Posts Tagged ‘Dirk Nowitzki’

Morning shootaround — March 29



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Beverley tears miniscus | LeBron wowed by mega-baseball contract | Not just L.A. on Love’s mind | Curry buries the Grizzlies | Wolves eye Hoiberg

No. 1: Rockets point guard out indefinitely — Houston Rockets starting point guard Patrick Beverley, the man who collided with Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook and tore his meniscus in last year’s first-round playoff series, is out indefinitely after tearing the meniscus in his right knee Thursday against Philadelphia. The Rockets will now have to make do without their top perimeter defender. Our own Fran Blinebury details how Beverley’s absence will affect Houston’s title aspirations:

For a team that has ridden the All-Star exploits of James Harden and Dwight Howard to the No. 4 spot in the Western Conference playoff race, Beverley plays a critical role.

The 25-year-old Chicago native who was drafted and cut by Heat, then toiled overseas in Russia, puts significant bite into the face of the Rockets’ defense.

Jeremy Lin can step back into the starting lineup and give the Rockets offense, but he is not the tenacious, in-your-face type defender that the Rockets will need in the playoffs to go against elite level point guards such as Westbrook, Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry and Mike Conley.

While Lin is flashy and creative and can fill up the basket with points when he gets on a roll, it is the just plain down-to-earth toughness of Beverley that often stands out, especially in a backcourt where Harden does not especially like to play defense.
Coach Kevin McHale said it would be 7-10 days before the Rockets would know a timetable for Beverley’s return.

Beverley has played in 53 of the Rockets’ 71 games, missing time with a hand injury. He has averaged 9.9 points in 31.3 minutes while taking over the starting role from Lin this season, but it’s that defensive bite and overall toughness that the Rockets would miss most. Sometimes it’s the littlest pieces of the puzzle that are hardest to replace.

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No. 2: LeBron would take Cabrera deal — Major League Baseball does not have a salary cap and that means some mighty contracts never even imagined in the NBA become reality. Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera was the latest example Friday when he inked a contract that will pay him $292 million over the next 10 years. It makes LeBron James‘ $19 million this season seem like charitable donation. ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst puts it into context:

“I said ‘wow,’ ” James said before the Miami Heat played the Detroit Pistons on Friday. “I wish we (the NBA) didn’t have a salary cap.”

James will earn $19 million this season with the Heat, tied with teammate Chris Bosh for the ninth-highest in the NBA as part of a six-year, $109 million deal he signed in 2010.

“He’s the best player in baseball, and the best players in each sport should be rewarded,” James said. “It’d be nice to sign a 10-year deal worth $300 million.”

James earns about $40 million per year off the floor in endorsements, most of that coming from his deal with Nike, which reportedly is worth $19 million per year.

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No. 3: Not only L.A. on Love’s mind? — If Timberwolves double-double machine Kevin Love, set to become a free agent in 2015, makes it clear to management he won’t re-sign, Minnesota president Flip Saunders might be forced to look for a trade. The former UCLA Bruin has long been rumored to be headed for the Lakers, but Los Angeles might not be the only big city suitable to arguably the game’s top stretch power forward. ESPNLA.com’s Dave McMenamin has more:

After the league endured the “Dwightmare” and “Melodrama,” get ready for “Lovesick.”

The six-year veteran, only 25 years old, is the apple of just about every team set to have cap space in the summer of 2015’s eye.

Timberwolves president Flip Saunders will do everything he can to keep Love, who is fourth in the league in scoring at 26.3 points per game and third in rebounding at 12.6 per game this season. And Minnesota will have the advantage of being able to offer a five-year extension, versus a four-year deal from any other team.

But if Love makes it clear that he has no intention to re-up with the Wolves, Saunders will be forced to shop Love or risk seeing him walk for nothing in return.

Which is where the Lakers come in.

Love’s ties to L.A. are undeniable. He went to college at UCLA. His father, Stan, played for the Lakers — and coincidentally was on the 1974-75 team, a.k.a. the worst team in Lakers history up until this season, so his son could help make up for that. And Love was born in Santa Monica, to boot.

“You know, my parents live there and they had me there,” Love said of L.A., after his Wolves beat the Lakers for the third time in four tries to win the season series Friday. “It’s not my fault. So, I don’t really care about that right now. I just go out there and play and don’t think about it.”

While Love downplayed his interest, the Lakers clearly could use a player of Love’s caliber to jump-start their rebuilding process. Especially with Kobe Bryant recently putting the screws to management to turn things around as soon as possible so he can contend for another championship in the twilight of his career.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported Friday the Lakers would be willing to trade their upcoming pick in the heralded NBA draft — likely to be in the top half of the lottery — to land Love.

While Minnesota could certainly decide to go that route and hit the restart button, there is no assurance that the Lakers are truly Love’s most desired destination.

A source familiar with Love’s thinking told ESPNLosAngeles.com that it’s not just L.A. that is appealing to Love; he’s enamored with the idea of being “big time in a big city,” and that list of potential places he’d seek includes New York and Chicago, as well.

Love himself told GQ in February that his situation in Minnesota might be better than L.A. could offer anyway.

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No. 4: Curry’s 33 fends off Grizzlies — The Golden State Warriors were minutes away from the No. 6 seed they’ve held for the majority of the season slipping away to the visiting and hard-charging Memphis Grizzlies. Then Stephen Curry came to the rescue yet again. The All-Star swished a 3-pointer and dropped in a scoop shot as the Warriors, playing without forward David Lee and center Andrew Bogut, who left the game in the first quarter, closed out the Grizzlies with a 14-0 run in the 109-103 win. It sent the Grizzlies from the verge of the 6-seed to No. 8. Diamond Leung of the Oakland Tribune was there:

“We’ll never quit and understand we have the weapons to pack a heavy punch at any given time,” Curry said.

Coach Mark Jackson demanded that Curry have the ball in crunch time, and the star guard delivered with the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:21 left and a subsequent scoop shot to pad the lead. Memphis could not muster a response, missing its final seven shots.

Marreese Speights added 15 points and eight rebounds in his first start with the Warriors while replacing an injured David Lee (right hamstring strain). The Warriors were still able to grab a 43-33 rebounding edge without their top two rebounders for most of the game, pleasing Jackson with the way his team competed in difficult circumstances.

Bogut was injured after getting kneed and ran the court with an obvious limp before checking out of the game for good with 7:59 left in the first quarter. He did not return and was scheduled to undergo an MRI exam Saturday, according to Jackson.

Jermaine O’Neal had 10 points and six rebounds in 34 hard-fought minutes. Also off the bench, Draymond Green had 12 points and nine rebounds, hitting two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and providing strong defense on Memphis leading scorer Zach Randolph.

“There’s a guy that came into this league, and people probably said, ‘Why is he shooting threes? He should stop shooting threes,’ ” Jackson said. “And he’s winning ballgames with us, knocking down shots and making huge plays on the defensive end. The guy is a tremendous warrior.”

The Warriors would have taken a tumble down the standings with a loss but instead kept pace with the rest of the Western Conference and remained 1½ games ahead of No. 7 seed Phoenix. The win also evened up the season series 2-2 with Memphis, which dropped to No. 8 with the loss.

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No. 5: A return to the Timberwolves? — Speculation is growing that Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman will invoke his right to opt out of his contract this summer. If he does, the franchise is expected to go after one of its former executives and current Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein provides the background:

If Adelman indeed walks away this time, at 67, there are two natural courses for the Wolves to pursue.

The obvious response is [Flip] Saunders, part-owner as well as team prez, heading downstairs to reclaim his old floor seat to see if he can be the guy who finally brings a halt to the league’s longest postseason drought, which dates to the Wolves’ 2004 Western Conference finals team coached by Saunders.

But that might be too obvious.

There have been no clear-cut signals that Saunders is prepared to leave the executive suite to return to coaching.

There is also another textbook candidate out there for Minnesota to chase with long-standing Wolves ties: Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg.

Widely regarded as the most NBA-ready college coach in the game, Hoiberg was a Wolves executive for four years before leaving the pros to coach the Cyclones. It should be noted that Saunders is close with Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, as well, but the rumbles out of Sota are getting louder that the Wolves are going to court Hoiberg hard if they, as expected, have an opening.

An opening, rather, that Saunders declines to fill himself.

And all of that makes Friday one of the more pertinent days left on the 2013-14 calendar for long-suffering Wolves fans.

That’s because Hoiberg will be coaching Iowa State against UConn in a Sweet 16 game at Madison Square Garden … and because Saunders will be there watching.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Lakers make (the wrong kind of) history again in epic loss … Anthony Davis leaves game in first quarter with a left ankle injuryVince Carter thinks he’s earned the right to re-sign with DallasKevin Durant scores 29 and streak creeps closer to overtaking Michael Jordan … TNT analyst Steve Kerr is the frontrunner to coach the Knicks under Phil JacksonShane Battier reiterates that he will retire after this seasonDirk Nowitzki‘s mentor and personal coach believes he has three or four high-level seasons left.

Dirk hangs one on OKC for old-time’s sake

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

DALLAS – Relaxing at his locker before Tuesday’s big tilt, the galloping MVP front-runner, Kevin Durant, paid homage to the only regular-season MVP — the only Finals MVP — in the house on this night.

He was asked if Dirk Nowitzki really is his favorite player in the game today.

Durant smiled yup, then thought that he’d better call it a tie with Kobe, no hard feelings. Durant certainly wasn’t done with the Dirk question. He marveled at the man’s humility, the instinctual passion to work and work, on the same move, over and over. Durant’s a city kid from D.C., Dirk’s from a German town called Wurzburg, but the two most unique 7-footers walking the earth speak the same language.

“I don’t know him a lot, I don’t know him so well, but, you know, just talking to him here and there, just so humble, puts in a lot of work and goes about his business, man,” Durant said. “Not really a flashy guy, just go out there and drop 30 points easy.”

Thirty-two, thank you.

Dirk went off, each bucket turning a buzzing arena into an unsuspecting time machine. Suddenly it was May, 2011. The old gritty, pump-faking, baseline-spinning, dribble-driving, chest-thumping, fist-pumping Dirk was back. He hopped on the charge early and left a 39-minute trail of destruction in his wake: 32 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, four steals, four fouls and six turnovers.

In a must-have game for his Dallas Mavericks, the 35-year-old Nowitzki inspired them to victory, 128-119 in overtime. He traded haymakers throughout with Durant, an endurance machine who scored 43 points and played 51 minutes. But Durant had just four shots and five points in the fourth quarter, and he went cold in overtime.

In the last nine days, Nowitzki has dropped 49 points in two games against OKC, and Dallas won both times. Before that, the Mavs hadn’t dumped the Thunder in 11 tries, since 2012, a playoff sweep included.

Tuesday’s game was magnificent, a moment when Nowitzki, dying to breathe in the postseason again, made it known that if he’s going to go down, he’ll go down fighting. Nowitzki is having a solid year, a great year for his age, efficiently averaging 21.3 points and 6.0 rebounds a game. He’s had big nights, too, just less frequently than he once did.

Much has changed since 2011, most notably the Mavericks. The team had a dozen-year playoff string snapped last year. And Nowitzki had the first knee surgery, or any surgery, of his career. He’s become a husband and a father, and with that apparently comes the tidiest haircut of his 16 seasons.

Durant, closing in on his fourth scoring title and bearing down on a first MVP at only age 25, assured everybody that he practices more of Dirk’s moves, not just the one-legged stuff, than anybody realizes. On Tuesday, he just couldn’t stop any of it. Dirk led Durant all over the floor. He stretched him out launching eight 3-point shots. Only two fell in, but the second was a dagger for an eight-point lead with 57 seconds left in OT. Dirk operated down low, patiently, methodically bumping Durant deeper in the box. He stepped in, step-backed, faced-up and pump-, pump-, pump-faked, a movement you could practically see Dirk drilling time and again supervised by his personal coach, mentor and shot doctor from Germany, Holger, Geschwindner.

As it goes, Geschwindner arrived in Dallas on Monday, in the nick of time to crack Dirk’s recent slump that’s had the more worrisome locals dusting off Father Time.

“Hopefully we can carry on, get a couple of shots up tomorrow,” Dirk gushed.

The Mavs and Thunder could meet again next month in the first round. Dallas has at least poked OKC awake if a series does come. But Dirk wasn’t much for looking that far ahead just yet. So he politely talked up the competition.

“We kind of waited on Phoenix the whole season to kind of cast away, but they just keep coming,” Nowitzki said. “They’re just so athletic and they’re well-coached. They’re a fun, fun group to watch. They’re going to keep pushing, and so are we and Memphis.”

Buckle up. Dirk’s not ready to stop the ride just yet.


VIDEO: Relive the best moments from KD and Dirk’s showdown

Mavs getting the full Monta in 4th

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Ellis sparks Mavericks to win over Nuggets

DALLAS – Two nights after Monta Ellis outscored the Minnesota Timberwolves 12-2 down the stretch to get his team to overtime, if ultimately not the victory, he crushed the Denver Nuggets on Friday night with a furious flurry of dazzling drives, pinpoint dishes and even 3-point buckets.

The Dallas Mavericks are getting the full Monta in fourth quarters, a significant weapon to have next to one of the great all-time closers in Dirk Nowitzki. Ellis poured in 14 fourth-quarter points against the Nuggets on 6-for-6 shooting. He dropped 10 points in the final 6:29 after Denver had quickly shaved Dallas’ 11-point lead to 99-96. Ellis finished with 26 points on 11-for-14 shooting, plus seven assists and four rebounds, and the Mavs won 122-106.

“I was just taking what the defense gives me, being patient,” Ellis said. “We run a screen-and-roll, come off, see how the defense is playing and make the right plays.”

Ellis has been making the right plays most of the season. He’s played in all 70 games, shaking off a hamstring strain earlier in the season and illness more recently to stay on the floor as the Mavs joust with Memphis and Phoenix for the final two playoff spots.

The three-year, $25 million contract Ellis signed last summer is looking like one of the great bargains of this season. He’s averaging 18.8 points, 5.8 assists and 3.6 rebounds. Ellis, who leads all players in drives to the basket by a fairly wide margin, is getting his points in much more economical fashion than in the past with Golden State and Milwaukee. He’s shooting 45.7 percent overall, which would go down as his highest mark since the 2007-08 season when he shot 53.1 percent with the Warriors. And he’s averaging 15.1 shot attempts a game, which stands to be his lowest mark since that 07-08 season.

The clutch factor has been a bonus. After his latest fireworks against the Wolves and Nuggets, Ellis has notched double-figure point totals in the fourth quarter 10 times in 70 games this season. His shooting percentages soar in the final period to 48.4 percent overall and 38.6 percent from beyond the arc — he’s shooting just 33.1 percent from deep overall. His percentages, as well as his 5.2-point scoring average in the fourth quarter are his highest among all quarters.

“He’s got the confidence to do it,” Nowitzki said of Ellis’ ability to close out games with scoring binges. “Confidence in this league is like 80 percent. There’s obviously some skill involved, but if you have that confidence you can do it and you do it a couple of times, then you’re there. You’ve arrived.

“He’s been great all season for us when we do give him the ball at attacking and making stuff happen. He’s shooting the 3-ball really well lately. If he’s in a rhythm shooting like that, he’s tough to guard because he comes off the screen-and-rolls so quick. If they go under and he knocks those shots in, he’s tough to guard.”

Coming off Wednesday’s disappointing overtime loss to Minnesota in which Nowitzki missed a potential game-winner in the final seconds and played 39 minutes, Dallas needed Ellis’ extra burst. Nowitzki asked out for a quick breather with 3:57 to go with Dallas up 109-99. The 35-year-old power forward wouldn’t need to return. Ellis made sure of that with an assist to Brandan Wright for a dunk before nailing a step-back jumper followed by a pair of 3-pointers.

“He really answered the bell down the stretch,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “That was a spectacular run to end the game. We needed every ounce of what he gave us.”

March madness hits Dallas early

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Ricky Rubio and the Timberwolves get past the Mavs in OT

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – In a couple weeks March Madness will descend on the Dallas area when the Final Four arrives at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

At the American Airlines Center, home of the Dallas Mavericks, the madness has arrived early with five consecutive games that produced more wild swings than Charles Barkley on the back nine. Games against Chicago, Portland, Indiana, Boston and Minnesota featured scoreboard swings totaling some 160 points, plus 29 lead changes and 22 ties.

Despite amassing big leads in four of the games and coming all the way back from down 22 in the fifth, Dallas went 3-2 in those games.

In the first three games, Dallas built leads between 16 and 30 points, lost them all, yet managed to salvage wins against the Blazers and Pacers. The close calls prompted Dirk Nowitzki following the Pacers win to suggest the Mavs should do themselves a favor and not get too far ahead too early. After all, losing big, early leads quickly has been something of a Dallas calling card this season: Six games in which its led by at least 16 points have ended up in the loss column.

It didn’t help when the Mavs waited until late in the third quarter to run away from the woeful Celtics and go up by 15 points. Only that lead diminished, too, in all of three minutes, but this time Dallas never lost the lead — it got down to one point — and survived in the final seconds for the win.

On Wednesday, the Timberwolves turned the tables from the previous blueprint by being the ones to jump out early. They went ahead 37-24 in the first quarter and busted it open by 22 points early in the second quarter. Buried? Not exactly. Dallas stormed back to within six at halftime, nearly won it in regulation, led by five in overtime, but then couldn’t close it out. Nowitzki put Dallas up one, Kevin Love answered for the lead with 17.1 seconds to go and then Nowitzki’s last chance didn’t fall in the final seconds.

“It becomes a game of Russian roulette, whether you can make the last shot or not,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said.

For a team clinging to the edge of the playoffs, it’s a dangerous way to live.

The madness might be only just beginning as Dallas plays the third game of its franchise-long eight-game homestand Friday night against unpredictable Denver. But first, a look back at the zany last five:

Feb. 28: Bulls 100, Mavs 91

Biggest leads: Mavs 16 (38-22, 10:17, 2nd); Bulls 9 (100-91)

What happened: Joakim Noah physically dominated Dallas in the fourth quarter. The Bulls won the period, 27-15, after trailing the entire first half and leading by just one point in the third quarter.

March 7: Mavs 103, Trail Blazers 98

Biggest leads: Mavs 30 (44-14, 8:31, 2nd); Blazers 7 (89-82, 8:36, 4th)

What happened: Dallas led 33-10 after the first quarter, but after the lead swelled to 40-10, Portland went  on a 79-42 run, and then led 98-92 with 4:26 to go. One of the most improbable comebacks ever was halted as the Mavs mustered the energy to end the game by scoring the final 11 points.

March 9: Mavs 105, Pacers 94

Biggest leads: Mavs 17 (35-18, 9:53, 2nd); Pacers 5 (55-50, 8:58, 3rd)

What happened: The Pacers got it down to 48-45 at halftime and came out strong in the third quarter to grab a 55-50 lead. Then things reversed again with Dallas going ahead 73-62. Indiana made it 94-90, but Dallas closed it out with an 11-4 run.

March 17: Mavs 94, Celtics 89

Biggest leads: Mavs 15 (64-49, 4:19, 3rd); Celtics 4 (37-33, 7:26, 2nd)

What happened: Boston scored six points in the first eight minutes of the third period as Dallas opened up its largest margin, only to lose it on a 12-0 Boston run to close the quarter. The Mavs went back up by 12, 78-66, with 6:25 left. With 21.6 seconds left, Dallas’ lead was down to 90-89, but a couple free throws and a defensive stop saved the Mavs from an embarrassing loss.

March 19: Timberwolves 123, Mavs 122 (OT)

Biggest leads: Timberwolves 22 (50-28); Mavs 5 (120-115, 3:03, OT)

What happened: Neither one of these teams is very good at holding leads and, well, that proved out. Dallas demolished a 22-point deficit and got to within six at halftime, only to fall behind 107-94 with 6:48 to go in the game. Monta Ellis outscored Minnesota 12-2 to give Dallas a 113-111 lead, but the defense failed and the game went to overtime. Dallas had it until it managed one field goal in the final 3:03 and got outscored 8-2.

No longer in college, Celtics’ Stevens grinds through long rookie season

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Celtics lost to the Mavericks on Monday night and have an 0-15 road mark against the West

DALLAS – When the Boston Celtics play the Miami Heat on Wednesday, it will be the 69th game of Brad Stevens‘ maiden season as an NBA bench boss.

That’s already essentially one-third of his six-year body of work — 215 regular-season and postseason tournament games — as the coach at Butler. Of the 13 first-year NBA coaches this season, Stevens is the only one making the leap from the college game and thus is the lone coach breaking into the rigors of the 82-game regular-season march. Ten first-timers served as NBA assistants. Cleveland coach Mike Brown had head coaching experience and Brooklyn’s Jason Kidd retired last season after a 19-year playing career.

If players in their first year out of college hit a rookie wall, what about coaches in their first year out of college? Not really, Stevens, 37, said. Although he noted the excessive losing in this so-far 22-46 season throws up its own kind of wall. At Butler, he won no fewer than 22 games and four times won at least 27 games. He lost 49 games combined, or 8.2 on average per season.

Particularly taxing this season, he said, is losing on the road, where the Celtics are 8-25. Monday night’s loss at Dallas cemented an 0-15 road mark against West teams, making this squad the only one in franchise history to go winless on the road against the West. In college, you flew back to campus and crawled into your own bed. Now it’s late-night flights to the next destination, beginning preparations for the next opponent, busing to the team hotel and finally setting the alarm clock for an early morning buzzer.

“It’s tough to lose,” Stevens said.”The flight feels a little bit different if you win. You sleep a little bit more soundly; you sleep with one eye open when you don’t win. Hey, it’s a miserable deal, right? Unfortunately we’ve experienced a lot of losses this year, so we’ve had more nights like that than the happy flights.”

What else has taken some getting used to?

“The lack of practice time is a little bit eye-opening, but the biggest thing is just the extra possessions in a game,” Stevens said. “It’s 50 more times Kevin Durant can touch the ball, 50 more times Anthony Davis can touch the ball, Dirk Nowitzki can touch the ball.”

Of course the college game is 40 minutes compared to 48 minutes in the NBA, so naturally there are more possessions at the pro level. Fifty more possessions is a bit high, but not by all that much. Stevens’ Bulldogs averaged about 66 possessions per game in his last two seasons there. His Celtics average about 96 possessions and that only ranks 17th in the league.

“What’s really amazing are the level of some of those guys,” Stevens said. “Some of those guys are at such a high level that even compared with the 350 best players in the world, they’re on a level way, way up there.”

It’s enough to make a rookie coach have plenty of nights when he’s sleeping with one eye open.

Morning Shootaround — March 18


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

What might have been for Denver | The Barnes effect | World according to Thibs | Poking Dirk

No. 1:  So these are the Nuggets? — The Nuggets had an offseason that everyone in Denver would just as soon forget. Their general manager, Masai Ujiri, left for Toronto, their Coach of the Year, George Karl, was fired. And the only thing that was worse than that offseason was … well, the regular season. The once high-flying Nuggets are out of the playoff picture a year after winning 57 games. It hasn’t been pretty.

But after their big win over the Clippers Monday night, a win which snapped Los Angeles’ 11-game winning streak, the Nuggets were left to think about what might have been. From Christopher Dempsey at the Denver Post:

But the Nuggets have found a way to play a better brand of basketball this month. They’re 5-5 in March after losing all but three of their 12 games in February. The Clippers had won 11 straight games before the Nuggets took them down, powered by a 14-2 run to end the game.

“You look at it, we shot ourselves in the foot a lot this season,” guard Randy Foye said. “Had a lot of injuries. But everything happens for a reason.”

“We’d definitely be in the playoffs right now if we took care of the Sacramentos and the Minnesotas of the league,” Nuggets guard Ty Lawson said. “We definitely could be in playoff position. It’s a little bit frustrating.”

Because the Nuggets aren’t in playoff position, the finish of the season is getting acute attention. There are things the Nuggets want to accomplish in the final month of the regular season, which for them will end on April 16.

Topping that list is carving out an idea of exactly what kind of team they will be in the future.

“I think we’re playing better,” Lawson said. “We’re starting to find ourselves a little bit better, doing exactly what coach wants. I think we’re gaining a little bit of steam, giving ourselves an identity.”

VIDEO: Nuggets end Clippers’ streak

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No. 2: Matt the man – The Clippers may have an L1 next to their line in the daily standings, but there’s not a team in the league that doesn’t realize how good this team is and how good it can be come playoff time.

That’s been the case for a while, now. The big difference lately. Well, to hear Dan Woike of the Orange County Register tell, it, it had to do with a key decision — of many he makes all the time — by coach Doc Rivers:

On Jan. 20, Rivers made one of those decisions, moving Matt Barnes into the stating lineup for Jared Dudley. Since then, the Clippers have gone 20-6.

“I thought his energy matched that group better,” Rivers said Monday. “Matt’s defense has really improved as the year has gone on, and that’s really helped that unit.”

Before the Clippers’ game with the Nuggets, Barnes was a part of the top two five-man lineups in terms of net efficiency, with a minimum of 150 minutes played.

In those 26 games, Barnes is averaging 11.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists. As a starter, Barnes is hitting 40.3 percent from 3-point range compared to just 26.6 percent from deep in the 23 games he came off the bench.

A key to that has been Barnes getting to the deep corners in transition, spotting up for the highest-percentage 3 on the floor while opening driving lanes for Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.

“You just want to create space,” Barnes said.

Barnes said adjusting to playing with the starters hasn’t been too difficult.

“Defensively, it’s always been easy for me, no matter what group I’m playing with. I think offensively, there’s so much attention paid to Blake and Chris that if you find space and keep the floor spaced, you’re going to find open shots,” he said. “They’re trapped and doubled a lot. If you make yourself available and cut, passers are going to find you.”

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No. 3: Thibodeau gets all philosophical on us – Few teams in the Association follow the lead of their coach more than the hard-nosed, no-nonsense Bulls. Coach Tom Thibodeau is a demanding, defense-first mastermind who has an injury-riddled team playing some of its best basketball of the season.

ESPN’s Scoop Jackson caught up with Thibs to ask him how he has taken the Bulls, a team that has had so much going against it this season, to the point where no one wants to go against them in the playoffs:

What do you believe in the most?

 Balance.

Really?

For me, there’s five things I look at after every game. It’s the defense, the rebounding, low turnovers. I think those three things put you in position to win. Then its inside-out and sharing the ball. So it’s five-man offense, five-man defense. Make a commitment to one another and be balanced.

Is this basketball we’re talking about or life?

[Laughs] Well, basketball is really a microcosm of life. There’s a lot of things you can take from this game and learn. And a lot of lessons from basketball that you can apply to life and certainly a lot of things that you can take from life and apply to basketball. Adversity. Hey look, you are going to face it in life. Being mentally tough when you face adversity, I think, whether you face it in life or basketball, it’s similar.

But if you have that balance in both, it applies the same?

Yeah, yeah. As it applies to us, we feel good about our team. We love the challenge. And at the end of the day, it’s what we think, it’s what we believe. And whatever that is, we’re probably right.


VIDEO: All-access with Tom Thibodeau

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No. 4: Moral: Don’t go to sleep on Cubes – The Mavericks seem to have awakened from their slumber. They’re a solid-14-6 since a yawning 9-8 in January, they’re on track for a 50-win season, they’ve won three in a row (including a stomping of Oklahoma City the other night) and they’ve climbed to within a game of sixth-seeded Golden State.

We’re not saying this is all the doing of Dirk Nowitzki or owner Mark Cuban. But Cuban may have had something to do with it, according to Dwain Price of the Forth Worth Star-Telegram:

Cuban took time before Monday’s game against the Boston Celtics to tell the media of a conversation he had with Nowitzki earlier in the day. It’s about as critical as Cuban as ever publicly been about Nowitzki.

“I think sometimes he loses concentration, and I think we’ve got to get past that,” Cuban said. “I mentioned it to him today. I asked him how his nap was during the game [Sunday at Oklahoma City]. He laughed. At least that’s while I was facing him. When I turned my back and walked away, I don’t know.”

Nowitzki had two first-quarter rebounds against the Thunder and finished the game with just four boards and 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting. Cuban also was none too pleased that Nowitzki had just 12 points and six rebounds during last Tuesday’s 108-85 loss on the road to the Golden State Warriors.

Asked why he was publicly challenging Nowitzki, Cuban said: “That’s only because I did it already personally.”

“Dirk always goes through a little slump during the year where he needs to remotivate. And I think we’ve seen that for a couple of games, and I think he’s going to come back stronger, particularly after three days and those naps he’s gotten through the last couple of games.”


VIDEO: Mavericks dump Thunder on March 16

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Our Jeff Caplan points out the un-luckiness of the Celtics on the road … If the NBA playoffs were a one-and-done, like March Madness, the smart money would be on the Phoenix Suns. So reports NBA.com’s Fran Blinebury … The Sixers lost their 21st straight game on Monday night. But it wasn’t very pretty, even for the victors, the Indiana Pacers …

ICYMI of the Night: Sometimes you have to look all over to find a really cool play. Sometimes, it just smacks you in the face like a Play of the Day …


VIDEO: Gerald Green can dunk

Pierce cares not about your hand in his face


VIDEO: Pierce’s big three seals Brooklyn’s win vs. Toronto

BROOKLYN – Nets coach Jason Kidd didn’t think Paul Pierce was going to play Monday night.

Pierce, dealing with an injured shoulder, played. He played 30 minutes, scored 15 points, and hit the biggest shot of the night, a 3-pointer that gave the Nets a three-point lead with 1:14 left and propelled them to a big win over the visiting Raptors.

It was a tough shot, because Kyle Lowry was in Pierce’s shirt with a hand in his face. But Pierce had to take it because the shot clock was about to expire.

And maybe it didn’t matter that Lowry was there, because, according to SportVU, Pierce has shot better on contested jumpers than uncontested jumpers. Among 92 players who have attempted at least 100 of each, only one — the Pelicans’ Brian Roberts — has a bigger discrepancy.

Players who have shot better on contested jumpers

Uncontested Contested
Player FGM FGA FG% FGM FGA FG% Diff.
Brian Roberts 82 213 38.5% 63 128 49.2% -10.7%
Paul Pierce 83 236 35.2% 62 151 41.1% -5.9%
Russell Westbrook 73 203 36.0% 57 138 41.3% -5.3%
Dirk Nowitzki 200 439 45.6% 210 431 48.7% -3.2%
LeBron James 140 370 37.8% 47 117 40.2% -2.3%
Marcus Morris 102 252 40.5% 61 143 42.7% -2.2%
Rudy Gay 87 223 39.0% 105 259 40.5% -1.5%
Evan Turner 107 288 37.2% 88 231 38.1% -0.9%
Rodney Stuckey 67 178 37.6% 55 145 37.9% -0.3%
Jamal Crawford 142 355 40.0% 143 356 40.2% -0.2%
James Harden 141 375 37.6% 69 183 37.7% -0.1%

Minimum 100 of each.
Contested = Any jump shot outside of 10 feet with a defender within four feet of the shooter.

Note: We’re looking at standard field goal percentage and not effective field goal percentage to simply see the effect on a player’s success rate.

That LeBron James has shot better on contested jumpers is more incentive for defenses to play off him on the perimeter, as the Spurs did (successfully, until Game 7) in The Finals.

The league has shot 5.4 percent better on uncontested jumpers this season. But a contest will affect some players more than others. On the opposite end of the spectrum from Roberts and Pierce is the Suns’ Goran Dragic

Players who have shot at least 10 percent better on uncontested jumpers

Uncontested Contested
Player Name FGM FGA FG% FGM FGA FG% Diff.
Goran Dragic 145 279 52.0% 52 178 29.2% 22.8%
David West 142 288 49.3% 35 102 34.3% 15.0%
C.J. Miles 86 191 45.0% 36 118 30.5% 14.5%
Khris Middleton 148 302 49.0% 57 161 35.4% 13.6%
Jameer Nelson 118 312 37.8% 35 143 24.5% 13.3%
Kevin Love 201 473 42.5% 45 152 29.6% 12.9%
Bradley Beal 181 431 42.0% 78 263 29.7% 12.3%
Jerryd Bayless 91 217 41.9% 41 137 29.9% 12.0%
Terrence Ross 107 240 44.6% 59 181 32.6% 12.0%
Randy Foye 150 363 41.3% 39 132 29.5% 11.8%
Tim Hardaway Jr. 121 296 40.9% 30 103 29.1% 11.8%
Josh Smith 126 380 33.2% 28 129 21.7% 11.5%

For some of these guys, the difference is about how well they shoot when they’re left open. For some, it’s about how poorly they shoot when there’s a defender nearby. Josh Smith probably shouldn’t shoot jumpers at all.

Mavs blow it, then win It vs. Blazers

VIDEO: Mavericks win wild one against Blazers

DALLAS – The Dallas Mavericks described their listless defeat at Denver on Wednesday night as embarrassing. What might have they called losing to the Portland Trail Blazers after leading by 30?

Because they did indeed upchuck a 30-point cushion and it wasn’t looking pretty as they trailed 98-92 with 4:26 to go. Ultimately, Dallas avoided the humiliation of a super-sized “L” lassoed around their throats. What would have gone down as the largest lead tossed aside on their home floor in franchise history turned into the strangest of comeback wins, an 11-0 spurt down the stretch securing a 103-98 win the hard way.

“We’ve been blowing leads all year,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said, leaving the carnage of five blown leads of at least 17 points unspoken. “We’ve blown a lot of big leads, so this is one of the realities that we face with this team, and we’re going to keep working to prevent it from happening next time. That’s all we can do, that’s all we can do. … With 19 games left, we’ve got to work to prevent because tonight, if you talk about doing it the hard way, there’s no harder way to do it than tonight.”

Dallas built a 40-10 lead and then was outscored 79-42 and trailed 89-82 with 8:36 left in the game.

Five times this season Dallas has blown leads of at least 17 points. Just a few nights ago inside the American Airlines Center, Joakim Noah and the Chicago Bulls crushed a 16-point first-half deficit and beat Dallas. Afterward, Dirk Nowitzki said he almost wished they hadn’t of built such a big lead so early.

He’ll also recall the 21-point bulge the Mavs had in the first quarter at Toronto on Jan. 22 and eventually lost. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been overly shocking since Dallas led the Raptors by 19 in Dallas and sill lost.

The worst relinquished lead, though, had to be that January night in Los Angeles against the Clippers. The Mavs were burying the Clips in the fourth quarter and cruising toward a huge road victory. They led 123-106 with 4:35 to go and lost in a wild ending, 129-127.

This one was equally crazy in the final minutes. Portland wasn’t amused that Dallas got into the bonus basically three minutes into the fourth quarter, and then a close blocking call on Damian Lillard with 24.6 seconds left in a tie game allowed the driving Devin Harris to complete a three-point play for a 101-98 lead.

“I didn’t agree with the call,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said not surprisingly. Lillard agreed. Harris, also not surprisingly, said he didn’t believe Lillard had squared his shoulders, therefor the proper call was executed.

“A charge or a no-call, yeah,” Stotts said of what should have been where he stood. “It was [a big play]. I’m not going to complain about the officials. I disagree with the call. It was the play of the game because it was a tie game and a three-point play. It changes everything.”

But it wasn’t the only play. The Blazers couldn’t miss in the third quarter, shooting 63.6 percent to win the quarter 36-18. LaMarcus Aldridge scored 18 of his game-high 30 points in the period. But in the final 4:26, Portland failed to score on nine consecutive possessions and Aldridge missed his last five shot attempts after his alley-oop dunk gave the Blazers a 98-92 lead. He couldn’t convert late near the hoop in all manner of traffic and Aldridge couldn’t believe he didn’t hear a whistle.

“I definitely felt like there were some calls that they got earlier that I didn’t get late,” Aldridge said. “The one that Dirk pump-faked and the guy went up in the air, I did it in the paint, they didn’t call it. I feel like one of the offensive rebounds I got hit a few times, so I mean, I don’t know, but I have to be better in the stretch.”

With 19 seconds left and the Blazers needing a 3 to tie, there was a cross-up and Aldridge threw the ball out of bounds, effectively ending any chance of coming back in a game they had already come back from down 30.

“I had some big miscues down the stretch,” the Dallas native Aldridge acknowledged. “I missed some shots down the stretch, so you know, fighting all the way back and being up and having an opportunity to win — not taking care of business.”

Is Aldridge’s pick-and-roll defense a problem for Blazers?


VIDEO: LaMarcus Aldridge talks after the Blazers’ win against the Hawks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – When we looked at the teammates that had defended the pick-and-roll the best on Wednesday, Mo Williams and Robin Lopez were sixth on the list, but the Portland Trail Blazers were nowhere near the top 10 in team rankings.

According to SportVU, the Blazers ranked 26th in pick-and-roll defense through Monday’s games and are up to 22nd after a game against the reeling Hawks on Wednesday. They’ve allowed 1.06 points per pick-and-roll possession overall, even though they’ve been pretty good when Lopez has been the guy defending the screener, allowing just 1.01. That ranks 55th among 134 players who had been the screener’s defender on at least 200 pick-and-roll possessions through Wednesday. Not great, but above-average.

Note: All stats included here are through Wednesday, March 5.

But near the bottom of the list is Lopez’s frontcourt-mate, LaMarcus Aldridge. The Blazers have allowed 1.17 points per possession when Aldridge has been the guy defending the screener. Of those 134 players who have defended at least 200 pick-and-roll possessions, only one – Trevor Booker – has a higher mark (1.18).

The discrepancy between Lopez’s and Aldridge’s numbers is rather remarkable, because both bigs basically defend pick-and-rolls the same way (though Portland will mix things up a little with Aldridge). While the Pacers drop back with their centers and show high with their power forwards, both Aldridge (most of the time) and Lopez drop back…

20140307_aldridge_pnr

20140307_lopez_pnr

Who are they guarding?

Is it a power forward vs. center thing? The players Aldridge is guarding (Dirk Nowitzki, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, etc.) are generally more potent offensively than those Lopez is guarding. And the biggest difference in Aldridge and Lopez’s numbers is the field goal percentage that the screener has shot when he has got the ball…

Pick-and-rolls vs. Lopez and Aldridge

Defender Scr. Poss Opp PTS PTS/Poss BH FGM BH FGA BH FG% S FGM S FGA S FG%
Lopez 948 908 914 1.01 140 347 40.3% 59 131 45.0%
Aldridge 734 703 826 1.17 102 249 41.0% 75 132 56.8%

BH FGM, FGA, FG% = Ball-handler shooting
S FGM, FGA, FG% = Screener shooting

But other defenses in the West don’t have the same discrepancy.

When the starting power forwards from the other top 10 teams in the West have defended the screener on a pick-and-roll, the opponent has scored 1.02 points per possession. And when the starting centers on those same teams have defended the screener, the opponent has scored 1.02 points per possession. No discrepancy at all.

The Suns’ pick-and-roll defense has been slightly better when Miles Plumlee has defended the screener than when Channing Frye has, and the same goes for the Warriors, Andrew Bogut and David Lee. But none of the other nine teams has nearly the difference that we see with the Blazers.

The eye test

Watching film, Aldridge doesn’t come across as a noticeably bad pick-and-roll defender. He’s usually in the right position, he doesn’t get caught standing still, or get turned around and lost on possessions (like a couple of bigs in New York).

The Blazers track every defensive possession themselves and say that Aldridge grades out closer the league average on pick-and-rolls (and that Lopez still grades out as better). And when we look at the 57 percent that the screener has shot on Aldridge-defended pick-and-rolls, we’re only talking about 132 shots, not the greatest sample size.

But Synergy Sports grades him as “poor” in regard to defending the roll man. And it’s not hard to find examples (via NBA.com/stats video boxscores) where he fails to close out and lets an opposing big shoot in rhythm…

You can also find examples of him closing out fine, but other West power forwards grade out better via SportVU. The screener takes more shots and shoots them better against Aldridge than any of the other nine guys listed below (from the other West teams at or above .500), even though they’ve all had to defend Aldridge himself, who has attempted almost 200 more mid-range shots than any other player in the league.

Pick-and-roll defense, West power forwards

Defender Scr. Poss Opp PTS PTS/Poss Rk S FGM S FGA S FG% Rk
LaMarcus Aldridge 734 703 826 1.17 10 75 132 56.8% 10
Tim Duncan 849 817 854 1.05 8 42 96 43.8% 4
Channing Frye 729 698 755 1.08 9 39 96 40.6% 2
Blake Griffin 925 896 935 1.04 7 46 91 50.5% 7
Serge Ibaka 733 706 687 0.97 2 32 71 45.1% 5
Terrence Jones 584 561 560 1.00 4 30 72 41.7% 3
David Lee 657 629 592 0.94 1 31 77 40.3% 1
Kevin Love 638 609 593 0.97 3 38 71 53.5% 9
Dirk Nowitzki 668 645 659 1.02 5 44 85 51.8% 8
Zach Randolph 794 767 788 1.03 6 48 98 49.0% 6

Right shots, wrong results

Again, we’re only looking at 132 of the 5,350 shots that Portland opponents have attempted this season. And the Blazers do force the right shots.

The intent of their drop-back scheme is to force the least efficient shots on the floor, between the restricted area and the 3-point line. And 45.4 percent of Portland opponents’ shots have come from there. That’s the fifth highest mark in the league, behind only teams that rank in the top five in defensive efficiency. Portland also ranks in the top 10 in percentage of jump shots that they’ve contested.

But their opponents have made 41 percent of those shots between the restricted area and 3-point line, the fourth highest percentage.

Highest percentage of opponents shots from between
the restricted area and the 3-point line

Team FGM FGA FG% Rank %FGA
Indiana 943 2,462 38.3% 7 48.5%
San Antonio 974 2,469 39.4% 15 48.2%
Golden State 964 2,503 38.5% 8 47.9%
Chicago 905 2,377 38.1% 4 47.6%
Portland 994 2,428 40.9% 27 45.4%

%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts

Whether that’s a case of bad luck or because they don’t really contest that well, that’s still just 0.82 points per attempt, which is fine defensively. The Blazers also rank 11th in 3-point defense and second in defending the restricted area.

So, in terms of defending shots, the Blazers do a pretty good job, despite the Aldridge pick-and-roll issue. They rank seventh in opponent effective field goal percentage. But they rank 19th in defensive efficiency, mostly because they force the fewest turnovers in the league, just 12.3 per 100 possessions. And they force only 11.3 with their starting lineup on the floor.

In part, that goes back to their pick-and-roll defense. Not only do the bigs drop back (which means that ball-handlers don’t have to pick up their dribble and make a pass as often), but the guards (especially Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews) don’t apply much pressure up front and can get caught on those screens. No Blazer ranks in the top 80 in steals per game.

Still, the Blazers are OK when Lopez defends pick-and-rolls. And it may be that his ability to stop the ball-handler and stay in contact with the roll man that allows his teammates to better defend their own guys. If Aldridge is a step slower, that can have a domino effect two or three passes away.

Trending up?

The Blazers actually have the No. 1 defense since the All-Star break. That number has been schedule-aided though, as they’ve played the Jazz, Lakers, Hawks, and two games against the depleted Nuggets. It also may have been aided by Aldridge’s absence in the first five post-break games, as they found some defensive success playing smaller and quicker.

Aldridge is back and we’re going to find out if the Portland defense is really improved over the next 10 days, when five of their six games are against teams that rank in the top 12 offensively (and the other is against the improved Grizzlies).

A five-game trip begins against the fourth-ranked Dallas offense on Friday and we’ll see how well Aldridge contests Nowitzki.

Morning Shootaround — March 6


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

George wants to learn from James | Report: Nash unlikely to be waived | Durant adopts Nowitzki’s training methods | Knicks fans to protest game? | Brown sides with NCAA, not D-League

No. 1: George wants to learn from LeBron — Throughout the season, Pacers star Paul George has been in and out of an MVP debate that has recently shifted to LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant. Still, there’s no denying the superstar turn George has experienced over the last two seasons and a big part of that rise came from Indiana’s last two playoff series against the Miami Heat and James. George and the Pacers are hoping for a third straight playoff series matchup with Miami this season and as George tells BasketballInsiders.com’s Jessica Camerato, he hopes he can someday learn from James, too:

They are two of the league’s most talented on the court: the king of the NBA versus the rising star, reigning MVP against future contender. There is no doubt George views LeBron James as fierce competition as they battle for the Eastern Conference. One day, though, he’d also like to call him his mentor.

“It would be great to be able to pick his brain, pick his mind and just talk about the game because I think he’s a player that can help me get to the next level and continue to keep going to the next level,” George told Basketball Insiders. “I wish some day we have that relationship where he is someone I can talk to—not during the season because I’m too competitive during the season—but maybe in the summertime.”

James has not been shy about his appreciation for George’s game since he was drafted by the Pacers with the 10th overall pick in 2010. He has expressed encouragement along the way, telling the 23-year-old to continue playing at a high level. During the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals James made a PDA (public display of appreciation, in this case) when he offered George a low five following a sequence in which George drove past him and dunked on Chris Andersen, and then responded by pulling up for a buzzer-beating trey against George.

They engage in small, casual conversations when they’re on the court together. Once the games are over, James will congratulate George and urge him to keep pushing. Other than those in-game exchanges, though, George explained “we don’t talk really.”

That’s something he would like to see change over time. While George already considers James to play a mentor role in the sense of being someone who has been positive toward him, he would also like to have the type of relationship where he can reach out to talk basketball. George said he could message James “if need be,” but hasn’t done so yet.

“He’s someone that motivates me,” said George, who is averaging 22.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals per game. “This league is all about guys being competitive and competing. And don’t get me wrong, every time I’m matched up with him I’m going to try to get the best out of him and come out as the best player of that game. But at the same time, he’s been someone that I looked up to. He’s someone I’m going to continue to look up to because at the end of the day, the position I want to be in is where he’s at.”

George has his sights set high when it comes to his desired list of mentors. Along with James, he would like to add Kobe Bryant also.

“All-Star Weekend, he gave me a couple words and every time I do run into him he gives me a couple words,” George said. “He’s a player as well that I look up to and wish would mentor me.”

While there are basketball hopefuls of all ages who strive to reach George’s level of talent, he feels he has a ways to go before he is ready to assume the mentor position he is still seeking out for himself.

“I’m still young so there’s a lot of stuff I have to learn before I feel like I can help a young guy,” George said. “I’ve got to grow into my mentoring role and then I’ll be one of those guys that mentors young guys.”


VIDEO: Paul George and LeBron James talk about the Pacers-Heat rivalry

***

No. 2: Report: Lakers expected to keep Nash on board next season — In the most recent of Grantland.com’s solid video series with Steve Nash, the former two-time MVP guard spends a lengthy part of the video discussing how he expects to be waived from the team via the stretch provision this summer. The stretch provision allows a team to basically stretch out the amount owed on a player’s contract over multiple seasons instead of having to fork over a lump-sum payment upon being waived. Kevin Ding of BleacherReport.com reports that scenario is looking less and less likely for Nash, though:

And the fact is, as of this time, Nash will get one last chance to play next season with the Lakers, who are not planning a free-agent spending spree this summer and are therefore thinking it does not make sense to use the stretch provision to waive Nash.

The Lakers would rather be done with the entirety of Nash’s $9.7 million salary next year if they’re not planning on spending much next season, as opposed to stretching that money across the next three seasons if they waive him and suffer future burdens.

That decision by the Lakers would give Nash one last season to get his body as right as possible, control the nerve-root irritation sapping his back and legs, and try to go out on something close to his terms.

“Yeah,” Nash said Tuesday night about the Lakers letting him play it out next season. “It sounds like it.”

If the Lakers change their mind and waive Nash, he intends to retire: “That would be it,” he said. “I’ll either be back here or I’ll be done.”

If he is granted this reprieve, though…

“It means that anything is still possible,” Nash said.

Nash is well beyond assuming anything with how his body heals now, and he was still cautious when discussing what he acknowledged looks to be one good tiding coming his way if the Lakers don’t cut him.

He did allow himself to smile about it.

“If I can get healthy and come back,” he said, “it’d be great.”

For the Lakers’ purposes, Nash being able to contribute next season would lessen the bust of his acquisition only slightly. The losing hedges with Dwight Howard and Nash are severely limiting the Lakers’ rebuilding options now, and as Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said last month, the one thing the franchise cannot afford is to gamble again and lose.

To Kupchak, paying maximum dollars to star players who the Lakers are not certain can deliver championship performances would be bad business—and is, in fact, exactly what has happened in New York with the Knicks struggling despite having Carmelo Anthony.

So don’t expect to see Anthony or Chris Bosh—if he opts out of his Miami Heat contract—getting epic offers from the Lakers.

Everything goes out the window if LeBron James opts out of his Heat contract and is interested in the Lakers this summer, but otherwise the Lakers plan to piece a roster together again next season around Kobe Bryant and save their cap space for 2015 free agents such as Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol and maybe James.

***

No. 3: Durant has adopted some of Nowitzki’s training methods — Practically since he became an NBA player, Dallas Mavericks All-Star Dirk Nowitzki has leaned on help from his trainer from Germany, Holger Geschwindner, throughout his career. Nowitzki has become an all-time great in the game and an NBA champion thanks, in part, to Geschwindner’s tutelage and it appears that another star in the league — Kevin Durant — is adopting Geschwindner’s methods. Jared Zwerling of BleacherReport.com has more:

Even though they’ve been in Dallas the same amount of time, Mavericks scout Reggie Johnson still has a difficult time describing Dirk Nowitzki’s quirky workouts with his longtime German trainer Holger Geschwindner.

“Besides all the shooting, it’s hard to explain the types of things he does—because they are so unorthodox,” Johnson said. “It’s one of those things you have to see, but it’s like he’s working on balance, leg strength and shooting all in one motion. His personal coach from Germany thinks outside the box with the drills. Some drills with the ball, some without. He has a routine.”

Interestingly, because of Nowitzki’s connection to Kevin Durant’s trainer, Adam Harrington, who had a limited stint with the Mavericks in 2002-03, the Oklahoma City star has been utilizing some of Geschwindner’s drills since last summer.

“They’ve been paying off for KD,” Johnson said. “He’s definitely incorporated the one-legged fadeaway, and it’s working very well for him. Just ask his defenders. Also, his three-point shot looks a lot more natural and fluid.”

As for those exercises, they’re still coming in handy for Nowitzki, who at the end of the season could join Larry Bird and Steve Nash as the only players in NBA history to have multiple campaigns of shooting at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the foul line.

“It’s great to watch Dirk play, but watching him work is incredible,” Johnson said. “Everyone has heard about his work ethic, but until you’ve witnessed it, you have no idea. He loves the game, and he loves getting better daily. The three things I’ve been most impressed with are his basketball IQ, passing and vision on the court, and his leadership.

“He’s also changed a few things over time. Dirk has an improved post game, he’s mentally and physically tougher and he has a more efficient all-around game. He was known as just a killer jump shooter, but now he’s a threat inside and out, as well as a better passer. He recognizes where double teams are coming from and when they’re coming, which allows him to react quicker and become a playmaker.”


VIDEO: Kevin Durant does his version of Dirk Nowitzki’s trademark shot during a game from 2011

***

No. 4: Knicks fans planning protest before March 19 game? — The New York Knicks beat the Minnesota Timberwolves last night to end their seven-game losing streak, but ICYMI, it’s been a pretty difficult season in New York. Fans are no doubt unhappy with the team’s surprising downfall this season after a banner performance last season and as such, may soon let team ownership know of their displeasure. Marc Berman of the New York Post reports that Knicks fans may be staging a protest of owner James Dolan before a March 19 date with the Pacers:

A rally to protest Knicks owner James Dolan’s handling of the sinking franchise is on tap for March 19 in front of the Garden before the team hosts the Pacers.

The organizers of the “KF4L Rally,” which has its own Facebook page, are promoting the rally via social media. The KF4L stands for “Knicks Fan for Life.’’

Knicks fans Michael Brown, who has staged demonstrations in the past, Anthony Samaroo, a Chicago-based Knicks fan, and Mark Griffin are the rally’s promoters.

In a statement, the organizers wrote the rally is being staged because of “Dolan’s failure to allow knowledgeable basketball people the autonomy/power to make basketball related decisions…His insistence on overriding the opinions of his basketball people by bidding against himself in negotiations and overpaying in trades.’’

The statement also took issue with “the rehiring of Steve Mills who has never been in the GM role before and presided over one of the most embarrassing eras in Knick history.’’

***

No. 5: Coaching legend sides with NCAA, not NBA D-League– As an NBA coach, Larry Brown amassed 1,198 victories and won a championship with the Detroit Pistons in 2004. Today, Brown is the coach of the SMU Mustangs and as a collegiate coach, has amassed 300 wins and led Kansas to the 1988 NCAA championship. Suffice it to say that Brown is well-rounded enough to speak on whether the NCAA or NBA D-League is a better path for a talented player out of high school. As ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon notes, Brown is siding with the college game, unlike Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban:

SMU’s Larry Brown, a Hall of Famer with 1,198 NBA coaching wins, strongly disagreed with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s suggestion that elite prospects would be better prepared for the NBA by playing in the D-League instead of spending one season in college.

“I admire him and I think he’s one of the bright guys we have in our profession, but that was the worst thing I heard,” Brown, who has won titles in college and the NBA, said during an appearance on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas.

“They don’t teach guys how to play, in my mind,” Brown said of the D-League. “The head coaches in the NBA and a lot of the assistants do, but [college basketball] is the greatest minor league system in the world. If you didn’t go to one class and just live in a college environment, then you’re way ahead. And I think most coaches are responsible enough to make them go to class, make them go to study hall, give them life lessons.

“How about being around [SMU assistants] Eric Snow and George Lynch? Those two guys played 13, 14 years in the league, have families, are successful. In all honesty, I love Mark, but [college basketball] is pretty good.

“Now, it’s our job to make [players] realize getting an education is something that’s important, because here’s the deal: Life after basketball is a real long time.”

Cuban emphasized the importance of life skills courses for prospects who might choose to play in the D-League straight out of high school, but Brown believes that sort of education is better delivered on college campuses.

“I always was amazed the NBA had this program before this season where they’d bring everybody in, similar to what you do in college before school starts, orientation,” Brown said. “I used to always ask my players what they got out of it, and it was comical. You’re not going to get anything out of four days of orientation, but play for Rick Pitino for a year or two or Tom Izzo or John Calipari or Bill Self, I think Cuban would be happy with what they’re getting.”

Brown did agree with Cuban’s suggestion that prospects be required to play three years in college before being eligible for the NBA draft. However, Brown would prefer to make exceptions for players who would like to jump to the pros out of high school.

“I want this to be like baseball,” Brown said. “If a kid is good enough, like LeBron or like Durant, to come right out of high school, let him go. Put it in his contract, though, that you’re going to make X amount of dollars if you go back to school. Then if you decide to go to school, stay three years. Then all these NBA people wouldn’t have to keep these workout coaches, because the kids would be prepared.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Wizards coach Randy Wittman has Washington poised for a return to the playoffs, but will he get a new contract? … Like mama always said, all good things must come to an end. Such was the case for Kyle Korver and his streak of games with at least one 3-pointer, which ended at 127 last night in Portland … The Kings are reportedly going to sign troubled forward Royce White to a 10-day deal today … The Nets may soon call up guard Jorge Gutierrez from the NBA D-League … Cavs big man Anderson Varejao went through Wednesday’s practice and could return soon … Rockets center Dwight Howard hopes Magic fans can one day forgive him … Lakers forward Wesley Johnsonis hoping he’ll be back with the team next season … Blazers backup point guard Earl Watson, who has played in just 17 games this season, may soon explore coaching opportunities in the league …

ICYMI of the Night: You gotta feel bad for poor Jerryd Bayless on this play. He thinks he’s got a wide-open look at a 3-pointer and then … whammo! Andrew Bogut comes out of nowhere for the fantastic swat …


VIDEO:Andrew Bogut comes flying in to deny Jerry Bayless’ 3-point attempt