David Lee, Klay Thompson talk about getting Warriors back on track after the All-Star break

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HOUSTON — For the Golden State Warriors, the All-Star break couldn’t have come at a better time. And at least two of the team’s key players are confident the team will get back on track once the regular season resumes on Tuesday.

The Warriors entered the break on a five-game losing streak, a rough end to the first half of the season that was more successful than even their players envisioned when the year began.

Even after the recent string of losses, Golden State is still firmly in place in the Western Conference playoff picture. Veteran big man David Lee, who was the first player to represent the Warriors in the All-Star game since 1997, is keeping it all in perspective.

“Every team goes through that throughout the course of the season,” Lee said. “The key is to fix it sooner rather than later and get back to the way we’re capable of playing. It’s not like we were just shooting 70 percent from the field or something, we know that we’ve been playing consistent basketball all season long.

“We just had a little dip, and I think we had 10 games in 14 days, a lot of them on the road. I think this break’s come at the perfect time, and we’ll regroup and get our enthusiasm up and be ready to go.”

Klay Thompson, who participated in All-Star weekend’s Rising Stars Challenge game that includes the league’s top rookies and sophomores, said the team needs to get back to doing what it does best in order to turn things around.

“I would say we haven’t been playing Golden State Warriors basketball,” Thompson said. “It’s real disappointing going into the All-Star break on a five-game slide, and it won’t be any easier coming out because we’ve got to go to Utah, which is one of the toughest places to play. Then we take a tough road trip back East.

“We’ve just got to get back to playing with that confidence, that swagger we had before we started losing a little bit,” he continued. “If we do that, it doesn’t matter who we play. As long as we do that, we’ll always be successful.”

Warriors head coach Mark Jackson has command of the locker room, and both Lee and Thompson said that his leadership has been important in keeping the team together during its recent slide.

“He’s been the most positive one,” Lee said of his coach. “After that last loss we were kind of down in the locker room afterwards, and he said for us to keep our heads up, that he’s very excited about the team. The truth of the matter is if you were to tell me we were going to be 30-22 at the All-Star break, all of us would have taken that. So overall, we’ve got to look at what we’ve done throughout the whole season.”

“Mark’s been a great leader,” said Thompson. “He’s a natural leader as a [former] point guard, and he’s really led this team this year. His confidence in us has really made us unselfish and has helped us on the court. And when it comes to that confidence, you go out and play freely, and it’s been a lot of fun.”

Golden State currently sits at sixth place in the Western Conference standings, but as the second half of the season gets started, there are bigger goals in place as the team looks to get right, and get back to playing the brand of basketball that was successful to start the year, and exciting to watch.

“We’re right there with Denver and Memphis fighting for that fourth spot,” Thompson said. “I think we can get there. We’ve got 16 of our last 22 games at home, so we’ve got to protect home court. If we do that, I think we’ll be great.”

Report: Celtics’ Marcus Morris to miss “extended time” to let knee heal

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Marcus Morris missed the Celtics’ first eight games of the season in an effort to get healthy. Upon his return he’s been solid, first as a starter, then coming off the bench, but his left knee continued to be an issue.

Morris was out Sunday when the Celtics beat the Pistons, and he’s going to miss more time trying to get a troublesome left knee right, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

How much time is “extended time?” Probably at least a couple of weeks.

Morris has averaged 12.1 points and 5.5 rebounds a game this season, with a true shooting percentage of 52.5, which is right around the league average.

This could mean more run for rookie forwards Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis, both of whom have played well in limited minutes.

Tristan Thompson expected to return to Cavaliers Tuesday, come off bench

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson could play for the first time since Nov. 1 on Tuesday against Atlanta.

Thompson has been sidelined with a strained left calf. The team initially said Thompson would be out for up to four weeks, but he said Monday that timeline was inaccurate and that his injury was more serious. Thompson did not divulge any other details about the injury.

Coach Tyronn Lue says Thompson will not start when he returns, meaning Kevin Love will remain at center. Thompson says he’s fine with a reserve role and made it clear he’s willing to do whatever Lue needs.

The Cavaliers have won 14 of 15 and their defense has improved dramatically over the past month.

Thompson says he’ll have the same mindset on the floor as always and “just be myself. Being myself has worked out pretty well for me.”

 

Hornets’ center Cody Zeller out six weeks following knee surgery

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Charlotte just cannot get over the injury bug this season, and we found out last week it had struck again.

Now we know how severe the damage is, as first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (and since confirmed by the team).

Ouch.

Zeller has been solid off the bench behind Dwight Howard this season, averaging 7.2 points and 5.5 rebounds in just under 20 minutes a night. He plays around the basket, 75 percent of his shots come at the rim, but his efficiency has dipped a little this season and he is shooting just 50 percent inside the restricted area.

The Hornets had to start the season without Nicolas Batum, and Michael Carter-Williams has missed time as well. On top of that, coach Steve Clifford had to take a leave of absence from the team for personal health reasons. Stephen Silas has stepped in to replace him.

Report: LiAngelo, LaMelo Ball have deal to play professionally in Lithuania

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This feels like a publicity stunt. Whatever the under/over is on how long it will last, bet the under.

That said, the two younger brothers of Lonzo Ball — LiAngelo, 18, and LaMelo, 16 — have reached a deal to play for a team in the highest level of the Lithuanian league. The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski and Jonathan Givony of ESPN (before the signing became official).

LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball are in serious discussions to sign professional basketball contracts with Lithuanian club Prienu Vytautas, sources told ESPN.

The club plans to decide in the next 24-to-48 hours whether to finalize agreements with the two American teenagers, sources told ESPN.

If signed, the franchise has hopes that the Balls – including their father LaVar — could be a marketing boon for the fledgling franchise, sources told ESPN.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports reports the deal is done.

Lithuania is a hoops-mad Baltic country of an estimated 2.9 million people who has three players currently in the NBA — Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — and has put 11 players in the league total, including Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Arvydas Sabonis, and Sarunas Marciulionis. You might remember the Lithuanian National Team wearing Grateful Dead inspired uniforms and taking the bronze medal in the 1992, 1996, and 2000 Olympics.

This is a country that takes its basketball seriously, and the Balls are a traveling circus and reality show. The Lithuanian league doesn’t have NBA-level players, but they guys they suit up have a real feel for the game and play a disciplined style. This could be a real culture clash, the kind of thing that ends quickly and spectacularly poorly. Here is some insight into the team from FIBA’s Lithuanian hoops writer.

Don’t expect the Ball children to play much, especially not at first.

The pay at this level is reportedly north of $1,500 a month, but that could be higher if the brothers are seen as a draw. With the report of the tight financial squeeze, this is likely a gambit on the coach’s part to boost revenue (in Europe, coaches are the CEOs of the organization, much more akin to the power top college coaches have than an NBA coach).

This is a league where men play and the game is taken seriously, it has produced not only Lithuanian players but Boston Celtics center Aron Baynes played there. This team apparently does not run the (suprisingly standard in Europe) two-a-day practices on non-game days, but their practices are longer and harder than most American versions. There are a lot of quality players — former American college/D-League guys, as well as good Europeans — who would love a shot like this. Who deserve a chance like this. If the younger Ball children do not perform and do not take this seriously, it will turn on them quickly.

LiAngelo Ball had gone to UCLA to play basketball this season, but after being suspended for shoplifting in China, his father LaVar pulled him out of college, designed a “Gelo 3” signature shoe for his son from the Big Baller Brand, and started looking for a professional contract. I’m not sure LiAngelo belongs at this level. As one scout told me last summer, LiAngelo was only at UCLA because Lonzo was a top recruit and LaMelo had a lot of potential. That scout wasn’t sure LiAngelo could stick in Europe.

LaMelo is a generally highly-rated recruit with NBA potential, a guy with crazy shooting range for a high-school Junior and good handles, but scouts had a lot of questions about his defense and most of his game outside of just shooting. LaMelo put up 70 points in an AAU game, but he cherry-picked the entire time, and the sense is there is a lot of that in his game. His father LaVar pulled LaMelo out of Chino Hills High School this season after a new basketball coach said he was going to push his guys to play within a system on both ends. How well LaMelo adapts to a very different culture on and off the court at his age is a big question.

Maybe this works out. Maybe the Ball children are more mature in personality and game than I think, maybe this is the financial boost that Prienu Vytautas needs and it works for them. It’s possible. I just don’t expect it.