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NEWS OF THE MORNING
Rubio due back, well, one of these weeks | KG goes ‘Lance’ on Pacers’ West | Clippers’ bench earns its pine time | Pierce sees end of Gang Green
No. 1: Rubio due back, well, one of these weeks — Despite the tendency of Web sites everywhere to gaze into their crystal balls and predict the future – about half of all sports reporting and four-fifths of all stock market coverage is all about guessing what will maybe, perhaps, happen – sometimes the future doesn’t cooperate. Which is why injured Minnesota point guard Ricky Rubio is tired of talking about it, even in the short term. As Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported from Oakland Saturday, Rubio’s return from a severely sprained ankle has become too much of a guessing game for the team’s absent playmaker:
He is back running and now refuses to prognosticate the date of his return.
“I wish,” Rubio said Saturday when asked if he knows when he will play again. “I’ve been saying it’s two weeks for the last month. I don’t want to say anymore dates. I’ve been saying in two weeks I think I’ll be ready and two weeks go by and I still can’t play and I get mad. I don’t want to get in a bad mood again. I’m not going to ask for a date again. I go as my body will let me do.”
For now, he can run and he did so with teammates for the first time at Friday’s morning shootaround in Denver, where he participated full-court running the team’s offense.
He can run, but stopping is another matter.
“I can’t cut and if I’m running and I have to stop right away, I have to take two, three extra steps,” Rubio said before the Wolves’ 110-97 loss to Golden State. “It’s not going to work in the game. I need more of that [5-on-0 work]. It felt good. I want to feel great before I go to some contact.”
Rubio will have another magnetic resonance imaging exam taken of his ankle after the team returns home from this current three-game road trip. Wolves coach Flip Saunders said Saturday he is hopeful Rubio can advance to contact play — the next step toward a game return — if the image comes back clean.
That didn’t stop some from fuzzying up their estimates and claiming a “mid-January” return for Rubio. And if that doesn’t happen, there’s always the Magic 8 Ball.
No. 2: KG goes ‘Lance’ on Pacers’ West — Losing by 25 points ought to be embarrassing enough, but no, the Brooklyn Nets had to find a way to add to their foolishness Saturday. Early in the game, before things turned truly sour for the Nets in front of a sellout Barclays Center crowd, veteran forward Kevin Garnett lifted a move from the Lance Stephenson playbook – though it had nothing to do with offense, defense or the basketball itself. Garnett blew in Indiana forward David West‘s face, much like Stephenson did when the former Pacer blew in LeBron James‘ ear during the Eastern Conference finals last spring. West didn’t appreciate it and picked up a technical foul for shoving Garnett away, but the silly stunt ultimately achieved nothing. Tim Bontemps of the New York Post reported on West’s version, while Garnett left the arena without talking to reporters:
“Yeah, I didn’t like that,” West said. “I didn’t like that. I just know it was too close, and I didn’t like it. I don’t want to play those games. We are out there to play basketball, so let’s play basketball.
“Everyone’s kind of looking at me trying to figure out what made me push him. I told them he blew in my face … an aggressive blow at that.
“I think Lance’s was more sensual. That was an aggressive blow. I felt the, I don’t know what you call it … but it was just too much.”
While the Nets’ $12 million man was “blowing the game” in far too literal a fashion, their $19.8 million and $15.7 millon men – Deron Williams and Brook Lopez – were combining for just seven points off the bench and earning with underwhelming play the criticism that has come their way.
No. 3: Clippers’ bench earns its pine time — When a team’s bench can’t do its primary job – playing even or better when subbed in against the other team’s reserves – things can unravel fast. And that’s what happened to the Clippers when coach Doc Rivers went grasping for answers that weren’t there Saturday against the Toronto Raptors. As a result of poor play by L.A.’s second unit, Rivers’ starters wound up gasping for air. According to Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times, that had everything to do with Toronto’s game-grabbing 13-2 run in the fourth quarter:
Rivers acknowledged afterward that he should have taken his starters out earlier in the game to provide more flexibility in the fourth quarter.
Of course, it was easy to second-guess his decision not to mix and match starters and reserves late in the game the way things played out.
“The problem was, to keep them in the game we had to keep our starters in in the entire third quarter,” Rivers said. “Honestly, I don’t think it would have mattered. Blake [Griffin] had already played 12 straight minutes. Do we play him 15 when he’s already tired?”
The Clippers continue to receive little production from their bench besides the scoring of Jamal Crawford and energy plays provided by Glen Davis. Center-forward Spencer Hawes remains sidelined because of a bone bruise in his left knee and point guard Jordan Farmar, the team’s other key off-season acquisition, has made an impact in only a few games.
Rivers said he needed to simplify the offense to help the second unit become more productive. Crawford scored 20 points Saturday, but the seven other reserves who played combined for only 13 points.
Davis said optimizing the way the team integrates the starters with the reserves could help solve some of the issues.
“Doc’s got to figure out the rotation and see what we can do to help our team, especially giving the big guys rest because they’re playing a lot of minutes,” Davis said. “But being on the second team, you’ve got to be ready, you can’t make a mistake. That’s just what it is. You’re in there for short minutes and you can’t make a mistake and it’s hard to play like that but you’ve got to do it because those are your minutes.”
No. 4: Pierce sees end of Gang Green — Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett left more than a year ago, traded to Brooklyn prior to 2013-14. Ray Allen was gone before that, joining what at the time was the Boston Celtics’ arch rivals to chase a second ring in Miami. Coach Doc Rivers maneuvered his way to the West Coast. Now it’s Rajon Rondo who is gone from the Celtics’ parquet and Pierce couldn’t help but notice – and comment on what essentially was the end of a special era that began for them all in the summer of 2007. Here is some of what Boston Herald writer Steve Bulpett gathered Saturday in Washington, D.C., where Pierce makes his basketball home these days:
The timing of Rondo’s Dec. 18 trade to Dallas caught Pierce off-guard, but he knew this was a strong possibility once the Celts didn’t get in the running on Kevin Love and couldn’t find another impact player to pair with Rondo.
“I was a little bit surprised, especially because trade season starts close to All-Star or after All-Star break,” Pierce said. “Not a lot of trades happen in mid-December. You know, teams are trying to find their stride.
“But we had a chance to talk. We had our weekly mass text, and he understood the situation. The Celtics were either going to go in one direction, build around him, or continue with the youth movement. So I think Rondo understood it.
“I was shocked definitely, because I thought this was a year they were going to maybe this summer find some pieces to put around him. But he had a great run in Boston, and as long as he’s happy, that’s all that matters.”
Pierce spent 15 years with the Celtics, but even he had to move along when the club traded him to Brooklyn in 2013 to begin its rebuilding phase.
“That’s the way it is,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a long time before you see one player stay with one team for 15-plus years. You know, I think those days are pretty much gone, especially with the new collective bargaining agreement, players wanting to be in different places or play with their friends. It’s just a new era I think we’re living in.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Ray Allen might be leaning toward retirement, rather than picking a contender to join in mid- or late season. … The list is long, but arguably the Detroit Pistons’ worst move in contributing to that team’s slide was the 2008 trade of veteran guard Chauncey Billups to Denver for an also-past-his-prime Allen Iverson. At least, former Piston Rodney Stuckey thinks so. … New Orleans’ Anthony Davis played his first NBA game in his hometown of Chicago and he dazzled with 29 points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots. It was his fourth 25-10-5 game of the season. … Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague looked all the way back from his recent hamstring injury and the Hawks avenged Friday’s 30-point loss to the Bucks by traveling to Milwaukee for payback.