NBA News & Notes: Lakerland drama, Warriors continue to impress

April 1, 2016

In the DSH's latest NBA News and Notes report, we take a look at the ongoing circus around the Lakers, and examine the Warriors' most recent accomplishments:

Warriors Set Franchise Record

The 2015 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors earned their 68th win of the 2015-16 season following the team's 103-96 overtime victory at Utah, establishing a new franchise record for single season wins by topping the mark of 67 wins set last season. Golden State, which is the sixth team in NBA history to win at least 68 games in a single season, improved to 68-7 (.907) in 2015-16, the best record in NBA history through 75 games.

With a 32-7 (.821) road mark in 2015-16, Golden State improved on a franchise record for road wins and became the fifth team in NBA history to earn at least 32 road wins in a single season. In addition, the Warriors have won an NBA-record 54 consecutive regular-season home games and are 36-0 at home this season, which is a franchise best home start.

Earlier this month, the Warriors clinched the 2015-16 Pacific Division title, claiming their first back-to-back Pacific Division crowns since 1974-75 and 1975-76. The Warriors are slated to make their fourth-straight playoff appearance for the first time since qualifying for the postseason in each of the first six years of the league’s existence (1946-47 to 1951-52).

Drama in Hollywood

The biggest news in the NBA this week happened off the court in Los Angeles, as Lakers rookie D'Angelo Russell leaked a video in which he prodded teammate Nick Young into admitting he was unfaithful to his fiancĂ©, Australian rapper Iggy Azalea.  The recording seemed to be without Young's consent or knowledge, and reportedly has already caused Russell to be ostracized within the team.

Young's conduct might be immoral, but legally he is a single man.  A single man having a private conversation who could end up losing someone he wanted to marry.

So who is to blame?  For starters, obviously Russell.  But he isn't alone.

Right now Russell is rockin' a snitch jacket for leaking what normally is a private man-to-man conversation.  Whether he posted the video himself (he publicly denies that) or passed it on to another who then made it public, is up for debate.

If indeed a friend was the cause, it shouldn't be too hard for Russell to determine the culprit.  In the wise words of the great Bob Marley, "Only your friend knows your secret, so only he could reveal it."

Instead, all we get is the current bewilderment act Russell is doing publicly.

Ultimately, Russell's conduct is another example justifying coach Byron Scott's "tough love" approach.  Ridiculed all year by a gutless local media who overlooked the Lakers weak roster and instead blamed Scott for the team's troubles, Scott stayed strong and had the good sense not to hand this immature rookie the keys to the convertible.

While others called for Russell to have a trial-by-fire rookie year where he played large minutes without limitation, Scott knew better than to simply gift this seemingly entitled teenager playing time.  Especially when Russell wasn't earning his keep on the defensive end.

For Scott, the kid was going to learn the play the right way now, rather than having bad habits that could haunt him for the rest of his career.

Russell, meanwhile, has been an interesting personality to say the least.  He thinks very highly of himself, and even declared himself to be the best player in the draft (not even close).  However, his play frequently fails to back up the grandiose talk.  That alone, is not so unusual.  What is unusual is the low effort, low motor aspect to his game.

We have all seen cocky rookies come into the NBA and get humbled.  Gary Payton, for example, talked a lot, but couldn't hit a jumper his first year.  But Payton at least competed hard, was aggressive, and brought energy and activity onto the floor.  When he finally ironed out his J in his second year, he had the underlying competitive spirit and foundation to soar.

Russell is that rare, low motor young player who isn't very active on the floor.  At times, it looks like he thinks he has already arrived, as he fails to fight -- truly fight -- aggressively to get over the top of screens, and makes half-hearted, "false hustle" closeouts on shooters.

Many athletes who make things look easy and smooth, often get falsely labeled for being "lazy."  Make no mistake, there is a racist element to such labeling, and often the label is unfair.  The long-striding running back who glides around the field, seemingly without exertion, is one such example.  Typically, such players are above-average athletes in their respective sports, and because of those advantages, they make it look easy.

In Russell's case, it's the opposite.  He is an average to below-average athlete, whose primary physical advantage is his height -- provided he plays at point guard, rather than the 2.  So when he is "coasting" it's not because he is so talented that he makes things looks easy, it's because he is moving methodically, to put it kindly.  Some might simply call it slow.

But slow players can compensate with effort, energy, and smarts to survive.  That's not always seen with Russell, and therein lies the problem.

If Russell is being groomed to be the team's future point guard, then his leadership skills must be rock solid.  If your words aren't respected as a vocal leader, then leadership by example can fill that void.  The problem with Russell is that we haven't seen enough in his actions to project him as a team leader down the road.

Russell had a pathetic Summer League -- yes Summer League -- performance, and started the year slowly as well.  He had a nice little spurt several weeks ago, including a 39-point game, but has cooled off of late.  During and after that 39-point game, Russell's braggadocios behavior came off as silly, almost like a child who has let a small sample size of success flood his head with delusions of grandeur.

Russell has a real nice mid-range game, a decent three-point shot, is a willing passer, can occasionally score on the block, and has good court vision (although he gets arguably far too much credit for this last attribute).

However, he also lacks elite athleticism, has questionable desire to compete defensively, is a mediocre finisher at the rim. and cannot often break down his man off the dribble without first having a screen set for him.  For all the talk about his passing and unselfishness, he doesn't exactly rack up assists, and may be best suited in a combo guard role, rather than always playing as the team's lead guard.

For Russell, that is the ultimate problem.  Russell hasn't been that great for a number two overall pick in a draft class with this much talent.  When you are extraordinary, off the court mistakes can be swept under the rug.  Not so much when you are an inconsistent rookie whose upside is questionable.

Which brings us to the other culprit -- the tandem of Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak.

The perception of ineptitude with this pair grows more real each day.  Funny, but one struggles to recall such public dysfunction even in the Shaq-Kobe feuding days.  Nor did it happen when Kupchak had exclusive control of things.  Quite simply, as Buss' role in basketball operations has grown, so has the current state of disaster with the franchise.

It is not clear what vision Buss has for his roster, or if he even has one at all.  Rather than trying to create a team that fits his vision, the Lakers' moves seem to be made on an ad hoc basis.

Part of that is understandable given that the elite free agents they have targeted have declined to sign with the team, and thus, Buss has been forced to adjust on the fly.  Although even that can be blamed on management as well, since they have cap space, a glorious tradition, an area in which players want to reside (and often do in the offseason), and still, the Lakers cannot get someone to agree to come (or stay, in the case of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol).

Jerry West used to pull off such free agent deals consistently, and at below-market value. But that was Jerry West.  Charisma, credibility, and personality can make a huge difference.

When there is no vision, decisions are made on a panic basis.  Mike Brown gets hired out of the blue when he is not on anyone's radar because he comes across as a pleasant surprise to Buss in the interview.

Talented big men Kristaps Porzingis and Jahlil Okafor are passed up in the draft because hey, Golden State just won a title, and they have a good set of guards, so maybe the Lakers should follow that current flavor of the month too.  And we have cap space, so it will be no problem later nabbing free agent star big man LaMarcus Aldridge, right?

The decision behind drafting Russell seems almost like the Mike Brown move repeated because a big selling point for the Lakers was the way Russell -- the same kid who had this high school level social faux pas with Young -- confidently and maturely came across in his interview.

For nice, but timid and unaccomplished men like Buss who have never succeeded on their own, such brash talk from a guy such as Russell can be mesmerizing.

It's a mess in Lakerland, almost akin to the Dodgers' McCourt situation where fans must cheer against the team in order to see the true problem -- Jim Buss -- exiled.

It will be another year of cap space, and no Kobe as a free agent deterrent, so we'll see if Jim actually can produce enough confidence in an elite free agent to make him believe that yes, this executive, can actually bring me a ring. With Buss' track record, the odds are against him.

Which leaves us with Russell.

Right now he is not a popular guy in the locker room, but performance and winning can cure all ills.  So if he actually can play, then a lot of this will become water under the bridge.

If Russell becomes an elite player -- not just a Brandon Jennings or a Michael Carter-Williams borderline All-Star type -- then this incident will be irrelevant because after all, Young is a relatively irrelevant figure in the team's rebuilding plans.  Russell will be one of the team's top players, and that alone can command it's own locker room respect.

But if the entitled attitude, loafing on D, limited upside, mediocre performances, and struggles to find the right position continue, then the immaturity is just another strike against him.

For Russell to justify his draft selection, he must be equal to, greater, or at a least superior fit than the talented players the Lakers passed up to get him.  Right now, he is not, but over time that might change.

At the end of the day, the real question with Russell is, can he play?

At this point, we truly don't know if he is actually a good enough player at his position to put up with his various other shenanigans.  And for the number two overall pick in the draft, that is a frightening thought.

Hornets' Clifford and Warriors' Kerr named NBA Coaches of the Month

The Charlotte Hornets’ Steve Clifford and the Golden State Warriors’ Steve Kerr today were named the NBA Eastern and Western Conference Coaches of the Month, respectively, for games played in March.

Clifford led the Hornets to the East’s best record at 13-3.  The 13 wins are a Hornets franchise record for a month.  Charlotte opened March with a seven-game winning streak during which their average margin of victory was 15.1 points.  The Hornets ranked second in the Eastern Conference in scoring at 109.2 ppg, and their eight home wins improved their season tally to 27 – third most in the conference.

Kerr guided the Warriors to the West’s best record at 15-2.  Golden State posted a seven-game winning streak from March 7-18 and closed the month on a six-game winning streak.  The Warriors led the NBA in scoring at 114.0 ppg and ranked second in the Western Conference in field goal percentage at 47.9 percent.  At 68-7, the Warriors have joined the 1995-96 and 1996-97 Chicago Bulls as the only teams to win 65 or more games in consecutive seasons.

During the month, Golden State also led the league in assists (28.8), point differential (+10.1), and three-point field goals (13.4), establishing a new NBA-record for single-season threes (now 975). The Warriors have not lost more than two games in any single month this season.

The award is the third such career honor for Kerr, giving him more monthly awards than any other coach in Warriors history (the NBA began giving out the award in 1982-83), and is the second honor for the Warriors this season after Interim Head Coach Luke Walton guided the team to a perfect 19-0 start in October/November. Kerr previously earned the accolade in January 2015 and March 2015

Other nominees for Coach of the Month were Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer, Detroit’s Stan Van Gundy, Miami’s Erik Spoelstra, Oklahoma City’s Billy Donovan, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, and Toronto’s Dwane Casey.

Spurs Continue to Win

With their win on Wednesday over the Pelicans, the Spurs set the NBA record for most consecutive home victories (38) to open a season. San Antonio also tied the franchise record for wins in a season with 63, set in 2005-06.

For Tim Duncan, it was his 998th win as a member of the Spurs dating back to 1997. Duncan is poised to join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1,074) and Robert Parish (1,014) as the only players in history with 1,000 victories. Duncan holds the record for most victories with one team, ahead of John Stockton, who won 953 games with the Jazz.

The Spurs host the Raptors on Saturday before embarking on a three-game road trip against the Jazz, Warriors and Nuggets.  San Antonio has no injuries to report for tomorrow night’s Spurs-Raptors game.

Kings' Cousins Suspended

Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins has received a one-game suspension without pay for receiving his 16th technical foul of the 2015-16 season, it was announced by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

Under NBA rules, a player or coach is automatically suspended without pay for one game once he receives his 16th technical foul during a regular season. For every two additional technical fouls received during that regular season, the player or coach will be automatically suspended for an additional game.

Cousins received his most recent technical foul with 0:06 remaining in the fourth quarter of the Kings’ 120-111 win over the Washington Wizards on March 30 at Sleep Train Arena. Cousins will serve his suspension on Friday, April 1 when Sacramento hosts the Miami Heat.

Lakers' Randle Fined

Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle has been fined $15,000 for making an obscene gesture, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

Randle’s actions occurred with 1.9 seconds remaining in overtime of the Lakers’ 102-100 victory over the Miami Heat on March 30 at Staples Center.

Motown Rising 

The Pistons (40-35) have won six of seven games to move into seventh place in the East, a half-game ahead of the Pacers (39-35) and two games in front of the Bulls (37-37). Detroit needs two wins to secure its first winning season since 2007-08. Stan Van Gundy’s crew is seeking its first trip to the playoffs since 2008-09.

Andre Drummond, who leads in the NBA in rebounding (14.9 rpg) and double-doubles (62), is on pace to average at least 13.0 rebounds for the third consecutive season. The last player to accomplish this feat was Dwight Howard, who did it in five straight seasons with the Magic (2007-12).  On a side note, the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan, who ranks second in the NBA in rebounding (13.9 rpg), is also on pace to average at least 13.0 boards for a third straight season.

Clippers Jordan Proves Efficiency 

In addition to his rebounding prowess, Jordan also leads the NBA in field goal percentage (70.2). The 6-11 center, who also led the league in field goal percentage last season (71.0), is seeking to become the first player in NBA history to hit the 70 percent mark twice in a career. Wilt Chamberlain shot an NBA record 72.7 percent in 1972-73.

Of course, Jordan can thank point guard Chris Paul for much of his eye-popping numbers, as Paul sets up the big man with beautiful lobs that allow Jordan the ability to simply catch and finish at the rim.

Jordan isn’t the only Clipper scorching the nets. Jamal Crawford leads the league in free throw percentage (91.4), while J.J. Redick is pacing all players in three-point percentage (47.1). No team has ever had all three leaders at the end of a season since the three-point line was introduced for the 1979-80 season.

Talkin' Smack

  • Jason Patt, SB Nation: “[Utah’s] acquisition of [Shelvin] Mack wasn’t a splashy one, but it was the kind of savvy move that could mean the difference between a playoff berth and the lottery. He's provided not only a steady hand running the team, but also career-best production that's helped lift the Jazz offense to another level with him on the floor.”

  • Steve Reed, Associated Press: “[A]n offseason spent revamping the roster by adding long-distance shooters and players with an ability to penetrate and open up the outside game has paid off [for the Hornets].”

  • Candace Parker, Los Angeles Sparks forward-center: “I want to win a championship. I haven’t won a WNBA championship yet and it’s the last thing to check off the resume.”

Hornets and Rockets to play preseason games in China

The National Basketball Association (NBA) announced that NBA Global Games China 2016 will feature two preseason games in Shanghai and Beijing between the Houston Rockets and the New Orleans Pelicans.

“Our entire Houston Rockets team is looking forward to returning to China, to compete and play our best basketball for our loyal and passionate fans," said Houston Rockets Guard James Harden.  "We are proud of the special bond our team has with the Chinese fans, and we know the atmosphere at the games will be electrifying.”

The Rockets and Pelicans will play Oct. 9 in Shanghai at the Mercedes-Benz Arena, followed by a rematch in Beijing on Oct. 12 at The LeSports Center.

The 10th edition of NBA Global Games China will celebrate the Rockets’ first visit to Shanghai since their inaugural game there in 2004, when NBA Legend Yao Ming played in his hometown of Shanghai for the first time in his NBA career in front of a sold-out crowd.  NBA Global Games China 2016 will mark the Pelicans’ first visit to China.

“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to play in front of the Chinese fans for the first time in our franchise’s history," said New Orleans Pelicans Forward Anthony Davis.  "During my past visits to China, I was amazed to see the fans’ love and excitement for the game of basketball.  Visiting Beijing and Shanghai and interacting with the Chinese fans is going to be an incredible experience to share with my coaches and teammates.”

NBA Global Games China 2016 will feature a variety of off-court activities, including the fifth Fan Appreciation Day presented by Dongfeng Nissan on Oct. 7 in Shanghai, which will provide thousands of fans with the opportunity to participate in oncourt games and watch the Rockets and Pelicans showcase their skills.  The league will also conduct NBA Cares and Jr. NBA community events and league partners will host interactive fan activities.

“We are thrilled to bring NBA teams once again to Beijing and Shanghai," said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.  "NBA fans in China are incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about the game of basketball.  The China Games deliver the live, authentic NBA experience to our Chinese fans and provide our teams and players an opportunity to learn more about the Chinese people and culture.”

The Rockets’ roster currently features four-time NBA All-Star and Olympic gold medalist James Harden, eight-time NBA All-Star and three-time Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard, and 2009 NBA Champion Trevor Ariza.  Overall, this will be the Rockets’ fourth trip to Greater China following visits in 2004, 2010 and 2013.

The Pelicans’ roster currently features three-time NBA All-Star and 2014-15 All-NBA First Team selection Anthony Davis, 2013 NBA All-Star Jrue Holiday, and 2011-12 Most Improved Player Ryan Anderson.

The Numbers

  • Warriors forward Draymond Green is on pace to become the first player to average at least 13.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists since Grant Hill in 1996-97.

  • Warriors guard Stephen Curry needs eight three-pointers to pass Glen Rice (1,559) for 20th place on the NBA’s all-time list.

  • Heat center Hassan Whiteside has come off the bench in his last 24 games to average 17.2 points, 12.8 rebounds and 3.6 blocks in 29.5 minutes.

  • Kings rookie center Willie Cauley-Stein recorded the first two 20-point performances of his career in back-to-back games on March 25 and 27.

  • Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas is averaging 26.2 points in his last 13 games, scoring at least 20 in each contest.

  • Lakers guard Kobe Bryant tied an NBA record for the most regular-season games played at one venue in the Lakers' overtime win over the Heat at the Staples Center on Wednesday. Bryant has played 595 games at the Staples Center, matching Hakeem Olajuwon's mark at The Summit (later known as Compaq Center).

  • Wizards guard John Wall has 187 assists in March, tying the franchise record (Wall also had 187 in December 2015). It is the highest total in a month for any player this season. You have to go back to March 2012 to find the last time a player accumulated that many assists: Rajon Rondo (219) and Steve Nash (188).

  • Nuggets guard Will Barton has come off the bench to lead or tie for the team lead in scoring 20 times this season, tops in the NBA. Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson is second on the list with 10 such games.

  • Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson appeared in his 362nd consecutive game on Tuesday against Houston, surpassing Jim Chones (361) for the longest streak of consecutive games played in Cavaliers history.

  • The Raptors won their 50th game of the season Wednesday, the first time the franchise has reached that milestone. Every current team has now produced at least one 50-win season.

  • April 6, 1996 (20 years ago): Charlotte Hornets center Robert Parish became the NBA’s all-time leader in games played, surpassing the previous record of 1,560 set by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Parish went on to play a record 1,611 games.

By Staff of and news service

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