An early look at top 2013 NBA Draft prospects

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An early look at top 2013 NBA Draft prospects

Yes, it's extremely early in the college basketball season, but that doesn't mean general managers, scouts and personnel staffers aren't already paying very close attention to prospects for next June's 2013 NBA Draft. Compared to the current rookie crop, the class of players isn't considered as deep, but there are a handful of players expected to make an immediate impact upon arrival to the pros, as well as several others regarded as solid long-term role players.

It's important to note that within the present NBA landscape, the strength of the league moving forward, positionally, is at point guard and power forward. The death of dominant true centers in the league has been well-documented, but outside of future Hall of Famers Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade, the only shooting guard close to an elite level is Houston's James Harden -- and that perception only came about, in many circles, after he was traded to the Rockets and subsequently, put up superstar-type numbers -- and at small forward, while LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony rank amongst the game's best, after those names, the likes of Bulls All-Star Luol Deng, aging Boston star Paul Pierce and Memphis' Rudy Gay are viewed as good but not great players.

Still, as always, teams will often look to draft the best available talents on the board and as mentioned, even though it's very early, front offices across the league, while monitoring their team's performances, are keeping an eye on how so-called top college players are faring, as well as trying to unearth sleepers, such as Rookie of the Year frontrunner Damian Lillard of Portland, who attended mid-major Weber State. Combined with early-season returns and the opinions of various NBA personnel people, CSNChicago.com has formulated an incomplete list of 30 of the top 2013 NBA Draft prospects, along with brief breakdowns of each player's skill set.

For fans of local college hoops, there are three prospects with Illinois ties who are borderline draft prospects: Illinois senior guard Brandon Paul, a Warren High School graduate and prolific scorer, who is thriving with the ball in his hands more under new head coach John Groce; Illinois State's Jackie Carmichael, a rugged and athletic senior power forward who could lead the Redbirds to the NCAA Tournament; and Tennessee State senior forward Robert Covington, a smooth Proviso West graduate with both athleticism and three-point range, coming off a season in which he led his team to an upset of mid-major darling Murray State. However, that trio has a lot to prove before swaying the minds of NBA decision-makers, so for the time being, here's a first round's worth of players who are more sure bets to hear their names called by David Stern next June:

Isaiah Austin, 7-foot-1 freshman, Baylor: Austin must add some bulk to his spindly frame to effectively bang with the big bodies on the next level, but his length, agility, shot-blocking ability, perimeter skills and uncanny three-point touch are worth taking a gamble on early in the draft.

Anthony Bennett, 6-foot-7 freshman, UNLV: Bennett is somewhat undersized to play power forward in the NBA, but with his chiseled physique, a versatile offensive repertoire that includes a feathery outside touch, explosive athleticism and a willingness to mix it up inside, the native of Canada is regarded as a one-and-done prospect and if he can avoid nagging injuries, a lottery pick.

Lorenzo Brown, 6-foot-4 junior, North Carolina State: Brown has all the tools -- length, good court vision, size, athleticism -- to be a high-level NBA playmaker, but must improve his decision-making, outside jumper and learn how to be assertive and control the game in order to truly convince the people that matter that he's capable of running the show in the pros.

Trey Burke, 6-foot-2 sophomore, Michigan: Burke was a pleasant surprise as a freshman, to the point that he seriously considered declaring for the draft, but now that he's back on campus, he has the task of living up to his billing as arguably the nation's top floor general, a goal that he may be able to accomplish with his lottery-worthy blend of quickness, poise, playmaking ability, ability to create and outside shooting.

Deonte Burton, 6-foot-1 junior, Nevada: Burton, an explosive, under-the-radar scoring point guard, possesses NBA-level speed, athleticism and powerful finishing ability, and if he can continue putting up big scoring numbers, display the competence to effectively run the show and improve his perimeter jumper, he'll quietly raise his draft stock.

Isaiah Canaan, 6-foot-1 senior, Murray State: Canaan was the showcase player for the nation's top small-school program a year ago, impressing observers with his long-distance range, pick-and-roll acumen, pro-ready physique and top-tier toughness, but he must continue to prove he can function as a traditional point guard.

Michael Carter-Williams, 6-foot-5 sophomore, Syracuse: Carter-Williams saw virtually no action his freshman year behind senior Scoop Jardine and current Cleveland Cavalier Dion Waiters, but the slender lead guard has size, length, athleticism, court vision and smooth scoring ability that translates well to the professional level.

Willie Cauley-Stein, 7-foot freshman, Kentucky: Cauley-Stein, a football wide receiver in high school, is less heralded than fellow Wildcats freshman big man Nerlens Noel, but although he's the sixth man for his team, his length, defensive presence, ability to run the floor and long-term potential could be considered a worthwhile project.

Allen Crabbe, 6-foot-6 junior, California: Crabbe, one of the nation's best pure shooters, has become a more well-rounded scorer as he's improved his ballhandling skills, and combined with good size for his position, a solid frame and decent athleticism, his skill set could fill a need for an NBA franchise.

Jamaal Franklin, 6-foot-5 junior, San Diego State: Franklin is a high-energy, extremely athletic wing who plays bigger than his size and with improved outside shooting and a more polished perimeter game, his ability in transition and finishing at the rim projects favorably, poising him to follow in the footsteps of former teammate Kawhi Leonard of San Antonio.

Rudy Gobert, 7-foot-1, France: Gobert possesses a reported 7-foot-9 wingspan, agility for his size and predictably, outstanding shot-blocking prowess, and while he needs to add strength and offensive polish, he's still considered to be a guaranteed lock to be selected in the lottery.

Archie Goodwin, 6-foot-5 freshman, Kentucky: Goodwin may see teammates Alex Poythress and Nerlens Noel drafted higher than him, but he's likely Kentucky's most talented offensive player, a scorer with excellent athleticism and the ability to get to the rim, though his defense, outside shooting and decision-making could use honing.

Tim Hardaway Jr., 6-foot-5 junior, Michigan: Hardaway, the son of the former NBA All-Star and Chicago native of the same name, is a versatile scorer with breakdown ability off the dribble, good athleticism and deep range on his jumper, which is being scrutinized for greater consistency, viewed as the missing piece to the puzzle.

Alex Len, 7-foot-1 sophomore, Maryland: Len, who hails from the Ukraine, showed flashes of his potential as a freshman, but with a year to adapt to the American game, the lanky big man's combination of a deft shooting touch, a mid-range jumper, developing post-up game, defensive presence, willingness to bang on the interior, solid hands and footwork, the ability to run the floor in transition and high activity level have become even more intriguing to NBA personnel people.

Calvin Leslie, 6-foot-8 junior, North Carolina State: Leslie, previously known by his initials, C.J., has always been an elite-level athlete with tremendous upside, but now that he's bought into playing with a high motor on a regular basis, has embraced impacting the game as a versatile defender and occasionally dominant rebounder, to go along with burgeoning perimeter skills, he now appears to be a player who could truly benefit a team in the near future.

James Michael McAdoo, 6-foot-8 sophomore, North Carolina: McAdoo came off the bench as a freshman, stuck behind the likes of current NBA rookies Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller, but while he still was projected to be a lottery pick based on a limited sample size, the Tarheels' rebuilding roster affords him the opportunity to show off his polished inside-outside game, diverse scoring repertoire and rebounding ability.

C.J. McCollum, 6-foot-2 senior, Lehigh: McCollum made a name for himself in his 15th-seeded team's historic NCAA Tournament of upset of Duke last spring and while it was no fluke, he's now under more scrutiny to display his ability to be a floor general, in addition to his innate scoring talents, which feature long-distance shooting, underrated athleticism, pick-and-roll prowess and creative finishing techniques.

Doug McDermott, 6-foot-8 junior, Creighton: McDermott, whose father is his head coach, has been an elite player on the mid-major level upon arrival in college, and now faces the challenge of proving whether his blend of rugged inside play and a deadly outside game will translate to the game's highest level, despite underwhelming athletic ability.

Ben McLemore, 6-foot-5 freshman, Kansas: McLemore sat out his freshman season, but is already considered the Jayhawks' most talented player and as he continues to adjust to playing in actual games after a year of only practicing, his high-level athleticism, smooth offensive game, shooting range and all-around skills should allow him to make his mark in college, as well as set the stage for NBA success.

Tony Mitchell, 6-foot-8 sophomore, North Texas: Mitchell is one of the college game's most explosive athletes, combining a powerful frame with outstanding bounce, but he also possesses an intimidating defensive presence, has a nice touch on the interior, runs the floor hard in transition and is developing both his face-up and back-to-the-basket games.

Mike Moser, 6-foot-8 senior, UNLV: Moser is a top-tier college rebounder playing in a smaller conference, following the recent traditions of NBA standouts Kenneth Faried and Paul Millsap as players pro scouts thought would project well from an energy, if not statistical standpoint, but he also brings more to the table as a perimeter player with excellent athleticism, slashing ability and capable outside shooting.

Shabazz Muhammad, 6-foot-6 freshman, UCLA: Muhammad, arguably the nation's top prospect as a senior in high school, had to sit out the first few games of UCLA's season as an NCAA investigation concluded, but any damage to his stock can be allayed by his performance, which is expected to yield big scoring numbers as a physical and athletic slasher, terror in transition, excellent wing rebounder and high-energy player.

Nerlens Noel, 6-foot-10 freshman, Kentucky: Noel is the other top incoming freshman in the country and although he is often compared to 2012 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis, their chief similarity comes as a defensive force, the skill observers believe that he'll be able to immediately carry over to the NBA, though his offensive game and slender frame are still works in progress.

Mason Plumlee, 6-foot-11 senior, Duke: Plumlee, perhaps the best senior prospect in the college ranks, is finally starting to reach his vast potential by asserting himself as a scoring threat with the ability to score in the low post, whether via a post-up move or an authoritative finish above the rim, using his size and length to affect the game as a dominant rebounder or defensive presence, and showing off his versatility as a ballhandler and defender in pick-and-roll scenarios, traits that project well to the next level.

Otto Porter, 6-foot-8 sophomore, Georgetown: Porter quietly had one of the nation's best freshman seasons, but has taken his all-around game, which features versatile defense, interior toughness, excellent athleticism, slashing ability, a solid mid-range game and good ball skills, to the next level by thriving as a primary scorer, attributes that bode well for pro wing player.

Alex Poythress, 6-foot-8 freshman, Kentucky: Poythress currently makes more of an impact as a rugged interior player than the future swingman he aspires to be, but either way, his powerful and explosive athleticism, pro-ready body, quickness as a face-up player off the dribble, shooting touch, defensive potential and willingness to mix it up for rebounds are enough to make him one of the most-coveted draft prospects around.

Adonis Thomas, 6-foot-7 sophomore, Memphis: Thomas, whose first name matches his physique, is viewed as stuck between forward positions, but with his improved outside shooting and ball skills, to go along with versatile defensive ability, high-level athleticism and an inside-outside game, ensures he remains intriguing to professional talent evaluators.

DeShaun Thomas, 6-foot-7 junior, Ohio State: Thomas, this one a southpaw, is one of the nation's most gifted scorers and as the Buckeyes' new top option in the wake of current Celtics rookie Jared Sullinger's defection to the NBA, continues to become a more complete player by blending his inside-outside game, which includes long-distance shooting, a solid mid-range jumper, post-up ability and a face-up game, with rugged rebounding, more effort on defense and the willingness to set up his teammates.

Jeff Withey, 7-foot-1 senior, Kansas: Withey is arguably the most accomplished shot-blocker in the nation and while he continues to be a defensive presence, he's now less of a one-dimensional player as his offensive skills, which feature developing back-to-the-basket moves and a decent touch inside, make steady improvement and he also makes a consistent impact as an increasingly dominant rebounder to make up for the loss of Kings rookie Thomas Robinson, as well as an above-the-rim player who runs the floor in transition.

Cody Zeller, 6-foot-11 sophomore, Indiana: Zeller, regarded as the consensus top prospect in college basketball, if not a dominant, franchise-changing talent, is at minimum, a highly-productive long-term starter, whose remarkable mobility for his size, fundamentally-sound game, underrated toughness and willingness to play a physical brand of basketball on the interior, polished interior game, ability to knock down jumpers and put the ball on the floor, solid defensive acumen and high basketball I.Q. project to NBA stardom.

Blackhawks' rough weekend 'a little bit of a wake-up call'

Blackhawks' rough weekend 'a little bit of a wake-up call'

Patrick Kane was summing up the Blackhawks' weekend, one that didn't go well in terms of points.

"Good way to kind of judge ourselves, where we're at," he said Sunday night. "Might be a little bit of a wake-up call to see how good we really are."

Well, in a way, it is. You can't really compare Friday's loss to Washington and Sunday's loss to Minnesota on performance; the Blackhawks didn't show up for the first game and were much better in the second. Nevertheless, it was the same result in each. The Blackhawks' lengthy hold on first place in the Western Conference ended, with the Wild taking over following Sunday's 3-2 victory.

It's not a sound-the-alarm situation, but the Blackhawks are certainly cognizant of the missed opportunity last weekend and that they came up short against the league's best.

Artem Anisimov agreed with Kane's assessment.

"We just need to play better. All four lines need to play better in all areas of the ice. Just be better in the little things," Anisimov said. "Back check, put stick in the right position, box the guy out, short shifts. All little things need to be better."

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Many of the little things that were absent against the Capitals were back against the Wild. But coach Joel Quenneville wasn't happy with mistakes made on goals allowed, especially the first two. And while Kane and the second line were a consistent scoring threat against the Wild, the other three lines weren't. It's a problem that's plagued the Blackhawks a good deal this season, even when they were stringing together victories.

There is no reason to think that, because of this weekend's results, the Blackhawks are going to falter against strong teams. They've done well against others already this season. They beat Montreal earlier this season, when the Canadiens were healthy and steamrolling everyone. They beat the New York Rangers when the Rangers and former Blackhawks backup goaltender Antti Raanta were on their respective hot streaks.

Still, Kane's analysis is correct: This should get the Blackhawks' attention. The Wild have beaten the Blackhawks in eight consecutive regular-season games now and will face them three more times this season. They have two more meetings with the Edmonton Oilers, who beat them soundly in November.

The Blackhawks' long reign atop the Western Conference standings is over. They’re currently second in the Central Division, with an eight-point cushion over the St. Louis Blues. The Blackhawks have done fairly well this season. But this weekend was a reminder that they can be better.

"The game (on Friday) was kind of like a shock to the system thinking maybe you're one of the top teams in the league, or being able to compete with one of the top teams, and we obviously got thoroughly outplayed. We came back (Sunday night). It was pretty even in chances. We might've even had more so, just kind of didn't pull it out," Kane said. "But (when) you've played two of the better teams in the league and lose, there's got to be room for improvement, right?"

NBA Insiders Notebook: Durant, Warriors handle pressure to win quite well

NBA Insiders Notebook: Durant, Warriors handle pressure to win quite well

AN ARENA NEAR YOU – Welcome to another edition of the CSN Insider notebook where you can find trade rumors, injury updates and all the news that's fit for the internet in one location.

This week also marks the official halfway point of the NBA season, a time to reflect on how teams have handled the sometimes-heavy burden that comes with lofty expectations.

When you talk about expectations in the NBA, nobody has a greater burden – not even the defending champs in Cleveland – than the Golden State Warriors.

They were a title contender going into the summer. After adding Kevin Durant, they became the odds-on favorite in just about every jurisdiction outside of Cleveland.

Our CSN Bay Area Insider Monte Poole gets us up to speed on how Durant has dealt with the out-of-this-world expectations that he and the Golden State Warriors have dealt with this season and have fared quite well. They have an NBA-best record of 34-6 in games played through Sunday.

Durant, Warriors handle pressure to win quite well

From the time Kevin Durant became a free agent last summer and left the Thunder to sign with the Warriors, he has contended with the gigantic weight of expectations.

He has responded in spectacular fashion, leading the Warriors in scoring while shooting 53.7 percent from the field, including 39.3 percent from beyond the arc. He also leads the team in blocked shots, ranking just outside the NBA's Top 10 in that category.

Asked recently about his mindset for marquee games in which the entire planet tunes in -- such as Warriors-Cavaliers -- Durant said they bring no more of a burden than that which he already faces."My grandma and my mom watch me every night, so I've got to play," he said. “When they watch me, that's more pressure than anything else."

Durant added that he hears from both after most every game. He also listens, because his mother, Wanda Pratt, knows him better than anyone.

One more reason, perhaps, that upon receiving his MVP trophy in 2014, Durant famously referred to Pratt as “the real MVP." – by Monte Poole

CENTRAL DIVISION

Rondo Back in the Rotation?

As the Rondo turns.

Is he in the rotation or is he out?

Apparently he's in and back being productive for the Chicago Bulls as he was pressed into duty when Jimmy Butler was out with injury and Dwyane Wade was out with rest, among other personnel earlier this week in Washington, D.C. Tuesday night.

Before his resurgent 12-point, six-assist and three-steal performance against the Wizards, he revealed the communication between himself and the Bulls about his benching hasn't been plentiful.

He said head coach Fred Hoiberg didn't say a whole lot, but one assistant coach whom Rondo refused to name said Rondo needed to be saved from himself."They said they were saving me from myself, I've never heard that before in my life," Rondo said.

For now, Rondo is a backup to Michael Carter-Williams and knows he's on his third strike in terms of behavior, having transgressions in a few other stops, meaning he knows he'll be out of the league if he acts up again.

It doesn't mean this is the end of the Rondo/Bulls soap opera by any stretch.

 – by Vincent Goodwill

Monroe quieting talk of being an offseason bust

After a slow start to the season, Milwaukee Bucks big man Greg Monroe was panned as a busted free agent experiment as he signed with the up-and-coming franchise two years ago.

Jason Kidd moved him to the bench and sat him for long stretches, seemingly because of his low energy in the early weeks of the season. And with the low-post big man seemingly going out of business in today's game, it seemed like Monroe would have a hard time fitting in virtually anywhere as his name was on the trade block.

But somewhere along the way, he's made himself more than valuable to the Bucks as they ride the energy of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, increasing his scoring and rebounding every month since November.

He's playing nearly 30 minutes a game in January and is finishing better around the rim, shooting 54 percent with a Player Efficiency Rating of 22.5 while averaging 15.7 points and scoring in double figures in all seven games this month.

He has a player option at the end of the season and one has to wonder if he'll decide to stay in Milwaukee as opposed to finding a better situation—although the money will be plentiful across the board. – by Vincent Goodwill

Turner joins elite class of young big men

It's easy to forget Myles Turner in Indiana as one of the rising sophomores in the NBA

After all, he's playing in Indiana and the Pacers have a star in Paul George, who cemented his standing as a franchise-leading talent with Nike releasing the “PG1" shoe while the Pacers were in Mexico City this week.

But even in smaller markets, there should be room for more than one star as Turner is making his case to be in the same mold. Not yet an All-Star but he's raising his level of play.

Putting up 25 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks against the Brooklyn Nets places him in an exclusive category: Only Turner, Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Davis have had those numbers as a 20-year old in a game in the last 20 years. – by Vincent Goodwill

Detroit's Caldwell-Pope a keeper?

Detroit Pistons guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is seemingly moving up the internal pyramid in Detroit to a near-untradeable status.

Although he's missing time with a Grade 2 left rotator cuff strain, the restricted free agent to be is so valuable to Stan Van Gundy that he's apparently moved past point guard Reggie Jackson on that list, trailing only Andre Drummond according to a report from ESPN.

Jackson's return from injury hasn't put things together the way many believed, and Caldwell-Pope's growth has gone noticed regardless.

Shooting 40 percent from 3 while being one of the league's best perimeter defenders, along with nearly doubling his assists from last season (3.0 from 1.8 last season) while maintaining the same 14.5 scoring average he had last year, it's easy to see why he's one of the more underrated shooting guards in the league.

And it'll be easy to see that's music to Rich Paul's ears as Caldwell-Pope should garner plenty of attention in restricted free agency this July. – by Vincent Goodwill

PACIFIC DIVISION

Cousins in line for $200 million deal?

DeMarcus Cousins is in line for a major extension this summer and it appears that he and the Kings front office are on the same page. Max money as a designated player will yield Cousins more than $200 million over five years. The two-time All-Star loves Sacramento and he can get $80 million more staying put than heading elsewhere once the new CBA comes into effect July 1. … Sacramento continues to struggle through their early season schedule, going 1-4 to start their seven game homestand coming into Sunday. … After mixing and matching lineups all season long, Garrett Temple and Anthony Tolliver have started the last three games for the Kings alongside Darren Collison, Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins. Head coach Dave Joerger has refused to say whether the move is permanent or not. – by James Ham

Booker heating up for the Suns

Devin Booker dropped in 39 points against both the Mavs and the Spurs, giving him seven 30-point nights on the season. Booker struggled with his shot early in the season, but over the five games, he's shooting 17-for-28 (60.7 percent) from behind the arc. … After losing to the last place Dallas Mavericks on Thursday, the Suns snuck up and bit the San Antonio Spurs Saturday night to improve to 13-27. … T.J. Warren started the season with a fury, but since returning from a minor head injury 14 ago, he's struggled, averaging just 10.6 points per game. – by James Ham

Ingram improving, slowly but surely

After a strong start to the season, the Los Angeles Lakers have essentially become what we thought they were: a lottery-bound club whose best days are clearly ahead of them. The same can be said for their prized rookie Brandon Ingram.

The No. 2 overall pick in last June's NBA draft has had his share of ups and downs like most rookies. But lately he's showing signs of being that impactful, versatile player that the Lakers envision can lead them back into the postseason.

He's averaging 8.1 points per game this season which includes 13 games scoring in double figures. Of those 13 games, five have come this month with a handful of games in January still left to be played.

It's an encouraging sign for both Ingram and the Lakers, each knowing their best is yet to come. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Big Ticket reuintes with Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce

When Doc Rivers left Boston to assume head coaching/front office responsibilities with the Los Angeles Clippers, most assumed that Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett would come aboard, too.

Well the gang is all back together, although this probably isn't how any of them envisioned their reunion.

The last piece of the puzzle came together earlier this month when the Clippers hired the now-retired Garnett to be a consultant who primarily will work with the team's big men.

Garnett spent 21 years in the NBA, six of which were with Rivers in Boston which included an NBA title in 2008. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

NORTHWEST DIVISION

Westbrook turns heads, turns the ball over...a lot

Russell Westbrook continues to ring up the triple-doubles. The All-Star point guard continues to lead the league in scoring at 30.8 points per game along with 10.7 rebounds and 10.5 assists per game. On the downside, he picked up his third game this season with 10 or more turnovers and he's averaging 5.4 miscues per game for the Thunder. … Cameron Payne is back on the court after missing the first half of the season with a foot issue. He's struggled through the first four games, but playing yourself back into NBA shape is a tall task in the heart of the schedule. … OKC isn't an elite team in the Western Conference at the midway point of the season, but they are in the mix with the Grizzlies, Clippers and Jazz in a crowded second tier. – James Ham

Ezeli out for the season following knee surgery?

Festus Ezeli, the injured center who has yet to play a game for the Blazers, on Friday made his rounds around the locker room saying goodbye to teammates after Orlando's 115-109 victory.

Later, a source within the team said Ezeli would not accompany the team on the trip, but is scheduled to rejoin the team when it returns after its Jan. 22 game at Boston.

Agent Bill Duffy said the absence was not for a knee surgery. Ezeli in December indicated he is considering a surgery on his left knee that could potentially end his season.

Ezeli in July was signed to a two-year, $15 million contract, with only this season's $7 million salary guaranteed. He had a procedure on the left knee in August and was scheduled to return in mid-October. He returned in the preseason and participated in two practices before he suffered swelling, forcing him back to the sidelines.

Ezeli, 27, was signed after an injury-riddled career in Golden State. He missed the 2013-2014 season recovering from right knee surgery and last season he missed 36 games recovering from left knee surgery. – by Jason Quick

Report: Hood's knee injury not season-ending

To see the way Rodney Hood's right knee buckled on him over the weekend, the Utah Jazz were bracing themselves for the worst. Few teams have endured the onslaught of injuries like this franchise has in recent years.

As gruesome as the injury looked initially, the Jazz got a bit of good news in that there was no structural damage to his hyperextended right knee which means he will return to action at some point this season.

"It's unfortunate, for sure, and unlucky," Jazz forward Gordon Hayward told reporters on Saturday. "Hopefully, he has a speedy recovery. He's a big piece of what we do. It sucks to see anybody go down."

Hood is definitely out for Monday's game against Phoenix, but has not been ruled out for Utah's game at Dallas on Thursday. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

SOUTHWEST DIVISION

Spurs seek to round up a few more road wins

San Antonio has lost 2-of-3, but they continue to pace just behind the Warriors for the NBA's best record at 31-9. The Spurs will play 12 of the next 18 on the road with the rodeo coming to town, but they never seem to stumble during this portion of the schedule. … Patty Mills missed his first game of the season against the Suns, sitting with a calf injury. The veteran point guard has played a huge role off the bench for the Spurs this season, averaging 10.1 points and 3.5 assists in 21.9 minutes per game as Tony Parker's primary backup. … Kawhi Leonard sits behind Golden State's Kevin Durant and Zaza Pachulia in the Western Conference All-Star game fan voting for frontcourt players with 630,766 votes. He's a shoo-in for the midseason festivities which take place in New Orleans next month.- by James Ham

McDaniels on the move again?

In his third NBA season, K.J. McDaniels already has played for two teams, the Sixers and Rockets, and a third team may be on the horizon. According to Marc Stein (http://www.espn.com/blog/marc-stein/post/_/id/4886/marc-steins-picks-for-nba-all-star-starters), if the Rockets make a deal McDaniels could be the trade target.

McDaniels is averaging 3.0 points, 1.2 rebounds and 0.1 assists in 8.9 minutes per game. He has played just one minute the entire month of January.

Two years ago the Sixers traded McDaniels to the Rockets at the deadline. – by Jessica Camerato

Mavs on a roll with healthier Nowitzki

Don't look now but here comes Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks!

They face the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday with a chance to win three in a row, something they have not been able to do up to this point in the season. Few teams have been besieged by injuries as much as the Mavericks have this season, especially Dirk Nowizki who has been limited for long stretches this season with a right Achilles injury.

But the last couple of games – both Dallas wins – Nowitzki has looked more like his old self instead of just looking well, old. In his last two games, the future Hall of Famer has averaged 17.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocked shots while shooting 48.3 percent from the field and 66.7 percent (6-for-9) from 3-point range. Those statistics are all better than what he has done overall this season. Getting to the playoffs is still highly unlikely for the Mavericks, but at least they are playing more competitively. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

ATLANTIC DIVISION

Thomas-Schroder beef alive and well

After last season's playoff series with the Atlanta Hawks, it was clear to us who witnessed it that Isaiah Thomas and Hawks guard Dennis Schroder weren't exactly BFFs. The level of disdain between the two is even larger now after Schroder told reporters following Atlanta's 103-101 loss to Boston that Thomas made disparaging comments about his mother.

Thomas said Schroder's comments were a “100 percent lie and he knows that."

But Thomas wasn't done.

He acknowledged that he does trash-talk on the floor, but it stays centered around the game of basketball, adding that he never brings a player's family into the conversation.

"I don't even know his mom; to curse at her like he said I did or whatever he's lying about," Thomas said. “From this point on, I don't want to even talk about Dennis Schroder. He's not even on the level that I'm trying to be on and I'm not even focused on him anymore."

Ouch.  

It's hard to say otherwise when you consider Thomas is even better this season than he was a year ago when he was named to his first all-star team. And in the 103-101 win over the Hawks, Thomas had a game-high 28 points which included the game-winning shot.

Schroder had four points on 2-for-11 shooting and was on the bench when Thomas put the Hawks away for good.

Needless to say, when these two meet again in Boston on Feb. 27 … get your popcorn ready because it's on folks! – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Sullinger return near?

Toronto's prized free agent pickup Jared Sullinger who has been out all season following foot surgery, is back to practicing in a limited capacity.

But when will he play again?

It looks like it won't be any time soon.

Because of the long lay-off, Sullinger's conditioning needs a lot of work right now. And remember, even when he wasn't out with an injury his conditioning was a concern when he was in Boston."My main focus is just trying to get my legs back under me," Sullinger, a former Boston Celtic, recently told reporters. “I feel like everybody else is in tip-top shape and I'm just lagging. I can't keep up with (rookie center Jakob Poeltl) off the dribble, so, I got a lot of work to do." – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Knicks handling of Rose's Miami incident a thorny issue

The Knicks' week got off to a bizarre start when Derrick Rose went AWOL from Monday's game against the Pelicans. As the team struggled to contact him, Carmelo Anthony described the uncertainty of Rose's whereabouts as “a scary situation to be in." (http://nypost.com/2017/01/11/carmelo-it-was-scary-playing-with-derrick-rose-missing/)

Rose explained he left New York for Chicago because of a family issue. The Knicks fined Rose $200,000 for his sudden absence. The organization came under criticism after team president Phil Jackson did not address the media the night of the incident, as well as the fact Rose was fined and not suspended.

Rose started in the following game and scored 25 points in a loss to the Knicks. – by Jessica Camerato

Embiid hopes social media presence propels him to All-Star Game

Joel Embiid admitted a frame of mind that garnered a wild “I know the feeling" response on social media.

"In the back of my head I think, ‘This is going to backfire at some point,'" Embiid said of tweeting (http://www.csnphilly.com/philadelphia-76ers/joel-embiid-i-think-i-kind-represent-twitter-nba) . “But before that day comes, I'm going to keep on going."

Embiid has been active on Twitter to boost All-Star voting during his standout rookie season. He currently ranks fourth behind Kevin Love in the Eastern Conference frontcourt by 16,000 votes. The 22-year-old has over 522,000 followers and recently received the support of Triple H after saying the WWE legend was his favorite wrestler.

"I think I kind of represent Twitter in the NBA," Embiid said. “I like to think all the Twitter people, I represent them. But I never thought I would have this type of influence. I'm just trying to be me. If people enjoy it, that's great." – by Jessica Camerato

Lin remains out for the Nets with hamstring

With a healthy roster, we knew the Brooklyn Nets would struggle to win games. But seeing them without their key offseason pickup Jeremy Lin only adds to what has been a disastrous season in Brooklyn.

Lin has missed all but 12 games this season dealing with a strained left hamstring injury. It remains unclear when he'll return to action this season for a Brooklyn Nets team that's sinking further and further to the bottom of the NBA ocean floor with few indications of rising up to be competitive, let alone win more games this season.

This group plays hard all the time, but that ‘good try, good effort' brand of basketball can only take you so far.

And the worst part about it for the Nets is that unlike most teams that stink, you get a high draft pick at the end of the season which to some degree makes all that losing worth it.

Not Brooklyn.

As part of the 2013 trade they made with Boston to acquire Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry, it included a slew of draft picks as well as the right to swap some picks. So the Nets could conceivably wind up with the number one overall pick this year and have to swap it with the Celtics (25-15) whose first-round pick this year will likely be somewhere in the 20s.

It's been that kind of season for the Nets. Even when they can potentially win, it's really a loss waiting to happen. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

SOUTHEAST DIVISION

Porter's hip injury a problem again

For the second time this season Otto Porter has had to leave a game because of an inflamed/strained right hip, an injury that delayed the start of his rookie season in 2013.

Likely to be among the end-of-season finalists for the NBA's most improved player, Porter left Saturday's game late in the third quarter with the Philadelphia 76ers and didn't return. In November, he didn't return after a game vs. the Phoenix Suns but didn't miss playing time beyond that.

"I want to make sure I stay on top of it and make sure it doesn't get out of hand," he said.

Porter's hip was first injured during mini-camp, going into Las Vegas summer league play after he was drafted No. 3 overall. His time there was cut short because of his right hip and he didn't make his regular-season debut until 18 games in.

Porter's hip has never required surgery and he's usually able to return to action after resting. The recurrences could interrupt what has been a stellar season under new coach Scott Brooks, with career-highs of 14.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, 53.5% overall shooting and 42.9% three-point shooting – by J. Michael

Heat thinkings playoffs?

All of the injuries have contributed to the Heat having just 11 wins at the halfway point of their season,

Somehow, they're still talking playoffs because they're one good stretch of basketball from thrusting themselves back into the picture.

"You together eight wins in 10 games, all of a sudden you look up, with the way the East has been shaping up this year, you can be right back in the hunt," said guard Tyler Johnson. “Just figure it out."

Coach Erik Spoelstra called a 1-5 West coast road trip “tangible progress" nonetheless.

– by J. Michael

Payton to disappear from Magic's roster soon?

Elfrid Payton was supposed to be the next Gary Payton, or that was one of the most common comparisons made with the point guard. Unfortunately, that was because of how he looked in 2014 Orlando summer league.

That's not the same as NBA. Now with reports swirling about the Magic aggressively pursuing the ball-dominant Goran Dragic of the Miami Heat, it makes sense.

The Magic already parted with his on-and-off backcourt starting mate Victor Oladipo before the season. Payton's 11.9 points and 5.8 assists this season are career highs. He shoots less than 30% from three.

The previous coach, Scott Skiles, didn't believe in the duo and current coach Frank Vogel likely sees it the same way. A backcourt with two players who can't shoot in today's NBA means a team can't succeed. – by J. Michael