Posts Tagged ‘Thunder’

MVP Ladder: LeBron and KD to the finish!



VIDEO: The Fan Night crew debates LeBron or KD for MVP

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — They can see the finish line from here, both LeBron James and Kevin Durant, the headliners in an epic battle for MVP honors this season.

And it’s at the finish where this race will be decided. It’s that close between two of the league’s truly elite, transcendent talents. They are essentially deadlocked at the top of this week’s KIA Race to the MVP Ladder … LeBron has the slightest of edges thanks to that career-high and franchise-record 61 points he scored Monday night in a win over Charlotte.

Blake Griffin, James Harden and Paul George round out the top five of the Ladder this week with the Big Fundamental himself, Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs, joining the party at No. 10.

Dive in here for more on who made the cut on this week’s KIA Race To The MVP Ladder!


LeBron Rewriting His(Own)story!




VIDEO: LeBron James tries his best to explain his historic night

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – What do you do for an encore of one of the greatest months in NBA history? When you’re LeBron James you turn in one of the greatest nights of your storied career.

The Heat star had a February for the ages, becoming the first player since Shaquille O’Neal in 2003 to average 30 or more points and eight or more rebounds while shooting better than 57 percent from the field for an entire calendar month (a minimum of five games played). Toss in LeBron’s seven assists a game in February and only Wilt Chamberlain, in February of 1966 has had a wicked stretch of that sort.

That’s why LeBron going for a career-high 61 points in the Heat’s 124-107 home win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday ranks right up there among his greatest performances ever. He did it with a mask on, protecting his recently broken nose. He did it with Dwyane Wade resting in street clothes, as part of ongoing maintenance program. And he did it with work from all over the floor, including a career-high tying eight made 3-pointers.

He needed just 33 shots, 22 makes, to notch the 10th game of 50 or more points of his career and his first outing of 60 or more. He’s one of just five players to reach the 60-point plateau shooting better than 65 percent since the 1985-86 season — joining Carmelo Anthony from earlier this season, Shaq in 2000 and Tom Chambers and Karl Malone (both in 1990) as the only players to accomplish that feat.

Oh, and unlike high-scoring escapades by superstars in recent seasons (you know who you are, ‘Melo and Kobe Bryant), LeBron made sure to stick to his usual formula (he did have an assist or two … or five, to be exact) on his outlandish scoring night. The fact that he’s still rewriting his own history this deep into his career speaks volumes about the sort of competitor and player he is now and really has always been.

How many other guys can get 60-plus points without it becoming an absolute hysterical exercise from one basket to the next? If you watch the highlights, it looks just like any other night from LeBron … save, of course, for the 3-point storm he rained down on the Bobcats.


VIDEO: LeBron makes it rain 3-pointers against the Bobcats

LeBron setting his own career-high for points and breaking Glen Rice‘s Heat franchise record of 56 (against the Orlando Magic in 1995) is just another milestone he can add to his overflowing collection. It’s a reminder, though, that the great ones will dial up the unthinkable when you least expect it.

Who knew a Monday night game against the Bobcats would serve as one of LeBron’s finest moments? 

Just so we’re clear about what kind of run he’s on right now, LeBron has scored 187 points on 68 percent shooting from the floor over his last five games. The last time someone did that in the NBA was when Michael Jordan did it November of 1988.

And that envy he spoke of regarding the January exploits of one Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder … well, if February and the early days of March are any indication, LeBron wears envy as well he does the black mask he wore in his comeback outing (a 31-point treat dropped on the New York Knicks last Thursday on TNT).

This stretch run and race for the MVP between LeBron and KD should also serve as the ideal appetizer to whatever they have in store for us come playoff time, too.

Get your popcorn ready!


VIDEO: LeBron’s demolition of the Bobcats

Morning Shootaround — March 3


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Mar. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Riley speaks on Heat | Melo to the Bulls … at some point? | Spurs finally back to normal | Markieff Morris holds the key for the Suns | Stan Van Gundy is no fan of analytics

No. 1: Heat boss Riley sends cautious message about team, season – Perhaps it’s his personal history with trying to three-peat that’s on Heat boss Pat Riley‘s mind these days. Reality has a way of creeping into the consciousness for a man who has seen and done as much as Riley has over the course of his career. And that could explain his cautious message to Heat fans over the weekend, words spoken at a charity function, words that are sure to make their way to the locker room. And maybe that’s what Riley, always the master motivator, was trying to do all along. If he feels his team needed to be poked or prodded from on high, he took matters into his own hands. More from the Associated Press report:

“We’re playing very well right now, but every day you keep ratcheting up what you need to do to get ready for what you know is going to be an incredibly competitive playoff,” Riley said. “Right now, you have to keep in mind we have a long way to go.”

The Heat (42-14) will head into Monday’s home game against Charlotte winners of seven straight and 10 of 11. They still have to wait seven weeks before the playoffs.

“Everybody thinks it’s right around the corner. No, a lot of stuff can happen,” Riley said. “We’re in home-court advantage races, not only in the West but in the East. That’s not an objective.

“The objective, I think according to Coach (Erik Spoelstra), is that (we) stay on track with the defense and the rebounding, and I think we’ll be OK.”

Riley touched on several other topics during a brief meeting with reporters.

• On LeBron James: “The fact that he’s a confident player right now, probably the most confident player in the NBA, and it’s not born out of arrogance or born out of anything else other than the main thing, which is winning. He wants to win. That’s all it’s about.”

• On Dwyane Wade, who this season has been managing sore knees: “Dwyane is an 11-year veteran and he knows his way around the block. He knows what he has to do to get himself ready. Again, I go back 11 years with him, and I’ve seen him from the beginning to where he is today. He’s a smarter, more efficient in using his energy.”

• On not signing former Heat swingman Caron Butler, who signed with Oklahoma City on Saturday after being bought out by Milwaukee earlier in the week: “We love Caron. We reached out to him but he was very definitive with what he wanted and I don’t think it’s something we could have promised.”

• On 7-foot center Greg Oden, who has returned after missing nearly four years due to knee injuries: “He’s gone through a lot and I just cross my fingers, and knock on wood every day that he stays healthy. And if he does, he’s going to get better. And if he gets better then we’re going to be better. That’s why we brought him in.”

***

No. 2: Melo’s dilemma, Chicago or New York? – If Carmelo Anthony’s going to chase a championship at this stage of his career, Frank Isola of the New York Daily News suggests he start studying up on the situation in Chicago. Our Steve Aschburner has already highlighted the deep-rooted cultural differences between Melo and what he’s used to and what the Bulls are used to under Tom Thibodeau … and the gulf is wide. But time is running out on Melo and the Knicks, who fell hard against Joakim Noah and the Bulls Sunday. Melo has to have an escape plan in place and Chicago wouldn’t be a bad place to land, if chasing a title is truly at the top of his to-do-list:

A young fan seated behind the Knicks bench held up a sign encouraging Carmelo Anthony to consider the Bulls — again — when he weighs his free-agent options this summer.

“I saw a lot of signs,” Anthony said in delivering perhaps the best cryptic message of his career.

“It was a good sign,” he would later say. “I mean the kid went to art class … not the message.”

Anthony’s words are becoming more scrutinized, especially with July 1 drawing closer and his future already having been linked to the Bulls, among other teams.

He was admittedly “embarrassed” by the Knicks’ 109-90 loss on Sunday, yet also impressed with the Bulls’ resolve. Deep down, Anthony knows Chicago could be his best free-agent option.

The Bulls can offer Melo a stable franchise with a fierce, battle-tested roster as well as a superb head coach. The best the Knicks can do is the most lucrative payday, which may be too good to reject.

But if you take Anthony at his word, that winning a title is his top priority even if it means taking less money, well then there are few places better than Chicago.

“I don’t know, man. They always are a team who’s going to be there, who’s going to compete, who’s going to play hard,” Anthony said. “For whatever reason that is, I don’t know if it’s their system, if it’s Thib’s system. For whatever reason they’re always going to be there and compete.”

The Bulls apparently do have interest in Anthony, whom they pursued three years ago in a trade but couldn’t land. Chicago was not thrilled about dealing Deng, the emotional leader of the team whose personality and competitive fire would complement Anthony. Imagine if after all the assets the Knicks gave up to land Anthony he goes to the team that kept its core intact, has an MVP-caliber point guard and a brilliant head coach.

You better believe Melo sees signs. He sees a Knicks organization in utter disarray. He sees himself missing the playoffs for the first time in his career and it makes him sick to his stomach.

He sees LeBron James poised to win another title and sees Chris Paul with a loaded roster in Los Angeles.

The sign he should be looking for as it relates to the Knicks is a yellow one that screams, “Caution!” The Knicks’ plan is simple: re-sign Anthony and add a free agent the following summer. Makes sense. Maybe they’ll sign someone like Rajon Rondo, who has his own knee issues and who, unlike Rose, can occasionally be a head case. However, selling Anthony on the 2015-16 season is a risky proposition.

***

No. 3: Finally, Spurs get back to normal with Parker’s return – Tony Parker‘s return to the lineup for the San Antonio Spurs didn’t necessarily make global waves in the basketball atmosphere. But it should have. The Spurs have not been their usual selves without him. And for months they’ve battled injury after injury to their core group, issues that all teams face in some form, fashion or another. Still, it caused more than a little teeth-gnashing in San Antonio. Dan McCarney of the Express News explains how Gregg Popovich and crew handled the mess:

Parker’s return brought an end to a two-month crisis, started by Tiago Splitter’s sprained shoulder against the Clippers on Jan. 4, during which the Spurs missed at least one and as many as four key players for 24 straight games. They went 16-8 during that span, dropping just one game further behind first-place Oklahoma City to sit 1 1/2 off the pace in the Western Conference standings.

While Spurs coach Gregg Popovich couldn’t care less about seeding — “It doesn’t matter. It never has,” he said after Sunday’s game — [Manu] Ginobili and Parker are thrilled.

“Sometimes you do have a lot of injuries during a season,” he said, “but not five core players together. Pop and the team really had to figure it out. Grab players and change positions. We had Nando (De Colo) and Cory (Joseph) playing (shooting guard) a lot, even (small forward). So it’s remarkable we managed to stay in the second spot with a good record. I’m proud of this team.”

Said Parker, “It feels great to have everybody back. Hopefully, everybody can stay healthy and try to make a run at it. Everybody recharged their batteries. Everybody should be fresh. Every year I like our chances so as long as we stay healthy and play our best basketball when the playoffs come. That’s the main thing.”

***

No. 4: Markieff Morris serves as Suns’ biggest key – The “Year of the Dragon?” Maybe not in Phoenix. Sure, Goran Dragic has been great this season for the Suns. He’s high on the list of most improved players in the league and also has earned a spot on the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder. But the Suns’ biggest key this season? That honor belongs to Markieff Morris. That’s right, Markieff Morris. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic provides some context:

The Suns were piling up points early Sunday night, but their defensive stops could not keep up until Markieff Morris and Ish Smith entered the game.

Markieff Morris’ presence can swing a game, and it usually has been for the better — like Sunday night, when he posted 12 points, five rebounds and three assists in 14 first-half minutes to swing the Suns from trailing to a double-digit lead.

“Of maybe all of our guys, he’s probably the biggest key,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “If he plays well, we usually have a pretty good chance of winning the game. When he isn’t active, then we struggle. We rely on him a lot coming off that bench, and we run a lot of stuff to him. He’s a great passer. He’s probably one of our better passers on the team.”

The Suns need Morris to be aggressive in the post to create plays for himself and others, especially when Goran Dragic is resting. He has become a Sixth Man Award candidate by scoring in double digits in 21 of the past 22 games. The last Suns reserve to do that was teammate Leandro Barbosa, when he won the Sixth Man Award seven seasons ago.

The Suns have not strayed from the usual starting five except for injuries, using the second-fewest total of starters this season (seven) in the NBA. Morris’ connection with his twin, Marcus, makes it an effective bench unit with Smith pushing the tempo.

As a bench player, that sometimes means that Markieff Morris plays the rest of either half because he is going so well. He closes tight games with Hornacek usually trying to get a brief fourth-quarter rest.

“You say we’ll ride him out and see if he gets tired and he’s been able to get through that and finish a lot of games,” Hornacek said

***

No. 5:  Van Gundy dismisses analytics crowd – John Schuhmann and the rest of the stats-loving/analytics crowd might want to cover their ears whenever Stan Van Gundy speaks, because he is not a fan. And that’s the politically correct way of saying that the former Magic and Heat coach has not been converted to the analytics age of the game. Not yet at least. Van Gundy went off o the analytics movement during his time at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, expressing his displeasure with many of the folks who have championed the cause. Brett Pollakoff of ProBasketballTalk has more on Van Gundy’s analytics inquisition:

Van Gundy posed legitimate questions that would theoretically need to be addressed before the basketball purists at the NBA level take the data as gospel, and making sure that whoever is identifying certain play types and quantifying them knows basketball, and is doing that job to the specifications of a particular head coach.

“I don’t trust most of it,” Van Gundy said, beginning an exquisite rant on the topic. “I read some of the stuff that people write on ESPN.com, you know, I’ll read stats on pick and roll defense and stuff that came off Synergy or somewhere else — I don’t know who the hell is recording that information!”

“I read a thing in the playoffs last year that said that New York isolated like 17 percent of the time,” he continued. “I’m watching their games, they isolate half of the time, at least. So I don’t know who’s recording that. If there’s a pick and roll, and they throw it back to Carmelo and he holds the ball and isolates for eight seconds, that’s a pick and roll play, not an isolation? And a lot of pick and roll stuff … you know, I read a thing today from ESPN the Magazine on Paul George being the best pick and roll defender in the league on the ball handler. Look, a lot of pick and rolls … there’s pick and rolls designed to score, and there’s pick and rolls you run to get into something else. If you’re recording it and you’re treating those two things the same, then you don’t know what you’re doing.”

Van Gundy really does like the additional available data — he just needs to be able to trust that whoever is compiling it has the same standards basketball-wise that he does. Ironically enough, I overheard a statistician type at one of the panel discussions explaining to a colleague that of course he watches games — but only to enhance his data set.

“I mean, I do watch the games,” this person said, “to to try to pick up on some things that maybe my numbers aren’t catching.”

This is obviously completely backwards, and as far as Van Gundy is concerned, there’s simply no substitution for the eye test.

“To me, I think that a lot of the analytic stuff can be very useful, but if you’re using that in place of sitting down and watching film yourself and seeing what’s going on, you’re making a big mistake,” Van Gundy said. “And I don’t want to offend anybody, but I think one of the problems with analytics — I think it’s good; I used it, I love looking at it — but one of the problems is, there are a lot of people in a lot of organizations who don’t know the game, who all they know is analytics and as a result, that’s what they rely on. And they will use that to supersede what guys like us see with our eyes. And I think that’s a major mistake. There’s no substitute for watching film over and over and over again, and the only numbers I trust are the ones that my people believe.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jimmer Mania is on and popping in Chciago … Some “tanking” going on in Orlando? … Andrew Bynum is reportedly ready for action and is saying it loud and clear, “I want to play” … Jeremy Lin goes up before the All-Star break but has come crashing down since … Thunder will work without two defensive cornerstones for the foreseeable future

ICYMI of the Night: The Phoenix Suns want you to know that the Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors aren’t the only Western Conference playoff teams capable of going off from distance. They peppered the Atlanta Hawks from deep Sunday, raining down 15 made 3-pointers in smashing a pie in the face of their guests …


VIDEO: The Suns let it fly from deep in a win over the Hawks

Morning Shootaround — March 1


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron’s mask dilemma | Knicks eyeing Jackson as Woodson’s replacement? | OKC and Butler a perfect fit | Bulls confidence soaring during current run | Colangelo: “I tried to tank”

No. 1: LeBron’s black mask days appear to be over after just one game – Well, it was fun while it lasted, LeBron James in that black mask to protect his broken nose. Our Bleacher Report brother Ethan Skolnick broke the news that the NBA prefers LeBron wear the clear mask and no the black carbon-fiber shield he wore during Thursday night’s win over the Knicks. And according to Skolnick, this isn’t just the league being heavy handed. It’s more about them sticking to the precedent that’s already been established in regards to goggles and facial ware being clear so there is no advantage for the player who is forced to play with goggles or a mask (go figure):

In an email, Skolnick explained why the league prefers a clear mask as opposed to a black one: “The reason the league prefers the ‘clear’ is so that opponents can see a player’s eyes. They have set rules about goggles, which came into play with (Dwyane) Wade in New York in 2011.”

Defenders already have enough trouble stopping James. If they’re unable to read his eyes as a means of guessing where he plans to attack, guarding him would become even more impossible.

Still, this change will be a bummer for the Internet world. Twitter exploded with various comparisons, GIFs and Photoshop creations as King James donned the Zorro-esque mask in a 108-82 win against the New York Knicks Thursday night.

LeBron isn’t going to let the black mask go away without a bit of a fight. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reports that an appeal has been filed and that LeBron, while prepared to comply with the league’s request, would like to continue wearing the black mask. It’s complicated, of course, as is anything this seemingly trivial:

“It is our understanding LeBron used the black mask because a clear one he was comfortable with wasn’t ready,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank said.

James appealed the decision and is still trying to get clearance to wear the black mask because he likes the lightness and fit of it, a source said. He also said he liked the style and how it matched the Heat’s black throwback uniforms. It gave him no issues when he put up 31 points on 13-of-19 shooting in the Heat’s 108-82 win against the Knicks.

But James is preparing to use a clear mask Saturday, though he still may find a way to personalize it.

The black mask was a huge hit among fans, and James and several teammates posted pictures with it on social media. On Friday, the Heat started selling T-shirts with a masked James on them.

“Only LeBron can make breaking your nose look cool,” Heat forward Shane Battier said.

***

No. 2: Knicks eyeing Mark Jackson as Mike Woodson’s eventual replacement? – The Knicks are in the midst of an absolutely dreadful stretch right now, one that has brought into question the futures of almost all involved but especially coach Mike Woodson and resident superstar Carmelo Anthony. Anthony will make his own decisions about his future, this summer in free agency. Woodson, however, will see his fate decided by the Knicks’ big bosses. And if the fans get their wish, a familiar face would be the choice to replace Woodson. New York native and former Knicks point guard Mark Jackson, who happens to have a job coaching the Golden State Warriors right now, is the dream pick, according to Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News:

The big meeting took place right out on the Garden floor, for all to see.

Knicks president and GM Steve Mills and his top lieutenant, Allan Houston, were double-teaming Mark Jackson a little more than an hour before the Knicks pulled a no-show and were routed by Jackson’s Warriors, 126-103, on Friday night.

Go ahead Knicks fans, dream a little.

We can tell you on good authority, no job offer was made. We know this because it was just small talk, chit-chat among old friends.

But it was fairly obvious to everyone in the place that the Knicks have a crush on their old playmaker.

Early in the game, they paid tribute to Jackson on the big scoreboard with a nice video of his career, showing some of his highlights during his two-part career in New York.

Then came the ultimate tribute, at the end of the video, when the PA announcer introduced Jackson, saying, “Once a Knick, always a Knick.”

When they say that about you at the Garden, you know you’re family.

Even MSG Network seemed to be doing its best to give Jackson an inordinate amount of air time in its postgame coverage.

It sure does seem as if the Knicks have their eyes on Mark Jackson, out of Bishop Loughlin and St. John’s.

It’s not as if Jackson hadn’t been back at the Garden before this night. So their show of affection seemed a tad excessive.

But maybe the Garden was just sending signals about who it wants to coach down the line. Jackson got his win, which wasn’t very hard to do. His meal ticket, Stephen Curry, notched his triple-double and there were still two minutes left in the third quarter. His team rebounded nicely off a 20-point loss two nights earlier in Chicago.

Mike Woodson is walking around with a look on his face as if he knows the end is near. Well, after these final 23 games.

“I’m not aware of it, I’m coaching my basketball team, so I haven’t kept up,” Jackson said beforehand about his old team.

Of course he was playing dumb.

He called the Knicks “a dangerous team.”


VIDEO: Masked LeBron was great against the Knicks but will he make another appearance in black?

***

No. 3: Butler a good fit for Thunder on and off the court – The Thunder ended that skid with Russell Westbrook back in the lineup, courtesy of Kevin Durant‘s 30-point second half in a win over Memphis Friday night. But they’re focused on regaining their winning ways and more right now. Caron Butler is set to join the Thunder’s title quest now that his buyout in Milwaukee is complete and once he’s cleared waivers. As Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman makes clear, Butler is an excellent fit for the Thunder’s culture, on and off the court, and should be play an integral role in whatever they do going forward this season:

You’ve probably read or heard about all that he brings: toughness and experience, professionalism and character, defense and 3-point shooting.

But what few among us know is why Butler, free to sign with any team after being bought out by Milwaukee on Thursday, chose to come to Oklahoma City.

For now, all we can do is assume it’s because the Thunder gives him a chance to win his second championship. But there’s got to be something more.

That alone is something other franchises, like Miami, Indiana, San Antonio, Houston and the Los Angeles Clippers, also could offer. And the Thunder, for myriad reasons, couldn’t offer the most money or the most minutes or the biggest and best metropolis.

So what’s bringing Butler to OKC?

One reason could be the Thunder’s culture closely matches Butler’s mentality.

Butler would become only the second player the Thunder has signed after another team agreed to a buyout. Derek Fisher in the 2011-12 season became the first.

Both carried with them well-established reputations for being upstanding citizens, community-minded individuals and championship-driven players. Their attraction to Oklahoma City could say as much about the Thunder as it does about them.

It could say the Thunder is now a prime destination for players who want to win.

***

No. 4: Bulls confidence soaring after latest show of toughness – The Chicago Bulls take pride in their toughness. Coach Tom Thibodeau has instilled that in them from the start. And with leaders like Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich around to spread the message, it’s no wonder the Bulls are thriving during what would be tumultuous times anywhere else. They know that no matter the circumstance, no matter who is or is not in uniform, they will compete to the very end. They showed off that intestinal fortitude in an eye-opening comeback win over the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas Friday night. It was the Bulls’ eighth win in 10 tries. They are cut from a completely different cloth than any other team in the league in that regard, notes Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com:

The difference between the Bulls and many other teams in the league is that they rarely lose focus on what they are trying to accomplish. They believe in themselves and they believe in coach Tom Thibodeau’s system. They believe, no matter how good their opponent might be, that they can win each night. That’s why, when they got into a 16-point hole in Friday’s first half and had to knock down shots late in the game, their demeanor never changed. They never stopped believing that tough defense and big shots would be the elixir against a Mavericks team playing some of its best basketball of the season.

“I just think we didn’t panic,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said, “I think guys understood what we have to do. … We’re just focused right now. Our defense is really clicking. Our offense is really clicking. Guys are really taking big-time shots, we’re never panicking late, we’ve been in this situation. Our poise is just through the roof right now and we’re really in a rhythm.”

That’s the key for Thibodeau’s team as it streaks into March. The rhythm Gibson talked about was missing before the turn of the new year. The same Mavericks team came into the United Center in late December and beat the Bulls by 22 points. Gibson and his teammates are finding ways to adjust on the fly, something that was apparent in the defining fourth quarter, when the Bulls tightened up their defense and held the Mavericks to only six makes from the field in 25 attempts.

“We’re tough whenever we’re playing defense,” Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler said. “Rotating, getting into the ball. I think that’s where the basketball starts for us. We let our defense dictate our offense.”

The Bulls are only going to go as far as their defense takes them this season. That’s why Friday’s comeback win meant a little more to them. They realized yet again that they have the ability to shut down good teams on the road — a trait that will serve them well in the playoffs. They realized that they could overcome their surroundings, as Mavericks owner Mark Cuban barked at officials under the basket and Dallas assistant coaches Mike Shedd and Mike Weinar screamed out most of the Bulls’ sets whenever Thibodeau made a call. It’s games like this, victories like this, that remind the Bulls just how important the little things are to winning.

“I feel like when people call you resilient that’s a compliment,” Noah said. “But we just got to stay hungry, stay hungry, keep this mindset, we got punched in the face early in the game, we stuck with it and we kept fighting. I think that’s what this team represents. We got one of our best wins of the year today.”

***

No. 5: Ex-Raptors boss Colangelo: “I tried to tank” – The Colangelos, the first family of basketball to many, has upheld the NBA shield for decades. But Bryan Colangelo, the former boss of both of the Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors, admitted committing the cardinal sin for a franchise when admitted to trying to tank with the Raptors a couple of years ago. Colangelo came clean on a panel discussion at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston. Colangelo said he did so during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, a move he said was a basic necessity for the Raptors, given their predicament at that time. USA Today Sports’ Sam Amick delivers the details:

As part of a Basketball Analytics panel in which a current proposal was discussed in which the league’s draft lottery system would be replaced by a structure in which the incentive for losing would be eliminated, Colangelo shared the sort of story that the NBA community is well aware is somewhat commonplace but that executives typically keep to themselves.

“I like (the proposal) because there’s no assurances (of getting a good pick) when you do tank,” Colangelo said. “Admittedly, I will say, I tried to tank a couple years ago.

“And I didn’t ‘come out and say, ‘Coach (Dwane Casey), you’ve got to lose games.’ I never said that. I wanted to have him establish a winning tradition and a culture and all of that, but I wanted to do it in the framework of playing and developing young players, and with that comes losing. There’s just no way to avoid that, but I never once said, ‘You’ve got to lose this game.’ “

Colangelo reflected on the ripple effect of that season, as the Raptors finished 23-43 and ultimately drafted Terrence Ross out of the University of Washington with the eighth pick. Because Toronto had finished with the same record as the Golden State Warriors, they had a coin flip to determine which team picked first.

Less than a year later, Colangelo was, in essence, replaced by former Denver Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri. Colangelo stepped down as team president three months later.

“Just one less loss (that season) would have put us in a coin toss for (the Portland Trail Blazers’) Damian Lillard potentially (he was taken sixth), and that was a need that we had on our team that year, a point guard need,” Colangelo said. “So it would have kind of taken us on a whole different route in this rebuilding process, and of course if we had lost a lot more games we would have had better odds to get (the New Orleans Pelicans’) Anthony Davis, the big prize that year. We’re looking at it, and it didn’t work out.

“There’s no assurances (in the lottery). I do like the certainty of the (proposed) process. I think there are some merits to obviously take it to the next extent, except I wish we could start it sooner because there really is some ugly basketball being played.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Friday night was a bonanza for mercurial performances around the league. Not only did Kyrie Irving go off for his first triple double … but Goran Dragic scored a career-high 40 points in the Suns’ win over the Pelicans … and Jordan Farmar made Los Angeles Lakers fans forget their woes, at least for a moment, with a career-high 30 points of his own in a win over the Sacramento Kings … Rachel Nichols sat down with Nets center Jason Collins for an in-depth interview about the veteran big man’s journey back to the NBA … and finally, the “Fire Woodson” chants and boos are getting louder and louder at the Garden

ICYMI of The Night: Steph Curry, needed just three quarters to record a triple double and help the Warriors dump the Knicks at Madison Square Garden 


VIDEO: Steph Curry loves working at Madison Square Garden

Buyout Business: Where They Fit Best




VIDEO: Caron Butler lights it up off the bench for the Bucks, where will he do it next?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Last week’s NBA trade deadline was just Phase 1 of the late-season player grab for contenders looking to upgrade in certain areas and give themselves a push in the right direction with the playoffs on the horizon.

Phase 2 is the buyout market, when teams lock up veteran help at an area of need when teams start purging their rosters of players that were moved last week or veterans on lottery-bound teams in search of work with a contender. And that means we switch our focus from superstars who were rumored to be traded (yes, you Rajon Rondo and Pau Gasol) to those players who were actually moved or probably should have been (guys like Danny Granger and Caron Butler, headliners in the buyout market).

Now it’s just a matter of matching the right player with the right team …

DANNY GRANGER TO THE … LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

The Pacers didn’t have any use for Granger with a younger and much cheaper option available in Evan Turner, but plenty of other teams are interested in adding him to their mix for the remainder of the season and playoffs. He reportedly spoke, via phone, with five different teams Thursday, per Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports. Granger explored the possibilities with the Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat, Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls. A free agent-to-be this summer, Granger knows that the work he does between now and June, should it last that long, is as a temp. He’ll have time to find the long-term fit in the summer, which takes some of the pressure off right now.

ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelbourne has more on why Granger picked the Clippers:

Former All-Star forward Danny Granger has decided to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

The San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks all made a run at Granger, but ultimately he chose the Clippers late Thursday night because they offered him the best opportunity to play meaningful minutes for a contender.

Granger hopes to play Saturday when the Clippers host the Pelicans, a source said.

By signing with the Clippers, he will become the second veteran player coach and senior vice president of player personnel Doc Rivers has recruited to the team in a week. Last week Rivers outrecruited several other teams to sign forward Glen Davis, after he was bought out by the Orlando Magic. Davis played for Rivers in Boston, where they won the 2008 NBA championship and lost in the 2010 Finals.

The Clippers traded Byron Mullens and Antawn Jamison last week to create roster spots to pursue players such as Granger and Davis, who were likely to be bought out. They also backed out of late trade discussions with the New York Knicks for injured swingman Iman Shumpert and guard Raymond Felton. Both decisions look prescient a week later.

The unique thing for Granger is he’s going to get work with the Clippers the same way he would have gotten it with the Pacers, off the bench as a veteran scorer-for-hire. Granger coming off of that Clippers’ bench alongside Jamal Crawford and others is a dangerous proposition for the opposition. And if J.J. Redick‘s injury issues linger, Granger could always work as a starter alongside Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, giving Rivers a boost no one saw for the Clippers before Granger was sent to Philadelphia at the final hour of last week’s trade deadline.

***

CARON BUTLER TO THE … OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

The race for Butler’s services has turned into a battle between two teams that could very well end up battling for the ultimate prize this season. The Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, are the leaders for Butler. They both have a need for a quality veteran to help work on the perimeter. Butler’s career began in Miami and he has institutional knowledge of how to operate in the Heat’s system. He could slide right into the mix with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and crew and fit in well. But the chance for more meaningful minutes might actually come with the Thunder, where Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook could use another wise vet with a championship ring (Butler won his with Dallas) to help with some of the heavy lifting.

Butler was not on the active roster when the Mavericks won that title in 2011 (and the Mavericks went through both the Thunder and Heat to snag the Larry O’Brien trophy that year). Butler would bring some balance to the Thunder’s attack and his ability to defend on the perimeter would also take some pressure off of Durant, depending on the matchup, in critical situations. He’s a good fit in both place but needed more in Oklahoma City.

***



VIDEO: Jimmer Fredette works his magic against the Knicks

JIMMER FREDETTE TO THE … CHICAGO BULLS

The rumblings of a Fredette move to the Bulls started early Thursday, courtesy of a report from ESPN’s Marc Stein. It would be an odd marriage considering the Bulls’ defensive-minded focus and Fredette’s allergy to anything defensive during his time with the Sacramento Kings. But if Fredette wants to continue his playing career in the NBA and not abroad, proving himself as a contributor and key component for a rugged playoff outfit coached by Tom Thibodeau would do wonders for his cause.

The Bulls need the scoring help, particularly on the perimeter and from a shooter with Jimmer’s range. And he’ll get a chance to learn the fine art of true team defense playing for a coach and a team, led by All-Star center and defensive backbone Joakim Noah, that could very well save the No. 10 pick from the 2011 Draft.

***

METTA WORLD PEACE TO THE … SAN ANTONIO SPURS

World Peace has nine NBA lives. Who’d have thunk it a decade ago when his career was hanging in the balance? This is admittedly more of a guilty pleasure exercise for us than it is a necessity for the Spurs, but the potential World Peace and Gregg Popovich chemistry experiment is one that would keep social scientists up at night trying to figure out how it works. Metta proved during his run with the Lakers that he was capable of folding himself into the fabric of a championship outfit. He could do it again with the Spurs and Pop, who has made an art form of integrating veteran role players into the right spot in the rotation.

Seemingly every contender on both sides of the conference divide need help at the three, so Metta could see the interest in his services pick up when Granger and Butler make their decisions. He’s not necessarily a great fit in Miami or with the Clippers, but he’d be an intriguing fit with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and the Spurs.


VIDEO: Danny Granger shows that he still has some bounce left in those legs

Banged-Up Spurs Find Footing After (Another) Solid Rodeo Road Trip


VIDEO: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich talks about Kawhi Leonard’s expected return to the lineup

OK, so maybe Tim Duncan wasn’t just a frisky young colt the last time the Spurs played a game at the AT&T Center. It could be that Manu Ginobili didn’t have his long, flowing hair that flopped in the wind when he flopped on the court or that Tony Parker was still coach Gregg Popovich’s favorite teenaged whipping boy.

It just seems that long ago.

When Rudy Gay’s last ditch 3-pointer missed on Feb. 1, the Spurs were able to claw past the Kings to end a three-game losing streak, hoping to crawl out of town in search of recuperation and recovery.

That’s exactly what the Spurs found on their annual rodeo road trip that might once more have saved their season. The Spurs have been forced to vacate their arena for the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo for an extended stretch each season since 2003 and have never brought home a losing record in their luggage.

This time, the Spurs traveled 8,989 miles through four time zones and left with a broken lineup that had been missing three starters — Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green — and before the journey left the East Coast in Boston, Parker and Tiago Splitter had to take their turns on the shelf.

Yet they returned with an unlikely 6-3 mark that keeps them No. 2 in the Western Conference entering their first home game in 25 nights against the Pistons (8:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). It was an experience that while testing their depth, resolve and supply of bandages in their medical kit could once again give the Spurs the faith in the full roster and the necessary belief in themselves again down the stretch toward the playoffs.

“We’ve been looking for some consistency, and I saw more of that on the trip,” Duncan told Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News. “I saw the effort and execution. We’re still making a lot of mistakes, but that might just be me being around Pop too long and trying to be a perfectionist.

“We’ve improved, our confidence is there, and to see we’re operating with our 10th, 11th and 12th guys just like we are with the first guys will be huge for us and pay dividends down the stretch.”

Popovich for years has monitored and kept a lid on the minutes of his core players while maximizing virtually every man on his roster. But this Rodeo Trip might have been his best work yet. Green returned for the first game of the trip, but Leonard (nine), Ginobili (six), Splitter (four), Duncan (one) Boris Diaw (one) and Aron Baynes (one) each missed games during the trip. Parker missed the last three games because of assorted aches and pains and Popovich said he will continue to rest “for the foreseeable future.”

The Spurs even got a big win at Portland on a night when they played without the starting trio of Duncan, Parker and Leonard.

“Good trip for us,” Duncan said. “We would love to have played better (in Phoenix), but we’ve got a couple days to rest now, and hopefully we can continue to add people back to the squad and get ready for some home games finally.”

After a solid 35-6 record a year ago, the Spurs have already lost eight home games this season. They were staggering and lacked sharp execution, which made rediscovering their cohesiveness and how they play more important than where they play.

Returning home doesn’t necessarily mean a return to the lineup for Parker. After playing so deep into June in The Finals with the Spurs, Parker spent last summer playing for the French national team and led an unprecedented charge for a first-ever championship. Though the summer play kept him sharp for 2013-14, it also clearly sapped his energy and might have led to his nagging injuries. That’s why Popovich is sitting Parker now and remains determined not to put him back into the lineup until Parker is fully recovered, rested and playoff-ready.

It means Parker’s teammates will have to keep the rodeo trip attitude rolling, especially backup point guard Patty Mills.

“I think as long as the emotion, the passion, is always there, you can get it done,” Popovich said. “Look at (Russell) Westbrook, how long he was out. Look at Chris (Paul), what the Clippers did when he was out.

“When you’re on a team with a bunch of guys who care and want to be the last team standing, it’s not so much turning it on and off. It’s just the team rolls without you, just keeps going. Then you plug yourself back in. That’s what good teams do.”

Once again, the long road of the rodeo trip has brought the Spurs home with a deeper sense of who they can be.


VIDEO: Patty Mills discusses the Spurs’ big win over the L.A. Clippers

Rockets Trading On Patience This Time


VIDEO: Brent Barry breaks down the Rockets’ recent success in this version of ‘Breaking Bones’

HOUSTON — Birds fly. Fish swim.

Daryl Morey trades.

Underneath all the talk of the Rockets adding a wing shooter and perimeter defender at the deadline — they landed Jordan Hamilton from the Nuggets – was a huge, hard-wired part of Morey’s DNA that said: Do something. Something big.

Surely, Morey would have leaped at the chance to, say, reel in Rajon Rondo from his old Boston stomping grounds, if Danny Ainge had been so inclined. But the truth was the Rockets never really had the chips to the put onto the table — a premium first round draft choice or two — to even get the Celtics thinking seriously.

Daryl Morey, James Harden (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

Daryl Morey, James Harden
(Bill Baptist/NBAE)

There was the one rumor that Boston would have very much been interested in Chandler Parsons. But who wouldn’t be? Parsons is young, athletic, talented and still plays on a rookie, second-round pick contract. That’s the kind of real value that is very much at a premium in today’s NBA.

Morey’s jumping-the-checkers-all-over-the-board approach has been on display for more than a half-decade now. He landed the All-Star pair of James Harden and Dwight Howard with it. So, if he couldn’t wallop another another home run this time around, it surely wasn’t because he didn’t wear out his beloved Blackberry trying. You can’t hit the pitches you don’t swing at.

Yet for the first time since he began calling the shots in the front office in 2007, the Rockets’ general manager didn’t feel the same sense of urgency.

“We feel like as a team as we are coming together at the right time,” Morey said. “We had a lot of opportunities to mix things up. But we feel like we have a core with stars in Dwight and James and we have a good group around them that we feel good about, and we feel like when you have that core you want to keep the guys around them.”

A seemingly endless of string of nagging injuries since the start of the season had prevented the Rockets from developing any cohesion or consistency. Even with Howard back close to his pre-back surgery, pre-shoulder injury level of fitness, there was also the matter of trying to blend his low post game with Harden’s one-on-one skills.

While the two of them can sometimes look like would-be dancers with no sense of rhythm, there is a feeling that the pieces are growing together. And the Rockets’ record is showing it.

As they close out a five-game road trip with a back-to-back at the Kings and Clippers that starts Tuesday night, the Rockets are now an NBA-best 17-5 since Jan. 1. They have climbed solidly into the No. 3 spot in the Western Conference and now set their sights on the No. 2 Spurs, whom they have already whipped three times this season.

It is a wholly different attitude for Morey, to let the pot he’s filled come to a slow boil rather than just keep grabbing for new ingredients. Inside he believes his team still needs that third All-Star level player to stand toe-to-toe with Miami, Indiana and Oklahoma City. But with Howard and Harden contented in their roles on the team, their place in Houston and locked into max-level contracts, patience is probably the most prudent path.

The Rockets were able to trade veteran guard Aaron Brooks, a fan favorite, to Denver because they feel they have enough talent in the pipeline. Last year’s draft pick, Isaiah Canaan, plucked in the second round, has been simmering in the NBA D-League and earned his chance to contribute significant minutes with the Rockets. Hamilton is another below-the-radar talent that the Rockets believe can flourish if give the opportunity to play. And it is that cycling through of young players that has kept the Rockets both moving forward steadily in terms of overall progress and flexible enough with their payroll to remain open and available to make that next big deal. As sure as summer follows spring, they’ll be standing on the high dive looking to make another big splash in the talent pool in July.

The Rockets would likely be a tough out in any best-of-seven playoff series in the rugged Western Conference, the Thunder included. But with an offense that relies so heavily on the 3-point shot, the question is whether they can perform consistently enough over eight weeks of the playoffs — or even two rounds — to be taken seriously yet.

We’ll find out. Sometimes, the answers do come when you sit and wait.


VIDEO: Daryl Morey discusses the Rockets’ trade for Jordan Hamilton

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 24


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe on Collins and courage “domino” effect | Oden’s makes waves, first start for Heat | Clippers finally get what they need … win over the Thunder | Wizards turn to veterns for help down the stretch | A “shoe war” over Lillard?

No. 1: Kobe insists Collins courage will have domnio effect – Making history surely wasn’t on the mind of Jason Collins Sunday night, as he became the first openly gay athlete to suit up and play in one of the four major American sports. All Collins, of the Brooklyn Nets, was trying to do was earn his 10-day contract keep and help his team win. Whether he likes it or now, though, Collins is taking groundbreaking steps that will generate what Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant called a courage domino effect across the landscape. Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports explains:

“His impact [Sunday night] is greater than what people think,” Bryant told Yahoo Sports before the game. “You look at it from the context of having the first openly gay player. But they missed the domino effect that it has way beyond sports.”

Collins, now in his 13th season, was a free agent at the time of his announcement and the Nets were the first team to sign him. Bryant said his initial reaction to Collins signing with Brooklyn was, “It’s great. Let’s hoop.”

Along with having an impact on the gay and sports communities, Bryant says the news teaches the youth “it’s OK to be yourself” and will motivate people from all walks of life.

“It’s fantastic. It sets an incredible precedent,” said Bryant, who is currently out of the Lakers’ lineup indefinitely with a knee injury. “I think the most important part about it, what I’ve learned on the issue is that one person coming out is showing this type of courage that gives others that same type of courage.

“It’s dealing with a lot of issues for kids who are afraid to be themselves. Afraid to be themselves because of the peer pressure that comes with it. A lot of these kids have depression issues or they’re being teased from other kids for being different. You wind up seeing a lot of suicides, kids injuring themselves and getting hooked on things that they should not be hooked on.”

On the impact of Collins’ first game, Bryant said: “There is a kid out there who … is going to say, ‘Jason gave me strength in dark moments to be brave. He gave me courage to step up and accept myself for who I am despite what others might be saying or the public pressures. He gave me strength and bravery to be myself.’”

Collins, who was scoreless in 10-plus minutes of action, said in response to Bryant’s praise, “That’s along the same lines of what I would say to every other professional athlete. … Realize that there is support there waiting for you. That’s the only thing I can say about encouraging people to be their true self.”


VIDEO: Jason Collins waxes on his season debut with the Brooklyn Nets

***

No. 2: Greg Oden’s first start for Heat (sans LeBron) ends with a win – Greg Oden made some news of his own Sunday, earning his first start for the Miami Heat in their win over the Chicago Bulls. The former No. 1 overall pick reached yet another milestone in his long journey back from what once appeared to be career-ending knee injuries. His start came without LeBron James in uniform, the Heat superstar sat out with that broken nose suffered against the Oklahoma City Thunder last week. But this day was about Oden and his milestone, writes Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald:

Oden’s big-picture perspective is unwavering.

He’s just happy to be here.

“For me, each game getting better and walking off healthy — they’re all milestones to me,” said Oden, who is attempting to revive his career after a series of knee injuries. “It has been a long road, so every one is a good one for me.”

Sunday might have been the best of all. He started his first game since December 2009 and played nearly 13 minutes in Miami’s victory. During his brief time in the game, Oden matched up against Bulls center Joakim Noah and had five points and five rebounds.

“He’s an active player for someone that big,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He makes multiple efforts, he gives you extra possessions and he’s very intelligent, so he has a pretty good grasp of what we want and how we want to play already.”

With LeBron James out with a broken nose, Spoelstra went to Oden for his size inside against the Bulls and also to keep the Heat’s second unit somewhat intact. Chicago is one of the league’s most aggressive rebounding teams and it showed early. The Bulls held a 32-19 rebounding advantage after the first half.

“We knew the minutes would be short for Greg still — 10 to 12 minutes — so we figure that [it would] be best to get him in that starting lineup,” Spoelstra said. “We get to keep our rotations somewhat similar.”

Oden said he could have played more than 13 minutes, which is a positive sign for the Heat. He is expected to be an important piece in the playoffs, especially against teams such as the Bulls and Indiana Pacers, which feature big frontcourts.

On a contending team for the first time in his career, Oden is following the lead of his more experienced teammates and Oden’s health is returning just in time for the Heat’s playoff push.

“They’ve all been through this before,” Oden said. “This is one of my first times going through this. This is that push you’ve got to get for first place. That’s what we are aiming for right now the next push is going to be when the playoffs come.”

***

No. 3: Clippers finally get that much-needed win over The Thunder – The Los Angeles Clippers fancy themselves a championship team, as do the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Clippers, though, needed a win over the Thunder, on the road, to legitimize their claim. And they finally got that Sunday, solving their Thunder issue on the big stage and sending a message that they are indeed going to be a part of the power mix in the Western Conference playoff chase. As Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times reports, it was long overdue:

The Clippers needed this.

A 125-117 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday carried restorative powers for a Clippers team had been unsuccessful against the NBA’s elite on the road.

The Thunder owned the league’s best record — until the Clippers’ victory took their opponent down a peg to 43-14, percentage points behind Indiana (42-13).

The Clippers won with all five starters scoring in double figures. Jamal Crawford led the way with 36 points, but Matt Barnes (24 points, seven rebounds), Blake Griffin (20 points, seven rebounds, six assists), DeAndre Jordan (18 points, 12 rebounds) and Chris Paul (18 points, 12 assists, eight rebounds) all played significant roles.

“It’s definitely a good win for us,” said Paul, who played despite a sprained right thumb. “We were on the plane [Saturday] flying here and we were just talking about how we hadn’t beat any good teams on the road, and this would be the perfect time to start.”

The Clippers lost here earlier this season. They also have lost at San Antonio, Miami, Indiana and Portland, teams that rank among the best in the league.

The Clippers have won at Houston, but that was only one win against five road losses against the top teams.

Now the Clippers have a victory against a Thunder team that has lost only five games at home all season. They also have their first win since the All-Star game, after stumbling out of the break with losses to San Antonio and at Memphis.

“It was a very important win, especially having dropped our last two,” Griffin said. “This win was big for us. We haven’t really made a statement on the road. We’ve won some games, but we haven’t won big games. So it was terrific for us.”


VIDEO: Doc Rivers talks about the Clippers’ big win in OKC

***

No. 4: Wizards turns to veterans for help down the stretch – Trades and injuries have a way of opening doors for NBA veterans this time of year and the Washington Wizards are not different. After their work on deadline day, the Wizards had a new point guard in Andre Miller and an opening for a few minutes for guys like Al Harrington and Kevin Seraphin. An injury to Nene created even more space for those two veterans and they answered the call for Randy Wittman‘s team. Michael Lee of The Washington Post with the details:

Kevin Seraphin couldn’t get overly concerned when he saw Nene crumple to the ground in pain, then hop off the court and through the tunnel toward the Wizards’ locker room on his good, right leg. Coach Randy Wittman called on Seraphin immediately after Nene went down with what the team is calling a sprained left knee in the third quarter of the Wizards’ 96-83 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday. Seraphin had to be ready.

“Yeah. I saw him leave, but when we’re in the game, we have to be focused on the game,” Seraphin said.

The Wizards (28-28) were only up by three points at the time of Nene’s departure and they have typically become flimsy when their most gifted big man is unable to finish a game. Washington squandered a 10-point fourth-quarter lead when Nene was ejected with roughly three minutes left in Oklahoma City, lost in overtime to Milwaukee when Nene strained his right Achilles’ tendon, and suffered a controversial defeat in Houston after Nene fouled out late in the fourth quarter.

After Luol Deng completed a three-point play to bring the Cavaliers within 73-72 with 93 seconds left in the third quarter, the Wizards were once again in danger of letting a winnable game get away from them. Then, Wittman put veteran Al Harrington on the floor and he made two huge shots – a driving layup and a three-pointer – to send the Wizards into the fourth period with a six-point lead.

“I was just looking for an opportunity. I was ready, obviously, the situation with Nene allowed me to do a little more,” Harrington said. “It’s tough. He’s been playing some great basketball, so that was tough to see. Hopefully we can get him back sooner than later, but guys got to step up. I think we got enough guys that can do that.”

Harrington didn’t score for the rest of the game. But Seraphin came through with two huge, 10-foot jump hooks to push the Wizards ahead 82-74 early in the fourth quarter.

“He’s capable of doing that,” Wittman said of Seraphin. “The more he simplifies his game the better. Sometimes he likes to trick people, and we got to get him just to be simple. That’s his move and he does it very well. Big couple of shots he hit.”

Harrington finished with two rebounds and an assist and tried to extend the lead but missed a three-pointer and Wittman replaced him with Marcin Gortat. “I thought Al gave us a big lift in the second half. He was panting like a dog out there but we got to continue to get him rounded into shape,” Wittman said of Harrington, who played just 31 seconds the night before against New Orleans as Nene matched his career high with 30 points.

***

No. 5: It’s gotta be the shoes for Portland’s Lillard – Portland All-Star point guard Damian Lillard made waves with his busy schedule during All-Star Weekend. There could be more waves on the horizon where he is concerned, courtesy of a budding tug of war over his shoe company. It’s been a while since a battle between shoe giants made noise in the NBA, but Lillard’s story is about to get interesting as Adidas and Nike get ready to tussle over the young star. Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com provides the minutiae:

Lillard, 23, has a profitable rookie shoe endorsement deal with adidas, though that could change abruptly due to clever language in his contract.

Being that he took home the 2012-13 NBA Rookie of the Year award, became an NBA All-Star and reached other unique incentive clauses in his first two seasons, Lillard will be able to opt out of his shoe contract at the end of the basketball season and either renegotiate a more lucrative deal with adidas, or open negotiations with Nike, Brand Jordan, Reebok or Under Armor, league sources informed CSNNW.com.

Another source that’s vastly briefed on Lillard’s situation added, “There’s no doubt about it, he’s opting out.”

Rival shoe companies have been well-versed on the matter for months and are expected to make competitive offers, but CSNNW.com is told that Nike stands the best chance of luring Lillard away from adidas.

Adidas is in no position to lose their accomplished young standout point guard.

Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose is currently viewed as the basketball face of adidas. However, his string of knee injuries in addition to the fact that he has only participated in 49 games in three seasons has adidas apprehensive he can remain the company’s headliner.

In 2012, Rose signed a multiyear deal in the upwards of $200 million.

Lillard hasn’t missed a game in his one and half years as a professional and the way in which he carries himself on and off the court is without glitch if a company seeks to market him as the face of a national corporation.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Sunday proved to be a great day/night for quite a few players from around the league. that lists include Kevin DurantJamal CrawfordGoran DragicRudy GayDanny Granger is still MIA for the Sixers on the practice court. The buyout has to be negotiated if he plans on moving on without suiting up in Philly … The Commissioner speaks on openly gay pro athletes … Harvey Araton of The New York Times weighs in on Collins, too, and the impact he can have going forward

ICYMI(s) of The Night: Thomas Robinson showed up and showed out for the Trail Blazers in so many ways …


VIDEO: The Thomas Robinson affair folks

MVP Ladder: LeBane James Lives



VIDEO: There is no stopping LeBane … er, LeBron James when makes up his mind to attack the basket

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Now we know exactly what LeBron James is willing to go through to get his job done … another man’s flesh if need be.

James powered through Serge Ibaka‘s left arm for the final two of his game-high 33 points (in 33 minutes, he also scored his team’s first 12, too) in the Miami Heat’s win over the Oklahoma City Thunder Thursday night on TNT. He’s ready to go through Kevin Durant as well, if need be, to reclaim his perch atop the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder.

He assumed the top spot this week, the culmination of a four-game stretch that has seen him average 37 points on better than 60 percent shooting as the Heat, winners of four straight and eight of their last 10 games, close in on the Indiana Pacers and that top spot in the Eastern Conference standings.

Bloody nose or not, LeBron continues to remind us that he’s the most powerful force in the league when he’s at the top of his game … #BaneJames as he coined it on Instagram:

Durant, Blake Griffin, Paul George and Steph Curry round out the top five of the Ladder this week.

Dive in here for more on who made the cut on this week’s KIA Race To The MVP Ladder!


The Trade Deadline: Let’s Make A Deal?




VIDEO: Thunder guard Reggie Jackson gets it done on both ends

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The clock is ticking.

The trade deadline is near. It’s time for general managers and front office executives around the NBA to earn their money. Fix your team. Make it better. Pave the way for a brighter future by pulling the trigger on the deal, blockbuster or not, that creates the space for your franchise to go to the next level — whatever that level may be.

It’s easier said than done in most cases, mostly because a willing partner is needed to complete the trade dance. And everyone is out to fleece their potential partners in one way or another. Whether we see a blockbuster deal or not, we are guaranteed to see a flurry of activity by Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline.

A team’s wants and needs are two very different things. We’re focusing on what is needed here, which should coincide with what these teams want out of the trade deadline. Planning for the future is fine, but these deals are designed for immediate returns for (almost) all involved …

1. Reggie Jackson to the Bulls – Jimmy Butler to the Thunder 

The skinny: This is a nuts-and-bolts trade for both teams, one that doesn’t rise to the blockbuster ranks by any means. But this deal involving youngsters with extremely manageable salaries allows the Thunder and Bulls to shore up their key weaknesses. Jackson would be Derrick Rose insurance for the Bulls, a young point/combo guard who could be groomed to play alongside a healthy Rose whenever Rose returns. He’s acquitted himself well in Oklahoma City in Russell Westbrook‘s absence but will be reduced to a role player when Westbrook returns and assumes his position alongside Kevin Durant (which is expected to happen Thursday). Butler fits the Bulls rough-and-rugged mode perfectly, but if they are in rebuilding mode, he’s expendable. He offers the Thunder something they simply don’t have on the roster right now, and that’s a player capable of matching up with elite small forwards on defense. Imagine him in a Thunder uniform in The Finals going after LeBron James the way Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard did last year.

2. Rajon Rondo and Kris Humphries to the Pacers — Danny Granger and George Hill to the Celtics

The skinny: This is a risky move for a Pacers’ team that has rock-solid locker room chemistry and has played at a consistently high level without boasting an elite point guard. Hill, an IUPUI star, is a hometown guy and is widely regarded as one of the league’s most respected professionals. He’s a guy Pacers All-Stars Paul George, Roy Hibbert and team leader David West trust to run the show. But Rondo gives the Pacers the chance to add a game-changer at point guard, a guy who, come playoff time, has an edge in either the talent and/or championship-experience department with any other East point guard. The hang up, of course, is going to be Danny Ainge trying to do his usual and shake everything he can out of the Pacers’ pockets in the name of his rebuilding efforts. Granger and Hill are established players who could help facilitate any rebuilding plans for the more immediate future. Of course, Pacers boss Larry Bird doesn’t have to play ball. He doesn’t have to deal. He can go to battle in the playoffs with the roster as is, though there is a consensus among most observers that an upgrade at the point would give them a clear edge in matching up not only against the Miami Heat but any team that they could potentially face in The Finals, were they to reach that summit.

3. Harrison Barnes, Marreese Speights and Jason Smith to the Cavaliers — Austin Rivers, C.J. Miles and Anthony Morrow to the Warriors — Earl Clark and Dion Waiters to the Pelicans 

The skinny: Believe it or not, the Cavaliers are just three games out of the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase as the post-All-Star break portion of the season kicks off. As Kyrie Irving showed us at the All-Star Game, he knows how to shine amongst other elite players on his team. Since he hasn’t had any suit up with him in Cleveland, Thursday’s deadline is acting general manager David Griffin‘s opportunity to upgrade the crew around Irving and see if the playoffs can become a reality. Barnes needs a fresh start somewhere, as a starter, and would be a great running mate for Irving and Luol Deng. Both Speights and Smith would provide much-needed big man depth. The Warriors get role players to help fill out their roster and Waiters, a HT fave whose talents have never shined in Cleveland the way they have when we’ve seen him during All-Star weekend or during his stints with USA Basketball, gets a fresh start of his own in New Orleans. He and Anthony Davis could help elevate the Pelicans to a playoff-level team in the future.


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving stole the show at All-Star Weekend

4. Omer Asik to the Hawks — Elton Brand, Gustavo Ayon, John Jenkins and a Draft pick to the Rockets

The skinny: This is certainly not the way Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is used to doing business. He’s used to fleecing much more from the opposing team’s executives (that mode of operation would explain the bevy of assets the Rockets have piled up the past few years). Brand and Ayon aren’t big names but when healthy, yet they have been surprisingly productive for the Hawks. That said, the Draft pick is the Rockets’ real prize … that and getting Asik out of town. And that’s where the needy Hawks swoop in and rescue their season — they had lost five straight heading into All-Star weekend. Asik helps stabilize the frontcourt rotation and joins All-Star Paul Millsap as the staples up front for a team that still has lofty aspirations for playoff positioning. Fellow All-Star center Al Horford is not walking through that door in Atlanta as his torn pectoral muscle will keep him out of action until well into the summer. Adding a physical presence like Asik at a relatively reasonable price makes a ton of sense for the Hawks right now. And the three of them together in the future is complicated, but certainly something Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer could tinker with and make work.

5. Emeka Okafor, Alex Len and Chris Singleton to the Grizzlies — Zach Randolph to the Wizards — Trevor Ariza, Jan Vesely and Eric Maynor to the Suns

The skinny: Randolph and Marcin Gortat balancing the frontcourt in Washington with All-Star point guard John Wall and sharpshooter Bradley Beal would be an interesting mix for a Wizards team that is definitely on the rise in the Eastern Conference. Just think of Randolph and Gortat as the Eastern Conference version of Randolph and Marc Gasol (Grit and Grind lite?). The Wizards have been an above-average team defensively, and now they’d add some serious toughness in Randolph. The Grizzlies need a building block for the future and would get that in Len, who was always viewed as a long-term project when the Suns selected him with the 5th pick in the 2013 Draft. The Suns are taking the opportunity to seize their surprising playoff moment in the Western conference with the aid of quality veterans in Ariza and Maynor and would also have a developmental prospect to work with in Vesely. There’s always a healthy dose of risk involved when you talk about trade deadline deals. And this one would come with plenty for all involved.


VIDEO: John Wall talks with the Game Time crew after shining on All-Star Saturday night