Becky Hammon coming up Aces in first season coaching in WNBA

Los Angeles Sparks v Las Vegas Aces
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NEW YORK (AP) — When Becky Hammon knew it was time to leave the NBA last winter after being an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs for eight seasons, she was faced with a tough choice.

She had to choose between the two WNBA franchises she once played for, and both lobbied hard to make her their head coach.

“It was either going to be Vegas or New York,” the Aces coach said recently after a practice in New York. “I felt it was time for me to leave and to grow and have a different challenge. It was one or the other. By mid-December, I was like for sure I’m getting off this NBA path right now.”

She had been a candidate for a few NBA head coaching jobs over the last few years, but never got them. She also had received some college offers in the past, as well as other assistant jobs in the NBA, but turned them down.

“This is way more advantageous and more beneficial for me than go be an assistant coach in Sacramento or Oklahoma City or some other (NBA) team,” Hammon said.

The former Liberty guard acknowledged it was tough to say no to New York owners Joe and Clara Wu Tsai, saying she was really close to taking the job in the Big Apple.

Still, the 45-year-old Hammon has no regrets with her choice and becoming the first WNBA coach to command a million dollar annual salary.

“It’s been one of the best decisions of my life. I absolutely love it,” said Hammon, who was one of the All-Star coaches in Chicago last weekend.

Las Vegas got off to a great start, winning 13 of its first 15 games before hitting a skid ahead of the All-Star break, with five losses in seven games. The Aces swept New York in the two games after the break.

“No one said it was going to be easy. If being great was easy, everyone would be doing it,” Hammon said. “You have to hit some adversity. There should be some hiccups. We came out like a rocket and then hit some rough patches.

“The adversity will be beneficial to us more than the win-loss record down the road.”

Whether things were going well or when the team was struggling, Hammon said she talked with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich a few times a week, either via text or on the phone.

“The other day, I talked to him for an hour. He watches all our games,” she said. “He tells me what he sees and what he thinks. That line of communication is very open.”

So is the communication with her team.

Point guard Chelsea Gray said one of the biggest aspects Hammon has brought to the team is accountability — which is certainly a Popovich trait.

“She is holding everyone accountable top to bottom,” Gray said. “It didn’t take her any time to do that and be completely honest with us.”

Hammon’s coaching style has helped guard Kelsey Plum, who is having the best season of her WNBA career while averaging 20 points and 5.5 assists. The two connected last year when Hammon was in Las Vegas for a few days. They worked out and the 5-foot-6 Hammon gave the 5-8 Plum some tips on finishing in the lane.

“I had no idea that she’d be coaching me this year,” Plum said. “She’s been where we are, which helps.”

Plum also noticed some teams are already starting to incorporate some of Hammon’s coaching ideas. Las Vegas was one of the first teams to start playing a zone defense, and New York tried it Tuesday night against the Aces.

“I think people are starting to steal some of her stuff,” Plum said. “People are taking some of our sets on offense, too. It’s great to see her making such an impact already.”

Bulls’ Lonzo Ball “nowhere near playing,” could miss entire season

New Orleans Pelicans v Chicago Bulls
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“I’m trying to stay positive, keep my hopes up. I would love to play. I would never count that out.”

Lonzo Ball tried to put an optimistic face on his recovery from a second knee surgery, but he was realistic and put no timetable on a return.

Bulls coach Billy Donovan was more realistic, speaking Saturday before the Bulls took on the Magic. Via Julia Poe of the Chicago Tribune.

“He’s made some progress, but I’d be the first one to tell you he’s nowhere near playing,” Donovan said. “He’s just not. Because he’s not running on a consistent basis. When he can get to that place where he can do that consistently and be able to come back the next day and do it again, do it again and do it again — I think you’ll feel a little bit more optimistic.”

Could Ball be out for the entire season? Donovan again, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

“My guess would be – there’s not been a specifically set date – my guess would be I think we get through the All-Star Break, I think there would probably be everybody sitting down to talk about length and time of the season, how realistic is it for him to get back, if he could get back what would the minutes look like, is it not worth having him back just because it’s too much?’’ Donovan said. “I think everything, at least in my conversations with medical about him, have always been geared towards helping him get back to playing. Certainly once you get out of the All-Star Break, with the amount of time that’s left, basically you’re at the end of February. You have all of March and not even two weeks in April, so you start to get to that point where I think there will be some conversations of, ‘OK, if he’s still not close to playing, what’s the plan moving forward?’”

Ball has undergone multiple knee surgeries. The first was in January 2022 and the expectation at the time was he would return for the playoffs, but his knee didn’t respond well during rehab. That led to a second knee surgery, and recovery from that is going slowly as well. It leaves the Bulls in a tough spot, they miss his defense and his being a floor general on offense as they have struggled to a 23-26 record this season that sees them sitting as the No. 11 seed in the East.

Pelicans Trey Murphy III reportedly invited to participate in Dunk Contest

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We knew three participants invited to the All-Star Saturday night Dunk Contest: G-League fan favorite Mac McClung, the Portland Trail Blazers Shaedon Sharpe and the Houston Rockets’ KJ Martin.

The fourth slot in that event will go to the Pelicans’ Trey Murphy, reports Andrew Lopez of ESPN.

No doubt Murphy can throw it down with the best of them.

The Dunk Contest will headline All-Star Saturday night, Feb. 18, from the Vivint Arena (soon to be the Delta Center again). The event will be broadcast on TNT.

The Dunk Contest is the Saturday night headline event, but it has fallen flat in recent years. Adding a G-League dunker and young, bouncy athletes such as Murphy, Martin and Sharpe could make this one entertaining. However, what fans really want to see — what made the Dunk Contest must-watch back in the day when Jordan, Kobe, and Vince Carter were doing it — is the stars. There will be no Ja Morant, no Zion Williamson, and no Anthony Edwards in this contest.

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?
117

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,271

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Jan. 30 at Nets
Jan. 31 at Knicks
Feb. 2 at Pacers
Feb. 4 at Pelicans
Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks

When is LeBron projected to set the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30.2 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 7 at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder (if he does sit out Monday against the Nets, as the team announced).

Since he turned 38 (on Dec. 30), LeBron has averaged 35.2 points per game, which would see the mark broken at home against the Thunder.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• The Lakers have officially listed LeBron (and Anthony Davis) as out for the game Monday night in Brooklyn. That is the first game of a back-to-back for the Lakers, and they have rested LeBron in half of those for most of the season. This will push back the date he breaks the record, making it likely it happens at Crypto.com Arena.

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”

Watch Harden run onto court from bench mid-play to defend

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It takes a second to notice, but the 76ers had just four players on the court trying to defend the Nuggets on a late third-quarter possession.

But when James Harden — sitting on the bench — notices it, he stands up and runs into play, drawing a technical.

The technical foul was for having four men on the court, not on Harden specifically.

While that may have been a rare instance of Harden rushing to play defense, the 76ers as a team cranked up their defense in the second half against the Nuggets and went on to get the home win behind 47 points from Joel Embiid.