New and notes from around the NBA:
TRENDING . . .
Cut-down deadline nears
With 30 teams in the NBA, each with a typical maximum roster size of 15 players, the league has 450 jobs available each season. Roughly 410 players currently have fully guaranteed contracts, and the nearly 40 with nonguaranteed deals will have their fates sealed Friday. The NBA's official cut-down date is technically next Sunday, but teams need to let players go 48 hours before that, to allow for the two-day waiver period.
The Lakers will need to decide on the contracts of Metta World Peace ($1.5 million), Tarik Black ($845,059) and Marcelo Huertas ($525,093). The Clippers are likely to keep starting small forward Luc Mbah a Moute, whose $1.3 million for the season will lock in after 2 p.m. deadline Thursday. Others around the league facing cut-down decisions include Dallas' JaVale McGee, Philadelphia's recent trade acquisition Ish Smith, San Antonio veteran Matt Bonner, and former Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison, presently with Charlotte.
As roster spots open, they may be temporarily filled by free agents signed to 10-day contracts. Teams can start signing players to 10-day deals Tuesday. Salaries are based on a player's years of NBA experience, ranging from $30,888 to $88,187. A player can sign with a team only twice, for a 20-day span — after which the franchise can look to keep the player for the remainder of the season or let him go back into the free-agent pool.
Many players who will sign over the coming weeks and months are currently in the NBA Development League. Starting Wednesday, the D-League will hold a five-day showcase with all 19 teams playing two games apiece in Santa Cruz. Some of the top prospects include Jimmer Fredette, Earl Clark, Vander Blue, Sean Kilpatrick, Elliot Williams, Ronald Roberts, Jeff Ayres and Manny Harris.
The Phoenix Suns, who were already struggling to win in the Western Conference, were dealt a significant setback when former Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee last Saturday. Bledsoe will sit out the rest of the season after undergoing the third knee surgery of his NBA career.
Phoenix has lost eight consecutive games to fall to 12-24, 13th in the West. Since missing the 2014 playoffs with 48 wins, the Suns have lost the chemistry that made them one of the league's exciting young teams. While Coach Jeff Hornacek is trying to pull his team up out of the prolonged skid, the front office let go of two of his assistants, Jerry Sichting and Mike Longabardi. Nate Bjorkgren and former UCLA guard Earl Watson were in turn promoted to bench assistants.
With 3.7 seconds left in overtime and the score tied at 100, former Lakers All-Star Pau Gasol received an inbounds pass, then lofted the ball up to teammate Jimmy Butler, whose alley-oop layup with 1.2 left on the clock sealed the Chicago Bulls' two-point win over the Indiana Pacers. It was no consolation to Indiana when, the following day, the NBA ruled that Butler should have been called for an offensive foul for making contact with Paul George while shooting. Despite the non-call, the Pacers still get the loss.
Burks, Jefferson sidelined
Utah lost guard Alec Burks indefinitely after he suffered a broken fibula. Burks, who is averaging 14.3 points a game and shooting 38.7% from three-point range, underwent surgery Tuesday. The hope is he'll be healthy soon after the All-Star break in mid-February. Meanwhile, Charlotte center Al Jefferson is also out roughly six weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery Thursday. Jefferson has averaged 12.5 points and 6.1 rebounds this season, well off his career norms.
NBA top scorers
Golden State guard Stephen Curry is the league's leading scorer, averaging 30.5 points a game through Friday. Behind him was Houston guard James Harden at 28.4. Oklahoma City could boast of having the third- and fourth-leading scorers, forward Kevin Durant (26.5) and guard Russell Westbrook (25.9). Cleveland forward LeBron James rounded out the top five at 25.7. The Rockets are the only team in that group with a losing record.
MEMPHIS AT OKLAHOMA CITY
Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. PST. TV: ESPN.
These two Western Conference rivals have faced each other in the playoffs three times in the last five seasons. After missing the playoffs last season, the Thunder has revived with the healthy return of Kevin Durant, who, along with Russell Westbrook, carries the offense. Memphis is off to a slow start, but the Grizzlies' core threesome of Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Zach Randolph has weathered many tough battles against the Thunder. The teams have split their first two games this season.