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.”

Carmelo Anthony has 18, but Giannis Antetokounmpo’s triple-double leads Bucks to win

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo had his second triple-double of the season and the Milwaukee Bucks beat Carmelo Anthony and the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers 137-129 on Thursday night.

Antetokounmpo had 24 points, 19 rebounds and a career-high 15 assists to lead the Bucks to their sixth straight victory. Antetokounmpo, who also had a triple-double in the season opener, has 16 career triple-doubles. Milwaukee is 14-2 in those games.

Eric Bledsoe added 30 points and six assists in the Bucks’ highest-scoring game of the season.

After scoring 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting in 24 minutes in his season debut Tuesday night against the Pelicans, Anthony had 10 points in the first half Thursday. The 10-time All-Star finished with 18 points (6-of-15 shooting) and seven rebounds for the Blazers, who were without Hassan Whiteside (hip), Damian Lillard (back), Zach Collins (shoulder) and Jusuf Nurkic (leg).

CJ McCollum scored a game-high 37 points and Skal Labissiere added 22 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks off the bench for Portland. The Trail Blazers lost their third straight game and seventh of the last nine against the Bucks, including sixth straight in Milwaukee.

The Bucks made their first seven shots, including three 3s, and led 17-6. Milwaukee never trailed.

The Bucks also had their highest first-half total, leading 72-58.

Report: Knicks not looking to make early-season coaching change with David Fizdale

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It didn’t take a Kremlinologist to read into what Knicks president Steve Mills said at his forced by the owner impromptu press conference 10 games into the NBA season:

Coach David Fizdale was in trouble. Big trouble.

It may not just be immediate, reports Marc Berman at the New York Post.

Mills wanted to see “consistent effort” and he’s gotten it. Indications are the coach’s hot seat is cooler halfway through this 10-game trial. Their record is 2-3 since the James Dolan-inspired conference, but could easily be 4-1 (they blew big leads to Charlotte, losing on a last-second 3-pointer, and, of course, had Philly dead in the water)…

The Knicks had to really sink south for a coaching change to be made by Game 20. Indications are it was far-fetched for a change to be made this early anyway. Was owner James Dolan, who has given Fizdale private reassurances, really going to let president Mills hire a new coach from the outside on a long-term deal with Fizdale still having at least one season fully guaranteed on his pact for 2020-21? Sources indicated the major deterrent to making a change at Thanksgiving was the sketchy alternative of promoting one of the assistants – Jud Buechler, Keith Smart or Kaleb Canales.

Good luck finding anyone who thinks Fizdale is safe long term in New York (and for the record, Smart has been an NBA head coach before, there are worse choices).

However, making a mid-season coaching change should really only happen for a couple of reasons. One is that the situation is so bad, so toxic, that it could poison the team into future seasons. The other is that there is a coach available on the sidelines that the team sees as “the man” going forward and they want to snap him up before someone else does (the Kings hiring George Karl comes to mind, although he turned out not to be “the man” they needed).

Not sure either of those situations applies to the Knicks and Fizdale. A move is more likely in the offseason.

However, predict James Dolan’s moods at your own risk.

Cavaliers’ new jerseys feature a big ol’ feather

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The Cavaliers rank near the top of the NBA by taking 19% of their total shots outside the restricted area while still in the paint. But Cleveland has converted just a middling 41% of attempts in that floater/runner range.

Maybe these uniforms will help the Cavs find a more feathery touch.

Though not in so many words, the Cavaliers actually stuck a feather on their jerseys and called it macaroni.

Jarrett Allen denies Kyrie Irving rumors, “He acts like a normal teammate”

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It hasn’t taken long for the “Kyrie Irving isn’t a good leader in Brooklyn” rumor mill to start up. The Nets 6-8 start combined with a desire in some corners of the NBA (and NBA Twitter) to pile on Irving has started the talk. Whether those rumors are just smoke or there’s some fire there depends on who you ask.

It was ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith who brought the topic to the forefront again on First Take.

Just as a refresher, anything Smith says should be taken with a full box of Morton’s Kosher salt. His job is to stir things up. That doesn’t mean he has no connections.

Nets center Jarrett Allen did an AMA on Bleacher Report and shot down the idea Irving is a bad influence in the locker room.

He acts like a normal teammate. People say that he has mood swings, but that’s a complete lie. He wants to see us succeed and do well if anything.

Allen added this when asked to compare playing with Irving vs. D'Angelo Russell.

They’re kind of different. Kyrie can score from anywhere, even without me setting up the pick-and-roll. DLo…we worked well; if he didn’t score, he’d kick it to me to score.

The Nets are a franchise inhabiting a strange space this season. First, this ultimately is Kevin Durant‘s team, but he doesn’t really get the keys until he can play, which almost certainly means next season. That makes Irving an interim Alpha on that team, but that’s an unusual dynamic.

Second, this is a Nets team that has rebounded from as low as it can get in the NBA to being a place Irving and KD wanted to play by establishing a culture, an identity. This is a lunch pail group of players who were selfless and bought into the team’s ideas and concepts. Nobody was a superstar, it was team first. Except, in come two superstars who bring their own ways of doing things — and the Nets can’t mess with that. There are compromises that need to go on for both sides, with Irving/KD bending to the Nets some, but the Nets giving them superstar treatment.

All of that creates friction that is going to rub some people the wrong way. Plus, Irving is a unique personality who is going to do things his way, and that will bother others. Some of those people will talk to the media, but that doesn’t mean everyone — or even a majority — feel the same way. It’s usually people who feel aggrieved who want to vent.

How all this plays out in Brooklyn is going to be something to watch. But the ultimate test is next season, not this one.