Marvin Williams

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Hornets plan to start Dwight Howard over Cody Zeller

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In the last three seasons, the Hornets went 63-53 with Cody Zeller starting at center and 57-73 otherwise.

Charlotte plugged a major hole by acquiring a second center, Dwight Howard. But this team found a groove with Zeller starting at the position.

So, who will start this year?

Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer:

Coach Steve Clifford said Friday that his projected starters, going into training camp Sept. 26 at Spectrum Center, are Kemba Walker at point guard, Nic Batum at shooting guard, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at small forward, Marvin Williams at power forward and Dwight Howard at center.

This is a tricky situation.

Howard is far more accomplished than Zeller and was probably better last season. But Zeller is seven years younger. If Howard is still better, he won’t be for long.

A five-time All-NBA first-teamer, Howard is also more likely to chafe at coming off the bench. But does Clifford want to implicitly reward that? Other Hornets might especially dislike a newcomer getting preferential treatment.

Unlike Howard, Zeller can play some power forward. But Zeller is far more effective at center, to the point it might not be worth eating into Marvin Williams’ and Frank Kaminsky‘s minutes at power forward. (Don’t even start on Williams playing small forward.)

There’s no easy answer, but it probably makes sense to give Howard the first crack at starting. Given Howard’s free-throw issues, Zeller might finish games. That could be a workable compromise.

Russell Westbrook wins union’s Players Voice MVP

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The players union released its long-anticipated long-overdue awards, and there are some doozies. First of all, I still can’t figure out what Chris Bosh – who was announced as the “host” of the Twitter-released awards – has to do with this. But let’s get to the actual winners.

Here are the major awards, with the traditional award/Players Voice equivalent:

No surprise Westbrook won both MVPs. He deserved them. Still, James Harden could’ve hoped for a split result like in 2015, when Stephen Curry won actual MVP and Harden won the players’ version.

There’s obviously slight differences in the other categories. I think Green had the best defensive season and deservedly won Defensive Player of the Year, but I also think Leonard is the NBA’s best defender and therefore deserved this honor. I would’ve picked Andre Iguodala for Best off the Bench (and Sixth Man of the Year, for what it’s worth), though that’s a minor quibble. But how on earth did Joel Embiid not win Best Rookie? He was the best rookie in years, let alone this season. I picked Brogdon for Rookie of the Year based on his overall contributions in far more playing time, but there should have been no question about the best rookie.

The union also released several awards without a corresponding NBA honor:

  • Comeback Player of the Year: Joel Embiid
  • Hardest to Guard: Russell Westbrook
  • Clutch Performer: Isaiah Thomas
  • Global Impact: LeBron James
  • Player You Secretly Wish Was On Your Team: LeBron James
  • Most Influential Veteran: Vince Carter
  • Best Dressed: Russell Westbrook
  • Best Social Media Follow: Joel Embiid
  • Coach You’d Most Like to Play For: Gregg Popovich
  • Best Home Court Advantage: Warriors

LeBron winning Player You Secretly Wish Was On Your Team has to be an implicit slap in the face to Kyrie Irving. I’m glad to see Thomas and Carter deservedly recognized.

Lastly, the union awarded a Teammate of the Year on each team:

Dirk Nowitzki won the NBA’s Teammate of the Year – which is voted on by current players after a panel of former players selects nominees – then didn’t even win for his own team here? That’s just weird.

Eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard: “I have a lot left in the tank”

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — At 31 and entering his 14th NBA season, eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard says his best basketball is ahead of him.

Wearing a teal suit with black trim, a smiling Howard insisted Monday he can return to being a dominant center with the Charlotte Hornets, where he will be reunited with coach Steve Clifford and play for one of his childhood heroes, team owner Michael Jordan.

“A lot of people have written me off, which is great because it’s going to make me work even harder,” Howard said during his introductory news conference. “I’m just looking forward to this opportunity because I have a lot left in the tank.”

This will be Howard’s third team in three seasons.

The Atlanta Hawks, his hometown team, traded him to Charlotte one year into a three-year, $74 million contract. Howard said he has no hard feelings, adding that “sometimes things just don’t work out.”

But he’s confident Charlotte is the right fit.

“I think I’m a lot healthier than I have been in the past five years and I think this is going to be my best time,” Howard said. “I’m a lot wiser now, stronger mentally and physically, and I’m in the right place with a great coach, a great GM and the GOAT (greatest of all time). So I think this is the perfect opportunity.”

Much of Howard’s optimism stems from being reunited with Clifford.

They worked together for seven seasons in Orlando and Los Angeles, and the 6-foot-11 three-time Defensive Player of the Year loves Clifford’s defense-first mentality. He’s also confident Clifford will put him in the right situations to succeed on offense.

“He understands me,” Howard said. “… He was always there for me and not once did he turn his back on me or talk bad about me. He was very positive and he was somebody that I have always trusted in.”

The feeling is mutual.

Clifford said he’s never coached a player smarter than Howard when it comes to understanding defensive coverages. While Howard has incredible athletic ability, Clifford said, he’s never been given the credit he deserves for playing a “thinking man’s game.”

“Smart always wins in the NBA,” Clifford said.

Howard is expected to start in Charlotte alongside All-Star point guard Kemba Walker, guard Nic Batum and forwards Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams. Cody Zeller, last year’s starting center, is expected to come off the bench for the Hornets but still see significant minutes.

Howard said he’s learned a lot over the past 13 seasons.

“Over the years a lot of things have been said and I’ve not said anything back,” Howard said. “Somehow things that weren’t true kept getting stirred up, and that gave a lot of people wrong opinions about who I was as a person. I should be the one speaking up for myself instead of allowing other people to do that.”

In Charlotte, Howard becomes the second big-name athlete to be known as “Superman,” joining former NFL MVP quarterback Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers.

Both are from the Atlanta area and have met a couple of times but aren’t close friends. Howard said he’s eager to connect with Newton and get to know him better.

“We have the same attitude; we love to win, but we want to have fun,” Howard said.

 

Marquese Chriss has 17 points, hot-shooting Suns beat Hornets 120-103

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PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns were 20th in the NBA in field goal percentage, making 45 percent of their shots on the season.

On Thursday night, they got hot.

Marquese Chriss scored 17 points and the Suns shot a season-best 59.7 percent in a 120-103 victory over the Charlotte Hornets.

Chriss made 6 of 9 shots and missed roughly a full quarter after straining a calf early in the first period.

T.J. Warren added 16 points and eight rebounds, and Alan Williams had 16 points and 12 rebounds, including a layup with 2:46 to play that made it 114-99.

The Suns held the Hornets to 12 points in the fourth quarter and got 53 points from their bench. Phoenix made 39 of 58 two-point shots (67 percent).

“Our second unit played phenomenal,” coach Earl Watson said.

“We’ve got to play consistent like that. Moving the ball, screening away,” Suns guard Eric Bledsoe said.

Leandro Barbosa also had 16 points, and Devin Booker had 15 points, nine assists and six rebounds. The Suns are 8-4 against Eastern Conference teams at home this season.

Kemba Walker led Charlotte with 26 points.

“We never got them under control. Penetration, transition, we let them play to their strengths,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said.

The Suns lost their halftime lead briefly early in the third quarter, but went on an 11-0 run that featured Chriss’ corner 3 to take an 80-70 lead with 7:15 to play.

Phoenix led by as many as 12 points in the third, but the Hornets whittled the deficit to 87-85 on Walker’s 3-pointer at the 2:53 mark.

The Suns led 94-91 entering the fourth after Marvin Williams was fouled by Booker with 0.4 seconds left and made three free throws.

Warren scored 12 points in the third quarter.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s six steals were a career high for the Hornets forward.

The Suns trailed by as many as 10 points in the first quarter but cut the Hornets’ lead to four by the time it ended. Williams had 13 points in the quarter for Charlotte.

After being behind for much of the first half, Phoenix took a 52-50 lead with Barbosa’s short bank shot with 3:22 left in the second quarter. Barbosa scored 10 points in the quarter after not playing in the first.

Walker had 18 first-half points for the Hornets, who trailed 61-58 at halftime after Phoenix made 13 of 19 shots in the second quarter.

“We just play in spurts,” Walker said. “We’re not making those effort plays that need to be made out there, which is getting back in transition.”

TIP-INS

Hornets: It took 61 games, but the Hornets finally played the Suns this season and will host them later this month. “It’s extra film work, little bit extra preparation,” Clifford said. … C Miles Plumlee missed his sixth straight game with a right calf strain.

Suns: Radio broadcaster Al McCoy will be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor during a halftime ceremony Friday night when the Suns host Oklahoma City. McCoy has called games for 44 seasons. … The Suns played at home for the first time since Feb. 15. The All-Star break and three road games filled the schedule since then.

KAMINSKY INJURED

Hornets center Frank Kaminsky took a blow to his upper left arm colliding with Alan Williams in the fourth quarter and was taken to the locker room. He did not return and finished with 16 points. No update was given on Kaminsky’s condition but he had a wrap over his left shoulder after the game.

TWO TAKEOFFS FOR `AIRPLANE MODE’

Derrick Jones Jr., the runner-up in the NBA dunk contest at All-Star Weekend, took flight early in the fourth quarter with a jam off an alley-oop pass from Tyler Ulis. A few minutes later, the pair connected again for another lob that Jones, nicknamed “Airplane Mode,” threw down with his left hand. It gave the Suns a 105-97 lead with 7:43 to play.

GAME CHANGER

Ulis had eight points and a career-high eight assists in 23 minutes, the rookie from Kentucky earning praise from his coach. “Tyler Ulis changed the game,” Watson said, noting his defensive pressure and hustle to tire out Charlotte’s guards.

 

Three things we learned Tuesday: Trail Blazers win one thanks to C.J. McCollum, but lose one Evan Turner

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It was a light night in the NBA with just three games on the schedule, if you missed them while you meditated on the zen of being a Buddhist monk meth dealer, here are the big takeaways from the Tuesday.

1) C.J McCollum gives Portland big win, but Blazers also lose Evan Turner to a broken hand. This became a brilliant Dirk Nowitzki vs. C.J. McCollum showdown with the game on the line — a game both teams could use as both are trying to chase down Denver for the final playoff slot in the West. While it was no study in defense, it was dramatic — there were six lead changes in the final 38 seconds of the game.

With everything on the line, first Nowitzki did this:

Then C.J. McCollum answered with the game winner.

McCollum finished with 32 and owned the final stretch of the game, while Damian Lillard had 29. The win was crucial as it left Portland just one game back of Denver for the final playoff slot in the West, while Dallas has 3.5 games to make up.

But Portland’s win came at a cost — Evan Turner fractured the third metacarpal in his right hand on this play.

No report yet on how long Turner will be out, the timeline will depend upon if he needs surgery and other factors. That said he’s going to be out a while.

This is a blow — in their last 10 games the Trail Blazers are nine points per 100 possessions better when Turner is on the court. Portland had started to play better defense since Turner and Noah Vonleh were inserted into the starting lineup, now Moe Harkless is going to be asked to step up. It’s not what a team chasing a playoff slot needs to hear.

2) Hornets will take win, even if it’s against Nets.
The Charlotte Hornets had lost seven in a row and fallen out of the playoff picture in the East. Teams on a losing streak need a slump buster — a win, regardless of how pretty it looks.

Enter the Brooklyn Nets. The NBA’s worst team came to Charlotte and the Hornets took advantage, leading most of the way but winning just 111-107 (Brooklyn had a late 8-2 run to make it more interesting than it should have been). Kemba Walker had 17 points but on 4-of-20 shooting, fortunately for the Hornets they got a boost from Jeremy Lamb and Marco Belinelli off the bench. It was a fairly balanced Charlotte attack, and while it wasn’t a thing of beauty it was good enough and it was a win. One the Hornets needed. However, they are going to have to play better on Thursday when James Harden and the Rockets come to town.

The play of the game went to Marvin Williams.

3) Phil Jackson takes another dig at Carmelo Anthony. If you read one thing out of Tuesday, it should be Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report’s analysis of the dynamic between Knicks president Phil Jackson and the star he wants to trade in Carmelo Anthony. The core idea of the piece: Jackson misjudged Anthony’s will to win, and Jackson overestimated his ability to transform ‘Melo’s game as he had done with Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.

Phil Jackson read the piece and came back with a dig at Anthony.

Whether Jackson really believed he could mold Anthony is up for debate, and if Jackson did know that why give the star five years and a no-trade clause in that last deal? Was this order from James Dolan on high that Jackson had to accept?

Consider the tweet another step in the mind games of Jackson trying to trade Anthony — Jackson needs to get ‘Melo to waive that no-trade clause, hence the effort to undercut the star and make him unhappy and want out. The problems for Jackson in trying to make an Anthony trade are threefold: 1) Anthony likes it in New York and is only going to waive that trade clause for a destination he really likes, meaning a contender where he can play with a good friend such as LeBron James or Chris Paul; 2) Anthony has a 15 percent trade kicker, so he makes even more money if he gets dealt (Anthony could waive that kicker, but again is only likely do that for a place he wants to go); 3) The teams where Anthony would be interested in going have little interest in giving up much to get him, certainly not the kind of star power Jackson wants in return.

I’d still be shocked if Jackson finds a deal that meets all the criteria by the Feb. 23 trade deadline. Which means we get to relive all this again in June and July.