Posts Tagged ‘Utah Jazz’

Morning Shootaround — June 7


VIDEO: Popovich discusses Finals opener, looks toward Game 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs look to get sharper for Game 2 | LeBron knows he’s an easy target | AT&T Center air is working | Utah Jazz hire Quin Snyder | Kings to give Rudy Gay full-court press

No. 1: Spurs look to get sharper for Game 2 — Even though the Spurs ended up winning Game 1 of The Finals by a whopping 15 points, 110-95, there were several facets of their game that could be tightened up in Game 2. And don’t you just know that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is going to be all over the little things?

Right at the top of the list were 23 turnovers, an amount that almost always spells doom against the Heat. Indeed, Thursday’s game marked just the fifth time in 52 games they’ve lost when forcing at least that many since signing LeBron James and Chris Bosh before the start of the 2011-12 season.

“For us, that’s always a bad sign,” said Popovich, even though his team is 12-6 this season when committing 18 or more miscues. “We escaped last night by shooting the ball the way we did, I guess. So if that continues, we’re going to have a big problem.”

Every bit as galling were the wide-open 3-pointers conceded by a defense that allowed the fewest makes from long range in the NBA this season. The Heat still made 12-for-29 beyond the arc, but it could have been far worse had they capitalized on more looks.

In particular, Ray Allen missed three open 3s in the span of two possessions. They were among nearly 30 Miami jumpers classified as open by NBA.com’s player tracking data, the type of breakdowns that gave Popovich the sweats even beyond the sweltering temperature at the AT&T Center.

“I thought they missed some wide, wide open shots that they had, that scare you to death once you watch the film,” Popovich said. “That’s not just blowing smoke or an exaggeration.  There were about seven or eight wide-open threes they had that just didn’t go down.”

The Heat helped mitigate those mistakes by suffering similar breakdowns. In addition to committing 18 turnovers of their own — leading to 27 points for the Spurs, one more than Miami scored on their miscues — they pitched almost no resistance at the 3-point line as the Spurs made 13 of 25 from long range.

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No. 2: LeBron knows he’s an easy target — LeBron James was carried off the court with cramps toward the end of Game 1, and despite suffering from an injury where he couldn’t really move, LeBron was still on the business end of a lot of jokes. In an interview with ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, LeBron said he understands that the criticism goes with the territory.

“For me, all I can control is what I control,” James told Wilbon. “For me, as one of the leaders of our team, one of the biggest competitors of our team, and knowing what it takes to win, for me, I’ll maintain my focus and get ready for Game 2. (There’s) anger in the sense that I wasn’t able to be out there for my teammates to possibly help them win Game 1 of the Finals. But what I can control is what I do to prepare myself mentally going to the next game.”

Heading into the 2011-12 season, James made it a point to start attempting to enjoy his life more, and to do that he stopped consuming as much media. After seeking the advice of Hall of Famers Isiah Thomas and Jerry West, James said that he started to focus on enjoying the process and the journey instead of focusing solely on the end result.

In the three seasons since, James said he has gotten more comfortable and become more immune to attacks.

“I can’t play the game of basketball and live my life on what other people expect me to do or what they think I should do, that doesn’t make me happy,” James said. “What makes me happy is being able to make plays for my teammates, to be able to represent the name on the back of my jersey. That’s what makes me happy. What everybody else thinks? That doesn’t really matter to me.”

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No. 3: AT&T Center air is working — Big news for everyone playing in Game 2, not to mention all the fans and media who will be in attendance: The Spurs say the air conditioning inside the AT&T Center has been fixed and is working! Probably a good idea to go ahead and hydrate, though, just in case.

The Spurs issued a statement during Thursday’s humid, cramp-inducing game that pinned the blame on an electrical problem. Friday morning the Spurs announced the problem — whatever it was — had been fixed.

“The electrical failure that caused the AC system outage during Game 1 of the NBA Finals has been repaired,” Spurs spokesman Carlos Manzanillo said in a written statement released Friday morning

“The AC system has been tested, is fully operational and will continue to be monitored,” Manzanillo continued.

“The upcoming events at the AT&T Center, including the Romeo Santos concert tonight, the Stars game on Saturday night and Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday, will go on as scheduled. We apologize for the conditions in the arena during last night’s game.”

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No. 4: Utah Jazz hire Quin Snyder — As the Jazz continue their rebuilding campaign, they’ve hired a coach working to rebuild his own reputation. Quin Snyder was once the fast track to a career as a college coach, but when that didn’t work out he ended up bouncing around professional basketball and working his way up. Now he will be the eighth head coach in Jazz franchise history.

One ‘n’ in his first name. Two majors and advanced degrees from Duke University. Three Final Four appearances as a point guard with the Blue Devils. Four previous jobs in the NBA, including with the Clippers, Sixers, Lakers and Hawks.

Five on the list of Jazz coaches since the franchise moved to Utah in 1979, following in the footsteps of Tyrone Corbin, Jerry Sloan, Frank Layden and Tom Nissalke.

Six gigs in the past five years, including this new one and stops in Atlanta, Moscow, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Austin, Texas.

And the list of accolades, accomplishments, trivial tidbits, flowing hair references and, yes, questions about his past go on for this former Missouri coach, who will be formally introduced to Utah in a Saturday morning press conference.

“The opportunity to join the Utah Jazz and to be part of such a highly respected franchise with an incredibly bright future is a great honor,” Snyder said via a statement released by Jazz PR. “I approach this opportunity with gratitude and humility and am committed to doing everything I can to help the Jazz become a championship-caliber team.”

If that last phrase sounds familiar, it might be because Snyder had a working relationship with Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey from 2007-10 when they both worked for the San Antonio organization. “Championship-caliber team” is a phrase Lindsey has repeated often since he was hired as the Jazz general manager since leaving his assistant GM position with the Spurs two years ago.

After deciding to not renew Corbin’s contract following the 25-57 rebuilding season of 2013-14, Lindsey and Jazz ownership believe Snyder is the guy who can best help get this franchise back to that level. Not only is he well known for being a bright basketball mind, but he’s also been credited for developing talent and being a motivating leader.

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No. 5: Kings to give Gay full-court press — Sacramento forward Rudy Gay has a few weeks to decide whether he’ll use an opt-out clause that could make him an unrestricted free agent. On the one hand, if he hits free agency he could sign a long-term deal. On the other hand, if he doesn’t opt-out, he will make a reported $19 million next season. Seems like an easy choice, but the Kings intend to make sure Gay stays a King by putting together a high-tech presentation that will include virtual reality glasses.

Hall of Famers Chris Mullin and Mitch Richmond, a former Kings star, are expected to join Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, general manager Pete D’Alessandro and head coach Michael Malone when they meet with Gay.

Gay was originally expected to have the meeting in his offseason home of Memphis, but preferred to have it in Sacramento.

When asked recently about his decision process, Gay told Yahoo Sports: “I’m just taking my time. That’s all.”

If Gay opts into his contract for next season, it could pave the way for future extension talks. During the meetings, the Kings also will have Gay wear a headset with eyewear that will give him a complete virtual digital tour of the inside of the new Kings arena, including the locker room and arena floor. The new Kings arena is expected to open in September 2016.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Donald Sterling still hasn’t signed the papers to complete the sale of the Clippers … Scott Brooks will be back next season in OKC … Before hiring himself as head coach, Flip Sanders tried to hire Jeff Van Gundy in Minnesota … This guy tracks every tattoo in the NBA … 76ers are looking into building a waterfront practice facility in New Jersey … Jabari Parker might be a nice fit in MilwaukeeAlvin Gentry is still in the mix for the Cavs’ coaching gig … But Derek Fisher is not in the mix in Los Angeles

Morning Shootaround — June 3


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses how the Heat and Spurs are preparing for The Finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Knicks plan to talk to Fisher soon | Rondo:  No Celtics ‘pitch’ to Love | Report: Pistons nearing deal to make Bower GM | Report: Jazz to interview Griffin, Snyder again

No. 1: Report: Knicks to talk with Fisher soon; Lakers cooling on him as coach — After Oklahoma City lost in Game 6 of the West finals, Thunder backup point guard Derek Fisher didn’t sound like he was as ready to make the jump into NBA coaching as most thought he’d be. As such, the teams most associated with being interested in him — the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers — backed off a bit to allow him time to decompress after OKC’s loss. The Knicks, according to Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com, remain interested in Fisher and plan to talk with him this week about their opening. Out in L.A., though, interest in the ex-Lakers fan favorite may be cooling, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.

Here’s Stein & Shelburne on the Knicks’ pursuit of Fisher:

Phil Jackson‘s first substantive chat with Derek Fisher about the New York Knicks’ coaching job is scheduled to take place this week, according to sources close to the situation.

Sources told ESPN.com Monday that Jackson is planning to connect with Fisher by week’s end, giving the Oklahoma City Thunder guard some time to decompress after his team was eliminated by San Antonio Saturday night in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals.

One source cautioned that the discussion shouldn’t be classified as a formal interview, given the long and close working relationship between Jackson and Fisher during their two stints together as coach and player with the Los Angeles Lakers. But another source close to the process told ESPN.com that he thinks Fisher will ultimately find the allure of coaching in New York under Jackson too difficult to pass up.

As ESPN.com reported May 19, Jackson essentially put his coaching search on hold to wait to speak to Fisher first after missing out on initial top target Steve Kerr, who spurned the Knicks to coach the Golden State Warriors.

Fisher said Sunday he remains undecided about retirement, but sources say Jackson continues to hold out hope he can persuade the 39-year-old to make the immediate jump to coaching — as Jason Kidd did last season with Brooklyn — after Fisher’s 18 seasons as a player.

“I’m still struggling with the results of [the series],” Fisher told local reporters Sunday. “I haven’t [had] a chance to talk to my wife and kind of step back emotionally from the end of the season. That’s important to do, so that whatever is next, there has to be a separation from the end of the season and what just happened and then I can go from there.”

And here’s Wojnarowski on the Lakers cooling a bit in their pursuit of Fisher:

As the Los Angeles Lakers remain cool on the pursuit of Derek Fisher as a coaching candidate, the New York Knicks continue to cement themselves as the strong frontrunner to hire him, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

So far, the Lakers have expressed an exclusive desire to explore experienced head coaches in their search, and there isn’t yet an indication that team officials plan to seriously consider Fisher for the job, league sources said.

Los Angeles has so far interviewed four coaches about replacing Mike D’AntoniMike Dunleavy, Kurt Rambis, Byron Scott and Lionel Hollins.

Knicks president Phil Jackson has been eager to sell Fisher, 39, on the possibility of Jackson mentoring him as part of a direct move from Fisher’s playing career into the Knicks head coaching job. Fisher is taking a few days to finalize his thoughts on the likely end of his 18-year playing career before fully engaging in talks to become a head coach.


VIDEO: Derek Fisher discusses his playing and coaching future during his OKC exit interview (more…)

Morning Shootaround — May 23



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant takes blame for Game 2 rout | Barkley hopes LeBron lands back in Cleveland | Report: Jazz to interview Gentry | Cavs already getting calls for No. 1 pick | Ibaka confirms he’s out for West finals

No. 1: Durant blames self for OKC’s Game 2 defeat — In a 35-point loss, it’s awful hard to pick out one player or one moment that led to such a landslide defeat. However, Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant was more than willing to shoulder the load for the loss, writes our Jeff Caplan, as Durant pin-pointed a sequence late in the second quarter that helped the San Antonio Spurs pick up momentum right before halftime. (Oh, and if you missed it somehow, the Spurs’ victory marked the 111th playoff win that Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have been a part of, which set a new league record.)

The Thunder had to feel pretty good. Relatively speaking. No, they hadn’t shot it well and the offense remained a combination of two overburdened superstars and haphazard execution.But they had also stemmed another early San Antonio paint party and were getting enough hustle and grit from role players off the bench to survive Kevin Durant sitting out the first 5:42 of the second quarter, darn near a vacation for Mr. Inexhaustible during this postseason.

As the MVP checked back into the game between Tim Duncan free throws, the first tying it 36-36 and the second giving the Spurs back the lead, 37-36, the Thunder did have to like what was happening. They were hanging in, defending well enough that the Spurs, shooting under 40 percent, had to earn their looks.

Coming out of a timeout with 2:37 left in the half, San Antonio went up 47-42. Then the hurricane hit with a devastating wallop. First a Danny Green 3-pointer followed by a Boris Diaw reverse layup and then another quick-trigger Green 3 as Durant lunged, helplessly out of position to contest.

Suddenly it was 55-44 — an 8-2 explosion in 81 seconds.

Durant and Westbrook exchanged words heading to the bench for a timeout — leaders getting on one another, Westbrook explained, “what leaders do” — although it’s doubtful either could hear what the other had said.

The ascending roars inside AT&T Center reverberated off every seat in the house until the place felt as if it was going to blast off. For the Thunder it must have felt like the roof had caved in on them, leaving them stumbling through choking clouds of rubble. At least that’s how they played on the Spurs’ next possession.

First Diaw grabbed Ginobili’s missed layup. Then Ginobili snuck inside of Durant and rebounded Tony Parker‘s errant 3. Ginobili dribbled freely all the way out beyond the arc as if taking it back behind an imaginary line on his driveway, lined up a 27-footer and buried it with 33 seconds left in the half.

It was 58-44, a 22-8 burst being the precursor to a second consecutive blowout, 112-77.

“You can’t go from down 5 to 14, not in two minutes,” Thunder center Kendrick Perkins said.

“I messed the game up at the end of the second quarter,” Durant said. “I got hit on the screen and Danny Green got open for a 3. I overhelped and he got another 3, and then Ginobili hit the 3. All those plays was on me … We shouldn’t have been down that much at halftime, but I made three bonehead plays.”


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook is upset with Kevin Durant for his Game 2 mistake

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Morning Shootaround — May 14



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Late mistakes irk Paul in Game 5 loss | Report: LeBron may sit out next season if Sterlings still with Clips | Report: Stockton among Jazz’s list of coaching candidates | Report: Bucks’ sale to be official Thursday

No. 1: Late miscues irk Paul more than controversial call — If you somehow missed Game 5 of the Clippers-Thunder series, do yourself a favor and go watch the recap (we’ll wait). OKC climbed out of a seemingly insurmountable late hole to stun L.A. 105-104 with a controversial call down the stretch serving as this morning’s main NBA talking point. What that call might overshadow, though, are some uncharacteristic miscues from Chris Paul down the stretch that might have enabled OKC to get the win. Our Jeff Caplan was on hand at last night’s game and has more on that:

Game 5 will be remembered for the call, the officials’ curious explanation following the replay review and Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers‘ scorching rant of the entire surreal sequence. It will all be replayed and dissected on a continuous loop.For Chris Paul, the call that didn’t go the Clippers’ way with 11.3 seconds left to another unfathomable finish in this heart-stopping Western Conference semifinal series, isn’t what will eat at him for hours on end; isn’t wasn’t what left him in a near-catatonic state in the postgame interview room.

Despite early foul trouble in a game in which the whistles blew early and often, Paul engineered a spectacular game for 47 minutes before he so unexpectedly came unglued in the final 49 seconds. Two turnovers, about what he’s averaged in each game in these playoffs, and inexplicably making contact with Russell Westbrook‘s shooting arm from behind the arc with 6.4 seconds left played a leading role in the Clippers’ collapse, a seven-point lead, and a series lead, dashed in 49.2 seconds.

With 6.4 seconds showing on the clock, Westbrook, dynamite throughout the game with 38 points and six assists, and the only reason OKC had a chance at all, made all three free throws to put OKC ahead 105-104.

After a timeout to move the ball into the frontcourt, Barnes inbounded to Paul, guarded by Thabo Sefolosha. A screen set Paul free around the right side as he darted toward the lane with designs of feeding a rolling Blake Griffin. But the Thunder’s Jackson dropped off Crawford, got a hand close enough to the ball to avoid a foul while disrupting Paul’s dribble. Paul lost it in the lane and time expired.

Stunned and angry, the Clippers were beside themselves as the buzzer punctuated the finality of an incredible Game 5 that moved the Thunder win from a third West finals appearances in four seasons.

“We lost and it’s on me,” Paul said. “We had a chance to win and the last play, we didn’t get a shot off and that’s just dumb. I’m supposed to be the leader of the team.

“It’s just bad, real bad.”

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — April 16


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lillard, Blazers gear up for Rockets | Spurs’ Buford in it for long haul | D’Antoni didn’t know lottery rules | Nelson facing finale with Magic?

No. 1: Lillard gearing up for Rockets, matchup with Beverley — Few point guards in the NBA have established themselves as defensive pests as quickly as Rockets guard Patrick Beverley has. The high-energy, pressuring guard is crucial to Houston’s success this season and is expected to play a key role for the Rockets as they face the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round. Beverley will have the task of trying to slow/pester Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard throughout the series, but Beverley already got under Lillard’s skin earlier this season. CSNNW.com’s Chris Haynes details the layers of the Beverley-Lillard matchup and the bad feelings that may lie therein that trace back to a March game between the teams:

Dwight Howard versus Robin Lopez, James Harden up against Wesley Matthews, Chandler Parsons trying to outdo Nicolas Batum, super reserves Jeremy Lin going toe-to-toe with Mo Williams.

But without a doubt, the most intriguing, intense matchup will be at the point guard position featuring Patrick Beverley and Damian Lillard. Aside from the fact that Beverley, and his defense, arguably gives Lillard the toughest time, there’s some recent bad blood that could creep up.

The day after an early March game between these two teams, a contest the Rockets won at home 118-133 in overtime, Beverley did a local radio interview and went out of his way to respond to what he perceived to be a slight from Lillard.

The interview was coming to a close after nearly nine minutes and Beverley quickly interrupted the host as he was in the process of thanking the guard for coming on.

“Ah, you didn’t ask me no question about Damian Lillard,” Beverley said to the gentlemen on Sports Talk 790 AM in Houston, followed by urging them to ask a question about Lillard in which they did.

“…Damian Lillard whines,” he went on to say. “I’m not a big fan of that. I don’t go out there and try to start fights with anybody. I go out there and play my game. That’s what I do. I don’t go out there and try to hack people. I don’t go out there and do that.”

Beverley was responding to Lillard’s comment saying the Rockets’ defensive guard was irritating and that he tries to get under your skin to get you to react. When Lillard heard the interview and how Beverley brought up his name out the blue, he was taken back.

“I was surprised,” Lillard told CSNNW.com after practice on Tuesday. “I said that what he was doing in that game was kind of irritating. It wasn’t meant to be disrespectful. It was meant to say it was irritating. But to go on the radio and them not even ask about me and then you bring me up, I thought that was unnecessary.”

To be frank, this is shaping up to be one hell of a first round series.

When asked today if the two needed to talk before the series began in order to clear the air, since all this was just a simple misunderstanding, Lillard rebuffed that notion.

“I don’t think it’s necessary,” Lillard responded. “I don’t have no beef with the dude. He’s competing just like I’m out there competing and that’s it. There’s nothing to hash out because we’re not best friends. We don’t know each other off the floor. There’s nothing really to hash out. But I respect him as a player, but the radio and all that stuff, that’s not my style. It was unnecessary.”

There’s clearly respect from both sides. Beverley was disturbed that Lillard didn’t give him his due credit as he made that clear in the radio interview. Lillard didn’t feel he was criticizing Beverley’s play with his comments, but contends that radio interview was over the top.


VIDEO: The Rockets beat the Blazers in an intense March matchup

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No. 2: Buford in for long haul with Spurs — San Antonio has cemented the No. 1 seed throughout the 2014 NBA playoffs, it has a full, healthy roster ready to make another NBA Finals run and, despite knowing that Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan will soon one day retire, remain an overall stable NBA franchise. Much of that credit goes to Spurs GM R.C. Buford, who, in a recent conversation with Grantland.com’s Zach Lowe, says he expects to be around after Duncan, Ginobili (and Tony Parker) hang it up and San Antonio builds around youngster Kawhi Leonard. Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News has more on Lowe’s chat with Buford:

Coach Gregg Popovich has backed away from previous jokes that he’ll be following Duncan out the door. And general manager R.C. Buford, who alongside Popovich and Duncan has helped establish the Spurs as one of the most stable organizations in North American professional sports, has every intention of overseeing the process.

“I’m incredibly happy where I am,” Buford said. “If somebody tells me they don’t want me around here anymore, then I’ll have to worry about where I go next.”

Buford’s comment was part of an extensive podcast with Grantland’s Zach Lowe, in response to why a team in a larger market wouldn’t simply throw a ton of money at he or former understudy Sam Presti, now the architect in Oklahoma City. But like many of his colleagues, particularly Popovich and Duncan, Buford treasures working in a smaller market where distractions from the task at hand — winning championships — are kept to a minimum.

Among the other topics covered –

* Duncan’s recent injury scare: “I was sitting near Jon Barry, who was doing the game for ESPN Radio. He said that’s the fastest he’s ever seen me move.”

* The advent of player tracking and advanced statistics: “From a basketball standpoint, knowing everything that happens on the floor should help us get better at evaluating and executing the strategies that we’ve chosen. It’s helped us recognize how much work goes into being a point guard. I think it gave us better appreciation of what (Tony Parker) really goes through.”

* This year’s trade deadline: “I think we felt we had some things that might happen that could help our team, and we had a value of what those were that we were comfortable extending. Other teams didn’t feel that way. You never know how close you are because there are conversations going on in a lot of places.”

* Whether Oklahoma City is an especially problematic matchup for the Spurs: “Kevin Durant is a problematic matchup for every team. And Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. They’re a really good team. We’re going to play the people who are in front of us and hopefully we’re playing well.”

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No. 3: D’Antoni didn’t know draft implications of Lakers-Jazz game — Monday night’s Lakers-Jazz game from Salt Lake City was likely of interest to L.A. and Utah fans for perhaps one key reason: NBA Draft Lottery positioning. The Jazz entered with a 24-56 mark while the Lakers were 25-55 and a loss by the Jazz would assure Utah of no worse than the NBA’s fourth-worst record, and, with that, increased odds for a top 4 pick in the 2014 Draft. The Lakers would go on to a 119-104 rout that gave Utah what it hoped for. After the game, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni made a surprising revelation that he had no idea how the Lakers-Jazz game could have actually benefited L.A.’s lottery hopes. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin has more:

Intentional or not, there was more to D’Antoni’s accomplishment of snapping a seven-game Lakers losing streak with a 119-104 win against the lowly Utah Jazz. He also put himself firmly in the crosshairs with a faction of the purple and gold faithful who care only about the Lakers’ draft position at this point, rather than chasing meaningless wins to close out the season.

“What are you going to tell them? ‘Don’t play hard’?” D’Antoni said when asked whether the subject had been broached with his team before playing an equally abysmal Utah team. “That’s not right.”

If D’Antoni had stopped talking right there, he could have been spared the ire from the fan base, as the unexpected win would have been chalked up to Nick Young (who hit the 40-point plateau for the second time in eight games) and big nights from Jodie Meeks (23 points), Jordan Hill (21 points) and Kendall Marshall (15 assists).

But D’Antoni didn’t stop there, of course.

He continued his answer to reveal that he didn’t know exactly what was at stake for the Lakers, who went into the night with a 25-55 record, playing against a Jazz team that was 24-56.

“They played hard, and I think, if I’m not mistaken, it’s the same number of pingpong balls, right?” D’Antoni said. “They flip a coin, or something.”

Turns out, he was mistaken. The Lakers went into the night with the sixth-worst record in the league. A loss to the Jazz would have put them in a tie for fifth with Utah, with the Lakers owning the tiebreaker as the worse team — should the Jazz close out the season with a loss in Minnesota and L.A. finish things out with a loss in San Antonio — because Utah would have won the season series 3-1.

A reporter informed D’Antoni that the win by the Lakers actually cemented the Jazz with a worse record and thus better lottery chances.

“I mean, you kind of hate that,” D’Antoni responded, realizing what the win did to the potential draft order. “But, I thought we had the same rank.”

Another reporter chimed in to tell D’Antoni that if the Lakers had lost to Utah, the coach would have been correct.

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” D’Antoni said. “Oh, OK. That’s all right; we’re going to beat San Antonio, anyway. So, it’s all for naught.”

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No. 4: Nelson facing finale with Magic?A cursory look at the Orlando Magic’s all-time leaderboard in various stats reveals that point guard Jameer Nelson has etched a solid place in team lore. Nelson is the club’s all-time leader in assists and ranks in the top five in points, games played, 3-pointers made, steals and more. The Magic close out their lottery-bound season tonight with a home date against the Indiana Pacers and Nelson, whose deal next season is only partially guaranteed, could be saying farewell to the only NBA team he’s ever known. Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel has more:

Nelson might not be with the franchise next season. Although he’s about to complete just the second year of a three-year contract, his salary for the 2014-15 season is only partially guaranteed. If the Magic waive him before July 15, the team would owe him only $2 million instead of $8 million.

Nelson, a diminutive point guard who has spent all 10 of his NBA seasons with the Magic, has said repeatedly he wants to remain with the team because his family loves Central Florida.

“I’m very cognizant it could be my last home game,” Nelson said. “It’s not up to me. It’s up to the team. It’s the team’s option. I would like to still be here and finish my career here. I have a lot more years left in me. Good years. I’m not sure what they have in store for me, but I’m just going to play it out and see what happens. Like I said, it’s just one of those things. I don’t have control over it. I don’t know what their thoughts are right now.”I have kids, so I’m worried about it. That’s the biggest thing for me. My family is more important to me than anything. I just want to be treated the right way. I want to be treated fair. I want to be treated the right way. I feel like I’m a guy of loyalty, so I just want everybody that’s involved in my life and in the organization to be loyal to me.”

A league source said the Magic haven’t made a decision on Nelson’s future.

Nelson has made only 39.4 percent of his shot attempts — the second-lowest field-goal percentage of his career — largely because of poor shot selection. But through Monday, he ranked eighth in the NBA in assists, averaging 7.0 per game.

The past two seasons have been difficult for Nelson. Last season, the Magic finished with a 20-62 record. This season, the team will bring a 23-58 record into its final game. He was a member of the Magic teams that reached the 2009 NBA Finals and the 2010 Eastern Conference finals, so he wasn’t accustomed to losing.

Magic officials have been pleased, though not surprised, that he has welcomed the team’s young players over the last two seasons.

“Jameer means everything to me,” second-year big man Kyle O’Quinn said. “I couldn’t be more lucky to have a vet like him. On the court, off the court he’s there for you no matter what. He even gets upset with you if you make a decision without him. That’s how much he wants to be involved. I love him like a brother.”`

Magic fans’ appreciation for Nelson has grown, too.

Back when the team was a title contender, some fans regarded Nelson as a liability because of his lack of height, his deficiencies as a defender and his shoot-first ways.

In recent years, however, he’s become a fan favorite, almost always receiving the loudest cheers during pregame introductions.

“The fans have definitely embraced me, and whenever I get to see fans or people that I know that are outside of the basketball arena, it’s all love,” he said. “It’s nothing but love.”


VIDEO: Jameer Nelson reflects on his career with the Magic

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Celtics legend Cedric Maxwell was standing in the spot where the Boston Marathon bombings took place last year about “7-8 minutes” before the event took place … Paul George, David West, C.J. Watson and Lance Stephenson will all get the night off tonight against the Magic … The Mavs are trying to value this 50-win season as much as any other … If he starts tonight’s game against the Sacramento Kings, Suns forward Channing Frye will, amazingly, have started all 82 games this season … How has Jeff Green done this season as Boston’s go-to guy?

ICYMI of the Night: Back in the mid-to-late 2000s, Andrei Kirilenko was making highlight reels as a member of the Jazz with amazing, no-look dimes like this one he threw to Mason Plumlee last night …


VIDEO: Andrei Kirilenko throws a behind-the-back, no-look pass to Mason Plumlee for the dunk

Morning Shootaround — March 23


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Heat continue to struggle | Burke hits game-winner | Hickson to miss remainder of season | Kidd didn’t panic during slow start

No. 1: Heat continue to struggle — The Miami Heat lost to the New Orleans Pelicans 105-95 last night to fall to 4-7 over their last 11 games. The loss also marks the 12th time the Heat have fallen to an opponent with a losing record. At this point last year the Heat were on game 25 of their eventual 27-game winning streak , but now they struggle to find a resolution to their current woes. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald has reaction after Saturday night’s loss:

The anger finally boiled over late Saturday night, after another uninspired Heat effort that featured entirely too many miscues and entirely too many defensive lapses.

“So I figure I’ll be the first one to say ‘We suck,'” Chris Bosh declared after the latest demoralizing setback, a 105-95 loss to the Pelicans at Smoothie King Arena.

“This is unacceptable,” Bosh added. “If we don’t change this, we will be watching the championship from home.” He said one problem is “we’ve been keeping things in” all season. “There’s no passion.”

LeBron James also made no attempt to conceal his disgust after Miami’s seventh loss in its past 11 games overall, and its 12th defeat against a team with a losing record.

“Too many excuses,” he said. “We’ve got to stop excuses. Guys on the floor need to produce. It’s that simple.”

For the seventh time in the past 11 games, the Heat allowed a team to shoot at least 49.3 percent. The Pelicans, who entered shooting 45.9 percent for the season, closed at 51.2. Ahead by four points after three quarters, New Orleans scored 29 in the fourth on 12 for 20 shooting.

“The floodgates went open in the second half,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Their guards did a great job breaking us down. We couldn’t keep them out of the paint. This is new territory for us. We all know we have to play much more committed defensively.

“Yes, our locker-room is frustrated, as it should be. We’re not accustomed to these types of standards from the defensive end. We did not defend, did not have that tough, gritty personality.”

No team gives up a higher shooting percentage of corner threes than the Heat, and the Pelicans victimized Miami with several in the second half, including daggers from Anthony Morrow and Luke Babbitt. And keep in mind that this was a New Orleans team missing three of their best shooters: Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday and Ryan Andersen.

There were visible signs of disgust during the game, including James yelling and gesticulating after a Morrow three pushed the Pelicans’ lead to 85-76 with nine minutes left. Spoelstra also appeared particularly animated with his team during an ensuing timeout.

But none of that emotion helped, with the Pelicans extending their lead to 16 soon after.

There were inexcusable defensive breakdowns, including a second-quarter sequence when Morrow somehow scored on a layup on an out-of-bounds play with one second left on the shot clock. (Ray Allen appeared to be the primary defender.)

There were too many second-chance points for the Pelicans (13), too many fast-break points (21 to Miami’s 11) and too many uncontested forays to the basket, many the result of Heat guards being beaten off the dribble.

“We can’t relax versus teams we’re supposed to beat,” James said before the game. “Not saying we’re entitled to win, but we don’t focus the whole game.”

James conceded that “this is the toughest season we’ve had since Year One because of everything that comes with trying to repeat. We are the target every single night. We have to find our motivation every single night.”

***


VIDEO: Play of the Day: Trey Burke

No. 2: Burke hits game-winner — Utah Jazz rookie Trey Burke hit the first game-winner of his NBA career last night against the Orlando Magic. The shot pushed the Jazz to a meager 23-47 on the season, but the moment was one Burke always imagined as a child. Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune has the story:

Trey Burke used to rehearse for his moment every day when he was younger.

Utah’s rookie point guard would shoot by himself for hours at the gym, imagining an expiring clock, a narrow deficit, an entire game on his shoulders. He would shoot over brooms and ladders, impersonating long-armed defenders contesting his jumper.

He got his chance in real life on Saturday night. Before 19,228 at EnergySolutions Arena, Burke hit the game-winner, a dagger from the corner over Orlando’s Victor Oladipo. The shot gave the Jazz an 89-88 victory over the Magic and broke a six-game losing streak.

“I knew that I had to get a lot of arc on it,” Burke said. “Victor was flying at me and I knew if I shot it the way I regularly did, it was going to either miss or get blocked. I knew we didn’t have a lot of time, so I had to be ready to shoot the ball right away.”

Burke came up huge when it counted. Even before his game-winner, his 3-pointer with 2:55 remaining gave the Jazz a 79-77 lead, just as Oladipo had given Orlando an advantage with two free throws.

In what’s been a difficult season, Utah’s looked for bright spots wherever they can be had. And on Saturday, the Jazz could’ve easily surrendered their seventh consecutive loss in ugly fashion. Instead, Gordon Hayward drove the lane and made a fantastic pass, and Burke proved capable of hitting a big shot.

“The ball went in the hole,” Utah coach Ty Corbin said. “After putting ourselves in a bad position, I thought the guys did a good job to close the game out. They understood the pace, Gordon made a great pass to the corner and Trey made the shot. It’s great to see the young guys show a lot of character. We could’ve fell apart there when we fell behind, but they played it out.”

In a maturity-filled final two minutes, Corbin said his guys had four possessions that needed to go right, and they executed each time. Down 83-81, Richard Jefferson went to the basket, got fouled and made a free throw. Down 85-82, Hayward created contact, drew another foul and hit two more freebies. Down 87-84, Hayward dished to Derrick Favors for a lay-in. And then came Burke’s big play.

Each possession was critical. A misstep anywhere in that sequence, and the game is probably over.

“The poise that they showed down the stretch was really good for this young group,” Corbin said. “We didn’t create the pace that we wanted to, but I liked the way we finished the game.”

***

No. 3: Hickson to miss remainder of season — The season for the Denver Nuggets’ J.J. Hickson is done after an MRI showed a torn ligament in his right knee. This is an unfortunate event for Hickson, who despite losing his starting role, was playing major minutes for the Nuggets. Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post has reaction from Denver and information on who will replace Hickson in the Nuggets’ rotation:

The news came Saturday that the Nuggets have lost their fourth player for the rest of the season because of an injury when J.J. Hickson’s MRI revealed a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

The rest of the season is just 13 games, but he joins Danilo Gallinari, JaVale McGee and Nate Robinson, who all underwent season-ending surgeries.

Hickson is the third Nuggets player to go down because of an injured ACL.

Hickson is the Nuggets’ leading rebounder at 9.2 per game, and is the fifth-leading scorer at 11.8 points per game.

“He’s had a good season for us,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said. “J.J. has shown that when he was a starter, and lately as he’s come off the bench, regardless of whether he plays a ton of minutes or he plays lesser minutes, he’s still always around that double-double mark. He’s an elite rebounder for the minutes that he plays.”

Hickson’s absence opens the door for former Washington Wizards forward Jan Vesely to get additional playing time. He has played in only 10 games since coming to the Nuggets at the trade deadline and has averaged 10.4 minutes.

That will change as the rotation does.

“I’m sure (Vesely) kind of wants to get out there and go against his old team,” Shaw said.

He sure does.

“I’m really excited about it,” Vesely said. “It will be a tough game. Washington is playing really good the last couple months. We have to get ready for a fast tempo on both sides. We have to play fast, and they will do the same thing.”

Shaw has wanted to get a bigger sample size from which to evaluate Vesely, a former NBA lottery pick.

“He has a high basketball IQ,” Shaw said. “He has a really good feel for the game. Obviously, his athleticism is off the charts. He’s not very polished offensively of just being able to throw the ball to him and say ‘Get us a bucket.’ But he knows that and he plays within his limitations, which I like.

“Unfortunately, he hasn’t had that much of a chance to get on the floor, but with J.J. being out … we should be able to get a good look at him.”

***

No. 4: Kidd didn’t panic during slow start — When the Brooklyn Nets struggled early this season, coach Jason Kidd received much of the blame. But now with the Nets finally hitting a groove and playing well (they’re 10-2 over their last 12 games), Kidd reveals that he made sure to never panic during his team’s slow start. Harvey Araton of The New York Times has the story on how the Nets are reacting to the Phil Jackson hoopla across town with the New York Knicks:

In fact, pretty much everything that Jackson, the Knicks’ new president, and James L. Dolan, their owner, were promising as they exchanged vows last week at Madison Square Garden had been established at Barclays Center, where the Nets won Friday for the 11th straight time, 114-98, against the Boston Celtics.

In the true spirit of the Jacksonian triangle, they distributed the ball as if it were a family heirloom, collecting 30 assists and making 56.4 percent of their shots.

“No one cares who scores,” Kidd said. “It’s all about Brooklyn.”

[Billy] King, who was allowed to construct one of the N.B.A.’s deepest rosters without the owner Mikhail D. Prokhorov’s butting in, had a relaxed (albeit rare) pregame chat with reporters. That’s the kind of interaction unseen around the Garden since Donnie Walsh regularly defied Dolan’s longstanding policy of hiding executives behind a wall of silence.

Although the Knicks narrowly escaped in Philadelphia for their eighth straight victory and crept closer to the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff position, the Nets moved to a game and a half behind first-place Toronto in the Atlantic Division, with the growing possibility of a top-four playoff seeding.

It was all enough for Kidd to almost crack a smile.

“There was never a panic, like, maybe I should have kept playing,” he said when asked if he had had sleepless nights and second thoughts when the Nets were wallowing in the depths of the conference, along with the Knicks, earlier this season.

Had Kidd not retired from a brilliant playing career, he would be among those kissing Jackson’s 11 coaching rings, eyeing a long-shot first-round series against Indiana or Miami, instead of leading a more versatile group that, as Paul Pierce said, can be one of the better teams in the East.

And yet … and yet ….

For all the Nets have accomplished since the turn of the year and as low as the Knicks sank (19 games under .500 until their current run), Dolan indisputably regained the upper hand last week in the continuing spend-a-thon against Prokhorov with the mere signing of Jackson to a five-year, $60 million contract.

In other words, the Nets, much like the Knicks, could look significantly different in a season a two. Neither team might be a serious championship contender any time soon. But we can count on both to be among the league leaders in dispensing cash and systemically sharing the ball. The players and the purists should be happy about that.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Philadelphia 76ers extended their losing streak to 24 games. … On the other end of the spectrum, the San Antonio Spurs won their 13th straight game. … Anthony Davis dominated the Heat for 30 points and 11 rebounds. … The Washington Wizards’ Drew Gooden was fined $15,000 by the league for his incident with Nick Young.

ICYMI of the NightChris Paul dished out the 6,000 assist of his career last night to become the 30th player in NBA history to accomplish the feat. Paul is third among active players in career assists behind only Steve Nash and Andre Miller.


VIDEO: Paul hits 6,000 assists

Morning Shootaround — March 14


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Rockets could push for ‘Melo | Pau backs Kobe’s L.A. viewpoint | McHale: Noah should win DPOY | Bynum focusing on playoff role | Jazz home-game attendance in major slump

No. 1: Report: Rockets could push for ‘Melo — The rumors about where Carmelo Anthony might sign this summer have been buzzing ever since he said he’d opt out last October. While the Los Angeles Lakers and perhaps Chicago Bulls have led most of the chatter — as well, of course, is the option that ‘Melo will stay in New York — a new team may be entering the fray. Marc Berman of the New York Post reports that the Houston Rockets could make a big push for Anthony this summer:

Could Carmelo Anthony rocket off to Houston?

According to a league source, the Rockets will make a bid for Carmelo Anthony this summer, even though they probably won’t have cap space and would have to orchestrate a creative sign-and-trade. The source said Houston asked the Knicks about Anthony before February’s trade deadline.

The Knicks have held discussions with the Rockets about power forward Omer Asik. Even though Rockets president Daryl Morey is the pioneer of advanced statistics and Anthony has never fared well in some efficiency categories, Morey’s old-school instincts believe he could form a terrific Big 3 with Dwight Howard and James Harden. Rockets management also believes Anthony has made advancements in the grit department the past two seasons.

The only way the Rockets can get under the cap is by dealing the expiring contracts of Jeremy Lin, who is entering the poison pill year of $15 million, and Asik, also scheduled to make $15 million.

But even if the Rockets don’t, a desperate Knicks team could take on Lin or Asik and draft picks if Phil Jackson doesn’t believe in building around Anthony. The Knicks still would be set for 2015’s free agency and Lin wold be a drawing card during a season the Knicks may want to tank and fall into the lottery.

Howard has been most outspoken in encouraging Anthony to consider smaller markets than New York just like Howard did in eschewing Los Angeles.

The Lakers, Clippers and Bulls are other potential destinations for Anthony, who said his “first priority’’ is to remain a Knick if he likes their future blueprint.

***

No. 2: Pau glad Kobe called out Lakers’ front office — If you somehow managed to miss it Tuesday night or all day Wednesday, Kobe Bryant — in announcing his season was over — was not happy when asked about the Lakers’ long-term outlook and front office (you can read all the quotes here).In short, Bryant is wondering what kind of direction the Lakers are going and he’s not about to wait around for a full rebuild. While what L.A. does next is anyone’s guess, teammate Pau Gasol supported Bryant’s words, writes Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:

The bond Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol formed runs in many directions, and it doesn’t just include winning two NBA championships and meshing complementary personalities together.Gasol also supported Kobe Bryant for publicly questioning the front office. Those included issues ranging from wanting executives Jim and Jeanie Buss to improve their relationship, decide Mike D’Antoni’s future as head coach and build a championship caliber roster this offseason.

“I’m glad that he spoke his mind,” Gasol said following the Lakers’ 131-102 loss Thursday to the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. “He wants to win. He’s got two years under contract with the franchise. He wants to be in the best possible position to win. Whether you do that publicly or internally, that’s totally up to you. He spoke his mind and you have to respect him for that.”

Will the Lakers pull that off?

Perhaps easier said than done.

Meanwhile, the Lakers don’t expect LeBron James to leave the Miami Heat if he opts out of his contract. The Lakers aren’t thrilled about Carmelo Anthony should he opt out of his deal with the Knicks. The Lakers wouldn’t want to spend a max-level contract on Cleveland’s Luol Deng and on Toronto’s Kyle Lowry. GM Mitch Kupchak had suggested earlier that the Lakers may use their financial flexibility more conservatively both to save up for a star-studded 2015 free-agent class and because of recently-imposed harsher penalties for high-spending teams.

“It makes things harder for teams, but it is what it is,” Gasol said. “The rules keep changing over the years. But you have to adjust and make the best out of it.”


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant sounds off on the Lakers’ future during his news conference

***

No. 3: McHale backs Noah for DPOY — Rockets coach Kevin McHale knows a thing or two about defense. As a player, he was an All-Defensive Team first or second teamer six times, is the Celtics’ second all-time leading shotblocker and, oh yeah, currently coaches former three-time Defensive Player of the Year winner Dwight Howard. So it carries some hefty weight when McHale, speaking before last night’s Rockets-Bulls game in Chicago, says that Joakim Noah of the Bulls is the DPOY. Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com has more:

Kevin McHale said Thursday that Bulls center Joakim Noah should win the league’s Defensive Player of the Year Award based on his performance this season.

The Houston Rockets coach knows a special defensive big man when he sees one. He was one himself, being selected multiple times to the NBA all-defense team. He has also coached two previous award winners in Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard.

McHale included Noah in that elite category Thursday. Noah is averaging 12.2 points, 11.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.5 blocks this season.

“He’s played very well,” McHale said after his team’s shootaround at Moody Bible Institute. “He should be defensive player of the year. He’s done a great job with these guys. They’ve been winning a lot just on his energy and effort, his kind of determination and toughness. Those are all qualities everybody appreciates.”

McHale was complimentary not only of Noah’s defensive game but of his offensive one as well.

“He’s just more confident in what he’s doing,” McHale said. “He’s making plays with the pass. He’s driving and kicking. When he was coming out, I thought he’d be a pick-pop-and-drive playmaking 4. He’s doing more of that now.”


VIDEO: Joakim Noah talks after the Bulls’ win over the Rockets Thursday

***

No. 4: Bynum embracing long-term view to season, playing time — Center Andrew Bynum made his Indiana debut on Tuesday night and gave Pacers fans a nice taste of what he can bring to the court: eight points, 10 rebounds and solid interior defense in about 15 minutes. Bynum won’t play tonight in Philly (7 p.m. ET, League Pass) and told Pacers.com’s Mark Montieth that he’s more concerned with gearing up for the playoffs than getting in tons of regular-season game action:

Short-term, Andrew Bynum sat out the Pacers’ practice on Thursday, will sit out their game in Philadelphia on Friday, and then return the following night in Detroit.

Long-term? That question mark will follow him everywhere he goes for the remainder of the season, particularly on the walks from the training room to the basketball court. Does the 26-year-old eighth-year pro have enough left in his knees to recapture something resembling his All-Star level of two seasons ago, or is backing up a healthier player his future job description?

“I don’t think back-to-backs are prime right now,” he said, resting in an end zone seat at Hinkle Fieldhouse following the team’s workout. “There’s two more left after this one, and we don’t want to risk anything. It’s more about being healthy for the playoffs.

“I’m pleased with the way it’s responded to the treatment I’ve been getting. I don’t have any swelling, just general arthritic conditions, I guess. We want to calm it down. Everything is about not causing a flare-up that causes me to miss four or five consecutive days. If I can play two really strong hard days and take a day off and it’s fine, that’s the remedy we want. We don’t want to have any bone bruises or flareups, because that’s when you start to lose conditioning.”

Bynum is to the Pacers what Greg Oden is to Miami: a talented 7-foot center with tender knees, being nursed along in hopes he can be a difference-maker in the quest for a championship. They’re in a gimpy-legged race to the finish line, and who remains healthiest could have a lot to say about who reaches the NBA Finals.

As for Bynum, the Pacers would be thrilled to keep getting what they got in Tuesday’s game against Boston.

“He got me excited,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said Thursday. “He’s one heck of a basketball player and he’s really going to help us. Now it’s a matter of getting as much work as we can in with him while managing the soreness in his knees. Hopefully come playoff time he’s healthy and as far along as we can get him.”

Beyond that, Bynum has no way of knowing what lies ahead. But he wants as much as he can get out of his remaining years.

“I think I have to monitor my body, always staying in shape, being more professional,” he said. “A lot of times in the summer I would take two months off and then attack it like a boxing training camp where I’d go for eight weeks twice a day, really hard. I obviously have to change that. It’s a young man’s game, and I’m still young in the human sense, but as a basketball player, a thoroughbred, I’m pretty old. So I have to revamp my training strategy.”


VIDEO: Andrew Bynum talks after Wednesday’s practice about his role and his debut

***

No. 5: Jazz home-game attendance in sharp decline – Given that the Utah Jazz are firmly in rebuilding mode and are tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the worst record in the Western Conference (22-43), the fact that attendance is down in Salt Lake City isn’t shocking. But according to Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune, the rabid fan base in Utah has taken attendance for the team’s home games to levels not seen since before 1991:

As he walks out onto the court with his team before each home game, of course Tyrone Corbin sees them.

“You notice,” the Utah Jazz coach says. “You notice the green seats.”

And for Corbin, who spent three seasons in Utah as a player and a decade as a coach, he’s seen more of them this season than ever before. With the Jazz, owners of a 23-42 record, firmly in rebuilding mode, attendance — an average of 17,947 announced fans per game, though there are often far fewer than that actually in the building — has dropped to the lowest the franchise has seen since moving out of the Salt Palace and into the Delta Center in 1991.

It’s a four-percent decline from a season ago, and a nine-percent decline from a peak of 19,908 six seasons ago when the Jazz won the Northwest Division and made it to the Western Conference semifinals.

The drop, however, was not unexpected for a franchise that let four of its five top scorers from last year leave for free agency to make playing time for a younger, developing base.

“We anticipated that we would have a slight decline,” Jazz president Randy Rigby said.

It would be a hit to the bottom line, Rigby added, especially in one of the league’s smallest markets, where ticket sales are a “critical component” of financial viability. Helping ease concerns, Jazz officials believed the team had a fan base that was “supportive of the plan and strategy.”

With just nine home games remaining in the season, franchise leaders have been happy with the numbers they’ve drawn. After drawing the ninth-most fans in the NBA on average last season, the Jazz have dropped to 14th-most and are still above the league average of 17,297. Among teams with losing records this season, only the New York Knicks, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics are drawing more fans.

Commitment to the rebuild took faith and market research. Rigby said Jazz officials also heard the message from fans last season that they would endure rebuilding, taking “short-term pain for a long-term reward.”

“They’ve been very supportive of the plan and the strategy,” he said.

And as the season draws to a close, Rigby is still preaching “patience in a very impatient business.”

“We all want to have a winner sooner than later,” he said. “But we’re not going to skip steps. We’re going to do it right, so we can have something that will be sustainable for a long period of time.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: In a Q&A on the team’s website, Kings GM Pete D’Alessandro said he hopes Rudy Gay sticks with the team long term … It doesn’t seem likely that Al Horford will be be back anytime this season … Jazz veteran forward Marvin Williams is having an MRI on his back today … Wizards guard John Wall says the reason Kemba Walker gets calls is because he screams a lot … The Blazers got some bad news: both LaMarcus Aldridge and Mo Williams will be out for a little while … Milwaukee’s guard rotation of Nate Wolters, Brandon Knight and Ramon Sessions have been playing well lately …

ICYMI of the Night: The Bulls’ Taj Gibson made up for his dunk fail the other night with this monster slam on Omer Asik last night …


VIDEO: Taj Gibson powers one down against the Rockets

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 19


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Howard happy in Houston as L.A. return looms | Report: Kings trade Thornton to Nets | Report: Knicks interested in Lin? | Report: Celtics eyeing Utah’s Hayward | James all business in win over Mavs

UPDATE: 1:03 p.m. ETDENG, SHUMPERT ON MARKET?

A few new names are starting to surface in the trade rumor mill, with the biggest being Cleveland Cavaliers small forward Luol Deng. According to ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst, Deng, whom the Cavs acquired in a December trade with Chicago as they jettisoned Andrew Bynum, is on the block. Team officials are reportedly concerned they might not be able to re-sign the unrestricted free agent forward this summer:

As they evaluate the team and look to make a deal to help it secure a playoff berth, Cleveland Cavaliers officials are making recently acquired Luol Deng available ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline, multiple league sources told ESPN.com.

The Cavs traded three future draft picks and Andrew Bynum to the Chicago Bulls to acquire Deng on Jan. 7. But the deal hasn’t worked out how either side hoped.

Cleveland isn’t determined to trade Deng, but with his impending free agency a concern, new general manager David Griffin is testing the potential market for the veteran forward. Getting value for Deng may be a challenge because his contract expires in June. He cannot be packaged with another Cavs player in a deal due to trade rules, though trades can be structured in a way to get around this issue if teams are motivated enough.

Sources say the Cavs are concerned about being able to re-sign Deng this offseason, as he’ll be an unrestricted free agent for the first time. Several teams with cap space, including the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks, are expected to be interested in Deng.

Apart from Deng being put on the block, the Clippers and Knicks might also be working out a deal that would send guard Iman Shumpert to Los Angeles. Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski has more on the trade that point-guard hungry New York might be working on:

The Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks are discussing a deal centered around guard Iman Shumpert, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

In proposed deals, the Clippers would send the Knicks a package that includes point guard Darren Collison for Shumpert and point guard Raymond Felton, sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Knicks are shopping Shumpert hard, and the Clippers have been receptive to listening on a potential deal, league sources said.

The discussions and proposed players are still fluid, league sources said, and a deal isn’t close to being reached. Nevertheless, Shumpert is an object of interest for the Clippers and the recent return of All-Star point guard Chris Paul makes Collison more expendable.

***

No. 1: Howard hoping it is ‘Rockets’ time’ to shine — No need to get into all the gory details here, but suffice it to say, Dwight Howard‘s one season as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t work out how either he or the team expected. After joining the Houston Rockets via free agency last summer, Howard has slowly but surely found his footing and is looking more like the dominant force he once was as a member of the Orlando Magic. As the Lakers host Howard and the Rockets tonight (10:30 ET, ESPN), Howard said he’s plenty happy in Texas and talks about how he’s moved on from L.A. Ramona Shelbourne of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more:

Dwight Howard isn’t regretting leaving the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s happy in Houston and confident he made the right decision last July to spurn the Lakers’ five-year, $118 million offer for the Rockets’ four-year, $87.6 million deal.

But on the eve of his first game against his former team at Staples Center, he did admit there were things that could’ve changed the outcome.

“There’s a couple things that could’ve been done, but that’s over with now,” Howard said with a coy smile Tuesday afternoon. “I’m in a better place, our team is doing great and the Lakers, they’ll come back. But hopefully this is the Rockets’ time.”

Howard’s Rockets won seven games in a row heading into the All-Star break. The Lakers (18-35) are lottery bound after losing seven straight home games. Their .340 winning percentage is the franchise’s worst since 1959-60.

“I think I still might follow them on Twitter, that’s about it,” Howard said, when asked whether he’d been following the Lakers season. “I don’t pay attention to what’s on TV and what’s being said. I just focus on my team.”

His new team is on a roll, sitting in a tie for third place in the Western Conference at 36-17 after a torrid February. Howard is averaging 18.8 points and 12.5 rebounds this season, nearly identical numbers to what he put up last season in L.A. (17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds).

But Howard has noticeably improved each month as he continues to recover from back surgery in April 2012. Howard averaged 25.8 points on 65.7 percent shooting from the field in February after scoring 18.8 points a game on 54.9 percent shooting in January.

Rockets coach Kevin McHale attributes that to health and chemistry with his new teammates.

“Dwight’s one of those guys, I think he plays better when he’s having a good time and is comfortable,” McHale said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. He’s a guy who plays better when he has a joyfulness about him.

“When I watched him last year, he just looked out of sorts the whole year. He didn’t look like the guy that I’d seen in Orlando. Now what caused that? I would say 70 percent of that was physical with the back and probably 30 percent of that was environmental. I guess it was a funky environment around here.”


VIDEO: Dwight Howard talks about his first return trip to L.A. to face the Lakers

***

UPDATE: 1:49 p.m. ET — KINGS, NETS PULL OFF TRADE

Per our own David Aldridge, the Kings and Nets have completed a trade that sends Marcus Thornton to Brooklyn in exchange for Reggie Evans and Jason Terry, confirming a trade first reported on by Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski

No. 2: Report: Kings’ Thomas has sprained wrist; trade talks for Thornton heat up — Sacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas is in the midst of a career-best season, averaging 20.2 ppg and 6.3 apg. But he’s been dealing with a nagging wrist injury of late and an MRI reveals he has a wrist sprain that he’ll play through, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. Aside from that, though, the Kings are apparently heating up trade talks to help their guard depth, with Marcus Thornton at the center of those discussions:

Sacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas has strained ligaments in his shooting wrist, an MRI revealed, and further complications could lead to him missing time, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Despite the recent diagnosis, Thomas has been determined to play through the pain, sources told Yahoo Sports. Nevertheless, there could come a time in the near future when Thomas could need to consider procedural remedies for the wrist, sources said.

The wrist issue is considered “a short-term nuisance,” one source said, and will have no long-term bearing on Thomas’ career.

In the aftermath of the Kings’ trading of Greivis Vasquez to the Toronto Raptors in December, Thomas, who is 5-foot-9, has flourished as Sacramento’s starting point guard. Thomas will be a restricted free agent in July and has expressed a strong desire to remain with the Kings as a centerpiece of the franchise’s rebuilding with center DeMarcus Cousins and forward Rudy Gay.

As the NBA trade deadline approaches on Thursday, the Kings are in a state of upheaval. Sacramento’s talks with Brooklyn on a deal to acquire guard Jason Terry and forward Reggie Evans for Kings guard Marcus Thornton have progressed to a serious stage, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Kings are discussing a trade of guard Jimmer Fredette with several teams, sources said.

***

No. 3: Report: Knicks interested in Lin? – Remember back in the 2011-12 season when Jeremy Lin took New York by storm with his inspired, out-of-nowhere play for the Knicks? Apparently, the Knicks themselves haven’t forgotten about it either — even after Lin left N.Y. for Houston as a free agent in the summer of 2012. According to ESPN.com’s Chad Ford via a podcast with fellow ESPNers Bill Simmons and Zach Lowe, the Knicks are reportedly interested in re-acquiring the point guard. Keep in mind, too, that yesterday New York was linked in trade talks that might net it point guards Kyle Lowry or Rajon Rondo, too:

The New York Knicks are interested in trading for Jeremy Lin.

The Knicks let Lin sign with the Houston Rockets in the 2012 offseason.

New York has been searching for trade possibilities at point guard.

Lin’s contract expires after the 14-15 season, which preserves their cap flexibility for 2015.

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No. 4: Report: Celtics interested in Jazz’s Hayward — This is one trade rumor that isn’t that hard to understand if you can play a simple game of connect the dots. Before he was Utah’s leading scorer, Gordon Hayward was a star at Butler University from 2008-10 and helped the Bulldogs to the NCAA championship game in 2010. His coach at Butler? Brad Stevens … who is now the first-year coach of the Boston Celtics. A Hayward-Stevens reunion has been much talked about when it comes to Hayward, who will be a free agent this summer and could pair up with his old coach in Boston. But according to CSNNE.com’s A. Sherrod Blakely, the Celtics are interested in trying to get Hayward sooner than that:

The Celtics have expressed some interest in acquiring Utah’s Gordon Hayward, a league source tells CSNNE.com.

Hayward, who starred for Celtics head coach Brad Stevens while at Butler, will become a restricted free agent this summer after he and the Jazz could not come to terms on an extension this past fall.

The biggest challenge appears to be finding assets currently on the Celtics’ roster that are appealing to the Jazz.

Despite Utah’s desperate need for a point guard, there’s little interest in Rajon Rondo primarily because they don’t anticipate he’ll re-sign with the club beyond his current contract which is up in the summer of 2015.

Jeff Green is another option, but the Jazz aren’t all that interested in him, either.

It would appear the one thing that might nudge Utah towards giving serious thought to dealing Hayward, would be if the Celtics were willing to part with at least one of their stockpiled first-round picks.

But two league sources, both having had recent conversations with the Celtics, told CSNNE.com on Tuesday that Boston is “very reluctant” to part with any of their first-round picks in facilitating a deal.

In fact, Boston appears focused on adding more picks or assets with any deal they strike between now and the trade deadline.

***

No. 5: James all about business in win over Mavs — As part of NBA TV’s interview with LeBron James, one of the questions asked of him was who would be on his theoretical NBA Mount Rushmore. James told the interviewer, Steve Smith, that he saw himself as being one of the NBA’s four all-time greats when his career is over and since then, that comment has sparked much debate about all-time greats and LeBron’s place among them. More talk on that topic last night before the Mavs-Heat game from Dallas might have also motivated James as he dropped 42 points in Miami’s win. Our own Jeff Caplan has more from Big D: 

As news cycles go, Mt. Rushmore is burning Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman deep. James didn’t ask for it, but he did say it and now we, the media, can’t stop asking anybody associated with a round, orange ball whom they’d put on their own Mt. Rushmore.

Shawn Marion, the 6-foot-7 Mavericks small forward who did a magnificent defensive job on James during the 2011 Finals — and is just the type of savvy veteran (and a free agent this summer, to boot) Miami loves to place around its King sculptor — said after Tuesday morning’s shootaround that James wouldn’t be on his Mt. Rushmore, at least not yet.

By the time the news of this injustice got back to James during his pregame media session in the visiting locker room about 90 minutes before he buried Dallas with 42 points, nine rebounds and six assists in a 117-106 win, it came to him in the watered-down context that he flat-out didn’t make the cut on Marion’s Mt. Rushmore.

James was already in something of a foul mood, having decided to reveal a stern demeanor to show his teammates that the league was back open for business, and so was he. Less than 72 hours after rocking the stage with the The Roots at a New Orleans warehouse party, and 48 hours after playing in the All-Star Game, the Mt. Rushmore recurrence again put LeBron in a mood to scale the mountain.

“I really don’t care what people say or what people think, that’s not for me or my concern,” James said. “I think, once again, it was blown out of context. But, I feel like when it’s all said and done, my personal goal is that I can be one of the greatest to ever play this game, and I won’t sell myself short and I won’t continue to stop believing and saying and thinking what I believe in as far as personal goals. So, it doesn’t matter what Shawn Marion says, or what anybody says about the way I play the game of basketball.”

Is Mt. Rushmore becoming bulletin-board material? James was asked.

“I don’t need bulletin board material,” he answered. “My bulletin board material is the name on the back of my jersey and the name on the front of my jersey; and the youth and the kids that I inspire every day, every time I go out on the basketball court. And I witnessed that Saturday when I had my foundation event in New Orleans, when I was able to give back to a Boys And Girls Club and see over 30, 35, 40 kids smiling the whole time by my presence being there. My calling is much bigger than basketball. While everybody else focuses on just basketball, I’m focused on bigger and better things.”

He wasn’t finished: “And, you know, nobody can still guard me one-on-one.”


VIDEO: LeBron James talks about Miami’s win in Dallas

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Could the Kings be looking to part with star point guard Isaiah Thomas? … Celtics veteran forward Brandon Bass is plenty prepared to hear his name discussed in trade rumors … Gerald Wallace of the Celtics remains miffed at the Bobcats for trading him 2011Chris “Birdman” Andersen surprised fans and reporters last night by getting rid of his trademark mohawk. But after the game, he told Heat.com that it’s not gone, but merely “trimmed down” … Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger wants Mike Miller looking for his shot more on offense … Pacers center Andrew Bynum has been impressing coach Frank Vogel with his dedication to work out and improve himself … Bucks get swingman Carlos Delfino back in the mix soon

ICYMI(s) of The Night: Two posters served up last night, one by Nene (on Jonas Valanciunas) and another one from Gerald Green (on Kenneth Faried) …


VIDEO: Nene goes up strong and draws a foul from Jonas Valanciunas


VIDEO:Gerald Green posterizes Kenneth Faried with an alley-oop jam

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 10


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pistons’ Gores has more decisions ahead | Clippers soar in Paul’s return | World Peace has advice for Smart | No change in Kobe’s plans; another setback for Nash

No. 1: Pistons owner Gores has more work to do fix Motor City mess Tom Gores took the first step in attempting to fix the mess that is the Detroit Pistons by firing his head coach, Maurice Cheeks. That’s only the beginning of the heavy lifting he’ll have to do to fix what ails the once-proud Pistons, according to Terry Foster of the Detroit News., who reiterates what our Steve Aschburner said in the immediate aftermath of Cheeks being fired. And the list is long and starts with Pistons president Joe Dumars and includes several players who should all be in the crosshairs for a franchise that expected so much more from this season:

Gores owns this shipwreck and he probably doesn’t know what to do with it. Let me give him some advice:

He’s already issued his playoff-or-else edict for the season and can’t back down now. However, he can’t ignore long-term goals — that should be his most pressing concern.

Rodney Stuckey, Greg Monroe and Charlie Villanueva have been dangled as trade bait. The Pistons could go one of two ways. They could trade these pieces and try to get a small forward that could help them win now. Or they could trade these guys to free up cap space and retain their draft pick by slumping to one of the eight worst records in the league.

Option No. 2 means the Pistons would miss the playoffs for a fifth straight season. I am OK with that as long as they have one of the league’s eight-worst records so they can keep their pick in this talent-heavy draft.

The Pistons are a half-game behind Charlotte for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The last time the Pistons made the playoffs as an eight seed was 2009. They were swept by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

How did that experience work out? The Pistons are 132-226 since.

The Pistons likely would play the Pacers as an eight seed or the two-time defending champion Heat as a seventh seed. Both teams would sweep the Pistons. So what is the point?

The Pistons are a young team and playoff experience is an important learning experience. However, the Pistons might get drummed out before they can get their notebooks out.

“I still have a lot of hope for this season and I expect our players to step up,” Gores said.

Speaking of players, black marks on Cheeks’ record undoubtedly were the run-ins he had with Josh Smith and Will Bynum — which continue a trend of Pistons players having too much say. Does anyone remember the John Kuester mutiny?

Gores has to provide direction to this franchise. He has to establish a vision. If he doesn’t the Pistons will continue to play in front of a lot of empty seats.


VIDEO: Detroit became the first team to fire its coach this season

***

No. 2: Lob City was alive and well in Chris Paul’s return to the Clippers – Life without Chris Paul for the Los Angeles Clippers was certainly manageable. In fact, Blake Griffin ripped it up in Paul’s absence. But it’s good to have their All-Star point guard and floor leader back, as the world saw Sunday in the Clippers’ rout of the Philadelphia 76ers. It was a welcome back party, of sorts, that signals a second-half charge for the Clippers that should include a rise up the Western Conference food chain. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times recounts the return of Paul in the biggest (literally) win in franchise history:

It was Showtime at Staples Center on Sunday night, starring the return of Chris Paul, the comeback of Blake Griffin from an injury scare and the rest of the Clippers playing their roles.

Playing in his first game since he separated his right shoulder Jan. 3 at Dallas, Paul had seven points and eight assists in the Clippers’ show-stopping and franchise-record-setting 123-78 victory over the overmatched Philadelphia 76ers.

With Griffin overcoming a bruised left shin suffered in the first quarter to score 26 points, grab 11 rebounds and hand out six assists, the Clippers set a franchise record for biggest margin of victory.

The Clippers held the 76ers to an opponent franchise-low 27% (27 for 100) shooting. The Clippers set a franchise record for biggest lead at the half when they opened a 69-30 lead after two quarters.

They built a lead as big as 56 points, their largest of the season. So after missing the last 18 games recovering from his injury, this is what Paul came back to.

“It felt great to play,” said Paul, who played 22 minutes 44 seconds. “It’s one of those things you never know what it’s going to be like until you actually get out there and compete and play. It just felt good.”

Griffin went down late in the first quarter after Tony Wroten slipped while driving and stumbled into Griffin.

After he limped to the locker room with head athletic trainer Jasen Powell, Griffin checked back into the game with 7:31 left in the second quarter.

In case anyone was wondering if Griffin was fine and that he and Paul were on the same page, they got their answer twice in the second quarter.

Paul had a breakaway layup, but threw the ball off the backboard, allowing Griffin to catch it and throw down a windmill dunk.

Then later in the second quarter, Griffin dribbled up court, made a behind-the-back pass with his left hand to Paul, who threw a lob that Griffin dunked, bringing the crowd to its feet again.

So, Griffin was asked after the game, how hard was it play with Paul again?

“It was tough, but we managed,” Griffin deadpanned, laughing along with the media.


VIDEO: Who didn’t get dunked on Sunday? The Top 10 plays includes plenty from the Clippers

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No. 3: World Peace has words of wisdom for Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart – If there is any one man on the planet who knows what Oklahoma State Marcus Smart is feeling in the aftermath of the fan-shoving incident he was in the middle of Saturday night, it’s veteran New York Knicks forward Metta World Peace. He, as Ron Artest then, was at the epicenter of the infamous Malice at the Palace of Auburn Hills. World Peace insists there are plenty of lessons to be learned from what Smart is going through now and will during and after his three-game suspension:

World Peace said Smart — who is projected to be a high NBA draft pick — might benefit from learning how to deal with obnoxious fans at age 19, before he becomes a pro and millions of dollars are on the line.

“Just in general, I heard the kid is pretty good and a potential pro,” World Peace said Sunday before his game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. “So those types of challenges on the court when you’re playing and fans are rooting against you — that was a great lesson learned, so that hopefully when he does become a pro, he’ll be able to kind of withstand the fans that are rooting against him on the road.”

World Peace also said Smart needs to learn to control his energy.

“I think that emotion and that fire could be directed towards winning on the court instead of directed other ways,” he said.

World Peace said given the chance, he would advise Smart to be aware of the big picture when making decisions.

At 19 years old, when I came out of St. John’s, I was fresh out the ‘hood. I was fresh out of Queensbridge,” he said. “So my mentality was still struggle, defensive and things like that. I wasn’t really conscious. I’m 34 years old now. So he’s a young kid. I wish I would have listened when I was a kid to my elders or people who had my best interests at heart, and then I wish I would have been more conscious at that age also. Those are two things that, if you were to reach out to a kid like Marcus — a talented kid, future leader in the community — you would tell him those things.”

World Peace said more guidelines should be in place for college fans because college players don’t get paid. He said fans should have more leeway at NBA games.

“As far as the pros, people pay to come and see us, and I appreciate it because I’m able to take care of my family,” he said. “So I don’t really judge fans about what they say, good or bad.”

***

No. 4: No change for Kobe’s return and another injury scare for Nash — For all of us who think we know what’s best for Kobe Bryant, save the advice. Bryant isn’t making any changes to his comeback plans for the Los Angeles Lakers this season. He told ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin as much over the weekend:

Despite continuing to be sidelined with a left knee injury and seeing his team continue to fall further out of the playoff picture, Kobe Bryant remains steadfast in his intention to return to the court this season.

“My plan hasn’t changed,” Bryant said Sunday at an event to promote his newest signature sneaker, the Nike Kobe 9 Elite Masterpiece. “I’m just going about it every single day just trying to get better. That’s my job. My job is to get my butt back out there on the court when I’m healthy enough to play and that hasn’t changed.”

Bryant, out since Dec. 17 with a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee and averaging 13.8 points, 6.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 42.5 percent shooting this season, has missed the Lakers’ last 26 games. He missed the Lakers’ first 19 games this season because of a torn Achilles in his left leg.

The 18-year veteran is scheduled to be re-evaluated after the All-Star Game next week, but wouldn’t venture a guess as to when he could actually return to game action.

“That I don’t know,” Bryant said. “It’s completely out of my control. I really got to sit here and just wait until this thing heals up and then go out there and do what I do.”

He reiterated his confidence that he would not miss the rest of the 2013-14 season, however.

When asked what his best-case scenario would be upon a return this season, Bryant replied: “Play like me. That’s it.”

The news on Steve Nash isn’t quite as positive. He didn’t finish Sunday’s game against the Bulls, exiting with a nerve irritation in his left leg. He’s scheduled to be evaluated today. But things don’t look good for the NBA’s elder statesman:

Nash received contact to his left leg from Chicago’s Kirk Hinrich as he turned the ball over with 9:18 remaining in the third quarter. The contact was near the same spot where he suffered a fracture in the leg last season. He stayed in the game until there was 5:00 remaining in the quarter and went straight to the locker room.

“I just took a knee to the spot where I broke my leg,” Nash said. “Ever since I did that I’ve had a lot of nerve issues there and it just really flared up on me. I don’t think it’s going to be a long-term thing at all. Hopefully it’s something that can just settle down this week, hopefully by Tuesday.”

The Lakers host the Utah Jazz on Tuesday.

“[Once] that nerve flared up and I started to compensate, I wasn’t going to be very effective … and I also was going to risk going back on all that work I did to get back on the court,” Nash said.

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said Nash’s back started to tighten up from the nerve issues, causing the veteran point guard to limp on the court.

Nash, who turned 40 on Friday, had played in three of the Lakers’ last four games after missing nearly three months of game action because of nerve root irritation in his back and hamstrings.

“It wasn’t like I broke it again,” Nash said. “I just kind of irritated the nerve and I’m hopeful that all the stuff that I’ve been doing will be able to overcome that little bit of irritation. It’s kind of transient and hopefully I’ll wake up tomorrow and feel better.”


VIDEO: See how easy Kevin Durant makes it look in the Nightly Notable

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: You’ll have to forgive the Magic for acting like they won a championship when they knocked off the Pacers but every win, especially against an elite team, matters when they come as sparingly as they do in Orlando … Acting Cavs GM David Griffin says they are buying at the trade deadline in Cleveland … Thunder star Russell Westbrook is gearing up for his return after the All-Star breakRick Carlisle couldn’t resist the inevitable Dirk Nowitzki-Larry Bird comparisons over the weekend in Boston …

ICYMI of the Night: The Clippers went to town in their rout of the Sixers and no one had more fun in the blowout than the Clippers’ All-Star power forward Blake Griffin, who shows off a bit with one of his many dunks …


VIDEO: Blake Griffin goes off the glass, courtesy of Chris Paul

Sloan Squirms As Jazz Hoist Banner


VIDEO: Jerry Sloan crafted a Hall of Fame career as a legendary coach of the Utah Jazz

Another number, another banner, another set of rafters for Jerry Sloan, who considers that an appropriate destination for an old bat — or coot or whatever — such as himself.

“Yeah, that’s where I belong,” he said on the phone the other day, with a quick, self-deprecating laugh. “It’s not something I campaigned for. I told them I didn’t want to do it. They insinuated I needed to do it. So they’ve been good to me. I’ll probably, I guess, change my mind.”

The “it” is the banner that the Utah Jazz will be hoisting high above the floor at Energy Solutions Arena Friday night honoring their legendary head coach. It features the number “1223,” representing the team’s total of regular-season (1,127) and postseason (96) victories with Sloan as coach from 1988-2011.

It’s the second number linked to Sloan to reach such heights — his jersey (4) from his playing days with Chicago was the first one retired by the Bulls.

The ceremony will be take place at halftime of Utah’s ESPN-carried game against Golden State (10:30 ET), after a pregame news conference to be streamed on the team’s Web site.

Uncomfortable or not with all the attention, Sloan will be joined by his wife Tammy, family, friends, former Jazz cohorts including Hall of Famers John Stockton and Karl Malone and an arena packed with appreciative fans. And it will cap “Jerry Sloan Day” in Utah, as proclaimed by Gov. Gary Herbert, who probably embarrassed Sloan recalling his No. 3 rank all-time in victories, the Jazz’s 16 consecutive winning seasons and seven division titles under Sloan as well as 19 playoff trips and two Finals berths.

Yeah, the no-nonsense, taciturn Sloan figures to be a little uncomfortable by the end of the night. And though there may be gifts, heck, it’s not likely he’ll be getting a new carburetor for his tractor. (more…)