Kurt Helin

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Paul George struggles to get legs under him, break out of shooting slump

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Paul George was one of the best stories the first month of the season. He was the NBA’s Eastern Conference Player of the Month for November, and in his first 10 games he was averaging 24.3 points per game and shooting 38.3 percent from three. The old, aggressive Paul George was back.

But he has struggled of late — George is in a shooting slump. He is averaging 16.9 points per game and shooting 29.6 percent from three (and not much better overall) in his last 10 games. Check out his shot chart from those last 10:

Paul George last 10

Speaking with Manny Randhawa for the USA Today, George said that after most of a season off due to leg injuries, he is feeling the grind of the NBA season in his tired legs. Plus, defenses have geared up to take him out of the picture after his hot start.

“It’s frustrating,” George said after practice Tuesday. “Given the circumstance of being out a year, that’s what I really feel like it’s been, just trying to get used to a full season now. A lot of my shots feel good; I’m still getting good looks a majority of the time. Most of them are just short. It just comes down to legs, making sure I’m sharp, making sure I’m fresh….

“We run a lot of pick-and-rolls and ball screens for me, and it almost seems like everybody’s just loading up,” George said. “Help-side is loading up, the big that I’m coming off on is no longer dropping down, he’s coming up higher (to guard George). So it’s almost forcing me to swing the ball or pocket-pass. Those are times when I’m trying to be aggressive, and I get myself in a bind trying to work through the other team just watching, just following me.”

At 18-12, the Pacers are the current three seed in the East, but things are bunched up — just three games separate two-seed Atlanta and 10-seed Detroit. The Pacers may need to find a way to rest George a little, but they ae not in a position to give away a few games to do it.

Slumps happen. Tired legs happen during the marathon of the NBA season. To everyone. Expect George to get a second wind at some point soon, and keep the Pacers in the playoff mix in the East.

Larry Bird defends Stephen Curry’s impact on game, three ball

Stephen Curry
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“He’s hurting the game.”

“Young players are going into the gym trying to be him, not playing a team game.”

“These young players need to work on having a complete game.”

It’s what you heard from high school and youth coaches — about Michael Jordan. And Kobe Bryant. Young players were trying to go isolation, taking too many contested shots, and trying to destroy teams single-handedly — just like their idols. Before that, you had young guards trying to throw ridiculous no-look passes because they wanted to be Magic Johnson.

Now you hear the same misguided complaints about Stephen Curry, and ABC/ESPN color analyst said it about Curry during the Christmas Day broadcast. Curry handled it well and tried to take it as a compliment, but it felt like a “get off my lawn” comment from an old man who forgot what he did mimicking stars while growing up in the game.

If you’re a Curry and Warriors fan living in the Bay Area, and a Comcast Sportsnet subscriber, you can stream tonight’s Warriors game against the Mavericks live, just follow this link

Now Larry Bird has come to Curry’s defense. Bird knocked down his share of threes in an era when that shot was not used as a weapon the way it is now. The man currently with the hammer on Pacers basketball decisions, Bird said this about Curry on the Collin Cowherd Show on Fox Sports Radio (via the San Jose Mercury News).

“I think he loves Steph Curry,” Bird said. “But if you walk in any gym, if there are kids in there, they’re all shooting 3-pointers. That’s the way it was when I walked in gyms years ago. I don’t see anything wrong with it.

 “I just think Steph Curry is probably right now our best player and what a champion. He (Jackson) said `what a champion.’ That team out there is a real champion. Because if you win a championship and then come out and go 28-1, that’s pretty special.”

The Bird is the word.

LeBron James sings some Marvin Gaye while getting back on defense

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James is congratulated after back-to-back dunks against the Denver Nuggets in the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Denver. Cleveland won 93-87. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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There is never a bad time to be singing Marvin Gaye.

LeBron James was having a good night in Denver Tuesday — 34 points, six rebounds, two assists, and his jumper was finally falling for a night — and when they started blasting Marvin Gaye through the Pepsi Center, LeBron was ready to sing along.

LeBron led the Cavaliers to win, and so long as he does that he can sing along with Marvin Gaye, or “Uma Thurmon” from Fall Out Boy, or whatever else is getting blasted in arenas around the league right now. To the winners go the tunes.

Five Takeaways from NBA Tuesday: LeBron found his jumper for one night

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It’s bowl game season — although I’m fully in the “New Year’s Eve, are you kidding?” camp — and if you were watching Leonard Fournette and LSU run all over Texas Tech Tuesday night rather than watching the NBA, we understand. We’ve got you covered. Here’s what you need to know from a Tuesday night around the Association.

1) LeBron finds his jumper, drops 34 in Cavaliers win. Tuesday night started with the NBA Twitterverse buzzing about this stat, via NBA.com’s John Schuhmann: LeBron James has been the worst shooter in the NBA this season outside the paint, hitting just 28.5 percent of his shots. The problem is he has been settling for those shots and missing them.

Tuesday night in Denver LeBron found his jumper. At least for a night. Check out his shot chart from Tuesday where he dropped 34 in the Cavaliers’ 93-87 win over the Nuggets.

LeBron Shot chart Denver

LeBron was 7-of-13 outside the paint against Denver — and he did it wearing sleeves (he’s not a fan). LeBron’s jumper is just another trend to watch this season. Right now in the NBA it is Golden State and San Antonio as a clear one-two, then a big gap back to everybody else; Cleveland is the clear best team in the East but it is not playing on the level of the top two from the West. There are a few factors at play here, such as getting Kyrie Irving fully integrated into the offense again, Kevin Love breaking out of his December doldrums (in his last 10 games he is scoring just 13.7 points per game on 40.2 percent shooting), the bench being consistent, and LeBron knocking down his jumper with regularity. The Cavaliers have until June to figure all that out. Tuesday night may have been a step in that direction.

2) Brandon Jennings stepped on the court for the Pistons for the first time this season. When last we saw Brandon Jennings he had gone down with a torn Achilles that ended last season for him. Tuesday night he returned to the court, and it was good to see — he played 16 minutes (including garbage time), was 2-of-4 shooting, and while he looked creaky as you might expect, he also already looked like an upgrade over Steve Blake as the backup point guard. There are a lot of questions still to answer — can he play next to Reggie Jackson? Will the Pistons try to trade Jennings? — but for now it was just good to see him on the court.

3) Paul Millsap blocks Trevor Ariza then Dwight Howard to preserve Hawks’ win. Atlanta had just gone up two on a sweet little bank by Al Horford, it was now 117-115 Atlanta over Houston. The Rockets came down looking for the tie — and Paul Millsap said not today my friend. He shut down the driving Trevor Ariza, and when the ball caromed to Dwight Howard Millsap blocked him, too. The Hawks went on to get the 121-115 win.

4) Marc Gasol with the circus shot — then celebrates with a shimmy. That Memphis big man Marc Gasol hit a circus shot while stumbling after a foul is fairly impressive. But what makes this video worth watching is the shimmy celebration at the end. You never see Pau shimmy.

5) Carmelo Anthony makes a young fan’s night with dap. ‘Melo could afford to be in a good mood, his Knicks were looking better and picked up a nice win at home against he Pistons, 108-96. Anthony had 24 on the night. But this little dap to a kid sitting courtside probably meant the world to this youngster.

Injury-ravaged Utah Jazz plan to stay the course

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Injuries have ravaged a Utah Jazz roster that was expected to take a significant step forward in 2015-16.

They had the sixth-best win percentage (65.5) in the NBA after the All-Star break last season and there was optimism to see how a young corps would grow together.

Those injuries have gummed up that development.

The Jazz lost starting point guard Dante Exum to a torn ACL in the summer. Starting center Rudy Gobert remains out with a sprained MCL. Third-leading scorer Alec Burks had surgery Tuesday on broken left fibula and is out for the foreseeable future.

The Jazz are currently 13-16 and in the No. 8 spot for the playoffs.

“The important thing is for us not to lose sight of the fact that our record doesn’t necessarily reflect what we’re doing and what we’re building,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “The expectations, probably now, are actually more in line with what they should have been at the beginning of the year.

“The opportunity for us, right now, is to get better with the guys we have and reintegrate Rudy, in particular, and hopefully get Alec back and hopefully be a better team in March than we are right now.”

There is no panic in the front office, though the string of injuries is frustrating. Snyder and general manager Dennis Lindsey have often talked about the process of constructing this team. There’s a commitment to a slow rebuild and developing the second youngest roster in the league. They want the core of Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Gobert, Exum, Burks, Rodney Hood and Trey Burke to blossom together, but three of the seven have been out and Favors has missed time with nagging injuries.

The process has been slowed.

“Naturally, it affects it just because you’re not out there playing together,” Hayward said. “So, it’s a natural affect. You’re still around each other. We’re still watching film. There’s still things you can do. You can learn from the sidelines, for sure.

“It’s how it works. Every year, something’s going to happen.”

There are no immediate plans to adjust the process. The Jazz will do due diligence and evaluate trade scenarios and other roster options, but the plan is to stay patient. The organization wants to take the long view and not chase short-term goals if it’s a detriment to building a title contending roster.

The hope is the injuries will allow growth from other players and help the depth in the future. Burke is having the best all-around year of his career. Rookie Raul Neto is starting instead of getting the leftover minutes of a No. 3 point guard. Rookie Trey Lyles is getting spot starts and more minutes than he wouldn’t have otherwise. The same is happening for third-year center Jeff Withey.

The thought is to err in favor of the long view instead of the now.

But the now is ongoing.

The Eastern Conference has been the deeper of the two conferences this year. The Grizzlies, Rockets, Pelicans and Trail Blazers have all taken a step back and the Jazz remain in playoff contention despite the record.

There are nightly decisions Snyder has to make despite being short-handed. A three-wing lineup had been heavily used, especially late in games, with Hayward, Hood and Burks on the floor without a point guard. That has to change.

Snyder said they won’t overhaul the defensive system, but it’s certainly different without the length of a 6-foot-6 point guard (Exum), a mobile 7-1 center (Gobert) and the athletic Burks. Favors has played more center this year and been more careful with the way he defends the rim.

Burke and Neto played together on the floor Monday for the first time this season – a pair of 6-1 point guards.

“There’s a ripple effect,” Snyder said. “More than anything guys just have to step up and collectively fill those voids. I don’t think adjusting the starting lineup or signing someone from the D-League or any of those things, it could help, but there’s no singular move that all of a sudden says never mind Alec and Dante and Rudy. We’ve got to figure it out now.

“It’s different obviously without Alec. … There’s a lot of uncertainty.”

As much as Lindsey and Snyder are responsible for building a future contender, there are 53 games remaining on the schedule and the available players aren’t waving the white flag on the season.

“You can definitely be down for sure, but you can’t have that mindset,” Hayward said. “That’s how you start losing 5 out of 7 games, you feel sorry for yourself. We’re professionals. It has to be a next man up mentality.”

Hood added, “Nobody feels sorry for us.”