No. 8 Gonzaga struggles past Cal Poly 63-50 (Yahoo Sports)

Gonzaga's Gary Bell Jr., center, reaches for the ball between Cal Poly's Aleks Abrams, left, and Kyle Toth in the first half of an NCAA basketball game Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

SEATTLE (AP) — Any mention of what might be on the horizon for No. 8 Gonzaga was put off until after its yearly visit to KeyArena.


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No. 8 Gonzaga struggles past Cal Poly 63-50

No. 8 Gonzaga struggles to shaky pesky before pulling away for 63-50 win

      
 

 

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Rondo channels Brady, accepts blame for Celtics’ struggles

 
 
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Remember two months ago, when the New England Patriots were a lackluster 2-2 and every other sports radio caller was ready to officially declare Tom Brady washed up?
That’s akin to what Rajon Rondo is going through now.
The 7-13 Boston Celtics have gotten off to a subpar start to their season — though not exactly disappointing, as expectations never were particularly high — and Rondo, the team’s captain and undisputed best player, is hearing his fair share of criticism.
To Rondo, that kind of thing comes with the territory.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” the point guard told reporters Thursday at practice, via the Boston Herald. “I’ve been here the longest, I’m the team captain and I’m the point guard. Just like in football. At the beginning, they blamed Brady a lot. That’s just part of it, and it’s not wearing on me at all.”
Rondo has been less-than-stellar in each of his last two outings, getting benched for the final 27

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Why Syracuse Basketball Fans Should Hit Panic Button After Early Struggles

Call me an instigator for stirring this pot, but I think three losses through just eight games is enough to cause some anxiety for you if you are a Syracuse basketball fan. 

Before I dig into the Orange’s problems this season, let’s put these three early losses into historical perspective first.

Previously, there had been just six times during Jim Boeheim’s 38-year coaching tenure at Syracuse that the Orange had lost three nonconference regular-season games in a year.

Out of those six seasons, Syracuse went to the NIT four times and the NCAA tournament twice.

The last time it happened, it was during the 2007-08 season, and Boeheim’s team finished 21-14 and was knocked out in the NIT quarterfinals by UMass. 

Syracuse has not failed to make the NCAA tournament since that season.

Keeping this streak alive, however, would be a great challenge for the Orange this year. 

After suffering defeats at the hands of Cal, Michigan and St. John’s over the past three weeks, Syracuse—which started the season at No. 23—did not receive a single vote in the AP Top 25 poll (most recently released on Dec. 8) for the first time in six seasons. 

The Orange’s schedule doesn’t appear to give them any breathing room in the near future, either. 

A 7-1 Louisiana Tech visits the Carrier Dome on Sunday, and seventh-ranked Villanova awaits the Orange after that.

That’s not counting the games in the rigorous ACC that currently features six teams ranked in the AP Top 25 poll.

So just exactly what is wrong with this year’s Orange?

Well, you can point to their poor shooting as one of the main culprits so far. 

Syracuse is shooting a ghastly 44.4 percent from the field as a team this season, and its number of three-pointers made (27) ranks at No. 329 among all Division I programs.

The 27 made three-pointers were out of 129 attempts, which make up a shooting percentage of just 21.1.

Trevor Cooney, who led the Orange last year with 37.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc, is making just 28.3 percent of his attempts from there this season. 

Michael Gbinije and Ron Patterson, two players who made over 30 percent of their three-pointers last season, are combining to shoot just 12.8 percent this year.

In a radio interview with ESPN Radio Syracuse’s Brent Axe, Boeheim commented on what he would like to see from his team moving forward.

I don’t think we have to be radical. We don’t have to go from making three to making 10. We have to make five or six,” Boeheim said. “You don’t, maybe, want to shoot a lot some games but if you can’t get near the basket you have to take some threes. We don’t have to make 10 of them but we have to make some of them.

Which makes me wonder just exactly what is Gerry McNamara doing with this team? But I digress.

Then there’s the development of freshman point guard Kaleb Joseph, who has been playing like, well, a freshman.

Joseph has struggled on both sides of the ball this season, committing an average of 3.3 turnovers per game and still going through the learning curves in Boeheim’s zone defense.

Look, replacing three double-figure scorers in C.J. Fair, Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant is not an easy transition to make, and no one can fault Syracuse for going through these early struggles, but for fans who have witnessed this program be so successful in the past few seasons, this year will no doubt be a downer.

Boeheim should always deserve some benefit of the doubt to turn this team around, but the ditch may already be too deep for him and his team to climb out of this season.

Oh, and there is that NCAA investigation thing going on as well, so the worst may be yet to come.

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New York Knicks: Triangle Struggles or Lack of Talent?

Stoudemire and Melo

The New York Knicks have started out this season with four wins and fifteen loses. That is astounding considering a team with a top 10 player in Carmelo Anthony should be winning at least half of their games.  The majority of the blame for this atrocious start is being placed on learning the new triangle offensive system.  I can see why some may argue that is the case, or is it something else? The Knicks struggles really lie within the lack of talent on this team.
Contract Situation
The Knicks have eight players under contract for this season only.  This could be a cause of the Knicks struggles.  The reason being is because these players may be attempting to making themselves look good over the team winning games.  Some players may be sacrificing the team in an effort to make themselves look better for their upcoming free agency.  They want a new contract the following season for the most money possible regardless of what team they play on.  Prime examples of this are Amare Stoudem

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Lethargic Cavaliers Face Steeper Struggles Than LeBron James’ Heat in 2010-11

WASHINGTON D.C. — The past is prelude, and that can sometimes serve as comfort. It’s given the Cleveland Cavaliers a cushion. It’s been the primary reason that much of the national media, which mauled the Miami Heat for their sluggish start to the 2010-11 season, have been preaching patience as this latest so-called superteam stumbles out of the starting gate.

That, however, can become a crutch, an assumption that everything will be all right, merely because in a somewhat similar circumstance, it has been once before. That assumption is dangerous, since it may also be wrong.

LeBron James doesn’t believe that any outcomes are assumed, certainly not without the work, and yet even he has commonly drawn upon comparisons to the adversity he experienced four years earlier. He did so again Friday morning, when asked how he balances perspective about the process with his desire for more immediate success.

“It’s my biggest test,” he said. “My patience isn’t… I have a low tolerance for things of this nature. So it’s something I’m working on as well. Which I knew from the beginning that was going to be my biggest test, to see how much patience I got with the process. What helps me out is I’ve been through it before. But at the same, I’m a winner, and I want to win, and I want to win now. It’s not tomorrow, it’s not down the line, I want to win now. So it’s a fine line for me. But I understand what we’re enduring right now.” 

Later, in a 91-78 loss to the currently clearly superior Washington Wizards, a national television audience got a better sense of exactly what that is, and it’s not exactly, what James has gone through before. The Cavaliers are enduring the effects of a lack of cohesion, and an absence of confidence in each other. And, at this point, it’s officially more concerning than anything that long-ago Heat team went through.

For starters, that team actually started 7-4, not 5-6 as the Cavaliers have, even though everyone only remembers that Miami slipped to 9-8 on a deflating night in Dallas. That Miami team had three blowout victories in its first five games. This Cavaliers squad has had just one, in its eighth contest, against Atlanta. That Miami team didn’t lose for a third time by double digits until its 41st outing, on Jan. 13, even though it was without two of its top five projected players, Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem, for most of that time. This Cavaliers squad, which has lost one rotation guy (Matthew Dellavedova) has already lost by 19, 13 and nine, with only a Dion Waiters garbage-time jumper saving it from a double-digit defeat against Denver.

That Miami team didn’t look as lethargic, and its players didn’t look like they loathed each other, as this team and these players appear to at times. Things were messy, for sure, especially as the three established stars, adjusting to redefined roles, tripped over one another, but that never seemed to be from a lack of earnest effort.

Which brings us to Friday.

When these Cavaliers brought all their worst basketball behavior.

“Obviously, right now, we’re struggling, and we’re a little bit in the dark,” coach David Blatt said. “And we got to find our way out.”

Blatt spoke of how the defense, which has been an issue, was good enougheven though John Wall (28 points, six rebounds, seven assists) repeatedly torched Kyrie Irvingbut how the offense, which had produced point totals of 110, 118, 122 and 127 during a recent four-game winning streak, had gone awry. He referred to “irresponsible play with the ball,” including several fast-break situations where the Cavaliers couldn’t even get a shot (“not high-level basketball”). He bemoaned the tendency for the ball and bodies to stop moving after the denial of the first offensive action.

“That’s not what we’ve been doing,” Blatt said. “We’ve got to get back to doing what we were doing.”

Certainly, they won’t win anything significant by doing many of the things they did Fridayand yet, some of the errors are expected by now.

Such as Dion Waiters, part of a bench that shot a combined 3-for-16, taking three dribbles and a stepback 20-footer without ever looking at James to his right. Such as Waiters going 1-on-4 on one break, and later getting rejected by Kevin Seraphin, rather than noticing that Irving or Marion were running with him.

Such as Shawn Marion making a lazy pass, and Irving making an equally lazy run to the ball, which led to a Wall steal and dunk. Such as Kevin Love getting only eight shots, so ignored at times that he sometimes forced the action, even in transition opportunities, once wildly hooking one shot off the backboard and later plowing into Bradley Beal.

Such as Irving jamming up the half-court offense by dribbling and dribbling and dribbling some more, never getting the ball to anyone else before jacking up a contested corner jumper.

Such as James shooting under 50 percent for the eighth time in 11 games this season.

He was more efficient when he shot dirty and disappointed looks. He wasn’t the only one to sigh and slump his shouldersLove looked absolutely exasperated at times, especially on a second-quarter play when he was calling for the correct running of a play, and then the ball, only to watch Tristan Thompson bulldoze the lane for an offensive foul.

Still, the Cavaliers will take their cues from James, who has been more careful with his body language in recent years, taking that as one of the primary lessons from veteran mentors, most notably Ray Allen. But James couldn’t hide it Friday. He strolled back on one possession. After another transition miss, he hardly budged at all. He took a standstill three. In those moments, he didn’t appear to be soothed much by memories of how everything worked itself out in Miami. His admitted low tolerance for “things of this nature” seemed to be trumping his understanding of the need for patience with the process.

Blatt sat him for the final 1:24, with a game against red-hot Toronto on tap for Saturday in Cleveland. But he only cooled slightly by the time he met with the media. He said he could not explain the team’s lack of energy. He couldn’t think of a single lineup that had shown cohesiveness. He said they all needed to work on their body language, starting with himself.

“Right now, I’m frustrated,” James said. “Tomorrow I’ll be OK. It’s part of the competitive nature of who I am. It’s going to be a challenge, I knew that. I’m frustrated obviously right now, but tomorrow’s a new day. … We have some work to do.”

Then he spent the next 10 minutes facing his locker, sometimes shaking his head, sometimes pressing a towel to it, sometimes extending his arms across the top shelf, all while rarely looking up.

Maybe things will look up soon.

But he will need to look for different answers than he found in Miami.

This is a decidedly different situation.

In Miami, he had a coach who had NBA experiencetwo playoff seasons as the head manwith the organization’s full commitment. Pat Riley’s unconditional support gave that coach an opportunity the space to find his footing, even in the face of intense media pressure. And a 9-8 start turned into a 21-1 stretch.

Will Blatt, who acknowledged that some of his European teams have started slow, get the backing he needs to make his way? And to make his team believe in him?

In Miami, James had proven championship partners, starting with Dwyane Wade, to help him chart the course, players who ultimately were more concerned with collective goals, even if those ambitions came at an individual cost.

Does he have those here? Can Irving be one? Or Love another? Or is that too much to expect of two guys who, in nine combined seasons, have never made the playoffs? Can they, and their teammates, table all their losing habits?

In Miami, James had teammates who made it a mission to get him the ball in the proper spots, so he could lift his percentages, and by extension, the group as well.

Will he start getting those quality shots, consistently, here?

“Guys got to be willing to pass the ball ahead, to make good cuts, to set good screens, to move hard to their spots, to read overplays and use press release, and cut and backcut again, and keep moving,” Blatt said. “I told you, a week, 10 days ago, we were scoring the heck out of the ball. It’s not a different group.”

No, it’s not different from the Cleveland group that recently won four straight.

But it’s different than those Miami teams.

All of them. Even the first one. Even 2010-11. Even 9-8. Some of the frustration may be the same, but the solutions won’t be. There won’t truly be comfort until James finds a few of those.

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Cavs ‘need’ early struggles, already improving

LeBron James says the Cavaliers are playing better now. But that congeal

      
 

 

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Cavs ‘need’ these early struggles

LeBron James says the Cavaliers are playing better now. But that congeal

      
 

 

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Cavaliers’ Offense Showing Progress, Not Perfection After Early Struggles

DENVER — It’s only one game. 

In fact, it’s only one game against the hapless Denver Nuggets, a struggling but deep team that entered its Friday night contest with the Cleveland Cavaliers ranked No. 20 in defensive rating, allowing 106.9 points per 100 possessions. 

But during the 110-101 victory, a game that only had a single-digit margin of victory after a furious fourth-quarter rally by the Nuggets in a sold-out Pepsi Center, the Cavaliers offense showed not just signs of life but indications of dominance.

More so than during any of its first four games, Cleveland made it clear that David Blatt’s movement-heavy schemes had the potential to confuse and overwhelm opponents on a nightly basis. 

Leading into the outing, the biggest storyline seemed to center around ball movement or lack thereof. The Cavs were coming off a disappointing loss to the Utah Jazz, one in which their passing bottomed out as they only managed to generate six assists as a team. Kyrie Irving was at the epicenter of the criticism, thanks to scoring 34 points and recording a goose egg in the assist column.

Speaking of assists, the Cavs “rank last in points created by assists,” according to Devin Kharpertian of TheBrooklynGame.com:

“Not as of yet, no,” Blatt said before the game when he was asked if his offense was running in the manner he desires.

His answer might be different now. 

Against the Nuggets, the ball moved crisply. Cleveland swung the rock from side to side, probing the defense and then showcasing some brilliant passes from all areas of the half-court sets. Some of James’ skip passes in particular let to audible gasps and deservedly so.

The Cavaliers managed to isolate Kevin Love against mismatches, draw an extra defender and hit the open man—whether it took one or two passes to get the ball there. The end result was a stellar 25 dimes on 40 made shots from the field. 

In Utah, the first half was definitely not the style of basketball we want to play,” LeBron James explained after the game drew to a conclusion.

“I think from the third quarter on, six quarters straight, we’ve played basketball the way we want to play. We want to get the ball moving, we want them to feel like we’re in a rhythm, both offensively and defensively. It [the Utah game] didn’t start off too well, but it ended on the up.”

It’s hard to disagree with the four-time MVP’s assessment of his team’s performance. The highlight dunks the Cavs produced were nice, but it was more impressive to see Blatt’s offense come to life. There were enough excellently run sets to mitigate the negative feelings surrounding a 1-3 start and breathe some terror into opponents who are coming up on the schedule. 

We stressed it [ball and player movement] today at shootaround. It was a concerted effort coming off a six-assist performance in Utah, so we just stressed it from the beginning,” James, who was feeling far more cordial than he was at an intense media appearance at the team’s pregame shootaround, espoused. It’s funny what a performance that shows off everything you worked on can do to a mindframe.

“Let’s get the ball moving from side to side and get the best shot. Not a good shot. The best shot. And whoever’s the recipient of a good pass at the end, hopefully he can knock it down. We put guys in position to make shots, and it resulted in us having 25 assists on 40 field goals. That’s a pretty good ratio.”

As a frightening note for upcoming opponents, the Cavaliers could have racked up far more offensive production, which James touched on after his team’s second victory of a season that’s very much still in its infancy. 

“You’ve got to make shots first of all to have assists. I think when the ball is moving, it’s just the karma of the game—guys make shots. And even some of the shots that we didn’t make.

“Mike Miller had three threes that he didn’t make, and the ball was just hopping and popping around. It’s just the good karma of the game. You move the ball around early, you get guys feeling the ball, touching the ball, and everyone feels comfortable, and it results in having seven guys in double figures.”

Cleveland may have boasted the services of seven double-digit scorers—all five starters, plus Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson off the bench—but James and Love both struggled to knock down some of their open looks.

The former’s jumper looked flat at times, leading to a 1-of-5 outing from beyond the arc and an 8-of-18 performance from the field, largely boosted by a dominant fourth-quarter run. The latter connected on just six of his 16 attempts, misfiring on all five of his deep looks. 

The offense most assuredly showed signs of life, but they were still only signs. The consistency wasn’t quite there yet, as the star players—and Waiters—sometimes allowed the offense to devolve into ball-stopping isolation sets. 

We got stagnant a few times, including myself,” James admitted. “I played a little one-on-one basketball, and I don’t want to get too happy with that. We want to still move the ball.”

Blatt, speaking to the assembled reporters after his team’s victorious performance, shared those sentiments.

No. 1, we’re going to get better as we begin to use our offense more properly and as we begin to recognize the benefit of not holding the ball and not playing simply for isolations and for specific situations. There’s a time for equal-opportunity offense, and there’s a time for target-player offense, and I thought overall we did a pretty good job managing those talents today.”

While James was his typical dominant—though not quite MVP—self, recording a strong double-double with 18 points, seven boards and 11 dimes, it was Irving who showed the most improvement when it came to using the offense properly. But it wasn’t him making too many changes to his game.

Instead, he spent his 39 minutes on the floor taking what the offense gave him. 

I was just letting the game come to me,” the young point guard said. “If I saw a shot, I was going to shoot it. But most importantly, we had a great shootaround today. We were well-prepared—not that we weren’t in the past.”

Irving was one of many players who bought into the system on Friday night at the end of a difficult road trip. He was a willing distributor and a confident scorer, while LeBron was perfectly comfortable serving as a de facto point guard in Matthew Dellavedova’s injury-related absence.

Perhaps most importantly, Waiters accepted—and thrived in—his role as a bench player, though Blatt refused to acknowledge him as such, instead referring to him as a “second starter.”

Doing what’s in the best interest of the team was a key theme in the locker room, a sentiment echoed by James, Waiters and Irving. In fact, the starting floor general continues to claim that this is the closest team he’s been on, and it’s starting to show. 

Nonetheless, it can get better.

Just imagine when the Big Three start to fire on all cylinders and James puts together the performance we all know he’s capable of throughout an entire game, not just one half. Think about when role players are hitting even more of their open looks and the defense remains focused throughout all 48 minutes. Ponder the results of increased comfort in Blatt’s complicated offense. 

As good as the ball movement looked at times, there was still that occasional stagnation. James didn’t operate out of the pinch post as much as he should, and players driving to the basket didn’t always keep their heads up to look for open shooters on the perimeter. Plus, Blatt has yet to unveil a James-Love pick-and-pop set that’s sure to give opponents fits. 

I hope so. I believe so,” Irving said after he was asked if this was the type of excellent and ideal performance his team could produce. “I believe we can play even better games.”

After an outing that showcased just how threatening this Cleveland offense can be for prolonged stretches, one that should quell the critics who were chomping at the bit after the team’s 1-3 start, that’s probably not what the rest of the league would like to hear. It’s only one game, but sometimes that’s all it takes to change a narrative and kick off a stream of steady improvement. 

 

Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com. All quotes were obtained firsthand.

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Charlotte Hornets: Offense struggles out of the gate

All across the sporting world, offense is becoming the driving force behind victories.  Whether it is the high-flying college football offenses (looking at you Pac-12 and Big 12) or the ever increasing importance of the 3 point shot in the NBA, offense has become “King”.  The Charlotte Hornets struggled on offense last season, and through three games this season things have not gotten much better.  Last season, Charlotte finished 23rd in PPG, 25th in team FG%, and 23rd in team 3-point%. The offseason was filled with transactions that aimed to bolster the offense, but so far, these changes have yet to provide significant results.
Charlotte sits at 1-2, with losses against Memphis and the New York Knicks.  The lone win (in OT) came against the lowly Bucks, who only won 15 games last season.  I’ll quickly break down each game and provide some thoughts on ways to improve the offense.
Charlotte Hornets vs. Milwaukee Bucks
This game was MUCH closer than it should have been, and the Hornets offense is the

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