Kurt Helin

Jrue Holiday says he’s eager to help Pelicans in crunch time

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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — As long as Jrue Holiday is on the court in the critical final minutes, he’s not terribly concerned with whether he starts, or how much playing time he gets, in his first games back with the New Orleans Pelicans.

“I don’t think our record shows how good we are,” said Holiday, who was back at practice Thursday with a team that has started 2-10 without him. “Obviously, there are some games where we were there at the end of the game and we had it won, but (there are) some things that we have to clean up at the end of the game to seal the deal.

“Down the stretch, I do think I could help with some directing and just tightening it up,” Holiday added.

The guard has spent the past three months on leave because his wife, retired international soccer star Lauren Holiday, needed brain surgery to remove a benign tumor last month, just weeks after giving birth to their first child, a daughter.

Holiday, who is slated to make his season debut against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night, said he came back now because “my wife said I could.”

Lauren Holiday is doing well enough now to “take care of herself and my daughter,” Jrue Holiday said. “She can take care of me, too. Obviously that’s big, especially from somebody who’s a mother now and somebody that went through what she went through.”

Jrue Holiday said learning that his wife had a brain tumor when she was about five months pregnant with their first child was “nerve-wracking,” and affected his perspective on life considerably, making him “grateful for each day.”

He said he also feels blessed for how his family has come through it, and for how much support both he and his wife received from basketball and soccer fans worldwide.

“Every day people are always saying they’re praying for her,” Holiday said. “So many people since I’ve been back, they don’t even ask how I’m doing; they ask how my wife’s doing. And to me, that’s awesome. That just shows how great people are around us.”

Now, he can get back to “the thrill of playing basketball,” at a time when the Pelicans could really use some help.

“Obviously he was an integral part of what we try to do offensively and defensively,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “For him, it’s just really good to be back. This is one of those times where it wasn’t a physical injury, so he’s been dying to get out there to play. It’s going to be fine. Obviously it’s going to take a little while for him to get his timing back from a basketball standpoint. I think he’s in really good shape conditioning-wise.”

A former Eastern Conference All-Star with Philadelphia, Holiday was traded to New Orleans in 2013, but missed most of his first two seasons because of a lower leg injury. Holiday began last season on minute restrictions, got progressively healthier, and wound up playing in 65 games with 23 starts before missing the last nine games because of a broken eye wall from an inadvertent elbow to the head.

Holiday averaged 16.8 points, 6.0 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 28.2 minutes per game last season, scoring 20 or more points 25 times.

Tim Frazier has started New Orleans’ first 12 games this season at point guard, averaging 10.8 points and 7.5 assists. Gentry said he can envision Holiday and Frazier playing together in stints.

“Jrue can play off the ball or on the ball,” Gentry said. “That’s what makes him so good. I think he’s a versatile player. We need his shooting also.”

Pelicans forward Anthony Davis said that while he didn’t get to work with Holiday much at Thursday’s practice, he assumed the team’s top guard will be effective right away.

“When you’re that good, it kind of stays with you,” Davis said.

Notes: Davis, who sat out Wednesday night’s loss at Orlando with a bruised right quadriceps, practiced on a limited basis Thursday and sounded optimistic about playing Friday. “It felt better, so hopefully it stays this way,” Davis said.

Rumor: Thunder looking to add size on wing, interested in Rudy Gay

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The Thunder are in the middle of a roster shift — the kind of players you can to put around two elite perimeter players and who you want to put around just one are different animals. There’s a shift coming, with the most obvious step being the need to add shooting.

Part of that is getting size on the wing — and that could mean the available Rudy Gay, reports Zach Lowe of ESPN.

They remain interested in bigger wings, including Rudy Gay, sources say, in part because such a player would slide everyone down to their intended spots: Oladipo to the bench, and Andre Roberson back to defending shooting guards.

You have to like the plan on paper — Roberson forced James Harden into 13 points on 16 shots with six turnovers, he has turns as an excellent defender, but he’s an offensive black hole (2-of-11 vs Rockets) and you need to have players that cover him. Gay, who has an old-school isolation and midrange game but makes it work, can be part of that.

The more interesting question is what they would offer, and what the Kings would accept? It’s too early for Sacramento (4-8) to give up on its playoff dreams, but if they reach that point closer to the deadline, they will be willing to take pieces that are forward-looking not help now. If the Kings don’t look like a playoff team, they have a number of big decisions to make.

Gay is going to get dealt, and with the Thunder in the playoff mix stranger things have happened.

Slow start for Wolves has tempered the optimism in Minnesota

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — With a roster full of some of the best young talent in the league and a new, playoff-tested coach to lead them, the Minnesota Timberwolves entered this season as a trendy pick to finally end a 12-year postseason drought.

Ten games into this still-young season, Tom Thibodeau finally erupted after watching his team give away yet another double-digit lead in a loss to the Charlotte Hornets that dropped them to 3-7.

It’s not that the Timberwolves are losing games this season that has angered him. It’s how they are losing them, with the same mistakes occurring over and over again, particularly during the third quarter of nearly every game.

“A big part of learning is trial and error. So when you go through something and it doesn’t work, you should learn from it,” Thibodeau said after a 115-108 loss to the Hornets on Tuesday. “The second time around, it shouldn’t be the same way. That has to change and it has to change fast.”

The Timberwolves have been one of the best offensive teams in the league this season, with Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine all showing skills that have fans cautiously hopeful that the franchise is finally ready to return to relevancy.

But they have been a disaster on defense and atrocious after halftime. They have been outscored by 72 points in their 10 third quarters this season, by far the worst margin in the league. Only one game this season have they outscored their opponent in that period – a 36-point win over Memphis in which the Grizzlies were resting stars Mike Conley and Marc Gasol.

The devastating ball movement that leads to wide open shots disappears, too. Thibodeau said his players “start holding and dancing with” the ball, which bogs down the flow. Contested jumpers lead to missed shots, which open up transition opportunities for their opponents.

The defense at the rim and on the perimeter is nonexistent. Layups, dunks and 3-pointers rain down on their heads as they scramble to get things under control. Wash, rinse, repeat.

“We’re playing really well and it just turns and ruins the whole game,” LaVine said Wednesday. “It ruins all our spirits. Going into the next game, you feel like you’ve got it figured out. We’re up 15, 12 points and we’re going good and it’s a nosedive.”

The results are familiar to fans. Target Center announced just 10,349 fans for the game against the Hornets on Tuesday. Average attendance during the five homes games is just over 13,000 per game in a building that holds close to 20,000, certainly not what the organization expected in the highly anticipated run-up to the season.

There are only so many promotions, so many giveaways, so many marketing tools the business side can use to sell tickets and spur interest. With a team that has been bad for this long, the fans are going to make them prove that things are different before they start investing.

“This is the best team I’ve ever been around,” said point guard Ricky Rubio, in his sixth season with the Wolves. “I get mad thinking that we’re wasting time. We’re not learning. It’s time to change.”

The Wolves do have things to comfort them. They are the best team in the league in point differential in the first quarter, first in 3-point shooting percentage and fourth in offensive efficiency. Thibodeau is considered a defensive mastermind, so it could just be a matter of time before his new charges start to execute his system the way he wants to see it done.

But if they do want to make the playoffs and end that interminable drought, they know they have to get going soon.

“There is no easy way out. It’s work,” Thibodeau said. “We’re more than capable of doing it. We just have to get it done.”

Three things we learned Wednesday: Defense? The Warriors don’t need no stinkin’ defense.

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Wednesday night was a full slate of 11 games around the NBA, and despite the fact some of the biggest names — LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis — were given the night off it ended up being a very entertaining show. Here’s what you missed.

1) The Warriors defense remains hit and miss, but with this offense it doesn’t matter.
The Golden State Warriors gave up 121 points on the night. DeMar DeRozan scored 34 points on 18 shots. The Toronto Raptors scored a ridiculously good 118.6 points per 100 possessions (per NBA.com) with a true shooting percentage of 60.5 percent. Toronto’s offense was fantastic Wednesday night.

And they still lost, because the Warriors offense was better. The Warriors won their fifth straight 127-121. Stephen Curry had 35 points, and Kevin Durant added 30, and the Warriors scored at a 121.7 points per 100 pace.

The Warriors are allowing 105.1 points per 100 possessions this season — that’s a bottom 10 defense. It’s up to 107.5 per 100 in their last five. And it doesn’t matter, they won all five of those games, because their offense is evolving into the unstoppable tsunami everyone feared — the Warriors have averaged 121.8 points per 100 in those five, with a true shooting percentage of 65.3 percent. In those five wins, the Warriors have assisted on 74.4 percent of their buckets — they are sharing the rock, playing at a fast tempo (101.2 possessions per game), and generally just running opponents out of the building. They also are getting the shots they want: Against Toronto almost 74 percent of their shots were either at the rim or a three pointer, and 45 percent of their shots were uncontested (according to NBA.com players tracking).

The model for this Durant/Curry version of the Warriors was always that the defense would slip a little but the offense would more than make up for it. That has sort of come true — the offense is everything they could have hoped. They have 70 games to figure out how to defend better before the playoffs put everything to the test. But until then they can shoot their way to a whole lot of victories.

2) Andre Roberson gets in way of Russell Westbrook/James Harden showdown, Thunder win because of it.
So much for the idea of two guys getting triple-doubles in the same game. Russell Westbrook came pretty close to holding up his end with 30 points, nine assists, and seven rebounds — he was the force of nature, the angry Russ we’ve come to expect this season.

James Harden never got close: 13 points on 4-of-16 shooting, 13 assists, seven rebounds, and six turnovers — and you can credit Andre Roberson. The Thunder put their long, best defender on Harden and he gave the bearded one trouble — of Harden’s 16 shots, 13 were contested (according to the NBA.com player tracking stats). Roberson was a disaster on the offensive end all night (2-of-11 shooting) but his defense won them the game, 105-103. Harden’s night might be summed up in the final 20 seconds, when down three he made a fantastic steal to give the Rockets hope, only to turn the ball over when he missed Trevor Ariza on the wing with the pass.

Oklahoma City as a whole found the defense that got them off to a 6-1 start — and just in time for the fourth quarter: Houston went scoreless for the final 6:26 of the fourth quarter until a late three by Eric Gordon which proved meaningless. All of which paved the way for Westbrook to decide not to kill some clock dribbling it out and wait for the foul and instead go for the dagger dunk — and nail it over Clint Capella.

It wasn’t pretty, but after four straight losses the Thunder will take it. Gladly.

3) Too much Marc Gasol at the end and Grizzlies out execute Clippers. I could watch Marc Gasol hit the game winner and do his dance all night long.

The Clippers have been the best defense in the NBA this season and yet David Fizdale’s floor-spacing Grizzlies (that’s just weird to write) thrashed them. Memphis just shot the ball well, starting with Conley (30 points) and Gasol (26), but as a team the Griz hit 15-of-26 threes and they crashed the boards hard. What Memphis has are both a four and a five who can space the floor and that pulled DeAndre Jordan and his rim protection away from the basket. Look at that game-winning three above by Gasol — Conley drove on J.J. Redick and DJ was forced to choose between protecting the rim or staying with his man in the corner. Jordan chose the rim, Gasol nailed the shot, and the Grizzlies all danced. The big problem for the Clippers is that the other top teams in the West — Golden State and San Antonio — both also have fours and fives that can space the floor and force Jordan into tough decisions.

Bonus thing we learned (that we already knew): Take the best player off a team and they can suck.
We got two examples of how teams are just not the same without their star. The big one was Indiana beating Cleveland 103-93 on a night LeBron James was rested. New Orleans has struggled against everybody, but they weren’t a threat to Orlando without Anthony Davis and lost 89-82. I get why teams are resting players, and the Cavaliers can afford to do it and still run away with the East. But there is a cost on the court (and to fans who paid to see those stars).

Stephen Curry scores 35 points, Warriors top Raptors 127-121

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TORONTO (AP) — Stephen Curry had 35 points, Kevin Durant added 30 and the Golden State Warriors beat the Toronto Raptors 127-121 on Wednesday night for their fifth straight victory.

The Warriors also have won five in a row against the Raptors, three in Toronto.

NBA scoring leader DeMar DeRozan led the Raptors with 34 points, and Kyle Lowry had 24. DeRozan was 17 of 17 from the free-throw line, and had his ninth 30-plus-point game in 11 games this season.

The Raptors led for most of first quarter, stretching their lead as high as 10 thanks to nine points apiece from Lowry and DeRozan. Durant chipped in with nine of his own as the Warriors fought back to close the deficit to 38-34 after 12 minutes.

Durant and Curry, in particular, ensured they improved on that in the second quarter with 10 points each. Aided by the Raptors shooting 5 for 24, the Warriors closed out the half on a 23-6 run, turning a four-point deficit into a 13-point lead, 66-53. The 66 points were the most the Raptors have given up in a first half at home since surrendering 71 to the Los Angeles Clippers on Jan. 25, 2014.

Golden State pushed the advantage to 19 points over the first 1:30 of the third quarter, but DeRozan brought the Raptors back with 19 points to send the Raptors into the fourth trailing 95-86.

Over the final 12 minutes, the Golden State backups stretched the lead to 16, and were able to hold on as the Raptors rallied within 4 with 13 seconds to play.

TIP INS:

Warriors: Coach Steve Kerr is one win away from the 150th coaching victory of his career. With 33 assists and a 50.6 success rate from the field, the Warriors set a franchise record with a fifth straight game with at least 30 assists and shooting over 50 percent. … With 10 field goals made, Curry moved past Joe Barry Carroll (4,010) for eight place on Golden State’s career list.

Raptors: Along with Brooklyn, Toronto is the only team to face Cleveland and Golden State in back-to-back games. Toronto lost 121-117 in Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Raptors out-rebounded Golden State 46-35. The Raptors dropped to 5-2 this season when DeRozan and Lowry combine to score 50 or more points.

ENJOYING THE VIEWS:

Canadian rapper Drake was on hand for the team’s fourth annual Drake Night. Wearing a shirt bearing the likeness of ESPN presenter Doris Burke as well as the words “Woman Crush Everyday,” Drake explained that he’s a big fan of Burke. He then sat courtside as the Raptors wore their Drake-inspired black-and-gold uniforms.

HE SAID IT:

“I want the Drake Night record to not only be all wins but I want them to be good wins, all good wins. I think I picked the right team; I’m excited. And if we don’t pull it out now, that’s not even an option.” – a confident Drake before watching the Raptors suffer their first loss on Drake Night. Toronto also dropped to 8-3 when it wears its alternate black-and-gold Drake-inspired uniforms.

MVP IN THE HOUSE:

Toronto FC forward Sebastian Giovinco, the reigning Major League Soccer most valuable player, was sitting courtside. Despite 17 goals and 16 assists in his second season in North America, the Italian failed to make the cut when this season’s three MVP candidates were announced earlier this month. Toronto FC plays the Montreal Impact in an all-Canadian Eastern Conference final starting on Nov. 22.