Posts Tagged ‘Utah Jazz’

Blogtable: Are Jazz playoff-bound?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Thoughts on Knicks? | Jazz playoff-bound? |
Will LaVine or Curry repeat on All-Star Saturday?



VIDEOHayward powers Jazz to 7th straight win

> With Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors back in the lineup, the Jazz are starting to pile up some wins. Is Utah’s four-year playoff drought about to end?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: As Jeff Weigand said in “The Insider,” most certainly. And I’ll go you one better; I think Utah has a decent shot at getting home court in the first round now, with the injuries to the Clippers (Blake Griffin, Austin Rivers) and Memphis (Marc Gasol). The Jazz have a chance to be real good for a good long while.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Utah is good enough to qualify for the playoffs. It all just comes down to the math of nine teams vying for eight spots (with maybe Denver the best of the rest in potentially climbing up). I say yes, the Jazz get in, because part of bouncing back from injuries is getting adjusted again to the roster’s full personnel – though seven in a row suggests a quick re-orientation. Utah ranks high enough both offensively and defensively to justify its spot among the West’s top eight and I think that holds for the next two months.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It will be a good race for the No. 8 spot with the Trail Blazers, but I’ll give the nod to Utah. The Jazz played strong from the All-Star break to the end of last season and now that they’re healthy again are looking like that rising young team again.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I can’t give a solid “yes” because the entire group going for the final spot is built on sand, but you’d have to like the Jazz’s chances. I had Quin Snyder among the contenders for Coach of the Year in my preseason predictions that never, ever go wrong. Watch him start to pick up votes if Utah stays in the postseason mix after all the injuries.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: It should end, and I think it will. They really missed Gobert. That doesn’t mean the Jazz are ideally built or that Utah is ready to pull a first-round surprise, though. I’m still not sold on Utah having a potential superstar among the batch of young players on the team, and you can’t routinely win 50-plus games a year without one (or two). This summer, I’d seriously think about trading Gordon Hayward for the right price.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Yes. The Jazz are 14-7 with both Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert and have a top-three defense since Favors returned from his back injury eight games ago. They look like the team that went 19-10 after the All-Star break last season. Their offense is still going to have some droughts, but Rodney Hood is evolving into a really good player and they can finish a few games over .500 with how well they defend. The Jazz also have an easier remaining schedule than Houston or Portland, and Marc Gasol‘s injury creates some doubt that the Grizzlies (whose schedule gets really tough after the first week in March) can hold on to their spot.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: It’s still a little early for me to be certain that the playoff drought ends for the Jazz this season. There are still things that have to be sorted out by the teams chasing that 8th and final spot. That said, the Jazz certainly have the look of a team ready to give serious chase. Favors and Gobert give them a 1-2 big man punch that could be very valuable down the stretch of this season. They need better point guard play, of course. And maybe they’ll be active at the trade deadline next week and address that issue. But either way, they’re going to be in mix for that playoff spot.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe Blazers, who are the other young team racing for the No. 8 spot, are in their first season together after rebuilding on the fly last summer. The Jazz have been investing in this young core for several years, and that teamwork and cohesion should help as the games become more important – even though Utah must play 17 of its those remaining 31 games on the road.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I know they’re hovering around the No. 8 seed right now, but I don’t think that’s going to continue. To me, Portland has more veteran leadership and is probably better suited to a postseason run. If Dante Exum hadn’t gone down, they might be more firmly in the postseason mix. That said, if they can find an upgrade at point guard at the trade deadline, they might be back in the race.

Rescheduled game throws post-All-Star hurdle at Wizards, Jazz

Imposing some sanity on the schedule was a priority for the NBA again this season, and the league was successful in reducing the number of back-to-back games – and a near-vanishing of the old four-games-in-five-nights grind.

But Mother Nature can be mightier than the agenda at NBA HQ in Manhattan, as the Washington Wizards and Utah Jazz learned Friday the steep schedule price they’ll be paying for the Jan. 23 date that was postponed by the severe winter storm that hammered the East Coast that weekend.

The NBA announced Friday that the Wizards and the Jazz will make up that game on Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. ET at the Verizon Center in Washington. As our own John Schuhmann noted on Twitter, there is serious inconvenience awaiting both teams:

So everybody has to cut short their All-Star break by one day, the Jazz have to haul back three-quarters of the way across the country to Salt Lake City for their back-to-back, while the Wizards face the dreaded three-games-in-three-nights that’s been avoided by the schedule makers for decades.

Still, 82 games means 82 games. Playoff positioning could be impacted. And given the limited availability of open dates for two teams and one multi-purpose arena, the Wizards and the Jazz weren’t working from a position of strength in squeezing in their make-up date.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 30


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clippers completing investigation into Griffin incident | Cavs’ Big Three breaks out | Curry downplays win prediction | How Porzingis became a Knick

No. 1: Clippers completing investigation into Griffin incident After an eventful weeklong road trip, the Clippers returned to Los Angeles last night and beat the Lakers, 105-93. But the story was still Clippers forward Blake Griffin and the injury sustained in an altercation with a Clippers assistant equipment manager. As Ben Bolch writes in the Los Angeles Times, in giving the latest update on the incident, Clippers coach Doc Rivers invoked two former U.S. presidents

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said the team had completed its part of the investigation into an altercation a week ago in Toronto in which Griffin repeatedly punched team assistant equipment manager Matias Testi, leaving Griffin with a broken right hand and Testi with a severely swollen face.

“We’re very satisfied with all the information we have,” Rivers said before the Clippers defeated the Lakers, 105-93, for their ninth consecutive victory in the series. “For us, it’s closed.”

Punishment for Griffin could be announced as soon as early next week, said a person close to the situation not authorized to discuss it publicly. Rivers said the NBA would take the lead in determining disciplinary measures, which could include a suspension and/or a fine.

Griffin is already slated to miss four to six weeks because of his broken hand. Rivers intimated that Griffin would rejoin his teammates on the bench once his punishment was announced but said he was unsure when Testi would return to the locker room.

Rivers said Griffin had expressed remorse in conversations with the coach and his teammates. Griffin also has resumed speaking to Testi, Rivers said, though the coach did not know whether the longtime friends had reached an agreement that would avoid a legal entanglement.

“He feels awful about it and he’s let everyone know that,” Rivers said of Griffin. “That’s all you can do, man. You have to forgive people at some point. I believe that. We built Richard Nixon a library.”

Rivers invoked the name of another controversial U.S. president while discussing whether the use of alcohol precipitated the altercation.

“It depends on what you call ‘alcohol,’” Rivers said. “I feel like Bill Clinton right now. It really does. Did guys have a drink? I’m sure they did. Other than that, I’m going to say, no, alcohol wasn’t involved.”

Rivers said he knew what led to the scuffle but wouldn’t divulge any specifics.

Rivers would not say whether the team intended to require anger management courses for Griffin, who was also involved in an October 2014 incident in which he allegedly grabbed a man at a Las Vegas nightclub after the man had taken pictures of Clippers players with his cellphone. Misdemeanor battery charges were later dropped in the case because of insufficient evidence.

“If that’s what it takes, we’ll do it,” Rivers said of anger management, “but one step at a time right now.”

***

No. 2: Cavs’ Big Three breaks out Thanks to Kyrie Irving‘s knee injury, the Cavs have only had their Big Three of LeBron James, Kevin Love and Irving together for a few weeks this season. Last night against Detroit, in recently appointed coach Tyronn Lue‘s fourth game, the trio finally posted big games at the same time, as each player surpassed 20 points in the Cleveland win. As Dave McMenamin writes for ESPN, it’s the kind of performance the Cavs are hoping to see more of …

Last season, when healthy, that trio was ridiculed as the Big 2 1/2, when Love struggled to find the game he was known for in Minnesota. In the Finals, it became the Big One after Irving joined Love on the injured list. To start this season, it was the Big Two while Irving still recovered from left knee surgery.

And this week, at least by All-Star standards, it became the Big One again; James became the Cavs’ lone representative for next month’s festivities when Irving and Love were left off the East reserves roster despite Cleveland’s No. 1 spot in the conference.

In Friday’s 114-106 win over the Detroit Pistons, however, they gave a glimpse of just how good they can be when they play in harmony. For the first time all season, and only the ninth time since they came to be, each of them scored at least 20 points. Love led the way (29 points on 9-for-19 shooting including 5-for-7 on 3-pointers with 6 rebounds and 3 assists), Irving was right behind him (28 points on 11-for-19, 4 rebounds and 2 assists) and James next (20 points on 7-for-16, 9 rebounds, 8 assists).

While it was their collective effort that helped the Cavs go up by as many as 20 points against a Pistons team that came in 15-7 at home (including an overtime win over Cleveland at the Palace in November), there was individual significance in each of their performances.

For Irving, not only was he exploding offensively after an 8-point outing Wednesday in a win against Phoenix, but he was following coach Tyronn Lue’s instructions while doing so. “I just told Ky, I want him to be aggressive — looking to get his game back, looking to get his legs back,” Lue said before the game. “I want him to be aggressive scoring the ball. I don’t care about his misses or mistakes.”

Before the Phoenix Suns game on Thursday, Lue talked about how efficient the Cavs have become from deep because of their passing (a no-pass shot resulted in 27 percent accuracy, one pass was 32 percent, two passes were 40 percent and then three passes or more, a whopping 52 percent from 3). Irving bristled when asked about the stat after the Phoenix game, perhaps feeling the question was slighting his one-on-one ability. He said his teammates were talented enough to score, no matter how many passes preceded their attempt. It turns out Lue gave special dispensation to Irving. Yes, if there’s an open man, find him. But right now, Lue isn’t counting Irving’s passes or assist totals. The fact that Irving dropped only two dimes in Detroit was OK because his coach’s priority for him right now is simply to push the pace and find the rhythm that will allow him to become dominant again.

For Love, it was the classic statement game you see from a guy who feels as if he has been snubbed from the All-Star Game. While it’s hard to argue that Andre Drummond isn’t deserving of his reserve spot, Love had the better game; Drummond finished with 20 points and eight rebounds in the loss. It was also Love’s best offensive performance since Irving’s return from injury, and it felt like a long time coming.

“We’ll continue to use Kevin the right way, continue to try to get him to his comfort spots and comfort zones,” Lue said. “I think it’ll be good.”

***

No. 3: Curry downplays win prediction Stephen Curry is an avowed fan of the Carolina Panthers, which means next weekend he’s got two big games on his calendar: Super Bowl 50, and of course the Warriors/Thunder matchup. And while Curry has generally preferred to let his play on the court do the talking for him, it was a little surprising when he recently predicted wins that weekend for both the Warriors and the Panthers. After word got back to the Thunder, as Diamond Leung writes, Curry said he was just having fun …

Stephen Curry indicated he was merely having fun when speaking of the Carolina Panthers winning the upcoming Super Bowl and the Warriors also being victorious the night before the football game.

The Warriors’ home game Feb. 6 happens to come against the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team considered to be one of the roadblocks on their path toward repeating as NBA champions.

“It’ll be a good 48 hours — a win and a win,” Curry said Thursday, laughing.

Curry spoke in San Francisco at the announcement of the Warriors’ new arena being named Chase Center, replying to the emcee who noted the reigning MVP had “kind of a big game on Saturday” before he is expected to attend the Super Bowl at Levi’s Stadium to watch his hometown Panthers.

Asked about the comment, Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook gave lengthy stares and one-time MVP Kevin Durant told reporters, “What else is he supposed to say?” before smiling and declining further comment.

“It’s more comical for me because any comments you make are going to get amplified and what have you, so it is what it is,” Curry said of the comment being blown up. “People who know me and know what I’m about know that I’m not the guy out there talking a big game. It’s more what I do on the floor.

“Obviously we want to get a win on Saturday, and obviously I want the (Panthers) to win on Sunday,” Curry said, referring to the Oklahoma City game. “If that means whatever, I’m comfortable with that because I’m going to go out and play hard that night and try to get a win against a good OKC team when that comes around. It’s a different experience (with the comment being blown up) but a learning experience for sure.”

Curry’s comments last week before the Warriors’ game against the Cleveland Cavaliers also raised eyebrows.

“Obviously, walking in the locker room, it’ll be good memories,” Curry said. “Hopefully, it still smells a little bit like champagne.”

Curry later explained he was being sarcastic.

“I’m never going to try to guard what I say,” Curry said. “I just be myself. I respect every single player in this league, every single team in this league, and that’ll never change. A lot of good comes from that quick-trigger reporting where one comment whether it’s sarcastic or trying to be funny or what have you gets blown up, but you’ve got to take the good with the bad.”

***

No. 4: How Porzingis became a Knick In retrospect, it seems like the New York Knicks selecting Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth pick in the 2015 NBA Draft was a no-brainer. But as Adrian Wojnarowski writes in an entertaining story for Yahoo, it nearly didn’t happen, for multiple reasons …

Three days before the 2015 NBA Draft, and Kristaps Porzingis feared everything slipping away. He wanted New York, the Knicks, the Garden. Still, Porzingis needed the Knicks to want him, too. And now, 20 minutes into his private workout for Phil Jackson at the franchise’s suburban practice facility, his quad tightened and his movement stopped. Porzingis bent over, dread washing over him.

“There was most definitely a lot of fear,” Porzingis told The Vertical. “So, so frustrating. This was where I wanted to be – New York. It was my last workout before the draft, and now, this happens.

“As I walked off the court, I was thinking to myself, ‘They’re not going to take me. I didn’t do anything in the workout. They’re not going to take me fourth.’ ”

All around Porzingis, Knicks officials gathered. Immediately, they agreed to end the workout. No need to risk injury, no need to push further. The Knicks had Porzingis dunking medicine balls and shooting and running the floor. For Jackson, this was only his second time watching Porzingis live.

Across the Knicks’ practice gym, Porzingis’ agent, Andy Miller, and Kristaps’ older brother and co-agent, Janis Porzingis, stood on the sidelines. Miller remained unsure of the franchise’s intentions with his client, but had increasingly believed that only the courage to withstand the predictable public outcry of choosing a pasty, 7-foot-3 Latvian teenager in the cynical New York market would stop the Knicks from choosing him.

Hours later, Porzingis sat at dinner with the Knicks elders. Jackson and general manager Steve Mills were probing Porzingis, trying to measure his sense of purpose and maturity to withstand what they believed could be a long learning curve in a most cruel and unforgiving market.

Porzingis was perfect in these settings: engaging and enlightened. They talked and talked about everything but the game, and, finally, Jackson brought it up.

“What do you know about basketball?”

Porzingis hesitated for a moment, stunned, searching for the words. He repeated the question in his mind. What do I know about basketball?

Finally, Porzingis answered: “What do you want me to know about basketball?”

“Do you know defense?” Jackson asked.

“I know defense,” Porzingis said.

And so they talked about some principles of defense and some offense, and looking back Porzingis laughs now. “Phil Jackson is always two steps ahead of you,” he said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Karl Malone called a pizza shopMichael Kidd-Gilchrist returned for the Hornets in a loss last night … Miami Heat big man Chris Bosh wants to compete in the three-point contest at All-Star Weekend … Kristaps Porzingis has to decide what his summer holds … The Staples Center has plans for many more statuesAdam Silver excels at shaking hands

Jazz primed to surge behind Gobert


VIDEO: Rudy Gobert talks after his first start following his injury

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

Rudy Gobert is back on the court for the Utah Jazz, and for a team with playoff aspirations, his return is a godsend.

After a Grade 2 MCL sprain in Gobert’s left knee sidelined him for 18 games, he made his return on Jan. 7 – a 103-94 loss to the Houston Rockets in which he played 15 minutes. In two games since (both wins), Gobert averaged 9.5 points, 5.0 and 3.5 blocks in 58 total minutes.

All told, the Jazz are 7-13 when “The Stifle Tower” doesn’t play and 10-7 when he does. He’s a huge part of Utah’s identity, particularly on defense.

Utah’s opponents are scoring 106.8 points per 100 possessions this season when Gobert is on the bench. But when he’s patrolling the paint, that mark dips to 103 points per 100 possessions.

Although he doesn’t qualify for the leaderboard due to time missed, Gobert ranks second in the league among all players with 2.6 blocks per game – behind only the Miami Heat’s Hassan Whiteside.

Gobert uses his 7-foot-1 frame, lengthy wingspan and 9-foot-7 standing reach to not only to block shots, but also to alter many high-percentage shots close to the rim. According to NBA.com, Gobert holds opponents to an unfathomably low 37 percent shooting at the rim. That mark is significantly more impressive than those of defensive-minded big men like Andrew Bogut (41.6 percent), Anthony Davis (43.5 percent) and DeAndre Jordan (45.3 percent).

And yet, oddly enough, Gobert has had an even greater influence offense.

Utah scores nearly seven additional points per 100 possessions when Gobert is in the lineup, a striking stat considering his limited offensive skills (virtually all of Gobert’s shot attempts come from within the restricted area).

To be fair, backup Jeff Withey performed admirably in Gobert’s absence. Even in the midst of Gobert’s return, Withey is averaging 8.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks through six January games. But Gobert finished fifth in Kia Defensive Player of the Year voting last season despite starting only 37 games. He remains the best defensive option for Utah when healthy.

If that “when healthy” qualifier proves inconsequential the rest of the season, Utah should end its three season-long (and counting) playoff absence.

Following his return, Gobert said, “I jumped higher than I was jumping before the injury. I feel great,” per Jody Genessy of the Deseret News.

After weathering the storm brought on by Gobert’s absence, Utah is in position to get hot heading into the All-Star break.

Note: All stats used in this article are accurate as of Jan. 11, prior to games played.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA Players, NBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 10


VIDEO: The Fast Break: January 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

A kinder, gentler Bryant? | Lopez doesn’t regret sticking with Brooklyn | Stevens rejoins Celtics | NBA’s Australians looking forward to Rio

No. 1: A kinder, gentler Bryant? For the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant‘s farewell tour has become the focus of their season. Which may be a good thing, since the Lakers otherwise haven’t been very good, compiling an 8-30 record thus far. Yet despite all the losses, Kobe seems to be enjoying himself as he plays out the string, and the Los Angeles Times‘ Mike Bresnahan writes, has Kobe’s legendary burning desire to win faded a bit in this his final NBA season?

It was bad to be a trash can if Kobe Bryant was mad.

This was years ago, back when there were championship expectations, but Bryant booted one clear across the Lakers’ locker room at Madison Square Garden after a rough loss.

It was also sometimes bad to be toilet paper, apparently. Bryant angrily called his teammates “soft like Charmin” during a rant at practice in which he didn’t feel challenged. This was a little over a year ago.

The smoldering Bryant is now replaced by a smiling one, even as the Lakers (8-30) pinwheel toward the worst season in their 68-year history.

They played well Friday but lost a tight one to Oklahoma City. The new, lighthearted Bryant showed up again in the interview room, just like the previous night after a close loss in Sacramento.

The losses don’t seem as devastating to him.

“I just hide it a lot better,” he said Friday.

***

No. 2: Lopez doesn’t regret sticking with Brooklyn Last summer, Brooklyn center Brook Lopez was one of the most talented big men available in free agency. He eventually re-upped with the Nets, and though the team has struggled this season, Lopez has been a bright spot, averaging 19.8 points to go with 7.8 rebounds. The Nets may face an uncertain future, but as Andy Vasquez writes for the Bergen Record, Lopez says he has no regrets about re-signing with the Nets…

The Nets are in the midst of another disappointing season, certainly far from what Lopez envisioned when he re-signed. But the 27-year-old doesn’t regret his decision.

“No, no, no. I’m happy to be here,” Lopez said Thursday at the team’s practice facility.

“Time and time again I’ve said I wanted to see something built here, I see a special opportunity, a great situation to be in.”

The current situation isn’t exactly a bright one. Brooklyn just lost starting point guard Jarrett Jack for the season with a torn ACL.

Rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who showed promise, is at least another month from returning from a broken ankle that has sidelined him since early December.

While the Nets aren’t mathematically eliminated from the NBA playoffs — it’s not even halfway through the season — they may as well be.

Brooklyn is closer (seven games ahead) in the standings to the awful Sixers than to the final playoff spot in the East (nine games behind).

The Nets don’t have control of their first round draft pick until 2019 thanks to the 2013 trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

So the franchise’s best chance is to hope free agents agree with Lopez about there being a special opportunity in Brooklyn.

Despite all the doom and gloom, the Nets do have some things going for them.

They should have about $40 million in cap space next summer, enough to offer two max salaries to free agents.

Barclays Center is still the league’s newest arena and the team’s state-of-the art Brooklyn practice facility opens next month. And then there’s the lure of the nation’s largest media market.

“The opportunity to play in New York, first and foremost,” Lopez said, when asked how he’d pitch the Nets. “The facilities we have. I think, for me, it’s all about potential.”

That potential starts with Lopez and Thaddeus Young, 27, two nice players with several prime years remaining in their careers. Both are having seasons worthy of All-Star consideration.

Meanwhile, Hollis-Jefferson was better than expected when he played. And the Nets have an intriguing young prospect in Chris McCullough, who has spent the season rehabbing a torn ACL he suffered at Syracuse a year ago.

Add the right pieces and the Nets could be a good team next season. And Lopez said that matters more than anything.

“At the end of the day, it’s about winning, regardless of where you are,” Lopez said.

“Whether we’re luring free agents or want people to stay or whatever it is, you’ve got to be able to show them that there’s opportunities here for that. We have to have the right product on the court.”

***

No. 3: Stevens rejoins Celtics Before joining the Boston Celtics, coach Brad Stevens led Butler University to several memorable NCAA Tournament appearances. And with his former Butler player Andrew Smith in the hospital battling cancer, Stevens recently missed a Celtics game in order to spend time with Smith. Stevens rejoined the Celtics on Saturday and, as the Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn writes, says the last few days helped put things into perspective…

Celtics coach Brad Stevens returned to the team Saturday, conducting a rather important practice at the University of Memphis in his quest to end the team’s recent doldrums.

He returned from his trip to Indiana with a heavy heart. He acknowledged visiting former player Andrew Smith, who has been suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but wouldn’t offer specifics on his condition, only to say he felt compelled to visit him immediately.

Stevens left the club in Chicago on Thursday afternoon, missing the team’s 101-92 loss to the Bulls.

“It’s very tough, not as tough on me as it is certain on [Smith and his family], but certainly emotionally, very challenging,” Stevens said following practice at the Larry Finch Center. “It certainly puts things in a lot of perspective. The conditions [of Smith] were worsening. I’ll let [his family] talk about his condition. I’m glad that I went.”

Stevens returns to a team that has lost four of five games and fallen out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference.

The Celtics have been abysmal shooting from the field in their past two losses — 36.5 percent from the field, 25.5 percent from the 3-point line — and are playing with wavering confidence.

“We could have controlled things to give ourselves a little bit better chance,” Stevens said of the Chicago loss. “I told [the players] this today. We’ve got to get better in a lot of areas. But we usually play hard.

“Sometimes we play a little haphazard but we usually play hard, so we need to bottle that up and play a little more controlled at times.”

Isaiah Thomas, who has made just 11 of 37 shots in the last two games, took full responsibility for the Bulls loss, saying his poor body language and frustrations spilled over to his teammates. Stevens didn’t fully agree.

“I think it says a lot about him from an accountability standpoint,” Stevens said of Thomas. “And at the same time, that’s an overreaction too, because we don’t feel that way. He’s going to have his moments. Other guys are going to have their moments. Other guys are going to have bad moments. We just all have to be in this thing together. We need to improve.”

***

No. 4: NBA’s Australians looking forward to Rio — The NBA has become a global league, followed worldwide and played by athletes from all corners of the earth. Australia, in particular, has become a hotbed of hoops, with its own popular domestic league and several NBA players who originated Down Under. As Roy Ward writes in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australians in the NBA are looking forward to trying to find Olympic glory this summer in Rio…

The 82-game NBA season engulfs the lives of all players and Australia’s basketballers are not immune from this.

But on planes, buses or in down time, the country’s leading players admit their thoughts turn to the Rio Olympics and the glass ceiling that sits in front of a first men’s Olympic medal.

Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova, Cameron Bairstow, Aron Baynes and Joe Ingles are all in thick of the action this season while Dante Exum continues to rehabilitate his reconstructed knee.

In Europe, in US college basketball and in the NBL sit the rest of the Boomers aspirants with the final 12-man squad not due to be announced until later in the year.

Since the team qualified for Rio in August last year, they have made public their goal to win the gold medal in Brazil despite Team USA’s long-running dominance in the men’s competition.

What adds credence to the Boomers’ brave stance is Bogut, Mills, Dellavedova and Bairstow are playing on NBA championship contenders while Bogut, Mills and Baynes have won NBA championship rings since 2014.

“There is a lot going on here but while it’s not the every day to day focus it’s always in your mind that it’s coming up and that all the boys are playing well, not just in the NBA but in Europe and the NBL,” Dellavedova said.

“We are all very excited and keep in regular touch through group message, we are going to catch up at All-Star break.

“We are all very excited, focused and committed to trying to do something really special at Rio and we realise the time is now for that.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Atlanta Hawks got a career night from Al Horford last night in a convincing win over the Bulls … Some changes may be in store for the D-League Showcase … Chicago is hoping to get Joakim Noah back from injury this weekRobin Lopez is starting to focus on his offensive post playIsaiah Canaan pays attention to advanced stats … Powerball fever may have been sweeping the nation the last few days, but don’t expect Dirk Nowitzki to get excited about it …

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 29


VIDEO: The Fast Break: Dec. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jordan pays tribute to Kobe | Cavs right ship with team meeting | Spurs find ways to win | Report: Burks opts for surgery

No. 1: Jordan pays tribute to Kobe Kobe Bryant is in his 20th season as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, so its easy to forget that Bryant was actually drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, and later traded to the Lakers. Bryant returned to Charlotte last night on his farewell tour for his final game in the Queen City, and while Hornets owner Michael Jordan couldn’t make it in person, the Hornets welcomed Kobe with a video message from Jordan before the game. As ESPN’s Baxter Holmes writes, Kobe appreciated the tribute…

Bryant said he spoke with Jordan on Sunday and knew the video would be shown.

“It was awesome. It was awesome,” Bryant said. “He and I — as he said in the video — we talk pretty often. But it was pretty funny to see some of the reactions of my teammates. I was sitting next to Julius Randle before the game. He was like, ‘Yo, that’s amazing!’ I was like, ‘What?’ [He said] ‘That was Michael Jordan!'”

Bryant added, “We talk fairly often. I know he’s enjoying a little vacation time. I told him I was a little jealous. He said, ‘You’ll be here soon enough.'”

While Jordan transitioned into an ownership role for an NBA team, Bryant said he doesn’t expect to follow the same path.

“No, he and I differ entirely when it comes to that,” Bryant said. “He’s a mathematician. He loves math. He loves numbers, loves dealing with numbers. I don’t. I could care less. I suck at math. So from that perspective, I’m not going to be looking at cap numbers and all that other stuff. I just have no interest in it.”

Bryant again was warmly received by a road crowd that chanted his name at numerous points throughout the game, including when the buzzer sounded.

“It’s been like that every city, fortunately,” he said. “Here it’s a little bit different because this is the city that drafted me, so my journey started here. As brief as it was, it still started here. That has a little more value to it.”

But perhaps no stop means as much — or carries as much personal history for Bryant and his team — as the stop Wednesday, when Bryant will play his final game in Boston against the archrival Celtics, a team Bryant faced twice in the Finals. The Lakers lost in 2008, then won in 2010.

“Love-hate fest sort of thing,” he said of what he is expecting from the crowd. “I’m bringing my family down because my kids have never even been to Boston. They’ve never even been to Boston. I’m looking forward to them getting a chance to see the city a little bit and then just experience the green. It’s just a different green. I want them to be able to see that.”

Bryant also said he misses playing the villain, which meant being booed at road arenas.

“Yeah. It was just so natural to me for so many years,” he said. “It became something that just felt comfortable. It felt a little awkward at first, to be honest with you, to get this praise, but I’m glad they didn’t do this many, many years ago because it’s like kryptonite. It would’ve taken away all my energy and all my strength because I relied a lot on being the villain. Sometimes, the best way to beat the villain is to give them a hug.”


VIDEO: Jordan Honors Kobe

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Utah’s Burks out with leg fracture

VIDEO: Alec Burks had a thunderous dunk Saturday. 

Oh, for those happier days when Utah fans wondered how well a healthy Alec Burks might fit in with a Jazz team that fared better without him last season.

Those happier days were based on Burks’ injury-shortened 2014-15 season, limited to just 27 games before he underwent shoulder surgery. To that point, Utah had gone 9-18 but with Burks recovering and rehabbing the Jazz picked up their pace, finishing at a 29-26 clip.

Having the skilled 6-foot-6 wing player available was looking like one of those “problems” most teams would welcome. Burks seemed to have found a home coming off Utah’s bench, averaging 19.0 points and a team-high 15.4 field-goal attempts on a per-36 minutes basis.

And when coach Quin Snyder did start Burks, he drew genuine praise from no less than OKC All-Star Kevin Durant, who saw the value Burks brought two weeks ago against the Thunder in a three-wing alignment to cope with him and Russell Westbrook. “This was like a playoff type of game because this team, they made adjustments,” Durant said. “They started Alec Burks tonight instead of [Raul] Neto. They made the proper adjustments. They have a really, really good coach and they play hard.”

All that came crashing down Saturday, though, when Burks – who earlier in the game against the L.A. Clippers threw down a highlight-worthy dunk – fell to the floor after being fouled on a shot attempt late in the second quarter. An MRI exam revealed a fractured left fibula that will sideline Burks indefinitely, with estimates of about six weeks. He joins guard Dante Exum and center Rudy Gobert among key Jazz players lost to injuries for some or all of 2015-16.

 

Blogtable: What will Warriors’ record be after this long road trip?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: George, Leonard, Butler or Green — who has developed most? |
How will Warriors fare on their road trip? | East hierarchy after December?



VIDEOStephen Curry talks about returning home to play the Hornets

> What will the Warriors’ record be when they return to Oracle Arena on Dec. 16? If you have them down for losses, tell us who they’re losing to and why. If they will still be perfect, explain why.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Golden State will be 24-1 by the time it gets back home. I see two possible land-mine games on its schedule: Dec. 8 at Indiana and Dec. 12 at Milwaukee. The former pits the Warriors against a Pacers team playing a variation of the Golden State game, in a building that can be tough, with its own Kia MVP candidate (Paul George) at the peak of his powers. The latter is the tail end of a back-to-back that starts in Boston, at the end of the Warriors’ long trip. The Bucks beat Cleveland at home last month and have the ability, under coach Jason Kidd, to get riled up on special occasions. (It’s the day-to-day that has been Milwaukee’s problem.) The Warriors might be thinking about getting home by then, too, although now that I type that, their focus on finishing the trip strong probably will be the thing that gets them past the Bucks.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: 24-1. Somebody’s got to beat them and a 7-0 road trip is just asking too much. I’m picking Indiana as the place the unbeaten season ends. Dee-fense!

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: 24-1 after losing to the Pacers to break the streak, the only way a 6-1 trip can be disappointing. The Raptors on Saturday would be another strong possibility, but the Warriors will be playing for the second time in five days, compared to the third time in four days for the Raptors. So much for home-court advantage. Why the Pacers? Because they’re good, Golden State will be five games into the trip, and I’m positive the Warriors will lose at some point this season. Or at least pretty sure.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: It ends Saturday in Toronto. Just a gut feeling more than anything. Raptors will bring players that can score in bunches, which is the only way to beat the Warriors. And explain this to me, schedule-makers — why is it that the Warriors and Spurs don’t meet until 2025?

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: 24-1. This is a tough trip, which has already given them one scare. They’re playing five good teams (Utah, Charlotte, Toronto, Indiana and Boston), and the other two games are the second night of a back-to-back. They’ve had some close calls already and Harrison Barnes‘ injury hurts. So my guess is that they pick up a loss in Indiana, and I would have added a loss in Toronto if Jonas Valanciunas wasn’t out.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: As much I love a good historical chase, I’ll be stunned if the Warriors make it home without at least one loss. This road swing they are on right now is treacherous, even for a team that has been playing in another galaxy this season. The Raptors and Pacers will give them fits. And if they don’t fall in Toronto Saturday, the Pacers will catch a fatigued crew at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Dec. 8 and put that first blemish on the Warriors’ record. As spectacular as they have played thus far, sooner or later the schedule will catch up to them.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: They’re going to be 24-1. There will be no shame in their upcoming loss at Indiana. I’m not saying the Pacers are the better team. But the Warriors will be five games into a seven-game trip, and in Paul George and George Hill the hot Pacers will have defenders capable of getting into the Warriors shooters. Now, do I feel confident in this prediction? Not really.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHere’s the thing: The games I would be most worried about them losing are the second halves of back-to-back matchups, when they don’t have a night off coming into the game and would be more tired than they would otherwise. On this road trip they have two back-to-backs, and their opponents on those nights are: the Nets (5-13) and the Bucks (7-11)! So, not exactly the NBA’s elite. So I think they return to “Roarcle” at 25-0, and that much closer to 33 wins.

Blogtable: What was Kobe’s defining moment?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Kobe’s place in Top 5 Lakers hierarchy? | What will Kobe’s legacy be? | What was Kobe’s defining moment? | Do you see coaching in Kobe’s future?



VIDEORelive Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game in 3 minutes

> What was Kobe Bryant’s defining moment?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comHe’ll probably get some love here for the championship teams he led in 2009 and 2010 without Shaquille O’Neal sharing the load. Someone might mention his MVP year or even a season in which he arguably should have won it. But to me, it’s the audacity, the brashness and the irrepressibility of his 81 points against Toronto on Jan. 22, 2006. Bryant “went” where only the great Wilt Chamberlain ever had gone, as far as points in a single game, surpassing anything his role model Michael Jordan had done. Bryant might prefer the rings, partly because they’re more politically correct as personal achievements in a team sport, but let’s face it: he was a scorer and only one guy on one night ever did that bigger – and maybe not even better, in shot selection or highlight plays – than Kobe.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comGame 5 of the Western Conference semifinal playoff series against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City in 1997. Kobe the rookie fired up airball after airball after airball in the fourth quarter and overtime as the Lakers were eliminated.  And the 18-year-old simply didn’t give a damn and kept right on shooting. That’s who Kobe has been for 20 NBA seasons — not always right, but never unsure.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: There are five of them. One on each finger. Choose a hand.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: If we mean a singular moment, then it’s his 81-point game. In terms of moment on a bit grander and more important scale, then I’d say his fifth championship. That gave him one more than Shaq, one less than Jordan.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com The fourth quarter of the 2008 Olympic gold medal game. Shaquille O’Neal was the more important player in the Lakers’ three-peat, Bryant’s fourth title came in a lopsided series, and his fifth came with him shooting 6-for-24 in Game 7 against Boston. The gold medal game in Beijing was a do-or-die situation that the U.S. had worked three years to get to and one of the best games I’ve ever seen. After struggling through the first 7 1/2 games of the tournament, Bryant took over late and lived up to his reputation as the game’s best closer.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: It’s nearly impossible to boil it down to just one. The title and Finals MVP he captured in 2009, his first title sans Shaq, sticks out to me. In order for him to shake the tag of being Shaq’s sidekick on those first three titles, he had to secure his legacy by showing that he could do it without the big fella. Once that was accomplished, he was elevated in the eyes of many. I think it validated all of the things he’d done up to that point and made him the unquestioned best player of his generation.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: He is going to be defined by the Lakers’ Game 7 victory over the Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals. Bryant was injured and shooting poorly and yet he fought to the end, true to his character.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogSo many things come to mind, but when I hear Kobe Bryant, the first thing I think of is Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference finals, with the series on the line, as Kobe drove the lane, pulled up for a jumper and…dished a perfect alley-oop to Shaq. To me, that play perfectly encapsulated just how great Kobe was, as well as how dangerous a duo those two could be, at least when they wanted to be.

Kevin Durant to return tonight for Oklahoma City Thunder


VIDEO: Kevin Durant grabs his left hamstring vs. the Wizards two weeks ago

HANG TIME BIG CITY — After missing the last six games while recuperating from a hamstring injury, Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant is set to return tonight against the Utah Jazz (9 ET, League Pass), according to reports…

The Thunder were 6-3 when Durant strained his left hamstring in a game against his hometown Washington Wizards. Without Durant, the Thunder posted a 3-3 record, as Russell Westbrook averaged 32.7 points, 9.3 assists and 7.7 rebounds per game over that stretch.

Durant was averaging 28.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game when the injury occurred. The added offense will surely be helpful tonight against a stingy Jazz defense, which is ranked second in the NBA in points allowed per game, at 92.4 points per game.