sure it happens.

They’ll get no argument from us. We also believe that 20 years of stellar service, on and off the court, as one of the league’s global ambassadors deserves the royal treatment at Kobe’s final All-Star Game appearance.

NBA TV analyst Greg Anthony is on board with that plan as well. He agrees that the All-Time greats deserve to go out the right way, especially during All-Star Weekend, the same way Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan did before Kobe.

Anthony joins us on Episode 222 of The Hang Time Podcast, our first show for 2016, where we also discuss the plight of Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver and his millennial problems, the state of affairs around the league, the playoff picture in the Eastern and Western Conferences.

We try to make sense of it all on the first installment of The Hang Time Podcast for this calendar year.

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

***


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant’s highlights against the Boston Celtics from his storied career

Sarver blames generation gap for Suns’ ills



VIDEO: The reeling Suns fall to the Lakers, 97-77

There’s plenty wrong in Phoenix when the Suns get thumped by the lowly Lakers, trailing at one time by 38 points, when nobody can defend at a suitably professional level, when coach Jeff Hornacek is left out there flapping in the breeze concerning his job status following a ninth consecutive loss.

But Suns owner Robert Sarver isn’t digging through advanced metrics or any old school basketball books for the solution. He says it’s simply a generational problem with Markieff Morris as the prime example. Sarver told Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic that he just can’t figure out those darn kids:

“I’m not sure it’s just the NBA,” Sarver said. “My whole view of the millennial culture is that they have a tough time dealing with setbacks, and Markieff Morris is the perfect example. He had a setback with his brother in the offseason and he can’t seem to recover from it.

“I’m not sure if it’s the technology or the instant gratification of being online. But the other thing is, I’m not a fan of social media. I tell my kids it’s like Fantasy Land. The only thing people put online are good things that happen to them, or things they make up. And it creates unrealistic expectations. We’ve had a number of setbacks this year that have taken their toll on us, and we haven’t been resilient. Therefore, it’s up to our entire organization to step up their game.”

Perhaps a mult-player deal to bring in “pre-millenials” Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki?

Meanwhile the rumor is circulating that former coach Mike D’Antoni’s name is back in the mix if the Suns decide to move on from Hornacek.

Fresh 2016 NBA bench rumble: There is active buzz in coaching circles that Mike D’Antoni will be on Suns’ list if/when that job comes open

— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) January 4, 2016

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 28


VIDEO: Fast Break from Dec. 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Suns in disarray | James grumbling about Cavaliers’ lack of rhythm | The decline of Dwight Howard | A warm reception for Kobe in Boston?

No. 1: Suns in disarray — One loss to the lowly and previously one-win Philadelphia 76ers destabilized things in the Valley of the Sun. And the hits just keep on coming. The news that point guard Eric Bledsoe would need surgery to repair a torn meniscus and would be out indefinitely was followed by the reported firing of two assistant coaches (Mike Longabardi and Jerry Sicthting) in an effort to shake up Jeff Hornacek‘s staff. And Hornacek, who took a towel to the face from Markeiff Morris last week, is also reportedly on the hot seat. Just two years ago Hornacek had the Suns were on the edge of the playoff picture in the Western Conference and now it all appears to be on the verge of coming apart, as Marc Stein of ESPN.com reports:

Sources told ESPN.com on Sunday night that the Suns are promoting longtime NBA guard Earl Watson and former NBA D-League head coach Nate Bjorkgren to the bench to work closer to Hornacek and will dismiss veteran assistants Mike Longabardi, who was heading up Phoenix’s defense, and Jerry Sichting.

Earlier Sunday, ESPN.com first reported that the Suns’ 5-15 nosedive, including a home loss Saturday night to the 2-30 Philadelphia 76ers, had put Hornacek’s job security under immediate threat.

It is believed that the Suns are taking this measure instead to give Hornacek, who is held in high esteem by owner Robert Sarver, another chance to turn the club around.

But that figures to be difficult after the harsh news Sunday that star guard Eric Bledsoe is out indefinitely and will require knee surgery Tuesday to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Suns, despite the organization’s well-known fondness for Hornacek, have been forced to contemplate a coaching change far sooner than they hoped because of a slide that has dropped them to 12-20 and 11th in the Western Conference. There is also a growing fear within the organization that the team is no longer responding to its head coach.

Phoenix began the season with playoff aspirations after posting records of 48-34 and 39-43 in Hornacek’s first two seasons and the offseason signing of center Tyson Chandler.

But the Suns have dropped 15 of 20 games since opening 7-5, seemingly bottoming out in Saturday night’s home loss to the Sixers as Bledsoe also exited with his knee injury in the second quarter.

Adding to the sting of the Philadelphia loss: It was the first game on the Sixers’ bench for former Suns coach Mike D’Antoni, who was hired recently by new Philadelphia chairman of basketball operations and former Suns owner Jerry Colangelo to serve as associate head coach to Sixers coach Brett Brown.

“Obviously, it’s probably a low point for us,” Hornacek told reporters after the game. “Now the confidence is lacking.”

***

No. 2: James grumbling about Cavaliers’ lack of rhythm — Back-to-back losses has a way of raising the dander of LeBron James in the way little else can. As the leader of the superstar band in Cleveland, James never shies away from delivering critical analysis about his own crew. And after losing to the Golden State Warriors on Christmas and the Portland Trail Blazers a day later, LeBron vented his frustrations about his team’s lack of rhythm. Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com has more:

The Cavs still lead the East at 19-9, but they’ve had a bad week, with problems deeper than perhaps their 2-2 record would indicate.

You could chalk it up to the knuckleball effect, which is, after trying to hit a pitcher who throws knuckleballs, it can take a big leaguer days to catch up to 95 mph fastballs again.

The Cavs hosted the 76ers – who won their second game this season – last Sunday. They haven’t played well since, needing to hold on for dear life at home against a Knicks team sans Carmelo Anthony and then suffering through consecutive porous shooting performances in these two losses.

Cleveland followed up its 89-83 loss to the defending-champion Warriors – in which the Cavs shot 31.6 percent – with a 28-of-77 clunker against the Blazers.

James is shooting 14-of-39 in his last two, with the 4-of-13 effort for 12 points he turned in Saturday night.

“Offensively we’re just in a funk right now,” James said. “We just got to find our rhythm.”

There’s that word again, rhythm.

James used it after the Cavs lost to the Warriors, when he said “it’s going to take some time to get back into rhythm, and all of us, not just the players, but everyone, to get back in rhythm.”

wrote in Oakland Christmas night to monitor this – James calling for Blatt to bring clarity to the Cavs’ rotations.

Last Sunday (when the Cavs faced the knuckleballer 76ers) was Kyrie Irving’s first game back. Iman Shumpert returned, too, after missing a game with a groin injury. The next game, against the Knicks, was Mo Williams’ first after two absences because of a thumb injury.

With all these players at Blatt’s disposal, the Cavs look discombobulated. No one disputes it and both James and Blatt said it’s to be expected, to a certain extent. And Irving didn’t even play against the Blazers, per the team’s decision to protect his surgically repaired knee from the rigors of games on consecutive nights this early in his comeback.

But Blatt said he spoke with his coaches after the loss Saturday about the impact the changing lineups was having on the team, and James had already taken it a couple steps further after the Warriors game, mentioning the lack of rhythm and continuity because of the uncertainty in Cleveland’s rotations.

Now, consider what James said about this very same topic on Saturday:

“For the first eight weeks we had built chemistry, we knew who was playing, we knew who wasn’t playing,” James said. “We had rotations, coach had rotations down, so we got to get back to that. We have no rhythm. Guys are, we have some guys who don’t know if they’re going to play, or if they are going to play, and it’s hurting our rhythm a little bit.”

***

No. 3: The decline of Dwight Howard The slow, physical erosion of the body and skills of one of the league’s best big men is real. Dwight Howard, the man formerly known as “Superman” to an entire generation of NBA fans, is no more. So says TNT and NBA TV analyst Chris Webber, who lived through a similar fade during his star-studded career after he crossed over from young physical freak to mere mortal. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe explains:

The decline of Dwight Howard is one of the NBA’s most compelling developments. The onetime self-proclaimed “Superman” was for years a physical freak, the model of how a center was built and how a center defended.

Now 30, Howard is slowing down, bothered by years of back and knee issues. He doesn’t have the offensive effectiveness of past years and his durability has waned. So, what happens when physically gifted players lose a step, are no longer able to soar as they once did or defend above the rim?

Former NBA star and current NBA TV analyst Chris Webber, who was a superb athlete coming out of Michigan two decades ago and played until he was 34, offered his thoughts on Howard.

“I wouldn’t just say this for Dwight, I’d say this for all players, me personally, I learned it from Karl Malone. You cannot stay in this game without skill,” Webber said. “Because after five years in this league you will no longer be the most athletic at your position. It’s impossible. That’s including injuries. You have to have more skill, you have to create value for those times you’re on the court.”

Webber said there are ways to compensate for a decline in athleticism by using intelligence.

“You have to maybe help defensively a little bit earlier since you can’t go up and get the blocked shot,” he said. “Some guys start taking charges or some guys just get out [farther] on the floor since they can’t move laterally anymore, maybe develop an 8-foot jump shot. You can learn how to make a move without dribbling because now you can’t just dribble by everybody anymore.

“You have to think the game through and just be that much more efficient. You won’t get the number of looks you have anymore. Mentally, you have to change and hopefully your skill set will allow that. If not, the game will pass you by.”

Perhaps the biggest adjustment for any NBA player is the deterioration of physical skills. For some it’s sudden, for others it’s gradual. The result is never easy to digest.

“It’s especially tough, for me going to Philly, a place that had a different [playing] style, that means you have to learn all over again,” Webber said. “If you’re Tim[Duncan], he’s one of the greatest players to have ever played this game, but because he’s allowed to age in a system.

“Let’s say with a Dwight Howard, his numbers are still incredible but you need a system around him that allows him to do that and those not just be wasted numbers. That can be wasted numbers on a team that doesn’t suit his system.”

The Rockets are one of the league’s more confounding teams, with a record hovering near .500 after reaching the West finals last season.

“Houston is the most disappointing team that we have in the league, more disappointing than the Philadelphia 76ers, and I don’t know if anybody can thrive in that system,” Webber said. “I definitely know it’s tough to age when the system does not include your age in the system.

“If I’m [Howard], I’m trying to offensive rebound a little bit more. If I’m him, I’m running right down the middle of the lane on a secondary break, posting up in the middle, and turning for a jump hook because you’re going to foul me. I’m going to put myself in positions where you have to get me the ball, and when I get the ball I’d be stupid to pass it back out. There’s ways, and he’s one of the best big men in the game still. He should be the second-most-targeted player on that team.”

***

No. 4: A warm reception for Kobe in Boston? The farewell tour for Kobe Bryant has had some interesting stops, to say the least. And nowhere is a fading Los Angeles Lakers’ legend loathed more than in Boston, where Kobe will visit for a final time (as a player) this week. But instead of a vicious chorus of boos, might Kobe be in for a much warmer reception from the Celtics loyalists? Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times sets the stage:

It’s only Monday but already worth asking in a horribly mundane Lakers season: How will Kobe Bryant be received by fans Wednesday in his last game in Boston?

With Philadelphia out of the way, it could be the most attractive road game left on his farewell tour.

The setup started a few days ago, when Bryant revealed he listened daily to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” for two years because he wanted to remember the depth of the Lakers’ embarrassment in the 2008 NBA Finals.

Fans couldn’t stop singing it after the Celtics‘ 39-point Game 6 victory, so Bryant couldn’t stop listening to it.

He found his revenge two years later in the NBA Finals. Will Celtics fans be salty?

Lakers Coach Byron Scott, who battled Boston in three memorable NBA Finals in the 1980s, predicted a warm reaction.

“As much as the Celtics hate us and we hate them, I think the Celtics fans are some of the most knowledgeable fans in the world. I think they’ll give him the same type of respect that he deserves and that he’s been given everywhere else,” Scott said.

Perhaps a precedent was set when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played his last game in Boston in 1988. Abdul-Jabbar, 41 at the time, was given a framed slab of the Garden’s parquet floor by Celtics legend Red Auerbach.

Abdul-Jabbar also received a one-minute, 35-second standing ovation from Celtics fans that night. Scott was there as Abdul-Jabbar’s teammate.

“It wasn’t a standing ovation for [his] 20 years, but it was a standing ovation when he decided to retire,” Scott said, developing a one-liner. “Maybe that’s because he was whooping them so much.”

Fans cheered Bryant loudly in Philadelphia, Washington, Detroit and Toronto. They weren’t so kind in San Antonio, but he has another game there before bowing out.

He had not announced his retirement when the Lakers played in New York last month. Other notable road games for him include Sacramento on Jan. 7 and San Antonio on Feb. 6.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Los Angeles Clippers needed Paul Pierce to turn back the clock with Blake Griffin out for two weeks … Globetrotters legend Meadowlark Lemon, 83, diesBradley Beal is expected to resume basketball activities this week for the Washington Wizards … The Golden State Warriors will get a first-hand look at the new and improved Sacramento Kings tonight … The future remains bright for Glenn Robinson III in Indiana …

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 14


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Irving expected back this week | Chandler back, ready to face Mavs | Thunder stars spread the love vs. Jazz | Can Warriors start another run?

No. 1: Cavaliers expect Irving to return this week — The hope in Cleveland was that Kyrie Irving would make his season debut as early as this week, perhaps Tuesday night in Boston. But it turns out that was a bit ambitious. Irving, coming back from June knee surgery, will most likely have to wait until the weekend to see his first game action of the season. LeBron James has waited this long to have his squad at full strength, what’s another week? Chris Haynes of the Cleveland.com explains:

“We’ve still got some things that we want to go through with him before we let him get back out there,” Cavs coach David Blatt said, “but he is looking good and feeling good.”

There’s a chance he takes the court against Oklahoma City at The Q on Thursday, but it’s more likely that next Sunday, Dec. 20 at home versus Philadelphia is the target date. Either way, it pretty much ensures the three-time All-Star will be in the starting lineup Christmas Day against the defending champion Golden State Warriors.

Irving is a couple of full practices short of having participated in a week’s worth of sessions. He added one more to his belt on Sunday. His movements and his shot looked good.

Mentally and physically he’s ready to play. He’s built up strength in his legs to where his lower body is stronger than ever. Behind the scenes, he tried to persuade the organization to activate him last week and has been upset with the organization’s response.

The Cavaliers are being cautious. It’s a marathon for a title, not a sprint.

“He still has some testing to do and we’d like him to work a few more days in practice,” Blatt said.

Irving is the final piece to the team reaching full strength for the first time this season.

“It’s great to have bodies,” LeBron James said after the Cavs beat Orlando on Friday. “Coach is going to have a great opportunity to do what he wants to do with the lineups. We’re just missing one more piece and once we get that, we can really start to see what we’re capable of doing.”

***

No. 2: Suns’ Chandler returns just in time to fave former teamTyson Chandler‘s presence in the middle for the Phoenix Suns was sorely missed for eight games as he dealt with a hamstring strain. But he returned to the lineup Sunday and helped the Suns knock off the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Suns get their defensive anchor back just in time for Chandler to face his former team, the Dallas Mavericks, (8:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV). Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic has more:

Tyson Chandler already was back in the swing of things during Sunday’s game when he rolled off a screen for Eric Bledsoe, who sent an alley-oop pass for him.

Chandler stretched back to catch the pass and redirected the ball to the perimeter while in mid-air. But it was a sign that more than Chandler’s right hamstring might be back for the Suns.

“I feel like if I had my springs, I could make up for that,” Chandler said. “I felt like that was on me. It was just good to see the timing.”

Chandler played 23 minutes in his first game back from an eight-game absence with a right hamstring strain. He came off the bench for the first time since April 2010 with Charlotte to ease back into action while Alex Len continued to thrive, having an 18-point, seven-rebound game with rookie star center Karl-Anthony Towns in early foul trouble and playing only 18 minutes.

Chandler’s return comes just in time for him to play against his former team Monday at Dallas, where he had two one-year stints that included the 2011 championship and last season. He departed each time against his choosing. The latter came after Dallas owner Mark Cuban had intimated that they would not let him go again, only to let him do so for the failed pursuit of DeAndre Jordan.

“It’s not as emotional as the first time in the past,” said Chandler, whose return last season to New York after three seasons there was riper for emotion. “For some reason, it doesn’t feel the same. I’m happy to be in Phoenix. I was blessed to a good situation so there’s really no animosity.”

Chandler already has missed more games this season (nine) than he did last season with Dallas (seven) but his defensive impact was felt immediately upon his return. His opposing man scored once in the paint against him Sunday.

“He’s the anchor of our defense,” Suns guard Eric Bledsoe said. “He picks everybody apart and tells them what we need.”

***

No. 3: Thunder stars spread the love to seal fifth straight win — They are more than just a two-man team. Granted, no one should complain when those two men are Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But the Oklahoma City Thunder needed more than just their two superstars to seal their fifth straight win, an overtime thriller over the Utah Jazz. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman explains:

Overtime tipped and Russell Westbrook had already scored four points within 36 seconds — a 15-foot pull-up on the opening possession and a weaving fastbreak lefty layup moments later.

The spurt bolted OKC to 100 points. Utah wouldn’t reach triple-digits. Final score: Thunder 104, Jazz 98, with Westbrook’s two early overtime makes serving as enough late offense.

But to seal a season-high fifth straight win, plenty of other contributors were needed. The two biggest were OKC’s other two most important players, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, who both lumbered through a brutal first half before awakening in highlight fashion.

Ibaka didn’t make a shot in the first 24 minutes. Durant had a career-low two first half points, taking only two shots and committing four turnovers. The Thunder trailed Utah 51-38, with a wild Westbrook second quarter buzzer-beater the only reason it wasn’t worse.

“Just getting a bit frustrated with myself,” Durant said. “Had to calm down. Told myself to calm down.”

When he was younger, Durant’s godfather would pull him aside during in-game struggles and tug on his jersey while looking straight into Durant’s face, sternly telling him to focus.

The past two games, both starting slowly and ending with a flurry, Durant’s morphed that memory into a celebration. After big shots in both wins over the Jazz, Durant strolled down the court tugging on his own jersey and yelling at himself.

He had plenty of chances to do it on Sunday night.

Durant scored seven points in the first two minutes of the third quarter and combined with Westbrook to score OKC’s first 20, erasing that 12-point deficit by the 7:38 mark.

From there, the game tilted back and forth deep into the fourth quarter.

With 49 seconds left, the Thunder trailed 94-91. Durant, who was scorching by that point, had the ball isolated in the post. He had a smaller defender on him, so the Jazz doubled. Durant surveyed the floor, identified a weak spot and made the kind of late-game trust pass coach Billy Donovan can only hope becomes habit.

“I seen them shift all the way over and leave Serge wide open,” Durant said. “That’s a bad move because he can shoot that.”

Durant whipped a cross-court laser right to Ibaka. Derrick Favors tried to recover, sprinting back toward Ibaka and jumping. But Ibaka stayed patient, pump-faked, let him soar by and then knocked in the game-tying three.

“I see him working on that every day,” Durant said. “The pump-fake, fly-by three. Huge shot.”


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook talks about OKC’s comeback win

***

No. 4: Do the Warriors have another streak in them? Now that the Golden State Warriors know what it’s like to be a mere mortal team, courtesy of their historic start to the season being interrupted by that loss in Milwaukee Saturday night, they can get back to normal. But do the mighty Warriors have another streak in them? Could they get on another roll and crank out another double-digit win streak this season? With Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson leading the way, Marcus Thompson III of the Bay Area News Group believes the Warriors are built for another wicked run:

So the Warriors lost. Finally. They are just a regular great team again. This must be how Wolverine felt with regular bones.

But let’s get this on the record now. The Warriors have another long streak in them. They aren’t done blitzing the NBA.

What’s so impressive about what they pulled off was how regular it was for them. They didn’t play lights out for six weeks. They ran off 24 wins to start the season without being at their best.

Their system is that good. Their roster is that deep and versatile. Their best player is that special.

And they still haven’t peaked.

“Love competing with my brothers every night!” Draymond Green tweeted. “Now it’s time to focus on getting better each and every day. Let’s get it.”

In the final seconds, Curry — when it was clear the Warriors would lose — stood there and watched Milwaukee party like it was 1999. And the look on his face, a half a smile beneath weary eyes, was one of a star who’d found motivation.

Milwaukee was celebrating as if it had clinched a playoff series. Better believe the Warriors noticed, and will remember that when the Bucks come to Oakland.

Klay Thompson after the game: “We get to see them again Friday.”

But that’s how high the Warriors had gotten. Beating them — even if it was an exhausted, short-handed version of the Warriors — was celebration worthy.

Starting a season 24-0 puts the Warriors on a level we haven’t seen before. Their trajectory defies logic. Saturday’s defeat may be one of only nine this season, if they break the record for most wins in a season.

Judging by what it took to finally beat them, Milwaukee might be in rare air. When it’s all said and done, they might have made the greatest team ever look normal.

And that’s not normal.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame is making major changes to the election process, which could produce a mega class including Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson and Yao Ming in 2016 … Thunder fan Shane McKinzie breaks the $20,000 half-court shot drought … ICYMI, the Washington Wizards will be without Bradley Beal for at least two weeks … DeMar DeRozan and the Toronto Raptors own the Philadelphia 76ers like no one else in the league …

ICYMI of the Night: What’s better than an alley-oop? How about a double alley-oop?


VIDEO: Jon Leuer finishes off the alley-oop with a jam

Report: Chris Paul out against Suns

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Los Angeles Clippers will work without their starting backcourt in tonight’s game against the Phoenix Suns on TNT. Both Chris Paul (groin) and J.J. Redick (back) will be out of the lineup against the Suns.

Redick has also been ruled out for Saturday’s game against the Detroit Pistons in Los Angeles after suffering back spasms in Wednesday’s loss in Dallas and not returning to the game after playing just 14 minutes.

Paul has been battling the groin injury, suffered in a loss to the Golden State Warriors last week.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers will have to turn to his backups, Austin Rivers, Pablo Prigioni and Jamal Crawford, to fill in the starting lineup against the Suns.