Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Garnett’

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 149): The Brooklyn Nets … Featuring Joe Johnson And Jake Appleman

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — It’s rare that we get to examine issues like freedom of speech, civil rights in sports, the ongoing debate about the “N” word being used on the court and field of play and locker rooms and other hot button topics of the day beyond the game of basketball.

Then again, is there a better forum for a closer of examination of those issues and how they impact the broader context of sports than right here? From Jason Collins to Michael Sam to the current state of affairs of the Brooklyn Nets and where they are headed, we’ve got it all on Epispde 149 of the Hang Time Podcast: The Brooklyn Nets … featuring All-Star swingman Joe Johnson and Brooklyn Bounce author Jake Appleman.

Collins and Sam are breaking new ground in their respective sports, Collins as the first openly gay player to suit up and play in one of the major North American sports and Sam as the first openly gay NFL draft prospect. Collins has history with the Nets, having played for the franchise earlier in his career (during their Finals days) and as a former teammate of Johnson, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and even Nets coach Jason Kidd.

Our friends at NBAE also provide us with a fantastic look back at All-Star Weekend in Sounds of the Game and the basement gets a new tenant in this week’s edition of Braggin’ Rights.

You get all of that and more on Episode 149 of the Hang Time Podcast: The Brooklyn Nets … featuring All-Star swingman Joe Johnson and Brooklyn Bounce author Jake Appleman …

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 engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– 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: Jason Collins makes history with the Brooklyn Nets

Collins And Nets Breaking Barriers

VIDEO: Jason Collins signs with the Nets

Less than two months ago when they were 10-21 following a New Year’s Eve thumping, one might have believed there was a better chance of seeing an openly gay athlete in a NBA game than seeing Brooklyn in the playoffs.

Now Jason Collins and the Nets will try to break down barriers together.

By signing the 35-year-old 7-footer to a 10-day contract, it could be said the No. 8 seeded team is clawing desperately to hold onto the last playoff spot in the moribund Eastern Conference.

“The decision to sign Jason was a basketball decision,” Nets general manager Billy King said in the statement. “We needed to increase our depth inside, and with his experience and size, we felt he was the right choice for a 10-day contract.”

And maybe if this were 10 or 20 years from now, that’s all it would be, a line of agate type in the transactions column.

For now though, it is one giant leap for sportskind, if only because it is the official opening of the societal and cultural closet door.

“Jason told us that his goal was to earn another contract with an NBA team,” said commissioner Adam Silver. “Today, I want to commend him on achieving his goal. I know everyone in the NBA family is excited for him and proud that our league fosters an inclusive and respectful environment.”

Athlete Ally ambassador and Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried said: “With Jason Collins signing with the Nets today, I believe our world as professional athletes will open up and become less ignorant of gay male athletes playing and more accepting and embracing of the whole situation.”

It was back in April of last year when Collins revealed himself in Sports Illustrated to become the first openly gay male athlete in one of the four major American sports.

That announcement brought praise from President Obama, an invitation to the State of the Union address and a much higher profile than Collins had ever achieved with a 12-year NBA career in which he averaged just 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. Yet it didn’t bring a training camp invitation from any of the 30 NBA clubs.

In the meantime, University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam jumped into the headlines with his announcement that he is gay. Coming from the SEC co-defensive player of the year ahead of the NFL draft and from a 24-year-old at the start of his pro career, Sam’s revelation was immediately considered much more a test of tolerance in the testosterone filled air of sports, even if it had been met with a collective shrug in his own college locker room last fall.

“We would accept it greatly and it shouldn’t be a problem, man,” Nets guard Joe Johnson told reporters last week. “We’ve got a veteran group and I think everybody is pretty comfortable in their own skin. It’s about what he can do to help us out there on that court. That’s what it’s about.”

Point guard Deron Williams said if Collins’ addition would help the team, he’s in favor.

“I think it’s definitely going to be a media circus just because of the situation,” Williams said. “But I think with the type of team that we have, veterans who have played with him before and know him, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

The Nets, in fact, are probably the most logical and comfortable fit for Collins. For one, team owner Mikhail Prokorov campaigned for gay rights during his presidential bid in Russia. What’s more, veterans Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are former teammates of Collins and Pierce was his most ardent backer when Collins came out last spring. Coach Jason Kidd also played alongside Collins with the Nets and will surely help foster an inclusive attitude.

“To each his own,” Pierce said back in April. “It’s probably going to open the door to many more. There’s so many professional athletes, there’s so many human beings, that are scared … because of the exposure of sports and what people might think about it. But I think what he did was a great thing, just to kind of open the door for other athletes who probably now are going to have the courage to come out.”

There has already, of course, been an outcry from some on social media that it is all a story manufactured and overblown for a player whose career has been marginal at best. No one is interested, they say and post and tweet. Yet the fact they have read and posted and tweeted is the clearest contradiction of themselves.

Collins has put himself in the spotlight. However, the Nets also deserve credit for looking past any potential distractions to help shoulder the burden and make history.

Heat All-Star guard Dwyane Wade got the news and summed up what matters on the court about Collins: “One thing I know about him is he fouled very hard. …Welcome back.”

For a chance to pull on the jersey, to lace up the sneakers, to try to help get the once forlorn Nets into the playoffs, smashing one previously unthinkable notion at a time.

Nets Keep Looking To Spend, Improve

Brooklyn acquired guard Marcus Thornton from the Kings to increase its offensive production.

Brooklyn picked up guard Marcus Thornton from the Kings to increase its offensive production.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The first trade of deadline week went down Wednesday afternoon, with the Brooklyn Nets acquiring Marcus Thornton from the Sacramento Kings for Reggie Evans and Jason Terry.

The deal adds about $700,000 in salary and $2.7 million in luxury taxes to Brooklyn’s books this season. Next season, when all three guys are still under contract, it adds about the *same amount.

* More salary, less tax, because, at this point, Brooklyn is only in the third of five tax-payment tiers for ’14-15. Give ‘em time, though.

So, it’s a bit of an investment for Mikhail Prokhorov. But in theory, it should help the Nets continue to move up the Eastern Conference standings.

Brooklyn is 14-6 since Jan. 1, a stretch in which they’ve gone from 10th to seventh in the East. They’re just 2 1/2 games out of a top-four seed and need to keep moving up to avoid playing the Pacers or Heat in the first round and have a decent shot at the conference semifinals.

After all the money they spent last summer, anything less than the second round would be a colossal failure. So hey, they might as well spend a few more million if it can make them better.

And as good as the Nets have played in 2014, they still have plenty of room for improvement. They rank 15th offensively and sixth defensively since Jan. 1. Given all their talent, they should be better at putting the ball in the basket.

That’s where Thornton comes in. Since Jan. 1, the Nets have scored 108.3 points per 100 possessions with Deron Williams on the floor (a rate which would rank fifth in the league in that time) and just 100.6 with him on the bench (a rate which would rank 25th). Though Williams hasn’t been at his best, he’s still the most important offensive player on his team.

Shaun Livingston has been one of the Nets’ bright spots and has worked well with Williams in the starting lineup, but the Nets’ second-unit offense could use a boost. Terry has been a disappointment, Alan Anderson‘s production has dropped off and, as brilliant as Andrei Kirilenko has been, he’s made two shots outside of the paint all season.

The problem is that Thornton has been having the worst shooting season of his career, with an effective field goal percentage of just 45.7 percent. That’s worse than Terry was shooting.

So, the hope for Brooklyn is that Thornton can find his shot again. It was less than a month ago that he tied a career high with 42 points (shooting 7-for-15 from 3-point range) against the best defense of the last 37 years.

While he’s been rather inefficient this season, Thornton gives the Nets a higher ceiling and more potency than they had with Terry. If he plays well, he certainly fills a need.

The same could be said about Jordan Hill, if the Nets can get him from the Lakers for their disabled-player exception. In the same way that their offense takes a hit when their Williams sits, their defense falls apart when Kevin Garnett goes to the bench.

But you wonder how Hill would fit in a second-unit frontline that already includes Kirilenko, Andray Blatche and Mirza Teletovic. Each of those guys brings something to the table, the Nets have outscored their opponents by 21.5 points per 100 possessions in 115 minutes with the three of them on the floor together, and at least one of them would see a decrease in minutes if Hill was brought on board.

And then there’s the money. The Nets wouldn’t be sending any salary to L.A. in exchange for Hill, so he would cost them about $1.3 million in salary ($3.5 million prorated for the remainder in the season) and a whopping $16.6 million in luxury tax, bringing their total tax bill to more than $98 million. Add that to their salaries and they’d be a $200-million team.

That’s a lot of dough for a squad that doesn’t stand much of a chance of reaching the conference finals. But you can’t say that the Nets aren’t afraid to make a move or spend some money to address their needs.

Time To Step It Up For The Stretch Run


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony talks about the challenges facing the Knicks

Now that the slam dunking, 3-point shooting and other wretched excess of NBA All-Star weekend is in the rearview mirror, even those of us who aren’t 7-footers can stand on our tip-toes and see the playoffs from here.

There’s jockeying the standings to be done: Races for the No. 1 seeding in both the Eastern and Western Conference, the long-shot hopefuls trying to sneak in at the No. 8 spot and the down-to-the-wire elbowing for home-court advantage in the first round.

While Kobe Bryant continues driving himself to make it back onto the court this season because, well, he’s Kobe Bryant, there are a handful of other players and teams who need to step up their games coming down the homestretch:

Deron Williams — After a slow start a year ago, Williams found his stride and finished strong, averaging 22 points and 10 assists per game in the second half of the season. While the Nets have picked themselves out of the bottom of the garbage heap of the East to climb into the No. 7 spot in the standings thanks to Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett finally starting to come around, the most expensive roster in the league isn’t going anywhere in the playoffs if Williams can’t bounce back again and lead them. Is it the ankles? Is it the lack of confidence that he has mentioned? Or is he simply at the end of the line as an elite level point guard in his ninth season? Williams has scored 20 points just once since Jan. 4 and has only two games of handing out double-digit assists in 2014. He was even challenged to a 1-on-1 duel by coach Jason Kidd at a recent practice to try to light a spark.

Carmelo Anthony — He doesn’t show an interest in defense and, yes, he can turn Knicks games into a circus where he’s in the center ring and everyone else watches him hog the spotlight and the ball. Yet if it weren’t for Anthony carrying the offensive load, New York would be buried deeper in the standings. His PER of 24.61 is the second best of his career. Even at 20-32, the Knicks are within striking range in the East and Anthony is going to have to find a way to lift up his teammates — and save the job of coach Mike Woodson — rather than just outshine them before going into his summer of free agency. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if J.R. Smith stopped his clown show and got back to playing basketball at least part time.

Timberwolves — The clock is ticking. Not just on another season when the Wolves were supposed become a playoff team that is slipping away. It could — and should — be ticking loudly on the end of Kevin Love in Minnesota. Two more seasons until Mr. Double-Double can fly out of the icy north to a landing some place where they actually do more than just talk about making the playoffs. Healthy again, Love is back to putting up big numbers. Yes, he’s faltered at times down the stretch as the Wolves have lost a ton of close games. But it really is a case of not having a supporting cast around him that has shown much inclination for improvement. That’s you, Ricky Rubio. Reports have said G.M. Flip Saunders is willing to trade anybody on the roster except Love in an attempt to keep him in Minnesota. But as another year comes off the calendar, you have to wonder if it isn’t already too late.

Manu Ginobili — Sidelined since the end of the January with a strained hamstring, the San Antonio firecracker is scheduled to jump back into the lineup this week. He’s not on this list due to underperforming but for how much the Spurs need him back in their lineup to get the fire burning again. Tony Parker got a chance to get a head start on his All-Star break because he has simply looked worn out this season after going all the way to The Finals last June and then playing for the French national team in EuroBasket. Tim Duncan is showing more and more of his age at times and there are rumors that he is thinking of retiring at the end of the season. The Spurs have played miserably against the top contenders in the West — just a single win over a Clippers lineup without Chris Paul. They need Ginobili to come back strong and healthy and durable to be considered real playoff contenders again.

Andre Iguodala — When the Warriors brought him in from Denver, the belief was that he’d upgrade the roster at both ends of the floor. They figured he’d be the slashing, penetrating force of the past, adding another scoring option and helping Stephen Curry distribute the ball and being a solid wing defender. While he’s helped move the ball and been solid on defense, the problem has been a lack of offensive production. He’s scoring just 9.6 points per game, the lowest since his rookie season in Philly. The Warriors don’t need him to challenge Curry or Klay Thompson as a big gun every night, but occasional flashes of firepower will be necessary if the team hopes to climb out of the No. 8 spot in the West and reach the preseason goal of a top four finish. Iguodala has scored 20 points only once since the opening week of the season.

New Age: Dirk, D-Wade Now Old Guard

Dirk Nowitzki (left) and Dwyane Wade  (the elder statesmen in New Orleans.

Dirk and Dwyane Wade (12 and 10 All-Star appearances, respectively) are the elder statesmen in New Orleans.

NEW ORLEANS – Feeling old? A few All-Stars are.

“I was looking at Dirk and Tony and me and now I’m like one of the older guys,” Clippers All-Star point Chris Paul said. “I was looking at Damian Lillard and wondering what he must be thinking.”

Paul is only 28 and still very much in the prime of his career, but his sort of sudden discovery underscores the tremendous youth movement happening in the NBA. Youthful stars like the 23-year-old Lillard, who has taken Portland and the league by storm in just his second season, seem to be everywhere and making the older guards like Paul, Tony Parker, 31, and others ponder where the time’s gone.

“Who’s the oldest player here?” asked Dwyane Wade, hardly old at 32, but whose troublesome knees have added some years as he makes his 10th appearance in Sunday night’s 63rd All-Star Game.

The oldest would be Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, who turned 35 last June. Kobe, who was voted in by the fans as a Western Conference starter, but won’t play because of a knee injury, turned 35 in August.

“We were just talking to [DeMar] DeRozan and Kyrie [Irving] and Paul George,” said Wade, one of only two Eastern Conference All-Stars in their 30s; Joe Johnson is also 32, about six months older than Wade. “When we came in it was Jason Kidd, Kevin Garnett, these players that we had so much respect for were at the All-Star Game, they were the older guys that had been around for 10 years, and now we are.”

Dirk, Kobe and Parker now have 34 All-Star appearances between them. The West’s starting five — Steph Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin — have a combined 15. None are older than 25. So this could become a very familiar-looking All-Star starting group.

“It’s weird not see all these guys,” said Nowitzki, a 12-time All-Star, who made his debut in the 2002 game. “Tim Duncan, every year I’ve been an All-Star, Tim was here, KG was here, Kobe was here, Shaq was here every year. So I miss these guys a little bit and now I’m the oldest guy here which feels a little weird because in my head I don’t really feel 35, 36. But I’m definitely enjoying these young guys and I’m enjoying these last couple years competing against these young guys, and then I’ll slowly go away.”

The sudden youth can be startling. In the West, six of 12 All-Stars are 25 or younger and that number actually jumped to seven when second-year Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, 20, replaced Kobe. Including Davis, 10 players on the West roster are 28 or younger.

In the East, George, 23, Kyrie IrvingDeMar DeRozan  and John Wall are all 24 or younger. Nine players are 29 or younger with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Paul Millsap all being 29. Bosh turns 30 next month, while Joakim Noah turns 29 on Feb. 25.

“It’s crazy,” Wade said. “It goes so fast and at the same time to still be here is an unbelievable honor. It goes, man, you’ve got to enjoy it along the way. You see the young guys coming up and they are the future of the NBA and one day they’ll be doing the things that we’re doing, looking back like, ‘Man, how fast did it go?’”

Nets Smaller Starters Playing Elite D

BROOKLYN – Typically, teams play faster and are better offensively and worse defensively when they play small. The Brooklyn Nets are different.

Brook Lopez broke his foot and was lost for the season on Dec. 20. And it was on Jan. 2 when the Nets went to a starting frontline of Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett on a permanent basis. Since then, the Nets have played slower, and have gone from the third worst defensive team in the league to top 10 on that end of the floor.

Nets record, pace and efficiency

Timeframe W L Pace Rank OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
Through Dec. 31 10 21 94.6 25 101.9 18 106.7 28 -4.8 26
Since Jan. 1 12 4 92.6 28 105.9 13 101.8 9 +4.2 9
Season 22 25 93.9 26 103.2 17 105.0 20 -1.8 19

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

The Nets’ original starting lineup, with Garnett at the four and Lopez at the five, was OK defensively, allowing 101.4 points per 100 possessions. Of 71 lineups that played at least 75 minutes through Dec. 31st, it ranked 34th in DefRtg.

Not great, but not terrible either. And Brooklyn was better defensively, allowing just 100.3 points per 100 possessions, in the other 167 minutes that Garnett and Lopez were on the floor together. So playing big wasn’t necessarily a big problem.

But that’s not a lot of playing time. The Nets’ issues started with the lack of minutes (just 90 over 10 games before Lopez broke his foot) that their $82 million starting lineup played together. It was their other combinations that were truly awful defensively.

Nets lineups through Dec. 31

Lineup(s) MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Williams, Johnson, Pierce, Garnett, Lopez 90 96.9 96.5 101.4 -4.9 -14
Other lineups 1,413 94.5 102.2 107.0 -4.8 -160

And here’s the thing. Their bench units are still pretty bad defensively. But since Jan. 1, their starters, with either Deron Williams or Alan Anderson as the third guard, have been ridiculously good on that end of the floor.

Nets lineups since Jan. 1

Lineup(s) MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Livingston, Johnson, Pierce, Garnett + Anderson or Williams 167 88.6 102.7 89.4 +13.3 +39
Other lineups 610 93.8 106.8 105.0 +1.8 +23

Allowing less than 90 points per 100 possessions is elite defense. The Pacers have the best defense of the last 37 years, and they’ve allowed 93.9.

There’s some logic to improved D. Replacing Lopez with an extra guard has allowed the Nets to be more aggressive in defending pick-and-rolls, switch without worrying about mismatches, rotate and recover quicker, and better challenge 3-point shooters.

It helps that their top four guards are 6-foot-3, 6-foot-6, 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-7. Length goes a long way.

Through Dec. 31, the Nets ranked 30th in 3-point defense, allowing their opponents to shoot 39.1 percent from beyond the arc. In 2014, they’ve ranked 15th (35.7 percent). And opponents have shot just 31 percent from 3-point range against the two starting groups.

Those two groups have also forced 19.4 turnovers per 100 possessions, a rate that would lead the league. In fact, the Nets do lead the league by forcing 18.6 since Jan. 1. Livingston, Williams, Pierce and Andray Blatche have all averaged more than a steal per game since Jan. 1.

In regard to the how good the Nets’ starters are defensively, we’re looking at just 167 minutes of playing time. But 113 of those 167 have come against above-average offensive teams (and we’re not including the 14 minutes they played against the depleted Spurs on Thursday), so it’s not like the numbers are schedule-aided. They’ve shut down good teams.

And while the starters have played great D, the bench has held its own offensively. The Nets have scored a ridiculous 127.3 points per 100 possessions in 102 minutes with Blatche, Mirza Teletovic and Andrei Kirilenko on the floor together.

Kirilenko’s health has been critical. His passing and off-ball cutting are two elements the Nets were desperately missing for most of the first two months of the season. Even on Thursday, the Nets were going to their typical mismatches (Johnson and Livingston in the post) early, but were rather stagnant offensively until Kirilenko entered the game.

Shooting is so important in this league, but while Kirilenko has shot just 1-for-13 from outside the paint this season, he has the highest on-court OffRtg of anybody in the rotation.

It makes you realize that, even though Lopez is done for the season, the Nets are still one of the deepest teams in the league, so deep that Jason Terry got a DNP on Thursday.

The talent was always there. The healthy bodies were not. Ironically, Lopez’s injury has helped the Nets find an identity that works and start to live up to their lofty expectations.

Pacers A Different Team After Half


VIDEO: Pacers fall to Suns for second home defeat

The List

Highest standard deviation, quarter-to-quarter NetRtg

Team VOff Rank VDef Rank VNet
Indiana 7.2 1 3.7 14 10.4
Toronto 4.2 9 4.8 9 8.3
Minnesota 5.3 5 3.1 19 8.3
Milwaukee 3.5 13 4.9 8 8.0
New Orleans 5.8 3 6.5 1 7.9
Portland 2.2 26 5.5 5 7.4
Detroit 5.1 7 2.2 25 7.2
New York 2.6 20 5.5 6 6.5
Philadelphia 2.5 21 5.7 4 6.2
Boston 2.8 19 4.0 12 6.1

Standard deviation measures variance or, for our purposes, inconsistency.
VOff = Offensive variance (OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions)
VDef = Defensive variance (DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions)
VNet = Net variance (NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions)

The Context

So essentially, the Pacers are the most inconsistent team in the league from quarter to quarter, which is weird, because they’re, by far, the best defensive team in the league. As we pointed out last week, they’re the best defensive team of the last 37 years (though that differential is down to 9.2), and strong defense is supposed to be the backbone of consistent success.

The Pacers have the No. 1 defense in the first, third and fourth quarters, and the No. 4 defense in the second, though there’s a pretty big difference between the (ridiculously good) 88.8 points per 100 possessions they allow in the third quarter and the (still pretty good) 97.7 they allow in the second. Still, it’s on offense where there’s a lot more fluctuation.

Pacers efficiency, by period

Quarter OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
1st quarter 96.1 27 94.7 1 +1.4 15
2nd quarter 96.4 27 97.7 4 -1.3 16
3rd quarter 110.1 3 88.8 1 +21.2 1
4th quarter 107.3 12 94.8 1 +12.5 2
Half OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
1st half 96.3 28 96.2 2 +0.0 15
2nd half 108.7 4 91.8 1 +16.9 1

There have been two different Pacers teams this season. The First Half Pacers have scored about as efficiently as the Bucks. The Second Half Pacers have an offense more closely resembling the Heat.

Indiana has had the lead at halftime in 24 of their 45 games. They’ve outscored their opponent in the second half of 35 of the 45.

In general, there’s a big offensive drop-off when the Pacers go to their bench. (Thursday’s loss to the Suns was the definition of a bench loss, as well as an example of how they’ve played better after halftime.) But the half-to-half offensive drop-off has been spread rather evenly among their starters and bench units.

Efficiency of Pacers’ starting lineup, by half

Half MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
1st half 403 101.5 96.5 +4.9 +35
2nd half 395 112.0 89.6 +22.4 +172
Difference   10.5 -6.9 17.4  

Efficiency of other Pacers’ lineups, by half

Half MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
1st half 676 93.2 96.1 -2.8 -32
2nd half 684 106.9 93.0 +13.9 +180
Difference   13.6 -3.1 16.7  

The Pacers have turned the ball over at the same rate in both halves and are only a slightly better offensive rebounding team in the second half. But they’ve shot much better and gotten to the free-throw line a lot more often in the second half. They’ve also assisted on a greater percentage of their buckets.

Paul George and Lance Stephenson have been much better shooters in the second half of games. George and George Hill have much higher free throw rates. And both Stephenson and Hill have had higher assist rates. Off the bench, C.J. Watson has shot a lot better and also dished out more assists after halftime.

The Pacers’ half-to-half discrepancy has lessened some over the last seven weeks. Through their first 22 games, they were scoring 20.4 more points per 100 possessions in the second half. Over their last 23, the difference is only 4.8.

Amazingly, the Pacers had the second most consistent offense from quarter to quarter last season, behind only the Suns, who were just consistently awful on that end.

This season, Indiana has found a new gear on both ends of the floor in that third quarter. Their plus-21.2 NetRtg in those 12 minutes is, by far, the best of any team in any quarter. Next best are San Antonio’s plus-13.3 in the second quarter and Toronto’s plus-13.3 in the fourth.

Whether they’re consistent or inconsistent from quarter to quarter, the Pacers are a much better team than they were last season. But it will be interesting to see if their third-quarter dominance is a big factor in their quest for a championship.

The Video

Here are the Pacers’ 19 field goals from the second half of their Dec. 10 win over the Heat. They shot 19-for-35 to outscore Miami 50-37 after halftime, and they assisted on 16 of the 19 buckets.

The bottom of the list

The Brooklyn Nets have been the most consistent team from quarter to quarter. That’s not really a good thing, because they’ve had a negative NetRtg in all four periods.

But it is good that they’ve turned their early-season, third-quarter struggles around. Through their first 19 games, the Nets had been outscored by 20.9 points per 100 possessions in the third. Over their last 24 games, they’ve been a plus-8.8.

Trivia question

Among 200 players that have played at least 150 minutes, who has been the most inconsistent from quarter to quarter (in terms of our PIE statistic, which measures overall production as a percentage of all the stats accumulated while that player is on the floor)?

More quarter-by-quarter notes

Trivia answer

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has been the most inconsistent player from quarter to quarter. MKG has recorded a PIE of 12.4 percent in the first quarter, -1.1 percent in the second quarter, 6.5 percent in the third, and 5.4 percent in the fourth. See his quarter-by-quarter numbers here.

Next on the list are Brandon Knight (very good in the second quarter, pretty bad in the fourth), Jamal Crawford (a slow starter and strong finisher), Jimmy Butler (he puts his best numbers up in the third), and Kevin Garnett (first-half KG has been a lot better than second-half KG).

Interestingly, the most consistent player from quarter-to-quarter has been Kidd-Gilchrist’s teammate. Gerald Henderson‘s PIE gets worse every quarter, but only drops from 9.8 percent in the first to 8.8 percent in the fourth. After Henderson, it’s Klay Thompson, Jameer Nelson, Joakim Noah and Richard Jefferson.

Expect Dirk To Get 12th All-Star Nod


VIDEO: Dirk has 28 points and nine boards as the Mavs stop the Pistons

DALLAS – In his final game Sunday night before the Western Conference coaches head to their bunkers to select seven All-Star reserves, Dirk Nowitzki left them with one of those vintage performances that this season has spawned the phrase, “He’s still Dirk.”

“Twenty-eight points in 32 minutes,” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, glancing over the 10-for-16 shooting, the nine rebounds and the four assists. “I guess he’s an All-Star.”

Is he? That is the question.

“This year [I'm] right up there, and we understand there’s always going to be some guys that deserve it and don’t make it, so that’s just the nature of the game,” Nowitzki said after raising his averages to 21.2 ppg and 6.0 rpg in a win over Detroit. “The power forward spot in the West has always been loaded and somebody is going to feel like they’ve been snubbed, but that’s just part of the game.”

The power forward position, plus a couple centers tossed into the new “frontcourt” designation, is loaded with young, thriving talent. The three starters voted in by the fans are 25 (Kevin Durant and Kevin Love) and 24 (Blake Griffin). Two sure-fire reserves, Dwight Howard and LaMarcus Aldridge are both 28. On-the-bubble candidates DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis are 23 and 20, respectively. Serge Ibaka, 24, almost gets lost in the discussion because of the superstar teammates who overshadow him. David Lee, an All-Star last season, is like the older brother of the group at 30.

Nowitzki, 35, and Tim Duncan, 37, are like the godfathers. The West coaches put Duncan back on the All-Star team last season after his 13-year run was snapped in 2012, and seemed over for good. Knee surgery during training camp last season sabotaged Dirk’s 11-year run. Now there’s likely room for only one, if that, legendary old-timer on the 12-man squad.

Have fun, coaches. The reserves for both conferences will be announced Thursday night on TNT.

“He’s a Hall of Fame player, as we all know,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who is prohibited from voting for his own player, and would seem a prime candidate to give Dirk, his decades-long nemesis, the nod. “Dirk basically — modern times so to speak — has really personified that stretch-4 because he scored from everywhere on the court and from distance … and he hasn’t slowed down much, if at all.”

Prevailing wisdom suggests this is Dirk’s — and Duncan’s — best chance to add one last All-Star appearance considering the aforementioned list of bursting, young talent. Dirk, who ranks seventh among forwards in usage percentage and fifth in true shooting percentage, might still have a few more fine seasons left in him beyond this one, just as Duncan has proved post-35, but the next generation will likely be too strong and push him out of All-Star consideration.

Dirk’s edge this season is lifetime achievement. How heavily will coaches weigh career milestones? Likely heavily. He’s surged up the NBA’s all-time scoring list, starting the season at No. 18 and passing Reggie Miller and Jerry West, among others, to move all the way up to No. 13. He’s 412 points from passing John Havlicek for 12th and it’s possible he will catch Oscar Robertson at No. 10 by season’s end.

Dirk recently collected the 1,000th steal of his career and joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, Kevin Garnett and Karl Malone as the only players with 25,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists and 1,000 steals.

“I’ve looked at it pretty closely,” Carlisle said. “He’ll make it. I just have the feeling that he will. You look at his stats, what he’s carrying, the production and the minutes; if he was playing the minutes most of those guys were playing, he’d be a 25-point scorer. So, we’ll see. We’ll see.”

Dirk didn’t think he deserved a spot on the 2012 squad after a slow start to the shortened lockout season. But the coaches weren’t about to let the Finals MVP be swept out of the All-Star Game that easily. They won’t this year either, especially when he’s not exactly a hardship case. In fact, if he does’t make the team, it will be a first of sorts. Five players 35 or older — Malone, Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Michael Jordan and Alex English — have averaged 21 points or more in 11 different seasons. Each time they made the All-Star team.

When his streak did end last season, Nowitzki had little control over it. His right knee required the first surgery of his career during training camp. He missed the first 27 games of the season, probably came back too soon to help save a sinking season and didn’t regain his All-Star form until the second half.

Fending off Father Time (with an eye on a semi-concerning sleeve he again donned on his left knee), Nowitzki has shouldered another near-totally retooled roster to a 26-20 record, good for the last playoff spot in the ultra-competitive West. The Mavs, while inconsistent, not unlike like Nowitzki’s shooting performances, are just 1.5 games behind No. 6 Golden State and three games back of No. 5 Houston, a so-called contender Dallas will attempt to defeat for a third time in four tries at home Wednesday night.

“They still have that big guy from Germany. He’s pretty good,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said earlier this month. “And when you have a player like that, you can put a lot of people around him and they’re going to be better. That’s the effect of a Dirk on your team. I bet Monta’s never seen open shots that he’s seen when you come off a pick and roll with Dirk setting it, so he does make you better.”

Monta Ellis would agree. A fringe All-Star candidate himself, Ellis is averaging 19.2 ppg, about what he averaged last season with Milwaukee, but his 46.2 shooting percentage blows away last season’s mark and is at its highest since 2007-08 with Golden State. He’s finding wide lanes to drive and open jumpers to fire thanks to the defensive attention Dirk draws and the spacing he brings.

How dependent are the Mavs on Dirk? With him and Ellis on the floor, they’re averaging a potent 109.1 points per 100 possessions. With only Ellis on the floor, it drops to 102.7.

Dirk’s net rating of 4.0 is easily the highest among Dallas’ starters, a group in which only center Sam Dalembert (1.6) and Jose Calderon (0.2) also boast positive net ratings.

So is Dirk an All-Star? Bet on the coaches granting him the grand stage, if not for one last hurrah, and leaving the lure of a February beach vacation for the years ahead.

“It always means something to be among the best 12 or 13 players in the West,” Nowitzki said. “It has always been an honor. I’ve always had fun going there and representing the Mavericks the right way — but, I did have some fun at the beach last year, too. Either way, I’ll be happy to go, obviously, and always represent the Mavericks. And if not, then I’ll find something else to do.”

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 27


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No place for ‘Melo in LA? | KG and Pierce; the return | Wounded Wall will rise from USAB snub | Heat ready for season to crank up

No. 1: Lakers cool on recruiting ‘Melo? – Kobe Bryant has already declared himself out of the Carmelo Anthony recruiting sweepstakes, choosing the role of big brother instead.  He tried the recruiter hat with Dwight Howard last season and it didn’t work. But Bryant wasn’t the issue then and he’s not now for the Lakers. That responsibility belongs to Mike D’Antoni, the Lakers’ coach whose rough relationship with Howard (and now Anthony) could have a negative impact on the thinking of the coveted free agent. D’Antoni, who coached Anthony with the Knicks, is taking a similarly hands off approach where the soon-to-be free agent is concerned. Marc Berman of the New York Post explains (D’Antoni also offers up some support for his successor) :

When asked if he got a chance to see Anthony, D’Antoni said after the 110-103 loss, “I said hi to him. He said hi to me. What do you want us to be, pen pals or something? We’re fine.’’

D’Antoni was short in his praise of Anthony’s 62-point Friday record-setter and wanted no part of a question regarding Anthony’s future.

“I watched clips, it looked like he was making baskets,’’ D’Antoni said. “He’s got that ability. If he’d played the whole game he probably would’ve had about 80. Obviously scoring talent he does not lack.’’

D’Antoni, however, thought Anthony never bought into the spread-the-wealth, speed-ball attack that earned him the offensive genius label in Phoenix. It seems farfetched Anthony, a free agent this summer, and D’Antoni would make the perfect marriage in Los Angeles. But you never say never.

Asked about Anthony’s free-agent future, D’Antoni demurred: “I’m good. I just want to drink my water and watch a little basketball.’’

D’Antoni defended Knicks coach Mike Woodson, who has been on shaky ground. Woodson replaced D’Antoni late in the 2011-12 season. Fans that year chanted “We Want Wood-son.” Now they chant “Fi-re Wood-son.’’

“Woody does a great job,’’ D’Antoni said. “They’ve had injuries, it’s a tough league, and some years it doesn’t go well. [But] they have a lot more basketball to play, and they win two or three in a row they’ll be in second place in the East, so they’ll be fine. It’s a great organization, I enjoyed my four years here, but you’ve got to win. Everything is going to be questioned. It should be.’’

***

No. 2: Celtics honor KG and Pierce in their return – Credit Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce for keeping their composure during an emotional return to Boston Sunday. They held it together during an intense and relentless stream of praise from the fans and folks in TD Garden and around the city of Boston. Not every city maintains the bond with its former sports superstars. And now KG and Pierce understand what it must have been like for the Boston sports heroes that came (and left) before them. Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com has more from the emotional return for two-thirds of Boston’s Big 3:

Suggesting his return to Boston was tougher than his first trip back to Minnesota, where he started his NBA odyssey, Garnett detailed his ride on an emotional roller coaster while back at TD Garden on Sunday. But he stressed that, even without Gino, the video tribute and the fans’ reaction exceeded even his wildest expectations for coming back.

“This was over the top,” Garnett said. Later he added, “What comes to mind is unbelievable, I didn’t expect anything like that for myself. It shows the first-class type of organization that this is and the appreciation from this organization for you. And I couldn’t put it into words.

“Paul and I were joking before the game, who was going to tear up and drop a tear. I had lumps in my throat. I kept them under control and I focused as much as I could on the game and not take away from it. But, man, this was over the top. I couldn’t put that into words.”

Boston fans delivered an extended standing ovation when Garnett and Pierce were the final two Nets players announced during pregame introductions. With 2:25 to play in the first quarter, the arena hushed in anticipation of what was about to come.

Then came a roar at the mere sight of a green No. 5 flashed on the screen. Garnett’s tribute opened with a clip from “SportsCenter” detailing the trade that delivered him to Boston from the Timberwolves. After a clip of the Big Three holding up their jerseys at Garnett’s introduction, highlights from his Boston tenure rolled, including his bloodied head during a game against the Lakers in 2011, his in-game pushups versus Miami from 2012, and a wild montage of chest pounds and emphatic fist pumps. The video closed with Garnett kneeling to kiss the parquet floor and him screaming, “Anything is possible!” after the Celtics’ Game 6 victory over the Lakers delivered Banner 17 in 2008.

As the crowd delivered another standing ovation, the camera cut to a banner with retired jersey numbers with a couple open spots at the bottom — spots that eventually will house Garnett’s No. 5 and Pierce’s No. 34. But Garnett was already back in the huddle at that point, barking at teammates while trying to power through his emotions.

The cameras cut back to Garnett as play resumed on the court and, after a couple of deep breaths, Garnett smiled and appeared to tell teammates he had been on the verge of losing it.

In the days leading up to Sunday’s game, Garnett pledged to keep his focus on the game and he lived up to that promise. The Celtics rallied in the fourth quarter, trimming a 12-point deficit to three, and had a chance to tie the game with less than 30 seconds to play. With Rondo dribbling in a late-clock situation, Garnett cheated off his man to double the ball and managed to intercept a pass intended for Brandon Bass.

The 37-year-old Garnett, 18-plus years of NBA mileage on his tires, had 70 feet to cover, but he outraced Jeff Green and Chris Johnson before delivering a layup that essentially sealed Brooklyn’s 85-79 triumph, capping a perfect trip back to Boston.

“It took me two days to get the layup up; I thought I was going to get caught, but I got it still — put the ball in front of me, and I got the layup,” Garnett said. “Like Paul said, I’m glad we came here and got a win. A lot of distraction, but they were good distractions.

“It felt good to be showered and for the city to show their appreciation [and] the organization, man. You give yourself. People always say that players can be too loyal. I don’t believe that. A city like Boston is worth it and tonight’s the epitome of all that.”



VIDEO: Garnett and Pierce on their emotional return to Boston

***

No. 3: Wall will use USA Basketball snub as motivation – John Wall‘s Olympic dreams are fading. The Wizards point guard did not make the cut on USA Basketball’s roster for 2014-16, a 28-man that includes his backcourt mate Bradley Beal. Granted, Beal is a shooting guard and a specialist in one area that the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team can never have enough of for international competition. Wall, meanwhile, is one of the many talented point guard options the USAB brass had to choose from. The fallout from this snub, however, could very well work in the Wizards’ favor. Michael Lee of the Washington Post tries to make sense of it all:

Wall is the one of two American-born No. 1 overall picks in the past 11 years not to receive an invitation to Team USA. The other former top pick left out of the mix is Greg Oden, who is back in the NBA after missing the previous four seasons with chronic knee problems. LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis were included.

“I been through it before. The main thing for me is try to be professional. I went out there and played. I did it the right way,” Wall said of his experiences with Team USA minicamp. “I just use it as more motivation. It’s nothing I could do. It’s nothing I can say, and I don’t want nobody to babysit me or try to make it work for me. They made their list, they made their decision and that’s what they’re happy with, and I just have to look past that. It’s more motivation because I didn’t make McDonald’s game. I wasn’t national player of the year. I wasn’t rookie of the year. So those are just tabs I keep to motivate myself to prove people wrong.”

The Wizards gave Wall a five-year, $80 million maximum extension last summer, solidifying his standing as the foundation of the franchise’s efforts to get back to respectability. In his fourth season, Wall has been producing the best numbers of his career with averages of 20.0 points, 8.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.9 steals. He finished a distant third in all-star fan balloting for Eastern Conference guards but is expected to be chosen by the coaches as a reserve with the Wizards positioned to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Wall is having a better season than some of the point guards on the list, but despite his slow-but-steady improvement, he lacks the skill as a consistent shooter that is a necessity for international basketball. Beal, however, is a noted marksman who has connected on 42.3 percent of his three-point attempts this season and could be more of a threat with a shorter international three-point line.

Team USA only invited three other shooting guards in James Harden, Gordon Hayward and Klay Thompson but has been known to use two point guards on the floor at the same time.

“A lot of these guys can go either way. Like LeBron can play” point guard, Beal said with a laugh. “It really doesn’t matter, so I just have to be able to come in and show what I’ve got. It’s totally different than the NBA.”

***

No. 4: Heat just getting started on the 2013-14 season? – So playtime is over now for the Miami Heat. Dwyane Wade came back for Sunday’s Finals rematch and win over the San Antonio Spurs. Chris Bosh made up for his woes against the Spurs during The Finals with a huge effort and the Heat looked energized and much more like the outfit that is chasing a third straight title and fourth straight trip to The Finals, where the Spurs could once again await them. Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com dissects the Heat’s season and where they stand going forward:

After weeks of clearly struggling with motivation, the Heat are about to have plenty of it put before them. Sunday’s strong 113-101 victory over the San Antonio Spurs kicked off a stretch where the Heat will play teams with winning records in seven of 10 games. Not by accident, eight of their next 12 games are on national television.

More importantly, Sunday was also the first day the Heat had their full roster since the start of the season. Though they’re hardly alone in that distinction, with the league ravaged by injuries to stars, the Heat had a rather large variable in play because of the recent appearance that Greg Oden could end up being a factor at their weakest position.

The Heat have been rapped across the knuckles recently for what has been dubbed a “malaise” as they’ve swallowed nine losses against teams with losing records. What that fails to recognize is that the Heat were actually two games better this season through 43 games than they were last season. There were plenty of “what the?” games in the first few months last season as they struggled to get traction after winning the 2012 title.

It was last season in their 44th game when they truly got serious, after a losing road trip. It started Super Bowl weekend and they eventually reeled off 27 wins in a row and found a rhythm that carried them to another title.

It’s Super Bowl week again and the Heat have those several reasons to start getting serious, including a 2-4 road trip that ended grimly last week. Forget about another one of those crazy winning streaks (though the current one is at three and counting) but it wasn’t hard to miss how the Heat seemed to start to depress the gas against the Spurs.

Leading by 29 points at one point before the gap closed in garbage time, they delivered one of their most impressive performances of the season and their first quality win of the new year. It wasn’t a sterling defensive performance — those have been particularly elusive for the Heat this season and what they are really looking for — but there was no missing their increased intensity.

“They came with their A-game,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.


VIDEO: The Game Time crew unveils their Sunday Feast

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: We didn’t mean to snub Stephen Curry and the Warriors, who knocked off the Portland Trail Blazers in an exciting Grammy night show which also served as a homecoming for the heir apparent of Oakland’s point guard legacy … Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle is doing his due diligence to pump Dirk Nowitzki up as an All-Star reserve … New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis is content to let his play do the talking for him … Nuggets point guard Nate Robinson is operating behind enemy lines this week as an unabashed fan of his hometown Seattle Seahawks

ICYMI of The Night: Between the highlights and the narration of Beau Estes, the Top 10 Plays is a must-watch and must-listen on a daily basis. Sunday’s Top 10 plays is no different. Watch the players shine and enjoy Beau’s soundtrack while you do it:


VIDEO: Check out Sunday’s Top 10 plays, the best highlights and delivery in the business

Bryant’s Torch Burns Bright, Without Doubts In Latest Injury Comeback

Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
(Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

CHICAGO – Zero. Less than zero even, if that’s possible.

Kobe Bryant didn’t delve into negative numbers Monday night in a hallway at United Center, but that’s the level of doubt he felt about his next return from injury. The Los Angeles Lakers superstar, out since Dec. 17 with a fracture in his left knee, didn’t hedge or blink when asked about the likelihood that he’ll come back as the player he was before.

Not just before this latest setback but before the left Achilles-tendon blowout he suffered in April, cutting short his 2012-13 season.

“Zero. Zero,” Bryant said, repeating for emphasis his doubt about his playing future and the quality of his game when he gets there. “There was [doubt] before I came back the first time, because I didn’t know how my Achilles was going to respond to playing, to changing directions. The game in Memphis, I felt I had a pretty good feel for it. I felt like I was getting back to doing what I normally could do.

“So I feel pretty confident about it.”

Bryant fast-tracked his return from the Achilles injury, missing the first six weeks of 2013-14 rather than several months. He came back Dec. 8 against Toronto and lasted six games. Bryant scored 20 points three times and had his minutes up to 32 per night when his left knee gave out.

The timetable now is for Bryant, 35, to be examined again after the Lakers’ current seven-game “Grammy” trip. While some — including Lakers legend Magic Johnson — have suggested Bryant sit out the balance of the season for either his own recovery or to boost the team’s lottery odds, Bryant made it sound like a February return, before or after All-Star weekend, is inevitable.

This media opportunity, coming in Derrick Rose‘s gym, meant he was asked about the Bulls’ MVP, who also is sidelined by his second serious injury in two years (and isn’t expected back till October). While Bryant’s response dealt with Rose, it surely applied to him as well, a nod to the drive and will he long has been known for and the younger Rose still is developing.

“Really there’s not too much you can do about it,” Bryant said. “It’s unfortunate, but you have two options. One is to lay down. The second is get up and get to work. I think the second one is more appealing [to Rose] for sure.”

Bryant touched on a number of things in his state-of-the-Mamba address, including the Lakers’ other injuries, their midseason status (16-25 prior to tipoff) and the state of the league. Among the topics:

  • He made it abundantly clear that he won’t be joining Team USA in the 2016 Olympics, but teased that he’d be an eager spectator to watch Lakers teammate Pau Gasol play for Spain again.
  • The most noticeable change in NBA basketball since his arrival in 1996? “It’s more of a finesse game. It’s more small ball. Which, personally, I don’t really care much for,” Bryant said. Like so many from the old-school – even at 35, Bryant qualifies – he is befuddled at the soft stuff now that passes for physical play. “Makes me nauseous,” he said. “You can’t touch a guy.”
  • The rule against hand-checking has made it easier for players to shine offensively, Bryant said. “Nowadays, anybody can get out there and get to the basket – you can’t touch ‘em,” he said. “Back then, if you have guys putting their hands on you, you have to have the skills to be able to go both ways, change directions, post up and have that mid-range game, because you didn’t want to go all the way to the basket because you’d get knocked [down].”
  • He’s no fan of the NBA’s one-and-done arrangement with NCAA basketball, which no longer permits players such as Bryant, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James to turn pro immediately after high school. “I think it worked out pretty well for all three of us,” Bryant said. “The system really isn’t teaching players anything when you go to college. … I’m always a firm believer in us being able to make our own decision.”

Bryant spoke in a hallway adorned with a floor-to-ceiling Michael Jordan photo, in an arena that Jordan and the Bulls’ championship teams of the 1990s built, with Jordan’s bronze likeness outside, the spark for what has become a sports statue craze across America. Many see him as Jordan’s successor, bracketed between Grant Hill‘s injury-derailed superstardom and what still is James at full strength, yet the most Michael-like of them all.

The NBA timeline has pulsed with an informal passing-of-the-torch from Elgin Baylor and Oscar Robertson to Julius Erving, to Larry Bird and Johnson, to Jordan, Bryant, James and beyond.

Asked about that, Bryant said he saw time’s passage and the game’s history differently.

“I’ve never looked at is as torches being passed,” he said. “As a kid growing up, I always looked at it as these athletes representing different things. So what Magic represented to the game, what Bird represented to the game, was different from what Michael represents.

“It’s not the same torch. They’re picking up their own thing and carrying their own generation.”