Christmas night NBA grades: Durant is on the nice list, the Nets get a lump of coal

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while trying to get that “Christmas Jammies” song out of your head….

source:   Brooklyn Nets not named Deron Williams. If you want to blame everyone in a Brooklyn uniform (ugly, Christmas Day sleeved uniform) for that disaster of a loss, I can’t blame you. They were awful. But I lift some of the blame off Deron Williams — when he tweaked his ankle and left the game in the third quarter it was a five point game, 57-52 Bulls. By the time he got back on the court in the fourth quarter the Nets were down 21. You look at the Bulls and you see a team with the heart to play hard with its stars (Derrick Rose, Luol Deng) out for the night, the Nets lack that. They lack a lot of things, but depth and heart are a big part of it.

source:   Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder. Frankly, it was hard to get too excited about the Thunder’s blowout win over the Knicks because it pretty much followed the script we expected once word came down Carmelo Anthony was out. I was hoping for an old school Durant/Anthony shootout but what we got still Durant putting on a show — he was 5-of-5 for 13 points in the first quarter to begin with. Durant was doing it all — step back threes, finishing dunks in transition, basically scoring at will on his way to 29 points. And he got to rest the fourth because he was playing the Knicks.

source:   Los Angeles Lakers. Moral victories suck. And it sucks for Lakers fans that they are going to get a lot of them this year. But after watching the first two games of Christmas Day where teams from New York responded to adversity by just rolling over, the way the Lakers responded was refreshing. Nick Young came in off the bench in full Swaggy P mode in the second half and finished with 20 points, Jodie Meeks added 17. Los Angeles wouldn’t let Miami run away and hide in this one, and that’s a good sign for a team looking for positives after Kobe went down with another injury. And by the way, Mike D’Antoni is doing a pretty good coaching job with this team this season.

source:   James Harden, Houston Rockets. Houston had raced out to a 17-point lead but unlike the early games in the day you knew San Antonio wasn’t just going to roll over. The Spurs chipped away and got it down to five points with 8:17 in the fourth quarter — then James Harden happened. He hit his first four shots, scored 11 straight points and had 16 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter. Harden shut down any Spurs comebacks. The Rockets looked like a potential contender in this game and for that two come true two things have to happen: 1) They have to play like this consistently; 2) James Harden needs to be their closer, their go to guy in the fourth. Like he was on Christmas Day.

source:  Officials Bill Kennedy, Gary Zielinski, and Scott Twardoski. I generally have a policy — you can’t blame an official’s bad call for the loss. And the Clippers can’t blame them the referees in this 105-103 loss to the Warriors because both Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford had their chances at the end and just couldn’t make the plays (or in this case of when Klay Thompson blocked CP3, the Warriors made the better ones). And it’s not just the end, the Clippers lost a lead and that’s not on the refs. That said,  the referees seriously hampered the Clippers chances — and robbed the fans wanting to see an entertaining game play out — when they ejected Blake Griffin for two technical fouls in under two minutes. In both cases — and elbow above the shoulders from Draymond Green and a little tussle under the basket with Andrew Bogut — Griffin had a flagrant foul committed against him, yet in both cases he got a technical too and was tossed for the second one. (Honestly, that second one was at most a double foul, neither Bogot nor Griffin deserved more.) This game was a bit more chippy than your average December regular season matchup but that’s what made it fun. This came off as the officials trying to get control of a game that wasn’t really out of control. They didn’t need to do it and the altered the game with their actions and poor decisions.

Cool Hand Lue: Cavs coach keeps NBA champs cool amid chaos

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Moments after the Eastern Conference championship banner was raised by the Cavaliers for the third straight time and the obligatory postgame interviews ended, Tyronn Lue slipped quietly away.

Cleveland’s coach ducked into the shadows, his preferred location.

“I don’t like the attention,” he said.

But Lue, once a journeyman point guard who steered the Cavs to an NBA championship last season, has grown more accepting of his frontman role. He’ll again be at center stage this week as Cleveland meets Golden State in the third installment of their title trilogy.

If the unassuming, easygoing Lue had his preference, the teams would duke it out for the Larry O’Brien Trophy on a playground court in a stifling hot gymnasium, with only a handful of onlookers present. A student of the game, he’s old school with a fresh perspective.

Of the many juicy subplots between the Cavs and Warriors, one that frequently goes overlooked is Lue, the former assistant who has blossomed in no time into one of the league’s brightest young head coaches and a playoff savant.

He’s 28-6 in two postseasons with Cleveland. His players credit Lue’s soothing, steady influence – on and off the floor – as nearly as vital to their success as a clutch Kyrie Irving 3-pointer.

“It’s just his level of calmness no matter what’s going on,” LeBron James said following practice. “He always talks about, at the end of the day, he’s already won in life, so whatever else happens after this is extra credit. And I feel the same way. That’s why I relate to him so much. Lose here, or you win a game here, it’s like, `All right, cool. I’ve already done so much more than anybody ever gave me credit of doing or thought I can do, so there’s no reason to get too high or too low.’

“So it’s the even-keel mentality about our coach and it definitely helps us as players when we’re going out into a war.”

Lue has been preparing for the biggest battle of his basketball career this week.

From the moment he returned home from Boston following the Cavs’ win in Game 5 of the conference finals, Lue has immersed himself in the Warriors, a virtual All-Star team featuring two league MVPs (Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry), a dead-eye shooter (Klay Thompson) and a triple-threat performer (Draymond Green).

Lue’s defensive strategy to this point in the playoffs has been to neutralize the opponents’ top player. The Cavs were able to do that with Indiana’s Paul George, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, who aggravated a hip injury in Game 2 and missed the remainder of the series. Cleveland blitzed, double-teamed and did all it could take away the other team’s offensive threat.

Lue was asked if it’s more difficult to identify who that is on Golden State.

“Hell yeah,” he said, his voice rising. “It’s tough.”

There are few weaknesses in these Warriors, the first team to head into the final round 12-0 and winning by an average of 16.3 points per game.

“They have so many weapons,” Lue said, “having four All-Stars and now adding KD to the mix who I’ve always loved as a scorer, just how he scores so easy. They have a lot of options. It’s going to be tough, but we have to lock into what we have to do defensively, and sometimes you can play great defense and it doesn’t work. Steph is making tough shots, Klay is making tough shots and KD is making tough shots. But all you can do is play your defense, stick to your principles and just make it as tough as possible.”

The Cavs know Lue won’t panic.

He stayed cool last spring when Cleveland fought back from a 3-1 deficit to win its first title. Lue made subtle tweaks to his rotation, drew up key inbounds plays, then isolated Irving late in Game 7 on Curry. The Cavs All-Star guard made his now famous go-ahead, step-back 3-pointer.

Pressure intensifies in the postseason, when possessions, turnovers and rebounds are magnified.

As the drama builds, Lue stays composed, setting the tone for his players.

“Throughout the postseason there’s so many different emotions,” James said. “Going high, going low. And if you’re a coach able to just stay even-keeled throughout the whole thing, it relaxes the rest of the group.”

Lue is a stickler for detail, and he won’t cut any corners preparing for another dance with the Warriors. He’ll have the Cavs ready, and they can also count on him to keep them relaxed.

“When you’re prepared and you do the best you can do and you put it out there on the floor, you’ve just got to live with the results,” Lue said. “I’m doing my homework, I’m doing every possible thing to put this team in every situation to win. When you’re doing that, things you go over every day, end-of-game plays and things like that, either they work or they don’t.”

 

Byron Scott: Lakers made me feel ‘betrayed, lied to and deceived’

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Byron Scott lost 77% of his games with the Lakers, alienated their young players and failed to deliver on his big talk about defense.

Yet, Scott said he was blindsided when the Lakers fired him last year.

How did he possibly get the idea he’d return for a third season?

Mark Medina of The Orange County Register:

Scott said he “felt betrayed, lied to and deceived” by former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak and former executive Jim Buss. Though he had only two guaranteed years on his four-year contract, Scott contends that Kupchak and Jim Buss previously promised him they would exercise the team option for his third year. Scott also believes the Lakers used him to manage Bryant during his final seasons and farewell tour before making the coach a scapegoat for the franchise’s struggles.

“If I asked him to do certain things, Kobe would do it because of his respect for me,” said Scott, who mentored Bryant during his rookie season in 1996-97. “Basically, you just wanted me there to help you guys get through the next two years, so Kobe doesn’t go crazy on you guys. I would be the one that can handle it. They know me. I’m not going to back down. I’m not going to be intimidated by anybody.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if management said something Scott could have reasonably interpreted as a promise to keep him. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Scott heard what he wanted to hear.

The Jim Buss Lakers didn’t always feature the best lines of communication, and Scott was delusional.

Either way, the Lakers did the right thing in firing Scott. If he were hired to manage Kobe Bryant’s final seasons, Kobe retired. There was no more need for Scott, who neither related well to young players nor implemented a winning scheme – pretty much everything beyond handling Kobe.

The strangest part of Scott’s criticism is how it reflects on Kupchak, who has now been accused of both being too dishonest and too honest.

Tony Parker tells French publication he plans to return in January

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Back on May 5, Tony Parker has surgery to repair a ruptured left quadriceps tendon, an injury some thought could be career ending for the 35-year-old point guard.

He plans to be back and is aiming for January, he told the French publication L’Equipe, as transcribed by EuroHoops.net.

“I will play my best basketball when I return in January”, Parker told L’Equipe….

“The first thing that came in when I got injured, was frustration. I was super good and we had the chance to go until the end and get the title,” Parker said.

“The coach’s plan worked like a clock. I was consistent, playing for twenty to twenty-five minutes per game. My series against Memphis was good and I had a good start in the season,” he added.

Paker’s return in January (if he can meet that timeline) will have him coming off the bench, meaning the Spurs will still need a starting point guard and some depth at the position.

No, that doesn’t mean Chris Paul is coming to San Antonio, that was always a long shot as Adrian Wojnarowski noted. It’s not like the Spurs to kick guys like Parker to the curb (Bill Belichick does not run the franchise) nor do the Spurs gut their roster, and that’s what they’d have to do. Beyond that, Paul is president of the players’ union and one of the things he/the union got in the new CBA was to turn the over-36 rule (which restricted how much LeBron could get on his last deal) to the over-38 rule — meaning the Clippers can give 32-year-old Paul one more five-year max deal. You really think he’s walking away from that?

Hopefully, when Parker returns he can give us all glimpses of his old self.

Steve Kerr says he’s not ready to coach in NBA Finals, at least not yet

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Steve Kerr has been a regular presence at Warriors practices, he’s traveled with the team to playoff games, he’s been part of the planning/strategizing sessions for the team — basically, he’s been everywhere but the sidelines.

He’s not ready to return there. Yet.

Interim Warriors’ coach Mike Brown was knocked down by the flu on Monday, so Kerr ran the Warriors practice then spoke to the media, but said he still is battling issues from his back surgery and is not ready yet to return to the sidelines. Via Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

The Warriors brought in Mike Brown last summer just for this type of situation — he’s a veteran NBA coach who has led a team to the Finals (the Cavaliers, with LeBron James), and the Warriors thought it possible Kerr could miss time. With Luke Walton in Los Angeles, Golden State wanted a veteran on the bench. Brown is that.

He’s not as creative as Kerr is addressing matchups and challenges, but if Kerr is in the film sessions and practices, then his influence is still there. That may be enough for a more talented and more rested Warriors team (than a year ago) heading into the Finals starting Thursday night.