Posts Tagged ‘Rockets’

Kings’ Royce White quietly plays for the first time

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Royce White finally made his NBA debut Friday night, and the strangest thing happened.

Nothing.

No bright spotlight after all the attention of the last two seasons, no great expectations after entering the league as the No. 16 pick in 2012 with a unique skill set that intrigued front offices, no memorable moments after all the regrettable moments. Just a guy on a second 10-day contract going in for the last 56.1 seconds with his team about to lose by 20 points, hoping for the chance to show he deserves to be signed for the rest of what little remains of the season.

Friday night at Sleep Train Arena was about the Spurs extending their win streak to 12 despite shooting 38.7 percent in a 99-79 victory, not White getting on the court for the first time in a regular-season game as a member of his third team in the NBA, not to mention two in the D-League. This was not such a bad thing. After all the acrimony in his relationship with the Rockets, the team that drafted him as a 6-foot-8, 250-pounder who could cause matchup problems as a point forward, after being dumped on the 76ers in a trade and being cut before playing for Philadelphia, simple was fine.

And simple was what he got: 56 seconds and zeroes across the stat line after one practice and one shootaround with the Kings as coach Michael Malone gave White a quick run in advance of the longer looks that will surely come in the days ahead, starting Sunday against the Bucks at Sleep Train.

The important detail, White said, is that those days ahead will include next Friday at Oklahoma City. At Oklahoma City. He will be on the team charter, in other words, hoping to put to rest any uncertainty about whether anxiety issues and subsequent disagreements on treatment and how to handle difficulty with flying contributed to a contentious relationship with the Rockets.

White said he will be at every game if he is eventually signed for the rest of the season, with travel details to be worked out amid the possibility of being able to drive from OKC to Dallas, for example, for the back-to-back. Those are things that can be discussed if their arrangement becomes something more than the 10-day deal he signed March 6 to join the Kings’ D-League affiliate in Reno, followed by another 10-day on March 18.

One of the only things he knows for sure at this point is that it feels different than his season with the Rockets of disagreements over treatments and D-League stints with Rio Grande Valley that led nowhere.

“Oh, yeah,” White said. “It feels a lot different. In all fairness to Houston, they were in a much different position. A lot of things, they couldn’t make a ruling on themselves as much as the league. They had to wait on a lot of OKs and things from people. It was a real complex situation. But it feels very different. Everything’s different. The organization’s different, the city’s different, the people are different, my teammates are different.”

“Are you different?”

“I’m probably the least different out of the entire equation,” White said. “But I’m in a different place. I’m definitely feeling more comfortable with the ability to have a successful career in this league.”

He went unsigned for three-quarters of 2013-14 in a dramatic lack of interest for a first-round pick a season before, so White admits this could be his chance — ” Those thoughts do come where it’s like, ‘If this doesn’t work out, will I even go at it again?’ “

This is a very good place to start the comeback, though, or, really, start the start. The Kings need talent, White has that, and the Kings are in the unwanted perfect position at 24-45 to use the final three weeks to try out players and lineups.

Plus, they need him almost as much as he needs them. Sacramento is desperate for distributors, one of the reasons they will look at other point guards in the summer even if Isaiah Thomas is re-signed as a restricted free agent, as expected, and White’s draft stock was based largely on his passing ability from either forward spot. If DeMarcus Cousins is a scorer, Rudy Gay is a scorer and Thomas is a scorer, having someone at any position capable of delivering the ball would be welcome.

“The question was asked yesterday, ‘Is your hope that Royce’s playmaking ability, do you hope that’s contagious?’ ” Malone said. “Obviously you don’t want to be a team that is just a dribble, dribble, dribble, shoot and not pass to the open man. We want to be a team that’s hard to guard…. Having a guy out there that will make plays for his teammates and find the open man is always is a welcome sight for us.”

There was no chance in 56.1 seconds to see any of that Friday. But there was an appearance. It was a start, and after everything that has happened in two seasons, that was more than nothing.

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

Is this the end of the Steve Nash era?

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com




VIDEO: Steve Nash on his career and overcoming injuries

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You hate to see anyone who loves his job as much as Steve Nash does dealt the blows he has been in the twilight of his career.

But Father Time spares no one, not even a player as beloved by his teammates, coaches and fans as Nash. The two-time MVP point guard is facing what could be the final crossroads of his storied career. His 2013-14 season is over, and really never got started thanks to an assortment of injuries, aches and pains that simply did not allow him to perform up to his lofty career standards.

But just to be sure, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni closed that door this afternoon …

The news comes just hours after Kobe Bryant‘s season was officially sacked, the casualty of a knee fracture and recovery from a torn Achilles tendon that cost him all but six games. All this happens in Lakerland as legendary Lakers and Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson decides to take his talents to New York and run the Knicks.

Nash’s season included appearances in just 10 games. He just couldn’t overcome the avalanche of injuries that have plagued him throughout his two-season run with the Lakers. He’s already said that if the Lakers use the stretch provision (the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement gives the Lakers the option of waiving Nash and spreading the cap hold of $9.7 million salary over three seasons) and release him this summer that he’s all but calling it a career.

“If the Lakers release me this summer this is it,” Nash said during Episode 2 of the Finish Line, the documentary he’s doing with Grantland.com that chronicles his final season(s) in the league. “You know, I finally got my kids here in L.A., I’m not going to move them again, and I’m not going to be without them for another year. So, it’s either back with the Lakers next year or I’m done.”

Nash was a part of the core group the Lakers assembled before the start of the 2012-13 season — Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Bryant were the others — that was supposed to return the franchise to its previous championship glory.

It never happened. Nash suffered an early injury, never regained his form and wound up playing in just 50 games. Howard struggled with his recovery from back surgery and the adjustment from Orlando to Los Angeles and ultimately bolted for Houston in free agency last summer. Gasol struggled with injuries and his new role as a set piece on the periphery for Howard and Bryant and will be a free agent this summer. Kobe suffered that Achilles injury late in the season, as he was grinding away to make sure the Lakers made the playoffs, and ended up missing the postseason altogether.

Kobe and Nash were expected to lead the Lakers this season, but again, injuries derailed those plans.

The accumulation of that wear and tear on Nash’s body and mind could very well lead to the future Hall of Famer (I don’t think there is any doubt he’s headed there eventually) to indeed call it a career.

No one can blame Nash, 40, for hanging it up at this point. When it takes this much painstaking work just to get fit enough to take the floor, any player in his right mind would consider closing the door on that part of his career and moving on.

Nash has other endeavors that will surely keep him plugged into the game, including his post as head of the Canadian national program.

His playing days, however, could very well be over.

)
VIDEO: Steve Nash talks about the stretch provision in The End Of The Line: Episode 2 on Grantland

Beverley dirty? Not according to Pop

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Rick Fox and Chris Webber discuss Patrick Beverley’s defense

SAN ANTONIO — Dirty or aggressive?

Tom-AY-to, tom-AH-to.

Little Pat Beverley gets into a couple of dust-ups in back-to-back games with Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook and suddenly he’s a combination of Jack the Ripper and Hannibal Lecter in high-tops.

Oh, the horror!

Where are the days when the Bad Boys of Detroit roamed the earth? When John Stockton to Malone was two guys from Utah who used their elbows like meat axes? When the Washington Bullets front line included Jeff Ruland and Rick Mahorn, aka McFilthy and McNasty? You figure out which was which.

While social media buzzes and the entire state of Oklahoma gets apoplectic at the mere sight of Beverley stepping one foot onto a basketball court, it should be noted that not everyone who isn’t wearing a Rockets jersey doesn’t he’s crossed a line of decorum or fair play.

“I haven’t noticed him being dirty. I’ll say that,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

“When the name Beverley comes up, the first thing that comes to my head is he’s a monster defender and really gets into people and does one helluva job. Maybe he’s done things that I haven’t seen. But I have never thought of him as dirty. I’ve always thought of him as physical and really good at it.”

When asked about the play in Game 2 of the Houston-OKC series last spring when Beverley’s lunge for a steal wound up taking Westbrook out of the playoffs, Popovich shrugged.

“I thought it just happened,” he said. “I don’t think that was purposeful from what I saw.”

According to Pop, it’s intent that makes the difference.

“I just think that probably shows itself in the necessity of the action as far as whether it’s a blatant movement,” he said. “Whether it’s an elbow or a kick or a head-butt or whatever, it might be for no reason whatsoever that doesn’t have anything to do with playing as opposed to physicality. You know, getting up into somebody, touching somebody, blocking out, making hard cuts and making great picks and that sort of thing. That’s an aggressive player. Or somebody who’s always trying to get to the rim. Or somebody who’s always ready to block out and put their body on you. That’s all aggressiveness.

“Dirty is cheap. Cheap stuff that doesn’t really have anything to do with the game. And you can tell the difference pretty easily.”

And before you hurt yourself shouting, the subject of Bruce Bowen did come up. The veteran of eight seasons and three championships with the Spurs was often labeled as dirty for all of the little “tricks” he used on defense.

“Brucie weighed about 83 pounds,” Popovich said. “The guys that guarded him weighed 220 or 200 or something like that. He was a like a gnat. But he was a persistent gnat that drove them crazy with what he could do. But it wasn’t because he was overly physical or anything like that. He had a great understanding of space and had good, quick feet and had a huge desire to be a pain in the neck. He’s still a pain in the neck.”

Perspective matters. Chicago fans didn’t think much of Bad Boy Dennis Rodman’s antics in the paint and under the basket until he switched sides and pulled on a Bulls jersey for those three championships.

Dirty or aggressive?

Tom-AY-to or tom-AH-to?

Bowen or Beverley?

“Hell, yeah,” Popovich said. “I hated Danny Ferry until he was on our team. Bill (Laimbeer) was easy for other fans to hate. But you’d love him on your team. He’d help you win.”

Which is, after all, the point.

Lin’s spark can light Rockets’ fire

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Jeremy Lin talks about his play after Houston’s win over Portland

The Rockets look powerful when Dwight Howard is making his presence felt in the low post, grabbing rebounds for put-backs, spinning in the lane to drop in those jump hooks he’s honing in during workouts with Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon.

The Rockets look like a tough nut to crack when James Harden is weaving like a wild-eyed taxi driver through traffic in the lane to finish for improbable layups and stepping back to stab in his long 3-pointers with ease.

But the Rockets become positively confounding to defenders when Jeremy Lin is doing all of the things he can do. Which is why Lin’s recent emergence from a slump is worth noting.

“We need Jeremy,” said coach Kevin McHale. “He just makes a lot of things happen and when he is rolling it just gives us more versatility to do different things.”

While there will never be a return to the “Linsanity” days in New York, that ability to strike inside and out, create for his teammates, get all the way to the rim and hit a critical shot from the outside is what can elevate Houston to being the most difficult offense to stop in the Western Conference.

The Rockets don’t need him to be the big hammer in their attack as much as a bowling ball that strikes and send pins scattering.

When the Rockets trailed the Trail Blazers midway through the fourth quarter on Sunday, Lin came back onto the floor as part of a small lineup that simply exploded. From the end of regulation through overtime, he scored 18 points, dropped in a trio of treys, grabbed a rebound and made a steal. His final line: 26 points, three rebounds, two steals and an assist. It was his highest scoring game since Nov. 13 and, more important, it was the first time in weeks that he’d played pain-free.

Since the All-Star break, Lin had been bothered by a tightness in his back that did not keep him out of the lineup but did keep him from looking like himself. He was slow, tentative, unsure of each movement on the court and, as usual, it brought up the old debate on social media. One side says that he’s overrated and a fabrication of the hyperventilating media while the other side says he’s underused and under-appreciated by McHale.

The latter, of course, is patently untrue since nobody benefits more from an effective Lin than McHale, who in three seasons with the Rockets has shown himself to be nothing if not adaptable.

It certainly helped that the Rockets went 8-2 coming out of the All-Star break and charged to a spot near the top of the conference standings. But in the first eight games, Lin struggled badly, shooting just 29 percent (16-for-55) and averaged only 6.3 points and 2.6 turnovers.

In their past three games, Lin has shot 14-for-28, averaging 15 points and 2.0 assists.

“If you ask me if it feels good to be back, yes,” Lin said. “It feels good.”

It didn’t help combat Lin’s critics that during his struggles he never missed a game. However, it probably also doesn’t help that Lin can sometimes be his own most difficult impediment. Perhaps it’s a product of being one of those deep thinkers from Harvard, but Lin can occasionally tie himself into mental knots. When he is at his best, Lin is instinctive, unpredictable, like a spark that can ignite a wildfire. When he hits a rough spot, it tends to linger and you can almost see the wheels turning inside his head as he tries to figure out what’s gone wrong.

The difference is striking.

“Without Jeremy Lin, we don’t win that (Portland) game,” said teammate Chandler Parsons. “He has been struggling lately, but we believed in him. He has been great all year long. Everyone goes through rough patches.”

Not everyone has to live up to a two-week fantasy from two years ago that instantly made them a cult figure all around the world.

“I tell him to just relax and play basketball, be the player that he can be,” McHale said. “We don’t need Linsanity.”

But the return of Jeremy Lin’s spark and unpredictability to go with the foundation of Harden and Howard would make the Rockets a very tough out in the playoffs.

Danger rears its head for OKC, Indy




VIDEO: The Beat crew talks about the concerns facing some of the league’s elite teams

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – That small market NBA Finals you were daydreaming about is in jeopardy based on what we’ve seen from the likes of the Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder and even the Portland Trail Blazers recently.

Early-season visions of say the Pacers and Thunder squaring off in The Finals and restoring the faith of the fans in the hinterlands have faded since before All-Star weekend.

The Pacers’ struggles are real. You don’t lose four straight games, and five of your last 10, and allow 106 points in your past four games and maintain your aura as the defensive juggernaut that we assumed you were based on your work up until now. No matter how much coach Frank Vogel insists that his team is capable of navigating these bumps in the road, we have no idea how they will recover from this stretch because they’ve never been in this position before.

The Thunder’s issues are tangible as well. You don’t lose five of your past eight games, give up 121 points in consecutive games and get torched for 40-point games by the likes of Gerald Green and Jodie Meeks without two of your top defensive players (Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins) and expect us to just chalk it up to a temporary hiccup. Even if all that happens as Russell Westbrook is transitioning back into the mix after missing nine weeks recovering from knee surgery.

Contenders tend to show their teeth this time of year, embrace statement games and remind the competition that what they see now is merely a glimpse of the fury to come in the postseason. But these current struggles, particularly for the Pacers and Thunder, constitute a clear-and-present danger to their big-picture plans.

We are nit-picking at the highest level here, I understand that. But vetting championship contenders is a tedious, season-long process that requires us to examine each and every little tidbit of information gathered. While I don’t agree with the wilder sentiments like this one (of course, the Thunder aren’t trying to get Scott Brooks fired), I do think a contender’s February and March performance is a much better indicator of what’s to come in the playoffs than anything accomplished before then.

And the Pacers and Thunder, two teams that would appear to have as good a chance as any to unseat the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, respectively, have both shown signs of vulnerability in the past few days and weeks.

In addition to locating their defensive punch, the Pacers need Paul George to regain the form he showed earlier in the season, when he was being mentioned in the MVP conversation with Kevin Durant and LeBron James. The playoffs are looming and a quality team like the Chicago Bulls will identify your weakness and attack it in a best-of-7 series … the same way the Pacers did to the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals last year.

UPDATE:



VIDEO: Pacers coach Frank Vovel talks about Andrew Bynum maing his debut against the Celtics

The Thunder have to worry as much about getting their own house in order as they have to worry about the neighbors. The Spurs, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers all appear to be as up to the task of winning the Western Conference crown and representing their side in The Finals.

The Spurs have enough corporate knowledge to navigate these rough waters for a second straight season. The Rockets have two stars in James Harden and Dwight Howard, who have just as much experience in The Finals as Durant and Westbrook. And the Clippers, when healthy, have what is arguably the deepest and most balanced roster in the league with one of the game’s best button-pushers (coach Doc Rivers), especially at playoff time, leading their charge.

Momentary hiccups are one thing. All teams, even the great ones, deal with them at one time or another.

Cracks in the foundation, though, require more and immediate attention.

Time will tell which of these the Pacers and Thunder are dealing with …

Rockets stake claim as NBA’s best


VIDEO: Harden’s huge night rallies Rockets past Blazers in OT

HOUSTON — This is what it’s like to stand on the beach when the birds start to twitter, the winds begin to kick up and the ocean is suddenly roiling and full of foreboding.

There’s not much you can do when the tsunami rolls in and the Trail Blazers were just the latest to get washed away.

It’s past the point where the Rockets are an interesting little side trip on the road to June and thoughts of a championship.

Right now, Dwight Howard, James Harden and their dangerous buddies are in the fast lane with the top down and passing everybody else on the freeway.

Miami? Been there.

Indiana? Done that.

Portland? Please.

The Rockets spotted the Blazers a 12-point lead going into the fourth quarter and still didn’t panic. Not even when it took a flick-of-the-wrist, never-a-doubt 3-point statement at the end of regulation.

That statement? We’re as good as it gets. The best team in the NBA.

“I think so,” said Chandler Parsons. “We’re playing well. We don’t think we’re done. We’re not getting arrogant or conceited or anything, but we think we can play with anybody and we’ve proved that this week. It’s fun because we know we can even get better.”

“Yes. Yes. We are,” said Harden.

It wasn’t supposed to happen this fast. To the outside world, it probably wasn’t even thinkable this season.

So here are the Rockets with the best record in the league (23-6) since the start of 2014, with 15 wins in their last 17 games, and with the surging confidence that comes from having not only survived a grueling week that was supposed to examine their credentials, but aced the test.

It’s no longer about them just constantly trying to push the pace and beat every opponent with a crazyball attack of firing up 3-pointers.

Now they’re learning to win games like the one Sunday night, when it starts in a torpor, improves eventually to a slog and they manage to come out the other side because they just don’t stop grinding.

“I can feel guys coming together,” said coach Kevin McHale. “Their chemistry is improving. Their belief in each other is improving. They’re bonding has improved and you can feel that. And it’s nice.

“That’s what makes sports special, when you get around guys that are bonding and fighting together. It’s kind of why you’re in the business. That’s the hope for all us guys that have been doing it for many, many years, that belief that together you can get something accomplished.”

Jeremy Lin came off the bench to end his slump and with his biggest-scoring game since November with 26 points.

Harden popped in 20 of his 41 points in the fourth quarter and overtime.

The unique ability of Harden to suddenly turn it on and turn around a game when the Rockets started out making just 1-for-13 on 3-pointers is part of what makes them dangerous.

But it’s also a growing sense of purpose inside the locker room that says there is no reason they have to honor a predetermined pecking order and wait their turn.

Howard is in his 10th season. He’s climbed nearly to the peak with a trip to the NBA Finals in 2009 with Orlando and knows how quickly the best-laid plans can fall apart.

This was a night when the Rockets’ big men were getting beaten on the boards by Portland through the first half. Then McHale went to a small lineup and it all turned around.

Howard knows there are nights when he can be the fearsome low-post beast that gobbles up rebounds and points in the paint. But he also feels like he can almost blend into the background, put in an honest day’s work and his team will still survive.

The Rockets are a bunch that you can practically see growing taller and stronger right before your eyes.

“We’re as good as we are right now,” said point guard Patrick Beverley. “We don’t really look for other teams. We just go out there and try to play the type of basketball we know how to play. We don’t focus on other teams. We focus on us.”

Beverley will sink his teeth in, Parsons will scratch and claw, Howard will do the heavy lifting and Harden makes magic happen.

It’s enough to make you change your notions of just which is the team to beat in the wild, wild West as the playoffs approach.

San Antonio is currently the No. 1 seed in the conference. But the Rockets are 3-0 against the Spurs.

The Thunder are the No. 2 seed. But the Rockets didn’t just lose on Sunday afternoon to the, uh, Lakers Lite.

Is it possible the best team in the NBA is gathering like a hurricane off the Gulf Coast of Texas?

The week ahead might hold the answer as a three-game road trip to OKC, Chicago and Miami looms.

“We just want to hold up that trophy come June,” Howard said. “We’ve got to stay humble. That’s the message. We cannot get cocky. We cannot lose our focus. That’s when you fail. So you got to stay humble.

“We’re getting better. We’re not satisfied. We still have a ways to go. But I like the way we’re playing. No fear. We make mistakes. We get in the huddle. We come out and try to get the job done. We’re together. That’s the sign of a good team.”

And maybe, just maybe, much more.


VIDEO: James Harden discusses his monster game against the Blazers

Pacers have lost their identity and way

VIDEO: The Rockets blow through the Pacers

HOUSTON — There were always nights when the shots fell easily and others where it was a struggle. But the vagaries of the offensive performance were rarely much of a concern to the Pacers because they thrived on a defense that was tighter than a bear hug and just as suffocating.

Until now.

After a 112-86 loss to the Rockets — their worst defeat of the season — the Pacers are trying to find that defensive calling card which was their identity and their path to contending for a championship.

With their first three-game losing streak of the season, the Pacers have fallen into a tie in the loss column with Miami in the battle for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

“It’s nothing serious,” said forward Paul George. “We just got to find out who we are, point-blank.

“One, it’s getting back to what the Indiana Pacers used to be. That was a grind-out (team). When teams came to play us, they knew it was gonna be a long night. It’s not getting back to that right now. I think over the last probably 10 games we’ve been giving up probably 100-plus points. We’re usually an 80. Regardless of what we were doing offensively, we were winning games in the 80s. And that’s what we gotta get back to.

“I don’t like losing. This is the first time we lost three in a row and this (bleep’s) gotta change. We got to get better as a team. We got to get back to how we used to play.”

In the 10 games since the All-Star break, the Pacers are 6-4. But what is notable and significant is the slippage in the No. 1 rated defensive in the league. For a team that has surrendered an average of 91.7 points per game on the season, the Pacers have allowed eight of their past 10 opponents to get at least 96. They’ve given up 100 or more three times in that stretch, topped by the Rockets’ explosion on Friday.

“Every team I’ve ever been a part of has had a stretch like we’re in right now,” said coach Frank Vogel. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve always worked our way up. I’m sure we will. It stinks right now. It’s not fun right now. But we’ve got a good team and we’ll regroup.”

To a man, the Pacers seem suddenly lost and confused on the court and in the locker room. Following this blowout loss, George, Roy Hibbert, David West and several other veterans gathered in Vogel’s tiny visiting locker room office and were still trying to figure things out nearly an hour after the game ended.

“Offensively, we haven’t been the most efficient team all year, but we were able to defend the 3-point line and defend the paint and at this point we’re not doing enough of either,” Hibbert said.

“I don’t know. In a game you go back and forth with punches, figuratively, and we’re not responding the right way. We gotta figure that out at both ends because we’re struggling mighty bad. We have to have at least one and right now we don’t have either.”

What the Pacers do have is still a quarter of the regular season schedule to figure it out.

“It would be bad if this was the playoffs right now,” said point guard George Hill. “We still have 20 games to fix it. But the fix has to come immediately.”

Have the Pacers lost their Edge?




VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses Paul George’s slump and the Pacers’ struggles

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The playoff bid is clinched, locked up before anyone else in the league. Yet after five games in seven nights, there is suddenly a lingering fog surrounding the Indiana Pacers.

That brash, bruising, defensive-minded machine we saw before the All-Star break doesn’t look nearly as intimidating these days. That team that vowed to chase the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, in an effort to play host a potential showdown against reigning two-time NBA champion Miami Heat in the conference finals, has been humbled lately with crushing defeats both at home and on the road.

The Pacers’ best players — All-Stars Paul George and Roy Hibbert, as well as Lance Stephenson and David West — have all endured their fair share of struggles. Coach Frank Vogel remains as confident as ever, something you’d expect from a coach who understands that seeing the Pacers reach their ultimate goals is a painstaking process fraught with trials and tribulations. Vogel and his crew know that unmitigated attention to detail is required to overcome any adversity.

Still, it’s enough to make you wonder — have the Pacers lost a little bit of the edge that led them to the top of the standings? They were so good so fast this season that a bit of a letdown was inevitable. But it’s dangerous to play this game this close to the end of the regular season.

“Over the last 20 games or so, we just haven’t had our mojo,” West said after the Bobcats beat the Pacers Wednesday night in Charlotte on the back-end of a back-to-back. “We’ve got to change some things up because these last 20 games is going to be a battle.”

“Right now I think we’re on our downs,” Stephenson said. “We just got to get back on our ups, work together and play as a unit.”

The Pacers also have to return to the identity that led them to the top of the standings.

They were a defensive juggernaut to start the season, holding teams down in every facet and allowing just 90.3 points per game through All-Star weekend. In the nine games since then, they are giving up close to 100 points a night.

“We can’t get teams under control,” West told the Indianapolis Star. “Nobody’s afraid of us and we got to regroup. We got to get back to the basics. We got tough two-game trip out West and it’s got to mean something to us to go out and do whatever we have to do to win these games.”

The road trip he’s speaking starts Friday with a date with the Houston Rockets, who have the league’s best record since Jan. 1. Then comes Sunday’s game in Dallas against the Mavericks. They’ll be tested by two Western Conference playoff teams with the ability to make the Pacers uncomfortable in many different ways.

There is also a seven-games-in-11-days stretch looming at the end of the month, a grind that includes two games against the Chicago Bulls (home and away), road games in Memphis, Washington and Cleveland and showdowns with the Heat (March 26) and San Antonio Spurs  (March 31) that will shed more light on whether or not these Pacers are as ready for prime time as they appeared to be just a month ago.

Changes to their make-up (Evan Turner and, eventually, we assume, Andrew Bynum) will also force the Pacers to continue to tweak their chemistry. They have to be proactive in terms of how they make their own internal adjustments.

But when you build up the sort of reservoir of victories and the quality body of work the Pacers did out of the gate, it’s almost impossible to squander it now. A two-game tailspin can be survived.

If there are cracks in the foundation, though, you better believe the other contenders on both sides of the conference divide have noticed. And they’ll be sure to do whatever they can to exploit that in the future.


VIDEO: The Bobcats thumped the Pacers and shut down Paul George and Roy Hibbert in the process