Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (Dec. 21) -- Warriors rip Jazz, move to NBA-best 25-4 Staff

Jazz defense can’t stop Warriors | Fizdale questions Grizzlies’ lack of leadership | Van Gundy ready to switch up starting lineup | Noel gets some burn vs. Pelicans

No. 1: Warriors rip through Jazz defense — As winners of 11 of their last 13 games, the Utah Jazz entered last night’s NBA TV showdown with the Golden State Warriors with some confidence. They left that road game, however, with their tails (and their No. 2-rated defense) between their legs after a 30-point defeat in Oakland. Ron Kroichick of the San Francisco Chronicle has more on the Warriors’ win and their dismantling of Utah’s defense:

Tuesday night’s Warriors-Jazz game had an odd vibe, from the comically inept start by both teams to the guy in a Kevin Durant jersey banking home a halfcourt shot.

Only it wasn’t Durant.

The fan, Patrick Nudanu of Oakland, earned $5,000 and a two-night stay in Las Vegas — and the night’s loudest ovation — for his feat during a third-quarter timeout. That spoke in part to the grinding nature of Golden State’s 104-74 victory over Utah at Oracle Arena.

Stephen Curry scored 25 points and the real Durant added 22 as the Warriors stretched their winning streak to five games. They also improved their league-best record to 25-4 in advance of this week’s trip to Brooklyn, Detroit and Cleveland.

The win hinged on rugged defense more than Golden State’s customary offensive artistry. Utah’s 74 points easily marked a season low for a Warriors opponent.

“This was really one of my favorite games of the year,” head coach Steve Kerr said. “The Jazz are a tough, physical team, and we couldn’t buy a basket early. I loved the fact we stuck with it, took care of the ball and played good defense.”

Utah arrived in Oakland with 11 wins in its previous 13 games, fortified by the return of forward Gordon Hayward and guard Rodney Hood. The Warriors beat the Jazz on Dec. 8 in Salt Lake City, but Hayward and Hood missed the game; the Jazz figured to offer a stiffer test this time, with both players in the lineup.

Hayward and Hood then combined to shoot 2-for-15 from the field, including 0-for-9 on three-pointers.

Neither team scored for the first three minutes and 27 seconds; when Curry posted the game’s inaugural point on a free throw, the crowd responded with a spirited, sarcastic cheer.

The Warriors didn’t make a shot from the field until Durant connected after 4:08 had elapsed.

As shot after wayward shot clanged off the rim — the score was 4-2 halfway through the first quarter — it seemed like a fifth-grade CYO game. The Warriors missed 11 of their first 12 shots from the field. The Jazz missed 12 of their first 13.

Asked what he was thinking at that point, Warriors forward Draymond Green said, “This is an ugly game. It’s nasty.”

The Warriors led 19-15 after the first quarter, and then they finally found their rhythm (as they usually do). They kept up the pressure on defense, starting hitting shots and opened a commanding 55-33 lead at halftime.

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No. 2: Fizdale wondering where Grizzlies’ leaders are — The Memphis Grizzlies were the talk of the NBA a week or so ago after they notched wins against the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers in the span of four days. Since then, though, they’ve hit a bit of a rough patch and have lost three straight since beating the Cavs on Dec. 14. Last night’s loss to the Celtics was tough in that Memphis allowed Boston to come all the way back for a win at the Grindhouse. Afterward, coach David Fizdale ripped into his team, writes Tim MacMahon of

Rookie head coach David Fizdale ripped the Memphis Grizzlies’ leadership Tuesday night after the team’s third consecutive loss.

“Right now, I’m really down on our leadership,” Fizdale said without prompting after the Grizzlies blew a 17-point lead in their 112-109 overtime loss to the Boston Celtics. “Our huddles are like tombs right now. Nobody wants to step up and lead this group now during this tough time. I’m going to keep demanding it and see who’s going to rise to the challenge.”

Known for his direct communication style, Fizdale said the 18-12 Grizzlies “stayed in the locker room at halftime,” when they had a 45-31 lead. Boston rallied behind point guard Isaiah Thomas, who scored 36 of his career-high 44 points after halftime, and Fizdale blamed blown defensive assignments for setting the tone for the Celtics’ sizzling second half.

Asked for his reaction to Fizdale’s harsh criticism of Memphis’ leaders, Grizzlies captain Marc Gasol didn’t have much to say.

“None,” Gasol said. He paused and repeated himself, exaggerating as he enunciated for effect.

Asked if Fizdale’s opinion was inaccurate, Gasol said: “You’re asking for my reaction; I said none. He thinks that, we’ve got to be better, and that’s it. No reaction.”

Shooting guard Tony Allen, considered the emotional leader during the Grizzlies’ Grit ‘n Grind era, agreed with Fizdale.

“You’ve got to roll with what Coach said. He calls a spade a spade,” Allen said. “I thought guys put their head down when they started cutting into the lead. Myself and Marc and Mike should take offense by that and show by example the next game.

“It’s nothing like we’re fighting back with Coach or nothing. We have to be better leaders and respond in critical situations when we see a lead sink. That’s what I’ve got to get from it. We’ve got to be better.”

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No. 3: Van Gundy ready to make big lineup changes — After his Pistons lost to the Chicago Bulls, Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy didn’t hold back his disdain for his team’s performance and hinted at some lineup changes. Then came yesterday’s practice and session afterward with the media, in which Van Gundy seemed to stay on track with that notion, but wasn’t revealing the details of it. Rod Beard of The Detroit News has more:

Over the past three games, the Pistons’ defense hasn’t been good and their shots aren’t falling either.

It’s been a recurring theme throughout this season and last, but it’s rearing its ugly head again at the wrong time, as the Pistons try to pull out of their nosedive of four losses in the past five games.

Coach Stan Van Gundy said he plans to make changes to the starting lineup, which he says has been ineffective all season, to try to stem the tide.

“I definitely know where I’m leaning. I just don’t want to discuss it with you guys,” Van Gundy said Tuesday. “I’ll talk to you about it after the game tomorrow night.”

But the sky isn’t falling and there’s no panic — at least not yet.

After their third straight double-digit loss, the Pistons are in a tailspin, with a daunting schedule approaching in the next two weeks. If they don’t pull out soon, they could find themselves in a deep hole, trying to dig out just to get back to .500. Though there’s a high probability for some drastic change, forward Marcus Morris said the team is just going through a rough patch where things aren’t working on either end of the court but that they can work out their issues.

“At the end of the day, it’s not the end of the world,” he said Monday. “Every position, starting with me and everybody, we have to respond better.”

That improvement started in Tuesday’s practice, which Van Gundy called a normal practice, without the yelling and screaming that one would expect after a lackluster performance in a 31-point loss to the Bulls on Monday.

The key was getting back to basics, which begins with more effort on both ends of the floor.

“You’ve got to play a lot harder — that’s always the starting point. Until you do that, nothing else matters,” Van Gundy said. “No matter what we would do with anything else, if we played at the same pace, energy level, intensity level as we played (Monday) night, nothing would be better.

“That’s where it starts: Run up and down the floor. Get down in a stance and play hard. That’s where it all starts, and that’s where it always starts.”

The Pistons (14-16) are in another rut, not unlike ones they’ve gone through for most of their up-and-down season, which featured a 4-2 start, a 2-7 stretch, a bounce-back at 5-1 and the current 3-6 skid.

It’s a similar back-and-forth that most of the teams in the East are going through. The Pistons are in 10th place, but only 1½ games out of a playoff spot — and just 2½ games from the No. 3 seed.

So all is not lost — yet.

“Why it turned as quickly as it did on us, I don’t really know,” Van Gundy said. “After the Dallas game, we all still felt pretty good and things were moving along and then three of our worst four games of the year.”

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No. 4: Noel regains spot in Sixers’ rotation — The turmoil regarding the role of big man Philadelphia 76ers Nerlens Noel and the team’s coaching staff and front office has been swirling about for days now. Just yesterday, Sixers GM Bryan Colangelo went out of his way to clarify Noel was not being benched and would play again soon. Soon, it turned out, was last night against the visiting New Orleans Pelicans, as Noel logged 6 minutes and 49 seconds in the loss. Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer has more:

The foreseeable future ended up being only six quarters.

That’s how long the 76ers’ reserve center, Nerlens Noel, was sidelined after it was announced that he would be out of the rotation for the foreseeable future. But on Tuesday, the Sixers were in desperate need of a defensive spark against the New Orleans Pelicans.

So Noel subbed in for Jahlil Okafor to a standing ovation with 6 minutes, 49 seconds left in the third quarter with his team down 14 points.

“I thought that Nerlens’ minutes were timely,” said coach Brett Brown, after his team’s 108-93 loss at the Wells Fargo Center. “I thought there was a stage maybe this thing is going to jump-start the building.”

Defensive woes – especially in the second quarter – cost the Sixers (7-21) an opportunity to win back-to-back games. They gave up 42 points in the period, the most they have surrendered in a quarter all season.

Things were getting so bad that midway through the third quarter, fans were yelling “Nerlens” and “Put Nerlens in.” That was followed by faint chants of “We want Nerlens.”

“I really want to thank the fans,” said Noel, who checked in with the Sixers down, 66-52. “They really appreciated me these last four years. That’s something I’m really appreciative about.”

He added that the crowd gave him energy. The 22-year-old even momentarily had the chills. He was active during his 6-minute, 49-second stint, finishing with four points on 2-for-2 shooting.

His first basket came after he grabbed an offensive rebound of a missed 14-foot jumper by Gerald Henderson. The crowd erupted when he laid it up under the basket to make it a 68-54 game with 5:40 left in the quarter. The 6-foot-11, 232-pounder also had three rebounds. He was, however, noticeably fatigued by the end of the quarter. Noel did not play in the fourth quarter. But the former Kentucky standout said he felt good on the court.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: With this basket last night, LeBron James moved into 8th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list … The Lakers will unveil Shaquille O’Neal’s statue outside Staples Center in March … Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside was miffed over how many touches he got last night … Note to Nerlens Noel — Philadelphia 76ers GM Bryan Colangelo had a lot of praise for fellow big man Joel Embiid recently … Dominique Wilkins beat 2 Chainz in a 3-point shooting contest … How the Houston Rockets plan to tweak their offense while Clint Capela mends … The Washington Wizards and New Orleans Pelicans may be interested in Denver Nuggets swingman Will Barton …