Everyone today is still feeling Dirk Nowitzki’s pain, five years from watching a 2-0 lead on Miami melt away in the NBA Finals.
But what about feeling Jason Kidd’s misery?
He watched two straight trips to The Finals (in 2002 and ’03) evaporate. They were two trips most people forget about, only because it was done with the Nets, you know.
Yes, while Kidd and Nowitzki, headed back to The Finals, take a brief moment to share notes and swap war stories about their agonies, Kidd will reach for the tissue box first.
Dirk: “We were up 2-0, man. With home-court advantage!”
Kidd: “At least you had a home-court advantage. We had to beg fans to show up.”
Dirk: “Dwyane Wade was a beast. Too much to overcome.”
Kidd: “Try beating Shaq and Kobe and then Duncan and Robinson.”
Dirk: “This may be my last chance. I’m 32.”
Kidd: “Got you by six years.”
Kidd will enter the championship series, then, in a more desperate state than Dirk. He is No. 2 on the all-time assists list, one of the top pure point guards in NBA history and is surprisingly frisky today at age 38. He’s also in danger of becoming the next John Stockton: great player, no rings.
MEMPHIS – It will be hot. It will be crowded. It will be loud. It will be physical.
This is the Grind House. That’s the nickname that guard Tony Allen has given to the Grizzlies’ home, in honor of their rugged, scrappy style of play.
“It’s backyard basketball,” Allen said. “Backyard basketball is pullin’, grabbin’, scratchin, divin’ on loose balls, takin’ charges. Nobody wants to lose. Everybody is trying to do what it takes.”
It’s a style that enabled the Grizzlies to compile a 30-11 home record this season, third best in the Western Conference, and one they’re hoping to continue to thrive on as Games 3 and 4 of this rough-and-tumble first-round series shifts to Memphis for the weekend.
The Spurs’ Tony Parker has compared the Grizzlies’ style to that of the old Utah teams with John Stockton and Karl Malone – “foul and grab.”
Memphis point guard Mike Conley nods his head and smiles.
“There’s a big difference in a regular-season foul and a playoff foul and there’s a difference in the no-foul (call),” he said. “When you go in the paint, you’re going to get hammered and there still might not be a whistle. So you concentrate more on finishing the play than worrying about drawing the foul.”
Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins doesn’t want his team to get too caught up in the hoopla of what is being called the biggest game in Grizzlies history and, possibly the biggest game ever played in the city of Memphis.
“It’s not about the crowd and it can’t be about the emotion,” Hollins said. “We’ve got to concentrate on playing our game.
“We’ve got to get one home win. That’s the goal, to go out and win one game and worry about the next game when it comes. We have to go out and compete and do what it takes to win the game.”
More than anything, it means welcoming the Spurs to the Grind House.
Sometimes, for whatever reasons, the moment comes and goes and hardly anyone stops to appreciate the gravity of what took place and where it ranks in the annals of the game.
And sometimes that moment is cloaked in such a bittersweet coating that it’s almost best not to mention it, especially to the man whose milestone was achieved. Such was the case for Trail Blazers point guard Andre Miller, whose passing of Celtics legend Bob Cousy for 14th place on the career assists list was shrouded in late-game struggles in a loss to the Lakers Sunday at Staples Center.
Miller’s five assists give him 6,957 for his career, moving him ahead of Cousy (6,955). But it came on a night that saw him commit his only two turnovers in the fourth quarter, in a game where he shot just 3-for-14 from the floor.
DALLAS – This isn’t supposed to happen to the Utah Jazz.
In the span of 13 days, the league’s model of stability for two decades parted ways with Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan and All-Star point guard Deron Williams. Just like that, a team that looked every part a serious contender earlier this season — remember that November road sweep through Florida? — is possibly rebuilding.
Karl Malone and John Stockton are rolling over in their graves.
“I haven’t even gotten over Coach Sloan,” Jazz center Al Jefferson said, “so when they hit me with [the Williams trade], it was just like ‘wow,’ I was super surprised.”
Paul Millsap said the team was as caught off guard as the rest of the league was when the trade with New Jersey went down. The Jazz get back point guard Devin Harris, rookie lottery pick Derrick Favors and two first-round picks.
“It’s been crazy, a little weird,” Millsap admitted. “A lot of stuff we didn’t really expect to happen, it happened. Everybody was surprised by that. You never know what can happen in this league.”
That the Jazz rolled D-Will, one of the constants in the “best point guard in the league” debate, so quickly after many speculated he helped run Sloan out of town is noteworthy in itself. It didn’t help that Williams was critical of many of Utah’s cost-cutting moves of the last few years, so many speculated the front office was just getting rid of a locker room headache.
But closer to the truth is the economic realities of the day, namely making sure you don’t lose your best player for a bag of chips. Cleveland and Toronto didn’t learn that lesson in time. Denver did. And now Utah has lobbed the most extreme preemptive strike to date by trading away its face of the franchise more than a year before he potentially hits free agency.
DALLAS — The Mavericks are well aware of what happened last night when the Nuggets sans Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups hosted the Grizzlies. Tonight the Mavs welcome the Utah Jazz to town without freshly dealt All-Star point guard Deron Williams.
“Whoever they put out here is going to be ready to play, I know that,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said today. “And If you watched Denver last night without any players … they kicked the [stuff] out of Memphis. Memphis is a good team. Regardless of who steps on the floor we’ve got to play well.”
The Jazz picked up former Mavs point guard Devin Harris and rookie power forward Derrick Favors in the deal with New Jersey, though neither will play tonight.
Mavs sixth man Jason Terry is ready for anyone and anything when the Jazz hit the floor.
“I don’t care if John Stockton or Karl Malone came out here tonight,” he said. “We’re hungry. We’ve been off for six days. We have to play somebody.”
ATLANTA – He is the best coach never to win an NBA championship. But I suspect I speak for many in basketball when I say: I hope someday Jerry Sloan loses that tag.
Because of his longevity and the respect earned from his players and peers, Sloan deserves a title. I just fear he’ll never get one.
The Jazz just completed a remarkable road trip, one of the best in recent memory by any team, and appear to have shaken free of their early-season funk. They embarrassed the Heat in Miami, and just when you thought they’d rest on that, they won in Orlando and Atlanta, beating two playoff teams from a year ago. Once again, a blue-collar team is playing with grit and pride, the two trademarks of their coach. And yet, even if they win 50 games and pull a surprise or two in the postseason, you know where this is headed. Sloan will come up short. Again.
This time, it will be no thanks to Kobe. Just like before, when it was no thanks to Jordan. You see, Sloan never had a Kobe, never had a Jordan. Doesn’t have anyone on the roster right now who qualifies, either (apologies, D-Will). Sure, Karl Malone and John Stockton were certainly good enough to keep Utah on championship radar for over a decade, just not good enough to pull one out.
I’ve always liked and respected Sloan. Love everything he stands for. He fiercely defends his players but doesn’t accept anything less than their best. He’s old school, but not totally lost on the culture of the modern-day athlete. He’s humble and always gives credit to those in the locker room and his assistants, including long-time ally Phil Johnson. That’s what’s really refreshing: Sloan doesn’t self-promote. He’s not running up and down the bench, pointing and gesturing. He’s not one of those coaches who MUST COACH EVERY SINGLE POSSESSION. He gets it.
He might finally win Coach of the Year, an award too often given to the flash-in-the-pan, rather than someone who’s consistent. Sad thing is, he probably won’t win something greater. That won’t make Sloan any less of a coach. It’ll just give him, and us, an empty feeling if he leaves the game without a title. A lousy feeling, actually. We may ache more than Jerry.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Who in the name of Naismith would be crazy enough to try to watch all 13 games on Wednesday night’s NBA schedule, completely ignoring Game 1 of the World Series, Modern Family and whatever else was going on last night?
You know we did.
The crew here at the hideout managed to view significant portions of all 13 games and we must admit, we came away impressed more often than not, even by some teams that ended up on the losing end at the end of the night.
The most anticipated season in league history? However preposterous it might have sounded to hear that in recent weeks, we’re warming up the idea now.
Back to Wednesday night’s games, though. It was an absolute embarrassment of basketball riches on display from coast to coast all night. Did you see what we saw?
Looking good: Now you know why the Cavaliers refused to part with J.J. Hickson last year in a proposed Amar’e Stoudemire deal. He was a force (21 points on 8-for-11 shooting) and is poised for a breakout season. Boobie Gibson rebounded from an ugly start (0-for-8) to finish with 16 points and a team-high eight assists.
Sound the Alarm: The Celtics can’t afford many off nights in the revamped Eastern Conference, where the Magic, Heat and even the Hawks plan to push the pace. There was bound to be an emotional letdown, of sorts, after Tuesday’s season-opening home win over Miami. There just can’t be many more like it.
HT’s Take: They say the best way to get over a breakup is to dive right back into the game. And the scrappy, LeBron James-free Cavaliers proved they’ll do just that by out working the Celtics down the stretch. But I wouldn’t go making travel plans for the NBA Finals yet.
Looking good: All those new additions, rookies and otherwise, showed well in the Nets’ debut in their new arena. Even Jay-Z and Beyonce showed up, a rare occurrence compared to last season when, our Twitter family informed us, Jay never showed up. You expect an Avery Johnson-coached team to play a certain way and the Nets did that down the stretch. He’s already got the Nets 18 games ahead of last season’s win pace.
Sound the Alarm: The Pistons’ inability to finish this thing off, they were up seven with 1:40 to play, doesn’t bode well for a team that enters this season without a whole lot of confidence in each other.
HT’s Take: We tuned in hoping to see something from Nets rookie Derrick Favors and he didn’t disappoint. The eight points and 10 rebounds are fine, but he was much more physical around the basket than even we expected. Our initial fears about the Pistons were confirmed. They just don’t look like a team on a mission of any sorts.
Looking good: Welcome to the season, Dwyane Wade. We knew he needed more than those four minutes he played in the preseason to get warmed up. His 30-point outburst against the Sixers is much more like normal. When James Jones sinks six of his nine 3-pointers against anyone, the Heat become nearly impossible to deal with for anyone other than the league’s elite.
Sound the Alarm: As NBA.com’s Andy Jasner pointed out, the Sixers’ starting five did not attempt a single free throw all night. That’s either some sever disrespect for their games or a serious lack of force being used by Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala, Jason Kapono, Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes.
HT’s Take: The Heat will do the same things they did to the Sixers to most of the teams in the league. The fact is, few teams will be able to match their firepower and depth. And any team that can’t protect the rim will see Wade, James and Chris Bosh have their way attacking the basket. We did see another solid rookie debut, this one out of the Sixers’ Evan Turner (team-high 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists).
“The original Dream Team is the best basketball team ever assembled, right?’ the caller said. “Surely, you don’t think any other incarnation could handle them do you?”
The easy answer should have been “of course.”
Any team with Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone, John Stockton, David Robinson and Patrick Ewing as its headliners would have to get the nod, right?
As the caller would clarify moments later, not exactly.
She wasn’t interested in the names so much as she was the games, as in what state was each of those legends’ game in during the time they played together and could they outdistance any other group — Olympic or otherwise — for the title of greatest team ever assembled?
That little wrinkle caused me to think it over a little more before posing the question to all of you.
Do you think the 1992 U.S. Olympic team was the greatest compilation of basketball talent to grace the floor or could some other group, say one of its subsequent reincarnations or even a team before it, lay claim to the title?
I’m having a really hard time finding another squad that can give them a run (the caller, showing her age, suggested that the 2008 U.S. Olympic (Redeem) team — the Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Jason Kidd, Deron Williams-led bunch would have given the OG’s fits).
Uh, I’d pay for a ticket to that game. But I don’t know if I see the 2008 group besting the true Dream Team.
What about the 1996 crew? Barkley, Pippen, Malone, Stockton and Robinson stuck around and were joined by Gary Payton, Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill, Reggie Miller, Hakeem Olajuwon and a monstrous, young Shaquille O’Neal (who should have been on the original team as a collegian over Christian Laettner).
And there was also that 2000 team to consider. GP was joined by a brand new cast that included Steve Smith, Vince Carter, TimHardaway, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Kidd, Antonio McDyess, Alonzo Mourning, Vin Baker, Allan Houston and Shareef Abdur-Rahim.
Let’s leave the 2004 team off the list since they had to scrap to get a bronze medal in Athens.
What say you?
(And feel free to include any team ever assembled. But just so you know, we’re going with the greatest player ever, the bald cat below, on the greatest team ever assembled.)
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The way things are going, we probably won’t see another combination like Karl Malone and John Stockton any time soon.
You have to find two future Hall of Famers willing to grow their games together the way these two did. You also need a franchise, its fans, its coach and everyone else involved willing to invest to this sort of organic pairing.
It took these Utah Jazz greats time to develop the chemistry that led to nearly two full decades of court magic that we all could appreciate, whether you were a Jazz fan or not you respected what these guys did.
The Jazz have a makeshift version of this pair on the current roster in Deron Williams and Al Jefferson, and this pairing is much closer to the original than Williams and Carlos Boozer ever was. Well, at least that’s what Jazz fans are hoping. And Jerry Sloan is still around to call the shots.
Still, you have to wonder if we’ll ever really see this type of point guard-big man dynamic duo again …