Posts Tagged ‘Danny Green’

For Mavs, line of demarcation is 3

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Mavs vs. Spurs, Game 2 preview

SAN ANTONIO – When Danny Green plays the Dallas Mavericks, he thinks fireworks. He kills Dallas from beyond the 3-point arc like no other team with a career-best 33 long balls in 12 regular-season games. Twenty-six of those 3s (on just 39 attempts) have come in the last two seasons, which includes him going 12-for-20 vs. the Mavs in four games this season.

So when Green got off just one 3-point attempt, and missed it, in the San Antonio Spurs’ skin-of-their-teeth Game 1 victory Sunday, it came as a significant surprise. The Mavs’ defensive strategy of switching coverages and chasing Green and the Spurs’ other sharpshooters — who averaged 10.5 made 3s on 24.3 attempts against Dallas this season — mostly worked. The Spurs, No. 1 in the league in 3-point percentage, went 3-for-17 in Game 1 with Manu Ginobili accounting for all three.

Just two weeks ago, the Spurs bombarded the Mavs with 16 made 3-pointers, a combined 11 from Green and Patty Mills, in a win at Dallas.

Where the pick-your-poison strategy narrowly backfired on Dallas was opening the middle for Tony Parker and Tim Duncan to work mismatches. Those two combined for 48 points with heavy damage inflicted in the paint, the difference in the 90-85 win.

But, as Dirk Nowitzki said after Game 1: “I guess two points is better than three points.”

The Spurs, who have won 10 consecutive games against the Mavs, enter tonight’s Game 2 (8 p.m. ET, NBA TV) anticipating that their neighbor to the north will again live and die by the same strategy.

“In regular season they didn’t switch as much, they’re playing pick-and-roll defense a lot differently,” Green said. “That’s the main difference in everything they’ve done defensively and that’s kind of slowed us up. I think the biggest thing is getting stops and just running; running and cutting and moving more.”

The Spurs’ assist number provide evidence of that slowing up. San Antonio is a precision-passing team and led the league in assists (25.2 apg) during the regular season. They had just 14 on 35 baskets in Game 1. The 90 points was the Spurs’ lowest output since using a makeshift lineup in a 96-86 loss at Chicago on Jan. 29.

“Regardless of what kind of defense they play,” Green said, “we have to continue to play how we play and that’s attack, drive-and-kick and find each other and make the extra pass.”

Both teams have had two days to reassess their options. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, named Coach of the Year for the third time Tuesday, was predictably coy as to how he expects Dallas coach Rick Carlisle to tweak his defensive approach, if at all.

“We’ll play the game and then find out what’s going on,” Popovich said. “No sense guessing.”

Duncan takes what’s given and burns Mavs for Game 1 win

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Duncan, Spurs rally past Mavs in Game 1

SAN ANTONIO – After his game-high 27 points foiled an otherwise expertly executed defensive scheme by the Dallas Mavericks that shut down San Antonio’s sharpshooters, Tim Duncan didn’t sound much like a cowboy in his final rodeo as some postseason narratives have suggested.

“I’m always excited around this time,” Duncan said, a 90-85 victory Sunday afternoon marking the start of his 13th consecutive playoffs. “Even now, I might be more excited because I know there are only a couple more left in my career, and I’m excited and I’m going to take the opportunity and really remember it.”

A couple? At least two more? Maybe three?

Duncan, who turns 38 on Friday, ran his hand through his hair, smiled, but wouldn’t bite at the followup inquiry.

“I don’t know what that number is,” Duncan said. “I’m worried about one right now.”

In Game 1 against his old rival Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs, Duncan pulled the Spurs through in a game that Dallas did nearly everything right to seal an upset, everything but keep Duncan at bay. The old warrior scored 17 points in the second half, nine in the fourth quarter and five points during the Spurs’ decisive 15-0 run that flipped an 81-71 Mavs lead with 7:45 left in the game into an 86-81 Spurs lead with 2:17 to go.

The Mavs’ perimeter pressure induced a 3-for-17 Spurs effort from beyond the arc. Manu Ginobili made all three. Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Marco Belinelli, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills combined to miss all 11 of the 3s they shot.

Just 10 days ago in Dallas, Mills hit six by himself to give the Spurs their ninth consecutive victory over the Mavs. Sunday made it 10 in a row.

“We got killed on 3s in the first four outings this year, so I guess it was no secret, we stayed a little bit more at home on the 3-point shooters,” a dejected Nowitzki said. “I mean you’ve got to give them something and Duncan down there is still solid.

“I guess two points is better than three.”

Said Duncan: “We took what they gave us. They took us off the 3-point line and made our shooters into drivers. They were helping, switching and rotating a lot. We continued to move the ball and the guys around the rim were the ones that were open.”

Nowitzki, 35, doesn’t have the luxury of playing with such a devastating crew around him. Where the Mavs were content to switch coverages that enabled Duncan to operate more freely in exchange for crowding the 3-point arc, the Spurs’ entire defensive scheme was focused on the 10th leading scorer in NBA history.

“They’re living with Monta [Ellis] and Devin [Harris] shooting, that’s clear,” said Nowitzki, who had just 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting and was 2-for-6 in the fourth quarter. “They went under every pick-and-roll. Devin finally made a couple, he hit two 3s, he made a pull-up behind the screen. So those two guys, they’re going to step into shots and make most of them, hopefully. But Devin was really the only guy that was making something happen for us.”

Harris had 19 points, but Ellis was mostly a no-show with just 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting.


VIDEO: Duncan talks about the Spurs’ mastery of the Mavericks

Meanwhile, Duncan received dump pass after dump pass for easy buckets off the glass, and when they didn’t come easily he twice made off-balance, circus shots made possible by his still remarkable agility.

“He stole it from me,” Parker joked. “He was great. It was vintage Timmy. He was very aggressive, demanding the ball and he played great, so we are going to need him to play like that if we are going to go far in the playoffs.”

It didn’t come without a brief scare not unlike that recent night in Dallas when he hyperextended his knee and left the game only to quickly return. This time Duncan, already wearing a bulky brace on his left knee bumped knees with Ellis and limped off the floor. After going straight to the bench, he then headed to the locker room.

He missed some six minutes of game action and Dallas extended its lead. Duncan returned with 9:26 to go and immediately drained a short jumper.

“We’ve got to make him work for shots and keep him off the free-throw line,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s one of the top 10 greatest along with Nowitzki, so he’s going to score some points, but we’ve got to evaluate our game plan, adjust it where we need to adjust it and we’ve got to come back out here Wednesday guns blazing again because that’s what it’s going to take to win in here.”

As far as the incessant speculation that is really going to be it for Duncan, the bigger question than will he or won’t he, is why would he?

“I hope he stays as long as I’m here,” Green said. “But you never know, he’s been doing this for a really long time since I was a kid. I watched him play when I was in middle school, high school. It’s amazing for him to keep doing it the way he’s been doing it.”

Numbers preview: Spurs-Mavericks

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Starters preview the Mavericks-Spurs series

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Spurs-Mavericks is the enjoy-it-while-it-lasts series. For the sixth time in their Hall-of-Fame careers, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki will face off in the playoffs. They’ve been representing the same teams for 17 and 16 years respectively.

The Spurs have won four of the five previous meetings and are the favorites to advance again this year. San Antonio registered the league’s best record, was the only team to rank in the top six in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and swept the season series, 4-0.

Here are some statistical nuggets regarding the No. 1 and 8 seeds in the Western Conference, as well as the four regular-season games they played against each other.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

San Antonio Spurs (62-20)

Pace: 97.1 (12)
OffRtg: 108.2 (6)
DefRtg: 100.1 (4)
NetRtg: +8.1 (1)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Dallas: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Spurs notes:

Dallas Mavericks (49-33)

Pace: 95.7 (17)
OffRtg: 109.0 (3)
DefRtg: 105.9 (22)
NetRtg: +3.0 (11)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. San Antonio: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Mavericks notes:

The matchup

Season series: Spurs won 4-0
Pace: 97.4
SAS OffRtg: 115.2 (4th vs. DAL)
DAL OffRtg: 103.5 (10th vs. SAS)

Matchup notes:

Spring and Spurs are back in the air

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Bill Land and Sean Elliott chat about the Spurs’ streak of 15 straight 50-win seasons.

It happens every year. After all the wind and sleet, the snow drifts and frozen highways, the crippling storms and blinding blizzards, spring arrives.

So do the Spurs.

The Heat cool off, the Pacers wobble and the Thunder roll in and out. But the Spurs simply hum. Electricity through a power line.

Every year they’re supposed to get older. Every season they seem only to get wiser. And better. About managing their minutes. About healing their aches and pains. About avoiding the lows and managing the highs.

The Spurs stepped on the necks of the Lakers on Wednesday night, for the second time inside of a week, pushing their win streak to 11 in a row, their longest of the season, heading into Friday night’s game at Sacramento (10 ET, League Pass).

Gregg Popovich (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

Gregg Popovich (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

They are 13-1 since the All-Star break and have extended their NBA-record streak of 50-win seasons to a mind-numbing 15 in a row. The Spurs even won 50 in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, finishing 50-16.That is the real March Madness.

So while Phil Jackson gobbles up the headlines in New York, the Spurs keep their heads down and chins up. And now look who’s sitting on top of the standings with the best overall record in the league, 1 1/2 games up on slumping Indiana.

All of which is as surprising to coach Gregg Popovich as gravity.

“That’s what we usually do, right?” Popovich told Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News. “Historically, we’ve always tried to play our best ball after the All-Star break. This year it also coincided with everybody getting healthy, but we’ve done that before. It doesn’t mean we’re going to be the last team standing, but it’s what we usually try to strive for.”

It’s been a habit for nearly a decade to write off the Spurs. That seemed valid after they let the 2013 championship slip through their fingers in those final 24 seconds of Game 6 in Miami. The players have acknowledged that it’s still kicking around in the back corners of their minds. Popovich admits that it rides like an 800-pound gorilla on his back every day. Yet they don’t let it chase them into dark corners each time they step out onto the court.

That ability to stay in the present has been constructed from those 15 consecutive years of 50-win excellence.

“It’s better than losing 50 I guess,” Popovich said, “but we are thinking about other things. We’ve just had a great group of guys for a long time, I guess, and that is the reason we have been able to win. Records and that sort of thing, streaks, aren’t really on anybody’s mind.”

What’s on their mind is getting back to The Finals, though not with a sense of vengeance or redemption. It’s the only goal that matters.

These Spurs are deeper, more balanced, just plain better than a year ago. They have nine different players averaging between 17.6 (Tony Parker) and 8.3 (Tiago Splitter) points per game. There are eight players with a Player Efficiency Rating — ranging from 21.3 (Tim Duncan) to 15.2 (Marco Belinelli) — above the weighted average of 15.0. They have a deep bench led by Manu Ginobili, who is back to his former Sixth Man of the Year level,  and a corporate knowledge that allows them to assimilate new pieces into the mix easily.

Belinelli has been a perfect addition, hitting career highs in shooting percentage, rebounding and, soon, assists. Patty Mills has stepped into Gary Neal’s old backcourt role off the bench and has been at times a distributor, a spark plug and a basket filler. Over the past month or so, Boris Diaw has virtually turned back the clock years to his old Phoenix days.

All that comes on top of the continued under-the-radar growth of Kawhi Leonard, who can attack the basket, pull up and stab in shots from the perimeter, completely disrupt passing lanes with his long arms on defense and barely bat an eye or show a twitch of emotion when he puts the wraps on the likes of LeBron James.

There was a time earlier this season when the Spurs were 1-10 against all of the top level playoff contenders and yet there were no team meetings (a la the Pacers) and no talk of being in “uncharted territory” (the Heat).

When they embarked on their annual Rodeo Road Trip, starting shooting guard Danny Green was just coming back from an injured wrist. During the trip, seven other players missed games due to injury or, in the case of Parker, overall aches and pains. Yet they still came home 6-3. Since then, they haven’t lost a game.

“We stuck with it,” said Duncan. “Through ups and downs, we try to play as steady as we can. It helps that we’re back to full strength. We have all the guys out there. We’re starting to, I think, turn that corner.”

An annual rite of spring.

Banged-Up Spurs Find Footing After (Another) Solid Rodeo Road Trip


VIDEO: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich talks about Kawhi Leonard’s expected return to the lineup

OK, so maybe Tim Duncan wasn’t just a frisky young colt the last time the Spurs played a game at the AT&T Center. It could be that Manu Ginobili didn’t have his long, flowing hair that flopped in the wind when he flopped on the court or that Tony Parker was still coach Gregg Popovich’s favorite teenaged whipping boy.

It just seems that long ago.

When Rudy Gay’s last ditch 3-pointer missed on Feb. 1, the Spurs were able to claw past the Kings to end a three-game losing streak, hoping to crawl out of town in search of recuperation and recovery.

That’s exactly what the Spurs found on their annual rodeo road trip that might once more have saved their season. The Spurs have been forced to vacate their arena for the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo for an extended stretch each season since 2003 and have never brought home a losing record in their luggage.

This time, the Spurs traveled 8,989 miles through four time zones and left with a broken lineup that had been missing three starters — Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green — and before the journey left the East Coast in Boston, Parker and Tiago Splitter had to take their turns on the shelf.

Yet they returned with an unlikely 6-3 mark that keeps them No. 2 in the Western Conference entering their first home game in 25 nights against the Pistons (8:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). It was an experience that while testing their depth, resolve and supply of bandages in their medical kit could once again give the Spurs the faith in the full roster and the necessary belief in themselves again down the stretch toward the playoffs.

“We’ve been looking for some consistency, and I saw more of that on the trip,” Duncan told Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News. “I saw the effort and execution. We’re still making a lot of mistakes, but that might just be me being around Pop too long and trying to be a perfectionist.

“We’ve improved, our confidence is there, and to see we’re operating with our 10th, 11th and 12th guys just like we are with the first guys will be huge for us and pay dividends down the stretch.”

Popovich for years has monitored and kept a lid on the minutes of his core players while maximizing virtually every man on his roster. But this Rodeo Trip might have been his best work yet. Green returned for the first game of the trip, but Leonard (nine), Ginobili (six), Splitter (four), Duncan (one) Boris Diaw (one) and Aron Baynes (one) each missed games during the trip. Parker missed the last three games because of assorted aches and pains and Popovich said he will continue to rest “for the foreseeable future.”

The Spurs even got a big win at Portland on a night when they played without the starting trio of Duncan, Parker and Leonard.

“Good trip for us,” Duncan said. “We would love to have played better (in Phoenix), but we’ve got a couple days to rest now, and hopefully we can continue to add people back to the squad and get ready for some home games finally.”

After a solid 35-6 record a year ago, the Spurs have already lost eight home games this season. They were staggering and lacked sharp execution, which made rediscovering their cohesiveness and how they play more important than where they play.

Returning home doesn’t necessarily mean a return to the lineup for Parker. After playing so deep into June in The Finals with the Spurs, Parker spent last summer playing for the French national team and led an unprecedented charge for a first-ever championship. Though the summer play kept him sharp for 2013-14, it also clearly sapped his energy and might have led to his nagging injuries. That’s why Popovich is sitting Parker now and remains determined not to put him back into the lineup until Parker is fully recovered, rested and playoff-ready.

It means Parker’s teammates will have to keep the rodeo trip attitude rolling, especially backup point guard Patty Mills.

“I think as long as the emotion, the passion, is always there, you can get it done,” Popovich said. “Look at (Russell) Westbrook, how long he was out. Look at Chris (Paul), what the Clippers did when he was out.

“When you’re on a team with a bunch of guys who care and want to be the last team standing, it’s not so much turning it on and off. It’s just the team rolls without you, just keeps going. Then you plug yourself back in. That’s what good teams do.”

Once again, the long road of the rodeo trip has brought the Spurs home with a deeper sense of who they can be.


VIDEO: Patty Mills discusses the Spurs’ big win over the L.A. Clippers

Spurs Need To Get Healthy On Rodeo Trip


VIDEO: Tim Duncan has 23 points and 17 rebounds as the Spurs beat the Kings

In one way, the 2014 edition of the Spurs’ Rodeo Trip is like all the others. It’s a time for coming together.

Usually that means bonding as a team, forging a closeness in spirit, identity and execution on the court.

This time it simply means picking up the pieces and trying to glue them all together.

As they open the nine-game, 8,989 mile odyssey tonight in New Orleans, the Spurs would appear to be about as fragile as Peyton Manning’s Super Bowl legacy. They good news is they’ll face only four teams with records above .500 on the trip. They bad news is they’ll do it with a roster that has Manu Ginobili (hamstring), Kawhi Leonard (hand) and Danny Green (hand) all in various stages of injury rehabilitation and Tiago Splitter (shoulder) just getting back into the rotation after more than three weeks on the shelf.

“We’ve still got to go play all the games,” coach Gregg Popovich told reporters before Saturday’s home win over Sacramento. “When the game is over nobody cares. Nobody says, ‘Well, who was out for that team?’ You either won or you lost and you got better or you didn’t. So it’s all the same stuff. We want to concentrate on all the same things offensively and defensively, the things we want to get better at, and just go.”

Despite their current position tied for the No. 2 seed in the West, the Spurs do have a need to get better quickly, having lost three of their last four games and five out of eight since the middle of January. After a stellar 35-6 home record a year ago, they have also lost eight games already this season at the AT&T Center. Perhaps most telling, the Spurs are just 1-11 against opponents with the top six records in the NBA this season — Pacers, Thunder, Blazers, Heat, Clippers and Rockets.

It would then hardly seem a good time for a team to embark on a lengthy All-Star break-straddling road trip that will take them from coast to coast and playing games in four time zones before their next home game on Feb. 26.

However, the Spurs have traditionally used the period they have to vacate their own stable for the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo as time to solidify their standing in the conference and make a push for elite playoff seeding.

Since the beginning of the tradition in 2003, the Spurs have an overall mark of 65-26 on 11 rodeo trips and have posting a losing record. In the past three seasons, they are 21-6.

According to Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News, while the Spurs have the best winning percentage (70.5) in North American professional sports since Tim Duncan joined the team in 1997, they are actually better on the rodeo trip (71.4).

A year ago the Spurs went 7-2 on their trek, even though they played the first five games without the injured Duncan and Ginobili.

But this might be a more difficult challenge. In their final home game before departing, a narrow 95-93 escape past the Kings, the Spurs started a deep backup point guard Cory Joseph at the shooting guard spot and started at small forward with Shannon Brown, a player who’d just been signed to a 10-day contract and never had time for a practice.

With Splitter getting back onto the floor briefly against Sacramento, Green is expected to be the next to return, maybe playing by the end of the week. Leonard is a possible addition by the time the Spurs hit the West Coast after the All-Star break, while Ginobili could miss the entire journey.

“They’re trickling in,” Duncan said. “It’s great to have bodies back out there, great to start getting everyone healthy. Now it’s about getting their rhythm back, their wind back and get into game shape.”

Spurs’ New Challenge Measured In Minutes And Months


VIDEO: Kevin Durant and the Thunder handle the Spurs in San Antonio

At this time of year, the sting of a single loss is nothing to really worry about.

It’s the piling up of injuries that cause the pain and could burn up the Spurs’ season.

Forward Kawhi Leonard broke a finger in Wednesday’s loss to the Thunder and will probably be sidelined for a month. He’ll join in rehab and on the bench with center Tiago Splitter (sprained shoulder) and guard Danny Green (broken finger).

Here’s where the challenge begins. Not merely trying to survive without three regular members of the starting lineup, but trying to keep a lid on the minutes of San Antonio’s Big Three.

Coach Gregg Popovich has long treated the bodies of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker as if they were art work from a museum, spending the regular season as much as a curator and caretaker as a coach. More anything else, he protects them.

That’s why when the Spurs traveled to Miami for a nationally televised, much-anticipated date against the Heat, Popovich gave Duncan, Ginobili and Parker the night off, even going so far as to booking them on a Southwest Airlines flight home to San Antonio. For that, the Spurs were fined $250,000 by commissioner David Stern.

Even a chastened Popovich never apologized for his actions to protect the long term health of his franchise trio and said again after the latest blow that doing anything else would be “unwise.”

So after a Friday night stop in Atlanta, the Spurs will travel to Miami on Sunday for another marquee game against the Heat on ABC (1 p.m. ET). It will be their first trip back to South Florida since Games 6 and 7 of The Finals last June, the first chance to exorcise the demons of those painful losses.

But the Spurs and Popovich have never been about one game. Nor have they been scratching and clawing for every ounce out of the regular season, even if it means falling a spot or two in the Western Conference standings. Their belief has long been that playoff seeding is not as important as health. That’s never been more important than now when Duncan is 37, Ginobili is 36 and Parker is 31.

The Thunder proved again in their 111-105 win that they can ride the prolific scoring abilities of Kevin Durant — even in the absence of the injured Russell Westbrook — and rise to the top of the conference standings.

For the Spurs, it was a defeat that dropped them to 3-8 against the other teams currently ranked among the top six in the West. Yet even with another costly loss, there will be no panic, no change in plan. At least for now.

Popovich maintains that he’ll do everything he can to keep playing time right about where it is for Duncan (29.2 mpg) Ginobili (24.6) and Parker (31.6).

While the temptation may be great and the necessity could arrive if the Spurs have to pull themselves out of a sudden long skid, the focus must remain on the distant horizon. Especially if there is to be any hope of eventually landing the franchise’s fifth NBA title.

The truth is that those title hopes will rest as much with Leonard, Splitter and Green. Their legs and lungs that injected some much-needed youth into the lineup last season, enabling the Spurs to make their surprising Finals run. It was Leonard, Splitter and Green who were the leading scorers 10 months ago on the last occasion when the Spurs beat OKC. That trio walked off the floor at the AT&T Center to a thunderous ovation that was supposed to be a peek at the future.

Theirs is a solar system that still revolves around the Big Three, but the youth and speed of the Little Three give the Spurs defense more bite. They also give Popovich so many more ways to go from night to night, quarter to quarter, possession to possession.

“Kawhi’s news is way tougher than the loss,” Ginobili said on Wednesday night. “We have to figure it out.”

So they’ll go small at times and they’ll reach with defensive match-ups that occasionally are unexpected or exotic. But what the Spurs insist they won’t do is burn themselves out in January or February and leave nothing but ashes for April, May and June.

“I won’t overplay Timmy, Manu and Tony just to win games,” Popovich said.

That’s the challenge. No matter how much it hurts.

D-League Effect Keeps Growing on NBA


VIDEO: Ryan Blake on Day 4 of the NBA D-League Showcase

RENO, Nev. — For the better part of a week, morning through night, the squeak of rubber soles on hardwood floor is louder than any sounds that come from the stands. What passes for a crowd often looks like a handful of marbles rolling around in a bathtub.

The truth is the bare bones atmosphere inside the Reno Events Center makes the annual NBA D-League Showcase more closely resemble a testing lab than an extravaganza. It belies what has been a resounding success.

Now in its 13th season, the D-League continues to grow as both a business model and the future of cultivating young basketball talent. In short, it is the most scouted professional basketball league on the planet, and not just for this week when coaches and general managers from every NBA team are on hand.

“Players have come to realize that a league where you can get a direct call-up to an NBA team is the cleanest, fastest way to reach their goal,” said Ryan Blake, NBA director of scouting. “There aren’t hoops you have to jump through to get free from a foreign contract. There’s the closeness and familiarity that lets everyone keep up and know who they are.”

Fourteen of the league’s 17 franchises now have exclusive relationships with NBA teams, either through direct ownership or a hybrid management. The realistic goal, according to many officials, is to one day have 30 teams, one for each NBA club.

“Thirty for 30 is something that we’re closer to than I ever expected at this point,” said D-League president Dan Reed. “Ten NBA teams have acquired a 1-on-1 relationship in the last three years and we have more and more teams constantly getting interested. The idea is to eventually be more of a real farm system for the NBA.”

The number of NBA players with D-League experience is now approaching 30 percent and could hit 50 percent in the not-too-distant future. The Spurs’ Danny Green played in the D-League as did the Rockets’ Patrick Beverley and Jeremy Lin.

More of the big clubs also have come to understand the value and utilize in-season assignments of young players to the D-League. Last season Jeremy Lamb spent much of his time shuttling between Oklahoma City and Tulsa to get playing experience and now is a key member of the Thunder rotation. Reggie Jackson cut his teeth with the 66ers a year before. Beverley signed a year ago with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, made his D-League debut here at the Showcase and four months later was starting in the playoffs in Houston. Terrence Jones went from being a Vipers regular to starting for the Rockets this season.

“I think it’s still a little bit of a stigma, but it’s going away,” said Gersson Rosas, Rockets executive vice president of basketball operations, who filled the role of Vipers GM the past four years, winning two D-League titles and getting to the finals three times.

“I don’t think Terrence would be who Terrence is now without the time that he spent here last year. I think that’s a great testament to the league and it’s a great testament to Terrence that he applied himself, he got better and once he got the opportunity he made the most of it.

“Having said that, affiliated teams have a big advantage because they have 1-on-1 relationships and they’re also the ones hiring the coaches and staff and that staff is spending a lot of time preparing the team. As a result, the philosophy is cleaner and the result is cleaner because you can develop players and get a better feel of where they’re at.”

The next logical step in the league’s own development would be to establish a system for NBA teams to sign players to D-League contracts that do not count against the 15-man NBA roster and yet maintain their rights. Currently, except for players who are on temporary assignment from the NBA, any other NBA club can swoop in and sign any D-Leaguer.

If an NBA team could hold signing rights and exclusivity, then D-League salaries for some players could rise dramatically from what they are paid now, roughly $25,000 per season. It could also enable the D-League to compete with some of the top European leagues for frontline prospect talent. At the very least, some executives say, NBA teams should have the right to match any offers that come to one of their D-League signees by another NBA club

“The biggest strides the league has made over the last few seasons is the talent level,” said Rosas. “In the next five to 10 years, it’s all only going to get better.”

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 28


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron suffers strained groin | Beal injures left knee | Kidd losing support | Dolan talked to Knicks | Pacers can get better

No. 1: LeBron suffers strained groin — If Russell Westbrook‘s and Al Horford‘s injuries weren’t enough, there were a couple of more significant ones suffered during Friday’s nine-game slate. And the four-time MVP, one of the most durable players in recent memory, was not immune. In the process of passing Larry Bird and Gary Payton on the all-time scoring list, LeBron James suffered a strained groin, as reported by Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report:

It wasn’t especially apparent when LeBron James made the first three-pointer, or the second, or third, that late spree of nine points in 31.3 seconds of overtime nearly saving the night for the Miami Heat.

But after he spoke to the media and revealed that he’d strained his groin sometime way back in the second quarter, James’ discomfort became painfully clear.

The simple walk to the shower was a struggle.

“It ain’t feeling too good right now,” James said.

And so, now, after the Heat dropped a 108-103 decision to the Sacramento Kings—their sixth loss this season to a team currently under .500—there’s a cloud over another of the team’s highly anticipated showdowns.

After a day’s rest, James scored 24 points, with nine rebounds and seven assists in a Dec. 18 victory against Indiana. This time, though, only 20 hours separate James and the Heat from tipoff against the team with the NBA’s best record, the Portland Trail Blazers.

Will James play?

“See how it feels tomorrow,” James said.

***

No. 2: Beal injures left knee — Earlier in the night, the Wizards suffered a scare when Bradley Beal injured his left knee in the fourth quarter of a loss in Minnesota. Michael Lee off the Washington Post has the story:

Bradley Beal banged left knees with Minnesota Timberwolves forward Luc Mbah a Moute, spun around and dropped on his back side. He tried to stand but collapsed again. Gasping and grimacing as he looked down, with his hands and knees on the hardwood, Beal kept pushing, telling himself to get up from the floor and walk over to the Washington Wizards’ bench. Until he finally relented.

“I really couldn’t get up,” Beal said. “I just fell because it was no way I could possibly move after that.”

The Wizards were well on their way to a humiliating 120-98 loss to the Timberwolves when Beal caused a panic amongst his teammates and fans with 4 minutes 27 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Martell Webster had just hit a three-pointer to bring the Wizards within 21 points. He turned and walked away but quickly was running back to check on Beal, who didn’t leave the floor until teammates Trevor Ariza and Jan Vesely lifted him on their shoulders and carried him to the locker room.

After having a precautionary X-ray, Beal moved down the hallway with the assistance of crutches but left the arena on his volition, limping and holding back his emotion. Beal will have an MRI exam Saturday in Washington but was encouraged about his outlook.

“The X-ray was pretty positive,” Beal said before smiling to catch himself. “It was negative. My bad. It was negative. That’s a good thing. I was hoping it wasn’t anything too, too serious or too crazy. Hopefully, I’ll be good moving forward.”

So, as the Thunder and Hawks (and Bulls and Nets and Lakers and Celtics) already dealing with extended absences from their All-Stars, the Heat and Wizards await further word on James’ and Beal’s injuries.

***

No. 3: Kidd losing supportThe Nets ended their four-game losing streak with a comfortable win over the Bucks on Friday, but it will take a lot more than a win over the worst team in the league to get Brooklyn back on track. And Jason Kidd might not have the answers needed. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! reports that Kidd has begun to lose some support within the organization:

The Nets had tried to be supportive of Kidd, but patience is running low on the belief he can deliver the structure and organization desperately needed. As the Nets have devolved into chaos, Kidd has increasingly isolated himself within the locker room and organization, sources told Yahoo Sports. From management to players, Kidd has shown an inability to manage crisis and keep the respect of his players.

Rifts exist between old players and new, trust eroded with every humiliating loss in this 9-19 season.

And yet, somehow, Kidd believes he can keep publicly eviscerating his players’ character and desire and spare himself blame and responsibility. For those around the Nets with a sense of history and irony, they remember Kidd running ex-coach Byron Scott out of his job for offenses born of this failed playbook.

Here’s the question management is grappling with: Does Brooklyn start unloading its star players and stay the course with the coach, or unload the coach and let someone else manage these star players?

***

No. 4: Dolan talked to KnicksThe Knicks may be in worse shape than their neighbors in Brooklyn, but apparently they have owner James Dolan‘s word that they shouldn’t fear for their jobs. As Marc Stein of ESPN reports, Dolan spoke to his players and coaches on Thursday, telling them that he’s not looking to shake things up:

Knicks chairman James Dolan told New York players in a meeting Thursday that there are no trades or changes to the coaching staff forthcoming, ESPN.com has learned.

Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that Dolan gathered the team before the first practice in the wake of New York’s embarrassing 29-point home loss to Oklahoma City on Christmas Day largely in an attempt to hush the growing speculation about coach Mike Woodson’s job security following the Knicks’ 9-19 start.

The discussion came amid increasing signs the Knicks’ effort and focus under Woodson is waning on top of the significant injury issues that have plagued them all season.

It’s believed Dolan took the step in an attempt to persuade Woodson’s players to band together and throw their full support behind the embattled coach to help dig New York out of the sizable hole it finds itself with essentially one-third of the regular season in the books, the sources said.

When an emboldened Woodson met reporters after Thursday’s practice, he promptly announced he still thinks New York can rally from its poor start to win the Atlantic Division.

“We won it last year, and I expect us to win it this year,” he said.

***

No. 5: Pacers can get betterDanny Granger has shot just 5-for-22 in his first three games back from a strained calf, but his healthy return means that the Pacers have room for improvement. Indiana now has a two-game lead in the loss column at the top of the Eastern Conference, but they don’t feel like they’re a complete team until Granger has been fully integrated into the rotation, as Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star writes:

Though Indiana (23-5) has outscored its past three opponents by an average of 25.8 points – and a repeat rival, the Brooklyn Nets, fills the dance card Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse – coach Frank Vogel sees room for improvement, specifically with the full integration of Danny Granger in the rotation.

“I think (the rotation) will feel like it’s complete when Danny’s complete,” Vogel said. “Danny’s going to have ups and downs over the next six weeks where he’s just getting his legs under him, getting his rhythm and timing back. That’s going to be a process. Once he gets up to speed then it will feel complete.”

Since Granger made his season debut on Dec. 20, the Pacers have looked like a mighty force. That’s not to credit Granger as the cause for the three-game winning streak – shooting just 23 percent from the floor, he has consistently preached patience about getting his conditioning and rhythm back. Still, the Pacers have moved Granger from the end of the bench to 20 minutes per game quite effortlessly.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Avery Bradley can put the ball in the basketChris Paul takes the blame for the Clippers’ two-game losing streakComing off the bench has worked well for Danny GreenMichael Kidd-Gilchrist had his cast removed … and Metta World Peace revealed that he’s an alien.

ICYMI: Derrick Favors beat the Lakers with this throwdown on Friday…


VIDEO: Favors’ game-winning putback

Spurs Bury Past By Playing For Today


VIDEO: Charles Barkley gives credit to Spurs before joking on city of San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO — It’s still there, rattling around inside their heads like a ghost in the attic.

Whether you’re Danny Green willfully using the harsh memory as a painful everyday fuel or you’re Manu Ginobili trying hard to push it back into the shadows, it’s as much a part of what they take onto the court as their sneakers and jerseys.

Those 28 seconds at the end of Game 6 in the NBA Finals when the Spurs let a five-point lead over the Heat and a fifth franchise championship slip through their hands is now who they are and, maybe because of that, what they can be. Again.

They are the same old Spurs for whom the camouflage uniforms they wore against the Wizards were redundant, since nobody ever seems to notice them until they get to the end of yet another 50-win season. It’s a league record 14 in a row and counting.

These Spurs have won six straight, running their record up to 8-1, which trails only the unbeaten Pacers in a year after when it might seem natural to have a hangover.

“I’m sure it crosses everybody’s mind once in a while,” Green said. “I’m sure it gets brought up in a lot of conversations, not just with (media), but with mutual friends, family.

“This is a new year, a new season. You try to let that go, but I think it’s a good motivational tool that could keep us at it. February, March, sure. Let it keep pushing us.”

The veteran Ginobili takes the opposite approach.

“If somebody asks me, you can’t force not to remember it,” he said. “But if not, I’m just focused on … the next game and my health and the next game and trying to get better. I really don’t think about what happened last year.

“It’s something that we’re going to have in the back of our heads forever. It’s not that it’s going to leave. I still remember the semifinals I lost in 1997 with the Under-22 team (in Argentina) because it was a game like that. So it is going to stay there forever. You’re going to bring it when you need to, not on an everyday basis because it doesn’t help.”

What helps is simply getting back to the basics, getting back to what the Spurs do best, which is to play the game to their own selflessly exacting standard that comes together like a symphony.

“San Antonio runs offense perfectly,” said Wizards center Marcin Gortat. “It was like listening to Mozart. It’s just ridiculous how they play.”

What would seem insanely impossible anywhere else is that the Spurs have sprinted out of the starting gate while other would-be contenders — Grizzlies, Nets, Clippers, Rockets — stumble, all with perennial All-Star Tim Duncan struggling to find his shot.

When Duncan went 1-for-12 against the Wiz, it was the third time this season that he scored a single field goal. He is shooting 32 of 83 (.386) to open his 17th NBA season and matched his single-game career low with two points. Nevertheless, the Spurs have trailed for a total of only 11 seconds in their last four wins over Golden State, New York, Philadelphia and Washington.

It has been about Tony Parker setting the pace with his scoring, passing and constantly attacking style on offense, about Green getting back his shooting stroke following a bumpy start, Kawhi Leonard continuing to bloom and Ginobili coming back healthy and confident to begin the season. The Spurs are also getting production up and down the lineup from Tiago Splitter to Marco Belinelli to Boris Diaw.

While everyone on the outside keeps looking at the calendar and the clock and thinking that the time running out on the Spurs Big Three of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili would make them lost in the fog of what got away last June, the point that’s missed is the sense of urgency they take into each season, each game, every possession at both ends of the court.

The Spurs simply keep playing the game according to the Xs and Os you would expect to see drawn up in a coach’s textbook, based on an organizational style and philosophy that is plainly demanding and with an inherent sense of responsibility to the whole.

“We don’t talk about it as a group,” said coach Gregg Popovich. “We did that the beginning of the year like we do every year. We start with the end of the season before, whoever knocked us out of the playoffs. We go through that film … We went over it in every single detail. We do it excruciatingly, honestly … We already did it, so there’s no sense doing it again.

“But you never forget that. I still remember 0.4 (when Derek Fisher’s 18-foot fadeaway for the Lakers beat San Antonio in Game 5 of the 2004 West semifinals). It goes through once every month or something.

“The Miami thing goes through my head every day. Pretty soon it will be every two days and then it will be every week and every month. That’s the way it is. Everybody remembers things good and bad. It’s not something to be dwelled on. Like I told the team, it’s just another episode in your life, one of the easier ones that you’ll face. When you think about all the things we have to face — family-wise and friends-wise and all that stuff. The things that go on in our lives, basketball, that’s a joke compared to the real stuff.”

Which is how the Spurs inch away from the past while keeping it within everything they do today.