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Posts Tagged ‘Thunder’

Westbrook likes ties that bind with K.D.

Idiot.

One word.

But one you might want to keep in mind when it comes time for free agent Kevin Durant to make his big decision about where to play next season.

It’s the word that Durant directed at Mavericks owner Mark Cuban after OKC’s series-clinching win Tuesday night for saying that Russell Westbrook is not a superstar.

Durant: “He’s an idiot. He’s an idiot. Don’t listen to him. All right. That’s what we’ve got to say about that. He’s an idiot. Next question.”

It wasn’t just what he said, but the way Durant said it forcefully and immediately, reaching to put his hand over the microphone before Westbrook could respond first.

While there will be pitches from Washington and L.A. and New York and Golden State and Houston and every other corner of the NBA to get Durant to make a jump, the bond that he’s formed playing eight seasons with Westbrook shouldn’t be overlooked or underestimated. Royce Young of ESPN.com noted how Westbrook felt:

On Wednesday, following the team’s practice, Westbrook was asked what it meant for Durant to jump in and defend him like that.

“It was very important [to me],” Westbrook said. “Me and Kevin’s relationship is great. He’s like my brother. We talk about different things, not just basketball-related. He’s always gonna have my back and I’ll always have his.”

When all is said and done, even an idiot knows that blood brothers could prove to be thicker than water.

Heat, Hornets have no interest in playoff dramatics


VIDEO: Kevin Durant got tossed from Game 3 for smacking Justin Anderson in the face

CHARLOTTE — It’s playoff basketball, not professional boxing or mixed martial arts or anything of the sort. It’s just playoff basketball.

So don’t fix your eyes on this first round playoff series between the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets and look any deeper into any of the scrappiness between the two teams. Just because guys have to be separated now and then and words are exchanged, neither the Heat nor the Hornets are interested in any of the playoff dramatics going on elsewhere in this postseason.

“It’s the NBA, there aren’t really any fights,” Heat veteran Luol Deng said. “Not really, not during my time in the league. Guys don’t want to fight. There might be one punch and then it gets broken up. But no real fights. This isn’t hockey.”

Tell that to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook or LeBron James and Andre Drummond or Isaiah Thomas and Dennis Schroder. All of them have been been caught up in the first round dramatics, in one way or another.

Durant was ejected late in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Game 3 win over the Dallas Mavericks for smacking Justin Anderson in the face. Both Drummond and Thomas will not be suspended for contact against James and Schroder, respectively, that would have seemed to warrant suspension.

Game 3 of the Heat-Hornets series Saturday night featured plenty of opportunities for things to escalate and maybe even get out of hand, but cooler head prevailed time and again.

Hornets point guard Kemba Walker had one heated exchange with Heat center Hassan Whiteside that seemed like it was headed for craziness, only to have players on both sides calm each other down before things got completely out of hand.

“It’s the playoffs,” Walker said. “The intensity is up. Trying to win a series here. Both teams are going to be scratching and clawing, trying to do anything possible to win a basketball game. They have great ball pressure and so do we, so guys are going to get hit. It’s going to be tough out there … anything possible to win a game.”

Walker, however, went to make sure he set the right tone for Monday’s Game 4 showdown at Time Warner Cable Arena.

“I’m not a troublemaker,” he said and then smiled. “It’s just basketball, playoff basketball.”

Morning Shootaround — April 18




VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Raptors not giving into negativity | Beverley fine with playing the villain | Portland’s Stotts ready to do away with hack-a-strategy | The graduation of Dion Waiters

No. 1: Raptors not giving into the negativity — They know what it looks like, kicking off the postseason for the third straight time with a loss. It would be easy for the Toronto Raptors to give into the narrative, to get lost in the social media swirl surrounding them after their Game 1 loss to the Indiana Pacers. But they’re not going there. Heading into Game 2 tonight (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV) the Raptors still believe it’s “their turn,” as Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun explains:

On his 59th birthday, Dwane Casey quoted Nas, saying sleep is the cousin of death. But the words of another rap legend, Tupac Shakur, sum up how the Raptors are feeling after another Game 1 meltdown — Me against the world.

On the heels of a third dreadful opening game effort in a row and a seventh-straight playoff defeat overall, it would be natural for the Raptors to feel like the walls are closing in around them, that the bandwagon is losing members at a rapid rate, that even the staunchest supporters are wondering whether another all too familiar let-down is on the verge of being delivered.

The players know what the vibe is, what was being said after the wobbly opener and chose to ignore it.

“I definitely didn’t go on social media because I know they were probably talking a lot of trash,” Kyle Lowry said with smile while up at the podium on a sunny Sunday afternoon in downtown Toronto.

Lowry and his teammates are looking at the bright side, honing in on the fact that this series is nowhere close to over, no matter what is being said about the underachieving group.

“I’m not shying away from it. It’s just at that point where it’s like, ‘all right, whatever.’ You know what? I know what everybody’s going to say: ‘Here we go again.’ I read everybody (including the media), there you go right there: That’s what they said,” Lowry said

Lowry insists the uproar and negativity on social media isn’t bothering him.

“No. That’s what it’s for. It’s for people to say their opinions. It’s for people to have an opinion. And that’s the world we live in. So I appreciate it, I love it, I mean I have my own opinion, I always comment on Twitter, I watch games, I say what I want to say. So that’s what it’s for. It’s for people to have a personality and have a voice. And you know, it’s part of the world. And for us, for me, I really just didn’t want to read it.”

Fellow all-star DeMar DeRozan loves the fanbase and having the entire country of Canada as potential backers, but wants the focus in the room to be on the brotherhood between the players and the staff alone.

“I don’t think we have (panicked) this time around,” DeRozan said.

“I think the outside people have. I’ve just been telling our guys, it’s all about us. It’s the guys in this jersey, the coaches, it’s one game. We understand what we have to do. We played terrible and still had a chance. We gave up 19, 20 turnovers, missed 12 free throws, we still had a chance. It’s a game. We’ve got another opportunity on our home floor to even it out. It wasn’t like we were going to go out there and sweep ’em. You know, that’s a tough team over there. Now it’s our turn to bounce back Monday.”

Head coach Dwane Casey said he didn’t tell his players to get off the likes of Twitter and Instragram, but is pretty sure ignoring the noise is a wise call.

“I just said you find out who your friends are, you’re going to find out real quick who your friends are, who’s calling for tickets and that type of thing when you’re backs are against the wall,” Casey said.

“And that’s good, you find out who’s pulling for you, who believes in you and who has your back. What I said is that group in that room is the ones that really have your back and the ones you should trust on the court. I did say that but I don’t know enough about social media to say anything about that.”

*** (more…)

The Graduation of Dion Waiters

VIDEO: Waiters gets served.

OKLAHOMA CITY – Fourth-year Oklahoma City Thunder guard Dion Waiters is averaging the fewest points per game (9.8 ppg) of his career. Waiters is also probably playing the best overall basketball of his career. It speaks to Waiters’ continuing basketball education that he realizes the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

As the fourth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Waiters joined a rebuilding Cavaliers team with plenty of shots to go around. But as part of Cleveland’s rebuild following the return of LeBron James, Waiters was traded to Oklahoma City, where the Thunder just missed the postseason last year while Kevin Durant was out injured.

This season, things finally fell into place for the Thunder and Waiters, as he played in 78 games for the 55-27 Thunder. Waiters made his playoff debut last night in the Thunder’s 108-70 win over the Mavericks. Waiters chalks up his 1-of-9 shooting game to being overexcited. But it’s worth noting, Waiters also netted a +17 plus/minus rating thanks to two rebounds, two steals, three assists, and making an effort on the defensive end.

We sat down with Waiters after practice Sunday, where the guy who used to relish going one-on-one is now talking about hockey assists and giving up good shots for great shots.

DION WAITERS: I’m excited just to be here first and foremost. I’m blessed. My first playoffs ever. I was real excited yesterday, too excited. I’m glad I got one game under my belt now.

NBA.COM: You were too fired up?

DW: I was too hyped. I came out like that. But I needed one of those games, needed one of those to get those emotions out. I’m fine now. Guys were telling me how crazy it would be. You just see it, the stands with people wearing blue and white. It was great.

NBA.COM: What’s the transition been like for you, into this organization as you’ve learning your role here?

DW: I mean, of course, it’s different. My rookie year, my sophomore year, I was able to play and play a lot. I was one of the go-to guys. My rookie year and sophomore year I got better each year, but we were losing. My third year, LeBron came, and things just weren’t going right. I got traded in January, came here, and when I got here, I just felt the love. Everybody connected. The atmosphere, the love, the people that really want to help you. And I knew what it took to be a pro, but over here it was pro’s pros. If practice is at 11, these guys are here at 9, out on the floor, setting an example. So I started trying to beat them here. I see what it takes. And they do it every day, no breaks in between, they got the same routine. When I got here, instantly I got better. Of course, you’ve got to make sacrifices. You’ve got to find your niche. When I got here, unfortunately KD had gotten hurt, so Scott Brooks let me play, and that was some of the most fun basketball I’d had, being one game away from the playoffs even though I ended the season strong. I knew coming here with KD was going to be different, because that’s what he does, he scores. And a guy like me, I need the ball. So I’ve tried to make different adjustments now, as far as like, working on being able to catch and shoot. I’m at like 40-percent now on catch-and-shoot situations, so that’s great. I was a guy who had to take you off the dribble. Now that I’m here, I don’t always have to do any of those things because I’ve got two top-five players in the League in Russ and Kev. I know I can score the ball, but now I want to show other people that I can defend, that I can get to the lane and make plays for myself and others. And one thing about here? You’ve gotta understand, some games you might have a big night, some games you might have 10 points. But what did you do to impact the game? I’m learning that. I’m only 24 years old. Just by me being here for a year and a half, I’ve gotten so much better as a player, as far as developing a consistent routine, I feel like my body is good, just working and continuing to work on an everyday basis. So it’s been a great ride for me so far, man. I’m enjoying every moment, and it’s about being patient, being patient. I know my time is going to come, I’ve just got to continue to work hard and be a part of a winning team and enjoy it. You can’t substitute anything for winning. I was losing my first three years. Just to win 50 games alone is great.

NBA.COM: Man, you need to have a radio show.

DW: I should?

NBA.COM: Yes, you should. Because you can really talk.

DW: (laughs) When I first got here, I was just talking without making sense. I used to hate watching myself in interviews.

NBA.COM: You talked about making sacrifices with your game. What kind of things have you pulled back on, what have you emphasized?

DW: Just trying to figure out when to be aggressive. I’m always going to be aggressive, that’s who I am. But learning the difference between what’s a good shot and what’s a great shot?

NBA.COM: What is the difference?

DW: It’s a good shot when you’re open, but a great shot if you’re open but you’ve got a guy open in the corner, and the defender in between comes to you and you kick it to him. Or if you make the hockey assist or get an assist. I can always get my shot off, I feel. At the end of the day, when you’re a scorer, you think scoring first. That’s just your mentality and your instinct. But here we’ve got so many great players who can make plays. Sometimes you even make a pass, get the guy the open shot, and it might come right back. Those type of things, I’m learning each day. I would say, coming into the league you really don’t know what to expect and you learn on your own, on the fly. That’s the difference between me three years ago and now. I’d say I was a pretty good, smart basketball player, but now I know the difference, and you know when you’re wrong and when you take a bad shot.

NBA.COM: I don’t know if you mean to, but you keep talking about your “sophomore” year in the NBA, and it’s almost like you’re talking about college. Now that you’re in your fourth season, does it feel like you’re a senior ready to graduate?

DW: That’s exactly it. I’m ready to take off. But we still have to focus on the task at hand right now. That’s my whole thing, I’m ready for that next step. That’s what it is man. I know what it takes.

Morning shootaround — April 11


VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors locked in on history | Spurs won’t dwell on latest loss to Warriors | Kobe Bryant reflects on his final days | Colangelo’s rebranding in Philadelphia already underway

No. 1: Warriors locked in on history All that’s left is 48 minutes. A mere 48 minutes and the Golden State Warriors will have produced the finest regular season in NBA history, surpassing the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls they tied for the best win total ever with Sunday’s win San Antonio. As our very own Fran Blinebury wrote after the Warriors snapped the Spurs’ bid to record the first perfect home record in a season, this history-making season has washed over the league in waves:

History comes in waves, like the relentless sets of breakers that Golden State used to wash over the NBA in a record-setting 24-0 start to the season that planted the flag in the ground and seemed to lift the Warriors up above mere greatness and pushed them on this journey.

All those games and all those nights in all those cities when they took the floor feeling and knowing and playing like they were truly superior to the guys in the other uniforms and never let themselves forget that.

All those other nights when maybe they weren’t at their physical or mental peak and had to somehow find a way to get it done. Like just 24 hour earlier in Memphis when it took digging down deep in the final seconds to pull out a victory over an outmanned bunch of Grizzlies to keep the quest alive.

If these same two teams meet again in six weeks in the Western Conference finals, this game will mean nothing then. But that doesn’t make it mean nothing today.

“Obviously, we’re in the moment, enjoying the ride and the goal is to win a championship,” said Curry after scoring 37 points. “That’s what we’re playing for. But we put ourselves in a great position to end the season with a win and do something that no team has done in history, so that’s an amazing accomplishment.

“It’s kind of hard to step outside the locker room and understand the spotlight that comes with it or just the hoopla because we come out every night trying to win. But when you think about it, I guess, perspective, only two teams have done what we’ve done so far and hopefully Wednesday we can finish that off. It’s unbelievable.”

Despite the offer, even the wish from coach Steve Kerr, that the Warriors regulars might choose to rest up for the fast approaching playoffs, there was never a question that any of them would sit with their feet up.

“I tried to do it with the way I played and obviously the decision on resting or not was a pretty easy decision for me,” Curry said. “I’m not nursing any injuries, I don’t think putting myself in a position to be a step slow come the playoffs. So why not go out and take advantage of an opportunity that may never come again?”

Kerr, of course, is the link, having played for 20 years ago for the 72-10 Bulls.

History comes in memories.

“I thought as a player it seemed like a bigger deal because the players talk about it, think about it,” Kerr said. “We never talked about it as a staff here this year. It’s really a players’ reward, a players’ honor, a players’ record. They’re the ones that go out and play. It probably meant more to me back then personally. But to see the look on these guys faces knowing that they have a chance to break the record and at least they tied it, they’re pretty excited and that’s what’s great about coaching, when you see your team smiling and happy.”

***

No. 2: Spurs won’t dwell on latest loss to Warriors The chance for history ended at the hands of the one team the San Antonio Spurs have not been able to solve this season. Their quest for the first undefeated home record in NBA history was blown away by a blitz from the reigning champion Golden State Warriors. But the Spurs will not let this latest loss to the Warriors, their third in four tries this season, linger. Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com provides some context for the Spurs:

The Warriors stopped cold San Antonio’s home winning streak at 39 games, while reaching historic win No. 72, marking the third time in four meetings — and second time in four nights — Golden State knocked off the Spurs. Still, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was satisfied with the team’s effort. He is confident that San Antonio’s experience mixed with a sharpened playoff focus, and a fresh game plan in late May could lift the Spurs over the Warriors when the stakes are highest in a potential Western Conference finals.

“We played a hell of a team, and I thought our aggressiveness, our attention to detail, was much better than [Thursday night’s loss at Golden State],” Popovich said. “They did a lot of good things out there. I’m really happy with how we performed.”

So instead of lamenting a loss they can’t get back, the Spurs choose now to focus on closing out strong in preparation for the playoffs.

“It’s a whole different ball game in the playoffs,” David West said when asked whether the Warriors now hold a psychological advantage, having defeated the Spurs three times in the regular season. “Hopefully, it will be another two months, or whatever it is, a month and a half, until we see them again. Our job is just to keep improving and prepare ourselves now for a tough first-round matchup against whomever; just keep developing who we are.”

The outing at the AT&T Center on Sunday played out much differently than Thursday’s 112-101 trouncing at Oracle Arena, yet San Antonio still managed to come up short despite making significant progress against the Warriors defensively.

“I think in Golden State for sure we were not sharp enough,” guard Manu Ginobili said. “Today we made a few mistakes. I think we played a good game. We were not good offensively. I’m not concerned. I was concerned after the Golden State game [on the road] because it was not us. I think a game like today can easily happen. We hadn’t lost one game at home the whole season. It can happen that you lose one against a team that is one of the best teams ever. We can’t start banging our heads against the wall and [saying], ‘Oh, we are terrible.’ It can happen.”

San Antonio slowed down the pace significantly in Sunday’s contest, giving Golden State its slowest paced game since defeating the Warriors 87-79 on March 17, according to research from ESPN Stats & Information. The Spurs also limited Golden State to an ice-cold shooting percentage of 35.1, while dominating the visitors in offensive rebounding 13-3. San Antonio’s 13 offensive rebounds in the first half go down as the most the club had snatched in a single half all season, not to mention the most the Warriors have allowed in any half over the past two seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Info. San Antonio’s supremacy on the offensive glass helped the Spurs outscore the Warriors 11-0 on second-chance points.

The problem is while administering suffocating defense and crashing the offensive glass, the Spurs managed to shoot even frostier (28.6 percent) than the Warriors. Then, as Golden State caught fire in the third quarter, going on a 12-0 run with Stephen Curry racking up 16 points for his 30th quarter of 15 points or more this season, San Antonio remained cold (34.3 percent shooting).

What’s more is the offensive rebounding subsided, too, with the Spurs grabbing just five more offensive boards in the entire second half.

“Our perimeter had a tough time making shots, that’s for sure,” Popovich said. “That was the problem offensively all night, but I couldn’t be more proud of them. Steph got away from us for a while, but a part of it was some bad shots. We lost our poise for about a three-minute period, and we were in constant transition, and he got away from us. That was the difference in the ball game. But I’m really proud of the guys what they did tonight.”

***

No. 3: Kobe Bryant reflects on his finals days  The finish line is in sight for Kobe Bryant. Tonight’s final game in Oklahoma City (8 ET, NBA League Pass) followed by Wednesday’s finale against Utah at Staples Center and that’s it, a 20 years of a Hall of Fame career comes to an end. In what has been a sobering and reflective season for one of the game’s all-time greats, there is finally a sense of relief and acceptance of his fate. Kobe didn’t go out chasing that sixth title, the way he had hoped. But as Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical points out, Kobe is going out on his own terms:

Against all odds, Kobe Bryant goes home for goodbye on two feet, goes home for goodbye on the best terms he could’ve ever dictated.

“It feels so good,” Bryant told The Vertical. “For the last three years, I haven’t been able to do it. Achilles. Knee. Shoulder. Serious injuries. My preparation was right. I worked and worked for my body to be able to get through this.”

“Coming into the season, I had the concern: Could I make it all year?” Bryant told The Vertical. “I had the fear. But I embraced that fear, and then I let it go. I realized: I can’t control it. I prepare. I do all the work. If that happens, it happens. And I stopped thinking about it.”

All around, the boom mics hung over us. His documentary crew comes everywhere now, chronicling every interaction, every interview. For a moment, Bryant was still thinking about life on a contender. He is nodding his head, insisting this is true: “Listen, I believe this: On a better team, I could play a lot better. Physically, I know I could do so much more. I found that rhythm, that balance. But after three major injuries, to get to the end [healthy], this means the world to me.”

There are two stories to end this NBA regular season: The Warriors’ historic march to 73 victories, and Bryant’s historic uneven, unnerving final season. They’ll remember Bryant as one of the NBA’s great champions, remember a relentless pursuit of perfection. Oh, he’d love to be chasing 73 victories, but mostly he wishes he was pursuing that sixth NBA title.

Somewhere along the way, Bryant had to let go. There wouldn’t be winning this season. There would be bouquets. He’s never minded everyone watching him, everyone feting his greatness. So started the legacy tour, so started a long, slow trot around the bases. Nevertheless, Kobe Bryant let himself think for a moment about that Golden State-San Antonio game on Sunday night, about the parallel universe of winning ball that’s left his life.

Had the Lakers still been a contender – had everything not crumbled around him – Bryant swears this would all be so different, so much more suited to his persona.

“The ovations wouldn’t be here,” Bryant told The Vertical. “We’d be amidst cutthroat competition. In this season, I’ve been able to come up for air, take the blinders off, look around, soak it all in – and say thank you. Had we been competing for a championship, there’s no way I’d allow all this to happen. We’d have one goal in mind and that would be winning the championship.

“In the end, this wasn’t hard to accept. I can accept reality and move on.”

***

No. 4: Colangelo’s rebranding in Philadelphia already underway Give Bryan Colangelo credit, he didn’t waste any time in his effort to change the narrative in Philadelphia. His rebranding of the situation with the Sixers began the moment he was introduced as the team’s new president of basketball operations Sunday. And if there is one thing Colangelo has learned in all of his years around the game, it’s that change at the fundamental level has to come immediately. David Murphy of Philly.com explains:

For all of the talk of the Sixers finally bringing in some real basketball men, the truth is that people like the Colangelos are, first and foremost, salesmen. They are billionaire whisperers, adept at convincing really rich people to entrust them with their capital. In 1999, Jerry published a book titled, How You Play the Game: Lessons for Life from the Billion-Dollar Business of Sports.

The elder Colangelo clearly succeeded at selling Harris and his partners on the need for a leader with a skill set that just happened to line up with the one his son offered. Bryan’s biggest theme during Sunday’s press conference was the need for the Sixers to build relationships throughout the league, one of many tacit references to Hinkie’s greatest perceived weakness.

Yet the logic starts to fall apart when you think about the fact that Ed Stefanski and Billy King were respected, personable executives who nevertheless were forced to overpay to keep their own players (Andre Iguodala) and to sign new ones (Elton Brand). Fact is, the Sixers are not an NBA destination, just like the Raptors weren’t when Colangelo was there (and when Chris Bosh left for the Heat).

Again, though, it comes down to messaging. As GM of the Suns, Colangelo “lured” Steve Nash away from Dallas in 2004, which sounds great, except “luring” really meant paying him $20 million more than any other team, including the Mavericks, who declined Nash’s request that they match the deal. When Colangelo attempted to bring Nash to Toronto in 2012, Nash leveraged Toronto’s three-year, $36 million offer into a three-year deal with the Lakers.

But, hey, it’s a relationship business, right?

Ironically, the failed pursuit of Nash is one of the reasons Colangelo has seen his legacy improve over the past few years as the Raptors have blossomed. Once he lost Nash, Colangelo traded a first-round pick for Kyle Lowry, who is now an anchor on one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams. Nash, meanwhile, was an unmitigated disaster with the Lakers.

That’s not to say the Sixers’ new president will destroy whatever foundation Hinkie has laid over the past three seasons. Both Colangelo and Harris repeatedly insisted that the change in leadership would not result in a change in vision.

“This is not about a departure from a process,” Colangelo said.

What was it really about? Let’s answer in a form Hinkie might appreciate. As Plato once said, “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler did not fly to New Orleans with his teammates after Sunday’s game, but is expected to join them for tonight’s game against the Pelicans … The heated rivalry between the Warriors and Spurs extends beyond the court and also includes the Warriors’ broadcast team and the Spurs fans … Thunder coach Billy Donovan is employing a similar philosophy to what Steve Kerr has done with the Warriors in allowing the players to decide if they want to rest or grind through the end of the regular season … With the playoffs just days away, it’s time for Tyronn Lue to figure some things out about the Cavaliers and his rotation

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 230) Featuring J.J. Redick

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — When Doc Rivers revamped his bench in the offseason he made sure the Los Angeles Clippers would be one of the most intriguing teams in the NBA this season.

Even now, after shipping both Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson out, the Clippers remain a team of intrigue. They have an elite coach in Rivers, superstars in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin (yes, he’ll be back), one of the league’s best rim protectors and rebounders in DeAndre Jordan, a super sixth-man in Jamal Crawford and one of the league’s deadliest pure shooters in J.J. Redick.

So what’s holding them back?

Why are they stuck in the fourth spot in the Western Conference standing?

It might have something to do with the reigning champions up in Oakland. The Golden State Warriors on a historic roll this season and the San Antonio Spurs aren’t far off the pace. And then there is the matter of that two-headed superstar monster from Oklahoma City.

So perhaps it’s understandable, the Clippers’ current predicament. Even as they continue to shine without Griffin in the lineup, they still have ground to make up in the standings.

We dig deep on the Clippers and much more on Episode 230 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring J.J. Redick.

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: Clippers sharpshooter J.J. Redick put up a 20-spot in the first round of the Foot Locker Three Point contest during All-Star Weekend in Toronto

Morning shootaround — March 7


VIDEO: Highlight’s from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors were due for a game like this | Lebron’s tweets can cause nightmares | Gentry, Pelicans ready to look to the future? | Curry skeptical he could ever score 81

No. 1: The Warriors were due for a game like this Kobe Bryant credited the socks the Lakers wore for their stunning upset victory over the Golden State Warriors Sunday at Staples Center. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said his team got what it deserved, a beat down from the team with the second worst record in the league. But Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News believes the mighty Warriors, who host the Orlando Magic tonight (10:30 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass), were simply due for a game when they literally could not shoot straight from their normal sweet spots:

Every NBA team is susceptible to the big road clunker, even the Warriors.

Every really good team sometimes plays a really bad game.

Every championship contender will have wobbly focus and heavy legs once in a while, especially when the game is in Los Angeles, when tipoff is before 1 p.m., and when they’re overwhelming favorites over the Lakers.

So yes, the Warriors were due for a loss like they just suffered on Sunday, yes, they deserved it, and yes, I’m sure they were also pretty embarrassed by it.

For the greatest teams, what matters most is what happens next, and for the Warriors that means Monday night at Oracle against Orlando.

If the Warriors lose back-to-back games for the first time this season, well, then there might be cause for emergency sirens to blare and panic to strike throughout the Bay Area.

Not until then, and I doubt any of that will be necessary, anyway.

Every time a great team loses, it seems to come out of nowhere — just as Sunday’s 112-95 Lakers triumph over the Warriors was a tale of shock and astonishment.

But when you look back, you can always figure out the rhyme and reason — just as you can for this Warriors loss, which dropped them to 55-6, still on pace to break whatever record you want them to.

The Warriors lost this game because Curry and Thompson combined to miss 17 of their 18 3-point attempts, because the Lakers attacked the Warriors’ sluggish defense, and because sometimes you’re just due.

Did this game expose glaring weaknesses in the Warriors? No, it did not; they can be beaten by a lot of the same things that can beat everybody else, but it just happens to the Warriors less often.

***

No. 2: LeBron’s tweets can cause nightmares … if you let them: Yes, people are still trying to decipher the meaning of tweets LeBron James sent out last week, the same ones that caused a frenzy (with everyone weighing in on what he meant with those words). And yes, LeBron’s tweets can drive you crazy, if you let them, as Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com makes clear. But wouldn’t this time be better spent focusing on more pressing matters, like the Memphis Grizzlies, who visit Quicken Loans Arena tonight (7 ET, NBA TV)?

LeBron James and that Twitter account of his…together they’re either wreaking havoc and spelling doom for the Cavaliers, or simply messing with us.

Here’s James’ latest blast, to some more than 28.5 million followers, this morning, around the time many are finishing up with church:

We’re not going to speculate here as to whom or what he’s referring.

But there’s been a lot of speculating over the past week, mostly because James has unleashed a string of cryptic, either virtually innocuous or potentially loaded tweets since Tuesday.

James was asked about the first two on Thursday, and didn’t want to talk about it. He’ll be asked again Monday following Cleveland’s shootaround in preparation for the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Cavs are 44-17, lead the Raptors by 2.5 games for first place in the East, and beat their last two opponents by a combined 42 points over the weekend.

So, what’s the problem? Is there one? Is it all a ruse? Motivation tactic?

***

No. 3: Gentry,Pelicans ready to look to the future? The New Orleans Pelicans have already acknowledged that their pursuit of a playoff berth this season is dead. There have been too many injuries, too many missed opportunities for Alvin Gentry‘s bunch, they host the the Sacramento Kings tonight (8 ET, NBA League Pass), to repeat last season’s late-season push that saw the Pelicans punch their postseason ticket in the regular-season finale. So instead of waiting any longer, it’s perhaps time for Gentry and the Pelicans to look to the future, as Justin Verrier of ESPN.com suggests:

“At some stage we have to start thinking about the future, looking at the future,” Gentry said after a 106-94 loss to the Utah Jazz dropped the Pelicans to 3-5 since the All-Star break. “That’s one of the reasons why I stuck Jrue [Holiday] out there to start the second half. We have to start looking at Jrue as a starter some and playing him. And trying to find ways to get Anthony [Davis] the ball more in the flow of the game. Even if they’re double-teaming him, that’s gotta be something as coaches that we try to figure out also.

“At this stage, like I said, it would be a miracle almost for us to make the playoffs. We really have to start looking at developing a culture and how we’re gonna play in the future and figuring out guys on this team, how they fit into the system and if they’re going to be able to fit in a system.”

Despite mounting evidence that the team plays better with Holiday on the floor — his plus-1.0 net rating is best on the team, per NBA.com/Stats — and that Davis, the main cog in the team’s future, is more effective with Holiday alongside him — 5.3 points better in true shooting percentage, to be exact — the Pelicans have brought the 25-year-old guard off the bench since Dec. 4 to give a depleted second unit an extra “punch.” Gentry said he didn’t envision changing the setup as recently as two weeks ago, even though it put their two best players on the court together for only 19.3 minutes a game.

But a lot has changed even in the past two days. In his fourth game back, Eric Gordon refractured the same right ring finger that kept him out of 16 games. With three players (Tyreke EvansQuincy PondexterBryce Dejean-Jones) out for the season, the Pelicans have lost the fourth-most games (183) in the NBA to injuries and illness, according to InStreetClothes.com. And after a fourth straight loss, the Pelicans are now 6 ½ games behind the Rockets for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoffs with 21 still to play. Even the most optimistic would admit that the odds — 0.3 percent entering Saturday’s games, according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index — are against them.

Holiday hadn’t heard about Gentry’s intentions after the loss to Utah, but when told by reporters his response was tantamount to: Oh, nice.

“Nah, that’s the first I’m hearing about it. I’m cool with it,” Holiday said. “With the lack of bodies I feel like [we] kinda have to. Whatever it is we need to win. Obviously our last three games haven’t gone the way we wanted them to, but we still gonna try to win every game.”

Even with the obstacles the Pelicans have faced, Davis made sure to note that he isn’t ready to concede.

“I’m playing every game,” he said after putting up 29 points on 11-for-31 shooting and 11 rebounds in the loss to the Jazz. “I still got hope for this team, still got faith in these guys. I feel like we still can do it. We just got to believe.”

***

No. 4: Curry skeptical he could ever top Kobe’s 81: For all of the magic Stephen Curry has created this season, he knows his limitations. He knows that even with is seemingly otherworldly ability to shoot the ball from distances and angles few can, he’s skeptical that he could ever reach the 81-point zenith that Kobe Bryant did. Mark Medina of the LA Daily News explains:

The question made Stephen Curry smile and shake his head. He showed the same disbelief many have when they watch him play.

The Golden State Warriors’ guard and defending regular-season MVP has seemingly made any shot at any angle and from any distance. But he cast serious doubts on accomplishing something else even more miraculous.

Could Curry ever break Kobe Bryant’s career-high 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors nearly a decade ago?

“Not a chance,” Curry told Los Angeles News Group. “There’s a reason why people are still talking about that game to this day. It’s so special.”

Yes, Bryant’s career game still represents the NBA’s second-highest scoring performance behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962. But Bryant does not consider the milestone special enough to think his record will remain sacred.

Said Bryant: “It’s just a matter of you have to believe it’s possible.”

The Lakers (12-51) enter Sunday’s game against the Golden State Warriors (55-5) at Staples Center with Curry doing what was once considered impossible.

He has averaged a league-leading 30.7 points per game despite playing only 33.9 minutes per contest. He has ranked first this season in posting 30-point games (29), 40-point games (11) and 50-point games (three). He shattered his own single-season three-point record (293) still with 22 games remaining.

According to NBA.com, Curry has made 3-pointers from basically anywhere, including the right corner (53.3%), the left corner (45.3%) and at the top of the key (46.5%). Very few can guard Curry no matter the distance, including shots from 10-14 feet (54.5%), 15-19 feet (39.7%), 20-24 feet (48%), 25-29 feet (45.9%) and 30-34 feet (58.3%).

Could all those numbers add up to what Bryant did on Jan. 22, 2006?

“Steph is a talented enough scorer that you could definitely say it’s a possibility.”said Warriors assistant coach Luke Walton, who played with Bryant during his record-setting night. “But it’s not very realistic. If we’re blowing someone out, he’s going to rest.”

Curry needed all 48 minutes to post a career-high 54 points on Feb. 27, 2013 against New York. Curry logged 36 minutes to score a season-high 53 points on Oct. 31, 2015 against New Orleans. Then there marked six games Curry played under 30 minutes this season amid the Warriors coasting to a double-digit victory. Through swarming double teams or rare off nights, Curry can still dish to Klay Thompson, Draymond Green or Andre Iguodala.

“If there’s one guy in the league that has a chance of doing it, it would be him,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said of Curry. “But they’ve got so many weapons that’s it not needed from him to have that type of game to shoot it 40 times.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES:  It appears that former Atlanta Hawks lottery pick Josh Childress is taking his talents to the D-League … The Los Angeles Clippers stumbled through a Thunder hangover when they fell at home to the Hawks … Erik Spoelstra says Chris Bosh is working out with the Heat staff … Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has a fan in Kevin Durant … The Rockets fire back at their critics with a big win in Toronto

 

Morning shootaround — Feb. 22


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Feb. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors beef up big man ranksVan Gundy takes blame for Pistons’ surrender to Davis | Lakers to start Russell the rest of the way | Was Lebron was right about Waiters?

No. 1: Warriors beef up big man ranks — What do you get the (championship) team that seems to have everything? Another big man, if you are the Golden State Warriors. They’ve added former Cleveland center Anderson Varejao, a LeBron James favorite during their time together with the Cavaliers, who helps bolster their big man ranks with both Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli ailing. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle provides the details on the Warriors’ big man insurance policy:

The Warriors went without a center in their starting lineup out of necessity in Saturday night’s victory over the Clippers.

The team, however, didn’t consider that a long-term option, and on Sunday, it reached an agreement to sign free-agent center Anderson Varejao to a veteran minimum contract, league sources confirmed.

The Warriors cut forward/center Jason Thompson to clear roster room for Varejao and complete the move, which first was reported by the website, the Vertical.

Varejao, who’s 6-foot-10, had spent all of his 12-season career with the Cavaliers before being traded last week.

He was averaging career lows in points (2.6), rebounds (2.9), blocked shots (0.2) and minutes (10) for Cleveland before being sent to Portland in a trade-deadline deal Thursday. The Trail Blazers immediately cut him in a salary-cap move, and the Warriors expressed interest in the 33-year-old. They beat out other playoff teams who tried to ink him once he cleared waivers Sunday.

“I have not been notified of that, but it makes perfect sense, right?” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said Friday night when told that his team’s interest in Varejao had been reported by ESPN. “I don’t even know if I am allowed to even mention his name. I can get fined by the NBA. I don’t even know what the rule is.”

The interest increased when starting center Andrew Bogut was forced to miss Saturday’s win at Staples Center because of a sore right Achilles tendon. Backup center Festus Ezeli is on the shelf after undergoing left knee surgery and is expected to miss at least another month.

With Bogut and Ezeli out, it was thought that Kerr might give either Marreese Speights or Thompson a start in the middle against the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan, who’s 6-11.

Instead, the Warriors went small with 6-6 swingman Brandon Rush joining the starting five. That moved Harrison Barnes to power forward and shifted 6-7 Draymond Green to the center spot. Green responded with his league-leading 11th triple-double in the Warriors’ 115-112 win.

Varejao twice averaged double-doubles in his career (2011-12, ’12-13), but his numbers have fallen considerably since then. He didn’t play in the Cavs’ six-game loss to the Warriors in last season’s NBA Finals.

***

 No. 2: Van Gundy takes blame for Pistons’ surrender to DavisAndre Drummond had no chance. Neither did Tobias Harris or anyone else the Detroit Pistons tried to throw at Anthony Davis Sunday, when Davis dropped a NBA season-high 59 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in the New Orleans Pelicans’ win at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy didn’t blame his players, though. He owned up to this one, pointing the finger at the man in the mirror after Davis etched his name in the history books with his monster performance. John Niyo of the Detroit News explains:

There was no voiding Sunday’s result, though, and rather than ripping his team, the Pistons coach ripped himself for the effort against Davis, who finished 24-of-34 from the field to post the NBA’s single-game high for the season and the best ever at the Palace, topping LeBron James’ 48-point outburst in the 2007 Eastern Conference finals. Davis had 51 points in the final three quarters alone, and later shrugged, “After a while, you feel like any shot you put up is going to go in.”

“That one’s on me,” Van Gundy insisted. “You’ve got to come up with something. A guy can’t get 59. That’s terrible coaching. Terrible.”

Whomever you want to pin it on, the Pistons have now lost eight of their last 10 games to fall two games below .500 for the first time all season — and two games out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference.

And before you blame this latest skid solely on new faces and changing roles, remember the Pistons are 5-11 since that roof-rattling win over Golden State in mid-January.

They’re 6-13 in the last six weeks, with a road game at Cleveland on tap.

That might explain why Van Gundy had little interest Sunday in talking about the pending trade or the depleted lineup or the possibility changing roles might have something to do with his team’s disjointed performance at both ends of the floor.

Davis lighting up The Palace scoreboard certainly wasn’t the only issue Sunday. Marcus Morris, whose duties were altered the most by the trade with Orlando for Harris, finished with a season-low two points in 34 minutes. He and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — coming off a core-muscle injury — are a combined 10-for-45 from the field in the two games since the All-Star break.

“Why would the trade set it back?” Van Gundy countered, when asked about Morris. “He’s struggling. I don’t know if it’s with the multiple roles or if he just can’t get the ball in the basket. No excuses, though.”

But answers? We’ll see, especially now that Anthony Tolliver’s status is in limbo as well. In his second game as a starter following the trades — a place-holder for Harris as he gets adjusted to his new team — he limped off the court following a collision with Andre Drummond in the first half Sunday. Tolliver was headed for an MRI after the game, another troubling sight for a team that’s headed the wrong direction in the standings.

“I think everybody’s frustrated,” Van Gundy said. “Nobody likes to lose. Of course everybody’s frustrated. We’ve just got to keep playing through stuff.”

***

No. 3: Lakers to start Russell the rest of the way — After a nearly three-month stint coming off the bench, Los Angeles Lakers rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell is back in the starting lineup and apparently there for good. Russell and Lakers coach Byron Scott have had their issues this season, but with the team’s season headed for an ugly finish of the Kobe Bryant farewell tour, it’s time to let the rookie go. Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com has more:

“It was just time,” Scott said when asked why he moved Russell back to the starting lineup, where Russell spent the first 20 games before being moved to the bench in December.

“Each month he has seemed to get better,” Scott continued. “He’s really starting to understand what this game is all about. He still needs to pick it up at times. Obviously on both ends he needs to continue to work, but I like what I saw [Sunday], and I like what I’ve been seeing from him over the last couple months.”

Russell’s playing time — and lack thereof at times — has been the biggest hot-button issue surrounding the 11-46 Lakers in what is on pace to be the worst season in franchise history. Scott has often benched Russell in the fourth quarter or, in one instance, pulled him for “trying to take over the game.”

“I get this question asked all the time. I don’t really care,” Russell said of starting versus coming off the bench. “I just want to play the right way. If that’s coming off the bench or starting, I just want to make an impact right away. I wish we could’ve won, just so I could feel better about it. But I trust coach’s decision and go with it.”

What does Russell hope to accomplish in the final 25 games?

“I just want to get better,” Russell said. “Coach always said, you’ve always got something to play for no matter how many games we’ve got left. However many games we’ve got left, I feel like I’ve still got something to prove.

“And I don’t want anybody to take it the wrong way, but you feel like your best players are your starters. And I feel like I’m going to keep the confidence and say that I’m one of the best players, so I feel like I just want to keep proving that I deserve to start, deserve to be out there and play crunch time minutes.

“With these last few games, I want to show that I have to be out there, like build that trust with my coach that he has to put me on the floor.”

Russell said being in the starting lineup along with guard Jordan Clarkson and forward Julius Randle will allow the trio of promising young players to build even more chemistry together.

“We can grow. We can play a lot tighter,” Russell said. “There’s a time when you can learn from each other as far as when one or them or myself mess up, we can figure out how to grow or we can watch film together. We should’ve done it earlier in the year, but I guess we were caught up in different ways. We can really take this time to grow together.”

***

No. 4: Was LeBron right about Waiters?Dion Waiters wasn’t a good fit in Cleveland once LeBron James decided to bring his talents home to northeast Ohio. So when the Cavaliers traded Waiters and went instead with J.R. Smith, much was made of the move. People wondered if LeBron and Cleveland had given up on Waiters too soon. But maybe LeBron was right, per Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman, who highlights the struggles of Waiters against his former team after the Cavaliers thumped the Thunder Sunday:

Waiters was awful for the second straight game. He followed a pointless Friday night game against Indiana with an equally fruitless game against his former team.

Waiters made LeBron the General Manager look incredibly wise. Waiters famously was traded by the Cavs to the Thunder 13 months ago because LeBron preferred to play with the mercurial J.R. Smith. The same J.R. Smith who made five of eight 3-pointers Sunday for Cleveland.

Meanwhile, Waiters missed his first seven shots, including an air-balled 3-pointer and a wild drive in which the ball bounced off the backboard 13 feet off the ground. Waiters made only his last shot, a 16-footer with 3:40 left in the game. That basket came with the score 109-88.

By the third quarter, Billy Donovan was designing plays for Waiters to boost his confidence, the Cavaliers were letting Waiters shoot and he wanted no part of it, preferring to drive and pass and keep the embarrassment to a minimum.

Seemed clear that Waiters was pressing to produce against the Cavs, who discarded him. Just as he did back in December, when Waiters scored four points on 1-of-7 shooting and the Thunder lost 104-100.

“Nah,” Waiters said. “Shots I normally make, I just missed. It’s going to come around. I ain’t worried about it.”

You can’t blame Donovan if he’s worried about it, though the Thunder’s first-year coach stood by his man.

“I’ve got confidence in Dion,” Donovan said. “When a guy’s not shooting the ball well, to me, that’s when you gotta really trust him. Obviously Dion hasn’t shot the ball great, but the guys in that locker room still believe he can help us.”

Donovan is right. He has no choice but to trust Waiters.

Not in the starting lineup. As soon as Andre Roberson is healthy, he needs to get back to opening games. The Thunder starting lineup with Roberson has been fantastic two years running, so even when Waiters is hitting, Roberson should be the starter.

But the Thunder has to have Waiters contributing offensively. His defense is solid. And who else off the bench is doing anything? Anthony Morrow can’t defend, and he’s made just 5-of-20 on February 3-pointers. Kyle Singler? Newcomer Randy Foye is available, but he’s 32 and on the downslope.

Waiters has to play and play well for the Thunder to prosper. The Cavs proved that.

“They were loading up on Kevin and Russell quite a bit,” Donovan said. “I thought our offense was OK in the first half. But when we did move and share the basketball, and found Dion or found different players, we didn’t make enough shots. For Dion, I thought he had some good looks tonight and it didn’t go down.

“I think maybe pressing’s probably a good word. Maybe he was a little bit. I don’t think it had anything to do with Cleveland as much as it had to do with probably coming out of last game.”

Maybe. But I don’t buy it. Looked like Waiters desperately wanted to prove LeBron wrong and instead proved him right.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Pistons are still waiting to get clearance on their trade for Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus ThorntonKobe Bryant never shied away from the legacy of Michael Jordan in Chicago … Tonight’s Warriors-Hawks matchup (8 p.m. ET, NBA TV) at Philips Arena lacks the sizzle of last season’s tilt between the best of the best … The Indiana Pacers’ gamble on Myles Turner continues to pay off handsomely for Larry Bird … Dallas coach Rick Carlisle is looking forward to adding a quality veteran in David Lee today

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 18


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING
No panic in Warriors after another loss| Kevin Durant loves the media | Kyrie says Cavs are in a better space | The Clippers’ schedule is about to crank up

No. 1:  No panic in Warriors after another loss — It’s happened so rarely this season that the shock of it all could be a little much to take for the Golden State Warriors. They’ve walked off the court after a loss just four times all season, but lost their second straight road game Saturday night in Detroit. But there is no panic now that the Warriors have come back to earth, a bit, from their unbelievable start to the season. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle explains:

The Warriors’ post-practice session Sunday started with Draymond Green playfully mocking Luke Walton’s work ethic and ended with Stephen Curry proudly wearing a Carolina Panthers cap while singing the team’s theme song.

If the Warriors are panicking about their declining play during the past 11 games, including an 18-point spanking by Detroit on Saturday, they sure weren’t conveying it before flying to Cleveland for an NBA Finals rematch.

“There’s no need to panic, turn on each other or point a finger. We all sucked,” Green said. “… You want to keep the environment loose. You don’t want to tense up and feel like it’s the end of the world and play like that. Yeah, we have to play with a chip on our shoulder, and we have to play with that fire and intensity, but you don’t want to play like you’re in a panic.”

The Warriors (37-4) will have a good barometer for their keep-it-loose approach during the next five games. They play road games at Cleveland and Chicago before hosting Indiana, San Antonio and Dallas — teams that went into Sunday’s games a combined 131-68 (.775).

To have success during the challenging stretch, the Warriors know they’re going to have to play better than they have in the past 11 games.

“It matters to us, every game that we don’t play well. We’re trying to figure it out,” Curry said. “At 37-4, I’m happy that it bothers us. … It shows that it’s a long season, but we’re on a mission to do something big this year. The game (Saturday) night was not in line with our identity and who we are as a team.”

The Warriors went 28-2 in their first 30 games, beating opponents by an average of 13.4 points per game. They’ve gone 9-2 in their past 11 games, beating opponents by an average of 4.8 points per game.

***

No. 2: Kevin Durant loves the media —  He has a strange way of showing it, but Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant does not hate the media. In fact, Durant said he has nothing but love for the folks covering him and his team on a regular basis. Sure, he’s had some heated exchanges with reporters recently and has criticized the media for not holding his Thunder in the same regard as other elite teams around the league, for “nit-picking” the way he and Russell Westbrook operate, for disrespecting Kobe Bryant and various other perceived transgressions. But in the end it’s, all love. Erik Horne of the Oklahoman has more:

“I also have something else to say, if you guys don’t mind. I was talking to Matty earlier and I’ve seen over the last couple days – couple of years, actually – that I hate the media. I actually do love you guys. If I hated someone I wouldn’t talk to them. I wouldn’t interact with them. I wouldn’t laugh and joke with them. I wouldn’t talk with them about anything other than what you guys ask me. When I disagree, that doesn’t mean that I hate you guys, so … my whole deal is to spark a conversation and hopefully we can talk about the topic, or whatever it is at hand we can talk about, and we all can grow from it. That’s my whole deal.

“I know I’m not necessarily talking to all you guys – all you guys with all these mics here. My whole thing is when I disagree that doesn’t mean I hate you, that just means … what you guys really wanted is someone who’s open and honest with you and who’s opinionated and that’s who I am. I haven’t changed, I’m the same person. I just grew as a man. Hopefully you just appreciate it and know that I don’t hate you. That’s a harsh word and my mom never brought me up to be a hater of anyone. I always believe that if I’m open and honest and opinionated that I can grow as a person and hopefully you can learn that’s what I’m about, and hopefully you all can get better. The main goal is to help the fans know the game a little bit more than they know today, so that’s my goal and hopefully that’s your goal instead of getting headlines and clicks. That’s my take on it, that’s the last time I’ll talk about it, but I had something I had to get off my chest. I appreciate it.”


VIDEO: Kevin Durant clarifies his recent comments about the media

***

No. 3: Kyrie says Cavs are in a better space — It stands to reason that weeks after Christmas, the Cleveland Cavaliers are something of a different monster than the one we saw that day against the Golden State Warriors. Kyrie Irving, who made his debut just a week before that game, is in a different place now. He says the Cavs are in a better space. And he’s ready for tonight’s rematch of the rematch between The Finals combatants (8 p.m. ET, TNT). Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com has the details:

In the first meeting between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, an NBA Finals rematch, point guard Kyrie Irving was playing in his third game, trying to get back in rhythm after a rehab-filled off-season.

Heading into Monday night, another crack at the league’s best team that celebrated inside Quicken Loans Arena about seven months ago, Irving feels different, inching closer to his old form.

“A lot better,” Irving said following Sunday’s practice, the first workout since returning home from a season-long six-game road trip. “Definitely trying to prove it out there every single time I go out there and play. Just trying to continue to be better every single game for my teammates.”

Since that Christmas Day showdown, an 89-83 loss, Irving has hypnotized defenses with his slick ball handling, made a pair of clutch three-pointers in the closing minutes and had a few scoring outbursts. He has given Cleveland an offensive boost, averaging 103.8 points in his 12 games.

“Coming back it was a tough adjustment at first, missing a few shots here and there, being on the minute restriction, just had some things to get used to,” Irving said. “And as I continue to progress and the more games I play, the better I am getting.

“I just didn’t want to come in and break anyone’s rhythm. We had a great thing going, and me just being an added piece, just wanted to come in and make it seem seamless and do whatever it takes to win. I mean, it was a tough transition coming back, I’m not going to lie, but I think it’s getting easier and easier every single game.”

Irving is averaging 17.0 points on 42 percent from the field, including 26 percent from three-point range. He’s also averaging 3.8 assists and 2.8 rebounds.

His numbers are down and his play has been dotted with inconsistency. But Cavs head coach David Blatt is focusing on the positives.

“Kyrie has been doing well,” Blatt said Sunday. “I said on a few occasions after some of his bigger games that still we had to understand and show patience. And he has gone more or less up and down a little bit and it’s totally understandable. He missed a long time, came off a serious injury. But he’s worked hard and he’s played well since he’s come back. Some games better than others. And it’s just part of the process and we understand it. And that will continue for a little while.”

***

No. 4: The Clippers’ schedule is about to crank up — Winning feels great, and the Los Angeles Clippers have been doing it as well as anyone lately — even after their 10-game win streak was snapped Saturday — as they head into tonight’s matchup against Houston (10:30 p.m. on TNT). But the schedule is about get a lot tougher and Clippers coach Doc Rivers knows what’s coming. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times explains:

Starting with Monday night’s game against the Houston Rockets at Staples Center, five of their next six opponents have records above .500. And the only team below .500, the 20-22 New York Knicks, has been playing better recently.

Not only that, but five of the six games are on the road, including a back-to-back set at Cleveland and New York on Thursday and Friday and, after a game at Toronto on Sunday, another back-to-back Jan. 26-27 at Indiana and Atlanta.

“I don’t look ahead but to the next game, obviously,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said Saturday night after the loss to the Kings at Staples Center. “[But] defensively we’re a better team. And that’s all you need to be is a better team defensively. Offensively, I’m never that concerned about us. I think most nights we’re going to be a good offensive team. . . . I just think our team has grown and that’s where we’re a better team.”

Only two of the opponents during the 10-game win streak were above .500 when the Clippers played them, and only one is now. They won nine of the games without Blake Griffin (partially torn left quadriceps) and went 1-1 in the games DeAndre Jordan missed because of pneumonia.

The Clippers are hopeful Jordan can return against Houston, and they expect Griffin to return during the trip — hoping it will be at Cleveland but figuring it’s more likely to happen at Toronto or Indiana.

The fact that the Clippers haven’t faltered without Griffin prompted a question to Rivers: Had they sent a message to the NBA about how strong they can be despite missing their All-Star?

“No, we’re not trying to send any messages,” said Rivers, whose team didn’t practice Sunday. “We’re just trying to win games. The messages have to be sent at the end of the year by winning.

“We just have to keep getting better. I think through this stretch we have improved as a basketball team. And I think when DJ comes back first and then Blake, we’re going to be a much better team because of all of this. But we’ve still got a long way to go. Neither one of them are back yet. So, we’ve just got to keep plugging away.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: If you had plans Saturday night and missed out on the raucous celebration at The Palace of Auburn Hills, relive the moment the Detroit Pistons retired Ben Wallace‘s No. 3 … Washington Wizards swingman Jarrell Eddie has found his dream job … You won’t have to think long and hard about who has been voted the NBA’s dirtiest player (here’s a hint, it rhymes with sell him a nova) … Even after all of these years, Kobe Bryant is still reaching milestones in the Lakers’ record books

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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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 …


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