Nerlens Noel

Amir Johnson an underappreciated contributor for Celtics

celtics-amir-johnson.jpg

Amir Johnson an underappreciated contributor for Celtics

INDIANAPOLIS -- As the turmoil surrounding the Philadelphia 76ers and Nerlens Noel continues to heat up, the Boston Celtics will continue to be a team talked about as a possible trade partner.
 
The premise is that Noel has tremendous upside, versatility and could use a new home and the Celtics would be looking at an upgrade because more likely than not, his arrival would signal Amir Johnson’s departure.
 
But here’s the thing: Noel’s talent is in large part based on the potential he has shown as a rim-protecting shot-blocker with an offensive game that has shown signs of growth.
 
Johnson’s game isn’t about scoring or blocking shots or any of that stuff that fans and the media obsess about when comparing players.
 
In his 12th season, there’s a reason why the 6-foot-9 veteran has been in the NBA for so long despite not ever being considered an elite scorer, rebounder or lock-down defender.

 “He doesn’t care about numbers; never has,” an assistant GM that tried to trade for him when he played for Toronto, told CSNNE.com. “All he wants to do is win games, and he figured out real quick he can do that by just being an energy guy who can run the floor, defend and grab some rebounds. Teams that win and win consistently, they almost all have an Amir Johnson-type player.”
 
Which is why as much as the Celtics are interested in bolstering their roster, there’s no indication that they are in a hurry to jettison Johnson off to another team to make that happen.
 
That point is driven home even more so now that the Celtics’ preferred starting five -- Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Johnson and Al Horford -- are all relatively healthy and have had some time to play together.
 
Boston (16-12) now has the third-best record in the East, fueled by a three-game winning streak which has included some memorable performances like Isaiah Thomas’ 44 points, a career-high, in Boston’s 112-109 overtime win at Memphis.
 
But even in that win, Johnson’s imprint was felt on hustle plays such as sealing off his man to allow Avery Bradley to swoop in for a rebound, or being a central figure in Memphis’ Marc Gasol needing 22 shots (he made 8) to score 24 points.
 
Johnson is well aware of his critics who don’t believe he contributes enough to the Celtics’ success. But he knows -- and just important, his teammates know -- how important Johnson’s job is to the team’s success.
 
“I’ve been in the league long enough to recognize and know what it is,” Johnson told CSN’s Kyle Draper. “It doesn’t bother me as long as we’re winning games. When we lose, that bothers me. As long as we’re winning, everybody is happy.”
 
One of Johnson’s biggest fans on the Celtics roster is Avery Bradley.
 
Following Boston’s 105-95 win at Miami earlier this week, a game in which Thomas had 23 points, Bradley himself had 20 and Al Horford (17 points, seven rebounds and eight assists) had a near triple-double, Bradley singled out the play of Johnson as being one of the game’s biggest keys.
 
In that game, Amir had an offensive rebound percentage of .118 which was tops on the team and his overall rebound percentage of .148 also led the Celtics.
 
“Amir makes a lot of winning plays,” Bradley said at the time.
 
When asked about Johnson’s value, Bradley replied, “it’s big time. I tell him that before every game, your energy gets us going. He does all the little things. He’s always diving on the ball. He’s boxing out for us to get rebounds. He’s running the floor, getting us open shots. He helps our team out so much. It’s not in the box score, but we appreciate him. He helps our team out a lot.”
 
Johnson has been particularly strong for the Celtics when it comes to contesting shots this season.
 
Because of the nature of the NBA, big men have to defend the perimeter as well as the paint in order to be effective.
 
This season, opponents are shooting 8.5 percent less from 3-point range against Johnson than what they shoot normally.
 
You see similar dips when Johnson is contesting two-pointers (3.0 percent drop), shots less than six feet from the rim (5.9 percent drop), less than 10 feet (2.7 percent drop) and shots greater than 15 feet (8.3 percent drop).
 
Those numbers speak to the versatility that Johnson has delivered defensively this season for the Celtics.
 
And he does this with the knowledge that some games he’ll start and play limited minutes, or potentially come off the bench as he did earlier this season against Houston.
 
Brad Stevens recently indicated that there might be more games later this season in which he’ll bring Johnson off the bench and have him replaced in the starting lineup by Jonas Jerebko.

Like any player, Johnson wants to play as much as he possibly can, every game.
 
But he understands why Stevens will make that decision and just as important, so do his teammates which Johnson believes is key to making such sacrifices work.
 
“As long as everybody buys in to what our strategy is, it’ll be fine,” Johnson said. “We have to all have a collective team effort just to buy in and do our job. Once we do that, we’re gonna go a long way.”

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.
 
NOEL: 'THEY NEED TO FIGURE THIS (EXPLETIVE) OUT'
 
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
 
FARIED ON TRADING BLOCK?
 
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
 
NBA, SPURS REFLECT ON PASSING OF REPORTER CRAIG SAGER
 
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
 
CONLEY IS BACK, SOONER THAN ANYONE EXPECTED
 
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
 
SUNS, BOOKER STRUGGLE TO HEAT UP
 
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
 
MCGEE MAKES MOST OF CHANCE TO PLAY WITH WARRIORS
 
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
 
WIZARDS SEEK ADDED DEPTH VIA TRADE
 
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
 
HORFORD DELIVERS, LOOKS AND PLAYS GO-TO ROLE
 
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
 
LBJ, CAVS NOW PART OF THE ‘SCHEDULED REST’ DEBATE
 
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
 
MILES SERVES AS CAUTIONARY TALE FOR NBA TEENAGERS
 
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
 
HORNETS DEFENSE NOT BUZZING LIKE IT USED TO
 
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
 
YOUNG TIMBERWOLVES STANDING PAT
 
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
 
ROCKETS CONTINUE TO SOAR

‘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
 
CHICAGO BULLISH ON GETTING BACK TO THE BASICS
 
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
 
TEMPLE MOVES INTO STARTING LINEUP, MAKING AN IMPACT
 
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
 
WINSLOW RETURNS, HEAT CONTINUE TO STRUGGLE
 
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
 
OLADIPO REMAINS OUT, RETURN UNCERTAIN
 
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
 
NETS BRINGING LIN BACK INTO THE FOLD, SLOWLY

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
 
LAKERS’ NANCE APOLOGIZES FOR POSTERIZING LOPEZ
 
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