5 Up, 5 Down: It is with a heavy heart that I must announce that the Balls are at it again


5 Up, 5 Down is a biweekly column featuring the best and worst from the NBA as it stands on alternating Monday mornings.

There are many happy things happening in the NBA. Gerald Green is here and playing for the Rockets, something I never thought I would see. His hair is incredible, and the fact that Houston has things together and is somehow sort of likable despite combining Chris Paul and James Harden together is sort of unbelievable.

Don’t get me wrong, I love CP3 and Harden is a genuine talent, but their games can be sort of grating to watch night in and night out thanks to their flair for trickery. That’s a nice way of saying it.

In any case, much has gone on since we last talked over the holidays, so without further ado.

5 Up

Gerald Green shows the Rockets are serious

You could have laughed all you wanted to about Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey admitting that the team is obsessed with beating the Golden State Warriors. Because SECRECY and STOICISM helps keeps your opponents in the dark, right? Just ask any football coach locking down practices and turning on cell phone jammers.

But the Warriors are the big target, not only out West but in the NBA. It was always obvious. That’s why it sort of made sense that Gerald Green was a big hit for Houston after he signed with the team in late December. A complete shot in the dark showed that, yes, Morey was serious about being obsessed with beating the Warriors, even if it meant grabbing a former dunk contest champion off the couch to shoot a bunch of 3-pointers. Plus, it just might work.

The continued development of Kyle Kuzma

Our very own Dan Feldman wrote a nice piece about Kuzma recently as we continue to track his progression. Kuzma has stepped out of Lonzo Ball‘s shadow, and is no longer just the Lakers’ “other rookie”. Lakers fans have even become — gasp — reasonable in their All-Star voting, and at last count Kuzma was ahead of Ball and at 9th place in the All-Star ballots.

Gerald Green’s hair

Seriously, this deserved it’s own item on this list. Just look at this masterpiece that reportedly takes two hours to complete:

Y’all know I had too! @sandrasbraids

A post shared by Gerald Green (@g.green14) on

The Spurs tried to trade for Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving has been great for the Boston Celtics this season, and he’s a legitimate MVP candidate. But originally it was the San Antonio Spurs, not the Celtics that came calling for the All-Star guard.

Keep your skeptical hat on, but if Irving really wanted to play for Gregg Popovich that’s a maturation that would be in line with what we’ve seen in short work for Boston. As Kurt pointed out in the article linked above, it’s unclear how the Spurs would have been able to grab Irving and that it would be fascinating to watch a high-maintenance star like Irving play for Pop.

That time Kyrie responded to coaching feedback by saying “that’s No. 23’s job”

OK, let’s hope that maturation thing for Irving has legs to it because if not … yeesh. Irving manages to somehow be one of the most interesting boring dudes in the NBA. He’s an elite scorer and dribbler, but doesn’t have the kind of magnetic personality you expect to go along with the top player on a championship team with those traits. If he didn’t start espousing about the non-spherical nature of the planet Earth we’d probably pay a lot less attention to him.

But now this comes out? My ears are perked.

5 Down

LaVar Ball is at it again

Lonzo Ball’s dad says some dumb things as a means to market screen printed Gildan shirts that apparently have a high rate of never coming to your doorstep should you order one.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers have asked LaVar Ball to tone down his criticism of Luke Walton, which Ball failed to do recently in an interview with ESPN. Ball again criticized Walton, and those comments actually made Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle so incensed that he fired back at ESPN for following Ball around.

An interesting conversation has sprung up regarding journalistic responsibility — especially when Ball says so many things that are blatantly untrue — and the fact that simply publishing Ball’s quotes devoid of context, factual rebuttal, or opposing comments from those involved is likely not the best choice.

These jerseys

Refs not realizing this was a basket by Manu Ginobili

In case you missed this one, here’s what happened. Manu Ginobili attempted an alley-oop against the New York Knicks. The ball promptly went through the basket, and then Michael Beasley tried to take off and start the fastbreak.

Refs didn’t realize what had happened, and had to be convinced by Gregg Popovich yelling at them (even though Pop admitted he didn’t see the play, either) to take a look at the replay. Come on, man. Casual NBA fans already have enough referee fodder.

Ron Baker‘s got a broken face

Uh huh. Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh.

That dunk that Anthony Davis slammed down on Ron Baker — who was valiant both in his attempt to stop Davis’ dunk and for taking a forearm to the face — resulted in a fractured orbital bone for the Knicks wing. We like to see big dunks but we don’t want to see people get hurt. Wait, is this a football blog?

Isaiah Thomas came back and then a bunch of dumb stuff happened

It’s nice that Cleveland Cavaliers guard Isaiah Thomas came back recently after a hip injury kept him out for most the season thus far. He’s played well, and the Cavaliers will definitely benefit from having him on the floor — if they don’t trade him before the deadline, of course.

The main issue is everything that happened after Thomas had his first game back against the Portland Trail Blazers. In playing that game, Thomas had to skip the second night of a back-to-back and thus miss a return game against the Celtics on the road. At his request, the Celtics didn’t run a highlight tape they had planned to put on the video board before the game, instead moving it to the next time the teams play in February. Boo hoo.

But if the hubub about that wasn’t enough, then Paul Pierce decided to jump in with conflicting opinions about whether he wanted the video shown at that Feb. 11 matchup. Pierce is having his jersey retired by the team that night, and initially said he didn’t mind if some attention was given to Thomas. The next day, Pierce was on a preview show and said that he actually did mind it, and would prefer if Boston gave him the Kobe treatment instead.

Thomas said he felt the whole thing was pretty stupid (my reading) and I suppose we will have to wait another month to see if emotions rise high again. Boston fans have to stop flaming IT, man.

Knicks’ Jeff Hornacek brushes off concerns about job security

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We saw this pattern earlier this season with the Lakers. Young team gets off to a better-than-expected start, shows real promise, but as things move toward the middle of the season they take a step back. As happens with young, developing teams, they are up and down. However, major market media and an impatient fan base wants to blame someone, so the coach is suddenly discussed as having “lost the locker room” and that his job was in jeopardy (a coach not hired by the current GM). Even though in Luke Walton’s case, it wasn’t (and isn’t).

Now that same pattern has come to New York and the Knicks with Jeff Hornacek. The Knicks started 17-14 and had fans prematurely thinking playoffs thanks to a home-heavy schedule. Reality has hit them the past month.

Hornacek tried to brush off questions about his job security in New York, speaking to Stefan Bondy of the New York Post.

Hornacek also believes he has the backing of GM Scott Perry and president Steve Mills, despite being inherited by them as Phil Jackson’s hire.

“We were talking about rebuilding and we got off to a good start because we had a lot of home games,” Hornacek said. “Scott and Steve, everybody’s still on the same page of trying to get our young guys opportunities. We’re still trying to win games. We still want to establish an identity where defensively we’re going to get after it all the time and we’re building toward that. It’s great to have their support…

“I think the expectations come from the players where all of a sudden you hear them talking about, ‘Oh we can make the playoffs.’ We never said that,” Hornacek said. “We said we want to get better and we want to grow. Part of our talk was you can’t worry about the results. You just got to go out there and if you do your best and try to improve the results will come. When you start thinking about win or lose all of a sudden your mentality becomes different. We got to get back to that.”

Is Hornacek the long-term answer in New York? I don’t know. However, finally unchained from the pseudo-triangle disaster Phil Jackson imposed, he has done a solid job this season, putting Kristaps Porzingis in better spots to lead this roster. The Knicks are projected to win around 38 games at this point (according to Cleaning the Glass), and they have about a 14 percent chance of making the playoffs still (according to Heading into the season, that would have been about anyone’s best-case scenario for this team.

Not that it matters when you’re coach of the Knicks — job security speculation comes with every paycheck. It just isn’t deserved in this case.

Steve Kerr has “regrets” over time as Suns GM with Mike D’Antoni as coach

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Saturday night, Steve Kerr and Mike D’Antoni will square off as the coaches of the two best teams in the NBA this season (the Warriors and Rockets), teams loaded with offensive talent that play fast — Kerr and D’Antoni have some of the same basic philosophies about the game. Right now they have a mutual admiration society going.

But remember when Kerr took over as the general manager of the “seven seconds or less” Suns? Then traded for Shaq, which was the first step in D’Antono going out the door to New York.

Kerr opened up about his regrets from that era to Mark Medina of the San Jose Mercury News.

“I have some regrets,” Kerr said. “I think we had a few differences that I probably didn’t handle very well as a GM that I could’ve probably handled better, especially given that we really like each other and have a lot of similar viewpoints on the game.”

The Suns were a contender, but not one that could get over the hump of the peak San Antonio Spurs of the mid-2000s (it was more than just the year Robert Horry hip-checked Steve Nash into the boards and A’mare Stoudemire got nailed for leaving the bench). Kerr felt the need to do something, so he traded Shawn Marion for an over-the-hill Shaquille O’Neal who did not at all fit the Suns’ style. That move ended an era, and the next summer D’Antoni signed in New York (with a front office that never gave him the pieces for his style of play).

“I should have let Mike know, ‘It’s okay, keep kicking [butt] and keep going, and we’ll make some moves that aren’t so radical that fit more with who we are as an organization,” Kerr said. “We swung for the fences, and it was not the right move to make as an organization. I didn’t envision that as GM. I didn’t have the macro view of what we needed to do….

“I needed to tell Mike, ‘It’s okay if we don’t win the championship,’” Kerr said. “We were so desperate to win. But not everybody can win. But what you can do is keep putting yourself in a position to get there. Then maybe the breaks fall your way.”

Kerr said he’s matured in the way he views the game and team building since then. That is evident in the way the Warriors have been built, with a big-picture view of everything that gets done — they win not only because they are loaded with talent but how that talent fits together. However, they are really an extension of the changes D’Antoni brought to the NBA in Phoenix, just with better defense and some ridiculous shooters.

After stints in New York and Los Angeles with rosters that were ill-suited for his style, D’Antoni is winning big again in Houston because James Harden was really a point guard and GM Daryl Morey has put the right pieces around him to play D’Antoni’s style.

But once again D’Antoni seems just short of a ring because a legendary team — and Steve Kerr — is in the way.

Reports: Jazz might trade Rodney Hood before deadline

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Rodney Hood has been a solid shooter for the Jazz this season, averaging 16.7 points per game and shooting 41.3 percent from three. Of course, you remember him better for this.

Hood is in the final year of his rookie contract, and with the rise of Donovan Mitchell it’s not exactly clear what Hood’s role would be for the Jazz going forward.

Which means Utah might trade Hood, according to multiple reports.

Hood isn’t going to net much in return because he’s in the final year of a contract and because he misses time with nagging injuries (he was out the end of Friday’s game against the Knicks with a lower leg contusion), but considering the number of teams who could use another shooter in the mix there will be interest. More than the big name deals — Kemba Walker, DeAndre Jordan — this is the kind of trade likely to get done at the deadline.

Lowry scores 24 points as Raptors beat Spurs 86-83

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TORONTO (AP) — Kyle Lowry scored nine of his 24 points in the fourth quarter, DeMar DeRozan added 21 and the Toronto Raptors beat San Antonio 86-83 on Friday night to snap a four-game losing streak against the Spurs.

Jonas Valanciunas had 15 points and 11 rebounds as the Raptors improved to 17-3 at home, the second-best home record in the NBA behind San Antonio’s mark of 19-2.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 17 points and 14 rebounds, Pau Gasol scored 15 points and Patty Mills had 13 as San Antonio lost for the fourth time in six road games. The Spurs are 11-15 away from home.

It had been more than two years since Toronto last beat San Antonio. The Raptors won 97-94 at home on Dec. 9, 2015.

San Antonio guard Manu Ginobili missed his second straight game because of a sore right thigh. Ginobili returned to Texas after the Spurs won at Brooklyn on Wednesday.

The Spurs trailed 70-69 after a 3-pointer by Bryn Forbes at 6:52 of the fourth, but DeRozan and Lowry connected on back-to-back possessions, giving Toronto a 74-69 lead with 5:11 remaining.

After a jump shot by Mills, Toronto reeled off a 6-0 run including baskets by Lowry, Valanciunas and DeRozan to lead 80-71 with 2:40 left.

Another 3-pointer by Forbes made it 86-83 with six seconds left. DeRozan was fouled but missed both free throws, giving San Antonio a chance to tie, but the Spurs couldn’t get a shot off in time.

After making seven of 23 shots in the first quarter, the Raptors hit 11 of 20 attempts in the second, including a buzzer-beating jumper from DeRozan that gave Toronto a 44-37 lead at halftime.

Toronto led 55-41 on DeRozan’s three-point play at 7:33 of the third but Aldridge did all the scoring in an 8-0 Spurs run that cut the gap to 63-60 heading to the fourth.