Posts Tagged ‘Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’

Morning shootaround — Feb. 4


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cufrry blisters Wizards for 51 | Nowitzki disagrees with Abdul-Jabbar’s assessment | Report: Rockets unlikely to deal Howard | Report: Dunleavy to return Saturday | Caldwell-Pope injured vs. Celtics

No. 1: Curry breaks out of his ‘slump’, torches Wizards — Entering last night’s road game against the Washington Wizards, reigning MVP Stephen Curry had 21 games of 30 points or more, but hadn’t broken the 30-point barrier in three games. Is that considered a slump when you’re averaging close to 30 points per game in a season? Who knows. What is certain is Curry showed he hasn’t lost his touch, abusing the Wizards for 51 points and 11 3-pointers (one off tying the NBA single-game record) writes, Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle:

Stephen Curry just kind of left this hanging out there: “Maybe next time.”

That’s what he said after he made eight three-pointers in three quarters against the Lakers on Jan. 14, falling four shy of Kobe Bryant’s and Donyell Marshall’s single-game record.

His comment seemed innocuous until “next time” arrived.

On Wednesday at the Verizon Center, the arc opened up enough for Curry to hoist 16 three-point attempts, and because he often made the rim look the size of a hula hoop, he strutted away with 11 three-pointers in a 134-121 victory over the Wizards in front of a national TV audience.

“I missed one too many,” Curry joked. “At the end of the game, I knew I was within reach, and I was kind of searching, without trying to force it. You can’t mess around with the basketball gods, trying to chase records, if the game doesn’t call for it.”

If averaging 16.7 points on 37.9 percent three-point shooting in his previous three games constituted a slump for the MVP, his 51-point game — giving him four 50-point performances in his career — certainly constitutes a slump breaker.

“I didn’t know Steph was in a slump,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “Steph is never in a slump. He was just scintillating tonight.”

“I said, ‘Here he goes,’” interim head coach Don Newman said of Curry’s fast start. “I knew it, because that’s what they usually do. I mean, they come out and they just want to kill you.”

Curry thrilled the crowd, then his bench, and finally himself with a flurry of three-pointers in the first quarter. The fans got louder and louder as he made his first four three-point shots. Andre Iguodala bowed to him from the scorer’s table when he knocked down No. 5, and Curry didn’t really know how to react act following his sixth.

Curry swiped a dribble from Wall in the backcourt and corralled the ball about 25 feet from the rim on the right wing. Why not launch it? He tracked the arc of the ball like a baseball player enjoying a towering home run from the batter’s box, and then started spinning into a happy dance.

He finished the first quarter with 25 points — his seventh 20-point quarter of the season. He made 7 of 8 three-point attempts and was well on his way to his single-season record of 10 games with at least eight three-pointers. George McCloud previously held the record with six such games.

“The shots that you know feel good, they go in, and the shots that you think, ‘Oh, that’s off,’ they go in,” Curry said. “It’s a fun feeling, and you want to ride it until you can’t anymore.”

“We watch it on TV every day, and you’re like, ‘Ah, it’s not like that,’” Washington forward Otto Porter said. “But when he does it against you, it’s eye-opening for you.”

***

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 28


VIDEO: Fast Break from Dec. 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Suns in disarray | James grumbling about Cavaliers’ lack of rhythm | The decline of Dwight Howard | A warm reception for Kobe in Boston?

No. 1: Suns in disarray — One loss to the lowly and previously one-win Philadelphia 76ers destabilized things in the Valley of the Sun. And the hits just keep on coming. The news that point guard Eric Bledsoe would need surgery to repair a torn meniscus and would be out indefinitely was followed by the reported firing of two assistant coaches (Mike Longabardi and Jerry Sicthting) in an effort to shake up Jeff Hornacek‘s staff. And Hornacek, who took a towel to the face from Markeiff Morris last week, is also reportedly on the hot seat. Just two years ago Hornacek had the Suns were on the edge of the playoff picture in the Western Conference and now it all appears to be on the verge of coming apart, as Marc Stein of ESPN.com reports:

Sources told ESPN.com on Sunday night that the Suns are promoting longtime NBA guard Earl Watson and former NBA D-League head coach Nate Bjorkgren to the bench to work closer to Hornacek and will dismiss veteran assistants Mike Longabardi, who was heading up Phoenix’s defense, and Jerry Sichting.

Earlier Sunday, ESPN.com first reported that the Suns’ 5-15 nosedive, including a home loss Saturday night to the 2-30 Philadelphia 76ers, had put Hornacek’s job security under immediate threat.

It is believed that the Suns are taking this measure instead to give Hornacek, who is held in high esteem by owner Robert Sarver, another chance to turn the club around.

But that figures to be difficult after the harsh news Sunday that star guard Eric Bledsoe is out indefinitely and will require knee surgery Tuesday to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Suns, despite the organization’s well-known fondness for Hornacek, have been forced to contemplate a coaching change far sooner than they hoped because of a slide that has dropped them to 12-20 and 11th in the Western Conference. There is also a growing fear within the organization that the team is no longer responding to its head coach.

Phoenix began the season with playoff aspirations after posting records of 48-34 and 39-43 in Hornacek’s first two seasons and the offseason signing of center Tyson Chandler.

But the Suns have dropped 15 of 20 games since opening 7-5, seemingly bottoming out in Saturday night’s home loss to the Sixers as Bledsoe also exited with his knee injury in the second quarter.

Adding to the sting of the Philadelphia loss: It was the first game on the Sixers’ bench for former Suns coach Mike D’Antoni, who was hired recently by new Philadelphia chairman of basketball operations and former Suns owner Jerry Colangelo to serve as associate head coach to Sixers coach Brett Brown.

“Obviously, it’s probably a low point for us,” Hornacek told reporters after the game. “Now the confidence is lacking.”

***

No. 2: James grumbling about Cavaliers’ lack of rhythm — Back-to-back losses has a way of raising the dander of LeBron James in the way little else can. As the leader of the superstar band in Cleveland, James never shies away from delivering critical analysis about his own crew. And after losing to the Golden State Warriors on Christmas and the Portland Trail Blazers a day later, LeBron vented his frustrations about his team’s lack of rhythm. Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com has more:

The Cavs still lead the East at 19-9, but they’ve had a bad week, with problems deeper than perhaps their 2-2 record would indicate.

You could chalk it up to the knuckleball effect, which is, after trying to hit a pitcher who throws knuckleballs, it can take a big leaguer days to catch up to 95 mph fastballs again.

The Cavs hosted the 76ers – who won their second game this season – last Sunday. They haven’t played well since, needing to hold on for dear life at home against a Knicks team sans Carmelo Anthony and then suffering through consecutive porous shooting performances in these two losses.

Cleveland followed up its 89-83 loss to the defending-champion Warriors – in which the Cavs shot 31.6 percent – with a 28-of-77 clunker against the Blazers.

James is shooting 14-of-39 in his last two, with the 4-of-13 effort for 12 points he turned in Saturday night.

“Offensively we’re just in a funk right now,” James said. “We just got to find our rhythm.”

There’s that word again, rhythm.

James used it after the Cavs lost to the Warriors, when he said “it’s going to take some time to get back into rhythm, and all of us, not just the players, but everyone, to get back in rhythm.”

wrote in Oakland Christmas night to monitor this – James calling for Blatt to bring clarity to the Cavs’ rotations.

Last Sunday (when the Cavs faced the knuckleballer 76ers) was Kyrie Irving’s first game back. Iman Shumpert returned, too, after missing a game with a groin injury. The next game, against the Knicks, was Mo Williams’ first after two absences because of a thumb injury.

With all these players at Blatt’s disposal, the Cavs look discombobulated. No one disputes it and both James and Blatt said it’s to be expected, to a certain extent. And Irving didn’t even play against the Blazers, per the team’s decision to protect his surgically repaired knee from the rigors of games on consecutive nights this early in his comeback.

But Blatt said he spoke with his coaches after the loss Saturday about the impact the changing lineups was having on the team, and James had already taken it a couple steps further after the Warriors game, mentioning the lack of rhythm and continuity because of the uncertainty in Cleveland’s rotations.

Now, consider what James said about this very same topic on Saturday:

“For the first eight weeks we had built chemistry, we knew who was playing, we knew who wasn’t playing,” James said. “We had rotations, coach had rotations down, so we got to get back to that. We have no rhythm. Guys are, we have some guys who don’t know if they’re going to play, or if they are going to play, and it’s hurting our rhythm a little bit.”

***

No. 3: The decline of Dwight Howard The slow, physical erosion of the body and skills of one of the league’s best big men is real. Dwight Howard, the man formerly known as “Superman” to an entire generation of NBA fans, is no more. So says TNT and NBA TV analyst Chris Webber, who lived through a similar fade during his star-studded career after he crossed over from young physical freak to mere mortal. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe explains:

The decline of Dwight Howard is one of the NBA’s most compelling developments. The onetime self-proclaimed “Superman” was for years a physical freak, the model of how a center was built and how a center defended.

Now 30, Howard is slowing down, bothered by years of back and knee issues. He doesn’t have the offensive effectiveness of past years and his durability has waned. So, what happens when physically gifted players lose a step, are no longer able to soar as they once did or defend above the rim?

Former NBA star and current NBA TV analyst Chris Webber, who was a superb athlete coming out of Michigan two decades ago and played until he was 34, offered his thoughts on Howard.

“I wouldn’t just say this for Dwight, I’d say this for all players, me personally, I learned it from Karl Malone. You cannot stay in this game without skill,” Webber said. “Because after five years in this league you will no longer be the most athletic at your position. It’s impossible. That’s including injuries. You have to have more skill, you have to create value for those times you’re on the court.”

Webber said there are ways to compensate for a decline in athleticism by using intelligence.

“You have to maybe help defensively a little bit earlier since you can’t go up and get the blocked shot,” he said. “Some guys start taking charges or some guys just get out [farther] on the floor since they can’t move laterally anymore, maybe develop an 8-foot jump shot. You can learn how to make a move without dribbling because now you can’t just dribble by everybody anymore.

“You have to think the game through and just be that much more efficient. You won’t get the number of looks you have anymore. Mentally, you have to change and hopefully your skill set will allow that. If not, the game will pass you by.”

Perhaps the biggest adjustment for any NBA player is the deterioration of physical skills. For some it’s sudden, for others it’s gradual. The result is never easy to digest.

“It’s especially tough, for me going to Philly, a place that had a different [playing] style, that means you have to learn all over again,” Webber said. “If you’re Tim[Duncan], he’s one of the greatest players to have ever played this game, but because he’s allowed to age in a system.

“Let’s say with a Dwight Howard, his numbers are still incredible but you need a system around him that allows him to do that and those not just be wasted numbers. That can be wasted numbers on a team that doesn’t suit his system.”

The Rockets are one of the league’s more confounding teams, with a record hovering near .500 after reaching the West finals last season.

“Houston is the most disappointing team that we have in the league, more disappointing than the Philadelphia 76ers, and I don’t know if anybody can thrive in that system,” Webber said. “I definitely know it’s tough to age when the system does not include your age in the system.

“If I’m [Howard], I’m trying to offensive rebound a little bit more. If I’m him, I’m running right down the middle of the lane on a secondary break, posting up in the middle, and turning for a jump hook because you’re going to foul me. I’m going to put myself in positions where you have to get me the ball, and when I get the ball I’d be stupid to pass it back out. There’s ways, and he’s one of the best big men in the game still. He should be the second-most-targeted player on that team.”

***

No. 4: A warm reception for Kobe in Boston? The farewell tour for Kobe Bryant has had some interesting stops, to say the least. And nowhere is a fading Los Angeles Lakers’ legend loathed more than in Boston, where Kobe will visit for a final time (as a player) this week. But instead of a vicious chorus of boos, might Kobe be in for a much warmer reception from the Celtics loyalists? Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times sets the stage:

It’s only Monday but already worth asking in a horribly mundane Lakers season: How will Kobe Bryant be received by fans Wednesday in his last game in Boston?

With Philadelphia out of the way, it could be the most attractive road game left on his farewell tour.

The setup started a few days ago, when Bryant revealed he listened daily to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” for two years because he wanted to remember the depth of the Lakers’ embarrassment in the 2008 NBA Finals.

Fans couldn’t stop singing it after the Celtics‘ 39-point Game 6 victory, so Bryant couldn’t stop listening to it.

He found his revenge two years later in the NBA Finals. Will Celtics fans be salty?

Lakers Coach Byron Scott, who battled Boston in three memorable NBA Finals in the 1980s, predicted a warm reaction.

“As much as the Celtics hate us and we hate them, I think the Celtics fans are some of the most knowledgeable fans in the world. I think they’ll give him the same type of respect that he deserves and that he’s been given everywhere else,” Scott said.

Perhaps a precedent was set when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played his last game in Boston in 1988. Abdul-Jabbar, 41 at the time, was given a framed slab of the Garden’s parquet floor by Celtics legend Red Auerbach.

Abdul-Jabbar also received a one-minute, 35-second standing ovation from Celtics fans that night. Scott was there as Abdul-Jabbar’s teammate.

“It wasn’t a standing ovation for [his] 20 years, but it was a standing ovation when he decided to retire,” Scott said, developing a one-liner. “Maybe that’s because he was whooping them so much.”

Fans cheered Bryant loudly in Philadelphia, Washington, Detroit and Toronto. They weren’t so kind in San Antonio, but he has another game there before bowing out.

He had not announced his retirement when the Lakers played in New York last month. Other notable road games for him include Sacramento on Jan. 7 and San Antonio on Feb. 6.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Los Angeles Clippers needed Paul Pierce to turn back the clock with Blake Griffin out for two weeks … Globetrotters legend Meadowlark Lemon, 83, diesBradley Beal is expected to resume basketball activities this week for the Washington Wizards … The Golden State Warriors will get a first-hand look at the new and improved Sacramento Kings tonight … The future remains bright for Glenn Robinson III in Indiana …

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 26


VIDEO: Top plays from Christmas Day games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors beat Cavs, believe they can play even better | James wants clarity from Cavaliers | Rockets leave coal for Spurs | Kobe surprised at huge lead in early All-Star voting

No. 1: Warriors beat Cavs, believe they can play even better You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone, even the most rabid Warriors fan, who truly thinks the Warriors have underperformed this season. After all, after last night’s 89-83 win against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the highly anticipated NBA Finals rematch, the Warriors moved to a ridiculous 28-1 on the season, which included a 24-game winning streak. That is, it’s hard to find criticism unless you talk to the actual Warriors players themselves, as our Scott Howard-Cooper did, where you find that the Warriors believe despite all the W’s, they aren’t playing all that great and still have room to grow

“Look,” center Andrew Bogut said, “we haven’t played great the last 10 games. That’s something that we’ve addressed in this locker room.”

“I don’t think we’ve played well,” power forward Draymond Green said. “Even tonight. We did some good things, but I still don’t think we’ve played well.”

“I’m really impressed with our defense the last two games,” interim coach Luke Walton said. “Before that, our defense was struggling.”

Help is on the way, if only the Warriors can hold it together another couple weeks and avoid the all-out panic that will come if they slump all the way to, say, 75-win pace and only break the single-season record by three games as opposed to the current tracking to 79 victories. Good news is on the horizon for a change.

Coach Steve Kerr, out since the early days of training camp while recovering from the effects of two back surgeries in the offseason, is nearing a return. He stepped in for an ill Walton to run practice Tuesday, the interim to the interim, watched the Cleveland game from the coaches’ office in Oracle and plans to accompany the team on the Dallas-Houston back-to-back that begins Wednesday while Walton continues to lead. While the Warriors continue to avoid targeting a return date, the increased activity raises the possibility Kerr could be back as soon as Jan. 2 against the Nuggets in Oakland.

Forward Harrison Barnes, out the last 12 games with a sprained left ankle, was in some of the scrimmage Tuesday and Thursday participated in three-on-three drills with the team. Being listed as doubtful for Friday showed there was at least the thought he could play against the Cavaliers, so Monday against the Kings at Oracle or the two games in Texas are all possibilities.

The next week or two, depending on the actual return dates and how long Barnes will need to work back into game shape, could become an eventful time in the season of a defending champion, and that just doesn’t happen very often in early-January. Golden State will be whole again, assuming no one else gets hurt in the meantime, with Barnes an important piece as the starting small forward and also one of the triggers to the successful small-ball lineup when he moves to power forward.

It would have been impossible on opening night to imagine the Warriors would stand at 28-1 under any circumstances, let alone 28-1 with a coach younger than several players around the league and stepping in with two previous seasons as an assistant, with a concussion costing Bogut six games and Barnes’ absence. Now imagine the Warriors at 28-1 and thinking they will start to play better in the future.

“Maybe a little bit,” Bogut said.

Maybe more than a little bit.

“There’s part of it that [makes me mad] and there’s part of it that makes me very, very happy,” Green said. “I think we’ve got a lot of improving to do, and we will.”

Mad because the Warriors are not happy with how they have played lately. The happy: “Because what are we? Twenty-eight and one? You’re 28-1 and you’re not near playing well, that’s exciting. We know we know how to get to that point and we know we’ll reach that point. And when we do, I think that’s trouble because if we’re 28-1 and we’re not playing well, imagine where we are. That’s why it excites me.

***

No. 2: James wants clarity from Cavaliers Meanwhile, the Warriors’ vanquished Christmas Day foe, the Cleveland Cavaliers, drop to 19-8. That’s still good enough for the lead in the Eastern Conference, but with the Cavs getting more players back from injury and healthy, including Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert, the Cavs have more options available than ever before. And after the loss to the Warriors, as Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon writes, LeBron James would like to see the Cavs discover a rhythm going forward

After the Cavs lost 89-83 to the defending champion Warriors on Golden State’s home court, where it’s now won 32 in a row during the regular season, dating back to last year, James repeatedly mentioned the lack of continuity the Cavs had on the court and suggested that at least some of it had to do with David Blatt‘s rotation.

“It’s going to take some time to get back into rhythm, and all of us, not just the players, but everyone, to get back in rhythm,” James said.

The lineups and the newness need some context, and what James said about them was nothing like the cool attitude he directed toward Blatt at times last season.

In fact, James didn’t name his coach specifically on Friday, but the bottom line was James called for Blatt and his staff to gain perhaps a clearer sense of who they want to play, and when, now that the entire team is healthy.

“For us to have a full unit, we’ve got to practice, we’ve got to play some games where we know what we want to do, what lineups we want to play out there,” James said.

“It’s an adjustment period, it’s not just going to happen – you plug a guy in there, plug two guys in there and it automatically happens,” he continued. “It’s going to be an adjustment period, but we’ll be fine. We’ll be fine toward February and March.”

This was just the second game this season that the Cavs had all 15 players available, due to season-long injuries to Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert.

That’s not Blatt’s fault, but, it was the head coach who placed James, Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Matthew Dellavedova, and Tristan Thompson on the court to start the fourth quarter. It was the first time all season they’d all been on the court at the same time.

When Irving and Kevin Love subbed in for James and Smith with 10:06 left in the quarter, the Cavs still had a lineup that had never played together. Those are just two examples.

Richard Jefferson did not play at all against the Warriors. Mo Williams logged 4:39, and James Jones, a favorite of James, played just 1:34.

James led the Cavs with 25 points and contributed nine rebounds, but shot 10-of-26 and was a brutal 4-of-9 from the foul line. He took the blame for that, saying “I wasn’t very good, inefficient, and it trickled down to everybody else.”

The Cavs’ 83 points, 31.6 percent shooting from the field and 16.7 percent shooting from 3-point range were season lows. Irving (13 points) shot 4-of-15 and Love (10 points, 18 rebounds) was 5-of-16. Cleveland assisted on just 12-of-30 baskets.

“For the first time, for a long period of time we had some different lineups out there,” James explained, talking about the woes on offense. “And against a championship team like this, it’s kind of hard to do that on the fly. We’re not making no excuses, we still got to be a lot better, still got to move the ball, got to share the ball, get it moving from side to side, but offensively we were all out of rhythm.

“You credit to their defense, for sure, and then the lack of detail.”

***

No. 3: Rockets leave coal for Spurs While the Warriors have romped through the NBA this season, the San Antonio Spurs have quietly put in work as well, and entered yesterday’s Christmas game against the Houston Rockets with a sparkling 25-5 record. Their opponent, the Houston Rockets, have struggled to find an identity, firing a coach (Kevin McHale) and getting inconsistent play from their superstars, James Harden and Dwight Howard. But on a big stage yesterday, the Rockets turned to their defense to grind out an 88-84 win over the Spurs, and as our Fran Blinebury writes, Houston got a present from their veteran reserve guard, Jason Terry

Jason Terry is long past the days of being the shiny new toy. He has stockings that have hung from chimneys far longer than some of his teammates have hung around the planet.

So even after the Rockets had spent most of the night standing toe-to-toe and going push-to-shove with the Spurs, there came a time to seal the deal and the closer had to come out of the attic.

It wasn’t just Terry’s nine points and three steals in the last 10½ minutes of the bone-jarring 88-84 victory Friday night at the Toyota Center. It was the way he did everything. Like he owned the place.

Ever since the shocking 5-10 start to the season that got coach Kevin McHale fired, the Rockets have been trying to convince everybody, including themselves, that they’re really a very good team, capable of getting back again to the Western Conference finals.

Trouble is, since the opening tip back in October, every time the Rockets have put another stake in the ground with a signature win over the Thunder, at Dallas or sweeping a pair of duels from the Clippers, they have also put a stake or a half dozen into their own foot. A combined 0-5 record against the lowly Nuggets and Nets. A whipping in Sacramento. A comeback that came up just short in Orlando.

You don’t get to call yourself a real contender until you stop pretending to show up consistently and take the job seriously every night. Dwight Howard and James Harden talk the talk.

“The Jet” puts his arms out at his sides and takes flight on the wings of drive and emotion that have carried him into a 17th NBA season.

“That’s what I’ve prided myself on, being ready, always stepping up to the moment,” Terry said. “In big moments like tonight when my team needed me most, I want to show up and be effective.”

He buried a big 3-pointer. He hit a mid-range jumper from the wing. He stepped into the San Antonio passing lanes to snatch away three balls to get the Rockets headed in the other direction.

But now, more than being the fire-starter in a big holiday event — the first time the Rockets hosted a home Christmas Day game since moving to Houston in 1971 — Terry’s task and bigger challenge will be to instill a sense of every day urgency that goes from the locker room out onto the court. Even in too many of their wins this season, the Rockets have started games lazily and had to come scrambling back from double-digit holes. Which is why this latest so-called statement win lifts their record back to just 16-15.

Harden’s pair of fourth-quarter 3-pointers were big and it’s good to know that you’ve got that arrow in your quiver, but it can’t be enough to think he’ll be able to bail you out game after game with offensive heroics. And it was Terry’s spark that ignited the flame.

Terry had been inserted into the starting lineup for the first four games after J.B. Bickerstaff took over the team. But as the team kept struggling, the interim coach began to shuffle his guards like a casino dealer until finally he turned Terry back face up in this one. In fact, the veteran has played less than 15 minutes in 11 games this season and also has six DNPs, including the previous game, which the Rockets lost at Orlando. That’s now likely to change.

“I just feel like we need him on the floor,” Bickerstaff said. “There’s times where he needs the rest, obviously. But big moments in big games, he’s one of the guys that I trust the most. I trust not only that he’ll do the right thing, but I trust that he’ll perform and then I trust that he’ll carry his teammates in a positive direction.

“You can’t speak enough about him. He’s a class guy. He’s a winner. He’s a champion. He’s a leader. He’ll sacrifice, whatever it takes to win. That’s what he does. That’s who he is. Every since I’ve known him he’s been that way.”

***

No. 4: Kobe surprised at huge lead in early All-Star voting The first 2016 All-Star voting results are in, and while there are still several more rounds to go, at least for now, Kobe Bryant has a huge lead over everyone else in the NBA, including Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. Considering Kobe’s global appeal and previously announced retirement plans, it shouldn’t come a complete surprise that fans want to see him on the NBA’s big stage one final time. But as ESPN’s Baxter Holmes writes, the numbers apparently shocked at least one person: Kobe Bryant.

Bryant has 719,235 votes — well ahead of Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry (510,202), the next-highest vote-getter, and more than twice as many as Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James (357,937).

After the Lakers’ 94-84, Christmas night loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, Bryant said he was more than a little surprised he had such a wide lead.

“Listen, I was making a little coffee run this morning, got some gas and decided to just go on Instagram and peruse,” he said, “and [I] saw the damn votes, and I was like, ‘What the hell?’ Shocked doesn’t do it justice.”

He added, “It’s exciting. What can I say? Just thankful.”

The 2016 NBA All-Star Game, to be held in Toronto, would be Bryant’s last, as he has announced his plans to retire after this season, his 20th in the NBA. His 17 All-Star selections are second all-time behind former Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had 19. Bryant, 37, is the leading scorer in NBA All-Star history (280 points).

This year marks the first time that the 6-foot-6 Bryant is being listed as a member of the frontcourt in All-Star voting. In previous years, he has been listed as a guard. The second-highest vote-getter among Western Conference frontcourt players is Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant (349,473).

Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Friday’s game that Bryant deserves a spot on the All-Star team.

“A lot of people disagree with me on that. That’s fine. I have my opinion. I think Kobe should be on the All-Star team,” Rivers said. “I don’t care if he’s a starter of if they figure out a 13th spot for him. [With] what he’s done in his career, he should be on the All-Star team, and I don’t see any debate in that. You can have one, but I’m not hearing it.”

But what if someone else were left off, such as one of Rivers’ players?

“It would be awful, but Kobe should be on the All-Star team,” Rivers said. “I think they should have a special exception and put 13 guys on if that’s the case if he wasn’t in one of the top 12 as far as voting or whatever. But I just believe he should be on it. Magic [Johnson] was on, Michael [Jordan] was on with the Wizards. I think certain guys earn that right, and unfortunately for other guys who can’t make it, they have to earn that right too.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Chicago Bulls may have turned a corner with their win over the Oklahoma City Thunder yesterday … Steph Curry doesn’t think he’s “hurting” basketball, regardless of what his former coach Mark Jackson says … Chris Bosh punctuated Miami’s win over New Orleans yesterday by talking trash to Anthony Davis down the stretchEvan Fournier has broken out of his slump in Orlando … You can ask him questions, but doesn’t have to answer them …

Dirk keeps climbing ladder of history

VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki jumper moves him past Shaq to No. 6 in all-time scoring.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, as they say in the “Star Wars” saga, a skinny young kid in Germany used to turn on his TV to NBA games late at night and watch a hulking monster named Shaquille O’Neal outmuscle and outplay opponents and the entire league to write his name in the record books.
Now more than two decades later, Dirk Nowitzki has used the power of his step-back jumper and assorted other moves like a light saber to move past O’Neal and write his own name into the No. 6 spot on the NBA all-time scoring list.

Nowitzki took a set-up pass from J.J. Barea, turned and nailed one of his trademark high-arcing jumpers with 9:51 left in the second quarter for his 10th point of the night at Brooklyn to climb the next rung on the history ladder. That brought his career total to 28,597.

Nowitzki, who finished with 22 points, got the game-winning layup with 19.2 seconds left in overtime as the Mavericks beat the Nets, 119-118.

O’Neal, who finished his 19-year career in 2011 with 28,596 points, was just nominated for the Naismith Hall of Fame Class of 2016.

“He’s probably arguably the most dominant big man that’s ever played this game,” Nowitzki told Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “So yeah, it’s still kind of surreal that I’m up there among these all-time greats.”

Nowitzki is sure to follow O’Neal’s Hall of Fame path when he eventually retires, but for now is still productively enjoying his 18th NBA season with the Mavericks, taking averages of 17.3 points and 7.0 assists into the game against the Nets.

Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain have scored more points in the history of the league than the 37-year-old forward. Nowitzki and Bryant are also the only players in the top 10 all-time ranking that have played their entire career with one team. He ranks No. 2 among active players, behind Bryant.

Nowitzki has come a long way since entering the league as the ninth pick out of Wurzburg, Germany in the 1998 draft by Milwaukee, going to Dallas in a prearranged deal and then struggling to find his footing in a rough rookie season.

But with a steady, relentless work ethic and a game that expanded the boundaries of what it was thought a 7-footer could do, Nowitzki was named an All-Star 13 times, won the MVP award in 2007 and took Dallas to the NBA Finals twice, leading the Mavs to the only championship in franchise history in 2011.

“It just speaks to how special he is, how special his career has been, the amount of work that he’s put into it, the level of which he really lives the game on a day-to-day basis,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “All of that stuff is just so historic it’s hard to put into words. And I know Shaq is a guy that he really respects, as we all do.”

TOP 10 ALL-TIME NBA SCORERS

1 — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 38,387
2 — Karl Malone 36,928
3 — Kobe Bryant 32,897
4 — Michael Jordan 32,292
5 — Wilt Chamberlain 31,419
6 — Dirk Nowitzki 29,609
7 — Shaquille O’Neal 28,596
8 — Moses Malone 27,409
9 — Elvin Hayes 27,313
10 — Hakeem Olajuwon 26,946

TOP 10 ACTIVE SCORERS

1 — Kobe Bryant 32,897
2 — Dirk Nowitzki 29,609
3 — Tim Duncan 26,211
4 — Kevin Garnett 26,025
5 — Paul Pierce 26,010
6 — LeBron James 25,572
7 — Vince Carter 23,636
8 — Carmelo Anthony 21,533
9 — Dwyane Wade 19,293
10 — Joe Johnson 18,642

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 219) Kobe Reflections

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Kobe Bryant farewell tour has begun.

And for all of the shining moments he’s provided during his two decades in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform, the end will not be pretty. Since announcing Sunday that this will be his 20th and final season, the Lakers have continued their woeful ways on the court — losing in Philadelphia Tuesday night to get the Sixers off the 0-for-everything snide.

However, remembering Kobe for who he was to the Lakers, to the game and to the world requires us to reflect not on the recent past and this season in particular, but his entire body of work. The mind-boggling numbers, the titles, the countless moments when a ferocious Kobe took your breath away. They are memories now, magical moments shrouded in an avalanche of struggles for star and a Lakers team that has no chance of competing at the championship level they had grown accustomed to throughout the years.

Yes, Kobe will take his place alongside Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, Shaq, Elgin Baylor and all-time greats to have worn the Lakers’ purple and gold. And he remains the closest thing we’ve seen to Michael Jordan since MJ.

But he will spend his final season waving to adoring crowds and doing the rocking chair routine he swore he wouldn’t. There will be no glorious walk off, no storybook ending for one of the most accomplished players to ever lace ’em up.

Father Time spares no one, not even the all-time greats. There is a price to pay for pushing yourself, your body, mind and spirit, to the outer limits.

And Kobe is paying in full right now.

That’s why we are taking the time to reflect on his past, present and future today on Episode 219 of The Hang Time Podcast.

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

***


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant discusses his final game in his hometown after a loss to the 76ers

Blogtable: Kobe’s place among Top 5 Lakers of all-time?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Kobe’s place in Top 5 Lakers hierarchy? | What will Kobe’s legacy be? | What was Kobe’s defining moment? | Do you see coaching in Kobe’s future?



VIDEOKobe Bryant and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar talk on GameTime after a game in 2012

> Where does Kobe rank in your Top 5 Lakers of all-time?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Kobe ranks second on my top-5, all-time Lakers list. And since I give bonus points to those who spent their entire career with the franchise in question, my list is 1) Magic Johnson, 2) Kobe Bryant, 3) Jerry West, 4) Elgin Baylor and 5) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kobe’s talents, drive, capabilities and accomplishments are second to none but Magic helped to revive both the Lakers and the league, is the point guard on my by-position all-time NBA team (Kobe is a backup) and remains my word-association response when I hear “Laker.”

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comTwo decades, five rings, 17 All-Star teams. It’s certainly enough to put Kobe into the conversation and I’ll respectfully listen. But Kareem and Magic are at the top of my list. One is the all-time leading NBA scorer with six MVPs and the other was the spark that lit the flame on five championship teams, nine Finals appearances in 12 years and began the modern era of the Lakers as the league’s most dominant franchise. I’ll put him a tie for third with Jerry West.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Second or third. I have always said Jerry West is No. 1 because he was a positive for the organization at most every level, a superstar as a player and executive and good in a brief run as a coach. After that, it’s Kobe and Magic or Magic and Kobe. Years after this question became commonplace, I still don’t know how to split 2 and 2A. Johnson was a great player, a leader and merely had a hand in turning the NBA into a global brand. Their ruthless pursuit of winning is similar. They both had to fit in with other Hall of Famers. There is no wrong answer. After that, Elgin Baylor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain follow in some order. I would put Wilt a tier below because he only had five seasons with the Lakers. Then it’s a Chamberlain-Shaquille O’Neal debate for the start of the second five.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Here’s the order: 1. Magic, 2. Kobe, 3. Kareem, 4. Jerry, 5. George Mikan. I give Kobe the edge on Kareem based on Laker longevity (Kareem started in Milwaukee) and Kobe owns more titles than West, although as players, they rate very close in my opinion. Nobody touches Magic. He’s Mr. Laker.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Second, behind Magic Johnson and ahead of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West and either Elgin Baylor or James Worthy. Longevity puts him ahead of Kareem and West, but I can’t put him ahead of Magic, who also played his entire career in L.A., had a much better winning percentage (.728 vs. .635), and was more of a galvanizing force, for both his teammates and the Lakers’ fanbase.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: As great as Kobe has been over the course of his career, I’ve always been a believer that Magic Johnson is the all-time iconic Laker, over Kobe, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaq and any of their other Hall of Famers. Magic remains No. 1 on my list with Kareem a close second and Kobe third. Being in the top three with two of the greatest five players in NBA history speaks volumes about the legacy Kobe has built during his unbelievable 20-year run in purple and gold.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Kobe and Magic Johnson are tied for first. They can’t be compared directly – head-to-head – because their eras were so different. Some will downgrade Kobe’s first three championships because he had Shaq, but can’t the same be said of Magic’s partnership with Kareem throughout the early 1980s? This is going to make more sense in a few years, when it will be easier to put Bryant’s career into perspective, but for now I don’t feel right choosing between him and Magic.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog Same as I had him last time — I think he’s the second-greatest Laker of all-time. But even if he won a title this season, I don’t know if he would leapfrog Magic Johnson, the greatest Laker in my estimation. (Then again, if Kobe could win a title with this Lakers team, he might be the greatest NBA player of all-time.)

Is Kobe the greatest Laker?

With Kobe Bryant announcing his retirement on Sunday, the string of praises and tributes are starting to pour in. Of course with any great player leaving the game one’s place in history will be debated. In August, we asked our stable of scribes across the globe if Bryant is the greatest Laker of all time. Here are their responses.


VIDEOPlayers around the league show their appreciation for Kobe Bryant

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comOne’s first duty in answering any question of this sort is to be protective of the predecessors, whether it’s a ’68 Mustang supposedly being eclipsed by the 2015 model or in this case, Kobe Bryant elbowing ahead of Jerry West and Magic Johnson. It’s hard to argue against “The Logo,” one of the best and classiest acts in NBA history, but Bryant – with his rings, his stats totals and his MVP trophy – has climbed higher among the game’s notables, which moves him past West as a swell Laker. I’m holding firm on Johnson, though, as the face of that franchise. We can quibble about the “greatest” definition, but Johnson was remarkable as a 6-foot-9 point guard who helped revive both the Lakers and the league with his team play and his smile. He also is my point guard on any by-position all-time team I put together and Bryant is a backup. So that splits my final hair here.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: You can put him in the conversation and I’ll listen. But Kareem and Magic are at the top of my list. One is the all-time leading NBA scorer with six MVPs and the other was the spark that lit the flame on five championship teams, nine Finals appearances in 12 years and began the modern era of the Lakers as the league’s most dominant franchise.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Jerry West is. He was a star as a player and a star as a general manager. It would be hard to find anyone who  impacted any organization in any sport so much. West had massive roles in championships on different levels. He coached the team as well. There is no reason to diminish anything Kobe has accomplished. But “The Logo” is the greatest Laker.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Magic Johnson is No. 1. Kareem is No. 2 only because he spent a chunk of his prime in Milwaukee. Then Kobe. By giving Kobe the nod over Jerry West and Elgin Baylor speaks plenty about the brilliance of Kobe’s career, because Elgin and Jerry were certainly no slouches (from what I understand; they were before my time). Kobe got buckets, was clutch and raised his game in the post-season. And aside from injuries, he was all that for two decades.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: He’s clearly on the short list, but I can’t put him ahead of Magic Johnson, who was the most important player on all five championship teams he played on, had one of the three greatest Finals performances of all-time (1980, Game 6), and was obviously more of a galvanizing force for the Lakers, making his teammates better. I’ll always wonder if Kobe could have won more if he trusted his teammates just a little bit more.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comNo. 1? Wow. That’s a tough one. I can’t go there, though, having lived through the Showtime Lakers era and seeing the impact Magic had on not only Lakers fans, but fans everywhere. Kobe’s right up there among the franchise’s greatest players ever, and perhaps even a 1A to Magic, but I can’t give him that No. 1 spot ahead of Magic.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I’m going to say that Kobe rates No. 1, based on his longevity and the fact that he never had so much talent around him as Magic Johnson had in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Bob McAdoo, Byron Scott and the rest. Kobe led from a more vulnerable position, in a league that was more competitive top-to-bottom.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I think he’s top three. To me, the top trio is Kobe, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And within that trio, I’d have Kareem third. Magic and Kobe may each have five titles, but when you consider their places in history, Magic came into the NBA at a time when it was struggling, and he helped transform it into the international behemoth it is today. Purely as a basketball player, Kobe may retire with the better career numbers, but being a Laker isn’t only what happens on the court. And in that sense, to me I don’t know if anyone will ever surpass Mag

Morning shootaround — Nov. 14


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Enes Kanter paying off in OKC? | Warriors owner Joe Lacob opens up | Jimmy Butler got tips from the greatest Bull | Pacers boss Larry Bird is still big on Boston

No. 1: Enes Kanter paying off in OKC? — He opened the season coming off the bench, is often back on the bench in a tight fourth quarter and at best is the No. 3 option for the Thunder. Is Enes Kanter really worth the massive contract he signed last summer? Well, it’s a matter of perspective. OKC was virtually forced to match the offer sheet and keep him, if only because you don’t surrender assets for nothing in return. Besides, he is a gifted offensive player. For those who feel the Thunder aren’t getting their money’s worth here in the early season, Anthony Slater of the Daily Oklahoman has a different take:

Enes Kanter signed a max offer sheet with Portland this offseason, giving the Thunder three days to pick between two options — match or decline. Keep Kanter or don’t.

The argument against was simple. It was a four-year, $70 million overpay that included a dreaded player option at the back end. Even in a market flush with escalating money, the long-term pact seemed steep for a one-sided, defensively challenged skill set.

But it was never much of a choice. The Thunder’s eventual decision to match wasn’t just a smart one, but an obvious one and, to them, the only one. The alternatives made it so.

Let’s say OKC, entering a crucial year in the franchise’s history, declined to match, choosing to go cheaper on a big man. Because of salary cap restrictions, the Thunder’s only method to add a piece on the open market would’ve been through a minimum deal or the taxpayer mid-level exception.

Here’s a list of the 14 free agent big men who signed in that price range this offseason: Jeff Withey, Bismack Biyombo, Luis Scola, Kendrick Perkins, Amar’e Stoudemire, Cole Aldrich, Kevin Seraphin, Eric Moreland, Boban Marjanovic, Joel Anthony, JaVale McGee, Salah Mejri, Cristiano Felicio and Shayne Whittington.

Draw from a bargain bin of aged, severely flawed or unknown out-of-the-rotation fill-ins? Or retain a highly skilled 23-year-old offensive center with the capabilities of putting up Sixth Man of the Year-type numbers off the bench?

Wanting to maximize its talent ceiling around Kevin Durant, who is famously entering free agency this offseason, the Thunder chose Kanter. Eight games into that scrutinized mega-deal, Kanter is helping prove OKC correct.

“Enes has been great for us,” Durant said.

His positives are obvious and rarely disputed. Kanter is the most skilled interior offensive presence the Thunder has had in its short franchise history, notching all 11 of the organization’s 20-point, 10-rebound games from a center.

Kanter’s 26 offensive rebounds are tied for sixth most in the league this season. Multiple times per game, he flips an empty Thunder possession into two points with a crafty, position-based rebound-putback. He’s averaging 12.4 points and 8.9 rebounds and doing it in only 21.4 minutes per game.

“He’s a force down there,” Durant said. “You can say what you want about him, but you can book him for (those numbers).”

Kanter’s 19.7 rebounds per 48 minutes trail only the outrageous Andre Drummond (24.9) and DeAndre Jordan (19.9). Among centers, his 27.5 points per 48 minutes trail only Jahlil Okafor (29.3) and Brook Lopez (28.2).

***

No. 2: Warriors owner Joe Lacob opens up — He’s the owner of the hottest team in the NBA and a fresh NBA championship ring, and that makes Joe Lacob a happy man. Lots has changed since he bought the Warriors five years ago and heard boos from the crowd (Rick Barry famously told the fans to pipe down, that Lacob was the best thing to happen to the club in a long time). The Warriors have reached the playoffs three times and won a title. Lacob has a new arena underway in San Francisco and a team that still hasn’t touched its prime. In so many ways, he’s sitting on a gold mine. Marcus Thompson of the Bay Area News Group hitched a ride with Lacob from his home to a recent game and took good notes:

When it was closing time, Lacob refused to get off the phone until it was officially done. They were supposed to be boarding a helicopter. The pilot — looking to complete his last route before he and his colleagues went on strike — pressured Lacob to get onboard.

“And where were we going that day?” Lacob asked, taking his eyes off the road to set up the punchline. “We were going by helicopter to Delphi in Greece. Which is famous for the Oracle. The Oracle of Delphi. To which I then said, ‘We’re off to see the Oracle.’ The irony, right?”

Reflection is how Lacob gets to the happy place he wants for this night. He starts reliving the crazy stories along the way.

The struggles that were debilitating at the time but are now hilarious, such as the painstaking task of replacing the franchise’s top executives.

The hours-long conversations with his cohorts in the trenches, like the hours he spends on the phone with Bob Myers.

The curve balls that came in the middle of the night, like the news of Monta Ellis being sued for sexual harassment.

“The reason this is so important is because of the process and how hard it’s been,” Lacob said as he merged onto Interstate 280 while driving to the arena. “Only Nicole knows fully how hard it’s been. All of that really is what I remember more. It’s the getting here. All the work. The firing of various people and the hiring. All the big trades. The booing. You remember all the things it took to get there, to get the championship. A lot of stuff had to happen, and it’s the details that make this meaningful.”

Lacob’s attention immediately shift to Highway 280. Sometimes it takes 50 minutes to get from his home to Oracle. Sometimes it takes 2 hours.

He likes to get to the arena by 6 p.m. for 7:30 pm games. He needed to be their earlier this night for the pregame ceremony. The worry shines through his eyes as he points to the logjam in front of him.

“Look at this,” he says with a twinge of irritation. “This is bad.”

Curran has seen much worse. That guy you see living and dying with every play on the sidelines at Warriors games, that’s a mild version. Curran sees the unfiltered version.

 

***

No. 3: Jimmy Butler got tips from the greatest Bull — He has improved gradually ever since he joined the club, morphing from a defensive specialist to one of the better all-around guards in the league, and then cashed in last summer. Life is good for Jimmy Butler, and that’s due in part to Michael Jordan. During his development, Butler sought out the six-time NBA champ and that was a wise move. Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago has the details:

What Jordan lesson made the biggest impression on Butler?

“How hard you have to prepare,” Butler told ESPN.com recently. “The games are the easy part, man. You got to work every single day, put in extra work to make sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Practice isn’t enough, you got to get in early, you got to stay late. You got to come back at night. He’ll let you know that because he did it, and look what it did.”

No one is comparing Butler to Jordan, but the Bulls have to love to hear that coming from their emerging star.

John Paxson spent eight seasons sharing a backcourt with Jordan and saw that fierce competitor in practice every day. Now the Bulls’ executive vice president, Paxson won’t compare Butler to Jordan — or any other player, for that matter — but that’s not the point. It’s Butler’s aspiration to be a Jordan-like worker that makes him proud.

“The one thing with Jimmy is, that’s a great bar to have. It’s not about achieving it. It’s about following that example that Michael gave,” Paxson said. “And the example is simple, it’s a simple formula: work hard, compete, value the game, respect the game. And Jimmy has. I think the unfair thing to say with Jimmy right now is he wasn’t that way. He just didn’t get a lot of chances prior to the last couple years. From my vantage point, Jimmy’s always worked hard, played hard and valued the game, so it’s obviously not a surprise that he’s put himself in this position.”

The 26-year-old Butler and Jordan built up a relationship after Butler started endorsing Jordan Brand, Jordan’s company under the Nike umbrella. This summer, Butler posted a picture of himself and Jordan at Jordan’s camp in Santa Barbara, California, after they had a shootout with a couple of young campers.

***

No. 4: Pacers boss Larry Bird is still big on Boston — He always talked a good game, whether he was preparing to drill a three-point shot over a late defender or when asked his opinion on the game of basketball. Larry Bird runs the Pacers, of course, but his heart and thoughts are also in Boston, where he spent his entire Hall of Fame career winning titles and respect with the Celtics. Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe caught up with Bird who, of course, had something to say, and all of it interesting:

“They talk about Chicago and Philadelphia. No. They don’t ever compare to Boston. I mean, there’s ladies in their 90s and they can name every player on the Red Sox and Patriots team. You just don’t have it anywhere like that.

“It’s unbelievable out there, and my gratitude to the fans out there is that I’d never root against them because I know how important sports are to them.”

Larry Legend didn’t take it too seriously when he first heard the deflated footballs charge after the Patriots waxed the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game last January.

“It doesn’t really matter. It was written about a lot around the country, but here in Indianapolis, most people knew. We knew the Patriots was going to beat them anyway. I thought it was pretty chintzy. People finally realized they would have beat us anyway. I just laughed about it.

“They got the footballs they played with and we got our footballs. And their footballs beat our footballs.

“I watch every one of the Colts games. I really like them. But my son loves all things about the Patriots. And I never root against the Patriots.”

I reminded Bird that the deflated footballs debacle was reminiscent of accusations often levied against Celtics godfather Red Auerbach — such as Pat Riley believing that Auerbach rigged the thermostat at the Old Garden to torture the Lakers.

“Right,’’ Bird agreed. “If that’s what they think, then now we’ve got them.’’

It’s a love story, this thing between Bird and Boston. Hub fans loved Bird the first time he showed up at Camp Millbrook in Marshfield in the summer of 1979, and it never changed. He could do no wrong, right through his retirement from the Celtics in 1992.

Almost a quarter of a century later, while Bird has raised a family and excelled as coach and president of the Pacers, he remains loyal to the folks who cheered him all those years on the parquet floor.

“I even rooted for the Red Sox against the Cardinals in those World Series,’’ he said. “That one took me to the dirt because you know I love my Cardinals.’’

Bird’s Pacers beat the Celtics in Indianapolis earlier this month. What does he think of today’s Green Team?

“They’re young and they play together and they’re fun to watch,” he said. “I haven’t really watched them that much. They seem like they’re going to be all right.’’

The Celtics have a lot of players with similar skill sets. Speaking as an ex-coach, what’s that like when doling out the playing time?

“Guys are always going to be pissed off whether they’re playing 30 minutes or 40 minutes or 10 minutes,” said Bird. “It’s the same old thing. The players are never happy.

“It all depends on how they’re playing and how the team’s doing. You can run into that problem. I don’t know if they have that problem. They seem like they get along pretty well, but they do have a lot of guys that are young and want their chance.

“Everybody wants their minutes. We’ve got the same problem.’’

Celtics coach Brad Stevens brings a college mentality to the pro game and tries to make his team play hard for the full 48. Is this realistic in the NBA?

“That’s the only way you get better,” said Bird. “I think the players understand that. I don’t know much about Brad Stevens even though he’s right here in Indiana, close to us. I think I just met him one time in Orlando at Summer League. I know he did a good job here at Butler, so you got the right coach.’’

Most players don’t stay in college very long. In today’s draft, do you really know what you’re getting anymore?

“We spend a lot more time now and have a lot more background checks,” said Bird. “We’re probably more familiar with them than we were 25 years ago.

“But they come in so young. We’ve got a couple kids that are 19 years old, and one of them is playing 20 minutes for us. I couldn’t imagine playing in the NBA at 19 years old.

“It’s tough for these kids. They go from being high school All-Americans to one year of college and being drafted high, and then they come in here and they expect they’re going to walk in here and take over, and that’s not the way it’s going to be.

“It takes time. So there’s a lot of hit and misses out there.’’

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Hedo Turkoglu retires and will be honored by the Magic in some manner. No word on whether the Raptors will follow suit … Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who won a title in Milwaukee and then forced his way out of town in a trade, returned recently to say he thinks the Bucks are on the way backTrey Burke‘s move to the bench has Utah going in the right direction.

 

Morning shootaround — Nov. 8


VIDEO: The Fastbreak: Saturday, Nov. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No call means no Clippers’ comeback | George eager to challenge James | Timberwolves throw OT shutout at Bulls | No holdout hangover for Cavs’ Thompson

No. 1: No call means no Clippers’ comeback — We’re not going to take seriously that old saying about a picture being worth a thousand words. If we did, this Morning Shootaround would wind up unacceptably short and fail to provide the minimum daily nutrients for hungry NBA fans. Still, if you sought out one thing to capture what happened to the Clippers in their game against Houston at Staples Center Saturday night, this shot of L.A coach Doc Rivers would pretty much cover it:

The trigger for that anguished, incredulous look was Dwight Howard‘s defense of the rim in the final half minute that wasn’t ruled a goaltending. Blake Griffin missed a layup and a tip-in, either of which would have tied the game at 107-107, but his tip never fully got a chance when Howard batted at the ball to send it across the rim and eventually squirting out of bounds. A review of the possession – reviewing Howard’s maneuver isn’t permitted per NBA rules – determined it was Rockets’ ball and Ty Lawson‘s free throws sealed it for Houston. There were other factors in the outcome, certainly – Chris Paul (groin) did not play for the Clippers, while Patrick Beverley (concussion), Terrence Jones (eye) and Donatas Motiejunas (back) were out for Houston – and James Harden‘s 46 points had a little something to do with it. Still, as reported by the L.A. Times’ Ben Bolch:

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said the play involving Howard should have been called goaltending.

“I just thought it was a very clear one to call, but that’s not why we lost the game,” Rivers said. “I didn’t think we played very well and I didn’t think we had a great sense of urgency.”

And the Associated Press chipped in:

Paul, dressed in street clothes, came on the court during a timeout to make a case with one of the referees.

“That’s textbook goaltending,” Griffin said

***

No. 2: George eager to challenge James — When Paul George and LeBron James clash Sunday afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) in one of the day’s two matinee games, it will be more than just a meeting of two guys with first-name-worthy surnames. It will be George’s first time on the court in opposition to James in more than 17 months. And if it doesn’t yet rekindle the same rivalry that existed between the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat during James’ time in South Florida, facing the Cavaliers star in his second tour with Cleveland still packs significance for the Pacers’ young cornerstone guy. George’s eagerness for the matchup was reported by the Indianapolis Star:

The NBA’s landscape, for years, has shifted on James’ play, his dominance and his free-agent decisions. Now back with the Cleveland Cavaliers, James has built his hometown team into the clear favorite to advance through the Eastern Conference and return to the NBA Finals.

George, after missing almost the entire season last year, is eager to once again face James.
“I’m excited. I’m very excited,” he said after a brief practice Saturday. “I’m one of LeBron’s biggest supporters. I look up to him, and he’s always been great to me. It’ll be exciting to have that matchup again. I’m one person in this league that really enjoys big matchups and enjoys competition.”

Their last meeting was Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. James wore a Miami Heat uniform, and the Pacers were anchored by Roy Hibbert and David West. George scored a game-high 29 points. James finished with 25 and led the Heat to a 117-92 win that clinched their spot in the NBA Finals.

Two months later, James returned to Cleveland. A month later, George suffered an open fracture of the tibia and fibula bones in his lower right leg during an intrasquad scrimmage of the USA Men’s Basketball team.

This season, James and Kevin Love have led the Cavaliers to a five-game winning streak entering Sunday’s game. George, after struggling to score in the Pacers’ 0-3 start, has found his rhythm and has led the team to three consecutive wins.

George said the Cavaliers are the ideal opponent for the Pacers to gauge themselves against this early in the season.

“That’s exactly what it’ll be,” he said. “Just finding our way, seeing where we’re at, where we compete, where we match up against the team that went to the championship last year. That’s where this team is wanting to go late in this year, so to be the best, you have to beat the best.”

***

No. 3: Timberwolves throw OT shutout at Bulls — It’s still early enough in the season to attribute the Chicago Bulls’ offensive inconsistency to the new style they’re playing under a new coaching staff headed by Fred Hoiberg. Nonetheless, when a team is celebrating its 50th season as an NBA franchise and manages to do something it never had done before in all that time, it is worth noting: the Bulls went scoreless in the extra five-minute overtime period in losing at home Saturday night to the visiting, and apparently underestimated, Minnesota Timberwolves. Chicago was outscored 9-0 in OT while suffering through a 1-for-20 shooting freeze that began midway through the fourth quarter. Mike McGraw of the suburban Daily Herald provided details of what bore little resemblance to the Bulls’ spirited victory Thursday over OKC:

“I just don’t understand it, how you can play with as much energy as we did two nights ago and then just to expect to show up, I guess, and win the game,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I don’t know. It’s tough to even fathom how that can happen.

“You get 82 opportunities to put your uniform and go out and get up for the game, play for your teammates and do everything you can to win. We didn’t do that tonight.”

Hoiberg is a first-year coach, but basing effort on the quality of the opponent has been a Bulls problem for a few years. Last season especially the Bulls made a habit of losing to subpar teams at home. Maybe Minnesota will end up having a good season, but for now this counts as a bad loss.

Derrick Rose did most of the fourth-quarter scoring against Oklahoma City. He didn’t score at all down the stretch against Minnesota, finishing with 11 points on 3-of-13 shooting.

“It’s all about effort. We’ll get tired of getting our butt whupped one day,” Rose said. “It’s all about just bringing out that championship-caliber effort every night. We’ve got to stay more consistent. We have to stay together while we’re out there.”

Rose wasn’t the only one who struggled. Jimmy Butler went 4-for-15 from the field. Nikola Mirotic was 1-for-8. Pau Gasol led the Bulls with 21 points and 14 rebounds.

Gasol, who won two championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, had some pointed words in the locker room.

“There are certain things you have to bring every night in the NBA in order to win games, and we didn’t bring that tonight,” Gasol said. “We allowed them to hang around all game long and at the end we paid the price.

“We’ve got to make up our minds on what we want to do going forward, what kind of team we want to be. Do we want to be an up-and-down team and a team that does OK but doesn’t really have a chance to win a title?

“So far, that’s what we’re showing.”

***

No. 4: Bucks reach back to own the future — Some NBA teams drip with history. Others have to grab it where they can. The Celtics and the Lakers never are going to lack for impressive alumni clubs and legacies that date back 50 and 60 years ago to some of the league’s most revered names and moments. Then there are the Milwaukee Bucks, who have known some really good times with the likes of Don Nelson, Sidney Moncrief and Ray Allen, but only one stretch of greatness. That run included the franchise’s only NBA title in 1971 and another trip to The Finals in 1974, and it was all made possible by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson. The two Hall of Famers were in Milwaukee Saturday as part of new Bucks ownership’s ongoing, multi-faceted push to revive the NBA market. Gary D’Amato of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was there:

The Big O might be a few pounds over his playing weight and the Big Fella is looking a bit fragile physically after battling heart problems and leukemia, but if you squinted hard enough it was 1971 again and the Bucks were running roughshod over the NBA en route to a 66-16 record and the franchise’s only championship.

“Milwaukee was a great NBA town when I played here,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “We won the title once and vied for it a couple other years. People didn’t like coming here to play. They got whipped, pretty much.”

Can Milwaukee be that town again?

You wouldn’t have bet on it a few years ago, but unless we’re being sold a slickly marketed bill of goods — and that certainly doesn’t appear to be the case — it almost seems inevitable.

The franchise has been infused with energy, and even though the team hasn’t won a thing yet there’s an unmistakable swagger that starts at the top and permeates the organization. On opening night, co-owner Wes Edens introduced the Bucks as the “2016 champions” — a joke, perhaps, but one with a serious undertone of “Just watch us.”

“In talking with the new ownership, I’m really impressed with their vision and the fact that they’re looking to go all the way to the top,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “That’s their focus. They’re not going to wait for it to happen. They’re going to be proactive about it.”

The vibe seems to be catching on in a city that had been largely apathetic about its NBA franchise for far too long. Even Mayor Tom Barrett was emboldened at the tailgate party, shouting into a microphone, “The Bucks are back! The Bucks are back! Milwaukee is back!”

Of course, the most important piece of the puzzle is putting a good product on the court. Time will tell, but even Abdul-Jabbar thinks the Bucks are close to being a contender.

“I’ve seen them play a couple times this season,” he said. “I think they’ve got good players. They may be one or two players away from winning it all.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Coach Byron Scott said the Lakers, when evaluating Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis prior to the Draft, felt it would take the lanky young man a while to develop. Turns out the Lakers got that wrong. … Sometimes the most telling column on a score sheet is a fellow’s minutes played. Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker logged 24 Saturday, just 24 hours after playing 17 Friday, and that quick turnaround meant something in the Bucks forward’s recovery from ACL surgery. … Meanwhile, Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll might have to yield to the plantar fasciitis foot pain that has hobbled him lately. … And if we’re talking foot pain, it’s a good bet we’re talking Brooklyn center Brook Lopez at some point. The Nets big man with the history of right-foot issues had one again that forced him off the floor Saturday. Nothing broken, it turns out, but his status still is to be determined. … Deron Williams and the Dallas Mavericks got some positive reinforcement in beating New Orleans that they hope nudges the former All-Star point guard to bigger, more satisfying performances. … It might not seem fair to focus the burden of a team’s luxury-tax liability on the last player or two on a roster, but that’s how it goes for the players whose salaries aren’t guaranteed. Consider Jared Cunningham, whose $980,00 contract could end up costing the Cavaliers about $5 million by the time it and the taxes it triggers are lumped onto Cleveland’s massive payroll. …

Former Suns center Walk dies at 67


VIDEO: Take a look back at Neal Walk’s life and career

From NBA.com staff reports

Former Phoenix Suns standout center Neal Walk — perhaps best known for being selected with the pick after Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1969 Draft — has died at 67. The big man played eight seasons in the NBA, six of them with the Suns and also spent time with the New Orleans Jazz (1974-75) and New York Knicks (1975-77) before embarking in an overseas playing career.

His best season came in 1972-73 when he averaged 20.2 ppg, 12.4 rpg and 3.5 apg for a 38-44 Suns squad that missed the playoffs. After that season, he would log one more campaign in Phoenix before he was traded in the offseason to the Jazz, who later dealt him to the Knicks in February of 1975 (where Walk finished out his NBA career).

Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic has more on Walk, his legacy with the Suns and his career:

The Phoenix Suns do not have many people who can claim working in the organization for about two-thirds of its 46-year history and there are only two players who can claim a 20-point, 12-rebound season for the Suns.

Neal Walk’s legacy includes both.

Walk passed away Sunday night at age 67. He was at a Phoenix hospital after being in poor health in recent weeks for various medical reasons, 28 years after surviving surgery to remove a tumor on his spinal cord.

Away from unfair comparisons to Abdul-Jabbar, Walk had an exemplary five-year run at center in Phoenix and played eight NBA seasons before finishing his pro basketball career in Israel and Italy.

“My answer on the coin toss was always, ‘I didn’t toss it and I didn’t make the call. I just play basketball,’ ” Walk once told azcentral sports.

And he played it well.

Walk is the only Suns player besides Charles Barkley to average 20 points and 12 rebounds in a season. The 6-foot-10 center did so in his fourth year (1972-73), when he averaged 20.2 points, 12. 4 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 38.4 minutes per game. His 1,009 rebounds that season is nine shy of the franchise record set by Paul Silas. He also had a 26-rebound game that was one off Silas’ franchise record.

Walk was a gritty rebounder with a left-handed shooting touch and a hook shot. He was an exemplary passer for a big man to the point that he led the Suns in assists (4.0 per game) during his final Suns season in 1973-74.

The unfair shadow of Abdul-Jabbar’s greatness never left Walk, even though Walk held his own with the greats at times. Walk posted a career-high 42-point game against Abdul-Jabbar in 1972. He still was booed at home, where the lack of support affected him.

“People didn’t appreciate how good he was on the court,” said Steve Rich, Walk’s longtime friend and former roommate. “He felt unappreciated. Instead of appreciating him for what he could do, they always compared him to Jabbar. He was as smart as any athlete I’ve ever met. Neal like it when he was seen that way.”

The Suns traded Walk in the 1974 offseason to New Orleans, but he was not the same player after shedding 25 pounds because of a switch to a vegetarian diet. He dropped to a 7.2 scoring average in 1974-75, when he was traded to New York. The Knicks waived him after 11 games in 1976.

After playing in Europe, Walk could not find steady work after basketball. He legally changed his name to “Joshua Hawk” as a part of a spiritual journey and admitted drug use during his career.

In 1987, a tingly feeling in his feet prompted a doctor’s visit that led to surgery to remove bone chips in his neck. During that surgery, it was discovered that a disk was pressing against his spinal cord with a lump between his shoulder blades. A subsequent surgery removed the knuckle-sized mass, which was benign, but he lost use of his legs.

Walk was considered an “incomplete paraplegic” who still experienced leg spasms.

Walk is survived by his wife, Georgia, and a brother.