Posts Tagged ‘Larry O’Brien’

Subtracting Harden Adds Up For OKC

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HOUSTON – Comfortable in a new city and a new role as top gun of the Rockets’ offense, James Harden seems on his way to his first appearance amid the glitz and glamor of the NBA All-Star Game.

Of course, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have already been there, done that, more than once, and will likely return to the Toyota Center for another go-around on Feb. 17. But really they have their sights set only on another shiny object — the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

And the seemingly counterintuitive truth is the Thunder might actually be closer to achieving that goal without their former running mate.

In other words: No Harden, no problem.

That is not in any way to diminish the skill and work ethic of Harden, who has been everything the Rockets hoped for and more. He can weave through traffic, find his way to the basket and draw fouls almost in his sleep. He pull up and stab in a 3-point dagger from almost any place over the half-court line. He has been the confident, veteran force who has been able to lift the Rockets onto his shoulders and carry them through fourth quarters as a foundation to build upon while they continue to shape a young supporting cast.

Yet Harden’s departure just might enable the Thunder to become even better and take the last step to winning a title.

For one, there is no underestimating the ease with which his replacement Kevin Martin has slid into Harden’s old spot. He can move without the ball, can score efficiently by drawing a high rate of fouls and is, in fact, even a better spot-up shooter in the Thunder offense.

“To be able to find the open spots in the defense, take a pass and just knock it down is very important to the way we want to play,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “I was familiar with some of Kevin Martin’s game and knew he was a scorer, but I didn’t really know he was a spot-up guy until he came here. It’s been a significant addition to our team.”

Perhaps more significant, the departure of Harden has forced Durant to take on more of an all-around role in the OKC offense. While his scoring is down slightly this season, his assists and his assist/turnover ratio has improved. It seems he is becoming even more effective as a facilitator, drawing defenses to him and finding his open teammates.

There are still going to be those nights when Durant can and will fill up the bucket for 40 or 50. But without Harden to come off the bench and provide an offensive burst of his own, Durant been much more effective in getting the rest of his teammates — Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison and Martin — more involved on a more consistent basis. By subtracting Harden from the equation, Durant has had to become a more well-rounded player, even more of a leader, and the Thunder have gone from a three-headed monster to overall better team and

In two games against his former team, Harden has shot just 9-for-33 (27.2 percent) while averaging 21 points.

“James was really good for us,” said Brooks. “He’s a terrific player. He’s an All-Star player. He’s definitely at that level, and he’s going to be that way for many, many, many years. He still has improvement to make in his game and he’s really good now. But we never looked at it that way. We looked at it as whoever we have we’re going to get better with them and move forward.”

No Harden, no problem.

Heat Still Stuck In Twilight Of Zone

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HANG TIME TEXAS – You’d think that one thing the Heat would have figured out over the extended off-season is how to play against a zone defense.

After all, wasn’t that what the Mavericks used to twist Miami’s star-studded lineup into pretzel knots and change the entire series last June in The Finals?

But here we are, one game into the New Year of 2012 – the Final Year, if your calendar was made by Mayans – and Heat looked like they’re right back to square one, taking their first loss of the season against the Hawks, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com:

Right now, the Heat have a problem with zone defense and the whole league is about to realize it.

The Dallas Mavericks used it effectively in the Finals against them last June, though the champs seemed to forget that strategy in the Christmas Day opener. But the Boston Celtics, a team that virtually never goes to zone, nearly pulled off a second-half comeback last week using it until they were upended by an unexpected shooting performance by Heat rookie Norris Cole.

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Magic-al Message In L.A.?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – A little bird thinks it’s time the Lakers stopped kidding themselves and made a run at Dwight Howard if they’re going to jump right back into the business of collecting Larry O’Brien trophies.

Tweet, tweet.

Well, a big bird actually. One with five championship rings.

In the aftermath of the Mavericks’ Finals win over the Heat, Hall of Famer Magic Johnson tweeted: “Lakers should think about calling the Orlando Magic.”

It should be noted that @MagicJohnson quickly deleted the tweet, but the message was delivered by the living legend and Lakers’ ambassador, even if he sold his ownership slice and is no longer officially connected with the team.

We’ll call the episode: “Magic & Magic” or “Making Dwight Disappear.”

After all, for what other reason would Johnson suggest the Lakers place a phone call to central Florida – Disney World tickets or to enroll in the Stan Van Gundy Charm School?

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Mavs Way Never Goes Out Of Style

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – That’s the thing about shortcuts.

Sometimes they can get you to the destination faster. Other times they can drop you off the freeway ramp into the wrong kind of neighborhood.

The Mavericks are celebrating the first NBA championship in franchise history because they stuck with perseverance over panic, prudence over haste.

No one in the free agent class of 2010 – LeBron James included – had more reason to fly the coop than Dirk Nowitzki. Not after all the years, all the frustration, all the derision that had been heaped upon him.

James and Chris Bosh bolted to beaches of Miami. Carlos Boozer headed off to the Windy City. Amar’e Stoudemire fled to the bright lights of New York.

Yet Nowitzki never really considered setting one foot outside of Dallas.

Longevity and loyalty, it turns out, are a difficult combination to beat.

So, too, it turns out, is the process of building a champion brick by brick.

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Greatness: Is a ring the thing?

Admittedly it’s a fun topic, if for no reason than to poke a stick at our big cuddly bear of a buddy Charles Barkley and listen to him growl.

In fact, of all the great comedy routines ever done on TNT over the years, my favorite has always been Kenny Smith manning the velvet rope outside the “Champions Club” and laughingly taunting the well-known partier Sir Charles about his lack of credentials to get inside the door.

Occasionally, Smith would push open the door to let the sounds of dance music come and poke his head inside.

“Hey, Charles!” he would call out. “Look, it’s Mark Madsen! And Zan Tabak! Oh, Charles, look! It’s Jack Haley! Can you believe it? Jack Haley!”

It was a fantastic skit and all Barkley could do was shake his head and laugh, because, of course, after 16 often-mind-blowing seasons, he left the NBA ringless.

So here we are just hours from the start of the 2011 NBA Finals that feature LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki as unfulfilled stars, pondering again the question for the ages: Does greatness require a ring?

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Blogtable: Are Magic for real?

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

Are you a believer in the Magic yet? Meaning, are they championship material? Why or why not?

Steve Aschburner: I probably won’t be a believer in Magic right up to the point where Commissioner David Stern is handing Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard the Larry O’Brien trophy someday. It’s a bias I have against that 3-ball-heavy style of theirs and, irrationally enough, it lingers even though the two players I least trusted – Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis – are gone. Turns out Gilbert Arenas accounts for enough distrust for two. Now, if Marcus Camby is standing alongside Howard once the trading deadline passes … well, I’ll still be a skeptic until it all comes together.

Fran Blinebury: Things have come together quicker than I thought, but it could still be a problem in the playoffs due to a lack of size behind Dwight Howard.  Can they really get away with simply extended minutes from Brandon Bass?  The good news, of course, is that Miami lacks size as well. But those hulking Celtics could be a problem. (more…)