Posts Tagged ‘Mark Cuban’

‘Melo sits in center of Knicks-Mavs trade


VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses ‘Melo’s future

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Mavericks fans never wanted to see the band split up in the first place. But a new collective bargaining agreement spiked with harsher tax penalties, plus an aging roster, convinced owner Mark Cuban to reassess his team-building strategy as an annual luxury tax payer and set out on a new course bound for cap space.

So out the door went several key contributors to Dallas’ 2011 championship team, but none more beloved than its one-hit wonder Tyson Chandler, the best center Dirk Nowitzki had ever played with and the one who complemented him the best. Even so, Cuban passed on paying Chandler major bucks over the next half-decade, fearful of fueling an overage, overpaid roster with no escape hatch in this new era. As Cuban has said time and again, he didn’t want to become the Brooklyn Nets.

So the New York Knicks stepped in with $60 million over four seasons.

On Wednesday, Cuban reclaimed his drummer, the backbone of a defense that’s sorely lacked identity and disposition since Chandler exited and became the league’s Defensive Player of the Year the very next season. To get Chandler, though, Cuban had to take on troubled point guard Raymond Felton, the state of his career in distress, and who now leaves the scorn of New York fans to become a pet project of adaptable coach Rick Carlisle.

Dallas sent steady veteran point guard Jose Calderon, whose lack of quickness, but intelligence and excellent shooting make him more suited for the Eastern Conference, and perhaps a decent fit  in Jackson’s Triangle offense under rookie coach Derek Fisher. Erratic starting center Samuel Dalembert, little-used shooting guard Wayne Ellington, and speedster point guard Shane Larkin, Dallas 2013 first-round pick who found only sporadic playing time last season, plus the Mavs’ two second-round picks (34 and 51) in Thursday’s Draft are headed to New York.

At the center of all this, like a radiant sun glowing brightly on all that orbits it, is discontented star Carmelo Anthony. Knicks new president Phil Jackson made his first major deal of his tenure seeking to unload salary and create cap space to begin a rebuild that will convince Anthony to stay in the Big Apple. Anthony has already opted out of his contract and will become a free agent on July 1.

One of three teams free-agent Anthony will grant a face-to-face meeting with, according to ESPN.com, is the Mavs (the Rockets and Bulls are the others). While Dallas was given long-shot odds before the trade to land Anthony, it stands to be an even tougher sell now because to fit him into available cap space once Nowitzki signs his new deal will require Anthony to accept a significant pay cut.

But, again, Melo has agreed to at least sit down with Dallas, which now has the 31-year-old Chandler to help woo his former teammate to his former team.

The Mavs continue to be one of the more active teams in the league over the past several summers, turning over the roster, save for a few key core components, in search of a mix to give Nowitzki, 36, a chance to contend again in his final few seasons. Since the title and the dismantling of that club, Dallas hasn’t finished better than the seventh seed and hasn’t advanced past the first round.

But last season’s 49 wins provided hope. Monta Ellis blended well with Nowitzki and Dallas boasted one of the most efficient offenses in the league. Their defense, however, never found its footing. That’s Chandler’s job now and Dallas will have to hope that the 7-foot-1 center can stay as healthy as he did in playing 74 games in the championship season, his rebound season after two years of dealing with injuries.

Chandler managed just 55 games last season and averaged 8.7 ppg and 9.6 rpg in 30.2 mpg. While Dallas upgraded its frontline, it seemingly took a step back at the point. Felton, for the time being, would seem to be the Mavs’ starting point guard. Free agent Devin Harris could be re-signed, or they could go a different route in free agency.

Now left without a draft pick, they won’t find one on Thursday night. But unlike when Cuban chose to let Chandler walk in 2011, the club has sufficient cap space available to be aggressive players in free agency. Targets include Luol Deng and Pau Gasol.

And, obviously, that scorer from New York.

Dirk won’t be drama king in free agency

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

mavs

Dirk Nowitzki will be a free agent on July 1, but don’t expect him to leave the Mavs. (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Dirk Nowitzki will enter free agency next week with all the drama of a palm tree twitching in a South Beach summer breeze.

Hyperventilating Miami Heat fans can only dream of such simplicity.

“We’ll get together pretty quick,” Nowitzki said recently of his free agency plans during a radio appearance on the Dallas Mavericks’ flagship station, 103.3 FM. “[Mark] Cuban knows I don’t want to go anywhere, and he doesn’t want me to go anywhere. We’re guessing that’s going to be over pretty quick and we can focus on making this franchise even better.”

Nowitzki, 36, will become a free agent for the second time in his career on July 1, just as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony will, and potentially Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Nowitzki could chase a second title elsewhere, if he wanted to, with contenders lining up to add the deadliest 7-foot perimeter shooter to ever play the game.

But that’s not Nowitzki’s thing. He wants to stay in Dallas despite celebrating just three playoff wins since beating the Heat for the 2011 championship, to try to re-create the magic with the only franchise he’s ever known. Owner Mark Cuban is a lucky man. He doesn’t have to resort to challenges of manhood — Stay, “if you’ve got the guts” — like Heat president Pat Riley did last week. Or have to guess the thoughts, and whose voices, might be floating through the mind of his superstar. Or to convince Nowitzki to take less money than he could — or should — demand to stay.

Nowitzki, through a good chuckle, has already said he won’t be going the extension route of Kobe Bryant.

The Mavs’ leader in just about every meaningful statistical category in franchise history, and now No. 10 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, has never employed a traditional agent. He doesn’t play games. He says what he means and means what he says. And come July 2 or 3 or thereabouts, Nowitzki will have likely signed a contract for two or three more seasons at $10 million to $12 million per, a deal similar to the one another one-team guy, Tim Duncan, will complete after next season.

It is, however, interesting to ponder the hypothetical “what if,” as in what if Nowitzki and the Mavs had not won the 2011 championship, and the clock was ticking down? Would he be so steadfast about a return to a team with a turnstile roster over the last three seasons and hasn’t finished higher than the No. 7 seed? That hasn’t made it out of the first round six times in the past eight seasons? That is again a long shot this summer to land a star free agent to ease Nowitzki’s burden?

Rewind to the spring of 2010 and to a decidedly dejected Nowitzki following the No. 2-seed Mavs’ first-round loss to the No. 7-seed San Antonio Spurs. It came after a 55-win season that included the blockbuster trade to acquire aging All-Star point guard Jason Kidd. Nowitzki held the option to opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent. He was turning 32 years old, still in the wheelhouse of his prime.

It was the third first-round-and-out in the four seasons since Nowitzki led the Mavs to the painfully unforgettable 2006 Finals against Miami. The immediate mood was glum; the future murky. And for the first time, Nowitzki, who even back then rarely drifted from his Dallas-only mantra, seemed to suggest that looking around might be his best option.

“I don’t know, this is all pretty fresh. I just have to keep my options open at this point, see what’s going on,” Nowitzki said the next day during the team’s exit interviews. “I have to get over this disappointment for a while. I’ll probably drown my sorrows for a bit and then I’ll start thinking about stuff like that in a week or two. As of now, I just want to keep my options, see what happens.”

Those early pangs quickly subsided and soon Nowitzki was back to his usual Dallas-or-bust refrain. He ultimately opted out to become a free agent, and by July 5 he had inked his name to a new contract, even agreeing to a hometown discount by leaving $16 million on the table for Cuban to use elsewhere to fortify the club. A summer trade brought in oft-injured center Tyson Chandler, whose defensive tenacity and overt leadership greatly empowered Nowitzki’s remarkable postseason run to a career-satisfying first title.

And a much easier decision today. So move along, nothing to see here.

The Mavs finished in the eighth seed last season, but won 49 games in the competitive Western Conference, just two games back of sixth-seed Golden State. The roster is far more stable than any of the past three entering the offseason and Dallas is loaded with cap space, hopeful of improving by landing a free agent such as Luol Deng or Pau Gasol, if not a LeBron or a ‘Melo. With a ring on his finger, that’s good enough for Dirk.

Never a drama king, he’ll be happy to leave the July fireworks to LeBron and those other guys.

24 – Second thoughts — May 27


VIDEO: Serge Ibaka was feeling just fine in Game 4 against the San Antonio Spurs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Time travel is real.

Don’t believe it? Just look at how much damage Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and the Oklahoma City Thunder did to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals. They partied like it was … Game 4 of the 2012 Western Conference finals.

What looked to be a whitewash a few days ago is suddenly a series. The Spurs were up 2-0 and in complete control with Ibaka supposedly done for the postseason with that calf strain. Two games later and the momentum has shifted in an entirely different direction with Ibaka, the ultimate rim protector, back in the mix.

Now we have to wait 48 hours to see the next twist and turn in this series. The Thunder reeled off four straight in 2012 to advance to The Finals and face the Miami Heat.

Could we be headed for a repeat performance?

If these two have anything to say about it …

… you never know!

:1

#RelentlessRussWest joins Michael Jordan in that elite playoff category … the 40-10-5 club!

:2

The two true #forcesofnature in these playoffs …

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — May 24



VIDEO: Get geared up for Game 3 of the Heat-Pacers series


VIDEO: Get geared up for Game 3 of the Thunder-Spurs series

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Yao, Hill want to buy Clips | Scott says he’d be ‘perfect’ fit as Lakers coach | Cuban pulling for Spurs | Gibson set to become Bulls’ starter? | Noel says he could have played sooner

No. 1: Report: Hill, Yao want to buy Clippers — As of today, Donald Sterling remains the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. But as the NBA moves closer and closer to June 3, when fellow owners can officially vote to oust him as owner, the chatter about who might own the team next continues strong. The latest talk, per Marc Stein of ESPN.com, is that former NBA All-Star Yao Ming and Grant Hill are both interested in buying the team:

Sources told ESPN.com on Friday that Grant Hill and Yao Ming are working separately to line up investors to lodge bids for the Clippers when the team is ultimately made available.

Donald Sterling has agreed to allow his wife, Shelly, to negotiate a sale of the Clippers, sources with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.com on Friday.

Hill is just completing his first year in retirement after a 19-season career that ended with the Clippers after seven All-Star berths. Sources say Hill has made it known within league circles that he is in the process of putting a consortium together.

Sources say that Yao, meanwhile, also plans to pursue the Clippers hard with a group of Chinese investors. The former Houston Rockets All-Star center owns the Shanghai Sharks in his native country and has maintained close ties to the NBA through the league’s various initiatives in Asia.

Yao was seriously interested in purchasing the Bucks, sources say, but dropped out of the bidding when outgoing Milwaukee owner Herb Kohl made keeping the team in that city mandatory for any new owner.

The number of bidders for the Clippers is expected to stray well into double digits, assuming the league can force the sale of the team, as NBA commissioner Adam Silver continues to believe.


VIDEO: GameTime provides an update on the latest news on the Clippers

***

(more…)

Showdown Sunday for final four first-rounders

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The first round’s final four teams are doing whatever they can to avoid going fishing

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Four quarters.

That’s it!

Four quarters.

It all comes down to this.

Four quarters, or more if need be, for the final four teams still alive on the most epic weekend ever in the first round of the NBA playoffs. From the emotional roller coaster of Saturday’s wild, three-game ride to — the Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers, all three higher seeds — we finish with today’s two-part saga.

The Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors finish what they started in the Eastern Conference while the defending Western Conference champion and No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs defend the Alamo against those pesky No. 8-seeded Dallas Mavericks.

It goes without saying, no one wants to Go Fishing!

So the time for posturing is over. All that’s left is this double-header for all the marbles.

The final four must deliver on the promise of what we’ve already seen from this historic weekend of Game 7s. No pressure fellas, just epic finishes to epic series on an epic weekend …

NETS @RAPTORS, 1 p.m. ET (ABC) 

It has to be a comforting feeling for both of these teams knowing that a rested and focused Miami Heat team, the two-time defending champions, await the winner in the conference semifinals.

Either way, the Nets and Raptors couldn’t be better suited for one last battle.

As NBA.com’s John Schuhmann points out, just one point (967-966) separates them in the 10 games they’ve played this season, with each of them winning five times. This is a much-needed rubber match that pits one of the most well-seasoned teams in the Nets against a Raptors crew that is swimming in the deep end of the playoff pool for the first time.

But there are more than just numbers at stake today at the Air Canada Centre. There are legacies on the line for the likes of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, who were brought to Brooklyn for moments like this, and for Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, whose careers will continue to be built on defining moments like this one.

As a group those four stars have a combined 23 Game 7 starts under their belts … so at least one advantage, the experience edge, goes to the visitors from Brooklyn. Just don’t tell the Raptors, who have the sensational and dynamic DeMar DeRozan-Kyle Lowry duo (they are averaging a combined 44.8 points in this series) on their side.

***

MAVERICKS @ SPURS, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

No one loves Game 7 like the Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki.

No one.

His spotless 4-0 record in Game 7s — that’s right, spotless — no doubt makes him love this big stage even more. All he’s ever known in Game 7 is success, as Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com points out:

He knows nothing but the thrill of victory in the winner-takes-all series finales. Nowitzki is 4-0 in Game 7 action throughout his career, and his numbers in those games border on ridiculous.

You think joining a trio of Hall of Famers – Elgin Baylor, Bob Pettit and Hakeem Olajuwon – in the exclusive career 25-point, 10-rebound club is impressive? Nowitzki has averaged 28 points and 14.8 rebounds in Game 7s, with all of that experience coming between 2003 and ’06.

How silly is it that the big German was stereotyped as a “soft Euro” until he led the Mavs on a 2011 championship march without a series going seven games?

Dirk registered a points-rebound double-double in each of his four swings at a Game 7. The only other active players with four such Game 7 double-doubles in their career are Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan.

Nowitzki has three 30-10 Game 7 lines. He’s the only guy who can make that claim in the basketball-reference.com database, which dates to 1986. The only two-timers in that time span: LeBron James and Karl Malone.

Of course, Duncan is mentioned among those Game 7 greats. The Spurs superstar big man has been at this so long that you knew he’d have this on his resume, too.

You know Duncan remembers well that Game 7 loss to the Mavericks from May 2006 in the Western Conference semifinals, an overtime defeat that saw Duncan torch the Mavericks for 41 points, 15 rebounds and 3 blocks in a failed effort. The Spurs are 3-5 all-time in Game 7s, boasting a rich history of highs and lows in those games, 2-2 record under the watch of Duncan and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

A new chapter in this storied rivalry will be written later today.

It’s Showdown time for all involved in the final four of the best first round of the NBA playoffs we’ve ever seen!


VIDEO: The Game Time crew discusses the battle for Texas between the Spurs and Mavericks

 

Morning Shootaround — April 4


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers may be done with Gasol | Jackson acknowledges Anthony’s tough road | Cuban to fund HGH study | Riley opens up on Heat’s road

No. 1: Lakers may be done with Gasol … for good — Two days ago in an interview with ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin, Lakers forward Pau Gasol recounted his bout with vertigo that, until Tuesday, kept him out of L.A.’s lineup since March 23. The former All-Star big man is still dealing with issues from vertigo and, as playoff-eliminated L.A.’s season heads into its final seven games, it is unlikely Gasol will suit up between now and then. With this season likely over, Gasol, an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, might not be a Laker again, too. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times has more:

Pau Gasol might have played his last game in a Lakers uniform.

The team is leaning toward sitting him for its final seven games while he recovers from a severe recurrence of vertigo.

He won’t play Friday against Dallas after dizziness kept him confined at the team hotel Wednesday while the Lakers played Sacramento. He flew back on the team charter that night after missing a fifth game because of the illness.

It was the latest downturn in a rough season for Gasol.

In addition to various verbal tussles with Coach Mike D’Antoni about his role in the offense — and the small-ball concept in general — Gasol missed seven games in February because of a strained groin and three games in December because of a respiratory infection.

He leads the team in scoring (17.4 points a game) but is shooting only 48%, the second lowest accuracy of his career.

Gasol, 33, becomes a free agent after this season, sure to take a pay cut from the $19.3 million he currently makes but unsure where he will land. If it’s somewhere else, his last game with the Lakers will have been a nine-point, four-rebound effort in a 124-112 loss Tuesday to Portland.

***

No. 2: Jackson praises ‘Melo, acknowledges his burden — As we wake up on the morning of April 3, the New York Knicks are in sole possession of No. 8 in the Eastern Conference. That’s a surprising state for a team that has grossly underachieved this season and, yet, finds itself somewhat in control of its postseason destiny. New Knicks president Phil Jackson addressed the media on Thursday and (somewhat) praised the team for its rise and singled out All-Star Carmelo Anthony as well. Jackson had compliments — but also some criticisms — for Anthony in a state-of-the-team address with New York media, which Fred Kerber of the New York Post details:

In 17 days as Knicks president, Phil Jackson has seen the best of times, he has seen the worst of times.

And he has seen a lot to like in Carmelo Anthony.

Jackson, during a 16-minute state-of-Knicks Nation address with the media Thursday at the team’s Greenburgh practice facility, praised the energy and effort he has witnessed from the Knicks while admitting they have been playing to the level of the opponent.

“They’ve been up and down,” said Jackson, who reiterated he has “no intention of coaching” again.

“I’ve thought they’ve played a lot better against higher-quality teams or tougher teams than they have sometimes against also-rans. But they’re playing with great energy now and they’re playing with purpose, and I appreciate that.”

Among other positive developments, the 13-time NBA champion – a record 11 times as a coach, twice as a player — has seen Anthony flash parts of his game that certify the All-Star forward as among the true elite. Jackson and Anthony have chatted, but the talks did not address the player’s future. The here and now – specifically a push to the playoffs in the final six games – is sort of big.

“Carmelo’s really stepped into another level of trying to help players,” said Jackson, who referred to a critical assist Anthony made during the victory at Sacramento. “That’s one of the things we see that Carmelo can do and that he’s grown as he’s gone along.”

,,,

“We’ve had a couple occasions to talk. We haven’t really delved into the future as much as what’s going on [and] getting to know each other…see how he’s feeling about playing,” Jackson said. “He’s had to carry a big load. It’s been a tough year for him. But it’s been a tough year for everyone. It’s not just isolated with him, but I think he feels the weight of it a lot more on himself.”

Looking forward and evaluating how to lessen that load is big for Jackson as he and all the president’s men try to figure out how to improve the Knicks. With collegiate games going on, Jackson has had a chance to meet with scouts and personnel evaluators.

If the Knicks make the playoffs, some players suggested the Knicks can do some damage. The chief reason, as Jackson sees it, are the contributions from the likes of J.R. Smith and Amar’e Stoudemire to ease Anthony’s load.

“Now they have more than one option out there on the floor, and I think that we’ll give teams trouble,” said Jackson, who explained the playoff format is big for evaluating the future.

“You’re playing a team in a seven-game series, you’re really seeing who’s going to be attacked, how they stand up to the pressure, who performs in the critical situations, what the grind of a multiple-game series does to a team and how they react,” Jackson said. “Those are all valuable lessons.”

While many believe coach Mike Woodson is living on borrowed time, Jackson spoke positively about how the team has responded.

“Mike has a philosophy. It’s worked for him in the past. It’s worked for him in Atlanta,” Jackson said. “One of the reasons why they’ve been successful in the last month and a half … has been their defense has improved.”


VIDEO: Knicks president Phil Jackson talks about the team’s surge of late

***

No. 3: Cuban backing HGH study — Earlier in the season, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he thought human growth hormone research could be done better, at least in terms of how it relates to athletes. It seems Cuban is putting his money where his mouth is, writes Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com, who says that Cuban is helping fund a university study on HGH:

Cuban said Thursday he has made a significant financial commitment to fund a potential university study on the issue.

“It’ll be a two-year study that applies HGH to injuries preoperative to postoperative injury recovery,” Cuban said before the Mavs-Los Angeles Clippers game at Staples Center.

“So if you’re able to retain more muscle going into an operation because you’re working out and HGH helps your muscle. And you’re able to regain it faster, then we cut the recovery time.

“And it’ll be geared around one type of injury that has hundreds of thousands of examples a year. So we’ll be able to do a placebo environment without hurting anybody, right? So here’s the way we do it now. And here’s how we do it with HGH. So hopefully it will accelerate recovery.”

Cuban declined to divulge many details because the study needs approval from the Food and Drug Administration and Drug Enforcement Agency. He would not specify the university that plans to do the study other than to say it has a highly respected medical school.

Because of the need for approval from the government agencies and other paperwork, Cuban is not certain when the study would begin.

Cuban broached the subject of HGH use for athletes recovering from injuries at the NBA Board of Governors meetings in October …

“I just want to know what reality is,” Cuban said. “And if we can improve recovery time, obviously that’s a plus for all of us, but there was never any basis in fact for not allowing it for use [while recovering from injuries]. It was all marketing. So let’s find out. Let’s find out what’s real and not real.”

***

No. 4: Riley sees Heat’s big picture – As most know, the mastermind behind the Miami Heat’s signing of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade was Heat president and NBA icon Pat Riley. His ability to land those three All-Stars have made the Heat the power they are today. And in a fantastic story by ESPN.com’s Michael Wallace, we get a look into not just how that 2010 bonanza went down for the Heat, but also how Riley and Heat owner Mickey Arison has plans to keep Miami among the NBA’s elite for as long as he possibly can:

Riley’s résumé, as a Hall of Fame coach and executive, along with his reputation one of the league’s most respected — and shrewd — businessmen in the game, have made him as polarizing as he is successful. But his methods and high-risk gambles have frequently produced championship results — seven, to be exact — from his days coaching the Showtime Lakers and overseeing major overhauls of the Heat’s roster. But even Riley, who once compared himself during trade talks to a riverboat gambler, has concerns about the uncertainty that looms after this season.

“You always fear,” Riley told ESPN.com. “It’s not a real fear. I always have concern when players are in the situation they’re in. But we feel we have the best organization in the league for those players to stay, and to also attract others to want to come here. With our three guys, we hope that this turns into a generational team. And that it’s not just we’re at the end of this four-year run right now because players have some options this summer.”

Riley’s confidence in his roster has withstood some frustrating and inconsistent stretches this season. The Heat president started his career coaching Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy to four titles over the span of nearly a decade in the 1980s. Now Riley, who turned 69 last month, has visions of a perfect bookend to his decorated career.

The goal is to retool the Heat’s roster around James, Wade and Bosh to keep them together and in title contention for another handful of years and produce another dynastic decade. Despite difficult financial decisions looming amid a more punitive luxury tax set to kick in this offseason, Riley hopes to rely on three franchise pillars that have kept the Heat proactive and productive all these years. It starts with stability.

Riley believes he still works for a team owner in Micky Arison who remains as committed to winning and producing an elite product now as he was when they first met 19 years ago. Securing James in 2010 was the most recent splash, but Riley points out that Arison has been willing to create waves for decades. The process began in 1995 when, just two months after Riley was hired, Arison signed off on a trade that brought in Alonzo Mourning and later led to deals for P.J. Brown, Juwan Howard, Tim Hardaway and Dan Majerle. Riley said what the Heat pulled off in the summer of 2010 was similar to what they initially had visions of doing over a nine-month span in the mid-1990s before the NBA voided Howard’s contract.

“Ever since I came here, and Micky and I hooked up, the whole concept was you wanted to win,” Riley said. “He really wanted to win and wanted to put on a great show and have a great product. Right off the bat, right out of the blocks, we were able to trade for Alonzo. Then the league took Juwan away. But Micky has always been one that tactically and with great thought, weighing all the pros and cons, has swung for the fences. And I have too.”

While many believe James, Wade and Bosh — three of the top five picks in the 2003 draft — began plotting their course to eventually becoming teammates during their time together in the 2008 Olympics, Riley already had planted his own seed the day Wade signed his first major extension in 2006.

“This is how I think you plan and have a vision and look forward, hoping you can do something that’s special,” Riley said. “Coaching Kareem and Magic and James Worthy, and playing against [Larry] Bird, [Kevin] McHale and [Robert] Parrish, and [Joe] Dumars, Isiah Thomas and [Bill] Laimbeer, you need to have three really, really great players. There’s two superstars and another truly great player. You’ve seen that on pretty much all championship teams have had that kind of element.”

Riley remembers getting a call from Heat general manager Andy Elisburg on July 11, 2006.

“Andy was at a gas station,” Riley said. “And he said Dwyane had accepted his extension, and it was a three-plus-one [three years guaranteed, plus one option year]. And it was Dwyane and LeBron James and Chris Bosh and Amar’e Stoudemire and a bunch of other guys that signed their extensions and they’re all three years with one option. And I said, ‘Well, who are the other guys?’ And he gave me the list. And I said, ‘Well, we’re going to be players in 2010.'”

But amid all of Riley’s roster building and burning and rebuilding over the years, very little emphasis was ever placed on the draft or tapping into the foreign-player market.

“Everything we did from 2006 to 2010 was to be able to sit down at the table with LeBron and Chris and Amar’e and [Carlos] Boozer and Mike Miller, all these guys, to try to bring them to Miami,” Riley said. “We were fortunate that they came, but we also planned for it. There have been some deals that we’ve made that haven’t worked, but they haven’t really been deals that really cost us a lot or hurt us.”

But Riley admits he’s had to adapt in some other ways to better relate to modern NBA culture. In the past few seasons, he has opened a Twitter account, relented on his stance against players wearing headbands and has allowed James’ manager and the personal trainers for James and Wade greater access.

But mostly, Riley steps back and allows coach Erik Spoelstra to legislate the team culture.

“LeBron, being who he is in this world, in this game, has a very heavy load,” Riley said. “There’s a heavy load off the court and on the court. It’s a lot different than what it used to be. He manages everything he has to manage that maybe Magic Johnson didn’t have to manage back in the 1980s. I’ve adapted to that.”

***

No. 5: D’Antoni, Kaman burying the hatchet? — Just a little over a week ago, Lakers center Chris Kaman was openly complaining to the media about coach Mike D’Antoni‘s gameplan and useage of him this season. But it appears a chat with D’Antoni’s agent may have helped Kaman see just how hard D’Antoni’s job has been and softened the tension between the two, writes Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

Warren LeGarie, the agent for embattled Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, was doing all the talking.He was doing the pointing, jabbing his index finger into Chris Kaman’s chest. LeGarie also stood up periodically to yell down at the Lakers center hunched in a courtside seat Tuesday night, ball in his lap, postponing his pregame court work to listen.

Head bobbing in emphatic declarations, LeGarie gestured numerous times toward the Lakers bench where D’Antoni is positioned during games. Kaman threw his hands up a few times but had little to say to LeGarie, who represents so many NBA coaches and executives that he qualifies as more of a power player in this league than any 7-footer.

Kaman is the type who has done far more talking than listening in his life, and some of his talking this season has been about D’Antoni’s rigid, uncommunicative, distrustful coaching of the Lakers while not giving Kaman consistent playing time. Just one week earlier, Kaman had revealed that D’Antoni hadn’t talked to him for the previous three weeks.

D’Antoni has one more guaranteed season left on his Lakers contract, and the club is leaning toward retaining him despite some privately disgruntled players and massive public disdain. It’s not clear which way the organization will go with him.

But Kaman’s 15-minute conversation with LeGarie ended with the agent yelling two words to Kaman: “Thank you. Thank you.”

After the Lakers’ 124-112 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers was complete, I asked Kaman about his pregame chat with LeGarie and whether it had given him any new perspective on D’Antoni’s situation.

“We were just talking,” Kaman said. “We were just talking about everything. He’s just a good buddy of mine.”

I asked Kaman where he stands now in his feelings about D’Antoni.

“It’s been a tough year for him, as it has been for a lot of guys,” Kaman said. “Me, in particular, just being in and out, in and out, just trying to figure my way through all of this, I can sort of put myself in his shoes and try to look myself in the mirror and say, ‘What would I do if I was him?’ And it’s hard to answer that question; it’s a tough position.

“Especially with all the injuries we’ve had and all the different things we’ve had to go through, I think it’s no easy task for a coach. Especially with the Lakers. This is a first-rate organization, and they do things better than most. They’re used to winning, and it’s a lot of pressure. And all these injuries didn’t make it any easier for him.”

Bear in mind, just one week ago Kaman was saying this season was “by far” and “tenfold” worse than any other in his 11-year NBA career.

While not naming a name and saying “it doesn’t get anyone anywhere” to spout negativity with the season a lost cause, Kaman said last week that the key to good coaching is “being a mediator as opposed to being someone in authority all the time. It’s about putting little fires out—small fires here or there—and keeping everybody’s egos together and managing that. Players know how to play if you give them enough guidance in the beginning.”

Late Tuesday night, when I asked Kaman if D’Antoni’s communication could’ve been better, Kaman said generously: “It always can be better with any coach, not just Mike. It’s such a big balance to be a head coach. It takes a lot. It takes a lot out of you. You see guys who can’t even finish years sometimes; they have to defer and hand it over to someone else. It drives people nuts.

“It takes a special person to coach a team, and in this day and age, the way the game is played, it’s a lot of pressure. You get two, three years, maybe, and then you’re outta there if you don’t produce. It’s no easy task. So I’ve got to look myself in the mirror and put myself in his shoes; it’s tough. It isn’t easy. With all the injuries and everything, it’s hard to say what would’ve happened if we would’ve had a healthy team.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Rockets point guard Pat Beverley expects to return in time for the playoffs … UNC forward James Michael McAdoo is headed to the NBA Draft … Rockets assistant coach-turned-University of Houston coach Kelvin Sampson could earn $1 million a season in his new gig … The Celtics might be interested in re-signing forward Kris Humphries this summer … Guard Jodie Meeks wants to stick with the Lakers next season … Former Heat center Alonzo Mourning is reportedly headed to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

ICYMI of the Night: The Mavs’ Brandan Wright gives Blake Griffin a taste of his own (dunking) medicine … 


VIDEO: Brandan Wright powers home a dunk over Blake Griffin

 

Goaltending should have been called, but changes nothing

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is all for transparency when it comes to NBA officiating. However, the league’s admission Wednesday that the referees should have called goaltending late in overtime of Dallas’ 122-120 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night won’t make him feel any better.

Cuban was furious over the no-call that saw Warriors center Jermaine O’Neal block Mavs guard Monta Ellis‘ baseline floater with 16 seconds left in overtime and with the score tied 120-120. O’Neal passed to Draymond Green, who quickly got it to Stephen Curry, who made the game-winning shot with 0.1 seconds left on the clock. Cuban leaped out of his baseline chair and continued to voice his disagreement to the officiating crew of Danny CrawfordSean Corbin and Eric Dalen from behind the scorers table after the game.


VIDEO: O’Neal’s block leads to Curry’s game-winner

After a review of the play by the league office, Rod Thorn, NBA president of basketball operations, issued the following statement:

“Upon review at the league office, we have found that a shot taken by Dallas’ Monta Ellis with 16.0 seconds remaining in overtime was on the way down when initially contacted and ruled a block by Golden State’s Jermaine O’Neal, and should have been ruled a goaltend. The exact trajectory of the ball when touched was impossible to ascertain with the naked eye, and the play was not reviewable.”

Playoff implications were high. Golden State entered as the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference and Dallas as the No. 7 seed. Had Dallas won it would have moved just one-half game behind the Warriors. The loss instead dropped them to ninth place and out of the playoff picture, at least temporarily. Had the Warriors lost, their already slim margin for error to maintain playoff position would have shrunk with a tough matchup ahead tonight at West-leading San Antonio.

Dallas led 106-102 with 1:43 to go in regulation and 108-105 with 1:16 to go, but it couldn’t close it out, a central theme in the Mavs’ disappointing 4-4 homestand that concluded with the loss to Golden State. They also led 117-113 with 2:32 to go in overtime, but were then outscored 5-0 in relinquishing the lead. Tied 120-120, Ellis tried to beat his defender Klay Thompson to the right, but Thompson stayed in front of him and forced Ellis to take a fallaway near the baseline. O’Neal, who was dunked on by Ellis late in the fourth quarter, went up and snatched the ball out of mid-air.

The Mavs raised their arms in unison, stunned that no goaltending call had been made.

“I think his [Ellis'] layup has a chance to get to the rim, and if that’s the case, you can’t just get it out of the air,” Nowitzki said. “To me, that’s a goaltend. I asked the referees what happened. The explanation was that the ball was two feet short. If that’s the case, then he can get it out of the air, but where I was from, I think it had a chance to at least hit the rim. That’s a goaltend to me.”

O’Neal disagreed as he described the play in the  Warriors’ locker room.

“It was like a second away from goaltending, if you’re too late, and I was on top of it,” O’Neal said. “I blocked it, grabbed it and outlet it. There’s no way they could have called that. When your hand is on top of the ball, that’s a good block. I caught it like this (showing his hand on top of the ball), I didn’t bat it, I caught it like this, so there’s no way they could have called it goaltending.”

Turns out O’Neal was wrong and Cuban was right. It doesn’t matter. The league’s admission does nothing to change the outcome of the game.

Warriors stand together in huge OT win

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Golden State guts out big overtime win in Dallas

DALLAS – Jermaine O’Neal will always be remembered most for his days as an Indiana Pacer. But now the 18-year veteran seeking one last shot at glory plays for the Golden State Warriors, a team that’s fought through injury and adversity, and down the pressure-packed stretch run just might be the antithesis of O’Neal’s fraying former club.

Starting at center once again Tuesday night for the injured Andrew Bogut in a game magnified by playoff implications for both the Warriors and Mavericks, O’Neal ripped Dallas for 20 points, eight rebounds and one massive, game-altering blocked shot. Late in the fourth quarter, Mavs guard Monta Ellis dunked over O’Neal to give Dallas a 102-97 lead and a wave of momentum in an arena buzzing with playoff-style excitement. This time, as Ellis tried to turn the corner, O’Neal made his move. He snared Ellis’ baseline fallaway with his right hand with 11.6 seconds to go in overtime, and in one motion brought it down and fed it out to Draymond Green, who got it to Stephen Curry, who ended it with a tough, contested jumper over Jose Calderon from the left wing with 0.1 seconds showing on the clock.

As time expired, the Warriors, rallying late in the fourth and again in overtime, celebrated the 122-120 victory as furious Mavs owner Mark Cuban, befuddled that no goaltending was called on O’Neal, engaged in an animated discussion with the referees.

“When he dunked it, I was a second slow, almost the same identical play,” O’Neal said. “This time, I’m understanding where I need to be and Klay [Thompson] did a great job on making him pick up his dribble and really it was just perfect timing. It was like a second away from goaltending, if you’re too late, and I was on top of it. I blocked it, grabbed it and outlet it. There’s no way they could have called that [goaltending].”

The victory, achieved in front of Warriors owner Joe Lacob — who is taking in the road tripdulled the pain of Sunday’s home loss to the New York Knicks. That defeat came on the heels of another dramatic victory, this time against a Memphis team that, like Dallas, is trying to not just make the playoffs but had the sixth-seeded (and David Lee-less) Warriors within their sights.

The margin for error in Tuesday’s game was as razor thin as the separation in the standings. A Dallas win would have moved them one-half game behind Golden State, who now head to San Antonio to grapple with the Spurs’ 18-game win streak. Instead, it’s the Mavs who slipped from seventh to out of the playoff picture in ninth, one-half game behind Memphis and Phoenix.

This one carried tremendous importance for the Mavs. They were just 4-3 heading into their final game of a franchise-long eight-game homestand. All three losses came down to the wire, two in overtime. This was one they simply had to have, but couldn’t get against a team that came in lacking frontcourt starters Lee and Bogut.


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki talks about the Mavs’ tough loss at home to the Warriors

“Heartbreaker,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who did all he could with 33 points and 11 rebounds.

The Warriors, feeding off a belief that many see them as down and out, found a different interpretation of a wild 53 minutes in Big D.

“This is late in the year and I have seen teams say how easy it is to let go of the rope,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. “This is a team that’s not going to do it. Contrary to anything, we’re not going to do it. This is a quality win against a team  that had everything going their way and I’m proud of these guys. They deserve the credit.”

Jackson called his bunch a “tied-together team,” and emphasized, “I don’t think you need more evidence.”

Sharpshooter Klay Thompson, who had 27 points, including the game-tying 3-pointer with 1:01 to go in regulation, played up the Warriors’ unbreakable mindset.

“People think we’re down and out, it just proves we have a lot of basketball in us,” Thompson said. “We never hang our heads. We might have done that in the past, but this is a changed team. When we get those guys [Lee and Bogut] back, we’ll be even better.”

Said Curry on the heels of his second last-second game-winner against Dallas this season: “We understand that we lost some games that we should have won, but we don’t listen to any noise outside our locker room. For us, we understand we still control our own destiny. If we take care of our business we’ll be fine. So if we shut out all that noise, it’ll be the best situation for us.”

As the Warriors cleared out of the cramped visiting locker room, O’Neal, 35, hadn’t finished saying his piece, hadn’t finished putting this season, expected to be his final one, in perspective for himself, his team and everybody who follows it.

“So many people around us are trying to tear us apart,” O’Neal said. “I’ve never seen, even in your own town, so much adversity and so much negativity around a team that’s really striving to do special things. It baffles you a little bit, but it says a lot about our head coach, our staff, an organization that really supports us and keeps us in open arms. And it says a lot about these guys in this locker room who aren’t willing to let negativity tear us apart.

“We’re going to continue to try to learn and be a better team, continue to learn from our mistakes and I think tonight showed that we have a  lot of character on this team. We don’t have a lot of extended playoff experience, but we’re learning and we’re learning on the fly, and we’re fighting.

“We’re fighting for ourselves, we’re fighting for our coach, we’re fighting for our city, we’re fighting for our organization.”


VIDEO: The Warriors bask in their big win in Dallas

D-Will getting stronger as Nets surge

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Deron Williams scores 28 to lead the Nets past the Suns

DALLAS – Following Sunday night’s inspired overtime win, a relieved Deron Williams walked deliberately — limped is more like it — on delicate ankles toward the Texas barbecue buffet Mavericks owner Mark Cuban provides visiting teams after games.

As Williams stacked brisket, sausage and potato salad onto his to-go plate, the Brooklyn Nets point guard, who grew up 30 minutes up the highway, had no intention of discussing his physical state. Not that that’s anything new for the ornery Williams, who’s known to grow testy when interrogated about the difficulty of playing on bad wheels.

“It is, but what can you do?” Williams said. “There’s nothing you can do about it. I feel great right now. We just got a win, I’m happy about that, and I want to get one [tonight]. That’s my concern.”

The Nets, now 37-31 and just 1 1/2 games behind Atlantic Division-leading Toronto, have won 11 of 13 and seek a fifth consecutive win tonight at New Orleans (8 p.m. ET, League Pass).

With 15 points on 3-for-9 shooting and three assists, Williams didn’t play his best game in the 107-104 come-from-behind victory against the hometown team he spurned as a free agent two summers ago to instead lead the Nets out of New Jersey and into the promised land of Brooklyn. Still, Williams logged a team-high 42 minutes and stuck with it long enough to drop a 3-point dagger, the only one he’d hit on five attempts, to give the Nets, who turned to solid defense on a poor-shooting night, an eight-point cushion with 1:26 to go.

The workload was his highest since Feb. 13 and well above the 33.2 mpg Williams has averaged since returning on Jan. 20 from more ankle issues that sidelined him for nearly three weeks. In early January he received a cortisone shot and platelet-rich plasma injections in both ankles.

“I think he’s getting to where he wants to be,” teammate Joe Johnson said. “I can see that pop coming back. He’s playing aggressive, getting to the rim, so that’s what we need out of him. He’s working, man, everyday, coming in, getting his shots up, doing whatever it takes to be effective. I think he’s getting there.”

Williams, 29, might never again challenge Chris Paul for point-guard supremacy in the league, but a physically and mentally sharp Williams is the Nets’ only hope for making a long playoff run that seemed improbable, if not impossible, just two months ago. Jason Kidd, a close friend of Williams’ before he became his coach over the summer, has preached patience.

“We spent a lot of time through practices and games and spend some time together off the court,” Kidd said. “The biggest thing for an athlete or anybody at that level, health is the first thing. He wasn’t healthy and now he’s starting to get healthy. He feels good and you can see his play, he’s playing at a high level.”

With the 6-foot-3, 209-pound Williams averaging 14.9 ppg and 5.9 apg since his latest return, with Paul Pierce engaged, Joe Johnson continuing to be clutch, a boost from deadline acquisition Marcus Thornton and general good health beyond Kevin Garnett, the high-priced Nets have at least made themselves a threat to potentially challenge Indiana or Miami if they can get out of the first round.

“If you’re in the East looking at them in the first round or second round,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said, “you wouldn’t want to play that team.”

Kidd, one of the league’s most durable players throughout his 19-year career, knows his team’s fortunes depend on good health. He’s done a terrific job of utilizing his bench and spreading minutes to ease wear-and-tear on the veterans he’ll lean on in the playoffs. Johnson leads the team logging just 32.8 mpg. Williams, at 32.0 mpg, by far the lowest of his nine seasons, is the only other Nets player averaging more than 30.0 mpg.

Williams said early season criticism of Kidd was unfair because of the onslaught of injuries to key players. Since Jan. 1 they’ve been one of the hottest teams in the league, going 27-10.

“We’re healthy, that’s the biggest thing,” Williams said. “At the beginning of the season we were injured. We were injured and that’s tough on him [Kidd], not having guys at full strength and not having his guys out there, so that made it difficult. And now we’re still not whole, but we’re more healthy, we’re playing with more confidence.

“A lot of it is us. He was doing a great job earlier, we were just not, I don’t want to say not buying in, we were buying in, it just wasn’t clicking like it is now. It took us a little longer than we thought to learn what he wanted and get on the same page.”

Morning Shootaround — March 24


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Woodson takes blame, Knicks postseason hopes on the brink | Bryant confident as ever Lakers will get back to the top | Heat defensive focus lags, struggles continue | Thunder will contend as long as Westbrook’s knee holds up

No. 1: Woodson shoulders blame as Knicks fall to Cavs, postseason hopes hang in the balance — Done in by Jarrett Jack. Is that the epitaph that will be written on this season for the New York Knicks? After Cleveland’s veteran point guard, filling in for All-Star Kyrie Irving, shredded them late to snap their eight-game win streak, it’s a legitimate question. Knicks coach Mike Woodson took the blame, a noble endeavor considering he was going to get his fair share anyway. But the Knicks’ postseason hopes hang in the balance every night and losses to the likes of the Cavaliers destroy the cause, as Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com points out::

Atlanta lost on Sunday afternoon, so the Knicks knew exactly what was at stake when they took the court on Sunday evening. That made the loss to the Cavs all the more catastrophic.

“We didn’t handle our business,” Woodson said, “and I’ve got to take full responsibility for that.”

“It’s tough,” Carmelo Anthony said. “We should’ve won this game. We gave it away. They earned it. They beat us.”

The Knicks were up 15 at the half but allowed Cleveland to score nine straight to start the third quarter.

“I thought we came out a little flat,” Anthony said.

Anthony led the Knicks with 32 points but went cold late, missing 11 of his last 13 shots and all five in the fourth quarter.

The Knicks as a whole went 5-for-18 in the fourth and missed 11-of-15 3-pointers in the second half.

“They were just scrapping more, I think,” J.R. Smith said. “They were more hungry than us in the second half. … It’s a huge opportunity lost, one we can’t afford. But we can’t get it back. Just got to go out there on the road and win some games. Hopefully, [the Hawks] keep losing.”

That’s what the Knicks have been left with in this roller-coaster season: hoping the eighth-place Hawks can continue to give away their lead.

For what feels like the 30th time this season, the Knicks failed to do that. And it leaves Woodson and his team in a difficult spot. According to Elias Sports Bureau, just one team in the past 30 years has overcome a deficit of more than four games with 14 games or fewer to play in the regular season to make the playoffs.


VIDEO: Sunday’s top 10 plays

***

No. 2: Kobe in touch with Jim Buss, confident Lakers will get back to winning ways — Whatever he lacks in good health Kobe Bryant more than makes up for in unabashed confidence in himself and the Los Angeles Lakers resilience. This despicable season will be forgotten, as soon as he can get back to health and as soon as Jim Buss and the rest of the Lakers’ front office brass finish their franchise makeover. These tough times, Bryant insisted during an interview with ESPN’s sports business ace Darren Rovell, will not last. He did, however, acknowledge that things are going to be different without Dr. Jerry Buss around to fix the Lakers’ issues:

Bryant, who signed a two-year, $48.5 million extension with the team in November to lock up his 19th and 20th seasons in L.A., reiterated his message of urgency to Buss to return to the top as soon as possible.

“This organization is just not going to go [down],” Bryant said. “It’s not going to take a nose dive. But I think we need to accelerate it a little bit for selfish reasons, because I want to win and I want to win next season. So, it’s kind of getting them going now as opposed to two years from now.”

Despite already airing his concerns about what direction the Lakers might be heading, Bryant said his faith is as strong as ever in the Lakers’ ability to bounce back to contender status.

“Extremely confident,” Bryant said. “That was one of my concerns [when he re-signed] and they assured me, ‘This is fair for you for everything you’ve done for the franchise and will continue to do while being able to construct a team that is going to contend for a championship here over the next couple of years.'”

Bryant also responded to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban‘s assertion that “I don’t know if the Lakers will ever be the Lakers,” because of the absence of longtime owner Dr. Jerry Buss, who died last year.

“It will be different,” Bryant said. “You can’t lead the way [Dr. Buss] did. Because Jeanie is different. Jimmy, who is running basketball operations, is different.

“So they have to find their rhythm and get in sync with each other and figure out exactly what their leadership style is going to be. It’s nearly impossible to try to separate basketball operations from the business standpoint so you got to kind of get in sync that with that and have one voice that is leading that charge. But once that happens, the idea might take shape. But you can’t look at what Dr. Buss did and say, ‘I’m going to try replicate that,’ and be exactly what he was. That’s just not going to happen.”


VIDEO:
Mavericks guard Monta Ellis was a flash against the Nets Sunday

***

No. 3: LeBron and Spoelstra point to lagging Heat defense as their struggles continue Bellyaching about your team’s energy, effort and championship focus in the wake of seven losses in your last 11 games is not a shocker, not even for the Miami Heat. But it’s good to get some specifics. And the Heat, fresh off of yet another head-scratching defeat (Saturday night in New Orleans), provided plenty. And it’s all about their defense, which has been uncharacteristically porous of late. That’s something everyone, from coach Erik Spoelstra and LeBron James and Chris Bosh, in the Heat camp can agree on. Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel highlights the particulars:

    “We’re not accustomed to this type of play, these types of standards, particularly on the defensive end,” coach Erik Spoelstra said before giving his team Sunday off in advance of Monday’s visit by the Portland Trail Blazers to AmericanAirlines Arena. “And if we want to change, we have to look inward. Every single one of us, including the staff, including the players, have to make changes.”

Forward LeBron James said the Heat are failing on the defensive end both individually and collectively.

“First of all,” he said, “you have to guard your man, and rely on help second. But when you break down, you’re going to have to rely on the help, and we’re not getting both.

“First of all, guys are not playing their man. And guys get beat, which you will be, which will happen in this league, because there’s great players, the help comes. We’re not doing anything.”

Factor in the Heat’s longstanding rebound issues and the defensive pressure has been unrelenting.

“Sometimes we get stops and we don’t get a rebound. Sometimes we don’t get stops,” forward Udonis Haslem said. “It’s a lot of different things. At this point, we’ve got to put it all together, we’ve got to get stops and rebounds. We can’t get a stop and then give up an offensive rebound and get another 24 [seconds on defense].

“We’ve got to guard the ball, and then when the ball gets in the paint, we’ve got to step up, we’ve got to contest. Shot goes up, we’ve got to box out both bigs and got to get it and go.”

The frustration has shown on the court and in the locker room.

“Defensively, we can’t stop a nosebleed,” center Chris Bosh said. “No good blitz, the pick and roll coverage, one-on-one defense, everything is bad.”


VIDEO: Check out the Kevin Love Show from Sunday, starring … Kevin Love!

***

No. 4:Thunder’s title hopes rest on Westbrook’s knee – Miami and Indiana aren’t the only places where championship hopes are in doubt these days. Folks in Oklahoma are also wondering just how fragile their title aspirations are in the wake of yet another knee scare from All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook. Even with MVP frontrunner Kevin Durant destroying the competition night after night, the Thunder’s confidence is tied directly to the health of Westbrook and that knee. It’s a dangerous way for an entire state and fan base to live. But it’s the only way they, according to Barry Tramel of the Oklahoman:

Nobody in our state slept well Friday night. Starting with Scotty Brooks, Sam Presti, Westbrook’s clothier, Rumble, that woman who screams “Russellllllllllllllllllllllll” during his foul shots and most everyone with a cable or satellite dish in every hamlet from Tuskahoma to Tonkawa.

For about 20 hours or so over the weekend, we all wondered if Russell Westbrook’s knee was tore up again. Westbrook limped off the court in Toronto on Friday, and the wind was replaced by “aarghs!” and “gulps” sweeping down the plain.

Of course, now word is that Westbrook is OK and might even play either Monday night (Denver in OKC) or Tuesday night (at Dallas). Whew. That was close.

Thunderland knows the feeling of life without Westbrook. Knows it all too well. And it stinks. When Westbrook went down with a torn meniscus in the Houston series last playoffs, the Thunder scraped by the Rockets, then was bullied by the Grizzlies in a five-game series defeat. When Westbrook has sat out periodically this season, the Thunder has mostly struggled, save for a magical 10-game winning streak in January during which OKC was the league’s best team.

Westbrook’s latest scare is reason to ask this question. Is the Thunder better prepared to play without him this season than last season? If Westbrook limps off in some game soon, or in the middle of a playoff series, is the Thunder better-equipped to survive?

Depends on what survival means. Win the NBA championship? No. Not going to happen without Westbrook riding shotgun.

But go deeper in the playoffs? Win a tough West semifinal? At least challenge the Spurs or the Clippers or whoever emerges as the Western Conference elite? Yes.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: This is a different Raptors team than you are used to, one that is rising to the late-season challenge … Andre Miller finally clears the air about what went down in Denver … No one is doing it better these days than the bench mob from Phoenix … Kobe Bryant announces his partnership in a new business … Rockets big man Dwight Howard is practicing but remains “day-to-day” with that tender ankle … The surprising comeback for Steve Nash has already hit yet another injury snag

ICYMI of the Night: Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins wants you to know that this is his world and the rest of the big men in the league are just living in it …


VIDEO: DeMarcus Cousins goes hard for his 32 points and 12 rebounds