VIDEO: Sunday’s Daily Zap
TV: NBA TV
- Warriors coach Mark Jackson dropped a bit of a bombshell in his pre-game media session: All-Star guard Stephen Curry is fighting a minor strain in his right quad and will see limited minutes tonight and the foreseeable future. Curry will still start, as will Klay Thompson, who said he’s “feeling great” after playing just 6 minutes Friday against Atlanta due to a lower back strain.
- Curry said he originally suffered the injury in Boston on Wednesday as the Warriors finished up a six-game road trip, and he had similar discomfort against the Hawks. The problem isn’t debilitating because he uses his left leg much more often to initiate explosive movements, but it gets worse as minutes pile up on a given night. An MRI scan performed Saturday revealed the strain. “It wasn’t an impact thing,” Curry said. “Thankfully, it’s not a big part of my muscle. I’m able to play, but I don’t want it to get worse. . . . It’s good that we know, so we can manage it, have that communication between me and coach and the training staff as this next week goes on and just see how it goes.”
- Resting for long stretches makes it tough on Curry. So, he was asked, shouldn’t you just play all 48 minutes? “That was the first thing I said,” Curry joked, “but [Jackson] didn’t go for it.”
- Suns center Miles Plumlee, who has missed two straight games with a right knee sprain, is available to play, but will be coming off the bench. Plumlee started Phoenix’s first 59 contests this season.
- Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek did confirm that Wednesday is the apparent target date for the return of guard Eric Bledsoe, who hasn’t played since Dec. 30 after needing arthroscopic surgery to fix a meniscus issue in his right knee. Any chance Bledsoe could play tonight? “I don’t think so,” Hornacek said. “It’d be a surprise to me.” Hornacek plans to work Bledsoe in off the bench, at least initially.
- With Phoenix (36-25) chasing Golden State (39-24) in the Western Conference standings, there’s an additional layer of importance to this game from a postseason standpoint; a win at Oracle would give the Suns a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Warriors by virtue of a 3-1 win in the teams’ season series.
– Geoff Lepper
TV: League Pass
- Among the top teams in the first half of the season, Indiana has fallen on tough times of late, losing three consecutive games for the first time in the 2013-14 campaign. Its calling card early in the season, the league’s top defense has allowed 100 points in back-to-back games and is allowing 110 points per game since the All-Star break. Opposing teams are shooting a robust 45.6 percent from 3-point range in the last six games, a fact that does not bode well for the Pacers as it travels to take on Dallas, one of the league’s top shooting teams.
- Dallas was riding its own three-game losing skid, before edging Portland 103-98 on Friday night. After jumping out to a 30-point lead in the first half, the Mavs allowed the Blazers to fight back and take a lead before securing the victory.
- Dallas played arguably its best game of the season in the teams’ first matchup of the season, as the Mavericks pulled out an 81-73 win on the road against Indiana Feb. 12. Known for its prowess on the offensive end, it was the Mavericks defense that led the way, holding Indiana to just 32.1 percent shooting from the field while forcing 16 turnovers.
- Entering play just 27 points away from passing John Havlicek for 12th place on the all-time scoring list, Dirk Nowitzki will be the focal point of the Pacers defense. In the teams’ first matchup, the 12-time All-Star tallied 18 points and shot 50 percent.
TV: League Pass
- Tonight’s match-up features two teams on a roll, but only one likely to make the playoffs. Toronto is 8-2 in their last ten and is hanging onto the third seed in the East, while Minnesota has won 7 of 9 but remains five games behind Dallas and Phoenix for the final spot in the West. Even though Toronto is locked into the playoffs at this point, every game matters as they are only two games ahead of Washington for the fifth spot – a decidedly unfavorable seed that will be “rewarded” with a first-round match-up against Miami or Indiana.
- Minnesota has emphasized fast starts offensively throughout the year, lamenting their lack of opening energy against New York in Wednesday’s loss before rebounding with an early blow-out of Detroit on Friday. The start might prove the key tonight as Toronto has held their opponent below 100 points in their last eight non-overtime games. The Raptors won seven of those contests.
- Toronto’s backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan poses a offensive nightmare for opponents. Lowry is an ongoing triple-double threat, and DeRozan can fill it up in bunches having scored 30+ points in three of his last four. DeRozan is hardly one-dimensional as he also had six assists in each of the games he scored 30 or more.
- By contrast, Minnesota leans heavily on its bruising tandem up front of Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic. Love would likely be in the top three for MVP with Kevin Durant and LeBron James if the Wolves were in contention, and Pekovic can be a beast on the offensive boards where he’s tied for third in the league with four a game. The second-chance points are critical to a Wolves team that often struggles with its outside shooting.
- Pekovic continues to be on a minutes restriction in his return from ankle bursitis, though what that restriction is seems a bit cloudy. Minnesota’s training staff puts the number at 20 minutes, but Pek has regularly played more than that since his return. “Ahh….he (the trainer) told me 20, I kind of hedged it to 27….I was never good at math,” said Rick Adelman before the game.
- Super-sub Patrick Patterson is out for the next 7-10 games after re-aggravating an elbow injury in Friday night’s game. His absence could prove critical as Toronto’s deep bench looks to exploit the much-maligned Wolves’ reserves that killed all momentum in the comeback attempt against the Knicks and nearly coughed up a massive lead against Detroit. “It’s huge (Patterson’s loss) because of how he stretches the floor and the things he brings to the table. We are going to miss him, but now is the opportunity for someone else. Everybody stays prepared…..next guy up has to got to be ready to step in and take up those minutes and produce,” said Dwane Casey.
– Peter Kapsner
TV: League Pass
- Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum was fitted for a protective mask Saturday after suffering a nasal contusion during Friday’s loss at Dallas, but the 6-foot-8 forward said he does not plan to wear it Sunday against the Rockets.
- Houston’s Patrick Beverley, who will sport a mask during Sunday’s contest to shield his broken nose, gave Portland All-Star Damian Lillard all he could handle in the point guards’ previous encounters this season. In two games against the Rockets with Beverley in the lineup, Lillard has shot 8-for-27 (29.6 percent) from the field and knocked down only four of 12 3-point attempts.
- Blazers coach Terry Stotts said he does not plan to double-team center Dwight Howard because of his respect for Houston’s perimeter shooting and ability to penetrate. That means Robin Lopez will draw the daunting assignment of containing Howard, who has averaged 28.3 points on 66.0 percent shooting and 14.0 rebounds against Portland this season, in one-on-one situations. “[Lopez] takes the challenge,” Stotts said. “As much as he does battle and compete, we have to do a better job of helping him. … They lead the league in 3-point attempts, so it’s a priority. They’re a very efficient team, and you have to kind of hedge your bets. If you start double-teaming and rotating, and now they’re driving to the basket and shooting 3s, I think it just opens up a lot more opportunities. We need to help [Lopez] more by clogging the paint, but I think double-teaming and opening up all the other options is not suited for us.”
- The Rockets (43-19) need a victory to win the season series with the Blazers (42-20) and secure the head-to-head tiebreaker for playoff seeding if these clubs finish the regular season with the same record. Portland has not experienced much success in Houston over the last decade, dropping 15 of its last 18 visits, including a 126-113 setback Jan. 20. “We need to get stops to fast break, and if we get our defense down and limit our turnovers, usually we can generate what we want against them,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said. “We’ve been getting better at trying to impose our will with pace and really carrying out defensive assignments and getting that second and third effort on the defensive end.”
– Matt Miller
TV: League Pass
- Tonight marks the return of Reggie Evans to the Barclays Center after Evans and Jason Terry were dealt to the Kings for Marcus Thornton. Evans met with the media for just under ten minutes and talked about how the trade was harder on him from a family perspective than a personal one. “At the end of the day, I’m living out my dream,” Evans said. “Which is to play in the NBA. That’s the best way to look at it. ”
- As for Thornton, he has alternated hot and cold shooting performances recently, scoring 20 against the Grizzlies on Wednesday and 25 in Milwaukee last Saturday night, while struggling against Boston on Saturday and Chicago on Monday.“He’s a guy who can put a lot of pressure on the defense,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said.
- Kevin Garnett will miss his fifth straight game with back spasms.
– Jake Appleman
TV: NBA TV
- Avery Bradley is on track to rejoin the Celtics lineup Friday against the Suns, as he continues to recover from a recurring right ankle injury that has sidelined for 16 of Boston’s last 19 games. “I ended up coming back too early,” Bradley acknowledged of his first return from the ankle injury back in February, “and kind of made it worse. That’s all it is. We’re just nursing it and taking our time so it doesn’t happen again. Because you know when you have one ankle sprain, you’re more likely to have another one right after.”
- Chris Babb’s 10-day contract with the Celtics is set to expire at midnight, but head coach Brad Stevens is hopeful that his team signs the swingman to another contract this week. “I hope like heck he’s back with us Monday,” Stevens said. “He’s a perfect fit for what we need. He’s not going to play 38 minutes a game, he’s going to come in, get open shots, hopefully knock those open shots down, play off other people, and be a feisty defender for us. He really is an outstanding defender for a young guy.”
- The Pistons have dropped nine of their last 11 games, including two in a row last week. Josh Smith has particularly struggled during that span, shooting a meager 39.3 percent from the field and 22.7 percent from downtown over his past 10 games. Despite the tough stretch, Detroit remains just three games out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
- Boston has lost both head-to-head matchups with the Pistons this year, largely due to the Pistons’ major size edge on the front line. ”They are huge,” Stevens explained. “And they’ve given us problems because of that. Smith, Greg Monroe and [Andre] Drummond are as big of a frontline as there is. And we’ve struggled with it, to be honest, we’ve struggled with it.”
– Brian Robb
TV: League Pass
- The Pelicans have 20 games left this season and with an eye towards the future, it would seem that coach Monty Williams would be willing to widen his rotations to get younger players more minutes. But that’s not necessarily the case, he said Sunday. “It’s all feel and circumstance right now. Different guys like Luke (Babbitt) haven’t gotten a chance to play because of the different lineups,” Williams said. “He doesn’t understand the wing position and thus we’ve tried to keep him at the four.”
- New Orleans (25-37) is 1-1 against Denver this season but won the last meeting 105-89 on Dec. 27. Williams said the key in that win, which will be important Sunday, will be getting back in transition. “We got out and ran the last time here and I think a lot of it was we got stops,” Williams said. “We have to keep them out of transition. We’ve got to keep (Kenneth) Faried and (J.J.) Hickson off the glass and Wilson Chandler is about as underrated a player as you’re going to see in the NBA.”
- Denver’s Ty Lawson will play in his fourth game since returning from a rib fracture. In the prior three games, he’s averaging 27 points, 11.7 assists and four rebounds. “As long as he continues to make the right decisions shooting the ball in the rhythm of the offense when he has the shots and stays with that energy and aggressiveness that he plays with, I’m happy to see his game grow and start to blossom,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said.
- Offense hasn’t been the problem for Denver (27-34) this season, averaging 103.3 points this season. It’s the other side that’s the issue; Denver is giving up 105.6 points this year. Part of that, Shaw said, is the style the team plays. “We obviously are trying to push the ball and get it up the floor and strike before the defense gets set,” Shaw said. “I think just mentally, because sometimes it comes so easy because we are running, we relax on the defensive side, too, and allow teams to push it back on us or get second shots.”
– Bradley Handwerger
- The Lakers will add some size to their starting lineup when they host the Thunder today at Staples Center. Ryan Kelly, a 6-11 rookie out of Duke, will start at power forward, 6-7, 215-pound Wes Johnson will slide to small forward, where his main assignment will be trying to guard Kevin Durant, and 6-5 Kent Bazemore will come off the bench. Kelly has shown he can play well in spurts and he’s coming off his first double-double of the season, a 24-point, 11-rebound performance in Friday night’s loss in Denver. The remaining starters for the Lakers are center Pau Gasol and guards Kendall Marshall and Jodie Meeks. Nick Young and Jordan Hill remain sidelined with sore knees, while Kobe Bryant (knee) and Steve Nash (back) are still rehabilitating their long-term ailments. The Lakers begin the day in last place in the Western Conference standings, a game behind the Jazz. The Thunder can reclaim sole possession of first in the West with a victory as co-leader San Antonio is off until Tuesday.
- Oklahoma City guard Derek Fisher played 12 1/2 seasons during two stints with the Lakers, won five championships and was on the team when Staples Center opened its doors in 1999. If he follows through on his pledge to retire after this season, Fisher will be playing his final game at Staples Center. “He’s one of the greatest winners this game has ever seen,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said before the game. Fisher hasn’t shown any drop off in his game lately, which might explain why his teammates are already trying to persuade him to return for a 19th season. He’s shooting 51.3 percent from 3-point range over the last 21 games, third-best over that span behind Trevor Ariza of the Wizards and Kyle Korver of the Hawks.
– Dan Arritt
- The Miami Heat are trying to avoid their second three-game losing streak of the season. They last lost three in a row, all on the road, Jan. 9-15 to the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards. This time they have lost two in a row at Houston and at San Antonio. Still, they are 19-12 on the road this season, and only two teams (San Antonio and Oklahoma City) have less road losses. In their two most recent losses, the Heat gave up 39 and 37 points in the first quarter. “When you are playing a very good team on the road in their building, you have to set a tone, (establish) your identity and will on the game,’’ said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. “It’s crazy numbers we are giving up. That won’t get it done on the road, and certainly won’t get it done today.”
- Bulls center Joakim Noah is now 26th in the league in assists per game with 4.8, and he has registered two triple-doubles in the Bulls’ last four games. But teams have adjusted to his ability to pass out of the high post, and he had six turnovers and six assists in the Bulls’ loss to Memphis Friday night. “He’s got to see how the defense is playing him,’’ Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.
- Bulls guard D.J. Augustin has made his last 23 free throws and 58 of his last 59 and now leads the NBA in free-throw shooting with 91.6 percent (131 for 143). He has passed Dallas veteran Dirk Nowitzki, who has attempted twice as many free throws as Augustin.
- The Heat have nine players on their 15-man roster with at least 10 years of NBA experience.
- The Bulls are 6-1 against Miami (and LeBron James) in their last seven games at the United Center. When the Bulls beat the Heat by 20 points 107-87 Dec. 5 it stood as Miami’s worse loss of the season until they lost to San Antonio Thursday 111-87. In the last eight games against the Bulls, including playoffs, James has averaged just 22.5 points per game and shot 45 percent from the field. Against the reset of the league, James has average 27.0 points and shot 56 percent over the same time period.
– Kent McDill