Even in preseason, risks of small ball begin to show

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In Shanghai we saw it — Chris Bosh and the assortment of other Heat centers could do little to slow the bigger, stronger DeAndre Jordan short of fouling him. With Chris Paul feeding him the rock, Jordan shot 8-for-8 in a Clippers win.

In Hartford we saw it — the Knicks went to the Raymond Felton/Tyson Chandler pick-and-roll early and the Celtics with their smaller lineup couldn’t contain Chandler, who racked up 16 points.

Two of the best teams in the NBA this season — the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics — are leading a “small ball revolution.” Which is less revolution and more reaction to the kind of players coming into the NBA now — 30 years ago mobile bigs like Chris Bosh or Kevin Garnett, guys who can step out and stroke an 18-foot jumper like it was a layup, were basically nonexistent.

So some of the NBA’s elite teams are going with what would be untraditional lineups, ones that count on what Heat coach Erik Spoelstra likes to call “position-less” basketball. You can post up Bosh or you can post up Dwyane Wade, whatever creates the mismatch. If that means Bosh is at the three-point line drawing the opposing big man out of the paint, then good. Use the versatility of sometimes smaller players.

And they are doing it because it works — Miami won a ring last year and Boston took them to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals going small.

But there are ways to attack “small ball” for the handful of teams have mobile or hard to defend traditional centers.

In the East, the Heat and Knicks will have to deal with 76ers and Andrew Bynum, and New York and Chandler (who is an often underrated pick-and-roll big man). This isn’t a simple matter of putting Bynum on the block and making the Celtics bring a double team, it’s also dealing with pick-and-rolls when both size and speed come into play.

Put another way, Jared Sullinger can’t handle Chandler rolling to the basket. Boston can counter that by going with Darko Milicic, but he doesn’t have the foot speed to play that way. It’s a hard matchup for them that will require much better pick-and-roll coverage from the Celtics guards, something Doc Rivers pointed out Saturday.

Not a lot of teams can play the Heat and Celtics this way — mobile traditional big men are still hard to find — the problem is some very elite ones can. We mentioned the Knicks, Clippers and Sixers, but there are more. The biggest threat is the Lakers who run two very mobile big men out in Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. They will be a load for every team (because they have great point and wing play, too). Then there is Memphis with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.

It will be interesting to see how over the course of a season, in games that matter, how Boston and Miami deal with these challenges. They might just overwhelm some teams with offense. The Celtics can run Garnett out there longer (not ideal long term but for a game here and there it is doable). There are counter measures.

The bigger challenge will be in the postseason, when teams can scheme, set up matchups they like and run those plays until the other team stops them. Smart money is still on Boston and Miami in the Eastern Conference finals, but it won’t be easy because there are ways to attack them

Utah’s Rudy Gobert, Brooklyn’s D’Angelo Russell both make return from injury tonight

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Let’s try something different: How about some good injury news for a change?

Going through the roughest part of their schedule without their Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert, the Utah Jazz have fallen out of the playoff picture in the West. The good news is Gobert is back starting Friday night.

The Brooklyn Nets took on a lot of salary (hello Timofey Mozgov) to get ahold of and see if they could develop D'Angelo Russell into their point guard of the future. However, he has been out since Nov. 12 and had to get his knee scoped to solve some issues. Now he is back as of Friday against Miami, and the Nets will again be able to get a look at him (as he heads into restricted free agency).

Neither of these returns are turning these teams into playoff teams, but they do help.

Brooklyn is not about the playoffs this season, but their gritty performances this season have picked up enough wins to frustrate Cavaliers fans (the Cavs have their pick in this draft). The Jazz are not completely out of the playoffs, but they are five games back in a deep Western conference and that will be hard to make up without some help. Getting Gobert back at least gives the Jazz a chance, and it’s an opportunity for Gobert and rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell to start to develop some chemistry.

Report: Cavaliers interested in George Hill trade with Kings

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When the Sacramento Kings made the much-maligned move to sign three veterans this summer to healthy contracts — George Hill, Zach Randolph, and Vince Carter — there were three reasons for it. Two the Kings were very public about: They wanted mentors for the 10 young players on their roster, and they had to get up to the salary floor anyway.

The third, less discussed reason is those guys might make decent trade chips. Especially as the Kings move toward playing their youth more (as they should).

Enter the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are stumbling through the East right now and have reached out to the Kings about a potential trade for Hill, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

In an effort to bolster their backcourt situation, the Cleveland Cavaliers are expressing interest in a trade for Sacramento Kings guard George Hill, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Cleveland has emerged as an interested suitor, with the Cavaliers pursuing Hill to potentially slide into a dual-guard role, starting at either backcourt position or playing as a reserve, league sources said.

The Cavaliers are starting Isaiah Thomas at the point, with the assumption that he will find his groove as his conditioning improves and he gets used to playing next to LeBron James, however, they have had issues at the two spot. J.R. Smith starts there now with Dwyane Wade and Kyle Korver (both really more threes) behind him, but with Iman Shumpert out due to a foot injury the Cavaliers could use backcourt depth.

George Hill appears to have taken a step back this season, but he is still a solid guard who can shoot the three (45 percent this season) and be a good floor general. He could be a better backup point guard than Derrick Rose. Hill is not a season changer for Cleveland, but he would give them some solid depth and versatility.

The problem is money — Hill signed a three-year, $57 million deal with the Kings. The Kings might be open to a Hill for Tristan Thompson and a second rounder deal (no way Hill earns a first, even a Cavs late one).

Consider it something to watch. The Cavaliers have to get better at the trade deadline, although they have no plans to move the Brooklyn Nets pick. The Kings are open to the idea of a trade. It’s a first step.

Stan Van Gundy backs off feud with ESPN ahead of televised Pistons game

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Pistons president/coach Stan Van Gundy said he wouldn’t give ESPN its usual access – a private pre-game meeting and an in-game interview – in the aftermath of ESPN publishing LaVar Ball’s negative comments about Lakers coach Luke Walton.

The first test of Van Gundy’s new policy comes with today’s Pistons-Wizards game on ESPN… and Van Gundy is mostly backing down.

Van Gundy, via Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

“I got an email from Rick Carlisle of the coaches association and they want me to cooperate, so my whole idea was to boycott the thing in support of coaches,” Van Gundy said. “If the coaches don’t want that, then it would be a selfish thing, sort of a grandstanding thing.”

“I’m certainly not looking to do extra stuff with ESPN.com when those guys call and want to do things,” Van Gundy said. “They want to put themselves out there as a journalistic enterprise — they’re clearly not. They don’t have any journalistic standards. I have no obligation to do anything extra.”

Many media members have quoted Ball on a variety of issues. Coaches threw a fit over this one because they’re sensitive to coaches being criticized. It wasn’t about journalistic ethics or the source. Van Gundy and other coaches simply didn’t like Ball’s conclusion.

I’m so glad Van Gundy is no longer grandstanding. [extreme sarcasm]

He’s not obligated to speak with ESPN reporters, but when Van Gundy rails on journalistic standards as cover for disagreeing with the opinion a journalist published, he sounds a lot like the guy he loves to criticize.

Pistons’ Jon Leuer to undergo season-ending surgery

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Jon Leuer‘s ankles survived this.

But apparently they’re not invincible.

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

After suffering a sprained ankle on Oct. 31, the symptoms worsened, as an exam revealed bone fragments and other issues. Leuer has missed the last 35 games and has decided to have season-ending ankle surgery, he told The Detroit News on Friday.

Leuer, 28, has scheduled the procedure to remove bone fragments for next Friday and will have a four-month rehabilitation process.

The Pistons have applied to the NBA for a disabled-player exception

The Pistons have been without Leuer for a while, and they’ve done fine without him. Anthony Tolliver is a capable backup stretch four, and Henry Ellenson adds even more insurance there. Detroit misses Leuer as a stretch center, providing a different style behind Andre Drummond, but Eric Moreland and Boban Marjanovic have at least decently handled those reserve minutes.

The bigger issue: The Pistons are paying Leuer $10,497,319 this season and owe him $19,510,724 over the next two years and don’t miss him that much. He’s a luxury they don’t need and maybe can’t afford.

Perhaps, they’ll deal him before the trade deadline, as they look to upgrade the roster for a playoff run. Detroit could send Leuer and a draft pick or young player (Stanley Johnson) for a better player on a more favorable contract. How about Leuer and a first-round pick to the Bulls for Nikola Mirotic?

A disabled-player exception (DPE) would be worth $5,248,660, half Leuer’s salary. It could be used to sign a free agent for the rest of the season or trade for a player in the final year of his contract.

But the NBA grants a DPE only if a league-appointed physician rules the player is “substantially more likely than not” to be unable to play through June 15. The reported timeline would have Leuer back in May.

Still, the league tends to be lax with giving out DPEs. Detroit has a chance to get one.

The Pistons are just $2,745,417 below the luxury-tax line. So, they’re unlikely to use a full Leuer DPE to acquire another player (and would still need to clear a roster spot). But it could be helpful in facilitating a bigger trade.