Uncategorized

No scoring title tension for Durant, compared to Iceman vs. Skywalker, ’78

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

Hall of Famers George Gervin (left) and David Thompson staged a tight scoring race in 19XX. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

The scoring race between Hall of Famers George Gervin (left) and David Thompson in 1978 went down to the wire. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

There is no scoring race in the NBA this season. Not anymore. Kevin Durant tucked that thing in his back pocket sometime back in March during his streak of 41 games with 25 points or more. The Oklahoma City MVP favorite averaged 34.8 points over the half-season from Jan. 7 through Sunday, pulling up his season average to 32.0.

That has the rest of the field chasing Secretariat, as ridden by Usain Bolt. Consider the math: Durant could go scoreless in the Thunder’s final five games and he’d still wind up averaging 30.0 points. For nearest-challenger Carmelo Anthony (27.5 ppg) to catch him – Durant’s actual average at that point would be 30.04938272 – Anthony would need to score 309 points in New York’s final four games. That’s an average of 77.3.

LeBron James, currently in third place at 26.9 ppg, would have an extra game. If he played them all. Which he won’t. But the Miami superstar would need to get 385 points in the Heat’s final five games, an average of 77.0, to boost himself past Durant – if Durant plays five games without scoring a single point the rest of the way.

So this scoring race has been over for some time.

But that wasn’t the case 36 years ago today, when George Gervin and David Thompson shot it out in the closest, most stunning race ever for the scoring title.

Imagine Anthony, on the season’s final night, scoring 73 points against Toronto next Wednesday to move ahead of Durant, only to learn later that the OKC star had scored 63 points to wrest back the crown by the narrowest margin ever (0.0695 points).

That’s precisely what Gervin and Thompson did. Only more dramatically, in an epic anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better showdown that played out seven hours and 1,000 miles apart.

Thompson: ‘Superman on steroids’

Thompson, the Denver Nuggets’ 23-year-old wing player, was first up. He woke up in Detroit for a matinee game trailing Gervin in the scoring race by just 0.2 points per game, 26.6 to the Spurs star’s 26.8. There wasn’t much else to play for – Denver already had clinched its division, while Detroit had been eliminated from a playoff spot days earlier. There weren’t many to play for either, with attendance of just 3,482 at Cobo Arena that Sunday afternoon.

Denver Nuggets vs. Milwaukee Bucks

David Thompson (Vernon Biever/NBAE via Getty Images)

Gervin’s San Antonio team was scheduled to face the Jazz in New Orleans that evening. Thompson only knew that, based on their stats at the moment, he trailed “The Iceman” by 16 points in the scoring race (26.56 to Gervin’s 26.77). Nuggets coach Larry Brown apparently knew it, too, as Thompson related in his 2003 book, Skywalker:

“Do you want to go for it today?” Coach Brown asked me before the game. Whether we won or lost, we were still headed for the playoffs. So the coach was willing to let me shoot to my heart’s content to win the NBA scoring title. If I put up astronomical numbers, then Gervin, playing in New Orleans that evening, would be chasing me.

I hit the first eight shots I took, mainly medium-range jumpers from 15 to 18 feet. As the quarter wore on, I also got a few dunks on alley-oops. … Not realizing what had just occurred — it all happened so fast — I was amazed to learn later that I had set an NBA record for most points in a quarter with 32. That beat Wilt Chamberlain’s 1962 mark by one, set in that historic game where Wilt scored 100 points. Equally stunning was my accuracy in that first quarter. I went 13-14 from the field ([Ben] Poquette‘s block being the only shot I missed) and 6-6 from the foul line.

Thompson scored 21 more in the second quarter for 53 by halftime, and everyone in the building – along with some media people in Detroit suddenly scrambling to get there – could do the easy math and anticipate a challenge to Chamberlain’s and the NBA’s most famous record. As Thompson recalled:

You could see it on the Detroit players’ faces – something like, “There’s no way we can let this guy get 100 on us.” A hundred points? Heck, I was just a 6-foot-4 guard with a hot hand. I nailed the first 20 of 21 shots I had taken and was 20-23 at the half. I’d caught fire before, but never anything like this. … My 13 field goals were also a new NBA record, and it still stands to this day. I was definitely in the zone; I felt like Superman on steroids.

Thompson scored 20 more points in the second half, shooting 8 of 15 after the break. He sank 17 of 20 free throws that day, and his 73 points – the third highest total ever – raised his scoring average to 27.15. He and the Nuggets caught a flight back to Denver, and when Thompson got home, he searched on the radio dial for the Spurs-Jazz broadcast. His rival needed 58 points. That game was in the second quarter when Thompson found it, and he didn’t like what he heard.

 ‘The Iceman’ chaseth

Like Thompson, Gervin had entered the NBA the previous season, merging in when the league absorbed four ABA teams (Nuggets, Spurs, Nets and Pacers) before 1976-77. Nicknamed “The Iceman,” the lanky (6-foot-7), laconic swingman from Eastern Michigan was two years older than Thompson and just as lethal with a basketball. He had averaged 22.2 points in his first five seasons but kicked it up in his sixth, pursuing the first of what would be four NBA scoring titles.

But the first wasn’t guaranteed, as Gervin – talking about that day 18 years later, when he and Thompson were announced as Hall of Fame inductees – learned in a rude awakening:

I was asleep in my hotel room when a reporter called and said, ‘Ice, Thompson scored 73.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s it,’ and I hung up and went back to sleep. Down in the lobby later, some of the guys on the Spurs said, ‘Ice, we’re going to help you.’ My guys loved me.

George Gervin (Anthony Neste/NBAE/Getty Images)

George Gervin (Anthony Neste/NBAE/Getty Images)

Gervin shared more details, at least as he recalled them 36 years later, in a recent studio appearance on Sirius XM’s NBA channel (217):

So it was set up for me. Doug Moe was my coach, so anybody know anything about Doug, we was a run-and-gun type franchise anyway. The guys came to me and said, ‘Ice, let’s get it done, man.’

We went out the first quarter, I missed my first six shots. Called timeout. I was saying, ‘Ah, man, that’s a lot of pressure, man.’ Those guys say, ‘You ain’t got to worry about that. Aw, Ice. C’mon, man.’ I was kiddin’ anyway. I wanted to make sure they were still with me.

We started back, I had 20 that quarter and then I ended up gettin’ 33 the second quarter. End up getting 63 in 33 minutes.

Gervin launched 49 shots that night in New Orleans, hitting 23 of them (“I was kind of rushing,” he said of the first six). He, too, shot 17 of 20 from the line. At 58 points, the scoring title was his. With 63, his average shot past Thompson’s to 26.2195 points.

The closest scoring races since then came in 2009-10, when Durant (rounded to 30.1) edged James (29.7) by .4358 ppg, and in 1993-94. That’s the year San Antonio’s David Robinson, trailing Shaquille O’Neal by 0.0467 points on the final day, scored a career-best 71 in a matinee against the Clippers. O’Neal got 32 for Orlando that night against New Jersey. He wound up losing the title by 0.4418 points (29.3456 to Robinson’s 29.7875), with the Big Runner-Up taking some swipes at the Clippers’ dispassionate defense of his San Antonio rival.

O’Neal might have been calmer had he known his NBA history. On the Spurs’ bench that afternoon, egging on The Admiral to chase down that crown: Assistant coach George Gervin.

Warriors make another change to coaching staff

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Warriors rout the Kings, sweeping the season series

Adding another layer of scrutiny at a time they desperately need stability, the Warriors fired third-year assistant coach Darren Erman on Saturday for “a violation of company policy,” the second change to the coaching staff in 12 days.

Unlike re-assigning assistant Brian Scalabrine to the D-League affiliate in Santa Cruz, Calif., though, there was no indication the Erman decision was connected to coach Mark Jackson. General manager Bob Myers said, according to Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group, that Erman’s termination was not a basketball decision and that Erman “had committed a serious violation” that Myers would not reveal.

A move that ordinarily would draw little attention became new speculation about the direction of the team because of the timing, so soon after another assistant, Scalabrine, was removed from the bench because of issues with Jackson. And all of that would be easier to overlook if the Warriors had better footing than sixth place in the Western Conference, at 47-29 having already matched last season’s win total but also just two games ahead of Phoenix and Memphis in a tie for No. 9 and the lottery.

The Warriors have not recorded two wins in a row since beating the Trail Blazers, Magic and Bucks on March 16-20. Then came six consecutive games of back and forth — losing to the Spurs, beating the Grizzlies, losing to the Knicks, beating the Mavericks, losing to the Spurs, beating the Kings — and the Scalabrine decision. Jackson, already under pressure from owner Joe Lacob to deliver more than improvement in the regular-season win total, has been followed the entire way by public speculation about his job future.

That will be decided by how happy Lacob is with the playoff outcome, not on the basis of Jackson’s relationship with assistant coaches. Even if the Erman firing has nothing to do with Jackson, it adds to the perception problem and becomes another potential distraction as the playoffs fast approach.

“This is not the norm,” Jackson said in the BANG story. “That’s OK because really in both decisions, the right decisions were made. You move forward. To me, I think it’s a great time for us as a team and an organization. To still be standing, this isn’t new. It’s new to you guys. It’s not new to us. So to still be standing, still winning and still in our right minds says a lot about this culture.

“A great pastor said, ‘You cannot fix the foundation in the middle of a storm. It’s too late then’. The foundation has been laid, and it’s going to hold up. There’s no question about that. I love that line.”

Myers’ comments Saturday included the obligatory vote of confidence for Jackson.

“We believe that Mark is fully capable, and we’re confident in his ability to keep going in the right direction, keep propelling us like he has all year, and we believe that he’s going to continue to be successful like he has been,” the GM said. “We believe in his ability the rest of the way.”

Milwaukee’s Sanders apologizes, but advocates for medical marijuana use

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Larry Sanders takes an elbow from the Rockets’ James Harden

CHICAGO – Larry Sanders, the Milwaukee Bucks center whose season has been as miserable due to injuries and off-court incidents as his team’s has been from losing, was suspended Friday for five games without pay for violating the NBA/NBPA anti-drug program.

But if it was up to Sanders, neither he nor any other player in the league would be penalized for smoking marijuana. While he said he would abide by the terms of the penalty, Sanders offered an enthusiastic defense of the drug for its medical benefits.

“It’s something I feel strongly about, just to let you know something personal about me,” the 6-foot-11 player told NBA.com and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel prior to the Bucks’ game against Chicago at United Center Friday. “I will deal with the consequences from it. It’s a banned substance in my league. But I believe in marijuana and the medical side of it.

“I know what it is if I’m going to use it. I study it and I know the benefits it has. In a lot of ways we’ve been deprived. You can’t really label it with so many other drugs that people can be addicted to and have so many negative effects on your body and your family and your relationships and impairment. This is not the same thing.”

Per terms of the league’s illegal substance policy and random testing procedures, Sanders’ suspension means he has failed three tests in his career. It is unclear when his five-game hiatus actually will begin; he has been sidelined since undergoing surgery for a right orbital fracture sustained Feb. 8 against Houston. Recently, Sanders said he was out for the rest of this season and the Bucks had listed him that way in media reports – that would push his suspension into the start of 2014-15.

The team released a statement expressing its disappointment in Sanders, and Bucks coach Larry Drew echoed it Friday evening. He said that losing Sanders at the start of next season, when the player and the team might have hoped for a clean slate, would be difficult.

“Sure it would be tough. He’s a guy we count on,” Drew said. “If it does happen to start next year, we’ll just have to deal with it.”

Expectations were high for Saunders as Milwaukee’s defensive anchor. He had been rewarded for his breakout 2012-13 performance (9.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.8 bpg) with a four-year, $44 million extension that kicks in next year. But he has played only 23 games, averaging 7.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.74 blocks and 25.4 minutes. He gained YouTube.com infamy for his involvement in a Milwaukee nightclub melee hours after playing poorly in the team’s home opener.

He returned in late December but struggled along with the Bucks, who were staking out the NBA’s basement in the standings. Sanders had only five games with 10 or more rebounds and only six with more than two blocked shots before suffering his facial injury in February.

Saunders also issued a statement Friday apologizing to fans and taking responsibility for his actions. He said he didn’t think the suspension, if it comes at the beginning of next season, would mar what he, too, hopes is a fresh start.

“Yeah I could [overcome that],” he said. “The recipe doesn’t change. It’s just more motivation to work harder. It’s something negative to deal with. But the recipe doesn’t change for me. I’m just as excited for the summer.”

Marijuana use, still illegal in the U.S. with the exception of Colorado and Washington, has gained supporters in recent months. Sanders said he understands that it is prohibited by the NBA and the players union, which have talked of strengthening their combined anti-drug program rather than easing it. He apologized for this latest incident’s impact on his teammates but said he does not believe marijuana use is wrong.

“The stigma is that it’s illegal. I hate that,” Sanders said. “Once this becomes legal, this all will go away.”

Sanders said that, in terms of social use, he sees smoking marijuana as similar to drinking alcoholic beverages. But his primary defense of the drug was for medical use.

“The great thing about that idea is that, then you could get prescribed for it and see a doctor and they could tell you,” he said. “You don’t have to self-medicate, you don’t have to over-medicate ourselves. Y’know, because we don’t know now. We can’t diagnose ourselves.

“Once it becomes legal … you sit down with a doctor and [he says], ‘You may need this three times a day. This dosage here.’ And you don’t over-medicate. It [addresses] those needs medically that you need. It’s natural.”

The Bucks said they would have no comment beyond their issued statement (“Larry Sanders has a responsibility to every person in our organization and our fans. We are all disappointed by the news of his suspension.”).

An NBA spokesperson, contacted for reaction to Sanders’ defense of marijuana use, declined to comment Friday night.

OKC’s Thunder get their scowl back

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

Russell Westbrook, Kendrick Perkins (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Russell Westbrook, Kendrick Perkins (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Kendrick Perkins‘ PER — if you’re familiar with such statistics — sinks lower than his scowl. And he’s useless against the Miami Heat. And…

It didn’t stop stubbornly loyal Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks Thursday night from happily penciling the league’s most poked-at big man — even by, and especially so, the locals – back into the starting lineup for the first time in six weeks against the unbeatable Spurs. Perkins returned from surgery to repair a strained groin suffered Feb. 20 against Miami.

What’d the perpetually peeved Perk do in 11 minutes, 59 seconds of action?: Zero points. Zero shot attempts. One rebound. One assist. One turnover. One blocked shot. And one two-armed shove of Spurs royalty Tim Duncan. The Thunder ate it up.

With 10:45 to go in the third quarter of a game that streaking San Antonio had controlled and led 53-50, Perkins wrapped his meaty right arm around Duncan’s chest, drawing a foul. When Perkins kept his bear claw pressed up against the future Hall of Famer’s slim torso, Duncan animatedly attempted to unlock himself. Perkins retaliated, shoving Duncan in the back. He mouthed something likely not repeatable as Duncan sort of playfully stumbled forward while flashing a sly smile as if to suggest Perk’s caveman methods were of no use here.

Only what happened next might suggest otherwise. The Thunder jacked up the intensity and blitzed the Spurs for a 15-5 run and a 65-58 lead by the time Perkins checked out for good with 5:28 left in the period. Oklahoma City cruised from there.

Coincidence? Perhaps. But Perkins, as Spurs coach Gregg Popovich might say, brought the nasty.

“Every team needs that,” Popovich said after the Thunder ended the Spurs’ 19-game win streak with a 106-96 victory, one that also gave OKC a 4-0 season sweep of the reigning West champs. “He is an enforcer, he has an edge, he has a toughness. You know he plays not to take any prisoners kind of thing, and that is great for a team.”

The scowl is back, and the Thunder will take it. And contrary to what some believe, they’ll need it. Especially if OKC meets double-wide Memphis in the first round. Or the Clippers’ punishing front line. Or these Spurs once again in May.

“We’re a team that’s going to come and get real physical with you,” Perkins, averaging just 3.4 points and 4.9 rebounds a game, said afterward. “Our energy level was high. Early they came out and hit a lot of contested 2s and we kept saying that they’re not going to hit those shots all night, so I think we did a great job.”

For the first time in a long time, the Thunder were almost whole Thursday night. Now they only lack starting shooting guard and top perimeter defender Thabo Sefolosha. What they got Thursday night was a full dose of down-home Perkins attitude and the hot-blowing tempest of talent and temper of point guard Russell Westbrook. It’s a combination that the otherwise mild-mannered Thunder, only 11-6 with Perkins sidelined, must have.

While Kevin Durant kills with kindness, Westbrook and Perkins are the schoolyard bullies who’ll take your lunch money and leave you with a wedgie. The 6-foot-10, 270-pound Perkins is the man who earlier in the season kicked come-in-peace Bulls center Joakim Noah out of the Thunder’s home locker room when he dropped in to catch up with Swiss-born friend Sefolosha.

“Get your a– up outta here,” Perkins barked.

Before this expectation-laden season began, just before the Thunder discovered Westbrook would need a second surgery on his right knee (and eventually a third), Perkins lamented life without the team’s spring-loaded firecracker.

“You never know until they’re gone what you’re missing from certain individuals,” Perkins said. “I’m not just talking about Russell going on the attack, scoring 30 points and dishing out 10 assists. I’m talking about the other little things he brings to the table. Russell gives our team swag. He gives me swag, I feed off of him. I know this at all times, if I’m on the court and I got a frown on my face, I know one other person for sure whose got a frown on his face and that’s Russ. In the playoffs I couldn’t find him, I couldn’t find him. And you just don’t take people for granted. It’s not the big things, it’s the little things that matter.”

Perhaps there’s a bigger message in there.


VIDEO: The Thunder ended the Spurs’ 19-game win streak Thursday night in Oklahoma City

Director Grossman’s NBA roots ran deep

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: NBA TV family remembers Sandy Grossman

Sandy Grossman, the Emmy Award-winning sports director who died Wednesday at 78 at home in Boca Raton, Fla., was best known for his work in pro football, including 10 Super Bowl telecasts and more than two decades in the TV truck supporting announcers Pat Summerall and John Madden. As CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said, “For many years, Sandy Grossman’s name was synonymous with excellence in NFL coverage.”

But Grossman’s roots ran deep in the NBA as well. In fact, he was lead director on The Finals 18 times, nearly double his work on the NFL’s premier event. And a full quarter-century ago, Grossman had an answer for what some consider a looming headache to this day: a championship series without big markets to drive the huge audience numbers sponsors like to see.

But based on what Grossman told a reporter from the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel back in April 1989, he wouldn’t have been wringing his hands over the prospect of a Finals pitting, say, Oklahoma City against Indiana. In his mind, the presentation and the individual star power could transcend market size or the absence of legacy teams:

“We found a strong phenomenon last year [1988],” Grossman said. “We had Los Angeles and Detroit, and we set all kinds of records. We were concerned that only an L.A.-Boston final could attract such a large audience. That’s significant, when the quality of the event matters more than who plays in it.

“You have to prepare for the fact you could have Utah-Cleveland at the end. But by that time, people will be familiar with the characters. We’ll be banking on the Mailman [Karl Malone] and [Cleveland's] Brad Daugherty to provide drama.”

Grossman, who started at CBS as an usher working The Ed Sullivan Show in 1957, knew drama. He told the Sun-Sentinel in that 1989 story that his most fulfilling NBA telecast was Game 5 of the 1976 Finals between Boston and Phoenix, the famous “Gar Heard” game that went to triple-overtime.

The accolades poured in for Grossman, who was raised in Newark, N.J., then studied at the University of Alabama, hoping to become a sports announcer. Instead, he wound up behind the scenes and had an even greater impact, from the tributes in the Associated Press story on his passing:

“He was a brilliant director and a thoughtful colleague,” Fox Sports President Eric Shanks said. “He mentored many of us here and throughout the sports TV industry, and we learned more from him than he could imagine.”

His innovations included using music to go into the break during basketball games. After Grossman played “The Hustle” by Van McCoy, his son recalled, sales of the song skyrocketed, so the musician sent him gold records as a thank you.

Visitors to his TV truck over the years included Richard Nixon and Oliver Stone, Dean Grossman said.

“If there wasn’t an envelope to push, Sandy would create one,” said former Fox Sports Chairman David Hill, a senior executive vice president for News Corp.

As Madden put it, “He had guts.”

A piece on the Alabama Media Group’s Web site offered details into Grossman’s creative process and some of the innovations he tried and helped popularize:

Grossman became most famous for his legendary pairing with producer Bob Stenner on Fox and CBS for more than four decades. Grossman and Stenner revolutionized how broadcasters approached games, such as the now-standard production meetings with coaches and players before the telecast.

Those funny comments Madden would make from the booth upon seeing a random fan in the stands? Grossman found those shots, knowing that Madden’s sense of humor would produce funny spontaneous and funny TV.

Grossman has been credited for other contributions in the industry. Among them: music going to commercial breaks (ABA coverage in the 1970s); miking coaches during games (1975 NBA Finals); and having low cameras at half-court and under the baskets.

Grossman is survived by Faithe, his wife of 51 years, and their four children and eight grandchildren.

Tale of the tape: Two Brandons

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

The Milwaukee Bucks haven’t won much this season, but they did win this: Their summertime swap of Brandons.

The July 31 deal was bigger than just that, with Khris Middleton adding to the Bucks’ haul (Viacheslav Kravtsov was just ballast) . But at its core, the sign-and-trade was about a swap of and preference in combo guards Brandon Knight and Brandon Jennings. Jennings had exploded on the scene in Milwaukee in 2009-10, scoring 55 points in his seventh NBA game. That immediately triggered second-guessing in New York, where the Knicks had drafted Jordan Hill two spots ahead of Jennings, and kick-started Milwaukee’s “Fear The Deer” season in which they finished 46-36, reached the playoffs and might have made some real noise if not for center Andrew Bogut‘s arm and wrist injuries from an ugly spill late in the regular season.

Brandon Knight (Bucks) and Brandon Jennings (Allen Einstein/NBAE)

Brandon Knight (Bucks) and Brandon Jennings
(Allen Einstein/NBAE)

Jennings’ quick start as a scorer, however, hurt his game, in the opinion of some NBA scouts. His shoot-first inclinations calcified, despite unimpressive accuracy numbers (39.4 percent shooting, 35.4 on 3-pointers, in four seasons with the Bucks). He also had difficulty finishing at the rim.

Yet Jennings stayed bold with his shot, showing less interest in setting up teammates. That led to some locker-room frustration, even squabbles, especially when Jennings could respond to an All-Star snub by averaging 14.5 assists for a week but was down at 5.7 for four Bucks seasons.

He hit restricted free agency ready for a change. Milwaukee was ready too, agreeing to a swap for Knight while Jennings landed a three-year, $24 million deal in Detroit.

Knight had heard many of the same criticisms in two seasons in Detroit: Not a true point guard, a ‘tweener, and so on. But the Bucks liked his size, his skills, his age and his salary, and despite the presence of other guards (Luke Ridnour, Gary Neal, O.J. Mayo, Nate Wolters, later Ramon Sessions), flipped the keys of their offense to the south Florida native.

Knight showed a lot of Jennings’ tendencies for the Bucks without generating hard feelings. He has shot the ball 200 times more than any teammate, despite his 41.7 percent success rate, and he leads the team in 3-point attempts (306) if not accuracy (32.7). He’s their leader in assists, too, but with an average (4.9) lower than Jennings averaged in his four Bucks seasons. Ditto for Knight’s turnovers (2.6), higher than what Jennings coughed up while there.

But he’s two years younger than Jennings, two years away from unrestricted free agency and a lot more affordable. Coincidentally, Knight is only the second player in Bucks history to lead the team in both points and assists in his first season with the club. The first? Jennings.

Bucks coach Larry Drew talked up Knight before a game against Miami last weekend.

“There was always the big question, could he play point? I still think that Brandon is a very young developing player,” Drew said. “Somebody asked me the other day, ‘Did I know that Brandon was actually younger than Michael Carter-Williams?’ … You think about that. We think of Michael Carter-Williams as a really young terrific NBA player. He has a chance to be Rookie of the Year. It seems like Brandon has been around for a few more years.

“Brandon wants to get better, he wants to learn. We challenge him at that point guard position – that’s such a vital position in our league. He’s still making mistakes, and that’s something we have to continue to work with him on. But after all that’s been said about him from the very beginning, particularly when he was in Detroit, I thought he came into this thing very positive. And I know he was in the mindset of wanting to prove something.”

With their seasons nearly complete and their teams’ series ending earlier this week. it seemed like a good time to tell the tale of two Brandons with a tale of the tape:

Essentials:
Jennings: 6-foot-1, 169 pounds. Born Sept. 23, 1989 (24). No. 10 pick in 2009.
Knight: 6-foot-3, 189 pounds. Born Dec. 2, 1991 (22). No. 8 pick in 2011.
Comment: It’s hard to beat Jennings’ elusiveness and quickness, but Knight is fast, too. And the Bucks feel his size is better suited to playing the defense that, in time, they think he’s capable of providing.
Advantage: Knight.

Team W-L record
Jennings: 27-48, fourth in the Central Division.
Knight: 14-61, last in the Central.
Comment: With nearly double the victories, this might be classified as a blowout for Jennings. Then again, winning 27 gets you a lottery spot same as winning 14, except that Milwaukee might land a guarantee of no pick worse than No. 4. The Pistons will need to get lucky to leap ahead of the Bucks.
Advantage: Jennings (c’mon, winning games still matters).

Basic individual stats
Jennings: 15.7 ppg, 7.8 apg, 3.0 rpg, 34.3 mpg, 2.6 turnovers, 1.3 steals. 37.7 FG%, 34.5 3FG%.
Knight: 17.5 ppg, 4.9 apg, 3.5 rpg, 32.9 mpg, 2.6 turnovers, 1.0 steals, 41.7 FG%, 32.7 3FG%.
Comment: Jennings’ assists numbers are a personal high, reflective of the scoring talent around him – Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Rodney Stuckey – and Detroit’s presumed desire to win and play right at least early in the season. Knight has self-nominated as the “someone has to score on a bad team” guy.
Advantage: Even.

Advanced individual stats:
Jennings: 107 offensive rating, 112 defensive rating, 35.1 assists %, 44.6 eFG%, 16.3 PER.
Knight: 104 offensive rating, 113 defensive rating, 27.1 assists %, 46.8 eFG%, 16.4 PER.
Comment: A little credit here, a little debit there, it’s awfully close. But then you notice that Jennings’ PER, effective field-goal percentage and offensive/defensive ratings all have gotten worse from two seasons ago (18.4, 47.6%, 106/107) and, two years further along than Knight, he’s headed the wrong way.
Advantage: Knight.

Head-to-head
Jennings: 20.5 ppg, 10.3 apg, 2.8 rpg, 40.9 FG%, 50.0 3FG%, plus-13.4 ppg in four games against Milwaukee.
Knight: 15.3 ppg, 5.8 apg4.3 rpg, 32.1 FG%, 21.4 3FG%, minus-14.6 ppg in the four meetings.
Comment: Jennings left Milwaukee with a fair amount of baggage, even bitterness. It figures he would have more to prove, more of a statement to make, than Knight when facing his former team. And sure enough, Jennings did. The Pistons went 3-1 against the Bucks this season.
Advantage: Jennings.

Contract
Jennings: $7.7 million this season, another $16.3 million in 2014-15 and 2015-16.
Knight: $2.8 million salary this season, $8.3 million the next two years.
Comment: On a per-points, per-assists, per-anything basis, Knight already is a better buy than Jennings and figures to stay that way for another two seasons.
Advantage: Knight.

George at heart of Indy’s problems

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Brent Barry, Dennis Scott and Matt Winer examine the Pacers’ fall

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We’ll turn over our weekly spot here to NBA TV research ace Kevin Cottrell, who lays out the problem with the reeling Indiana Pacers in the simplest of terms:

They. Can’t. Score.

Here’s Cottrell:

​Entering the season, the Indiana Pacers were pegged as the biggest threat to dethrone the defending champion Miami Heat. Coming off a disappointing Game 7 loss in the Eastern Conference finals, the Pacers made their ultimate goal clear.

​“Our focus is to be getting Game 7 on our home court,” David West told reporters at Pacers Media Day.

If home court was goal 1A, enhancing their ability to light up a scoreboard should have been 1B for the Pacers. Heading into Monday night’s matchup with the West leading San Antonio Spurs, Indy posted a 33-4 record at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. But the Pacers are averaging only 97.0 points a game, which ranks 23rd in the league.

Many believe the Pacers’ stingy defense is more than enough to win a title, but the numbers say otherwise. In the Pacers’ five games prior to hosting the Spursthey held opponents to 87.0 points a game. But the Pacers have failed to score 80 points in five of their last six games. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the last team to do so was the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats, who set the NBA record for lowest winning percentage in a season (7-59).

So what’s the issue?  Pacers “Do-It-All” Forward Paul George is the team’s only legitimate scoring threat. George is averaging a career high 21.7 points a game, a whopping 7.6 points more than the second leading scorer, Lance Stephenson (14.1). Without a true 1-2 scoring punch, George’s offensive efficiency directly affects the Pacers’ win-loss column. The Pacers started the season 16-1 and George entered the MVP discussion.

Since then, George (and the Pacers’ production) has been on a steady decline month-to-month (see chart below).

Month PPG FG% 3FG% Indy record
Oct 28.0 48-6 41-2 2-0
Nov 23.0 47.2 40.3 13-1
Dec 24.1 46.8 39.4 10-4
Jan 21.3 41.0 31.5 10-5
Feb 21.0 40.1 39.5 9-3
March 18.7 37.2 29.7 8-10
Total 21.7 42.5 36.0 52-23

​Placing all the blame on George’s jump shot may not be fair, but it is accurate. Take a look at the last five NBA Champions (below). It’s no coincidence that all five scored at high clip. Furthermore, each team featured potent scorers: LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant. In the event one of the three aforementioned struggled on a given night, Dwyane Wade, Jason Terry and Pau Gasol could pick up the scoring load.

While some believe defense wins championships, the best teams, especially recently, always have big-scoring offenses.

  • 2012-13:​  Heat ​​102.9 (5)
  • 2011-12:  ​Heat 98.5 (7)
  • 2010-11:  ​Mavericks ​100.2 (11)
  • 2009-10: ​ Lakers ​​101.7 (12)
  • 2008-09: ​ Lakers ​​106.9 (3)

​If the Pacers’ lack of scoring is their biggest hurdle, their ability to win on the road is a close second. After a 40-12 start, Indiana is 12-11 since the All-Star Break. Nine of the 11 losses have come away from the Fieldhouse. Combine their road woes with the fact that they’ve been held to 92.7 points a game since the mid-season break and you’ll find a recipe for an early playoff exit.

The way things are shaping up, the Pacers will likely face the Bulls and/or Heat in an attempt to win the East. Indiana is a combined 0-3 on the road against those two, with an April 11th meeting in Miami on NBA-TV still to go. Ironically, the Pacers may have to win a regular-season game in Miami for a chance to host a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals.

Defense has been the Pacers calling card, but winning it all without scoring is rare. If they manage to capture a title despite scoring 96.8 points a game, the Pacers would become the first team to win the title averaging 97 points or less since the 2004-05 Spurs (96.2). Even the Spurs organization, which places an emphasis on defense, currently averages 105.6 points a game. If the Pacers learned anything from their Monday night loss to the Spurs, it’s that the best defense may be a good offense.

Rockets’ Beverley not lost for season

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

HOUSTON –Prior to Saturday night’s game against the Clippers, Pat Beverley said if the medical staff would let him just slip a protective brace onto his injured right knee, he would have been back in the Rockets’ lineup.

That time might now be closer than originally thought.

Following an examination by renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews, the word is that Beverley will be able to avoid surgery for the torn meniscus and be able to return to the court after several weeks of rehab.

When Beverley suffered the injury on Thursday, it initially was thought that he was lost for the season, which would have been a significant blow since he brings critical aggressiveness and defense to the Rockets’ starting lineup.

However, following another MRI and an exam at his office in Alabama, Andrews determined that Beverley will be able to work his way back through a rehab regimen. He is expected to be sidelined for at least another week. Exactly when Beverley returns will depend on the pace of his rehab progress.

Beverly had said on Saturday that the swelling already had gone down in his knee and he was feeling no pain.

“It’s always a great thing,” Beverley said. “No swelling is a great thing. It wasn’t in the same area where a lot of players tore their meniscus at. It’s a pretty solid area. I feel pretty confident about it.”

The Rockets had their five-game winning streak snapped by the Clippers with Jeremy Lin replacing Beverley in the starting lineup. Beverley is averaging 9.9 points through 53 games this season.

Miami lineups change, LeBron plays on

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: LeBron dunks on the Bucks on a night when he rested during the fourth quarter

MILWAUKEE – In the last game of LeBron James‘ seven seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he took the floor against Boston in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals with Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, Antawn Jamison and 38-year-old Shaquille O’Neal. Combined points-per-game of the four starters besides James: 50.9.

Against the Milwaukee Bucks Saturday night, James stepped on the court with Chris Bosh, Toney Douglas, James Jones and Udonis Haslem. Combined scoring average at tipoff of this “supporting cast”: 26.2.

This was not what the smoke, lasers and dance music were all about back in July 2010.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra has shuffled through 19 different starting lineups in 72 games this season. One – the familiar one from the past two Finals, with James, Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier – has been used 30 times,with the Heat going 20-10 in those games. The other 18 actually have yielded better results – 30-12 – despite none getting more than eight starts together and eight of the combinations going one-and-done.

None of this is by design, mind you. Injuries and ineffectiveness have pulled the handle on Miami’s lineup slot machine, not Spoelstra, the fruit tumbling and landing based on who’s available and contributing. Everyone knows about Wade, whose increasingly brittle body has been nursed through the 2013-14 schedule (51 games in, 21 games out) as if it’s Stephen Strasburg‘s right arm. Ray Allen at times has looked every bit of his 38 years, eight months, one week and three days. Battier’s planned retirement after this season has had a few false starts.

Eternally rehabbing Greg Oden has been more mascot than center, the way this season has gone.

“People think we’re overanalyzing it, we have some plan right now,” Spoelstra said Saturday evening before his guys did their work early in the 88-67 breeze past the Bucks. “Guys who are able to play right now are playing, period. Guys who cannot play, who are not passing the test, they’re not playing. The thing about this season, we’ve had a lot more of those than we’ve had in the past where guys aren’t able to play.”

In the middle of it all stands James. He’s the constant in the Heat’s season of change – OK, Bosh has missed one game and Norris Cole none but they orbit James the same as Miami’s other planets and moons. The four-time MVP has missed three games himself – broken nose, groin and ankle sprain, he recounts swiftly when the topic comes up – but no one on the roster has played within 300 minutes of his time. At 2,592, he has played nearly seven full games more than Bosh (2,258) and the equivalent of twice that compared to Chalmers (1,887).

James sat down after 30 minutes Saturday, skipping the fourth quarter entirely thanks to the score and who the Heat were playing. He orchestrated and facilitated more than dominated – two shots and two points in the first half, 13 points and seven rebounds by night’s end – but he was out there. Wade again was sitting on the bench in a suit. Chalmers and Oden were sidelined, too, and the flu sweeping through Allen’s family kept him off the three-game trip entirely.

Frankly, James would be within his rights to look around and wonder whether this patchwork attack and relative M*A*S*H unit of teammates will be enough to reach and win another Finals. And if he did, the opt-out in his contract this summer would loom so large, it’d throw a shadow over Miami’s entire postseason.

If James’ teammates feel sheepish or some extra obligation to pick up the pace and durability in fairness to him, they’re not saying. “We’re a team. We have to come through for each other,” Wade said after the Milwaukee game. “So we all are obligated for each other. Obviously myself, LeBron and Chris wanted to play together.”

Then again, if his heavier work load while others sit is an issue, James hasn’t let on.

“It’s gotten to the point now where I don’t even think about it,” the Heat star said, “and if I’m in the lineup tonight, then I’ve got to do my job. You just worry about controlling things you can control. Us having injuries, us having guys in and out of the lineup, that’s something I can’t control.”

It is something he’s noticed, at least. Never before has James played for a team with such a revolving door on its trainers room.

“I can’t really recall it, as many guys as we’ve had [out],” he said. “In that sense it’s challenging, not only for myself but for the guys who are in – they may not have played for two months – and then out and they may not play for 14, 15 games.

“It’s the luxury of having unselfish guys. That’s what we have. I don’t know too many teams who can do this – that can have guys like James Jones who – I don’t know, has he played this year [before Friday]? – then to start [in Detroit] and contribute. Guys like that, it’s amazing.”

For the record, Jones had played a total of 70 minutes in a dozen games across Miami’s first 70, before logging 54 minutes in the back-to-back against the Pistons and the Bucks. But what about James? Has fatigue made him crave a couple games off just to rest or reset?

“Only if I’m injured, for the most part, will I sit down,’ ” James said. “I don’t have too many ‘mental days.’ “

In past seasons, when Miami’s playoff berth has been secured, Spoelstra has spotted James a game or two to set up for the playoffs. He will again, unless Indiana keeps the East race for No. 1 close till the end.

But the Heat aren’t there yet. And James has no hand up in search of a breather.

“If I tried to sit him out of a shootaround or a practice, he would look at me cross-eyed,” Spoelstra said. “This summer he had more rest than he’s had any other offseason. So that’s probably triple [rest] for most people, because he loves the game so much, he loves to compete.”

Consider Friday, the day Miami played in Detroit. James showed up at Oakland (Mich.) University not long after sunrise to work out at the gym where his childhood friend and high school teammates Sonny Weems serves as an assistant coach. Then he went through the Heat’s shootaround later than morning. Nine or 10 hours after that, he posted a triple-double against the Pistons.

During warmups against the Bucks, James took time to meet and visit with Ebony Nettles-Bey, a girls high school basketball player from Verona, Wis., who is battling a Stage 4 cancer. He shot around with her prior to tipoff, then spoke warmly about their encounter after the final horn.

“What she’s going through every single day, the challenges she’s facing every single day with the Stage 4 cancer that she has,” James said, “she’s the stronger one out of us two.”

After that, any further questions about work load and rest, not just James’ but any NBA player’s, seemed a little silly.

“There’s no such thing as well-rested at this point,” James said. “Every season is different. My mentality changes from season to season. Every challenge is different. You just go about it however it presents itself.”

With Aldridge back, so is Blazers’ edge

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Trail Blazers cruise past Bulls in Chicago

CHICAGO – LaMarcus Aldridge realized early that it wasn’t going to be his night offensively.

“My first shot, I took it quick but I saw Bulls coming baseline,” the Portland Trail Blazers All-Star power forward said. “And I remembered [in Portland in November] they doubled me the whole game. I’d had some good games versus them in my past, so I felt like they wanted to take me out. So I knew early I was going to try to be more active defensively.”

What mattered more to Aldridge was that it was going to be his night at all. He had missed seven consecutive games with a bruised lower back prior to Thursday, then got busy against the Hawks in Atlanta for 25 points, 16 rebounds and 32 minutes. The Blazers won, pulling up ever so slightly in what had been a nosedive (3-4 without Aldridge, nine losses in 15 games overall).

This game against Chicago, at the end of their five-game Eastern trip, was no time to start plummeting again.

“As long as I woke up and I could walk, I was going to play,” Aldridge said.

This wasn’t one for the portfolio – five points, 2-for-10 shooting – at the offensive end but he represented well on defense. Aldridge grabbed 13 defensive boards and had four steals, clogging up things inside against a Bulls team that was no threat outside (3-for-17 from the 3-point line).

And frankly, Aldridge’s mere threat, misfiring or not, drew extra defenders often enough to free up other Portland shooters. Free up and energize even. Hey, LaMarcus is in passing mode!

“They get more energy, and they get more happy of course,” Aldridge said after the Blazers hit 10 of their 22 attempts from the arc. “When teams double-team me, I feel like guys pull over to the ball faster, I think guys are more locked in. When I have the ball normally, I’m going 1-on-1 and I’m always shooting it. But I feel like tonight, my teammates were more engaged.”

Better now than never. Portland’s struggles over the past 10 weeks have been well-documented, notably by our guys Fran Blinebury and Sekou Smith here and here in the past few days alone. The Blazers’ freefall was all the rage as a media topic, certainly in Portland, and even though the players and coaches were on the road, they couldn’t escape it.

“Look, we all know where things are in the standings and the playoffs,” coach Terry Stotts said after a solid, assertive 91-74 victory at United Center. “Every game is critical. We let a couple get away on this trip but I didn’t have to say anything – the team knows where we are and what we need to do.”

Getting Aldridge back was their top priority – a big no-duh, frankly – because life without him was a double-whammy: the Blazers lost his production and opponents felt freshly enthused, eager to test Portland’s vulnerability.

But there was more, perhaps some unconscious acknowledgement that, with or without their big guy, they weren’t the same team that had blitzed the league in the first two months. “Maybe not sustainable,” Aldridge said of the swift start.

Every team has lulls, but the Blazers’ looked more like doubts.

“Other than us getting our best player back – which changes everything – our urgency has gone up after the loss in Orlando [Tuesday],” point guard Damian Lillard said. “You realize, ‘All right, it’s time to turn it around right now. We can’t wait. We can’t have one of these lackadaisical efforts.’ The last two games we’ve really defended and done everything together.”

The unity Portland has flexed at its best was there particularly on defense, where having the other man’s back is king.

“I think the biggest example I can give you,” Lillard said, “is how consistent we were [against the Bulls] chasing over ball screens and communicating and pushing the ball up and moving the ball. Just everything the coaches are telling us and constantly on us about, we’ve been able to execute those things on the floor consistently.

“We were really missing that over that tough stretch.”

Aldridge made sure not to rush back, lest his back pains reoccur and he miss more time even closer to the playoffs. The Blazers are 7-5 without him this season, 40-22 when he plays. They locked up a winning record on the road in 2013-14 (21-18 now) and are 12-7 on the tail end of back-to-backs.

Going through the hard times – with no guarantees they’re gone, of course – did put a chip back on the Blazers’ shoulders, if that’s any help.

“I think we’re at our best,” Lillard said, “when everybody starts to doubt us and says, ‘Oh, they might not be in the playoffs. They’re falling off.’ That’s when we come together. We want to prove people wrong.”