Sheridan Hoops Mon, 22 Dec 2014 21:15:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Bernucca: Phil Can’t Fix Knicks Through Twitter Mon, 22 Dec 2014 19:00:53 +0000

bernuccaheWhile many GMs were working the phones this week, Knicks president Phil Jackson was using a twittercryingdifferent, more contemporary form of communication: Twitter.

On Thursday, Donnie Nelson and Danny Ainge swung a five-player trade that sent Rajon Rondo to Dallas and draft picks to Boston. On Friday, Daryl Morey, Flip Saunders and Sam Hinkie worked a three-team deal that landed Corey Brewer and Alexey Shved in Houston and draft picks in Minnesota and Philadelphia.

But not Jackson, and not the Knicks.

Jackson doesn’t need to work the phones to make the Knicks better. Outfitted with a rookie coach trying to install an antiquated system upon a trigger-happy superstar and putting it on display at the highest cost anywhere, the Knicks are racing along at a 5-25 clip, well on their way to their 42nd straight year without a championship.

“It just doesn’t seem real,” Carmelo Anthony said.

So on Thursday, while his peers were working their phones to improve their teams, Jackson chose to engage in a couple of Twitter tussles with NBA pundits who had the nerve to throw some shade at the Zen Master.

The first war of words was prompted by a story published Wednesday by our Shlomo Sprung, whose analytic breakdown of Jackson’s first big trade – the Tyson Chandler deal – plainly showed that thus far, the Knicks have gotten the short end of the stick. The story first ran Wednesday. Chris Sheridan wrote the headline, which said Jackson got “fleeced.” And I retweeted the story Thursday, claiming Jackson got “hornswaggled.”

This is the web world we live in. Stories have to have different angles, strong headlines and multiple retweets with million-dollar words in order to separate them from the torrent of available copy on the same subject and give them something more than a message-in-a-bottle quality.

Charles-Barkley1Later that night, the Knicks played the Chicago Bulls on TNT, with Charles Barkley leaving his throne in Atlanta to work the game as an analyst. Barkley called Jackson’s rebuilding approach flawed, claiming free agents won’t be intrigued by the idea of playing in New York in the triangle if the team is terrible and the ball is dominated by Anthony.

This is the TV world we live in. Analysts have to have strong opinions that separate themselves from other talking heads and create tidy soundbites of 20 and 30 seconds that can be replayed throughout a 24-hour news cycle – or until someone else says something more interesting or outlandish on the same topic.

When Jackson was coaching the Bulls and Lakers and amassing a record 11 championships, he pretty much ignored this sort of noise and let his growing record speak for itself. It now speaks volumes and is above reproach, which is a big reason he is president of the Knicks right now.

But as a GM, Jackson appears to have developed rabbit ears. He somehow felt the need to take to Twitter and reply to both SheridanHoops and Barkley – which, in the world we live in, the New York Post considered worthy of a story.

Very few of Jackson’s peers would have dignified these proclamations with a response. Sure, GMs will go on radio or TV or talk to newspapers or websites and explain their position and philosophy in general or specific terms. But virtually all of them understand that criticism comes with the territory, and time will prove them right or wrong. When it comes to the media, the job of GM is “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”

But if Jackson’s sonar is picking up slights of any size, how did it not detect the missile launched across his bow earlier in the week by ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt, who scored a direct hit?

On his radio show, Van Pelt suggested that the Knicks quite possibly would have the same awful record if they replaced Phil Jackson Podium Jackson coach Derek Fisher – both in their first years in their respective difficult jobs, pulling down a combined $17 million per year – with a bartender and a homeless guy. Really.

And you know what? SVP wasn’t that far off. Really.

In Tuesday’s home loss to Dallas, the Knicks allowed the Mavericks to make 13 of their first 16 shots and race to a 34-15 lead, prompting Fisher to go high school and pull all five starters at the same time.

“I thought the start was not the right way to start a professional basketball game,” Fisher said. “Those guys that were in there to start the game, that was a disappointment to their teammates.”

Believe it or not, a lack of fight from the Knicks has been the exception, not the rule. They have been in 19 games where the margin was five points or less with five minutes to play and somehow have lost 16 of them. The most recent one was Saturday’s home loss to Phoenix, after which Anthony severely questioned the team’s confidence.

They are 5-25. Need we we remind you that they started 2-1?

“I can just see it out there on the court, that we don’t believe in ourselves to be able to go down the stretch and win basketball games,” he said.

Confidence – or a lack thereof – somewhat goes to the formation of a roster, which is on the GM. It somewhat goes to the installation and development of a system, which is on the coach. (And in this case, the GM as well.) And it somewhat goes to professionalism on a daily basis, which is on the players.

Can you really say that if this $90 million roster was left to its own devices – or as Van Pelt put it, a mixologist picking the players and a guy playing the trumpet in the subway running the practices and calling the plays – that the Knicks wouldn’t GoranDragicSH1have won more than five of their first 30 games? Because every previous GM-coach combination in franchise history has gotten off to a better start.

Look, it’s quite possible that four years from now, the Knicks will have benefited from Jackson’s smarts and patience and Fisher’s maturation and become contenders again. They may have surrounded Anthony with Jahlil Okafor and Kevin Durant and Goran Dragic and ascended to the top of the East with the triangle in full effect. They may have made Madison Square Garden the mecca of basketball again.

And that’s when Jackson can respond to the shots across his bow with his Twitter bombs, because he will have proved the pundits wrong. But right now, he needs to follow the lead of his peers, who are too busy trying to improve their teams with the exploration of trades, scouting, analytics and player development to respond via social media to worthy criticism.

Because like his team, right now that’s a game he can’t win.

TRIVIA: Rajon Rondo was traded while leading the league in assists. Who was the last player to lead the NBA in one of the five primary stats while being traded during the season? Answer below.

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Dead money: Pistons waive Josh Smith Mon, 22 Dec 2014 17:02:08 +0000

SheridanheIn an unprecedented and bold move, the Detroit Pistons today waived starting power forward Josh Smith — a decision that will cost them roughly $36 million over the next 2 1/2 seasons.

The news came in a press release from the team: “Our team has not performed the way we had expected throughout the first third of the season and adjustments need to be made in terms of our focus and direction,” said Stan Van Gundy, Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations for the Detroit Pistons. “We are shifting priorities to aggressively develop our younger players while also expanding the roles of other players in the current rotation to improve performance and build for our future. As we expand certain roles, others will be reduced. In fairness to Josh, being a highly versatile 10-year veteran in this league, we feel it’s best to give him his freedom to move forward. We have full respect for Josh as a player and a person.”

Josh SmithThe 6-foot-9, 225-pound forward has averaged 13.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists while shooting 39.1% from the field, 24.3% from three point range and 46.8% from the free throw line. In 105 games with the Pistons, the Georgia native averaged 15.5 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.

Smith was acquired by the Pistons as a free agent on July 10, 2013. Drafted with the 17th overall selection in the 2004 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks, the former Oak Hill Academy product has averaged 15.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.0 blocks and 34.2 minutes in 781 career games (758 starts).

He is under contract for $13.5 million in this season and each of the next two.


The Pistons could choose to use the stretch provision on Smith.

Starting July 1, Pistons can stretch his remaining two years over five if they so choose. (They may not. That comes to 5 plus mill a year, a big dead number to have on your cap for 5 years. They may just take the bigger 2 year hit).

In the meantime, Twitter is abuzz with speculation that the player known as J-Smoove will end up in Houston after he clears waivers.

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Fantasy Spin: Win $25,000 For $2 This Week Mon, 22 Dec 2014 16:58:28 +0000

KentOn Christmas Day, there’s a huge guaranteed contest at Draft Kings. The $200K Holiday Classic will make someone $25,000 richer. It’s a $20 entry fee for a maximum of 11,340 teams. The $200,000 in prize money split among the top 2,300 finishers, even if it doesn’t fill. There are numerous Satellite contests — starting tonight  — to qualify for the big event for as little as $2.00. You can’t win the $25 grand if you don’t take a shot!

Holiday-ClassicMonday’s seven NBA games include three exciting conference matchups between some of the league’s best teams. Toronto begins a difficult six-game trip in Chicago. Derrick Rose $7000 (illness) should be back, Pau Gasol $8700 seems unstoppable and Jimmy Butler $7700 is in the Most Improved conversation. The Raptors had a fairly easy time yesterday beating the Knicks, but Kyle Lowry $10000 will have to be great tonight for them to win. James Johnson $3900 moved into the starting five and could be the best value play in what profiles as a tight defensive battle.

Portland at Houston is not only important, it could be fast-paced. Dwight Howard $9400 (shoulder) is probable and the Blazers will really miss Robin Lopez. James Harden $11600 (hamstring) is also probable; just be aware that neither is 100%. Patrick Beverley $5900 is fairly priced but his main job is to prevent Damian Lillard $8800 from taking over. The difference in this terrific game could be LaMarcus Aldridge $10600, whose 52-minute masterpiece in triple-OT on Friday didn’t prevent him from schooling Anthony Davis 24 hours later.

Plays of the Day

If you still haven’t joined DK, click for a FREE entry (worth $2) to win as much as $5,000 in the $40K Layup, where 4,600 of 23,000 teams will earn cash prizes. Your initial deposit will be matched 100% (up to $600) with bonus money, added to your account as you play. High rollers can try the $70K Crossover — $27 to enter, maximum 2,940 teams, top 605 get paid and first place is worth $10,000.

lineup-1222In the nightcap, the Warriors are by far the better team. We aren’t certain how the Kings will fare in a back-to-back, especially DeMarcus Cousins $10400, who destroyed the Lakers (29 PTS, 14 REB, 3 BLK, 2 STL, 2 AST) and Rudy Gay $8500, who continues to play with a strained Achilles tendon. Ben McLemore $5300 is also on a roll, but Klay Thompson $7600 is a tough matchup. Likewise, Stephen Curry $10700 should have his way with Darren Collison $6500. If you think DMC can keep it close all night with another monster line, use as many as you can from this game: Draymond Green $7500, Cousins and Curry make today’s sample lineup, and it was a tough choice between Butler and Thompson at SG.

Of course, this is an extreme stars/scrubs approach. Johnson is my fifth-best player and there’s just $9800 left to fill three roster spots. Thomas Robinson $3000 and Steve Blake $3000 have both seen extra minutes lately as the Blazers go small more often. Crossing my fingers for overtime.

The world champion Spurs have lost four straight and six of eight. Tim Duncan $8900 will be rested and ready for the challenge of Blake Griffin $11000 but with Tony Parker (hamstring) out, Chris Paul $10300 can take it to Cory Joseph $5200. Kawhi Leonard (hand) is also sitting, so Kyle Anderson $4200 is a possible bargain. Expect Danny Green $6500 to continue racking up fantasy numbers.

A fourth “big game” has the Hawks in Dallas. Monta Ellis $7500 was fantastic on Saturday (38 PTS, 4 STL) in his first game alongside Rajon Rondo $7900; any of the Mavs’ starters are capable of going off on a given night. Tyson Chandler $6800 vs. Al Horford $7300 is a contrast in effective styles, just like Paul Millsap $8300 vs. Dirk Nowitzki $6400. Atlanta is at a big disadvantage if Jeff Teague $7000 (hamstring) is still not 100%. According to over/under lines, this is the second-best source of points this evening and you can assemble a solid team by keying on it.

There may be good DFS plays hidden in a relatively meaningless game as Denver visits Charlotte. Lance Stephenson (groin) is out and Al Jefferson $9000 left early on Saturday with a groin strain. Ty Lawson $9700 vs. Kemba Walker $8400 is interesting but the Nuggets have a bigger edge on the wings, where Arron Afflalo $5900 can handle Gerald Henderson $4300. I’ve plugged Marvin Williams $3400 into my Util spot above as the least-bad fit with the remaining dollars; he’s been near the 30 minute mark in his last two.

The Jazz are going to meet some angry Grizzlies after they lost in Cleveland last night. Zach Randolph $8000 (knee) is questionable, so Jon Leuer $4700 may get another start. Mike Conley $8200 and Marc Gasol $9200 are just too good for Trey Burke $5300 and Enes Kanter $6500. Benched for much of a loss on Saturday, Derrick Favors $7300 can make amends, but I’m avoiding everyone from both teams, assuming a low score.

Pos Premium Midrange Bargain
PG Stephen Curry $10700 Mike Conley $8200 Steve Blake $3000
SG James Harden $11600 Jimmy Butler $7700 G. Henderson $4300
SF Rudy Gay $8500 Draymond Green $7500 James Johnson $3900
PF LaMarcus Aldridge $10600 Dirk Nowitzki $6400 T. Robinson $3000
C DeMarcus Cousins $10400 Tyson Chandler $6800 Chris Kaman $4500

The Fantasy Spin features DFS advice every day of the NBA season. Follow Kent Williams @SheridanFantasy for updates.

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Secret Behind Jimmy Butler’s Evolution (With Film Breakdown) Mon, 22 Dec 2014 15:39:12 +0000

Chicago Bulls vs Miami Heat - Game OneJacob Oxford PictureA visibly drained Jimmy Butler got off the team bus and walked through the tunnels of American Airlines Arena feeling under the weather.

As he entered the locker room on December 14 in Miami, the 25-year-old swingman showed the exhausted demeanor of a player who’s led the NBA in minutes played and miles travelled per game since October of 2013.

His availability for the game against Miami should have been uncertain. But with Joakim Noah sidelined with an ankle injury, Butler would not let his already-shorthanded teammates face off against the rival Heat without him.

“You can’t say enough about him,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau told SheridanHoops. “He’s old school. Last night, before the game he was not feeling well but he said ‘Hey coach, don’t cut my minutes. I’m going to run that out of me. Keep me in there.’ I respect that.”

Butler logged 36 minutes in Miami, scoring 17 points and logging a team high 5 assists — not to mention 7 rebounds and two steals — en route to a 93-75 victory for Chicago.

“The guy wants to win, Thibodeau added. “He fights hard on every play and goes after people. He makes tough plays. That’s Jimmy. That’s Jimmy. The guy is having an All-Star season.”

Entering the season, Butler was merely considered to be a very good role player on a very good team. Now when Thibodeau proclaims that Butler is an All-Star, nobody bats an eye.

Butler scored 20 or more points in only five games all of last season. So far, he’s scored 20 or more points in 16 of the 24 games he played, including four games with more than 30 points. 

Butler is a restricted free agent at the end of the season. As recently as October, executives around the league were starkly divided on whether Butler’s next contract should exceed $10 million in annual salary. Now, just two months later, the conversation has shifted to whether Butler is worthy of a max-contract in the range of $15 million annually. The consensus from two Eastern Conference scouts I spoken with appears to be an emphatic “Yes.”

Butler’s scoring has ballooned from 13.1 points per game last season to 21.5 in 2014-2015. His increased output has coincided with increased efficiency. He’s shooting 48.6-percent from the field (up from 39.7-percent last season) and ranks third in the league behind James Harden and Kobe Bryant in free throw attempts with 8.2 per game.

“It’s just confidence,” Derrick Rose told SheridanHoops. “It’s him just knowing how good he is. He’s on a mission right now and I can respect him for that. I know what he’s thinking right now as far as taking care of his family. I take my hat off to him for that cause he’s performing.”

Butler is delivering in areas of the floor that he’s never paid much attention to in the past. With defenses prioritizing their schemes around stopping Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol on the interior while containing Derrick Rose’s penetration on the perimeter, Butler often finds himself with either a smaller or slower defender on his back.

Unlike last season when he would camp out behind the 3-point line to keep the floor spaced, Butler has become more proactive in setting up and forcing action into the post.

Watch on this play where the Bulls sprint up the floor with a plan to get Butler the ball near the paint. Butler sets a pick, which forces the Kings to switch Darren Collison onto him. With at least sixty pounds and several inches on the point guard, Butler backs down:

The Bulls go back to that same play in the fourth and convert again:

Among all players averaging at least three points per game from shots within 12 feet from the basket, Butler ranks seventh in the entire league with an outrageous 70.5-percent field goal percentage on those shots. Of the top 20 most efficient players from the interior, Butler is the only non-big man of the bunch. In fact, Butler is also the only top-20 interior scorer in the league who also averages more than three points per game on drives to the hoop — per

In simpler terms, Butler is shooting 70.5% on field goals within 12 feet despite a fair number of those attempts coming in the form of legitimate shot attempts. On the other hand, guys ahead of him on the list like DeAndre Jordan and Tyson Chandler have nearly all of their shot attempts come in the form of dunks and tip-ins. Butler has shot more efficiently from within 12 feet than both Dwight Howard and DeMarcus Cousins.

“I’m just taking the shots that the defense is giving me,” Butler told SheridanHoops. “I’m getting to the right places on the floor. I think that’s a big part of my game to be 12 feet and in.”

But knowing his efficiency in the post, how much concentration does it require for a player who’s played on the wing his entire career to consistently return to the post on offense?

“That’s a big part of it,” Butler acknowledged. “I think I have an advantage over a lot of different two-guards. With me being 6-7 or however tall I am and with my physical play, that would be the smart thing to do.”

Watch below as the Clippers’ Reggie Bullock battles Butler aggressively off of the blocks. Regardless of catching the ball out of position, Butler recognizes his advantage with strength and speed to power through for a layup.

And when the defense sends a quicker defender to intimidate Butler from putting the ball on the ground – as Chris Paul prioritizes in the clip below – Butler is just as inclined to pop a close range shot, which he’s rarely missing:

In comparing Butler’s style of play from last season to this season, it’s as if he’s become a different player. Setting the results aside for a moment, it’s just fun to watch Butler approach the offensive end with newfound appreciation for physicality.

Last season, Butler allowed 38.5-percent of his field goal attempts to come in catch-and-shoot situations. This year, catch-and-shoots account for less than 30 percent of his attempts.

Conversely, Butler’s field goal attempts coming within 10 feet of the basket have increased from 3.8 per game last season to 6.3 per game this season. The results have been staggering; Butler is making as many shots from within 10 feet per game this season as he attempted per game last season.

Listed at 220 pounds, Butler was already strong for a swingman. This season, he looks even more physically imposing.

“275, let’s go with that,” Butler quipped in response to a question about current playing weight. “I probably weigh 277,” he added with a smile.

Be it 220 or 277 pounds, Butler has been able to use his strength as a decoy of sorts when he posts up against smaller defenders.

Watch below as Courtney Lee concentrates on preventing the entry feed, only to forget that Butler is explosive enough to spin off and beat him with a backdoor cut:

Butler’s agility also enables him to show for screens and quickly slip out for open jumpers before the defense can react:

Credit must be given to Noah and Gasol, as their passing abilities open up space for Butler to operate on the inside.

“Any time when your bigs can pass it adds a lot to your team, it makes everyone else that much harder to be guarded,” said Thibodeau. “They can play at the elbow. They can play in the post. And when the defense collapses or double teams, they’re going to hit the open man.”

Butler also recognizes that Rose’s presence has made a big impact in freeing up space on the court, “Derrick’s return gives a lot more room for everybody. The defense is really keying on him and always watching him.”

One thing is clear: Butler’s in a pretty good situation to continue developing with this roster in Chicago.

Butler owns a combination of strength and speed that few players in the league can match. And with an improved understanding of how to work the post, he has become one of the league’s most unique players.

So if I’m Chicago’s front office, the question should not be whether to give Butler the max but rather, “What do we have to do to be able to afford Butler under the luxury tax threshold?”

Jacob Eisenberg is a regular contributing columnist to Follow him on Twitter and check out his website.

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SH Blog: Mavs Get Win in Rondo’s Debut, Cavs Handle Short-Handed Grizz Mon, 22 Dec 2014 05:27:30 +0000

Rajon RAustin Remoondo made his debut count with the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night against the San Antonio Spurs. The Mavs new point guard scored six points on 3-of-11 shooting and dished out nine assists, adding seven rebounds in a 99-93 victory.

It seems like a typical Rondo night. He didn’t score until the third quarter, was well below 40% from the floor, but made all the plays we’ve seen him make in Boston the past eight plus years.

The Mavericks did get the win, which is great for them to build chemistry on going forward with their new additions, but it was ugly.

If you watched the past couple games the Spurs played prior to Saturday’s meeting, you’ll recall them going to triple overtime against the Grizzlies last Wednesday, then again on Friday against the Trail Blazers. Not exactly ideal situations for the second game of a back-to-back.


Gregg Popovich rested Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobli after playing 90 and 71 minutes respectively in the triple overtime losses. Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard, along with Patty Mills, didn’t play due to injury. The Spurs dressed ten players and only played eight of them.

The Spurs fill-ins shouldn’t have even competed against the firepower the Mavs boast. But a team coached by Popovich is never out of a game, which we saw Saturday night.

Anyways, Rondo lands in a great spot for himself and his career. He has offensive talent galore surrounding him, perfect for making easy buckets for his new teammates, his favorite thing to do.

However, there was one question surrounding Mark Cuban’s trading for Rondo: Can he fit with Monta Ellis?

We’ve heard and seen this before. When Ellis played in Golden State with Steph Curry, it seemed as if he was limiting the potential and ability of Curry to be the player he could be. Apparently the Warriors got that right by shipping him to Milwaukee in a deal that helped land them Andrew Bogut.

It is a tiny sample size, but the two seemed to coexist well together on Saturday. Ellis tied a season-high by scoring 38 points in the win on a smooth 15-of-23 from the floor, going 5-of-6 from downtown. He played 40 minutes compared to Rondo’s 34, so the two were on the court for a majority of the game.

Liam Boylan-Pett of has more on the two guards playing together:

There are questions as to whether the two guards can coexist, but if their first game together is any indication, they’ll be fine. Rondo and Ellis both like to have the ball in their hands, but Rondo has been in situations like this before. He doesn’t have to be the go-to guy — he was happy to let Paul PierceKevin Garnett or Ray Allen take over. And he appears ready to do the same in Dallas.

“He scored 38 points so I didn’t hold him back too much,” Rondo told SB Nation after the game. “We both like to dominate the ball but I think we both played well off each other.”

Ellis was appreciative of his new backcourt mate. “[Rondo] was great,” Ellis said. “He’s still got to get a feel for it, but he did a wonderful job of finding guys.”

It seems the two are capable of playing together from their first game, but that’s not exactly a guarantee. When the competition gets tougher, it’ll be interesting to see how these two mesh, and something to watch as the season goes on.


The Cleveland Cavaliers have had a rough going against Western Conference opponents this season, a measly 2-6 before Sunday’s contest with the short-handed Memphis Grizzlies.

Although the Grizz were missing Zach Randolph and Tony Allen, they’re still one of the best teams in the West and the NBA as a whole. Boasting a 21-5 record before Sunday, they stopped the Warriors 16-game win streak earlier in the week, then took the Spurs to triple overtime before beating them by one on the road.


But, a loss to the Bulls on Friday was followed by a defeat at the hands of King James and the Cavaliers in Cleveland 105-91, dropping the Grizzlies to 21-6 and losers of two straight for the second time this year.

The Cavs boosted their record to 3-6 against the difficult Western Conference, with two of their victories coming at home. They’re now 16-10 overall.

They were led by LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, who each posted a double-double in points and assists. James finished with 25 points and 11 assists, while Irving chipped in 17 points and dished out 12 dimes.

The bench was huge for Cleveland, who had big time contributions from Dion Waiters and Shawn Marion, the latter of which is now in a bench role for David Blatt.

Perhaps the most incredible part of the victory was the Cavs efficiency.

For a team allowing their opponents to shoot an average of 43.8% from the floor this season, Cleveland left Memphis wondering if that number was accurate on Sunday. The Cavs finished the game shooting an incredible 61% from the floor, by far a season high for Memphis.

Here’s more from Marc Gasol on the Grizzlies’ defense and missing two important players, courtesy of

(On tonight’s game): “I thought we couldn’t get enough stops to get in a rhythm. We feed off of defense. We scored a little bit, but we couldn’t get enough of them to get going. They got way too many easy baskets in the paint. I know they have shooters, but our principles went away pretty quick and we went away from the game plan too fast.”

(On his team playing without Tony Allen and Zach Randolph): “It’s not me (to blame the loss on their absence). It’s never been me and it’s not going to be me now. We are who we are, we play who we have and who’s not here is not here. So I’m not going to make excuses. We have enough talent in this locker room not just to win tonight, but to win the same amount of games that we’ve won so far. I have a lot of faith in the people and the personnel that we have. It was not about not having those two outstanding players tonight.”

The Cavs host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday, while the Grizzlies travel home to take on the Utah Jazz on Monday.


Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving continues to have the best year of his young career after being named the USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year on Sunday, just prior to the Cavs game versus the Grizzlies.

In a wild summer and year in general, Irving signed a five-year $90 million contract extension with the Cavaliers, just ten days before LeBron James decided to come back home to play with the young superstar in Cleveland.

A little more than a month later, the Cavs traded for friend and Pepsi Max commercial partner in Kevin Love (Wes in the commercials).


The trade went down just before the start of the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, which Irving was a huge part of for Team USA. He helped the United States bring home the gold medal, and earned MVP honors after he averaged 12.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.9 steals in 24.4 minutes per game throughout the tournament.

In the gold medal game, Irving finished with 26 points on 10-of-13 from the floor to go along with four assists. He was a USA World Cup record 6-of-6 from the three-point line.

Irving on him being named USAB Male Athlete of the Year, per

“It’s truly an honor and a blessing to be among such a great lineage of award winners, and USA Basketball was the best experience of my life thus far, just being a part of a team that’s bigger than myself,” Irving said. “The sacrifice we all had to make in order to make that team work and the adversity that we faced – and we came home with a gold medal. We were together through it all, and we won a gold medal together, so I’m going to remember it for the rest of my life.”

Kyrie joins the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Michael Jordan on the list of USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year awards.


Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari is coming off of a 19 month absence from basketball after he tore his ACL in his left knee in April 2013 that caused him to miss the entire 2013-14 season.

After his initial surgery to repair the torn ligament, Gallo had a setback in workouts the following year in January 2014, causing him to have another reconstructive surgery on the same knee. Of course, this forced him to miss the remained of the season that he had yet to even play in.

Danilo Gallinari

This year, the Nuggets were happy to let fans and the league know that Gallinari was expected to be ready for the beginning of the season, which he most certainly was. However, it hasn’t been as smooth as he and the Nugs were hoping it might be.

He’s shut himself down on a couple different occasions, citing knee soreness as the reason for his rest.

On Sunday, the struggles and soreness became real. The Nuggets released a statement saying the Gallinari tore his meniscus in his right knee. He will require surgery to repair the tear, and is “tentatively expected to miss three weeks”.

The 26-year-old Italian seemed happy to be back as well, and for good reason. Missing nearly two years of basketball is certainly no easy obstacle to come back from.

He seemed to be hitting a hot streak, getting close to being the player he was before his ACL tear. He scored a season-high 19 points in Denver’s 76-73 victory over Indiana on Saturday, his third consecutive game scoring in double figures.

This is a devastating blow for Gallo. Fans and players alike seem to really love Gallinari, and it’s a shame he’ll be spending more time recovering from an injury.

For his and the Nuggets’ sake, hopefully he’ll be back missing only three weeks, but that’s difficult to bank on regarding his injury history.

All stats via Basketball-Reference, USAB and




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Raptors Struggles Paving the Way to Success Mon, 22 Dec 2014 04:21:08 +0000

raps stars

Toronto Raptors basketball was non-existent for a long time. There was more booing than cheering, the word “retooling” became too familiar, and games rarely gathered genuine excitement.

That was their identity, or lack thereof.

I went to my first Raptors game at the age of 13. Toronto had a good team that year, they won 47 games and finished first in the Atlantic Division. The Raps were hosting the Denver Nuggets at Air Canada Centre, a hot team with Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson on the roster. Coming from a small town in Eastern Canada the idea of walking into an arena that held 20,000 people was enough to excite me. I walked into the arena from Union Station and thought: “Why are people wearing Toronto Maple Leafs jerseys?” I saw over a dozen people wearing the white and blue to the game that day. The Raptors were a second-tier team in Toronto.


From 2006-2008 Toronto was winning. Chris Bosh was leading the show with an entertaining cast behind him. Sam Mitchell won NBA Coach of the Year and Brian Colangelo won Executive of the Year. But it never felt real, fans didn’t truly believe those Bosh-led teams could be successful. Toronto was missing something: stability.

And just like that, the NBA’s Coach of the Year was gone. Fired only 17 games into the 2008-2009 season.

That was just the beginning of what would be years of disappointment for Toronto.

The Raptors experiment with six-time all-star Jermaine O’Neal was failing. The Raps dealt him for Shawn Marion of the Miami Heat just prior to the 2009 all-star break.

Then came the Hedo Turkoglu catastrophe. For those who aren’t familiar, Turkoglu was coming off an impressive season with the Orlando Magic when Toronto swooped in and signed him. Dedicating a full-page ad to the team’s website, they were overjoyed to say the least. The actual acquisition of Turkoglu was by far the climax of his time in a Dino’s uniform. One incident sums up his time in T.Dot fairly well. After leaving a game at halftime due to a stomach virus, he was spotted out on the town partying just hours later. He was traded after one season with the team.

The 2010-2011 season was as ugly as it gets; finishing 14th place in the East with only 22 wins. “The Decision” had stripped the Raptors of its franchise guy, and without Bosh, Toronto was back at square one.

Dwane Casey; Masai Ujiri

Despite a lockout during the 2011-2012 season, Raps fans were beginning to get excited again. Prior to the season they had hired Dwane Casey and were riding high on young talent DeMar DeRozan. This is where the turnaround begins, although the results weren’t seen for two more seasons. Casey, an assistant on the Dallas Mavericks championship team, was about to teach Raptors players something foreign to them: defense. Toronto finished 30th in points allowed the year before and were in desperate need of a coach who could tighten that up. But even with the excitement, Toronto still found itself on the outside looking in. On draft night Colangelo would be ridiculed for drafting Jonas Valanciunas. Fans were fed up with the selection of another “foreigner” who was a year away from playing in the league.

With another high draft pick, Toronto selected Terrance Ross from the University of Washington. The summer prior to the 2012-2013 season, Kyle Lowry was brought over from the Houston Rockets for a first round pick. Little did they know, but not landing Steve Nash may have been the best thing for the organization long-term. With a core of Lowry, DeRozan, Valanciunas, Ross, Casey, and new general manager Masai Ujiri – Toronto was ready to win.


With no expectations to succeed, the Raptors were one trade away from success or failure. Ujiri picked success. In a mid-season deal, the GM would package Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings for a collection of players including Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes. The losses quickly turned to wins and by the all-star break Toronto was looking like a playoff team for the first time in years. The season came to an end at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets in Game 7 of the first round. It was hard to swallow, but for a team with no expectations, it was pretty darn good. That same year Drake became the global ambassador and #WeTheNorth was born.

Finally, the Raptors had an identity.

An identity they carried into the 2014-2015 season. With a veteran like Amir Johnson and signings such as Lou Williams and James Johnson, the roster is deeper than ever before.

Prior to a game in Detroit against the Pistons Friday, thousands of Raptors fans throughout the Palace could be heard singing the Canadian National Anthem. Landry Fields thanked the fans for coming out and said: “Hands down, best fans in the league.”

The ACC sells out each game. It’s not your traditional NBA atmosphere, it has a collegiate feel to it. Simply put, Raptors fans are some of the best/craziest in the association.


For the first time in a long time, there are expectations to succeed, to be the best in the Atlantic, and for some to be the best in the East. So far, those expectations have been met.

Toronto has had an easy schedule thus far, but regardless, a 22-6 record doesn’t just happen with a lot of home games. Perhaps the true test for this team will come over the next six games, all on the road against tough competition. They haven’t been challenged yet, now they are. The trip begins Monday in Chicago and doesn’t conclude until Jan. 4 in Phoenix.

With DeRozan nursing a groin injury, role players are needed to step up during the six-game stretch. But adversity builds character, and Toronto has dealt with a lot of adversity.

This road trip matters, a lot. In the words of Raptors color analyst Jack Armstrong: “Just win baby!”

It’s been a roller coaster ride for the franchise over the last decade, but eventually the ride has to lift off the ground. They’ve paid their dues, now it’s their time.

Brett Poirier is a contributor to Sheridan Hoops.

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10 Fast Facts from Last Night’s Games — Davis Posts 38 Points, Toronto Stays Hot, Cleveland Beats Memphis Mon, 22 Dec 2014 03:38:19 +0000

ogdenWith the NFL stealing headlines, the 2014-15 NBA regular season continued on Sunday, December 21. There were nine games featuring 18 teams, with a number of star-caliber players putting up superb performances.

Here’s how it all transpired.

1. Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Anderson Varejao and Dion Waiters combined for a stellar performance as the Cleveland Cavaliers took down the Memphis Grizzlies 105-91. James had 25 points and 11 assists, Waiters scored 21 points, Varejao tallied 18 points, Irving put up 17 points and 12 dimes, and all four shot above 50 percent from the field.

James has registered at least 10 assists in eight games in 2014-15. He did it seven times in 2013-14.

2. Kyle Lowry posted 22 points, nine assists, four rebounds and three steals to lead the Toronto Raptors past the New York Knicks 118-108. Louis Williams scored 22 points and Greivis Vasquez had 21 to help the Raptors’ scoring attack, while Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 28 points.

Toronto has won six straight games and is tied for an NBA-best 22 wins.

3. At 5-25, the Knicks are off to the worst 30-game start in franchise history.

4. Anthony Davis out-dueled Russell Westbrook to help the New Orleans Pelicans defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder 101-99. Davis put up 38 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks and a steal, while Westbrook had 29 points, eight assists, five rebounds and three steals for OKC.

The Thunder fall to 6-13 in games played without Kevin Durant. They’re 7-2 when he’s active.

5. Darren Collison, DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Ben McLemore combined for 95 points on 34-of-65 shooting to lead the Sacramento Kings past the Los Angeles Lakers 108-100. Cousins had 29 points and 14 rebounds, Gay had 24 points, McLemore put up 23 points and eight boards, and Darren Collison finished with 19 points for the Kings.

Sacramento is 10-7 with Cousins and 2-8 without him.

6. Seven players scored in double-figures to lead the Phoenix Suns past the Washington Wizards 104-92. John Wall led the Wizards with 14 points, eight assists, five rebounds and three steals, but it was Phoenix which handed Washington a rare home loss.

Phoenix completes its three-game road trip with wins in every game.

7. Jarrett Jack and Mason Plumlee both had double-doubles to help the Brooklyn Nets get past the Detroit Pistons 110-105. Andre Drummond had 18 points and 20 rebounds for Detroit, but it was Plumlee’s 21 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks and two steals, and Jack’s 15 points and 10 assists which led Brooklyn to victory.

Brooklyn snapped a three-game losing streak with this win.

8. Luol Deng stepped up with 23 points as the short-handed Miami Heat took down the Boston Celtics 100-84. Both Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were absent, but the Heat still managed to overcome 22 points in 25 minutes from Tyler Zeller.

James Ennis had career-best marks of 16 points and eight rebounds in 26 minutes for the Heat.

9. C.J. Miles led the Indiana Pacers with 28 points in a 100-96 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. Mo Williams put up 24 points and 10 assists, and Shabazz Muhammad tallied 21 points and 10 rebounds for the Timberwolves.

Minnesota has lost five consecutive games.

10. Michael Carter-Williams scored 21 points and three players had double-doubles to help the Philadelphia 76ers pick up a surprising win. Victor Oladipo scored 23 points and Nikola Vucevic had 19 points and 17 rebounds, but the Orlando Magic fell 96-88.

Philadelphia has won three games since December 3. It was 0-17 going into December 3.

Bonus Fact: At 19-6, the Washington Wizards are tied for their best 25-game start in franchise history.

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Eurohoops: Top 2015 Draft prospects, Mario Herzonja and Aleksandar Vezenkov Sun, 21 Dec 2014 17:58:28 +0000

MitnickThis past week, the first stage of the major European competitions, the Euroleague, Eurocup and Eurochallenge group stages, came to a close.

The final week of the Euroleague finished with a bang, with Unics Kazan failing to reach the top 16 despite having a high-budget roster featuring Keith Langford, after being upset by fellow Russian squad Nizhny Novgorod, who were playing without their star guard Taylor Rochestie.

Although most of the European basketball community may be focusing on Europe’s top competitions, NBA scouts would be best to focus on the outstanding play of a pair of 19 year olds, Mario Herzonja and Aleksandar Vezenkov, whose names are sure to heat up as we draw closer to the 2015 NBA draft in June.

Herzonja has been highly regarded by scouts for quite some time, dominating International Junior tournaments in the summer of 2011, drawing the interest of Spanish powerhouse Regal Barcelona, who scooped up the young swingman at 17 years old.

Mario-Hezonja-jugador-del-Barc_54403695769_54028874188_960_639Since 2012, Herzonja has been developing quietly during the season, seeing very little time in his first two seasons with Barca, aside from a stint in 2012-2013 playing with their minor league affiliate, with scouts getting little opportunity to see Herzonja play in competitive situations. This past summer, Herzonja suited up for the Senior Croatian team at the World Cup, opting to ride the bench of the Senior team instead of dominating at the U20 level, or opting to play in both like Enes Kanter once did.

Going into the season, it seemed that Herzonja would be in a similar situation as Dante Exum was in this past year’s draft, with scouts remembering his brilliance from the Junior tournaments, and hearing all the rumors of his work ethic and understanding his athleticism, but without any real top level competition to get a more accurate gauge on his development.

With New Year’s just ahead, it looks safe to say that those questions have been answered. Barcelona has been able to give some extra opportunities in Euroleague to Herzonja, with the team having comfortably clinched the Top 16 round, and the results have been exciting. Herzonja has been showing off his brilliant athleticism, running the floor, throwing down sick backdoor alley oops, and showing the type of energy and poise that is very rare for a 19 year old playing at the top level of Europe.

Just over the past week, Herzonja had his career best game in the Spanish league, scoring 14 points on 4/5 from 2PT and 2/5 from 3PT, to go along with 5 rebounds and 4 assists, and followed it up with a few brilliant plays in a 9 point outing against Panathinaikos in Euroleague. These numbers may not seem so gaudy when compared to the stars of Kentucky and Duke, but playing for Barcelona is a completely different animal than college basketball, and being able to see the floor for a team like Barcelona at 19 is an outstanding accomplishment.

Herzonja will need to prove a lot over the next 6 months to prove he is truly worthy of a top 5 pick, since he likely will be stashed in Barcelona for another year or two, but he certainly is showing the signs of life that NBA teams have been waiting for. He may not be the franchise savior many are hoping Jahlil Okafor will be, but Herzonja is a quality prospect whose name sportscasters in the US should start getting comfortable with.

vezenkovAleksander Vezenkov, on the other hand, may be the best player in this season’s draft that nobody is talking about. Vezenkov has stepped up his game this season, averaging career highs across the board, with 16.8 points on 55.2% 2PT and 48.4% 3PT, and 8.6 rebounds. While Vezenkov’s main weapon is his spot up jump shot, the lefty forward has become almost unstoppable when driving left. Vezenkov does a great job at building momentum on his way to the basket, and when he gets a step or has the ball in transition, he is very tough to stop without fouling.

At 6’9” Vezenkov has the size and skill level to play both forward spots, although his lack of lateral quickness will probably limit him to defending 4’s exclusively at the NBA level. While Herzonja is a lottery prospect playing a bench role on a powerhouse team, Vezenkov, the son of former Bulgarian basketball star Sasha Verznkoz, is starring for Aris Thessaloniki, where he is in his 6th season with the club after leaving his home country Bulgaria to join their junior team at 14 years old.

Aris is one of the more unique clubs in Europe, and it actually may have been the most ideal place for a player like Vezenkov to develop. Aris was once one of the top teams in Greece, with a rich tradition in the Greek league, and a regular competitor in the Euroleague or Eurocup competitions, before the European financial crisis crippled the team. Over the last several years, Aris has been more known for their debts and FIBA sanctions than they have been for their play on the floor.

However, despite having sanctions from FIBA that prevented the team from signing new foreigners, Aris was able to stay competitive in both the Greek League and Greek Cup behind the strength of their local players, giving Vezenkov an opportunity to grow into “the man” that he may not have become if the team had been able to sign a few top American players in recent years.

Even more so, Aris is a club with borderline psychotic fans that make the Cameron Crazies look like a bunch of sissies, who not only fuel their team to unlikely home victories with their intense energy, but also force their players to give everything they have out of fear of what the fans may do if they don’t feel the players are giving their maximum.

Greek fans, especially Aris supporters, are far different from American basketball fans. While a typical American fan comes to a game to see the stars, dunks, highlights and buzzer beaters, Aris fans want to see competitiveness, aggressiveness, grittiness and high IQ basketball. If the crowd thinks you’re being lazy, or that you’re a stupid player, they will be sure to let you know, possibly by pelting a battery at your head. To put it short, if you play for Aris, you have no choice but to leave everything out on the floor, because it simply will not end well for you if you don’t.

Not only has Vezenkov gotten to star for his Greek league team, he also starred this past summer for both Bulgaria’s Senior National team in the Eurobasket qualifications, and the U20 team in the European Championships. While Vezenkov dominated in the U20 tournament, leading the tournament in both points and rebounds, with 19.1 PT and 11.2 REB, his play with the senior team was perhaps even more impressive. With the senior team Vezenkov averaged a team leading 17.3 points and 6.3 rebounds, including going off for 29 points and 13 rebounds against Israel, and emerging as the leader of Bulgaria’s senior national team for the foreseeable future.{CBB46306-0559-41D4-9A90-EC243F73A31A}big_h

Vezenkov may not have the elite athleticism to make himself a blue chip prospect; there is no denying the incredible accomplishments he has made through his opportunities in his young career. Despite his perceived athletic shortcomings, Vezenkov plays with the spirit and competitiveness of a true winner, which oftentimes is the unknown variable in a prospect that determines whether a player will reach his true potential, or ends up being Tim Thomas.

If Vezenkov were to not enter the draft, and produce at this level next season with one of the Greek powerhouses Olympiacos or Panathinaikos, or were to head to Turkey to one of their high budget teams, Vezenkov could be a likely lottery pick in 2016.

However, if Vezenkov enters the draft this summer, there could be a team at the end of the first round or early in the second round, who could find themselves sitting on the next Eurosteal.




AJ Mitnick is an American living in Israel and working as an assistant coach in the Israeli Basketball Winner League. A graduate of IDC Herzliya, Mitnick is an assistant coach with Bnei Herzliya, following three seasons with Maccabi Rishon-Lezion. Follow him on Twitter.


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Fantasy Spin: Kings & Wolves Potential Bargains Sun, 21 Dec 2014 16:06:08 +0000

KentBig Sunday? Nine NBA games are scheduled, seven of them starting at 6:00 or 7:00 ET. DraftKings does offer All-Day contests that close at 3:30 and include the two matinees, then the majority of DFS action is in the evening.

The Raptors had to go to overtime a week ago for a 95-90 win in New York, and they must board a plane for Chicago right after this game. Just saying, an apparent mismatch might be closer (and lower-scoring) than expected. The Knicks lost at home last night, Carmelo Anthony $10300 (ankle) is not 100% and while Jose Calderon $4300 might get a warmer welcome from fans than many former Toronto players who return, he’s no match for Kyle Lowry $10200.

Memphis visits Cleveland in a terrific real-life matchup that is not exactly teeming with fantasy bargains. Each team’s Big Three has earned their lofty salaries — though Zach Randolph $7900 (knee) is questionable — but playoff-like intensity does not lead to easy buckets or a high score.

My advice, free as always and worth every penny, is to enter a few All-Day events with lineups that ignore both early games.

lineup-1221Oddly enough, the Timberwolves have three very interesting guys at the SF position. Shabazz Muhammad $5800 has inherited a starting role after the trade of Corey Brewer, rookie Andrew Wiggins $5500 is due to get hot (just 9-for-31 in his last three) and Chase Budinger $3000 could be the best play of all. His minutes jumped from single digits to 28 in the first game post-trade, and he hit three triples en route to 19 points, 4 boards, a steal and a block. I also like Thaddeus Young $6700 and Gorgui Dieng $6800 today and am avoiding the Pacers, who absolutely stunk last night in Denver, scoring the grand total of 73 points on lights-out 30.7% shooting, as in perhaps the arena lights were out.

Another attractive DFS game that means very little in real life is Sacramento hosting the Lakers. DeMarcus Cousins $10500 was much better than expected (27 PTS, 11 REB, 5 AST in 33 minutes) after missing 10 games with an illness. L.A. can’t stop the Boogie. Rudy Gay $8700 and Darren Collison $6800 are both more efficient when DMC is on the floor and Ben McLemore $5300 was red hot on Friday. Kobe Bryant $9400 should bounce back from a poor 3-for-15 in his latest and Ed Davis $4700 finally woke up (18 PTS, 9 REB, 2 BLK) but for me, this one boils down to using Kings or nobody.

The 2-23 Sixers visit Orlando with very little chance to win. Nikola Vucevic $9100 and Tobias Harris $7700 are just too good, and Evan Fournier $5400 is a nice price. The main concern is how long the Magic starters will be needed if the score gets lopsided early.

John Wall $10400 can be used with confidence and the Suns might have trouble stopping Marcin Gortat $7000 in the paint. The Wizards are 6-point favorites, the over/under is 204 and Nene Hilario $5000 has looked healthy for two straight games if you’re bargain-hunting.

In a rare poor performance, Anthony Davis $11800 was badly outplayed last night by LaMarcus Aldridge, as the Blazers led 62-40 at halftime and 94-58 (which looks like a typo) after three quarters. Now the Pelicans hit the road to face the Thunder 24 hours later, and even if Kevin Durant $10600 (ankle) misses another game, that’s a tough matchup. Russell Westbrook $11900 is deservedly the highest-salaried player on the board, and Andre Roberson $4300 is a possible value play if KD sits out, along with Reggie Jackson $5800, who played 36 minutes off the bench on Friday.

The Celtics have a new look without Rajon Rondo and we presume they will start Jameer Nelson $4300 at PG for a while, with rookie Marcus Smart $4500 gradually taking over. There’s also a timeshare at C between starter Tyler Zeller $4600 and bench scorer Kelly Olynyk $5300, who is thriving in that role. Jared Sullinger $6600 might have broken out of a shooting slump on Friday but his salary dropped. Since losing Chris Bosh (calf) Miami has relied heavily on Dwyane Wade $8600 and so far, he’s been tremendous as the #1 (only?) option.

Off an apathetic home effort vs. Toronto, I don’t expect the Pistons to seriously challenge the Nets. Deron Williams $7500 (calf) is doubtful, making Jarrett Jack $5200 a clever spot start, but it’s Joe Johnson $6500 who will get the most extra touches and has big-game potential.

Pos Premium Midrange Bargain
PG Russell Westbrook $11900 Darren Collison $6800 Jarrett Jack $5200
SG Dwyane Wade $8600 Evan Fournier $5400 Andre Roberson $4300
SF Rudy Gay $8700 S. Muhammad $5800 Chase Budinger $3000
PF Anthony Davis $11800 Thaddeus Young $6700 Ed Davis $4700
C DeMarcus Cousins $10500 Marcin Gortat $7000 Steven Adams $4400

The Fantasy Spin features DFS advice every day of the NBA season. Follow Kent Williams @SheridanFantasy for updates.

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10 Fast Facts from Last Night’s Games — Aldridge Dominates Davis, Ellis Drops 38, Rondo Makes Mavericks Debut Sun, 21 Dec 2014 06:31:18 +0000

ogdenThe 2014-15 NBA regular season continued on Saturday, December 20 with a slate of seven games featuring 14 teams. There were major debuts, a clash between star power forwards and a number of intriguing battles.

Here’s how it all transpired.

1. LaMarcus Aldridge overwhelmed Anthony Davis as the Portland Trail Blazers blew out the New Orleans Pelicans 114-88. Aldridge finished with 27 points, 12 rebounds, two assists, three steals and two blocks, while Davis was held to seven points on 3-of-14 shooting.

Portland has won five consecutive games.

2. Aldridge is tied with Zach Randolph and John Wall with a league-best 16 double-doubles.

3. Eric Bledsoe put up 25 points and 10 rebounds as the Phoenix Suns went on the road to defeat the New York Knicks 99-90. Isaiah Thomas had 22 points and Markieff Morris scored 19, while Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 25 points and Jose Calderon had 21.

New York has lost 14 of its past 15 games.

4. Kyle Korver scored 22 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, as the Atlanta Hawks defeated the Houston Rockets 104-97 on the road. Dwight Howard put up 19 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block for Houston, while Al Horford had 14 points, eight boards, five dimes, three blocks and a steal for Atlanta.

The Hawks have won 12 of 13.

5. James Harden set a career-high with 14 assists for the Rockets.

6. Monta Ellis matched his season-high with 38 points to lead the Dallas Mavericks past the San Antonio Spurs 99-93. The Spurs were without Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker, but still managed to keep the game close until the bitter end.

San Antonio has lost four consecutive games. The last time it did that: April 1, 2011.

7. Rajon Rondo made his Mavericks debut with six points, nine assists, seven rebounds, two steals and four turnovers in 34 minutes. He shot 3-of-11 from the field and 0-for-1 from beyond the arc.

8. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick combined for 74 points and 19 assists as the Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 106-102. CP3 finished with 27 points and nine assists, Griffin had 24 points and eight dimes, and Redick tallied 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 12 points, nine rebounds, six assists and two steals for Milwaukee.

The Clippers have won seven consecutive home games. L.A. last lost at Staples Center on November 17.

9. In one of the ugliest games you’ll see all season, the Denver Nuggets defeated the Indiana Pacers 76-73. Both teams shot below 37 percent, but Ty Lawson tallied 15 points, 10 assists and three steals to give the Nuggets the minimal offensive firepower which they needed to win.

Lawson has 15 double-doubles in 2014-15. The only guard with more is John Wall.

10. Kemba Walker led a balanced attack as the Charlotte Hornets ran past the Utah Jazz 104-86. Walker scored 20 points, Al Jefferson had 19 points and 10 rebounds, Gerald Henderson tallied 17 points and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and a steal.

Charlotte is 4-5 in December. It went a collective 4-13 in October and November.

Bonus Fact: Phoenix joins the Miami Heat as the only two teams in the NBA with a record below .500 at home and above .500 on the road.

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