Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (Jan. 9) -- Draymond Green has high praise for DeMarcus Cousins Staff

Draymond: Cousins is best big man in the game | Embiid talking playoffs | James, Phelps recognize greatness | Kidd takes blame for loss to Wizards

No. 1: Draymond: Cousins is NBA’s ‘best big man’ — Not that he needed the reminder or endorsement, but DeMarcus Cousins has at least one public supporter in his bid as the NBA’s best big man. And it’s from a competitor, of sorts. Golden State Warriors All-Star Draymond Green insists that Cousins is indeed the best big man in the game. Anthony Slater of the The Mercury News provides more details:

The Warriors frustrated DeMarcus Cousins into one of his worst games of the season on Sunday night. The Kings’ star big man went 4-of-11 shooting, scoring only 17 points and turning it over seven times in 29 foul-plagued minutes.

But the off night doesn’t mar what has been a fantastic season, on the court, for Cousins, despite constant scrutiny and distractions off of it. Cousins is averaging 28.1 points and 10.0 rebounds and is in the conversation for the best big man in basketball, along with Marc Gasol and Anthony Davis, among others.

But Warriors forward Draymond Green says it’s not a conversation.

“He’s the best center in the game,” Green said. “Best big man in the game. Period.”

Green played with Cousins on the Olympic team this past summer and seems to sympathize with Cousins’ sometimes volatile ways.

“I think a lot of times people don’t give him that credit,” Green said. “And a part of it is they try to downplay his status because of his reputation or getting technical fouls or things like that. He is the best big man in the game hands down. He’s always really had the midrange, he’s taking guys off the dribble, he’s pushing it full court, getting to the hole, getting and-1s, go to the post. He’s dominant. He’s an incredible player, and he continues to get better year in and year out, regardless of what credit people try to take from him, try not necessarily give him.”

In the second quarter on Saturday, after arguing a third foul call, Cousins stormed to the bench and then kicked and punched a chair, earning his league-leading 12th technical of the season. As Steph Curry shot the technical free throw, Green wandered over to the Kings bench to give Cousins some grief for the tantrum.

“Had a couple words for him,” Green smiled.

Has Green, the owner of seven technicals this season, ever kicked a chair in frustration?

“Nah, I ain’t kicking no chair,” Green said. “I like my foot in one piece.”

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No. 2: Embiid talking playoffs — It’s one thing to ask us all to “trust the process.” Philadelphia 76ers rookie Joel Embiid has shown us enough, even on a minutes restriction all season, to make us believers. But when Embiid starts talking about the Sixers, winners of three of their last four games, making a playoff push in the Eastern Conference … that’s taking things too far. Or maybe not. Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer explains:

The 76ers have the third-worst record in the NBA. Yet Joel Embiid talked about making a playoff push after Sunday’s 105-95 victory over the last-place Brooklyn Nets.

“We are seven or eight games out of the playoffs, so we have a chance,” the rookie center said in the visitors’ locker room at the Barclays Center. “We are learning. We are coming together. We are learning how to play with each other.

“We are just great now.”

The Sixers (10-25) have won three of their last four games. However, some might consider them a long ways away from making a playoff push. The Washington Wizards (18-18) would be the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff seed if the regular season ended Sunday. The Wizards are 71/2 games ahead of the Sixers in the standings.

But Embiid is optimistic because the Sixers still have 47 games left. He believes his squad can make up a lot of ground by then.

“Like I said, we are seven or eight games from the eighth place,” Embiid said. “That’s a goal. I think we have a chance. We’ve been hot lately. . . . We are really starting to figure things out. We are starting to learn how to end games.”

Gerald Henderson was asked about Embiid’s comments. The eighth-year veteran doesn’t think making the postseason should be the team’s concern at this part of the season. He wants the Sixers to focus on how they’re playing.

“Even now, teams that are going to make the playoffs aren’t thinking about the playoffs,” Henderson said. “They are thinking about staying healthy and what it looks like out there on the court. . . . We just need to focus on playing consistently.”

He wants the Sixers to focus on closing out games and getting contributions from everyone.

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No. 3: James, Phelps recognize greatness — Takes one to know one. At least that’s the way three-time NBA champion LeBron James and the greatest swimmer in Olympic history, Michael Phelps, feel about each other. The two got chance to get show mutual love after James and the Cavaliers knocked off the Phoenix Suns. Joe Vardon of the Plain Dealer captured the moment:

The time read 11:18 on the game clock Sunday night when LeBron James finished off the most ferocious dunk of this game, turning the corner on his defender and attacking the left side of the rim for a two-handed slam.

As James was starting the trek back down the court to play defense early in the fourth quarter of the Cavs’ 120-116 win over the Phoenix Suns, he pointed right at Olympic royalty Michael Phelps (seated courtside) as if to say “that dunk was for you.”

“Just recognizing greatness,” James explained afterwards.

Funny, but that’s why Phelps was at Phoenix’s Talking Stick Resort Arena. To recognize James’ greatness.

“I was talking with one of the kids next to me and we were saying there’s something different,” said Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history with 28 medals, 23 of them gold (hey, know anyone who wears No. 23 on his basketball jersey?).

“The great ones always know how to get it done, no matter what sport it is,” Phelps told “You take LeBron for example, no matter what, even in the fourth he just gets it done, you know?”

James scored 12 of his team-high 28 points in the fourth quarter. There was that dunk and a bullish drive to the hoop with 44.3 seconds left for Cleveland’s final points. In between were too deep, clutch 3-pointers that put a little breathing room between the Cavs and feisty Suns.

Phelps, who was seated off to the left of the Cavs’ basket for the second half with his wife, Nicole Johnson, said James actually looked at him twice. The first time was after the nasty dunk, the second after one of those key 3-pointers, which came on consecutive possessions at the 3:11 and the 2:46 marks.

“He hit the 3 and he looked over again, it was funny,” Phelps said. “He definitely played well. It’s always fun watching what they do, I’ve watched Steph (Curry) here too.”

Phelps and James developed a relationship from several past Olympics, beginning in 2004 when the swimmer stockpiled six golds at the Athens games, while James and Team USA basketball were disappointed with a bronze.

It was gold for James and Team USA in 2008 and 2012, while Phelps raked in eight golds in the Beijing pool (2008) and four more in the 2012 London games.

Phelps now has a friendship with Kyrie Irving, too, built over last summer at the 2016 Rio games — where Irving collected his first gold with Team USA and Phelps won five. Irving scored 27 points Sunday and visited momentarily with Phelps outside the Cavs’ locker room after the game.

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No. 4: Kidd takes blame for loss to Wizards — The Milwaukee Bucks couldn’t overcome the Washington Wizards without Giannis Antetokounmpo in the lineup. No excuses, though, for Bucks coach Jason Kidd. Not on this night, when an angry Kidd took the blame for the loss. Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel has more:

An obviously perturbed Jason Kidd took the blame for the Milwaukee Bucks’ 107-101 loss to the Washington Wizards on Sunday afternoon.

The Bucks coach was terse in his post-game comments after another third-quarter swoon, where the Bucks were outscored 33-21, left them trying to rally late in the game. And they had to do it without star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was scratched before the game due to illness.

“It was bad coaching,” Kidd said. “I messed the guys up; it was on me. The third quarter was something we talked about and I didn’t do a good job.

“This is a consistent thing we’ve been doing for the last six or seven games. The first quarter, we’ve been down. The third quarter, we’ve been down. This falls on my shoulders. I’ve got to do a better job of coaching there in the third.”

Bucks forward Jabari Parker scored 28 points and added eight rebounds and seven assists while assuming plenty of the scoring load, and point guard Malcolm Brogdon scored a career-high 22 points. Greg Monroe had 12 points and 12 rebounds off the bench while playing 33 minutes.

Brogdon disagreed with his coach that everything was Kidd’s fault.

“I don’t know if he’s being sarcastic. This one was on us; this one was on the players, for sure,” Brogdon said. “We had poor execution on both ends, breakdowns on defense. We had deliberately worked on end-of-game, last 5 minutes, getting down to that situation. We worked on it yesterday (Saturday) because it happened in the last game.

“We wanted to improve on that and be better and we came out and did sort of the same thing.”

The Bucks lost the season series to the Wizards, 3-1, losing the three games by five, five and six points.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Rockets big man Montrez Harrell almost broke one of Yao Ming’s records … Quin Snyder calls it a “good challenge,” the fight for minutes for a now healthy Utah Jazz team … No matter how many setbacks they suffer, self-inflicted or otherwise, the Detroit Pistons refuse to go away this season without a fight … Kristaps Porzingis said it when the Knicks were rolling and is saying it again now as they are struggling, his crew has a long way to go … What does Cameron Payne’s return mean for the Oklahoma City Thunder? … Donatas Montiejunas clearly made the right choice when he decided to join the Pelicans … Double-digit disasters are a concern for the Timberwolves this season …