Posts Tagged ‘Timberwolves’

Morning shootaround — Jan. 31


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

January fuels belief in Hawks | Love ready for rough return to Minnesota | Pistons players, fans bracing for Josh Smith’s return | Be careful what you say about DeMarcus Cousins

No. 1: January fuels belief in Hawks — The franchise-record 18 straight wins did it. Finally, the belief in the Atlanta Hawks has officially taken over the city. It’s inspired memories of a great times in Atlanta sports history — yes, there have been great times — a generation ago in another sport (baseball), when the imagination of an entire city became fans of a team that captured its fan base. It feels like 1991 all over again in Atlanta, according to longtime Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist Mark Bradley:

Ten years from now, we may recall this January the way we do the summer of 1991, when a team none of us had paid much heed grabbed us by our collars and made us watch. Ten years from now, we may remember these Hawks growing into a colossus – what other word fits an aggregation that’s 32-2 since Thanksgiving? – the way we beheld the Braves’s ascent from worst to first.

Ten years from now, we may look back on games like Friday’s in the manner we pressed that September series against the hated Dodgers into our memory books. Ten years from now, we could point to Friday as one of the moments when we knew – knew, as opposed to hoped – that all things were really and truly possible.

For the first time in 33 days and 17 games, the Hawks faced a fourth-quarter deficit. (That’s among the astonishing stats of this or any millennium.) Nothing was coming easy against an excellent Portland team, and matters were getting more difficult by the minute.

The splendid forward LaMarcus Aldridge was en route to scoring 37 points. The Hawks were missing free throws. DeMarre Carroll, their best perimeter defender, was too sore to play. Thabo Sefolosha, his replacement in the starting five, lasted 141 seconds before tweaking a hamstring. A team that has become a beautiful machine had developed a cough, and you couldn’t see all of the above and not think, “This could be the night the streak ends.”

But no. Five points down after three quarters, the Hawks won 105-99. Over those final 12 minutes, they outscored the Trail Blazers 15 baskets to seven, outshot them 71.4 percent to 30.4 percent. In their stiffest test since MLK Day, the Hawks played their best offense and their best defense in the fourth quarter, which is the time to do it.

We’ve spent the past month trying to identify the reasons the Hawks have done nothing but win, and here’s another: They trust themselves and their system. They know Mike Budenholzer’s offense will avail them of good shots if only they go where they’re supposed to go. They know they’re good enough shooters to make those shots. They also know – here’s the part that’s different from last season – that they can guard the opposition better than they’re being guarded.

There’s power in such faith. There’s the power that flows from believing you’re going to get better looks over 48 minutes than the other team, that you pass and shoot and defend too well to be cornered for long. At halftime the Blazers had made 55.1 percent of their shots to the Hawks’ 44.4 percent – and Portland’s lead was a skinny point. By game’s end the Hawks had shot the better percentage and driven the ball often enough to earn twice as many free throws. (Not a small consideration on a night when you miss eight of 22.)

Down to cases. On the first possession of the fourth quarter, Dennis Schroder drove for a layup. The 21-year-old had some moments when he looked his age, but he changed the game when it needed changing. He found Mike Scott on the left wing for the tying 3-pointer and found Kyle Korver at the top for the trey that made it 81-76. The Blazers would never lead again.


VIDEO: Kent Bazemore stepped up in a major way for the Hawks as they snagged their franchise-record 18th straight win

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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

Report: Garnett would like to buy Timberwolves one day

Can’t you see it now?

A dapper Kevin Garnett, wearing a designer suit and tie, leaping out of his courtside seat at the Target Center, slapping two hands on the floor and snarling expletive-laden invective at visiting teams.

Call it executive level trash talk, giving a whole new level to the idea of “owning” an opponent.

First though, Garnett wants to actually own his own team, namely the Timberwolves, for whom he toiled his first 12 NBA seasons. That’s what he told Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports!:

“I want to buy the Timberwolves. Put a group together and perhaps some day try to buy the team. That’s what I want,” Garnett said after a 107-99 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night.

The Timberwolves drafted Garnett with the fifth overall pick in the 1995 NBA draft. The 15-time All-Star played for the Timberwolves for 12 seasons before being traded to Boston, where he led the Celtics to a championship in 2008. Garnett pushed Minnesota to eight consecutive playoff appearances, and the franchise has not been to the postseason since his departure.

The Timberwolves were valued at $430 million in January, according to Forbes Magazine. The next NBA television contract will be extremely lucrative and is expected to raise the price of the franchise. Garnett, the 2004 MVP who averaged 20.5 points and 11.4 rebounds during his tenure with Minnesota, has made $315 million in his NBA career and will make an additional $12 million this season. He also has made millions in endorsements.

Nets general manager Billy King said he wouldn’t be surprised if Garnett were to buy the Timberwolves.

“He would be one of the best owners in the NBA because he understands what the players need and he understands what it takes to be successful in the NBA,” King told Yahoo Sports.

On May 12, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor told the Associated Press he was looking to add a minority partner who would hold an option to buy him out. Taylor also made it clear he is committed to keeping the team in Minnesota.

Timberwolves president and coach Flip Saunders is Garnett’s former coach with the franchise, which is rebuilding and expected to miss the playoffs once again. But the team does have several young talented players: 2014 No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins, Ricky Rubio, Gorgui Dieng, Nikola Peckovic, Anthony Bennett, Shabazz Muhammad and rookie Zach LaVine.
For Garnett, it’s all about his history with the franchise.

“That is the one that has my interest. I have ties there. Flip’s there,” said Garnett, 38.

The NBA has had its share of colorful owners. The late Larry Miller used to stand on the court with his Jazz players shagging basketballs during pre-game warmups. The late Dr. Jerry Buss exuded all that was cool and Hollywood about the Lakers with his casual fashion and his lifestyle. Just last year Grizzlies owner Robert Pera publicly challenged Michael Jordan to a high-profile game of 1-on-1 to benefit charity.

But you’ve got to admit that the volatile, emotional K.G. could take the role of team owner to a new and most colorful direction.

Would it be in-your-executive-suite, in-your-face? The first owner ever voted to the All-Defense first team?

If Garnett’s dream comes true, we’ll admit to having our fingers crossed for a Western Conference finals matchup one day soon against the Clippers and their loud, screamingly excitable boss man Steve Ballmer.


VIDEO: Relive Kevin Garnett’s top 10 plays from his Timberwolves days

Morning shootaround — Nov. 3


VIDEO: Highlights of games played Nov. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Beast of the East still in Miami? | Melo’s 20,000-point milestone | Cousins, Kings on the rise | Showtime for Nets’ Lopez

No. 1: Bosh back to a starring role — The last unbeaten team in the Eastern Conference is not that crew in Cleveland led by LeBron James or the group in Chicago headlined by Derrick Rose. It’s those guys in Miami, the ones who were supposed to falter out of the elite ranks after James skipped town. Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the new-look Heat had other plans, of course. And it’s showed early on this season, with Bosh back in a starring role and the Heat soaring. Mike Wallace of ESPN.com explains:

For the better part of the past four years — even as LeBron James racked up regular-season and postseason MVP awards during four straight runs the NBA Finals — Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra repeatedly referred to Chris Bosh as the team’s most important player.

And each time, the muffled scoffs and eye-rolling would follow from those within earshot.

But Spoelstra always felt there was a clear distinction between LeBron’s value and Bosh’s impact.

“I don’t expect everyone to always understand it,” Spoelstra would say at least once every couple of weeks. “But in terms of what we do, how we want to play, what we need to happen on the court on both ends for us to be successful, C.B. is our most important player. That’s how we see him.”

What Spoelstra saw then is becoming abundantly clear to many now.

Bosh is off to the most productive three-game start of his Miami tenure, and the Heat have emerged from the first full week of the regular season as the lone unbeaten team in the Eastern Conference after Sunday’s 107-102 victory against Toronto.

While Bosh refuses to buy into the notion that LeBron’s departure to Cleveland in free agency is solely responsible for his initial statistical outburst, the 12-year veteran believes his development is part of a natural progression in his game that was inevitable, regardless of Miami’s personnel.

In other words, after four straight seasons of seeing his scoring and rebounding numbers decline as he settled into a role as primarily a spot-up shooter, something had to give.

“It’s just time,” Bosh said after he finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds and four assists in 38 minutes against the Raptors. “I knew I couldn’t settle into that same position I’ve been in the past four years, floating outside and shooting a couple of jumpers. I know I had to switch it up a little.”


VIDEO: Chris Bosh  helps power the Heat to a win on Sunday (more…)

Mr. Big Shot one cool customer


VIDEO: Veteran Billups calls it a career

There are players such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Blake Griffin, whose careers throw off smoke and sparks and noise like drag racers, right from the starting line.

Then there’s Chauncey Billups, who simply hummed as quiet and cool as an air conditioner.

For 17 seasons and seven different NBA teams, Billups was the proverbial duck who might have been paddling furious beneath the surface, but never gave the appearance of doing anything but gliding across the water.

He moved fast by taking it slow and he always seemed to be taking it slow, even when pushing the ball down the court in the middle of a fast break. He was the strong man who never felt a need to flex his muscles until the game got late and there was heavy lifting to do. He played with a warm smile on his face that could chill a defender. He was often the shortest one on the floor, yet the player who stood tallest when it was needed most.

Mr. Big Shot.

The standard line about the 2004 Pistons is that they were the last team to win an NBA championship without a superstar.

But that’s if you measure a star only by its brightness, as one that grabs headlines along the way to the more critical task, which is grabbing games by the throat.

Billups, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace did work in concert, a symphony orchestra in high tops and shorts. But it was Billups who stood on the rostrum with the baton in his hand, making sure everyone hit the right notes.

“He’s at the head of the table and he determines how people eat,” none other than Kevin Garnett once said when they were teammates in Minnesota.

That’s the way Billups had always been since his days as a teenager at Denver’s Skyland Rec Center, when he was often the youngest player on the court. He not only found a way to fit in, but developed a way to earn the respect and the trust of the older kids.

Funny thing is, it took a while to gain that same respect in the NBA. After a standout college career at Colorado, he was the No. 3 pick in the 1997 draft by the Celtics. But the franchise that prides itself on recognizing smarts didn’t keep around. Neither did the Raptors, Nuggets, Magic or Timberwolves.

So Billups finally wound up in Detroit in 2002 with a resume list of ex-teams that was longer than his arm, but not even a trace of doubt.

“My demeanor, how I am, it never swayed,” he said back then. “A lot of guys in this league when they’re not playing a lot of minutes, they get a chip on their shoulder, they’re mad at everybody. I’ve never been that way.”

Billups came to the Pistons at a time when then-president Joe Dumars was constructing a team in the “three-peat” era of the Shaquille O’Neal and Bryant off-court bickering, where he wanted talent to work together like five fingers inside a glove doubled up into a fist, where effort took a backseat to ego.

The point guard with the butler’s name and the sniper’s nerveless confidence was the perfect choice to pull it all together and be the driving force. Billups was the steady hand on the reins of disparate personalities that knew how and when to take clutch situations in the biggest of games into his own grasp. Thus, the nickname, Mr. Big Shot. The player who could miss his first 10 shots of the night and then coolly put No. 11 into the bottom of the net with a game or a playoff series on the line.

You could picture him in a tuxedo ordering a vodka martini, shaken, not stirred.

Billups, Chauncey Billups, was always the player who could lock and bar the door, the one that took the guessing and drama out of that final minute. Send him to the line and he’d drill those six straight free throws to seal a win. Leave him an opening and he’d stop up and drain that long 3-pointer without thinking twice.

“Who else would you want with the ball in his hands at that point than Chauncey?” Dumars asked.

He was a five-time All-Star from 2006-2010, was MVP of The Finals when the Pistons took down the mighty Lakers in 2004, a two-time All-Defensive second team member and, notably, in 2013 was named NBA Teammate of the Year by a vote of his peers. The only question left is whether Hall of Famer voters five years from now were really paying attention.

Let the others throw off loud sparks. For 17 seasons Billups just hummed. Perspiring, but never letting you see him sweat.

Top triple-double winners of 2013-14

Kevin Durant averaged 32 points a game last season in winning his first MVP. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Kevin Durant averaged 32 points a game last season in winning his first MVP. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

In these days of advanced metrics, it seems every day brings another way to measure the effectiveness of a player. But with a nod toward Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd, we’re sticking with the old faithful triple-double. Here is our list of 10 favorites that produced wins in the 2013-14 season:

10. Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls
February 11, 2014 vs. Atlanta Hawks — 19 points, 16 rebounds, 11 assists

In the aftermath of Derrick Rose’s second consecutive season lost to knee injury, Noah had already stepped into the breach to carry the team. But the United Center crowd knew this was going to be special when the running, spinning, banging bundle of energy had a devil of a first quarter with a 6-6-6 in points, rebounds and assists. He finished the night with his fourth career triple-double in a 100-85 thumping of the Hawks that included a career-high 11 helpers.

9. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
November 4, 2013 at Philadelphia 76ers — 18 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds

It had been 3 1/2 years since Curry had rung up a triple-double, but he came flying out of the gate in the first week of the season.  Andre Iguodala, playing his first game as a Warrior in the city where he broke into the NBA, poured in 32 points in a 110-90 win. But it was Curry who showed off his all-around game, slashing to the hoop, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers and even coming up with five steals for Golden State.

8. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
April 11, 2014 at Los Angeles Lakers — 30 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds

This late into the schedule, triple-doubles were starting to become old hat for Curry. It was his fourth of the season, making him the first Warrior to accumulate that many since Wilt Chamberlain in 1963-64. This was definitely some hot Curry, making 12 of 20 shots, including 4-for-5 from behind the 3-point line as he led Golden State in clinching a playoff berth while ending an 11-game losing streak at Staples Center in the 112-95 victory. “What Curry did tonight, and what he does every night, is remarkable,” said Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni.

7. Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
April 2, 2014 vs. Memphis Grizzlies — 24 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists

This is why LeBron James wanted him so badly. It might not have felt like it was in the cards when Love started out the night by missing three of his first four shots. But he found his touch and range, especially behind the 3-point arc, going 8-for-11 over the final 3 1/2 quarters to register his third triple-double of the season in a 102-88 win. It was a last stand for the Timberwolves, who put off for one more night being eliminated from playoff contention for the 10th year in a row. That’s why Love wanted so badly to play with LeBron.

6. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
May 3, 2014 vs. Memphis Grizzlies — 27 points, 16 assists, 10 rebounds

This was a reminder that Westbrook didn’t enjoy watching virtually all of the playoffs a year earlier from the bench with a knee injury. With the Grizzlies pushing OKC to the limit in the first round, Westbrook was a one-man wrecking crew with his second triple-double of the series to clinch the 120-109 win and let the Thunder move on. He connected on five of his six 3-point tries and tied his career high with 16 assists. He also joined Rajon Rondo as the only players in the NBA to have a pair of Game 7 triple-doubles. The only other players ever to have as many as 25 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds in a playoff game are Oscar Robertson and Chris Paul.

5. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
May 7, 2014 vs. Los Angeles Clippers – 31 points, 10 assists, 10 rebounds

No matter what Kevin Durant accomplishes, it seems that Westbrook always finds a way to get into the story. That was definitely the case on the night Durant was awarded his MVP trophy before Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals. K.D. was great with a near-triple-double of 32 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, but Westbrook sealed the deal with 31, 10 and 10 when he shoveled a pass to Thabo Sefolosha for a layup with 81 seconds to go as OKC won the series opener 112-101. It was his second triple-double in a row and third of the playoffs. “Russ played harder than all of us combined,” said the Clippers’ Chris Paul.

4. Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves
March 19 at Dallas Mavericks — 22 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds

Teammate Kevin Love led the way with 35 points and hit the floating jumper to give the Timberwolves a 123-122 overtime win on the road, but it was Rubio who was the slashing star of the show for most of the night. He weaved through the Mavericks’ defense to get to the basket, hitting eight of his 12 shots without a single 3-point bucket. It was Rubio’s second triple-double of the season and third of his career. He also came up with four steals. That puts him in the company of Chris Paul and Andre Miller as the only active players to get at least 20 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds and four steals in a game.

3. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
January 25, 2014 at Philadelphia 76ers — 32 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists

The league’s leading scorer sat out the Thunder’s previous game in Boston three nights earlier with a sprained shoulder, but his shooting hand was obviously well rested when he returned against the Sixers to lead the 103-91 win. K.D. cruised, hitting 12 of 17 shots and became just the sixth player since 1990 to score at least 30 points in 10 consecutive games. Even though they’d been playing without the injured Westbrook since Christmas, Durant pushed the Thunder on to their seventh consecutive win.

2. Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
February 22, 2014 at Utah Jazz — 37 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists

It was only a matter of time, considering that Love had been on a run of eight straight games with at least 25 points and 10 rebounds. This time he blew the lid off EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City to lead the Timberwolves in a 121-104 romp. The assists were a career high and gave Love the first triple-double of his career. It all came in less than 33 minutes of playing time as he sat out almost the entire fourth quarter. The Timberwolves needed him to come up big on a night when they were missing Nikola Pekovic, Ronny Turiaf and Kevin Martin with injuries. It was Love’s fourth straight game of 30 or more points, tying Kevin Garnett’s franchise record.

1. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
December 1, 2013 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves — 32 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds

We know he doesn’t like the nickname, but this was one of those games where “Durantula” fits. Those long, lethal arms and his poisonous bite were everywhere as Kevin Durant notched the third triple-double of the season and fourth of his career in the 113-103 whipping. In fact, the triple-double was just a start as K.D. was also ferocious on defense, blocking four shots and making four steals. According to Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the only line of at least 32-12-10-4-4 since the NBA began officially keeping track of blocks and steals in the 1973-74 season. Durant was sizzling all night, hitting 14 of 21 shots, including a trio of 3-pointers. He did his scoring damage without living at the line, taking just two free throws. There are so many candidates to like on our top 10 list, but we’re giving K.D. the top spot for this one.

Losing a star does not mean losing hope


VIDEO: Flip Saunders talks about trading Love to Cleveland

What next for the Timberwolves was, predictably, damage control. Ads promoting the future that now includes Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, the last two No. 1 picks, their own 2014 first-rounder, Zach LaVine, and veteran Thaddeus Young. A catchy slogan — “Eyes on the rise” — to accompany the planned ascension.

Really, though, there was nothing else to do. President of basketball operations Flip Saunders, also the coach, was forced into a trade he wouldn’t have made without a loaded contract to his head, so an outbound ticket for Kevin Love it would have to be. There was something to be said for putting the mess behind them, and Saunders did about as well as could be expected while bargaining from a position of weakness, with the entire league knowing he had to deal at some point, and the Warriors drawing the line in the sand at the toes of Klay Thompson.

There is also the tangible reason for encouragement, the fact the other teams have been pushed down the same dark hole and lived to tell. The Timberwolves can look west to Denver and see that starting over doesn’t have to mean a giant step back. They can turn another direction, southeast to Orlando, and be reminded that losing the best player does not have to equal losing hope.

While each of the major trades forced by players in recent years is unique, depending on time and place, the first days of life without Love should come with knowing that moving an All-Star power forward against their true wishes does not have to be a major hit. The Nuggets traded Carmelo Anthony, heard a lot of talk about needing time for the package of prospects to develop, then made the playoffs the same season. The Magic were pressured to offload Dwight Howard, took criticism for passing on what seemed to be the obvious idea of Andrew Bynum as replacement center, and got a better outcome, times a million, with Nikola Vucevic.

Some recoveries have been muddled by additional circumstances. Some have yet to lead to so much as a playoff appearance. But it also shows there is reason to actually keep an eye out for the rise in Minnesota.

TEAM: JAZZ

Player: Deron Williams

Trade: Williams to the Nets for Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, two first-round picks and cash on Feb. 23, 2011.

Long-term perspective: Utah moved Williams before the situation had a chance to deteriorate into the distraction other franchises had, and would, endure. The Jazz got back to the playoffs the next season, but have mostly gone through difficult times that have yet to lead to a clear direction. They will start this season amid predictions of another lottery finish.

It has not gone unnoticed that the lack of a consistent point guard has been an issue since Williams’ departure, though the arrival of Trey Burke in the 2013 draft and Dante Exum in 2014 has raised hopes that it is a problem of the past. The biggest redemption factor for the front office, strangely, is D-Will himself. He generally has not performed like a max player and was stained by the impression his actions led to the departure of beloved coach Jerry Sloan, so the split, however much of a setback on the court, probably does not feel like much of a loss around Salt Lake City.

TEAM: MAGIC

Player: Howard

Trade: Howard to the Lakers on Aug. 10, 2012, as part of a four-team deal that included Bynum and Jason Richardson going to Philadelphia, Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets, Arron Afflalo and Vucevic to the Magic.

Long-term perspective: The Howard breakup was different than any other, played out over seasons, plural, and with theaters full of drama that eventually felt like nausea. And when it happened, there was wreckage everywhere. New roster, new coach, new questions about which superstar Magic center in his prime would end up with the Lakers next.

Two seasons later, it doesn’t look so bad. Drama followed Howard to L.A. in some coincidence, reminding people in Orlando what else they were losing, before he left the Lakers for Houston as a free agent. Wanting Vucevic instead of Bynum has turned out to be a genius move and the Magic will open 2014-15 as a possibility for the playoffs. It helps to be in the East, as opposed to the others trying to make the climb, but there is a real future in Orlando. Again.

TEAM: HORNETS/PELICANS

Player: Chris Paul.

Trade: Paul and two second-round picks to the Clippers on Dec. 14, 2011, for Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu and a first-round pick.

Long-term perspective: That hurt Paul too, after the years of building a connection to the city of New Orleans. The team he left behind suffered on the court, with losses piling up, an ownership change, a name change and very little to show in return for the face of the franchise. Kaman and Aminu are already gone, the pick was spent on Austin Rivers — ironically the son of the current Clippers coach — and Gordon has struggled to stay healthy or come close to reaching what once seemed to be star potential.

TEAM: NUGGETS

Player: Anthony

Trade: Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Renaldo Balkman, Shelden Williams and Anthony Carter to the Knicks on Feb. 22, 2011, as part of a three-team trade that sent, among others, Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, three picks and $3 million to the Nuggets and Eddy Curry and Anthony Randolph to the Timberwolves.

Long-term perspective: Denver made the playoffs that season, signaling there would be no post-Carmelo rebuilding, and then built on that by pushing the heavily favored Lakers to seven games in the first round the next year. Coach George Karl loved the spirit of that group, and there would even be a third consecutive postseason appearance.

And then it went wrong. Karl was fired. General manager Masai Ujiri, Denver’s point man for the complicated negotiations, left for Toronto. Gallinari blew out his knee. The Nuggets are an uncertainty heading toward this season, waiting to see how much they can count on Gallinari and prospects, but not because of the trade. That generated forward momentum. It’s everything that happened after.

With Love in the air, Cavs’ time is now


VIDEO: Relive Kevin Love’s top plays with the Timberwolves

Almost from the moment last month when LeBron James said in a Sports Illustrated essay that he was returning to Cleveland, the sports books in Las Vegas made the Cavaliers the favorites to win the 2015 NBA title.

With a roster then full of young, unproven talent in a city that took pride in being wanted again, that was largely about pure emotion.

Now it’s about (Kevin) Love.

With the official completion of the long-awaited deal that sent a package including No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins to the Timberwolves, the Cavaliers have vaulted to the top of the Eastern Conference, if not the entire league.

Oh, there will be plenty to be heard from out of Chicago, where former MVP Derrick Rose tries yet another comeback as he joins up with a formidable group of Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic.

But the simple truth is that arrival of Love to Cleveland gives the Cavs with James and Kyrie Irving the best young All-Star threesome in the NBA.

James himself had cautioned everyone not rush to judgment and expect too much too soon. He said it would be a long road for the Cavaliers to reach a champion’s level and that was speaking from the experience in Miami.

That was also speaking from as the lone playoff-tested veteran on a team where the rookie Wiggins would have had to learn about the league and about himself. But all of a sudden, James and the Cavs have a shortcut.

Love, 26 in a couple of weeks, is a completely different animal, a top 10 level talent, who can produce double-doubles every night and has 3-point shooting range. Love is someone who changed his body and has changed his game to become one of the most consistent number producers in the league, the kind of front-line anchor right now that the Cavs could only have hoped they’d get from last year’s No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett, who was included in the deal with Minnesota.

The critics will say that Love never got the Timberwolves to the playoffs in six seasons, point to a sometimes detached attitude and something less than a whole-hearted enthusiastic commitment to that franchise.

Yet the perpetual state of turmoil that has been a trademark of the Timberwolves certainly is responsible for much of that. He missed 64 games in the 2012-13 season due to a broken bone in his hand, but otherwise has been the guy who scored the ball and attacked the backboards equally with as much hunger as anyone in years. Love is the only player in the past 30 seasons to have a 30-point, 30-rebound game.

Maybe Love wasn’t a lead horse who could pull the weight of the entire wagon. Not everyone is. Now he doesn’t have to be.

There are sharp edges that will have to be honed in the playoffs, just as there are with the gifted and not-always-clued-in Irving. But those are edges for James to sharpen as he returns to his old neighborhood as the wise head who has been to the mountaintop and held the Larry O’Brien Trophy (twice).

Love had reached a crossroad in his career where he was simply going to pile up mountains of stats or make the transformation to being part of a contender’s foundation. It is no coincidence that in the weeks since the trade was agreed upon and had to wait for a 30-day embargo, the Cavs reeled in James Jones and Mike Miller from Miami, Shawn Marion from Dallas and could still add Ray Allen, if he chooses to play again next season. The role-playing veterans recognize the potency of the juiced up lineup and the immediate potential. With LeBron and his kiddie corps, the Cavs were still facing a long, hard slog to be able to truly compete with the Bulls in the East, not to mention the crop of contenders — Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies — in the A-list Western Conference.

The next task for Cleveland is to get Love to sign a contract extension that keeps him around past the end of the upcoming season. That shouldn’t be difficult. This is the situation he’s been searching for, the kind he’s needed, a place to learn and grow and win all at the same time.

When the oddsmakers tabbed the Cavs as the team to beat in the aftermath of James’ homecoming, that was as much about hope as anything. Now it’s about Love and reality.

Half-century club: Top scorers of 2013-14

If you wanted to see points piled up as high as the Himalayas in 2013-14, the team to watch was in Charlotte. Not because the Bobcats were much of a threat to fill up the basket themselves. They ranked just 24th in offense.

But the Bobcats did give up the two highest-scoring individual games of the season, letting Carmelo Anthony explode for 62 points on Jan. 24 and then, six weeks later, becoming the victims when LeBron James went off for 61.

In all, there were a half dozen games last season when the half-century mark was topped. Not surprisingly, two of the others were by Kevin Durant, who won his fourth scoring title.

One thing to keep in mind. It helps to hit the long ball. In those six games, the big guns hit 38-for-65 (58.5 percent) on 3-pointers.

Here are the six games that cracked the 50-point barrier:

6. Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors
Jan. 25, 2014 vs. L.A. Clippers — 51 points (16-for-29 FG, 10-for-17 3PT FGA)


VIDEO: Ross’  big night

The crowd at the Air Canada Centre might have been less surprised that night had a UFO landed at mid-court. After all, Ross, a second-year guard who was the eighth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, came into the game with a career best of 26 points. He blew through that by connecting on 10-for-17 3-pointers. It still wasn’t enough as the Raptors fell 126-118 to the Clippers. It was the only plus-50 game last season that came in a loss.

5. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
March 21, 2014 at Toronto Raptors — 51 points (15-for-32 FG, 8-for-20 3PT FGA)


VIDEO: Durant’s big night

This was familiar ground for Durant, becoming his fourth-career 50-point game and the second time he eclipsed the half-century mark in the season. Durant had to pull the load after Russell Westbrook was lost to injury in the third quarter, carrying the Thunder by scoring 38 points after the intermission in a 119-118 double-overtime victory.

4. Corey Brewer, Minnesota Timberwolves
April 11, 2014 vs. Houston Rockets — 51 points (19-for-30 FG, 2-for-6 3PT FG)


VIDEO: Brewer’s big night

How does a nine-year veteran with a career-scoring average of 10 points per game light up the scoreboard for five times that much? Well, it helps to be going up against the whipped-cream soft defense of the Rockets’ James Harden. Brewer just kept attacking the basket, making 19 of 30 shots and 11 of 15 at the free-throw line. Of all the players in the list, he made the least use of the 3-point line, hitting only 2-for-6 behind the arc. The Wolves beat the Rockets, 112-110.

3. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Jan. 17, 2014 vs. Golden State Warriors — 54 points (19-for-28 FG, 5-for-9 3 PT FG)


VIDEO: Durant’s big night

It wasn’t long after Westbrook suffered a setback with his knee and went back onto the shelf when Durant lit up the early part of the new year with his own special brand of fireworks. OKC certainly need all that K.D. could deliver on a night when the Splash Brothers of Golden State were lighting it up themselves — Steph Curry with 37 and Klay Thompson 26. On his way to a fourth NBA scoring title, Durant had more than enough in his tank to come through for a 127-121 victory.

2. LeBron James, Miami Heat
March 3, 2014 vs. Charlotte Bobcats — 61 points (22-for-33 FG, 8-for-10 3PT FGA)


VIDEO: James’ big night

Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins might have been the only one on the planet who was not impressed when the game’s current best player had the biggest night of his career. Wilkins criticized the Bobcats’ defense and their effort. But that doesn’t make it any less impressive that LeBron had the highest field-goal percentage (66.7) in a 60-point game since Shaquille O’Neal hit 60 on 68.6 percent shooting back in 2000. James tied his career high with eight 3-pointers and set Heat records with 25 points in a quarter and 22 FGs in a game in the 124-107 win. It’s what they’ll moon over in Miami when he’s missing this season.

1. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
Jan. 24, 2014 vs. Charlotte Bobcats — 62 points (23-for-35 FG, 6-for-11 3PT FGA)


VIDEO: Anthony’s big night

There have been a lot of games played in the history of the NBA, but few demonstrations of shooting proficiency that topped Melo on the night he set scoring records for the Knicks and for Madison Square Garden. He was a sizzling 23-for-35 (65.7 percent) overall, 6-for-11 behind the 3-point line and a perfect 10-for-10 on free throws. Oh, and he didn’t commit a single turnover. The fact is that if the Knicks weren’t cruising to a 125-96 win over the Bobcats, Anthony likely could have gone much higher. He had 56 of his points in the first three quarters and didn’t play the final 7:18 of the game.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 9



VIDEO: LeBron talks about winning a title in Cleveland

NEWS OF THE MORNING
LeBron in with Love | A special touch of Class | Monroe still waiting

No. 1: LeBron believes in long-term Love affair — Though the Cavaliers are being very careful not to violate any league rules concerning the salary cap and any — ahem — imminent deal with the Timberwolves, LeBron James is evidently convinced he can get Kevin Love to make a long-term commitment to Cleveland when he becomes a free agent next summer.  Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein of ESPN say the circumspect James is excited about teaming up with Love:

“If he comes aboard, I will be very excited to have him,” James said in his first public comments since signing with the Cavs last month.

“I don’t even really care about the 26 [points] and 12 [rebounds], I care about his basketball IQ. His basketball IQ is very, very high. I had the opportunity to spend 32 days with him in the 2012 Olympics. He was huge for us … he’s a great piece.”

James was cautious to frame his comments about Love, saying he knew there were hurdles left to clear before the Cavs can complete a deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Top draft pick Andrew Wiggins is included in the talks, and the rookie cannot be traded until Aug. 23 under league rules.

Sources say the clincher from Cleveland’s perspective, though, was James’ firm belief that he will be able to convince Love to stay as a teammate going into the future, even without a contractual commitment after this year. That made the Cavs more comfortable parting with Wiggins, who is a potential All-Star and would’ve been under contract with the Cavs for at least the next five seasons under much more favorable terms.

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No. 2: Hall Class of 2014 has something for everyone — Former Commissioner David Stern held the marquee spot at Friday night’s Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremonies, but he was joined by a Class of 2014 that touched many different bases. Our own Scott Howard-Cooper pointed out that Alonzo Mourning, Mitch Richmond, Sarunas Marciulionis and Bob Leonard all brought different constituencies and unique characteristics with them to Springfield, Mass., the birthplace of basketball:

Mourning was the toughness. That would have been the case anyway, Zo and tenacity having become close acquaintances long before, but he retired, played again, and played well. After a kidney transplant. Briefly choking up early in his acceptance speech, Zo, also someone who goes way back with strong emotions, changed nothing.

Marciulionis was the globalization. Once named one of the 50 greatest players in FIBA history for leading roles with the national teams of the Soviet Union and his native Lithuania, he reached the Hall through the International Committee. But he reached a new level by refusing to back down from his dream of the NBA and became one of the symbols of expansion. What he fought through showed he could do the toughness thing, too.

Leonard and Richmond were the local ties, the grassroots feel of the league even as it grew into a conglomerate, Leonard home-spun Indiana as coach of the ABA and NBA Pacers and then a team broadcaster to this day, Richmond one of the reasons the link between the small-market Kings and the fans remained strong from one losing season to the next. Far from the bright lights, with Indy literally trying to save its pro basketball life and Sacramento screaming itself hoarse every home game with little payback in the standings, they were reason for optimism in hard times.

It’s like Leonard said in concluding his acceptance speech: “The only thing left to say is I’ve had a love affair with the fans and the people in the state of Indiana. We call ourselves Hoosiers. And they’ve been very supportive. It’s a love affair that has gone on for years, since I was [a player] at Indiana University. And I wish that it could last forever. But I know better than that. So as I look around this room, the Lord has had His hand on my shoulder. Here’s what I hope for all of you: That the Lord puts His hand on your shoulder and He blesses you all the years of your life. Thank you.”

Stern was pretty much everything, of course. Like Leonard, he was a constant, in Stern’s case as commissioner through the days drenched in money falling from the sky to the tumultuous moments that also define his rule from 1984 until 2014. And the swagger. There had to be a grand display because Stern could be so good at brash.

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No. 3: Monroe still on hold with Pistons Big man Greg Monroe spent a recent part of his summer vacation in South Africa as part of the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program and got a first-hand look at some of the differences and problems nearly half a world away. However, he’s still an unrestricted and unsigned free agent who’s been trying not to focus on getting a new deal done with the Pistons, where new coach and team president Stan Van Gundy says he’s wanted. SI.com’s Ben Golliver caught up with Monroe:

SI.com: You’re still a restricted free agent, and it’s still up in the air on what team you’ll be on next year. How much has that been on your mind during this trip?

Monroe: Not very much, to be honest. It’s been great to get out here, relax, clear my mind and take this new experience in. I don’t listen to all of the reports and rumors — I’m just enjoying the fresh air.

SI.com: When do you expect to sort out your contract? When you head back to the U.S., is that priority No. 1?

Monroe: I’m heading back Saturday. We’re still trying to sort things out. I’m really not sure what is going to happen, I’ve just enjoyed my time here, and it’s been nice to get away and do something positive with my time.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Following the departure of Kevin Durant, Team USA gets an offensive boost with the addition of Rudy Gay … Donatas Motiejunas says he hasn’t exactly bonded with his Rockets All-Star teammates Dwight Howard and James Harden…The assault and battery case against the Hornets’ P.J. Hairston has been rescheduled.
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