Shootaround (March 16) -- Kevin Love hoping to return by weekend
Plus, an injury concern for Dwyane Wade, reports of Eric Bledsoe being shut down and more
No. 1: Love itching to get back into Cavs’ lineup — At 3-5 in March, the Cleveland Cavaliers sport one of the worst records in the NBA this month. But things could be on the mend for them soon — even as a big home game against the surging Utah Jazz looms tonight (7 ET, NBA TV) — because the roster is getting healthier. All-Star forward Kevin Love continues to practice with the team and Kyle Korver could be on his way back, too, writes Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com:
Exhausted, red-faced and dripping with sweat, Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love had just completed practice, followed by a nearly 30-minute session with assistant coaches James Posey and Vitaly Potapenko as they worked on pick-and-pop drills and finishing close to the basket with contact.
If Love’s cryptic Instagram post Tuesday — snapping a picture of his jersey hanging in the locker room — wasn’t enough of a signal, the sight at Cleveland Clinic Courts Wednesday was: Love is getting close to a return.
“I’m 28 years old, I feel like I’m just coming into the league again because I’m so antsy to get back,” Love said with a smile. “It’s good. You’ve got to trust the process, respect the process and give that leg time to heal, give injuries time to heal. But it’s not for lack of wanting to be out there.”
Love has been sidelined since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Feb. 14. He followed Tuesday’s 3-on-3 workout with perhaps his most strenuous session Wednesday afternoon, one of the last players to leave the court (James Jones was the other).
“He reacted well,” head coach Tyronn Lue said. “After the practice today he said he felt good. Hopefully continue to keep progressing as well. That’s a good sign for us.”
Love traveled with the team on a three-game road trip to Detroit, Orlando and Houston. While he said he doesn’t know about Thursday’s contest against Utah and was non-committal when asked about a specific return date, Love would like to be back by the weekend when the Cavs begin a four-game road trip that starts in Los Angeles.
And when Love returns, he will be coming back to a changed group. The team is just 7-6 without him, has struggled defensively and lost five of eight in March.
“Kyle (Korver) is out, I’m out, Swish (J.R. Smith) just coming back, those little things take time,” Love said when asked about the team’s recent struggles. “As far as getting better as the season goes on, or getting healthier as the season goes on, it will then make us better.”
There are also some new faces. Since suffering his knee injury on Feb. 11 against the Denver Nuggets, the champs have added point guard Deron Williams and Larry Sanders.
Smith, who last played with Love on Dec. 17, the game before Smith fractured his right thumb, came back from an extended absence on March 9. Then there’s swingman Derrick Williams, who arrived a few days before Love’s injury, and has become a key player off the bench.
Still, Love doesn’t believe getting re-acclimated will be too tough.
“In years past maybe, but I’ve been with this team long enough to know where I fit in,” he said. “We watched film today and been around all the games and besides going to get my surgery in New York didn’t miss any games. I always watch them, even if I’m not there so I think it will be pretty easy for me to come back in and I just don’t want to mess up any of the rhythm these guys have. So just go out there and play our brand of basketball.”
Korver’s return is also on the horizon. Lue said Korver, who has missed four games with a sore left foot, was moving well and has been feeling better the last few days.
Get the word from practice as @kevinlove updates us on his status.
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) March 15, 2017
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No. 2: Wade: ‘There’s definitely a fear’ about injury — The Chicago Bulls are trying to stay in the Eastern Conference playoff mix, but their hopes in that department took a hit in last night’s 98-91 home loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. Perhaps the Bulls could have won the game had they not lost star Dwyane Wade in the fourth quarter to a sprained right elbow. After the game, Wade had some candid words about the injury he shared with CSNChicago.com’s Vincent Goodwill:
The concern was etched on Dwyane Wade’s face as he tried to explain his emotions, with the attempt of being upbeat but the reality was staring him smack in the face—the fear was starting to creep in, if it wasn’t already present.
“Definitely a fear,” Wade confessed to CSNChicago.com in his newfound body armor, a sling for his right elbow. “Because it’s my shooting elbow and the biggest fear…it’s not a lot of time left in the season. That’s the biggest thing. Fourteen games left. That’s not ideal.”
Going for a rebound in the second half the Bulls’ 98-91 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Wade got tangled between a teammate and Grizzlies big man Zach Randolph.
“No, it’s a first,” Wade told a throng of reporters. “I’ve always said as long as I play, I’ll almost experience everything. Hopefully it’s not as bad as I perceive it to be. Just get in tomorrow, see what the doctors say and start the rehab process and try to feel better.
“I knew it was something more, just with what I heard. Try to play with it a little bit, until the pain started getting a little more excruciating.”
He heard what he described as a “click-click”, as he explained it to Rajon Rondo as they commiserated in the locker room. Wade told everybody he was going for an MRI Thursday morning, which could seal his fate for the rest of the regular season as the Bulls are fighting for their playoff lives.
“That’s a fear. Not even the MRI,” Wade said to CSNChicago.com. “Moreso how long it takes to rehab it. The MRI will probably say it’s a strain, and it’s about the process of how long it’ll take to get it where I need to get it to get back on the floor.”
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg knew something wasn’t right with Wade, so he asked the veteran if he wanted to sit. Sensing it was a crucial time in the game and the season, Wade stayed in and tested it—to his chagrin.
“I said I needed to see. So we ran a play for me and I knew that was one of the tests, if I could put a little steam on it,” Wade said.
A pass from Wade to Denzel Valentine didn’t complete the way he wanted to, so to the bench he went, never to return for the night—and for who knows how long.
“And after that, it got sore and sore and stiffer,” Wade said to CSNChicago.com. “At that timeout I said, I’m not gonna help nobody going out there.”
“It felt like a hyperextension. But those two pops, those clicks, click-click, kinda different than I felt. I keep it optimistic, a positive mindset because I take care of my body well. I got a lot of people that will be here tomorrow.”
After all, even with Wade, the Bulls have been hovering around .500 all season, searching for consistency in seemingly all the wrong places.
“(I’m upset) with us losing and Detroit losing, us losing the ballgame first,” Wade said to CSNChicago.com. “I know it’s gonna be sore and stiff tonight, wake up and be in pain. Take a couple days, heal up like “Wolverine”, hopefully I can get out there and play.”
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No. 3: Report: Pelicans’ finish may decide Gentry’s fate — Injuries to key players limited the New Orleans Pelicans and coach Alvin Gentry to 30 wins last season. This season, injuries struck again early on and New Orleans started a dismal 2-10. They’ve shown some improvement since then and are on the fringes of the Western Conference playoff picture. According to Sean Devaney of The Sporting News, though, Gentry’s job stability will decrease if the Pelicans can’t at least finish out the season strong:
Alvin Gentry has declared this a crucial week for the Pelicans, and that might be an understatement. New Orleans is five games behind the Nuggets for the final playoff spot in the West, with four teams blocking their near-extinct bid for the playoffs.
“We’ve just got to win games,” Gentry told reporters. “We’re in a situation now where it doesn’t matter, there’s no reason to look at the standings. For us, we have to win games, that’s the bottom line. We have (15) games left, and we can’t afford to lose any of them. Even that doesn’t guarantee you are getting into the playoffs.”
In the larger sense, though, this might be a crucial week for Gentry’s tenure in New Orleans. A league source told Sporting News that though no definite decision has been made on the future of the tandem of Gentry and general manager Dell Demps with the Pelicans, failure to secure that playoff spot (which has been all but lost) or at least to show “significant progress with this roster as it stands” likely will move the Pelicans to oust Gentry. Demps is more likely to stay, but that’s not a certainty, either.
The glimmer of hope there for Gentry and Demps is that they’re not looking at a playoffs-or-bust scenario, and with good reason. There must be some leeway granted for the difficulty that has come with upending the team at the trade deadline by bringing in talented, volatile center DeMarcus Cousins to pair with star Anthony Davis inside. In nine games with the Pelicans, Cousins has had a difficult entry period, averaging 20.9 points and 42.1 percent shooting (down from 27.8 points and 45.1 percent shooting in Sacramento).
One issue in replacing Gentry could be the lack of top candidates on the coaching market now. Gentry has one more year on this contract, worth around $3.3 million, and hasn’t really gotten a chance to coach a full, healthy Pelicans team. If the Pelicans were to make a change, speculation is that the team would prefer to bring in a combination team president/coach. There are few coaches on the market who would warrant a dual job, though.
It’s still Gentry’s job for now. He has the difficult task of building a twin-tower offense around Cousins and Davis on the fly, which is a near-opposite of the up-tempo style of play that Gentry was brought to New Orleans to implement.
Gentry is 57-92 through nearly two seasons with the Pelicans, a tenure cut low by injuries and a mismatched roster. Demps was fortunate enough to land Cousins for a relatively cheap price, but after overseeing the snakebitten 2011 departure of Chris Paul, he’s gotten New Orleans to just one postseason appearance in his past five seasons.
Injuries and roster upheaval are legitimate reasons for the Pels’ failures, but wins and losses ultimately force decisions. For Gentry and Demps, there’s a dwindling number of games remaining to push those decisions back in their favor — and to hang onto their jobs.
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No. 4: Report: Suns shutting down Bledsoe for season — The Phoenix Suns, much like the Los Angeles Lakers, know the rest of this season is about next season. As we reported in this space yesterday, the Lakers are going to shut down veterans Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov to clear playing time for their younger talent. The Suns, it seems, are going to do likewise with guard Eric Bledsoe. Kent Somers of The Arizona Republic has more on why the Suns are making this move:
Guard Eric Bledsoe, the Suns’ second-leading scorer, never got off the bench Wednesday night. Forward Skal Labissiere, the Kings 12th leading scorer, did.
Both those facts played large roles in the Kings beating the Suns, 107-101, at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
The Suns, who shot just 40 percent, could have used Bledsoe, yet he missed only his second game of the season.
The first came in February, when he didn’t make the trip to Houston. He made the trip to downtown Phoenix on Wednesday night yet didn’t play, and coach Earl Watson suggested Bledsoe might not play again this season.
“Management decision,” Watson said when asked why Bledsoe sat. “I don’t think any coaching staff would hold ‘Bled’ out, but Tyler (Ulis) stepped up.”
“Bled’s been great, he had a great season, he played at a high level,” Watson said. “He’s been dominant all year. He’s taken a big leap in the right direction. There’s a lot of room for him to grow and he’s excited about that.”
Bledsoe, who was not available for comment, said last Saturday that he had some pain in his left knee, and azcentral sports Suns reporter Doug Haller confirmed he is done for the year. Left unsaid is that the resulting losses will help the Suns’ draft position.
Confirmed the Suns are shutting down PG Eric Bledsoe for the season. He's been playing through knee soreness.
— Doug Haller (@DougHaller) March 16, 2017
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No. 5: Hornacek thinks triangle offense could lure free agents — Roughly 15 or so days ago, word came down that the New York Knicks would be embracing and instituting more of the triangle offense as the 2016-17 season wraps up. According to team officials, the switch was made to help the front office better assess players and find a direction for the future. Coach Jeff Hornacek — the man tasked with using more of the triangle — says doing so could help the Knicks come the summer free-agent period. Ian Begley of ESPN.com has more:
“There might be players that think [the triangle offense is a deterrent], but there are also probably players out there that say ‘Oh man, I’d like to run something like that,'” Hornacek said Wednesday. “There are guys that may not necessarily like to run around and in [screen] staggers and all that stuff. It’s still an offense where guys, if they’re knowledgeable about the game, should like.”
After de-emphasizing the triangle earlier in the season, Hornacek and the Knicks have run it more often since the All-Star break. It hasn’t translated to on-court success. The Knicks are 4-7 since the All-Star break, and Hornacek has conceded that the Knicks are likely to finish out of the playoffs for the fourth straight season.
The Knicks will continue to emphasize the triangle for the remainder of the year and, most likely, for as long as Phil Jackson is team president. Last week, Jackson conducted an on-court tutorial to go through different triangle positioning and options with the team’s guards.
Some perceived that workout as Jackson intruding on Hornacek’s duties as coach, but Hornacek doesn’t see it that way.
“No. We talk about stuff all the time,” Hornacek said of Jackson. “So when he comes out and demonstrates for the guys, he’s so used to being out on the court it’s probably fun for him to do. And the guys get another look at it from a guy who has run it for years and years, so it’s good.”
Jackson and the Knicks’ front office could have nearly $25 million to spend in free agency this summer, depending on how the club decides to proceed with pending free agent Derrick Rose. The triangle offense will certainly be a topic of conversation during any negotiation between the Knicks and free agents this offseason.
“It’s a strategy that, almost every time down the court if you’re a player, you’re watching things develop. When you look at it that way, it’s actually fun to run,” he said.
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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Charlotte Hornets forward Nicolas Batum is having brain scans to try and get to the root of his migraine issue … Closer look at what it might take to fix the Orlando Magic and the New Orleans Pelicans … LaMarcus Aldridge was rusty in his return, but he’s just happy to be back on the court … Lou Williams lit up his former Los Angeles Lakers teammates last night …