CHICAGO – For 130 of the final 139 seconds of Game 6 Thursday at United Center, the Brooklyn Nets never could put the Chicago Bulls more than three points back in the rear-view mirror. There were repeated opportunities for the Bulls to tie or take the lead, plenty of chances for the Nets to slip up or let up on the road, in a noisy gym, their postseason survival on the brink.
Brooklyn’s defense earned them their Game 7 shot Saturday night. So many weapons offensively, so much hand-to-hand combat when those weapons misfired (Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams combined for 12 points in the second half.)
“The first half we didn’t play any defense,” Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “The second half we didn’t have any offense. … It was a heckuva win but it wasn’t Xs & Os, anything like that. It was two teams played real hard and our guys found a way to win.”
The Nets zinged Chicago for 60 points through the game’s first 24 minutes. That earned them a little cushion over the next 24, but not enough to absolve their shooting and scoring woes.
So when they shot 21.1 percent in the third, they made sure Chicago did no better than 27.3. When they burped along at 35.7 percent in the fourth, they saw to it that the Bulls were even worse at 32.1.
And while it stung to miss five of their 11 free throws in that final quarter, it wasn’t fatal because Chicago only shot two. All that defending, so little fouling (2 in the period).
“Be physical with ‘em. Get ‘em off their spots. [Carlos] Boozer‘s good, those guys are good getting to their spots and getting comfortable,” forward Gerald Wallace said, sharing from Brooklyn’s “book” on the Bulls. “The main thing is, we’re playing 48 minutes. We’re not dropping our heads when our shots not falling. We’re keeping the defensive pressure up on ‘em. These last two games, we’ve relied on our defense a lot more.’
Set aside the bloated numbers from Game 4, the Bulls’ 142 points and 53.2 percent shooting in triple-overtime, and Brooklyn’s defensive prowess has been good. The Nets have held the Bulls to 88.2 points, on average, in the other five games and 44.8 percent shooting.
They learned their lesson against Nate Robinson, too. Since his Nate being Nate-ness in Game 4 — 34 points off the bench, all but five from the fourth quarter on, Robinson has been contained by Brooklyn’s guards and help up front. He scored a combined 38 points on 16-of-34 shooting in Games 5 and 6 but he hasn’t spent more than a few brief stretches in takeover mode.
The Nets’ defensive focus on Robinson? Forward Reggie Evans smiled at the question.
“We ain’t focusin’ like that,” Evans said. “You know what I’m saying? Nate’s a good player but he ain’t a focus to the point where you’re like … if you asked me what’s our focus against Derrick Rose, it’s something different. You’re talking about an MVP player.
“We’re talking about Nate Robinson — he had a good game [in Game 4]. No disrespect to him because he’s a good player but, c’mon, they’ve got Luol Deng who’s an All-Star. [Joakim] Noah who’s an All-Star. Boozer, who’s a former All-Star. So don’t you think they’d be a little more of a bigger focus?”
Actually, the Bulls did not have Deng Thursday — he was sent home sick, and reportedly had a detour to a local hospital in the 24 hours prior to Game 6. Robinson was sick too — visibly at one point, in a towel-and-bucket way — as was forward Taj Gibson. Gibson showed the worst effects, fouling out after just 17:46 of raggedy play. And the Bulls’ 16 turnovers, many unforced, made Brooklyn’s defense look peskier than it truly was.
So was Chicago easier to guard, without Deng, without point guard Kirk Hinrich (bruised left calf), without that Rose guy? Sure. But a Nets club that often lapses into the bad habit of trying to outscore the other guys went the other way Thursday. They have looked capable of doing both when the games are at Barclays Center, so Brooklyn seems set up nicely for Game 7.
“Beating ‘em to the punch,” Evans said of the Nets’ tactics vs. Chicago. “Rebounding the ball whenever they miss it. Understanding the tendencies of each individual player and trying to make that come together as a unit. Once things get to clicking, and everybody communicating, good things happen.
“It was a grind game for both of us. No matter how you shoot, that don’t determine your defense. Like they say, offense sells tickets and defense wins games for you. So when you don’t got it going, that don’t mean you don’t got to play defense.”
Remembering that is big. Doing it is bigger. Doing it in a Game 7 to earn an Eastern Conference semifinals series against the NBA’s defending champions, that would be biggest of all, so deep into Brooklyn’s special season.
CHICAGO – The last time the Brooklyn Nets and the Chicago Bulls stepped on the United Center court, amazing didn’t just happen, it took off its jacket and stayed a while. For 63 minutes, to be exact, in the Bulls’ 142-134 triple-overtime thriller that ranks among the most memorable of these or any other year’s playoffs. As Nate Robinson, Gerald Wallace, Joakim Noah and the rest pushed the drama to nearly four hours, those fortunate to be sitting courtside marveled at their drive and stamina …
… Except of course for Robinson, Wallace, Noah, Taj Gibson and Reggie Evans, all of whom got planted in courtside chairs before the outcome was determined. Each had fouled out at some point in overtime, and as they went, the balance of power shifted, from the Nets to the Bulls and back again in what was becoming a war of attrition rather than clutch moments or highlight plays.
Ultimately, let’s be honest, the power resided with the referees, whose determination on foul and no-foul calls became increasingly important. Brooklyn had to finish without its starting forwards. Chicago, already shorthanded, had to rely on its ninth- and 10th-men at the game’s most pivotal point. Even if that somehow added to the drama — oh, those 51 seconds of Nazr Mohammed in the third OT! — it hardly seemed like the true measure of the two teams.
Six fouls and you’re gone. Isn’t that wonderful when a fan has spent tens, hundreds or thousands of dollars on tickets to a big game? One or more of his team’s brightest stars winds up playing limited minutes and missing the biggest moments because the rule doesn’t allow any leeway for a game that stretches 63 minutes than it does for one of 48.
That’s just the most elemental problem for overtime games. There also is the disparity in how and when fouls are assessed. Playoff basketball is said to be more physical, so presumably what might have been a foul from November through March suddenly isn’t in April and May. Oh really?
We also know that some stars (usually theirs) never foul out and rarely come close while others (yours) aren’t accorded such status.
So what can be done to avoid such situations in the future, where a championship might be determined by somebody’s sixth foul and disqualification in a Game 7? Or, more insidiously, in some pivotal game of an earlier round that swings that series?
The NBA’s competition committee needs to look hard at the disqualification rules, with these possible tweaks:
When a game goes into overtime, every player who hasn’t already fouled out should be permitted one extra foul, bumping the max to seven. We give coaches extra timeouts in OT already. Going to seven fouls would be about right, proportionally, for a game of 53 minutes compared to six fouls in 48.
With the start of a second overtime, continuing until completion, a foul committed by a player who already has six fouls would not trigger his disqualification. Instead, the player would be allowed to stay in the game but his team would be assessed an extra penalty. A technical foul in addition to whatever free throws stemmed from the personal foul, for example. Or possession of the ball after the original free throws. It would be up to the coach to decide if the player’s continued services – and ability to play without fouling – were worth the risk of free points for the opposition.
No one wants to turn an NBA game into a hack-fest like the summer leagues, where the maximum for fouls either is bloated (10 in Las Vegas) or ignored entirely. Thus, the bonus penalties.
Still, there would be an added benefit to boosting the count: the referees would have slightly less impact on the outcome, compared to those games in which one or more of a team’s players is disqualified by fouls. That would thin the herd of conspiracy theories that emerge at this time of year.
Obviously, nothing is going to change this spring. But it’s worth considering over the summer.
CHICAGO – Halfcourt basketball is a staple of the NBA playoffs. But with so much talk about Brooklyn’s offense and Chicago’s defense in the Nets-Bulls first-round Eastern Conference series, some might assume the teams actually are using just half a court, like a pickup game at some crowded playground.
The sad truth is, without Derrick Rose, the Bulls’ attack often is as entertaining as watching Dad re-grout the bathroom floor. As for the Nets’ defense, the voters spoke loud and clear: While 21 different players received votes for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year Award announced Wednesday, none of them play for the Nets.
The numbers suggest that while Brooklyn has improved its performance when the other guys control the ball, that wasn’t exactly a priority when GM Billy King went shopping prior to this season with another $330 million of owner Mikhail Prokhorov‘s money.
Statistically, the Nets brought defensive improvement along on their move from New Jersey to Brooklyn, just not any dramatic reimagining that way. In 2011-12, their defensive rating of 109.6 ranked 28th and they were 28th in opponents’ field-goal percentage, 29th in foes’ 3-point percentage, 19th in steals and dead last in defensive rebounds and blocked shots.
This season, the Nets got their defensive rating down to 106.2 and their ranking up to 17th. They ranked 23rd in opponents’ field-goal percentage, 21st in 3-point percentage, 19th in steals, 21st in defensive rebounds and 18th in blocks.
No less an authority than Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau sounded sufficiently impressed with what interim coach P.J. Carlesimo and, before him, Avery Johnson did starting in training camp.
“It starts with Brook Lopez,” Thibodeau said of Brooklyn’s All-Star center, known primarily as a dangerous scorer and occasional rebounder. “He’s gotten a lot better at challenging shots and blocking shots. [Forward Reggie] Evans has been an excellent defender. Gerald Wallace, every year you can make a case for him, all-league defense. I think P.J.’s done a great job with them, as did Avery, having a defensive philosophy.
“There’s been tremendous growth, I think, in the last two to three years. They have size, they have versatility. [Keith] Bogans, C.J. [Watson], I had both those guys here and they’re really terrific. [Veteran Jerry] Stackhouse is a little older now but he was a terrific defender for a long time and his team defense is very, very good. [Backup big man Andray] Blatche has very good feet.”
Yeah, Thibs, but are they any good when it comes to that five-guys-on-a-string stuff?
“They’ve got shot-blocking at the rim, they’ve got Wallace who can guard, they’ve got Johnson, who’s big,” Thibodeau said.
Like he was going to say anything different, right?
As for the DPOY award and Chicago placing three players – Joakim Noah (4), Luol Deng (15) and Jimmy Butler (T18) – among the 21 vote-getters, Thibodeau said he was proud of his players. But he also spoke of the multiple, sometimes contradictory factors that influence the balloting.
“I don’t know the metrics that are going into it,” said Thibodeau, whose work in Boston and Chicago since 2007 have led to greater defensive appreciation throughout the league. “I think it’s very difficult to measure the impact of a defensive guy. It’s not like a pitcher against a hitter in baseball and you can say, ‘This is what he’s doing.’ It’s five-man offense, five-man defense and a lot of variables that go into it: there’s rotations, there’s switches. Often a guy gets credit and maybe he wasn’t the person responsible.”
That, the Bulls coach said, is “why you could make a case for several guys who are on the same team.”
Or none on a middle-of-the-pack defensive team such as Brooklyn.
. BROOKLYN – The last postseason game played in this borough, the guys from Brooklyn didn’t even score (Johnny Kucks and the New York Yankees shut out the Dodgers 9-0 in Game 7 of the 1956 World Series at Ebbets Field).
So things already were looking up when Brook Lopez turned teammate Reggie Evans‘ offensive rebound into a layup 62 seconds into Game 1 of the Nets’ best-of-seven series against the Chicago Bulls Saturday night at Barclays Center.
The thing is, it only got better from there. Everything got better. The Nets’ offense purred under the direction of Deron Williams. The Brooklyn defense clamped down hard on a Bulls team with a reputation for clamping down (“I think we’re better,” Nets forward Gerald Wallace said).
Lopez played so well – 19 of his 21 points by halftime – that it might not have mattered if Chicago center Joakim Noah had had three good feet, never mind two. Brooklyn scored in the second quarter alone (35 points) what it took the Bulls a whole half to post and needed only three quarters to do (89 points) what took the visitors the entire game.
NBA playoff series are all about game-to-game adjustments, holding home court and never, ever getting out front of one’s self in excitement or assumptions. The Nets expect nothing less than a resurgence by Chicago’s players, properly chewed, spit out and told to do better by coach Tom Thibodeau.
Still, if a series opener could count double or at least set a tone for what’s likely to follow, this one would shoot to the front of the pack. This was one of the Nets’ most complete victories of their inaugural season at Barclays and it came precisely at the right time.
“Fresh start. New season. Playoffs are totally different,” said Wallace, who has seen performances by his squad similar to Saturday’s but only for partial credit.
“We’ve been doing that in the regular season against them but we’d give it away in the fourth quarter,” Wallace said, referring to Brooklyn’s 1-3 record against Chicago in the regular season. “We just been really inconsistent at times – we got comfortable during the regular season when we got leads as well as we did tonight. Tonight our focus was for 48 minutes.”
Funny how the urgency takes hold when the wiggle room vanishes. “You’ve just got to know that it’s win or go home,” said Wallace, whose 14 points, six rebounds and two blocks mattered less than the aggressiveness he showed, particularly on defense (his counterpart, Luol Deng, got sideways with just six points on 3-of-11 shooting).
“There’s no, ‘Well, OK, we’ll just chalk this one and come back tomorrow.’ We don’t have 82 games to kind of fix things. Four losses and we’re at home. And all the little nick-nack things and petty things that you had to deal with during the regular season have to be thrown out the window now.”
Swapping East Rutherford, N.J., for their fancy new digs, the Nets brought to their new home an almost entirely new team. That bunch got off to an unrealistically perky start – 11-4 through November for East Coach of the Month Avery Johnson, who was gone before their full reversal in December (5-11) was complete.
The parts didn’t always fit, especially with Williams out of shape, aching in his ankles and generally cranky about it all. Interim coach P.J. Carlesimo steered the Nets to the best winning percentage in franchise history (.648) but there still were hiccups late in the regular season, including a loss to Toronto and a scare against Indiana.
But Williams shed some weight, got specialized treatment on his ankles and came back from a getaway All-Star break in Miami looking like a new player, as in, the old D-Will. Guys around him got healthier and more comfortable playing with him, even as Williams’ bursts and jump shots improved.
The Nets’ attention to detail picked up. They have made it routine to get Lopez active early, because of the good things that usually follow. Just run to the rim, big fella. As forward Reggie Evans said: “I have so much confidence up to the point where I know he’s gonna bring it every night. I won’t worry about him … we’ve already been talking about this moment and stuff. Typical Lope – here early, ready to roll, and he did what he did. You can’t really argue, one of the top two big men in the league by far.”
There was hardly a thing to dislike, as “Brooklyn basketball” played to an identity Saturday rather than just a marketing slogan. Highlights abounded, from vet Jerry Stackhouse singing the anthem to Williams swiping the ball and racing downcourt for a reverse dunk.
Chicago was the team in off-day disarray, with a lot of its fans wondering if Noah’s sore right foot (plantar fasciitis) can heal enough again to allow him on the court. Failing that, some who noticed All-Star guard Derrick Rose on the visitors’ bench might be wondering if Noah’s heart could be transplanted into Rose’s chest. The healthiest guy on Chicago’s roster might be the one who hasn’t played since last April 28.
Still, this one was about Brooklyn, so much so that some were bemoaning the Nets’ failure to chase down the No. 3 seed, considering the second-round showdown it might have set up with the Knicks.
For now, though, one Brooklyn postseason game that went right nearly 57 years after the last one went wrong was cause enough for anticipation.
Williams, touting “ball movement, defensively being attentive and helping each other out,” called it “really unselfish basketball.” And “fun basketball.”
“We’ve had ups and downs all season,” the point guard said. “But I think we always expected to be in the playoffs. and hopefully [we're] clicking at the right time.”
BROOKLYN – The Brooklyn Nets gave one away on Thursday, blowing an early 16-point lead and falling to the very undermanned Chicago Bulls, 92-90. Ultimately, the loss may not mean anything, because the Nets still have a 1 1/2 game lead on the Bulls for fourth place in the Eastern Conference and face Lottery teams, against whom they’re 29-6 this season, in five of their last seven games.
A fourth-place finish in the East would give the Nets home-court advantage in first round, likely against Atlanta or Chicago. A loss in that series would be a disappointment, especially when you consider Brooklyn’s payroll. A win would set them up to lose in four or five games to the Miami Heat.
Other than losing in the first round, there’s no avoiding that fate, which has basically been the path the Nets have been on for the last couple of weeks, since the Knicks and Pacers started playing well again.
Injuries have been an issue. Deron Williams has missed just three games this season, but was clearly not at his best for the first 50 games, dealing with sore ankles and other various ailments. He’s been much better since the All-Star break, but Joe Johnson has had a couple of different injuries since then. Brook Lopez‘s foot injury in late November is what really knocked the Nets off track after a strong start. And Gerald Wallace, in standard Gerald Wallace fashion, has been banged up too.
The Nets have looked like a great team at times. They have road wins in Boston, Oklahoma City, New York and Indiana. But, other than a 12-2 stretch after P.J. Carlesimo took over for Avery Johnson, success has always been rather fleeting.
Carlesimo made some minor changes, gave Mirza Teletovic a shot in the rotation after the break, and is now giving MarShon Brooks more consistent playing time than he’s had all season. But he has been pretty vanilla with his lineups, and that’s where the Nets may be leaving something on the table.
Of Lopez’s 2,079 minutes on the floor, 1,639 (79 percent) have been played with either Reggie Evans or Kris Humphries at power forward. Neither Evans nor Humphries, of course, spaces the floor very well.
Teletovic is very different from Evans or Humphries, in that he can shoot from beyond five feet. But he has played just 112 minutes at the four next to Lopez.
Andray Blatchehas also shot the ball well out to 19 feet or so. But he has played just 86 minutes with Lopez. The Nets’ five best players are arguably Williams, Johnson, Wallace, Blatche and Lopez, a group that has played just 20 minutes together over four games this season.
One of the best lineups the Nets have had this season is a small one. Williams, Keith Bogans, Johnson, Wallace and Lopez have outscored their opponents by 18.3 points per 100 possessions in 107 minutes together. Now, those numbers are skewed somewhat by a couple of late-December games against the Bobcats and Cavs, but that lineup has played just seven minutes together since the All-Star break.
In total, Lopez has played just 242 minutes with someone other than Blatche, Evans, Humphries or Teletovic at power forward. And those minutes have been very good, especially defensively.
Nets efficiency with Brook Lopez on the floor
Other (small lineups)
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
When asked about his lineups, Carlesimo has said that he goes with matchups. But he has obviously been leaning heavily on Evans of late, even using him on two crucial offensive possessions in the final minute of Thursday’s loss, thinking Evans might get the Nets a second chance with an offensive rebound.
The Nets have actually been better offensively with Evans on the floor (scoring 105.4 points per 100 possessions) than with him off the floor (103.8), but most of those off-floor minutes have come with Humphries, similarly limited offensively, at power forward.
This is why it’s hard to know if we’ve seen the best of the Nets this season. Those 242 minutes of small-ball aren’t a lot to go on. And neither are the 86 minutes Lopez has played with Blatche.
Lopez is Brooklyn’s most important player on both ends of the floor. And in the playoffs, his minutes should surely increase from the 30.7 per game he’s played in the regular season. Does that mean that Blatche will be limited to just 10-12 minutes, or will we actually see the two on the floor together? Is there a matchup (Josh Smith, perhaps) that will allow Carlesimo to play Wallace at the four?
In four games against Atlanta (all under Carlesimo), the Nets have played small a total of seven minutes. So the answer to that last question is probably “no.”
Now, it’s unfair to really condemn the coach for not taking more chances with his rotation. He took over in the middle of the season, with the Nets going through a serious rough patch. More than anything, they just needed to get their best players playing well. And obviously, Lopez and Williams are doing just that.
Still, we have to wonder if this team has reached its potential.
That type of powerful production has earned Evans more minutes, too. He’s averaging 27.7 mpg this month, four more than his season average. All of it is exceedingly positive news for the Brooklyn Nets, who have picked up steam since the All-Star break, are 4-1 on their current eight-game road swing with a stop at Denver tonight, and are closing in on locking down homecourt advantage in the first round.
As much credit, and deservedly so, is heaped upon point guard Deron Williams for his post-All-Star Game transformation, it’s impossible to exclude Evans.
We know that Williams’ rapid turnaround was aided by PRP therapy, a juicing concoction that helped him trim down and cortisone shots into his two ailing ankles.
What’s at the root of Evans’ evolution?
“I got frustrated one day when one of my teammates told my coach to take me out the game. I bit my tongue. I didn’t say nothing to (my teammate),” Evans told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News. “But me, knowing me, I usually attack and say something. I bit my tongue. I said, ‘OK.’ I said, ‘All right, start being aggressive.’ So I took it in a positive way, instead of just doing my normal self, like ‘What you say? What you say?’”
How mature of Mr. Evans.
On Wednesday, Evans threw down perhaps the game of his life with 22 points and 26 rebounds in a huge win at Portland that ran the Nets’ record to 42-29, and improved their road record to a rather robust 20-15, second-best in the East behind Miami.
“Reggie was absurd,” Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said afterward.
Said Williams: “What [Evans] did was great. He’s the reason we got going, the reason we built such a big lead in that first quarter because he just took the life out of them. He’s playing with a lot of energy and we just fed off of him.”
It was Evans’ fourth 20-rebound game of the month and seventh of the season, more than any other player, according to Bondy. Evans has recorded double-digit rebounds in 12 of the 13 games in March and in eight in a row. In his lone single-digit board game, Evans finished with nine in 23 minutes on March 9 at Atlanta.
At $1.6 million this season, Evans, 32, is a steal. He’s stayed healthy enough to play in 70 games and appears to be getting stronger at the right time.
Having a teammate call for him to be benched seems to have been the trigger point.
“I said, ‘Let me just be a little aggressive and make them play us honestly instead of not playing me and stuff like that,’” Evans told Bondy. ”I’m just doing my best to be more aggressive, so if they respect me, cool. If they don’t, cool. I’m not tripping. At the end of the day, they know I’m out there.”
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: This mightbe hard to believe, but there are only nine more nights of 10-plus games left in the season. Where has all the time gone? A full night like last night’s 14-game schedule leaves plenty of good matchups — even when the not-so-elite/bad teams get together (Milwaukee-Philly and Orlando-Charlotte, we’re looking at you). Of course, you’d have to be living under a rock to have not seen/heard about the Bulls ending the Heat’s 27-game win streak, so we won’t feature that one in this space. We’ll go instead with Pacers-Rockets, which featured a nice contrast of styles (Indiana’s grinding ways vs. Houston’s score-as-fast-as-possible mantra) and, apparently the harsh words Roy Hibbert had for his Indiana mates after Monday’s win against Atlanta worked. The bench, the target of Hibbert’s ire, didn’t let the Pacers down and overall, Indiana’s defense was top notch — particularly Hibbert’s rim defense and Paul George‘s lockdown job on Rockets All-Star James Harden.
Lakers glad to see Miami’s run stopped — The gap between the Lakers and Heat this season in terms of their elite status is pretty wide: the Heat sport the best record in the league and, as of Wednesday night, had a 27-game win streak rolling. The Lakers, on the other hand, have been fighting just to make the playoffs all season (they’re No. 8 in the West) and have dealt with a seemingly endless run of drama, injuries and a combination of the two. Still, the current Lakers take pride in their past and legacy, which includes the NBA’s longest winning streak — a 33-game run put forth by the 1971-72 Lakers. After the Heat suffered a 101-97 defeat in Chicago last night to end their win streak, Pau Gasol and other Lakers are glad the record for win streaks is staying in L.A., writes Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:
The 1971-72 Lakers can exhale. Their 33-game winning streak is still the NBA’s longest.
The current crop of Lakers took some pride in its preservation after the Miami Heat’s streak ended at 27 with a 101-97 loss Wednesday to the Chicago Bulls.
Some players were even happy.
“In a big way, I am,” said Pau Gasol, who in his six seasons with the Lakers has become friends with the coach of that ’71-72 team, Bill Sharman. “I’m glad that we kept the streak. It was about time that Miami lost.”
The Heat put together a string of come-from-behind victories to prolong its winning ways since a Feb. 1 loss to Indiana, but it finally ended against Chicago as Bulls fans chanted “End of streak! End of streak!”
The Lakers (37-35) have been pretty preoccupied in recent weeks trying to keep their heads above .500. Most of them still kept at least a casual eye on the Heat streak.
“I guess now that it’s over, it’s kind of nice that the Lakers still have it,” Steve Blake said.
The present-day Lakers weren’t lighting up cigars to commemorate the continued life of the 41-year old record. It didn’t even matter that they also beat Minnesota on Wednesday, 120-117.
Said Blake: “We have too many other things for ourselves to worry about.”
Wall says he’s faster than Westbrook — When it comes to pure on-court speed, which player is faster: John Wall or Russell Westbrook. The folks in OKC are likely to have a much different opinion than the one that Wall shared with John Rohde of The Oklahoman last night after Wall struggled through a 3-for-18 shooting night in a 103-80 loss at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Going purely off how each of them fared at the Taco Bell Skills Challenge in 2012, Wall technically was faster than Westbrook, as you can read about here. Anyway, here’s Rohde’s report:
Washington Wizards point guard John Wall didn’t hesitate when he was asked if the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook is the NBA’s fastest player.
“No, I’m going to say myself,” Wall said after shooting just 3 for 18 from the field in the Wizards’ 103-80 loss to OKC before a sellout crowd of 18,203 at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Wall wouldn’t even say for certain that Westbrook was the league’s second-fastest player.
“It’s tough man,” said Wall, who was coming off a career-high 47 points Monday against Memphis and finished with 18 points and 12 assists against the Thunder. “There’s a couple fast guys in this league. He (Westbrook) is up there, Derrick (Rose) is up there, when he’s healthy. Mike Conley‘s pretty quick. There’s a couple guys. Ty Lawson‘s quick. So there’s a lot of guys, but I put myself first.”
Wall was still complimentary of Westbrook, admitting he is at a place in his career where Wall hopes to some day find himself.
“We’re both young, athletic, fast point guards and that’s very rare that you see that in this league,” Wall said. “I’m trying to take the same steps as he’s taken, being an All-Star, making the playoffs and that type of thing, so that’s what I’m trying to do. Give a lot of credit to how he’s working and how he’s helping this team.”
Woodson raves over Smith’s shot selection — As one of the streakiest shooters in the game today, Knicks swingman J.R. Smith has long been known for his ability to shoot his team into (and more than a few times) out of games during the course of his career. Smith’s gunner mentality often drew the ire of coach George Karl when Smith was a sixth-man type for the Nuggets and that mentality has also been known to irk his current coach, Mike Woodson. Yet as the Knicks have picked up steam of late winning five straight games, Woodson has been impressed with Smith’s discretion on the court, writes John Jeansonne of Newsday:
Just because he can doesn’t mean he should. Knicks shooter J.R. Smith is just that, a shooter, who can nail jump shots from binocular range.
But what coach Mike Woodson has liked about Smith’s contribution to this Knicks season, and particularly to the team’s six-game winning streak down the stretch, is that “he’s starting to figure out some things. He’s not just taking jump shots. He’s taking it to the rim, getting to the free-throw line. He’s rebounding, he’s playing defense.”
He had 35 points, the night after scoring 32 against Boston. In a reserve role, as usual, he made 10 of 18 field goals — 3 of 7 three-pointers — and, as Woodson said, earning free throws. He made 12 of 13 and shared team-high rebounding honors with Carmelo Anthony (7 apiece).
All those numbers matter as the Knicks watched a 30-point lead in the last minute of the first half melt down to four in the final minute of the game.
“I wanted to establish my game on the inside and move on from there,” Smith said. “I got a lot of calls, I made my free throws. My body is killing me but I’ll take it.”
So will Woodson, who acknowledged that Smith came to the Knicks last year with a reputation for relying too much on his outside shooting skill. Smith — his given name is Earl Joseph Smith III, though he goes by “J.R.,” which these days could stand for “Judgement Revised” — has appeared to learn a lot of new tricks in his old age, 27, and eighth NBA season.
“I can’t speak for other coaches [who had Smith],” Woodson said. “When I saw him last year, I liked what he brought to the table. It’s my job as his coach to show him some love, put him in positions to be successful. But still coach him.
“Younger players are different from older players. I probably would’ve been a little tougher on him when he was younger, and pat him, too. I still try to coach him, but be demanding of him. Sometimes he fights me. That’s part of coaching, give and take. He’s still got a ways to go but he’s getting there.”
Nets’ Evans hits 20-20 mark — Early in the offseason, the Brooklyn Nets picked up rebounding maven Reggie Evans from the Clippers for the right to swap second-round picks in 2016. So far, Brooklyn has looked like winners in that trade as Evans is the team leader in rebounds and has more than twice as many rebounds than the forward the Nets threw a lot of money at in the offseason, Kris Humphries. Evans was at his rebounding best last night in Portland, tearing down 26 boards and scoring 22 points to join some elite NBA company, writes Sean Highkin of USA Today:
The Brooklyn Nets’ recent hot streak has been defined by the stellar play of Deron Williams and Brook Lopez. But on Wednesday, Reggie Evans did something that has only been done 13 times this season, and mostly by players of much higher stature. His 22 points and 26 rebounds were what powered the Nets to a 111-93 road blowout of the Portland Trail Blazers.
Here are the other players who have had games of at least 20 points and 20 rebounds this season:
Joakim Noah (twice)
Nikola Vucevic (twice)
That’s three future Hall of Famers (Howard, Nowitzki and Duncan), five players who were All-Stars this season (Randolph, Noah, Howard, Lee and Duncan), and a few of the most highly regarded young big men in the league (Cousins, Vucevic and Kanter). Not bad company for a role player like Evans to be in.
Jazz tweaking offensive gameplan? — Anyone who has watched Utah over the last three seasons knows the game plan whether it was Jerry Sloan or the current coach, Ty Corbin, leading the squad: get the ball to Al Jefferson as early and as often as possible. While Jefferson is the Jazz’s leading scorer for the third straight season, Utah also fell out of the playoff chase thanks to a dismal start to March which included several road losses. Neither some nor all of those losses are Jefferson’s fault, but the Jazz have changed things up a bit of late on offense and it might be paying off as they have won three straight games, writes Bill Oram of The Salt Lake Tribune:
Jefferson took 23 shots on Wednesday. His role in the Jazz offense is not diminished. But is it changing?
That was the sense given by both Mo Williams and Paul Millsap following the Jazz’s 103-88 win over the Phoenix Suns. Jefferson finished with 25 points on 12-of-23 shooting, and he scored six of the team’s first 10 points to start the game. However, both Williams and Millsap said the Jazz have changed the offensive philosophy at beginnings of games, which could explain the fast starts in Monday’s win over Philadelphia and Wednesday.
Both nights, the Jazz made their first six shots.
“I think we got a little carried away with just coming down, starting the game, just throwing it down to Al, letting him work.” Millsap said. “It made it too tough on him, made it too tough on everybody else. It’s basically just getting everybody moving, moving the basketball around.”
Millsap said the Jazz’s focus needs to be “getting different options.”
Here’s Mo Williams’ explanation of what the Jazz are doing:
“I think we’re coming out and we’re running different stuff than we usually run. More and more pick and roll situations. We’re going to eventually go to Al — a lot. I think it’s better when we come out and we get some pick and rolls, which we have, and kind of getting Gordon going early, getting him in motion, getting some ball movement. Getting bodies moving, instead of just coming in and going to Al. The perimeter first shots or the jump shots, those are tough.”
DALLAS –Deron Williams swears he didn’t so much as wink at Mark Cuban seated baseline as the Brooklyn Nets point guard delivered a 31-point, six-assist wrecking ball to the Dallas Mavericks’ rapidly collapsing playoff chances.
A chip on his shoulder? Not if you believe Williams. Wednesday’s 113-96 win was just like any other his team badly needs. And after inflicting a world of hurt on Cuban and his club, Williams didn’t gloatingly tweet the Mavs owner a la Kobe Bryant, who went for 38 after being tweaked by the outspoken ownera couple of weeks ago.
No, the sharp stick to Cuban’s side was surprisingly wielded by interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo.
“I don’t know,” Carlesimo said when asked if Williams, who scored 26 points in the second half and 13 in the fourth quarter, carried a chip on his shoulder. “But, I’m sure [Williams] understands you’re not going to expect intelligent statements from Mark anyhow.”
Williams spurned his hometown team last July as a free agent when he chose to re-sign with the Nets for a max deal of five years and $98 million. Afterward, Williams said he was surprised that Cuban, who was busy in Los Angeles filming the TV show “Shark Tank,” didn’t make the trip to New York to personally sell him on joining the Mavs. Williams said Cuban’s absence helped shape his decision to play in Brooklyn. Cuban responded by saying on a local radio program that his club is actually better off without Williams and the max deal he would have received weighing down the payroll.
“I always get up for the games at home because it’s home and given the situation,” Williams said, who came as close as any time previously of acknowledging a rift with Cuban by referencing ‘the situation.’ “Honestly, I just tried to attack it as a regular game. My thought process was the same today as it is any other game. I didn’t need anything special. It was just a regular game for us, but a big game for us.”
As the Mavs (32-36) limp away from a 14th home loss and the sour opening of a crucial six-game homestand dominated by East opponents, the Nets (40-28) skipped off to sunny Los Angeles for a couple of days of rest and practice before seeking a third consecutive victory on this brutal eight-game trek against the Clippers.
Williams, who hails from a Dallas suburb about 25 miles from the American Airlines Center, is playing his best basketball of the season, rejuvenated from an All-Star break cocktail of platelet-rich plasma therapy, juice cleanser and cortisone shots into both his ailing ankles.
He’s put up 31 points in consecutive games and is averaging 23.9 ppg on 48 percent shooting since the break. Williams refused to talk about his health, offering only a smart-aleck answer when asked if he’s feeling as good as he has all season.
“I really appreciate your concern with my health,” Williams said. “I really do. Thank you.”
We’ll just have to trust the numbers, his teammates, his coach and what he’s telling his coach.
“I kept telling him I would get him out a minute or two in the second half,” said Carlesimo, who played Williams all but 52 seconds of the second half and 41 minutes in all. “And he goes, ‘Are you watching what’s going on out there? So, obviously we didn’t take him out until the the end. I’m not saying that’s as good as we can play, but that’s one of our best games obviously all year.”
Williams got needed help from center Brook Lopez, who matched the 38 points he scored last season in Dallas. Andray Blatche hit six of seven shots and scored all of his 14 points in the first half. Reggie Evans pulled down 22 rebounds in 32 minutes. Gerald Wallace came up with five steals. Joe Johnson dished five assists.
Unlike a few nights ago when the Nets failed to catch their cross-town rival in the East standings by being embarrassed on their home floor by the Atlanta Hawks, they turned up the defensive pressure and poured it on Dallas with 66 points in the second half. Williams and Lopez combined for 46.
With 14 games left and six to go on this so-far 2-0 road trip that Williams said will “define our season,” we are left to wonder where this team, that has mastered the bit of game-to-game inconsistency, will fare now that Williams is again playing like an All-Star.
When the fourth-place Nets finally return home on April 4, after also road-tripping through Portland, Denver, Utah and Cleveland, the No. 2 seed could be within their grasp or a first-round series at home could be falling through their fingers. Brooklyn is two games back of No. 2 Indiana and two games ahead of No. 5 Atlanta.
“This is a good trip for us at the right time,” Williams said. “It’ll define the season for us because we have some tough games ahead of us. We have a lot of days off, but we also have a lot of back-to-backs, which is tough. We’ve got to maintain focus for the rest of the trip and make sure that we don’t slip up.”
It’s a Shaqtin’ A Fool double-header this week. On Tuesday, Shaq crowned his main man JaVale McGee with top honors and tonight Shaq returns to call out Reggie Evans, Serge Ibaka, Kemba Walker, Carmelo Anthony and of course, the one, the only … Mr. JaVale McGee! Vote for your favorite Shaqtin’ A Fool moment! –
All three wins have come on the road against good teams, and in none of them have the Clippers required a huge performance from one of their other starters. In fact, Blake Griffin has averaged just 16.3 points in the three wins. Eric Bledsoe, starting in place of Paul, has done a decent job of running the team, but has totaled only 11 assists.
The Clippers won the three games — and won them all comfortably –for the same reason that Paul has been able to sit the entire fourth quarter in nine of the 37 games he’s played in: They have the best bench in basketball.
Here’s all you need to know about the Clippers’ bench and why they’re a much-improved team: Last season, the Clips were outscored by 11.6 points per 100 possessions when Griffin was on the bench. This year, they’re outscoring their opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions with Griffin on the bench.
That’s a 23.3-point turnaround and that’s really what it’s all about. A good bench should build on leads, not lose them. That’s why the Bulls’ bench was so good the last couple of years, even though it didn’t have anybody who could really score. When Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson were on the floor together, the Bulls shut down foes and scored enough to build on the lead the starters gave them.
With that in mind, here are the best benches in the NBA …
The Clips have a full, five-man bench unit that’s one of the best lineups in the league. In 243 minutes with Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf on the floor, L.A. is a plus-14.5 per 100 possessions.
Though Crawford is known for his offense, this is really a defensive unit that has only scored 102.8 points per 100 possessions, just a notch above the league average. But it has allowed only 88.3, making it the second-best defensive unit of the league’s 72 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes.
The question is how Grant Hill fits in. In Hill’s first game back, that unit only played six minutes together. And in the last three games, it hasn’t played together at all, though that may have more to do with Bledsoe starting.
Either way, it would be disappointing if coach Vinny Del Negro broke up such an effective unit. And it really could affect where the Clippers finish in the Western Conference standings.
Though Manu Ginobili has been neither healthy nor sharp, the Spurs’ bench continues to get the job done. It’s just tough to determine where the starters end and where the bench begins, because eight different guys have started at least nine games for San Antonio already. But coach Gregg Popovich‘s ability to mix-and-match lineups will little drop-off is part of what makes the Spurs’ bench so good.
The Spurs don’t have a full bench unit like the Clippers. Their latest starting unit is Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. Their most-used lineup that includes at least three other Spurs has only played 38 minutes together, and that lineup includes Parker and Duncan.
This is why we’d rate the Spurs’ bench behind that of the Clippers. But San Antonio is still outscoring its opponents by a solid 5.7 points per 100 possessions with Duncan off the floor. That’s a very good thing. (more…)