Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (Dec. 9): Gregg Popovich rips Spurs for 'going through motions' in loss to Bulls

NBA.com Staff

Bad habits halt Spurs’ road run | Thomas gets PRP injection | Gentry not fretting job status with Pelicans | Russell, Young nearing return

No. 1: Bad habits halt Spurs’ road run; Popovich rips Spurs’ effort in loss to Bulls — Some bad habits that had been plaguing the San Antonio Spurs — even as they amassed a 13-0 start on the road — came to a head last night. As a result, the Spurs took their first road defeat of the season in a 95-91 loss to the Chicago Bulls that our Steve Aschburner attended. He reports on what it was that led to the Spurs’ downfall:

The Spurs trailed from the start, fell behind by double digits in the second quarter and were down by 18 points midway through the third. They clawed back to make it a two possession game five times down the stretch. But ultimately – after the Bulls used offensive rebounds to chew more than a minute off the clock, from 1:56 to 27.6 seconds left – San Antonio came with the proverbial too little, too late.

That was a slight departure from recent games in which the Spurs mustered just enough, just in time. Consider: They have fallen behind by 10 points or more in seven of their last eight games. They had managed to win six of the first seven by revving up in the second half, but revving didn’t get it done Thursday.

“We played 24 minutes again, just like we have the last 10 games,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “We go through the motions and that’s it. … We haven’t learned to play 48 minutes.”

Veteran forward Pau Gasol, new to the Spurs this season, knows that this half-empty style isn’t what built the organization’s legacy.

“Most of our games, we haven’t been coming out with the same edge as we have in the second half. … We just come out too flat and allow teams to get comfortable early on. And when we turn it on in the second half, we’re hoping we will be good enough, hoping to be able to rely on that. That’s not the right way to go.”

Through 23 games now, San Antonio (18-5) has outscored opponents by 4.6 points per game, which ranks sixth in the NBA behind not just the Warriors (20-3) but also the Clippers (16-7), the Raptors (15-7), the Cavaliers (15-5) and the Rockets (15-7). According to basketball-reference’s Simple Rating System, which factors in strength of schedule, the Spurs should have won just 15 of their first 22 games, not 18.

Manu Ginobili shrugged at what all of them seemed to treat as a fluke.

Popovich is one of the leading practitioners of resting his players and finding recovery time in the 82-game schedule. He hasn’t held a full practice since Nov. 7, according to beat writers traveling with the team. That includes this week, with Wednesday as an off day in Chicago after back-to-back games in Milwaukee and Minnesota. But Popovich also didn’t schedule a shootaround Thursday morning.

“As you can guess, it’s impossible to empirically prove that has something to do with it,” the Spurs coach said. “But we do live by the Wilt Chamberlain philosophy: ‘You want it this morning or you want it tonight?’ We usually go for the night.”

Fitting he would cite Chamberlain, given the Lakers’ claim on the all-time road winning streak. When L.A. coach Bill Sharman hatched the idea for morning shootarounds to a) get the players out of their hotel rooms on game days lest they get stale, and b) provide disincentive from too much socializing the night before games, the headstrong Chamberlain reputedly told him, “I come to the arena once a day. You want me in the morning or you want me at night?”

Just showing up wasn’t good enough this time for the Spurs.

After the loss, Popovich was more than miffed at his team’s overall effort and laid into the squad for it. ESPN.com’s Michael C. Wright has more on that:

San Antonio Spurs center Pau Gasol walked down the hall at the United Center, headed straight toward the wrong locker room before his team’s 95-91 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Thursday night.

For Gasol, who played two seasons in Chicago, and the rest of his San Antonio teammates, that’s the type of night the Spurs endured Thursday. Their effort drew the ire of coach Gregg Popovich, who called out some of his underperforming players, saying “guys get a lot of money to be ready to play.”

Asked whether it was his job to make sure the Spurs were ready to play, Popovich said, “I don’t remember playing tonight. No Knute Rockne speeches. It’s your job. If you’re a plumber and you don’t do your job, you don’t get any work. I don’t think a plumber needs a pep talk. A doctor botches operations, and he’s not a doctor anymore. If you’re a basketball player, you come ready. It’s called maturity. It’s your job.”

Dating to Nov. 25, the Spurs trailed by double digits in seven of their past eight outings, yet they found a way to win in all but two of those contests, including Thursday’s loss. The Bulls led by 10 at the half and increased their lead to 18 points in the third quarter.

San Antonio couldn’t chop Chicago’s lead to fewer than six points until there was 4:04 left to play.

“We played 24 minutes again, as we have for about the last 10 games,” Popovich said. “We go through the motions in the first half. I think we shot one free throw in the first half. We shot four or so the second half. But we played harder in the second half. I don’t know if we played much smarter. Our opponents have outplayed us physically and execution-wise in most first halves for most of the season. So now we pull it together in the second half, and played harder and smarter and got it to [a] four [-point deficit]. That’s the disappointing part: We’re not a very consistent team, and we haven’t learned as a group that the game is 48 minutes. We also have some people playing very poorly. You have to participate in your own recovery. Some players have to play better.”

“I don’t know what’s going on,” said point guard Tony Parker, who returned to the lineup from a bruised knee after missing the club’s Dec. 6 win at Minneapolis. “It’s been almost the whole season. I don’t know why we have slow starts. We just have to respond; everybody, individually and make sure we play for 48 minutes. Everybody has to do more to make sure we have good starts; make sure we bring more energy, more juice, and we have to get excited. You’ve got to want it at least the same as the other team.”

For nearly a month, that has been the narrative in San Antonio. Yet the team hasn’t found a way to remedy the issues. In fact, Popovich mentioned it “won’t all be fixed,” adding that “playing harder is the part that bothers me, the lack of fiber, of grunt.”

Popovich has called Parker a steadying influence. The coach admitted that with Parker missing eight games because of injury and franchise stalwart Tim Duncan no longer in the picture, “it’s tougher for the other guys to find their place and get as organized as we were in the past.”

Several Spurs players said Popovich scolded the team after the game for what he perceived as a lack of effort.

“Like any coach, he wanted us to play harder,” Leonard said of Popovich. “He felt like we only played hard for 24 minutes in the game. We’ve just got to bring energy. We just want to play better, play hard, smart. It’s not gonna just happen. There’s gonna [have to] be some carryover going into two, three, four, five games and then gradually it becomes second nature.”

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No. 2: Celtics’ Thomas gets PRP injection — The use of platelet-rich plasma injections to treat a knee injury became popular when Kobe Bryant had it done back in 2011 for his knee injury. Since then, the use of the somewhat controversial treatment has been on the rise in many sports, including the NBA. Boston Celtics All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas recently had the procedure done, although his was to treat a nagging groin injury. Thomas will miss tonight’s game against the Toronto Raptors (7:30 ET, NBA LEAGUE PASS), writes Chris Forsberg of ESPN.com:

Boston Celtics All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas received a platelet-rich plasma injection Wednesday for a groin strain and said he will miss his second straight game on Friday against the Toronto Raptors.

Thomas ruled himself out Thursday afternoon while noting it’s not easy for him to sit out again. Before missing Wednesday’s game, Thomas had appeared in 103 consecutive regular-season games for the Celtics.

“I trust in those guys. They played a hell of a game [Wednesday]. They’ll be ready [Friday],” Thomas told reporters during a Season of Giving Event at the team’s practice facility. “I won’t be playing [Friday]. But they’ll be ready.

“I’m going to do whatever I can to get back out there on the court. It’s eating me alive to not be able to participate, not to be able to play, but I gotta be smart about this because I don’t want this to linger on for the rest of the season.”

Thomas said that, if this were a playoff game, he would participate. But he noted the team is playing it safe early in the season and he remains day-to-day.

“I gotta do what’s best for my body,” he said.

Thomas had the injection into a thigh muscle, according to Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.

“I think that it’s just day-to-day. I mean, he is a warrior. He loves to play,” Ainge said on Boston sports radio 98.5 The Sports Hub. “He’ll be back faster than most players would be back after an injury.”

The Celtics have a day off Saturday before opening a two-game road trip in Oklahoma City on Sunday. Boston has a two-day break before playing a nationally televised game on ESPN against San Antonio on Wednesday night. The Celtics could elect to give Thomas extended rest before he returns to game action.

Thomas, an All-Star last season, is the sixth Boston player to miss time due to injury this season.

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No. 3: Gentry not fretting over his job status — The New Orleans Pelicans’ home loss to the 76ers last night allowed Philadelphia to snap a 23-game road losing streak while also sending the Pelicans’ record to 7-16. Although a good portion of the season still remains, New Orleans has not struggled to find traction despite it receiving stellar performances night in and night out from Anthony Davis. Coach Alvin Gentry’s career record in New Orleans is at 37-68 in one-plus season of work and while some may think his job is on thin ice, he’s not pondering his future. John Reid of The Times Picayune has more:

Alvin Gentry had to know what was coming after Thursday’s 99-88 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

After a disappointing 30-52 finish to his first season as the New Orleans Pelicans’ coach last year and an 0-8 start this season, Thursday’s loss to one of the worst teams in the NBA sent the Pelicans’ record tumbling down to 7-16 after 23 games.

Usually when things are going that bad for an NBA team, there’s often one place people look for a quick solution: change in the coaching staff.

When asked about the security of his job as Pelicans coach after the game, Gentry gave a direct answer to the media.

“I really don’t give a s*** about my job status,” Gentry said. “I’m gonna work hard, and I’m gonna coach until the day they tell me I’m not the coach here anymore. It doesn’t matter. I don’t ever worry about that. That isn’t anything that I spend five seconds worrying about.

“My worry is how do I get the guys in the locker room to play at the level that I want them to. That’s where all my effort goes. It doesn’t go anywhere else.”

With New Orleans losing six of its last seven games and the likelihood of making the playoffs growing slimmer by the day, cries from the fanbase for major change within the franchise will only grow louder.

“I just control what I can control and that’s in this locker room,” said Pelicans forward Langston Galloway, who ended the night with 19 points. “Just helping these guys try to get a win. We’ll worry about (the team’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers on

Obviously frustrated after the loss, Pelicans forward Anthony Davis had very little to say about Gentry’s job status, or anything else, and only said “he’s doing fine,” when asked about concerns if the team’s recent streak may cause changes in the near future.

New Orleans has continued its dependance on Davis on both sides of the court and its lack of other contributors on the offensive end came back to hurt it once again on Thursday.

“I don’t think that we can have a fair handle on what kinda team we even have,” Gentry said. “That’s the frustrating thing. I think we have confident guys, obviously you’re confidence is going to be a little rocked when you lose five or six straight games. That’s just the way this league is.

“We’ve gotta regroup and keep moving forward. You can’t look back.”

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No. 4: Young, Russell nearing return to lineup — The Los Angeles Lakers knew they’d face a season-defining stretch of games to their season in December. Since starting off 8-8, the Lakers have gone 2-6 since then and enter tonight’s home date with the Phoenix Suns (10:30 ET, ESPN) a hobbled crew as they’ve played the last few weeks without injured guards D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young. Both players are on the mend, however, and could be back soon, writes Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:

While the rest of their teammates went five on five against their coaches, D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young went through shooting drills on the other end of the Lakers’ practice court.

The team’s starting backcourt is getting closer to its return, but neither player has returned to contact drills yet. They both participated in the non-contact portions of Thursday’s practice.

“I mean, I feel good,” Russell said. “I waited so long to get back on the court until I was 100%. I feel great. Just about, I don’t know, knocking the dust off before I get … in the game, so try to get it out now, knock the rust off while I’m out here now.”

Russell had a platelet-rich plasma injection on Nov. 23 to help the soreness in his left knee. The Lakers said he would be sidelined for at least two weeks. He did off-court rehab work until Tuesday, when a doctor examined him and agreed he was ready for on-court work.

Russell, who did not travel with the Lakers to Houston, is out for Friday’s game against the Phoenix Suns, as are Young (right calf strain), point guard Jose Calderon (right hamstring strain) and center Tarik Black (sprained right ankle).

Before they return to play, they’ll need to go through a practice, if the schedule allows, or at least a three-on-three drill, Coach Luke Walton said.

While neither the Lakers nor Russell want to rush his return, Russell is itching to return to the Lakers’ lineup.

“When you get back out there you gotta make your presence known,” he said. “Hopefully when I come back I can bring the energy back. I’m not saying we’re dead or anything as far as energy-wise, but I definitely want to kick it up a notch.”

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