News and notes from around the NBA:
Blatt out, Lue in
Despite sitting atop the Eastern Conference in first place, the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday fired coach David Blatt. General Manager David Griffin said “decisions often make themselves” in the team’s announcement. Perhaps the Cavs’ 132-98 loss Monday night, in Cleveland, to the Golden State Warriors was the final straw in Blatt’s brief tenure — despite his having helped the team to the Finals in 2015 as a rookie NBA coach.
Steve Kerr back
After sitting out the Warriors’ first 43 games, Coach Steve Kerr returned to the sidelines after recovering from multiple back surgeries. Kerr, whose team defeated Blatt and the Cavaliers in the Finals last June, benefited from excellent work by assistant Luke Walton, who served as interim coach in Kerr’s absence. Walton’s 40-3 “record” to start the season goes entirely on Kerr’s resume.
Despite his official record of 0-0, Walton is under consideration by the NBA to coach in the All-Star game on Feb. 18. Even with the Warriors owning the top record in the Western Conference, Kerr is ineligible to coach two years in a row, after guiding the West to a 163-158 victory in 2015. The NBA is still working to determine if Walton will get the nod over Gregg Popovich, coach of the second-place San Antonio Spurs. Meanwhile, Lue is expected to be on the East’s bench in Blatt’s stead.
On Thursday, the NBA announced 10 All-Star starters including Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry (Warriors), Kawhi Leonard (Spurs) and the dynamic pair of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook from the Oklahoma City Thunder for the West. The East will be represented by James (Cavaliers), Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks), Paul George (Indiana Pacers), Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors) and Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat).
Worthy All-Star reserves
The NBA’s 30 coaches will add seven reserves to each All-Star squad. Deserving candidates in the West include the Clippers’ Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, James Harden (Houston Rockets), Klay Thompson and Draymond Green (Warriors), Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans), DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings) and Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers). But one of the above will be snubbed — presumably Lillard.
For the East, likely candidates include Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol (Chicago Bulls), Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons), John Wall (Washington Wizards), DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors), Paul Millsap (Atlanta Hawks) and Chris Bosh (Miami Heat). And honorable mention to an eighth contender, Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas.
After undergoing hip surgery on Dec. 21, Milwaukee Coach Jason Kidd is planning to return to the bench Tuesday when the Bucks host the Orlando Magic. The Bucks started the season slowly, winning 11 of their first 29 games under Kidd. Assistant Joe Prunty, who coached the team in Kidd’s absence, helped them win eight of 16 through Friday. The 13th-place Bucks have significant competition in the East but are still in contention for a playoff berth.
Celebrating MLK on the court
The NBA celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday with four overtime games — two that went to double overtime. Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker scored a career-high 52 points in a win over the Utah Jazz. Clippers guard J.J. Redick scored a career-best 40 against Houston. Rockets center Dwight Howard also put up monster numbers in his team’s loss to the Clippers, scoring 36 points with 26 rebounds.
San Antonio at Golden State
When: Monday at 7:30 PST.
Fourteen weeks into the season and we finally have a showdown between the last two NBA champions and the current two best teams in the West. It’s a fascinating strategic matchup, with the Spurs’ reliance on their dominant frontcourt of Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard versus the Warriors’ sharpshooting backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Over the last three seasons, though, including one playoff series, the Spurs have dominated this rivalry with a 12-5 record against Golden State.
— Barry Stavro