Kurt Helin

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 1:  Head coach Byron Scott of the Los Angeles Lakers and D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers talk during the game against the Philadelphia 76ers on January 1, 2016 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Byron Scott defends his development of D’Angelo Russell

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A few summers back, during a Team USA training session in Las Vegas in July, I was part of a discussion with USA/Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski about how players today are different from past eras. Remember, Coach K has as old school a background as you can get — West Point and Bob Knight. Krzyzewski said he’d learned he had to approach modern players differently; the “I say jump and you say how high” mentality didn’t work. However, if you took the time to explain why you wanted certain things done, if you mixed in positive with the negative, if you treated them as an individual and really taught them, the modern player would run through walls for you just like the old-school players did.

Consider that context for the discussion about the development of D'Angelo Russell with the Lakers.

Bashing Scott for his jerking of Russell’s role around and the apparent lack of communication between Scott and his young players has been a favorite pastime of Lakers fans this season. Lakers fans have turned on Scott as much or more than they ever did Mike Brown or Mike D’Antoni — the fact Scott is a Showtime Lakers icon doesn’t slow that tide anymore.

That criticism reached a peak last Friday when the Lakers lost to the Los Angeles Clippers. Former NBA player and UCLA star Don McLean is an analyst for the Clippers, but more than that he works out a lot of young players helping them prepare for the draft (or even college, I’ve spoken to him at Adidas Nations events before). McLean is active in player development, and like all guys in that field he’s protective of his own.

McLean worked with Russell before the draft last season, and he didn’t hold back going after Scott on the broadcast, as reported by Bill Oram of the Orange County Register.

“I really wish Byron Scott would just give D’Angelo Russell the keys and say, ‘Go for it, man,’” said MacLean…

“If Byron Scott would say, ‘You know what, D’Angelo? I don’t care if you turn it over 15 times tonight, you’re going to play 35 minutes, go for it,” he will figure it out,” MacLean said. “He really will.”

That’s the system that Denver and coach Mike Malone have used with Emmanuel Mudiay, and while that rookie has a ways to go (especially with his shot), you still have seen him start to turn a corner, to begin to develop real chemistry with Nikola Jokic.

Byron Scott doesn’t see it that way at all. And he fired back.

Scott sees it this way: If you just let Russell (or any rookie) have minutes in spite of mistakes you are rewarding bad behaviors and they will never learn. They will feel entitled. It’s an old-school method. He’s doing with Russell (and Julius Randle) what he did with Jordan Clarkson last season, holding back the minutes then eventually unleashing them. Scott said the other day he plans to put Russell back in the starting lineup, likely after the All-Star break.

McLean fired back at Scott on a radio interview Monday, but that starts to distract from my point, and my questions.

It should be noted, Scott was drafted by the Lakers onto a 54-win team that reached the NBA Finals, was stacked with Hall of Famers and veterans, and Pat Riley still got Scott in 49 games as a rookie. Scott was much better for it and much improved his second season.

What we don’t know — because we’re not at practices, not in the film sessions — is what Scott and his staff are doing to teach Russell to do things the right way. Other than to slap him on the nose and say “bad dog” by limiting his minutes. Scott is old school, has he figured out how to adapt and reach younger players, or does he only know one way?

Based on Russell’s comments to NBA.com’s David Aldridge, Russell is a guy in need of being shown the right way, a guy thirsty for that knowledge but not being given the water.

Russell: At this day and age, you kind of have a feel for what you did wrong. It might sound weird, but you don’t know what to ask. So like, I turned the ball over. I know I turned the ball over and I’m coming out of the game. I’m not sure if that’s why you’re pulling me out, but I’m not sure what to ask. ‘Cause I know I turned it over. There’s nothing that you can possibly say that’s going to bring that turnover back, or anything that I can possibly do. But it’s like, I don’t know what to ask. It’s like, he wouldn’t, I don’t know, tell me if I don’t ask. So that’s where it’s kind of a blur.

Aldridge: Is that just part of being a young guy — not knowing? You don’t know what you don’t know?

Russell: That’s the best way to put it. I don’t know what I don’t know.

That’s a mature statement from Russell.

More mature than we have seen from a coach comfortable with criticizing his rookies to the media.

Scott also has a tough balancing act this season — making sure the fans get the Kobe Bryant farewell tour experience while developing young players for the future.

Russell is showing signs of improvement this season, and while Lakers fans will tell you that’s in spite of Scott, the coach and his staff clearly have some role in it. Could Russell be handled better? From the outside looking in it’s not fair to draw hard and fast conclusions, but it appears there is a generational gap that his hampering things.

Scott is not going anywhere the rest of this season — he will coach the Lakers through April, reports Mike Bresnahan at the Los Angeles Times. That shouldn’t be a surprise; he was brought in to guide the final years of the Kobe experience, and to help the Lakers sell some history while setting up a new generation. He reportedly is on an audition for his job the rest of the season.

I’d be surprised if Scott is back next season, he’ll get more time on the golf course and the Lakers will pick a new direction.

But until he goes, don’t expect Scott to change.

After DeMarcus Cousins expresses concern, Kings pull back T-shirt giveaway

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The Kings made the right call.

Monday night the Kings wanted to celebrate the lunar new year and the Chinese New Year — the year of the monkey — with a T-shirt giveaway in the arena. The shirt featured a monkey caricature and was placed on every seat in the arena.

Monday was also Feb 1 — the start of Black History Month. NBA players wore special warm-up shirts to commemorate that.

DeMarcus Cousins was one of the first people to suggest that giving out a shirt with a monkey on it on the first day of Black History Month may be a pretty grave error, and the Kings heard him, reports the Sacramento Bee.

“We all need a lesson in sensitivity,” Kings president Chris Granger said. “In an effort to celebrate Chinese New Year, we had some concerns about the T-shirt giveaway, so we pulled them all before the doors opened. Certainly we don’t want to offend anybody, and we acted as soon as we heard the concern.”

Former NBA player and current Milwaukee TV analyst Marques Johnson applauded Cousins for speaking up and the Kings for removing the shirts.

“Good move Kings,” Johnson tweeted. “Year of Monkey Tees on 1st day of Black History Month not a good look. Thanks DeMarcus.”

That is the right move by the Kings — their media relations people have had to try to put out enough fires this season.

The Kings went on to beat the Bucks 111-104, only their second win of the season with Cousins sitting out. Rudy Game dropped 32 in the victory.

Gary Harris dunks and Luis Scola isn’t going to stop him (VIDEO)

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This play kind of sums up how the Toronto Raptor’s franchise record 11-game win streak came to an end.

Nikola Jokic was making a play (he had 27 and 14 on the night in a breakout performance), Gary Harris back-door cut his defender, Jokic found him with the deft bounce pass, and Luis Scola tried to rotate over but was a step too late and just ended up getting dunked on. The Nuggets were better at every step on this one.

Denver went on to a comfortable 112-93 win on the night.

Five Takeaways from NBA Monday: Rookies Nikola Jokic, Myles Turner breaking out

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, center, of Serbia, looks to pass the ball as Toronto Raptors guard Cory Joseph, left, and center Bismack Biyombo, of DR Congo, defend in the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Denver. The Nuggets won 112-93. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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While Americans focused on what Iowans thought about Donald Trump (this is where we are as a nation?), the NBA season kept on rolling along with some impressive breakout performances. Here is what you need to know from a Monday night around the Association:

1) Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic puts up 27, Raptors’ 11 game win streak ends in Denver.
Toronto’s franchise record 11-game win streak was expected to end somewhere during their six-game road trip this week and next (making way for setting up the All-Star Game in Toronto on Valentine’s Day). Not sure we expected the Rocky Mountains to be where it ended, but Denver has been quietly playing better of late, and the Raptors learned that the hard way.

They also learned that Nikola Jokic is a beast — hulking, active, can score inside or knock down the three, and he can pass. The rookie out of Serbia (second round pick in 2014) scored Denver’s first 11 points on his way to a career-high 27 points and 14 boards, plus he dished out four assists. Jonas Valanciunas couldn’t handle his activity. Jokic and Emmanuel Mudiay are starting to develop chemistry — brought along beautifully by coach Mike Malone (that is how you develop players Byron Scott) — that could be a foundation for the team for years. Toronto had a bit of an off night (Kyle Lowry‘s wrist, is it bothering him more than is being let on?), that happens. They are the better team. But for a night we got to see what Jokic and the Nuggets can do.

2) Myles Turner is turning heads in Indiana. Myles Turner was starting his third game for Indiana and had looked good in the first two (28 points, 15 boards, +8), but going against the Cavaliers puts everything on a bigger stage — and Turner was up to the task. He had his first career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, plus he did this to LeBron James:

Turner is still a rookie doing rookie things — with a tie game and less than 10 seconds to go, Turner was supposed to come across and set a screen for Paul George so Monta Ellis could pass to George for a last-second shot to win it. Instead, Turner stood wide-eyed on his side of the court and watched Ellis wave at him, so Ellis was forced to try to take his man one-on-one and got off a tough two that missed. The Pacers went on to lose in OT. It happens with rookies, and there are downs with the ups, but Turner is developing.

For Cleveland, it’s the kind of win good teams get — you need to grind out tough wins on the road sometimes. The Cavaliers are 5-1 under Tyronn Lue and continue to take steps in the right direction, toward more cohesive team play. It’s a process, but the Cavs are going a better direction now.

3) Earl Watson gets the interim job in Phoenix.
After firing Jeff Hornacek as coach, the Suns first call was to much-beloved former point guard Steve Nash to come back and coach. That’s not what Nash wants — he’s got too many off-the-court interests, wants to spend too much time with his family, and has too bad a back to be an NBA coach. (Front office person, from consultant to person with actual power, that may be a better role for him.)

When Nash said no, Earl Watson got the interim job. He will make his debut Tuesday at home against the Raptors. Watson may be a good coach, but he’s not going to have much more success than Hornacek because of the roster — Eric Bledsoe is gone for the rest of the season, Brandon Knight has been banged up and may not be able to go (same with Ronnie Price and T.J. Warren), and the front court is leaning heavily on Jon Leuer. The Suns front office has the real work to do in this franchise. The coaching could have been better, and the coach is always the scapegoat because GMs won’t fire themselves, so Watson gets his chance.

4) Brandon Jennings goes off the backboard to Andre Drummond. This was the highlight of the night — and was two of Drummond’s 21 points to lead Detroit to a 105-100 win over Brooklyn.



5) Russell Westbrook had a triple-double against the Wizards as Thunder pick up an easy win.
The Thunder are playing very well; the Washington Wizards are not. That’s a bit simplistic, but it sums up this game fairly well. The Wizards have fallen from a top-five defense last season to 20th this season, and that is the reason they can’t pick up wins. Although, they are far from the first team to struggle stopping Westbrook, who had 17 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists on the night. This makes seven triple-doubles for Westbrook on the season — I think the triple-double stat can be vastly overrated, but if you’re racking up seven in a season you’re doing something right.

Nuggets end Raptors’ 11-game winning streak, 112-93

Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari, left, of Italy, looks to pass the ball as Toronto Raptors forward James Johnson defends in the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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DENVER (AP) — The Toronto Raptors were ready for Danilo Gallinari. They didn’t have an answer for Nikola Jokic.

The rookie center had 27 points and 14 rebounds, and the Denver Nuggets ended Toronto’s 11-game winning streak with a 112-93 victory over the Raptors on Monday night.

Jokic’s totals were season highs. He had 23 points and 12 rebounds against San Antonio on Nov. 28 and now has four double-doubles in his past five games. The 20-year-old Serbian has surpassed even his own expectations for this season.

“When I came here I didn’t think I would play,” he said. “Now I have trust from the coach.”

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His effort Monday eased the burden on Gallinari, Denver’s leading scorer. Gallinari had just 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting and let Jokic dominate Toronto.

“He had a good game. I’m very happy for him,” Gallinari said. “I told him the challenge is for him to do that every night.”

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Will Barton scored 20 points and Randy Foye had 16 for the Nuggets, who swept the season series. They won in Toronto on Dec. 3 to stop an eight-game losing streak.

The Raptors entered with the NBA’s longest current winning streak but couldn’t duplicate the success they had in January. They led by one midway through the second quarter but trailed by double digits for most of the second half.

A frustrated Dwane Casey emerged from the locker room after the game with a crumpled boxscore.

“You can describe it any way you want to,” the Toronto coach said. “That was a stinker. That was one of our worst performances of the year. We played like we were playing in mud. You can blame it on the altitude, whatever it was. We stunk.”

DeMar DeRozan led Toronto with 24 points. His All-Star backcourt mate, Kyle Lowry, scored just nine and went 1 for 6 from the foul line.

Lowry said Casey was angry with the performance and suggested his players use the boxscore as toilet paper.

“That describes this night for us,” he said. “We just didn’t have it tonight and they kicked our (butts).”

Jokic was a problem for the Raptors from the start. He nearly had a double-double in the first half with 15 points and seven rebounds. He started slowly in the second half but scored six straight points late in the third quarter to give the Nuggets a 73-60 lead. His last basket in the sequence came when he cut through the lane and dunked off a pass from Emmanuel Mudiay.

Jokic went 2 of 4 from the line in the final 1:57 of the third to tie his career high. He came in late in the fourth and set new highs for his rookie season.

“What a performance. Every time I think he’s kind of maxed out for his rookie season, he finds a way to keep on impressing me,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “You can talk about some of these other young bigs, who are all talented, and I wouldn’t trade him for anybody in the world. He’s a special young man and a special young talent. He’s only going to get better as he gets stronger.”

The Nuggets put the game away early in the fourth. Barton scored the first eight points of the quarter to make it 88-65. Foye hit a 3-pointer to make it 97-70 with 8:03 left.

TIP-INS

Raptors: F James Johnson left late in the second quarter with a sprained left ankle and did not return. He was hurt when he collided with Gallinari at midcourt. … Casey was selected the Eastern Conference coach of the month for January. The Raptors were 12-2 in the month, including seven straight wins at home.

Nuggets: G Jameer Nelson was inactive with a sore left wrist. Nelson missed six games with the injury before returning for two. He aggravated the injury in Saturday’s overtime loss at Indiana. … A winter storm that rolled through the Denver area Monday contributed to the low attendance of 10,007 at Pepsi Center.