Posts Tagged ‘James Johnson’

Wizards taking out Toronto guards


VIDEO: The Starters discuss the Raptors going down 2-0 to the Wizards at home.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — As bad as the Toronto Raptors’ defense was in Game 2 of their first-round series against the Washington Wizards, they’ve also got some things to figure out offensively as they prepare for Game 3 on Friday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

The Raptors ranked third in offensive efficiency in the regular season. But through two playoff games, they rank 14th. Their offense was much better in Game 2 than it was in Game 1, but not good enough to keep up with their defensive issues.

The problems on defense aren’t getting fixed overnight. The Wizards will continue putting Jonas Valanciunas in situations where he has to move his feet, and he will continue to not move them quickly enough. The Raptors ranked 26th defensively after Thanksgiving, and they’re probably not going to flip the switch on that end of the floor.

So if Toronto is to give themselves a chance in this series by winning Game 3, they have to start looking like a top-five offense again. And to do that, they have to unlock their guards.

It’s no secret that the Raptors’ offense is guard-heavy. DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams were not only their three leading scorers by a wide margin, but also their leaders in usage rate (the percentage of a team’s possessions a player uses while he’s on the floor), with another guard – Greivis Vasquez – ranking fourth.

The Wizards know this. The Toronto guards are the head of the snake, and that’s where Washington’s defense has been focused.

Here’s DeRozan being double-teamed in the post…

20150421_dd_post

Here’s Lowry being denied the ball more than 30 feet from the basket…

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And here’s Williams being trapped 10 feet beyond the 3-point line…

20150421_lw_trap

DeRozan and Lowry have each seen a drop in usage rate. Williams’ usage rate has gone up, but the Kia Sixth Man award winner has been forced to … force things. Only 10 (34 percent) of his 29 shots have been uncontested, a drop from 47 percent in the regular season.

The key to beating extra pressure on the perimeter is to pass the ball. But the Raptors aren’t exactly the Spurs in that regard. They averaged just 281 passes per game, a rate that ranked 24th in the league. And they were one of four teams that isolated on more than 10 percent of its possessions.

The Raptors were able to get DeRozan some more space by having him catch the ball on the move and operate one-on-one against Paul Pierce early in Game 2. He also went away from the screen (or just told his screener to back off) to avoid an extra defender.

Here are a few more suggestions for the Raptors to get their guards some more space to operate or take advantage of the perimeter pressure…

1. Catches at the nail

The Raptors can take a lesson from last year’s series against Brooklyn, when the Nets got the ball to Joe Johnson at the middle of the foul line to avoid double-teams in the post. If the ball is in the middle of the floor, it’s difficult to double-team, because the four other offensive players are all just one pass away. There’s a reason why a lot of defenses (the Spurs are a great example) do everything to keep the ball away from the middle of the floor.

A pin-down screen for DeRozan and a catch above the foul line will give him a one-on-one situation, a look similar to this…

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The spacing above isn’t ideal, but if you replace Tyler Hansbrough with Patrick Patterson and put him on the left wing, DeRozan would have more room to operate and no Washington defender would be able to offer help without leaving a shooter open at the 3-point line or Jonas Valanciunas open on the baseline.

2. Three-guard lineups

The Raptors’ backcourt goes four deep, with Williams and Vasquez able to make plays off the bench. And they’ve played with three of the four on the floor together for about 60 of the 101 minutes thus far in the series.

Not surprisingly, the offense has been much better (104.3 points scored per 100 possessions) in those minutes than in the minutes with just two guards (83.0). Simple math tells you that if there are three playmakers on the floor, the defense can’t double-team all of them. And if a guy who’s being double-teamed can get rid of the ball quickly, he’ll have at least two teammates who can take advantage of a four-on-three situation.

3. James Johnson

When the opponent defends your pick-and-roll aggressively, it helps to have a screener who can get the ball from the ball-handler and quickly make a play before the defense recovers. See Diaw, Boris.

In Game 1, Amir Johnson was often that release valve for the Raptors and led the team with 18 points as a result. On several possessions in the second quarter of Game 2, the Raptors used James Johnson as the screener and had him attack the rim while the defense was still moving. Here’s an example.

The results would have been OK if Johnson didn’t shoot 0-for-4 from the free throw line. The bigger problem was that the Raptors’ defense was getting scorched at the same time. Johnson was a minus-14 in just seven minutes of action, with the Wizards scoring 26 points on the 15 possessions for which he was on the floor.

James Johnson isn’t nearly the passer that Diaw is, but he is better than Amir Johnson at attacking and scoring. It’s a question of whether or not he can be trusted on the other end of the floor.

4. Hope Lowry is healthy

None of the above matters much if Lowry isn’t close to 100 percent. He’s been dealing with a back issue and then suffered a shin contusion in the fourth quarter of Game 2. He seemingly is lacking both burst off the dribble and lift on his jumper.

The Raptors have a deep backcourt and one of the best benches in the league, but Lowry is still their engine.

Raptors need to respond in Game 2


VIDEO: A behind-the-scenes look at the Raptors getting ready for the playoffs

TORONTO — Home teams are 9-1 in the postseason through Monday. The one defeat belongs to the Toronto Raptors, who lost Game 1 to the Washington Wizards on Saturday and have put themselves in a hole for the second straight year.

Last year’s series against the Brooklyn Nets taught the Raptors that there’s an opportunity to recover. They took a 3-2 lead in that series before losing in seven games.

But the pressure is still on the Raptors to get a win in Game 2 on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET, NBA TV), before the series heads to Washington. Over the last 12 years (since all rounds went to best-of-7), teams that lost Game 1 at home are 43-8 in Game 2. But only one of the eight teams that also lost Game 2 came back to win the series. Furthermore, the Raptors’ opponent had the biggest discrepancy in the regular season between how well they played at home (plus-7.1 points per 100 possessions) and how well they played on the road (minus-3.5).

It’s not hard to figure out where the Raptors have the most room for improvement. They scored just 86 points on 98 possessions in Game 1, shooting 13-for-50 from outside the paint. Their three leading scorers – DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams – combined to score just 32 points on 12-for-46 from the field.

The Wizards have to feel that they can play a lot better in Game 2 as well. They couldn’t crack a point per possession on Saturday either. They shot worse from outside the paint (13-for-53) than the Raptors did, and John Wall and Bradley Beal combined to shoot 11-for-41.

Here are five things to watch in Game 2…

1. Cleaning the glass

In an ugly Game 1, the difference was Washington’s 19 offensive rebounds and 20 second-chance points. Four of the former and five of the latter came in overtime. The Raptors ranked 25th in defensive rebounding percentage in the regular season, and their issues in that regard obviously carried over into the playoffs.

In some cases, the Raptors just got beat up underneath the basket. See Drew Gooden vs. Patrick Patterson on this fourth-quarter tip-in.

But other Washington offensive rebounds were a result of the Raptors’ defense on the perimeter. By sending two to the ball on pick-and-rolls involving Wall and Beal, Toronto got caught in rotations and out of position when it was time to secure a rebound.

So in regard to the glass, it will first be interesting to see whether or not the Raptors are hedging hard on pick-and-rolls.

2. Transition game

According to SportVU, just five (6.5 percent) of the Raptors’ 77 initial-possession shots came in the first six seconds of the shot clock on Saturday. Toronto isn’t a particularly fast-paced team, but that rate is about half of their regular-season rate (13.0 percent).

“Our tempo has to be different,” Lowry said Sunday. “I need to start the game off with a faster pace, getting up and down a little bit more.”

Earlier shots are typically better shots. In the regular season, the Raptors had an effective field-goal percentage of 61 percent in the first six seconds of the shot clock and 49 percent thereafter.

3. Pierce at the 4

Despite the 19 offensive boards, the Wizards’ offense was still pretty bad. Wizards coach Randy Wittman can get more shooting and spacing on the floor by continuing to use Paul Pierce at power forward.

Pierce played 17 minutes with less than two bigs on the floor next to him in Game 1. The Wizards were actually a minus-1 in those minutes, but playing small helped them turned the game around in the second quarter.

We’ll see if Wittman goes to that look even earlier in the game on Tuesday.

4. James Johnson?

James Johnson could be thought of as a counter to Pierce at the four, especially by those who were chanting “We want James!” in the second half of Game 1. But the Raptors aren’t comfortable playing Johnson at power forward, and would have a hard time taking minutes away from Tyler Hansbrough, Amir Johnson, Patterson or Jonas Valanciunas.

Pierce’s points weren’t necessarily about his individual matchup, either. They were more a product of the attention paid to Wall and Beal.

Still, there may be minutes at small forward for Johnson, who had a positive impact on the Raptors’ numbers when he was on the floor in the regular season. Bonus: He’s a better rebounder than any of the team’s other wings.

5. Who can make a shot?

Both teams played strong defense in Game 1. And both teams missed a lot of open shots.

According to SportVU, the Raptors shot 8-for-27 (30 percent) on uncontested jumpers on Saturday, while the Wizards shot 10-for-35 (29 percent). In the regular season, both teams were better, and Game 2 might just come down to which team can make a few more jumpers than they did in Game 1.

First Team: KD evokes MJ in MVP season

In this five-part series, I’ll take a look at the best games from last season’s All-NBA first team. The metric I’ve used to figure out the best games is more art than formula, using “production under pressure” as the heuristic for selection. For example, volume scoring in a close game against a stout team on the road gets more weight than volume scoring against the Bucks at home in a blowout. Big games matter. Big clutch games matter more.

Kevin Durant took his otherworldly scoring abilities to another level in his 2013-14 MVP campaign.

Kevin Durant took his otherworldly scoring abilities to another level in his 2013-14 MVP campaign.

There’s a sense Kevin Durant still hasn’t peeked at his peak. His length is unfair. His angel-hair pasta build is a rebellion against the MUSCLEWATCH movement that dominates the NBA. Myth has him closer to being 7-foot than his listed 6-foot-9. All of this leads to a virtually unblockable shot (don’t tell James Johnson!) that allows him to get a clean look whenever he wants.

The results:

1) NBA MVP
2) Five All-NBA first teams
3) Four scoring titles
4) All-Star MVP
5) Olympic gold medal
6) A host of honors too long to list here

Yet Durant is far from a finished product. There’s that untapped post game that Charles Barkley keeps hammering about. Can he win seven more scoring titles to surpass MJ? Could Durant, who turns 26 next week, snatch the top scoring spot from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by the time it’s all said and done?

Last season, he dropped at least 25 points in 41 straight games to top His Airness’ modern-day record (only Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain have more). The night his streak was “broken,” he scored 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting in 31 minutes, then went on to rip off another eight straight at the 25-point level. He hit that mark in 63 out of his final 65 games.

In addition to scoring and playing more minutes than anybody else, he dealt a career-high 5.5 dimes per contest. He even tied for the league lead in technical fouls (16). The only thing Durant was missing last season was a nickname that stuck.

Here are his top games last season:

Jan.17, 2014 — Striking Down The Warriors

The Line: 54 points on 19-for-28 shooting

The Quote:He’s a special talent, a superstar basketball player, an all-time great.” — Warriors head coach Mark Jackson


VIDEO: Kevin Durant carves Warriors up for career-high 54 points

As he did for most of the season, Durant was playing without Russell Westbrook this night, giving him carte blanche with the rock. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green did what they could, but the easy truth about basketball is this: Great offense trumps great defense every time. On this night, Durant put it all together for a career night.

Jan. 21, 2014 — Extinguishing The Blazers

The Line: 46 points on 17-for-25 shooting, 6 3s

The Quote: “The way he was playing, he probably could have scored on Jesus.” – Trail Blazers guard Mo Williams


VIDEO: Durant goes for 46 points in lighting up the Blazers

The eighth night of The Streak was Fan Night on NBA TV. KD had his 25 by the end of the third quarter, but his team nursed a two-point lead going into the fourth. Without Westbrook and a tough Portland team promising to make matters difficult, his plate was full.

So Durant ate. First off a deadly mid-range game, then with a 3-point light show at the end, including a coup de grace over Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews.

Jan. 27, 2014 — Just Another Night

The Line: 41 points on 15-for-25 shooting, 3 blocks

The Quote: “He’s going to be an MVP candidate until he decides to retire.” – Thunder head coach Scott Brooks


VIDEO: Kevin Durant clips Hawks with game-winner to cap 41-point night

With no Westbrook again, Durant donned the hero cape. On the defining play of the game, the double team came from the left. Durant started right. Three hard dribbles later, with three Hawks in the vicinity, he confirmed another moment in a season full of them. Another game winner, another vicious January performance. Just another night, his 10th straight reaching 30 points.

Durant used January to make volume efficiency his M.O. For the month, he put up 36 points on 55 percent shooting, 44 percent beyond the arc. That. Is. Insane.

Feb. 13, 2014 — Rally On The Road

The Line: 43 points on 14-for-33 shooting, 19 in fourth quarter, 7 assists

The Quote: “He is one of the best I have seen in terms of really just playing through anything and everything.” – Thunder guard Derek Fisher


VIDEO: Kevin Durant ends first half with 43-point performance in L.A.

Durant’s final game before the All-Star break didn’t start auspiciously. He clanked his first eight treyballs and his team fought uphill all game. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Thunder were down 13 to a Lakers team that had lost its previous six home games.

But ‘Mr. Unreliable’ took over, almost outscoring the Lakers by himself (19 to 21). He topped the 40-point mark for the eighth time, matching the previous season’s high set by Carmelo Anthony and Kobe. No better way to end the best first half of his career.

March 21, 2014 — Making Fossils Out Of Raptors

The Line: 51 points (38 in second half and two OTs), 12 rebounds, 7 assists

The Quote: “It looked good when it left my hands and God guided that thing in the basket. That was the craziest game I’ve ever been a part of.” — Durant


VIDEO:
Kevin Durant finishes off Raptors in 2OT with game-winner, 51 points

What does a man have to do to get a double team? No matter how many times Amir Johnson stood on an island guarding the best scorer in the league, help never came. But you know what? It probably wouldn’t have mattered. Forces of nature are inevitable.

Down eight points with 49 seconds left, the Thunder ended the game on a 9-0 run. Who was responsible for those final points? Do you even have to ask?

 

Morning Shootaround — June 8


VIDEO: The Heat and Spurs are all geared up for Game 2 of The Finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron should be fine for Game 2 | Spurs defend, don’t whack | Eyes on Heat, Spurs bench guys | A Love-Rondo package?

No. 1: LeBron should be fine for G2 — No matter is more pressing in The Association than LeBron James‘ fitness for Game 2 of the 2014 Finals. The extreme heat in San Antonio’s AT&T Center caused the Miami Heat superstar to lock up from painful cramping in the left side of his body, and he missed the decisive minutes at the end of the championship series’ opener, when the Spurs closed in a 16-3 rush. Monitoring James’ recovery has been top priority for the vast media mob covering these Finals, so know this: As much as the 72-hour layoff between games might have been a bummer for entertainment’s sake, it could end up being vital to James’ capabilities Sunday night. As our man Fran Blinebury chronicled off Friday’s availability:

There was no latest update on the bags of IV fluid taken in by LeBron James, no count on the bags of liquids he’s ingested and, thankfully, no longer a step-by-step total of the trips he’s made to the bathroom.
James appeared less tired, more confident, more chipper and even channeled the ghost of Allen Iverson when teammate Dwyane Wade chided him for spending too much time chatting with media.

The four-time MVP has been resting and working with the Miami medical staff since he was forced to sit out the last 3:59 of Game 1 on Thursday with severe cramps.

“I’m going to get some work done today,” James said before the Heat’s practice on Saturday afternoon. “But there is no way to test my body for what I went through. The conditions are nowhere near extreme as they was, unless I decide to run from here to the hotel, that’s the only way I would be able to test my body out.

“But I’m doing well, doing a lot better. The soreness is starting to get out. I’m feeling better than I did yesterday and with another day, I should feel much better (Sunday).”

James said he will not go into Game 2 with any mental burdens from the incident, won’t wonder if and when his body might give out again.

“Well, for me and the situation that happened in Game 1 is like you don’t know it’s going to happen,” he said. “Obviously I felt the extreme measures, but I wasn’t the only one out there on the floor. So you just play and you worry about the results later. You can’t think about what may happen in the third or fourth quarter, live in the moment. And for me, whatever I can give my teammates if it happens again, hopefully I can make an impact while I’m on the floor and that’s all that matters to me.

“I can live with the results. If I’m giving my all and playing as hard as I can, I’m putting my body and my mind on the line for us to win, you know, for that guy back there in the back, it’s all that matters.”

***

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Morning Shootaround — Feb. 22




VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING
More time out for Kobe | Surprise: Rondo unhappy | Clippers lose, Paul hurt | Terry won’t join Kings

No. 1: Kobe on shelf at least three more weeks — It seems the calendar is starting to run out on Kobe Bryant’s season. Despite the Lakers star’s insistence that he intends to return to the lineup, his body may have a different opinion. Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports continued problems with the injured left knee and team doctors say it will be three more weeks before Bryant is evaluated again:

Missing three more weeks before another evaluation brings the calendar to March 14, at which point there will be only 17 games left in the regular season for the Lakers.

And even if Bryant is cleared for contact drills at that point, he would assuredly need some additional practice time before he could make a return.

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni was asked if Bryant would return at all this season after the Lakers’ 101-92 win Friday night over the Celtics.

“I don’t know,” D’Antoni said. “That’s out of my hands. We’ll see. I have no answer to that one.”

Teammate Pau Gasol simply offered his support.

“I know it’s tough for him and it’s been a very tough year for him,” Gasol said. “I just hope that he gets healthy. If it takes a little longer, it takes a little longer. If that means he might not play this season, I’m sure he’ll stay positive and look ahead. So, the main thing is he’s got to be healthy.”

***

No. 2: Rondo annoyed by constant trade talk — The trade deadline came and went and Rajon Rondo is still wearing the green and white of the Celtics. But that doesn’t mean the All-Star point guard is happy with his name constantly being linked with other teams. Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald says Rondo’s less than full commitment could be a problem:

“I mean, it gets annoying at times,” Rondo said. “It’s been like that the last eight years though.

“Still, like I said, this is what I do for a living. It’s not who I am. I play basketball for a living for the time being, but I’ll be 28 (today) and have a long life to live. So I have a lot of things going outside of basketball for me right now, and it’s part of what happens when you’re an NBA player.”

He is approaching the last 27 games of the Celtics season with a certain equanimity (though he will approach tonight’s game in Sacramento in street clothes, not yet ready to play in a back-to-back as he returns from a torn ACL.) He is pleased with how most of this is going, and he spoke up for his coach.

“I mean, obviously not our record, but guys like playing for Brad,” Rondo said. “He’s a very positive coach. He’s encouraging. And you want to play for a guy that’s encouraging you to do the things out on the court that’s better for yourself and for the team. Any time you have a person in your corner with a positive outlook on things, it’s a good thing.”

We cannot be sure of what goes on beyond our view, and there is evidence that Rondo is both better with his mates than we know and a little too dour at times. But you’d have to believe that if Rajon Rondo fully realized and embraced his power to effect positive change, it would be an extremely good thing for the Celtics.

And it might be enough to render moot that next round of questions in May.

***

No. 3: Same old wrong: Grizzlies top Clippers and CP3 injures hand — It is starting to get repetitive. The Clippers go into Memphis and lose another close game and now, according to Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times, Chris Paul has another injury to contend with:

To make matters worse for the Clippers, All-Star guard point Chris Paul suffered a sprained right thumb late in the fourth quarter while trying to get a rebound against Marc Gasol.

It already had been a tough night for Paul. Although he had 18 points and 14 assists, he missed nine of 13 shots. In two games since the All-Star break, Paul has gone five for 23 from the field. And the Clippers have gone 0-2.

Paul had missed 18 games because of a separated right shoulder, but came back to play in two games before the All-Star break.

Now he is struggling with his shot and has another injury to deal with.

“I can’t catch a break,” said Paul, looking down at his swollen right thumb.

***

No. 4: Kings won’t try to fit Terry into lineup this season — Don’t expect to see Jason Terry in the Sacramento line down the homestretch of the season. The Kings say they are not looking to buy out the veteran point guard, but want him to rehab at home in Dallas as they concentrate on their young players, according to Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee:

Terry, 36, instead will rehab in Dallas in preparation for next season. Terry had left knee surgery in the offseason and hasn’t felt right all season, coach Michael Malone said.

Terry was acquired along with forward Reggie Evans for Marcus Thornton on Wednesday.

Terry is averaging a career-worst 4.5 points on 36.2 percent shooting this season. Knee problems have limited Terry to 35 games this season and a career-low 16.3 minutes per games.

The Kings indicated they did not plan to buyout the remainder of Terry’s contract, which has one more season on it worth $5.45 million.

Even if Terry were with the team, playing the former NBA Sixth Man of the Year would not have been a top priority.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James and broken nose will be a game-time decision on Sunday vs. Bulls … Anthony Bennett says less thinking and just playing is making for his improvement … Teenager threatens Knicks owner James Dolan

ICYMI of The Night: Memphis’ James Johnson channels Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter with this off-the-backboard jam …

VIDEO: James Johnson does it all by himself

Gasol, Lee Put Grizzlies Back In Race


VIDEO: Grizzlies sweep back-to-back games over Rockets

In a pair of back-to-back games over the weekend, Dwight Howard got the message. With a couple of pushes, some shoves, an elbow or two in the small of his back, even a try at a wrestling takedown.

Marc Gasol is back. And so, it seems, are the Grizzlies as a factor in the Western Conference playoff race.

While there is still plenty of ground for Gasol to cover to get back to form after missing 1 1/2 months and 23 games with a sprained MCL, things are finally getting into shape in Memphis.

With consecutive wins over Howard and the Rockets, the Grizzlies are now just two games out of the No. 8 spot in the playoff race as they start a quick three-game road trip tonight in Portland (10 ET, League Pass) and continues through Sacramento and Minnesota.

Since the start of 2014, the Grizzlies have won nine of 12 games, are 5-1 since Gasol returned to the lineup on Jan. 14 and 7-2 since they acquired Courtney Lee from Boston.

Gasol, of course, gives the Grizzlies back their physicality and ruggedness on the interior by teaming with Zach Randolph. He and Z-Bo are able to protect the rim as effectively as any tandem of bigs in the league and score in the low post. In addition, Gasol’s role of traffic cop and his passing ability opens things up on the perimeter.

That’s an area where Lee has helped. Though Memphis still ranks at the bottom of the league in 3-pointers taken and made, shooting guard Lee has provided another option on the wing and has been effective.

“I’ve been super comfortable from day one,” he said. “When I came in the coaches told me to play my game and shots have been falling. Everybody that’s playing is on the same page of playing the right way.”

Lee is shooting 55.6 from the field since joining the Grizzlies and sunk his teeth in on defense. In the back-to-back set against the Rockets, he kept James Harden in check.

“Courtney’s been a big addition for us,” said point guard Mike Conley. “He adds some scoring, he adds some defense, athleticism. He has a high basketball IQ and he’s been able to pick up things fairly quickly. I think that’s what’s helped us these last couple of weeks.

“Courtney was a huge, huge piece. People overlook him. But it’s key that he’s able to stretch the court for us. With me, him, Mike Miller out there, it gives Zach and Marc more space. Having a lot of guys that could space the court, we didn’t have that going on before. And he can definitely lock up defensively.”

Even through their struggles this season, the Grizzlies have been able to make the most of road trips. Before Gasol injured his knee, they swept a four-game November swing against the Lakers, Kings, Clippers and Warriors. Then with Gasol out, they began turning things around at the start of the new year by taking two out of three at Phoenix, Denver and Detroit.

That’s when Ed Davis and James Johnson became part of the rotation and significant contributors with Gasol, Tony Allen and Quincy Pondexter sidelined by injury. Pondexter (broken bone in foot) is lost for the season and Allen (ligament damage hand) is getting closer to returning.

The question for coach Dave Joerger is what he’ll do with the starting lineup when Allen is ready. There is no question that the Grizzlies would like to have his grinding defense back, but Lee has been a big addition. The solution might be to let Allen come off the bench until he’s fully back in game shape, then slide him into the 3-spot to replace Tayshaun Prince, keeping Lee’s offense on the floor.

“Our confidence is high,” Lee said. “We feel good about what’s going on and how we’re playing. It seems like time will only make us better.”

Currently sitting at 22-20, the task that might have looked a bit daunting a month ago now seems within reach. To reach the 45-win level it took to grab the No. 8 seed in the West a year ago, Memphis would have to finish up 23-17 and neither the No. 7 seed Suns or No. 8 Mavericks seem capable of putting up an insurmountable roadblock. So if a healthy bunch of Grizzlies can claw in at the bottom, it could mean somebody in the upper half of the contentious playoff bracket is in for a bruising first-round fight against a team that advanced to the conference finals last season.

“It definitely is there for us to take advantage,” Conley said. “We still have a lot of the season left. We understood once Marc got hurt, if we could just keep this thing afloat, keep us close and somewhat in the picture, then we he got back we would be able to make a run. Now we’re in position. We have a long way to go, but I’d say we’re happy now with where we’re at.”

Rick’s Tips: Waiver Watching





The NBA is on fire right now!

Sunday was one of the greatest NBA days I can remember, what with the Kobe-Wade/LeBron showdown, Rajon Rondo’s historic triple-double, and Deron Williams’ career-high 57 points. Amazingly, Kobe doubled-up Wade (33-16), Rondo dialed up 18-17-20, and Williams exploded after 24 total points in his previous two games.

We haven’t chopped up the waiver wire in a couple of weeks, so consider this a heads up about players who may — and I want to stress “may” — still be available.

Jordan Crawford

Nick Young has been hampered by a knee injury and Crawford has taken full advantage, topping 20 points in five of his last eight games. Crawford peaked on Saturday with 31 points against the Cavaliers, reminding the fantasy world of what he did last year, when he averaged 19.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.2 threes in 18 starts.

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Another Amar’e Poster Victim

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Hey James Johnson, do you not watch NBA TV?

Have you not visited Hang Time before?

Don’t you know what Amar’e Stoudemire does to those foolish enough to challenge him at the rim?

Well, you do now:

This one wasn’t nearly as vicious as some of the other gems Amar’e has bestowed upon (and his victims) this season. But it’ll do on a slow night.

Come on rook, you’ve got to do your homework. Or at least stay up on the latest highlights.