Posts Tagged ‘Ray Allen’

Suns hot pick in NBA March Madness

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

The selection committee has done its job, the field is complete and now the intrigue starts all around the NBA — filling out those March Madness brackets.

But for a different kind of insanity, we thought it might be fun to go into a few arenas and locker rooms to ask one question: If the NBA playoffs were set up like the NCAA Tournament, who would be your Butler, a below-the-radar team capable of making a deep run?

Ray Allen, Heat: “In an NCAA format, one game and advance, anything is possible. Charlotte’s a team that would be dangerous. They can get hot. They’ve developed confidence. They play hard. They’re running a new system. Atlanta is a team that’s running a San Antonio offensive system and they play good defense. Both of those can really play defense. So if you put them in win-or-you’re-out format, teams like those that always play hard and don’t care about who their opponent is, they’re gonna be capable. There would definitely be more drama in that kind of a playoff system. Obviously, it would never get to that because of all the money that’s at stake over the long playoff series. But as players, you would appreciate it. You’d have to leave it all out there on the line. And every night — with the best players in the NBA going at it — it would really be madness. There would be some true grudge matches. Oh, that would be interesting.”

Mario Chalmers, Heat: “Dallas. That’s a team with weapons and can score.”

Roy Hibbert, Pacers: “In the East, I could see Toronto and Charlotte doing that. Even Chicago. In the West, Phoenix has played great a surprise people all year. Phoenix has a style of play that’s fast-paced and they have guys that are built for that.”


VIDEO: The Beat crew discusses the Suns’ solid season to date

Jeff Van Gundy, ESPN analyst: “Memphis. Because of the style they play. Who else plays like Memphis? Who else has those two big guys like Z-Bo (Zach Randolph) and (Marc) Gasol to beat you up and wear you down. That’s a team that could walk into a tournament setting, get on a real roll and just start knocking people out. And in the East I’d say Chicago for a lot of the same reasons. They don’t have those two big bangers in the low post, but with Noah and the middle and the aggressiveness and the ferocity that they play with, the Bulls could make a tournament very interesting and tough on everyone.”

Chandler Parsons, Rockets: “I like Phoenix as my Butler in the West, because they’re so explosive offensively. In transition they’d get out and they’d beat a lot of good teams. In the East, I like Chicago. They’re playing really well. Joakim (Noah)has been unbelievable for them. He’s doing everything, getting triple-doubles. Plus they’re such a good defensive team. Those are definitely two teams you don’t want to see in the NBA playoffs and in an NCAA Tournament type scenario with sudden-death, no way. Even Memphis, if they sneak in at No 8 in the West. That’s a team that could do a lot of damage. Us? We’re above that Butler level. We’re Florida. We’re Duke.”

Matt Bonner, Spurs: “Phoenix. It’s about style of play. It’s about scoring points from a lot of different places. It’s about playing at a fast pace. Definitely Phoenix.”

Shane Battier, Heat: “Who is that dark horse team? Really, still no one is talking about Houston. They have played fantastic and the Rockets would be a buzz saw to play in any single game or even a seven-game series. You know they’re gonna shoot 30 3s. If they get hot, that’s an amazing number to try to match offensively. And no one is really talking about them. The hubbub is OKC and San Antonio and the Clippers to a large extent. People are talking about Golden State and the Splash Brothers more than they are about Houston. I think Houston is a legitimate team.”

Michael Beasley, Heat: “Miami. That’s the only team I’m worried about, the only team I think about. I don’t even want to imagine nobody else making a run, nobody else doing nothing.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses the Bobcats and Al Jefferson’s play

LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers: “I think every team in the West is capable of being that Butler type team. It’s so close, so many good teams. It just depends which week or two you’re talking about. We’ve seen that all season long. Remember how Memphis came in and beat San Antonio in the playoffs a couple of years ago? Golden State over Dallas a few years earlier. I think everybody is close and there are so many good teams in any matchup that in the NCAA Tournament arrangement, you might be able to play it three or four times and get a different team out of the West every time.”

Paul George, Pacers: “I think Phoenix. I think the Suns could do it because that’s a consistent team. They don’t rely on just one or two players to get most of their offense. They really spread things around. They really get after you all the time. They always play hard and bring it to you. They always want to attack. And in a tournament setting, they’ve got enough guys to make shots and make plays. They would just have to get hot at the right time, which we’ve seen from them this season. They’ve taken down tough opponents. They beat us twice, OKC. So that’s a team that could be very dangerous if it was tournament time.”

Dwight Howard, Rockets: “The Rockets. Despite anything that we’ve done and any games that we’ve won, I think in general we’re still a team that nobody’s looked at as a real contender. But you know, I like being the underdog. We’d like to keep ourselves being overlooked as much as possible through the end of the season and going into the playoffs. In a tournament, in the playoffs, we’re that kind of team that I believe and rise up and surprise people.”

Dwyane Wade, Heat: “I guess if look at the West, I’d say Phoenix could be a bracket-busting Butler. That’s a team that could get hot. Lot of weapons, lot of different people and ways to score and they don’t seem to let up. That style they play, they’re always going. In the East maybe the Bobcats. They play very well together. They’ve got a big man in Al Jefferson that can go 1-on-1 and can score. That’s a team that’s also been playing hard all year, been really gaining in confidence. So if you tossed them into a tournament setting, I’d say, yeah, they could go on a run.”

Danny Green, Spurs: “Phoenix. I was watching them play and they’re very dangerous at home. You know they don’t back down from anybody. They beat Indiana and OKC. We’ve lost to them this season. They love to get out and run. They move the ball fast and they don’t ever let up. If they’re healthy, they’re gonna come after you nonstop and they could do something like go on a run through a tournament. That pace of play is tough to deal with. Another team you’d have to watch out for is Dallas. They’ve got weapons and you’d always have to watch out for Dirk getting on a roll.”

Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers: “Oh, I wouldn’t want to do that. But if you want a dangerous team that maybe nobody would pick, I’d say Sacramento. They got a lot of weapons — Isaiah Thomas, Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins, now Reggie Evans over there with some experience. Derrick Williams. They got a lot of pieces they can throw out there. If they get going, they could beat some people and go far. That’s a capable team.”

Wesley Matthews, Trail Blazers: “In the West anybody can beat anybody. You’ve got four or five teams with over 40 wins at this point in the season. You’ve seen teams go on runs with different styles. Houston went on a run recently. We went on a run earlier. Pick a day of the week. Anybody could be Butler.”

Francisco Garcia, Rockets: “I would say Phoenix, because they score in so many ways. I think everybody would take them lightly at the beginning of a tournament since they’re young and they don’t have a team filled up with All-Stars. It’s easy from the outside to overlook them. It’s only when you get out there on the court and see how hard they play and see how they are so good at moving the ball around and getting offensive from a lot of different places that you find out how good they can be. So if you put them in that kind of situation, where you get to play them only once, they could have a lot of success and make a run.”


VIDEO: The Starters talk about teams primed to make noise in the playoffs

Morning Shootaround — March 17


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

OKC’s latest collapse cause of concern | Jackson’s ways should work in N.Y. | Wade’s historic shooting season | Davis puts on another show for Pels | Thompson works with a heavy heart

No. 1:  Repeated defensive collapses cause for serious concern — Forget about who was in street clothes (Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins) or who was in uniform but did not play (Russell Westbrook). The Oklahoma City have legitimate cause concern these days because they have apparently lost their defensive mojo since the All-Star break, struggling yet again to defend the way you expect an aspiring championship outfit to work on that end of the floor. What once looked like just a temporary glitch in the Thunder’s matrix is starting to look like something much more serious, as Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman detailed after the Dallas Mavericks worked the Thunder over:

Dallas 109, OKC 86, the Thunder’s worst home loss (23 points) since April 2009, the franchise’s inaugural season in the metro.

“The timeouts…well we didn’t need them at the end of the game,” Brooks joked.

Once again, as has been the case during this recent tailspin, the problems started on the defensive end.

Whether it was a lack of energy, lack of effort or lack of proper personnel — with three starters sidelined — the Thunder just couldn’t get nearly enough stops.

Dallas scored 29 points in the first quarter, 30 in the second and 32 in the third, grabbing and building what was a 21-point lead heading to a meaningless fourth.

Overall, the Mavericks shot 53 percent from the field and a scorching 13-of-24 from deep. Countless perimeter breakdowns led to uncontested jumpers and slow rotations allowed an array of easy buckets at the rim.

And as the steady flow of Maverick points piled up on Sunday night, the Thunder’s timeout huddles grew increasingly more animated. But that genuine displeasure didn’t translate to the court. When the ball was in play, there seemed to be a general disinterest.

“Seemed like we wasn’t there. We just coasted,” Kevin Durant said. “No excuse. None. We gotta figure it out. We’re pros. We gotta learn on the fly. All of us. We gotta act like we care.”

It’s déjà vu for a Thunder team that looked like it had solved its defensive woes the past two games, but instead reverted back to the plodding form that now has OKC 5-6 since the All-Star break.

“Just an overall theme of not good enough on the defensive end,” Nick Collison said. “I’d like to see us be a lot more consistent here finishing up the year.”


VIDEO: Thunder coaches and players discuss OKC’s home loss to the Mavericks

***

No. 2: Phil’s winning ways will work in New York, so says Scott Williams – If Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant spoke up on Phil Jackson‘s behalf, no one would be surprised. Alpha dogs sharing fond memories about the man who helped them to some of their greatest success  would be nothing out of the ordinary. But Jackson’s is routinely praised by all of who have played and worked under him, stars and role players alike. Milwaukee Bucks assistant and former Chicago Bulls big man Scott Williams is a staunch believer in Jackson’s powers, and he witnessed that power before the word Zen was ever used in relation to Jackson. While everyone waits to see what Jackson will do his his first days in charge of the Knicks, Williams is predicting big things, writes Kevin Armstrong of the New York Daily News:

“I knew Phil before he was the Zen Master,” Williams said. “Everyone sees the big, beautiful skyline of a career that he has, 11 (coaching) championships and all. I was there when they were still digging out the foundation, frustrated that they couldn’t get past the Pistons. We were hell-bent on getting the one seed in the conference just to get home court.”

Jackson, the architect of dynasties in Chicago and Los Angeles, will bring his towering legacy to midtown Manhattan Tuesday when he is introduced to his former city as president of the Knicks.

Once a free-spirited cog in Red Holzman’s wheel, Jackson will come full circle as he searches for answers to a riddle that has baffled all executives and coaches in recent years: How will he fix the Knicks?

Former players like Williams believe he will bring in smart basketball people who understand his system and vision.

“His championship pedigree, his intelligence, his creativity is a fresh approach to the game,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said.

Williams recalled the early days of Jackson in Chicago, and noted that Jackson gained more confidence in his coaching as the Bulls became more comfortable with the triangle offense and the idea of “playing on a string,” a unique structure to the team that depended not only on Michael Jordan’s talents but the consistency within the moving parts.

“The game’s evolved now, there’s more banging now, but it was fun,” Williams said. “He gives you a lot of those tips from a guy who played 10 years in the league.”

There will be stress that comes with the job and dealing with Dolan, but Williams noted that Jackson’s willingness to study philosophy and psychology helped him build relationships.

“Ahead of the curve, not just barking at guys,” Williams said.


VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses what Phil Jackson must fix with the Knicks

***

No. 3: Where does Wade’s historic shooting season stack up? – No one is touting Dwyane Wade for postseason honors, not with his maintenance program garnering more headlines than his actual play this season. But Wade is putting together a historic season, nonetheless, one that has been largely overlooked … until now, thanks to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. Jackson highlights Wade’s shooting performance this season, the best by a shooting guard in 3-point shot era. The fact that he’s doing it in the Heat’s Big 3 era makes it perhaps even more impressive:

Wade is shooting 55.1 percent from the field –– something Michael Jordan never did over a full season. Jordan’s high: 53.9 in 1990-91.

And if he stays above 54 percent, it would be the highest by a shooting guard since Atlanta backup Mike Glenn shot 58.8 in 1984-85. The highest field-goal accuracy by a starting shooting guard in the three-point era was Otis Birdsong, at 54.5 percent in 1980-81.

What’s more, Wade is on pace to lead all shooting guard in accuracy for the fifth time in the past six seasons. (He was beaten out by Wilson Chandler in 2009-2010). Wade has topped 50 percent only once before – 52.1 last season.

Shooting 54 percent, let alone 55, “is something I’ve never done before, so it would be great,” he said. “I take pride in my field-goal percentage, have always cared about it. I was 49.6 percent in college. I wanted to be at 50. I try to take good shots.”

For perspective, only one other NBA guard has shot better than 50 percent this season: Phoenix’s Goran Dragic at 50.8.

So what’s the biggest difference? Wade said he worked on his mid-range game and post game during the offseason, and the results are dramatic.

Consider that Wade is shooting 53 percent from 3 to 10 feet, well above his 46.4 career mark. From 10 to 16 feet, he’s at 47.5 percent, a huge jump from 38.1 in his career.

He’s shooting 55 percent when he posts up, up from 48 percent last season: “I’m pretty good on the post game. I added that. I didn’t have it in college.” He also has diversified his game by polishing his Eurostep move and adding a hook shot.

Wade has taken only one heave at the end of a quarter after shooting 17 over the past five seasons. Will he avoid those shots to keep his percentage high?

“I haven’t been in that position [to take them],” he said, with Wade usually on the bench at the end of the first and third quarters. “It depends on how I’m going. Sometimes, I’ll want to shoot. Sometimes, I’ll dribble it out.”

It also helps his percentage that he shoots three-pointers sparingly (he’s 9 for 27), after launching 243 in his final season playing without James. Wade noted the Heat already has enough three-point shooters without him lofting a lot of them. But Indiana coach Tom Crean, his friend and former coach at Marquette, said last summer that it’s a part of his game he will need to polish as he gets older.


VIDEO: Dwyane Wade delivers in Miami’s win over Houston

***

No. 4: Davis shows off his brains as well as his talent on career night – Pelicans big man Anthony Davis has made a fantastic transition from college star to NBA All-Star. But it’s been more than just his raw talent and physical gifts. As was on display during his career-night against the Boston Celtics Sunday, Davis beats you as much his with his mind and his sky-high basketball IQ as he does anything else. Nakia Hogan of the Times-Picayune has the details from Davis and Pelicans coach Monty Williams, who has been instrumental in the development of the young star:

Davis, playing a career-high 48 minutes, scored a career-high 40 points and had a career-high 21 rebounds, marking the first time in franchise history anyone has ever reached that statistical feat. He also had three blocks, making him only the eighth player in NBA history to have at least 40 points, 20 rebounds and three blocks in a game.

“When you go for those kind of numbers that’s a lot of God given talent,” Williams said.

And maybe even more important, Davis didn’t have any mental lapses down the stretch.

In fact, in the closing seconds of the game, Davis had the ball and an open lane to the basket. But instead, he pulled the ball out and passed to Anthony Morrow, who passed to Brian Roberts, as the Celtics tried to foul in an attempt to stop the clock.

It was a heady play, and the Pelicans ran out the clock to snap their two-game losing streak.

“That’s the kind of play that a younger guy probably would go and dunk the ball just to get two more points,” Williams said. “But we don’t need that. We don’t need to stop the clock.”

Immediately after the final buzzer, Davis looked to Williams and pointed his right index finger at his head, acknowledging to his coach he knew he had made the smart choice.

“I was letting him know that I have a little bit of basketball IQ,” Davis said jokingly. “Not much, just a little bit. Alexis (Ajinca, Pelicans center) was trying to tell me ‘I thought you were going to go and dunk it.’ But I know a little bit.

“I just know I wanted the game to be over with. I didn’t want to give them a chance to get another look off. So even if they would have fouled or I would have made the basket, they would have had probably three or four seconds to try and get a shot.”


VIDEO: Pelicans big man Anthony Davis had a career night in a win over the Celtics

***

No. 5: Emotional Thompson lifts Warriors at the end The Splash Brothers were on their mark throughout their unbelievable comeback win over Portland. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 64 points and two clutch 3-pointers (from Thompson) in a game that the Warriors trailed by 18 points before staging their furious rally. While it was a showcase for all involved and certainly for those who watched, it was an emotional night for Thompson, who worked with a heavy heart after attending the funeral of his grandfather before coming up with those late-game heroics. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has more:

Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson high-stepped toward halfcourt and greeted Draymond Green with a leaping shoulder bump.

“I’ve never seen him that emotional,” Warriors power forward David Lee said. “I even saw him actually pump his fist one time, which is more emotion than I’ve seen in two or three years combined.”

Thompson had plenty of reason to break from his usual stoicism, having left his grandfather’s funeral just in time to make the game and then knocking down two three-pointers in the closing minute to clinch a 113-112 victory over the Trail Blazers on Sunday at the Moda Center.

The third-year guard missed a game Friday for the first time in his career, snapping a franchise-record 214-game streak, and then took three flights from the Bahamas to get to Portland between 1 and 2 a.m. Sunday.

He certainly appeared fresh by the fourth quarter, when he scored 15 of his 27 points to complete the Warriors’ comeback from an 18-point deficit. With the score locked at 107-107 and 54 seconds remaining, Thompson drilled one three-pointer, and with the Warriors trailing 111-110 and 11.9 seconds left, Thompson hit another for the game-winner.

“We wanted to get this one for him,” said Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, who had 37 points and joined Thompson in combining for 51 of the team’s 69 second-half points. “We understand that he’s been through a lot this week and traveled a lot of miles. He compartmentalized it for about two hours to come out and play, and that was big for us. We needed every play he made.”


VIDEO: Klay Thompson saves the day for Golden State in its win over Portland

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Mavericks have had enough of home after the longest home stretch any of them can remember … No one, and we mean NO ONE, does 50-win seasons like the San Antonio Spurs … Blake Griffin‘s game just keeps getting better, and that includes more than just his shooting touch and aggressiveness … The return of Eric Bledsoe has been great for the Suns, they’ve won two of three since he came back. But will it be enough to save their playoff hopes?  …

ICYMI of the Night: Jazz big man Derrick Favors is playing on a team that is struggling this season, but that hasn’t kept him from turning in his best season as a pro. He was particularly impressive in defeat against the San Antonio Spurs last night …


VIDEO: Derrick Favors shows off his goods against the Spurs

Blogtable: Your Ultimate Pro

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


Team due to surge, slip | Ultimate pro | Knicks or Nets?


San Antonio's Tim Duncan (D. Clarke Evans/NBAE)

San Antonio’s Tim Duncan (D. Clarke Evans/NBAE)

Mike Woodson wants J.R. Smith to be a pro. Your choice for the ultimate pro?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comTim Duncan. Next to him, the Rock of Gibraltar is J.R. Smith in full shot-jacking, shoe-untying, drama-queen mode. San Antonio’s now, Springfield’s soon enough, Duncan was 37 when he was 21, forever an adult on the playground.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comTim Duncan. ‘Nuff said.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Because I’m around him all the time and have now for years, my pick is Dirk Nowitzki. Total pro. Gives 100 percent every game. Plays through everything. And unlike just about every other athlete in any sport, he stands up in front of his locker after every single game no matter the circumstance and tells it like it is. No one is more genuine. Perhaps the most honest athlete, sometimes to a fault, of any athlete in pro sports.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: A lot of teams have at least one, so a single selection would be tough. And I won’t try naming all of them without going down every roster. But Shane Battier is that ultimate glue guy, smart and mature and always prepared. That’s a pro. Guys like Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin combine a special level of play with carrying themselves like pros. There are many others.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It has to be Tim Duncan. He’s anchored the league’s best franchise on both ends of the floor and in the locker room for 17 years now. As he’s gotten older, he’s worked harder to stay in shape, so that there’s been little drop-off in his numbers. And his leadership, his willingness to be coached, has been the biggest difference between him and other superstars around the league. That’s been a key to the Spurs’ ability to, every year, bring in new role players that fall in line and seem to fit perfectly.

Shawn Marion huddles up the Mavs (Glenn James/NBAE)

Shawn Marion huddles up the Mavs (Glenn James/NBAE)

Sekou Smith, NBA.comFor all of the lives he’s enriched, careers he’s made, work he’s done on and off the court and the general excellence that has marked his entire career, Tim Duncan is, in my eyes, the greatest pro of all-time in any team sport. Seriously, he’ll never get the proper credit for doing it and doing the way he’s done it his entire career. But I’m not sure if I’ve digested the question properly. With Duncan as the standard, there are plenty of guys who embody the spirit of the question in some ways but not all. There is one other player, someone I feel is a bit underrated in this regard, that needs to be on the short list. Shawn Marion of the Dallas Mavericks doesn’t get the credit for being a guy that shows up year after mind-numbing consistent year and takes it to, as Mike Lowery said in “Bad Boys“, “takes it to the max, every day.” He’s had an exceptional career however you define it. He’s been at this longer than some of his current competition has been playing organized ball and while he’s never been a superstar, he has been an All-Star and a champion. Few players have stepped up to challenges, particularly defensively, the way he has over the course of his career. He was the unsung hero of the Mavericks’ championship run in the 2011 Finals (ask LeBron James) and has piled up career numbers and accomplishments along the way that might surprise you. His name is never mentioned when we’re talking about the ultimate, all-around, never-lets-you-down pros. But it should be, right near the very top.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blogTim Duncan is so consistently and stridently consistent that I have joked for years that he may or may not actually be a robot. The fact that I have been able to make the same joke — regardless of the level of humor involved — for nearly a decade speaks volumes to Duncan’s constancy. Duncan may be a superstar, but it’s purely because of his production, almost in spite of his personality. Duncan has a great sense of humor hidden deep inside (check this out), but nothing is more important than process and preparation. I’ll take Duncan over anyone else any day.

XiBing Yang, NBA China: KG is that kind of person. Twelve years in Minnesota, 20+10+5 for numerous seasons — we’ve seen him do it all. He never complains, and gets himself ready for every night. He’s an old-school player. I have no doubt about the (now) old saying that every coach wants Kevin Garnett on the team.  You can’t find another player who made all of his teammates and coaches love him so much, while making his opponents hate him the same way.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: In my mind the word “pro” goes hand-by-hand with one name, that of Ray Allen. He is the finest expression of professionalism. He works hard, takes care of his body, adapts to any kind of role, plays for the team and provides a perfect example for every young athlete. I’ve never seen him argue with a coach. He’s just always played at the highest level of intensity and concentration. It’s like watching a Bruce Lee film: he seems both calm and intense at the same time. And just remember that I haven’t even taken under consideration how good of basketball player he really is.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: First off, let me take this opportunity to remember Cheri Oteri‘s classic line on SNL and say everybody needs to SIMMER DOWN NOW! about J.R. The guy tries to mess around with some guys and untie their shoes and everybody loses their minds! It’s basketball, it’s all fun and games. It’s OK to let the guys play a little. Jarrett Jack threw Dorrell Wright‘s shoe to the stands last season and nobody made a fuss about it. Now, about that ultimate pro, I would go with Shane Battier. He is always regarded as one of those glue guys, he follows the blueprint set by his coaches, great leader, doesn’t complain about minutes, doesn’t ask for trades, knows his role … Has to be him, in my opinion.

Blogtable: A Personal Best For ’13

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


Fixing the lottery | A 2013 highlight | One bold prediction for ’14



VIDEO: Ray Allen’s shot

Give us a personal NBA highlight of 2013; a story, a laugh, a cry.

Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati, Nov. 2013

Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati, Nov. 2013
(Steve Aschburner, NBA.com)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Great as the league’s current players are, there was no in-arena moment for me in 2013 that matched sitting down in a riverfront restaurant one day last fall to have lunch and chat for two hours with this guy. I had interviewed Oscar Robertson by phone in the past – and did sitdowns in a previous professional life with the likes of Muhammad Ali and Ted Williams – but meeting and talking with The Big O in person ranks high on my personal list. He is, at once, a giant from the NBA’s formative years, a plugged-in guardian of today’s game and a legitimate choice in barroom debates as GOAT. Three days later, the passion that I heard for Robertson’s status, in an over-the-phone earful from this NBA great clinched this as my 2013 highlight.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: My Christmas Day exchange with Ebenezer Popovich before Rockets vs. Spurs in San Antonio.  Me: “What did you get for Christmas?”  Popovich: “None of your business. And I’d ask you what you got, but I don’t care.”  Classic Pop snarling.  But I also got a wink a grin.

Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas, March 2013 (Glenn James/NBAE)

Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas, March 2013
(Glenn James/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: This is probably really obscure, but it’s a memory that has stuck with me. Residing in Dallas and being a former beat writer covering the Mavs, I’m around that team more than any other. Last season, Dirk Nowitzki and a handful of teammates made a pact in early February not to shave until they reached .500. They had been 10 games under, and seven under at the time of the pact. No player took the no-shave agreement — or the inner challenge to accomplish it — more personally than Dirk, whose 12-year playoff run was also very much in jeopardy. The 7-footer never trimmed the unruly mess and it just grew and grew and grew. He looked like the German cousin of Duck Dynasty. There was a home game in late March against the Pacers. A win and they finally shave. Mavs guard O.J. Mayo had announced that his barber, Omar, would be in the locker room ready to lather up. But the Pacers routed ‘em. With a somber expression, Dirk spoke solemnly to reporters, resembling a long, lost castaway (in a nice shirt) losing hope his ship will ever come in: “We lost to a team that is deeper, that is better in all facets of the game,” he said. “… Knowing the Lakers lost now, we had an opportunity to cut into their lead. And it sucks. It sucks.”

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: When a single shot changed history. Ray Allen guesstimated he practiced that look hundreds of thousands of times, but when he caught the pass in a real game, had the presence while backpedaling all the way from the lane to know his exact location in the corner, and hit the 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds remaining in Miami, the Heat went from a 95-92 deficit in the game and 3-2 in the series to new life. They catapulted from that into an overtime victory and then a win in Game 7. Instead of another Finals loss, LeBron James rode in another parade. Instead of the public debate about whether management should break up the Big Three in South Florida, Miami kept the roster in place. Instead of another championship, the Spurs had months of despair.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Before the Heat played the Sixers on Oct. 30, I was in the pre-game scrum when Philly coach Brett Brown (formerly of the Spurs) was asked about facing the team that beat him in The Finals just four months earlier. He was brutally honest about how painful losing that championship was, saying that he had a feeling of “we’ve done it” as Manu Ginobili brought the ball up the floor after LeBron James’ second straight turnover in the final minute of regulation in Game 6. That game was obviously the highlight of 2013 and I doubt we’ll ever again see a team come so close to winning a championship and then lose it. It was incredible to be in the building that night, experience it first-hand and then be reminded of the Spurs’ pain again as the new season was starting. I shake my head every time I think about that sequence of events and how the entire season (1,314 games) came down to one rebound and one shot.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI’ll leave the emotional stuff to John Schuhmann and Lang Whitaker, they’ve been known to get the waterworks going on Hallmark commercials. Speaking of my stat-genius colleague, it was during the time we spent in Las Vegas watching some of the best young talent in the league (and a couple of college kids) working at USA Basketball’s Senior Men’s National Team’s mini-camp in July, that it dawned on me just how fantastic it’s been to watch the game’s driving forces evolve and connect across the board over the past two decades. I’m dating myself here, but I remember when the folks running the grassroots movement and the powers that be at the NBA and National Team level were all on different pages (and they still are from time to time on certain issues). It was an absolute mess and in the years that followed the U.S. teams paid for it during international competitions, losing face and games time after humiliating time against foreign competition. To see them all come together in the form of the under-25 group that we watched go to work in Vegas is a testament to the decision by all parties to think about the greater good and get their stuff straight. Not only did the best under-25 group assemble there, but the kids from all over the country were there as well for their annual pilgrimage to the big time summer tournaments at the same time the U.S. junior teams were working out. And while we stood in the balcony at UNLV watching the workouts with Hall of Famers like Pacers boss Larry Bird watching on one end and the top prep player in the country, Chicago big man and Duke signee Jahlil Okafor, watching from the other, it reminded me how important it is to the future of the game in this country and beyond to have everyone under the same roof (at least sometimes), so to speak.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: Not sure I’ll ever be able to top being in the house (along with my main men Steve Aschburner and John Schuhmann) in Miami for Game 6 of the 2013 Finals. Funny story: When the Heat were down 5 with 30 seconds left, and a bunch of Heat fans headed of the exits, I started worrying about my flight home — I had a flight to New York reserved for the day following Game 7, three days later, and I was pretty sure our NBA Digital overlords would not be happy to cover the cost of me hanging out in a Miami hotel doing nothing for three days. So during one of those final timeouts, from there in the press seats, I went on Delta.com and started trying to change my flight home. I found a flight I could switch to the next morning for minimal expense, and I clicked the button to change my flight. I’m still not sure if it was the spotty internet connection in the American Airlines Arena, the inefficiency of Delta.com, or perhaps an intervention from the basketball gods, but for whatever reason it didn’t go through. Literally seconds later, everything changed. And as it worked out, my original reservation worked out just fine. It just meant I had to let Asch borrow my rental car so he could find a coin laundry.

Karan Madhok, NBA IndiaRay Allen. Game 6. NBA Finals. The shot that changed history. No moment in the NBA in 2013 was more powerful or memorable. Jesus Shuttlesworth gave us a 3-pointer that would be etched in basketball lore forever.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: Man, so many to pick from! I’ll pick two. On the court, the triple-OT playoff battle between the Nets and Bulls. I began watching that as just “due diligence” and as a way of passing time before going out to cover a UFC event, but the game kept going and going and getting more exciting. I threw it to my Game Time app and went to work literally with one eye on the sidewalk and another on the mobile screen. The preliminary card was already going on and I barely paid attention to it. I can’t remember what was the fight of the night, but I can remember every big bucket Nate Robinson hit. Off the court, I was very proud of Jason Collins for coming out, and even more of NBA players’ reactions to it. It took a lot of guts. I’m disappointed by the fact that he’s not in an NBA roster right now, but I can’t and won’t accuse anyone of passing on him because of homophobia — I’ll give teams the benefit of the doubt.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 29


VIDEO: The Daily Zap, a quick rundown of the 12 games played Dec. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bosh rises to sink Blazers | Smith lashes out at Cheeks | Clippers interested in Bynum? | Wolves back to .500

No. 1: Bosh rises to sink Blazers — On a night the Miami Heat were looking to avoid consecutive losses for the third time this season, LeBron James sat out with a groin injury and Dwyane Wade didn’t have it going. But there was the often overlooked member of the Big Three, Chris Bosh, an All-Star in his own right, standing by to save the day. The Heat’s power forward outplayed LaMarcus Aldridge, posting 37 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds to beat the Portland Trail Blazers, the West’s No. 1 team. In the final huddle Heat coach Erik Spoelstra drew up a play, but Bosh overruled it, wanting to take the 3, and Spoelstra smartly rolled with it. After Bosh drilled the shot, the Heat bench, including James, erupted and showered Bosh with a wild celebration that revealed how big that win was and how much Bosh’s teammates enjoy seeing him succeed.
Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report provides the details:

“My call at the end of the game was much more conservative,” Spoelstra said, after the Heat’s 108-107 victory. “I drew something up to get him on the move, and he said no, I want it for three.”

Bosh wanted the extra space, especially since he knew his momentum would take him away from the hoop anyway.

He wanted the extra point too.

“I told him I wanted to go for the jugular,” Bosh said.

“So he overruled it and became a prophet,” Spoelstra said. “Why did I even diagram something else for him? I mean, he already hit two threes. He was feeling it, he wanted it, and as soon as he said it, I said, ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’ It was much better than what I had planned.”

It was. So much better.

Norris Cole inbounded to Dwyane Wade from the left side, with Mario Chalmers running Damian Lillard down the baseline from right to left, while Ray Allen occupied Mo Williams‘ attention on the left wing. It was similar to the previous play, in which Allen’s screen freed Wade for a slam.

Bosh set a brush screen—and this time, Aldridge left him to help Nicolas Batum chase down Wade.

“My job was to drive his man to me,” Wade said.

It went just as they planned.

“It didn’t really go exactly like that,” Wade said.

OK, it didn’t. Wade lost the handle briefly, before chucking the ball behind him on one bounce, fortunate that Williams didn’t budge.

“He threw a crazy pass a little bit, I’m not going to lie,” Bosh said. “But I was able to see it, nobody was in the vicinity, so I didn’t have to rush, and I was able to lock into the goal the whole time.”

Bosh collected it with his left side touching the three-point line, backing up, stepping in and launching from 26 feet with 2.6 seconds left.

With 0.5 seconds left, it fell through.

***

No. 2: Smith lashes out at Cheeks — The Detroit Pistons were on the verge of hitting .500, but have now lost four of five and two in a row, blasted on back-to-back nights by Orlando and then at Washington on Saturday. And now the Pistons have the first signs of internal conflict brewing with big free-agent acquisition Josh Smith unhappy about being benched for the entire second half and suggesting that coach Maurice Cheeks called him out for not playing hard. As David Mayo of MLive reports:

Josh Smith didn’t play the second half of a 106-82 blowout against the Washington Wizards, the second time head coach Maurice Cheeks has made that decision this season.

This time, Smith suggested Cheeks called him out for not playing hard, and that he took “real offense” to the accusation.

Smith also was benched the second half of a Nov. 12 game at Golden State.

“Like I told y’all before when we had this conversation, when you hit adverse times, characters are gonna be tested,” Smith said. “It’s either that we’re gonna come closer together and make it all one team, or are you gonna use a scapegoat to get away from what’s really at hand?”

What’s really at hand is the Pistons (14-18) have lost four of five, bombed in a two-game road trip against sub-.500 teams this weekend, and now have their first hint of internal upheaval.

How long it lasts remains to be seen.

Asked if Smith will start Monday’s home rematch with the Wizards, Cheeks replied, “I assume he will. I don’t know why he wouldn’t. We’ll wait until that next game gets there.”

Smith said he isn’t inclined to have a personal discussion with Cheeks about their disagreement before the next game.

“To me, it’s over with,” Smith said. “But you know, some people hold grudges longer than others. I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m not saying that he (Cheeks) does. I don’t know.

“But I’m not the type of person that really likes to go all the time in the coach’s office and have one-on-one sitdowns. I’m more of a team morale guy, worrying about what we can do, as far as teammates are concerned, to make ourselves more successful.”

***

No. 3: Clippers interested in Bynum?The former Lakers big man, troubled by knee injuries and possibly a lack of desire to play at the highest level, was suspended indefinitely by the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday for conduct detrimental to the team. Reports have the Cavs eager to deal Andrew Bynum. The Clippers, in need of frontline support behind center DeAndre Jordan and power forward Blake Griffin, could be one team interested in trying to make it work with the troubled 7-footer who had not long ago put himself in the discussion alongside Dwight Howard as the league’s top center. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times breaks it down:

The Clippers would have interest in Bynum if he was released by the Cavaliers, according to several NBA executives who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

But according to one Eastern Conference executive, the Clippers would have competition for Bynum because the Miami Heat also would have interest in the seven-footer.

The Clippers have the NBA-maximum 15-player roster and would have to waive a player if they were to sign Bynum, who is still only 26.

The Cavaliers signed Bynum to a two-year, $24-million deal over the summer. But only $6 million of Bynum’s $12.2-million contract for this season is guaranteed if he is waived before Jan. 7.

The Eastern Conference executive said it’s possible Bynum will be released by the Cavaliers in early January if they can’t trade him so the team is not on the hook for the last $6 million Bynum would be owed.

Bynum has averaged 8.4 points and 5.3 rebounds in 20.0 minutes in the 24 games he has played with the Cavaliers. He had 18 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes when he started for the Cavaliers against the Clippers on Dec. 7

.***

No. 4: Wolves back to .500It had been since Dec. 10-11 that the Minnesota Timberwolves had won consecutive games. A team expected to make the playoffs this season following last year’s disastrous injury problems, the Wolves have yet to find any consistency and have lost late leads in multiple games. On Saturday night, they avoided a letdown on the second night of a back-to-back, blowing out woeful Milwaukee to get back to .500. They haven’t won three in a row since starting the season with three consecutive victories. They’ll get the chance to match their season-high win streak at home on Monday against the Dallas Mavericks, a team they handled twice in November. Kent Youngblood of the Minnesota Star Tribune has the story:

The message, at halftime, was something like this: Don’t let it happen again.

The Timberwolves were winning against the lowly Bucks on the road Saturday night, but Milwaukee was getting too many easy baskets and points in the paint. This was feeling a bit too much like last week’s game against the Lakers. Or the week before in Boston, when the Wolves had followed an impressive win with a listless loss.

Not to worry.

With Kevin Love leading the way, the Wolves scored the first 14 points of the third quarter and built their lead to as much as 31 late in the quarter at Bradley Center. That was enough to withstand some shoddy play by the bench to start the fourth quarter. The result was a 117-95 victory that ended a three-game road losing streak and put the Wolves (15-15) back at .500 with five of their next six games at home.

“We haven’t played great in the second night of back-to-backs,” said Love, who scored 33 points with 15 rebounds. He made four of six three-pointers and had six assists. It was his 10th consecutive game with 25 or more points, most in the league this season, and his fifth game with at least 30 points and 15 rebounds.

The Wolves, who won Friday against Washington, have won two in a row, sweeping both ends of a back-to-back for only the second time in eight tries this season. Love and center Nikola Pekovic (19 points, 11 rebounds) took advantage of a Bucks lineup missing 6-11 John Henson. Kevin Martin added 20 points and Corey Brewer had 12.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Deron Williams‘ season keeps getting uglier as Nets get crushed by superior Pacers … Knicks hope to get Carmelo Anthony back for tough Texas road swing. … Bradley Beal makes welcome return 24 hours after limping off the floor and helps Wizards rout of Pistons … Nets center Brook Lopez will undergo foot surgery next Saturday

Heat Mindful Of Toll Of Being Elite




VIDEO: D-Wade spurs Heat to hard-earned Christmas win over the Lakers

LOS ANGELES — They don’t have to see it or even acknowledge it. But it’s there, every moment of every single day for the Miami Heat. Playing on that tight-rope, before the biggest crowds in Miami and everywhere else, takes a toll on the greatest of players and teams.

The Heat needed only to look down the hall on Christmas to the other locker room, where injured Lakers superstars and future Hall of Famers Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash arrived for the days’ affair in street clothes that they would wear before, during and after the Heat’s closer-than-expected win at the Staples Center. Earlier in the day in Brooklyn,  fellow aging stars (and future Hall of Famers) Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, key members of Boston’s Big 3 (along with Heat reserve Ray Allen), looked like shells of their former selves as the Chicago Bulls trounced the Nets.

James shouldn’t be consumed with his own basketball mortality since he’s at the height of his powers … and trust me, he’s not. But what’s going on around him now is a cautionary tale worth filing away. All of those aforementioned stars, Bryant in particular, have plenty of miles on their bodies. They’ve all soared to great heights in their careers, both individually and otherwise. But it all comes at a physical, mental and emotional price that those stars have to be willing to pay at some point.

James sent out a tweet last week wishing Bryant a speedy recovery from his latest setback, a fractured left knee that followed Achilles surgery that limited him to just six games this season. But that’s basically the extent of his empathy. He’s not going to let anything slow him down, not in the prime of his career and not while the Heat are in the midst of building a dynasty of their own.

“No, I don’t,” James said when asked if he ever ponders his own career clock. “I try to live in the moment. Only the Man Above knows how much time He’s going to give me with this game. Once He decides that I don’t have any more time or when that is, I’ll call it quits … none of us can play forever, though. We’ve all gotta go [sometime].”

That time isn’t anytime soon. Even with the Indiana Pacers pressing them in the Eastern Conference and challengers from Oklahoma City to San Antonio and everywhere else lining up in the Western Conference, there will be no shortage of challenges for this Heat team deal with as we progress toward the postseason.

Trying to make The Finals for a fourth straight season is taxing enough, let alone trying to win the title for the third straight season. The Heat are doing it with Dwyane Wade on a plan to measure his minutes and preserve his body for the entire (anticipated) stretch of a season that ends again in June.

As long as James is healthy and leads the way, though, the Heat don’t have the concerns about longevity that some outsiders might harbor. They also certainly don’t have any issues with sustained excellence, according to Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni.

“They are the same they’ve been the last two seasons, if not better,” he said. “LeBron’s playing out of his mind. He gets better every year, which is hard to say for a guy like that. They are better. They are just laying in the weeds a little bit. But you can’t count ‘em out. They’ll be there at the end. They’ll probably have home-court advantage, if not it’ll be right there.”

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, among others, will want to have a say about who brings home that Larry O’Brien trophy as well. But only the Spurs understand exactly what the Heat have come to understand these past four seasons.

Winning and winning big is more than just a notion. It’s what James, adopting the terminology of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, calls a “process.” And one that James was much more prepared for than his coaches and Heat teammates, as James had tried unsuccessfully to climb that mountain in Cleveland before embarking again and succeeding in Miami.

That’s why the Heat, and Spoelstra in particular, know that no one in the organization can take this time or the relative good health of their stars and role players alike for granted. He knows James in the midst of his prime — “physically, mentally and emotionally” as he put it — and with good health has years of operating as the best player in basketball ahead of him.

But times haven’t always been this good in Miami. And Spoelstra has a long memory.

“We’ve been through a lot of teams in 18-plus years in Miami where we had championship-contending teams, where we had 15-win teams, we’ve had 20-, 30- and 40-win teams,” Spoelstra said. “So we’ve seen it all. And when you have a team like this that you know, as long as you have your health you have an opportunity to play for a title, and that’s all you might have is an opportunity, none of us want to take it for granted. This is a special group that we have. And you don’t know how long it will last so you want to make the most of it.”

James refusing to look beyond anything but the here and now makes much more sense after hearing Spoelstra talk about that process. It’s also why James doesn’t fret these days every time the Heat have a hiccup, or face an unsuspected test the way they did from Nick “Swaggy P” Young and the Lakers on Christmas.

He’s comfortable with where his team is right now, with the initial stages of this season’s journey already behind them.

“I don’t want to say comfortable, because I don’t ever like to be, too comfortable … [at least not] until the end, when we raise that trophy,” James said. “But I can say the process, and where we’re trying to get better right now, we’re right on point. We’ve had a couple of bumps in the road, but we’ve taken more steps forward than backward. And I’m excited about that.”

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 24


VIDEO: Highlights from all of Monday’s NBA games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Melo sprains ankle | Pierce, Nets implode, Kidd explodes | Dirk climbs all-time list | Wade sits, LeBron shines | End of the Lottery?

No. 1: Melo leaves with sprained ankle– As if enough hasn’t happened to the New York Knicks in the season’s first two months, now they’re dealing with a sprained left ankle to their best player, Carmelo Anthony. The club’s leading scorer limped to the locker room in the third quarter of New York’s 103-98 win over Orlando. Yes, the Knicks still managed to hold on and win. Oh, to make matters worse, point guard Raymond Felton, who had just returned from injury, left in the fourth quarter with a strained right groin. Both players will be reevaluated Tuesday and Anthony insisted he’s hoping to play on Wednesday, Christmas Day, when the Knicks play host to the Oklahoma City Thunder (2:30 ET, ABC).

More from Peter Botte of the New York Daily News:

“It’s on. I still have it. It ain’t going nowhere, so I’ll be there,” Anthony said of his sprained ankle. “Hopefully, I’ll be there. … It’s Christmas in the Garden. I don’t want to miss that game. I don’t know, I’m hard-headed sometimes when it comes to that. But I’ve got two days.”

The Knicks (9-18) constructed a 24-point cushion at halftime and still led 72-52 when Anthony went up for a rebound of his own miss and landed awkwardly, with his left foot coming down on the foot of Orlando forward and Long Island product Tobias Harris with 7:26 remaining in the third.
“Melo’s a tough kid. He don’t sit down very often,” Mike Woodson said.

Anthony, who also battled knee and shoulder problems last season, described this ankle injury as “not as severe” as one that kept him out of two games this time last year.
Still, Anthony limped to the bench and remained there for several minutes while receiving treatment from trainer Roger Hinds. During a timeout with 5:43 remaining in the quarter, the pending free agent headed for the locker room and did not return.

“The pain was too much. I was actually trying to walk to see if I could get back in the game. There wasn’t no reason for me to go out there and risk it anymore,” Anthony said. “But I’m walking. I think I caught it before it rolled all the way, but it rolled pretty bad. We’ll evaluate everything (Tuesday), but the good thing is I am able to walk with a little bit of pain.”

Felton was back in the lineup after missing the previous six games with a strained left hamstring, scoring 13 points with four assists in 25 minutes before he collapsed to the floor following a midair collision with Jameer Nelson with 3:21 to go.
Felton, who also missed time earlier this season with a pinched nerve in his hip, admitted he “felt a pop” in his right groin.

***

No. 2: Pierce ejected, Kidd explodes – With the Nets down 19 points to the East-leading Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn’s Paul Pierce, in the midst of a horrible personal season, took down Indiana’s George Hill on a fastbreak. The play was ruled a Flagrant 2 resulting in the automatic ejection of the former Celtics great. But that’s not as bad as it got. Following the Nets’ 103-86 to fall to 9-18, rookie head coach Jason Kidd went off on his underachieving team that just two days ago lost All-Star center Brook Lopez to a broken foot. Kidd’s most damning quote of his club: “Well I think it is getting very close to just accepting losing. We are kind of getting comfortable with losing. And we got to make a stand with that because when things get tough, do we just give in and most of the time right now we do.”

ESPNNY.com’s Mike Mazzeo has more:

The Nets came into the season with the NBA’s highest payroll — an estimated $190 million counting the impending luxury tax — and extremely high expectations. But they’ve failed to meet them.

During the summer, Nets general manager Billy King mortgaged the future, relinquishing several future assets to acquire veterans Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry in an effort to try and win now. But so far, it hasn’t worked out.

On Monday night, Garnett and Pierce both left without talking to the media. Pierce was automatically ejected after being accessed a flagrant foul 2 for clotheslining Pacers point guard George Hill, who tried to finish a layup in transition with 4:22 remaining in the third quarter. He could face a fine or suspension from the NBA league office as a result.

Pierce (0-for-7) was held scoreless for the first time since March 9, 1999 — the 16th professional game of his 16-year career. Garnett went 3-for-10 from the field in 19 minutes. Both players have struggled mightily while trying to fit in with their new team for the majority of the season.

Told of Kidd’s comment, point guard Deron Williams said, “I’m not. I’m not comfortable losing. It’s not fun. Not only when we’re losing during the game, but when I go home sitting there and thinking about it, it’s not fun.”

***

No. 3: Dirk passes English, destroy RocketsEvery few games it seems Dirk Nowitzki is passing another legend of the game on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. On Monday night, Nowitzki overtook Denver great Alex English for No. 13. The Mavs’ sweet-shooting 7-footer did it in style, dropping 31 points on Dwight Howard and the Rockets to move to 2-1 against their Southwest Division rival this season. Nowitzki, of course, traveled to Los Angeles with owner Mark Cuban and coach Rick Carlisle over the summer to recruit the free-agent Howard, who preferred the situation in Houston. Nowitzki scored 10 points in the final nine minutes to help Dallas protect the lead and end a two-game skid.

Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News was there:

Dirk Nowitzki simply said: Come on, boys, and climb on my back.
“Listen, he’s the great Dirk Nowitzki,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “The guy has changed the game with the way he plays. The game is not the same. He changed the power forward game forever, and it’s reflected in the modern game now. He’s a great player.”

Nowitzki piled up 31 points, including 10 points in the final nine minutes when the Mavericks were protecting a nice lead they had earned in the third quarter. Along the way, Nowitzki passed Alex English for 13th place on the all-time NBA scoring list.

His play was made possible in part by the shooting of Vince Carter, Jae Crowder and Jose Calderon, all of whom loosened up the Houston defense in a third quarter that the Mavericks won by 15 points to turn the game around.

“They had a lot of respect for our shooting at that point,” Nowitzki said. “So they were a little hesitant to double me. And I got to take advantage of the matchups when they play me with 6-7, 6-8 guys and I can shoot over them. That’s what I’ve been doing my whole career.”
And so the Mavericks still have not had a three-game losing streak this season. They stopped the skid at two with their gutsiest victory of the season.

It’s worth noting that the Rockets were playing without leading scorer James Harden (ankle), point guard Patrick Beverley (hand) and center Omer Asik (thigh).

As such, the Rockets leaned heavily on Dwight Howard, who was a beast all night. But the Mavericks held most of the other Rockets in check in the second half.

.***

No. 4: Wade sits, LeBron shinesThe Miami Heat continued their cautious approach toward Dwyane Wade and his cranky news, sitting the superstar yet again Monday night against the Atlanta Hawks. This time it seemed it would be too much for Miami to overcome. Then again, they do have LeBron James, who had 38 points and one massive late fourth-quarter dunk over Paul Millsap that helped get the game to overtime and allow the Heat to take a 121-119 decision.

David J. Neal of the Miami Herald has more:

No Dwyane Wade. Later, after an elbow to the jaw, no Chris Bosh, either. But the Heat still had a LeBron James, and could pull a Michael Beasley off the bench. And then a Ray Allen and, even for the last 2.3 seconds, Bosh.

Which is how the Heat outlasted the Hawks 121-119 in overtime Monday night. Allen got the Heat to overtime. Beasley provided the game-winning free throws. Bosh provided the long arms.

“The one thing I did like about this game, in the last couple of years with this group, if we’d given up 17 threes in a game, we don’t win that game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Heat’s ninth win in a row over the Hawks. “It would collapse our spirit and our mind.”

Beasley had 10 points. Allen had 19. James scored 38 points on 16 of 28 shooting, six of his last seven as the Heat came from 11 down in the second half. As remarkable, James had six assists without a turnover. About the only thing James didn’t do well was hit free throws (two of six).

“For the basketball aficionado out there, this is a game where you see his full skill set,” Spoelstra said.

***

No. 5: End of the LotteryWith a multitude of front offices seemingly setting up their teams to be very bad this season with an eye toward what is believed to be a very talented draft class, and the league quite sensitive this whole notion, a proposal for a change to lottery system might be floated to owners in 2014.

Grantland’s Zach Lowe has the story:

We can also search for solutions, and there are lots of folks in the league office and among the 30 teams who find tanking abhorrent — who bristle at the idea that the league has incentivized teams to be anything but their best every single season. One detailed proposal, submitted by a team official, has gained initial traction among some high-level NBA officials — to the point that the NBA may float the proposal to owners sometime in 2014, according to league sources. Other top officials in the league office have expressed early opposition to the proposal, sources say.

The Proposal

Grantland obtained a copy of the proposal, which would eliminate the draft lottery and replace it with a system in which each of the 30 teams would pick in a specific first-round draft slot once — and exactly once — every 30 years. Each team would simply cycle through the 30 draft slots, year by year, in a predetermined order designed so that teams pick in different areas of the draft each year. Teams would know with 100 percent certainty in which draft slots they would pick every year, up to 30 years out from the start of every 30-year cycle. The practice of protecting picks would disappear; there would never be a Harrison Barnes–Golden State situation again, and it wouldn’t require a law degree to track ownership of every traded pick leaguewide..

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni tells fans to find another team if they’re discouraged … According to a report, attempts to revive Kyle Lowry trade talks failed … Metta World Peace to have same blood-spinning procedure as Kobe Bryant … In wake of Brook Lopez injury, Nets will file the paperwork for a Disabled Player Exemption

Wade, With Proper Rest, Still Among Best


VIDEO: Check out some of Dwyane Wade’s highlights from Miami’s win over Indiana

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Ever get the feeling that Dwyane Wade is getting to be a lot like the San Antonio Spurs? Reports of demise have been greatly exaggerated.

No, Wade nearing 32 (Jan. 17) isn’t the same as he was at 24. And maybe his near-32-year-old knees are crankier than some others, but let’s stop trying to pretend he’s not still one of the league’s top superstars. And that the Big Three pushing for the first three-peat the league has seen in a dozen years is reduced to the brilliance of LeBron James pulling a one-legged Wade and whatever it is Chris Bosh isn’t on any particular day.

The fact is Wade really is like Batman. Not in the Batman and Robin dynamic duo sense in which we constantly want to slot a team’s two leading stars. Of course we know in that sense LeBron is the ultimate Dark Knight. Wade’s Batman is the Caped Crusader who suddenly appears out of the darkness as a silhouette in the glow of a full moon whenever Gotham needs him most.

And so it was again Wednesday night at American Airlines Arena. The Indiana Pacers, the enemy and the East’s best shot to dethrone the two-time champion Heat, were in town, fresh off a home victory against Miami eight nights earlier and eager for more.

James was trying to shake a sprained ankle from Monday’s game and wasn’t even sure he’d be able to go. This was the Pacers’ moment to pounce, to take the first two of this four-game regular-season grudge match and gain the upper hand in the chase for homecourt advantage, a valuable commodity Indiana desperately wants for when these two titans will certainly clash again in the East finals.

Indiana and its young superstar-to-be Paul George (25 points, eight rebounds, six assists) had it all going their way, leading throughout and ahead by 15 points midway through the third quarter.

And then Wade stripped it all away: 32 points (18 in the second half and nine in the decisive fourth quarter) on 15-for-25 shooting, plus three steals, including one with 7:30 left in the game that prevented Indiana from going back up by eight and instead sliced the deficit to four.

In a pulsating flash, one might say, the incumbent Heat reasserted their dominance over their hard-charging challengers on a night when for so long it seemed it just wasn’t meant to be. James, despite his ailing ankle, finished with 24 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, including finding Chris Bosh (15 points, eight rebounds) for the game-tying 3 with 1:30 to play and then Ray Allen 31 seconds later for the go-ahead 3.

More than anything, the night was another reminder not to count out Wade, just as he sporadically reminded throughout the 2013 title run all while managing the pain in his knees. And that will be a constant it appears for the remainder of his career. And we’ve seen it already early this season with Wade missing six of the Heat’s first 25 games to ease the soreness and create periods of extended rest. Miami is 16-3 with him and 3-3 without him.

Wade, averaging 19.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg and 4.8 apg in 33.7 mpg, logged a team-high 37 minutes on Wednesday, his second consecutive game playing every other day following a convenient three-day break after the 90-84 loss at Indiana. The days between focus heavily on preventative maintenance geared toward another June run for the roses.

“He’s very disciplined and dedicated to that routine, and there’s so much that goes on behind the scenes just in terms of his treatment, his corrective exercises, his weightlifting, his conditioning and his basketball work that he’s doing that nobody else sees except for us,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “And that’s putting himself in a position not only to play well right now, but build. That’s the idea.”

Wade has played in just two of the Heat’s six games in their three back-to-back sets. After going for 17 points, five rebounds, eight assists and eight steals in 36 minutes in a home win over Dallas, Wade had four points on 1-for-7 shooting the next night at Charlotte. Following that game he skipped the next two games, another back-to-back, with knee soreness, giving him six full days off. His next game he led all scorers with 27 points on 9-for-16 shooting.

By sporadically taking games off, Wade’s been very good in games he’s played on one day’s rest. In 10 of those, he’s averaged 22.8 ppg on 58.6 percent shooting, 5.2 apg and 4.6 rpg in 34.2 mpg. The Heat are 9-1 in those games. Wade’s played four games on two day’s rest, one on three, one on five and two on six or more.

He’s been on the floor for five of the Heat’s six biggest games. In two games against Indiana and one each against the Clippers, Suns and Mavs (Miami’s only games against teams currently with a winning record, plus one against Atlanta that Wade missed), Wade has averaged 23.2 ppg on 57.4 percent shooting (50-for-87), 4.8 rpg, 6.4 apg and 3.4 in 35.0 mpg. The Heat won four of the five.

The legend continues.

Happy 35-Year, 117-Day Birthday, Kobe

Kobe Bryant is trying to do something no other wing player his age ever has done (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Kobe Bryant is trying to do something no other wing player his age ever has done (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Kobe Bryant is facing a long road back, considering the destination that probably means the most to him: A sixth NBA championship ring.

Not that he necessarily needs this in chasing it, but we’ve got a teensy bit of extra motivation for him.

First, of course, Bryant has to get his game back, if not to its all-galaxy heights then at least to something reminiscent of who he was and what it was prior to tearing his left Achilles tendon in April. Then he has to fit and shape himself and his teammates on this year’s edition of the Lakers (or the next two) into the ranks of legit contenders.

And then  they have to actually play and win the games, 16 victories in at most 28 games, when the stakes are highest, the pressure is most intense, and fatigue – and in Bryant’s case, Father Time – are laughing hardest.

So just in case Bryant needs a little extra oomph in his quest, here it is: He would be doing something Michael Jordan never did.

As noted on Twitter by “GangstaMoogle” (a.k.a., Tommy), Dec. 18, 2013 is a special day for Bryant because, as of today, he is precisely the same age as Jordan was when His Airness clinched that 1998 NBA Finals with The Shot in Game 6 against the Utah Jazz:

That means, should Bryant win a ring from this point forward, he will accomplish something Jordan didn’t. Didn’t even come close to doing, in fact, given the Washington Wizards’ 74-90 record (no playoffs) from 2001-03 in the former Bulls star’s two late-career seasons with them.

Among Hall of Fame players, no wing player or big-time ballhandler considered the leader of the team — note that we’re not counting big men — ever has won a championship at the age Bryant will be by his next playoffs. Or even tomorrow, according to basketball-reference.com.

Boston’s Sam Jones was 50 days shy of his 36th birthday when the Celtics won again in 1969, but by that point, the five-time All-Star ranked third on his team in scoring (16.3 pgg) and sixth in minutes (26.0).

Gary Payton was 37 when he got his ring with the Miami Heat in 2006 but he was well past his “Glove” prime at both ends, with a PER (10.7) that ranked ninth, behind both Dorell Wright (13.2) and Wayne Simien (11.5).

If you broaden it to include players likely to be enshrined, the Heat’s Ray Allen was at a point similar to Jones, averaging 25.8 minutes as his team’s fourth option. Jason Kidd led the 2010 Dallas champs in assists (8.2) and averaged 33.8 minutes, but by PER (14.4) he ranked no higher than eighth among the Mavericks and 14th in usage (14.3).

Jordan got his sixth ring same as his first five, as his team’s best player and leading scorer. That’s something Bryant might have to, and probably would like to, do for one more.

The odds against him increase with each passing day. And knowing what we know of Bryant, he would have it no other way.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 15


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Mo Williams uses Trail Blazers win as therapy | Lakers call Knicks, talk trade | Rondo won’t play until New Year | Paul talks the talk 

No. 1: Blazers’ Williams rides emotional wave in Philly – Portland guard Mo Williams had a hand in the Trail Blazers’ 3-pointer-fueled barrage against the Philadelphia 76ers. But unlike his teammates, it wasn’t all smiles for the veteran point guard. He played with a heavy heart while dealing with the loss of a loved one. That didn’t stop him from joining the party as the Blazers made a franchise-record 21 shots from deep. On a night when LaMarcus Aldridge did his usual MVP work and Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nic Batum, Dorell Wright and rookie Allen Crabbe all took part in the 3-point party, the three 3s that Williams knocked down had extra special meaning, as Joe Freeman of The Oregonian explains:

On Dec. 5, Williams’€™ uncle, Jerome Coleman, died after a lengthy fight with colon cancer. He was 63. Coleman’s funeral was Saturday morning in Mobile, Ala., and Williams wasn’€™t about to miss the chance to say goodbye to “€œUncle Roni.”€
So after the Blazers’€™ Thursday night victory over the Houston Rockets, Williams left the Moda Center and boarded a charter flight to Mobile. He didn’t sleep a wink the entire way, touching down in Mobile at 8:30 a.m. What followed was an emotional whirlwind of consoling family, attending memorials and taking part in countless talks that reminisced about “Uncle Roni,” the older brother of Williams’€™ mother.
“I’€™m just emotionally drained,” Williams said after the game. “Time will heal. Basketball will help. But you still have those times where you just can’€™t let it go. Being at the funeral, holding my grandma, holding my mom, then jumping on the flight coming here. It’€™s been a draining day.”€
The NBA allowed the Blazers to set up a charter flight for Williams so he could play Saturday, and the moment he walked into the visiting locker room — about 90 minutes before tipoff –€” his stress and sadness washed away. LaMarcus Aldridge cracked a joke at his expense as soon as he saw his teammate, and Williams smiled for seemingly the first time all day. Then he dove into his pregame routine.
There were no deep talks. No one asked for stories about the funeral. It was as if it was any other day. And it was exactly what Williams needed.
“That was kind of therapeutic for me, being around the guys,” he said. “Throughout the game, they didn’€™t beat me up with the fact that they knew I was going through something. They just treated me like they treat me every day. I needed that.”€

***

No. 2: Knicks fielding calls on Shumpert and Chandler? – Kyle Lowry is low-hanging fruit, as Kobe Bryant would say, when it comes to trade talks. The Los Angeles Lakers apparently have something a bit more aggressive in mind since they are now engaging the New York Knicks in discussions about two of the teams main rotation players, the seemingly always available Iman Shumpert and defensive anchor Tyson Chandler, according to ESPN’s Chris Broussard:

No trade is imminent, and sources say the Lakers’ call was more about doing their due diligence; it’s well-known Shumpert is available. The Lakers are unlikely to make a deal before the end of their current four-game trip, which concludes Tuesday night in Memphis.

But with Steve Blake, who is expected to miss at least six weeks with an elbow injury, joining point guards Steve Nash and Jordan Farmar on the injured list, the Lakers could be interested in strengthening their backcourt.

Shumpert is more of a shooting guard, but with Bryant taking on more of a playmaking role — averaging a career-high 6.7 assists while attempting fewer than nine shots a game — since returning from a torn Achilles tendon last Sunday, it’s easy to see the two playing together.

Shumpert is struggling through a disappointing season, and the Knicks have discussed trades involving him with several other teams, including the Denver Nuggets and Toronto Raptors.

Sources say the Lakers also are interested in another Knicks player — center Tyson Chandler. The Lakers did not inquire about Chandler when they called about Shumpert, but they are weighing whether to propose a Pau Gasol-for-Chandler trade, according to sources.

The Knicks are not looking to move Chandler — several teams have contacted them about him, sources said — but if a club agreed to take back struggling guard J.R. Smith, the Knicks would consider such a deal.

***

No. 3: Rondo won’t play until January – There won’t be any speculation about an earlier than anticipated return date for Boston’s All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo. Now that he’s been cleared for full contact, Celtics coach Brad Stevens moved swiftly to ease the pressure on his star by announcing that he won’t play in a game until January, at the earliest. That gives Rondo a minimum of at least two and a half weeks to get himself ready for live action and potentially much more time if he doesn’t progress as the Celtics hope. But is he, as Mark Murphy of The Boston Herald examines, the missing piece for a Celtics team that has already surpassed most people’s expectations?:

And Rondo, according to Stevens, looked “pretty good.”

“Rajon is doing more and more in practice every day. He had a good trip yesterday as far as getting good news,” said the Celtics coach. “He’s on schedule to be closer, but it still seems like we’re not going to see him on the court this month. Hopefully, the beginning of January he’ll be closer.

“He’s been cleared for that in practice. He wasn’t cleared 100 percent until yesterday,” said Stevens. “But he’s done more and more, and today was the most he’s done. He looked pretty good.”

Though Stevens repeatedly has said his system is designed to fit Rondo back into the team as seamlessly as possible, the coaching staff actually has to start the implementation process.

“I haven’t thought a ton about it, because it really hasn’t presented itself,” said Stevens. “My focus is what we’re going to do on Monday, but certainly your focus is on not only getting him into it, but also how you’re going to manage everything around that.

“Certainly there’s a lot of players who play at a high level (on this team),” he said. “The key is to continue those guys playing very well, and add in another very good player.”

***

No. 4: Paul lives up to his own words for Clippers – It’s a bit early in the season for must-win declarations, but the Clippers’ Chris Paul doesn’t care. He’s mandating that his team step their collective game up and that starts with the man in the mirror. And that meant he had to prove his point against the Wizards, wearing them out to the tune of 38 points and 12 assists. He joined Clyde Drexler as the only player in the last 40 NBA seasons to post a 38 and 12 line while also shooting 78 percent or better (he was 10-for-13) from the floor. Drexler did it when Paul was barely out of diapers ((Nov. 13, 1990). But Paul’s point was made, writes Jovan Buha of ESPNLosAngeles.com, so much so that Doc Rivers shouldn’t have to come up with any fire and brimstone speeches now that the Clippers’ road trip is over:

Paul stood by his bold statement, scoring 38 points — the most since his 42-point performance on Halloween against the Golden State Warriors – on 11-of-14 shooting and dishing out 12 assists in the Clippers’ 113-97 victory at Verizon Center. He’s the first player since 2009 to go for 38-plus points, 12-plus assists and three-plus steals in a game, and he already has done it twice this season.

While Clippers coach Doc Rivers disagreed with the notion that the game was a must-win at shootaround, he admitted that going 3-4 against mainly sub-.500 Eastern Conference teams would be a major disappointment at any point in the season.

“I think they’re a little frustrated on this trip,” Rivers told reporters. “They think it should have gone better. It still can go well. If you win this game, 4-3 on a seven-game trip — that’s good. It’s not what we wanted. We want to win all seven of them. But you just keep plugging along.”

With the win, the Clippers finished the trip above .500 at 4-3 and are now 16-9. That isn’t necessarily where they expected to be at this point in the season, but at the very least Saturday’s win showed that if they need to win a tough road game to ease their mental psyche, they can.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Bulls’ Joakim Noah insists we’re going to find out what his team is about now that they are facing another round of adversityMike Woodson has grown tired of J.R. Smith’s antics, the break up can’t be far off … and make sure and take a look at Ray Allen becoming the sixth active player to join the 24,000 point club.

ICYMI: Josh McRoberts didn’t have the Dunk of the Night, that honor was bestowed upon his Bobcats teammate Jeff Taylor, but he did get loose against his former team for Saturday night’s Play of the Day …


VIDEO: Josh McRoberts shows off his bounce against his former team