Posts Tagged ‘Damian Lillard’

Morning Shootaround — March 15


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

A “defining moment” for the Heat | Warriors talk it out | Lillard becomes a leader | Beal goes down in Wizards’ win | Lakers can move on without Jackson

No. 1: A “defining moment” for the Heat — When they won their first six games after the All-Star break, we thought the Miami Heat had flipped the switch in preparation for the playoffs. But they’ve since lost five of their last six, falling to the below-.500 Denver Nuggets at home on Friday. There’s still a month left in the regular season, but LeBron James believes this is a “defining moment” for the champs, as Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald writes:

This shrine of basketball on Biscayne Bay hasn’t known tedium for some time, but a little bit of that stuff has crept into the cracks of the hardwood in recent days. The Heat (44-19) has lost five of its past six games and is 3-5 in March.

“A tough loss at home, and we just have to figure it out,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s not the way this streak started. Sometimes, it just happens to you in this league where things turn and moment changes and you find yourself in a hole you feel like you can’t get out of. Obviously, we’ll be able to get out of it. When? We don’t know.”

Said James: “We’ve been here before. It has been a while, but we’ve been here before, and this moment will either define our season or end our season. … We always have one defining moment, and this is it right here for us.”

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No. 2: Warriors talk it out — The Heat weren’t the only good team to suffer an embarrassing loss at home on Friday. The Golden State Warriors gave up 68 points across the second and third quarters in a 103-94 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. That’s not acceptable for a team that has mostly won with defense this season. So the Dubs aired it out in a post-game meeting, as Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News writes:

Mark Jackson took extra, extra time to come out to speak to the media and spoke about as harshly as he has allowed himself to during his Warriors tenure–so the mood was clearly a little different.

Why? This season has been built on defense, and the Warriors built a huge early lead and then got shredded by a bad Cleveland team, which is just about what Jackson said.

Then, after Jackson’s presser, maybe 30 minutes after the game ended, the locker room was opened to the media and players were noticeably still talking to each other – not at all heatedly, but with nods and solemn expressions.

One player stood out – Stephen Curry was still in uniform and walked up to Jermaine O’Neal, Andrew Bogut and David Lee (among others) and had long one-on-one discussions in the locker room corridors.

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No. 3: Lillard becomes a leader — Speaking of locker room meetings, the Blazers had one after Wednesday’s loss in San Antonio, their fourth straight. And it started with Damian Lillard, who doesn’t want to settle for having just played hard. He wants results and Jason Quick of The Oregonian writes that the point guard’s speech may have been a turning point for the Blazers:

“Hold on,” Lillard said.

And from there, a passionate, pointed and spontaneous flow of emotions and leadership came from Lillard. His interjection, and subsequent soliloquy, sparked a team meeting. The players and coaches want the details of the meeting to stay in house, but Lillard said the essence of his speech was that it was up to the players, not the coaches, to step up in crunch time, and to not accept the “we competed hard” as a pacifier for losing.

“He took control,” said Dorell Wright, who is in his 10th NBA season. “It was a big step for him.”

Added Wesley Matthews: “It showed he’s grown. He’s one of those guys who has always led by example, and he put it on himself. He was tired of losing so he voiced his opinion. It was good.”

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No. 4: Beal goes down in Wizards’ win — The Washington Wizards came back from six down in the final 65 seconds of regulation to win in Orlando on Friday. But Bradley Beal turned his right ankle in overtime, meaning that the win may cost the Wizards in the long run. They play a big game against the Nets – with whom they’re tied in the standings – in Washington on Saturday. Michael Lee of the Washington Post had the story from Orlando:

The night didn’t end without a brief scare. On the next possession, Beal forced rookie Victor Oladipo (15 points) into missing a driving layup and rolled his right ankle when he landed. Beal hit the floor, weeping in the hardwood, thinking that he had broken his ankle, as his concerned teammates gathered around him. Kevin Seraphin and Otto Porter Jr. eventually had to carry Beal to the locker room but he walked out of the arena on his own power.

“I was just hoping it wasn’t broken. That’s always a player’s first instinct — hope and pray it’s nothing too too serious and fortunately, it was only a sprain,” Beal said. “We just keep going, keep attacking. You’re not always going to stay hot all the time. You’re not going to make all your shots. For us to get this win up underneath us is a great feeling.”

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No. 5: Lakers can move on without Jackson — It’s been almost three years since Phil Jackson left the Los Angeles Lakers, but only now can the franchise finally have some closure. Lakers fans may still want Phil, but he was never going to get what he wanted (full control) in L.A. Ramona Shelburne has a good read on the Jackson story from the Lakers’ perspective:

Over the past three years, he’s been neither coach nor consultant. His fiancée, Jeanie Buss, is the one still receiving Laker paychecks, not him. But in his absence, Jackson’s presence has only grown larger among the Lakers and their fans. By remaining in the shadows, his enormous shadow has hung over the franchise. The “We want Phil” chants still ring out at Staples Center from time to time.

People got used to it that way. It was comforting to know Jackson was still there, close by. Just a tweet away. That also made it hard for other things to grow, but it was better than the alternative.

When legendary owner Dr. Jerry Buss passed away last February, Jackson was still the one subsuming that patriarchal role in this very strange, dysfunctional saga. The Lakers and their fans never really had to stare into the abyss in front of them.

Now they do. That it took a full week for Jackson to formally sign on as the Knicks president after word of their serious mutual interest leaked only prolonged the torture for Laker fans.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: In a response to an Op-Ed by agent Jeff Schwartz, Chris Paul detailed the NBPA’s search for a new executive director … In an up-and-down season, Jonas Valanciunas had a big night against the Grizzlies … Nikola Pekovic couldn’t play through ankle pain on FridayThe Nets have signed Jason Collins for the remainder of the season … and O.J. Mayo is out of the Bucks’ rotation.

ICYMI of The Night: Lillard backed up his words, scoring 27 points (including 16 in the fourth quarter) in Friday’s win in New Orleans:


VIDEO: Nightly Notable: Damian Lillard

Morning Shootaround — March 11


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Knicks, Jackson headed for union | Gortat chimes in on NBA fights | Beverley: Blazers’ Lillard ‘whines’ | Boozer shuns media

No. 1: Knicks, Jackson appear headed for a union — The more time passes, the more it looks like ex-Lakers and Bulls coach Phil Jackson is coming back to the NBA in a front-office role with the team he once played for, the New York Knicks. The latest stories yesterday had it looking like Jackson to N.Y. was pretty much a done deal (and, as usual, Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski delivers a solid assessment of the situation). Our own Sekou Smith also chimed in on the pending marriage between the two NBA power players and how the panache Jackson adds to a franchise can do nothing but help New York:

Jackson and the Knicks, according to multiple sources, are working through the sticky points of a deal that would bring him back to the league in a front office capacity, and not as coach of the Knicks (a job, mind you, that is currently occupied by Mike Woodson).

And make no mistake, it’ll take all of the legendary coach’s Zen powers to help fix what ails the Knicks. In short, they are a mess right now. A lame duck coach. A superstar (Carmelo Anthony) basically being forced to consider his free agent options elsewhere this summer. And a roster bogged down with so many bad assets that legendary front office maven Donnie Walsh (the man who tried fixing this mess already) couldn’t fix it all.

Most of us have no idea how Jackson will fare in a job he’s never actually done before. But when you’ve accumulated the sort of championship hardware he has over the years — he played on both of the championship teams the Knicks have fielded and won 11 more titles as a coach with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers) — the benefit of the doubt is included in the compensation package.

If anyone alive who has had a hand in the game of basketball can clean up the mess that is the Knicks, it has to be Jackson. Be it good fortune or shrewd calculation, or a healthy dose of both and plenty of blind luck, Jackson always seems to find himself in the middle of championship-level success. Why wouldn’t the Knicks want to find themselves affiliated with the same things?

Now he’ll get the chance to see if his magic works from a different angle, as the man pulling the strings from on high as opposed to doing it with direct contact with the players. I defy anyone to challenge Jackson’s coaching credentials.

For all the grief he gets for having won with the likes of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, among so many others, it should be noted that the only member of the Hall of Fame group of players he coached that has won a title without him is Shaq (in Miami, alongside Dwyane Wade and perhaps the only other coach of his generation to come close to being on Jackson’s level, Heat boss and former coach of the Showtime Lakers Pat Riley.

Jackson doesn’t have to sully his reputation by trying to salvage a Knicks team that is clearly beyond repair. But he could send his mythical aura into a new stratosphere if he were somehow able to clear the debris from the wreckage that is the current Knicks operation and bring some sort of championship flair back to Madison Square Garden.

That’s why Knicks owner James Dolan had no choice but to seek out the services of the one man whose name is synonymous with success, the one man whose mere mention sends fans into flights of fancy about championship parades, even when their haven’t been any such plans in the works for decades.


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses the pending union between Phil Jackson and the Knicks

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No. 2: Gortat jokes that he’d like NHL-style fights in the NBA — Pound-for-pound, Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat (along with the Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic) might be the strongest guy in the NBA. That being said, it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to get in a fight with him at any point, anywhere. In a wide-ranging, insightful interview with TrueHoop.com’s Kyle Weidie, Gortat jokingly explains how he’d be a fan of the NBA allowing designated fighting timeframes during each game:

Any rule changes that you think would help the NBA game? For instance, sometimes they talk about instituting FIBA goaltending rules in the NBA. Any thoughts on that or any other changes that would help the game play?

The goaltending? It definitely wouldn’t help. You have too many athletic guys in this league that would tip the ball out of the rim, so pretty much to make a basket you will need to swish it, you know what I’m saying?

I would say I would loosen up a little bit the rules about the fighting fines. That’s what I would loosen up. Because today you go to an ice hockey game, and the one thing they’re waiting for is a fight, you know what I’m saying? So if they could set it up something like that in the NBA. That if there are two guys and they have a problem, if they could just separate everybody. And these two people that have problem, if they could fight …

During the game?

During the game. Quick, 15-20 seconds, throw few punches, then referees jump in and break this thing up. I think the game … these two guys, they resolved their problem. They’re both suspended and they’re leaving. But end of the day, they fix the problem between each other, fans are super excited, and I think that would be a pretty cool idea [chuckles].

You’d need bigger refs. You couldn’t have Dick Bavetta out there.

At some point when the referees jump in, then you’d have to stop. You’d have to stop. So I think that would be a great idea, just like the ice hockey fans waiting for that, that’s would NBA fans would get into, as well.

And, I think we’re definitely going to mention this in the players’ meeting, but we definitely have to mention the situation about the fans. When we say something to the fan, and when we curse him out, or when we definitely throw a punch, or we’re trying to hit the fan, we are suspended for half of the season. But when they yell at us or insult us or are cursing at us using bad words, they don’t get anything. So what I would say is that there’s definitely supposed to be a rule where if one of the fans is disrespecting us, then he got to leave the gym automatically.

This summer you will be an unrestricted free agent. This being your seventh year in the league, you’ve never really been a free agent, as you signed an offer sheet with Dallas in 2009 but Orlando matched, which is something you did not like. So what’s in your mind right now about being able to go through the free-agent process and really be able to be courted for the first time?

All I know is that I’m going to be a free agent. I don’t know how it is to be a player that actually is going to be able to pick the team he wants to play for, you know what I’m saying? I’m hoping that at the end of the day I’m going to be able to pick the team where I will play. I hope there will be a team, let’s put it this way first.

We still have 20 or so games to play. I’ve got to finish strong, and then we’re going to make a run into the playoffs, and then we’ll see what’s going to happen. Then I’m going to call my agent and say, “Hey, you gotta do your job. I did my job, now you gotta do your job. I’m looking forward to holidays now.” So, we’ll see.

There’s a lot of different things I’m going to look at. The team situation. The goal of the team. I’m going to look at the point guard. I’m going to look at the coaching staff. I’m going to look at a lot of different things before I’m going to pick the team, and obviously Washington is going to be really close to me right now. I feel really comfortable here. They have two rising stars in Bradley Beal and John Wall, and this team’s definitely going to get better and better. They have Otto Porter, who’s going to be a good player one day. And there’s going to be a lot of different things I’m going to look at. But quite honestly, right now I just want to make sure that we’re not going to lose five in a row and that we won’t lose a spot in the playoffs, because that would be the worst thing. I’m more pumped up for being in the playoffs again and not watching them in front of the TV. Back in the day I was spoiled by [Stan] Van Gundy playing all the way to the conference finals. With Phoenix, I was in the playoffs, so finally now [I have] an opportunity again.

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No. 3: Beverley says Blazers’ Lillard ‘whines’ — A couple more wins here for the Blazers, a couple more losses there for the Rockets and we could be looking at a Houston-Portland series in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. Given the classic OT game the two teams turned in on Sunday night, it is doubtful few NBA followers would turn down a best-of-7 series between those two teams. And, to add a little spice to what might be a budding rivalry out West, Rockets point guard Patrick Beverley took to a Houston-area sports radio show and had some words for Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard. Dan Feldman of ProBasketballTalk.com has more, including some select quotes from that interview:

Lillard lobbed the opening salvo after Houston’s win over Portland on Sunday, basically calling Beverley a dirty player.

Appearing on Houston radio SportsTalk 790 today, Beverly went through eight and a half minutes of interview until this happened:

  • Host: “Hey, Pat, thank you for the time. We’ll talk with you next week.”
  • Beverley: “Are you going to ask me no questions me about Damian Lillard?”

Beverley:

Damian Lillard whines. So, I’m not a big fan of that. I don’t go out there and try to start fights with anybody. I go out there and play my game.

Beverley on Lillard again:

The way I guard him, the way I guard Steph Curry, the way I guard Chris Paul, the way I guard Goran Dragic, the way I guard Kyrie Irving – I all guard the same players the same. I don’t look at film on players. I don’t look at players’ habits. I go out there and impose my will on people, and I do what I do, and I’m aggressive on defense.

I don’t care what he says. You’re a grown man. You’re a professional basketball player – professional first.

You always push and shove, and that’s basketball. I don’t know how other people were raised, but that’s basketball. That’s how you grew up playing, battling. You get pushed down. You get back up. You battle the next guy. You should enjoy the competition. No one is going out there to hurt someone, and I was kind of offended the way that he was talking. I’m a positive person. I usually don’t say anything about anything, but if I feel that something is not right, I’m definitely going to mention about it. And the things that he was saying yesterday really bothered me.


VIDEO: James Harden and the Rockets top the Blazers in OT

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No. 4: Boozer shuts out Chicago media — The words “warm fuzzies” and “Carlos Boozer” are rarely used in the same sentence with Chicago Bulls fans. The oft-maligned power forward has been a target of criticism for his performance (particularly on defense) at times and for his hefty contract at other times. As our own Steve Aschburner pointed out a few weeks ago, though, none of this chatter seems to bother Boozer. Well, at least maybe it didn’t anyway. Apparently, the end of the season (and a possible contract amnesty date) drawing near might be getting to Boozer, as he has stopped talking to the media, writes Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

Whether it’s a lack of playing time in the fourth quarter or the reality that his contract could be amnestied this summer, there seems to be a disconnect lately between Carlos Boozer and the media.

Case in point: Asked to talk to awaiting reporters after a recent practice, Boozer declined and said loudly, “I don’t give a damn.’’

Tom Thibodeau was asked on Monday if he thought Boozer was less engaged because of his diminished role. The Bulls coach defended his power forward but also made it obvious who is calling the shots on minutes in crunch time.

“We’re at the time of the year where we need everyone at their best,’’ Thibodeau said. “We have to put maximum work into it. Everyone has a job to do. You have to put the team first. … If you play well, you’re going to play.’’


VIDEO: Carlos Boozer talks after the Bulls’ recent win over the Warriors

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Oklahoma City’s defense has all of the sudden become pretty terribleRamon Sessions has settled in as the Bucks’ “closing” point guard … Ex-Jazzmen Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap provided the fuel to give the listless Hawks a win in Salt Lake City … Bulls center Joakim Noah apparently is not a fan of “M-V-P!” chants directed his way by Chicago fans … An in-depth look at how San Antonio’s defense is able to often effectively corral LeBron James

ICYMI of the Night: What’s gotten into Brandon Knight lately? A couple of weeks ago he had this tasty fastbreak slam against the Sixers, and then last night, he delivers another power punch — this time against the Magic …


VIDEO: Brandon Knight finishes strong on the break against the Magic

Mavs blow it, then win It vs. Blazers

VIDEO: Mavericks win wild one against Blazers

DALLAS – The Dallas Mavericks described their listless defeat at Denver on Wednesday night as embarrassing. What might have they called losing to the Portland Trail Blazers after leading by 30?

Because they did indeed upchuck a 30-point cushion and it wasn’t looking pretty as they trailed 98-92 with 4:26 to go. Ultimately, Dallas avoided the humiliation of a super-sized “L” lassoed around their throats. What would have gone down as the largest lead tossed aside on their home floor in franchise history turned into the strangest of comeback wins, an 11-0 spurt down the stretch securing a 103-98 win the hard way.

“We’ve been blowing leads all year,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said, leaving the carnage of five blown leads of at least 17 points unspoken. “We’ve blown a lot of big leads, so this is one of the realities that we face with this team, and we’re going to keep working to prevent it from happening next time. That’s all we can do, that’s all we can do. … With 19 games left, we’ve got to work to prevent because tonight, if you talk about doing it the hard way, there’s no harder way to do it than tonight.”

Dallas built a 40-10 lead and then was outscored 79-42 and trailed 89-82 with 8:36 left in the game.

Five times this season Dallas has blown leads of at least 17 points. Just a few nights ago inside the American Airlines Center, Joakim Noah and the Chicago Bulls crushed a 16-point first-half deficit and beat Dallas. Afterward, Dirk Nowitzki said he almost wished they hadn’t of built such a big lead so early.

He’ll also recall the 21-point bulge the Mavs had in the first quarter at Toronto on Jan. 22 and eventually lost. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been overly shocking since Dallas led the Raptors by 19 in Dallas and sill lost.

The worst relinquished lead, though, had to be that January night in Los Angeles against the Clippers. The Mavs were burying the Clips in the fourth quarter and cruising toward a huge road victory. They led 123-106 with 4:35 to go and lost in a wild ending, 129-127.

This one was equally crazy in the final minutes. Portland wasn’t amused that Dallas got into the bonus basically three minutes into the fourth quarter, and then a close blocking call on Damian Lillard with 24.6 seconds left in a tie game allowed the driving Devin Harris to complete a three-point play for a 101-98 lead.

“I didn’t agree with the call,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said not surprisingly. Lillard agreed. Harris, also not surprisingly, said he didn’t believe Lillard had squared his shoulders, therefor the proper call was executed.

“A charge or a no-call, yeah,” Stotts said of what should have been where he stood. “It was [a big play]. I’m not going to complain about the officials. I disagree with the call. It was the play of the game because it was a tie game and a three-point play. It changes everything.”

But it wasn’t the only play. The Blazers couldn’t miss in the third quarter, shooting 63.6 percent to win the quarter 36-18. LaMarcus Aldridge scored 18 of his game-high 30 points in the period. But in the final 4:26, Portland failed to score on nine consecutive possessions and Aldridge missed his last five shot attempts after his alley-oop dunk gave the Blazers a 98-92 lead. He couldn’t convert late near the hoop in all manner of traffic and Aldridge couldn’t believe he didn’t hear a whistle.

“I definitely felt like there were some calls that they got earlier that I didn’t get late,” Aldridge said. “The one that Dirk pump-faked and the guy went up in the air, I did it in the paint, they didn’t call it. I feel like one of the offensive rebounds I got hit a few times, so I mean, I don’t know, but I have to be better in the stretch.”

With 19 seconds left and the Blazers needing a 3 to tie, there was a cross-up and Aldridge threw the ball out of bounds, effectively ending any chance of coming back in a game they had already come back from down 30.

“I had some big miscues down the stretch,” the Dallas native Aldridge acknowledged. “I missed some shots down the stretch, so you know, fighting all the way back and being up and having an opportunity to win — not taking care of business.”

Pool of talent exists beyond 1-and-dones


VIDEO: Damian Lillard has enjoyed the Blazers’ quiet rise to contention this season

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – On the one-and-done issue, second-year All-Star point guard Damian Lillard has no issue with commissioner Adam Silver‘s desire to raise the minimum age to enter the league from 19 to 20.

After all, the Portland Trail Blazers’ No. 6 overall pick in 2012 turned 22 a few weeks after the Draft. He played four seasons at little-known Weber State in Ogden, Utah. Lillard’s rookie teammate, guard C.J. McCollum, turned 22 a few months after the Blazers made him the No. 10 pick in the 2013 Draft. McCollum played four years at tiny Lehigh in Bethlehem, Pa.

“I definitely don’t think guys should be able to leave [for the NBA] after high school,” Lillard said during the All-Star break. “Back in the day there were guys like LeBron James coming out, Kevin Garnett. I don’t think you have that anymore, guys that can come in and do what they do. As far as college, it’s different situations. My freshman year in college, I wasn’t ready to be an NBA player. What was best for me was to play four years of college. Some guys, Anthony Davis, 6-foot-10, great defender, it was perfect for him, it was time for him to be an NBA player.”

Every few years there will be a special talent such as Davis, who was the top pick in 2012. He seemed ready to enter the big leagues at age 18 or 19. But would it have benefited Davis’ Kentucky teammate, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, to spend another season with the Wildcats rather than go No. 2 overall (at 19 years old) to the Charlotte Bobcats in 2012?

“A lot of it is mental and having that college experience helps because I was in that situation so many different times when my team depended on me to make a play, to make a shot, bring us back, stuff like that,” said Lillard, who has hit four game-winners this season. “Just having that experience over and over and over those four years helped prepare me for whenever that came up in the NBA.”

Of course that’s the overriding argument for raising the age limit. The NBA wants players entering the league to be more physically and emotionally prepared for life on and off the court. Coaches at major programs crave more continuity for their programs.

But is the one-and-done issue really a problem?

Of the 18 first- and second-year players at last month’s Rising Stars Challenge game during All-Star weekend, 16 of them attended college (two were international players). Twelve played beyond one season. Six played two seasons and three each played three years and four years.

Only four were one-and-done: Davis, Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal, Pistons center Andre Drummond and Thunder center Steven Adams.

One-and-done hasn’t exactly opened the floodgates to players declaring for the Draft after one college season. Still, the blue-blood collegiate programs, with such small windows to compete for a championship with top recruits, are on the hunt for high school players physically prepared to play as freshmen. It leaves a large pool of talented players to fall through the cracks and land at smaller, so-called “mid-major” programs.

Once there, they tend to stay for multiple years, allowing for maturation and development in bridging the gap from 18 years old to 21 or 22.

“We have a better understanding of everything because we’ve been through a lot,” said McCollum, whose rookie season was stunted by a broken foot late in training camp. “Going to small schools, not being recruited, you go through a lot, having to earn everything, having to work really hard, and you have to take advantage of moments because at a small school you don’t play a lot of big teams so you have to capitalize on a small window of opportunities.”

Since Blazers general manager Neil Olshey used consecutive top 10 draft picks on two four-year, mid-major players, it wasn’t surprising to find him in the stands at the University of Texas at Arlington on a bitterly cold early February night. He was there getting a first-hand look at a junior point guard in the Sun Belt Conference.

Elfrid Payton,” Lillard said, totally aware of the 6-foot-3 Louisiana-Lafayette prospect, a potential late first-round, early second-round draft pick.

Olshey wasn’t alone as Bucks general manager John Hammond also made the trip. In addition, 20 other NBA teams dispatched scouts to the game as front offices canvas smaller programs more than ever.

“I think there’s always been talent [at smaller schools], I just think guys like Steph Curry, Paul George, myself, Rodney Stuckey, I think that as guys are successful in the NBA, they’re [front offices] starting to pay closer attention to mid-majors,” Lillard said. “I don’t think it’s new. I think there’s probably been a lot of guys that just got overlooked, that didn’t get the opportunity. The good thing is the guys that I just named are opening up doors for guys like Elfrid Payton.”

Curry played three seasons at Davidson. George spent two years at Fresno State and Stuckey played two years at Eastern Washington. Lillard could have also named Kawhi Leonard (two years at San Diego State), Kenneth Faried (four years at Morehead State) and Gordon Hayward (two years at Bulter).

The few sure-fire one-and-done players at the marquee schools get the lion’s share of attention. But players are everywhere, players you’ve never heard of, but maybe should have and perhaps will.

Like Damian Lillard.


VIDEO: After a long wait, Portland’s C.J. McCollum got to make his NBA debut

Is Aldridge’s pick-and-roll defense a problem for Blazers?


VIDEO: LaMarcus Aldridge talks after the Blazers’ win against the Hawks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – When we looked at the teammates that had defended the pick-and-roll the best on Wednesday, Mo Williams and Robin Lopez were sixth on the list, but the Portland Trail Blazers were nowhere near the top 10 in team rankings.

According to SportVU, the Blazers ranked 26th in pick-and-roll defense through Monday’s games and are up to 22nd after a game against the reeling Hawks on Wednesday. They’ve allowed 1.06 points per pick-and-roll possession overall, even though they’ve been pretty good when Lopez has been the guy defending the screener, allowing just 1.01. That ranks 55th among 134 players who had been the screener’s defender on at least 200 pick-and-roll possessions through Wednesday. Not great, but above-average.

Note: All stats included here are through Wednesday, March 5.

But near the bottom of the list is Lopez’s frontcourt-mate, LaMarcus Aldridge. The Blazers have allowed 1.17 points per possession when Aldridge has been the guy defending the screener. Of those 134 players who have defended at least 200 pick-and-roll possessions, only one – Trevor Booker – has a higher mark (1.18).

The discrepancy between Lopez’s and Aldridge’s numbers is rather remarkable, because both bigs basically defend pick-and-rolls the same way (though Portland will mix things up a little with Aldridge). While the Pacers drop back with their centers and show high with their power forwards, both Aldridge (most of the time) and Lopez drop back…

20140307_aldridge_pnr

20140307_lopez_pnr

Who are they guarding?

Is it a power forward vs. center thing? The players Aldridge is guarding (Dirk Nowitzki, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, etc.) are generally more potent offensively than those Lopez is guarding. And the biggest difference in Aldridge and Lopez’s numbers is the field goal percentage that the screener has shot when he has got the ball…

Pick-and-rolls vs. Lopez and Aldridge

Defender Scr. Poss Opp PTS PTS/Poss BH FGM BH FGA BH FG% S FGM S FGA S FG%
Lopez 948 908 914 1.01 140 347 40.3% 59 131 45.0%
Aldridge 734 703 826 1.17 102 249 41.0% 75 132 56.8%

BH FGM, FGA, FG% = Ball-handler shooting
S FGM, FGA, FG% = Screener shooting

But other defenses in the West don’t have the same discrepancy.

When the starting power forwards from the other top 10 teams in the West have defended the screener on a pick-and-roll, the opponent has scored 1.02 points per possession. And when the starting centers on those same teams have defended the screener, the opponent has scored 1.02 points per possession. No discrepancy at all.

The Suns’ pick-and-roll defense has been slightly better when Miles Plumlee has defended the screener than when Channing Frye has, and the same goes for the Warriors, Andrew Bogut and David Lee. But none of the other nine teams has nearly the difference that we see with the Blazers.

The eye test

Watching film, Aldridge doesn’t come across as a noticeably bad pick-and-roll defender. He’s usually in the right position, he doesn’t get caught standing still, or get turned around and lost on possessions (like a couple of bigs in New York).

The Blazers track every defensive possession themselves and say that Aldridge grades out closer the league average on pick-and-rolls (and that Lopez still grades out as better). And when we look at the 57 percent that the screener has shot on Aldridge-defended pick-and-rolls, we’re only talking about 132 shots, not the greatest sample size.

But Synergy Sports grades him as “poor” in regard to defending the roll man. And it’s not hard to find examples (via NBA.com/stats video boxscores) where he fails to close out and lets an opposing big shoot in rhythm…

You can also find examples of him closing out fine, but other West power forwards grade out better via SportVU. The screener takes more shots and shoots them better against Aldridge than any of the other nine guys listed below (from the other West teams at or above .500), even though they’ve all had to defend Aldridge himself, who has attempted almost 200 more mid-range shots than any other player in the league.

Pick-and-roll defense, West power forwards

Defender Scr. Poss Opp PTS PTS/Poss Rk S FGM S FGA S FG% Rk
LaMarcus Aldridge 734 703 826 1.17 10 75 132 56.8% 10
Tim Duncan 849 817 854 1.05 8 42 96 43.8% 4
Channing Frye 729 698 755 1.08 9 39 96 40.6% 2
Blake Griffin 925 896 935 1.04 7 46 91 50.5% 7
Serge Ibaka 733 706 687 0.97 2 32 71 45.1% 5
Terrence Jones 584 561 560 1.00 4 30 72 41.7% 3
David Lee 657 629 592 0.94 1 31 77 40.3% 1
Kevin Love 638 609 593 0.97 3 38 71 53.5% 9
Dirk Nowitzki 668 645 659 1.02 5 44 85 51.8% 8
Zach Randolph 794 767 788 1.03 6 48 98 49.0% 6

Right shots, wrong results

Again, we’re only looking at 132 of the 5,350 shots that Portland opponents have attempted this season. And the Blazers do force the right shots.

The intent of their drop-back scheme is to force the least efficient shots on the floor, between the restricted area and the 3-point line. And 45.4 percent of Portland opponents’ shots have come from there. That’s the fifth highest mark in the league, behind only teams that rank in the top five in defensive efficiency. Portland also ranks in the top 10 in percentage of jump shots that they’ve contested.

But their opponents have made 41 percent of those shots between the restricted area and 3-point line, the fourth highest percentage.

Highest percentage of opponents shots from between
the restricted area and the 3-point line

Team FGM FGA FG% Rank %FGA
Indiana 943 2,462 38.3% 7 48.5%
San Antonio 974 2,469 39.4% 15 48.2%
Golden State 964 2,503 38.5% 8 47.9%
Chicago 905 2,377 38.1% 4 47.6%
Portland 994 2,428 40.9% 27 45.4%

%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts

Whether that’s a case of bad luck or because they don’t really contest that well, that’s still just 0.82 points per attempt, which is fine defensively. The Blazers also rank 11th in 3-point defense and second in defending the restricted area.

So, in terms of defending shots, the Blazers do a pretty good job, despite the Aldridge pick-and-roll issue. They rank seventh in opponent effective field goal percentage. But they rank 19th in defensive efficiency, mostly because they force the fewest turnovers in the league, just 12.3 per 100 possessions. And they force only 11.3 with their starting lineup on the floor.

In part, that goes back to their pick-and-roll defense. Not only do the bigs drop back (which means that ball-handlers don’t have to pick up their dribble and make a pass as often), but the guards (especially Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews) don’t apply much pressure up front and can get caught on those screens. No Blazer ranks in the top 80 in steals per game.

Still, the Blazers are OK when Lopez defends pick-and-rolls. And it may be that his ability to stop the ball-handler and stay in contact with the roll man that allows his teammates to better defend their own guys. If Aldridge is a step slower, that can have a domino effect two or three passes away.

Trending up?

The Blazers actually have the No. 1 defense since the All-Star break. That number has been schedule-aided though, as they’ve played the Jazz, Lakers, Hawks, and two games against the depleted Nuggets. It also may have been aided by Aldridge’s absence in the first five post-break games, as they found some defensive success playing smaller and quicker.

Aldridge is back and we’re going to find out if the Portland defense is really improved over the next 10 days, when five of their six games are against teams that rank in the top 12 offensively (and the other is against the improved Grizzlies).

A five-game trip begins against the fourth-ranked Dallas offense on Friday and we’ll see how well Aldridge contests Nowitzki.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 24


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe on Collins and courage “domino” effect | Oden’s makes waves, first start for Heat | Clippers finally get what they need … win over the Thunder | Wizards turn to veterns for help down the stretch | A “shoe war” over Lillard?

No. 1: Kobe insists Collins courage will have domnio effect – Making history surely wasn’t on the mind of Jason Collins Sunday night, as he became the first openly gay athlete to suit up and play in one of the four major American sports. All Collins, of the Brooklyn Nets, was trying to do was earn his 10-day contract keep and help his team win. Whether he likes it or now, though, Collins is taking groundbreaking steps that will generate what Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant called a courage domino effect across the landscape. Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports explains:

“His impact [Sunday night] is greater than what people think,” Bryant told Yahoo Sports before the game. “You look at it from the context of having the first openly gay player. But they missed the domino effect that it has way beyond sports.”

Collins, now in his 13th season, was a free agent at the time of his announcement and the Nets were the first team to sign him. Bryant said his initial reaction to Collins signing with Brooklyn was, “It’s great. Let’s hoop.”

Along with having an impact on the gay and sports communities, Bryant says the news teaches the youth “it’s OK to be yourself” and will motivate people from all walks of life.

“It’s fantastic. It sets an incredible precedent,” said Bryant, who is currently out of the Lakers’ lineup indefinitely with a knee injury. “I think the most important part about it, what I’ve learned on the issue is that one person coming out is showing this type of courage that gives others that same type of courage.

“It’s dealing with a lot of issues for kids who are afraid to be themselves. Afraid to be themselves because of the peer pressure that comes with it. A lot of these kids have depression issues or they’re being teased from other kids for being different. You wind up seeing a lot of suicides, kids injuring themselves and getting hooked on things that they should not be hooked on.”

On the impact of Collins’ first game, Bryant said: “There is a kid out there who … is going to say, ‘Jason gave me strength in dark moments to be brave. He gave me courage to step up and accept myself for who I am despite what others might be saying or the public pressures. He gave me strength and bravery to be myself.’”

Collins, who was scoreless in 10-plus minutes of action, said in response to Bryant’s praise, “That’s along the same lines of what I would say to every other professional athlete. … Realize that there is support there waiting for you. That’s the only thing I can say about encouraging people to be their true self.”


VIDEO: Jason Collins waxes on his season debut with the Brooklyn Nets

***

No. 2: Greg Oden’s first start for Heat (sans LeBron) ends with a win – Greg Oden made some news of his own Sunday, earning his first start for the Miami Heat in their win over the Chicago Bulls. The former No. 1 overall pick reached yet another milestone in his long journey back from what once appeared to be career-ending knee injuries. His start came without LeBron James in uniform, the Heat superstar sat out with that broken nose suffered against the Oklahoma City Thunder last week. But this day was about Oden and his milestone, writes Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald:

Oden’s big-picture perspective is unwavering.

He’s just happy to be here.

“For me, each game getting better and walking off healthy — they’re all milestones to me,” said Oden, who is attempting to revive his career after a series of knee injuries. “It has been a long road, so every one is a good one for me.”

Sunday might have been the best of all. He started his first game since December 2009 and played nearly 13 minutes in Miami’s victory. During his brief time in the game, Oden matched up against Bulls center Joakim Noah and had five points and five rebounds.

“He’s an active player for someone that big,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He makes multiple efforts, he gives you extra possessions and he’s very intelligent, so he has a pretty good grasp of what we want and how we want to play already.”

With LeBron James out with a broken nose, Spoelstra went to Oden for his size inside against the Bulls and also to keep the Heat’s second unit somewhat intact. Chicago is one of the league’s most aggressive rebounding teams and it showed early. The Bulls held a 32-19 rebounding advantage after the first half.

“We knew the minutes would be short for Greg still — 10 to 12 minutes — so we figure that [it would] be best to get him in that starting lineup,” Spoelstra said. “We get to keep our rotations somewhat similar.”

Oden said he could have played more than 13 minutes, which is a positive sign for the Heat. He is expected to be an important piece in the playoffs, especially against teams such as the Bulls and Indiana Pacers, which feature big frontcourts.

On a contending team for the first time in his career, Oden is following the lead of his more experienced teammates and Oden’s health is returning just in time for the Heat’s playoff push.

“They’ve all been through this before,” Oden said. “This is one of my first times going through this. This is that push you’ve got to get for first place. That’s what we are aiming for right now the next push is going to be when the playoffs come.”

***

No. 3: Clippers finally get that much-needed win over The Thunder – The Los Angeles Clippers fancy themselves a championship team, as do the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Clippers, though, needed a win over the Thunder, on the road, to legitimize their claim. And they finally got that Sunday, solving their Thunder issue on the big stage and sending a message that they are indeed going to be a part of the power mix in the Western Conference playoff chase. As Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times reports, it was long overdue:

The Clippers needed this.

A 125-117 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday carried restorative powers for a Clippers team had been unsuccessful against the NBA’s elite on the road.

The Thunder owned the league’s best record — until the Clippers’ victory took their opponent down a peg to 43-14, percentage points behind Indiana (42-13).

The Clippers won with all five starters scoring in double figures. Jamal Crawford led the way with 36 points, but Matt Barnes (24 points, seven rebounds), Blake Griffin (20 points, seven rebounds, six assists), DeAndre Jordan (18 points, 12 rebounds) and Chris Paul (18 points, 12 assists, eight rebounds) all played significant roles.

“It’s definitely a good win for us,” said Paul, who played despite a sprained right thumb. “We were on the plane [Saturday] flying here and we were just talking about how we hadn’t beat any good teams on the road, and this would be the perfect time to start.”

The Clippers lost here earlier this season. They also have lost at San Antonio, Miami, Indiana and Portland, teams that rank among the best in the league.

The Clippers have won at Houston, but that was only one win against five road losses against the top teams.

Now the Clippers have a victory against a Thunder team that has lost only five games at home all season. They also have their first win since the All-Star game, after stumbling out of the break with losses to San Antonio and at Memphis.

“It was a very important win, especially having dropped our last two,” Griffin said. “This win was big for us. We haven’t really made a statement on the road. We’ve won some games, but we haven’t won big games. So it was terrific for us.”


VIDEO: Doc Rivers talks about the Clippers’ big win in OKC

***

No. 4: Wizards turns to veterans for help down the stretch – Trades and injuries have a way of opening doors for NBA veterans this time of year and the Washington Wizards are not different. After their work on deadline day, the Wizards had a new point guard in Andre Miller and an opening for a few minutes for guys like Al Harrington and Kevin Seraphin. An injury to Nene created even more space for those two veterans and they answered the call for Randy Wittman‘s team. Michael Lee of The Washington Post with the details:

Kevin Seraphin couldn’t get overly concerned when he saw Nene crumple to the ground in pain, then hop off the court and through the tunnel toward the Wizards’ locker room on his good, right leg. Coach Randy Wittman called on Seraphin immediately after Nene went down with what the team is calling a sprained left knee in the third quarter of the Wizards’ 96-83 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday. Seraphin had to be ready.

“Yeah. I saw him leave, but when we’re in the game, we have to be focused on the game,” Seraphin said.

The Wizards (28-28) were only up by three points at the time of Nene’s departure and they have typically become flimsy when their most gifted big man is unable to finish a game. Washington squandered a 10-point fourth-quarter lead when Nene was ejected with roughly three minutes left in Oklahoma City, lost in overtime to Milwaukee when Nene strained his right Achilles’ tendon, and suffered a controversial defeat in Houston after Nene fouled out late in the fourth quarter.

After Luol Deng completed a three-point play to bring the Cavaliers within 73-72 with 93 seconds left in the third quarter, the Wizards were once again in danger of letting a winnable game get away from them. Then, Wittman put veteran Al Harrington on the floor and he made two huge shots – a driving layup and a three-pointer – to send the Wizards into the fourth period with a six-point lead.

“I was just looking for an opportunity. I was ready, obviously, the situation with Nene allowed me to do a little more,” Harrington said. “It’s tough. He’s been playing some great basketball, so that was tough to see. Hopefully we can get him back sooner than later, but guys got to step up. I think we got enough guys that can do that.”

Harrington didn’t score for the rest of the game. But Seraphin came through with two huge, 10-foot jump hooks to push the Wizards ahead 82-74 early in the fourth quarter.

“He’s capable of doing that,” Wittman said of Seraphin. “The more he simplifies his game the better. Sometimes he likes to trick people, and we got to get him just to be simple. That’s his move and he does it very well. Big couple of shots he hit.”

Harrington finished with two rebounds and an assist and tried to extend the lead but missed a three-pointer and Wittman replaced him with Marcin Gortat. “I thought Al gave us a big lift in the second half. He was panting like a dog out there but we got to continue to get him rounded into shape,” Wittman said of Harrington, who played just 31 seconds the night before against New Orleans as Nene matched his career high with 30 points.

***

No. 5: It’s gotta be the shoes for Portland’s Lillard – Portland All-Star point guard Damian Lillard made waves with his busy schedule during All-Star Weekend. There could be more waves on the horizon where he is concerned, courtesy of a budding tug of war over his shoe company. It’s been a while since a battle between shoe giants made noise in the NBA, but Lillard’s story is about to get interesting as Adidas and Nike get ready to tussle over the young star. Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com provides the minutiae:

Lillard, 23, has a profitable rookie shoe endorsement deal with adidas, though that could change abruptly due to clever language in his contract.

Being that he took home the 2012-13 NBA Rookie of the Year award, became an NBA All-Star and reached other unique incentive clauses in his first two seasons, Lillard will be able to opt out of his shoe contract at the end of the basketball season and either renegotiate a more lucrative deal with adidas, or open negotiations with Nike, Brand Jordan, Reebok or Under Armor, league sources informed CSNNW.com.

Another source that’s vastly briefed on Lillard’s situation added, “There’s no doubt about it, he’s opting out.”

Rival shoe companies have been well-versed on the matter for months and are expected to make competitive offers, but CSNNW.com is told that Nike stands the best chance of luring Lillard away from adidas.

Adidas is in no position to lose their accomplished young standout point guard.

Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose is currently viewed as the basketball face of adidas. However, his string of knee injuries in addition to the fact that he has only participated in 49 games in three seasons has adidas apprehensive he can remain the company’s headliner.

In 2012, Rose signed a multiyear deal in the upwards of $200 million.

Lillard hasn’t missed a game in his one and half years as a professional and the way in which he carries himself on and off the court is without glitch if a company seeks to market him as the face of a national corporation.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Sunday proved to be a great day/night for quite a few players from around the league. that lists include Kevin DurantJamal CrawfordGoran DragicRudy GayDanny Granger is still MIA for the Sixers on the practice court. The buyout has to be negotiated if he plans on moving on without suiting up in Philly … The Commissioner speaks on openly gay pro athletes … Harvey Araton of The New York Times weighs in on Collins, too, and the impact he can have going forward

ICYMI(s) of The Night: Thomas Robinson showed up and showed out for the Trail Blazers in so many ways …


VIDEO: The Thomas Robinson affair folks

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 17


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for All-Star Sunday

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Westbrook to return Feb. 20 | Aldridge: Players interested in Blazers | Howard on his path to Houston | Gilbert opens up on ‘Letter’, Cavs

No. 1: Report: Westbrook may return Feb. 20 — At last night’s All-Star Game in New Orleans, Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant put on quite a show en route to a 38-point night and nearly won the MVP award, too. Afterward, he spoke with our David Aldridge and said he was mostly trying to enjoy the weekend and All-Star Game, but maybe he’ll be a bit happier once he gets back to OKC with the latest news about his All-Star teammate, Russell Westbrook. According to Yahoo!Sports’ Marc J. Spears, Westbrook is closing in on a return and could play as soon as this Thurday when the Thunder host the Heat (8 p.m. ET, TNT):

The Oklahoma City Thunder are hopeful that injured guard Russell Westbrook will return for Thursday’s game against the Miami Heat, a source to Yahoo Sports.

The Thunder announced on Dec. 27 that Westbrook had surgery on his right knee for the second time since late October. He was projected to be out until after the NBA All-Star break without a specific return game. The source said Westbrook will be re-evaluated on Tuesday in Oklahoma City, which could open the door for a return against the visiting Heat.

Westbrook averaged 21.3 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds in 25 games. The Thunder are 22-8 without Westbrook, mainly due to Kevin Durant playing on an MVP level.

“This whole group, they are resilient,” Durant said. “We persevered through everything and just stayed together. We had faith no matter what. We are looking forward to having Russell back and make it seem less of a transition for him.”

***

No. 2: Aldridge says some stars want to join BlazersLaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard became the first pair of Trail Blazers players to participate in the All-Star Game since 1994, when Clyde Drexler and Cliff Robinson represented the Rose City. Apparently, though, the Blazers’ sudden success this season has caught the eye of more than just All-Star voters and coaches. Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com reports that Aldridge and Lillard both said that fellow All-Stars have expressed interest to them, albeit anonymously, about playing in Portland:

When you’re winning, players want to follow. And according to Aldridge, a couple of All-Star players that shall remain anonymous have approached him, telling him that they would like to play with himself and Damian Lillard in Portland.

“Definitely a few guys have told me that this weekend,” Aldridge informed CSNNW.com.

Aldridge and Lillard say they haven’t actively recruited players over the course of the weekend, which is revealing, meaning those anonymous players went out of their way to express their interest in playing for the Trail Blazers.

“I think winning and the type of people that we are will attract people,” Lillard said. “In that way, I guess we are recruiting but I haven’t actively done so.”

The long perception of the Trail Blazers being an unattractive team in the far left coast with their closest opponent approximately 630 miles away, Portland is slowly starting to transform into a place that players have to consider if serious about their basketball careers.

“If you’re serious about basketball, Portland is the place,” Lillard told CSNNW.com. “I love it there. It’s not a big city so it allows you to concentrate on your craft. Some people need the distractions of the nightlife but for me personally, it’s the perfect place for me. I just work on my game. That’s what I get paid to do.”

All-Star Weekend is where friendships are started and developed. Having the opportunity to play with the best players in the world does something to players. They start to envision playing together. Then they talk about it amongst themselves.The Big 3 in Miami had a few All-Star Weekends together before they joined forces in the summer of 2010. All-Star power forward Chris Bosh admits guys do think those thoughts, but claims that most of the time, talk is all it amounts to.

“Yeah, you always do that like, ‘Man, it would be great to play with this dude. He’s very talented. He’s the best of the best in the league.’ But most of the time, it’s unrealistic,” Bosh said.

Probably so, but it’s still great when players say they want to come play with you in your city. That’s a start. Whether it happens or not is another story.


VIDEO: All-Star highlights from Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge

***

No. 3: Howard explains why he ended up in Houston – In a great, overarching story from All-Star weekend by the venerable J.A. Adande of ESPN.com, he takes a look at how the NBA has changed so much since the Michael Jordan era. One key point of his story is how in today’s era, the only way for players to maximum maintain control of their careers is by playing for less the the maximum amount of money. To his point, former Orlando Magic star Dwight Howard explains how that thinking may have shaped his decision to force a trade to the L.A. Lakers and his ultimate signing with the Houston Rockets last summer:

What’s undeniable is that LeBron’s move to Miami and Dwight Howard’s departure to Houston were the right move for both to make, even if they were handled clumsily and awkwardly. Want to talk fast? Doesn’t it already seem like a long time ago that Howard’s wobbly walk out of Orlando and his uncomfortable season in L.A. were as big a story as the NBA had? Now he’s on the hottest team in the league at the All-Star break, winners of seven straight, sitting in third place in the Western Conference and reporters were more interested in the upcoming free agencies of LeBron, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love (in 2015).

Howard couldn’t have come off worse when he left Orlando. But now that he’s finally settled in Houston he’s said nothing but the right things. On the other side of his free agency he offered an eloquent perspective on a player’s right to determine his playing place.

“That’s the only time you really want to be selfish, when you’re making the decision about where you want to play basketball,” Howard said. “A lot of people might look at you and say, ‘Hey that’s not right, you’re not looking out for my team or my city.’ But at the end of the day, you only get one time around the track, you only get one time to play this game of basketball. Our windows are so short. We have to do whatever we can to be successful. A lot of people are not going to like it … because we’re not doing what they want us to do. And people hate that. All of us have to learn, in our own way, we have to make ourselves happy first. We want to do whatever we can for the fans, sign autographs, take pictures. That’s who we are off the court. But when it comes to the business of basketball, we have to be selfish and take care of our self first.”

***

No. 4: Cavs owner Gilbert opens up in Q&AWe’ve mentioned several times in Hang Time land this season how much of a disappointment the Cleveland Cavaliers have been, especially given their offseason roster makeover and the expectations of a playoff run (or more) in 2013-14. Team owner Dan Gilbert, never one to shy away from commenting about his team, recently chatted with Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal and opened up on the rough season, his infamous ‘Letter’ to LeBron James after he left the Cavs in 2010 and more:

Q: Why has this season been such a disappointment?

A: Well up until the last week and maybe the road trip before that, you’re absolutely right the season overall has not hit our expectations. It’s hard to pinpoint the reason. We needed to figure out who we are: Who we are as a team and as a franchise and make sure we’re all headed in the same direction. I think it has taken a little bit longer to gel from a chemistry standpoint. Some of that is non-tangible, but to me not just basketball but all organizations there has to be a chemistry where people trust each other, believe in each other from the front office to the coaching staff to the players. There was a lot of static this year. A lot of that is expected as normal growing pains from a young team, but I think there was more than people expected. Hopefully now we see here within the last week, that’s beginning to change in a significant way.

Q: Do you regret saying at the lottery, ‘We’re not coming back here,’ because it seemed to really speed up the clock?

A: I think that was in response to questions. Obviously when a reporter asks you a question when you’ve been at the lottery three years in a row, I don’t think it shows much confidence to your fan base or anything that you’re not going to fee pretty good about not being there for the fourth year in a row. When people say that about the Yahoo article, is it really an unrealistic, arrogant position to say that you’re going to be in the top 55 percentile of teams to be in the East after four years? We didn’t go pump our hands and say, ‘We’re winning the NBA championship this year!’ I think it’s a good goal to say we’re going to make the playoffs. No one said make the playoffs, do or die. I think it’s a reasonable goal, so no, I don’t regret it.

Q: How about The Letter? As a whole, do you regret sending it?

A: I would’ve reworded the language in The Letter, but I don’t regret sending a letter out to our fan base. People forget the letter was not to LeBron, it was to our fan base. If I had to do it again, for sure, I would’ve reworded several parts of it. But I think it definitely needed a strong statement from me at that time. I keep a couple binders on my desk and I have a binder of the responses to The Letter from the people of Cleveland. There’s thousands, maybe 2,000 from every facet of life, from CEOs of big companies to hand-written letters from 94-year-old ladies, from street sweepers to policemen and firemen. The response went way beyond. For some reason, it appealed to this generational Cleveland thing. If you want to talk about books, someone should publish all the responses to The Letter. It was like, ‘We’re from Cleveland and we’ve been rejected.’

Q: Were you surprised by the reaction? Did you know it would cause that type of firestorm?

A: No, not to the extent that it did. I didn’t think it would. Going back now and looking, yeah probably. But at the time? I didn’t think it would become sort of the thing that it did.

Q: Has it had any negative impact on your organization over the last four years?

A: You never know for sure, but I haven’t felt it or been aware of it. People said nobody would come here, that’s not true. Do I think any players are going to not come here because Dan wrote a letter three or four years ago? I don’t think so.

Q: How important is it to re-sign Luol Deng?

A: We love Luol Deng for a lot of reasons, which everybody knows. Besides the kind of player he is, the kind of person he is and the kind of leader he is by example. But you can’t make these decisions in a vacuum. You have to look at all the pieces and see where you’re going to be.

Q: There has been a lot of talk about Kyrie and Dion and if they can coexist? Do you think they can start together, play together and succeed?

A: Yeah, I do. In fact I can make a case that as they both mature, and we’ve seen that even more recently, that kind of threat at the perimeter and driving and shooting ability of both of them, it’s going to be a hell of a load for any defense to handle. I think they can and I think there’s other examples of that in NBA history. We’ll see what happens, but I think they’re both extremely talented players and they genuinely like each other. People think they don’t like each other, they genuinely like each other. That’s sort of made up. Look, they’re both 21, 22 years old. There was a little bit of feeling out of who’s going to do what, but I do believe like I said in the news conference, I think the talent on this team is so good, but they’re so young. We’ll see what happens.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: For the record, Kevin Durant is getting awfully tired of the LeBron James comparisons … Celtics forward Gerald Wallace — a one-time star for the Charlotte Bobcats — still isn’t over being traded by the Bobcats back in 2011 … Knicks star Carmelo Anthony enjoyed meeting Celtics legend Bill Russell at All-Star weekend … The term “daily vitamins” has a whole different meaning to the Atlanta Hawks

ICYMI of The Night: If you somehow missed all of All-Star weekend, don’t worry … we’ve got the best plays and moments from all the events right here: 


VIDEO: Relive the top 10 plays from All-Star weekend

Advanced Stats: West All-Stars

NEW ORLEANS – All-Star weekend marks the one-year anniversary of the new version of NBA.com/stats. This season brought SportVU player tracking to the site and just Thursday night, player tracking stats were added on the boxscore level, so you can see how far a player ran or how many of his shots were contested on any given night.

All-Star weekend also means that it’s time to dive in with statistical nuggets for all 25 All-Stars. Here are the 13 guys representing the Western Conference…

Kobe Bryant, G, L.A. Lakers

Stephen Curry, G, Golden State

Kevin Durant, F, Oklahoma City

Blake Griffin, F, L.A. Clippers

Kevin Love, F, Minnesota

LaMarcus Aldridge, F, Portland

Anthony Davis, F-C, New Orleans

James Harden, G, Houston

Dwight Howard, C, Houston

Damian Lillard, G, Portland

  • Leads the league with six field goals (on just nine attempts) in the final 30 seconds with the score tied or his team behind three points or less.
  • Of 181 players who have attempted at least 100 shots from both in and outside the paint, Lillard is the only one who has shot better from outside the paint (42.5 percent) than from in the paint (42.2 percent).
  • Has attempted only 16.3 percent of his shots from mid-range, the second lowest rate among All-Stars (higher than only that of Howard).
  • Video: Watch Lillard’s six baskets that tied the game or gave his team the lead in the final 30 seconds.

Dirk Nowitzki, F, Dallas

Tony Parker, G, San Antonio

Chris Paul, G, L.A. Clippers

Blazers’ Aldridge, Lillard Bring Out Best In Pacers’ West, Hill


VIDEO: George Hill, David West lead Pacers over Trail Blazers

INDIANAPOLIS – Two All-Stars, a point guard and a power forward, get it going. Two proud veterans, a point guard and a power forward, fire back.

David West and George Hill have been around too long, and have too much going on this season, to get caught up in the snubbery of All-Star roster limitations. But sometimes matchups and challenges do get personal, and when they sync up with the team’s agenda, special things can happen.

Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge will be representing the Portland Trail Blazers next weekend in New Orleans as members of the West All-Stars. Hill and West won’t – the Indiana Pacers instead will send Paul George and Roy Hibbert to the showcase event with the East All-Stars.

Still, Hill and West were determined Friday not to let the Blazers’ best get an early start, showing off for a national TV audience a week early on the Pacers’ court. And with shooting guard Lance Stephenson on the side in street clothes, his back still sore from the spectacularly scary tumble he took in Atlanta a few days earlier, and both Paul George and Hibbert misfiring at a disturbing rate, well, the chores fell to Hill and West.

“Just the next-man-up mentality,” Hill said after scoring a career-high 37 points in Indiana’s 118-113 overtime victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “All season long, we’ve kind of sat in the shadow because of the success we had. When things are not broke, you don’t fix it. All year long we’ve been riding on Paul and Lance and Roy, but tonight it was a struggle for them, so we knew the next man had to step up.”

Hill edged close to a triple-double with nine rebounds and eight assists. His 12 field goals were his most ever and he matched career-highs with 12 free throws and 11 makes.

West’s 30 points were his most this season and he grabbed 10 rebounds for his sixth double-double. It was the first game this season in which two Indiana players scored 30 points or more and, what d’ya know, neither of them was named Paul George.

“When I first walked in here I was yelling at everybody that I have a lot of energy today,” Hill said. “From 5 o’clock when we came here to start shooting – I don’t know what it was. I just felt different.”

Neither he nor West could have felt great at halftime. Aldridge (five years younger than West) scored 11 points in the first quarter and Lillard (four years younger than Hill) had 14 in the second. Portland was leading, 50-45, and the two Blazers were beating their counterparts 35-19. With the other three Indiana starters managing just 13 (Paul George was 2-for-8 and Hibbert had missed three of his four shots). Danny Granger, subbing for Stephenson, was making just his second start in what would become his longest (40:10) stint this season and didn’t have the legs to help much.

As Pacers coach Frank Vogel said: “We needed another attacker off the bounce.”

West made sure that Hill understood: It was going to be him.

“I wanted George to be aggressive, that was the key,” West said. “Sometimes he can kind of defer to get other guys going but, particularly with the way Lillard was playing in the first half, I just was fussing at him a little bit to get him to go. ‘Just be aggressive.’ When he plays like that, we’re pretty hard to beat.”

The game was billed as a classic clash between one of the league’s most potent offenses and its stingiest defense. That wasn’t going so well for Indiana, giving up 50 points and 49 field-goal attempts in that first half. It was time for the Pacers’ offense to lighten the load a little.

Said West: “One thing I learned playing with CP [Chris Paul] for [six] years was, great scoring point guards don’t like to play defense. When you put pressure on them to guard, it takes a little something out of them on the offensive end.

“We found a crack in their armor where we attacked Lillard up top. George was doing a good job of putting pressure on them to guard him. When we got switches, he made plays.”

As first Aldridge, then Lillard got into foul trouble, Hill forced the issue. He went early in the clock, pushing before Portland’s defense could get set. And he went straight at Aldridge again and again, with the Blazers’ star having to balance his own aggressiveness in order to stay on the floor.

West had his own fires burning. “You could see the look in David West’s eyes all night,” Vogel said. “He put the whole team on his back.”

Both Pacers had signature plays late in the thriller: Hill’s came near the end of regulation, Indiana down 103-100, when he made himself available after Paul George’s 3-point attempt to tie bounced off. Hibbert chased down an offensive rebound and shoveled it to Hill, who coolly drained his 3-pointer from the left wing.

West found himself near the lane in overtime, in Portland’s backcourt, when Aldridge started to lose his balance. “I was just trying to hang around to see where he was going to throw it,” West said. Aldridge’s off-balance pass hit West right in the hands and he immediately dunked it for a 111-107 lead with 1:37 left.

Lillard wasn’t done – he hit a pair of cold-blooded shots from the arc – but his 38 points weren’t enough. Nor was Aldridge’s 11 over his final 28 minutes, compared to his 11 in 12 to start. Over the second half plus overtime, Hill and West outscored the two Portland All-Stars 48-25.

“Sometimes,” Vogel said, “the best defense is to go back at the guy.”

Going back at All-Stars brought out the best in Hill and West.


VIDEO: Hill erupts for 37 points against Portland

Who Will Be The Dunker Of The Night?

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – So, who ya got?

The 2014 Sprite Slam Dunk has a new format, where the Eastern and Western Conference dunkers will compete against each other in a freestyle round and a battle round.

The freestyle round has the potential to be pretty cool if the teammates plan it and execute it well. Imagine Paul George, Terrence Ross and John Wall throwing down three windmills from three different directions in the span of three seconds. It could happen.

And the battle round is straightforward. My dunk vs. your dunk.

And while it’s East vs. West, there will be an individual winner. Judges will determine the East-West winner, but for the eighth straight year, the best individual dunker will be determined by a fan vote. He will be crowned the Dunker of the Night and he will receive a trophy.

So, who ya got?

Here’s a look at the six participants…

Harrison Barnes


VIDEO: Harrison Barnes highlights

As a rookie, Barnes had one of the best dunks of last season. Nikola Pekovic won’t be in New Orleans to act as a prop, but Barnes doesn’t need anything in his way to make a dunk look spectacular.

Paul George


VIDEO: Paul George highlights

Personally, I still favor the Birdman Facial, but George basically announced his candidacy for this year’s dunk title with his reverse 360 against the Clippers last month. And let’s not forget this dude jumped over Roy Hibbert two years ago.

Damian Lillard


VIDEO: Damian Lillard highlights

You may think of Lillard as more of a shooter, but the reigning Rookie of the Year can get up. Heck, his first NBA highlight was a major throwdown in Summer League. At 6-3, he’s the smallest guy in the competition and little man dunks often look the best.

Ben McLemore


VIDEO: Ben McLemore highlights

The rookie is the dark horse pick, but he can certainly fly and might just have a foul-line dunk in him. This in-game dunk from November was a little Jordanesque.

Terrence Ross


VIDEO: Terrence Ross highlights

The defending champ reminded us all of what he can do when he saw Kenneth Faried in front of him on the break last week. Mercy.

John Wall


VIDEO: John Wall highlights

Wall is more known for his acceleration in a horizontal direction, but fast-twitch muscles are fast-twitch muscles and John Wall has fast-twitch muscles. He can do the in-game 360 thing too.

So, who ya got?