MIAMI –Brandon Jennings is fearless. The Milwaukee Bucks’ point guard always has been and probably always will be. And it’s hard not to admire that trait in him.
You don’t skip college for pro ball in Italy, declare yourself better than than international teen sensation Ricky Rubio and then back that claim up with four fantastic NBA seasons and have an ounce of fear in you.
But that fearlessness alone won’t be enough to propel the Bucks in their first round playoff series against the Miami Heat. They’ll need All-Star work out of Jennings and equal doses of fearlessness and spectacular play from the entire roster just to make this thing as interesting on the court as it has been in the build up to Game 1 here tonight at AmericanAirlines Arena. (On TNT, 7 p.m. ET)
Thursday night at the Wisconsin Sports Award ceremony, where he was picking up an award for his work in the community, Jennings uttered these famous words: ”I’m real confident. I’m sure everybody is writing us off but I see us winning the series in six.”
There is, however, recent evidence that a No. 8 can actually pull this off.
Two of the five instances in league history when a No. 1 seed has been upset by a No. 8 have come in the past two seasons. The Philadelphia 76ers did it last year against the Chicago Bulls, but only after Bulls All-Star Derrick Rose tore his ACL in Game 1. And the Memphis Grizzlies stunned the San Antonio Spurs the year before that.
This Heat team, however, is a far superior outfit to either of those aforementioned upset victims. They won 66-games this season, including that monster 27-game win streak, and have been vetted like few other great teams when you consider all that has gone on with this Heat crew the past three seasons.
“We don’t feel we can be beat in a series,” Heat center Chris Bosh said. “We say that in the most humble manner possible. We’ve been humbled already. I think before, all those other teams [upset], they were either injured or just caught slipping or they were in a five-game series. We’re not in that predicament so it’s a little different.”
The Bucks also have to contend with a rested and hungry LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, two stars who have welcomed all challenges since joining forces with Bosh here in Miami.
Jennings might very well have the advantage in his individual matchup against Mario Chalmers, though the ultra-confident Chalmers would love to argue that. And the Bucks have the same fighting chance any No. 8 seed does before the games actually begin. But it’s not like the Heat don’t see the challenge coming. They’ve been on guard for three years running now.
That would explain the reaction of Bosh, Wade and the rest of the Heat. They’ve seen and heard it all before (you remember the Indiana series from last year or the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals last year?). All that’s left is to play the games.
“We’ve been in every situation where it’s happened,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’ve been up in a series and it’s happened. We’ve been down in a series and it’s happened. It’s happened, so what? [Sunday] night, bring it. That’s the only thing we can control.”
It’s going to take more than a healthy dose of bravado for the Bucks, or anyone else for that matter, to beat the Heat.
NEW YORK – As the New York Knicks extended their winning streak to 13 games on Tuesday, they extended their list of injured big men to six.
Six is the number of big men the Knicks have on their roster, by the way.
Early in the fourth quarter of an easy win over the Washington Wizards, Kenyon Martin went down a sprained left ankle. Martin (who was previously dealing with a sore knee) joined Marcus Camby (foot), Tyson Chandler (neck), Amar’e Stoudemire (knee surgery), Kurt Thomas (foot) and Rasheed Wallace (foot) on the list of (old) injured bigs in New York.
The only one of the true bigs who could possibly play in Chicago on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, TNT) is Camby. But most likely, Carmelo Anthony will be the starting center against the Bulls, who are still without Joakim Noah.
And a little bit of attrition is probably a good thing for New York. Since they traded for Anthony two years ago, they’ve simply been a better team without Stoudemire than they’ve been with him. It’s fair to assume that they’d be better off if Stoudemire didn’t come back this season from his most recent knee injury.
Chandler and Martin are another story. Both are known for their defense, but the Knicks’ one-big offense has been at its best when the one big is one of those two guys.
Knicks efficiency with one big on the floor
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
Beyond Chandler, the sample sizes are small. And both Chandler (76 percent) and Martin (57 percent) have benefited – meaning their offensive numbers have benefited – from playing most of their minutes with Anthony.
Still, Chandler and Martin have brought something to the table. Chandler is the perfect example of how you don’t need post moves to be a good offensive center. He rolls hard to the basket, finishing strong and drawing help defenders from the perimeter, which creates space for the Knicks’ shooters. And while Chandler would rank second in the league in field goal percentage if he had enough shots, Martin has actually finished better than Chandler in his short time with the Knicks, shooting 48-for-61 (79 percent) in the restricted area.
And obviously, both guys give New York, a below-average defensive team, some sort of presence inside on that end of the floor.
So the injuries to both Chandler and Martin have to be a serious concern with the playoffs just nine days away. Woodson called Martin’s ankle sprain “severe” on Tuesday. Chandler, meanwhile, returned for just four games before his bulging disc flared up again. Woodson said that his center would be playing if it was playoff time, but back/neck issues don’t go away easily and Chandler at less than 100 percent certainly compromises the Knicks’ chances of winning games and series in the postseason.
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Oklahoma City, Memphis and Miami, feel fortunate, very fortunate, and proceed with caution.
As the regular season churns down to a handful of games over these final 16 days, the three teams above are the only ones of the 16 current playoff teams, plus the desperately-trying-to-get-in Los Angeles Lakers, currently unaffected by injury — or injuries.
Playoff seeding, and ultimately playoff series, could tilt on an injury report that seems to grow with each passing game.
The Grizzlies caught a break with the quick return of center Marc Gasol from an abdomen injury. Initially the team listed him as out “indefinitely.” Later, Gasol said he’d be back for the playoffs. Next thing you know he’s back after missing just two games and right back on his game.
The Heat missed Dwyane Wade for a couple games during their win streak and, of course, he, LeBron James and Mario Chalmers came down with those, ahem, previously unreported injuries prior to Sunday’s game at San Antonio. Speaking of the Spurs, Manu Ginobili‘s most recent ill-timed injury (hamstring) has put the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed firmly in play Thursday night when San Antonio visits a Thunder team as healthy as any can be 70-something games in.
Few are so fortunate, and let’s start with the carousel of injuries that have beset the Lakers. Kobe Bryant continues to play through a sprained ankle and whatever else, Dwight Howard still deals with the sporadic shooting pain from the torn labrum in his shoulder and Pau Gasol is finally back. But Metta World Peace (knee) won’t be back and Steve Nash (hip) is “doubtful” for tonight’s big showdown against the never-say-die Dallas Mavericks (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT).
The Lakers won’t receive sympathy cards from Denver, which could be without spark plug point guard Ty Lawson (heel) until the playoffs. As soon as Chauncey Billups (groin) finally returned he was gone again, and couldn’t the sinking Clippers use him right about now?
Houston’s All-Star James Harden can’t seem to shake a sprained right ankle. Jazz reserve big man Enes Kanter (shoulder), whose March was his biggest month of the season, is out indefinitely. Golden State is essentially healthy, having lost Brandon Rush way back in the opening days of the season.
Over in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls shake their heads at any team ruffled by a single injury, or two. The Celtics, having adjusted to life without Rajon Rondo, plus rookie Jared Sullinger are without Kevin Garnett (ankle) and Paul Pierce missed Monday’s loss at Minnesota for “personal reasons,” according to coach Doc Rivers. Meanwhile, Boston is dangerously close to slipping into eighth place and a first-round matchup against the Heat.
In the Big Apple, the injury list goes on and on: Tyson Chandler (neck) remains wait-and-see, Amar’e Stoudemire (knee) and Kurt Thomas (foot), very likely could join Rasheed Wallace (foot) as being shut down for the season. The Knicks, busting through it all with an eight-game win streak, continue to battle for the No. 2 seed with the Indiana Pacers, who have five straight and learned last week that Danny Granger (knee) won’t be making the late-season comeback they had expected just days earlier.
And those scrappy, scrappy Bulls by now must be resigned to a full season without Derrick Rose (knee), and they may have lost Rip Hamilton (back) for the season. They hope to soon get center Joakim Noah (foot) back in uniform, as well as Marco Belinelli (abdomen).
Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Nets, finally with Deron Williams healthy and playing like an All-Star again, would love to say the same about Joe Johnson (heel).
As the playoffs quickly approach, time is running short for players and teams to get healthy.
HANG TIME, Texas — How far around the bend do you have to go before you’ve come full circle back to the NBA?
How far do you have to fall before you get desperate enough for any kind of a soft landing?
Delonte West, meet the Knicks.
Marc Berman of the New York Post notes there will be more than a couple of teams watching as West makes his debut in the NBA D-League tonight when the Texas Legends face the Santa Cruz Warriors, but the Knicks may certainly be the most interesting of the lot.
As the playoffs draw near and the team that started out the season like a house on fire continues to look like a burned-out wreckage, would the Knicks be ready to take a real gamble on the 29-year-old point guard with a history of trouble?
Nobody questions his talent as a capable backup quarterback. He’s been part of playoff teams in six of his eight NBA seasons. But West’s career has also been marked by off-court problems that hardly make him dependable. He was said to be ready to make his comeback with the Legends earlier this season, but backed out at the last minute. Now he probably sees that the D-League is his only chance at a return.
The Knicks could be equally as desperate at the point as Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni all have not measured up of late. After opening the season 18-5 back on Dec. 15, the Knicks are a thoroughly mediocre 20-20. They have lost three straight, four of five and 10 of their last 17 heading into Sunday’s game in L.A. against the Clippers. Having spent the first month-and-a-half titillating New Yorkers as the No. 1 seed, they are now far closer in the standings to the No. 8 seed and a first-round playoff matchup against Miami than to actually catching up to the streaking Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Knicks would have to make a roster cut, probably the injured Rasheed Wallace, to make room for West and they’re most likely not there yet.
But keep an eye on how the current five-game road trip ends — with a back-to-back in L.A. and Utah — and how West performs in the D-League. Desperation makes strange bedfellows.
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: One day after we were treated to a mostly disappointing Pacers-Heat showdown in Miami (the Heat romped in the second half to down Indiana), we had another matchup on paper that looked solid: Thunder vs. Spurs. This one actually lived up to the billing a little bit better than Pacers-Heat did, so it’s our game of the night. Nice early drama in this one as the Thunder took a 32-22 lead after the first quarter, but then things fell apart for OKC in the second quarter and just kept on going south from there. Led by the 3-point shooting of Danny Green and the all-around skills of Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs rattled off a 23-4 run in the second quarter to take control of the game. Although OKC made a series of runs each night to keep the game close, San Antonio more than dictated the game with its defense and kept hold of the No. 1 spot out West with the win.
Iggy non-committal on future with Nuggets — In his first season with Denver, Andre Iguodala is the team’s third-leading scorer, ranks second in minutes played, is third in rebounds and leads it in steals. He’s amassed more wins already (43) than he did in any of his eight previous seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers and is part of a team that seems primed for a legit playoff run that may carry deep into May or even June. So, re-signing Iguodala — a free agent this summer — seems like a lock, right? Not exactly, writes Paola Boivinfor the Denver Post:
With just 17 games remaining in the season, Andre Iguodala is closer to making a decision about his future.
Iguodala’s contract gives him the opportunity to “opt out” and become a free agent after the season.
Although the issue will get his full attention then, he admits he is aware of what is happening around him.
“Obviously, you’re talking to your agent and you’re paying attention to trades, and salary caps that are being opened up through sign and trades and other guys who are in the same position as you,” he said. “It’s in the back of your mind. But as far as making a concrete decision, you really don’t size it up until the season’s over, because we have some opportunities to do some really good things here.”
Van Gundy remembers the good ol’ Orlando days — Stan Van Gundy‘s farewell season and departure as coach of the Magic likely couldn’t have gone worse, with Van Gundy dealing with the almost-daily “Dwightmare” talk surrounding Dwight Howard, his awkward mid-season news conference in which Van Gundy addressed rumors of Howard wanting him fired (and Howard pretending not to know about it) to getting fired shortly after the Magic lost to the Pacers, 4-1, in the first round. Yet for Van Gundy, in an interview with USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt, the memories of playoff runs and building a winner in Orlando outweigh his final season:
Oh for sure, it got squirrely and it all went sideways last season with a compelling mix of humor, stress, bad decisions and communication disorder. It was a general malaise and dysfunction, resulting in Howard’s trade to the Los Angeles Lakers in August. Howard returns to play in Orlando for the first time Tuesday, and his reception will not be warm and fuzzy.
But before all that, former Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said it was, “a lot of fun. We worked hard, and I think guys had a lot of fun and enjoyed the success. It was just a good time here.
“They had been 12 years without winning a playoff series. We were able to go on a little bit of a run, and there was a lot of excitement around our team. Things were really on the upswing.”
“Dwight matured into an outstanding player … the best big man in our league,” Van Gundy said. “(Then-general manager) Otis Smith did a great job of putting the roster together and surrounded him with outstanding players who really fit him very well.”
…Almost always siding with fun, Howard grew up in Orlando, Van Gundy said.
“At first, there were times when he needed to be more serious,” he said. “But as it went on, he understood, for the most part, being serious when we had work to do. There were other times when he could relax and have a good time.
“Even in practice and games, Dwight’s a guy who wants to have a good time and enjoy what he’s doing and have a smile on his face. That’s just the way he is. I don’t think that will ever change.”
Van Gundy said if Orlando decided to retire a number, “it would have to start with Dwight and Shaq (O’Neal). They are, by far, the two best players in the history of the organization. Then, in my mind, you have to start with Dwight. He was here longer and certainly had just as much success.”
Wallace’s future looking stable in New York — The Knicks’ depth has been tested of late with Amar’e Stoudemire out for the rest of the regular season after surgery on his right knee and Rasheed Wallace out after having surgery on his broken left foot. New York recently re-signed veteran Kenyon Martin to a second 10-day contract to provide another big body for the frontline, but depth remains an issue and signing another player isn’t out of the question. Coach Mike Woodson tells Frank Isola of the New York Daily News that any roster move the Knicks make won’t led to ‘Sheed being released:
Mike Woodson hinted that the club could make a roster to move to add another player but in a strange twist the Knicks head coach indicated that releasing injured Rasheed Wallace isn’t under consideration.
The Knicks have 13 available players with Wallace and Amar’e Stoudemire sidelined for the remainder of the regular season. In order to sign a player, the Knicks would have to create a roster spot by cutting a player. Wallace, who had foot surgery last month, is the most logical candidate since it is unlikely he will play again this season. In fact, he may be forced back into retirement.
But when Woodson was asked if he has reconsidering waiving Wallace, a player he convinced to come out of two-year retirement, the head coach said: “I don’t know where that came from. That was you guys (in the media). I never made that statement about waiving Rasheed. Rasheed still has a chance to bounce back as well but again as we go up this road we’ve just got to wait and see.
“Are these guys able to come back for us? I don’t know what the process is in terms of being able to add another roster spot. I haven’t really looked into that.”
Woodson admitted that he is approaching the remainder of the regular season as if he won’t have either Stoudemire or Wallace. He then revealed that he intends to speak with general manager Glen Grunwald next week about adding a player.
“When we come off this trip Glen and I will sit down and start accessing that very closely,” Woodson said. “Because I think we have until the latter part of March to make some decisions.”
Wall on his future, his jump shot and more — As our man David Aldridge pointed out in his must-read Morning Tip yesterday, the Wizards have gone 15-13 after a 4-28 start and have notched wins over the Heat, Thunder, Nuggets and Hawks during that span. The biggest reason for that success has been the return of point guard John Wall, who is improving as a playmaker and shooter for the Wizards while also remaining a solid perimeter defender. Zach Lowe of Grantland.com chatted with the Wizards’ young star about his comeback, his future in D.C. and more in a solid Q&A:
That much is clear from the numbers and your record since you got back. Your jumper will obviously be a key issue going forward. What’s the state of it, mechanically? What do the coaches have you working on, in terms of form?
Nothing much. Just making sure I’m staying on balance, jumping straight up and down. Things like that.
Can you do what they are asking for with consistency? Have they basically remade your jumper since you left college?
No, not really. It’s the same form. It’s just making sure that I don’t hold onto the ball as long as I used to, that I follow through, don’t fade away. Things like that.
Yeah, that Tyreke Evans leg kick, right?
Yeah, something like that. That’s something I used to do a lot, and they don’t want me doing that.
It sounds like you feel a bit better about your shot.
For me, it was just little things, and it’s about confidence. So for me, once I got my confidence, I’m cool. I don’t mind taking them. If I miss a couple, I’m still shooting it, and I’m not scared to take that type of shot in the fourth quarter.
Speaking of those guys: It feels like your name has kind of fallen out of the “elite point guards” conversation a bit, given the time you’ve missed with injuries this season. Do you notice that? Do you care?
Nah, I can’t pay attention to that. I don’t think like that.
Have you started thinking about your contract extension talks yet?
I haven’t started thinking about that.
Really? The deadline isn’t that far away.
That’s true. Look, I’m just enjoying D.C. This hasn’t been going the way we wanted it to, in terms of winning, but I think we are building something here.
Do you feel like you deserve a max contract? That you’re a max guy?
I feel like I am. I do, definitely.
Kanter finding his rhythm in second season — When Utah shockingly decided to trade Deron Williams to the Nets at the trade deadline in 2011, one of the pieces they received back from New Jersey was a first-round pick in the 2011 Draft which eventually became the No. 3 overall selection. With that pick, the Jazz took young-but-raw big man Enes Kanter. The center from Turkey struggled with the NBA game as a rookie and, although he showed some prowess on the offensive glass, looked very much like a work in progress. Since then, Kanter spent the offseason honing his body and is regularly tutored by Utah’s veteran center, Al Jefferson, on the post moves and footwork that are Jefferson’s trademark. Bill Oram of The Salt Lake Tribune details how Kanter has stepped up his game this season thanks to that offseason and in-season work:
Now that the rest of the league has had an opportunity to catch a glimpse, it may finally be time for an honest discussion about Kanter’s potential and future with the Jazz. In the five games since his start against the Bobcats, Kanter is averaging 15.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, up from season averages of 7.2 points and 4.5 rebounds.
“I got experience,” Kanter said. “I just help my teammates however I can. We lost the last couple of games; it was pretty sad.”
While the Charlotte game was the one for which Kanter received the most attention, coach Tyrone Corbin said his subsequent performances in games against Milwaukee and the Cavs may have been more impressive.
From setting hard screens to rolling the right way, Kanter has grown, Corbin says. He was in the game at the end against Milwaukee, and had a chance to win the game after rebounding Gordon Hayward’s blocked layup, but his shot missed at the buzzer.
“He was at the right spot, he caught it and just finished, he didn’t bring it down,” Corbin said. “That kind of thing is invaluable to get guys on the floor to get the experience and grow through it, especially while they’re young.”
Corbin and Jefferson agreed that the key for Kanter in the recent stretch was the confidence that he would play big minutes. That he could be patient, and didn’t have to force anything to try to make an impression.
“I think coming off the bench, sometimes young guys figure if they don’t do things right, they can get snatched out the game,” Jefferson said. “I just think that he knew he wasn’t coming out of the game and he had a swag about himself and it worked out for him.”
Kanter’s role will only increase beyond this year. During Kanter’s struggles earlier this season, it was common to hear chatter that power forward Derrick Favors had developed more rapidly, that he was more ready than Kanter to step into an enhanced role.
All the while, Kanter continued to work. He famously shed 51 pounds in the offseason and arrived at training camp with abdominal muscles that could be played in a zydeco band.
ICYMI(s) of the night: We love “The Manimal” around these parts, so here are a pair of must-see plays from the Nuggets’ Kenneth Faried:
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: A 13-game night means there’s a little bit of everything for any kind of fan: lottery team showdows (like Bobcats-Cavs or Suns-Hornets), playoff team scuffles (such as Grizz-Hawks) and elite teams in action (like Warriors-Thunder, Rockets-Heat and Spurs-Wolves). We’re not going to pick a lottery showdown and that Grizz-Hawks game ended up being a blowout, so it’s out. The elite teams (OKC, Miami and San Antonio) did what they wanted and there was little doubt they’d win. So our pick today is Bucks-Jazz. Although Utah won by 14 points, Milwaukee gave a good fight most of the night. Plus, we’re a fan of watching big men go to work, and what team in the league has a better stockpile of ‘em than Utah with Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter? It’s enough to make Karl Malone wish he could teach ‘em all a few tricks (more on that below) …
Kobe pleads for ‘urgency’ from Howard — The Lakers got word Wednesday afternoon that an MRI revealed Pau Gasol has a tear in his foot and are awaiting word as to how much time he will miss. Meanwhile, center Dwight Howard has missed L.A.’s last three games to rest a torn labrum in his shoulder. Oh, and, the Lakers have virtually no backup big men after they lost forward Jordan Hill for the season in January to hip surgery. All that said, Lakers star Kobe Bryant knows that for L.A. to climb back into the playoff race and stay there, he’ll need help from Howard sooner rather than later. ESPNLosAngeles.com details what Bryant is feeling about Howard and his need to rest his injuries:
“We don’t have time for (Howard’s shoulder) to heal,” Bryant said Wednesday in an exclusive interview with ESPNBoston.com’s Jackie MacMullan. “We need some urgency.”
The interview with MacMullan came one day after Bryant publicly challenged Howard, stating that playing through an injury is “something that you have to balance out and manage.”
Bryant also asserted that Howard is preoccupied with how he is perceived by fans and media.
“Dwight worries too much about what people think,” Bryant told MacMullan. “I told him, ‘You can’t worry about that. It’s holding you back.’ He says, ‘OK, OK, OK,’ but it’s always hovering around him.
“He just wants people to like him. He doesn’t want to let anyone down, and that gets him away from what he should be doing.”
Bryant also speculated that Howard, in his first season with Los Angeles, may not be accustomed to the Lakers’ standards.
“(Howard) has never been in a position where someone is driving him as hard as I am, as hard as this organization is,” Bryant told MacMullan. “It’s win a championship or everything is a complete failure. That’s just how (the Lakers) do it. And that’s foreign to him.
“When you think about it, there aren’t many organizations that look at it that way. There are only two that can really honestly say that’s what they live by — Los Angeles and Boston.”
Howard preached patience in a recent interview with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, pointing to the fact that Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal needed three years before winning a championship with the Lakers.
But the 34-year-old Bryant, who is averaging 27.6 points per game in his 17th NBA season, is approaching this season with more desperation.
“We don’t have three years,” Kobe said. “We’ve got this year.”
Howard is listed as day to day, and his status is uncertain for Thursday’s game against the Boston Celtics.
The Lakers are hopeful Gasol’s injury will prompt Howard to return “sooner than later,” a team source told ESPNLosAngeles.com.
D-Will still dealing with pain — Deron Williams has had a rough season, part of which can be attributed to various injuries which have hampered his effectiveness and made him less-than the All-Star guard he usually is. Last night against the Pistons was no different for Williams, who had a rough night stats-wise and was mostly ineffective against Detroit’s young guard combination of Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum, writes Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:
For Williams, it was another game with more pain. He came up limping and grimacing in the first quarter, with a knock that appeared to involve his knee or thigh. In the second quarter, he required attention from the trainer after grabbing his shoulder.
Williams walked it off, like he does with most of his aches and pains. And per usual, he never really recovered.
The point guard, who has been a shell of his former explosive self because of the injuries, had his moments in the fourth quarter, including a smooth crossover that led to an 18-foot jumper. But Williams was mostly ineffective, slow and hesitant, finishing with 12 points and nine assists — leaving him with averages of 11.8 and 6.5, respectively, in his last four games.
He also is missing his first All-Star game in three years.
“Right now I think he’s sore,” interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said of Williams, who has injured both ankles, his foot, his thigh and his wrist this season. “There’s no question. Someone like Deron who played all summer — we are beyond the halfway mark, so the guys that are playing big minutes are beat up. They are sore. In his case, his ankle and his wrist. He’s had trouble with that the whole year.”
Williams hasn’t dunked once this season, or hit a game-winner. So it was no surprise Lopez got the call down the stretch, with the game there for the taking thanks to Detroit’s fourth-quarter ineptitude (the Pistons shot 6-of-20 in the period).
Mailman wants back in with Jazz — Few players are as synonymous with a franchise as Karl Malone is with the Jazz. The Hall of Famer, former two-time MVP and the No. 2 all-time scorer in NBA history hasn’t suited up for Utah since the 2003 playoffs, but a statue of him resides out front of EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City and his No. 32 jersey hangs from the rafters in it. Malone currently serves as an the director of basketball promotions and assistant strength and conditioning coach for his alma mater, Louisiana Tech, but has also hosted a weekly radio show on ESPN 700 in Salt Lake City in the last year. He appeared with ESPN 700′s Hans Olsen and James Rust on Wednesday afternoon and made his case to join Utah’s staff as an assistant coach:
Malone doesn’t want to replace any of Tyrone Corbin’s current full-time helpers, but he wouldn’t mind finding a spot next to Sidney Lowe, Jeff Hornacek, Michael Sanders and Brad Jones.
“All they’ve got to do is call me,” Malone said during an interview with ESPN 700′s Hans Olsen and James Rust on Wednesday afternoon. “I’ll work with the big men for free for a while until it work.”
This isn’t the first time Malone has offered his coaching services to the organization he helped turn into a powerhouse and a two-time NBA Finals squad during his 18 years in Utah.
“I’m saying it again. Ain’t nobody took me up on it,” Malone said. “Maybe they don’t want to hear me.”
Malone said he wouldn’t necessarily want a full-time gig and he has no desire to travel with the team every game.
“But look. We can start off and see if it working,” Malone said. “If not, I’ll be the first one to say, ‘Guys, it ain’t working.’ And they don’t have to say nothing.”
Malone has no doubt if the Jazz’s former coach was still in charge — or is again elsewhere someday — he’d be in a gym teaching bigs how it’s done.”If coach (Jerry) Sloan ever got another coaching job, I would be with him sometime,” he said. “End of story.”
“I’m being dead serious about this,” Malone said. “I don’t want no cameras around. I would be more than willing to come.”One large factor Malone is interested: He’s a big fan of the Jazz bigs.
“Utah Jazz is one of my favorite teams. I still have them doing damage,” Malone said during the 25-minute interview. “Utah Jazz have a group of the best big men that’s in the league. Go through any team (and compare).”
“All in all guys, don’t start blowing up the team,” he said in the radio interview. “If you don’t have to get rid of a big guy, don’t get rid of a big guy. You don’t see a lot of them coming down the pike. But the fact of the matter is, we have talent on this team.”The sports talk-show hosts also asked Malone who he’d pick if he had to between Big Al and Malone’s fellow Louisiana Tech product, Millsap. Malone grumbled and laughed about being put on the spot but then — you guessed — gave his opinion.
“I love Paul Millsap and he’s going to play somewhere all he want to. If you’re making me choose between one or the other — and I’m Tech Nation, Paul Millsap — Al Jefferson, to me, is a bigger guy that would do more damage at that position if you can’t bring but one of them back,” Malone said. “Try to bring both back. Whatever you do, do not get rid of these two young kids (DerrickFavors and EnesKanter).
‘Sheed still remembers his Bullet days — Long before Rasheed Wallace was an All-Star performer as a Portland Trail Blazer and a key part of the Detroit Pistons’ championship team of 2004, he was the prized pick of the Washington Bullets (now Wizards) in 1995. Going No. 4 overall to Washington, Wallace garnered All-Rookie Second Team honors and was part of a young-but-developing squad that included Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Calbert Chaney and other young talent. But after his rookie season, ‘Sheed was sent to Portland for Rod Strickland and Harvey Grant as the Wizards tried to make a serious playoff push. Wallace talked with the Washington Post’s Michael Lee about his D.C. days and what could have been had he stuck around:
“Every time I’m back here, people say, ‘Man, why’d you leave?’ ” Wallace said, shaking his head, at Wednesday’s morning shootaround at Verizon Center. “It wasn’t up to me.”
Wallace still blames former Bullets General Manager John Nash for his exit after one season with the team, but Nash had resigned before Wes Unseld eventually shipped him to Portland for point guard Rod Strickland and forward Harvey Grant in one of those promising-big-for-fading-small deals that the franchise was so accustomed to making in the 1990s (ahem, Chris Webber for Mitch Richmond).
With a few more gray hairs peeking out of his scraggly beard and unkempt Afro, Wallace still looks back on his time as a Bullet as a classic could’ve-been.
“Man, I think about it a lot,” said Wallace, who averaged 10.1 points and 4.7 rebounds in his rookie season. “I understand it was all business and money, but we had a helluva squad here. I wish we could’ve stayed like two, three years together, just to be able to see what we could’ve done.”
The Bullets were stocked with front-court talent back then, with Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Gheorghe Muresan, Jim McIlvaine and Bob McCann and Wallace was often viewed as a luxury. Wallace started 51 games as a rookie, getting a lot of time at power forward as Webber recovered from a dislocated left shoulder, but he also dealt with troubles on and off the court in his short stint with the Bullets. He also didn’t need much time to establish a reputation for berating NBA officials, and had been mentioned in trade rumors since January of that season.
The Bullets reportedly offered Wallace to Philadelphia for the No. 1 overall pick, which turned out to be Allen Iverson.
Still, Wallace was stunned when he was seated in a barbershop in Philadelphia and got word that he was going to join the Portland Trail Blazers.
“My cousin called, and told me, ‘You just got traded to Portland.’ I was like: ‘Man, whatever. I didn’t get traded,’ ” Wallace said with a laugh. “About two seconds later, my agent [Bill Strickland] called and was like, ‘The rumors is true.’ I was like, ‘Aarghhhh!’ ”
The “what ifs” will never be resolved in Washington but the memories remain. When asked what he misses most about his days playing at the Capital Centre in Landover, Wallace said: “Just the enthusiasm of the crowd. The crowd felt the same things that we did. That it was a helluva team and we could’ve did some things. …I think we would’ve went far in the playoffs, because we were big. Unfortunately, I started those games that I did because Web went down. I hate to move into his starting slot like that. But man, we could’ve did a lot of things.”
Richardson facing season-ending surgery — The Sixers have spent the season waiting for All-Star big man Andrew Bynum to get into the lineup so they can see exactly what kind of team they have. But while Bynum has been rehabbing and progressing, Philly has been waiting to get veteran guard Jason Richardson back, too. Richardson hasn’t played since Jan. 18 as he’s been dealing with a nagging knee issue that will now likely require surgery and six to nine months of recovery time, writes Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports:
Philadelphia 76ers guard Jason Richardson learned Wednesday he will miss the rest of the season due to a left knee injury that requires surgery, a source told Yahoo! Sports.
The 12th-year veteran was told by a doctor in New York City that he has a cartilage tear the size of a quarter on the right side of his left kneecap. Richardson is expected to be out six to nine months following surgery that is expected to take place next week.
Richardson had missed the previous seven games after being diagnosed with synovitis in his left knee. He finishes the season averaging 10.5 points and 3.8 rebounds while starting in all 33 games he played in during his first season with Philadelphia. He is under contract through the 2014-15 season.
Carter a ‘long shot’ to be traded — Our own Jeff Caplan caught up with Mavs swingman Vince Carter, who has been hot lately for the Mavs, averaging 17.6 points on 49.0 percent field-goal shooting and 45.0 percent from 3-point range over his past eight games. Carter’s name has been bandied about in trade rumors, but the likelihood of him being shipped out of Dallas seems slim, and he seems to be enjoying his second season in Big D, too:
There’s no doubt that teams are and will inquire about Carter’s availability. Dallas reportedly didn’t get involved as a third team in the Memphis-Toronto trade that sent Rudy Gay to the Raptors because it wouldn’t part with Carter. Detroit took the role and acquired point guard Jose Calderon from Toronto.
A league source Wednesday characterized the odds of Dallas moving Carter by the Feb. 21 as a “long shot.”
Which Carter said suits him just fine, despite the Mavs needing a significant run just to get into playoff contention.
Carter signed a three-year contract with the Mavs prior to the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season as part of the franchise’s retooling following the 2011 championship. His hopes of helping Dallas repeat didn’t materialize, but he had found a good fit. When the club decided to bring him back this season at $3.1 million, it fully guaranteed his final season next year at $3.2 million.
Carter’s contract is certainly attractive, but with Dallas uninterested in taking back salary and unlikely to net a major asset, there’s little reason to trade him when the club still believes it can make a push into playoff contention.
“There’s a reason he’s such an important guy to us,” Carlisle said following Wednesday’s win. “People key on his offensive stuff, but he’s just a big team guy. He’s one of our leaders.”
Two seasons ago with Phoenix, Carter’s career seemed to be closing quickly as his production continually dropped.
“Sometimes you get on a team where your talent isn’t needed, utilized,” Carter said. “This is a different type of offense here. I don’t know, I felt pretty good then and I will say I do feel even better. I put my work in after that summer because it kind of bothered me to even hear somebody think that or say it at that point in time because I still felt at that point physically able to contribute, to be effective for any team.”
Wall not a ‘franchise’ guy? — Ex-Magic coach Stan Van Gundy got in a little hot water with folks in the D.C. area after appearing on ESPN 980′s The Sports Reporters in late December and saying that Wizards guard John Wallwasn’t a great decision-maker or a franchise cornerstone. Van Gundy recently talked to Ben Standig of CSNWashington.com and clarified his point a little bit, but Stan Van apparently isn’t a huge fan of Wall as the ONLY top-level talent on the Wizards:
“I said this: John Wall is a talented guy, a very good player. I don’t think he’s good enough that you can build a franchise around him,” Van Gundy said after serving as television analyst for George Mason’s home game against Drexel last Thursday night. “I don’t think he can be your best player, certainly not clearly your best player. You need one guy better than him or a couple of guys at his talent level for them to win.
“To me that’s not a negative. I didn’t say it as a negative. I think some people took it that way. I just don’t see John Wall as a franchise player because – a lot like Rajon Rondo; I don’t see him as a franchise player even though he’s an All-Star – he’s not a good enough shooter yet and he’s not a reliable go-to scorer.
“In the NBA, your franchise guy has got to be a guy you can put the ball in his hands late in the game and he can get you a basket. I don’t see that from John Wall at this point in his career. Maybe it will develop, but I don’t see it.”
ICYMI of the night: Ricky RubiolikessettingDerrickWilliams up fordunks, as we’ve seen before. But last night’s ultra-high alley-oop to Williams might have been one of their best connections yet …:
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST –Raymond Felton‘s prize for his first game action in a month was a recurring blur named Jrue Holiday.
The Philadelphia 76ers point guard and first-time All-Star ripped Felton and the New York Knicks on Saturday night for 35 points in a game that was never close and the Sixers won 97-80.
Felton’s return as the Knicks dropped to 26-15 in reaching their official 41-game halfway point, gave New York as close to a fully healthy roster as it’s had all season. Iman Shumpert played his fourth game back and Amar’e Stoudemire, in his 11th game back, posted his first 20-point game, getting 20 on 8-for-13 shooting.
Just .500 in their last 10 games, the Knicks are now sort of in re-start mode, although a jump-start was needed in Philly.
With only Rasheed Wallace still out, coach Mike Woodson is now charged with meshing Felton and Shumpert — Saturday was their season debut together — figuring out the best way to limit Jason Kidd‘s minutes and the best lineups to play him with, as well as determining if the improving Stoudemire is best suited to keep coming off the bench — although Woodson has said he likes Stoudemire off the bench with J.R. Smith and Steve Novak.
Against the Sixers, Woodson opted for a three-guard starting lineup with Felton, Kidd and Shumpert. Kidd, overplayed during Felton’s absence, was scoreless in under 15 minutes, limited by a bad back.
Felton, playing for the first time since breaking his right pinkie on Christmas Day, was rusty, missing six of his eight shots and he was a step slow against Holiday, which was true for the entire Knicks team.
And it’s not like Felton was the only offensive culprit either. Shumpert missed all six of his shots and Smith’s struggles took him to 0-for-8 overall and 0-for-4 from beyond the arc. Carmelo Anthony needed 28 shots to score 25 points.
So where are the Knicks as they begin the second half tonight back at home against the Atlanta Hawks?
That’s to be seen.
The Knicks at least have their point guard back. Before Saturday’s game, they were 20-8 with Felton and 6-6 without him. They’ve got Shumpert back. They’ve got Stoudemire back.
In addition, the schedule turns favorable with the start of a five-game homestand, and only two of their next seven games are against teams with winning records.
Now it’s a matter of how long it will take for the team to mesh and to get back to the higher rate of winning Knicks fans were getting used to.
Shaq is a man of the people, and when the people ask for more JaVale McGee, the people get more JaVale McGee. The Fool MVP makes this week’s list not once, but twice — along with Blake Griffin, Rasheed “Ball Don’t Lie!” Wallace and Wesley Matthews. Vote for your favorite Shaqtin’ A Fool moment!
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – When Rasheed Wallace talks, referees listen.
It’s been that way throughout Wallace’s basketball career, dating back to his fouling out of and then being ejected from the 1993 McDonald’s All-American game at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis (I know I’m dating myself a bit here, but I was in attendance that day).
Wallace continued his decades-old tradition Sunday in the New York Knicks’ win over the Phoenix Suns when he headed to the showers early after being ejected in the first quarter. But not everyone is convinced that he earned this latest ejection, as both Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony told ESPNNewYork.com that his reputation earned him an early exit:
“I think so. He’s the only guy in the league that gets technicals for saying, ‘ball don’t lie,’ so that should go to show you right there,” Tyson Chandler said.
Wallace picked up career technical fouls 316 and 317 late in the first quarter on Sunday for arguing a foul call.
He played just 1 minute, 25 seconds in the game, the quickest ejection of his 15-year career, according to Elias.
Wallace appeared to argue with officials after he was whistled for a foul on Phoenix forward Luis Scola.
He then apparently yelled “ball don’t lie” after Goran Dragic missed his technical free throw and was ejected.
Wallace, 38, continued to argue with officials as he walked off the court flanked by security.
“I didn’t think it was that much for him to get kicked out,” Carmelo Anthony said. “He needs to trademark ‘ball don’t lie’ though. I tell you that.”
Wallace has been ejected 30 times, according to STATS, LLC, 26 times in the regular season.
On the season, Wallace has four technical fouls, one behind Anthony and Demarcus Cousins, who entered play Sunday tied for the league lead with five.
You can judge for yourself if Wallace’s latest ejection was real or based on his reputation. He is guilty as charged, for hollering after the missed free throw, but is that worth another technical and an ejection?
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS –Rasheed Wallace is famous for lots of things, most notably his colorful, championship-capturing basketball career and also his even more colorful vocabulary when it comes to talking to opponents and officials.
Now New Orleans Hornets rookie Austin Rivers knows exactly why Wallace is so closely associated with the phrase, “Ball Don’t Lie” and all that comes with it:
And we agree with ‘Sheed. He “can yell all he wants.”
It’s good to have you back in the league “Roscoe!”