HT News

Sager returns to TNT on Thursday


VIDEO: Sager At Christmas

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Another NBA star is making his return to action on Thursday.

Craig Sager will make his 2014-15 debut on the sidelines of TNT’s broadcast of Oklahoma City-Chicago at 8 p.m. ET. The league hasn’t been the same without Sager and his sartorial splendor, and he gave us a reminder of what we’ve been missing when he interviewed Carmelo Anthony remotely before the All-Star Game.

Sager was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia last April. Since then, he’s gone through a bone marrow transplant, chemotherapy and a bout with pneumonia. He hoped to return in person for All-Star weekend last month, but needed to wait a few more weeks so that his immune system would be strong enough to handle being around a crowd.

Back in November, our Shaun Powell chronicled Sager’s fight

He’s paid to be curious, and curiosity leads to questions. But interestingly enough, Sager didn’t ask a single question of the doctors when he was diagnosed with adult acute myeloid leukemia soon after feeling woozy last April.

Not even, Am I going to get through this?

“I didn’t have to,” he said. “I knew something was wrong. I figured whatever they’re doing to me, it’s designed to help me. I put my trust in them and did whatever they asked.”

This is where Stacy comes in. She is blond and beautiful and a former member of the Bulls dance team, and beneath the glossy exterior is a fierce and protective wife and mother of two. And an investigative reporter, because she took the mic from her husband and was relentless.

“I asked enough questions to the point where I probably drove the physicians crazy,” she said. “I had to do everything I could. I wanted to know why things were done: Why do you have him on this antibiotic? Just little things like that. I had to, because he is my life.”

This week, Sager spoke with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and explained why he had to make a change of plans in regard to the suit he’ll be wearing…

I picked out leukemia’s colors which are orange and was going to come back wearing a orange coat and a pinstripe linen shirt. But that was when I thought I was coming back in the fall and it is going to be five degrees in Chicago so it would be a little out of place. It also doesn’t fit. So I have picked out something and got it made with Chicago colors in it. Also, my feet are swollen so I am not going to be wearing my normal crocs or ostrich shoes so Nike said they are making me a special pair of shoes.

Welcome back, Craig. The NBA is a better place with you on our TV.

Popovich swears July’s the limit

SAN ANTONIO — Over the years nobody has been more of an advocate of getting his players their proper rest during the long, grueling 82-game schedule than Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. He’s stuck to his guns. He’s been fined for his beliefs and his actions.

But with NBA commissioner Adam Silver saying he’s open to any and all suggestions on how to cut down on back-to-backs and eliminate four-games-in-five-nights scenarios in the future, one place Popovich says he’ll draw the line is playing deep into summertime.

“I think the season’s long enough,” Popovich said Wednesday night before the Spurs played the Kings. “I will not come to work in July. If there’s a game in July, count me out.”

There are gourmet meals to eat, fine wines to drink and only so many days and nights in the dwindling off-season to enjoy the good life. So the three-time coach of the year maintains that even if a future Spurs team is back in The Finals after the Fourth of July, the players will have to figure out a way to get it done without him.

“Count me out,” Pop said. “Life’s too short.”

Reports: Brian Shaw out in Denver

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The Denver Nuggets fired head coach Brian Shaw earlier Tuesday, according to several reports. As of today, the Nuggets were 20-39, good for 13th in the Western Conference.

After a long career as an NBA player, including winning three championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, Shaw spent several years as an assistant coach, first with the Lakers, and later the Indiana Pacers. While with the Pacers, Shaw was credited for helping them develop into one of the Eastern Conference’s elite teams.

Last year’s Nuggets team suffered multiple injuries, including to players such as Danilo Galinari and JaVale McGee. This season the Nuggets have struggled throughout, and Shaw was open about his difficulty connecting with the Nuggets players, including an attempt at rapping a scouting report to them. The Nuggets began trading away players for assets a few weeks ago, including Timofey Mozgov and Aaron Afflalo.
Earlier this week, the Nuggets reportedly broke a huddle with a reference to the end of the season approaching.

In two seasons as Denver’s coach, Shaw was a combined 56-85.

Kick Of LeBron Gets Harden Booted

The battle for the 2015 MVP Award was a tooth-and-nail battle that nearly turned into royal rumble when James Harden kicked LeBron James in the crown jewels in Sunday’s 105-103 OT win by the Rockets in Houston.

But the league office kicked back with a one-game suspension for Harden. The NBA’s leading scorer will sit out Tuesday night when his Rockets face the Hawks in Atlanta.

The play occurred with 2:08 left in the third quarter and was originally called a Flagrant 1 foul. It has now been changed to a Flagrant 2 upon league office review. The play can be seen here:

VIDEO: Harden kicks LeBron

James, who missed 8 of 11 free throws, including a pair with 4.2 left that could have won the game, said afterward in the Cavs’ locker room that he expected a penalty on Harden.

“Obviously that’s not a basketball play,” James said. “Obviously, the league will probably take a look at it. I have no idea why he would do that, but two competitors just trying to go at it, and he won this one.”

Harden tried to wave off any suggestion of ill-intent. “Just a reaction,” he said. “They called a flagrant. Next play we moved on. … He’s a very good friend off the court. Obviously it’s a battle and just trying to win a basketball game. Just competition against one of the best players in the world.”

Following the win, the Rockets had a bit of fun at LeBron’s expense on their Twitter feed.

Bulls’ Butler out 3-6 weeks


VIDEO: Jimmy Butler injures elbow

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERSDerrick Rose isn’t the only star the Chicago Bulls will work without for the foreseeable future. All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler will also watch in street clothes for the next 3-6 weeks after an MRI confirmed a Grade 2/3 ulnar ligament sprain and small bone impaction to the left elbow, the Bulls announced this afternoon.

Butler is averaging a team-high 20.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists. Butler is also one of the league’s elite perimeter defenders, meaning the Bulls lose their best two-way player during what is sure to be a crucial late-season stretch as the Bulls and others jockey for position in the standings.

Rose is out for a month after surgery last week to repair a torn meniscus.

 

Westbrook’s face fixed, will sit Sunday; Irving out; Bosh goes home

VIDEO: Westbrook hurt in loss vs. Blazers

There are sports injuries too gruesome to watch in replay – Joe Theismann’s, Shaun Livingston’s and Paul George’s leg fractures all spring quickly to mind – and then there are those you have to look once, twice, even three times to comprehend.

Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook‘s fracture to the zygomatic arch bone in his right cheek qualifies as one of the latter. Westbrook got kneed in the face by Thunder teammate Andre Roberson on an inbounds scramble late in their club’s loss at Portland Friday in a game that saw him record his third straight triple-double. Westbrook, already on the floor, lay on his stomach momentarily. After he got up, photos showed an odd indentation or depression in his face. Royce Young of ESPN.com passed along the day-after basics following surgery Saturday to repair Westbrook’s face:

He has been ruled out for Sunday’s game at the Los Angeles Lakers and will be re-evaluated next week to determine when he can return to play.

Westbrook had his third consecutive triple-double against the Blazers, scoring 40 points with 13 rebounds and 11 assists. He had a historic February, averaging 31.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and 10.3 assists, numbers that only ever have been totaled by Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson.

Kevin Durant is set to be re-evaluated for a minor procedure he underwent last Sunday and could return as soon as this coming week. In seven games without Durant in February, Westbrook averaged a triple-double — 31.2 points, 10.0 rebounds and 11.3 assists.

Westbrook, 26, is averaging 26.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 8.1 assists in 45 games this season. He missed 14 games in November because of a fracture in his right hand.

Newly acquired D.J. Augustin will start in place of Westbrook on Sunday against the Lakers.

Young also had speculated on what this injury might mean to Westbrook’s well-known sense of fashion:

But here’s the really pertinent stuff:

Meanwhile, Cleveland also will be without its All-Star point guard Sunday at Houston. Kyrie Irving continued treatment Saturday on the left shoulder strain that caused him to miss the Cavaliers’ game at Indiana Friday, his team announced, and will not join the team for its matinee clash with the Rockets. Irving’s status will be updated Tuesday morning prior to the Cavs’ home game that night against Boston.

Craving some good news on the NBA health front? The Miami Heat and their veteran power forward, recovering rather nicely from the condition that ended his 2014-15 season, were happy to oblige late Saturday afternoon:

Anthony Mason, an underdog who became an alpha dog


VIDEO: In Memoriam: Anthony Mason

NEW YORK – Anthony Mason, a fringe basketball prospect who made himself into an NBA All-Star through his indomitable will and unyielding strength, died this morning at the age of 48. Mason reportedly suffered a massive heart attack a few weeks ago, and had been trying to battle back ever since.

New York Knicks v Sacramento Kings

Anthony Mason was a key member of the Knicks team that reached the 1994 NBA Finals.

If the news of Mason’s death feels particularly shocking, perhaps it’s because we just weren’t used to seeing Mason lose many battles. A stout, 6-foot-7 forward, Mason played collegiately at the small Tennessee State University, before launching a peripatetic basketball existence. In search of a hoops home, Mason went from Turkey to Colorado, from stints in the NBA to the CBA to the USBL, before finally catching on with Pat Riley’s rough and tumble Knicks in 1991.

In a city defined by its superstars, as a Knick, Mason shined as bright as any of them. His ornate haircuts made him distinctive, but his hard-nosed play made him indispensable. His averages in New York weren’t eye-popping — 9.9 ppg and 7.7 rpg — but Mason provided airtight defense and a post presence, bullying players even when he gave up inches or pounds.

In 1994, the Knicks advanced to the Finals, losing in seven games to the Houston Rockets. The next season, Mason was named Sixth Man of the Year and, with his value at a high and the Knicks looking for a minor rebuild, Mason was traded to Charlotte in a package centered around Larry Johnson.

In three full seasons as a Hornet, Mason developed into a more well-rounded player, averaging a double-double (13.4 ppg and 10 rpg) in his time in the Queen City. He then was reunited in Miami with Riley, and played one season with the Heat, carrying the team while Alonzo Mourning dealt with kidney issues. It was as a member of the Heat that in 2001, at the age of 34, Mason made his only All-Star team, averaging a career-high 16.1 points.

After two more seasons in Milwaukee, Mason retired and returned home to Tennessee, though he made occasional appearances at Knicks games over the years, always to thunderous applause. Perhaps nowhere is an underdog embraced the way they are in New York City, a city built on the hopes and dreams of millions of citizens who feel if they can make it there, they can make it anywhere.

And nobody defined the underdog quite like Anthony Mason.

Wizards seemingly out of magic

VIDEO: 76ers drop Wizards

One game, the Wizards set a season low for points against Minnesota. The next game, the Wizards fail to put up a fight in Philly.

If this were isolated situations, fine. But this is suddenly habit for the Wizards, who are in a total free-fall that could, but probably won’t, drop them out of the playoff picture in the East.

They’ve had an awful February, much like the weather in the Northeast, and have now lost 11 of 13. Hard to believe, but weren’t they 29-13 at one point and hearing talk about having the best young backcourt in the league and being a team to watch?

That seems like many months ago, and now, at 33-26, they’re a lot closer to .500 than expected. Suddenly, Randy Wittman‘s job appears in jeopardy, John Wall isn’t the franchise player many thought and Washington looks like a team that shouldn’t make the playoffs — although they probably will. Only because they play in the East.

After hosting the fast-improving Pistons on Saturday, the Wizards play 7 of their next 11 on the road. Hopefully for their sake, Bradley Beal will be back in action and the misery index will be a lot lower than it is now.

Wall shot just 7-for-26 against the Sixers with four turnovers. He had eight turnovers last week against the Warriors. Not to place a burden on Wall, but has he progressed or regressed? His shooting problems, once a thing of the past, have haunted him lately (34 percent in his last 5 games, including .083 from deep).

Losing 89-81 to the second-worst team in the league is cause to sound the alarm, especially given how lousy the Wizards have been since the last week of January. They’re still eight games ahead of the last playoff spot, but if this keeps up, that number, along with patience in Washington, will, shrink quickly.

 

Unique 2008 draft continues to evolve


VIDEO: GameTime: What’s Next For Chicago?

Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love went in the top five, Brook Lopez the top 10, and that makes perfect sense. All were smart picks that at the very least paid a decent return on the investment and in one case, Westbrook to the Thunder, was the direct hit of a prospect with no experience as a point guard becoming a star as a point guard.

But Tim Reynolds was right in his Associated Press story. The 2008 draft has continued to veer toward the strange, most recently with Rose’s knee injury. And that’s beyond the typical perspective of time of some lottery picks going bad (Michael Beasley second to the Heat, Joe Alexander eighth to the Bucks) and later selections building successful careers (several).

Reynolds’ research:

  • Miami’s Mario Chalmers is the only one among the 60 picks on June 26, 2008, inside Madison Square Garden to win a title. He has played in 29 games in June, compared to 28 combined for everyone else in the draft class.
  • Only four first-rounders have even played in the Finals: Courtney Lee when he was with the Magic, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka with the Thunder and Beasley as part of his on-again, off-again (and back-on-again) relationship with the Heat.
  • Rose’s knee problems have become well documented. Lopez was sidelined the better part of two full years with foot issues. Knee problems cost Eric Gordon more than 100 games over two seasons. Danilo Gallinari and his knees. That’s four lottery picks.
  • Only 10 first-round choices have at least 30 starts in 2014-15. Fifteen are averaging double-figures in scoring. Six have not played in the NBA this season, although it is also noted that rate of attrition of 24 in the NBA now is good compared to some other draft classes of the same general time (13 first-rounders from 2006, 18 from 2007 and 22 from 2009).

And there is the uniqueness of the selections that goes beyond the usual hits and misses. With years to go before a final read on 2008, the relatively early storyline is of a draft that has turned out so bottom heavy, with the majority of the best players coming from beyond the lottery and even beyond the first round: Robin Lopez at 15, Roy Hibbert at No. 17, Ryan Anderson at 21, Lee at 22, Ibaka at 24, Nicolas Batum at 25, George Hill at 26, Nikola Pekovic at 31, DeAndre Jordan at 35, and Goran Dragic at 45.

So much for teams putting a premium on size — that’s a lot of starting centers outside the top 14. Nearly seven years later, the NBA world has seen how much Lopez, Hibbert, Ibaka and Jordan in particular can impact on defense alone.

The ultimate analysis is still pending, because a lot of the players have years to go before their careers can be defined. And, yes, because of Rose. How his injury saga turns out will have an impact on how the Class of 2008 is viewed.

NBA to release officiating reports from close games

HANG TIME BIG CITY — Since taking over as NBA commissioner a little over a year ago, Adam Silver has spoken often of his commitment to increasing transparency between the league and fans. He’s made several moves designed to make more clear the thought process behind the decisions that are made, particularly when officiating has been involved. For instance, flop warnings and point of emphasis memos are now released to the public via an officiating site.

In a new move designed to further heighten transparency, today the NBA announced that beginning next week, they will share what are being called “Last Two Minute” officiating reports, which will break down each officiating decision from the final moments of close games with a play-by-play break down.

According to a press release from the NBA…

“Our fans are passionate and have an intense interest in understanding how the rules are applied,” said Mike Bantom, Executive Vice President of Referee Operations. “NBA referees have the most difficult officiating job in sports, with so many split-second decisions in real time. We trust this consistent disclosure will give fans a greater appreciation of the difficulty of the job and a deeper sense of the correct interpretations of the rules of our game.”

The league will release assessments of officiated events in the last two minutes of games decided in regulation that were within five points at the two-minute mark. Also, the reports will include plays from the last two minutes and overtime of OT games. Each play will be reviewed by a senior referee manager or basketball operations manager who will provide the assessments. Every play on the report will include a video link to that specific play.

The league will post the “Last Two Minute” reports on the NBA.com/Official website by 5:00 p.m. ET the day following each game.

Fans may not agree with every call, but at least now they’ll get an official explanation for each call. Officiating may never be perfect, but it continues moving closer to complete transparency. Which may be as perfect as it will every get.