Posts Tagged ‘Larry Bird’

‘Nique Not Impressed With LeBron’s 61




VIDEO: LeBron James talks about his 61-point night

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Complete honesty is a beautiful thing, even when it steps on the toes of the narrative of the day.

Hall of Famer and former Atlanta Hawks great Dominique Wilkins is a straight shooter. So when he went on a Twitter roll Tuesday night and mentioned that he was not impressed with the career-high 61-point night Miami Heat superstar LeBron James put up against the Charlotte Bobcats Monday night the basketball world responded.

Some agreed with ‘Nique, plenty more disagreed with his analysis … sampled here:

Revisionist historians will certainly see some merit in ‘Nique’s tweets and argue that LeBron performs on the regular against a diminished human product than what ‘Nique and his Hall of Fame contemporaries faced.

I would caution the Human Highlight Film, however, from suggesting that we all go back and watch the tape from start to finish. All we see these days are quick two and three-minute highlight clips of their exploits. The dunks, and fantastic shots and legendary plays and moments of their careers.

The full tape might show something else. Not every team played top-flight defense in the past. And you didn’t have to battle Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird every single night.

No one is more wistful about the past than I am. I grew up on the NBA ‘Nique is comparing and contrasting to the league LeBron is currently working in and dominating. So I understand exactly where he’s coming from. I just don’t agree completely with his thoughts.

LeBron and some of his contemporaries are doing things that haven’t been done in decades, since before Nique’s era …

‘Indiana Pacers 2.0′ Begins Now


VIDEO: Reggie Miller talks about the Pacers trading Danny Granger

MILWAUKEE – Once the shock subsided, the speculation began: If suddenly former Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger works out a buyout from the Philadelphia team to which he was dealt at the NBA trade deadline Thursday, he conceivably could sign with the Miami Heat. Or the San Antonio Spurs. Or the Dallas Mavericks or some other playoff team.

If that happened -– particularly if he landed in Miami –- the Pacers in their championship quest this spring could find themselves staring right at Granger, their longtime leading scorer and face of the franchise with a new, sizable chip on his shoulder. Imagine Granger hitting a game- or series-clinching shot that spoils Indiana’s marvelous season…

Gulp. The possibility is so ironic, so emotional, it’s almost unthinkable. It would be like Ray Allen in Game 6 – only against the Celtics.

Know, though, that the Pacers’ locker room is a gulp-free zone.

“We’re competing for a championship,” Pacers All-Star wing Paul George said. “Not a friendship.”

George considers Granger exactly that, a friend and former mentor. He ascended to Granger’s status and beyond while the veteran was waylaid by injuries for more than a year, and he hated to see him go in the deal for the 76ers’ Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen. But friendships and relationships criss-cross this league in endless connections, via countless paths.

The chip that matters most to George, the one that could define his and the Pacers’ season, is the big one that comes only in June. The line to that is straight and true.

Said George: “It’s bigger than… Y’know, everything on the floor – I’ve got friends in the league and people I looked up to in the league – but when it comes to a ballgame, that’s where [our business] is.

“I think Larry [Bird, Pacers president] made the best move for this team. We all wish Danny could be here. But Larry knows basketball and if that’s the move Larry wanted to make, we’re all behind him. … We understand we’re ‘all in.’ “

People talk about chemistry and how tight the Pacers have been, circling their wagons first in an overlooked-and-underloved way that works so well for teams in flyover markets, then in the flatly stated goal of the postseason’s No. 1 seed for homecourt advantage. They’ve grown – up and together – the old-fashioned way, step-by-playoff-round-step the past three years.

They’d done it in spite of Granger’s setbacks, allowing him enough time to return and search for value he could bring off the bench. Only now he’s gone, Bird deciding that Turner’s livelier game offers more. Who’d know better than Bird that chasing championships isn’t for softies?

“Danny was one of the main reasons I came here,” power forward David West said. “So the idea that he’s not going to be around what we’re trying to do is a little tough to deal with. But it’s a part of the business. And if he happens to go to a team whether it’s in the West or the East, if he doesn’t stay in Philly and we’ve got to compete against Danny, then we just have to do it.”

Welcome to Pacers 2.0, a group that added pieces Thursday and, as it did, steeled its resolve. They might seem to have a lot of variables in play, too many given their impressive first half this season: a 9-6 record since Jan. 20, the Andrew Bynum experiment that’s just begun, the loss of Granger and the indoctrination of Turner and Allen.

But it gives them chores, a to-do list to take their minds off Miami in a tightened race for the East’s best record. With the promise of something special.

“Y’know, this is a starter-owned team, so there’s not variables in that regard. It’s just the parts that are around them,” coach Frank Vogel said. “I think there’s room to improve.”

Bynum practiced Friday briefly, after spending his All-Star break in Indianapolis working on his game and conditioning. There’s no penciled-in date for his game debut, but Vogel said the slack in his team’s schedule this week will mean more practice for the 7-foot center, adrift when he signed Feb. 1 after a spotty half season in Cleveland and a lost year with Philadelphia.

Evan and Allen didn’t join Indiana in time to face and beat the Bucks Saturday but are expected to play Tuesday against the Lakers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. It will be on them, especially Turner, to shake off the cobwebs of Philadelphia’s 15-42 for a team with a mirror record and ambitions.

“He’s going to have to be able to adjust early and find his way,” said George, who went eight picks after No. 2 Turner in the 2010 Draft. “I think we’re going to do a great job of pulling him in and helping him along the process.

“He’s a good friend of mine, so I’ll be one of the first people to help him through this process. … In big games, he’s one of those guys who can impact it in so many ways. He guards on the other end, he has the ability to make shots and can get into the paint at will.”

Bird surely did his homework on Turner, a talent with spotty production in his first three-plus seasons who has been putting up numbers for a bad team. George knows him well. And West did a little reconnaissance, having played at Xavier for the same coach – Thad Matta – Turner had at Ohio State.

“We’ve got a little background on him,” West said. “I definitely talked to coach.”

Turner got a taste of the playoffs in his first two seasons. But he’s never had an opportunity like this one.

“That’s what I’m banking on,” West said. “Those guys have been in tough situations and they’re coming to a winning and strong basketball culture. Hopefully it helps them thrive and gives them some pride. I know Turner’s a competitor. He’s given us trouble when we’ve played against him in the past.

“Hopefully he knows the plan here is to play into June.”

LeBron Puts Charge Into Thunder, MVP Race


VIDEO: LeBron, Miami thump Thunder in Thursday’s showdown

OKLAHOMA CITY – Weeks before Russell Westbrook knew he would need a third knee surgery, back when he was rolling right along with his Oklahoma City Thunder, and so too were Portland and San Antonio, he was asked to rank his team’s prowess in the Western Conference.

“I think we’re the best team in the NBA,” Westbrook said. “I don’t think about the West or the East. We’re the best in the NBA.”

The Thunder entered Thursday night’s showdown against the Miami Heat boasting the league’s best record. But anointing a best team isn’t something to be done in December or February. And so it was on OKC’s home floor, on the night Westbrook made his long-awaited return to a standing ovation, that LeBron James provided this stark reminder to all: He is not only the reigning two-time MVP, but the two-time reigning Finals MVP to boot.

He delivered an overwhelming start, scoring the Heat’s first 12 points, deflecting passes, running the floor and dunking with no remorse as Miami roared to a 34-17 lead after one quarter. The Thunder made several runs, got as close as five points, but each time the Heat, led by a LeBron growing more menacing by the game, answered with force.

Whatever has James fired up, whether it’s Durant’s frontrunning MVP candidacy, the Mount Rushmore volcano, the whipping Oklahoma City wind, he is using it to his advantage. Thursday’s game-high 33 points in 33 minutes on 15-for-22 shooting — 14-for-17 inside the arc — was his 13th 30-point game since Jan. 1, and his fourth in a row. He has seven of them in the last nine games going back to the Jan. 29 home loss to the Thunder that put on exclamation point on Durant’s stupendous MVP run.

The only way the Thunder found to stop the bleeding was to actually make James bleed. He got clobbered with about six minutes left as he aggressively attacked Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka at the rim. Somehow he made the bucket, then crashed to the floor with blood flowing from his nose. He left the game and wouldn’t return, but the damage was done as Miami held on for a 103-81 rout.

He was ruled free of a concussion after the game, and will have until Sunday to recuperate before the black-and-blue Chicago Bulls come calling in Miami. The Heat will take a four-game win streak into that game as they completed a six-game all-Western Conference road trip 5-1, ringing up West contenders OKC and the L.A. Clippers, plus West playoff teams Golden State, Phoenix and Dallas with James shooting 57.1 percent on the trip.

If this is Durant’s MVP to lose, at least now we must consider the race officially on.

Of course, the regular-season MVP award is secondary to a Heat three-peat or the Thunder capturing their first championship, but history is attached to this MVP. No one has won three in a row since Larry Bird did it from 1983-86. Before Bird it was Wilt Chamberlain from 1965-68. And before Wilt it was Bill Russell from 1960-63.

Chicago’s Derrick Rose spoiled James’ first run at three in 2011, and now Durant is threatening to do it again. Westbrook, who has watched every mesmerizing performance from the bench as he recovered, said Durant is clearly the MVP as of now.

“It’s obvious, it’s obvious,” Westbrook said. “I mean he has so many different stats throughout the season that nobody has done. He’s done a great job of leading us as a group. He’s done it in a way that I don’t think nobody has done it this year.”

It wasn’t so obvious Thursday. Durant finished with 28 points on 10-for-22 shooting, but he was just 1-for-6 from beyond the arc and he even missed three of his 10 free throws. As James attacked early, Durant played it passively, perhaps hoping to give Westbrook an opportunity to gather his legs and find his touch. Whatever it was, the Heat defense walled him off. Durant turned it over three times and was 0-for-2 six minutes in; James had 14 points, six on dunks and Miami was off to a 20-8 start.

“He did what very few can do, that’s impact and set the tone on both sides of the court,” Spoelstra said. “He’s an absolute, true throwback in terms of being a two-way player and understanding how important it is. While he wasn’t necessarily on Durant to start, he was very active with his hands and blowing up pick-and-roll coverages with his speed and his awareness, and obviously he was just so aggressive with that mentality, everybody just gained confidence from that.”

James has the Heat surging, and quietly now just 1 1/2 games behind Indiana. Meanwhile, the Thunder face a period of transition as Westbrook and Durant work on the fly to regain the form that led to a 21-4 record before their three-time All-Star point went under the knife again.

It will all make for a fascinating stretch drive and a very meaningful race for MVP.

“I’ve never put pressure on myself to receive the [MVP] award,” James said. “I just went out and played my game. That was what happened out of it. And obviously, for me, I try to be the MVP every night for our team and just try to put us in position to win.”

He did so, emphatically, Thursday night.


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew discuss the Heat-Thunder matchup

Bird’s Famous Fire Drives Pacers’ Granger-Turner Trade


VIDEO: Get the latest on the Pacers-Sixers trade deadline deal.

All that Mt. Rushmore talk over All-Star Weekend, and the “No Vacancy” sign it flashed at so many of the NBA’s legendary players, might require some reconnoitering after all.

This Larry Bird, the one we got Thursday afternoon at the league’s trade deadline, is the one I’d want chiseled on my mountainside.

Anyone who has forgotten, and perhaps some tender fans who never knew, the razor’s edge that Bird brought to the court as a Hall of Fame player for Boston (and to the bench in his subsequent Coach of the Year work for Indiana) got a crash course in arguably the day’s most stunning move. Bird, the Pacers’ president, agreed to a deal sending veteran forward Danny Granger to the Philadelphia 76ers for wing Evan Turner, big LaVoy Allen and, according to various reports, a future second-round pick.

One of the East’s two big dogs, one of the four A-list contenders (as of Thursday morning) to win the championship this spring – and it wasn’t enough for Larry Joe Bird, cutthroat competitor. Despite Granger’s elder statesman status in their locker room, despite what seemed over 2013-14′s first half to be a pat hand, Bird felt the Pacers needed more. And just as with the addition a few weeks back of Cavs center — and potential slacker and even cancer – Andrew Bynum, in the name of winning and matchups, Bird didn’t blink – he fixed something that others didn’t realize was broke.

Broke, at least in terms of chasing down a Larry O’Brien trophy, anyway.

The sentiment of welcoming Granger back into the fold this season, after his knee injury a year ago and a calf issue in the fall? The payoff that he surely felt, again being part of the year-by-year march toward a title (even if his new bench role didn’t fit perfectly after those years of solid service as Indiana’s leading scorer)?  Set aside. Weighed and rejected.

Less than two months from now, the Pacers will hit the postseason ready to accept nothing less than a trip to the Finals. Approximately three months from now, most everyone expects to see them locked in a death match with the Miami Heat, the two-time defending champs through whom the challengers must go.

“I didn’t think Granger would last that long, especially after Paul George became who he was,” said LeBron James before his mathcup with Kevin Durant and the Thunder. “It wasn’t surprising at all. I think they got a very good player. Obviously Granger is a really good player. He hasn’t found his niche after coming back after the injury, but I think Evan Turner is a really good player for them.”

This move was about money, sure, as almost all NBA transactions are these days. But it also was about facing the Heat, with a younger, livelier wing (Turner) and an extra big (Allen) for Indiana’s showdown with James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest.

Granger is a superior 3-point shooter, in particular, with greater range and a quicker more efficient game overall, but he wasn’t thriving off the bench (35.9 FG%). His numbers per-36 minutes were 13.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists, compared to Turner’s 17.9, 6.1 and 3.8. Defensively, Granger brings more bulk and willingness.

The 6-foot-7 Turner, a fourth-year draft mate of Indiana All-Star Paul George, has been logging heavy minutes for the Sixers, getting 15.4 shots per game and playing at a 13.3 PER level, compared to Granger’s 10.4. Turner can be a restricted free agent this summer – though not the Pacers’ top priority, with Lance Stephenson also hitting the market – and might not welcome a dip in playing time and scoring chances while trying to boost his price tag.

But the league knows what Turner can and can’t do for a team headed nowhere; he can open some eyes and maybe wallets by helping the Pacers, from both ends of the court, get where they want to go.

That’s what this season is all about for Indiana, that’s what Bird – the guy who often said he hates to lose more than he likes to win – is all about, too.

Live From New Orleans … It’s State Farm All-Star Saturday Night!




VIDEO: Distance is never a problem for Stephen Curry and won’t be during All-Star Saturday night

NEW ORLEANS — Showdown Saturday night is here, finally.

We’ve been waiting for days down here in New Orleans for things to get officially started and for years All-Star Saturday served that purpose for the NBA’s showcase weekend. This year is no different, as we come to you live from the Smoothie King Center and State Farm Saturday night well into the wee hours.

This has long been the domain of the league’s best and brightest, from Dr. J, Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Vince Carter and so many other of the league’s greatest dunkers, not to mention the most prolific 3-point shooters and skilled technicians.

Is there someone in tonight’s field for the Sprite Slam Dunk contest … say someone like this Paul George fella below?



VIDEO: Paul George has all of the tools to become one of the league’s all-time great dunkers

Your All-Star Saturday night schedule can be found here. And we are going to provide you with a non-stop in-arena feel for what’s going on down here in the Big Easy.

First up is the Sears Shooting Stars competition, followed by the Taco Bell Skills Challenge , followed by the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and, we saved the best for last, the Sprite Slam Dunk contest.

I’m going to go ahead and get my predictions out of the way now. Here are my winners …

– Sears Shooting Stars: Team Curry looks lean and mean. They win this one for the Western Conference.

– Taco Bell Skills Challenge: The West has two wicked teams in this one (Trey Burke and Damian Lillard on Team 1 and Goran Dragic and Reggie Jackson on Team 2). I have to roll with Team 1! Another win for the West.

– Foot Locker Three-Point Contest: The Currys need to adopt me, because in Steph Curry I trust when it comes to a shooting contest. (East coast bias … where?)

– Sprite Slam Dunk: The defending champ, Terrence Ross, and the East will be tough to beat. I’ve been hearing rumblings around town that Ben McLemore has some crazy stuff planned. We shall see. In the meantime, I’m rocking with my man “Ross” and George and John Wall.

Get your popcorn ready …

Sears Shooting Stars

– Team Bosh vs Team Durant in the championship for the Sears Shoot Stars.

– Team Bosh with the repeat thansk to Chris Bosh … ain’t nothing but a winner! Durant finishes second again … unreal.

Swin Cash going all Seattle Seahawks and Doug Baldwin on the TNT crew after Team Bosh was handed the trophy was a most appropriate way to finish off the opening event of the night. Straight Cash homie!

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

– East rookies MCW and Victor Oladipo representing for their side with a 43-second run in their run through the course. Too easy for two youngbucks like that.

– It’s still not the Year of the Dragon. Burke and Lillard come through with a 40.6 second-run on the course and keep my prediction alive.

– 45.3 second run for the rookie team in the finals. Always believe in Burke baby! West delivers a 45.2 to take the title. My dude Burke has mad quicks (not that NBA.com’s John Schuhmann has noticed. He’s too busy hating on the best rookie in the league.)

– A little controversy on All- Star Saturday never hurts! We’ve got to get the replay.

Foot Locker Three-Point Contest

– Redemption time for Steph Curry. This is your night sir. This is your event. Do what you do!

– Chuck picks an upset and goes with Bradley Beal (his mom calls him Bradley, so I’m going with Bradley).

– Great field in this competition. All-Stars in Lillard, Curry, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

– Who jinxed me and the Curry clan tonight? Steph is watching the finals like me. Ugh!

– RapCam turns up shots of Ludacris and Nelly sitting courtside. These young rappers clearly need to step their game up if the vets are getting all of the major Jumbotron play tonight. #whereyouatDrakeand2Chains?

– Nice theme music for Arron Afflalo, Robin Thicke‘s Magic Touch playing as he hits the stage and his 15 is the new score to beat.

Bradley Beal has the high-mark with 21. Kid has wicked range and an absolutely pure shooting stroke.

– The Kendrick Lamar concert/interlude is coming up soon. Just FYI

– Belinelli didn’t smile at all during the final round tale of the tape interview with Nick Cannon and Beal. Not sure how to take that. I know you want to win and everything but have a little fun with this thing fella. His method worked, though. Dropped a 19.

– Beal struggles on his money ball rack but rallies down the stretch for a 19 to tie it and now we get these guys in a 60-second tiebreaker.

Belinelli wins it with a monster effort in the OT. Fantastic showing by both guys.

– Kendrick Lamar’s tearing it up. perfect intro for what I hope will be a spectacular Sprite Slam Dunk contest.

Sprite Slam Dunk

– So I’m 0-for-everything going into this final contest of the night. Somebody on this East team needs to get greasy from the start so I can get back on track. Judges are Dr. J, Dominique and Magic. No worries with those judges.

Kevin Hart and Cannon doing their two-man routine before we get started. Mr. Box Office himself is picking Lillard. And Hart goes with McLemore (who got roasted by Barkley and Hart for his ‘fro … cold blooded).

– East had one day of practice for that routine they turned in for the freestyle portion of their program. Impressive!

– West had a couple of decent dunks but the choreography was way off.

– East wins that freestyle round easy!

– Someone pulled Vanilla Ice out of uh, moth balls … I’ve seen it all now. Bring on the battle round!

– Ross comes out with Drake as an assistant. Battle Round brings out the human props and a cape … and a between-the-legs jam that looks way better on replay after he missed it the first time.

– Lillard’s nights end mercifully without any hardware. The effort was outstanding, though.

Harrison Barnes has some explaining to do after this NBA2k14 dunk …

– McLemore dunking over Shaq and getting crowned had the crowd on its feet. Dunk looked much better on replay, of course. But no one has nailed that all-important first attempt …

– Until now. Thank you JohnWall, the reverse over the mascot and the Nay Nay with George after the dunk. Energy back up just like that. Even the judges agreed on that one. The East wins it. The new format is still being digested as we await the word on the individual champ … well, the dunker of the evening. Wall!

LeBron: Time To Build Another Mountain


VIDEO: LeBron speaks at Friday’s All-Star Media Day

NEW ORLEANS — LeBron James wasn’t backing away from his Mt. Rushmore comments that stirred up a fuss. The other day he told Steve Smith on NBA TV that he hoped to one day knock either Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan or Oscar Robertson off and claim his own spot.

But he did offer a creative solution.

“It’s hard to knock anybody off,” James said at the NBA All-Star Media Day. “There needs to be another mountain built. I mean there’s too many guys.

“Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) and Kobe (Bryant) were two guys that came to my mind, too. I definitely was thinking about Kobe as a top four of all-time. Kareem, for sure. There are so many greats that played this game.”

Give the four-time MVP credit. He also didn’t back down from his stated goal of becoming known as the greatest player of all time.

“There’s no reason I couldn’t be No. 1,” he said. “That’s my goal. That’s my personal goal.

“Anytime I bring up a subject or answer a question, guys like to dissect it and make it bigger or smaller than what it is.

“My personal goal is to be the greatest of all time. I don’t really care what other people say, where they put me, how they define me. You could have a poll of 100 people, what do they think, that’s not for me to care about. For me, I have an opportunity to maximize my career and be the greatest of all time. I feel like I can do that. That’s my personal goal.”

It’s the fishbowl world that James lives in. Most of the time we hear athletes dance around questions, never put themselves out there on the line with an honest answer. Then LeBron steps up to the line with a direct response and he gets whipped from some corners for it.

What’s wrong with a 29-year-old who is already a 10-time All-Star, with an armload of individual awards, two championships and four NBA Finals appearances saying that he wants and expects the most out of himself? He didn’t disparage anyone. If anything, he simply put more pressure on himself to perform and deliver.

James sat for 30 minutes before a horde of TV cameras, microphones and notebooks and was engaging with every answer on Friday.

He was told that when Kevin Durant was asked, on a scale of 1 to 10, how much does he dislike being compared to James, K.D. said 25.

“I don’t mind,” James said. “You’re always gonna be linked to somebody. Early in my career I was linked to Kobe. Now I’m linked to K.D. You’re always gonna be linked to somebody. It’s how you handle it. I don’t get caught up in it.

“I don’t think I’m compared to him. They just talk about the two best players in the game and which one is better. Which one can score better? Who’s the MVP? Who’s gonna win the next championship? They don’t ever compare our games too much. We’re two different players.”

He was asked about his 36-point, 13-rebound, nine-assist game when he nailed down a 111-110 win at Golden State with a 3-pointer to beat the horn.

“I just had a conversation with Steph Curry,” James said. “He talked to me about what I was doing. I asked him what was he doing shooting all them step-back 3s in the third quarter. The hesitation on Rio [Mario Chalmers] and going for the and-1. It’s great to be around your peers. People recognize what others are doing throughout the NBA season. I’m happy I was able to put on a performance right before All-Star to be fresh on guys’ minds.”

Then James was asked if his proclivity in the last couple of years to step up big late in games was the result of any work with a psychologist.

He grinned.

“Yeah, I work with a psychologist,” LeBron said. “Her name is Spalding. She goes into the rim and that’s what happens.”

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 12


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Motivated LeBron backs up Rushmore talk | Latest loss strikes a nerve with Lakers | Bennett’s big night lifts Cavs | No comeback for Rose, Noah problem for Bulls

No. 1: Fired up LeBron fuels Mount Rushmore talk himself – Agree or disagree all you want with LeBron James and his assertion that he’ll be on the NBA’s Mount Rushmore when his career ends, you have to like what all of the chatter is doing for his game and the Heat’s season. The Heat might not be on their way to another 27-game win streak, but James has found the motivation needed to overcome the rough patches of this season. LeBron is feeling his words right about now, Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com writes, he’s walking the walk and backing up all of his own talk:

James’ seasonal slogan might just as well be what he said Tuesday, “I’m feeling good right now.”

He has the occasional frustration with a wayward loss, such as over the past weekend in Utah when he played a dud game. He’ll get a little irked when it’s mentioned that Kevin Durant may have closed the gap on him for best player on the planet status. But, generally, James has been skipping on air since he stood on top of the podium after Game 7 in Miami last June holding both gold trophies with that “what can you say now” grin across his face.

The mindset will eventually be challenged but not for awhile. Until then, James will be feeling quite good about himself.

That was at the root of why he was willing to declare in a recent interview with NBA TV that, “I’m going to be one of the top four that’s ever played this game, for sure. And if they don’t want me to have one of those top four spots, they’d better find another spot on that mountain. Somebody’s gotta get bumped.”

When James listed what he felt was the current NBA Mount Rushmore, he named Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Oscar Robertson. It is hard to decide which would create more conversation, James’ statement or his choices of the peer group.

Feeling so good about himself and put at ease by interviewer Steve Smith, James continued by claiming that he’d been cheated in the NBA Defensive Player of the Year voting the past two years.

“To be honest, I feel I’ve been snubbed two years in a row [on the award], and I’m serious,” James said. “And that’s one selfish thing about me … I feel like I should have won it.”

Yes, that is James insisting that he’s not getting enough credit for something. He’s just letting it all go. In the golden era of his career, he clearly figures, why shouldn’t he? He fears no reprisal and, at least now, isn’t too worried about any opponent.

“We’ll play anybody, it doesn’t matter,” James said as he was basking in the win. “It doesn’t matter who it is. We’re not running from anyone.”



VIDEO: LeBron James talks Mount Rushmore with Steve Smith

***

No. 2: Latest loss strikes a nerve with Lakers – Steve Nash exiting a second straight game with a nerve issue is problem enough for the Los Angeles Lakers. But dropping yet another game on their home floor is perhaps even more troubling for the Lakers, a team quickly falling down the rabbit hole of this season. Tuesday night’s loss to the Utah Jazz marks the Lakers’ sixth straight home loss at Staples Center, once a fortress of solitude for the team … but no more. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times explains just how severely off track things are for Kobe Bryant‘s crew:

Home bitter home.

The Lakers used to consider Staples Center a haven of victories, a bedrock of five championship runs since the building opened in 1999.

Now they might as well play at a local park.

They lost to the lowly Utah Jazz on Tuesday, 96-79, falling to 8-15 at home and losing six consecutive games at home for the first time since 1992-93.

It’s the cherry on top of several scoops of problems.

Steve Nash left the game for good at halftime, felled again by the same nerve irritation in his back that sidelined him almost three months.

The nerve damage starts in the back and presents itself in his hamstring, making it feel as if it’s strained or pulled.

Whatever euphoria he felt last Friday — 19 points and five assists against Philadelphia on his 40th birthday — was almost absent after Tuesday’s game, though he tried to be upbeat.

“I think I need a little more time to get over the hump,” he told The Times.

He considered sitting out before tipoff but knew the Lakers were short-handed without six injured players.

Nash didn’t look quite right while he played, totaling two points and two assists in 17 minutes. He made one of four shots in his 10th game this season.

The Lakers are shrugging. They don’t know exactly what to do.

“I imagine it’s day to day. I don’t know anything else,” Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said of Nash’s status. “I haven’t really talked to him.”

Nash’s injury dented some mild excitement the Lakers felt before the game. They were expecting five of their six injured players back shortly after this weekend’s All-Star break.

The lone lingering one, though, was Kobe Bryant, who might be the last Lakers player to return, according to a person familiar with the situation.

He continues to have swelling and pain in his fractured left knee and figures to trail Pau GasolJordan FarmarJodie Meeks and maybe even Xavier Henry in getting back to the court.

***

No. 3: A breakout night for rookie Bennett lifts Cavaliers – It’s taken a while, months basically, but Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Anthony Bennett has finally decided to join the party. Bennett, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 Draft had his breakout game in a win over the Sacramento Kings Tuesday night in Cleveland. It was a much-needed breakthrough for Bennett, whose season has been anything but spectacular up to this point. While Michael Carter-Williams, Trey Burke and Victor Oladipo have all moved past him in the Rookie of the Year race, Bennett is doing well to just ease his way into the public consciousness right now. Mary Schmitt Boyer of the Plain Dealer explains:

Rookie Anthony Bennett drilled a 3-pointer and threw his arms up into the air to celebrate late in the Cavaliers 109-99 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night at The Q.

“I was just having fun,” said Bennett, who registered his first double-double with career highs of 19 points and 10 rebounds in 29:45 as the Cavs avenged a 124-80 loss in Sacramento on Jan. 12 and improved to 19-33, winning three in a row for the first time since Dec. 7-13.

When was the last time he had fun on the basketball court?

“I don’t remember,” Bennett said. “Today?”

The timing was bittersweet as Bennett, whose selection as the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft has been widely criticized, and his slow start undoubtedly contributed to the firing of general manager Chris Grant last week.

“I’m sure Chris Grant is smiling at home, and deservedly so,” said Sacramento coach — and former Cavs assistant under Mike BrownMike Malone, whose team dropped to 17-35.

Bennett, who had shoulder surgery before the draft last summer and was unable to participate in summer league, has been coming early to practice and staying late, working to regain the form that made him a star last season at UNLV.

His teammates celebrated with him after Tuesday’s breakout game.

“He played a heck of a game tonight,” Kyrie Irving said. “It was awesome. I was a fan.”

Added Luol Deng, who led the Cavs with 22 points, “He’s going to get it. These kind of games are going to come more often.”

***

No. 4: No return for Rose this season, Noah problem for the Bulls? – Hoops fans in Chicago have played this game before and lost, so there is no reason to dive in again this time. Derrick Rose, no matter how many times he hits the floor to shoot before the Bulls play, is not coming back this season. It is NOT happening … right? But if All-Star center Joakim Noah has his way, the dream of a Rose return is still alive. That said, if Noah keeps up his current ways (a triple-double Tuesday night in a win over the visiting Atlanta Hawks), it’ll be much easier for Bulls fans to stomach another season without Rose in uniform. Joe Cowley of the Sun Times delivers the details:

The door was closed — slammed shut months ago by Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau when he said Derrick Rose was lost for the season after tearing his right meniscus Nov. 22 and undergoing surgery.

On Tuesday, center Joakim Noah wedged his size 18 foot into that door, keeping the dream alive for a small minority that believes in unicorns, dragons and quick Rose recoveries.

Asked if he thought Rose could play this postseason, Noah said, ‘‘That’s not my decision. That’s nobody’s decision. It’s all about how he feels. Regardless of what happens, we’re going to be supportive.’’

It went by many different names last year: ‘‘The Return,’’ the Rose watch, the story that wouldn’t die. But in the end, the Bulls never ruled Rose out for the season in his recovery from a torn left anterior cruciate ligament, so hope stayed alive until the final minutes of a Game 5 loss to the Miami Heat in the second round of the playoffs.

The consensus on ‘‘The Return II’’ has been that there wouldn’t be one. But Noah’s comments came on the same day Rose was going through shooting drills with reporters watching, and the story gained legs again — little ones.

‘‘He’s working really hard,’’ Noah said. ‘‘He’s always around the team, being a great leader, showing support to his teammates. Just watching him work every day, I think, is extra motivation for us to go out there and go harder.

‘‘He’s doing a lot more than shooting around. He’s in the gym nonstop, just working on his body getting better. That’s what it’s all about. He’s a big part of this team. He has that mentality of having no regrets. Just give it everything you got. If you can go, you can go. If you can’t, you did everything you could to make it.’’

Thibodeau said Rose was running on the treadmill, but when asked if that was a new development, he quickly said no.

‘‘Still nowhere close to practicing or anything like that,’’ he said, ‘‘but he’s doing well overall.’’


VIDEO: The Fan Night Top 10 delivers a dazzling array of highlights for your viewing pleasure

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Charlotte Bobcats, following the lead of the Phoenix Suns, are simply playing too well to tank … Portland forward Nic Batum can’t fight it anymore, gives up the kudos to Kevin Durant as the best (one-on-one player in the league) … The streak continues for Kyle Korver, thanks to his work in his old stomping grounds … The Miami Heat’s core group is doing the heavy lifting right now and might have to the rest of this season

ICYMI of the Night: NBA TV’s Steve Smith dives deep with LeBron James in this exclusive interview, and yes, there’s more to the interview than the Mount Rushmore talk …


VIDEO: LeBron James talks about what motivates him with NBA TV’s Steve Smith

Bynum Joins Pacers, Passion Still TBD


VIDEO: Bynum meets the press in Indy

INDIANAPOLIS – Andrew Bynum mindlessly flipped a basketball from hand to hand as he spoke with reporters after his first shootaround as a member of the Indiana Pacers. Back and forth, back and forth, the sound of the ball slapping softly into his palms provided a backbeat to his words.

It served, too, as a metaphor for a casualness Bynum has brought to this season and the does-he-or-doesn’t-he concerns about his passion for the sport.

“People have their opinions,” Bynum said, keeping beat with the ball. “I don’t respond to it. I just go out and play.”

Sometimes, anyway. The 7-foot center, signed by Indiana last week as a backup big with low-risk, medium-reward possibility, has played 24 NBA games in the past 20 months. They all came with Cleveland through Dec. 26, after which Bynum was suspended for a team infraction and then traded in the deal that delivered Chicago’s Luol Deng to Cleveland. The Bulls cut Bynum to avoid the $6 million he would have been owed had he stayed, and his next destination was in play, but rather mildly so, until Pacers president Larry Bird met with him (and management ponied up a reported $1 million for what’s left of the season and postseason).

Much was said about Bynum’s desire, or lack thereof, to play in the NBA. The preps-to-pros lottery pick eight years ago was an All-Star in 2011-12, averaging 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds while shooting 55.8 percent. He was a valued contributor at age 21 to a Lakers title in 2009 and again in 2010.

Even though Bynum just once had played more than 65 games in a season, he was considered the centerpiece of the four-team trade that shuffled 12 players and six draft picks in August 2012. But he never played a lick for the 76ers, and things between Bynum and the Cavaliers, despite a reasonable contract and some highlights, turned sour. He averaged 8.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 20.0 minutes, shooting 41.9 percent. His true shooting percentage, after six years of 59.5 percent or better, was just 45 percent.

Now he’s in Indiana, joining a team that, at 38-10, had the NBA’s best record without him. Bynum’s task, frankly, seems to have something in common with the doctors with whom he’s become so familiar: First, do no harm.

“I think that’s good,” Bynum said after his orientation of light shooting and meet-and-greet with new teammates at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “Obviously when you have the staff they have here and the legend, Larry Bird, things run correctly. It’s a lot easier to fit in here and be positive when the entire atmosphere is already that way. Obviously there are some great locker-room leaders here, and that goes a long way.”

While the ambitions for Bynum are modest – back up Roy Hibbert and provide a little more scoring in the paint than defensive-minded Ian Mahinmi – key Pacers such as David West and Paul George have stressed the importance of Bynum blending with them, rather than the group accommodating him.

Signing him to keep him away from arch-rival Miami might be more legit than Bird lets on – “That’s about the dumbest thing I’ve heard,” Bird said – but the Pacers will brook no distractions or prima donnas.

George said he considers Bynum, assuming he’s healthy, to be an extension of Hibbert. The All-Star starter said he likes the move for Bynum’s sakes, as well as what it showed about Indiana’s front office.

“It’s real huge. I think both parties saw the positives out of this,” George said. “Him coming here, it was a chance for himself to be a part of something great here, get back into the flow of things basketball-wise. For us, it’s great to have a talent that huge come back and be a part of this team, and help us [try to] win a championship.”

Head coach Frank Vogel, who already has quelled Danny Granger‘s return-as-distraction worries, called his concerns about Bynum “very minor.” “We’ve got a strong culture here,” Vogel said. “We believe Andrew’s a good person, a good guy and a hard worker. And [we] think it’ll fit, think it’ll work.”

For Bynum, that means staying behind through All-Star Weekend to get into basketball shape while George, Hibbert, Vogel and the coaching staff all head to New Orleans. The big man said he had been “eating right” since being cut loose by Cleveland but didn’t sound as if he’d been a gym rat, or even in the gym at all.

Vogel said the timetable from there is vague. “Just put it at a few weeks,” the coach said. “We’ll come back from All-Star break and see how practices go over the next week or two after that before we start deciding if he’s ready. We want him to be comfortable.”

Motivated would be nice, too. The Pacers might be a better fit for Bynum because they’re accustomed to playing through Hibbert in ways that the Cavaliers struggled in their dalliance with a low-post big. But intangibles are going to play a part as well.

“We just talked about, that he is still hungry and he wants to work,” Vogel said of Bynum’s sales job on him. “And I believe that. He had a bad situation the last place he was at, and believe it will work here. I think we both need each other.”

Said Bynum: “The atmosphere over there [in Cleveland], it wasn’t one that just kind of promoted positive energy and wanting to come in and really … it was just tough, at the end of the day. There’s nothing really more to be said about it. They did everything they could for me. I went there I worked hard, got myself into shape. And that was a goal.”

The Pacers have their eyes on something way loftier than the Cavs. Bynum might not feel any urgency to make a market for himself this summer – he already has been paid more than $70 million in his career. But either he’ll help Indiana in the next few months or he’ll be moving again, employed thanks to someone else’s flirting with potential.

Flip, flop, back and forth, the basketball moved Friday, hand to hand.

Hang Time One-On-one … With Lance Stephenson

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Lance Stephenson didn’t hear his name called when the Eastern Conference All-Star reserves were announced. It was yet another humbling moment for a player who has experienced his fair share during the early stages of his NBA career.

Stephenson, the Indiana Pacers’ blossoming star guard, leads the NBA in triple-doubles and has expanded his game over the past three years. He’s far from a finished product and at 23 is one of the league’s more interesting young talents, a player with plenty of promise but also one who must continue smoothing out the rough edges.

The Brooklyn native, who has been famous at Rucker Park (where he’s known as “Born Ready”) for over a decade, joins us in the latest installment of our Hang Time One-On-One series to talk about his where his game is now, the influence of Larry Bird, the Pacers’ rivals from South Beach and more:


VIDEO: Lance Stephenson’s evolution in his own words, and much more, in this HT One-On-One

Space, Speed And 3s Is The NBA Way


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew breaks down why 3-point shooters like Kyle Korver are valuable

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Kevin McHale insists there’s little difference between how he coaches his Houston Rockets today and how his Boston Celtics played 30 years ago.

“We do play the same,” the towering Hall of Fame power forward said. “It was a different game, but we ran up and down, we shot a lot of shots in the first six, seven seconds of the shot clock because we ran it down, threw it in the post and shot it. Look at the early ’80s, we were averaging 115, 116, 117 points. You usually don’t get that by walking it up and down.”

The 1983-84 champion Celtics averaged 112.1 ppg, yet in those glorious run-and-gun, team-oriented days, all that scoring ranked just seventh in a 23-team league. Imagine the offensive explosion then had those teams known what we know now about that strange 3-point arc.

“We all looked at it,” said McHale, a rookie the season after the NBA implemented the arc, “and thought, ‘Why the hell do they have a line way out here?’ “

A low-post machine, McHale attempted 157 3-pointers in his career. Larry Bird took 194 of the 393 taken by the 1985-86 champion Celtics. In the first 49 games this season, the Rockets’ tandem of James Harden and Chandler Parsons have combined for 463. The Rockets have launched 1,279.

Last year they shot it from everywhere and at any time, 2,369 in all, second-most only to the New York Knicks, who set the all-time record with 2,371 attempts. New York also made 891, the most all-time.

Today’s game is different. It has shifted 180 degrees from the plodding, back-it-down offenses spanned in the 1990s and does draw back more to the freewheeling 1980s, only with a new set of philosophies. Today’s offensive style is dictated by a slew of predominant words and phrases: Analytics. Pace. Ball movement. Spacing. Speed. Stretch-4. Small ball. Drive-and-kick. Corner 3.

Do-it-all point guards are at a premium. Floor-spacing, sweet-shooting big men are coveted. Three-point shooting is king.

“I’m not surprised because statistically everybody is going to that kind of metrics,” said Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, who introduced the league to this stream of unconventional offensive tactics when he took over the Phoenix Suns more than a decade ago.

“We did it before, but I think you can measure even more now, and I think that shows you if you want to win, that’s the way you should go. And then Miami tops it off by winning two championships by doing it.”

West among best at quick way to play

Many of D’Antoni’s concepts, considered radical at the time, are commonplace now to varying degrees in nearly every NBA coach’s playbook. They are prevalent especially among Western Conference clubs powered by dynamic, often ultra-athletic point guards — from Chris Paul to Russell Westbrook to Tony Parker to Damian Lillard to Stephen Curry — who play fast, penetrate, pass and shoot from distance. The Heat, of course, are led by de facto point guard LeBron James.

“Without penetration you don’t get those uncontested 3s, so you have to have people who penetrate and create shots for other people,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “That’s how it happens. Without the penetration it would all be contested, percentages would go down and people wouldn’t be shooting very well. But most of them are uncontested.”

Nine of the league’s top 10 teams in pace (the number of possessions per 48 minutes) and 12 of the top 16 play in the West. The top five teams in 3-point attempts, and nine of the top 12, also play in the West, the far superior conference this season.

When the Memphis Grizzlies meet the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight (8 p.m. ET, League Pass) in a rematch of last season’s Western Conference semifinals won by Memphis, it will again be a battle of contrasting styles. OKC, even without their injured three-time All-Star Westbrook, is athletic and fast. The Thunder pushes the pace, currently ranking seventh in the league, averaging 97.84 possessions per 48 minutes.

The Grizzlies boast talented point guard Mike Conley, but run their sets through skilled, low-post big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. They rely on those interior size mismatches (and gritty defense) to compete in an expanding era of fastbreaking, 3-point-shooting, “small-ball” lineups in which a power forward serves as a center and a traditional small forward plays the “4″ and “stretches” the floor.

Memphis, although moving the ball with more vigor and shooting slightly more 3s during their January hot streak, is the conventional NBA offense that has been made unconventional.

The need for 3s

Memphis’ management team is heavy into analytic data, and first-year coach Dave Joerger was eager to quicken Memphis’ offensive pace, but it hasn’t happened. They rank last in the league in pace, averaging 92.15 possessions. They’re also last in 3-point attempts (14.3 per game) and 3-pointers made (5.1 per game).

Houston has outscored Memphis from beyond the arc by a staggering 618 points; Golden State and Portland, tied for No. 1 with 450 made 3s, by 651. Memphis and last-place Utah, 24th in made 3-pointers, are the only teams in the West that average fewer than 100 points per game.

“It’s almost like if you don’t shoot 3s you can’t win,” Popovich said. “So many players are good at it, shots get off so quickly and are so numerous that it’s a huge part of what almost everybody does. It’s just tough to score and to win without making 3s.”

Desperate for it, Memphis traded slump-ridden Jerryd Bayless to Boston for Courtney Lee, who has provided a jolt, knocking down 44.1 percent of his 3-point shots. He, along with Gasol’s return from injury, helped spark Memphis to 11 wins in its last 13 games and a return to playoff contention.

The Grizzlies recently beat Houston twice in back-to-back games. They limited the Rockets to 87 and 81 points despite taking 40 fewer 3-pointers and being outscored by 36 points from beyond the arc. But can the Grizzlies survive with size over speed and scoring 2-pointers instead of 3s?

“I don’t know whether we can or we can’t,” Joerger said. “The league is being ruled by playmakers, shooting and IQ right now. Teams are playing multiple — forget about shooters — they’re playing multiple playmakers now. A lot of centers are, let’s just say, fairly strictly pick and rim-run, and [you] play four [players] around those guys and stretch it out, and then let guys just play against a [defensive] close-out.”

Time marches on … and pace picks up

D’Antoni says Don Nelson‘s Mavs in the early and mid-2000s, with Steve Nash as point guard, were first to empower the “stretch-4.” Nelson didn’t try to turn 7-foot forward Dirk Nowitzki into a back-to-the-basket player. He granted him free range to shoot 3s.

Popovich recognized the coming wave earlier than most through those early battles against Dirk and then D’Antoni’s Suns.

“San Antonio has been a top 3-point shooting team for probably seven, eight or nine years now,” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, whose “Flow” offense, led by smart, selfless players and talented passers and shooters, produced the 2011 championship. “They jumped on it early on and other teams have followed suit.”

The Spurs won three championships with stifling defense and methodical halfcourt execution in the mid-2000s. But Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford knew they had to evolve around their Big Three of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Parker with a roster based on pace and perimeter shooting. On their way to the 2013 Finals, San Antonio ranked sixth in pace, seventh in 3-pointers made and fifth in 3-point percentage.

In his typical gruffness, Popovich said of the style, “I hate it; if you want to win, you got to do it.”

In 2002-03, the Spurs attempted 1,270 3-pointers en route to their first title. Each year after their 3-point attempts increased. They shot 1,561 in 2006-07, the year of their third title. Last season they shot a franchise-record 1,764, which they might surpass this season.

“It was gradual, I remember that,” Ginobili said. “When I got here [in 2002-03], it [the offense] was very slow. Every possession had to feed the post and play from there. But then it slowly started to shift to a faster pace. At the beginning, he [Popovich] wanted it, but we were just not used to it, so that’s why it took a couple years until we really started doing it.”

Back in Houston, the Rockets keep running and spreading the floor even with the addition of traditional-type center Dwight Howard. Their pace (97.94) ranks seventh in the league, down slightly from last season, as is their 3-point attempts (26.1, almost three fewer a game), because of the ability, and necessity, to feed Howard in the post.

Meanwhile, everybody else continues to pick up the pace. The Rockets were No. 1 in the league last season at 98.64 possessions per 48 minutes. Now five teams average at least 99 and Philadelphia is over 102. Twelve teams average at least 97. In 1996-97, the first year advanced statistics were recorded, only two teams finished with more than 93 possessions per game.

What does the future hold? The Rockets’ NBA Development League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, are launching 3′s at a stunning — or alarming, depending on your perspective — rate of 48.5 per game. Fourteen of the 17 teams are operating at a pace of 100 possessions or better per game.

Yet leave it to Howard, with four career 3-pointers to his name, to lend some perspective to all these supersonic numbers.

“Once the playoffs start, it’s a halfcourt game and you’ve got to be able to execute in the halfcourt on offense,” Howard said. “We have to learn how to do both — be able to play fast, get up and down the court, get some easy shots. But we also got to learn how to slow it down and get a good shot every time.”

Perhaps some things never change.