Kurt Helin

Detroit Pistons v Milwaukee Bucks

Pistons’ Brandon Jennings targets Dec. 29 for return

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With all the talk the past couple days of guys who could be traded in the next couple of months, one name that didn’t come up enough was Detroit’s Brandon Jennings. The Pistons seem committed to having Reggie Jackson at the point — he has real chemistry with Andre Drummond — and while Jennings could play a little at the two that’s not a long-term answer.

Why didn’t Jennings’ name come up? He hasn’t been on the court, still recovering from his torn Achilles. But that’s about to change according to Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com.

Jennings also said he would be shaking off some rust by playing in the D-League for a few games before that date.

Jackson and Jennings both played well for Detroit last season. Jackson put up more points per game, Jennings shot better from three, and their PERs were almost identical (19.8 and 19.7). But Stan Van Gundy gave Jackson an $80 million contract this summer because of his chemistry with Drummond (the Pistons are +9.2 points per 100 possessions when they are on the court today). Van Gundy has said he thinks Jennings and Jackson can play together, where Jennings can play more of the two on offense because he has the shot to space the floor, while Jackson is solid enough defensively to guard twos.

That said, look for Jennings to get run at the point as he returns and Stan Van Gundy tries to showcase someone he would trade. Jennings is in the last year of his contract, so he would be a rental, but off the bench that could work for some teams. Something to watch.

Heat assistant Keith Smart undergoes skin cancer surgery

Keith Smart
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MIAMI (AP) — The Miami Heat say assistant coach Keith Smart has undergone successful surgery to remove what the team describes as a very rare type of skin cancer.

Smart has not been with the team this week, and is expected back in 2-3 weeks. The team says Smart’s prognosis calls for a full recovery.

The 51-year-old Smart, who hit the game-winning shot that led Indiana to the 1987 NCAA championship over Syracuse, is in his second year as a Heat assistant. He issued a statement thanking the staff at University of Miami Hospital and the Heat medical team, saying they “steered me in the right direction very early in the process.”

Smart’s surgery was performed on Monday.

The Heat are in Brooklyn on Wednesday night.

LeBron gives game-worn shoes to young Celtics fan with brain damage

LeBron James
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It was a classy move.

It started with the Boston Celtics, who were hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday night, and also honoring Aaron Miller, a 16-year-old with who has overcome brain damage to play two sports at a local high school, something Chris Forsberg detailed at ESPN.

In the second quarter of Cleveland’s 89-77 win, the Celtics honored Aaron Miller, who the team said had undergone thousands of hours of surgery and physical therapy in efforts to overcome a medical condition doctors believed would paralyze him for life. Miller now competes on the basketball and golf teams at Newton North High School.

That’s an inspiring story. It caught the ear of LeBron James, who reached out to the teen twice during the night.

Coming out of a timeout after Miller was acknowledged with a standing ovation at half court at TD Garden, James sought Miller out courtside for a brief interaction. After the game, James returned and gave Miller his game-worn sneakers.

“I wasn’t able to hear the whole story because I was in the game and Coach was drawing up the play,” James said. “But I looked up by the JumboTron and I saw what [Miller had] been through and where he is now. I think the doctor said he would never walk again or talk again. … I looked up there and right from there, it became so much more than basketball.”

That’s bigger than LeBron’s 24 points on the night. For all the triviality we can get stuck obsessing over around the NBA, for all the stories of bad deeds that get too much attention, it’s good to put stories like this out there. This is the stuff that shows how sports can inspire, and how human nature can be a tremendous force. It’s the kind of thing we should acknowledge.

It’s just LeBron, a lot of guys around the league do more in the community than is realized, or than is covered.

Dwight Howard on rumors he’s unhappy: “People make up lies and rumors”

Dwight Howard
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If you’re a member of the 12-14 Houston Rockets, should you be happy? This was a team mentioned as a potential contender preseason that has a bottom five defense, has looked lazy at times, got its coach fired, and on Tuesday night lost to Sacramento.

Now have come the rumors that Dwight Howard was unhappy being second fiddle to James Harden in Houston. When asked about that after the Rockets’ loss, Howard fired back in no uncertain terms, via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

“I haven’t said anything to anybody about anything,” Howard said. “People make up lies and rumors. That’s never been my focus. I’m trying to get these guys to play better and get myself to play better.

“People are going to say what they got to say to get a story out. People are always going to come up with some rumor and lies. That’s what it is. I can’t focus on that. And I don’t want my teammates to focus on that….

“I want us to win,” Howard said. “We had two upsetting losses. We’re all frustrated because we know we can play better. I haven’t said anything to any reporter or to anybody about being unhappy. That’s only noise. All the other stuff is lies.”

Howard has been the lone Rocket playing hard on defense for stretches this season — Kevin McHale said Howard was one of the few players trying to keep him employed. He should be frustrated with this teammates and Harden for their play and effort on that end this season.

But he’s not going to get a lot more touches, particularly because he often wants them in the post. Howard has had 77 post possessions this season and is shooting 39.6 percent on those. Or to put it another way, he scores just 0.7 points per possession on post-ups. He, unfortunately, doesn’t tune out Shaq and the other pundits who tell him he should get the ball in the post like they did — the game has changed with zone defenses, you can’t just dump it in the post every time down anymore and be successful. Even with his bad back, Howard is more efficient as the roll man — he shoots 58.6 percent and the Rockets score 1.06 points per possession when he gets the ball back as a roll man. But that’s happened just 36 times this season, less than Clint Capella on the same play.

That’s not to absolve Howard — he’s part of the problem in Houston.

But if he’s not unhappy with how things are with the Rockets this season I’d be more concerned.

Five Takeaways from NBA Tuesday: Is anybody happy in Houston?

Dwight Howard
Associated Press
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If you didn’t watch the four NBA games on the slate Tuesday because you were busy stuffing your face with carbs, I understand. We’ve got you covered. Here are five things to know from an NBA Tuesday.

1) Is anybody happy in Houston? Not after loss to Kings. Dwight Howard was rumored to be unhappy in Houston, not enjoying taking a back seat to James Harden. Howard denied those rumors vehemently, but I’d be more worried if he were happy with how the Rockets are playing right now. Or how he is playing on offense. Tuesday night, Howard got fewer touches than Trevor Ariza (Howard had 48) and got off just seven shots, hitting two on his way to four points (foul trouble was part of that). Six of his seven shots were contested. Howard’s opposite number at the five, DeMarcus Cousins, had 26 and 12 on the night, leading a Kings team that controlled the boards and played hard (without the suspended Rajon Rondo). The Rockets turned the ball over 22 times and lost to the Sacramento Kings 107-97. This tweet from ESPN’s Calvin Watkins sums up Howard and the Rockets well.

Or, there was this that paints another accurate picture of the Rockets: Down 15 points with about five minutes left in the game, must-follow NBA analyst Nate Duncan wondered if the Rockets were about to pull off one of their late-game comebacks — this team tries hard the final six minutes or so of games. They are talented enough that it gets them wins. Not this time. Not often enough. Coach J.B. Bickerstaff was so concerned Tuesday that he showed both Howard and Harden the bench trying to light a fire under what has too often been a team playing disinterested basketball. At this point in the season, it’s fair to question if that message was heard, and even if it was will the results last more than two games? What should worry Rockets fans is that their climb back into the West playoffs (they were 12-12 before two losses this week) came during the soft part of the schedule. That is about to end. And the unhappiness in Houston could be growing in the coming weeks.

2) Rudy Gay had the dunk of the night. The Rockets might not have been having fun, but the Kings sure were. That includes Rudy Gay, who starts the break, gets the ball to Omri Casspi, who gives it back for a monster slam the Rockets certainly didn’t think was fun.

3) Cavaliers handle Celtics, but Iman Shumpert suffers groin injury. The Cavaliers keep on winning despite the fact they just can’t get healthy. Cleveland took charge of the game in Boston with a 17-2 run in the third quarter and went on to win 89-77. LeBron James had 24 points, Kevin Love 20. Another quality win for the Cavaliers. But the bad news is just-returned Shumpert tweaked his groin. After the game, Shumpert said he was fine but the Cavaliers said Shumpert is out Thursday when the Cavaliers take on the Thunder. Not good.

4) The Bucks beat the Warriors last week, fall to the Lakers this week. Last Saturday night against Golden State, there was a crispness, an energy to the way the Bucks played, particularly on defense. That must not have boarded the plane with them from Milwaukee. The Bucks — without Greg Monroe — were listless and a step slow on defense. Kobe Bryant looked young(er) and had 22, while rookie D'Angelo Russell showed off some pick-and-roll skills on his way to 19 points. There wasn’t much to like about the Bucks’ performance. Maybe Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had 15 points, six rebounds, and five assists and was just solid all around. Michael Carter-Williams had 19 points but needed 18 shots to get there. They better bring more energy against the Clippers on Wednesday or that will get ugly fast.

5) Larry Nance Jr. made a poster and John Henson was in it. Everyone talks about young Lakers D’Angelo Russell (who looked good running the pick-and-roll Tuesday), Julius Randle, and Jordan Clarkson. But another LA rookie Larry Nance Jr. has impressed as well — he looks like a future rotation player in the league. Don’t take my word for it, ask the Bucks and John Henson.