Posts Tagged ‘Wizards’

Morning shootaround — Feb. 21


VIDEO: Highlights of Friday’s 26-team extravaganza around the NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors whip the champs | Atlanta’s kryptonite … the Raptors | Statement game for Cavs | Kupchak: Kobe not the Lakers’ problem

No. 1:  Warriors whip the champs — Watching the craziness of the trade deadline and refraining from diving in might have been the right call for the Golden State Warriors. The best team in the league didn’t feel the pressure to get involved on the busiest deadline day in NBA history. If Friday night’s whipping of the San Antonio Spurs is any indication, we know why. They are rock solid up and down the roster and continue to play like a team destined for big things in the postseason. Beating the champs was just business as usual for a team that has soared this season. Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group explains:

After the 110-99 victory Friday, the Warriors collectively shrugged at the significance of defeating their nemesis in a season during which they’ve sustained excellence and focused on fine-tuning for the playoffs.

“For us, we’ve been playing so well this season that we can’t really get distracted by the opponent as much as what we’re trying to do,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said.

“It wasn’t just, ‘We’re beating the Spurs.’ It was, ‘We’re back to how we’re playing.’ ”

Curry, in an MVP-caliber performance, dazzled with 25 points and 11 assists. Klay Thompson added 20 points, and Andre Iguodala scored 14 off the bench as the Warriors improved to 43-9.

The league-leading Warriors showed deference in pregame comments about the Spurs. Coach Steve Kerr, who has borrowed elements of San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich‘s offense, called them “the gold standard.” Iguodala said San Antonio was Golden State’s “big brother.”

The Spurs cruised to a win at Oracle Arena in November, but the Warriors exacted a measure of revenge in dominating them this time.

The Warriors shot 17 for 33 from 3-point range. Curry and Thompson combined to hit seven 3-pointers, but the barrage didn’t end there as Iguodala was 4 for 6 from long distance and Draymond Green 3 for 6.

“We’re not going to make it like that (win) is a big deal,” Green said. “It’s not like we really made a statement to anyone that no one else didn’t know.”

On defense, the Warriors clamped down as the Spurs committed 16 turnovers playing in their second game of a back-to-back. San Antonio needed more than four minutes to score its first field goal in the second half as the Warriors added to their halftime advantage to take a 14-point lead.

By the end of the quarter, it became clear that a rout was in store for the Spurs as the Warriors bench came alive. David Lee then had a stretch where he threw down a dunk, came up with a steal and dished off an assist to Iguodala for a 3-pointer that gave the Warriors an 83-68 lead. Curry and Iguodala followed with back-to-back 3-pointers that sent the Warriors sideline and crowd into a frenzy.

“It’s pretty simple for us,” Kerr said. “Defend like crazy, take care of the ball, move the ball. When we do that, we have enough weapons where we’re going to score enough points.”

***

No. 2: Atlanta’s kryptonite … the Raptors — No one has toppled the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks more than once this season, until Friday night. The Toronto Raptors popped them for the third time, this one an ugly home loss coming out of the All-Star break, a 1-2 matchup that made the challenger look like the kryptonite that could potentially derail the hawks’ postseason dreams. Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution explains just how ugly it was Friday night at Philips Arena as the Hawks laid a royal egg in their stretch run opener:

Say this for the Atlanta Hawks: They don’t stink often, but when they do, they reek to high heaven. They lost Friday to Toronto by 25 points — the final was 105-80 — after trailing by 35, and full credit to the Raptors. They were primed. They became the first team to beat the Hawks three times. (Toronto was also the first to do it twice.)

And now you ask: Should Hawks fans be concerned? And the answer is: Nah.

This was almost a set-up game. The Hawks had spent the All-Star break living the All-Star life, to which few of them were accustomed. They had eight days to lose the rhythm that had carried them to 19 consecutive victories and 35 of 37, and they didn’t just lose it: They buried it at the bottom of the deepest ocean.

Speaking of oceans: As the saying goes, the Hawks couldn’t throw the ball in one. They missed 59 of 88 shots, 30 of 38 3-pointers. (It was their worst shooting night of the season.) Kyle Korver, on pace to have one of the greatest shooting seasons ever, had one of the worst games — and not only at shooting; he also had two egregious turnovers — in the history of the sport. When last did you see an All-Star actually throw up his hands in self-disgust?

They also missed seven of 21 free throws, including a Paul Millsap air ball. Holy moley.

The third quarter was comic. The Hawks missed 16 of 19 shots, including all eight of their treys, and made nine turnovers, off which the Raptors scored half of their 28 points. Five Hawks shots were blocked. Five Toronto shots were, too. In one screwball stretch, the visitors had three layups blocked — and still they stretched a four-point halftime lead to 19.

“They gave it to us good tonight,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said, and here we note that his team had done something similar in Toronto last month, winning 110-89 on Jan. 16. That loss sat poorly with the Raptors.

“They were really ready to play,” Al Horford said. And his team? “Some of it has to be rust,” he said. “We threw the ball all over the place.”

Budenholzer: “I don’t think we played with the energy and activity we’ve gotten accustomed to night after night.”

When last the Hawks looked this awful, it was on the night after Christmas. They lost 107-77 here to Milwaukee after a two-day break. Then they won the next 19, going undefeated in January. That streak began, as fate would have it, in Milwaukee. And where do the Hawks play Sunday?

In Milwaukee. Just sayin’.

***


VIDEO: Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel provides a Chris Bosh/Heat update

***

No. 3: Statement game for Cavs — Don’t let the record or their place in the Eastern Conference standings fool you, the (LeBron James-led) Cleveland Cavaliers are a legitimate championship contender. Everyone knows that by now. Don’t believe it? Just watch a few minutes from their demolition of the Washington Wizards from Friday night. It was all Jason Reid of The Washington Post needed to see to be convinced that the Cavs truly are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference:

History tells us it takes star power to win championships, and no one possesses more than the game’s best player. With the long all-star break over, James is back at work and focused on playing in the NBA Finals for the fifth consecutive season. It appears the Cleveland Cavaliers can help him get there.

Their slow start a distant memory, the surging Cavaliers rolled again Friday night, dismantling the listless Wizards, 127-89.

While dominating Washington and moving ahead of it in the conference standings, Cleveland won for the 15th time in 17 games. It was a familiar story, James shining as the catalyst and producing 28 points, five rebounds and six assists. The Cavaliers led by as many as 40 points, overwhelming the Wizards in another sharp performance.

Although Washington still was without injured guard Bradley Beal, you got the sense that Cleveland, which only would be seeded fourth if the playoffs began today, is the team to beat in the East. There’s much to like about the Cavaliers.

Everything revolves around James, who, in his 12th season, is as great as ever. But the four-time NBA most valuable player also was outstanding while the team struggled early in his return to Cleveland after a four-year run with the Miami Heat. What’s different now? A lot.

Increasingly, guard Kyrie Irving and power forward Kevin Love — the other members of the Cavaliers’ Big Three — have become more comfortable playing alongside James. It was silly to think that the all-stars would immediately click after James and Love arrived in the offseason. This isn’t fantasy basketball. The awkwardness apparently behind them, though, the high-profile co-workers are getting it figured out.

On Friday, Irving supported James with a 25-point, seven-assist effort. Love contributed eight points, six rebounds and toughness. The Wizards could have used some of that.

“We’ve lost that edge of nastiness that we played with,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. “We came out and felt, again, we’re going to warm our way into this game. They had other ideas. They hit us in the mouth right from the jump ball, and we couldn’t recover from it.”

Yep. That pretty much sums it up.

For Cleveland, James, Irving and Love, as expected, have provided the foundation to potentially build something great this season. Cleveland’s in-season remodeling has paid off, too.

***

No. 4: Kupchak: Lakers will begin anew, with Kobe — Even if it is for just one more season, perhaps Kobe Bryant‘s final season, the Los Angeles Lakers will start over again next season with their biggest star in the middle of the mix. So says Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, who made it clear that the plan is to build for the long-term future after this dismal season ends. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times explains:

As bad as the Lakers are this season, Kupchak said they aren’t going to tank the last 28 regular-season games just to be ensured of getting that top-five pick.

“I just don’t know how you send that message to a coaching staff or players,” Kupchak said. “That’s not just something that we want people to think that we would do.”

The Lakers will get Bryant, who had season-ending rotator cuff surgery on his right shoulder, and rookie Randle, who is recovering from a broken right leg, back next season.

But Kupchak is not sure how much longer Bryant, 36, will play. Bryant is due to make $25 million next season.

Kupchak acknowledged the All-Star, who will be embarking on his 20th season in the NBA, is nearing the end of his career.

That means at some point the Lakers will have to start preparing for the future without Bryant.

“So at some point we have to start a new run,” Kupchak said. “That’s definitely going to include Kobe next year. Beyond that…. So to jeopardize the next five or seven years and bring in old veterans that make a lot of money just to win one more year because that’s Kobe’s last year or could be his last year, I’m not sure that fits into doing things the right way.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Mavericks swingman Chandler Parsons injured his ankle Friday night … Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose apologized for the “travel issues” that dogged him after the All-Star break … Miami Heat star Chris Bosh is in “great spirits” but his season could be over due to blood clots in his lungs

ICYMI: Who says DeMarcus Cousins can’t thrive under George Karl? He looked just fine Friday night


VIDEO: DeMarcus Cousins goes to work in George Karl’s debut as head coach in Sacramento

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 187) Featuring Steve Aschburner

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Welcome back Cleveland. And hello Chicago.

The two Eastern Conference favorites from the preseason find themselves looking up at the Atlanta Hawks, Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors a little past the halfway point of this NBA season. There is still plenty of time, of course. Nothing is set in stone just yet.

But it’s time for the Bulls and Cavaliers, fourth and fifth in the standings, respectively, to crank it up. And they’re going in different directions. LeBron James and the Cavaliers are rolling of late, winners of six straight games.

The Bulls, meanwhile, are just 4-6 in their last 10 games and have replaced the Cavaliers in the crosshairs. No one is questioning David Blatt‘s coaching ability these days. LeBron James the leader? Not a problem when you’re rolling.

But in Chicago, folks are wondering about these Bulls.

Was Derrick Rose right to go off about his team? Has Tom Thibodeau‘s act finally worn thin? And is Joakim Noah really as valuable as it seems? We answer all of those questions and plenty more on Episode 187 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner …

 

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the new best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Andrew Merriam.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: Derrick Rose is back, as shown here on Inside Stuff

Morning shootaround — Jan. 26


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs’ biggest improvement has been mental | Might Kobe opt to play and delay surgery? | Horford, Hawks can’t stop, won’t stop … winning | Aldridge puts training camp in jeopardy by playing through pain

No. 1: Cavs’ biggest improvement has been mental — Trade away whoever you want. Tweak the roster however you want. But when you go looking for the real change in the Cleveland Cavaliers since LeBron James returned from who two-week rest hiatus, look no further than between the collective ears of these Cavaliers. So says LeBron, who insists that the greatest gains this group has made recently has been in their collective mentals … so to speak. Sure, LeBron has been on fire, looking more and more like the machine he was in Miami the past four seasons. The rest of the Cavs, though, have taken the necessary mental steps to assume the position as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Joe Vardon, of the Northeast Ohio Media Group, has more:

Dan Gilbert didn’t put 20,000 gold t-shirts on the seats at The Q just because.

The Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t land on the slate of ABC’s first Sunday games this season for laughs.

Though it took place on Jan. 25, three full weeks before the All-Star Game in a regular season that starts before Halloween and goes past Easter, it truly was a big game.

And for once, the Cavaliers prevailed.

“We’ve improved, mentally more than anything,” LeBron James said yesterday, following Cleveland’s 108-98 win over the Thunder.

Remember, James called said once this was a “very fragile” team.

“Big game” is a cliché in sports, certainly on most nights when it’s applied to describe one contest out of 82 in the NBA. But it’s a point worth examining to measure how much James’ team has grown over the last several days.

First, and really it’s the reason this game was announced for ABC’s first Sunday slate back in August, it was a feature of the league’s last two Most Valuable Player winners in James and Kevin Durant — two stars who were picked to lead their teams to, excuse the word, big things this year.

With the Cavs and Thunder playing in opposite conferences, James and Durant only square off twice a year, unless they meet in the Finals as they did in 2012. Basketball fans were robbed of one James-Durant showdown when the Cavs’ superstar sat out with a sore knee on Dec. 11.

Next, and schedulers couldn’t have known this way back when, but Dion Waiters made his return to The Q after getting traded to Oklahoma City on Jan. 5. It’s a side-story, but a juicy one nonetheless.

Third (we’re building toward something here), those gold t-shirts draped over each seat at The Q. The idea, of course, is to make the organization and city look (and sound) good on national TV.

Free, gold Cavs t-shirts are reason to scream a little louder, a little more often. Of course Gilbert picked up the tab.

Add it all together: marquee individual matchup, the whole country watching, intriguing side stories, and nervous energy in the building (more so than on an average night).

The Cavaliers had played in that kind of cauldron of attention exactly twice this season. The first was James’ official return to Cleveland on opening night against the Knicks, which James said was “one of the biggest sporting events ever,” and on Christmas Day in his emotional return to Miami.

James and the Cavaliers failed. Twice.

“In those two games we did, yes, obviously, we did,” Cleveland coach David Blatt said. “I can’t deny that. Hopefully we learned from that.”


VIDEO: The GameTime’s crew discusses the Cavs’ play of late

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Jan. 4


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Loss to Rockets have the Heat, Bosh falling in the East standings | Change in ownership looming, Hawks sell themselves on courts | Reality bites the Wolves

No. 1: Loss to Houston has Heat dazed — Funny how the NBA grind goes sometime. The Rockets went into their game with Miami wobbly from a 28-point thumping against  the Pelicans that was so bad, Rockets coach Kevin McHale benched his entire starting five at one point and remarked afterward: “I wish we never played again … we’re falling apart.” Then on Saturday they turned around and beat Miami by 36. The NBA season is weird that way. The other interesting subplot in this game involved Chris Bosh, who weighed a free agent offer from the Rockets last summer before returning to Miami. It was a hectic period for Houston. Essentially, they lost Chandler Parsons in free agency because they were chasing Bosh, who was born and raised in Texas (Dallas). With Bosh, the Rockets envisioned a starting five of Parsons, Bosh, James Harden and Dwight Howard and figured to make a much more serious run in the West. As it was, Bosh took the max offer and stand in South Beach. Well, things worked out well financially for Bosh, but here in Year One without You Know Who, the Heat have lost four straight and are in eighth place in the East, one game ahead of the Pacers for the final playoff spot. Their ninth set of back-to-back games will conclude Sunday against the Nets. Bosh is among those wondering where the next winning streak will come. He could’ve taken less money and won more games in Houston but refuses to re-think his choice. Jenny Dial Creech of The Houston Chronicle has more:

“I wanted to see if I could have that increased role and still be successful and it’s out there in front of me and it’s out there in front of this team so I just have to make sure I do my part and make sure we don’t lose track of whats important, as far as our effort and energy on the court,” Bosh said. “We have to continue to bring it, no matter what happens.”

Bosh’s role has increased and he has been relied on to bring more offense to the Heat. He went from averaging 16.2 points per game last season to 21.4 this season.

With the added offensive responsibilities comes better defense. Bosh said teams play him differently this year and he is trying to use that competition to become a better player in his 12th season.

“That’s all I’m trying to concentrate on, most of the time,” Bosh said. “It’s different every night and I have to read and react very quickly throughout the course of the game and figure things out.”

***

No. 2: Change in ownership is coming, and so are Hawks — Well, look who’s in first place in the East all of a sudden. An unexpected season in Atlanta just turned up a notch when the Hawks went to Portland and had their way against the Blazers. They led for much of the night and kept holding off Portland and suddenly you must ask yourself: Are the Hawks for real? It looks that way. Not only are they leading the East, the Hawks have beaten some of the best teams in the West, including the Clippers, Mavericks, Rockets and now Blazers to win 18 of their last 20, including four straight. Paul Millsap scored 27 points and pretty much secured a spot on the All-Star team with another solid night and the Hawks once again used an offensive system built on finding the open man to confuse Portland,which was 18-2 and 9-0 against East teams at home. This comes on the heels of news that current Hawks ownership has agreed to sell 100 percent of the team. This might be the first time the Atlanta Spirit group agreed on anything. Since forming and buying the Hawks, the multi-layered group has clashed on issues. But after seeing the purchase price for the Bucks and Clippers, the owners have agreed to cash out in unison, which will only help hike the purchase price. The identity of the next owner remains to be seen but there is a chance the Hawks could change hands this season. And when that ownership swap happens, only then will the fate of Danny Ferry be decided. That’s the weird part about the Hawks and their first-place status. The guy who built them is in exile after a tumultuous summer, choosing to take a leave of absence. But you have to think Ferry will have an excellent chance to slide back into his office, given how the Hawks have played lately. We should also add that Jeff Teague is averaging 24 points and 8 assists over the last four games. Anyway, while it’s hard to single out one player on the Hawks who’s responsible for what we’re seeing, Millsap is having a strong season here in his walk year. The Hawks would love to extend not only him, but Al Horford, who’s deal has one more season left. Tony Jones of The Tribune has more on Millsap, the former Jazz forward:

The points. The rebounds. The career high numbers in assists and steals. The All-Star recognition of last season and the realization round the NBA that he’s one of the best power forwards in the league. None of it matters much to Paul Millsap. It’s nice and all and yes, he’s opened eyes since leaving the Utah Jazz two summers ago. But Millsap has been and always wants to be known for winning, and this may be his best chance.

As the calendar turns to 2015, Millsap and the Hawks have a common goal: Taking the Eastern Conference.

“We feel like we have a shot,” Millsap said. “We know that last year didn’t end up the way we wanted. We thought we should’ve won that seventh game at Indiana (in the first round of the playoffs). We want to go farther this year.”

Millsap is a walking nightly mismatch. Yes, he’s undersized as a 6-8 power forward. But he now possesses three-point range, and the ability to take bigger guys out with him on the perimeter. He’s never stopped rebounding the ball. Him and Al Horford are difficult to contain on the interior.

“When I first came to the team, my relationship with Paul was just a normal teammate to teammate kind of thing,” said Gordon Hayward. “But once I started playing more, and me and Paul started talking more, I got to know him a lot better. We got a lot closer. I’ve always admired how hard he works.”

Millsap figures to be a hot commodity once July rolls around. And with the way he’s played the last two years, deservedly so.

“I just try to stay in the moment,” Millsap said. “We have a great team, and we have an opportunity to do some special things as a team this season. That’s all I’m focused on right now.”

***

No. 3: Reality bites the Wolves after 11th straight loss — You’re tempted to yell “tim-berrrrrrrr” at the Wolves, but that would suggest they’re falling from a high perch. The reality is the Wolves were never high to begin with, and right now this young and injured team is clearly struggling. Not only are they playing a batch of rookies and second-year players, they’re missing three starters and playing in the West. That’s a recipe for what you’re now seeing, nights when the Wolves are barely competitive. For the second time in five days, they lost to the Jazz, and Utah isn’t exactly a powerhouse. All of a sudden, coach Flip Saunders is talking possible lineup changes, but is there really any way to fix the Wolves this season? Eventually they’ll get Ricky Rubio, Nik Pekovic and Kevin Martin hack from injuries, so that’ll help a little. But probably not a lot, not in the deep and very dangerous West. Basically, this season is shaping up to be as expected, with Minnesota playing young players and giving them room and time to grow, while taking it on a chin hard enough to land another high lottery pick next June. It will be considered a successful year if these young players are more consistent by February and March and making fewer mistakes. Until then, there will be more nights like Saturday, when the Wolves, who have only won once since the day after Thanksgiving, giving up 15 rebounds to guys like Trevor Booker and a career high 13 points to guys like Rudy Gobert. Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune explains:

Saunders vowed lineup changes and other corrective measures to help right a listing ship. It’s one that tilted even further toward the horizon Saturday. Saunders lamented his young team’s lack of energy and willingness to compete against a Utah team that, while also undermanned, has won six of nine games.

“Energy comes from within,” Wolves rookie Andrew Wiggins said. “No one can tell you to play hard. You have to want to play hard.”

“They beat us on energy plays and they ripped in and took our hearts away,” Saunders said.

The Wolves also had no answer for Jazz point guard Trey Burke, who shook Friday’s 2-for-19 shooting performance (including 0-for-11 on three pointers) against the Hawks and scored a season-high 28 points.

“He’s be first team all-league if he played against us every time,” Saunders said of Burke. “Maybe I should’ve drafted him based on how he’s played against us and in this arena.”

“Like I told our guys, don’t think it can’t get any worse,” said Saunders. “It definitely can.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Byron Scott wants Kobe Bryant to shoot more, not less … Kobe took a shot at the AAU system, but didn’t KD and CP3 and LeBron go through that very same system? … Knicks still contemplating whether to shelve Carmelo for the year  …

ICYMI OF THE NIGHT: Jazz center Rudy Gobert made one of the best blocks of the season on Shabazz Muhammad…


VIDEO: Block of the night
 

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 183) Featuring Mike Lee

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – A quick scan of the NBA standings on both side of the conference divide provides a much different set of teams than the casual fan is used to seeing in those positions.

In the Eastern Conference Toronto, Washington and Atlanta have invaded the party that was supposed to be headlined by Chicago and Cleveland. In the Western Conference Golden State, Portland, Memphis and Houston make up the power elite, a group that was supposed to include the reigning world champions from San Antonio and Oklahoma City Thunder.

The start of a New Year is a great time to take stock of the recent past and forecast what is to come, which is exactly what we’re doing on Episode 183 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Mike Lee of The Washington Post.

We’re trying to make sense of what we’re seeing from teams from coast to coast, why some are thriving this season and why others are struggling to play up to expectations. We trust our own observations, of course, but it never hurts to have one of the oldest and most trusted members of the Hang Time Podcast family weigh in with his own observations on what’s going on.

We dive into all of that and much more on Episode 183 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Mike Lee … Happy New Year!

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the new best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Andrew Merriam.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: The Top Plays from the final month of calendar year from around the NBA

Morning shootaround — Dec. 29


VIDEO: Check out all the highlights from Sunday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron blunt assesment of Cavs | Wizards head West for test | Nets have all but given up on Deron Williams | Thunder players talk trust after latest loss

No. 1: LeBron’s blunt assessment of Cavs … it’s not good — The wobbly wheels on the traveling road show that is the Cleveland Cavaliers this season came all the way off Sunday in a loss to lowly Detroit. There’s no way to avoid it anymore. The Cavaliers are simply not playing good basketball these days. Even LeBron James has had to come to grips with that reality. He said so so in his postgame assessment of his team after that loss to the Pistons. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com provides some context on what pushed the frustrated James over the edge.

After falling down by as many as 27 points en route to a 103-80 blowout loss on Sunday to the Detroit Pistons — a team that came into the game with the fourth-worst record in the league — LeBron James did not sugarcoat the current state of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“We’re not a very good team,” James said after the defeat dropped the Cavs to 18-12. “As far as on the court, we’re still trying to find our way as well. We’ve won some good games, we’ve lost some games. But right now, we’re just not very good in every aspect of the game that we need to be to compete every night.”

t has become a common refrain for James. Following the Cavs’ Christmas Day loss to the Miami Heat, he echoed the sentiment, saying, “We’re not that good right now.” The next day, after a comeback win over the Orlando Magic, James said Cleveland was playing “nowhere near championship ball.”

It was so bad against Detroit that the Cavs were booed off the court by their hometown fans during a third-quarter timeout amid the Pistons outscoring Cleveland 86-52 over the final three quarters. Despite being 11-6 overall at Quicken Loans Arena this season, the Cavs’ past three home losses have all come by 17 points or more — albeit the previous two routs were at the hands of the Toronto Raptors and Atlanta Hawks, the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the East, respectively.

“I can’t tell you what it was,” Kevin Love said. “We need to play better in front of our home crowd, home fans, and it’s just unacceptable.”

***

No. 2: Wizards  head West for test — The Washington Wizards will find out exactly what they are made of to start the New Year, heading out for a Western Conference road trip that will give them a clear understanding of exactly where they stand in the league pecking order right now. A grueling five-game road trip kicks off tonight in Houston. This could be where the rubber hits the road for a team that has feasted on a favorable early season schedule, writes Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post:

The Wizards have piled up a multitude of those victories this season preying on the NBA’s weaker teams in a remarkably favorable opening third of their schedule. Through 29 games, they have played the second-easiest schedule in the NBA, the fewest road games, just eight Western Conference teams and zero Western Conference teams on the road.

Those statistics will change drastically this week, when the Wizards embark on their toughest trip of the season to face five of the top nine teams in the merciless Western Conference. The trek begins Monday in Houston against the 21-8 Rockets.

“It is a test,” Wizards forward Paul Pierce said following Saturday’s win. “We get a chance to play against some of the upper-echelon Western Conference teams. It will be a great measuring stick about where we are. We know we are an upper-echelon team in the East, but we know if we want to be champions, this is an opportunity with the East being wide open for us to get to the Finals, for us to gauge where we are as an elite team in this league.”

All five teams on deck are at least .500, and Washington has beaten just three teams currently at least .500, including the New Orleans Pelicans, whom they play to conclude the trip Jan. 5. The results suggest the Wizards haven’t been sufficiently tested, but wins against bottom-tier teams count the same, and unlike last season, Washington has rarely faltered against inferior opponents. They are 19-4 when favored.

“You got all 82 of them, and we play them the way they are on the schedule,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “We’d like to change the schedule once in a while, but we can’t. You just approach it, again, one day at a time. There’s always stretches over the course of the year that provides a tough challenge. I think our guys understand that.”

***

No. 3: Nets have all but given up on Deron Williams — So this is how it ends for Deron Williams in Brooklyn, huh? Benched by the Brooklyn Nets? This is now the way the story was supposed to play out for the former All-Star and supposedly elite point guard and franchise player the Nets built their team around. The Nets have all but given up on Williams just two years after making him the face of the franchise, writes Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

Considering how this relationship began, the fall of Deron Williams has been a stunning and debilitating change of course for the Nets.

It didn’t seem that long ago that they were eagerly handing him the keys to the franchise, basing each move on whether it would improve their chances of retaining the point guard. It wasn’t a question of whether they should offer Williams the biggest deal in the organization’s history, it was whether he’d sign it.

Williams did, of course, sealing his future on an iPad. It was trumped up as the seminal moment of the move to Brooklyn, a reason to believe the Nets had fully left behind those woebegone days in Jersey. Now they’re trying to get rid of him after just two seasons, reaching a conclusion that Williams comes up way short as a franchise player, even when healthy.

It has reached the point of coach Lionel Hollins putting Williams on the bench, warning Saturday that the 30-year-old needs to play better to earn more than the 20 minutes he logged in the loss to the Pacers.

Imagine that a couple years ago: Williams, the $100 million man, getting benched to clear up time for Jarrett Jack.

“(Hollins) is definitely right, we do need to play better,” Williams said, referencing himself and his high-paid partner on the bench, Brook Lopez. “We’re two of the highest-paid players on the team, so that’s our responsibility to play better.

“Hopefully we can accept that challenge — I think I do, and Brook does.”

***

No. 4  Thunder players talk “trust” after latest loss — Trust issues appear to be the latest topic of discussion in the Oklahoma City Thunder locker room. This comes after their latest loss, to the Dallas Mavericks, and their latest squandering of a chance to reach the .500 mark this season. It’s become a bit of a cycle in Oklahoma City, as Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman writes, these issues the Thunder have to sort out:

Here we go again.

Thunder players are talking about trust.

That, of course, has become the go-to buzzword whenever the ball stops moving, the offense breaks down and Oklahoma City suffers the same type of avoidable loss as it did in its 112-107 defeat at Dallas on Sunday night.

“We just got to do a better job of trusting our sets, actually running our sets with pace, trusting each other and I think we’ll be all right,” said Kendrick Perkins.

They keep saying it.

When will they learn to do it consistently?

“I don’t know. We just got to figure it out,” said Reggie Jackson. “We got to figure something out or we’re going to continue to have disappointing losses.”

The Thunder squandered another chance — its third this season — to climb to .500 after delivering a head-scratching final four minutes and allowing Dallas to snap its two-game winning streak.

In that game-deciding stretch, the Thunder went 2-for-6 and had three turnovers.

“We had some tough breaks at the end of the game,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We just got to get better. We got to get better. We got to do a better job of executing. We got to do a better job of getting better shots down the stretch.”

Russell Westbrook’s final four minutes were as forgettable as anyone’s.

Westbrook had two of his team’s turnovers over that span and missed both of his shot attempts, including a point-blank layup that would have trimmed Dallas’ lead to one with 1:17 left to play. After his first turnover, Westbrook compounded the giveaway by committing a costly foul 90 feet away from the Mavs’ basket. He delivered it against Dirk Nowitzki, while Dallas was in the bonus.

Nowitzki stepped to the line and swished both shots to break a 102-102 tie with 3:25 remaining.

The Thunder never saw the lead again.

An overly aggressive Westbrook later committed another unnecessary foul on Nowitzki with 1:05 left to play, and Nowitzki again made both shots, this time to put the Mavs ahead by five.

It characterized Westbrook’s night, as his customary hustle and relentlessness allowed him to finish with 18 points, nine rebounds, nine assists and five steals. But his refusal to settle for the smart play resulted in him shooting 6-for-23 from the floor while committing five turnovers.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Carmelo Anthony has a sore kneeKobe Bryant returns to action looking to be more (wait for it) patient … The Minnesota Timberwolves’ Ricky Rubio is weeks away from mounting his own comeback … Everything in Chris Kaman‘s life changes now … Angry Clippers will see a different Utah team tonight in Salt Lake City … It appears that Chris Bosh is ready to return to the Miami Heat? … Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker speeds up his process by slowing down …

Morning shootaround — Dec. 8


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron fired up to play before the royals | Changes don’t fix Lakers’ problems | Reality bites the Heat

No. 1: LeBron relishes opportunity to dazzle the royals — LeBron James, a self-anointed “King”playing before Britain’s Prince William and his wife, Duchess  Kate Middleton tonight in Brooklyn has a certain royal ring to it, no? It does for Cleveland’s King. LeBron is looking forward to showing off for the high-profile visitors, yet another opportunity for the world’s best player to brandish his global brand. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com has more:

“It’s an honor,” James said before the Cavs practiced in New York City on Sunday. “It’s a huge honor. The stuff that you read about, people like them are only in books growing up. And to hear that they’re coming to town to see me play and they want to see me do what I do best, it’s a huge honor.”

The royal couple will also meet with President Barack Obama on their U.S. tour. Count the president as another dignitary who has come to witness James play in person.

“Well I’ve had people from all across the board as far as stature, but the President of the United States, that was pretty huge,” James said. “To have those two, to say they were traveling here and one of the things that they wanted to do was see me play, it’s a pretty big deal in my household.”

James told reporters he has only seen Will and Kate “on television and the Internet and things, just like the rest of you,” and hopes to get a personal audience with the pair at Barclays Center.

“I would like to,” James said. “They are going to be at the game so hopefully I get the opportunity to interact with them a little bit. We’ll see what happens.”

Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving joked that he owns a DVD of the prince and duchess’ royal wedding from back in April, 2011.

“It will be great to see them in person,” Irving said. “I mean, for me, seeing celebrities in person is awesome. I don’t really know too much about them, but they’re celebrities in our world so I guess it’s great to see them.”


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook throws down the thunder dunk

***

No. 2: Changes don’t fix what’s wrong with the Lakers — Change Lakers fans can believe in still hasn’t come. Byron Scott shook up his lineup, benching Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin for Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans, and got the same result as usual this season. Another loss for Kobe Bryant and the Lakers means that Scott is still searching for the right mix as time is quickly running out on any faint hope for this season in Los Angeles. Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times sheds some light on the dark times in LA:

Fans booed as the Lakers fell behind by 20 points going into the fourth quarter at Staples Center.

Kobe Bryant took nearly an hour before talking to reporters after the game. Boozer tried to one-up Bryant by not talking to reporters, period. Lin called the demotion “one of the toughest situations I’ve been in.”

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2014-15 Lakers.

“If you look at our record, you have to make changes,” Scott said. “I’m not going to stand back and just watch it continue to be played this way. To me it was a no-brainer.”

Ed Davis had 12 points in place of Boozer and Ronnie Price had three points and three assists in Lin’s spot.

Bryant spoke matter-of-factly, not angrily, when he finally emerged to talk to reporters.

“Not everything is going to be great, champagne, celebrations and winning championships,” he said after scoring 14 points. “You’ve got to go through some hard stuff too. If this was the Titanic, I’d go down with that. … I’m not jumping off.”

This is all too familiar for Lin, demoted last season in Houston after being outplayed by Patrick Beverley. Boozer also had his time shortened in Chicago, benched in the second and fourth quarters toward the end of last season in favor of Taj Gibson.

***

No. 3: Reality bites the Heat after fourth straight loss — All of those conversations about the Miami Heat and their place in history that were had over the past four seasons seems like a lifetime ago these days. The Heat, losers of four straight games after falling to the Memphis Grizzlies Sunday, are feeling reality’s bite right now. They are no longer the juggernaut they were with Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh headlining the show. It’s a different world for the Heat, as Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald explains:

Chris Bosh slammed the ball against his head in a display of exasperation.

Dwyane Wade just walked off the court laughing and shaking his head.

Even when the Heat did everything right defensively, the Memphis Grizzlies still scored and scored and scored on Sunday at FedEx Forum in their 103-87 victory, but Courtney Lee’s desperation three-pointer from 30 feet seemed especially cruel.

Both Mario Chalmers and Josh McRoberts had their hands on the ball, but neither player could come away with the steal. Instead, the loose ball found Lee, who heaved a prayer toward the rim. It swished the net, of course, because everything goes down against this Heat defense these days.

The Grizzlies shot better than 60 percent until the final two minutes of the game, settling for 58.9 percent from the field. It was the highest shooting percentage of the season for Memphis (16-4), and the high-water mark came on a night star center Marc Gasol was 1 of 6 from the field for two points.

“They didn’t even hurt us in our normal game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s what’s disappointing. It was all the miscellaneous actions.”

The Heat (9-11) has lost five of its past six games, including four in a row, and in each of those losses opponents shot at least 54 percent from the field.

“It’s open season,” said Bosh, who had 12 points and two rebounds. “Until we take more pride in that as a unit, it’s just not going to happen. We’ve got to individually guard the ball with passion, and everything else with follow.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Rockets coach Kevin McHale says Dwight Howard isn’t coming back anytime soon …  Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob apologizes for his comments about former coach Mark Jackson …  Thunder stretch reeling Pistons’ slide to 12 straight … Mum is the word from Phil Jackson on the Knicks …

ICYMI of the Night: The entire cast of Top Five, Chris Rock’s latest comedy, sat down for an interview with our very own Lang Whitaker of the All Ball Blog … 


VIDEO: Lang Whitaker sits down with the cast of Top Five

 

 

MJ’s Hornets going back to the future

CHARLOTTE — Give him the ball and get out of the way.

For years, that was the first ingredient to the recipe for success that helped make Michael Jordan the first true global icon the NBA ever produced. It was like nothing anyone had ever seen.

Fast forward 30 years and it’s the same ingredients for the owner of the Charlotte Hornets. Jordan and the entire management team have rebranded the former Charlotte Bobcats, bringing the buzz back to this city in an unprecedented fashion for the start of the 2014-15 season.

After taking over Twitter on Tuesday (above), MJ held court in a different way, hosting eight reporters from around the country for lunch at Time Warner Cable Arena just hours before the Hornets home opener against the Milwaukee Bucks.

He didn’t need any fancy introduction. He simply walked in, grabbed his seat in the middle of the room and said bring it on.

Like I said, give him the ball and get out of the way …

Q: Are you a better owner today than you were when you first took over, and if so, how did that come about?

MJ: Uh, you have to define what better is really. Am I a more experienced owner? Yes. Am I an owner that made mistakes? Yes. Am I an owner that made good decisions? I like to assume so, yes. But it’s amazing what winning does. I always considered myself an owner that was dedicated to doing the best job to bring the best team here to the city of Charlotte. And with that comes a lot of criticism based on wins and losses. And based on the wins and losses over the years I’ve been in ownership, people have questioned that. Now that we’re winning, people are giving their opinions about that from a different perspective. I’ve always considered myself a very successful owner that tries to make sound decisions. And when you make bad decisions, you learn from that and move forward. I think I’m better in that sense. I’ve experienced all of the different valleys and lows that ownership and successful of business. If that constitutes me being a better owner, than I guess I am.

Q: How tough is it to know when to insert yourself as an owner and when you let your “team” do their business on a daily basis and not interfere with that process?

MJ: In some ways it is very similar to a game. When you feel like you can make an impact and give some insight, some leadership, you do that. You kind of read the scenarios. For me to make good sound decisions I have to understand every facet of what’s happening within the building and within the team. These guys keep me up to date and inform me of all the decisions that need to be made. I dissect that and when the decision is made we collaborate and I ask for their opinion, they ask for my opinion and then at the end of the day we have to formulate a plan and then ride with it. That’s kind of the formula that happens underneath this roof. But it all starts with me. The criticism starts with me. And if things go well, everybody always look a bunch of different ways. But if things go bad, they always look to the top. And I understand that, which makes me get more involved. I understand all the decision-making that has to be done and get a grip on all the things that have to be done.

Q: What do you understand about the role of an owner now that you didn’t understand as a player?

MJ: It’s a big team and you want the team to understand exactly what the focus is. You want to be able to relate from top to bottom. And it’s a bigger responsibility. When you’re the leader of an organization, they look for you in a lot of different ways. And you have to exert that kind of confidence, determination and effort. And the decision-making process, so that has been the process for me over the last four years of ownership … learning the process and applying my personality, thoughts, wishes and leadership whenever necessary so that when the time comes we can make sound decisions. It’s about implementing systems and things that work for this organization. And what may work for this organization may be totally different for other organizations … understanding the dynamics of that. And it’s believe me, it’s been fun. It’s been hard, but I’ve had fun doing it.

Q: You’ve tried different things as an owner, different people in different positions. Why does the combination right now — owner, general manager and coach — in terms of what you want to do?

MJ: Things have fallen into place. The business and the basketball are working hand in hand. And they both have different dynamics. The business has certain things they to do to make sure we maximize all the energy and effort that we have on our team. Same thing on the basketball side. They have to understand how to get the returns on free agency, the Draft and all of the guys we have on our team and somehow, collectively, form the overall product and keep the business thriving and growing. And that’s where I think the last couple of years things have started to happen. The business has really been strong. Our guys beating the bushes to get the community back involved, to get the corporate sponsors back involved. And all of those things back working in a positive way the basketball back to where we are restructuring with coaches and players and things of that nature and now you have both of them on the same page and both of them working in hand in hand to where everything started to turn into a prosperous situation. And it makes me look like a genius. Sometimes it happens that way.


VIDEO: One-on-one conversation with Jordan, Part 1

Q: How different are you this time around compared to when you were with the Wizards, how have you changed?

MJ: It’s been a gradual change. With the Wizards, it was the first time I’ve ever been into the operations standpoint. I had different leadership, different perspectives, different initiatives, different roles, expectations from an organization standpoint, which I had no control. My initial responsibility – Fred [Brown] was there, he can tell you – it was trying to get from where we were to a much more positive sense. That had a lot to do with the financial aspect. And I felt like we did that. A lot of things happened – me going back to play, and in doing so we didn’t understand some of the dynamics of being a general manager in terms of selecting personnel, finding the right mix, finding the camaraderie, the continuity from a basketball sense. So that was a learning curve for me. Coming here in a similar role, I utilized some of those experiences to try to enhance, from a basketball sense, and once again I wasn’t in control of the overall goal of the organization. I was following that leadership. Not that I’m making an excuse, but it changed. Now I’m in control of everything. I can put my own DNA, I can put my own twists, I can put my own demands and start from a different leadership position. And those previous situations helped me set those type of standards for that type of leadership and obviously my participation in all of that. And I think that I’m better because of that. It was a well-traveled road, probably one of the roads I wouldn’t have suggested for myself, but yet I’m much better today because of that experience.

(more…)

A dozen age old keys to the season

Back when the Rolling Stones sang Time Is On My Side, they surely weren’t thinking about NBA players deep into the second decades of their playing careers. All that running, jumping and end-to-end athleticism clearly make the NBA a young man’s game. Still, by the time things shake out next spring and the playoffs begin, a virtual roster full of veterans will have played a big part in the success or failure of some seasons. Here are the dozen graybeards (listed oldest to youngest) who’ll make a difference … one way or the other:

Steve Nash (Noah Graham /NBAE)

Steve Nash (Noah Graham /NBAE)

Steve Nash, 40, Lakers — The former two-time MVP is having a hard time limping to the finish line of his career. After playing in just 15 games last season, there was hopeful optimism that he and teammate Kobe Bryant could turn back the clock together. But recurring back problems have coach Byron Scott thinking more about starting Jeremy Lin at the point and bringing Nash off the bench.

Ray Allen, 39, unsigned — Is there a playoff team on any corner of the NBA map that wouldn’t want to have one of the great pure shooters in league history on the bench next spring? From Cleveland to San Antonio and every point in between, they’ve been trying to get him onboard. He’s still weighing whether he wants to play at all. The winner in this sweepstakes gets a bonanza.

Andre Miller, 38, Wizards — It’s not like the advancing age is going to make him any slower or look less athletic. Now with Bradley Beal sidelined, there will be more opportunities for the veteran to show that he can do all of the good stuff, like the drive and pass to Kevin Seraphin that produced the game-winning dunk over the Pistons earlier this week. He’s that old neighbor down the street who knows how to fix everything and is handy to have around.

Tim Duncan, 38, Spurs — Coach Gregg Popovich treats him as delicately as Grandma’s heirloom china during the regular season and hasn’t played him for more than 30.1 minutes per game since 2009-10. We keep saying that he’s got to fall over the edge eventually, but then he went out and was the driving force behind the Spurs’ championship run last spring. Would you really bet against him doing it again?

Kevin Garnett, 38, Nets — For the first time in 19 seasons, K.G. looked old and tired and not engaged last season as he averaged a career-low 6.5 points per game as a role player. Everybody’s saying Year 20 is probably the last, but Garnett is saying he feels physically better and intends to return to his aggressive ways and have an impact again. Expectations are lower across the board for him and the team — and that could be a good thing.

Vince Carter, 37, Grizzlies — Back when he was chinning himself over the rim to win the Slam Dunk Contest back in 2000, who thought the uber-athletic Carter could still be a factor 1 1/2 decades later? But here he is, changing teams from Dallas to Memphis as he’s aged into a racehorse that can still give you 25 solid minutes per game and knock down clutch 3-pointers to boot.

Manu Ginobili, 37, Spurs — So close to retiring due to injuries following the Finals loss in 2013, he came back to shine through a remarkably healthy championship campaign. But for a guy who continues to play recklessly, the next back or knee injury is always just a cut or a jump away. If for any reason he’s not fully fit next spring, the chance to finally repeat will diminish greatly.

Jason Terry, 37, Rockets — The former Sixth Man of the Year when the Mavericks won their 2011 championship, the Jet has lost more than a little of his lift and cruising speed. But he’s bound and determined to show there’s something left in the tank and on a Houston bench that is thin, he’ll get called on by coach Kevin McHale. Don’t underestimate his veteran leadership in a locker room where Dwight Howard and James Harden are not fully comfortable in the role.

Paul Pierce, 37, Wizards — What they lost in defense from free agent Trevor Ariza, the Wizards could make up for in Pierce’s willingness and ability to make the big shots late in games. No question that John Wall and Beal are the engines of the offense. But Pierce could go a long way in showing them how and when to step on the gas.

Kobe Bryant, 36, Lakers — Probably not since Ronald Reagan moved into the White House will an old guy with so many miles on him attract so much attention. It would be one thing if Kobe just wanted to come back and play. But he’s Kobe and that means the alpha dog will settle for nothing less than his snarling old self. Virtually nobody thinks he can do what he used to do and, of course, that’s exactly what will drive him.

Pau Gasol, 34, Bulls — Never the sturdiest guy on the court during his prime, he’s missed 55 games over the past two seasons due to injuries. But he still has skills and now he has Joakim Noah alongside on the front line in Chicago to do the big banging. Assuming Derrick Rose can come back anywhere close to his previous form, this could be a perfect situation for Gasol to slide in as a secondary weapon. If that happens, the Bulls are in the fight to win the East.

David West, 34, Pacers — Is this the thanks a fella gets for spending his career as a dutiful professional who comes in every game to get the job done? First Lance Stephenson bolts in free agency to Charlotte. Then Paul George suffers the horrific injury while playing for Team USA. The Pacers enter the season in big, big trouble, which means West, the veteran forward, will be asked to shoulder the burden on a nightly basis. It doesn’t seem fair or doable.

Hang Time Road Trip: Wizards’ young stars ready for more in wide-open East


VIDEO: John Wall and Bradley Beal are driven to succeed in D.C.

By Sekou Smith

CHICAGO – John Wall and Bradley Beal don’t care if the spotlight shines elsewhere right now.

In fact, they prefer it that way. It keeps them motivated to continue their grind, the one that fueled the Washington Wizards’ rise up the ranks to the Eastern Conference semifinals last season.

The best backcourt in the league? All-Stars? Leaders of a team capable of making the Eastern Conference finals?

The Wizards’ young guns believe it’s all a possibility this season

Sure, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Toronto Raptors, Miami Heat and others will do their best to block the path. And everyone talks tough this time of year.

But actions speak louder than words.

Wall and Beal know that better than most.


VIDEO: The Hang Time Podcast crew reflects on the Cavaliers’ preseason opener

***

Keep up with us around the clock on Twitter or Instagram (using the hashtag #HANGTIME):

Check the Hang Time Blog for our daily (video) podcast recapping our adventures and also Lang’s All-Ball Blog for our daily updates.