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By Sam Smith | 11.17.2014 | 9:33 a.m. CT
Bulls face tough tests out West
This could be a brutal week for the Bulls facing a tough Western Conference trio with Derrick Rose questionable for Monday’s game with the Clippers. The Clippers seem to be coming out of their early funk with a big win over the Suns Saturday as Chris Paul had 32 points, not encouraging if Rose cannot play. Portland will have four days off waiting for the Bulls who are coming in on a back to back Friday after playing Sacramento Thursday, where the Bulls have not done so well even when the Kings were bad. The Bulls lost their last two there and 11 of the last 15. And now the Kings have become a threat with a win Saturday over the Spurs after blowing leads of at least 24 points against the Mavericks and Grizzlies, the latter on an amazing brain lapse to lose with three tenths of a second. The Kings are more stable and DeMarcus Cousins is proving difficult to people other than officials. And who ever expected “stable” and “DeMarcus Cousins” to be in the same sentence? Said coach Mike Malone after the Spurs victory: “If we defend like we did earlier in the year, I really feel we can beat anybody in the NBA. I don’t know if there’s a more competitive player in the NBA (than Cousins). We all know how skilled he is, and he hates to lose.”
Big blocks in the Big Easy
One of Michael Jordan’s original three who traveled with him in the 1980s, Adolph Shiver, reached a plea agreement on money laundering and tax fraud charges. Shiver’s Club 935 in Charlotte is one of the city’s top hip hop and blues clubs. Shiver and Jordan were college classmates and childhood friends, but have not been close for many years ... Hawks players say the addition of Thabo Sefolosha has been a difference maker in improved defense ... Quietly developing has been the Pelicans’ Austin Rivers as New Orleans moved two games over .500 for the first time in three years. Rivers is shooting 57 percent and 42 percent on threes ... There’s been a lot of big man free agent speculation about Marc Gasol, though don’t forget Omer Asik, who it will be vital for the Pelicans to retain given the freedom Anthony Davis has enjoyed and an obvious maximum contract waiting for him ... The New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper wrote a shame, shame story about New Orleans fans with home attendance 23rd for missing out on the greatness of Anthony Davis. Forbes reported Pelicans median ticket prices are the league’s lowest. Davis is fourth in scoring, third in rebounding and averaging more than four blocks per game. The last player to average four blocks was Dikembe Mutombo in 1996. And no one ever threw him the ball to shoot ... The modern blocks record is Mark Eaton at 5.56 in 1985, though there were always suspicions then the Jazz inflated stats numbers given John Stockton’s huge assists totals. Blocks weren’t an official statistic until 1973, eliminating Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, who may have averaged 10 per game ... It’s been an up and down start for big Dallas free agent Chandler Parsons shooting about 40 percent and 32 percent on threes, though James Harden hasn’t called him a role player yet.
Ball is back in Wade's hands
Get your bid in for Dion Waiters. It sounds like rookie Joe Harris, an aggressive defensive player, is winning over the Cavs’ coaches. Funny how the Cavs supposedly pursuing Corey Brewer suddenly became a story ... One player not doing so well after the USA Basketball summer is Detroit’s Andre Drummond, with much less involvement in the offense. It’s how some personnel moves impact in different ways. Drummond did well playing pick and roll with Will Bynum, who was sent out, though he should be doing better than he has with D.J. Augustin. Brandon Jennings' numbers are for himself and with Greg Monroe working on his free agency year, the ball isn’t finding Drummond ... Dwyane Wade has been healthier, though hardly perfect as he had a hamstring issue last week. But he is enjoying playing, he tells South Florida media, as he again has the ball back in his hands as the Heat's playmaker after ceding it to LeBron James. He’s not complaining given the titles, but according to NBA advanced stats he touches the ball five times as often as he did last season.
Rocky start in the mountains
The remarkable element about the Spurs, especially for this era, as Steve Kerr noted after the Spurs in the second of a back to back in Oakland after defeating the Clippers beat the Warriors: “I retired 12 years ago and the same three top players and the same coach are still over there. I mean, it's insane.” ... Andre Iguodala has been supportive, but Kerr is finding what all coaches do that depth can also create issues. With Shaun Livingston returning and Iguodala coming off the bench this season, Iguodala’s fallen between the cracks with the high octane Warriors and played 53 minutes in back to back losses with two points last week ... The Nuggets off to a losing start following many around the league picking them as a positive surprise team have coach Brian Shaw, curiously, openly talking about being fired if things don’t change. It was a 1-6 start and booing at home with attendance in the bottom five. Said the candid Shaw to the Denver Post: "One of the things that I do know and it's always been my philosophy whether it's in basketball or if I'm in a street fight: I don't want to be in a fight and not get off a punch. So I'm going to go down swinging with my instincts that have gotten me to this point. It's a tough situation that we're in. If we don't have that kind of effort from everybody, then we're not going to ever get out of this situation, and I won't survive it. And it's that simple." The Nuggets are supposed to run in the Denver altitude, though it gets them nowhere in the playoffs. So Shaw is trying more half court, which is a lot less entertaining with losses. One surprise has been the trade for Aaron Afflalo, which was supposed to be a coup. But Evan Fornier has been a surprise for Orlando and averaging 17.6 while Afflalo had a slow start and seemed part of what some in the Denver media were likening to a team mutiny after an 84-point Portland first half and massive benchings for the second half.
The human handcuff
You’d think Adam Silver has enough issues with a new players association executive director lobbying for a lockout—the salary cap is un-American and owners should play instead of players and see how far you get—than weighing in on the complexities of the triangle offense, a tiresome topic in New York already. “It’s a system, simple basketball. We’re over the triangle, and let’s get to business and play it the right way,” Phil Jackson offered in exasperation after Silver volunteered: “I watched the Knicks game last night. Clearly, they’re still learning the triangle. I still don’t understand it. But they’re learning it.’’ It’s a constant discussion in the New York media because New York tends not to be the sophisticated basketball market as, say Los Angeles or Chicago, where they understood the triangle was just another motion and spacing offense incorporated by many teams. The New York market is less about basketball than conflict: Who’s upset with whom and the issue of the day as opposed to the game. So the triangle becomes a point of contention instead of a discussion about the game. That Silver weighed in as he did just shows what we always knew that the league office is Knicks’ fans, which is why Silver rarely weighs in on Thibodeau’s dribble/weave ... Impressing amidst the 76ers’ mess has been Tony Wroten, who is earning himself an NBA job and doing as well as he has he likely is heading out of Philadelphia with Michael Carter-Williams coming back, anyway ... Toronto media after the Bulls win Thursday labeled Jimmy Butler “the human handcuff” after DeMar DeRozan was three of 17 ... Lionel Hollins, frankly outspoken, is finding saying those things in New York is different than in Memphis. Brook Lopez is understandably returning unsteadily from major foot surgery. So being out the fourth quarter became Hollins “benching” Lopez for poor play and being upset with the center. Hollins told reporters they misunderstood and had taken him out of context. Welcome to the land of, so when did you stop hating Lopez. “You (media) guys go with what you want, right?” said Lopez. Lucky for him Derrick Rose had a tough week occupying the media ... Though the man bites dog story of the week was Joe Johnson chastising the team for lack of ball movement. Yes, that Iso Joe.
Kobe closing in on Michael
Utah’s Gordon Hayward has responded well to his big offseason contract averaging 19.2 and prevailing last week in a shootout with Carmelo Anthony. Said coach Quin Snyder to Utah media: "Physically, he’s really committed himself to getting stronger this summer. It shows in the way he’s gone to the basket. He’s taking contact.” ... The Suns aren’t catching anyone by surprise this time, and though Isaiah Thomas continues to put up big numbers, it’s usually at the expense of another guard and lately Eric Bledsoe with one point in 34 minutes against the Clippers Saturday and single digits in two of his last four ... As Chris Bosh goes so go the Heat? Not encouraging. With Dwyane Wade out again with a hamstring issue, Bosh was two of 17 in the home loss to the Bucks Sunday and now 12 for 49 in the three-game losing streak. The new consensus in Miami is Bosh has a weaker supporting cast without Wade than Bosh had in Toronto missing the playoffs. So much for Luol Deng, eh? Making the playoffs in Miami may not be all that certain ... So Kobe Bryant scores 44 Sunday and the Lakers lose by 21 after trailing the Warriors by almost 40. Of the starters, Carlos Boozer, though, had the best plus/minus of minus 28. The latest Lakers’ optimism conventional wisdom is Kobe is just shooting (15-34 and three of 12 on threes) to pass Michael Jordan on the scoring list, which at this rate would be in early December. Then he intends to become a facilitator. So much for a softer start with six of 10 at home and now heading out on the road at 1-9. Really, Kobe’s going to buy into this for how long?