Sacramento Kings v Atlanta Hawks

Kings coach Michael Malone on his players: ‘These guys have got to take responsibility’

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What’s bothering Kings coach Michael Malone?

Right now, it seems to be Sacramento’s 22 turnovers in a loss to the Pelicans on Monday and the Kings allowing 39 fourth-quarter points in a loss to the Hawks on Wednesday.

After the the loss to New Orleans – Sacramento’s fourth defeat in five games, which dropped the team to 8-19 – Malone gave one of the most direct interview sessions of the season. If it was on his mind, he said it.

The highlights, via News 10 (click through for video):

  • “It’s the same problem every night. I guess we’ve got to some better players that can contain the basketball, because right now, we can’t.”
  • “We’re a bad basketball team. That’s the bottom line. We’re a bad basketball team right now.”
  • “We’re not that good where we can give teams 22 extra possessions. I’ll tell you that much. I don’t know if we can beat them if we give them zero extra possessions.”
  • On Rudy Gay: “He played bad. That’s it. He had a bad game. And he wasn’t the only one. We had a lot of guys that didn’t play well tonight.”
  • “You know how hard it is to give up 39 points in a quarter? That is embarrassing. I’m embarrassed. I don’t know if anybody in that locker room is embarrassed, but I’m embarrassed.”
  • “I can’t control the turnovers. I can’t make the passes for them. That’s – at some point, these guys have got to take responsibility. Plenty of times this season, I’ve put it on me, and I’ll do that. But I tell you what, each guy in that locker room has got to start looking in the mirror and owning up and taking responsibility for their play. And we don’t have a lot of that right now.”
  • “How many times do you have to hit rock bottom? I mean, Look at our record. We’ve hit rock bottom four or five times now. Maybe some of these guys are so used to losing, they’re accustomed to it. I’m not. I’m not used to losing. I’m used to being in the playoffs and being a competitive team that takes pride in its defense. Right now, we don’t have a lot of guys that do that. So, I’m not sure what their rock bottom is, but I hit my rock bottom about one week into the season.”

Oh boy.

An NBA coach blaming his players like that is a dangerous game. Sure, Malone interjected a cursory “I’ve put it on me, and I’ll do that,” but everything else he said suggests otherwise. He’s putting it on the players.

On some teams, that can motivate the players into trying harder and performing better. On other teams, it leads to distrust and revolt.

I hope, for Malone’s sake, he knows what he’s doing. He certainly has more exposure to the personalities of the Kings than I do, so he’s better positioned to make that judgment – assuming the comments were a tactical decision and not an emotional outburst Malone now regrets.

But this would be a good time to remind Malone he’s 8-19 as an NBA head coach. Is he really so certain the Kings’ problems are the players faults and not his? Are all his schemes ideal? And if they are, has he taught them coherently?

It takes a lot of self-confidence for a rookie head coach to assume it’s the players and not him. To say so publically puts Malone on a whole other level.

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For what it’s worth, told of Malone’s unhappiness, DeMarcus Cousins indicated agreement rather than rebellion. Via News 10 (click through for video):

  • “It’s like an old record playing. It’s the same s— every night. We break down defensively. We don’t talk. It’s the same s—. And when you keep up with the same s—, you’re going to get the same results, and that’s what we’ve been getting.”
  • “It’s excuses. We’re looking for excuses. That’s all it is. We’re looking for excuses.”
  • “I won’t say it’s effort, but it’s an excuse. ‘Well, this man didn’t do that. So, I couldn’t do that.’ it’s excuses. Guard your man. Do your f——- job.”

Cousins scolding his teammates for not doing their jobs defensively? He’s not exactly an ideal messenger. Zach Lowe of Grantland evaluated Cousins before the season and wrote:

We tend to think of selfishness as something ball hogs exhibit on offense. But Cousins, to this point in his career, has been a selfish defender in lots of ways. He tries to minimize the amount of energy he expends executing the team’s scheme, and as a result, he stays very close to his own man when his team really needs him to be helping more aggressively. Even when he slides over on time to try to contain the opposing point guard on a pick-and-roll, he often leaves his help spot early, after offering only a token wave of the hand.

Cousins has improved in this regard this year, but a partial season of unselfish defense doesn’t give him the high ground – especially if his teammates are complaining that they can’t rotate properly because Cousins doesn’t.

He needs longer to earn the benefit of the doubt. Yet, he’s still pointing fingers.

Maybe he just took a cue from his coach.

Carmelo airballs wide-open 5-foot jumper, sets Knicks scoring record (VIDEO)

New York Knicks' forward Carmelo Anthony (7) questions referee Dan Crawford (43) before he was ejected for two technical fouls in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Madison Square Garden in New York, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017. The Pelicans defeated the Knicks 110-96. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
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Carmelo Anthony is a gifted scorer, but the New York Knicks forward probably wants this one back.

After a slick pass from a teammate on Thursday night against the Washington Wizards, Anthony turned to drop a floater down on the net and missed by a solid foot.

Via Twitter:

The joke was on the Wizards a few minutes later as Anthony went on a tear after the missed bucket. He set a Knicks record with 25 points in the second quarter, ending the first half with 27 points.

New York would go on to lose to the Wizards, 113-110.

Russell Westbrook isn’t an All-Star starter and the Internet is mad about it

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Russell Westbrook, the man averaging a triple-double for the Oklahoma City Thunder this season and a solid pick for NBA MVP, is not starting in the 2017 All-Star Game. Instead, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors and James Harden of the Houston Rockets will be on the floor at tip as Westbrook watches from the bench.

That’s clearly wrong … right?

Westbrook lost the starting spot thanks to — brace yourselves — the fan vote. While players and media had Westbrook atop their voting sheets, fan votes put Westbrook No.3. That tied him with both Curry and Harden, who were Nos. 1 and 2 in the fan vote.

Of course, the fan vote is the tie breaker, which pushed the Thunder star to the reserves.

Meanwhile, the Internet was not happy about it:

Yeah … Russell Westbrook should be starting.

Miami churns up plenty of memories for Mavs’ Dirk Nowitzki

Dallas Mavericks v Miami Heat - Game Six
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MIAMI (AP) Dirk Nowitzki tries to avoid feelings of nostalgia.

That’s impossible when he’s in Miami.

For all the cities around the world where he’s played, whether with the German national team or the Dallas Mavericks, the only place where Nowitzki celebrated the ultimate prize is Miami – where he led the Mavs to the 2011 NBA championship , avenging a loss to the Heat five years earlier. So on Thursday, before playing in Miami for the 25th time, Nowitzki was understandably reflective.

“You definitely never forget,” Nowitzki said, as he relaxed for a few minutes in a courtside seat across from the Heat bench. “You don’t always want to live in the past. You kind of want to make it work now in the present, so I don’t always think about that year, but coming here, walking in the hotel, walking in this building, it’s tough to forget.”

Nowitzki is under contract for next season, though no one seems sure if he’ll play past this season. He turns 39 in June. He’s probably just a few weeks away from reaching the 30,000-point mark. His place in the Basketball Hall of Fame was ensured long ago. And the Mavericks are in a rebuilding phase, making it fair to say that another title probably isn’t in the immediate offing.

So it’s possible that Thursday may be his Miami farewell.

Whenever he leaves the game, the Heat will tip their caps.

“At the highest level, in the biggest moments, he proved that he can be the best player in the world – period,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “What else do you need to say? His game is timeless, too.”

It’s timeless, yet evolving. Nowitzki was probably more of a small forward when he broke into the NBA, became a power forward who changed the game with his combination of 7-foot height and guard-like shooting, and now plays a hybrid center role. The one-legged step-back jumper – his signature move – has been emulated by many, including Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James.

Nowitzki went to The Finals twice, both times against Miami, and the Heat still offer him what they call ultimate respect.

“You could say that Dirk Nowitzki, in his prime, forced longer and more coaching meetings around the league, or at least as much as any player in the league,” Spoelstra said. “He was so unique. You had to have specific Nowitzki rules. The absolute best of the best require their own rulebook, and you had to design ways of defending that may not be consistent with your system but specific for him.

“Otherwise,” Spoelstra continued, “you would run around in circles looking like idiots.”

Much has changed since Nowitzki first played in Miami on April 7, 1999.

The Mavericks and the Heat both had different logos than they do now. Don Nelson was coaching Dallas, Pat Riley was still in his first of two stints coaching Miami. Vancouver and Seattle still had NBA teams. The Heat weren’t even playing in AmericanAirlines Arena at that point – they were at Miami Arena, which was demolished in 2008.

Nowitzki went scoreless in three minutes that night, and scoreless again three nights later against Golden State. He’s failed to score only twice in 1,454 games since, the last of those coming in 2003.

“I used to be a tough matchup,” Nowitzki said.

He won’t say it, but he still is.

Age has slowed him, for sure. The skills and the know-how, that doesn’t change.

“Hall of Famer,” Heat forward Udonis Haslem said. “One of the best big men to play the game. He definitely changed the game. Hell of a competitor, a champion, somebody who I have a lot of respect for.”

Haslem had the task of guarding Nowitzki in those Finals meetings.

“I really found out what I was made of as a competitor,” Haslem said.

The Mavericks don’t always stay in the same hotel when they visit Miami, but the one they got for this trip helped spark Nowitzki’s trip down memory lane. They stayed there in 2006 during the Finals when they lost three games in Miami, and stayed there again in 2011 when they left Miami with the Larry O’Brien Trophy in tow.

All the memories, good and bad, started flooding back as Nowitzki walked through the lobby.

“You know, `06 will obviously never be out of my memory,” Nowitzki said, “but `11 definitely made it sweeter.”

Kings make it official: Rudy Gay out for season with torn Achilles

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We all knew this was coming, but the MRI made it official:

Kings’ wing Rudy Gay is out for the season with a torn left Achilles, the team confirmed Thursday. He will have surgery to repair the Achilles soon, but a date has not yet been set. Recovery from this injury lasts at least nine months, often closer to a year.

This was expected after the initial diagnoses Wednesday. Still, it’s a blow to Sacramento and its playoff dreams.

Gay was the Kings’ second-leading scorer at 18.7 points per game, plus pulling down 6.4 rebounds a night, and this season the team gets outscored by 10 points per 100 possessions when he is off the court. Matt Barnes and, once he returns from his calf injury in a couple of weeks, Omri Casspi will be asked to pick up the slack. Those two are a drop off from what Gay brought to the Kings in terms of scoring.

The big picture for Gay also gets cloudy. Gay made it very clear he was not happy in Sacramento and planned to opt out of the $14.3 million final year of his contract to be a free agent next summer. That led to him being a potential trade deadline target. Those trades are off the table. At age 30 and trying to come back from a traumatic injury, it’s fair to question if Gay will even opt out.