Kurt Helin

DeMarcus Cousins scores career high 48 as Kings beat Pacers 108-97

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — DeMarcus Cousins had a career high 48 points and 13 rebounds to help the Sacramento Kings beat the Indiana Pacers 108-97 Saturday night for their season-high fifth straight win.

Rajon Rondo had 11 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for his second straight triple-double and sixth of the season for Sacramento. Darren Collison had 11 points and rookie Willie Cauley-Stein had 12 rebounds.

The Kings, winners of eight of 11 in January, used a strong third quarter to build an 11-point lead and never relinquished it in the fourth. Sacramento has beaten Indiana four straight times, sweeping the season series the last two years.

Paul George had 24 of his 34 points in the second half for the Pacers, who have lost two straight and five of six. Jordan Hill had 17 points and 13 rebounds, Monta Ellis scored 16 and rookie Myles Turner added 11 points and five blocks.

Sacramento has won five straight for the first time since Oct. 31-Nov. 7, 2014. The Kings, currently in eighth place in the Western Conference, are legitimate playoff contenders at midseason for the first time in 10 years.

The Pacers had a great difficulty containing Cousins from the start. The Kings’ talented center had 13 points in eight first-quarter minutes and 24 points and eight rebounds by halftime. Cousins has 15 30-plus point games this season, including eight in the last 11 games.

Cousins scored 15 points in the fourth quarter, including a stretch of 11 straight Kings points that put Sacramento ahead 97-89 at the 4:04 mark. Consecutive baskets by Collison increased the lead to 10 points with just under three minutes remaining.

George also had a huge fourth quarter as well, also scoring 15 points.

TIP INS

Pacers: Starting PG George Hill rejoined the Pacers and came off the bench following a three-game absence. He left the team to be at the birth of his son, who was born Jan. 16. He had eight points and four assists in 32 minutes. … Starting C Ian Mahinmi, who suffered a sprained ankle in Tuesday’s win over Phoenix, missed his second straight game and reserve G Rodney Stuckey (foot sprain) was also out.

Kings: An irate coach George Karl picked up a technical early in the third quarter and had to be restrained by several assistant coaches. … Rudy Gay, the team’s second leading scorer, missed his second straight game with a bruised heel.

 

Report: Cavaliers’ almost fired David Blatt around Christmas

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David Blatt lost the Cavaliers’ locker room. Well, that’s not accurate, because to lose something you must have once had it. Blatt never had LeBron James, never really was given a chance by LeBron, and without him the battle would never be won. Blatt came with a big ego, and lacked the personal skills of someone like Steve Kerr (a respected former player who followed a popular coach and did it perfectly) to help him win over LeBron and the rest of the team. Plus, Blatt made some poor coaching decisions (ones we saw LeBron overrule, most famously in the playoffs last season). LeBron was blowing off Blatt’s play calls this season, and if the team’s star isn’t listening to the head coach, the rank and file will follow suit.

Blatt was fired on Tuesday, replaced by Tyronn Lue.

But he was almost fired back while your Christmas tree was still up, reports Chris Haynes at the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

This season, Blatt almost didn’t make it past 2015. The 29-point road trouncing at the hands of the Damian Lillard-less Portland Trail Blazers on Dec. 26 was close to being his next-to-last game. If it wasn’t for a unimpressive win over Phoenix two days later, Blatt would have been shown the door the following morning, cleveland.com has learned.

It was not just LeBron who wanted Blatt out and Lue in (although his voice carries the most weight), reports Marc Berman at the New York Post.

“Ty wanted the job from the beginning, and LeBron wanted him to have it,’’ an industry source told The Post. “There was a division within the players, but J.R. [Smith], [Iman] Shumpert, even [Kevin] Love sided with LeBron. Kyrie [Irving] was supportive of Dave, but there were a group the last two weeks trying to get him fired.’’

The Cavaliers are 30-11 and are arguably the third best team in the NBA (the Thunder would want to have that argument), and no coach this successful has ever been fired mid-season. But there may be no more win-now team in the league than the Cavaliers, and while they have won 11-of-13 those two losses are to the Spurs and Warriors, showing the Cavs exactly how far from contending they really are.

With that the players got what they wanted, GM David Griffin pulled the trigger Friday.

The question is now will the players buy into the system, willingly make the needed sacrifices, and play smarter and harder for Lue? Can he put players like Kevin Love in better positions to succeed, and will LeBron and Irving willingly sacrifice the touches needed to compete for a title.

This removes an excuse — the players have to take their game to the next level, to make those sacrifices now, or we will know it’s not the coach that is the issue.

 

DeMar DeRozan makes All-Star case, drops 33 on Miami (VIDEO)

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The host Toronto Raptors will have one player in the All-Star Game next month for sure — fans rightfully voted Kyle Lowry in as a starter.

Can the Raptors get a second player? DeMar DeRozan is on the bubble as a reserve (battling other guards such as John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Isaiah Thomas for a slot), something the coaches are voting on this week. With that in mind, DeRozan made his case the past couple games, including dropping 33 on the Miami Heat in a comfortable Raptors win Friday night.

DeRozan had 15 in the first quarter, and he got a number of buckets with the Heat’s best defender — Justise Winslow — on him.

DeRozan and Lowry have found a natural balance, with both guys taking turns as the playmaker and working off the ball. That kind of connectivity would be fun to see in the All-Star Game. We’ll see if the coaches agree and send DeRozan to the dance.

Kevin Durant, Thunder top Mavs 109-106 for season-best 7-game run

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DALLAS (AP) — Kevin Durant scored 24 points in the former Texas star’s first game in Dallas in almost two years, and the Oklahoma City Thunder extended their winning streak to a season-best seven games by holding on for a 109-106 victory over the Mavericks on Friday night.

Russell Westbrook had 16 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for the Thunder, who almost blew a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter before improving to 13-2 since a Christmas Day loss to Chicago.

Chandler Parsons led Dallas with 26 points and nearly extended an NBA-record streak of four straight overtime home games. His desperation 3-pointer bounced off the rim just before the buzzer. It was the last of three potential tying 3s in the final 35 seconds for Dallas.

The Dallas rally was sparked by seldom-used center Salah Mejri, who energized the crowd with blocks at the rim against both Westbrook and Durant. The latter came on a dunk attempt by Durant with the Thunder leading 107-103 in the final 2 minutes.

Deron Williams, who had 22 points, pulled Dallas within one with a 3, and Durant answered with a jumper. After Wesley Matthews missed a shot from long range, he drew a foul coming around a screen from Serge Ibaka to give the Mavericks another chance.

Williams made a mistake by trying to shoot from inside the arc, but ended up with the loose ball after Ibaka blocked it. Dirk Nowitzki, back in the lineup after missing a game with swelling in his right knee, was off target on a 3 and Parsons missed after grabbing the rebound and heading for the left corner with the clock winding down.

Oklahoma City has won all three games against Dallas this season, including a 19-point win at home Jan. 13 when the Mavericks sat all five starters on the second night of a back-to-back.

Mejri had 17 points and nine rebounds in 25 minutes in the earlier loss after not scoring all season. He didn’t score in this game, but the blocks had the crowd buzzing.

The Thunder turned an eight-point halftime deficit into an 11-point lead by outscoring Dallas 37-18 in the third quarter. Durant scored 12 points in the quarter, and Ibaka had 10 of his 14 as the Thunder shot 62 percent to 30 percent for Dallas.

Durant and Ibaka both went 2 of 3 from 3-point range in the third in Durant’s first game in Dallas since March 24, 2014, when he scored 43 points in a 128-119 overtime loss.

Nowitzki scored 14 points on 6-of-15 shooting after a sluggish start coming back from the knee injury.

Enes Kanter had 16 points and nine rebounds, while Nick Collison had a game-high 11 boards to lead a dominant effort by Oklahoma City, which was missing starting center Steven Adams for the first time this season with a right elbow strain.

The Thunder outrebounded the Mavericks 47-33 and outscored them 17-4 in second-chance points.

TIP-INS

Thunder: In Wednesday’s win over Charlotte, Westbrook became the fourth player in NBA history with at least 15 points, 15 assists, five rebounds and five steals in a game. He scored 16 points with 15 assists, eight rebounds and five steals in 27 minutes.

Mavericks: Parsons made his 300th career start, and Williams needs one more for 700. … C Zaza Pachulia got a technical for taunting in the fourth quarter.

 

Former Cavaliers big man Brendan Haywood says Blatt feared LeBron, lost team

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The power dynamic in the NBA is clear — star players have far more leverage than coaches. And part of the reason LeBron James took his star back to Cleveland was to be able to leverage that power in a way he never could in Miami.

That’s not to say LeBron was directly behind Cavaliers coach David Blatt being fired and Tyronn Lue being hired Friday; however, it wouldn’t have happened if LeBron wasn’t good with the move.

Part of Blatt’s problem was that power dynamic — he feared LeBron, according to Brendan Haywood, the journeyman NBA big man who was a member of the Cavaliers last season. Here is what Haywood said to Justine Termine and Eddie Johnson on Sirius XM’s NBA channel (as transcribed by Steve Aschburner at NBA.com).

“Coach Blatt was very hesitant to challenge LeBron James,” Haywood said. “It was one of those situations where, being a rookie coach, and LeBron being bigger than life, it was a little too much for him. I remember we had James Jones [talk] to Coach about how, ‘Hey, you can’t just skip over when LeBron James makes a mistake in the film room.’ Because we all see it.

“And we’re like, ‘Hey, you didn’t say anything about that. You’re going to correct when Matthew Dellavedova‘s not in the right spot. You’re going to say something when Tristan Thompson‘s not in the right spot. Well, we see a fast break and LeBron didn’t get back on defense or there’s a rotation and he’s supposed to be there, and you just keep rolling the film and the whole room is quiet.’ We see that as players. That’s when … as a player, you start to lose respect for a coach.

“Slowly but surely, that respect started chipping away where he would kind of be scared to correct LeBron in film sessions. When he would call every foul for LeBron in practice. Those type of things add up. Guys are like, ‘C’mon man, are you scared of him?’”

With that, Blatt lost the team, according to Haywood.

Add to that the players — starting with LeBron and running through the entire roster — love Tyronn Lue, the new head coach. He was the guy that players went to with concerns, not Blatt. This move is going to be popular in the locker room; something Haywood alludes to.

The question is not do the players like it, but rather can Lue not only draw up better schemes to involve Kevin Love or put other players in positions to succeed, but can he get LeBron and the other players to buy into those schemes? And for a win-now team, how fast can he do it? (Because you don’t fire a coach of a 30-11 team mid-season unless you’re thinking about a guy who can win right now.)

We’ll start to get that answer Saturday night when the Bulls take on the Cavaliers.