HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – With two-thirds of Boston’s Big Three now out of action and compromising the Celtics’ offense, the responsibility of keeping the team out of the dreaded eight-hole and a first-round series with the Miami Heat will be heaped on their ability to defend.
The shorthanded Celtics begin their final 13 games tonight against the New York Knicks (7 p.m. ET, TNT) with Rajon Rondo and now Kevin Garnett — Boston’s third- and second-leading scorers, respectively — sidelined. It means 22-year-old defensive whiz Avery Bradley steps up as perhaps the team’s most important player.
Seventh-place Boston gets New York twice this week, plus the sixth-place Atlanta Hawks, who are two games ahead of the Celtics and in a virtual deadlock with fifth-place Chicago. At worst, the Celtics, two games in front of eighth-place Milwaukee, want to maintain their position heading into the postseason.
Having played just 38 games this season after recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, Bradley is fresh and Boston’s best hope to defend their way through Garnett’s potentially crushing absence.
“I just think Avery Bradley has defensive DNA, I mean that’s who he is,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “He has great feet, he has great hands, he’s tough, he sticks his nose in there and I think a great defensive player has to want to get his hands dirty, and he does. Avery understands what makes him a good player and what gets him on the map is his defense.”
We caught up with Bradley during the Celtics’ visit to Dallas last week:
Q: You were a highly rated defensive player coming out of high school and you enhanced your reputation during your one season at Texas. It’s rare for a young player in today’s AAU culture to embrace defense. Why did you?
A: In high school I used to be the player that scored 30 and then take the challenge to hold the best player on the other team, have him not score. That’s the reason I think in high school I was fortunate enough to be ranked so high because that’s what I’d do every game. But that’s always just been me. I’m a competitor and that’s the only way I know how to play. If we’re playing pickup, I don’t want you to score. That’s just how I play.
Q: What makes a good defender?
A: It’s definitely mental, a lot of it, just like the game of basketball, but I think it’s a God gift and just me wanting to guard, that’s the biggest thing. If you give that effort, that’s all that coach asks for on the defensive end. That’s what I give.
Q: Was it easy for you to come into the league and quickly become an aggressive defender?
A: Definitely not because refs have no respect for you, so if you’re an aggressive defender being a young guy, it’ll get you on the bench fast. But I think it has its pluses and its minuses. If you come into the league as a young player and have an offensive mindset, the majority of the time you’re not going to play. That was my approach, defense, I knew that’s what was going to get me on the floor. I bought into our defense and not only that I wanted to take the challenge every single night to want to hold the best players, to get that respect, not only from my teammates, but players and the refs. That’s what I try to do.
Q:Obviously the Celtics and Miami Heat have engaged in some great battles, most recently the Heat’s comeback in Boston to keep their winning streak alive. How do LeBron James and Dwyane Wade treat you now?
A: I can’t really say, but I know they know what to expect from me every single game that I’m going to guard them. I’m going to compete. I’m not going to back down to nobody, ever. I can tell they know that and I can tell that they know that the whole game I’m going to be playing hard. You see people try to do the same thing to me that I do to them, but at the end of the day I never get tired so I’m always going to keep going. It’s fun, like I said, I just love taking that challenge every single game, playing against the best players in the NBA. It’s what I dreamed of.
Q: When did you realize that you could compete in this league?
A: Last year once I got an opportunity to play, it was around this time of year. I believe we had some players hurt and I got an opportunity to play. I think we played Dallas and then OKC. Those were my first games ever in the NBA playing the amount of minutes that I played since the last game of my rookie season that I played 20 minutes or something like that. That was big for me and that’s when I realized I could play in this league. I think I was playing against Jason Kidd and that was my first game playing like big minutes. I got to get a feel for the game and not only that, I wasn’t nervous. That’s when I knew I could play in this league, that I could be effective out there on the defensive and offensive end.
Q: Who do you look forward to guarding the most?
A: Everybody, every single night. Everybody is a challenge on every single team, especially at the point guard position. So I always have to prepare myself and not only that, people know what I do on the scouting report so they take it as a challenge to. At the same time, I feel like I have a target on my back. Regardless, I’m just going to play as hard as I can. As long as my teammates can say I play hard at the end of the game that’s all that matters, even if I’m not making shots.
Q: What thrills you most about making a defensive play?
A: Probably the best part of it, just me getting my teammates into it when they see me playing hard out there. It literally feels like it gives me more energy for me to play hard on defense. And then my teammates score and then I go back after the guy, and it’s kind of like, ‘Dang, can I get a break, you guys just scored.’ That makes me feel good. It’s more energy, it’s crazy.
DALLAS – The Celtics were in no mood to hear about a Heat hangover as an excuse for never leading in Friday’s 104-94 loss, their second straight road disappointment since letting Miami off the hook Monday night in Boston.
While the Heat pushed their win streak, one that the Celtics fail to view as particularly impressive, to 25 in a row on Friday, Boston took another step in the wrong direction. The Celtics lost for the third consecutive time to the Dallas Mavericks and the fifth time in seven games — a southerly drift that could ultimately lead to a first-round matchup with guess who?
“It’s a tough losing streak right now, three games, but we’re going to try to bounce back,” said Paul Pierce, who had a tough night with 16 points, but just seven through three quarters. “We’ve been through it before. This team is mentally tough and we’ll weather through the storm.”
Boston (36-32) moves on to a tough back-to-back at Memphis Saturday night with just two games separating it from the eighth-place Milwaukee Bucks. The Celtics will hope to have available starting point guard Courtney Lee, who sprained his left ankle late in the fourth quarter. After reaching the bench he was able to apply pressure and walk to the locker room on his own. He’s hopeful any swelling will be limited and that he’ll be ready to play.
No one would be foolhardy enough to count this stubborn, old Celtics team out. But at some point the emotional and physical toll of battling shorthanded night-in and night-out has to come home to roost. In consecutive games, they’ve fallen at New Orleans (the West’s last-place team) on a last-second tip-in, and on Friday they were out-hustled to loose balls and beaten on the boards by the light-rebounding Mavs, a team that’s played better of late but still sits 10th in the West.
“I just think we gave one away the other night in New Orleans, that was self-inflicted, and tonight they took it,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “They won the game. We didn’t play great. We missed a lot of open shots, we missed layups, but overall I’ll take those. I thought we played pretty hard. I wasn’t real happy with our defense and we’re going to have to clean that up.”
Dallas center Brandan Wright, in and out of the rotation all season, although playing more and quite well of late, lit up Boston’s interior defense for a season-high 23 points and a season-high-tying eight rebounds. Shawn Marion, back after missing eight games with a calf strain, had 11 points and 13 rebounds.
“I can’t wait to watch the film. I think we got crushed in the 50-50 game today,” Rivers said, referencing the loose balls that could go to either team, but mostly wind up in the hands of the players with more jump. “Some of those rebounds will count as rebounds, the long ones that were way out to the free throw line, we didn’t get any of those. They got them all. Shawn Marion, I don’t know what his numbers are, but he hurt us with his effort.”
Pierce played 40 minutes Monday against Miami, 33 at New Orleans and another 35 at Dallas. Kevin Garnett (16 points, 12 rebounds) logged 29 minutes in each of the last two games after sitting out two with a thigh injury, but Boston could have used him for 39. Off the bench, Jeff Green had 10 points, giving him 23 in the last two games after hitting Miami for 43. Jason Terry, in his return to Dallas, had little to say after scoring eight points on 3-for-9 shooting.
“All I was worried about was the win,” Terry said. “We have to end this road trip on a good note. Right now we’re just not getting it done.”
Resolve can be a powerful tool to beat back adversity, but eventually the absence of All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo — and even rookie Jared Sullinger to help on the boards –will wear down the older Celtics team. When Lee went down looking like he, too, could become a casualty, it had to be nothing short of disheartening.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve had so many ups and downs and always were able to find a way,” said third-year guard Avery Bradley, who missed the first half of this season recovering from shoulder surgery last May. “Last year we had a lot of issues that people didn’t know about, a lot of injuries and we still were able to find a way, and still had an opportunity. It just shows what kind of organization we have.”
Finding a way this time will be an even tougher dig than a year ago when the Celtics clawed all the way to Game 7 at Miami in the East finals.
Still, nobody’s counting out the Celtics just yet. No, not even the Heat.
DALLAS –Dirk Nowitzki‘s beard grows thicker and more unruly with each passing day. Losses like Wednesday’s at home to the Brooklyn Nets decrease the odds that he’ll reach for a razor any time soon. The pact he and a group of teammates made some six weeks ago was that no one shaves until they reach .500.
The Dallas Mavericks were 21-28 on Feb. 8 when the motivational ploy came to light. Nowitzki had little more than the scruff he typically wears. But look at him now. The Mavs are 32-36, barely hanging on to playoff hope, and Nowitzki’s bearded face is proof, untamed, grizzly and rivaling the one he grew for weeks in the Outback six summers ago after his lone MVP season ended dismally in a first-round flop.
“Only then I didn’t even trim this part,” Nowitzki said, pointing to the lower portion of his bushy moustache creeping over his upper lip. “It came all the way down here.”
After Wednesday’s loss when Nowitzki shot 80 percent from the field, but took only 10 shots and none in the final half of the fourth quarter when Deron Williams – the co-star Dallas failed to obtain last summer — took over, the 34-year-old Nowitzki stroked his prickly-chin and scratched the back of his fur-covered neck where clumps of hair forcibly trail downward like a thicket of overgrown vines.
He said his mom told him he looks 45. Judging by his heavy eyes after the 113-96 disappointment to start a crucial six-game homestand, he might feel that old, too.
Nowitzki missed the first 27 games of the season after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Oct. 19. His recovery was slow and painful, as was his game upon his return. And now, after missing his first All-Star Game in 12 seasons, he is on the verge of sitting out the playoffs for the first time in 13.
His team hasn’t been at .500 since it was 11-11 on Dec. 12. They were 12-16 when he returned two days before Christmas.
He was asked Wednesday why point guards Mike James and Darren Collison can’t seem to get him the ball in key situations, particularly on nights when he isn’t missing. In Dallas’ last two losses, both at home, Nowitzki was 8-for-10 in both, yet was a non-factor late.
“They [defenders] don’t leave me much anymore,” Nowitzki said. “It’s up to other guys to make plays. It’s as simple as that.”
There was zero talk of the future Hall of Famer reaching yet another remarkable milestone. Nowitzki surpassed 9,000 career rebounds, making him the 10th player in NBA history with 24,000 points and 9,000 boards, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elvin Hayes, Moses Malone, Karl Malone, Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing and the only other active player, Kevin Garnett.
Nowitzki has scored and shot the ball better lately (18.1 ppg, 50.9 percent from the field, 48.8 percent on 3s), but he’s still set for his worst statistical season since he was a rookie, averaging 16.4 ppg and shooting 45.9 percent.
Mavs owner Mark Cuban doesn’t believe age is catching up to his star. In fact, Cuban said he expects Nowitzki to regain his All-Star status next season, the last on Nowitzki’s current contract, and “at least” a season or two after that. (more…)
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Now it’s time to get serious about this streak.
The players in the Miami Heat locker room can downplay it all they want, but the pressure is on now. They’ve captured win No. 22, tying the Houston Rockets for the second-longest win streak in NBA history and the Los Angeles Lakers’ record 33-game streak is within their grasp, theoretically.
There is that little business to handle in Boston Monday night, against the same team that ended the Rockets’ streak five years ago to the day. And this is the same Boston team that has served as the nemesis for the Heat (the past two years) and LeBron James (for years before that while he was in Cleveland), before the guys in green got their AARP cards and lost Rajon Rondo for the season.
Heat upcoming schedule
They don’t pen scripts this rich in Hollywood these days — reigning champs show up on hated rival’s doorstep with a chance to continue their dominance and continue their historical chase with all the world watching (on ESPN). But that’s exactly what we’ll have to feast on Monday night, thanks to the Heat’s disposal of the Raptors in Toronto this afternoon for win No. 22 in their championship march.
A week ago, fresh off of their pounding of the Indiana Pacers at American Airlines Arena, man after man in the Miami locker room stressed that the streak was not on their minds. It wasn’t an issue, not for a team focused on bigger things.
“We’re just in a good place right now,” said Heat veteran Ray Allen then. “For me personally, it doesn’t really play into our conscience.
“Our goal day-to-day is to continually get better. Every team we play gets tougher. There is an emphasis right now on the small things. We know our weaknesses and strengths and we try to play to our strengths as much as we can. We know if we take care of the small things we give ourselves a great chance to win every night. And that’s the most important thing. We don’t want to have a mishap and start looking too far ahead, focusing on ourselves and what a great team we have. Our goal is to stay focused and keep grinding it out.”
Sure, of course it is. But that was before they crossed the 20-game threshold; before Allen shredded the Raptors for 16 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter of a hotly contested game (for a while) for win No. 22; before they peaked ahead and realized that No. 23 could come at the expense of the Celtics, one of the few teams that would have this game circled and highlighted the same way the Heat would (if they were completely honest with us about what it means to be in the midst of such a historic run).
There will be not shortage of reminders of not only what’s at stake Monday night, but also who can prevent the Heat from moving another step closer to that record — the Celtics, of all teams. Allen’s old teammates. The same crew that served as the Heat’s biggest hurdle last season on their way to the Finals and that Larry O’Brien trophy.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers can get his team riled up on a regular Monday, with just a few choice words and just the right poke at a particular player. The Heat coming to town under these circumstances is motivational gold, the fire starter any Eastern Conference playoff outfit worth it’s spit in the pecking order lives for.
Allen knows this better than anyone, having won 19 in a row with the Celtics during the 2008-09 season alongside Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rondo.
You’re either the hunter or the hunted in this situation. And both offer a certain level of excitement for all involved. Toss in the fact that there isn’t a city, franchise or team that appreciates the rich history of this game more than the Boston, the Celtics and this particular crew, and you can see why they are so eager for their crack at the Heat.
“What does [a win Monday] get you when you play Atlanta in the first round?” Rivers told ESPNBoston.com. “It doesn’t do anything that you beat Miami. [Another opponent] could care less. If you caught Miami later [in the postseason]? I guess, for us, knowing that you can beat them, but we already know that. We’ve beaten them earlier in the year. But you still want to beat them, they are the world champs, they are playing great — you don’t need any extra reason to want to beat them. At least we don’t. They face this every night, though. And it’s what we faced in 2008-09 [as defending champions], every night. That’s what makes their streak so impressive to me, they are getting the best from teams and still winning.”
The Heat certainly won’t get the Celtics’ very best, even though they’ve been a revelation without Rondo, piling up a 16-6 record since they lost him to that season-ending ACL tear.
Garnett is supposed to be “50/50 at best” for Monday night’s game. He’s battling an adductor muscle strain that kept him out of a Saturday night win over the Charlotte Bobcats.
But you can imagine how that Monday morning assessment of his readiness will go? As long as everything is connected …
“When you go on a 10-game winning streak it’s always commendable because of the way the schedule goes,” Allen said. “You play on the road and at home, Western Conference and Eastern Conference. Some teams there are just bad matchups. You’re just learning how to win. For us, we’ve been in situations where it looked like we should have lost the game, but we put ourselves in situations to make plays down the stretch. We’ve learned how to play the game down the stretch — starting quarters and finishing quarters — those are the little things that help you win games. And then doing it on someone else’s floor, winning that many in a row, it’s always great.
“But you don’t always get a prize for it. We know what our prize is and it’s waiting for us.”
The Celtics are waiting for them, too, Monday night in Boston.
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Not everyone can be J.J. Redick and get traded at the deadline to a playoff team that has 28 minutes of playing time carved out and instantly make a positive impact.
Just ask Anthony Morrow, who was virtually nonexistent in Atlanta only to become invisible in Dallas; or Ed Davis, who is only now, thanks to injuries to Zach Randolph, beginning to break into Memphis coach Lionel Hollins‘ rotation. Ronnie Brewer lost his rotation spot in New York and has yet to find one in Oklahoma City and Jordan Crawford, whose low minutes in Boston are at least better than no minutes in Washington.
“I landed in a place that is pretty much a great fit for me,” Morrow said a few days after being freed from the Hawks. “Coming out of my last situation I just wanted to get somewhere or anywhere where I could have an opportunity in terms of working hard and letting that pay off.”
Judging by comments from the Mavs’ brass, Morrow, a free-agent-to-be, figured to have gotten exactly what he wanted. President of basketball operations Donnie Nelson went so far as to call Morrow “one of the top stretch shooters maybe in the history of the league.” That might have been stretching things a bit, but owner Mark Cuban seemed happy to get the 3-point specialist for a playoff push in a straight-up deal for defensive-minded shooting guard Dahntay Jones.
“He’s one of those guys you just can’t leave,” Cuban said. “If you do he’s going to make you pay for it and that’s going to be really valuable for us.”
It might be if Morrow ever gets on the court. Coach Rick Carlisle has played Morrow a whopping six minutes. Six total minutes. He finally got up his first 3-pointer as a Mav on Sunday against Minnesota — he missed it — when he played 2:28, a shade under his Mavs high of 3:40 to go with stints of 16 seconds and four seconds.
The Thunder acquired the 6-foot-7 Brewer after trading backup guard Eric Maynor to Portland, a move that has worked well for Maynor on the Blazers’ thin bench. Brewer has played limited minutes, but his true value should come in the playoffs as a sturdy wing defender that coach Scott Brooks can utilize in specific situations. Brewer got a brief, late fourth-quarter assignment against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers last week.
“Those are minutes I have to somehow work in, but it’s hard to play 10, 11 guys,” Brooks said. “But Ronnie knows what he has to do and what he will do, he’s a professional, he understands what we do. He knows how to play, he’s a hard-nosed defender, he’s a team guy, so he just has to keep working until he gets his number called.”
Which is what the 6-foot-10 Davis is doing in Memphis. The three-team deal that sent Detroit big man Austin Daye and Tayshaun Prince to Memphis and Rudy Gay to Toronto (Raptors point guard Jose Calderon now starts for Detroit) happened about three weeks before the deadline.
Daye surprisingly was getting the bulk of the bench minutes while Davis sat. But in the last four games, Davis is starting to emerge as a key player for the hot Grizzlies, if only because of injuries to the starter, Randolph, and top reserve forward, Darrell Arthur. In his last four games, Davis is averaging 27.0 mpg, 9.2 ppg and 8.5 rpg. In the prior three games, he played a total of 21 minutes and had averaged less than 10 minutes since joining the Grizzlies.
Hollins offered up a pretty good indication of what he expects from Davis following Saturday’s win at New Orleans where Davis produced 12 points, nine rebounds and five blocks.
“When he is focused, he’s good. It’s a different focus; a different concentration level when you are on a good team,” Hollins said. “You can’t float, you can’t be in and out. You have to be focused for the whole time you’re on the court. Last [Friday] night, I thought he was great in the second half. He was not very good in the first half. [Saturday night], it was just the opposite. There were shots that he should have blocked. There were rebounds he should have had. It’s just something he has to grow into.”
As for Crawford, what seemed like a savvy deadline move for the Celtics to add some scoring pop off the bench with Rajon Rondo and Leandro Barbosa out for the season, hasn’t panned out. Crawford remains an inefficient scorer and a poor decision-maker and, not coincidentally, he has provided little impact.
In a trade season where Redick — whose Bucks are 6-2 since his arrival (he missed Sunday’s win at Sacramento with a sprained ankle) — was the biggest name moved, role players in new homes are finding that it can be difficult to fit in.
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: Last night’s trio of games weren’t the most exciting matchups on paper, with two games (Nuggets-Kings and Lakers-Thunder) being matchups that were pretty one-sided (and ended up being that way in the final result, too). That makes Celtics-Sixers our pick this morning, mostly because we were treated to a performance from Avery Bradley that was reminiscent of the work he did in the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals against these Sixers. As you’ll read below, Celtics coach Doc Rivers credits Bradley’s play with a lot of Boston’s success since Rajon Rondo was lost for the season, and this game last night was a great case in point.
West: LeBron ‘in another world’ right now — Around the All-Star break, the LeBron James vs. Kobe Bryant debate was stirred up anew after Hall of Famer Michael Jordan said he’d pick Bryant over James. Another Hall of Famer, Warriors executive Jerry West, has his thoughts on the LeBron debate — specifically where James ranks among all-time performers and whether or not he is on Jordan’s level. West’s answer to that, as well as his thoughts on the struggling Lakers, his old owner, Jerry Buss, and more are all a must-read in this Q&A from Sports on Earth’s Shaun Powell:
Q: After 50 years in the game, you’ve seen just about everyone. Are you ready to call LeBron James the greatest after Jordan? Or maybe he trumps Jordan? Or is this all too silly?
A: I’ll say LeBron is in another world right now. He’s a player for the decade. You watch him and you can tell his teammates love him. What you can’t do is judge him by the championships right now. Just his all-around play and skills. He’s a superstar who’s very unselfish. You don’t find that too often. He could lead the league in scoring every year if he wanted. But he’d rather find any way to beat you even if it meant giving up the ball. To watch his growth as a player and person has been pretty special. I would have enjoyed having him as a teammate.
Q: Miami has made it work by combining three All-Stars. But weren’t you, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain the original Big Three?
A: Oh, I don’t know. That’s just a label. The difference between us and them is they’re in their prime. Elgin battled injury and wasn’t the same player when we came together. I wasn’t the same player because I battled knee injuries and we didn’t have the medical advancements then as we do now. I was almost constantly in pain. Wilt wasn’t the same, either; he was at the end of his career. And we didn’t win together because Elgin retired before the championship. I know people didn’t like what Miami did by teaming them up, but I thought it was fantastic. LeBron is special, Dwyane Wade is right behind him and Chris Bosh is a very good player. They’ll win championships or be right there as long as they’re healthy and on the same team. People should enjoy and respect what they’re seeing right now.
Q: Meanwhile, your old team has struggled with Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash although to be fair, Howard and Nash haven’t been healthy from the jump. Will they get it together? Or will this be basketball’s Titanic?
A: What people don’t understand is the enormous adjustment you have to make as a player in those situations. I was a scorer, Elgin was a scorer and Wilt, even then, liked the ball. We all had to put everything else aside. The Lakers are playing better now, especially defensively, and I think they’ll make the playoffs. I think the worst is behind them.
Q: You knew Jerry Buss as well as anyone, maybe even better. Got a favorite Dr. Buss story you could share?
A: Well, because of the personality he had, I couldn’t tell you any of the best ones for print. But everything you heard about him as an owner was true. He always did what was in the best interest of the game, from a Lakers perspective and a league perspective. I wish all owners were like him. He was a real innovator. He wasn’t afraid to make a decision. You liked him and cared about him. He was a good guy who was able to buy something and become an incredible steward of a historic franchise. I was lucky to have known him. Working for him wasn’t even work, it was fun. I never saw it as a job. Not for one day. I miss him already.
Kings’ Cousins has words for fan — For DeMarcus Cousins against the Nuggets on Tuesday, it was a night to forget. A season-worst shooting night (1-for-12) coupled with a relentless barrage by Shootaround favorite Kenneth Faried led to a 120-113 loss in which Cousins sat on the bench for the final 10 minutes, 15 seconds. But as Cousins left the game, writes Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee, he got into a bit of a verbal altercation with a fan — another black mark in a season where Cousins has had his fair share of on-court dustups:
Cousins sat out the final 10:15, and his exit wasn’t the usual jog to the bench. He engaged in a shouting match with fans seated on the baseline near the Kings’ bench.
“He said some disrespectful things, and I had some things to say back,” Cousins said. “That was it.”
Cousins said he believes it was a Kings fan, “which makes it even worse.”
Coach Keith Smart said sitting Cousins had nothing to do with that verbal exchange and instead was about finding the best matchup to slow down the Nuggets (40-22).
“The focus is on the game. The focus is on what we’re trying to do on the floor,” Smart said. “And whatever happens with someone on our team in the stands, whatever needs to be dealt with, is dealt with.
“These are our fans and they come out here to support us, and we’ve got to make sure we do the right things at all times”
Asked about fan support, Smart made it clear the team’s focus needs to be on the court.
“That’s why it’s very important that we focus on playing good basketball instead of being focused on the fans,” Smart said. “They pay good, hard-earned money to come to a game to do or say whatever they might want to say. But overall the fans in Sacramento have been great to our basketball team.”
‘Melo asked out of game before he got hurt — Although the Knicks rallied from a 22-point deficit to take down the Cavs in Cleveland on Monday, they suffered a loss as Carmelo Anthony left the game in the second quarter after injuring his knee. A day after that mishap, Knicks coach Mike Woodson says the injury could have been avoided had Woodson agreed to let Anthony out of the game when the Knicks’ star started feeling pain. Ian Bagley of ESPNNewYork.com has more on the situation:
Woodson revealed Tuesday during an interview with ESPN New York 98.7 FM that Anthony had asked to be removed from the game due to knee discomfort before suffering the injury in the second quarter.
The Knicks announced later Tuesday that Anthony officially has been diagnosed with a sore knee and will be listed as questionable for Wednesday’s game against the Detroit Pistons.
Woodson called Anthony’s injury “alarming” during his interview on “The Stephen A. Smith and Ryan Ruocco Show” and admitted his decision to leave the star forward in the game was “stubborn.”
“Melo was hurt,” Woodson said. “For him to ask me to come out of the game before he actually took that spill made me realize that something wasn’t right. He’s never ever, ever, even hinted about coming out of the game [before Monday]. I play him too much in that regard. Melo’s a trooper — he’s a warrior, he’s a tough kid.”
Woodson was asked during the interview why he chose to leave Anthony in the game after he requested to come out.
“I should have [taken him out],” Woodson said. “Stubborn coach — I just didn’t.”
Woodson explained that he hoped Anthony would help dig the Knicks out of their 22-point first-half deficit.”Maybe I should have taken him out before he actually stumbled and took the fall,” Woodson said. “But again, I’m thinking [during] the game, ‘Hey, he’ll play through it. He’ll figure it out.’
“But he was hurt. He walked out after he took the spill and he didn’t come back, and that’s not Melo-like. Obviously, his knee is bothering him.”
Anthony said on Monday that his knee had been bothering him in recent days, and an MRI taken recently revealed no structural damage.
“Today I just woke up, and you know how some days you really don’t feel right,” he said after the game. “I came out here and I tried to warm up and I thought it was going to loosen up before the game, but some of the things that I was doing, I felt like I was dragging it.”
Knicks general manager Glen Grunwald said Tuesday in an interview with radio station WFAN that he did not believe the injury was “serious,” even though Anthony has been bothered by the knee for two or three weeks.
Sans Rondo, Celtics up their intensity — As was mentioned by the Inside the NBA crew last night, the Celtics are 12-4 since Rajon Rondo was lost for the season on Jan. 27. While getting key players back (such as Avery Bradley and Chris Wilcox) and adding a little depth (via a trade for Jordan Crawford) have helped, Boston coach Doc Rivers says Rondo’s departure probably did more to help get the team on a winning track than anything else. Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe has more on the Celtics’ sudden improvements:
The Celtics began Tuesday two games from the fourth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and home-court advantage in the first round, which is stunning considering Boston was 20-23 when Rondo went down and was expected to sink in the second half.
“I just think we’re playing better, for whatever reason,” said coach Doc Rivers. “You have all those injuries, you usually go the other way. I just think our guys kind of came together and realized we don’t have a margin of error anymore.
“And maybe that’s why. But overall, I think a lot of things happened, too. I think Avery [Bradley] was just coming back, so our defense improved dramatically with him.”
Rivers said Bradley’s presence has been critical. The Celtics had improved to ninth in the league in points allowed entering Tuesday night’s game.
“When the guy is on the point of the ball putting pressure, it makes everyone else kind of join in, I think that helped,” Rivers said. “I thought our second unit was just about to take off before all the injuries. So they were finding their way.”
Kevin Garnett said the team’s decision making has drastically improved to compensate for Rondo’s missing floor leadership.
“I would say [we’re] more decisive,” he said. “You get to whatever you’re doing and if you’re going to pass it, pass it, if not you make your move. Consistency is something that I always put our hat on. The more consistent we can be with stopping the ball . . . that’s been the formula for success since I’ve been here and getting guys to buy in.”
Perhaps this is a blessing and curse, because professional sports can break a ballplayer’s heart this way. Redick’s loyal this way. He immerses himself in the franchise’s fabric, invests in the community. His two old coaches – Mike Krzyzewski and Stan Van Gundy – still get calls and texts on a regular basis.
“My wife Chelsea and I built a life in Orlando,” Redick told Yahoo! Sports. “Listen, there was no anger [over the trade], but there was a little bit of disappointment.
“Part of me wishes I could’ve been there my whole career and been part of the rebuilding, part of the turnaround, and gotten back to the finals in my 11th or 12th year. That’s the romantic in me, the idealist.”
With Redick, the Bucks have won four of five games. With the Bucks, Redick is relevant again.
“There’s been a number of moments since I’ve been here – in the fourth quarter, in overtime – where I’ve thought, ‘Man, I missed this,’ ” Redick says. “And I did.
“Even in Orlando, in a close game, coming down to the wire, you still think to yourself: ‘We’re 15-37 or whatever.’ ”
So far, the vision of Bucks general manager John Hammond has been validated. Redick will be a free agent this summer, and Hammond gambled with the trade for him. As hard as the Bucks tried to get Josh Smith, Redick was the player whom they believed could become their starting shooting guard for years. Brandon Jennings is a restricted free agent, Monta Ellis can opt out of his contract and, almost assuredly, only one of them returns next season.
Milwaukee can’t afford to pay the three of them, so Jennings or Ellis will stay, and Milwaukee is prepared to pay Redick as a starting shooting guard. Redick will be in great demand, but make no mistake: To leave the Bucks, he’ll have to take less money – probably a lot.
Hammond and his assistant GM, Jeff Weltman, have the Bucks positioned to be an Eastern Conference playoff team for years to come. For them, Redick has arrived to make shots, yes, but also bring professionalism to the workplace.For Redick, it was over in Orlando. The Magic disassembled into a total rebuild. Part of him will always live with the regret of how everything fell apart, how they fired Stan Van Gundy and traded Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers.
In Redick’s mind, the best thing that ever happened was getting drafted into Orlando with a coach who refused to insert him into the rotation. For two years, Van Gundy challenged him to become a more complete player and Redick thinks “a lot about what kind of career trajectory I would’ve had without Stan, and I’m grateful for what he did for me.”
“Those years in Orlando humbled me,” Redick said, “and gave me perspective on basketball and life.”
Bynum visits knee specialist– In the seemingly daily update of how Andrew Bynum‘s knees, the Sixers big man headed off the New York to visit an orthopedist to get more news on his problematic joints and the long-term outlook for his career. Jason Wolf of The (Wilmington) News Journal has more on Bynum’s visit with Dr. David Altchek of the Hospital for Special Surgery and what next steps are ahead for the big man:
The 7-foot, 300-pound Bynum, whose right knee continued to swell more than a week after taking part in his first practice of the season on Feb. 22, is considering arthroscopic surgery and no longer confident he’ll play for the Sixers this season.
Bynum also visited with at least one doctor on Monday, Sixers CEO Adam Aron said in two broadcast interviews.
“We’re all trying to gather information and see what the best course of action is,” Sixers general manager Tony DiLeo said. “I’m sure Altchek will have an opinion, our doctors will have an opinion, and Andrew, basically, will have an opinion. It’s just gathering information now. And like I said before, he’ll continue to rehab and see how that goes. The option of washing it out [with arthroscopic surgery], we’ll see what happens there.”
Bynum has been sidelined by bone bruises and damaged cartilage in his knees since September. The Sixers acquired him from the Los Angeles Lakers in a four-team trade in August.
He is making $16.9 million this season and will become an unrestricted free agent in July, when he’s hoping to land a long-term deal and a nine-figure pay day.
“He set it up. That’s his doctor,” DiLeo said. “I know it’s a late appointment, so I don’t know if we’ll hear [results] tonight or tomorrow. … [The swelling] has gone down. But the activity has gone down.”
ICYMI of the night: Kenneth Faried got Dunk of the Night honors from our multimedia crew for this jam, but we like this one so much better:
ATLANTA –Josh Smith walked through the door to the Atlanta Hawks’ practice court, flashed a quick smile and walked to the opposite end of the floor just minutes before he and his teammates took to the floor.
That means as of this morning he is still a member of the Hawks. How long that lasts, however, remains to be seen. The Hawks are sorting through the offers they have on the table for Smith and still trying to decide if they are indeed going to move the nine-year veteran before today’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.
After the Hawks’ home loss to the Heat Wednesday night, Smith said he’ll just be glad to have the deadline behind him, no matter what happens.
“I think it will be a relief for all the questions I keep answering,” he said. “Whether it happens or not, I’m going to still play hard. This organization gave me so much over the years. They gave me a chance to (live) my dream, so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”
Hawks general manager Danny Ferry has refused to talk about any trade speculation, particularly anything regarding Smith. But Ferry, according to sources, is weighing options that include trading Smith within the conference (to either Milwaukee or Brooklyn) or to a Western Conference team, which is the Hawks’ preferred move.
The one wild card in the equation is Boston, which, according to a source, is willing to include Paul Pierce in a potential deal. But the Hawks have been lukewarm on the idea of getting Pierce, who has played his entire career in Boston, and his $15 million salary next season. Using Rajon Rondo in a deal to get Smith would make no sense for Boston, if they are interested in keeping the Hawks’ free-agent-to-be this summer. Rondo and Smith are good friends and played together at Oak Hill Academy as high school seniors.
The Phoenix Suns remain an option in the Western Conference, according to sources, and posses some of the assets (draft picks and players like Marcin Gortat) that could interest the Hawks.
But the Hawks’ main objective is the preservation of the cap space they created by trading Joe Johnson (to Brooklyn) and Marvin Williams (to Utah) last summer. With plans to pursue other free agents, like Dwight Howard, the Hawks won’t do anything to hinder that process today.
There is still a chance that the Hawks hold on to Smith and ride out the remainder of this season with their roster intact. And if they did that, the two sides would simply part ways amicably this summer.
Which playoff-bound team do you see slipping after the break?
Steve Aschburner: I’m still mourning Memphis for two trades that weren’t driven by the pursuit of a championship this spring, which is what the Grizzlies were poised to do. But I’m even more alarmed by the Golden State Warriors, who returned from the break the way they went into it: losing. With their bad start and poor finish at Utah Tuesday, the Warriors have dropped six in a row and are 8-13 over the past seven weeks. They have sputtered while trying to acclimate to center Andrew Bogut‘s participation, the defense has been porous and, after the setback in Salt Lake City, forward David Lee cited a drip-drip-drip of small mistakes adding up to a big problem. Golden State played just well enough through the first two months to demand that it be taken seriously — so seeking its level now comes as a legit disappointment. It could have finished eighth — or (gulp) ninth — without getting folks’ hopes up.
Fran Blinebury: Despite their 8-1 start in life without Rajon Rondo, I think it’s going to be difficult for the Celtics aging pair of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to handle the added burden, so they could drop as far as the No. 8 spot in the East. The Celtics are just fortunate that, barring a stunning and miraculous return by Andrew Bynum in Philly, there’s nobody below that can knock them out of the playoffs.
Jeff Caplan: The Bucks started their swoon pre-All-Star break and they might just slip right out of the playoffs if Philadelphia can ever get hot — or if Toronto can stay hot. However, the Bucks aren’t my choice. Hellooooo Atlanta. We’ll see by Thursday if Josh Smith has a new home. Even if he stays, I still say, look out below. The Hawks have the misfortune of opening the post-All-Star break season with eight road games within a brutal 12-game stretch that starts at home Wednesday against the Heat and ends March 12 at the Heat. The stretch includes a season-long six-game trip that starts on the second night of back-to-back at Milwaukee (Saturday) and includes a stop at Utah followed by a back-to-back at the Los Angeles Lakers and at mile-high Denver. The dirty dozen ends with this challenging three-pack: a back-to-back at Boston and home against Brooklyn, then three nights later at Miami. The Hawks are 29-22. Let’s see where they are in 20 days.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Ask me again Thursday afternoon. For now, based on the rosters of the moment, the Grizzlies will take a dip. Not all the way out of the playoff pack, but enough of a slip in a post-Rudy Gay world. Taking a three-game winning streak into the All-Star break was a nice bit of momentum building. The three were against the Kings, the Timberwolves and the slumping Warriors, though.
John Schuhmann:Milwaukee is a prime candidate. The Bucks have a tough remaining schedule that includes nine back-to-backs (the first of which they’re in the middle of). And if you look at point differential, their record is a little inflated in the first place. Of course, if they manage to trade Monta Ellis, they would become a better team (addition by subtraction) and maybe make up for the tough schedule. Also, if the Bucks do slip, I’m not sure there’s another Eastern Conference team with the chops to take their place in the playoff picture. If you’re looking for a higher seed that could slip, I’ll go with Brooklyn, who has six more road games than home games remaining and a league-high 10 post-break back-to-backs.
Sekou Smith: Depending on what transpires between now and 3 p.m. Thursday, I could see the Atlanta Hawks struggling to the finish line if they do indeed trade Josh Smith. I don’t see a Celtics-like surge coming from the Hawks if they lose their best player (to trade this time and not to injury, as Boston did with Rajon Rondo). The Hawks already have fragile chemistry and the fact that 85 percent of the roster (and the coaching staff) will be finishing up their contracts at the end of this season doesn’t bode well for some miraculous finish. If you’re going into rebuild mode this summer, and everyone in the locker room knows it, where is the incentive to claw your way to the finish?
HANG TIME, Texas — The clock ticks down, the trade deadline draws near and all 30 NBA general managers are burning up their phones with possibilities realistic and absurd.
Some need to make deals to solidify playoff teams, others simply can’t bear the thought of sitting still. As Thursday gets closer, here are seven GMs with big decisions to make:
Danny Ferry, Atlanta Hawks
Is it finally time to give up on the hope that Josh Smith can be more than a numbers-gatherer in Atlanta? Ferry, the first-year Hawks’ GM, wasted no time in moving out Joe Johnson’s big contract. Part of the decision was that J-Smoove would blossom without Iso-Joe taking up a big part of the offense. Instead he’s averaging 1.4 fewer points and one rebound less than a year ago, his efficiency rating is down from 21.14 to 19.90 and he’s shooting only 50 percent from the free-throw line. The sense is that it’s “just time.” Still, that doesn’t mean Ferry has to move him. He’s positioned the Hawks so that they could afford to keep Smith and still sign a pricey free agent next summer. But that won’t stop the likes of the Bucks, Suns, Celtics, Wizards and Sixers from making a run. The Rockets have long had eyes for Smith, but might be more inclined to wait to make their moves in free agency.
Danny Ainge, Boston Celtics
Despite their 8-1 record since Rajon Rondo’s season ended due to torn knee ligaments, it’s too hard to see the Celtics making a serious and deep playoff run on the aging legs of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The obvious move would be with the 36-year-old Garnett and making that long-rumored deal to the Clippers (Eric Bledsoe). The challenge is getting K.G. to waive the no-trade clause in his contract. Can Ainge appeal to Garnett’s own best interest to get another ring or his loyalty to the Celtics organization to help them start over? Even if Rondo’s knee injury isn’t as severe as first thought and he’s able to get back on the floor for the start of training camp, the rebuilding in Boston has to start sometime. It might as well be now.
Billy King, Brooklyn Nets
If King could know for sure that Deron Williams will shake off the injuries and inefficiency and return to the All-Star form he showed in Utah, then he’d be more inclined to sit back and put his feet up. Or maybe not in the realm of Mikhail Prokhorov. The Russian billionaire owner is willing to shell out big bucks, but also expects immediate results and does not handle mediocrity well. See Avery Johnson, who was fired with a 14-14 record, a Coach of the Month title pinned to his resume. The Nets will likely try to get Paul Millsap from the Jazz and could be in the running for the popular Josh Smith. Last year’s All-Rookie team member MarShon Brooks is on the block. Would Charlotte’s offer of Ben Gordon for Kris Humphries be enough? The Nets have been so inconsistent that with the possibility of a first-round bounce due to a bad matchup looming, you have to believe King won’t sit still.
Donnie Nelson, Dallas Mavericks
“The Bank of Cuban is open.” That was team owner Mark Cuban’s declaration last month, but what must be determined is in which direction the Mavericks are headed right now. They enter the post-All-Star stretch six games under .500 and 4 1/2 games out of the last playoff spot in the West. If the Mavs decide they’re better off reloading with a fully-recovered Dirk Nowitzki next season, they certainly have a good trade chip in Vince Carter, who’d be a wonderful addition to any playoff contender. He could also bring in future assets for Shawn Marion, Chris Kaman and Elton Brand.
Daryl Morey, Houston Rockets
You put him in this slot just because Morey lives with an itchy trigger finger and might be inclined to make a deal just because he can. But with the James Harden steal under his belt and the free agency hits on Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, the Rockets will probably strike only if it’s a chance at a home run. With the youngest team in the league, a position in the West playoff race and a payroll that could make them big, big players in free agency, next summer is probably when they’ll make their move. But Houston is now big-game hunting for talent to play with Harden. If a chance to scoop up a true All-Star comes their way, Morey won’t hesitate.
Mitch Kupchak, L.A. Lakers
It’s almost obligatory to put the Lakers on any potential trade deadline list, despite Kupchak saying publicly that he’s not at all interested in dealing Dwight Howard or breaking up his All-Star group of underachievers at this point. He can’t trade Pau Gasol as long as the possibility exists that Howard walks as a free agent next summer — which it does. Besides, the Lakers problems are not about needing more players but getting the ones they have to play every night with passion.
Dennis Lindsey, Utah Jazz
Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson? Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap? With the contracts of both of the frontcourt veterans expiring, it was assumed since Day One of this season that the rookie GM Lindsey would have to deal one of them by the deadline, if for no other reason than to make room and more playing time for Derrick Favors. It would seem to make sense, but only if the Jazz can get a bonafide star in return. That’s what the 30-24 team lacks right now. But there is no reason to make a deal just to make a deal. The future is based on a young core of Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks. Millsap is the more likely one to go, but maybe only for another expiring contract in return. Salt Lake City is not a desired location for free agents. But as the effects of the new collective bargaining agreement are felt and big names teams try to avoid the increasingly punishing luxury tax, players will want to simply get paid. Don’t expect a panic move here.
HOUSTON –Brook Lopez took his rightful spot on the glittering stage Sunday tonight and was introduced as a first-time member of the Eastern Conference All-Stars, and the lone representative of the Brooklyn Nets.
The face (and supposed savior) of the franchise, point guard Deron Williams, had his three-year All-Star run snapped by a substandard half-season.
That Lopez and not Williams was in Houston serves as a timely reminder that while D-Will might be the club’s star name, Lopez has been its most valuable player. He’s been the key to the Nets being 31-22 heading into the season’s stretch run. Brooklyn is 17-8 since coach Avery Johnson was fired days after Williams criticized the former coach’s offense as reason for his shooting struggles.
“I’m just trying to help our team in any way possible,” Lopez said. “I think our team has been pretty successful, but we’ve been a little inconsistent. But when we’re at our best, I think we’re capable of competing with anyone. I think our goal for the second half is just to become more consistent throughout the rest of the season and in each specific game.”
The Nets’ big man — whom the franchise dangled for so long in pursuit of a trade for unhappy Dwight Howard — initially didn’t garner enough votes from the East’s coaches to be one of the squad’s seven reserves. Omitted despite averaging 19.0 ppg — tops among the league’s centers, including Howard — on 52 percent shooting. Despite picking up his rebounding, especially on the offensive glass. Despite, on average, blocking more than two shots a game, ranking sixth-best among forwards and centers.
And any advanced metrics guru will tell you that no player boasting Lopez’s superb player efficiency rating of 24.8 — the league average is 15.0 — gets left off an All-Star team. Yet, it took Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo suffering a season-ending ACL injury for the 7-foot Lopez to get the commissioner’s blessing to join the East’s crowded 6-foot-11-and-over club with starters Kevin Garnett and Chris Bosh, and reserves Joakim Noah and Tyson Chandler.
Vindication for a monster season post-Dwightmare, right?
“No,” said Lopez, who was the last of the East reserves to make an appearance in the second quarter and made the most of his 11 total minutes (three points, five rebounds, three assists). “I wanted to come out and play my best basketball possible. That’s how I approach every game. I ignored all the trade talks, everything in the offseason. I don’t read much in the papers or ESPN.com or anything like that. I was just focused on bettering myself as a player and putting myself in the best situation possible for whatever happens.”
And so what about D-Will? The hits kept coming this weekend with USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo saying that Williams ”was not in the best shape” and “a little overweight” during the Summer Games in London. Williams has struggled with various injuries this season, although he’s missed just three games, while his production across the board has declined to levels of his first two seasons in the league.
“He’s getting a good rest right now,” Lopez said. “I think he’s confident. Our team is doing well right now. He’s the face of the franchise, our leader, he drastically affects what we do. We’re doing well right now and that’s mostly because of him.”
Lopez is clearly a Stanford man — smart and savvy.
He said he’s optimistic that Williams will play better in the final 29 games. That can only be encouraging for a team that has endured early turmoil and high expectations, yet is just 2 1/2 games behind the New York Knicks for the East’s second seed.
The Nets play at home Tuesday against Milwaukee, then at Milwaukee on Wednesday. Three of their next four are at Barclays Center, but it would be easy against West playoff teams Houston and Memphis.
“Like I said, when we’re at our best I think we’re capable of competing with anyone,” Lopez said. “It’s just a matter of being consistent.”