News and notes from around the NBA:
Winning, not whining
The NBA reaffirmed that Luke Walton, serving as interim head coach of the Golden State Warriors, will not be credited with any of the Warriors’ wins on his individual coaching record. Instead, all the team’s wins will be credited to Coach Steve Kerr, who has been sidelined since before the start of the season while recovering from back surgery. There is no date for Kerr’s return.
But on Tuesday the league honored Walton by naming him Western Conference coach of the month. Given how well Walton has guided his team without Kerr, look for the former Lakers forward to find many suitors this off-season as they look to hire head coaches. Unfortunately for Walton, wherever he lands next season, Stephen Curry won’t be coming with him.
Help on the way
Cleveland Cavaliers Coach David Blatt was named coach of the month for the Eastern Conference. Blatt has been able to keep the Cavaliers among the top teams in the league, despite the absence of two starters, All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and talented defender Iman Shumpert.
Irving suffered a fractured kneecap that knocked him out of the NBA Finals. Shumpert has been recovering from wrist surgery. Both could be back on the floor by Christmas. Veteran guard Mo Williams has filled in well for Irving, as has 25-year-old Australian Matthew Dellavedova. Meanwhile, veterans J.R. Smith and Richard Jefferson have stood in for Shumpert.
Waiting for Gobert
The Utah Jazz are hoping to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2012, bolstered by an intimidating defensive pairing of center Rudy Gobert, and power forward Derrick Favors. That goal might be more difficult after the 7-foot-1 Gobert suffered a sprain of his medial collateral ligament in his left knee at practice Wednesday, sidelining the 23-year old indefinitely. While the team will rely on Trevor Booker, Jeff Withey and rookies Trey Lyles and Tibor Pleiss in Gobert’s absence, their defense undoubtedly will suffer.
Big at point
At 5 feet 9, Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas is a bit of a novelty, but the 60th pick in the 2011 draft continues to shine in his fifth season in the league. Originally picked by the Sacramento Kings, Thomas has found a home in Boston, where he is starting in place of injured Marcus Smart. In his first 19 games, Thomas is leading the Celtics in scoring (20.8) and assists (6.3). When Smart does return, he might find Thomas has locked up the starting position at point guard.
The 2016 NBA draft isn’t until June, but that won’t stop early speculation, especially for downtrodden Lakers fans. On Tuesday, 19-year old Ben Simmons made an early case for the top pick. The Louisiana State freshman forward, originally from Australia, scored 43 points with 14 rebounds, seven assists, five assists and three blocks in a 119-108 win over North Florida. The 6-10 Simmons has size and skill reminiscent of two-time Lakers champion Lamar Odom.
Kobe farewell a zoo
The news that Kobe Bryant will retire after the season dominated the NBA over the last week. Former teammates and rivals alike paid their respects, from Pau Gasol and Shaquille O’Neal to LeBron James and Allen Iverson. The Lakers may not have many wins, but they’ve become a must-watch team, as long as their longtime All-Star stays healthy in his final trek through the league.
The Atlanta Hawks took the Kobe farewell tour to another level before the Lakers’ visit on Friday, joining with Zoo Atlanta to name its black mamba snake “Kobe” in honor of the five-time champion’s “Black Mamba” nickname.
Looking ahead: Miami Heat at Indiana Pacers
Friday at 4 p.m. PST. TV: ESPN.
In the LeBron James era, the Heat eliminated the Pacers in the playoffs three consecutive years en route to the NBA Finals. Then James took his talents back to Cleveland and last season the Heat missed the playoffs, as did the Pacers after star forward Paul George broke his leg. Miami has rebounded, though, securing point guard Goran Dragic to a long-term deal, and rookie forward Justise Winslow is already making an impact. Meanwhile, George has been dominant since his return. So both the Heat and Pacers are hoping to regain their footholds among the Eastern Conference elite.
Follow Eric Pincus on Twitter @EricPincus