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For Scola and Pacers, it’s about fixing carefully what was broken barely

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Pacers stifle Bulls; George tallies triple-double

INDIANAPOLIS – There was a rush to judgment for some inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse Friday night, a desire driven by desperation to declare that the kids were all right. That the Indiana Pacers, in beating a good team (Chicago) in ways most familiar (stifling defense, balanced scoring, ball movement, sweeping of the boards), were back, baby.

It was easy to get drawn into the feel-good atmosphere in the moments soon after the Pacers’ 91-79 victory, a game they blew open in the third quarter and managed comfortably to the end. The numbers stacked up beautifully, an homage to Indiana’s 16-1 start that got everything rolling this season:

  • They held the Bulls to 79 points. The Pacers are 12-0 when doing that in 2013-14.
  • They limited the guys in black to 36.4 percent shooting. Anything under 40 percent, Indiana is 25-2.
  • They controlled the glass 51-36 against a normally sound rebounding team, grabbing 13 on the offensive end. When they’re in double digits at that end, the Pacers are 24-4.
  • They had 27 assists on 34 field goals. They’re 34-3 just cracking 20.
  • And when all five starters score in double figures, this generally kumbaya crew is 12-2.

So the ball was hopping, the Fieldhouse was hot (Indiana guys got the game’s three technical fouls, though Chicago was more frustrated) and the Pacers’ recent worrisome streak – four straight losses earlier this month in which they gave up an average of 106 points, and a clunker in New York Wednesday – was getting brushed off almost blithely. After all, didn’t even coach Frank Vogel embrace Friday’s performance as a statement game about how dominant his guys can be and how legit their aspirations are?

“I think we did remind ourselves of who we are,” Vogel said, “in terms of a potentially suffocating defensive team that plays together on the offensive end and shares the basketball. We have a lot of weapons.”

It was left to Luis Scola to throw a damp blanket over the evening.

“I don’t think we’re out of it yet,” Scola said, soberly coming down from one of his best games this season, a season-high 19 points with 12 in the second quarter when Indiana’s bench jump-started most of the good stuff that followed.

“We just played one good game,” Scola said. “I believe in us, as much as anybody else or more. But we just played one good game.

“It wasn’t just one bad game we had. The longer you’ve been down is probably the longer it’s going to take you to come out of it. … If we go [Saturday] and lose against Memphis, it doesn’t mean nothing. We need to play well. Then we need to go to Chicago and we’ve got to play well again.”

Scola has earned the right to be cautious. No one game this season has fast-tracked his adjustment to contributing off the Pacers bench as a backup and reasonable facsimile for starter David West. Acquired last July from Phoenix, Scola has been inconsistent in the role. At times, he even appeared to regress: he went from 19.1 minutes, 8.4 points and 4.8 rebounds in November to 14.9, 5.8 and 4.8 in February. Those February numbers were eerily similar to the 2012-13 production of Tyler Hansbrough, the fellow over whom Scola was supposed to be such an upgrade.

So far, March has gone a little better individually for Scola – he’s shooting 53.8 percent, after hitting 37.6 percent the first two months of 2014. But this business of fitting in with a proven group and somehow fixing what was, at worst, only slightly broken is tricky. Evan Turner has learned that since arriving at the trade deadline in the surprise deal for Danny Granger. Big Andrew Bynum‘s swollen knee has blocked him from finding out.

“How to fit in and not stop their rhythm,” Turner said Friday of the challenge with which he’s still grappling. “And at the same time not be too passive or overly aggressive. Each night I have to figure out which way I have to play, whether I need to be aggressive or some nights I need to play defense and just pass the ball.”

Vogel takes responsibility for Scola’s limited opportunities or minutes variations – West still is averaging 30 a night, with Scola playing a career-low 17.1. But the Pacers coach didn’t sound bothered or unhappy with the 33-year-old’s impact.

“Scola’s just extremely passionate about playing great basketball,” Vogel said. “I probably have not rewarded him enough when he has a good burst. [He] played the whole second quarter [against Chicago] because he was playing his tail off. He’s a great competitor, great warrior. And a really good basketball player who, when he gets opportunity, he’s going to produce for you.”

Early in the season, Scola was noticeably rattled by the pace of his Indiana learning curve, displeased with his contribution. He didn’t fess up to that Friday but, when pressed, did admit to a new set point for what he considers a good night’s work.

“I’m just happy to be on a good team,” Scola said. “That could be something I learned. I learned it’s more fun to play less on a team like this, vs. play more on a bad team. Which I didn’t know early in the year.

“Playing more was very important to me. And it still is, but if I have to play 30 minutes on a team that is not in the playoffs, it’s less fun than this.”

Forget the sweeping statements for the Pacers or for Scola Friday. Somebody could use the word “fun” in their postgame locker room, and for a night, that was progress enough.

Award races head into stretch run

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

Four weeks from today the regular season is over. All eyes will be on the playoffs. And that means the final push is on for the 2013-14 awards.

The duel for MVP honors has been a match race all season between Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Michael Carter-Williams jumped out of the pack early as the one to beat for Rookie of the Year. But the other races have been wide open.

Here’s one man’s view as we head into the home stretch:

Most Improved Player

Anthony Davis, Pelicans — This is why the Pelicans were so happy to make him the No. 1 pick in the 2012 Draft. This is what coach Monty Williams says Davis probably could have shown last season if the coach hadn’t kept a tight rein on his prized rookie, limiting his minutes and his exposure to getting overpowered while he built up his slender body. When Davis erupted for 40 points, 21 rebounds, three assists and three steals against the Celtics, it was the culmination of a spectacular sophomore year. He’s been steady and breathtaking at both ends of the court all season, enough to beat out the likes of worthy candidates Goran Dragic and Lance Stephenson in a crowded field of contenders. Also getting votes: DeAndre Jordan, Trevor Ariza.


VIDEO: Anthony Davis was nominated for Kia Player of the Month for March

Sixth Man of the Year

Manu Ginobili, Spurs – Following an injury-plagued 2012-13 season that saw him enter the playoffs last spring looking bedraggled, the player who puts the jolt into the Spurs attack is back playing like a live wire in his 12th season. His field-goal percentage is up and his he’s back to doing all the things at both ends of the floor that make him a disruptive force and a difference maker. Jamal Crawford is the closest contender and has done many of the same things for the Clippers. The deciding factor has to be overall team performance. L.A. is in the top half of the Western Conference standings, but that’s once again the Spurs at the top. The return of Manu to his old form is a prime reason. Also getting votes: Reggie Jackson, Markieff Morris.


VIDEO: Manu Ginobili talks about the Spurs’ season and his play

Rookie of the Year

Michael Carter-Williams, Sixers — He was the sixth guard selected (11th overall) in 2013 and wasted no time showing he never should have lasted that long. He’s put up big numbers even as the Sixers have suffered through what is a historically inept season. If all of general manager Sam Hinkie’s decisions turn out so well, the pain will be worth the price. The fun could just be starting when MCW gets to team up with a healthy Nerlens Noel next season. It’s a long way back to the No. 2 man in the voting for this category, but we’re jumping the more likely pick and going with Tim Hardaway Jr. His hard-charging style has been one of the few reasons to watch the Knicks all year. Also getting votes: Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke. Kia Rookie Ladder


VIDEO: At the All-Star break, Michael Carter-Williams talks about his season

Defensive Player of the Year

Joakim Noah, Bulls — The Pacers spent the early part of the year polishing their reputation as the league’s top defensive team, with center Roy Hibbert starting to clear room on his mantle as the pre-eminent rim protector in the game. But it is no coincidence that the Pacers’ struggles fit with a slippage in Hibbert’s game. The truth is, when you get him just a little bit away from the basket, he’s not so dominant. Meanwhile the Bulls have shrugged off the loss of Derrick Rose and Luol Deng because Noah simply won’t let them stop working and scrapping and competing. He’s the heart and soul of the team, especially that ferocious defense as Chicago charges late and the Pacers try to regain their equilibrium. Also getting votes: Serge Ibaka, Dwight Howard.


VIDEO: Rachel Nichols talks with Joakim Noah about his surge in play of late

Coach of the Year

Gregg Popovich, Spurs — The first instinct is to say that Jeff Hornacek has taken a Suns team that everyone assumed was diving for the lottery — and the Las Vegas wise guys had pegged for 21.5 wins — and turned them into an uplifting story and playoff contender, and that’s worthy of consideration. The next instinct is to say that Tom Thibodeau is like the Black Knight in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, virtually getting limbs chopped off and yet ignoring the wounds and keeping right on with the fight. But when you get right down to the meat of things, it’s all about winning games and some how, some way, Popovich keeps doing that better than anybody else. Never mind that Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are practically senior citizens. Never mind that an assortment of injuries has forced the Spurs to use two dozen different lineups. Never mind all of those lingering mental scars from The Finals last June. Popovich expects the best and his team keeps producing it. Excellence should be recognized and rewarded. Also getting votes: Frank Vogel, Dwane Casey, Steve Clifford.


VIDEO: GameTime delves into how deeply Gregg Popovich’s influence is felt around the NBA

Most Valuable Player

Kevin Durant, Thunder — It’s been a two-horse race between Durant and LeBron James almost from the opening tip. You can almost never go wrong picking James, who still reigns as the league’s best player with his ability. It looked like James might be making a late charge for an MVP three-peat with his 61 point game a couple of weeks ago. But an ensuing slump by both LeBron and the Heat took the steam out of that charge. Durant responded and has raised his game even higher over the past 1 1/2 weeks. We also have to go back to Durant’s body of work without Russell Westbrook for 30 games — and counting — as he keeps the Thunder in the hunt for best overall record and heads toward what should be the first of multiple MVP wins. Also getting votes: Joakim Noah, Blake Griffin. Kia Race to the MVP Ladder


VIDEO: Chris Webber and Greg Anthony debate and discuss the MVP race

Spurs’ Big 3 top Showtime in stability

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

San Antonio's Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

San Antonio’s Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

SAN ANTONIO — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

For a dozen seasons, coach Gregg Popovich has been able to walk into the locker room and write those names into his lineup.

Earth, wind and fire. Like the fundamental elements, we just expect them to be there. The years have practically blended them together into one multi-syllabic name with a single identity.

TimTonyManu. Working, playing, synchronizing and simply moving on, the basketball version of a Swiss watch.

Tick, tick, tick.

In a sport where knees tear, tendons break, tempers snap and egos explode, only two other trios in NBA history have stayed bound at the hip for so long and experienced such success.

Gregg Popovich (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

Gregg Popovich (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

When Duncan, Parker and Ginobili take the court for tonight’s game at the AT&T Center against the Lakers (8:30, NBA TV) for their 664th game together, they’ll pass the “Showtime” Lakers trio of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Cooper as the second-mot durable trio in NBA history. Their 490 wins currently ties L.A. Holding down the No. 1 spot is the Celtics combination of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish.

“Being a human, sure, one takes it for granted when you don’t stop and think about what those guys have done and how long they’ve been together and what they’ve gone through listening to me for all these years,” said Popovich. “One does have to stop and really think about what that’s meant to our program and how consistent those three guys have been. Because that doesn’t happen that often in the league. We all probably need to appreciate it more around here in San Antonio, for sure.”

When Ginobili was first learning to throw his body all over the hardwood in his hometown of Bahia Blanca, Argentina, the only way to see the high-flying act of Magic, Kareem and Coop was on snippets from highlight tapes. “We were not watching those games live,” he said. “It was not easy to watch the NBA then. You could get tapes and things like that.

“Of course, I remember. The Showtime thing — [James] Worthy flying for dunks, great defense and Magic flying to find open guys in the lane. Bryon Scott to Kareem. I never watched a full game. But I saw plenty of highlights and for sure they were an inspiration and those games against the Celtics were legendary.”

They are as disparate a trio as one might find and yet symbolic of the NBA’s globalization in the quarter-century since the Lakers were winning five championships from 1980-89. A lanky swimmer from the U.S. Virgin Islands, a Belgium-born Frenchman and an Argentinian whose games possesses all the hot passion of the native tango.

Most games played together
729 — Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish (Celtics)
711 — Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Vinnie Johnson (Pistons)
663 — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Michael Cooper (Lakers)

663 — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili (Spurs)
632 — Bill Russell, Sam Jones, Satch Sanders (Celtics)

Most victories by an NBA trio
540 — Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish (Celtics)
490 — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Michael Cooper (Lakers)

490 — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili (Spurs)
468 — Bill Russell, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones (Celtics)
463 — Bill Russell, Sam Jones, Satch Sanders (Celtics)

Duncan, Parker and Ginobili won a championship in their first season together in 2003 and added another in 2005 and one in 2007.

“A great run and it feels very special,” Parker said. “I feel very blessed to play with Timmy and Manu and I feel very lucky and privileged to be named next to Magic Johnson and Kareem and Michael Cooper. I grew up watching them and never thought in my wildest dreams that my name would be next to them. It’s crazy just to think about it. Once I retire, I can look at it and enjoy it. Now I try to stay focused on the season, but it’s unbelievable.

“Growing up in France, soccer’s the main sport and they’re changing all the time. You go and buy [players] and stuff like that. In basketball, it’s a little bit harder to trade guys. But it’s still rare to have the same guys, us three for all those years, and the same coach.”

Toss in Popovich as the only coach that any of them have ever played for in the NBA and the stability and constancy of the Spurs is a little more understandable, yet it remains unprecedented. The Lakers were coached by Jack McKinney, Paul Westhead and Pat Riley during their run in the ’80s. The Celtics were led to their three championships in that decade by Bill Fitch (1981) and K.C. Jones (1984 and 1986).

“It is remarkable,” Ginobili said. “I guess we’re going to win a few more [games]. But even if you didn’t tell me about that stat, we know we are in a very unique position and situation having played together for 12 seasons with the same coach.”

Parker plays without his teammates during summers for the French national team.

“So sometimes I’m used to it,” he said. “But in a Spurs jersey, they are both gonna retire before me, so it’s definitely going to be weird. Hopefully it’s not anytime soon.”

It takes durability, compatibility, a shrewd front office plan and just plain good luck for three players of All-Star caliber to last so long together. In this era of free agency, LeBron James and Chris Bosh can choose to bolt for Miami to chase titles, Carmelo Anthony can go from Denver to New York and maybe have his sights set elsewhere this summer. Even Shaquille O’Neal, the most physically dominating player of his era, bounced to six different teams.

Then there are the debilitating injuries that this year alone have taken down Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.

Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have never seriously looked to leave San Antonio.

The once-proud Lakers team staggering into San Antonio tonight, potentially the worst team in the Western Conference this season, demonstrates how long the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili combo has endured and prospered. It’s bad enough in L.A. that the Spurs have sympathy for their long-time rivals — especially Bryant.

“It’s very odd, very unusual after so many playoff games and a very tough, great rivalry,” Ginobili said. “They’ve had so many injuries and, of course, you have two of your best players — Nash and Kobe — out for so long. I’ve never been been through anything like that. Achilles is as bad as it gets.”

Said Parker: “I don’t wish that on anybody. I wish everybody was playing. I wish D-Rose was playing. I hope [LaMarcus] Aldridge is OK. I don’t like injuries. I wish everybody was healthy and we are competing against each other.

“We definitely miss the Lakers. When the Lakers are good, it’s great for the NBA and it’s great for everybody. I love that rivalry — Spurs-Lakers. I miss that a little bit. We definitely are gonna miss Kobe (tonight) and hopefully he’ll be back 100 percent next year.”

The fundamental elements — Duncan, Parker and Ginobili — will be waiting.

Noah sears his way into MVP talk

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

JoakimNoah_March13_575x275

CHICAGO – When Joakim Noah switched on screens a couple times Sunday to find himself against LeBron James, the world saw the Chicago Bulls’ adrenalized, frenetic 6-foot-11 center seizing the moment, squaring up and – wait, no, really? – clapping his hands almost in James’ face.

Here he was, isolated against the NBA’s three-time MVP, who had the ball in his hands, the rim 20 feet away and a game to win. Noah might as well have been throwing rocks at a grizzly bear or wading into traffic on the Kennedy.

Noah, though, didn’t see it that way. For an instant on the court at United Center, in some recess of his mind, he was back in Teaneck, N.J., a dozen years ago. James was a high school underclassman from Akron, Ohio, already having his every movement scouted and stalked as the NBA’s next big thing. Noah? He was the gawky kid with the frizzy hair shagging rebounds for James.

LeBron James, Joakim Noah (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

LeBron James, Joakim Noah (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

“I was a ball boy,” Noah said after a Bulls practice this week, asked about the famous Adidas ABCD basketball camp he first attended as a sophomore. He hadn’t done enough to earn a spot as a player, so he went with his high school coach and rebounded for James, Lenny Cooke, Sebastian Telfair and other phenoms.

Every once in a while, you hear about an NBA player who spent time as a ball boy, helping and staring a lot while navigating wet towels and giant men in locker rooms. This was different, though.

“At least they’re fetching things for guys who are in the NBA,” Noah said. “I was fetching things for guys who were my age. I didn’t have my own bed – slept on the floor.

“I could have been in France with my father [tennis star Yannick Noah], I could have been traveling with my mom [Cecilia Rodhe, Miss Sweden 1978] in the summertime. But I knew that was where I needed to be if I wanted to make it. My dream was to play at that camp, to play in college and to play one day in the NBA.

“Y’know, I think it gives me my underdog mentality. I cherish those times because those are the sacrifices I had to make. Even as a ball boy, it wasn’t humbling – I just knew I had to be there, because it gave me an opportunity to see where I needed to get to.”

James, Noah said, has not mentioned their initial brush in the years since and probably doesn’t remember it.

“I wasn’t ready,” Noah said. “Physically I was a late bloomer. Y’know, I was 6-5 and 140 pounds. They used to call me ‘Stick Man.’ “


VIDEO: Noah’s All-Star journey

> Bringing it every night

James, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the Miami Heat might have called Noah a few other things Sunday, after he helped Chicago beat them 95-88 with 20 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks in 42 matinee minutes. The Bulls outworked Miami, getting 27 second-chance points, and Noah outworked everyone else in the building.

In fact, with his father beaming along with other family member in the stands, and with the red meat of the team he “hates” most as the opposition, the ever-emotional Noah seemed about to boil over a few times. He picked up one technical foul in the third quarter for playing keep-away on a dead ball with Miami guard Mario Chalmers. But the dude abided after that, with help from his friends.

“Sometimes I talk to him because you don’t want him to get another tech,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “But he knows his limit. He’s been doing that for years. You really can’t tell him much. He’s ‘Joakim Noah.’ He’s going to do it regardless. But he knows his limits.”

Most of the time, anyway. There was the game at Sacramento Feb. 3, when Noah got bounced in the third quarter after arguing a phantom foul whistled against him. The anger seized up on him and he appeared to drop an F-bomb on each of the three officials before he was hustled off the floor. Noah apologized after the game, but it still cost him a $15,000 fine. It at least gave Noah the distinction of being the first player penalized under new commissioner Adam Silver.

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, before Tuesday’s game at United Center, was asked if his roster of adults could accommodate a player who runs as “hot” as Noah.

“I think so,” Popovich said. “He is a highly emotional guy, but he brings it every night. It’s something that infuses the whole team. He sets a standard on the court for the team. Each of us is different, our personalities. He’s like the opposite of Timmy [Duncan] in that respect. Tim is the most introspective and non-emotional guy on the court, but the fire’s burning, just in a different way. … As long as it’s directed for the good of the team, which it obviously is 100 percent, I think it’s great.”

So does the Bulls’ marketing department, which sells the “heart of Chicago basketball” with a commercial that’s nothing more than super-slo-mo video of Noah in full emotional eruption. All spasm and gyrations, sweat and spittle, primal scream, arms pumping, body quaking.

“Does it sometimes go over the edge? Yeah,” former coach-turned-ABC/ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy said over the weekend. “But would you ever ask him to tone it down? Absolutely not. You have to accept that 99 percent of the time it’s a positive. The 1 percent of the time it’s a negative, you don’t overreact to that. Him and [Tom] Thibodeau, they’re both intense, passionate people. That’s why I think they’re perfect for each other.”

Thibodeau, who signed on as Bulls coach four years ago, had watched Noah from afar and seen the same frenzied guy. Then he went to work with Noah.

“You never want to take that away from a player,” Thibodeau said. “That’s his make-up. It’s who he is. When we were in Boston with Kevin Garnett, Doc [Rivers] once talked to him about [toning down his intensity]. By halftime, Doc was screaming, ‘Go back to being who you are.’ Whatever it is that makes you go, that’s what you’ve got to stay with.”

Noah’s game used to run on emotion and little else. He was a glorified energy guy chosen No. 9 by Chicago in the 2007 Draft, picked after Al Horford and Corey Brewer, his teammates with the Florida Gators. They had won NCAA titles together in 2006 and 2007, but Horford’s and Brewer’s games allegedly translated better to the NBA.

What people didn’t grasp was that Noah, a slow hoops learner in high school and college, would have the same trajectory as a pro. In his sixth NBA season, he became an All-Star. In his seventh, he did it again and has heard his name dropped in MVP and Defensive Player of the Year conversations.

“I think Noah is the best ‘non-scorer’ in the NBA,” Van Gundy said. “He’s not ever going to average 16, 17 points, but you have to take into account his defense, his rebounding, his passing. Tom’s not trying to force him to be something he’s not by scoring in the low post. He’s got him in the high post, initiating offense. It opens up the basket area for the rest of the guys, which really helps.

“Let’s face it, the special teams have those guys who can force double-teams. Chicago doesn’t have that. But you want hard-playing, unselfish, low-maintenance players, too, and that’s exactly what Noah is.”

> Learning to play smart

For someone whose game isn’t best measured by numbers, Noah, 29, has put up some stellar ones. With three triple-doubles in the last month, he became the first center to post three in a season – with assists as one of the categories – since David Robinson in 1993-94. Noah is averaging 12.2 points, 11.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists – 7.1 in his last 16 games – and is trying to join Garnett (six times), Charles Barkley (three) and Anthony Mason (once) as the only players since 1990-91 to average 12.0, 11.0 and 4.5 over a full season.

His knack for facilitating the offense and finding cutters has earned him a “point center” reputation of late, and Noah has gone beyond that.


VIDEO: Noah notches a triple-double against the Knicks

“He’s just playing smart,” Thibodeau said. “He’s playing from the high post a lot and when people get up on him, now he’s reading: Are they sitting on the pass and backing off? If they are, he’s going to make another play. So I think you have to play him honestly. If you try to take the pass away, he’s going to score. That’s what I like, he’s making quick decisions, that’s probably the most important thing.”

Thibodeau said that, contrary to some elite players who add particular moves or skills each summer, Noah has ratcheted up his game across the board. After four years of continuity with Thibodeau’s system, he has blossomed.

“He’s not getting a lot of iso’s or plays where he gets on the block and gets post-ups,” said San Antonio forward Boris Diaw, Noah’s teammate in international competition on France’s national team. “He’s getting points a different way, which is hard. But he’s a hard roller [on pick-and-rolls], he’s getting in the slots all the time. He’s smart, getting always in the right place at the right moment. And getting a lot of offensive rebounds and second chances.”

Said Noah:

“I’m just being myself. I’m working on my game. I’ve never felt so confident as a basketball player. Derrick [Rose] gives me a lot of confidence, too, always telling me what I need to work on, what type of shots I’ve got to take for when he comes back.”

It is a long way off, but Thibodeau and Noah are eagerly awaiting the day Rose returns from his second season lost to knee injuries. Maybe, Rose can throttle back some of his explosive fury thanks to facets added this season by Noah.

“That’s the plan,” Noah said. “I feel like I can affect the game in a lot of different ways. And I think Derrick can as well. I’m not worried about none of [the doubts about Rose's future], because I know his mind is in the right place and he knows my mind is in the right place. All the other stuff – the accolades and all that – it’s bigger than that.”

> Getting his due

The MVP talk – even if he’s destined to be no higher than No. 3 on anyone’s ballot, slotting in somewhere after Kevin Durant and James – makes Noah uncomfortable. He’d welcome the DPOY, though he’d never campaign for it, nor for all-NBA center status that will focus both on him and his matchup Thursday against Houston’s Dwight Howard.

Howard told NBA.com’s Jeff Caplan that he was looking forward to the matchup and planned to have fun against Noah when the Rockets and Bulls clashed. Noah talked about Howard as a guy he has known since high school, too, and who finally looks happy and healthy in Houston.

Noah, while healthier than he’s been in years (mostly avoiding plantar fascitis foot issues), isn’t quite ready to be happy. Not the way he’ll be if he, Rose, Thibs and the rest – minus friend Luol Deng (a midseason blow emotionally when he was traded) – get someday what Miami has.

In the meantime, he’ll get low in his defensive crouch and, whether it’s against point guards, centers or the best player on the planet, clap excitedly in the other man’s face. So what if he is risking the most glaring sort of embarrassment in those moments? (For the record, Noah and James split their little showdowns, Noah getting a stop and triggering a fast break once, James cutting by him for a left-handed layup on the other.)

“It’s the life we choose,” Noah said smiling. “Being in the public eye, playing basketball in front of a lot of people who are watching. I’m an emotional guy, that’s who I’ve always been, if there were 10 people at an AAU game or now. I’m not going to change who I am.

“I feel lucky. There’s not a lot of jobs where you can just make a play and scream as loud as you can. There’s nobody sitting at the office who’s going to stand up and scream. It’d be like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ “

It’s all going on for Noah these days, and he can’t help but share it.

“Summer Dreams” a hit in reality

About halfway through “Summer Dreams,” the compelling documentary that premieres Saturday night on CBS, out-of-work coaching hopeful Joel Abelson goes to the Las Vegas hotel suite of Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey to talk job opportunities. Olshey is welcoming but direct in a harsh reality check that even Abelson has to appreciate through the pain of being reminded how many people with much bigger names and much longer resumés are also in town trying to get hired. Abelson practically swallows his tongue on camera.

“That’s real stuff, that is what happens,” Jon Weinbach, the program’s co-executive producer, said in remembering the scene months later. “And that is the kind of thing, I think, that appeals to a broader audience.”

It’s also the kind of thing that makes “Summer Dreams” unique. NBA junkies will appreciate the rare level of behind-the-scenes access – trailing Abelson on his interview, following Shane Larkin to the doctors to get bad news about an ankle injury, agonizing with Romero Osby on draft night – but the 2013 summer league in Las Vegas and Orlando through the prism of familiar names and relative unknowns will speak to non-sports fans as well.

There are strong female characters, bonds of friendship and inspirational family moments, money and poverty, lottery picks and the undrafted. A female referee is trying to make the full-time NBA lineup. A coach is willing to travel the world for a gig. A first-round choice wanting to make a name for himself faces an immediate career setback. “Summer Dreams” is reality TV the way it’s supposed to be.

“We pushed our characters,” Weinbach said. “We said, ‘Look, guys. This isn’t going to be 10 minutes for a puff piece.’ ”

The two-hour doc obviously included the cooperation of the NBA, as seen by the rare access to aspiring referee Lauren Holtkamp. Beyond that, the experienced production team won the trust of players and families and allowed cameras to join in private moments. Good connections didn’t hurt either — the project is from Mandalay Sports Media. Warriors co-owner Peter Guber, chairman of the company, put “Summer Dreams” leaders in contact with Vivek Ranadive, who had just moved from minority owner in Golden State to primary with the Kings. Ranadive invited a crew to the war room for the draft.

CBS and Mandalay have already talked about expanding the concept from single documentary to a series. Maybe the production that this time included six crews in Las Vegas and Orlando, at the Chicago pre-draft combine, in different locations on draft night and at several other cities along the way could follow up by tracking the 2014 summer league. Weinbach thinks USA Basketball also has possibilities, the program following the team’s pursuit of a gold medal at the World Cup of Basketball beginning in August in Spain.

A different backdrop, yes, but the same premise: summer dreams.

Suspension just adds to Mayo’s disappointing Bucks season


VIDEO: O.J. Mayo suspended for hitting Greg Stiemsma.

The NBA doesn’t give out a Most Disappointing Player Award, but if it did, one of the prime candidates this season would have to be Milwaukee’s O.J. Mayo.

Mayo’s debut season with the Bucks already included a vexing conditioning issue and a blooper moment when he chose to tie his shoelace on a defensive possession. Now he’s added a one-game suspension, his penalty from the NBA on Saturday for striking Pelicans big man Greg Stiemsma in the throat Friday in New Orleans.

Mayo had taken contact on a Stiemsma screen and reacted angrily, earning a flagrant-2 foul and automatic ejection with 1:32 left in the first quarter of what became Milwaukee’s 112-104 loss at the Smoothie King Center. Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova already was sitting out a one-game suspension for slugging Sacramento’s Reggie Evans in the stomach earlier in the week. Mayo will sit out the Bucks’ home game against Washington on Saturday.

The sixth-year guard apologized to teammates after the game and also in an interview for his loss of temper. “I reacted the wrong way and handled it for sure the wrong way,” Mayo said. I just want to apologize to the Bucks fan base, the city of Milwaukee and obviously New Orleans and the [fans] who came out and watched the game. It’s definitely the wrong way to conduct yourself. I’ve got to do better and I will be better.”

The Bucks have been waiting all season for Mayo to be better for them. His production is at or near a career low: 11.8 ppg, 2.2 assists, 40.2 percent from the field, 37.0 percent on 3-pointers. His plus/minus data is the team’s worst: minus-12.5 per 48 minutes, minus-339 overall. Milwaukee, of course, has the league’s worst record (12-49) and Mayo mostly has played off the bench (the Bucks are 5-18 when he starts).

He has missed 11 games, including six in January for illness and four more in February for illness and conditioning. At one point in the season’s first half, Mayo was so out of shape he looked as if he was wearing a flak jacket under his jersey. There’s no doubt Milwaukee had grown frustrated with Monta Ellis, whose spot Mayo plugged, but it expected much more after signing him to a three-year, $24 million contract.

The No. 3 pick in the 2008 draft was traded that night from Minnesota to Memphis for No. 5 Kevin Love and it mostly has been downhill since then. In games he has played, Mayo’s teams have gone 192-240. He appeared in 20 playoff games for the Grizzlies in 2011 and 2012, not exactly rising to the occasion (10.5 ppg, 35.2 FG%).

A week ago, Bucks coach Larry Drew said he finally was seeing “flashes” of the player Mayo can be. “O.J., he’s kind of a gunslinger,” Drew told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I can’t recall a guy whose shots are contested as much as his are, but he knocks them down.”

Drew was dealing with a small sample size: Mayo played four games in February and shot 47.7 percent, including 46.4 from the arc (13 of 28). But in four games in March, he was back down to 36.4 percent and 16.7. And with a forced absence Saturday, the sample size of Mayo’s worthwhile contributions in 2013-14 will remain rather puny.

Tear down to build up with Carmelo? Shaky strategy for him, suitors

Would Carmelo Anthony be a good fit with Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls? (Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images)

Would Carmelo Anthony be a good fit with Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls? (Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images)

If Carmelo Anthony leaves the New York Knicks as a free agent this summer and signs for less money elsewhere – and it’s a huge “if,” roughly the size of 30 million dollar bills stacked one atop the other – his avowed motive will be to join a team with which he’d have a better shot at winning an NBA title.

OK, fine. Those teams exist, because the Knicks’ avenues to improve are largely blocked by massive salary obligations to other players and a shortage of draft picks. Locking in with the Knicks for another five seasons, at approximately $129 million, mostly would assure Anthony of more of the same: frustration, eliminations and his nose pressed against the Finals glass while his buddies are grabbing hardware.

So even among Anthony’s supporters and critics – rarely on the same page about the high-scoring, ball-dominating All-Star forward’s polarizing game – there seems consensus that, if he truly craves that which he cannot buy, he’d best be served by seeking it somewhere else.

[Insert decision tree here: Those who doubt Anthony's single-minded lust for a championship, over all the attention, fun and earning opportunities that flow to him win or lose by virtue of playing in New York, can stop reading right now. So, too, can those who believe the extra $30 million, mostly at age 34 in the fifth year of a deal he cannot get elsewhere, renders moot any other-team scenario. What follows is of interest only to readers who actually believe Anthony will change teams in July…]

Then the question becomes: If the team he chooses has to start throwing pieces overboard just to pay him, won’t that be counterproductive to achieving the very goal he purportedly is seeking?

Anthony, remember, has been there, done this. When he leveraged his trade out of Denver in February 2011, he ostensibly got what he wanted – New York in all its Big Apple glory. But it came at a hefty price in the form of valuable Knicks players (Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov) and draft picks (including the 2014 first-rounder this June).

Even as the Knicks added Anthony as a marquee scorer, what they gave up all but killed the plan at its genesis. Cue the sad trombone.

So, fast-forwarding to the summer of 2014, what can we expect? Anthony and a team that covets him making the exact same mistake?

If, say, the Chicago Bulls – the team currently in the media’s crosshairs as fitting, wanting and flat-out needing Melo, with or without center Joakim Noah‘s supposed “recruiting” advice – tries to dredge enough salary-cap space to compete monetarily with the Knicks, it effectively will have to do what New York did. Either via sign-and-trade or the outright purging of players, Chicago would start any Anthony acquisition process by taking several steps backward.

First, the Bulls would have to amnesty Carlos Boozer to shed the $16.8 million due him in 2014-15. They would have to renounce cap holds on players such as Kirk Hinrich, D.J. Augustin, Nazr Mohammed and a few other near the bottom of their payroll.

And still, Chicago might need to shed more. Power forward Taj Gibson, for instance, might have to be traded to clear his $8 million salary. So what if Gibson, the Bulls’ Boozer replacement, has become a legitimate candidate for the NBA’s Sixth Man Award? His money would be all that mattered, just so VP John Paxson and GM Gar Forman could shove it across the table toward Anthony.

At which point Anthony – if he were really serious about wanting to win – ought to push it right back and say, “Not necessary, gentlemen.”

That’s right. Turn down money. Turn down a lot of money.

It’s the only way a move by Anthony to another team makes sense and serves both parties’ needs. And both parties’ needs do merge: If the Bulls or anyone else tear down their roster so much that they go backward before they can go forward, they likely won’t get where they want to go and he won’t either.

A team that has or painlessly can create cap space to max out (or near-max) Anthony’s contract probably doesn’t already have in place the pieces or track record he can trust to win big now and into his late prime. A team that would wince to do so ought to beware.

Chicago is way more viable as a contender with Gibson, to name one, than without him. Which looks better, a frontline of Anthony, Noah and Gibson, or one of Anthony, Noah and Phil N. DaBlanc, some low-salary schmoe scrounged after the rest of the money is in Anthony’s pocket?

The thing is, Anthony should want this, too. And he can afford it.

By the end of this, his 11th NBA season, Anthony will have been paid approximately $135 million. That’s about $6 million more than LeBron James, a four-time MVP. Since the start of the 2010-11 season, Anthony has pulled in more than $10 million more than James, who was playing for less money while going to three straight Finals and winning two of them.

This is where critics might ask: What has Anthony done to justify premium pay over what the game’s best player earns? Sticking to the topic, though, we’ll simply ask: Why can’t Anthony afford to take less now, the way James (and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh) did, to chase what he allegedly really craves? When Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen negotiated new deals in their 30s to keep their Big Three together in Boston, they took a combined pay cut of $23 million annually.

Keep in mind, Anthony’s off-court income from endorsements and other enterprises was recently estimated to be $8 million annually. His wife LaLa is an entertainer, bringing more cash into their celebrity household. The Anthonys might end up hosting telethons but they’ll never need to be the beneficiaries of one.

Fitting into Chicago’s ideal cap number would push Anthony’s paycheck down considerably; without stripping themselves of Noah, Gibson, Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Tony Snell and a few others, the Bulls might only be able to offer $11 million or $12 million in starting pay, building out to about $52 million over four years. That’s even a steep discount from approximately $95 million over four if he maxes out with a new team.

An insult? No, because Anthony would be getting while giving. He’d be getting the best possible cast of teammates, into which he could air-drop as the primary scorer. He’d be getting a fresh start in a market poised to adore him for what he might bring. He’d be getting one of the league’s most respected and resource coaches, Tom Thibodeau, who engenders blood loyalty in his locker room (if not his front office).

There would also be a bonus benefit of Anthony accepting a much lower offer, as in, money, meet mouth. If he prefers to max out financially, then he’s tracking a vastly different scoreboard than James, Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant. But no team should prostrate itself at that particular altar for him, least of all the Bulls. I’ve already gone on record that his and their cultures, at any price, would mix about as well as brown shoes and tuxedos or, y’know, Mike D’Antoni and Dwight Howard.

If, on the other hand, Anthony truly wants a title, he in essence could buy an enhanced path to one by making sure the roster he joins is the strongest possible. That’s how four years, $52 million, compared to five years, $129 million, can literally have a better ring to it.

A 5-Horse Race For West Seeds 6 – 8?


VIDEO: Kevin Love has 33 points and 19 rebounds to lift the Wolves over the Nuggets

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – A five-horse sprint to capture playoffs seeds 6 through 8 could be the most heated Western Conference race of the stretch run.

At the top of the standings, Oklahoma City and San Antonio are battling it out for the top seed while the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston and Portland are jockeying for seeds 3 through 5.

At the bottom it’s an ever-tightening battle for survival, not just to get into the playoffs, but if at all possible to seize the No. 6 seed and go for broke against anybody other than the Thunder or Spurs.

Entering Tuesday night’s games, No. 6 Golden State and No. 7 Phoenix both have 24 losses and are separated by one game in the win column. No. 8 Dallas and No. 9 Memphis both have 25 losses and are separated by two games in the win column. Dallas has the same number of wins as Golden State  and Memphis has one fewer win than Phoenix.

Got it?

In simple terms, seeds 6 through 9 are separated by 1 1/2 games.

And don’t totally dismiss the No. 10 Minnesota Timberwolves just yet. Fueled by Kevin Love‘s breathtaking February and the return of Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin, the Wolves are making a desperate attempt to get back into playoff contention, but still remain five games behind Dallas.

All five teams have 23 games or fewer remaining. All have attractive stretches where they can potentially make up ground in a hurry, but all also have pitfalls where the dream can just as quickly come to a crashing halt.

Below is a breakdown of the five teams in contention. How many home games does each have? How many games against the West? The East? Against Indiana and Miami? Where must each team take care of business? And where must each simply survive?

Take a look:

No. 6 Golden State Warriors (36-24)

> Games left: 22 (13 home, 9 road)

> Next game: Tonight at Indiana (7 p.m. ET, League Pass)

> vs. West: 15 (7 vs. current playoff teams)

> vs. East: 7 (1 vs. Indiana, 0 vs. Miami)

> vs. winning teams: 11 (Indiana, Phoenix, Dallas 2, L.A. Clippers, Portland 2, San Antonio 2, Memphis, Minnesota)

> Moving time: Five-game homestand from March 18 – 30 (Orlando, Milwaukee, San Antonio, Memphis, New York)

> Must-haves: March 9 vs. Phoenix; March 11 vs. Dallas; March 28 vs. Memphis, April 1 at Dallas

> Must survive: March 9 – 16 (vs. Phoenix, vs. Dallas, at L.A. Clippers, vs. Cleveland, at Portland)

> Wild card: The offense has struggled, but can they rely on their No. 1 defensive rating (points per 100 possessions) in the West to win pressure games?

==========================

No. 7 Phoenix Suns (35-24)

> Games left: 23 (9 home, 14 away)

> Next game: Tonight vs. L.A. Clippers (9 p.m. ET, League Pass)

> vs. West: 14 (10 vs. current playoff teams)

> vs. East: 9 (0 vs. Indiana, 0 vs. Miami)

> vs. winning teams: 12 (L.A. Clippers 3, Oklahoma City 2, Golden State, Toronto, Minnesota, Washington, Portland, San Antonio, Dallas, Memphis)

> Moving time: March 12-21 (vs. Cleveland, at Boston, at Toronto, at Brooklyn, vs. Orlando, vs. Detroit)

> Survival time: March 9 at Golden State, March 23 at Minnesota, March 28 vs. New York, March 30 at L.A. Lakers

> Wild card: Eric Bledsoe is practicing. Will he return and, if so, can he and Goran Dragic recapture their early-season magic?

==========================

No. 8 Dallas Mavericks (36-25)

> Games left: 21 (12 home, 9 away)

> Next game: Wednesday at Denver

> vs. West: 18 (9 vs. current playoff teams)

> vs. East: 3 (1 vs. Indiana, 0 vs. Miami)

> vs. winning teams: 12 (Portland, Indiana, Golden State 2, Oklahoma City 2, Minnesota, L.A. Clippers 2, San Antonio, Phoenix, Memphis)

> Moving time: First four of a season-long eight-game homestand March 17 – April 1 (Boston, Minnesota, Denver, Brooklyn)

> Must-haves: March 11 at Golden State; March 12 at Utah; April 1 vs. Golden State; April 12 vs. Phoenix; April 16 at Memphis

> Survival time: Wednesday – March 16 (at Denver, vs. Portland, vs. Indiana, at Golden State, at Utah, at Oklahoma  City) and March 25 – April 3 (vs. Oklahoma City, vs. L.A. Clippers, vs. Sacramento, vs. Golden State, at L.A. Clippers)

> Wild card: Dirk Nowitzki, 35, will be solid, but can Monta Ellis, in the playoffs just twice in his career, elevate his game another rung?

==========================

No. 9 Memphis Grizzlies (33-25)

> Games left: 23 (9 home, 14 road)

> Next game: Wednesday at Brooklyn

> vs. West: 14 (6 vs. current playoff teams)

> vs. East: 9 (1 vs. Indiana, 2 vs. Miami)

> vs. winning teams: 13 (Chicago, Portland 2, Toronto, Miami 2, Indiana, Minnesota 2, Golden State, San Antonio, Phoenix, Dallas)

> Moving time: Saturday – March 19 (vs. Charlotte, vs. Portland, at New Orleans, at Toronto, at Philadelphia, vs. Utah)

> Must-haves: March 15 at Philadelphia, March 19 vs. Utah,  April 13 at L.A. Lakers, April 14 at Phoenix, April 16 vs. Dallas

> Survival time: March 19-30 (at Miami, vs. Indiana, vs. Minnesota, at Utah, Golden State, at Portland)

> Wild card: Assuming 3s aren’t going to start falling from the sky, can Memphis keep turning up its defensive intensity? Overall, the Griz’s D ranks just behind the … Timberwolves?

==========================

No. 10 Minnesota Timberwolves (30-29)

> Games left: 23 (14 home, 9 road)

> Next game: Wednesday at New York

> vs. West: 13 (7 vs. current playoff teams)

> vs. East: 10 (0 vs. Indiana, 1 vs. Miami)

> vs. winning teams: 12 (Toronto, Dallas, Houston 2, Phoenix, Memphis 2, L.A. Clippers, Miami, San Antonio, Chicago, Golden State)

> Moving time: Wednesday – March 16 (vs. New York, vs. Detroit, vs. Toronto, vs. Milwaukee, at Charlotte, vs. Sacramento)

> Must-haves: March 19 at Dallas, March 23 vs. Phoenix, March 24 at Memphis, April 2 vs. Memphis, April 14 at Golden State

> Survival time: March 31 – April 11 (vs. L.A. Clippers, vs. Memphis, at Miami, at Orlando, vs. San Antonio, vs. Chicago, vs. Houston)

> Wild card: Can everybody stay healthy down the stretch run?

Top Five To Remember From LeBron


VIDEO: Compare LeBron’s and Carmelo’s 60-point performances

When talking about a career where he’s already rung up 50 or more points 10 times before his 30th birthday, it’s sort of an exercise in wretched excess to even try to rank LeBron James’ best games. Like picking out your favorite bauble among the crown jewels. Or the best Ferrari in the showroom.

Nevertheless, here’s one try:

 

May 31, 2007 — Cavaliers 109, Pistons 107 (2OT) (Game 5 Eastern Conference finals)

48 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals

It’s not always the final total that makes the difference, but the timing, the situation, the opponent and this one had it all.

Against the perennial Eastern Conference power and veteran lineup of the Pistons, with the series tied at 2-2, James was unstoppable in the fourth quarter and overtime at The Palace.

He scored over Chauncey Billups and Tayshaun Prince. He drove to the basket on Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace. He made rainbow 3-pointers, step-back jumpers while falling out of bounds and even made nifty move behind his back before stabbing in another dagger.

A 22-year-old James scored Cleveland’s last 25 points and 29 of the final 30 in performance that Steve Kerr on TNT called “positively Jordanesque.”

 

June 7, 2012 — Heat 98, Celtics 79 (Game 6 Eastern Conference finals)

45 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists

It was the game that was supposed to define James as one of the game’s greatest individual talents and yet classic underachievers. At least that’s what the critics were saying as the Heat took the floor amid the hostile environment of the TD Garden in Boston. The Heat had blown a 2-0 lead in the series by losing three in a row to the Celtics and this was the game when James’ reputation would be buried.

Instead it was LeBron who did the burying, hitting 19 of 25 shots and shoveling 45 points onto the heads of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and all of the storied Celtics tradition.

“He played amazing,” said Dwyane Wade. “He was locked in from the beginning of the game like I’ve never seen him before.”

After two days of questions about the Heat’s future and his own history, James answered by scoring 30 points before halftime.

“I hope now you guys can stop talking about LeBron and how he doesn’t play in big games,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “He was pretty good tonight. So we can put that to bed and go play Game 7.”

 

June 20, 2013 — Heat 95, Spurs 88 (Game 7 NBA Finals)

37 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals

There have literally been dozens of games where he’s scored more points. But his was vintage James dropping the hammer on the greatest season in Heat franchise history and clinching back-to-back NBA championships by nailing a jumper inside the final minute that put down the Spurs for good.

He had started the series slow, struggling on offense. But James finished with at least 25 points in the last four games of the series and was clinically efficient all over the court during the clincher. He matched his playoff high by making five 3-pointers and also did a lockdown job defensively on point guard Tony Parker, the ignition spark to everything the Spurs tried to do on offense.

So much of everyone’s memory of the series lingers on the dramatics at the end of the sixth game. But that would have been just a footnote to history if the Heat didn’t close the deal. Remember, this was Game 7 of The Finals, and James made sure it happened.

 

March 3, 2014 — Heat 124, Bobcats 107

61 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists

It won’t go down with historic import of his top performances in the playoffs, but it was a magical night when James came down like a blizzard on the heads of the helpless Bobcats.

We’ll remember it as the night when LeBron finally joined the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony in the “60 club” and probably just as much for his blitz of 8-for-10 shooting from behind the 3-point line.

As was pointed out by Hang Time colleague Sekou Smith, what sets LeBron’s 60 apart from Kobe and Carmelo is that he was doing a helluva lot more than just shooting the ball. Just another “typical” all-around game with seven rebounds and five assists.

 

May 20, 2012 — Heat 101, Pacers 93 (Game 4 Eastern Conference semifinals)

40 points, 18 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocked shots

How much of everyone’s perception of James and how much of the past two seasons of NBA history would have been changed if James didn’t step up big and save the Heat from going over the edge?

The Pacers had already taken home court advantage away from Miami and with a 2-1 lead in the series were on their home turf trying to built an insurmountable advantage. The Heat were missing center Chris Bosh, who was suffering from an abdominal injury and had Wade trying to recover from one of the worst playoff games of his career.

Indiana built a 10-point lead early in the third quarter and then LeBron teamed with Wade and simply took over.

James made 14 of 27 shots, got to the foul line 16 times, owned the backboards with a career playoff-high 18 boards and swatted back a pair of Pacers shots for good measure.

“I felt like I had to do whatever it took to win,” James said.

“LeBron had that look,” said teammate Shane Battier. “And when he has that look…you want to run through a wall.”

Before they put down the rival Celtics and before they beat OKC to win their first title, the Heat had to survive their first real test in Game 4 at Indiana. This underrated and under appreciated classic from James made sure they did.

Kareem Ponders Bucks Ownership Role

Kareen Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was at the Bradley Center as part of a promotion he’s doing for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.

First it was Junior Bridgeman, a Bucks alumnus who dropped by Milwaukee over the weekend and fueled speculation that he might buy a chunk of the franchise from owner Herb Kohl to keep it in town.

Now it’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, talking in more general terms about his interest in NBA ownership but doing so on the day he’s back in Milwaukee, too.

Abdul-Jabbar, the Bucks’ first and greatest superstar, acknowledged to the Milwaukee Business Journal on Monday that he hasn’t talked with Kohl about investing in the Bucks.

It also sounded as if his commitment — whenever, wherever and if ever — would have more to do with reputation and perhaps sweat equity than the deep pockets Bridgeman can bring to any deal. The NBA’s all-time leading scorer (38,387 points) and six-time champion talked with the Business Journal’s Rich Kirchen more about his fit as a minority NBA owner than about securing the Bucks in the city he left after six seasons.

“Being involved in the business of basketball is something I wouldn’t shy away from,” Abdul-Jabbar said in an exclusive interview with the Milwaukee Business Journal. “But it would have to be a good situation for me. It would depend totally on what the situation was.”

So what kind of situation would meet the all-time NBA scoring leader’s goals? Financial upside would be necessary, he said.

“Something where I had some equity in the team, so that what I would get an opportunity to benefit from it,” he said.

And:

If Abdul-Jabbar does invest in an NBA team, he said he would want to play a role in setting a team’s direction.

“Oh yeah, I’d have to have some say,” he told me. “I wouldn’t have to have all of it.”

Abdul-Jabbar was in Milwaukee on Monday to promote his role in a new Wisconsin Department of Tourism ad campaign that teams him with “Airplane!” co-star Robert Hays and directors David Zucker, Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams. In the retro commercial, Abdul-Jabbar reprises his role as pilot “Roger Murdock,” with he and Hays’ character marveling at Wisconsin scenery from their cockpit view.

Part of the joke is Abdul-Jabbar’s mock second-guessing of his decision after six seasons to leave Milwaukee in 1975, when he pressured the Bucks into trading him to the Los Angeles Lakers. He won five more championship rings by teaming up with Pat Riley, Magic Johnson and the rest of the “Showtime” Lakers, but the Bucks haven’t returned to The Finals since winning the title in 1970-71 with a team featuring NBA legend Oscar Robertson and a young Abdul-Jabbar.

So it rang a little hollow when the Hall of Fame center spoke with Kirchen about the challenge faced by Kohl to build and maintain a winner in a small market.

“I think he’s trying to run it the right way,” Abdul-Jabbar said [of Kohl]. “They just haven’t been able to get the talented people they need to be more successful. I don’t know where the fault there lies. But it’s all about getting, identifying and signing up the talented players.

Trouble is, Milwaukee can no more entice big-name free agents now than it could hold onto its sky-hooking superstar 40 years ago.