Posts Tagged ‘Washington Wizards’

Morning shootaround — Jan. 16


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Noah’s shoulder jeopardizes his, Bulls’ fates | Thunder getting overlooked, underloved? | Bird unhappy with Pacers’ style slippage | Long trip leaves Cavs in good place

No. 1: Noah’s shoulder jeopardizes his, Bulls’ fates — Your first instinct was to look around for Boston’s Kelly Olynyk. He was the culprit involved in the NBA’s previous most notable shoulder injury, locking up Cleveland’s Kevin Love in the first round last spring and sending the former All-Star forward off to surgery, done for the rest of the playoffs. This time, though, it was Dallas’ JaVale McGee getting tied up with Chicago’s Joakim Noah, with Noah suddenly pulling away and running off the court while shouting anguished expletives. Noah’s left shoulder dislocation was a significant re-injury of the same shoulder he had sprained before Christmas, and according to Bulls beat writer K.C. Johnson, it has the frustrated center and his teammates rattled while awaiting the outcome of an MRI exam. Meanwhile, any plans by Bulls management to explore the trade market for Noah, an impending free agent, probably have been diminished:

A Saturday MRI will produce an official prognosis and whether surgery is needed, but the injury likely will have major ramifications for the franchise — and for Noah. The Bulls have gauged the market for Noah in advance of next month’s trade deadline, an option that is in serious jeopardy now.

More powerfully, the Bulls waited two weeks to clear Noah for contact practices and officially rule out surgery for his last injury, which involved a small tear. If surgery is needed this time, could Noah, an unrestricted free agent, have played his last game for the franchise that drafted him in 2007?

“It didn’t look good,” coach Fred Hoiberg said.

“It’s devastating,” Derrick Rose said. “He’s a big piece.”

No two injuries are the same, but [Love] took more than four months to return to basketball activity after dislocating his shoulder in last season’s playoffs.

“I’m frustrated for him,” Taj Gibson said. “He felt so good coming into this game. We don’t know the severity of it but the look on his face was just crazy. He had put so much work in to get back to the team.

“It just makes my stomach sick. You’ve been going to war with this guy all kind of different circumstances over eight years, a guy you pride yourself with, especially with practice and he’s one of the emotional leaders, it hits you in the heart. Seeing him on that table like that, I kind of got flashbacks to when Derrick got hurt. You don’t want to see your man go down like that. It’s frustrating.”

***

No. 2: Thunder getting overlooked, underloved?— No one would welcome additional, legitimate championship contenders for the Larry O’Brien Trophy this June than the NBA. It just so happens that the defending champions, the Golden State Warriors, are as good as or maybe better than they were last season. The San Antonio Spurs have a history of success unrivaled for duration since the Bill Russell-era Boston Celtics. And the Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James, who has taken his team to five consecutive Finals. Outside of those three franchises, though, the league’s other 27 teams have more skeptics than supporters when assessing their shot at a spring ring. Royce Young of ESPN.com took a hard look at where the Oklahoma City fit among the top contenders, and wound up re-visiting a familiar topic – media disrespect – with former MVP forward Kevin Durant:

A couple of hours before the Oklahoma City Thunder squared off against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night, Michael Wilbon said on “Pardon The Interruption”: “There’s only three teams in the NBA, right now from where we sit, who can win the championship, who can even play for the championship.”

Those three: the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs and the Cleveland Cavaliers. “That’s it,” Wilbon said. “That’s the list.”

The Thunder went on to effortlessly roll over the young Wolves 113-93, as expected, improving to 29-12. At the midway point of the season, that puts the Thunder on a 58-win pace, which in the past 10 seasons on average is good for the second seed in the Western Conference, and has been good for the No. 1 seed twice. With a robust margin of victory of +8.2, on paper, the Thunder look like a surefire contending power.

But plenty of people around the league seem to share the same sentiment as Wilbon. It’s Warriors, Spurs and Cavs, and then everybody else.

The question is, where are the Thunder?

“Man, the [media and experts are] always trying to nitpick us,” Kevin Durant told ESPN.com. “I mean, they don’t like us. They don’t like how Russell [Westbrook] talks to the media, they don’t like how I talk to the media. So obviously, yeah, they’re not going to give us the benefit of the doubt.

“Especially since we’ve been together so long. Some of these teams are new, except for the Spurs, who have won. But we haven’t won and we’ve still got the same core, so they don’t expect us to win. It is what it is, who cares about them. They don’t mean nothing, the critics. Their opinions, everybody has one, but we don’t really care about them. Every day we’re just going to keep grinding this thing out. We feel like we can compete with anybody.”

***

No. 3: Bird unhappy with Pacers’ style slippage — Change is hard, especially when the state from which one is departing worked so darn well. The Indiana Pacers committed to a pace-and-space attack over the summer, shedding the “smash mouth” style built around center Roy Hibbert and power forward David West that had produced consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference finals. There were growing pains early – Paul George didn’t like the idea of being stuck as a “power forward” – but George, his teammates and coach Frank Vogel worked out the kinks for a satisfying start. But Indiana has dropped nine of its past 15 games since starting 16-9 and whether in response to opponents’ tactics, George’s sputters after his early MVP form or just lapsing into old habits, the Pacers have slowed down and gone bigger. That had Larry Bird, the team’s president of basketball operations, displeased when he spoke to Nate Taylor of the Indianapolis Star:

“I just can’t get a handle on it right now because these guys are up and down,” Bird said in a telephone interview just hours before Friday’s game against Washington. “I can’t tell you what is best for us right now. We’ve had success with the small lineup, but we’ve had success with two big guys in there. It’s going to take a little bit more time, but I would like to have won more games up to this point. I don’t think any of us feel comfortable with how we’re playing and the way things are going.”

What Bird does not want the Pacers to do is waver from the new offensive philosophy they developed in the offseason.

“I’d like to see teams match up with us instead of us worrying about who certain guys are going to guard on the other teams,” Bird said. “Let’s see if they can guard us. If you’ve got good ball movement and you’ve got guys hitting shots, it makes it pretty easy.”

After talking with Bird after Thursday’s practice, Vogel returned to the spread lineup to start Friday’s game for the first time since Dec. 31. The results were not what Bird desired. The Pacers fell behind early to the Wizards and struggled throughout in a 118-104 blowout loss. The Pacers missed 14 of their 17 3-pointers and were outrebounded by the Wizards 54-35.

Bird and Vogel have talked almost every day throughout the season. Vogel said their conversations have not changed much, but he mentioned before Friday’s game that every aspect of the team is in flux, from which lineup should start to which players should be on the court in the final minutes of games.

Vogel said he has favored the big lineup because it has a strong defensive rating of 89.4, a statistic that measures points allowed per 100 possessions, entering Friday’s game. The spread lineup’s defensive rating is 106.3.

***

No. 4: Long trip leaves Cavs in good place — Fatigued yet fulfilled, the Cleveland Cavaliers returned home in the wee hours Saturday from a long road trip that may have positioned them just right for another push to the Finals. The mood of their leader, LeBron James, was evident in a Tweet James posted upon getting home:

It also was clear in James’ comments after a breezy 20-point victory at Houston to conclude the trip that Cleveland might just be revving up to keep playing for another five months. Here is an excerpt from Dave McMenamin‘s piece for ESPN.com:

After traveling nearly 6,000 miles over the course of a six-game, 12-day trip — enough distance to go from New York to Los Angeles and back again — the Cleveland Cavaliers walked out of the Toyota Center on Friday night having picked up five wins on the journey and a boost of confidence to take into the second half of the season.

“The only thing I care about is how I lead these guys every single night, and I know we can compete with any team in the league and it doesn’t have to be a regular-season game,” LeBron James said afterward when asked if it bothered him that some were judging the Cavs because of that Spurs loss [Thursday]. “I know, you give us four games and it’s time to lock down in a playoff series, we can play and we can beat any team in this league. So that’s my feeling and that’s what I know.”

The certainty in James’ words was significant, as the 5-1 trip seemed to solidify the notion that his Cavs had indeed turned the corner. They won in just about every imaginable fashion — blowing it open late in Washington; thoroughly dominating in Minnesota; toying around with the competition in Philadelphia; coming from behind in Dallas and making big plays down the stretch; and then, in Houston, shooting only 39.1 percent as tired legs resulted in missed jump shots, but determined defense wouldn’t let them lose as the Rockets shot even worse at 35.1 percent.

They’ve now won nine of their past 10 games, heading into a home date with the Golden State Warriors on Monday, and are starting to look like the team that became a juggernaut in the second half of last season through the playoffs, until injuries derailed them in the Finals.

“I think just being on the road, just together for 12 days just brought us together more,” Cavs big man Tristan Thompson told ESPN.com. “And you can see it on the court. There’s more flow. Guys are understanding where guys are going to be at.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Byron Scott is talking about playing the Lakers’ young guys more over the second half of the season, though it’s hard to imagine Kobe Bryant‘s Farewell Tour yielding to any sort of organizational-development agenda. … We can understand why the Brooklyn Nets would be interested in Tom Thibodeau to bail out their dismal operation, but we’re unclear as to why Thibodeau would be interested in the Nets. … San Antonio has been so good for so long, it’s kind of unfair to the rest of the league, according to USA Today. … The first priority with Nene always seems to be, getting him healthy .The second is keeping him that way, because his impact on the Washington Wizards is considerable. … This Miami Heat teams lacks some of the self-assurance and self-awareness that the Big Three edition owned, says one insider. … There are Bulls fans who wish that Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose got along as famously as Butler and his Hollywood buddy Mark Wahlberg.

Beal back, Wizards eye minutes limit as way to keep him healthy

Getting Bradley Beal back is one thing. Keeping him back is quite another.

The Washington Wizards have gotten too good at welcoming back their talented and all-too-breakable shooting guard – Beal’s return to action Wednesday for the Wizards’ home game against Milwaukee was only the latest in a series of comebacks for the 22-year-old.

Specifically, Beal’s availability to face the Bucks put him in position to play for the first time since Dec. 9, in a season limited to just 17 appearances by a stress reaction in his lower right leg. This is the fourth consecutive season Beal has been hampered by injuries to that leg, a pattern that isn’t likely to change on its own. Beal averaged 19.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists, while shooting 38.9 percent from 3-point range, before getting hurt. Washington was 9-10 in the games he missed.

That’s why the Wizards were looking at upping the TLC for that target of so many MRIs, up to and including a minutes restriction not just short- but long-term, according to J. Michael Falgoust, Wizards’ insider for CSNMidAtlantic.com:

Beal would come off the bench and be on a minutes restriction after a stress reaction in his lower right leg. …

“I wouldn’t doubt it, especially if I’m on a minutes restriction,” Beal said of being a reserve while coach Randy Wittman continues to start Garrett Temple. “Witt will forget how many minutes I’m out there. He’ll just leave me out there. We’ve been rolling with what we have now. I’m not mad at that at all. Whatever it’s going to take for us to win.”

This season, Beal is averaging a career-high 36.5 minutes, which is sixth highest in the league if he qualified for games played, in 17 appearances. Even after he gets back into the starting lineup and playing starter’s minutes, Beal’s time has to be managed.

“Probably, especially with the way my body works,” Beal said about having his minutes capped at a maximum. “It doesn’t want to listen to me so I got to as much as I can take care of it, be smart about it moving forward through the rest of my career that’s probably something that’s going to happen every year.”

With Beal’s injury history is a long one, a person with knowledge of the situation told CSN a few weeks ago that number will be 35 minutes.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 13


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Green likely to rest next 2 games | Wall needs MRI on knee muscle | Report: Davis to sign D-League deal | Rose’s knee to be re-evaluated | Mavs still struggling against elite squads

No. 1: Warriors likely to rest Green in next 2 games — Golden State Warriors power forward Draymond Green has made a pretty solid case already this season that he’s perhaps the most versatile player at his position. If nothing else, he’s proven to be quite durable and resilient this season, what with the 36.1 minutes a game average and five triple-doubles he’s amassed since Dec. 1. As the schedule picks up for the Warriors, though, the team doesn’t want to burn out Green and is more than likely going to rest him over the next two games. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has more:

The Warriors plan to rest their versatile power forward the next two games (Wednesday at Denver and Thursday at home against the Lakers), leaving open only the slight possibility that the vociferous competitor might persuade them otherwise.

Green is averaging a team-high 34.9 minutes per game, and joins Andre Iguodala as the only Warriors to play in each of the team’s first 38 games. He averaged 37 minutes per night when Harrison Barnes missed 16 games from Nov. 28 through Jan. 2.

The Warriors are in a grueling portion of the season, which with Thursday’s game, will have included five games in seven nights. The fourth game during that stretch is the always-arduous trek to Denver — a trip that usually involves losing an hour because of the time change, a long bus ride from the airport to the hotel and a game played at altitude.

Green is averaging 15.2 points, 9.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists and was third among Western Conference frontcourt players in the latest All-Star balloting, with updated results expected to be released Thursday.

His legs hurt, but he never wants to sit.

“They always want to play, but they also understand the big picture,” Walton said. “Earlier in the season, it was tough to have them included in the conversation, but this is a hard part of the season. Guys are worn down, and I think they understand now that if we come to them with the training staff saying it’s a smart idea to give them a night off here or there, they’ll be more receptive to that.”

Green had a long chat with head coach Steve Kerr and general manager Bob Myers after Tuesday’s practice. If Green is persuaded to rest the next two games — an official announcement is expected at Wednesday morning’s shootaround — the Warriors could play small by starting Barnes at power forward or go with a more conventional lineup by inserting reserve big men Marreese Speights or Jason Thompson.

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(more…)

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 24


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nowitzki moves up, Mavs get win | Suns throw in towel against Denver | Hawks starting to soar | Butler wants to lead Bulls

No. 1: Nowitzki moves up, Mavs get win Wednesday night the Dallas Mavericks visited Brooklyn, which meant the return of Deron Williams to the borough where he formerly played. But with Williams out injured, leave it to the 37-year-old Dirk Nowitzki to post a performance worthy of the Big Apple. Not only did Nowitzki pass Shaquille O’Neal for sixth all-time in scoring in the NBA, but he also hit the game-winner in overtime to give the Mavericks the victory. And as Eddie Sefko writes in the Dallas Morning News, in some ways it was business as usual for Nowitzki

“Way back when I was a skinny 20-year-old, bad haircut, bad earring, not the most confident guy,” he said, before stopping, clearly thinking about the enormity of having only five players ahead of him on the all-time scoring list.

“Sounds pretty good, huh?” he said. “It’s a dream come true.”

And the way he passed Shaquille O’Neal on Wednesday couldn’t have been more fitting. He nailed a midrange jumper early in the second quarter against Brooklyn, took congratulatory hugs from teammates and coaches, then, a couple hours later, slipped to the basket for the winning layup in a 119-118 overtime victory that the Mavericks needed a lot more than Nowitzki needed any milestone.

Along the way, the Mavericks needed a lot of help from a guy who’s only 23,607 points behind Nowitzki on the scoring list.

J.J. Barea had a career-best 32 points, including several key 3-pointers, paying big dividends for coach Rick Carlisle starting him in place of the injured Deron Williams.

“I think the coach threw me in there early to give us a little energy early and I got in a rhythm and was able to help my team out big time,” Barea said. “I wanted to get to 30 (points in a game) before I finished my career.”

But even he knew this night was not about him, even though he’s never had a better statistical night. He hit his first eight shots and finished 13-for-20 and also dished out 11 assists.

“I’ve been through all the battles with him and seen him break all kinds of records,” Barea said. “But this one is amazing.”

Nowitzki started fast with six points in the first six minutes. Early in the second quarter, he got the ball on the left wing and wasted no time, pulling up and nailing an 18-footer for the record.

“It was a special moment for me,” he said. “I saw the whole team getting up and everybody gave me a hug and I’ve obviously been blessed in this organization for a long, long time.

“There have been a lot of great players who didn’t score as many points because they were cut short by injuries. I’ve been lucky. And we got the win. It would have felt really salty flying home with a loss.”


VIDEO: Arena Link — Dirk Nowitzki

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No. 2: Suns throw in towel against Denver The current Phoenix Suns feel light years removed from just two seasons ago, when they unveiled a small ball lineup that raced through the Western Conference and nearly earned a playoff berth. These days they are in flux, with forward Markieff Morris recently assigned to the bench. Last night the Suns lost at home to an undermanned Nuggets team, as Paul Coro writes in the Arizona Republic, while Morris evoked Robert Horry … and not in a good way…

In one of their more advantageous scenarios of the season, the Suns posted another dreadful loss with play so frightful and no signs of stopping. The bow on Wednesday night’s stocking of coal came when Markieff Morris added to a season of distraction by harkening back memories of Robert Horry’s towel toss at Danny Ainge by tossing a towel toward coach Jeff Hornacek in Wednesday’s fourth quarter.

The Suns lost 104-96 at Talking Stick Resort Arena to a Denver team playing a night after losing at home to the last-place Los Angeles Lakers and was missing five players (two starters) with no backup point guard available.

That is not all that surprising any longer for a team that has gone 5-14 since Nov. 22. How the Suns fell behind by 22 points, rallied to lead by three, started each half with new lineups and lost is now of less interest than Morris’ towel toss.

Much like Horry on a 10-21 Suns team in 1997, Morris was upset about being pulled from the fourth quarter from a 12-19 Suns team. With 9:47 to play and Denver leading 84-75, Morris was taken out of the game and he threw the towel while barking at Hornacek. Hornacek picked up the towel and threw it back Morris’ way with his own upset words for him.

“He’s mad about not playing,” Hornacek said. “I look at the stat sheet. He’s a minus-13 in 12 minutes. So there, I took him out. … He thinks he’s better than that. Show me.”

Hornacek said the Suns staff will discuss possible discipline for Morris, who has created a stir since the offseason when he asked to be traded after his twin, Marcus, was dealt. Markieff did not arrive in Phoenix until it was required for training camp. He lost his starting job earlier this month.

In January, Marcus also engaged in a shouting match during a game with Hornacek. He apologized publicly and to Hornacek after the game.

“That’s between me and ‘H’ (Hornaceck),” said Markieff, who made 2 of 8 shots and had one rebound Wednesday. “It’s not for media. It’s something between me and him that happened. We’ll talk about it.”

***

No. 3: Hawks starting to soar They won 60 games a season ago, including a 19-game win streak, but thus far this season, even with a winning record, the Hawks have mostly flown under the radar. That may be changing now. Wednesday night the Hawks got their fifth win in a row with a convincing home victory over the Detroit Pistons, and the Hawks are now in second place in the Eastern Conference. As Brad Rowland writes for Peachtree Hoops, the Hawks hacked Andre Drummond and got a big night from Jeff Teague to get the win…

The game was highly competitive early on, with Detroit taking an 18-14 advantage after a 7-0 run. That momentum would not last particularly long, however, as Mike Budenholzer employed the aforementioned “Hack-a-Drummond” strategy freely from that point forward, and that seemed to turn the tide. Dennis Schröder exploded for seven straight points to end the opening quarter (11 in the period), and in a flash, the Hawks were in control.

The “big” spurt was yet to come, though, and it appeared to close the second quarter. Atlanta raced to a 26-9 run to end the half, with Jeff Teague taking things over, and he finished with 13 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds before the break. That big run netted the Hawks a 61-45 lead, and on the defensive end, Atlanta was quite effective in holding the Pistons to just 33% shooting (27% in the second quarter) in addition to the poor free throw shooting from Drummond.

To begin the second half, the Hawks quickly increased the lead to 22 points, but the margin settled into the mid-teens for much of the remainder of the contest. In truth, Atlanta didn’t play particularly well down the stretch, including a third quarter in which they allowed 50% shooting to Detroit, but the Pistons were never able to seriously challenge on the scoreboard until the closing minutes.

Detroit managed to climb within an 8-point deficit within the final two minutes of game action, using an 11-4 run to force a timeout from Budenholzer with 1:52 left in the game. Though it wasn’t pretty, the Hawks managed to salt the game away for good using a Jeff Teague basket (that was actually a goaltend from Andre Drummond) to push the lead back to 10 with 41.1 seconds remaining and that was the end of the threat. From there, Atlanta put away a 7-point win and the winning streak reached five games in pleasing fashion.

It was a big night from Teague, and that was the biggest individual story. He has struggled, at least relatively, to this point in the season, but this may serve as a “breakout” from the 2015 All-Star, as he finished with 23 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds while keying everything Atlanta did offensively. In support, Paul Millsap added 18 points and Al Horford chipped in with 15 points in his own right, but this night was about Teague and a strong team effort on the defensive end.

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No. 4: Butler wants to lead Bulls As the Chicago Bulls try to right the ship and find some offense to go along with their defensive prowess, reports of unrest continue. According to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, as the Bulls consider roster moves, some players aren’t thrilled with Jimmy Butler‘s attempts to position himself as the leader of these Bulls…

While Jimmy Butler won the self-appointed leadership role unopposed, not everyone associated with the Bulls is a supporter.

One source told the Sun-Times that there are several players that often simply laugh when told of Butler’s latest thumping-of-the-chest leadership proclamations, and while Derrick Rose seems to be completely detached from the situation, his camp is very annoyed by all things Butler these days.

A veteran that is behind the Butler push, however? Well, it just so happens to be the one player in the locker room with two championship rings.

“I don’t mind those comments,’’ big man Pau Gasol said, when asked about Butler declaring himself the leader throughout this season. “I think those comments are positive. Those comments and attitudes don’t raise my eyebrows. I think it’s good certain guys want to take ownership and say, ‘Hey let’s go.’ ‘’

Gasol said that Butler worked his way into that role of leader, and was obviously paid like it this offseason, when the Bulls gave him a five-year, $92.3 million contract extension.

“I don’t disagree with it,’’ Gasol said. “I think Jimmy is obviously one of the main guys here.’’

He’s more than that. He’s the future. His deal is guaranteed through the first four years, with a player option of $19.8 million following the 2019-20 season.

Basically, last man standing of all the veterans on the roster.

Gasol has a player option at the end of this season, and there continues to be more whispers that he’s done with the Bulls experiment, while Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks each come off the books when this season comes to an end.

Rose and Taj Gibson are free agents after next season, while the Bulls own the $5.175 million option on Mike Dunleavy for the 2017-18 season.

The likes of Gibson, Noah and Gasol might not even see the end of their current contracts, as several sources indicated that the Bulls are taking calls on all three players as the trade deadline draws near.

Noah’s value has taken a hit this week with a small tear in his left shoulder, and the center told reporters on Wednesday that he is looking at a two-to-four week window now. Not the best news for a player that was starting to look like his old self.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The NBA debuted a new public service announcement campaign against gun violenceSteph Curry says he’s the best player in the worldKobe Bryant and Kevin Durant exchanged shoes after playing against each other … Mark Cuban says Rick Carlisle’s threat to trade players was a motivational moveAlan Anderson looks to be out for a few more weeks. Meanwhile, John Wall has his own set of injury issuesNik Stauskas says he’s the hardest working guy on the Sixers … The Houston Rockets are trying to help former players stay on top of their health

Morning shootaround — Dec. 20


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Bulls’ ‘transition’ game in crisis | Welcome back, Kyrie | Tweaking the Trail Blazers | Taking Celtics from solid to super

No. 1: Bulls’ ‘transition’ game in crisisJimmy Butler‘s criticism Saturday night in New York of new head coach Fred Hoiberg‘s work style seemingly peeled back the curtain on an issue that is costing the Chicago Bulls chemistry and ultimately victories. If, as Butler alleges, Hoiberg hasn’t been tough enough on the Bulls in practices or on game nights, the responsibility for that falls … everywhere in the organization. Certainly it’s on Hoiberg to do whatever it takes, even if riding herd on grown men isn’t what earned him this job via his success in college at Iowa State. It’s on the Bulls players, who have been less than professional in their preparation and focus on multiple nights, whether they’ve won or lost. And it’s on management – chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, VP of basketball John Paxson and Gar Forman – for giving the locker room the license to drift sideways last season during the Cold War with since-fired Tom Thibodeau, and still sees the team saddled with some of the bad habits that produced. Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com analyzed the team’s plight overnight:

First and foremost, it’s not every day that an NBA player calls out his head coach so publicly. Former Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was a taskmaster, and the relationship between his players, including Butler, frayed last season before he was fired at the end of the season. But despite all the friction, no player ever called out Thibodeau publicly. They couldn’t stand him at times because of his domineering ways, but they always respected him because of his work ethic. Twenty-five games into Hoiberg’s tenure, he has to face the reality that his best player just called him out on a public stage.

While it has been clear to many around the team that the Bulls are struggling to adjust to Hoiberg’s style after five years under Thibodeau, that storyline, at least in the short term, will ride shotgun next to this one: How will Butler’s comments be received within the organization?

It’s possible that Butler might face some disciplinary action for calling out his coach in the media. But it’s also possible that Butler was speaking not just for himself, but for other teammates who also feel that Hoiberg’s style isn’t working for them. Either way, the foundation for Butler’s future as the face and voice of the Bulls will either be cemented or crushed by his comments on Saturday. They might serve as a turning point for a player who desperately wants to be seen as the focal point of the organization — a final vocal push to get out from underneath Derrick Rose’s long shadow.

Or, Butler’s comments may become the beginning of the end for a talented player who bit off more than he can chew within the organization. To say that Hoiberg has the full support of the front office would be an understatement. Bulls general manager Gar Forman and executive VP John Paxson have supported Hoiberg both publicly and privately at every turn. He signed a five-year, $25 million contract six months ago and is entrenched as the coach for the future.

But that’s where this saga gets tricky for the Bulls. Butler was supposed to be the future king of the roster, the player they would build around, after signing a five-year extension worth over $90 million in July. Along with Hoiberg, Butler was supposed to be at the forefront of everything the Bulls did. Now, those questions will be left under a microscope for the rest of the basketball world to see.

So with Monday’s game against Brooklyn looming before a couple days of practice and the Christmas date at Oklahoma City, the Bulls and their fans are waiting for the next shoe to drop like…

***

No. 2: Welcome Back, Kyrie! — As excited as NBA fans are for the Christmas Day slate of games, with Cleveland at Golden State as the holiday’s centerpiece, they ought to be at least a little jazzed about the Philadelphia at Cleveland matinee today. OK, the Sixers will be responsible for 50 percent of the basketball offered up at Quicken Loans Arena, but the game marks the 2015-16 debut of Cavaliers All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving. Back finally from his recovery from knee surgery, which ended his playoffs in June in Game 1 of the Finals, Irving hardly could be more eager. “I’m pretty [expletive] excited to be back out there,” he told reporters Saturday. Our man Shaun Powell wrote about Irving’s comeback challenge and so did Jason Lloyd, the Cavs beat man for Ohio.com:

It has been a long time coming.

He fractured his kneecap in Game 1 of June’s NBA Finals after fighting knee problems throughout the postseason. The Cavs and Irving remained cautious and conservative during his rehab. He was finally cleared for full practices a couple of weeks ago and he kept building for this moment.

It has been clear for about a week Irving would make his debut against the 76ers. Realistically it’s an easier opponent to begin against since they’re the worst team in the league and it will serve as a way for Irving to ease back into competitive basketball. He’ll be on a minutes restriction to start, but doesn’t anticipate problems falling back in rhythm with his old teammates.

“There is no specific reason on why now,” he said. “Just wanted to take the doctor’s precautions as well as our team’s precautions. Obviously, as a competitor, you want to get out there. But for me, I let go of all my selfish, inside emotions and just put them aside and did what was best for my body and did what was best for the team.”

The Cavs went 17-7 in Irving’s absence and remain atop the East despite not having a full roster for any game this season. They ended the Oklahoma City Thunder’s six-game winning streak Thursday night despite missing Irving, Mo Williams and Iman Shumpert.

That just reiterated to Irving a team that finds ways to win regardless of who is on the floor.

“There’ll be an adjustment period, but knocking the rust off is something I’m looking forward to,” Irving said. “It’s not like I’m coming in and just trying to take 15 to 20 shots right after I come off injury. It’s just trying to gel back in and continue to play the right way. My basketball knowledge, I’m pretty confident in coming in and not trying to overdo it in any single way and just be aggressive.”

***

No. 3:Tweaking the Trail Blazers — There was some player-on-coach criticism in Portland, too, though it didn’t rise nearly to the level of Butler’s comments about Bulls boss Hoiberg. Big man Mason Plumlee had made a plea after Friday’s loss in Orlando for the team to add variety to its 3-point-heavy attack. So by Saturday, Blazers coach Terry Stotts was responding to Plumlee’s remarks and the player was rephrasing some of the things he said or meant, as reported by Jason Quick of CSNNW.com:

After Saturday’s practice in Miami, Plumlee clarified that he wasn’t taking a shot at Blazers coach Terry Stotts and his offensive system, but rather pointing out the Blazers have to do more than just shoot threes.

“We have guys who are really shooting the three well, but you can’t live and die by the shot,’’ Plumlee said in Miami. “We have to add to it. I’m not being critical. Guys like Dame, CJ and A.C. do that very well, and we have to complement that in some way.’’

When the notion of broadening the offense was later brought up to Stotts, it was apparent the coach had heard Plumlee’s suggestion.

“Is that Mason’s interview?’’ Stotts interjected before the question was finished.

When told it was, Stotts had an answer ready.

“I’m open to expanding the offense, but the truth is we’ve been in the top 10 most of the year in offense, and offense has not necessarily been a problem,’’ Stotts said. “We are in the top 10 in 3-point field goal percentage … that’s a strength of ours. Our passing, moving and cutting has been good, so my biggest concern … obviously I’m always concerned about both ends of the court … but my biggest concern is where we are defensively and how we improve defensively.’’

Plumlee’s answer in Orlando was generated from a question asking whether the Blazers have figured out their identity. He noted on Saturday that his answer Friday suggested the Blazers could make defense one of their traits.

“I guess when I was saying that, I’m thinking offensively and defensively,’’ Plumlee said. “We got our butts kicked in the paint last game and it puts pressure on those guys to be perfect from three-point range. You can’t do that.’’

Plumlee also noted that he could help the Blazers in forging a more well-rounded offensive identity by becoming more consistent inside. He pointed to his last two offensive games –- 4-for-14 at Oklahoma City and 2-for-6 at Orlando – as evidence.

“As a big guy, you should be around 50 percent,’’ Plumlee said. “So, speaking to myself, I’ve got to convert better, because I’ve had opportunities. Just finishing plays and getting more second shots. Getting offensive rebounds. But we have to find some kind of presence other than three’s … I guess that’s what I’m saying.’’

***

No. 4:Taking Celtics from solid to super — The rebuild in Boston has gone well, fairly smoothly and relatively quickly. The Celtics are admired for the energy and teamwork they bring on most nights, and coach Brad Stevens already is considered one of the league’s best despite his modest tenure. But good doesn’t stay good for long, not in an NBA market so accustomed to great. Writing for SBNation.com, Paul Flannery looked at the challenges facing Boston as it tries to take the next, ambitious step:

When they play well together they can beat anyone in the league and when they don’t, they can get “exposed,” to use Stevens’ word from the Atlanta loss. One can look at their net ratings and other exotic measures and say that they’ve underachieved a bit, but it’s hard to look at their roster and reach the same conclusion.

The Celtics have a lot of solid players, but with the exception of [Isaiah] Thomas, they lack the kind of scorers who can take over games. Thomas has been great this season, but he’s the only one who is truly capable of creating his own shot in their halfcourt offense and his size limitations are an issue when teams switch taller defenders on him in the closing moments.

That’s not to say they have a bunch of scrubs. Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder are both having wonderful seasons, arguably the best of their respective careers. Every team in the league would love to have them on their side. Evan Turner has become a valuable and trusted reserve. Amir Johnson has been everything they hoped when they signed him in free agency and Jared Sullinger has put his career back on track. Marcus Smart was playing well before a knee injury kept him out of the lineup and Kelly Olynyk has had a breakthrough year defensively. (Seriously, he’s been very good on that end of the floor.)

That’s a solid team most nights, and Stevens has consistently said that he’s happy with the team’s progress. He hinted on Saturday that a lineup change may be coming and one possibility would be limiting David Lee’s minutes in favor of Jonas Jerebko and playing more smallball. Lee is the only regular with a negative net rating and the C’s have been more than five points better when he’s off the floor.

But that’s tinkering on the margins. If the Celtics are going to move beyond this stage then Danny Ainge will have to make a move. There’s been speculation for months — years even — about Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, but that seems unlikely at this juncture. There has never been universal agreement in the team’s front office that Cousins is the player to go all in for and it’s not even certain that Cousins would be available at all.

A knockdown shooter would definitely help matters, considering their woeful 33 percent mark from behind the arc, but there aren’t many of them available right now. Denver’s Danilo Gallinari, for example, can’t be traded until February. Not that the Nuggets have shown any interest in moving him either. The NBA’s version of parity has produced a number of interesting side effects and one of them is the notion that with more teams competing for playoff spots, there are fewer sellers than usual.

As it stands, the Celtics’ best chance to land a game-changing player is in this summer’s draft where they own Brooklyn’s pick without protection as the latest installment of the KG/Paul Pierce heist. In addition to their own choice, they also have Dallas’ first round selection (top-7 protected) and Minnesota’s first rounder if it falls out of the top 12 picks (doubtful, but not out of the realm of possibility). They’ve also got a bunch of second rounders with protections too numerous and complex to list here. Suffice to say, they’ve got a lot of picks coming and more on the way in the future from Brooklyn and Memphis.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Look out, rest of the NBA! LeBron James has a new obsession and all you can do while he pursue it is to line up and stand idly by: he’s working on his free throws. … No one needs to worry about the L.A. Clippers, according to point guard Chris Paul, except maybe the Clippers and their fans. … Kevin Durant, an unabashed Kobe Bryant fan, had a whole new batch of raves about the Lakers guard after their dinner together Friday night in OKC. … Trevor Ariza was just a local kid when he met Bryant, who eventually would become a teammate and rival, and he lauds the Lakers’ retiring star as well. … The Miami Heat have taken strides this season but aren’t quite ready to say “kumbiya!” … John Wall had to play a whole bunch of minutes to get Washington past Charlotte, but if the Wizards aren’t careful, Wall might join their long list of injured players.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 13


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors finally lose | Gentry, Pelicans look to move up | NBPA offers heart help | Harden remains a Kobe fan

No. 1: Warriors finally lose Turns out the Golden State Warriors are human after all. Sure, they managed to win 24 in a row to start the season, but on the seventh game of a road trip, less than 24 hours after a double-OT win in Boston, it all caught up with the Warriors, as they lost in Milwaukee, 108-95. And now, as our own Steve Aschburner writes, the Warriors begin the real work of trying to improve and expand on that historic start…

The Warriors’ streak ended at 24 victories as their long road trip, a succession of opponents’ best efforts and their own human frailties (mostly fatigue) reared up in a 108-95 loss to Milwaukee.

The Bucks did so much right. Center Greg Monroe (28 points, 11 rebounds, five assists) asserted his bigness against the NBA’s most dangerous band of smalls. Giannis Antetokounmpo (11 points, 12 boards, 10 assists) picked the best possible time to post the first triple-double of his young, versatile career. O.J. Mayo put starch in the home team’s shorts early, while Jabari Parker and Michael Carter-Williams saved their best for later. And Milwaukee’s lanky, reaching defense held the previously perfect defending champions under 100 points for the first time this season, limiting them to just six 3-point field goals in 26 attempts.

What did the Warriors do wrong? Nothing, really, beyond succumbing to the wear and tear of their record-setting start to the season. Stephen Curry scored 28 with seven rebounds and five assists but backcourt mate Klay Thompson was off after missing Friday’s double-overtime game in Boston with a sprained ankle. The bench, other than Festus Ezeli, brought little offensively.

Still, to pick at them any more would seem out of line. Only one team in league history — or two, depending on how you’re counting — ever strung together more victories: the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers won 33 in a row, and the 2012-13 Miami Heat got to 27. Golden State made it to 28, if you count the four victories in April at the end of last season, or 24 if you don’t.

Just in terms of this season, the Warriors went 47 days deep into 2015-16 before they lost for the first time. None of the NBA’s other teams lasted more than 10.

“Y’all thought we were gonna be sad, huh?” Draymond Green said to reporters milling about, long after the final horn and the green confetti preloaded by the Bucks’ operations crew in hopes of precisely what happened.

While the Bucks were thrilled — their 10-15 start largely had been a disappointment until Saturday — and their sellout crowd of 18,717 was giddy, the Warriors were a long ways from sad.

Green even made sure of that, speaking up immediately afterward to the crew that had accomplished so much. The streak is dead? Long live the season.

“I just told the guys that now we can have a regular season,” the all-purpose Warriors forward said. “It’s been kind of a playoff feel to this, with the streak and all the media and attention around. But our goal was always to get better each and every time we get on the floor. … I think that, probably the last seven or eight games, we’ve stopped getting better and we’ve just tried to win games.”

Interim head coach Luke Walton had talked longingly for several days of teachable moments, the “issues that get swept under the rug” when a team keeps winning. It’s hard to be hyper-critical, and to get players’ attention, when small flaws don’t undermine the big picture.

Now the Warriors can exhale. And clean a few things up.

“We didn’t have our shots falling and we were a little slow on our defensive rotations,” said Walton, filling in while head coach Steve Kerr recovers from back issues. “It happens. It takes nothing away from what they’ve done to start the season.”

***

No. 2: Gentry, Pelicans look to move up — After a playoff appearance last season, the New Orleans Pelicans hired a new coach, Alvin Gentry, away from Golden State and embraced higher expectations for this season. Only, it hasn’t worked out that way. Sure, the Warriors have been rolling, but the Pelicans have been beset by injuries, making it hard to implement Gentry’s system. And as Jeff Duncan writes for Nola.com, for now the Pelicans are just focused on getting out of the Western Conference basement.

Where Gentry finds himself today isn’t where he expected to be six months ago when he accepted the head coaching job here. After Friday night’s 107-105 victory against Washington, the Pelicans are 6-16 and holding company with the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings in the Western Conference cellar.

Gentry already has lost more games with the Pelicans than he did all of last season as an assistant with the Warriors (67-15).

“It’s difficult,” Gentry said. “I didn’t anticipate having a record like this. I’m sure the guys didn’t anticipate having a record like this.”

This wasn’t what Gentry signed up for last May. At age 61, New Orleans was likely Gentry’s final chance as a head coach. After struggling in previous stints with the Detroit Pistons, Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns, the Pelicans represented a shot at redemption, a chance to resurrect his head coaching career and move his career won-loss record from red to black. Here, he had Anthony Davis, one of the best young players in the world, and a talented young core in place around him. All systems were go — until they weren’t.

Injuries beset the roster before the Pelicans took their first dribbles. Gentry’s team opened the regular season against Golden State with projected starters Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Omer Asik and key reserve Quincy Pondexter sidelined. Gentry took the court one night without six of his top eight players because of various maladies.

He’s fielded 13 different starting lineups in 22 games and is still defining roles and playing time as key regulars work their way back into the mix.

“Really we’re going through a training camp right now,” Gentry said. “The injury bug has bit us, and we didn’t anticipate that. We have to commit ourselves to make a conscious effort to get ourselves back in the race.”

To get there, the Pelicans must start playing more consistently, with better effort and execution nightly. Gentry is as confounded as anyone as to how the Pelicans can beat Cleveland one night then turn around and get blown out at home by Boston three nights later.

Gentry lit into his troops for what he thought was their half-hearted effort in a 111-93 loss to Boston on Monday night at the Smoothie King Center.

While he arrived in New Orleans with the reputation as a genial players’ coach, Gentry has shown he’s not afraid to bust out the “over-18 lecture” when necessary.

“He’s liable to cuss us out if we don’t compete or execute the plays,” Holiday said.

***

No. 3: NBPA offers heart help After several former NBA players passed away this summer from heart-related issues, the National Basketball Player’s Association announced plans to offer free heart- and health-care screenings for retired players. The first of those cardiac screenings happened this weekend in Houston, writes ESPN’s J.A. Adande…

About 25 retired NBA players showed up for the screenings, which included heart testing. The NBPA initiated talks on the screenings at their July meetings, and the effort was given added urgency with the heart-related deaths of Moses Malone and Darryl Dawkins.

In a conference room provided by the Houston Rockets, physicians met with the retired players to discuss their medical history, test blood pressure, administer EKGs to check the heart’s electrical activity, perform an echocardiogram to check the structure of the heart, scan carotids to look for plaque buildup in the arteries, check for sleep apnea and draw blood. The retired players also received attachments for their cellphones that can perform EKGs and send the results to cardiologists.

“Even in this small sample of patients that we’ve done, we’ve been able to get some abnormalities,” said Dr. Manuel Reyes, a cardiologist with Houston Cardiovascular Associates at the Houston Medical Center. “A couple of incidents with decreased heart function, weakened left ventricle, which is the main chamber of the heart.”

Since 2000, more than 50 former NBA players have died of complications related to heart disease, according to the Philadelphia-based news site Billy Penn. It is unclear if basketball players are more susceptible to heart disease, which was one of the secondary aspects of screening former players.

“That’s one of the things that we’re looking to benefit is the research component,” said Joe Rogowski, the players’ union director of sports medicine and research. “We’re looking for trends. There’s never been a real study that looks at this population and looks for norms and trends. They’re bigger. They carry more weight, which leads to other factors, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.”

Union executive director Michele Roberts and NBA commissioner Adam Silver both said earlier this year that cardiac testing was a high priority. Silver said the NBA was prepared to provide the union with both financial support and a vast array of medical resources.

Union representatives presented their vision of comprehensive screening for retirees to current players at their annual Las Vegas meeting in July. Sources said players voted to set aside funds to implement screenings. The larger — and more costly — issue of supplementing health insurance is slated to be addressed at their February meetings, when a more comprehensive blueprint would be available.

The ages of the deceased players are alarming. Malone was 60. Dawkins was 58. Caldwell Jones, who died last year, was 64. Other recent deaths of former players include Jack Haley, 51, and Anthony Mason, 48.

“Something’s got to be done,” said Rogowski, who was an athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach for 10 years in the NBA. “The NFL is dealing with their issues with retired players. This may be our issue that we’re dealing with retired players on.”

***

No. 4: Harden remains a Kobe fan Greatness attracts greatness, and as Rockets guard James Harden explains, after growing up in California, he had been a Kobe Bryant fan for years. But later, he was able to become a Kobe friend. And as Jonathan Feigan writes in the Houston Chronicle, Harden is looking forward to squaring off against Bryant this week in a Houston stop on his farewell tour…

James Harden had long known what he wanted in life. Before the shoe deals and stardom, before the first stubble on his chin, he had watched Kobe Bryant in his prime, young and gifted, hungry for greatness and a place in NBA history. That was, Harden decided, what he wanted.

“Kobe was my guy,” Harden said. “I was a Laker fan. And I was a Kobe fan. Always.”

Eventually, when Harden finally had his first chance to face his hero, Bryant might have seen something in Harden, too. They will face one another again Saturday night in Toyota Center as Bryant’s farewell tour rolls through Houston. But their first meeting came far removed from the NBA, far from the media circus that follows Bryant through his final season.

They met in a summer pickup game at Loyola-Marymount. Harden was not in awe, he said, but remembered the day as more special than all the summer sessions to come.

“I wanted to go at him,” Harden said, indicating he learned his lessons well.

“I remember he came in the gym, took off his shirt and was like, ‘OK, let’s go,’ ” said Harden’s agent, Rob Pelinka, who also represents Bryant. “Kobe was (Harden’s favorite) because he works so hard.”

Years later, Harden considers Bryant a friend. He received texts from Bryant before last season’s playoffs encouraging him, as if welcoming Harden to that highest echelon of stardom.

“He’s my guy,” Harden said. “We talk. He’s a pretty cool guy. Obviously, on the court, he’s a beast. He does whatever it takes to win games. He’s a winner. He’s passionate about it. But obviously off the court, he’s so savvy. He’s business-minded.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Is Dave Joerger‘s seat getting warmer in Memphis? … The Wizards will be without Bradley Beal for a few more weeks … Gregg Popovich said Kobe’s retirement will mean “a great personality gone” … Dwyane Wade would like to own an NBA team someday … LeBron James made good after losing a friendly wager against Draymond Green …

Morning shootaround — Dec. 7


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: No structural damage to Wall’s kneeWarriors just keep on winning | Young says ejection a result of frustrating season | Cousins blames himself for Kings’ slideSpurs’ West just wants to win

No. 1: Report: No structural damage to Wall’s knee; status for game vs. Heat — Washington Wizards fans can breathe a sigh of relief a little bit this morning. Star point guard John Wall left last night’s loss to the visiting Dallas after hurting his right knee in a collison with the Mavs’ Jeremy Evans. The Washington Post‘s Jorge Castillo reports Wall did not suffer any structural damage to the knee but his status for tonight’s game against in Miami against the Heat (7:30 ET, NBA League Pass) is unknown:

Washington Wizards point guard John Wall exited Sunday’s 116-104 loss to the Dallas Mavericks because of a right knee injury, although he does not have any structural damage, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. His status for Washington’s meeting Monday night with the first-place Miami Heat remains uncertain.

Wall collided knees with Mavericks forward Jeremy Evans late in the fourth quarter. He gingerly exited the contest with help from teammates and without putting any weight on his right leg with 1 minutes 14 seconds left.

“I tried to take a step to go contest, and I didn’t have the strength and I just stopped,” said Wall, who said that the right knee was already bruised before the injury.

Wall said the knee was sore, but an X-ray did not reveal any structural damage and he was walking on his own after the game with a slight limp. He is traveling with the team to Miami and will be reevaluated Monday.

“You try and think positive,” Wizards guard Bradley Beal said. “You hate to see a guy go down for one. And two, it being John. But you know I’m positive at all times and we want him to be smart. So if he can’t go, another guy has to step up.”

The Wizards were already dealing with a depleted roster; they played Sunday with just 10 available players for the third time in eight games and will be shorthanded again Monday.

Starting center Marcin Gortat has missed the last two games because of a family matter and isn’t expected to rejoin the team Monday, while backup Nene (calf) won’t be on the trip to Miami and Alan Anderson (ankle) won’t be available. Big men Kris Humphries (ankle) and Drew Gooden III (calf) are questionable.


VIDEO: John Wall leaves the game with a right knee injury

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Dec. 3


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jennings open to bench role | Traditional big men explore 3-point line more | Report: Prokhorov close to deal to get full control of Nets

 

No. 1: Jennings more than open to bench role — The Detroit Pistons won last night against the Phoenix Suns, moving them to No. 10 in the Eastern Conference (and a half-game back of the No. 8 spot) as of this morning. They have picked up some big wins this season — against Cleveland at home, on the road vs. Miami, a 2-0 series edge on Atlanta — but are an inconsistent bunch. Point guard Brandon Jennings is on pace to return to the team in three to four weeks and while Reggie Jackson has entrenched himself as the starter, Jennings isn’t about to rock the boat for his own benefit. Terry Foster of The Detroit News has more:

Brandon Jennings spends too much time on the Internet. He heard from Pistons fans that he might not be a good fit coming off the bench for the Pistons.

He will be rusty. His ego is too big. He is accustomed to being a starter.

That makes Jennings bristle. He sees a young team with potential. He sees a starting unit that is bonding and making things work. The last thing he wants is to disrupt things when he returns to the lineup in three weeks.

“I am not going to mess up the chemistry,” Jennings said. “The starters have chemistry and they have been playing well. If I can come off the bench and help out, then why not?”

“Always in my head (I am a starter),” Jennings said. “But sometimes you’ve got to take the back seat and do what is best for the team.”

And if he never starts?

“I want sixth man of the year,” Jennings said.

Jennings coming off the bench is best for the Pistons. This bench has been inconsistent at best and at least twice cost the Pistons wins.

Forward Stanley Johnson is emerging as its best player. He is coming off a nice 19-point, 10-rebound outing against Houston. If the Pistons can pair Jennings with Johnson, they can become the two J’s crew and get the Pistons through rough spots, particularly in the late third and early fourth quarters.

The Pistons need Jennings but do not want to rush him. He works daily to strengthen his left calf and work on conditioning for a Christmas return. Jennings shoots every day and has gone through every workout except five-on-five scrimmages. He believes his offense will come, but Jennings mostly works on his movement to be a more competent defensive player.

“I am tired of shooting by myself,” Jennings said. “I am tired of not playing one on one with anybody.”

And he is tired of being patient.

“I am feeling pretty well,” Jennings said. “I am more confident. I still have to be patient. That is the main thing. I have been learning patience the whole 10 months.”


VIDEO: Reggie Jackson powers the Pistons past the Suns

***

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Morning shootaround — Dec. 2


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bryant reveals how he knew he’d retire | Rondo, Cousins have ‘powerful’ meeting with Karl | Wizards leave Cavs feeling exposed in loss

No. 1: Bryant explains how he knew he was going to retire — The road to Kobe Bryant’s retirement is underway and last night in his adopted hometown of Philadelphia marked the first of his many farewell stops around the NBA map. While the Sixers won the game (and ended both an 0-18 start and a 28-game losing streak that stretched to last season), Bryant received a warm greeting (as well as a fond farewell) from the Philadelphia crowd and called the game ’emotional beyond belief’. So how did Bryant come to know that this would be his final season — in the middle of said season. In an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts, he talks about that, who would win a matchup between he and Michael Jordan and more:

“You know, going through my entire career, I’ve never really understood what athletes meant when they said, ‘You — when you know you know.’ But now I certainly understand it … So once I knew this was it, might as well say it,” he said in the interview that aired Wednesday on “GMA.”

The married father of two daughters told Roberts how he came to his decision.

“I try to have at least 15 minutes of still time and just kind of sit in my thoughts in the morning and just kind of meditate. And normally what happens with me is my mind would always drift to the game. Always,” he said in reply to Roberts’ question during the Tuesday interview. “And then I found myself sitting there. My mind wouldn’t drift towards the game all the time anymore. And that’s when I started realizing, ‘You know what? It’s getting close. It’s getting close.’ Because now I’m not obsessively thinking about the game anymore. It’s not wired into my subconscious the way it used to be.”

Bryant told Roberts that getting to the decision was “a slow process.”

“It was something that kind of evolved over the last three years, you know, with the Achilles injury, that really frightened me. Because you know, it was like, ‘My career could be over now.’ It scared me. ‘What am I going do next?’ sort of thing. So I took that time to start trying to figure that out,” he said, referring to his 2013 injury that left him unable to play for close to nine months.

After training hard, he returned to the game the following season and fractured his knee in a game against the Memphis Grizzlies in December 2013. He came back from that injury and then suffered a torn shoulder last January, sidelining him again for close to nine months.

“And it was just like, ‘Oh my,’ this is one thing after the next, you know? And so it was kind of a slow three-year process of kind of evolving to get to where I am,” he said.

Asked whether he had accomplished everything he want to on the court, he replied: “No. No. I wanted eight championships, as a dreamy kid, growing up … I wanted eight.”

Roberts asked him about the significance of the number eight.

“Because Magic (Johnson) had five,” Bryant replied. “And then Michael (Jordan) had six. And then I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to win eight.’ And had the opportunity to have seven and didn’t work out. But that was my — that was my childhood dream was to try to win eight (championships)– how ridiculous does that sound?”

Bryant has talked about wanting to have his place in the history of the game, and Roberts how he saw himself compared to other great players.

“Top five players of all time, who were those five players? And would you crack the starting five?” she asked.

“No, I would never put myself in the starting five ever,” he said. “I put the people that I’ve actually learned the most from, being Jordan, Magic, (Larry) Bird, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Jerry West. Those are the players that personally I’ve learned the most from.”

“To be mentioned in the same breath as those players, honestly, to me is — I mean, that’s everything. I mean, we’ll sit and debate endlessly who was better, who would win in a one-on-one matchup between myself and M.J. And you can debate that till the cows come home,” he said.

Asked who would win that match-up, Bryant replied: “Oh, he would win some. I would win some.”

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Nov. 29


VIDEO: The Fast Break: Nov. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Rush puts latest ‘wow’ in W’s | Wizards hard to please in swoon | LeBron saves day, J.R.’s D | McCollum’s audience of 1

No. 1: Rush puts latest ‘wow’ in W’s — All right, the Golden State Warriors are just messing with The Association now. Racing to their 18-0 record, the NBA’s defending champions are posting stupid numbers of superiority and seem almost to be handicapping themselves just for sport. For instance, reigning MVP Steph Curry scored 17 points in the first quarter of his team’s victory over Sacramento while taking only six shots. Draymond Green, who in previous generations might have gotten dismissed as a ” ‘tweener” and been sent packing to multiple teams as a seventh or eighth man, became the first Warriors player since Wilt Chamberlain to post consecutive triple-doubles. Golden State already has outscored opponents by 288 points in just 18 games, ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss reports, and then – even as Harrison Barnes goes out for what could be a couple weeks there’s the whole Brandon Rush thing Saturday:

So, how does a team that averages a blowout top itself? On Saturday night, joyous surprise came in the form of a quick strike Brandon Rush throwback game. He was called upon to replace Harrison Barnes (sprained ankle) in the starting lineup, to some surprise. He didn’t deliver much in the beginning but owned the third quarter like Klay Thompson in disguise. Rush scored 14 points in a 3-minute, 49-second stretch that was shocking, fun, and possibly cathartic.

Rush has a history here, having done nice work for a very different Golden State team, not entirely long ago. On the 2011-2012 Warriors, he was the rare good role player, a glue guy in a situation too shattered to matter. On Nov. 3, 2012, against the Grizzlies, a Zach Randolph shove sent Rush’s career into dormancy. He’d scored 2,639 points in his four-plus seasons before his ACL injury. In the two seasons that followed, he scored 109.

In the background, he has been a vocal part of the locker room, originator of the, “Get what you neeeeed!” catchphrase, meant to inspire work between practices. He’s a popular teammate, someone people here have been pulling for to finally reclaim what he lost. That was palpable in the frenzy of his 14-point explosion. Teammates were clearly looking for Rush, hoping to extend his moment.

After a dunk over contact, Rush was found for three consecutive 3-pointers. Then, during a timeout, interim coach Luke Walton and assistant coach Jarron Collins decided to carry the fun further, calling up “Elevator Doors” for the suddenly hot Rush.

“Elevator Doors” is a play that looks like its namesake. An offensive player runs off the ball between two screening teammates, who converge together to block his defender — the closing doors. It’s a play normally called up for the best of shooters, as it creates a 3-pointer on the move. You’ll see Curry get this play call. You’ll see Thompson get this play call. Something crazy has to happen for almost anyone else to ditch the stairs and take the lift. Since three straight 3s qualifies, Rush got the call, got the ball and … splash.

The crowd went nuts, only outdone by a Golden State bench that might have accidentally created dance moves never before invented.

***

No. 2: Wizards hard to please in swoon — All it took was a playoff sweep of the Toronto Raptors for the Washington Wizards and their fans to go all-in on the small-ball, pace-and-space style of offense so popular throughout the league. All it has taken to shake them from that embrace is four defeats, strung together last week in five nights against Indiana, Charlotte, Boston and Toronto. That shiny, new attack doesn’t look so dazzling anymore, and center Marcin Gortat sounded ready to throw it under the bus to get his old bruise buddy, Nene, alongside him again in a big-man tandem that, weeks ago, seemed prehistoric. Gortat also wasn’t happy with what he termed “negativity” in Washington’s locker room, saying: “”It’s not even fun coming here anymore.” Here is an excerpt of J.Michael’s Wizards insider report for CSNMidAtlantic.com:

“We missed some shots but it’s tough also because with the system we play, four outside one inside,” he said after 16 points and 10 rebounds in Saturday’s 84-82 loss to the Toronto Raptors. “I’m by myself over there fighting for the rebounds. Usually you got two, three guys inside the paint so it’s a little bit different without Nene being at the four.”

Nene, who started alongside Gortat as the power forward, missed Saturday because of a left calf strain. Even though his career rebounding numbers are modest (6.6), Nene tends to clear the traffic around the rim to allow Gortat to rebound.

Of course, last season Gortat wasn’t happy on the offensive end because being on the floor with Nene being there clogged the paint and caused difficulty for him, as well as John Wall on drives, to operate. The idea of moving Nene to the bench and sliding in someone who has three-point ability into that role opens the floor but usually comes at the cost of rebounding.

The Wizards are 6-8 and struggling with their identity, and minus-28 in rebounds during this four-game losing streak. Playing the old way got them to the Eastern Conference semifinals two years in a row.

Kris Humphries had started every game at power forward as his three-point shooting evolved but has only made one deep ball in the last five games. For the first time Jared Dudley, who is undersized at 6-7 and was a teammate of Gortat’s with the Phoenix Suns, started there Saturday. He had seven points and four rebounds.

“Jared is a different player. He’s giving a lot to the team. I love to play with him,” Gortat said. “But just as Jared is giving us offensively great opportunities, we’re suffering on rebounds a little bit. It is what it is.

“Coach [Randy Wittman] is still looking for the right guy at the four spot. … It’s tough. Everybody has to do more now, including me. It’s not easy.”

***

No. 3:LeBron saves day, J.R.’s D — A late-game mistake nearly torpedoed the generally good defensive work that Cleveland’s J.R. Smith turned in on Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson. But LeBron James‘ late-game heroics averted that particular disaster on a night in which the two Cavaliers – a study in contrasts in so many ways, in demeanor and drive – were their team’s best story. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com saw it as further steps in the championship contender’s progress toward the goal:

There they stood next to each other in the back corner of the Cavaliers’ locker room Saturday: one with aspirations of being known as the G.O.A.T., the other narrowly avoiding becoming the goat for the night, thanks to his ambitious friend hitting a game winner that absolved his defensive sin in the previous possession.

For James, there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary about his final stat line of 26 points, nine rebounds and five assists or anything too outlandish about him hitting the clincher; he has done it plenty of times before. But it was the nature of his final shot — an eight-foot, driving hook shot over the 7-foot Brook Lopez — that made it unique.

“I don’t think I’ve ever made a game winner off one of those,” James said. “I’ve made layups. I’ve made pull-ups. Obviously I’ve made step-back jumpers. I’ve probably never made one of those for a game winner. So, I might go to the skyhook next time. … Brook, he did not think in his wildest years that I was going to shoot that one.”

For Smith, unfortunately, there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary about his ill-advised foul on Joe Johnson’s 3-point attempt with 15.2 seconds left and the Cavs leading by three. Smith has committed mental mistakes by fouling in inappropriate situations before, be it Friday night against Charlotte on a Nicolas Batum 3 or the mountain of miscues he had late in Game 2 of the Finals. But it was his overall defensive effort — a career-high four blocks, three steals and the primary defensive assignment on Johnson to begin with — that warrants mentioning

“I know as long as I can bring that enthusiasm and toughness on the defensive end, then we will have a better chance of winning than if I’m just making shots,” Smith said. “I have to be a two-way player.”

It could be seen as troubling that Cleveland needed the double-rainbow-like performance to win a home game against a Brooklyn team that’s now 3-13. There could be legitimate points made about Cleveland’s big-man trio of Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao and Timofey Mozgov — making a combined $28.7 million this season — combining on the court for just 12 points on 5-for-18 shooting, 20 rebounds and six turnovers against the Nets. There certainly has been a bit of hand-wringing among team observers wondering when the on-court product would actually look as good as the Cavs’ 13-4 record is.

The flip side to that: You have developments such as Smith becoming a key cog in Cleveland’s fourth-quarter, switch-everything defensive lineups and encouraging quotes such as James crediting coach David Blatt for the “designed play.” However, Blatt passed the praise to his star player, saying, “Just the way I drew it up. … Give it to No. 23.”

Like James and Blatt’s relationship, or Smith’s commitment to something other than taking contested jump shots to James putting in so much time in practicing a specialized shot such as that running hook that he would actually feel confident enough to use it in crunch time, Cleveland’s season goals are all about growth.

***

No. 4:McCollum’s audience of 1 — When Portland shooting guard C.J. McCollum sank the first four shots he took against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Trail Blazers’ eventual home victory Saturday, he simply was following instructions. His own instructions. Turns out, McCollum – who scored 19 points in the first half and finished with 28 points as Portland won for the third time in four games – had given himself a rather demanding pep talk before the game and Jason Quick of CSNNW.com was on hand to witness it:

It was a mostly silent Moda Center when CJ McCollum took the court about two hours before Saturday’s Trail Blazers game. The music had yet to start blaring from the speakers above, and there were only a limited amount of players on the court.

It was quiet enough to hear McCollum engage in what would be an important conversation … with himself.

“Get up!” McCollum told himself as he attempted a shot.

The next shot, it was the same thing. “Get up!’’

And so it went for the next 15, 20 minutes.

“Get up!” … Swish … “Get up!” … Swish.

Nearly every shot was accompanied by a reminder to both get arc under his shot, and lift from his legs.

“Sometimes, my shot is a little flat,’’ McCollum said. “I’m shooting more of a line drive, so I just remind myself that I’ve got to get it up.’’

McCollum, who is averaging 20.4 points while shooting 46 percent from the field and 39 percent from three-point range, says he often talks to himself during shooting routines. Usually, he talks to himself in his mind during morning sessions at the team’s practice facility. Other times, he is more audible. Either way, he find the personal reminders offer “positive reinforcement.”

“We shoot so many shots that sometimes, you baby it, hold back a little bit,’’ McCollum said. “So I remind myself to get it up, let it go.’’

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: It has taken the proverbial New York minute for the Knicks and their fans to swap out the question mark after Kristaps Porzingis‘ name with an exclamation point, and our man Lang Whitaker tells the tale of New Yorkers’ newfound 7-foot-3 source of hope and optimism … Detroit coach and basketball boss Stan Van Gundy had center Andre Drummond in his crosshairs, asking more from the big man who has given the Pistons so much this season, at least in terms of gaudy rebounding numbers. … Here’s some video of Kobe Bryant on that kid McCollum’s growth in Portland, on the young Lakers and on the inevitable march of time. … Here at HangTime HQ, we can’t remember the last time Father Time grabbed 18 rebounds in a game but we do know when San Antonio’s Tim Duncan most recently accomplished that. … The Bulls need Derrick Rose to play more like Derrick Rose, especially when trying to score, though some doubt he’ll ever quite make it back. … Did someone say back? That’s what Rockets fans wonder, while waiting for Donatas Motiejunas to come back in his recovery from back surgery. … ICYMI, this Philadelphia 76ers fan’s lament does some serious Sixers ‘splaining. … The way Brook and Robin Lopez mock-bicker and tease each other – over their cats, their personalities, you name it – you might find yourself wishing they were conjoined rather than merely identical twins.