Posts Tagged ‘Dennis Rodman’

Morning shootaround — June 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: LeBron leaning toward skipping Olympics | Durant to play in 2016 Games | Pippen, Rodman maintain ’96 Bulls are best team ever | Thompson, Green likely in for Olympics

No. 1: Report: LeBron leaning toward skipping Olympics — What a season it has been for LeBron James. The Cleveland Cavaliers star is fresh off perhaps the biggest win of his career after guiding the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first NBA title on Monday. Understandably, the reigning Finals MVP is a bit tired and according to The Vertical’s Chris Mannix, James may not take part in the 2016 Olympics in Rio:

In the aftermath of a grueling NBA Finals, LeBron James is leaning toward not competing at the Olympics in Rio this summer, league sources told The Vertical.

While James has not informed USA Basketball of his decision, team officials are operating with the expectation that it is unlikely James will be part of the team.

James, 31, has been a member of USA Basketball since 2004. He is one of three players – along with Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony – to be part of three men’s Olympic teams and has been integral to the United State’s resurgence as a basketball super power.

James will likely join a growing list of notable players electing not to play in Rio this summer. Two-time MVP Stephen Curry withdrew earlier this month. Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, Houston’s James Harden and San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge have also chosen not to play.

Morning shootaround — May 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Raptors block Cleveland’s path to perfection | Toronto’s offense gets on track | Thunder look to get physical versus Warriors in Game 3 | Carmelo “looking forward” to playing under Hornacek

No. 1: Raptors block Cleveland’s path to perfection The Cleveland Cavaliers had romped through the NBA Playoffs, winning their first 10 consecutive games this postseason to take a 2-0 lead over the Raptors into Saturday night’s Eastern Conference Finals Game 3 in Toronto. But any hope the Cavs had of going undefeated on the road to a return trip to the NBA Finals came to an end in Canada, as the Raptors won 99-84. As our own Steve Aschburner writes, Toronto leaned not on All-Stars Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan, but instead got a huge performance from back-up big man Bismack Biyombo

Near the end of the Toronto Raptors’ resilient and necessary 99-84 victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, Biyombo batted a rebound to a teammate to cap a memorable night for both the Raptors and himself. Then he got batted back when Cavs forward Dahntay Jones hit him in, well, a nether region that had the high-revving Raptors center dropping to his knee, then going fetal on the floor as the final seconds ticked away.

Jones said later the hit was inadvertent, just accidental contact delivered down under when he tried to do something in garbage time — box out Biyombo — that no other Cleveland player had managed through the first 47 minutes and change.

Biyombo encouraged the honchos at the league office to be the judges of that when they go to the videotape for their standard review.

What they’ll see on pretty much every other play involving Toronto’s 6-foot-9 defensive dervish is a game-defining and series-slowing performance. Biyombo set a franchise record with 26 rebounds — not just a playoff record, a Raptors all-time high — and blocked four shots.

Not only did he channel the likes of Dikembe Mutombo, Dennis Rodman and Cleveland’s own Tristan Thompson, Biyombo swatted away any notions the Cavaliers, their fans or a bunch of experts around the league might have had that this would be done by Monday. Forget “fo’, fo’, fo’,” thanks to Biyombo’s “no, no, no!”

“He knows his role,” Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll said. “That’s the NBA. Everybody can’t be the Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry. You have to understand your role, your niche, and he understands it to a tee, and that’s a prime example of a true professional.”

Biyombo, 23, was reminiscent of several professionals Saturday, starting with Mutombo. Like the eight-time All-Star center who blocked 3,289 shots in 18 NBA seasons, Biyombo is a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He gives up five inches to his famous countryman and NBA ambassador, is less than half his age and is 2,713 regular-season swats behind. Yet he has adopted the finger-wag that Mutombo used to such great effect on those blocks (second all-time since the league began counting them in 1973) and in that recent GEICO insurance commercial.

When did that start? “After I got the license from Mutombo,” Biyombo said. “He’s like my big brother, and I’ve had several conversations with him, especially defensively, how he was able to impact the game.” Though shorter, Biyombo has way more quick-twitch muscle going for him, getting higher off the ground than the former Georgetown star.

Then there’s Rodman, a comparison volunteered by Biyombo’s coach, Dwane Casey, when Casey wasn’t busy lobbying from the podium for a fairer shake from the officials. “He knows where the ball is coming off,” the Raptors coach said, of his guy’s Rodmanesque tendencies. “He’s an active player. He’s a guy who’s always moving, moving his feet… He understand angles.”

***

No. 2: Toronto’s offense gets on track Toronto’s Game 3 win wasn’t only about the big night from Biyombo — the Raptors also finally seemed to crack a Cleveland defense that had mostly been airtight throughout the postseason. As our own John Schuhmann writes from Toronto, the Raptors looked like the terrific offense they’d been during the regular season, in large part thanks to the performance they got from Cory Joseph

The way the Toronto Raptors played in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, you would think they were a top-five offensive team this year.

Oh yeah, they were.

You wouldn’t have known it from the Raptors’ first 16 games in these playoffs, in which they had strong offensive stretches here and there, rarely got big games from both of their All-Stars on the same night, and had scored less than a point per possession. While the other three teams still playing have scored at a rate at, near, or better than their regular-season marks, the Raptors had scored 8.6 fewer points per 100 possessions in the playoffs than they did in going 56-26.

Their first 14 games were against very good defensive teams that needed to make things ugly to win. With their incredibly potent offense, the Cleveland Cavaliers have no such need. But the Raptors couldn’t take advantage of Cleveland’s defense beyond strong first quarters in Games 1 and 2.

In Game 3 on Saturday, it was if the Raptors’ realized that Cleveland has no rim protection and a handful of sub-par defenders in its rotation. The result was a lot more attempts at the rim than they had in either of the first two games, their second-most efficient offensive performance of the playoffs (99 points on 85 possessions) and an end to the Cavs’ 17-game winning streak in playoff games within the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors’ defense was important. After allowing 56 points in the paint in Game 1 and another 50 in Game 2, they surrendered only 20 on Saturday and were good enough on the perimeter to keep from getting hit with the Cleveland 3-point onslaught. But they took control of this game with a huge offensive first half, scoring 60 points on 43 possessions before halftime.

DeMar DeRozan had his mid-range jumper going again, but didn’t settle. Kyle Lowry hit a few 3s and got his team into early offense. And the biggest key was Cory Joseph keeping things going when Lowry got into foul trouble.

In Game 1, Joseph got a quick hook in the second quarter from Raptors’ coach Dwane Casey and played a season-low 5:21 before halftime. The back-up point guard, who was a huge key to the Raptors’ success in the regular season, had been struggling since the start of the conference semifinals.

But Saturday brought a breakthrough for Joseph, who was a plus-10 in a little less than 18 first-half minutes, never leaving the game after entering for Lowry midway through the first quarter.

“He did a much better job tonight of controlling the game,” Casey said, “running the offense, keeping things under control, not letting the defense speed him up.”

Joseph’s minutes have proven to be critical for the Raptors, who are now 7-0 in the playoffs when he’s registered a non-negative plus-minus and 2-8 when they’ve been outscored with him on the floor.

***

No. 3: Thunder look to get physical versus Warriors in Game 3 — The Oklahoma City Thunder threw their Western Conference Finals series against the mighty Golden State Warriors into chaos by waltzing into Oakland and winning Game 1. After the Warriors evened things by taking Game 2, the series shifts to Oklahoma City tonight for Game 3, where as our Fran Blinebury writes, Thunder forward Serge Ibaka says the Thunder need to stand strong and not let the Warriors push them around

The numbers told the story. The best rebounding team in the NBA was hammered on the backboards in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. The bigger, taller, stronger Thunder were pushed around, dominated even.

“Of course, you take it personally,” OKC power forward Serge Ibaka said following Saturday’s practice. “It makes us feel like we’re soft, we’re weak, you know what I’m saying? … We have to do a better job next game and be aggressive, make sure if they’re going to score those baskets, that’s hurting them. They have to work hard to get us.

“Yes. It’s kind of weird, yes. It’s kind of weird, especially for us, playing bigs. They’re small. It’s kind of weird. But give them a lot of credit, because they’re the best team in the game. … It’s not going to be easy.”

The Thunder are 9-2 in the playoffs when they’ve out-rebounded their opponents. They were especially effective in the previous series against San Antonio by using a big lineup that kept 7-foot Steven Adams and 6-11 Enes Kanter on the court together. Adams was able to play his role as defensive stopper at one end, Kanter scored at the other and together they helped get the Thunder a bundle of second-chance points. However in the Warriors’ 118-91 runaway win in Game 2, they were the ones able to come up with 15 offensive rebounds.

“They are playing tougher than us,” Ibaka said. “You know, they were more aggressive than us, so I think that’s why. It’s more a game. We have to do a better job of starting aggressive, and just play our basketball.”

Thunder coach Billy Donovan wasn’t as quick to hang the “soft” label on his team.

“I don’t know if I would necessarily fully agree with that,” he said. “They did a great job on the backboard. They were really physical. They come up with loose basketballs. They made those plays, and in Game 1 I thought we did a better job. They did a great job raising their level of play, and you’ve got to give them credit. So I think maybe Serge’s point is that when you’re getting beat like that, to loose balls or rebounds, it can certainly make you look that way.

“I feel like we need to do a better job rebounding the basketball than we did. They were quicker on loose basketballs. They came in from different angles to rebound. They kept balls alive on the glass. We got caught into some rotations a couple times where we didn’t have our block-out assignments lined up.”

***

No. 4: Carmelo “looking forward” to playing under Hornacek After what seemed to be an interesting journey, Knicks president Phil Jackson has apparently settled on Jeff Hornacek as the next coach for the New York Knicks. And yesterday the Knicks’ biggest star, Carmelo Anthony, said he’s excited to get moving as a part of Hornacek’s offensive attack…

“I played against him a couple of times when he was the head coach out there in Phoenix,” Anthony said in an interview Saturday with WNBC-TV. “Everybody knows he likes to play an up-tempo pace of game, likes to get out in transition, likes to speed the game up a lot. So from that standpoint, I’ll definitely be looking forward to that.”

Anthony’s comments suggest that team president Phil Jackson has given Hornacek the freedom to tweak the triangle offense, as several reports have indicated. The Knicks ranked in the bottom third of the NBA in pace the past two seasons, when they ran the triangle. Hornacek ran a faster-paced offense with the Suns, who ranked in the top 10 in pace in each of his three seasons as coach.

Perhaps more importantly, Anthony said Saturday that he believes Hornacek gives the Knicks a chance to turn things around. The club has missed the playoffs in each of the past three seasons.

“It sets the stage for us to do that,” Anthony said. “[It’s a] new opportunity, something new to play with, something fresh, a clean plate. So hopefully we can build off of this momentum.”

Hornacek was offered the Knicks’ job by Jackson and general manager Steve Mills earlier this week, and negotiations on a contract with the club have begun, league sources said.

Interestingly, Anthony said he didn’t share his opinion on the coaching search with Jackson before Hornacek was offered the job.

“Whatever Phil did, he did on his own,” Anthony said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Toronto coach Dwane Casey had a lot of thoughts about the officiating in not just Game 3, but the entire series against Cleveland … Former Cavs coach David Blatt says he will coach somewhere next seasonBrian Shaw is close to a deal to join Luke Walton‘s staff with the Lakers … The Houston Rockets will reportedly interview Spurs assistant James Borrego for their head coaching gig, as well as longtime assistant coach Adrian Griffin … The Nets continue adding to their staffPaul Pierce got his daughter a llama for her birthday …

Morning shootaround — Dec. 10


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers tank? C’mon, Magic | Rodman questions Knicks’ blueprint | Best customers for Brooklyn fire sale | Davis leads early Most Improved candidates

No. 1: Lakers tank? C’mon, Magic — The headline was provocative enough (“Magic Johnson: I hope Lakers lose”). But what the former L.A. Lakers great had to say at an event in New York Tuesday grabbed NBA fans’ attention, too, and not necessarily for the right reasons. The Lakers should (gulp) tank? Really? That’s like saying the Buss family should have cooked their family books to qualify for student loans or that MLB team Magic’s involved with should shrink the business part of its Dodger Dogs to boost the profit margin. C’mon, tanking is for the NBA’s working class, not its royalty such as the Lakers or Knicks. If team-building can be described (lifting this from the retirement-planning realm) as a three-legged stool of trades, free agency and draft, the last of those – the target of tanking teams – is most important to small-revenue teams lacking the fat wallets, grand legacies, balmy climate and/or glitzy appeal of L.A., New York and maybe Miami now. Fans in those markets expect better and the Lakers’ many advantages ought to preclude slumming through 82 games to swipe a player desperately needed in … Philadelphia? Here are details from a mash-up report on ESPN.com:

Johnson, speaking at a promotional event Tuesday in New York City, said he wants his former team to lose enough games to contend for a high lottery pick in next year’s NBA draft.
“I hope the Lakers lose every game,” Johnson told reporters. “Because if you’re going to lose, lose. And I’m serious.”

Johnson hit Twitter to reinforce his point for his fan base:

And from Kobe Bryant after the Lakers’ victory Tuesday over Sacramento:

“I don’t see teams tanking. It doesn’t happen. Maybe there are certain teams in the league — and this is not one of them — where ownership sits up there in their office and they’re crossing their fingers quietly and hoping,” Bryant said. “But the players themselves? Never. Players play. Players play and players try to win every single game. That’s just what we do.”

And from Lakers coach Byron Scott, who isn’t eager to take on a bunch of losses after suffering through the immediate post-LeBron James years in Cleveland:

“It’s more of a laughing matter to me than anything,” Scott said. “I know [Earvin] and how competitive he is and I understand where he’s coming from — ‘Yeah, lose every game and hopefully you’ll get the No. 1 pick.’ That doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to get the No. 1 pick. You go out here and try to win as much as you can to try to create that culture of winning again instead of having that loser’s mentality. That’s how I look at it.”

The Lakers are expected to have substantial salary-cap space this upcoming offseason. Aging superstar Kobe Bryant, who will make $25 million next season, swingman Nick Young, [Julius] Randle and second-year forward Ryan Kelly are the only Lakers who have guaranteed contracts beyond this season.

Scott added, “I just think karma is a you-know-what and if you try to lose games, you’re not going to get the first pick.”

***

No. 2: Rodman questions Knicks’ blueprint — As far as former NBA stars critiquing a storied franchise, the level of discourse slips now from Magic Johnson the team for which he labored to Dennis Rodman questioning the New York Knicks of Carmelo Anthony and Derek Fisher. Rodman might surpass Johnson in North Korean street cred, but the fellow Hall of Famer seemed driven in his comments more by his loyalty to his former Chicago coach Phil Jackson than in any true turnaround at Madison Square Garden. The 4-19 Knicks, off to the worst start in franchise history, have a somewhat hobbled Anthony these days, according to the New York Post. So they were easy for the flamboyant former rebounding star to pick at, as chronicled by ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Begley:

Former Chicago Bulls forward Dennis Rodman weighed in on the team’s poor play Tuesday, questioning whether Carmelo Anthony was the right fit for the Knicks and wondering if first-year coach Derek Fisher is the right candidate for the job.

“If I know Phil [Jackson, Knicks team president], he just feels like [crap] right now,” Rodman told reporters at a promotional event in Manhattan. “I think he just feels like, ‘Wow, I thought I came here to do a great job and revitalize the city of New York.’

“He didn’t expect this. I saw him a couple of times on TV when I was in L.A., and I’m like, I know what you feel like, Phil. You came to be the savior and all of a sudden it’s like, ugh. Then you went and got Derek Fisher. Really, is he coaching? Is Derek Fisher coaching? I don’t get it. I don’t know what’s up with that team, man. You’ve got Carmelo and after that who else do you got?

“They’re not running the triangle. Derek Fisher’s not really coaching. I know Phil is trying to throw his input in the background, but who expected this from Phil? They expected him, we’re going to give you $15 million a year for the next six years and this team is — wow — they might not even make the playoffs.”

In mentioning Jackson’s vaunted “triangle” offense, Rodman kept the blame at floor level:

“I learned that in probably 15 minutes when I was in Chicago,” Rodman said. “It’s not that difficult. It’s a triangle.

“Everybody has an opportunity to touch the ball and shoot it. It seems like it goes back to Carmelo Anthony and then everything stops. What are you going to do?”

***

No. 3: Best customers for Brooklyn fire sale — The Brooklyn Nets are contemplating a fire sale of veteran stars Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez? That’s the word, as reported by ESPN.com and other outlets. It’s the stuff of which serious buzz can be generated in the NBA, but it’s also reminiscent of a massive story that’s almost four decades old. Sports fans of a certain vintage might recall the great purge of the Oakland A’s in the summer of 1976, when mercurial team owner Charlie Finley tried to sell off pitcher Vida Blue (to the Yankees for $1.5 million), closer Rollie Fingers and outfielder Joe Rudi (both to the Red Sox for $1 million each). Finley felt the A’s days as contenders were over and feared looming free agency of his stars, but the transactions were killed by commissioner Bowie Kuhn as not being in ‘the best interests of baseball.” The Nets’ days as contenders apparently are over, too, in the eyes of owner Mikhail Prokhorov, and Brooklyn would be trying to get out from under the massive salaries of Williams, Johnson and Lopez. Bradford Doolittle of ESPN Insider cooked up some possible trade destinations for the Big 3 and here’s a glimpse at the point guard’s (you might have to pony up to see the whole piece):

Williams is not as explosive as he was a few years ago in Utah, but he’s still good enough to be a top-three player on a playoff team. However, besides his non-star production and large contract, Williams also toils at a time when the NBA is rife with quality point guards. However, the upshot is that Williams is a highly skilled player who could develop a floor-based style of running the point (a la Mark Jackson) that might play well for quite a few years.

Best fit: Indiana Pacers. The Pacers were one step shy of the Finals last season, but the top tier of the East has since become more crowded. Williams would give the Pacers the upper-echelon point guard they’ve lacked and, on this team, a ball-dominant PG can work. You plug Williams next to emerging shooter Solomon Hill, the currently injured Paul George, Roy Hibbert and David West, and you’ve got a contending veteran team, albeit one likely shy of championship status.

A possible package would be something like George Hill, Luis Scola, Ian Mahinmi and Chris Copeland for Williams. The Nets’ motivation would be mostly financial. Hill might be a keeper to run the point in his combo-ish manner, but Scola’s expiring contract is mostly nonguaranteed, Copeland’s deal is expiring and Mahinmi has just $4 million left beyond this season.

Other fits: Detroit Pistons or the Los Angeles Lakers. …

***

No. 4: Davis leads early Most Improved candidates — The NBA season is barely one-quarter completed, so speculation about any of the “annual” awards is, by definition, premature. But such chatter isn’t illegal and it drives conversations, debates and occasional arguments, so our own Fran Blinebury offered up some players worth considering for the league’s Most Improved trophy, at least after the first six weeks. Eschewing the ever-popular “top five” or “top 10” of Internet list-making, Blinebury limited his field to just four. And only one of them, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, was in action Tuesday night, finishing with 18 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in the home victory over New York. He was Blinebury’s early MIP leader:

It only seemed as if the long-armed forward was reaching his peak last season. Now he’s threatening to leap and put his head right through the ceiling. We saw it coming over the summer when he led the way for Team USA in the gold medal-winning effort at the World Cup in Spain. He used that experience to throw off whatever shackles he still had on himself and returned to New Orleans ready to lead and dominate. Averaging more than 25 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots and two steals per game, Davis has forced his way into the conversation for MVP. What’s more, he’s making a real case for overtaking soon-to-be-30-year-old LeBron James as the best all-around talent in the game. Even though his Pelicans are bobbing around the .500 mark and will struggle to make the playoffs, he’s the reason to have League Pass and dial him up any time New Orleans is on the schedule. He’s always had the talent, but now there is an edge and attitude to A.D.’s game that commands respect.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: High praise for Cavs guard Matthew Dellavedova from LeBron James after Cleveland’s big fourth-quarter comeback against Toronto. …  Another game night, another round of “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts during warm-ups, this time out West. … The losing in Philadelphia can be seen as a half-full opportunity, even for a seasoned NBA vet like Luc Mbah a Moute. …  But Earl Clark apparently doesn’t feel that way about what’s going on with the Lakers, preferring a lucrative deal in China. … For anyone still counting, this is Year 7 for the city of Seattle without the NBA. …

 

Heat seek to join ‘three-peat’ history

Three-peat.

It is a familiar part of the lexicon now, one used to distinguish the greatest of our sports champions.

A term coined by Byron Scott in 1988 and trade-marked by Pat Riley, it slides across the tongue as smooth as a scoop of ice cream and defines a dynasty as readily as a crown atop a monarch’s head.

But there is nothing at all easy about the three-peat.

When LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest of the Heat take the court Thursday night, they’ll be attempting to become only the sixth team in NBA history to go back-to-back-to-back as champs.

Here’s a look at Fab Five:

Minneapolis Lakers (1952-54)

“Geo Mikan vs. Knicks.” That was the message on the marquee outside Madison Square Garden on Dec. 14, 1949. It succinctly said everything that you needed to know about George Mikan, the man who was the NBA’s first superstar. In an Associated Press poll, the 6-foot-10 center was voted the greatest basketball player of the first half of the 20th century and he was later named as one of the 50 Greatest Players in league history. Mikan was such a dominant individual force that the goaltending rule was introduced to limit his defensive effectiveness and the lane was widened from six to 12 feet to keep him farther from the basket on offense.

However, Mikan still flourished and when he was teamed up with Vern Mikkelsen, Jim Pollard and Slater Martin, his Lakers rolled to three consecutive championships. The Lakers beat the Knicks for their first title in a series that was notable for neither team being able to play on its home court. Minneapolis’ Municipal Auditorium was already booked and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was at the Garden. With Mikan double-teamed, Mikkelsen carried the Lakers offense to a 3-3 split of the first six games and then in the only true home game of the series, the Lakers won 82-65 to claim the crown. The Lakers came back to beat the Knicks again the following year 4-1 and the made it three in a row with a 4-3 defeat of the Syracuse Nationals in 1954.


VIDEO: George Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakers dominate the early NBA (more…)

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 20


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Granger ready to play | Lakers sign Marshall | L.A. bright spot? | Warriors stumble … again

No. 1: Granger back Friday night — The Indiana Pacers are neck-and-neck with the Miami Heat in the running for Best Team in The Eastern Conference, and they’ll get what they hope to be a huge leg up Friday when Danny Granger returns to the lineup against Houston (8 p.m., ESPN) .

Granger, an All-Star in 2009 when he averaged almost 26 points a game, has played in only five games this season nursing an injured calf. He played in only 62 games last year — and was used sparingly in most of those — as he dealt with knee injuries that eventually led to a surgery.

Now, the Pacers hope to slowly work him back into the lineup, with many around the team hoping he can eventually be a scoring threat off the bench that the sometimes offensively-challenged Pacers so desperately need.

From Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star:

Before getting too excited about some super second unit consisting of Granger, Lance Stephenson and Luis Scola, exercise caution. Granger will not immediately impact the lineup. Coach Frank Vogel said there’s no medical restrictions on Granger’s minutes but he will be limited 15-20 per game to start.

The Pacers have waited this long for him and can afford to wait for Granger to get his game rhythm and timing back. Although Granger knows the playbook, he admitted last week that he still needs to run the plays more. So, it will be some time before Granger can boost up the second unit.

“I’m still probably going to have a few mishaps,” Granger said. “That’s uncharacteristic of me but I’m going to be a lot better than I (would have been if I tried to come back last week).”

Indiana ranks near the bottom of the league in second-quarter scoring (21.6 points), which has traditionally been the time when Stephenson leads the second unit. As Granger is finding his way into the flow of the offense, you can expect him to mirror the things that Rasual Butler has done over the last three games — stretching out to either corner and letting Stephenson facilitate.

Granger’s goal? To be 100 percent by the playoffs.

“That’s how much time I have,” he said. “It’s not a thing where I have to rush or do this or do that. As long as I’m ready by the playoffs, I’ll be fine.”

***

No. 2: Marshall to the rescue — Eric Pinkus of the Los Angeles Times has the news of Kendall Marshall‘s signing. The young point guard, the 13th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, was drafted by the Suns, traded to the Wizards, waived by the Wizards in the Marcin Gortat trade and has been in the Philadelphia 76ers’ organization since:

Marshall recently joined the Delaware 87ers in the NBA Development League, averaging 19.4 points and 9.6 assists in seven appearances.

The Lakers are suddenly devoid of point guards with injuries to Steve Nash (back), Steve Blake (elbow), Jordan Farmar (hamstring) and temporary fill-in Kobe Bryant (knee).

Marshall is 6 feet 4. The North Carolina product is 22 years old.

His deal with the Lakers is non-guaranteed.

***

No. 3: Kobe’s loss, Lakers’ gain — The biggest sports news of Thursday was Kobe Bryant‘s injury, which forced the signing of Marshall. While many see it as a type of basketball Armageddon in Southern California — the Clippers rising, the Lakers slipping further into the Pacific — venerable L.A. columnist Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times points out some of the good things that can happen with Bryant sitting out for the next six weeks. He also urges some action on the Lakers’ part:

There is sadness felt by an aging superstar who could be losing a slow fight with his body. There is sadness felt by a Lakers organization whose recent, foolish $48.5-million investment in Bryant is looking worse by the ache. There is sadness from the fans who will have to endure at least another 21 games without the electric promise of Bryant’s presence.

But step back, look past the sight of Bryant crumpled on the floor in Memphis, breathe past the shock that he played an entire half on a broken knee, and understand that the big picture looks far different.

This awful occurrence is actually the best thing for everyone.

Now the Lakers can tank without tanking.

Now the Lakers can finally begin their inevitable rebuilding process and maintain their dignity while doing it.

Without Bryant, the makeshift remaining team can play hard enough to entertain while losing enough to drop into next summer’s rich draft lottery.

Without Bryant, the Lakers finally have the excuse they need to speed up this renovation by trading Pau Gasol.

.***

No. 4: Warriors tripped up again Golden State, a team that was supposed to be challenging for the top spot in a stacked Western Conference, was knocked off by San Antonio late Thursday night on a tip-in by Tiago Splitter. Losing to San Antonio brings no shame. But losing to the Spurs without their Big Three of Tim Duncan (taking a breather), Manu Ginobili (also taking it easy) and Tony Parker (who is injured) — and in Oakland, no less — has some folks in the Bay Area starting to get nervous. From Carl Steward of the Oakland Tribune:

It was a horrible loss for Warriors, who dropped to 14-13, arguably their worst of the season. If losing to a spurious aggregation of Spurs on the home floor wasn’t bad enough, Golden State’s most prominent tormentor was a former Warrior, Marco Belinelli, who poured in 28 points to spearhead the San Antonio shocker.

Oh, and then there was Saint Mary’s College alum Patty Mills, who filled in nicely for Parker with 20 points.

But in the final accounting, it was really the Warriors who did themselves in. They committed 24 turnovers — 12 in each half — resulting in 31 San Antonio points. They blew an early 14-point lead by halftime. They hoisted up 31 3-point tries and made just eight.

“It was kind of a trap game, but coming in, I knew it’d be tough,” Warriors swingman Andre Iguodala said. “They played a solid four quarters of basketball, and we only played a good nine minutes in the first quarter.”

Andrew Bogut said it most bluntly of all, noting, “We can’t lose this game at home, period.”

Beyond Stephen Curry (30 points, 15 assists), Lee and Bogut (18 rebounds), the Warriors had two notably horrific box-score lines. Klay Thompson was 6 for 18 from the floor, 1 for 7 from beyond the arc and committed five turnovers. Harrison Barnes played 19 minutes and didn’t score.

“They are not playing well right now,” coach Mark Jackson said. “I’m not going to sit here and make excuses for them. I believe in my guys, they have had some great moments for us and they will have great moments for us, but right now they are not playing their best basketball.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Bucks are going to shelve Ersan Ilyasova for awhile due to a sore ankle … Dennis Rodman is looking for a few good players for a pickup game in Korea. Because it’s Rodman, it would figure that it’s North Korea … Ref Eric Lewis has to be hurting a little this morning … Nice piece, if you missed it, by Sports Illustrated‘s Lee Jenkins on 28 seconds or so that flipped the 2013 NBA Finals on its head.

ICYMI Of The Night: Serge Ibaka blocks shots. That’s what he does. Even if your’re a 7-footer like Chicago’s Joakim Noah, you have to respect that. On every shot. Every shot …


VIDEO: No, Jo. And No Jo again.

Few Believe Pacers Can Pass 70-Win Mark

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — One team in the history of the NBA can claim 70 wins in a single season. One.

The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. A perfect storm of personnel, circumstance, timing and luck produced the league’s greatest season ever: 72 wins and 10 losses followed with a championship. It was Michael Jordan in his full return from baseball out to reconquer basketball. The preposterous Dennis Rodman propped up the big top and Phil Jackson pulled the strings as only the Zen Master can.

Can 70 happen again? Could another perfect storm be brewing 18 years later for another team from the Midwest? The hot-starting Indiana Pacers are young, athletic, talented, confident, well-coached and united. They might not have M.J., but they do play in the egregious Eastern Conference.

One member of the 72-win Bulls says forget about it.

“It’s never going to happen again,” said longtime NBA sharpshooter Steve Kerr, now a TNT analyst.

Kerr quickly made clear that his adamancy is not rooted in some 1972 Miami Dolphins-style pop-the-champagne bravado that annually celebrates the continuance of a legacy upon the present failures of others.

“It’s not that,” Kerr said. “It’s virtually impossible to win 70. I think everything had to come perfectly together for that Bulls team. But mainly it’s Michael Jordan, on a great team already, winning 10 games on his own during that season that he wouldn’t let us lose. It’s a feat that is so difficult because you have to factor in everything: injuries, fatigue, luck — and I just don’t see it ever happening again.”


VIDEO: Top 10 plays from The 1996 Finals

It almost did the very next season. The Bulls were 69-11 with two games to go. They lost 102-92 at Miami, and then 103-101 in the finale at home against New York. Jordan scored 33 points in 39 minutes. Four other Bulls starters scored 37.

A handful of other teams have come close. But near-misses only demonstrate the near-impossibility of winning better than 85 percent of the time during an 82-game schedule spanning five-and-a-half months. The 1971-72 Lakers won 33 games in a row, yet topped out at 69 wins. The 66-67 Sixers and 72-73 Lakers each won 68. Four teams have won 67 (85-86 Celtics, 91-92 Bulls, 99-00 Lakers, 06-07 Mavericks), four have won 66 (70-71 Bucks, 07-08 Celtics, 08-09 Cavaliers, 12-13 Heat) and three more have won 65 (82-83 Sixers, 86-87 Lakers, 08-09 Lakers).

The Pacers have never won more than 61. They’re currently 17-2 — the same record as the 72-win Bulls nearly a quarter through the season — and with a plus-10.2 differential, Indiana is picking apart most opponents. Like those Bulls, the Pacers rank No. 1 in defensive rating (although unlike those Bulls’ No. 1 offensive rating, Indiana is smack in the middle, 15th). Paul George is playing phenomenally. Seven-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert takes patrolling the paint as personally as anybody. David West is a leadership rock. They are deep. They are team-oriented. And after taking the Heat to seven games in last season’s East finals, they’ve assumed the steely-eyed glare and fierce facade of a team on a mission.

High level of concentration


VIDEO: Paul George collects Kia Player of the Month honors for November

The 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks did, too. That team won 67 games and were 61-11 with 10 games to go. They were furious (if not humiliated) after blowing a 2-0 lead and losing to the Heat in six games in the 2006 Finals. A summer hangover bled into an 0-4 start. Then Dallas and Dirk Nowitzki, in his lone MVP season, roasted the rest of the league with win streaks of 12, 13 and 17 games. With the No. 1 seed in hand, then-coach Avery Johnson eased off the gas and the Mavs finished up those last 10, 6-4.

“We were extremely focused,” said Devin Harris, a reserve point guard on that team. “We had a high level of concentration for long periods of time.”

Harris believes the Mavs win 70 that season had they snapped out of their post-Finals fog before the season started. Nowitzki, who saw these Pacers twice in the preseason, gives them at least a puncher’s chance.

“The Pacers have a great team. They’re tough, they’re long and they’ve got playmakers,” Nowitzki said. “Paul George took the next step to an absolute superstar level. They’ve got shooters, they’ve got inside presence with Hibbert, they’ve got shotmakers, so they’re a very, very good team.

“And,” Nowitzki reminded, “they play in the East. So maybe they can do it.”

Yes, the woebegone East, where only the Pacers and Heat are above .500, is a significant ingredient in a potential perfect storm. Indiana is 12-1 against its intraconference foes. The defeat, the Pacers’ first after a 9-0 start, came at Chicago before the Bulls lost Derrick Rose for the season.

The next five days should deliver strong signals whether 70 can be real or is simply a whimsical story line tossed into the breeze weeks before even Christmas arrives: The Pacers play the last two West champs, at San Antonio (15-3) on Saturday and at Oklahoma City (13-4) on Sunday; then return home Tuesday for the first of four regular-season meetings against the hated Heat (14-4).

After that the Pacers’ next 16 includes 13 against the East — 10 against sub-.500 clubs, two at .500 and a big one at Miami (Dec. 18); plus three against the West with Houston (Dec. 20) being the only one above .500.

“Is it possible?” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle asked rhetorically of winning 70. “You would have to take advantage of a year like this year; the East so far hasn’t been strong. So it would have to be a team coming out of the East.”

As sensationally as the Blazers — who beat Indiana in a tremendous game on Monday — Spurs and Thunder have started, seemingly unanimous agreement suggests no West team could possibly navigate the conference’s mine field to 70. As for the two-time champs from the East, even with the greatest player in the game, LeBron James, Miami is coming off three consecutive seasons playing into June. Dwyane Wade‘s iffy knees likely means he’ll sporadically miss games throughout the season as he did Tuesday against Detroit. On those nights the Heat will become more vulnerable to losses such as the one the Pistons, a team with a sub-.500 record, handed them on their home floor.

Pie in the sky?

Carlisle was a reserve forward on the 67-win Celtics in 1985-86. He coached under Larry Bird at Indiana and later coached the Pacers for four seasons, leading them to the franchise’s lone 60-win campaign in 2003-04. Carlisle remains close to Bird, now the Pacers’ team president and the man responsible for the current roster.

“I would say the CBA now, the way it’s geared toward equality in terms of talent and money spent, based on that premise it would be very unlikely that somebody could win 70 games,” Carlisle said. “But since the East is down this year — I mean I don’t think Indiana will do it, it’s just hard.”

But, Carlisle continued …

“It’s not impossible. A must is you would have to have a great defensive team because you’re going to lose some games just on shot-making being up or down, and it’s going to be down some nights. But they are as consistent defensively the last two years as any team I’ve seen since Chicago back in the 90s when they really had it going.

“So it would have to be a great defensive team. Miami’s the same way. But you’re talking about pie-in-the-sky.”

The Heat won 27 consecutive games last season and finished with 66 wins. Miami’s loss to Detroit provided a shining example why so many things must go right to even have a shot at 70 by the time March, let alone April rolls around. A team with a target on its back every night, and on Tuesday night without Wade, Miami simply couldn’t dial up the energy to get what on paper was a game they “should” win. The Pacers wear a target now, too.

The 72-win Bulls did a remarkable job of this. They lost only four times to teams that finished the season .500 or below. Only once did they trip over a true doormat — a 109-108 late March loss to the 21-61 Toronto Raptors. The Pacers earned win No. 17 by narrowly escaping such a defeat Wednesday night at Utah, the West’s last-place team at 4-16.

The Pacers now must go 53-10 the rest of the way.

“That’s just it,” said Kerr, who predicts the Pacers will finish with around 60 wins. “In the NBA, everybody has talent, even the bad teams have talent. The Knicks have lost nine in a row, and the Pacers really should have lost to the Knicks [on Nov. 20]. If [Iman] Shumpert doesn’t foul George on that 3 (with 5.2 seconds left in regulation), the Knicks win that game.

“Over 82 games, there’s just so many nights like that where a team gets hot, there’s an injury, there’s foul trouble, whatever it is, there’s just too many variables, and why I don’t think it will ever happen again.”


VIDEO: NBA Action looks at the Pacers’ hot start to 2013-14

It’s Rarely Easy To Repeat, Heat

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DALLAS — NBA playoff history is loaded with ambitious underdogs against steely defending champions. We’re seeing it now in the Eastern Conference finals as the upstart Indiana Pacers push the reigning champion Miami Heat to the limit. Game 6 in that series, with the Heat leading 3-2 after beating Indiana Thursday night, is Saturday night in Indianapolis (8:30 ET, TNT).

LeBron James (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

LeBron James (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

Indiana is not only up against a great team. It’s up against great odds. Historically speaking, when a best-of-7 series has been tied 2-2, the winner of Game 5 has won the series 83 percent of the time.

Still, nothing will come easy for Miami. Over the past 33 seasons, only nine teams have claimed the championship. (The Heat have done it twice.) Only four teams (the Lakers, Bulls, Rockets and Pistons) have won back-to-back titles. And a Miami repeat would give the Heat a chance to do what only two other teams have done: pull off a threepeat. (Michael Jordan’s Bulls did it twice; the Shaquille O’NealKobe Bryant Lakers were the other ones.)

Indiana has had only one trip to the NBA Finals, 13 years ago, when the Pacers lost to the Lakers in six games in L.A.’s first leg of its threepeat. These Pacers have had their chances. In fact, they might look back on  Game 1 in Miami, when LeBron James beat them with a spin-drive to the left that beat the buzzer, as the game that cost them a second chance at The Finals.

Ominous, too, was the Heat’s 90-79 win Thursday night in Miami. The Pacers led 44-40 at halftime even after a handful of missed shots at the rim and a spate of turnovers. But James, after delivering a fiery speech to his huddled teammates, dominated the third quarter and carried Miami to the pivotal Game 5 victory.

The good news for the Pacers? Half the teams that lost Game 5 after being tied at 2-2 gave themselves a chance for a Game 7 by winning Game 6.

Here’s a look at the teams that have successfully defended their title since 1980 and the toughest challenges they faced: (more…)

The Other NBA Tie To North Korea

James Donaldson was Dennis Rodman before Dennis Rodman.

Wait.

Let’s try that again.

Donaldson is a former NBA veteran big man, a center to Rodman’s power forward, and Donaldson in November became one of the very few Americans to visit North Korea, just as Rodman did last weekThose Donaldson-Rodman similarities.

Without the same publicity or access to top officials, Donaldson travelled to Pyongyang as part of the delegation with Global Resource Services, an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization with a history of going to the Hermit Kingdom on humanitarian missions. He did not meet with Kim Jong Un in a prequel to the attention-getting gathering with Rodman and the North Korean leader reported to love basketball.

“It would’ve been great to meet with Leader Kim as Rodman did, but that’s okay, we met with a lot of government officials, so I’m sure that he was aware of our visit,” Donaldson wrote in an e-mail from China.

Rodman’s visit to North Korea and the verbal embrace of Kim despite a horrible human-rights record continued to generate attention Monday, all the way to the White House getting questions  about the Hall of Famer (North Korea should worry about the well-being of its citizens and not “celebrity sporting events,” spokesman Jay Carney replied. Meanwhile, Steve Ganyard, a former deputy assistant secretary of state and current ABC News consultant, told the network that “There is nobody at the CIA who can tell you more personally about Kim Jong Un than Dennis Rodman, and that in itself is scary.”

As Donaldson related: “Many of my Chinese friends here in China point out that the perceptions and stereotypes that we (Americans and the Western world) have of North Korea are eerily similar to the perceptions and stereotypes that Americans had of China 30 or 40 years ago when China was a closed society and was going through its own efforts to bring its people out of poverty and become a global economy.  There was the same name calling and saber rattling between the United States and China (and vice versa) that is now going on between the United States and North Korea (and vice versa).

And it wasn’t until some serious diplomatic/international relationship building efforts by the likes of Henry Kissinger and President Richard Nixon in the 1970s that things began to improve and change between the two countries. Perhaps, that’s what it will take to thaw some of the frozen diplomatic/economic/political/ international relations between the United States and North Korea.

“So from my vantage point of being in one of the few Americans ever to step foot in North Korea, and to actually engage in meaningful meetings with sports/economic/cultural development officials from North Korea, along with being part of a delegation that has tremendous knowledge about North Korea (Global Resource Services), I believe that there will be a tremendous amount of good that will come from Dennis Rodman’s recent trip to North Korea. In general, our media and political leaders don’t have anything good to say about North Korea (or at least choose not to say anything good), and Rodman has come back from North Korea with nothing but the message of peace, friendship and love. There’s not much bad you can say about that.”

He added in the e-mail that “I feel that Rodman’s glowing praise of Leader Kim was genuine and from the heart.  Rodman actually had a chance to share a meal with him, have actual conversation with him, attend a basketball game with him and probably get to know him a little more ‘as a person’ than any of us have ever had an opportunity to do. So, if Rodman says that ‘a friendship’ has developed, then we should be okay with that and perhaps even see an opportunity to develop even better relationships with North Korea in general. I know it’s a little unconventional, and typically/traditionally not how we go about with international relationship building and diplomacy. But this is a new age in which the world is more closely tied together than ever before.”

Donaldson – a 7-foot-2 center who played 14 seasons with the SuperSonics, Clippers, Mavericks, Knicks and Jazz before retiring in 1995 – said he hopes to return to North Korea.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Worm?

 

HANG TIME, Texas — Let’s just say the quaint notion of Felix and Oscar as The Oddest Couple went straight out the window the moment that Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong-un exchanged hugs. As bizarre meetings go, it wouldn’t have been out of place at the Star Wars Cantina.

Rodman: “Guess what, I love him. The guy’s really awesome.”

Never mind that Kim rules over one of the most reclusive countries in world, a place that during Rodman’s NBA playing days would never have tolerated his iconoclastic lifestyle.

Bridal gowns? Leather-and-chain ensembles? Tattoos? Lip and ear rings? In the Peoples Republic of Korea, the runway fashion has perennially run toward the ultimate in “throwback jerseys,” military gray.

If NBA commissioner David Stern’s rule was always considered to be a bit dictatorial for the Hall of Famer, what might he have thought of life under the supreme leader’s Kim dynasty — including his father and grandfather — where “technical fouls” may have meant trips to a work camp, or worse?

Yet here we are in these early days of the 21st century when the intransigence of American politics brings government to a halt and is no less a comical sight than Kim and Rodman sharing yuks and sushi as they watch the Harlem Globetrotters play.

So with North Korea occasionally sending up test missiles over the Sea of Japan and constantly rattling its sabers at the United States, maybe it makes perfect sense to send in Rodman under the clownish cover of the Washington Generals where the other Washington generals have failed to make headway.

Wouldn’t it be a kick if The Worm turned out to be a mole? At the very least, it would be a very memorable photo op to see Rodman show up at the Pentagon for a debriefing wearing more metal on his face than the Joint Chiefs of Staff have medals on their chests.

According to Choe Sang-Hun and David E. Sanger of the New York Times, the U.S. government might welcome any insights that Rodman could provide into Kim’s personality and the North Korean regime.

And while the choice of Mr. Rodman might seem odd to some — he is known for cross-dressing and was visiting a conservative nation where long hair for men and short skirts for women are forbidden — Mr. (Bill) Richardson said in an interview on Friday that it was not surprising given Mr. Kim’s love of basketball. (Mr. Richardson said he was asked by North Korean officials in recent months to persuade Michael Jordan to visit.)

Even though Mr. Rodman is no diplomat, Mr. Richardson said the visit could be valuable given the lack of good intelligence about Mr. Kim, a man whose nuclear arsenal and visceral anti-Americanism makes him a threat.

“Any information about Kim Jong-un, his mannerisms, his ability to speak English, his personal assessment, is valuable,” said Mr. Richardson. “He is their leader, and in our visit, he had lots of support.”

The State Department was not nearly so sanguine. Despite questions about the trip and whether the government would debrief Mr. Rodman on his return, a department spokesman, Patrick Ventrell, did not suggest a visit to Foggy Bottom was in the offing.

“We haven’t been in touch with this party at all,” he told reporters Thursday, leaving out Mr. Rodman’s name. “If there are Americans who after traveling in North Korea want to get in touch with us or have something to share with us, we take the phone calls.”

So did Rodman go into Pyongyang with a nose ring microphone or a spy camera implanted in a gold tooth?

Looks like we’ll have to watch the upcoming series produced by Vice Media for HBO to find out if he’s Agent 0091.

Rodman. Dennis Rodman. He’s always liked everything shaken and stirred.

Dennis Rodman in North Korea: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

North Korea fired an underground nuclear test a couple weeks ago and has threatened the United States and South Korea with “miserable destruction” if they moved forward with joint military exercises in March, so of course this is the perfect time for noted diplomat Dennis Rodman to arrive on the scene.

Somewhere, Phil Jackson is smiling at Rodman’s involvement in world issues. Or building a fallout shelter.

Rodman landed in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, on Tuesday with three Harlem Globetrotters and a documentary film crew with the expectation of playing exhibition games and the hope of meeting leader Kim Jong-un, said to be a basketball fan. Because if there’s one thing Rodman is good at, it’s stabilizing situations.

“There ain’t no timing of it,” the Hall of Fame power forward said in a video on the Web site of the British daily The Guardian. “We got invited and we’ll just come over and have some fun and hopefully give you some fun.”

The New York Times noted that Vice media founder Shane Smith, who has made two previous trips to North Korea to film documentaries, said a ball signed by Michael Jordan, given to former leader Kim Jong-il by then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 2000, is prominently displayed at the national museum. Former brutal dictator Kim Jong-il, the father of current brutal dictator Kim Jong-un, was portrayed as obsessed with the Bulls of the 1990s.

“It’s weird because when you go there, it’s all very anti-American,” Smith told the Times. “North Korean kids are fed anti-American propaganda from pretty much the day they are born. But it’s OK to like American basketball,” adding: “It is a bizarre place. And this is a bizarre idea.”

It was not immediately clear whether he meant the trip or any involvement with Rodman.

The American contingent expects to spend four or five days in the country, the paper reports, including visits to a children’s sports camp and games against North Korean players. The visiting team is Rodman, three Globetrotters and a Vice correspondent.