Posts Tagged ‘DeJuan Blair’

Dallas Must Have A Wide-Eyed Dalembert


VIDEO: Jose Calderon finds Samuel Dalember for an easy dunk vs. Orlando

DALLAS – All the latest statistical computations reveal the same thickening plot for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference: Dogfight!

Dallas, Phoenix, Denver, Minnesota and Memphis are all separated by 4.5 games. Each team can point to one significant key that could put them over the top. For the hottest team in the group, the 23-16 Mavericks point to good-natured and well-intentioned, but not always, ahem, eye-opening center Samuel Dalembert. They don’t ask him for him to be a force, but rather, a consistent presence on defense and on the boards.

“You know, we don’t ask a tremendous amount from our 5-men,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “We ask them to bring what they can bring to our team at their best possible level. For [Dalembert], we need him active, we need him rebounding, we need him screening, rolling; he’s been making free throws. We ask those guys to play to exhaustion and then we’ll get them out.”

Exhaustion is an interesting choice of words.

The 6-foot-11 Dalembert has had something of an issue getting out of bed, already twice punished for oversleeping and showing up late. He’s paid for it by being benched and even losing his starting job for a spell. Dalembert is a starter again, in the lineup the last three games and eight of the last 11 because there are too many mismatches that hurt the hustling (but defensively liable) 6-foot-7 DeJuan Blair. The lanky, 6-foot-10 Brandan Wright is an offensive commodity off the bench, but he’s not a strong defender or rebounder.

“We start [Dalembert] because it’s the best thing for our team,” Carlisle said. “The last three or four games I like what he’s done. His focus has been good. It’s evident what he brings to the team. It’s good.”

Dalembert says he’s dealing with a sleep disorder, but it’s not as if this kind of thing hasn’t frustrated coaches and front office-types at his previous three stops over the last three seasons. Mavs owner Mark Cuban recently said he doesn’t know if Dalembert has a sleep disorder or not, but he’s seen enough know to he needs the big man playing with both eyes wide open.

“I told him he’s All-Star caliber when he’s laying it out there,” Cuban said.

After both oversleeping episodes, Dalembert, who signed a two-year, $7.5 million contract last summer, expressed guilt and remorse. On Nov. 25, his oversleeping made him late for a morning shootaround and led to a first-quarter benching in Dallas’ eventual 110-96 loss to Denver. Afterward, he somberly offered up this classic, no-pun-intended analysis: “It was a wake-up call for us.”

Dallas sorely needs an engaged Dalembert to compete against the West’s bigger frontcourts. The Mavs are a poor rebounding team (27th in rebound percentage) and are porous defensively (19th in defensive rating, 22nd in opponent field-goal percentage) and sport with a soft perimeter defense that must have back-up from an active rim protector.

The Mavs’ defensive rating is 101.3 with Dalembert on the floor. He owns the second-best individual rating among rotation players behind reserve forward Jae Crowder. With Dalembert on the bench, the Mavs’ defensive rating soars to 106.3, the second-largest jump on the team, again behind Crowder. Dalembert is never again going to be a 30-minute-a-night player. So the 20 he gets — or should get — have to be good.

Wednesday brings a massive road test when Dallas puts its three-game win streak up against the Los Angeles Clippers (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). L.A. has won three in a row since All-Star point guard Chris Paul suffered a right shoulder separation on Jan. 3 in Dallas. The Clippers rallied to win the game behind this combined stat line from power forward Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan: 50 points (18-for-32 shooting, including nine dunks), 33 rebounds (11 offensive), six assists and four blocked shots. Dalembert started the game, played 21 minutes and had nine points, five rebounds and one block.

On Friday, Dallas plays at Phoenix (9 ET, League Pass). The Suns trounced the Mavs on Dec. 21. Dalembert didn’t start, played seven minutes and Dallas got outrebounded, 45-36.

During Dallas’ three-game win streak, Dalembert has logged a total of 60 minutes, his second-highest minutes total over a three-game span since late November. He’s averaged 5.0 ppg on 58.3 percent shooting, 7.7 rpg with four blocked shots.

It’s all nothing terribly eye-popping. But with Dalembert, it’s all about presence.

“I go by the recent trends and the recent trends are that he’s been ready and he’s been into it and that’s what we need from him,” Carlisle said. “It’s pretty clear. We’ve laid it out to him: We want it simple and do what you do.”

One Team, One Stat: Mavericks Shoot Bad Shots Well

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Dallas Mavericks, who are, once again, putting new pieces around Dirk Nowitzki.

The basics
DAL Rank
W-L 41-41 17
Pace 96.2 8
OffRtg 103.6 11
DefRtg 104.0 20
NetRtg -0.4 16

The stat

32.7 - Percentage of their shots that the Mavs took from the restricted area or the corners, the lowest rate in the league.

The context

Shots from the restricted area and in the corners are the two most efficient shots on the floor, both worth about 1.2 points per shot across the league last season.

The Mavs have been unique in passing them up and mostly getting away with it. With Dirk Nowitzki leading the way, they’ve been a good and high-volume mid-range shooting team. And they had a top-10 offense for 12 straight years, beginning with Nowitzki’s second season in the league and ending with their championship season in 2010-11.

The season after the lockout, the Mavs fell to 20th offensively, but were still a top-five mid-range shooting team. The same was true again last season, but they had very little scoring inside. Shawn Marion‘s 188 baskets in the restricted area led the team, but ranked 63rd in the league. And in addition to Nowitzki (437/62), they had two bigs – Elton Brand (206/133) and Chris Kaman (296/193) — that took more mid-range shots than shots from the restricted area.

Both guys can knock ‘em down, and it certainly pays to have bigs who can step outside and shoot. But while there’s a positive correlation between offensive efficiency and mid-range shooting percentage, there’s a stronger negative correlation between offensive efficiency and the percentage of shots you take from mid-range.

Mavs shooting by area, 2012-13

Area FG% Rank %FGA Rank
Restricted area 60.9% 12 27.1% 29
Other paint 42.7% 3 17.8% 3
Mid-range 42.2% 3 31.4% 8
Corner 3 36.5% 23 5.6% 20
Above-break 3 38.0% 2 17.8% 11

Basically, it’s good if you can shoot 2-point jumpers well, but it’s bad if you depend on them too much. As we learned from Evan Turner, even if you shoot mid-range shots well, you can be more efficient by taking better shots.

The following video is from an April 2 game in L.A., one the Mavs really needed to have a shot at making the playoffs (they were just a game in the loss column behind the Lakers at the time). They shot a decent 42.4 percent from mid-range, but those shots accounted for 33 of their 81 shots (41 percent) . They took just 15 shots in the restricted area, just four from the corners, and just 12 free throws. So, even though their shooting wasn’t awful, they got held to 81 points by what was a below-average defensive team.


The Mavs were one of three teams — Cleveland and New York were the others — that shot better on above-the-break 3-pointers than they did on corner threes last year. So again, they shot the bad shots (above-the-break threes being bad relative to corner threes) well.

But that’s probably not sustainable. And the guy that led the Mavs with 64 attempts (71st in the league) from the corners was O.J. Mayo, who is now in Milwaukee.

It’s another fascinating supporting cast that Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson have brought in this season. Monta Ellis ranked ninth in the league with 475 mid-range shots last season, and shot them worse than anyone else in the top 20. Jose Calderon, meanwhile, was one of the best mid-range shooters in the league and also a great 3-point shooter, but doesn’t shoot from the corners much.

Devin Harris will get to the rim, and there’s no worry about DeJuan Blair and Samuel Dalembert taking too many jump shots. But neither big will dominate down low .

More important will be how the bigs defend. After ranking in the top 10 in defensive efficiency each of the previous two seasons, the Mavs ranked 20th defensively last season. (Not breaking news: Kaman is neither Tyson Chandler nor Brendan Haywood on that end.)

If Nowitzki is healthy all season, the Mavs should be OK offensively. And they can be better than OK if they find ways to get better shots.

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

Mavs’ Carlisle Rolls With Plan B, Revolving Roster

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DALLAS –
 Rick Carlisle earned his reputation as one of the game’s top coaches by bending, flexing and adjusting all the way to a six-game championship take-down of the Miami Heat in 2011.

Recall 5-foot-10 point guard J.J. Barea as an NBA Finals starting shooting guard?

The Dallas Mavericks have since gone 77-72 and haven’t won another playoff game. And despite a roster that’s read like a well-worn Rolodex, Carlisle has seemed only to enhance his image as an elite tactician and motivator. Carlisle’s agility will be put to the test again this season in guiding a team that again barely resembles the one that preceded it.

From the 2010-11 championship team only Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion remain. From the revamped squad insufficiently stocked to defend the title, add only Brandan Wright and Vince Carter as keepers. And from last season, add draft picks Jae Crowder and Bernard James. It’s doubtful any coach, especially one that won a ring with the same franchise just three Junes ago, has witnessed such roster upheaval in three consecutive offseasons, and particularly so in these back-to-back summers.

“Back-to-back, probably not,” Carlisle admitted. “But look, we’re living in a different time. We’re living in a time now where there’s going to be more one-year deals, there’s going to be more turnover, so everybody adjusts to the dynamics of the new CBA, and I don’t know that that’s going to happen for another year or two, at least. That said, if you’re going to be a head coach in this league you’ve got to be very open-minded, you’ve got to be open to change and adaptation. You always want continuity, but you’re not always going to have it.”

The Mavs suffered the indignity of a lockout and the ratification of a game-changing collective bargaining agreement on the heels of their championship parade. On the fly, owner Mark Cuban championed new roster-building strategies that entailed allowing key members of his title team to walk. Plan A, to create cap space and lure max-dollar free agents to crowbar Nowitzki’s championship window, hasn’t panned out and Dallas has instead scrambled the last two summers to produce competitive rosters.

That can be a disheartening road for a coach who is just one of four currently in the league with a ring. Carlisle, though, has consistently endorsed his boss’ decisions. Entering his sixth season in Dallas and the second year of his second four-year contract, Carlisle seems to embrace the challenges he inherits under Plan B. Of the four active championship coaches — including Miami’s Erik Spoelstra, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers, now in charge of the Clippers – Carlisle’s task is by far fraught with the most uncertainties.

“I just made a conscious decision that I’m not going to be a coach that’s limited to a certain system,” Carlisle said. “I’m hanging my hat on my ability to adapt each year to potentially a roster that’s quite different, and with the new CBA we’re going to have more of that in this league. I’ve done a lot of it in my career leading up to now anyway, so it’s always challenging in those situations, but it’s also exciting.”

Just look at the players that have come through Dallas since the lockout ended: Kalenna Azubuike, Yi Jianlian, Lamar Odom, Delonte WestSean Williams, Eddy Curry, Troy Murphy, Elton Brand, Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman, Jared Cunningham, Derek Fisher, Mike James, Dahntay Jones, Anthony Morrow, Chris Wright, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Justin Dentmon and Josh Akognon.

And here’s the players new to Dallas for this season: Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, Devin Harris, Wayne Ellington, Samuel Dalembert, DeJuan Blair, Gal Mekel, plus draft picks Shane Larkin and Ricky Ledo.

Last week Cuban set the bar for this team: The playoffs, and capable of doing damage once there. Carlisle didn’t flinch.

“I think you have to view it that way,” Carlisle said. “And, you’ve got to be careful. You’ve got to eliminate the external noise and the doubters and the naysayers and all that kind of stuff. You’ve got to have just a real positive enthusiasm and focus on your group, and you’ve got to see in your mind how they can get better. Then you’ve got to facilitate that.”

Among Dallas media, at least, Carlisle was hailed as a Coach of the Year candidate for guiding last season’s mismatched squad out of a 13-23 hole, one dug mostly without Nowitzki. Dallas finished 28-18 and was in the thick of the playoff chase almost until the end.

“Actually, I think Rick’s system is just very comprehensive and he lets the players pick up as much of it as they can and so I think rather than try to force-feed things that they might not be able to do, Rick, I think, is more accommodating,” Cuban said. “But I don’t think he really changes his system, per se, or changes what he does. I think he just recognizes the skill set of his players. Like, he went from calling plays to just playing ‘flow’ all the time [with Jason Kidd]. That’s his preference more than anything else, just let guys play basketball, and hopefully that’s what we’re going to be able to do a lot more of whereas last year we had to call plays every possession. This year I don’t think we’ll have to.”

Last season’s backcourt of Collison, who couldn’t hold down the starting job, and Mayo never clicked. Fisher ditched the team after a month and James was erratic. Cuban believes this team offers Carlisle more raw material with which to work.

He believes it will be collectively smarter and less turnover-pron with Calderon at the controls, Harris backing him up and the speedy Ellis being able to get to the hole with a frequency the Mavs just haven’t seen. All that, Cuban surmises, should play into the hands of a healthy and motivated Nowitzki.

“Each team is different, each team has different needs, each team develops differently and has to make different kinds of adjustments mid-stream,” Carlisle said. “All that stuff is one of the real intriguing things about coaching. It’s one of the reasons I love it. And one of the reasons I love working in this organization is we’ve got an owner with a fertile mind that likes the right kind of change.

“I’m down with that.”

Spurs: Where Everyone Knows His Role

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LOS ANGELES – Two examples of what makes the Spurs — unselfish, deep, humble, precise, unwavering — the Spurs: Matt Bonner and DeJuan Blair.

Both players have been shoved out of the rotation at different times. Tiago Splitter reduced Blair to mostly spot duty this season. Boris Diaw severely cut into Bonner’s minutes. Yet, whenever the two reserves are needed most, there they are ready to serve. And produce. Both are now needed even more now with Diaw recovering from back surgery and Splitter sidelined for at least Sunday’s Game 4 against the Lakers (7 p.m. ET, TNT) with a sprained left ankle.

Bonner, the lone Spur outside the Big Three on the last title team in 2007, has been a nuisance to Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard, doing whatever’s necessary to corral him, including implementation of the “Bonner Bear Hug,” a maneuver surely passed along by former Spurs defensive genius Bruce Bowen. The move has been particularly effective against Howard, who gets frustrated that he can’t get a shot up and must march to the free throw line where he’s 24-for-40 in the series.

In 80 minutes of action in the first three games in which the Spurs have taken a 3-0 lead, Bonner has 26 points, 12 rebounds, three steals, three blocks and 10 fouls. His plus-minus is a whopping plus-56, including plus-29 in Game 2.

He was so effective that Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni actually said that the Lakers’ goal was to get Bonner out of the game. Imagine that?

“I don’t even know what to say to that,” Bonner said prior to Game 3.

Bonner, also known as the “Red Rocket” for obvious reasons, averaged just 13.4 mpg in the regular season and played in just 68 games. But with Diaw out, Bonner’s minutes have been ramped up to 26.7. He’s 9-for-14 from the floor and 5-for-7 beyond the arc. At one point in Game 3′s 120-89 beatdown of the Lakers, Bonner received a pass at the top of the arc and the L.A. crowd actually let out a collective groan, anticipating the inevitable swish.

“Matty’s a character guy, he’s a team person, he’ll do whatever’s asked of him,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “If he starts, if he doesn’t play, his work ethic will stay the same. He’s just a high-character individual who will give everything he has no matter the situation. So we’re fortunate to have him.”

Similarly on the outs was Blair, who averaged 14.0 mpg in 61 games. He didn’t score in 12 total minutes in Games 1 and 2, then came through with 13 points on 6-for-6 shooting to go with seven rebounds and three assists in 14 minutes in Game 3. Howard even brought up Blair’s shooting in his postgame comments, somewhat suggesting that Blair’s Tony Parker-like teardrop shot was a bit lucky.

Blair refuted such a notion on Saturday.

“I practice that shot before every game,” Blair said. “I call it the T.P. Tear Drop.”

Blair is the most logical candidate to get the Game 4 start in place of Splitter. He’s looking forward to the increased minutes because, obviously, every player wants to play in big games. But also the 6-foot-7, 270-pound center out of Pittsburgh admitted that he sees the opportunity to open the eyes of teams across the league. A free agent this summer, Blair said he loves San Antonio, but would welcome a chance to play more somewhere else.

“It’s just about knowing where you’re at and what your situation is,” Blair said. “In front of me is Tim Duncan and I would never mind in my life sitting behind Tim Duncan, or anyone else on the team. We’ve got great players and everybody accepts their role perfect. So all of that [about] I’m not getting minutes and stuff like that, that really doesn’t bother me. My duty is to do all the dirty work and be the junkyard of this team, so I’m going to do that. I have no problem with that. If I get in a better situation I think a lot of people will see more of my game.”

Blair has long been a name on the trade block, but through four seasons in which Blair has averaged as many as 21.4 mpg and started 62 and 65 games in consecutive seasons, the Spurs never pulled the trigger.

Right now they’re happy they didn’t.

“We haven’t played him as much as he’s wanted to play,” Popovich said. “To his credit, DeJuan has been a true pro.”

Series hub

Spurs Grinding Down At Wrong Time

 

HANG TIME, Texas — Often in life, timing is everything. It’s the same in the NBA, too.

Just when the start of the playoffs — eight days away — is coming into sight, the Spurs are seeing stars. And scars.

The grind of the 82-game regular season just keeps grinding down the team that held onto the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference standings for months.

Boris Diaw underwent surgery for the removal of a lumbar cyst from his spine and is expected to be sidelined for three to four weeks.

The loss of Diaw comes with Manu Ginobili likely sidelined for the start of the playoffs by a strained right hamstring. Tony Parker has also missed three of the past four games with a sore neck and has been laboring through an assortment of other injuries, including a Grade 2 ankle sprain that kept him out for eight games.

Imagine that. Tim Duncan will turn 37 in just two weeks and he’s suddenly looking like the spryest guy on the roster, averaging 30 minutes, 26.5 points and 12 rebounds in April.

The loss of Diaw, at least for the first several weeks of the playoffs, could take a toll on an already undersized Spurs frontline. Can they get all the way to The Finals with a big man trio of Duncan, Tiago Splitter and Matt Bonner?

DeJuan Blair, who for much of the season was used only in mop-up duty, will be back in the rotation and second-year man Kawhi Leonard could be forced to play some minutes at power forward.

All of this comes at a time when the Spurs have fallen a half-game behind Oklahoma City in the race for the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage in the West bracket. But to coach Gregg Popovich that is a secondary issue.

In Parker’s case, he says he wants to develop some kind of rhythm in the last four games before the playoffs begin and is lobbying to start tonight at home against Sacramento. But he’s got to convince his coach, who usually errs on the side of caution with injuries.

“You don’t worry about your playoff seeding because if that makes you play (injured players) when they shouldn’t be playing, you’re going to be screwed come playoff time anyway,” Popovich told the San Antonio Express-News. “Your main concern is to have people be as healthy as possible come playoff time.

“If you’re the best team, the seeding doesn’t really matter. You wouldn’t give up first, second, third or fourth seed and say, ‘Yes, please give me fifth or sixth.’ Nobody would do that, but the best team doesn’t have to have the best record. It has to be healthy.”

Playoffs Snapshot — April 12

Here’s a look at some of the more important playoff implications in Friday night’s games:

LAKERS (vs. Golden State, 10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass): With the battle for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference down to the final three games, the Lakers (42-37) face a Golden State team that is currently seeded sixth, just a half-game up on the Rockets … A Lakers win and a Jazz loss to the Timberwolves would put L.A. up two games with two to play … Kobe Bryant scored 47 points while playing all 48 minutes in Wednesday night’s 113-106 win in Portland … The Lakers are up 2-1 in the season series.

JAZZ (vs. Minnesota, 9:30 p.m. ET, League Pass): The Jazz (41-38) have lost control of the race with the Lakers for the No. 8 seed and can’t lose focus in the first of consecutive games against the wounded Timberwolves … Utah leads season series 2-0 … Utah needs to win out and hope for an L.A. loss … A short bench missing Enes Kanter, Marvin Williams and Alec Burks was costly in Wednesday night’s loss to OKC … This could be the final home game for Jazz free-agents-to-be Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson.

THUNDER (at Portland, 10 p.m. ET, NBA TV): Thunder (58-21) show no inclination to take their foot off the pedal in the fight for No. 1 seed in the West … Holding tie-breaker over the Spurs, they now control the race … After whipping the Warriors on Thursday night — and getting plenty of rest for the starters — OKC wraps up a back-to-back and closes out road schedule … Thunder are 3-0 against the Blazers this season, who went flat in a loss to the Lakers on Wednesday night … Three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant (28.3 ppg.) says he’s OK giving up title to Carmelo Anthony.

SPURS (vs. Sacramento, 8:30 ET, League Pass): Even if the Spurs (57-21) win out, they need OKC to stumble once to reclaim the top spot in the West … But do they really care? Tony Parker is in a tug o’ war with coach Gregg Popovich over whether he’ll play … Parker sat out Wednesday’s loss at Denver with a sore neck and other assorted ailments and Pop says that championship teams must be able to win on the road anyway … Boris Diaw’s back injury puts DeJuan Blair back into the rotation and could slide Kawhi Leonard into minutes at power forward … They lead series with Kings 3-0. (more…)

Heat, Spurs Still Virtual Strangers

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Both conference’s No. 1 teams made significant statements over the last two days.

It wasn’t just that the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs both convincingly knocked off their closest challengers. The greater message to the Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder — and the rest of the league — is how they did it.

LeBron James is the runaway MVP candidate. He had an amazing streak of scoring at least 3o points and shooting 60 percent in six consecutive games. Yet, the Heat only needed 13 points (5-for-10 shooting), seven assists and six rebounds from him in trouncing the Pacers 105-91 on Sunday.

It can be argued that James creates such headaches for opposing defenses that it allows his teammates to run free. Sure, OK, but it had to be demoralizing to the Pacers, the NBA’s top-ranked field-goal percentage defense, to hold James to a baker’s dozen yet surrender 55.9 percent shooting from the field.

San Antonio earned its 105-93 victory Monday over the Thunder by having its two healthy members of the the Big Three — Tim Duncan (13 points, eight rebounds) and Manu Ginobili (12 points, four assists, 24 minutes) — make way for this big three: Tiago Splitter (21 points, 10 rebounds), Kawhi Leonard (17 points, three steals) and Danny Green (16 points, 4-for-4 on 3s).

The precision, depth and discipline of the Spurs was on full display in shooting 52.4 percent against the Thunder’s second-ranked field-goal percentage defense. San Antonio’s improving defense also cranked up, making it difficult on NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant (26 points, 7-for-13 FGs) and Russell Westbrook (25 points, 11-for-27), the leaders of the West’s second-highest scoring offense at more than 106 points a game.

Does this mean we’re headed for a Spurs-Heat Finals come June? Not necessarily. But what if? Which team would hold the advantage?

How can anyone really know? These two teams are virtual strangers.

Since James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh joined forces in the 2010-11 season, the Heat and Spurs have played four times and none of those games featured lineups that would go head-to-head in a Finals series.

The fourth and most recent meeting was the infamous go-home game on Nov. 31 at Miami when Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sent his Big Three plus Green home. A steamed David Stern slapped San Antonio for $250,000 for pitting its reserves against the defending champs on national TV. The Heat won an entertaining game with a late comeback.

The three previous games were all blowouts (2-1 in favor of Miami) with a head-scratching average margin of defeat of 27.1 points. Two of those were played in the span of 10 days in March 2011, and the third was their lone meeting in last season’s lockout-shortened schedule, a 120-98 Heat win on Jan. 20, with Ginobili injured and Richard Jefferson and DeJuan Blair in the Spurs’ starting lineup.

Miami has yet to see the remodeled Spurs after they dealt Jefferson to Golden State for Stephen Jackson and added Boris Diaw. The Heat barely know Green, San Antonio’s leading 3-point bomber (although he did score 20 points off the bench on 6-for-7 3-point shooting in that game nearly 14 months ago).

Fortunately, the Spurs and Heat do meet again on March 31 at San Antonio. It might be our first real chance to assess how these two clubs match up.

Even then, Tony Parker might still be out with a sprained ankle. Either way, there will be plenty of intrigue if the Spurs and Heat, two virtual strangers, get together in June.

Spurs Breathe Easy As MRI Clears Duncan


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HANG TIME, Texas — The citizens of San Antonio can go back to remembering the Alamo as the most tragic civic loss ever.

Tim Duncan will remain a part of the Spurs drive for a fifth NBA championship after an MRI showed no structural damage to his left knee. He has a sore knee, a mild right ankle sprain and is listed as day-to-day for his return to the lineup.

The 36-year-old Duncan had to be carried off the court by teammates DeJuan Blair and Stephen Jackson with 3:54 left in the second quarter Saturday night after Washington’s Martell Webster rolled into the back of legs following a missed shot.

Though TV cameras showed Duncan moving under his own power in the hallway of the AT&T Center and many of his teammates said they were encouraged to see Duncan walk out of the locker room without crutches following the game, there was going to be lingering doubt until a full exam was performed on Sunday.

It’s just the latest example of how everything can change in the blink of an eye. The Spurs have been cruising along comfortably all season with Duncan having one of the best showings in years. San Antonio currently has the best record in the NBA at 38-11, two games ahead of Oklahoma City and 5 1/2 better than defending champion Miami.

With Duncan in the middle, the Spurs are again legitimate contenders for the title. His loss would have realistically ended those dreams.

Duncan was making his return after sitting for four games with a sore left knee. Duncan said he suffered that injury after landing wrong at Philadelphia on Jan. 21.

Recently selected to his 14th All-Star Game, Duncan is averaging 17.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks with a 24.9 Player Efficiency Rating in his 16th NBA season.

The Spurs will be without Duncan as they start on their annual rodeo trip, a nine-game trek with the All-Star break in the middle that opens on Wednesday night in Minneapolis. Now that trip will be ever tougher without Duncan, at least in part.

But for a city that had been holding its collective breath, a huge sigh of relief. The championship chase is still on.

Duncan Injury Packs Worry For Spurs

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SAN ANTONIO — As if they didn’t have enough to lug around on a nine-game trip that will keep them away from home for most of the month, now the Spurs have to pack concern about Tim Duncan’s health.

There was a collective gasp at the AT&T Center when Duncan went down with just over four minutes left in the second quarter and had to be carried off the floor by DeJuan Blair and Stephen Jackson. Then there was sigh of relief when teammates later saw him walk out of the locker room under his own power without crutches.

“He’s fine. He’s fine,” said Tony Parker. “It’s nothing big. I’m sure [coach Greg Popovich] is going to be very cautious about his knee and we’ll see. He was pretty positive.”

The early diagnosis was a sprained right ankle and sprained left knee. But, one week after Rajon Rondo walked away from what was first thought to be a minor injury and then found out that he’d torn his ACL and was lost for the season, the Spurs will not rest easy until Duncan undergoes an MRI.

“That was scary when you see that,” said Wizards coach Randy Wittman. “Those are always the ones you don’t want to see when a guy falls into you while your feet are planted on the ground. I just talked to his doctors and they said he is going to be fine. That was not a pretty thing to see.”

It was clear that Duncan’s injury affected the rest of the lineup. After building a 27-point lead in the first half, the Spurs lost focus and let the Wizards get as close as six points early in the fourth quarter.

“That’s going on through everybody’s mind …What’s happening?” Jackson said. “To have our best player go down like that, holding his knee and his ankle it’s frustrating.

“Nobody really seen him at halftime, because he was in [the training room] trying to figure out what’s wrong. I don’t really know the in’s and out’s of what happened, but I seen him walk out of here, so that’s always good.”

Washington’s Martell Webster drove to the hoop and had his shot blocked by the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard. After Webster went to the floor, he rolled from behind onto Duncan’s ankle and knee. The big man stayed down on the floor as play continued to the other end where Danny Green scored a layup. Parker then took a foul to stop the clock as the Spurs’ medical staff ran onto the floor.

Duncan was making his return after missing four straight games with a sore left knee. He had eight points, five rebounds and two assists in 13 minutes. Duncan had said that he could have returned for Wednesday’s game against Charlotte, but instead settled for three more days of rest. He’s averaging 17.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.74 blocked shots per game this season and was recently named to the Western Conference All-Star team for the 14th time in his 16-year NBA career.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen Timmy like that,” Green said. “I’ve seen him hurt before, the bumps, the bruises. He usually gets right back up. I figured today he was feeling good leg-wise. When we started out, he was playing well, back in rhythm. Seeing him go down, feeling as well as I thought he felt, kind of sucks, not just for him, but for us. We’re gonna need him. On this nice little road trip, a guy like that could help.

“I didn’t get to see the play. I heard it was his knee and ankle at the same time, which seems kind of weird. I don’t know how it happened. I had never seen him get carried off the floor, so I hoped it wasn’t serious and that we would have him at least for part of this road trip.

“We seen him right after the game. He seemed OK. Timmy’s always optimistic. It didn’t seem like it [was serious], but you never know with Timmy. His expressions don’t really tell you what’s going on. He’s always optimistic. He’s one of the greatest guys ever to play this game because he’s a pretty tough guy. He’s played through some pain and some injury, so he’s probably not going to show you he’s hurt like that, even if it was serious. But I think he should be OK.”

Popovich On Splitter’s Rise: ‘It Helps Timmy A Lot’

HANGTIME SOUTHWEST – Is Tiago Splitter the most important player on the San Antonio Spurs?

OK, so nobody’s going to make that argument with a straight face, but consider this comment from coach Gregg Popovich: “He’s just healthy and getting consistent minutes, so that’s helping us. It helps Timmy a lot.”

Helping Timmy, as in 36-year-old Tim Duncan, is nothing to sneeze at, especially as the Spurs head into another back-to-back tonight at Milwaukee followed by Thursday’s game at New York.

Thirty-three games into his third NBA season, Splitter seems to have finally put a stranglehold on a starting job. He gives San Antonio a sturdy, 6-foot-11, 240-pound power forward to handle the inside dirty work while lessening the burden and creating space for the ageless Duncan, who is again putting together an All-Star-caliber season.

“I’m the kind of player who to win games sometimes doesn’t mean you are going to score or make all the plays in a game,” Splitter said Sunday before piling up 13 points and six rebounds in a blowout of the Dallas Mavericks. One night later he went 5-for-7 from the floor for 10 points plus a couple blocks in a rout of the Brooklyn Nets.

“The situation is good and that’s what I want to do, come in here, win games, help the team to win,” Splitter continued. “I think we have great offensive guys, everybody can score on this team, so it’s not about scoring every night — be consistent, do whatever Pop wants to do on the court, play intelligent.”

It’s been a slow build for the Brazilian, who turned 28 on New Year’s Day. He’s dealt with some nagging injuries while adjusting to life in the NBA and under Popovich’s unique tutelage. He’s played behind the now-retired Antonio McDyess and DeJuan Blair, who has bounced in and out of the starting lineup as well as the rotation the last few season, yet was Popovich’s choice to start at the onset of the season.

“I think every day you learn something with him. He is one of the greatest coaches ever,” Splitter said. “Of course, you understand how he thinks, how he understands the game, so it’s easier. It took some time. I took a year to figure out everything and last year I was totally different and felt like a player again last year.”

Now it’s up to Splitter to hold onto the job for the foreseeable future. As a starter he is averaging 10.5 points and 5.8 rebounds in 25.0 minutes, about seven more minutes than he was logging as a reserve.

Where the brawny Splitter can really make a difference for San Antonio and give Timmy the most help is by taking on the brunt of defending the big boys in the West, such as Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard, Zach Randolph, LaMarcus Aldridge and Serge Ibaka.

“Somebody asked me a while back what has he improved in. I said nothing. He just hasn’t played,” Popovich said. “What he does for us now healthy is what he’s done in Europe for a lot of years. He’s been on championship teams over there. He’s a defender, a rebounder, a solid pick-and-roll player. He doesn’t have moves and he’s not a big offensive threat, but he’s every coach’s dream because he does everything so fundamentally sound.”

No, Splitter isn’t the most important player on the Spurs. But on a team that’s been considered too small up front to get out of the West, his importance can’t be understated either.