First Cup: Friday

December, 26, 2014
Dec 26
3:42
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: The reigning league MVP and the reigning Finals MVP were both rocking suit jackets. Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard didn’t play. So these two teams certainly weren’t the full-throttle title-contenders we expect to see come May. But considering all the circumstances, this stands as the Thunder’s best win of the season to date. There’s not a ton of competition — most of the solid victories came with an asterisk (the LeBron-less Cavs) — but this one was extremely impressive. In San Antonio on Christmas Day with little help from the bench, Russell Westbrook led a furious mid-game run and a frantic late-game push to close out a Spurs team that generally played a pretty good game. It was the opposite of the last two fourth quarter collapses, with the Thunder executing beautifully down the stretch, outscoring San Antonio 28-15 in the final seven minutes. In the grand scheme of a marathon season, it’s just one win — like the recent homestand was just two losses. But it should give OKC a boost of confidence and some potential momentum. Plus, at least temporarily, it should ease the concerns of a simmering fanbase.
  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: Sidelined all season after right shoulder surgery, Spurs backup point guard Patty Mills believes he will be back on the court much sooner than anyone anticipated. Mills had surgery in early July to repair a torn right rotator cuff, after which doctors projected a mid-January return to action. Cleared to begin full contact, five-on-five practice, he now thinks he might be able to play in one of the four remaining games this month. “Mid-January had been (projected) all the way through,” Mills said, “but as I’ve progressed it’s end of December now.” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will take some convincing before he allows Mills to play again. “I’m going to hold him off as long as I can,” Popovich said. “There will be a point he won’t allow me to do that any more and that’s fine. But for right now I’m winning the battle. At some point I’ll lose it.” Popovich said he wants to see Mills “get knocked around” in some five-on-five scrimmage sessions to get a better feel for his ability to handle contact.
  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: The Heat won. Miami did, too. Team and city, players and fans. Win, win. A half-year of speculation and debate had funneled into Thursday’s much-anticipated Christmas Day basketball game at the downtown bayside arena — ever since LeBron James left the Heat last summer to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Would he be loudly booed as a traitor or welcomed back appreciatively as a favorite son? Would Miami fans be naughty or nice to their departed superstar upon his first return? The game itself was secondary, though exhilarating. The Heat would beat the Cavaliers 101-91 led by Dwyane Wade’s 31 points and Luol Deng’s 25, and despite the injury-absence of Chris Bosh. It continued a strange season that left Wade noting Thursday night how the team still was searching for its “identity.” Miami still is only 14-16 and only 6-10 at home, and the previous game had lost to lowly Philadelphia. Clearly, LeBron inspired a different level of play from the Heat. “He is going to bring out the best in you,” said Wade. James scored 30, and it was fun watching the two old friends trade examples of brilliance. The story of the night, though, what made it a holiday event, wasn’t so much about beating Cleveland as it was about how Miami — fans and franchise — raised its game in welcoming back James. Cheering for LeBron overwhelmed booing as he was announced in pregame introductions, but that was fleeting. No effort was made to call James’ name louder, or last.
  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: In his first attempt at replacing Anderson Varejao in the starting lineup, Cavs coach David Blatt called a reverse. He went back to Shawn Marion in the starting lineup after it was widely assumed Tristan Thompson would slide in at center. Marion defended Dwyane Wade for long stretches at guard, leaving Mike Miller to pick up Heat power forward Shawne Williams while shifting Kevin Love to center. It was a surprise move, but Blatt insisted Thursday the Cavs would play the matchups in the short term. He hinted more changes could be made before the Cavs play at the Orlando Magic on Friday. “We tried some things and we may try some things differently,” Blatt said. “When you lose a guy like Andy, you’ve gotta try to figure it out. I wouldn’t say it went particularly well for us today but hopefully tomorrow it will go better, possibly with changes.” Love’s start at center came less than an hour after Blatt said he didn’t think Love moving to center was a long-term solution for this team.
  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Even as he tried to convince Pau Gasol to remain with the Lakers, Kobe Bryant assured Gasol his support would remain. So when the Lakers arrived in Chicago late Wednesday, Bryant's dinner plans were set. "Our relationship and bond goes beyond basketball," said Bryant, who spent "several hours of reminiscing" with Gasol. "As a brother, we started this rebuilding process together. He's a part of this (Lakers) franchise. It was tough for him to leave what he helped build. And it was tough for me to see him go." Bryant isn't surprised by Gasol's success with the Bulls. "Pau has been playing like Pau," Bryant said. "It's phenomenal. He's been in the league for a while and seems to have no drop in his play. He looks healthy and strong and moving very well."
  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: This being Chicago, reporters were eager to talk to Bryant about passing Michael Jordan for third place on the NBA's all-time scoring list. Bryant even revealed what Jordan told him in a conversation after it happened last week. "Go get Karl," Bryant said. He trails Karl Malone by 4,563 points. "The competitor never stops," Bryant said while elaborating on Jordan's revelation. "He's always thinking the next challenge."
  • Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times: Will the Clippers zig next, or will they zag? Will they take off on a winning streak or continue to go sideways, getting little scoring from their second unit and inconsistent defensive efforts throughout the lineup? One win doesn't solve all of their problems, even if it was an entertaining and improbable victory over the league-leading Warriors (23-5). Jamal Crawford was the Clippers' only effective player off the bench Thursday — once again — as he scored a game-high 24 points. And they still have work to do defensively, even though they held Golden State to its lowest point total this season. But this was fun, more amusing even than Spencer Hawes' specially made red-white-and-green Christmas tree blazer and comically short pants, the kind of emotional win a nicked-up, road-weary team needed to lift its spirits in the middle of a tough schedule. ... Sometimes, teams come together quickly. Other times, they need 20 or 30 or more games to bond and find their footing. ... On Thursday, they rode it to a win that made for great drama. Whether it starts another zig-zag, this time upward, will be up to the Clippers the next few games.
  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: The Warriors learned firsthand just how difficult it is to beat the Clippers without Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli during last season’s first-round playoff series. That trend continued Thursday night at Staples Center, where the Warriors ran out of big bodies and the necessary intensity to deal with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and lost 100-86 in a Pacific Division matchup that acted as the nightcap to the NBA’s star-studded slate of games on Christmas. ... Bogut missed his eighth straight game as he continues therapy for his injured right knee, and Ezeli sat out with a sprained left ankle. He’s scheduled for an MRI exam Friday after X-rays were negative. With Marreese Speights starting, Green giving up size and athleticism, and David Lee working his way back from a left hamstring strain, the Warriors willed a solid defensive effort in the first half, but they simply didn’t play with the urgency and edge needed to compete with the most dynamic big-man duo in the league during the second.
  • J. Michael of CSN Washington: With great joy, Paul Pierce stood up from the bench late in the fourth quarter, turned to the crowd and Madison Square Garden and shouted, "Christmas is cancelled." His teammate, John Wall, had been decked by Quincy Acy on a flagrant foul which led to a skirmish as the Knicks forward was ejected Thursday. A two-game losing streak over with the 102-91 victory, the Wizards (20-8) were in a joyous mood despite testy ending with 5:31 left in the game. ... Wall and Acy have a long history. They played against each other on the AAU circuit but there wasn't any bad blood between them. Wall, who left Kentucky after one season to be drafted No. 1 overall by the Wizards in 2010, also took a recruiting trip to Baylor with Acy who attended there before becoming a second-round pick in 2012. "That’s basketball. He was the one that got ejected and John wasn’t. That happens," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "Physical game sometimes leads to that and I thought our guys for the most part kept their composure through something like that. You never know what happens after something like that." The last time the Wizards had anything close to this was their first preseason game, Oct. 6, vs. Chicago.
  • Harvey Araton of The New York Times: “You’re seeing deeper teams in this league — you know, more team play,” Paul Pierce continued. “You’re seeing guys who were starters on other teams coming off the bench. You’re not just seeing one guy score all the points." That obvious dig at Anthony was underscored when the Wizards, with five players contributing at least 8 points but no one recording more than 11, scored 60 in the first half for a 16-point lead. Anthony had 21 points in the half for the bewildered Knicks, but nobody else scored more than 5. Voluntarily tethered to a team he couldn’t have imagined would have the league’s most losses at this point in the season, Anthony has become the leading candidate to be considered the most aggrieved $100 million player. He didn’t re-sign for a steadily improving shot at the No. 1 pick in June’s draft, even if that now represents the best and perhaps only foreseeable hope for a reversal of fortune. The Knicks’ president, Phil Jackson, attended Thursday’s game, but he delivered his holiday cheer over Twitter. “Please be assured your hopes and wishes are getting through to Santa,” he wrote. “He will bring a better 2015 than 14. The effort and skill of our team will grow as the players learn how to play with and for each other.” ... Even on Christmas, and on a first-name basis, it was obvious yet again that these Knicks have no feel or great love for one another. Whatever Jackson promised on Twitter, the stark reality is that his team is nowhere near where the N.B.A. is trending.

First Cup: Wednesday

December, 24, 2014
Dec 24
5:00
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Jim Peltz of the Los Angeles Times: For the first time this season, the crowd's reaction to the Lakers' player introductions at Staples Center did not reach its normal feverish climax when Kobe Bryant steps on the court. Bryant was not in the house Tuesday night. But even as a fatigued Bryant was rested, the sold-out crowd of 18,997 still had reason to roar as Bryant's teammates defeated the high-flying Golden State Warriors, 115-105. ... "That's exactly what we needed," Lakers Coach Byron Scott said. "It probably was our best game so far this year. We're still going to lean on [Bryant] but we don't have to as heavy as we are, that's kind of the message. You've got to let these [other] guys either succeed or fail."
  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: As far as fourth-graders go, he has to be at the top of his class. LeBron James Jr., the 10-year-old son of the Cavaliers’ All-Star forward, was an Internet sensation Dec. 22 when his video went viral. Playing in the 2014 Ronald Searles Holiday Classic in Houston, Little Bronny showed some serious skills. He can handle the ball on the fastbreak and has a nifty behind-the-back pass on the video. LeBron James said he’s playing for a travel team out of Houston. “He’ll be all right,” James said. “He loves the game. He works at it. He has a chance to be good.” James said he wants to shield Bronny from the media glare. “I want to keep him away from it as much as possible,” James said. “His father knows what can happen.” As soon as colleges are allowed, he will immediately get scholarship offers from all the top programs. If he’s in fourth grade now, he will likely graduate from high school (St. Vincent-St. Mary, no doubt) after the 2022-23 season. James sent out a tweet after his son’s eye-opening performance. “Proud of you son! Great job in Houston and congrats on bringing home 1st place.”
  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The Hawks defeated the Clippers, 107-104, despite going 5:35 in the second quarter without scoring. The victory moved the Hawks to 21-7 overall and 13-2 at home. They have won 14 of their past 15 games. They have won five straight – against the likes of the Bulls, Cavaliers, Rockets, Mavericks and Clippers. They defeated the Clippers for the sixth straight time at Philips Arena. They have won eight straight at home. The superlatives are numerous. ... Most of the Hawks are not putting too much emphasis of the past five wins. However, they are impressive. The last five opponents were a combined 87-40 (.685) entering their games against the Atlanta. That is the highest combined winning percentage for any teams the Hawks have beaten in five straight games. The old record was 12-6 (.667) from Nov. 4-11, 1997. “The thing is, you can’t say ‘We’ve got it figured out,’” Horford said. “Realistically, there are things we can do to get better. But I have to give my teammates credit. Five wins against five of these kinds of opponents. If you would have told us before we started against these five opponents I would have been ‘I don’t know. It’s going to test us where we are as a team.’ This is big for us.”
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: After a 3-0 road trip, Suns coach Jeff Hornacek saw "a different focus" in front of him at Wednesday morning's shootaround to prepare for Dallas. That focus might have been on a better team. The Suns stumbled at home six times this season when favored to win, but they had a sharper focus for the more formidable Mavericks, just as they did to beat Golden State and San Antonio at home too. Playing a top team for the first time since Golden State visited Nov. 9, the Suns controlled Dallas most of the way at US Airways Center for a 124-115 win that resembled how they won in Dallas earlier this month. For a fourth consecutive win, it helped that the Suns focused on the rim better, too. Four minutes into the second quarter, the Suns did not look on their way to a season-high scoring total. They had shot 26 percent from the field and 14 percent from 3-point range but only trailed 32-25 because Dallas (20-10) had trouble scoring unless the Suns set them up for a fastbreak. From that point, the Suns (16-14) shot 58 percent overall and 58 percent on 3-pointers to score 99 points in the game's final 32 minutes.
  • Sean Meagher of The Oregonian: The Portland Trail Blazers once again came from behind, forced overtime and grabbed huge win on the road, beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 115-111 in OT. Damian Lillard, who had 43 in a triple-overtime win in San Antontio, poured in 40 points to lead the Blazers, who finish a grueling road trip 3-1. As LaMarcus Aldridge returned to the lineup after missing Monday's game with an upper respiratory illness, Nicolas Batum sat for the second time on the trip, still dealing with right wrist sprain. Joel Freeland made his fourth straight start, with Allen Crabbe in at small forward for Batum, joining Aldridge, Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews in the starting five. ... In a play reminiscent of his Game 6 "Dame-winner" against the Houston Rockets during the first round of the Western Conference playoffs last May, Lillard rolled off a screen, beat Serge Ibaka to his spot, took the inbounds pass and found the bottom of the net on a 26-foot three-pointer to even the game at 98-98 with three seconds left. "They just kind of messed it up a little bit and I just got the shot off," Lillard said about his shot.
  • Mark Strotman of CSN Chicago: Derrick Rose is just about all the way back ... He may not want to admit it, and there's always room for improvement for a 26-year-old, but Derrick Rose looks to be just about all the way back. The former MVP scored 25 points in 29 minutes against a formidable opponent in John Wall (18 points, 9 assists) and he scored 10 points in the final stanza to push the Bulls to victory after they briefly lost the lead. He did have five turnovers, but only one came in the final period. But past the box score, Rose was once again attacking the basket, finding open shooters when he did and moving seamlessly without any real hesitation. It'll be a storyline all year, but there's a chance that this recent stretch of play for Rose following his illness becomes the turning point for his season.
  • Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: With trade rumors surrounding Brooklyn‘s three highest-paid players, a source told the Daily News that Deron Williams is most likely to be dealt. Talks with the Kings have dated back to last season, and Sacramento remains a possibility. Even though negotiations have cooled, “they’re never done,” a source said.
  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Magic big man Kyle O'Quinn said he watched the tribute video for Jameer Nelson "a good 20" times after the preseason game. Nelson meant a lot to O'Quinn and to other young players on the Magic's roster. "He played a big part in my early NBA life and I'm sure a lot of others'," O'Quinn said "I don't want to say it was an instant bond, but I guess that he saw that I needed help, and he helped me out, just like a true vet should." O'Quinn saw some photos of Nelson playing in his first game in a Celtics uniform and did a double-take. It was that weird to see Nelson in Celtics green and wearing 28 on his jersey instead of 14. The 14 of Celtics great Bob Cousy was retired in 1963, preventing Nelson from wearing the number.
  • Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer: The 76ers' honeymoon with Andrei Kirilenko is over. After showing patience for two weeks, the Sixers are asking him to report and start playing games. The Sixers were expected to waive the forward shortly after they acquired him in a trade with the Brooklyn Nets on Dec. 11. But a team source said the team wants to keep the 6-foot-9, 235-pounder for now and see where things go. His playing would raise his trade value if they wanted to swap him for another asset at the trade deadline in February. Kirilenko, however, wants to be waived so he can be a free agent. The Russian has been away from the team for "personal reasons." "I had a great conversation with him when we were in Brooklyn [on Dec. 12] to explore where his priorities are," Sixers coach Brett Brown said. "We have to walk a line of showing him respect to see where his priorities are and appreciating his family situation, and everybody hopes that he can come and be a part of us."
  • Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star: For a moment in the fourth quarter Tuesday night, the fan section inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse named the "G2 Zone" chanted "Home-town He-ro." It would be the first time all season that particular collection of fans – formed as the loyalists for Paul George and George Hill – had something to cheer about for their namesake. Though George still remained in a suit while recovering from his summertime broken-leg injury, the other one, Hill, made his season debut after missing the first 28 games with a left knee contusion and subsequent quadriceps tear. As far as a "hero's" homecoming, it could not have gone better for Hill and the Indiana Pacers during the 96-84 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. ... After his performance, Hill looks ready to move into the starting lineup and thus, his presence should create a solid footing for the rotation as the team moves into 2015. It's just one more healthy player, but it's a start. "We're getting healthy, we're playing together and we're just playing with a little edge," C.J. Watson said. "I think the chemistry is getting there."
  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker said he plans to stay positive after suffering the torn left anterior cruciate ligament that will keep him out the rest of his rookie season. Parker, in his first public statements since being injured Dec. 15 in Phoenix, said he still can learn as his teammates continue with the 2014-'15 season. "One of the positive things is I get a brand new knee," Parker said. "You've got to look at longevity. Hopefully this will just be a short thing and I'll be able to return for the career I want to have." No surgery has been scheduled yet while doctors wait for the swelling in Parker's left knee to subside. Parker said he has consulted closely with team doctor Michael Gordon. Parker's knee buckled without contact as he drove to the basket early in the third quarter against the Suns. "I didn't know it was this serious," Parker said. "Even though it happened, I wasn't in agony. I just felt the twist and I thought it was hyperextended. "It was just a clean break (tear)." Parker said he didn't know the exact length of the recovery period following surgery.

Bernard King on how to score 60 points

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
4:31
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Bernard King scored 60 points on Christmas Day 30 years ago. Here's how he did it, and why it wasn't fun.

video

Heat fans hurting from LeBron's decision

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
4:04
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Israel Gutierrez says the hurt is real among Heat fans as LeBron James returns for a Christmas Day matchup with the Cavaliers.

video

Young Wiggins vs. Young LeBron

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
11:36
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
David Thorpe has been scouring video to compare Andrew Wiggins and LeBron James. Some of his findings may surprise you.

video

First Cup: Tuesday

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
4:36
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Point guard Kemba Walker continued a recent roll with 18 points and nine assists. He committed a single turnover in 30 minutes. He entered the game third in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.8-to-1. “My rep growing up was that I was turnover-prone. That’s because I always played at one speed,” Walker said. “Now I’m mixing up my speeds. I just want to take care of the basketball. “I’m very conscious this year of not turning over the basketball because it gives us a higher percentage chance of winning. But it’s not just me.” That was one of Stephenson’s flaws before he got hurt – he leads the Hornets in turnovers at 2.3 per game and sometimes his constant dribbling seemed to slow the ball-movement. Walker and others talked about how good that ball-movement has been of late. “If you have nothing, get rid of it. Most likely the ball is going to find you again,” Walker said.
  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: For anyone into Bulls symbolism, Monday night's 129-120 victory over the Raptors marked just the 23rd time Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose played together this season. And while nobody is drawing any comparisons to Michael Jordan, Butler's offensive improvement paired with a healthy Rose certainly makes for a strong backcourt. "We complement each other well in transition and getting out in the open floor," Butler said. "We'll get a lot of easy baskets together." ... In the 15 games this season that Rose and Butler have started together, the Bulls are 11-4. ... "He surprised a lot of people in the league," Rose said of Butler. "I know he surprised me just by his confidence on the floor — taking the big shots, making shots. In the last two to four minutes of the game, he really has taken it upon himself to try to force things his way. It has been working for him."
  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: We are running out of adjectives. The Hawks insisted last week that their upcoming five-game schedule against top-level competition was not a big deal. It hasn’t been. The Hawks are now 20-7 after holding off the Mavericks 105-102 Monday night. They have won 13 of their past 14 games. They were in control of this latest win, leading by as many as 24 points, until being outscored 39-23 in the fourth quarter. Well, it will give coach Mike Budenholzer some video to break down. ... This is one amazing run for the Hawks. Get out your checklist and mark off one win after another as they entered a tough five-game stretch before Christmas. They have knocked off the Bulls, Cavaliers, Rockets and Mavericks – the last three on the road. It has been an impressive brand of basketball. The Clippers are up next Tuesday. You can only say this team is for real so many times. They are. The Hawks are second in the Eastern Conference and trail only the Raptors – by one game – for the top spot. ... All good things have to come to an end. Korver saw his franchise record for consecutive free throws snapped at 50. The streak snapper, coming on an attempt after a Mavericks fourth-quarter technical foul, was only his third miss of the season. He started a new streak and hit six straight in the final minutes.
  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: The Warriors were well aware of what happened in the Western Conference before they even took the court at Oracle Arena on Monday night, and showed no intention of letting an opportunity get past them. Four of the five teams slotted directly beneath the Warriors in the standings lost, and the Warriors used a dominating 128-108 victory over Sacramento to take a season-high 2-game lead atop the Western Conference. “At the end of the night, I check the scores,” point guard Stephen Curry said. "There are so many games left that you have to worry about what you’re doing. When people are running races, I’m sure they’re checking behind them every once in a while, but they’re not running with their head fully turned behind them. We’ve done some good things, but we haven’t even come close to accomplishing what we want to accomplish. We’ve got to stay hungry.” The Warriors (23-3) looked downright ravenous against Sacramento, dishing out 36 assists — their most since 2010 and their league-leading seventh game with at least 30 assists this season.
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s holiday shopping did not end with last week’s three-team deal. Following the Detroit Pistons’ stunning decision Monday to release 6-9 forward Josh Smith, the Rockets will make a run at Smith once he clears waivers Wednesday, a person with knowledge of their thinking said. The Rockets have long sought Smith, 29. They tried to acquire him as a free agent in 2013 but could not work out the sign-and-trade agreement with the Atlanta Hawks that was necessary after signing Dwight Howard. ... With the Rockets, Smith could fill a variety of roles as a starter or off the bench, especially with third-year forward Terrence Jones out indefinitely with nerve inflammation in his left leg. With Donatas Motiejunas, the starter at power forward, playing as a backup center often, Smith could play power forward with the starters whether he starts or comes off the bench and with Motiejunas and the second unit without having to play Smith as a small forward as the Hawks and Pistons have tried. Smith struggled in Detroit and was a poor fit in a frontcourt that has Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.
  • Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune: For Alec Burks, his place with the Utah Jazz is all about filling in the blanks. ... But most of all, Burks has defended this season. He’s made it a passion. He’s made it a priority for the first time in his career. And as the Jazz wrap up a six game road trip and head to Christmas break, Burks has carved out a niche as arguably Utah’s best perimeter stopper. "You can talk about team defense all you want," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "But if guys are blowing past our people on the perimeter, you aren’t going to be a great defensive team. Alec’s been staying in front of people and that’s been important." Burks realized the nature of the NBA early in his career. To him, he either defends well, or he gets eaten up nightly by some of the best shooting guards in the league. When he wasn’t playing as much, it may not have been as much of a focus. But now, he’s a starter, and one of the main pieces of the future for the Jazz. He knows that he has to produce. On both ends.
  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: Spurs captain Tim Duncan played his 1,278th regular-season game, matching former Lakers All-Star A.C. Green for 19th on the all-time list. By scoring 21 points, he also passed Pacers great Reggie Miller on the all-time scoring list, moving into 17th place with 25,267 points. “Everybody I pass is a 'Wow,’” Duncan said. “I know I don’t say much about it, but the names that are thrown out there, and the careers they had, every milestone is a big deal.”
  • David Mayo of MLive.com: This is about changing culture. It is about getting Josh Smith away from players who may form the core of the future. It is about coming closest they can to addressing the last bad contract of the Joe Dumars presidency, which ended earlier this year. It is about the Pistons exercising their last good chance to re-sign Greg Monroe by getting rid of a particular misfit toy. It is about taking the least-expensive course in liquidating a bad deal, something Pistons owner and equity businessman Tom Gores has had to do from time to time, though not too often, given his wealth. The Pistons will get some salary-cap relief with the stretch provision, an element of the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement that allows them to spread the payments over five years. But Smith will get every penny -- if he signs another contract, the Pistons' financial responsibility to him will be reduced accordingly -- and all of it counts against the cap.

First Cup: Monday

December, 22, 2014
Dec 22
4:48
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: Chris Bosh remains out with a strained calf, and Dwyane Wade’s latest setback is a bruised right knee. Wade missed Sunday’s home game against the Boston Celtics after aggravating a preexisting knee injury. With the Heat’s two offensive stars out, the Heat started a hodgepodge lineup of Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers, Luol Deng, Shawne Williams and Chris Andersen against Boston. Wade is expected to return in time to play LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Christmas Day, but Bosh is questionable. Bosh is hoping for the best but preparing himself mentally for having to watch the Heat’s game in the national from the bench. ... Bosh has been receiving many different forms of treatment daily to speed up recovery time. “Electric, water, ice, heat, all that good stuff,” Bosh said, and then referenced the film Karate Kid. “I’m going to call Mr. Miyagi tonight. See if he can do me like Daniel Son.” Bosh missed his fifth consecutive game Sunday and didn’t rule out being out another month. He called that a worst-case scenario, though.
  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: DeMarcus Cousins was supposed to be on a minutes restriction after missing 10 games because of viral meningitis. So much for that plan. Cousins has played 70 minutes in two games back, including 37 in Sunday’s 108-101 win over the Los Angeles Lakers at Sleep Train Arena. Cousins had 29 points, 14 rebounds, two assists, two steals and three blocks. He hasn’t played like someone who had been out since Nov. 26, but he feels the toll as he regains his timing and conditioning. “If you all knew how I really felt out there ... ” Cousins said with a laugh. “It is a surprise. I’m just playing my part – coming in, doing my job every day. That’s all I can do.” Kings coach Tyrone Corbin planned to monitor Cousins in six-minute spurts, which he did in the first half of Thursday’s loss to Milwaukee, but Cousins played the entire fourth quarter. With a game Monday night at Golden State, it’s uncertain how Cousins will hold up. The medical staff has kept close tabs on Cousins to ensure he does not have a setback.
  • Nakia Hogan of The Times-Picayune: Anthony Davis was so bothered by what had transpired on Saturday, he grabbed his phone and began to text coach Monty Williams. Davis took the blame for the Pelicans' most embarrassing loss of the season. He was about the energy and execution and metal strength he displayed. He was embarrassed. But a day after turning in his worst performance of the season, Davis bounced back nicely, helping the Pelicans to a 101-99 victory against the Kevin Durant-less Oklahoma City Thunder before a sold out Chesapeake Energy Arena. Davis, who was held to a season-low seven points on 3-of-14 shooting in Saturday's humiliating 114-88 loss to Portland, was assertive from the start and dominant to the finish. Davis finished with 38 points on 16-of-22 shooting, 12 rebounds and three blocks. It was his third highest scoring game of his career, his 15th double-double of the season and his ninth game with at least 30 points this season. "He took it personally last night," Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. "He thought it was his fault. We had a conversation about 'It's never your fault, it's about our team.' He wasn't at his best yesterday (against Portland). But he is entitled to that. He has carried us all year long. But when you score 38 points on 22 shots and play that kind of defense – he had three blocked shots – that kind of stuff is special. And we forget he is only 21 years old."
  • Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group: In Sunday's 105-91 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, Cavaliers forward LeBron James registered 25 points and 11 assists. And in regards to assists, he has been racking those up frequently as of late. He has been running the offense more than usual and has been the one giving more so than receiving. The last 14 games, James is averaging 8.8 assists, up from 6.5 assists in the first 11 games. He has brought back the point-forward prototype and it has translated to victories. The Cavaliers are 11-4 since he took over the bulk of the ball-handling duties. Head coach David Blatt was asked if there was ever moment that he and James discussed switching up the point-guard duties. Blatt says there wasn't, but Blatt made it sound as if James hasn't done anything differently in how he is approaching the game. "I think that LeBron has established himself very well as a great passer, facilitator and when necessary, initiator of the offense," Blatt said. "I just think with this team, it's less necessary obviously with Kyrie [Irving] being able to do the things that he does and play the way that he does."
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: There was a missed 3-pointer and a couple sprints up and back on the Staples Center floor at the end of a Suns loss last month. That is all most people have seen of Suns rookie Zoran Dragic, who has spent nearly the entire season on the inactive list except for that two-minute cameo in mop-up duty against the Clippers. It is no departure from what was expected but it still has been a departure for Goran Dragic's younger brother after spending a decade as a pro and starting for their national team on the way to the World Cup quarterfinals last summer. Zoran said he has no regrets about negotiating a buyout from Spanish club Unicaja Malaga to come to the NBA, even if it means being relegated to developing through individual work and rare practices. "I know it's my rookie year and that's how it is," Zoran said. "I must be patient and practice hard. When I get an opportunity, I need to show what I have. I am happy. Everybody basketball player's dream is to come to the NBA but my dream was to come here and stay in the NBA."
  • Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star: The days have started to blend together, the moments seeming like one long blur. After nearly a week away from home, the Indiana Pacers might not have particularly enjoyed their final test – a back-to-back road game starting an hour earlier Sunday night than normal NBA tipoffs after losing an hour in the time zone – but could not openly use it as an excuse. When you've lost 10 of the past 11 games, there's no room for otherwise reasonable challenges to justify poor play. No one would listen, anyway. So, the Pacers overcame the strange scheduling and held on to defeat the Minnesota Timberwolves 100-96 at the Target Center to finally steal a win on this three-game trip. David West scored 14 points, including the tie-breaking drive and basket with 31.5 seconds remaining. When asked to describe this particular play out of a timeout, Pacers coach Frank Vogel closed his eyes and thought hard to remember which bucket. Road trips must have a way of inducing short-term memory loss.
  • Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer: But the spotlight was on center Nerlens Noel and point guard Michael Carter-Williams once they got into a heated first-quarter exchange on the bench. The childhood friends and former AAU teammates from the Boston area argued over an undisclosed subject while walking off the court during a timeout. The conversation continued when they got to the bench and escalated into a heated exchange while Noel was seated and Carter-Williams stood in front of him. "It was just really frustration, miscommunication, and we fixed it," said Noel, who finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds. "And we started to improve our play." The argument ended when assistant coach Chad Iske stepped in to talk to Noel. Brown said he loved the heated exchange. "It's the most real environment when you got two Boston guys that grew up with each other. They got a situation they are going to talk it through," the coach said. "Think of how many AAU games they played with each other. "I call them 617. That's the [Boston] area code. ... They were trying to figure it out. And it's teammates talking to teammates. And it's real." The duo quickly got over their spat. Noel even helped Carter-Williams up from the court after he was knocked to the floor on a hard foul.
  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: The voice was quiet, the usual enthusiasm muted: no smiles, no laughs, nothing. The consistent losing is beating Jose Calderon down. “Nobody can be happy or feel comfortable in this situation,” Calderon said after his New York Knicks lost another one on Sunday, 118-108 to the Raptors. “It is very frustrating.” The Knicks are among the very worst teams in the NBA today, a dreadful 5-25 (the most losses of any team in the league), and there seems to be no brightness in the future. ... Now in his 10th NBA season, he knows one of his roles has to be as a leader to a team that needs it, but he can’t do it alone. “I can help, but at the end of the day we’ve got to help each other out there,” he said. “It’s not about just talking. It’s not about doing the stuff. It’s finishing games. It’s playing 48 (minutes). “Yeah, we are playing against really good teams and we’re missing maybe four or five really important guys. but it’s no excuse. Other teams have got guys out, too. “There is not a lot I can say. It’s out there.” Sunday’s loss dampened any kind of enthusiasm Calderon may have had for a return to the scene of some of his top NBA moments.
  • Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News: The Nets’ Big Three have been on the trading block for some time now. But while King has made it clear he’s not overseeing a fire sale, the Nets got a brief glimpse of what life would be like without the full troika. Joe Johnson joined Lopez and Williams in sick bay after he was poked in the eye midway through the third quarter, leaving the game and retreating to the locker room. But Johnson returned to start the fourth quarter and hit four big free throws in the final seconds. Plumlee even drained a pair of free throws, normally his weakness, with 1:17 left, part of 10 points he had in the fourth quarter on 4-of-4 shooting. “There’s no better way to get confidence than to hit (free throws) down the stretch,” said Plumlee, who is averaging 18 points and 10.2 rebounds over the past six games.

Sideline view: Thunder at Lakers

December, 20, 2014
Dec 20
11:53
AM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
Archive
video Notes and observations from working the Thunder-Lakers game Friday night:

Kevin Durant feared the worst. When he stepped on Marreese Speights’ ankle while driving to the basket near the end of that scintillating first half in Oakland Thursday night his first thought was that he had bent or broken the screw that was inserted into his right foot during his October surgery.

X-rays showed that the screw was intact. That was the big relief. But on Friday morning the ankle still felt too sore to play in that night’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers. Durant took a few set shots about an hour before tipoff, then gingerly walked over and took a seat on the sideline. I asked him if he would be able to play in the Thunder’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans in Oklahoma City on Sunday and he said he wasn’t sure. The expression on his face could best be classified as “questionable.”

Given the Thunder’s penchant for caution when it comes to dealing with injuries, I would guess he’ll sit out again. The Thunder didn’t rush him back from surgery even while the losses mounted. They tried to limit his workload when he first returned after missing the first 17 games of the season following the surgery; he didn’t play more than 30 minutes in any of his first seven games back. But he played 35 minutes against the Sacramento Kings Tuesday night, and was on pace for 38 minutes Thursday against the Warriors. He also was on pace for 60 points, hitting 10 of 13 shots, playing so well that coach Scott Brooks was reluctant to take him out at all.

“I was on my way,” said Durant, who scored a career-high 54 points the previous time he played the Warriors.

Durant said it as he was on his way back to the locker room, where he remained for the game Friday night. He couldn’t watch the Thunder beat the Lakers from the bench because he didn’t have a suit or sport coat with him, so he couldn’t be dress code-compliant. (You try last-minute shopping to find a jacket to fit a 6-10 guy with outlandishly long arms). Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the dress code. Would it really be so bad to see Durant on the bench cheering on his teammates, even if he were dressed as outlandishly as Russell Westbrook?

LAKER LETHARGY: Something looked off with Kobe Bryant throughout the game. When he was on the bench his head was down and he sucked in air like a Shop-Vac. On the court he kept squinting, as if his eyes had trouble focusing. I asked three members of the Lakers organization -- two who were seated on the Lakers bench and one who was in the locker room at halftime -- if Bryant was sick and they all said no.

Bryant told reporters after the game that he was fatigued, and he and Byron Scott wondered if practicing Wednesday had taken his legs from him. Maybe the Lakers need to adopt the Dallas Cowboys’ Tony Romo plan and hold him out of Wednesday practices from here on out.

The troubling thing for the Lakers is that Bryant’s fatigue seemed to drag some of his teammates down with him. In a timeout midway through the third quarter Scott implored his players to “suck it up” for the rest of the game, and he spent most of our interview after the third quarter discussing his concern about their lack of energy.

The flip side is that the Lakers’ reserves showed plenty of energy in the fourth quarter -- even after their scoring and spiritual leader Nick Young was kicked out for a flagrant two foul. The lineup of Wesley Johnson, Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer, Wayne Ellington and Robert Sacre took the Lakers from an eight-point deficit to a three-point lead, which the Lakers couldn’t hold when starters Bryant and Ed Davis returned.

Boozer has responded the best way possible since Scott moved Davis into his starting role on Dec. 7. In the six games he’s played as a reserve Boozer has scored in double figures each time (he never hit double-digits in more than five consecutive games as a starter this season). He’s averaging 15 points and 9.5 rebounds and shooting 54 percent off the bench, compared to 12.6 points and 6.6 rebounds and 50 percent shooting as a starter.

To go from a starter on a playoff team in Chicago last season to a backup on a losing team can be jarring. But Boozer has remained engaged. His behavior in the huddle is telling. Sometimes players who aren’t in the game spend timeouts hang out on the fringes, checking out the crowd or the dance team. Boozer spent a third-quarter timeout hovering over Scott’s shoulder, listening intently, staring at the play Scott drew up even though Boozer wouldn’t be on the court to execute it.

Small bits of professionalism like that are reasons the Lakers’ season hasn’t tumbled into a freefall. But the heavy legs of their highest-volume shooter, Bryant, are among the reasons they won’t leap into the playoffs.

Mamba Out (Of Control)

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
2:43
PM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
Archive
Here's a look inside the numbers to show how Kobe Bryant's love affair with the contested midrange jumper has burned the Lakers.

video

Hints of Tim Duncan

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
1:59
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
76ers coach Brett Brown on the status of the prized, injured big man Joel Embiid.

video

TrueHoop TV Live

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
12:17
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Chat. 2 p.m. ET. Be here.


Kings a conundrum under Ranadive's reign

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
11:39
AM ET
By Patrick Redford
ESPN.com
Archive
Vivek Ranadive' and Rudy GayRocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
Mike Malone’s sin wasn’t that he was incompetent, it’s that he was unspectacular. The deposed Sacramento coach was coaching the Kings like a basketball team. Team owner Vivek Ranadive wants them to be an evolutionary basketball experience.

There are plenty of rationales floating around as to why Ranadive fired Malone. Almost none of them implicate the 2-8 slide since DeMarcus Cousins came down with a nasty case of meningitis as anything more than the Trojan horse that provided cover for the decision. The most revealing answers Ranadive has given have been about style. He wants the Kings to play fast and reactive, like a jazz band. He wants them to abandon their plodding, grinding ways for a hyperkinetic style without classical restrictions like positions. Ranadive wants to re-engineer the Kings from the circuits up. That they have only one true 3-point threat to fan out to the corners on a fast break doesn’t factor into the philosophical revolution Ranadive is planning. Winning isn’t so much the point as the theoretically inevitable result of innovating a new coordinate system and language for basketball.

The problem is that Ranadive isn’t a decorated basketball thinker; he’s a wildly successful Malcolm Gladwell-lauded technology businessman. Ambition looks like hubris, because he doesn’t have any credentials beyond coaching his daughter’s youth team to a national championship game. There might not be another basketball revolution out there for Ranadive to innovate up, but he’s going to try. The NBA is in a golden age of discovery and advancement, fueled by new-money owners and veterans of the technology industry. Analytics have changed how players are scouted, the way the game works possession by possession, and how fans interact with their favorite teams.

Ranadive is at the forefront of this wave and his Kings are as much basketball team as they are science experiment. Where even the most ambitious of his contemporaries are working for marginal gains, he is a heart-on-sleeve futurist. Exhibit A: The system that Sacramento’s D-League affiliate, the Reno Bighorns, is running. Holding on to Malone would have been the sensible basketball move, as he helped create an environment where Cousins could thrive and presided over improvements from most other Kings. But at his best, Malone probably rates out as a good, traditional coach. “Good” and “traditional” would be desirable adjectives for most coaches in the league, but not for the Kings. They’re dreamers.

Ranadive has spoken with grandiose effect about NBA 3.0. He’s teased Sacramento’s new arena as “one of the most iconic structures on the planet,” and pitched Nik Stauskas as a taller Steph Curry. His whole professional career, Ranadive has thrived by seizing on little opportunities and untouched ideas, then blowing them up to an extreme. You don’t make it as a tech pioneer without aggressive self-belief. It’s logical to assume he’ll run the Kings like he’s run many successful companies, and early returns bear this out. He is betting that the NBA is ripe for another strategic renaissance and he’s not settling for a coach who is simply good and traditional.

Ranadive’s intergalactic ambition makes for a revealing contrast with Robert Pera’s tenure as owner of the Memphis Grizzlies. Pera is the youngest owner in the NBA at 34 and, like Ranadive, he entered the league with big ideas. He also sent away Lionel Hollins early in his time as owner and, this summer, was very close to letting Dave Joerger walk before he eventually retained him. The Grizzlies are now second in the West at 21-4 with a core largely unaltered from the time before Pera took over. Pera intended to make big moves that marked the Grizzlies as his territory, and he did. But they were confined to the front office, and never affected the Grizzlies’ on-court chemistry.

Pera had his own ideas about how the team should work, yet he ultimately resigned himself to the inarguable fact that team success is primarily tied to personnel. The Grizzlies organization is one of the most analytically progressive in the league, from Joerger up to Pera, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Grizzlies play revolutionary basketball. Style isn’t a relevant indicator of how forward-thinking a team is. Playing ugly doesn’t mean playing inefficiently.

The idea that Ranadive will force the Kings to play 4-on-5 with a cherry-picker is a paper tiger, an easy target that’s been blown out of proportion, but it’s a signifier of how he sees the league. Rather than focus on acquiring the best players he can and hiring a coach to spin them into a functioning unit, he is concerned with acting as chief visionary, and that’s the central tension of the Sacramento Kings. In a vacuum, looking toward the future and refusing to settle are beneficial organizational strategies. But centralizing capital-I Ideas at the expense of the actual basketball team can be detrimental. Instead of asking “How can I put DeMarcus Cousins in the most efficient structure I can?” Ranadive is asking “How can I change the fabric of basketball?"

The NBA won’t continue to evolve without powerful people like Ranadive actively pushing boundaries and taking risks. But there is too much entropy in the NBA world. Where Ranadive sees firing Malone as the first domino in an evolution toward an elite, innovative Kings team, Cousins might see the signs of a trigger-happy ownership group that wants to implement an unfeeling vision no matter what. Unlike Ranadive, Cousins does the boots-on-the-ground work of winning basketball games. Essentially, Ranadive is gambling on his ability to see the future and get there before any other team.

It’s a tremendously risky proposition, one Kings fans are totally unfamiliar with. After seven glorious -- nearly great -- seasons with Rick Adelman, the Maloofs' reign in Sacramento was the diametric opposite of Ranadive’s relentless ambition. After a long period of malaise, Ranadive’s impatient time at the helm looks tinged through with megalomania. Casting off Malone abruptly while things were going bumpy feels impulsive and rash, yet it was in service to an ideal. He envisions himself an auteur -- as evinced by his draft room takeover -- but the crucial point that Ranadive misses is that innovation in the NBA is player-centric.

This is the orthodoxy that Ranadive thinks he can overcome, that the system can somehow supersede the player rather than simply amplify his talents. The honeymoon period he enjoyed as Sacramento’s savior is now over. With the firing of Malone, Ranadive will now be judged on his own merits, not against the Maloofs. Philosophical ambition and snappy mantras will play only as long as the Kings win basketball games. Malone’s dismissal would have been understandable if he was inadequate, but he clearly was not. The first quarter-season of 2014-15 has been the best stretch of Kings basketball since Adelman left, and Ranadive threw it away because Malone wouldn’t buy into his eccentric ideas. It’s not about basketball, because if it was, Malone would still be the coach. As Ranadive ignores the present, his futurism rings hollow. It is still early in his tenure, but right now, he looks more like an ideologue than a visionary.

Patrick Redford is a contributor to VICE Sports, Deadspin and The Classical. Bug him on Twitter @patrickredford.

Nothin' but the same old Nets

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
9:30
AM ET
By Devin Kharpertian
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
NetsAP Photo/Kathy WillensThree years after making the move to Brooklyn, the Nets are ... still the Nets.
It was 24 minutes of basketball bliss, the perfect half to respond to Joe Johnson’s vicious comments lambasting unnamed teammates for selfishness. At a rare moment of full health, the Brooklyn Nets spread the ball around to find open shots with slick improvisation and skillful execution. They took command against the Phoenix Suns, a tough team from a tougher conference, leading by as much as 19 points and boasting six different players with at least three makes from the floor.

Twenty-four minutes later and the house of cards had come crumbling down. The Suns, led by New Jersey Nets castoff Gerald Green, took full control over their suddenly hapless opponent, winning 112-104 as Brooklyn reverted to isolation basketball and confoundingly poor play for a collection of stars.

It was the perfect summation of the Nets’ first three seasons in Brooklyn: a flashy beginning, flush with promise, ending in a thud.

Since moving from Newark in 2012, the Nets have tried to have it all: Spurs crispness, Celtics legacy, Lakers glamour and Knicks fans. A supremely executed marketing blitz took over the perpetually up-and-coming borough, with players plastered everywhere from subway advertisements to bridge billboards. The team opened last season flush with 36 combined All-Star appearances on its roster, with marquee names and championship aspirations.

But nearly four years since the day the team cashed in its blue-chip assets for Deron Williams, one that then-Nets coach Avery Johnson called a "celebration," they’ve ended up with … well, the Nets: a collection of overpaid, underathletic, fading stars who can't keep up with the newer, fresher NBA flying past them.

They had a plan: win before 2016, and if they didn’t, wipe the slate clean and try it again, with superstars like Kevin Durant entering the free-agent market. But outside of a few surprising moments of clarity, their on-court product has been bland and depressing, leading to rumors of an expedited rebuild. Even Russian ownership seems willing to take a step back, listening to offers for minority stakes (and, as the rumor goes, for majority ones) this season. So much for faith in 2016.

With two years left on the docket, with two playoff exits and a $144 million loss in basketball-related expenses last season, the Nets can only claim exhausting mediocrity. This isn't an identity crisis; that would require having an identity in the first place. There's no unifying aspect of the Nets to point to. They're just trying to make sure you're pointing at them.

Their three best players, earning a combined $58.65 million this year, are now on the trade block, and more known for their flaws than their strengths. Williams has regained some of his quickness and shooting touch, but has struggled to score around the basket the past two seasons. Joe Johnson earned the moniker "Joe Jesus" for his near-invincibility in crunch time, but is one of the worst offenders in the team's isolation-heavy attack when things go downhill. Brook Lopez is a talented post scorer and walking trade asset who has barely been able to walk the past year.

[+] EnlargeKevin Garnett
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesDespite paying a high price for veteran talent, the "new-look" Nets have yet to forge an identity.
Sure, there was one exciting five-month stretch, starting in January 2014, when the Nets went full-bore weird to smooth over the loss of Lopez and confounded opponents by favoring players over positions, putting Paul Pierce next to three perimeter players and using Shaun Livingston as a point guard/power forward hybrid. The Nets went 34-17 in that stretch, played an exciting-as-all-hell first-round series with the Toronto Raptors that went down to the last play of Game 7, and eventually fell to the Miami Heat in Round 2.

Outside of that, the Nets have largely gone to the same formula, despite three coaching changes since the move to New York. They've played one of the league's slowest paces. When their offense begins to fail, they inevitably fall into the traps of iso basketball. They have yet to figure out how to put together a top-10 defense around Lopez, or how to get Johnson and Williams clicking together for long stretches. They run Lionel Hollins' throwback flex offense in staggered stretches, and turn to Johnson at the end of close games. That’s about it.

They leave you wanting. You see the flashes of greatness, and at the same time know they won’t ever be great. There's no dynamic star, no blue-chip building block, no ace draft pick. Just a lot of money and an increasingly disinterested group ambling toward nowhere.

The Brooklyn Nets have built their identity on what they could be, what they should be. But in three seasons, they have yet to be much of anything at all. Now comes hints of another rebuild, which almost seems necessary at this point, if only to give a wavering fanbase a fresh face to believe in. But for now, they are what they are: walking and talking, but yet to figure out where they want to go or what they want to say.

Devin Kharpertian is the managing editor and founding partner at The Brooklyn Game. Follow him, @uuords.

First Cup: Friday

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
4:41
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Diamond Leung of The Oakland Tribune: With Andrew Bogut out indefinitely, there will be times Draymond Green will be asked to guard taller and bulkier offensive players. And then there is Green’s ears perking up when something is said about him that he doesn’t particularly like. For instance, Avery Johnson on SportsCenter after the Warriors lost at Memphis had words that Green remembers. “Funny guy,” Green said of Johnson. “Funny guy. Jalen Rose is a funny guy, too. It’s funny to me. They just keep lighting that fuel and adding more fuel to the fire.” Rose, who played at Michigan and rival school of Green’s alma mater Michigan State, said earlier this month while largely praising Green that, “Draymond Green I don’t think he would be in the league if he wasn’t in the right place at the right time and get developed.” Johnson made out Green to be someone for opposing teams to go after. ... Green, however, appears up for the challenge of taking on offensive players of all shapes and sizes. “I’m going to do whatever it takes to win,” Green said. “I trained all summer. I always like to say I’m made for this."
  • Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: There aren’t many NBA players who seem to catch Kobe Bryant’s eyes for the right reasons. But Russell Westbrook – and his fear nobody attitude – is one of them. Bryant recently told ESPN that Westbrook is the closest player in the NBA to him in terms of intensity. “He just plays with a rage that’s not very common,” Bryant told reporters. Of late, Westbrook has been receiving heaps of praise and some strong MVP buzz. But last year’s MVP says Westbrook isn’t letting that get to his head. “As a teammate and brother, I’m happy he’s getting the praise,” Kevin Durant said. “Because just last year everyone had something negative to say about him. But that’s how the world is. They’ll build you up then break you down then build you up again. So he’s not sweating that. He’s gonna keep playing his game.”
  • Mike Singer of CSN Chicago: But for all that went wrong on Thursday night, there were two examples of what went exactly right as a result of the Bulls missing out on Anthony during the free agency period: Pau Gasol and Jimmy Butler. If only every contingency plan (Gasol) could yield 15 double-doubles, good for second-best in the NBA, 18.7 points per game and 11.9 rebounds per game, which ranks third in the league. Gasol has been nothing short of revitalized under Thibodeau and the Bulls’ tight-knit locker room. “We ended up fine, as we did in 2010,” Thibodeau said on Thursday referencing the free-agency process. “Free agency, there’s no guarantees. Everyone is trying to get everyone. You’re hopeful. It’s really designed to keep the player with the team that he’s with. I feel we came out great with Pau.” Great would be an understatement, as Gasol has galvanized the frontcourt with Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson missing significant time with various injuries. ... When asked in particular whether Butler can maintain his furious early-season pace, Thibodeau seemed to acknowledge that this big an improvement was surprising, even to him. “My thing to him is, ‘Why put a lid on it?’ Where can it go? I don’t know. All I know is it keeps going up.” So while Thursday might have opened up old wounds with Anthony's return to the United Center, it also illuminated just how much better off the Bulls are with Gasol stabilizing the frontcourt and Butler emerging as a star.
  • Peter Botte of the New York Daily News: Carmelo Anthony joined a few injured teammates on the sidelines for the putrid Knicks, and Derrick Rose was ill and not among those playing for the Bulls. As TNT analyst Charles Barkley quipped to reporters before Thursday night’s game, “My God, it’s gonna be awful tonight.” Anthony sat out his second game in barely a week because of lingering left knee soreness, and the telecast of the game featured a snippy Twitter retort at Barkley from team president Phil Jackson before the bare-bones Knicks fought hard but still lost for the 13th time in 14 games, 103-97, to the Bulls at United Center. Barkley continued his standup routine at the 5-23 Knicks’ expense throughout the nationally televised game, and even prompted Jackson — who earlier in the day defended his offseason trade of Tyson Chandler on Twitter — to tweet during the second quarter: “Do I have to mute this game? Chuck just remember your fundamental...key to (the triangle).” ... Jackson appeared particularly frustrated and got more defensive on Twitter on Thursday than the Knicks have been all season. The Zen Master responded unprompted in three separate reply tweets to a link about a story suggesting he “got hornswoggled in his first big move” in trading Tyson Chandler to Dallas in June.
  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: Almost at the same time the Pelicans were making their decisive fourth-quarter run against the Rockets on Thursday night, the Mavericks were finalizing a trade agreement to acquire All-Star guard Rajon Rondo from the Celtics. It's a move that's possibly strengthens the Mavericks into a serious NBA title contender. It also makes things much more tougher for the Pelicans and the remaining teams in the Southwest Division. ... The Western Conference already have a number of talented point guards that includes San Antonio Spurs' Tony Parker, Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook, Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul, Memphis Grizzlies' Mike Conley and Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry. "The conference is crazy, there is so much talent," Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson said. "It's a challenge every night. We've had a tough schedule so far and it's going to get even tougher. Obviously with Rondo, it's going to take them a little while to figure stuff out, but they were already a tough team."
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: The Dallas Mavericks pulled off the first major deal of the season, trading for Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo by outbidding the Rockets among others to land Rondo’s still pesky – if no longer as nasty – defense and elite playmaking. The Rockets were in talks on several potential deals, but according to an individual with knowledge of their plans were closest to trading for Minnesota guard/forward Corey Brewer, a wing defender they have long sought and could acquire as soon as Friday. The Rockets would be able to fit Brewer into the trade exception they had saved from the Jeremy Lin trade and would not have to match his $4.7 million salary. Brewer would bring much-needed depth behind Trevor Ariza and James Harden who are second and third in the NBA in minutes per game respectively. With Brewer going Usain Bolt on the break, the Rockets will need to push pace off the bench, something that like almost everything else with the Rockets’ reserves has been inconsistent, but he also could kick-start the second unit’s break, a goal since training camp. Still, that deal would be far more of a tweak than the potentially enormous impact of the Mavericks adding Rondo.
  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: A short-handed Milwaukee Bucks team forgot to count all its missing players on Thursday night. Instead the nine-man gang that showed up to play at Sleep Train Arena dug in and dug out a 108-107 victory over the Sacramento Kings. Center Larry Sanders was missing due to a one-game suspension and power forwards were hard to find. So what did Bucks coach Jason Kidd do? He stuck rookie forward Johnny O'Bryant in the starting lineup and relied on veteran center Zaza Pachulia to bang bodies against Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, who returned after missing 10 games with viral meningitis. Of course the game came down to a final shot, with the Kings going to Cousins on the final play. Pachulia used his skill and savvy to force Cousins into a tough fadeaway jumper, and it bounced off the front rim as the Bucks celebrated. Milwaukee (14-13) improved to 2-1 on its West Coast trip with one stop remaining Saturday night in Los Angeles against the Clippers.
  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Michael Malone received the phone call Sunday night that ended his time as the Kings’ coach. Fired 24 games into his second season, Malone believes the Kings made great progress during his tenure. “Though my time as head coach ended much sooner than anticipated, I am extremely proud of what we were able to accomplish during our time together,” Malone said. “Anchored by a loyal and dedicated coaching staff, we worked hard to instill a culture of discipline, trust and respect that progressed this team further than many expected in a short time.” After winning only 28 games last season, the Kings were 11-13, including 2-7 without star center DeMarcus Cousins.

TrueHoop TV Live: After Dark

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
5:31
PM ET
Elhassan By Amin Elhassan
ESPN.com
Archive
Join us for some late-night hoops talk following the conclusion of Thursday night's Knicks-Bulls game.


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