Posts Tagged ‘Dallas Mavericks’

Morning shootaround — Jan. 24


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s NBA action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Amazing Klay | Hawks soaring | Here come the Cavs? | Teletovic out for the season

No. 1: Amazing Klay — Last night against the Sacramento Kings, Golden State’s Klay Thompson did something last night nobody in the history of the NBA had ever managed to do: He scored 37 points in one quarter. He was so hot that nothing slowed him down, not double-teams, not timeouts. Thompson didn’t miss a shot in the period and scored 37 of Golden State’s 41 in the third, effectively ending the Kings’ chances with each increasingly improbable three. Diamond Leung, the Warriors’ beat writer from the Bay Area Media Group, writes that after the game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr even compared Thompson to another wing player who was known to get buckets

He delivered the most electrifying game of his career, going 16-for-25 from the field and 11-for-15 from 3-point range in 33 minutes to lift the Warriors to their 35th win of the season at the midway point and a franchise-record 18th straight victory at home.

Thompson was 9-for-9 from 3-point range in the third as the rest of the Warriors kept passing him the ball in a quarter when he scored 37 of their 41 points.

“As many spectacular things as Michael (Jordan) did, which he did nightly, I never saw him do that,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who won three NBA championships playing with Jordan.

“It was reminiscent of Michael because it’s sort of otherworldly.”

The Kings as a team scored 22 in the third, and their hopes for an upset were dashed after Thompson began flicking his wrist.

Thompson made a steal, stepped back and made a 3-pointer to put the Warriors ahead 63-60 before hitting another to make it 66-64.

Stephen Curry fed him on a one-handed alley-oop after which Thompson continued his barrage. He even got a shooter’s roll on one of the 3-pointers.

Thompson brought down the house going it alone against the Kings defense with a jumper that gave the Warriors an 89-70 lead. Another 3-pointer made it 95-71.

“I was taking a lot of bad shots out there, but I was taking one until I missed, and I just got lucky,” Thompson said.

With 4.9 seconds in the third, Thompson hit two free throws that gave him 50 points for the game to become the 12th player in franchise history to score at least that number. His previous career highs were 41 points against the Los Angeles Lakers in November and eight 3-pointers at Sacramento last season.

Thompson hit two free throws in the fourth before checking out of the game to an ovation with 9:28 left.

“He was typical Klay,” Draymond Green said of Thompson on the sideline. “Just sitting there. His favorite line: ‘It’s crazy.’ That’s all he said.”

His third quarter had set the NBA record for points, and falling with it was a significant franchise mark. Wilt Chamberlain in his 100-point game in 1962 held the previous record with 31 points in a quarter.

“It’s that number 37 in a quarter that’s unbelievable. I thought I’d never see that,” Curry said after using his phone to watch video of Thompson’s performance again.

Up until Thompson began hoisting shots into history, the Warriors were struggling to put away Sacramento, which entered the game having lost five in a row.

Kerr was angry at halftime, telling his players he wouldn’t be calling plays in order to let them figure things out themselves. The Warriors had led by 18 points in the first quarter, but the Kings grabbed the lead after halftime.

“Get the ball to Klay, and Klay get the ball,” Kerr said. “Those are the two plays they ran.”

Said Thompson: “They just kept wanting to see the show. That’s what they kept telling me. When your teammates have confidence in you like that, you can do extraordinary things.”

***

No. 2: Hawks Soaring — Meanwhile, on the other coast, the Atlanta Hawks just keep winning. They entered last night’s game against Oklahoma City with a gaudy 35-8 record, winners of 14 in a row and 27 or their last 29. But that streak got put to a serious test last night as they hosted a potent Oklahoma City Thunder team hungry for a win. And through one half, after a dozen turnovers, the Hawks looked like they didn’t mind if their win streak came to an end. But that turned around in the second half, and the Hawks won going away, 103-93, for a franchise-record 15th win in a row

The Atlanta Hawks romped to their 15th straight victory, the longest streak in franchise history.

Don’t expect them to savor it for long.

This team is focused firmly on what’s in front of them.

Paul Millsap scored 22 points, Jeff Teague added 17 and the Hawks broke the record with a 103-93 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.

“It’s a good accomplishment,” Millsap said, sitting in a rather somber locker room. “But it’s just another win.”

The wins keep piling up for a team that no one expected to be a title contender at the beginning of the season. Before a raucous sellout crowd, the Hawks came out on top for the 29th time in 31 games to extend their Eastern-best record to 36-8.

As usual, pretty much everyone chipped in.

Four starters were in double figures and backup point guard Dennis Schröder led a spurt at the start of the fourth quarter that helped the Hawks pull away. He finished with 13 points and five assists, igniting the arena with a towering finger roll that dropped gently through the net.

“Give me five really good guys,” Millsap said, “and I’ll go out there and win with ‘em.”

Russell Westbrook led the Thunder with 22 points, but it wasn’t enough to extend their four-game winning streak.

Kevin Durant added 21 points, while Serge Ibaka with 13 was the only other Thunder player in double figures.

The Hawks were much more balanced. Al Horford had 14 points and 12 rebounds, while DeMarre Carroll chipped in with 13 points. Kyle Korver was the only starter who didn’t reach double figures, but even he chipped in with a play that had everyone talking: another dunk in the waning seconds of the first half that sent the Hawks to the locker room with a 48-47 lead.

They never trailed again, strolling off the court at the end with the public-address announcer screaming “15 in a row!”

“It’s cool to get your name in the record book,” Carroll said. “At the same time, we’ve got bigger tasks at hand. That’s making it to the playoffs and bringing an NBA championship to Atlanta.”

The crowd of 19,203 marked the third sellout in Atlanta’s last four games. In a sign that the attendance-challenged city is really getting behind its team, most of the crowd came to cheer for the home team rather than to see an out-of-town star.

“They’ve jumped on the bandwagon now,” Durant said. “The crowd was great tonight and really helped them out.”

He’s also impressed with what Atlanta is putting on the court.

“They’re a really good team,” he said – over and over again.

***

No. 3: Here come the Cavs? — It’s been a rough start for the Cleveland Cavaliers, marked by losing streaks, coaching questions, trades and injuries. But last night, with all the principles healthy and on the court together, the Cavaliers swatted the Charlotte Hornets, 129-90. It was Cleveland’s fifth straight win, and exactly the kind of dominant performance LeBron James and the Cavs were looking for when they constructed this team, writes the Northeast Ohio Media Group’s Joe Vardon

That’s five wins in a row for the Cavs after losing six straight. They limited the Hornets to 40 percent shooting and caused 12 turnovers.

“Right now, I feel like this is the team that I envisioned,” James said.

In the middle of a long season, there really isn’t anything more important James could say than that.

It’s been a turbulent return campaign for James in Cleveland, and even with these last five victories the Cavs are only 24-20 and in fifth place in the East.

James admitted his team is just one losing streak from all the progress, all the good feeling, unraveling again. He sounded, and looks, like he plans to guard against that.

A three-minute, 20-second stretch in the second quarter said it all.

Cleveland was already up by 22 when James came charging into the lane before pulling up for a short floater. Thirty-seven seconds later, he drove in for a finger roll and was fouled.

Then, a steal. After that, another layup. Next possession, two free throws.

Oh, there’s more.

James stole the ball again, this time dribbling down for a left-handed windmill dunk that sounds easier than it looked. [Kyrie] Irving drained a three and then he stole the ball. Four seconds later, [J.R.] Smith tossed a half-court alley-oop to James that he might not have even tried to catch a few weeks ago.

Still not done. James stole the ball, again, and the Cavs scored on a lob, again. James passed (from halfcourt, no less) and Kevin Love caught it for a layup.

At the end of that sequence, it was 62-27 with 5:48 to play in the half.

“This is the style of basketball I envisioned,” James said. “Obviously the points we put up I don’t envision that every night, but how we share the ball, how we defend, that should be our staple.”

Charlotte coach Steve Clifford was asked before the game if James looked different on film recently than when the Hornets last played him on Dec. 15. The reason for the question – James’ obvious progress athletically since his two-week rest from nagging injury.

“He always looks pretty good,” Clifford said. “So yesterday when I started, he’s always fun to watch. And then as you get closer to the game time and making decisions about how you’re going to try to stop him, it’s not nearly as much fun.”

***

No. 4: Teletovic out for the season — It hasn’t been a great season for the Brooklyn Nets, who’ve had to deal with injuries to Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, trade rumors, and talk that their owner wants to sell the franchise. And now they’re out another player, as forward Mirza Teletovic has been diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs, ending his season as he seeks treatment, writes Andrew Keh of the New York Times

Teletovic, a 29-year-old forward from Bosnia and Herzegovina, left Thursday’s game in Los Angeles after experiencing a shortness of breath and was transported to the California Medical Center.

The Nets on Friday morning said Teletovic would remain hospitalized to undergo further examination and begin treatment with blood thinners.

“Our first thoughts are with Mirza and his family,” General Manager Billy King said in a statement, praising the team’s medical staff and the emergency room doctors for their work. “I have visited with Mirza this morning and he is in good spirits as he begins his treatment and recovery.”

Blood clots can form for a variety of reasons, with long travel and surgical procedures among the most common risk factors. Blood clots near the lungs carry an increased risk of sudden death, said Dr. Alexis C. Colvin, a sports medicine specialist at Mt. Sinai Hospital, who was speaking generally and not about Teletovic’s specific case.

Teletovic posted a message on Twitter late Thursday night that read, “I had a small problem, but now everything is ok… Thx all fans from Bosnia, Spain and USA for support.”

The struggling Nets will miss Teletovic, who was averaging a career-high 22.3 minutes per game this season. They lost by 39 points to the Clippers, and their record dropped to 18-25. They had already been missing point guard Deron Williams, who fractured a left rib earlier this month.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Lakers and Kobe Bryant should get some clarity regarding the options for his injured shoulder after a meeting with doctors on Monday … Dallas’s Rajon Rondo sat down the stretch last night against Chicago, but Rondo and coach Rick Carlisle say it’s no big dealMark Cuban says the All-Star voting process is “absolutely, positively broken” … The Brandon Jennings/Brandon Knight trade is one of those rare deals that worked out well for both teams … Could the Clippers be free agent Nate Robinson‘s destination? …

Blogtable: Texas-sized showdown?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Midseason surprises? | Texas playoff showdown? | What to do with Austin?



VIDEOThe Spurs won their last game vs. the Rockets, which came in late December

> We’d love to see a good Texas showdown in the first round of the playoffs, so which would be the better one: Spurs vs. Rockets, Spurs vs. Mavs, or Mavs vs. Rockets? Why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’ll take Spurs vs. Rockets, please, just because of the contrast in cultures, styles, team-building, new Big 3 vs. historic Big 3, you name it. James Harden in perhaps an MVP season against Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Beverly pestering Tony Parker, Dwight Howard against Tim Duncan and San Antonio’s other bigs – the only downside would be catching all the games on TV and going forward three rounds without one of them.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Any combination would make for a dandy series, but I’ll go with Spurs-Rockets. Since the arrival of Dwight Howard last season, Houston is 5-1 against San Antonio. This could be a changing-of-the-guard type series as the Rockets use younger, stronger legs to press an advantage against the aging veterans of the Spurs. But at 38, Tim Duncan has been performing like an ageless All-Star and the Spurs’ pride wouldn’t go down without an epic fight. Bring it on.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: No real preference, but I’ll go Mavericks-Rockets. Other people will look forward to a return to the sniping, Chandler Parsons against his old team, Mark Cuban against the Houston front office. I would like the collision of the very good Mavs offense against the very good Rockets defense. That would be a fun watch.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Mavs-Rockets, no doubt. I mean, even though Chandler Parsons has already seen his old team and will again before the playoffs, the temperature goes up a tick in April. Toss Mark Cuban into the mix and it becomes even more toxic. This could be Dirk Nowitzki‘s last good chance to go far in the playoffs, so the Mavericks might feel a little desperation.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’d happily accept any of the three, but put me down for Rockets-Spurs. San Antonio is always going to be my first choice for any matchup, as long as they keep playing the same style, keep executing at a high level, and keep Boris Diaw around. Houston provides a contrast in style, star talent, and the defense that has had the most regular-season success against the Spurs over the last two years. Before we get there though, I’d like to see the Rockets add one more guy who can create off the dribble. Their offense misses Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Given the intertwined histories of all of these franchises, we couldn’t go wrong with any of these proposed matchups. Still, there’s something about the bad blood that simmers between the Mavericks and Rockets makes that the series I’d love to see. James Harden and Rajon Rondo, Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Smith, Dwight Howard and Tyson Chandler, Monta Ellis and Patrick Beverley and, ultimately, Trevor Ariza and Chandler Parsons. All of those matchups, combined with the underlying drama involved, would make for a crazy competitive first-round series. There would be as much (or more) drama in this series as there would be the rest of the postseason combined.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Spurs vs. Mavs would be tremendous. Both teams know how to win championships (now that Dirk Nowitzki has been joined by Rajon Rondo), both coaches are among the NBA’s smartest, and both offenses tend to be efficient and explosive. The Mavs went seven games in the opening round last year with the Spurs, who lost only four additional playoff games on their way to the championship. A rematch would be even more competitive.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: There’s a lot of history between each of these teams, and from a schadenfreude/front office perspective, watching Houston and Dallas in the first round might be the most entertaining. But from a basketball perspective, I’d really like to see San Antonio go up against Houston. Even as the Spurs have struggled through injuries and a rigorous first-half schedule, they’ve remained relevant to the postseason picture. Once they’re at full-strength, I’d love to see their pace-and-space attack against Houston’s read-and-react offense. How would San Antonio slow down James Harden? How would Houston defend San Antonio’s ball movement? However it shakes out, it will definitely be must-see TV.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 11


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played Jan. 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Will the Nets move Lopez? | Break up the Sixers | Boston’s drafty future | Amundson joins elite club

No. 1: Will the Nets move Lopez? — Last night’s 98-93 loss to the Detroit Pistons dropped the Brooklyn Nets to 16-21 on the season. And while their NYC neighbor the New York Knicks are in full-on rebuilding mode, the Nets are trying to battle through injuries and still make the playoffs. But as Alex Raskin points out in the Wall Street Journal, the Nets may be open to trading All-Star center Brook Lopez, which could be their best hope of strengthening the roster as the playoffs loom…

Only now, with the Nets’ playoff hopes clinging to a thinning backcourt, the time may finally be right. The emergence of second-year center Mason Plumlee has relegated him to the bench, and not because Lopez has played particularly poorly.

Despite undergoing right-foot and left-ankle surgery over the off-season, Lopez appears to be healthy, even after some December back issues. In fact, Lopez has played two of his better games in recent memory over the last two weeks, scoring 29 points in a spot start against Chicago on Dec. 30 and a 22-point performance in Monday’s loss to Dallas in which he briefly outscored the Mavericks, 18-17.

And on Friday, Lopez played well for the most part, scoring 18 points and hitting a game-tying hook shot with 25 seconds left. However, Hollins did pull Lopez in favor of backup Jerome Jordan for a significant portion of the fourth.

They might be motivated sellers, but the Nets still think Lopez could fetch valuable players in a trade, according to one league source. His history of foot problems notwithstanding, the biggest issue in moving Lopez ahead of the Feb. 19 trade deadline has nothing to do with his health.

Rather, it’s the $16.7 million Lopez is owed next season, since trading him would normally mean taking back a significant amount of salary.

The Nets, according to multiple sources, are willing to deal Lopez, but they are against taking on expensive or lengthy deals in order to do so.

Instead, the Nets are looking to accomplish the rare feat of shedding a bit of salary while remaining competitive in the East, where sub-.500 teams will have a chance to earn a seventh seed. (The Nets are currently in seventh place).

***

No. 2: Break up the Sixers — The Philadelphia 76ers began this season with a historic 17-game losing streak. Everyone knew the Sixers were rebuilding, but nobody thought they would be as catastrophically bad as they were at the start of the season. But since that streak, the Sixers have gone 7-12, and yesterday’s win over the Pacers was their second in a row and makes wins in three of their four games. As Keith Pompey writes in the Inquirer, the Sixers are gaining confidence by the day…

The Sixers take a 7-29 record into their home matchup Tuesday against the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks. Saturday’s win enabled the Sixers to post wins on consecutive nights for the first time since road victories over the Denver Nuggets and Sacramento Kings on Jan. 1 and 2, 2014.

The Pacers dropped to 15-24.

“This win definitely takes a bad taste out of our mouth,” Nerlens Noel said about the start to the season. “We feel good about the position we are in now and the progress we’ve made.

“We are proving to people that we are a team that is going to fight hard every night.”

Noel had six points, nine rebounds, and a game-high five blocks. Michael Carter-Williams, a second-year point guard, finished with 15 points to go with nine assists. Backup point guard Tony Wroten led the Sixers with 20 points and nine assists.

West had a game-high 28 points and nine rebounds.

“This win definitely builds confidence,” Carter-Williams said. “For us to be in games and to come up clutch in clutch moments is great.”

***

No. 3: Boston’s drafty future — The Celtics have been in rebuilding mode going on two years now, and as part of that project, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has been stockpiling future draft picks as he trades away veteran players. Their latest move, swapping Jeff Green, just adds picks to the war chest. And while they continue playing games with a roster whittled by attrition, looming in the future is a remarkable wealth of picks. Brian Robb of boston.com has a look at what’s ahead

The Celtics would reportedly acquire a future first round pick and Tayshaun Prince in exchange for Green, if the current deal holds. Boston’s small forward was pulled off the floor before Friday night’s loss to the Indiana Pacers and could be dealt as soon as Monday, the earliest any trade can become official.

As a result of these trades, the Celtics added a few new selections to their incredible stockpile of draft picks over the next several years. Here’s a list of what picks the Celtics are likely to own as the focus turns to the future.

2015: 2 first-round picks; 3 second-round picks
2016: 4 first-round picks; 4 second-round picks
2017: 1 first-round pick; 2 second-round picks
2018: 2 first-round picks; 1 second-round pick
2019: 2 first-round picks; 1 second-round pick

All in all, the Celtics are likely to own 11 first-round picks and 11 second-round picks over the next five NBA Drafts once the Green deal becomes official. With the trade deadline still more than a month away, Danny Ainge still has plenty of time to add to this stockpile, as he prepares for plenty of wheeling and dealing this offseason.

***

No. 4: Amundson joins elite club — When the Knicks traded J.R. Smith to the Cavaliers, they received veteran center Louis Amundson in return. After waiving Amundson, they re-signed him to a 10-day contract which, as ESPN’s Marc Stein points out, puts Amundson in select company: Amundson is one of a dozen players to play for at least 10 different teams…

Below are the only 12 players in league history to have played for at least 10 different teams:

12 teams: Chucky Brown, Jim Jackson, Tony Massenburg and Joe Smith.
11 teams: Mike James and Kevin Ollie.
10 teams: Lou Amundson, Earl Boykins, Mark Bryant, Drew Gooden, Damon Jones and Aaron Williams.

Of those, only Amundson and Washington’s Gooden are active, although veteran guard Mike James is on the hunt for potentially his 12th different NBA employer if he can land a D-League call-up. James, 39, is currently playing for the Texas Legends in the D-League.

Amundson is still only 32 years old, which means he theoretically has plenty of time to add to his total of teams and potentially become the NBA’s first 13-team player. But he’s not the youngest player to get to 10 teams. That would be current Cleveland Cavaliers assistant coach Damon Jones, who was just 29 when he hit the 10-team mark before spending the next three seasons in Cleveland and then returning to Milwaukee to finish his career.

Amundson’s 358 career regular-season games, though, are by far the fewest of anyone on the list. His longest stay in one spot in terms of games played was Phoenix, where he played 155 games over two full seasons. His travels around the league include a two-minute stint in Utah, three minutes with the Bulls spread over two stops and his 12-game cameo with the Cavs this season. Those travels technically do not include the Sacramento Kings, who were the first NBA team to sign him out of UNLV but let Amundson go before the start of the 2006-07 regular season.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: During yesterday’s Dallas/Clippers game, longtime referee Joey Crawford went down with a knee injury. They finished playing the game with just two referees … LeBron James helped the Ohio State football team get free headphones, which is not an NCAA violationKevin Seraphin joined Nic Batum in wearing a t-shirt to pay tribute to the French attack victims …

Morning shootaround — Jan. 10


VIDEO: Trevor Booker taps in possibly the shot of the year

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Booker practices those ‘circus’ shots | Tarpley, dead at 50, ‘could do it all’ | Cavs find sunshine through dark clouds | Rock bottom in 5 seconds for Nets

No. 1: Booker practices those ‘circus’ shots — Necessity is the mother of invention, but it occasionally can be the father of ridiculous. That’s how it felt Friday night in Oklahoma City, when Utah Jazz forward Trevor Booker took resourcefulness to an outrageous level and made not just the play of the night but the shot of the 2014-15 NBA season, at least based on rarity and degree of difficulty. Booker’s back-to-the-basket, no-time-except-to-tip, underhanded flip of a field goal attempt stunned pretty much everyone in the gym. Here’s Jazz beat writer Jody Genessey on the play:

With 0.2 seconds remaining on the shot clock, the Jazz got the ball out of bounds on the far sideline. The only shot that can even be completed in that amount of time is a tip, and that’s what Jazz coach Quin Snyder called for.

Booker said he didn’t even know the play that his coach barked out, so he headed to the hoop thinking Gordon Hayward would probably throw a lob. When that didn’t materialize, Booker rushed over toward Hayward and stopped with his back toward the basket.

That’s when, as the NBA marketing department might say, amazing happened.

Hayward made a bounce pass to Booker, who creatively and instinctively tipped the ball with both hands and flipped it up and over his head in the nick of time. It’s a move that might come in handy next summer when he plays volleyball again.

Incredibly, the ball plopped into the net, helping the Jazz take a 50-44 lead into the break.

“We try to cover a lot of game situations. That was not one,” Jazz coach Snyder said. “I have to say they manufactured that.”

While Snyder, Hayward and everyone else was startled, Booker grinned and immediately thought to the hours he and his cousin, Lakers forward Jordan Hill, spent practicing – yes, practicing – such goofball shots and situations. As cited by Aaron Falk of the Salt Lake Tribune:

“I know you won’t believe me, but I really do practice those shots,” he said in the locker room afterward. “My cousin [Lakers forward] Jordan Hill, he texted me after the game and said, ‘They’re not going to believe we practiced those shots all the time growing up.’ I guess you could say the hard work finally paid off.”

The Jazz lost the game, 99-94, and dropped to 13-24. But Booker was buoyant afterward about his team as well as that shot.

“That’s a good [team] right there,” he said of the Thunder. “Let’s not forget that they went to the Finals a couple years ago. We’re playing good ball right now, playing hard. I told the group, there’s no group I’d rather go to war with than these guys. We’re still trying to figure everything out, but as long as we keep playing hard the way we are, we’re going to be fine.”

***

No. 2: Tarpley, dead at 50, ‘could do it all’ — He was a child of the ’60s, which meant that Roy Tarpley was a young professional athlete in the ’80s, and while no decade has held exclusive rights to illegal drug use among major sports figures, that one ranks high. Tarpley was the seventh player picked in the 1986 NBA Draft – five spots after Len Bias, the poster guy for squandered dreams and tragic ends even today. Others taken early that day included Chris Washburn and William Bedford, two more whose careers washed out to substance abuse. Other sports had similar tales, and Tarpley’s came to an end with the news Friday that the former Dallas Mavericks forward had died at age 50. Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News chronicled the sad news:

Cause of death was not immediately known Friday night, although when the Mavericks arrived in Los Angeles for their game Saturday against the Clippers, several members of the traveling party had been informed that liver failure was at least partly to blame.

The 6-11 Tarpley was the seventh pick in the 1986 draft by the Mavericks out of Michigan. In his second season, he was the NBA’s sixth man of the year before drugs and controversy shrouded the rest of his six seasons in the league.

According to a medical examiner’s report, Tarpley’s death happened at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital. It is a sad ending to one of the most gifted players in franchise history. Tarpley had a rare combination of strength and speed that made him one of the best athletes of his era.

“Our condolences go out to the family of Roy Tarpley,” Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban said via Twitter. “RIP Roy. Mavs fans everywhere will remember you fondly.”

Tarpley’s off-court troubles probably followed him into the NBA from the University of Michigan and largely defined his time in Dallas, with the Mavericks assisting in significant ways. When he was right, he was very right; the 6-foot-11 native of Detroit averaged 12.6 and 10.0 rebounds in 280 regular season games over parts of six seasons. In 24 playoff games, his numbers were even better: 17.0 points, 12.8 rebounds and a 20.8 PER. He led the NBA in total rebound percentage (22.6) while winning the Sixth Man Award in 1987-88 and he led in that category again two years later. That’s the Tarpley fans would prefer to remember.

“If Roy had stayed healthy, he could have been one of the top 50 players ever,” said Brad Davis, the Mavericks’ radio analyst and player-development coach who played with Tarpley. “He could do it all, shoot, score, rebound, pass and defend. We’re all sorry to hear of his passing.”

Tarpley would spend most of his career battling personal problems. He was suspended by the NBA after five games in the 1989-90 season after being arrested for driving while intoxicated and resisting arrest. In 1991, he drew another suspension after a second DWI arrest and, a few months later, had a third violation and was banned from the league for violating the NBA’s drug-use policies.

He returned to the Mavericks briefly in 1994 but then was permanently barred in December 1995 for violating terms of his aftercare program.

***

No. 3: Cavs find sunshine through dark clouds — Some of us at Hang Time HQ have chided some of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ knee-jerk critics for ignoring the one thing everyone said that team would need in 2014-15, namely patience. Then again, a stretch of seven defeats in eight games, a four-game losing streak and two weeks without LeBron James – all while nearing the mid-point of January – might be an appropriate time to … PANIC! And yet, there was a calm of sorts about the Cavs after their 18-point drubbing at Golden State Friday and even some rays of optimism, as Cleveland beat guy Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com saw it:

It’s amazing how much the direction of a team can change once its members change the perception of their situation.

Monday in Philadelphia it seemed as low as you could go, with the Cavs blowing an early lead and losing to the laughingstock of the league with Kyrie Irving not making the trip because of a back injury and LeBron James away from the team, also nursing strains to his back and left knee while making a quick rehab trip down in Miami.

Five days later, with the team having pulled off two trades (in essence Dion Waiters for J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, and a couple of first-round picks for Timofey Mozgov and a second-rounder), Irving back in the lineup, and James back with the team for its five-game road trip — and even going through “minor” on-court activities for the first time since sitting out Dec. 30 — there’s some sunshine peaking through the clouds, according to coach David Blatt.

“It’s tough right now and I know it’s tough to see, but when we do get back to full strength, we’re going to be good,” said Kevin Love.

It was particularly noteworthy that Love was waving the encouragement flag because he took only 11 shots — compared to 23 apiece for Smith and Irving — but instead of focusing on his involvement in the offense after the fact, he set his sights on what the Cavs will look like in the near future.

Blatt took the same tone.

“I think you see we’re a better team today than we were yesterday and we were a week ago,” Blatt said. “I’m not even going to talk about the guys that aren’t playing, because we’re a better team today.”

The signs are more encouraging than sappy stuff like playing tough teams close – Houston, the Warriors – without their best player. There are no guarantees, but at least there have been some changes and the LeBron arrow is pointing up:

The new faces are already making their presence felt, whether it was Smith’s 27 points against the Warriors (“I told you coming in; I had nothing but a good feeling about J.R. joining our team,” Blatt said), or it was Mozgov’s nine points and eight rebounds in his debut and his reaction to how he was received (“The guys meet me so good,” the Russian-born Mozgov said in endearing broken English, “make me be the part of the family on the first day. … So, I love it”), or Shumpert’s competitive side relishing the fact he was leaving a sinking ship for a team that’s playoff-bound (“I didn’t want my season to end early,” Shumpert said).

There are no “gimme” games in the Western Conference, but Sacramento should be a winnable game on Sunday; and then, if James comes back just slightly ahead of his two-week rest schedule he could be in the lineup Tuesday in Phoenix, and if that happens you get the lame-duck Lakers next, and possibly have picked up a full head of steam going into the trip finale Friday against the Clippers.

***

No. 4: Rock bottom in 5 seconds for Nets — Realists in this league have a saying they occasionally invoke: “You are what your record is.” Pessimists around the Brooklyn Nets woke up Saturday believing that their team is about 10 games worse than its record, though, because the 16-19 Nets somehow blew a game against the 6-29 Philadelphia 76ers Friday night at the Barclays Center. The blog TheBrooklynGame.com had an intriguing snapshot of the team hitting rock bottom – actually, it was more of a film analysis, second-by-second, of Brooklyn’s best last chance in the game. It began with coach Lionel Hollins‘ admonitions that the Nets really aren’t a good team and then dissected an inbounds play that led to center Brook Lopez launching a prayer from beyond 3-point range on a failed attempt to win or tie:

With may-day approaching after three failed screens and little misdirection, Lopez shot up towards [Alan] Anderson, extending his left arm away from Nerlens Noel to catch the ball, as the only player left who had a chance.

The option was doomed from the start. The seven-footer, who has never made a three-pointer in the regular season, caught a wide pass from Anderson one-handed, spun counterclockwise to the middle of the floor, performed a ball-fake against the long and talented Noel to no avail, and flung a contested, fallaway three-pointer wide right, officially listed at 27 feet away but might as well have been from the Wookiee planet of Kashyyyk.

“We’re honestly playing down to these teams these last few games,” Lopez said. “We’re better than this, and we’re doing it to ourselves. And we have to be better than this for the entirety of the game.”

It should’ve never come down to Lopez taking that final shot, because it never should’ve come down to a final shot at all.

“When we executed and made good decisions, and defended, and rebounded, we were ahead. Soon as we relaxed and made some bad decisions on offense, made some bad decisions on defense, they came back.”

Now, the Nets can only look ahead, and the road is ugly. 13 of the team’s 17 games before the All-Star break (and the trade deadline) come against teams slated to be in the playoffs, and that’s not including tomorrow night’s contest against the Detroit Pistons, who had won seven straight games before barely losing to the Atlanta Hawks, the Eastern Conference’s best team, Friday night.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Phoenix Suns considered Brandan Wright the “best backup center in the league” even before they acquired him from Boston. … Skip the soap-opera stuff, Mark Jackson‘s return to Golden State scarcely could have been more moving. … Don’t assume the Boston Celtics are done, even after they spend the weekend working out the kinks of their Jeff Green-to-Memphis trade. … No Kobe, no problem for the Lakers, who got a big boost off the bench from new guy Tarik Black. …

Blogtable: Where will Dirk finish?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Thoughts on Cavs’ deal? | Struggling marquee teams | Where will Dirk finish?



VIDEODirk Nowitzki is now the NBA’s No. 7 all-time scorer

> Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki has zoomed up to No. 7 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. With two years left on his contract after this season (and who knows after that?) where do you think Dirk will settle on this list when all’s said and done?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I was in the visitors’ dressing room in Milwaukee last month when Nowitzki sat out a game (second of a back-to-back) he otherwise could have played in. His comment on that night of rest for his weary bones: “I want to play for the Mavericks for a long time, so…” Clearly he has no intention of stepping off the all-time points ladder anytime soon. But if he settles into, say, a 17 ppg scorer and manages his body through 70 games a year, that moves him along at about 1,500 points per season. That gets him past Shaquille O’Neal (28,596) and perhaps Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) but Micheal Jordan (32,292) might be a rung too high.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: As long as he stays healthy, I’m thinking Dirk won’t be ready to hang it up in two more years. He’s got Mark Cuban, who’ll keep pushing at the envelope to surround him with a roster that will keep the Mavs in playoff contention. So I’m going high and guessing that he does what would have been unthinkable when he was drafted back in 1998 and passes Michael Jordan, but tucks in behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone and Kobe Bryant at No. 4.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comAnother spot for sure, past Shaquille O’Neal, and probably past Wilt Chamberlain to crash the top five. That’s remarkable real estate even for the staunchest Dirk backers. I wouldn’t count him out of No. 4 and Michael Jordan either. I just don’t think it’s an easy call at that point.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI say he finishes 5th at best and passes Wilt and Shaq. It’ll help to have Rajon Rondo around to get easier buckets (assuming Rondo sticks around after this season). Of course, we are also assuming Dirk stays healthy, something he has managed to do for much of his career.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comDirk will get past Shaq next season, but unless he misses only a few games, he won’t catch Wilt on this contract. So the question really comes down to whether you think he’ll play another year (at the age of 39) after that. I’ll guess that he does, passes Wilt, and finishes at No. 5, where he’ll eventually be passed by LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comGiven the way his career started, Dirk working his way into the top five will stand as a truly remarkable feat. I think he slides into the top four before it’s all said and done, not that I put a ton of stock into the top whatever when you get to the single digits on this list. Anyone in the top 40 all-time has done ridiculous work. The top 20 is unbelievable. The top 10 jaw-dropping. And that top five makes you one of the unquestioned greatest scorers in the history of the game, a Hall of Fame shoe-in and a guy in need of a statue outside of an arena somewhere around the league.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: If his team is in title contention, he’s healthy and he’s loving the life, then he could extend beyond 2017 because his length and skills would enable him to play for as long he likes. But he will be 39 at that time. Think about all of those hard private workouts that enable him to maintain his current level. We should be appreciating Nowitzki on the likelihood that we’ll never see anyone like him again after 2017, when he’ll probably retire as the No. 6 scorer, just behind Wilt Chamberlain.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: This question involves a lot of math and therefore heavily favors Schuhmann. Just wanted to point that out. Dirk is 36 years old and is averaging just over 18 points per game this season. Let’s assume he plays until he’s 40, so four more seasons including this one. Let’s also assume his scoring rate slows by a point each season, so he goes from 18 to 17 to 16 to 15. And let’s also guess there will be games missed due to injury, so let’s just say he averages about 65 games a season for four seasons. By my calculations, that’s: (18 x 65) + (17 x 65) + (16 x 65) + (15 x 65) = 4290

So, if Dirk scores 4,290 more points, he’ll have a total of 31,702 points, which would put him into fifth all-time, behind Michael Jordan and ahead of Wilt Chamberlain. This now concludes my one arithmetic problem for 2015.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 5




VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Stoudemire is shocked | A new-look Love? | Rocky Mountain Zzzzzzs | Kareem helps Hibbert | A special anniversary in Dallas

No. 1: Knicks boggle Amare’s mind — The Knicks are bad. Historically bad. You’d have thought that reality might have set in on the bench and in the locker room weeks ago. Maybe it’s the pages on the calendar turning from the old year to the new, but the plunge to the bottom of the standings has hit veteran Amar’e Stoudemire in a way he didn’t expect. Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com has the details:

“It’s beyond my imagination at this point,” he said Sunday before a 95-82 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks that extended their losing streak to 11 games. “I never thought I’d see this. … This is definitely kind of mind-boggling.”
The Knicks (5-31) dropped their 21st of 22 and have the most losses in the NBA.

Carmelo Anthony missed his second straight game due to knee soreness. There was no clear timetable for his return.

“It’s a tragic thing,” said center Samuel Dalembert of the mounting losses. Though healthy enough to return, Dalembert did not play after missing three straight games with an ankle injury.

The Knicks are now one loss shy of tying the franchise mark of 12 straight defeats, last done in 1984-85. New York has already set the record for consecutive home losses. It was the team’s 10th straight loss at home.

Of course, this wasn’t how Stoudemire — who missed his fourth straight game due to knee soreness — envisioned what could be his final season in New York playing out.

When Stoudemire signed a five-year, $100 million contract with the Knicks in the summer of 2010, he declared the team would return to relevance. He mostly delivered on that promise, helping New York reach the playoffs for three straight seasons.

But things have fallen apart this season. Now, in the last year of Stoudemire’s contract, it seems as if the only thing the team is competing for is a lottery position.

“When I first signed with New York, that wasn’t the game plan,” Stoudemire said. “… But the past is not here. And neither is the future, so we’ve got to deal with the now, and I think we’ve just got to continue to try to get better as a team and as players, try to keep improving.”


VIDEO: The Bucks handle the Knicks at MSG (more…)

James, Curry remain All-Star voting leaders

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The King still reigns.

In the latest NBA All-Star balloting results, released this morning, Cleveland’s LeBron James remains the leading overall vote-getter. James, who had 552,967 in the initial voting results, has 775,810 votes in the second balloting totals.

Golden State’s Stephen Curry, who was the leading Western Conference vote-getter in the first results, remains atop the Western Conference though just behind James in overall balloting, with 755,486 votes.

NBA All-Star 2015The top five players in each Conference remain unchanged in the second results. Kobe Bryant and Curry are the top guards in the Western Conference, with Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol the top three frontcourt players. Tim Duncan and James Harden are the two Western Conference players closest to moving into the starting five, with Duncan roughly 50,000 votes behind Marc Gasol, and Harden about 180,000 votes behind Kobe Bryant.

In the Eastern Conference, the only move among the starting five is a flip-flop between two starters. Chicago’s Pau Gasol, who was roughly 18,000 votes behind New York’s Carmelo Anthony in the first voting returns, has moved into second place among Eastern Conference forwards, with 372,109 votes to Anthony’s 365,449.

Chris Bosh is currently in fourth place among Eastern Conference forwards, about 70,000 votes behind Anthony for a starting spot.

John Wall and Dwyane Wade remain atop the Eastern Conference guards, with Kyrie Irving about 90,000 in third, about votes off the pace.

The biggest gainer overall is Portland’s Damian Lillard, who was eighth among Western guard in the first results, but has jumped to fifth in these second results, leapfrogging Russell Westbrook, Klay Thompson and Rajon Rondo. Lillard, however, remains about 550,000 votes behind Bryant for a starting guard position.

The team most under-represented in regard to their record is the Atlanta Hawks, who currently have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference at 23-8, but their highest-ranked player in the second voting results is Paul Millsap, who is 13th among Eastern Conference forwards (34,751 votes).

This year, for the first time ever, fans have the power to vote for any active player in the NBA using the new online ballot. The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be played in New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks, on Sunday, February 15, 2015. The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night — including the Sears Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Sprite Slam Dunk — will be held at Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets. The recently-debuted uniforms feature nods to all five boroughs of New York City.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 1


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Anthony backs Fisher | Rondo ready for Boston return | Reports: Cavs get $4.9M disabled player exception | Westbrook mum on ejection

No. 1: Anthony gives big vote of support to Fisher — The first half of the New York Knicks’ season has gone about as bad as could be imagined. After yesterday’s drubbing in L.A. against the Clippers, they have lost nine straight games and closed out the 2014 portion of the season at 5-29 (the second-worst record in the league). While some New Yorkers may be questioning if coach Derek Fisher is the right guy to lead the team, superstar Carmelo Anthony says the team would be worse off if Fisher were not the coach. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Ramona Shelburne has more:

“I think if it was anybody else in his position, I think this probably would’ve crumbled already,” Anthony said after scoring 19 points in 29 minutes. “I think he’s doing a great job of keeping everybody focused on the task at hand and believing in what we’re trying to do.”

This season, Anthony said, has “definitely (been) a test for me.” The Knicks already have had losing streaks of 10, nine and six games this season. Some of that can be blamed on injuries — they’ve been without key players like Anthony, J.R. Smith, Amare Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon, and Iman Shumpert — for large stretches of the season. Some of it has been difficulty adjusting to the culture change Fisher and new Knicks president Phil Jackson have tried to instill in New York. Some is a lack of depth and talent on the roster as a whole.

Whatever the case, the losing has been awful for everyone involved to endure.

“I don’t really like doing the New Year’s resolution, but I just want 2015 to be better than 2014,” Anthony said. “We’ve got to find a win. We can’t be thinking about the turnaround. We’ve got to find a win first and see what happens from there.”

Anthony has been dealing with a sore left knee for most of the season. He has openly speculated he might eventually have to shut it down for an extended period if the pain grows worse. Earlier this week, he admitted he might not even make it to the All-Star Game, which is in New York this year.

“It’s tough. Some days you’re able to do some things, some days you’re not,” Anthony said. “Some days it’s tough to even run around and cut and jump. And then other days I come in and I don’t really feel it.

“I’m playing because I love to play and I want to play. I know what I can tolerate and what I can’t tolerate. The games I feel like I can’t tolerate it, I’m not going to play.”

Anthony has said surgery is a “last resort” and that he’s hoping to avoid anything of that nature until after the season. Asked if he’d considered the Orthokine treatments that Los Angeles Lakersstar Kobe Bryant has regularly flown to Germany to have performed on his knee as he aged into his mid-30s, Anthony smiled and said, “I’ve had multiple conversations with multiple people. Regular people, people who have had similar situations as me, and everybody has their own opinion. I take everything in stride and when that time comes, I’ll take it into consideration.”


VIDEO: Derek Fisher talks after the Knicks’ blowout loss to the Clippers

(more…)

Blogtable: Rondo or J-Smoove?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Person of the Year? | Rondo or J-Smoove? | Bulls bound for Finals?



VIDEOGameTime’s crew discusses how Josh Smith will help the Rockets

> Dallas trades for Rajon Rondo; Houston grabs Josh Smith. Who made the better move here and why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comAny team that switches out its point guard on the fly is determined and committed to change, so Dallas acquiring Rondo is both the bigger and the better move. Smith to Houston is a nice bit of accessorizing, as I see it, but the Rockets’ fundamental approach doesn’t change. Plus, their investment in the Detroit discard isn’t so great that they wouldn’t cut him loose if the negatives start to outweigh the positives. Good for both clubs, escalating the arms race in the West, but the Dallas did the more-real deal.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It’s far, far too early to tell.  The Rockets made the bigger gamble with a player in Smith who has more physical skills, but greater potential to blow up in their faces. Rondo upgrades Mavs offense at the point, but hasn’t helped plug a leaky defense

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThe Mavericks. I get why a lot of teams were running at Smith — only because he was low-cost, low-risk. But I like a lot of the reasons of Dallas getting Rondo. He will move the ball, critical for a team that already has Monta Ellis in the backcourt and Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons needing/deserving the ball up front. He has playoff experience. He has a desire to stay after becoming a free agent. And the Mavericks didn’t have to give up much to get him.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comRondo gets the nod, only because there doesn’t appear to be any chance of a downside. He upgraded the point guard spot and does exactly what the Mavericks need him to do — find Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons, Monta Ellis or Tyson Chandler. Rondo can’t shoot but in this offense he can hide pretty well. Smith is being celebrated in Houston partly because he came cheaply. His bad habits can hurt Houston a lot more than Rondo’s can Dallas. For all of his skills, there’s a very high “heartbreak” quotient with Smith.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comHouston, because there was a lot less risk involved in waiving Tarik Black than in trading three rotation guys and two draft picks for an experiment that might not work. Rondo helps the Mavs a little bit defensively. But he isn’t a good offensive fit next to Monta Ellis because neither player is an off-the-ball floor spacer. Smith isn’t a great fit offensively in Houston, either, but Houston had more need for help at his position. And, as previously noted, the Rockets didn’t give up nearly as much to get him (though Black is young and serviceable).

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI honestly liked both moves for the teams and players involved. Rondo, however, gives the Mavericks a makeover at the most crucial position in the game. The Mavericks get a seasoned play-caller with not only a championship pedigree, but also an understanding of what it takes to work in an ensemble cast. The Mavericks are clearly all in for this season. You don’t trade for a player like Rondo unless you are serious about winning it all. And to get through the Western Conference playoff grinder, there is no doubt you have to be as aggressive as possible in searching out and securing the services of true difference makers — like both Rondo and Smith.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comGive Rondo some time to adapt and strengthen his confidence, and he will make a huge difference to the Mavericks. They will appreciate him in the most important games — and in the playoffs especially. His talent for raising his play on the biggest stage is exactly what is needed for a contender. Smith, by comparison, has shown no such big-game ability.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHouston. I understand why Dallas felt like adding Rajon Rondo was a given — his resume and talent should be attractive to any NBA team. When you have the best offense in the NBA, like Dallas had at the time of the trade, changing your starting lineup and trading away your best backup big man (Brandan Wright) is the kind of move a fearless owner like Mark Cuban thrives on making. I’m just not sure it makes your team better. But for Houston, picking up Josh Smith — a very good forward who can help you on both sides of the ball when deployed correctly — without having to give up any pieces of your rotation is a no-brainer. Now we get to see if Kevin McHale is a Josh Whisperer and can carve out a role that fits Smith’s unique skill set.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 27


VIDEO: Check out all the highlights from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Josh Smith makes winning debut for Rockets | Magic rouses LeBron, Cavs take win | Watch out Kobe, here comes Dirk | Bucks looking for different advantages

No. 1: Josh Smith makes winning debut for Rockets — There’s no place like home for the holidays … as long as you have a home. After being waived earlier this week by the Detroit Pistons, Josh Smith agreed to a free-agent deal with the Houston Rockets. Friday night he made his debut for the Rockets in Memphis against the Western Conference power Grizzlies, tallying 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists in Houston’s 117-111 overtime win. As Jonathan Feigen writes in the Houston Chronicle, Smith provided the Rockets exactly what they were looking for when they signed him…

The Rockets had no intention of relying so heavily on forward Josh Smith with the ink on his contract barely dry.

They did not even intend to play him so long into the night.

The Rockets knew they wanted Smith the minute the Detroit Pistons cut him loose.

They needed him as soon as they plugged him into the rotation.

With the Grizzlies defending Smith with Vince Carter, the Rockets went to him again and again down the stretch Friday night, not only helping key a comeback to a 117-111 overtime win but offering a glimpse of the sort of talent they had plugged into the mix.

“They think big of my talents,” Smith said. “This is a team that instills confidence in all of its players.”

With the two-season disaster in Detroit rapidly behind him, Smith had 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists in his Rockets debut, tacking on the game-winning free throws in overtime when he grabbed consecutive offensive rebounds and then knocked down a pair of free throws for a four-point lead.

***

No. 2: Magic rouses LeBron, Cavs take win — The Orlando Magic are still in the nascent stages of their rebuilding plan, and as such still have lessons to learn. Last night, hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were without an injured Kyrie Irving, the Magic learned an important truth: You come at the King, you best not miss. With Orlando leading the Cavs 64-62 in the third quarter, Magic forward Tobias Harris and LeBron James got tangled under the basket and exchanged some heated words. Whoops. As Chris Haynes writes, Harris woke a sleeping giant, helping push Cleveland to the win…

James looked out of sorts. Disinterested. He had three turnovers in the first 10 minutes.

Orlando was up 64-62 in the third quarter and a coasting James was 5-for-13 from the field. The Magic was on pace to steal one. Harris, acting as the catalyst, had 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting.

Then things suddenly changed.

Midway through the third, Harris was facing up James on the baseline and to create some separation; he flung his elbows around in the vicinity of James’ face. James backed up to avoid the connection, but he took exception and said something to Harris.

The two jawed back and forth at one another and had to be separated. While walking away, Harris yelled, “Stop flopping.”

“He barked up the wrong tree,” the Cavs’ Dion Waiters said of Harris after the game.

A sleeping giant was awakening.

Two possessions later, James stole a crosscourt pass and shot out on a one-man break. Orlando’s Elfrid Payton managed to get a hold of James from the back and James took him along for the ride to finish the left-handed layup, plus the foul.

The four-time MVP proceeded to trot past Orlando’s bench to have a few words before taking his foul shots. Just like that, James was awakened.

“That’s the best player in the world,” the Cavs’ Kevin Love said. “That’s something you don’t want to do.”

From that point on James dominated Harris, going 5-for-7 in the final 17 minutes. He scored 15 of his game-high 29 points in the fourth. After that alteration with James, Harris only scored one point. He finished with 17 points on 6-for-12.

***

No. 1: Watch out Kobe, here comes Dirk — Much was made earlier this season of Kobe Bryant‘s pursuit of Michael Jordan and the third spot on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Last night there was another repositioning of the list, though a few spots down from Kobe and MJ. Dallas’s Dirk Nowitzki moved into 8th on the all-time scoring list, passing Elvin Hayes in a 102-98 Dallas win over the Lakers. As Dirk joked after the game, he’s now got Kobe squarely in his sights, writes ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon

“I told [Kobe] that I was going to catch him,” Nowitzki said after his Dallas Mavericks defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 102-98 with Bryant resting and watching from the bench. “But that’s going to be tough.”

Nowitzki now stands eighth among scorers in NBA history, five spots behind Bryant, after passing Hall of Fame forward Elvin Hayes on Friday night.

Nowitzki needed six points entering the game to pass Hayes, who finished his career with 27,313 points, and did so on a midrange jumper off a feed from Monta Ellis on the opening possession of the second half.

Nowitzki, who has been battling a stomach illness for about two weeks, finished the game with 14 points in 24 minutes, giving him 27,322 points in his career.

“I’m fortunate to have great teammates to put me in position to keep scoring, even as I’m older,” said Nowitzki, a 36-year-old who has spent his entire 17-year career with the Mavs. “It’s been fun. Still competing at a high level and hopefully will win a lot more games these last couple of years, which really means more to me right now than all the points. But it’s definitely been a fun ride.”

Hayes is the second top-10 all-time scorer passed by Nowitzki this season. Nowitzki bumped Hakeem Olajuwon to No. 10 on the list in a Nov. 11 win over the Sacramento Kings.

Nowitzki, who is averaging 18.5 points per game this season, likely will pass Moses Malone (27,409 career points) in early January to move into seventh on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

With 32,365 points and counting, Bryant is almost certainly out of reach for Nowitzki. However, Nowitzki should pass Shaquille O’Neal (28,596 points) next season and has a chance to move into the top five by passing Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) before he retires.

***

No. 1: Bucks looking for different advantages — The Milwaukee Bucks were purchased by a collection of investors led by some New York financial titans in 2013, and since then they’ve been attempting to build a stronger infrastructure for the franchise, in some ways by utilizing some creative thinking. One way they’ve done that: Spending money on people who do things NBA teams have traditionally undervalued, or perhaps not valued at all. For instance, as Kevin Randall writes in the New York Times, the Bucks recently hired a “facial coding expert”…

So in May, the team hired Dan Hill, a facial coding expert who reads the faces of college prospects and N.B.A. players to determine if they have the right emotional attributes to help the Bucks.

The approach may sound like palm reading to some, but the Bucks were so impressed with Hill’s work before the 2014 draft that they retained him to analyze their players and team chemistry throughout this season.

“We spend quite a bit of time evaluating the players as basketball players and analytically,” said David Morway, Milwaukee’s assistant general manager, who works for the owners Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry. “But the difficult piece of the puzzle is the psychological side of it, and not only psychological, character and personality issues, but also team chemistry issues.”

Hill contends that faces betray our true emotions and can predict intentions, decisions and actions. He employs the psychologist Paul Ekman’s widely accepted FACS, or Facial Action Coding System, to decipher which of the 43 muscles in the face are working at any moment. Seven core emotions are identified: happiness, surprise, contempt, disgust, sadness, anger and fear.

Before the 2014 draft, Hill spent 10 hours with Milwaukee’s team psychologist, Ramel Smith, watching video of various college prospects and picking apart the psyches of potential picks. The Bucks had the No. 2 selection over all as well as three second-round picks, one of which they traded.

A vexing player at the top of the draft was Dante Exum, a point guard from Australia who was projected to be taken among the top four selections. Smith had done player personality analyses but wanted to validate them by having Hill present his player assessments first. The Bucks selected Jabari Parker with their top pick, and Exum fell to Utah at No. 5.

“Nothing against Exum, but emotional resiliency, stability and an immediate, assured presence were all key considerations in support of selecting Parker,” Hill said.

Until he sustained a severe knee injury on Dec. 15, Parker was among the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year honors, averaging 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds. Exum is averaging 4.9 points and 2.0 assists coming off the bench for the Jazz.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jared Dudley couldn’t miss last night in Atlanta. Like, literally, he couldn’t miss … Kenneth Faried was basically unstoppable for Denver last night … After passing him on the all-time scoring list, Kobe Bryant said Michael Jordan urged him to now go after Karl Malone … Did Kevin Garnett play his final game in Boston? … Quincy Acy got a one-game suspension for his Christmas Day scuffle with John WallDajuan Wagner is in the early stages of mounting a comeback