Brandon Jennings says Pistons could become Lob City, pledges to change his game

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As he sat down for his new conference to introduce Brandon Jennings, Joe Dumars muttered, “Oh my god.”

I don’t know what Dumars was referring to at that moment, but I cant think of a better way to describe the experiment he’s conducting with the Pistons.

Jennings at point guard with Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond in a supersized front court.

Oh my god.

“We could bring the Lob City to Detroit this year,” Jennings said.

Or they could be a mish-mash of talent, too undeveloped and/or too stubborn to fit together. Or anything between.

Either way, Dumars succeeded in significantly upgrading Detroit’s talent level this summer, a necessary step as he enters the final year of his contract while serving as general manager for an owner whose impatience for making the playoffs is showing. When the Clippers dubbed themselves Lob City, they had championship dreams. The Pistons’ goals are much more modest, merely reaching the postseason after missing it the last four seasons.

That’s a sad state for the Pistons, a franchise with three championships in the last 25 years. The goal in Detroit has never been a title ever year, but challenging to make the playoffs – the way Dumars phrased it today – sounds relatively pathetic.

But after four pathetic seasons – really five, counting a 39-43 year that resulted in an especially lopsided first-round sweep – this is where the Pistons are. It’s too soon to aim higher, but with the talent the Pistons now have, it’s at least possible to see this road leading to, with the absolute right breaks, reasonable discussions of championships.

Jennings, who cited the Pistons’ multiple titles, must understand this, though he brushed off an attempt to tie himself to the Pistons’ previous greatness. Asked about the Bad Boys shirt he wore to the Drew League, Jennings said, “I just liked the shirt. That’s all.”

Dumars, the shooting guard on those 1989 and 1990 championship teams, patted Jennings on the back – a playful threat. The threat to Dumars’ job is a little more real, and he’s hoping for a pat on the back from Pistons owner Tom Gores after the season.

For that to happen, the Pistons probably have to make the playoffs. For that to happen, Jennings probably must refine his game, something most gunners aren’t inclined to do.

“You’re going to see a whole different player,” Jennings said. “…I definitely have to change my game.”

Oh?

“The things that I was doing in Milwaukee, I won’t have to do here, take all the bad shots,” Jennings said. “Now, I can just actually be myself and be who I was five years ago when I was in high school, playing AAU basketball.”

As he spoke about the need to become a different player, Jennings said, “Of course, I have that chip on my shoulder.”

Again, championship aspirations remain very distant in Detroit. But there’s still a strong connection there with both the Bad Boys – the NBA’s ultimate castoff team – and 2004 championship team, which featured Chauncey Billups (bounced between the Celtics, Raptors, Nuggets, Magic and Timberwolves before finding a home in Detroit), Richard Hamilton (judged by Michael Jordan to lack the proper winning attitude), Tayshaun Prince (fell to No. 23 in the draft despite a standout Kentucky career), Rasheed Wallace (kicked out of Portland for being a bad seed) and Ben Wallace (undrafted and cut by the Celtics).

Did Dumars target players like Smith and Jennings, because they’re viewed as having an edge about themselves?

“We’re not afraid to go down that road,” Dumars said. “That doesn’t dissuade us at all from going up to guys like that. As a matter of fact, we like guys like that.”

Jennings gives the Pistons a better point guard than Brandon Knight, and that’s the most important reason he’s on the team. But Jennings also gives Dumars a chance to save his job with his type type of player. The Pistons have aligned themselves on a course that has worked for them in the past.

Nationally, the Pistons’ season is about really talented players trying to make it work together. Locally, the season is about Dumars’ attempt to keep his job.

Jennings makes both storylines a lot more intriguing.

James Harden helped recruit Lou Williams to Houston

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The Lakers had been shopping Lou Williams around in the run-up to the trade deadline, the only question was would they get a first-round pick for him. Rumors around the league say that Houston had offered them one weeks before, it was on the table, but the Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak front office held their cards close and hoped a better deal would come through.

While all that was going on James Harden decided to ease the process and did a little recruiting calling up Williams, the sixth-man guard told Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“When James called, he asked me if I was interested in playing with them,” Williams told The Vertical. “I told him that I loved the Lakers, but James and them have a group that fit my personality, fit how I play. He said he was going to make it happen.”

Williams then laughed, sitting on the edge of a visiting court following a recent practice. “I’ve heard that before, so I didn’t really put stock into it,” Williams told The Vertical. “I guess James did put the word in, and the team made it happen.”

We all know what happened, Jeanie Buss removed her brother and Kupchak a few days before the trade deadline, Magic Johnston stepped in, called around, and quickly pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Williams to Houston (the Lakers also got Corey Brewer). Williams has averaged 14.5 points per game and had some strong performances with the Rockets, although he’s still finding his groove with the team on the court. Still, he’s been an upgrade for the Rockets’ bench.

Harden knew he would be, so he did his part to make sure it happened.

Take a look back at just how great Shaq was with the Lakers (VIDEO)

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Shaquille O’Neal was as dominant a force as the NBA has ever seen.

His peak years came with the Lakers, when paired with Kobe Bryant one the court — and Phil Jackson manipulating both of them — they won three titles (and arguably would have had more if they stayed together). Those Lakers teams were one of the NBA’s great teams.

Friday night, the Lakers unveil Shaq’s statue at Staples Center. Take a look back at some of Shaq’s Lakers highlights.

 

Warriors’ Matt Barnes on facing Kings: ‘I’m trying to kill ’em’

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The Kings were very good to Matt Barnes.

They signed him to a two-year contract worth more than $12.5 million when it seemed he wouldn’t come close to that on the market. Then they waived him, allowing him to receive all his salary and escape basketball hell for the Warriors, who make him much happier.

Yet, he’s going into tonight’s Golden State-Sacramento game with an edge.

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle (hat tip: CSN Bay Area):

Matt Barnes holding a grudge? Why, I never.

Surging Heat have playoffs in sight after dreadful start

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MIAMI (AP) — They have won 24 times in their last 31 games. They put together the NBA’s longest winning streak this season, a 13-game run that was beyond surprising. They are on the cusp of doing something never accomplished in NBA history.

This Miami Heat comeback tale has been an epic one.

And now comes the toughest part – finishing the job.

None of the other 125 teams in NBA history who started 11-30 or worse made the NBA playoffs. The Heat, with 10 games left on their regular-season schedule, are in position to change that. They held the second-worst record in the league in mid-January, are tied with San Antonio for the best record since, and hold a one-game lead over Chicago and Detroit for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot entering Friday’s games.

“These guys want this so bad,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra – a reluctant coach of the year candidate who cringes when players lobby on his behalf – said Thursday after a loss to the Toronto Raptors. “They want this opportunity to be in the playoffs. We’ve fought, scratched, done everything we possibly can to put ourselves into a position to fight for it.”

More fighting and scratching awaits.

Of Miami’s final 10 games, a stretch that starts Sunday in Boston, eight are against teams still battling for either a playoff spot or playoff positioning. The only two exceptions are a home-and-home next week with New York, which earlier this season was seven games ahead of the Heat in the standings and now are eight games behind Miami (35-37).

“We’ve dug ourselves out of a deep ditch,” Heat center and NBA rebounding leader Hassan Whiteside said.

True, but they’re not on firm playoff footing yet.

Under normal circumstances, Whiteside almost certainly would not have played Thursday. He needed 13 stitches to repair a cut in his right (shooting) hand on Tuesday, and a similar injury two years ago left him sidelined for three games.

Not only did he start Thursday, he led the Heat with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Afterward, he had icepacks strapped to both of his knees, covered his right hand in a clear plastic bag so the stitches wouldn’t get wet in the shower, and had his newly sprained left ankle wrapped.

“He’s a tough dude,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said.

He hasn’t been the only one.

Factoring in that Chris Bosh‘s on-court tenure with the Heat was declared over when he failed a physical in September, Miami has had at least two players unavailable to play in every game this season because of health reasons. Since Jan. 1, it’s been at least three every game – and often more.

A huge blow came last week when shooting guard Dion Waiters sprained his left ankle. He’s at three missed games and counting, and the Heat offense has struggled since.

“This is that time of the year,” Spoelstra said. “Everybody is feeling it, so this is the mental toughness we have to get to.”

The Heat have no practice Friday, though most players will be in the training room for treatments. Practice resumes Saturday, preceding the flight to Boston. And then Sunday, the 10-game sprint to the finish begins.

“I want our guys to enjoy this,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t feel that we’re putting any undue pressure, but everybody will feel like when they lose that the world is collapsing. This playoff race is still going on. And I think we need a day to get away from it, to decompress and to get back to work on Saturday.”