Posts Tagged ‘Thunder’

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 191) Featuring Dennis Schroder

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – League or peer justice, which one is the right answer for James Harden‘s kick below the belt on LeBron James during the Houston Rockets-Cleveland Cavaliers/MVP showdown Sunday.

The enlightened crowd would obviously go with the NBA reaction, which was to suspend Harden for one game (Tuesday night’s Rockets visit to Philips Arena to face the Atlanta Hawks).

Here at the Hang Time Podcast, we don’t always fall on the right side of enlightenment.

We’d have handled it the old-fashioned way, the way they did in a bygone NBA era where players didn’t hesitate to dole out their own brand of justice when someone felt like they were wronged by someone else. That’s probably why we are not in charge of the NBA’s discipline dispersal, among other things.

It’s probably best that we stick to the discussion of these issues. And these days, there is no shortage of outstanding issues where the NBA is concerned. From the injuries in Chicago to Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson to the ongoing MVP race involving Harden, James, Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook to vetting the title contenders in both the Eastern and Western conferences to our opinions on Kobe Bryant‘s latest cinematic endeavor, we cover it all on Episode 191 of the Hang Time Podcast … featuring Hawks point guard Dennis Schroder.

We go through all of that and then some on Episode 191 of The Hang Time Podcast … 

 

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 and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Andrew Merriam.

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

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Morning shootaround — March 2


VIDEO: Highlights from March 2 of all the action around the NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Harden humbles James, Cavs | Another blow for already bruised Bulls | Blazers’ Lillard back in rhythm | Warriors are true believers after Boston comeback

No. 1: Harden humbles James, Cavs — The real “King James” stood up Sunday. And the crown didn’t fit the head of LeBron James, not on this day and not with James Harden and the Houston Rockets prevailing in an overtime thriller that lived up to every second of the billed MVP battle between the superstars at the center of this epic race. Statement game? Absolutely. Harden said so and our very own Fran Blinebury weaves the tale of the rise of the man who would be (the new) king:

Rough. Tough. Physical. Contentious. Dirty.

“Yeah, it’s like street ball,” said James Harden. “You grew up playing games like that.”

If Harden keeps growing up any faster, they’re going to have to raise the rafters of Toyota Center just so he doesn’t go straight through the roof.

He’s scored more points in a game this season than he did Sunday. Grabbed more rebounds. Dished out more assists. Played more artistically.

But never been more ferocious, more driven.

You’re damn right that 105-103 overtime win means more when it comes against LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

As messages go, this one couldn’t have been delivered more emphatically if it had come wrapped around a brick and tossed through a plate glass window or attached to a flaming arrow.

“M-V-P.”

While there may still be a horse race for the award this season, there’s no doubt which thoroughbred is now galloping ahead of the field.

Less than 72 hours after James stated his case by outscoring Golden State’s Stephen Curry 42-18 in a routine win by the Cavs, Harden provided his response.

James scored more points (37 to Harden’s 33), but took far more shots (35 to 18) to get them. Playing without point guard Kyrie Irving, James controlled the ball like a yo-yo on a string and tried to do too much. Playing without center Dwight Howard, as he’s done for much of the season, Harden simply opened his arms wide to embrace all of the things that had to be done.

“Every time you watch [Harden] play, you’re watching history,” Rockets Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon had said a few hours before the tip. “He’s doing something spectacular. Every night the best defensive player on the other team has to guard him and also the game plan of the other team is how to stop him. And he’s still finding a way to be effective and giving them an opportunity to win every time. So he is definitely the MVP.”

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Feb. 23


VIDEO: Highlights of Sunday’s action from around the NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Everybody is knocking the Knicks these days, even Phil | Emotional Heat rallying behind Bosh, Dragic | Westbrook takes control in Oklahoma City | Fire still burns for Scott (and Bryant) in Lakers-Celtics rivalry

No. 1:  Everybody is knocking the Knicks these days, even Phil — You, too, Phil Jackson? As if the Knicks didn’t have it bad enough this season, now their boss is taking shots at them. In the aftermath of Sunday’s woeful performance at Madison Square Garden against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the critics were out in full force on social media and everywhere else. And that includes Jackson, who took to Twitter to level the team he’s been charged with fixing. Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com provides the dirty details:

 

The Knicks lost by 18 points to the Cavs on Sunday to extend their losing streak to seven games. New York is an NBA-worst 10-45.

Sunday’s loss to Cleveland might have hit Jackson a little harder than others.

J.R. Smith — the ex-Knick Jackson traded away in a salary dump last month — torched the Knicks for 17 points and four assists in the blowout. Smith hooked up with Iman Shumpert — the fourth-year guard Jackson sent to Cleveland in the same trade — for an eye-popping alley-oop in the fourth quarter that is sure to make all the highlight shows.

The Knicks, on the other hand, couldn’t muster any highlights for their home crowd. They fell behind by 19 in the first quarter and shot just 37 percent from the floor overall, including 3-for-19 (16 percent) from beyond the arc.

New York is well on its way to establishing the worst record in franchise history (the previous mark is 21 wins).

It’s been a nightmare season for Jackson, who stated publicly at the beginning of the season that he believed the Knicks were a playoff team.

***

No. 2: Emotional Heat rallying behind Bosh, Dragic — Chris Bosh‘s season is over. His Miami Heat teammates digested that blow during an exhausting long weekend (from the trade deadline through a weekend loss to the New Orleans Pelicans). And now they have begun the process of trying to recover emotionally from the news that the blood clots in Bosh’s lungs will change all of their lives to welcoming new point Goran Dragic and trying to salvage this season with a playoff berth. They will find out what they are made of this season, what with all of the adversity they will have dealt with by the regular season’s end. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald provides some perspective:

After an emotional 55-hour whirlwind in which Miami split back to-back games, acquired a former third-team All-NBA point guard and learned that All-Star forward Chris Bosh will miss the rest of the season with blood clots in his lungs, most Heat players resisted any temptation to exhale or enjoy a lazy Sunday morning.

Instead, they convened at AmericanAirlines Arena for a voluntary on-court session designed to expedite the acclimation of new Heat point guard Goran Dragic, in advance of Monday’s home game against Philadelphia.

“One of my biggest priorities will be to make Goran feel comfortable as soon as we can,” coach Erik Spoelstra said Sunday afternoon at the Heat’s annual Family Festival. “That’s why we came in… [for] an optional workout that most of the guys showed up to.

“We’ve had to do this already, three, four, five times, where we’ve had to try to get organized with a different lineup, and we’ve become pretty efficient in fast-tracking that process. How long that will take for him, I don’t know, but it’s a priority for me. He’s a high-IQ player. He’ll be able to pick thing up quickly, find out where he can be aggressive and help the team, and that’s what [Sunday] was about.”

Dragic bemoaned his Heat debut Saturday in which he scored 12 points (all in the second half) and shot 4 for 11 with one assist and one turnover in 33 minutes in Miami’s 105-91 loss to New Orleans.

“It was tough. Sometimes you didn’t know where to go,” he said.

Spoelstra noted that “much of our plan early in the season was built around either Chris Bosh or Josh [McRoberts] having the ball in their hands and facilitating the next action. Obviously, that is a big change now.”

On Saturday, Spoelstra at times experimented with a smaller lineup with Luol Deng, Dragic, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers paired with one natural power-rotation player.

“It gives us an opportunity to make some plays off the dribble,” Spoelstra said. “As we move forward, we’ll find out if that’s something I go to more. It wasn’t necessarily successful [Saturday]. The alternative wasn’t necessarily successful, either, so I can’t really gauge that right now. But I can certainly see that being a strength of ours, having three guys that can make plays.”

Dragic was often at his best for Phoenix when he pushed the ball and played at a faster tempo. He now joins a team that was last in the league in average possessions per game. So does Spoelstra want to play faster?

“The team will tell us ultimately, but we want to play to his strengths,” Spoelstra said. “We have to defend. We have to be able to play off of misses.”

Regarding the Heat’s pace, Dragic said: “I talked with coach, and I want to play a little bit faster. But it takes time, of course, because last year with LeBron [James], all those guys played fast, but with all the situations with the injuries, coach put that system in that’s slow. Everyone needs to adjust. First of all, I need to adjust to all the players because I’m new here.”

Wade said Sunday he would be “fine” with running more: “When a team misses, let’s get out and see if we can get in transition and get some easy buckets. I need some easy buckets, especially right now to get my rhythm back.”

Wade loved the trade for Dragic but admits “I have to get used to a guy that can create so much attention by putting the ball on the floor. I’m normally that guy.

“It was different when LeBron was here because I was in a different place on the court. Now I have to kind of get used to playing with him and vice versa. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to take some trial and error, but I think we can make it up with his ability to attack and finish. It’s going to be good for us. He’s dynamic.”

***


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook’s not a point guard, huh?

***

No. 3: Westbrook takes control in Oklahoma City — The question has lingered for years, whose team is it anyway in Oklahoma City? Kevin Durant is the MVP, the star of stars. But Russell Westbrook has always been their emotional leader, the guy who makes them go, even when Durant is on the floor and healthy. Now that Durant is sidelined again with foot soreness, Westbrook has taken complete control of the situation and is driving the Thunder up the standings. Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman has more:

A fabulous first quarter was quickly coming undone.

Six empty possessions, marred by four missed shots and two turnovers, to start the second quarter were all Scotty Brooks needed to see. All the momentum the Thunder had constructed in closing the opening period on a 24-6 run was being squandered before his eyes. An 18-point lead had been trimmed to 12.

And so Brooks did what any sensible coach would do.

He reinserted Russell Westbrook.

And Westbrook proceeded to do what he’ll need to do for at least the next week while Kevin Durant recovers from a second surgery on his troublesome right foot.

He dominated play.

Westbrook scored a game-high 21 points, tied his career high of 17 assists and added eight rebounds to lead the Thunder to an authoritative 119-94 win over Denver on Sunday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“He was nearly flawless,” Brooks said.

With four new players added at this year’s trade deadline and, more importantly, news of Durant being out at least one week after undergoing surgery Sunday to place a new screw in his foot to alleviate chronic soreness, Westbrook will have to be at his best in the weeks ahead.

If Sunday was any indication, Westbrook is up for the challenge.

One night after posting 33 points and 10 assists in a win at Charlotte, Westbrook was even better against the Nuggets.

He made 8 of 12 shots and turned the ball over only twice, the first of which didn’t come until 9:41 was left in the third quarter.

“I’m just trying to do a better job of leading, man,” Westbrook said. “That’s my job is to integrate the new guys and lead them into the direction of where we want to go.”

Westbrook was sensational in that second quarter.

That’s when he racked up 10 of his assists after retaking the floor with 8:40 left in the period. It was in that stretch that Westbrook put on the kind of rare passing display that the best point guards regularly use to dominate a game without even shooting.

“I just don’t dominate the game scoring,” Westbrook said, smiling.

Westbrook hooked up with five different teammates during those final nine minutes, making each of them threats and the Thunder a nightmare for the Nuggets to defend.

By the time he was done, Westbrook had scored or assisted on 29 of the Thunder’s 31 points in the period. The Thunder ended the frame on a 31-18 run and took a 25-point lead into the locker room.

Westbrook attempted only two shots in the second quarter. Both were 3-point tries. And he made both.

“I think it’s great not just for myself but good for the rest of my teammates,” Westbrook said of his playmaking. “I think they feel comfortable about their game. I can get mine and take shots when I have the opportunity. But I think it’s great for them to have open shots and open looks and feel great about their game. And as you see it works out for us.”

***

No. 4: Fire still burns for Scott (and Bryant) in Lakers-Celtics rivalry — Don’t tell Lakers coach Byron Scott the NBA’s bi-coastal cold war is over. He is still caught up in the Lakers-Celtics rivalry from decades ago, the one he played a major part in as a player.  When two of the most storied franchises in all of sports are down and out simultaneously, the folks on the inside have to find motivation wherever they can get it. For Scott, whose star Kobe Bryant is down for the season, that means keeping the fire burning in terms of his disdain for the Celtics. Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com explains:

The players and coaches that made the Lakers-Celtics rivalry one of the most storied in sports history are nearly all gone now.

The only one left, on the court anyway, as the two teams met at Staples Center on Sunday was Byron Scott, whose disdain for the Boston Celtics as a Los Angeles Lakers player in the 1980s has carried over to his time as a Lakers coach.

“Probably not,” Scott said Sunday when asked if he could have coached the Celtics. “Seriously. Probably not, coached or played for them. I couldn’t be like Rick Fox and played for both.”

When they reminisce about great Lakers and Celtics games in history, Sunday’s game will be nothing more than a forgotten footnote. A momentary blip in the radar as both teams attempt to quickly rebuild into the championship contending teams again.

The only two that probably felt like Sunday’s game had any added significance was Scott and Danny Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations.

“It’s probably more of a rivalry between Danny and me than the guys in the locker room,” Scott said. “He’s in the front office sitting there probably saying if we don’t win another game, let’s beat them. The guys in the locker room probably don’t understand the history of the rivalry between these two franchises and that’s unfortunate. … It’s the best rivalry in all of sports.”

The chances of the Lakers and Celtics ever rekindling the decade-long magic they had in the 1960s and 1980s are pretty slim in the current NBA. It’s more likely they could get together for a three-year reunion like they enjoyed from 2008 to 2010.

“Guys jump up and move around so much so often nowadays, Scott said. “They don’t have the same type of loyalty that we used to in those days with one organization.”

The one player who does is Kobe Bryant, who is going into the last year of his contract with the Lakers next season, which will give him an unprecedented 20 seasons with one team.

Bryant told the “Grantland Basketball Hour” on Sunday that he isn’t looking for a Derek Jeter-like farewell tour next season and isn’t even sure if next season will be his last. Scott this week even raised the possibility of Bryant playing a season or two past his current deal depending on how he looks.

No matter what Bryant decides to do after next season, he will play a big role in the Lakers’ plans at recruiting free agents this summer and getting them to believe that the Lakers are not far from becoming a contending team again if they came on board.

“I think Kobe still has that pull and it’s an attraction for guys,” Scott said. “I think this organization speaks for itself as far as what we’re all about and that’s an attraction in itself.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Portland Trail Blazers’ fourth quarter troubles could be paralysis by analysis … Don’t look now, but the Indiana Pacers are warming up at just the right time … Every move made and the analysis to go with it from NBA.com’s Trade Tracker … The new-look Pistons look ready to rock

ICYMI:  Admit it Knicks fans, this is one of those times when you actually miss J.R. Smith …


VIDEO: J.R. Smith goes showtime at the Garden

Report: Perkins to sign with Cavs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kendrick Perkins and LeBron James were fierce rivals once, now they are set to join forces in Cleveland.

Perkins is set to sign with the Cavaliers after completing his buyout from the Utah Jazz, according to a report from ESPN.com. Perkins was traded from Oklahoma City to Utah at Thursday’s trade deadline. He battled LeBron and the Miami Heat while a member of the Thunder. Earlier in his career he played on Boston Celtics teams that battled LeBron’s previous Cavaliers teams for Eastern Conference supremacy.

Now he’ll help bolster the frontcourt for a Cavaliers team in need of some toughness and experience up front, behind Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson. The richest twist is that LeBron served as the chief recruiter:

Perkins was recruited directly by LeBron James to pick the Cavs, according to a source. He also drew heavy interest from the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Clippers, New Orleans Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs. The combination of a chance to win a championship along with an opportunity for playing time pushed Perkins to choose Cleveland.

After making up his mind, Perkins called Clippers coach Doc Rivers, whom Perkins played for in Boston, to inform his old coach of the decision.

Known for his interior defense and physical presence, Perkins will help solidify the Cavs frontline, providing depth behind Timofey Mozgov.

The 30-year-old center started 225 games (273 total appearances) for the Thunder after joining the team in 2011 in a traded with the Boston Celtics. A 12-year veteran, Perkins spent his first seven seasons with the Celtics, winning a championship in 2008.

 

Durant out against Hornets with soreness in right foot

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kevin Durant will not suit up for the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight in their game against the Charlotte Hornets due to soreness in his right foot, per a report from ESPN.com.

This will mark the 28th game this season that Durant has missed. He missed a grand total of 16 games in his first seven seasons in the league but has been battling back from October surgery to repair a Jones fracture that caused him to miss the first six weeks of the season recovering from the surgery.

The Thunder insist that Durant’s absence tonight is nothing more than a precautionary measure. More from the ESPN.com report:

The Thunder maintain the injury is nothing but soreness and there’s no concern of a more serious issue. Durant has undergone consistent imaging throughout the season, and all tests have remained clean.

“He’s not at risk,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said. “He’s just sore.”

 

Morning shootaround — Feb. 9


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played Feb. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron calls out Love … and it works | Clippers in a tail-spin | Karl and Kings close on a deal | Dwight Howard the big cheerleader?

No. 1: LeBron calls out Love … and it works — Even when he’s being a bit of a heel, LeBron James gets it right. He called out Kevin Love, who has admittedly struggled with his transition from focal point in Minnesota to third option in Cleveland behind James and All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving. That he took to Twitter to do it will bother some, okay plenty of folks, with old school sensibilities about how to lead. But it’s hard to argue with the results. Love had one of his best games of the season Sunday in a win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group has more:

LeBron James has nearly 18.7 million followers on Twitter, but a tweet he sent at 11:37 Saturday night was likely, almost certainly, directed at a single person.

His teammate, Kevin Love.

James posted to his Twitter account: “Stop trying to find a way to FIT-OUT and just FIT-IN. Be apart of something special! Just my thoughts.”

Those words — “fit out” and “fit in” — were the same Love used to reporters in October when discussing his adjustment to playing for the Cavaliers.

“it’s not a coincidence, man,” James told a few reporters, following the Cavaliers’ 120-105 win over the Lakers Sunday. Love scored a season-high 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.

“I lost the Finals in 2007, 2011 and 2014 and that was the same day I came back to Cleveland. Put it together, seven, 11, 14. Coincidence” James said, proving his point.

For reference, it is indeed true that James announced his decision to return to Cleveland via free agency on July 11, 2014.

James was asked about his tweet following Sunday’s game and Love’s big night. James nearly recorded a triple-double with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists — three of those assists went to Love on three-pointers.

“It wasn’t even about this team, it was more about people in general,” James said initially, to a larger group of reporters. “It was just a general thought that I had, and obviously whatever thought I had people try to encrypt it and Da Vinci Code it and all that stuff. It’s just a general thought, that’s all that is.

“And people are always trying to fit out instead of fitting in, instead of being a part of something special. And that’s all that was about.”

In October, Love told reporters that “I’m just trying not to fit in so much” and that nameless Cavs teammates had told him to “fit out and just be myself.”

“Fit in” and “fit out” of course, were written in all caps in James’ tweet.


VIDEO: Kevin Love talks after the Cavs’ win over the Lakers

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Morning Shootaround — Feb. 7



VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Davis delivers | Hawks are No. 1 | LeBron hurt in loss | Spurs beat Heat again | CP3 moving on
No. 1: Davis’ brow beater saves the day — We’ve all seen Anthony Davis do plenty of amazing things this season, but on Friday night he topped himself with another first. He capped off an incredible 41-point night with a stunning, 28-foot, double-clutching 3-point, buzzer-beater that delivered a win at Oklahoma City and allowed the Pelicans to gain a critical split of their back-to-back set of games against the Thunder. It was next step up in carving the growing reputation of the 21-year-old star and Davis’ first 3-pointer of the season. Maybe best of all, it wasn’t the play that coach Monty Williams drew up. John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune has the details:

”The play was supposed to be a lob just throw it at the rim and try to go get it,” Davis said.”’But they went under and I kind popped and I saw KD (Kevin Durant) and I think that was West (Russell Westbrook) on the other side flying in to me, so I double pumped and just threw it up there.

”I double pumped, but I tried to look to see if it came off the right finger. I was falling so I couldn’t really see the shot. But I could see that it was on line and I knew the ball was in the air before the red light came on.”

Appearing to be on a mission in his third season to get the Pelicans in playoff contention in the tough Western Conference, the ninth-seeded Pelicans (27-23) moved a game behind the eighth-seeded Phoenix Suns and they have a two-game lead over Oklahoma City.  The Pelicans, who play host to the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night at the Smoothie King Center ( 7 p.m. ET on NBA TV), won three of the four games against the Thunder. In December, Davis scored 38 points to lead the Pelicans to a 101-99 victory at Oklahoma City.

Davis said never made a 3-point under such conditions before. From his ability to take over games with his shot-blocking, mid-range shooting, inside play, there is little question about Davis’ emergence as a rising elite player.

”That’s just a superstar shot,”Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson said.”You rarely see a shot like that go in and leave it to Anthony to make it. It’s just crazy, but he has the ability to make shots like that. Beyond his game-clinching 3-pointer, Davis helped carry the Pelicans beyond their own miscues late in the game.

***

No. 2: Hawks take over top spot in NBA — It’s not often that the game lives up to all of the hype and those rare occasions are usually memorable. Take the Super Bowl for instance. Take Friday night’s showdown between the top two teams in the NBA. With the Warriors in the house and Atlanta in a frenzy, the Hawks delivered in a big way with a victory that elevated them to the best record in the league. Our man Sekou Smith tells the tale of a wonderful tale that’s been a decade in the making:

Ten years ago today the Hawks were in the midst of what would be a 13-69 season, a low point for a franchise that had seen plenty of dark days, far too many to regurgitate for long-suffering Hawks fans who lived through every painful misstep.

Friday night, they delivered in ways that not only stirred the emotions of a fan base and city, they  also checked every basketball box on the way to an unbelievable sense of what might be this morning. At 42-9 and the clear class of the Eastern Conference, the Hawks have become the model for downtrodden teams around the league. They are 14-3 against the mighty Western Conference, have won 35 of their last 38 games, own a 25-3 on their home floor, and remain on pace for a 68-win season. They are also making a mockery of any doubts about their ability to sustain this beautiful, pace and space game being cultivated under the meticulous and watchful eye of Mike Budenholzer.

It’s hoops karma that took years of hits and misses to get right, a gestation period not everyone could stomach, that has birthed a full-blow movement in a city where this wasn’t supposed to be possible.

Make no mistake, from the heart of the city to the suburbs that sprawl in every direction, it’s real.

I’ve been here for every step, sometimes closer to it than in recent years but always watching, and it is as real as the traffic congestion and late arriving crowds and finicky fans everything else that comes along with professional sports in this complicated and diverse metropolitan area of 6 million people.

Through the haze of a yet another pair of say-it-ain’t-so moments, courtesy of owner Bruce Levenson and exiled general manager Danny Ferry, these Hawks have provided a storyline that overshadows all of the foolishness.

From their All-Stars, the deserving trio Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Paul Millsap, to their equally deserving other stars, Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll, to super subs like Dennis Schroder and Mike Scott (all brilliant in their own right at times in the win over the Warriors) the Hawks have stumbled upon the winning formula for capturing the imagination of basketball fans around the globe and most importantly here at home.

“It was amazing,” Teague said of the playoff-like atmosphere. “The crowd was into it. Everybody was into it. Kyle was yelling out. That was a first. It was a good game.”

***

No. 3: Cavs loss leaves LeBron in pain — It was one thing to see their 12-game winning streak come to an end Friday night at Indianapolis. But more painful for the Cavs were wrist and ankle injuries to LeBron James and an offensive foul call against The King that proved pivotal in enabling the Pacers to claim the win. Joe Vardon of the Cleveland Plain Dealer delivers the news:

James re-injured the sprained right wrist he originally hurt on Jan. 27 in Detroit that caused him to miss a game last week, when he was fouled on his way to the basket with 48.6 seconds left in the third quarter by Indiana’s Roy Hibbert.

He stayed in the game and scored nine of his 25 points after that, but asked out of the game with 12.4 seconds remaining and Cleveland trailing by five because of what he described later as a recurring ankle injury.

The loss snapped Cleveland’s 12-game winning streak and left the Cavs one game short of tying the franchise record for consecutive wins, set (and tied) the last time James played for Cleveland in 2009-10.

James has already missed a career-high 10 games due to injury this season, and the Cavs are 2-8 in those games. But the last one went well – a 99-94 win over Portland Jan. 28 when Kyrie Irving scored 55 points.

“It’s going to hurt a lot worse tomorrow,” James said, speaking primarily of the wrist. James had a chase-down block, a dunk, and scored six consecutive points early in the fourth quarter.

“It’s the same thing,” James continued. “I already know and I’m not looking forward to it. I’m going to start my treatment tonight and just try to stay on it so hopefully I can go on Sunday.”

James fell hard to the floor and stayed down for several seconds when he was fouled by Hibbert, reminiscent of the original injury suffered against the Pistons.

That night in Detroit, James was trying to block a shot when he fell hard on both hands. It wasn’t immediately clear which wrist he’d hurt, and he scored 10 points against the Pistons after the injury.

This time, James switched between clutching the right wrist and showing signs of frustration. Hibbert was called for a flagrant foul on the play.

“It’s been better,” James said. “It’s scary for me sometimes, you know, I’ve broke my wrist before on those type of plays. I’m thankful that I could just get up, again, and hopefully I’ll continue to do that.”

James told Cavaliers coach David Blatt to remove him from the game late in the fourth, then was seen grabbing his lower legs while the team huddled for last-ditch comeback. James later told the Northeast Ohio Media Group he’s been hobbled a bit by a sore right ankle since Jan. 21, when he tweaked the ankle against Utah.

***

No. 4:  Spurs on the rise — It didn’t have nearly the same atmosphere as the previous time the Spurs and Heat met in San Antonio last June. But with their win over Miami and the upcoming Rodeo Trip looming, it looks like the defending champs are finally healthy and ready to stake their claim as a force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference. Our own Fran Blinebury was on hand for the Spurs’ latest step forward:

However, the Spurs still can think ahead because of all that they’ve endured and still managed to keep themselves afloat.
“Baby steps,” said Parker.

But the challenge is all in the deep, choppy waters of the Western Conference. For while the Spurs closed out a 10-4 month in January — second-best in the West behind Golden State — have won nine of their last 11 games and just wrapped up a 5-1 homestand, they remain stuck at the No. 7 spot in the playoff race, though tied in the loss column with the Mavericks and Clippers, the two teams just ahead.

Now they head out on their annual Rodeo Road Trip. The Spurs will play nine straight — broken up by All-Star Weekend — away from home that will cover 8,084 miles and won’t play their next home game until March 4. But the yearly forced evacuation by the San Antonio Livestock Show & Rodeo has been both therapeutic and a proving ground since it began in 2003 with the move to the AT&T Center. The Spurs have never had a sub-.500 record on the rodeo trip.

This time it’s coming just as all of the sore hamstrings, wrists, shoulders and assorted achy parts are on the mend and could give the defending champions an opportunity to get back in touch with who they are and forge an identity for the stretch run and looming postseason.

“We definitely want to find a rotation where everybody knows their role and get ready for the playoffs, because it’s going to come fast after the All-Star break,” Tony Parker said. “Everybody knows, with nine games, it’s gonna go super fast. So hopefully everybody can stay healthy and Pop can make his decisions and get a rotation and we can start playing good basketball.”

***

No. 5: Paul says ref criticism not about gender — If there’s one thing Chris Paul would like to put in the past as much as the Clippers’ current three-game losing streak, it’s the self-created furor over his criticism of referee Lauren Holtkamp on Thursday night in Cleveland. Speaking prior to Friday, Paul said his blast had nothing to do with Holtkamp’s gender, according to Melissa Rohlin and Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times:

“You know, last night was about a bad call,” he said, “that’s all.”

Paul is under heat for his comments about Holtkamp following a technical he received during Thursday’s 105-94 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was given the technical in the third quarter after the Clippers tried to quickly inbound the ball after a Cavaliers free throw.

“We’re trying to get the ball out fast every time down the court and when we did that she said, ‘Uh-uh,’ and I said, ‘Why uh-uh?’ and she gave me a tech and that’s ridiculous,” the Clippers point guard said. “If that’s the case, then this might not be for her.”

Holtkamp, 34, is in her first full season as an NBA referee and is one of two active female officials. Some questioned whether Paul’s comments were sexist.

“Like I said, last night was about a bad call, that’s it,” Paul reiterated.

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said he didn’t approve of Paul’s remarks, but he said there were no sexist undertones behind them.

“I just think he was upset at the technical,” Rivers said. “I don’t think the technical was warranted either, to be honest, but that’s not a gender issue. That’s an issue that you disagree with the tech.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Mavericks might be first in line if Amar’e Stoudemire is cut free by the Knicks… The Players Association is firmly in Chris Paul’s corner in Ref-Gate….Anthony Davis shows up in the Horry Scale…The Hawks have had talks with Ray Allen…Long time veteran referee Norm Drucker, the only man to toss Wilt Chamberlain out of a game, dies at 94.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Morning shootaround — Jan. 26


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs’ biggest improvement has been mental | Might Kobe opt to play and delay surgery? | Horford, Hawks can’t stop, won’t stop … winning | Aldridge puts training camp in jeopardy by playing through pain

No. 1: Cavs’ biggest improvement has been mental — Trade away whoever you want. Tweak the roster however you want. But when you go looking for the real change in the Cleveland Cavaliers since LeBron James returned from who two-week rest hiatus, look no further than between the collective ears of these Cavaliers. So says LeBron, who insists that the greatest gains this group has made recently has been in their collective mentals … so to speak. Sure, LeBron has been on fire, looking more and more like the machine he was in Miami the past four seasons. The rest of the Cavs, though, have taken the necessary mental steps to assume the position as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Joe Vardon, of the Northeast Ohio Media Group, has more:

Dan Gilbert didn’t put 20,000 gold t-shirts on the seats at The Q just because.

The Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t land on the slate of ABC’s first Sunday games this season for laughs.

Though it took place on Jan. 25, three full weeks before the All-Star Game in a regular season that starts before Halloween and goes past Easter, it truly was a big game.

And for once, the Cavaliers prevailed.

“We’ve improved, mentally more than anything,” LeBron James said yesterday, following Cleveland’s 108-98 win over the Thunder.

Remember, James called said once this was a “very fragile” team.

“Big game” is a cliché in sports, certainly on most nights when it’s applied to describe one contest out of 82 in the NBA. But it’s a point worth examining to measure how much James’ team has grown over the last several days.

First, and really it’s the reason this game was announced for ABC’s first Sunday slate back in August, it was a feature of the league’s last two Most Valuable Player winners in James and Kevin Durant — two stars who were picked to lead their teams to, excuse the word, big things this year.

With the Cavs and Thunder playing in opposite conferences, James and Durant only square off twice a year, unless they meet in the Finals as they did in 2012. Basketball fans were robbed of one James-Durant showdown when the Cavs’ superstar sat out with a sore knee on Dec. 11.

Next, and schedulers couldn’t have known this way back when, but Dion Waiters made his return to The Q after getting traded to Oklahoma City on Jan. 5. It’s a side-story, but a juicy one nonetheless.

Third (we’re building toward something here), those gold t-shirts draped over each seat at The Q. The idea, of course, is to make the organization and city look (and sound) good on national TV.

Free, gold Cavs t-shirts are reason to scream a little louder, a little more often. Of course Gilbert picked up the tab.

Add it all together: marquee individual matchup, the whole country watching, intriguing side stories, and nervous energy in the building (more so than on an average night).

The Cavaliers had played in that kind of cauldron of attention exactly twice this season. The first was James’ official return to Cleveland on opening night against the Knicks, which James said was “one of the biggest sporting events ever,” and on Christmas Day in his emotional return to Miami.

James and the Cavaliers failed. Twice.

“In those two games we did, yes, obviously, we did,” Cleveland coach David Blatt said. “I can’t deny that. Hopefully we learned from that.”


VIDEO: The GameTime’s crew discusses the Cavs’ play of late

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Jan. 19



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING
KD, Thunder hit reset button | LeBron feeling fresh as ever | Cousins All-Star testimonials | Larry Sanders has every intention of resuming his NBA career | What makes the Hawks work at the top?

 

No. 1: Reset button pushed in Oklahoma City — The first half of this NBA season couldn’t have gone any worse for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Injuries to superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, for starters, derailed the normal plans. But at .500 near the halfway mark of their season and the main characters finally back in regular form, the Thunder have mashed the reset button with one of their toughest stretches of the season ahead. They are prepared as they could be for the gauntlet, writes Michael Wallace of ESPN.com:

By the time the Thunder put the finishing touches on a 127-99 rout of the Magic — after setting a franchise record with 79 points in the first half — the night was long done for the rotation regulars. But the reality is Oklahoma City’s work, essentially, is just beginning.

“Anytime you get a chance to sit out the fourth quarter, it feels good,” Durant said of the festive atmosphere around the Thunder’s bench down the stretch. “It’s good for us and great to see everyone smiling and happy after a win coming into the locker room.”

Durant, who had 21 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists through three quarters, enjoyed the scene from the bench too much to even think about coming back into the game to chase the two additional assists he needed to secure his first triple-double of the season.

But the reigning league MVP didn’t hesitate to make his strongest point of the night before he exited the visitors’ locker room at Amway Arena: “We have to keep fighting.”

The Magic didn’t put up much of a fight from the outset, which allowed the Thunder to cruise in the second half. That certainly won’t be the case over the course of the second half of the season. After posting their most dominant offensive performances in consecutive wins against Golden State and Orlando, the Thunder improved to 20-20 as they hit the midpoint of the schedule Tuesday in Miami.

The next four games on this five-game trip — at the Heat, Wizards, Hawks and Cavaliers — could either propel the Thunder firmly back into the playoff picture for the first time this season or push them into a sizable deficit that might be too steep to overcome in the ultra-competitive West.

Durant and the Thunder don’t need 20-20 vision to see that though a .500 record might be sufficient to garner the sixth seed in the East, it’ll land you in the lottery in the conference in which they compete. It’s why Durant left Sunday’s game delivering fighting words, considering what his squad is facing.

Now that they’ve endured the worst and have broken even, the Thunder seeks to hit the reset button.

Hampered by injuries to Durant (foot, ankle) and Westbrook (hand) that caused the two catalysts to miss a combined 37 games, Oklahoma City has gone from a team that struggled to find seven healthy players for a game to the healthiest the team has been all season.

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Jan. 18



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Kobe has thought of retirement | Warriors bounce back | Wiggins keeps rolling | Embiid worrying Sixers | Marshall tears ACL

 

No. 1: Retirement has crossed Kobe’s mind — It’s the word that the rest of the world jumped to as soon as he went to the floor back in April 2013 with the torn Achilles’ tendon. It’s the word that he’s been pushing back against over the long, difficult months of recovery. But now with a 32-minute per game restriction and still the pain that comes with trying to be his old self, Kobe Bryant admitted to Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times that early retirement is a long-shot, but still a possibility:

“I’d be lying if I said that it hasn’t crossed my mind,” he tells The Times. “Right now I doubt it … but anything’s possible.”
He emphasizes the right now (because, right now, the reality is so muddled and difficult that even the Black Mamba is having trouble wrapping his mind around it.

“My body is hurting like crazy, around the clock, and if I don’t want to do this anymore, I won’t do it,” he says.

Like an aging pitcher, he has been placed on a count, 32 minutes per game, which basically leaves him on the bench for one crucial stretch per night. Like a fragile relic, he also has been forbidden to play the second night of back-to-back games, which means he will miss at least seven more full games this season even though he’s not injured. There has even been talking of completely shutting him down in March if the Lakers fall completely out of playoff contention, which has essentially already occurred.

The most stunning part of these developments is that a man who has spent his entire 19-year Lakers career fighting to play every minute of every game — he even made two free throws after tearing his Achilles’ tendon, remember — has agreed to every current and potential restriction.
“I know everyone is surprised I’m not fighting all this,” Bryant says quietly. “But I’ve changed.”

***

No. 2: Warriors reclaim their identity in Houston — One night after they barely showed up to put up a fight in Oklahoma City, the Warriors exploded for a 38-point guard third quarter in Houston and put James Harden under lock and key in what was supposed to be a showdown between Western Conference powers. As Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle noted, there was only one power on hand Saturday night and it was the league leaders:

Just 24 hours after the Warriors allowed season highs in points, field goals and field-goal percentage at Oklahoma City, they didn’t allow Houston to sniff those numbers.

Friday “night, we weren’t ourselves,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “We weren’t focused. We weren’t locked in. It showed in the stats, and it showed in the score.”

With Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala back in the rotation, the Warriors returned to the tenacious switching and gritty rim-protecting unit that has topped the league in defensive rating for most of the season. Houston shot just 42 percent from the floor, and the league’s most prolific three-point-shooting team was limited to 7-of-23 from behind the arc.

The Warriors returned to moving with a purpose and unselfishly passing on offense, getting double-digit scoring from five players, collecting 32 assists and shooting 54.9 percent from the floor. Most importantly, they returned to looking like the best team in the league — moving their record to 32-6 while snapping the four-game winning streak of the Rockets.

“We just wanted to get back to our identity,” Klay Thompson said. “It felt good to get back to what we do best.”

Thompson continued his hot streak, scoring 27 points and becoming the first Warriors guard with five blocked shots in a game since Baron Davis in 2007. Curry overcame six straight generally poor quarters to light it up in the second half and finished with 27 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds.

David Lee and Marreese Speights combined for 33 points and 13 rebounds off the bench. The Rockets were led by Howard, who had 23 points and 10 rebounds on a night when Thompson caused fits for James Harden, who managed just 12 points (4-for-15).

Wearing their slate-colored, sleeved jerseys — a Saturday tradition — the Warriors won their fourth straight against Houston — the first time they’ve done that since 2006-07 — and secured a season series road sweep of the Rockets for the first time since 1975-76.

***

No. 3: Red-hot Wiggins lights Timberwolves’ fire in Denver — He was feeling a bit under the weather, but that didn’t prevent rookie of the year favorite Andrew Wiggins from continuing on his recent surge. The No. 1 pick in the draft bounced back from a poor shooting night on Friday to lead his Timberwolves to their second win three games in Denver and Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune had the details:

This time, they needed veteran guard Mo Williams not for the career-high, franchise-record 52 points he scored in Tuesday’s streak-busting victory at Indiana but for two strategic shots late in a game influenced in many ways by youngsters Andrew Wiggins and Robbie Hummel.

Still ill, but feeling better than he did Friday in a loss at Phoenix, Wiggins scored a career-high 31 points and delivered nine rebounds, four assists, three blocked shots and a steal in a 40-minute that might have left Cleveland Cavaliers fans muttering.

“It’s almost astonishing his confidence level,” Wolves coach Flip Saunders said. “He just keeps continuing to get better and amaze and do everything, whether it’s offense, blocking shots, rebounds.”

Still just 19, Wiggins did that Saturday despite feeling what he called “just sick.”

“I still am a little, but I feel great,” he said. “We got the win, played hard, executed down the stretch. Nothing feels better than that. … We’ve had games on the line this year where we messed up and we didn’t finish it. Those were growing pains. Now we’re learning. I think we’re getting better every day now, every game. We’ve won two of the last three. That’s great for us.”

***

No. 4: Embiid’s conditioning, attitude have Sixers worried — Even though he has yet to step onto the court this season as he continues to rehabilitate from foot surgery, Sixers rookie Joel Embiid has made quite a reputation for himself as a fun-loving guy on social media. But the team that made him the No. 3 pick in the 2014 Is now concerned that Embiid is not taking his conditioning and his pro career seriously enough, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Embiid has a weight issue. Although the Sixers wouldn’t disclose his weight, a source said he’s close to 300 pounds after being 250 pounds at Kansas last season.

His work ethic is being questioned by some inside the organization.

And a blowup with assistant strength and conditioning coach James Davis is one of the reasons he was sent home during the team’s recent West Coast road trip.

So, who is Embiid?

“He’s a young, 20-year-old kid who is trying to figure his way into being a professional basketball player and learning life,” Sixers forward Luc Mbah a Moute said.

Mbah a Moute knows more about his fellow Cameroonian than anyone here in the United States. He spotted Embiid at a basketball camp in their homeland several years ago. The 28-year-old has mentored Embiid ever since.

“Obviously, you can see some of his immaturity [in] his tweets sometimes,” Mbah a Moute said. “But you can also understand how mature he is in certain situations the way he handled himself. . . . He’s a good kid, man.

“At the end of the day, it’s tough for him being in a situation where people can’t really see who he is as a person.”

***

No. 5: Bucks lose Marshall for season with torn ACL — The overachieving Bucks, who have already lost rookie Jabari Parker for the season, suffered another setback when it was determined that guard Kendall Marshall has a torn ACL and will be done until 2015-16. Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has the report:

For the second time in just over a month, the Milwaukee Bucks have lost a player to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Backup point guard Kendall Marshall is the latest, having suffered the season-ending injury to his right knee in the second quarter of the Bucks’ victory over the New York Knicks in London on Thursday. Rookie forward Jabari Parker tore the ACL in his left knee Dec. 15 in Phoenix.

The diagnosis was confirmed Saturday morning after Marshall underwent an MRI, and he said he expects to undergo surgery in two to three weeks after the swelling subsides.

“I didn’t know what it was but I knew it was something serious,” Marshall said Saturday as the Bucks returned to the practice court in preparation for Monday’s game against the Toronto Raptors at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. ” I could feel it buckle, pop and it was a pain that I’d never felt before.

“I hate to see injuries in sports, period. Our bodies are how we make our money; they’re our job, they’re our profession. At the end of the day, though, injuries are a part of our profession as well.

“That’s part of the risk so you have to be understanding of that and understanding of the process and be ready to get back.”

The 6-foot-4 North Carolina product had emerged as the Bucks’ backup point guard, and was averaging 4.2 points and 3.1 assists — second on the team to Brandon Knight’s 5.1 — over 28 games. Marshall also had posted career bests of 45.5% shooting from the floor and 88.9% from the free-throw line while also connecting on 39.1% of his three-pointers.

The timing of Marshall’s injury couldn’t have been worse considering the team waived No. 3 point guard Nate Wolters on Jan. 9 in order to be able to sign forward Kenyon Martin. That leaves Jerryd Bayless as the backup with O.J. Mayo and Giannis Antetokounmpo as other potential ball-handlers.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: With Austin Rivers on board, now the Clippers have their eyes on Tayshaun Prince…Now that he’s back in the lineup, it didn’t take long for Lance Stephenson to get right back to being Lance Stephenson... The Wizards big men show they can deliver too… Stephon Marbury says there was a time when he considered suicideKevin Durant made a dream come true for a young heart transplant patient.

ICYMI of The Night: Stephen Curry’s sick no-look pass demonstrates why he’s one of the best point guards in the game …:

VIDEO: Curry’s assist of the night