NEW YORK – The way Joakim Noah sounded at 10 a.m. Monday, half awake and with nagging soreness in his right foot, the thought of the Brooklyn Nets’ Brook Lopez banging into, past and through him right then, right there was cringe-worthy. Good thing for the Chicago Bulls center it was only his team’s morning shootaround in an opponent-free gym on Manhattan’s west side.
The challenge posed by Lopez, both to a hobbled Noah individually and to the Bulls’ hopes of advancing beyond this first-round series, still was 12 hours away.
The idea of him and the havoc he can wreak in the heart of Chicago’s defense, though, was ever present.
“It’s not only his back-to-the-basket game,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said of Lopez, who scored 19 of his 21 points in the first half of an easy Brooklyn victory in Game 1 Saturday. “It’s what he gets off pick-and-rolls and spotting up. The first quarter, I think he was 3-for-7, but he got seven free throws.”
Lopez drew fouls on three different Bulls big men, sending Taj Gibson back to the bench after barely four minutes. Noah, limited by his plantar-fascia tear, stuck around for only 6:25, which left Nazr Mohammed, Carlos Boozer and gang tactics to cope, poorly, with Lopez.
Noah, while reporting less discomfort in his foot Monday, still will likely be held to restricted minutes.That means more gang work, again, in trying to keep Lopez from too much early impact.
Said Thibodeau: “You have to play him on the perimeter, play him to put it on the floor and play him back-to-the-basket. We allowed him to get some easy ones, too, which got his confidence going.”
Exactly, said the Nets. Brooklyn guard Deron Williams said after Game 1 that he’s been urging Lopez to follow his lead when the playmaker penetrates the paint. “I’ve been on Brook all year that when we get two [defenders] on the ball on my penetration, just trun to the front of the rim, because he’s going to get easy baskets,” Williams said.
Lopez seems to be learning. Williams’ play improved after the All-Star break and Lopez has benefited. The big man’s field-goal percentage in the opening quarter of games in February was 40.0 percent. That bumped to 56.3 percent in March and 62.0 percent in April as he and Williams built their on-court chemistry.
That’s what Noah and the Bulls, aching or not, will have to thwart, especially in the first 12 minutes after tipoff.
Said Noah, who has tried just about everything – ice, stretching, massage, acupuncture – to ease his foot pain: “We’ve got to try to find a way to slow him down. It’ll take a team effort. Can’t let him get [to his spots] on the floor.”
. BROOKLYN – The last postseason game played in this borough, the guys from Brooklyn didn’t even score (Johnny Kucks and the New York Yankees shut out the Dodgers 9-0 in Game 7 of the 1956 World Series at Ebbets Field).
So things already were looking up when Brook Lopez turned teammate Reggie Evans‘ offensive rebound into a layup 62 seconds into Game 1 of the Nets’ best-of-seven series against the Chicago Bulls Saturday night at Barclays Center.
The thing is, it only got better from there. Everything got better. The Nets’ offense purred under the direction of Deron Williams. The Brooklyn defense clamped down hard on a Bulls team with a reputation for clamping down (“I think we’re better,” Nets forward Gerald Wallace said).
Lopez played so well – 19 of his 21 points by halftime – that it might not have mattered if Chicago center Joakim Noah had had three good feet, never mind two. Brooklyn scored in the second quarter alone (35 points) what it took the Bulls a whole half to post and needed only three quarters to do (89 points) what took the visitors the entire game.
NBA playoff series are all about game-to-game adjustments, holding home court and never, ever getting out front of one’s self in excitement or assumptions. The Nets expect nothing less than a resurgence by Chicago’s players, properly chewed, spit out and told to do better by coach Tom Thibodeau.
Still, if a series opener could count double or at least set a tone for what’s likely to follow, this one would shoot to the front of the pack. This was one of the Nets’ most complete victories of their inaugural season at Barclays and it came precisely at the right time.
“Fresh start. New season. Playoffs are totally different,” said Wallace, who has seen performances by his squad similar to Saturday’s but only for partial credit.
“We’ve been doing that in the regular season against them but we’d give it away in the fourth quarter,” Wallace said, referring to Brooklyn’s 1-3 record against Chicago in the regular season. “We just been really inconsistent at times – we got comfortable during the regular season when we got leads as well as we did tonight. Tonight our focus was for 48 minutes.”
Funny how the urgency takes hold when the wiggle room vanishes. “You’ve just got to know that it’s win or go home,” said Wallace, whose 14 points, six rebounds and two blocks mattered less than the aggressiveness he showed, particularly on defense (his counterpart, Luol Deng, got sideways with just six points on 3-of-11 shooting).
“There’s no, ‘Well, OK, we’ll just chalk this one and come back tomorrow.’ We don’t have 82 games to kind of fix things. Four losses and we’re at home. And all the little nick-nack things and petty things that you had to deal with during the regular season have to be thrown out the window now.”
Swapping East Rutherford, N.J., for their fancy new digs, the Nets brought to their new home an almost entirely new team. That bunch got off to an unrealistically perky start – 11-4 through November for East Coach of the Month Avery Johnson, who was gone before their full reversal in December (5-11) was complete.
The parts didn’t always fit, especially with Williams out of shape, aching in his ankles and generally cranky about it all. Interim coach P.J. Carlesimo steered the Nets to the best winning percentage in franchise history (.648) but there still were hiccups late in the regular season, including a loss to Toronto and a scare against Indiana.
But Williams shed some weight, got specialized treatment on his ankles and came back from a getaway All-Star break in Miami looking like a new player, as in, the old D-Will. Guys around him got healthier and more comfortable playing with him, even as Williams’ bursts and jump shots improved.
The Nets’ attention to detail picked up. They have made it routine to get Lopez active early, because of the good things that usually follow. Just run to the rim, big fella. As forward Reggie Evans said: “I have so much confidence up to the point where I know he’s gonna bring it every night. I won’t worry about him … we’ve already been talking about this moment and stuff. Typical Lope – here early, ready to roll, and he did what he did. You can’t really argue, one of the top two big men in the league by far.”
There was hardly a thing to dislike, as “Brooklyn basketball” played to an identity Saturday rather than just a marketing slogan. Highlights abounded, from vet Jerry Stackhouse singing the anthem to Williams swiping the ball and racing downcourt for a reverse dunk.
Chicago was the team in off-day disarray, with a lot of its fans wondering if Noah’s sore right foot (plantar fasciitis) can heal enough again to allow him on the court. Failing that, some who noticed All-Star guard Derrick Rose on the visitors’ bench might be wondering if Noah’s heart could be transplanted into Rose’s chest. The healthiest guy on Chicago’s roster might be the one who hasn’t played since last April 28.
Still, this one was about Brooklyn, so much so that some were bemoaning the Nets’ failure to chase down the No. 3 seed, considering the second-round showdown it might have set up with the Knicks.
For now, though, one Brooklyn postseason game that went right nearly 57 years after the last one went wrong was cause enough for anticipation.
Williams, touting “ball movement, defensively being attentive and helping each other out,” called it “really unselfish basketball.” And “fun basketball.”
“We’ve had ups and downs all season,” the point guard said. “But I think we always expected to be in the playoffs. and hopefully [we're] clicking at the right time.”
NEW YORK – Think of the difference between the NBA’s regular season and its postseason like this: You’re taking a college course that meets four times weekly, covers a fresh topic each class and grades you on daily multiple-choice quizzes, each of which represents only a sliver of your overall mark.
Then, late in the semester, everything changes: twice a week sessions, same narrow subject matter drilled down into again and again and one lengthy, hand-cramping essay exam at the end that makes or breaks your final grade.
The former is the regular season. The latter, the playoffs. Some teams are better at shifting gears than others.
“That’s NBA basketball,” Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said before the Bulls’ shootaround Saturday morning. They went through their workout/walk-through at a gym on Manhattan’s west side but cross over to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center for Game 1 of their first-round series Saturday night against the Nets.
“That’s what you enjoy. That’s the challenge of it,” Thibodeau said. “But you’re playing against a great team. To me, you play the regular season to put yourself in the best position you can. But once that’s been determined, now you’ve got to go out and try to get it done.”
For a gym rat and grinder like Thibodeau, the playoffs are an opportunity to lock in on one opponent for as many as seven straight games. So it’s all about adjustments in between, from one to the next. Back-to-backs are over, there always is time for practice and what worked one night might be the thing your foe takes away from you the next from tipoff to final horn.
Of course, the smart guys at the other end of the floor are doing precisely the same thing.
“You have to earn your wings” Thibodeau said. “You’ve got to be at your best. You’ve got to have a lot of toughness. You have to be able to get through things.”
In Chicago’s case, that means injuries. The playoffs lend a different approach to those, too. On one hand, there’s recovery time between games. On the other, every game a hobbled player sits out gets him two, three or four extra days of healing.
The Bulls’ most pressing injury belongs to center Joakim Noah, hampered by plantar fasciitis in his right foot. Noah warmed up for shootaround, then had a long chat with Thibodeau at center court. He was considered a game-time decision even to test his foot in limited minutes.
Forward Taj Gibson, who is back from a sprained left knee and healed enough to don a smaller brace than he had been wearing, said: “Anytime we can give Jo time to heal up and rest, it’s great. We were in the same position last year when Joakim turned his ankle [in the first-round elimination by Philadelphia]. We’re just trying to give him some time to get back and get right.”
That puts pressure on Gibson and likely starter veteran Nazr Mohammed to contain Brooklyn’s All-Star big man, Brook Lopez. Said Gibson: “We’ve got to throw bodies at him. We’ve got to be strong with fouls. Just got to contest a lot of shots.”
Stretching the schedule out in the playoffs also provides even more time for injured Bulls guard Derrick Rose – who has yet to play since blowing out the anterior cruciate ligament in 2012′s playoff opener – to theoretically get healthier. Thibodeau repeated the team’s stance that it will give Rose minutes whenever he’s ready for them – “that’d be fine” even in mid-series, the coach said – before veering close to saying what most people have assumed.
“I mean, most likely [he's] out, but you never know,” Thibodeau said. “The playoffs are stretched out, too, so you have to factor that in. Who knows another week from now where he is. You always want to leave that possibility open.”
Rose is on the roster. There’s nothing to be gained from ruling him out. But Noah’s injury and day-to-day status is the one matters most to Chicago now.
BROOKLYN – The Brooklyn Nets gave one away on Thursday, blowing an early 16-point lead and falling to the very undermanned Chicago Bulls, 92-90. Ultimately, the loss may not mean anything, because the Nets still have a 1 1/2 game lead on the Bulls for fourth place in the Eastern Conference and face Lottery teams, against whom they’re 29-6 this season, in five of their last seven games.
A fourth-place finish in the East would give the Nets home-court advantage in first round, likely against Atlanta or Chicago. A loss in that series would be a disappointment, especially when you consider Brooklyn’s payroll. A win would set them up to lose in four or five games to the Miami Heat.
Other than losing in the first round, there’s no avoiding that fate, which has basically been the path the Nets have been on for the last couple of weeks, since the Knicks and Pacers started playing well again.
Injuries have been an issue. Deron Williams has missed just three games this season, but was clearly not at his best for the first 50 games, dealing with sore ankles and other various ailments. He’s been much better since the All-Star break, but Joe Johnson has had a couple of different injuries since then. Brook Lopez‘s foot injury in late November is what really knocked the Nets off track after a strong start. And Gerald Wallace, in standard Gerald Wallace fashion, has been banged up too.
The Nets have looked like a great team at times. They have road wins in Boston, Oklahoma City, New York and Indiana. But, other than a 12-2 stretch after P.J. Carlesimo took over for Avery Johnson, success has always been rather fleeting.
Carlesimo made some minor changes, gave Mirza Teletovic a shot in the rotation after the break, and is now giving MarShon Brooks more consistent playing time than he’s had all season. But he has been pretty vanilla with his lineups, and that’s where the Nets may be leaving something on the table.
Of Lopez’s 2,079 minutes on the floor, 1,639 (79 percent) have been played with either Reggie Evans or Kris Humphries at power forward. Neither Evans nor Humphries, of course, spaces the floor very well.
Teletovic is very different from Evans or Humphries, in that he can shoot from beyond five feet. But he has played just 112 minutes at the four next to Lopez.
Andray Blatchehas also shot the ball well out to 19 feet or so. But he has played just 86 minutes with Lopez. The Nets’ five best players are arguably Williams, Johnson, Wallace, Blatche and Lopez, a group that has played just 20 minutes together over four games this season.
One of the best lineups the Nets have had this season is a small one. Williams, Keith Bogans, Johnson, Wallace and Lopez have outscored their opponents by 18.3 points per 100 possessions in 107 minutes together. Now, those numbers are skewed somewhat by a couple of late-December games against the Bobcats and Cavs, but that lineup has played just seven minutes together since the All-Star break.
In total, Lopez has played just 242 minutes with someone other than Blatche, Evans, Humphries or Teletovic at power forward. And those minutes have been very good, especially defensively.
Nets efficiency with Brook Lopez on the floor
Other (small lineups)
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
When asked about his lineups, Carlesimo has said that he goes with matchups. But he has obviously been leaning heavily on Evans of late, even using him on two crucial offensive possessions in the final minute of Thursday’s loss, thinking Evans might get the Nets a second chance with an offensive rebound.
The Nets have actually been better offensively with Evans on the floor (scoring 105.4 points per 100 possessions) than with him off the floor (103.8), but most of those off-floor minutes have come with Humphries, similarly limited offensively, at power forward.
This is why it’s hard to know if we’ve seen the best of the Nets this season. Those 242 minutes of small-ball aren’t a lot to go on. And neither are the 86 minutes Lopez has played with Blatche.
Lopez is Brooklyn’s most important player on both ends of the floor. And in the playoffs, his minutes should surely increase from the 30.7 per game he’s played in the regular season. Does that mean that Blatche will be limited to just 10-12 minutes, or will we actually see the two on the floor together? Is there a matchup (Josh Smith, perhaps) that will allow Carlesimo to play Wallace at the four?
In four games against Atlanta (all under Carlesimo), the Nets have played small a total of seven minutes. So the answer to that last question is probably “no.”
Now, it’s unfair to really condemn the coach for not taking more chances with his rotation. He took over in the middle of the season, with the Nets going through a serious rough patch. More than anything, they just needed to get their best players playing well. And obviously, Lopez and Williams are doing just that.
Still, we have to wonder if this team has reached its potential.
DALLAS –Deron Williams swears he didn’t so much as wink at Mark Cuban seated baseline as the Brooklyn Nets point guard delivered a 31-point, six-assist wrecking ball to the Dallas Mavericks’ rapidly collapsing playoff chances.
A chip on his shoulder? Not if you believe Williams. Wednesday’s 113-96 win was just like any other his team badly needs. And after inflicting a world of hurt on Cuban and his club, Williams didn’t gloatingly tweet the Mavs owner a la Kobe Bryant, who went for 38 after being tweaked by the outspoken ownera couple of weeks ago.
No, the sharp stick to Cuban’s side was surprisingly wielded by interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo.
“I don’t know,” Carlesimo said when asked if Williams, who scored 26 points in the second half and 13 in the fourth quarter, carried a chip on his shoulder. “But, I’m sure [Williams] understands you’re not going to expect intelligent statements from Mark anyhow.”
Williams spurned his hometown team last July as a free agent when he chose to re-sign with the Nets for a max deal of five years and $98 million. Afterward, Williams said he was surprised that Cuban, who was busy in Los Angeles filming the TV show “Shark Tank,” didn’t make the trip to New York to personally sell him on joining the Mavs. Williams said Cuban’s absence helped shape his decision to play in Brooklyn. Cuban responded by saying on a local radio program that his club is actually better off without Williams and the max deal he would have received weighing down the payroll.
“I always get up for the games at home because it’s home and given the situation,” Williams said, who came as close as any time previously of acknowledging a rift with Cuban by referencing ‘the situation.’ “Honestly, I just tried to attack it as a regular game. My thought process was the same today as it is any other game. I didn’t need anything special. It was just a regular game for us, but a big game for us.”
As the Mavs (32-36) limp away from a 14th home loss and the sour opening of a crucial six-game homestand dominated by East opponents, the Nets (40-28) skipped off to sunny Los Angeles for a couple of days of rest and practice before seeking a third consecutive victory on this brutal eight-game trek against the Clippers.
Williams, who hails from a Dallas suburb about 25 miles from the American Airlines Center, is playing his best basketball of the season, rejuvenated from an All-Star break cocktail of platelet-rich plasma therapy, juice cleanser and cortisone shots into both his ailing ankles.
He’s put up 31 points in consecutive games and is averaging 23.9 ppg on 48 percent shooting since the break. Williams refused to talk about his health, offering only a smart-aleck answer when asked if he’s feeling as good as he has all season.
“I really appreciate your concern with my health,” Williams said. “I really do. Thank you.”
We’ll just have to trust the numbers, his teammates, his coach and what he’s telling his coach.
“I kept telling him I would get him out a minute or two in the second half,” said Carlesimo, who played Williams all but 52 seconds of the second half and 41 minutes in all. “And he goes, ‘Are you watching what’s going on out there? So, obviously we didn’t take him out until the the end. I’m not saying that’s as good as we can play, but that’s one of our best games obviously all year.”
Williams got needed help from center Brook Lopez, who matched the 38 points he scored last season in Dallas. Andray Blatche hit six of seven shots and scored all of his 14 points in the first half. Reggie Evans pulled down 22 rebounds in 32 minutes. Gerald Wallace came up with five steals. Joe Johnson dished five assists.
Unlike a few nights ago when the Nets failed to catch their cross-town rival in the East standings by being embarrassed on their home floor by the Atlanta Hawks, they turned up the defensive pressure and poured it on Dallas with 66 points in the second half. Williams and Lopez combined for 46.
With 14 games left and six to go on this so-far 2-0 road trip that Williams said will “define our season,” we are left to wonder where this team, that has mastered the bit of game-to-game inconsistency, will fare now that Williams is again playing like an All-Star.
When the fourth-place Nets finally return home on April 4, after also road-tripping through Portland, Denver, Utah and Cleveland, the No. 2 seed could be within their grasp or a first-round series at home could be falling through their fingers. Brooklyn is two games back of No. 2 Indiana and two games ahead of No. 5 Atlanta.
“This is a good trip for us at the right time,” Williams said. “It’ll define the season for us because we have some tough games ahead of us. We have a lot of days off, but we also have a lot of back-to-backs, which is tough. We’ve got to maintain focus for the rest of the trip and make sure that we don’t slip up.”
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 we turned on League Pass last night at the home office and saw the Warriors-Pacers game on the dockett, we knew we had our pick for game of the night early on. Turns out, we were right. Although the final score reflects a bit of a one-sided affair, Indiana-Golden State turned out to be a dandy. Nothing like seeing two teams who are good-if-not-great at what they do: the Warriors on offense (with their No. 9 overall rated crew on that end) and the Pacers on defense (they’re No. 1 in defensive rating). Though a late Roy Hibbert-David Lee-Steph Curry scuffle became the storyline here, we enjoyed watching the Pacers take on one of the NBA’s best offenses and use its size and length to fluster anything the Warriors did around the basket.
LeBron’s dunking exhibitions may end — Aside from Harlem Shake videos, perhaps one of the bigger growing viral trends around the web are the pregame dunking exhibitions that Heat star LeBron James has been putting on. As he and his Miami comrades have — like the L.A. Clippers – been showing off their acrobatics in the warm-up lines, James often steals the show. Just check out this one he pulled off on the visiting Cavs two nights ago:
James isn’t too happy, though, with the flak he’s catching from those wondering why he won’t participate in the Slam Dunk Contest if he can pull off moves like this, writes Michael Wallace of ESPN.com:
James has been executing contest-worthy dunks during warmups, but has been unwilling throughout his career to participate in the league’s dunk contest during All-Star Weekend despite pressure from fans and former players.
“Maybe I should stop because it’s making a lot of people mad about what I do,” James said after he scored a season-high 40 points and had a career-high 16 assists in Tuesday’s double-overtime win against Sacramento. “They’re like, ‘Well, if you can do it in warmups, why don’t you (want to) be in the dunk contest? Stop it.’ “
James was in the act again before Tuesday’s game, when he lobbed the ball into the air, caught it off the bounce and shifted the ball between his legs before slamming it through the rim. The Heat have a reputation for late-arriving crowds, but more fans have filled into the arena’s lower bowl before games with cell phones or video recorders in hand waiting for James to take the court before games.
The Heat have started to stream video of James’ pregame dunks on the team’s official website, and owner Micky Arison has used Twitter to encourage fans to arrive to games early if they want to see the show James puts on.
James said Tuesday he wasn’t aware of how popular the routine has grown, because it’s something he’s always done. More Heat players have gotten involved, including Chris Andersen, Mike Miller, Ray Allen, Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers, who has been James’ stiffest competition of late.
“I’ve been hearing about it,” James said. “But I don’t really watch TV or go on the Internet too much. As a team, it’s kind of our new thing. I’ve had some good ones, but (Chalmers) doing a 360? That’s impressive. We have a little epidemic right now. It’s kind of like the Harlem Shake.”
Nets’ Lopez delivers in clutch — Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo has taken flak of late for his tendency to pull All-Star center Brook Lopez down the stretch of games. He changed things up last night and kept Lopez in the game down the stretch and the All-Star came through, hitting several clutch baskets to salt away the Nets’ win over the Hornets. It was a matchup of NBA brothers to boot as Brook Lopez took on his brother, Robin, in a game where the Lopez twins’ mother found rooting interest hard to come by, writes Tim Bontemps of the New York Post:
“I’ve kept my confidence through this entire week,” Lopez said after finishing with 20 points, seven rebounds, five assists and four blocks. “It’s definitely good to get a win like this, but I try not to put too much stock into one game. … It is a marathon and not a sprint.”
Perhaps it just took facing off against his twin brother Robin, the starting center for the Hornets, to get him back on track.
“It’s always fun,” Brook Lopez said of facing off against his twin, who finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots. “[Robin’s] always very physical. Playing against him is enjoyable. … How many other people in the world get to experience something like this?”
The two brothers had a large cheering section in the stands, as their mom, Debbie Ledford, was cheering them on alongside their older brother, Alex, and his family.
Brook had said before the game his mom would be wearing either a Nets hat with a Hornets shirt or vice-versa, and she did exactly that, wearing a black Nets hat to go with a black Hornets T-shirt.
“It’s difficult, because they play the same position, they play the same minutes,” Ledford told The Post. “So, if anything happens, they kind of cancel out each other out. … One is successful at the expense of the other.
“All I hope is that they both have good games, but it’s difficult. You can’t choose which team you want to win.”
Bucks’ Dalembert suspended vs. Mavs — This hasn’t been the best season in veteran big man Samuel Dalembert‘s career. On the court, he’s averaging his lowest scoring (7.0 ppg), rebounding (5.8 rpg) and minutes average (16.7 mpg) since his rookie season. Off it in Milwaukee, he dealt with an icy relationship with former coach Scott Skiles (read more here). Maybe his problems can’t be traced solely to Skiles, though, as he was suspended last night for a pattern of behavior, writes Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel:
Bucks general manager John Hammond announced Dalembert was suspended for one game without pay due to a violation of team policy.
Bucks coach Jim Boylan said the suspension was due to a pattern of behavior rather than one specific incident.
“Everybody on the team, players, coaches, staff, they have certain responsibilities to the team,” Boylan said in his pre-game remarks. “When those responsibilities aren’t met, there are consequences.
“So Sam has not met some of those and the consequence is he is suspended for tonight’s game.”
Dalembert has been serving as the primary backup to starting center Larry Sanders.
Boylan said “it’s more of a pattern” when referring to the reason for the suspension. “It reached a point where something needed to be done, so we decided this was the appropriate action to take,” he said.
Former Bucks coach Scott Skiles benched Dalembert in the Nov. 24 home game against Chicago due to a lateness issue and started Przybilla at center. Dalembert did not play at all in the game but returned to the lineup when the Bucks played in Chicago two nights later.
Dalembert said later it was a “misunderstanding.”
“Coach said there were certain times to be there, and I was in the building,” Dalembert said in November. “I thought it was a little harsh. My team could have used me out there.
“That was the punishment. Nobody told me nothing before the game. So I found out the next day. If there’s a miscommunication and a misunderstanding … everybody misunderstands stuff but we communicate.
Lakers’ Buss helped Jazz stay put — Back in the mid-1980s, the Utah Jazz were a mostly fledgling franchise whose future in Salt Lake City seemed iffy. In fact, the city of Miami was interested in buying and moving the team there in 1985. That year, nine different owners were in line in Salt Lake City to buy the team from Sam Battistone, with one of the potential owners being the late Larry Miller. Miller was the Jazz’s owner from 1985 until his passing in 2009 as Utah experienced tremendous success during the John Stockton-Karl Malone era. But had it not been for Lakers owner Jerry Buss during a 1985 NBA Board of Governors meeting, writes Steve Luhm of the Salt Lake Tribune, the Jazz might have been Miami’s team:
According to the late Larry Miller, Buss played an undeniable role in keeping the Jazz from moving to Miami in 1985.
When Miller wanted to buy 50 percent of the team, Buss stood up for him during a Board of Governors meeting in New York City.
Without the support, the board might have rejected Miller’s ownership bid, which would have left the door open for a buyer from Miami to purchase the franchise.
Nine groups, apparently, stood in line to buy the franchise from owner Sam Battistone before Miller joined the battle to keep it in Utah.
Battistone was seeking limited partners, but Miller didn’t think that approach wouldn’t work.
He believed Battistone needed one partner, not several, and stepped forward with an $8 million offer to become co-owner.
Even though Miami bid $20 million for the franchise, Battistone accepted Miller’s offer because he also wanted the team to remain in Utah.
At that point, Miller went to the Board of Governors, seeking approval for his ownership bid. Atlanta’s Ted Turner attended the meeting. So did Jerry West, Red Auerbach and David Stern, the NBA’s new commissioner.
When Miller began his presentation, San Antonio’s Angelo Drossos quickly emerged as a skeptic.
Drossos started questioning Miller, often interrupting before he could finish his response.
“After the fifth interruption, Buss, who I had never met, interrupted Angelo,” Miller recalled. “He said, ‘Angelo, why don’t you shut up and let him answer a question?’ “
Then, Buss “started asking questions that led to a discussion of my numbers. … Within half an hour, Jerry said, ‘I’m satisfied. Let’s go with him.’ “
After Buss’ endorsement, Miller quickly became co-owner of the Jazz.
“Jerry saved me that day,” Miller wrote.
Mavs’ Cunningham may be done for season — Rookie Jared Cunningham has only appeared in just eight games for the Mavericks this season, spending much of 2012-13 as a member of Dallas’ NBA D-League club, the Texas Legends. He’s suffering from tendinitis in his knee and is already setting his sights on playing again in 2013-14, writes Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News:
The No. 24 overall pick said Tuesday that he’s suffering from tendinitis in his right knee and is going to be out “for a while.” He said his sights already have been set toward the 2013-14 season.
“My goal is to be completely ready for summer league,” Cunningham said. “I want to get my body back to the way it was in college so I have my athleticism.”
Coach Rick Carlisle said it was critical that Cunningham get healthy.
“I wouldn’t call it a lost season,” Carlisle said. “He’s gotten a lot of work in, and he’s gotten a fair amount of experience and he now understands what an NBA season is about. But we’re going to do the right thing. We’re going to make sure he gets healthy. And we’ll go from there.”
The Oregon State product’s start in the NBA was derailed when a hamstring kept him out of the summer league. From there, a thumb injury and knee issue flared up.
Now, Cunningham will stay with the Mavericks and work on conditioning his right knee. He was walking with a slight limp after shootaround.
“It’s best that I stay here and take advantage of everything they have to help my rehab,” Cunningham said. “It’s been a tough year. But I’m looking forward to getting right for the summer.”
ICYMI of the night: This Chris Paul-to-Blake Griffin alley-oop is only No. 4 on our nightly Top 10 countdown, but it’s No. 1 in our hearts around here …:
HOUSTON –Brook Lopez took his rightful spot on the glittering stage Sunday tonight and was introduced as a first-time member of the Eastern Conference All-Stars, and the lone representative of the Brooklyn Nets.
The face (and supposed savior) of the franchise, point guard Deron Williams, had his three-year All-Star run snapped by a substandard half-season.
That Lopez and not Williams was in Houston serves as a timely reminder that while D-Will might be the club’s star name, Lopez has been its most valuable player. He’s been the key to the Nets being 31-22 heading into the season’s stretch run. Brooklyn is 17-8 since coach Avery Johnson was fired days after Williams criticized the former coach’s offense as reason for his shooting struggles.
“I’m just trying to help our team in any way possible,” Lopez said. “I think our team has been pretty successful, but we’ve been a little inconsistent. But when we’re at our best, I think we’re capable of competing with anyone. I think our goal for the second half is just to become more consistent throughout the rest of the season and in each specific game.”
The Nets’ big man — whom the franchise dangled for so long in pursuit of a trade for unhappy Dwight Howard — initially didn’t garner enough votes from the East’s coaches to be one of the squad’s seven reserves. Omitted despite averaging 19.0 ppg — tops among the league’s centers, including Howard — on 52 percent shooting. Despite picking up his rebounding, especially on the offensive glass. Despite, on average, blocking more than two shots a game, ranking sixth-best among forwards and centers.
And any advanced metrics guru will tell you that no player boasting Lopez’s superb player efficiency rating of 24.8 — the league average is 15.0 — gets left off an All-Star team. Yet, it took Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo suffering a season-ending ACL injury for the 7-foot Lopez to get the commissioner’s blessing to join the East’s crowded 6-foot-11-and-over club with starters Kevin Garnett and Chris Bosh, and reserves Joakim Noah and Tyson Chandler.
Vindication for a monster season post-Dwightmare, right?
“No,” said Lopez, who was the last of the East reserves to make an appearance in the second quarter and made the most of his 11 total minutes (three points, five rebounds, three assists). “I wanted to come out and play my best basketball possible. That’s how I approach every game. I ignored all the trade talks, everything in the offseason. I don’t read much in the papers or ESPN.com or anything like that. I was just focused on bettering myself as a player and putting myself in the best situation possible for whatever happens.”
And so what about D-Will? The hits kept coming this weekend with USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo saying that Williams ”was not in the best shape” and “a little overweight” during the Summer Games in London. Williams has struggled with various injuries this season, although he’s missed just three games, while his production across the board has declined to levels of his first two seasons in the league.
“He’s getting a good rest right now,” Lopez said. “I think he’s confident. Our team is doing well right now. He’s the face of the franchise, our leader, he drastically affects what we do. We’re doing well right now and that’s mostly because of him.”
Lopez is clearly a Stanford man — smart and savvy.
He said he’s optimistic that Williams will play better in the final 29 games. That can only be encouraging for a team that has endured early turmoil and high expectations, yet is just 2 1/2 games behind the New York Knicks for the East’s second seed.
The Nets play at home Tuesday against Milwaukee, then at Milwaukee on Wednesday. Three of their next four are at Barclays Center, but it would be easy against West playoff teams Houston and Memphis.
“Like I said, when we’re at our best I think we’re capable of competing with anyone,” Lopez said. “It’s just a matter of being consistent.”
HOUSTON – NBA All-Star Weekend is upon us and it’s time to take a break from the condensed schedule to celebrate the best basketball players in the world. Before we get to Sunday’s game (8 p.m. ET, TNT), we’ll dig deep into each All-Star’s first-half statistics.
You already know the basics (scoring, rebounding, etc). So here are some noteworthy, below-the-surface numbers regarding each of the 13 Eastern Conference All-Stars, coming from the new NBA.com/stats site. Click on the nuggets below to go into even more detail.
All stats are through Wednesday, Feb. 13. Minimum requirements were set at 100 field-goal attempts for shooting stats, 500 minutes for non-shooting stats and 100 minutes for lineup data, unless otherwise noted.
While James Harden of the hometown Rockets will be in the lineup to serve as unofficial host for the 2013 NBA All-Star Game in Houston, evidently the voters — fans and coaches — haven’t received the memo that the NBA is making a big splash in Brooklyn this season.
Harden, who was traded from Oklahoma City four days before the season opener and made a splash by scoring 37 and 45 points in his first two games, will make his All-Star debut in his brand new home town.
Yet despite their being the hottest team in the league with nine wins in the last 10 games and currently holding down the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference, the Nets were shut out when the reserves were announced for the 2013 NBA All-Star Game Thursday night.
A poll of the league’s head coaches added seven players to each team.
Chris Bosh joined teammates LeBron James and Dwayne Wade on the East team, making the defending NBA champion Heat the only team with three players that will take part in the 62nd All-Star Game, which will be played at Houston’s Toyota Center on Feb. 17 (TNT, 8:30p.m. ET).
In the Western Conference, the Spurs’ old reliable twosome of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker were voted in for their 14th and fifth times, respectively, while the vote split up potential duos from other teams.
– Chris Bosh, Heat — If they were the Three Tenors, LeBron James would be Pavarotti, Dwyane Wade would be Domingo and Chris Bosh will always be “that other guy.” Numbers aren’t flashy, but he sacrifices his game to make it all work. | Highlights
Tyson Chandler, Knicks — He averages a double-double of 12.1 points-10.9 rebounds, leads the league in shooting (.674) and defends the rim as if he were a hungry fat man protecting the last cheeseburger on the planet. Justice is done. | Highlights
Luol Deng, Bulls – Coaches love the lunch pail players, the guys who show up for work every night. He leads the NBA in minutes, is his team’s top scorer and top defender in a season when the Bulls are surviving without Derrick Rose. | Highlights
Paul George, Pacers — He’s not just keeping the seat warm for Danny Granger, but playing like the Pacers’ MVP. With six double-doubles in the last two-plus weeks, he closed fast and has led Indiana’s surge after a slow start. | Highlights
Jrue Holiday, Sixers – In a season when Philly fans search for rare and exotic sightings of Bigfoot and Andrew Bynum, the dynamic guard is the reason to go to the games. He’s the only player in league averaging 19 points and nine assists. | Highlights
Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers — Look past the Cavs’ 11-32 record at these more pleasant numbers: 20.7 points, 5.7 assists, 39.9 3FG%, 20.7 PER. And the kid is only 20. Are the coaches already buttering him up for free agency? | Highlights
Joakim Noah, Bulls — The numbers say it all — 12.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.1 blocks, 1.3 steals per game. The hyperactive one is having the finest season of his career and symbolizes coach Tom Thibodeau’s driven attitude. | Highlights
The lowdown:The pair of Bulls on the frontline probably squeezed Nets center Brook Lopez out of a spot. Deron Williams would have been everyone’s preseason pick, but struggling with his shot didn’t help. Maybe coaches also didn’t like his griping that led to his coach, Avery Johnson, getting fired. You could have made a case for Boston’s leading scorer Paul Pierce, but with Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo already voted in by the fans, it’s unlikely the coaches wanted to reward the 8th-seeded Celtics with a third man. Do you really see a group of coaches warming up to J.R. Smith? Brandon Jennings of the Bucks and Greg Monroe of the Pistons are just too far under the radar.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers — The plan was to build Blazers into a playoff team next summer. But on a roster with less depth than a wading pool, L.A. scores (20.6), rebounds (8.6) and keeps them as a surprise club in the mix this season. | Highlights
Tim Duncan, Spurs — Oh, so you foolishly left him out of the All-Star Game for the first time last season? Well, the 36-year-old geezer responds by turning back the clock and turning up the heat to keep the Spurs as a real threat in the West. | Highlights
James Harden, Rockets – A bit ironic that The Beard’s first All-Star honor comes just when he’s shot 28-97 (.289) in his last five games. But he’s shown he can carry the mantle of the top dog and will represent the home team in Houston. | Highlights
David Lee, Warriors — Statistically, a no-brainer as the top PF in the West — 19.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists. His biggest challenge was probably splitting votes with teammate Stephen Curry on a Warriors team that has truly surprised. | Highlights
Tony Parker, Spurs – Coach Gregg Popovich keeps ratcheting up the pressure on him every season by raising the bar of great expectation and Parker goes right on clearing it. Seems the coaches understand just how hard that is to do. | Highlights
Zach Randolph, Grizzlies – You could make an argument for teammate Marc Gasol anchoring the defense. But flip the light switch every night and there’s Z-Bo with 16.1 points and 11.6 rebounds, which add up to a league-leading 27 double-doubles. | Highlights
Russell Westbrook, Thunder – The most polarizing player in the NBA has struggled all season with his shot, but ranks in the top five in steals and the top six in assists while churning away with fellow All-Star Kevin Durant to build OKC’s league-best record. | Highlights
The lowdown: As difficult as it was to pare down the list, imagine how much harder things might have been if Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Kevin Love were healthy/up to par. In many cases in the West, it became an intramural competition with Lee beating out Curry, Randolph elbowing Marc Gasol aside and Aldridge getting the nod over rookie Damian Lillard. The surging Nuggets were overlooked, maybe because they’re too well-balanced. The Clippers’ turbo-charger off the bench, Jamal Crawford, was also snubbed. But if anybody’s got a reason to complain here, it’s Curry. a
The San Antonio Spurs are so accustomed to flying under the radar by now that it’s surprising they haven’t changed the name of the team to the Stealth Bombers.
So in a way, it’s business as usual as one of the biggest questions when the reserves for the 2013 NBA All-Star Game are announced tonight on TNT (7 p.m. ET) is whether the longtime partners Tim Duncan and Tony Parker will somehow get overlooked for their sterling work in the first half of the season.
The 36-year-old Duncan has been spry, spirited and splendid in his work at both ends of the floor and Parker continues to raise the level of his game with each season.
Yet the Spurs, who currently have the third-best record in the NBA, did not have a player voted onto the Western Conference starting lineup in the fan balloting. The reserves, seven for each team, are selected by poll of the league’s coaches.
Much of the focus in the Eastern Conference will be in the middle of the lineup, where Miami’s Chris Bosh hopes to join Heat teammates LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in the All-Star Game, but faces strong competition from Tyson Chandler of the Knicks, Joakim Noah of the Bulls and Brook Lopez of the Nets.
The 62nd NBA All-Star Game will be played Feb. 17 at Houston’s Toyota Center (8:30 p.m. ET).