Posts Tagged ‘Ty Lawson’

Morning shootaround — Aug. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Lawson expecting big things in Denver | Griffin defends Cavs’ pursuit of Calipari | Trainer raves over Bryant’s pain tolerance

No. 1: Lawson sees big things ahead for Nuggets — In 2012-13, the Denver Nuggets were a 57-win team and boasted and up-and-coming, exciting team that seemed on the verge of being a contender. Last season, though, was a different story, as Denver fell to 36-46, most of which could be blamed on injuries decimating the roster. Point guard Ty Lawson was one of the players who dealt with the injury bug in 2013-14, but he’s on the mend and is expecting a Nuggets bounce back in 2014-15. Our Jeff Caplan caught up with Lawson, who talked about that and more:

Expected to be back in business is forward Danilo Gallinari, a career 41.9 percent 3-point shooter who missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in April 2013. So is 7-foot center JaVale McGee, whose bid to mature his way off the Shaqtin-a-Fool all-time list was snubbed after five games due to a stress fracture in his left leg. So is Nate Robinson (missed 38 games). And Wilson Chandler (missed 20 games). And J.J. Hickson (missed 13 games). So is Lawson himself, who missed 20 games due to injury in last year’s 36-46 season, the first under coach Brian Shaw.

At the tail end of last season, the 5-foot-11 Lawson, who registered career-highs in scoring (17.6 ppg), assists (8.8) and minutes (35.8), thought about all the injuries, all the adversity (including but not limited to Andre Miller) and just how far the team had come despite the sub-.500 record. He even suggested the Nuggets could possibly be a top-four team next season.

“People,” Lawson said, “are probably going to sleep on us this year because of what happened last year.”

Lawson, heading into his sixth season in Denver, spoke to NBA.com earlier this week from Los Angeles. He believes the Nuggets are deep at every position, are determined to become a good defensive team and he still believes they can sneak up on last season’s playoff teams.

NBA.com: With so many injuries last season, the team never found a rhythm. How do you see the roster shaping up assuming good health all around?

Lawson: I think at every position we’re pretty deep. At center, we’ve got JaVale and Timofey Mozgov, who started playing well throughout the last year. We’re so deep, I think that’s a gift and a curse. Everybody is going to want to play. I already told B-Shaw, I was like, ‘yeah, it’s going to be a problem that you’re going to have, divvying up minutes and making sure everybody’s still happy.’ That’s a gift because say somebody goes down, God forbid, we’ll still have somebody step right in. Also, there’s so many different lineups we can have. We can go small, go big, we’re so versatile.

NBA.com: Everybody knew the team’s identity under George Karl. After one season under Shaw, again, considering all the injuries, has the team taken on a clear-cut identity?

Lawson: This year it’s going to be more of a defensive mindset. I already know we can score, everybody knows we can score with the best of them. But my mindset going into training camp is everybody buying into the defensive end. We’ve got to make stops. I feel like if we can do that, and score in the half court, we’ll be one of the top teams out there.


VIDEO: Ty Lawson runs wild in a win over the L.A. Lakers last season (more…)

Lawson: ‘People are probably going to sleep on us’

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Ty Lawson made his presence felt in Denver’s best plays last season

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – NBA schedules haven’t been out long, but Ty Lawson has already been studying up on the Denver Nuggets’ first month.

“We’ve got the Chicago Bulls, the Cleveland Cavaliers twice, We got OKC twice,” Lawson said. “Our first month is crazy so I was like, ‘coach, we’ve both got to be ready coming in, we’ve got to all be focused when we get in there [to training camp].”

Lawson didn’t mention two games against the Portland Trail Blazers in the first month and the Phoenix Suns in the powerful Western Conference.

“I even feel like Sacramento is going to be decent,” Lawson said.

Oh yeah, add a pair against the Kings in the opening month, too.

Throw in a game against the healthy New Orleans Pelicans and that’s 12 of the Nuggets’ first 16 games.

“When it first came out,” Lawson said of the schedule, “I checked and was like, ‘man!’

The Nuggets’ explosive point guard has been working hard during the offseason in Los Angeles. He will soon make his way back to Denver and begin working out with teammates as the countdown to the start of training camp officially begins. This particularly excites the ever-improving Lawson, one of the more under-talked-about point guards in a conference overflowing with All-Star candidates at the position, because it’s been a long time since he’s played with a few of them.

Expected to be back in business is forward Danilo Gallinari, a career 41.9 percent 3-point shooter who missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in April 2013. So is 7-foot center JaVale McGee, whose bid to mature his way off the Shaqtin-a-Fool all-time list was snubbed after five games due to a stress fracture in his left leg. So is Nate Robinson (missed 38 games). And Wilson Chandler (missed 20 games). And J.J. Hickson (missed 13 games). So is Lawson himself, who missed 20 games due to injury in last year’s 36-46 season, the first under coach Brian Shaw.

At the tail end of last season, the 5-foot-11 Lawson, who registered career-highs in scoring (17.6 ppg), assists (8.8) and minutes (35.8), thought about all the injuries, all the adversity (including but not limited to Andre Miller) and just how far the team had come despite the sub-.500 record. He even suggested the Nuggets could possibly be a top-four team next season.

“People,” Lawson said, “are probably going to sleep on us this year because of what happened last year.”

Lawson, heading into his sixth season in Denver, spoke to NBA.com earlier this week from Los Angeles. He believes the Nuggets are deep at every position, are determined to become a good defensive team and he still believes they can sneak up on last season’s playoff teams.

NBA.com: You and Kenneth Faried both had strong seasons in Shaw’s first year despite all the injuries. Was it important for you two to set the tone in a transition year?

Lawson: I think so. We found ourselves, especially Kenneth. He found out he can score in the post, run the floor and also his decision-making after getting the rebound and taking it downcourt and able to make the right pass, the right decision. I think it was a positive on both ends and I think it’s going to help for this year coming up.

NBA.com: As a team leader, do you keep up with your teammates during the offseason?

Lawson: Definitely. JaVale’s in L.A., so I see him and we talk all the time. I stay in touch basically with everybody, making sure everybody is getting their work in and that they’re ready for this year because we can make a lot noise.

NBA.com: Speaking of McGee, he signed the big contract, but his season ended five games into it due to injury. Even then he had not earned a significant role under Shaw and he has yet to be able to rid himself of the perception of having a low basketball IQ. Do you really believe he can begin to elevate his game and be a significant contributor?

Lawson: I can see that he’s taking a more serious approach. When he was at Washington he was just about, ‘OK, I’m here, I’m 7-foot, I’m playing.’ But now he’s really actually trying to get better. You can see that. When he’s working out and he misses a jump hook or something he actually gets mad.

NBA.com: With so many injuries last season, the team never found a rhythm. How do you see the roster shaping up assuming good health all around?

Lawson: I think at every position we’re pretty deep. At center, we’ve got JaVale and Timofey Mozgov, who started playing well throughout the last year. We’re so deep, I think that’s a gift and a curse. Everybody is going to want to play. I already told B-Shaw, I was like, ‘yeah, it’s going to be a problem that you’re going to have, divvying up minutes and making sure everybody’s still happy.’ That’s a gift because say somebody goes down, God forbid, we’ll still have somebody step right in. Also, there’s so many different lineups we can have. We can go small, go big, we’re so versatile.

NBA.com: Everybody knew the team’s identity under George Karl. After one season under Shaw, again, considering all the injuries, has the team taken on a clear-cut identity?

Lawson: This year it’s going to be more of a defensive mindset. I already know we can score, everybody knows we can score with the best of them. But my mindset going into training camp is everybody buying into the defensive end. We’ve got to make stops. I feel like if we can do that, and score in the half court, we’ll be one of the top teams out there.

NBA.com: You already mentioned how tough the schedule is the opening month. Overall, how do you see the West shaping up?

Lawson: The West is going to be crazy. Everybody got better. Houston may have slipped a little bit, but I feel like you’ve got to be ready to go every night against the West. There’s not going to be any slouch teams. I even feel like Sacramento is going to be decent. You’ve got to be ready to play in the West, there’s not going to be any easy games like last year where you knew you were going to win that game. It’s not going to be that easy, any team can beat you in the West.

NBA.com: Some feared you might not be as effective in Shaw’s more halfcourt-focused offense as opposed to Karl’s full-throttle approach. You still managed to thrive. Where do you want to take your game next season?

Lawson: I’m more confident in my jump shot, I think I shoot well. Sometimes if I miss a couple, my confidence goes away. So I watch a lot of tape of shooters. I feel like Steph Curry and Damian Lillard just have no conscience. They miss a couple, they know the third or fourth one’s going in. That’s probably the main thing. And probably my stamina for the defensive end; picking up the point guard further up instead of letting them come down and set their offense up so close to the 3-point line. If I push them back, it pushes the offense back and I think it’s harder for them to score, so that’s the main thing I’ve been working on.

At Draft, time to move on … for most

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

BROOKLYN, N.Y. –- The 76ers want to keep dragging it out, running a Four Corner stall on their fans and whatever portion of the roster actually makes it into uniform. They are now routinely acquiring top prospects on draft night who can’t or won’t play anytime soon, building toward 2017 at the earliest.

Meanwhile, the rest of the league is moving forward. There was a draft Thursday night at Barclays Center, a trade a few hours earlier and, right in the middle of the first round, a great moment for basketball that wasn’t about basketball at all. A lot of immediate impact was made on a day seemingly about patience.

Stall ball was out. Effects that will be felt in 2014-15 were in.

Even for the sev … en … ty … six … ers.


VIDEOThe Bulls selected Jusuf Nurkic, who was later traded to the Nuggets

The Nuggets make a playoff push

Acquiring Arron Afflalo from Orlando at a very low price — Evan Fournier and No. 56, probably makes Thursday a good day no matter what. But Denver followed up by trading down, turning No. 11 into 16 and 19, and still coming away with Jusuf Nurkic, a lottery candidate and the second-best center prospect in the draft.

Giving up Doug McDermott, the 11th pick, was big when the shooting boost would have helped, but the Nuggets got a lot deeper, more physical and possibly added two starters, Afflalo and Nurkic, a strong inside presence who projects as a dependable big man. The question is whether he will fit with the preferred Ty Lawson/Kenneth Faried up-tempo pace.

Denver missed the playoffs last season by 13 games, a sizable gap to close in the ultra-competitive West. But if Danilo Gallinari is healthy for the start of the season and soon able to play without time restrictions, that’s basically two veteran additions along with first-round picks Nurkic and Harris.


VIDEO: Joel Embiid may be the best talent in the draft … but he may not be able to play for a year

The 76ers’ slow-speed chase

Each addition would have been understandable by itself: Nerlens Noel via the lottery last June despite a knee injury; Dario Saric at 12 this year in a trade with Orlando despite expecting to be in Europe two more years; and Joel Embiid at No. 3 despite recovering from a fractured back and suffering a foot injury that could easily keep him out all 2014-15. They’re all talented players.

But Philly went from the Noel patience play directly into another with Embiid and Saric. The Sixers essentially spent three top-12 picks in two years on players they knew had a chance to miss at least one entire season. Going for the Embiid-Saric double had emerged as a possibility before the draft, except that the Sixers couldn’t really do that before Noel spent a day in uniform. Could they?

They did.

It’s difficult to say a team that went 19-63 may not improve. A franchise that goes backward from that has to be trying to be worse.

But welcome to it. Maybe it pays off in the long (long, long, long) run. The immediate impact, though, is Philadelphia will be very bad again and expect a lot of people to sit through it.


VIDEO: Julius Randle is ready to help out Kobe Bryant in L.A. right away

The Lakers get help now

The Lakers didn’t find a trade to add a veteran to avoid a rebuilding job and Kobe Bryant‘s glare. But Julius Randle was the best possible outcome if they found themselves stuck with the seventh pick.  He can be good now, equipped to stand up physically to most NBA power forwards despite being 19 years old, able to score inside though he played only one season in college.

Randle won’t get outworked, won’t get pushed around and you can throw him the ball in the post. That’s not a bad starting point. The prospect with a high motor just has to add a mid-range game to become a problem of All-Star proportions for defenses.

Randle isn’t just part of the hoped-for bridge to the Lakers’ future. He is someone who can help now. He is one of the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year.


VIDEO: Elfrid Payton figures to make Orlando a much better team next season

Another step forward for Orlando

Needing a point guard after playing Victor Oladipo out of position last season, the Magic got out of the way of the Dante Exum-Marcus Smart decision,  instead using No. 4 on power forward Aaron Gordon. Then they circled back for the point guard.

Elfrid Payton, the 10th pick acquired from Philadelphia as part of the Saric deal, was the best true distributor in the draft, impressing teams with size, defense and bursts of speed to be rated behind only top-six choices Exum and Smart at the position. Oladipo will move to shooting guard for his second season, where he will need to relocate the dependable jumper from his college days at Indiana. Gordon steps in at power forward. Nikola Vucevic returns at center. That’s a good foundation for a playoff team.

By late Thursday night, the inexperienced Magic had the chance to immediately become a challenger. Oladipo will defend. Gordon will defend. Payton will defend. Vucevic, Tobias Harris, Kyle O’Quinn and Payton will rebound. This is a building team, and a team building a personality.


VIDEO: Adam Silver welcomes Isaiah Austin to the podium

The commissioner’s credibility boost

Adam Silver, the emcee of the Draft for the first time, didn’t need the votes. He already universally won high marks for the handling of the Donald Sterling ouster, heard plenty of cheers when he appeared on stage to begin the proceedings Thursday (in an obvious jab at predecessor David Stern) and has said and done all the right things since taking over as commissioner in February.

But then came Thursday. Silver, at the podium, announced that the league had drafted Isaiah Austin from Baylor. Austin stood up from his table in the Green Room (actually an area on the floor in front of the stage), accepted a blue cap with the NBA logo on it and everybody stood and cheered.

Less than a week after learning he had Marfan syndrome and that his career was over, the Baylor power forward — projected as a second-round pick — was wiping tears from his eyes as he walked on stage for the traditional handshake and pictures with the commissioner. The audience kept applauding. And when Austin followed that with stops for TV interviews, just like all the other top picks, the draft was halted so people in attendance could hear and allow Austin to promote awareness of the disease.

The league struck exactly the right tone. Everyone came off looking good. It was an immediate impact.

Morning Shootaround — April 5


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Garnett could return Saturday | Nash will play again this season | Wade expected back soon

No. 1: Garnett could return Saturday — Kevin Garnett has missed the last 19 games with back spasms. And while the Brooklyn Nets have gone 14-5 in that stretch, they need Garnett to help them on the glass. They rank dead last in defensive rebounding percentage since he first went out. Garnett, by the way, leads the league in individual defensive rebound percentage. And he could be back Saturday night in Philadelphia, as Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York writes:

While coach Jason Kidd wouldn’t fully commit to it, the Nets coach sure seemed optimistic about the possibility.

“[Kevin] felt better today,” Kidd said Friday night following his team’s 15th consecutive home victory. “We’ll see how his plane ride goes, and then we’ll see in the morning how he feels. We would like to try to get him to go tomorrow, but it’s up to him.”

Garnett has missed the past 19 games due to back spasms. The Nets (41-34) have gone 14-5 without him.

Asked if he is worried about reintegrating Garnett into the lineup, Kidd replied, “Nope. Kevin is a professional. He’s been doing it for a million years, so there’s nothing to worry about. He’s about the team. He’s about what we as a team stand for — unselfishness, defense — so he won’t have a problem with that.”

***

No. 2: Nash will play again this season — Before meeting the Mavs on Friday, Steve Nash speculated that it might be his last game of the season, with Jordan Farmar set to return from injury in the coming days. But after Nash dished out seven assists (watch video) in 19 minutes, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said that the 40 year old will play again over the last 11 days. ESPN’s Dave McMenamin has the story from L.A.:

Nash left the arena without speaking to reporters Friday, but his coach is making sure there will be at least one more encore performance.

“I said this is not your last game,” D’Antoni relayed after the Lakers’ 107-95 loss to the Mavericks. “He said, ‘OK.’ So, we’ll play him.”

There are only six games left to the Lakers season and Nash already all but ruled himself out Sunday against the Los Angeles Clippers, fearing he won’t have enough recovery time to prepare himself for the early 12:30 p.m. PT tip.

He has repeatedly said he wanted to get out of the way when Jordan Farmar returns from a strained groin injury next week, preferring to give the minutes he’d play to Farmar and Kendall Marshall so they have the opportunity to prove themselves with free agency coming for each.

But D’Antoni, who first coached Nash a decade ago in Phoenix, isn’t going to let Nash disappear so easily.

***

No. 3: Wade expected back soon — The Miami Heat might not really need Dwyane Wade before the conference semifinals, but his health will always be a concern. Wade has missed 24 games this season (some just for rest), including the last five with a strained left hamstring. The Heat are 16-8 without Wade, but their defense is at its best when he’s healthy and active. The playoffs are exactly two weeks away, but there’s not a high level of concern in the Miami locker room, as Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes:

A strained left hamstring sidelined Heat guard Dwyane Wade for a fifth consecutive game on Friday night, but Heat players said he’s improving, and LeBron James said Wade “probably” will return “within the next week.”

There doesn’t appear to be concern about Wade’s availability for the start of the playoffs in two weeks.

But there is some uncertainty about a timetable. Udonis Haslem said Friday “it’s hard to tell” when Wade will play in a game again.

The Heat host the Knicks on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, ABC).

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Thabo Sefolosha is getting closer to a return for the ThunderTayshaun Prince went down with an ankle injury in the Grizzlies’ win over Denver … Ty Lawson was benched after missing a team meeting (and then turned his ankle too) … The Bulls may sign one or more vets after waiving rookie Erik MurphyEric Gordon went to L.A. to have his knee checked out … and Leon Powe wants to own an NBA team.

ICYMI of The Night: Gerald Green went off the glass to himself as the Suns picked up a huge win in Portland:


VIDEO: Play of the Day: Gerald Green

After trial by fire, Nuggets coach Shaw eyes next season

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Go inside the huddle with Brian Shaw

DALLAS – Thirteen first-time NBA coaches will head into summer with experiences each will never forget, from Brett Brown coping with a bare-bones 76ers squad to Jason Kidd unlocking a star-laden Nets team whose luxury tax payment alone will nearly double the Sixers’ payroll.

Then there’s Brian Shaw. The Denver Nuggets coach, a disciple of Phil Jackson, took over a 57-win team coached by a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer, an 1,100-game-winner and one of the league’s all-time great innovators. George Karl might have led the Nuggets out of the first round just once in nine seasons, but he won a lot with a fun, energetic style.

Shaw inherited a team that lost its two premiere wing runners, Andre Iguodala, also a defensive stopper, and Corey Brewer. It wasn’t long into the season before Shaw lost veteran backup point guard Andre Miller to a power struggle and banished him from the team.

Then there were the injuries: Dino Gallinari never returned from last season’s ACL tear, JaVale McGee lasted five games, then Nate Robinson, J.J. Hickson and trade newcomer Jan Vesely. Point guard, leading scorer and top assist man Ty Lawson has missed 14 games; 12 each for second-leading scorer Wilson Chandler and reserve forward Darrell Arthur.

“A lot of people talk about the first-year head coach stuff and he [Shaw] hasn’t shown any of that at all,” Nuggets top assistant Lester Conner said. “He’s set the foundation. It’s been an injury-riddled season for us and the way he’s handled it, it’s like one of the best coaches in the league, and he is. He doesn’t have the tenure like some of them have, but if you look at our game and how we play and look at how we compete, if you were blindfolded, you wouldn’t think that there was a fisrt-year head coach. He’s been in a lot of wars as far as championships with Phil, so he knows what it’s like. He’s handled the media well, he’s handled the Andre Miller situation well. He’s done a great job.”

However so, the Nuggets are on pace to not make the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Yet it seems things could be a whole lot worse than Denver’s 32-39 record attained through stretches of feast or famine and seemingly always banged-up bodies.

“One of the things one of my mentor’s, Phil Jackson, always preached to me was believing in your system and what you’re doing out there,” said Shaw, who communicates with Jackson once every week or two throughout the season. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have been in great situations with great teams that have had the ultimate success at the end of the season, and so I believe that I know what it looks like, I know what it takes, what kind of work ethic goes into it and what kind of habits need to be developed by our players.”

Lawson, the fifth-year point guard seemingly on the precipice of making an All-Star team, and under contract through 2017, said he stands behind Shaw “100 percent,” and went so far as to make a bold prediction for a healthy — knock-on-wood — 2014-15 campaign: “I think we will definitely be good, maybe top four in the West next year.

“I look at [our] record and think about all the injuries we went through, especially [Chandler], me, Nate, everybody went down,” Lawson continued. “We had a lot of different parts.”

Shaw, 48, spent 10 years with the Lakers and then Pacers working toward this opportunity. He came in with no misgivings of the challenge and made no promises. He did have a vision, and a plan to transform Karl’s freewheeling Nuggets into a team that could execute in the halfcourt through inside play without fully stifling the run-and-gun style.

But Shaw his concept initially led to confusion. Frontcourt players interpreted it to mean they’d receive an entry pass every time down the floor and would be allowed to go to work. That frustrated Lawson, whose game is predicated on his speed and ability to drive to the rim.

“Ty was frustrated early on until we really were able to clarify what that meant, that inside play could be a small guy posting up, or if it was just penetration and getting into the paint,” Shaw said. “So now I think what you see is Ty flourishing (18.1 ppg, 8.9 apg), Kenneth [Faried] (12.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg) is really starting to come into his own; they’ve had their best numbers since they’ve been in the league. [Timofey] Mozgoz has had a chance to play and is developing, so I think they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Ten players are under contract for next season. Gallinari is expected to return and McGee will make another run at ditching his “Shaqtin’ A Fool” persona and becoming a legitimate NBA starting center.

As his first campaign draws to a close, Shaw is coaching the players still standing with an eye toward next season.

“Everybody now has an understanding of exactly what I expect of them, how we want to play and what we want to do going forward,” Shaw said. “Obviously there are some guys that are on the roster right now that are going to be here next year and some that aren’t, but for me, I’ve said that this is going to be a year of discovery to really understand what it is that we have to work with.”

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 31


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Irving: ‘I’m pretty happy’ in Cleveland | Miller, Nuggets to mend fences? | Warriors get big boost from Green, Barnes

No. 1: Irving tries to quell rumors of his desire to leave — Every week on ESPN.com, NBA reporter Chad Ford does a weekly chat with fans about various league topics. The issue of Kyrie Irving‘s long-term future with the Cleveland Cavaliers came up in the discussion, and Ford said that Irving has been “telling people privately he wants out of Cleveland.” After Cleveland’s 31-point loss in New York last night, Irving addressed the concerns about his future, writes Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal:

Kyrie Irving said he enjoys being in Cleveland and playing for the Cavaliers, but stopped short of saying he’ll take a max contract offer if he’s presented with one this summer.

“There’s been so much so-called reports coming out that I don’t want to be here. That’s what you guys get paid to do, but that’s just so much negative attention,” Irving said following the Cavs’ 117-86 loss to the Knicks. “I know we’re struggling, but it’s not about me. It’s about our team. It’s about us fighting every day for each other and me fighting for my teammates.

“Yes, I’m in Cleveland. I enjoy myself. I enjoy going out and competing at the highest level for the Cleveland Cavaliers. That’s what it’s about. It’s not about me and it’s not about this controversy, ‘Do I privately want out when my contract is up?’ I’m still in my rookie contract and I’m happy to be here. And I’m pretty sure I’m going to be here for a long time. I’m not saying anything to tell the future, but I’m pretty sure the relationship I have with Dan Gilbert and management extends off the court. I enjoy being here.”

When told he can sign a lucrative contract this summer, Irving said, “I’m aware of that,” but stopped short of saying he’d sign here long term.

“It’s still too early to say. I’m still trying to get through this season,” he said. “Everybody is trying to antagonize this team and put it on me. I’m here for my teammates, I’m here for Coach [Mike] Brown and the coaching staff and I’m going to play my heart out every single night for the Cleveland Cavaliers.”


VIDEO: Cavs GM Chris Grant talks about the state of the team at midseason

***

No. 2: Miller, Nuggets may try to mend fences — Ty Lawson has a shoulder injury. Nate Robinson has a sprained ACL. Those two facts leave the Denver Nuggets’ point guard depth in a precarious state and could lead to exiled guard Andre Miller returning to the fold. Miller hasn’t played in a game for Denver since an Jan. 1 incident in which he yelled at coach Brian Shaw during a game. Christopher Dempsy of The Denver Post has more on what’s next for Miller and the Nuggets.

The Nuggets’ situation at point guard has thinned to the point of extinction if Ty Lawson is not able to play Friday night against the Toronto Raptors. The paucity of players at that position has the Nuggets considering all of their options … perhaps including asking exiled playmaker Andre Miller to play.

In addition to Lawson, backup point guard Nate Robinson was diagnosed with a sprained ACL in his left knee, suffered Wednesday night against Charlotte.

“We will explore whatever we need to explore to help us out in this situation,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said Thursday. “We have 15 players on the roster.”

Miller is one of those players, but he hasn’t played since the incident Jan. 1 when he yelled at Shaw during a game. Miller has been excused from all team activities ever since and the Nuggets are actively trying to trade him, though nothing is imminent. The NBA’s trade deadline is Feb. 20.

But the Nuggets need bodies at Lawson’s all-important position, and Miller is one right in front of them.

“He’s one of the 15 guys on the roster,” Shaw said. “So, yeah, it’s an option that probably will be explored.”

It is a longshot, to be sure.

Miller has been away from the Nuggets for a month, and outside of an injury there has been no move by either side to orchestrate a return to the team. Shaw and Miller still have not talked to each other since the incident, but Shaw insists he would have no problems coaching him if the situation were to arise.

Nothing like that would even take place without an extensive conversation among all levels of team management. General manager Tim Connelly recently has been out of the country.

“I’ll get together with the front office and discuss whatever options we may have,” Shaw said.

***
No. 3: Warriors’ x-factors prove difference vs. Clippers — Over their last nine games, the Golden State Warriors had a 3-6 mark and suffered losses to contenders such as Oklahoma City and Indiana to go along with ones to Denver and Minnesota, among others, as well. Last night’s romp of the L.A. Clippers seemed to be just what Golden State needed and the combination of Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes provided a key spark that the Warriors will need more of throughout the season, writes Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News:

In a blast from the recent postseason past, Barnes exploded for a few dunks and knifing drives early against the Clippers as the Warriors built a large lead.

If Barnes finds a comfort zone and plays like that for the rest of the season … the Warriors will be a much deeper, much more dangerous team.

But generally this season, the Warriors’ second unit has been broken offensively without Barnes at electric top form — and he has looked harried and uncertain.

They’re the Warriors’ double X-factors. Barring a major trade, they’re the franchise’s best hope for this season and largest open question.

For now, coach Mark Jackson is giving both his full support, and he makes it clear that though they’re both bench players, they play two different roles.

Heading into Thursday’s game, Green was averaging just over 19 minutes a game, up from 13.4 minutes as a rookie.

Barnes was averaging 29.3 minutes, after averaging 25.4 minutes his rookie season.

The first Warriors reserve player to get into the game was Barnes — for Klay Thompson. The second was Jordan Crawford — for Andre Iguodala.

The third reserve to check in was Green — for David Lee.

And almost immediately after getting into the game, Barnes started rocketing to the basket for easy baskets; he had 10 points at halftime — his first double-digit game since Jan. 15, eight games ago.

“When you believe in somebody that doesn’t mean you just believe in them when they’re rolling,” Jackson said before the game. “The Harrison Barnes that showed up 12 games in the playoffs started the whole year — that guy didn’t play 82 nights.

“We believed he had that in him and I still do. So he will play his minutes, he will get his calls, he will get his touches, and he’s going to be just fine.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kevin Durant says he plans to play until he’s 40 … How will Lance Stephenson react to his All-Star Game snub going forward? … The Philippines wants to naturalize Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee for their national team … Famous NBA fan Jimmy Goldstein got a picture of David Stern’s retirement party cake. Pretty cool

ICYMI(s) of The Night: The Cavs-Knicks game at MSG became the J.R. Smith highlight show with two big dunks and a crossover on Tristan Thompson that’ll live on for a while …:


VIDEO: J.R. Smith drives on Anthony Bennett and finishes with a jam


VIDEO: Off the outlet pass, J.R. Smith gets fancy in transition with a reverse slam


VIDEO: J.R. Smith crosses up Tristan Thompson, then hits a jumper

Six Worthy Below-The-Radar All-Stars

DeMar DeRozan is the Raptors' leading scorer, at more than 21 points a game (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

DeMar DeRozan is the Raptors’ leading scorer, at more than 21 points a game (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

We know the fan balloting to select the NBA All-Star Game starters is a beauty pageant more than a referendum on results.

Kobe Bryant, playing only six games this season, leading the balloting for the West backcourt and Rajon Rondo, who hasn’t played at all, ranked in the top six in the East means all that is missing is a sash and tiara.

With less than a week left in the voting for the starting lineups, it will be up to the coaches — they name the reserves — to fill in the blanks and rectify some of the slights. But there’s still more than handful of deserving players who could be left out. We’ll call them the All-Fars, as in too far under the radar:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Paul Millsap, F, Hawks — When teammate Al Horford was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, it certainly made life a little more difficult for everyone on the Hawks. But it also shed some light on Millsap’s contributions. After six years in Utah, the Jazz let Millsap walk in the name of their youth movement. So he took his lunch-pail attitude to Atlanta as perhaps the best free-agent bargain of last summer. He’s rung up 16 double-doubles in the first 37 games this season and, along with point guard Jeff Teague, is responsible for keeping the Hawks in the No. 3 spot in the East.

Arron Afflalo (Fernando Medina/NBAE)

Arron Afflalo (Fernando Medina/NBAE)

Arron Afflalo, G, Magic — Location, location, location. Afflalo is hardly in the prime real estate spot for getting notice with the also-running Magic. There was a great deal of speculation that he would have to be traded before the start of the season to make way for rookie Victor Oladipo. But the Magic are glad they resisted the urge and kept him around. He’s averaging more than 21 points, four assists and four rebounds per game and shooting better than 40 percent from behind the 3-point line. Is it too much of a stretch to label him the second-best shooting guard in the East behind Paul George? Dwyane Wade certainly gets the notoriety and the votes, but Afflalo has the credentials to be in the conversation.

DeMar DeRozan, G, Raptors — If Afflalo is held back by Orlando being mired at the bottom of the East standings, how much of a bump can DeRozan get from being the lead dog pulling the wagon for the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors? That is odd just to type. But there’s no question that Toronto has come together in the aftermath of the Rudy Gay trade. The 24-year-old DeRozan has ably stepped up to carry the offensive load and has shined in big wins at Oklahoma City and at home over the Pacers. He’s scoring, passing and rebounding. The only thing missing is a dependable 3-point stroke.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Ty Lawson, G, Nuggets — With the injuries to Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul, it seems that the All-Star door is finally going to swing open for Stephen Curry. But that still leaves a gigantic logjam of point guards in the West. Never mind the populist voting that has the likes of Steve Nash and Jeremy Lin in the top 10. Lawson still has plenty of competition from Damian Lillard and Tony Parker, both of whom play for teams that are significantly higher up in the standings. The Nuggets had to do an extreme makeover with the departure of Andre Iguodala and the loss of Danilo Gallinari to a knee injury. Lawson has to carry the lion’s share of the load and is the only player on the roster averaging more than 30 minutes per game. He said he didn’t like coach Brian Shaw’s system at the start of the season, but he has thrived in it.

Nicolas Batum (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Nicolas Batum (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Nicolas Batum, F, Trail Blazers — He’s a victim of his own teammates. While the Blazers’ surprising rise in the standings is giving LaMarcus Aldridge his star turn, and Damian Lillard is constantly providing his own end-of-game highlights, the young Frenchman stands in the background and rarely draws more more attention than the wallpaper. He’s still long and lean, but seems to have grown in confidence with his offense. As part of the bombs-away Portland attack, he’s firing up at least five 3-pointers per game and connecting at a 40 percent clip. He’s also playing more of a role as a distributor and remains an excellent finisher on the Blazers’ break with his speed and length. Likely the only way Batum will ever get his due is if he helps take his team all the way to The Finals, where nobody gets overlooked.

Anthony Davis, F, Pelicans — A year ago, it was easy to look past the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft because his coach did more to stop him with a lack of playing time than any defender on the court. But the reins are off now and Davis has become a real force at both ends of the court, averaging just under 20 points, nine rebounds and more than two blocked shots per game. Coach Monty Williams says there is virtually nothing he doesn’t trust Davis to do on the court now. The 20-year-old, who’s expected to be the foundation of the franchise for the next decade, has had to shoulder even more of the load due to the spate of injuries that have taken down Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson. He’s got a particularly tough road to travel to the All-Star Game in his hometown of New Orleans with Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki, to name a few, blocking his path. Plus, he’s playing in the depths of the standings. But growth in the shadows is still growth.

Injuries Open Spots, But Picking All-Star Guards Won’t Be Easy


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook will be out until after the All-Star break

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Kobe Bryant is going to win a starting job on the Western Conference All-Star team. A second round of returns has the Lakers star well ahead in votes among the West’s legion of worthy backcourt candidates. Bryant has played in just six games and although he could return from a fractured knee in time to play in the Feb. 16 All-Star Game at New Orleans, let’s assume that he will not play.

NBA All-Star 2014Oklahoma City’s injured point guard Russell Westbrook was well on his way to a fourth consecutive selection as one of seven reserves to be picked by Western Conference coaches until Friday’s stunning announcement that he underwent a third surgery on his troubled right knee. Westbrook will not be back in time for the All-Star Game.

That leaves (potentially) two backcourt spots up for grabs.

But first, ink Chris Paul in as the starter at point guard. He’s second in fan voting and in all likelihood won’t come close to relinquishing that spot as an automatic starter. Golden State’s Stephen Curry, last season’s sympathy case as the most notable snub, is third in fan voting and should start at shooting guard.

Now comes the difficult part for the West’s coaches: There’s so many worthy point guards — just point guards — that you could select an All-Point-Guard All-Star team even without Westbrook. Check this out:

PG: Paul

SG: Curry

SF: Damian Lillard

PF: Eric Bledsoe

C: Ricky Rubio

Bench: Tony Parker, Ty LawsonMike Conley, Jrue Holiday

OK, so it takes some of imagination there, but you get the idea how deep the West is at the quarterback position. Then you’ve got the shooting guards to consider. James Harden figures to be a lock for a second consecutive selection. And what about Klay Thompson, Monta Ellis, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic, Wesley Matthews and Jamal Crawford, who felt he got dissed last year? Even 36-year-old Manu Ginobili can make a compelling case.

There’s plenty of basketball to go before fan voting ends on Jan. 20 (the starters will be announced on Jan. 23) and until the reserves are announced soon after, so selections could become more crystallized by then. But probably not.

So of five guards to get a 2014 All-Star nod, here’s my early locks: Paul and Curry as the starters with Harden as a reserve. That leaves two spots open.

Let’s begin with the power of elimination. As strong as they’ve been, apologies to Martin, Dragic, Matthews and Crawford. Holiday was an East All-Star last year and benefited from Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose being hurt, and even though he’s a hometown Pelican, I’m not seeing it. Rubio has gone from the magician everybody wants to see up close to standing in the back of the line.

Onto the rest. This is going to be tough and there could be not one, not two, not three … but even more deserving guards taking the snub.

Here’s a brief comparison of a few of the backcourt candidates that I don’t consider to be locks (in no particular order):

>Parker, Spurs – Scoring (17.8 ppg) and assists (6.0) are down, but he’s the irreplaceable team catalyst, San Antonio is rolling and it’s hard to see him not making it

>Lillard, Blazers – As clutch as any player going, the reigning Rookie of the Year is averaging 21.1 ppg, 5.8 apg and is shooting 43.1 percent on 3s for a team that’s taken the league by storm

>Bledsoe, Suns – A fearless competitor, has meshed beautifully with Dragic while averaging 18.4 ppg, 5.9 apg, 4.3 rpg and is shooting 49.2 percent overall for arguably the most surprising team in the league

>Ellis, Mavericks – He’s turned analytics on its head, averaging an efficient 20.7 ppg — highest since 2007-08 — and 5.8 apg, and he’s as exciting swooping to the cup as anyone

>Lawson, Nuggets – He’s slowed a bit as the team has struggled recently, but still putting up 17.5 ppg, 7.9 apg and 3.4 rpg in a new, slower-tempo system

>Thompson, Warriors – The other half of the Splash Brothers, he’s scoring 19.6 ppg on 43.2 percent shooting from beyond the arc, plus 2.7 apg and 3.3 rpg.

>Conley, Grizzlies – He’s been garnering greater respect for a few seasons now and while the team has struggled, especially without fellow All-Star Marc Gasol, Conley’s averaging 17.0 ppg, a career-best, and 6.2 apg

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 13


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: Knicks seek to add Lowry | Granger won’t return tonight | Report: Z-Bo on trading block | Gasol vents about role in D’Antoni’s offense | Lawson set to return tonight

No. 1: Reports: Knicks looking to work deal for Lowry — With guard Raymond Felton sidelined 2-3 weeks with a hamstring injury, the Knicks’ point guard depth chart consists of backups Pablo Prigioni and Beno Udrih, with the option to slide Iman Shumpert over to the point as well. That depth is apparently a concern for New York, especially given its putrid start to the season, and has the Knicks trying to work a deal for Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry. According to Yahoo!Sports.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Knicks may have some competition for Lowry, though:

The New York Knicks are pursuing Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry with a package of Raymond Felton, Metta World Peace and a 2018 first-round draft pick, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Knicks refused a Raptors proposal that would’ve included Iman Shumpert and Felton, sources told Yahoo Sports. Without a first-round pick or Shumpert, there is no traction for a deal. The Knicks have no appetite for including Shumpert or rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. in a package.

Knicks owner Jim Dolan is sensitive to the public perception that Toronto general manger Masai Ujiri bamboozled New York in the Carmelo Anthony trade, and the chance of getting panned for giving up too much in a deal for Lowry has become a hurdle in these talks, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Ujiri was the GM of the Denver Nuggets when he negotiated a deal that included Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Felton and Timofey Mozgov for a package that included Anthony, Chauncey Billups and a first-round draft pick.

Toronto is discussing deals for Lowry with an ever-growing list of teams, league sources said.

Several teams are pursuing Lowry, but the Knicks’ most direct competition for him could come from the Brooklyn Nets, who are also exploring the possibility of a deal, league sources said. Brooklyn has resisted the inclusion of its 2020 first-round pick in a package, nor one of its top young players, including rookie Mason Plumlee, sources said.

Toronto officials have been scouting and calling European contacts on Bojan Bogdanovic, a 24-year-old shooting guard with whom the Nets own the rights, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Lowry has wanted a trade for most of the season and the Raptors became more motivated to move him after acquiring point guard Greivis Vasquez in a deal with the Sacramento Kings.

World Peace, who signed as free agent this summer, can’t be traded until Sunday, per league rules.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein also reports on the deal and says New York is reluctant to cough up a first-rounder for Lowry:

Yet it remains to be seen if the Raptors and Knicks can reach a consensus on deal terms this time, with Toronto said to be seeking two of the Knicks’ three best trade assets — Iman Shumpert, rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. and a future first-round pick — in addition to Raymond Felton in exchange for Lowry.

Sources told ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard on Thursday afternoon that the Knicks’ reluctance to include a first-round pick in the deal was among the factors holding things up.

The Knicks, sources say, appear willing to package one asset from the trio of Shumpert, Hardaway and a first-round pick to the Raptors along with Felton. But giving up two might prove too high a price for Lowry, who becomes an unrestricted free agent in July and can walk away for nothing at season’s end.

But the Knicks don’t possess a first-round pick they can offer Toronto, based on league rules, before 2018.

Sources say that the Raptors are intent on getting some value for Lowry despite his looming free-agent status. When it comes to the Knicks specifically, Toronto has adopted that stance based on the premise that it is not only providing New York with a clear upgrade at the point but also taking on Felton’s longer-term salary, with Felton owed nearly $8 million over the next two seasons after this one.


VIDEO: Raymond Felton discusses leg injury he suffered vs. Cavs

***

No. 2: Granger won’t return to lineup just yet — Before this week’s much-anticipated Heat-Pacers showdown, our own Steve Aschburner caught up with injured Pacers forward Danny Granger. The swingman told NBA.com that he could have returned to the lineup for Tuesday’s big game, but held off so as not to draw undue attention to himself and also because he simply wasn’t ready. At the time, Granger said he thought he could possibly return tonight against Charlotte, but that won’t be happening either, writes Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star:

Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger said he’s “literally day-to-day” with his return from an injured left calf, but today won’t be the day, he said after Thursday’s practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“I don’t like where I’m at with my timing and my rhythm and obviously my conditioning,” he said. “I don’t think I will (play) Friday.

“I practiced today, a full-on practice, but I don’t feel like I’m ready yet. I dribbled the ball off my foot a couple of times, just things you do when you haven’t played. (I) lost the ball in transition on a pass. My rhythm isn’t there yet.”

Granger said he’s had no physical setback.

“No, no, no,” he said. “Just all game legs. I’m not going to go on the court until I’m ready.”

Pacers coach Frank Vogel said Granger’s conditioning is as important to his return as the calf.

“He’s got to get back to all the things — conditioning, timing,” he said. “We’ll sit down and we’ll meet and figure out when the best time is.”

Granger looked solid in the portion of Thursday’s practice open to the media, cutting hard and defending with the same voracity his teammates have shown this season.

Granger practiced some with the first unit and spent time with the second too. After the Pacers beat Miami 90-84 on Tuesday, Heat forward LeBron James seemed to think Granger fit better with the second unit because of the first unit’s cohesiveness.

“They’re a starting-lineup team; plus-90 (in efficiency) for a reason,” James said.

If Granger returns and starts, Lance Stephenson would be the one to play off the bench. Granger said he is close to putting Vogel in a position to make a decision.

“By all means I could physically play, easily,” Granger said. “But like I said, it’s more of a rhythm thing. When you’re playing at those types of speeds you have to do it for a while to get used to it again.”

Granger said he’s played five-on-five the past two days. He said his shot hasn’t been compromised.

“The shot’s always there, it’s just getting your legs into the shot,” he said. “That’s where the conditioning comes in.

“There’s a big difference between shooting and running up and down the court four times and then shooting the jump shot. That’s what you have to condition your body for.”


VIDEO: Pacers coach Frank Vogel addresses Danny Granger’s delayed return

***

No. 3: Report: Grizz looking to deal Randolph — Memphis has struggled to find a rhythm all season, it seems, and at 10-11 finds itself clearly out of the playoff picture in the West. While the Grizz are hoping things will turn around once Marc Gasol returns from injury, talk is heating up in some sense regarding Gasol’s frontcourt partner in crime: Zach Randolph. According to Jared Zwerling of BleacherReport.com, Z-Bo’s name is being mentioned in a deal with the New Orleans Pelicans:

Several sources said the Grizzlies are currently shopping power forward Zach Randolph, and two of them are hearing there’s a destination and main trade piece involved: New Orleans and stretch-4 Ryan Anderson, who’s averaging a team-high 21.7 points per game on 47.7 percent shooting from three-point range.

“A trade centered around Randolph and Anderson should happen down the line this season,” one source said.

Randolph wants to stay put; he told ESPN.com last month that he would “like to retire (in Memphis).” In fact, he’s so committed to the city that on Wednesday the NBA presented him with the November Kia Community Assist Award in recognition of his charitable efforts and contributions in the community.

But Randolph is 32—seven years older than Anderson—and the Grizzlies likely don’t want to pick up his expensive $16.9 million player option for 2014-15. They’re a capped-out team that sees promise in younger power forward Ed Davis, who’s a restricted free agent.

Through 21 games, the 10-11 Grizzlies are one of the worst scoring teams and are dead-last in three-pointers made (97). Anderson is leading the league in that category per game (3.7), 0.3 more than each of the Splash Brothers, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

Because of Randolph’s $18.2 million current salary, the Pelicans’ incoming aggregate salaries would have to be within $5 million of the aggregate outgoing salaries going to the Grizzlies. Therefore, in addition to Anderson ($8.3 million), the Pelicans could consider including Al-Farouq Aminu ($3.7 million) and Austin Rivers ($2.3 million) in the deal. According to two sources, Rivers is unhappy with his playing time and would be open to a trade.

Rivers is only 21, and has been buried this season at the 2 position behind Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans and Anthony Morrow. Sometimes a kid as talented as Rivers simply needs more reps.Speaking of Gordon, a source believes he will be traded this season in a move to wipe off the maximum deal he signed with the Phoenix Suns in 2012 (through 2016 with a player option), and to make Evans, who signed a long-term deal with the Pelicans this past summer, the starting shooting guard.

Update: On Thursday, another source commented on a potential Randolph-Anderson trade: “New Orleans is not sure if they want to pull the trigger. They are playing OK without Davis, so I don’t think they want to pull the trigger until they can see what they have at full strength.”

***

No. 4: Lakers’ Gasol blames D’Antoni’s system for struggles — Lakers forward Pau Gasol, an unrestricted free agent this summer, told our own Scott Howard-Cooper that he is more or less open to leaving L.A. this offseason. Gasol even seemed to warm up to the idea of returning to where his NBA career started, Memphis, to play alongside his brother Marc. The reason for Gasol’s desire to get out of L.A. can probably be directly traced to what he had to say after yesterday’s practice to Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times. Essentially, the long-standing lack of chemistry between Gasol and coach Mike D’Antoni — a topic that is apparently not broached between the two men — seems to be what’s pushing Gasol out of L.A.:

In one corner of the Lakers’ practice gym stood Pau Gasol, his constant smile pulled tight.

“The fact that I’m not getting the ball in the post affects directly my aggressiveness,” he said. “When I’m not getting the ball where I want to, where I’m most effective, where I can bang guys and utilize my skill, that affects my aggressiveness and overall intensity.”

About 30 feet away stood Mike D’Antoni, his constant smile disappearing.

“I can’t lie to him… Our numbers tell us the worst thing we do is post up,” he said.

Once the most embraced Laker, Gasol has become the most scorned. His reluctant offense and dissolvable defense have elicited a dark rumble from Staples Center fans every time he goes near the ball. He is shooting a career-low 42%, five opposing big men have already run over him to equal or top their career best in points, and everyone has been wondering when Pau Gasol is going to fight back.

On Thursday, in his own kindly way, he finally did.

In an interview before the team left to board a plane for Friday night’s game in Oklahoma City, Gasol made clear what he usually only intimates. He said he believes his poor play is a result of his poor usage in D’Antoni’s system. He said he has come to the conclusion that he just doesn’t fit.

“This year hasn’t been ideal, certain things are not ideal for me, but that’s not going to change any time soon,” he said.

So why hasn’t it been ideal?

“What do you think?” he said. “I’m not going to say anything, but it’s easy to see. You see a guy with a certain skill set, where does it fit better, where it doesn’t.”

When asked about D’Antoni’s sometimes pointed criticism of his toughness, Gasol shrugged.

“I don’t pay attention. Mike is sometimes all over the place, I don’t give much credit to things like that,” he said.

When asked if D’Antoni has ever discussed this criticism with him directly, for the first time in the interview, Gasol sounded irked.

“Nope, zero. Nope, zero,” he said. “Like I said, it’s not ideal, but it is what it is.”

A few minutes later, in another part of the emptying gym, D’Antoni offered his own shrug and acknowledged he has never discussed his criticisms directly with Gasol.

“We know how he has to be,” D’Antoni said. “We talk, but he has to produce. He knows how to play, he knows what he has to do.”

He’s been beaten up here mentally, having been both traded and benched in the last three seasons. He’s also not aging ideally, with Kobe Bryant acknowledging Thursday that he counseled Gasol to consider adding to his game by losing some pounds.

“I told him I thought the thing that really helped me out, I dropped some weight,” Bryant said. “I told him he should probably measure it himself, see if that’s something he needs to do himself. As we get older, our metabolism slows, we quietly become a little heavy.”

To the human condition, add the D’Antoni condition, in which Gasol is being asked to play a system that really doesn’t suit him. It is perhaps an equation for the sort of tentativeness, even listlessness, that Gasol has shown even in the biggest of moments.

“Pau is a great guy, a great player, but the focus has gone away from him a little bit in the last few years,” D’Antoni said. “After a while it gets frustrating, you lose your confidence, you get a little nicked up here and there, you don’t battle through it, it’s tough.”

D’Antoni said he is confident Gasol will find himself. Gasol doesn’t seem so sure. He said he would never ask to leave a place that has mostly loved him during seven seasons and two championships, but, seriously, once they trade you once, can you ever feel settled again?

“I love being here, I love my teammates, I love the city … but [a trade] is a possibility,” Gasol said.

***

 

No. 5: Lawson should play tonight vs. Utah — Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson has been out of Denver’s lineup since Dec. 6, which is when he strained his left hamstring while playing against the Boston Celtics. Lawson has slowly been ramping up his participation in practice over the last week and seems to be ready for his return to the lineup against the Utah Jazz tonight, writes Aaron J. Lopez of Nuggets.com:

Seeking an accurate report on the health of his starting point guard, Nuggets coach Brian Shaw issued a mandate for anyone defending Ty Lawson in practice Thursday.

Attack him and see what happens.

“I told the guys, ‘Don’t baby him. Go at him. That will let us know if he’s ready to play or not,’ ” Shaw said. “They did. They challenged him. He stepped up to it and I think proved to himself in his mind, he can make the stops and goes and things he needs to do.”

Barring any setback, Shaw expects to have Lawson back in the lineup when the Nuggets open a four-game homestand Friday night against the Utah Jazz.

“It felt good,” Lawson said after practice. “I’ll see if it gets sore tonight or (Friday) and make a decision.”

Lawson, who leads Denver in scoring and assists, has missed two straight games and wants to ensure he does not aggravate the injury by returning too soon.

“I felt something I had never felt before in my hamstring,” Lawson said. “I wanted to give it two or three days, try to practice once and then see what’s going on.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Clippers forward Jared Dudley says if it were up to him, he’d bench himselfThe Detroit News has a great look back on the longest game in NBA history … New Raptors forward Patrick Patterson found out he was dealt to Toronto from Sacramento as he was going to the movies with his momKevin Durant has opened a restaurant in the Bricktown area of Oklahoma City …

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: Back when Deron Williams and Chris Paul were on the Jazz and Hornets, respectively, they provided some of the best point guard showdowns in the NBA. They were up to their old tricks last night …


VIDEO: Deron Williams crosses up Chris Paul on his way to the basket


VIDEO: Chris Paul uses the crossover to free himself up from Deron Williams’ defense

Hickson’s Flexibility Vital To Hot Nuggets


VIDEO: J.J. Hickson finishes off the Randy Foye lob with force

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The NBA hands out end-of-year awards for just about everything, so why not an MAP award?

Most Adaptable Player.

If such an honor existed, the Denver Nuggets’ 6-foot-9 starting center J.J. Hickson would (again) be a leading candidate. While undersized for the position, he played it all last season for the Portland Trail Blazers and had a breakout year offensively, averaging a double-double (12.7 ppg and 10.4 rpg).

A free agent in the offseason, he signed with Denver where the talented-but yet-to-put-it-all-together 7-footer JaVale McGee was hyped as the starting center and 7-foot-1 free-agent Timofey Mozgov re-signed, too. That meant the bruising, 242-pound Hickson could return to his more natural position of power forward, albeit behind entrenched starter Kenneth Faried, and get back to battling guys more his size.

Here’s what Hickson told me back in February about playing center for the Blazers and what it meant for his impending free agency:

“The NBA world knows what my true position is and they know I’m sacrificing for my team, and I think that helps us even more knowing that I’m willing to play the ‘5’ to help us get wins.”

In July, Hickson, 25, signed a three-year, $16.1 million contract with the Nuggets. Five games into the season, McGee went down with a stress fracture to his leg and remains out indefinitely. First-year coach Brian Shaw could have picked Mozgov as the traditional choice to start in Shaw’s inside-first offense. But Shaw chose Hickson.

“Some things never change it feels like,” Hickson said of starting at center again. “History does tend to repeat itself at times. I’m doing whatever it takes to win games and if it means playing center, that’s what I’ll do.”

Hickson said Shaw came to him and simply told him, “You’re starting at center.”

“Ever since that day, I accepted the challenge,” Hickson said.

Since Hickson took over at center, the Nuggets (13-8) have won 12 of 16 games following a rough 1-4 start that had critics of the franchise’s sudden overhaul — specifically the firing of longtime coach George Karl — shouting told-you-so.

Hickson is averaging 10.5 ppg and 8.2 rpg this season. He’s produced five double-doubles in his last 16 games — including an 18-point, 19-rebound effort against Oklahoma City — plus six more games with at least eight rebounds. As the starting center, he’s averaging 12.1 ppg on 51.9 percent shooting and 8.5 rpg in 25.6 mpg.

Without All-Star-caliber point guard Ty Lawson in the lineup the last two games due to a hamstring injury, the Nuggets won both to finish their six-game all-Eastern Conference road swing 4-2. Hickson combined for 21 points on 50 percent shooting and 18 rebounds in the two games while essentially splitting time with Mozgov.

“After every game, every practice I feel we’re jelling more and more and we trust each other more on the court,” Hickson said prior to the trip. “We’re playing together, we’re having fun, we’re learning how to close out games. Just the camaraderie amongst each other is great.”

Initially, Hickson’s signing in Denver seemed curious because it seemed to mean his accepting a bench role behind Faried. But the Nuggets needed additional frontline toughness and Hickson is happy to deliver. He won’t earn votes for the All-Defensive team, but he’s also not the turnstile the advanced stats crowd makes him out to be. Part of it is simply that Hickson is undersized and out of position practically every game.

Until McGee returns, Hickson is likely to continue to start in the middle. And even then, it’s not like McGee was tearing it up before his injury. Shaw saw fit to play McGee just 15.8 mpg as the starter, fewer minutes than even Karl — hardly McGee’s biggest fan — could stand bringing him off the bench.

When McGee eventually does work himself back into the starting lineup, it will at least provide the opportunity for Hickson to return to power forward. Not that he won’t keep fighting to stay in the starting lineup, no matter the position.

“I’d be lying if I said I came here to play backup, but that’s competition,” Hickson said. “That’s still to be determined and we’ll cross that road when we get there.”

Until then, Hickson will just keep adapting.