HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Only eight teams remain in the playoffs, meaning the fans of 22 other teams have turned much of their attention to the offseason and the free-agent summer of 2013 in particular.
We will encounter a familiar name there, one Dwight David Howard of the Los Angeles Lakers, who along with Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers, will be at the center of all things come July 1 (when free agency kicks off in all of its usual craziness).
There are a dozen teams, most notably Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, Utah, Cleveland, New Orleans, Detroit, Charlotte and Washington, with the cash to spend and the flexibility to significantly tweak, and, in some cases, totally remake their rosters. All these teams need is a free agent willing to give them a chance to make the proper sales pitch.
For the top-level free agents — and this summer that list it two truly elite players deep, Howard and Paul — the list of potential suitors will be exclusive. Only those franchises with championship potential need bother.
But that’s what makes the summer, the scramble by a large number of teams for the same small group of big-time free agents. We have more than seven weeks to before free agency goes into complete crazy mode, but why wait until then to get the party started?
Status on July 1: Unrestricted free agent What he’s selling: A three-time Kia Defensive Player of the Year and five-time rebounding champ, Howard is a seven-time All-Star and, when healthy, the NBA’s most dominant big man. When your down year sees you lead the league in rebounding and still help power the Lakers to a playoff spot in an absolute train wreck of a season, you’re worth every penny a team throws at you. What he’s not saying: He still a putrid free throw shooter and has been known to struggle with decision-making. What he’s worth: A max contract, worth approximately $118 million over five years. Who might be buying: The Lakers have no choice but to beg him to stay, with Kobe Bryant on the mend from Achilles surgery and no one else on the roster capable of carrying the mantle as face of the franchise. Houston, Atlanta and Dallas will launch all-out assaults to sway him. Likely landing spot(s): Lakers. They can offer $30 million more than anyone else. Howard will have a hard time walking away from that kind of cash.
Status on July 1: Unrestricted free agent What he’s selling: A six-time All-Star and culture-changer (see Clippers before and after his arrival), Paul is the best in the business at his position, a gold medal winner and an All-Star Game MVP. Toss in his work as a pitch man (Cliff Paul comes with the package) and it’s easy to see why he’s one of the most recognizable players in the game today. What he’s not saying: He has to stay healthy. He’s not getting any younger and he has to get to winning in the postseason, the one glaring hole on his so-far sparkling NBA resume. What he’s worth: A max contract, worth approximately $108 million over five years. Who might be buying: The Clippers are desperate to hold on to him. But they have coaching issues to resolve before that can happen. Houston, Atlanta, Dallas will all make pitches in hopes of prying Paul away. Likely landing spots: Clippers … depending on what happens with Vinny Del Negro. Like Howard, Paul would have to walk away from extra cash if he decides to go elsewhere. But he’s hungry for a title, wherever he goes.
Status on July 1: Unrestricted free agent What he’s selling: An absolute game-changer when he’s focused, Smith makes plays only a few players in the league are capable of on a given night. For all the drama and criticism thrown his way, he helped power the Hawks to six straight playoff appearances. What he’s not saying: His shot selection and motor remain issues. After nine years in Atlanta, his next spot needs to be an ideal fit, because this is likely Smith’s last big deal. He has to make sure it’s in a place where he can thrive. What he’s worth: A max contract of approximately $95 million over five years doesn’t fit here, not from the only team (the Hawks) that can offer him that much. But a deal worth approximately $75 million to $85 million over five years is doable. Smith turned down a $47 million extension offer from the Hawks, so he’s obviously looking for a starting salary of $16 million-plus. Who might be buying: The Hawks say they are interested in keeping Smith, at the right price, of course. Houston, Boston, Phoenix, New Orleans, Philadelphia and the Lakers will all investigate this situation. Likely landing spots: Houston is the frontrunner and is the ideal fit and a place Smith would be comfortable. (more…)
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – For NBA fans like us, there’s nothing better than League Pass. Having the ability to watch every game every night (and then again the next day) is heaven.
Of course, with local broadcasts, you get local broadcasters, which can be good and bad. It can be good, because these guys know their teams better than most national broadcasters. It can be bad, because these guys love their teams more than most national broadcasters. And they’re usually not afraid to show that love.
The national guys aren’t perfect either. And if they’re not careful, they may be featured here, where we highlight the best and worst of NBA broadcasts.
Game: Toronto at Washington, March 31 Broadcast: Toronto
As the weak-side guy on pick-and-roll coverage, you’re supposed to “chuck” the roll man, meaning that you should get into the paint and keep him from having a clear path to the basket. Rudy Gay goes a little too far here, body checking Jan Vesely like it was a Leafs-Caps game.
Gay is called for a Flagrant 1 foul on the play, a reasonable ruling which stands after review. And somehow, Matt Devlin and Leo Rautins feel like this was normal pick-and-roll defense.
Devlin: “There was no intent behind that.”
Rautins: “I think at times now things get a little carried away with whole idea of flagrant and intent and all that. That was just a hard foul.”
2. A run-of-the-mill assist of the year candidate
Game: Cleveland at New Orleans, April 7 Broadcast: New Orleans
If you’ve listened to Lakers games on League Pass the last two seasons, you know that new play-by-play man Bill Macdonald can get a little too excited when his team scores a basket (or just when Metta World Peace attempts a 3-pointer).
It’s a contrast to former Lakers play-by-play man Joel Meyers, who is now calling games for the Hornets. Here, Meyers calls this ridiculous, no-look, through-the-legs Kyrie Irving dime to Tristan Thompson like it was any old assist.
Personally, I’ll take the subdued Meyers over the hyper Macdonald. That pass probably called for a little more inflection, though.
3. All-Star sandwich
Game: Dallas at Denver, April 4 Broadcast: Denver
Scott Hastings is the King of Air Check.
Evan Fournier pushes Dirk Nowitzki in the back here, sending Nowitzki into a flying Kenneth Faried. Hastings, of course, immediately takes offense.
“I guarantee it’ll be here,” he says. “Dirk Nowitzki. Gotta protect him.”
The push is clear as day on the replay, but Hastings isn’t changing his tune.
“That’s a little bit of a Dirk flop and he gets rewarded, because he’s an All-Star.”
4. I can block shots like that
Game: Denver at Dallas, April 12 Broadcast: Dallas
When JaVale McGee blocks a shot a couple of feet above the basket, Mavs broadcaster Jeff Wade goes into some pretty funny schtick about playing against 10 year olds on an 8-foot rim.
With a third opportunity in the last two weeks to break even and grab a shave for the first time in months, the Dallas Mavericks were blown away, inexplicably embarrassed at home by the skidding Phoenix Suns and laid to rest their run of 12 consecutive playoff appearances.
That franchise record officially ended Wednesday night when the Lakers outlasted the Trail Blazers about 90 minutes after a dominant Goran Dragic (21 points, 13 assists) and the relief-smitten Suns left Dallas with a 102-91 victory.
Each of the Mavs’ three attempts to reach .500 ended in double-digit losses and by an average margin of 18.6 points.
“Every time we’ve had a chance we’ve kind of laid an egg,” said a disappointed Dirk Nowitzki, who said his gimpy ankle was fine as he went just 6-for-18 from the floor for 21 points. “We obviously want to finish the season with a positive record. We owe that to everybody, to the franchise and the fans. This was a game we needed to have.”
Prior to it, Mavs owner Mark Cuban, unaccustomed to rooting for ping-pong balls, acknowledged the obvious: his club has “room to improve, a lot of room to improve.” Then he watched from his baseline seat as the same infuriating issues — horrific guard play, poor defensive rebounding and a non-contesting defense — breathed life into the visitors who entered having lost 10 straight overall, 10 in a row to the Mavs and hadn’t won in Dallas since March 2007.
“We were the team that looked like we were on a back-to-back, not them,” Nowitzki said. “Just a terrible, terrible, disappointing loss.”
After the Mavs’ Wednesday morning shootaround, coach Rick Carlisle was asked if he had to guard against his team taking the cellar-dwelling Suns for granted. His response: ”Anybody around here who’s taking any games for granted this year is a [expletive] idiot.”
Yet that message apparently didn’t reach his players. There was veteran Vince Carter, the team’s most consistent performer this season next to Shawn Marion, admitting as much while answering a question that never broached the topic of taking the opponent for granted.
“I think we took the team for granted at the beginning and felt like we could just win the game,” Carter said. “Took their record, their streak for granted, if you ask me. You just can’t do that.” (more…)
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
World Peace expects to start vs. Hornets — Just a dozen days ago, Lakers forward Metta World Peace was thought to be lost for at least the first round of the playoffs (provided L.A. got in) if not for longer. But the man who always has something to say on Twitter has gone through a miraculous recovery from torn meniscus surgery and expects to play tonight against the Hornets. Phil Collin of the Los Angeles Daily News has more on World Peace, his recovery and his teammates’ reaction to it all:
One teammate uttered the words “bionic nan.” Kobe Bryant has taken to calling Metta World Peace “Logan,” the character in “Wolverine.”
Whatever Metta Madness is flowing through his veins, it looks like World Peace will return to the Lakers lineup tonight, 12 days after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.
A medical miracle? Not really, World Peace said. He was itching to play the moment he was asked by Dr. Steve Lombardo if he could put weight on the leg, and he hopped out of bed and did so only hours after the operation.
“As long as he didn’t have to stitch anything together, I couldn’t do anything to (further damage) it,” World Peace said Monday after going through 3-on-3 workouts. “I was in great shape. The doc said he was surprised my knee was in such great shape playing 14 years in the NBA and always in a defensive stance.
“When I heard all that, it wasn’t like I was trying to come back to be a Superman. I figured I’ve just got to play through pain and it will get better as time goes.”
“It’s unbelievable,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He’s different. I’ve never seen this before.”
World Peace said his recovery was so swift because of his diet and offseason workouts.
“I think the way I eat prepares me for a challenge like this,” World Peace said. “Even when I sprained my ankle most people would have been out a couple games and I came right back against New Orleans.
“You can take a lot of medicine, but when you eat right and you’re injured that swelling is minimized. Right after surgery (Lombardo) was amazed how the swelling didn’t even exist.”
Favors heating up as Jazz find rhythm — When the Jazz opted to part ways with Deron Williams at the trade deadline during the 2010-11 season, they instead changed directions of the franchise as they plucked Derrick Favors from the Nets (as well as a future first-round pick — which became Enes Kanter). Favors has had periods of fits and starts with Utah during his 2 1/2 seasons there, showing flashes of the talent that made him the No. 3 overall pick. Particularly on defense, Favors has always been a steady contributor for the Jazz, but his offense and post moves have lacked behind. But lately, as Utah is making its push for the postseason and the No. 8 seed in the West, Favors is getting it done, writes Steve Luhm of the Salt Lake Tribune:
When Derrick Favors arrived in Utah, he was a teenage NBA rookie who had just been traded by a team which repeatedly reassured him that he wasn’t going anywhere.
Favors was confused, bewildered and a little disillusioned after being the centerpiece — at least from the Jazz’s perspective — in the blockbuster trade that sent All-Star Deron Williams to New Jersey.
Coach Tyrone Corbin remembers when the quiet, stone-faced Favors joined the Jazz in 2011.
“Scared,” Corbin said. “He was a scared 19-year-old … that was surprised he got traded and didn’t know what to think of it, what to think of us or where to go next.”
Told of Corbin’s description before Monday morning’s practice, Favors smiled.
“I wasn’t scared,” he said. “I would say I was just mentally exhausted from the whole thing. Everything I went through in New Jersey and then I was traded here, I was just mentally exhausted.”
When he returned to Utah for the 2011-12 season, Favors “started feeling more comfortable because I knew there weren’t going to be any trade rumors. I knew I was going to be here.”
Favors played well, but Corbin continued to bring him along slowly. He made nine starts in 65 games during the lockout-shortened season.
This year, Favors continued to come off the bench as part of Corbin’s big-man rotation that also included Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Enes Kanter, another developing youngster.
Still, Favors averaged only 22 minutes a game — at least until March 27.
In the second quarter of a game against Phoenix, Kanter was likely lost for the season with a dislocated shoulder.
Favors seized the moment.
In the next six games, he averaged 12.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 27 minutes.
In Sunday night’s 97-90 win at Golden State, Favors finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds in 30 minutes. His blocked shot with 40 seconds left helped preserve the critical victory.
“He’s grown all year,” said teammate Mo Williams. “He’s getting to the point where he’s turning the corner. … He’s doing great things for us down the stretch.”
Riley hopes to keep Heat stars together 10 years — Miami Heat president Pat Riley was the man who, back during the 2009-10 season, put together a squad that amassed just 47 win and lost in the first round of the playoffs. After that season, though, Riley constructed the big rebuild of the Heat by re-signing Dwyane Wade while adding in Chris Bosh and LeBron James to create the superteam that Miami has come to know and love. That long-term vision is apparently on Riley’s mind again as he is working on constructing a way to keep the Bosh-James-Wade trio together beyond the summer of 2015-16, which is when all three players have player options on their deal. Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald has more:
While the rest of the NBA community is busy speculating about the future of LeBron James and how the Heat plans to navigate the new salary cap, Pat Riley is thinking long-term about how special the run of this Heat team can become.
Speaking with reporters at the Heat’s “Family Fest” on Sunday, Riley pointed to models of success the NBA considers some the best in its history as the ultimate goal for the Heat while also reminding the city to enjoy this “special time.”
“I just want to keep helping them, keep bringing in more pieces that are going to complement them and hope we can have one of those 10-year rides, you know,” Riley said. “You think about every team, through the Celtics in the ’60s and the Lakers in the ’80s and the Bulls and then again the Spurs, those guys have been together eight, nine, 10 years and if we can keep this group together for eight, nine, 10 years, then we’re all going to have some fun.”
And then a piece of advice.
“So, don’t ever take it for granted,” he said.
Thompson taking on more leadership with Cavs — Much was expected from Tristan Thompson, the No. 4 overall pick of the 2012 Draft, last season. But Thompson’s first NBA campaign was mostly a disappointment as he finished as an All-Rookie Second Team member. But this season, Thompson has found more of a groove on the court — the season-ending injury to Anderson Varejao freed up more minutes for the youngster — and has become a true building block for Cleveland’s future. As well as his increased on-court production, Thompson is emerging as a spokesman of sorts for the Cavs, something All-Star teammate Kyrie Irving has shied away from. Jason Lloyd of the Akron-Beacon Journal has more:
The evolution of Tristan Thompson as both a man and basketball player has dramatically progressed over the course of the last week. The Cavs will say he has always been one of the team’s leaders, but never so publicly as recently.
Thompson defended his coach as a father figure last week and called any speculation about Byron Scott’s precarious future “bogus.” Then he responded with two sensational performances in victories over the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic.
As Kyrie Irving continues to shrink away from any public platform, Thompson is embracing his role as a spokesman — and he’s backing it up with his play on the court, too.
“Just being myself, just being a natural leader and speaking up if I see something is wrong,” Thompson said after the victory Sunday against the Magic. “Just recently y’all have been coming to me, and I’ve been speaking, so I guess you can say I’ve been a leader.”
Because of the position he plays and his immense talent, Irving remains the floor leader. But twice in the past week Irving has been given the opportunity to take a stand publicly and twice he declined.
Asked after a dreadful loss to the Brooklyn Nets if the players had given up, Irving passed and said he wouldn’t answer for anyone else, then embellished the point of his recent shoulder injury as proof he hasn’t quit.
Asked prior to the game Sunday against the Magic about the speculation surrounding Scott, Irving again passed on the chance to support his coach.
“Until that time comes, I’m not really worried about it,” Irving said. “To even imagine that, I’m not going down that road. I’m focused on finishing the season with him and that’s all that matters right now.”
Thompson was so bothered by the speculation that he went into Scott’s office last Thursday and explained to his coach why he said, “All the rumors about coach Scott, hot seat and all that crap, that’s bogus. It’s up to us to go out and compete and play hard because we’re the ones out there. When he was out there playing, he won championships. It’s up to us to go out there and play.”
Scott conceded that he was touched by Thompson’s defense but told him to worry instead about his performance on the court.
“I told him, ‘You don’t have to fight my battles,’ ” Scott said. “Any coach would say, ‘I really appreciate the support from a guy like that.’ Then to go out and play the way he’s played has been fantastic. Hopefully he can continue to play that way.”
Nowitzki: ‘Big summer’ looms for Mavs — The Dallas Mavericks’ immense letdown of a season is something that apparently is more than a little on Dirk Nowitzki‘s mind. The Mavs’ superstar chimed in on it yesterday in an interview with USA Today’sSam Amick and, now, is getting the message out to the local writers, too. Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News has more on Nowitzki and his thoughts on what will undoubtedly be a summer of changes for Dallas:
Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t want it to end like this.
Slugging it out for the eighth seed — or more likely missing the playoffs — is bad enough once. Or twice.
In the autumn of his NBA career, he wants more. And while he has no problem putting pressure on ownership to find some high-quality warriors to play alongside him, Nowitzki also is OK taking on his share of the workload off the court.
He’s ready to hit the recruiting trail.
“I’ve said it all year long — this is a big summer for us,” Nowitzki said. “We have to get better. We have to get some guys in that can get us back to the top level. We want to be a top-four seed in the West. That was always our goal, to play for the top. So this is a big summer. If [owner Mark Cuban] needs me to recruit and do all that stuff, I’m more than happy to.”
The Mavericks followed up their championship in 2011 by barely squeezing into the playoffs last season. They will probably miss the playoff this season for the first season since 1999-2000.
“I don’t know if it was necessarily Cuban’s plan to go for eight, nine one-year players,” Nowitzki said. “Once you let the championship team go, there were some consequences and obviously some risks that go with it.”
And Nowitzki has made it abundantly clear to Cuban that another season like this one isn’t something he’s interested in.
“My last couple years, I’d love to contend,” he said. “We’ve been a championship team that one year, and once you smell that victory, you want to smell it again. I don’t want to go anywhere else. [Cuban] knows that. Everybody knows that. I want to be a Maverick for life.”
ICYMI of the night: On the heels of the Hall of Fame announcement on Monday, it’s as good a time as any to relive the greatness that was Gary Payton in his prime …:
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – In Chicago, they’re getting mighty used to seeing No. 21 on the floor. That’s because Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau rarely takes second-year swingman Jimmy Butler out anymore.
The youngster from Marquette is racking up the minutes and stands to be an integral part of any postseason success the Bulls (42-34, fifth in the East) might have — with or without Derrick Rose.
“I love his demeanor,” Thibodeau said. “I love the fact that you don’t have to wind him up. He has great energy every day.”
It’s been crucial on a club that’s dealt with its share of injury woes from Rose missing the entire season to Rip Hamilton possibly being done for the season to Joakim Noah‘s and Marco Belinelli‘s eight-game absence that ended with both players back in the lineup Sunday at Detroit.
Belinelli’s abdominal injury opened a starting spot for the 6-foot-7 Butler and he remained there in Sunday’s disappointing 92-90 loss to the Pistons. Even with Belinelli back and playing 20 minutes, Butler, in just his 14th start of the season and eighth in a row, went for 45 minutes. Some of that heavy load was caused by a hip injury to Luol Deng that sidelined the NBA’s minutes leader (39.2 mpg) for Sunday’s game and likely more.
Still, 40-plus minutes are becoming routine for Butler, an excellent rebounder and solid defender who is aggressively building his offensive game. In seven of his last eight games, he’s logged 42-45 minutes. In the one game he didn’t, he logged 39 minutes. During that stretch, he’s practically doubled his season average of 24.8 mpg, a number that’s obviously risen of late.
There have been bumps in the road, but Thibodeau has praised Butler’s progress from a rough rookie season that didn’t include a full training camp or many practice days due to the lockout and truncated schedule. He played in 42 games last season, averaging 2.6 ppg. He attempted just 11 3-pointers all season, making two.
Now he’s putting up 8.1 ppg while shooting 46.0 percent from the floor. He’s lifted his 3-point shooting to 33.7 percent. In the last eight games as a starter, he’s produced 14.0 ppg, has gone 10-for-23 from beyond the arc (43.5 percent) and 37-for-85 overall (43.5 percent). He produced similar numbers earlier in the season when he replaced an injured Deng in the starting lineup for four games.
“As long as he continues to work, and there’s no reason to believe that he won’t, he’s going to continue to get better and better,” Thibodeau said. “He showed a great commitment last summer and just the way he works every day. I think those types of guys always get better.” (more…)
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: In a season where we’ve had a 17-game win streak (by the Clippers) and a 27-game win streak (by the Heat), it might be easy to discount the Knicks’ 12-game run as something as ho-hum. But after a win last night in one of the toughest places to play — Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena — we’ve got to give New York some love this morning as our pick of the day. Every time it looked like Carmelo Anthony and company had this one wrapped up, Russell Westbrook would pick up the Thunder and send them charging back. Still, another quality win for the Knicks (to go along with victories over the Heat, Hawks, Celtics and Jazz) as they are hitting their stride at the right time. An extra nod of the head this morning to the Jazz, too, who showed some little-seen resiliency on the road by beating Golden State and taking control of the No. 8 spot out West.
Nowitzki hoping for best in Dallas — After the Dallas Mavericks missed out on landing Deron Williams, a former Dallas-area prep star, and didn’t have the assets to get into the trade mix for Dwight Howard last summer, owner Mark Cuban opted for some cheaper deals on several players. Many of those new faces are on one-year deals, giving Dallas another shot at the free-agent game this summer in hopes of landing a young star to pair with their aging-but-still-effective star, Dirk Nowitzki. To be certain, the Mavs’ floundering about in the West and their longshot odds to claim the conference’s playoff berth is hardly what Nowitzki or the Mavs had in mind this season. But Nowitzki, in a great interview with USA Today’s Sam Amick, talks about his plans for the future and the hope he has for Dallas:
The Dallas Mavericks star may have been critical of his owner’s approach in the past, back when the wounds of Mark Cuban’s cold and calculated roster-building ways were still fresh. But as Nowitzki nears the end of this memorable stretch of 12 consecutive postseason berths and ponders his future, the future Hall of Famer who vowed not to shave until his team reached the .500 mark swears he’s not still upset about the way Cuban broke up the 2010-11 championship team and ushered in all this mediocrity.
But if nothing has changed by next season, if the Mavericks’ imperfect-but-prudent plan to counteract the league’s harsh new collective bargaining agreement backfires because they aren’t able to land an impactful free agent this summer and return to the elite level during the twilight of Nowitzki’s career? Might Nowitzki — who will be a free agent in the summer of 2014 — considering retiring in a jersey other than the Mavs’ one he has always worn?
“Now that I already reached my goal (of winning it all), I really want to finish my career in Dallas,” Nowitzki told USA TODAY Sports recently. “But saying all that, I don’t want another year next year with the same as this year, (with) the frustration and playing for the eight or nine seed. I think we all know that this is a very big summer for us. (Mavericks general manager) Donnie (Nelson) knows. Cuban knows. We want to get back to the championship level.”
Free-agents-to-be Dwight Howard of the Lakers and Chris Paul of the Clippers are expected by most to remain with their current teams, which may mean the Mavs pursue someone like Atlanta forward and fellow free-agent-to-be Josh Smith or perhaps do a deal for a young, dynamic player like Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins. Nowitzki, said this summer will determine whether or not it was the right move.
“You can’t really judge yet if it was a good move or the wrong move until you see what we get this summer,” he said. “If we end up with nothing again and sign eight or nine (players on) one-year deals, then maybe it wasn’t a good move to let everybody go. But if we can make this team younger and more explosive again and add a superstar, then maybe it wasn’t all bad. I guess the judgment is still kind of out.”
Cuban, who has consistently said he would not trade Nowitzki under any circumstances, is extremely sensitive to the idea that Nowitzki could ever don another jersey than the one he has worn since his rookie campaign in 1998.
“Of course he doesn’t want to fight for an eighth seed in the future; none of us do,” Cuban told USA TODAY Sports via e-mail. “Beyond that, like he has told me and the world, he can’t see himself being anywhere else.”
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, who has coached Nowitzki since 2008, expects him to be as good as ever in 2013-14.
“(The doctors) did whatever they needed to do in there (during the Oct. 19 arthroscopic knee surgery),” he told USA TODAY Sports. “Now he has the entire summer to cycle up to training camp.
“Mentally, I think he’s looking at playing two or three more years, so as long as he’s mentally locked in, his routine is always going to be consistent. He can keep playing at a superstar level. We’ve got to manage his situation the right way. We’ve got to get the right guys around him, to make sure we’re playing him the right number of minutes, and all those things.”
With the right players, and in the right jersey until the end.
“I’ve got obviously one more year on the contract next year, and by then I’m 36 and I’m sure I’ll play a couple more years,” he said. “It’s kind of tough to say how long (he’ll play). I’m thinking I’m going to sign another two or three year deal, and then slowly ride off.”
“I don’t want to be the guy who does it too long, you know? I want to be a guy who can still do some stuff at the end of his career, like Nashy (Lakers point guard and close friend of Nowitzki’s, Steve Nash) and those guys — (Kevin Garnett) and Tim Duncan.”
Rose not giving up hope on return — Wherever you stand on the Derrick Rose issue — whether it is that the former MVP should play now and in the playoffs or he should just shut it down and wait for 2013-14 — the Bulls’ star has the final say, of course. For a timeline’s sake, Rose first scrimmaged with his teammates on Feb. 18. Since then, there has been a lot of hope and talk that Rose would be returning soon. But the mental side of his rehab – particularly the ability to dunk off his injured left foot — has kept him from a return. But Rose tells the Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson that he hasn’t ruled out a return for the season, despite what many may think:
“Oh, no,” Rose said, when asked if he’d announce he’s sitting out this season. “I’m keeping it open.”
After Sunday’s game against the Pistons, the Bulls have just six regular-season games remaining.
“I’m not trying to think about that right now,” Rose said. “I’m just trying to get better. I’m just trying to help my teammates, give them confidence to go out there and play hard. I’ll play whenever I’m ready to play. Who knows when I’m ready to? Right now, all I can do is just cheer on my teammates.”
Playing on a minutes limit wouldn’t bother him.
“I wouldn’t mind at all,” he said. “Of course I want to play more. But it’s not that big. I’m going to play whenever I’m ready. I don’t care if it’s 15 or 40 (minutes). I just love the game too much. Like I said, I’m just waiting and praying about it. And hopefully I’ll be out there soon.”
Since the likelihood of Rose sitting out the season increases with each day, he got asked if having another summer of rehabilitation and drill work would benefit him.
“I think it is where it gives me more time to work out if I don’t play,” Rose said. “But I think I have enough time already knowing I haven’t played in a long time. Just taking that time and getting my body together, it could definitely be big. But I’m going to come back whenever I’m ready.”
Wade likely to rest until playoffs begin — On Saturday night, LeBron James returned to Miami’s lineup after missing three games and looked just like his old self, scoring 27 points as Miami took care of Philadelphia. The same cannot be said for James’ superstar running-mate, Dwyane Wade, who hasn’t played since March 29 as he is resting a balky right knee. Wade tells ESPN.com’s Michael Wallace that he’s likely to ride the bench until the playoffs because he wants to be healthy once the Heat begin their championship defense:
Dwyane Wade won’t rule out missing the rest of the regular season to recover from a right knee injury, but the Miami Heat star said Sunday he hopes to return before the playoffs.
Wade has missed six of the Heat’s past eight games and is still dealing with soreness and swelling in the knee, which he has aggravated twice since initially injuring it a month ago.
“The most important thing is to be healthy,” Wade said Sunday, addressing the media for the first time since he last played March 29. “So when I feel it, then I’ll get back on the court. Obviously, I want to play. But I have to make sure that I’m right. You have to get healthy.”
Chris Bosh, who missed Saturday’s game, is recovering from a hyperextended right knee and said Sunday he wasn’t sure when he might try to return.
Wade, James and Bosh were among Miami’s players, coaches and front-office staff members who attended Sunday’s annual Heat Family Festival. The carnival-style event held outside of AmericanAirlines Arena raised more than $503,000 for local charities affiliated with the Heat.
While the injuries James and Bosh have been dealing with have been considered minor, there seems to be more concern around the team regarding Wade’s situation.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Saturday that all three of his marquee players will be considered day to day for the rest of the regular season. But Spoelstra confirmed that Wade has been held back by consistent swelling in his knee.
“His body will tell us when we’ll play him,” Spoelstra said of Wade on Saturday. “He got hit right on top of his knee twice. He was able to resolve it, then get past it. But in the New Orleans game, he got beat up and was on the floor.”
Wade seemed to downplay the severity of the swelling and the bruise on Sunday, but alluded to areas around the knee that have been the focus of his recent treatment sessions.
Because the Heat have clinched the No. 1 seed in the East and are closing in on securing the best overall record in the league, the team’s approach is that it’s best to be cautious down the stretch and get players healthy now.
“We took care of business so we were able to say, ‘We have these injuries, so let’s take care of it now and be smart,’” Wade said. “I would love to be playing right now. As a player, if you get a couple of days off you, you want to get back to it. But I’m just trying to be smart with my doctors. When I feel like I can get back on the floor, then I will.”
Wade played through soreness in his left knee late last season and had it drained during the second round of the playoffs. He ultimately had surgery on the left knee last summer after the Heat beat Oklahoma City in the Finals.
With six games remaining on the Heat’s regular-season schedule, Wade said he’s hopeful he can get back on the court as early as this week. Miami plays Milwaukee on Tuesday, travels to Washington on Wednesday and hosts Boston on Friday.
“Obviously, the biggest thing is to get your wind back and get your legs back under you,” Wade said. “But I’ve been around the block a few times. It’ll be a little adjustment, but I’m not overly concerned about it. I do want to get back on the court before the playoffs to get a rhythm. Hopefully, sometime this week I can step back on the court.”
Lakers forward Metta World Peace walked down a Staples Center hallway in full stride and was bearing a wide smile.
He insisted he can return when the Lakers host the New Orleans Hornets on Tuesday at Staples Center despite having surgery to treat a lateral meniscus tear on his left knee a little more than a week ago.
“I’ve been ready to play,” World Peace told this newspaper following the Lakers’ 109-95 loss Sunday to the Clippers at Staples Center. “I could’ve played today.”
Not so fast.
The Lakers plan to have World Peace run today at 90 percent of his body weight on an elliptical machine before evaluating whether he can run with full body weight Tuesday. It’s likely he’ll then have to go through at least a practice before returning.
Still, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni described World Peace’s progression as “way ahead of schedule.” The Lakers estimated he’d sit out at least six weeks. But World Peace spent the past three days running and the past two participating in shooting exercises.
How did he progress so quickly?
“I’m good,” said World Peace, who’s missed the last six games. “I’m not a (wimp).”
“I was walking a day after (surgery). I only used the crutches because I was lazy,” World Peace said. “I was ready to go.”
Inconsistent defense an issue for Thunder — Back-to-back losses in March to the Nuggets and Grizzlies, two of the NBA’s better teams in both scoring in the paint and rebounding, raised concerns about the defending West champion Thunder, particularly in terms of defense. But since those losses, OKC posted a 6-1 record, including wins over San Antonio and Indiana — both of whom are solid defensive and rebounding teams. Yesterday’s matinee matchup with the Knicks, though, re-exposed some recent issues for the Thunder as they were pounded on the glass by New York, writes Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:
Oklahoma City followed up its best defensive performance of the season with one of its worst. After holding Indiana to eight points on 2-for-18 shooting in the fourth quarter Friday, the Thunder allowed a season high for points, yielded at least 30 points in three quarters (and 29 in the fourth) and allowed 19 offensive rebounds.
The rebounding was the worst of all evils.
That’s because Sunday marked the fifth time in the past 10 games that the Thunder has allowed at least 16 offensive rebounds. The Knicks converted their 19 offensive boards into 23 second-chance points.
“We just gave up too many offensive rebounds,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “When we did make them miss they got 19 offensive rebounds and 23 putback points. That’s not good. We should not be able to give up both of them.”
After out-rebounding the Pacers, the league’s best rebounding team, by 22, Sunday’s showing was the equivalent of five steps back after one step forward.
In its past 10 games, the Thunder has allowed 14 offensive rebounds. By comparison, the league’s high mark is Milwaukee’s 12.3.
“We just have to go back to the basics,” Brooks said. “We’re going to talk about it and we have been talking about it. The basics of rebounding is blocking out. It’s not rebounding. The rebound comes after a block out. If you focus on rebounding there’s too many athletes in this league that it’s a 50-50 ball. You block out first and then you go get the rebound.”
So are the players not blocking out enough?
“It’s a combination,” Brooks said. “Everybody has to think rebound. We’re such a high, explosive offensive transition team that we can’t think about that until we secure the ball. That’s just something that we will brush up on and try to get better at that the last five games.”
ICYMI of the night: It must be nice to be able to take off for a layup, get up in the air, and then decide you want to dunk it anyway …:
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: Does it get any better than a matchup of the West’s two top teams? We don’t think so, so that’s why last night’s Spurs-Thunder tilt from Oklahoma City gets the nod this morning. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had the Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd rolling and high-fiving all night long, even though this one had a bit of a damper put on it with Tony Parker‘s injury (our man Jeff Caplan has more on what happened here).
Report: Gallinari has likely ACL tear — A magical season in Denver took a turn for the negative last night when the Nuggets’ second-leading scorer, Danilo Gallinari, suffered a knee injury while driving to the hoop in the first half. He eventually fell to the floor and was helped off the court by teammates Timofey Mozgov and Quincy Miller and Denver was left hoping a season-altering injury wasn’t the cause. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports has bad news for Nuggets fans as it looks likely that Gallinari has suffered a torn ACL:
After crumbling to the court and needing to be carried to the locker room, an initial examination of Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari suggested a season-ending tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, league sources told Yahoo! Sports on Thursday night.
“The doctor indicated that the ligament was loose,” one source told Yahoo! Sports. “They expect that it’s a torn ACL.”
Gallinari will undergo a full MRI examination on Friday to survey the complete damage to the knee. After driving on Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki in the Nuggets’ 95-94 victory on Thursday night, Gallinari planted his left leg only to have his knee buckle beneath him.
The Italian writhed in pain on the floor, and needed to be carted to the locker room.
When Dirk Nowitzki was asked about the possibility of Baylor superstar center Brittney Griner playing in the NBA, he kept repeating two words demonstratively: “it’s tough.”
Nowitzki weighed in on the controversy after Thursday morning’s shootaround at the Pepsi Center.
“I honestly have huge respect for [Griner],” Nowitzki said. “She may be the most dominant female player ever in college, but I don’t know if the NBA is made for a female.
“It’s physical, there are a lot of athletes out there. I think it’s tough.”
Speaking candidly, Nowitzki offered a suggestion for Griner, who will be the top overall pick in the next WNBA Draft.
“Maybe if she does want to maybe try in the [NBA] summer league to see how it is,” Nowitzki said. “But I don’t think a female, at this point, can play in the NBA.”
Coach Rick Carlisle admitted he hasn’t watched any women’s college basketball games this season, but is fully aware of Griner’s overwhelming talent.
“I know she’s a helluva player,” Carlisle said. “Beyond that I don’t want to get into the polarizing discussion about it because I think it’s important to have an owner that is open-minded and I think it’s important to be an organization that is open-minded.
“Ultimately, whether or not she can play is something I don’t want to get into.”
“Six-foot-eight is about a [power forward] , I’d say,” Nowitzki said. “We have three guys playing at 6-8 and playing [small forward], so yeah, you’re kind of caught between a [small forward] and a [power forward].”
And there’s always the argument that the speed and athleticism of the NBA is superior to any league out there and could engulf Griner.
“It’s tough,” Nowitzki said. “You’ve got to be fast and athletic at that spot, you’ve got to be able to shoot, you’ve got to be able to go by people, guard people on the other end, chase people off screen and rolls, or in the post-up.
“It’s tough. It’s tough.”
Bulls prove playoff mettle in win in Brooklyn — Heading into last night’s game in Brooklyn, the Bulls knew they’d be without Derrick Rose. But they also added Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Richard Hamilton and Marco Belinelli to that list, which made an already thin Bulls roster even more so. Then came the game, where Chicago found itself down 16 points to Brooklyn and had every reason to pack it in and take a loss. But as has been the case with these Bulls under coach Tom Thibodeau, they fought back and, thanks to a late Nate Robinson floater, put away the Nets and moved ever closer to the No. 5 spot in the East. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune details a gutty win for the Bulls:
Thursday night is why anybody thinking the Derrick Rose-less Bulls will be an early playoff exit might want to reconsider.
Down three starters and two rotation players to injury, the Bulls rallied from a 16-point deficit and stunned the Nets 92-90 at Barclays Center when Brook Lopez‘s jumper went in and out at the buzzer.
Nate Robinson scored the go-ahead basket with 22.7 seconds remaining, Nazr Mohammed helped force a steal and blocked Lopez in the final minute and Carlos Boozer and Jimmy Butler provided multiple big plays.
“You guys have seen the mark of this team: We fight to the end,” Boozer said. “We have some resilient guys in here. We just told ourselves to keep grinding and something would break.”
Robinson’s go-ahead basket came in the lane after he also got credit for a steal on Lopez, whom Mohammed ably guarded.
“I’m not afraid to take big shots if needed,” Robinson said.
“The momentum switched in the third quarter,” Boozer said. “We know (people) don’t believe in us. But we believe in each other, man. We’ve had some close games. We just hope all this is building up to us winning close games in the playoffs.
“We feel if we have everyone out there, we still have a chance to do something special.”
Jordan, Griffin tiring of each other, CP3? — This one might need to be taken with a grain of salt, because as we’ve seen with the Oklahoma City Thunder, star players can have occasional infighting and still be successful. But according to T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times, the Clippers’ frontcourt tandem of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan got into a bit of a spat the other night and some things about Chris Paul bubbled to the surface, too. Here’s more:
The feel-good Clippers are gone, with DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin’s immaturity dragging the team down.
Jordan wants nothing to do with Coach Vinny Del Negro because he blames Del Negro for burying him on the bench.
Yet Jordan’s inability to play consistently or make free throws, thereby turning the ball over to the opposition much like a turnover, makes him a liability in close games.
Jordan sees it differently, and he has for the last two seasons, maintaining he would be more productive if allowed to play more.
The other night in Sacramento, Griffin and Jordan exchanged words on the bench. Griffin told Jordan he best never again stare him down as he did when Griffin failed to give Jordan a good pass for a dunk.
Everyone else was left to sit there while waiting for the kids to stop bickering.
The pair have also grown tired of Chris Paul‘s voice, which is understandable at times.
Paul, very much like Kobe Bryant — who has turned off Dwight Howard with his out-of-this-world standards — is relentless. He never shuts up. And Jordan and Griffin have become weary of him.
When asked about being annoying, Paul smiled and said, “I need to work on being a better leader.”
ICYMI of the night: On a downer of a night in Denver, it’s nice to see Andre Iguodala come up big and keep the Pepsi Center rockin’ …:
OKLAHOMA CITY – With 90 points in his last two games, Carmelo Anthony is a making a hard charge at Kevin Durant, who can become the first player to win fourconsecutive scoring titles since Michael Jordan won seven in a row 20 years ago.
Entering tonight’s Oklahoma City Thunder game against the San Antonio Spurs (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT), Durant leads the league at 28.3 ppg. The sizzling Anthony has climbed to 28.1.
How does Durant feel about this little development?
“He can have it,” Durant said flatly after OKC’s Thursday morning shootaround.
In the nine games that Anthony has played since missing three in a row and six of eight with a bothersome right knee, he’s been lethal, averaging 31.4 ppg and shooting 48.1 percent overall and 40 percent from 3-point range. To no coincidence, the Knicks are riding a 10-game winning streak.
“I mean the stuff he’s doing right now, every time he touches the ball it looks like it’s going to go in,” Durant said. “He’s having a nice run right now and his confidence is high. I’m sure he’s going to take over. If it happens, cool.”
Anthony’s scoring blitz is even more spectacular over the last five games: 33.6 ppg, 52.5 percent from the floor and 52.4 percent from beyond the arc. He poured in 50 Tuesday against the Heat without LeBron James (fourth in scoring at 26.9 ppg) and Dwyane Wade, and followed up with 40 Wednesday night against Atlanta.
OKC and New York both have eight games left. Thunder coach Scott Brooks has already said he has no plans to rest his starters down the stretch as they battle San Antonio for the West’s No. 1 seed. The Knicks are locked in a struggle for the East’s No. 2 seed with the Indiana Pacers.
“I coached Carmelo for three years (as an assistant coach at Denver), that’s probably not something that he wants,” Brooks said of the scoring title, which would be the first of Anthony’s 10-year career. “He wants the championship just as much as KD does. But it is exciting. It’s always exciting when you get down to the last week of the season — who gets the scoring title, who gets the rebounding title? Those are minor things. Kevin’s worried about the big picture.
“But, it would be cool; definitely would be a great opportunity to be his age and have it four straight years.”
It would be historic.
Durant can win four scoring titles in his first six seasons and before he turns 25 (which he will in September). He’s already the first to capture three consecutive scoring titles since Jordan did it in his return from baseball from 1995-98. Only Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain can claim scoring titles in more than three consecutive seasons. Chamberlain also won it seven times from 1959-66.
“Don’t get me wrong, I never want to take stuff like that for granted, but if it happens, it happens,” Durant said. “I’m just going to play my game. I’m not going to force it too much and think about it too much and try to get it. But if it’s meant to be then it will happen.”
Durant is also shooting for a most enviable double-double of sorts as the first player ever to win the scoring title and join the exclusive 50-40-90 club — 50 percent shooting from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the arc (Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki are the others and Bird and Nash are the only ones to do it multiple times).
A down tick in Durant’s scoring and shooting since the All-Star break — 26.1 ppg, 47 percent overall and 35.1 percent on 3s — recently put him in jeopardy of dipping below the first two thresholds. But he’s gained a bit of wiggle room over the last six games while averaging 27.8 ppg on 51.4 percent shooting and 52.9 percent from beyond the arc. Entering tonight’s game, Durant’s percentages line up like this: 50.5, 41 and 90.8.
The long and lanky Durant is the far more efficient scorer compared to Anthony. Durant has played in 13 more games, yet has taken eight fewer total shots than Anthony (1,322 to 1,330) — about four fewer attempts per game — and has made 78 more (668 to 590).
Anthony’s 44.4 percent overall shooting this season is a notch below his career average (45.5 percent), but his 37.8 percent from 3-point range would tie for the second-highest mark of his career.
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Go ahead Dirk. Shave it off.
As Vince Carter said last week after the Dallas Mavericks’ first failed attempt to get back to .500, the beard brigade served its purpose, bringing this group of mostly one-year rentals closer and focused on making a run. To their credit they did. But now, as Carter also said, the hubbub surrounding their quest to finally shave after two months of battling to break even is — ahem — growing out of control.
Still, Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas’ career lone superstar — looking half uni-bomber, half-Bill Walton ’77 — promised to abide by the non-shaving pact initiated by O.J. Mayo back in late January.
“We only have 10 games left,” Nowitzki said. “I’m not going to shave now.”
Now, with eight to go, it’s time. After Tuesday’s second failed attempt for .500, a 20-point road drubbing by the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas is 36-38 and essentially out of the chase for eighth, now a two-team race between the Lakers and Utah Jazz. Nowitzki, who had 33 points in an overtime win against the Clippers last Tuesday and 35 in Saturday’s miraculous comeback to beat the Bulls, fizzled in L.A. with just 11 points, appearing as old as the 45 years his mother said that beard makes him look.
There is no shame in the longtime face of the franchise opting for a shave. It will be refreshing, perhaps even a bit rejuvenating to see your still-youthful face again and finish out this lost season on a positive note.
Nowitzki’s 11-year All-Star run came to an end this season and he could suffer his first sub-.500 season since the turn of the century. Plus, he’s on the cusp of missing the postseason for the first time in 13 seasons, a remarkable run that only the Spurs can outdo, recently cinching a 16th consecutive playoff appearance.
The offseason promises to be a long one for Nowitzki, who turns 35 in June and who will wait and see how owner Mark Cuban again reshuffles the deck entering the final year of his contract.
Since winning the NBA title in 2011, the Mavs are 72-68 with a first-round sweep. He has grown weary of a makeshift roster and even questioned Cuban’s strategy earlier this season.
It’s doubtful this is the star Nowitzki had in mind to join him for his twilight seasons.
Back in star-studded L.A., where he was filming the TV show “Shark Tank” last July when Deron Williams wondered why he wasn’t in his Manhattan living room, Cuban told reporters regarding Griner:
“Would I do it? Right now, I’d lean toward yes, just to see if she can do it. You never know unless you give somebody a chance, and it’s not like the likelihood of any late-50s draft pick has a good chance of making it.”
Perhaps Cuban saw the inevitable to come Tuesday night and figured he’d preempt Shaq’s big night and this beat-up, sub-standard Lakers team eventually demolishing of his Mavs by going headline hunting.
For one, Cuban has often talked about the heightened importance of the draft under the new collective bargaining agreement. Those more rigid, financially punishing set of rules convinced him to dismantle the 2011 title team, particularly by not re-signing Tyson Chandler and choosing to rebuild a contender through cap space and draft picks.
Dallas hasn’t hit on a draft pick since Josh Howard in 2003. Last June’s second-round pick, Jae Crowder, is the closest yet to becoming a contributing rotation player. Fellow second-round pick, 6-foot-10 former Air Force staff sergeant Bernard James, might tell Griner this gig isn’t so easy. First-round pick Jared Cunningham, a combo guard, has played a total of 26 minutes in a season the Mavs brought in Derek Fisher and then Mike James.
With free-agent star power this summer expected to stay where it is, and Dallas light on trade assets to acquire a rising impact player, the Mavs must find success in the draft — be it in the first round or the too-easily dismissed second round.
The Mavs need contributors, not marketing gimmicks. And that’s no shot at Griner, who dominated the women’s game and was recently described probably quite accurately by one Dallas radio commentator as the Wilt Chamberlain of women’s basketball.
But Griner can’t play in the NBA, and for Cuban to even suggest that he’d consider selecting her with a draft pick should only make the still-bearded, still-committed Nowitzki roll his eyes.
DALLAS – If time machines were real, Mark Cuban would have bought one months ago.
There’s no sense lamenting Dirk Nowitzki‘s injury absence for the first 27 games of the season and his rocky return following right knee surgery in the middle of training camp.
The Dallas Mavericks can only hope that their bearded big man’s brilliance this week — culminating with Saturday’s season-high and season-saving 35-point performance in a 100-98 comeback win over the Chicago Bulls — continues as they hit the road for four tough ones. All-in-all, the Mavs have nine games left to steal the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The Bulls, playing without Joakim Noah and Marco Belinelli, led by 12 with 4:08 to go, by eight with 3:06 to go and by five, 97-92, with 1:27 to go. That’s when Nowitzki, 8-for-8 to start the game and 6-for-7 to finish it, kept hope alive and outscored Chicago 8-1 in the final 54 seconds.
“He’s made a career out of doing that,” Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said.
The sold-out matinee crowd was ready to erupt when Nowitzki stunningly missed a trailing, straightaway 3 with 60 seconds left, what would be his lone misfire of a 15-point final period. But Dallas corralled the rebound and Nowitzki got it back, wide open for a rare corner 3. Bang.
Next possession he victimized second-year guard Jimmy Butler caught in a mismatch. Swish, 98-97 Bulls. An unnerved Butler then gave Dallas a gift, bricking two free throws with 15.9 to go.
The Mavs’ guards have caught plenty of flak for not finding Nowitzki in key situations this season. Not this time.
“We ran a play there that I think confused them a little bit; me, Vince [Carter] and Mike James were kind of all there, running a little action and I think they messed up the switch a little bit,” Nowitzki said. “So one guy was open, I swung it to Vince, then they [the defenders] both ran to him.”
Carter quickly swung it back to Nowitzki just to the left of the top of the arc with the clock ticking down … 5, 4, 3…
“Had a good look and let it fly,” Nowitzki said. “Actually, that one didn’t feel as good coming off my hands, but it helps when you make a lot of shots before that. It kind of snuck in there. It kind of rattled, too.”
Whatever, it dropped with 2.9 seconds to go. And what was minutes away from a terribly disappointing, and likely season-crushing 3-3 homestand, became a momentum-juicer heading into a two-day break and a Tuesday night showdown in Los Angeles against the Lakers.
“It’s kind of like the story of our season, every time people write us off or saying we’re done, for some reason we find a way to hang around. The same happened again today. I thought everybody was thinking this game’s over and we went and found a way to turn it around and save our season. We’ve been able to make this a close race. We’ve had some great wins over the last three weeks and we’re still in the mix.”
Dallas has gotten a little something from up and down the roster during its run to get into contention. Against the Bulls, center Brandan Wright didn’t get the start, but bounced off the bench for 17 points and 13 rebounds. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle made a point to boost O.J. Mayo, who went 1-for-13 shooting, but gutted through 42 minutes lugging around a painful sprained left shoulder. And the defense finally buckled down when it absolutely had to late.
Still, Dallas, suddenly seizing close games it used to let slip away, isn’t sniffing the eighth spot without Nowitzki, claiming his best health of the season, recently returning to All-Star form. That 11-year run came to an end this season, but he hasn’t closed the book on a 13th consecutive playoff berth.
During the just-concluded homestand that improved the Mavs’ March record to 11-4, Nowitzki posted two 30-point games (33 in Tuesday’s overtime win over the Clippers) and averaged 24.0 ppg on 61.5 percent shooting overall and 44.4 percent from beyond the arc.
“You can see him really champing at the bit to get to the eighth spot,” Mayo said. “He’s doing everything in his will to keep us within striking distance.”
His five 3-pointers on six attempts were a season-high and ruined Bulls guard Nate Robinson‘s incredible 25-point game. Robinson connected on his first seven 3-point attempts, including a 32-foot, late-shot-clock heave that put Chicago ahead 93-81 with six minutes left in the game. His corner 3-pointer at the buzzer, though, bounced away, leaving Nowitzki and his Mavs with new life once again.
“The game is 48 minutes and we kept on playing,” said Nowitzki, who tallied his career 12th regular-season game-winner in the final 10 seconds of a game. “Myself, just step into the shots. I mean, really, there’s no other chance. It’s not like somebody else is unbelievably hot. … So just going to let it all hang out and see what happens.”