Morning Shootaround — March 20

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: If you’ve been overly captivated by the Heat’s 23-game win streak, we can’t say we blame you. It certainly has been the NBA story of note the last few weeks. But if you’re missing out on what Denver is doing out West (and who they’re doing it to) with their 13-game win streak, well, you’re missing out. Last night’s game against the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena (where OKC had won 20 straight vs. West foes) was something to behold. From Andre Miller‘s steady hand down the stretch to the rebounding and defensive prowess of Shootaround fave Kenneth Faried to the overall poise coach George Karl’s crew showed in the fourth quarter of a close game, this was a prime example of why the Nuggets are working their way into the West contender conversation.

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News of the morning

Miller’s speech inspires Nuggets | Hill apologizes for blasting Pacers fans | Howard leaves longtime manager | Clips losing confidence in defense | Grizz better sans Gay?

Miller’s words, play keep Nuggets rollingWith a 12-game win streak in two (the last win coming off a particularly nail-biting affair in Chicago), Denver headed to Oklahoma City last night no doubt weary and aware of the Thunder’s 20-game win streak against West foes. The stage was set, then, for the Nuggets to either rise to the challenge and win, thus setting a new team mark for consecutive NBA wins, or fold under the pressure of weariness and a tough environment and fall apart. Jonathan Hochman of the Denver Post says some words from veteran Andre Miller helped keep the Nuggets on track:

Dick Vitale whispers louder than Andre Miller screams.

But in the pregame locker room, the Nuggets’ veteran guard delivered a powerful, passionate speech, channeling the oration of, say, Jesse Jackson, who just happened to be at Tuesday night’s Nuggets-Thunder game.

“One amazing speech — guys were just amped up, ready to play,” Denver forward Kenneth Faried said after the Nuggets’ 114-104 win, Denver’s 13th consecutive, a franchise-NBA record. “He said it doesn’t matter that we’re coming off a back-to-back, it doesn’t matter that we went to overtime — we’re going to play this game hard and with pride. We don’t have any excuses. Andre Miller is a guy who doesn’t really say much, but when he talks, everybody listens, nobody’s playing around.

“Everybody locks in.”

And sure enough, it was Miller who was locked in the most when it mattered. In just nine fourth-quarter minutes, he scored 13 points with six rebounds and three steals. Unreal. And he made two tough shots late. The second, a leaner in the lane with 1:29 left, gave Denver (47-22) a 10-point lead.

Oh, and Miller, who played childhood ball with Bill Russell, celebrated a birthday Tuesday. The 37-year-old was up to his old old-school tricks, making nifty passes and keeping the Thunder players on their toes. Back in Denver, they must be going nuts at the YMCA.

“Incredible,” Nuggets coach George Karl said of Miller, who finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and nine assists in 23 minutes. “If he plays 10 more minutes, he’d get a triple-double. He’s a coach, a teacher, a veteran and he does it every day in a classy way, a very quiet way. And then he can do what he did tonight – take the most talented team maybe in the NBA and be the best player on the court for the last six minutes of the game.”

Hill sorry for skewering Pacers fansPacers point guard and Indiana native George Hill grew up at a time when the Reggie Miller-era teams made the old Market Square Arena and the Pacers’ current home, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, one of the more intimidating places to play in the league. Since the Pacers’ revival as a contender two seasons ago, though, Indiana has ranked 22nd (this season) and 29th (last season) in total attendance. A loss last week to the Lakers brought out much of Hill’s ire against the hometown fans, who were seemingly outnumbered during the L.A. game and, as the numbers show, haven’t been turning out as much as Hill and his teammates would like. After a few days since his outburst, though, Hill is sorry for calling Pacers fans to the carpet and explained his position to Phillip B. Wilson of The Indianapolis Star:

George Hill says he meant no disrespect to fans.

He just insists more Indiana Pacers fans should be in the stands at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. And he’s not going to budge on that point.

In his first home game since making critical remarks about seeing too many Los Angeles Lakers fans at the Pacers’ venue, Hill received the usual round of applause when the starting lineup was announced Tuesday night.

“I’m not saying you can’t be somebody’s fan,” said Hill, an Indianapolis native who went to Broad Ripple High School and IUPUI. “I was a Michael Jordan fan growing up, but when I did go to the games, I always rooted for my hometown team.

“You root for who you want to root for, but I know one day that we’re going to get it like it used to be at Market Square Arena. That’s my dream, that’s my goal from when I first got here, to help bring fans back. That’s all I’m trying to do.”

The Pacers enjoyed a loud home-court advantage at Market Square Arena, the team’s home from 1974-99.

Hill suggested Friday’s Lakers game had a 70-30 percent split in favor of the team wearing purple. Because his comments came after a 99-93 loss, some fans thought it unfair and rather untimely to vent.

“I love Indiana. I love everybody here in the community. That’s why I do so much in the community,” said Hill, who had 14 points and seven rebounds in the Pacers’ 95-73 victory over Orlando on Tuesday. “If anyone thought that I was trying to be disrespectful and tell them what to do with their money, I wasn’t. I’m sorry if that’s what you thought.

“I’m just trying to do what’s best for this organization and my teammates and show everybody this is a good basketball team. We’re going to need this city behind us to make a good run. We’re a basketball town and that’s how it should be.”

Howard ends partnership with longtime managerFrom the time he was drafted by the Magic with the No. 1 overall pick in 2004 to his Dwightmare of last season that eventually put him in Los Angeles, Dwight Howard has worked side by side with his manager, Kevin Samples. But after nine years of Samples, Howard decided to ditch him and, as Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register notes, the change in Howard’s on-and off-court personality has been noticeable:

Howard is growing all on his own, single-mindedly focused on who he wants to be, and he has taken another major step forward in his career by leaving the business manager who has been Howard’s primary advisor his entire career, Kevin Samples.

“We had nine great years together,” Howard told me late Monday night. “Just time to go separate ways.”

For all the intangible growth Howard has discovered recently, breaking away from Samples is a concrete gesture that the past is the past – and Howard is confident in calling his own shots in the future.

“I know what I want to accomplish,” Howard said. “I’ve always written down my goals and everything I want, and I want to make sure I get ‘em. Everything I’ve lost, everything that’s gone away, I’m going to get it back.”

Samples came to Los Angeles with Howard after the trade to the Lakers, and it was hard to envision him not being around considering they’re actually first cousins – and Howard’s parents dispatched Samples to live with Howard in Orlando right after the 2004 NBA draft as a big brother/guidance counselor/business manager.

Their relationship grew into Dwight Howard Enterprises, which had two and only two officers: Howard and Samples.

For Howard to sever the tie is no small statement.

“He’s still my cousin, my family, so we’ll always be around each other,” Howard said. “But we just parted ways on the business side.”

What has changed is Howard can reflect on what went awry in Orlando with a healthy perspective now: He wanted to leave the Magic organization, but not really the people and the community that had become so connected to him. He needed to venture out to grow and deep-down he knew it – but he was a little scared to try something that big and new.

Howard was a little scared as he started out with the Lakers, too – unsure about his body after back surgery and lacking his usual freakish physical dominance. Even as Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak was behind the scenes reclaiming his spot on the All-Virtue team for patience, frustration grew from teammates and coaches over Howard not more aggressively testing the limits of what he could give the Lakers.

Howard maintains that it was mostly his lack of physical fitness that stopped him, but maybe he looked chicken because nothing was egging him on.

Howard’s major breakthrough was in attitude.

No more whining about touches in the post – replaced by a total commitment to defending and rebounding, plus creating devastating pick-and-roll ball with two legendary ball-handlers Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.

No more excuses about his body – which Howard still managed to bring in at a career-low 5.8 percent body fat to start the season and drop down further to 5.0. No more needing time to wait and hope for less pain from the torn labrum in his right shoulder. Instead, a commitment to cutting sugar out of his diet for two months and pushing his conditioning to the point that it meant even humbly asking out of a game.

Rather than spouting clichés about the Lakers needing to do the right things to start winning, Howard simply started doing those things that he knows are right.

Clips not confident on defenseBefore the All-Star break, the Clippers were 39-17 and had just come off a sound 125-101 thumping of the rival Lakers. All seemed right in the Clippers’ world, but since the All-Star break, L.A. has slowed. It is 7-5 and had lost to the Spurs, Grizzlies, Thunder and Nuggets — all somewhat acceptable losses given that each team is at least a playoff squad out West. Last night’s 116-101 loss to the Kings in Sacramento, though, raised some concerns for point guard Chris Paul, who tells the Los Angeles’ Times Broderick Turner that the Clips are more than struggling on defense of late:

This was perhaps the worst loss of the season for the Clippers, and it could hardly have come at a worse time.

A 116-101 loss to the Sacramento Kings in which they were outscored 38-18 in the fourth quarter Tuesday night sent the Clippers tumbling in the standings.

They began the night at Sleep Train Arena as the third-seeded team in the Western Conference, but they left in fourth place, percentage points behind Memphis (45-21).

The Kings’ fourth-quarter surge exposed the Clippers’ dismal three-point defense, a recurring problem. Sacramento made four consecutive three-pointers in a 1-minute 45-second stretch, turning a two-point edge into a 110-98 lead that spelled the end for the Clippers.

The Kings shot 50% (14 for 28) from behind the three-point line.

“It seems like every night teams shoot lights-out from the three on us,” Paul said.

The Clippers also lacked composure down the stretch.

Lamar Odom was assessed a technical foul with 7:55 left and the score tied, 86-86. Barnes swore at fans in the stands. Paul yelled at DeMarcus Cousins while the Kings center was shooting free throws.

“We’ve got to get better defensively,” Paul said “I think that’s the biggest key. Last year we had something about us where we could just get stops when we needed to. And right now, I don’t think we have the confidence that we need defensively.”

Breaking down Memphis’ new offenseFrom coach Lionel Hollins to our own Sekou Smith right here on the Hang Time blog to various others around the NBA blogosphere, the Grizzlies’ decision to trade Rudy Gay wasn’t met with universal praise. Memphis struggled after trading the athletic swingman, but has picked things up in the interim and is 16-6 overall since Gay was dealt to Toronto. Dan Devine over at Yahoo! Sports’ Ball Don’t Lie blog has a great in-depth post breaking down how the Grizzlies have thrived a bit since Gay was dealt:

There have been plenty of positive things about the Memphis Grizzlies’ surge since trading starting small forward Rudy Gay as part of a three-team deal that was lambasted in some quarters and lauded in others, with the team’s 16-6 mark since the move, of course, topping the list. One of the neatest from a basketball nerd perspective, though, is the increased amount of attention, both in the Grizzlies’ attack and in subsequent analysis of it, that has been going to the work done by Marc Gasol.

Gasol ranks at the top of the league in “elbow touches,” according to optical tracking data compiled by STATS through their SportVU system, which I’ve written about before. (That’s the high-tech system where six special high-definition video cameras are installed above an arena’s basketball court at different angles to track, capture, record and store information on the location and movement of all 10 players, all three referees and the ball 25 times per second, every second, for an entire NBA game. Right now, 15 of 30 NBA teams have the cameras installed; more are sure to follow.)

Before the Gay trade, the Grizzlies ranked 22st among 30 NBA teams in offensive efficiency, a stat that measures how many points your offense scores per 100 possessions; Memphis was averaging 100.1 points-per-100, according to NBA.com’s stat tool. In 21 games since adding Tayshaun Prince, Ed Davis and Austin Daye to the lineup following the trade, they’ve moved up to 13th in the league at 104-per-100; over the course of the full season, that would rank just above the Brooklyn Nets as the NBA’s 10th-best offense. That’s a pretty significant improvement — over the course of the full season, four points-per-100 is the difference between the Nets’ No. 10 offense and the Chicago Bulls’ 25th-ranked unit.

ICYMI of the night: Nothing like a nice circus-type layup on a slow Wednesday morning. Thanks, Paul George:


10 Comments

  1. ELISEO SORIANO OLDPATH says:

    Indiana will be preparing on the Playoff run…
    On summer :
    MAVS can get Andrew Bynum and Eric Gordon,
    Both players can sign huge contract and wont play…
    still Miami Heat All Day… Repeat Champions…

    –Daniel Razon Oldpath

  2. u dont know says:

    not only is this clown not watching games, but everyone thinks the lakers should win every game despite changing everything about thier game. also u guy talk about cousins not being in their….bgive them healthy cousins and give us healthy gasol. ill take 40 boards between the 2 bigs not to mention 1 of them will get 20 pts every game between them! the lakers havnt been fully healthy since all the trades so all u doubters c u in the big games

  3. standard says:

    any team cheating on NBA actual games?
    seriously?
    dude i think you are playing a lot of videogames lately
    do you really see actual nba games? or you are just blinded by the hate?

    did you know on that game that you are pointing out the kings did not have Cousins?

    for god’s sake atleast watch some nba real games before posting based on your videogames!!

  4. Jeff says:

    with kobe down for however many more games, it will be tough for the lakers. Dwight has his chance to be the man, to be center stage. Hes gotta take it. Make his free throws, get 20 boards and points a game while kobe is out. If he is as good as everyone and he thinks he is, that should be able to be accomplished

  5. Joshua Greenfarb says:

    I cannot believe Indiana lost to the Lakers. What in the blue hell is going on? WHAT AN UPSET!!! Oh sure, I believe Indiana’s last 2 games were blowout wins. But they lost previously to the lowly Lakers?? Unbelievable. Unless, of course, the Lakers cheated. Ha!

    ALSO, I cannot believe the surging Sacramento Kings recently lost to the Lakers. Unbelievable. OHHHHHHHHH, but today, the Kings defeated the Clippers rather convincingly. What in the blue hell is going on? How many of the Lakers’ wins this season were because the LA Lakers CHEATED??? Or maybe teams are experimenting too much?

    I’m glad the Phoenix Suns, at least, played for real and destroyed the lowly Lakers. Look, if all 30 NBA teams “play for real” for the rest of the way, there’s no way in heck the lowly Lakers can get into the playoffs. No way.

    • truth says:

      Another pathetic hater!! man i love seeing you all people rage with anger inside knowing LAKERS are comin!! but seriously? Cheating??? just pathetic bro…

    • LA Born and bred says:

      Cheated? I suppose the lowly Lakers cheated their way to 16 Championships too. See u in the playoffs.

  6. Giddi says:

    I think you missed a big point in evaluating the Clippers situation.

    They were the third seed and after yesterday, they are the fourth seed WITHOUT homecourt advantage in the first round.

    They are only ahead of Denver becaue they are the division leader and the seedings are based on that, but the team with the better record (or based on other tiebreakers) gets homecourt advantage, no matter if the other team has a better seed (like Atlanta had homecourt as fifth seed againt Boston as fourth seed)

  7. ELISEO SORIANO OLDPATH says:

    WOW!! 23 WINNING STREAK, THAT’S INCREDIBLE…
    it will be for awhile….
    MIAMI HEAT ALL DAY….
    –DANIEL RAZON OLDPATH