Morning Shootaround — April 2

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: Several good ones to pick from last night, including the sizzling Jazz winning their fifth straight, the Rockets rolling along with James Harden on the bench and the Pacers doing just enough to escape the Clips in L.A. But we’ve gotta give it up for the Grizzlies this morning for their win over the (albeit injury-depleted) Spurs last night.  Memphis was at it’s Grit-and-Grind best and showed they can change up their style a bit, too. With San Antonio pressuring big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol all night (and neither one having a particularly wowing stat line), the Grizz turned to Mike Conley, who came through time after time and nailed the game-winning layup with :00.6 left.

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News of the morning

Why Heat weren’t punished for resting Wade, James | Smith becoming an all-around force | Shaq’s big day in L.A. | Corbin pulls prank on Jefferson | Dunlap glad Bobcats have tough schedule

Heat escape punishment for resting stars Heading into Sunday night’s Heat-Spurs matchup in San Antonio, one of the talking points was the team’s last meeting in December. That game is famously known for two reasons: first, for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sending Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green back to San Antonio to get rest rather than play them in back-to-back games and second, for the Spurs giving the fully stocked Heat a real game despite missing those standout players. The rematch on Sunday lacked LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers, who all sat out due to injury but, unlike the Spurs’ quartet in December, were sitting on Miami’s bench during the Heat’s eventual win. Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today explains why the Spurs were fined $250,000 for their antics in December and the Heat weren’t leveled any punishment for theirs:

There are multiple reasons why NBA Commissioner David Stern hammered the Spurs:

It was an early-season game, long before it becomes customary for playoff teams to give top players a game off.

The Spurs didn’t list a reason why their players (who were sent home) didn’t play other than “NWT” — Not With Team. The Heat gave reasons for James (strained right hamstring) and Wade (sprained right ankle).

In a statement addressing the Spurs’ fine in November, Stern said the Spurs violated league policy “against resting players in manner contrary to the best interests of the NBA. … The team also did this without informing the Heat, the media, or the league office in a timely way. Under these circumstances, I have concluded that the Spurs did a disservice to the league and our fans.”

It can be concluded that the Heat informed the Spurs, media and league office in a timely way, since Miami was not penalized.

At the April 2010 Board of Governors meeting just before the playoffs began, Stern said owners addressed the issue of teams sitting players in the final weeks of the season and concluded, “We also had what I would call a spirited discussion on the subject of players being rested down the stretch. And I think it’s fair to say that there was no conclusion reached, other than a number of teams thought that it should be at the sole discretion of the team, coach, general manager, and I think it’s fair to say that I agree with that, unless that discretion is abused.”

It can also be concluded that Popovich abused that discretion in November and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra did not in late March.

Knicks’ Smith picks up his all-around gameJ.R. Smith is the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the usual reason players get that award: he’s been sizzling hot in his last few games. In the last three weeks in particular, Smith has forsaken his love of the 3-pointer for more aggressive drives to the basket and is doing work on the glass as well. Tommy Beer of HoopsWorld.com has more on Smith, who is rolling and fueling the Knicks as they are in the midst of an eight-game win streak:

Smith has been consistently aggressive. He’s relentlessly attacking the basket rather than settling for perimeter jumpers.

Consider these statistics to help put Smith’s recent play in proper context: Smith played 35 games for the Knicks last season after signing with New York in mid-February and attempted a total of 55 free throws over the course of the 2011-12 season. In contrast, over the Knicks’ last 10 games, Smith has attempted 89 free throws. Yes, he has gotten to the line 34 more times in 25 fewer games.

Over this 10-game stretch, dating back to March 14, Smith is tied with Kevin Durant for the most free throw attempts in the entire league.

During this current 10-game span, Smith is shooting over 48 percent from the floor and has scored 250 points on just 168 field goal attempts. Those numbers compare favorably with even the league’s most efficient scorers.

Smith certainly hasn’t eliminated the three-pointer from his arsenal (he averaged 6.3 three-point attempts in March), he’s just been more selective. In addition, he has drastically reduced the amount of long two-pointers he’s taking. Smith is either taking threes or getting to basket, which typically results in a dunk, lay-up or trip to the charity stripe.

In March, Smith was one of just five NBA players who knocked down at least 20 three-pointers as well as 80 free throws. The other four members of that exclusive club: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, James Harden and Durant.

Coming into this season, Smith had never averaged more than 4.1 rebounds per contest, but is pulling down 5.2 rebounds a night in 2012-13. He’s also dishing out a career-best 2.8 assists per game. He is one of just six players this season averaging at least 17 points, five rebounds and 1.3 steals (Russell Westbrook, James, Durant, Paul George and Rudy Gay are the other five).

O’Neal readies for his moment to be immortalizedTo a generation, Shaquille O’Neal may mostly be known as the new face on Inside the NBA, a pitchman and an adopter of practically all forms of social media. But before you pigeonhole Shaq as merely and entertainer, don’t forget his days as the most dominant force in the league as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. Although O’Neal never played an entire healthy season in L.A., he nonetheless ran roughshod over opponents, particularly during the Lakers’ three-peat years from 2000-02. Tonight, his No. 34 jersey will be hung from the rafters at Staples Center, joining other Laker legends as we all take a moment to reflect on his career, writes Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times:

If Shaquille O’Neal needed a nickname on his first day as a Laker, it could have been the Big Worrywart.

As dominant as he was, the best big man in the NBA recognized he represented just a fraction of the Lakers centers who had come before him.

George Mikan won six titles while becoming Mr. Basketball. Wilt Chamberlain won two titles (one as a Laker) and scored 100 points in a game. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won six titles (five as a Laker) and was the league’s all-time leading scorer.

What had O’Neal done, besides help the Orlando Magic go poof in a four-game sweep during the 1995 Finals?

“It was something I was terrified of,” O’Neal said of the Lakers’ legacy of centers. “We made it to the Finals that one year. That was good, but it wasn’t as good as them yet. Because in my mind I’m like, ‘Wilt’s got two [titles], Kareem’s got six and I have none.’”

O’Neal’s insecurities were only reinforced when Jerry West, then the Lakers’ executive vice president, placed his hands on the center’s broad shoulders shortly after he joined the team in July 1996 and told him to look up at the jerseys hanging from the rafters inside the Forum.

“He said, ‘Son, if you do everything correctly and do everything in a professional manner,’” O’Neal said, recalling their conversation, “‘you may be up there one day.’”

O’Neal was famous for bestowing nicknames upon himself: Shaq-Fu, Big Aristotle and MDE, for Most Dominant Ever.

He never called himself the best Lakers center ever, and he isn’t about to now.

“I’m just good enough to be in the conversation,” said O’Neal, 41, who was given the night off from the TNT broadcast of the Lakers-Mavericks game to enjoy his jersey retirement ceremony.

O’Neal overpowered defenders, using his massive 7-1, 340-pound body as leverage before spinning away for layups or dunks. He teamed with Kobe Bryant to help the Lakers win three straight titles from 2000-02. “My style was dominating and intimidating people, making them quit, making them flop,” O’Neal said.

He does have a few regrets about a career in which injuries limited him to an average of 63 games a season.

“I’m kind of upset with myself for missing 250 games,” said O’Neal, who ranks sixth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with 28,596 points. “If I had played those games and gotten an extra 5,000 points, I would have passed Wilt Chamberlain and then I would have the right to say I’m the most dominant big man ever to play.”

Corbin pranks red-hot Jefferson — The Jazz are the hottest team in the West, having won five straight games. Those victories have come at an opportune time, considering Utah is in a scrap with Dallas and the L.A. Lakers for the No. 8 spot in the West (although Utah does hold the tie-breakers over both teams). Key in that surge of late has been center Al Jefferson, who was named the Western Conference Player of the Week and has dominated inside while the Jazz are slowly regaining the rhythm that made them a solid-if-not-certain playoff team earlier in the season. Jody Genessy of the Deseret News has more on Jefferson, his award and a little joke played on him by his coach, Tyrone Corbin:

Al Jefferson got an unexpected phone call from Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin on Monday afternoon.

At first, Big Al thought he might be in trouble.

Jefferson then wondered if he was a prank victim.

“He called me out of the blue, and I was thinking I did something wrong,” said Jefferson, who then quickly was reminded it was April Fools’ Day. “(Coach) was like, ‘Yeah, I’m calling to trade you. …

“But, oh yeah, that’s right,” Corbin added, “we can’t trade.”

The real reason for the call?

The coach was informing Jefferson he’d been named the NBA’s Western Conference player of the week.

“I think it’s a tremendous honor for where we are,” Corbin said. “He’s a huge part of the success that we’re having.”

Big Al averaged 19.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.5 blocks during the pivotal week, which helped the Jazz work their way back into the eighth and final playoff spot out West.

“It really did (surprise me). It caught me off guard so bad,” Jefferson said. “I’m so focused trying to just get into the playoffs. I ain’t really thought about our record this week and what I averaged this week.”

Jefferson, who had 24 points and 10 rebounds in Utah’s 112-102 win over Portland on Monday, has been named a player of the week five times in his nine-year career, including twice with the Jazz (the first time being April 23, 2012).

That came as a surprise to him. He thought this was his fourth time.

“For real?” he said when informed he’s earned the honor twice in Utah, twice in Minnesota and once with Boston. “It’s a great feeling, but there’s bigger fish to fry. The main goal is to win a championship.”

Dunlap glad Bobcats face tough final scheduleCharlotte is in a game-by-game battle with Orlando for the worst record in the Eastern Conference and is set up for likely a third straight season of 25 wins or less. Of the Bobcats’ final eight games, five are against playoff teams. That would seem to be exactly what a young, struggling team like Charlotte wouldn’t want to face, but coach Mike Dunlap tells Charles F. Gardner of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel the opposite is true:

Charlotte coach Mike Dunlap said he’s glad his team is playing teams in contention for the playoffs.

“The great thing about playing the Bucks tonight is they have the playoff fever,” Dunlap said. “Every possession presents itself with an intensity that is good for our young guys to understand.”

Charlotte scored 60 points in the first half but only 42 in the second half as the Bucks won their 10th consecutive home game against the Bobcats.

The Bucks and Bobcats met twice early in the season, with Charlotte prevailing at home, 102-98, on Nov. 19 and the Bucks winning at home, 108-93, on Dec. 7.

Charlotte started 7-5, matching its total of victories last season. But it has won just 10 more times since that promising start.

“Youth, is one,” Dunlap said. “And two is you have them in a concentrated period of the training camp and you come right into the season. There’s a bit of fizz there in terms of clarity.

“We’ve had a story line that’s quiet. But we’ve run into major injuries. We’re on the margin, so when a Gerald Henderson is out for the better part of two months, that impacts us. You can see what he’s doing. Then (Ramon) Sessions goes out. We can’t afford to lose a Sessions. That’s like losing a (Mario) Chalmers or something along those lines.”

ICYMI of the night: Game by game, Ricky Rubio is regaining the form that made him a standout last season and, game by game, Derrick Williams is benefiting from Rubio’s play:

One Comment

  1. Comon-really! Multiple reasons heat gave for plain rest or created injury to avoid a fine. Oh i know, they’re sssspecialllll! Or maybe lebwwwan hwurt hwimswelf by intentionally ramming hwimswelf into the tree stump-Boozer. All 3 heat princesses looked fine last few games to me. As for Celts (in case anybody wants to talk trash & not fact), The Truth Pierce has been playing w/ a pinched nerve for a while that was just recently revealed as he is a real trooper & KG has been limping a lil recently-still The Beast of the East!
    CELTICS-HORAAH-UBUNTU!!!