MIAMI – All those texts, Tweets and subliminal messages from friends, family and fans were answered by the Miami Heat this time.
Sure, they trailed at halftime for the ninth straight game Friday night against a Detroit Pistons team still searching for its 24th win of the season. But that didn’t stop the Heat from cruising when it mattered most, at winning time, on their way to their 25th straight win, a somewhat methodical 103-89 disposal before an appreciative AmericanAirlines Arena crowd.
Instead of the heart attack finishes they’ve been delivering recently, Boston Monday night and then Wednesday in Cleveland, they simply ran away from the Pistons late in the third quarter and into the fourth. And it was a welcome sight for guys like Shane Battier, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.
Never mind the fact that they’re eight games from the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers’ NBA record 33-game win streak, and all of the pressure that comes with chasing that mark. Sometimes you just want to take the edge off for family and friends whose emotions rise and fall with every double-digit deficit incurred and every heart-racing comeback.
“My parents, they’re great fans and a lot more emotional than I am about this than I am,” Battier said. “I told them ‘sorry, we’re working on playing better.’”
At least they could keep the TV on for the game against the Pistons. The win in Cleveland, when the Heat rallied from a 27-point deficit behind huge shots from Battier and James in particular, was too much.
“They didn’t turn the TV off but they were close,” Battier said. “They’re a little older so they were close to going to bed.”
Just finding ways to win games sounds reasonable enough for the Heat. But lost in the haze of their streak is the fact that they are taking the best shot the rest of the league has to give basically every night.
The Pistons came into the night on the complete opposite end of the standings spectrum, having lost nine straight games. But if you were one of the folks in town for the Ultra Music Festival and wandered into the arena by accident and watched the first half, you would have been hard-pressed to identify the team on the losing streak from the team on the second-best winning streak in NBA history.
“Everybody wants to win by 30 every night,” Wade said. “Sorry guys, it’s not possible.”
They aren’t crazy. They realize that they are in the midst of a stretch — against the Cavaliers, Pistons, Charlotte Bobcats (Sunday) and Orlando Magic (Monday) — where a team 50 games over .500 should have no trouble handling its business against the lottery crowd.
“Win the games we’re supposed to win,” Wade said. “Right now we’re playing teams that we are better than and we are winning games we’re supposed to win.”
That’s easy to do when you always have an advantage in the, as Wade put it, ”games within the game.” An 11-point deficit with James and Wade there to dig you out of it looks completely different when you are hoping that Jose Calderon and Greg Monroe rescue you.
Heat coach Erick Spoelstra isn’t overly concerned about the sluggish starts, but he is by no means dismissing them.
“It’s on the radar,” he said. “There’s no question about it. We need to put together complete games. Now it has been three games in a row where we haven’t gotten off to the energetic start that we’re looking for, so we’ll have an opportunity to get back to it on Sunday. But no excuses. We are not making excuses for ourselves.”
The Heat don’t have to make excuses for winning all the time, especially not with James dominating on both ends the way he did against the Pistons. He finished his night with 29 points, on 12-for-15 shooting from the floor, eight rebounds, eight assists and two steals.
Catching and passing the Lakers is not one of the career milestones James had on his bucket list. So while he’s honored to be a part of a team chasing that historical ghost, he said he feels no pressure to pacify others who are caught up in the hype of what this team is doing right now. And that includes anyone texting after games about their blood pressure spiking at the end of games like the one in Cleveland.
“Right now we are taking each and every game as its own,” he said. “We need to prepare for the next one, which is Sunday. I am not going to sit here and downplay it and act like I don’t know what the record is. I know it’s 33. But we don’t get caught up and say, ‘okay, eight games until we get it.’ We just play our next game and see what happens.”
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Really, this is how low we’ve sunk as sports fans, that we make ourselves feel better by further humiliating the loser rather than being satisfied by marveling at the victor?
Boston’s Jason Terry joined Detroit’s Brandon Knight in Twitter and YouTube infamy on Monday night as unfortunate victims of vicious dunks. Because each guard, both standing no taller than 6-foot-3 and barely a buck-ninety soaking weight, chose to challenge LeBron James and DeAndre Jordan as they launched their massively larger bodies toward the rim like heat-seeking missiles, rather than take the easier matador approach, Terry and Knight have become Internet punch lines.
The 6-3, 189-pound Knight found himself in a helpless position when Jordan, the 6-foot-11, 265-pound Clippers center, caught a lob from Chris Paul with his right hand, seemed to freeze in mid-air with his legs spread as if in a dead sprint and his arm cocked back ready to fire. In an instant, Jordan slammed it home with Knight caught in the middle trying to contest, practically stuck to Jordan’s chest only to be squashed like a bug on the grill of an 18-wheeler.
A dunk to behold for sure. So how come just hours later, someone tweeted that Knight, and not Jordan, was trending on Twitter? Why is it more gratifying for us to kick someone around than lift someone up?
“I give credit to Brandon Knight,” said Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, asked the other day about the Jordan dunk. “DeAndre Jordan can dunk, there’s nothing special there. It takes guts to say, ‘OK, I’m playing basketball,’ and think basketball first, so I give [Knight] a lot of credit. It’s like that old Tracy McGrady and Shawn Bradley dunk. It wasn’t that Tracy McGrady dunked on him, it was that Shawn Bradley cared enough about the game to try to contest it. So DeAndre just did what DeAndre does, there was nothing spectacular or special about what he did, he does it every day, right? But a guy who’s willing to just not care what anybody says, that’s special. To me, the best player on that play was Brandon.”
James, who has shown so much maturity since losing in the 2011 Finals to Terry’s old Mavs (remember when a disappearing James and Dwyane Wade mocked an ill Dirk Nowitzki with fake coughs and sneezes?) couldn’t leave Monday’s tomahawk jam over Terry alone. Not only did James dunk on Terry, he earned a technical foul for standing over him as if ready to take his scalp along with his dignity.
Again, let’s return to the ’11 Finals. James had taken on Jet as his personal defensive assignment in the fourth quarters and had shut him down through the first three games as the Heat took a 2-1 lead. Nowitzki called out Jet for his lack of scoring punch and Jet, never one to bite his tongue stated: “Let’s see if [James] can defend me like that for seven games.”
Terry went on to average 21.7 points in Games 4, 5 and 6, busted a late-game 3 over James for the pivotal Game 5 win and a 3-2 series lead, and then dropped 27 points in the deciding Game 6 on the Heat’s home floor.
What’s been lost in Monday’s sequence during an intensely competitive game in Boston that Miami pulled out for its 23rd consecutive victory, is that Terry had just made a fine defensive play, getting a steal and then heading the other way. Only he didn’t see Wade behind him and he got stripped.
Wade got the ball got to Mario Chalmers, who found Norris Cole, who had just committed the turnover. Cole could have scored the layup, but instead set up James for the massive slam with an underhand lob. Terry, seven inches shorter and some 70 pounds lighter than James, had retreated as Boston’s only line of defense, bouncing from Chalmers to Cole to going up against the barreling James to try to at least get in the way.
Which he did. James’ 250 pounds (at least) careened into Terry in mid-air. James slammed it home as Terry crashed to the floor.
And as with Knight, it seems Terry is garnering more heat for getting dunked on while trying to make a play, than James is receiving accolades for the actual dunk.
“Guys in this league can dunk,” Cuban said before Terry’s misfortune. “So you know they’re going to try to dunk, but the guys who play the game and do what’s right for the team regardless of what it might look like, those are the guys that deserve the credit. Those are the guys I get excited about it.”
This drama surely isn’t over. The Jet will certainly let his tongue flap after hearing James tomahawk him again, only this time verbally.
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: Eleven games on the schedule makes for the usual: a healthy dose of blowouts (Pacers-Cavs, Mavs-Hawks, Nets-Pistons, Warriors-Hornets, Wolves-Grizz and Lakers-Suns) and a smattering of close ones (Blazers-Sixers, Wizards-Bobcats, Nuggets-Bulls and Knicks-Jazz). We’d like to go outside the box and pick one of these closer games, but was any game more exciting last night than the Heat-Celtics affair from Boston? The Celtics jumped out to a 17-point lead in the second quarter, had control of the game most of the night and even had a 13-point lead with about eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter. But as our man John Schuhmann breaks it down (and as you can see in this comeback video), the efforts of Jeff Green and the rest of the Celts weren’t enough to slow the train that is LeBron James and the Heat.
Denver painting a masterpiece around basket — Although the ending to last night’s Nuggets-Bulls game at United Center was wrought with controversy (our man Steve Aschburner has the full details on “tip-in-gate”), one thing that couldn’t be disputed was how often Denver scored in the paint on Chicago last night. The Nuggets put up 119 points on the Bulls’ often-solid defense and a look at the scoring logs reveals a lot of layups and dunks for Denver. Benjamin Hochmanof the Denver Post takes a closer look at just how efficient the Nuggets have been this season at scoring around the hoop:
Sure enough, Denver scored 64 in regulation time and finished with 68 in its 119-118 overtime victory over the Bulls.
The Nuggets’ brand of basketball leads to persistent paint penetration. It’s NASCAR basketball. The fast-breaking Nuggets entered Monday leading the NBA with an average of 57.6 points in the paint, scoring 60 or more 27 times. In the NBA this season, the six-highest paint-point totals have come from the Nuggets, with 78 as their high.
Nuggets fans should appreciate what they’re watching — few teams win this way. The Nuggets are just different.
“And you go down the roster, there’s speed and quickness,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said before the game. “Ty Lawson is as fast as anybody. Kenneth Faried runs the floor as well as any big. Andre Iguodala is a tremendous athlete. So they have a lot of guys who can go. Andre Miller is an older guy who plays at a different pace, but the way he plays allows him to play really fast. And you look at a guy like Corey Brewer, he’s found his niche there. He’s a winning-type player.”
Denver could finish with the highest average of paint points since the league started keeping that stat in the 1996-97 season. The record was set by the 1997-98 Lakers, who averaged 54.1.
Denver entered Monday leading the NBA with an average of 19.7 fast-break points and trailed only the Clippers with 19.7 points per game off turnovers.
Frank wasn’t there for the March 10 game at Staples Center when the Clippers center put Knight on a poster as he was away tending to his ill wife.
But when asked casually before tonight’s game about the uproar on social media and ESPN, Frank was critical.
“They’re called ‘game-quitters,’ they’re in the game but they’re really not in the game, so they bail out just because they don’t want to be dunked on.
“I mean, to me, I don’t know what the culture, whether it’s an AAU environment — I hate to blame that — or what the situation is, but when I read that and saw that stuff how it was such a … it just goes to show you we’re celebrating the wrong (stuff), we really are.”
He added: “If Brandon could have fouled the guy (and stopped the basket), DeAndre Jordan, the way he shoots free throws, it would’ve been a total non-issue. But at least Brandon has the courage to put himself out there to make a play. And the fact that people laugh about it and joke about it, I don’t know. There’s a whole lot more things to glamorize in our sport than something like that. I don’t even understand how that’s, like, a story, you know? And you read about how it’s trending on Twitter? Talk about Miami winning 22 games in a row, or talk about something else. But a dunk? Who cares?”
Scola’s playing time dwindling — As a member of the Houston Rockets for five seasons, Luis Scola started a possible 343 of 368 games and played in every possible game in a season four times. After being waived by Houston over the summer via the NBA’s amnesty program, he latched on with Phoenix and was thought to be the Suns’ starting power forward. That was the role Scola occupied at the start of the season before losing the gig … and then gaining it again … and then losing it again. In short, Scola’s role has been unpredictable at best for the Suns, but he hasn’t complained, writes Tyler Killian of the Arizona Republic:
Scola is averaging the least playing time (26 minutes, 11 seconds entering Monday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers) since his rookie season in 2007-08 with Houston, when he seized the starting power-forward job midway through the year and never again came off the bench for the Rockets.
With the Suns struggling to forge an identity under interim coach Lindsey Hunter, Scola’s role often has been reduced as Hunter experiments with different rotations. The 6-foot-9-inch Argentinian admits to feeling discouraged at times.
“It’s hard for me. It’s hard,” Scola said. “It is (frustrating), but I try to use that frustration to work a little harder. Just try to stay ready and in shape.”
Whatever frustrations he may be feeling, Scola is keeping them private, living up to his reputation as a team player.
“We have no problems with Scola whatsoever,” Hunter said. “He’s the ultimate professional. If he plays 30 or he plays three (minutes), he’s the same guy — consistent. So he’s been great for us.”
Scola is doing his best to provide value in other ways, however, mentoring the younger Suns and helping them through the tougher stretches of the season.
“The NBA is about winning 50, 60 games a year, going to the playoffs and making noise and hopefully winning a ring,” he said.
“Sometimes young guys, all they know is this (losing), and that’s a problem. So the biggest thing for us is to let them know that this is not what they should be looking for.”
Pacers’ Granger OK’d to practice — Indiana waited until late February to get its one-time All-Star forward, Danny Granger, back in the lineup because he was suffering from patellar tendinosis in his left knee. Granger played five games after coming back to the Pacers’ lineup on Feb. 23, but was hardly himself (his averages: 5.4 ppg, 1.8 rpg while shooting 28.6 percent from the field) before he was shut down again due to soreness in the left knee. According to FoxSportsOhio.com’s Sam Amico, though, Granger is OK to practice again with his teammates:
Danny Granger has been cleared to resume basketball activities, Pacers coach Frank Vogel said prior to Monday’s game at Cleveland.
A sore left knee has caused Granger to miss all but five of the Pacers’ 66 games this season.
“We sort of took him off his feet for a little while, so to speak, (but) he’s resumed activity,” Vogel said. “He’ll put in a lot of individual work this week, and practice time when we have practice. We’ll see where he’s at toward the end of the week.”
Granger, a 6-foot-7 forward, led the Pacers in scoring last season at 18.7 points per game. He’s averaging 18.1 points for his career, including 5.4 in 14 minutes per game this year.
ICYMI of the night: Lawrence Frank won’t like this play, but we know a lot of people who do …:
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Detroit Pistons are a franchise that’s going younger, but might they have found their point guard of the future in 31-year-old Jose Calderon?
Detroit was the third wheel in the trade that made it possible for Memphis to ship Rudy Gay to Toronto. Career-long Piston Tayshaun Prince, the last remnant of Detroit’s 2004 title team, went to Memphis and Calderon, a career-long Raptor, and his $11 million expiring contract landed in Detroit.
The Pistons created additional cap room by taking on Calderon’s expiring deal and sending out Prince, who has nearly $15 million coming to him over the next two seasons. However, Detroit, with young building blocks such as Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Brandon Knight and Kyle Singler, might not be viewing the eight-year veteran Calderon simply as a money saver before letting him pick his next destination in free agency.
The Calderon trade created even more financial flexibility for the Pistons going into the summer trade and free-agency season but Joe Dumars, the team’s president of basketball operations, has made it clear that Calderon is not just any player on an expiring contract which pays a base salary of about $11 million this year.
Dumars has said he is interested in re-signing Calderon but neither side will discuss much beyond that; the Pistons won’t break the bank to keep Calderon and he isn’t painting himself into a negotiating corner by vowing to stay.
Calderon has impressed his new team with his steady play, averaging 12.3 ppg and 7.8 apg while keeping his turnover rate right about the same as it was this season with Toronto despite playing with unfamiliar teammates and garnering little practice time.
He’s increased his shooting percentages in his first 12 games with Detroit to 50.0 percent overall and 51.1 percent from beyond the arc. He’s averaging 31.8 mpg and that has pushed Knight, a second-year player, to shooting guard. He received six of Calderon’s 18 assists in Wednesday’s road win at Washington.
Those 18 assists quickly put Calderon in the Pistons’ record books next to Isiah Thomas, Mayo reported, as the only Pistons players with as many as 18 assists and as few as two turnovers in the same game since 1974.
The Pistons, who continue a three-game road trip tonight at the New Orleans Hornets, are 5-7 with Calderon, which isn’t terrible considering Detroit is 23-37 overall and seven games back of eighth-place Milwaukee.
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: When the Grizzlies traded Rudy Gay to Toronto as part of a three-team swap, we had our questions before the deal went down as to why Memphis would even ponder such a move. Teams in their pecking order in the West didn’t lose too much sleep over what the Grizz did (the Warriors, in particular, had clear thoughts on the deal) and a 1-3 start to the post-Gay era didn’t engender much hope in Memphis’ future. But as we detail below, Memphis is back to its grit-and-grind self. That makes last night’s Nets-Grizzlies recap as one to watch (particularly if you enjoy seeing Memphis play its unique style of basketball).:
Report: Thunder bring back Fisher — In one of the more surprising trade deadline moves in recent memory, the Lakers dealt stalwart defensive point guard Derek Fisher to Houston last season for Jordan Hill. After Fisher was sent to Houston, the Rockets agreed to a buyout of his contract so he could sign with a contender, which he did, joining the Oklahoma City Thunder for the final 20 games of the season and the playoffs. The Thunder opted not to re-sign Fisher in the offseason and he played nine games with the Dallas Mavericks before being waived on Dec. 22. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports that Fisher is headed back to OKC and will sign his deal with the Thunder on Monday:
The Oklahoma City Thunder have reached agreement to sign veteran guard Derek Fisher for the remainder of the season, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.
Fisher arrived in Oklahoma City Sunday night and will sign his contract on Monday.
Fisher, 38, signed with the Thunder late last season and helped Oklahoma City make its push to the NBA Finals. He joined the Dallas Mavericks early this season and played nine games in December before suffering a knee injury. He asked the Mavericks to release him, so he could spend more time with his family.
The Thunder have room for another guard after trading Eric Maynor to the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday. Reggie Jackson is receiving most of the backup point guard minutes behind Russell Westbrook.
Fisher joined the Thunder last March after the Los Angeles Lakers traded him to the Houston Rockets and he negotiated a buyout. He averaged 6.3 points and 1.3 assists in 20 playoff games for the Thunder last season.
Fisher has remained president of the National Basketball Players Association, which recently ousted Billy Hunter as its executive director.
ESPN.com first reported that Fisher was close to the signing with the Thunder.
Jack praised as Warriors’ leader –For the Golden State Warriors, David Lee is the 2013 All-Star member, Stephen Curry is the thrilling, do-it-all point guard, Klay Thompson is the enticing shooting guard prospect and Harrison Barnes is the high-flying rookie. Although this doesn’t fully encompass the Warriors’ talent base — we’re leaving Andrew Bogut and some others out here — these are the names most think of with the team. But the player who has made the biggest impact for Golden State in terms of leadership, clutch playmaking and veteran know-how is Jarrett Jack. Warriors coach Mark Jackson had nothing but praise for Jack, who was instrumental in Sunday’s win over the Timberwolves, writes Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle:
Jarrett Jack will be praised for giving the Warriors their first fourth-quarter lead with a three-pointer in the final two minutes Sunday and for setting up the bucket 40 seconds later that resulted in a lead they would not relinquish.
Jack actually started leading the Warriors to their 100-99 matinee victory over Minnesota an hour before the game tipped off at the Target Center.
When two of the team’s rookies wanted barbecue sandwiches and fries in the pregame locker room, Jack reminded the first-year players that the game started in an hour. They quietly switched their orders to chicken sandwiches with no fries.
“That’s who he is for us,” Warriors head coach Mark Jackson said. “He’s been a leader, and he’s been a no-nonsense guy with a tremendous voice.”
And Jack has been pretty stinking good on the court, too. Jack had team highs with 23 points and eight assists, provided the Warriors with their only energy in the first half, and then made all of the clutch plays down the stretch.
“We try to have resolve, man,” Jack said. “We’ve got resiliency and fight. The one thing we respect above all is effort, and through it all – the turnovers, missed shots and everything that wasn’t going our way – we still played hard.”
The Warriors (33-23) have won three in a row after a season-worst, six-game skid to move 1 1/2 games back of Denver for the fifth spot in the Western Conference. Seventh-place Utah is two games behind the Warriors, followed by eighth-place Houston (three games back) and the ninth-place Lakers (5 1/2 games back).
It’s a good thing for the Warriors that they were playing the Timberwolves (20-33), who have lost 18 of their past 22 games and 18 of their past 23 against Golden State, and it’s a good thing the Warriors have Jack.
Jack is the NBA’s first player to come off the bench to record at least 23 points and eight assists in consecutive games since Clyde Drexler did it for Portland in 1985-86. Jack is the first Warriors reserve to score 20 points in three straight games since Corey Maggette accomplished the feat in 2009.
“Having someone like coach Jackson and these teammates, who have a world of confidence in me, goes a long way,” said Jack, who said he has never experienced a stretch like this in the NBA. “Confidence is the No. 1 thing in this game. I’ve always believed in myself, but they continuously show that they believe in me to handle the ball at the end of games, giving me big shots and putting me in huge situations.”
On-court stuff is way easier than handling the rookies’ eating habits.
Grizz keep on rolling — Talk of the sky falling in Memphis after the Rudy Gay trade was a popular topic and Memphis, for its part, did little to quell that by going 1-3 immediately after the deal. But if you haven’t been paying attention, the Grizzlies boast the NBA’s second-longest win streak (behind Miami’s 11-game run) with a seven-game win streak. Not surprisingly, the Grizz are getting it done with a healthy dose of defense. As well, one of the players they got in the Gay deal – Tayshaun Prince — has fit in well with Memphis’ defense and was crucial in Sunday nights road win against the Nets, writes Ronald Tillery of The (Memphis) Commercial-Appeal:
There were questions when the Grizzlies’ revolving door stopped spinning — doubts about how quickly and how soon a collection of new players would mesh.
A bit of suspicion even crept in as the Griz began to build a winning streak that is now close to their season-best mark established in November. After all, Memphis’ previous five opponents before Sunday own a combined winning percentage of .354.
However, the Grizzlies’ 76-72 victory over the Brooklyn Nets before 17,098 in the Barclays Center provided more evidence that there still is one constant amid change, quality of opposition and venue.
Like a picture in a frame, the Grizzlies’ defense remains the same. The Griz dominated without the ball when it mattered most as their winning streak swelled to seven games.
“This was a test game to see if we are playing well or not, and to come in and beat a very good team on the road says a lot,” Griz point guard Mike Conley said. “It says a lot about our integrity and ability to step up in big games.”
That, and how stingy the Grizzles can be.
The Nets didn’t score in the final 2:50. Griz center Marc Gasol had two blocks, guard Tony Allen added another and Tayshaun Prince grabbed a steal as the Griz closed the game on a 9-0 run.
No play was bigger than Allen’s block on a shot by Nets guard Deron Williams with the score knotted at 72 and 26.9 seconds left. Williams drove by Allen but was met at the basket by Zach Randolph. Allen recovered to reject Williams’ shot from behind.
“I just had my antennas up and was ready to be aggressive,” Allen said. “And I thank Zach for being there to stop his angle. Once he cocked the ball back I was able to get my hand on the ball.”
Stoudemire stepping up more and more — As Amar’eStoudemire recovered from offseason knee surgery and the Knicks got out to an 21-9 start without him, talk in New York and around the league was how he’d fit in to what New York is doing once healthy. Although the Knicks are 6-6 since Stoudemire returned and had a four-game win streak entering Sunday’s game against the Sixers, New York seems to be working their big man back into the mix. He came through with a solid performance in a win last night and is getting more and more into a flow, writes BarbaraBarker of Newsday:
While he sat out the first two months of the season recovering from knee surgery, many wondered if he ever would be a big-time player again. Their fears seemed to be confirmed when he returned from injury and coach Mike Woodson decided that the best thing to do with him — the best thing to do with the fourth-highest-paid player in the NBA — was to bring him off the bench.
Suddenly, however, it appears to have been a wee bit early to throw Stoudemire into the has-been heap. Since returning from the knee injury on New Year’s Day, he has been getting stronger and stronger.
“I thought Amar’e was solid,” Woodson said. “He was catching the ball on the block, he had a couple of offensive putbacks, he made his jump shots. He did a little bit of everything. That’s what we’re going to need him to do the rest of the way.”
It was Stoudemire’s first 20-point game of the season and even featured a very athletic reverse dunk that thrilled the Garden crowd.
It may have been his best game, but it wasn’t his only important one. Since coming back from the knee injury, Stoudemire has averaged 13.7 points and 5.0 rebounds despite playing limited minutes. And he seems to be getting stronger.
“I’m 100 percent. I feel strong in every aspect,” he said after the game. “I think the limited minutes are great for me so far. It’s keeping me fresh and I feel great.”
Stoudemire was careful and diplomatic Sunday, however, when asked if it is hard for him to accept his role as a reserve when he is playing this well. He said he wants to do whatever the team needs him to do.
Stoudemire did admit, however, that it is difficult to be on the bench at the end of games.
“As long as we’re winning, it’s not hard,” he said. “When we start losing a bit, it gets you thinking about it.”
Pistons’ Knight gets some good news — Pistons second-year guard Brandon Knight suffered a knee injury against Charlotte last Wednesday and many around Detroit were hoping that it wasn’t anything serious. The good news for the Pistons, writes Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press, is that Knight’s MRI came back negative. But the Pistons are also expecting Knight to miss a few games while he recovers from the hyperextended knee:
Pistons doctor Ben Paolucci visited Knight before Friday night’s game with Indiana, but coach Lawrence Frank said he’s day-to-day and won’t play again until he’s 100%.
Knight suffered an injured knee and ankle in the victory against Charlotte on Wednesday and missed Friday night’s game. The MRI showed swelling but no damage.
“He has fluid behind his knee,” Frank said. “You can see it. He can’t really jump, and he just doesn’t have total confidence in it. The MRI, like I said, was more for precautionary reasons. It didn’t show anything other than what we already diagnosed. It’ll be day-to-day. He’ll be taking some medication and just kind of see how he does in terms of trying to get the swelling down.”
Knight said he felt fine before the game as he rushed to the court to put up some shots.
There’s no rush to get him back into the lineup, especially with the way the team is struggling.
Knight had one of his better games against Charlotte when the injury occurred. He finished with 21 points.
“He was in the facility all day today getting treatment and shooting some shots to see how he felt,” Frank said. “They’ll give him whatever medication they’ll give him, but until he’s cleared he won’t be doing anything.”
ICYMI of the night: The healthier Ricky Rubio gets, the more we get to see plays like this amazing behind-the-back dime to Andrei Kirilenko on the fast break … :
2013 NBA All-Star was ripe for the foolishness and Shaq was there to document the lunacy. Step up to the plate Chris Bosh, DeAndre Jordan, Kevin Hart, Brandon Knight and Jeff Teague. Vote for your favorite Shaqtin’ A Fool moment!
DALLAS – The Detroit Pistons have crashed as hard as the Michigan economy over the last few years and the combination has resulted in a lot of eerily quiet nights inside The Palace at Auburn Hills.
“It is strange for sure,” Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva said before the Pistons dropped a 10th road game in 11 tries Saturday against the Mavericks. “The fact that my first five years in the league, seeing that place sold out every game; every time we went into Detroit it was sold out. It just shows how hard the economy hit, but I think it will bounce back. It’s just a matter of time.”
For now, there are more empty seats than filled ones at Pistons games. But to pin Detroit’s turnstile problem mostly on a rotten economy is to discredit die-hard Pistons fans that have grown weary of throwing good money at bad basketball.
Entering tonight’s eighth home game of the season against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit’s average attendance is 12,392 and ranks last in the league — behind Sacramento, New Orleans and last season’s worst team, Charlotte. Take away the home-opener crowd of 16,646 and the average dips to 11,683. On most nights the actual attendance is much less.
FROM FIRST TO WORST
The Pistons rank last in the league in attendance this season. A look at the club’s average attendance over the last 13 seasons
“It’s not weird because it’s not a situation where it’s been drastic, where this season it was packed and the very next season it was nothing,” said Tayshaun Prince, a career Piston and last remaining member of the 2004 title team. “It didn’t just hit rock bottom at one point. When things are going so well for a long period of time and then all of a sudden when things hit, then they started to veer down, veer down, veer down.”
From 2002 through 2009, not coincidentally the last time Detroit made the playoffs, the Pistons ranked No. 1 in attendance in six of those seven seasons, routinely boasting sellout crowds of 20,000-plus. The one season they weren’t No. 1, they were No. 2. The run included the ’04 championship and a repeat Finals appearance under Larry Brown, and four other East finals appearances, one prior to Brown under Rick Carlisle, and three more after Brown under Flip Saunders.
Since Saunders won 59 games in 2007-08, but lost in the East finals for a third consecutive time, Detroit has rolled through coaches Michael Curry (39-43) and John Kuester (57-107), with Lawrence Frank now in his second season and trying to rescue a 5-13 start that opened with eight consecutive losses.
Detroit hasn’t won more than 39 games in any of the last four seasons and average attendance has steadily declined from the top spot in ’08-’09 to eighth to 18th to 28th and now to rock bottom.
“It’s not on the fans to come out. It’s on us to put together a product every night that fans can be proud of,” Frank said. “Detroit has always shown great support, not just for basketball, for all their sports teams when they’re competing at the highest level. You’re used to seeing a lot of fans out there, but we’re appreciative for the fans that do go. Obviously, we understand the economic crisis and what hit, and Detroit obviously was hit harder than most. But from the beginning, it’s going to be on us to put together something that the fans can be proud of and want to support.”
To Frank’s point, and further proof that tough economic times alone doesn’t kill attendance, the Detroit Tigers have averaged more than 30,000 fans in each of the last six seasons. Even the Lions, amid another last-place season, are averaging more than 63,000 through six home games, better than 98 percent capacity. Both clubs play in relatively new downtown venues and some debate if the Pistons would be better served leaving their suburban digs some 30 miles north of the city.
But that ignores the club’s attendance track record over much of the last decade and before that when the Pistons shared the Pontiac Silverdome with the Lions.
So how close are the Pistons to rising up again?
“I think it’s real close,” impressive third-year center and leading scorer Greg Monroe said. “We have to find a way to come out every night and just play hard and outwork teams. I think we’re very close to doing that, but it’s going to take games to get the actual body of work to say we are doing it consistently.”
It’s hopeless to still lament the Darko Milicic draft and the free-agent millions thrown at Villanueva and Ben Gordon. Monroe is surrounded by a roster that might not contend for a title, but is at least intriguing for its youth. Second-year guard Brandon Knight and rookies Kyle Singler and Andre Drummond join Monroe as possible long-term core pieces. Veterans Jason Maxiell, Corey Maggette, Rodney Stuckey, Prince and, yes, Villanueva, should help to at least make a push toward playoff contention in a mediocre Eastern Conference.
No progress was made on that front during the recent two-game road swing through Memphis and Dallas with two more double-digit losses (nine in 11 road games). It was a disappointing development coming after the season’s first flirtation with momentum, a modest two-game home win streak that gave Detroit four wins in six games.
They put on an offensive show for the few souls that came out, beating Portland, 108-101, and then drilled Phoenix 117-77. That beat down drew an announced crowd of 10,517, about 300 more than the previous night.
Even the league’s top draws haven’t delivered bigger crowds. The Celtics drew 12,214 and 12,784 came to see three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“It’s been tough,” Maxiell admitted. “The last couple years the crowd’s been trimming down. We’re trying to bring the crowds back with some big entertainment. The guys that were here a couple years ago know how it was when we were winning, and we’re trying to bring them back.”
The Toilet Bowl, if it comes to that, would be played Friday, Dec. 21, at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Followed 24 hours later, at the Verizon Center, by The Payback Bowl.
That’s the worst-case scenario, at least, for the Detroit Pistons and the Washington Wizards, the two teams remaining that have yet to win a game. The Wizards (0-5) have a shot on the schedule Tuesday night at Charlotte, based on their five-game winning streak against the Bobcats, though this is an improved Charlotte team.
The Pistons (0-8) are off to the worst start in franchise history, faltering in the fourth quarter Monday at home in their 92-90 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. They play at Philadelphia Wednesday, then get Orlando at The Palace Friday.
At the Wizards’ and Pistons’ combined pace, the Buss family would have fired three coaches by now. But lofty expectations weren’t in place for either of these teams. No one expected blistering starts. Neither the Pistons nor the Wizards were projected by most NBA insiders to challenge for the playoffs this season. That’s particularly true for Washington, which has been playing without point guard John Wall (knee injury) and Nene (plantar fasciitis).
But it’s equally valid for Detroit, which is rebuilding brick-by-brick with pieces Brandon Knight, Greg Monroe and rookie Andre Drummond — just not swiftly enough for a lot of fans.
Drummond, the raw 19-year-old who has shown signs of being a monster (22 points in 20-plus minutes at OKC Friday), frustrated Pistons followers again Monday. Or rather, it was the care and nurturing of the 6-foot-10, 270-pound man-child. He had an impact on both ends to help Detroit to a double-digit lead in the first half. But the UConn product got on the floor for only 3:20 in the second, with the Thunder going small to pull the game away from him.
But just because a team is losing doesn’t mean that it is developing. Knight had a turnover and a forced shot down the stretch that proved costly against the Thunder. His decision-making has been suspect, there are folks who feel the rookie leash on Drummond is hamering Monroe’s progress as a power forward and, from Rodney Stuckey to Jason Maxiell to Tayshaun Prince, enough Pistons haven’t been in sync on the same nights to get the job done.
For Detroit, defense has been its most glaring issue; it ranks 29th with a 110.4 defensive rating. With Washington, the defense is better (11th, 100.5) but the offense ranked last (93.5). And for the coaches, the Pistons’ Lawrence Frank and the Wizards’ Randy Wittman, the desire to reverse direction pales next to the urgency to remove those goose eggs. One-and-anything sounds way better than 0-for-2012-13.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – For NBA players who reside outside of the superstar city limits of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and their kind, the chance for stardom is more complex than just strapping on a jersey and someone turning the arena lights on.
Taking that step from player to star player requires not only the desire to be great but also the space and opportunity to do so, the right team at the right time, etc.
(See Jeremy Lin for further reference …)
Those roads will intersect for many during the 2012-13 season. Some will seize the moment and embrace their revised roles and others will miss the opportunity to move up the league food chain. It’s a seemingly never-ending cycle that we love to observe, if only to see which budding stars rise to the occasion.
One player with all of the pieces in place for that breakout season is Suns point guard Goran Dragic, who has a window between the end of the Steve Nash era and rookie Kendall Marshall‘s formative years, to make the case that the flashes of greatness we’ve seen from him in the past are more than just momentary bursts of greatness.
Dragic has clearly done the hard work (check the video, above … and yes, we’ll talk with him about getting us a pair of those shorts later) necessary to become the sort of player he, and so many other who have championed his cause over the years, believe he can be. Opportunity is banging on his door something fierce.
We’ll find out soon if he’s as ready as he appears to be, because if not …. there are plenty of other guys willing and waiting for their chance to pounce.
FIVE GUYS TO WATCH IN 2012-13
In addition to Dragic, these are the other guys on HT’s list of potential breakout stars this season:
Welcome to championship week! Congratulations for climbing the mountain and cementing your status as fantasy elite.
Just one more thing to do: leave YOUR flag on top of that mountain. Just one problem: the league’s best players are dropping like bass at a Disco Biscuits show.
That noise you hear is the fantasy collective — or at least what’s left of it — scrambling for the waiver wire in search of replacements for Dwight Howard, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, David Lee, Marc Gasol, and the list goes on and on.
Is it fair for the injury bug to strike with such might just as you’re reaching the mountain top? No, but as your mom said when you first cried about not getting your every wish: “Life ain’t fair kid, get over it.”
So let’s not sulk and pout about it (insert L.O. joke here). Let’s hit up the only place you can find help this late in the season: the waiver wire. Here’s a few names to ponder as we approach title week.
With Marc Gasol healing a bone bruise in his knee, I need a big man replacement for the NBA TV fantasy finals. I’m going with Faried, who was the second best PF across eight cats last week. Believe it or not, he was still on waivers in our 20-team league!
Three things I love about The Manimal: defensive stats, his non-stop motor, and the Nuggets facing blood games every night.
Faried is thriving under the pre-playoff pressure, averaging 11.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, and 1.1 steals in only 26.4 minutes in eight games in April. (more…)