Here’s ESPN New York reporting some hard truths about several key Brooklyn Nets players:

Deron Williams, Brook Lopez struggling for Nets

They might be making a combined $432,604 per game, but Deron Williams and Brook Lopez are nothing more than sixth and seventh men right now, two max reserves coming back from injury and struggling to adapt to their new roles for the Brooklyn Nets.

On Saturday night at Barclays Center, Williams and Lopez looked like shells of their former All-Star selves. Williams shot 2-for-7 from the field and had three turnovers in 20 minutes off the bench, while Lopez missed all five of his field-goal attempts in 15 minutes and was held scoreless for the first time since Nov. 8, 2010 — the sixth game of his career.

“There are no excuses,” Nets coach Lionel Hollins said after his team was pounded by the Indiana Pacers 110-85. “[Deron and Brook] didn’t play very well, and they have to play better for us to be better or for them to get more playing time and more consistent playing time.”

You want a strong statement from a head coach of a 13-15 team that is only alive and well because it plays its games in the Eastern Conference? Try that one.

No exact Ricky Rubio return date yet

Here’s the Minneapolis Star Tribune reporting on the banged-up Timberwolves, who can’t wait to get point guard Ricky Rubio back in action:

No exact Ricky Rubio return date yet

Christmas has come and gone, and Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio didn’t reach the target date he once set for his return from an ankle he severely sprained seven weeks ago.

He is back running and now refuses to prognosticate the date of his return.

“I wish,” Rubio said Saturday when asked if he knows when he will play again. “I’ve been saying it’s two weeks for the last month. I don’t want to say anymore dates. I’ve been saying in two weeks I think I’ll be ready and two weeks go by and I still can’t play and I get mad. I don’t want to get in a bad mood again. I’m not going to ask for a date again. I go as my body will let me do.”

For now, he can run and he did so with teammates for the first time at Friday’s morning shootaround in Denver, where he participated full-court running the team’s offense.

Hornets assign Noah Vonleh to D-League

Hornets assign Noah Vonleh to D-League

Charlotte Hornets General Manager Rich Cho announced today that the team has assigned forward Noah Vonleh to its NBA D-League affiliate, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.

“We believe Noah would benefit greatly from additional game experience,” Cho said. “He will be able to get that playing time through this D-League assignment.”

Vonleh was selected by the Hornets with the ninth overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. The 6-10 rookie has appeared in four games this season, with averages of 2.5 points and 2.8 rebounds in 8.0 minutes.

Here’s the South Florida Sun Sentinel reporting on the Heat:

Heat granted cap exception for Josh McRoberts injury

For the first time since July, the Miami Heat have more than pocket change to spend on personnel.

The NBA has granted the Heat a $2.65 million disabled-player salary-cap exception in the wake of forward Josh McRoberts undergoing knee surgery earlier in the week. The exception is worth half of McRoberts’ 2014-15 salary.

The move means an independent NBA physician has agreed with the Heat’s stance that McRoberts likely will be out for the balance of the season.

Should McRoberts, who has vowed to make the effort, return before the end of the season, the cap exception issued would not be impacted.

The exception must be utilized by March 10.

Kevin Durant health update

Here’s the Oklahoman reporting on Thunder forward Kevin Durant, who is still recovering from injury:

Kevin Durant health update

On the night it occurred, Kevin Durant’s right ankle sprain was listed as ‘mild’ by the team. After the game in Oakland, he said he pushed to play the second half against the Warriors and hoped to play the next night against the Lakers.

But more than a week later, Durant still hasn’t returned to action. And the Thunder has made sure to let people know it is no longer listing it as a ‘mild’ sprain. It ended up being more significant than originally expected.

But that said, Durant does seem to be nearing a return, maybe as early as Sunday in Dallas.

Rondo, Mavs continue to adjust

Here’s the Dallas Morning News blog reporting on the Mavs:

rajon rondo

With every passing game, things get a little more normal for Rondo and his new teammates. He’s now had four games with the Mavericks and the Mavericks haven’t exactly set the world on fire – beating a Lakers’ team without Kobe Bryant and a San Antonio team without all five starters. But progress is measured in small increments and Rondo actually looked comfortable against the Lakers. Not just because he had a season-high 21 points, but he picked his spots correctly, hit 10-of-17 shots and also had seven assists to go with eight rebounds.

“He’s starting to run a great show,” said Dirk Nowitzki. “He’s starting to understand when he needs to be aggressive, when to shoot when they go under (the screens) and he’s obviously got the great passing gene that you need as a great point guard. So I think he looks pretty sharp and we got to get used to each other even more as the competition gets stiffer.”

Victor Oladipo ditches protective mask

Here’s the Orlando Sentinel reporting some happy news for Magic guard Victor Oladipo:

Victor Oladipo ditches protective mask

The best Christmas present Victor Oladipo received this year came from a doctor.

A physician gave the Orlando Magic guard permission to jettison the clear, protective mask that he had been wearing to protect the surgically repaired bones on the right side of his face.

Oladipo played without the mask during the Magic’s 98-89 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night.

“I don’t have to wear it anymore,” Oladipo said. “That was my Christmas gift. So Merry Christmas.”

John Henson back in action for Bucks

Here’s the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporting multiple good Bucks news — backup forward John Henson is back, and the team enjoyed a win Friday against a very hot Atlanta Hawks squad:

John Henson back in action for Bucks

John Henson missed being on the floor.

It’s evident the Milwaukee Bucks also missed the length, rebounds and shot-blocking skills of the 6-foot-11 Henson.

The third-year pro returned to the court Friday night after being sidelined 14 games with a sprained left foot, and he played a major role in the Bucks’ 107-77 drubbing of the Atlanta Hawks.

Henson contributed five points, five rebounds, two steals and two blocks in 18 minutes. He helped shore up a depleted Bucks front line that was missing Larry Sanders (illness) and Ersan Ilyasova (concussion).

“It felt good to get out there,” Henson said. “I’ve never been injured for as long a time and it kind of made me say, ‘I can’t take this for granted.’ “

Ricky Rubio health update

Here’s the Minneapolis Star Tribune reporting on injured Wolves guard Ricky Rubio:

Ricky Rubio health update

Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio ran with his teammates Friday morning for the first time, another signpost on his road to return since he severely sprained his left ankle on Nov. 7 in Orlando.

Wolves coach Flip Saunders noticed a little hitch remaining in Rubio’s giddyap when he ran during full-court, 5-on-0 offensive work at the team’s morning shoot-around before Friday’s game at Denver.

Saunders hopes Rubio runs without a hitch or limp so he can begin contact work in another week with the New Year’s arrival and then play limited minutes in a game seven to 10 days after that.

Kenneth Faried grabs 25 rebounds vs. Wolves

Here’s the Denver Post reporting on an amazing game power forward Kenneth Faried put up in Saturday’s Nuggets win over the Minnesota Timberwolves:

Kenneth Faried grabs 25 rebounds vs. Wolves

It’s the little things Brian Shaw hates. The times when his players don’t box out. The times when the ball bounces in front of them and they still don’t go for the ball. The (many) missed free throws. The shoddy defense.

He must have had a hard time sitting through Friday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Pepsi Center.

Coming off a blowout loss at Charlotte and a sloppy defeat at Brooklyn, the Nuggets returned home to host the Timberwolves, the worst team in the West, in a game that, on paper, should have been Denver’s for the taking.

And until the fourth quarter, Kenneth Faried appeared to be the only Nuggets player who wanted it.

Faried, who turned in one of his finest showings of the season against Brooklyn three nights earlier, came back with an even better one Friday with 26 points and a career-high 25 rebounds while leading the Nuggets to a 106-102 victory over the Timberwolves.

Magic assign Devyn Marble to D-League

Orlando Magic guard Devyn Marble has been assigned to the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League, General Manager Rob Hennigan announced today.

Marble (6’6”, 200, 9/21/92) has appeared in five games during his rookie season with Orlando, averaging 0.8 ppg. in 1.0 minpg. Originally selected in the second round (56th overall) by Denver, his draft rights, along with Evan Fournier, were acquired by Orlando in exchange for Arron Afflalo on June 26.

Marble played in 136 career games during four years at the University of Iowa, averaging 12.5 ppg., 3.4 rpg., 2.9 apg. and 1.29 stlpg. in 27.6 minpg. He ranks second on the school’s all-time games played list with 136. Marble also ranks in Hawkeyes’ history in scoring (fifth, 1,694 points), assists (sixth, 397) and steals (seventh, 176).

Rockets sign Josh Smith, waive Tarik Black

Rockets sign Josh Smith, waive Tarik Black

Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey announced today that the team has signed unrestricted free agent Josh Smith. The versatile big man was the youngest player in NBA to record 500 career blocks, was twice named NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week (12/9/07 and 12/10/12) and was named to the 2010 All-NBA Defensive Second Team.

Smith (6-9, 225, Oak Hill Academy) owns career averages of 15.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 2.0 blocks in 781 games (758 starts) with the Atlanta Hawks and Detroit Pistons. The versatile big man averaged career highs of 18.8 points, 9.6 rebounds per game while starting all 66 games of the 2011-12 season. Smith has averaged double-digit scoring in every season since his rookie year in 2004-05. He has also started 52 career postseason contests, averaging 15.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks, as well as winning Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Series in 2009, 2010 and 2011

Selected by the Atlanta Hawks 17th overall in the 2004 NBA Draft, Smith rank’s highly among many of Atlanta’s all-time franchise leaders. He ranks ninth in games played (676), seventh in total rebounds (5407), ninth in free throws made (2044), fifth in steals (857) and second in blocks (1440).

The 11th year forward was waived by the Detroit Pistons on December 22, 2014 and was signed as a free agent by the Rockets after clearing waivers on December 24, 2014.

In order to maintain a roster of 15 players, the team has requested waivers on Tarik Black.

Black (6-8, 253, Kansas), has appeared in 25 contests with the Rockets this season (including 12 starts) averaging 4.2 points and 5.1 rebounds in 15.7 minutes per game. Undrafted in the 2014 NBA Draft, Tarik Black was originally signed by the Houston Rockets on August 27, 2014.

Quincy Acy suspended for foul on John Wall

New York Knicks forward Quincy Acy has been suspended one game without pay for committing a Flagrant Foul Two which initiated an altercation with Washington Wizards guard John Wall. Wall has been fined $15,000 for pushing Acy and escalating the incident, it was announced today by Rod Thorn, President, Basketball Operations.

The incident, which resulted in an ejection for Acy, occurred with 5:31 remaining in the fourth quarter of the Knicks’ 102-91 loss to the Wizards at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, Dec. 25.

Acy will serve his suspension on Saturday, Dec. 27, when the Knicks travel to Sacramento to play the Kings at Sleep Train Arena.

Carmelo Anthony relates to Knicks fans

Here’s ESPN New York reporting on the Knicks, who keep on losing:

Carmelo Anthony relates to frustrated Knicks fans

There’s a New York Knicks fan out there who lives and dies with the team, a fan who’s been doing much more dying than living with this group.

Carmelo Anthony has a message for that fan.

“I feel what the fans are feeling,” Anthony said after the Knicks fell to 5-26 following a Christmas Day loss to the Wizards.

“The fans are dying, we’re dying. We’re out there, we’re not producing. We didn’t expect, I didn’t expect to be sitting at 5-26,” he said. “So as much as I feel for the fans, I feel for us going through it, too. I don’t expect nobody to feel sorry for us, I don’t expect nobody to feel sorry for me.”

Kevin Durant remains out with ankle sprain

Here’s the Oklahoman with the latest on Kevin Durant’s ankle injury:

Kevin Durant remains out with ankle sprain

Kevin Durant missed his fourth straight game Thursday at San Antonio due to a mild ankle sprain he sustained just before halftime at Golden State last week.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks announced before the game that Durant “could not go if he wanted to go.”

Brooks labeled Durant as day-to-day. But the mounting number of missed games due to what the team diagnosed as a mild sprain has now become a mild concern — especially since the injury is to the same foot Durant recently underwent surgery on to repair a fractured bone.

Raptors assign Bruno Caboclo to D-League

The Toronto Raptors announced Thursday they have assigned forward Bruno Caboclo (cuh-BO-clo) to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA Development League. Caboclo will continue to be included on the Raptors’ roster and will remain on the team’s inactive list. He is expected to be in uniform for the Mad Ants on Saturday when they face the Iowa Energy in Des Moines, Iowa (8 p.m. ET).

Caboclo made his NBA debut November 21 versus Milwaukee and scored a season-high eight points in 12 minutes of action. He shot two-for-three from beyond the arc with a rebound and a block against the Bucks. He has played a total of 15 minutes in three games with Toronto this season, recording eight points and two rebounds.

A native of Osasco, Brazil, Caboclo was selected 20th overall by Toronto in the 2014 NBA Draft. He appeared in 16 Brazil League games for Pinheiros/Sky last season, averaging 4.9 points and 3.1 rebounds. Caboclo was the MVP of the 2013 Basketball Without Borders South America camp in Buenos Aires.

anderson varejao injury

Cleveland Cavaliers center Anderson Varejao suffered a left ankle/foot injury during the third quarter of last night’s game at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Additional examination and MRI today at Cleveland Clinic Sports Health have revealed a torn left achilles tendon.

While it is anticipated that Varejao will miss the remainder of the 2014-15 season, a timetable for his return to basketball activity will be developed after he has surgery in the near future to repair the achilles and his rehabilitation process is established.

Here’s the Washington Post with analysis of the Detroit Pistons decision to waive Josh Smith, which might help chemistry but hurts financially for a long time:

Josh Smith move a questionable decision for Pistons

With the considerable problems he inherited by taking over a franchise with years of disillusionment and a roster of mismatched talents, Stan Van Gundy is not responsible for most of the hot mess in Detroit. But Van Gundy cannot escape the blame for mishandling the situation with Josh Smith to the point that the versatile but frustrating forward was stunningly waived with more than $27 million remaining on his contract over the next seasons.

The move, which one rival executive described as “reckless,” rids the Pistons of Smith’s errant jumpers – he was on pace to finish last in true shooting percentage among qualified players for the second year in a row – but keeps him on franchise’s books for $5.4 million per season through 2020 under the league’s stretch provision. The Pistons have attempted to justify annually shelling out the equivalent of the full midlevel exception for nothing by championing the $8.1 million in salary cap room that Smith’s removal will provide and how a steadily increasing salary cap will minimize that salary slot when the league’s new television begins in 2016-17.

Rockets will sign Josh Smith

Houston Rockets will sign Josh Smith

Rockets will sign Josh Smith

Forward Josh Smith, recently waived by the badly-struggling Detroit Pistons, is going to clear waivers and reportedly sign a contract with the Houston Rockets.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, “Josh Smith has committed to signing with the Houston Rockets, league sources tell Yahoo Sports. He clears waivers at 5 PM today.”

The Rockets, with a 20-7 record through Tuesday’s games, are having an excellent season, and are much-improved on the defensive end this season. They’ve kept winning even while center Dwight Howard was out.

Several reports say Smith will start for the Rockets. While that may be the case, considering the Rockets already have nice chemistry, we think Smith is best used in limited fashion, at least initially, so the team can see exactly how he fits in. Giving him a huge role right away seems questionable. But still, if managed properly, this is a good move for both Smith and Houston.

tony mitchell

The Phoenix Suns have traded forward Anthony Tolliver to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for forward Tony Mitchell.

Mitchell, who was drafted 37th overall by the Pistons in the 2013 NBA Draft out of the University of North Texas, has averaged 8.2 points and 7.2 rebounds in six games with the Grand Rapids Drive of the NBA Development League this season. The 6-9, 235-pound forward appeared in 21 games with Detroit last season, averaging 1.0 points and 1.2 rebounds.

anthony tolliver

Tolliver, 29, has played in 24 games for the Suns this season averaging 3.3 points and 1.8 rebounds while shooting 38.7% from three-point range. The six-year NBA veteran owns career averages of 5.9 points and 3.6 rebounds in 331 games (53 starts) with San Antonio (2008-09), Portland (2009), Golden State (2010), Minnesota (2010-12), Atlanta (2012-13), Charlotte (2013-14) and Phoenix (2014). The Springfield, MO product has scored in double-figures 79 times during his career, including 10 games with 20-plus points and two games with 30-plus points. He’s also recorded 20 career games with double-digit rebounds and tallied 16 career double-doubles. A former All-Missouri Valley Conference first team member from Creighton, where he played collegiately, Tolliver has accumulated 10 games of NBA playoff experience with Atlanta (six games in 2012-13) and Charlotte (four games in 2013-14) where he averaged 3.0 points and 1.3 rebounds per game. He’s recorded NBA career highs of 34 points (4/7/10 at Minnesota), 21 rebounds (3/27/10 vs. Dallas) and four blocks (3/27/11 vs. Boston).

The Suns’ roster now stands at 15 players

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