CSN Insiders Notebook: Noel, Sixers marriage goes from bad to worse

CSN Insiders Notebook: Noel, Sixers marriage goes from bad to worse

AN NBA ARENA NEAR YOU – Happy Holidays NBA fans, and welcome to another edition of the CSN Insiders notebook.
We’ve gone heavy thus far on analysis, injury updates and all the happenings within the association the first few weeks of the season, but you’ll notice this week’s notebook is chock full of… you got it, trade rumors!
And while some trade talk requires a bit of connecting-the-dots for it to make sense, there are some players and teams that are so far apart at this point that it’s a matter of when, not if, they will go their separate ways.
Philadelphia’s Nerlens Noel certainly falls into that category.
CSN Philly’s Jessica Camerato writes about Noel’s frustration level with his lack of playing that’s at a point now where a trade is likely prior to the February trade deadline.
It didn’t take long for Nerlens Noel to grow frustrated with the Sixers’ bigs situation upon his return. Noel played eight minutes in his second game back on Friday and sat out the entire second half against the Lakers. Meanwhile, fellow centers Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor started together.

“I just want to play basketball,” Noel said. “I don’t really care who I’m playing with. I’m not an eight-minute player so I don’t know what that’s about. I don’t really care. I need to be on the court playing basketball. I think I’m too good to be playing eight minutes. Like, no, that’s crazy. That’s crazy. That’s crazy. They need to figure this [expletive] out.”
Noel met with head coach Brett Brown on Saturday to discuss the topic they have had conversations about many times before.

“He’s highly competitive, he’s in a very unusual situation,” Brown said. “The fact that it came out as soon as it did caught me off guard. We’ve discussed it and I’ll be surprised if everybody’s not seeing how we all need to handle this better going forward.”

Brown plans to continue pairing Embiid and Okafor as starters.
Editor’s note: Here’s the latest on the Nerlens Noel saga which, for Noel at least, has gone from bad to worse. – by Jessica Camerato
It appears time is running out on Kenneth Faried’s time in Denver. 
The Nuggets’ power forward has been told by coach Mike Malone that his role will be diminished as the team goes in a different direction, leading to speculation that the “Manimal” and his $12 million salary will be on the trading block.
Faried has three years and about $39 million left on his deal.
In the last seven games, Faried has played 23 minutes against Utah, 13 minutes against Philadelphia, 12 minutes against Brooklyn, did-not-play (coach’s decision) at Washington, 24 minutes against Orlando, eight against Dallas and 25 against Portland.
Malone is starting to use Wilson Chandler at power forward and has committed to playing Nikola Jokic as the starting center. The Nuggets also want to get youngster Jusuf  Nurkic and newly signed veteran Darrell Arthur playing time at power forward.
Malone communicated his plan to Faried last week, and the former Team USA player tersely said he will do what is in the best interest of the team.
“It’s just basketball,” Faried told the Denver Post. “I just focus on what I can do. All I can do is just stay in the gym and try and get better.”
Faried this season is averaging 9.1 points and 8.3 rebounds in 22.5 minutes a game. – by Jason Quick
San Antonio -- The NBA carried on this week with a heavy heart after long-time sideline reporter Craig Sager passed away after a lengthy battle with leukemia.

“What he’s endured and the fight he put up, the courage he’s displayed during this situation is beyond my comprehension,” Gregg Popovich said of Sager. “If any of us can display half the courage he has to stay on this planet - to live every life as if it’s his last, we would be well off.”

The Spurs plan to retire Tim Duncan’s no. 21 jersey Sunday afternoon, honoring one of the greats in the game. The two-time MVP and 15 time All-Star retired over the summer after 19 seasons in a Spurs uniform. – by James Ham
Mike Conley made headlines this summer when he signed a five-year, $152.6 million contract which raised obvious questions about whether a player who has never been named to an all-star team can command that kind of money.
Well one thing no one questions when it comes to Conley is his toughness, evident by him returning to the Grizzlies lineup three weeks ahead of schedule following a lower back injury suffered in late November that was supposed to keep him on the shelf until sometime after the New Year.
And there he was on Friday, back in the Memphis lineup on Friday against Sacramento. He played just under 29 minutes, scoring eight points on 2-for-7 shooting.
“Worn out” was how Conley described how he felt after missing the previous nine games to reporters. “It was going to be tough. I knew, conditioning-wise, but the back held up great. Just a little fatigue here and there. I have to get used to getting back at that level and playing at that pace.” -- by A. Sherrod Blakely
Break up the Suns! After a 2-2 week, Phoenix now stands at 8-18 on the season.

Devin Booker, 20, is supposed to be a sharpshooter, but so far this season he’s struggled to find his range. The University of Kentucky product is averaging 18.4 points per game, but he’s shooting just 31.5 percent from behind the arc and 40.6 percent from the field. Shooters are going to shoot.

After missing 12 straight with a minor head injury, T.J. Warren was cleared to play Saturday. The high-scoring forward will help, but if the Suns can’t figure out how to improve their 29th ranked defense, it’s going to be a long season in the Valley of the Sun.- by James Ham
JaVale McGee’s summer was mostly a mystery, as in the 7-footer had no idea what was ahead, or if he’d be back in the NBA. All through July and August, as teams signed free agents, he got nothing.
Just two weeks before training camps opened, the Warriors offered an invitation. No guaranteed money. Realizing this may be his last chance, McGee signed.
In a little more than two months, McGee has earned a role with the championship favorite. He’s playing significant backup minutes at center, even starting a few times in place of the injured Zaza Pachulia. A recent 17-point night, highlighted by dunks off lob passes, even landed McGee on the postgame podium.
“It’s definitely a positive to finish plays and it’s definitely a positive for them to be looking for me -- especially when the people who are passing it to me are prolific scorers,” McGee said. “That’s crazy that they’re so willing to pass the ball.”
Crazy, indeed, considering only months removed from wondering if a team would have you, you’re receiving passes from All-Star teammates. – by Monte Poole
Some names that could be available on the trade market that can help the Wizards’ bench, though it has played better in recent games, are Mario Hezonja, Omri Casspi and Nikola Mirotic.
All three have had less-than-stellar seasons with their current teams.

Hezonja, the No. 5 pick in 2015, isn’t in coach Frank Vogel’s rotation for the Magic and they’ve considered sending him to the D-League. His propensity for blowing defensive assignments was an issue last year under Scott Skiles as it is now and as of Friday he hadn’t appeared in 11 games.
Hezonja is averaging 10.5 minutes when he does play, almost eight fewer than a year ago, and has gone from 6.1 points and 35 percent shooting from three-point range to 3.5 points and 19.4% three-point shooting.
Casspi had been on the outs with Kings coach Dave Joerger though he has played more. He’s averaging seven minutes a game fewer than a year ago (20.2) and is averaging 7.1 points which is down from 11.8.
Unlike Hezonja who is all about potential, Casspi is in his eighth NBA season so there’s more certainty that he can stick. With an injury to Rudy Gay, however, Casspi has gotten back into the rotation.
Mirotic is struggling to get time under Fred Hoiberg with the Bulls after opening the season with at least 14 points in four of five games. But the stretch power forward has dipped to less than 30% shooting from three and less than 40% overall. The Bulls fined him for missing Friday’s pregame walk-through.
All have strengths that a team such as the Wizards could use off the bench with the three forwards. The question, of course, is what would have to be sacrificed to execute a deal. They don’t have much to offer from their own bench is part of it, but Trey Burke has begun to play better. Tomas Satoransky is out of the rotation because of his shooting but he has the defensive effort and sense that Hezonja has lacked. The Wizards aren’t in any rush to move on from him. – by J. Michael
You won’t find anyone inside the Boston Celtics locker room who isn’t happy with the job Al Horford has done so far this season. But among Celtics fans, they want more from the four-time all-star; or at least enough in their minds to warrant having a $113 million contract.
The easiest way to win over the fan base is to come up big in the clutch, something Horford did in Boston’s 105-95 win at Miami on Sunday night.
He finished with 17 points, 11 coming in the fourth quarter. He grabbed seven rebounds and dished out eight assists, both team highs.
And the fourth quarter scoring came on a night when Isaiah Thomas was ejected with more than three minutes to play after his elbow landed just below the eye of Heat wing Justise Winslow.
Good ball movement by Boston led to Horford having mismatches around the rim which he took advantage for points in the paint.
“That’s what they pay him to do,” Thomas jokingly told reporters after Sunday’s win. “That’s what he does. Nine times out of ten he makes the right play. Whether that’s score for himself or make a nice pass to a teammate for a basket or get an offensive rebound; whatever it may be.
Thomas added, “He’s always in the right spot at the right time. We depend on Al to do those types of things. We know he’s capable of doing it. I’m glad he made those plays and we got the win.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely
Rest or play?
The Cleveland Cavaliers were the latest team to have that subject be a topic of discussion, with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love taking a road game off in Memphis for a scheduled rest, with coach Ty Lue taking the lead on calling for it.
James, the league's top individual sell for quite some time, made note that he's played in every NBA arena and tacitly believes he's fulfilled his covenant and responsibility of living up to the top billing. It's a delicate balance and an argument that will not end any time soon, even with the new collective bargaining agreement calling to start the season a week sooner to eliminate more back-to-back sets.
"I think you look to get guys rest when you can," Love said. "And I guess my opinion is we are looking forward. And obviously, right now, in the meantime, trying to win as many basketball games as you can and be first in the East and have the best record, but we also want to look long term, as well." – by Vincent Goodwill
The Clippers once saw their future in the hands of a teenager from East St. Louis, Ill., named Darius Miles. Chosen with the third overall in pick in 2000, Miles started 21 games as a rookie -- and spent the next eight years searching for his game.
The 6-9 forward sustained a serious knee injury in 2006, keeping him out of the league for two seasons. He made a brief comeback in 2008 before being waived out of the league in January 2009. Miles during his career made $62 million.
Every cent is gone, and even Miles is scarce. Now 35, the one-time phenom is auctioning off his belongings, everything from shoes and weapons and new furniture -- even a jersey signed by ex-teammate LeBron James -- outside St. Louis.

Sad as it is, yet another cautionary tale of a youngster with everything except a clue. – by Monte Poole
Defense is a staple of the Hornets under Steve Clifford, but he’s noticing that his 48-win team from a season ago isn’t the same in this regard even with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back healthy.

“It’s our biggest weakness,” Clifford said of their lack of physical play. “It’s evident from teams that aren’t even physical off the ball. I’ve been telling them for three weeks not. (Other teams) are saying, ‘be physical, make it hard on them, make it hard to run offense, bump them off every cut, bump them off every screen.’ Sooner or later, we got to respond. … I’m sick of watching it, frankly.”

Just as Charlotte had emerged as the best team in the Southeast Division, it slipped. If they lose to the Hawks on Saturday night, it’ll make for an 0-5 road trip.
Marco Belinelli was one of the Hornets’ big ticket additions in the offseason because of his three-point shooting, but he’s an open door on defense. Marvin Williams, who re-signed this past summer, hasn’t been the same, either. While Ramon Sessions is a good scorer behind Kemba Walker, his pick-and-roll defense is hardly a strength. – by J. Michael
Minnesota has stumbled out of the gate to a 7-18 record, but indications are the team will be patient with its young roster.
“We don’t have anything right now that we’re going to do,” owner Glen Taylor told the Star-Tribune. “I just think Scott [Layden, Wolves general manager] will be looking at all the possibilities out there. I think you always want to be looking if there’s a trade that will make your team better. I’m sure if he finds one he’ll bring it to me. But at this point, I’m not aware of anything that is likely that we’re going to do soon.”
Taylor’s comments come on the heels of ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reporting the Wolves have been calling other teams looking for frontcourt help.
With the Wolves fading out of the playoff picture by Christmas, there is thought the team might commit even further to youngsters Kris Dunn at point guard and Andrew Wiggins at small forward, leaving veteran point guard Ricky Rubio and small forward Shabazz Muhammad available. – by Jason Quick

‘Tis the season for winning streaks if you are on the Rockets.

The Rockets have won ten straight games dating back to Dec. 1. They lead the NBA with 119.9 points per game this month. During this streak the Rockets have defeated the Warriors, Nuggets, Celtics, Lakers, Thunder, Mavericks, Nets, Kings, Pelicans, and Timberwolves (OT).

James Harden is averaging 25.6 points, 11.4 assists and 9.3 rebounds in the last 10 games, including three triple-doubles and four double-doubles. – Jessica Camerato
The Chicago Bulls look headed in a downward spiral of sorts, losers of three in a row and getting whipped on back to back nights by the Milwaukee Bucks in a home-and-home set. The worst 3-point shooting team turned into one of the worst defensive teams last week, as they were worn out by the young legs of the Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves as Tom Thibodeau left Chicago a triumphant man.

The Bulls gave up a 21-point lead Tuesday to the Timberwolves, starting the trend.

"Well, even a bad matchup, you shouldn’t be down 30 in back to back games," coach Fred Hoiberg said. "You still have to fight. Obviously, we showed that that first game in Milwaukee, battling back to give ourselves a chance."

Hoiberg said Sunday's long practice and film session was about getting back to basics, and their ugly fourth-quarter numbers can't be ignored.
Last in field goal percentage and 3-point percentage while being second-to-last in offensive rating. In short, things had better turn around and fast. – by Vincent Goodwill
The injury bug has hit Sacramento with Rudy Gay, Ben McLemore and Omri Casspi missing time this week due to injury. Dave Joerger has also chosen to rest both Matt Barnes and DeMarcus Cousins for “scheduled rest.”

Plenty of people raised an eyebrow when Sacramento inked veteran Garrett Temple to a 3-year, $24 million deal during the summer. But the 30-year-old wing has been just what the doctor ordered for head coach Dave Joerger. The defensive-minded Temple has moved into the starting lineup alongside Darren Collison and made a huge impact. Every team needs a guy that does the dirty work and the fact that Temple is knocking down a career-best 43.4 percent of his 3-point attempts is huge.

Malachi Richardson and Skal Labissiere both made an appearance in the Kings’ 132-98 loss to the Houston Rockets on Wednesday after spending the last few weeks with the Reno Bighorns. – by James Ham
Justise Winslow is back after missing 16 games with an injured left wrist that he’d fallen on during a game to start the season.
He played two games going into the weekend as Miami has struggled keeping healthy bodies on the floor.

“Still figuring things out, getting used to playing against actual defense,” said Winslow, who scored 15 points in 29 minutes off the bench in Friday’s loss to the L.A. Clippers. – by J. Michael
Victor Oladipo missed his third straight game on Saturday with a right wrist sprain. The Thunder indicate that he’ll be out for Monday’s game against Atlanta and have yet to put a timetable on his return. In the three games he has missed, the Thunder are 1-2 with a pair of blowout defeats on the road at Portland and Utah, with the lone victory coming at home against Phoenix which is one of the league’s worst teams this season.
Russell Westbrook’s streak of seven straight games with a triple-double came to a screeching halt Sunday against the Boston Celtics. He’s now gone three consecutive games without a triple-double and his numbers are down across the board. Still, Westbrook’s 41.6 percent usage percentage is obscene. It’s possible that he’s running out of juice a bit without Oladipo (16.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists) to shoulder some of the weight. – by James Ham

Jeremy Lin is back. The Nets point guard played 20 minutes against the Rockets on Dec. 12, his first game since Nov. 2 after straining his left hamstring. He scored 10 points with seven assists and three rebounds. Lin sat out the next game because of back stiffness and suited up Friday against the Magic. Lin posted 17 points, three boards and three dimes in another 20 minutes. The Nets are awaiting his return to the starting lineup. - Jessica Camerato
After a torrid start, the Lakers these days are finding the going rough and highlights few and far between. Thankfully, they still have Larry Nance Jr. to deliver.
The 6-9 forward making a name for himself as one of the league’s most devastating dunkers, recently put yet another big man on a poster, driving at Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez and throwing down a nasty slam.
So nasty that even the Nets’ bench had a demonstrative reaction.

So nasty that Nance actually apologized to Lopez.
Nance told reporters he was “hoping it would give us a little bit of adrenaline and light a fire under us.”
In that regard, he failed. The Lakers left Barclays Center with yet another loss, their eighth in a row. – by Monte Poole

Celtics finding ways to win without Kyrie Irving

File Photo

Celtics finding ways to win without Kyrie Irving

As expected, Kyrie Irving’s first regular season with the Boston Celtics is over following a procedure on his left knee Saturday that team officials described as being "minimally invasive," that will keep him sidelined until the playoffs.

Not having Irving for the final 10 games of the regular season is certainly disappointing for Boston, but it won’t have the kind of devastating impact one might expect a team to have to endure when the leading scorer is out for a significant chunk of time.

Friday’s 105-100 win over Portland was Boston’s fifth straight game without Irving, and 12th this season.


There’s no question Boston is a better team when he is in the lineup.

But when he’s not, the Celtics have continued to find ways to win games which is evident in their 8-4 record when Irving has not played.

Victories over teams like the Blazers only validates the quality depth that the Celtics players speak of when they talk about their team. 

“We know what we have,” said Boston’s Al Horford. “It is encouraging for our group. And for us it’s to make sure we keep working and understand when we commit on the defensive end, we’re a tough team to beat.”

But Horford acknowledges the challenge to be successful becomes infinity greater when key players such as Irving are out.

“We can’t dwell on the guys who are not here, the guys who are injured,” Horford said. “It’s tough, but it’s an opportunity for other guys to step up and guys have really taken advantage of that opportunity. We’re trying to move forward. It’s hard but we don’t have an option.”

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 105-100 win at Portland on Friday night.


The ability to not just run a team but do so in an effective, steady manner is what separated Shane Larkin from most of the guys who saw action last night. He made timely shots, kept the ball moving (he had seven assists and just one turnover) while playing at a really good tempo which was apparent as he finished with a pace of 95.97 which was tops among all Celtics players.


Greg Monroe could not have picked a better time to play his best basketball of the season. Against the Blazers, he came off the bench and tallied a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds. The 10 boards were particularly impressive with a team-best rebounding percentage of .303 and team-best usage percentage of .316 which speaks to how Boston made a point of going to Monroe early and often when he was on the floor.


It was another big-time scoring night for Marcus Morris who led all scorers with 30 points, easily becoming a fixture as Boston’s go-to guy now that Kyrie Irving (left knee) will miss the rest of the regular season. And like Irving, Morris is doing it in an extremely efficient manner. Against the Blazers, the 6-foot-8 forward was 9-for-13 (69.2 percent) shooting from the field with an effective field goal percentage eFG% of .885.


For most of Friday’s game, Jayson Tatum was not having a good game offensively with three points through three quarters of play. But Tatum, one of the NBA’s better fourth quarter players, was once again saving his best for last. He would go on to lead the Celtics with 10 points in the fourth quarter, which was a huge factor in Boston’s comeback victory.


The Celtics’ second unit looks a little different, but the production and overall impact remains strong as ever. Boston’s backups outscored their Portland brethren 26-10. But more than the points, Boston’s backups individually came up with big plays. Greg Monroe’s 10-point, 10-rebound performance stood out for obvious reasons. But the floor leadership of Shane Larkin and timely contributions from Guerschon Yabusele was also important in the win.


Blakely: Stevens has this coaching in March stuff down

Blakely: Stevens has this coaching in March stuff down

Sometimes we forget that a big part of why Brad Stevens is in Boston is because of what he has done as a coach this time of year.

He led a pair of Butler teams to deep postseason runs before coming up short in a pair of national title games.

Well, he’s embarking on a different kind of March Madness in leading the Celtics to a string of improbable wins, the latest being a 105-100 victory at Portland on Friday night.

It was the kind of victory that when you start to roll out the reasons why Stevens should be this season’s Coach of the Year winner, folks will use the win at Portland as an example.

The Blazers are not only one of the better teams at home, but they came in having won 13 of 14 games with the lone loss coming to Houston, which has the best record in the NBA.

But what made the victory so unexpected was the cut-and-paste lineup Stevens has employed because of a long rash of injuries.

Kyrie Irving missed his fifth consecutive game and is expected to be lost for another three to six weeks after having a procedure to on Saturday to help alleviate some of the soreness in his left knee.

Jaylen Brown has missed several games with a concussion, but he has progressed to where he's now questionable for the game in Sacramento on Sunday night. 

Boston was also without Marcus Smart (right thumb) who won’t be back until sometime in the playoffs.

And that doesn’t factor in Gordon Hayward (dislocated left ankle) or Daniel Theis (torn meniscus, left knee), both out for the season.

It’s easy to chalk up Stevens’ success to great Xs and O’s work.

But he’s doing more than that.

He’s inspiring a level of confidence in players that generated results exceeding all expectations; that is, expectations outside of their locker room.

Even when this team struggled with no clear signs of hope on the horizon, they didn’t blink.

Rather than use their less-than-ideal state as a justification for poor play, they funneled that energy and focus into becoming a better team - not better players, but a better team.

Because frankly, that is what we’ve seen from this group all season. Of course, you have your star in Irving, but this team has been a get-it-done-or-else squad all year that doesn’t get too locked into the success or struggles of any one teammate.

And that has allowed Boston to withstand the kind of injuries to key players that would have crippled many other teams.

But with the lack of bodies, there has been a lack of respect for how good this team really is.

Stevens has tapped into that and used it to help focus this team on playing great and most important, giving themselves a chance to win regardless of the opponent, regardless of how dire a situation may be.

And that has created the kind of March Madness Celtics fans are absolutely lovin’ right now.