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Morning shootaround — March 25


VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs come out flat vs. Nets | George injures leg vs. Pacers | Gibson ’embarassed’ by Bulls’ recent losses

No. 1: Cavs come out flat in loss to Nets — Some nights in the NBA, it’s just not your night — no matter how good your team may be. At a cursory glance, that might be the storyline as the Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers lost on the road to the Eastern Conference cellar-dwelling Brooklyn Nets, 104-95. Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com was on hand for the defeat and notes that despite an otherworldly performance from LeBron James, the Cavs showed troubling signs in the loss:

On Thursday evening at Barclays Center, the rebuilding, interim coach-led 20-win Brooklyn Nets defeated a disinterested, lifeless Central Division champion Cleveland Cavaliers squad 104-95.

“Tonight we took a step backwards and we can’t afford to do that late in the season like this,” James said after scoring 30 points on 13-of-16 from the field. He converted his first 11 field goals and was a nightmare to deal with as he got inside the paint whenever he wanted.

He was asked if he took what the defense gave him.

“It’s what I took,” he quickly replied. “They didn’t give me anything. That’s what I took.”

It’s too bad James’ moody, locked-in demeanor didn’t rub off on his teammates. Excluding his performance, the rest of the Cavaliers shot 36.6 percent from the field and was 10-of-38 from the arc. Cleveland was down nine with 2:01 remaining and could not find the basket for the life of them. Before Jordan McRae made a meaningless three-pointer with nine seconds left, the Cavaliers had missed 10 straight shots and mustered all of nine points in the period.

Kevin Love (11) was 5-of-14 and had a dreadful 0-5 outing from long distance while Kyrie Irving (13 points) missed 16 of his 22 shots. For the second time in less than a week, he skipped out on speaking to the media.

Bad shooting nights happen and it’s excused. But what isn’t excusable is lacking a professional approach. Despite head coach Tyronn Lue urging his team to not take the court with a complacent attitude, that’s exactly what occurred.

They came out lackadaisical and entitled. Their passes weren’t zipped, but rather floated and telegraphed. What was supposed to be hard cuts to the basket looked like pre-game walk-through drills. Lue walked away from his postgame presser disgusted with how his team performed.

“If we don’t compete for 48 minutes, things like this will continue to happen,” he said.

“I started my postseason mindset a little early this year, understanding everything we’ve been through this year both on and off the floor,” James said. “I just want these guys to understand how important this moment is. We have a great opportunity to do something special, at least compete for something special.”

There’s a sad truth. In the three games Love has sat out this month, the Cavaliers have outscored their opponents by an average of 23.3 points. Moreover, opposing point guards seem to have a field day when going up against Irving.

Shane Larkin entered the game averaging six points and four assists, but left the arena with 16 points, seven assists and was 7-of-10 from the floor. It’s a trend that keeps repeating with quick guards against Irving.

“What bothers me is our effort sometimes and making sure our guys are understanding the moment that we have,” James said. “And that’s the only time I can get a little frustrated because I understand the moment that we have and it’s not a given that every year you have a team like this where you have an opportunity to do something special.”

Time is running out.

Flipping the switch seems like a dubious path to victory. There have been too many bad losses. Over time, it’s a pattern, and patterns are hard to break.


VIDEO: LeBron James says the Cavs ‘took a step backwards’ on Thursday

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Morning Shootaround — March 6


VIDEO: Recap Saturday night’s eight-game slate

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jimmy Butler returns | Beal injured | Mohammed: “I’m back” | Krause retires

No. 1: Jimmy Butler returns After missing ten games with a knee injury — during which his Chicago Bulls posted a 3-7 record — Jimmy Butler returned to action last night against the Houston Rockets. Butler picked up where he left off, as the Bulls got a much-needed win. As ESPN’s Nick Friedell writes, for a Bulls team clinging to postseason hopes, Butler’s return should be crucial…

Jimmy Butler didn’t miss a beat in the box score during Saturday’s much-needed 108-100 win over the Houston Rockets. After missing a month because of a left knee strain, the All-Star swingman racked up 24 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists to help the Chicago Bulls snap a four-game losing streak. Butler did everything the Bulls needed him to do. He was solid defensively while guarding James Harden, and he gave the Bulls the scoring punch they’ve been lacking without him. But after the game ended, the proud 26-year-old knew there was something missing from his game that wouldn’t appear within the gaudy numbers.

“I need to get in there and run some laps,” Butler said. “I’m out of shape.”

It didn’t matter that Butler was winded. He gave the Bulls what he had when they needed a win to right their dwindling season. With Butler back and Nikola Mirotic reappearing after missing over a month because of complications related to an appendectomy, the Bulls finally appeared almost whole in a season in which their starting five of Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol and Butler had yet to play a game together all season. It’s no wonder why Gasol called Butler’s and Mirotic’s presence the lineup “critical.” Butler set an example early that the rest of his teammates followed.

“Jimmy makes a huge impact on both ends of the floor,” Gasol said. “Especially on the defensive end. His physicality and his activity and energy make a big difference because it kind of picks everybody up as well and sets a tone for the rest of the guys.”

Aside from Butler’s return, the key for the Bulls is that they found a team in the Rockets that’s even more dysfunctional than they are. Watching the Rockets make mistake after mistake was similar to watching the way the Bulls have played many times during the season. The teams combined for 43 turnovers, 25 of which came from the Bulls.

That’s why any optimism coming from the Bulls’ locker room has to be tempered by the fact that Chicago beat a team even more underwhelming than itself. The good news for Fred Hoiberg‘s beleaguered group: With 21 games left, Butler has the ability to serve as a stabilizer for a team that still talks about making a push into the playoffs. Butler’s return gives the Bulls something they haven’t had much of in weeks — hope.

“It’s huge,” Rose said of Butler’s return. “Whenever he’s got the ball, you got to stick both of us. It’s hard to pay attention to both of us when we’re on the court. And we get to catch the ball with a live dribble so that helps the team out a lot.”

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No. 2: Beal injured — Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal has consistently been counted among the NBA’s most promising young players. For Beal, though, injuries have seemed to consistently hinder him from taking that next step. After breaking his nose in January, Beal had been playing with a protective face mask. But last night, after finally being able to take off the mask, Beal suffered a pelvis injury. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, for a Wizards team fighting for a playoff berth, a healthy Beal is necessary…

He helped the Wizards record 64 first-half points in the crucial matchup between teams vying for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Then the evening went askew.

The fourth-year sharpshooter exited with 6 minutes 17 seconds left in third quarter of the Wizards’ gut-wrenching 100-99 loss, after falling hard on his right hip when he collided with Pacers big man Myles Turner at the basket. Beal remained on the floor in agony for a couple minutes and needed assistance walking off to the locker room.

Beal, 22, was diagnosed with a sprained pelvis and didn’t return. He declined to speak to the media after the game and the team didn’t have an update on his status. Beal has missed 21 games this season because a shoulder injury, a stress reaction in his right fibula and a concussion.

Washington’s second-leading scorer, Beal is expected to travel with the team to Portland Monday for Washington’s three-game road trip, but whether he will play Tuesday against the Trail Blazers is uncertain. Garrett Temple would return to the starting lineup if Beal is ruled out. Temple tallied 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting in 26 minutes Saturday, shooting 24.6 percent from the field and 24.1 percent from three-point range. He has also shot 58.3 percent from the free throw line in his 10 starts since the break.

Gary Neal missed his 12th straight game Saturday with a right leg injury that he described as neurological. But the team, he said, was still unsure exactly what is wrong.

The firepower Washington holds with Beal in the starting lineup was evident Saturday as the Wizards posted 37 points in the first quarter. Beal finished 12 points on 5 of 13 shooting in 24 minutes before departing.

“We had gotten off to such slow starts the last couple games, I think we were down 12 in the first quarter in Minnesota,” Coach Randy Wittman said, referring to the Wizards’ win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday. “Just trying to get a better start and we did.”

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No. 3: Mohammed: “I’m back” — The Oklahoma City Thunder had an open roster spot, and to fill that open slot, they went after NBA veteran Nazr Mohammed, who they had to lure out of what he called “semi-retirement.” In a first-person piece written by Mohammed, he explains why he returned, and what he thinks his role will be with the Thunder…

It’s official. “I’m back.” I’ve always wanted to say that…like I’m MJ or something LOL. I’m officially back in an NBA jersey, and I could not be more excited for this opportunity.

You may not have noticed that I have been in what I call semi-retirement. And by the way, I’ve been calling it semi-retirement for two reasons. The first is that a 37-year-old professional athlete doesn’t really retire; we just transition to our next careers. The second reason being that in pro sports, most of us actually “get retired,” either because the phone is no longer ringing for your services or you’re no longer able to accept playing for just any team. As a young player, your only desire is to be in the NBA. As you get older, your desire is to play for certain organizations with certain circumstances, making it a little tougher to find the right fit. Mine was a combination of all of the above. Most of the teams that I had interest in didn’t need my services, and I didn’t have the desire to go just anywhere. And some teams just didn’t want me.

With all that being said – DRUMROLL PLEASE – I am now a proud member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the very team I competed for a Championship with in 2012. I was days away from turning “semi-retirement” into full retirement when I received word from Sam Presti that they had interest in me returning to OKC as a player. That quickly changed the course of my plans and forced me to do some real soul-searching to see if this was something my family and I wanted.

I believe in staying prepared for the opportunities that I think I want, whether they come to fruition or not. You can do no greater disservice to yourself than to secretly want something, but then be unprepared if the opportunity presents itself. I stayed prepared, but when I didn’t foresee any viable opportunities coming my way during “buyout season,” I contemplated shutting down my court workouts and facing the reality that my life as a basketball player was over. I started seriously considering accepting and starting one of my post-career opportunities. I even agreed with Debbie Spander of Wasserman Media Group to represent me if I chose to pursue broadcasting as my next career. But my agent, Michael Higgins, suggested that I give it a few more days to evaluate the landscape.

Like I said, I had a short list of teams that I would undoubtedly come out of semi-retirement for. Of course OKC was on my short list, which consisted mostly of teams I played for in the past. When I spoke to the Thunder, their first question was, “How does your body feel?” Anybody who follows me on social media knows that I’m probably a little addicted to my workouts. I’ve kept up my same training regimen (court work three to five times a week, conditioning, and lifting weights) with my guys at Accelerate Basketball, so I knew I was prepared physically. They happen to train Steph Curry too, so you know my jumper is wet right now LOL! After being a part of two NBA lockouts, I’m the master of staying prepared even when I don’t know when my season will start LOL. But the first thing I thought about was my family and whether or not they could handle me being away for the next few months when we were just getting acclimated to a new city and our new schedule (which had me as a big part of it for the first time in my kids’ lives). I knew I needed to talk to them before making a final decision. Regardless, I was shocked, flattered and excited for an opportunity to go into a comfortable situation.

I brought the offer to my wife and kids to see how they felt. My oldest son (10) is an OKC fan, so he was excited. And I better add that he’s a Steph Curry and Jimmy Butler fan too (he’d be mad if I didn’t include that!). My oldest daughter (13) was almost giddy with excitement for me. I’m starting to think they don’t love having me around, but I’ll save that for another blog down the road LOL. I also have a younger daughter (6), and she was very happy, although I’m not sure she truly grasps time and how long I will be gone. My wife, who knows how much basketball has meant to me, was very supportive. We’ve experienced mid-year trades and things like this before, so we know how to handle it. The only difference now is that the kids are older, and their schedules are a little more hectic with school, sports, practices, tournaments, etc. Now with me not being able to help out with that, more is on my wife’s plate. But we’ll figure it out. Whenever we get a day off, I’ll probably try to fly home, even if I just get to see the family for a few hours. We’ll do a lot of FaceTiming. When their schedule permits, they’ll be flying to OKC. We’ll make it work.

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No. 4: Krause retires — The Warriors have been trying to put together the greatest regular season in NBA history, topping the 72-10 record of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. That Bulls team was constructed by general manager Jerry Krause, who this week announced he was retiring from scouting at the age of 76. K.C. Johnson from the Chicago Tribune caught up with Krause and heard some great stories, particularly about Michael Jordan and those Bulls…

Nicknamed “The Sleuth,” Krause’s second stint leading the Bulls didn’t start promisingly either despite inheriting Michael Jordan, whom Rod Thorn had drafted.

In Stan Albeck, he whiffed on his first coaching hire. And Jordan broke a bone in his left foot in the third game of the 1985-86 season, leading to the first of many spats between him and Krause when Jordan wanted to play sooner than he was ready. Krause, Jerry Reinsdorf and doctors ordered a more conservative approach.

“Do I regret that I had not a great relationship with him? You know what? We won a lot of (expletive) games,” Krause said. “Right or wrong, when I took that job I thought the worst thing I could do is kiss that guy’s (rear). We’d argue. But I remember about two years after I traded Charles (Oakley) for Bill (Cartwright). He and Charles were as tight as can be. He called over to me at practice and said, ‘That trade you made was a pretty damn good trade.’ I just looked at him and said, ‘Thank you.'”

Krause replaced Albeck with Doug Collins, a surprising hire given Collins had no coaching experience. It worked, and, augmented by the dominant 1987 draft that netted Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, the Bulls kept knocking on the Pistons’ door.

When they lost to Detroit in six games in the 1989 Eastern Conference finals, Krause and Reinsdorf stunningly replaced Collins with Phil Jackson. Krause had hired Jackson as an assistant coach — one of his two Hall of Fame coaching hires along with Tex Winter — out of relative obscurity from the Continental Basketball Association.

“Everyone thought I was nuts,” Krause said. “I had a feeling about Phil. He has an amazing ability to relate to players.”

Jackson’s first season produced more heartbreak, a seven-game loss to the Pistons in the 1990 Eastern finals. Two days later, Krause said he walked into the Berto Center and almost the entire team was there, working with strength and conditioning coach Al Vermeil.

“I knew right then that we weren’t going to lose to the Pistons again,” Krause said.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James passed Tim Duncan to move into 14th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list … Eric Gordon broke his right ring finger for the second time since January … Manu Ginobili returned from injury and scored a season-high 22 points, as the Spurs went to 30-0 at home … The Phoenix Suns are reportedly targeting Chase Budinger … While it’s not a full update on his status, Chris Bosh says he’s feeling goodChris Andersen says he’ll always remember his time in Miami … During a concert in Oakland this weekend, Prince gave a shoutout to Steph Curry

Morning shootaround — March 3


VIDEO: Highlights from Wednesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant: Thunder ‘fooling ourselves’ about status | Bulls’ Butler making progress | Right shoulder bothering Kobe | Gentry: Pelicans’ playoff hopes are over

No. 1: Durant: Thunder ‘fooling ourselves’ about being great team — The Oklahoma City Thunder have the fourth-best winning percentage in the NBA and are steamrolling their way to another Northwest Division title. Yet, something is lacking with this crew — especially when the stakes are raised and they play a top-level opponent. Last night, OKC blew a 17-point lead en route to a 103-98 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers and afterward, Thunder star Kevin Durant did not mince words about what he thinks of his team. Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk.com has more:

There’s an identity crisis in Oklahoma City.

“We want to be a great team, we’re fooling ourselves,” Kevin Durant, arms resting on his thighs and looking at the ground after his team blew a 22-point lead and lost to the Clippers Wednesday. “If we want to be a great team the way we’re playing, we’re fooling ourselves. We want to win a bunch of games in the regular season, that’s cool, but we’re fooling ourselves with the way we’re playing.”

There was a lot of soul searching after the game as the Thunder kept the locker room closed after the game for longer than normal; and then their stars took their time to gather themselves before addressing the media. It’s to be expected in what is the latest in the line of “worst loss of the season” games for the Thunder.

“What kind of team do we want to be?” Thunder coach Billy Donovan asked. “Because to (win) is going to require a level of sacrifice from every player. I think this is something where you see in the first half what a team like this is capable of, and then can you sustain it? Can you keep playing that way? They do it for long stretches, but then we have these lapses.”

The Thunder have lost five-of-seven since the All-Star break, including a couple of heartbreaking come-from-ahead losses. Don’t sell this to Durant as a wake-up call for the team.

“We’ve already lost too many games we’re supposed to win. We can’t just keep talking about wake-up calls,” said Durant, who had 30 points on 27 shots in the game. “We’ve got 20 games left or whatever it is. We can’t have no wake-up calls at the end of the season. We’re supposed to had those. We’ve got to be locked in from the beginning, from shootaround.”

“I’ve said this before, the best thing for this team is adversity,” Donovan said. “We need adversity. It doesn’t need to be easy, in my opinion…. Now here is an adverse situation, what do we do with this in terms of going forward? When we get leads like this, can we sustain playing the right way on offense and defense?”


VIDEO: Clippers storm back to overtake Thunder

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Blogtable: More likely to miss playoffs — Bulls or Rockets?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Build around Lillard or Davis? | More likely to miss playoffs: Rockets or Bulls? | Thoughts on Russell as starter?



VIDEOJazz outlast Rockets, push Houston to No. 9 in West

> More likely to miss the playoffs this season: The 29-26 Bulls or the 28-29 Rockets?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Houston. Just don’t like the vibe from that squad, which can Kumbaya all it wants — there are issues in that locker room that have nothing to do with Xs and Os. And, I’m not sure Detroit or Washington can put together a run for long enough to surpass the Bulls, while I see Utah being more than capable of finishing the season with a flourish — especially with Shelvin Mack looking like he’s going to solidify the Jazz at the point for the stretch drive.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comForced to pick between disappointments, I’m going with the team that is committed to its current coaching staff. Fred Hoiberg and his bosses understand the embarrassment they’ll face if they miss the playoffs, having dumped Tom Thibodeau and his sixth-best winning percentage of all time (.647) among coaches who’ve worked at least 300 games. Management turned Thibodeau into a lame duck last season and suffered consequences that still linger. But there are signs Chicago is starting to click, if it can hang in long enough for Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic to return from injuries. Houston clearly gained little from its impulsive firing of Kevin McHale and is likely to dump interim J.B. Bickerstaff before next season too. The Rockets’ dysfunction runs deeper and, unless they have a bunch of games left against Phoenix, they’ll be done at 82.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Call it a cop-out, but I’m saying neither. But if you make me pick, I’d say the Bulls are more likely to miss out. The Rockets have to beat out only one of either the Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz, both of whom are playing close to their limit. And they might even have a shot at the struggling Mavs coming down the stretch. Over in the East, this seems to be a lost season for the Wizards and the Magic are again headed toward disappointment. That keeps the door open for the Bulls. But I think Stan Van Gundy is doing everything he can to drive the Detroit Pistons into the playoffs. The question mark that puts the Bulls in danger is when Jimmy Butler returns to the lineup.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com The Rockets. Chicago expects to get Jimmy Butler back, maybe within a few weeks, and Nikola Mirotic as well. No one who can play at an MVP level when healthy is walking through that door in Houston. I’m not crossing the Rockets off the list because that’s not exactly an overwhelming group of playoff hopefuls around the cutline in the West. But the Bulls’ roster could get significantly better.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: This is something of a coin flip, but my gut says the Bulls are more likely to miss the playoffs. Yes, I realize Jimmy Butler will return at some point, but Chicago is being chased by Detroit and Washington for the final spot at the moment, and both teams — while flawed — are capable of finishing strong. Meanwhile, the Rockets are dealing with only the Jazz. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Chicago and Houston sit this one out.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com The Rockets. First of all, they’re out of the playoffs right now, while the Bulls have a three-game cushion in the loss column. Secondly, the Rockets’ record is a little inflated (they have the point differential of a 25-32 team), because they’ve been good in close games (though the Bulls’ record is similarly inflated). And finally, they have a tough schedule relative to the teams they’re fighting with, playing 17 of their final 25 games against teams that are currently at or above .500.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Both teams are stuck in their current predicaments due to their own mistakes as well as some unfortunate injury issues. That said, I can see the Bulls sinking in the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff quicksand. The Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards, Orlando Magic and Milwaukee Bucks are all capable of walking down a Bulls team that will limp to the finish of this regular season with key players (Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah, Mike Dunleavy, etc.) dealing with injuries. The dysfunctional Rockets have a huge challenge ahead of them, but they at least will have their best player to lean on down the stretch.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comAs much as I prefer the roster and chemistry of the Bulls, they must deal with a lot more competition in the East than the Rockets are facing in the West, where there are essentially nine teams competing for eight playoff spots. James Harden should be able to drive Houston into the postseason, whereas the Bulls are going to have to fend off the Pistons and Wizards in addition to the higher-ranked teams in their tightly-bunched conference.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog The Bulls have been through a lot this season, but I think they’re more likely to qualify for the playoffs. The Rockets have been through a coaching change, a few trades, and even a trade that was rescinded. I don’t know this for certain, but it sure seems like there isn’t a lot of confidence right now in that Rockets locker room. I think the Bulls make it.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 9


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: Karl to be fired before All-Star break | James ’emotional’ over Kobe’s farewell tour | Communication issues dogging Bulls

No. 1:UPDATE, 1:37 p.m.

With the earlier news passing as an almost foregone conclusion all day long regarding coach George Karl‘s future, the Sacramento Kings reversed field Tuesday afternoon and decided they will not be firing Karl anytime soon, per ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.

Reports: Karl to be fired soon — On Jan. 23, the Sacramento Kings beat the Indiana Pacers behind a monstrous 48-point night from All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins. That victory was the Kings’ fifth in a row and had them solidly in the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. But, oh, how things have changed since then. Sacramento has lost eight of its last nine games and is on a four-game slump, all of which has turned those good feelings a few weeks ago back into turmoil for the Kings. And in the wake of coach Derek Fisher surprisingly being fired by the New York Knicks on Monday, it seems Kings coach George Karl is next in line to be fired. Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee has more, as does ESPN.com’s Marc Stein:

League sources said the Kings will fire coach George Karl in the coming days amid the team’s worst stretch this season.

The sources said Karl will not keep his job beyond the All-Star break. The Kings’ final game before the break is Wednesday against the Philadelphia 76ers.

A season that looked to be on the upswing last month has gone awry, leaving the players to wonder if they have the fortitude to turn things around.

“I hope that’s the case,” guard Rajon Rondo said after Monday night’s 120-100 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. “But with optional shootarounds, it’s tough. We’ve lost eight of nine. When three or four guys show up for shootaround (Monday) morning, how can you expect to win?”

Optional workouts are nothing new for the Kings under Karl. But with the team in a tailspin and its defense faltering, players questioned the logic behind making anything optional.

After firing Michael Malone and Tyrone Corbin last season, the Kings hired Karl at the All-Star break to provide stability. But that hasn’t been the case, dating to Karl’s feud with center DeMarcus Cousins last summer. Several players also have been unhappy with Karl’s coaching style.

Assistant coach Corliss Williamson, a former teammate of Kings general manager Vlade Divac and the lone holdover from Malone’s staff, is a logical choice to be interim coach.

Players’ rumblings over the lack of defensive adjustments have grown louder during the current rut as offensively challenged teams like the Brooklyn Nets post multiple season and career highs against Sacramento.

The Kings often look unprepared defensively, leaving shooters open and watching as opponents execute the most obvious game plans against them. They’ve given up 120.8 points per game during their current four-game losing streak.

“We go into the game knowing that we’ve got to protect the (three-point) line, knowing that LeBron (James’) favorite target is J.R. (Smith),” Rondo said. “And what do we do? We come in and let LeBron find J.R. We’ve got to stop making excuses; that’s the bottom line. We make too many excuses as a team.”

A separation between Karl and the players has existed at various levels throughout the season. But it is at its greatest when the Kings are playing at their worst.

As the point guard, Rondo was supposed to be a bridge between Karl and the players. Rondo has even said he believes he and Karl should speak more to each other.

Asked if his talks with Karl still are productive, Rondo said, “After every meeting on a game-day shootaround, we talk. He asks me questions, and sometimes I give him my feedback and sometimes I don’t say anything.”

After Monday’s loss, Karl acknowledged a lot of “mental frustration” was surrounding the Kings.

And here’s Stein’s breakdown of the situation in Sacramento:

The Sacramento Kings are going ahead with a coaching change and plan to fire George Karl in the coming days, league sources told ESPN.

NBA coaching sources told ESPN that the Kings have decided internally that a change on the bench is needed and is likely to happen after Sacramento plays its final game before the All-Star break Wednesday in Philadelphia.

Within the organization, according to sources, concerns have been mounting for weeks that Karl was not providing the stewardship Sacramento expected when it hired the 64-year-old from ESPN during the 2015 All-Star break to replace then-interim coach Tyrone Corbin.

Sources said rising dismay, both within the front office and among players, with Karl’s defensive schemes, practice policies and general leadership have had a demoralizing effect on the players, who have slumped into a 1-8 funk in the wake of a recent five-game win streak that briefly had Sacramento in the West’s eighth playoff spot.

Kings owner Vivek Ranadive has made no secret of his hope to see his team reach the postseason and bring a halt to the franchise’s nine-season playoff drought in its final season at Sleep Train Arena before moving into a new building in Sacramento.

Divac, sources said, is seeking only an interim coach for now and wants to take his time with a proper coaching search, in hopes of bringing some much-needed stability to the position and the organization.

The Kings’ next coach will be their league-most ninth since 2006-07, the season that began the postseason drought.

Sources said Ranadive, who took ownership of the Kings in May 2013, has left the decision of whether to fire Karl fully with Divac. The owner twice bucked NBA convention by hiring a coach — first Mike Malone, then Karl — before hiring his GM.

Former Kings guard Bobby Jackson, who played alongside Divac on Sacramento’s best teams in the early 2000s, essentially called for Karl’s dismissal on the team’s local postgame show after the Brooklyn defeat.

Karl has an estimated $10 million in guaranteed money left on his original four-year, $15 million contract with the Kings. His ouster would be the sixth coaching change of this NBA season, which is two shy of the league’s record of eight before the All-Star break, set during the 2008-09 season.


VIDEO: Cavaliers dominate to keep Kings reeling

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 29


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Kings willing to deal Gay | Wizards hold players-only meeting | Lillard using All-Star snub to fuel playoff push | Riley: LeBron never asked for Spoelstra to be fired

No. 1: Report: Kings willing to deal Gay — A mere 20 days and a handful of hours separate us from the NBA Trade Deadline and as we get closer, the chatter is starting to pick up. One name to keep an eye on, per ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, is Sacramento Kings swingman Rudy Gay. According to Stein, the Kings are willing to move the talented scorer … with some caveats, of course. He’s got that information and more in his roundup of trade chatter:

The Sacramento Kings are indeed willing to trade Rudy Gay, sources say, after fairly frequent speculation on that topic in recent weeks.

However …

It’s conditional willingness.

Sacramento is said to be seeking a quality young player in return if it parts with Gay. Or a player they like with at least one year left on his contract after this season, which would give the Kings some insulation against trading for someone in February who turns around and leaves town in July. (Gay, 29, is scheduled to earn $13.3 million from the Kings next season before he’s forced to decide on a $14.3 million player option in 2017-18).

In short: Sacramento isn’t outright trying to move Gay but would be willing to do so in the proverbial “right deal.”

Sacramento, for example, rejected New Orleans’ recent offer of Eric Gordon and Alonzo Gee for Gay before Gordon suffered a fractured finger that will keep him out until after the deadline. They don’t want to move him just for the sake of it.

Much like the Atlanta Hawks are doing with point guards Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder, Memphis is doing the same with free agents-to-be Jeff Green and Courtney Lee.

Which is to say: not flat-out shopping them, but taking the temperature of the market for both players, since that’s what you’re supposed to do with players like Green and Lee who can leave Memphis without compensation in a matter of months.

What the Grizzlies aren’t looking to do, sources say, is break up what they like to call Mount Grizzmore. All of the latest signals suggest they have no interest in parting with either Zach Randolph or Tony Allen before the deadline …

First Joakim Noah was lost to a potentially season-ending shoulder separation. Now Nikola Mirotic is out until after the All-Star break thanks to emergency surgery this week to remove his appendix.

Those injuries, sources say, have greatly increased the likelihood that Taj Gibson will be staying put now, since Chicago suddenly doesn’t need to make a trade to create more playing time for promising rookie Bobby Portis.

The reality is that rival executives have maintained for some time that the Bulls preferred to deal Noah, in the name of making sure they got something for their longtime emotional spark in the final year of his contract, rather than parting with Gibson.

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Jan. 24


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Jan. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs lose in Lue debut | Stan Van Gundy rips Blatt firing | Kerr, Myers find support in pain | Scola the Explorer

No. 1: Cavs lose in Lue debut Just hours after replacing David Blatt as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Tyronn Lue made his head coaching debut at home in a nationally televised game against the Chicago Bulls. And while Lue talked about wanting to make the experience more fun for his players, as Chris Haynes writes for Cleveland.com, that turned out to be easier to talk about than actually make happen, as the Bulls won 96-83…

The Cavaliers showed energy, but lacked any efficiency — showing no shooting touch on the floor or at the foul line. They missed beyond the arc — making just four of 24 attempts — and at the foul line, where they were 9-of-22. By game’s end, they left the floor to boos from the home crowd.

During Lue’s pregame presser, he said one of the problems was that his team needed to start having more fun post David Blatt.

“I don’t think they’re enjoying it,” Lue said. “That was a part of our speech today. The game will pass you by. No matter how great LeBron is, Kyrie, Kevin, the game will pass you by. … I want them to just enjoy the moment now.”

To help cater to a new pleasurable basketball experience, before the game the Cavaliers did something they haven’t done since mid-November: they participated in the starting lineup introductions. Before, the players would just stand in a huddle as the public address announcer announced each starter.

That was the full degree of Cleveland’s (30-12) fun.

Initially into the contest, it looked as if the Cavaliers were energized and full of life by jumping out to a 7-2 lead. But that vigor slowly evaporated and old habits of isolation ball crept back in. They went scoreless in the final 6:26 of the opening quarter, missing their last 16 shots.

Ball movement could have been better, but for the most part Cleveland just couldn’t hit a shot. It was brutal to watch as they shot a horrific 37 percent from the field for the night.

When the buzzer sounded for halftime and the Cavaliers were down five, a frustrated LeBron James slammed the ball to the floor as he headed to the locker room. He had missed all three of his first half free throws. By game’s end, the Cavaliers were 9-of-22 from the charity stripe — and that required an 8-for-11 stretch to finish the game. Chicago capitalized on those missed opportunities, expanding its lead to 17 with 42 seconds remaining in the third.

An exasperated sellout crowd booed the home team, which trimmed the deficit to nine on a James layup plus free throw with 2:55 left in the game. A pair of free throws by Smith chipped it to eight seconds later.

But the Bulls found Taj Gibson for a difficult layup with a foul on James, pretty much ending any suspense. There was no overcoming that margin on this cold shooting night.

James was an assist shy of claiming his his first triple-double of the season. He finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds, but was 11-for-27 shooting. Smith put in 18 points on 17 shots. Love was the only player to make half his shots, finishing with 14 points and five boards and Kyrie Irving registered 11 points on 16 shot attempts.

Lue informed the media at morning shootaround that he would go with a 10-man rotation in order to develop an identity with the second unit. Veteran James Jones, who was out of the rotation under Blatt, was the first to sub in. Mo Williams, who hadn’t played in 10 of his last 13 games, soon after entered. The surprising aspect is that Lue used 10 players in the first quarter, showing how serious he is about improving his bench.

The results didn’t prove beneficial. Chicago’s bench outscored Cleveland’s 22-8.

With the franchise invested in Lue for the long haul, his objective is still to win games, but he also wants to restore his team’s passion.

“I’m not really worried about, right now this early, about the games, I really just worried about the spirit is more important than anything,” he said. “Getting our spirit right, getting our spirit together and I think everything else will take care of itself because we got a lot of great players.”

***

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 24


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nowitzki moves up, Mavs get win | Suns throw in towel against Denver | Hawks starting to soar | Butler wants to lead Bulls

No. 1: Nowitzki moves up, Mavs get win Wednesday night the Dallas Mavericks visited Brooklyn, which meant the return of Deron Williams to the borough where he formerly played. But with Williams out injured, leave it to the 37-year-old Dirk Nowitzki to post a performance worthy of the Big Apple. Not only did Nowitzki pass Shaquille O’Neal for sixth all-time in scoring in the NBA, but he also hit the game-winner in overtime to give the Mavericks the victory. And as Eddie Sefko writes in the Dallas Morning News, in some ways it was business as usual for Nowitzki

“Way back when I was a skinny 20-year-old, bad haircut, bad earring, not the most confident guy,” he said, before stopping, clearly thinking about the enormity of having only five players ahead of him on the all-time scoring list.

“Sounds pretty good, huh?” he said. “It’s a dream come true.”

And the way he passed Shaquille O’Neal on Wednesday couldn’t have been more fitting. He nailed a midrange jumper early in the second quarter against Brooklyn, took congratulatory hugs from teammates and coaches, then, a couple hours later, slipped to the basket for the winning layup in a 119-118 overtime victory that the Mavericks needed a lot more than Nowitzki needed any milestone.

Along the way, the Mavericks needed a lot of help from a guy who’s only 23,607 points behind Nowitzki on the scoring list.

J.J. Barea had a career-best 32 points, including several key 3-pointers, paying big dividends for coach Rick Carlisle starting him in place of the injured Deron Williams.

“I think the coach threw me in there early to give us a little energy early and I got in a rhythm and was able to help my team out big time,” Barea said. “I wanted to get to 30 (points in a game) before I finished my career.”

But even he knew this night was not about him, even though he’s never had a better statistical night. He hit his first eight shots and finished 13-for-20 and also dished out 11 assists.

“I’ve been through all the battles with him and seen him break all kinds of records,” Barea said. “But this one is amazing.”

Nowitzki started fast with six points in the first six minutes. Early in the second quarter, he got the ball on the left wing and wasted no time, pulling up and nailing an 18-footer for the record.

“It was a special moment for me,” he said. “I saw the whole team getting up and everybody gave me a hug and I’ve obviously been blessed in this organization for a long, long time.

“There have been a lot of great players who didn’t score as many points because they were cut short by injuries. I’ve been lucky. And we got the win. It would have felt really salty flying home with a loss.”


VIDEO: Arena Link — Dirk Nowitzki

***

No. 2: Suns throw in towel against Denver The current Phoenix Suns feel light years removed from just two seasons ago, when they unveiled a small ball lineup that raced through the Western Conference and nearly earned a playoff berth. These days they are in flux, with forward Markieff Morris recently assigned to the bench. Last night the Suns lost at home to an undermanned Nuggets team, as Paul Coro writes in the Arizona Republic, while Morris evoked Robert Horry … and not in a good way…

In one of their more advantageous scenarios of the season, the Suns posted another dreadful loss with play so frightful and no signs of stopping. The bow on Wednesday night’s stocking of coal came when Markieff Morris added to a season of distraction by harkening back memories of Robert Horry’s towel toss at Danny Ainge by tossing a towel toward coach Jeff Hornacek in Wednesday’s fourth quarter.

The Suns lost 104-96 at Talking Stick Resort Arena to a Denver team playing a night after losing at home to the last-place Los Angeles Lakers and was missing five players (two starters) with no backup point guard available.

That is not all that surprising any longer for a team that has gone 5-14 since Nov. 22. How the Suns fell behind by 22 points, rallied to lead by three, started each half with new lineups and lost is now of less interest than Morris’ towel toss.

Much like Horry on a 10-21 Suns team in 1997, Morris was upset about being pulled from the fourth quarter from a 12-19 Suns team. With 9:47 to play and Denver leading 84-75, Morris was taken out of the game and he threw the towel while barking at Hornacek. Hornacek picked up the towel and threw it back Morris’ way with his own upset words for him.

“He’s mad about not playing,” Hornacek said. “I look at the stat sheet. He’s a minus-13 in 12 minutes. So there, I took him out. … He thinks he’s better than that. Show me.”

Hornacek said the Suns staff will discuss possible discipline for Morris, who has created a stir since the offseason when he asked to be traded after his twin, Marcus, was dealt. Markieff did not arrive in Phoenix until it was required for training camp. He lost his starting job earlier this month.

In January, Marcus also engaged in a shouting match during a game with Hornacek. He apologized publicly and to Hornacek after the game.

“That’s between me and ‘H’ (Hornaceck),” said Markieff, who made 2 of 8 shots and had one rebound Wednesday. “It’s not for media. It’s something between me and him that happened. We’ll talk about it.”

***

No. 3: Hawks starting to soar They won 60 games a season ago, including a 19-game win streak, but thus far this season, even with a winning record, the Hawks have mostly flown under the radar. That may be changing now. Wednesday night the Hawks got their fifth win in a row with a convincing home victory over the Detroit Pistons, and the Hawks are now in second place in the Eastern Conference. As Brad Rowland writes for Peachtree Hoops, the Hawks hacked Andre Drummond and got a big night from Jeff Teague to get the win…

The game was highly competitive early on, with Detroit taking an 18-14 advantage after a 7-0 run. That momentum would not last particularly long, however, as Mike Budenholzer employed the aforementioned “Hack-a-Drummond” strategy freely from that point forward, and that seemed to turn the tide. Dennis Schröder exploded for seven straight points to end the opening quarter (11 in the period), and in a flash, the Hawks were in control.

The “big” spurt was yet to come, though, and it appeared to close the second quarter. Atlanta raced to a 26-9 run to end the half, with Jeff Teague taking things over, and he finished with 13 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds before the break. That big run netted the Hawks a 61-45 lead, and on the defensive end, Atlanta was quite effective in holding the Pistons to just 33% shooting (27% in the second quarter) in addition to the poor free throw shooting from Drummond.

To begin the second half, the Hawks quickly increased the lead to 22 points, but the margin settled into the mid-teens for much of the remainder of the contest. In truth, Atlanta didn’t play particularly well down the stretch, including a third quarter in which they allowed 50% shooting to Detroit, but the Pistons were never able to seriously challenge on the scoreboard until the closing minutes.

Detroit managed to climb within an 8-point deficit within the final two minutes of game action, using an 11-4 run to force a timeout from Budenholzer with 1:52 left in the game. Though it wasn’t pretty, the Hawks managed to salt the game away for good using a Jeff Teague basket (that was actually a goaltend from Andre Drummond) to push the lead back to 10 with 41.1 seconds remaining and that was the end of the threat. From there, Atlanta put away a 7-point win and the winning streak reached five games in pleasing fashion.

It was a big night from Teague, and that was the biggest individual story. He has struggled, at least relatively, to this point in the season, but this may serve as a “breakout” from the 2015 All-Star, as he finished with 23 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds while keying everything Atlanta did offensively. In support, Paul Millsap added 18 points and Al Horford chipped in with 15 points in his own right, but this night was about Teague and a strong team effort on the defensive end.

***

No. 4: Butler wants to lead Bulls As the Chicago Bulls try to right the ship and find some offense to go along with their defensive prowess, reports of unrest continue. According to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, as the Bulls consider roster moves, some players aren’t thrilled with Jimmy Butler‘s attempts to position himself as the leader of these Bulls…

While Jimmy Butler won the self-appointed leadership role unopposed, not everyone associated with the Bulls is a supporter.

One source told the Sun-Times that there are several players that often simply laugh when told of Butler’s latest thumping-of-the-chest leadership proclamations, and while Derrick Rose seems to be completely detached from the situation, his camp is very annoyed by all things Butler these days.

A veteran that is behind the Butler push, however? Well, it just so happens to be the one player in the locker room with two championship rings.

“I don’t mind those comments,’’ big man Pau Gasol said, when asked about Butler declaring himself the leader throughout this season. “I think those comments are positive. Those comments and attitudes don’t raise my eyebrows. I think it’s good certain guys want to take ownership and say, ‘Hey let’s go.’ ‘’

Gasol said that Butler worked his way into that role of leader, and was obviously paid like it this offseason, when the Bulls gave him a five-year, $92.3 million contract extension.

“I don’t disagree with it,’’ Gasol said. “I think Jimmy is obviously one of the main guys here.’’

He’s more than that. He’s the future. His deal is guaranteed through the first four years, with a player option of $19.8 million following the 2019-20 season.

Basically, last man standing of all the veterans on the roster.

Gasol has a player option at the end of this season, and there continues to be more whispers that he’s done with the Bulls experiment, while Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks each come off the books when this season comes to an end.

Rose and Taj Gibson are free agents after next season, while the Bulls own the $5.175 million option on Mike Dunleavy for the 2017-18 season.

The likes of Gibson, Noah and Gasol might not even see the end of their current contracts, as several sources indicated that the Bulls are taking calls on all three players as the trade deadline draws near.

Noah’s value has taken a hit this week with a small tear in his left shoulder, and the center told reporters on Wednesday that he is looking at a two-to-four week window now. Not the best news for a player that was starting to look like his old self.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The NBA debuted a new public service announcement campaign against gun violenceSteph Curry says he’s the best player in the worldKobe Bryant and Kevin Durant exchanged shoes after playing against each other … Mark Cuban says Rick Carlisle’s threat to trade players was a motivational moveAlan Anderson looks to be out for a few more weeks. Meanwhile, John Wall has his own set of injury issuesNik Stauskas says he’s the hardest working guy on the Sixers … The Houston Rockets are trying to help former players stay on top of their health

Blogtable: Who’s getting traded?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Lasting impression from Warriors’ start? | Who’s getting traded? |
Rondo suspension harsh enough?



VIDEOThe Starters discuss who may get traded this season

> Give me a name or two, guys who you think almost certainly will be traded between now and the Feb. 18 trade deadline.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: How ’bout Markieff Morris, Brandon Jennings, Kevin Martin and (a constant on these speculative lists) DeMarcus Cousins? Morris has wanted out of Phoenix since the Suns broke the family bond by dealing away brother Marcus. Jennings, if he can demonstrate his ability once he returns from Achilles-surgery rehab, would be redundant for Detroit behind Reggie Jackson if he can’t settle into a sixth-man role. Martin is the rare Timberwolf who is in mid-career and thus, out of place in Minnesota’s mentor-driven rebuild. As for Cousins, he’s done the groundwork to join that historical group of malcontented NBA big men who got traded two or three times in their careers, so he might as well get the first one out of the way.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Ryan Anderson. Pelicans need to do something for the future and he’s probably their most valuable trade chip. Also, Terrence Jones, who is a victim of a Rockets numbers game with Clint Capela and Donatas Motiejunas.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comJoe Johnson, brutal salary and all. But the Nets need to hurry. Even if they price Johnson to move, his offense has become more problem than attractive. I would still expect a playoff team looking for a veteran to show interest.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Taj Gibson, Brandon Jennings, Markieff Morris. The Bulls have a replacement for Gibson, Morris and the Suns are overdue for a parting (and his team-friendly contract would be in demand) while the Pistons have no need for Jennings and besides, coach Stan Van Gundy doesn’t seem to be a big fan.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comIt’s hard to say that someone will “almost certainly” be traded, because it takes two to tango and a trade it’s more difficult these days to convince another team that your trash is their treasure. The Clippers may want to cut bait on the Lance Stephenson experiment, but they’re more likely to find a taker on Jamal Crawford. If the Pelicans don’t survive this five-game road trip (which is already off to a rough start) they’re on, they should start looking at the future and seeing what they can get for Ryan Anderson. The Grizzlies, Rockets and Wizards are all primed for a shake-up, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see Tony Allen, Corey Brewer, or Nene in a new home by Feb. 18.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Brandon Jennings is a prime target, what with Reggie Jackson making himself at home as the starting point guard in Detroit for the foreseeable future. Quality point guards are always in demand and he’d be an intriguing fit in several places (Utah, New Orleans, just to name a couple). Lance Stephenson just doesn’t seem to fit with the Clippers and what they are trying to do. If someone gets thrown overboard between now and the deadline, I won’t be shocked if it’s Born Ready.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Brandon Bass, the Lakers’ 30 year old power forward, has an affordable two-year contract totaling $6.1 million. His midrange shotmaking, defense and postseason experience could help any number of playoff contenders. By February their fans will be begging the Lakers to unload short-term talents like Bass in hope of retaining their No. 1 pick, which goes to Philadelphia if it falls outside the top three.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’d guess either Brook Lopez or Thaddeus Young. Brooklyn is in deep trouble looking ahead, with their draft future mostly belonging to Boston and their on-court future looking murky. They need to rebuild, but don’t have the pieces to do it. Their only real option is to move whatever they have left and try to get some pieces they can build upon going forward. And from what I can tell, Young and Lopez are their best bets this season to dangle at the trade deadline and hope to get a Draft pick in return.

One Team, One Stat: The Thibs Effect


VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Chicago Bulls

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Chicago Bulls, who continued to do one thing really well defensively.

The stat

20151025_chi_rest_def

The context

20151025_chi_basicsFor the second time in Tom Thibodeau‘s five seasons as head coach, the Bulls were the best in the NBA at defending the easiest shots on the floor. League-wide, restricted-area shots yielded 1.20 points per attempt last season. Against the Bulls though, that number was just 1.12 points per shot.

Among 98 players who defended at least 250 shots at the rim last season, Taj Gibson (45.5 percent, ninth) and Pau Gasol (48.0 percent, 22nd) both ranked in the top 25 in opponent field goal percentage there.

The Bulls didn’t just defend shots at the rim well, they were also above average in regard to preventing them. And they were the best in the league at forcing mid-range shots (31 percent of their opponents’ shots came from between the paint and the 3-point line), the least efficient looks on the floor. That comes, in part, from being the best at keeping side pick-and-rolls from getting to the middle.

In all five of Thibodeau’s seasons in Chicago, his team ranked in the top five in effective field goal percentage defense. And keeping your opponents to a low effective field goal percentage is the most important thing you can do defensively.

But the Bulls fell out of the top five in overall defensive efficiency last season for the first time in Thibodeau’s tenure, because they ranked 29th in forcing turnovers and didn’t rebound as well as they had in the past.

20151025_chi_tt_defense

New coach Fred Hoiberg has put in a new offense and could go with a starting frontline of Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol for additional floor spacing. But while there’s potential for an improved offense, there’s also potential for more regression on defense. Mirotic ranked as one of 10 worst rim protectors among those 98 who defended at least 250 shots at the basket last season.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions


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