The Heat are slumping, and they’re without Chris Bosh for the time being, but they’re still holding down a would-be playoff spot as they sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. They’ll play host to the division-leading Wizards tonight, and while we wait for that, here’s more from around the Southeast Division:
- The Hornets believe that a groin injury is behind Lance Stephenson‘s decreased production this season, and that’s has helped motivate the team to back off trade talk regarding him, report Ramona Shelburne and Chris Broussard of ESPN.com. That’s even though Stephenson has had a negative effect on team chemistry, as sources tell the ESPN scribes.
- The Hawks have sent Mike Muscala on D-League assignment, the team announced. Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution originally reported the news (Twitter link). Muscala spent a two-day stint in the D-League earlier this season, and he’s averaged 4.9 points in 10.0 minutes per game across eight appearances with the big club so far this year.
- The frequent D-League assignments for Jordan Clarkson help prove the Wizards were wise on draft night when they acquired $1.8MM in cash in a trade that sent out the pick that the Lakers used on him, argues J. Michael of CSNWashington.com. Rasual Butler‘s play since taking the roster spot that otherwise ostensibly would have gone to Clarkson is further evidence, Michael believes.
- Versatility has been a key asset for Evan Fournier, who’s helping the Magic reap much greater benefit than expected from this summer’s Arron Afflalo trade, which brought Fournier from the Nuggets, as Andrew Perna of RealGM examines.
The Magic are only two games back in the race for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference after their win against the Hawks on Saturday and forward Tobias Harris credits head coach Jacque Vaughn for the team’s improvement, writes Ken Hornack of Fox Sports Florida. “Coach got on us before the game about sharing the basketball and getting everybody else involved and being unselfish,” Harris said after he hit the game winner. “And that’s what we did, and that’s why we were able to be successful.”
Here’s more from the Eastern Conference:
- The Nets have had their share of injuries this season but the team’s synergy is the reason they have remained in the playoff hunt, writes Roderick Boone of Newsday. Reserve big man Mason Plumlee certainly believes the team is playing well despite the hindrances. “I thought our offense looked great, man,” said Plumlee, who is averaging 16.2 minutes per game this season. “Everybody is going to talk about how well we shot it, but I thought it was because we were moving the ball, we were shooting in rhythm within the offense, and there’s a reason we shot a high percentage tonight. So hopefully we can carry that forward.” Brooklyn currently sits at eighth place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 10-12.
- Although many of the team’s players will become trade-eligible on December 15th, the date that most offseason additions become movable, the Heat do not have many assets to improve the team, opines Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel. Winderman notes that trading any key player that was signed this summer would signal a failed offseason, which is something team president Pat Riley is unlikely to do. Because of this, Winderman projects Luol Deng and Josh McRoberts to remain on the roster through this season.
- GM David Griffin is looking to make a deal and the Cavs need an athletic swingman who can defend, according to Bob Finnan of The News-Herald. With the team in no hurry to deal guard Dion Waiters due to his improved play over the last few weeks, Cleveland’s lack of assets may keep the team from bringing in a game-changer via trade. Finnan suggests signing Andrei Kirilenko as a possible solution since the Sixers are likely to waive him. However, the opportunity to sign the Russian forward may not exist until late in the season due to Kirilenko being absent from the league because of family issues.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers never wanted to part with Jared Dudley, writes Charles F. Gardner of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Dudley came to the Bucks via trade last summer after a frustrating season in Los Angeles. “We just had to create roster room,” Rivers said. “We actually really wanted to keep him. He was the one who had the most value. We really haven’t used the [salary] space yet, but we think we may need it at some point.”
There is other news from the Eastern Conference:
- The Bulls‘ Derrick Rose is slowly regaining his MVP form, writes Sam Smith of Bulls.com. Rose scored 31 points in Friday’s win over Portland, his largest outburst since March of 2012. “We all feel he is going to be back to the guy he was,” coach Tom Thibodeau told the team’s official website. “He is going step by step. He has to keep building, keep attacking. When he is aggressive like that, there is no one like him.”
- Magic coach Jacque Vaughn warned his young guards that they have to take better care of the ball if they want to stay in the game, according to Josh Robbins of The Orlando Sentinel. The Hawks turned up the pressure in Friday’s game, forcing three turnovers by Victor Oladipo and two by Elfrid Payton. “You try to prepare them with a solution,” Vaughn said. “But you also want them to be able to go through the situation and try to swim their way through it as well.”
- Jared Sullinger‘s sudden scoring slump has hit at the same time as the Celtics‘ three-game losing streak, writes Chris Forsburg of ESPNBoston.com. Sullinger missed all six of his shots from the field in Friday’s loss to the Knicks, but the Celtics are remaining supportive. “Sully’s a really good player who’s had a couple tough games in a row,” said coach Brad Stevens. “I think the most important thing we can do is encourage him, but we certainly need him to be good. But there’s a lot of things when you lose a game that factor into losing the game, and so I don’t think it’s any one person’s play or any two people’s play — it’s a collective effort, win or lose.”
Brandon Davies was asked about the perception that his former team, the Sixers, were tanking in a deliberate effort to land the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer writes. Davies denied that was the case amongst the players, and said, “One thing I can tell you in the locker room, we were set on winning. We were just going away. I think the games we played in showed that. We lost some close games against some really good teams.”
Here’s more from the East:
- Nets coach Lionel Hollins was disappointed that the Sixers waived Jorge Gutierrez, whom they had acquired along with Andrei Kirilenko on Wednesday, Pompey tweets.
- When the Magic drafted Elfrid Payton with the No. 10 pick in this year’s draft it appeared the plan was to play him and Victor Oladipo alongside each other, which hasn’t occured much this season, Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com writes. But according to coach Jacque Vaughn, things can change as Payton continues to develop, notes Howard-Cooper. “I think overall we’ll see how this combination finds its way,” said Vaughn. “The great thing is I have my eyes, which I always listen to, and I also have stats these days, which I can look at and see how that pairing is doing. A lot of detail will go into it. But there’s no rush from the standpoint of ‘This has to happen now.’“
- The Heat‘s two young big men, Justin Hamilton and Hassan Whiteside, are beginning to impress coach Erik Spoelstra, Ira Winderman of The Sun Sentinel writes. “They both do some nice things and they both do it in a different way,” Spoelstra said. “Justin is a very intelligent, in-the-right-place type of weak-side defender. He does a lot of things that don’t show up in a box score. He reminds me a little bit of a Shane Battier, does a lot of those intangible things. Whiteside is big and he has that great gift of blocking shots, so you know somebody is in there.”
- The Heat have assigned Whiteside and Shabazz Napier to the Sioux Falls Skyforce, their D-League affiliate, the team announced. This will be the first trek of the season to the D-League for both players.
- With both the Lakers and the Knicks struggling mightily this season, and both franchises’ future prospects looking equally bleak, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony should find a way to become teammates, Paul Newberry of The Associated Press opines. Newberry does acknowledge that the players’ respective contracts would make this a difficult proposition.
With the recent signing of Earl Clark, the Shandong Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association are considering releasing former NBA player Miroslav Raduljica, Enea Trapani of Sportando reports (Twitter link). The 26-year-old Raduljica appeared in 48 games for the Bucks last season, averaging 3.8 points and 2.3 rebounds in 9.7 minutes per contest.
Here’s more from around the NBA:
- Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports ran down the top 10 international prospects for the 2015 NBA draft. Topping Spears’ list are Kristaps Porzingis, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Mario Hezonja.
- The Magic have already bested their 2013/14 season total of four road wins, and the improved play of Kyle O’Quinn is a big reason, Ken Hornack of FOX Sports.com writes. O’Quinn has been starting in the place of the injured Nikola Vucevic, and he is improving as a player while he works his way back from his own injury woes, notes Hornack. “We’ll continue to get him [O'Quinn] in condition where he can play more than 18 minutes,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “We’ll continue to address his ability to do his work early so he can stay out of foul trouble. And he’ll continue to help us on the floor. He can play both positions [center and power forward], but he’s got a lot of room to grow.”
- Chris Mannix of SI.com released his initial player rankings for the 2015 NBA draft. The top three players on Mannix’s big board are Jahlil Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Mudiay.
- LeBron James has nothing but praise for Matthew Dellavedova, his Cavs teammate, Chris Fedor of The Northeast Ohio Media Group writes. “I had Norris Cole on my team in Miami,” James said. “He was the same type of guy. We called him the pit bull. You just put him out there on anybody and he’s always going to be successful and know you can never discredit how he goes about the game and how hard he plays. You put him out there for 20 seconds and it will be the hardest 20 seconds he ever played, like he’ll never play again. Everything they do won’t show up in the box score but teammates and people that know the game know he made an impact.” James’ comments regarding Cole are potentially noteworthy considering that Cole is set to become a restricted free agent next summer, is originally from Ohio, and is represented by Klutch Sports, the agency that represents James.
After a month of struggling in Charlotte, Lance Stephenson might be starting to settle into his role on the team, writes Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer. Some have suggested that the Hornets should part ways with their new acquisition but Bonnell notes that teammates have seen a different vibe from Stephenson recently. “The best thing about him is he was super-positive, playing with energy,” Kemba Walker observed. “We need his energy. He pushed the pace, he got guys involved. He always makes the right plays. We’ve got to try our best to keep him like that; get him the ball in transition and let him make his plays.”
Here’s more from the Southeast Division:
- With a record of 9-10, the Heat possess a losing record for the first time this season, but the team realizes that this year is different than past seasons, writes Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald. Dwyane Wade knows what to expect from the team at this point in the year. “I understand where we’re at right now with the team that we have. Can we get better? Yeah, we can get better. But we’re not at that point yet. This is the kind of team we have, and we got to figure out how to be as good as we can with this unit. We’re all trying to figure it out, players and coaches,” Wade said.
- Despite the Heat’s early season struggles, the team remains upbeat, writes Shandel Richardson of the Sun Sentinel. “We have to stay positive,” Chris Bosh said. “We have to continue to find our game. The easiest thing to do is to fall apart, blame each other and have every excuse in the book but we’re not going to do that. We’re going to continue to come to work. We’re going to continue to find a way and just really stay together. That’s what it’s about. You have so many instances where teams kind of shoot themselves in foot over and over just because of attitude. Every guy in that locker room has a great attitude.”
- Kyle O’Quinn has been one of the most productive players for the Magic this season, writes Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. Robbins notes that O’Quinn, who is set to become a restricted free agent after the season, could be in line for a big payday due to his high player efficiency rating (26.2 coming into Saturday), age (only 25 years old), and ability to play the center position, which is becoming scarce in today’s NBA.
Four Pacific Division teams have winning records, and even the one that doesn’t picked up a win Sunday, as the Lakers took advantage of a Raptors team missing DeMar DeRozan to score an overtime victory. Still, every win for the Lakers is in some way a gain for the Suns, too, since Phoenix receives L.A.’s first-round pick for 2015 if it falls out of the top five. The Lakers hold a tenuous one-game lead on the Wolves for the fifth spot in the Reverse Standings in what’s shaping up as one of the best draft position races of the season. There’s more on the Lakers and the Suns amid the latest from the Pacific:
- A “theory floated out” suggested that the Suns were upset when Channing Frye turned down his player option this past summer and chose to instead go after marquee targets like LeBron James and Kevin Love, as John Denton of Magic.com writes. The Suns nonetheless reportedly made a push to re-sign Frye on the first day of free agency, though he’s pleased with his new home in Orlando, as Denton details. “It’s just a business part of it and it’s hard to separate business and personal stuff, especially with me being from [Phoenix] and loving the teammates here as much as I did. But at the end of the day, I know I made the right decision [signing with the Magic],’’ Frye said. “I made the right decision, not only for me, but for my family. The [Suns] organization did pretty dang well [when I was in Phoenix] and they are doing well without me. So no hard feelings. Of course, I wanted to continue to play with my [Suns] boys, but I’m finding new friends and working things out in Orlando.’’
- The partial guarantee on Wayne Ellington‘s minimum salary jumps from $315,646 to $581,692 if the Lakers keep him through today, as our Schedule of Contract Guarantee Dates shows and as Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders originally reported.
- The up-tempo style of the Suns helped influence former Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas to choose to head to Phoenix this past summer, as he tells Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe. “My teammates are good guys, the organization is great, and the style of play is perfect,” Thomas said. “It’s a big reason why I chose here because it favors my strengths, getting up and down, scoring and shooting at will, and using our strength, which is our guards.”
Heat rookie Shabazz Napier never had any doubt that he belongs in the NBA, writes Shandel Richardson of the Sun Sentinel. “Even though Chris Paul is a guy I looked up to growing up, I just thought this was a chance for me to have a good opportunity to play against him and try my best,” Napier said after scoring 17 points against Paul in Thursday’s loss to the Clippers. “I’m never in awe of anybody. I don’t let the moment get to me at all.” Napier entered the league with a reputation for confidence after leading Connecticut to the NCAA title last season. Here’s more from the Southeast..
- The Hawks have recalled Adreian Payne from the D-League, according to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (on Twitter). Payne was went down to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, an affiliate that they share with a dozen other teams, late last week. The Michigan State product averaged 16.4 points and 7.3 rebounds with 42.3% accuracy from behind the three-point line as a senior.
- Even though they haven’t saved the Hornets from a disappointing start, coach Steve Clifford told Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer that he likes what he sees in the team’s three key offseason signees. Lance Stephenson, Marvin Williams and Brian Roberts joined the Hornets in the offseason in hopes of helping the team improve on last year’s No. 7 playoff seed. Charlotte has stumbled to a 4-9 start, but Clifford said his three newcomers need time to adjust to his system. “I think they’re all getting acclimated,” Clifford said. “All three of them I like. All three do things that can help us play better and win.”
- The Magic’s Tobias Harris could always score, but he has responded to a challenge from the Orlando front office and coaching staff to expand his game, as John Denton of Magic.com details. Harris, a fourth-year player who will become a restricted free agent next summer, is doing his best to make a positive impression on the team. After getting 24 points, five steals, five rebounds and four assists in Monday’s win over the Pistons, he emphasized the victory over his individual accomplishments. “I’ve told all of the guys on the team, ‘You look better individually when we win as a team,’” Harris said. “So it really is all about winning.’’
Arthur Hill contributed to this post.
Aaron Gordon underwent successful surgery today to repair damage to the the fifth metatarsal in his left foot and will be out of action indefinitely, the Magic announced in a press release. Gordon will miss a minimum of six to eight weeks, at which time he will be re-evaluated, but the exact timetable for his return hinges on how well he responds to rehabilitation. The 6’9″ rookie out of Arizona fractured his foot during last Friday’s contest against the Wizards.
The injury to Gordon is among a rash of early season maladies that have sidelined a number of NBA stars, including Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Bradley Beal, Ricky Rubio, and Marcus Smart. This injury is certainly a setback in the development of the No. 4 overall pick in this year’s NBA draft. Gordon is still trying to establish his NBA position, and has been used primarily at power forward, though he has the skillset to play small forward as well.
Gordon appeared in 11 games this season for Orlando, averaging 5.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 0.6 assists while logging 15.0 minutes per night. His slash line is .581/.500/.667.
The Kings were in a position of power when DeMarcus Cousins signed his rookie scale extension last year, but Rudy Gay‘s decision to sign a veteran extension with the team this week is demonstrative of the strides the franchise has taken, as Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee examines.
“Obviously, when my contract was ending, I thought about going into free agency and maybe seeing what happens, but why search it when you have what you want right here?” Gay said.
Owner Vivek Ranadive and GM Pete D’Alessandro convinced the forward that the Kings were no longer the disorganized club that he’d heard stories about, Gay said, adding that having spent the offseason with Cousins helped influence his decision, too, Jones tweets. A bond with new point guard Darren Collison and comfort with the Sacramento community were also factors, Gay acknowledged, as fellow Bee scribe Ailene Voisin notes (Twitter link). There’s more on the Gay extension amid the latest from the Pacific Division:
- The Clippers planned to re-sign Willie Green after waiving him this summer, but the Magic stymied that when they claimed him off waivers, writes Dan Woike of the Orange County Register. “We were not very happy with the Magic on that one,” Clippers coach/executive Doc Rivers said.. “We just assumed that no one would pick him up. Willie’s one of those guys you just want around.” Rivers also said that Green can serve as an assistant coach for him after he retires, Woike notes.
- Turning down Knicks president Phil Jackson to take the Warriors job instead was “probably the hardest thing that I had to do professionally,” Steve Kerr tells Michael Lee of The Washington Post. “He basically made my career. From my experience in Chicago, that allowed me to have the success to sign as a free agent in San Antonio, where I had another incredible experience. My career path, started with Lute Olson [at Arizona] … but Phil’s the guy who got me rolling and gave me all the opportunities that I have in front of me right now.”
- The Gay extension was a positive step for the Kings, and one the team had to make to move toward playoff contention, Voisin opines.