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Interim Pistons coach Loyer faces tough task



AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — John Loyer didn’t see it coming. Neither did the players.

The Detroit Pistons are in the midst of a colossally disappointing season, but no one expected Mo Cheeks to be fired 50 games into his first season as head coach, especially after two blowout victories over the weekend.

Loyer, who was also an assistant under Cheeks with the Portland Trail Blazers and Philadelphia 76ers, now finds himself in charge — albeit with a very short leash — as the interim replacement for the remainder of the season. He was disappointed and surprised that his close friend was cut loose on Sunday under orders of increasingly impatient owner Tom Gores, who expected a vast improvement and a trip to the playoffs after a busy offseason.

In the short run, Loyer doesn’t plan to rework the lineup or rotation significantly.

“I’ve been in this situation before, and I’ve seen it done properly and I’ve seen it done not very good,” he said. “I told our guys it’s going to be a gradual process. Playing hard supersedes anything we could possibly change, so we have to start there. There are things we have to tweak on both sides of the ball, and we’ll gradually do that.”

The veteran leader in the locker room, guard Chauncey Billups, is happy to see Loyer get a shot as a head coach. However, they might just have to lend their throats — literally — to make it a success.

“He is always very prepared, always very energetic,” Billups said of Loyer. “A lot of times I don’t know what we’re going to do in the second half because he loses his voice in the first half. I think we’re going to have to help him coach in the second half.”

What might be most puzzling is why Cheeks was hired in the first place. His prior head coaching stops yielded mediocre results, but Gores and team president Joe Dumars decided his reputation as a players’ coach was the right fit.

Predecessor Lawrence Frank was a master of X’s and O’s but didn’t connect with the players because of his micromanaging style. The other finalist along with Cheeks, ex-Portland coach Nate McMillan, was more similar to Frank.

Cheeks not only struggled to figure out how to make his jumbo frontcourt of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith mesh, but he failed to keep the team from becoming unglued under pressure. The Pistons (21-29) blew seven games in which they led entering the fourth quarter.

Worse yet, he wasn’t even good at his supposed strength — player relations. He had run-ins with Smith, Drummond and backup point guard Will Bynum and alienated them, most notably Monroe, at varying times with his substitution patterns and crunch-time lineups.

Naturally, it wasn’t all his fault.

“We weren’t doing our job either,” point guard Brandon Jennings said. “That’s why we’re in the position we are now. With the talent we have, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be in the playoffs.”

Unless the team enjoys a major turnaround after the All-Star break, makes the postseason and perhaps pulls a first-round upset, the franchise will be searching for Loyer’s replacement this offseason. McMillan, Lionel Hollins, George Karl or Stan Van Gundy would bring a level of accomplishment that Cheeks didn’t achieve as a head coach.

Dumars is also a goner if the players he imported don’t play more cohesively. Smith, who received a four-year, $54 million free agent contract, is a power forward masquerading as a small forward. He puts up numbers but shoots far too often from the outside.

Jennings, acquired from the Milwaukee Bucks to be the floor leader, remains a work in progress. Too often, he can’t find the proper balance between being a streak shooter and a facilitator. His internal struggle comes to fore when trying to close out games.

Dumars’ controversial decision to draft unheralded shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope instead of University of Michigan point guard Trey Burke also backfired thus far, with Burke winning Rookie of the Month honors for the Utah Jazz and Caldwell-Pope playing himself out of the starting lineup.

With a budding superstar in Drummond, the situation is far from hopeless, but there are obvious deficiencies. The guards allow too much dribble penetration, while Drummond and Monroe are both subpar one-on-one defenders. That is why the Pistons rank 29th out of 30 teams in defensive field-goal percentage. They also can’t shoot 3-pointers and free throws, ranking last percentage-wise in both those categories.

Those are issues Loyer must resolve in a hurry, or the next major upheaval for the franchise is just a few months away.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.


NBA News Wire

Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair



If James Harden needed any extra motivation against the Los Angeles Clippers, he found it in the first half.

Harden scored 34 points, and the Rockets held on for a 100-98 victory over the Clippers in a sometimes testy affair on Sunday at Staples Center.

Point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 23 points, missed a contested shot at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.

“It was very important for us just to go out there and play well,” said Harden, who hit seven of 16 shots from the floor, three of five from 3-point range and 17 of 18 free throws. “The last two games we kind of struggled a little bit, but we got our pop back a little bit today, and it was a good win for us.”

Harden provided much of that pop, particularly in the second quarter after Clippers forward Matt Barnes was whistled for a flagrant-1 foul after pushing Harden to the court at 6:02. Harden scored 15 of his 18 points in the period after that, leading the Rockets to a 58-50 halftime lead.

Did the flagrant foul add more fuel for the Rockets’ All-Star guard and MVP candidate?

“Yeah. Things like that are fun,” said Harden, who had 24 points in the first half. “We have fun, we got boosted off of that.”

The win ended a two-game skid for the Rockets (44-22). Houston forward Trevor Ariza scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while forward Terrence Jones added 16 points and 12 boards.

“This was a win that we needed, especially on the road,” Ariza said. “Going into the home stretch, these are the types of games we have to win.”

Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin returned after missing 15 games due to surgery on his right elbow. Griffin had 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but committed five turnovers in 41 minutes.

“I didn’t think I played well,” said Griffin, who managed 4-of-10 shooting. “I was out of rhythm. Way too many turnovers, obviously.”

Barnes scored 19 points and guard J.J. Redick had 15 for the Clippers (42-24), who fell into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings with the Dallas Mavericks.

Paul lamented a host of turnovers in the defeat, including a critical one involving center DeAndre Jordan.

“I had some bad turnovers,” said Paul, who committed three of the Clippers’ 20 miscues compared to 13 for the Rockets. “On one, I drove it off DeAndre’s foot, the other one I lost towards the end of the half. We have to take better care of the ball. We still had an opportunity to win, but we just didn’t do it.”

The Clippers came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Paul scored seven straight points, capping it with a 3-point basket to tie the score at 96 with 3:05 left in the game. Houston got a 3-pointer by Jones, but Barnes countered with a basket to keep Los Angeles within 99-98 with 1:35 left. Los Angeles, though, never scored again.

Griffin got a steal as Ariza attempted a pass to Harden, but Ariza drew a charging foul as Griffin bolted to the bucket with 12 seconds remaining. Griffin remained unhappy about the call after the game.

“If I speak on that, I’ll get fined,” Griffin said.

Harden hit one of two foul shots with 8.9 seconds left, capping the scoring before Paul failed to connect on a jumper in the lane with Ariza defending.

The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 36-20 in the second quarter despite making just 38.5 percent of their shots compared to 44.4 percent for the Clippers. Overall, the Clippers hit 43.9 percent to 37.2 percent for the Rockets. They also held an edge in 3-point shooting, converting 12 of 26 attempts to seven of 30 for Houston. The Rockets, though were 29 of 36 from the foul line to 14 of 24 for Los Angeles.

Jordan finished with 20 rebounds and four blocks.

NOTES: F Blake Griffin’s return benefits PG Chris Paul as much as any Clipper. “Teams have been able to trap (Paul) far more than they can when Blake is on the floor because of (Griffin’s) ability to pass,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure CP is the happiest of all to have him back.” … Rivers isn’t sure if injured G Jamal Crawford would return before the playoffs. Crawford has missed six games with a right calf contusion. … Rockets C Dwight Howard sat out his 18th game with a right knee edema. “He’s doing everything he can, he’s trying to get better, but until you’re on the floor, it’s impossible to say,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said regarding Howard’s return. … Both clubs resume play Tuesday. Houston hosts the Orlando Magic, while Los Angeles plays the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center.

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NBA News Wire

Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle



SAN ANTONIO — Guard Manu Ginobili was helped off the floor late in the third quarter of the San Antonio Spurs’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday due to a sprained right ankle.

Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points. He was immediately was led to the locker room, and he did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court. He did not return to the game.

In 19 minutes during the Spurs’ 123-97 win over the Timberwolves, Ginobili scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and leading him to play limited minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.

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NBA News Wire

NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return



Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, out the last 15 games with an elbow injury, was cleared to return Sunday against the Houston Rockets.

Griffin had surgery five weeks ago to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.

“He said, ‘I’m ready,'” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Sunday’s game. “Yesterday the trainers called me and said, ‘If he can go, he can go. He’s been cleared.'”

Rivers said timing likely will be an adjustment for Griffin.

“Timing is timing,” Rivers said. “You lose it when you don’t play in an NBA game. Sometimes you come back and you play great the first game and then you lose your timing. Sometimes it doesn’t. As far as the way we play, it won’t be hard for him at all.”

In 51 games this season, Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists.

–Spurs guard Manu Ginobili had to be helped off the floor late in the third quarter against Minnesota on Sunday. Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points.

He was helped off the floor and immediately was led to the locker room. He did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court.

Up to that point, Ginobili had scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 19 minutes. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against Toronto and play limited minutes against Cleveland on March 12.

–Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr sent emails to three fans who were disappointed that he rested several prominent players, including All-Star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets in Denver.

“There’s two really good sides to the story,” Kerr said, according to the Associated Press report. “Nobody’s wrong here. … I can’t argue with them.”

Kerr received an email from a family that drove from South Dakota to Denver to see Curry, Thompson and the entertaining Warriors play. But Curry, Thompson, center Andrew Bogut and reserve guard Andre Iguodala did not play so they could be rested, and the Warriors lost 114-103.

“I heard from some fans. I received a few emails, stories about driving in from a long distance off and spending a lot of money on tickets,” Kerr said. “I have great sympathy for those people. I really do. It’s a tricky one. It’s something that I think Adam Silver is trying to address through the scheduling shuffling that he’s talking about.

–The Dallas Mavericks recalled center/forward Dwight Powell from the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League on Sunday.

The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Powell played in one game during his most recent assignment to the D-League and finished with 28 points, five rebounds and two assists to lead the Legends in a 115-89 win over the Austin Spurs on Saturday night.

Powell has appeared in 19 games for the Mavericks this season, averaging 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.0 minutes per game.

–The Atlanta Hawks signed forward Austin Daye to a 10-day contract Sunday.

Daye appeared in 26 games (four starts) earlier this season with the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes.

In 10 games this season with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League, Daye has averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 blocks in 28.5 minutes.

–The Miami Heat recalled guard Zoran Dragic from the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League on Sunday.

Zoran appeared in four games (one start) and averaged 16.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.50 steals, helping the Skyforce to a 3-1 record over that span.

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