Posts Tagged ‘Dirk Nowitzki’

Driving Oscar To The Hoop


VIDEO: The Starters pick movie roles for some of the NBA’s biggest stars

It was just last week when LeBron James had to disappoint fans in the basketball and cartoon worlds by shooting down rumors that he was getting ready to star in “Space Jam 2″.

Oh, what heartbreak not to have LeBron and SpongeBob SquarePants go toon-on-toon against Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny to settle the G.O.A.T. debate once and th-th-th-at’s all, folks!

But with the Oscars ready to tip off Sunday night, it occurs to us that there were plenty of movies released in the past year that could use a slam dunking NBA touch:

Monuments Men — Who needs a fourth stone head to construct a Mt. Rushmore in Miami when more than enough in their own granite-hard trio to chase a third consecutive NBA title? Everybody from Indiana to OKC and points all around are trying to steal away with the priceless Larry O’Brien Trophy, but LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are counting not one, not two, not …


VIDEO: LeBron James makes his famous ‘Mt. Rushmore’ comments to Steve Smith

Frozen — After winning the MVP award in 2011, Derrick Rose has the next two seasons of a budding superstar career put on ice with major injuries to both knees. A hopeful city of Chicago that was ready to usher in the post-Jordan championship era has turned cold.

American Hustle — When Rose went down on Nov. 22 and was once again lost for the season, everyone expected his teammates to roll over. They even traded away a big offensive gun in Luol Deng, but producer Tom Thibodeau has done a combover and is pulling off the greatest con since ABSCAM with the Bulls sitting at No. 4 in the East with home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference.

The Lego Movie — First-year general manager Sam Hinkie arrives on the job in Philly and promptly locks himself in his room, where he spends all hours of the day and night trying to fit together dozens of little pieces into something that will one day look like a competitive basketball team. Or a rocketship.

Almost Human — He’s almost tall enough to bump his head on the backboard, but has 3- or even 4-point range from practically anyplace on the court. Not since the menacing Gort touched down in “The Day The Earth Stood Still” has anyone appeared as unstoppable as box-office smash Kevin Durant.


VIDEO: Kevin Durant has simply been on fire in February

Vampire Academy — The front office in Brooklyn hatches a plan for world domination by forming an army around the walking undead creatures of 36-year-old Paul Pierce, 36-year-old Jason Terry and 37-year-old Kevin Garnett. But rather than biting opponents on the neck, they were mostly toothless, ineffective and scared nobody.

Paranormal Activity — It was one to thing leap over a Kia at All-Star weekend and turn every game into a slam dunking highlight reel. But Blake Griffin eventually tired of being typecast and under new director Doc Rivers has worked on his shot, expanded his repertoire and now does unearthly, inexplicable things that nobody thought possible just a couple of years ago.

Dallas Buyers Club — For all the money, all the bombast and all the talk about positioning the Mavericks to be big players in the free-agent market and getting Dirk Nowitzki a superstar playmate after dismantling his 2011 championship, Mavs owner Mark Cuban struck out on Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. Right now, he’s where he used to be: stuck in the sale aisle at Sam’s Club.

Gravity — He’s 35 years old, has played 17 full NBA seasons, has more miles on his odometer than a hand-me-down pickup truck and is trying to come back from a torn Achilles tendon and a fractured knee. Yet, 16-time All-Star Kobe Bryant simply won’t acknowledge what Isaac Newton learned sitting under the apple tree — what goes up, must come down.


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks during the All-Star Game about being a spectator this season

Philomena — When the losingest, ugliest, most painful season in modern team history finally and mercifully limps to the end, executive VP of player personnel Jim Buss fires Mike D’Antoni and at a star-studded Hollywood news conference. Buss then introduces a 68-year-old Irish widow with a vaguely reminiscent limp, wearing a gray wig and with a familiar twinkle in “her” eye and says Phil-omena is back to put everything right with the Lakers.

I, Frankenstein — Team president Larry Bird wasn’t happy enough with having the best record and the most fearsome, downright scary defense in the league that was sewn together with Paul George, Roy Hibbert, David West and Lance Stephenson. He performs more surgery in his lab by adding Evan Turner to bolster his Pacers bench and now thinks he’s ready to take down that other monster: the Miami Heat.

The Nut Job — Everybody in the world thought Dwight Howard was out of his mind for the way he slow-walked his ugly departure from Orlando and then bolted out the door of the royal Lakers, leaving $30 million on the table. But who’s crazy now as Howard rides tandem with James Harden and has the Rockets looking like one tough nut to crack in the playoffs?

Despicable Me — As if he hadn’t done enough already to polish his reputation as someone who cannot be trusted as the cornerstone of a franchise and leader to take the Kings back to the playoffs, DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t even bother to get one of his minions to slug Patrick Beverley in the stomach and just does it himself, earning a fine and one-game suspension.

Endless Love — Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager team up for a buddy movie where they criss-cross the country in an old VW bus, stopping at thrift shops to buy old horse blankets and bedsheets while exchanging long hopeful questions and grumpy one-word answers.


VIDEO: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has some good-natured fun with Craig Sager

The Wolf Of Wall Street — He bats his eyes at the Lakers. He flirts with the Bulls. He head fakes in the direction of any other would-be suitor that will glance his direction and then, Carmelo Anthony decides he’s got the world on a string living the high life … and hungrily signs on for a repeat performance of his lone wolf act. Then, the reviewers in the New York media give him a standing ovation and immediately declare the Knicks contenders.

Pompeii — After Isiah Thomas and Jerome James and Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton and Andrea Bargnani, a massive volcanic eruption like the one that came from Vesuvius in 79 A.D. hits Madison Square Garden. The past is finally buried under a blanket of lava, giving away at last to a new beginning.

Davis Latest To Go Down For Suffering Pels


VIDEO: Anthony Davis sprains left shoulder on rebound attempt in Dallas

New Orleans’ dreadful injury situation worsened Wednesday night with All-Star forward Anthony Davis spraining his left shoulder in the second quarter at Dallas, the first leg of a five-game road trip.

Pelicans coach Monty Williams said he didn’t “know much right now” regarding the severity of Davis’ injury, but it was bad enough to keep him out of the remainder of New Orleans’ fifth consecutive loss, 108-89, to the red-hot Mavericks. When Davis left with 4:13 to go, Dallas led by one, 37-36, and had just made a run to dig out of a 28-20 hole.

Davis played just 12 minutes, 37 seconds and exited with six points, nine rebounds, two blocks and one sweet bounce pass to a streaking Eric Gordon for a layup. Davis hurt himself when he jumped straight up and extended his arms attempting to rebound his own miss against Mavs center Sam Dalembert. Even on replay it’s difficult to discern exactly how the injury occurred, but Davis quickly grabbed the upper part of his left arm, squeezing it as if trying to pinch away the pain.

He attempted to stay in the game, but less than a minute later checked out and headed to the locker room. He returned to the bench during the third quarter with his left arm appearing to be immobilized underneath his warmup jersey. He did not speak to the media after the game.

Davis’ name now moves next to point guard Jrue Holiday, sixth man Ryan Anderson and center Jason Smith on the injured list. Those are four of the Pelicans’ top six scorers. The latter three could all be done for the year. New Orleans can only hope that’s not the case for their 20-year-old face of the franchise who is having a marvelous sophomore season averaging 20.2 ppg, 10.2 rpg and leading the league as the lone player topping 3.0 bpg (3.02). Still, at 23-34 and 10 games out of the final playoff spot, the Pelicans won’t rush their star back until he’s ready.

“That’s life,” Williams said shaking his head earlier in the day as he discussed his team’s crippling injury plight that has robbed it of a playoff chase. Four months ago, that was the goal.

In Wednesday’s first quarter, a Dallas team virtually healthy all season and now 9-2 in February, got a scare of its own during an eerily similar moment with Dirk Nowitzki. The 7-footer didn’t appear to hurt himself in any dramatic fashion after making a lob pass from the perimeter, but something happened as he quickly grabbed the upper part of his left arm. Nowitzki left the floor for the training room, but he did return a few minutes later and checked back into the game.

Afterward Nowitzki said he felt his shoulder pop a little bit, a recurring situation, he told reporters, ever since Karl Malone hacked him in a game back in 1999.

Davis’ severely shorthanded teammates tried to hang tough, going into halftime down six following a spurt by Dallas that threatened to blow the game open. The Mavs, winners of four in a row, were too much and built a 23-point cushion as rudderless New Orleans turned it over 14 times in the second half for 24 Dallas points (21 turnovers for 30 points overall).

“Obviously he’s our best player and it was tough for us, but I didn’t think that was the problem,” said point guard Brian Roberts, the fill-in starter for Holiday. “I think it was the turnovers. We just had too many and they scored off of them.”

The American Airlines Center has been a painful stop for several players this season. Bobcats small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist broke his left hand against the Mavs on Dec. 3 and missed six weeks. On Jan. 3, Clippers All-Star point guard Chris Paul separated his right shoulder there and didn’t return until Feb. 9.

No one can blame the injury-plagued Pelicans if they’re fearing the worst. Hopefully, for their sake, on Thursday positive news will prevail.

Blogtable: A Tussle in Texas


VIDEO: Houston beat the Mavericks in Dallas on Jan. 29 to split the season series, 2-2

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Movers and shakers | Texas throwdown | LeBron’s future


A couple of Texas teams are bunched in the West. If they meet in the playoffs: Houston or Dallas?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Houston. By a pretty wide margin. The Mavericks, in my opinion, have nothing that can touch the James Harden-Dwight Howard-Chandler Parsons trio, with Terrence Jones in the mix as well. That group can further jell and is backed up with backcourt depth and Omer Asik as needed up front. Dallas, to me, has maxed out.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I might be overreacting to the Rockets’ recent good run.  They have been up and down all season.  But it seems they are learning to get the ball inside to Dwight Howard consistently and the Mavs still don’t have a stopper in the middle. With James Harden, the simple math says Houston’s two All-Stars beat the Mavs’ one.

Chandler Parsons (l), Dirk Nowitzki (Glenn James/NBAE)

Chandler Parsons (left), Dirk Nowitzki
(Glenn James/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Dallas has no answer for Dwight inside and on the boards, no resistance for James Harden Euro-stepping into the lane or for Chandler Parson’s lining up 3s assassin style. They split the regular-season, 2-2, but only because of Houston’s keystone cops approach to big leads. The Mavs might be able to outscore the Rockets in a game or two, but over a seven-game series, the Rockets got this.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Ask me again after the trade deadline Thursday, when rosters will be closer to locked in. But, for now, the Rockets’ offense combined with the Mavericks’ defense makes it a pretty easy call. Dallas can score, but Houston’s defense can slow the Mavs. The same cannot be said the other way around. I’d like the Rockets in five or six. How about we get to April, though? Or at least the end of the week.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Houston. They’re the much better defensive team and would have home-court advantage. They don’t have a great Dirk defender, but James Harden and Jeremy Lin would chew up Dallas’ perimeter defense. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Rockets in the conference finals.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I like Dallas, even though I think Houston has the better overall talent. If there is one coach and staff you don’t want to see in a best of seven series where the teams are fairly equal, it’s Rick Carlisle and his crew from Dallas. I watched Carlisle and the Mavericks take apart team after team during their 2011 championship march through the Western Conference playoffs, sizing up one opponent after another, zeroing in on their weaknesses and then finishing them off with superior execution. I realize this Mavericks team is not the same savvy veteran bunch Carlisle was working with then, but I do think that he has a dangerous group to work with, regardless of who the Mavericks face in the first round.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blogHouston. Mainly because they’d have home court advantage and they’ve been good at home (and Dallas is .500 on the road this season). But I also feel like Houston could get Dallas into a running game against them and make it into a shootout, which is what Houston wants. Worth noting: The playoffs may not shake out this way — Houston has been playing great but has a lot of road games the rest of the way.

Akshay Manwani, NBA IndiaI’d pick Houston. The regular season is all about consistency and grinding it out while the postseason is about talent. Between an aging Dirk Nowitzki and the mercuial Monta Ellis on one side and Dwight Howard and James Harden on the other, the latter pairing is more likely to be more effective in the postseason. Also, the Rockets are better defensively (def rtg of 102.1 versus 105.1 for the Mavs). Houston for me.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA GreeceI really like the Mavericks. I’ll pick them. Nowitzki plays like a teenager, Monta Ellis is looking like his old self and the trio of Calderon-Carter-Marion adds veteran leadership. They have roles, they have poise, they have what it takes to become the upset-team in this postseason.

Karan Madhok, NBA IndiaMavericks have veteran savvy and experience on their side, but I think their old legs won’t be able to hang with their free-spirited and fast-moving Texas cousins. Dwight, Harden and Co. have been on a tear recently and will only get better as they get more comfortable together. I think a playoff series between the two would definitely go in the Rockets’ favor.

Talk Aside, LeBron’s All About Business

VIDEO: LeBron takes over in fourth, leads Heat past Mavs

DALLAS – It is now possible to erect a new Mt. Rushmore from the words written and spoken on the subject since LeBron James shared his rock-solid, all-time NBA foursome during a wide-ranging interview with NBA TV over All-Star weekend.

As news cycles go, Mt. Rushmore is burning Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman deep. James didn’t ask for it, but he did say it and now we, the media, can’t stop asking anybody associated with a round, orange ball whom they’d put on their own Mt. Rushmore.

Shawn Marion, the 6-foot-7 Mavericks small forward who did a magnificent defensive job on James during the 2011 Finals — and is just the type of savvy veteran (and a free agent this summer, to boot) Miami loves to place around its King sculptor — said after Tuesday morning’s shootaround that James wouldn’t be on his Mt. Rushmore, at least not yet.

By the time the news of this injustice got back to James during his pregame media session in the visiting locker room about 90 minutes before he buried Dallas with 42 points, nine rebounds and six assists in a 117-106 win, it came to him in the watered-down context that he flat-out didn’t make the cut on Marion’s Mt. Rushmore.

James was already in something of a foul mood, having decided to reveal a stern demeanor to show his teammates that the league was back open for business, and so was he. Less than 72 hours after rocking the stage with the The Roots at a New Orleans warehouse party, and 48 hours after playing in the All-Star Game, the Mt. Rushmore recurrence again put LeBron in a mood to scale the mountain.

“I really don’t care what people say or what people think, that’s not for me or my concern,” James said. “I think, once again, it was blown out of context. But, I feel like when it’s all said and done, my personal goal is that I can be one of the greatest to ever play this game, and I won’t sell myself short and I won’t continue to stop believing and saying and thinking what I believe in as far as personal goals. So, it doesn’t matter what Shawn Marion says, or what anybody says about the way I play the game of basketball.”

Is Mt. Rushmore becoming bulletin-board material? James was asked.

“I don’t need bulletin board material,” he answered. “My bulletin board material is the name on the back of my jersey and the name on the front of my jersey; and the youth and the kids that I inspire every day, every time I go out on the basketball court. And I witnessed that Saturday when I had my foundation event in New Orleans, when I was able to give back to a Boys And Girls Club and see over 30, 35, 40 kids smiling the whole time by my presence being there. My calling is much bigger than basketball. While everybody else focuses on just basketball, I’m focused on bigger and better things.”

He wasn’t finished: “And, you know, nobody can still guard me one-on-one.”

Not Marion or anybody else Dallas tried on him. James had 30 points after three quarters, but with Dwyane Wade only 4-for-7 overall from the floor, the Heat trailed by one point, 85-84. LeBron got some needed help from his friends to start the fourth. He sat out the first 4:13, while Dirk Nowitzki was in, trying to be all things for his club with 22 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. With James out, Miami only lost three points and trailed 95-92.

James returned and it was, as they say, church. He went coast-to-coast, he dunked forcefully, hit step backs and drained four 3s on the night and shot 16-for-23 overall.

“When we turned it off, he was gone,” Marion said afterward. “He’s one of the fastest guys in the league in the open court. After his fourth open-court dunk, the basket started to get bigger for him. Then he started pulling up from 3 and started hitting some. It just opened the game up.”

As soon as he checked in, he scored eight consecutive points and fueled a 16-0 run as Miami’s defense also stiffened. When James could have been fatigued — from hitting the game-winner on the last night of games before the break and flying in the wee hours Friday morning from Oakland to New Orleans; participating in numerous NBA activities throughout the weekend; and suiting up in Dallas on the first night games resumed — James didn’t flinch when asked before the game if he’d gotten much rest.

“No, I haven’t but I’m ready,” James said. “I’ll be ready tonight and if I continue to stay on the path that I’m on, obviously I want to stay injury-free, we all want to stay injury-free, that’s the No. 1 thing, but I’ll be all right.”

On Thursday, the Heat (38-14) conclude this six-game, all Western Conference road trip with a visit to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the return of Russell Westbrook and against Kevin Durant, the man who’s tired of finishing second to the King. With or without Mt. Rushmore pushing him, James will be ready to close out this business trip.

“In this league you pay for motor,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And he’s got all of it, he’s got talent, motor, skill, dedication. But the motor is one of the things that stands out the most. It’s in every practice, it’s [Monday] in practice, it’s [Tuesday] in shootaround. He only knows one way; he’s hyperactive.

“So when you can channel that on a competitive field, that’s special.”

All-Stars Talk Advanced Stats And Measuring Heart

Doc Rivers (left) and Blake Griffin do some research earlier this season. (Andy Hayt/NBAE)

Doc Rivers (left) and Blake Griffin do some research earlier this season. (Andy Hayt/NBAE)

NEW ORLEANS – Here at Hang Time, we spoke with a cross-sampling of All-Stars about their views and understanding of the sports world’s accelerating use of statistical tools. There is no turning back, of course, from the inexorable march of player-tracking cameras, EPVs, lineup breakdowns, PERs, points-per-possession rates and other “big data” components.

But it was interesting to hear from some of the very best guinea pigs on whom that all is being foisted.

“Everybody’s kind of moved towards a ‘Moneyball’ statistical and analytical breakdown of … everything,” Minnesota forward Kevin Love said. “I mean, it’s unbelievable what some obscure, crazy stat will pop up and tell you. People will tell me I’m the first player since So-And-So [to do something]. Or KD [Kevin Durant] ‘catches 67 percent of his shots from the left wing and drives right 12 percent of the time.’

“It’s crazy to me that so many statistics can be broken down like that now. Some of them hold weight. But a lot of them, it’s just the way a certain player plays. It sometimes can be lucky or unlucky depending on the stat.

Said Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge: “I have a love-hate with it. I like it, but I think there’s a limit you can use it to. Like, a guy told me I shoot a higher percentage from the other side of the court. But I do because I don’t go over there often, because I’m better on this side.”

Aldridge also thrives in the mid-range, an area of the court that doesn’t get as much love these days as the restricted area beneath the rim or corner-3 attempts. “But I think our team is made for mid-range because we play pick-and-roll a lot and we have a lot of elbow isolations in that area. So my offense is just there a lot,” he said. “It’s kind of funny because our defense is kind of predicated to give that shot up … and then we shoot that shot so much.”

Opinions can vary considerably within organizations. The Houston Rockets, for example, are driven by general manager Daryl Morey, a known advocate of advanced stats. But he has an old-school coach in Kevin McHale and a pair of stars, James Harden and Dwight Howard, who depart significantly in their views of percentages and decimal points.

“That’s one of the reasons I’m in Houston now,” said Harden, who clearly has proven his capacity to go from sixth-man contributor in Oklahoma City to full-blown starter and star with the Rockets. “Because of the statistics and the way the NBA is using numbers, you look at the style you want to play and that’s how you build your team. GMs do a great job of focusing on that.”

Howard said: “I can’t control how Daryl thinks about any given type of situation. I just go out there and play, despite all the analytics and whatever you want to call it. It’s still basketball. There’s a human factor to everything.

“No matter what the stats say, I think guys play better when the chemistry is right. In the right situation, everything flows better. A guy might have a terrible season with one team and go to another team and be great. It’s all about the team, it’s all about good health – the human factor. Analytics may work with some guys, but I always believe that it starts with the person.”

Balancing traditional methods with new data is a pressing issue these days, as laid out by Kirk Goldsberry, billed as “a professor and a Grantland staff writer,” in his recent article “DataBall”:

On the quest for the perfect analytical device, the first discovery should always be the inescapable fact that there is no perfect analytical device. There is no singular metric that explains basketball any more than there is a singular metric that explains life. It’s hard not to improperly elevate the role of “big data” in contemporary sports analyses, but romanticizing them is dangerous. Data are necessarily simplified intermediaries that unite performances and analyses, and the world of sports analytics is built upon one gigantic codec that itself is built upon the defective assumption that digits can represent athletics.

What some have wondered in the rush of more and more numbers and measurements is whether the new tools reduce players to robots.

Said Howard: “I’d rather not know ‘If I catch the ball at the elbow or the 3-point line …’ or if I’m better on one block than the other. I’d rather just go out there and play, and learn things on my own. When you look at stats and all that stuff, that’s when you start to overthink the game. That’s when you miss shots and make bad decisions.”

But here is Howard’s teammate Harden on the potential pitfalls of a statistical approach: “That’s how it’s shaping up. You have to take it for what it is. You have to make sure your pieces are right for your team. Numbers don’t lie.”

Dirk Nowitzki, the oldest All-Star last weekend (he’s the only one who had a last-century rookie season), shrugs his shoulders and shakes his head a lot over the statistical breakdowns put before him. But he became a believer three years ago and has a ring to remind him of that.

It helped us in 2011 to win it all,” Nowitzki said. “We always had advanced stuff going; [owner Mark] Cuban, coming from that field, he always looks at stuff to make us better. We had all these crazy stats that I had no idea about in 2011, all these lineups that worked. When we put put J.J. [Barea] in the starting lineup, that was because of points-per-possession. Don’t even ask me about all that stuff, but that’s how they figured it out. We won three straight against the Heat that year. So I think we’ve been ahead of the curve with Mark coming from the Internet and computer field. He’s always looked at making this franchise better.

“I don’t only totally believe in that stuff. You’ve got to work on your game to get better and you’ve got to have guys that can play, and the chemistry’s got to be good. You can’t measure chemistry with points-per-possession, but now you’ve got to find a nice, little, solid middle way.”

One of the raps against NBA analytics is that, while baseball offense largely is the summing of a series of individual pitcher-batter confrontations, basketball is more interrelated, five players moving the ball in countless combinations, areas and sequences. Any of them can pass, dribble or shoot and each man’s game can be affected by one or more of the other four.

Some, like Indiana’s Roy Hibbert, see additional data as supportive at times and counter-productive at others. The 7-foot-2 center welcomes anything that tracks his signature “verticality” maneuvers to protect the rim and boosts his case as Defensive Player of the Year. But he’s suspicious when it tells him he shouldn’t be posting up certain opponents on certain low blocks.

“So,” Hibbert said, “in one aspect it helps, but in the other it doesn’t.”

Miami’s Chris Bosh suggested that those tracking and converting new stats into strategy might be as important as the numbers themselves. “It’s a blank canvas where people take it and paint what they want to,” the Heat power forward said. “It’s definitely a tool to try to track so many different aspects of the game. Individual performance, energy output and all that stuff. But it depends on the person who’s using it. What they’re going to do with it, what they’re getting out of it and what they’re looking for.”

Bosh called this the “age of information” and predicted that everyone’s job eventually would be subjected to further analytical studies. Even (gasp!) sportswriters?

Bosh smiled and said: “It’ll happen.” The click-counters on some Web pages would tend to back him up.

Then again, the appeal of basketball for many is that it isn’t some job to be honed to absolute, efficient perfection. Chicago center Joakim Noah was a fish out of water for most of the All-Star Game on Sunday, a player defined by intensity and defense in a game that was about showmanship and scoring. But in the fourth quarter, with the game on the line, LeBron James looked hard to Noah on repeated pick-and-rolls leading to dives to the basket.

“I don’t need much [practice] time with guys like that, high-energy guys and high-IQ basketball players,” James said afterward.

Ask Noah about analytics and he sounds almost insulted that folks in lab coats might think they can take his measure with their computers.

“You can learn from it. But it’s also overrated,” he said, “because there’s more to it than analytics and I think people sometimes forget that.

“It’s how you practice. It’s how you talk to your teammates. It’s how you deal with things when things get hot, how you deal with adversity – you can’t measure that. It’s how the 14th or 15th man on the team practices. It’s the guy who’s going to lift you up when you’re down, when things are going on at home. They really can’t measure that.”

Even as they continue to try.

New Age: Dirk, D-Wade Now Old Guard

Dirk Nowitzki (left) and Dwyane Wade  (the elder statesmen in New Orleans.

Dirk and Dwyane Wade (12 and 10 All-Star appearances, respectively) are the elder statesmen in New Orleans.

NEW ORLEANS – Feeling old? A few All-Stars are.

“I was looking at Dirk and Tony and me and now I’m like one of the older guys,” Clippers All-Star point Chris Paul said. “I was looking at Damian Lillard and wondering what he must be thinking.”

Paul is only 28 and still very much in the prime of his career, but his sort of sudden discovery underscores the tremendous youth movement happening in the NBA. Youthful stars like the 23-year-old Lillard, who has taken Portland and the league by storm in just his second season, seem to be everywhere and making the older guards like Paul, Tony Parker, 31, and others ponder where the time’s gone.

“Who’s the oldest player here?” asked Dwyane Wade, hardly old at 32, but whose troublesome knees have added some years as he makes his 10th appearance in Sunday night’s 63rd All-Star Game.

The oldest would be Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, who turned 35 last June. Kobe, who was voted in by the fans as a Western Conference starter, but won’t play because of a knee injury, turned 35 in August.

“We were just talking to [DeMar] DeRozan and Kyrie [Irving] and Paul George,” said Wade, one of only two Eastern Conference All-Stars in their 30s; Joe Johnson is also 32, about six months older than Wade. “When we came in it was Jason Kidd, Kevin Garnett, these players that we had so much respect for were at the All-Star Game, they were the older guys that had been around for 10 years, and now we are.”

Dirk, Kobe and Parker now have 34 All-Star appearances between them. The West’s starting five — Steph Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin — have a combined 15. None are older than 25. So this could become a very familiar-looking All-Star starting group.

“It’s weird not see all these guys,” said Nowitzki, a 12-time All-Star, who made his debut in the 2002 game. “Tim Duncan, every year I’ve been an All-Star, Tim was here, KG was here, Kobe was here, Shaq was here every year. So I miss these guys a little bit and now I’m the oldest guy here which feels a little weird because in my head I don’t really feel 35, 36. But I’m definitely enjoying these young guys and I’m enjoying these last couple years competing against these young guys, and then I’ll slowly go away.”

The sudden youth can be startling. In the West, six of 12 All-Stars are 25 or younger and that number actually jumped to seven when second-year Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, 20, replaced Kobe. Including Davis, 10 players on the West roster are 28 or younger.

In the East, George, 23, Kyrie IrvingDeMar DeRozan  and John Wall are all 24 or younger. Nine players are 29 or younger with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Paul Millsap all being 29. Bosh turns 30 next month, while Joakim Noah turns 29 on Feb. 25.

“It’s crazy,” Wade said. “It goes so fast and at the same time to still be here is an unbelievable honor. It goes, man, you’ve got to enjoy it along the way. You see the young guys coming up and they are the future of the NBA and one day they’ll be doing the things that we’re doing, looking back like, ‘Man, how fast did it go?’”

Advanced Stats: West All-Stars

NEW ORLEANS – All-Star weekend marks the one-year anniversary of the new version of NBA.com/stats. This season brought SportVU player tracking to the site and just Thursday night, player tracking stats were added on the boxscore level, so you can see how far a player ran or how many of his shots were contested on any given night.

All-Star weekend also means that it’s time to dive in with statistical nuggets for all 25 All-Stars. Here are the 13 guys representing the Western Conference…

Kobe Bryant, G, L.A. Lakers

Stephen Curry, G, Golden State

Kevin Durant, F, Oklahoma City

Blake Griffin, F, L.A. Clippers

Kevin Love, F, Minnesota

LaMarcus Aldridge, F, Portland

Anthony Davis, F-C, New Orleans

James Harden, G, Houston

Dwight Howard, C, Houston

Damian Lillard, G, Portland

  • Leads the league with six field goals (on just nine attempts) in the final 30 seconds with the score tied or his team behind three points or less.
  • Of 181 players who have attempted at least 100 shots from both in and outside the paint, Lillard is the only one who has shot better from outside the paint (42.5 percent) than from in the paint (42.2 percent).
  • Has attempted only 16.3 percent of his shots from mid-range, the second lowest rate among All-Stars (higher than only that of Howard).
  • Video: Watch Lillard’s six baskets that tied the game or gave his team the lead in the final 30 seconds.

Dirk Nowitzki, F, Dallas

Tony Parker, G, San Antonio

Chris Paul, G, L.A. Clippers

Without Westbrook, Ibaka Keeps Soaring

VIDEO: Serge Ibaka talks about OKC’s winning ways on Arena Link

OKLAHOMA CITY – How many Western Conference power forwards do you check off before getting to Serge Ibaka?

Blake Griffin. Kevin Love. LaMarcus Aldridge. Dirk Nowitzki. Tim Duncan. Anthony Davis. Zach Randolph. David Lee. Hard to quibble. All are All-Stars, recent past or present.

“There [are] so many good power forwards, and so many good point guards, in the West that he does kind of get lost in the shuffle,” Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “But we understand what he brings to our team. He’s definitely [at] an All-Star level in my eyes and what he does for our team: He rebounds, he blocks shots, he alters shots, his rebounds have gone up, his shooting percentage is high, his points have gone up.”

Ibaka is also only 24 years old, which makes his progression to a career-best 15.0 ppg (11th in the league among power forwards), career-best 8.8 rpg (8th), 2.5 bpg (2nd) and 19 double-doubles (10th) midway through his fifth season seem astronomical, and his potential off the charts. That the chiseled, 6-foot-10 force of nature, taken 24th in the 2008 Draft (his first NBA season was 2009-10), is under contract with the Thunder through the 2016-17 season at a rate that never eclipses $12.35 million is another feather in management’s already blooming cap.

Ibaka and Russell Westbrook have developed such a lethal connection that when the point guard left the lineup after the Christmas Day game to undergo a third surgery on his right knee, there was some trepidation that Ibaka’s offensive contributions would suffer.

That has not occurred because Ibaka and Kevin Durant have been terrific together. Durant’s has assisted on one-third of (54-for-160) Ibaka’s baskets since Westbrook went down. Since, Ibaka has averaged 15.9 ppg on 56.7-percent shooting.

“We have a better connection in the halfcourt offense,” Ibaka said of he and Durant whereas he and Westbrook work so well together in the open floor. “He has confidence in me. I know when he is going to pass to me. I just have to catch the ball. My first part of this is I owe it to him to get him open, so when he can get open, the defense starts to go to him, so then I know, ‘OK, now it’s my turn.’ I am going to get open and I know he is going to pass it to me, so I am going to make plays for myself and for my teammates.”

Ibaka’s midrange game continues to be one of the best in the league. He is hitting 47.8 percent of his shots taken outside the paint and inside the 3-point arc. Coming off a screen, Durant typically gets doubled and he finds Ibaka for the pick-and-pop jumper he loves from the top of the circle, or Ibaka rolls to the basket, an aspect of his game Brooks says has vastly improved.

“When he does roll, he’s ready to catch and finish right away and he’s seeing the pickers much quicker,” Brooks said.”That sounds easy and looks easy, but there’s a lot of work that goes into that. You have to be able to catch the ball on the fly and put yourself in a position not to get a charge and, if there is a guy, you have to make sure you make the right pass, and you have to do that all within a second.

“He’s understanding, with all the work that we’ve put him through in practice to simulate those opportunities, and I think it’s really paying off.”

Ibaka’s true shooting percentage (adjusted to include the value of 3-pointers and free throws) is 54.0 percent, fourth-best among power forwards behind Amir Johnson, Kenneth Faried and Boris Diaw. But Ibaka averages, at the minimum, four more shots per game and almost five more points per game.

According to NBA.com/stats, Ibaka is connecting on 49.2 percent of his shots from 10-14 feet; 46.3 percent from 15-19 feet; and 38.9 percent from 20-24 feet. He’s 13-for-37 for 35.1 percent from beyond the arc, a percentage plenty of guards could live with.

So, what happens when Westbrook returns as he is scheduled to do after the All-Star break? Ibaka smiles.

“I am going to have Russ and I am going to have Kevin,” Ibaka said. “We are going to be more dangerous. You know, Russ is more go-go, ‘I’m open;’ me and Kevin [are] more halfcourt. I think it is going to be great, man. I can’t wait to have Russ back. I can’t wait.”

Space, Speed And 3s Is The NBA Way


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew breaks down why 3-point shooters like Kyle Korver are valuable

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Kevin McHale insists there’s little difference between how he coaches his Houston Rockets today and how his Boston Celtics played 30 years ago.

“We do play the same,” the towering Hall of Fame power forward said. “It was a different game, but we ran up and down, we shot a lot of shots in the first six, seven seconds of the shot clock because we ran it down, threw it in the post and shot it. Look at the early ’80s, we were averaging 115, 116, 117 points. You usually don’t get that by walking it up and down.”

The 1983-84 champion Celtics averaged 112.1 ppg, yet in those glorious run-and-gun, team-oriented days, all that scoring ranked just seventh in a 23-team league. Imagine the offensive explosion then had those teams known what we know now about that strange 3-point arc.

“We all looked at it,” said McHale, a rookie the season after the NBA implemented the arc, “and thought, ‘Why the hell do they have a line way out here?’ “

A low-post machine, McHale attempted 157 3-pointers in his career. Larry Bird took 194 of the 393 taken by the 1985-86 champion Celtics. In the first 49 games this season, the Rockets’ tandem of James Harden and Chandler Parsons have combined for 463. The Rockets have launched 1,279.

Last year they shot it from everywhere and at any time, 2,369 in all, second-most only to the New York Knicks, who set the all-time record with 2,371 attempts. New York also made 891, the most all-time.

Today’s game is different. It has shifted 180 degrees from the plodding, back-it-down offenses spanned in the 1990s and does draw back more to the freewheeling 1980s, only with a new set of philosophies. Today’s offensive style is dictated by a slew of predominant words and phrases: Analytics. Pace. Ball movement. Spacing. Speed. Stretch-4. Small ball. Drive-and-kick. Corner 3.

Do-it-all point guards are at a premium. Floor-spacing, sweet-shooting big men are coveted. Three-point shooting is king.

“I’m not surprised because statistically everybody is going to that kind of metrics,” said Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, who introduced the league to this stream of unconventional offensive tactics when he took over the Phoenix Suns more than a decade ago.

“We did it before, but I think you can measure even more now, and I think that shows you if you want to win, that’s the way you should go. And then Miami tops it off by winning two championships by doing it.”

West among best at quick way to play

Many of D’Antoni’s concepts, considered radical at the time, are commonplace now to varying degrees in nearly every NBA coach’s playbook. They are prevalent especially among Western Conference clubs powered by dynamic, often ultra-athletic point guards — from Chris Paul to Russell Westbrook to Tony Parker to Damian Lillard to Stephen Curry — who play fast, penetrate, pass and shoot from distance. The Heat, of course, are led by de facto point guard LeBron James.

“Without penetration you don’t get those uncontested 3s, so you have to have people who penetrate and create shots for other people,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “That’s how it happens. Without the penetration it would all be contested, percentages would go down and people wouldn’t be shooting very well. But most of them are uncontested.”

Nine of the league’s top 10 teams in pace (the number of possessions per 48 minutes) and 12 of the top 16 play in the West. The top five teams in 3-point attempts, and nine of the top 12, also play in the West, the far superior conference this season.

When the Memphis Grizzlies meet the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight (8 p.m. ET, League Pass) in a rematch of last season’s Western Conference semifinals won by Memphis, it will again be a battle of contrasting styles. OKC, even without their injured three-time All-Star Westbrook, is athletic and fast. The Thunder pushes the pace, currently ranking seventh in the league, averaging 97.84 possessions per 48 minutes.

The Grizzlies boast talented point guard Mike Conley, but run their sets through skilled, low-post big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. They rely on those interior size mismatches (and gritty defense) to compete in an expanding era of fastbreaking, 3-point-shooting, “small-ball” lineups in which a power forward serves as a center and a traditional small forward plays the “4″ and “stretches” the floor.

Memphis, although moving the ball with more vigor and shooting slightly more 3s during their January hot streak, is the conventional NBA offense that has been made unconventional.

The need for 3s

Memphis’ management team is heavy into analytic data, and first-year coach Dave Joerger was eager to quicken Memphis’ offensive pace, but it hasn’t happened. They rank last in the league in pace, averaging 92.15 possessions. They’re also last in 3-point attempts (14.3 per game) and 3-pointers made (5.1 per game).

Houston has outscored Memphis from beyond the arc by a staggering 618 points; Golden State and Portland, tied for No. 1 with 450 made 3s, by 651. Memphis and last-place Utah, 24th in made 3-pointers, are the only teams in the West that average fewer than 100 points per game.

“It’s almost like if you don’t shoot 3s you can’t win,” Popovich said. “So many players are good at it, shots get off so quickly and are so numerous that it’s a huge part of what almost everybody does. It’s just tough to score and to win without making 3s.”

Desperate for it, Memphis traded slump-ridden Jerryd Bayless to Boston for Courtney Lee, who has provided a jolt, knocking down 44.1 percent of his 3-point shots. He, along with Gasol’s return from injury, helped spark Memphis to 11 wins in its last 13 games and a return to playoff contention.

The Grizzlies recently beat Houston twice in back-to-back games. They limited the Rockets to 87 and 81 points despite taking 40 fewer 3-pointers and being outscored by 36 points from beyond the arc. But can the Grizzlies survive with size over speed and scoring 2-pointers instead of 3s?

“I don’t know whether we can or we can’t,” Joerger said. “The league is being ruled by playmakers, shooting and IQ right now. Teams are playing multiple — forget about shooters — they’re playing multiple playmakers now. A lot of centers are, let’s just say, fairly strictly pick and rim-run, and [you] play four [players] around those guys and stretch it out, and then let guys just play against a [defensive] close-out.”

Time marches on … and pace picks up

D’Antoni says Don Nelson‘s Mavs in the early and mid-2000s, with Steve Nash as point guard, were first to empower the “stretch-4.” Nelson didn’t try to turn 7-foot forward Dirk Nowitzki into a back-to-the-basket player. He granted him free range to shoot 3s.

Popovich recognized the coming wave earlier than most through those early battles against Dirk and then D’Antoni’s Suns.

“San Antonio has been a top 3-point shooting team for probably seven, eight or nine years now,” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, whose “Flow” offense, led by smart, selfless players and talented passers and shooters, produced the 2011 championship. “They jumped on it early on and other teams have followed suit.”

The Spurs won three championships with stifling defense and methodical halfcourt execution in the mid-2000s. But Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford knew they had to evolve around their Big Three of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Parker with a roster based on pace and perimeter shooting. On their way to the 2013 Finals, San Antonio ranked sixth in pace, seventh in 3-pointers made and fifth in 3-point percentage.

In his typical gruffness, Popovich said of the style, “I hate it; if you want to win, you got to do it.”

In 2002-03, the Spurs attempted 1,270 3-pointers en route to their first title. Each year after their 3-point attempts increased. They shot 1,561 in 2006-07, the year of their third title. Last season they shot a franchise-record 1,764, which they might surpass this season.

“It was gradual, I remember that,” Ginobili said. “When I got here [in 2002-03], it [the offense] was very slow. Every possession had to feed the post and play from there. But then it slowly started to shift to a faster pace. At the beginning, he [Popovich] wanted it, but we were just not used to it, so that’s why it took a couple years until we really started doing it.”

Back in Houston, the Rockets keep running and spreading the floor even with the addition of traditional-type center Dwight Howard. Their pace (97.94) ranks seventh in the league, down slightly from last season, as is their 3-point attempts (26.1, almost three fewer a game), because of the ability, and necessity, to feed Howard in the post.

Meanwhile, everybody else continues to pick up the pace. The Rockets were No. 1 in the league last season at 98.64 possessions per 48 minutes. Now five teams average at least 99 and Philadelphia is over 102. Twelve teams average at least 97. In 1996-97, the first year advanced statistics were recorded, only two teams finished with more than 93 possessions per game.

What does the future hold? The Rockets’ NBA Development League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, are launching 3′s at a stunning — or alarming, depending on your perspective — rate of 48.5 per game. Fourteen of the 17 teams are operating at a pace of 100 possessions or better per game.

Yet leave it to Howard, with four career 3-pointers to his name, to lend some perspective to all these supersonic numbers.

“Once the playoffs start, it’s a halfcourt game and you’ve got to be able to execute in the halfcourt on offense,” Howard said. “We have to learn how to do both — be able to play fast, get up and down the court, get some easy shots. But we also got to learn how to slow it down and get a good shot every time.”

Perhaps some things never change.

Kings’ Cousins: ‘I Know I Deserve A Spot’


VIDEO: Check out who made the West reserves for the All-Star Game

DALLAS – Kings center DeMarcus Cousins believes he is an All-Star.

“I feel like I’ve played at a high level. Do I feel like I can do better? Absolutely. But I feel like I was pretty deserving of an All-Star spot,” Cousins said Friday night prior to Sacramento attempting to break a five-game losing streak against the Dallas Mavericks.

“I don’t know what it is,” the 6-foot-11 Cousins said when asked why he thinks enough Western Conference coaches didn’t select him to be one of seven reserves. “But I know looking at it, I know I deserve a spot.”

He won’t even get to take out his frustrations on the court against a team he’s destroyed to the tune of 19.4 points and 10.8 rebounds over his career, and torched for 32 points and 19 rebounds in the Kings’ blowout win over Dallas last month. Cousins is missing his fifth consecutive game with a sprained left ankle. He said he set himself back a bit by working too hard to make a quick return. The team is now preaching patience. Coach Michael Malone said Cousins will likely miss Saturday’s game at San Antonio with a possible return targeted for Monday night’s home game against Chicago.

Two weeks later, the 23-year-old will get unwanted rest when the NBA converges in New Orleans on Feb. 14-16 for All-Star weekend. With three forwards — Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love — voted in by fans as “frontcourt” starters, the coaches selected LaMarcus Aldridge, Dwight Howard and Dirk Nowitzki as reserves.

“I’m not surprised,” Cousins said dryly. “At the end of the day it’s an individual stat, so when they read you off as an eight-time All-Star, they don’t include your team’s record. So, like I said, it didn’t surprise me at all.”

That was Cousins’ way of suggesting that his personal improvement and All-Star worthy season shouldn’t be penalized by his team’s 15-30 record entering Friday’s game. He leads all centers in scoring at 22.6 (on a career-high 48.8 percent shooting) and ranks fourth in rebounding at 11.6. He’s first in steals (1.78) among centers and ninth among all players. His usage rate of 33.0 percent is the highest in the league, meaning almost everything the Kings do offensively goes their big man, who can score in the low block and step out and hit the mid-range jumper.

The league’s eradication of the center position on the All-Star ballot didn’t help Cousins’ cause. Under the traditional positional format, Houston’s Howard would have been tabbed as the starting center in the fan vote and coaches likely would have had a hard time leaving Cousins off the team as the backup center.

“That did affect a lot,” Cousins said. “But even with that being said, I still deserved it.”

The Kings got off to a rough start to the season, made a minor trade for young Timberwolves castoff Derrick Williams followed by a major deal that netted Rudy Gay. After a transition period, Sacramento put together it’s best stretch of the season with a win over Miami, a down-to-the-wire loss at San Antonio followed by a win at Houston, which they’ve defeated twice.

After disappointing let-down losses at home to Philadelphia and Charlotte, the Kings beat Portland. Soon after came the unfortunate luck of concurrent injuries to Cousins and Gay that has again made life hard on the West’s last-place team.

As deserving as Cousins believes he is for a first All-Star nod, the talent in the West simply runs too deep to squeeze on the 12-man roster. Howard and Aldridge were locks. And Nowitzki is so respected by the coaches that they weren’t going to leave him off the team after averaging 21.1 points coming off a rough 2012-13 season in which he had knee surgery and his 11-year All-Star run ended.

Until the league expands the All-Star rosters or the Kings turn around their fortunes, All-Star disappointment could continue to follow Cousins. He has a slim chance of sneaking onto the 2014 team. New commissioner Adam Silver will pick a replacement for injured guard Kobe Bryant, and a replacement will be needed for point guard Chris Paul, if he hasn’t returned from injury.

Suns point guard Goran Dragic will likely be the first player added. Dragic is having a brilliant season on the league’s most surprising team. The Suns are 28-18, yet that still couldn’t get him onto the team, another nod to the conference’s overall talent pool. If Paul is out, Cousins and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis will likely be the next two players on Silver’s list.

“It is fuel to my fire,” Cousins said. “I’ve been doubted my whole life. Nothing’s ever come easy for me. So this not coming easy is not a surprise; keep grinding and at the end of the day I’m going to get in.”