It was lonely last week without the star attraction. But never fear Fool fans: JaVale is back! The one and only JaVale McGee makes his triumphant return to Shaqtin’ A Fool this week, along with Jerryd Bayless, J.J. Hickson, Thomas Robinson and Kendrick Perkins. Vote for your favorite Shaqtin’ A Fool moment!
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – A rugged early-season schedule and the lack of a true go-to-guy could have been their downfall. It had the potential to render all of that preseason fawning over the Denver Nuggets a waste of time, if these Nuggets weren’t made of the rugged materials at their core.
They played a staggering 17 of their first 24 games on the road, away from the friendly and high altitude confines of the Pepsi Center, going 12-12 during that stretch to stay afloat just long enough to get to the place where they are now. And that place is smack in the middle of a stretch that sees them playing 12 of 14 games at home with a chance to make some serious noise in the Western Conference standings.
The Nuggets are 10-4 since their schedule evened out and are winners of five straight after a Sunday’s victory over the Golden State Warriors. At 23-16, Denver is looking more and more like the team some pundits believed to be a challenger to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Northwest Division and the Western Conference.
There is still plenty of work to do, of course. Even with this recent climb, they are still looking from the outside on the top four in the West. But they’re in a position now to battle the Memphis Grizzlies and Warriors for that fourth spot.
Suddenly, the fourth quarter has become the Nuggets’ quarter.
Whether they slosh through the first three quarters or play well from the start and find themselves in a tight contest, the fourth has been the separation quarter for this team, trying to hit its stride this month.
The Nuggets outscored Golden State 37-18 in the fourth quarter Sunday night to make a tough game look like an easy 116-105 win at the Pepsi Center. It was the Nuggets’ season-high fifth straight win.
So what’s different in the fourth quarter?
“Urgency and desperation and professional pride,” Nuggets coach George Karl said.
The Nuggets turn up the defense and shift the offense into overdrive in the final period. During this five-game winning streak, they’ve outscored their opponents 151-102 in the fourth, an average of 30.2 points to 20.4.
“I feel like we’re most focused in the fourth quarter for some reason,” center JaVale McGee said. “I don’t know why. I feel like we take the first half for granted, but we really go hard in the fourth quarter.”
In addition to the surge, the Nuggets appear to have struck gold on another front. Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari are turning into the sort of 1-2 punch that you need to grind out games, guys who power the attack when need be. They combined for 41 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds against the Warriors.
It doesn’t hurt to get 22 points from your bench in the fourth, as they did Sunday. But the guys who make the Nuggets go on a nightly basis have to do their part to create an opportunity for the bench to handle their business.
But with a core group that also includes HT fave Kenneth “The Manimal” Faried, the versatile and dangerous Andre Iguodala and crafty veterans like Andre Miller and the underrated Corey Brewer, the Nuggets have the pieces to keep their current run going for a while.
With nine of their next 11 games at home, opportunity is banging on the door for the Nuggets.
DALLAS –JaVale McGee put a sweet spin move on his man, drove baseline, swooped under the basket, cupped the basketball on the under side of his wrist and was on his way to the top highlight slam dunk of the night.
Until he made an almost predictable U-turn onto the blooper reel.
McGee’s right-arm windmill action didn’t quite whip up high enough and he practically jammed the ball between the back rim and the backboard.
The 7-footer is in his first full season with the Denver Nuggets after being acquired last year in a trade for veteran big man Nene. In the offseason, the Nuggets committed to the 24 year old bursting with potential but so far is still more of a proven goofball than All-Star.
Denver awarded McGee a four-year, $44 million extension. It figured then that McGee would become Denver’s starting center, playing alongside Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried. But it hasn’t worked out that way.
Kosta Koufas is the starter with McGee getting about 19 minutes a night. In Friday night’s 106-85 rout of the Dallas Mavericks, McGee got just 16 minutes, slammed home a couple of alley-oops, plus another dunk for his six points to go with four rebounds a blocked shot and three fouls.
McGee rarely finishes games. He is averaging 10.7 points and 5.0 rebounds a game. His most impressive stat is 59.2 percent shooting, by far a career best. But he has a reason for that.
“Less shots,” McGee said. “I got the same dunks and layups I did in Washington here, it’s just I had more opportunities. But here I don’t get shots so it’s a higher percentage.”
Karl said he doesn’t regret the franchise handing a big contract to the affable McGee, who is often times equally aggravating in an innocent, slap-your-forehead kind of way.
“I think he’s a really good, important player for us,” Karl said. “But in the same sense I’m going to play the guys who I think can help you win the game.”
So much of McGee’s career has been steeped in potential. His size and skill is tantalizing. Just trying to apply it all can drive a coach bananas. Which is part of the reason Karl has McGee coming off the bench and playing the fewest minutes he has since his second year in the league.
“I think he’s showing me he’s about a 20-minute basketball player,” Karl said. “For me, I go into most games, I have no idea who’s going to finish the game and it’s earned as the game goes on.”
McGee had all the right answers after Friday’s game when it came to his limited playing time. Perhaps three-plus seasons in Washington will do that to any player.
“As long as we win, I can’t feel any way about it,” McGee said. “I’m just trying to help the team win and do everything I can to make sure that we win games. It’s definitely a blessing being on a wining team. It’s a lot more positive. Just happy to be here.”
Post-Holiday blues got you down? Shaq has the perfect thing to cheer you up: JAVALE! That’s right, the Fool MVP makes a return to the countdown this week and he’s joined by Dwight Howard, Bruce Jenner, Bismack Biyombo and the Chicago Bulls. Vote for your favorite Shaqtin’ A Fool moment!
That “desperate team” label Steve Nash said they needed to play with every night was nowhere in sight during their 126-114 loss to a Nuggets team that flew in after spending Christmas in Los Angeles, just like the Lakers. The 126 points is the most these Lakers have surrendered all season. The loss couldn’t have come at a worse time for a team trying to right itself and continue its recent run.
A younger, faster and surprisingly much more physical Nuggets team — the same one that was rocked by the Clippers in the Christmas nightcap at Staples Center — ran circles around a Lakers team that seemed frustrated from the start with their inability to keep up. And just like that, the Lakers are back in the crosshairs, raising questions not only about the validity of that five-game streak but also whether or not they’ll be able to deal with teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and Clippers (as young, fast and physical as they get) come playoff time in the Western Conference.
The Lakers’ youngest and most physical specimen, Dwight Howard, certainly didn’t seem up to the task against the Nuggets. He exited in the third quarter after getting ejected for a flagrant-2 foul for a hand to the face on Kenneth Faried, who worked the Lakers’ bigs all night.
Howard’s finger-pointing after a game in which the Nuggets outrebounded their guests 48-38 and piled up 25 second-chance points should be of particular interest to teammates like Kobe Bryant and Nash as well as Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni.
“Guys got to be in the right spots and they have to be taught it and it has to be something that you practice on so guys can understand,” Howard said. “They have to go through it. You just can’t talk about defense or talk about where to go. You actually have to show guys where to go.”
Howard managed seven rebounds to go along with 12 points in the 27 minutes he played. But any signs of the three-time Defensive Player of the Year that fans had grown accustomed to seeing over the years were as faint as they’ve been all season. Howard hasn’t looked like his normal self after offseason back surgery.
And in the face of a non-stop rush from Faried, JaVale McGee and Kosta Koufos, the Lakers’ lack of effort and energy was glaring. That’s probably why D’Antoni didn’t hold his tongue when asked what effect Howard’s absence had on the Lakers’ comeback effort down the stretch. ”Not a whole lot,” he said and then looked the other way.
“You can’t play a team on the road and time after time you stop them and they get the rebound and put it back in,” D’Antoni said. “You can’t do it … You can’t just keep coming back. You can’t just keep letting them score. For whatever reason they just had more legs. Whether they’re younger or faster, I don’t know, but we couldn’t keep them in front of us.”
The Nuggets didn’t show the slightest bit of restraint in attacking the Lakers where they felt they were weakest, in the middle. Faried assaulted the backboards and the rim at every opportunity, living up to his nickname of the “Manimal.”
“I think it was a little bit of frustration,” Faried told reporters after the game about Howard’s hard foul. “He saw my eyes. I wasn’t going to back down. I wasn’t going to try and float it, I was going to try to dunk on him. He saw it, that’s why he put his hand directly in my face. That’s when I say, ‘Dang, I wish I would have jumped higher.’”
Bryant might have said it best in his final locker room salvo on Christmas, when he politely explained that nothing the Lakers do, good or bad, during the regular season will end up on their final report card. He scored 40 points for the fourth time this season against the Nuggets, extending his streak of games with 30 or more to double digits (10).
No one but the die-hard Bryant fans cares about that this morning, though.
“People can be extremely positive of how you are performing and the job you are doing the entire regular season, the entire playoffs,” Bryant said. “But if you lose in the Finals, you are the [expletive] worst. If you suck for the entire season and win the Finals, people don’t give a [expletive] about what happened before then. It’s all about what you do in the Finals. It doesn’t matter what you do on Monday or Tuesday. It matters what you do in the Finals.”
The Lakers have a long way to go to get there … to The Finals, that is. In fact, they might want to spend more time worrying about what they do on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and every other day until they secure a playoff bid.
They can turn their attention to The Finals after taking care of that bit of business.
HANGTIME SOUTHWEST –Andray Blatche can be a baaaaaad man. By both interpretations of the vernacular.
His talent (if not always his effort) is undeniably positive, a big man with a handle so supple he makes guys half his size envious. And, man, does he have moves. Like Sunday night when he sized up Sixers center Spencer Hawes a step inside the arc and with one dribble to the right put Hawes on his heels, veered into the paint, launched himself to the rim while levitating the basketball on the upturned fingertips of his right hand only to flip his wrist at the last moment and throw it down.
His behavior, however, is equally as undeniably negative. Confounding, maddening, a chain of self-inflicted screw-ups, senseless altercations, childish decision-making and outright selfishness.
Google “Andray Blatche” and “trouble.” Before you can finish typing “trouble,” “trouble again” pops up.
There are hard-headed players who enter the league too young, too ill-equipped to handle the sudden wealth and freewheeling lifestyle, or are simply too stubborn, and never materialize. Phoenix’s Michael Beasley is well down that road and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins may be, too.
For some, the light bulb eventually comes on. For others, it never does. Blatche, in his first season with the Brooklyn Nets, is standing at that career crossroads. And why not hope for a so-far feel-good story to continue that way on Christmas, when Blatche, granted new life in the league, and his recently wobbly Nets play host to the Boston Celtics (Noon ET, ESPN)?
“I’m wiser, definitely wiser,” Blatche said last week during a telephone interview. “Just more open-minded today. Back then I didn’t have my priorities straight.”
Blatche is averaging 11.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg and 49.8 percent shooting in 21.0 minutes as a valued reserve. His per-36 numbers have soared to career-best levels of 19.8 points and 10.3 rebounds.
But, there’s also been signs that Blatche still doesn’t get it. After the Nets’ home opener, Blatche ran out of gas and thought it’d be a good idea to share his misadventure via Twitter. While an empty tank is no a crime, it’s not exactly a sign of staying on top of things. Putting it on Twitter didn’t do much to enhance his reputation.
A few weeks later, as his old Washington Wizards were in midst of a long losing streak to start the season, Blatche ribbed the club that drafted him and signed him to an extension in interviews and on Twitter. He said the Wizards, who drafted him in the second round and signed him to an extension despite numerous red flags, didn’t support him and “they tried to end me.”
So the ending to this story, happy or sad, is far from told.
“It was a reality check,” Blatche said. “I almost lost something that I love doing, so you can say it was a wake-up call.”
Shaq got his main man JaVale McGee a fabulous Christmas present — a week off from Shaqtin’ A Fool! So without the Fool MVP this week, Shaq brings some Holiday cheer to the Lakers’ bench, NBA ref Dick Bavetta, Brook Lopez, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. Vote for your favorite Shaqtin’ A Fool moment!
Shaq is a man of the people, and when the people ask for more JaVale McGee, the people get more JaVale McGee. The Fool MVP makes this week’s list not once, but twice — along with Blake Griffin, Rasheed “Ball Don’t Lie!” Wallace and Wesley Matthews. Vote for your favorite Shaqtin’ A Fool moment!
A few things are certain in life. Death. Taxes. And JaVale McGee appearing on Shaqtin’ A Fool. Shaq’s main man makes yet another appearance this week (twice!) along with Marc Gasol, Sebastian Telfair and Andrew Bynum’s hair. Vote for your favorite Shaqtin’ A Fool moment!
Every time word gets out that another acolyte has ventured into the temple of Hakeem Olajuwon, the high priest of fancy footwork, the questions are all about offense.
Did he teach you how to spin like a top to get free for a layup? Did he show you how to tie David Robinson into more knots than a pretzel bakery with two, three, four different head fakes? Did you learn the secret of the Dream Shake?
For Kenneth Faried, the most valuable lessons learned from Olajuwon over the summer came at the other end of the floor.
“Everybody thinks it was about offense, learning how to score,” said Faried, who worked out in Sugar Land, Tex. with Olajuwon and his Nuggets teammate McGee. “But I think what is going to help me the most are the things that Hakeem showed to help me with defense.
“The footwork and me just doing the twirls and spins, learning how to keep my feet moving constantly are things that can make me a better defender.
“I can read people defensively and react to them or anticipate and get to a spot ahead of my opponent. And he showed me that I can get out there and play perimeter guys and still at the same time I can shut down the biggest bigs on the inside.”
Olajuwon was a five-time member of the All-Defensive Team, was named Defensive Player of the Year with the Rockets in both 1993 and 1994 and averaged 3.1 blocked shots and 1.7 steals over the course of his 18-year NBA career.
“People forget Hakeem was a great defender,” said Denver coach George Karl. “He won Defensive Player of the Year. For me, our big guys are really rebounders and defenders first. The offense comes to them through our guards attacking and making plays for them as much as giving them opportunities to make plays for themselves.”
From Bryant to Howard to James, the primary reason that most of them seek out Olajuwon as a tutor is to glean a few tips from his unique footwork to create space down in the low post that makes it easier to get shots off. But from the time that he first took up the game back in Nigeria, Olajuwon’s first love was always protecting the basket as a shot blocker. It was his penchant for jumping into the passing lanes and going down onto the floor to make steals that led to Hakeem wearing what became his signature large red knee pads.
Faried played a key role in the Nuggets’ help defense in Wednesday night’s win at Houston, frequently cutting off and contesting James Harden’s drives to the basket. He made a timely block of Harden’s try for a layup with 47.9 seconds left in the game that helped seal the win.
Though the 6-foot-8 Faried’s offensive range is limited and his style is to simply attack the basket and the pursuit of rebounds ferociously, he is trying to expand what he can.
“It helps a lot to get the finesse game,” he said. “It helps you as a person to not have to dunk everything at the rim. You can sometimes, when somebody’s fouling, learn how to maneuver or finesse it up for a layup or just know how to go through contact without always dunking.
“But for my role on our team, I found Hakeem’s defensive help and his philosophy and style of moving in order to always stay in front of his man to be the most valuable. That’s a way I’d like to play.”