Posts Tagged ‘richard jefferson’

Pacers A Different Team After Half

VIDEO: Pacers fall to Suns for second home defeat

The List

Highest standard deviation, quarter-to-quarter NetRtg

Team VOff Rank VDef Rank VNet
Indiana 7.2 1 3.7 14 10.4
Toronto 4.2 9 4.8 9 8.3
Minnesota 5.3 5 3.1 19 8.3
Milwaukee 3.5 13 4.9 8 8.0
New Orleans 5.8 3 6.5 1 7.9
Portland 2.2 26 5.5 5 7.4
Detroit 5.1 7 2.2 25 7.2
New York 2.6 20 5.5 6 6.5
Philadelphia 2.5 21 5.7 4 6.2
Boston 2.8 19 4.0 12 6.1

Standard deviation measures variance or, for our purposes, inconsistency.
VOff = Offensive variance (OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions)
VDef = Defensive variance (DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions)
VNet = Net variance (NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions)

The Context

So essentially, the Pacers are the most inconsistent team in the league from quarter to quarter, which is weird, because they’re, by far, the best defensive team in the league. As we pointed out last week, they’re the best defensive team of the last 37 years (though that differential is down to 9.2), and strong defense is supposed to be the backbone of consistent success.

The Pacers have the No. 1 defense in the first, third and fourth quarters, and the No. 4 defense in the second, though there’s a pretty big difference between the (ridiculously good) 88.8 points per 100 possessions they allow in the third quarter and the (still pretty good) 97.7 they allow in the second. Still, it’s on offense where there’s a lot more fluctuation.

Pacers efficiency, by period

Quarter OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
1st quarter 96.1 27 94.7 1 +1.4 15
2nd quarter 96.4 27 97.7 4 -1.3 16
3rd quarter 110.1 3 88.8 1 +21.2 1
4th quarter 107.3 12 94.8 1 +12.5 2
Half OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
1st half 96.3 28 96.2 2 +0.0 15
2nd half 108.7 4 91.8 1 +16.9 1

There have been two different Pacers teams this season. The First Half Pacers have scored about as efficiently as the Bucks. The Second Half Pacers have an offense more closely resembling the Heat.

Indiana has had the lead at halftime in 24 of their 45 games. They’ve outscored their opponent in the second half of 35 of the 45.

In general, there’s a big offensive drop-off when the Pacers go to their bench. (Thursday’s loss to the Suns was the definition of a bench loss, as well as an example of how they’ve played better after halftime.) But the half-to-half offensive drop-off has been spread rather evenly among their starters and bench units.

Efficiency of Pacers’ starting lineup, by half

Half MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
1st half 403 101.5 96.5 +4.9 +35
2nd half 395 112.0 89.6 +22.4 +172
Difference   10.5 -6.9 17.4  

Efficiency of other Pacers’ lineups, by half

Half MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
1st half 676 93.2 96.1 -2.8 -32
2nd half 684 106.9 93.0 +13.9 +180
Difference   13.6 -3.1 16.7  

The Pacers have turned the ball over at the same rate in both halves and are only a slightly better offensive rebounding team in the second half. But they’ve shot much better and gotten to the free-throw line a lot more often in the second half. They’ve also assisted on a greater percentage of their buckets.

Paul George and Lance Stephenson have been much better shooters in the second half of games. George and George Hill have much higher free throw rates. And both Stephenson and Hill have had higher assist rates. Off the bench, C.J. Watson has shot a lot better and also dished out more assists after halftime.

The Pacers’ half-to-half discrepancy has lessened some over the last seven weeks. Through their first 22 games, they were scoring 20.4 more points per 100 possessions in the second half. Over their last 23, the difference is only 4.8.

Amazingly, the Pacers had the second most consistent offense from quarter to quarter last season, behind only the Suns, who were just consistently awful on that end.

This season, Indiana has found a new gear on both ends of the floor in that third quarter. Their plus-21.2 NetRtg in those 12 minutes is, by far, the best of any team in any quarter. Next best are San Antonio’s plus-13.3 in the second quarter and Toronto’s plus-13.3 in the fourth.

Whether they’re consistent or inconsistent from quarter to quarter, the Pacers are a much better team than they were last season. But it will be interesting to see if their third-quarter dominance is a big factor in their quest for a championship.

The Video

Here are the Pacers’ 19 field goals from the second half of their Dec. 10 win over the Heat. They shot 19-for-35 to outscore Miami 50-37 after halftime, and they assisted on 16 of the 19 buckets.

The bottom of the list

The Brooklyn Nets have been the most consistent team from quarter to quarter. That’s not really a good thing, because they’ve had a negative NetRtg in all four periods.

But it is good that they’ve turned their early-season, third-quarter struggles around. Through their first 19 games, the Nets had been outscored by 20.9 points per 100 possessions in the third. Over their last 24 games, they’ve been a plus-8.8.

Trivia question

Among 200 players that have played at least 150 minutes, who has been the most inconsistent from quarter to quarter (in terms of our PIE statistic, which measures overall production as a percentage of all the stats accumulated while that player is on the floor)?

More quarter-by-quarter notes

Trivia answer

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has been the most inconsistent player from quarter to quarter. MKG has recorded a PIE of 12.4 percent in the first quarter, -1.1 percent in the second quarter, 6.5 percent in the third, and 5.4 percent in the fourth. See his quarter-by-quarter numbers here.

Next on the list are Brandon Knight (very good in the second quarter, pretty bad in the fourth), Jamal Crawford (a slow starter and strong finisher), Jimmy Butler (he puts his best numbers up in the third), and Kevin Garnett (first-half KG has been a lot better than second-half KG).

Interestingly, the most consistent player from quarter-to-quarter has been Kidd-Gilchrist’s teammate. Gerald Henderson‘s PIE gets worse every quarter, but only drops from 9.8 percent in the first to 8.8 percent in the fourth. After Henderson, it’s Klay Thompson, Jameer Nelson, Joakim Noah and Richard Jefferson.

Back And Forth With Bones: Bulls-Jazz

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Back and Forth With Bones is an email exchange between’s John Schuhmann and NBA TV’s Brent Barry during a Monday night game. This week, they sat down (Schuhmann at home in New Jersey, Barry in the studio in Atlanta) to watch the 6-6 Chicago Bulls and the 1-14 Utah Jazz on NBA TV.


Schuhmann: I think this game qualifies as the Saddest Matchup of the Season. The Bulls just lost Derrick Rose for the year and the Jazz are 1-14, having trailed three of their last four games by at least 28 points. But somebody has to win tonight!

Chicago has actually been much better defensively with Rose off the floor, and Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler is a pretty strong defensive backcourt. But for the time being, they’re also without Butler. So Marquis Teague and Tony Snell will each have a chance to prove they belong in the rotation. Long-term, they should be OK defensively, and they’ve been pretty poor offensively thus far, but they won’t be able to get much better without Rose.

And obviously, this puts more pressure on Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah to play big minutes and stay healthy. Noah’s minutes (29.3) are down below where he was two years ago (30.4) after a big increase last season (36.8), but I wonder if they go back up now that Rose is out.

Utah had two of their better offensive games upon Trey Burke‘s arrival, but they’ve actually been at their best with Diante Garrett playing point. This guy is a plus-24 for a team that’s been outscored by 67 points since he arrived.

Chicago can get points on second chances. They rank third in offensive rebounding percentage and the Jazz rank 29th in defensive rebounding percentage. It’s strange that Utah is such a bad rebounding team with Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter (who’s out with a sprained ankle) up front. They’re actually worse with both of them on the floor than they are overall, but we talked a couple of weeks ago about how they extend out too much on their pick-and-roll coverage.

What are you looking for tonight?

Barry: So many things going wrong for both of these teams. Both are coming off very embarrassing performances and have a number of players in the role of proving they belong to be in the rotation, if not in the NBA.

The Kanter loss for the Jazz will greatly affect their ability to score points. Burke is trying to get his legs and conditioning back after just one start. And beginning his career with a team under these circumstances is very very tough.

I guess this game boils down to the identity of the teams. The Bulls have one and Utah has yet to establish one. I look for the Bulls to respond in a way that they have in the past without Rose. Even though the makeup of this team is different, they should be able to pull this game out with the experience of their roster.


Are Jazz Primed For A Rare Stop In Western Conference’s Cellar?


HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The last time the Jazz finished last in the Western Conference was 1979-80, their first season in Salt Lake after the team packed up and left New Orleans. There’s been only a few close calls over the decades, most recently a 26-win, second-to-last finish in 2004-05.

But not dead last.

At 24-58, Utah finished the ’79-’80 campaign tied with Golden State at the bottom of the 11-team West and pulled up the rear in a Midwest Division that went Milwaukee, Kansas City, Denver, Chicago. The Jazz had a 32-year-old “Pistol” Pete Maravich, whose knees were so shot that he played in just 17 games and retired, and a 23-year-old Bernard King, who played in just 19 games and sought help for a drinking problem.

Future Hall of Famer Adrian Dantley, then 23, averaged 28.0 ppg and found a home in the NBA. Shooting guards Ron Boone (12.8 ppg) and Terry Furlow (16.0 ppg) provided the majority of the backcourt scoring. Duck Williams chipped in 6.6 ppg off the bench, ABA vet Mack Calvin averaged 6.4 ppg in 48 games and 24-year-old journeyman Brad Davis signed late and played 13 games before spending the next 12 seasons in Dallas, who retired his No. 15 jersey.

As this mostly unrecognizable and already banged-up 2013-14 team tumbles toward the starting gate, they could use any of those old guards — forget John Stockton — for a little backcourt help. With non-playoff teams like Minnesota, Portland, New Orleans and Dallas looking improved, and new coaches and philosophies in Phoenix (led by ex-Jazz assistant and legend Jeff Hornacek) and Sacramento, could re-booting Utah be in jeopardy of its first last-place finish in three-plus decades?

That might not be all that bad — or even, wink, wink, the plan — considering the anticipated bumper crop of the 2014 Draft. Even money is on the Jazz equaling the 24 wins of ’79-80 when Tom Nissalke‘s club averaged 102.2 ppg to also finish dead last in scoring in a much different 22-team NBA. Through five preseason games, Utah is averaging 87.0 ppg and 18.8 apg, both of which would have ranked last last season.

The Jazz certainly didn’t intend to lose top Draft pick and starting point guard Trey Burke to a busted right index finger in the preseason. He was averaging 7.0 ppg (on dreadful shooting) and 4.0 apg before undergoing surgery to repair the bone. He’ll miss 8-12 weeks, delaying his development. Plus, this team is not one built to endure injuries anywhere.

In the interim, the always game, if not so venerable, John Lucas III appears to be the Jazz’s starting point guard. The next game he starts will be his third entering a sixth season bouncing in and out of the league since 2005. He’ll pair in the backcourt with either Alec Burks or Gordon Hayward, who whether starting at shooting guard or small forward (Richard Jefferson has started three preseason games here), will have to be this team’s Dantley.

Backcourt depth isn’t inspiring. Brandon Rush has yet to play as he recovers from last season’s torn ACL. Undrafted rookie combo guard Ian Clark has managed just 11.8 mpg in four preseason games. Lester Hudson and Scott Machado are scrapping for minutes.

After Burke’s broken finger there were rumblings of interest in bringing back free agent Jamaal Tinsley. Considering the Jazz aren’t exactly worried about losing ground in November — this season’s writing is on the wall — they might be more inclined simply to ride out Burke’s injury.

Just don’t expect smooth sailing. The Jazz get something of a break in their first six games, likely missing Russell Westbrook in their Oct. 30 opener against Oklahoma City, Rajon Rondo at Boston on Nov. 6 and perhaps Deron Williams the night before in Brooklyn. In the other three games they’ll face Phoenix’s new tandem of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe on Nov. 1, Houston’s James Harden and Jeremy Lin on Nov. 2 and Chicago’s Derrick Rose on Nov. 8. Then comes this six-pack of opposing point guards: Ty Lawson, Jrue Holiday, Tony Parker, Steph Curry in a home-and-home series and Holiday again.

Ever-knowledgeable Jazz fans have shown a level of understanding as the franchise shifts directions and amasses Draft picks. Now comes the hard part — showing patience. They stand to witness more losses this season than since well before coach Jerry Sloan walked through that door.

New Factors Emerge In Dwight Race


From staff reports

The list of favorites, in the minds of those closely following the Dwight Howard free-agency saga, had the Rockets and Lakers at the head of the pack with the Warriors, Mavs and Hawks (in an order of your choosing) behind them. Yet the Dwight situation remains as fluid as ever and scenarios and teams are leapfrogging each other as we speak.

According to a report from’s Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst, Golden State has put on a frantic late press to try and pick up Howard by attempting to jettison bulky contracts and clearing cap space for him. In order to afford such a deal, the Warriors have been calling teams with cap space to try and work out trades for the large, expiring deals of Andrew Bogut ($14 million), Andris Biedrins ($9 million) and Richard Jefferson ($11 million):

The Golden State Warriors, increasingly convinced they have a legitimate shot at winning the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, have begun aggressively attempting to trade away players to clear the requisite salary-cap space to sign the All-Star center, according to sources with knowledge of the team’s thinking.

The Warriors were one of five teams granted the opportunity to recruit Howard in an in-person meeting this week. reported Wednesday that, in perhaps the first surprising development in the wake of those meetings, Warriors officials “made an impression” on Howard to the point that they had gained ground on the two teams — the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks — widely presumed to have the only legitimate shot at stealing Howard away from the Lakers.

The Lakers have been adamant for weeks they would prefer to let Howard leave for nothing and bank the resultant salary-cap space in the summer of 2014, with many rival executives likewise convinced that L.A. would have real reservations about helping Howard land with a division rival. So sources say that the Warriors, in an effort to manufacture some financial flexibility to help their chances, have begun calling teams with salary-cap space to try to entice them to take expiring contracts off their books so they can clear a $20 million hole for Howard.

The Warriors have three huge expiring contracts … According to sources, they have tried to unload all three players this week to teams with cap room. Yet, Golden State likely would have to be willing to add assets to any potential deals to get teams interested. Sources say the Warriors have been willing to attach a future first-round pick to move one of their bad contracts since last February’s trade deadline, but potential partners tend to ask for prized youngsters such as Harrison Barnes or Klay Thompson – two of the more attractive young players in the league — when the subject of absorbing one of the Warriors’ big contracts is broached.

So Dwight may end up in Golden State (maybe) if the Warriors can clear enough cap space … no big deal. At least the Lakers are holding fast to their stance that sign-and-trade offers for Howard won’t be accepted … right? According to Stein and’s Ramona Shelbourne, that thinking is changing as well as the Lakers are perhaps more open to sign-and-trade deals than ever before:

For months, Lakers officials have privately indicated they have no interest in taking back long-term contracts in a sign-and-trade for Howard, preferring to preserve their salary-cap space for the summer of 2014 and focus on slashing their luxury-tax bill for the coming season.

The Lakers’ ultimate preference, of course, remains to re-sign Howard. Yet, after team sources initially indicated the Lakers were feeling better about their chances after their face-to-face meeting with Howard on Tuesday than they did coming into it, pessimism began to creep back in Thursday, stemming mostly from ongoing questions outside and inside team headquarters about Howard’s ability and willingness to co-exist alongside Kobe Bryant and play for coach Mike D’Antoni.

Three executives with rival teams, furthermore, told on Thursday that they likewise see Golden State as capable of trading away Bogut, Jefferson and Biedrins, if necessary, as long as the Warriors are willing to attach assets to the respective deals that help the cap-room teams taking on those three contracts to either come away with good young talent or improve their prospects for the 2014 NBA draft that has teams leaguewide so excited.

If Howard were to choose Houston or Golden State, sign-and-trade discussions inevitably will be proposed by the team that lands Howard. And there were signals Thursday night that, in the case of Golden State, L.A. would have to at least consider a swap if either Harrison Barnes or Klay Thompson is added to the proposal along with Bogut.

Before Golden State fans get too excited about the possibility of “Superman” soaring around The Oracle next season, it’s important to note that the favorites in this race — Houston and the Lakers — still remain at the front of the pack:

Sources say the bigger threats to the Lakers, though, still appear to be Houston and Dallas unless Golden State can address its financial limitations. The Rockets offer the immediate lure of playing alongside James Harden and a promise from Houston’s front office to keep adding championship-level talent, whereas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is urging Howard to join proven ring winners in Dirk Nowitzki and coach Rick Carlisle — with Nowitzki also vowing to take a significant pay cut in the summer of 2014 that creates the needed salary-cap space for the Mavs to sign another star.

And as Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times wisely points out, whoever Howard doesn’t choose — be it the Lakers, Hawks, Mavs, Warriors or Rockets — will have some tough decisions to make this summer:

If Howard turns his back on the Lakers, next season is punted into the abyss. Pau Gasol gets a reprieve for the umpteenth time, but Metta World Peace probably is waived via the amnesty provision, and the Lakers’ opening-night lineup looks something like Gasol, Jordan Hill, Steve Nash and Steve Blake.

If Howard bolts, the Lakers are seriously considering a clampdown on spending in order to get under the luxury tax next season and also avoid the dreaded “repeater tax,” which heavily penalizes teams if they are over the tax threshold three times in a five-year span, starting next season.

The repeater tax would be on top of the soon-to-be-more-severe luxury tax, which kicks into effect next season.

If the Dallas Mavericks don’t get Howard, they’re floating in a boat somewhere near the Lakers. They also have an aging roster but, unlike the Lakers, are far enough under the salary cap to pursue whatever big-ticket names are left in this summer’s free-agent pond.

Houston doesn’t have to change much if it loses out on Howard, but the Rockets would look a little foolish for waiving serviceable veterans Carlos Delfino and Aaron Brooks, not to mention trading young forward Thomas Robinson, all to make room for Howard.

Ditto for Golden State, which is reportedly trying to unload veterans Andrew Bogut, Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins to clear cap space and sign Howard. If they can’t find any takers, they’ll have to do a sign-and-trade with the Lakers for Howard, an unlikely event because the Lakers don’t want to take back any salaries in exchange for Howard.

More than half of Atlanta’s team became free agents July 1, so the Hawks will have to hustle when Howard doesn’t pick them.

Spurs, Warriors Have Game 1 For The Ages


Warriors-Spurs: Series Hub | Game 1: Box score | Notebook

SAN ANTONIO – On the court of our dreams, they would still be out there playing. Shot for shot, pass for pass, the astonishing marvel of a relentless attack against a miracle comeback born of experience and stubbornness.

There were spin drives that swirled faster than the winds inside a funnel cloud and a clinching 3-pointer that came down wearing a touch of blue from scraping against the sky.

Bop till you drop. Last team standing advances to next round. If that were the case, they might keep on fighting this battle into July. Or even August.





This was billed as a Western Conference semifinal series that would bear watching, and for three hours and 12 minutes of Game 1 we were like cavemen mesmerized by their first glimpse of fire.





OK, so why not get carried away about the Spurs’ 129-127 double-overtime masterpiece over the Warriors? About the only things missing were a gold frame and a spot behind a velvet rope on the wall in the Louvre.

If Dr. Naismith’s game has been played better, it certainly wasn’t on this planet. The extraterrestrial Stephen Curry rang up another out of this world third quarter, hitting 9 of his 12 shots for 22 of his 44 points. The remarkably down-to-earth Danny Green matched Curry’s half-dozen from long range. And a zaftig Frenchman who hadn’t played in exactly one month — Boris Diaw – provided a certain je ne sais quoi.

The Spurs trailed by 16 with 4:31 left in the fourth quarter and forced overtime. The Warriors trailed by five with 1:06 left in the second OT and nearly stole off into the night with the win.

“It was a crazy game,” said the Spurs’ Tony Parker.

Never crazier and never swinging further from the ridiculous to the sublime than when Kawhi Leonard’s inbounds pass found a wide open Manu Ginobili, who launched a high-arching 26-footer that settled into the bottom of the net with 1.2 seconds left to end it all.

All of that on the night when Ginobili made just 5 of 20 shots from the field and just 44 seconds earlier had missed badly on a brain-lock 3 try from straight out.

“I went from trading him on the spot to wanting to cook him breakfast tomorrow,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “That’s the truth.

“When I talk to him and Manu, he goes ‘This is what I do.’ That’s what he’s going to tell me. I stopped coaching him a long time ago.”

It was beautiful and bombastic, frantic and fragile, wild, woolly and wondrous … and certainly the best game of the season and maybe as good a playoff game as has been played in any season. It was Nureyev and Baryshnikov on the same stage, Picasso and Pollock on the same wall, Miles Davis and Leonard Bernstein making music together.

The sixth-seeded Warriors wear their underdog image as a suit of armor, fearless and invulnerable and even after losing their 30th consecutive game in San Antonio since 1997, have served notice that they no longer intend to be polite houseguests.

The second-seeded and ageless Spurs simply look at every game and every situation as something that can be handled, even if it’s like picking up a hot coal in their bare hands.

On one hand, the Spurs will have to devise a plan to stifle or at least slow down Curry, who has joined the Rolling Stones as the hottest act touring America this spring. They will also have to fret that if Klay Thompson hadn’t fouled out and Richard Jefferson hadn’t missed two free throws with 1:57 left, they might never have survived regulation time.

On the other, the Warriors probably have to figure that the Spurs won’t continue shooting 43.8 percent in the series and that Tim Duncan will be more of a force at both ends of the floor when he shakes off the effects of the flu that eventually forced him to the sidelines.

Jarrett Jack attacks, the Spurs answer. Curry thrusts and Parker parries.

“We’re excited about this series,” said Warriors coach Mark Jackson. “I saw a lot of good things during the course of the game tonight.”

The good news is there could be six more left. The bad news is there can only be six.

Heat, Spurs Still Virtual Strangers

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Both conference’s No. 1 teams made significant statements over the last two days.

It wasn’t just that the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs both convincingly knocked off their closest challengers. The greater message to the Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder — and the rest of the league — is how they did it.

LeBron James is the runaway MVP candidate. He had an amazing streak of scoring at least 3o points and shooting 60 percent in six consecutive games. Yet, the Heat only needed 13 points (5-for-10 shooting), seven assists and six rebounds from him in trouncing the Pacers 105-91 on Sunday.

It can be argued that James creates such headaches for opposing defenses that it allows his teammates to run free. Sure, OK, but it had to be demoralizing to the Pacers, the NBA’s top-ranked field-goal percentage defense, to hold James to a baker’s dozen yet surrender 55.9 percent shooting from the field.

San Antonio earned its 105-93 victory Monday over the Thunder by having its two healthy members of the the Big Three — Tim Duncan (13 points, eight rebounds) and Manu Ginobili (12 points, four assists, 24 minutes) — make way for this big three: Tiago Splitter (21 points, 10 rebounds), Kawhi Leonard (17 points, three steals) and Danny Green (16 points, 4-for-4 on 3s).

The precision, depth and discipline of the Spurs was on full display in shooting 52.4 percent against the Thunder’s second-ranked field-goal percentage defense. San Antonio’s improving defense also cranked up, making it difficult on NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant (26 points, 7-for-13 FGs) and Russell Westbrook (25 points, 11-for-27), the leaders of the West’s second-highest scoring offense at more than 106 points a game.

Does this mean we’re headed for a Spurs-Heat Finals come June? Not necessarily. But what if? Which team would hold the advantage?

How can anyone really know? These two teams are virtual strangers.

Since James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh joined forces in the 2010-11 season, the Heat and Spurs have played four times and none of those games featured lineups that would go head-to-head in a Finals series.

The fourth and most recent meeting was the infamous go-home game on Nov. 31 at Miami when Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sent his Big Three plus Green home. A steamed David Stern slapped San Antonio for $250,000 for pitting its reserves against the defending champs on national TV. The Heat won an entertaining game with a late comeback.

The three previous games were all blowouts (2-1 in favor of Miami) with a head-scratching average margin of defeat of 27.1 points. Two of those were played in the span of 10 days in March 2011, and the third was their lone meeting in last season’s lockout-shortened schedule, a 120-98 Heat win on Jan. 20, with Ginobili injured and Richard Jefferson and DeJuan Blair in the Spurs’ starting lineup.

Miami has yet to see the remodeled Spurs after they dealt Jefferson to Golden State for Stephen Jackson and added Boris Diaw. The Heat barely know Green, San Antonio’s leading 3-point bomber (although he did score 20 points off the bench on 6-for-7 3-point shooting in that game nearly 14 months ago).

Fortunately, the Spurs and Heat do meet again on March 31 at San Antonio. It might be our first real chance to assess how these two clubs match up.

Even then, Tony Parker might still be out with a sprained ankle. Either way, there will be plenty of intrigue if the Spurs and Heat, two virtual strangers, get together in June.

Warriors’ Ezeli To See Lots Of Time

Still no word on whether Andrew Bogut will be in the starting lineup opening night, whether he will return to action Wednesday at Phoenix with limited minutes off the bench or whether he will be out entirely as the recovery from a fractured ankle goes much longer than he or the Warriors anticipated. He received a positive update from the doctor and moved into five-on-five work in practice, and that is all that is known.

This is about to become about Festus Ezeli one way or another. If Bogut does start at center, it certainly won’t be with starter’s minutes for a while, and a lesser or non-existent role means leaning on Ezeli more than anyone imagined. The outset of a highly anticipated season, a run of talented centers immediately in front of them, and a rookie who arrived as the last pick of the first round has to be a difference maker.

The chance for Ezeli to make a slow transition into the NBA world disappeared as the timeline on Bogut’s recovery was constantly being pushed back, from expecting to be ready for training camp to planning to play in at least a few exhibition games to the current prognosis that it is very possible he will miss regular-season games. And not just the usual assortment of regular-season games. Before the end of the first full week of games, Golden State will have faced the Suns (Marcin Gortat), Grizzlies (Marc Gasol), Kings (DeMarcus Cousins) and Lakers (Dwight Howard), along with the defensive presence of DeAndre Jordan with the Clippers. Ezeli has to be ready now, whether Bogut is in uniform or not.


Duncan = The Big Discount?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Tim Duncan’s Hall of Fame credentials are set. His legacy needs no polishing at this late stage of his magnificent career.

And yet Duncan continues to shine.

He’s doing it this time without even touching the court. By taking a whopping 54 percent pay cut to remain with the Spurs, he abstained from the summer’s free-agent-palooza and allowed the Spurs to maintain their financial flexibility. That helped San Antonio keep its core group intact as it tries to mount one last championship run in the Duncan era.

As Jeff McDonald of the Express News reports, there was no need for a negotiating session:

“I’m an awful negotiator,” Duncan said, chuckling. “My agent was mad at me the whole time.”

Duncan was on hand at the Spurs’ practice facility Tuesday for the start of his 16th NBA training camp. That would have been surprising only if the notoriously casual dresser had arrived in something out of Craig Sager’s wardrobe.

Though technically a free agent for about a week in early July, the 36-year-old Duncan said he never seriously considered retirement and never remotely entertained the idea of playing elsewhere.

“I’ve been here for so long,” said Duncan, who took no calls from rival teams. “This is home for me.”

That’s a welcome statement for NBA observers who still cringe at the memory of Hakeem Olajuwon in a Toronto Raptors jersey or Patrick Ewing in Seattle SuperSonics green.

Taking that pay cut means Duncan instantly became The Big Discount. With his reported $9.6 million salary, Duncan moves from near the top of the league’s earnings list to a new spot behind the likes of Al Jefferson and Carlos Boozer, solid big men who will both earn $15 million this season but won’t rank anywhere near Duncan when their careers are over.

Two Gordons, Eric ($13.6) and Ben ($12.4), will both earn more than Duncan this season, as will Hedo Turkoglu ($11.8), Corey Maggette ($10.9), DeAndre Jordan and even former Spurs swingman Richard Jefferson ($10.1).

That doesn’t include the four amnestied players — Brandon Roy, Gilbert Arena, Elton Brand and Rashard Lewis — all of whom will earn between $21 (Roy) and $15 (Lewis) million for not playing with the teams that owed them that money. Arenas isn’t even on anyone’s training camp roster.

In an era when folks love to poke players for being all about the “Benjamins,” Duncan deserves some credit for being about everything but his own bottom line!

Draft Comparisons: Barnes, Lillard, Drummond and Waiters

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – As Draft time rolls around and we learn about the next class of NBA rookies, there’s a desire to compare each to players we’re already familiar with.

No two players are exactly alike and some players are more unique than others. But you can find comparisons by watching video, crunching stats or matching measurements. For this exercise, we did the latter two.

Listed below are four of the top picks, along with the current NBA players they compare with most. For this exercise, we looked at 10 stats from each player’s last season in college, and eight measurements taken at the annual pre-draft combine.

Because we used college numbers and combine numbers, the only current players we could compare this year’s prospects to were the ones who played in college (so no LeBron James or Dwight Howard) and participated in the combine since 2000 (Rajon Rondo is one notable name missing in that respect).

The following comparisons aren’t gospel, of course, but they’re one way to get read for the draft on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). (more…)

Butler Almost Did It In San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO – Caron Butler will lineup against the Spurs in the opening Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals tonight.

But there was a time — maybe an hour — last December when it seemed likely that Butler was going to join the Spurs.

“As a free agent, I was extremely close to coming here,” Butler said. “This is a great franchise, a great city. I cancelled my flight (to San Antonio) and then I had to buy another one. It was really close.

“It was a great situation for me in L.A., even before the Chris Paul situation. It was a great for me to get a lot of playing time and for me to get back out there playing. I didn’t know what my role would be coming here to this organization. But I knew that I would have a role in their system. I was eager to be a part of that transition of making the Clippers a respectable organization.”

Ultimately, Butler chose the Clippers for 24 million reasons, the number of guaranteed dollars in his three-year contract, more than San Antonio’s offer. But not before he’d visited the Spurs and been impressed by coach Gregg Popovich.