LeBron plays through illness to help Heat take care of Suns


PHOENIX — A little more than 90 minutes before tip-off, the status of LeBron James was still uncertain. With Dwyane Wade already ruled out for the second straight game with a foot injury, Miami may have been in trouble if James too was unable to go.

Thankfully for the Heat, James found a way to push through.

While he wasn’t quite his usual self, a half-healthy James is better than most at 100 percent. He finished with 21 points, seven rebounds, a few assists, and a couple of steals, while playing almost 41 minutes in the Heat’s 97-88 win over the Suns in Phoenix.

“Well look, he doesn’t miss much,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said afterward. “I can’t even remember the last time he’s missed a practice or a shoot around. So when he missed today, obviously that makes you wonder, and you know that it’s pretty serious. We knew yesterday that he hadn’t had any food, so he went through the whole day. In the late afternoon he was starting to be able to keep down Gatorade but that was about it.

“He said it was no hesitation, that he’d never leave those guys out there. But it was a little bit in doubt with us.”

How effective James would end up being on the night was in doubt as the game got started. He began with eight first-quarter minutes that were devoid of any statistical contributions, save for a rebound and a turnover, as he tried to involve his teammates early on. He then had to leave the court to head to the locker room, as he began to feel weak once again.

“Yeah, I got a little sick,” James said of his first quarter trip back to the locker room. “So I came back here to just try to get a little more fluids in me.”

Shane Battier knocked down a few wide open threes in the first, and Chris Bosh was big with 16 first-half points. But whatever nutrition James was able to get during that brief intermission paid immediate dividends.

James played the entire second quarter, and got himself going with a few jumpers and some trips to the free throw line. But as the game wore on, he picked his spots, and was able to close the game out when his team needed him the most.

This game was largely a sloppy one from both teams at times; Miami played loose with the basketball to the tune of 19 turnovers, while the Suns weren’t much better with 17 of their own. Both teams were able to put together sizable runs that swung the game in their favor for short bursts, but neither team could keep it going for a long enough stretch to pull away before the game’s final minutes.

Phoenix came back from seven down with three and a half minutes to play, cutting the Miami lead to just two after a huge steal from Goran Dragic and a layup in transition. The Suns had a chance to tie on a jumper from Michael Beasley, but after it seemed to be just about all the way down it rimmed out, and Bosh converted two free throws to push the lead to four.

After Sebastian Telfair missed a five-footer in the lane off the back of the iron, it was closing time for Miami. And James was the one who had the ball in his hands.

As the Heat held onto that four-point lead with under a minute to play, James dribbled down the clock above the three-point arc, before making his move and driving to the basket. He spun around Marcin Gortat as if the Suns center was standing still, and calmly laid the ball in to seal the win for his team.

What made the performance from James on this night so memorable is that the outcome of this single game in November is ultimately so forgettable. For the defending champions who will measure this season’s success based on what happens five or six months from now, James could have easily sat this one out, and no one would have thought any less of him, even if his team were to have suffered a loss.

But as we know by now, James is a special player who feels a responsibility to his teammates to be out there if at all possible — even in a relatively meaningless game taking place so early in the regular season.

“It takes a lot for me not to play, for me not to be out there with my teammates,” James said. “Me at 50 percent or 60 percent is better than me not playing at all, and I was able to get a little bit of rest this early morning and afternoon. I didn’t have much energy but I wanted to be out there on the floor with my guys, and I’m happy I was able to make a couple plays to help us win.”

Royce White critical of how Rockets handled his mental health situation

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Royce White had an NBA story that was up-and-down, and complex. White, drafted by the Houston Rockets 16th overall in the 2012 NBA Draft, has a well-documented anxiety condition that disallowed him from flying with the team to games.

Things didn’t work out in Houston, and the last time White was in the NBA was during the 2013-14 season. He played a total of nine minutes in three games for the Sacramento Kings, and then White’s career was over.

Now, with the sudden influx of players making public their owns struggles with mental healthDeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love most recently — White has suddenly been thrust back into the conversation. While Ron Artest might be one of the first players of the modern era to openly speak about mental health, White is the go-to guy for comparative statements these days.

And, what White has to say isn’t all that great for the NBA or the Houston Rockets.

Speaking to Yahoo! Sports’ Dan Devine, White said recently that he doesn’t believe the NBA truly cares about mental health just yet. Even further, White said he felt the Rockets and GM Daryl Morey were trying to guard themselves from a liability standpoint when the player and the team negotiated a deal to try to make things work with the Rockets.

Via Yahoo! Sports:

White says that Rockets personnel told him in 2012 that establishing a comprehensive written plan for managing his anxiety disorder would be “impossible,” because doing so would set a precedent “for any league-wide issue regarding mental health.” He says that, after negotiating with the Rockets and the NBA over allowing White to take a bus to certain games to reduce the number of flights he’d have to take in a season — a compromise he was told the league initially rejected because it would constitute an illegal circumvention of the salary cap — Houston deactivated him for the first preseason game he took a bus to, as a punishment for pressing the issue.

White says that, in a later meeting in which he and a team of medical professionals planned to present a draft of a mental health policy to be added to his contract, Houston general manager Daryl Morey said he didn’t know that White suffered from generalized anxiety disorder before drafting him.

It also made him feel like the Rockets might be trying to set up a way to void his guaranteed contract if he didn’t comply with their requirements.

“[Morey] was in a mode where he thought that he could bully me,” White said.

According to Devine, White also says he doesn’t think the most recent stories of mental health awareness will be the triggering factor in a new wave for the league. “White expressed skepticism that revelations by DeRozan, Kevin Love, Kelly Oubre and others would really lead to a sea change in the way the NBA addresses issues of mental health,” wrote Devine.

Vince Carter mocks Blake Griffin complaining to ref (video)

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What goes around came around for Blake Griffin, who hysterically impersonated Austin Rivers while both played for the Clippers.

As Griffin argued a foul he drew should have been a shooting foul during the Pistons’ win over the Kings last night, Vince Carter imitated him – not so flatteringly:

Carter just became a hero to referees everywhere tired of Griffin’s incessant complaining.

Rumor: Mark Jackson “hot name” to be Knicks next head coach

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This summer is going to be nothing like last summer. Way back in the summer of 2017, while you were desperately trying to avoid hearing again dancing to “Despacito,” NBA coaches were feeling safe — there was not one coaching change in the offseason.

Already this season Earl Watson in Phoenix and Jason Kidd in Milwaukee both were fired, and both of those teams will be conducting coaching searches this summer. The buzz around the league is there will be an opening in Orlando, too, and possibly Detroit depending on whether Stan Van Gundy wants to pull a Doc Rivers from last summer.

Then there’s the Knicks — Jeff Hornacek would like to know his status. Understandably. The scuttlebutt around the league is he may want to sharpen his resume and get in touch with a realtor, but nothing is official.

Marc Stein of the New York Times took it one step further in his weekly newsletter, saying former Warriors coach and current ABC/ESPN commentator — not to mention Knicks player — Mark Jackson would be at the front of the line to get the Knicks coaching job.

The former Knicks guard Mark Jackson keeps coming up as a hot name to succeed Hornacek, amid a growing belief the Knicks’ new front-office chief — Scott Perry — will want to install his own hand-picked choice heading into next season.

It’s difficult to fault Hornacek for much of the chaos that has engulfed the Knicks during his two seasons in charge. But there’s no avoiding the fact he was a Phil Jackson selection, which could well doom him now that the organization seems intent on cutting every non-Porzingian tie to the Phil era as possible.

Already there have been denials of a couple of things Stein had in his newsletter. The Pistons and Chauncey Billups both shot down the idea they have discussed a front office spot for him after Van Gundy is pushed out of the GM role, and Alex Lasry denied that the Bucks have a list that includes Jeff Van Gundy. So, use as much salt here as you would like with the Jackson rumor.

The Jackson-to-the-Knicks rumor makes some sense — Jackson built the defensive foundation on which the Warriors have won titles, and he’d be an easy sell to fans and any cantankerous owners who may have a say in the matter. However, the Knicks would be wise to do a broad search and get the best possible guy, not just the guy easiest to sell. Jackson was beloved by his players but pushed out in Golden State for legit reasons, all of which must be considered. Talk to the highly respected David Fizdale. Bring in Monty Williams. That’s just the top of the list, but the Knicks need to nail this — they have the hardest thing to get in building a team, a franchise cornerstone piece in Kristaps Porzingis, but they need to do a better job of creating a culture/foundation/system, and putting players that fit said system around KP. Also, once they pick a system, stick with it fully for at least three or four years — give it a chance to breathe.

It’s too early to call this anything other than a rumor, but it’s something to watch as we head to summer.


Report: With his knee not progressing as hoped, Kyrie Irving to get second opinion

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Kyrie Irving has missed the last three Celtics games — two of them losses — due to a sore knee. This is the same knee where he fractured a kneecap in the 2015 NBA Finals, and GM Danny Ainge admitted that in the next few years Irving may need a maintenance surgery to keep the issues down.

Now comes a report that just time off has not yet had the desired effect on Irving’s knee, so he will seek a second opinion, Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports broke the story and Brad Stevens of the Celtics confirmed it (with some more details by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports).

There is no timetable for Irving’s return, but he will not be on the Celtics’ four-game road swing through the West that starts Friday.

Getting a second opinion is the smart move. NBA team doctors are very good at their jobs, but as with any serious medical issue, a second opinion is a good idea (plus, team doctors are paid by the team, which can create a conflict of interest). Most likely the second doctor says “rest is all you need,” but better to be safe than sorry.

Boston is going to be ultra conservative in bringing Irving back. The simple fact is that in the wake of injuries to Daniel Theis and Marcus Smart (who maybe could return in the second round of the playoffs), it’s unlikely the Celtics get out of the Eastern Conference this season. They lack a high-level secondary playmaker on offense after Irving (Boston’s offense is eight points per 100 possessions worse when Irving is not on the court this season) and with the injuries their defense can’t carry them far enough. Boston has always played the long game with this rebuild, and they will do it with Irving as well.