CSN NBA Insiders Notebook: Smart trade chatter; Simmons hits road; Butler the real MVP?

CSN NBA Insiders Notebook: Smart trade chatter; Simmons hits road; Butler the real MVP?

We’re back with another addition of the CSN Insiders Notebook, the most comprehensive, coast-to-coast collection of NBA news, notes, trade rumors, injury updates, analysis … you name it and there’s a good chance it’ll be here.
 
As always, our faithful group of CSN Insiders includes A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN New England, Jessica Camerato of CSN Philly, Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago, J. Michael of CSN Mid-Atlantic, James Ham of CSN California, Monte Poole of CSN Bay Area and Jason Quick of CSN Northwest.

Atlantic Division

Smart on the trade block?
Lately, Boston Celtics fans don’t cringe nearly as much as they used to when Marcus Smart raises up for a three-point shot. His defense remains at an elite level. He’s improving as a scorer, ball-handler and decision-maker on the floor. And while that’s good for his growth, it’s not necessarily going to be what keeps him in Boston.

The Celtics have a logjam in the backcourt that doesn’t seem to be easing up anytime soon, in part because all of their guards are playing well.

Isaiah Thomas will be selected to his second All-Star Game next month. Avery Bradley has played at a level to where he’s in the conversation, although unlikely to be selected. Terry Rozier has had some ups and downs, but he too has shown growth from where he was a year ago.

But what separates the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Smart from the other three is his combination of size, strength, versatility and potential, which is why he will be a player that Celtics president Danny Ainge will continue to get calls on as we get closer to the trade deadline next month.

Thomas isn’t going to get any taller, and Bradley’s ball-handling and court vision is better but not on Smart’s level. Rozier has talent, but isn’t close to delivering the physical presence that Smart does.

So why would the Celtics trade him?

Because in Boston’s never-ending pursuit of a superstar-caliber player, there has to be a sacrificial lamb and Smart could very well be the chosen one for the aforementioned reasons.

Smart is well-versed on trade rumors and how as a player it shouldn’t be taken as a bad thing.

“It just means somebody else wants you, likes your game,” he said recently. “That’s a good thing in this league.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Simmons travels with team, no timetable for his return
The Sixers have a new addition on the road.

Ben Simmons joined the team for games in Boston and Brooklyn, his first road trip of the season. Simmons was on the court for individualized work pregame and had his own locker at Barclays Center.

Incorporating Simmons into the team away from Philadelphia is another step in his rehab (right Jones fracture). There is no timetable for his return.

“There’s a different light at the end of his road,” Brett Brown said. “There’s a bounce to his personality, there’s a bounce to his step and you do feel like there’s a new way he sort of sees the world when he’s with the team.” – by Jessica Camerato

Porzingis: ‘It’s not coming together yet’
After adding an aging All-Star in Joakim Noah and an injury-riddled one in Derrick Rose, the Knicks knew health would be an issue to keep an eye on.

Turns out, the same can be said for chemistry, which the Knicks seem to be in short supply of lately.

And to hear it from arguably the most optimistic Knick of them all, Kristaps Porzingis, speaks to how serious an issue this is for a New York team that has lost seven of its last eight games entering Monday.

Even when they were four games over .500 (14-10), Porzingis wasn’t sold on them being on the right track.

“In the moment we were four games [over] .500, I said it — I don’t see ourselves as that good of a team yet,” Porzingis told reporters following a 123-109 loss at Indiana on Saturday, a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score might indicate. “We were still growing. We were winning games, but we still had a lot to learn. It was a good moment based on our talent, but we weren’t there yet and now it’s showing. I don’t see ourselves as that good of a team yet.

Porzingis added, “We got to figure this out and keep growing as a team. It’s not coming together yet. It’s frustrating.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Kilpatrick breakout performer for Nets
Very little has gone right for the Brooklyn Nets this season, but certainly the play of Sean Kilpatrick doesn’t fall in that category.

Since being signed by the Nets to a 10-day contract (he was new GM Sean Marks’ first signing), Kilpatrick has just gotten better with time.

He’s averaging a career-high 14.9 points per game this season, averaging a career high in rebounds (4.3) and assists (2.6) as well.

And while those numbers are decent, the statistical difference in Brooklyn wins and losses tells you just how valuable he is to this team’s success.

In wins, he’s averaging 22.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists.

When Brooklyn loses, his numbers plummet to 12.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists.

His current contract has one year remaining and it’s non-guaranteed if Brooklyn decides to waive him prior to June 30.

Considering how he has played in wins and the fact that the one year remaining is worth just $1.05 million, Kilpatrick should feel pretty confident that he’ll be donning a Nets uniform next season. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Raptors in Millsap hunt?
With Kyle Korver on the move, all signs point toward Hawks forward Paul Millsap as Atlanta continues to gut out the squad that won a franchise-record 60 games just two years ago. The Raptors are among the many teams that would make a lot of sense to seek a Millsap trade.

They have the second-best record in the East, but they’re not fooling anybody but themselves if they think their roster, as it is currently constructed, is good enough to get past Cleveland.

But adding Millsap to a core that includes DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and DeMarre Carroll (his ex-teammate in Atlanta) certainly solidifies them as the No. 2 club in the East and one that won’t go away quietly in the playoffs.

And maybe more than anything else, the window of opportunity for Toronto is shrinking, which should make the Raptors an aggressive pursuer of Millsap, who right now is the most talented player in all likelihood to be traded. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Central Division

Butler for MVP or being traded?
Jimmy Butler completed one of the more impactful weeks of his career while enduring the seemingly never-ending trade talk that was stirred up by a Bleacher Report article stating the Bulls were listening to offers on their growing superstar. That was just days after a 52-point showing against the Charlotte Hornets and a day after taking over the fourth quarter against the champion Cleveland Cavaliers on the road.

Butler probably sealed Player of the Week honors by averaging 38 points, 9.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists. Who knows if the trade talk will die anytime soon, but Butler is elevating himself to even greater heights after turning himself into an All-Star two years ago.

“I think so,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg when asked if Butler deserved MVP consideration.

“Just what he’s done for this team. This stretch he’s got going. Continues to add to his game. He’s playing with the ball in his hands a lot. He’s been phenomenal.”

If these numbers and this production continue, voters will have to take notice and put him in the same class as the presumed frontrunners, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.

“I don’t know about all that,” Butler said. “Take that one step at a time. All that’s way down the road from here. We have to continue to win for that to ever be a question.” – by Vincent Goodwill

Second-round pick Brogdon a first-rate success story
The underwhelming rookie class from the 2016 draft has a sleeper – and the Milwaukee Bucks just so happened to unearth second-round pick Malcolm Brogdon at the right time.

Brogdon, the 36th pick out of Virginia, is making a name for himself. With the Bucks having injury problems in the backcourt, Brogdon has received more playing time, resulting in increased production every month. In addition to putting up a triple-double in a win over the Chicago Bulls to end the calendar year 2016, he's averaging 11.3 points, 6.0 assists and 4.7 rebounds in his first three games of 2017.

Dunking on LeBron James and Kyrie Irving during an early-season Cavs visit to Milwaukee underscored his savvy (age 23) and rapid growth in a short time.

“He just knows how to play,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “There’s no panic in his game.”

And while the Bucks are dangerous due to Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, having a stable young player isn't hurting their chances come postseason. – by Vincent Goodwill

Van Gundy coach and prez struggles to find answers
The duality of Pistons coach and president Stan Van Gundy seem to be conflicting at the moment, thus highlighting the dangerous land organizations walk when choosing to hand all the power over to one figure with no real accountability aside from ownership.

President Van Gundy put together a team with young players on the upswing with locked-in contracts, making the Pistons a preseason favorite to elevate themselves to the middle or top of the East. But one wonders if coach Van Gundy can get through to a team that's underwhelmed and can't seem to get on the same page.

“It’s not hard to separate the big picture. It’s a frustrating time because I know that our players and our group are better than what we’re showing over the last month,” Van Gundy said Wednesday. “As a coach, what you’re trying to do is maximize the talent you have — and I’m not doing that right now.”

And if president Van Gundy decides that coach Van Gundy isn't doing a good enough job – as the Pistons have a 17-21 record as of Sunday afternoon – will the president fire the coach?

No, of course not.

But it makes things murkier and thus highlights the urgency for the Pistons to follow up on preseason expectations with some actual production. – by Vincent Goodwill

Pacers streaking, win five straight
Who's the hottest team in the Eastern Conference?

The Indiana Pacers, who seem to also double as the team most observers have no idea what to expect from on a night-to-night basis. But five straight wins –  all by double figures –  show that perhaps Jeff Teague is the key to this team realizing its true potential as a party crasher in the East.

Teague, in the last four wins, has shot over 56 percent in every game and averaged 10 assists, including a 21-point and 15-assist performance against the Brooklyn Nets Thursday night.

Paul George is undeniably the Pacers' best player and a guy who has to come up big every night, but Teague, acquired from the Hawks over the summer, is likely their most important player at their most important position. – by Vincent Goodwill

Southeast Division

Thornton’s future in Washington on shaky ground?
After a disastrous road trip that led to Marcus Thornton quickly dropping from the rotation and Tomas Satoransky no longer in it, the Wizards don’t appear ready to move with a roster shakeup. If they do, it’s unlikely it would be rookies Sheldon McClellan, Daniel Ochefu or Danuel House.

The bench production usually is between 18 to 22 points a game on most nights for the Wizards, which means they’re relying heavily on the starters to do the scoring. President Ernie Grunfeld’s two biggest free-agent acquisitions in Ian Mahinmi (knees) and Andrew Nicholson haven’t panned out. Mahinmi will be re-evaluated at the end of this month before settling on a return date and Nicholson has been below standard.

“Ernie and I are always in communication trying to figure out ways that we can improve our team,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “We're very comfortable with what we have right now. An important piece was Ian. ... We're always looking. We have guys that we're going to continue on our team, our younger players. Nothing is in the works.”

Ochefu has to stay because Brooks is short on big bodies sans Mahinmi. McClellan may have solidified himself above Thornton in the rotation, making two extra passes for assists late in the fourth quarter of a comeback win over the Timberwolves. He is a better athlete and has a better defensive IQ as Thornton botched several rotations late in a loss at the Houston Rockets. House is recovering from a broken right wrist and has value as a future stretch four option.

While all are on minimum deals (another reason to keep them), the Wizards have preached commitment to development and won't s sacrifice the long-term for a short-term fix. If they were to make a roster move, Thornton is more likely to be waived than any of those rookies to make room. He’s on a $1.3 million vet minimum deal that’s already fully guaranteed and while the Wizards are over the salary cap, they’re an under-the-tax team, so they’d have wiggle room for a pro-rated deal. – by J. Michael

Miami swamped by injuries
A 27-point loss to the L.A. Lakers made a bad ending to the week that much worse after the Heat had to request an injured player exception for forward Justise Winslow, who recently returned from a wrist injury only to require season-ending surgery to his right shoulder.

Winslow only appeared in 18 games for Miami, which also lost Josh McRoberts to a stress reaction, a precursor to a season-ending fracture, in his left foot. Hassan Whiteside has been out with a bruised retina and to make matters worse, Goran Dragic was ejected in the loss to the Lakers.

Dragic responded to a shove in the back from Jordan Clarkson and both were given the boot. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra repeatedly called Dragic’s second career ejection a “bailout” and “disgraceful.”

Come Feb. 9, the Heat could request cap relief because of Chris Bosh.

That date represents exactly one year from his last game and that would open a roster spot, but they're on such a downward spiral it probably won't make a huge difference for this season.

"To say I am disappointed is an understatement," Winslow said. "It hurts that I can't be there for my teammates, the coaching staff and our fans. After a lot of thought, this surgery is what is best for my career." – by J. Michael

Rough times for Hawks
The first block in the restructuring of the Hawks has been shifted with the agreed upon deal that has yet to become official that will send Kyle Korver to the Cavs. Now Millsap is on the clock, too, but the organization also is dealing with another public-relations crisis.

Hawks GM Wes Wilcox told a joke in a meeting with season-ticket holders about his interracial marriage that didn’t go over well with fan Clarenton Crawford. Danny Ferry, whom he replaced two years ago because of racially insensitive remarks made about Luol Deng in a scouting report, lost his position and was replaced by Wilcox.

“At an early December chalk talk, I made a self-deprecating comment at my own expense regarding my family, which is multi-racial,” Wilcox said in a statement. “This joke offended Mr. Crawford and his wife and for that, I apologize.”

Who knows what more changes could be ahead or if this is the end of the situation with Wilcox. But Millsap is the lone player remaining from the franchise-setting 60-win team in 2014-15 that was the No. 1 seed in the East. Carroll was first to depart in free agency, then Al Horford and Teague was traded and now Korver.

Millsap has a player option for 2017-18 at $21.4 million, so if Atlanta believes that he’s likely to opt out, it’s more prudent to move the stretch power forward now rather than waiting until the offseason and have him walk for nothing. – by J. Michael

Pacific Division

Fan voting makes ‘Zaza Rule’ necessary
Fan voting for the Feb. 19 All-Star Game is underway, which means the sun is shining brightly upon Warriors center Zaza Pachulia.

Upon the release of early ballot returns, Pachulia is in second place among Western Conference frontcourt players, behind only teammate Kevin Durant. This is the second consecutive season in which Pachulia is on the brink of All-Star status, as he also posted a strong showing last season as a member of the Dallas Mavericks.

How does this happen for the 14-year journeyman center from the Republic of Georgia? He benefits from an abundance of social media-based national support. The NBA changed the voting rules in part because Pachulia’s showing last season nearly mocked the marquee event. Fan voting is 50 percent of the tally, with players and media accounting for 25 percent apiece.

“The Zaza Rule,” says Pachulia’s teammate Draymond Green, who trails Pachulia in the voting.

Pachulia is delighted by the support but understands it may not be enough to lift him to All-Star status.

“I don’t care about All-Star [status] and the fame that comes with it and the recognition that comes with it,” he said. “I care about the support and the love I’m getting.” – by Monte Poole

Mozgov: ‘I need to pick it up’
Look out below. Timofey Mozgov, the 7-foot-1 Lakers center, is about to get mean. Or so he says.

The Lakers added the veteran big man over the summer, at a cost of $64 million for four years, to fill in the middle as the team’s young core develops around him. Early results have been mixed, and Mozgov says he plans to intensify.

“I need to pick it up, be more physical and hit people around,” Mozgov told Southern California reporters. “It’s not like killing someone, but being stronger.”

Size aside, Mozgov has never been a brutish player. But the Lakers may benefit from a new Timo. They were unusually physical in their next game, crushing Miami, 127-100. If Mozgov keeps his word, and the Lakers benefit, things could get interesting in L.A. – by Monte Poole

Clippers ready to whine down a bit
After so many years of whining, coach Doc Rivers and his L.A. Clippers are ready to try a new image. Call it a slightly belated New Year’s resolution.

The plan, as called for by Rivers himself, is to dial back the baiting of referees, something for which the Clippers have, above all other teams, a well-deserved reputation. Rivers has pledged that for every technical foul he gets he will donate to a Violence Intervention Program in Los Angeles.

He’s asking his players to do the same.

"All of the money that I have been fined is going to them now and any technical foul after that is going to them," Rivers said. "Any technical foul the players get, I want them to find their group and give it to an organization."

It’s an earnest attempt to curb a habit that has hurt the Clippers in the past.

Just remember, though, this comes one month after big man Marreese Speights, the ex-Warrior in his first season as a Clipper, urged his new teammates to “leave the refs alone.” – by Monte Poole

Report: Kings showing interest in Millsap
Sacramento can’t get out of its own way. Losers of three straight and five of their last six, the Kings are sitting just outside the playoff picture as the ninth seed.

Rudy Gay returned to action Friday night after missing 10 of the last 11 with a strained right hip flexor. Gay looked solid in his return, finishing with 18 points and seven rebounds in a loss to the Clippers.

With the trade deadline just over six weeks away, the rumor mill is heating up already. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Kings have made inquiries into the availability of All-Star big Millsap. Whether the Kings have the assets to make a deal work is still in question. – by James Ham

Suns rising to the challenge more often lately
Break up the Suns! Winners of two of their last three (they gave defending champs Cleveland all it could handle before losing 120-116 on Sunday), Phoenix is showing signs of life.

Brandon Knight returned to action after missing a game with a wrist injury. He dropped in 17 points on 6 of 11 shooting in Phoenix’s win over the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday evening. Before sitting out, Knight had played just 24 minutes combined over the previous three games for coach Earl Watson.

Marquese Chriss put up a career-high 18 points Tuesday against the Heat and added six rebounds in 31 minutes of action. He backed that up with a two-point performance two days later versus the Mavericks. Welcome to the NBA, rookie. – by James Ham

Southwest Division

Spurs roll along, Bonner calls it a career
San Antonio continues to plug away at an incredible clip. They’re a game behind the Golden State Warriors for the NBA’s best record and drawing very little media fanfare.

Kawhi Leonard ranks third behind Kevin Durant and Zaza Pachulia in the Western Conference All-Star balloting for frontcourt players with 341,240 votes.

Former Spurs forward, Matt Bonner, officially retired from the league this week, but he isn’t going far. He will join San Antonio’s broadcast team as a studio analyst. The 36-year-old Bonner played 12 seasons in the league, including his last ten with the Spurs. He leaves the game with two championship rings. – by James Ham

D’Antoni’s Houston resurrection
There are lots of folks who should be given strong consideration for Coach of the Year, but Houston’s Mike D’Antoni has to be among the leaders of the pack at this point. After unsuccessful head coaching stints in New York (2008-2012) and with the Los Angeles Lakers (2012-2014), D’Antoni has the Rockets soaring akin to what he did with the Phoenix Suns (2003-2008) when they were one of the most exciting, winningest teams in the league.

It’s still too soon to say whether D’Antoni’s return to the upper ranks of NBA coaches will last, but give him credit. He has a team that’s exciting to watch and winning – a perfect combination for any coach. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Golden State’s Kryptonite … Memphis?
Coaches and players try to convince us media folks and fans that every win counts the same, but let’s be honest: we know that’s not true.

The Grizzlies knocked off the Golden State Warriors on the road, 128-119, in overtime. And they did so at the end of a long, four-game road trip.

Memo to the Grizzlies: Beating the Warriors in their building is not the same as beating Philly or Dallas or any other bottom-of-the-NBA club.

More significant than the win was the fact that it was their second victory in as many games against Golden State this season, the kind of thing that breeds a high level of confidence that just may come into play if these two were to meet in the playoffs.

“I hate to sound cliché, but it’s a grit-and-grind style we play,” Grizzlies guard Tony Allen told reporters after the win. “We didn’t do anything special.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Mavs (finally) healthy
The injury bug has had the Dallas Mavericks playing shorthanded all season. But there appears to be some light around the corner for them. Saturday’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks was the first game this season in which Dallas did not have a player sidelined due to injury.

“Good to have everybody back and all the pieces together, but we still have a lot of work to do,” Mavs guard J.J. Barea, who had missed the previous seven games with – what else? an injury – told reporters following the loss to the Hawks. “But we have to play better, play harder and show more fire.”

And with all his players healthy enough to play, look for head coach Rick Carlisle to tinker with lineups and his rotation of players even more going forward.

“We’ll see. I’m pretty whimsical with lineups,” Carlisle said. “You never know with me what’s going to happen next.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Northwest Division

Blazers acquire future first-round pick
If Cleveland wins a second straight NBA title, an assist has to go to the Portland Trail Blazers. Lost by many in the Korver-to-Cleveland narrative was the swapping of first-round picks by the Blazers and Cleveland prior to the Korver trade becoming official.

Portland acquired Cleveland’s first-round pick in this year’s draft while giving them back a 2018 first-round pick that the Blazers received as part of their trade for Anderson Varejao last February.

NBA rules prohibit teams from trading first-round picks in consecutive years, so Cleveland had to get back a 2018 pick in order to convey a 2019 first-round pick to the Atlanta Hawks as part of the Korver trade.

The deal now gives the Blazers a pair of first-round picks in this year’s NBA draft. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Hill climbing in Utah
When it comes to helping facilitate winning, there are few who get it done as well as George Hill has this season.

But there’s one problem: the dude doesn’t stay healthy.

This season for Hill has been part breakout, part breakdown physically for the NBA veteran, whose numbers on so many levels are insanely good.

Leading up to their 94-92 win on Saturday over Memphis, Hill’s offensive rating was 113.6 with a defensive rating of 95.7. That means for every 100 possessions he was on the floor, the Jazz were outscoring teams by 17.9.

But what really matters to fans, coaches and players?

Winning games.

And when he has been healthy enough to be on the floor with Utah’s best player, Gordon Hayward, the Jazz are a perfect 8-0. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Win or lose, Westbrook special talent for Thunder
OKC had a rough week, dropping three straight before knocking off the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.

Westbrook has stuffed the stat sheet all season, but his performance in a loss to the Houston Rockets this week was something special. The All-Star guard dropped in 49 points on 16 for 34 shooting, including 8 of 15 from long range. Westbrook has hit 15 of 27 from behind the arc over his last two games.

After missing the entire season to date with a foot injury, point guard Cameron Payne returned to the floor Friday night against the Nuggets. He finished the night with eight points on 3 of 4 shooting in 13 minutes off the Thunder’s bench. – by James Ham

T-Wolves waive John Lucas III
The young just got younger with the Timberwolves waiving 34-year-old John Lucas III this week. He saw few stints on the active roster, let alone being a part of the team’s rotation. He earned a roster spot in training camp, although the idea was to have him around as a seasoned veteran who could be somewhat of a mentor.

But as the losses continue to mount, head coach Tom Thibodeau, who doubles as the team’s general manager, sees greater value in the flexibility that now exists with the one open roster spot.

“We’re going to take a look at who’s available,” Thibodeau told reporters. “And what opportunities we may have.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Malone regrets publicly criticizing his veteran players
We see and hear all the time about players who open their mouths and out comes something that they wish they didn’t say. Well, the same holds true for coaches. At least it does for Denver’s Mike Malone.

After a loss to Sacramento last week, Malone questioned what he saw as a lack of veteran leadership on his team.

Not surprisingly, this did not go over well with his players.

Aware of this after the fact, Malone began to retreat from his early criticism almost immediately after it became public knowledge.

“The only thing I'll say regarding that, and I apologized to our veterans, anything that's going on in our locker room should be left in the locker room," he said prior to a 28-point loss to San Antonio. "So I failed in that regard the other night. I let my frustrations after that loss get the best of me. If I have issues with our veterans, I'll address it with our veterans one-on-one to try and resolve whatever issues there may be." – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Best of NBA: Curry, Warriors demolish Cavaliers, 126-91, at home

Best of NBA: Curry, Warriors demolish Cavaliers, 126-91, at home

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors certainly looked ready to trade some more blows with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers come June.

The two-time reigning MVP hit five 3-pointers and had 20 points while matching his season best with 11 assists in Golden State's 126-91 rout of the defending champs Monday.

Klay Thompson scored 26 points with five 3s, and Curry made four steals. Draymond Green produced his third triple-double of the season with 11 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists while matching his career best with five blocks -- and had another dustup with King James in the process.

James had 20 points on 6-of-18 shooting and eight rebounds, and he and Green became the talk once more as their relationship turned even more testy.

Kevin Durant added 21 points, six rebounds, five assists and three blocks for the Warriors in a much-hyped matchup merely weeks after Golden State lost 109-108 in Cleveland on Christmas (see full recap).

Thomas explodes for 17 in fourth quarter to lift Celtics over Hornets
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas scored 17 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter, and the surging Boston Celtics beat the Charlotte Hornets 108-98 on Monday night for their ninth victory in 11games.

It was Thomas' 25th straight game with 20 or more points. He's been putting up big final quarters of late -- scoring 20 or more three times this season. No other NBA player had done it more than once entering Monday.

Al Horford had 22 points, while Kelly Olynyk and Jae Crowder added 15 apiece for Boston, which has won all three meetings with Charlotte this season.

Kemba Walker scored 24 points and Marvin Williams 21 for the Hornets, who lost their fifth straight -- all on the road.

Thomas scored 13 straight points, pushing Boston ahead 93-83 with his 3-pointer from the left wing with 7 minutes left.

Boston led 80-71 entering the final period (see full recap).

Wizards remain hot with win over Trail Blazers
WASHINGTON  -- Bradley Beal scored 25 points and John Wall had 24 as the Washington Wizards took a page from the Portland Trail Blazers' playbook by hitting 13 3-pointers in a comfortable 120-101 victory on Monday afternoon.

The Wizards, who rely less on the 3-pointer than almost any NBA team, were 13 of 23 from beyond the arc in their 12th consecutive home victory. The 3-pointer-heavy Trail Blazers shot 8 of 26 on 3-point attempts.

After Washington coach Scott Brooks called Portland guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum as good as any backcourt in the league, Beal and John Wall outplayed them. Lillard led the Blazers with 22 points and McCollum had 12, but they combined to shoot 11 of 29 from the floor.

The Wizards have won four of their last five games (see full recap).

CSN NBA Insiders Notebook: Expectations for Durant, Cousins' next contract

CSN NBA Insiders Notebook: Expectations for Durant, Cousins' next contract

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 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.

Pacific Division

Durant, Warriors handle pressure to win quite well
From the time 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 when 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

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 1-5 to start their seven game homestand after Sunday's loss to OKC. 

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 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 last 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 games 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 impact-making, 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 reunites 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, including an NBA title in 2008. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Northwest Division

Westbrook turns heads, turns over the ball ... 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 (knee) out for the season following surgery?
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 (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 two of its last three games, but the Spurs 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, 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 come 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 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 three-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 Divison

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 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 MIA 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.”

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 Sixers. – 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. “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 Embiid 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 (hamstring) remains out for the Nets
Even with a healthy roster, we knew the Brooklyn Nets would struggle to win games. But seeing them without 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. It remains unclear when he’ll return to action for a 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 and get a high draft pick at the end of the season, they won't

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 No. 1 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

Central Divison

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.

Before his resurgent 12-point, six-assist and three-steal performance against the Wizards, Rondo 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 London 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 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 gone as many had planned and Caldwell-Pope’s growth has gone noticed regardless.

Shooting 40 percent from three 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

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 Sixers 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 a mini-camp before 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 into the 2013-14 season.

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 percent overall shooting and 42.9 percent three-point shooting – by J. Michael

Heat thinking playoffs?
Injuries have contributed greatly 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 string 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 percent 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