Posts Tagged ‘Washington Wizards’

Morning shootaround — Jan. 15


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Hawks keep on soaring | Lakers may shut down Kobe | Gortat pokes Bulls fans on Twitter | Report: Clippers closing in on Rivers trade | Shaw: Nuggets not actively shopping Afflalo, Chandler

No. 1: Hawks’ winning ways show now signs of stopping — Atlanta rested Al Horford and Kyle Korver last night in Boston,  yet still beat the Celtics by 14 points. That makes 10 straight wins for the Hawks. Are there still doubts about just how good this team is? Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journa-Constitution breaks down how Atlanta just keeps winning, and winning and winning:

For the second consecutive night Atlanta rested several starters and still won going away. This time it was Boston that was run out of its own arena against a less-than-complete opponent.

The list of accomplishments for the NBA’s hottest team gets more impressive with each victory.

The Hawks (31-8, 15-5 road) have:

  • Won 10 consecutive games for their longest win streak since they started the 1997-98 season with 11 consecutive victories;
  • Won 10 consecutive games on the road, improving on their franchise record;
  • Won for the 24th time in the past 26 games as they have lost just twice since Nov. 28;
  • Won three in a row against the Celtics, including two this season.

“You have to give credit to the bench,” DeMarre Carroll said of the Hawks’ past two victories. “That shows you the beauty of our team. We’ve got a lot of guys who can play. That is what we expect. These guys work just as hard and when their opportunity came they took advantage of it.”

The Eastern Conference-leading Hawks continue make believers of those around the NBA. Boston coach Brad Stevens called the Hawks “elite” prior to the game.

Then the Hawks went out and proved it.

The remaining three starters, all of whom sat out Tuesday’s victory at Philadelphia, carried the Hawks. Carroll (22), Jeff Teague (22) and Paul Millsap (18) combined for 62 points. Millsap also had 10 rebounds for a double-double. Mike Scott added 11 points off the bench.

“They stepped up to the occasion,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “When you are feeling fresh and healthy and in attack mode, all three of them, it’s really positive. They can score in different ways and impact the game in different ways.”

“We are happy to grow and develop,” Budenholzer said. “Guys get different opportunities. Different players are put in different situations. To find a way to win on the road is always good. I think where we just want to continue to grow and develop and get better. On a night like tonight, we did that. I think last night we did that. Going forward, we have to continue.”


VIDEO: The Hawks have piled up wins against the NBA’s elite all season long

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 14


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs way off course | Miller wants to stick with Wizards long term | Wade day-to-day (hamstring)

No. 1: Cavs remain way off course – When the Cleveland Cavaliers revealed on Jan. 1 that LeBron James would miss two weeks with soreness in his back and left knee, the hope was the team’s other stars would find their rhythm and get the squad on track. Instead, the Cavs went 1-6 during James’ absence and even after he returned to the lineup last night in Phoenix, they still lost. Now sporting six straight losses and defeats in nine of their last 10 games, the Cavs are clearly a mess. ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst digs in on where the problems lie:

One day it’s an offensive quote, such as when David Blatt, in the midst of attempting to belittle a reporter Gregg Popovich-style without the cache or depth of knowledge of the CBA, tripped on his own snark when inaccurately referencing Love’s salary this week. Another day it’s LeBron James’ moving Blatt aside in the midst of an argument with a referee in the first half against the Suns, a move that unfortunately for the Cavs fit way too easily into a shareable social media clip.

It’s fun to be first in team merchandise sales, be on national television 30-plus times and play in sold-out houses every night, but there sure are downsides that come along with it. And when you’ve lost 9 of 10 games to fall to 19-20 on the season as the Cavs have, there’s very little fun.

When the casinos were making the Cavs the favorites to win the title last summer, the idea of a prop bet that the Cavs would be under .500 39 games into the season was so ridiculous, no sports book would’ve taken action. You’d have had a difficult time getting anyone to take such a bet even if they were a pessimist who was a Miami Heat fan who just wanted to make a self-gratifying revenge wager.

It isn’t just the casinos that are agape at how this is playing out — the Cavs were 4-15 in their past 19 games against the spread coming in to Tuesday — so are league scouts, executives and rival players.

They see players appearing to run different plays than the bench calls, see assistant coach Tyronne Lue calling timeouts literally behind Blatt’s back during games, and hear Cavs players openly talking about coaching issues with opposing players and personnel. Not once, not twice, but frequently over the past several months.

For weeks now, the small talk when league personnel run into each other at college games, airports or pregame meals has frequently started with: “What the hell is going on in Cleveland?”

There is a common perception that James is the de facto general manager of the team. His role in getting Love traded to the Cavs in July and talking Mike Miller, among others, into signing in Cleveland only bolstered that.

But over the past few months, the Cavs didn’t come to terms on a contract extension with Tristan Thompson, who is close to James and represented by the same agent, and then issued a strong public backing of Blatt despite what has been an obvious disconnect with veteran players, including James.

Meanwhile, the Love situation continues to befuddle. In the preseason there was a little bobble when Love complained about not getting the ball as much, but after that he’s said nothing but team-supportive things. That includes Tuesday night after Blatt decided to play James Jones ahead of him.

“If you told me I was going to sit out the fourth quarter, maybe I would have thought it would have been tough. But we had a great rhythm going,” Love said. “I thought the group that we had out there was doing a great job of getting us back into the basketball game, and more than anything, they gave us a shot.”

This was just after Love told Cleveland.com that he was not planning to opt out of his contract and become a free agent next summer, something that was deemed a foregone conclusion when he signed the deal three years ago. Not only is it remarkably supportive of the team, but odd considering opting out makes significant financial sense even if his intention is to immediately re-sign in Cleveland. Anyone giving Love objective advice would recommend opting out under any circumstance other than devastating injury.

When the Cavs executed the trade to get Love last summer, they were granted a rare pre-trade. What was said or promised in that meeting has been kept secret because any deal struck about contractual provisions would be against NBA rules. Whatever was said, the Cavs traded the past two No. 1 overall picks and a future first-rounder.

Like everything else done in July and August, Love couldn’t have foreseen all these contingencies. His defense has been predictably shoddy much of the time, but as a team, the Cavs’ transition defense and overall communication are routinely abysmal. The Cavs got down by 19 against the Suns before making a comeback, mostly without Love, but James and Kyrie Irving‘s combined 13 turnovers were more of a culprit than Love’s defensive issues.

On offense, where Love should be a monster, he hasn’t been very often.

“I’ve seen Kevin fall down with the ball more times this season than the rest of his career combined because he’s always in positions where he’s uncomfortable and he’s forced into trying to make some sort of move to get a shot, and that has never been his game,” said one veteran NBA coach. “They almost never put him in position to get the ball that he did in his last few years in Minnesota and I can’t figure out why.”


VIDEO: How will Kevin Love’s benching Tuesday in Phoenix affect the Cavs?

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 11


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played Jan. 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Will the Nets move Lopez? | Break up the Sixers | Boston’s drafty future | Amundson joins elite club

No. 1: Will the Nets move Lopez? — Last night’s 98-93 loss to the Detroit Pistons dropped the Brooklyn Nets to 16-21 on the season. And while their NYC neighbor the New York Knicks are in full-on rebuilding mode, the Nets are trying to battle through injuries and still make the playoffs. But as Alex Raskin points out in the Wall Street Journal, the Nets may be open to trading All-Star center Brook Lopez, which could be their best hope of strengthening the roster as the playoffs loom…

Only now, with the Nets’ playoff hopes clinging to a thinning backcourt, the time may finally be right. The emergence of second-year center Mason Plumlee has relegated him to the bench, and not because Lopez has played particularly poorly.

Despite undergoing right-foot and left-ankle surgery over the off-season, Lopez appears to be healthy, even after some December back issues. In fact, Lopez has played two of his better games in recent memory over the last two weeks, scoring 29 points in a spot start against Chicago on Dec. 30 and a 22-point performance in Monday’s loss to Dallas in which he briefly outscored the Mavericks, 18-17.

And on Friday, Lopez played well for the most part, scoring 18 points and hitting a game-tying hook shot with 25 seconds left. However, Hollins did pull Lopez in favor of backup Jerome Jordan for a significant portion of the fourth.

They might be motivated sellers, but the Nets still think Lopez could fetch valuable players in a trade, according to one league source. His history of foot problems notwithstanding, the biggest issue in moving Lopez ahead of the Feb. 19 trade deadline has nothing to do with his health.

Rather, it’s the $16.7 million Lopez is owed next season, since trading him would normally mean taking back a significant amount of salary.

The Nets, according to multiple sources, are willing to deal Lopez, but they are against taking on expensive or lengthy deals in order to do so.

Instead, the Nets are looking to accomplish the rare feat of shedding a bit of salary while remaining competitive in the East, where sub-.500 teams will have a chance to earn a seventh seed. (The Nets are currently in seventh place).

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No. 2: Break up the Sixers — The Philadelphia 76ers began this season with a historic 17-game losing streak. Everyone knew the Sixers were rebuilding, but nobody thought they would be as catastrophically bad as they were at the start of the season. But since that streak, the Sixers have gone 7-12, and yesterday’s win over the Pacers was their second in a row and makes wins in three of their four games. As Keith Pompey writes in the Inquirer, the Sixers are gaining confidence by the day…

The Sixers take a 7-29 record into their home matchup Tuesday against the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks. Saturday’s win enabled the Sixers to post wins on consecutive nights for the first time since road victories over the Denver Nuggets and Sacramento Kings on Jan. 1 and 2, 2014.

The Pacers dropped to 15-24.

“This win definitely takes a bad taste out of our mouth,” Nerlens Noel said about the start to the season. “We feel good about the position we are in now and the progress we’ve made.

“We are proving to people that we are a team that is going to fight hard every night.”

Noel had six points, nine rebounds, and a game-high five blocks. Michael Carter-Williams, a second-year point guard, finished with 15 points to go with nine assists. Backup point guard Tony Wroten led the Sixers with 20 points and nine assists.

West had a game-high 28 points and nine rebounds.

“This win definitely builds confidence,” Carter-Williams said. “For us to be in games and to come up clutch in clutch moments is great.”

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No. 3: Boston’s drafty future — The Celtics have been in rebuilding mode going on two years now, and as part of that project, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has been stockpiling future draft picks as he trades away veteran players. Their latest move, swapping Jeff Green, just adds picks to the war chest. And while they continue playing games with a roster whittled by attrition, looming in the future is a remarkable wealth of picks. Brian Robb of boston.com has a look at what’s ahead

The Celtics would reportedly acquire a future first round pick and Tayshaun Prince in exchange for Green, if the current deal holds. Boston’s small forward was pulled off the floor before Friday night’s loss to the Indiana Pacers and could be dealt as soon as Monday, the earliest any trade can become official.

As a result of these trades, the Celtics added a few new selections to their incredible stockpile of draft picks over the next several years. Here’s a list of what picks the Celtics are likely to own as the focus turns to the future.

2015: 2 first-round picks; 3 second-round picks
2016: 4 first-round picks; 4 second-round picks
2017: 1 first-round pick; 2 second-round picks
2018: 2 first-round picks; 1 second-round pick
2019: 2 first-round picks; 1 second-round pick

All in all, the Celtics are likely to own 11 first-round picks and 11 second-round picks over the next five NBA Drafts once the Green deal becomes official. With the trade deadline still more than a month away, Danny Ainge still has plenty of time to add to this stockpile, as he prepares for plenty of wheeling and dealing this offseason.

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No. 4: Amundson joins elite club — When the Knicks traded J.R. Smith to the Cavaliers, they received veteran center Louis Amundson in return. After waiving Amundson, they re-signed him to a 10-day contract which, as ESPN’s Marc Stein points out, puts Amundson in select company: Amundson is one of a dozen players to play for at least 10 different teams…

Below are the only 12 players in league history to have played for at least 10 different teams:

12 teams: Chucky Brown, Jim Jackson, Tony Massenburg and Joe Smith.
11 teams: Mike James and Kevin Ollie.
10 teams: Lou Amundson, Earl Boykins, Mark Bryant, Drew Gooden, Damon Jones and Aaron Williams.

Of those, only Amundson and Washington’s Gooden are active, although veteran guard Mike James is on the hunt for potentially his 12th different NBA employer if he can land a D-League call-up. James, 39, is currently playing for the Texas Legends in the D-League.

Amundson is still only 32 years old, which means he theoretically has plenty of time to add to his total of teams and potentially become the NBA’s first 13-team player. But he’s not the youngest player to get to 10 teams. That would be current Cleveland Cavaliers assistant coach Damon Jones, who was just 29 when he hit the 10-team mark before spending the next three seasons in Cleveland and then returning to Milwaukee to finish his career.

Amundson’s 358 career regular-season games, though, are by far the fewest of anyone on the list. His longest stay in one spot in terms of games played was Phoenix, where he played 155 games over two full seasons. His travels around the league include a two-minute stint in Utah, three minutes with the Bulls spread over two stops and his 12-game cameo with the Cavs this season. Those travels technically do not include the Sacramento Kings, who were the first NBA team to sign him out of UNLV but let Amundson go before the start of the 2006-07 regular season.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: During yesterday’s Dallas/Clippers game, longtime referee Joey Crawford went down with a knee injury. They finished playing the game with just two referees … LeBron James helped the Ohio State football team get free headphones, which is not an NCAA violationKevin Seraphin joined Nic Batum in wearing a t-shirt to pay tribute to the French attack victims …

Curry closes on James in final All-Star voting update

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The King is still on top … but just barely.

LeBron James remains the overall leader in voting for the 2015 All-Star Game in the latest results released today, with 971,299 votes. But Golden State’s Stephen Curry is right on his heels with 958,014 total votes. In the third and final 2015 All-Star voting update, James and Curry remain atop their respective conferences, as they have been from the start.

NBA All-Star 2015The top ten vote-getters remain unchanged. Joining James in the East are Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol, with a backcourt of John Wall and Dwyane Wade. Along with Curry in the West are Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol and Kobe Bryant in the backcourt alongside Curry.

There was some movement in this latest round of results. Toronto guard Kyle Lowry was a big gainer, passing Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving for third among Eastern guards, but with 406,974 votes, Lowry is still over 100,000 votes behind Wade for a starting spot.

Washington’s Marcin Gortat passed Chicago’s Joakim Noah to move into sixth among Eastern Conference big men.

The Eastern Conference leading Atlanta Hawks still don’t have a player in the top ten; Hawks forward Paul Millsap is 13th overall among Eastern Conference forwards.

This is the final voting update before the All-Star starting lineups are announced live on TNT on Thursday, Jan. 22, during a special one-hour edition of TNT NBA Tip-Off presented by Autotrader.com at 7 p.m. ET, featuring Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kenny Smith. Balloting concludes on Monday, Jan. 19.

This year, for the first time ever, fans have the power to vote for any active player in the NBA using the new online ballot. The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be played in New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks, on Sunday, February 15, 2015. The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night — including the Sears Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Sprite Slam Dunk — will be held at Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets. The recently-debuted uniforms feature nods to all five boroughs of New York City.

James, Curry remain All-Star voting leaders

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The King still reigns.

In the latest NBA All-Star balloting results, released this morning, Cleveland’s LeBron James remains the leading overall vote-getter. James, who had 552,967 in the initial voting results, has 775,810 votes in the second balloting totals.

Golden State’s Stephen Curry, who was the leading Western Conference vote-getter in the first results, remains atop the Western Conference though just behind James in overall balloting, with 755,486 votes.

NBA All-Star 2015The top five players in each Conference remain unchanged in the second results. Kobe Bryant and Curry are the top guards in the Western Conference, with Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol the top three frontcourt players. Tim Duncan and James Harden are the two Western Conference players closest to moving into the starting five, with Duncan roughly 50,000 votes behind Marc Gasol, and Harden about 180,000 votes behind Kobe Bryant.

In the Eastern Conference, the only move among the starting five is a flip-flop between two starters. Chicago’s Pau Gasol, who was roughly 18,000 votes behind New York’s Carmelo Anthony in the first voting returns, has moved into second place among Eastern Conference forwards, with 372,109 votes to Anthony’s 365,449.

Chris Bosh is currently in fourth place among Eastern Conference forwards, about 70,000 votes behind Anthony for a starting spot.

John Wall and Dwyane Wade remain atop the Eastern Conference guards, with Kyrie Irving about 90,000 in third, about votes off the pace.

The biggest gainer overall is Portland’s Damian Lillard, who was eighth among Western guard in the first results, but has jumped to fifth in these second results, leapfrogging Russell Westbrook, Klay Thompson and Rajon Rondo. Lillard, however, remains about 550,000 votes behind Bryant for a starting guard position.

The team most under-represented in regard to their record is the Atlanta Hawks, who currently have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference at 23-8, but their highest-ranked player in the second voting results is Paul Millsap, who is 13th among Eastern Conference forwards (34,751 votes).

This year, for the first time ever, fans have the power to vote for any active player in the NBA using the new online ballot. The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be played in New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks, on Sunday, February 15, 2015. The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night — including the Sears Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Sprite Slam Dunk — will be held at Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets. The recently-debuted uniforms feature nods to all five boroughs of New York City.

Blogtable: Bulls bound for Finals?

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


BLOGTABLE: Person of the Year? | Rondo or J-Smoove? | Bulls bound for Finals?



VIDEOJimmy Butler has emerged as a go-to scorer for Chicago this season

> Chicago is on a roll and appears to be making a beeline to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Is this the season the Bulls return to the NBA Finals? If not, tell me who’s gonna stop them?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comThis is the best Bulls team since Michael Jordan retired for the second time, as far as depth and potential, so there’s no reason – on paper – that it shouldn’t get to The Finals. Cleveland, more than its general meshing, has a problem in Anderson Varejao‘s injury that might not get fixed until the offseason. Toronto, in postseason savvy, is a step behind Washington. And the Wizards, for all the confidence they gained last spring, would have trouble defending against this more-potent Chicago lineup. Atlanta? I respect the Hawks, but one-trick ponies have trouble in seven-game series. So the biggest question for Chicago remains Derrick Rose‘s long-term health and availability. Which means the “who” who might stop the Bulls must be … uh, trainer Jeff Tanaka? (Just kidding, Jeff)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: With Jimmy Butler stepping up his game this season, the Bulls have an improved offense and appear to have the pieces. But their defense has lost some of its teeth and Derrick Rose’s continued health still nags. I’m not ready to make Chicago the favorite. Have to like what the Raptors have done with best record in the East even with DeMar DeRozan out. Most efficient offense in the league and no-nonsense bulldog point guard in Kyle Lowry, who won’t go down easy. And let’s not write off the Hawks as just being the same old Hawks.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThey were my pick at the start of the season to come out of the East, and to win the whole thing, so I’m not going to change now. Certainly not with the big jump from Jimmy Butler and the rejuvenated Pau Gasol. Rose’s health history obviously makes it something of a risk pick, and it is tough to push all my chips in with that medical chart, but, yes, the Bulls are the team to beat.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comIf they stay healthy, the Bulls have pole position in the East. They’re not a perfect team, but they bring more size, experience, defense and coaching to the playoff table than anyone else. The Raptors and Wizards haven’t done anything yet, the Hawks are a few stars short of going deep into May, and let’s not get started about the Cavaliers. If Jimmy Butler we see now is the Jimmy Butler we’ll see in the spring, then the East is theirs to lose.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The top four teams in the East – Toronto, Atlanta, Washington and Chicago – all have the potential to be a top-10 team on both ends of the floor. Toronto’s depth gives them an edge in the regular season, but Chicago — with its combination of talent (especially on the frontline), system, experience and coaching — is best set up to win in the playoffs. Health and durability through heavy regular-season minutes will always be a concern and it would be tough to pick them against the field, but the Bulls should be the slight favorite to be representing the Eastern Conference in The Finals.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comAll of the components are there for the Bulls to finally make that long awaited return trip to The Finals. The Cavaliers were supposed to be the team that could roadblock the Bulls, but they aren’t that team in their current state. The Wizards have the talent to give Chicago a major test, yet they still cannot boast as deep or as balanced a roster as the Bulls can when fully healthy. The Raptors and Hawks would provide a stern playoff test, but both would come up short in three extremely important categories (size, seasoning and star power). The Bulls have everything you need, including Derrick Rose in uniform and not street clothes. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau knows that his team’s time is now. Chicago’s championship window is open now and it must take advantage of it.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe biggest concern for the Bulls is their own ligaments, tendons and muscles. Given the recent history of injuries among their best players, this is no small threat. If they are healthy, then they are it in the East. If they’re vulnerable physically, then the race becomes a scramble with anyone currently in the top five (plus Miami, which still has hope of pulling things together) having a shot at reaching the NBA Finals. Whereupon that team will be destroyed in five games or less.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I will recuse myself from answering the Atlanta Hawks because of inherent legacy fandom. (Even though I think the Hawks could knock off Chicago this season.) But I will say this: Why is everyone writing off the Cavaliers? I mean, I understand that it’s fun to watch a burgeoning empire stumble out of the gates, but the story this week about the team possibly not believing in Blatt reminded me so much of the first months of Erik Spoelstra’s tenure in Miami, when sources said the team may not have been buying into what he was selling. But the Heat stuck with it and I think we can all agree that things worked out pretty well there. The Cavs may have posted more misses than hits to start the season, but I think it’s short-sighted to write them off today. Cleveland still should be running with the Bulls by the end of the season.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 28


VIDEO: Check out the highlights from Saturday’s action

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.

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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.

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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.”

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No. 4: Pierce sees end of Gang GreenPaul 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.”

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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.

LeBron, Curry lead initial All-Star voting

HANG TIME HQ — Two weeks after voting began for the 2015 NBA All-Star Game, despite finding a new home in the offseason, the King remains on top.

The first results for the 2015 All-Star Game starting lineup voting were announced, and Cleveland’s LeBron James is the overall leading vote getter, with 552,967 overall votes. But right on James’ heels is Golden State’s Stephen Curry, voting leader in the Western Conference and second overall with 549,095 votes.

NBA All-Star 2015James, who finished as last season’s leading vote-getter while a member of the Miami Heat, is followed in the Eastern Conference by Washington’s John Wall with 299,209 overall votes. In the Western Conference, close behind Curry is New Orleans’ do-everything big man Anthony Davis, with 524,623 votes. If the voting holds, Curry, Wall and Davis would all be making just their second All-Star appearances.

Interestingly, the third place spot in each Conference is currently occupied by an All-Star veterans, Los Angeles’ Kobe Bryant (521,542 votes), a 16-time All-Star, and Miami’s Dwyane Wade (265,917 votes), a 10-time All-Star.

Just several hundred votes behind Wade in the East is New York’s Carmelo Anthony, while Chicago’s Pau Gasol currently rounds out the East’s starting five. Out West, Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol are are currently leading in the race to win the remaining starting spots.

Several starters from last season’s game are, at least initially, off the pace to make the starting lineup. Kevin Love started for the Western Conference last season, but since being traded to Cleveland over the summer, Love is fifth among frontcourt players in initial voting with 169,818 votes. Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving started for the East last season and ended up winning the All-Star MVP award after going for 31 points and 14 assists. But in these first returns, Irving is third among Eastern Conference guards, behind Wall and Wade, with 237,356 overall votes.

Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, the reigning NBA MVP, also started for the West last season, but after missing 17 games due to a foot fracture, Durant is currently fifth in the West with 191,881 votes. His teammate Russell Westbrook, a three-time All-Star who missed 14 games this season with a broken hand, is seventh among guards in the West with 84,686 votes.

This year, for the first time ever, fans have the power to vote for any active player in the NBA using the new online ballot. The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be played in New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks, on Sunday, February 15, 2015. The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night — including the Sears Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Sprite Slam Dunk — will be held at Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets. The recently-debuted uniforms feature nods to all five boroughs of New York City.

Generous to a fault? Paul, Wall challenging trend of assists vs. rings


VIDEO: John Wall recorded 21 points and 17 assists vs. the Wolves

John Wall has been making a case through the season’s first seven weeks to be considered the NBA’s best point guard, a title that he’d be wresting away from veteran Clippers playmaker Chris Paul. But Wall might want to heed that old saying about being careful what he wishes for, because that title might get in the way of an even greater goal the Washington Wizards’ guard has for him and his team.

Within the feature on Paul by Michael Lee, the Washington Post’s NBA writer, was some cause for pause, as far as how the league’s elite point guards have fared in their quest for championships. There’s a trend at work that doesn’t just seem at odds with Paul but with any of the players typically thought of as the game’s greatest playmakers:

Since Magic Johnson won back-to-back championships in 1987-88 and finished first and second, respectively, in assists, no player has ranked in the top five in helpers and won a title. Johnson is also the last point guard from a championship team to average at least 10 assists per game in the regular season.

[Isiah] Thomas and Jason Kidd are the only championship point guards in the past 25 years to average at least eight assists. In that time, John Stockton, Gary Payton, and Kidd held the subjective crown as the league’s best floor general, led their respective teams to the NBA Finals and failed to win it all. [Steve] Nash reached the conference finals three times but never made it to the ultimate stage. Aside from Tony Parker and Rajon Rondo, most of the championship point guards have been the non-intrusive, move-the-ball-and-get-out-of-the-way variety, such as Avery Johnson, Brian Shaw, Derek Fisher and Mario Chalmers.

Paul’s postseason record seems to support the, what should we call it, trend? Theory? Pattern? As Lee notes:

In his first nine seasons, Paul has never reached the conference finals, let alone the NBA Finals. It doesn’t matter that only Michael Jordan, George Mikan, LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon have a higher career postseason player efficiency rating, Paul’s 22-31 postseason record diminishes his greatness in the eyes of those who value rings over everything else.

“That’s just the world we live in,” Paul said with a shrug. “It comes with it, but what can you do? Keep playing. I don’t know what else to say. We’re playing. I know I’m going to compete, day in and day out. Trying to get one.”

Heading into Wednesday night’s action, the assists leaders among point guards were Wall (10.6 apg), Rondo (10.6), Ty Lawson (10.3) and Paul (9.7) – all above that demonstrated cutoff of eight per game. Meanwhile, guys such as Kyle Lowry (7.6), Stephen Curry (7.6), Jeff Teague (7.0), Mike Conley (6.2), Damian Lillard (6.1), Tony Parker (5.3) and Kyrie Irving (5.2) are safely below it, and Russell Westbrook (6.8) and Derrick Rose (6.7) would be too if they qualified for the leaders board.

Should Wall and Paul stop passing the ball so much, in an effort to avoid the distinction? That doesn’t seem to make sense. But it is an unexpected quirk that might say a few things about defending against attacks run by elite point guards and the value of guys who seek out their own shot. That other old saying, the one about cutting off the head of a snake, might come into play.

NBA All-Star Balloting 2015 Starts Now

HANG TIME BIG CITY — It’s time to get out the vote.

With about a quarter of the NBA season in the books, and the 2015 NBA All-Star Weekend about two months away, voting begins today for the 2015 All-Star Game thanks to NBA All-Star Balloting 2015 presented by Sprint…with a decidedly new twist.
For years, fans have been able to cast All-Star votes for most of their favorite NBA players. But this year, for the first time ever, they can vote for literally any NBA player. In years past the ballot contained 60 players from each conference who were determined by a panel of broadcasters and media members. While fans will continue to select two guards and three frontcourt players when selecting starters, with the new online ballot they have the ability to choose from the entire NBA player pool.

Another wrinkle new to the ballot is SAP, which will integrate daily stats into the online ballot. Fans will have the ability to sort players by their current stats from NBA.com/stats powered by SAP HANA.

Updating the official ballot on NBA.com to include all NBA players will complement the options afforded by the NBA’s all-digital voting program, which also includes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SMS, NBA Game Time and NBA Game Time from Sprint applications, as well as Sina Weibo and Tencent Microblog in China. Balloting concludes on Monday, Jan. 19, and starters will be announced live on TNT on Thursday, Jan. 22, during a special one-hour edition of TNT NBA Tip-Off presented by Autotrader.com at 7 p.m. E.T.
Last season, LeBron James was the leading overall vote-getter with 1,416,419 votes, although this season he may see his voting power base shift from South Florida to Ohio. Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder finished second last season with 1,396,294 votes.

Although he didn’t play last season while recovering from Achilles tendon surgery, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has the chance to make his 17th All-Star roster, which would put him two games behind all-time leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

While this has been one of the most competitive early seasons in recent memory, there may not be much room for new All-Stars. Last season, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Paul Millsap and John Wall all made their All-Star debuts, and thus far this season, all would seem to be on paths toward returning. With so many incumbent All-Stars reprising their performances early on this year, it bears watching to see if a player like Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins, who is currently tied for the lead league in rebounds per game at 12.6, will be able to play his way on to the roster. Similarly, Boston’s Rajon Rondo, a four-time All-Star who missed last season’s game while recovering from injury, currently leads the league at 10.8 assists per game.

At least one starting position on the Eastern Conference team will be up for grabs, as 2014 starter Paul George from the Indiana Pacers is out recovering from a fractured leg. Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan also made last season’s Eastern Conference roster as a reserve, but is currently out and hasn’t played since November 28 after suffering a torn tendon.

A strong contender for George’s starting spot may come from Cleveland. Last season, then-Minnesota forward Kevin Love was voted to the Western Conference starting line-up, but his off-season trade to Cleveland not only shifts his Conference allegiance, it also opens a starting spot for the Western Conference. Love narrowly beat out Houston’s Dwight Howard for that starting position in 2014.

The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be played in New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks, on Sunday, February 15, 2015. The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night — including the Sears Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Sprite Slam Dunk — will be held at Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets. The recently-debuted uniforms feature nods to all five boroughs of New York City.