Posts Tagged ‘Washington Wizards’

Morning shootaround — March 27


VIDEO: Highlights from game played on March 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

James Harden makes MVP case | Pacers clinging to playoff hopes | Crawford says he’ll be back | Amar’e to stick with Dallas?

No. 1: James Harden makes MVP case With the season nearing an end, the MVP talk around the MVP race is heading up. Stephen Curry? Russell Westbrook? LeBron James? Anthony Davis? Or what about in Houston, where James Harden has been perhaps the best offensive player in the NBA this season? USA Today‘s Sam Amick caught up with Harden, who made his case for why he deserves your MVP vote…

“I think if you look at what I’ve been doing all year, only missing one game all year because of the situation (with seemingly-endless injuries to teammates), basically having to carry a load all year, being consistent from the first game of the season,” Harden said. “That should show it right there. But like I said, (the focus is) for me to go out there and continue doing what I’m doing, being consistent, is all I can do.”

And getting to the free throw line at an unmatched rate. Harden — who has converted on 86.6% of free throw attempts — is on pace to lead the league in free throw attempts for the second time in three seasons (10.1 per game). Last season’s leader in that category was the Thunder’s reigning MVP, Kevin Durant (9.9).

“I’m enjoying the whole process of these last (few) games, just trying to win games,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been doing since Dwight has been out. I don’t really keep track of the other (MVP candidates) or what they’re doing. Obviously everybody knows that Russ is going on a triple-double rally. He’s playing extremely well and they’re fighting for the eighth spot. But all those guys you named (Curry, Westbrook, James, Davis and Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers) are very good players, or very talented players. For me, I just focus on what I can control and going out there and doing the best I can do every single right.”

In trying to explain his own MVP-caliber campaign, Harden said his comfort level in the not-so-new surroundings have been key. It’s his third season in Houston, where he came via trade in October 2012 and has progressively found his way as a leader ever since.

“All I needed was time,” he said of the Houston experience. “All I needed was to know what I had around me. And now that I know it, I’m comfortable with it and I can be a great leader. I think that’s probably one of the reasons I’m so successful is that I’m comfortable. I think if you’re comfortable in any situation, and you know what’s going on and you know what you’re going to get, you’re going to be successful.

“It’s about having a good time, about enjoying it, enjoying the grind. If you’re not having fun, you’re probably not doing good.”

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Schedule says Thunder have edge on Pelicans for playoff spot


VIDEO: Pelicans GM Dell Demps assesses his teams hopes for a playoff berth

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – With just 30 days to go in the 2014-15 season, the battles for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference and the last two spots in the East have never been tighter.

After losing in Dallas on Monday, the Oklahoma City Thunder have a half game lead on the New Orleans Pelicans for eighth in the West. The Pelicans have the tiebreaker with a 3-1 head-to-head record, but the Thunder have an easier remaining schedule, with more home games, fewer back-to-backs, and fewer games against teams with winning records.

Here’s an updated look at remaining schedules for the entire Western Conference …

20150317_sos_west

Here’s an explanation of the “Adj.,” column, which starts with the opponent NetRtg for each game and makes the following adjustments:

  • plus-2.6* for a road game.
  • minus-2.6 for a home game.
  • plus-2.6** when the team is playing the second night of a back-to-back and the opponent isn’t.
  • minus-2.6 when the opponent is playing the second night of a back-to-back and the team isn’t.

* Home teams have outscored road teams by 2.6 points per 100 possessions this season.
** When one team played the night before and the other didn’t, the rested team has been a plus-2.6 this season.

A couple of notes on the West:

  • Mathematically, the Phoenix Suns still have a shot at a playoff spot. But the toughest remaining schedule in the league is enough to dismiss them. They’re 1-5 against teams currently over .500 since the All-Star break and play 12 of their final 14 games against that group.
  • The L.A. Clippers just finished a stretch where they played 17 of 21 games against teams that are currently over .500. They’re rewarded with the easiest remaining schedule of the 10 teams that have a shot in the playoffs. They’re currently in seventh place, but are just a half game out of fifth and are 24-4 against teams that are currently under .500.
  • The Grizzlies still have some work to do to hold on to the No. 2 seed. They have just a one-game lead in the loss column over the Portland Trail Blazers, who have an easier remaining schedule.

Here’s the remaining schedules in the East …

20150317_sos_east

  • The Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat are all tied with 36 losses, and they all have relatively tough schedules remaining.
  • None of the four have more home games than road games remaining.
  • The Hornets play more losing teams than winning teams, but also have the most back-to-backs remaining in the league, starting with Tuesday’s visit to the Clippers after Monday’s drubbing in Utah.
  • The Pacers and Celtics have the most momentum of the group, but also have the toughest remaining schedules. Both Boston (3-2) and Indiana (4-2) do have winning records since the All-Star break against teams with winning records, though.
  • The most home games remaining should be an opportunity for Brooklyn to get back in that 7-10 mix, but the Nets are a league-worst 3-11 at home in 2015.
  • Don’t hand the Cleveland Cavaliers the No. 2 seed just yet. The Toronto Raptors are only a game behind in the loss column, play 12 of their final 15 games against teams under .500, and are 25-7 against that group so far.
  • An easier remaining schedule should give the Chicago Bulls an edge over the Washington Wizards in the race for the No. 4 seed (and home-court advantage in a first-round matchup). They’re currently tied in the loss column, with Chicago holding the tiebreaker edge (better conference record, with a 2-2 tie in head-to-head meetings).

Morning shootaround — March 13


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played March 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Irving proves his worth to Cavs | Wall felt disrespected by Grizzlies | Jackson: Knicks’ season ‘a project gone awry’

No. 1: Irving dominates — and proves he’s a worth sidekick to LeBron — The NBA world is abuzz this morning about Kyrie Irving‘s 57-point masterpiece of a game in the Cavs’ OT win over the Spurs last night. (If you missed it, you can watch every single one of his buckets right here). Not only did the win help keep the Cavs in the chase for the No. 2 spot in the East, it also proved, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com, that Irving is turning out to be a more-than worthy sidekick to LeBron James:

Before Kyrie Irving could become the hero and score the last nine points of regulation, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to force overtime, and before Irving could top even that by scoring 11 of the Cavs’ 18 points in OT to earn the 128-125 win in what had to be the league’s best regular-season game this season, James needed to remind all of his guys that even when down double digits in the lion’s den, they had the power to make something happen.

“LeBron told us in the timeout, ‘Win, lose or draw, still fight to the end,'” Tristan Thompson said. “And guys believed.”

Spend enough time in the Cavs’ locker room and you’ll hear a version of James’ message uttered on a daily basis. Guys will chirp, “Stay with it,” as a sort of catch phrase that’s become an inside joke (they usually pronounce it more like, “Stayyyy wittttt it”), quoting a recurring piece of advice imparted by assistant coach James Posey.

“Coach Pos started it,” James said. “You know, stay with it, and that’s what we’ve got to do. No matter what’s going on throughout the game, no matter what’s going on throughout the season, we’ve got to stay with it, stay with our process, stay with what we need to do, both offensively and defensively, on the bus, on the plane, whatever the case may be. We’ve always got to stay with what we’re trying to build around here, and that’s championship DNA.”

To build that DNA, first the Cavs had to draw blood from a champion.

There was room for only one truly transcendent star on this night, anyway, and it was Irving.

Once James got his teammates to believe, he showed how strong his belief was in them right back. Rather than being the one to get the last shot and try to, with one flip of the wrist, exorcise the AT&T Center demons that have haunted him the past nine months when his hopes for ring No. 3 died, James took the ball out of bounds and passed to Irving for the final shot of regulation.

The historical significance of the performance was baked in, as Irving topped his own NBA season-high mark of 55 points while simultaneously edging James’ Cavs franchise record of 56 points and also managing to tie Purvis Short’s record of 57 points for the most points ever scored by a San Antonio opponent. And, to give context to just how well the Spurs played and still lost, it was just the second time in the Popovich-Duncan era that San Antonio shot 56 percent or better at a team (it shot 56.3 percent Thursday) and didn’t win.

But he didn’t want any part of it. “I don’t want the game ball,” he told a team attendant afterward. Nor did he seem to be too keen on setting aside any keepsake from the night — Mike Miller was the recipient of his autographed, game-worn sneakers, which Miller toted out of the locker room with a smile on his face. Irving did say he planned to go to Disney World on Friday, but those were plans he already made before going bonkers on the Spurs, what with the team heading to Florida for an Orlando/Miami back-to-back.

What Irving got out of this night was an ascendance to James’ level and an acceptance from the four-time MVP that he doesn’t just have a young, talented guy out there by his side, he has a partner. When Irving scored 55 points against Portland earlier in the season, James was out with a sore wrist. When he scored 57 against San Antonio, it came on a night when James scored 31 and the two of them combined to score Cleveland’s final 27 points (20 for Irving, seven for James).


VIDEO: Relive some great moments from Kyrie Irving’s big game vs. the Spurs

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Morning shootaround — March 10


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played March 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rose’s return on his own timetable | Report: Embiid’s rehab hits small snag | Wizards’ Wall feeling worn down

No. 1: Rose: Bulls shouldn’t give up on me — Before the start of the 2013-14 season, Derrick Rose held a news conference as he prepared to return to the Chicago Bulls’ lineup after missing all of the 2012-13 season with a series of knee injuries. During that news conference, Rose famously said the Bulls could ‘be a fool if you want to’ in answering whether or not his string of injuries should lead Chicago to part ways with him. As he mends from a right meniscus injury now, Rose is seemingly on message again and said as much yesterday in addressing the media about his current rehab. Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times has more:

Meeting with the media for the first time since he had a third knee surgery, the Bulls point guard made no guarantees that he would be back this season, despite his organization putting a four-to-six week timetable on him.

“Who cares? I’m not even thinking about that right now,’’ Rose replied, when asked about the organization’s return window. “I’m thinking about getting the most out of every day.’’

Asked when he expected to be back, Rose said, “Who knows? Whenever I feel well that’s when I’ll step back on the court.’’

Rose was one of three current key Bulls sidelined, joining Jimmy Butler (left elbow) and Taj Gibson (left ankle).

Butler was with the team on the weekend road trip, and seemed closer to the three-week mark than the six-week mark of his timetable, while Gibson is day-to-day.

There was a slight discrepancy with Rose, however, especially because coach Tom Thibodeau said that Rose was “right on schedule.’’

“Last week was the initial phase, just getting started with [the rehab],’’ Thibodeau said. “This week he will ramp it up some. Hopefully he’ll be able to get back quickly.’’

According to Rose, “on schedule’’ means on his schedule.

“Whenever I’m ready to come back, I’m going to come back,’’ Rose reiterated.

He did have one very interesting answer, asked if the Bulls organization should start moving in a different direction considering his injury history.

“It’s to each his own,’’ Rose said. “If they feel like they need to do that, this is a business too. I know the business side. I know they’d be making a totally wrong mistake, but I’m not the owner, I’m not the GM or the president. I’m the player. My job is to come out, go out there and try to play as hard as I can every night and try to win games. And if they decide to do something different or go another way, I can’t get mad at them.’’


VIDEO: Derrick Rose discusses his road to recovery from his latest injury

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Morning shootaround — Feb. 28


VIDEO: Recap Friday’s 14 games with the Daily Zap

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rondo: All is well in Dallas | What’s wrong with the Wizards? | Bulls win, despite losing Gibson | Shorten the schedule?

No. 1: Rondo: All is well in Dallas — After an on-court blowup earlier this week between Dallas coach Rick Carlisle and point guard Rajon Rondo, the Mavericks suspended Rondo for one game. Dallas lost that game without Rondo, against Atlanta, but in the meantime, Rondo says, he and Carlisle have been working to get back on the same page. And as ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon writes, Rondo is now hoping to focus on moving forward and keeping the Mavs in the playoff picture…

“I just got built-up frustration,” said Rondo, who has had a couple of long individual meetings with Carlisle since their blowup. “I take a lot of the blame for what I’ve been doing on the court, but just a little frustrated. The most important thing is communication with Coach. I’ve talked to a lot of the coaches, I’ve talked to a lot of staff members.

“Coach and I, when I first got here, we were talking a lot and watching film after every game. He’s backed off a little bit with the addition of Amar’e [Stoudemire], trying to help get him up to speed. Our communication was great at first. Not that it wasn’t so great, but it’s just that we weren’t communicating enough. That shouldn’t be the case the rest of the season.”

Rondo, a four-time All-Star who arrived in Dallas on Dec. 18 as the featured player in a blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics, has a reputation for being difficult to coach. He frequently butted heads with Doc Rivers in Boston, but the Celtics won a title and advanced to another NBA Finals during their time together.

“I’ve been in this situation before,” Rondo said, chuckling. “Everyone’s personality is different. The personality and the DNA is different.

“I don’t think this is a problem at all. We lost a game [Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks], which hurt us seeding-wise, but we have to continue to move forward. I spoke with pretty much everyone in the organization, and everyone is on the same page.”

Rondo declined to discuss how play-calling responsibilities would be handled going forward. Carlisle has handled the vast majority of play-calling, which bothered Rondo, a nine-year veteran known for his basketball intelligence.

Carlisle, who stressed the importance of Rondo to the Mavs after the suspension was announced Wednesday, said he is done discussing the incident with Rondo.

“I know that you guys need to ask him a couple of questions, but I’m done talking about it,” Carlisle said. “Our other players are done talking about it. It’s over. In terms of NBA time, it’s light-years ago.”

***

No. 2: What’s wrong with the Wizards? — The Washington Wizards entered this season expected to not only contend for the Southeast Division title, but the Eastern Conference crown as well. But even with injuries slowing their roll this season, the Wizards are in a tailspin right now, last night losing to the Philadelphia 76ers, Washington’s sixth loss in a row, its longest losing streak in two seasons. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, the Wizards’ loss was “code red for a team that just one month ago harbored title aspirations”…

It came on the heels of a team dinner Thursday. All 14 players dined together at a Brazilian steakhouse, which was captured in an Instagram post by Marcin Gortat with the caption “Team dinner…Staying together!”

The off-court camaraderie didn’t remedy their on-court ailments. A night later, they were dreadful in a loss to a team they dismantled by 35 points last month. The loss was the Wizards’ 11th in 13 games and 13th in their past 17 and could leave them in sixth place in the Eastern Conference depending on the Milwaukee Bucks’ fate against the Los Angeles Lakers late Friday night.

“I wouldn’t say rock bottom. It’s a tough stretch,” all-star guard John Wall said. “We’re still above .500, but the main thing is we got to get back to playing the right way. Until we do that, we’re going to keep losing games. The way we’ve been playing, you can lose to anybody in this league.”

Washington entered the night averaging a league-low 15 free throw attempts and shooting 23.3 percent from beyond the three-point line over its past five games. Without Bradley Beal (fibula), Paul Pierce (knee) and Kris Humphries (groin) available, the trend continued.

When the Wizards (33-26) last played in Philadelphia on March 1 of last year, Trevor Ariza, now a member of the Houston Rockets, made eight three-pointers and scored 40 points. On Friday, Washington made just 4 of its 17 three-point attempts (23.5 percent) and scored 39 second-half points.

The Wizards shot a paltry 32.3 percent from the floor and attempted 12 fewer free throws than Philadelphia. The 76ers were held to 35 percent shooting but outscored Washington by 28 points from the three-point arc and free throw line.

“We had some good shots, but we’re not making shots,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “[We’re] not playing with confidence right now. We’re short-cutting everything. To get out of this rut that you’re in, you can’t do that offensively. We have to execute offensively, and we took short cuts, which turned into bad shots. Until we execute, it’s going to stay like this.”

***

No. 3: Bulls win, despite losing Gibson — The Chicago Bulls continue seeing both sides of the coin. Earlier in the day, the Bulls announced that surgery on Derrick Rose had been successful, and they were putting a 4-6 week timetable on his return, which, even on the long end of that schedule, would have Rose back before the end of the regular season. Last night, without Rose, the Bulls beat the surging Timberwolves, 96-89. But taking the bad with the good, the Bulls lost big man Taj Gibson to a sprained ankle. With the Bulls struggling to stay healthy, Joakim Noah has been able to resume his old point-forward role and keep the Bulls above water, as ESPNChicago.com’s Nick Friedell writes

“That part I think is innate,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said of Noah’s passing ability. “He had great vision and decision-making ability. He’s got a very unorthodox game in many ways. But he’s got great vision, and if a guy’s open just a little bit on a cut, he can get it there. So it’s a big plus when you have a big guy that can pass like that.”

For his part, Noah wasn’t biting on how much fun he was having in his old role. He discussed how the Bulls run a read-and-react offense and try to find the open man.

“I enjoy winning,” Noah said. “It was fun to win today. We just got to keep improving.”

Noah’s offensive game has taken a back seat to Pau Gasol‘s throughout the season. Now that Noah is back to feeling like himself as he continues to shake off the lingering effects of offseason knee surgery, it’s going to be interesting to see how his game responds once Gasol and Rose are back on the floor. In the meantime, Noah, like the rest of his teammates, is just hopeful Rose will be back sooner than later.

“It’s tough when your best player is out,” Noah said. “But I think today was positive news. Derrick’s a warrior. He’s going to fight as hard as he can to try his best to come back this year. We just got to keep building and keep getting better until he gets back.”

***

No. 4: Shorten the season? — At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston this weekend, at least some part of the conversation has been about the length of the NBA season. The NBA has played an 82-game schedule since 1967-68, but with the recent drumbeat to reduce wear-and-tear on players and reduce the amount of back-to-back games, is it worth considering shortening the season? As Brett Pollakoff writes for NBCSports.com, the recently retired Shane Battier suggests slicing 22 games off the schedule…

“To me, 82 is here because somebody is making a lot of money,” Mike D’Antoni said Friday, as part of a panel discussion at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. “Usually that’s the bottom line. They’re making money, it hasn’t been a disaster, and it’s a little more like a marathon, and that’s just the rules. 82 isn’t going anywhere.”

As D’Antoni summed up succinctly, without a large amount of data available to essentially prove that an 82-game schedule significantly puts the league’s players at risk, the financial incentive not to touch that magic number of 82 will remain too strong. And Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren echoed those remarks.

“It’s not just the number of games, it’s in what time frame,” Zarren said. “So there may be some tweaks that happen soon in the NBA to that. It’s a much more realistic thing than cutting games, because it’s in everyone’s interest to grow the pie, and cutting the number of games cuts ticket sales, which shrinks the pie.”

Those are realistic perspectives, but they’re ones that come from a coach and a member of the front office.

On the player side, Shane Battier came up with a number of games that he believes would be ideal — not only to protect the athletes, but also to make the games that are played much more compelling.

“Personally, I think a 60-game season would be perfect,” Battier said. “Every game matters more. You can’t sleepwalk through a few weeks of the season — it does happen — and then all of a sudden wake up near the All-Star break and turn it on. Fans just want to see the best basketball players in the world at their highest level going head-to-head.

“Every team has a certain number of throwaway games. You just know. You just know you’re not winning tonight. You don’t have it. And then after the game, coach knows it, everybody knows it, coach comes in, says ‘Alright, bring it in guys. We’ll get ‘em tomorrow. 1-2-3 team!'”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Thunder lost the second half of a back-to-back, but not because of Russell Westbrook, who posted his third-straight triple-double … Don’t be surprised if the Knicks make a run at Reggie Jackson this summer … Is Baron Davis mounting a comeback this season? … Catching up with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has reinvented himself in retirement as a culture vulture

Morning shootaround — Feb. 25


VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s action from around the NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Derrick Rose needs surgery again | Rajon Rondo takes a seat in Dallas | Gortat, Wizards are reeling | Lakers can’t win for winning

No. 1: Derrick Rose needs surgery again — He is Gale Sayers, the talented Chicago Bears running back whose career was interrupted and ultimately cut short by knee troubles. That’s who Derrick Rose is, and in a cruel coincidence, both represented Chicago teams, albeit in far different decades. Sayers suffered his torn ACL before modern medical practices made it possible for athletes to recover within a year, yet returned anyway and rushed for 1,032 yards before another knee issue put him on the sidelines for good. This will be Rose’s third knee operation in almost 34 months, and for the second time will be to repair a meniscus tear. The news broke late Tuesday night and as you could imagine, cast a pall on the NBA. For the last three years we’ve only seen glimpses of the player who won the 2011 MVP, and for the last three years the Bulls have had to wait on Rose before attempting to take a realistic step toward a title. Now? Well, after they added Pau Gasol and watched Jimmy Butler blossom into an All-Star, the Bulls had title aspirations this season and merely waited on Rose to be his old self. That wait must continue. A headline in the Chicago Sun-Times summed it up: “Third Time’s The Harm.” Here’s Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago:

“The good news for the Bulls is that they are better equipped to handle Rose’s absence than they have been in years past. Jimmy Butler earned his first All-Star berth this season and has taken his game to another level. Pau Gasol earned a starting nod in the All-Star Game and has been the Bulls’ most consistent offensive player this season. Joakim Noah is playing the best basketball of his season after struggling with the lingering effects of offseason knee surgery.

The Bulls are deeper and more talented than they have been in years, but the larger issue for them might be the mental impact Rose’s latest setback has on the group.

As much as the Bulls thrive in the underdog role, they understand what Rose’s absence means. The idea that they could win an NBA championship without Rose leading the way while playing at a high level like he did against the Cleveland Cavaliers before the All-Star break seems far-fetched at best, impossible at worst.

From a broader perspective, the latest Rose setback could have some larger ramifications on the organization. The tension surrounding Thibodeau and the Bulls’ front office remains at an all-time high. There is a widespread belief around the league that if Thibodeau and the Bulls don’t make a deep run in the Eastern Conference playoffs, then the two sides may agree to part ways at the end of the season. Or they could seek a trade with another team to get compensation to allow Thibodeau out of the final two years of his contract.

With Rose possibly out for the remainder of the season, it’s hard to see the Bulls being able to make a deep run without their former MVP.

With that in mind, if Rose does have to miss the remainder of the year, it would also likely mark the end of this particular championship window for this group. No matter what happens with Rose in the coming days, his uncertain health status continues to linger over everything the Bulls do. So does Thibodeau’s uncertain status in Chicago.

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2015 Trade Deadline Live Blog


VIDEO: Trade Deadline Show wrap-up

Thursday started a little slow, but by the time 3 p.m. rolled around, the action was fast and furious, culminating in a flurry of deals that sent several quality point guards across the country.

Here’s a breakdown of every trade made in the hours leading up to the deadline, as reported.

To MIL: Michael Carter-Williams, Tyler Ennis, Miles Plumlee
To PHI: LAL pick (protected)
To PHX: Brandon Knight, Kendall Marshall

To BOS: Isaiah Thomas
To PHX: Marcus Thornton, CLE pick

To DET: Reggie Jackson
To OKC: D.J. Augustin, Enes Kanter, Steve Novak, Kyle Singler
To UTA: Grant Jerrett, Kendrick Perkins, OKC pick (protected), 2nd round pick

To BOS: Luigi Datome, Jonas Jerebko
To DET: Tayshaun Prince

To HOU: Pablo Prigioni
To NYK: Alexey Shved, 2 2nd round picks

To HOU: K.J. McDaniels
To PHI: Isaiah Canaan, 2nd round pick

To MIA: Goran Dragic, Zoran Dragic
To NOP: Norris Cole, Justin Hamilton, Shawne Williams
To PHX: Danny Granger, John Salmons, 2 1st round picks

To DEN:
To PHI: JaVale McGee, OKC pick (protected)

To BKN: Thaddeus Young
To MIN: Kevin Garnett

To SAC: Andre Miller
To WAS: Ramon Sessions

To DEN: Will Barton, Victor Claver, Thomas Robinson, POR pick (protected), 2nd round pick
To POR: Arron Afflalo, Alonzo Gee

Five takeaways

1. The Thunder remade their bench.
Enes Kanter‘s defense is disastrous and Steve Novak hasn’t been in an NBA rotation in two years, but D.J. Augustin gives Oklahoma City more of a floor general on its second unit and Kyle Singler adds shooting (41 percent from 3-point range this season) to complement their stars. With Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison already on the frontline, Kanter’s defense might not be as much of an issue as it was in Utah.

2. If Dwyane Wade is healthy, the Heat will be a tough out.
Goran Dragic is the best point guard Wade has had in Miami (if you don’t count LeBron James as a PG) and will take some of the ball-handling burden off of Wade’s shoulders. Dragic pick-and-pops with Chris Bosh will be deadly.

As they stood on Wednesday, a healthy Heat team could have been a tough opponent for a high seed in the East that didn’t have much playoff experience. Now, they’re downright scary.

3. The Blazers are all-in.
With one of the best starting lineups in the league, the Blazers added Arron Afflalo to a bench that already includes Steve Blake and Chris Kaman. And playing alongside LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard should help Afflalo shoot threes more like he did last season (43 percent) than he has this season so far (34 percent).

Anything can happen in the Western Conference playoffs, but the Blazers just improved their odds of making a deep run.

4. The Sixers didn’t believe in Michael Carter-Williams
Or they didn’t believe he was a star. So they traded him for another chance at a star, a Lakers pick that’s protected 1-5 this year and 1-3 each of the next two years. Carter-Williams’ length was one ingredient to the top-12 defense that Brett Brown had built this season, but Sam Hinkie is still kicking that can down the road.

5. Did the Bucks take a step back to save money?
Brandon Knight may have been an All-Star had Jimmy Butler not been able to play on Sunday. And the Bucks broke up a team that won eight of its last nine games going into the break, perhaps to avoid paying Knight (a restricted free agent) this summer.

But the Bucks’ defense, which already ranks second in the league, may have improved with the addition of Carter-Williams. Put his wingspan together with that of Giannis Antetokounmpo and John Henson, and the Bucks can cover the whole court with just three guys.

– John Schuhmann

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Star-studded Three-Point Shootout field highlights All-Star Saturday Night


VIDEO: Star-studded field for Foot Locker Three-Point Contest

HANG TIME BIG CITY — Forget East versus West. After two years of NBA All-Star Saturday Night pitting one conference against the other, this time, it’s personal. And for once, long range marksmanship may trump dunks as the center of attraction.

NBA All-Star 2015Conference affiliations will be out the window on Saturday, Feb. 14, for the State Farm All-Star Saturday Night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. This year, it’s every man and woman for themselves in the annual Saturday night showcase.

In the Degree Shooting Stars competition, the two-time defending championship team of Chris Bosh, Dominique Wilkins and Swin Cash will reunite. Although this is a shooting competition, Team Davis, made up of Anthony Davis, Scottie Pippen and Elena Delle Donne, will have unbelievable length. Other participants include Golden State’s Stephen Curry and his father, retired guard Dell.

Eight players will compete in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, a three-round, obstacle-course competition that tests dribbling, passing, agility and shooting skills. Seven of those players are point guards, including the defending champ, Utah’s Trey Burke, as well as All-Stars Kyle Lowry, Jeff Teague and John Wall. The lone non-point guard in the field is Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, an All-Star swingman with well-rounded skills.

The Sprite Slam Dunk field was announced a few weeks ago. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Zach LaVine, Victor Oladipo and Mason Plumlee bring an energetic edge to the proceedings this season. Brooklyn’s Plumlee is the lone active NBA player with New York ties participating on Saturday night.

Yet even with the loaded dunk field, it may be tough to top the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest, which is this year stocked with sharpshooters …

Marco Belinelli, Spurs — Last year’s defending champ, Belinelli has played just 30 games this season due to injury. Belinelli has the lowest 3-point percentage (38.2) of any player in the Three-Point Contest field.

Stephen Curry, Warriors — Drained 10 3-pointers Wednesday night in a 51-point performance against the Mavs. Earlier this season, became fastest player in NBA history to make 1,000 career 3s.

Klay Thompson, Warriors — At 44.6 percent, Thompson trails only Korver in 3-point percentage this season. Thompson and Curry are the only teammates ever to combine for 400 3-pointers in back-to-back seasons.

James Harden, Rockets — Fifth this season in 3-pointers made and attempts, and the NBA’s leading scorer at 27 points.

Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers — Other than Belinelli, Irving has the least made treys in the field, with 100. But last year’s All-Star Game MVP has a flair for the dramatic, and he knocked down 11 3s in his 55-point performance a few weeks back against Portland.

Kyle Korver, Hawks — On pace to have the greatest 3-point shooting season in NBA history, currently leading the NBA in 3-point accuracy at 53.2 percent. Korver is attempting to become the first player in history among qualifiers to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from beyond the arc and 90 percent from the free-throw line.

Wesley Matthews, Trail Blazers — Leads the NBA in 3-pointers made (151) and attempted (375). Has had 11 games this season where he made at least 5 3-pointers.

J.J. Redick, Clippers — Has made 114 3-pointers, putting him on track to break his previous high of 165. Currently shooting a career-high 43.2 percent on 3s.

State Farm NBA All-Star Saturday Night will be televised live exclusively on TNT on Saturday, Feb. 14, from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.


VIDEO: All-Star guards highlight Taco Bell Skills Challenge

Morning shootaround — Feb. 3


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Love biding his time in Cavs’ offense | Wittman, Beal blast Wizards’ effort | Matthews: Blazers not ‘feared’ by opponents anymore

No. 1: Love patiently biding his time in Cavs’ offense — No team in the NBA is hotter this morning than the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have won 11 straight games and are rolling as may thought they would this season. Last night’s victory against the Philadelphia 76ers was a little tougher than expected, but the Cavs pulled it out — despite a quiet night offensively from Kevin Love. The power forward had 15 rebounds, but took just seven shots and scored five points. Love didn’t shoot at all after the first quarter and while some of the Cavs are worried about his role, he surely isn’t. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group has more:

In 33 minutes of action, Love compiled a game-high 15 rebounds and played solid defense, but only scored five points on 1-for-7 shooting. All seven of his shots were taken in the opening quarter.

It was only the third time in his NBA career that he scored five or less points when playing 33 minutes or more. Love looked passive and disengaged on the offensive end. When Love’s lack of involvement was brought up to Head Coach David Blatt during his postgame presser, he admitted that it’s an issue.

“That shouldn’t happen,” Blatt said of Love only shooting seven times. “That absolutely shouldn’t happen.”

Blatt later said: “I don’t think we moved the ball well enough. We could have played at him a little bit more. We haven’t practiced for a while. We have to work on a few things and clean that up.”

LeBron James, who finished with 18 points and 11 assists in 36 minutes, felt like Love had more opportunities to contribute to the scoring outcome.

“I think Kev had some shots that he passed up on,” James said. “Maybe he just felt like he wasn’t in a good rhythm, but I know I hit him for a few shots after the first quarter where he had some good looks and he decided to swing, swing which is OK because it kept the ball moving.

“I think for Kevin, I think his confidence maybe just shooting the ball is a little down. But for me as a player, I got him good looks. I want him to shot the ball and shoot it with confidence.”

After logging 32 minutes, Love got some shots up on the main court and entered the locker room drenched in sweat. He said deciding to get some extra work postgame had nothing to do with him struggling with his shot. He said would have either shot or lifted weights at the end of the game.

As for his confidence, he says he’s good in that department.

“I had some good looks in the first quarter,” Love said. “A couple of tip-ins that I missed…I’m getting good looks, but not for a lack of confidence.”

Throughout this entire process, Love has been the constant professional. He’s never been in a winning situation during his pro career and he’s doing everything possible to elongate the team’s success.

“I’m just doing what’s being asked of me right now and playing where I’m being asked to play,” he said. “We’ve won 11 games in a row so I’m going to continue. That’s just how it is right now.”

For the first time in Love’s career, he is impacting the game in other ways besides scoring and rebounding. His defense has improved dramatically, specifically his defensive awareness. He seems to be in the right spots on rotations.

Love is doing the dirty work that’s not showing up on the stat-sheet. His head and heart are in the right place. He’s remaining patient with the firm belief that he’ll eventually find his niche within the offense.

“I think it will continue to evolve, but if we continue to win and I’m not necessarily being asked to score the ball or shoot a volume of shots, that’s fine by me,” Love said. “I’m going to continue to keep working and getting extra shots up, getting in the weight room so if my number is called and there’s some sort of continuity and flow, that I’ll be able to be assertive and be as efficient as I can.”

There’s no drama to see over here. Keep it moving.


VIDEO: Coach David Blatt discusses the Cavs’ win vs. the Sixers

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 28


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

James praises Irving’s play | Pierce laments Kobe’s injury | Aldridge in it for the long haul this season

No. 1: James praises Irving’s play and leadership — Remember way back when the Cleveland Cavaliers were struggling this season and we were all worried about their place in the East hierarchy? Yeah, we can all forget those days now. The Cavs have won seven in a row after last night’s victory in Detroit that was spearheaded by LeBron James‘ 32 points and Kyrie Irving‘s 38. After the game, James had nothing but positives and praise to heap upon his point guard, writes Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group:

James was OK, though, and scored 10 points in the fourth quarter. But just in case, Irving was there for 16 points in the final period.

“He was the great from start to finish, he just kept it going in the fourth quarter,” James said.

And that’s it. That’s the lot of it. There isn’t much more to be said about what transpired Tuesday night. The Cavs didn’t shoot well (37 percent), played great defense, and Irving and James combined for 70 of the team’s 103 points.

But in turning the page to tonight’s game – against Portland at The Q — it’s hard not to be whisked all the way back to Nov. 4 and consider how far Irving has come in James’ eyes since then.

That night, the Blazers beat the Cavs 101-82. James was so frustrated with Irving and Dion Waiters, he basically stood at the wing and watched while Irving and Waiters jacked up shot after shot in a bad loss.

Afterwards, James and Irving had a brief exchange in the locker room, and in a long session with reporters James said the Cavs had to break “bad habits” after four years of losing.

Irving shot 3-of-17 that night.

“Third game of the season, I don’t remember, who did we play?” Irving said with a smirk when he was asked about his personal journey since then. “You mean when everyone made something up? I think that definitely was a turn for us. Yeah, I agree with you.”

Cavaliers coach David Blatt confirmed a few days later that James and Irving did engage in something brief after the Portland game. And it was all too abundantly clear who James was talking about that night when he was talking about “bad habits.”

Anyway, consider what has happened since. Irving, though statistically better in 2012-13 than he is now, is enjoying his most complete season with 21.3 points, 5.2 assists and 1.6 steals on a team full of talent. He’ll find out Thursday if he made the East All-Star team as a reserve.

“We’ve come very, very far. Very, very far,” James said, harkening back to his “bad habits” remark. “That’s part of the reason we’ve kind of turned a corner for our season.”

And what about Irving, specifically, since the Portland game?

“He’s been great, both on the floor and off the floor,” James said. “He’s turning into a leader in his own right, and every day it’s great to see him improve. Winning is a great thing in our league. No substitute for winning, but it’s how you approach it every single day that puts you in position to succeed. It’s not about winning ball games, it’s about winning every day.

“That’s part of the process, and Kyrie has taken that full storm and if we continue to get that from him we’ll be very, very good.”

Since Jan. 16, Irving has matched up defensively with point guards Chris Paul (15 points, 4-of-15 shooting), Derrick Rose (18 points, 5-of-14), Trey Burke (two points, 1-of-10), Kemba Walker (eight points, 3-of-14), Russell Westbrook (22 points, 7-of-26) and D.J Augustin (19 points, 8-of-15).

Only Augustin had an efficient evening against him last night.

Irving is also reveling in distributing the ball. He sounds as though he’s a long way from 3-of-17.

“Everyone’s sharing the ball, everyone’s getting a touch of it, ” Irving said. “I feel we’re at our best when everybody’s in the flow of the game and our trust is out there and the ball is swinging.”


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving discusses his big game against the Pistons

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