Posts Tagged ‘Suns’

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.

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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

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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.

 

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 26


VIDEO: The NBA remembers the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Flip Saunders

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Saunders remembered as leader, cherished member of NBA family | Anthony, Knicks gain inspired by Mets | Parker ready for new, reduced role with Spurs | Ibaka the most unique big man in basketball?

No. 1: Saunders remembered as a leader and cherished member of NBA family — Flip Saunders lost his battle with cancer Sunday at 60, succumbing to Hodgkins lymphoma on the eve of a NBA season he was going to start away from the Minnesota Timberwolves as he continued his four-month fight. Instead, he’s being remembered around a league where he touched many throughout his career. Our very own Steve Aschburner, a longtime former Timberwolves beat writer, shared some of his own reflections on Saunders:

Saunders had other pet phrases, things he’d coined or gleaned from the many coaches’ books he devoured during his trek through basketball’s trenches — seven years in the CBA in Rapid City, S.D., in La Crosse, Wis., in Sioux Falls, S.D., after college work at Golden Valley Lutheran College, Minnesota and Tulsa. “You are the position you can guard,” he’d say. And: “You give a player only as much responsibility as he can handle.” And: “Your greatest strength is your greatest weakness.” Sometimes he’d footnote, sometimes he wouldn’t.

Flip also could prompt one back, typically when he’d claim that the only reason Marquette (my alma mater and first beat) won the NCAA men’s championship in 1977 (his senior year) was that Minnesota, despite its 24-3 record, was on probation and ineligible for the tournament. “But like Woody Allen said,” I’d remind him, “80 percent of success is showing up.” He’d wave his hand and we’d banter another day.

The fact is, Saunders disliked confrontations. It was the single biggest criticism of him as a coach and, when his teams in Minnesota and Detroit went through some tough times, it was cited as key to his undoing. When your best player, Kevin Garnett, is a blast furnace of motivation and improvement, there’s little about which a coach needs to confront him or the teammates intimidated into following. When some salty veterans such as Latrell Sprewell, Sam Cassell or Rasheed Wallace plant their heels, though, being player-friendly can get you pink-slipped.

Saunders was easily the most successful coach in Timberwolves history, particularly during his first stint. The Wolves went 411-326 and made the franchise’s only eight postseason appearances, reaching the Western Conference finals in 2004. All other seasons (including 2014-15 with Saunders navigating downward for lottery chances), they’ve gone 407-940 with zero playoff berths.

The good times were the product of Saunders’ coaching, Kevin McHale‘s acumen and Hall of Fame experience as VP of basketball operations, and the two college teammates’ and friends’ commitment to Garnett and, for as long as it lasted, to Stephon Marbury. That blew up in less than three seasons and, despite the subsequent playoff runs, Minnesota never got quite good enough.

A comment Flip made a while back in hindsight about that fizzled vision turned particularly poignant Sunday. “I hope years from now,” he said, “KG, Steph and I aren’t sitting around a table at All-Star Weekend saying, ‘We really screwed up.’ ”

He couldn’t push the Pistons over the top in three years, either, and the situation in Washington went sideways thanks mostly to Gilbert Arenas and his guns. And yet, while Saunders got fired three times at the NBA level — the Wolves dismissal, coming from McHale, stung all the way to the end — he got hired four times.

***

No. 2: Melo, Knicks gain inspiration from Mets — Give Carmelo Anthony credit for thinking big — and we’re talking championship big — as the New York Knicks head into this season. He’s drawing inspiration from the New York Mets, who’ll battle the Kansas City Royals in the World Series. And in the Mets, Anthony says he sees similarities in how they have gone from rebuilding to competing for a championship. Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News details Anthony’s vision and how the fortunes of these two Big Apple franchises relate:

It wasn’t long ago that another New York sports team was selling hope over substance, building around a combination of youth and veterans while resisting the quick fix.

So can the Knicks draw inspiration from the World Series baseball team across the East River?

Carmelo Anthony thinks so.

“That’s very inspiring to me, what the Mets have done this season,” he said. “But that didn’t start this season. That was a process. That was a build that was happening the last couple of years. To see them now kind of at the pinnacle of the sport, it’s a good feeling. Even if you’re not a Mets fan and you’re here, it’s a good feeling.”

The similarities between the Knicks and Mets also extend to championship droughts (43 and 29 years, respectively), although only the Jets can claim in New York that they’ve tortured their fanbase longer than the Knicks.

“I don’t want to say it’s similar but you can see some similarities in that,” Anthony said. “The way that they kind of broke everything down and kind of rebuilt piece-by-piece and all of it came together at the right time. I don’t want to say we’re in a similar situation, but we are. Right now we put pieces together and we have to go out there and build that.”

The big difference is the Knicks won 17 games last season and finished with one of the worst records in the NBA. So they’re not close to anything resembling a long playoff run, which took the Mets five years to accomplish since Sandy Alderson took over.

***

No. 3: Parker ready for new, reduced role for Spurs — The addition of All-Star help like LaMarcus Aldridge and the increased role of budding All-Stars like Kawhi Leonard could mean a new and reduced role for Tony Parker. And it’s a role Parker is prepared to embrace at this stage of his career. Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News details the changes on the horizon for one of the Spurs’ staples:

Days before the Spurs start their quest for championship No. 6, the 33-year-old Parker acknowledged his role is finally changing. No longer will he be relied to do so much on offense, instead passing that torch to Leonard and Aldridge.

“I understand my role is going to change,” said Parker. “I don’t need to score as much and I have to get LaMarcus and Kawhi (going). I know my role is changing, but I love it. The way that (Tim Duncan) changed towards Manu (Ginobili), and Manu changed towards me, it’s the same thing with me now.”

Parker echoed the words of Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, who mentioned to the Express-News how the Spurs “equal opportunity offense” will now shift towards Aldridge and Leonard. Popovich was quick to point out that Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker won’t be forgotten, but things will change.

Let Parker tell it, he’s fine with taking a backseat.

“The last four or five years it was my job to be aggressive and score, but this year is totally different,” said Parker. “I have to be the engine in another way.”

Parker has led the Spurs in scoring four of the last five seasons, before Leonard took over last season averaging 16.5 points (Parker averaged 14.4).

Asked his feelings when the offense was transitioning to Ginobili and Parker, Duncan admitted the competitor in him resisted, and still does a bit, but added his unselfishness took over.

“As an individual you got to try not to fight it,” said Duncan, who is entering his 19th season. “We’re all competitors and we all want to do what we’ve always done. You have to understand what’s best for the team and I think we’re all here for that. It’s just about accepting that and finding your niche in your new role.”

***

No. 4: Ibaka the most unique big man in basketball? —  On a team headlined by superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, might Serge Ibaka be the most unique talent for the Oklahoma City Thunder this season? It’s a great debate. One that Erik Horne of the Oklahoman argues in Ibaka’s favor with a new and crucial season for Ibaka and the Thunder on the horizon:

Catch Ibaka at the end of Thunder practice, and you’ll see the same guy who’s the active leader in blocked shots per game (2.58) outshoot fellow power forward Nick Collison from beyond the arc. At 34, Collison refers to the 3-pointer as something he’s tried to work on “to stay on the court” in the changing NBA.

Factor in the arrival of Billy Donovan, he of the pace and space offense and experience with the skilled big man, and the green light is even greener from 3 for the versatile Ibaka, who at 26, isn’t using the 3 to stay on the court, but expand his stranglehold on it.

“I feel very comfortable with him shooting threes, even corner threes, because of the time and effort he’s put into it,” Donovan said. “but also he’s a proven shooter – he’s a really good catch-and-shoot guy and that’s a unique combination for a frontcourt player in the league to have.”

Donovan couldn’t come up with a current or past comparison for Ibaka either, forced to look toward the future, a player who’s yet to play an NBA regular season game. Donovan said Indiana Pacers rookie Myles Turner has the skill set to mimic what Ibaka does on the floor.

Good luck, young fella.

“I coached him with the USA team. He’s somebody I think has a chance to maybe develop into that role,” Donovan came up with after a few moments of thought. “That would be the only guy I’ve been around and coached in the summer who I’d say is like that.”

What makes Ibaka even more of an outlier: He’s been capable of this longer than his uptick in 3-point attempts has indicated. He’s one of 11 players in NBA history taller than 6-foot-10 to shoot better than 35 percent from 3, 45 percent from the field and block 150 shots in a season. No big deal, except Ibaka’s the only one to do it three times.

The numbers summarize what left Jackson speechless when faced with the daunting question: Is anyone like Ibaka? Jackson knows what a great shotblocker looks like. He played with 7-footer Patrick Ewing, eighth all-time in blocks but someone who kept his game inside the arc offensively in an era where bigs weren’t encouraged to shoot from deep.

Last season, Ibaka attempted nearly twice the amount of threes Ewing hoisted in his entire career.

 

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Who needs training camp and the preseason anyway? Tristan Thompson is ready for the Cavaliers’ season opener … Folks keep writing P.J. Tucker off in Phoenix and he keeps on grinding his way back into the mix … No one is sure what to make of the Sacramento Kings this year, which is exactly why they (DeMarcus Cousins, George Karl and Rajon Rondo in particular), are one of the truly intriguing must-see teams in the NBA this season … Serge Ibaka, the most unique big man in NBA history? … The Philadelphia 76ers don’t officially start this season until Wednesday and they are already limping …

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 205) Featuring Pete Philo

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kristaps Porzingis knows all of the names that came before him, all of the international big men who were supposed to be game changers that didn’t live up to the hype.

The ghost of Darko Milicic, and others, lingers for a youngster like the Porzingis, the Latvian 7-footer the New York Knicks selected with the fourth pick in last week’s NBA Draft.

But Porzingis insists he’s different. He’s prepared to break the mold and is ready to embrace the pressure of playing on the biggest stage the NBA has to offer.

The question is does he have the chops to live up to his own words? 

And that’s a question guys like Pete Philo, the Indiana Pacers’ director of international scouting, get paid to figure out for their respective teams. Their work digging up the details on players most of us have never seen play in the flesh, can be the difference between success and failure for a guy like Porzingis.

Step 1 of the NBA’s summer hoops Holy Trinity is the Draft, which was handled last week with plenty of surprises, including Porzingis.

Step 2 is the Free Agent Fever (on NBA TV and NBA.com starting today and going strong until all of the big names agree to deals) going on right now.

Step 3, Summer League action in Orlando, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas kicks off life fireworks on July 4.

We’ve got you covered on all three steps of the process on Episode 205 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Pete Philo. He joins us to talk Draft, the work that goes on behind the scenes and what that spawns in free agency, summer league ball and beyond.

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: Does Kristaps Porzingis have what it takes to snap the international big man jinx? Knicks fans certainly hope so, as does Phil Jackson and the Knicks’ brain trust

Steve Nash calls it a career, but impact on game will live on


VIDEO: Steve Nash was a two-time MVP and one of the greatest players of his generation

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The debates about Steve Nash‘s place in the history of the NBA can officially begin now that the two-time MVP has officially announced his retirement.

What is not up for debate, however, is the impact Nash had on the teams he played for and the game. He helped usher in the pace and space era of the game while in Phoenix, where he also collected those back-to-back MVPs, in Mike D’Antoni‘s system. A super team featuring Kobe Bryant, Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard in Los Angeles Lakers uniforms never materialized as Nash and Howard battled injuries that derailed the championship aspirations for that group during the 2012-13 season.

Nash’s 19-year career comes to a close with him finishing third behind John Stockton and Jason Kidd on the all-time assists list at 10,355. But Nash could not suit up for the Los Angeles Lakers this season due to injuries. Nash told ESPN’s Marc Stein that it’s “really difficult to put it into words,” now that his career is over. But he did it better than anyone else could in a letter to The Players’ Tribune website, where he broke the news of his own retirement earlier today:

The greatest gift has been to be completely immersed in my passion and striving for something I loved so much — visualizing a ladder, climbing up to my heroes. The obsession became my best friend. I talked to her, cherished her, fought with her and got knocked on my ass by her.

And that is what I’m most thankful for in my career. In my entire life, in some ways. Obviously, I value my kids and my family more than the game, but in some ways having this friend — this ever-present pursuit — has made me who I am, taught me and tested me, and given me a mission that feels irreplaceable. I am so thankful. I’ve learned so many invaluable lessons about myself and about life. And of course I still have so much to learn. Another incredible gift.

Nash went on to thank many of his coaches, teammates, family, friends and other influences, making it a point to identify those who helped him go from a Canada to college star at Santa Clara to a NBA star and eventually one of the all-time greats:

Don Nelson insisted that I score. I always wanted to pass but he said, “It’s goddamn selfish when you don’t shoot.” Or, “If you’re a dominant fucking player — dominate!” He insisted that I be aggressive. That growth was a turning point in my career.

Mike D’Antoni changed the game of basketball. There’s not many people you can say that about. No wonder I had my best years playing for him. His intelligence guided him to never over-coach, complicate or hide behind the game’s traditions. He deserves a championship.

When I dribbled by our bench as a rookie on the Suns, Danny Ainge would say, “Take him!” with intensity and contempt in his voice. That was a huge vote of confidence for a rookie.

I remember when Dirk [Nowitzki] and I were nobodies. He used to say over dinner sometimes, “How are us two stiffs gonna make it in this league?” Somehow we made something of ourselves. After all the wins and all the great times we’ve had around the world together, what really means the most to me are the late nights early in our careers when we’d go back to the Landry Center in Dallas, to play a few more games of HORSE and one-on-one. Dirk and the great city of Dallas got their championship, and I couldn’t be happier for them.

Michael Finley was twice an All-Star in his prime, when Dirk and I were young guys on the Mavs. Michael never played in another All-Star Game, but our team went from last place to the Conference Finals under his watch. Do you know how rare that unselfishness is in our game? A true friend and teammate.

The most accurate free throw shooter in NBA history, Nash served as the point guard for the top offense in the NBA for a staggering nine straight seasons (encompassing part of his time in Dallas, 2001-02, through 2008-09 in Phoenix). An eight-time All-Star, seven-time All-NBA pick and five-time assists leader, Nash also won the celebrated J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in 2007.

His impact on the game, around the globe, will be felt for years.

His underdog story resonates, no matter what language one speaks, as Nash (in his own words) prepares himself for “Life After Basketball.”

I will likely never play basketball again. It’s bittersweet. I already miss the game deeply, but I’m also really excited to learn to do something else. This letter is for anyone who’s taken note of my career. At the heart of this letter, I’m speaking to kids everywhere who have no idea what the future holds or how to take charge of their place in it. When I think of my career, I can’t help but think of the kid with his ball, falling in love. That’s still what I identify with and did so throughout my entire story.