- Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: On a night when the Grizzlies emphatically avenged their worst loss of the season, they suffered a couple of disappointments. No teammates joined starter Marc Gasol on the NBA All-Star team when reserves were announced Thursday night before the Grizzlies’ 99-69 victory over the Denver Nuggets in FedExForum. Memphis enjoyed a 33-point lead in the second half but did so without injured swingman Vince Carter. The 17-year veteran left with a left foot injury before halftime. Carter, who celebrated his 38th birthday on Monday, will undergo an MRI Friday to determine the extent of his injury. The fear is Carter might have a fracture. Memphis was already playing without point guard Mike Conley, who sat out a second straight game due to a left wrist sprain.
- Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: The taste from the Nuggets' latest ugly loss was so bitter, coach Brian Shaw couldn't get his mouth to say any words to his team afterward. But he had plenty on his mind. "I don't feel like we came and competed from the very beginning of the game," Shaw said Thursday. "And I wish in these kinds of situations, I'd have more respect if guys just told me they didn't feel like playing tonight from the start. I'm just sick and tired of one night getting a certain kind of effort, (and) the next night we don't show up, we don't compete. You come out and you compete, and then if you don't have it, then you don't have it and you can live with it. Tonight we just didn't compete. It's a broken record." The Nuggets' 99-69 loss to Memphis was one of their poorest energy efforts of the season. Denver's points were a season low for the team. The Nuggets shot only 33.3 percent from the field.
- Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times: The applause swelled as fans at Staples Center rose to their feet Thursday, generously welcoming back Pau Gasol and the memories of better times, of moments such as the one shown on the video board of Gasol leaning on the NBA championship trophy after one of the two titles he helped the Lakers win in his seven seasons here. Gasol, touched by the reception, clapped and aimed two thumbs-up toward the crowd. Many fans wore T-shirts the Lakers gave them as they entered imprinted with the words "Thanks Pau" on the front and a list of his Lakers statistics on the back. The opening notes of the theme from "Welcome Back, Kotter" played but were cut off, ending as abruptly as Gasol's Lakers career ended last summer when he signed with Chicago as a free agent for less money than the Lakers offered him to stay. To the thoughtful and sensitive Gasol, there was no price to put on peace of mind, feeling wanted, or the chance to play for a contender. He took the Bulls' three-year, $22-million contract over the faltering Lakers' proposed deals of three years for $29 million or two years for $23 million, and so far his choice has worked out for him competitively and emotionally. ... Gasol said he expected it to be emotional for him as he played in a "special building" in front of some of the many friends he made here. Bryant was absent from the pregame ceremony, recovering from season-ending rotator cuff surgery, but thanks to Gasol, the pleasant memories of better days were very much present.
- Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Well played by Tom Thibodeau. The Bulls coach was asked before the 123-118 double-overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday about his job status and relationship with the front office, and took the high road. “I’m not getting into any of that stuff," Thibodeau said. “I’m just worried about what we have to do. I’m not going to comment on all this rumor stuff and all that nonsense. Just get ready for the next game." Asked if he could at least discuss the relationship with VP of basketball operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman, the coach replied, “Nah, nah, next question. Next question." There actually were next questions to ask, and obvious ones, especially after another low-energy, slow start by a team that continued to be Jekyll and Hyde on a game-to-game basis. After winning their game of the year against Golden State on Tuesday, to fall to a Lakers team that had a nine-game losing streak going, bordered on embarrassment. And for the Bulls (30-18) it was the same old suspects.
- Scott Agness of VigilantSports.com: Thursday’s NBA game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse was rather unusual for one Pacers (17-31) player. Luis Scola, specifically. He dressed, warmed up, but did not check in to the team’s 103-82 beatdown of the New York Knicks (9-38). It’s not, however, like he was blindsided by the move. On Wednesday at practice, head coach Frank Vogel talked with Scola, 34, the oldest player on roster (he’s got David West by four months), to inform him of the decision. “I tried to convince him,” Scola said postgame, “but he had argument and felt like it was the right thing. It’s his call at the end of the day.” Scola is averaging 9.0 points and 6.3 rebounds in over 20 minutes per game this season as the Pacers’ backup power forward. ... Are you big into streaks and records? That was 277 straight games for you?“I’m not hurt. That’s fine. It doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t change a lot. I’ve played a lot of games and what I want is to play the most positive games. It doesn’t matter if they’re in the row or not,” said Scola. My takeaway from our conversation was that as a fierce competitor and a veteran that is used to playing, this was hard on him. To his credit, he answered every question and did not cut out postgame like some players do. ... The last time Scola missed a game was back on April 13, 2011 when he was part of the Houston Rockets organization.
- Peter Botte of the New York Daily News: The Knicks improbably had the chance to match their win total for the entire first half in just a half-dozen games to open the back stretch. Instead, they only matched the lethargy and poor defensive play that resulted in them hitting the season’s midpoint in London two weeks ago with an NBA-worst 5-36 mark. Playing without injured big men Amar’e Stoudemire and Cole Aldrich, the Knicks were dominated inside, outscored 35-12 in the third quarter and blown out Thursday night by the Pacers, 103-82, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “I think they just stayed the course and I kind of think we ran out of gas tonight, to be honest with you,” Carmelo Anthony said. “They got their inside game established. . . . They saw that, that was their scheme from the beginning, pound the paint, attack, get the ball to their big men, knowing we were shorthanded from a big-man standpoint."
- Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Dwyane Wade's hamstring injury suffered against the Bucks on Tuesday could give Brandon Knight one more chance to make the Eastern Conference all-star squad. Knight was left off the seven-man reserve group selected by Eastern Conference coaches, and Wade was chosen for his 11th NBA All-Star Game. But if Wade is unable to play — and that seems likely — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will have to name a replacement. Knight, the 23-year-old Bucks point guard who has led the team to a winning record in the East, and Atlanta sharpshooter Kyle Korver are expected to be the leading contenders for that spot. ... If Knight is not added to the team, the Bucks' string of having no all-star representatives will extend to an 11th season. The last to be chosen was Michael Redd in 2004.
- Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Kyle O'Quinn and Victor Oladipo are close friends. So when O'Quinn offered Oladipo a suggestion on what to do during All-Star Weekend's dunk contest, O'Quinn meant it sincerely, thinking it could help Oladipo win the event. O'Quinn thinks Oladipo should borrow from the beloved Eddie Murphy movie "Coming to America." "He wants me to come out as Prince Akeem and have rose bearers and the whole nine," Oladipo said Thursday. "I was like, 'That's not happening.' " ... O'Quinn even would like to see someone sing "She's Your Queen," which actor Paul Bates sang in the movie in a high falsetto. Oladipo dislikes O'Quinn's idea. In fact, Oladipo said he thinks O'Quinn's idea is "probably one of the worst" suggestions he's received. O'Quinn shakes his head when he hears that. He won't provide any additional ideas.
- Marc Berman of the New York Post: Bill Bradley is a Knicks legend and former U.S. Senator and now an admitted former ball doctor. Bradley told The Post in a phone interview Thursday he used to regularly deflate basketballs — but only when he felt they were above specifications and overinflated. Bradley, whose nickname was “Dollar Bill,” said he performed his ball magic before and during games. He said he believes referees knew what he was up to but didn’t care. Bradley’s remarks come in the wake of the resurfacing of Phil Jackson’s 1986 quotes in which he said the Knicks’ 1973 championship team deflated balls to gain a competitive edge. It prevented long rebounds as the club was undersized up front. Jackson tweeted Wednesday it was not illegal and the balls still met specifications.
- Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Paul Millsap himself credits Budenholzer’s offense for much of what he’s doing: “When I do get a guy in the air, our spacing is so good that the lane is open.” But not every power forward could make the jump shot that renders the fake such a lure, and not every big man could get to the basket without charging into someone. Back to our beginning: I didn’t know the man was capable of such brilliance, and I told him so Wednesday night. And Millsap, a quiet and dignified presence, smiled. He conceded hadn’t been this good in Utah. “I was an OK player then,” he said. And now he’s the best player — again, we can disagree — on the NBA’s second-best team. I didn’t see this coming. I don’t think Paul Millsap did, either. Somehow that makes me feel a tad better.
- Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: The offseason roster moves that had stolen so much attention had become beside the point. The whole summer move of Chandler Parsons up I-45 and the shots fired in the Houston-Dallas rivalry had been replaced by deals made since, with the Mavericks reworked, the Rockets retooled, and the changes on vivid display Wednesday. The Mavericks had added point guard Rajon Rondo, easily outbidding the Rockets’ luke-warm offer. The Rockets traded for Corey Brewer the next day, signed Josh Smith the next week and then on Wednesday, brought back Terrence Jones from nearly three months out with a nerve condition. A month later, as Rondo works to fit with the suddenly-slumping Mavericks, the Rockets’ reinforcements came in waves, with Smith, Jones and Brewer each making game-changing defensive plays in the final two minutes as the Rockets knocked off the Mavericks, 99-94. The Rockets later announced that those additions, especially in the frontcourt, could be crucial. An MRI on Dwight Howard’s right knee showed edema, with no word on how long the fluid buildup could keep him out beyond that he will be reevaluated in the coming days.
- Bill Livingston of The Plain Dealer: Klay Thompson broke Carmelo Anthony's record of 33 in one quarter, set in 2008, which itself tossed into history's dust-bin Wilt Chamberlain's 31-point fourth quarter in 1962. That was the searing "gun lap" of Wilt's 100-point game. But Kyrie Irving's incredible 55-point performance in a 99-94 victory over Portland Wednesday night by the shorthanded Cavaliers, who were playing without that LeBron fellow and won their eighth straight game anyway, deserves mention with Thompson. In the annals of being smoking, flaring, flaming, towering inferno hot and combustible conflagration en fuego, Irving was all of that. And he started ice-cold. Irving began by shooting 0-for-7. ... I was there when LeBron James scored 48 points in a double overtime victory in the fifth game of the 2007 playoffs against Detroit. That was on the road in the Eastern Conference finals. The spree included all 18 points the Cavs scored in the two overtimes, all of his team's final 25, and 29 of its final 30. That was better than Irving was Wednesday night. It is arguable that James' 45 in a losing cause in Game 7 at Boston in 2008 was too. It's fascinating to speculate what Irving will do in his first playoff experience this spring. Because not much else in Cavs' history has been better than what he did Wednesday night.
- George Willis of the New York Post: Now Phil Jackson has delivered another punch to the gut of Knicks fans by inadvertently tarnishing one of the golden moments in franchise history. The 1970 and 1973 Knicks are revered for earning the franchise’s only championships. Now the 1973 title could come under scrutiny thanks to some old quotes attributed to Jackson. He was a reserve forward on that championship team. In 1986, long before Twitter and the Internet, Jackson revealed in a Chicago Tribune interview how the Knicks tried to gain a competitive advantage by taking the air out of the basketball. “You see, on the ball it says something like ‘inflate to 7 to 9 pounds.’ We’d all carry pins and take the air out to deaden the ball,” Jackson is quoted as saying. ... History has remembered the 1970 and 1973 Knicks as the epitome of team players: a roster of like-minded men, who used their cumulative talents and basketball fundamentals to become the best. Now we must ask how much were they helped by deflated basketballs? As bad as things have gotten around the Garden lately, at least fans could look up in the rafters and take pride in the championship banners that are four decades old. Now thanks to the resurfacing of Jackson’s quotes, the ’73 banner might not produce the same type of pride. If it’s any consolation, the only things the Knicks are deflating these days are their fans.
- Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times: It was only the first stop of an eight-game, 7,399-mile trip, and already the Clippers appeared completely drained. They couldn't sustain any offensive rhythm. Shooting guard J.J. Redick could only watch from the bench because of back spasms. Even more painful was the Clippers' tendency to play at the preferred plodding pace of the lowly Utah Jazz. The Clippers finally put a stop to the madness by getting stops in the final minutes of a 94-89 victory Wednesday night at EnergySolutions Arena, stretching their winning streak to six games. They held the Jazz to 17 points in the fourth quarter, including only four points in the final 4 minutes 21 seconds. "It's what we couldn't do earlier in the year that we can do now," Coach Doc Rivers said. "Even if we're struggling, we believe we can get stops."
- Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com: The last time Kevin Martin appeared in a game for the Timberwolves before Wednesday he scored a season-high 37 points in a 115-99 victory over the New York Knicks at Target Center. Martin also suffered a fractured right wrist during that Nov. 19 game and six days later underwent surgery. The Wolves were 3-7 when Martin went out. Four victories and 30 losses later, Martin returned to the Wolves lineup against Boston on Wednesday. He checked into the game with 5 minutes, 11 seconds left in the opening quarter and hit a 17-foot jumper less than 20 seconds later. That broke an 8-8 tie and drew a few cheers from the announced crowd of 11,434 at Target Center. ... Having Martin on the floor only helped LaVine's cause and getting veterans back also is going to assist rookie Andrew Wiggins, who had 12 points Wednesday. Wiggins is the most important piece to the Wolves' future, and being able to take some of the pressure off him right now is only going to help. Martin also is optimistic that with guys like himself, Rubio, Pekovic and Wiggins on the floor, that the Wolves will be able to look like the team that many expected to see on opening night. That might not be a great team but it's one that shouldn't be the worst in the league.
- Cathal Kelly of The Globe and Mail: The players aren’t grumbling – not out loud. The coaches spend a significant amount of time checking in on each individual, and adjusting his expectations. “It’s not a science,” said Casey. “It’s just working with people .. It’s telling them the truth, where a lot of times they don’t hear the truth.” One of the beauties of Casey is that while he’s a gentle soul, he will not waste one neuron’s worth of worry on a professional athlete’s feelings. Like all successful mentors at this level, he is fundamentally ruthless. He’ll help you exactly as much as you’re willing to help yourself. “Coach [Phil] Jackson used to say it’s Zen,” Casey said, referring to man management and rotations. He said it with the very slightest hint of a sneer. “It’s Zen if you have Michael Jordan and a young Kobe Bryant.” Touché. The Raptors have found a mix that works. It’s not world-beating, and never will be. But it’s more than good enough to win them the division, and get them comfortably into the playoffs. There’s no point in getting all wrung out until then. It’d be a shame to fret our way through what should be the most unironically joyful stretch in 20 years.
- Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: Defending All-Star Weekend 3-point champion Marco Belinelli said he has gotten the invitation from league officials to defend the long ball championship he won in New Orleans last year. “Yes, I will be there,” Belinelli said before Wednesday’s Spurs-Hornets game at the AT&T Center. “I am really looking forward to it.” Belinelli said he welcomes the challenge he anticipates from shooters like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, the Golden State Warriors’ “Splash Brothers,” in New York. “I can’t wait,” he said. Belinelli, who suffered a groin strain in the Spurs’ win over the Suns on Dec. 9, sat out his 10th consecutive game Wednesday but expects to return to the lineup long before All-Star Weekend
- Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: Ultimately, Jusuf Nurkic will use the All-Star break as a chance to get back home to Bosnia for a few relaxing days. But his omission from the Rising Stars Challenge, two teams comprised of rookies and sophomores, was at the very least eyebrow raising. Going into Wednesday night’s games across the league, Nurkic was ninth among rookies (with 10 or more games) in scoring at 6.5 points, second in rebounding at 5.9 boards, and third in blocks (1.4). All solid. In January Nurkic has averaged 7.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. “It’s unfortunate for him,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said. “I probably had a lot to do with that because early on in the season he didn’t play a whole lot. But he’ll have his chances, he’ll have his opportunities. I’m sure he may enjoy the actual break of the All Star week, instead of having to go to New York to participate.” Nurkic has made his biggest impact on the defensive end. He is one of only two Nuggets whose defensive rating is under 100. Nurkic has the team’s best defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions when he’s on the court) at 96.8.
- Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The team with two days' rest beat the team playing its fourth road game in five nights. The result of a 106-98 Suns victory Wednesday night at US Airways Center was NBA-predictable, but it did not diminish the value of the fresher Suns ending a two-game skid during a stretch of tough opponents. It was another Suns game that was far too interesting late for how they dominated early. The Suns led 47-25 midway through the second quarter and still led by 17 at the half with Goran Dragic scoring 12 of his game-high 20 points and the team getting 15 first-half fastbreak points. The Suns (27-20) took a 14-point lead to the fourth but an all-reserve lineup rallied the Wizards quickly. Washington scored on the first nine possessions of the fourth quarter and used a 17-3 run to chop the Suns lead to four with 6:55 to go. It felt too much like a Jan. 9 Suns loss at San Antonio, when the Spurs' fourth-quarter rally was led by their reserves.
- Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Tony Wroten decided that having surgery is his best option. The 76ers reserve point guard just doesn't know when and where he'll have the procedure to repair a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. "I can't play with a partial tear to the ACL with the way I play, so it's best to get the surgery," Wroten said Wednesday before the Sixers played Detroit at the Wells Fargo Center. The third-year veteran said he didn't know how long he would be sidelined. He leads the Sixers in scoring at 16.9 points per game. Wroten was noticeably disappointed as he told reporters the news. "I mean, who wants to have surgery?" he said. "Nobody wants to have surgery. ... But it is what it is."
- K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Jimmy Butler's illness forced him to miss Tuesday night's 113-111 victory in overtime against the Warriors, preventing the preferred and anticipated battle of the backcourts. For the Warriors, Stephen Curry is a leading most valuable player candidate and Klay Thompson wrote history with his 37-point quarter last week. As for the Bulls, who began a six-game trip, Butler, who missed his fourth game, will learn whether he makes his first All-Star Game on Thursday, while some very encouraging signs are developing for Derrick Rose. The biggest, of course, is that Rose has played in 14 of 15 games in January. This is the stringing games together path that coach Tom Thibodeau has hoped for all season. In fact, Rose has missed just three games since Nov. 24. Rose also is enjoying his best month statistically. He entered Tuesday averaging 19.6 points and 5.2 assists in January, including 39.4 percent 3-point shooting after a horrible start from that range. "I'm finally catching a better rhythm, getting in better condition," Rose said. "My game is coming back slowly."
- Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: About an hour before tipoff, Mike Conley pulled his arm out of a therapeutic sleeve to reveal a painful, red knot on his left wrist. The sprain won’t allow him to dribble, pass, shoot or play defense with any proficiency so the Grizzlies’ starting point guard missed work Tuesday night. His teammates more than picked up the slack throughout a 109-90 victory over the Dallas Mavericks in American Airlines Center. Memphis’ deft shooting and offensive execution made Dallas’ defense look porous all night. The Griz were just the opposite defensively, given their aggressive close outs on shooters and the deflections that led to turnovers. The Mavs were held to nearly 18 points below their average. “I thought we were sharp,” Griz coach Dave Joerger said. “For the second game of a back-to-back, I thought we played with a lot of force. … We played really hard and I was very impressed.”
- Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post: On what would have been former Los Angeles Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss’s 82nd birthday, a motley crew of journeymen, long-term projects and placeholders — an ensemble unworthy of the Showtime glitz Buss created in his three decades running basketball’s premier franchise — took the Staples Center floor to play the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night. The Lakers were without Kobe Bryant, their aged scorer who will likely miss the rest of the season because of a torn rotator cuff. They were without Nick Young, their eccentric scorer who could miss a few games because of a sprained ankle. They were beyond shorthanded. They were losers of eight straight games and in all-out tank mode. The Wizards were there recently, in the cellar tallying losses. They are now contenders that must avoid letdowns against teams of the Lakers’ ilk, but Coach Randy Wittman emphasized they were not good enough to take any team lightly. For two quarters of their 98-92 win, however, the Wizards lacked their usual tenacity. They were a step slower and sloppier, and the Lakers, undermanned and all, capitalized. Then in the third quarter the teams reverted to their expected roles.
- Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: This all-star gig is nothing new for Dwyane Wade. The Miami Heat guard is a 10-time all-star and nine-time starter in the NBA All-Star Game. But the former Marquette player still remembers what it was like to reach that elite company for the first time. It's the situation Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Knight finds himself in, waiting to see if he can break through when the all-star reserves are announced Thursday. Strangely, Knight might have to beat out Wade and/or Cleveland's Kyrie Irving to land a berth on the Eastern Conference squad for the All-Star Game, scheduled Feb. 15 at Madison Square Garden in New York. Wade ranked in the top two in fan voting until being overtaken by Toronto's Kyle Lowry, who earned an East backcourt starting spot along with Washington's John Wall. The 14 all-star reserves, selected by Eastern Conference and Western Conference head coaches, will be revealed on TNT at 6 p.m. Thursday. "When it comes to young players that make that jump to the next level, no doubt it means so much for them to make the All-Star Game," Wade said.
- Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: Slowly but surely it’s coming, the tenacity and efficiency, the overall solid play that was part of an electrifying start to the NBA season for the Raptors, is becoming more and more apparent. They are not quite there yet — they may never be — but the signs are true and obvious and it would seem the hiccup or regression of a three-week spell that started right after Christmas is going away. They are defending more effectively, taking care of the ball more carefully, operating with intelligence and effectiveness on offence. They will never be perfect, but every now and then they can be very good. A thorough dismantling of the Indiana Pacers here Tuesday night, a 104-91 victory that got Toronto to the 30-win plateau more quickly than any season in franchise history, was case study in effective play in almost every facet of the game.
- Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: Since last Monday’s win against the Chicago Bulls, the Cavs are holding opponents to 40.2 percent shooting. That’s third-best in the league behind the Wizards and Hornets. They’re holding opponents to 93.8 points, which ranks eighth and their plus/minus of plus-17 is third behind only the Warriors and Clippers. In short, the Cavs have it rolling. We know this because they’re rolling even on nights when they’re not rolling. Like Tuesday. Forget about the 103 points. The Cavs did not play well offensively. They only broke 100 for the eighth straight game because they scored 10 points from the free-throw line in the final minute when the Pistons resorted to fouling. Otherwise they shot 42 percent and missed a ton of open looks. Big deal. It happens. But they won the game with another stiff defensive effort, by blocking four shots and holding the Pistons to 42 percent while forcing 18 turnovers.
- Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: With heavy overtones of a staged public appearance, boxers Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. attended the Heat’s home game against the Milwaukee Bucks and briefly spoke on the court at halftime. Pacquiao said it was the first time the boxers have ever spoken to each other in person. The big question: Will there ever be a fight? “Yeah, I believe so,” Pacquiao said. Mayweather said last month that he’s ready to make the fight happen May 2. The boxers were seated almost directly opposite of each other in courtside seats during the game. At halftime, Mayweather walked across the court to Pacquiao and engaged in a conversation. There were theatrics, of course, but no trash talking. “He gave his number to me and then said we would communicate with each other,” Pacquiao said. In other words, Pacquiao and Mayweather might be working out a deal between themselves to finally fight each other, or at least they wanted to plant that story in case anything materializes.
- Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle: There was a time, long ago, when the Warriors were every bit as compelling, cohesive and uproariously entertaining as they are today. For the fans who remembered that 1988-89 season, Tuesday night’s bobblehead giveaway at Oracle Arena was especially meaningful. At 7-foot-7, Manute Bol was the tallest player the NBA had ever seen, a formidable measurement exceeded only by the size of his heart. He came out of southern Sudan, the son of a Dinka tribal chief who gave him a special name, translated into “special blessing.” And he was all of that. Chris Mullin met him before Bol had even begun his NBA career. They struck up a cherished friendship and Mullin’s family actually took in Bol as a housemate in Brooklyn for a spell. At Mullin’s encouragement, the Warriors acquired Bol in a trade with the Washington Bullets — and life around the Oakland Coliseum Arena, as it was known back then, would never be quite the same.
- Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Jeff Hornacek has tried letting the players keep their feisty edge but they wound up leading the NBA in technical fouls and ostensibly leading to a loss at San Antonio. Hornacek tried telling players they would be benched for getting a technical over arguing with officials but Goran Dragic and Markieff Morris did it anyway in consecutive games last weekend. The latter turned a third-quarter tie into a 20-point loss to the Clippers. They found middle ground Tuesday. "We're just going to try to do a better job as teammates to corral each other when they start to argue," Hornacek said. "The guys (said) they would do that. I told them, 'If you guys do that and kind of help each other out there on the court, we'll kind of look at it and it'll be my discretion whether we do it for the rest of the game.' So we don't have that hard-and-fast rule but I may still sit him for the end of the game if I feel like it." The Suns have a league-high 36 player technical fouls this season.
- Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: The little things are beginning to bother Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger. There is, however, one big consolation even if the Griz aren’t executing as well as their coach would like. His name is Zach Randolph. The veteran power forward put together his ninth straight double-double Monday night and the Griz led for all but 26 seconds of their 103-94 victory over the Orlando Magic in FedExForum. Randolph’s 24-point, 10-rebound effort also was the 15th straight game in which he has grabbed double-digit rebounds. “He got loose early,” Joerger said. “He was rolling. The guy’s fantastic. He’s so good at his craft.” Randolph made 8 of 13 shots and all eight free throws. He routinely demoralized the Magic with feathery midrange jump shots, power moves at the rim and putbacks after using his muscle on the offensive glass. “I feel pretty good,” Randolph said.
- Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: The Orlando Magic’s season has become like a broken record. The team keeps repeating the same jarring sounds again and again and again. The Magic simply do not play quality defense. That’s obvious, and it’s even more obvious after what occurred during the first half Monday night in The Blues City. The Memphis Grizzlies beat the Magic 103-94 at FedEx Forum, the 10th consecutive game the Magic have allowed an opponent to score at least 100 points. One positive emerged. After the Magic allowed 67 points in the first half, they held the Grizzlies to 36 points in the second half. The improvement coincided with Jacque Vaughn’s decision to bench ineffective power forward Channing Frye for the entire second half and replace him with a more energetic youngster, lanky big man Dewayne Dedmon. “I’m a pretty simple guy, and I’m asking [for] just simple concepts: to play together and play hard,” Vaughn said.
- Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: The Celtics haven’t seen the last of Utah this year. There has been no formal announcement that this area will be reviving the summer league known as the Rocky Mountain Revue, but sources say the Celts are prepared to participate. The club, which defeated the Jazz, 99-90, last night, will also have a team in the Las Vegas Summer League, the second time it has been in two leagues in one offseason. The reason the C's will be so active is that they figure to have a load of young players in need of development. The number of draft picks the Celtics will have this June is as yet undetermined because, a. some are protected in certain positions, and, b. the team isn't done dealing. As it stands, they will have their own first round pick as well as the Clippers' as compensation for allowing Doc Rivers out of his Boston contract. They also expect to have at least their own and Philadelphia's second round choices. And with veterans Marcus Thornton, Brandon Bass and Tayshaun Prince on the last year of their contracts, there will be a number of job openings -- spots that could be available even sooner if any of the three or others are traded by the Feb. 19 deadline or, in the case of Prince, bought out afterward. Most recently the C's took part in the Orlando Pro Summer League, but with the decision to get involved in two of the July gatherings, the thought was that it'd be better to do leagues in adjoining states -- a 368-mile flight. The Rocky Mountain Revue ceased after 2008, but there have been repeated calls locally to bring it back.
- Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune: Consistency. This is the difference between an NBA playoff team, or a draft lottery participant. It's a word that can mean the difference between winning and losing. There are plenty of teams in the league that show consistency. At this point, the Jazz aren't one of them. Maybe you can chalk up Monday's 99-90 loss to the Boston Celtics as youth, a callow team coming off a big win, digging itself a hole early that it couldn't emerge from. Truthfully, Utah's done this more than a few times over the season, playing well one night and struggling the next. And that's why the Jazz locker room was so disappointed following the defeat. "Really, this is just about playing the game the right way," Utah point guard Trey Burke said. "Some night's, shots aren't going to fall and we know that. But how we maintain and stay in the game tells a lot. And once we start prioritizing defense more, then we can find a way to be more consistent."
- Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: It may be hard to believe, but Clippers center DeAndre Jordan and the incomparable Wilt Chamberlain are being mentioned in the same breath. Before Monday night's game against the Denver Nuggets, Jordan led the NBA in rebounding (13.4 per game) and field-goal percentage (73.4%). Chamberlain was the last player to finish a season shooting more than 70% from the field, when he made 72.7% of his shots during the 1972-73 season. But it doesn't stop there with Jordan and Chamberlain. Jordan led the NBA in rebounds (10.4) and field-goal percentage (67.6%) last season. If he finishes this season leading the league in both categories, Jordan would become the first player to accomplish that feat in consecutive seasons since Chamberlain in 1971-72 and 1972-73. "That's been my point. Why isn't nobody noticing that?," Coach Doc Rivers said. "It's amazing. I mean, what DJ has done last year and this year, it's been amazing."
- Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said he plans no changes to the team's new shootaround policy after point guard Ty Lawson's arrest last Friday. "I didn't just wake up one day and say 'We're just going to move shootaround back' with nothing behind it," Shaw said. "There was research done. There were studies. There's science behind sleep patterns, recovery time. It had nothing to do with alcohol or hanging out or anything else. And so I've been slowly but surely studying some of these things and talking to some of the leading researchers in the area." Shaw wants to see better focus at the start of games, which is his main reason for doing away with the shootaround. "I looked at the results that I'm noticing personally from the focus level that we have or the retention from having shootaround closer to game time," Shaw said.
- Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: And when Adams wasn’t on the floor, his tag-team partner, Kendrick Perkins, was handed the chore of slowing Pekovic. And he, like Adams, was up to the task. “It was interesting watching him and Perk,” Adams said. “It was like two bears attacking each other. It looked amazing.” As this Thunder roster has been stripped at nearly every position throughout this injury-riddled season, the center has remained steady. OKC has played 44 games. Adams has started all but one. Perkins has appeared in all but one. And the duo has consistently played well, with neither flashing big numbers but neither needing to, contributing solid defense and steady rebounding. Monday’s win was the latest example.
- Derek James of 1500ESPN.com: Now, Hummel will be out 4-6 weeks after leaving Sunday's game in Atlanta with a broken hand. When it comes to injuries creating playing time and opportunities, apparently, turnabout is fair play. Just as Hummel benefited from players missing games, Glenn Robinson III may benefit from Hummel's extended absence. There isn't much that we know about Robinson as a professional basketball player. He's appeared in just 21 games and is only averaging 4.3 minutes per game. That's less than half the court time as Troy Daniels, and about a minute less than the seldom-used big man Miroslav Raduljica. Here's the thing with rookies: they're not always good immediately. Look at last year for example. Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng were both very raw, and weren't effective players until March. That's just the way these things go, and that may be the case for Robinson as well. ... Injuries have forced the team's hand this season with Robinson's development, but it could be Hummel's fractured hand that winds up benefiting Robinson. In the same way that Hummel earned the confidence of the organization by playing hard and not trying to do more than he's capable of, Robinson could earn a similar role doing the same.
- John Reid of The Times-Picayune: Whenever they were matched against each other on Monday night, it was a noticeable difference between Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis and Philadelphia 76ers forward-center Nerlens Noel. Davis looked heavier, and appeared stronger. There also was a substantial difference in skill level, Davis soared for forceful dunks and made mid-range shots. Noel didn’t command the ball much and appeared reluctant to take charge after missing his first four shots. Davis, 6-feet-11, 240 pounds, turned their matchup into a mismatch. He scored 32 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, blocked four shots and had three steals in just 30 minutes of work. Noel, 6-11, 220 pounds, finished with two points after going 1-of-9 from the field. "I was thinking about the game too much," Noel said. "I was taking some shots that weren't falling.I needed to have the mindset of playing within myself. I wasn't aggressive as I should have been." It was first time the two former University of Kentucky stars played against each other in an NBA game.
- Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: Joel Embiid has been more visible of late, having long shooting sessions before games, showing a fluid touch from as far as 18 feet out and sometimes beyond. So many are wondering: If he and Nerlens Noel are paired in the frontcourt together next season, who plays where? And what if the team lands the first overall pick and decides to take Duke's Jahlil Okafor, the 6-11, 270-pounder who appears to be the slam-dunk top pick? If you think about that for a second, is it really a problem? Think if the Sixers land Okafor, Embiid comes back healthy and Noel is also still here. That's not a bad problem to have and lends the kind of excitement to the program that hasn't existed in quite some time. Let's start with Embiid and Noel. If they are paired next season, it will be interesting. Though the team has worked hard on Noel's shooting, it's quite obvious that his offense is going to come from 6 feet and in. His scoring should mainly come from put-backs, alley-oops and strong, one-dribble drives to the basket. Thinking he can step out and add anything isn't smart. ... On the offensive end, Embiid would be able to step out from the basket at times, opening things up for Noel to do some things in the paint. And what if you add Okafor to the mix? Is that really a problem? If so, again, it's a pretty good one to have.
- Michael Lee of The Washington Post: When Kobe Bryant made his first public comments after signing a two-year extension in November 2013, the Los Angeles Lakers were in Washington and the future Hall of Famer held a news conference at Verizon Center while a Washington Wizards banner hung behind him and a microphone with the Wizards’ “dc” logo rested in front of him. The image gave Wizards fans a chance to indulge a fantasy in which Bryant collected championship rings a few blocks from the White House instead of Los Angeles. Very few know that this seemingly laughable fantasy was nearly reality: More than a decade ago, Bryant wanted to get away from Los Angeles, and the team he wanted to join was the Wizards, where he would join forces with his mentor Michael Jordan. Those plans evaporated when then-Wizards owner Abe Pollin parted ways with Jordan in 2003, a year before Bryant became a free agent, but as Wizards fans pine over the idea of Kevin Durant coming to Washington as a free agent, the near-miss that was Kobe-to-DC finally can be shared. “That’s true,” Bryant confirmed recently. “A long time ago? Yeah.”
January, 26, 2015
By Kevin Arnovitz
AP Photo/Brandon DillAfter five years together, the Grizzlies' core is hoping to rise beyond their rough-and-tough identity.MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- This past Thursday morning, Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger was live on ESPN Radio’s Memphis affiliate while driving into work. In an effort not to lose the signal, Joerger pulled a U-turn on low-traffic Fourth Street along the eastern wall of the arena as he approached the subterranean garage to FedEx Forum.
Cue police siren.
Joerger politely told host Geoff Calkins and the listening audience he needed to end the interview so that his moving violation could be adjudicated. Concerned about any appearance of preferential treatment for a VIP, Joerger said he insisted to the arresting officer he receive a ticket. A non-issue, Joerger said, because the officer, who had just returned to the United States from abroad, had never heard of Joerger, and knew virtually nothing about the Grizzlies.
Judging from the vibe around town, the patrolman is the exception in greater Memphis. A city that has blanketed itself in "growl towels" the past four playoff runs is now a regular-season NBA hotbed. In a region where pro basketball franchises have to scrap for their share of the market, Memphis’ relationship with its team feels a lot like Portland Trail Blazers South. Grizzly Love is more than just fandom; it’s an expression of urban identity.
In the trendy Cooper Young district, it’s yoga pants and Grizzlies tees. The hub of East Memphis’ stellar culinary scene, Andrew Michael, opened its new bar area over the weekend, in part because its proprietors feel its customers shouldn’t have to choose between haute cuisine and watching the Griz. Local TV ratings are up 30 percent over last season and the average home attendance of 17,200 is the highest in Grizzlies history.
On Monday night at FedEx Forum, the Grizzlies closed out a 4-1 homestand with a 103-94 win over Orlando. The Grizzlies now stand at 32-12, second place in the Western Conference. Around the team, there’s a collective -- if cautious -- recognition that there’s a chance for the Griz to rise beyond the Grit 'n' Grind novelty act, that if they suspend personal agendas and shore up their weaknesses, something special awaits.
It's the year. Everybody feels it. We feel it. We've been in the Western Conference finals. We've been that close.- Zach Randolph
“It’s the year,” Zach Randolph said after Monday’s shootaround. “Everybody feels it. We feel it. We’ve been in the Western Conference finals. We’ve been that close.”
A few hours after Joerger was tagged as a public nuisance, Grizzlies center Marc Gasol was named an All-Star starter. For a franchise that’s rarely booked for national broadcast, Gasol’s selection is a huge affirmation -- and a signal that a star doesn’t necessarily need to look to the coasts during free agency to find broad appeal.
Point guard Mike Conley might not make the cut as a reserve, but he has established himself as everyone’s favorite unheralded playmaker. The Grizzlies compiled five of their 12 losses this season during an 18-day stretch when Randolph was sidelined with swelling in his right knee. He’s enjoying his best season in five years as the team’s bellwether. At 33, Tony Allen is the league’s top-ranked perimeter defender in real plus-minus.
This core, which has been together for five seasons, can rightly claim the mantle of “continuity,” which is holy water for teams with championships aspirations, as fashioned by the Spurs. Memphis’ core understands how to play together, and where each guy’s strengths and weaknesses lie. But after four seasons of hanging tough through mid-May, the Grizzlies are now set on figuring out what more they can be.
The arrival of Jeff Green from Boston has been a catalyst for this current self-examination. When a group has been together as long as the Grizzlies’ core has, staleness can seep into the practice gym. What more can we learn about each other? After nearly five seasons, is there really any magic to getting Z-Bo the ball on the right block or finding driving lanes for Conley from the left slot? At a certain point, preparation becomes rote and a team can resemble an old married couple.
“We’ve been through it so long that we know how each other is going to react and that we can trust each other,” Gasol said. “But the game is evolving and we as players and as a team have to evolve. You have to change things and adjust. We’re the same players and we run the same sets, but -- it’s like the Spurs -- they need tweaks and changes and counters from game to game and year to year in order to evolve.”
So Green’s introduction gives Memphis occasion to re-learn its schemes. Over the lengthy homestand, the Grizzlies held a mini-minicamp of sorts, with the intention of reviewing Grizzly best practices and getting Green up to speed. Because as rosy as things have been in Memphis, the defense has slipped out of the top 10, and the team can run into roadblocks offensively against strong hard shows that cut Conley off from his lanes and second-side options. The Grizzlies know they need to get more aggressive about attacking those coverages -- and avoiding them altogether with early post-ups and drag screens. That’s where the reorientation can help.
AP Photo/Brandon DillThe Grizzlies are working former Celtic forward Jeff Green into a core with strong continuity.
Still, Green gives the Grizzlies something they haven’t had since Rudy Gay left town -- a big wing who can create. In a perfect world, Green will get into the lane a dozen times a game and work his way to the line for more than half a dozen attempts. Though Green has always lagged as a rebounding forward, he’s a guy who, theoretically, could work the glass, then push the ball up in transition. Gasol noted on Monday that the Grizzlies have been polishing off some of the better sets they used to run for Gay.
The live integration of Green began last Wednesday against Toronto when he made his first start as a Grizzly, supplanting Courtney Lee. Lee was shooting 47 percent from beyond the arc and laying out defensively virtually every night, often against bigger competition on the wing. He ultimately played 29 minutes against the Raptors, more than either Green or Allen, but there’s personal satisfaction that comes with starting, and for Lee it was a tough beat. But that’s the rub for the Grizzlies -- Lee is essentially a shooting guard disguised as a small forward.
Truth is, no matter who gets the call on the wings for Memphis, there’s always a compromise. Allen is essential to what the Grizzlies want to accomplish defensively each night, but his presence in the half-court offense cramps their spacing. For every wily baseline cut behind the defense, there are possessions in which opponents have insta-help from Allen’s guy. And Green is hardly the second coming. He shoots 30 percent from 3-point range and inefficiently from midrange, rebounds like a shooting guard and his size might be his only real asset as a defender.
In sum, this is still a team with imperfections, whose style bucks league trends and whose roster features a lot of guys who excel at their positions but doesn’t have a ton of versatility (e.g. the Grizz can’t switch defensively). Apart from Conley, Memphis is an emotional group, with live wires (Allen) and slow boilers (Gasol), among others.
Yet in some sense, that’s the NBA. There are no perfect teams, because the salary cap prevents it. The ones who win are those that excel at grappling with those imperfections, that can reduce those weaknesses to small blemishes.
When you observe the Grizzlies, they seem like a team that has become expert at the management of those weaknesses. Since their competitive advantage offensively exists down low and their Achilles heel on the perimeter, they’ve mastered the swing-swing-post entry. Since their shortcoming defensively is a lack of size on the perimeter, Conley, Allen and Lee fly around with abandon. The staff handles individual sensitivities delicately and with trust.
Once they fully incorporate Green into their schemes and culture, they should be at peak self-awareness -- Grit, Grind, with a little more Glow. And there are few things more dangerous in spring than an NBA team that knows what it is.
- Matt Winkeljohn of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Budenholzer said the fact that Horford has been taking the ball at the basket has opened up his jump-shooting game more. Defenders struggle to decide whether to switch off Horford when he sets a screen and take the ball, or trail him. That often leaves an opening for the driver, or Horford – who finds those spots. It might not be right to say that Horford "drifts" to these marks. A refined instinct usually leads him to an open spot. His streak began on the night he registered his first career double with 21 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high 10 assists Jan. 13 in a win in Philadelphia. So he started by making so many passes, and has averaged 18 points on 10.3 shots attempts over the seven games while getting in position to take passes. Horford has scored 126 points on 72 field goal tries in that span – an average of 1.75 points per shot attempted. Houston’s James Harden is leads the NBA in scoring at 27.3 points per game on 18.3 field goal attempts – an average of 1.49 points per shot attempt. Now, that is efficiency.
- Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: To Lakers coach Byron Scott, seeing Rockets coach Kevin McHale still brings memories of the NBA Finals battles between the Lakers and Celtics. Having McHale around, however, no longer stirs the same emotions. “Everybody remembers the ‘80s when he wore that green and white,” Scott said. “I’ll never forget that. Kevin is no different. Cedric (Maxwell,) when we go to Boston, he’s working radio and television. When I see them, it always goes back to the ‘80s, but I don’t have that dislike or hate for them, anymore. I like Kevin. He’s a good guy." Asked if that meant he had forgiven McHale for the hard foul he laid on Kurt Rambis in Game 4 of the 1884 Finals, Scott said, "I didn’t say that."
- Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: In the quiet of summer, at a gym in his hometown of Charlotte, N.C., Stephen Curry works on his ballhandling. He dribbles two basketballs at once, he dribbles while tossing a tennis ball to a nearby trainer and he dribbles side-to-side with a resistance band wrapped around his waist. Most intriguingly, Curry also dribbles while five lights alternately flash on a wall in front of him. His quest in this innovative drill is to quickly react to the lights, making a specific move — yellow might mean “crossover” — and reaching out with his other hand to tap the light and hurry to the next one. “The lights mimic what’s happening on the court,” Curry said. “If there’s a defender in front of me, then I’ve got to know where he is and still be ready to initiate whatever move I’m going to make.” Curry long ago gained acclaim as one of the NBA’s best outside shooters, but the roots of his captivating game rest in his extraordinary ballhandling. He has all but mastered the art of dribbling, a fundamental and sublime skill closely connected to all those majestic jumpers. So in the din of sold-out arenas across the land, Curry shows off his “handle.”
- Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: The familiarity between Hassan Whiteside and NBA officials is increasing, and that recognition contributed to the Heat center’s record-setting game on Sunday. Whiteside picked up two fouls in seven minutes in the first half of the Heat’s 96-84 victory at United Center, but he played nearly 18 minutes in the second half, including all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter. He finished with a triple-double and set a franchise record for blocks after speaking with officials about his defense before the start of the second half. “I asked the refs what was I doing,” Whiteside said. “I know the guys are going to keep pump faking me, and so I told them they were just leaning their shoulders into me and the ref said he saw that." The communication helped, and it was one of the behind-the-scenes factors that contributed to Whiteside finishing with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 12 blocks.
- Chris Haynes of Northeast Ohio Media Group: Sunday in the Thunder locker room, Dion Waiters had to answer why the fans at The Q booed him. "I don't know," he said. "It didn't do anything to me. I'm still going to go home and sleep at night. It is what it is." Then he was asked if any of his former teammates talked trash during the game and Waiters provided a Waiters-like response. "Ain't nobody saying nothing to me," he said adamantly. "We just played basketball and kept it at that." Overhearing Waiters, Kevin Durant, a couple of locker stalls away, lifted up his head from tying his shoes and said, "That's a real one right there." That's accurate. Waiters is real and authentic as it gets. He's the total opposite of soft. However, his hardness simply wasn't what the Cavaliers needed. Mozgov imparts a force that can be utilized on the court, where it's needed most. Don't let the young, innocent face fool you. When Mozgov is on the court, he's instilling fear. The Cavaliers have gotten their defensive anchor, and it's no surprise they suddenly have a new competitive edge.
- Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: Just like the local greenery, the Clippers were a little prickly Sunday in Phoenix. There was some jawing, some heated discussions, some difficult truths being told. Lightning bolts of frustration struck multiple times, and the Clippers genuinely looked ticked off – sometimes with each other. And then they won by 20. The Clippers survived the momentary in-fighting and a quarter-long defensive hiatus on their way to a 120-100 win over the Phoenix Suns. The Clippers have won four games in a row. “The keyword we’ve been saying is ‘spirit,’” Clippers guard Chris Paul said. “Everyone’s been engaged, and it’s a good feeling.” Spirit doesn’t always mean positive energy. Spirit means passion, and passion sometimes can lead to cursing on the way off the court. It can lead to intense discussions on the sidelines. And that’s OK. “Sometimes, that stuff is healthy,” Paul said.
- Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca: After a scintillating start and a befuddling beginning to their mid-season it’s hard to know exactly how things are going to end up for the Toronto Raptors. Are they the team that started 22-6? Or the one that was just 6-9 since, including a touch-and-go come-from behind effort against the hapless Philadelphia 76ers on Friday? They got another chance to stake a claim on Sunday night against the Detroit Pistons and showed tentative signs of progress as they barely avoided snatching defeat from the jaws of victory as they won 114-110 to improve to 29-15 and remain third place in the Eastern Conference. Not pretty, but effective, and they get two more chances to build on it in the next three days, with a visits to Indiana on Tuesday before hosting Rudy Gay and the Sacramento Kings Wednesday. But there’s little risk in saying this: They’re going to need a little from everyone and a lot from a few. Sunday night held hope they might get the help necessary. As the Raptors swooned it became apparent that they were missing DeMar DeRozan, who proved his value as a foundation piece both in his 21-game absence and in his sluggish performance in his return.
- John Reid of The Times-Picayune: In most games, Pelicans forward Anthony Davis rarely shows much emotion. But Sunday was different. Davis screamed, pumped his fist and even hugged a fan standing near the court at the end of the game. Most importantly, Davis made the necessary critical plays down the stretch to help the Pelicans beat the Dallas Mavericks, 109-106, to extend their winning streak to three in a row for the first time this season. The Pelicans (23-21) also ended a nine-game losing streak to the Mavericks that dated back to 2013, which included two losses earlier this season. "This was fun," Davis said. "Big win, everyone contributed with our hearts and it's a big team win. A division opponent, a team that's in our conference, and a team that's up there (in the standings)."
- J. Michael of CSN Washington: As trade and free-agent signing discussions heat up, it seems weekly that a report will come out about the Wizards' chase for Ray Allen -- reported here Jan. 8 that they're still pursuing him with a vengeance -- who has been on their radar since July. They're not moving on their 15th roster spot until they're certain that Allen is off the table, and true to form John Wall isn't going out of his way to convince the veteran sharpshooter to join him. "I think it would be great, another knockdown shooter and a guy that's a veteran that knows how to play the game. That's basically what (he'd) add, a guy that's won a championship," said Wall when asked what he thought of the idea. "Two championships." What Wall hasn't done is pick up the phone to lobby him, a tactic that he has said that he's not fond of because it's akin to begging. "No, I'm being focused on just trying to lead my team," said Wall. "I'm just trying to be the John Wall I've been from the beginning of the season, sticking to my roots of trying to lead this team, trying to get us to the Promised Land."
- Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: Cory Joseph had neither a point nor an assist in slightly more than 16 minutes of Sunday’s 101-95 Spurs victory over Milwaukee at the AT&T Center, but what he did at the defensive end in the second half had a dramatic effect. A starter in 14 games while Tony Parker and Patty Mills dealt with injuries, Joseph replaced struggling Danny Green just 52 seconds into the third period. His frenetic defensive work was a spark the Spurs needed, and they limited the Bucks to 12 points in the period to take a lead into the fourth quarter. ... Gregg Popovich, who has had to juggle the playing time behind Parker between Joseph and Mills, understood how Joseph changed the game. “He had a significant impact,” the Spurs coach said. “He comes in and makes it tough for the other team to score. He gets loose balls. He rebounds. He does everything that helps the team, all the blue-collar kinds of things. He got down and really made a contribution, but hardly anyone notices it.” Joseph’s teammates noticed. “For sure, he was big in our turnaround of the game,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said.
- Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star: Inside a recreation center where the sounds of soulful R&B grooved in the weight room and laughter saturated the hallways, the Pacers closed the gym doors and opened their own play land. They substituted the normal order of an NBA practice for competitive shooting challenges. Trash talk replaced the drone of the scouting report for the Magic and knockout tournament style 1-on-1 games upstaged the pressure of snapping a seven-game losing streak. In other words, the players had fun. And it worked. By Sunday night inside Amway Center, the Pacers enjoyed a come-from-behind 106-99 win over the Orlando Magic. Though Indiana had fallen behind by nine points early in the fourth quarter, the pressure released from the previous day's practice carried over as the team ripped off 31 points. And remember, the Pacers, and their legs, were on the ninth and final day of their longest trip of the season. ... Instead of fading in the fourth, the Pacers flourished. Especially rookie Damjan Rudez, who burned through the quarter making 6-of-8 shots, including four 3-pointers, for 16 points. Rudez finished with a career-high 18, just ahead of George Hill (17 points) as the Pacers improved to 16-30. And a 16th win in late January never seemed so satisfying.
January, 24, 2015
By Michael Wallace
ATLANTA -- Jeff Teague wants to let the basketball world in on a secret about his coach.
"He never smiles," the Atlanta Hawks point guard said of coach Mike Budenholzer. "I mean, never. He's really hard to impress. He’s never really satisfied. I think a lot of that has rubbed off on us."
That pretty much explains the Hawks' demeanor after they set a franchise record by extending their winning streak to 15 games with Friday's 103-93 overwhelming of Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. As the impressive and dominant wins pile up for the Hawks, the reaction rarely changes.
First come the postgame showers, then the polite shoulder shrugs when asked to put the streak into perspective and, inevitably, there's a comment or two looking ahead to the next opponent on the schedule. That's typically been the low-key Atlanta way for the Hawks this amazing season.
But something was different Friday.
Teague sat in his corner locker a bit stunned by the latest developments.
"I've never seen anything like this here before," Teague whispered as he hurried to get dressed before the crowd came his way. "We must be winning. This is bigger than what we see in the playoffs."
As nearly two dozen reporters entered the locker room, at least one thing became clear: For all of the Hawks' accomplishments so far, flying under the national radar is no longer an option they can execute. Atlanta is no longer a fun little story in the NBA.
Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe hot roll of Jeff Teague and the Hawks couldn't be slowed by Russell Westbrook and OKC.
This team -- and it is truly a team in every sense of the word -- is on an absolute tear. The Hawks have led by double figures in every game during their winning streak and improved to 31-1 overall this season when they've gone ahead by at least 10 at some point in a game. The recent list of victims features a who's who of playoff contenders, including the Cleveland Cavaliers, Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls and now OKC.
Before Friday's game, Thunder coach Scott Brooks was asked which Hawks player is toughest to defend. His initial hesitation to answer not only spoke volumes but proved prophetic. The 19 turnovers committed by Atlanta insured Budenholzer wouldn't quite be in a smiling mood afterward, but the rest of his team's stat sheet was a thing of basketball balance and beauty.
The Hawks defense left OKC scrambling and settling for jump shots on the way to shooting just 41.4 percent from the field. Atlanta shook off a sluggish start and grew stronger as the game wore on, while Durant and Russell Westbrook seemed to wear down as the Thunder looked every bit like a team that was playing its third road game in four days.
Atlanta won the inside battle, with Paul Millsap and Al Horford both finishing with double-doubles and combining for 36 points and 22 rebounds. And Teague was never rattled by Westbrook on his way to collecting 17 points and nine assists against just two turnovers.
Teague capped his night by swiping the ball from Westbrook near midcourt and racing in for an uncontested dunk in the final minute of the game. It was a fitting end to a performance in which the Hawks scored 54 points in the paint, another 30 from 3-point range, accumulated 27 assists and made all 13 of their free throws. It culminated in a 10th straight win against a Western Conference team.
In other words, the next team that exposes a weakness in the East-leading Hawks (36-8) will be the first team to do so. That Atlanta team that was 7-6 back in November has since won 29 of its past 31 games. While the players and coaches will insist their approach hasn't changed during the streak, the reaction to their success has over the past two months.
On Thursday, Budenholzer was named the Eastern Conference coach of next month's All-Star Game, and early Friday, the team announced the game against OKC was Atlanta's sixth sellout in the past eight home games. That followed the release of last week's numbers that showed crowds at Philips Arena have increased by 2,200 fans per game over last season and ratings are up 61 percent on local TV broadcasts.
Perhaps the biggest sign of progress is that, aside from a couple of loud cheers after ferocious dunks by Westbrook and Durant, the fan support was overwhelmingly in favor of the Hawks. That hasn't routinely been the case in this town, which for decades has supported star players from opposing teams.
"Their home crowd has gotten better," Durant said. "I guess they've jumped on the bandwagon."
A fifth-year veteran, Teague has been around long enough to appreciate the attention and support.
"It's a beautiful thing, man," Teague said. "I always said if you put a good product on the floor, they'd come out and support you. That's what we're doing right now, and they're coming out in full throttle."
There's been more of a homecoming atmosphere in the building lately. The corridors and hallways outside the locker rooms Friday seemed more like a scene from the Staples Center, TD Garden or AmericanAirlines Arena from big games during the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat runs to championships.
Down one hallway, Dikembe Mutombo, Theo Ratliff and other former Hawks were laughing and sharing stories from their days in the league. In another hallway, local and national politicians mingled with performing artists and NFL stars who hung out near a room for team family members.
That was the type of crowd Budenholzer had to push through to get to the standing-room-only space where he held his postgame news conference. Facing the largest media contingent the Hawks have had all season, Budenholzer said he's confident his team won't get distracted by the additional spotlight.
"Our guys have a great focus every day," Budenholzer said. "They come to work and enjoy being with each other, enjoy competing. I just kind of think their minds and their priorities are on the right thing. So hopefully, I'm not naive, but that's what we'll just keep doing."
Those priorities have been in the right place since the Hawks began the season and tried to distance themselves from a controversial offseason that included racist comments and emails that left general manager Danny Ferry exiled and ownership putting the team up for sale.
Those dark moments have given way to the best start in franchise history, with the Hawks flooded with nothing but positive attention and energy these days. It's developed into a breakout season that has felt too much of a blessing to make maintaining this streak feel like any sort of burden.
"You can't have a burden winning," Horford said of handling the pressures of success. "We'll see. We've never been through this. It will be interesting to see. We have a tight group here, and as long as we stay together, we'll see where this goes."
One place the Hawks success obviously hasn't gone is to their heads.