Associated Press

Three Things to Know: Kawhi Leonard tweaks shoulder, Spurs fall to Blazers

Leave a comment

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Kawhi Leonard injured again. Apparently not seriously, but still. C.J. McCollum beats Spurs without him.
Much like Odysseus just trying to get home, the basketball gods apparently are not done messing with Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs. Leonard missed the first 27 games of the season due to a quad injury, but the last few games he was starting to round back into “top 5 NBA player” form.

Last Friday in Phoenix Leonard tweaked his shoulder again. He was out Sunday in Portland, but after the game coach Gregg Popovich played down the severity of this injury. Let’s hope so. Leonard’s status against the Lakers for Thursday is up in the air. Still, the team is 23-10 without Leonard this season (remember he missed games for rest after his return), they will be just fine.

No Leonard. No Damian Lillard when the Spurs and Trail Blazers met in Portland Sunday, so how about a C.J. McCollum game winner:

LaMarcus Aldridge had 30 points and 14 rebounds on the night, but he missed the game winner and the Portland fans loved that.

2) Josh Richardson completes a late comeback against Jazz with a game-winning layup for Heat.
Utah’s Donovan Mitchell is making a serious Rookie of the Year case of late. The young Jazz guard dropped 27 on the Heat Sunday, including a driving layup that had the Jazz up three with :47 seconds left.

He’s also a rookie, and that means sometimes he makes defensive mistakes. He fouled Kelly Olynyk in the act of shooting late, making it a one-point game. Then on the deciding play veteran Josh Richardson shook him with a change of direction in the paint, then Mitchell got hung-up on an Olynyk screen, allowing Richardson to get the ball and essentially go one-on-one with Derrick Favors. Richardson uses a nice little change-of-pace move to create space and gets the shot.

Miami has won four in a row now, all by single digits.

3) Do I have to? Ugh. Okay. Let’s talk Luke Walton and Lonzo Ball.
I mostly try to avoid writing about anything LaVar Ball, because I have little use for the Kardashians of the NBA. However, sometimes what he says — no matter how outlandish — becomes something that needs to be addressed because it becomes a thing. His recent criticism of Luke Walton falls into that category — he tapped into a vein of some Lakers fans, ones not used to the ups and downs of rebuilding, watching young teams lose and lose their way a little, who think Walton needs to be more demonstrative and old-school. I’ll give you my thoughts on all this — and what I know from sources and reports — in bullet points.

• Luke Walton’s job is safe.

• I mean completely safe. As in he is not going anywhere, not now and not this summer. Honestly, plenty of people around the league see his uptempo offense, saw this team defend earlier in the season, and think he’s doing a good job.

• LaVar Ball is only as big a distraction as the players in the locker room let him be. Being around the team some this season, my impression is people outside the locker room care far more about what Lavar thinks than people inside the locker room.

• So you’re saying players on a bad team that had lost nine straight (before Sunday) may be frustrated with the coach? Shocking.

• I can guarantee the coach is frustrated with the players’ too.

• Walton should be frustrated with his players. The idea that on an NBA team it’s the coaches job to be some sort of rah-rah motivator is wrong — the players are pros, they are getting massive paychecks, they have to motivate themselves nightly. That is part of their job. The players have to bring it nightly, be professionals, and put in the effort before and during games. The Lakers started to come apart when the trade rumors around the squad flared up — welcome to the NBA life. That can’t get in your head (or KCP’s legal issues for that matter). If the players don’t put in the effort it’s on them far more than the coach. It speaks to a lack of leadership among the players in the locker room who are not holding each other accountable. The coach can vent a little, management should take some blame, but at the end of the day this is mostly on the players.

• Also, well played by Walton to joke he sat Lonzo Ball earlier than usual in the first and third quarters Sunday because his dad “talked s—-.”

• If you are LeBron James, Paul George, or any other big Laker free agent target over the next two years, and you’re looking at LaVar Ball and the impact his noise creates, do you want to still want to sign on?

Knicks’ Jeff Hornacek brushes off concerns about job security

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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 fivethiryeight.com). 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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Getty Images
2 Comments

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

Associated Press
Leave a comment

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.