HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The playoffs are here. And to get you ready, we’ve got statistical nuggets for each series, courtesy of NBA.com/Stats.
Eastern Conference basketball was slower and less efficient than Western Conference hoops. Five of the eight East playoff teams ranked in the bottom eight in pace, while four of the eight ranked in the top seven in defensive efficiency.
Yet, a couple of these series (Knicks-Celtics and Nets-Bulls) can be seen as offense vs. defense.
Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank) OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank) DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank) NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank) The league averaged 94.4 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 103.1 points scored per 100 possessions.
The Knicks scored just 97.6 points per 100 possessions in 70 minutes with Kevin Garnett on the floor this season, and scored 115.8 against the Celtics with KG on the bench. He missed the final two regular season meetings.
All seven wins have come without defensive anchor Tyson Chandler, and the one that got the Knicks started on this run – a critical victory in Utah on the second night of a back-to-back – came without Carmelo Anthony.
The streak hasn’t come against the toughest schedule – four of the wins have been over Toronto, Orlando and Charlotte – but it has included a win in Boston and a win over the Grizzlies. And it’s mostly been an offensive run, though the Knicks’ sketchy defense has held three of the seven opponents under a point per possession…
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
The Knicks’ resurgence has been keyed by a couple of unlikely contributors. Kenyon Martin wasn’t in the league five weeks ago, but has filled in admirably for Chandler as a 6-foot-9 center. And Pablo Prigioni, a 35-year-old rookie who was signed last summer to be the third-string point guard, has stepped into a role no one could ever have imagined him playing.
Both Martin and Prigioni have started all seven games of the Knicks’ winning streak. But the winning started when Prigioni started, for the first time in his NBA career, alongside Raymond Felton in a two-point-guard lineup.
Two point guards playing at the same time is nothing new for the Knicks, who started Felton and Jason Kidd for 22 of the first 28 games this season, mostly because they didn’t have another shooting guard to start. And as long as both were healthy, Mike Woodson basically started Felton and Kidd together through the end of February.
But Kidd really struggled at the end of that run, shooting a brutal 7-for-52 (13 percent) from 3-point range between Jan. 26 and March 1. So Woodson went with just one starting point guard for a stretch of 10 games. And because he refuses to start J.R. Smith under any circumstances, he had either James White or Chris Copeland in the lineup.
To no one’s surprise, that didn’t work too well, so Woodson decided to go back to the two-point-guard lineup, this time with Kidd coming off the bench and Prigioni, who had been given three DNPs earlier in the month, starting.
So far, so good. The Knicks are now 30-13 in games in which they’ve started two point guards and 15-13 in games in which they’ve started just one. Felton’s 12-game absence in December and January has something to do with that mark, and starting lineups sometimes play no more than 10 minutes together, but the Knicks have proven to be much better with two point guards on the floor, whether they’re starting together or not.
PGs on the floor
Felton + Kidd + Prigioni
Felton + Kidd
Kidd + Prigioni
Felton + Prigioni
Note: The three-point-guard numbers are obviously a small sample size, and they’re a bit skewed by a crazy 3:27 stretch at the end of a Dec. 21 loss to the Chicago Bulls. Anthony, Chandler and Woodson had all been ejected and the Knicks scored 21 points in the final 3:27 with a lineup of three point guards, Copeland and White, turning a 13-point deficit into a more respectable, four-point loss.
The big difference between two-point-guard lineups and one-point-guard lineups has been on offense. And the key has been turnovers and 3-pointers.
The Knicks lead the league in turnover ratio, coughing the ball up just 13.2 times per 100 possessions. And that number is even lower – 12.9 – when they’ve had two point guards on the floor.
And when they have two point guards on the floor, they shoot and make more 3s.
Knicks 3-point shooting
PGs on the floor
%3PA = Percentage of total FGA from 3-point range
Even though Kidd’s shooting went into the tank in February, the Felton-Kidd combo still has great numbers over the biggest sample size of any of the combinations. And the new Felton-Prigioni combo has only been better, though in just 139 minutes. Kidd, meanwhile, has shot a more respectable 34.4 percent from 3-point range since being benched on March 1.
The Argentine is just 6-foot-3 and rather slight, but he’s a real pest on the ball and in the passing lanes (a few examples here, here and here). The Knicks have forced 18.0 turnovers per 100 possessions when he’s been on the floor, a rate which would lead the league by a good margin (the Clippers are No. 1, forcing 17.4).
Woodson alluded to Prigioni’s plus-minus when asked about his newest starter this week.
“He’s a student of the game and the fact that he’s kind of waited and he’s watched and he’s learned,” Woodson said. “He’s played the minutes that I’ve given him. His minutes have always been pretty positive. If it was five minutes, it was five good minutes. And I think the fact that he is very knowledgeable of the game, he has patiently sat and waited and now his minutes have grown a little bit, and he still looks like he belongs.”
The Knicks’ schedule is about to get much tougher, with their next five games against playoff teams, a stretch that includes visits to Miami and Oklahoma City. Chandler’s continued absence (with a bulging disc), meanwhile, isn’t exactly encouraging.
But the Knicks are certainly rediscovering their offensive rhythm at the right time, which has helped them stay comfortably on the right side (the 2-3-6-7 side) of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. And while they certainly can’t maintain the level of offense they’ve been playing over the last seven games, this run has certainly established both Martin and Prigioni as valuable contributors going forward.
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – With two-thirds of Boston’s Big Three now out of action and compromising the Celtics’ offense, the responsibility of keeping the team out of the dreaded eight-hole and a first-round series with the Miami Heat will be heaped on their ability to defend.
The shorthanded Celtics begin their final 13 games tonight against the New York Knicks (7 p.m. ET, TNT) with Rajon Rondo and now Kevin Garnett — Boston’s third- and second-leading scorers, respectively — sidelined. It means 22-year-old defensive whiz Avery Bradley steps up as perhaps the team’s most important player.
Seventh-place Boston gets New York twice this week, plus the sixth-place Atlanta Hawks, who are two games ahead of the Celtics and in a virtual deadlock with fifth-place Chicago. At worst, the Celtics, two games in front of eighth-place Milwaukee, want to maintain their position heading into the postseason.
Having played just 38 games this season after recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, Bradley is fresh and Boston’s best hope to defend their way through Garnett’s potentially crushing absence.
“I just think Avery Bradley has defensive DNA, I mean that’s who he is,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “He has great feet, he has great hands, he’s tough, he sticks his nose in there and I think a great defensive player has to want to get his hands dirty, and he does. Avery understands what makes him a good player and what gets him on the map is his defense.”
We caught up with Bradley during the Celtics’ visit to Dallas last week:
Q: You were a highly rated defensive player coming out of high school and you enhanced your reputation during your one season at Texas. It’s rare for a young player in today’s AAU culture to embrace defense. Why did you?
A: In high school I used to be the player that scored 30 and then take the challenge to hold the best player on the other team, have him not score. That’s the reason I think in high school I was fortunate enough to be ranked so high because that’s what I’d do every game. But that’s always just been me. I’m a competitor and that’s the only way I know how to play. If we’re playing pickup, I don’t want you to score. That’s just how I play.
Q: What makes a good defender?
A: It’s definitely mental, a lot of it, just like the game of basketball, but I think it’s a God gift and just me wanting to guard, that’s the biggest thing. If you give that effort, that’s all that coach asks for on the defensive end. That’s what I give.
Q: Was it easy for you to come into the league and quickly become an aggressive defender?
A: Definitely not because refs have no respect for you, so if you’re an aggressive defender being a young guy, it’ll get you on the bench fast. But I think it has its pluses and its minuses. If you come into the league as a young player and have an offensive mindset, the majority of the time you’re not going to play. That was my approach, defense, I knew that’s what was going to get me on the floor. I bought into our defense and not only that I wanted to take the challenge every single night to want to hold the best players, to get that respect, not only from my teammates, but players and the refs. That’s what I try to do.
Q:Obviously the Celtics and Miami Heat have engaged in some great battles, most recently the Heat’s comeback in Boston to keep their winning streak alive. How do LeBron James and Dwyane Wade treat you now?
A: I can’t really say, but I know they know what to expect from me every single game that I’m going to guard them. I’m going to compete. I’m not going to back down to nobody, ever. I can tell they know that and I can tell that they know that the whole game I’m going to be playing hard. You see people try to do the same thing to me that I do to them, but at the end of the day I never get tired so I’m always going to keep going. It’s fun, like I said, I just love taking that challenge every single game, playing against the best players in the NBA. It’s what I dreamed of.
Q: When did you realize that you could compete in this league?
A: Last year once I got an opportunity to play, it was around this time of year. I believe we had some players hurt and I got an opportunity to play. I think we played Dallas and then OKC. Those were my first games ever in the NBA playing the amount of minutes that I played since the last game of my rookie season that I played 20 minutes or something like that. That was big for me and that’s when I realized I could play in this league. I think I was playing against Jason Kidd and that was my first game playing like big minutes. I got to get a feel for the game and not only that, I wasn’t nervous. That’s when I knew I could play in this league, that I could be effective out there on the defensive and offensive end.
Q: Who do you look forward to guarding the most?
A: Everybody, every single night. Everybody is a challenge on every single team, especially at the point guard position. So I always have to prepare myself and not only that, people know what I do on the scouting report so they take it as a challenge to. At the same time, I feel like I have a target on my back. Regardless, I’m just going to play as hard as I can. As long as my teammates can say I play hard at the end of the game that’s all that matters, even if I’m not making shots.
Q: What thrills you most about making a defensive play?
A: Probably the best part of it, just me getting my teammates into it when they see me playing hard out there. It literally feels like it gives me more energy for me to play hard on defense. And then my teammates score and then I go back after the guy, and it’s kind of like, ‘Dang, can I get a break, you guys just scored.’ That makes me feel good. It’s more energy, it’s crazy.
DALLAS –Dirk Nowitzki‘s beard grows thicker and more unruly with each passing day. Losses like Wednesday’s at home to the Brooklyn Nets decrease the odds that he’ll reach for a razor any time soon. The pact he and a group of teammates made some six weeks ago was that no one shaves until they reach .500.
The Dallas Mavericks were 21-28 on Feb. 8 when the motivational ploy came to light. Nowitzki had little more than the scruff he typically wears. But look at him now. The Mavs are 32-36, barely hanging on to playoff hope, and Nowitzki’s bearded face is proof, untamed, grizzly and rivaling the one he grew for weeks in the Outback six summers ago after his lone MVP season ended dismally in a first-round flop.
“Only then I didn’t even trim this part,” Nowitzki said, pointing to the lower portion of his bushy moustache creeping over his upper lip. “It came all the way down here.”
After Wednesday’s loss when Nowitzki shot 80 percent from the field, but took only 10 shots and none in the final half of the fourth quarter when Deron Williams – the co-star Dallas failed to obtain last summer — took over, the 34-year-old Nowitzki stroked his prickly-chin and scratched the back of his fur-covered neck where clumps of hair forcibly trail downward like a thicket of overgrown vines.
He said his mom told him he looks 45. Judging by his heavy eyes after the 113-96 disappointment to start a crucial six-game homestand, he might feel that old, too.
Nowitzki missed the first 27 games of the season after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Oct. 19. His recovery was slow and painful, as was his game upon his return. And now, after missing his first All-Star Game in 12 seasons, he is on the verge of sitting out the playoffs for the first time in 13.
His team hasn’t been at .500 since it was 11-11 on Dec. 12. They were 12-16 when he returned two days before Christmas.
He was asked Wednesday why point guards Mike James and Darren Collison can’t seem to get him the ball in key situations, particularly on nights when he isn’t missing. In Dallas’ last two losses, both at home, Nowitzki was 8-for-10 in both, yet was a non-factor late.
“They [defenders] don’t leave me much anymore,” Nowitzki said. “It’s up to other guys to make plays. It’s as simple as that.”
There was zero talk of the future Hall of Famer reaching yet another remarkable milestone. Nowitzki surpassed 9,000 career rebounds, making him the 10th player in NBA history with 24,000 points and 9,000 boards, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elvin Hayes, Moses Malone, Karl Malone, Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing and the only other active player, Kevin Garnett.
Nowitzki has scored and shot the ball better lately (18.1 ppg, 50.9 percent from the field, 48.8 percent on 3s), but he’s still set for his worst statistical season since he was a rookie, averaging 16.4 ppg and shooting 45.9 percent.
Mavs owner Mark Cuban doesn’t believe age is catching up to his star. In fact, Cuban said he expects Nowitzki to regain his All-Star status next season, the last on Nowitzki’s current contract, and “at least” a season or two after that. (more…)
HANG TIME, Texas — How far around the bend do you have to go before you’ve come full circle back to the NBA?
How far do you have to fall before you get desperate enough for any kind of a soft landing?
Delonte West, meet the Knicks.
Marc Berman of the New York Post notes there will be more than a couple of teams watching as West makes his debut in the NBA D-League tonight when the Texas Legends face the Santa Cruz Warriors, but the Knicks may certainly be the most interesting of the lot.
As the playoffs draw near and the team that started out the season like a house on fire continues to look like a burned-out wreckage, would the Knicks be ready to take a real gamble on the 29-year-old point guard with a history of trouble?
Nobody questions his talent as a capable backup quarterback. He’s been part of playoff teams in six of his eight NBA seasons. But West’s career has also been marked by off-court problems that hardly make him dependable. He was said to be ready to make his comeback with the Legends earlier this season, but backed out at the last minute. Now he probably sees that the D-League is his only chance at a return.
The Knicks could be equally as desperate at the point as Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni all have not measured up of late. After opening the season 18-5 back on Dec. 15, the Knicks are a thoroughly mediocre 20-20. They have lost three straight, four of five and 10 of their last 17 heading into Sunday’s game in L.A. against the Clippers. Having spent the first month-and-a-half titillating New Yorkers as the No. 1 seed, they are now far closer in the standings to the No. 8 seed and a first-round playoff matchup against Miami than to actually catching up to the streaking Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Knicks would have to make a roster cut, probably the injured Rasheed Wallace, to make room for West and they’re most likely not there yet.
But keep an eye on how the current five-game road trip ends — with a back-to-back in L.A. and Utah — and how West performs in the D-League. Desperation makes strange bedfellows.
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Delivering world-class performances on a nightly basis, Russell Westbrook brings his act to the world’s most famous arena for a sold-out, one-night-only engagement.
Call him controversial. Call him hot-headed. Call him a ball hog. On any other team without Kevin Durant (or LeBron James) you just might call him MVP.
That’s how good Westbrook, the brash Oklahoma City point guard, has played for the better part of two months and particularly so since the start of February, a span of 14 games in which he’s averaged 27.4 ppg, 6.2 apg, 4.6 rpg and has shot 50.9 percent (136-for-267) overall while averaging 19.1 shots a game.
So break a leg — – and hopefully not an ankle – Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and whoever else New York throws at the 6-foot-3 lightning bolt — when the Thunder and Knicks clash in a marquee matchup at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET, TNT).
“Take away the first month of the season, he didn’t shoot the ball well, but other than that he’s been on a nice offensive shooting streak the last 15-20 games,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “But his leadership, his ability to control the game and manage the game is improving every game.”
There might not be two better examples than the Thunder’s last two wins against Los Angeles’ two teams. OKC beat the Clippers in L.A. In the final 2:51 with the game hanging in the balance, the edgy Westbrook scored six of his 10 fourth-quarter points and delivered two of his three assists to take the 108-104 victory. He finished with 29 points on 11-for-20 shooting (55 percent), 10 assists and six rebounds.
“That game was one of his best performances considering who he is playing against [Chris Paul], who we are playing against and on their floor in a crazy environment,” Brooks said. “He just kept doing his job at a very consistent level, just form a point-guard team leadership and managing the players.”
Two nights later, he crushed the Lakers for 37 points on 15-for-29 shooting (51.7 percent), 10 rebounds and five assists. He scored 15 of OKC’s 26 third-quarter points and had 18 in the second half to keep the Thunder ahead as Kobe Bryant rallied the Lakers to within five points with six minutes to go and Durant struggled to just six points in the second half.
Afterward Kobe praised the former UCLA Bruin who was in third grade when Kobe broke in with Westbrook’s hometown Lakers.
“It’s always fun to go up against him,” Kobe said. “Some nights I get the best of him. I’d argue with him that most nights I get the best of him. But tonight he did his thing, he did his thing. He was very tough to control. He’s a fantastic player.”
A few moments later as the Lakers pulled out of town, Kobe tweeted about Westbrook: “He’s got mamba blood runnin thru his veins . You gave it to me tonight lil bro. C u down the road!”
Since Westbrook and Durant have paired their polar personalities in OKC, with the more reclusive Westbrook seemingly thriving on anger and the all-inclusive Durant nurturing ego harmony, the perception of the past was that that the two won’t co-exist for long. The idea was Westbrook can’t submit to Durant, that he gobbles up too many shots that should go to his mega-star scoring champ.
Only no one with the Thunder has ever laid down such parameters.
“He has the ball in his hands a lot and he picks and chooses his spots really well, when to score, when to pass,” Durant said. “He’s done a great job.”
With a size, quickness and athletic advantage over most of his counterparts, Westbrook is a devastating penetrator and has become even threatening to get to the rim as he’s developed his stop-and-pop, high-rising jumper from the free-throw line and elbow. As tremendous an offensive season as Durant is compiling, Westbrook’s 23.6 ppg and 7.8 apg, the highest point-assist combo of his career, can be overshadowed.
But it can’t be overlooked.
The three-time All-Star is well on his way to a third consecutive All-NBA team spot, and is threatening to turn his two previous second-team selections into a first-time first-team nod.
“Nothing new,” Durant said of his partner. “He’s been a leader all year for us, vocal, keeping the game composed, everybody on our team, keeping his cool and controlling the game from both ends of the floor. He’s been great all season.”
HANG TIME, Texas — Stubborn is refusing to take the fashion hint that it’s not OK to wear that plaid shirt with those striped pants. Stubborn is not letting the guy in the next lane with his turn signal on get in front of you during rush hour.
The admission by Knicks coach Mike Woodson that he ignored a request by Carmelo Anthony to come out of the game against the Cavaliers would seem to go way beyond stubborn to that other word that begins with “st.”
In an interview with ESPN New York 98.7 FM, Woodson said that Anthony had asked to be removed from the game due to knee discomfort before suffering an injury in the second quarter.
Woodson decided to leave Anthony in the game and his leading man aggravated the right knee injury when he tripped without contact. Anthony went to the locker room with 6:42 remaining in the second quarter and did not return to the game, which the Knicks rallied from 22 points down to win.
Anthony officially has been diagnosed with a sore knee and is listed as questionable for tonight at Detroit and could miss Thursday’s high-profile showdown at Madison Square Garden against the Thunder.
“Melo was hurt,” Woodson said on The Stephen A. Smith and Ryan Ruocco Show. “For him to ask me to come out of the game before he actually took that spill made me realize that something wasn’t right. He’s never ever, ever, even hinted about coming out of the game [before Monday]. I play him too much in that regard. Melo’s a trooper — he’s a warrior, he’s a tough kid.”
Asked why he chose to leave Anthony in the game after the request to come out, Woodson said: “I should have [taken him out]. Stubborn coach — I just didn’t.”
It is almost inconceivable that a head coach would blow off such a request from his star player, which has led some to speculate that perhaps Anthony was looking for a quick exit after an 0-for-4 first quarter and ultimately a 1-for-5 shooting performance that left him with a season-low six points.
But considering that Anthony could be on the shelf now for the next two games, that cover-up hardly seems likely.
There is also the matter of Woodson leaving Amar’e Stoudemire on the bench for the final eight minutes on Sunday when Miami was making a comeback from 16 points down to beat the Knicks.
Woodson said after the game that he stuck with his lineup of Anthony, J.R. Smith, Jason, Kidd, Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler because he liked the Chris Bosh-Chandler matchup when the Heat went small. But he has since changed his mind.
“Bad coaching,” Woodson said. “You can blame that on coach. Hey, you live and you learn. I learned from it.”
In the little over a month since Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert have returned from injuries, Woodson has handled his rotation like a one-armed juggler, grasping wildly at anything.
At a time when the Knicks should be gearing up for the playoffs with the confidence that comes from a solid identity, they have neither. That’s on the coach.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Twice already this season the New York Knicks showed themselves to be a worthy Eastern Conference adversary to the reigning NBA champion Miami Heat.
We’re not talking about some computer simulation or some theoretical conversation between smart guys at an analytics convention. This was flesh and blood work, the Knicks stroking the Heat twice (on Nov. 2 and again on Dec. 6) by 20 points each time.
In any other situation that would give the team with a 40-point cushion in the season’s first two matchups (the second time without their own MVP candidate Carmelo Anthony). But much has changed since that last meeting between these two outfits.
The Heat enter today’s game at Madison Square Garden (1 p.m. ET, ABC) riding the wave of the best stretch of basketball LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have played since joining forces in Miami. Winners of 13 straight games, the Heat we’ve seen recently don’t resemble the team the Knicks took apart at the start of this season.
Instead of waiting until the postseason to lock down, the Heat have tightened things up earlier this season. They are not only dominating the competition, they are serving notice nightly that they don’t believe anyone else in the league is on their level.
Bosh said it best, perhaps, while praising James after his rare off night (18 points on 4-for-14 shooting in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies) during recent tear. “He’s the best player in the world,” Bosh said. “But we have the best supporting cast.”
The Knicks have won three straight games themselves, but they’re not the same team they were in November and December, when they were raining 3-pointers from all directions and defending at the highest level.
Their 17-15 record since mid-December is indicative of a team that is barely better than average. They finished January with a 6-5 record and February with a 7-6 record, hardly the stuff of champions.
This afternoon’s test will shed more light on the Knicks’ recent struggles or provide them a stage to prove that their funk was momentary and that they are still capable of competing with the best of the best.
Surely, Knicks coach Mike Woodson has warned his crew that the Heat will show up looking to make a statement of their own. Not only are they still smarting from those two, 20-point whoopins they took earlier this season, they are intent on making sure the Knicks understand that things have changed.
“Absolutely,” Knicks All-Star center Tyson Chandler told ESPNNewYork.com. They know that we got them here and embarrassed them at their house, so we expect them to come here fired up,” Chandler said. “They’re the champs for a reason they’re not laying down for anybody. It should be a dog fight.”
A big dog picking on a little dog or two big dogs going at it?
If Thursday’s NBA trade deadline was a movie, the audience would have walked out in the middle from boredom. This freeze came straight from the script that is the league’s new collective bargaining agreement — with its harsher luxury tax penalties and diminished roster flexibility for tax offenders — it put the clamps on a stunningly uneventful deadline day.
The big names were on the opening credits: Josh Smith, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Eric Gordon, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.
Yet, when the curtain closed at 3 p.m. ET, Orlando Magic sharpshooter J.J. Redick stole the show as the lone player of significance to switch teams. The Milwaukee Bucks acquired the career 39.8 percent 3-point shooter in a six-player deal that involved five other relatively anonymous NBA names.
Only one potential blockbuster deal percolated, but ultimately died on the vine with the Atlanta Hawks going the distance in an attempt to strike a deal with the Bucks for Smith before pulling back. One reason so few big deals were discussed was simply because there wasn’t much talent realistically in play, a point that goes beyond any ramifications of the CBA.
The CBA that took effect in December 2011, and begins to smack tax-paying teams with stiffer fines next season, has clearly put franchises on the defensive. Teams that were once willing to add salary to consummate a deal no longer are. Teams that once didn’t think twice about sweetening a deal with a first-round pick, suddenly guard them with their lives.
“Cap room and draft picks, which are usually the currency of how these [big] deals get done, were at a huge premium and are something that everyone wants to have,” said Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who steered the most active club at the deadline with a couple of lower-tier deals.
There’s really no greater example of the effect of these changes than the Dallas Mavericks and their braintrust, owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson. Chronic and strategic over-spenders and tax payers under the old CBA, Cuban, who took on salary in deadline deals for Jason Kidd in 2008 and Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson in 2010, analyzed the new rules and reversed field last year.
He dismantled the 2011 championship team, choosing to covet cap space and the roster flexibility granted to teams that remain under the tax threshold, as well as newfound valuing of first-round draft picks as low-priced labor and trade assets.
It’s a strategy that no longer has the Mavs on speed dial of teams looking to make a deal and dump salary.
“It’s definitely a factor,” Nelson said of the CBA’s chilling effect Thursday after the deadline expired. “There’s no question that folks have their eye on the inevitable, and there’s no question that people are getting their collective houses in order.
“There’s some teams that see that on the horizon and act early, and other teams that will procrastinate and pay a dear price. But I think we’re right in the middle of that. It’s not brand-new news and so, yeah, I think you’re going to see a lot of teams try to correct themselves financially.”
The so-called “repeater” tax really has teams scared. Several clubs tried to deal away lost-cost players to avoid the repeater tax, which will whack franchises with an additional fine if they go over the tax line in three of four seasons. Golden State was successful in this venture. Chicago was not and will pay a luxury tax for the first time since its implementation.
This “repeater” penalty deterred teams from making deals that would have pushed payroll even slightly over the tax line, deals they might have normally green-lighted in the old days. So, is this the way of the future under the current rules?
“I can’t predict the future,” Morey said, “but I think the trend is more this way.”
Rockets: Morey’s stockpiling of assets the last couple years has been questioned, but he’s turned it into quite a haul starting with James Harden prior to the start of the season. The day before the deadline, Morey acquired the No. 5 overall pick, Thomas Robinson, from Sacramento. Morey’s dealing didn’t damage an abundance of cap space next summer that will be used to pursue a top free agent such as Dwight Howard and Josh Smith.
Bucks: GM John Hammond didn’t get his big fish in Smith, but he pulled off the deal for Redick, who should really help a club that’s been skidding down the East standings and needs a boost. Hammond held onto Jennings and Ellis and will have room to maneuver in the summer to add more pieces.
Thunder: GM Sam Presti continues to make shrewd moves. The acquisition of Ronnie Brewer from the New York Knicks for a second-round pick gives OKC another strong perimeter defender to help Thabo Sefolosha.
Celtics:Jordan Crawford might not be Jamal Crawford, but he can score in bunches and Boston was desperate to bolster its injury-ravaged guard backcourt. Boston fans are the winners here, too, with the team’s heart and soul, Garnett and Pierce, staying put.
Mavericks: Sure, on the surface, picking up 3-point specialist Anthony Morrow for defensive-minded guard Dahntay Jones doesn’t sound like much. But then SheridanHoops.com reminded us of this Dwight Howard interview in Russia when he named Morrow as one of a handful of players he’d like to have as a teammate.
Blazers: The team with the leanest bench in the NBA finally got some help in a minor deal that netted OKC guard Eric Maynor, who lost his job early on to Reggie Jackson. Maynor will help Rookie of the Year frontrunner Damian Lillard reduce his 38.5 mpg workload.
Hawks: They didn’t get the deal done to ship out Smith and now it seems they will lose him for nothing in free agency. On one level, however, it’s hard to say that this is a definitive loss. They’ll keep Smith (who might or might not come away from this experience deflated) for the rest of the season, and, with any luck, try to keep him while recruiting friend and fellow Atlantan Howard next summer. If GM Danny Ferry wasn’t pleased with the deals presented, it doesn’t always pay to take something, anything just because in the end you could be left with nothing. If Smith leaves, the Hawks will take the cap space and look to spin it in their favor.
Magic: They deal away a useful player and one they drafted in Redick and hand over his Bird Rights to the Bucks. There was no guarantee that Redick would re-sign with Orlando, but he at least had said the door was open to a return. The Magic’s Josh McRoberts to Charlotte deal for Hakim Warrick is a head-scratcher.
Knicks: They didn’t upgrade at any position and gave away a solid defender in Brewer, who was starting for the club during their hot start out of the gates, but had slipped out of the rotation. New York did use the roster vacancy to sign veteran power forward Kenyon Martin.
Nets: They failed to land another high-priced player in Smith and failed to unload one of their own, Kris Humphries.
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The craziest thing about the Los Angeles Lakers’ struggles this season is that the Boston Celtics have been dealing with very similar issues. The two franchises with the most NBA championships have been this season’s two most disappointing teams.
Yet, both teams are playing their best basketball of the season. The Celtics have gone 5-0 without their point guard, while the Lakers have won six of their last seven.
So it’s a great time for these two teams to meet tonight (8 ET, TNT) for the first time. The Lakers, still three games out of a playoff spot, have more on the line. But the Celtics can move up a spot to seventh (avoiding the Heat in the first round would probably be a good thing) in the Eastern Conference standings and surely would love to knock off their cross-country rivals.
Kevin Garnett is six points away from being the 16th player in league history to score 25,000 career points. Garnett’s scoring average has dipped quite a bit over the last five years, but he still ranks second on the all-time list among active players.
Most career points, active players
The 10 guys listed above have all scored in different ways. Garnett has been Mr. Mid-range, attempting 52 percent of his shots from between the paint and the 3-point line, the highest rate of the group.
Garnett has never been a traditional big man and has always attempted about half of his shots from mid-range. But over the last two seasons (strangely coinciding with his move from power forward to center), that number has been at 58 percent.
Of the group above, only Antawn Jamison has had a higher percentage of his shots assisted. Since the 1996-97 season (his second year), Garnett has been assisted on more than 68 percent of his buckets, by 101 different teammates.
Most assists to Garnett since 1996-97
Among the players with exactly one assist to Garnett are former Celtics Rasheed Wallace and Brian Scalabrine. TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal had exactly four assists to KG.
Because he spent 12 seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Garnett has scored his most points against Western Conference opponents. The Lakers are currently fifth on the list, but could be third by the end of the night.