Posts Tagged ‘Kevin McHale’

It’s official: Howard returns to Rockets lineup

HOUSTON — After going through warmup drills about 90 minutes before opening tip, Dwight Howard prepared to rejoin the Rockets lineup Saturday for the first time in nearly a month against the Nuggets.

“Dwight will play tonight,” said Rockets coach Kevin McHale. “He went through shootaround today. He went through a practice and ran a little bit on the road trip. We just haven’t had him on the floor a lot. He’s gonna play, as of right now. I hope. I sure hope nothing else happens.

“I’ll try to five him four- to five-minute stints and see what he’s got in the gas tank. When you consider how much he missed in training camp and consider how much he’s missed during the season, from us being together from the latter part of September till now, Dwight’s missed well over half our stuff.

“Catching a rhythm is hard when you do that. It’s just hard. NBA basketball is completely different than practice. It’s completely different than one-on-one workouts. So I don’t know what to expect. He’s a freakish athlete and he gets in shape real fast. So hopefully he’ll be able to give us something.”

Howard has not played since Nov. 17 at Memphis, suffering from a strained right knee. He has undergone platelet-rich plasma therapy in order to speed up the healing process, but still missed the last 11 games. The Rockets have gone 8-3 in his absence and are currently third in the Western Conference with a 17-5 mark.

Howard is averaging 18.8 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots in 10 games.

The plan is for Howard to play 20 to 24 minutes Saturday and McHale said he’ll use his usual eye-test and interaction with his player to gauge things.

“I usually talk to the guy: ‘How you doing? How you feeling? How’s your wind?’ ” McHale said. “There are times when you look out there go, ‘That guy can tell me anything he wants, but I’m not believing a word he said. I’m watching him play.’

“If a guy’s playing well and you say, ‘How you feeling? How’s your rhythm? How’s your wind? Do you need a timeout?’ You basically talk you way through with him. Then you get a better feel for that.

“But there’s some guys you watch play and go, ‘That poor guy’s got nothing. So I might as well take him out and save him from himself. A lot of these guys are competitive enough that they’re not gonna tell you.”

Morning shootaround — Dec. 7




VIDEO: Highlights of the games played Jan. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Warriors keep streaking | Two in a row for Philly | Rockets blast Suns

No. 1: Draymond Green-lights 12th straight — It takes a lot more than a one-trick pony to win 17 times in 19 games and it’s becoming more apparent with every passing day that the Warriors are far more than just the Splash Brothers. It was Draymond Green who stepped into the spotlight and led the way in Chicago as Golden State set a franchise record with a 12th consecutive win. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has the details:

“He was OK,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “I know it was his career high and his numbers were incredible, but that is kind of who he is.
“He’s just a winner.”
With All-Star point guards Stephen Curry and Derrick Rose never really getting it going and up-and-coming shooting guards Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler producing stat lines similar to each other, Green helped the Warriors snap a five-game losing streak in Chicago.
The game was tied four times and the lead changed hands 10 times in the final 19 minutes, but the Warriors never trailed after a six-point spurt by Marreese Speights put them up 83-82 with 10:59 to play. Green made his sixth three-pointer to cap a decisive 8-2 run that extended the Warriors’ advantage to 95-87 with 6:24 remaining.
Green made more three-pointers than the rest of the team combined (five), had half of the team’s six blocked shots and four of the Warriors’ 14 steals. He added seven rebounds and three assists for good measure to a game in which he shot 11-for-20 from the floor, including 7-for-13 from three-point range.
“Oh man, I might lose my job if I do that too often. I don’t know if I can keep doing that,” said Green, who took 13 threes to Thompson’s eight and Curry’s five. “I don’t know if there’s going to many nights when I take as many three-point shots as them, but tonight, the shot was there. I didn’t turn it down too many times, and when I did turn one down, they told me to shoot it.”
His shot helped the Warriors (17-2) clinch a franchise-best seventh consecutive win on the road, equaling a record set in 1969 and tied in 2013-14. The last time the Warriors had an 11-game win streak overall, the Bulls snapped it in January 1972.

***

No. 2: Break up the Sixers — It may have taken them more than a month and a flirtation with NBA infamy to get their first win of the season, but the Sixers didn’t waste any time getting victory No. 2 when they outlasted the struggling Pistons in overtime. Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer notes how the young team is enjoying its sudden taste of success:

“We are on a great little run,” said point guard Michael Carter-Wiliams, who finished with 20 points, 15 assists, 8 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocked shots and 7 turnovers. “We played OKC tough. We came up a little short. But we wanted to build off that coming into this game.”
The Pistons dropped to 3-17 and lead the Sixers by only one game in the Eastern Conference standings. This was Detroit’s 11th consecutive loss. The Pistons are closing in on the franchise record of 14 straight losses.
The Pistons missed all 11 of their field goal attempts in the extra period. Their lone point came on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s foul shot with 2 minutes, 37 seconds left.
“I was pleased with our defense in that overtime,” said Sixers coach Brett Brown, whose squad also held the Pistons to 18 points in the fourth quarter. “I thought our defense was tough.”
After the teams combined to miss their first nine shots in overtime, Henry Sims’ jumper gave the Sixers a 102-101 lead with 1 minute, 57 seconds left. Then Nerlens Noel’s 5-foot floater made it a 104-101 game with 29.9 seconds left. Carter-Williams and Robert Covington both added a pair of late foul shots in the seven-point win.
“Robert played great,” Carter-Williams said of Covington, who finished with a career-high 25 points off the bench. “I think Luc [Mbah a Moute], who had 14 points and 11 rebounds] made a couple of hustle plays. And Nerlens, Henry, and [Brandon Davies] were in there banging with their bigs and doing the best they can.
“So it was definitely a group effort.”

***

No. 3:Beverley returns in the nick of time — It’s been a tough start to the season for Rockets feisty point guard Pat Beverley as he’s missed 10 of the last 14 games with a nagging hamstring injury. But with Dwight Howard still sidelined and James Harden’s back finally giving out from carrying so much of the load, Beverley returned to make the big plays and shots that carried the Rockets to a fourth straight win and kept them on the heels of Golden State in the Western Conference race. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle explains:

Beverley returned after missing the previous six games and 10 of 14 with a strained hamstring. But with the Rockets’ list of injuries growing nightly, they needed him to be back and at his best with the game on the line.
Beverley answered just in time, putting in the 3-pointer that stopped the Phoenix Suns’ charge and grabbing the rebounds that held them off 100-95 on Saturday night at Toyota Center.
“We don’t win that game unless Pat plays,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “He made some big 3s and got some huge offensive rebounds.
“We were really struggling. We were running out of gas. James tweaked his back. Francisco (Garcia) is out. We were really running on fumes there.”
Even with Beverley back, the Rockets began the game with Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones, Isaiah Canaan and Kostas Papanikolaou out, with Papanikolaou spraining his right knee Friday. Garcia left in the first half with a sore right leg.
Harden had carried the Rockets through the weeks of injuries, but when his back tightened Saturday, he struggled to move on the floor, eventually leaving the bench area to try to stretch. He played the final seven minutes in obvious pain, grimacing as he left the floor in the final seconds.
“I had a real tight back,” Harden said. “It was hard for me to even move. It was hard for me to change directions, and it was hard for me to really move and push off. It was a tough night.”
Harden was unconcerned that the back would be an ongoing problem.
The Rockets started fast, building a 22-point lead with Donatas Motiejunas sinking hooks and Jason Terry putting in 3-pointers early. But in the fourth quarter, the Rockets went seven minutes without a field goal as their lead shrank from 16 points to seven.
Finally, with 2:30 remaining, Beverley nailed his fifth 3-pointer of the night, ending the Rockets’ dry spell just in time.
“Patrick brings something we don’t have and that’s a point guard who plays excellent defense, knocks down shots and is a great team player,” Harden said. “Without Pat tonight, we probably would have lost that game. It was great just to have him back.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tiago Splitter could finally be back in the Spurs’ lineup Tuesday night at Utah… Brian Shaw says there’s not much daylight between Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant…  Are the Gasols the best brother combination in NBA history?…Andre Drummond admits that he made a fast mistake.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Howard gets plasma treatment on knee

Dwight Howard doesn't know what happened to his knee (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports).

Dwight Howard is unsure what happened to his knee (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports).

Dwight Howard still doesn’t know exactly when it happened or how he hurt his right knee. But he has stepped up the level of therapy by getting a “PRP treatment” in hope of getting back onto the court as soon as possible.

Platelet-rich plasma therapy is the same procedure that Kobe Bryant had performed on his knee in 2013 and Howard turned to it after missing Wednesday’s 98-92 loss to Bryant and the Lakers.

The injury comes at a time when Howard’s Rockets have hit their first two-game losing streak of the season and have been in an offensive slump for two weeks. After scoring more than 100 points in five straight double-digit wins to open the season, the Rockets have cracked the century mark just once and are 3-3 since Nov. 8.

Now Houston faces a Saturday night visit from the NBA’s top offensive team, the Mavericks, without their All-Star stopper in the middle.

According to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, Howard is still holding out hope to get back onto the court right away, but Rockets coach Kevin McHale is thinking that Howard is “probably out:”

“It feels a lot better,” Howard said. “I had to get a shot in it to clear some of the stuff out it. I’m trying to do whatever I can to get back on the floor.”

In a platelet-rich plasma therapy a patient’s blood is placed in a centrifuge and spun to separate the platelet-rich plasma. The concentrated platelets are then injected back into the injured tissue. Rockets athletic trainer Keith Jones confirmed Howard underwent “platelet rich protein therapy,” another term for Howard’s PRP treatment.

PRP therapy is generally used as a long-term treatment, rather than to promote a quick recovery for a player seeking to return to the court, though Howard held out hope that he would not miss too much time.

“We’ll see how it feels tomorrow,” Howard said. “I was in a lot of pain after the Memphis game. I (said) it was just bumps and bruises. I thought it was just something I could sleep off. But when I got home and the next day, any movement I tried was causing a lot of pain.”

Howard said does not recall any incident during the Memphis game on Monday, but said that after the game that he “couldn’t really walk on it.

“Last game, I tried to do everything I can to play, did every drill, everything possible until the game started and there was nothing I could do,” Howard said. “Hopefully, it feels better tomorrow.
“I did everything to get myself ready to play. It just wasn’t happening. They wanted me to play in the post-season and later on in the season. I didn’t want to sit out. I was very upset about it.”

Asked if he is definitely out on Saturday, Howard said, “I have no idea.”

McHale counts ways he’ll miss Parsons


VIDEO: How will the Mavs benefit with the addition of Chandler Parsons?

DALLAS – While Dwight Howard and James Harden have suggested the Houston Rockets will be just fine without Chandler Parsons because, well, they’re the best center and two-guard in the game, thank you, at least one member in red might just miss the small forward now playing in Dallas: Kevin McHale.

Parsons had been the sole survivor off McHale’s first team in Houston in 2011-12. The coach grew fond of the rapidly ascending second-round pick who, under McHale, emerged as a fringe All-Star candidate and a final cut this summer for Team USA.

McHale brought his Rockets to Dallas on Tuesday night to open the preseason. The 6-foot-9 Parsons led the Mavs with 14 points, all coming in the first half when he played a game-high 16 minutes, as if Dallas coach Rick Carlisle wanted to immediately show the Rockets exactly what they’ll miss.

“I talked to Rick about him. I told Rick he’ll do well for him,” McHale said. “I thought he was a good glue guy for the team. I think he’s in a good spot right now. Rick will do a good job with him. As with all young guys, he talked to me about it multiple times, he wanted to get a contract, he wanted to get all this stuff. Everybody, when you come into the league, you want a lot of stuff, and then when you get it, you realize it’s basketball and basketball is the most important thing. But I’m glad he’s got it. I’m sure he’ll settle down now and not be talking about money all the time. He’s killing me with talking about money all the time. He’s got enough of it now.”

McHale, of course, was grinning, if not aching inside. And Parsons, who has acknowledged that he never believed he’d be leaving Houston, is all smiles, too. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey passed on matching the three-year, $46 million offer sheet that Mavs owner Mark Cuban hand-delivered to Parsons at an Orlando, Fla., bar in early July.

Chandler scored with relative ease on his old mates and in a variety of ways, sinking two of his three 3-point attempts, splashing a mid-range jumper, slashing to the basket and going 6-for-6 from the free-throw line. The Mavs are anticipating a big year for their new acquisition playing off Dirk Nowitzki, the league’s 10th all-time leading scorer, and Monta Ellis, a super penetrator. The 3-ball, which Parsons shot at a 37 percent clip last season, should be readily available to him on the weak side.

“I thought Chandler got better every year,” McHale said. “He’s a good playmaker, good off the dribble, shoots that line-drive jumper just good enough it goes in every once in a while. He’ll make 3s even though you wouldn’t probably look at his shot and think he’s a 3-point [shooter], but he makes a high percentage of them. He’s a big guy, you can switch stuff with him defensively, so I mean he gave us a lot. He was a very good player for us and he’ll be a very good player for Dallas.”

McHale couldn’t stop.

“I just think he had a good all-around game, his ability to drive-and-kick, likes taking big shots,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff we’re going to miss. We’re just going to have to fill in around him and find players that can come in and do some of the stuff he did.”

Houston signed veteran two-way forward and former Rocket Trevor Ariza to replace the 25-year-old Parsons in the starting lineup.

“Trevor’s got really good instincts defensively, he’s long, shoots the ball real well … so he’ll help,” McHale said. “Of course, he’ll have to help us a lot. He’ll have to have a big year for us like Dwight and James has to also.”

Houston believes Donatas Motiejunas is ready to make an impact. The skilled, 7-foot power forward had a game-high 18 points to lead the Rockets to the 111-108 victory in a strange exhibition that included 81 fouls and 109 free throws. The Rockets are hopeful Greek import Kostas Papanikolaou can contribute and that former Mavs guard Jason Terry has some 3-ball magic left in his game.

It’s certainly a reshuffled roster from the team that won 54 games in the first year of the Harden-Howard pairing. After flirting with Carmelo Anthony, it seemed Houston’s big-game hunting GM was on the cusp of signing Chris Bosh and bringing back Parsons to form a true heavyweight. But Bosh took Miami’s money and Houston was left empty-handed.

So now it’s up to McHale to figure out how to mold a handful of new role players, most unaccomplished in the league. And it’s up to Howard and Harden, the self-anointed best center and two-guard in the NBA, to lead and keep the Rockets in the Western Conference title conversation.

“Just play basketball,” Howard said after getting six points, six rebounds and six fouls in 15 minutes of game time. “I let the people up top do their job. I can’t focus on nothing but what I can do to help this team win. We got some pretty good pieces on this team and I think we’re going to continue to get better as the season goes on.”

Morning shootaround — Oct. 5




VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony on chemistry with new teammates and more

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Melo wants less burden | McHale still confident | Lawson primed for jump | Rose gets physical
No. 1: Anthony hopes to get help carrying the load Carmelo Anthony could have jumped to Chicago or Houston or Dallas over the summer in order to join lineups where he wouldn’t have been the only big gun in the ammo belt. Of course, there was that matter of signing for $124 million in New York that changed his mind. But now with the season opener rapidly approaching, Melo says he looks forward to a time when he doesn’t have to do all of the heavy lifting at Madison Square Garden. Al Iannazzone of Newsday reveals Anthony’s discussion with new boss Phil Jackson, along with the news that Melo wants to jump back in the Olympic pool in 2016 at Rio:

“For this season right now, we have what we have,” Anthony said after practice Saturday. “We’re going to deal with that. That was a big discussion with me and Phil talking about — that was one of my things. I didn’t want to have to do it night in and night out. I wanted some nights when somebody else can pick up the load.
“Right now with the way we’re playing, I don’t have to do everything. But we haven’t had a game yet. We haven’t played one game.”

Jackson has shaken up the roster, trading for Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Travis Outlaw, Quincy Acy and Shane Larkin, signing Jason Smith and drafting Cleanthony Early. His biggest move, though, was re-signing Anthony.

But Jackson and new coach Derek Fisher are trying to establish a way they want the Knicks to play — unselfishly, and with a commitment to defense. Even if the Knicks aren’t a contender this season, Anthony sees some relief for him.

“It will be less pressure on me,” he said. “I can see that now in training camp. I feel that. I can see what we’re able to do with the little bit of time we’ve been together this week. I see other guys’ roles and how they’re implemented into the system and what they’re capable of doing. I think it’ll be easier. It’s still going to be a dogfight, but I think it’ll be a little bit easier where everybody is not keying in and focusing on me every single time down the court.”

***

No. 2: No new contract, no problem for McHale — The sting of Damian Lillard’s shot is still deep in his bones. The empty free-agent fishing expedition of the summer still hangs over his team. But even through Kevin McHale goes into the last year of his contract in Houston, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle says the Rockets coach is comfortable in his own skin and confident that he can get the job done:

“I got pretty comfortable with myself a lot of decades ago,” McHale, 56, said. “I haven’t changed much.”
As he began his fourth training camp as Rockets coach, with only coaches and staff remaining from his first, there have been adjustments to the Rockets’ style. He has demanded the more physical style he once played. The Rockets have collected more of the types of players he had wanted all along. There are defensive tweaks.

Almost the entire second unit was rebuilt from last season.

Yet, as he enters the final season of his contract, McHale cites the same values, the same priorities he has been trying to instill since that difficult, rushed first season as Rockets coach. The most tenured players with the Rockets, Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones, said there have been slight changes in schemes but not in their coach’s style.
“We’re all in this together,” McHale said. “The crazy thing about coaching is I’ve had players say I’m way too hard, I’m way too strict. And then you have guys that say, ‘You need to get on that guy.’ I always laugh at the guy that says, ‘You need to get on that guy more.’ I say, ‘Do I need to get on you more?’ They say, ‘No.’ When you’ve had 14, 15 guys on the team, and I learned this a long time ago, I’m not going to connect with everyone. But they’re going to play the system we’re playing. And I’m not playing. I have to give them the ability and the confidence so they can succeed.”

McHale inspires an unusual mix of reactions from players. He is referred to as “a players’ coach” so often it is practically in his job description. In many ways – particularly when demanding uncompromising effort – he is unbending, with little patience for a lack of commitment.

He has even less tolerance for excuses. That includes any suggestion that he is hampered by coaching in the final season of his contract. The other Rockets head coaches hired by owner Leslie Alexander – Jeff Van Gundy and Rick Adelman - never received a second contract after completing their four-year term. But neither seemed like a lame duck looking over his shoulder in his final season with the team.

McHale seems so secure in the way he works and what he values, he appears as unaffected by his contract situation in its final season as he was in its first.

“That has no bearing on me,” McHale said. “I never believed that. If you’re going to play better in the last year of your contract because it’s the last year of your contract, I question who you are. If you are going to coach better because you’re in the last year of your contract, I question that guy.

“I’m going to do the same thing I’ve always done. I’m going to work as hard as I possibly can with these guys, try to get these guys to be the best possible team we can be, and you know what, like as a player, you do the best job you can. If it’s not good enough, it’s not good enough.”

***

No. 3: Lawson says he belongs with elite at point — Coming off a season in which he posted career highs in points and assists per game, the Nuggets’ Ty Lawson told Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post that he belongs in any conversation about the best point guards in the league. But Lawson knows that he will only get that recognition if he can turn his team’s performance around and make the Nuggets winners again in the rugged Western Conference:

Q: How big a year is this for you to establish the type of player you are?
A: For my career, this is the next step. I’ve got to make the next step. This year has to be that next step. I’m entering the prime of my NBA career, so this is where it either goes up or goes down.
Q: What do you need to do to get to that next level?
A: I feel like we have to win — because I feel like my numbers are elite numbers, what I did last year. The only thing separating me from everyone else is just winning. Chris Paul has gotten out of the second round. Russell Westbrook went to the NBA Finals. I feel like to get to that level, you’ve got to win games. Kyrie (Irving) this year, he’s going to get out of the first and second round. So that’s the goal.
Q: You mentioned Paul, Westbrook and Irving. Do you see yourself in that group as an elite point guard?
A: I do, minus just the winning. Especially for a point guard, that takes you to the next level. If you’re a point guard and you’re not winning but you’re killing it, it doesn’t matter. It’s a leadership role.
Q: When you look back at last season, how tough was it to go through?
A: It was huge. It was the first time I didn’t go to the playoffs in my whole career, from high school to … even elementary. I’m always used to winning or being in the playoff run, playing for something. It was tough.
Q: Is there a lesson to be learned from what happened last season?
A: Yeah, I think so. Just being professional. Going toward the end of the season, not saying that I didn’t feel like playing but saying we’re not playing for nothing, that’s not really professional. So, just learning that, learning professionalism, that took a big hit last year.
Q: Every year about this time, the leadership question comes up. Are you tired of that?
A: No, not really, because that’s an area I should work on, and that I think I have worked on. Being a leader, being out here being more vocal and also just showing by example is what it’s going to take.

***

No. 4: Thibodeau wants physicality from Rose — Just getting back onto the court and starting to building up his legs and his stamina at the FIBA World Cup in Spain was important for Derrick Rose. But coach Tom Thibodeau tells Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times that it’s the physical nature of tough training camp workouts that will get the former MVP back to the level that the Bulls will need this season:

”He’ll be able to handle it,” Thibodeau said. ”He just has to get used to it again. That’s why the USA Basketball stuff was so important, to get used to having contact. The more he does it, the better it is for him and the more you see the rust come off.
”Now you see him start to make some of the plays he’s capable of making. Now he’s starting to get a little bit of a rhythm and starting to shoot better, which we anticipated. That’s why him practicing and practicing hard is so important.”
A physical approach would seem to contradict what Rose was preaching this summer, when he said he had to be smarter about contact. Two season-ending knee surgeries since the 2012 playoffs might have an influence on his attitude.
”I think you’ll see that next year, just trying to keep people off my body,” he said in late July. ”Using a lot of floaters, using a lot of pull-ups, things like that, so that I won’t be touched as much.”
But the kind of contact that being aggressive around the rim brings isn’t concerning Thibodeau as much as the general physicality of an NBA game.
”In the NBA, you get into a pick-and-roll and there’s going to be a guy on your body,” Thibodeau said. ”And your challenge is you’re trying to create separation and get away from people. But when you’re a player like him, you’re also going to be trapped a lot. When someone is on you all the time — and someone will be on him all the time — you have to get used to that. . . . We’re not talking about driving to the basket and someone knocks him down. We’re talking about catch-and-shoot, pick-and-roll, even isolation — someone will be on him all the time.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James will be back on the court in a Cleveland uniform when the Cavs open the preseason against Maccabi Tel Aviv tonight. … Steve Nash says he’s not concerned about a tweaked ankle at practice … Doctor says Rajon Rondo should return at 100 percent from broken hand.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George, now rehabbing from a broken leg, remains among the best two-way players in the game today:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Harden vows to add ‘D’ to his ‘A game’


VIDEO: Kevin McHale, James Harden and Dwight Howard discuss the upcoming season

HOUSTON — If there’s one thing the Rockets tired of more than seeing replays of Damian Lillard’s lethal dagger over the summer, it was hearing the criticism of James Harden’s defense. Or what there was of it.

The All-NBA first team guard was a virtual pin cushion on social media for his lack of commitment to the part of the game that didn’t involve his trying to put the ball into the basket.

“I hear it,” Harden said at the annual Media Day gathering on Monday. “I don’t pay attention to it. I’m not a really good defender. At times I can be really bad.

“A lot of stars, their defense is bad. That’s a category I know I have to get better at. For us to go and reach our potential, that’s something that has to be done. That’s one of the things I’m excited about this season. I have no choice.”

Harden raised some eyebrows when he told an interviewer that he regarded himself as the best all-around player in the NBA.

“I wasn’t saying that to be cocky,” he said. “I’ve just put such hard work and effort into my craft. Obviously we know there’s a lot of great talent out there in this league.”

Perhaps Harden even made the statement to set the bar even higher to motivate himself.

“Probably, to play the way I know I can play,” he said. “My teammates know I can play. Like I said, I got to get better at both ends. It’s just me focusing on all possessions. Being able to concentrate on small things.”

Coach Kevin McHale, with his pedigree as player, knows about the small and large things that go into the making of champion, including getting defensive effort from even the biggest offensive gun.

“We talked about all that,” McHale said. “We’ve constantly been challenging James to take on challenges. He knows he’s got to improve in areas. We asked him to do a lot last year. We’ll ask him to do a lot this year. There’s a lot of offensive pressure on him to deliver every night, but you still got to go out there and play the other side of the ball.

“He’s a young guy that’s growing into being a leader, growing into who he is. We won 54 games last year. He was first team All-Pro. I know there’s not anything above first team. that’s about as good as you get. He must have done a lot of really good things. Like all our guys, he’s got to improve in areas. He knows that. He’s not afraid to work.

“Your defense is based on help and help principles. But if (a teammate) gets beat every time, I say, ‘Oh, my God I got to get over and help again.’ If (a teammate) shuts down his guy, there’s a calmness in me. I’m not over-helping. I’m not thinking, ‘Oh my.’

“It’s a trust factor of doing your job on defense. It’s not always relying on the trust that is built in. Your object as a defender is to not use that help all that time. Use it when guys make great moves. You can’t get beat on average moves. You can’t get beat on just average stuff. You gotta just make guys work hard to beat you. It’s simple things.

“In the end, if you play on a team that is championship caliber team, there is a huge amount of trust. That trust comes from you doing your job night after night after night after night, so that everybody can trust each other.”

The Rockets are hoping that a lineup that includes three players — Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverley — who love to sink their teeth in on defense can rub off and put some bite into Harden’s defense.

“It’s not the fact that I can’t do it,” he said. “I’m a pretty good defender. It’s me being focused on the small things that I lose track of. I know that. Like I said, in order for Rockets to reach potential, I got to get better at that end.”

NBA coaching in the time of social media

One by one they arrive, each man pulling up in his elegant sedan, sports coupe or luxury SUV and, for all intents and purposes, bringing his family, his friends, his fans — his peeps — and his digital world along with him.

Denver coach Brian Shaw says keeping players off social media and engaged with the task at hand is one of his biggest challenges. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Denver coach Brian Shaw says keeping players off social media and engaged with the task at hand is one of his biggest challenges. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

In the locker room, where they dress and tease and bond and strategize, it’s all about chemistry. Except when it’s about technology.

“Say we have a shootaround or a team meeting that starts at 9:30. Guys start trickling in at 9:15,” Denver coach Brian Shaw said the other day, talking about these modern times. “We used to come in and sit around and talk to one another face to face. Now these guys have their devices and they’ll all be sitting at a table and nobody’s saying anything to anybody. They’re just punching buttons and looking down, and there’s no interaction.”

That novel about Love in the Time of Cholera? The men who oversee NBA teams are coaching in the time of social media, which might just be trickier.

Red Auerbach never had to worry about some tabloid photographer popping out of a darkened doorway to snap a photo with his date. Lenny Wilkens and Don Nelson barely stuck around long enough for cell phones. Coaches today face the full arsenal of gadgetry, as far as where their guys might turn to lose themselves or what a civilian might use to catch players unawares. TMZ, remember, pays real folding money and, after all, 15 minutes of fame is better than none.

“It’s a big challenge coaching now,” said Shaw, who  — when he was an NBA rookie in 1988 — needed a quarter and a glass booth if he wanted to fiddle with a phone at the Boston Garden. “There are so many more options for them, so many more things to take their attention away from what you’re trying to do as coach. You have to constantly bring them back in and keep them engaged.”

Twenty years have passed since Magic Johnson, in his unsatisfying 16-game stint as Lakers coach, threw Vlade Divac’s cell phone against the wall after it rang during a team meeting.

Sounds quaint now.

“I feel his pain,” Shaw said, chuckling. “A coach like Phil Jackson, the majority of the years that he coached, these are challenges that he didn’t have to deal with. To me, the X’s and O’s kind of cancel each other out, between me and the coaches I’m opposing at the other end. Keeping everybody dialed in and not being distracted by outside forces — that’s what the real challenge is.

“I’m contemplating making the players, an hour before practices and an hour before games, check their cell phones in. So they can’t even have ‘em in the locker room. It’s, ‘You’re here. We need your undivided attention right now.’ “

Been there. Doing that.

“We have rules against cell phones in the locker room after a certain point before a game,” said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, whose owner, Mark Cuban, is the king of NBA social media, at least among the Board of Governors. “If someone’s cell phone goes off, the guy gets hit with a pretty hefty fine. And we all have a good laugh about it. If it happens again, we may have to have a serious discussion about it. And the fine’s going to be heavier.”

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First Team: CP3, Doc make strides in L.A.

In this five-part series, I’ll take a look at the best games from last season’s All-NBA first team. The metric I’ve used to figure out the best games is more art than formula, using “production under pressure” as the heuristic for selection. For example, volume scoring in a close game against a stout team on the road gets more weight than volume scoring against the Bucks at home in a blowout. Big games matter. Big clutch games matter more.

Chris Paul turned in a third straight All-NBA first team bid with the Clippers.

Chris Paul turned in a third straight All-NBA first team bid with the Clippers.

Chris Paul always has the ball on a string. He can dish with either hand, making any bounce pass through tight holes — and lobs to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — possible from any angle. His pull-up jumper is lethal, and you have to get a hand up on him when he’s 23 feet out.

On the other side, he hounds. He flops. He annoys. He barks. His hands are active. In Game 4 of the 2014 Western Conference semis, he alternated between guarding Russell Westbrook (First Team-worthy) and Kevin Durant (a fellow First Teamer) as his team completed a rally back from 22.

But then came the yang of the last 49 seconds of Game 5. A turnover, a foul on a four-point play and another turnover from Paul gave the Thunder the game. They would close out the series in Game 6. It was the type of loss that encapsulates Paul: The smart, methodical, ball-on-a-string point guard can be too smart, too methodical and too ball dominant at the worst moments.

He is still a cut above the rest, continuing to redefine the Clippers’ brand to newbies who have no clue about their inept past. At 29, he is an historically great hardwood bandit (2.41 spg ranks fourth all time) and passer (9.91 apg also third all-time). There are deeper playoff successes and a MVP award to be had, but with a capable motivator in coach Doc Rivers in his ear, his point guard supremacy threatens to remain for the foreseeable future.

Here are his top games last season:

October 31, 2013 – Dawn Of A Season-Long Rivalry

The Line: 42 points, 15 assists, 6 steals, 6 turnovers

The Quote:Man, I had six turnovers. That’s ridiculous. That means there was six times I didn’t give us an opportunity to score. I’m big on turnovers. I hate turnovers.” — Paul


VIDEO: Chris Paul carves up the Warriors in a Halloween matchup

Tiny Archibald should have been proud. Two nights after being handled by the Lakers in the season opener, Cliff Paul’s brother dealt out the complete package. He was sinking free-throw line jumpers, baseline turnaround jumpers. He had his way with a pre-Team USA Klay Thompson, including a bullying score on a post-up. He even got in a sneaky dunk in Jermaine O’Neal’s mug.

Then there were those three consecutive alley oops with Blake, as well as the verbal jabs and scowls at the Warriors bench. This was CP3’s point god night, only if god coughed up the pill six times. (more…)

Morning shootaround — Sept. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nowitzki doesn’t let up in offseason | Bowen blames McHale for Harden’s defensive woes | Grousbeck questions Rondo’s coachability

No. 1: Nowitzki works to speed up shot release in offseason — This summer, Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki made sure he’d be with the team for the rest of his career by signing a three-year, $25 million extension. That big payday might lead some players to take an offseason, but not Nowitzki. As ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports, Nowitzki has been busy over the summer, working with longtime coach/shot doctor Holger Geschwindner to improve the release of his shot:

“I don’t think, to the naked eye, you would see it,” Nowitzki told ESPN.com. “I don’t know if the [average] fan will see the difference. But I’m always trying to get better, and this is just a little tool for me to shoot a little quicker. We’ll see how it works during the season.”

Geschwindner has often referred to what he calls Nowitzki’s “toolbox” and the idea of adding one new specialty every offseason.

“We worked on a quicker release,” Geschwindner said, citing Golden State’s Steph Curry as the standard-setter for getting shots off rapid-fire and insisting that Nowitzki also can become adept at getting the ball to the release point faster “if he sticks with it.”

Said Nowitzki: “Even now, I’m 36, but I don’t see myself as a complete basketball player. It’s always about getting better and adding stuff in the summer. That’s something I wanted to look at and see how it goes, so I’ll try it.

“What else can I do at 36 when the feet slow down a little bit? Try to be even quicker with the shot, because once you get older, you don’t jump as high and the first step is slower. Shooting quicker should help my game for the back end of my career. And if it doesn’t work [out well], I’ll just go back to the old way.”

In addition to his work with Geschwindner, the Mavericks also sent the team’s athletic performance director, Jeremy Holsopple, to Germany in the offseason to work with Nowitzki, too. Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News has more:

Holsopple also spent considerable time working in tandem with Nowitzki’s mentor, Holger Geschwindner, to fine-tune Dirk’s preparations for training camp, with starts Sept. 30.


“We spent an hour, hour-and-a-half each day lifting weights, sprinting, agility, different things that he needs to do to continue (playing) for so long,” Holsopple said. “He’s on a program and texts me, or we talk, almost every day, but it’s not the same as being pushed by someone. So that’s why I was over there, for the physical training.”

But what about Geschwindner? He does he feel about having some else help train a superstar who Geschwindner began mentoring 20 years ago, when Dirk was 16? After all, Holsopple is a disciple of high-tech sports science while Geschwindner, 69, is well-known for tutoring Nowitzki with many old-school — and some unorthodox — methods.

“It’s really kind of a creative process with Holger because he’s a very unique guy,” Holsopple said. “Holger and I work together in terms of the things he (Geschwindner) thinks needs to be done, as well as what we (the Mavericks) think needs to be done.

“And then we watch Dirk shoot, look at some of the shortcomings and what’s limiting him. And then we devise exercises that might address that.”

Such as?

“Even simple things like the tiny, small degree of the torso remaining (upright) on free-throws and any shot,” Holsopple said. “Then we devise an exercise to kind of stretch him out, so he can always be upright, effortlessly.”

Anyone who has witnessed a few minutes of Geschwindner working with Nowitzki — having him do leap-frogs, shooting lefthanded free-throws, etc. — might be surprised to learn how eagerly Geschwindner actually embraces new training ideas.

“There isn’t a conversation you have with Holger without him pulling out a notebook and writing all these geometric physics,” Holsopple said. “Really, it’s physics with him. He is very, very into it.

“And for the most part, it works out great for me. Because generally speaking, (Geschwindner) is really good with all these things. He has a lot of unique ideas. Some would say they’re a little out there, but they seem to work.”


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki talks about his longtime relationship with Holger Geschwindner

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Wolves opt for litter of Timberpups


VIDEO: Flip Saunders talks about the Minnesota Timberwolves’ new additions

Building a serious contender around one superstar power forward named Kevin wasn’t working for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

It didn’t work with Kevin Garnett ultimately, despite a string of eight consecutive playoff appearances from 1997-2004. And it surely didn’t work with Kevin Love, whose six-season stay in the Twin Cities merely extended the Wolves’ postseason drought from four years to a full decade.

So now Minnesota is trying another way. It’s going to raise a litter of Timberpups and hope there is success in numbers.

By acquiring Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett on Saturday in the long-awaited, two franchise-shifting trade of Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and adding him to their own 2014 lottery pick Zach LaVine, a still-young Ricky Rubio (24 in October) and last year’s first-rounders Gorgui Dieng and, er, Shabazz Muhammad (for the moment, tick tock), the Wolves have youth and hope and dreams. But mostly youth.

They have it in numbers, too, as if seeding their organization for a bountiful harvest in a few years. Oh, Flip Saunders, the team’s president of basketball operations and its coach, will talk about excitement and development in the meantime – he is, after all, a masterful amateur magician talented in the sleight of hand.

But the real payoff, if it comes at all, will come between the games as his group of raw, talented players coalesce around each other.

Synchronizing things has always been a problem for Minnesota.

It snagged Garnett in a dice-roll Draft decision 19 years ago and had a dozen years to assemble a championship-caliber team around him, but never managed to fully do so. The initial vision of Garnett and Stephon Marbury as a new-millennial Karl Malone-John Stockton (or at least Shawn Kemp-Gary Payton), with first Tom Gugliotta (and then Joe Smith) as third stars, never achieved full focus. Gugliotta left, Smith was no more than a role player and Marbury torpedoed his own career in one of sports’ many examples of $100 million airport, $10 control tower.

Kevin McHale, the Wolves’ basketball boss, kept patching around Garnett and got them as far as the 2004 Western Conference finals by hiring mercenaries Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell. That approach had no better legs than Sprewell and Cassell themselves, though, and after the usual death spiral – coaching changes, contract squabbles, missing the playoffs in Garnett’s last three Minnesota seasons – the big guy participated in the trade to Boston that got him his ring. And left the Wolves as, well, the Wolves.

The Love years were even worse. McHale got the UCLA forward in a Draft night switcheroo with Memphis for O.J. Mayo and seemed to be the perfect mentor for Love.

But McHale’s own tenure in Minnesota was out of sync with his new young big, and when Wolves owner Glen Taylor dumped McHale in favor of David Kahn, bad downshifted to worse. Erratic Draft picks and personnel moves followed, along with an uneasy atmosphere – or creepy culture, if you go by some Wolves insiders – during Kahn’s four lost seasons in charge.

It’s quicker to note what went right in that time than what went wrong – the Wolves didn’t pass on Rubio, Love developed himself into an All-Star and Rick Adelman stabilized the coaching position for a time – but it wasn’t enough. By the time Saunders was brought back 15 months ago to do some serious sweet-talking, Love already had one foot and half of his other out the door.

So now they’ll try it this way: Round up as many young players as possible, fold in a key veteran or three (new acquisition Thad Young, plus current Wolves Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin until they can shed the contract), and bake.

“What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to build not an individual, we’re trying to build a team,” Saunders said Saturday. “That’s the thing that we’ve sold to the players or anyone that we bring in here.”

For an outpost franchise like Minnesota, a big part of the plan is that the players – in growing up together – see ways in which their whole can end up greater than the sum of their parts. The risk is that someone feels slighted by being a spot or two down in his own ideal pecking order – if Bennett or LaVine feels stunted because of Wiggins, or if Rubio locks in on max-contract dreams when he hasn’t earned one yet – and blows up the blueprint.

That’s akin to what happened in Oklahoma City, which took a similar approach until James Harden chafed at being neither Batman nor Robin. He wound up with his own team in Houston, but at least the Thunder reached The Finals once and have managed to stabilize the roster since his departure.

Then again, maybe OKC proves that it all eventually comes full circle. And building around a superstar forward named Kevin really is the way to go.