Posts Tagged ‘Zach Randolph’

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 13


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Players only meeting works for Kings | Conley at crunch time in Memphis | Teletovic pokes LeBron | Blazers not one of the Bynum 8

No. 1: Kings players-only meeting works wonders — Three straight wins in most places isn’t worth going crazy over, not during the marathon that is an 82-game NBA season. In Sacramento, however, it’s definitely going to raise eyebrows. A players-only meeting has worked wonders for the Kings, who routed Cleveland Sunday to polish off their season-best win streak. Is this potentially a turning point for a Kings team that has dealt with adversity and distractions for months now? Time will tell. But as Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee notes, an epic beatdown of the Cavaliers is a good place to start:

The victory margin equaled a 44-point win over Denver on Dec. 12, 1992, and trailed only a 56-point win over Philadelphia on Jan. 2, 1993 and a 58-point victory over Dallas on Dec. 29, 1992.

The Kings led by 46 points, their biggest advantage of the season, and tallied season highs in points, 3-pointers (15) and blocked shots (eight).

Defensively, the Kings (13-22) held Cleveland to 11 points in the third quarter and 30 points in the second half, both season lows by a Sacramento opponent. The 80 points were also a season low, bettering the 83 the Kings gave up against Orlando on Friday.

In the third quarter, the Cavaliers (13-24) made only four shots and shot 20 percent, both season lows for a Kings opponent.

“This young team is growing and I’m just happy to be a part of it,” Rudy Gay said. “We can become a really good team. It takes hard work and we’re working hard, and coach has been great. As long as we keep going on that same path, we should be a good team.”

The defensive numbers are what pleased coach Michael Malone. After allowing 32 points in the first quarter, the Kings began to defend better, leading to the dominant second half.

“Consistency is a word we’ve used a lot,” Malone said. “It’s something we haven’t shown we can (accomplish) most of the season, but in our last three games I think the defense has been consistent, the communication has been consistent, the effort’s been there. We had breakdowns without a doubt, but our breakdowns are happening less often at the moment, and that’s a step in the right direction.”



VIDEO: Isaiah Thomas wins his duel with Kyrie Irving and his Kings get the win

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No. 2: Conley is the man at crunch time for Grizzlies — Whether you realize it or not, Mike Conley has become a stabilizing force for the a Memphis Grizzlies team that sorely needed one. Even with the likes of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen on the roster, the young point guard emerged from a humbling start to his career to evolve into the sort of floor leader that pushes the pile the way he did against the Atlanta Hawks Sunday night.  Conley is on a tear right now that suggests he might be ready for even bigger and better things, writes Ronald Tillery of the Commercial Appeal:

Conley continued arguably the most productive week of his NBA career in leading the Griz with 21 points, 13 assists and four steals. He posted 30 or more points in each of the two previous games.

The Griz blew a 13-point lead with Conley on the bench. The Hawks began connecting on 3-pointers and used a 16-0 run that bridged the third and fourth quarters to wrestle away the momentum and take an 80-77 lead.

The game was tied at 77 when Conley returned to replace rookie reserve Nick Calathes with 10:38 left. About 20 seconds later, Conley whipped a pass to James Johnson out of a pick-and-roll and Johnson finished the play with an emphatic slam dunk. The basket was the start of a 16-4 run that allowed the Griz to regain the lead for good.

Conley set up Courtney Lee and Mike Miller for 3-pointers, Zach Randolph for a point-blank shot, and created his own scoring opportunities by zipping past defenders and into the paint.

“Once (the Hawks) started making a little bit of a run, from the bench, I noticed that we weren’t getting to the paint,” said Conley, who had eight points and six and six assists in the final period. “We weren’t getting to the rim, to the free throw line or making plays at the rim. It shows our aggressiveness when we are going in-and-out of the paint. We got just little bit too lax in that stage of the game. I just wanted to come in and act on that.”

Conley is averaging 27.3 points in his last three games, which have resulted in an overtime loss to San Antonio and wins over Phoenix and Atlanta.

“He has really taken responsibility, not for running the team but really as a leader for the team and defining whether we are successful or not,” [Grizzlies coach Dave] Joerger said. “He has taken the steps to say, ‘I’m going to be up front, and not pushing from within. I’m not going to be facilitating. I’m going to be out front and be a leader and those who follow will follow and those who don’t will get left behind.’ He is so much more assertive in his approach and our guys feed off of that.”

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No. 3: Teletovic pokes the LeBron bearIn the event that the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets meet in the postseason (yes, still months away but work with us here), Mirza Teletovic might want to be careful with his poking of LeBron James. He’s still having a little fun at LeBron’s expense in the aftermath of their dust-up during the Nets win over the Heat last weeek in that TNT showdown. His good hard foul on LeBron, when he went around the neck to prevent an uninterrupted layup attempt, prompted plenty of bickering and back and forth about not only the foul and LeBron’s immediate reaction. Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald went so far as to suggest that LeBron’s long-term response will have an impact in the playoffs:

Teletovic went high around James’ neck, yes, but it appeared on replay that Teletovic was only trying to prevent James from completing a three-point play. Teletovic didn’t grab James, but James took exception and lunged at Teletovic following the play. Michael Beasley and others restrained James while Nets players rushed in to hold back Teletovic, who reacted to the sequence by flashing a smile.

“Not a basketball play” was James’ constant complaint during the 2013 playoffs, especially during the series against the Chicago Bulls. Bulls center Nazr Mohammed was ejected during Game 3 for shoving James to the ground during a fast break.

For years, the postseason scouting report on James has called for opponents to rough up the MVP in the hopes of knocking him off his game.

Although hard fouls are nothing new for James, Teletovic defended himself after the game and then had a little fun with the incident on Twitter.

“It was just a foul,” Teletovic said. “I just tried to make a foul, and he was coming down the court. He shouldn’t be reacting like that. It’s just basketball.”

Teletovic then did something he might come to regret. The European needled James on Twitter when he posted a screen shot of the scuffle and wrote, “Five in a row…Go @BrooklynNets :) lol ;)” Teletovic then changed the background of his Twitter page to a large picture of the incident.

https://twitter.com/Teletovic33/status/421920903006789632


VIDEO: Mirza Teletovic and LeBron James scuffle

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No. 4: Count the Trail Blazers out of the Andrew Bynum sweepstakes — The Andrew Bynum 8 — the reported eight teams interested in pursuing the big man’s services for the remainder of this season — does not include that surprise outfit in Portland. Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com reports that the Trail Blazers, true contenders this season in a loaded Western Conference playoff chase, have not registered any legitimate interest in Bynum:

The Portland Trail Blazers could use an extra big man on their bench, but if they did decide to make a play for one between now and the trade deadline, it won’t be for center Andrew Bynum.

CSNNW.com was informed by a well-placed league source that Portland is not one of the reported eight teams interested in Bynum. Another source backed it up saying, “Portland has not inquired” about the services of the 7-foot free agent Bynum.

This revelation isn’t much of a surprise.

There are a couple of reasons why Portland opted not to take such a risk: the concern regarding Bynum’s character and how he would fit inside a locker room that has gelled seamlessly, had to have been a huge road block. Bynum has had his share of knee problems, a road Portland is reluctant to travel down.

The other obstacle is Portland is already carrying 15, the maximum amount of players allowed on a roster. If they were thinking of adding a player such as Bynum, someone would have to be released.

And being that every Trail Blazer on the roster has a guaranteed contract for this season, if Portland did decided to waive a player to make room for a free agent, they would have to eat the contract of that released player.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Memphis basketball coach Josh Pastner claims there might be film of Wilt Chamberlain‘s 100-point game … Deron Williams will not make the trip to London with the Brooklyn Nets … Lakers on the verge of getting injured shooting guard (Xavier Henry not Kobe Bryant) back this week … Speaking of the Lakers, GM Mitch Kupchak says “taking” is never discussed in Lakerland.

ICYMI of The Night: Who, you ask, is Jeff Ayres? He would be the former Jeff Pendergraph of the San Antonio Spurs, the same man you here getting his Dunk of the Night on in a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves:


VIDEO: Ayres throws it down over the Timberwolves

So … Who Wants To Be No. 1 In The West?

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – We’ve spent two months knee-slapping and belly laughing over the bumbling, stumbling (L)Eastern Conference while keeping nightly tabs on the Western Conference’s conquests over the feeble JV division. The divide’s grown so disproportionate it’s no longer worth counting.

And then something silly happens like Miami going on the road, and without LeBron James in uniform, drop-kicking West-leading Portland. Just like that, all the ribbing of the other side doesn’t seem all that appropriate — or wise. The West might be deeper, but the cream still rises in the East.

The Heat continue to find ways to remind us that they still rule the NBA. And the East, as exasperating as it is to look at teams No. 3-15, is delivering a stout two-team race: Miami and its lone challenger determined to prevent the Heat’s fourth consecutive Finals appearance — the self-assured Indiana Pacers.

The West is not the East. The West is entangled, wild and woolly; a shootout, a grudge match and pure survival every night. Think about this for perspective: The West’s 12th-best team, Memphis, would be fifth in the East. With so many capable teams, an injury here, a cold snap there, a trade down the road can tip the balance of power.

As we steamroll into 2014 and toward the mid-February All-Star weekend and then the trade deadline, these forces are already at work, making the West far more unpredictable than even what we thought at the beginning of the season.

No one team is pulling away. Several have key injuries. And all are not without a potential fatal flaw.

THE UPPER CRUST

Oklahoma  City Thunder (27-7): Russell Westbrook‘s combination of strength, power and speed makes him indispensable to a Thunder title charge. A third surgery in the span of eight months on his right knee is hardly optimum, but at least the last two were both arthroscopies and therefore far less invasive than the original April surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Judging by his rapid return last time and his explosive play, we’ll lean toward Westbrook again returning as if nothing happened (especially since early reports of his recovery already sound encouraging). OKC is better equipped than last season to survive a potential two-month absence. Reggie Jackson is having an excellent season, Serge Ibaka has All-Star credentials, the bench is deep and OKC is committed to elite-level defense. And then there’s that guy Kevin Durant. The Thunder, an impressive 17-5 against the West, remain my pick to be last team standing — as long as Russ can be Russ.


VIDEO: See why OKC’s Kevin Durant was named the Kia Player of the Month winner for December

San Antonio Spurs (26-8): Coach Gregg Popovich bristled at the notion that the Spurs’ win over the Chris Paul-less Clippers on Saturday night should go on the board as a win over a big-boy team. While the Spurs own the second-best record in the West, they’ve done it by rolling everybody but the teams closest to them in the standings. They’re 1-6 against the four other teams that have mostly made up the top five all season (0-1 vs. Portland; 0-2 vs. Oklahoma City; 0-2 vs. Houston; 1-1 vs. the Clips). They’re also 0-1 against Indiana. It certainly does raise eyebrows, but at the same time, it’s not like the Spurs don’t know how to raise their level of play when it counts. Popovich is thinking down the road, too, manipulating his deep roster and spreading minutes. Tony Parker is the only player averaging more than 30 mpg (30.8). San Antonio plays solid defense, Parker remains phenomenal, Manu Ginobili has raised his game and the Spurs can shoot the 3. It’s not quite time to worry that the Spurs are yet again too old to keep up with all of the West’s young bucks.

Portland Trail Blazers (26-8): No one predicted upper-crust status at this point and I even hesitated putting them here now with their recent slowdown. But with wins over San Antonio, Indiana, Houston, the Clippers and two over Oklahoma City (one without Westbrook), it would be unfair to deny this team what they’ve earned. Led by star-in-the-making point guard Damian Lillard and All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, they own the league’s most efficient offense and absolutely shoot the lights out from downtown, already hitting a franchise-record 21 3-pointers in a game twice. While they don’t possess a great defensive rating, they are certainly capable defenders and can surge at that end from time to time. They added nicely to a thin roster with center Robin Lopez and reserve guard Mo Williams, and rookie C.J. McCollum is on his way back. Yet, you have to wonder if they’re ultimately deep enough behind their starting five, and too reliant on the long ball when push comes to shove in the playoffs.


VIDEO: Inside the NBA’s crew discusses Portland’s place among the West’s elite

THE TASTY FILLING

Los Angeles Clippers (24-13): Doc Rivers‘ team has been more inconsistent than many thought, and early on were downright awful defensively. It hasn’t helped that J.J. Redick has been out for five weeks with a fractured hand. Now, of course, comes the ultimate test with Paul sidelined for six weeks with a separated right shoulder. The Clips don’t have an athletic, playmaking wing and will need Jamal Crawford to help take pressure off of Blake Griffin, who will be targeted by every opponent. Bottom line is L.A. will really have to claw to remain in the top five or six in the absence of CP3, the league’s assist leader. L.A.’s defensive rating now ranks eighth and they’ll have to rely on that end of the floor to win games in the interim or else it could mean giving up homecourt advantage in what promises to be a difficult first-round matchup.


VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses Chris Paul’s injury and its effect on the Clippers

Golden State Warriors (23-13): Early turbulence, namely a hamstring injury to glue guy Andre Iguodala, sent the Warriors into weeks worth of sketchy play. A nine-game win streak has made that slog a distant memory and now the Steph Curry-led Dubs look like the team everybody expected after last season’s playoff breakthrough. As always, this team will go as far as Curry and his fragile ankles (knock on wood) take them, plus the health of center Andrew Bogut, who has managed to play in 35 of 36 games and average double-digit rebounds and 1.74 bpg. The big issue with Golden State is exhaustion. With the reliable Jarrett Jack gone, Toney Douglas has averaged just 11.7 mpg in 21 games. Curry and Klay Thompson are averaging close to 38 mpg, a pace that could take a toll down the road.

Houston Rockets (22-13): We knew it would take some time for this team to come together and they’ve certainly had bouts of inconsistency marked by trouble closing out games. They’re also only 12-11 against the West, meaning they’ve gotten fat off the East. However, they’ve also dealt with injuries to James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley and have managed to hang tough. Dwight Howard (17.8 ppg, 12.9 rpg) has put up good numbers and on some nights he looks like the force he was before these last few years of perplexing indecision. Yet at other times, he still seems to be out of sorts. His presence in the middle hasn’t made the Rockets an elite defensive team, ranking in the middle of the pack.

Phoenix Suns (20-12): The Suns were headed for the next group on our list until some deeper thought got them in at the last second. With two wins against Portland, and wins over Houston, Golden State and a blowout on the Clippers’ home floor, plus a top 10-rated offense and defense, they belong here. The question is can a journeyman like Gerald Green (13.4 ppg, 39.0 3-point FG pct.) and a young, overlooked center like Miles Plumlee (9.9 ppg, 9.2 rpg) continue to produce at their current levels? More than a third of the way through the season, that appears more and more to be yes. Both Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic have been All-Star worthy and with blue-collar workers like P.J. Tucker and the Morris twins, the Jeff Hornacek‘s Suns possess the toughness to compete every night. The hallmark of this club has been one that doesn’t take a play off.


VIDEO: The Starters give Suns coach Jeff Hornacek some props

THE OUTER CRUST 

Dallas Mavericks (19-15): While the Dirk Nowitzki-Monta Ellis combo gained traction early, this team has perhaps irreparable flaws starting with a porous defense. Center Samuel Dalembert is proving unreliable and leaving Dallas severely outmanned in the middle. Point guard Jose Calderon, while being a smart and steady quarterback and an excellent shooter, has seen the West’s athletic point guards exploit his size and lack of foot speed. Even Nowitzki recently questioned his team’s playoff chances after it continues to blow leads.


VIDEO: NBA Action catches up with Mavs guard Monta Ellis

Minnesota Timberwolves (17-17): Perhaps the biggest mystery team of the bunch. Thought to be a playoff team for two seasons now, this time they can’t use injuries as an excuse. Even with Kevin Love putting up monstrous numbers, the Wolves can’t close out games and have lost a handful of games they seemingly had in their back pocket. That’s no way to do business in this conference. Perhaps most perplexing is point guard Ricky Rubio, who has not emerged as an All-Star candidate this season and seems to have little confidence in his shooting ability.

POTENTIAL FILLER

Denver Nuggets (16-17): It’s been a roller coaster season under first-year coach Brian Shaw. A slow start gave way to an impressive winning streak that crumbled into a rather stunning losing streak. More roster shakeup is on the way with disgruntled Andre Miller on the outs. At some point Danilo Gallinari will return from the ACL injury suffered late last season, providing 3-point pop and needed depth. They aren’t hanging their hat at either end of the floor right now, adding skepticism that they can improve enough to nab the final playoff spot.

New Orleans Pelicans (15-17): Anthony Davis is proving why he was the No. 1 pick in 2012, averaging a double-double (19.0 ppg and 10.1 rpg) while leading the league in blocked shots (3.2). Ryan Anderson missed the first part of the season and now is out indefinitely with a herniated disk.  You certainly wonder where this team might be if it had full health (Davis also missed seven games) from the jump. We’ve seen glimpses of how dangerous the backcourt of Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans can be. The question is: can do it with consistency?


VIDEO: Inside Stuff catches up with Pelicans star big man Anthony Davis

Memphis Grizzlies (15-18): Under rookie coach Dave Joerger, the Grizz were wobbly before Marc Gasol went down with a knee injury after 13 games, but as he nears a return, there is optimism that he, Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Zach Randolph can pull things together and make a run. That’s why they dealt Jerryd Bayless to Boston for a better 3-point shooter (Courtney Lee). If they don’t get things together, Randolph could be on his way out.

MYSTERY INGREDIENT

Los Angeles Lakers (14-20): Will Pau Gasol remain a Laker? Will Kobe Bryant be back sooner than later? Can Steve Nash return with anything left to offer?Can they steady the ship since their swift downturn after Bryant fractured his knee? If the answer to those questions is yes, then it’s possible — not likely — but possible the Lakers can make a second-half charge similar to last year when it appeared they were cooked, yet grabbed the No. 7 seed.

LEFT OUT

Sacramento Kings (10-22): DeMarcus Cousins is putting up All-Star numbers, but the Kings’ poor start negated all the positive preseason momentum.

Utah Jazz (11-25): Rookie Trey Burke is looking good. But Jazz fans had already come to grips that the name of the game is patience as they wait on the youth movement.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 7


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Kings interested in Nuggets’ Miller | Report: Deng balked on extension with Bulls | Report: Clips looking at Turkoglu, Vujacic | Z-Bo, Grizz excited about pending addition of Lee

No. 1: Report: Nuggets discussing trades for Miller — As we reported in this space yesterday, the Nuggets and Andre Miller seem destined for a parting of ways. The Denver Post reported yesterday that the team is actively looking for deal the point guard and Yahoo!Sports.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski has some news on prospective teams, which could include the Sacramento Kings:

Guard Andre Miller has possibly played his final game for the franchise, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

After a two-game suspension turned into an indefinite exile on Monday, the Nuggets are motivated to move Miller within the next 24 to 48 hours, league sources said. It has become clear to rival executives that Denver is moving quickly on engineering trade scenarios and completing a deal.

Sacramento Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro – a longtime Nuggets executive – has been at the forefront of trying to acquire Miller, league sources said. The Kings plan would be to use Miller as a mentor for the franchise’s talented young point guard, Isaiah Thomas.

Denver general manager Tim Connelly has had conversations with multiple teams, including Sacramento. Miller is owed the balance of his $5 million this season and a partial guarantee of $2 million in 2014-15 on his contract.

Connelly and Miller’s agent, Andy Miller, have been in regular communication about the next steps for the franchise and point guard.


Miller, 37, had a 239-consecutive-game streak end in the loss to the Sixers, and endured the first “Did Not Play-Coach’s Decision” of his 15-year career.

The frustration that started on the floor on Wednesday night extended into the postgame locker room, sources told Yahoo Sports. Before the bubbling over on Wednesday, Miller had recently addressed some issues to Shaw in a locker-room meeting forum, league sources said.

Connelly spoke with Miller for approximately an hour late Wednesday at the Pepsi Center, and the team suspended Miller on Thursday for its next two games.

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No. 2: Report: Deng turned down extension with Bulls days ago — As you probably heard, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls pulled off a trade last night that sent disgruntled Cavs center Andrew Bynum and three future Draft picks to Chicago for All-Star forward Luol Deng. The Bulls moved Deng in part because he was an unrestricted free agent this summer and also, as our David Aldridge points out in his excellent breakdown of the deal, to lessen their immediate salary-cap burden. Over the summer, Deng and his representatives couldn’t reach an agreement on a contract extension and, according to Yahoo!Sports.com.’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Bulls and Deng tried to hammer out an extension again before the Cleveland trade took place, but Deng didn’t want to sign:

Within days of the Chicago Bulls unloading Luol Deng for salary-cap relief and a first-round draft pick, the All-Star forward rejected a three-year, $30 million contact extension, a league source told Yahoo Sports.

Deng, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, turned down the deal on Friday, clearing the way for Bulls management to complete a deal with Cleveland for broken-down center Andrew Bynum and a package of draft picks on Monday night.

The Bulls and Deng’s representatives had informal talks about an extension over the summer, but Chicago never made a formal offer.

The Bulls were unwilling to pay Deng, 28, market value in the $12 million-to-$13 million-a-year range over four or five seasons. Deng spent nine-plus seasons in Chicago, where he often played hurt. Chicago is committed to re-signing shooting guard Jimmy Butler to a lucrative contract extension this summer, and after the loss of Derrick Rose for the season, the Bulls made a move for the long-term.


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses the Bynum-for-Deng swap

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No. 3: Report: Clippers mulling veterans Vujacic, Turkoglu — The shoulder injury that star point guard Chris Paul suffered last weekend could potentially keep him out of the L.A. Clippers’ lineup for as long as six weeks. That means the Clips’ depth is going to be tested and as L.A. prepares to weather a bit of a storm without him, the team is thinking about adding free agents to the roster. The Clips, according to Marc Stein and Ramona Shelbourne of ESPNLosAngeles.com, have an eye on Hedo Tukoglu (who was recently waived by the Orlando Magic) and ex-Lakers and Nets guard Sasha Vujacic. Adding either of those players, though, would possibly force the team to part ways with Stephen Jackson:

The Los Angeles Clippers are looking hard at well-known veteran free agents Sasha Vujacic and Hedo Turkoglu as they try to fill the playmaking void created by Chris Paul’s shoulder injury, according to sources close to the process.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Clippers could make a new 10-day signing as early as Tuesday, with Vujacic and Turkoglu currently at the forefront of L.A.’s thinking.

Paul is expected to miss up to six weeks after suffering a separated shoulder Friday night in Dallas. The Clippers are still without starting shooting guard J.J. Redick, who is making progress in his recovery from hand and wrist injuries but is believed to be out for at least another week.

The Clippers, though, would have to open up a roster spot before making any further signings and face an immediate decision on Stephen Jackson, whose minimum-salary contract will be guaranteed for the rest of the season if he’s still on the Clippers roster beyond Tuesday at 5 p.m.

Vujacic, 29, has been working out in Los Angeles for months in hopes of getting back into the NBA after the former Lakers guard from Slovenia spent the previous two seasons playing in Turkey.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers, confirming his interest in Turkoglu, said before Monday night’s game against the Magic, “I just like him. He’s out there and we should look at him. I’ve always liked him. He can shoot and play [small forward and power forward].”


VIDEO: Clippers coach Doc Rivers talks about the state of the team before Monday’s game vs. Orlando

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No. 4: Grizz, Z-Bo happy about addition of Lee — While the trade between the Boston Celtics, Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder has yet to be finalized, the folks in Tennessee are getting excited about the pending move. The deal — which will send Courtney Lee to the Grizz, Jerryd Bayless to the Celtics and Ryan Gomes to the Celtics (where he’s expected to be waived) — is thought to give some new life to the Grizzlies’ renewed playoff hopes. Michael Cohen of The Commercial-Appeal has more on the trade and how Zach Randolph and others are reacting to it:

It was late Sunday afternoon when the Grizzlies found out Jerryd Bayless was leaving, the players beginning to bubble with confidence after a convincing and reassuring win over Detroit. The 112-84 victory marked the end of a successful three-game road trip, protecting the flickering flame that is Memphis’ playoff hopes for at least a while longer.

Strengthening that postseason belief was the impending trade involving Bayless, one that sends the reserve guard to Boston in exchange for sharpshooter Courtney Lee. The players learned of the deal on their flight home after beating the Pistons, the atmosphere onboard equal parts sad and salutary.

“It’s very encouraging when you see the front office try to get better and see what we need to improve at,” Zach Randolph said Monday, before the team’s practice at FedExForum. “That’s what you’ve got to do, that’s what we’ve got to do. We want to be a top-echelon team.

“This season is far from over. For us to say that we’re out of the playoff hunt and we won’t make the playoffs is ludicrous because we still have a chance.”

The trade between the Grizzlies and Celtics is still not official, and coach David Joerger was unable to speak about the imminent deal Monday morning. But point guard Mike Conley said the players “knew something was going on” during the flight back from Detroit, prompting them to enjoy Bayless’ company for what they understood was likely the final time. The trade was a business transaction to make the team better, even if its members lost a friend in the process.

“We talked to him then and took that plane ride back and hung out as much as we could,” Conley said.

For the better part of a month the Grizzlies have toiled in inferiority, dropping five consecutive games in mid December before finally putting together a pair of wins against the Knicks and Jazz — two of the NBA’s worst teams. Since then, victories and defeats have alternated in agonizing fashion, with each step forward giving way to a disillusioning step back.

But the 28-point throttling of Detroit and a disposing of the Suns three days before has breathed life into a franchise one season removed from an appearance in the Western Conference Finals. The offense is more fluid, the bench more productive and now, thanks to the likely addition of Lee, a major hole filled: shooting.

Lee, who is shooting 44.2 percent from beyond the arc this season, joins a team ranked last in the league in 3-pointers made per game (4.9) and 18th in 3-point percentage (34.9). When asked if he would welcome more potency from beyond the arc, Randolph could barely contain himself. He grinned, then laughed, then stammered away with excitement. “Oh man, gosh, come on,” he said complete with a beckoning gesture.

Adding to Monday’s festive mood was a positive update from Joerger on Marc Gasol. The all-star center has been cleared for “light, light on-court action,” following an MRI to evaluate the sprained MCL in his knee that has sidelined him since Nov. 22.

Gasol was at practice Monday sporting a black brace on his left knee and he appeared to be in good spirits in the training room. There is no timetable for his return, but that he is on the court at all is a welcomed sign of progress for a team in need of a lasting spark.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After the Bulls release Andrew Bynum, they will have 12 players and be below the tax line. They’ll have to add at least one more player for about $520K … The Salinas Bros. may soon see their long-standing annual TV rights payout from the NBA end soon … The Magic have suffered 86 losses since the start of the 2012-13 season, but last night’s to the Clippers might have been an all-time lowRonny Turiaf was more than happy to be back on the court at last for the Timberwolves

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: Blake Griffin with an in-game, alley-oop windmill dunk. There’s nothing more to be said here …


VIDEO: Blake Griffin’s in-game, alley-oop windmill jam vs. the Magic

It’s Time For New Year’s Resolutions

VIDEO: The Starters review the year so far

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ring out the old. Ring in the new. As the calendar turns, it’s time for resolutions throughout the NBA:

Atlanta Hawks — Look Back to the Future: This was supposed to be the start of a brand new era for one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises, and things were actually looking good until Al Horford tore a pectoral muscle. With their undersized big man done for the season, the Hawks will only stay afloat because they’re in the horrid Eastern Conference. But they’re going in the right direction under GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer, and will get the lottery pick of the sinking Nets, so there’s reason for hope out of a draft class teeming with talent.

Boston Celtics — Move Fast on Rondo: According to the old saying, you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. When Rajon Rondo is finally able to get back onto the court and prove that he’s close to his old self, rookie coach Brad Stevens and GM Danny Ainge have to find out right away if he’s mentally ready to anchor the rebuilding project. If not, the Celtics could reap a windfall in new pieces ahead of the trade deadline.

Brooklyn Nets — Fuhgetaboutit: OK, it was a nice little pipe dream to think that a couple of old codgers like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce could shuffle up and down the court in slippers and robes to tangle with the Heat and Pacers. Fortunately, team owner Mikhail Prokorov can afford their salaries with the kind of change he finds in his sofa cushions. Pay them off, send them away and get back to building around Brook Lopez and Deron Williams with players who aren’t signing up for Medicare.

Charlotte Bobcats — Keep Him: For the first time in who can remember how long, Michael Jordan won’t have to spend next summer looking for a coach. The merry-go-round can stop. Steve Clifford has given Charlotte a sense of purpose, respectability and a solid identity on the defensive end. Now they’ve got to work on boosting production out of that woeful offense. One thing at a time.

Chicago Bulls — Play Derrick and the Dominoes: Even Layla couldn’t have knocked the Bulls off their feet like the second straight significant injury to their All-Star, MVP guard Derrick Rose. It might be time to reshuffle the bones on a club that hasn’t even won a conference title and already has significant money locked up in Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson before re-signing Luol Deng to a big contract.

Cleveland Cavaliers — Stop Winning the Draft Lottery: Of course, that would require the Cavs to actually make the playoffs and not qualify for the lottery. This is a team that was supposed to be on the rise with enough young talent to make LeBron James think about returning, but instead has Kyrie Irving trying to do everything, Dion Waiters angry and Andrew Bynum maybe ready to give up the game. Time for an adult to take control here, coach Mike Brown.

Dallas Mavericks — Embrace Reality: It’s a bit ironic that a guy like Mark Cuban that has made a name for himself in the world of reality TV shows rarely faces up to it with the Mavs. He’s fun. He’s entertaining. He’ll say anything, such as there’s no telling whether Houston getting Dwight Howard or Dallas getting Monta Ellis was a better free agent signing last summer. Now go get yourself some defense, Mark, before Dirk Nowitzki winds up running on his tongue trying to outscore everybody.

Denver Nuggets — Respect Yourself: There shouldn’t be a decent team that breaks camp without a solid sense of its identity. A year ago with George Karl pulling the strings from the sidelines and Andre Iguodala setting the pace on the court, the Nuggets had that. Now they are often just a bunch that is stuck in the middle of the pack on offense (18th) and defense (16th) and too often can’t defend its home court.

Detroit Pistons — Say It Ain’t So, Joe: A few years ago, it was signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva as big-money free agents. This time GM Joe Dumars figured it would be a good idea to upgrade the Pistons by tossing the combustible Josh Smith onto the fire to light up the frontcourt. So, Smith is already calling out coach Mo Cheeks and the Pistons are backsliding from the .500 mark. Things are getting ugly early again in the Motor City. And, oh yeah, nobody is coming to watch the Pistons, who are last in the league in attendance.

Golden State Warriors — Do the American Hustle: Like the hit movie, was last year’s magical little run through the playoffs by Mark Jackson’s team just one glorious con job? Yes, they’ve played a tough schedule, but something is missing. Lack of last year’s bench? A failure to take care of the ball? You get the sense that the Warriors were just trying to pick up this season right where they left off without putting in all of the gritty groundwork.

Houston Rockets — Rebound, Then Run: Everybody loves watching the Rockets run like methamphetamine-fueled hamsters on a wheel. But for a team that has Dwight Howard in the middle, they are horrible at giving up second-chance points to opponents and it has often proved costly. It’s nice to run, but better not to turn your back and head down the court while the other guy is dropping another put-back into the net.

Indiana Pacers — Don’t Stop Believing: The Pacers came into the season convinced that they could live up to the old axiom of playing them one game at a time and that grind-it-out method would eventually deliver the best record in the league and home-court all the way through The Finals. With Paul George tossing his hat into the MVP ring and Roy Hibbert making opponents ears ring with his physical style, it’s working quite well for coach Frank Vogel’s team.

L.A. Clippers — Say Goodbye to Hollywood: The sooner the Clippers can get rid of all the extraneous things in their game — yes, you, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — and get down to the serious business of playing some real defense around the basket, the sooner we’ll take them seriously as real contenders in the Western Conference. At this point, despite all the good work by Chris Paul, the Clips are still one of those acts that gets eliminated early on “American Idol.”

L.A. Lakers — Lock Up Kobe: Yes, we know he’s the Black Mamba. We know that he’d be the guy standing out in the rain with a fork and still believe he’d quench his thirst. But the Lakers aren’t going anywhere this season and it doesn’t help their cause for next year if Kobe Bryant returns and pushes himself to the limit again in a debilitating run that winds up far short of the playoffs. It’s time to think about the limited — and high-paying — future he has left. Oh yeah, and trade Pau Gasol.

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 27


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Grizz may re-sign Randolph | Gasol (illness) misses Lakers’ trip to Salt Lake City  | Bucks’ Sanders expected to play tonight | Cuban no fan of Christmas Day unis

No. 1: Report: Grizz may be open to re-signing Randolph — Just two weeks ago, Grizzlies All-Star forward Zach Randolph told our Fran Blinebury he was well aware of his name being bandied about in trade rumors. Said Randolph then: “The truth is there ain’t no loyalty or love, except in certain organizations where they keep players around, value them. Only a very few organizations seem like they want to keep players around to retire there.” As such, there’s a common thought around the league that Randolph, who has a player option on his contract this summer, will opt out and test the free-agent waters. But as Ken Berger of CBSSports.com reports in a lengthy look at the Grizzlies’ up-and-down season, Z-Bo might be willing to stick around in Memphis:

With coaching change, modest roster turnover and a recent bout with injuries, the Grizzlies are 12-15 and 3 1-2 games out of a playoff spot. Is it time to panic?”When I got here, we were deep,” Randolph said. “We had O.J. [Mayo] and Rudy [Gay]. It’s different. But it gives guys a chance to play and have an opportunity to get better.”

Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince have been in and out of the lineup, and Gasol is likely out until mid-to-late January with a knee injury. Quincy Pondexter has a stress fracture in his foot that could keep him out for the rest of the season. But despite the potential riches that could be acquired in the 2014 draft, the Grizzlies aren’t looking to tear down in the short term. League sources say they’re active in trade discussions that would inject some wing athleticism into the mix and improve the team.

If Randolph exercises his player option for next season, the Grizzlies’ $62 million in committed salary will leave them comfortably under the tax but will afford no room to shop for free agents. League sources expect Randolph, 32, to opt out and try to score one more multi-year deal. But two people familiar with the situation say Memphis is not out of the mix to retain Randolph in such a scenario. The team is determined not to lose Randolph for nothing, so unless Randolph expresses a strong desire to leave — which he hasn’t — there’s no immediate pressure to trade him.

“It’s a business and we’ve got new ownership, but I’ve still got a job,” Randolph said. “That’s why I go out and play hard no matter what.”

***

No. 2: Lakers’ Gasol (respiratory infection) won’t play vs. Jazz — The Lakers got some good news on Christmas Day when point guard Jordan Farmar returned to the lineup, helping to offset L.A.’s recent loss of guard Steve Blake. But L.A.’s frontcourt will be thin for tonight’s game in Utah against the Jazz as power forward Pau Gasol stayed behind to deal with a lingering respiratory infection. Trevor Wong of Lakers.com has more:

The Lakers received good news when Jordan Farmar returned to the lineup on Christmas Day, but now they will be without Pau Gasol at Utah on Friday evening. Gasol has been dealing with an upper respiratory illness and is being listed as day-to-day, according to Lakers PR.

Gasol did not practice on Thursday in advance of the team’s flight and will not accompany the team to Salt Lake City.

“I think it’s lingering a little bit,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “I think it does affect him.”

The 7-foot Spaniard missed the team’s game at Golden State on Saturday, Dec. 21, because of the same issue. Prior to the Warriors contest, he was the lone player to appear in the starting lineup through the first 26 games.

“Like anything else, you’re not 100 percent physically and you’re going to have shorter times of energy and stuff like that,” D’Antoni said. “He’ll get over it. He’ll be fine.”

***

No. 3: Sanders expected to return to Bucks’ lineup Friday — The last time Larry Sanders played a game for the Milwaukee Bucks, he scored four points and pulled down four rebounds in 21 minutes in a loss to the Toronto Raptors on Nov. 2. Since then, Sanders has been out as he recovers from a torn ligament in his right thumb that was suffered during an incident at a downtown Milwaukee bar after the loss to Toronto. He was expected to miss six weeks of action — which he roughly has — and should play tonight against as Milwaukee travels to Brooklyn. As Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel points out, though, Sanders is returning to a markedly different Bucks team and his role may be different as well.:

Milwaukee Bucks coach Larry Drew received a late Christmas present when he arrived for work Thursday at the team’s Cousins Center practice facility.

Center Larry Sanders, considered a key part of the team’s rebuilding plans, was back on the practice court.

“It’s good to have him back,” Drew said after the practice session. “He was really good today. The energy, he was real bouncy. Defensively, he was very active and energized.”

Power forward Ersan Ilyasova, who did not play in the last three games while resting his sore right ankle, also returned to practice and should be available against the Nets.

Drew said he did not know what role Sanders would play against the Nets, only that he would play.

“We’ll think about it a little bit,” Drew said. “I don’t know what I’ll do yet, but I like having the options.”

Milwaukee (6-22) has the league’s worst record but has played more competitively lately, winning once and losing three games in overtime.

Now, Sanders will join a young lineup featuring Brandon Knight, 19-year-old rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and John Henson.

“We’ll definitely have more bodies, so that will be good to give some guys some rest,” Sanders said. “Maybe we’ll be able to have that extra boost at the end of the game that we’ve been lacking. There’s a small margin of winning and losing. Hopefully, we can make that margin up a little bit.”

Sanders was asked if he learned anything from this experience, being injured off the court and being absent while his teammates struggled on the court.

“Definitely a lot of learning,” Sanders said. “I feel like I’ve recommitted myself to the game and other areas of my life. Things have been ironed out a little bit more. I’m looking forward to being out there with a clear mind and helping my team win.

“This team has a lot of fight in them. They’ve been fighting. It’s not like we’ve been getting blown out terribly in all of our games. I feel it and it makes me more excited to get back.”

Sanders will wear a tight glove with a hard plastic piece protecting his thumb, and a wrap will cover that.

.***

No. 4: Cuban no fan of NBA’s Christmas Day jerseys – You can always count on Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to have an opinion on just about any topic. So it’s not surprise that when asked about the short-sleeved jerseys the Bulls, Nets, Heat, Lakers, Thunder, Knicks, Warriors, Spurs, Rockets and Clippers wore on Christmas Day, Cuban piped in with his view that is sure to please NBA brass. Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com has more on Cuban’s view of the NBA’s new fashion venture:

As far as Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is concerned, the NBA committed a major fashion faux pas by having all 10 teams that played Christmas Day suited up in short-sleeved jerseys.

“Hated them,” Cuban said before the Mavs hosted the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night. “I just thought it made our guys look more like a high school wrestling team or a college wrestling team.”

Cuban, whose Mavs had Christmas off, understands the NBA is attempting to market the short-sleeved jerseys to fans who might not want to wear tank tops. He just doesn’t believe it’s necessary for superstars such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant to wear the T-shirt-style jerseys in games to get them to sell.

“I could have thought of better ways to sell [the short-sleeved jerseys] and a lot of different ways by having them in a casual-wear situation,” Cuban said. “We would have been better off, if we want people to wear them casually, to get the trainers and everybody else to wear them to show them in a realistic setting. So I would have done it a little differently, but we’ll see what happens.”

“I think the people that will buy them are more the jersey heads and the people who are trying to be hip and cool as opposed to the mainstream fan who just wants something to wear to work or something to wear to school,” Cuban said. “I don’t think schools are going to be happy if 16-year-old boys come in wearing skin-tight gym wrestling gear. My opinion, they’ll sell, but we could have sold more.

“You live and you learn. That’s just my opinion. Maybe I’ll be wrong. Maybe they’ll sell like gangbusters in China.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: If you ever wanted to look like Chris “Birdman” Andersen, but didn’t want to have all those painful tattoos, there’s a new way to get his look without getting some ink … A statistical look at how those short-sleeved Christmas Day jerseys affected shooting … While we’re at it, here’s a cool infographic of the history of NBA uniforms … A great breakdown of how and why the Blazers’ starting five has worked so well together … The Mavs’ Devin Harris is shooting for a return in January

ICYMI Of The Night: Journeyman James Johnson has played all of five games for the Grizz this season, but his field goal percentage is a career-best 53.8 percent. Shots like this might be why he’s scoring so well …


VIDEO: James Johnson soars in for the one-handed power slam

Making A List, Checking It Twice …

We’re making a list, checking it twice. On Christmas Eve, it’s time to remember who’s been naughty or nice in the first two months of the 2013-14 season:

Naughty — Nets — There isn’t enough coal in Newcastle to fill up the deservingly drooping stocking that hangs over a forlorn and underachieving mantle in Brooklyn. Why would anyone think it would make sense to trade for 37-year-old Kevin Garnett, 36-year-old Paul Pierce, 36-year-old Jason Terry as part of $102 million-payroll and put the whole thing in the hands of a guy who had never coached a game in his life? Then Jason Kidd gets extra naughty by intentionally spilling a drink when he doesn’t have a timeout against the Lakers. They have a mediocre offense and the 29th-rated defense. Now they lose Brook Lopez to a broken foot. So it won’t be a Happy New Year either, Billy King.

Nice — LaMarcus Aldridge — From Damian Lillard to Nicolas Batum to Robin Lopez to coach Terry Stotts, there are many contributors to the rousing start to the season by the surprising Trail Blazers with the best record in the league. But no one has done more to elevate his game and his team to the elite level than Aldridge. He labored faithfully through seven seasons with a roster that virtually fell apart around his ears, listened to so much talk of trades and has come back to deliver a magnificent season that has him firmly in the MVP conversation.

Naughty — Knicks — Remember when they used to play basketball in New York? The Manhattan edition of the NBA can’t shoot, doesn’t rebound and Carmelo Anthony is saying the Knicks’ troubles are all in their heads. Would that be the heads of the players and the coach who can’t think to call a timeout in the final seconds to set up a shot? If things don’t turn around fast, Mike Woodson’s going to be the fall guy even though there have been enough injuries to fill an ER and the myth of the Knicks as true playoff contenders entering the season was no more real than a team of flying reindeer pulling a sleigh across the sky.

Nice — Suns — If you went to a Las Vegas sports book during training camp and plopped down a sizable lump of cash on the Suns to beat the over/under prediction of 21.5 wins, you’d probably be only a week or two away from returning to book a penthouse suite with your winnings. First-year coach Jeff Hornacek has his club riding the backcourt pairing of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic with a rotating cast of other contributors to a 17-10 record and a spot right in the thick of the tough Western Conference playoff race. When the Spurs were in town last week, the entire Phoenix roster had played the same number of NBA games in their careers combined as 37-year-old Tim Duncan.

Naughty — Ricky Rubio — Sure, it’s fun to sit in front of the big screen TV and keep hitting the rewind button on the DVR to replay all of those behind-the-back, no-look, over-the-shoulder, through-the-opponent’s-legs, thread-the-needle, oh-my-gosh, how-did-he-do-that, head-on-a-swivel, slicker-than-a-greased eel passes that get his teammates easy layups and dunks. But come on, two years plus into your NBA career, you’ve got to be able to knock down a wide open jump shot when teams give them to you. Which they do and which you don’t. Which is a big part of the reason why your Timberwolves are healthy and still underperforming.

Nice — Kevin Love — After missing 91 games over the past two seasons to injury, Love’s return to good health and a nightly spot in the lineup has been a sight sweeter than sugar plums dancing in the Timberwolves’ heads. How does a guy who is always a threat to score 30 points and pull down 20 rebounds get better? He becomes a better passer, nearly doubling his assists to 4.2 per game. Outside of The King down in South Beach, there’s just nobody in the league you can count on more every night.

Naughty — Grizzlies — There are more excuses than places to hear the blues in Memphis. But the bottom line is that even before Marc Gasol was sidelined with a knee injury, the Grizzlies were going south. They simply haven’t bought into new coach Dave Joerger, still can’t shoot from the perimeter and Zach Randolph seems to have lost his inspiration. The Grind House was a fun place while it lasted.

Nice — LeBron James — Maybe the only thing that stops him from winning MVP No. 5 — and third in a row — is boredom. Not his. Ours. He’ll never completely win over the entire public the way Michael Jordan did simply because of the times in which we live. The age of social media allows critics to throw stones and pick nits. There has simply never been anyone this big and this strong and this fast and this complete with still such a large part of the meat of his career ahead of him.

Naughty — Westbrook critics — Now that Russell Westbrook has recovered from two surgeries, returned to the Thunder lineup and shown not the slightest loss of his swagger, is there anyone who still thinks Kevin Durant and the OKC franchise would be better off without him?

Nice —Kendrick the Bouncer — It had to bring a smile to the face — if not a tear to the eye — of every old school scrapper who’s ever laced up a pair of sneakers and just gone after it when Kendrick Perkins unceremoniously ran Joakim Noah out of the Thunder locker room. That’s enough of the 21st century touchy-feely, we’re-all-buddies atmosphere that persists these days. Not enough get-outta-my-face growling between rivals. A team’s locker room is its castle and the only thing that could have made it better is if Perk dumped him into a moat.

Naughty — Omer Asik — Let’s see. For two seasons in Chicago you were averaging just 13 minutes per game and getting relative peanuts. The Rockets signed you to a free agent contract that pays $25 million over three years and last season you started all 82 games and averaged a double-double. That’s nice. But then they signed All-Star Dwight Howard in July. He’s much, much better. You’re still getting your $25 million. Didn’t you read the line about you better not pout? So we’re making our list, checking it twice and — ho-ho-ho — you’re definitely on it.

More Excuses Than Answers For Grizzlies

It's been a rough go for Mike Conley and the Memphis Grizzlies. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

It’s been a rough go for Mike Conley and the Memphis Grizzlies. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

It would be easy to blame all of the Grizzlies’ problems on the absence of center Marc Gasol, who is out with a sprained left knee.

It would be popular to blame them on CEO Jason Levien, who shoved Lionel Hollins, the best coach in franchise history, out the door and put David Joerger onto the hot seat.

It would be fun, just for old times sake, to blame Rudy Gay, who is already two teams down the road from his days as traditional whipping boy in Memphis.

Truth is, the Grizzlies have collectively been nothing but hound dogs since opening night of the 2013-14 season, showing little inclination to play with any of their former bark or bite.

“I wish I could pinpoint it,” said point guard Mike Conley. “I don’t want to make excuses for having a new coach or losing a coach. Obviously losing a guy that’s been here four or five years, it’s going to be tough on a lot of people. But us as players, we had to come back ready to play and with the mindset of wanting to get further than we did last year. Honestly, we didn’t do that, and so, here we are.”

That is sitting in last place in the Southwest Division, rubbing elbows with the Jazz and Kings at the bottom of the Western Conference standings instead of battling with playoff contenders.

The Grizzlies still labor to score points, especially from the perimeter. The No. 2 rated defense that used to have sharp claws and gave up 100.2 points per 100 possessions a year ago, is now ranked 24th in the NBA. In the last half-dozen games they have not guarded the 3-point line, allowing opponents to shoot 43.7 percent behind the arc. They often look clueless and toothless, even at home at the FedExForum, their beloved Grind House, where they’ll take a 5-9 record into tonight’s game against the Lakers (8 ET, League Pass).

“Really, I think we’ve got to establish our identity,” Conley said. “We have lost that in a sense. That’s defensively being a team that goes out and grinds out wins and finds a way to win. We’ve got to get back to that old motto of stopping each individual person, taking it upon ourselves to go out there and play defense and work hard.”

Though troubles have been magnified with seven losses in 10 games since Gasol was injured on Nov. 22, the Grizzlies were hardly ferocious before that. In opening the season a middling 7-6, the Grizz lost at home to the Pelicans and Raptors. After losing Gasol, they’ve lost at home to a Rockets team playing without James Harden and to the Nets minus Deron Williams and Paul Pierce. They lost on Friday night to the Pelicans without Anthony Davis.

“We started off slow because we were just thinking too much,” Conley said. “We were thinking too much about the new offense, the management changes, whatever it may be. There was just a lot of stuff that had nothing to do with what we were doing on the court. We needed to zone out and we started playing well for about a week or so and then the big fella got hurt and injuries started playing a role. It’s just been an up and down season so far and we’ve got to find a way bring everything in.”

The Grizzlies show little cohesion or conviction with what they are trying to do on the court. The latest round of rumors that they’re trying to move power forward Zach Randolph’s big salary may also be enervating. Though he has 13 double-doubles on the season and Memphis is 7-0 when he leads the team in scoring, Z-Bo’s production has dropped off lately. Without Gasol to attract attention inside, defenses are swarming Randolph in the paint and over the past 10 games he’s made half of his shots just once.

Conley has had to become much more of a distributor in the offense without Gasol passing out of the post and his assists are up. But it has cut into his offense on a team that has precious little to spare.

It’s created an atmosphere at home like a balloon with a slow leak. The Grind House has often become an echo chamber of empty seats in a town where the hard-earned fan loyalty of recent playoff success does not run deep.

“It’s been tough for us to show up at the Grind House and not deliver,” Conley said. “That’s an area where we have to improve. We’ve got to understand that having a bad year or a bad month or two can sway fans one way or another in Memphis. What we built can go away fast.

“You can’t just come back and say you’re a Western Conference finals team. I think that’s what we have to realize. We have to go out there and work back up to that point. I do think still we’re capable of getting ourselves back into that shape. But as of today, we’re just not that same team.”

Z-Bo On Trade Rumors: “There Ain’t No Loyalty Or Love”


VIDEO: Zach Randolph gives a fan his shirt

NEW ORLEANS — The irony is not lost on Zach Randolph.

Just as he is being honored by Kia Motors and the NBA with the November Community Assist Award in recognition of his charitable efforts and contributions in the community, the rumor mill keeps churning out trade talk that the Grizzlies are looking to find him a new home. The latest has him going to the Pelicans for Ryan Anderson.

“Go figure,” Z-Bo said following the Grizzlies shootaround at New Orleans Arena on Friday. “Memphis is a place that I’ve come to love and call home and it’s where I would definitely like to retire. I haven’t made any secret of that. Everybody out there knows how I feel.

“I look at it like this: I understand it’s a business. I really do understand that. This is a small market team and money plays a factor. I understand all that. It’s different now. I don’t know if it’s just changes in (salary cap) rules or just a change in the way of the world. Like I said, it’s a business.

“But yeah, it bothers me. It hurts a little bit. I can’t deny that. But it goes to show you that there ain’t no loyalty in this game. It seems like you only get loyalty in certain organizations. You see it in winning organizations like the Spurs, the Lakers, the Heat.

“The truth is there ain’t no loyalty or love, except in certain organizations where they keep players around, value them. Only a very few organizations seem like they want to keep players around to retire there. Hey, everybody gets traded. It’s part of the league, part of the life. I’ve been traded a bunch of times.”

But after his stints with the Trail Blazers, Knicks and Clippers, it was Randolph’s trade to the Grizzlies in 2009 that allowed him to blossom and become a two-time All-Star. Memphis is also where he earned the big contract that is scheduled to pay him $16.5 million next season unless he chooses to opt out in July.

“I’m not 19 or 20 no more,” Randolph said. “I’m not a young kid coming into the league with my career in front of me, looking to get established and looking to find my place in the NBA. I went through all of that. I feel like I grew up as a player and as a person and I’ve become someone who is valuable.

“I’m 32 now, but I feel like I’ve still got a few good years left in me and I feel like I can be somebody who can contribute to a winning team, be a significant part of team that can contend for a championship. And I think we can do that here. Even more, I feel like I’ve put down some roots in Memphis, helped this team make a name for itself, really become part of the community and to build something that can last. This is where I want to be and where I want to stay. All I can do is make that clear. But it’s a business and it ain’t my call.”

********

Kia Motors and the NBA honored Randolph for his continued dedication to helping underprivileged children and families in need. As a part of the NBA’s Season of Giving, Randolph distributed 900 Thanksgiving food baskets at Booker T. Washington High School and Hamilton High School in Memphis. At both events, select families received tickets from Randolph to attend an upcoming Grizzlies game. Randolph also donated 500 turkeys and 500 spiral hams to be given away to 1,000 people at the Clarence Faulkner Community Center in Marion, Ind. In addition to Thanksgiving meals, he contributed 300 winter coats to students at Memphis’ A.B. Hill Elementary.

“The award is nice, but it’s not the reason that I’m involved,” Randolph said. “I love being with kids, especially those kids who come from a single-parent home. I was one of those kids growing up, so I feel like I can relate. It’s a blessing for me to be able to help someone else, especially in Memphis, a place that has reached out and made me feel at home.”

Prior to Wednesday’s home game against the Thunder, he was presented with the David Robinson Plaque during an on-court ceremony. In addition, Kia and the NBA will donate $10,000 on Randolph’s behalf to the Boys and Girls Club of America.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 13


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: Knicks seek to add Lowry | Granger won’t return tonight | Report: Z-Bo on trading block | Gasol vents about role in D’Antoni’s offense | Lawson set to return tonight

No. 1: Reports: Knicks looking to work deal for Lowry — With guard Raymond Felton sidelined 2-3 weeks with a hamstring injury, the Knicks’ point guard depth chart consists of backups Pablo Prigioni and Beno Udrih, with the option to slide Iman Shumpert over to the point as well. That depth is apparently a concern for New York, especially given its putrid start to the season, and has the Knicks trying to work a deal for Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry. According to Yahoo!Sports.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Knicks may have some competition for Lowry, though:

The New York Knicks are pursuing Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry with a package of Raymond Felton, Metta World Peace and a 2018 first-round draft pick, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Knicks refused a Raptors proposal that would’ve included Iman Shumpert and Felton, sources told Yahoo Sports. Without a first-round pick or Shumpert, there is no traction for a deal. The Knicks have no appetite for including Shumpert or rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. in a package.

Knicks owner Jim Dolan is sensitive to the public perception that Toronto general manger Masai Ujiri bamboozled New York in the Carmelo Anthony trade, and the chance of getting panned for giving up too much in a deal for Lowry has become a hurdle in these talks, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Ujiri was the GM of the Denver Nuggets when he negotiated a deal that included Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Felton and Timofey Mozgov for a package that included Anthony, Chauncey Billups and a first-round draft pick.

Toronto is discussing deals for Lowry with an ever-growing list of teams, league sources said.

Several teams are pursuing Lowry, but the Knicks’ most direct competition for him could come from the Brooklyn Nets, who are also exploring the possibility of a deal, league sources said. Brooklyn has resisted the inclusion of its 2020 first-round pick in a package, nor one of its top young players, including rookie Mason Plumlee, sources said.

Toronto officials have been scouting and calling European contacts on Bojan Bogdanovic, a 24-year-old shooting guard with whom the Nets own the rights, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Lowry has wanted a trade for most of the season and the Raptors became more motivated to move him after acquiring point guard Greivis Vasquez in a deal with the Sacramento Kings.

World Peace, who signed as free agent this summer, can’t be traded until Sunday, per league rules.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein also reports on the deal and says New York is reluctant to cough up a first-rounder for Lowry:

Yet it remains to be seen if the Raptors and Knicks can reach a consensus on deal terms this time, with Toronto said to be seeking two of the Knicks’ three best trade assets — Iman Shumpert, rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. and a future first-round pick — in addition to Raymond Felton in exchange for Lowry.

Sources told ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard on Thursday afternoon that the Knicks’ reluctance to include a first-round pick in the deal was among the factors holding things up.

The Knicks, sources say, appear willing to package one asset from the trio of Shumpert, Hardaway and a first-round pick to the Raptors along with Felton. But giving up two might prove too high a price for Lowry, who becomes an unrestricted free agent in July and can walk away for nothing at season’s end.

But the Knicks don’t possess a first-round pick they can offer Toronto, based on league rules, before 2018.

Sources say that the Raptors are intent on getting some value for Lowry despite his looming free-agent status. When it comes to the Knicks specifically, Toronto has adopted that stance based on the premise that it is not only providing New York with a clear upgrade at the point but also taking on Felton’s longer-term salary, with Felton owed nearly $8 million over the next two seasons after this one.


VIDEO: Raymond Felton discusses leg injury he suffered vs. Cavs

***

No. 2: Granger won’t return to lineup just yet — Before this week’s much-anticipated Heat-Pacers showdown, our own Steve Aschburner caught up with injured Pacers forward Danny Granger. The swingman told NBA.com that he could have returned to the lineup for Tuesday’s big game, but held off so as not to draw undue attention to himself and also because he simply wasn’t ready. At the time, Granger said he thought he could possibly return tonight against Charlotte, but that won’t be happening either, writes Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star:

Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger said he’s “literally day-to-day” with his return from an injured left calf, but today won’t be the day, he said after Thursday’s practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“I don’t like where I’m at with my timing and my rhythm and obviously my conditioning,” he said. “I don’t think I will (play) Friday.

“I practiced today, a full-on practice, but I don’t feel like I’m ready yet. I dribbled the ball off my foot a couple of times, just things you do when you haven’t played. (I) lost the ball in transition on a pass. My rhythm isn’t there yet.”

Granger said he’s had no physical setback.

“No, no, no,” he said. “Just all game legs. I’m not going to go on the court until I’m ready.”

Pacers coach Frank Vogel said Granger’s conditioning is as important to his return as the calf.

“He’s got to get back to all the things — conditioning, timing,” he said. “We’ll sit down and we’ll meet and figure out when the best time is.”

Granger looked solid in the portion of Thursday’s practice open to the media, cutting hard and defending with the same voracity his teammates have shown this season.

Granger practiced some with the first unit and spent time with the second too. After the Pacers beat Miami 90-84 on Tuesday, Heat forward LeBron James seemed to think Granger fit better with the second unit because of the first unit’s cohesiveness.

“They’re a starting-lineup team; plus-90 (in efficiency) for a reason,” James said.

If Granger returns and starts, Lance Stephenson would be the one to play off the bench. Granger said he is close to putting Vogel in a position to make a decision.

“By all means I could physically play, easily,” Granger said. “But like I said, it’s more of a rhythm thing. When you’re playing at those types of speeds you have to do it for a while to get used to it again.”

Granger said he’s played five-on-five the past two days. He said his shot hasn’t been compromised.

“The shot’s always there, it’s just getting your legs into the shot,” he said. “That’s where the conditioning comes in.

“There’s a big difference between shooting and running up and down the court four times and then shooting the jump shot. That’s what you have to condition your body for.”


VIDEO: Pacers coach Frank Vogel addresses Danny Granger’s delayed return

***

No. 3: Report: Grizz looking to deal Randolph — Memphis has struggled to find a rhythm all season, it seems, and at 10-11 finds itself clearly out of the playoff picture in the West. While the Grizz are hoping things will turn around once Marc Gasol returns from injury, talk is heating up in some sense regarding Gasol’s frontcourt partner in crime: Zach Randolph. According to Jared Zwerling of BleacherReport.com, Z-Bo’s name is being mentioned in a deal with the New Orleans Pelicans:

Several sources said the Grizzlies are currently shopping power forward Zach Randolph, and two of them are hearing there’s a destination and main trade piece involved: New Orleans and stretch-4 Ryan Anderson, who’s averaging a team-high 21.7 points per game on 47.7 percent shooting from three-point range.

“A trade centered around Randolph and Anderson should happen down the line this season,” one source said.

Randolph wants to stay put; he told ESPN.com last month that he would “like to retire (in Memphis).” In fact, he’s so committed to the city that on Wednesday the NBA presented him with the November Kia Community Assist Award in recognition of his charitable efforts and contributions in the community.

But Randolph is 32—seven years older than Anderson—and the Grizzlies likely don’t want to pick up his expensive $16.9 million player option for 2014-15. They’re a capped-out team that sees promise in younger power forward Ed Davis, who’s a restricted free agent.

Through 21 games, the 10-11 Grizzlies are one of the worst scoring teams and are dead-last in three-pointers made (97). Anderson is leading the league in that category per game (3.7), 0.3 more than each of the Splash Brothers, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

Because of Randolph’s $18.2 million current salary, the Pelicans’ incoming aggregate salaries would have to be within $5 million of the aggregate outgoing salaries going to the Grizzlies. Therefore, in addition to Anderson ($8.3 million), the Pelicans could consider including Al-Farouq Aminu ($3.7 million) and Austin Rivers ($2.3 million) in the deal. According to two sources, Rivers is unhappy with his playing time and would be open to a trade.

Rivers is only 21, and has been buried this season at the 2 position behind Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans and Anthony Morrow. Sometimes a kid as talented as Rivers simply needs more reps.Speaking of Gordon, a source believes he will be traded this season in a move to wipe off the maximum deal he signed with the Phoenix Suns in 2012 (through 2016 with a player option), and to make Evans, who signed a long-term deal with the Pelicans this past summer, the starting shooting guard.

Update: On Thursday, another source commented on a potential Randolph-Anderson trade: “New Orleans is not sure if they want to pull the trigger. They are playing OK without Davis, so I don’t think they want to pull the trigger until they can see what they have at full strength.”

***

No. 4: Lakers’ Gasol blames D’Antoni’s system for struggles — Lakers forward Pau Gasol, an unrestricted free agent this summer, told our own Scott Howard-Cooper that he is more or less open to leaving L.A. this offseason. Gasol even seemed to warm up to the idea of returning to where his NBA career started, Memphis, to play alongside his brother Marc. The reason for Gasol’s desire to get out of L.A. can probably be directly traced to what he had to say after yesterday’s practice to Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times. Essentially, the long-standing lack of chemistry between Gasol and coach Mike D’Antoni — a topic that is apparently not broached between the two men — seems to be what’s pushing Gasol out of L.A.:

In one corner of the Lakers’ practice gym stood Pau Gasol, his constant smile pulled tight.

“The fact that I’m not getting the ball in the post affects directly my aggressiveness,” he said. “When I’m not getting the ball where I want to, where I’m most effective, where I can bang guys and utilize my skill, that affects my aggressiveness and overall intensity.”

About 30 feet away stood Mike D’Antoni, his constant smile disappearing.

“I can’t lie to him… Our numbers tell us the worst thing we do is post up,” he said.

Once the most embraced Laker, Gasol has become the most scorned. His reluctant offense and dissolvable defense have elicited a dark rumble from Staples Center fans every time he goes near the ball. He is shooting a career-low 42%, five opposing big men have already run over him to equal or top their career best in points, and everyone has been wondering when Pau Gasol is going to fight back.

On Thursday, in his own kindly way, he finally did.

In an interview before the team left to board a plane for Friday night’s game in Oklahoma City, Gasol made clear what he usually only intimates. He said he believes his poor play is a result of his poor usage in D’Antoni’s system. He said he has come to the conclusion that he just doesn’t fit.

“This year hasn’t been ideal, certain things are not ideal for me, but that’s not going to change any time soon,” he said.

So why hasn’t it been ideal?

“What do you think?” he said. “I’m not going to say anything, but it’s easy to see. You see a guy with a certain skill set, where does it fit better, where it doesn’t.”

When asked about D’Antoni’s sometimes pointed criticism of his toughness, Gasol shrugged.

“I don’t pay attention. Mike is sometimes all over the place, I don’t give much credit to things like that,” he said.

When asked if D’Antoni has ever discussed this criticism with him directly, for the first time in the interview, Gasol sounded irked.

“Nope, zero. Nope, zero,” he said. “Like I said, it’s not ideal, but it is what it is.”

A few minutes later, in another part of the emptying gym, D’Antoni offered his own shrug and acknowledged he has never discussed his criticisms directly with Gasol.

“We know how he has to be,” D’Antoni said. “We talk, but he has to produce. He knows how to play, he knows what he has to do.”

He’s been beaten up here mentally, having been both traded and benched in the last three seasons. He’s also not aging ideally, with Kobe Bryant acknowledging Thursday that he counseled Gasol to consider adding to his game by losing some pounds.

“I told him I thought the thing that really helped me out, I dropped some weight,” Bryant said. “I told him he should probably measure it himself, see if that’s something he needs to do himself. As we get older, our metabolism slows, we quietly become a little heavy.”

To the human condition, add the D’Antoni condition, in which Gasol is being asked to play a system that really doesn’t suit him. It is perhaps an equation for the sort of tentativeness, even listlessness, that Gasol has shown even in the biggest of moments.

“Pau is a great guy, a great player, but the focus has gone away from him a little bit in the last few years,” D’Antoni said. “After a while it gets frustrating, you lose your confidence, you get a little nicked up here and there, you don’t battle through it, it’s tough.”

D’Antoni said he is confident Gasol will find himself. Gasol doesn’t seem so sure. He said he would never ask to leave a place that has mostly loved him during seven seasons and two championships, but, seriously, once they trade you once, can you ever feel settled again?

“I love being here, I love my teammates, I love the city … but [a trade] is a possibility,” Gasol said.

***

 

No. 5: Lawson should play tonight vs. Utah — Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson has been out of Denver’s lineup since Dec. 6, which is when he strained his left hamstring while playing against the Boston Celtics. Lawson has slowly been ramping up his participation in practice over the last week and seems to be ready for his return to the lineup against the Utah Jazz tonight, writes Aaron J. Lopez of Nuggets.com:

Seeking an accurate report on the health of his starting point guard, Nuggets coach Brian Shaw issued a mandate for anyone defending Ty Lawson in practice Thursday.

Attack him and see what happens.

“I told the guys, ‘Don’t baby him. Go at him. That will let us know if he’s ready to play or not,’ ” Shaw said. “They did. They challenged him. He stepped up to it and I think proved to himself in his mind, he can make the stops and goes and things he needs to do.”

Barring any setback, Shaw expects to have Lawson back in the lineup when the Nuggets open a four-game homestand Friday night against the Utah Jazz.

“It felt good,” Lawson said after practice. “I’ll see if it gets sore tonight or (Friday) and make a decision.”

Lawson, who leads Denver in scoring and assists, has missed two straight games and wants to ensure he does not aggravate the injury by returning too soon.

“I felt something I had never felt before in my hamstring,” Lawson said. “I wanted to give it two or three days, try to practice once and then see what’s going on.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Clippers forward Jared Dudley says if it were up to him, he’d bench himselfThe Detroit News has a great look back on the longest game in NBA history … New Raptors forward Patrick Patterson found out he was dealt to Toronto from Sacramento as he was going to the movies with his momKevin Durant has opened a restaurant in the Bricktown area of Oklahoma City …

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: Back when Deron Williams and Chris Paul were on the Jazz and Hornets, respectively, they provided some of the best point guard showdowns in the NBA. They were up to their old tricks last night …


VIDEO: Deron Williams crosses up Chris Paul on his way to the basket


VIDEO: Chris Paul uses the crossover to free himself up from Deron Williams’ defense

Huge NBA Opening Week; And You Wanted To Wait Till Christmas?

VIDEO: The top plays from the NBA’s opening week

l

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Six nights. That’s all it took to remind yet again why we play the games, all 82, and why any claim of less being more is pure folly.

Why not November? I say.

As the 2011 lockout ushered in a reduced schedule of 66 games starting on Christmas Day and firing off a fan-pleasing crush of games nightly, a spark ignited into a full-blown media/Internet forest fire: Why not start every NBA season on Dec. 25?

Heck, no one’s paying attention in November, let alone a pre-Halloween slate. With the NFL and college football beast roaring, who’s got the attention span to cram in hoops, too?

So congratulations to the NBA for a wholly unpredictable and fascinating opening week that featured scintillating individual performances and take-that victories by teams who’ve been told they stink. And so the games are played. Yes, even in November.

There isn’t a more outrageous narrative than Philly’s 3-0 start that includes takedowns of the Heat and Bulls led by The Kid, Michael Carter-Williams. Our own John Schuhmann couldn’t help but unprecedentedly vault the Sixers from 29th to No. 1 in this week’s Power Rankings.

While all will likely right itself before too long, one week in and we’ve got upside-down standings. The trifecta tankers — Philly, Phoenix and Orlando — are 7-2. Miami, Chicago, Brooklyn and New York are 5-8.

Along with some fascinating upsets and  fast starts, we’ve seen a bevy of fantastic individual scoring and rebounding frenzies.

Here’s a quick look at some of the opening week’s wildly unpredictable highlights:

*  Carter-Williams has to sweep the Player of the Week honors for rookies and everybody else. In his season debut against Miami, he nearly notched a quadruple-double with 22 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds and nine steals. A fluke? A few nights later against the Bulls and the comeback kid Derrick  Rose, he dropped 26 points and 10 assists. Golden State, in Philly tonight (7 p.m. ET, League Pass), has been warned.

* You can probably name more traded Suns than current Suns, but they’re 2-1 and on Sunday pushed Oklahoma City to the brink in their home opener even with Russell Westbrook supercharging the evening with his unexpected return. By the way, he looked super-fast.

* Let’s not forget the Magic’s supposed bid for massive ping-pong-ball accumulation. Rookie Victor Oladipo has other plans. The Magic aren’t disappearing after two rousing victories over the improved Pelicans and (title-contending?) Nets by a combined 41 points to even their record at 2-2.

* The no-name Lakers bench crushed the star-studded Clippers’ starters in the fourth quarter in both teams’ opener.

* Chris Paul has stat lines of 42 points and 15 assists and 26 points and 10 assists.

* Kevin Love is all the way back, averaging 29.7 ppg, 14.7 rpg and 3.7 apg to help Minnesota start 3-0. He already has games of 31 and 17, and 34 and 15.

* The 2-1 Pistons’ front line is living up to expectations. Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond are walking double-doubles. Monroe has a 24 and 16 game under his belt and Drummond already has 15-and-12 and 12-and-16 games.

* Second-year Warriors sharpshooter Klay Thompson went off for 38 points on 15-for-19 shooting in 31 minutes.

*Kings center DeMarcus Cousins notched 31 points and 14 rebounds against the Nuggets.

* In the same game, Knicks center Tyson Chandler pulled down 19 rebounds and Bulls center Joakim Noah grabbed 15.

* In a battle of point guards, Steph Curry and CP3 combined for 80 points, 11 3-pointers, 24 assists and 17 turnovers.

* Also in the same game, Mavs forward Shawn Marion and Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph posted matching stat lines of 21 points and 14 boards.

* Greg Oden dunked on his first offensive possession since Dec. 5, 2009.

* Dwight Howard is averaging 15.0 ppg and 17.0 rpg in three games. His 51 rebounds nearly double his free 26 throw attempts, of which he’s made half.

* Pelicans second-year center/forward Anthony Davis is taking this breakthrough stuff seriously, averaging 23.7 ppg, 12.3 rpg and 4.0 bpg. He has games of 25 points and six blocks, 26 points and 17 rebounds and 20 points and 12 boards.

There are even more big games to get to from Kevin Durant to Paul George to Monta Ellis to Nicolas Batum‘s apologetic triple-double, but in the interest of fair time, we must also get to the surprising (or in some instances the not-so-surprising, but still noteworthy) developments at the other end of the spectrum:

* The Nuggets, 0-2, and center JaVale McGee are not off to inspiring starts. This is supposed to be McGee’s big moment, but the 7-footer has averaged just 11.5 mpg and 5.0 ppg and 2.0 rpg despite starting both games.

* Raptors forward Rudy Gay again has a nice-looking scoring average (17.0 ppg), but just think what it might be if not for shooting 32.7 percent from the floor and 30.0 percent from beyond the arc.

* Rookie Nets head coach Jason Kidd served a two-game suspension stemming from his DUI situation and then got hammered by 21 points in his debut at Orlando.

* Memphis is in transition after the promotion of Dave Joerger following Lionel Hollins being shown the door. Joerger is credited as the architect of the Grizzlies’ stifling defense, yet even with a virtually unchanged roster, the defense is being picked apart, allowing more than 106 ppg.

* Detroit’s active big guys, Monroe and Drummond, are pushing high-dollar free-agent signee Josh Smith out to the perimeter. Smith likes to shoot the long ball, but averaging 7.3 attempts from back there is a bit much, especially when he’s making just 27.0 percent.

And you wanted to wait until Christmas? Bah!