NEWS OF THE MORNING
Cuban docked $100,000 | Beverley return set | George’s All-Star choices | Blazers romp to top spot | Durant in a zone
No. 1: Cuban gets his wish — Mavericks owner Mark Cuban for weeks touted his desire to be fined one last time before commissioner David Stern steps down on Feb. 1. Stern granted his wish Saturday night with a hefty $100,000 fine for confronting officials on the court and directing inappropriate language toward them at the conclusion of the Mavs’ intense, 129-127 loss Wednesday night to the Los Angeles Clippers. Cuban’s team blew a 123-106 lead with 4:30 to go amid a storm of turnovers and fouls. The fine came down moments after Cuban had spoke to reporters as he typically does prior to games. Cuban beat the league in announcing the fine, using his Twitter account to let everybody know his pleasure: “I couldnt let the commish go without a proper farewell. Its been a fun 14 years of trying to create change and donating to the donut fund !” ESPNDallas’ Tim MacMahon has the details:
He added in another tweet that he would donate an equal amount to a charity.
Cuban’s latest outburst occurred after the Mavs blew a 17-point lead and Clippers guard Jamal Crawford scored the go-ahead points on free throws after a controversial foul call against Dallas forward Shawn Marion.
Cuban has said several times this season that he planned to draw the final fine of Stern’s 30-year tenure as commissioner. Cuban reiterated that intention to ESPN.com this week before his outburst Wednesday night.
This is the 20th time the league has publicly assessed a fine against Cuban since he bought the Mavs in Jan. 2000, including 14 fines that were the result of criticizing officials or interacting with them in ways the NBA deemed inappropriate.
Those fines have cost Cuban a total of $1.9 million, plus matching donations to charities of his choice.
No. 2: Beverley back Monday — The Rockets’ backcourt is about to get its starting point guard back. Patrick Beverley is expected to return to action Monday night at home against the Portland Trail Blazers roughly four weeks after he broke his right hand. Beverley went through the team’s full shootaround Saturday night and will practice Sunday as his final tune-up. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle has more:
“I’m back now,” Beverley said. “I went through shootaround. We’ll see how it goes. I went through the whole shootaround like I did before, ran some drills, got a lot of shots up and went over the other team’s game plan.”
Though he prepared as if he was going to play against the Bucks, Beverley was held out to allow him one practice with the team before returning. He said he has been working out enough that he was “not rusty at all. Rockets coach Kevin McHale said the plan is to have Beverley return Monday pending that day’s final medical evaluation.
“I’ve been getting a lot of shots up the last past days,” Beverley said. “ I think our training staff has done a great job with my conditioning, helping me being ready when my number is called.”
Beverley said it is difficult to simulate the energy and intensity of actual games, but said he has made up for lost time with Rockets performance and rehabilitation coach Joe Rogowski.
“It was Camp Rogo,” Beverley said. “Went on like a hell week where just got after it, got stronger and quicker, more explosive. I think it’s going to pay off. Hard work always pays off.
“I felt I could have played last Thursday. I feel I could have played a couple days before that. Something with my body I just heal fast. I’m able to endure a lot of pain. I’m just happy to be back on the court and happy to mix it up with these guys.”
No. 3: All-Star choices for George — Pacers wing Paul George is all but set to become a first-time starter in next month’s All-Star Game in New Orleans, and the NBA can’t get enough of the emerging superstar. George has been asked to participate in the 3-point shootout, the dunk contest and the skills competition. What are the chances he soaks up the entire weekend as a participant in one, two or all three events? Scott Agness of the Indianapolis Star has the odds:
The chances of him competing are slim, as he would prefer to rest and enjoy the weekend in The Big Easy. But he said that he hasn’t declined and was still open to the idea of taking part in at least one event. He plans to decide in the next few days.
When asked whether he had declined the offers, George said, “No, I haven’t declined. I’m keeping my options open.”
You know a player is at an elite level when he is considering turning down these invitations because All-Star weekend is typically a time where lesser-known guys or an up-and-coming player can be noticed.
He has been actively involved at the past two All-Star weekends. In Houston last year, he played in the big game and was in the 3-point contest. The year before, George and his glow-in-dark-uniform placed third in the dunk contest and he played in the ‘Rising Stars Challenge,’ the same game he was left out of as a rookie.
Frank Vogel and his staff will be down there to coach the Eastern Conference team, which should have at least three members of the NBA’s best team. Lance Stephenson, the flashiest player on the Pacers, said he won’t be involved in any of those events, but he does have a message for his teammate.
“I ain’t got no dunks like that,” he said. “Paul, that’s the guy that needs to be in the dunk contest.”
No. 4: Hot Blazers soar again — For anyone thinking Portland’s recent slowdown signaled the start of a permanent trickle back to the pack in the Western Conference, the Blazers say believe what you want. One night after winning at San Antonio, 109-100, Portland went into Dallas and destroyed the Mavs with a near-flawless performance through three quarters. Led by LaMarcus Aldridge‘s 30 points and 12 rebounds, the Blazers led 104-70 after three quarters. Winners of five in a row, they’re now 31-9 and reclaimed the No. 1 spot in the West. Are they for real? Mike Tokito of The Oregonian has the latest:
Portland fans might hope the Blazers are truly one the league’s best teams, critics might suggest they’re interlopers in the elite class. Guess what? They don’t care.
“We just take it day-by-day and game-by-game,” forward LaMarcus Aldridge said. “We don’t get caught up in all the hype. We just focus on doing our things that we need to do. Getting better defensively, staying focused on us.”
The Blazers were very good defensively and focused like a laser Saturday as they put on as impressive a performance as they’ve had all season, running the Dallas Mavericks out of American Airlines Center for three quarters in a 127-111 victory. The fourth quarter was a different story, but more on that later.
First the dominance: One night after putting San Antonio away with a strong fourth-quarter stretch, the Blazers took that sharp play and extended into a dominant first half, when they outscored Dallas 71-52, then revved things up further in the third, when they outscored the Mavericks 33-18.
The Blazers (31-9) have a reputation of a team that relies heavily on three-pointers and tries to outscore the other team, but on this night the catalyst was defense as they held Dallas to 39.4 percent field goal shooting in the first three quarters.
“Having the lead at halftime and coming out with that defensive focus in the third quarter was a really good sign for us,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said.
No. 5: Durant in a (right) zone — Thunder forward Kevin Durant is again leading the league in scoring and he’s doing so with remarkable efficiency. No game highlighted this quite like Friday’s 54-point performance on 19-for-28 shooting. During a one-minute stretch of that win over the Warriors, Durant scored nine points all from the same zone on the floor. Which zone? And why is that important? Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman explains:
Kevin Durant was stuck on 41 points for more than three minutes of game action. And on Friday night, that stagnation felt like an eternity.
So he called for the ball on the right wing, got it, and immediately rose for an in-rhythm three. Swish.
Then, on two of the next three possessions, he did the exact same thing.
Nine points in less than a minute. All from an increasingly more comfortable spot on the floor.
“I’ve been working on that shot, the right wing,” Durant said. “It used to be the shot I missed the most.”
But now, it has just become another lethal option in his unguardable arsenal.
Of Durant’s career-high 54 points on Friday night, 10 came near the rim, 11 came at the free-throw line and 12 came from that right wing, the zone in which he produced the most damage. Overall, he was 4-of-6 on that shot.
And in the grand scheme, that only continued an upward trend that Durant has clearly identified and worked to produce.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dwight Howard says he was promised a trade from Magic to Nets … Clippers center DeAndre Jordan wants All-Star invite, not (necessarily) dunk contest … Nets finalizing trades to open roster spot; Bulls give up on Marquis Teague