Posts Tagged ‘Karl Malone’

Morning shootaround — Jan. 30


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clippers completing investigation into Griffin incident | Cavs’ Big Three breaks out | Curry downplays win prediction | How Porzingis became a Knick

No. 1: Clippers completing investigation into Griffin incident After an eventful weeklong road trip, the Clippers returned to Los Angeles last night and beat the Lakers, 105-93. But the story was still Clippers forward Blake Griffin and the injury sustained in an altercation with a Clippers assistant equipment manager. As Ben Bolch writes in the Los Angeles Times, in giving the latest update on the incident, Clippers coach Doc Rivers invoked two former U.S. presidents

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said the team had completed its part of the investigation into an altercation a week ago in Toronto in which Griffin repeatedly punched team assistant equipment manager Matias Testi, leaving Griffin with a broken right hand and Testi with a severely swollen face.

“We’re very satisfied with all the information we have,” Rivers said before the Clippers defeated the Lakers, 105-93, for their ninth consecutive victory in the series. “For us, it’s closed.”

Punishment for Griffin could be announced as soon as early next week, said a person close to the situation not authorized to discuss it publicly. Rivers said the NBA would take the lead in determining disciplinary measures, which could include a suspension and/or a fine.

Griffin is already slated to miss four to six weeks because of his broken hand. Rivers intimated that Griffin would rejoin his teammates on the bench once his punishment was announced but said he was unsure when Testi would return to the locker room.

Rivers said Griffin had expressed remorse in conversations with the coach and his teammates. Griffin also has resumed speaking to Testi, Rivers said, though the coach did not know whether the longtime friends had reached an agreement that would avoid a legal entanglement.

“He feels awful about it and he’s let everyone know that,” Rivers said of Griffin. “That’s all you can do, man. You have to forgive people at some point. I believe that. We built Richard Nixon a library.”

Rivers invoked the name of another controversial U.S. president while discussing whether the use of alcohol precipitated the altercation.

“It depends on what you call ‘alcohol,’” Rivers said. “I feel like Bill Clinton right now. It really does. Did guys have a drink? I’m sure they did. Other than that, I’m going to say, no, alcohol wasn’t involved.”

Rivers said he knew what led to the scuffle but wouldn’t divulge any specifics.

Rivers would not say whether the team intended to require anger management courses for Griffin, who was also involved in an October 2014 incident in which he allegedly grabbed a man at a Las Vegas nightclub after the man had taken pictures of Clippers players with his cellphone. Misdemeanor battery charges were later dropped in the case because of insufficient evidence.

“If that’s what it takes, we’ll do it,” Rivers said of anger management, “but one step at a time right now.”

***

No. 2: Cavs’ Big Three breaks out Thanks to Kyrie Irving‘s knee injury, the Cavs have only had their Big Three of LeBron James, Kevin Love and Irving together for a few weeks this season. Last night against Detroit, in recently appointed coach Tyronn Lue‘s fourth game, the trio finally posted big games at the same time, as each player surpassed 20 points in the Cleveland win. As Dave McMenamin writes for ESPN, it’s the kind of performance the Cavs are hoping to see more of …

Last season, when healthy, that trio was ridiculed as the Big 2 1/2, when Love struggled to find the game he was known for in Minnesota. In the Finals, it became the Big One after Irving joined Love on the injured list. To start this season, it was the Big Two while Irving still recovered from left knee surgery.

And this week, at least by All-Star standards, it became the Big One again; James became the Cavs’ lone representative for next month’s festivities when Irving and Love were left off the East reserves roster despite Cleveland’s No. 1 spot in the conference.

In Friday’s 114-106 win over the Detroit Pistons, however, they gave a glimpse of just how good they can be when they play in harmony. For the first time all season, and only the ninth time since they came to be, each of them scored at least 20 points. Love led the way (29 points on 9-for-19 shooting including 5-for-7 on 3-pointers with 6 rebounds and 3 assists), Irving was right behind him (28 points on 11-for-19, 4 rebounds and 2 assists) and James next (20 points on 7-for-16, 9 rebounds, 8 assists).

While it was their collective effort that helped the Cavs go up by as many as 20 points against a Pistons team that came in 15-7 at home (including an overtime win over Cleveland at the Palace in November), there was individual significance in each of their performances.

For Irving, not only was he exploding offensively after an 8-point outing Wednesday in a win against Phoenix, but he was following coach Tyronn Lue’s instructions while doing so. “I just told Ky, I want him to be aggressive — looking to get his game back, looking to get his legs back,” Lue said before the game. “I want him to be aggressive scoring the ball. I don’t care about his misses or mistakes.”

Before the Phoenix Suns game on Thursday, Lue talked about how efficient the Cavs have become from deep because of their passing (a no-pass shot resulted in 27 percent accuracy, one pass was 32 percent, two passes were 40 percent and then three passes or more, a whopping 52 percent from 3). Irving bristled when asked about the stat after the Phoenix game, perhaps feeling the question was slighting his one-on-one ability. He said his teammates were talented enough to score, no matter how many passes preceded their attempt. It turns out Lue gave special dispensation to Irving. Yes, if there’s an open man, find him. But right now, Lue isn’t counting Irving’s passes or assist totals. The fact that Irving dropped only two dimes in Detroit was OK because his coach’s priority for him right now is simply to push the pace and find the rhythm that will allow him to become dominant again.

For Love, it was the classic statement game you see from a guy who feels as if he has been snubbed from the All-Star Game. While it’s hard to argue that Andre Drummond isn’t deserving of his reserve spot, Love had the better game; Drummond finished with 20 points and eight rebounds in the loss. It was also Love’s best offensive performance since Irving’s return from injury, and it felt like a long time coming.

“We’ll continue to use Kevin the right way, continue to try to get him to his comfort spots and comfort zones,” Lue said. “I think it’ll be good.”

***

No. 3: Curry downplays win prediction Stephen Curry is an avowed fan of the Carolina Panthers, which means next weekend he’s got two big games on his calendar: Super Bowl 50, and of course the Warriors/Thunder matchup. And while Curry has generally preferred to let his play on the court do the talking for him, it was a little surprising when he recently predicted wins that weekend for both the Warriors and the Panthers. After word got back to the Thunder, as Diamond Leung writes, Curry said he was just having fun …

Stephen Curry indicated he was merely having fun when speaking of the Carolina Panthers winning the upcoming Super Bowl and the Warriors also being victorious the night before the football game.

The Warriors’ home game Feb. 6 happens to come against the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team considered to be one of the roadblocks on their path toward repeating as NBA champions.

“It’ll be a good 48 hours — a win and a win,” Curry said Thursday, laughing.

Curry spoke in San Francisco at the announcement of the Warriors’ new arena being named Chase Center, replying to the emcee who noted the reigning MVP had “kind of a big game on Saturday” before he is expected to attend the Super Bowl at Levi’s Stadium to watch his hometown Panthers.

Asked about the comment, Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook gave lengthy stares and one-time MVP Kevin Durant told reporters, “What else is he supposed to say?” before smiling and declining further comment.

“It’s more comical for me because any comments you make are going to get amplified and what have you, so it is what it is,” Curry said of the comment being blown up. “People who know me and know what I’m about know that I’m not the guy out there talking a big game. It’s more what I do on the floor.

“Obviously we want to get a win on Saturday, and obviously I want the (Panthers) to win on Sunday,” Curry said, referring to the Oklahoma City game. “If that means whatever, I’m comfortable with that because I’m going to go out and play hard that night and try to get a win against a good OKC team when that comes around. It’s a different experience (with the comment being blown up) but a learning experience for sure.”

Curry’s comments last week before the Warriors’ game against the Cleveland Cavaliers also raised eyebrows.

“Obviously, walking in the locker room, it’ll be good memories,” Curry said. “Hopefully, it still smells a little bit like champagne.”

Curry later explained he was being sarcastic.

“I’m never going to try to guard what I say,” Curry said. “I just be myself. I respect every single player in this league, every single team in this league, and that’ll never change. A lot of good comes from that quick-trigger reporting where one comment whether it’s sarcastic or trying to be funny or what have you gets blown up, but you’ve got to take the good with the bad.”

***

No. 4: How Porzingis became a Knick In retrospect, it seems like the New York Knicks selecting Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth pick in the 2015 NBA Draft was a no-brainer. But as Adrian Wojnarowski writes in an entertaining story for Yahoo, it nearly didn’t happen, for multiple reasons …

Three days before the 2015 NBA Draft, and Kristaps Porzingis feared everything slipping away. He wanted New York, the Knicks, the Garden. Still, Porzingis needed the Knicks to want him, too. And now, 20 minutes into his private workout for Phil Jackson at the franchise’s suburban practice facility, his quad tightened and his movement stopped. Porzingis bent over, dread washing over him.

“There was most definitely a lot of fear,” Porzingis told The Vertical. “So, so frustrating. This was where I wanted to be – New York. It was my last workout before the draft, and now, this happens.

“As I walked off the court, I was thinking to myself, ‘They’re not going to take me. I didn’t do anything in the workout. They’re not going to take me fourth.’ ”

All around Porzingis, Knicks officials gathered. Immediately, they agreed to end the workout. No need to risk injury, no need to push further. The Knicks had Porzingis dunking medicine balls and shooting and running the floor. For Jackson, this was only his second time watching Porzingis live.

Across the Knicks’ practice gym, Porzingis’ agent, Andy Miller, and Kristaps’ older brother and co-agent, Janis Porzingis, stood on the sidelines. Miller remained unsure of the franchise’s intentions with his client, but had increasingly believed that only the courage to withstand the predictable public outcry of choosing a pasty, 7-foot-3 Latvian teenager in the cynical New York market would stop the Knicks from choosing him.

Hours later, Porzingis sat at dinner with the Knicks elders. Jackson and general manager Steve Mills were probing Porzingis, trying to measure his sense of purpose and maturity to withstand what they believed could be a long learning curve in a most cruel and unforgiving market.

Porzingis was perfect in these settings: engaging and enlightened. They talked and talked about everything but the game, and, finally, Jackson brought it up.

“What do you know about basketball?”

Porzingis hesitated for a moment, stunned, searching for the words. He repeated the question in his mind. What do I know about basketball?

Finally, Porzingis answered: “What do you want me to know about basketball?”

“Do you know defense?” Jackson asked.

“I know defense,” Porzingis said.

And so they talked about some principles of defense and some offense, and looking back Porzingis laughs now. “Phil Jackson is always two steps ahead of you,” he said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Karl Malone called a pizza shopMichael Kidd-Gilchrist returned for the Hornets in a loss last night … Miami Heat big man Chris Bosh wants to compete in the three-point contest at All-Star Weekend … Kristaps Porzingis has to decide what his summer holds … The Staples Center has plans for many more statuesAdam Silver excels at shaking hands

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 …

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

Morning shootaround — Nov. 22


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Nov. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Cuban lets loose | Deron Williams rebounds | Fast-improving Favors is officially a Utah favorite | Warriors not stressing over record

No. 1: Cuban lets loose — The most sought-after interview in the NBA never changes. It’s significant time with Mark Cuban, the Mavericks owner and the maverick owner who always speaks his mind, which he can literally afford to do. Cuban is always entertaining and forthright and pretty much on-point with his thoughts on basketball or really anything you ask of him. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe managed to get some time with Cuban and we’re all better off for it:

He remains the most entertaining owner in the NBA, and he’ll offer an opinion on anything he is asked, making him one of the most transparent figures in sports.

Cuban was asked about the firing of Kevin McHale by his rivals, the Houston Rockets. Cuban has had very public feuds with Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, especially when the Mavericks nabbed swingman Chandler Parsons from the Rockets with a mega-deal in July 2014.

“I like Kevin, I feel bad for him personally, but the rest of it? Whatever,” Cuban said. “I mean, we’ve been in a high-expectation position before. We go to the Finals, we started 0-4 [in 2006-07], and it’s ‘what’s wrong?’ and we came back to win 67 games and lose in the first round.

“So I’ve said it before, the hardest thing for an NBA owner to do is hire a coach. The easiest thing to do is fire a coach. The reason it’s hard to hire a coach, coaches are great at date-face, they know exactly what your weaknesses are and they know exactly how to sell to those weaknesses, so it’s really difficult to pick it right and it’s 90 percent luck.”

Cuban recently signed his coach, Rick Carlisle, to a five-year extension.

“If the hardest thing to find is a good coach, you marry him, you put a ring on it,” Cuban said.

Asked about the escalating salary cap that will kick in next season with the new television contract, Cuban said, “It’s going to change a lot. More from a strategy perspective, it makes the value of draft choices go through the roof because they’re pegged at a certain price. Minimum contracts will go through the roof. Anybody that signs for the mid-level, the value goes through the roof.

“It’s going to be a lot of tough decisions. And in reality, if everything sticks to the projections that we come up with, the cap will go down after that. So that changes what you do as well.

“It will be really interesting. There will be some guys that will get way paid. When guys are making $30 million-plus, it’s going to be tough to have more than one of them.”

Cuban said he has no issues paying players such exorbitant salaries because that is the price of a championship.

“What’s a championship worth?” he said. “I always look at it as a team. The biggest mistake people make in this business is they say this player is worth ‘X.’ That’s never the case. When you insert that player as one of 15, if he can increase the value of [the team], he’s cheap.

“I remember back when we [acquired] Erick Dampier [in the middle of a $49 million contract] and everybody said we were idiots. Without that big body, we don’t go to The Finals, and we still should have won that Finals if it weren’t for three blind mice [i.e. the officials].”

***

No. 2: Deron Williams rebounds — OK, there’s no sense in proclaiming him the leader for comeback story of the year, since Paul George is way ahead and probably won’t look back. But Deron Williams is experiencing somewhat of a rejuvenation in Dallas after being dumped by the Nets and declared finished as a productive player. He’s hardly in All-Star form, yet the Mavericks are surprisingly flourishing right now and Williams is one of the reasons. Last season in Brooklyn, he was on the bench in tight games in favor of Jarrett Jack. But now, the ball’s in his hands and the Mavericks have confidence in him. More importantly, Williams has confidence in himself. Here’s Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News with the details:

He was a crunch-time beast Friday as the Mavericks weathered a hard push from Utah, steadied themselves behind their point guard and whipped the Jazz 102-93 at American Airlines Center for their sixth consecutive victory, matching their longest streak of last season.

At 9-4, the Mavericks hit the road for a three-game trip starting Sunday at Oklahoma City.

Williams finished with 23 points, eight assists, six rebounds and three steals. His 3-pointer after a nice feed from Raymond Felton with two minutes to play put the Mavericks up 95-87. He added to that cushion with a pair of free throws — running his streak to 35 without a miss this season — as the Mavericks finished off the Jazz, who fell behind by 20 but got as close as five down the stretch.

Williams missed almost all of training camp with nagging injuries and had a knee problem early in the regular season. He has rounded into form nicely of late. He took over the Boston game on Wednesday with 11 fourth-quarter points and was every bit as dominant against the Jazz.

Williams isn’t quite ready to pronounce himself as the Mavericks’ closer, but he’s certainly sent a message that he’s capable of doing so.

“Everything’s coming together,” he said. “It’s still early. I don’t want to get ahead of myself. But I definitely feel more comfortable out there. I’m getting opportunities in the fourth. I’ve had a chance to have the ball in my hands at the ends of games, and I can make plays not only for myself and others.”

It’s a nice feeling, one that Williams hasn’t enjoyed often enough in recent seasons. He got overlooked or overshadowed too many times in Brooklyn.

“There were times when I did a lot of standing, a lot of watching,” he said. “And that takes away your aggressiveness. That’s not what I’m good at.”

***

No. 3:Fast improving Favors is a Utah favorite — Interesting thing about Deron Williams: He cost the Nets a lot, and not just $100 million. Remember, the Nets surrendered a promising teenage power forward named Derrick Favors to get Williams, and years later, it’s clear that Utah came out ahead. Favors’ game is maturing and he’s becoming a double-double guy, following previous Jazz low-post beats who collected doubles, Karl Malone and Al Jefferson. The sixth-year forward spent time with Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune, who offers this:

“I think last year was my first time having fun again, playing basketball,” Favors said. “I got comfortable with talking to the coaches. I felt more responsible and got more comfortable as a team leader. I have more responsibility offensively and defensively. I feel better in my role, and I think that’s made me open up a lot more.”

As the Jazz prepare to face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday, Favors is shining in his role as a difference-making power forward.

Favors, in his sixth season out of Georgia Tech, is averaging 16 points and nine rebounds per game, to go with 1.5 blocks. He’s been a hub offensively in the post and on the perimeter when he drifts to 15-18 feet from the basket. Defensively, he’s been almost spectacular, not just blocking shots, but in pick-and-roll coverages and defending the perimeter against stretch power forwards and smaller guards.

Beyond the numbers, Favors is playing with an edge previously unseen. For the first time in his career, he’s showing emotion on the floor, scowling after snatching rebounds, celebrating after baskets. People are noticing. Whispers around the league suggest Favors could have a shot at the All-Star Game, if he continues to play well and if the Jazz find consistency in the win column.

Yet, he remains unfazed.

“I think I’ve played well, but I feel like can play a lot better,” Favors said. “As far as offensively, I feel like I can play better, like there’s more stuff I can do. As far as being an All-Star, you never know. You never know how stuff works out, as far as how political the process is.”

So, how has Favors been able to explode? He said the maturation has been six years in the making. He came into the NBA a raw specimen, a 6-foot-10 athletic man-child with few refined skills.

As the No. 3 pick of his draft, Favors was supposed to dominate from the jump. He didn’t, and needed time to adjust, something the then-New Jersey Nets decided they didn’t have enough of. So Favors was brought to Utah in the Deron Williams trade.

Favors was stung by that trade, and to this day plays with a chip because of it. He felt discarded, unwanted at a young age, and was stung by the criticism of him needing development.

The result today is a Favors with an offensive game that’s becoming more well-rounded by the year. He has a consistent jumper. He’s effective with his back to the basket. He’s always been great rebounding the ball for points and he’s becoming a better passer.

***

No. 4:Warriors not stressing over record — How did we make it this far in the Morning Shootaround without the obligatory Warriors mention? OK, here it goes. The Warriors can tie the NBA record for fastest start tonight against the Nuggets and maybe you’ve heard about that. Well, if you believe the Warriors, they’re taking this historic start in stride, which is in their best interest. Nothing makes these guys sweat, which is easy to avoid when you have Steph Curry on the squad, hitting jumpers, and others filling in. Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle is with the gang and filed this observation:

The Warriors go for 15 wins in a row Sunday night, and they’ll have to descend about 2 miles in order to reach Pepsi Center’s mile-high altitude. This is a team that is locked in and loosey-goosey, a dangerous combo.

Luke Walton, the interim head coach, was talking Friday night about the Warriors’ team vibe. Apparently, behind closed locker-room doors, these fellows laugh a lot. Walton recalled a pregame moment from last season’s NBA Finals. The Warriors were coming off a loss, they were in trouble, looking beatable in Cleveland.

Steve Kerr and his assistants were huddled in their own locker room minutes before show time, mapping last-minute strategy. They were also wondering about the emotional state of their players.

From next door in the Warriors’ locker room, peals of raucous laughter rang out.

Kerr said to his staff, “I guess they’re going to be all right.”

They were. They are.

In this expert’s opinion, the Warriors will not go 82-0 in this regular season. But whatever losses they suffer won’t be due to the pressure finally getting to them.

One of the key elements Kerr brought to the Warriors — and it remains solidly with them even during his absence from bench — is that, dammit, you’d better have fun.

That’s why the Warriors end many practices with a wild free-for-all shooting contest, as mature as a food fight.
Kerr’s philosophy is that this is dead-serious business, but it’s basketball, played best with a soaring spirit and childlike exuberance.

“Fun, that’s the No. 1 priority,” Draymond Green said Friday night. “That’s what coach Kerr has preached from Day 1: Have fun. Got the best job in the world, we come to play basketball for a living, with guys that we like.”

So the streak is not weighing on you?

“Absolutely not. Not at all.”

Of course, it’s easier (I’m guessing) to have fun when you never lose. There will be sterner tests ahead of the Warriors’ joviality. Right now, they’ve got the top down and they’re enjoying the ride.

But enjoying it too much? If Kerr were speaking publicly these days (no timetable on his return, by the way, but indications are that his recovery is progressing) he would likely express some concern about his team getting a little too loose.

Kerr wants the Warriors to be lightning-fast and creative, but not sloppy and careless. He convinced his team last season that it’s possible to be fast and smart.

The last three games, team leader and floor general Stephen Curry has crossed over into Kerr’s concern area, to the point where Kerr kidded Curry about how much money he’s losing to his mom in their ongoing turnovers bet.

Curry averaged 3.9 turnovers last year as the league MVP. He said before the season that, because of the team’s maturing and his own off-season training, he expected turnovers to go down. Sure enough, through the first 11 games, Curry averaged 3.1 turnovers.

But the last three games Curry turned the ball over seven, seven and six times. Too many.

Walton said Curry’s recent turnover flurry was partly due to opponents’ scouting and scheming for Curry’s tendencies, and the Warriors’ coaches and Steph would need to counter.

But some of it is just Curry’s attack/create mentality. He’s not looking to make crazy passes just to show off, but he is constantly seeking a higher level of basketball, which steepens the risk-reward curve.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Gregg Popovich is amazed that folks in San Antonio want to name schools after him. … Dwyane Wade is getting older and he’s getting smarter. … Lance Stephenson was supposed to help the Clippers, remember? What happened? … Toronto must find a way to minimize the absence of Jonas Valanciunas, out with a broken bone in his non-shooting hand, and good luck with that. … Meanwhile, Brandon Jennings is getting close to making his return.

Morning Shootaround — August 10


VIDEO: LeBron James’ top 10 plays from the playoffs

MJ says he’d beat LeBron 1-on-1 | Exum injury doesn’t destroy Jazz | Time to make room for women coaches in NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: MJ says he’d beat LeBron 1-on-1, all-time Bulls would top all-time Lakers — When Michael Jordan speaks, we all listen. And he said plenty over the weekend at his annual Flight School, answering plenty of pertinent questions for the campers in attendance, including how he’d handle LeBron James in a game of 1-on-1 in his prime and responded to Shaq‘s challenge in regards to how the all-time great Bulls teams would fare against an all-time great team of Los Angeles Lakers. He poked Kobe Bryant, too, and even discussed Kwame BrownPatrick Dorsey of ESPN.com has the details: 

What did I think about when Shaq said that the all-time five of the greatest Lakers could beat the Bulls’ five greatest players?

“I just felt like he was just talking. It’s a debate. The thing is that we would never know. I think we would have killed them. He thinks they would have killed us. You guys decide. It’s just a debate.”

Favorite player to play pick-up games with?

“My best pick-up game I’ve ever played was the games and the practices with the [1992] Dream Team. … My team was myself, Scottie Pippen, Patrick Ewing, Larry Bird and Chris Mullin. We played against Magic Johnson, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, David Robinson — that’s five, right? — and we killed ’em.

Note: That’s not five; the other player team’s fifth had to be either Karl Malone, John Stockton or Christian Laettner. There’s also a chance Jordan is misremembering a bit, and he’s talking aboutthis scrimmage covered in-depth by Sports Illustrated, which featured a Jordan-Malone-Ewing-Pippen-Bird five against Magic, Barkley, Robinson, Mullin and Laettner (although a 40-36 final score in favor of Jordan’s team hardly constitutes a “killing.”)

If I had the chance to go one-on-one with Steph Curry or LeBron, which one would I choose to go one-on-one with?

“Right now, or when I was in my prime? Right now? Buddy, I couldn’t beat — well, I’d go against [Stephen] Curry because I’m a little bit bigger than him. So I could kind of back him in. But LeBron is a little bit too big.”

[Note: Take that, 34 percent of America.]

If I had a chance to add another member to team Jordan, who would I hire?

“I’m a big fan of [Mike] Trout, the baseball player. I absolutely love him. I wish I could hire him. But he’s Nike, so I can’t steal Nike’s guys.”

This is the ESPN question. I know it’s going to be all over ESPN. [Note: He was right.]If I was in my prime, could I beat LeBron in a one-on-one game?

[Long pause in which the campers mutter/shout their opinions.]

No question!

[Huge applause.]

What did I see in Kwame Brown when I drafted him [No. 1 overall for the Washington Wizards in 2001]?

“I, along with everybody that was in that draft room, wanted Kwame Brown because of his athleticism, his size, his speed. He was still a young talent, 18-year-old, 19-year-old kid.”

If you went back and you couldn’t play basketball or baseball, what sport would you play?

“Great question. I went to college, I got my degree in cultural geography, and everybody wanted to know what is cultural geography? Well it’s an introduction to meteorology. I always wanted to be the weather man. Don’t laugh. But that’s what I really wanted to do. So if I wasn’t playing basketball or baseball, I was going to tell you what the weather was going to be like tomorrow.”

[Note: Don’t think meteorology is a sport? Tell that to Jim Cantore!]

What kind of advice would I give Kobe Bryant?

[Uncomfortable laughter in the crowd.]

“Actually, Kobe and I are good friends. I like Kobe, we talk a lot, I hope he comes back healthy. I think he’s one of the great players of the game, I think he’s done a lot for the game, and he has a true love for the game of basketball. I absolutely have high regard for Kobe Bryant.

“Even though he stole all my moves, but that’s OK. I still love him like a brother.”

*** (more…)

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 203) Super Team Redux

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Maybe one superstar, one healthy, game-changing true superstar is all you need.

That one transcendent star might be just enough to get you into the building to compete for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Or at least that is the story they are telling today in Cleveland, where LeBron James has guided the Cavaliers back to The Finals for the first time since 2007.

He didn’t promise this when he returned home last summer, at least not right away. But the Cavaliers are here now, awaiting either the Golden State Warriors or the Houston Rockets in The Finals next week.

And since we have a few days to ponder it, what does this feat for LeBron say about today’s NBA and what it takes to scale the mountain?

An hobbled Kyrie Irving and an injured Kevin Love should have been a recipe for disaster in the conference semifinals against Chicago. That was not the case. LeBron rendered that point moot with stellar work night after night and did the same against the Atlanta Hawks in the conference finals sweep. Can he do it again? We shall see.

In the meantime, let’s talk about the theory of a Super Team and whether or not that’s what you need to compete for it all, to win it all. Recent history is split on that (LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were 2-2 in the big series).

History says there are no guarantees for Super Teams, as our very own Rick Fox would know, having witnessed a Super Team meltdown of his own with the Los Angeles Lakers’ monster squad of Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Gary Payton — the one coached by the Zen Master himself, Phil Jackson. The same star-studded crew that fell to the ultimate team, the 2004 champion Detroit Pistons.

Mix it up with us on Episode 203 of The Hang Time Podcast: Super Team Redux …

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 and the best sound designer/engineer in the business, Andrew Merriman.

– 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: LeBron James leads the Cleveland Cavaliers past the Atlanta Hawks and into The Finals for the first time since 2007

Morning shootaround — May 27


VIDEO: Highlights from Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron seeking new Finals narrative | Did Shaq really threaten to kill Kobe? | Myers: Curry passed concussion protocol twice | Hawks have plenty to prove

No. 1: LeBron seeking new narrative with this Cavs team — The wait to return to the NBA Finals for the Cavaliers is over, and it seemed even longer than it was. LeBron James took the Cavs to the 2007 Finals, where they were swept by the Spurs and admittedly weren’t ready in any way to challenge for a championship. Then LeBron went to Miami three years later, won a pair of titles and left the Cavs in a rut. Have things changed much since then? Well, the Cavs will once again be the underdog in the Finals, as they were against the Spurs, but LeBron likes the latest version to offer a lot more resistance. Bud Shaw of the Northeast Ohio Media Group has more:

LeBron James understandably jumped into Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ arms that night in 2007, then climbed atop the scorer’s table. Austin Carr wept. Strangers hugged in the concourse.

Mike Brown stood at center court on a night much like the one that unfolded Tuesday at the Q, saying of the matchup with Gregg Popovich and the Spurs, “I’m in it to win it.”

This time, James was happy for sure, but also more subdued. David Blatt wasn’t nearly as bold as was Brown.

“We’re in Cleveland, nothing is easy here,” Blatt told TNT’s Ernie Johnson.

This time, though, the Cavs in it to win it is a narrative that might even be true.

They are 12-2 in the post season, winners of seven straight since James hit a corner buzzer beater in Game 4 against Chicago.

They swept a 60-win team in a series-clinching rout. They made the Hawks look like the Spurs made the Cavs look in 2007. As if they didn’t belong.

James was 22 when he vanquished the Pistons in a much tougher series. He’s 30 now. For five consecutive years, he’s treated the NBA Finals like a time share, showing up every June and twice putting up his feet as if he owned the place.

If it’s Golden State this time around, as we expect it will be, James isn’t going in early to visit wine country. This is happening sooner than he thought before the midseason makeover. But nothing about this is especially surprising.

Another title puts him halfway to Michael Jordan. More importantly — and I believe it is for him — a NBA title ends a half century drought in a city that once cursed him.

There are so many themes involved in what’s to come. Happy to be there isn’t one of them.

Good for James that he has a much better supporting cast, even without Kevin Love and with Kyrie Irving hobbled, though we suspect Irving will need to have two pretty good legs under him for the Cavs to win.

Against San Antonio, the Cavs scored 76, 92, 72 and 82 points. This Cavaliers’ team can score 10 different ways. (Eleven if it’s safe to now count the Tristan Thompson rebound, and stepback buzzer beater from 18 feet).

*** (more…)

NBA’s Frantic Four trying to change history


VIDEO: Relive the biggest moments from the semifinals

There’s no official and catchy distinction for the last teams standing in the NBA semifinals, no Final Four or Frozen Four or anything like that, but here’s one that might best describe the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks and Houston Rockets: Frantic Four.

Yes, there’s more than a sense of desperation. These are four franchises that haven’t won an NBA title in a combined 162 years. Not since 1958 for the Hawks (based in St. Louis then), since 1975 for the Warriors, since 1995 for the Rockets and since, like, never for the Cavs. There are adult fans of those teams who’ve never known the thrill of the ultimate victory or seen a parade or felt the need to brag. In the case of the Hawks, they’ve never been to the East finals before, and once they beat the Wizards last week and advanced, Atlanta nearly reacted as though it won a real championship.

And so, with regard to these four teams searching for a change of fate, we examine their level of desperation for this 2015 title and rank them accordingly.

No. 4: Houston Rockets


VIDEO: Houston wraps up its second championship in 1995

In the midst of a celebration in June of 1995, Rudy Tomjanovich grabbed the mic and uttered one of the most memorable lines in NBA history: “Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion.” Rudy T was tweaking those who thought the Rockets were too old to repeat, which they did, but it’s been a 20-season long dry spell since. Evidently, everyone correctly estimated the staying power of the Rockets.

That two-time championship team died gradually. The Rockets tried to tape it together with an old and broken down Charles Barkley and that crew eventually made the 1997 West finals. But they had to watch as John Stockton sank a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in Game 6 (in Barkley’s face) to send the Utah Jazz to The Finals. Then, in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, they added another dinosaur: Scottie Pippen. Within four years, all of the important pieces of the championship era were gone, including Hakeem Olajuwon, looking grotesquely out of place in a purple jersey with a cheesy reptile in Toronto.

Houston did give it another go with Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, but injuries kept interrupting their time together and the Rockets advanced beyond the first round only once.

Since 1995, the Rockets have basically been a mixed bag, reaching the West finals once and then being mercifully teased by the T-Mac-and-Yao era. GM Daryl Morey then stole James Harden from OKC and signed Dwight Howard as a free agent and, well, here they are. In that span, they moved to a state-of-the-art downtown arena (Toyota Center) and enjoyed big crowds. Not exactly the picture of doom, which means, life without a title hasn’t been totally dreadful. (more…)

Blogtable: Where will Dirk finish?

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: Thoughts on Cavs’ deal? | Struggling marquee teams | Where will Dirk finish?



VIDEODirk Nowitzki is now the NBA’s No. 7 all-time scorer

> Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki has zoomed up to No. 7 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. With two years left on his contract after this season (and who knows after that?) where do you think Dirk will settle on this list when all’s said and done?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I was in the visitors’ dressing room in Milwaukee last month when Nowitzki sat out a game (second of a back-to-back) he otherwise could have played in. His comment on that night of rest for his weary bones: “I want to play for the Mavericks for a long time, so…” Clearly he has no intention of stepping off the all-time points ladder anytime soon. But if he settles into, say, a 17 ppg scorer and manages his body through 70 games a year, that moves him along at about 1,500 points per season. That gets him past Shaquille O’Neal (28,596) and perhaps Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) but Micheal Jordan (32,292) might be a rung too high.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: As long as he stays healthy, I’m thinking Dirk won’t be ready to hang it up in two more years. He’s got Mark Cuban, who’ll keep pushing at the envelope to surround him with a roster that will keep the Mavs in playoff contention. So I’m going high and guessing that he does what would have been unthinkable when he was drafted back in 1998 and passes Michael Jordan, but tucks in behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone and Kobe Bryant at No. 4.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comAnother spot for sure, past Shaquille O’Neal, and probably past Wilt Chamberlain to crash the top five. That’s remarkable real estate even for the staunchest Dirk backers. I wouldn’t count him out of No. 4 and Michael Jordan either. I just don’t think it’s an easy call at that point.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI say he finishes 5th at best and passes Wilt and Shaq. It’ll help to have Rajon Rondo around to get easier buckets (assuming Rondo sticks around after this season). Of course, we are also assuming Dirk stays healthy, something he has managed to do for much of his career.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comDirk will get past Shaq next season, but unless he misses only a few games, he won’t catch Wilt on this contract. So the question really comes down to whether you think he’ll play another year (at the age of 39) after that. I’ll guess that he does, passes Wilt, and finishes at No. 5, where he’ll eventually be passed by LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comGiven the way his career started, Dirk working his way into the top five will stand as a truly remarkable feat. I think he slides into the top four before it’s all said and done, not that I put a ton of stock into the top whatever when you get to the single digits on this list. Anyone in the top 40 all-time has done ridiculous work. The top 20 is unbelievable. The top 10 jaw-dropping. And that top five makes you one of the unquestioned greatest scorers in the history of the game, a Hall of Fame shoe-in and a guy in need of a statue outside of an arena somewhere around the league.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: If his team is in title contention, he’s healthy and he’s loving the life, then he could extend beyond 2017 because his length and skills would enable him to play for as long he likes. But he will be 39 at that time. Think about all of those hard private workouts that enable him to maintain his current level. We should be appreciating Nowitzki on the likelihood that we’ll never see anyone like him again after 2017, when he’ll probably retire as the No. 6 scorer, just behind Wilt Chamberlain.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: This question involves a lot of math and therefore heavily favors Schuhmann. Just wanted to point that out. Dirk is 36 years old and is averaging just over 18 points per game this season. Let’s assume he plays until he’s 40, so four more seasons including this one. Let’s also assume his scoring rate slows by a point each season, so he goes from 18 to 17 to 16 to 15. And let’s also guess there will be games missed due to injury, so let’s just say he averages about 65 games a season for four seasons. By my calculations, that’s: (18 x 65) + (17 x 65) + (16 x 65) + (15 x 65) = 4290

So, if Dirk scores 4,290 more points, he’ll have a total of 31,702 points, which would put him into fifth all-time, behind Michael Jordan and ahead of Wilt Chamberlain. This now concludes my one arithmetic problem for 2015.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 27


VIDEO: Check out all the highlights from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Josh Smith makes winning debut for Rockets | Magic rouses LeBron, Cavs take win | Watch out Kobe, here comes Dirk | Bucks looking for different advantages

No. 1: Josh Smith makes winning debut for Rockets — There’s no place like home for the holidays … as long as you have a home. After being waived earlier this week by the Detroit Pistons, Josh Smith agreed to a free-agent deal with the Houston Rockets. Friday night he made his debut for the Rockets in Memphis against the Western Conference power Grizzlies, tallying 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists in Houston’s 117-111 overtime win. As Jonathan Feigen writes in the Houston Chronicle, Smith provided the Rockets exactly what they were looking for when they signed him…

The Rockets had no intention of relying so heavily on forward Josh Smith with the ink on his contract barely dry.

They did not even intend to play him so long into the night.

The Rockets knew they wanted Smith the minute the Detroit Pistons cut him loose.

They needed him as soon as they plugged him into the rotation.

With the Grizzlies defending Smith with Vince Carter, the Rockets went to him again and again down the stretch Friday night, not only helping key a comeback to a 117-111 overtime win but offering a glimpse of the sort of talent they had plugged into the mix.

“They think big of my talents,” Smith said. “This is a team that instills confidence in all of its players.”

With the two-season disaster in Detroit rapidly behind him, Smith had 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists in his Rockets debut, tacking on the game-winning free throws in overtime when he grabbed consecutive offensive rebounds and then knocked down a pair of free throws for a four-point lead.

***

No. 2: Magic rouses LeBron, Cavs take win — The Orlando Magic are still in the nascent stages of their rebuilding plan, and as such still have lessons to learn. Last night, hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were without an injured Kyrie Irving, the Magic learned an important truth: You come at the King, you best not miss. With Orlando leading the Cavs 64-62 in the third quarter, Magic forward Tobias Harris and LeBron James got tangled under the basket and exchanged some heated words. Whoops. As Chris Haynes writes, Harris woke a sleeping giant, helping push Cleveland to the win…

James looked out of sorts. Disinterested. He had three turnovers in the first 10 minutes.

Orlando was up 64-62 in the third quarter and a coasting James was 5-for-13 from the field. The Magic was on pace to steal one. Harris, acting as the catalyst, had 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting.

Then things suddenly changed.

Midway through the third, Harris was facing up James on the baseline and to create some separation; he flung his elbows around in the vicinity of James’ face. James backed up to avoid the connection, but he took exception and said something to Harris.

The two jawed back and forth at one another and had to be separated. While walking away, Harris yelled, “Stop flopping.”

“He barked up the wrong tree,” the Cavs’ Dion Waiters said of Harris after the game.

A sleeping giant was awakening.

Two possessions later, James stole a crosscourt pass and shot out on a one-man break. Orlando’s Elfrid Payton managed to get a hold of James from the back and James took him along for the ride to finish the left-handed layup, plus the foul.

The four-time MVP proceeded to trot past Orlando’s bench to have a few words before taking his foul shots. Just like that, James was awakened.

“That’s the best player in the world,” the Cavs’ Kevin Love said. “That’s something you don’t want to do.”

From that point on James dominated Harris, going 5-for-7 in the final 17 minutes. He scored 15 of his game-high 29 points in the fourth. After that alteration with James, Harris only scored one point. He finished with 17 points on 6-for-12.

***

No. 1: Watch out Kobe, here comes Dirk — Much was made earlier this season of Kobe Bryant‘s pursuit of Michael Jordan and the third spot on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Last night there was another repositioning of the list, though a few spots down from Kobe and MJ. Dallas’s Dirk Nowitzki moved into 8th on the all-time scoring list, passing Elvin Hayes in a 102-98 Dallas win over the Lakers. As Dirk joked after the game, he’s now got Kobe squarely in his sights, writes ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon

“I told [Kobe] that I was going to catch him,” Nowitzki said after his Dallas Mavericks defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 102-98 with Bryant resting and watching from the bench. “But that’s going to be tough.”

Nowitzki now stands eighth among scorers in NBA history, five spots behind Bryant, after passing Hall of Fame forward Elvin Hayes on Friday night.

Nowitzki needed six points entering the game to pass Hayes, who finished his career with 27,313 points, and did so on a midrange jumper off a feed from Monta Ellis on the opening possession of the second half.

Nowitzki, who has been battling a stomach illness for about two weeks, finished the game with 14 points in 24 minutes, giving him 27,322 points in his career.

“I’m fortunate to have great teammates to put me in position to keep scoring, even as I’m older,” said Nowitzki, a 36-year-old who has spent his entire 17-year career with the Mavs. “It’s been fun. Still competing at a high level and hopefully will win a lot more games these last couple of years, which really means more to me right now than all the points. But it’s definitely been a fun ride.”

Hayes is the second top-10 all-time scorer passed by Nowitzki this season. Nowitzki bumped Hakeem Olajuwon to No. 10 on the list in a Nov. 11 win over the Sacramento Kings.

Nowitzki, who is averaging 18.5 points per game this season, likely will pass Moses Malone (27,409 career points) in early January to move into seventh on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

With 32,365 points and counting, Bryant is almost certainly out of reach for Nowitzki. However, Nowitzki should pass Shaquille O’Neal (28,596 points) next season and has a chance to move into the top five by passing Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) before he retires.

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No. 1: Bucks looking for different advantages — The Milwaukee Bucks were purchased by a collection of investors led by some New York financial titans in 2013, and since then they’ve been attempting to build a stronger infrastructure for the franchise, in some ways by utilizing some creative thinking. One way they’ve done that: Spending money on people who do things NBA teams have traditionally undervalued, or perhaps not valued at all. For instance, as Kevin Randall writes in the New York Times, the Bucks recently hired a “facial coding expert”…

So in May, the team hired Dan Hill, a facial coding expert who reads the faces of college prospects and N.B.A. players to determine if they have the right emotional attributes to help the Bucks.

The approach may sound like palm reading to some, but the Bucks were so impressed with Hill’s work before the 2014 draft that they retained him to analyze their players and team chemistry throughout this season.

“We spend quite a bit of time evaluating the players as basketball players and analytically,” said David Morway, Milwaukee’s assistant general manager, who works for the owners Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry. “But the difficult piece of the puzzle is the psychological side of it, and not only psychological, character and personality issues, but also team chemistry issues.”

Hill contends that faces betray our true emotions and can predict intentions, decisions and actions. He employs the psychologist Paul Ekman’s widely accepted FACS, or Facial Action Coding System, to decipher which of the 43 muscles in the face are working at any moment. Seven core emotions are identified: happiness, surprise, contempt, disgust, sadness, anger and fear.

Before the 2014 draft, Hill spent 10 hours with Milwaukee’s team psychologist, Ramel Smith, watching video of various college prospects and picking apart the psyches of potential picks. The Bucks had the No. 2 selection over all as well as three second-round picks, one of which they traded.

A vexing player at the top of the draft was Dante Exum, a point guard from Australia who was projected to be taken among the top four selections. Smith had done player personality analyses but wanted to validate them by having Hill present his player assessments first. The Bucks selected Jabari Parker with their top pick, and Exum fell to Utah at No. 5.

“Nothing against Exum, but emotional resiliency, stability and an immediate, assured presence were all key considerations in support of selecting Parker,” Hill said.

Until he sustained a severe knee injury on Dec. 15, Parker was among the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year honors, averaging 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds. Exum is averaging 4.9 points and 2.0 assists coming off the bench for the Jazz.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jared Dudley couldn’t miss last night in Atlanta. Like, literally, he couldn’t miss … Kenneth Faried was basically unstoppable for Denver last night … After passing him on the all-time scoring list, Kobe Bryant said Michael Jordan urged him to now go after Karl Malone … Did Kevin Garnett play his final game in Boston? … Quincy Acy got a one-game suspension for his Christmas Day scuffle with John WallDajuan Wagner is in the early stages of mounting a comeback