Not once in 36 years, one month and however many hours had Andre Miller ever hit a game-winner. He insisted. Not in 14 NBA seasons, not at the University of Utah, not at Verbum Dei High School in Los Angeles.
“Never,” Miller said Saturday evening inside Pepsi Center, now that he had. “I’ve taken a couple and missed or turned the ball over.”
Not once in stops with the Cavaliers, Clippers, 76ers, Trail Blazers and two stints with the Nuggets had he been part of a team that won a playoff series. He didn’t have to insist. It was easy to check.
“Never,” Miller said anyway. “Never won a playoff series.”
He did not cross that off the list. But he did single-handedly move Denver a step closer, and it didn’t matter that Miller was smaller and older and likely slower than two defenders between the rim and a Nuggets victory. Andre Miller against the Warriors.
Andre Miller against all odds.
With the ball out of a Denver timeout with 14.5 seconds left in the first-round opener, point guard Miller first faced Golden State rookie Draymond Green, a player Warriors coach Mark Jackson called “an elite defender” and said, “I feel extremely comfortable putting him on anybody one through five.”
Thirty-six-year-old Miller beat the elite defender off the dribble. Heading to the basket with seconds remaining before overtime at 95-95, he saw another good defender, Andrew Bogut, coming to help. Just not quick enough.
Miller finished the driving layup with 1.2 seconds remaining to will, carry and lead the Nuggets to the 97-95 victory with the clutch score, a game-high 28 points in all, 11-for-16 shooting on a day when both teams struggled to find a rhythm on offense and never came close to the up-tempo matchup most envisioned. And, finally, the game-winner. Can’t forget the first game-winner.
That it took this long to break through is no more strange, though, than Miller being in position at all. He is a slow-lane guy on a team that loves to push the ball. He is the third guard in the backcourt that starts, now that Andre Igoudala has moved to small forward to replace the injured Danilo Gallinari, fourth-year man Ty Lawson and rookie Evan Fournier.
He is exactly the guy the Warriors should have wanted to see trying to out-quick them to the basket. Except they couldn’t counter his composure, the experience at using his body to get past the first wave of defense. That made it more than Miller’s first game-winner.
That made it Miller’s latest statement.
“His passing and his winning,” Nuggets coach George Karl said when asked why he has consistently stood behind Miller. “He’s an incredible play-maker. He loves to make people better, he loves to make his team better. When the game is in that guts-and-glory situation, Andre is pretty damn great. I see things you all never see in practice, even training camp and before the season. He has such a veteran savvy or mental savvy that makes your team connect, makes your team feel good about one another, makes your team team. We don’t have many veterans on this team, but Andre is one big-time veteran.”
The Warriors, with a slower pace in their favor, missed a chance to steal Game 1 and may have lost a lot more when All-Star power forward David Lee went out early in the fourth quarter with a strained right hip flexor, an injury apparently suffered on a hard fall under the basket. X-rays taken during the game were negative, which was encouraging, but Golden State was holding off on a prognosis for the rest of the series until after an MRI on Sunday.
Miller wouldn’t let the Nuggets lose, making seven of 10 shots and scoring 18 points in the fourth quarter. He got the win. He got the memory no one can take away from him.
Back in 1985, give or take a generation depending on what year was dialed in, Doc Brown retro-fitted a campy DeLorean with a few spare parts he had around his workshop and spawned an entire time-traveling series of Hollywood comedies.
Nearly 30 years later, Denver Nuggets VP of basketball operations Masai Ujiri has cobbled together a roster largely out of spare parts, discards and items from the NBA’s great cutout bin and essentially made time stand still. As in another multiplex favorite, the one with Bill Murray and the rodent in which every day and night ends up the same: Win, win, win, win …
Consider the two hottest teams in The Association at the moment and how they came to be. The Miami Heat, aiming for their 26th consecutive victory Sunday evening against Charlotte, were conceived in a lightning bolt and thunderclap moment of AAU-comes-to-NBA inspiration, the brainstorm of the three key Hall of Fame-caliber players involved. Then there are the Nuggets.
Denver, which extended its lower profile winning streak to 15 games Saturday night, have made do – and made dangerous – with far more humble pieces than the crew in south Florida. At the risk of putting a silly “NBA.com has learned…” spin on something that’s been hiding in plain sight, it is worth looking again (if you haven’t done so recently) at the how the Nuggets’ roster was built:
Trades (9): Corey Brewer, Wilson Chandler, Jordan Hamilton, Andre Iguodala, Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Kosta Koufos, JaVale McGee, Andre Miller and Timofey Mozgov.
Free agents (2): Anthony Randolph and Julyan Stone.
Looked at as a group, the ensemble nature of what Denver and coach George Karl are doing this season – 15 straight, 49-22, fourth-best record in the league with a legit chance to catch OKC to claim the Northwest Division and the West’s No. 2 seed – is amazing and undeniable. That whole sure had better be greater than the sum of its parts, because its parts, on paper especially, wouldn’t scare hardly anybody.
Faried’s sleeper status out of Morehead State has gotten wide play by now. But it’s indicative of Denver’s recent draft history, with the Nuggets stuck at No. 20 or lower for their last 10 picks overall. The last single-digit guy – heck, the last lottery guy – by the Nuggets? Carmelo Anthony in 2003.
As for player acquired via trades, look how many current Nuggets were disappointing Something-Elses before they made it to Denver. Brewer, Randolph and Koufos, huge contributors on a surging team, were left at the curb by Minnesota. So, in a pre-arranged draft night trade, was Lawson, on the same date the Timberwolves spent the No. 6 pick on Jonny Flynn.
Andre Miller was considered old and broken-down by some at age 34, after five teams and 12 seasons. Chandler, Gallinari, Mozgov (and Quincy Miller, as a future pick) were, at the time of the Anthony trade, the best Ujiri and the Nuggest could do when faced with a marquee player who wanted out. Hamilton was a throw-in from Dallas to Portland to Denver on the night he was drafted in June 2011 at No. 26.
McGee? He was classic addition-by-subtraction for Washington, eager to reduce the knuckleheads quotient of its locker room. Even Iguodala, so helpful at both ends and in a leadership role, had fallen out of favor in Philadelphia.
Ujiri, early this season, referred to the process as a “rough two years.” Yet the Nuggets did not drop out of the playoffs in that span. They did not, obviously, sit and pine for pricey, big-name free agents they weren’t going to get anyway.
They took what was available and, with Ujiri working as hard in the front office as Karl on the sideline and the players on the court, rigged it MacGyver-style into something special. Gourmet chefs, three-star restaurants and the finest meats and veggies often make for great meals, but occasionally so do leftovers used creatively in perfect balance.
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: If you’ve been overly captivated by the Heat’s 23-game win streak, we can’t say we blame you. It certainly has been the NBA story of note the last few weeks. But if you’re missing out on what Denver is doing out West (and who they’re doing it to) with their 13-game win streak, well, you’re missing out. Last night’s game against the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena (where OKC had won 20 straight vs. West foes) was something to behold. From Andre Miller‘s steady hand down the stretch to the rebounding and defensive prowess of Shootaround fave Kenneth Faried to the overall poise coach George Karl’s crew showed in the fourth quarter of a close game, this was a prime example of why the Nuggets are working their way into the West contender conversation.
Miller’s words, play keep Nuggets rolling — With a 12-game win streak in two (the last win coming offa particularly nail-biting affair in Chicago), Denver headed to Oklahoma City last night no doubt weary and aware of the Thunder’s 20-game win streak against West foes. The stage was set, then, for the Nuggets to either rise to the challenge and win, thus setting a new team mark for consecutive NBA wins, or fold under the pressure of weariness and a tough environment and fall apart. Jonathan Hochman of the Denver Post says some words from veteran Andre Miller helped keep the Nuggets on track:
Dick Vitale whispers louder than Andre Miller screams.
But in the pregame locker room, the Nuggets’ veteran guard delivered a powerful, passionate speech, channeling the oration of, say, Jesse Jackson, who just happened to be at Tuesday night’s Nuggets-Thunder game.
“One amazing speech — guys were just amped up, ready to play,” Denver forward Kenneth Faried said after the Nuggets’ 114-104 win, Denver’s 13th consecutive, a franchise-NBA record. “He said it doesn’t matter that we’re coming off a back-to-back, it doesn’t matter that we went to overtime — we’re going to play this game hard and with pride. We don’t have any excuses. Andre Miller is a guy who doesn’t really say much, but when he talks, everybody listens, nobody’s playing around.
“Everybody locks in.”
And sure enough, it was Miller who was locked in the most when it mattered. In just nine fourth-quarter minutes, he scored 13 points with six rebounds and three steals. Unreal. And he made two tough shots late. The second, a leaner in the lane with 1:29 left, gave Denver (47-22) a 10-point lead.
Oh, and Miller, who played childhood ball with Bill Russell, celebrated a birthday Tuesday. The 37-year-old was up to his old old-school tricks, making nifty passes and keeping the Thunder players on their toes. Back in Denver, they must be going nuts at the YMCA.
“Incredible,” Nuggets coach George Karl said of Miller, who finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and nine assists in 23 minutes. “If he plays 10 more minutes, he’d get a triple-double. He’s a coach, a teacher, a veteran and he does it every day in a classy way, a very quiet way. And then he can do what he did tonight – take the most talented team maybe in the NBA and be the best player on the court for the last six minutes of the game.”
Hill sorry for skewering Pacers fans — Pacers point guard and Indiana native George Hill grew up at a time when the Reggie Miller-era teams made the old Market Square Arena and the Pacers’ current home, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, one of the more intimidating places to play in the league. Since the Pacers’ revival as a contender two seasons ago, though, Indiana has ranked 22nd (this season) and 29th (last season) in total attendance. A loss last week to the Lakers brought out much of Hill’s ire against the hometown fans, who were seemingly outnumbered during the L.A. game and, as the numbers show, haven’t been turning out as much as Hill and his teammates would like. After a few days since his outburst, though, Hill is sorry for calling Pacers fans to the carpet and explained his position to Phillip B. Wilsonof The Indianapolis Star:
George Hill says he meant no disrespect to fans.
He just insists more Indiana Pacers fans should be in the stands at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. And he’s not going to budge on that point.
In his first home game since making critical remarks about seeing too many Los Angeles Lakers fans at the Pacers’ venue, Hill received the usual round of applause when the starting lineup was announced Tuesday night.
“I’m not saying you can’t be somebody’s fan,” said Hill, an Indianapolis native who went to Broad Ripple High School and IUPUI. “I was a Michael Jordan fan growing up, but when I did go to the games, I always rooted for my hometown team.
“You root for who you want to root for, but I know one day that we’re going to get it like it used to be at Market Square Arena. That’s my dream, that’s my goal from when I first got here, to help bring fans back. That’s all I’m trying to do.”
The Pacers enjoyed a loud home-court advantage at Market Square Arena, the team’s home from 1974-99.
Hill suggested Friday’s Lakers game had a 70-30 percent split in favor of the team wearing purple. Because his comments came after a 99-93 loss, some fans thought it unfair and rather untimely to vent.
“I love Indiana. I love everybody here in the community. That’s why I do so much in the community,” said Hill, who had 14 points and seven rebounds in the Pacers’ 95-73 victory over Orlando on Tuesday. “If anyone thought that I was trying to be disrespectful and tell them what to do with their money, I wasn’t. I’m sorry if that’s what you thought.
“I’m just trying to do what’s best for this organization and my teammates and show everybody this is a good basketball team. We’re going to need this city behind us to make a good run. We’re a basketball town and that’s how it should be.”
Howard ends partnership with longtime manager — From the time he was drafted by the Magic with the No. 1 overall pick in 2004 to his Dwightmare of last season that eventually put him in Los Angeles, Dwight Howard has worked side by side with his manager, Kevin Samples. But after nine years of Samples, Howard decided to ditch him and, as Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register notes, the change in Howard’s on-and off-court personality has been noticeable:
Howard is growing all on his own, single-mindedly focused on who he wants to be, and he has taken another major step forward in his career by leaving the business manager who has been Howard’s primary advisor his entire career, Kevin Samples.
“We had nine great years together,” Howard told me late Monday night. “Just time to go separate ways.”
For all the intangible growth Howard has discovered recently, breaking away from Samples is a concrete gesture that the past is the past – and Howard is confident in calling his own shots in the future.
“I know what I want to accomplish,” Howard said. “I’ve always written down my goals and everything I want, and I want to make sure I get ‘em. Everything I’ve lost, everything that’s gone away, I’m going to get it back.”
Samples came to Los Angeles with Howard after the trade to the Lakers, and it was hard to envision him not being around considering they’re actually first cousins – and Howard’s parents dispatched Samples to live with Howard in Orlando right after the 2004 NBA draft as a big brother/guidance counselor/business manager.
Their relationship grew into Dwight Howard Enterprises, which had two and only two officers: Howard and Samples.
For Howard to sever the tie is no small statement.
“He’s still my cousin, my family, so we’ll always be around each other,” Howard said. “But we just parted ways on the business side.”
What has changed is Howard can reflect on what went awry in Orlando with a healthy perspective now: He wanted to leave the Magic organization, but not really the people and the community that had become so connected to him. He needed to venture out to grow and deep-down he knew it – but he was a little scared to try something that big and new.
Howard was a little scared as he started out with the Lakers, too – unsure about his body after back surgery and lacking his usual freakish physical dominance. Even as Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak was behind the scenes reclaiming his spot on the All-Virtue team for patience, frustration grew from teammates and coaches over Howard not more aggressively testing the limits of what he could give the Lakers.
Howard maintains that it was mostly his lack of physical fitness that stopped him, but maybe he looked chicken because nothing was egging him on.
Howard’s major breakthrough was in attitude.
No more whining about touches in the post – replaced by a total commitment to defending and rebounding, plus creating devastating pick-and-roll ball with two legendary ball-handlers Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.
No more excuses about his body – which Howard still managed to bring in at a career-low 5.8 percent body fat to start the season and drop down further to 5.0. No more needing time to wait and hope for less pain from the torn labrum in his right shoulder. Instead, a commitment to cutting sugar out of his diet for two months and pushing his conditioning to the point that it meant even humbly asking out of a game.
Rather than spouting clichés about the Lakers needing to do the right things to start winning, Howard simply started doing those things that he knows are right.
Clips not confident on defense — Before the All-Star break, the Clippers were 39-17 and had just come off a sound 125-101 thumping of the rival Lakers. All seemed right in the Clippers’ world, but since the All-Star break, L.A. has slowed. It is 7-5 and had lost to the Spurs, Grizzlies, Thunder and Nuggets — all somewhat acceptable losses given that each team is at least a playoff squad out West. Last night’s 116-101 loss to the Kings in Sacramento, though, raised some concerns for point guard Chris Paul, who tells the Los Angeles’ Times Broderick Turner that the Clips are more than struggling on defense of late:
This was perhaps the worst loss of the season for the Clippers, and it could hardly have come at a worse time.
A 116-101 loss to the Sacramento Kings in which they were outscored 38-18 in the fourth quarter Tuesday night sent the Clippers tumbling in the standings.
They began the night at Sleep Train Arena as the third-seeded team in the Western Conference, but they left in fourth place, percentage points behind Memphis (45-21).
The Kings’ fourth-quarter surge exposed the Clippers’ dismal three-point defense, a recurring problem. Sacramento made four consecutive three-pointers in a 1-minute 45-second stretch, turning a two-point edge into a 110-98 lead that spelled the end for the Clippers.
The Kings shot 50% (14 for 28) from behind the three-point line.
“It seems like every night teams shoot lights-out from the three on us,” Paul said.
The Clippers also lacked composure down the stretch.
Lamar Odom was assessed a technical foul with 7:55 left and the score tied, 86-86. Barnes swore at fans in the stands. Paul yelled at DeMarcus Cousins while the Kings center was shooting free throws.
“We’ve got to get better defensively,” Paul said “I think that’s the biggest key. Last year we had something about us where we could just get stops when we needed to. And right now, I don’t think we have the confidence that we need defensively.”
Breaking down Memphis’ new offense — From coach Lionel Hollins to our own Sekou Smith right here on the Hang Time blog to various others around the NBA blogosphere, the Grizzlies’ decision to trade Rudy Gay wasn’t met with universal praise. Memphis struggled after trading the athletic swingman, but has picked things up in the interim and is 16-6 overall since Gay was dealt to Toronto. Dan Devine over at Yahoo! Sports’ Ball Don’t Lie blog has a great in-depth post breaking down how the Grizzlies have thrived a bit since Gay was dealt:
There have been plenty of positive things about the Memphis Grizzlies’ surge since trading starting small forward Rudy Gay as part of a three-team deal that was lambasted in some quarters and lauded in others, with the team’s 16-6 mark since the move, of course, topping the list. One of the neatest from a basketball nerd perspective, though, is the increased amount of attention, both in the Grizzlies’ attack and in subsequent analysis of it, that has been going to the work done by Marc Gasol.
Gasol ranks at the top of the league in “elbow touches,” according to optical tracking data compiled by STATS through their SportVU system, whichI’vewrittenaboutbefore. (That’s the high-tech system where six special high-definition video cameras are installed above an arena’s basketball court at different angles to track, capture, record and store information on the location and movement of all 10 players, all three referees and the ball 25 times per second, every second, for an entire NBA game. Right now, 15 of 30 NBA teams have the cameras installed; more are sure to follow.)
Before the Gay trade, the Grizzlies ranked 22st among 30 NBA teams in offensive efficiency, a stat that measures how many points your offense scores per 100 possessions; Memphis was averaging 100.1 points-per-100, according to NBA.com’s stat tool. In 21 games since adding Tayshaun Prince, Ed Davis and Austin Daye to the lineup following the trade, they’ve moved up to 13th in the league at 104-per-100; over the course of the full season, that would rank just above the Brooklyn Nets as the NBA’s 10th-best offense. That’s a pretty significant improvement — over the course of the full season, four points-per-100 is the difference between the Nets’ No. 10 offense and the Chicago Bulls’ 25th-ranked unit.
ICYMI of the night: Nothing like a nice circus-type layup on a slow Wednesday morning. Thanks, Paul George …:
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: The triple-OT classic between the streaking Nuggets and equally hot Celtics is pretty hard to pass up … as is the Lakers-Heat showdown in Miami that saw LeBron James showing off all his MVP-type skills. But we’ve got to go with the Clippers-Knicks game as our must-see today. It’s impressive to see what this fully stocked L.A. team can do. The boost that Grant Hill gave off the bench — particularly in the fourth quarter — was special. Chris Paul was back to his usual MVP-contending self, Blake Griffin was soaring in from here and there, the Raymond-Felton-to-Tyson-Chandler alley-oop was working … all around, a good one to rewatch.
The Brooklyn Nets are aggressively pursuing a trade for Atlanta Hawks star forward Josh Smith, league sources told ESPN.
The two teams are engaged in discussions, but one source said while “there has been lots of talk, nothing is close yet.”
As the NBA’s Feb. 21 trade deadline nears, Brooklyn is proving to be one of the most active teams in the league. As reported by ESPN.com on Friday, sources said the Nets also are talking with the Charlotte Bobcats about a Kris Humphries-for-Ben Gordon trade.
While the Nets certainly want Gordon, sources said acquiring Smith is their higher priority. A trade for Smith would seemingly kill a deal for Gordon, because Humphries is one of the players being discussed with Atlanta.
The Nets are willing to give up Humphries and second-year shooting guard MarShon Brooks for Smith. But it almost certainly will take more than a Humphries-Brooks combination to pry Smith away from Atlanta, and one source said the Hawks want Brooklyn’s first-round pick.
Some scenarios that have been discussed include the Hawks’ Anthony Morrow, who played the past two seasons with the Nets, returning to the club.
ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported Saturday that the Hawks want a young center in return for Smith.
The Nets may have to get a third team involved to pull off a trade for Smith.
Smith will become a free agent this summer, and Atlanta is deciding whether to trade him before the deadline. One source close to the situation estimated there is a 60 percent chance the Hawks will move him.
Suns in midst of many trade talks? — As we mention below, the Suns might be interested in working out a deal to acquire Knicks swingman Iman Shumpert, but that might not be the only deal on the table. Paul Coroof the Arizona Republic reports that Phoenix has also been linked to potential trades with Utah and its star big man, Al Jefferson:
The trade deadline is 11 days away, but the Suns already are linked to talks with New York and Utah. Multiple media outlets reported the Suns have ongoing interest in Iman Shumpert, a guard they considered drafting in 2011 when they took Markieff Morris and Shumpert went 17th to New York.
Swingman Jared Dudley is mentioned as a possible swap target, but the Suns would have to get more salary in return to satisfy trade rules because Dudley makes $4.25 million annually through 2014-15. The possibility of a pick going to New York also was reported, but the Suns covet their first-round picks, especially if the Lakers miss the playoffs and the Suns wind up with two lottery picks.
The Suns would have to be concerned with Shumpert’s left knee. He was out from late April to mid-January with a torn anterior-cruciate ligament. Shumpert, 22, was living up to billing as a perimeter defender with a 6-foot-5, 220-pound body to play both guard spots, but he has been a 39 percent shooter.
“Anytime you’re on a team that’s a losing team and they’ve got a lot of draft picks, it’s going to be up in discussions,” said Dudley, who had not heard from his agent. “In the NBA, 90 percent of the rumors don’t come true. It comes with territory and doesn’t faze me at all.”
Dudley said he takes the buzz about him to be a compliment, including the Suns’ interest in Rudy Gay.
“When my name came up before, I was a throw-in,” Dudley said. “Now, I think I’ve worked on my game where I could be a good piece or asset for the Suns or any team.”
The Suns also have shown interest in a bigger splash for Utah’s Al Jefferson or Gordon Hayward. Dudley could be a part of either of those deals with center Marcin Gortat likely needed to make one work for Jefferson, a 28-year-old power forward who makes $14 million and is averaging 17.4 points and 9.5 rebounds. Hayward, a 22-year-old swingman, is averaging 13.5 points in a reserve role.
“We all realize this is a business,” Suns interim head coach Lindsey Hunter said. “I was a player once, and I was traded a couple times. It’s nothing personal. It’s just business, and I think guys understand that now.”
Shumpert finds self in trade rumors — After a dozen games in New York’s lineup following an extensive rehab stint following ACL surgery, ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Bagley reports that the Knicks are listening to offers for Shumpert (one of which includes a swap of him for Phoenix’s Jared Dudley), but a move may not be likely. Still, this is the second season in Shumpert’s two-year NBA career that he is in the midst of trade rumors:
The New York Knicks are listening to trade offers for Iman Shumpert, but a team source said a deal that would send the second-year guard to the Phoenix Suns for Jared Dudley as part of a multiplayer package is “unlikely at this point.”
“I don’t really care,” Shumpert said following Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. “I’ve just got to play ball. I can’t control it anyway. There’s nothing to worry about — something I can’t control.”
Knicks coach Mike Woodson downplayed the situation when asked about it Sunday.
“Those are just trade rumors,” he said.
The Suns have shown interest in acquiring Shumpert, a league source confirmed.
The Suns’ interest in Shumpert and their willingness to include Dudley in a deal was first reported by Yahoo! Sports on Saturday night.
The Knicks have been monitoring the trade market for a shooter in recent weeks, but there is a faction in the organization opposed to giving up Shumpert, who is widely viewed as one of the top young perimeter defenders in the league.
One team source characterized the Knicks’ listening to the Suns’ offer as the team performing its due diligence as the trade deadline nears.
Still, the same team source said not everyone in the organization is convinced of Shumpert’s long-term value to the Knicks.
This is not the first time the Suns have shown interest in Shumpert. Phoenix requested the Knicks include him in a sign-and-trade package for then-Suns guard Steve Nash last summer.
The Knicks enter play Sunday in first place in the Atlantic Division, four games ahead of Brooklyn. They are 1½ games behind first-place Miami in the Eastern Conference.
The Knicks are the oldest team in the league, and coach Mike Woodson and general manager Glen Grunwald have said they are dealing with a finite window to compete for an NBA title.
Dudley could help them offensively. He is a career 40 percent 3-point shooter and is averaging 11.8 points in 29.8 minutes this season.
Redick doesn’t anticipate deal — Orlando’s J.J. Redick isn’t just a longtime fan favorite there, but has also made the eighth-most 3-pointers in the NBA this season (115) and is shooting 40 percent or better from 3-point range for the second straight season. That makes him a valuable trade chip for Orlando — and for teams looking for 3-point shooting — but the ex-Duke star tells the Orlando Sentinel’s Brian Schmitz he isn’t worrying about being dealt:
Magic SG J.J. Redick told the Sentinel after Sunday’s win that the club has told him they “are not actively trying to move me.”
Various teams, however, are actively trying to land him.
A fan favorite, J.J. followers might see the fact that the Magic aren’t pushing Redick out the door as a good sign.
But the NBA trade deadline isn’t until Feb. 21, meaning other clubs have plenty of time to present a trade offer to the Magic.
If the Magic have decided they can’t afford to keep Redick – J.J. makes $6 million in the final year of his contract and starter Arron Afflalo will be over $7 mil the next three seasons — they need some kind of compensation. They might want a favorable draft choice or a young promising player.
Or they could demand that one of their bad contracts needs to be packaged in any Redick trade — a tough sell if the Magic are parting ways.
Redick can ultimately control his destiny and destination after if he’s dealt. He can be rented for the rest of the season, but he can become a free agent this summer.
Some teams trading for him, such as the Milwaukee Bucks – who have been linked in rumors to Redick – likely will see if they can afford to sign him longterm first.
Along with the Bucks, the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics have reportedly shown interest.
Redick has heard the scuttlebutt. He prefers to stay in Orlando and didn’t seem too concerned when I spoke with him after the club’s win over Portland.
Rockets, Harden taking the long view — Behind first-time All-Star guard James Harden, the Rockets find themselves this morning at No. 8 in the West, 1/2 game behind Utah for No. 7. That puts Houston squarely in the playoff picture, mostly thanks to Harden’s breakout campaign. Now Houston is hoping that Harden’s play, combined with a decent playoff showing, will help entice some marquee free agents to look their way come the offseason, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:
The Rockets considered landing Harden, 23, the most significant step in their rebuilding but far from the final move necessary to build a contender.
His success in his first season as a go-to scorer and offensive focal point has been key to their 28-24 record and will bring him his first All-Star Game appearance Feb. 17.
The Rockets hope his play will just be the start of his contributions, to be followed by a role as a compelling draw for their next star.
It is a job he welcomes as much as handling the ball in pick-and-roll.
“I hope so,” Harden said. “I’ve built some friendships these last couple years, this summer and throughout the time playing. They know what kind of person I am, how hard-working I am, knowing I want to win. I hope that becomes a factor of wanting to come to Houston and trying to win championships.”
When it comes to discussing his recruiting efforts, he was considerably more reticent.
James Harden might have the All-Star power to attract a complement or two, but the Rockets would have to show the willingness to make the deal.
Asked if he had begun making his sales pitch, or at least laying the groundwork for next summer, he said he has chatted with “a couple guys.”
Asked who has received his initial recruiting attention, Harden smiled broadly and said, “A couple guys.”
The Rockets can create enough salary-cap room to sign Dwight Howard or another max-contract player (Chris Paul will be a free agent, but even more likely to remain in Los Angeles) and with that in mind expect to be cautious about using cap space at the trade deadline than they have ever been with Morey as general manager.
Several players who could become free agents could be moved at the deadline, but Morey is more likely to wait for summer free agency when Howard, Andrew Bynum, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Josh Smith, Andre Iguodala and David West could hit the market.
“I think it’s pretty well established to win a title you need great players and need more than one,” Morey said. “Having a great player like James and with him showing what he can do, puts us in a good light in our situation in Houston.”Not only has he been on big stages early in his career … he’s been around the other great players.”
Less than two weeks before the trade deadline, Morey reiterated he will be more cautious this season. Though he would make a short-term move such as last season’s acquisition of Marcus Camby, he said he would not do it at the cost of long-term options unless it also suits that goal.
“Except if something unexpected comes along, someone signed that is very good and wants to be moved, we plan to keep our flexibility as an available destination for whatever free agent is available in July,” Morey said.
Nets hear it from home crowd — Losing to the Spurs with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker is an almost understandable defeat for most any team in the league. Losing to that squad when Duncan and Ginobili rest is a little tougher to swallow. Such was the case for the Nets on Sunday as the Parker-led Spurs demolished the fully stocked Nets by 25 points and Brooklyn’s crew drew the ire of the hometown crowd, writes Howard Beck of the New York Times:
The fade was gradual and then instant — a few harmless missteps, followed by a sudden, spectacular free fall. Tony Parker charged. The Nets stumbled and wheezed. And the Barclays Center soundtrack morphed from the warm, familiar “Brook-lyn” chant to something more wrathful: “Booooo.”
The Nets have had an extended honeymoon in this maiden season in Brooklyn, but the fans finally lost their patience Sunday night, screaming their displeasure as the San Antonio Spurs, playing without Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, drilled the home team, 111-86.
As the Spurs completed a dominating second half, outscoring the Nets, 60-29, the angry voices began to boom.
“Deserved,” the Nets’ Deron Williams said. “These people pay money to come see us play, and play better than that.”
They were the first sustained boos the Nets had heard since arriving in Brooklyn. But then, this was as listless and demoralizing as any loss the Nets have had. They failed to take advantage of the Spurs’ depleted lineup, failed to hold an 8-point lead in the third quarter and utterly failed to contain Parker, who carved up their defense for 29 points and 11 assists.
The Spurs pushed their league-best record to 40-12, while the Nets continued to fade, slipping to 29-22. The Nets have lost six of their last nine games, all but one by double digits, and their psyche has never looked more fragile.
There have been more Nets trade rumors — including Ben Gordon and Josh Smith — in recent days than Nets victories.
From Coach P. J. Carlesimo to every starter, the Nets bemoaned an inability to fight through trouble, to keep their heads, to respond constructively and to play with a singular purpose. In the aftermath, there were hints of a fractured locker room.
“We got to understand that this is a team game,” Gerald Wallace said. He added: “You’re allowed to get mad. But instead of going your own individual way, we got to pull together as a team, buckle down. And that’s when we got to tighten up our defense a little bit more, instead of going into five different guys out on the court.”
The Nets have enough fight, “but the fight right now is in the wrong direction,” Wallace said. “Everybody is wanting to fight individually, instead of pulling together as a team. And that’s fighting as the Brooklyn Nets.”
Nuggets’ Miller questions star-less system — We didn’t address Andre Miller in this space on Friday, but he might mentioning now. On the heels of Denver’s rout of Chicago at home on Friday, the Nuggets’ veteran guard voiced that he’s looking for more minutes than what he’s getting with Denver. After last night’s triple-OT defeat in Boston, Miller was talking again — although this time taking issue with the Nuggets’ overall roster gameplan than with his own minutes. Coach George Karl has spent the entire season preaching how his team can win without a bona fide superstar, but Miller doesn’t seem to agree with that philosophy, as Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post reports:
Last May, Nuggets guard Andre Miller said this in an interview with The Denver Post on the subject of whether any team could win big in the NBA without a superstar.
“The question is, can you win without a superstar? This is a superstar’s league, and you can’t win without a superstar.”
Miller recently repeated those words in another report. It’s what he’s always believed, and why not? The NBA hasn’t shown him, or anyone else, anything different.
But coach George Karl believes it can be done, and he’s out to prove it this season with the Nuggets, who don’t have a superstar or even an all-star.
Miller’s comments got back to Karl, who was asked what he thought about them. Karl shook his head.
“Andre and I got to have a talk in Toronto,” said Karl, a mini-chuckle present at the end of the sentence. “The only thing it comes down to is 10 or 15 superstars. I think (Andre) Iguodala and Ty (Lawson) and Gallo (Danilo Gallinari) and Andre Miller and Kenneth Faried are in the next 40 players on that list.
“As I said, the best team is who wins the NBA championship 90 percent of the time, it’s not who has the most talented team.”
But throughout January and into February, the Nuggets, if not yet counted as serious contenders in the Western Conference, have at the very least moved into the category of dangerous — the team you don’t want to face come playoff time.
That was underscored by Boston coach Doc Rivers.
“They run. They play together,” Rivers said of the Nuggets. “I love watching them. I tell George that all the time.
“They’re agenda-less when you watch them play. Nobody cares. They have six guys (scoring) in double figures. That’s what you see when you watch them play.
“They’re a very difficult team to load on. We load on a couple guys a game. (With the Nuggets) you’re sitting there picking which guy we do that to. It’s just hard with them.”
ICYMI of the night: We love some nice big man passing around these parts and, surprisingly, some of the best dimes of the night were found in the Blazers-Magic game. First, we had Nicolas Batum going five-hole on Andrew Nicholson to get the ball to J.J. Hickson for a dunk. But the winner of the night was this pretty behind-the-back number from Gustavo Ayon to Nicholson:
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Six wins in their last 10 games is a veritable cold snap for the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are coming off a 115-110 loss at Cleveland two nights ago. Most notable in defeat, however, was the painful right rib contusion that ailed the league’s top scorer, Kevin Durant.
Feared at best to be a game-time decision for tonight’s home game against the Dallas Mavericks (8 ET, League Pass), a team that has pushed the Thunder to overtime twice this season, Durant told reporters after OKC’s morning shootaround that he intends to be in the starting lineup:
Durant last missed a game more than two years ago, on Dec. 3, 2010, due to a left knee sprain — a span of 175 consecutive regular-season games. That injury cost him two games, and a left ankle sprain the previous month also forced him out of two games. Those four games are the only ones he’s missed since the start of the 2009-10 season.
OK, so he’s not exactly on the heels of A.C. Green‘s NBA Iron Man record of 1,192 consecutive games played or Andre Miller‘s 632-game streak that ended in 2010 due to a one-game league-issued suspension for shoving Clippers forward Blake Griffin. But, hey, give KD time.
In five-plus seasons, Durant has played in 427 of a possible 441 games. He missed a career-high eight games in his second season, including seven in a row with a sprained right ankle.
Durant was in considerable pain following Saturday’s loss at Cleveland, OKC’s fourth defeat in its last seven road games. Durant was inadvertently kneed in the back by Cavaliers guard Alonzo Gee in the third quarter. Durant left the game, but returned early in the fourth quarter and scored 13 points on 4-for-8 shooting in the final period to give him 32 points with 11 rebounds.
After receiving treatment for some time after the game, he gingerly walked out of the arena, appearing to be in quite a bit of discomfort to observers. Durant downplayed the injury to reporters: “If I can play, I’m all right. I was good. I came (back) in and played so that’s all that matters.”
And he will tonight. So, too, will Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki, who is coming back from a two-game absence with a right adductor strain. Nowitzki had been one of the legendary iron men in the league really until this season when he missed the first 27 games after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Oct. 19.
He’s now played in just 18 of the Mavs’ 47 games and is averaging 14.8 ppg, his lowest mark since his rookie season and nearly seven points worse than last season when he missed four games early on with issues in the same right knee. He missed nine games in 2010-11 when he sprained his right knee during a game at OKC.
In his 15th season, Nowitzki has missed just 74 games with 29 coming this season. He missed six or fewer games in 12 consecutive seasons and a good number of those came at the end of the regular season for additional rest before the start of the playoffs.
Tonight, however, while Durant runs his consecutive games played streak to 176, Nowitzki’s resets again at one.
All three wins have come on the road against good teams, and in none of them have the Clippers required a huge performance from one of their other starters. In fact, Blake Griffin has averaged just 16.3 points in the three wins. Eric Bledsoe, starting in place of Paul, has done a decent job of running the team, but has totaled only 11 assists.
The Clippers won the three games — and won them all comfortably –for the same reason that Paul has been able to sit the entire fourth quarter in nine of the 37 games he’s played in: They have the best bench in basketball.
Here’s all you need to know about the Clippers’ bench and why they’re a much-improved team: Last season, the Clips were outscored by 11.6 points per 100 possessions when Griffin was on the bench. This year, they’re outscoring their opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions with Griffin on the bench.
That’s a 23.3-point turnaround and that’s really what it’s all about. A good bench should build on leads, not lose them. That’s why the Bulls’ bench was so good the last couple of years, even though it didn’t have anybody who could really score. When Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson were on the floor together, the Bulls shut down foes and scored enough to build on the lead the starters gave them.
With that in mind, here are the best benches in the NBA …
The Clips have a full, five-man bench unit that’s one of the best lineups in the league. In 243 minutes with Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf on the floor, L.A. is a plus-14.5 per 100 possessions.
Though Crawford is known for his offense, this is really a defensive unit that has only scored 102.8 points per 100 possessions, just a notch above the league average. But it has allowed only 88.3, making it the second-best defensive unit of the league’s 72 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes.
The question is how Grant Hill fits in. In Hill’s first game back, that unit only played six minutes together. And in the last three games, it hasn’t played together at all, though that may have more to do with Bledsoe starting.
Either way, it would be disappointing if coach Vinny Del Negro broke up such an effective unit. And it really could affect where the Clippers finish in the Western Conference standings.
Though Manu Ginobili has been neither healthy nor sharp, the Spurs’ bench continues to get the job done. It’s just tough to determine where the starters end and where the bench begins, because eight different guys have started at least nine games for San Antonio already. But coach Gregg Popovich‘s ability to mix-and-match lineups will little drop-off is part of what makes the Spurs’ bench so good.
The Spurs don’t have a full bench unit like the Clippers. Their latest starting unit is Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. Their most-used lineup that includes at least three other Spurs has only played 38 minutes together, and that lineup includes Parker and Duncan.
This is why we’d rate the Spurs’ bench behind that of the Clippers. But San Antonio is still outscoring its opponents by a solid 5.7 points per 100 possessions with Duncan off the floor. That’s a very good thing. (more…)
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY –Steve Nash is just five assists from being the fifth player in NBA history to reach the 10,000-assist mark. He’ll likely reach the milestone when his Lakers visit the Houston Rockets on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET, NBA TV).
Most assists, NBA history
In his 17-year career, Nash has assisted 123 different teammates, none more than Amar’e Stoudemire. And most of those assists to Stoudemire were on buckets in the paint. Most of his 797 assists to Dirk Nowitzki, however, were on buckets from outside the paint.
Most assists from Steve Nash, with shot location
There are nine different players who have received exactly one assist from Nash. Among them: Avery Johnson, Sam Cassell and Dennis Rodman.
The two most efficient shots are shots from the restricted area (1.18 points per shot over the course of Nash’s career) and corner 3-pointers (1.15 points per shot). And over his career, 51 percent of Nash’s assists have come from those two areas. That’s a higher percentage than most other All-Star point guards…
Percentage of career assists to high-efficiency areas
* Does not include first two seasons of Kidd’s career
Having spent his entire career in the Western Conference, Nash has racked up at least 500 assists against four different teams in the West.
Steve Nash – Most assists by opponent
Nash tends to be more of a distributor early in the game. His highest assist ratio (percentage of his possessions in which he records an assist) is highest in the first quarter and lowest in the fourth.
Steve Nash – Assists by quarter
Nash has recorded his most assists on Wednesdays, but tends to be more giving on Sundays…
DALLAS – They kept giving, so Danilo Gallinari kept taking.
The Denver Nuggets forward scored a career-high 39 points and tied a career-high with seven 3-pointers, a feat he’d accomplished just once before on Oct. 28, 2009, with the New York Knicks. Gallinari put up 11 high-arching bombs from beyond the arc in Friday’s 106-85 rout of the reeling Dallas Mavericks simply because, well, no one really stepped out to guard him.
Afterward, Gallinari acknowledged as much, and as any proper house guest should, he politely thanked the Mavs for their hospitality.
“I was open and I shoot it,” the Italian-born Gallinari said. “So, I got to thank the defense they prepared on me for leaving me open for the 3.”
The Nuggets led by as many as 15 in the first half, but with the Mavs coming on and down only 50-47, Gallinari went to work in the final 5.6 seconds. He buried a 3 and then, after Andre Miller picked off a pass,Gallinari left the Mavs flat-footed at the rim. He threw down Ty Lawson‘s missed 3 at the buzzer for a momentum-changing 5-point swing to give him 15 points and the Nuggets a 55-47 halftime lead.
Then, he opened the third quarter with his fourth 3-pointer and the demolition was on. He and Andre Iguodala went a combined 11-for-17 from beyond the arc while slumping Dallas, losers of five in a row and eight of nine, was just 5-for-25.
“It’s not pretty right now,” said Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki, who had rough night, going 2-for-10 from the floor for five points in his third game back from October knee surgery. “On the defensive end, our coverages get blown left and right and the other team makes us pay.”
Gallinari was 14-for-23 overall and also had eight rebounds, three assists and just one turnover in 34 minutes.
“He should [have] got 40 [points],” said Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried, who contributed a massive effort with 11 points and 19 rebounds. “That was a phenomenal performance.”
Gallinari, 24, blew away his season-high of 28 a little more than a week ago in a win over the Spurs. He came into Friday’s game not having made more than four 3s in a game this season, and he was shooting the 3-ball at just a 31.7-percent clip. He had made nine 3s in his last five games.
“My teammates were really finding me tonight and I’m glad I was making my shots,” Gallinari said. “Tonight was one of those games where after you release the ball you think that it’s going in.”
It’s a word that explodes rather than rolls off the tongue. It’s the gaudy label that usually gets attached to the players who crackle, pop and send sparks flying like an electricity transformer that’s been struck by lightning.
But what of the players who spend their long careers quietly humming through the power lines and rarely getting noticed?
The patron saint of the overlooked is Eddie Johnson, who played 17 seasons with the Kings, Suns, Sonics, Hornets, Pacers and Rockets, 1,199 games and scored more points (19,202) than any player in NBA history without once being selected to play in the All-Star Game. He still ranks in the top 50 all-time scorers in the league, ahead of Hall of Famers Gail Goodrich and Scottie Pippen.
Sitting at Johnson’s right hand is Derek Harper, who played 16 seasons with the Mavericks, Knicks, Magic and Lakers and retired in 1999 ranking 11th on the all-time steals and 17th in career assists and never got a single chance to take an All-Star bow.
So with a nod of appreciation for their efforts and in honor of Johnson and Harper, it’s time to take a look at a six-pack of current players who have been flying under the radar and might be due some All-Star love before they’re gone:
Jamal Crawford, Clippers, 13th season — All those years of playing for bad teams in Chicago, New York, Golden State and Portland with the only two playoff seasons of his career mixed in with the Hawks has built up and often well-deserved reputation as a mad gunner who’ll take any shots as soon as he’s in the building. But consider those teams, consider that he was often cast in exactly that role to provide big points off the bench. Now he’s in a perfect place in reserve with the best-in-the-NBA Clippers and is having the time of his career.
Al Jefferson, Jazz, 9th season — He’s learned to use those big hands to become a very good passer out of double-teams, but his strength is still as a low post scorer from the left block. His scoring average is down a bit over the past few seasons because he doesn’t have to carry so much of the load with an influx of talent. Nothing at all fancy about the way he plays, but shows up every game to put in an honest night’s work and produces. Playing the bulk of your career in Minnesota and Utah will never help anybody’s profile. He has deserved his due.
Kevin Martin, Thunder, 9th season – How foolish now does anyone feel who wondered if this guy would be able to step into the hole left by James Harden’s departure in Oklahoma City? There’s no beard and he doesn’t have the explosiveness, but having already proven over a seven-year span in Sacramento and Houston that he could carry an offense, now he fits like a hand inside a custom-sown glove with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. He’s shooting a career-best-by-far 45.5 percent on 3s, 93 percent on free throws and, most important, has not caused OKC to miss a beat.
Andre Miller, Nuggets, 14th season — How does a guard you’d never want taking a shot with your life on the line keep moving ahead in his second decade in the league? But using his slick veterans moves to get to the rim himself or to use his amazing passing skills to get up his teammates for layups or dunks. Either way the result is usually an easy finish. In every one of his seasons there have always been other point guards who were faster and quicker and could fill up the basket more. But a guy with his smarts and productivity should have taken one All-Star bow by now.
Josh Smith, Hawks, 9th season – Because he’s still only 27, because he can still make your jaw drop from either a stupendous or stupid shot, the NBA world has managed to turn right by Smith. That’s despite his putting together a career stat line — soon to be 10,000 points, 5,000 rebounds, 2,000 assists and 1,000 blocked shots — that will rank him among the all-time greats. There are signs that he’s finally learning and other times when his shot selection still makes you cringe. If there is a current player who can eclipse Eddie Johnson as the best to never play in a single All-Star Game, it’s J-Smoove. But at 27, maybe there’s still plenty of time.
Anderson Varejao, Cavs, 9th season – For the early part of his career he was merely the one-trick pony who threw himself around like a bucking bronco just let out of the chute. But now Varejao is leading the league in rebounding at 14.4 per game, also averaging a career-high 14.1 points and therefore is tied for fourth place in double-doubles with 16 in his first 25 games. While the big question around the league is whether a would-be contender will be able to pry him away from the rebuilding Cavs, the other is if Cleveland’s place near the bottom of the standings will cost Varejao his earned recognition as an All-Star?
HANG TIME, Texas — Leave it to George Karl to enjoy running a gantlet of four games that started at home against Miami and now goes to San Antonio, Memphis and Minnesota.
“I just think I’m a sadistic guy,” he said.
Or more likely a just a coach that likes a challenge.
Karl’s Nuggets were a trendy pick by many to make a strong push up Western Conference standings following the offseason deal that brought Andre Iguodala to Denver.
This was a team of no true superstar that was going to get out in the open court, apply defensive pressure like a vise and run, run, run it’s way into the role of a real playoff contender.
But to date, instead of cranking things up a notch, the Nuggets have regressed, as Karl admitted to our buddy Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post:
“There’s no question we’re not wearing teams out like we did last year,” said Nuggets coach George Karl, whose team, for much of the night, looked like it was the one that played the night before in L.A., not the Heat.
LeBron James finished with 27 points, seven rebounds and 12 assists, playing point forward for much of the game.
“They made their run, they’re a great team at home,” James said, “but we were able to withstand it.”
The Heat was without guard Dwyane Wade, who sat out because of an ankle injury he reaggravated in Wednesday night’s loss at the L.A. Clippers.
Meanwhile, Andre Miller played like Ty Lawson, while Ty Lawson played pathetically. Lawson went scoreless, 0-for-7, while Miller scored 19 points with a pair of 3s.
“It was a game we definitely needed to win before we go out on this three-game road trip,” Miller said from a nearly empty losing locker room. “We talked about their 3-point shooters, we just didn’t play a good floor game.”
Now the Nuggets stand at 4-5 because they have been the picture of mediocrity. Their offensive rating (103.8), according to Basketball-Reference.com, stands 15th in the league, while their defensive rating (103.3) ranks 17th.
This was supposed to be a newer version of the 2004 Pistons who won a championship without one big dog pulling the sled all season. But instead they have too often looked like Iguodala’s old team that he left behind in Philly, where he leads a team in scoring that for the most part does not a singular focus, except fo the rebounding monster that is Kenneth Faried.
We can cut the Nuggets some slack because they have an absolutely brutal schedule. They opened with six of their first nine games — and 17 of 23 — on the road.
“I’m kind of happy with how we’ve played. I’m not happy with how well we’ve played. But as a coach, how is probably more important than how well.”