Nets notes: Kidd takes some credit, Lopez downplays injury, and Pierce off the bench

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NEW YORK — A few leftover items from Thursday night’s big win for the Nets, the team’s third straight.

When Jason Kidd parted ways with assistant coach Lawrence Frank a little more than a week ago, it was viewed in one of two ways.

Either it was a desperate attempt to shift the blame for the team’s disastrous start elsewhere, or it was a power move intended to gain full control of the team from the coaching position after management surrounded Kidd, in his first year as head man on the sideline, with multiple talented assistants.

It seems more like the latter now that the Nets are riding a three-game winning streak, and the new things Kidd began immediately putting in following Frank’s departure are beginning to pay some dividends.

“We have a new system,” Kevin Garnett said following the 30-point loss to the Knicks last week. “We’re changing things on the fly. Jason has been putting in a lot of new stuff since [assistant coach Lawrence Frank] has left.”

When the questions came about the specifics behind Brooklyn’s blowout win over Los Angeles, Kidd subtly hinted that his system — along with getting players like Deron Williams back healthy — might have had more than a little to do with that.

“I would say the defensive side of the ball,” Kidd said, when asked what the difference has been these last three games. “The guys are executing the game plan. … The guys in that locker room, we’ve asked them to do some different things defensively. They’ve done it, and I think the trust factor on the defensive end has now led to the ball movement on the offensive end, and guys getting shots.”

Kidd mentioned the execution of the game plan twice more during his postgame remarks, and after perhaps dealing with some unfair pressure early on as his team was decimated by injuries, it seemed like a fine time for the coach to take some credit for putting a system in place that his healthy team is finally able to “execute.”

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Just as the Nets are beginning to roll, they may have yet another injury setback.

Brook Lopez left the game in the third quarter after crumbling in the post against Blake Griffin. He came out of the game briefly before returning to try to give it another shot, but the team trainer shut him down for the night a short time later.

In the locker room afterward, Lopez was in good spirits and didn’t have any tape, ice or brace on the injured ankle. He would have remained in the game if it was up to him, but even so, his status is up in the air for the team’s next game in Detroit on Friday.

“It’s doing well,” Lopez said. “I just twisted it a little, sprained it a little. I think I got hit by someone; I don’t really know what happened in the heat of the moment, but it’ll be alright.”

The last time Lopez suffered an ankle injury back on Nov. 15 in Phoenix, he similarly stayed in the game and played on it — but then he missed the team’s next seven. When asked if this situation might be similar, Lopez didn’t seem to think it was nearly as bad.

“I’ll know more probably later tonight or tomorrow morning, but it seems better,” he said. “Initially, last time I twisted it, it felt much more severe.”

It would be a mild surprise if Lopez played Friday on the second night of a back-to-back, with the team likely taking the cautious route after dealing with so many early-season injuries. But then again, they may want to keep things rolling as long as possible.

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Paul Pierce came off the bench for the second straight game, and while he had said after his first stint with the reserves on Tuesday that he was fine with that role, he seemed less convincing when answering that same question Thursday night.

“You know, I’m playing my part in this,” Pierce said. “That’s what it is. I’m trying to lead the second team, develop some chemistry with that unit. So, as long as things keep going where we’re winning games, I mean, like I said, I’m sacrificing or whatever for the good of the team.”

Pierce still will see some time with the starters in late-game situations, and he isn’t going to say anything that will upset the delicate balance the Nets have achieved on this current winning streak. But it’s clear he would prefer to be in the starting lineup.

Report: Re-signing Nerlens Noel Mavericks’ top off-season priority

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This is a Mark Cuban owned team, you don’t think the Mavericks are going to make a serious run at a free agent come July 1? Pelicans’ point guard Jrue Holiday has long been known to be a target, but there will be others.

But keeping their new core together, including restricted free agent Nerlens Noel, is the top priority, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Rumors like this are out there in part from Dallas to hope to chill the market for Noel. While he could be a defensive force who provides some scoring around the rim, with Noel’s injury history they may be able to get him at less than max money — because if he’s at the max the Mavericks are flirting with the luxury tax (and Cuban isn’t going to want to pay the tax for a borderline playoff team at best).

What Dallas fears is what Brooklyn did last season to Allen Crabbe in Portland and Tyler Johnson in Miami — some team to come in with a max or near-max offer sheet that drives up the price. Dallas will match, they will keep the young core together, it just gets more expensive.

Next season in Dallas will be a deserved big farewell to Dirk Nowitzki. He will be the focus, but behind him Dallas will try to be building for the future. They made the trade deadline move to make sure Noel is a part of that, the only question now is how much it costs them.

Magic Johnson on drafting Lonzo Ball: “what I needed was a leader”

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Nobody, not even his critics with the Lakers, question that D'Angelo Russell had talent. What they questioned from the start was his work ethic and maturity. I was told by sources with the team he often was the last one to team meetings, often one of the first out of the gym, and the whole Nick Young thing spoke to the maturity question. Byron Scott took a lot of heat as Lakers’ coach for benching him, and Scott’s communication skills were lacking, but he had reasons. Russell also just 21 and maybe he finds his way, but the Lakers weren’t willing to wait anymore.

Which is why the Lakers were willing to move him to Brooklyn in the Brook Lopez trade, and why the Lakers went after Lonzo Ball in the draft, Magic Johnson said, via Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

Is Lonzo Ball a leader? Only time will tell, he has the potential.

Will players want to play with him? Yes, if the passing skills he showed in college transfer to the NBA. If guys know they will get the rock if they run/cut, then they will do just that. It’s some simple B. F. Skinner stuff here — if players are rewarded they will keep doing it. Get them the rock in transition and they will get out there every time.

Ball has flaws in his game, there are certainly questions about his defense, and how that awkward shot translates remains to be seen (it goes in but his time to get it off will decrease at the NBA level)? Will he be a scoring threat in the half-court? He’s got work to do. But answer those questions and the Lakers may have the key piece to help anchor a franchise he’s been looking for.

Sacramento Kings waive guard Arron Afflalo

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) The Sacramento Kings have waived guard Arron Afflalo one year after signing him as a free agent.

The Kings cut ties with Afflalo on Friday before his entire $12.5 million contract for 2017-18 would become guaranteed. Afflalo will get $1.5 million instead.

Afflalo averaged 8.4 points and 2 rebounds in 61 games this past season for Sacramento. He has averaged 11.3 points per game in his 10-year career.

 

Frustrated fan: John McEnroe says Knicks a ‘total train wreck’

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NEW YORK (AP) — John McEnroe had a ringside seat for the ugliest bout at Madison Square Garden last season.

He was sitting just feet away when former Knicks star Charles Oakley was surrounded by security officials at his seat, shoving them away before being handcuffed and arrested while watching a game in February.

Even before that, the tennis great had begun to lose patience with his favorite team.

“It’s like a total train wreck,” McEnroe said.

The low point during a miserable 2016-17 season came when Oakley was dragged out of MSG in the first quarter of a game against the Los Angeles Clippers. A fan favorite as a player, he had fallen out of favor with the organization in retirement after critical comments about the team and MSG chairman James Dolan.

McEnroe, who often travels for his tennis or other obligations, wasn’t aware of the history between Oakley and Dolan.

“I didn’t even realize at the time that Charles had said bad things about him,” McEnroe said. “I hadn’t been up on that, so it wasn’t awkward for me when he sort of poked me in my back, Charles, right before the incident happened. I was like, `Hey Charles, how are you? This is my son, Kevin.’ He was with me.

“So I didn’t put 2 and 2 together and I didn’t know what had happened or really what had transpired,” he said. “So maybe Jim was already uncomfortable because of past history or whatever and then when Charles and the security guys started to go at it, even before they started to come up to him I was like, `Uh oh, this is not going to go well, at all.”‘

McEnroe is clearly visible in replays of the skirmish that were shown that night and throughout the next day.

“To see Charles Oakley have handcuffs put on him was horrible. Like, I was sick to my stomach, as well as almost every other fan that was in there watching this as it took place,” McEnroe said. “I bet you Jim Dolan – this is just my opinion – had to feel terrible about what that was.”

McEnroe grew up in and still lives in New York, and considers MSG his home arena. The inside cover of his new book, “But Seriously,” is decorated with ticket stubs from games and concerts at the arena, including a Knicks playoff game. But like many Knicks fans, he’s getting fed up with what he sees.

“I mean I’ve been a Knicks fan since I was a kid, so this is just getting beyond belief,” he said.

McEnroe has owned a home in Malibu, California, for more than 30 years. He often trained in Los Angeles as one of the world’s top players during the early-to-mid 1980s, befriending Lakers executive Jeanie Buss and Linda Rambis, whose husband Kurt played for the great Lakers teams of that era that were led by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“Watching this was like, I’m sitting there going, why the hell am I a Knick fan again?” McEnroe said, “because this is just absolutely unbelievable, watching Showtime.”

Dolan hired Phil Jackson, who won five titles as Lakers coach, as Knicks president in 2014. But the team has missed the playoffs every season under Jackson, who feuded with Carmelo Anthony last season and didn’t speak to reporters at all while the team went 31-51.

“I mean, he’s known as the Zen Master, like a master talker, and then he’s not talking to anybody,” McEnroe said of Jackson. “So this whole thing seems to have gone completely off the rails.”

Jackson is still hoping to trade Anthony, who has a no-trade clause. McEnroe said he was never the biggest fan of Anthony’s game, but that the All-Star forward didn’t deserve the treatment he received last season.

“It’s crazy to treat a guy that way,” McEnroe said. “It seems like, even if it would be better for both guys if they weren’t there – the Knicks and him – the whole thing just seems, I can’t believe how bungled this has gotten.”