Boston Celtics

Once again, Danny Ainge proves he's not afraid to bet big on his own judgment

Once again, Danny Ainge proves he's not afraid to bet big on his own judgment

A few thoughts about the blockbuster Cleveland-Boston trade:

  • One thing I've always admired about Danny Ainge: He's got a lot of guts. He always has. He's totally unafraid. And in pulling the trigger on a trade with the team he's trying to beat in the NBA East, he's taking a gamble. In trading his team's best and most popular player he's making an even bigger gamble. And in taking on Kyrie Irving, well, he might be taking the biggest gamble of all. But he doesn't really care what anyone else thinks, he does what he thinks is right. It's the same as the trade he pulled off prior to the draft with the No. 1 pick. He thought Jayson Tatum was the best player in the draft and knew he didn't have to take him with the first pick, so he moved the pick. And he really didn't care what anybody else thought of the deal. The guy has had plenty of self-confidence and courage since the day he started playing basketball. I remember watching him as a high-school junior in the Oregon state basketball tournament and on the football field and marveling at how he laughed in the face of pressure. He seemed totally immune to it and probably still is.
  • In today's world, people running franchises who are willing to make a big gamble or controversial move without worrying about what fans or media will think about it are rare -- and usually worth their weight in gold.
  • Ainge has put a big burden on his coach, Brad Stevens. As well he should -- Stevens is one of the best in the business. But I think Stevens will need to be at the top of his game to find the kind of team chemistry the Celtics had last season. Irving, I've heard, is pretty tough to handle -- for his teammates and his coaches. Getting him to play the team game and keeping him out of calling his own number all the time might be a problem.
  • This deal has long-term ramifications that should not be ignored. Irving is four years younger than Thomas (who is dealing with a hip injury) and in better health. Most people in the league believe LeBron James is headed out of Cleveland after this season and Boston has positioned itself to be the next big thing in the East. Thomas has one year left on his contract and Irving has two years and a player option for a third. Ainge is making a move that's possibly good for this season but definitely good for the seasons after that.
  • Thomas is 5-9 and often listed at 185 pounds. He doesn't look as if he's within 20 pounds of that number, however. Irving is 6-3 and 193. Players as small as Thomas have a pretty rough ride in the NBA -- and I'm not so sure how long he can keep that slight frame healthy enough to carry the heavy load he carried last season. I certainly wouldn't invest in that body with a long-term max deal.
  • Kevin Love and Thomas played on the same AAU team in high school and I'm sure they will play well together. Cleveland will be OK next season if Thomas stays healthy. Of course, behind him is Derrick Rose, another player whose continued good health is no sure thing.
  • I don't know what to think of Irving and his desire to get away from James. But I have a feeling that PLAYING with LeBron is OK, it's just existing with him that's a problem. You hear stories about the entourage, about LeBron basically running the whole organization -- stuff that can't be easy on teammates.
  • The Celtics have reshaped their team coming off what was a very good season. That takes guts. But that's Danny Ainge.

 

History tells us Rockets' margin of victory means nothing

History tells us Rockets' margin of victory means nothing

Not many people picked the Houston Rockets to defeat the San Antonio Spurs in their second-round playoff matchup that began last night in San Antonio. But I did. So you would think I'd be feeling pretty good about the Rockets after their 126-99 thrashing of the Spurs Monday night.

And even though San Antonio appeared to be way overmatched in Game 1 of the series, I feel worse about my prediction than you might think. That's because I was in the old Boston Garden on May 27, 1985 for the first game of that season's Finals when the Celtics ran the Los Angeles Lakers out of the gym with a humiliating 148-114 defeat. They called it the Memorial Day Massacre.

I was one of many people after that game to write about how washed up the Lakers -- and 38-year-old center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar -- looked in that game. Abdul-Jabbar finished with 12 points and three rebounds and just didn't look as if he could keep up with Boston's talented front line. I thought the series was over right then and there.

And I was very wrong. The Lakers won four of the next five games and closed out the Celts in Boston in Game 6 -- behind Abdul-Jabbar, who won the MVP award for the series. It was the only time the Celtics ever lost an NBA championship in that arena.

So that whipping Houston put on San Antonio didn't make me feel all that much better about its chances. It was just one game and next one doesn't start with the Rockets holding a 27-point lead.

I'd say the series hinges on the play of LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored just four points Monday night. When Aldridge left Portland for the Spurs, I'm sure he was satisfied with the salary he'd be making and the winning tradition of his new team. But I'm wondering now if he understood the sort of responsibility he'd be having to shoulder as the Spurs moved through the playoffs. Tim Duncan isn't going to be walking through that locker room door during this series.

There were times in Portland when I thought Aldridge wanted very much to be a superstar but didn't always respond like one. He had the talent... but did he have the heart?

He better find his way in a hurry for the Spurs because Kawhi Leonard can't be expected to carry that team by himself.

Trail Blazers lose 17-point lead, and game, as Boston gets revenge

Trail Blazers lose 17-point lead, and game, as Boston gets revenge

The Trail Blazers’ chance to move into a tie for the eighth and final playoff spot was thwarted Thursday when the short-handed Boston Celtics overcame a 17-point halftime deficit and beat the Blazers 120-111 at the Moda Center.

Isaiah Thomas had 34 points and fill-in starters Marcus Smart (18 points) and Jaylen Brown (14 points, 7 rebounds) carried Boston (34-19) to its eighth win in nine games.

The Blazers (23-31) fell one game behind Denver (23-29) for the final playoff spot in the West despite a season-high 26 points from Al-Farouq Aminu and Damian Lillard’s 28 points, seven assists and six rebounds.

Boston started the second half on a 10-2 run to take a 59-57 lead and complete their comeback from 17 down. The lead see-sawed for much of the third before Brown hit a corner three with 4.2 seconds left to give the Celtics a 77-76 lead heading into the fourth.

The Blazers were within 99-98 with 5:43 left after an Aminu three, but Boston pulled away, thanks in large part to Thomas’ 15 fourth-quarter points.

It was the first game for the Blazers without Evan Turner, who broke his right hand Tuesday in Dallas. Maurice Harkless started in Turner’s spot and finished with four points and four rebounds in 23 minutes.

The Celtics cut into a 17-point deficit to draw within 55-49 at halftime thanks to a streaking finish by Thomas. The Celtics’ point guard, who hasn’t scored below 20 points all season, started 2-of-10 from the field, but heated up by scoring 10 points in the final 2:30. His flurry led a 13-2 run to close the half for Boston.

Portland raced to a 32-22 lead after the first quarter as McCollum made his first three shots and Lillard hit two early three-pointers, which complemented the active inside play of Mason Plumlee, who had seven points and four rebounds in the quarter.

Boston played without starters Avery Bradley (Achilles) and Jae Crowder (family matter), starting Brown, a rookie, and third-year player Smart in their place.

Next up: Atlanta at Blazers, 7:30 p.m. Monday (TNT)

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Trail Blazers end losing skid with overtime victory in Boston

Trail Blazers end losing skid with overtime victory in Boston

BOSTON --Thanks to huge games from CJ McCollum and Meyers Leonard, and a late-game spurt from Damian Lillard, the Trail Blazers ended their four-game losing streak with a 127-123 overtime win over Boston on Saturday at the TD Garden. 

McCollum had 35 points -- including 26 in the first half -- and Leonard went 4-for-4 on three-pointers and scored a season-high 17 points as the Blazers ended their four game trip back East with their only win. 

Lillard, who was limited to only 10 minutes in the first half after getting his third foul with 10:42 left in the second quarter, finished with 28 points, including a back-breaking three-point-play with 47 seconds left in overtime that gave Portland a 122-118 lead.

Later, Mason Plumlee, who missed a close-range shot to win the game in Philadelphia, scored on a similar shot with 24 seconds to help seal the win. 

Boston reserve Terry Rozier helped force overtime when he made a three-pointer with 8.4 seconds left off an inbounds pass. The Blazers tried to win it, but Lillard missed a fadeaway jumper off the front of the rim. 

Boston led 65-56 at hafltime after closing the half on a 20-8 run. Lillard didn't play for the final 10:42 of the quarter after picking up his third foul while the Blazers were leading 29-28. The Blazers fought back with two runs of 11-0 in the third quarter to take an 88-86 lead into the fourth. 

McCollum made his first five shots and finished 11-for-21 in recording his ninth game this season of 30 or more points.

But the surprising story was Leonard, who didn't play Friday in Philadelphia. The 7-foot-1 big man played 25 minutes and was a factor. He had two monster dunks and made all four of his three pointers, adding four rebounds to his night. 

Next up: Lakers at Blazers, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN)

 

CSN Insiders Notebook: Warriors just keep scoring, Rockets shoot the 3... a lot

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USA TODAY

CSN Insiders Notebook: Warriors just keep scoring, Rockets shoot the 3... a lot

Welcome to another week of the CSN Insiders notebook where we give you the lowdown on all the happenings in the NBA courtesy of our band of Insiders.

While trade rumors never take a day off, most of the league at this point is in wait-and-see mode as far as what they’ll do to (hopefully) bolster their roster.

And then you have teams like the San Antonio Spurs whose growth seemingly every season is organic.

Off to one of the more impressive starts in their franchise’s history, the Spurs are once again finding impact talent from unlikely sources that many teams passed over.

CSN California’s James Ham sheds some light on the latest where-did-he-come-from talent that the Spurs consistently find and soon develop into a steady contributor in what’s shaping up to be yet another NBA title run.

SPURS UNEARTH ANOTHER DIAMOND STUD: DAVID BERTANS

San Antonio has built a franchise mining the world for diamonds in the rough. Their latest find appears to be Latvian rookie David Bertans. The 6-foot-10 forward has caught fire from the perimeter over his last five games, hitting 10-of-18 from behind the arc.

He was among the key players in San Antonio’s 109-103 win over Boston on Nov. 25, coming off the bench to score 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting which included 3-for-5 shooting from 3-point range.

The Spurs have quietly won nine straight and they sit at 14-3 on the season. But head coach Gregg Popovich wasn’t exactly happy with his team’s effort in their 96-91 win over the Mavs on Monday night - “I thought we showed a lack of humility, a lack of respect for the opponent,” Popovich told reporters following the game. “A very pathetic performance at both ends of the court. Both in execution and in grunt, in fiber, in desire. It was an awful performance.”

He had similar comments following their win at Boston on Friday, a game in which the Spurs’ bench outscored Boston’s second unit 56-30 in part because Popovich went to them early and often during the afternoon matchup. “Our first group was still in bed,” Popovich said. “It was hard to watch.” – by James Ham

DEROZAN GOAL: BECOME GREATEST RAPTOR EVER

DeMar DeRozan surprised many when he re-signed a long term deal with Toronto without even giving his home town teams – the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers – a chance.

The two-time all-star recently spoke with Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated about his decision to stay with the Raptors who selected him with the 9th overall pick of the 2009 NBA draft.

For DeRozan, he has a clear and undeniable goal in re-signing the Raptors.

He wants to be the franchise’s greatest player ever.

“Without a doubt. No question,” he told the Undefeated. “How many people get to say they hold one record for an organization, or were on the winningest team in Raptors history, or did this with one organization? All of those things last longer than your playing career. It took time for me to get out of the second round (of the playoffs) in Raptors history. And we did that (this year), and that’s something that is going to be there.

DeRozan added, “If we don’t do it and someone else wins a championship, they are still going to revert back to the 2015-2016 team as the best team until then. Ten, 15, 20 years from now, whatever it might be, those things last longer. It’s something you put your all into.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely

WARRIORS’ EXPLOSIVE OFFENSE, ‘SETTLE’ FOR 149 VS LAKERS

When the Warriors added Kevin Durant to the NBA’s highest-scoring team, scoreboards around the league were put on notice. With the four-time scoring champ now on board, how high could they go?

They’ve issued a warning, scoring 149 points in a 43-point win over the Lakers last week at Oracle Arena and surpassing by 13 points the most they had previously scored in two-plus seasons under Steve Kerr. Though that was the most points by any team this season, the Warriors believe they can go higher. Can they get 150? They believe it’s within reach.

“I don’t think a team I’ve been on has ever scored 150 points in a game,” Klay Thompson said. “I thought that would be cool. But I can settle for 149.”

Settle? That’s what Thompson said. Maybe he was aware that came within a point of 150 despite missing six layups and 11 free throws. – by Monte Poole

JEREBKO ‘BARGAIN’ FOR CELTICS PAYING OFF

The Boston Celtics have a roster full of bargain-priced talent, a group that includes their $5 million man Jonas Jerebko. He finished off the season as a starter in the playoffs, with a return to the bench this season likely.

To his credit, Jerebko has not allowed his reduced role to affect his impact on the team’s success.

Boston has won four of the last six games with Jerebko being an instrumental part of that run. In that span, his effective Field Goal Percentage of .974 is tops on the team in that span. And by grabbing 19.4 percent of his defensive rebound opportunities, that too is tops on the roster.

“He’s really a solid player for them,” an NBA scout told CSNNE.com. “And at the price tag, toss him into that bunch of really great bargains Danny (Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations) has going for the Celtics now.”

Indeed, Jerebko’s recent stretch of play has caught the eye of head coach Brad Stevens.

“This past week has been a really good week for him,” Stevens said. “His greatest strength is his ability to space the floor on offense for us, then mix up his cuts and energy to get baskets. And on defense, to guard multiple positions.

Stevens added, “we just need everybody to be great at what they do best. Especially in the past week to 10 days, he’s been great at what he does best.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely

 DESPITE STRUGGLES, TOO SOON FOR WIZARDS MOVE

The chances that the Wizards make a roster move now? Despite a sub-.500 record, that still remains very unlikely.

League sources told CSNmidatlantic.com that the Wizards had discussions about Archie Goodwin, released by the New Orleans Pelicans, but that didn't go anywhere.

Goodwin, a 6-5 guard who orchestrated his release from the Phoenix Suns before the season when he was unhappy with his role, spent one season in Kentucky like John Wall and was a late first-round pick in 2013.

The defensive effort has gotten better and with Ian Mahinmi back to help bolster the second unit, team president Ernie Grunfeld doesn’t seem likely to make a decision this early. Giving up on rookies such as Danuel House, Sheldon McClellan and Daniel Ochefu, all three on non-guarantees that are a minimal hit on the salary cap, to clear a roster spot wouldn’t make sense at this stage either. – by J. Michael

EXUM OUT OF ROTATION IN UTAH?

The (sprained right thumb) injury to George Hill was supposed to be Dante Exum’s opportunity to establish himself as a player head coach Quin Snyder could lean on going forward.

Well, the Jazz lost four of those six games and upon Hill’s return, Exum found himself back – way, way back – on the Utah bench. Shelvin Mack has remained the team’s backup while Exum’s minutes have diminished significantly.

The 5th overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft has played just 13 minutes in the last two games – both Utah wins – since Hill’s return.

In the six games prior to that as a starter, he averaged 29.8 minutes while scoring 9.5 points to go with 3.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists.

While there will be some who will question Snyder’s decision to sit the former lottery pick, here’s what you have to keep in mind.

Snyder and that entire Jazz front office understands that, while developing young players is important, winning has to come first and foremost for this franchise.

Not only in terms of being successful, but also because it will play a factor in whether they can retain Gordon Hayward who is expected to opt-out of his contract and become a free agent this summer.

And while Exum may have more upside than Hill, the reason Utah acquired Hill was in large part because of his veteran experience and track record of success – two things that Exum does not have going for him. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

MELO’S TEAM NOW, PORZINGIS’ SOON … VERY SOON

Cumulative statistics are often grouped in five-game segments. In the case of Kristaps Porzingis, let's stretch it out to his last six to include two 30-point performances.

Dating back to Nov. 16, Porzingis is averaging 23.4 points and 8.0 rebounds. During that stretch he scored a career-high 35 points in 40 minutes against the Pistons and another 31 over 40 minutes against the Trail Blazers. 

In only his second season, Porzingis is on the heels of Carmelo Anthony for the Knicks' leading scorer. As of Saturday, Anthony was averaging a team-high 23.3 points per game with Porzingis close behind at 20.7. Porzingis edged him out slightly with a 21.7 PER to Anthony's 21.5. 

Still, the Knicks' remain Anthony's team. On Friday, his jumper with seconds left in overtime gave the Knicks a win over the Hornets. – by Jessica Camerato 

TIMBERWOLVES ON THE PROWL TO MAKE A TRADE?

There are a bunch of teams that are just waiting for the call from Tom Thibodeau to say that he’s open to moving one of his promising, up-and-coming players. While most would agree that Minnesota’s roster has the most 21-and-under talent that you’ll find in the NBA, the pieces don’t seem like a natural fit which is why they have not been able to close out teams despite seemingly playing with a lead for large chunks of most games. Inquiries about Karl-Anthony Towns are a waste of time. The only way he’s leaving Minnesota is if one day he says he wants out, and that day isn’t anywhere close to being on the horizon.

Andrew Wiggins and Zach Lavine are intriguing talents who are both having career-best seasons. Do not be surprised if one of these two (Lavine the more likely) to be made available between now and the trade deadline if the Timberwolves continue to struggle at closing out games. They need at least one veteran player, preferably a defender in the frontcourt or a point guard who can shoot (Ricky Rubio does a lot of good things for them; shooting ain’t one of them) and run an offense.

One thing is clear: the idea that this team will stay as they are between now and the trade deadline is unlikely to happen if they continue to struggle so mightily at winning games. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

JIMMY BUTLER MVP CANDIDATE?

Who knows if the Chicago Bulls are for real in the context of being a Eastern Conference power but they’re sure wearing the uniform of a team deserving respect.

They finished perhaps two narrow calls away from sweeping the six-game circus trip, although the NBA’s two-minute report likely gave them no solace in losses to the Clippers and Nuggets.

At 6-5 on the road and 10-6 overall, the Bulls are second in the East, with signs this is sustainable. What’s really sustainable is the MVP-level play of Jimmy Butler, who’s raising the bar from his usual all-around performances.

In the six-game trip, Butler averaged 28.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 3.8 assists—numbers if were kept up, he would have to be in the conversation for most valuable. He reportedly tells his teammates, “I’m the best (bleeping) player in the world” and although one Mr. James would have something to say about that, he’s closer to telling the truth than anyone would’ve imagined. – by Vincent Goodwill

LAKERS STARTING FIVE RAVAGED BY INJURIES

Just when the revival of the Lakers was going so well, the team 7-5 through 12 games, the injury bug bared its hateful fangs.

First-year coach Luke Walton suddenly was without three-fifths of his starting lineup: point guard D’Angelo Russell, power forward Julius Randle and shooting guard Nick Young.

Boom. The Lakers lose five of seven and Walton is left searching for the silver lining.

“When you try to find a bright side in a bad situation, you get to give guys opportunities to do things the right way,” he said.
The brighter side is this: Only Russell, who underwent platelet-rich plasma therapy on his left knee, will miss more than a couple games. He’s expected back by mid-December. – by Monte Poole

GRIZZLIES ON THE WAY UP

One of the hottest teams that no one is talking much about, is the Memphis Grizzlies. With Saturday’s 110-107 overtime win at Miami, the Grizzlies have won seven of their last eight games and six straight on the road.

And they’re doing it the way they always tend to do things which is to grind away opponents with their physical, grind-it-out defense.

The Grizzlies’ run has been fueled by their defense which has been among the NBA’s best during their last eight games.

In that span, Memphis has had a defensive rating of 95.6 which ranks 3rd in the NBA. They also rank among the top 10 in defensive rebounding percentage (.814, 2nd), opponent points off turnovers (13,8, 7th), opponent second-chance points (11.8, 8th), opponent fast break points (10.1, 6th) and opponent points in the paint (35.0, 2nd).

And while they are far from being an offensive juggernaut, they have used one of their great strengths – size – to create easier scoring opportunities via free throws.

In the last eight games, they average 19.6 made free throws which ranks 4th in the NBA while shooting 81.8 percent from line during that span which is the second-best mark in the league. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

GREG MONROE ON THE TRADE BLOCK?

Greg Monroe, the Milwaukee Bucks’ big man is averaging a career-low in minutes (17.7), points (8.4) and rebounds (6.6), although his per-36 minutes show he’s just as productive as he’s ever been.

The Bucks are playing smaller and quicker, which makes the ground-bound Monroe an awkward fit in Jason Kidd’s system— and Monroe does have the option to opt-out of his three-year contract this summer so the Bucks have to be proactive.

If so, the New Orleans Pelicans would seem to be a good fit. Anthony Davis protects the rim as good as anyone, and they sorely need low-post scoring to complement Davis’ all-around prowess. Monroe is a New Orleans native as well. Big men who can average 16 and 10 don’t come around often, so if Monroe does come on the market, one would think he’ll have at least a few suitors. – by Vincent Goodwill

PICKING ROCKETS OVER KINGS, TOUGH CALL FOR ANDERSON

The Kings finished their five-game home stand Friday night with a loss to the Houston Rockets. Sacramento went just 2-3 over the stretch, but they played four division leaders and a solid Rockets team.

For one of the few times this season, veteran Omri Casspi got some burn. Out of Dave Joerger’s rotation, Casspi found his way onto the court against Houston, playing 28 minutes in the Kings’ 117-104 loss.

Sacramento-native Ryan Anderson made his first appearance at Golden 1 Center after choosing to sign with the Rockets in free agency over his hometown team. “Man, it really was the hardest decision of my life,” Anderson told CSN California. “Obviously, there are so many factors that go into free agency. For me, I was praying like crazy, like, where am I supposed to be, give me a clue or sign.”- by James Ham

GEORGE INJURY KEEPS PACERS GROUNDED

If you had the Indiana Pacers as the first team in the “players’ only meeting” contest, give yourself a round!

The Pacers have struggled mightily in the early going after being pegged as a possible threat to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East, and star swingman Paul George wanted to bring his team of new players together to get themselves back on track before a pattern of mediocrity is established.

“I wanted to get the guys together and kind of wanted to get them to just start seeing the game differently,” said George to the Indy Star on Thanksgiving, before the Pacers beat the Brooklyn Nets.

George’s ankle and back injuries—along with his mortal play (20.8 points, 6.9 rebounds) has seemingly kept the Pacers from taking the next step. Missing five games and on track to miss a few more is probably the biggest reason the Pacers have underachieved. – by Vincent Goodwill

SUNS SHOOTING BLANKS; WARREN OUT INDEFINITELY

The Suns love to shoot the 3-ball, but so far this season, they haven’t connected like you would expect. Phoenix ranks 29th in the league in 3-point field goal percentage, knocking down just 31.5 percent from long range. Devin Booker, Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight are all shooting well below their career averages.

T.J. Warren is out indefinitely with a minor head injury. “He was feeling a little off in the Indiana game on Friday,” Suns general manager Ryan McDonough told a Phoenix radio station. “We took him out of the game and ran a bunch of tests. I’m not going to elaborate too much on it, but he’s going to be fine. He’s starting to get back in the flow. I think he’ll be out a matter of weeks; I don’t think it will be days but I don’t think it will be months. He’ll come back and play when he’s ready.” – by James Ham

LOVE IN SELECT COMPANY TO START THIS SEASON

Figuring out Kevin Love has been the biggest mystery for the Cleveland Cavaliers the last few seasons, considering his shooting skills and ability to rebound like few others in the NBA.

But it looks like they’ve unlocked Love this season, as evidenced by his NBA-record 34-point first quarter against the Portland Trailblazers a few nights ago, where Love scored 40 and hit eight triples.

Averaging 22 points and 11 rebounds, he and Anthony Davis are the only ones averaging 22 and 10 rebounds this season. If the champs have indeed figured out the final piece to an already-full puzzle, they will play second-fiddle to no one. – by Vincent Goodwill

WESTBROOK’S VIDEO GAME-LIKE NUMBERS STILL GOING STRONG

Russell Westbrook continued his torrid early season pace this week, picking up three more triple-doubles, giving him six on the season. Westbrook is leading the league in scoring at 32 points per game, but he’s also averaging 10.9 assists and 9.8 rebounds.

“16 years in the league, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a player like him,” Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone told reporters on Friday. “His strength, his size, his athleticism, his explosiveness, his attack mindset - just a phenomenal player. He plays like someone pissed in his Cheerios every morning.”

Despite Westbrook’s big numbers, the Thunder are just 3-7 over their last 10 games and sit at 9-8 on the season. – by James Ham

PISTONS SPUTTER WITHOUT JACKSON

What’s wrong with the Detroit Pistons? Is it just the absence of point guard Reggie Jackson, who’s recovering from a knee procedure in the preseason? They’ve lost five of their last seven games, have just one win on the road and are 8-10 after entering the season with some lofty expectations.

Andre Drummond may be counted on to do more if the Pistons are to shake this sluggish start. Being intentionally fouled in the waning moments of a 99-96 loss to Houston put the spotlight on his critically-criticized free-throw shooting yet again, and he stayed after the game working on his shot well after everyone left the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Even when Jackson returns, the spotlight will still be on the man who signed the largest deal in franchise history—and he’ll have to live up to it. His numbers are down so far across the board, and although he’s playing fewer minutes than last season, he’ll have to take more upon his shoulders because of the added pressure. – by Vincent Goodwill

SEE THE 3, SHOOT THE 3 … A LOT

The Rockets were grateful for the three-point line the day after Thanksgiving.

They set a league record with 50 three-point attempts in Friday’s 117-104 win over the Kings. The Rockets connected on 21 of them for a 42.0 percent performance.

Eric Gordon led the way with 12 attempts off the bench (he made four). Trevor Ariza (six made) and James Harden (four made) each shot 11. Ryan Anderson (3 for 7), Patrick Beverley (2 for 4), Sam Dekker (1 for 3) and Corey Brewer (2 for 2) rounded out the rest.

The Rockets are atop the NBA with 37.1 attempts per game. They are second with 13.8 made and fifth with a 37.3 percentage.

The Mavericks held the previous three-point attempt record with 49 against the Nets 20 years ago in 1996. – by Jessica Camerato

HAWKS: SPLITTER (CALF STRAIN) OUT AT LEAST SIX WEEKS

Tiago Splitter has had yet another setback and this was to another body part. According to the team, Splitter has a “Grade 2 right calf strain” – essential a tear in the muscle – and will miss a minimum of six weeks.

Splitter hasn’t been on the court this season because of right hip surgery and a “related” hamstring strain. Since he was traded by the Spurs in the summer of 2015, Splitter has played in just 36 games for Atlanta.

The Spurs flipped him for a protected 2017 second-round pick and the draft rights to Georgios Printezis. It also created cap room to land LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency – by J. Michael

HORNETS STUNG (AGAIN) BY INJURY

Marvin Williams went down with what the Hornets have called a hyper-extended left knee, and he left the court limping.

The Hornets have come down to earth after a 5-1 start, and if Williams is out for any prolonged period it will push his backup, Frank Kaminsky, into duty as the starting power forward.

A defensive-oriented team under coach Steve Clifford, the Hornets have allowed 100-plus points in four consecutive games – all losses – entering Saturday. – by J. Michael

PERIMETER INJURIES PILE UP FOR THE HEAT

The Heat already are without forward Justise Winslow (left wrist), and now have their best perimeter player, point guard Goran Dragic, ailing with a left elbow strain. 

"His elbow doesn't have a lot of movement, and I think you saw that the other night," coach Erik Spoelstra said before Dragic, who is left-handed, sat Friday's game vs. the Grizzlies. "It was really more of a hindrance. He wasn't able to be effective."

Rodney McGruder started for Dragic and Tyler Johnson had a major bump in his role off the bench. But with Wayne Ellington (right thigh bruise) yet to play this season, the Heat lack backcourt depth beyond that. – by J. Michael

CLIPPERS LATEST ON BOARD THE COWBOYS BANDWAGON

After crushing the Mavericks on Wednesday in Dallas, the Clippers stayed in Big D for Thanksgiving. The highlight of the day was a trip to AT&T Stadium, home of the NFL Cowboys, where they hitched a ride on the bandwagon of America’s Team.
Oh, the fun the Clippers had. Blake Griffin, launching passes. DeAndre Jordan, in a Cowboys T-shirt, was running pass patterns. Chris Paul, wearing a Cowboys ski cap, posing for pictures with team owner Jerry Jones. The coach, Doc Rivers, also participated in this team-bonding session.

Ah, yes. There is nothing like having fun on the road.

The immediate results, however, were not good. The Clippers played Friday night in Detroit and took their worst loss of the season, 108-97, to the Pistons.
“They came out with so much more energy than we did in the first 10 minutes,” Rivers said afterward. “And it’s tough to dig yourselves out of a big hole on the road.” – by Monte Poole

DALLAS GEARING UP FOR SOME HOME COOKING

When you look at all the injuries that the Dallas Mavericks have endured in this still-young NBA season, it’s not a surprise that they have struggled so mightily in the Western Conference.

But what is lost in their historically bad start, has been the fact that most of their games played have been on the road.

That’s about to change, and if they have their way, so will the trajectory of their season.

After having 10 of their first 15 games on the road, the Mavericks will play in front of their fans in six of the next seven

By no means will that be the elixir that’ll fix all their problems. But at least at home there’s a sense that maybe, just maybe, the Mavericks can at least tilt their season towards respectability after what has been one of the worst starts in franchise history. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Evan Turner and his transition to Trail Blazers encountering some early bumps

Evan Turner and his transition to Trail Blazers encountering some early bumps

These are frustrating times for Evan Turner, whose transition from the Boston Celtics to the Trail Blazers has not gone smoothly.

Through 10 games, Turner has by far the NBA’s worst plus/minus, and with every head-scratching pass and every flat shot there is growing unease among the fan base: What exactly did the Blazers spend $70 million on this offseason?

Turner is averaging 6.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists in just less than 24 minutes a game while shooting 38 percent from the field. Hailed as a play-maker when the Blazers signed him, Turner has 24 assists and 20 turnovers.

What is even more confusing than his play has been Turner’s recent assessment of his role. To hear the Blazers talk in July, Turner would be riding shotgun with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in directing this team. But after three weeks, it appears Turner feels like he belongs in the back seat.

In the past week, there has been a noticeable step-back from Turner in terms of his engagement within the offense. During his first six games, Turner averaged 7.8 shots; over his last four he is averaging 3.7 shots.

“What can you possibly do?’’ Turner asked after the Blazers’ overtime win Friday against Sacramento, when he had two points, four rebounds and two assists in 23 minutes. “When you get three shots and play 27 minutes … that’s not a knock, because we have the best guards in the league, but I mean, what can I possibly do besides be accountable to defense, take care of the ball, rebound, and play the floor? Where I just came from, I had the ball in my hands tons of times to make plays.’’

Lillard is averaging 30.6 points on 19 shots a game and McCollum 22.2 points on 17 shots a game. Turner is averaging six shots.

“Obviously, everybody is paying attention offensively, and I mean, I think I’m playing the best I possibly can for the situation,’’ Turner said. “It’s not even ‘I’m only getting three-or-four shots’ … it is what it is. We’ve been winning, and that’s pretty much it. I think I’m helping rebounding, defending, and I think I’ve gotten better taking care of the ball.’’

Coach Terry Stotts has become defensive amid growing questions about Turner’s play, in large part because he thinks 10 games is too early to make a judgment, and because Turner has been a reliable and versatile defender on a team whose defense is among the league’s worst. Turner this season has already guarded every position except center.

“I think everybody is kind of targeting Evan and I don’t think that is necessarily very fair,’’ Stotts said. “The game against (Memphis) he didn’t take a shot and played very well. He’s playing good defense, he’s adapting … it’s a process. He’s a smart basketball player, has high basketball IQ and he is only going to get better.’’

Turner is quick to point out his role so far in Portland has been different than that in Boston, an assessment with which Stotts agrees.

“It is (different), and we are 10 games in,’’ Stotts said. “That’s the biggest thing: everybody gets a little anxious for young guys to play or for the new guy to make his mark. Everybody gets anxious or antsy for something to happen right away. It doesn’t just happen. There’s a process to go through and 10 games in, I think, is early.’’

In Boston, Turner says, he handled the ball the majority of the time with the second unit, where in Portland he has dabbled in initiating the offense while playing mostly alongside McCollum. Stotts says Turner’s role as a play-maker will eventually evolve.

“Because it is relatively new and him getting comfortable, I’ve said Dame and CJ are our point guards until he gets more comfortable knowing the sets and knowing where people are,’’ Stotts said. “(When Turner gets comfortable) you can start playing him at point forward without force feeding it, and it will come more natural, and that’s where the evolution will come, where he will feel comfortable bringing it up and calling a set and knowing what sets will get AC a shot, or get him a pick-and-roll … but it just takes time.’’

Stotts pointed out how Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez developed a connection during his second season, and he noted how Turner had that same comfort in Boston with a pick-and-roll involving both Tyler Zeller and Kelly Olynyk.

“That was his comfort zone and it was a go-to play for him,’’ Stotts said. “We just haven’t gotten to that point yet here.’’

In the meantime, grumblings at home games become louder, and the questions after games become more frequent. Turner simply shrugs it off. He says he is used to scrutiny, dating back to 2010, when he was the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. 

“This isn’t my first rodeo with this kind of stuff,’’ Turner said. “It doesn’t shock me. The gun is going to be left in my lap whether I have something to do with it or not.’’

At the forefront of the criticism is his plus/minus rating, which is a league-worst minus-110, 35 points more than the next closest player, Phoenix’s Brandon Knight.

“Whoever is on court with Dame is going to have a positive plus minus,’’ Turner said, chuckling. “I don’t really know what else to say. I could counter and be like ‘Hey, whoever scores on …’  but that don’t look good. I’ve always been in situations where I’ve been a positive. I started out last year as having one of the best (plus/minus) in the league.

“I mean, when it rains it pours,’’ Turner said. “There’s more to make sense of and more to complain about, but what do you want to do? I mean, if you want to point blame or whatever, I’ve been blamed numerous times before so I don’t really dive too deep into it.’’

Turner was never angry or defensive Friday when talking about his season. And he was repeatedly complimentary of Lillard and McCollum and went out of his way to note how well Maurice Harkless has been playing.

“We’re above .500, what do you want?’’ Turner said. “We have two guys playing at an All-Star level, Mo Harkless is coming along really well … There’s not much to say. I’m going to adapt.’’

If anything, he seemed uneasy talking so much about himself, because he wanted the focus to be more on the Blazers’ 6-4 record rather than his struggles or hazy role.

“What can you knock if you are winning?’’ Turner said. “These dudes are making the right plays, the right reads, and you fit in where you fit in. The (4-year, $70 million) contract is going to draw attention, but even if I didn’t have a big contract I’m an easy target, so that doesn’t keep me up. As long as we are winning, it’s not about me.’’

No matter position, Blazers' Evan Turner says 'I can make a lot happen.'

No matter position, Blazers' Evan Turner says 'I can make a lot happen.'

There shouldn’t be any surprise that Evan Turner will share the backup point guard duties for the Trail Blazers this season.

The 6-foot-7 Turner last season was a primary ball handler for the Celtics off the bench, and the newly-signed wing said he grew up playing point guard from youth ball to college.

“I came out of (Ohio State) a point guard, and the experts said I was a wing,’’ Turner said Wednesday. “I never shot a spot-up shot in my life … I am what I am. I grew up playing with the rock. I knew how to play all the positions, and I think if I get minutes on the court, I can make a lot happen.’’

It’s the major reason why the Blazers signed Turner to a 4-year, $70 million deal this summer – he can do so much from so many different positions.

But over the course of his six year NBA career, during which he has played for Philadelphia, Indiana and Boston , it’s clear Turner has some frustrations with his perception. Whether it’s labels that he is a wing, a poor shooter, or a point-forward, Turner thinks it’s unfair.

“I think of myself as a basketball player. Dribble, pass, defend, right? Somehow, I get labeled an enigma. But a one-trick pony has a spot in this league, you know what I’m saying?’’ Turner said. “In this world, we don’t recognize injustice until 30 years from now.’’

He said he was always a point guard as a youth in Chicago, except for middle school, when he moved to shooting guard to allow Iman Shumpert to play point. Shumpert now plays with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

He said he grew five inches when he reached high school, and he found himself playing forward, even though he still gravitated toward handling the ball.

Now, the Blazers envision him playing everything from point guard to power forward, although he will likely spend most of his time at small forward and point guard.

Big man Ed Davis said Turner has already shown he is one of the better passers on the team, which combined with his ball handling, is the reason the Blazers believe Turner can alleviate some of the play-making burden on Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

If there is a weakness to Turner’s game it’s his three-point shooting. Last year he shot 24.1 percent (20-of-83) and he is a career 30.5 percent from three-point range. On Wednesday, Turner stayed after practice and worked with assistant David Vanterpool on his shot.

The Blazers, who are one of the most prolific three-point shooting teams in the NBA, don’t figure to rely on Turner to make three’s, but that doesn’t mean coach Terry Stotts won’t encourage him to take the shot.

“If he is open at the three-point line I want him to shoot the ball,’’ Stotts said. “He is going to work on it just like Mo (Harkless), Chief (Al Farouq-Aminu) and Gerald Henderson did last year. If they are open and it’s a good 3 and you are comfortable I want you to shoot it.

“Evan shot the three really well … I’m surprised how much people are making about his three-point shooting with how much he brings to the table. If it’s in rhythm and he’s set, I want him to shoot it. He’s too good of a shooter to not have the confidence to take open threes.’’

Whether that comes while he is playing forward, guard or point guard, Turner says it doesn’t matter. He is a basketball player.

“I’m going to do whatever coach asks,’’ Turner said. “Whatever happens, happens. I just want to play.’’

Turner may not make many 3s, but he once beat the Blazers with one

Turner may not make many 3s, but he once beat the Blazers with one

The Portland Trail Blazers signed Evan Turner Wednesday night but the free agent from the Boston Celtics has already had a big moment in Moda Center. I'm surprised this hasn't come up earier, but Turner (above) knocked down a corner three-pointer with :01 showing on the clock to beat Portland in late January of 2015.

Turner doesn't make a lot of threes (he was just 20-83 last seasons) but he handled that situation with cool confidence.

That shot, I would assume, left a pretty good impression on some Trail Blazer people. And even though the accompanying photo looks as if Portland GM Neil Olshey is giving two thumbs up to Turner, he's actually trying to tell referees that there should have been a jump ball prior to the game-winner. And he was probably correct.

 

Evan Turner just might be a perfect fit for the Trail Blazers

Evan Turner just might be a perfect fit for the Trail Blazers

Look, I watch as many NBA games as most people but because I watch ALL of Portland's games, I don't get a chance to check out the rest of the league as often as I'd like. So when Portland signed Evan Turner away from the Boston Celtics I wasn't quite sure about it.  I just haven't watched him enough to get a real feel for how he's evolved as a pro.

I knew he wasn't much of a three-point shooter, that he was a solid defender and better-than-average passer. I also knew he was a noted quote machine (you must check these out). Here's just a sample:

On coming off the bench for the C’s, 2015

  • "[Brad Stevens] spoke to me. I had to smell his breath for alcohol. I checked his office for drugs. I said, ‘You’ve gotta be high.’ You know what I’m saying? But I kept it classy, of course, and I trust the process. And that was it. But it’s unbelievable, right?"

But I didn't really know much about his intangibles. But there are things there that make him sound like a perfect fit in Portland:

"Evan's great. Evan has been nothing but a pro since he's been here. He works," (Brad) Stevens remarked in May. "I don't think we had two conversations about him starting or not starting. He accepted whatever his minutes were, and when they came he knew what his role was and what he had to do to be successful, and he just tried to help the team. I appreciated Evan for that."

Turner's ball-handling and passing skills will be a big addition to the Trail Blazers' front court. His quirky quotes will make him a hit with media and fans. But how hard he plays, his hustle, will win over his teammates and coaches.

 

Celtics, Hawks secure one-on-one meetings with Howard

Celtics, Hawks secure one-on-one meetings with Howard

It's been reported that free-agent center Dwight Howard has already set up meetings with the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks.  Howard is believed to be a possible target for the Trail Blazers. Negotiations can begin Friday with free agents and their representatives.

The Trail Blazers, of course, like to operate behind the scenes and their history under Neil Olshey is to keep their free-agent recruiting underground. This year's free-agent moratorium has been shortened from its previous eight-day period to five days. From July 1-6 teams can negotiate with players but not sign them.

Howard opted out of his contract in Houston, a deal that would have paid him $23.2 million for the coming season.