Posts Tagged ‘Jason Kidd’

Game 2 could answer questions on Brooklyn bench

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Through the Lens: Nets vs. Raptors Game 1

TORONTO – The Toronto Raptors will go into Game 2 of their first-round series with the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV) knowing that they will likely get better games from starting wings DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross than they did in Game 1.

Ross and DeRozan, each playing their first career playoff game, combined to shoot 4-for-17 (1-for-8 from 3-point range). The Nets’ defense had a lot to do with their struggles, but first-game jitters were also a factor.

That’s the glass-is-half-full view for Toronto. But Brooklyn has one too, because the Nets know that their bench can’t play much worse than it did on Saturday.

Alan Anderson, Andray Blatche, Mirza Teletovic and Marcus Thornton shot a combined 6-for-22, missing all 12 of their 3-point attempts.

Anderson helped on the other end of the floor, but if Teletovic and Thornton aren’t making shots, they’re not helping much (beyond providing floor spacing). The Nets outscored the Raptors 55-37 in 23 minutes with at least four starters on the floor and were outscored 50-39 in 25 minutes with at least two reserves in the game.

Those numbers make Andrei Kirilenko‘s DNP all that more curious. Kirilenko can give you something on both ends of the floor and doesn’t rely on shot-making to make an impact. The Nets were 25-9 when Kirilenko played at least 14 minutes in the regular season.

But the Nets are a deep team and Jason Kidd came closest of any other coach to mimicking Gregg Popovich‘s minutes distribution. Only Joe Johnson (32.6), Deron Williams (32.2) and Brook Lopez (who played just 17 games) averaged more than 28 minutes a game in the regular season.

If Kirilenko would have played on Saturday, somebody who played at least 1,200 minutes would have sat. And Kirilenko’s on-off-court numbers don’t jive with that 25-9 record. Brooklyn was better both offensively and defensively with Kirilenko on the bench this season. While he’s a great off-ball cutter and brilliant passer, he shot just 5-for-31 from outside the paint and seemed to lose all confidence at the free-throw line after the All-Star break. With Shaun Livingston and Mason Plumlee, there are already two guys in the Nets’ rotation who can’t shoot beyond 15 feet.

Interestingly, the Nets are now 3-0 against the Raptors when Kirilenko doesn’t play and 0-2 when he does. Kidd will have to decide whether or not that’s a coincidence. He said Sunday that one DNP for Kirilenko “doesn’t mean that he’s not going to play any of this series.”

Nets’ experience takes home-court advantage from Raptors

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Nets vs. Raptors: Game 1

TORONTO – The Brooklyn Nets just don’t care.

They don’t care about Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri saying “F— Brooklyn!” at a pep rally before Game 1 of their first-round series.

“I don’t even know who the GM is,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said when asked about it.

They don’t care about the raucous crowd at the Air Canada Centre.

“I really feed off the emotions of the crowd, especially on the road,” Paul Pierce said after scoring nine straight points to put the game away. “It’s fun when you go on the road and [win]. I think it’s more gratifying that winning at home.”

And they don’t care about how inconsistently they played in the regular season, because the switch has been flipped.

“We’re locked in,” Pierce added. “It’s the playoffs. We understand the moment.”

The Nets came to this series with experience (about 10 times as much postseason mileage as their opponent), while the Raptors had home-court advantage. After a 94-87 victory on Saturday, Brooklyn has both.

The experience showed in the fourth-quarter execution. Down one with five minutes left, the Nets went on a 13-5 run, getting two points each from Joe Johnson and Kevin Garnett before Pierce went on his run. He capped it with a vintage, back-his-man-down-to-the-elbow, turnaround jumper.

As he went to bench afterward, he told the crowd, “That’s why I’m here.”

Some shots go in and some don’t, but all six of the late buckets from the vets showed poise in the face of solid defense. On the other end of the floor, Toronto struggled to get good looks. After Brooklyn took back the lead, the Raptors were forced to rush shots late in the clock on three of their next five possessions.

Two of the Raptors’ starters with no playoff experience – DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross – shot a combined 4-for-17, dealing with early foul trouble and never getting on track.

“I thought we played a little bit as expected,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “It is our first playoff game.”

The Nets’ defense played a role in the Raptors’ struggles, closing off the middle of the floor and forcing Toronto into 19 turnovers and just 17-for-37 shooting in the paint.

In fact, until Brooklyn made its late run, both teams were scoring less than a point per possession. After making three of their first four 3-pointers, the Nets missed 19 straight. But their defense was good enough to let their experience take over down the stretch.

“You’ve been in those situations a number of times,” Pierce said. “I don’t get rattled in the fourth quarters, down the stretch of playoff settings.

“I just try to stay calm, bring my calmness to the game, and just try to influence the rest of the guys.”

Maybe Kidd was trolling Ujiri with feigned ignorance. Maybe Pierce was trolling the crowd with his post-dagger swagger. And maybe the Nets are better than a No. 6 seed with a 44-38 record.

After all, Pierce was the third option on most of those plays down the stretch, getting the ball on the weak side after Deron Williams and Johnson ran a pick-and-roll.

“I thought it was part of great execution,” Pierce said. “They took away our first and second option and I was able to fill in as a third option and make some plays.”

A guy with a championship ring and 136 games of postseason experience isn’t a bad third option to have.

Blogtable: A surprising champion

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


BLOGTABLE: Memories | One to watch | A surprise champ


A darkhorse? Maybe not, but the Clippers could still be a surprise in June. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

A darkhorse? Maybe not, but the Clippers could still be a surprise in June. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

> Your definition, your choice, your reasoning: Your darkhorse pick to win the NBA title.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comDo the Clippers qualify as a dark horse? I’d argue yes and pick them, because that insta-champion business – last witnessed in Boston in June 2008 – is no simple thing. Doc Rivers might wind up as the link from the last one to the next one if his ability to manage both his roster and the unique challenges of the postseason mesh just so. The Clippers clearly have the talent, both to survive the West and to topple the three-peat-aiming Miami Heat.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: In the past, the Clippers were just Lob City and a bunch of nightly highlight reel dunks.  In his first season as coach, Doc Rivers has given them a sense of purpose and direction.  He’s demanded and gotten more out of Blake Griffin.  He’s gotten DeAndre Jordan to play with confidence and consistency.  Of course, he’s got the best point in the game in Chris Paul running the show.  A healthy J.J. Redick gives them the outside shooting to keep defenses honest and Matt Barnes defends on the wing.  They are deeper than ever with Jamal Crawford again making a run at Sixth Man of the Year and get help from Darren Collison, Jared Dudley, Glen Davis and Danny Granger.  Rivers knows what it takes to run the playoff gauntlet and his ability to inject a new sense of personal responsibility and commitment to the task has these Clippers looking and playing vastly different than the past few years.  They are a dark horse, but one that you wouldn’t mind saddling up for a ride.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Houston. The Rockets are remarkably young, but also remarkably talented. They’ve got the perimeter (James Harden) and the middle (Dwight Howard) covered by All-Stars, plus shooters all around. Omer Asik behind Howard provides 48 minutes of crucial rim protection. They can be their own worst enemy, especially defensively, but put it all together and they can give any opponent nightmares.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I don’t put the Clippers in the darkhorse category, but a lot of other people seem to, so that’s the pick. The Clips certainly aren’t sneaking up on anyone — Blake Griffin, CP3, Lob City, Doc Rivers — but I’ve gotten the question a few times the last couple weeks: Is it possible someone other than the Spurs or Thunder would win the West? Sure it is. The team that was a realistic pick from the start of the season.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’ve wavered back and forth on whether to deem the Thunder a darkhorse or not. But my final answer is the Clippers. Their defense hasn’t really held up against good teams, but their offense is near unstoppable, especially if J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford are healthy.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Can we really call a team with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford and Doc Rivers as coach really be considered a “dark horse?” I hope so, because the Los Angeles Clippers are my pick. They have all of the ingredients — star power, depth, balance, experience, etc. – needed to make their way to the championship round and win it all. We’ll find out of they are tough enough to endure the grind of making it that far. But there is no doubt in my mind that all of the pieces are in place. Blake’s work this season while CP3 was out and the overall improvement to DeAndre Jordan’s game are the two wild cards for the Clippers. They had to come back with those guys having improved their respective games for me to believe in them. And they did exactly what they had to do.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: My definition of a darkhorse is a team nobody is picking. My choice, well, that’s more complicated. I would have mentioned Golden State, but to me the Andrew Bogut injury might take them out of the running. I’ll throw a team out there: Houston. The Rockets strike me as a team that haven’t hit their stride just yet. They have it all: scoring, a strong interior presence, a tough perimeter defender, depth. Every year, there’s a team that gets hot and goes on a run in the postseason. Perhaps this spring we’ll see the Rockets’ red glare.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: I’ve been saying a lot lately that I think only five teams can win the title (two from the East and three from the West) so my selection probably won’t sound like a dark horse. Anyway, I’m going with the Clippers as the only team outside of the Spurs and Thunder who can win the West and then, challenge for a title. We all know about their credentials offensively and they have two top-10 players, but the aspect of their game that has impressed me the most this season has been their defence, the achilles heel of this team under Vinny Del Negro. Now, with Doc Rivers in charge, they have transformed into a top-10 defensive unit and thus, can challenge for a title.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: I think the Nets really have a chance to hug the Larry O’Brien trophy in June. They were out of contention after a 10-21 start, but Jason Kidd somehow transformed a bunch of great players into a team around January and now they have the momentum, the depth, the experience and the talent to upset both Indiana and Miami and made it to the Finals. They need to be healthy, but they have a chance.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: I guess the Clippers qualify as a dark horse contender. The major favorites have to be Miami, San Antonio and OKC, though not necessarily in that order, right? Indiana, the Clippers and Houston are the dark horses. I pick LA’s representative. Their defense still isn’t all that great, but it’s much better than it was when the season started. They have a coach who has won a ring – one of only four championship-winning coaches still in the tournament – they added key veterans with Finals experience via free agency late in the season, and I feel that Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have matured enough to absorb the punishment they will take from teams still questioning their toughness, especially Golden State, their opponents in the first round. Plus, it’s time for Chris Paul to take the wheels and lead a team past the second round, even if he has to beat Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to do it.

Kidd has come a long way in a few months


VIDEO: Jason Kidd talks with Rachel Nichols about his growth process as an NBA coach

BROOKLYN – Jason Kidd‘s coaching career began a little like his playing career ended.

As a player, he missed his last 18 shots. As a coach, he lost 21 of his first 31 games with the most expensive roster in NBA history. He was fined $50,000 for purposely spilling a drink so that his assistant coach could draw up a play. Through December, the Brooklyn Nets were below-average on both ends of the floor and were particularly brutal defensively.

Early in November, ESPN.com’s David Thorpe called Kidd “the worst coach in the NBA.” Later that month, Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck quoted an scout who didn’t think much of Kidd, the coach.

A veteran scout, interviewed earlier in the day and speaking on the condition of anonymity, called Kidd’s bench comportment “terrible,” observing that the play-calling has fallen mostly to his top assistants, Lawrence Frank and John Welch.

“He doesn’t do anything,” said the scout, who has watched the Nets several times. “He doesn’t make calls. John Welch does all the offense. Lawrence does all the defense. … I don’t know what Kidd does. I don’t think you can grade him and say he’s bad. You can give him an incomplete.”

Things have changed quite a bit. The Nets are 27-12 (best in the Eastern Conference) since the new year began, with a top-10 defense, despite a two-game slide this week.

The turnaround coincided with a seemingly sudden lineup change that created a new defensive identity. The Nets went from a bad team on Dec. 31 (when they were thumped by the San Antonio Spurs) to a good one two nights later (when they won in Oklahoma City).

But the players will tell you that they just needed time to get healthy and get to know one another. Deron Williams missed 11 of the team’s first 20 games, Andrei Kirilenko missed 26 of the first 30, and Brook Lopez missed nine of the first 24 before being lost for the season on Dec. 20. The Nets’ projected $82 million starting lineup played a total of 90 minutes together.

So, yeah, they needed some time to hit their stride. So did Kidd.

During the Nets’ episode of Real Training Camp in October, Kidd  was barely heard from. He was mostly on the sidelines as his assistants — like Lawrence Frank here – ran practice.

Kidd should have known when he hired Frank that he would look to take charge. That’s who Frank is. And Kidd, in hindsight, probably could have found a way to tone down his fiery assistant. Instead, as the losing mounted, the two knocked heads and in early December, Kidd kicked him off the bench.

It was a key moment in Kidd’s development as a coach.  Once his lead assistant was gone, he had no choice but to find his own voice.

Finding his way


VIDEO: Go inside the huddle with Jason Kidd during the Nets-Spurs game

“Everybody has to know who’s in charge,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said back in January. “And that’s the head coach. He’s the one calling the shots. I’ve never seen any one of the Pips try to lead. That’s Gladys’ role. Let Gladys be Gladys.”

In Brooklyn, Gladys is singing stronger than ever.

“He wasn’t being involved as much [in training camp],” Kirilenko said of Kidd recently. “He was watching more and observing. Now, he’s involved more and he’s talking more.”

Observing Kidd at one recent shootaround, Nets general manager Billy King said to assistant GM Frank Zanin, “From November to now, it’s night and day. It’s been a joy to watch.”

Kidd will tell you that he and the team grew together, that it took “everybody” to get through those first two months. King believes the improvement started with the coach.

“I think he developed the group,” King told NBA.com, “by spending time talking to individual players and the players as a group. I think he molded them to become a group and be one, rather than be individuals. It comes from sharing the basketball, being accountable.

“And that was him from the beginning. He challenged the guys to share the basketball, to sacrifice for each other.”

After a loss in Boston earlier this month, Kidd looked at the box score and didn’t lament that the Nets shot 4-for-30 from 3-point range, but that their shot distribution was unbalanced. Only four times this season has a Net attempted more than 20 shots in a game, and two of those games went to overtime. Only the Jazz (two) have fewer games of a player taking 20 or more shots. Fourteen teams have 20 or more.

Though five guys are getting paid like stars, it’s a team thing in Brooklyn. Ask Kidd about how a particular player impacted a game and he’d rather talk about the group. Ask him about himself and he probably won’t give you an answer at all (though he did say last week that he never regretted his choice to become a coach just days after retiring).

“We had a lot of long coaches meetings,” he said of his team’s early-season struggles. “We had a lot of long conversations with players. But there was never a panic of, like, ‘Maybe I should have kept playing, maybe we should have went on vacation a little bit longer.’ Sometimes you have to face adversity right off the bat and you get to find out who’s really in and who’s out. And those guys in the locker room are truly in and that’s what makes it special.”

Relying on ‘instincts’


VIDEO: The Starters discuss the Nets improved play

When the Nets were looking for a coach last summer, Kidd told ownership, “We need a leader.” They suggested Kidd and, after an interview, King bought in and sought advice from his college coach.

“Don’t put him in a coaching box,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told King. “Let his instincts take over and he’ll be fine.”

Indeed, there’s probably more Jason Kidd in the coach than coach in Kidd. Or maybe he’s been a coach all along. Those who have watched the New York Knicks the last two seasons would certainly make that argument.

As the best point guard of the last 20 years, Kidd has had his teammates’ respect from Day 1. Now, he’s the closest thing the NBA has had to a player-coach since Dave Cowens in 1979.

“I look at him as the head coach,” Joe Johnson said. “But then I still look at him as a good friend. It’s almost like he’s still a player.”

The respect that players have for Kidd can go a long way. He hasn’t been afraid to bench one or more of his high-priced stars for the entire fourth quarter of a close game. Now that his team has found its identity, he has a feel for what is working and what isn’t.

Orchestrating a successful season


VIDEO: Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck explains the Nets’ path to finding their identity

“From my seat [a few feet away from the bench], I get to see him orchestrate, from offense to defense,” King said. “He’s telling guys where to go and changing plays on the fly.”

And Kidd’s knowledge of what his team needs goes beyond his in-game decisions. Shaun Livingston was his choice for the back-up point guard spot last summer, a decision that has worked out brilliantly. In February, Kidd believed that his team could handle the addition of Jason Collins, and he was right on that one, too.

“The thing that really has struck me is his attention to detail as a rookie coach,” King said, “like player minutes to rotations to sticking with the bench longer than some other people would as a rookie coach. I think he’s managed players’ minutes to try to keep them as fresh as possible. A lot of times, as a rookie coach, they don’t, because they got to keep their best players out there to win that game.”

As a player, Kidd was usually the smartest guy on the floor. As a coach, he’s allowing his basketball mind to flourish.

“There are several teammates who I’ve played with where you can see that they just think the game, and their basketball IQ is off the charts,” Collins said. “J-Kidd was always that way as a teammate. Now, it’s turned into the Xs and Os.”

Kidd knows he still has a long way to go. Asked how comfortable he’s become as a coach, he replied, “I’m still working at it. There’s no comfort level here.”

The playoffs will be another huge test. Given that the Nets, overall, have fallen short of expectations, there are better Coach of the Year candidates. Kidd is still making questionable decisions, like intentionally fouling with the Nets up four points in the final seconds against Toronto earlier this month.

But considering how quickly he has developed and how well he’s recovered from his early growing pains, it’s clear that the Nets have found themselves a winner.

“He’s not going to do something just to be average at it,” King said. “He wants to be great at whatever he does, whether it’s golf, coaching, playing, he wants to be great at it. That’s the approach he took from Day 1 here.”

Back to that early-season criticism of Kidd: When he was hired, there was a consensus among observers that he would need some time to adjust to his new role. In retrospect, that’s exactly what happened in November and December.

Since then? Well, at this point, it would be nice to hear from Beck’s scout again.

“It’s a marathon,” Kidd said. “That’s the nice thing about the NBA season. You can be judged on the first game, but the ones who know best, you’re not judged until the end.”

He was speaking of his team. But he might well have been talking about himself.


VIDEO:
Rod Boone of Newsday talks about the Nets’ recent surge in play

After trial by fire, Nuggets coach Shaw eyes next season

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Go inside the huddle with Brian Shaw

DALLAS – Thirteen first-time NBA coaches will head into summer with experiences each will never forget, from Brett Brown coping with a bare-bones 76ers squad to Jason Kidd unlocking a star-laden Nets team whose luxury tax payment alone will nearly double the Sixers’ payroll.

Then there’s Brian Shaw. The Denver Nuggets coach, a disciple of Phil Jackson, took over a 57-win team coached by a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer, an 1,100-game-winner and one of the league’s all-time great innovators. George Karl might have led the Nuggets out of the first round just once in nine seasons, but he won a lot with a fun, energetic style.

Shaw inherited a team that lost its two premiere wing runners, Andre Iguodala, also a defensive stopper, and Corey Brewer. It wasn’t long into the season before Shaw lost veteran backup point guard Andre Miller to a power struggle and banished him from the team.

Then there were the injuries: Dino Gallinari never returned from last season’s ACL tear, JaVale McGee lasted five games, then Nate Robinson, J.J. Hickson and trade newcomer Jan Vesely. Point guard, leading scorer and top assist man Ty Lawson has missed 14 games; 12 each for second-leading scorer Wilson Chandler and reserve forward Darrell Arthur.

“A lot of people talk about the first-year head coach stuff and he [Shaw] hasn’t shown any of that at all,” Nuggets top assistant Lester Conner said. “He’s set the foundation. It’s been an injury-riddled season for us and the way he’s handled it, it’s like one of the best coaches in the league, and he is. He doesn’t have the tenure like some of them have, but if you look at our game and how we play and look at how we compete, if you were blindfolded, you wouldn’t think that there was a fisrt-year head coach. He’s been in a lot of wars as far as championships with Phil, so he knows what it’s like. He’s handled the media well, he’s handled the Andre Miller situation well. He’s done a great job.”

However so, the Nuggets are on pace to not make the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Yet it seems things could be a whole lot worse than Denver’s 32-39 record attained through stretches of feast or famine and seemingly always banged-up bodies.

“One of the things one of my mentor’s, Phil Jackson, always preached to me was believing in your system and what you’re doing out there,” said Shaw, who communicates with Jackson once every week or two throughout the season. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have been in great situations with great teams that have had the ultimate success at the end of the season, and so I believe that I know what it looks like, I know what it takes, what kind of work ethic goes into it and what kind of habits need to be developed by our players.”

Lawson, the fifth-year point guard seemingly on the precipice of making an All-Star team, and under contract through 2017, said he stands behind Shaw “100 percent,” and went so far as to make a bold prediction for a healthy — knock-on-wood — 2014-15 campaign: “I think we will definitely be good, maybe top four in the West next year.

“I look at [our] record and think about all the injuries we went through, especially [Chandler], me, Nate, everybody went down,” Lawson continued. “We had a lot of different parts.”

Shaw, 48, spent 10 years with the Lakers and then Pacers working toward this opportunity. He came in with no misgivings of the challenge and made no promises. He did have a vision, and a plan to transform Karl’s freewheeling Nuggets into a team that could execute in the halfcourt through inside play without fully stifling the run-and-gun style.

But Shaw his concept initially led to confusion. Frontcourt players interpreted it to mean they’d receive an entry pass every time down the floor and would be allowed to go to work. That frustrated Lawson, whose game is predicated on his speed and ability to drive to the rim.

“Ty was frustrated early on until we really were able to clarify what that meant, that inside play could be a small guy posting up, or if it was just penetration and getting into the paint,” Shaw said. “So now I think what you see is Ty flourishing (18.1 ppg, 8.9 apg), Kenneth [Faried] (12.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg) is really starting to come into his own; they’ve had their best numbers since they’ve been in the league. [Timofey] Mozgoz has had a chance to play and is developing, so I think they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Ten players are under contract for next season. Gallinari is expected to return and McGee will make another run at ditching his “Shaqtin’ A Fool” persona and becoming a legitimate NBA starting center.

As his first campaign draws to a close, Shaw is coaching the players still standing with an eye toward next season.

“Everybody now has an understanding of exactly what I expect of them, how we want to play and what we want to do going forward,” Shaw said. “Obviously there are some guys that are on the roster right now that are going to be here next year and some that aren’t, but for me, I’ve said that this is going to be a year of discovery to really understand what it is that we have to work with.”

D-Will getting stronger as Nets surge

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Deron Williams scores 28 to lead the Nets past the Suns

DALLAS – Following Sunday night’s inspired overtime win, a relieved Deron Williams walked deliberately — limped is more like it — on delicate ankles toward the Texas barbecue buffet Mavericks owner Mark Cuban provides visiting teams after games.

As Williams stacked brisket, sausage and potato salad onto his to-go plate, the Brooklyn Nets point guard, who grew up 30 minutes up the highway, had no intention of discussing his physical state. Not that that’s anything new for the ornery Williams, who’s known to grow testy when interrogated about the difficulty of playing on bad wheels.

“It is, but what can you do?” Williams said. “There’s nothing you can do about it. I feel great right now. We just got a win, I’m happy about that, and I want to get one [tonight]. That’s my concern.”

The Nets, now 37-31 and just 1 1/2 games behind Atlantic Division-leading Toronto, have won 11 of 13 and seek a fifth consecutive win tonight at New Orleans (8 p.m. ET, League Pass).

With 15 points on 3-for-9 shooting and three assists, Williams didn’t play his best game in the 107-104 come-from-behind victory against the hometown team he spurned as a free agent two summers ago to instead lead the Nets out of New Jersey and into the promised land of Brooklyn. Still, Williams logged a team-high 42 minutes and stuck with it long enough to drop a 3-point dagger, the only one he’d hit on five attempts, to give the Nets, who turned to solid defense on a poor-shooting night, an eight-point cushion with 1:26 to go.

The workload was his highest since Feb. 13 and well above the 33.2 mpg Williams has averaged since returning on Jan. 20 from more ankle issues that sidelined him for nearly three weeks. In early January he received a cortisone shot and platelet-rich plasma injections in both ankles.

“I think he’s getting to where he wants to be,” teammate Joe Johnson said. “I can see that pop coming back. He’s playing aggressive, getting to the rim, so that’s what we need out of him. He’s working, man, everyday, coming in, getting his shots up, doing whatever it takes to be effective. I think he’s getting there.”

Williams, 29, might never again challenge Chris Paul for point-guard supremacy in the league, but a physically and mentally sharp Williams is the Nets’ only hope for making a long playoff run that seemed improbable, if not impossible, just two months ago. Jason Kidd, a close friend of Williams’ before he became his coach over the summer, has preached patience.

“We spent a lot of time through practices and games and spend some time together off the court,” Kidd said. “The biggest thing for an athlete or anybody at that level, health is the first thing. He wasn’t healthy and now he’s starting to get healthy. He feels good and you can see his play, he’s playing at a high level.”

With the 6-foot-3, 209-pound Williams averaging 14.9 ppg and 5.9 apg since his latest return, with Paul Pierce engaged, Joe Johnson continuing to be clutch, a boost from deadline acquisition Marcus Thornton and general good health beyond Kevin Garnett, the high-priced Nets have at least made themselves a threat to potentially challenge Indiana or Miami if they can get out of the first round.

“If you’re in the East looking at them in the first round or second round,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said, “you wouldn’t want to play that team.”

Kidd, one of the league’s most durable players throughout his 19-year career, knows his team’s fortunes depend on good health. He’s done a terrific job of utilizing his bench and spreading minutes to ease wear-and-tear on the veterans he’ll lean on in the playoffs. Johnson leads the team logging just 32.8 mpg. Williams, at 32.0 mpg, by far the lowest of his nine seasons, is the only other Nets player averaging more than 30.0 mpg.

Williams said early season criticism of Kidd was unfair because of the onslaught of injuries to key players. Since Jan. 1 they’ve been one of the hottest teams in the league, going 27-10.

“We’re healthy, that’s the biggest thing,” Williams said. “At the beginning of the season we were injured. We were injured and that’s tough on him [Kidd], not having guys at full strength and not having his guys out there, so that made it difficult. And now we’re still not whole, but we’re more healthy, we’re playing with more confidence.

“A lot of it is us. He was doing a great job earlier, we were just not, I don’t want to say not buying in, we were buying in, it just wasn’t clicking like it is now. It took us a little longer than we thought to learn what he wanted and get on the same page.”

Morning Shootaround — March 23


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Heat continue to struggle | Burke hits game-winner | Hickson to miss remainder of season | Kidd didn’t panic during slow start

No. 1: Heat continue to struggle – The Miami Heat lost to the New Orleans Pelicans 105-95 last night to fall to 4-7 over their last 11 games. The loss also marks the 12th time the Heat have fallen to an opponent with a losing record. At this point last year the Heat were on game 25 of their eventual 27-game winning streak , but now they struggle to find a resolution to their current woes. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald has reaction after Saturday night’s loss:

The anger finally boiled over late Saturday night, after another uninspired Heat effort that featured entirely too many miscues and entirely too many defensive lapses.

“So I figure I’ll be the first one to say ‘We suck,’” Chris Bosh declared after the latest demoralizing setback, a 105-95 loss to the Pelicans at Smoothie King Arena.

“This is unacceptable,” Bosh added. “If we don’t change this, we will be watching the championship from home.” He said one problem is “we’ve been keeping things in” all season. “There’s no passion.”

LeBron James also made no attempt to conceal his disgust after Miami’s seventh loss in its past 11 games overall, and its 12th defeat against a team with a losing record.

“Too many excuses,” he said. “We’ve got to stop excuses. Guys on the floor need to produce. It’s that simple.”

For the seventh time in the past 11 games, the Heat allowed a team to shoot at least 49.3 percent. The Pelicans, who entered shooting 45.9 percent for the season, closed at 51.2. Ahead by four points after three quarters, New Orleans scored 29 in the fourth on 12 for 20 shooting.

“The floodgates went open in the second half,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Their guards did a great job breaking us down. We couldn’t keep them out of the paint. This is new territory for us. We all know we have to play much more committed defensively.

“Yes, our locker-room is frustrated, as it should be. We’re not accustomed to these types of standards from the defensive end. We did not defend, did not have that tough, gritty personality.”

No team gives up a higher shooting percentage of corner threes than the Heat, and the Pelicans victimized Miami with several in the second half, including daggers from Anthony Morrow and Luke Babbitt. And keep in mind that this was a New Orleans team missing three of their best shooters: Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday and Ryan Andersen.

There were visible signs of disgust during the game, including James yelling and gesticulating after a Morrow three pushed the Pelicans’ lead to 85-76 with nine minutes left. Spoelstra also appeared particularly animated with his team during an ensuing timeout.

But none of that emotion helped, with the Pelicans extending their lead to 16 soon after.

There were inexcusable defensive breakdowns, including a second-quarter sequence when Morrow somehow scored on a layup on an out-of-bounds play with one second left on the shot clock. (Ray Allen appeared to be the primary defender.)

There were too many second-chance points for the Pelicans (13), too many fast-break points (21 to Miami’s 11) and too many uncontested forays to the basket, many the result of Heat guards being beaten off the dribble.

“We can’t relax versus teams we’re supposed to beat,” James said before the game. “Not saying we’re entitled to win, but we don’t focus the whole game.”

James conceded that “this is the toughest season we’ve had since Year One because of everything that comes with trying to repeat. We are the target every single night. We have to find our motivation every single night.”

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VIDEO: Play of the Day: Trey Burke

No. 2: Burke hits game-winner – Utah Jazz rookie Trey Burke hit the first game-winner of his NBA career last night against the Orlando Magic. The shot pushed the Jazz to a meager 23-47 on the season, but the moment was one Burke always imagined as a child. Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune has the story:

Trey Burke used to rehearse for his moment every day when he was younger.

Utah’s rookie point guard would shoot by himself for hours at the gym, imagining an expiring clock, a narrow deficit, an entire game on his shoulders. He would shoot over brooms and ladders, impersonating long-armed defenders contesting his jumper.

He got his chance in real life on Saturday night. Before 19,228 at EnergySolutions Arena, Burke hit the game-winner, a dagger from the corner over Orlando’s Victor Oladipo. The shot gave the Jazz an 89-88 victory over the Magic and broke a six-game losing streak.

“I knew that I had to get a lot of arc on it,” Burke said. “Victor was flying at me and I knew if I shot it the way I regularly did, it was going to either miss or get blocked. I knew we didn’t have a lot of time, so I had to be ready to shoot the ball right away.”

Burke came up huge when it counted. Even before his game-winner, his 3-pointer with 2:55 remaining gave the Jazz a 79-77 lead, just as Oladipo had given Orlando an advantage with two free throws.

In what’s been a difficult season, Utah’s looked for bright spots wherever they can be had. And on Saturday, the Jazz could’ve easily surrendered their seventh consecutive loss in ugly fashion. Instead, Gordon Hayward drove the lane and made a fantastic pass, and Burke proved capable of hitting a big shot.

“The ball went in the hole,” Utah coach Ty Corbin said. “After putting ourselves in a bad position, I thought the guys did a good job to close the game out. They understood the pace, Gordon made a great pass to the corner and Trey made the shot. It’s great to see the young guys show a lot of character. We could’ve fell apart there when we fell behind, but they played it out.”

In a maturity-filled final two minutes, Corbin said his guys had four possessions that needed to go right, and they executed each time. Down 83-81, Richard Jefferson went to the basket, got fouled and made a free throw. Down 85-82, Hayward created contact, drew another foul and hit two more freebies. Down 87-84, Hayward dished to Derrick Favors for a lay-in. And then came Burke’s big play.

Each possession was critical. A misstep anywhere in that sequence, and the game is probably over.

“The poise that they showed down the stretch was really good for this young group,” Corbin said. “We didn’t create the pace that we wanted to, but I liked the way we finished the game.”

***

No. 3: Hickson to miss remainder of season – The season for the Denver Nuggets’ J.J. Hickson is done after an MRI showed a torn ligament in his right knee. This is an unfortunate event for Hickson, who despite losing his starting role, was playing major minutes for the Nuggets. Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post has reaction from Denver and information on who will replace Hickson in the Nuggets’ rotation:

The news came Saturday that the Nuggets have lost their fourth player for the rest of the season because of an injury when J.J. Hickson’s MRI revealed a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

The rest of the season is just 13 games, but he joins Danilo Gallinari, JaVale McGee and Nate Robinson, who all underwent season-ending surgeries.

Hickson is the third Nuggets player to go down because of an injured ACL.

Hickson is the Nuggets’ leading rebounder at 9.2 per game, and is the fifth-leading scorer at 11.8 points per game.

“He’s had a good season for us,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said. “J.J. has shown that when he was a starter, and lately as he’s come off the bench, regardless of whether he plays a ton of minutes or he plays lesser minutes, he’s still always around that double-double mark. He’s an elite rebounder for the minutes that he plays.”

Hickson’s absence opens the door for former Washington Wizards forward Jan Vesely to get additional playing time. He has played in only 10 games since coming to the Nuggets at the trade deadline and has averaged 10.4 minutes.

That will change as the rotation does.

“I’m sure (Vesely) kind of wants to get out there and go against his old team,” Shaw said.

He sure does.

“I’m really excited about it,” Vesely said. “It will be a tough game. Washington is playing really good the last couple months. We have to get ready for a fast tempo on both sides. We have to play fast, and they will do the same thing.”

Shaw has wanted to get a bigger sample size from which to evaluate Vesely, a former NBA lottery pick.

“He has a high basketball IQ,” Shaw said. “He has a really good feel for the game. Obviously, his athleticism is off the charts. He’s not very polished offensively of just being able to throw the ball to him and say ‘Get us a bucket.’ But he knows that and he plays within his limitations, which I like.

“Unfortunately, he hasn’t had that much of a chance to get on the floor, but with J.J. being out … we should be able to get a good look at him.”

***

No. 4: Kidd didn’t panic during slow start – When the Brooklyn Nets struggled early this season, coach Jason Kidd received much of the blame. But now with the Nets finally hitting a groove and playing well (they’re 10-2 over their last 12 games), Kidd reveals that he made sure to never panic during his team’s slow start. Harvey Araton of The New York Times has the story on how the Nets are reacting to the Phil Jackson hoopla across town with the New York Knicks:

In fact, pretty much everything that Jackson, the Knicks’ new president, and James L. Dolan, their owner, were promising as they exchanged vows last week at Madison Square Garden had been established at Barclays Center, where the Nets won Friday for the 11th straight time, 114-98, against the Boston Celtics.

In the true spirit of the Jacksonian triangle, they distributed the ball as if it were a family heirloom, collecting 30 assists and making 56.4 percent of their shots.

“No one cares who scores,” Kidd said. “It’s all about Brooklyn.”

[Billy] King, who was allowed to construct one of the N.B.A.’s deepest rosters without the owner Mikhail D. Prokhorov’s butting in, had a relaxed (albeit rare) pregame chat with reporters. That’s the kind of interaction unseen around the Garden since Donnie Walsh regularly defied Dolan’s longstanding policy of hiding executives behind a wall of silence.

Although the Knicks narrowly escaped in Philadelphia for their eighth straight victory and crept closer to the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff position, the Nets moved to a game and a half behind first-place Toronto in the Atlantic Division, with the growing possibility of a top-four playoff seeding.

It was all enough for Kidd to almost crack a smile.

“There was never a panic, like, maybe I should have kept playing,” he said when asked if he had had sleepless nights and second thoughts when the Nets were wallowing in the depths of the conference, along with the Knicks, earlier this season.

Had Kidd not retired from a brilliant playing career, he would be among those kissing Jackson’s 11 coaching rings, eyeing a long-shot first-round series against Indiana or Miami, instead of leading a more versatile group that, as Paul Pierce said, can be one of the better teams in the East.

And yet … and yet ….

For all the Nets have accomplished since the turn of the year and as low as the Knicks sank (19 games under .500 until their current run), Dolan indisputably regained the upper hand last week in the continuing spend-a-thon against Prokhorov with the mere signing of Jackson to a five-year, $60 million contract.

In other words, the Nets, much like the Knicks, could look significantly different in a season a two. Neither team might be a serious championship contender any time soon. But we can count on both to be among the league leaders in dispensing cash and systemically sharing the ball. The players and the purists should be happy about that.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Philadelphia 76ers extended their losing streak to 24 games. … On the other end of the spectrum, the San Antonio Spurs won their 13th straight game. … Anthony Davis dominated the Heat for 30 points and 11 rebounds. … The Washington Wizards’ Drew Gooden was fined $15,000 by the league for his incident with Nick Young.

ICYMI of the NightChris Paul dished out the 6,000 assist of his career last night to become the 30th player in NBA history to accomplish the feat. Paul is third among active players in career assists behind only Steve Nash and Andre Miller.


VIDEO: Paul hits 6,000 assists

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

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


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

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

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

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

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

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

What else has taken some getting used to?

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

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

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

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

Livingston embodies Nets’ new identity

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Rachel Nichols talks with Shuan Livingston about his long path back to NBA relevance

BROOKLYN – The Brooklyn Nets are the most expensive team in NBA history, and their most important player right now is a guy making the league minimum.

The key to the Nets’ 22-9 record since Jan. 1 has been their defense, which is fifth-best in that time and has forced 19.2 turnovers per 100 possessions. No team has forced that many turnovers over a full, 82-game season since 1997-98.

The most important element of that improved Brooklyn defense is the length of Shaun Livingston, a guy who was signed to be the back-up point guard but who ranks third on the team in minutes and has started every game he’s played (he’s missed one) since … Jan. 1.

Playing small, the Nets have struggled on the glass, haven’t blocked many shots, and haven’t done a great job of keeping their opponents off the free throw line. But they’ve had defensive success due to contesting shots and forcing mistakes.

Kevin Garnett has been Brooklyn’s defensive anchor since Brook Lopez was lost for the season, but the Nets have gone 5-1 without KG in March. They’re allowing less than a point per possession because they still have backcourt length, which allows them to switch screens, help and recover and both get into the space of ball-handlers and into passing lanes.

As a 6-foot-7 point guard with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, Livingston is the embodiment of Brooklyn’s new identity. He can smother opposing guards and switch onto forwards. With the game on the line in the final minute on Monday, Livingston poked the ball away from Toronto’s Terrence Ross.

“He’s so versatile,” Deron Williams said of his backcourt-mate after the win on Monday. “He’s been guarding the best players a lot of nights.”

It’s more than that. Livingston’s size unlocks everything the Nets do defensively. Without his size and activity, the scheme doesn’t work nearly as well, and the numbers bear that out. The Nets have been 8.5 points per 100 possessions better defensively since Jan. 1 when Livingston has been on the floor.

20140312_bkn_livingston

We all know Livingston’s story and it’s great to see him playing such a big role on a playoff team seven years after his gruesome and devastating knee injury as a Clipper. Less than 15 months ago, he was waived by the 3-22 Washington Wizards.

After doing a solid job in Cleveland in the second half last season, Livingston was Jason Kidd‘s choice to back-up Williams. Some of us thought he was a bad fit because of his poor (non-existent, really) perimeter shooting. But Kidd was right all along … although he couldn’t have known that he’d be relying on Livingston as much as he has.

The 28-year-old has already started more games (39) than he ever has and will surpass his career high in minutes next week.

“I didn’t know what to expect, coming in, being a back-up,” Livingston said. “But things happen in the NBA.”

This isn’t just a feel-good story, though. The Nets need Livingston, who has given them the identity that’s turned them into the team we’d thought they’d be at the beginning of the season with their $82 million starting lineup.

“You just try to find your niche,” he said. “Sometimes, you got to find your value on the court. What’s going to help my team win games? [Andrei] Kirilenko is the same way. We’re active. We’re long. So we have to use that to our advantage.”

The Nets are just two games over .500 and in sixth place in the weak East, but that 22-9 mark is the conference’s best in 2014. They’ve established themselves as a tough out for any team they’d face in the playoffs, including the Miami Heat. Brooklyn is 2-0 against Miami as the Heat host the Nets tonight (7 ET, ESPN).

It’ll be another game featuring a bunch of high-priced stars. And a guy making the minimum will play a big role.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 149): The Brooklyn Nets … Featuring Joe Johnson And Jake Appleman

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — It’s rare that we get to examine issues like freedom of speech, civil rights in sports, the ongoing debate about the “N” word being used on the court and field of play and locker rooms and other hot button topics of the day beyond the game of basketball.

Then again, is there a better forum for a closer of examination of those issues and how they impact the broader context of sports than right here? From Jason Collins to Michael Sam to the current state of affairs of the Brooklyn Nets and where they are headed, we’ve got it all on Epispde 149 of the Hang Time Podcast: The Brooklyn Nets … featuring All-Star swingman Joe Johnson and Brooklyn Bounce author Jake Appleman.

Collins and Sam are breaking new ground in their respective sports, Collins as the first openly gay player to suit up and play in one of the major North American sports and Sam as the first openly gay NFL draft prospect. Collins has history with the Nets, having played for the franchise earlier in his career (during their Finals days) and as a former teammate of Johnson, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and even Nets coach Jason Kidd.

Our friends at NBAE also provide us with a fantastic look back at All-Star Weekend in Sounds of the Game and the basement gets a new tenant in this week’s edition of Braggin’ Rights.

You get all of that and more on Episode 149 of the Hang Time Podcast: The Brooklyn Nets … featuring All-Star swingman Joe Johnson and Brooklyn Bounce author Jake Appleman …

LISTEN HERE:


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: Jason Collins makes history with the Brooklyn Nets