Aaron Brooks not yet a fit for the Suns

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The Suns and the Rockets are two teams on the outside looking in at the playoff picture in the Western Conference, but each is on the rise. Houston had won seven of eight, and Phoenix had won five of seven coming into Tuesday night’s head-to-head matchup. The game’s result, an exciting 113-110 home win for the Suns, may very well end up having a direct impact on the teams’ playoff chances as we head into the final five weeks of the season.

But in this meeting, there was something else at stake between the two clubs, however trivial at this point: bragging rights over who may have gotten the better end of the deadline-day deal that saw Goran Dragic and a protected 2011 first round draft pick head to Houston in exchange for Aaron Brooks.

While neither had a material impact on this particular contest, you have to believe that — at this early stage — the Rockets are a bit happier on their end than the Suns.

Dragic and Brooks combined to go 0 for 10 from the field in this one, but the difference in the on-court presence and demeanor between the two was more than noticeable — it was obvious.

Dragic played with aggression and purpose, darting to his spots on the floor, pressing up on defense, and zipping passes to his new teammates with precision. Brooks, meanwhile, over-dribbled aimlessly on offense, forced passes into traffic which resulted in turnovers, and didn’t appear to know where or when the cuts from his teammates would be coming from just yet.

Simply put, Brooks looked largely lost out there in his limited minutes on the floor. Along with the lack of familiarity with his new surroundings, it’s possible that nerves may have played a part in Brooks’ particularly poor performance.

“Jittery, nervous,” Brooks said, when asked to describe his feelings taking the floor in his home debut with his new team. “It was one of my worst games but I’m happy, thrilled we got the win — that’s most important. The game was so valuable, and we got it done.”

Brooks hasn’t been disastrous until this outing, and has shot the ball well in his first five games with Phoenix, making 16 of his 29 attempts. But some of those buckets came when the games had already been decided, and he’s nowhere near a fit yet for this team, which Suns coach Alvin Gentry said is something that he expects to take some time.

“I think he’s still learning,” Gentry said. “I think he’s a little bit too unselfish right now, because we need for him to be a scorer. At this stage I think he just feels like he needs to try to fit in first. I don’t think he understands the makeup of this team, where it’s such an unselfish team — they don’t really care. If he comes in and has 20 good shots and he takes them, no one’s going to say anything. But I think just like (former Sun Jason Richardson) had to, and just like (Channing Frye) had to, I think it takes time to understand that — the culture of this team, and the unselfishness of this team.”

Brooks admitted afterward that might have something to do with him taking longer than expected to adjust.

“Coming (to the team) in the middle of the season, you don’t really want to step on anybody’s toes,” Brooks said. “You know, it’s the beginning, and I’m not really concerned about that, honestly. I mean, I can play basketball, it’s just about getting out there, feeling comfortable, and doing my thing. I’m not worried too much about it.”

As Brooks mentioned, the win was a valuable one because it assures the Suns, who now sit just a game and a half out of the eighth playoff spot behind the Memphis Grizzlies, a clinching of the season series over the Rockets, having won the first two contests with just one meeting remaining.

A career high of 32 points from Hakim Warrick to go along with another 32 from Vince Carter powered the Suns on this night, and Brooks’ contributions as a reserve weren’t needed in order for Phoenix to secure the victory. Despite his rough outing, that’s something Brooks obviously sees as a positive.

“Maybe I was a little reluctant today,” Brooks said. “But I figure if I played my worst today and we still got the win, it can only go up from there.”

The Suns are hoping the same.

Celtics play themselves with Al Horford tweets

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The Celtics eventually deleted the first one, but these two Al Horford tweets back-to-back are a masterpiece:

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Russell Westbrook beefs with Damian Lillard, Evan Turner, Jusuf Nurkic (video)

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Russell Westbrook neared peak Russell Westbrook last night.

During the Thunder’s win over the Trail Blazers, he talked trash to Damian Lillard and exchanged pointed laughs and words with Jusuf Nurkic. Westbrook also scored 29 points, dished 14 assists and grabbed 10 rebounds. After the game, he mocked Evan Turner for stealing his trademark rock-the-baby celebration and called Nurkic a “clown” (to which Nurkic responded online by calling the Oklahoma City star “Westbrick”).

For better or worse – mostly better last night – Westbrook always brings that same energy to everything he does.

Frustrated Luka Doncic tears jersey (video)

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Luka Doncic has been showing his anger lately – kicking a ball into the stands and, last night, tearing his jersey entering halftime. At least that last outburst didn’t get him ejected.

Doncic got a fresh jersey for the second half and helped the Mavericks beat the Clippers, 106-98.

Three Things to Know: Grizzlies finally ready to hear Gasol, Conley trades, but is there a deal?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Grizzlies finally ready to hear Marc Gasol, Mike Conley trades, but is there a deal to be had? Last July, there would have been trades to be made, but the Grizzlies wanted no part of it. Rumors circulated during the summer that the Memphis Grizzlies might finally decide it was time to move on from the “grit ’n grind” era and trade their stars, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, while their value was still fairly high. But then owner Robert Pera bought out two minority owners and with full control pushed back against a rebuild, saying he thought this team could win 50 games.

Not so much. The Grizzlies are 19-28, 14th in the West, and have gone 1-12 in their last 13. One of the fears of rebuilding was alienating the fan base of a smaller market, one that loved the grit ‘n grind era and filled the arena to see it. But the fans have already started to move on, the Grizzlies are bottom six in the league now in both attendance and percentage of the arena filled. The market already is unimpressed with the product.

Now the Grizzlies are ready to listen to trade offers for Gasol and Conley. They are ready to rebuild around the promising Jaren Jackson Jr.

However, finding an actual trade in 17 days — before the Feb. 7 deadline — is going to be very difficult. (And despite the fun you can have in the trade machine, it’s not going to be one big three-/four-team trade that moves them both, these will be separate deals.)

There is more urgency for the Grizzlies to trade Gasol, who can opt out of his $25.6 million contract for next season — but that deal also complicates trades for him. How much are teams going to give up for an expensive half-season rental who has shown declining skills this season (father time is starting to win the race, his defense has faded)?

The other challenge: What playoff team needs a center and is willing to trade to take on his $24.1 million salary this season? Not many.

Both Los Angeles teams — the Lakers and Clippers — would see an upgrade at the five with Gasol, and both are pushing to make the playoffs in the crowded West. However, both are more focused on next July and big players in free agency (or, any potential Anthony Davis trades), they can’t risk Gasol looking at the market and picking up his player option for next season, eating up their cap space and spoiling their plans.

Dallas would see Gasol as an upgrade over DeAndre Jordan if they want to make a playoff push, and Jordan is an expiring contract so both sides would not be stuck long term. But if Memphis is taking on Jordan they would want a serious sweetener — a young player or a pick — and why would Dallas give that up? To make a playoff push? With J.J. Barea out and the Mavericks four games out of the playoffs and fading, it’s hard to see a deal getting done.

After that, the options get uglier. Detroit might be willing to swap bigs and move Andre Drummond (thinking Gasol fits better with Blake Griffin), but if you’re Memphis why make that move unless you’re getting young players and picks back? And why would Detroit give those up? Miami, Washington, San Antonio, there are other teams that maybe could throw their hat in the ring, but again why would those teams give up good future assets for at best a mild upgrade now?

If Gasol opts into that $25.6 million next season — and he may — then he could be traded come the summer. At the deadline it’s harder, a deal only gets done if Memphis takes pennies on the dollar back.

Mike Conley will have a lot of interested parties, he is an All-Star level player (he’d make it in the East easy, but in the West probably falls short again), but his contract is bigger than Gasol’s. Conley makes $30.5 million this season and has $67 million the two seasons after that (the second is an early termination option, but Conley isn’t opting out of that money, so consider that $67 million fully guaranteed).

There are a number of teams that would see Conley as an upgrade and believe he is better than what they will find on the free agent market come July. One popular idea is Orlando throwing in the towel on Aaron Gordon and constructing a deal around him — Conley would be the point guard Orlando needs, but they would be going young up front with Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba and even Conley can lift those two only so far right now.

Conley would be a massive upgrade for Detroit at the point as well. Dallas could use him next to Luka Doncic. Conley would be a great fit in Milwaukee at the point (with Eric Bledsoe and maybe George Hill, plus a pick/player, coming back). Phoenix has been involved in every point guard discussion out there. Would Utah take him on and move on from Ricky Rubio? Indiana can be an interesting fit.

All of those Conley trades make more sense than the Gasol ones — and they are all the kinds of trades more likely to happen in July than against the pressure of the trade deadline.

Maybe a deal gets done. It’s more likely, however, that we get a lot of smoke before Feb. 7 but no fire until next summer.

2) Paul George, Russell Westbrook get more help than Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Thunder win. Damian Lillard was looking every bit the All-Star he will be with 34 points on 24 shots.

C.J. McCollum scored 21 of his 31 points in the third quarter and tied his career high with seven three-pointers. Jusuf Nurkic continued his hot run of play with 22 points.

But after that the Blazers got very little — no other player scored in double digits and there was just one other made three.

Oklahoma City’s stars stepped up big. Paul George had a game-high 36, and Russell Westbrook racked up another triple-double with 29 points, 14 assists, and 10 rebounds.

The Difference was five other Thunder players scored in double figures and the rest of the Thunder shot 7-of-13 from three. That was enough to get the Thunder a 123-114 win at home.

My favorite on the court move? Evan Turner scored over Russell Westbrook and went to the rock-the-baby taunt.

Westbrook was not impressed.

3) Gorgui Dieng and Devin Booker get ejected, try to meet in the hallway to finish “fight.” It was another NBA fight — a lot of posturing and jawing but no actual punches thrown — but it was one of the funniest of the season. Were Gorgui Dieng and Devin Booker really going to fight in the hallway?

Here are the close-ups.

There was going to be no fight, but I’ll take Dieng if there’s going to be money wagered on the outcome.

Also, Dieng had the best response to any of it.