Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (Nov. 9) -- Kyrie Irving bemoans his fourth-quarter woes

NBA.com Staff

Irving knows he must improve in 4th quarter | Knicks turn to Rambis to fix defense | Gasol a solid fit with Spurs’ chemistry | Embiid stands by Sixers’ rest plan | Barnes says Finals loss led to his exit

No. 1: Irving shoulders blame for Cavs’ fourth-quarter woes — The Cleveland Cavaliers suffered their first home loss (and first loss overall since Game 4 of the 2016 Finals) last night as the Atlanta Hawks prevailed 110-106. There were several things that keyed the Hawks win — Dwight Howard’s 17 rebounds, big scoring contributions from Kent Bazemore and Dennis Schroder — but to Cavs star guard Kyrie Irving, one thing stood out once again. Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com details what that is:

There were many reasons for the Cavs’ first loss of the 2016-17 season, their first in a game that counts since Game 4 of the Finals. They chucked 42 3s and only made 11. Dennis Schroder gave them all kinds of trouble on the pick and roll, and scored a career-high 28 points. Dwight Howard (17 rebounds, three blocks) gave the Hawks an inside presence they never had in 11 consecutive losses to the Cavs — which included consecutive postseason sweeps.

But there was one from which they couldn’t recover, and it’s a problem that has actually stretched across many of Cleveland’s seven games, including its six wins.

The Cavs have not been a very good fourth-quarter team this year, and it holds especially true for the starts of the final period when Irving is leading the second unit and LeBron James is on the bench.

And that’s why Irving wants to chuck his remote, why he said he takes it personally “when that energy shifts.”

He’s making a case as a top 10 player in the NBA and is the Cavs’ leading scorer, but he’s got to be able to sustain the Cavs when James is on the bench.

On Tuesday, the Hawks’ lead ballooned from five to 15 until James returned with 8:23 left. Irving missed three shots during that stretch — even more deflating because the Cavs had rallied from 18 down early in the third to get back in the game.

“When I missed those first two, they get back and they go up 11 and just a shift in energy starts to change and then we bring back Bron,” Irving said. “For me, I want to give him a little more rest or whenever he needs to come or (coach Tyronn) T. Lue feels like he needs to come in, I just want to be able to either get the lead back or making it within one or make the game even closer than it was. It’s my job as one of the leaders.”

Last season, Lue used James as the anchor for the second unit, especially during the playoffs when the Cavs’ best player and four reserves wreaked havoc. The Cavs also had Matthew Dellavedova then, a backup point guard they trusted. They don’t have one of those this season.

Also, it should be noted, James opened the fourth quarter on the court in a game against Orlando on Oct. 29. He played the entire quarter and the Cavs were outscored by 12. Overall, they’ve been outscored by six points in seven fourth quarters.

Irving was asked what he’s seen on those tapes of the fourth quarters, and he said “that I just have to have a package that I’m mentally aware of for Kevin (Love) and myself, especially leading that group with Shump (Iman Shumpert), Channing (Frye), R.J. (Richard Jefferson) and Mike Duns (Dunleavy). We have to have a package that we definitely can go to and I can go to. Our screen-and-roll was definitely there.”

Nevermind that Irving named six players. The pieces among that group are relatively interchangeable. Love played the whole fourth quarter against the Hawks and scored eight of his 24 points in the period.

Irving registered 11 of his game-high 29 in the fourth, but none until James rejoined him. The others, outside of Shumpert, are spot-up shooters who can wait for Irving to penetrate and find them, including off of the pick and roll with Love.

“Definitely taking responsibility on my end when we start off the fourth quarter,” Irving said.

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No. 2: Knicks turn to Rambis to fix defensive woes — The New York Knicks sit at 2-4 this morning and have the worst Defensive Rating in the NBA, which is quite a drop off from last season’s middle-of-the-pack finish in that stat. Knicks players have been clamoring of late for the team to spend more time in practice working on their defensive woes and apparently, that’s what they’re getting now. Howie Kussoy of the New York Post has more on that and assistant coach Kurt Rambis’ role in fixing the defensive issues:

If Kurt Rambis doesn’t work out as the Knicks’ new lead defensive assistant, perhaps Courtney Lee should take the job.

Last week, Lee suggested part of the problem with the Knicks’ defense might be that it practices against the triangle offense — a system no other team utilizes — instead of working against more popular pick-and-roll-based attacks.

On Tuesday, the Knicks spent the majority of practice working on defense against a variety of pick-and-roll sets, a shift the players seemed to believe was overdue.

“Now we have a legit way of doing it and we’ve got to stick to that script,” Carmelo Anthony said. “The foundation was laid. We went through it, we had a two-hour practice and a long film session. … We went over the schemes and the foundation. That’s all you can ask for is to work at it. It was a good day of laying something down.”

Jeff Hornacek said the staff also stressed that players need to switch off fewer screens, which has resulted in too many open looks. The Knicks rank 27th in points per game allowed (109.8) and opponent’s field-goal percentage (.464), while ranking third-worst in the NBA in opposing 3-point percentage (.379).

“We want to try and be more aggressive on our man,” Hornacek said. “I think we’re probably switching too much. It’s not like we won’t ever [switch], but we’re relying on switching. We want our guys to guard the guy that has the ball, not expect help. Try to guard the guy like you’re not gonna get any and then the help will be there. It puts a little more responsibility on the guy that has the ball.”

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No. 3: Gasol a solid fit with Spurs’ chemistry — A look at the stats Pau Gasol is putting up in this, his first season with the San Antonio Spurs, aren’t up to his usual standards. His 9.3 points per game, 6.7 rebounds per game and 2.1 assists per game are all career lows, but that’s a product of playing a career-low 23.1 minutes per game, too. Gasol is clearly in it for the long haul with the Spurs, which, for him, means more playing time come playoff time. Still, his overall fit with the team is solid, writes Ben Dowsett of BasketballInsiders.com:

“You don’t need to be too loud in this locker room, because it’s not like a group of young guys that need more leadership or direction,” Gasol said. “There’s not much need for me to be loud and say much.”

Professional sports’ model franchise is a whole different experience for Gasol after a couple years in Chicago where he shouldered more than his share of typical veteran responsibility. A strange mix of personalities and skill sets nearly boiled over during Gasol’s time with the Bulls, culminating in a hugely disappointing 2015-16 season where they missed the playoffs and had players – Gasol included – commenting publicly and privately on issues like a divided locker room and a lack of discipline.

Drama in San Antonio is when Pop can’t decide which wine to pair with dinner. It’s tough for any seven-foot NBA star to be just another guy, but the franchise moving on from Tim freaking Duncan like he was a journeyman who did a few nice things is a pretty good place to try.

“I don’t really have to coach him much,” Gregg Popovich said of Gasol. “He just kind of blends into everybody else. So he’s an easy one. He’s taken his time to defer to the people who were here, and listen to what they all have to say first. He’s a smart guy. But his counsel will be used, for sure.”

In the meantime, Gasol has been able to focus on what’s been a pretty big change of scenery from an on-court standpoint as well. He’s playing eight fewer nightly minutes than any of his 15 NBA seasons before this one, and has been less of a centerpiece than ever before – the 19.6 percent of team possessions he’s used while on the floor would represent the first time in his career he’s ever fallen under the league average of 20 percent.

Gasol is finishing barely half last season’s number of nightly plays in the post, per Synergy Sports – his bread and butter for most of his time in the league. He’s taking a higher percentage of his shots away from the basket than ever before, and drawing assists on over 80 percent of his baskets after hovering near 60 percent for the last decade and a half. This isn’t business as usual for a guy who’s been an offensive centerpiece for virtually his entire basketball life.

As the way he’s used has changed rapidly, though, many elements of his overall efficiency haven’t. His true shooting percentage (which accounts for the value of threes and free throws) sits at the exact same mark as last season, and his turnover rate is actually down. He’s never finished at the rim so efficiently in his career, likely attributable to being a bit more selective.

“I think that’s what makes him a special player, is that he’s able to figure out – both in a game, and within a team – what a team needs,” said Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder, who became close with Gasol as an assistant coach with the Lakers. “Do we need outside shooting? Do we need the post? Do we need passing? He can do all those things.”

“There haven’t been any players [who from] the get-go provided what we all expected from them – even LaMarcus [Aldridge], if you look at his stats from his games the first two months last year, it was hard,” Manu Ginobili said. “And then he started to figure it out, and to feel more confident. It happens to everybody. So he will be great.”

That’s the beauty of joining up in San Antonio, where a high-50s win total and a home playoff series or two might actually just be a signing bonus. This is basically still preseason for the Spurs; Pop almost actively invites these little dilemmas to close up holes before it really matters. It’s perfectly reasonable to expect some level of decline from Gasol as he puts 35 years old firmly in his rearview, but the Spurs have 70-plus games to figure out exactly how to use him.

It’s not like he’ll have any extracurricular duties to distract him as he finds his niche, either. There really couldn’t be a softer landing spot for an older player (probably any player, to be fair). That hand-in-glove feeling is mutual, even if the numbers don’t yet bear it out.

“He’s the prototype, almost, of a Spur. Very good player, high basketball IQ, experienced – foreigner,” Ginobili said with a laugh. “He understands the game, so we all knew he was going to give us a lot of things. It’s still very early.”

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No. 4: Embiid sticking with Sixers’ rest plan — The Philadelphia 76ers are being plenty cautious with rookie center Joel Embiid, which is expected after a variety of maladies kept him from debuting for two full NBA seasons. He won’t play tonight as the Sixers travel to Indianapolis to face the Pacers (7 ET, NBA LEAGUE PASS) in a move that is part of Philly’s calculated efforts to prevent any chance of an injury recurrence this season. Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer has more:

Even Joel Embiid was confused by the 76ers’ decision.

The Sixers said Tuesday that he would not make the trip to Indianapolis for Wednesday’s game even though it is not a situation in which they’re playing on back-to-back nights. And he thought he was scheduled to go.

However, the 7-foot-2, 276-pounder will watch his teammates face the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on television.

“That kind of caught me off guard,” Embiid said Tuesday after practice. “They told me that yesterday. I want to play. But like I said, they care about me, and I’m going to follow whatever they have planned for me.”

The Sixers (0-6) have had Embiid on a short leash to carefully manage his workload and the stress on his right foot during games and practice.

The Sixers say Embiid’s foot is healthy and it hasn’t worsened. They say they just want to be cautious with one of their franchise players, who has been restricted to playing only 24 minutes per game.

Coach Brett Brown said the organization looks beyond back-to-back games and to “the volume of games in a condensed period of time.”

“We just feel like the rest and the treatment is best suited here in Philadelphia, here at this wonderful training complex,” said Brown, whose squad began a stretch of five games in eight nights on Monday. “I think it’s just the holistic study of what his month is, his few weeks are . . . that influence the judgment and direction of when he can play.”

He will work out at the team’s practice facility in Camden on Wednesday while the Sixers are in Indianapolis. He will perform drills under the direction of head strength and conditioning trainer Todd Wright or his assistant strength and conditioning coach Todor Pandov. He also will work out with David Martin, the team’s director of performance research and development.

“I want to play more,” Embiid said. “But they care about me. So I am going to follow whatever plan they have.”

Embiid said his foot feels great and he’s getting back in game shape.

“Everything is coming along,” he said, “but I think it’s more about recovery.”

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No. 5: Barnes says Finals loss led to Warriors’ changes — In terms of traditional stats, the 2015-16 season was a solid one for Dallas Mavericks forward Harrison Barnes. He averaged a career-best 11.7 points per game as his Golden State Warriors won an NBA-record 73 games. But in the playoffs, Barnes struggled through a dismal shooting performance in The Finals as the Warriors fell to the Cleveland Cavaliers in seven games. After that, the Warriors shook up their roster to eventually sign Kevin Durant. As his first trip back to Oakland looms tonight (10:30 ET, NBA LEAGUE PASS), Barnes told ESPN.com’s Tim MacMahon that he’s sure he’d still be with the Warriors had they won it all.

Harrison Barnes believes he still would be a member of the Golden State Warriors if they had won last season’s NBA championship.

However, Barnes knew after his exit interview in the wake of the Warriors blowing a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers that he had likely played his final game for the franchise. He described his chances of returning to the Warriors at that point as “slim to none,” even though Golden State had the right to match any offer he received as a restricted free agent.

“There were a lot of emotions after a Game 7 loss,” said Barnes, who will return to Oracle Arena as a visitor for the first time along with fellow former Warrior Andrew Bogut on Wednesday, when the Dallas Mavericks face Golden State. “I think a lot of people were upset, frustrated. And we blew a 3-1 lead. So that was the mindset. I think we knew they were going to blow it up if we lost that series, which we did. I can’t say I was surprised.”

“It was difficult, man,” Barnes said. “Just because you go back and you watch Game 7 and you’re like, ‘Man, it’s two minutes away from planning a parade’ or ‘Thank you for your services.’ It was a pretty big switch.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to put that stuff to the side. I made the decision to go to Dallas. I don’t really dwell on that and just move forward.”

The Mavs signed Barnes to a four-year, $94 million max contract, a move that was questioned by many, considering his pedestrian offensive numbers during his four seasons as a complementary player for the Warriors.

“There’s a lot more opportunity for me here,” said Barnes, who had 31 points on 11 of 18 shooting in Tuesday’s 109-97 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. “The offense is different. Obviously, I’m not complaining about my role at Golden State, because we won a lot of games doing that. But in the same regard here, there’s just more opportunities to do different things.

“I love it. As a player, you always want to know what you can do. At the end of your career, you can look back and say, look, I was able to get this much out of my playing career and I was able to become this type of player. I think that’s what allows you to sleep well at night. I’m getting a chance to see and experience and learn. Obviously, we had a rough start, some growing pains. But I’m really looking forward to this situation.”

Barnes acknowledged that it made sense for the Warriors to pursue Durant, whose arrival gave Golden State three of the league’s most explosive scorers, as the 2013-14 MVP joined two-time MVP Stephen Curry and All-Star Klay Thompson.

Bogut, who was traded to Dallas in a salary-dump deal, characterized it as an easy decision for Golden State general manager Bob Myers, despite the Warriors winning the 2014-15 title and setting an NBA regular-season record with 73 wins in 2015-16.

“Look, you get a chance to get one of the best players in the world, you jump at that chance,” Bogut said. “If I’m the GM, you generally jump at that chance.

“Obviously, we had a lot of success with the group that we had. We understood our roles. We knew our strengths and our weaknesses each way — individually and how we needed to lift each other up. But obviously, they’re looking to build for the future too. They’re trying to build it for the next five or six years and not just the next one or two.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kevin Garnett has some high praise for Boston Celtics star Isaiah Thomas … Former Atlanta Hawks star Josh Smith signed a deal with a team in China … Bit of a strange scene last night in Sacramento as the Kings and New Orleans Pelicans had to replay the waning seconds of the 2nd quarter as the 3rd quarter opened … How many stars on the Horry Scale would you give Marc Gasol’s game winner from last night? … Great read on Brooklyn Nets veteran guard Randy Foye and his quest to find his mother … Indiana Pacers star Paul George was fined $15,000 by the NBA for kicking the ball into the stands on Monday night …

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