Posts Tagged ‘Hakeem Olajuwon’

Hakeem to Dwight: It’s mind that matters

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: What does it take to come back from a 3-1 deficit?

HOUSTON — It was 20 years ago when I entered a Rockets locker room in Phoenix and got a lesson in mind games.

Hakeem Olajuwon was sitting at a stall in the cramped room for the visiting team, lacing up his sneakers. His Rockets had lost the first two games at home to Charles Barkley and the Suns, then won Game 3 in the desert.

Still the Rockets were the team in the hole just a little more than an hour before tipoff of Game 4 when I mentioned to Olajuwon that the heat and the pressure were again on his team.

He looked up, smiled peacefully and reached out to pull a folding chair up next to his.

“Sit down and let me explain,” Olajuwon said. “The pressure is all on Phoenix. Because they know if we go back home 2-2 they will have wasted having the advantage. The know we will win Game 5 at home. They will have to fight to survive in Game 6 and then they will not have a chance in Game 7 in Houston. That is why they will feel the pressure. They know they must win tonight.”

The Suns didn’t. The Rockets won in seven and the legend of Clutch City was born.

Fast forward to 1995. This time Barkley and the Suns built a 3-1 lead on the Rockets. This time Barkley and the Suns had home-court advantage.

This time I was sure I had Olajuwon backed into the corner when I approached him again about an hour before Game 5. Now the situation was reversed and the Rockets were the ones on the ropes. He saw me coming.

“Where’s your chair?” he asked with that impish grin.

I sat down and he was immediately off making twists and turns of logic and faith and resolute determination.

“Phoenix must win tonight,” he said. “If they don’t end the series, they know we will go back to Houston and win Game 6. Then we come back here and the pressure to win Game 7 will be so great. They will be tight. They will be tense. They will be afraid to fail and that often leads to failure.”

Which it did. And the Rockets went on to win their second consecutive NBA championship.

Mind games.

That’s where the Rockets are today, trailing the Trail Blazers 3-1 with their toes and their season dangling over the edge.

That’s where Olajuwon comes back in. The Hall of Famer didn’t just work with Dwight Howard on his post moves at practice Tuesday. He worked on his head.

“It is deceiving if you look at the situation as 3-1,” Olajuwon said. “I told Dwight, I told all of them, that the situation is just one game and then everything changes around.”

Three of the first four games have gone to overtime, every Blazers win by five points or less.

Let Kevin McHale and his coaching staff worry about the X’s and O’s, the juggling of the playing rotation, the tweaks to the lineup, how to corral LaMarcus Aldridge. The greatest player in franchise history says all the Rockets have to do is have the right attitude.

“This is the Rockets’ chance not just to win a game, but to dominate, to take control of every play, every possession at both ends of the court and take over the series,” Olajuwon said. “If you think about it, this should be the most free, the most easy game the Rockets have played in the playoffs. Play that way and everything changes.”

That’s how the great ones from Bill Russell to Larry Bird to Magic Johnson to Michael Jordan to Hakeem always climbed the ladder. They played to thrive, not just survive. They never felt their backs were against the wall, because they simply refused to acknowledge the very existence of the wall. The problem is never theirs, but one that belongs to the other guy.

“Portland is feeling good about themselves right now,” Olajuwon said. “They have won three times and they have a chance to close it all out in Game 5. But they better, because if you think about it, this next game is their best chance. If they lose this game, if you punish them, dominate them, you plant that doubt.”

Those Rockets of 1994 and 1995 were a veteran bunch. From Hakeem to Otis Thorpe to Vernon Maxwell to Clyde Drexler to Kenny Smith to Mario Elie, they had been around more than a few basketball blocks. By the second time around, even the youngest bricks in their wall — Robert Horry and Sam Cassell — had lived through the crucible of the first experience.

These Rockets, as far as playoff pedigrees, mostly couldn’t be more wet behind the ears if you tossed them into the ocean.

“That’s why I told Dwight that it’s up to him to set the pace,” Olajuwon said. “He and James Harden are the veterans. But he is the center. He is the one the game goes around, on offense and on defense. Set the pace. Come out strong.

“I am excited about what I see from Dwight since the beginning of the season. I watch and I see many of the things that we’ve worked on coming out in his game. I see moves. I see a jumper that could be a bigger weapon in the future. I see aggressiveness in him that is becoming more consistent.”

What he wants to see, what he needs to see now, is a team leader that doesn’t recognize the current predicament as anything but an opportunity.

Two decades later, a seat in another folding chair and another lesson, for me and for Howard.

“Like I told him,” said Olajuwon, “3-1 is just going out and having fun.”

Mind games.

MVP only half the battle for Durant

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant has more than just the MVP trophy on his mind this year

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kevin Durant really was tired of being No. 2, finishing second, being a groomsman and never the … you get where this is going.

When the Oklahoma City Thunder star declared earlier this season that he was tired of leading a life filled with being second best, dating as far back to his prep days to Draft night and all the way through his first six seasons in the NBA, he meant every word.

Once the ballots come in for the KIA MVP Award, Durant should finally be able to shed that No. 2 label. He’s already achieved as much in our eyes, topping reigning back-to-back and four-time MVP LeBron James and the rest of a star-studded field for the No. 1 spot on the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder.

Durant has already claimed his fourth scoring title in just seven NBA seasons. But has he played his way into that intergalactic category with some of the other universal superstars — James, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker and Kevin Garnett rank among the active MVP or Finals MVPs still in business today?

Could be. He certainly has all of the credentials necessary for inclusion … well, everything but the official word that he is the most valuable player in the NBA. And even that might not be enough validation for Durant, who holds himself to a championship standard.

NBA TV research ace Kevin Cottrell agrees that Durant has only finished half the battle, provided he walks off with KIA MVP honors. Oh yes, there’s definitely more to be done this season …

Spoiler alert: Kevin Durant will win his first ever Most Valuable Player award.

Durant is average career highs in points (32.0) and assists (5.5) while shooting 50.5% from the field. K.D. winning the award may come as no surprise but the odds of him doing so in route to winning a title may shock you.

Since the inception of the MVP award (1955-56), the hardware has been handed out 57 times. There have been 36 players to win the award however only seven first time MVP winners went on to win a title in the same season.

​Surely Durant can make it eight but it’s been 20 years since we’ve last seen it done. The 1993-94 award went to Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon after which he led them to their first of two NBA titles. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the other six players to join Olajuwon in this feat are no doubt Hall-of-Famers (as seen below) but there are many other legends that didn’t make the cut.

First Time MVPs to win a title in same season
56-57–Bob Cousy (Celtics)
69-70–Willis Reed (Knicks)
70-71–Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (as Lew Alcindor)- Bucks
83-84–Larry Bird (Celtics)
86-87–Magic Johnson (Lakers)
99-00–Shaquille O’Neal (Lakers)
93-94–Hakeem Olajuwon (Rockets)

​Keep in mind 5-time MVP Michael Jordan was occupied with batting cages when Olajuwon won in 1994. As for Durant, former MVPs Tim Duncan and LeBron James still stands in his way.

Consider this, despite the greatness of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Julius Erving, Jordan, Duncan and James, none of those luminaries were able to win a title the same year they captured their first MVP award.

​There’s so much energy exerted throughout an 82-game season, one can only imagine how tough it would be for a player to win the MVP award for the first time and have enough left for the post season. The edge for Durant may be his 2012 Finals appearance, which resulted in disappointment and ultimately the fuel needed to elevate his game to another level.

​Let me be the first to congratulate Durant and lead the applause on becoming the 37th different player to be named League MVP. It truly is an honor.

So prepare for your twitter mentions to hit a new high.

However, if @KDtrey5 can find a way to become the eighth player to win his first MVP award and a title in the same season, his mentions will far surpass social media.

#All-TimeGreats


VIDEO: Kevin Durant has put up fantasty-like numbers all season for the Thunder

Dirk bumps ‘Big O’ to arrive at No. 10

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Dirk passes Oscar Robertson for 10th on the all-time scoring list

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Dirk Nowitzki, with a patented fallaway jumper from a few feet off the right elbow, surpassed Oscar Robertson as the NBA’s 10th-all-time leading scorer.

Nowitzki, 35, joins the most exclusive of NBA clubs in which each member is recognized simply by first name or nickname. Dirk, the Dallas Mavericks’ sweet-shooting 7-footer and an original stretch-4, certainly has that covered.

“Amazing, amazing. I mean top 10 is unreal,” Nowitzki said following the 95-83 victory at Utah. “It’s been a crazy ride. Passing Big O, who obviously averaged triple-doubles numerous seasons, is unbelievable. It feels surreal still. All night I wasn’t really trying to think about it, I was trying to concentrate on the next shot. I knew how many points I needed, but I wasn’t really trying to think about it. I was trying to think about the next shot and how I could get open.”

Nowitzki, the 2007 regular-season MVP and 2011 champion and Finals MVP, now has 26,714 career points. He has also surpassed 30,000 total points that includes 128 postseason games.

NBA’s All-Time Top 10 Scorers

1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 38,387

2. Karl Malone, 36,928

3. Michael Jordan, 32,292

4. Kobe Bryant, 31,700

5. Wilt Chamberlain, 31,419

6. Shaquille O’Neal, 28,596

7. Moses Malone, 27,409

8. Elvin Hayes, 27,313

9. Hakeem Olajuwon, 26,946

10. Dirk Nowitzki, 26,714

Nowitzki finished Tuesday night’s crucial 95-83 victory at Utah with a game-high 21 points on 9-for-11 shooting, including 2-for-3 from beyond the arc. He scored 13 points in the first half and moved past Robertson to open the fourth quarter off a pass from Devin Harris.

Fresh off being named the Western Conference’s Player of the Week, a four-game stretch in which he averaged 25.3 ppg, Nowitzki has propelled Dallas to a 4-0 road trip that has it in the driver’s seat to secure one of the final two playoff spots.

The Mavs (48-31) have three games left. They play San Antonio at home on Thursday and then finish with critical games against Phoenix at home on Saturday and then at Memphis on Wednesday.

Nowitzki, who struggled to regain his All-Star form last season after undergoing knee surgery during training camp, was devastated when the Mavs missed the playoffs for the first time since 1999-2000.

He started this season, his 16th, at No. 17 on the league’s all-time scoring list. Along the way he’s moved ahead of Jerry West, Reggie Miller, Alex English, Kevin Garnett, John Havlicek, Dominique Wilkins and now the Big O.

Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant, No. 4 on the all-time list with 31,700 points, 592 behind No. 3 Michael Jordan are the only active players in the top 10.

This is Nowitzki’s final year of his contract, but he has made it clear that he plans to re-sign with the Mavericks for another two or three seasons.

“This is my 30th year in the NBA and one of the few times I’ve truly been in awe of an accomplishment,” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, who has been with Nowitzki since the start of the 2008-09 season. “Top 10 all-time scorer is an unbelievable accomplishment because it’s a level of excellence that’s beyond belief, and then it’s being able to do it over an extended period of time with consistency. So one of the really unique accomplishments.

“And he’s going to keep eating up more people. He’s got a long way to go.”

By this time next season, Nowitzki very well could be the No. 7 all-time scorer in league history. It won’t take him long to track down No. 9 Hakeem Olajuwon (26,946), then No. 8 Elvin Hayes (27,313) and No. 7 Moses Malone (27,409). It might take into the 2015-16 season for Nowitzki to catch No. 6 Shaquille O’Neal, now 1,882 points ahead of Nowitzki.

If he ultimately moves ahead of Shaq, Nowitzki will nestle in nicely, likely for good, behind No. 5 Wilt Chamberlain (31,419).

Not bad for the one-time floppy-haired kid imported from Wurzburg, Germany.

“Like I always say, I think this stuff means more to me when my career is over,” Nowitzki said. “But this is a sweet one. Top 10 is definitely unbelievable.”

Asik insurance works like a Dream

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Omer Asik blocks Luc Mbah A Moute at the rim

The video clips are almost comical, like a string of bad dancing outtakes on YouTube gone viral.

There is 51-year-old Hakeem Olajuwon spinning and whirling and rolling though the lane with the ball in the palm of one hand, moving as graceful as a swan.

Here is Omer Asik looking more than just a little bit like an ugly duckling as he tries to simulate those steps in 1-on-1 workouts following a Rockets practice.

But after having his feathers ruffled by the pursuit and capture of free-agent Dwight Howard last summer, Asik has at long last stopped splashing and is helping keep the Rocket afloat.

After averaging a double-double a year ago in his first season as a starter, this is not the role Omer Asik wanted to play. But it’s the one the Rockets need him to play as Howard has sat out the past three games to rest a strained left ankle.

It’s the reason why Daryl Morey never rushed to deal away Asik during the offseason and why the general manager refused to hit the panic button when the 27-year-old eventually demanded a trade. Morey even went so far as to sit on his hands through a self-imposed deadline to trade his discontented big man back in December.

In short, the sizable Asik is too big an impediment in the middle of the Rockets’ defense and much too huge an insurance policy.

That’s what coach Kevin McHale had maintained all along, even when a failed experiment to play Howard and Asik together in the starting lineup ended after just eight games.

Now, with Howard sidelined and again a game-time decision to play Monday night at Charlotte, Asik has filled in admirably, averaging 11 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.3 blocked shots and 2.3 assists as the Rockets have won three straight games.

“He’s a big part of what we do,” McHale told reporters. “He’s so good defensively, rebounds. He’s right on point with all of his calls defensively. Dwight gets a chance to rest a little bit and Omer gets a chance to play a little bit more. They’re probably both good things.”

There is no reason to think Asik will have a change of heart for the long term benefit of his career. Following his consistent play last season, the 27-year-old has proven that he can be a full-time starter in the league and that is the path he wants to pursue. The Rockets could trade him — and the $15 million he has due on the last year of his contract — this summer, especially if they are trying to clear out salary cap room to pursue Carmelo Anthony.

For now Asik is not only a capable fill-in while Howard mends, but can give the Rockets considerable front-court depth in the playoffs. With a pair of rim-protecting 7-footers in the rotation, the Houston defense can consistently stop opponents from attacking in the paint.

“People are afraid to go in and challenge both of them,” point guard Jeremy Lin told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. “I don’t think anyone thinks of Omer as, ‘Oh, we’re going to pick on Omer tonight.’ Or if they do, they’re dumb. I don’t think anybody is that dumb.”

And Morey wasn’t dumb enough to acquiesce to Asik’s demand for a trade and move what is literally his biggest insurance policy without getting a significant return. Word was that he was seeking a first-round draft pick for Asik. What the front office and the coaching staff counted on was that, after recovering from from thigh and knee injuries that kept him out of action for two months, Asik could be convinced that he’d play a significant role in the Rockets’ drive for the playoffs and hoped-for success in the postseason.

That’s finally come to pass and is the reason why the 7-foot Turk with the often lumbering moves can be seen listening, nodding and taking in pointers from the balletic Olajuwon after practices. They’d never make much of a comfortable dance pair, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t benefits.

“Look at him and look at me,” Asik says with a laugh. “I can never do those things that made Hakeem one of the all-time great players. But he is helping me a lot. He is showing me basic moves and how I can do things to improve.

“He is the best fundamentally, I think, in NBA history. I can’t be like him, but I’m trying to learn something from him.”

Expect Dirk To Get 12th All-Star Nod


VIDEO: Dirk has 28 points and nine boards as the Mavs stop the Pistons

DALLAS – In his final game Sunday night before the Western Conference coaches head to their bunkers to select seven All-Star reserves, Dirk Nowitzki left them with one of those vintage performances that this season has spawned the phrase, “He’s still Dirk.”

“Twenty-eight points in 32 minutes,” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, glancing over the 10-for-16 shooting, the nine rebounds and the four assists. “I guess he’s an All-Star.”

Is he? That is the question.

“This year [I’m] right up there, and we understand there’s always going to be some guys that deserve it and don’t make it, so that’s just the nature of the game,” Nowitzki said after raising his averages to 21.2 ppg and 6.0 rpg in a win over Detroit. “The power forward spot in the West has always been loaded and somebody is going to feel like they’ve been snubbed, but that’s just part of the game.”

The power forward position, plus a couple centers tossed into the new “frontcourt” designation, is loaded with young, thriving talent. The three starters voted in by the fans are 25 (Kevin Durant and Kevin Love) and 24 (Blake Griffin). Two sure-fire reserves, Dwight Howard and LaMarcus Aldridge are both 28. On-the-bubble candidates DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis are 23 and 20, respectively. Serge Ibaka, 24, almost gets lost in the discussion because of the superstar teammates who overshadow him. David Lee, an All-Star last season, is like the older brother of the group at 30.

Nowitzki, 35, and Tim Duncan, 37, are like the godfathers. The West coaches put Duncan back on the All-Star team last season after his 13-year run was snapped in 2012, and seemed over for good. Knee surgery during training camp last season sabotaged Dirk’s 11-year run. Now there’s likely room for only one, if that, legendary old-timer on the 12-man squad.

Have fun, coaches. The reserves for both conferences will be announced Thursday night on TNT.

“He’s a Hall of Fame player, as we all know,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who is prohibited from voting for his own player, and would seem a prime candidate to give Dirk, his decades-long nemesis, the nod. “Dirk basically — modern times so to speak — has really personified that stretch-4 because he scored from everywhere on the court and from distance … and he hasn’t slowed down much, if at all.”

Prevailing wisdom suggests this is Dirk’s — and Duncan’s — best chance to add one last All-Star appearance considering the aforementioned list of bursting, young talent. Dirk, who ranks seventh among forwards in usage percentage and fifth in true shooting percentage, might still have a few more fine seasons left in him beyond this one, just as Duncan has proved post-35, but the next generation will likely be too strong and push him out of All-Star consideration.

Dirk’s edge this season is lifetime achievement. How heavily will coaches weigh career milestones? Likely heavily. He’s surged up the NBA’s all-time scoring list, starting the season at No. 18 and passing Reggie Miller and Jerry West, among others, to move all the way up to No. 13. He’s 412 points from passing John Havlicek for 12th and it’s possible he will catch Oscar Robertson at No. 10 by season’s end.

Dirk recently collected the 1,000th steal of his career and joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, Kevin Garnett and Karl Malone as the only players with 25,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists and 1,000 steals.

“I’ve looked at it pretty closely,” Carlisle said. “He’ll make it. I just have the feeling that he will. You look at his stats, what he’s carrying, the production and the minutes; if he was playing the minutes most of those guys were playing, he’d be a 25-point scorer. So, we’ll see. We’ll see.”

Dirk didn’t think he deserved a spot on the 2012 squad after a slow start to the shortened lockout season. But the coaches weren’t about to let the Finals MVP be swept out of the All-Star Game that easily. They won’t this year either, especially when he’s not exactly a hardship case. In fact, if he does’t make the team, it will be a first of sorts. Five players 35 or older — Malone, Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Michael Jordan and Alex English — have averaged 21 points or more in 11 different seasons. Each time they made the All-Star team.

When his streak did end last season, Nowitzki had little control over it. His right knee required the first surgery of his career during training camp. He missed the first 27 games of the season, probably came back too soon to help save a sinking season and didn’t regain his All-Star form until the second half.

Fending off Father Time (with an eye on a semi-concerning sleeve he again donned on his left knee), Nowitzki has shouldered another near-totally retooled roster to a 26-20 record, good for the last playoff spot in the ultra-competitive West. The Mavs, while inconsistent, not unlike like Nowitzki’s shooting performances, are just 1.5 games behind No. 6 Golden State and three games back of No. 5 Houston, a so-called contender Dallas will attempt to defeat for a third time in four tries at home Wednesday night.

“They still have that big guy from Germany. He’s pretty good,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said earlier this month. “And when you have a player like that, you can put a lot of people around him and they’re going to be better. That’s the effect of a Dirk on your team. I bet Monta’s never seen open shots that he’s seen when you come off a pick and roll with Dirk setting it, so he does make you better.”

Monta Ellis would agree. A fringe All-Star candidate himself, Ellis is averaging 19.2 ppg, about what he averaged last season with Milwaukee, but his 46.2 shooting percentage blows away last season’s mark and is at its highest since 2007-08 with Golden State. He’s finding wide lanes to drive and open jumpers to fire thanks to the defensive attention Dirk draws and the spacing he brings.

How dependent are the Mavs on Dirk? With him and Ellis on the floor, they’re averaging a potent 109.1 points per 100 possessions. With only Ellis on the floor, it drops to 102.7.

Dirk’s net rating of 4.0 is easily the highest among Dallas’ starters, a group in which only center Sam Dalembert (1.6) and Jose Calderon (0.2) also boast positive net ratings.

So is Dirk an All-Star? Bet on the coaches granting him the grand stage, if not for one last hurrah, and leaving the lure of a February beach vacation for the years ahead.

“It always means something to be among the best 12 or 13 players in the West,” Nowitzki said. “It has always been an honor. I’ve always had fun going there and representing the Mavericks the right way — but, I did have some fun at the beach last year, too. Either way, I’ll be happy to go, obviously, and always represent the Mavericks. And if not, then I’ll find something else to do.”

With Change Comes Improvement For Lin


VIDEO: Jeremy Lin shows off an improved 3-point stroke in a win over Philly

HOUSTON — When Jeremy Lin stepped back onto the court at Madison Square Garden two weeks ago, the signs were there. A throng of reporters around his locker, the kind of electrical hum that comes off power lines filling the air.

Linsanity, it was said, had returned, when in fact nothing could have been farther from the truth.

Despite having filled up the hoop with 31 and 34 points in the Rockets’ previous two games, this was not Lin making headlines around the basketball globe with every step, just a guy trying to make shots.

The stats say Lin has been a better shooter this season than last, his field goal percentage is up from 44.1 to 50.6 and his 3-point shooting improved from 33.9 to 39.7.

The eyes say that he is a better player, too. He’s playing with more confidence and a sense of true belonging that’s better than what he had during those surreal 2 1/2 weeks with the Knicks when he (seemingly) had the NBA world in the palm of his hand.

That was a time that was never built to last. These are the days that are determining Lin’s place in the NBA as either a footnote or a foot soldier.

“Jeremy’s played very well, doing the things we’ve asked him to do,” said Rockets coach Kevin McHale. “It’s like I’ve said over and over and like I’ve told Jeremy many times, nobody could ever keep up with that pace of play that he had during those few weeks in New York. It’s just not realistic.

“I always thought there was going to be some leveling off last season when he came to us, but the truth is I was never as disappointed in him as a lot of people on the outside, and maybe Jeremy, were in him. For a guy who was playing what really amounted to his rookie season in the league, I thought he did well and there were things he had to work on.”

The most obvious was Lin’s shot, which had a hitch at the top and rarely looked comfortable as he let the ball fly. He spent the summer breaking the shot down, rebuilding it and learning to repeat it with constant use in workouts with Dwight Howard in Colorado and James Harden in California. Lin doesn’t pause anymore or look to pass the ball when he gets open perimeter shots. In raising his scoring average to 16.3 points per game, Lin has made at least half his attempts 10 times in the Rockets’ first 15 games.

“I’ve seen him shoot the ball all summer,” Howard said. “I know he can shoot the ball. We want him and need him to feel that it’s his place to shoot the ball.”

Lin is doing it while still trying to find his place in the Rockets’ rotation. McHale made the decision to open the season with Pat Beverley as the starting point guard. However, due to injuries to Beverley and Harden, Lin has since started seven games. He played 31 1/2 minutes, scored 14 points and shot 4-for-8 on Monday night as the Rockets came from behind to win at Memphis, but during the comeback Lin was sitting on the bench. As was Howard.

What Lin has improved as much as his shot is his ability to handle change, embrace new roles and ignore all of the outside-the-game distractions.

While the Twitterverse and knee-jerk over-reaction of the online world has tried to stir up a contest or a controversy with Harden and him — it is, you know, supposed to be a team sport — Lin just keeps moving forward. There are still defensive deficiencies, though he is considerably better, and even more attentive there than Harden. There is still the matter of trying to get all of these disparate parts of the Rockets to fit together.

Howard isn’t the explosive low post presence that he used to be back in Orlando either, 1-on-1 tutoring from Hakeem Olajuwon be damned. But there have been the indications that Lin has recovered a bit of the what-do-I-care swagger that was missing from his game last season as he tried to free himself from the weight of Linsanity.

“I’ll never forget that experience and I wouldn’t want to forget any of it,” he said. “There are some negatives in the aftermath that have made some things difficult. But let’s face it, it also opened up a lot of opportunities for me. In the end, I just can’t let it define me.”

Others have done enough of that already, trying to make more of an issue and a stir about his Lin’s shift to a reserve role and his place in the Rockets’ offensive hierarchy. Next season is the $15 million “poison pill” part of his contract the Rockets constructed in his three-year deal that helped sweep him their way. Clever then, indeed. But will Lin be that level of player, able to hold up under the scrutiny that will come again with the big raise?

It’s a question and a problem that can wait. For now, Jeremy Lin is content to take steps.

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 20


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Nov. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

D-Will to play tonight vs. Bobcats | Anthony: ‘We have to figure this out’ | Hakeem can’t wait to help Howard | Nelson gets minutes cut in Orlando

No. 1: D-Will cleared to rejoin Nets — Few teams this early in the season can match the talent/name-recognition level and disappointment that the Brooklyn Nets boast. Off to a 3-7 start and bringing up the caboose of the Atlantic Division with the New York Knicks, the Nets have lost five of their last six games and experienced most of their struggles without star point guard Deron Williams. Brooklyn got a dose of good news yesterday, though, with word that Williams’ troublesome ankle is feeling better and he will be able to play tonight against the Bobcats, writes Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com. Center Brook Lopez may be back in the linup as well.:

The Nets’ starting point guard said he will play at Charlotte on Wednesday after missing the last two games with a sprained ankle. Williams injured his left ankle against Phoenix on Nov. 15 and hasn’t played since.

He practiced Tuesday and said there will be no restrictions on him when he returns.

“Nope,” Williams said when asked if there will be a minutes limit. “I’m going to play.”

The Nets (3-7) have lost five of their last six games and can use their top point guard back. Williams, who missed the majority of camp with a right ankle injury, is averaging 10 points and 6.5 assists per game this season.

“He looked good,” coach Jason Kidd said. “We had a good practice. Deron looked good.”

The Nets’ health is improving at a critical time, as they play five of their next seven on the road. Center Brook Lopez, who has also missed the last two games with a sprained ankle, said he feels good enough to play.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to be, that’s not up to me,” said Lopez, who landed on teammate Kevin Garnett‘s foot during the Nets’ win over the Suns last Friday. “I feel good. I feel like I could play. I’m not the one calling the shots there. We’ve got to think about long-term.”

***

No. 2: Anthony: ‘Got to figure this out’ — In last night’s loss to the Detroit Pistons, Knicks star Carmelo Anthony lost his cool and was whistled for a technical foul in the third quarter and Amar’e Stoudemire was called for one, too, in the fourth quarter. As New York lost its third straight game, Anthony was left searching for answers as a big date with the Indiana Pacers looms tonight, wrties Anthony Rieber of Newsday:

After the Knicks fell to 3-7 with a 92-86 loss to the Pistons Tuesday night, a frustrated Carmelo Anthony was asked to assess just what the heck is going on.

“I don’t know,” Anthony said. “We’re losing. It’s a messed-up feeling. A hurt feeling. Got to figure it out. That’s the only thing I can say about this. We’ve got to figure it out quick.”

How quick? By about 7 p.m. would be nice. That’s when the 9-1 Indiana Pacers will be at the Garden, where the Knicks are 1-5 this season. The Pacers, as you recall, knocked the Knicks out of the playoffs last season.

“I think right now it’s just a matter of wanting it more,” Anthony said. “We’ve got to want it more [Wednesday night], especially on our home court. There’s some bitter feelings, knowing that they knocked us out of the playoffs last year, so hopefully that gives us some momentum, some energy, some confidence and some anger to go out there and play with.”

With 4:09 left in the third quarter and the Knicks trailing by four, Anthony was called for the technical after missing a jumper. Anthony had been complaining all night about not getting calls when he was (in his opinion) fouled by the Pistons.

Less than a minute later, Anthony was called for an offensive foul. Then he blew past Andre Drummond (13 points, 11 rebounds) and hit a layup for what Anthony considered a foul and continuation for what could have been a three-point play.

But the ruling was a non-shooting foul and the basket didn’t count. A flabbergasted Anthony immediately walked to the bench. “It’s kind of hard when you’re out there dealing with that,” he said. “When you think things should be going your way and it’s not. Thinking something should be called but it’s not. I’ve got to fight through that.”

Stoudemire, who had six points in 15:07 and isn’t expected to play Wednesday night, was whistled for a technical for arguing as the Knicks appeared to be losing their cool.


VIDEO:
Anthony on Knicks’ struggles, lack of effort

***

No. 3: Olajuwon itching to help Howard — After Dwight Howard signed with the Houston Rockets in the offseason, much was made (in this space and elsewhere) of his working with Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon to further polish his post moves. Since the start of the season, Howard’s offensive game has lagged and he has received plenty of criticism, with TNT’s Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley being among the foremost ones. Our own Fran Blinebury caught up with Olajuwon, who is in his native Nigera to launch a basketball initiative for youth, about Howard’s play and more:

The Hall of Famer was speaking Tuesday from Nigeria, where he was helping to launch a basketball initiative for youth. Even from half a world away, though, Olajuwon was thinking about the struggles of his current pupil, Howard, who he mentored in the offseason after the big man signed a four-year, $88-million free agent contract with the Rockets, Olajuwon’s former team.

“The truth is that I can’t wait to get back to Houston to do more work with Dwight,” said Olajuwon, who left Houston in early October to return to his home in Amman, Jordan and has been keeping track of his pupil on TV. “I wish he was doing a better job.

“Dwight has always been athletic and aggressive and he still is. But when I watch him, what I see are opportunities that he is missing. When he gets the ball, he seems to be taking his time to decide what move to make, where he should go.

“There should not be a delay for Dwight. He must be able to make a faster recognition of the situations and react immediately with a go-to move. You must move right away before the defense has a chance to set up. You must be the one making the first move so that you can force the defender to always be the one reacting.

“I thought we were doing a good job with this when we were working together over the summer and at the start of training camp. But what I see now is that when Dwight gets in competition, he has a tendency to go back to all of his old habits. He’s just doing all of the things that he did before. He needs a reminder.”

Olajuwon, who was a .712 shooter on free throws through his 18-year NBA career, has cringed long distance while watching Howard make a career low .531 from the foul line this season.

“I think this is where a confident routines comes in,” Olajuwon said. “It’s not just putting in hours and hours of work. It’s getting a solid routine and staying with it. With Dwight right now, I think it’s more mental. Sometimes you just have to let it go. Don’t think. Don’t hesitate. Just trust your routine and let it go.

“I won’t say that you can’t ever win a championship as a big man if you don’t shoot free throws well, because Shaq did it four times. But it can be a deciding factor, so you want to fix it.”

***

No. 4: Nelson takes high road on playing time – In Orlando Magic history, only two players have played more games for the franchise than Jameer Nelson and no other player has as many assists in Orlando as Nelson does. In short, Nelson is and has been a great player for the Magic for years. But as the team moves into a younger phase and tries to get prized rookie Victor Oladipo more minutes at point guard, Nelson has seen his playing time crunched. Such was the case in a road loss to Dallas, where Nelson sat the final 17 minutes of the game in favor of Oladipo. Despite the playing time cut, Nelson is trying to stay as classy as possible about the move, writes Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

Coach Jacque Vaughn kept Nelson on the bench throughout the final 17 minutes of Saturday night’s 108-100 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. Vaughn employed rookie Victor Oladipo instead of Nelson at point guard even though Nelson had played well on offense and Oladipo was struggling with turnovers.

“The thing about it is, obviously, I want to play and I want to compete,” Nelson said Monday when he was asked about the situation.

“I’m a competitor and I want to win, so I wanted to be on the court. Coach decided not to play me, and that’s his decision. I can only play the minutes that he gives me, play them as hard as I can and leave it out there for those minutes. It’s his decision who’s going to play the minutes and when they’re going to play them. And our job as players is, like I said, to play those minutes as best we can.”

Nelson wants to remain with the Magic for years to come. At 31 years old, he should have at least several productive seasons ahead of him and would prefer to spend those seasons on the court instead of on the bench.

On Monday, Vaughn was asked whether he anticipates using Oladipo as the Magic’s primary ball-handler down the stretches of close games the rest of the season.

“It kind of depends,” Vaughn answered.

“A lot of times we’ve been playing with three guards in the rotation. There’s been times when he’s been in where Jameer is handling [the basketball]. I think that’ll be [determined by the] opposition and what opportunities we have on the floor. The ball was in [Oladipo’s] hands against Dallas. We made them react to us. They started double-teaming him, and so we were able to dictate a little bit. So that was positive for us.”

Vaughn said he wanted to give Oladipo the experience of running the Magic offense during a close game, because those scenarios can’t be simulated in practice.

Team officials want to test Oladipo and determine over the course of the season whether he can be a fulltime point guard in the NBA. They believe Oladipo’s confidence can withstand rough outings, and they also believe he’ll improve as the season continues.

But the decision to play Oladipo over Nelson in the fourth quarter of a winnable matchup also opens the Magic to accusations that they are tanking games to enhance their chances of picking early in the talent-rich 2014 NBA Draft.

Magic officials still regard Nelson as one of their best leaders.

True to form, he said he won’t change his game or his demeanor.

“My game is still the same: to go out and attack and create things for myself or for my teammates and to lead and to do things in a professional manner,” Nelson said. “I’m going to continue to do that no matter what’s going on and what the speculations are and what people say. I’m still me and I’m still going to play like me.”


VIDEO:
Oladipo on playing point guard, facing the Heat next

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Bobcats big man Al Jefferson is getting frustrated by his lingering ankle injury … Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova says he’s ready to return to the lineup

ICYMI Of The Night: The Suns’ Gerald Green just keeps one-upping himself with his in-game dunks this season, with last night’s make-sure-I-don’t-bang-my-face-on-the-backboard jam being the latest entry …


VIDEO: Gerald Green soars in for a spectacular one-handed slam

Olajuwon The Teacher On Dwight Howard


VIDEO: NBA stars seek out Olajuwon to learn the secrets of post play

Many years before he became mentor to the stars, teaching the fine art of his post moves to the likes of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwight Howard (among others), a young Hakeem Olajuwon was a Nigerian student who found answers on the basketball court. “The game was introduced at my school and I learned it from scratch,” Olajuwon said. “I learned about the rules and how to play basketball and I also learned about work ethic, teamwork and communication. Those are tools that are part of a successful life in or out of sports.”

The Hall of Famer was speaking Tuesday from Nigeria, where he was helping to launch a basketball initiative for youth. Even from half a world away, though, Olajuwon was thinking about the struggles of his current pupil, Howard, who he mentored in the offseason after the big man signed a four-year, $88-million free agent contract with the Rockets, Olajuwon’s former team.

“The truth is that I can’t wait to get back to Houston to do more work with Dwight,” said Olajuwon, who left Houston in early October to return to his home in Amman, Jordan and has been keeping track of his pupil on TV. “I wish he was doing a better job.

“Dwight has always been athletic and aggressive and he still is. But when I watch him, what I see are opportunities that he is missing. When he gets the ball, he seems to be taking his time to decide what move to make, where he should go.

“There should not be a delay for Dwight. He must be able to make a faster recognition of the situations and react immediately with a go-to move. You must move right away before the defense has a chance to set up. You must be the one making the first move so that you can force the defender to always be the one reacting.

“I thought we were doing a good job with this when we were working together over the summer and at the start of training camp. But what I see now is that when Dwight gets in competition, he has a tendency to go back to all of his old habits. He’s just doing all of the things that he did before. He needs a reminder.”

Olajuwon plans to return to Houston prior to the NBA All-Star break in February and will remain in Houston through the end of the season and the playoffs.

“Maybe if I am there with him all of the time we can reinforce new habits and make it all feel natural,” Olajuwon said.

Olajuwon, who was a .712 shooter on free throws through his 18-year NBA career, has cringed long distance while watching Howard make a career low .531 from the foul line this season.

“I think this is where a confident routines comes in,” Olajuwon said. “It’s not just putting in hours and hours of work. It’s getting a solid routine and staying with it. With Dwight right now, I think it’s more mental. Sometimes you just have to let it go. Don’t think. Don’t hesitate. Just trust your routine and let it go.

“I won’t say that you can’t ever win a championship as a big man if you don’t shoot free throws well, because Shaq did it four times. But it can be a deciding factor, so you want to fix it.”

***

Olajuwon, fellow countryman and former NBA player Obinna Ekezie and WNBA champion Swin Cash have joined with the NBA, WNBA, Africare and ExxonMobil to announce the launch of Power Forward, a youth engagement initiative that will use basketball to develop health, leadership and life skills.

The program is being introduced at 10 public and private high schools in Abuja, Nigeria, and will engage 300 students, evenly divided between boys and girls.

Olajuwon, Ekezie and Cash joined 100 youth participants on the court for a series of basketball drills. Basketball is Nigeria’s second-most popular sport with increased interest at the grass-roots level, following the national team’s first-ever qualification for the 2012 Olympics. More than 20 current and former players with Nigerian descent have played in the NBA, more than any other African country.

“When I was growing up, I knew nothing about the NBA,” Olajuwon said. “We couldn’t see games. They weren’t on TV. My goal in playing basketball was to get a scholarship to attend college in America and the rest of my professional career just happened.

“These kids today are from a different generation. They didn’t know me from personal experience. But they did their homework on the Internet. I was surprised to know how much they learned. They are full of energy and enthusiasm and the goal of the Power Forward program is take that energy and channel it into ways that can make productive lives. This is a way that politicians, corporations and educators can unite to get the most out of the next generation.”

Rockets Legend Calvin Murphy Sees Crucial Flaw In Howard’s FT Form


VIDEO: Dwight Howard doesn’t want to talk about his free throw issues

There was another time in Rockets history when free throws were a hot topic of conversation.

Before analytics broke down every inhale and exhale, before Twitter delivered a world of helpful experts and second-guessers, Rick Barry, Calvin Murphy and Mike Newlin didn’t need assistance at the foul line.

In fact, in the 1978-79 and 1979-80 seasons, every time a referee signaled a technical foul on the other team, there was a race to grab the ball and a scrum ensued as the threesome jockeyed among themselves.

“I’m elbowing Rick and Mike is elbowing me and all of us are competing like hell with each other to take the shot,” Murphy said. “Hey, we were teammates and there were no problems in the locker room or after the game. But we all wanted to be the guy at the line because we all felt we were the best one to take and make the shot for the team and we were all comfortable.”

Compare that now to Dwight Howard, the first-year Rocket who trudges to the foul line these days like a guy who’s hoping for reprieve from the governor.

Barry (.8998) ranks third on the NBA all-time career free throw percentage list, Murphy (.8916) is seventh and Newlin (.8695) is 23rd.

Howard couldn’t see those numbers with a telescope. After going 5-for-9 from the line in a 123-117 overtime loss on Wednesday night, Howard is 46-for-96 on the season, a career low .497. The Rockets have lost three of their last four games with Howard connecting at just a .396 (19 of 38) free-throw clip.

“That’s unfortunate,” said the Hall of Famer Murphy, now a TV analyst in Houston. “First off, I’ve always been a big fan of Howard. I love his enthusiasm, his athleticism and his aggressiveness on the court. He’s a helluva player and the truth is we should be talking about how he’s out there busting his ass every night, gobbling up rebounds, anchoring the defense. There are a lot of nights when he’s a shot-blocking machine.

“But now this one negative aspect to his game is becoming the symbol of who he is. The truth is nobody will ever talk about how good you are if you’re gonna stand up there and go 5-for-16 at the foul line. He has to erase that.” (more…)

Nowitzki Passes West With Miller Next


VIDEO: Nowitzki passes West on all-time scoring list

DALLAS – Dirk Nowitzki shot past “The Logo” on Tuesday night and is bearing down on Reggie Miller.

The Dallas Mavericks’ sure-fire Hall-of-Fame forward took over 16th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list from Los Angeles Lakers legend Jerry West. Nowitzki needed 15 points in the Mavs’ 105-95 win over the Washington Wizards. He got 19, surpassing West with the second of a pair of late third-quarter 3-pointers that also helped Dallas jump back out to an insurmountable double-digit lead.

“He was obviously a little before my time,” Nowitzki said of West. “But I love the history of the game, I watched plenty of games, watched him shoot. He’s really the first guy that had really a pure jump shot like that. He’s the man, he’s clutch. He’s the logo.”

All-time leading scorers, NBA history
Player GP PTS PPG
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 1,560 38,387 24.6
Karl Malone 1,476 36,928 25.0
Michael Jordan 1,072 32,292 30.1
Kobe Bryant 1,239 31,617 25.5
Wilt Chamberlain 1,045 31,419 30.1
Shaquille O’Neal 1,207 28,596 23.7
Moses Malone 1,329 27,409 20.6
Elvin Hayes 1,303 27,313 21.0
Hakeem Olajuwon 1,238 26,946 21.8
Oscar Robertson 1,040 26,710 25.7
Dominique Wilkins 1,074 26,668 24.8
John Havlicek 1,270 26,395 20.8
Alex English 1,193 25,613 21.5
Kevin Garnett 1,329 25,310 19.0
Reggie Miller 1,389 25,279 18.2
Dirk Nowitzki 1,116 25,197 22.6
Jerry West 932 25,192 27.0
Patrick Ewing 1,183 24,815 21.0
Allen Iverson 914 24,368 26.7
Paul Pierce 1,108 24,103 21.8
Ray Allen 1,234 23,881 19.4
Tim Duncan 1,186 23,865 20.1
Charles Barkley 1,073 23,757 22.1
Robert Parish 1,611 23,334 14.5
Adrian Dantley 955 23,177 24.3
Through Tuesday, Nov. 12

Nowitzki, in his 16th season, now has 25,197 career points. With West’s 25,192 points behind him, Miller’s 25,279 points is reachable likely within the next three to five games. Soon, only 14 players will have scored more points than the big German, and only a handful are safe from Nowitzki’s final charge over the next few seasons.

“It’s another great milestone, but for now, got to keep working and that’s really about it,” said a rather subdued Nowitzki, whose re-tooled Mavs improved to 5-3. “Like I always say, all these milestones are great once my career is over.”

Nowitzki’s jumper, whether a trailing, transition 3 from straightaway or a one-legged leaner from the elbow, is as pure as anyone’s who ever played the game, and no 7-footer comes close. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle did point out one significant difference between the 25,000-plus points West racked up in just 932 games compared to Nowitzki’s total through 1,116 career games.

“Jerry West never shot a 3,” Carlisle said. “If there had been a 3-point line back then, this milestone would have come later — he would need more points. It’s a monumental achievement to pass a player like that. He’s going to pass more big names in the weeks and months to come.”

Miller, a player Carlisle coached near the end of his career in Indiana, certainly took advantage of the 3-ball. So has Kobe Bryant, one of only three active players in the top 16 on the all-time scoring list. Bryant, who has yet to play this season as he recovers from an Achilles tear, is No. 4 with 31,617 career points, just one of five players to reach 30,000 points. Bryant needs 676 points to supplant Michael Jordan at No. 3. Kevin Garnett, now with the Brooklyn Nets, is the other active player at No. 14 with 25,310 points.

Nowitzki is on pace to become the all-time leading scorer among international players. Houston Rockets Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon, a native of Nigeria, leads that group. The Dream sits No. 9 all-time with 26,946 points. Nowitzki can catch him this season if he averages 21.3 points over the next 74 games.

He’s currently averaging 18.3 points on 47.5 percent shooting from the floor and 38.1 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. Nowitzki is in the final year of his contract, but has said he plans to play another two or three seasons, and his intention is to do so with the Mavs.

Seemingly the only thing that can keep Nowitzki, 35, from finishing in the top eight, at least, on the all-time scoring list is health. He’s been extremely durable throughout his career, but has experienced right knee troubles the past few seasons, needing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee prior to last season.

It kept him out of 29 games and he finished the season with his lowest scoring average, 17.3 ppg, since his second season in the league. He snapped a streak of 11 consecutive All-Star Game appearances and Dallas ended a 12-year run of postseason play.

Speaking of health, Tuesday’s game came with a bit of a mysterious twist. Nowitzki played for the first time this season with a sleeve over a previously — as far as anybody knew — problem-free left knee. After the game he was coy about why he wore the sleeve when questioned.

“I’ll be all right. Yeah, I’ll be all right,” Nowitzki said. “We just passed six games in nine days, obviously, and had four in five before this. So you know, it is what it is.”

When asked if the knee was just sore from the arduous schedule, Nowitzki mumbled again that he’ll be all right and quickly glanced in the other direction toward another questioner.

He’ll have a couple days off to get some rest and reflect on all those points since he came into the league as a floppy-headed 20-year-old rookie. The Mavs don’t play again until they hit the road Friday night to face old pal LeBron James and the two-time champion Miami Heat.


VIDEO: Nowitzki talks about passing West, Mavs’ victory