O.J. Mayo and Brandon Knight just want the Bucks to get an identity already

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The Milwaukee Bucks have not won a game in 2014.

Considering the 7-33 Bucks are the NBA’s worst team, who knows when they’ll break their nine-game losing streak? They’re capable of winning any game – though all seven of their wins have come against teams with losing records – but they’re not going to be favored any time soon.

To the surprise of nobody, Milwaukee’s veterans are beginning to express their displeasure. Winning cures all ills, but the Bucks have had no feel-good moments to ease the pain of their sick season.

Caron Butler wants more playing time, and O.J. Mayo and Brandon Knight want an identity.

Mayo, via Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel:

“You look around the league, you’ve got some teams that are defensive teams,” Mayo said. “You’ve got some teams like (Houston) and the Warriors that are offensive-minded, like Portland and Denver, they’re going to get up and down, spread the floor.

“You’ve got teams like Memphis, Chicago, physical, defensive-minded. Here we are at game 40, we don’t know what we are right now. It’s going to be hard to collect wins when you don’t know what to expect.”

Knight agreed with Mayo. Via Gardner:

“That’s a great point,” Knight said. “If you look at the Bucks, what are we known for? We know this team here (Houston) is known for their inside presence with Dwight and scoring a lot of points. And they’re going to shoot a lot of threes as well.

“So what is our identity? I think that’s something we have to define and we have to play to that identity if we’re going to be anywhere near the team we want to be.”

I’m sorry, but the Bucks have an identity.

They’re the worst offensive team in the NBA, scoring just 95.6 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com/stats.

They shoot poorly, don’t get to the free-throw line and turn the ball over too much. On the bright side, they’re only slightly below average at offensive rebounding. But all together, their offense distinguishes them from the rest of the NBA.

If their offensive rating holds – which isn’t a given, considering scoring typically rises during an NBA season – it would the worst in an 82-game season since 2003-04, when the Chicago Bulls (93.9) and Toronto Raptors (94.6) had lower marks.

Milwaukee also the worst defensive-rebounding team in the NBA (identity!), but that’s unlikely to reach a historically bad level.

The Bucks can’t simply choose to be a strong offensive team like the Rockets or Warriors, a strong running team like the Trail Blazers or Nuggets or a strong defensive team like the Bulls or Grizzlies.*

Those teams have the players to succeed in at least one facet of the game. The Bucks don’t.

*Memphis has struggled defensively overall this season but ranks sixth in points allowed per possession in the last month.

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In his assessment, Mayo also complained about getting irregular minutes. And perhaps Larry Drew should end the fluctuations – and sit Mayo. The Bucks have been drastically better when he’s off the court.

With Mayo:

  • Offensive rating: 92.1
  • Defensive rating: 107.7

Without Mayo:

  • Offensive rating: 100.1
  • Defensive rating: 102.5

That’s the difference between being the worst team in the league and just regularly bad.

Then again, doesn’t being the worst team in the league come with a stronger identity than being just regularly bad?

Mayo and Knight should be careful what they wish for. Instead of seeking an identity, they should help Milwaukee go from terrible to merely subpar in a few areas – and there are a lot of areas where Milwaukee is terrible to choose from.

Teams rarely choose their identity and then play to it. Typically, their identity is established based on the skillsets of their players. Milwaukee is better off with no identity than the identity it has now – bad defensive rebounding and even worse offense.

And good news for all: Even if the Mayo and Knight help the Bucks lose their identity, they’re already so far back in the standings, that meager improvement probably wouldn’t cost them the top seed in the lottery. Then, in June they can draft a player capable of helping the team form a positive identity.

Nuggets say Paul Millsap won’t return until after All-Star break

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The Western Conference has been a blast this season, with the Houston Rockets playing strong after the arrival of Chris Paul. The team has 13 straight wins, and a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors.

That’s just part of the results of the West getting a boatload of stars sent its way over the summer. One team is lacking their new addition, however, and his absence has been a quiet disappointment. The Denver Nuggets still sit in sixth place out West, but new forward Paul Millsap has been sidelined with a wrist injury.

The original timeline for Millsap said he would be out for three months, which would put him back around the beginning of March. That plan was confirmed by Nuggets head coach Mike Malone, who said that he expects Millsap will be out until at least the All-Star break, which starts on February 16.

Malone also seemed to indicate it’s possible Millsap is out longer than that.

Via Twitter:

At least Millsap is on schedule? It’s hard to tell inflection from text, but let’s just hope Malone’s “at the earliest” isn’t an indicator of slow recovery on Millsap’s part. The Nuggets certainly don’t need to rush Millsap back. They have a 16-13 record and instill more confidence than most the teams floundering below them in the standings.

LeBron James on talk with Lonzo Ball: “Some things could be held private”

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LeBron James was caught on a hot mic this week speaking with Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. The conversation came after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Lakers in Ohio, 121-112.

In their talk, LeBron told Ball that he needed to stay in his zone and be aggressive. Pretty generic stuff, to be honest.

Meanwhile, LeBron was asked about whether he thought having microphones record those types of conversations between players was good for the league. He was less than enthused.

Via Cleveland.com (response is at 0:50 in the video above):

Some things could be held private. Like my conversation with Lonzo. Everything doesn’t need to be said. Should be some type of privacy. I’m OK with it.

It does raise an interesting question in terms of player privacy and separation between media, fans, and players. On one hand, you could see how what they say on the floor, in a public arena meant for spectators, could be deemed public and therefore fair game.

But it’s also common for media not to publish — or for TV not to broadcast — the things players say during the game. We don’t hear trash talking, even if we see it, and if you’ve ever sat near the floor at an NBA game you hear a lot more colorful language than you do watching the game on TV.

However you come down player privacy on the court, it doesn’t seem like LeBron needed to speak with Ball in front of media like that. He could have spoken to him in the tunnels below the Q, or got his phone number and texted him. He could have sent him a DM on Twitter and it would have been more private.

It feels like there was a performative aspect to this, like LeBron wanted to create a mystery around his conversation with Lonzo but it got turned on its head. It’s just too bad what was said between them wasn’t actually that interesting.

LeBron James on possibly winning fifth MVP this season: “it would mean a lot”

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LeBron James is destroying the NBA’s traditional aging curve. Over the years and looking at thousands of players, we know that at certain ages and years in the league, guys start to decline. Look at the guys still in the league from the 2003 NBA draft: players still in the league, such as Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, are seeing their games deteriorate in their 15th NBA season. As expected.

Not LeBron.

About to turn 33 and having played more regular season games than Michael Jordan did, LeBron is averaging 28.1 points, 9.3 assists and 8.1 rebounds a game, with a true shooting percentage of 65.9 that would be a career high, and a PER of 31.5 that is right at his career high for a season (31.7). LeBron has not lost a step.

LeBron is in the middle of the too-early MVP conversation, where he and Houston’s James Harden have separated from the field a third of the way into the season. At shootaround Saturday LeBron said winning the NBA MVP for a fifth time would matter to him, but what he really likes doing is opening the door to future NBA players to blow up the aging curve. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“Team success is always the number one, but along the way if you’re able to accomplish some individual awards, individual achievements, it would mean a lot,” James said after Saturday’s practice. “I feel good. This is my 15th year, but this is one of the best years I’ve had as far as how I feel and I want to continue that. I want to kind of try to break the mold for the next generation. So just take the narrative out of ‘OK, you’re past your prime when you get [to] 31, or you’re past your prime in your 12th year in the league, or whatever the case may be.’ Hopefully I can break the mold so when the next guy comes, he can still get 200 or 300 million and be 33 years old. I’m serious. You guys are laughing, I’m serious. This is the mold I’m trying to break.”

He’s broken it.

Part of it is that today’s players know more about nutrition and training than past generations. They tend to take better care of their bodies, there are improved medical treatments, and much better diets — and nobody takes all that more seriously than LeBron.

Also, he is a physical freak of nature. Always has been.

It’s too early to have a serious MVP conversation, we have two-thirds of the season remaining, but as of now LeBron and Harden are the front runners (with guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and others on the next tier). If LeBron can keep up this level of play, and continues to carry the Cavaliers to a top two record in the East, he will be one of the top vote-getters. No question.

And that would break a mold, too, and put him in a conversation with Michael Jordan again (Jordan won five MVPs, the oldest at age 35).

Kevin Hart plays Shaq, Saturday Night Live takes on Inside The NBA

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Notoriously undersized actor — and NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Game MVP — Kevin Hart playing the notoriously oversized Shaquille O’Neal is brilliant.

That was at the heart of it when Saturday Night Live took on Inside the NBA on its Christmas show Saturday night. Hart was into it poking fun at Shaq’s penchant for going off with his own word salad during the show.

Charles Barkley and Shaq are rich satire targets, and SNL went right at them. Well done.