2012

History: Fear The Streaking Clippers

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HANG TIME, Texas — It might be time to change the name of Lob City to Titletown or Bannerburgh.

Either way the streaking Clippers are on the verge of moving into a rather exclusive neighborhood that merits quite serious attention. It’s a ritzy place that comes with lots of shiny gold hardware.

When Chris Paul and his pals won back-to-back games over the Jazz to run it up to 17 consecutive wins, they squeezed into a tie for the ninth-longest single-season streak in NBA history.

With one more win tonight at Denver — No. 18 — the Clippers would take another step toward forcing themselves into the conversation as honest-to-goodness contenders.

Of course, the 1971-72 Lakers top the list with their all-time record 33-game win streak that many consider to be unbreakable. But of the eight teams currently ahead of the Clippers, five of them went on that same season to win the NBA championship and two others advanced to the conference finals. Only the 2007-08 Rockets failed to get out of the first round of the playoffs.

1971-72 L.A. Lakers
Streak: 33

Coach: Bill Sharman
Stars: Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Gail Goodrich

Start: Nov. 5, 1971 (110-106 over Bullets)

End: Jan. 7, 1972 (120-104 to Bucks)

Record: 69-13

Playoff result: Won NBA championship

2007-08 Houston Rockets

Streak: 22 games
Coach: Rick Adelman
Stars: Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming

Start: Jan. 29, 2008 (111-107 over Warriors)

End: March 18, 2008 (94-74 to Boston Celtics)

Record: 55-27

Playoff result: Lost in first round

1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks

Streak: 20
Coach: Larry Costello
Stars: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson

Start: Feb. 6, 1971 (111-105 over Warriors)

End: March 8, 1971 (110-103 in OT to Bulls)

Record: 66-16

Playoff result: Won NBA championship

1999-2000 L.A. Lakers

Streak: 19
Coach: Phil Jackson
Stars: Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal

Start: Feb. 4, 2000 (113-67 over Jazz)

End: March 13, 2000 (109-102 to Wizards)

Record: 67-15

Playoff result: Won NBA championship

2008-09 Boston Celtics
Streak: 19

Coach: Doc Rivers
Stars: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen

Start: Nov. 15, 2008 (102-97 over Bucks)

End: Dec. 25, 2008 (92-83 to Lakers)

Record: 62-20

Playoff result: Lost in conference semifinals

1969-70 N.Y. Knicks
Streak: 18

Coach: Red Holzman
Stars: Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley

Start: Oct. 24, 1969 (116-92 over Pistons)

End: Nov. 29, 1969 (110-98 to Pistons)

Record: 60-22

Playoff result: Won NBA championship

1981-82 Boston Celtics

Streak: 18
Coach: Bill Fitch
Stars: Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish

Start: Feb. 24, 1982 (132-90 over Jazz)

End: March 28, 1982 (116-98 to 76ers)

Record: 63-19

Playoff result: Lost in conference finals

1995-96 Chicago Bulls

Streak 18
Coach: Phil Jackson
Stars: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman

Start: Dec. 29, 1995 (120-93 over Pacers)

End: Feb. 4, 1996 (105-99 to Nuggets)

Record: 72-10

Playoff result: Won title

2012-13 L.A. Clippers
Streak: 17
Coach: Vinny Del Negro
Stars: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin
Start: Nov. 28, 2012 (101-95 over Timberwolves)
End: ???

* 20 consecutive wins by 2011-12 San Antonio Spurs was split between 10 regular season and 10 playoffs and thereby does not qualify officially.

Kobe Bryant Minutes Watch Is Still On

HANG TIME WEST – The night Steve Nash returned from a fractured left leg, Kobe Bryant was asked to describe the 24 games with Nash sidelined by a fractured left leg.

“Tiring,” Bryant said.

He even repeated the answer an instant later, before another question had been asked, for emphasis.

“Tiring.”

An understandable read considering the 40.6 minutes per game he logged in Nash’s absence. Except that then Nash returned and nothing changed. If anything, actually, the fractional change that did occur was for the worst for whatever hopes Bryant had of being able to reduce his workload.

Bryant is playing slightly more in the four games since the Lakers got their preferred starting backcourt together. It is fine for now since he is the last guy to worry about with conditioning, and it is understandable in the moment as Bryant continues to deliver at a superstar level, but the playoffs remain the priority and it is fair to wonder how much he will have left in late April at this rate.

Bryant, at 34 years old, was tied with Joe Johnson for fourth in the league heading into Monday’s games, at 38.7 minutes, behind only Luol Deng (40.4), Kevin Durant (39.6) and Joakim Noah (39.5). Just as it was a concern with Mike Brown as coach, to where Brown said in the 2012 playoffs he worked Bryant too hard in the regular season, so too will it apparently be a storyline to watch under Brown successor Mike D’Antoni.

Bryant in the 24 games without Nash: 40.6 minutes.

Bryant in the four games since Nash returned: 40.8.

Bryant season-long average when Nash returned: 38.4.

Bryant season-long average today: 38.7.

And that was with the break of 31 minutes in the blowout win over the Trail Blazers on Friday. Otherwise, he went 44 minutes three games in a row.

Nash in the first two games: 25 minutes a game, though it’s a very skewed statistic since he went 34 in the opener and then only 16 before hurting the leg Oct. 31 at Portland.

Nash in the four games since the Dec. 22 return: 34.

Nash season-long average: 31.

D’Antoni is obviously trying to quickly scrape together enough wins to change the atmosphere, a notion that would have been unimaginable at the outset of the season. More specifically, he is trying to accelerate the transition to his system, and so Nash, who knows it better than any Laker thanks to his time with D’Antoni in Phoenix, went from not playing in seven weeks to playing 41 minutes the first game back.

The new coach is not going for a long adjustment period. Nash will get big minutes right away. Bryant will get very big minutes the entire way. The Lakers are playing catch-up. This may get even more tiring.

Subtracting Harden Adds Up For OKC

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HOUSTON – Comfortable in a new city and a new role as top gun of the Rockets’ offense, James Harden seems on his way to his first appearance amid the glitz and glamor of the NBA All-Star Game.

Of course, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have already been there, done that, more than once, and will likely return to the Toyota Center for another go-around on Feb. 17. But really they have their sights set only on another shiny object — the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

And the seemingly counterintuitive truth is the Thunder might actually be closer to achieving that goal without their former running mate.

In other words: No Harden, no problem.

That is not in any way to diminish the skill and work ethic of Harden, who has been everything the Rockets hoped for and more. He can weave through traffic, find his way to the basket and draw fouls almost in his sleep. He pull up and stab in a 3-point dagger from almost any place over the half-court line. He has been the confident, veteran force who has been able to lift the Rockets onto his shoulders and carry them through fourth quarters as a foundation to build upon while they continue to shape a young supporting cast.

Yet Harden’s departure just might enable the Thunder to become even better and take the last step to winning a title.

For one, there is no underestimating the ease with which his replacement Kevin Martin has slid into Harden’s old spot. He can move without the ball, can score efficiently by drawing a high rate of fouls and is, in fact, even a better spot-up shooter in the Thunder offense.

“To be able to find the open spots in the defense, take a pass and just knock it down is very important to the way we want to play,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “I was familiar with some of Kevin Martin’s game and knew he was a scorer, but I didn’t really know he was a spot-up guy until he came here. It’s been a significant addition to our team.”

Perhaps more significant, the departure of Harden has forced Durant to take on more of an all-around role in the OKC offense. While his scoring is down slightly this season, his assists and his assist/turnover ratio has improved. It seems he is becoming even more effective as a facilitator, drawing defenses to him and finding his open teammates.

There are still going to be those nights when Durant can and will fill up the bucket for 40 or 50. But without Harden to come off the bench and provide an offensive burst of his own, Durant been much more effective in getting the rest of his teammates — Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison and Martin — more involved on a more consistent basis. By subtracting Harden from the equation, Durant has had to become a more well-rounded player, even more of a leader, and the Thunder have gone from a three-headed monster to overall better team and

In two games against his former team, Harden has shot just 9-for-33 (27.2 percent) while averaging 21 points.

“James was really good for us,” said Brooks. “He’s a terrific player. He’s an All-Star player. He’s definitely at that level, and he’s going to be that way for many, many, many years. He still has improvement to make in his game and he’s really good now. But we never looked at it that way. We looked at it as whoever we have we’re going to get better with them and move forward.”

No Harden, no problem.

Jackson, Prokhorov… And Vodka

The Nets have “firmly targeted”  Phil Jackson to take over as coach, Howard Beck reports in the New York Times. Which is how it should be. Jackson is the ultimate closer and not a developer and Brooklyn has enough pieces to plot a playoff run. The former Knick speaks fondly about the city and owner Mikhail Prokhorov has the kind of deep pockets required to even start a conversation.

There is no word from Jackson himself on whether the feeling is mutual. But there is the way-back machine and Jackson being asked about Prokhorov on May 25, 2010.

“I’d like to have a vodka with him at some point,” Jackson said. “He seems like a very interesting young man.”

The backstory is important. Jackson, who was still coaching the Lakers but about to become a free agent, was talking in Phoenix before a playoff game. He was clearly loving the chance to tweak L.A. management, a favorite pastime. It was Jackson doing serve-and-volley with the media and not caring if his wandering eyes were visible about 90 minutes before Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.

Jackson in a hilarious moment was specific enough, though, to say he had no desire to return to his previous life as Bulls coach. So saying he was intrigued by Prokhorov does, in retrospect, seems real and not just a chance to sweat the Lakers out for the extension that would eventually come.

(The best part was Jackson denying being flattered by the speculation surrounding various coaching vacancies, calling it “a distraction, I think, to other teams and I think a disservice to coaches that are really seeking jobs and have an opportunity to go to teams.” A high road he took, of course, about a minute after noting he would like to throw back some good stuff with Prokhorov. Classic Phil.)

As it turned out, Jackson returned to the Lakers for the attempt at the threepeat, left a year later with a very bad playoff ending, and the Nets hired Avery Johnson on June 15, 2010. And now here they are again, Jackson a 100 percent free agent, the Nets looking for a coach and with spending power and the roster to back up their pursuit, and with Prokhorov still “interesting,” even if the “young man” part is not as applicable 2 ½ years later.

As Beck reported:

Asked if he would be interested in a coach with 11 championships, Prokhorov smiled broadly as a dozen camera shutters snapped. He again pledged support for [interim coach P.J.] Carlesimo but said, “If it becomes necessary, you know who usual suspects are.”

When Jackson’s name was specifically mentioned, Prokhorov turned coy: “I never heard this name, you know.”

A person with ties to the search called Jackson “the No. 1 choice,” for all of the obvious reasons. He is the most decorated coach in N.B.A. history, he is available, and he has strong ties to New York, having begun his playing career with the Knicks and ended it with the Nets (then in New Jersey).

All other candidates are considered distant second choices, at least until Nets officials determine whether Jackson wants the job. That is an open question, even among Jackson’s friends. It is far from certain that Jackson will coach again, and if so, whether he can be lured to Brooklyn.

Prokhorov and the Nets obviously have to try. Talk to Jackson. Invite him out for a drink.

Wade Penalty About More Than One Game


The NBA kicked Dwyane Wade where it hurts, too, suspending the Heat guard for one game for “flailing his leg and making contact with the groin” of Ramon Sessions of the Bobcats on Wednesday in Charlotte.

The one game? Eh. Wade must sit out when Miami (20-6) plays Friday at Detroit (9-22). At 34, 38 and 37 minutes the last three games, the latter two in a back-to-back, the point can be made that the rest will do him good.

Except that this has become about more than the one game. Wade “getting his Rockettes on” against Sessions was so over the line and has become part of such a growing list of regrettable moments that his reputation is suffering.

Whether Wade is wounded by comments along the lines of Boston’s Rajon Rondo calling him out for “dirty plays” is not known. But Wade should care. A suspension for appearing to purposely kick an opponent in the groin for no reason other than Sessions taking a foul opens the kind of file with the NBA no one should want.

The second-best player on a team with aspirations for a title repeat will be judged from now on through a different, harsher prism. There is a precedent. Wade, for all the good he has done in a career that will lead to the Hall of Fame, also has a history that will work against him if future incidents come up.

As Brian Windhorst chronicled on ESPN.com before the suspension had been announced:

  • During a game in Boston in the 2011 regular season, Wade was hit with a flagrant foul for shoving Kevin Garnett after Garnett had leveled Mike Miller with a screen.
  • In the 2011 playoffs, Wade got wrapped up with Rondo while going for a loose ball. After Rondo elbowed Wade, he appeared to stick his leg out and sweep Rondo to the court. It resulted in Rondo dislocating his elbow. At the time, Wade said it was inadvertent.
  • Wade broke Kobe Bryant’s nose, raking him from behind during an unusual physical play during the 2012 All-Star Game. Bryant had fouled Wade twice previously in the game.
  • During a regular-season game last April in Miami, Wade threw a forearm at Chicago Bulls guard Rip Hamilton after Hamilton bumped him trying to create space on the perimeter. Wade was called for a flagrant foul.
  • During the first round of the playoffs last season, Wade threw the shoe of New York Knicks guard Mike Bibby off the court after Bibby lost it getting a rebound.
  • During the second round of the playoffs, Wade blindsided Indiana Pacers guard Darren Collison on a fast break. Wade, who seemed to be reacting to not getting a shooting foul moments earlier, was assessed a flagrant foul.

Many could fade into the background if they were single happenings. Some, like shoving Garnett in defense of a teammate or tossing Bibby’s shoe in a strange attempt to gain a competitive advantage, can even be seen as exactly the chippy attitude a team should want from a star. In totality, though, that is a very long list.

Commissioner David Stern has made it clear that past incidents matter when the time comes to decide on disciplines, and Wade has several. Whether or not Wade cares about his image around the league, it is why he should absolutely be concerned with the reputation in the biggest offices at NBA HQ.

Time To Really See About The Clippers


[Editor's note: The Clippers host the Celtics Thursday night on TNT (10:30 ET).]

HANG TIME WEST — Of course the Clippers are good. They were supposed to be. No one could have seen 14 wins in a row coming with a lineup reduced by injury. But 53 to 55 wins, top four in the West with the Thunder, Spurs and another Staples Center tenant, two All-Star starters, an MVP candidate at point guard, and arguably the best depth in the league? Those were all fair reads from the beginning.

The 22-6 record jumps out because of the sparkle: The longest win streak in the league in 2012-13, the NBA’s best record as late as Christmas for the first time in franchise history. The fact that it’s such a contrast – the Clippers! – is an attention-getter as well.

Now let’s see what they’ve really got.

The 14-game winning streak has been a great ride, but it’s come mostly on the back of weak opponents in what by the end of the season should turn out to essentially be a semi-tour of lottery teams. The Clippers did exactly what they were supposed to do, smacking aside the sparring partners by an average of 15.4 points per contest and allowing 100 points just twice. What the Clippers did not do, because the schedule would not allow it, was send an accurate read of where they are.

That comes now. Beginning with Tuesday night’s victory over the Nuggets in Los Angeles, the Clippers have stepped into a much tougher stretch of schedule, filled with teams that are somewhere between possibly and probably bound for the playoffs.

The last 14 games: Timberwolves, Kings (twice), Jazz, Mavericks, Suns (twice), Raptors, Bulls, Bobcats, Bucks, Pistons, Hornets, Nuggets. The 12 different opponents have a combined winning percentage of .405 today.

The next 15 games: Celtics, Jazz (twice), Nuggets, Warriors (three times), Lakers, Mavericks, Magic, Grizzlies, Rockets, Timberwolves, Wizards and Thunder. The 12 different opponents have a combined winning percentage of .523, and that’s with 3-22 Washington.

The encouraging part for the Clippers is that they already have passed a schedule test this season. That was back when they were 2-2 and had given back the 2-0 start of wins over the Grizzlies and Lakers by losing to the Warriors (which doesn’t look nearly as bad now) and the Cavaliers. A lot of tough opponents were coming up. It was a big early-season moment … and they responded by winning six in a row.

Same thing this time, only without losses anywhere in sight. If the Clippers are still making forward progress in a month, then they’ll really have something. A big part of that will be the health issues and how they transition with returning players.

As well as things are going on the court, the best part about the Clippers now is their attitude, the way coach Vinny Del Negro said after beating Denver that “It’s nice. But it’s Christmas. We’ve got a long way to go and lot of improvements to make.” And how Chris Paul noted that “We always talk about the big picture because this is fool’s gold. You don’t play for the regular season. … We still got to keep building. We’ll know when we’re where we want to be, but we still have a ways to go.”

Perfect mindset. Because they still do have a long way to go.

Time For The Kings To Save Themselves





HANG TIME WEST — So far in the 2012-13 season, DeMarcus Cousins has been saddled with three suspensions – two courtesy of the league, one via the team – and the reasons are getting more mundane. A player arguing with a coach is a basic misdeed that happens a lot in this league, although not usually on such a public stage as the Staples Center sideline, and is garden-variety histrionics compared to leaving the locker room in uniform after a game to return to the court to confront Spurs broadcaster Sean Elliott or the time Cousins asked Dallas’ O.J. Mayo to turn his head and cough.

That will have to do for progress, though, and welcome for the real sign of trouble for the Kings.

It is not that Cousins is still having problem harnessing his emotions. That is so yesterday. It’s that Cousins is getting worse.

Well into his third season, time enough for any player to have grasped how to carry himself as a professional, even a player still just 22, the behavior of the centerpiece of the Kings’ foundation is regressing. That it comes at the same time his play is also backsliding compounds the concern, but that’s nothing compared to the greater worry: Cousins is becoming more turbulent the longer his career goes, when it should be the other way around.

The two-day suspension that ended Monday with his reinstatement in the wake of the shouting match with coach Keith Smart on Friday in Los Angeles will be viewed by some as the Kings taking a hard line. That’s a natural read. What should not be overlooked is that this was also, and probably more, about the Kings taking care of the Kings.

While youth has been oversold as a reason for life in the cellar, they do have two lottery picks in their first or second season (Thomas Robinson and Jimmer Fredette) and a second-year player is in the rotation (Isaiah Thomas). That’s a lot of investments by the organization and that’s a lot of developing NBA minds being shaped by what swirls around them. Management has to deal with this to save an entire locker room, not to save Cousins.

This is when it stopped being about Cousins and started being about the possibility other people are being affected. Or infected.

Cousins’ actions can no longer be explained away as rampaging immaturity and people can no longer naïvely write off his improvements last season to that horrible, horrible Paul Westphal being fired as coach and Smart bonding with Cousins after taking over. It was never about Westphal. It was about Cousins bothering to get in shape a month after training camp opened. Yeah, Westphal was obviously holding Cousins back.

Immaturity is showing up at the pre-Draft camp in Chicago in poor shape when Cousins knew as well as anyone his attitude was the real question. Youth is reporting to his first Kings camp at less than 100 percent. Giving him every benefit of the doubt, immaturity may even have been arriving for the start of the 2011-12 season, with the chance for a fresh start, in sloppy condition.

The last five or six months have been a real ride for Cousins.

Team USA invited Cousins to be on the Select team, a group of young players who would work against the stars headed to the Olympics later in the summer. If there ever was a time to show up, be ready, tape a smile on his face and not say anything other than “Yes,” “No,” “Please” and “Thank you,” this was it. A positive review from Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski would have been image changing. Instead, Colangelo publicly dinged Cousins’ bad attitude.

Trying to spark a confrontation with Elliott — earning a two-game suspension from the NBA — was the worst sign of all that Cousins is not close to being able to control himself. Striking Mayo in the groin cost Cousins another game from the league, though the action did little to surprise the many opponents who already considered him a cheap-shot artist.

And now this. Cousins did well to publicly apologize to Smart immediately after the game against the Clippers, something positive that came out of it, but the Kings obviously understood things had gone too far. They need to try, again, to find a way to get Cousins on a path to reach his All-Star potential. But they need to worry about the young players he could influence. The Kings need to save themselves.

Dwight Howard Imagined Having To Retire


OAKLAND –
Lakers center Dwight Howard said he briefly imagined his career being over eight months ago when doctors said a herniated disc caused nerve damage in his left leg that could have forced him to retire.

“I did for a couple days,” Howard said Saturday night after the Lakers beat the Warriors at Oracle Arena.

What became a final season in Orlando, a contentious split marred by his wavering on a future with the Magic, ended with April 20 surgery, sidelining the three-time Defensive Player of the Year for the playoffs and the Olympics with Team USA. But Howard said the full extent of the injury was not known publicly, and that while he is still not 100 percent while playing for the Lakers, he is far ahead of the original timetable.

“When I got hurt, I lost my whole left leg, basically, from my nerves,” he said. “That takes at least nine months to get that strength back. I was able to get some of it back in a couple of months. But it’s always a process. I wish that it would all come back right away, but this is a great time for me to work on other parts of my game that’ll make myself better and also make the team better.

“It’s really, at this point, not even my back. The injury I had caused my whole left leg to just lose all strength. My nerves were severely damaged. It takes a while for those nerves to grow back and for you to have enough strength to play. All that stuff is coming back slowly. There’s still days, like I said, where I feel really good, and there’s day when I’m not so good. But it’s all a process. I’m pretty sure at the end of the year I’ll feel a lot better than I do now.

“If I would have waited until after the season (to have the operation), if I would have tried to continue to play, then I probably wouldn’t be able to play anymore. I had to do it right away. I didn’t want to risk my career for some playoff games. They were important for me, but my health is important.”

Traded to the Lakers as part of a four-team blockbuster on August 10, Howard is averaging 17.8 points, 11.9 rebounds, 2.59 blocks and 36.4 minutes, second-most on the team behind Kobe Bryant. He has played all 27 games.

The Lakers Win Their Season Opener





OAKLAND, Calif. – OK, now what?

Lakers 2.0 was unveiled Saturday night, with Steve Nash back from a leg injury and officially reunited with Mike D’Antoni, his coach then and now, with a new look to the lineup, and with the sign of desperation of D’Antoni calling Nash’s return a splash of warm fuzzies that will help the defense.

Oh, and with about four months left to fix pretty much everything.

Actually, they don’t even have until the end of the regular season, not at 13-14 and in 11th place in the Western Conference, just 1 ½ games out of the eighth and final playoff spot but also two games away from a tumble to 13th. Especially since this never has been about just making the playoffs. The Lakers need to put together long stretches of consistency when that so far has eluded them in short bursts.

Saturday night against the Warriors at Oracle Arena was a good place to start the climb back: a 118-115 victory for L.A. after trailing by 14 points early in the fourth quarter, Nash surprising himself by playing 41 minutes as D’Antoni took advantage of the return without time restrictions, the Lakers defense taking another beating by allowing 61 points in the first half before Golden State managed 54 the final two quarters and overtime. Not bad for a season opener, the first game with this coach and this lineup, now with Darius Morris starting at shooting guard and Kobe Bryant moved to small forward.

It left Bryant supremely confident as the Lakers try to hack their way through adversity, some self-inflicted (focus and effort, defense) and some handed down by the fates (injuries). He would have been optimistic about the months, sure. But playing with Nash again, for the first time since Nash fractured his left leg Oct. 31 at Portland, was clearly added adrenaline.

“It’s going to be seamless,” he said of the so-called adjustment period to the rotation coming together again. “We don’t really have to adjust to anything at all. He just steps right in and off we go.”

So the Lakers’ chances of making the playoffs are …?

“I don’t know,” Bryant said. “We’ll see. It’ll be tough.”

He was being sarcastic. The real read is somewhere north of “certain.”

“You’re worried, but that’s what continues to trigger the urgency, the attention to detail and stuff like that,” Bryant said. “I have complete confidence that we’ll make the playoffs, but you have to keep that level of concern because it keeps you on edge. We understand the Western Conference is a very, very tough conference with teams that are playing extremely well. But at the same time, I have complete faith that we will.”

D’Antoni, who enjoyed success in Phoenix with Nash running the point, was equally optimistic while admitting the Lakers still have problems to solve. So optimistic that D’Antoni said the return of Nash will improve the defense, contrary to logic around the league.

Nash, a great shooter, will make baskets and that will make it tougher for opponents to hurt the Lakers in transition. That’s one improvement. Nash will be the perfect pick-and-roll trigger man to help Dwight Howard improve in that area, an understandable sentiment given Nash’s skill in the sets. Another boost for the offense equals another cushioning blow for the defense. And, just feeling good about being close to full strength.

“Not to take anything away from the other guys, but everybody gets a little bit more pep in their step,” D’Antoni said. “Our defense is better with Steve because everybody’s happier and everybody has a little bit more energy on the defensive end. Hopefully it goes that way. Again, we’ll have some valleys. We’ll still have some problems. It doesn’t solve everything. But it is a good step forward.”

Saturday was all about the emotions for the Lakers, from the return announced before the game to the comeback during to the insistence from Bryant after. It was one night. But, yes, it was a good step forward.

Nuggets’ Problems Go Beyond Historic Bad Night In Portland




At least no one had to spend a lot of time climbing the ladder to get the ball out of the peach basket.

What?

That game was actually live Thursday night, not some historic footage transformed into 2012-quality viewing by modern technology? George Karl coached the Nuggets, not James Naismith?

Denver's shooting vs. Portland, 12/20/12 -- Red=misses, Green=makes

Denver’s shooting vs. Portland, 12/20/12 — Red=misses, Green=makes

That really was live. That really did happen. An NBA team, Denver, a good NBA team at that, really did make one basket from outside the paint the entire game. The Trail Blazers really did beat the Nuggets 101-93 in Portland in a game for the ages.

The Dark Ages.

Not scrounging a hoop outside the paint until the 17-footer from Ty Lawson with 38 seconds remaining was incomprehensible enough. That doesn’t happen. That it happened to the Nuggets, though, increased the level of disbelief.

Yeah, if there was a list of candidates to miss every shot from 3-point range, 22 in this case to set a league record for futility, Denver would have been near the top – it began the night 25th in long-range accuracy. But to go 47 minutes, 22 seconds without tripping over a perimeter basket? Mind boggling.

The Nuggets were sixth in field-goal percentage when they stepped on the court Thursday and someone turned out the lights. They do not have an efficient offense, with turnovers and free throws becoming a real problem, but they do have veteran perimeter players known for something other than defense. Danilo Gallinari, Andre Igoudala, Andre Miller, Lawson – at some point, someone has to accidentally make a bad shot from 15 feet.

And yet, one make from outside the paint, allowing Portland to win on a night it shot all of 35.9 percent.

“You recognized that, did you?” Karl deadpanned afterward when a reporter mentioned the freak statistical happening.

Assume a few others will as well and that the discussion of a Wednesday night in Portland in 2012, or 1957 or 1891 or whatever it was, will continue. That, the 3-point record and the perimeter scoring as a whole, can be written off as a numerical anomaly for the Nuggets, of course, but it should also put a big-picture spotlight on an offense that it struggling.