HOUSTON — As far as seismic shifts in the landscape go, there was no tremor, no low rumble of an earthquake’s warning and it never hit with the fiery blast of a volcanic eruption.
When the Rockets went 49 days — seven full weeks — without a single loss in 2008, it grew quietly for the longest time like an oak tree’s roots growing up through the cracks in a sidewalk until one day it was busting apart the concrete.
The 22-game win streak, second-longest in NBA history, is the outlier in the record book, the one that nobody, even themselves, saw coming, and many, even in hindsight, can still not comprehend.
Before the defending champion Heat, led by the three-headed juggernaut of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, joined the club, only three teams in history had won 20 in a row. The 1971-72 Lakers with their record of 33 consecutive wins and a star-studded roster of Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich went on to win the NBA title. The 1970-71 Bucks, led by Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, ran off 20 straight on their way to win it all.
In fact, of the top eight win streaks ever in the NBA before the Heat, five of those teams won championships. Only the Rockets did not get out of the first round of the playoffs.
“Our names will be mentioned with Hall of Fame people,” said point guard Rafer Alston. “We have something to tell our kids.”
Shane Battier, now with Miami, has called the Rockets’ streak “organic,” part of a process that evolved over time.
It wasn’t often flashy or pretty, but it was effective, like seeing a boa constrictor slowly squeeze the life out of its prey.
The Rockets were led by Tracy McGrady’s bundle of offensive skills, but they survived the loss of Yao Ming and they won and won with a growing confidence and surging defense. During the 22-game streak, they held 19 of their opponents under 100 points and 13 under 90. They won 14 games by double figures, an average margin of 12.36, and had only three games decided by fewer than six points. They won 15 games at home and seven on the road.
The Rockets even won the last 10 without their All-Star center Yao, whose season was ended by a stress fracture in his left foot on Feb. 26.
“Every time a team gets a chance to come close, the streak comes up,” said forward Luis Scola, now with the Suns. “It was a great stretch. It was a good team. If we lose any of those games it wouldn’t change that fact. But maybe that team wouldn’t be as remembered.
“You know we were playing well. It was a fun team to play with. The momentum that we had going. We were playing very well. We were beating teams just because we were good…That month and a half was great. I remember it was a lot of fun.”
The Rockets were 15-17 on Jan. 2 and 24-20 when they beat Golden State 111-107 on a night when Yao was dominant with 39 points and 19 rebounds. They were fighting for their playoffs lives, sitting precariously as the seventh seed in the Western Conference. Two nights later, they went on the road to win at Indiana 106-103 and ran off seven straight wins where they never gave up 90 points.
“What we’re developing is a great team like the Pistons,” said McGrady. “A great defensive team going out there and playing together and not relying on one or two people to score the rock.”
No. 8 was their narrowest escape, needing Steve Novak to come off the bench to hit a 3-pointer — his only field goal of the game — with two seconds left to rescue an 89-87 win over the Kings.
The streak continued through trades. On the afternoon of No. 10, they sent Bonzi Wells to New Orleans and Kirk Snyder to Minnesota, yet didn’t miss a beat in thumping Miami. They attracted real notice around the league when they whipped the No. 1-seeded Hornets in New Orleans.
When the Rockets took the floor on Feb. 26, the word was out that Yao was lost for the season and the fears inside Toyota Center were palpable. But with 41-year-old Dikembe Mutombo blocking shots, waving his finger and filling the middle, the streak rolled on.
“You could probably check this, but I’m thinking all the way to the 17th or 18th game of the winning streak we still were in the eighth spot or the ninth spot or something like that,” Scola said. “It was a really tough year for the West. The playoffs were in jeopardy.” (more…)
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: Last night’s trio of games weren’t the most exciting matchups on paper, with two games (Nuggets-Kings and Lakers-Thunder) being matchups that were pretty one-sided (and ended up being that way in the final result, too). That makes Celtics-Sixers our pick this morning, mostly because we were treated to a performance from Avery Bradley that was reminiscent of the work he did in the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals against these Sixers. As you’ll read below, Celtics coach Doc Rivers credits Bradley’s play with a lot of Boston’s success since Rajon Rondo was lost for the season, and this game last night was a great case in point.
West: LeBron ‘in another world’ right now — Around the All-Star break, the LeBron James vs. Kobe Bryant debate was stirred up anew after Hall of Famer Michael Jordan said he’d pick Bryant over James. Another Hall of Famer, Warriors executive Jerry West, has his thoughts on the LeBron debate — specifically where James ranks among all-time performers and whether or not he is on Jordan’s level. West’s answer to that, as well as his thoughts on the struggling Lakers, his old owner, Jerry Buss, and more are all a must-read in this Q&A from Sports on Earth’s Shaun Powell:
Q: After 50 years in the game, you’ve seen just about everyone. Are you ready to call LeBron James the greatest after Jordan? Or maybe he trumps Jordan? Or is this all too silly?
A: I’ll say LeBron is in another world right now. He’s a player for the decade. You watch him and you can tell his teammates love him. What you can’t do is judge him by the championships right now. Just his all-around play and skills. He’s a superstar who’s very unselfish. You don’t find that too often. He could lead the league in scoring every year if he wanted. But he’d rather find any way to beat you even if it meant giving up the ball. To watch his growth as a player and person has been pretty special. I would have enjoyed having him as a teammate.
Q: Miami has made it work by combining three All-Stars. But weren’t you, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain the original Big Three?
A: Oh, I don’t know. That’s just a label. The difference between us and them is they’re in their prime. Elgin battled injury and wasn’t the same player when we came together. I wasn’t the same player because I battled knee injuries and we didn’t have the medical advancements then as we do now. I was almost constantly in pain. Wilt wasn’t the same, either; he was at the end of his career. And we didn’t win together because Elgin retired before the championship. I know people didn’t like what Miami did by teaming them up, but I thought it was fantastic. LeBron is special, Dwyane Wade is right behind him and Chris Bosh is a very good player. They’ll win championships or be right there as long as they’re healthy and on the same team. People should enjoy and respect what they’re seeing right now.
Q: Meanwhile, your old team has struggled with Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash although to be fair, Howard and Nash haven’t been healthy from the jump. Will they get it together? Or will this be basketball’s Titanic?
A: What people don’t understand is the enormous adjustment you have to make as a player in those situations. I was a scorer, Elgin was a scorer and Wilt, even then, liked the ball. We all had to put everything else aside. The Lakers are playing better now, especially defensively, and I think they’ll make the playoffs. I think the worst is behind them.
Q: You knew Jerry Buss as well as anyone, maybe even better. Got a favorite Dr. Buss story you could share?
A: Well, because of the personality he had, I couldn’t tell you any of the best ones for print. But everything you heard about him as an owner was true. He always did what was in the best interest of the game, from a Lakers perspective and a league perspective. I wish all owners were like him. He was a real innovator. He wasn’t afraid to make a decision. You liked him and cared about him. He was a good guy who was able to buy something and become an incredible steward of a historic franchise. I was lucky to have known him. Working for him wasn’t even work, it was fun. I never saw it as a job. Not for one day. I miss him already.
Kings’ Cousins has words for fan — For DeMarcus Cousins against the Nuggets on Tuesday, it was a night to forget. A season-worst shooting night (1-for-12) coupled with a relentless barrage by Shootaround favorite Kenneth Faried led to a 120-113 loss in which Cousins sat on the bench for the final 10 minutes, 15 seconds. But as Cousins left the game, writes Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee, he got into a bit of a verbal altercation with a fan — another black mark in a season where Cousins has had his fair share of on-court dustups:
Cousins sat out the final 10:15, and his exit wasn’t the usual jog to the bench. He engaged in a shouting match with fans seated on the baseline near the Kings’ bench.
“He said some disrespectful things, and I had some things to say back,” Cousins said. “That was it.”
Cousins said he believes it was a Kings fan, “which makes it even worse.”
Coach Keith Smart said sitting Cousins had nothing to do with that verbal exchange and instead was about finding the best matchup to slow down the Nuggets (40-22).
“The focus is on the game. The focus is on what we’re trying to do on the floor,” Smart said. “And whatever happens with someone on our team in the stands, whatever needs to be dealt with, is dealt with.
“These are our fans and they come out here to support us, and we’ve got to make sure we do the right things at all times”
Asked about fan support, Smart made it clear the team’s focus needs to be on the court.
“That’s why it’s very important that we focus on playing good basketball instead of being focused on the fans,” Smart said. “They pay good, hard-earned money to come to a game to do or say whatever they might want to say. But overall the fans in Sacramento have been great to our basketball team.”
‘Melo asked out of game before he got hurt — Although the Knicks rallied from a 22-point deficit to take down the Cavs in Cleveland on Monday, they suffered a loss as Carmelo Anthony left the game in the second quarter after injuring his knee. A day after that mishap, Knicks coach Mike Woodson says the injury could have been avoided had Woodson agreed to let Anthony out of the game when the Knicks’ star started feeling pain. Ian Bagley of ESPNNewYork.com has more on the situation:
Woodson revealed Tuesday during an interview with ESPN New York 98.7 FM that Anthony had asked to be removed from the game due to knee discomfort before suffering the injury in the second quarter.
The Knicks announced later Tuesday that Anthony officially has been diagnosed with a sore knee and will be listed as questionable for Wednesday’s game against the Detroit Pistons.
Woodson called Anthony’s injury “alarming” during his interview on “The Stephen A. Smith and Ryan Ruocco Show” and admitted his decision to leave the star forward in the game was “stubborn.”
“Melo was hurt,” Woodson said. “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.”
Woodson was asked during the interview why he chose to leave Anthony in the game after he requested to come out.
“I should have [taken him out],” Woodson said. “Stubborn coach — I just didn’t.”
Woodson explained that he hoped Anthony would help dig the Knicks out of their 22-point first-half deficit.”Maybe I should have taken him out before he actually stumbled and took the fall,” Woodson said. “But again, I’m thinking [during] the game, ‘Hey, he’ll play through it. He’ll figure it out.’
“But he was hurt. He walked out after he took the spill and he didn’t come back, and that’s not Melo-like. Obviously, his knee is bothering him.”
Anthony said on Monday that his knee had been bothering him in recent days, and an MRI taken recently revealed no structural damage.
“Today I just woke up, and you know how some days you really don’t feel right,” he said after the game. “I came out here and I tried to warm up and I thought it was going to loosen up before the game, but some of the things that I was doing, I felt like I was dragging it.”
Knicks general manager Glen Grunwald said Tuesday in an interview with radio station WFAN that he did not believe the injury was “serious,” even though Anthony has been bothered by the knee for two or three weeks.
Sans Rondo, Celtics up their intensity — As was mentioned by the Inside the NBA crew last night, the Celtics are 12-4 since Rajon Rondo was lost for the season on Jan. 27. While getting key players back (such as Avery Bradley and Chris Wilcox) and adding a little depth (via a trade for Jordan Crawford) have helped, Boston coach Doc Rivers says Rondo’s departure probably did more to help get the team on a winning track than anything else. Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe has more on the Celtics’ sudden improvements:
The Celtics began Tuesday two games from the fourth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and home-court advantage in the first round, which is stunning considering Boston was 20-23 when Rondo went down and was expected to sink in the second half.
“I just think we’re playing better, for whatever reason,” said coach Doc Rivers. “You have all those injuries, you usually go the other way. I just think our guys kind of came together and realized we don’t have a margin of error anymore.
“And maybe that’s why. But overall, I think a lot of things happened, too. I think Avery [Bradley] was just coming back, so our defense improved dramatically with him.”
Rivers said Bradley’s presence has been critical. The Celtics had improved to ninth in the league in points allowed entering Tuesday night’s game.
“When the guy is on the point of the ball putting pressure, it makes everyone else kind of join in, I think that helped,” Rivers said. “I thought our second unit was just about to take off before all the injuries. So they were finding their way.”
Kevin Garnett said the team’s decision making has drastically improved to compensate for Rondo’s missing floor leadership.
“I would say [we’re] more decisive,” he said. “You get to whatever you’re doing and if you’re going to pass it, pass it, if not you make your move. Consistency is something that I always put our hat on. The more consistent we can be with stopping the ball . . . that’s been the formula for success since I’ve been here and getting guys to buy in.”
Perhaps this is a blessing and curse, because professional sports can break a ballplayer’s heart this way. Redick’s loyal this way. He immerses himself in the franchise’s fabric, invests in the community. His two old coaches – Mike Krzyzewski and Stan Van Gundy – still get calls and texts on a regular basis.
“My wife Chelsea and I built a life in Orlando,” Redick told Yahoo! Sports. “Listen, there was no anger [over the trade], but there was a little bit of disappointment.
“Part of me wishes I could’ve been there my whole career and been part of the rebuilding, part of the turnaround, and gotten back to the finals in my 11th or 12th year. That’s the romantic in me, the idealist.”
With Redick, the Bucks have won four of five games. With the Bucks, Redick is relevant again.
“There’s been a number of moments since I’ve been here – in the fourth quarter, in overtime – where I’ve thought, ‘Man, I missed this,’ ” Redick says. “And I did.
“Even in Orlando, in a close game, coming down to the wire, you still think to yourself: ‘We’re 15-37 or whatever.’ ”
So far, the vision of Bucks general manager John Hammond has been validated. Redick will be a free agent this summer, and Hammond gambled with the trade for him. As hard as the Bucks tried to get Josh Smith, Redick was the player whom they believed could become their starting shooting guard for years. Brandon Jennings is a restricted free agent, Monta Ellis can opt out of his contract and, almost assuredly, only one of them returns next season.
Milwaukee can’t afford to pay the three of them, so Jennings or Ellis will stay, and Milwaukee is prepared to pay Redick as a starting shooting guard. Redick will be in great demand, but make no mistake: To leave the Bucks, he’ll have to take less money – probably a lot.
Hammond and his assistant GM, Jeff Weltman, have the Bucks positioned to be an Eastern Conference playoff team for years to come. For them, Redick has arrived to make shots, yes, but also bring professionalism to the workplace.For Redick, it was over in Orlando. The Magic disassembled into a total rebuild. Part of him will always live with the regret of how everything fell apart, how they fired Stan Van Gundy and traded Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers.
In Redick’s mind, the best thing that ever happened was getting drafted into Orlando with a coach who refused to insert him into the rotation. For two years, Van Gundy challenged him to become a more complete player and Redick thinks “a lot about what kind of career trajectory I would’ve had without Stan, and I’m grateful for what he did for me.”
“Those years in Orlando humbled me,” Redick said, “and gave me perspective on basketball and life.”
Bynum visits knee specialist– In the seemingly daily update of how Andrew Bynum‘s knees, the Sixers big man headed off the New York to visit an orthopedist to get more news on his problematic joints and the long-term outlook for his career. Jason Wolf of The (Wilmington) News Journal has more on Bynum’s visit with Dr. David Altchek of the Hospital for Special Surgery and what next steps are ahead for the big man:
The 7-foot, 300-pound Bynum, whose right knee continued to swell more than a week after taking part in his first practice of the season on Feb. 22, is considering arthroscopic surgery and no longer confident he’ll play for the Sixers this season.
Bynum also visited with at least one doctor on Monday, Sixers CEO Adam Aron said in two broadcast interviews.
“We’re all trying to gather information and see what the best course of action is,” Sixers general manager Tony DiLeo said. “I’m sure Altchek will have an opinion, our doctors will have an opinion, and Andrew, basically, will have an opinion. It’s just gathering information now. And like I said before, he’ll continue to rehab and see how that goes. The option of washing it out [with arthroscopic surgery], we’ll see what happens there.”
Bynum has been sidelined by bone bruises and damaged cartilage in his knees since September. The Sixers acquired him from the Los Angeles Lakers in a four-team trade in August.
He is making $16.9 million this season and will become an unrestricted free agent in July, when he’s hoping to land a long-term deal and a nine-figure pay day.
“He set it up. That’s his doctor,” DiLeo said. “I know it’s a late appointment, so I don’t know if we’ll hear [results] tonight or tomorrow. … [The swelling] has gone down. But the activity has gone down.”
ICYMI of the night: Kenneth Faried got Dunk of the Night honors from our multimedia crew for this jam, but we like this one so much better:
They gathered at the Nokia Theater in downtown Los Angeles on Friday, on Chick Hearn Drive and everything, for a public goodbye to Jerry Buss, with Magic Johnson, Jerry West, Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, David Stern, Shaquille O’Neal and others talking at a memorial for the Lakers owner who died last Monday. That was followed by a private ceremony Friday as Buss was laid to rest.
Mourners spoke with sincerity and humor – and even love, the way Johnson came to view Buss as a father figure – and in some cases tried to define Buss’ impact on the NBA since buying the Lakers in 1979. That was the easy part. Former Suns owner Jerry Colangelo said “He was as innovative as anyone I’ve met in basketball in my four or five decades.” Stern noted a few years ago that “Jerry, quite simply, was a pioneer in understanding what the value of entertainment was in a community” and 10 titles is a statement all its own. Buss made historic contributions.
Placing him in the entire Lakers stratosphere, home to legends on and off the court, is tougher. Several of the 10 or 15 greatest talents in league history have played, or continue to play, for the franchise. One of them (West) is also among the best front-office minds ever. This is the organization that had the rarity of a broadcaster making the Hall of Fame.
Put it this way: Wilt Chamberlain casts a shadow over most every player in NBA history, but has trouble cracking the team’s top 10 because all he had was five seasons. Some were pretty remarkable (20.5 points and 21.1 rebounds in 1968-69, 27.3 points and 18.4 rebounds in 1969-70), but the cold reality is that the imposing Wilt wasn’t even the best center in the L.A. era. Abdul-Jabbar was, and O’Neal may be ahead of Chamberlain as well.
Strictly on impact during the Los Angeles years:
1. West. He averaged 27 points, 6.7 assists and 5.8 rebounds while playing his entire 14-year career for the Lakers, numbers that stand out enough but are especial because he and Elgin Baylor helped the team carve out an audience after the franchise moved from Minneapolis. And then West became the personnel boss who kept L.A. in near-constant title contention. Plus, he coached three seasons. His presence with the Lakers span four decades – from 1960 through 2000 – and set standards as a player and executive.
2. Johnson. He was more than just great to the extent of three MVP awards, three Finals MVPs and centerpiece of five championship clubs. Johnson was, well, Magic. He was the embodiment of what Buss wanted in a glam franchise, he was a leader, and he was demanding in a way that was welcome at the time but would have been savaged today in the way every Bryant sideways look at a teammate is dissected.
3. Buss. The doctoral student in chemistry turned real-estate mogul turned owner was the only Laker who bought his way into the organization. Once there, he tilted life in Los Angeles toward the NBA, surpassing the Dodgers in passion in a change that once seemed impossible. Buss did more than just fund West’s jackpot roster moves. He made the money flow by promoting the Lakers as a Hollywood landmark with glitter falling off players as they breezed downcourt, which made the rest of the league jealous and/or angry but also made the rest of the league rich. Buss was known to meddle in personnel decisions, but, a gambler himself, also urged West to go for broke rather than play it safe.
4. Bryant. His on-court feats make him one of the legends regardless, but he gets extra credit as a player who bridged championship generations. Bryant may be known to many for being divisive but should be remembered, among the many positives, for being part of a continuation, no easy task. Simply, if Bryant does not work, prepare and will himself into becoming a superstar, the Lakers get more like one, maybe two, titles in the 2000s instead of the five.
5. Phil Jackson. Jackson was an underrated coach, far better on Xs and Os than most outside the game would credit, but his presence was undeniable. The credibility he built up from the Bulls years allowed him to tweak, drive, cajole and manage head-strong Bryant and head-strong O’Neal. Most others in the same situation would have become road kill.
6. Pat Riley. What a fit in style of play and style period. Riley mastered the psychological tricks long before Jackson and perfected the Showtime system Buss wanted, all the way to Riles becoming part of the Hollywood production himself. The slicked-back hair, the expensive suits, the draw to the spotlight, the growing ego – Riley fit the mold. Four titles in seven years said it was OK to be that way.
7. Abdul-Jabbar. Of course the numbers – the average of 22.1 points and 9.4 rebounds in 14 seasons in L.A., the three MVPs in that time, the five championships, the first two seasons of leading the league in five statistical categories each time. But the real impact is that Showtime doesn’t play out to full glory without his professionalism and preparation. Imagine if Abdul-Jabbar led with his ego when Magic splashed onto the scene. Imagine the infighting, imagine the trade possibilities that could have altered the NBA landscape for years. Kareem was a selfless, well-liked teammate from high school to college to the pros, and never was that more meaningful in setting an example of maturity with the Lakers.
8. O’Neal. People forget, in the rush to knock Shaq for his behavior late in his career, that the O’Neal of the Lakers years was an awesome display of power that few can come close to matching, let alone actually being on the same short list. When the work effort matched the talent, he was that rarity of the player no team could answer. And when the work effort didn’t, because of health or dedication, he still put up Hall of Fame numbers.
9. Baylor. He never won a championship, which pained him decades later anytime someone mentioned it as a needle, but an incredible forward who once averaged at least 27 points a game in five out of six seasons. It was Baylor, not West, who was the established star to attract attention when the team moved to Los Angeles in 1960.
10. Chick Hearn. A tough call between Hearn and Chamberlain. Chick’s impact on the Lakers, though, is greater. He had a huge role popularizing the NBA after the move from Minneapolis and, in decades to come, became nothing short of one of the popular men in the city, if not the sporting world. Hearn was a connection that lasted decades.
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST –Dwight Howard is coming to Dallas.
That is, he’s coming with his Los Angeles Lakers teammates Sunday for a high noon (CT, ABC) showdown against the Mavericks, an important matchup for two franchises uncomfortable with being out of the playoff mix and determined to get in.
In Big D, sports radio has buzzed about Howard signing with the Mavs since the day his three-team wish list surfaced last year, with Dallas next to Brooklyn and the Lakers. With each dose of drama from L.A., hope floats that the game’s most dominant center will soon come to stay.
Local air-wave chatter with the Lakers coming has been off the charts. Brooklyn is virtually out of the picture and Howard’s L.A. story soured long ago, so, “Why not Dallas?” is the dialogue now. The morning talk guys are pleading for a Dwight love-in Sunday at the American Airlines Center. Because, really, that’s all that the playful Howard really wants, to be loved, right? To be part of a tight-knit family, to be cheered by loyal fans through thick and thin?
In a most unexpected way, the passing of the Lakers’ visionary patriarch, Dr. Jerry Buss, and the emotional proceedings this week might somehow pierce Howard’s hardening exterior and help clarify what lies ahead. During this sad week of mourning and remembering in L.A., perhaps a glint of inner-peace — or at least a clearer understanding of his time and place — will nestle into Howard’s too-often conflicted noggin.
Howard has likely never experienced the varying emotions that he has witnessed since the organization announced Monday that Buss lost his fight with cancer at age 80. That emotion erupted in every nook and cranny of the proud Lakers franchise that Howard has known for all of eight months. It touched the core of the Lakers’ vast fandom. It swelled throughout the city of Los Angeles.
During Thursday’s memorial service at Nokia Theater, Howard, 27, watched as Lakers greats Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant and the original Superman, Shaquille O’Neal (often critical of Howard), paid tribute to the man who created Showtime, the most glamorous and glorious enterprise the league has ever seen.
Magic asked all past and present Lakers players and coaches, about 50, to stand and be recognized. Earlier, Kobe appealed directly to his teammates.
“For our current Lakers,” Kobe said, “I encourage all of you to look around the room, look at the greatness of one man’s vision, look at the players that are here, coaches that are here; we have one thing in common, we all believe in Dr. Jerry Buss. We are playing for something bigger than ourselves, bigger than a single season, playing for the memory of a great man, Dr. Jerry Buss.”
It should have served as a humbling moment for Howard, a player boasting all the physical gifts to thrive but whose immaturity and indecision have damaged his reputation. It should have made his differences with Kobe — Howard’s polar-opposite, a hard-driving, unrelenting, five-time champion — seem infantile and insignificant.
The night before, Howard played his most inspired game of the season with 24 points and 12 rebounds to beat Boston in something rare this year, a Lakers’ rout. He said he had been thinking all day about getting the win for Dr. Buss. On Friday he played through pain and posted 19 points and 16 rebounds in a hard-fought home win over Portland. Before he tweaked his right shoulder, Howard had 15 and eight in the first half.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak this week heeded the advice of the local Dallas talk show hosts and showered the chiseled, 265-pound Howard with loving praise on national radio. Kupchak even said that Howard, who will become a free agent on July 1, should one day have a statue in front of Staples Center. He told Howard to trust him. Told him the future of the great Los Angeles Lakers belongs to him.
The Lakers have opened their arms to Howard. And all he’s had to do is watch and listen to understand what that means. The franchise is Howard’s — if he wants it.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS –LeBron James is a student of the game, has always been aware of his place in the history of the game and is engaged in the ongoing saga that is his life in basketball.
And yet, when the Miami Heat star plays the way he did Monday night against the Charlotte Bobcats, his actions flow as if he’s in “The Matrix”, free of anything else but his maniacal desire to do whatever it takes to make sure his team wins.
Placing his work in the proper historical context is simple, given how few have done what he’s done and are capable of doing what he can do any night.
LeBron isn’t the first player in NBA history to have a 30-plus point game with eight or more rebounds and assists while also shooting 90 percent or better from the floor, the way he did against the Bobcats. But he is the first to do so since Wilt Chamberlain did it this month in 1967 (Wilt actually pulled it off twice before that, in January of 1967 and February of 1966).
Think about that line for a second … 31 points on 13-for-14 shooting, eight rebounds, eight assists, two steals and five turnovers. And his numbers could have been even more ridiculous had he been more aggressive with his own shot instead of playing with his usual court awareness, as he explained to Michael Wallace of ESPN.com‘s Heat Index:
“I’m aware,” James admitted. “But I’m more aware of time and score, team fouls, who has it going, who doesn’t have it going. I’m aware of all of that kind of stuff, too. So with myself, I just let the game flow. I’m not one to — even though I had one of those games tonight — I always look at it afterward and say, ‘Why didn’t I take more shots?’ But that’s just who I am. I had some more looks, but my teammates had better looks. That’s what it’s about.”
That 46-year gap represents more than just several generations of NBA stars and fans, it also signals the gulf between perhaps the two most dominant physical specimens at their respective positions (Shaquille O’Neal was a similar physical freak of nature during his era, though there were more skilled 7-footers around during Shaq’s glory days than what Wilt faced during his).
History will determine LeBron’s place and overall impact, same as it did for Wilt, Bill Russell, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and every other NBA great.
If LeBron hung his kicks up today, he would still belong somewhere in the conversation of the game’s true greats — wouldn’t he?
I argued about that this morning with an old head who was raised on Wilt and has managed to stay plugged into the game the past four decades. He agreed that LeBron, Shaq and Wilt are the most physically imposing players he can remember seeing in the NBA at their respective positions.
“I won’t sit here and tell you I’ve watched as much NBA basketball as the folks who are paid to do so,” my old head said. “But I’ve been watching for a lot longer than you and some of these other loudmouths I see on TV and I’m telling you, [LeBron] is something I’ve never seen before. He’s got the size and all the skills. The athleticism is what’s just off the charts. I’ve been courtside before at games, years ago and here in recent years, and I’ve just never seen anything like him. Magic was the last player I remember seeing move like that and play like that at LeBron’s size. It’s unreal.”
Funny, James describes performances like the one he delivered against the Bobcats as basically routine. Surely, he stopped surprising himself a long time ago.
What LeBron has done in the past few years of his career is round out of his game in ways that even his biggest critics have to admit they weren’t sure he could. His ability to play inside and out, when needed, combined with the raw physical advantages he still has over any foe presents a pretty impossible package to stop.
“I’m an all-around player,” James told the Heat Index. “I can do whatever the game presents. I can make shots from the outside. Of course, I can make shots from the inside. But I don’t let the game determine my game. I go out and figure it out and just play the way I need to play to help our team win. So, I don’t know, I’m very confident in my ability and I just go out and try to make things happen.”
Criticize him all you want, and Naismith knows he has an abundance of haters. But make no mistake that there is one player, and only one player, in the NBA capable of making the sort of “things happen” that LeBron does.
Despite the fact that the two winningest franchises in the history of the league are currently struggling in the standings, the stars of the Lakers and Celtics are still must-see attractions for the 2013 NBA All-Star Game. The Celtics are currently No. 7 in the East and the Lakers No. 11 and out of the playoffs in the West.
Yet the results of fan voting will have classic rivals Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard of the Lakers and Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo of the Celtics squaring off in the starting lineups at Houston’s Toyota Center on Feb. 17 on TNT.
Bryant (1,591,437) edged out Miami’s LeBron James (1,583,646) to become the leading vote-getter for the third time. It will be his 15th consecutive All-Star Game appearance, breaking a tie with Jerry West, Karl Malone and Shaquille O’Neal. While you can argue that the whole NBA is Bryant’s oyster, the All-Star Game has become a personal kingdom that practically fits into the palm of his hand. He’s the all-time leading scorer (271) and tied with Bob Pettit for most MVPs (four).
Heat teammates James and Dwyane Wade and the Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony will join Garnett and Rondo as starters for the Eastern Conference.
In addition to Bryant and Howard, the Western Conference starters will be Clippers Chris Paul and Blake Griffin along with Kevin Durant of the Thunder.
The reserves, seven for each team, will be selected by a vote of the league’s coaches and announced Jan. 24 on TNT.
LeBron James, Heat – The no-brainiest of no-brainers. The youngest player ever to score 20,000 career points. He’ll play his ninth All-Star Game in the arena where he outdueled Tracy McGrady to be named the MVP in 2006. Highlights.
Carmelo Anthony, Knicks – Perhaps the most talented and effective scorer in the game, he’s putting the ball in the hoop at the highest rate (29.3 ppg) of his career. This is his sixth All-Star team and second in the Eastern Conference. Highlights.
Kevin Garnett, Celtics — It’s a lifetime achievement honor for Old Man River at a time when he’s playing fewer minutes than he’s ever played. It’s his 15th All-Star Game and the big question is whether he’ll trash-talk teammate Melo. Highlights.
Dwyane Wade, Heat — The MVP before the biggest crowd (108,713) in All-Star history at Cowboys Stadium in 2010, he’ll be playing for the ninth time for the East. May have ceded the lead dog role on Heat to LeBron, but still a fan favorite. Highlights.
Rajon Rondo, Celtics – The league leader in assists and the sparkplug that turns over the engine of the Boston offense. You can talk all you want about Boston’s Big Three, but these days he’s the big one who can lift them up. Highlights.
The lowdown: There’s no question that Tyson Chandler was the first victim of the new voting system that chooses frontcourt and backcourt players and does not break out centers separately. That’s a shame, because the Knicks’ big man is statistically having the best season of his career and anchoring the middle of the New York defense. But he loses out in the popular vote to Garnett, because fans want to see the stars, especially when one of the all-time greats nears the end of his career. Despite being the league’s top assist man and having moved into the upper echelon, the four-time All-Star Rondo would probably be on the East bench if Chicago’s injured Derrick Rose wasn’t on the shelf.
Kevin Durant, Thunder — The three-time defending scoring champ is chasing Kobe and Carmelo in this year’s race, but has his eye on a bigger prize next June. He’s scoring less and playing better. Last year’s MVP in Orlando. Highlights.
Dwight Howard, Lakers – It certainly hasn’t been a smooth ride in his first season with the Lakers, but it says something about his talent that even in a down year, following back surgery, he’s the best center in the West. Highlights.
Blake Griffin, Clippers – His scoring, rebounding and shooting are all down from a year ago. But when you can jump over a car to dunk and show up with CP3 on the highlight reels every night, people tend to notice and vote for you. Highlights.
Kobe Bryant, Lakers – While his team may be down, it’s not because Kobe isn’t trying. He leads the league in scoring, is shooting at a career-best clip, rebounding, passing, doing it all. It’s his best season in years. Highlights.
Chris Paul, Clippers — Nobody in the league has a better handle. No point guard can run an offense, set up teammates and scorer better. Add in that he’s the heart at the center of the Clipper miracle and it’s a cinch . Highlights.
The lowdown: The flip-side of the coin that claimed Chandler happened here where the new voting system — unofficially known as the “Tim Duncan Rule” — did not help the veteran Spurs big man reclaim what used to be a regular spot in the West starting lineup. Neither did a personal campaign by San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, who talked up Duncan’s amazing stats and his significant contributions in leading this team to one of the top three records in the league. The low-profile Spurs will have to count on the coaches to do the right thing by Duncan and teammate Tony Parker. The other hard-to-digest numbers in the West had the Rockets’ inconsistent point guard Jeremy Lin almost doubling up the votes of teammate James Harden, who ranks fourth in the league in scoring and has established himself as a big time scorer and first rate closer. Somebody also has to explain how the No. 4 team in the West, the Grizzlies, did not get a starter within shouting distance in the voting.
HANG TIME, Texas — It might be time to change the name of Lob City to Titletown or Bannerburgh.
Either way the streaking Clippers are on the verge of moving into a rather exclusive neighborhood that merits quite serious attention. It’s a ritzy place that comes with lots of shiny gold hardware.
When Chris Paul and his pals won back-to-back games over the Jazz to run it up to 17 consecutive wins, they squeezed into a tie for the ninth-longest single-season streak in NBA history.
With one more win tonight at Denver — No. 18 — the Clippers would take another step toward forcing themselves into the conversation as honest-to-goodness contenders.
Of course, the 1971-72 Lakers top the list with their all-time record 33-game win streak that many consider to be unbreakable. But of the eight teams currently ahead of the Clippers, five of them went on that same season to win the NBA championship and two others advanced to the conference finals. Only the 2007-08 Rockets failed to get out of the first round of the playoffs.
1971-72 L.A. Lakers
Coach: Bill Sharman
Stars: Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Gail Goodrich
Start: Nov. 5, 1971 (110-106 over Bullets)
End: Jan. 7, 1972 (120-104 to Bucks)
Playoff result: Won NBA championship
2007-08 Houston Rockets
Streak: 22 games
Coach: Rick Adelman
Stars: Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming
Start: Jan. 29, 2008 (111-107 over Warriors)
End: March 18, 2008 (94-74 to Boston Celtics)
Playoff result: Lost in first round
1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks
Coach: Larry Costello
Stars: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson
Start: Feb. 6, 1971 (111-105 over Warriors)
End: March 8, 1971 (110-103 in OT to Bulls)
Playoff result: Won NBA championship
1999-2000 L.A. Lakers
Coach: Phil Jackson
Stars: Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal
Start: Feb. 4, 2000 (113-67 over Jazz)
End: March 13, 2000 (109-102 to Wizards)
Playoff result: Won NBA championship
2008-09 Boston Celtics
Coach: Doc Rivers
Stars: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen
Start: Nov. 15, 2008 (102-97 over Bucks)
End: Dec. 25, 2008 (92-83 to Lakers)
Playoff result: Lost in conference semifinals
1969-70 N.Y. Knicks
Coach: Red Holzman
Stars: Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley
Start: Oct. 24, 1969 (116-92 over Pistons)
End: Nov. 29, 1969 (110-98 to Pistons)
Playoff result: Won NBA championship
1981-82 Boston Celtics
Coach: Bill Fitch
Stars: Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish
Start: Feb. 24, 1982 (132-90 over Jazz)
End: March 28, 1982 (116-98 to 76ers)
Playoff result: Lost in conference finals
1995-96 Chicago Bulls
Streak 18 Coach: Phil Jackson
Stars: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman
Start: Dec. 29, 1995 (120-93 over Pacers)
End: Feb. 4, 1996 (105-99 to Nuggets)
Playoff result: Won title
2012-13 L.A. Clippers
Coach: Vinny Del Negro
Stars: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin
Start: Nov. 28, 2012 (101-95 over Timberwolves)
* 20 consecutive wins by 2011-12 San Antonio Spurs was split between 10 regular season and 10 playoffs and thereby does not qualify officially.
HANG TIME, Texas — Would there be any way in the world it would seem right if our nation’s capital was named for anyone but George Washington?
Fillmore, D.C.? Polk, D.C.? Nixon, D.C.?
Thus, it was equally preposterous that the array of statues outside Staples Center should for all these years have been missing the most logical and deserving subject:
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — first in goggles, first in skyhooks, first on the all-time NBA scoring list with 38,387 points.
The egregious omission was finally rectified on when a 16-foot, 1,500-pound statue in the classic skyhook pose was unveiled on Friday night.
Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times was on hand to describe the occasion:
“I’m glad we got here before the pigeons got to it,” he said, drawing laughter from an array of former NBA players, executives, family and friends.
“I don’t know if you remember, but I had a little too much to say that it hadn’t happened right away. But they were patient with me,” he said after pulling a gold tassel that removed a curtain and unveiled the statue created by sculptors/artists Julie Rotblatt Amrany and Omri Amrany.
Abdul-Jabbar became the sixth Los Angeles sports figure to be remembered with a statue outside the arena, joining hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky, boxer Oscar De La Hoya, basketball Hall of Famers Jerry West and Magic Johnson, and longtime Lakers announcer Chick Hearn.
Johnson was among the speakers during a ceremony that featured key figures from Abdul-Jabbar’s childhood, his days in Milwaukee, and his Lakers years. All of them emphasized Abdul-Jabbar’s leadership, great athletic skills and intellectual curiosity.
“You should have had the first statue,” Johnson told the crowd. “It was on your back that we’re here at Staples Center.”
Yes, it is true that Abdul-Jabbar could be prickly and downright aloof at times during his long playing career in Milwaukee and L.A. But he is the only six-time winner of the MVP award in NBA history and also set records at the time for games played, total minutes, field goals, blocked shots, defensive rebounds and fouls.
While the Lakers did not finally leap up to become the league’s most prominent franchise until the arrival of Magic in the 1979-80 season, it was always Abdul-Jabbar providing the tent post in the middle that held up the “Showtime” circus that won five championships in the 1980s.
It is not in any way to discredit the likes of Johnson, West, Hearn, Gretzky or De La Hoya, who had all previously been honored with their own statues.
But it is finally fit that the man who literally stands taller than them all has at last been rightfully placed on his own pedestal.
It’s not often you can pair a “7-foot-2 behemoth” with a “6-foot-11 supermodel” and things go as smoothly as they did. And if they take their act on the road or land a deal for one of the buddy flick ideas tossed around during our brainstorming session, global icon status could be in the offing for both of them.
All we have to do now is get Hibbert to aim a little higher than a chance meeting with Dennis Haysbert (the dude with the golden voice on the All State commercials) and keep Hibbert, Peretti and their entourage away from Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles and the club on Jamaican Gold Night …
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – With all due respect to Warriors coach Mark Jackson and his view of basketball history, we have to pick a bit of a fight with him about the subjectivity of his ranking of the NBA’s greatest shooting guards.
“When you take Michael Jordan and you take Kobe Bryant out of the discussion, he’s as good as any two-guard that has ever played the game.”
While I was lucky enough to witness some of Miller’s best years with the Pacers and have a deep appreciation for what it takes to play at the level he did for so long, I’m not sure I can abide by Jackson’s assessment when presented with the long list of distinguished shooting guards that have graced the game.
Let’s see … (and these names are no particular order) George Gervin, Jerry West, Allen Iverson, Dwyane Wade, Clyde Drexler, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Ray Allen, Joe Dumars and “Pistol” Pete Maravich are names that certainly come to mind when the discussion turns to the top shooting guards of all time.
Miller is no doubt an all-time great and everything you’d ever want in a Hall of Famer.