Posts Tagged ‘Charles Barkley’

Morning shootaround: Sept. 14

VIDEO: Remembering the great Moses Malone


Malone helped shape Olajuwon’s game, career | World Peace ready to return, but where? | A pressure shift in Miami from Bosh to Dragic | Moses the NBA’s most underappreciated great player

No. 1: Malone helped shape Olajuwon’s game, career — Moses Malone, who died Sunday at 60, was a pioneer, a teen phenom who would go on to become a three-time MVP, all-time NBA great and a Hall of Famer who ranks among the biggest and best players the game has seen. But who knew he served as a tutor and guide to another one of the NBA’s all-time greats, Hakeem Olajuwon, during the formative stages of The Dream’s Hall of Fame career? Our very own Fran Blinebury tells the story of Moses the mentor and the special bond between these two NBA titans:

It was 1982 and Malone had just won his second MVP award with the Rockets (he’d claim his third the next season). Olajuwon had just finished his first season at the University of Houston.

“Oh Lordy,” NBA veteran Robert Reid remembered years later. “The place got real quiet. It was on that play, at that minute, when a lot of us stood there and wondered, ‘What do we have here?’ ”

What a shrinking world had in this most unlikely union that brought together a made-in-America big man off the streets of Petersburg, Va., with a wide-eyed sponge from Lagos, Nigeria, was perhaps the greatest teacher-student class project in basketball history.

Malone, who died Sunday at 60, combined with Olajuwon to total 54,355 career points, 29,960 rebounds, 5,563 blocked shots, 24 All-Star appearances, four MVP awards, three Finals MVP trophies and two places in the Naismith Hall of Fame.

Theirs was a relationship born in the school of hard knocks and forged by the white-hot fire of mutual and insatiable competitive drive, out of range of the TV cameras, away from the prying eyes, where all that mattered was how much you had to give.

“I would never have accomplished what I did if I did not play against Moses at Fonde,” Olajuwon said before his own Hall of Fame induction in 2008. “I knew the rules. I knew the basics of the game and what you were supposed to do. But he is the one that taught me how to do it.

“With Moses there were no rests, no breaks. He was working every time down the court — scoring, rebounding or just making you feel his body. He would laugh when he slammed into you. If you tried to take a breath, he went by you or over you. There was no stop.”

They were opposite sides of the same coin. Where Malone would bump and grind and wear down an opponent with his sheer physical play and relentless pursuit of the ball, Olajuwon wore opponents out with an array or spins, fakes, double- and triple-pumps that were more varied and colorful than a painter’s palette.

“I usually couldn’t go through Moses, because he was just so strong,” Olajuwon said. “So I had to learn to use speed and agility to go around him. That’s how I built my game.”

*** (more…)

Nash headed for Suns’ Ring of Honor

VIDEO: Steve Nash top 10 career assists

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Clear the calendar for Oct. 30 if you’re a Steve Nash fan and a fan of the game of basketball.

That’s the night Nash will join Charles Barkley, Cotton Fitzsimmons, Alvan AdamsTom Chambers, Kevin Johnson, Dick Van Arsdale, Jerry Colangelo and others in the Phoenix Suns’ Ring of Honor, the team announced today.

Nash is busy these days serving as general manager of Canada’s senior men’s national team and removed from the day-to-day activities that consumed him for years during his stellar NBA career.

A back-to-back winner of the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award, Nash was at the center of a turnaround for the Suns a decade ago that also helped revolutionize the NBA game. He was a six-time All-Star (eight overall) during his tenure with the Suns and also finished his playing career as the franchise-leader in assists, 3-pointers made and free throw percentage.

Nash will be the 14th member of the Suns Ring of Honor.

Morning Shootaround — August 10

VIDEO: LeBron James’ top 10 plays from the playoffs

MJ says he’d beat LeBron 1-on-1 | Exum injury doesn’t destroy Jazz | Time to make room for women coaches in NBA


No. 1: MJ says he’d beat LeBron 1-on-1, all-time Bulls would top all-time Lakers — When Michael Jordan speaks, we all listen. And he said plenty over the weekend at his annual Flight School, answering plenty of pertinent questions for the campers in attendance, including how he’d handle LeBron James in a game of 1-on-1 in his prime and responded to Shaq‘s challenge in regards to how the all-time great Bulls teams would fare against an all-time great team of Los Angeles Lakers. He poked Kobe Bryant, too, and even discussed Kwame BrownPatrick Dorsey of has the details: 

What did I think about when Shaq said that the all-time five of the greatest Lakers could beat the Bulls’ five greatest players?

“I just felt like he was just talking. It’s a debate. The thing is that we would never know. I think we would have killed them. He thinks they would have killed us. You guys decide. It’s just a debate.”

Favorite player to play pick-up games with?

“My best pick-up game I’ve ever played was the games and the practices with the [1992] Dream Team. … My team was myself, Scottie Pippen, Patrick Ewing, Larry Bird and Chris Mullin. We played against Magic Johnson, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, David Robinson — that’s five, right? — and we killed ’em.

Note: That’s not five; the other player team’s fifth had to be either Karl Malone, John Stockton or Christian Laettner. There’s also a chance Jordan is misremembering a bit, and he’s talking aboutthis scrimmage covered in-depth by Sports Illustrated, which featured a Jordan-Malone-Ewing-Pippen-Bird five against Magic, Barkley, Robinson, Mullin and Laettner (although a 40-36 final score in favor of Jordan’s team hardly constitutes a “killing.”)

If I had the chance to go one-on-one with Steph Curry or LeBron, which one would I choose to go one-on-one with?

“Right now, or when I was in my prime? Right now? Buddy, I couldn’t beat — well, I’d go against [Stephen] Curry because I’m a little bit bigger than him. So I could kind of back him in. But LeBron is a little bit too big.”

[Note: Take that, 34 percent of America.]

If I had a chance to add another member to team Jordan, who would I hire?

“I’m a big fan of [Mike] Trout, the baseball player. I absolutely love him. I wish I could hire him. But he’s Nike, so I can’t steal Nike’s guys.”

This is the ESPN question. I know it’s going to be all over ESPN. [Note: He was right.]If I was in my prime, could I beat LeBron in a one-on-one game?

[Long pause in which the campers mutter/shout their opinions.]

No question!

[Huge applause.]

What did I see in Kwame Brown when I drafted him [No. 1 overall for the Washington Wizards in 2001]?

“I, along with everybody that was in that draft room, wanted Kwame Brown because of his athleticism, his size, his speed. He was still a young talent, 18-year-old, 19-year-old kid.”

If you went back and you couldn’t play basketball or baseball, what sport would you play?

“Great question. I went to college, I got my degree in cultural geography, and everybody wanted to know what is cultural geography? Well it’s an introduction to meteorology. I always wanted to be the weather man. Don’t laugh. But that’s what I really wanted to do. So if I wasn’t playing basketball or baseball, I was going to tell you what the weather was going to be like tomorrow.”

[Note: Don’t think meteorology is a sport? Tell that to Jim Cantore!]

What kind of advice would I give Kobe Bryant?

[Uncomfortable laughter in the crowd.]

“Actually, Kobe and I are good friends. I like Kobe, we talk a lot, I hope he comes back healthy. I think he’s one of the great players of the game, I think he’s done a lot for the game, and he has a true love for the game of basketball. I absolutely have high regard for Kobe Bryant.

“Even though he stole all my moves, but that’s OK. I still love him like a brother.”

*** (more…)

Morning Shootaround — July 20

Charles Barkley and Steve Kerr mix it up on After Dark with Rick Fox


Paul only cares that Jordan is back in LA | Rockets willing take risk on Lawson | Former Kentucky stars lift Suns to title game | McDermott ready for breakout season under Hoiberg

No. 1: Paul only cares that Jordan is back in LA — At this point, the details no longer matter to Chris Paul. The rumors and speculation of his fractured relationship with DeAndre Jordan and how it almost led to Jordan’s departure for Dallas via free agency was overblown, if you listen to the Los Angeles Clippers’ superstar and his version of the team’s wild and crazy free agent summer. He and Jordan are “brothers,” or as Paul put in Sunday, Jordan is his “big little brother.” Justin Verrier of explains:

While reports indicated that a rift between Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan played a role in the center agreeing to sign a free-agent deal with the Dallas Mavericks before ultimately re-upping with the Los Angeles Clippers, Paul said that it “doesn’t matter” what people say, and that he’s “unbelievably happy” to have him back.

“DeAndre’s like my big little brother,” Paul said before the first annual Players’ Awards at the Penn & Teller theater at the Rio Las Vegas. “We talk a lot more than people ever realize. But it doesn’t matter [what people say]. The only thing that matters is that he’s back.”

After heavy courting from Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and forward Chandler Parsons, Jordan agreed to a four-year max contract with Dallas early in free agency. But after a chaotic chain of events that saw a cavalcade of Clippers personnel — including coach Doc Rivers, Blake Griffin, Paul Pierce and Paul himself — meet with Jordan at his Houston home, the 26-year-old changed his mind and signed a four-year deal with the Clippers worth an estimated $88 million, according to ESPN sources.

“It’s been pretty wild,” said Pierce, who signed a reported three-year, $10 million deal with the Clippers this offseason. “But I think that whole saga really took a form or shape of its own. It got a lot bigger than it was supposed to be, but I made my decision to be a Clipper and DeAndre changed his mind and made his decision to be a Clipper. We’re happy with the way things turned out.”

Pierce, who played for the Washington Wizards last season, said he wasn’t privy to the events before his arrival in L.A., but is encouraged by the result of the sitdown.

“I kind of sat in and voiced what I thought,” Pierce said. “But I was on the outside looking in. I think guys really cleared the air if there was any tension, but a lot of the media made it more than it really was from what I saw. But it was good just to have the main guys who are going to be the main voices on this team in one room. It was really good. Hopefully it can be the start of something special.”


No. 2: Rockets willing to take risk on Lawson — Daryl Morey has never been averse to taking risks in building a championship-caliber team in Houston. His latest move, however, might be his riskiest yet. The addition of former Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson, fresh off of his second DUI in the past six months, could solve a huge issue at the position for the Rockets … provided Lawson cleans up his own issues off the court, of course. It’s a process the Rockets will attack carefully as they attempt to reap the rewards of this risky venture. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle has more:

The Rockets’ pursuit of a playmaker landed them one of the league’s best and a bargain price – but with one huge question mark attached.

The Rockets reached agreement on a deal for Denver point guard Ty Lawson, acquiring the six-year veteran without giving up anyone from their playing rotation, a person with knowledge of the deal said on Sunday. The individual spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal will not be complete until Monday morning.

The move, however, is not without risk. Lawson entered a 30-day private alcohol treatment program last week after his second DUI arrest in the past six months. He has a court appearance scheduled for Aug. 20 in Denver.

Though often targeted in trade talks and especially since Denver drafted Emmanuel Mudiay with the seventh pick of the NBA Draft last month, Lawson’s off-court problems had apparently dramatically reduced the Nuggets’ asking price.

The Rockets will send guard Nick Johnson, forward Kostas Papanikolaou, guard Pablo Prigioni and center Joey Dorsey, along with a protected first-round pick to get Lawson. Only Johnson was expected to have a chance to be in the Rockets playing rotation next season, and in his case, only if he could make the transition to point guard.

The pick that will go to Denver is protected through the lottery. The Rockets will receive Denver’s 2017 second-round pick.

Lawson, 27, has two seasons worth $25.6 million remaining on his contract.

With the move, along with an agreement with forward KJ McDaniels on Sunday, the Rockets move into the luxury tax. They can still sign Jason Terry or other players to veteran minimum contracts, but once they use any of their remaining mid-level exception money to sign second-round pick Montrez Harrell, they will be “hard-capped” and unable to make those offers.

Prigioni is expected to be waived shortly after the deal is official, with only $440,000 of his contract guaranteed. Papanikolaou’s contract, worth $4.7 million, is non-guaranteed if he is waived by Oct. 4, but he and Johnson were considered important parts to a deal.

For the Rockets, Lawson brings the playmaking they had said they wanted since the end of last season and with strengths that match their up-tempo and pick-and-roll style.

While bringing playmaking at point guard that the Rockets had lacked, he is not an ideal fit next to James Harden because he is at his best with the ball in his hands and the Rockets have preferred to keep Harden as their primary ball-handler. Lawson, however, has shown potential as a catch-and-shoot threat, especially on corner 3s where last season he made 42.1 percent of his shots.

While Harden was second in the NBA last season in points scored or produced with his assists, Lawson was seventh. He has made 46.6 percent of his shots and 36.9 percent of his 3-pointers in his career, but has never played with a playmaker to get him the spot-up opportunities he can get while playing with Harden.

Lawson averaged 15.2 points and a career-high 9.6 assists last season, third in the NBA behind Chris Paul and John Wall.

With the deal for Lawson after signing Pat Beverley, Marcus Thornton and Corey Brewer this month, the Rockets go from thin in the backcourt at the end of last season when Beverley was hurt and Prigioni and Terry had to man the point, to unusually deep around Harden.


No. 3: Former Kentucky stars lift Suns to title game — There were enough of them in summer league action this summer to field two teams comprised strictly of former Kentucky Wildcats, both young (Devin Booker) and old (Keith Bogans). A robust group of 13 were on various rosters in Orlando, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. Three of them, Booker, Archie Goodwin and Josh Harrellson, will cap things off today in the championship game in Vegas after combining for 62 points to lift the Phoenix Suns past the New Orleans Pelicans. As Dennis Varney of the Herald Leader explains, it’s good to be Blue these days:

The Phoenix Suns’ trio of former Kentucky stars combined for 62 points, including going 9-for-19 from three-point range, in the team’s 93-87 victory over the previously undefeated New Orleans Pelicans in the Las Vegas Summer League semifinals on Sunday night.

Rookie Devin Booker led the way with 31 points, which tied the single-game high for the Las Vegas summer league this year. He was 5-for-9 from long range, and also had nine rebounds and two assists. Booker hit six of seven free-throw attempts.

“I just want to get wins,” Booker said. “I always have a winning attitude, and that’s what we’re out here for.”

Booker missed his first eight three-point attempts to start summer league play, but he has heated up since.

“Shooters never stop shooting,” he said. “I’ve been through slumps before, but you always have to keep shooting. … I wasn’t worried about it. I knew it was eventually going to fall.”

Josh Harrellson, a free agent trying to play his way back on to an NBA roster, started in place of the Suns’ Alex Len (rest). Harrellson scored 19 points to go with nine rebounds and an assist.

Harrellson was 3-for-8 from three-point range, and he’s 10-for-23 (43.5 percent) from that distance this summer.

Third-year Suns guard Archie Goodwin, who has scored 20-plus points in three of the team’s six games this summer, added 12 points, six rebounds and four assists.


No. 4: McDermott ready for breakout season under Hoiberg? — A fresh start could be just what Doug McDermott needs in Chicago. And he, along with Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and the rest of the veterans on the roster, will get exactly that with new coach Fred Hoiberg. But if his performance this summer is any indication, McDermott could benefit more than anyone from the change. In a Q&A with Sam Vecenie of, McDermott addressed that premise and more: You’re coming off of a rookie year where you didn’t really get to play a lot. What do you think your role will look like next year given that the Bulls didn’t really lose anyone?

McDermott: You know, you learn from those guys. A lot of veterans still. But I think I fit in with Coach Hoiberg’s system pretty well, so I think it’ll be a great experience getting to learn from someone like him. That’s actually another thing I wanted to ask you about. Coach Hoiberg actually went to your high school if I remember correctly. That’s kind of a weird and awesome coincidence for you, no?

McDermott: Yeah, it’s awesome. It’s great having a coach you can relate to, but even more having a guy that grew up in the same town as you is pretty cool. We didn’t know each other a whole lot when I was growing up, but just having his presence around is pretty cool. Did you have any experience at all with him beforehand?

McDermott: I actually saw him at a couple of weddings, just with people that we knew mutually so we actually got to know each other a little bit there. So it was good to really get to know him a little beforehand. What’s the biggest thing you learned from your rookie year this year?

McDermott: Just patience. You know, you gotta wait your turn, especially on a good team. It’s all about getting better every single day. You can’t really worry. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You just have to put in your work and good things will happen. One thing I noticed here in summer league is that you were playing a bit more of the 4. Do you think that’s going to be something you do more of throughout next season?

McDermott: Yeah, I think it’ll kind of depend on matchups and stuff. And having a guy like Niko Mirotic, we can kind of play both the 3 or 4 and kind of run the same spots so being able to play with a guy like him, plus we have a lot of versatility out there so I think it’ll be good.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Oft-maligned Italian big man Andrea Bargnani believes he can be an impact player in Brooklyn and is not shy about saying so … The Utah Jazz are prepared to buck the small ball trend going on in the NBA today … Seth Curry of the New Orleans Pelicans summer league squad did his best to keep the good vibrations going for the family …

Overtime: 24-second thoughts

VIDEO: All-Access: 2015 NBA Finals

What?  No Game 7?

Well, some of us still have some final thoughts on The Finals:

24 — Even in fantasyland, you’ve got to start things off with the National Anthem. How about ultimate fantasy from Bay Area — the Grateful Dead, circa April 1993.

23 — The Catch. The Drive. The Fumble. The Shot. The Decision. The Kneecap. Every major league city has its own share of heartbreak. Cleveland’s just seems larger than Lake Erie.  This one doesn’t belong on that list of hurt.  The Cavs battled proudly.

22 — The Warriors danced harmoniously and gorgeously from October to June with a roster that stayed virtually intact, and in some corners they are asked to apologize for this? As Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of life is showing up.”

And durability is a talent.

21 — Irony is that the only significant injury suffered by the Warriors all season, David Lee’s strained left hamstring in the final game of preseason, opened the door for Draymond Green and the championship lineup.

20 — Before Golden State gets pigeonholed into history as banner carriers for jump shots, don’t forget the Warriors had the No. 1 defense in the NBA all season. And were No. 1 in assists.

19 — The best reason ever why coach Steve Kerr didn’t rub the nose of 3-point-shooting critic Charles Barkley in the Warriors’ championship: “I mean, guy picked up every bar tab I ever was part of when I was at TNT. So he can say whatever he wants.”

18 — Is there just the smallest part of Kerr that would be tempted to drop the mic and walk off after one flawless season? How’s that for Zen, Phil Jackson?

17 — Will say it again: For a team that has players with size and strength in low post — LeBron James, Timofey Mozgov, Tristan Thompson — the Cavaliers don’t finish strong at the hoop nearly enough. That especially goes for LeBron. Stop going off the glass and make them foul you and pay the physical price.

16 — Hula Hoops, Pet Rocks, Sea Monkeys, Mood Rings, Cabbage Patch Kids, Matthew Dellavedova.

15 — Somebody will have to explain that Beats headphone TV ad that makes the relationship between Draymond Green and the media look so contentious. For one, nobody has ever asked Green why he acts so arrogant, because he doesn’t. For another, he’s the long-after-the-podium guy who loves to stand in front of his locker way past the final horn and chat. With anybody. It’s like Michele Roberts wrote the script.

14 — The nit-pickers say Stephen Curry still has something to prove since each round of the playoffs featured an opponent with an injured point guard — Jrue Holiday, Mike Conley, Patrick Beverley, Kyrie Irving. They don’t mention that he was also on the first team in history to beat every other member of the All-NBA First Team — LeBron, Anthony Davis, James Harden, Marc Gasol — on the way to the title.

13Is LeBron (2-4) on his way to becoming the 21st century version of Jerry West, who lost eight times in The Finals? One could do far worse than being on the same page of history as The Logo.

12 — “We ran out of talent.” James catches flak for this from some corners? A third quarter lineup by the Cavs in Game 6: J.R. Smith, Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert, Thompson, James Jones. If the NBA playoffs were the NCAA Tournament, they’d be a No. 16 seed playing Kentucky.

11 — If you thought the team that LeBron single-handedly dragged to The Finals and then was swept by the Spurs in 2007 was in deeper water over its head than these Cavs once Irving went down, face it, you’ll never be satisfied with anything he does.

10 — To think it all could have unraveled for the Warriors right at the beginning if Andre Iguodala, who started the first 758 games of his 10-year NBA career, didn’t buy into the program and Kerr’s plan to come off the bench. Unhappy? Yes. Unwilling? No. That’s the definition of a pro’s pro. And don’t forget no grousing from Andrew Bogut when he was benched in The Finals.

9 — So what happens if David Blatt gets that timeout in Chicago?

8 Iggy as Finals MVP? Yes, because it was his move into the starting lineup for Game 4 that began to turn the series around and made what Curry did possible.  And he was the one who made James work so hard and wore him out.

7 — LeBron as MVP? From this corner, to become the historic second player from a losing team to get the honor, James had to pull his bunch into a Game 7.

6 — If you want to follow one more member of the Twitterverse next season, for raw emotion and lots of fun, make it Draymond’s mama:

5 — “I’m the best player the world.” OK, it wasn’t modest. But truth is a defense. And LeBron was clearly just trying to instill confidence in a worn-down, flat-out spent band of merry men that he could somehow get them through Game 6.

4 — Plenty of people and reasons to feel good about in the glow of the Warriors’ championship. Few more than Shaun Livingston, eight years removed from the horrible knee injury that had at least one person at the hospital tell him that he might need his leg amputated.

3 — Two biggest roadblocks to a Warriors repeat: chip-on-his-shoulder Kevin Durant and scarily-fast improving Anthony Davis.

2 — Does Kevin Love stay in Cleveland? Only if winning matters to him.

1 — Same two, same time, next year. Everybody healthy.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 202) featuring Charles Barkley

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Charles Barkley is not afraid to admit when he’s wrong.

He just can’t remember the last time he was actually wrong about something.

Like many of us, though, he couldn’t have predicted the Final Four field facing off for the right to play for the NBA title, well at least not three of the four teams.

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers making the Eastern Conference finals is by no means a surprise. But their opponent, the Atlanta Hawks, and the two teams in the Western Conference, the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, weren’t on everyone’s preseason list to make it this far. Those slots were supposed to be reserved for the blue bloods, the franchises used to working this late in a season, not these upstarts from around the league.

Stephen Curry and James Harden, the top two finishers in the voting for the KIA MVP award and now the combatants at the center of the Western Conference finals, had other ideas.

So did Al Horford and those three other All-Stars the Hawks will deploy against James and his crew in the Eastern Conference finals. The revolution will be televised this year and who better to analyze it all than the biggest star of TNT’s Inside the NBA crew, who joins us on Episode 202 of The Hang Time Podcast Featuring Charles Barkley.

Dive in to see who we all think comes out on the other side of a heated Final Four round of the NBA Playoffs on Episode 202 of The Hang Time Podcast Featuring Charles Barkley …


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of,  Lang Whitaker of’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business, Andrew Merriman.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

VIDEO: Think you are clowning Chuck? Keep dreaming!

NBA’s Frantic Four trying to change history

VIDEO: Relive the biggest moments from the semifinals

There’s no official and catchy distinction for the last teams standing in the NBA semifinals, no Final Four or Frozen Four or anything like that, but here’s one that might best describe the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks and Houston Rockets: Frantic Four.

Yes, there’s more than a sense of desperation. These are four franchises that haven’t won an NBA title in a combined 162 years. Not since 1958 for the Hawks (based in St. Louis then), since 1975 for the Warriors, since 1995 for the Rockets and since, like, never for the Cavs. There are adult fans of those teams who’ve never known the thrill of the ultimate victory or seen a parade or felt the need to brag. In the case of the Hawks, they’ve never been to the East finals before, and once they beat the Wizards last week and advanced, Atlanta nearly reacted as though it won a real championship.

And so, with regard to these four teams searching for a change of fate, we examine their level of desperation for this 2015 title and rank them accordingly.

No. 4: Houston Rockets

VIDEO: Houston wraps up its second championship in 1995

In the midst of a celebration in June of 1995, Rudy Tomjanovich grabbed the mic and uttered one of the most memorable lines in NBA history: “Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion.” Rudy T was tweaking those who thought the Rockets were too old to repeat, which they did, but it’s been a 20-season long dry spell since. Evidently, everyone correctly estimated the staying power of the Rockets.

That two-time championship team died gradually. The Rockets tried to tape it together with an old and broken down Charles Barkley and that crew eventually made the 1997 West finals. But they had to watch as John Stockton sank a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in Game 6 (in Barkley’s face) to send the Utah Jazz to The Finals. Then, in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, they added another dinosaur: Scottie Pippen. Within four years, all of the important pieces of the championship era were gone, including Hakeem Olajuwon, looking grotesquely out of place in a purple jersey with a cheesy reptile in Toronto.

Houston did give it another go with Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, but injuries kept interrupting their time together and the Rockets advanced beyond the first round only once.

Since 1995, the Rockets have basically been a mixed bag, reaching the West finals once and then being mercifully teased by the T-Mac-and-Yao era. GM Daryl Morey then stole James Harden from OKC and signed Dwight Howard as a free agent and, well, here they are. In that span, they moved to a state-of-the-art downtown arena (Toyota Center) and enjoyed big crowds. Not exactly the picture of doom, which means, life without a title hasn’t been totally dreadful. (more…)

Morning Shootaround — May 11

VIDEO: Highlights from games played May 10

Kyrie dealing with more than he’s letting on | Clippers hack their way to cusp of history | Wall unlikely to play in Game 4 | Vultures circling Warriors

No. 1: Kyrie dealing with more than he’s letting on — Cleveland’s Big 3 of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love has been reduced to a injury unit Big 1.5. Even LeBron is hobbled right now with a sore ankle he turned in Sunday’s buzzer-beating win over the Chicago Bulls. Love is gone for the postseason after shoulder surgery. But Irving is dealing with more than just a sore left ankle. He’s dealing with more than he’s letting on, a gusty but dangerous move for the young point guard in the midst of his first ever playoff experience. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group explains:

Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving is hurting more than he is letting on.

He’s dealing with more than just the right foot strain that was made public by coach David Blatt on Friday, even though the injury occurred almost three weeks ago in Game 2 of the first-round series against the Boston Celtics.

After the huge Game 4 victory over the Chicago Bulls to even the series, I asked him directly in the media scrum to address if there’s anything wrong with his left leg, and he paused briefly, before responding “Nah. Nah, there’s nothing wrong.”

As soon as the media contingent dissipated, Irving said, “Chris, you’re very observant.”

Irving’s left leg has been wrapped in dynamic taping, which is elastic that helps support the structure of the body. The pain is believed to be caused due to overcompensating. Upon exiting the arena last night with a grimacing expression plastered to his face, Irving walked gingerly and limped extremely noticeably.

However, it wasn’t his right foot that he was favoring. He was very cautious with each step not to place weight on his left leg. The Cavaliers are calling it a “sore left leg,” for the time being.

Irving is guarded when it comes to not revealing injuries and their extent, not wanting to give the opponent any sort of an advantage. He said “that’s Basketball 101.”

He’s laboring out there. The speed, the acceleration, the first step isn’t there. He’s giving it all he has, and has no plans of letting his team down. He’s in it until the very end.

“I’d rather will it out and give it a chance, than sitting back and watching my brothers compete without me,” Irving said.

VIDEO: Kyrie Irving talks after the Cavs’ Game 4 win

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Morning Shootaround — April 20

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Sunday


Wise LeBron shows Cavaliers the way | Green downplays ‘scrimmage’ comments about Pelicans | Clippers rough up Spurs | Bulls expecting different Bucks in Game 2

No. 1: Wise LeBron shows Cavaliers the way — The man with all of the playoff experience in Cleveland set the tone for the home team Sunday. Yes, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love shined in their playoff debut. But wise old head LeBron James is the man who lit the path for his teammates and put the Cavaliers in control in Game 1 against the Boston Celtics. Joe Vardon of the Plain Dealer provides the details:

Fatherhood has been a theme for LeBron James throughout the course of this season.

James’ wife, Savannah, gave birth to the couple’s third child, daughter Zhuri, in October. So, naturally, that was a reason for James to talk about being a dad.

The topic came up again for more philosophical reasons; deep, philosophical issues like when to talk to his two sons about racism or whether or not it’s safe to let them play football.

Once, after a November win over Boston, James, 30, said his teammates were “like my kids” — a reference to the Cavaliers’ younger players learning the finer points of basketball the way his sons learn their school material.

Really, James has played the role of teacher all season, with varying degrees of success.

The thing about being a parent, though, is sometimes the lesson is taught by example. The Cavs’ 113-100 win over the Celtics in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference first-round playoff series Sunday was that time for James.

When the ball went in the air Sunday, James became the franchise’s all-time leader with 72 playoff games. It was his 159th career playoff game, counting his four years and two titles with Miami, and during the game he surpassed Michael Jordan (1,022 assists) for the ninth-most playoff assists in league history.

By contrast, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, and Matthew Dellavedova – four players James relies on in some form — were playing their first-career playoff games.

James spoke to the team before the game about his first playoff game (more on that game later), but he needed to show them. Matched up defensively against former Ohio State standout Evan Turner, James hounded him over the game’s first five minutes. Once, the ball landed in Turner’s hands behind halfcourt, and James was so close to him that Turner could barely turn around.

Turner was trying to move along the perimeter, both with and without the ball, and James was stuck on his every step. Offensively, James scored on a layup in transition and got to the foul line twice. He registered two assists before his hand shot up with 6:45 to go – not even halfway through the first quarter – for coach David Blatt to give him a breather.

“LeBron really pushed himself early, almost to the point of forcing himself to hit that limit, come out, catch his second wind, and then play,” Blatt said. “I think he even did it on purpose.”

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Paul still pounding at the championship door

VIDEO: Chris Paul talks Clippers-Spurs matchup.

LOS ANGELES — When Doc Rivers took over the Clippers job two summers ago and met with Chris Paul, he had this to say to the point guard, rather bluntly: “You haven’t won anything in this league.”

And Paul later admitted: “Yeah, he’s right. I haven’t.”

Here they are, another 50-plus win regular season in the books, another splendid season by Paul behind them, another chance to win something, and the Clippers get the Spurs in the first round starting Sunday night. It’s almost as if the basketball Gods are punishing Paul for stealing the athletic ability from his commercial twin brother Cliff. Or something like that. Paul is perhaps the best point guard of the last half-decade or so, and 10 seasons into a certain Hall of Fame career is still one of the top 10 players in the league, and yet his heavy list of personal accomplishments hasn’t translated into a championship or even a trip beyond the second round of the playoffs.

He is either headed down the same path as Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing, titans without a title, or maybe the coronation is coming soon, perhaps this June. All Paul knows is the nightmare of last summer, often relived by critics, when he crumbled in Game 5 against Oklahoma City and stumbled into a long, hot summer.

“CP is on a mission and that’s good for everybody,” Rivers said.

Paul seems humbled by his lack of summer success. Introspective by nature, and a proud leader to boot, Paul doesn’t get snippy when asked about his missing ring. He acknowledges his fate without accepting it and simply says, sounding very believable, that his next crack at a championship will be his best crack while also conceding that time waits for no one.

“I feel like you’ve got to seize the moment every year,” he said. “You never know what could happen with injuries and all that different kind of stuff.”

On the even of Clippers-Spurs, a first-round matchup with the aroma of a Western Conference final, Rivers tried to reduce the temperature in the room. Failing to win a title this season, Rivers said, doesn’t mean all is lost. The Clippers are relatively young and the core is still in its prime.

“I don’t think (our) sense of urgency is greater than Tim Duncan’s, and they won the title last year,” Rivers said. “My hope is every single player wants to win a title. Then, isn’t everyone’s urgency the same? I laugh when people say `it’s a must win for (us).’ But isn’t it a must win for the other team?”

Well, sure. It does. But Rivers knows, deep down, the rules are different for superstars. They make the most money, reap the most benefits, luxuriate in the most praise and therefore, in order to confirm their status, shouldn’t winning a title be part of the deal?

Yes, there are excuses. Barkley was stuck on lousy teams in Philly and in Phoenix, he couldn’t beat Michael Jordan. Ewing couldn’t beat Jordan either, and when the window opened a crack after Jordan played baseball, Ewing couldn’t beat Hakeem Olajuwon. Paul can’t beat the Spurs; he’s 0-2 against them in the playoffs, but there’s no icon standing between him and the trophy unless you feel Steph Curry already qualifies.

Paul has been gifted with a top-5 coach like Rivers, and a top-5 forward in Blake Griffin, and a top-5 big man in DeAndre Jordan, and one of the best sixth men in Jamal Crawford. The bench is mostly baloney but if the Clippers are reaching deep into the rotation for help in the playoffs, nothing can save them. Basically, while the Clippers aren’t heads and shoulders above the other contenders in the West or the NBA, they have a chance. Paul has his chance.

And yet he also has perhaps his hardest road ever. He must get through Popovich and Duncan and Parker, and then maybe Harden, and then maybe Curry, and if all goes well and the Clippers are in the NBA Finals, he’ll likely say hello to LeBron.

Therefore: If Chris Paul this summer finally wins his first title, wouldn’t it feel like he just won two?