James has already missed a career-high 11 games this season due to injury. Additionally, both he and the Cavaliers have expressed a desire to rest James for some games leading up to the playoffs in April.
But a rematch with the Heat in Miami, where James won two titles in four years and where he was received warmly when the Cavs played there Christmas Day, was not one James planned to skip.
He cut a video testimonial for Bleacher Report about the emotions of playing against former teammates Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers, and others.
On Sunday night, James agreed the next South Beach visit would have a much different feel.
It’d be really different if he didn’t play.
“For me to be able to just finish the game, you know, the way I fell, the way I took that fall, it just goes to my training, the way I approach the game off the floor,” James said. “That time I was able to stay on the floor with my teammates.”
James scored four points and dished out three assists while playing 10 of 12 minutes in the fourth quarter.
It’s also worth noting that James’ best, most athletic dunk was in the final period, when he reached the ball high above the rim as he glided past defenders and crushed it with his right hand with 5:31 left.
No. 1: Aldridge 1, injured thumb 0 — Black was going to be the color of the night heading toward the Portland Trail Blazers’ home game against Washington Saturday, the proper attire for the sort of mourning already going on over forward LaMarcus Aldridge‘s injured left thumb and the six-to-eight weeks Aldridge likely was going to miss recuperating and rehabbing. But then Aldridge surprised Blazers fans by announcing that he would postpone surgery and try to play with the torn ligament. And he did just that in Portland’s 103-96 victory, putting the “triumphant” into his return with 26 points, nine rebounds and one splint. Here’s some of the quotage from the Blazers’ locker room:
Head coach Terry Stotts: “Well it was a win that we needed to get. Understatement: it was good to have LA back. I’m glad he had a good game with the thumb and the splint. It was very encouraging.”
Blazers guard Wesley Matthews: “He was big time. Even if he didn’t have the monster game that he did, I think just his presence and his sacrifice of his own body and for him to recognize how special this season is and can be and continue to be, for him to give that up to be out there with us in the trenches, it speaks volumes. … He can’t sit out. He doesn’t want to sit out. He loves this game and figures if he’s got something to give, he’s going to give. I can relate to that.”
Aldridge: “I felt okay. There was a few moments where I got it hit or whatever, and it was kind of tender. But for the most part, it was okay. … I was just trying to work with it. I kind of figured it out as the game went on, how to use it or whatever, and I kind of played with it.”
More Aldridge, on the Moda Center crowd reaction: “It was humbling. I thought they definitely showed me love and they respected what I was doing at that moment, trying to play through it, so that was humbling.”
Not all was sweetness and light on the injury front in Portland, however. Wing Nicolas Batum sat out Saturday’s game after aggravating a right wrist injury Thursday against Boston. He initially hurt it when he took a spill in Milwaukee Dec. 17. Here is an update from The Oregonian:
Batum missed the next game, Dec. 19 at San Antonio, then played in the next two games before sitting out the Dec. 23 game at Oklahoma City. He said he has aggravated the injury several times – usually when he falls to the court. On Thursday against Boston, it was a third quarter fall that took him out of the game and ultimately led to him missing Saturday’s 103-96 victory over Washington.
Batum, who is wearing an immobilizing brace, said he is unsure whether he will rest and let the wrist heal, or continue playing through discomfort during the Blazers upcoming trip at Brooklyn, Cleveland, Atlanta and Milwaukee.
He is averaging 9.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 38 games. He is shooting 38.7 percent from the field and 27.6 percent from three-point range, figures he largely attributes to his ailing wrist.
“It’s my shooting wrist,” Batum said.
No. 2:Pistons fear Achilles worst for Jennings — The pain in which Brandon Jennings writhed on the court at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee Saturday night — you could almost feel it. The way the Detroit Pistons’ point guard grimaced and banged the floor with one hand, while grabbing at his left ankle with the other, was palpable. Jennings, who had been rejuvenated along with the Detroit Pistons since they reconfigured their attack in a post-Josh Smith world, suffered a serious injury when he took a defensive step back on an inbounds play, and most who saw the replay and its aftermath immediately began to think of a torn Achilles tendon. That included teammate Caron Butler, as chronicled by the Detroit News:
“I saw him in pain, just the way he was. It was the second time I’ve seen something like that,” Butler said after Saturday’s game.
If Jennings didn’t know exactly what it was at the time, Butler had a good enough idea, remembering a former teammate Pistons fans should be familiar with.
“Chauncey Billups,” Butler said, his face cringing at the memory of Billups’ Achilles tear in 2012 when both were members of the L.A. Clippers.
“It happened in Orlando. We were playing good basketball, Chauncey was playing great. I was right next to him. He asked, ‘Did you kick me?’ I said, ‘Nah, I didn’t touch you.’ He was on the ground grimacing so he got up and went back down because he couldn’t move. He just started hopping.”
The Pistons know how important Jennings has been, averaging 19.8 points since Smith was released. They were expecting a medical update Sunday, with backup D.J. Augustin poised to step into a bigger role again this season the way he did in Chicago when Derrick Rose got hurt early last season.
Like a quarterback, Jennings touched the ball every single play he was on the floor, the most improved player in the last 15 games. Averaging 21.3 points and 7.5 assists on 44-percent shooting tells only part of the story.
“He’s tapped into a part of his DNA that says he’s a star and he’s got to that place,” Butler said. “And we were riding him out. Greg and Andre and everybody’s gonna have to raise the bar.”
“He’s been the guy who’s been our catalyst offensively,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “He’s been averaging 20 a game, high-assist, low-turnover, playing at the highest level of his career. Was a huge factor in the previous 15 games so, it’s a major, major loss.”
No. 3:Waiters believes he has grown — Dion Waiters was back in Cleveland with his new team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, in anticipation of Sunday’s clash with the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. He’s the shooting guard traded a couple of weeks back in the deal that delivered New York’s J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland, part of a roster makeover credited – along with LeBron James‘ spa-shutdown of two weeks to heal and invigorate – for the Cavs’ boost in play. Waiters didn’t sound like an eager participant but he did submit to and answer questions from the media, including ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin, on topics such as being scapegoated and his rapport with star teammates past and present.
“I ain’t really care what nobody say. It ain’t affect me. I slept good every night. I slept good every night. So, I mean, that’s what comes with the territory. That’s what comes with it when you got somebody like LeBron who brings all that attention around the team when we wasn’t used to having that. So the littlest things that you do, they be like the biggest. It’s so crazy. But it is what it is. I’m not in that situation anymore. Over here it’s still the same situation, but it’s different. I’m happy, I’m comfortable already two weeks in and I feel like I’ve grown. I’ve grown in a short period of time as a player and off the court.”
Waiters is averaging 11.4 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.8 steals on 39.8 percent shooting from the floor and 25 percent shooting from 3-point range in eight games with the Thunder. His production is nearly identical to the 10.5 points, 1.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.3 steals on 40.4 percent from the field and 25.6 percent from 3 that he averaged for Cleveland this season before the trade.
The difference is in the win-loss column. The Thunder are 5-3 since acquiring Waiters. The Cavs are on an upswing as well, winners of five in a row.
“Both teams are doing great — winning,” Waiters said. “Everybody seems at ease now and that’s what it’s about, just being happy, being comfortable and having fun, getting an opportunity. That’s what it’s about.”
While his relationship with James has apparently ended, Waiters explained why reigning MVP Kevin Durant has embraced him.
“From the outside looking in, he probably saw how things were looking or how I’m always the odd man out and things like that. How it was going, how my name was always in something and half the time it probably never was me,” Waiters said. “I was that guy who you point the finger at, but I was fine with it. I could take it. I didn’t have no pressure on me. I didn’t have no pressure on me. My job is to go out there and play basketball, get as many wins as we can as a unit and unfortunately, it didn’t work out. And I think the organizations made great decisions on the moves and it’s helping both teams.”
No. 4:Lakers didn’t treat Bryant properly? — We return now to our regularly scheduled injury news – notice a trend in these daily reports? – and to the suggestion by ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Baxter Holmes that the Lakers, and specifically coach Byron Scott, could have handled the early days of Kobe Bryant‘s shoulder injury better. Instead, by letting Bryant continue to play after an overload of early-season minutes, Scott’s decision might have contributed to the torn rotator cuff on which they’ll all be updated Monday.
In hindsight, these issues appear greatly troubling, because just as Bryant must treat every aspect of his health, training and diet so seriously at this age just so he can perform, so too must the Lakers, and especially Scott, be ever so cautious with him.
That’s all the more true because Bryant is the Lakers’ sole attraction during an awful season, the lone reason for fans to tune in or attend games, all they really have to look forward to until the draft lottery. From a business sense, Bryant is their cash cow — their extremely well-paid cash cow — and thus missteps are extremely costly.
Where does blame lie? Certainly some falls on Bryant. He’s as powerful as any figure within the Lakers’ organization and as powerful as any player within any NBA franchise. If he wanted to play fewer minutes, he could have. If he wanted to get his shoulder examined earlier, he could have. The only person who could’ve stopped Kobe was Kobe, but he didn’t, because Kobe is Kobe. He believes he will overcome.
So the blame truly falls on Scott, who hasn’t been shy about admitting his fault in the issue. And, to a greater degree, the blame truly falls on the entire organization for not stepping in at some point earlier on when Bryant was playing all those minutes.
Waiters doesn’t hesitate to disclose the difference between his experience in Cleveland and Oklahoma City. After a 16-point performance Sunday at Orlando in which he made seven of nine shots, Waiters was asked what he’s learned so far about where his shots will come from and how he fit into the offense.
“Listen,” he said, “they give me the ball. Like, I touch the ball. Like, I actually, like, you know, touch the ball.”
There’s a great Vine post of Waiters getting visibly frustrated waiting for LeBron James to pass him the ball with the Cavs. But the whole thing about the Thunder letting him touch the ball more may just be in Waiters’ head.
SportVU is here to tell us the truth. Its player-tracking cameras can tell us just how many touches Waiters has gotten and how much he’s had the ball with each team.
And the data refutes what Waiters says. Waiters got more touches and had the ball more with the Cavs than he’s had with the Thunder…
Furthermore, SportVU tells us that LeBron James passed the ball more to Waiters than Kevin Durant has per 36 minutes on the floor together. And Kyrie Irving passed him the ball more than Russell Westbrook has.
It’s early in Waiters’ time with the Thunder and he may indeed feel more comfortable in Oklahoma City than he did in Cleveland. But so far, the numbers don’t support his theory that he’s touching the ball more in OKC.
Waiters, who will wear No. 23 (although he wanted to wear No. 13) with the Thunder , averaged 10.5 points per game in 33 games this season with the Cleveland Cavaliers. While Waiters never seemed fully comfortable coming off the bench this season with the Cavaliers, he appears to be occupying the same role for the Thunder, at least initially.
> Cleveland’s deal for Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith was made, seemingly, to shore up some holes on defense. Mission accomplished? Or more to come?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If the Cavaliers are done sprucing up their roster defensively, then I think they’re done, period, as a serious contender this season. It’s not like I expect them to lure Dikembe Mutombo out of retirement and coax assistant coach James Posey back into uniform, but they’re going to have trouble coughing up from within the proper defensive intensity, on the fly, in what’s left of the season. Rim defense in particular is needed, and no one on the current roster (with Anderson Varejao out) is capable of filling that void. As for finding one of those much coveted 7-foot shot swatters walking around outside the arena, good luck with that. The Cavs need to make another deal.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Definitely not. From the beginning of the season the Cavs have been short on big men and the loss of Anderson Varejao for the season only exacerbated the problem. More than one hole in the hull of the S.S. LeBron. Still need bigs.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Mission accomplished to get away from Dion Waiters. Maybe Shumpert makes the Cavs better on defense, but the primary goal was addition by subtraction, not shoring up holes on defense. Although Waiters has talent, he obviously wasn’t a good fit there, and that’s not just with the new roster, either. More to come? I could see it. Cleveland doesn’t have many trade chips left, but any tinkering is possible after the way the season has started.
Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I wouldn’t say mission accomplish or that there is more to come. Not sure if the Cavs, at this point, have any more disposable assets to swap that will fetch the shot-blocking rim protector they need. Shumpert is just a band-aid. The Cavs need more of a team effort defensively that will help hide the shortcomings of Kevin Love and, to an extent, Kyrie Irving, but I’m not so sure that mentality is there. LeBron can only do so much, and even he isn’t the defender he used to be.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The mission certainly hasn’t been accomplished, because they still lack rim protection and both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love still need to show that they can play both ends of the floor. But the trade is definitely a step in the right direction. Trading Waiters is addition by subtraction, Shumpert gives them more perimeter defense than they had, and Smith is a good shooter if he can just play off LeBron James and Irving and limit the isolation, step-back nonsense. I’ll be curious to see how coach David Blatt finds playing time for all these guards, though.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: It has to be a little of both. The Cavaliers certainly found a potential perimeter defensive stopper (no offense to Shawn Marion, who has performed those duties in the past) in Shumpert. So that part of the mission has been accomplished. But there has to be more to come in terms of shoring up the rim-protector/post-defense deficiency that was created when Anderson Varejao (Achilles) was lost for the season. The Cavaliers have plenty of time to continue exploring their options. And based on what we’ve seen from them so far, they need to turn over every rock in the basketball world in search of the idea fit.
Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Much more to come … and much of it must happen in-house. Shumpert is a good pickup because he join LeBron James in his commitment to defense. Will everyone else come around? The mentality in Cleveland needs to change in addition to the mandatory acquisition of an intimidating big man. If everybody isn’t paying attention at that end of the floor, then nobody in Cleveland is going to be winning the championship.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The more I think about this deal, the more I like the way it works out for Cleveland. First of all, Dion Waiters either wouldn’t or couldn’t fit into the sixth man role he’d been asked to occupy, so the Cavs went out and got a former sixth man of the year in Smith. On top of that, they added Shumpert, the Knicks’ most versatile player and a true a-level wing defender. I think this will really help Cleveland down the stretch in games, where they’ve tried auditioned various players, from Matthew Dellevadova to Mike Miller, as Irving’s backcourt mate. Doesn’t matter which one, Shumpert or Smith is an upgrade.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — If you want to know the fastest way to spoil something special in the NBA, just check the chemistry.
No championship team operates without good chemistry. No team harboring championship dreams, even the ones boasting the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant (the last two men to earn MVP honors, can overcome bad chemistry.
That would explain the presence of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder being involved in the three-team trade with the New York Knicks that went down Monday, a somewhat shocking player and asset swap that sent Dion Waiters from the Cavs to the Thunder, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert from the Knicks to the Cavs. The Knicks piled up more Draft picks and cap space that will help them continue the Phil Jackson-led chemistry tweak going on in New York.
They are all chasing the same thing the Detroit Pistons discovered when they waived veteran forward Josh Smith before Christmas and promptly ripped off five straight wins. They are searching for that cosmic mix that Vince Goodwill Jr. of The Detroit News describes on Episode 184 of the Hang Time Podcast.
No. 1:Durant: We’ll make Waiters feel wanted — If you somehow missed it last night or this morning, there was a decent-sized, name-worthy, three-team trade in the league. In the deal, the New York Knicks sent J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland, the Cavs sent Lou Amundson, Alex Kirk and a 2019 second-round draft choice to New York, OKC sent Lance Thomas to the Knicks and a future first-round pick to Cleveland, and the Thunder got Dion Waiters. The Cavs and Waiters struggled to make their relationship work in the team’s new, LeBron James-led world. Waiters may now have a better opportunity in OKC and reigning MVP Kevin Durant told Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman he plans to do what he can to make Waiters feel welcome:
Late Monday night, a disappointed Thunder locker room was still in the process of digesting an ugly 117-91 loss to the Warriors.
But at the same time, players were also still gathering all the facts surrounding the three-team trade that netted Dion Waiters as their new teammate. The deal actually didn’t become official until the game had actually started.
But the news had spread. And Kevin Durant — the voice of the Thunder — was peppered with questions about it. Here were his answers:
Kevin, your initial thoughts on Dion and the trade?
“I’m excited about bringing Dion aboard. A guy that has a lot of toughness. Being from the East Coast, I know a lot about Philadelphia, South Philly, where he comes from. Those guys are tough and they play with an edge. And that’s what we need here.”
Any kind of relationship with him prior to this?
“Just knowing him from playing against him. We’re gonna make him feel wanted. I don’t think he felt that the last couple years. He’s gonna fit in well. He’s gonna get comfortable real quick. It’s on the leaders — Russell, myself, Nick — to make him feel at home and feel special and let him play his game.”
Can he be James Harden-like for you guys?
“I’m not saying he’s James’ replacement, we’re far past that. But, yeah, he can play, can come off the bench for us and score and make plays. He’s a really good player, man. A lot of people take him for granted, I think. Because he’s been around and you hear different things about him that’s not true. But he can play basketball. So he just needs to come out here and be himself, be aggressive and make plays.”
Have you reached out to him yet?
Nah, probably gonna talk to him later on after this. It’s pretty late on the East Coast, but I’ll probably shoot him a text soon.
For the Thunder, this is a deal that clearly bolsters its talent level. Waiters is a score-first shooting guard — taken fourth overall in the 2012 Draft — who averaged 15.9 points and 3.0 assists last season. This year, his third in the league, Waiters production has dipped and his role has changed. He’s averaging 10.5 points coming off the bench, struggling to fully adjust to a LeBron James-led team that has a ton of talent around him.
That led to this deal, which nets the Thunder some scoring punch likely for its bench. But it also puts OKC slightly over the luxury tax by around $1.5 million, something they’ve been unwilling to pay in the past.
Presti has said that the franchise would be willing to exceed it at some point for the right move. But there’s also a possibility that the Thunder isn’t done making moves. Waiters arrival would seem to make Jeremy Lamb expendable, with Anthony Morrow, Andre Roberson and now Waiters likely to remain in front of him in OKC’s rotation.
Waiters is making $4.06 million this season and $5.1 million next season before he can become a restricted free agent.
On a perfectly good night of NBA action, with 22 of the league’s 30 teams open for business, it was a flurry of activity on social media that seized much of the attention Monday evening.
The buzz: The New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder were orchestrating a three-team trade that was leaking out piece by piece, important details backed up by not-quite-right speculation.
It started with some rumblings on Twitter by someone in Dion Waiters‘ camp, suggesting the Cleveland guard was being dealt by the Cavs. Soon enough, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports was breaking the news, as is his wont:
Dion Waiters will be traded to Oklahoma City in the three-way deal, league sources tell Yahoo Sports.
The prospect of Waiters, Cleveland’s third-year shooting guard considered a poor fit on the newly configured Cavs, being traded in mid-season was juicy enough. Most insiders anticipated some chafing from the No. 4 pick in the 2012 draft after Cleveland coaxed back LeBron James and built the team around the four-time MVP, point guard Kyrie Irving and former Minnesota power forward Kevin Love. Soon enough, Wojnarowski followed with more info on the deal, including this:
Oklahoma City guard Reggie Jackson could be part of a three-way deal for Dion Waiters, league sources tell Yahoo Sports.
Various reports also sketched out the three-team transaction, mentioning J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert as Knicks who were headed to Cleveland. Also, veteran big man Samuel Dalembert‘s name popped up, his destination initially not known. Later, it was reported that Dalembert would be waived by New York.
jR Smith and Samuel Dalembert have been pulled from tonight’s game. Shumpert would have been but he is not healthy. They are all on way out
With Waiters headed to the Thunder and Smith and Shumpert bound for Cleveland, fans in New York might reasonably have wondered: Who’re we gettin’?! Turns out, Knicks president Phil Jackson was maneuvering for salary-cap relief along with, perhaps, some addition by subtraction.
We are hearing Knicks won’t be getting any roster players back in this deal. It’s all for clearing cap space. JR had opt out.
Quickie analysis? Waiters wasn’t going to adjust to the slippage in Cleveland’s pecking order forced on him by the new and improved Cavs. He still has superior offensive tools, if his game can be harnessed and disciplined, but James & Co. have little time for that. Smith is an established NBA knucklehead, but he can score as well or better than Waiters and he might lock in on a team with real purpose. Shumpert is a valuable role player who should help Cleveland defensively.
Wojnarowski cited league sources in reporting that the Knicks would be getting rookie center Alex Kirk from Cleveland in the deal, along with a protected future first-round pick from OKC.
There were other facets to the deal that were picked up and kicked around – in excitement, in mirth and in all seriousness – by the usual suspects on social media, including these:
Timing of this trade is par for the course for Waiters’ mercurial season. He was about to start in his hometown Philly.
Late Monday, the Knicks, Cavaliers and Thunder officially announced the deal. The Thuunder receives Waiters from the Cavaliers in exchange for a 2015 first-round pick and Lance Thomas was sent to the Knicks. The Knicks acquired Lou Amundson and Kirk from the Cavs in exchange for Schumpert and Smith.
No. 1:Josh Smith makes winning debut for Rockets — There’s no place like home for the holidays … as long as you have a home. After being waived earlier this week by the Detroit Pistons, Josh Smith agreed to a free-agent deal with the Houston Rockets. Friday night he made his debut for the Rockets in Memphis against the Western Conference power Grizzlies, tallying 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists in Houston’s 117-111 overtime win. As Jonathan Feigen writes in the Houston Chronicle, Smith provided the Rockets exactly what they were looking for when they signed him…
The Rockets had no intention of relying so heavily on forward Josh Smith with the ink on his contract barely dry.
They did not even intend to play him so long into the night.
The Rockets knew they wanted Smith the minute the Detroit Pistons cut him loose.
They needed him as soon as they plugged him into the rotation.
With the Grizzlies defending Smith with Vince Carter, the Rockets went to him again and again down the stretch Friday night, not only helping key a comeback to a 117-111 overtime win but offering a glimpse of the sort of talent they had plugged into the mix.
“They think big of my talents,” Smith said. “This is a team that instills confidence in all of its players.”
With the two-season disaster in Detroit rapidly behind him, Smith had 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists in his Rockets debut, tacking on the game-winning free throws in overtime when he grabbed consecutive offensive rebounds and then knocked down a pair of free throws for a four-point lead.
No. 2:Magic rouses LeBron, Cavs take win — The Orlando Magic are still in the nascent stages of their rebuilding plan, and as such still have lessons to learn. Last night, hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were without an injured Kyrie Irving, the Magic learned an important truth: You come at the King, you best not miss. With Orlando leading the Cavs 64-62 in the third quarter, Magic forward Tobias Harris and LeBron James got tangled under the basket and exchanged some heated words. Whoops. As Chris Haynes writes, Harris woke a sleeping giant, helping push Cleveland to the win…
James looked out of sorts. Disinterested. He had three turnovers in the first 10 minutes.
Orlando was up 64-62 in the third quarter and a coasting James was 5-for-13 from the field. The Magic was on pace to steal one. Harris, acting as the catalyst, had 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting.
Then things suddenly changed.
Midway through the third, Harris was facing up James on the baseline and to create some separation; he flung his elbows around in the vicinity of James’ face. James backed up to avoid the connection, but he took exception and said something to Harris.
The two jawed back and forth at one another and had to be separated. While walking away, Harris yelled, “Stop flopping.”
“He barked up the wrong tree,” the Cavs’ Dion Waiters said of Harris after the game.
A sleeping giant was awakening.
Two possessions later, James stole a crosscourt pass and shot out on a one-man break. Orlando’s Elfrid Payton managed to get a hold of James from the back and James took him along for the ride to finish the left-handed layup, plus the foul.
The four-time MVP proceeded to trot past Orlando’s bench to have a few words before taking his foul shots. Just like that, James was awakened.
“That’s the best player in the world,” the Cavs’ Kevin Love said. “That’s something you don’t want to do.”
From that point on James dominated Harris, going 5-for-7 in the final 17 minutes. He scored 15 of his game-high 29 points in the fourth. After that alteration with James, Harris only scored one point. He finished with 17 points on 6-for-12.
No. 1:Watch out Kobe, here comes Dirk — Much was made earlier this season of Kobe Bryant‘s pursuit of Michael Jordan and the third spot on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Last night there was another repositioning of the list, though a few spots down from Kobe and MJ. Dallas’s Dirk Nowitzki moved into 8th on the all-time scoring list, passing Elvin Hayes in a 102-98 Dallas win over the Lakers. As Dirk joked after the game, he’s now got Kobe squarely in his sights, writes ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon…
“I told [Kobe] that I was going to catch him,” Nowitzki said after his Dallas Mavericks defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 102-98 with Bryant resting and watching from the bench. “But that’s going to be tough.”
Nowitzki now stands eighth among scorers in NBA history, five spots behind Bryant, after passing Hall of Fame forward Elvin Hayes on Friday night.
Nowitzki needed six points entering the game to pass Hayes, who finished his career with 27,313 points, and did so on a midrange jumper off a feed from Monta Ellis on the opening possession of the second half.
Nowitzki, who has been battling a stomach illness for about two weeks, finished the game with 14 points in 24 minutes, giving him 27,322 points in his career.
“I’m fortunate to have great teammates to put me in position to keep scoring, even as I’m older,” said Nowitzki, a 36-year-old who has spent his entire 17-year career with the Mavs. “It’s been fun. Still competing at a high level and hopefully will win a lot more games these last couple of years, which really means more to me right now than all the points. But it’s definitely been a fun ride.”
Hayes is the second top-10 all-time scorer passed by Nowitzki this season. Nowitzki bumped Hakeem Olajuwon to No. 10 on the list in a Nov. 11 win over the Sacramento Kings.
Nowitzki, who is averaging 18.5 points per game this season, likely will pass Moses Malone (27,409 career points) in early January to move into seventh on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
With 32,365 points and counting, Bryant is almost certainly out of reach for Nowitzki. However, Nowitzki should pass Shaquille O’Neal (28,596 points) next season and has a chance to move into the top five by passing Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) before he retires.
No. 1:Bucks looking for different advantages — The Milwaukee Bucks were purchased by a collection of investors led by some New York financial titans in 2013, and since then they’ve been attempting to build a stronger infrastructure for the franchise, in some ways by utilizing some creative thinking. One way they’ve done that: Spending money on people who do things NBA teams have traditionally undervalued, or perhaps not valued at all. For instance, as Kevin Randall writes in the New York Times, the Bucks recently hired a “facial coding expert”…
So in May, the team hired Dan Hill, a facial coding expert who reads the faces of college prospects and N.B.A. players to determine if they have the right emotional attributes to help the Bucks.
The approach may sound like palm reading to some, but the Bucks were so impressed with Hill’s work before the 2014 draft that they retained him to analyze their players and team chemistry throughout this season.
“We spend quite a bit of time evaluating the players as basketball players and analytically,” said David Morway, Milwaukee’s assistant general manager, who works for the owners Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry. “But the difficult piece of the puzzle is the psychological side of it, and not only psychological, character and personality issues, but also team chemistry issues.”
Hill contends that faces betray our true emotions and can predict intentions, decisions and actions. He employs the psychologist Paul Ekman’s widely accepted FACS, or Facial Action Coding System, to decipher which of the 43 muscles in the face are working at any moment. Seven core emotions are identified: happiness, surprise, contempt, disgust, sadness, anger and fear.
Before the 2014 draft, Hill spent 10 hours with Milwaukee’s team psychologist, Ramel Smith, watching video of various college prospects and picking apart the psyches of potential picks. The Bucks had the No. 2 selection over all as well as three second-round picks, one of which they traded.
A vexing player at the top of the draft was Dante Exum, a point guard from Australia who was projected to be taken among the top four selections. Smith had done player personality analyses but wanted to validate them by having Hill present his player assessments first. The Bucks selected Jabari Parker with their top pick, and Exum fell to Utah at No. 5.
“Nothing against Exum, but emotional resiliency, stability and an immediate, assured presence were all key considerations in support of selecting Parker,” Hill said.
Until he sustained a severe knee injury on Dec. 15, Parker was among the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year honors, averaging 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds. Exum is averaging 4.9 points and 2.0 assists coming off the bench for the Jazz.
> Give me a name or two, guys who you think almost certainly will be traded between now and the Feb. 19 trade deadline.
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Lance Stephenson back to Indiana as a do-over of sorts would be interesting, because it’s not something we’ve seen often (ever?). David Lee done got “Wally Pipped” in Golden State – the team didn’t miss him and might be better without him – so he’d be a likely suspect to move, if someone were willing to swallow his contract. I would have said Ersan Ilyasova for sure until Jabari Parker went down, thinning the Bucks’ frontcourt. If LeBron James wants Corey Brewer, then I’d imagine Brewer will be headed to Cleveland for something or other. Then there’s Greg Monroe, though any trade would hinge on his determination to leave Detroit (no more Bird rights) and the Pistons’ asking price for a half-season of his services.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Lance Stephenson and Dion Waiters. It seems there wasn’t a bigger mistake made during the offseason than the Hornets trying to add Stephenson as a pinch of spice. He’s been a bad fit since Day One and team owner Michael Jordan would most likely enjoy a shot at a do-over. The bad blood between Waiters and point guard Kyrie Irving might be in the past, but Waiters is still most often like a fifth wheel on the Cavs’ machine and is likely never going to stop being frustrating.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: It’s tough not to think Lance Stephenson right away. The contract is very moveable — $27 million over three seasons, but the final campaign as a team option — and Stephenson can be a productive player, certainly more productive than he has shown so far in Charlotte. It’s early in the relationship, but the Hornets can’t wait much longer before deciding it’s a bad fit. Separately, the Pistons are a candidate to trade. Offloading Josh Smith would be an ideal scenario, but he won’t bring much in return. Greg Monroe is a possibility, before he becomes a free agent, but not at a fire-sale discount. He’ll still cost.
Shaun Powell, NBA.com: There are dozens of players that teams want to dump, but for various reasons might be unable to do so. Case in point: Josh Smith, Pistons. Anyway, my candidates: Gerald Green, because the Suns may not want to pay him; Arron Afflalo, because his return to Denver has been largely a bust; Corey Brewer, because the Wolves will be crummy with or without him; and finally Lance Stephenson, just because.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: There are a lot of guys who teams don’t want anymore, and there are a lot of guys that other teams desire. But Draft pick compensation and the heftiness of certain contracts (hello, Joe Johnson) often get in the way of potential deal. Dion Waiters, in my opinion, should fall into the first category and is still on an easily-tradeable rookie contract. So I see him as the most likely to move. The Cavs need defense and have plenty of guards — Matthew Dellavedova, Joe Harris, James Jones and Mike Miller — who can absorb Waiters’ minutes.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Josh Smith and Lance Stephensonserve as the easy picks and for good reason. I think one or both of them will certainly be on the move. There is no doubt they’re both being shopped by their respective teams. They are both talents with skills that will be coveted by teams convinced that they’ll be able to clean up whatever messes they’ve made in the past. Neither one of them is a great (or even good) fit in their current situations. The Pistons aren’t going anywhere this season, so they might as well start the rebuilding process at the deadline. The Hornets had high hopes and had them dashed early. They need to free themselves of Stephenson and allow him to start fresh elsewhere as well. My wild card at the deadline is the Phoenix Suns. They had a glut of point guards and should take a hard look at which one of them is expendable.
Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I’m going to say Josh Smith and any other number of Pistons. The coach has the authority to make trades in Detroit, and after complaining steadily about the effort of his players, Stan Van Gundy isn’t going to allow the trade deadline to pass him by.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Knicks move Amar’e Stoudemire. He’s playing better basketball than he’s played in years, and could lend a hand on a contending team in need of frontcourt depth. Plus, with a $19 million expiring contract, maybe the Knicks can get something of value for him that will help with their rebuild going forward.