Posts Tagged ‘Jose Calderon’

Morning Shootaround — April 22



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played April 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers have changes in mind for Game 2 | Nowitzki backs Calderon as Mavs’ starter | Report: New arena remains key for Bucks’ future | Thibodeau unhappy with Bulls’ defense | Jefferson vows to play in Game 2

No. 1: Pacers planning on some changes in Game 2 — Simply put, the Indiana Pacers were shellshocked after the Atlanta Hawks marched into Bankers Life Fieldhouse and beat the home team from start to finish. With that defeat on their minds, the Pacers are examining each and every thing they did in Game 1 and are open to making some pretty big changes on things from who guards the star of Game 1 (Atlanta’s Jeff Teague) to what kind of defense they’ll play as a team and more. Mark Montieth of Pacers.com has more:

Coach Frank Vogel was coy when pressed on the issue following Monday’s practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, not wishing to become the first coach in NBA history to reveal strategy to the opponent a day before a playoff game. But, winds of change were wafting through the building. Practice ran longer than was originally advertised to the media, and all doors were closed. Afterward, Lance Stephenson created a breeze when asked if strategic changes were forthcoming.

“Of course we’re going to make changes,” he said. “We’re not allowed to talk about the changes we made, (the Hawks) will figure it out when we play.”

Earlier, Vogel had only hinted at the possibility.

“I prefer not to make major changes,” he said.

Are you willing?

“Of course.”

Do you think you will?

“We’ll see.”

Any changes are most likely to come on defense. Offensively, Vogel simply wants his team to move the ball more quickly and more often, and for Roy Hibbert to establish better post position near the basket and for his teammates to toss the ball to him when he does. But given the way Hawks point guard Jeff Teague punctured the Pacers’ defense on Saturday, some sort of adjustment seems in order.

The players talked Monday about doing a better job of helping one another, filling gaps and all that, but would they go to the extreme of rolling out a zone defense for the first time this season? Vogel said during last season’s playoff series with Miami that he would implement it this season. He hasn’t, largely because the team’s trip to Taiwan and the Philippines for two preseason games sliced too large a chunk out of his practice time.

The bottom line is, something will be to be done to prevent Teague from running a layup line. He had nine of them on Saturday on his way to 28 points. A zone defense would be one way to do it.

“I wish we had used it more, because then I’d be more comfortable using it now,” Vogel said. “That is something we’re talking pretty lengthily about.”

At the very least, it’s likely that Paul George will defend Teague at some point. George isn’t as quick as Teague, but he is seven inches taller and the Pacers’ best perimeter defender.

George has said he wants to do it. But he wasn’t going to say he would do it.

“If the opportunity calls for it, I’ll enjoy the match-up,” he said, smiling.

“For all I know,” he added, “Hibbert’s guarding him.”


VIDEO: Frank Vogel talks about possible changes for the Pacers in Game 2

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No. 2: Nowitzki backs Calderon as Mavs’ starting point guardMost NBA followers know that Dallas Mavericks point guard Jose Calderon is one of the best playmakers in the league … and also one of its worst defenders at the point as well. In Game 1, though, Calderon struggled a bit, amassing seven points and two assists in 16 minutes. His primary understudy, Devin Harris, had a much better game, going for 19 points and five assists in 32 minutes. So, is there a point guard quandary in Big D. ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon reports that to star Dirk Nowitzki, there’s no question who the starter is for Game 2:

Coach Rick Carlisle refused to discuss whether he’d consider starting Devin Harris instead of Jose Calderon in Game 2, using his stock line about revealing his lineup 16 minutes before tip.

However, Dirk Nowitzki readily declared about 53 hours before Wednesday’s tip in San Antonio that no change in the Mavericks’ starting lineup was forthcoming.

“We’re rolling the way we’re set up,” Nowitzki said. “Jose has been our starter the whole year. We’ve got to start the game off a little better. I think we were a little slow and we were down eight or 10 pretty quick there in the first quarter, so we’ve got to be a little better there, but Jose is our starter. He’s the guy that puts us in our plays and we’re rolling with it.”

The Mavs’ normal starting lineup has been badly overmatched against the Spurs, having been outscored by 40 points in 33 minutes in the Dallas-San Antonio meetings this season, including Game 1. The Mavs have had a 24-point advantage in the 79 minutes that Harris has played against the Spurs, but that’s also evidence of the success the Dallas bench has had against San Antonio’s second unit, a strength that Carlisle might not want to mess with.

“We’re going to approach it the way we approach it, doing it the way we feel is best,” Carlisle said. “If we get to the point where I feel major lineup changes are in order, we’ll do it, but I’m not going to talk about it two days before the game.”


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki talks after Dallas has practice Monday in San Antonio

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No. 3: Report: New arena critical to Bucks dealLast week, Milwaukee Bucks fans got some happy news about the future of their team as longtime owner Herb Kohl announced he was selling the team to the duo of Wesley Edens and Mark Lasry for a reported $550 million. While that ownership group is committed to keeping the team in Milwaukee, they could lose the ownership rights on their team if they cannot get a new arena built for the Bucks by 2017. Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com have more: :

The NBA has the right to buy back the Milwaukee Bucks from incoming owners Wesley Edens and Mark Lasry if a deal to a bring a new arena to the city is not in place by November 2017, according to sources briefed on the situation.

Sources told ESPN.com that the sale agreement announced last week to transfer the Bucks from longtime owner Herb Kohl to Edens and Lasry for a purchase price of $550 million includes a provision that allows the league to buy back the team for $575 million if construction on a new building in Milwaukee is not underway by the deadline.

Although one source said Monday that the league would likely only take that step if it didn’t see “significant progress” toward a new arena in Milwaukee by then, this provision ensures that the NBA would control the fate of the franchise from that point as opposed to Edens and Lasry.

Edens and Lasry agreed last week to pay a league-record $550 million to Kohl for the Bucks and promised to contribute an additional $100 million toward a new arena. Kohl also pledged to gift $100 million toward construction of a new facility, but more financing will be needed to get the project going, with city officials in Milwaukee estimating that a new arena would cost in excess of $400 million.

The inclusion of this clause in the sale agreement, furthermore, is an unspoken admission that neither the league nor the new owners are convinced that construction on a modern building in Milwaukee will be underway in the space of three-plus years.

Two local task forces have been assembled to study the issue, but there has already been pushback to potential public financing by politicians and community groups. The Bucks’ lease with the antiquated Bradley Center runs through the 2016-17 season, which establishes the fall of 2017 as a natural deadline to find a solution.

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No. 4: Thibodeau calls out Bulls’ defense In Game 1 of the Bulls-Wizards series, Chicago allowed Washington to roll up 102 points as the Wizards’ big man combo of Marcin Gortat and Nene pounded away and picked apart the Bulls’ vaunted defense. That kind of performance left a bitter taste in coach Tom Thibodeau‘s mouth and he didn’t mince words during Monday’s practice about how displeased he was with Chicago’s defense, particularly the play of point guard D.J. Augustin. Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times has more on what the Bulls plan to do differently in Game 2:

‘To put it on one guy, that’s not how we do it here,’’ Thibodeau said.

But that didn’t prevent the Wizards from finding that perceived weak link in the chain and attacking it, especially in their fourth-quarter comeback. Unfortunately for guard D.J. Augustin, he was the guy the Wizards went after in crunch time.

“Not only D.J., our defense,’’ Thibodeau said when asked if he thought Augustin had to improve on the defensive end. ‘‘I could go from start to finish. There’s an endless list of things that we didn’t do correctly. We’re capable of doing much better. And we’re going to have to.

“They’re a good team. In the playoffs, you have to play for 48 minutes and be disciplined. You have to stick to it. Some plays, they made tough plays. Give them credit. Others, we made mistakes. And we have to correct those mistakes.’’

According to one source, though, Thibodeau was concerned about Augustin’s defensive shortcomings being exposed, especially in the playoffs, when opposing coaches smell blood and attack. Sure enough, the Wizards’ guards seemed to go right after him down the stretch, whether it was John Wall, Bradley Beal or even 38-year-old Andre Miller, who scored eight of his 10 points in the fourth quarter.

Thibodeau was asked if the defensive breakdowns were more related to bad positioning or poor communication.

“It was a compilation of all those things,’’ he said. ‘‘To me, if one guy is not doing their job, it’s going to make everyone look bad. We have to be tied together. We have to have the proper amount of intensity and concentration. And we have to finish our defense. That’s one thing that we could do a lot better.”

While there will be tinkering, it didn’t sound as though Thibodeau was going to change his rotation. That means Augustin and the other players on the court at the end of games will have to find a way to deal with the Wizards’ backcourt and to slow down forward Nene, who burned the Bulls for 24 points.

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No. 5: Jefferson: ‘I’m suiting up’ for Game 2 — Bobcats center Al Jefferson can count on one hand the number of times he’s been in the playoffs. As the big man is in the midst of just his third career playoff appearance, there’s little doubt he’s going to let anything prevent him from playing. That statement apparently applies to his bout of plantar fascia in both feet that flared up early in Charlotte’s Game 1 loss to the Miami Heat. But as Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer reports, Jefferson is determined to play in Game 2 … and beyond:

Jefferson was in surprisingly good spirits Monday after missing practice, undergoing a magnetic resonance imaging and several hours of treatment. He said there’s no way the injury he suffered Sunday in Game 1 of this playoff series is a season-ender.

“I’m suiting up,” Jefferson said. “It’ll take more than that to make me sit down.”

The issue for Jefferson is not so much his availability, but rather his effectiveness. He will again miss practice Tuesday and his left foot is encased in a protective walking boot.

The pain he experienced in the first quarter Sunday, after he felt a “pop” in his left foot, was excruciating – he compared it to the sudden attack of appendicitis he suffered several years ago, resulting in emergency surgery.

“Like somebody shot me. A terrible feeling. I knew something was wrong,” Jefferson recalled.

Despite that, Bobcats medical staff told him and coach Steve Clifford that Jefferson is taking no special risk by playing. He was told not to anticipate needing surgery in the off-season; that this is about pain-management now and rest in the off-season.

The plantar fascia is a thick band of fibrous material that runs along the bottom of a foot, connecting the heel bone to the toes.

There doesn’t seem to be a significant risk in Jefferson playing with this injury, so long as he can handle the pain, according to Dallas-based sports orthopedist Dr. Richard Rhodes.

“If you can fight through, and they can manage the pain (with medication), you can go on it and then heal in the off-season,” said Rhodes, describing the plantar fascia as helping the foot hold its natural arch.

The issue going forward is how Jefferson can perform in the short-run. Clifford said the injury seemed to harm Jefferson’s performance more on offense than defense. In particular, Clifford noted, Jefferson struggled to pivot off his left foot, which is key to his low-post scoring moves.

Jefferson agrees with Clifford that he spent much of the second half pulling up for jump shots or floaters, rather than completing a move to the rim. He said that was more out of initial fear after the injury than the physical inability to recreate his moves.

“I stopped short. I was afraid to continue,” Jefferson described. “It was more in my head than anything, that I was afraid to do things I normally do.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Could the Hawks be gearing up for a rare No. 8-over-No. 1-seed upset?Tony Allen is doing what he normally does — frustrate Kevin Durant in the playoffs … The Clippers’ Game 2 rout of the Warriors got them back on track in several different ways … With a heavy dose of his trademark intensity, Joakim Noah took home the Kia Defensive Player of the Year award last night … These five names may be on the Utah Jazz’s short list for its new coach …

ICYMI OF THE NIGHT: Yes, the Grizzlies won Game 2 in OKC last night. But there’s no denying that Kevin Durant was doing all he could to get the win last night, as evidenced by this wild and-one 3-pointer he nailed late in regulation …


VIDEO: Kevin Durant hits the ridiculous and-one 3-pointer

Time for Harris’ speed over steady Calderon

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Tim Duncan has 27 points as the Spurs take Game 1

SAN ANTONIO – Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle needs to pull a page from Avery Johnson‘s 2006 postseason playbook against San Antonio and match speed on speed, minute-for-minute.

Johnson sprung second-year backup point guard Devin Harris on Tony Parker and the Spurs in Game 2 of their 2006 semifinal series. His insertion into Dallas’ starting lineup proved to be a catalyst in ending the Spurs’ repeat title hopes in seven games.

In 2008, Dallas traded Harris to the Nets for Jason Kidd, and Parker applauded.

“To be honest with you,” Parker said back then, “I’m really happy for that trade.”

After stops with the Nets, Jazz and Hawks, Harris is back in Dallas and Carlisle essentially followed Johnson’s adjustment in Sunday’s tough, 90-85 Game 1 loss, turning to Harris early and often over the miscast Jose Calderon. One of the few men in the league with the quicks to challenge the Spurs’ All-Star point guard and driving offensive force, Harris nearly won the game for the eighth-seeded and heavy underdog Mavs, who didn’t get typical efforts from Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, yet led 81-71 with 7:45 to go.

Carlisle endured five minutes before turning to Harris over the slow-footed Calderon, whose defensive deficiencies grew in their unpalatability as his shot misfired. Calderon was 0-for-4 from the floor, with only one attempt being a bread-and-butter 3-pointer, when he made way for Harris. The Spurs led 9-2 and Parker, being guarded by overmatched Mavs small forward Shawn Marion as Dallas mixed coverages, scored the first seven points on beautiful drive-and-scoops.

Harris might need to play 35 minutes or more if they’re going to press the Spurs, so he might as well get started on Parker from the jump. At Mavs practice back in Dallas on Monday, Carlisle didn’t tip his hand with Wednesday’s Game 2 still more than 48 hours away, but Nowitzki told reporters they’re sticking with Calderon.

“We’re rolling the way we’re set up,” Nowitzki said. “Jose has been our starter the whole year. We’ve got to start the game off a little better. I think we were a little slow and we were down eight or 10 pretty quick there in the first quarter, so we’ve got to be a little better there, but Jose is our starter. He’s the guy that puts us in our plays and we’re rolling with it.”

Calderon, playing in his first postseason since 2008 with Toronto, logged just 16 minutes — his shortest stint of the season not cut short by injury. He watched the entire fourth quarter from the bench. Harris played 32 minutes, his third-most minutes of the season, scored 19 points — one off his season high — including three 3-pointers, with five assists, and he consistently forced the issue against Parker and speedy Spurs backup Patty Mills.

“He’s capable of that,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, noting Harris’ scoring binge . “He might not do it night after night after night, but he’s capable of it, and he showed that.”

Parker, who finished with 21 points and six assists, left Sunday’s game offering Harris credit, and something of a pointed compliment.

“He surprised us a little bit,” Parker said. “He made three 3s in the first half. He usually doesn’t make those 3s. Devin is the type of guy, he can score a lot of points quickly, so we are going to have to stop that.”

It certainly wouldn’t be out of character for Carlisle to alter his starting lineup in the postseason. In the 2011 Finals against Miami, Carlisle inserted the diminutive J.J. Barea at shooting guard over defensive-minded DeShawn Stevenson trailing in the series 2-1 to take advantage of Barea’s quickness and ability to penetrate. The Mavs never lost again.

Carlisle did go back to Calderon to start the third quarter against San Antonio and the tough-minded veteran responded with three buckets, but finished 3-for-9 with seven points and a couple assists. A spot role in this series for the Spaniard, who signed a four-year $29 million deal with Dallas last summer, could be something he’ll have to accept.

The Spurs have won 10 games in a row over Dallas, including 4-0 during the regular season. Parker played in the first three meetings and torched the Mavs for 23.3 ppg — seven more than his season average — on 54.2 percent shooting. Calderon averaged 29.6 minutes in the four games. Harris averaged 20.5 mpg playing in only 40 games after undergoing offseason toe surgery.

While Sunday’s Game 1 was Calderon’s shortest stint of the season, it was the second time in the last three games that Carlisle sat the 32-year-old against a quick, penetrating backcourt. Calderon, who averaged 30.5 mpg during the regular season, played just 17 minutes with a playoff berth on the line against Phoenix in the second-to-last game of the season.

Nowitzki and Ellis must pick up the scoring load, but the bigger burden at both ends of the floor might just lie with Harris’ ability to tackle Parker.

“His quickness, his ability to shoot the pull-ups, shoot the 3, get in the paint, find guys is just something we have to exploit,” Mavs shooting guard Vince Carter said of Harris.

It’s why Harris should find himself back in the Mavs’ starting lineup come Wednesday night.

Old guys got job done for Mavs

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The fate of this Dallas Mavericks season was placed on faith that their three aging, yet ultra-integral, players could stay healthy.

Dirk Nowitzki, 35, Shawn Marion, 35, and Vince Carter, 37, combined to play 237 of 246 games this season, every second essential as they won 49 games and pushed the franchise back into the playoffs. It will be seen if this trio of iron men have enough to shove the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs deep into a first-round series that begins Sunday (1 p.m., ET, TNT). Still, it’s been another legacy-making season for all three.

“For these old guys — our old guys — getting in the playoffs is huge,” reserve guard Devin Harris said. “Everybody wants to be competitive, especially since we don’t know how many years they have left. We want to make sure we compete at the highest level.”

Of the Mavs’ top minute men, Monta Ellis logged the most by a wide margin. The next four: Nowitzki, Jose Calderon, Marion and Carter.

“It’s a tribute to us three taking care of our bodies,” Nowitzki said. “We try to live right, we try to eat right and get our sleep. Ultimately, our guys do the maintenance stuff we need to do to still compete at a high level, whether it’s lifting or stretching or running in the pool or getting some extra cardio in, I think all three of us are willing to do that work and I think it shows.”

Marion completed his 15th regular season and played 76 games. Nowitzki and Carter each finished their 16th season. Nowitzki played in 80 games and Carter fired off the bench in 81. To push the top-seeded Spurs, who surround their three older players, Tim Duncan, a week from turning 38, Manu Ginobili, 36, and Tony Parker — who’s still just 31 — with a deep and youthful crew, Dallas will need vintage Dirk, an all-around effort from Marion and a 3-point bonanza from Carter.

“They could be sitting on the couch at home if they didn’t want to play, so there’s a reason they’re here,” 26-year-old reserve center Brandan Wright said. “They want to get back to the playoffs and make some things happen.”

Nowitzki led Dallas in scoring and moved to No. 10 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He joined Elgin BaylorKareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone as the only players in the history of the game to average at least 21 points and six assists at age 35 or older. He finished as close to a 50-40-90 season as possible without getting there in any of the three categories: 49.7 percent overall, 39.8 percent from 3-point range and 89.9 percent from the free throw line.

Marion finished second on the team in rebounding after being first the previous two seasons. The 6-foot-7 small forward is now 35th on the NBA’s all-time rebounding list, and 17th on the all-time steals list.

Carter moved to No. 25 on the all-time scoring list last weekend and he moved up to No. 7 on the all-time 3-pointers made list. He drained more 3-pointers this season (146) than any player in the league off the bench, and more than only Calderon on the team despite logging nearly 500 fewer minutes.

“An injury to Vince off the bench would have been devastating for us,” Nowitzki said. “He’s a big scorer and we need him out there for us.”

This could be the final season in Dallas for Marion, the last remaining member with Nowitzki from the 2011 title team, and Carter. Both veterans are in the final year of their contracts. There’s already whispers that Marion would be a logical fit to replace the retiring Shane Battier in Miami. Carter has said he’d like to remain with Dallas for a fourth season.

“I do all the things I need to do just to compete because every night I step on the floor there’s guys who I’m guarding who are 10, 12 years younger than me,” Carter said. “So how can I compete? I just put my work in.”

Just three seasons ago after being traded from Orlando to Phoenix, Carter’s career seemed to be headed for a final sunset. But he’s been reinvigorated in Dallas, accepting a sixth man role and one of the top 3-point shooters going, hitting at a 39.4-percent clip.

“I think he wasn’t really happy with the role he had there,” Nowitzki said. “Sometimes they would just put him in the corner and he felt like he wasn’t really involved; that’s how it looked to me. Here, he can do whatever he wants. He’s got the ultimate green light off the bench. He knows we need him.”

Numbers preview: Spurs-Mavericks

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Starters preview the Mavericks-Spurs series

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Spurs-Mavericks is the enjoy-it-while-it-lasts series. For the sixth time in their Hall-of-Fame careers, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki will face off in the playoffs. They’ve been representing the same teams for 17 and 16 years respectively.

The Spurs have won four of the five previous meetings and are the favorites to advance again this year. San Antonio registered the league’s best record, was the only team to rank in the top six in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and swept the season series, 4-0.

Here are some statistical nuggets regarding the No. 1 and 8 seeds in the Western Conference, as well as the four regular-season games they played against each other.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

San Antonio Spurs (62-20)

Pace: 97.1 (12)
OffRtg: 108.2 (6)
DefRtg: 100.1 (4)
NetRtg: +8.1 (1)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Dallas: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Spurs notes:

Dallas Mavericks (49-33)

Pace: 95.7 (17)
OffRtg: 109.0 (3)
DefRtg: 105.9 (22)
NetRtg: +3.0 (11)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. San Antonio: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Mavericks notes:

The matchup

Season series: Spurs won 4-0
Pace: 97.4
SAS OffRtg: 115.2 (4th vs. DAL)
DAL OffRtg: 103.5 (10th vs. SAS)

Matchup notes:

Warriors stand together in huge OT win

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Golden State guts out big overtime win in Dallas

DALLAS – Jermaine O’Neal will always be remembered most for his days as an Indiana Pacer. But now the 18-year veteran seeking one last shot at glory plays for the Golden State Warriors, a team that’s fought through injury and adversity, and down the pressure-packed stretch run just might be the antithesis of O’Neal’s fraying former club.

Starting at center once again Tuesday night for the injured Andrew Bogut in a game magnified by playoff implications for both the Warriors and Mavericks, O’Neal ripped Dallas for 20 points, eight rebounds and one massive, game-altering blocked shot. Late in the fourth quarter, Mavs guard Monta Ellis dunked over O’Neal to give Dallas a 102-97 lead and a wave of momentum in an arena buzzing with playoff-style excitement. This time, as Ellis tried to turn the corner, O’Neal made his move. He snared Ellis’ baseline fallaway with his right hand with 11.6 seconds to go in overtime, and in one motion brought it down and fed it out to Draymond Green, who got it to Stephen Curry, who ended it with a tough, contested jumper over Jose Calderon from the left wing with 0.1 seconds showing on the clock.

As time expired, the Warriors, rallying late in the fourth and again in overtime, celebrated the 122-120 victory as furious Mavs owner Mark Cuban, befuddled that no goaltending was called on O’Neal, engaged in an animated discussion with the referees.

“When he dunked it, I was a second slow, almost the same identical play,” O’Neal said. “This time, I’m understanding where I need to be and Klay [Thompson] did a great job on making him pick up his dribble and really it was just perfect timing. It was like a second away from goaltending, if you’re too late, and I was on top of it. I blocked it, grabbed it and outlet it. There’s no way they could have called that [goaltending].”

The victory, achieved in front of Warriors owner Joe Lacob — who is taking in the road tripdulled the pain of Sunday’s home loss to the New York Knicks. That defeat came on the heels of another dramatic victory, this time against a Memphis team that, like Dallas, is trying to not just make the playoffs but had the sixth-seeded (and David Lee-less) Warriors within their sights.

The margin for error in Tuesday’s game was as razor thin as the separation in the standings. A Dallas win would have moved them one-half game behind Golden State, who now head to San Antonio to grapple with the Spurs’ 18-game win streak. Instead, it’s the Mavs who slipped from seventh to out of the playoff picture in ninth, one-half game behind Memphis and Phoenix.

This one carried tremendous importance for the Mavs. They were just 4-3 heading into their final game of a franchise-long eight-game homestand. All three losses came down to the wire, two in overtime. This was one they simply had to have, but couldn’t get against a team that came in lacking frontcourt starters Lee and Bogut.


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki talks about the Mavs’ tough loss at home to the Warriors

“Heartbreaker,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who did all he could with 33 points and 11 rebounds.

The Warriors, feeding off a belief that many see them as down and out, found a different interpretation of a wild 53 minutes in Big D.

“This is late in the year and I have seen teams say how easy it is to let go of the rope,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. “This is a team that’s not going to do it. Contrary to anything, we’re not going to do it. This is a quality win against a team  that had everything going their way and I’m proud of these guys. They deserve the credit.”

Jackson called his bunch a “tied-together team,” and emphasized, “I don’t think you need more evidence.”

Sharpshooter Klay Thompson, who had 27 points, including the game-tying 3-pointer with 1:01 to go in regulation, played up the Warriors’ unbreakable mindset.

“People think we’re down and out, it just proves we have a lot of basketball in us,” Thompson said. “We never hang our heads. We might have done that in the past, but this is a changed team. When we get those guys [Lee and Bogut] back, we’ll be even better.”

Said Curry on the heels of his second last-second game-winner against Dallas this season: “We understand that we lost some games that we should have won, but we don’t listen to any noise outside our locker room. For us, we understand we still control our own destiny. If we take care of our business we’ll be fine. So if we shut out all that noise, it’ll be the best situation for us.”

As the Warriors cleared out of the cramped visiting locker room, O’Neal, 35, hadn’t finished saying his piece, hadn’t finished putting this season, expected to be his final one, in perspective for himself, his team and everybody who follows it.

“So many people around us are trying to tear us apart,” O’Neal said. “I’ve never seen, even in your own town, so much adversity and so much negativity around a team that’s really striving to do special things. It baffles you a little bit, but it says a lot about our head coach, our staff, an organization that really supports us and keeps us in open arms. And it says a lot about these guys in this locker room who aren’t willing to let negativity tear us apart.

“We’re going to continue to try to learn and be a better team, continue to learn from our mistakes and I think tonight showed that we have a  lot of character on this team. We don’t have a lot of extended playoff experience, but we’re learning and we’re learning on the fly, and we’re fighting.

“We’re fighting for ourselves, we’re fighting for our coach, we’re fighting for our city, we’re fighting for our organization.”


VIDEO: The Warriors bask in their big win in Dallas

Mavs’ Offense Clearly Improved, But Defense Can’t Find Its Footing


VIDEO: Tim Duncan and the Spurs topple the Mavs in Dallas

DALLAS – When the Dallas Mavericks were putting together a championship season, they played very good defense. All five players worked on a string, each movement was made in sync.

During the regular season, the 2010-11 Mavs ranked seventh in the league in defensive efficiency (102.3 points per 100 possessions). With Tyson Chandler defending the paint, a heady and still-capable Jason Kidd locking down opponents late in games and a spry Shawn Marion taking on all comers, Dallas took out LaMarcus Aldridge, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and LeBron James.

But as that title team has been stripped, the defense (revealed by its defensive efficiency) has eroded: 8th in 2011-12 to 20th last season to 23rd now. As not altogether unexpected, Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon rank as the worst defensive backcourt in the league. The up-and-down Samuel Dalembert is the best option to man the middle. The backups are undersized reserves Brandan Wright, a lanky, 6-foot-10 offensive-minded player who missed the first 23 games with a shoulder injury, and 6-foot-7 ground-bound scrapper DeJuan Blair, who actually seized the starting job for a couple of weeks. Marion, 35, is a step slower, but is still asked to switch onto point guards out of necessity.

This challenged defensive mix threatens to exclude a mostly entertaining offensive product from postseason play.

“It’s almost been pretty consistent throughout the year,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “There might be one or two instances  I remember that we didn’t score enough to win down the stretch, but other than that, all the other losses, it’s giving up too many points. We gave up 116 again [Thursday], almost 30-point quarters across the board. It’s tough. It puts a lot of pressure on our offense.”

Dallas’ offense can be very good. Yet in the high-powered West, the Mavs’ 103.9 ppg ranks just sixth-best. Their offensive rating of 105.8 (points scored per 100 possessions) ranks seventh. Combine it with the turnstile defense and Dallas’ net rating of 0.9 (the difference in a team’s offensive and defensive rating) leaves it ninth among the 15 squads.

The only other Western Conference team currently occupying a playoff spot (or even above .500) despite a defensive efficiency in the bottom 15 of the league is the one with the league’s best record: the Portland Trail Blazers (at 104.5, just one spot better than Dallas at 22nd). How can that be? The Blazers boast the No. 1 offense — no team makes more 3-pointers per game — and they’re No. 5 in rebounding percentage. Not only can’t Dallas stop anybody, but it also sits 26th in the latter category.

“It’s team defense that has to happen for us to get over the hump and we know that,” sixth man Vince Carter said. “We have to get stops and rebound. We’ve understood that since Day 1 coming into training camp. We just have to get better at it.”

In Thursday’s 116-107 loss to San Antonio, the Mavs (16-13 and eighth in the West) surrendered more than 110 points for the ninth time. In its last four games, Dallas has scored 108.5 ppg, yet is 1-3 because it allowed 113.0 ppg. The Spurs shot 49.3 percent and other than a late two-minute stand that got Dallas back in the game, San Antonio had its way.

“It’s easy to look at our roster and nitpick our challenges,” Carlisle said. “We’ve got age, we’ve got some size issues, we’ve got this, that and the other. If you want to make a laundry list, it’s not hard to make a list. But my job is to be a problem-solver and not a problem-identifier.”

Carlisle said it’s the media’s job to identify problems. This one can be seen a mile away. The Ellis-Calderon pairing, as praiseworthy as it has been as an efficient and effective tandem with Nowitzki, is a sieve defensively. Opposing point guards tear them apart. That’s not so much a surprise, but it is a critical problem that lacks an identifiable answer — at least until guard Devin Harris can finally provide support once he returns from a season-long toe injury.

Among guards that have played at least 20 games and average at least 28.0 mpg, only New Orleans’ Eric Gordon (107.9) owns a worse defensive rating than Calderon (107.3) and Ellis (107.0). The Lakers’ Steve Blake (106.3) and Jodie Meeks (105.8) are the only other tandem to rank among the bottom 10.

Ellis logs 36.8 mpg. When he’s on the floor, Dallas’ defensive rating swells to 107.0. When he’s off the floor, it drops to 98.2. The numbers are similar for Calderon, who averages 31.1 mpg: 107.3 when he’s on the floor and 100.9 when he’s off.

“We’ve got to get it done with the lineup we’ve got,” said Nowitzki, whose on/off defensive rating is rather impressive. “I feel like we have a better team than we’ve had the last two years. I feel we’re letting some games slip away here and there and that’s going to hurt our playoff chances. But, I still think we have enough to make a push at the playoffs.”

Everybody knows from where that push must come.


VIDEO: Shawn Marion talks after the Mavs’ loss to the Spurs

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 24


VIDEO: Highlights from all of Monday’s NBA games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Melo sprains ankle | Pierce, Nets implode, Kidd explodes | Dirk climbs all-time list | Wade sits, LeBron shines | End of the Lottery?

No. 1: Melo leaves with sprained ankle– As if enough hasn’t happened to the New York Knicks in the season’s first two months, now they’re dealing with a sprained left ankle to their best player, Carmelo Anthony. The club’s leading scorer limped to the locker room in the third quarter of New York’s 103-98 win over Orlando. Yes, the Knicks still managed to hold on and win. Oh, to make matters worse, point guard Raymond Felton, who had just returned from injury, left in the fourth quarter with a strained right groin. Both players will be reevaluated Tuesday and Anthony insisted he’s hoping to play on Wednesday, Christmas Day, when the Knicks play host to the Oklahoma City Thunder (2:30 ET, ABC).

More from Peter Botte of the New York Daily News:

“It’s on. I still have it. It ain’t going nowhere, so I’ll be there,” Anthony said of his sprained ankle. “Hopefully, I’ll be there. … It’s Christmas in the Garden. I don’t want to miss that game. I don’t know, I’m hard-headed sometimes when it comes to that. But I’ve got two days.”

The Knicks (9-18) constructed a 24-point cushion at halftime and still led 72-52 when Anthony went up for a rebound of his own miss and landed awkwardly, with his left foot coming down on the foot of Orlando forward and Long Island product Tobias Harris with 7:26 remaining in the third.
“Melo’s a tough kid. He don’t sit down very often,” Mike Woodson said.

Anthony, who also battled knee and shoulder problems last season, described this ankle injury as “not as severe” as one that kept him out of two games this time last year.
Still, Anthony limped to the bench and remained there for several minutes while receiving treatment from trainer Roger Hinds. During a timeout with 5:43 remaining in the quarter, the pending free agent headed for the locker room and did not return.

“The pain was too much. I was actually trying to walk to see if I could get back in the game. There wasn’t no reason for me to go out there and risk it anymore,” Anthony said. “But I’m walking. I think I caught it before it rolled all the way, but it rolled pretty bad. We’ll evaluate everything (Tuesday), but the good thing is I am able to walk with a little bit of pain.”

Felton was back in the lineup after missing the previous six games with a strained left hamstring, scoring 13 points with four assists in 25 minutes before he collapsed to the floor following a midair collision with Jameer Nelson with 3:21 to go.
Felton, who also missed time earlier this season with a pinched nerve in his hip, admitted he “felt a pop” in his right groin.

***

No. 2: Pierce ejected, Kidd explodes – With the Nets down 19 points to the East-leading Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn’s Paul Pierce, in the midst of a horrible personal season, took down Indiana’s George Hill on a fastbreak. The play was ruled a Flagrant 2 resulting in the automatic ejection of the former Celtics great. But that’s not as bad as it got. Following the Nets’ 103-86 to fall to 9-18, rookie head coach Jason Kidd went off on his underachieving team that just two days ago lost All-Star center Brook Lopez to a broken foot. Kidd’s most damning quote of his club: “Well I think it is getting very close to just accepting losing. We are kind of getting comfortable with losing. And we got to make a stand with that because when things get tough, do we just give in and most of the time right now we do.”

ESPNNY.com’s Mike Mazzeo has more:

The Nets came into the season with the NBA’s highest payroll — an estimated $190 million counting the impending luxury tax — and extremely high expectations. But they’ve failed to meet them.

During the summer, Nets general manager Billy King mortgaged the future, relinquishing several future assets to acquire veterans Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry in an effort to try and win now. But so far, it hasn’t worked out.

On Monday night, Garnett and Pierce both left without talking to the media. Pierce was automatically ejected after being accessed a flagrant foul 2 for clotheslining Pacers point guard George Hill, who tried to finish a layup in transition with 4:22 remaining in the third quarter. He could face a fine or suspension from the NBA league office as a result.

Pierce (0-for-7) was held scoreless for the first time since March 9, 1999 — the 16th professional game of his 16-year career. Garnett went 3-for-10 from the field in 19 minutes. Both players have struggled mightily while trying to fit in with their new team for the majority of the season.

Told of Kidd’s comment, point guard Deron Williams said, “I’m not. I’m not comfortable losing. It’s not fun. Not only when we’re losing during the game, but when I go home sitting there and thinking about it, it’s not fun.”

***

No. 3: Dirk passes English, destroy RocketsEvery few games it seems Dirk Nowitzki is passing another legend of the game on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. On Monday night, Nowitzki overtook Denver great Alex English for No. 13. The Mavs’ sweet-shooting 7-footer did it in style, dropping 31 points on Dwight Howard and the Rockets to move to 2-1 against their Southwest Division rival this season. Nowitzki, of course, traveled to Los Angeles with owner Mark Cuban and coach Rick Carlisle over the summer to recruit the free-agent Howard, who preferred the situation in Houston. Nowitzki scored 10 points in the final nine minutes to help Dallas protect the lead and end a two-game skid.

Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News was there:

Dirk Nowitzki simply said: Come on, boys, and climb on my back.
“Listen, he’s the great Dirk Nowitzki,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “The guy has changed the game with the way he plays. The game is not the same. He changed the power forward game forever, and it’s reflected in the modern game now. He’s a great player.”

Nowitzki piled up 31 points, including 10 points in the final nine minutes when the Mavericks were protecting a nice lead they had earned in the third quarter. Along the way, Nowitzki passed Alex English for 13th place on the all-time NBA scoring list.

His play was made possible in part by the shooting of Vince Carter, Jae Crowder and Jose Calderon, all of whom loosened up the Houston defense in a third quarter that the Mavericks won by 15 points to turn the game around.

“They had a lot of respect for our shooting at that point,” Nowitzki said. “So they were a little hesitant to double me. And I got to take advantage of the matchups when they play me with 6-7, 6-8 guys and I can shoot over them. That’s what I’ve been doing my whole career.”
And so the Mavericks still have not had a three-game losing streak this season. They stopped the skid at two with their gutsiest victory of the season.

It’s worth noting that the Rockets were playing without leading scorer James Harden (ankle), point guard Patrick Beverley (hand) and center Omer Asik (thigh).

As such, the Rockets leaned heavily on Dwight Howard, who was a beast all night. But the Mavericks held most of the other Rockets in check in the second half.

.***

No. 4: Wade sits, LeBron shinesThe Miami Heat continued their cautious approach toward Dwyane Wade and his cranky news, sitting the superstar yet again Monday night against the Atlanta Hawks. This time it seemed it would be too much for Miami to overcome. Then again, they do have LeBron James, who had 38 points and one massive late fourth-quarter dunk over Paul Millsap that helped get the game to overtime and allow the Heat to take a 121-119 decision.

David J. Neal of the Miami Herald has more:

No Dwyane Wade. Later, after an elbow to the jaw, no Chris Bosh, either. But the Heat still had a LeBron James, and could pull a Michael Beasley off the bench. And then a Ray Allen and, even for the last 2.3 seconds, Bosh.

Which is how the Heat outlasted the Hawks 121-119 in overtime Monday night. Allen got the Heat to overtime. Beasley provided the game-winning free throws. Bosh provided the long arms.

“The one thing I did like about this game, in the last couple of years with this group, if we’d given up 17 threes in a game, we don’t win that game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Heat’s ninth win in a row over the Hawks. “It would collapse our spirit and our mind.”

Beasley had 10 points. Allen had 19. James scored 38 points on 16 of 28 shooting, six of his last seven as the Heat came from 11 down in the second half. As remarkable, James had six assists without a turnover. About the only thing James didn’t do well was hit free throws (two of six).

“For the basketball aficionado out there, this is a game where you see his full skill set,” Spoelstra said.

***

No. 5: End of the LotteryWith a multitude of front offices seemingly setting up their teams to be very bad this season with an eye toward what is believed to be a very talented draft class, and the league quite sensitive this whole notion, a proposal for a change to lottery system might be floated to owners in 2014.

Grantland’s Zach Lowe has the story:

We can also search for solutions, and there are lots of folks in the league office and among the 30 teams who find tanking abhorrent — who bristle at the idea that the league has incentivized teams to be anything but their best every single season. One detailed proposal, submitted by a team official, has gained initial traction among some high-level NBA officials — to the point that the NBA may float the proposal to owners sometime in 2014, according to league sources. Other top officials in the league office have expressed early opposition to the proposal, sources say.

The Proposal

Grantland obtained a copy of the proposal, which would eliminate the draft lottery and replace it with a system in which each of the 30 teams would pick in a specific first-round draft slot once — and exactly once — every 30 years. Each team would simply cycle through the 30 draft slots, year by year, in a predetermined order designed so that teams pick in different areas of the draft each year. Teams would know with 100 percent certainty in which draft slots they would pick every year, up to 30 years out from the start of every 30-year cycle. The practice of protecting picks would disappear; there would never be a Harrison Barnes–Golden State situation again, and it wouldn’t require a law degree to track ownership of every traded pick leaguewide..

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni tells fans to find another team if they’re discouraged … According to a report, attempts to revive Kyle Lowry trade talks failed … Metta World Peace to have same blood-spinning procedure as Kobe Bryant … In wake of Brook Lopez injury, Nets will file the paperwork for a Disabled Player Exemption

Hang Time Q&A: John Wall On ‘His Wizards,’ The Evolution Of His Game And RG III




VIDEO: John Wall and the Wizards topple the Hawks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — John Wall is far from a finished product. And he knows that better than anyone. 

The Washington Wizards’ point guard and one of the budding stars in a league filled with potential young stars, Wall is currently working through the process of handling responsibilities as the face of a franchise and a player capable of leading his team to the playoffs.

Wall’s off-the-court leadership has grown considerably the past couple of seasons and might be the most critical component for a Wizards franchise that has invested in him for the future to the tune of five-years and $80 million.

Wall reflected on his journey, his future, the Wizards’ playoff hopes, Robert Griffin III and much more in a recent sit down with NBA.com:

NBA.com: What is different about this vibe of this group as opposed to last year or the year before?

JOHN WALL: I think how we came back as a group when I returned from my injury and just playing with the guys, we all liked each other as a team, even though we weren’t winning as much, and enjoyed playing with each other. It’s a trust thing. It’s the first time I can honestly say in my three years playing here that we all enjoyed one another. Nobody cared who scared who scored. We were all committed to what coach wanted us to do defensively and that’s how we came into this season and knew how good we could be.

NBA.com: What about the consistency factor, you guys had so many names and faces come in and out of the lineup? There’s been a lot of movement, personnel wise, since you were drafted.

JW: Basically, the biggest thing was staying consistent in everything we do. Me, trying to get healthy and doing the same things to get better. Staying consistent and knowing what guys you would have on the team in a given year and that guys weren’t going to get traded. We’ve got a good core of guys that we know will be there and what we want to do with those guys. It helps when you are planning long term because a plan is in place and you know exactly what your roles are and what you need to do.

NBA.com: Guys always talk about that turning point or that moment when the light goes on for them. For you, was that moment sitting out the start of the 2012-13 season, learning, watching, processing what goes on from a different perspective other than being on the court?

JW: I think that was the biggest turning point for me, sitting out that long, even though I didn’t want to sit out. Just getting the chance to study the game better helped me. Watching my teammates and seeing what they were great at and then knowing how I could come back and make the situation better, is what helped me. I think those guys made it a lot easier for me. Having Nene and Emeka Okafor knock down shots and finish. Having Brad [Beal] and Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza playing as well as they played. It was the first time I had guys do that and trust in me to lead the team and be their point guard. It makes a difference.

NBA.com: When you came into the league the East was loaded with top teams from Boston, Miami and Chicago to Atlanta and even Orlando. Things have changed dramatically since then. The Eastern Conference is wide open. Is there a now or never feel to this season for you guys, sort of like the door is open and you better get through it now or else …?

JW: It’s a great opportunity. And if you fall short right now, you are basically not committed to getting to where you want to be in this league, whether it’s the playoffs or whatever. My first three years, everybody was loaded. Now there is like four or five teams rebuilding at the same time. And that’s rare in this league. You have to make sure you have a good understanding of where you are as a team and be ready to jump in there if it’s your time. And I think it’s our time right now.

NBA.com: You had an owner (Ted Leonsis) who wasn’t shy about putting the pressure on his shoulders and also yours in terms of bringing the franchise back to a playoff level. He’s banked on you being an elite player and a franchise player. Does that add any extra pressure when you are already the No. 1 pick in your Draft and get the huge contract extension?

JW: I could tell the difference last season when I came back from my injury, just by the type of conversations I was having with my coach (Randy Wittman) and the things we were talking about and my owner and the meetings we were having. It wasn’t just about me improving and getting better, it was about a vision we all had for me and what that means for this team and this franchise. Being in on the planning process and being there from the start makes it different. The general manager coming to me throughout the summer and letting me know this is my team and making sure I understand that I have to lead, that’s all a part of the plan now. And I think I’ve put in the work to do it.

NBA.com: People always talk about putting in the work, but how has your work ethic changed since you’ve been in the league?

JW: My rookie season I didn’t know what to expect coming in. My second year was kind of tough because it was the lockout year. I was working my tail off but I really didn’t know what to do, because there was so much uncertainty. Last year was my first year to really understand the NBA game and comprehend what it was I needed to do and what I needed to work on. Then I get diagnosed with the knee injury and everything went sideways. So this summer I came in early and made sure everything was right, made sure I was healthy. And learning how to change the pace of a game, working on my body and improving my jump shot, those were the things I worked hardest on. I’m constantly getting better in all facets of my game and I think I can keep getting better and better.

NBA.com: Has the leadership component, particularly the vocal part, been tough for you? You’re not an older guy and you certainly don’t strike me as a very talkative guy. How hard do you have to work to remind yourself to be a leader in that respect?

JW: Coach Cal [Kentucky coach John Calipari] helped me work on that. I’ve always been a guy that led by example. The vocal part I worked really hard on at Kentucky. He basically said you have to learn how to talk to certain guys. And you can’t go out and try to fuss and cuss guys out. You have to respect each and every guy in your locker room as a man. So I think that’s something I improved in. It helped that when I came back last year my teammates trusted me to be that guy, both with the ball in my hands on the court and without the ball in my hands off the court. Talking to them helped me improve in that area.

NBA.com: You’re also a part of USA Basketball’s Men’s Senior National Team group. When you’re out there with all of the other best young players, all of the other top young point guards, what changes in terms of how you handle yourself and compete in that environment as opposed to being the face of the franchise in Washington?

JW: The toughest thing with that is you get to thinking like high school, especially when all the top point guards are out there. You want to battle it out with those other guys. But you are ultimately out there for USA Basketball, and that’s bigger than your name or the franchise you represent. So you try and just go out there and just play the game and get better, but also show the people in charge at USA Basketball that you can do whatever is asked of you if you are lucky enough to get the call and get asked to play in one of the international competitions. So it’s not an ego thing when you are in that environment.

NBA.com: You seem so much more measured and relaxed about things these days. Is this the most comfortable you’ve been on and off the court since you’ve been in the league?

JW: Yeah, 100 percent. I’d say 120 percent, the most comfortable I’ve been just talking to anybody and going into games, being on the court, and just feeling confident knowing this is the old me. My first three years, I was always kind of searching, how do I present myself and how do I do this or that the right way? The uncertainty is gone. This is the hardest position in the league to me. Every night somebody is coming at you. Seriously. You get no breaks. People can look at the schedule and you see Kyle Lowry or Jose Calderon and those guys aren’t always talked about, but some of the toughest challenges I have is against guys like that. Because you have to show them the same respect you do a Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook.

NBA.com: You have a unique dynamic in D.C. right now, being the young face of a franchise in a city where another player in similar position (the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III) is going through a similar stage of his career at the same time. How strange is it to watch that roller coaster from so close and comparing it your own evolution?

JW: I feel for him right now, I really do. There are some parallels, but then again it’s totally different. He started off hot, Rookie of the Year and all of that stuff. My first couple of years there was a learning curve, some stumbles and a lot of learning to do. Now I feel like I’m finally getting there now, hitting my stride and now he’s struggling. It’s tough and it’s also a reminder of why you have to stay humble and hungry no matter what’s going on around you. Take nothing away from him, he’s still that same guy and still humble and hungry. But you have to be mindful of the fan base and what type of support they’re going to show you. When you’re struggling it gets frustrating for the fans and even more frustrating for us, because you know what you want to do for your city, the things you want them to experience with you playing your heart out day after day. It’s the same for him and the Redskins as is it for us, we’ve got a lot of young talent and people want that to turn into winning. The fans do and so do we.

Rooks Burke, Larkin Thankful To Be Healthy Again


VIDEO: Trey Burke talks after his home debut with the Jazz

DALLAS – Even for a couple of positive thinkers, there seemed little to be thankful for soon after Shane Larkin felt his ankle pop and Trey Burke crushed his finger.

A couple of eager, 21-year-old first-round point guards ready to storm into their NBA careers instead made forced pit stops onto the injured list. Larkin, the 18th pick out of Miami by the Dallas Mavericks, broke his right ankle as he planted for a dunk during a summer practice. Surgery was mandatory. Summer League ended before it started. Training camp? Preseason? Start of the regular season? Pipe dreams.

“At that point, the first reaction is to be negative,” Larkin said. “I worked so hard to get here and we have four point point guards on the roster and now I’m going to be at the back of the pack.”

The Utah Jazz traded up to nab Burke at No. 9 and planned all along for the national college player of the year to run their squad from the jump. In his third preseason game, Burke tried to make a pass off the pick-and-roll as he had thousands of times before, but this time the quick hand of an NBA defender got in the way and collided with his right index finger. Crack!

He would next check into an operating room.

“There was nothing I could do,” said Burke, the catalyst in Michigan’s run to the NCAA title game. “I was disappointed and frustrated, but I knew I had to keep my conditioning up and learn from the sideline. I didn’t know how long I was going to be out so it was disappointing for me because I really hadn’t had an injury like this since middle school.”

As their rookie campaigns reach Thanksgiving, the familiar foes from their AAU days — Burke from Columbus, Ohio, and Larkin from Cincinnati — are both thankful to be playing again. Each has had a slow start shooting and has played less instinctual than either would like, but that’s how it goes jumping stone-cold into a season in progress, robbed of so much practice time and game experience.

“I practiced four times and he threw me out there against Philly,” Larkin said, referring to Mavs coach Rick Carlisle.

Thrown into the fire


VIDEO: Trey Burke finishes strong at the basket against the Bulls

As complete a player as there was last season in college, Burke is four games into his NBA career and has started the last two. His first home start Tuesday, a desperately needed overtime win for the 2-14 Jazz over the Bulls, was one to remember: 14 points, four assists and six rebounds while making key plays. He logged a career-high 34 minutes.

“It all comes down to confidence really, not putting too much pressure on myself and going out there and just playing,” Burke said last week. “I know the sets, I know where guys are supposed to be. I know what works for us and what doesn’t, so I think it’s just about picking and choosing my spots, not putting too much pressure on myself and not forcing things.”

Slick and cat-quick, Larkin played in his sixth game Wednesday and it was his best yet with seven points, six assists and no turnovers while garnering clutch fourth-quarter minutes among the 17 he played. It took just two games for him to unseat fellow rookie Gal Mekel as the primary backup behind starting point guard Jose Calderon. Veteran Devin Harris (toe surgery) is expected to make his season debut some time before Christmas, adding more intrigue in the battle for minutes.

“It’s been tough,” the 5-foot-11 Larkin said last Friday after the Mavs held on to beat Burke and the Jazz in Dallas. “Just getting back into the rhythm of everything and making the correct reads off the pick-and-roll and just my whole overall game, it’s just not all the way back yet.

“Trey had an advantage of playing in Summer League and a little in preseason before he broke his finger. But he’s doing well out there. It’s just a matter of him getting back in his rhythm as well because he’s been out four or six weeks. So both of us just getting back to our rhythm and playing how we played in college — that’s why our teams drafted us.”

Bad breaks


VIDEO: Shane Larkin discusses his solid performance against the Warriors

Just weeks after being drafted, the Mavs’ Summer League team was days removed from departing for Las Vegas. For the final five minutes of that July 12 practice, Mavs assistant coach Monte Mathis wanted to run one last full-speed, full-court drill. Larkin made a steal, went coast-to-coast, planted on his right foot to go up for a dunk as he has thousands of times before and – pop!

“I thought it was a really, really, really bad sprain because when it happened I heard the pop, but I got up and I walked to the training room and my ankle didn’t swell up,” Larkin said. “But then I put ice on it and after I took the ice off it just started swelling and then I knew something was wrong.

“They took me to the team doctor, got X-rays, got an MRI, found out it was broken, had surgery four days later. They said the force on my ankle was like a car crash.”

Burke had a tough introduction at Summer League in Orlando and also through his first couple of preseason games. In the first quarter of that third game on Oct. 12 against the Clippers, his right index got bent in a way it is not intended.

“At first I thought it was dislocated. I tried to pop it back in place and go back out and play,” Burke said. “But it didn’t feel right. I had an X-ray at halftime and you could see there was a break.”

Reduced to spectators following their surgeries, both players reverted back to being students, doing all they could to soak up their respective playbooks, learn the play calls and the tendencies and personalities of their new teammates while watching them grind out practice after practice.

“Honestly, you want to be out there with your teammates,” Burke said. “It was an unfortunate break, but It was just something where I had to see the game from a different perspective, find ways to learn from the sideline. I was on the bench, as then with Johnny [Lucas III] coming in here and showing me different things on the film; I was watching other good point guards, looking at their pace and things like that. I think that all helped me out and gave me a better understanding of how I want to play for this team and how I want to make plays for this team.”

Larkin would be watching practice when either Carlisle or an assistant coach would turn and point at him.

“Coach would throw a question at me like, ‘Hey rook, what do we do here?’ and I’d have to know the correct answer,” Larkin said. “That’s kind of the way they built trust in me because I knew what was going on.”

And now the rest of the season

Larkin’s minutes off the bench have been fairly steady, and at times have come in key situations. But he also got the pine treatment two games ago after some sloppy play and logged barely four minutes. Carlisle, though, clearly wants to utilize his change-of-pace quickness at both ends of the floor on a mostly veteran team that needs dashes of speed. Larkin is averaging 3.7 ppg and 2.2 apg in 12.6 mpg.

“I’ve started making some drives to the basket and my confidence is getting back,” Larkin said. “So it’s just a process of keep building every single game to get back to where I want to be and where coach wants me to be as a player.”

Burke, averaging 8.5 ppg, 3.0 apg and 3.5 rpg in 21.5 mpg (a figure likely to rise in a hurry), has the more daunting and less forgiving task, running a team in total rebuild and that was 1-11 when he was cleared to play. Still, Burke said he relishes the challenge.

“Honestly, it reminds me of my freshman year at Michigan. Obviously this is another level, this is the pros and the best players in the world, but I had to go right into Michigan and learn right away,” Burke said. “I had to jump right in, play that starting position and I had to learn quickly.

“I think with the vets on the this team are doing a good job of sheltering me, letting me know what’s right and what’s wrong. They trust me so with their trust that gives me more confidence out there.”

Fans will be seeing more of Burke and Larkin, two eager point guards who got an early lesson that good health in the NBA is always something for which to be thankful.

Ellis, Dirk Spoil Dwight’s Monster Night


VIDEO: Dirk and Monta Ellis run roughshod over the Rockets in comeback win

DALLAS – This was Dwight Howard‘s big night, a made-for-national-TV highlight reel. His coming-back party.

The big man couldn’t miss from the floor, flushing alley-oops at will and swooping through the lane for lefty hooks as if he invented it. He made his first 11 shots, not missing until three minutes deep into the fourth quarter. He was even on fire, as much as Howard can be on fire, from the free throw line.

With a big lead in tow, Howard was strutting toward a season-high, which he got with 33 points on 12-for-16 shooting, and a Hack-a-Dwight-defying 9-for-13 from the stripe. The Houston Rockets were headed for a road romp, a beat down of their division-rival Dallas Mavericks, losers in the Howard sweepstakes no matter how Mavs owner Mark Cuban has tried to spin it. Again prior to Wednesday’s game, Cuban couldn’t help himself, suggesting the best deals are sometimes the ones you don’t make, and that it’s way too early to determine whether Howard or the Mavs’ new guy, Monta Ellis, will ultimately be the most impactful free-agent addition.

Through three quarters, Ellis was putting on a show to be sure, but it was Dwight truly announcing his presence and taking names.

Until Ellis, the erratic shooting guard Cuban signed with his leftover free-agent cash, and the venerable all-timer, Dirk Nowitzki ended the party. The duo hijacked Dwight’s night with one of the great two-man performances of the season — and in recent memory — in a rousing 123-120 win, rallying all the way from 93-75 late in the third quarter when the capacity crowd actually started to file out.

The Nowitzki-Ellis tally is eye-popping: 72 points on 26-for-38 shooting. Ellis, playing with a chip on his shoulder the size of Howard’s bicep, went off for a season-high 37 points on 13-for-18 shooting and eight assists. Nowitzki poured in a season-best 35 points on 13-for-20 shooting, along the way overtaking Pacers Hall-of-Famer Reggie Miller for 15th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. It was an all-time efficient two-man binge: 4-for-9 from beyond the arc, 16-for-19 from the free throw line, 12 assists and nine rebounds.

Yet it all seemed headed for footnote status on the highlight shows as Howard’s two-handed slams would play over and over.

In the fourth quarter it all ground to an inexplicable halt for Howard and Houston, which officially has a closing problem. It left coach Kevin McHale bleary eyed and exasperated.

Nowitzki and Ellis outscored the Rockets, 22-19 on 9-for-11 shooting. Heck, Nowitzki and Jose Calderon outscored them 21-19. Howard suddenly couldn’t buy a bucket, going 1-for-5 in the quarter, and he got stripped late by Nowitzki in the paint as everything fell apart. Harden missed shots and hopelessly chased foul calls. Chandler Parsons, 4-for-5 from beyond the arc and playing beautiful basketball with 11 assists through three quarters, didn’t take a 3 or dish a dime in the final 9:17 he played.

In the first three quarters, Houston scored 40, 28 and 33 points. Then poof. Again. Rockets fourth quarters are becoming as collapsible as a rickety lawn chair. One reason they’re now 8-5 and looking up in the standings at the surprising 8-4 Mavs.

“It’s growing pains,” Howard said afterward. “Something we have to learn from. We’re a young team. We’ve got to realize what we have in the locker room and what we can do as a team when we play the right way on both ends. We didn’t do that at the end of the game.”

While early season ogling has mostly been reserved for the Portland Trail Blazers’ 10-2 start, the Mavs now quietly boast the same record through a dozen games as the mighty Los Angeles Clippers and those lovable Golden State Warriors. They’re also 6-0 at home.

Ellis, devouring the doubts of his many skeptics and especially the analytic stat-crunchers, has been remarkably efficient playing alongside Nowitzki — 23.3 ppg on 49.5 percent shooting – who is happy as all get out to tag along for the ride after slogging through last season’s offensive quicksand. It’s not lost on anyone that Ellis has a better shooting percentage than Dirk.

“We’re really just playing off of him,” Nowitzki said of his newest sidekick. “He’s been aggressive, he’s handling the ball well, but what’s been great is that he has been making plays for others. He’s making all of us better. We run a lot of screen-and-rolls for him; I don’t know how he does it, but he gets everyone involved and it’s been fun to play with him.”

On a night Dwight dominated, the Mavs had the better twosome for the four full quarters. And it’s beginning to look like something the rest of the league better take note.


VIDEO: Nowitzki talks about passing Reggie Miller on the all-time scoring list