Posts Tagged ‘Donatas Motiejunas’

World Cup stacked with NBA players


VIDEO: USA tops Puerto Rico in exhibition

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – LeBron James was always taking the summer off from competitive basketball. Kevin Love decided to do the same just before the U.S. National Team opened training camp in Las Vegas last month. But there are still reasons for Cavs fans to watch the FIBA World Cup, which begins Saturday in Spain.

The Cavs are one of two teams that will have four players taking part in the World Cup. Kyrie Irving, of course, will start (at least some games) at point guard for the United States. He’ll face new teammate Erik Murphy, playing for Finland, in the USA’s first pool-play game.

Murphy, who was acquired in a trade from Utah last month, may not necessarily be on the Cavs’ opening-night roster. Only $100,000 of his $816,000 contract is guaranteed, the Cavs are already over the 15-man roster limit, and they’ve yet to sign Shawn Marion.

Irving has already faced Brazil’s Anderson Varejao in an exhibition game. And he could go head-to-head with his Cleveland back-up — Australia’s Matthew Dellavedova — in the knockout round.

The Rockets are the other NBA team that will have four players at the World Cup. James Harden, the Dominican Republic’s Francisco Garcia, Lithuania’s Donatas Motiejunas and Greece’s Kostas Papanikolaou will all represent the Rockets in Spain.

Papanikolaou is one of five incoming rookies at the tournament. The others are the Bulls’ Cameron Bairstow (Australia), the Nets’ Bojan Bogdanovic (Croatia), the Jazz’s Dante Exum (Australia), and the Pacers’ Damjan Rudez (Croatia).

Croatia’s Bogdanovic is not to be confused with Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic, who was selected in this year’s Draft by the Suns and will play at least two years in Turkey before coming to the NBA. The Serbian Bogdanovic is one of six guys taken in the last two drafts who has yet to come over.

The others are Alex Abrines (OKC, Spain), Arselan Kazemi (PHI, Iran), Joffrey Lauvergne (DEN, France), Raul Neto (UTA, Brazil) and Dario Saric (PHI, Croatia). (more…)

For Rockets’ Motiejunas, what happens in Vegas should not stay in Vegas


VIDEO: Donatas Motiejunas has been a load for defenders in Summer League

LAS VEGAS — There were 50 seconds left and the Houston Rockets trailed the Charlotte Hornets, 80-79, in the semifinals of the Samsung Las Vegas Summer League. Rockets guard Isaiah Canaan cleared out the left side of the court, then lobbed the ball inside to center Donatas Motiejunas. Motiejunas caught, leaned back, wheeled toward the center of the court and dropped in a soft hook shot to give the Rockets the lead and the win.

Motiejunas finished the game with 18 points and 13 rebounds in 31 minutes, another strong performance in the seven-foot Lithuanian’s brief history of terrific Summer League showings. Just two years ago, a 25-point, nine-rebound showing in his Summer League debut caused NBA TV’s Chris Webber to exclaim, “I came to Vegas and fell in love!”

But in two NBA seasons since then, Motiejunas hasn’t been able to consistently find the same kind of minutes or production with the Houston Rockets. So what is it about Vegas that brings out the best in Motiejunas?

“I don’t know, it’s hard to say. Do you like Vegas?” the man they call D-Mo says with a smile. “First time when I play it was just after the draft. I came here to prove to everyone I’m not just a simple European guy, a typical one, that I can fight and play. This year, I came here to get into shape for National Team, because the guys started training camp July 7, and my team said they prefer me to stay here and play a couple of games here. We lost two games in a row, I was pissed, and then we start winning, winning, winning. I could not say no, not to play. I just wanted to win.”

The Rockets’ winning streak has pushed this Vegas trip to the limit — after Monday’s championship game, Motiejunas will take an overnight flight to Houston, unpack and repack, and then hop on an evening flight to Frankfurt to join the Lithuanian National Team.

“It’s intensive, but I’m happy. I’m playing, I’m getting a lot of touches, I’m enjoying these guys. Like I said, they did an incredible job the last couple of weeks, separate players becoming team, not easy to do.”

Along with Canaan, Motiejunas has been Houston’s best player in Vegas, averaging 17.7 points per game to go along with 7.7 rebounds through six games. And with Houston trading away Omer Asik, as well as whiffing on Chris Bosh in free agency, the opportunity for Motiejunas to become a regular Rockets rotation player is there for the taking.

“His homework for Summer League was tougher post defense and rebounding, and I think he’s done both those things,” says Houston Summer League coach Chris Finch. “He’s very skilled offensively — he’s a guy that can score in the post and make plays off the dribble as a big guy. And those are things we can do with him in our offense with the Rockets once we can get him a consistent role. But the defense and the rebounding is what is going to get him that. He did a good job last season of working his way into the rotation, so he’s on the growth path.”

In other words, Motiejunas will have to fight and show toughness to earn minutes. Which is something he says he’s not afraid to do.

“I’m trying to show toughness! Trying to get there!” he laughs, grabbing my arm. “I don’t know, how is going on? Is it getting better?”

You look pretty tough to me, I said.

“OK! It means it’s working out.”

“D-Mo is tough. He is a fighter,” says Finch. “He works hard — you’re never going to find a guy who out-works him. He needs to learn to play with physicality without fouling, physicality without getting out of position, that kind of stuff. That’s why we’ve asked him to be more physical this year defensively and on the glass.”

For his next act, Motiejunas has to translate his Summer League showings into the regular season, finding a way to perform in the regular season as he has in the summer season.

Clearly, for the benefit of both Motiejunas and the Rockets, the trick to going forward is going to be getting what happens in Vegas to not stay in Vegas.

One Team, One Stat: The Right Kinds Of Shots In Houston

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Houston Rockets, who added another star this summer.

The basics
HOU Rank
W-L 45-37 t-11
Pace 98.6 1
OffRtg 106.7 6
DefRtg 103.5 16
NetRtg +3.3 9

The stat

14.6 percent - Percentage of Rockets shots that came from mid-range.

The context

That was, by far, the lowest rate in the league. In fact, it was just a little more than half the league average (28.3 percent). Mid-range shots are the least efficient shots and the Rockets did their best to avoid them.

Houston took 38.7 percent of their shots from the restricted area, the third-highest rate in the league, behind only Denver and Detroit. They took 10.3 percent of their shots from the corners, the second-highest rate in the league, behind only Miami. Lastly, 24.5 percent of their shots were above-the-break threes, again the second-highest rate in the league (behind only New York).

The Rockets’ shot selection helped them make the most of their talent offensively. They didn’t rank in the top 10 in field goal percentage from any area on the floor, but because they took the right kinds of shots, they ranked fifth in effective field goal percentage and sixth in offensive efficiency.

Rockets shooting by area, 2012-13

Area FG% Rank %FGA Rank
Restricted area 61.5% 11 38.7% 3
Other paint 35.0% 24 11.7% 27
Mid-range 36.6% 27 14.6% 30
Corner 3 39.4% 12 10.3% 2
Above-break 3 35.6% 14 24.5% 2

Omer Asik ranked fifth in the league in shot attempts from the restricted area, while James Harden ranked second among guards. Carlos Delfino and Chandler Parsons both ranked in the top 20 in corner 3-point attempts, and Harden, Delfino and Parsons all ranked in the top 25 in attempts from above the break. Harden led the league in free throw attempts.

The following are highlights from a win in Milwaukee when 56 of the Rockets’ 83 shots were from the restricted area (where they were 26-for-38) or from the corners (9-for-18). Only eight (9.6 percent) of the 83 shots came from mid-range.


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The addition of Dwight Howard shouldn’t change the Rockets’ shot selection much. Howard ranked second in the league in shots from the restricted area and, as a more dangerous threat than Asik on the pick-and-roll, he will create tons of open looks for the Rockets’ shooters.

Delfino, who signed with Milwaukee, will be missed. He fit right in as a small-ball four who was a threat from either the corner or above the break and wouldn’t hurt the Rockets too much defensively. Houston has started three different power forwards in four preseason games thus far, looking for the right fit on both ends of the floor.

Whether he starts or not, the hope is that Omri Casspi can replace Delfino’s shooting. Casspi has actually been the better shooter from the corners over the last four seasons, but Delfino has been better from above the break and has shot at a much higher volume.

3-point shooting by area, last four seasons

Corner 3 ATB 3 Total
Player FGM FGA FG% FGM FGA FG% FGM FGA FG%
Omri Casspi 92 209 44.0% 153 480 31.9% 245 694 35.3%
Carlos Delfino 205 484 42.4% 278 823 33.8% 483 1,309 36.9%

Donatas Motiejunas has yet to get comfortable beyond the arc and Terrence Jones probably doesn’t belong out there yet. So the search for the right power forward in the Rockets’ pace-and-space system will go on. The right fit could be what turns Houston into a true title contender, and it may be that it requires trading Asik.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Manila Thrilled, But A Tad Bit Subdued, With Rockets’ 20-Point Win Over Pacers

 

MANILA, Philippines — It was 2 1/2 hours before the historic first NBA tipoff in Southeast Asia when the Rockets’ team bus pulled up to the stage door entrance at Mall of Asia Arena and was greeted by a throng of several hundred Filipino fans.

This was the night that the NBA’s most rabid international following had waited more than six decades to see. The hope of catching a glimpse of the stars toting luggage was enough to create a noisy stir.

“Rockets! Rockets! Rockets!” came the chant from behind the barricade. Then it was followed by “Harden! Harden! Harden!”

James Harden, the All-Star guard, had already entered the tunnel and walked up the ramp when he suddenly made a U-turn and went back outside with his cell phone raised to takes videos of the fans with one hand while pumping a fist into the air with the other.

It was thought to be a prelude to the general craziness that would consume the atmosphere out on the court. But the emotional intensity and anticipated craziness never materialized from the crowd of roughly 20,000 that paid anywhere from $13 to just under $800 face value for tickets. An early evening downpour tied up traffic outside the arena. The game began with large blocks of empty seats.

In the end, it was not exactly the Thrilla in Manila.

The in-game atmosphere  seemed to be more studying, nodding, learning and taking in the proficiency of the NBA teams than mass hysteria. The Filipino fans rarely came out of their seats. A glimpse throughout the building saw few hands full of snacks, drinks and beers as the fans focused on the event.

Omri Casspi led the Rockets with 17 points, Donatas Motiejunas had 16, while Harden and Chandler Parsons scored 15 points each as the Rockets went wire-to-wire for a 116-96 win. Dwight Howard had seven points, three rebounds and five fouls in 21 minutes. Paul George led the Pacers with 13 points.

There were plenty of red Jeremy Lin jerseys in the crowd, but no more than you’d see during a regular season game at Golden State or Portland. Lin came off the bench and generated the most energy from the fans, especially with a pair of strong drives in the fourth quarter. He finished with 14 points.

There were a number of Pacers fans in the crowd, but the loudest buzz for a member of the Indiana contingent came when team president Larry Bird was on the video screen sitting near mid-court.

The Pacers and Rockets were greeted warmly when both teams took the floor for and received a nice ovation when they were introduced. There were appreciative cheers for 3-pointers made by Paul George and C.J. Watson, shots blocked by Roy Hibbert and slick drives through the lane by Harden. The lines at the temporary NBA Stores set up on the mezzanine level were six and eight deep as fans gobbled up replica Pacers and Rockets jerseys. Most customers came through the cash register lines carrying plastic bags crammed full of merchandise.

“The Philippines has a population of 100 million or so, so they’re a very important part of our Southeast Asian strategy,” commissioner David Stern said during a pre-game press conference. “It is the most intense and robust and knowledgeable basketball market. I was going to say outside of the U.S., but it may lead the world. I’m not sure.”

However, the knowledgeable Filipino fans were far more polite than rabid or noisy, sounding more like an All-Star Game crowd, where the sound of the dribbling ball and the voices of Pacers coach Frank Vogel and the Rockets Kevin McHale could be heard echoing throughout the arena.

As if to prove that they have the attitude to match regular American fans, the crowd finally rose to its collective feet and let out a roar for giveaway promotions — NBA 2K posters and t-shirts — during a couple of second-quarter timeouts.

The controlled enthusiasm and overall politeness was in keeping with experiences by the two teams during the four days they’d spent in Manila. When George, Hibbert and George Hill of the Pacers and Parsons, Lin and other Rockets went out in public, the Filipino fans were excited and crowded round to get a look and snap photos, but also kept a respectful distance. There was none of the fear-for-your-life frenzy that marked the Rockets’ first visit to China with Yao Ming in 2004. Of course, the din should come Sunday when the teams make the hop across the South China Sea and Lin plays his first game in Taipei.

Singing, Dancing & Bonding With Dwight


dwight1

Dwight Howard (left) has been all smiles during Houston’s trip to the Philippines.

MANILA, Philippines – In the daylight hours halfway around the globe, Dwight Howard is playing the role of a wrecking ball as he keeps sending his fellow Rockets big men away limping and bruised from practice. So far, Greg Smith, Donatas Motiejunas, Omer Asik and Terrence Jones have all workouts wearing ice packs, bandages and grimaces.

But away from the court, the All-Star center showed his mellow, playful side for guests of the Rockets as a singer and dancer at a reception in the team hotel.

Howard recruited rookies Isaiah Canaan and Robert Covington as his backup crew — Dwight & the Pips? — while he crooned his version of R Kelly’s I Believe I Can Fly and then showed off his footwork outside the low post as they did the Cha Cha Slide.

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“It’s all about having fun, being with my teammates and forming the kind of bonds that will help us stay together during the season,” Howard said.

Let’s face it. The Pacers could have packed up their sleeping bags and the ingredients for s’mores and found a quiet corner of Indiana to have a solid camping experience without having to travel halfway around the world. The Rockets could hidden away in the vast open spaces of Texas and Howard could sang and danced the Cotton Eyed Joe without flying across the International Dateline.

But for all logistical difficulties of getting to Southeast Asia and for all the marketing and business deals that at the root of such an event, the players do believe there can be real value of such an experience.

“I think traveling overseas on a trip like this is good for us at a time in our development,” said Rockets guard James Harden. “Here, 20 hours away, from home there’s a lot more bonding. It’s great for us. We’re so new to each other, so it’s the most important thing right now.

“Our chemistry has risen to another level as far as us hanging out outside of basketball. Whether it’s dinner, whether it’s us just going to the mall, doing small things like that, those are stepping stones to playing better on the court.”

Pacer forward Paul George nods his head with approval.

“Any team, even one that has had some success in the playoffs like we did last year, can come together more to close the gaps, to become even more of a unit,” he said. “And I think when you all travel together like this, when you are spending so much time around each other, it speeds up that process. It might be hard on our bodies, but I do think coming here to the Philippines and sharing the cultural experience is good for us as a team.”

The level of outside distractions will only increase exponentially for Jeremy Lin when the teams travel to Taiwan on the weekend, where he’ll be the center of attention.

“I think training camp is a bonding experience no matter where you have it, but the fact that we’re coming over here to play games … it’s different,” he said. “Playing games is where you have extra potential to make even stronger bonds.

“I think we’re closer. It’s natural … We have receptions and other obligations and we still hang out together after that. We spend a lot of time…getting to know each other and that’s an important thing.”

Even when there’s a 6-foot-11 center with a creaky voice singing a bit off key.

“It gives us a chance to get away from everything and just be with each other,” Howard said “The bus rides, the little things that we do.

‘We just get an opportunity to be with each other, especially with a team like this with a couple new guys, to get that opportunity to really bond, to know each other, the personalities. It think it’s really great and it’s going to help us in the season, because we already have a special bond that we developed.”

Not to mention a nightclub act.

In Philippines, Passion For NBA Runs Deep

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MANILA, Philippines – It could have been the high-pitched busload of school kids that shrieked its giddy joy and approval as they passed by on the traffic circle while All-Stars Dwight Howard, James Harden and the rest of the Rockets were lining up for a team photo in front of the giant-sized steel globe outside the Mall of Asia.

2013 Global Games - Philippines

Fans mob Paul George during his visit to a local basketball court in Pasay City in Manila.

It could have been the pulsing throng of photographers and well-wishers that swarmed and followed Hall of Fame legend Larry Bird’s every step, even two decades past his retirement, now just trying to find his way to a team bus in his current role as Pacers president of basketball operations.

But to truly get to the depth of the passion Filipinos possess for the NBA, one needed to look no further than the jubilant crowd inside the Cuneto Astrodome. The cozy gym in the Pasay City section of Manila, which regularly hosts neighborhood rec league play, was interrupted during an afternoon “drop-in” visit by George Hill, Paul George and Jalen Rose.

A young bespectacled fellow was standing almost slack-jawed at courtside.

“Oh man, I’ve been following George Hill since his days at IUPUI,” said 24-year-old Lorenzo Hortaleza. “The San Antonio Spurs have been my favorite team since 1999 and I was excited when they drafted him a few years ago. I was disappointed at first when they traded him to Indiana, but now it gives me a reason to be a fan of the Pacers, too.

That half a world away somebody actually had taken notice of a player from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis would be generally regarded as surprise. That is, anywhere but in the basketball-mad nation of the Philippines where the game is as much a staple as lumpia and pancit.

Love of basketball woven into everyday life

When the Rockets traveled less than a decade ago to Beijing and Shanghai to play a pair of preseason games against the Kings, it was mostly an acknowledgement and celebratory homecoming for 7-foot-6 center Yao Ming. As the same time, the league was making a foothold in the China market, where the first live broadcast of an NBA game had been the 1994 Finals between Houston and New York.

However, long before it became fashionable to pull on NBA shirts, jackets and assorted merchandise in China and the rest of Asia, the NBA had an established passionate following in the Philippines that frankly outstrips the rest of the world — even as commissioner David Stern continues to plant the NBA’s marketing flag in every far corner of the planet.

This year’s Global Games are part of the largest schedule of international games with 12 teams playing 10 games in 10 cities in seven countries. The league is playing games for the first time in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Bilboa, Spain and Manchester, England. But here in Manila, the wait has been the longest and the interest runs deeper than the Marianas Trench.

The raw numbers don’t lie. NBA.com gets more page views and the league’s social media presence on Facebook and Twitter has more “likes” and “follows” from the Philippines than any country outside the United States. The Facebook page of the two-time defending champion Heat has more “likes” from Manila than from Miami, in part due to the Filipino roots of coach Erik Spoelstra.

2013 Global Games - Philippines

Jeremy Lin (center) talks with reporters before the Rockets’ practice at the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila.

But the level of interest in the game is about far more than just one favorite son. The sport that was reportedly introduced by American missionaries more than a century ago has been an integral part of the sports fabric of the Philippines since the 1930s.

“The only reason I know a little about that is because I have a neighbor who’s Filipino and he’s often asked me to sign things for him to send back here to friends and relatives,” said Pacers forward David West. “Even then, it’s one thing to think that somebody has a group that follows the NBA. It’s entirely different to hear the numbers about the support we get from the Philippines. It’s staggering. It’s humbling. It gives these games that we’re going to be playing here a little bit more weight, even tough it’s preseason. These people have waited a long, long time to see something like this, to have us here. It’s important that we honor their commitment to us.”

The league has been sending emissaries here since 1975 when Knicks legend Walt Frazier headed up a team of NBA players. Eight members of the 1979 Washington Bullets championship team visited, Shaquille O’Neal led a dunking delegation in 1997 and in 2011 it was an All-Star collection that included Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant and Harden.

Even though Thursday’s game (7:30 AM ET, NBA TV) does not count in the regular-season standings, it is a significant step of progress and recognition for what has long been the league’s hotbed of international interest.

“This means everything to us,” said Glenn Agranzamendez, 35, who plays regularly in the games at the Cuneta Astrodome. “This is a country that loves sports. We love boxing, Manny Pacquiao. But basketball is by far the most popular sport, the favorite of the country. You should have seen what it was like here when we had the Asian Championship in Manila this summer.”

The Philippines posted a 7-2 record overall, lost to Iran in the finals and qualified for a spot in the FIBA World Championship in 2014.

“It was craziness,” Agranzamendez said. “It was like bedlam everywhere. This place is crazy about basketball.”

It is a place where basketball goals — regulation size or makeshift backboards — can be found around almost every corner. It’s also where, as Rafe Bartholomew noted in his book, Pacific Rims: Beerman Ballin’ in Flip-Flops and the Philippines’ Unlikely Love Affair With Basketball, your average street game can find amazing moves made often in bare feet or sandals by a population where the average height is 5-foot-5.

There is a devoted following of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), which plays assorted competitions virtually year-round.

Manila is a city where basketball is ubiquitous. The dozens of players ranging from four years old to their forties who took part in shooting games with Hill, George and Rose on Tuesday wore an assortment of jerseys that represented the Rockets, Nuggets, Nets, Lakers, Bulls and even one throwback Sonics number.

Fans more than just star-watchers

2013 Global Games - Philippines

Hundreds of fans turn out for a local basketball clinic as part of 2013 Global Games in Manilla, Philippines.

When a group of Rockets players went cruising through the Mall of Asia on a sightseeing expedition Monday night, they were recognized and followed immediately. Of course, it probably didn’t help that Donatas Motiejunas wore a Rockets practice shirt.

“Yeah, he kind of gave us away,” said Jeremy Lin, who had tried to go incognito with a ball cap pulled down over his face. “We gave him a little grief about that.”

It is a far cry from 1988 when Rockets coach Kevin McHale was a member of the Celtics team that played in the first preseason international game, the McDonald’s Cup, held in Spain.

“Yeah, we did the first global trip and I don’t think anybody at that time ever envisioned coming one day over to the Philippines or going to Taiwan and how huge the NBA would become globally,” McHale said. “I think it’s great for the game. I think our guys get exposed to a whole new culture. It’s something that a lot of guys, if they didn’t take a trip here with the Houston Rockets or Indiana Pacers, in their whole lives would never get to this part of the world. I think it’s good. I’m amazed at where the NBA has grown from the fall of 1980 when I entered the league as a rookie.

“When we were in Spain, whatever year that was, I was real surprised that there were fans there that had Celtics jerseys and the kind of knowledge they had about us. They weren’t just wearing the shirts. They were fan-fans.

“Hey, I got in the league in the fall of 1980 and in my first time to play in The Finals (1981) it was taped delayed and my parents couldn’t even watch it how. So I’m thinking, ‘How in the hell could those people in Spain watch it and know who we are?’

“One thing that surprised me was the amount of Celtics jerseys and stuff that followed us around. Look, maybe at the time there were really only 500 Celtic fans in all of Spain and it just so happened they all came out at once to see us. I don’t know. But I’ll tell you, to see this stuff now, to see the reception we’re getting halfway around the world in the Philippines, wow, it makes you shake your head. Somebody’s doing something right.”

Since the days of Yao as the symbolic tall bridge across the Pacific to a burgeoning Asian market, the NBA has held more than 125 international events in 27 different countries and 67 cities. The league has 125,000 retail locations in 100 countries and a commercial presence on every continent except Antarctica.

Now, decades after the average Filipino sports fan engaged in the classic Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird rivalry and debate, the NBA has finally come to Manila for the most practical of business reasons — the shiny Mall of Asia Arena that opened in 2012. All around the world, the Global Games are tipping off in far-flung cities with NBA-caliber arenas, complete with luxury suites. Ticket prices for the Rockets and Pacers run as high as $700 for the best seats, a price that is well beyond the means of most of the citizens. Yet, the game will be sold out.

It is quite one thing for a bus load of school kids to recognize stars such as Howard, Harden and Lin. But stand outside the team bus as the players disembark for practice and listen to one nearby arena worker who has nudged a companion.

“Look, that’s Patrick Beverley,” he said.

The NBA passion here truly runs deep.

BWB Africa: Fulfilling The Dreams

Basketball Without Borders Africa

NBA players, coaches and others attended the Basketball Without Borders camp in Johannesburg.

HANG TIME, Texas – It was just a few days after the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that Kyrie Irving saw other dreams.

They were in one of the impoverished townships outside of Johannesburg. They were in classrooms where hungry minds craved answers for a better life. They were on the basketball courts where raw talent gathered to show their skills and sought a way out. They were on so many of the faces that crossed his path during the 11th edition of Basketball Without Borders, Africa.

“In my short NBA career, I’ve had lots of great experiences,” said the Cavs’ 21-year-old point guard during a phone conversation from South Africa. “Just being in the league, winning Rookie of the Year, playing against guys that I looked up to. But being here is an amazing experience in a completely different way.

“Kids are kids no matter where you go in the world and they’re always going to get a smile out of you and make you happy. But these kids that we’ve worked with here in the camps and the younger kids that we’ve met in the schools, they seem to draw even more out of you, because of the environment they come from.

“I’ve traveled around a bit and taken part in some UNICEF programs in the past. You think you’ve seen some situations that are bad. But the poverty in Africa is overwhelming. There are levels of poverty that I’m not sure we can understand as Americans without actually having been here.

“Some of the kids knew my name, who I was, where I played in the NBA. Others didn’t. All they wanted was somebody to be with them and be there for them. That’s the way we have to approach it — help one kid at a time.”

Basketball without Borders is the NBA and FIBA’s global basketball development and social responsibility program that aims to create positive social change in the areas of education, health, and wellness. To date, there have been 36 BWB camps in 21 cities across 18 countries on five continents.

The program has featured more than 150 current and former NBA/WNBA players and nearly 140 NBA team personnel from all 30 NBA teams as camp coaches and mentors.

The inaugural BWB camp was in July 2001 led by former NBA players Vlade Divac and Toni Kukoc, for 50 children from five nations of the former Yugoslavia. In 2013, BWB were held in three countries on three continents: Argentina, Portugal and South Africa.

FIBA and local federations help identify 50 to 65 of the top basketball players 18 and under from countries across the related continent to attend.

BWB has featured over 1,700 campers from over 120 countries and 28 BWB campers have been drafted into the NBA. There are currently 11 BWB alumni on NBA rosters: Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors/Lithuania; Donatas Motiejunas, Rockets/Lithuania; Enes Kanter, Jazz/Turkey; Greivis Vasquez, Kings/Venezuela; Omri Casspi, Rockets/Israel; Luc Mbah A Moute, Kings/Cameroon; Danilo Gallinari, Nuggets/Italy; Nicolas Batum, Trail Blazers/France; Marco Belinelli, Spurs/Italy; Marc Gasol, Grizzlies/Spain; Andrea Bargnani, Knicks/Italy.

Four former BWB campers were drafted in 2013: Sergey Karasev, Cavaliers/Russia; Kelly Olynyk, Celtics/Canada; Gorgui Dieng, Timberwolves/Senegal; Arsalan Kazemi, 76ers/Iran.

Other NBA players in South Africa were: Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka and Hasheem Thabeet of the Thunder, Jerryd Bayless of the Grizzlies; Bismack Biyombo of the Bobcats, Luol Deng of the Bulls, Al Horford of the Hawks and NBA Global Ambassador Dikembe Mutombo.

NBA coaches took part, too, including Tyrone Corbin (Jazz); Luca Desta (Mavericks); Mark Hughes (Knicks); BJ Johnson (Rockets); Jamahl Mosley (Cavaliers); Patrick Mutombo (Nuggets); Monty Williams (Pelicans) and ex-Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins.

The BWB program has been a favorite of Dikembe Mutombo, who attended the first in Johannesburg more than a decade ago.

“The biggest difference that I see from when we held the first camp here is the level of play,” Mutombo said. “Back then, a lot of guys were just lucky to be able to get into the gym and show a little bit. Now they’re getting coaching, getting direction and they are giving themselves a real chance for a better life.

“We all know that it is a long shot for anyone to make it into the NBA, even more when you’re coming from the background of Africa. That’s why the real goal for a lot of these kids is to come here and attract attention and maybe get an opportunity to come to the United States for a high school education, to play basketball and then maybe to attend an American university.

“To me, that’s how we make the world, and Africa in particular, a better place. We lift these kids up, educate them and hopefully many of them will return to their countries and try to make things better.”

Irving recalled that he had learned about apartheid in schools while he was growing up, but that had not prepared him for an up-close experience with people who had lived through it.

“To me, Steve Biko and Hector Pieterson were names I read in books,” Irving said. “But here I’m walking where they walked and talking with their people. It’s had more of an impact. It makes me know that I want to come back to Africa and do what I can in the future.”

The 47-year-old Mutombo, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, rarely misses an opportunity. He had spent millions of his own dollars building a hospital in his mother’s name in his homeland and has spent more to erect dormitories and classrooms during his many BWB trips to South Africa.

“On the anniversary of Dr. King’s speech, I took time to stop and think,” Mutombo said. “I have achieved so many blessings in my life after a childhood of poverty. I achieved a dream of working and getting noticed and getting myself an education.

“I realized a dream of playing basketball for a living and having the NBA doors open for me. I realized a dream of making a fortune and being able to use it to go back home and help my people. I realized a dream to build a hospital in my country.

“We all have to dream because big things are possible, especially in a world that has gotten smaller with things like cell phones and Facebook and Twitter.

“I tell these young players that come here that we’re all connected. What Dr. King was talking about fifty years ago was not African-American dreams or American dreams. These are human dreams all over the world and every time I come here see a young player like Kyrie with his eyes wide open on his first trip, I feel like we can fulfill more.”

Howard An Upgrade For Houston, But Role Players Still Critical

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Say what you want about the way Dwight Howard has carried himself away from the basketball court over the last couple of years, the way he has held the basketball world hostage on multiple occasions, and the way he walked away from the Lakers less than a year after requesting a trade out of Orlando. Feel free to question his character or his ability to be a leader.

The bottom line is that he’s an impact player on both ends of the floor and the Houston Rockets are happy to have him (assuming he doesn’t change his mind in the next five days). Over the last five seasons, Howard’s teams have outscored their opponents by 1,989 points with him on the floor and have been outscored by 231 points with him on the bench.

Highest raw +/-, last five seasons
Player +/-
LeBron James +3,330
Dwyane Wade +2,055
Dwight Howard +1,989
Tim Duncan +1,872
Kobe Bryant +1,822

Plus-minus always needs context, but a five-year sample speaks of both talent (on both offense and defense) and durability. And over the last five years, only two players have had a higher plus-minus than Howard (see table to the right), who didn’t have much of a supporting cast until he went to L.A.

Last season, though his mobility was limited as he recovered from back surgery, Howard still made an impact defensively. The Lakers allowed just 101.7 points per 100 possessions – which would rank 10th in the league – with him on the floor, but 107.8 – which would rank 28th – with him on the bench. Their weak-side defense was consistently atrocious, but he held them together with his paint protection.

(In 586 minutes with Howard on the floor and Kobe Bryant on the bench, L.A. allowed just 98.7 points per 100 possessions, a mark which would rank third, behind only Indiana and Memphis.)

When Howard was on the floor, only 31.7 percent of opponent shots came from the restricted area. When he was on the bench, that number was 37.3 percent. Not only did he keep opponents away from the basket, but the Lakers also fouled less and rebounded better when he was on the floor. Those numbers are a reflection on the guys replacing him as much as they are on Howard, as well as an indication that the Lakers’ defense will be awful next season.

Omer Asik is a very good defensive center himself. In fact, Rockets opponents only attempted 30.3 percent of their shots from the restricted area with Asik on the floor last season. And his on-off-court DefRtg differential (5.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) was almost the same as Howard’s (6.0).

Asik isn’t the shot-blocker that Howard is, but he doesn’t foul quite as much and was a better defensive rebounder than Howard last season. Asik grabbed 30.3 percent of available defensive boards when he was on the floor, while Howard grabbed 27.5 percent.

We can expect Howard to be more mobile and, therefore, more of a defensive force next season. And he’ll play more than the 30.0 minutes per game that Asik logged for Houston last year. An additional six minutes of great defense every night is worth about three spots in the defensive rankings and two more wins in the standings.

But if the Rockets are to improve from 17th in defensive efficiency to the top 10 (where a team needs to be in order to truly contend for a title), they’ll need better D on the perimeter in addition to the upgrade from Asik to Howard. (It’s assumed here that they trade Asik before the season. If they have both centers, then they have 48 minutes of rim protection, a top 10 defense, and less depth on the perimeter.)

Offense is where Howard is a bigger upgrade over Asik. In his three-year career, Asik has shot 56 percent – worse than the league average – in the restricted area. In the same three seasons, Howard has shot 68 percent in the restricted area. A bigger target with better hands, he also gets more shots there.

The Rockets ranked sixth offensively last season, scoring 106.7 points per 100 possessions. Only two teams – Denver and Detroit – took a greater percentage of their shots from the restricted area, only one – New York – took a greater percentage of its shots from 3-point range, and only three – the Lakers, Thunder and Nuggets – attempted more free throws.

Turnovers were an problem. The Rockets committed 16.6 of them – most in the league – per 100 possessions. Asik was responsible for a lot of them, but Howard’s turnover rate was almost as bad in L.A. And Houston will make up for the miscues by taking the right shots and getting to the line.

The shooting numbers from the field should be even more extreme next season, because Howard isn’t going to be shooting many pick-and-pop, mid-range jumpers. And, of course, about a third of L.A.’s free throws are moving to Houston. James Harden and Howard ranked first and third, respectively, in free throw attempts last season. Now, they’re both on the same team and foul trouble for Houston opponents promises to be a regular occurrence.

For the Rockets to reach optimum efficiency, Howard needs to shoot better from the line. Over his last two seasons, he has shot just 49 percent on free throws, making each trip worth only 0.98 points. Over his first seven seasons, each trip was worth 1.20 points, more than a shot from the field (1.15 points).

Either way, the Harden/Howard pick and roll promises to be deadly, especially if the Rockets surround the pair with 3-point shooting. Chandler Parsons (38 percent from beyond the arc last season) is a good start, but more shooters are needed and Carlos Delfino (38 percent) will be missed. Bringing back Francisco Garcia (37 percent) on a minimum contract (a deal reported Saturday afternoon) is a good move. But if Houston can’t pry Ryan Anderson from the Pelicans, the development of Donatas Motiejunas as a stretch four will be critical.

So Rockets general manager Daryl Morey still has some work to do. He’s acquired two stars in the last 10 months, but needs to build the right supporting cast around them. And it’s all about perimeter defense and perimeter shooting.

Air Check: When A Call Goes Wrong

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – For NBA fans like us, there’s nothing better than League Pass. Having the ability to watch every game every night (and then again the next day) is heaven.

Of course, with local broadcasts, you get local broadcasters, which can be good and bad. It can be good, because these guys know their teams better than most national broadcasters. It can be bad, because these guys love their teams more than most national broadcasters. And they’re usually not afraid to show that love.

The national guys aren’t perfect either. And if they’re not careful, they may be featured here, where we highlight the best and worst of NBA broadcasts.

Here are a few more moments that made us laugh, made us smarter, or made us shake our heads.

Last Week: Showing Their Colors

1. The dagger that wasn’t

Game: Detroit @ Washington, Feb. 27
Broadcast: Washington


You’ve seen this play and heard Steve Buckhantz‘s call already, but we obviously had to include it here. It’s sort of uncomfortably hilarious.

But guess what? The Pistons announcers got the call wrong, too. And frankly, I thought the ball went in as well … and I already knew it didn’t.

Under the weather, I crashed early on Wednesday. When I woke up Thursday morning, I had an e-mail telling me that we needed to include the blown call “of Trevor Ariza’s missed shot” in the next Air Check.

So I knew the call was wrong. I knew the shot didn’t go in. And when I pulled up the game on my iPad, I knew the final score. But when I watched the play, I thought, for a split second, that the ball went through the basket.

So yeah, it was a tough moment for Buckhantz. But if you read this interview with Sarah Kogod, you’ll understand that he had a bad angle. And we’ll take a mistake like that over some of the other nonsense we hear on League Pass from time to time.

2. Classic Tommy

Game: Chicago @ Boston, Feb. 13
Broadcast: Boston


Tommy Heinsohn is an unapologetic Celtics homer. Heck, he’s been a part of the Celtics organization for most of the last 57 years. And of course, Heinsohn can go a little over the top with his analysis of officials’ calls. This one is a perfect example.

He calls the official “terrible” and says that Avery Bradley “plays this perfect.” As the replay clearly shows that Bradley didn’t beat Nate Robinson to the sideline and fouled Robinson with his shoulder, Heinsohn gets louder. “PLAYS IT PERFECT!”

“You couldn’t have played it any better than Bradley played it.”

Not really. But that’s Tommy.

3. Donatas’ Never-Before-Seen Post Moves

Game: Dallas @ Houston, March 3
Broadcast: Houston


I’ve watched this play more than a dozen times and I’m still not sure I see a travel. It’s possible that Donatas Motiejunas‘ left foot was his original pivot foot, and then he switched it to the right. He gathers the ball and makes his move so quickly that it’s hard to tell. But that’s not really the point.

What’s hilarious is Matt Bullard‘s insinuation that referee David Jones, with his 23 years of NBA experience, has never seen a move like that before.

“That’s the problem with young players in this league,” Bullard says. “The officials have not seen their moves. I think D-Mo surprised not only the Mavericks’ defender, but also the official.”

It’s also kind of funny that this was the fourth possession of the game and we’re already getting into the complaints about the officiating.

Bullard does take back his complaint after seeing the replay and Clyde Drexler notes that, you know, officials are good at their jobs. But it’s the instinct to immediately complain about a call against your team that’s bothersome.

4. Actually, he’s from Brooklyn

Game: Oklahoma City @ Denver, Jan. 20
Broadcast: Denver


Scott Hastings‘ absurd homerism was noted in last week’s post. We should probably give him some time before a second mention, but this one was so ridiculous, it couldn’t wait. Hastings continues to feed conspiracy theorists and question the ethics of NBA officials with unsubstantiated comments.

Late in a close game, Ty Lawson gets his hand on a Russell Westbrook pass, and official Mark Lindsay says the ball went off of Kevin Durant. Then Hastings takes over.

“Scottie Brooks runs to his guy Zach Zarba and says, ‘Hey can you review this?'”

“His guy.”

The officials indeed decide to review the call, because the best thing to do is make sure that the calls was right. And then Hastings chimes in one more time.

“Zach lives down around Tulsa or some place,” he says.

Yikes.

***

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

How Many 3s Does It Take To Insult You?


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HOUSTON — Now, if the question ever comes up and you have a chance to win a bar bet, you’ll know.

How many 3-pointers in a single NBA game does it take to make an insult?

The answer, evidently, is 23.

That’s the NBA record-tying number poured in by the Rockets on Tuesday night that finally got under the Warriors’ skin.

Not 17, 18 or 19. Not 20, 21 or 22.

23.

It wasn’t until there were just under four minutes left in a 140-109 thumping and 7-footer Donatas Motiejunas slung one in from the right corner that it seemed to occur to anyone wearing a Golden State jersey that this was just a bit embarrassing.

So with the Toyota Center crowd on its feet and chanting: “One more three! One more three!” the Warriors decided it was time to play with whatever pride — if any — they had left.

Which then resulted in the final three minutes more closely resembling recess at an elementary school. The Rockets kept running their offense and shooting 3s. Houston reserve Patrick Beverley hammered home a dunk, then taunted the Warrior bench and drew a technical foul.

Golden State’s Draymond Green was flagged for a Flagrant Foul 2 and ejected when Beverley tried to let fly with a corner jumper in front of the Warriors’ bench. Houston’s Marcus Morris was hit with a technical and tossed out on the same play.

In the final two minutes, the Warriors would not let the Rockets even attempt a 3 in order to break the record. Warriors coach Mark Jackson ordered his players to foul the Rockets intentionally on each possession.

“We’re not going to lay down,” said Jackson, ignoring the fact that his team already had. “I’m an old-school basketball player and an old-school coach. If you can’t appreciate that, that’s on you.

“We’re not going to lay down. If you’re going to get the record, we’re going to stop it. There is a way to do it, that’s all. Understand it, appreciate it and I would expect nothing less if I was on the other side.”

Rockets coach Kevin McHale just happens to be an old-school guy himself. You can tell from his limp. And also from searching on YouTube for a clip of him clotheslining the Lakers’ Kurt Rambis in Game 4 of the 1984 NBA Finals.

“We just had to keep playing,” McHale said. “I really didn’t even know we had a chance to break the record until late in the game. We shoot a lot of 3s, that’s just what we do. If we were to get them in the flow, we get going to get them. Mark didn’t want it to happen and fouled and I didn’t have no problem with how they played. Mark’s got to coach his team. I have no problem with that.”

For 44 minutes, the Warriors didn’t seem to have a problem with anything the Rockets did either. Otherwise you’d think they might have played just a little bit of defense.

“At the end of the day, we just continued to play,” Morris said. “… And we were just taking the shots the defense was giving.”

Until the Warriors decided they’d had enough.

How many 3-pointers does it take to make an insult?

If you’re asked, remember to shout: “23!”

Then duck.

Old School Rules or New Age Touchy Feely?

Round Two is Tuesday night in Oakland.