Posts Tagged ‘Shaquille O’Neal’

Can Duncan turn back Father Time again?

Over a career that will travel directly from San Antonio to Springfield, Mass., Tim Duncan has beat them all: Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Jason Kidd and more. But here at age 40, it’s clear he’s waging an ultimately futile battle against some guy with a long gray beard and a hooded robe.

We’re reminded once again that Father Time is unbeatable, and on the heels of him giving Kobe a shove — gently, of course — is Father Time turning his attention to Duncan in these playoffs?

Duncan has struggled in two games against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and when you weigh the entirety of the 2016 playoffs, he has been inconsistent at best. He’s 12-for-24 on shots right at the basket, he’s seldom blocking (or altering) shots and doesn’t always find himself on the floor in the moment of truth. Duncan’s role with the Spurs seems more likely a ceremonial one compared to his prime. He’s averaging just 21.6 minutes per game and although he has been a presence on the glass, he’s a secondary offensive option and rarely has plays run for him.

And so, as the Spurs prepare to play two games in OKC in a series that’s tied at one apiece, an important and fair question must be asked: Has Duncan hit the final wall of a career?

At this time a year ago, he was the finest player on a floor that included Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Kawhi Leonard. Duncan was superb in the Spurs’ classic seven-game, first-round series with the Clippers when he averaged 17.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks and served as a mighty closer in several of those games. Once again, the Spurs’ strategy of keeping Duncan in a regular-season deep freeze worked; he was preserved for the playoffs and delivered the energy and production. Over the last three seasons, Duncan’s playoff numbers were higher than his regular season numbers, and this despite the fact the competition got tougher and the games obviously took on a higher meaning.

This season, circumstances have changed things a bit. The Spurs not only signed LaMarcus Aldridge, but Leonard’s role and talent have soared, thus reducing the need for Duncan to play major minutes. In fact, the three principle members of the Spurs’ glorious run of championships — Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili — have all seen a reduction in roles and production. This is no longer “their team” as the Spurs have successfully introduced a new nucleus and have hardly suffered for it. Plenty of teams would kill to have this level of bump-free transition, which is a credit to coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs’ organization.

But against a quality team like OKC (and then again against the Golden State Warriors, if the expected Western Conference finals showdown materializes), the Spurs need all hands on deck. Parker is averaging 4.5 points against Russell Westbrook in this series. He was benched for a fourth-quarter stretch in Game 2 that was costly, because his replacement, Patty Mills, shot horribly. Ginobili has been inconsistent off the bench, and his decision to pass out to Mills in the crazy closing seconds of Game 2, rather than shoot a potential game-winning 10-foot floater, was strange.

There’s still time for Parker, Ginobili and even Duncan to put their signature on this series. The most curious case-study will be Duncan. He’s at an age where just being able to play on an NBA level is noble. And aside from a few offensive hiccups, he has been a contributor. But two games into the West semifinals, and really throughout these playoffs, Duncan hasn’t stood out. And this has never happened before in 18 years.

It’s all something that’s hard to imagine or even get used to seeing. Hopefully for the Spurs’ sake, Duncan still has a rewind button that’s still fully functional.

 

Grizzlies’ Randolph not laughing at Reggie Miller’s joke


VIDEO: Zach Randolph talks after Monday’s practice

SAN ANTONIOZach Randolph knows the depleted Grizzlies are in deep water against the Spurs. He knows the odds are very much stacked against Memphis even a game, let alone the first round playoff series.

But Z-Bo also knows that he didn’t appreciate Hall of Famer Reggie Miller cracking that the TNT crew could beat the Grizzlies. Talking on “The Dan Patrick Show” on Monday, Miller said: “Without (Mike) Conley and without (Marc) Gasol, I think we could give the Grizzlies a run right now, don’t you think?” he said.

Of course, the 50-year-old Miller was talking about a team that would include 44-year-old Shaquille O’Neal, 51-year-old Kenny Smith, 53-year-old Charles Barkley and 43-year-old Chris Webber. There might be a few oxygen tanks and the presence of an EMT unit needed on the TNT bench.

“I heard that,” a displeased Randolph told Geoff Calkins of the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “For what all we’ve been through, and all the injuries, and not having our team at full strength, we still got a group of young guys that have played hard for us. And we go out every night as veterans and play hard every night. That’s all you can ask for, if you ask me.

“It has a lot to do with pride. Even though we are short. Pride is playing hard and leaving it all out there on the court so the fans and everybody else can say, ‘You know what? These guys gave it all they got under the circumstances.’ ”

Miller will be calling tonight’s Game 2 on TNT with Kevin Harlan.

Blogtable: Most memorable career moment from 2016 HOF class?

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


BLOGTABLE: Predicting East’s middle seeds? | Predicting West’s bottom seeds? |
Top moment from 2016 HOF class?



VIDEOGet to know the 2016 Hall of Fame class

> Shaquille O’Neal, Yao Ming and Allen Iverson headline the new Hall of Fame class. Which player had the most memorable moment, what was it and why does it still resonate with you?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’m going with Shaq and the moment is personal, because I was in Orlando on April 20, 1994 when the big man dropped 53 points on Minnesota. Wait, make that threw down 53 points. I know Shaq eventually would top that – he got 61 for the Lakers on his 28th birthday – and he had lots of other unforgettable plays. But I’ll never forget the cannon sound effect the Magic used back then for dunks and how, with Shaq destroying Christian Laettner, Mike Brown and Stanley Jackson inside, it sounded like they were playing the “1812 Overture” without the band. O’Neal made 22 of 31 shots, grabbed 18 rebounds and even hit nine of his 13 free throws that night. It was as if he was playing against Jabbawockeez, not Timberwolves.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comOne moment for these three? Really? It’s just not possible. That single tear that Shaq shed in the moment after he won his first championship with the Lakers? The smile of acceptance when the combative, criticized Iverson raised his first All-Star Game MVP trophy in Washington, D.C. in 2001? But I will say the one that made me chuckle loudest was a Dec. 2006 game with the Rockets at Clippers. A dominant Yao Ming scored 32 points and after making one especially nifty fourth quarter turnaround jumper over Chris Kaman that sealed the win, he turned and shouted at the Clippers bench: “You can’t (bleep)ing stop me!” It was a positively raw moment that bridged the cultures of China and the United States. Pure playground, pure basketball, pure Yao.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comIt’s Shaq taking the lob from Kobe Bryant, slamming it through the net with his right hand and running back downcourt with his eyes bugging out in marvel at what had just happened. That exclamation moment had just happened, for one thing, in the final minute of Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference finals, but it was the entire fourth quarter at Staples Center really. It changed history. The Lakers went from 15 points down with about 10 minutes to play, well on their way to being eliminated, to a six-point lead with 41.3 seconds remaining after the Kobe-Shaq connection. It was the final step to the pair winning the title together as part of a fourth quarter that was a huge step in what became a threepeat.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Yao Ming couldn’t get anywhere in the playoffs and also dealt with too many injuries. This is really a two-man contest between Shaq and Iverson, and does any pure “moment” from Shaq compare to Iverson’s step-back and step-over shot against Tyronn Lue in the 2001 Finals? That gets replayed almost as much as Iverson’s rant about practice.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: There are more basketball fans in China than there are people in the United States. I got a little taste of that when I was sitting near the top of the arena on the first night of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The atmosphere was electric for China-USA and the building exploded when Yao opened the scoring by hitting a 3-pointer. He was recovering from foot surgery and out of shape, but he had an obligation to be out there for the biggest game in his country’s history. Shaq and Iverson had incredible careers, and basketball was popular in China before Yao came along. But that moment, for me at least, just illustrated how much of an impact he’s had on a global scale.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Shaq won four championships, the first three when he was the world’s dominant player, and it is not any single moment that resonates so much as his run with the Lakers when all of the NBA was loading up to overcome a single player. The 2003-04 champion Pistons collected four 7-footers around center Ben Wallace; they were inspired by Shaq to gamble the No. 2 pick in 2003 on Darko Milicic. It speaks to O’Neal’s majesty that his “moment” carried on for three years.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: This is a particularly memorable class for me, because I began my career as a writer as Shaq and Iverson were entering the NBA. I got to spend a good bit of time with each of them during their careers, and as a fan I enjoyed watching both of them play, a couple of polar opposites of the NBA. But while Shaq seemed like a Hall of Famer from the moment he was drafted, Iverson’s professional path was never guaranteed, so his ascension to the HOF seems like a geniune accomplishment. As for a single moment, I have to go with Iverson crossing over Michael Jordan. That was a true changing of the guard.

Shaq, Iverson, Yao lead 2016 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class


VIDEO: A closer look at the careers of Yao, Iverson & O’Neal

HOUSTON — For so many years they were the long and short of excellence in the NBA, so it was only fitting that Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson led the way together for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2016.

The 7-foot-1 O’Neal played 19 seasons in the NBA, averaging 23.7 points and 10.9 rebounds. He was MVP in 2000 and a three-time MVP of the NBA Finals.

The 6-foot Iverson played 14 seasons, averaging 26.7 points and 6.2 assists. He was named MVP in 2001.

O’Neal and Iverson are among 10 new inductees for 2016. They were joined by”

  • Yao Ming, who was the No. 1 pick in the 2002 NBA draft and spent his entire career with the Houston Rockets before it as cut short by injuries in 2010.
  •  Jerry Reinsdorf, long-time owner of the Chicago Bulls, whose team dominated the NBA by winning six championships in the 1990s.
  • Sheryl Swoopes, three-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist, four-time WNBA champion and three-time WNBA MVP.
  • Tom Izzo, head coach at Michigan State, where he has led the Spartans to the 2000 NCAA title and seven trips to the Final Four.

There are four posthumous inductees:

  • Zelmo Beatty, who spent most of his career in the ABA, averaging 17.1 points and 10.9 rebounds.
  • Darell Garretson, former referee.
  • John McLendon, former coach who won three NAIA championships.
  • Cumberland Posey, a star in the early 1900s, who is also in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 228) Featuring Klay Thompson and Arash Markazi

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — History will determine where these Golden State Warriors rank all time.

They have to finish the deal, of course. None of it will matter if the Warriors don’t break the NBA record for wins in the regular season (the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls still own the top spot at 72 wins)

But Klay Thompson and the Warriors are not intimidated by the task. Thompson told us during All-Star Weekend that the chase for 73 wins is on. And the Warriors are currently ahead of the pace, 50-5 and counting.

Where will the Golden State Warriors rank all time?

Ahead of those outlandish Michael Jordan-led Bulls? Certainly alongside them and the Showtime Lakers, the Larry Bird-led Celtics, the Shaquille O’NealKobe Bryant-led Lakers and others.

We debate that and so much more on Episode 228 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring Thompson and Arash Markazi of ESPN.com, a Los Angeles native who provides a local perspective and also schools us on Echo Fox (owned by our very own Rick Fox).

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LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

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VIDEO: The Starters discuss the Golden State Warriors historical chase for 73 wins

Anthony Davis shines with transcendent performance


VIDEO: Anthony Davis dropped a NBA season-high 59 points on the Detroit Pistons

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Anthony Davis served up a reminder Sunday of why so many NBA pundits and observers pegged this season as his opportunity to take his game to the next level.

His 59-point, 20-rebound effort in a win over the Detroit Pistons was jaw-dropping in both effort and result. Davis became just the fourth player in NBA history to pile up that many points while also grabbing 20 rebounds (Shaquille O’Neal did it once, Elgin Baylor twice and the great Wilt Chamberlain did it 33 times, including 17 times during the 1961-62 season).

It was a transcendent effort from one of the truly unique talents the league has seen. Davis, just 22, and having barely scratched the surface of what he can do in this league, showed off all facets of his current offensive arsenal. He finished with authority around the rim, was precise off the dribble and with his mid-range game and even stepped out beyond the 3-point line a couple of times for good measure.

It was a virtuoso performance that left Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy shaking his head and accepting blame for his team not being able to contain Davis, who admitted to surprising himself with his performance.

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical the same:

Ever seen something like it? “I haven’t,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry told The Vertical in a text message. “Not by a big with that skill level.”

This season had been targeted as Davis’ MVP breakthrough, his time. Now, he’s nowhere near the conversation. Sit down with him, and the sense comes quickly: That’s the least of his concern. Winning matters to him, and that’s how Davis wants to be judged. Chris Paul pushed his way out of New Orleans, but Davis is starting a new five-year deal, and he’ll have to find a way to become part of the solution there.

Throughout All-Star weekend, Davis probed the biggest winners in the NBA. Throughout this lost Pelicans season, Kendrick Perkins has been guide to his personal inventory of franchise star stories – from Kevin Garnettand LeBron James to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

“Perk tells me stories from 10 years ago, and says: As the franchise player and leader of this team, you have to do this, you have to do that,” Davis told The Vertical.

Davis listens, but here’s the truth of the matter: The franchise star job demands that you learn through experience. Otherwise, everything will devour you. Davis is so gifted, so dedicated. And he takes everything – the losing, the unrealistic insistences that he ought to be to able to win all alone – in the most personal way possible.

“It’s tough,” Davis told The Vertical recently. “You start hearing all the white noise. ‘They lost three in a row, and it’s Anthony Davis’ fault.’ The blame gets put on you. Of course, there are other factors that go along with it – like the praise when you are winning. But to handle that when you’re so young, and haven’t really accomplished anything, it’s tough – especially when people put you on a pedestal. ‘He should be doing this, he should be doing that.’ It’s frustrating.

“It’ll make you overthink your game. You start thinking too much. You start listening and trying to figure out, ‘Well, I’m going to try to do this,’ and it takes you away from your game. Now, you’re losing more because you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do.”

Davis said Gentry challenged the Pelicans to be the best team in the league after the All-Star break, a task that will be difficult given the way the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs have been grinding all season.

The more realistic task, even with Stephen Curry playing the way he has all season, is for Davis to be the best player in the league the rest of this season.

That’s what many thought he’d do last summer, after his breakthrough effort in pushing the Pelicans into the playoffs. Injuries and the adjustments from an old system to Gentry’s didn’t allow that to happen early on this season. But Sunday’s effort could be the start of something spectacular for Davis the rest of the way …

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VIDEO: Anthony Davis joins the Game Time crew after his 59-point, 20-rebound effort in a win over Detroit

Morning shootaround — Feb. 14


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from All-Star Saturday Night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LaVine, Gordon wow in Dunk Contest | Hack-A-Gone? | Splash Brother vs. Splash Brother | Horford embraces uncertain future

No. 1:  LaVine, Gordon wow in Dunk Contest For years, the Verizon Slam Dunk was All-Star Weekend’s marquee event. The electricity surrounding the event may have waned in recent years. But last season, Timberwolves rookie Zach LaVine gave it a jolt of excitement, notching his first win. And Saturday night in Toronto, a couple of 20 year olds, LaVine and Magic forward Aaron Gordon, took turns making jaws drop, posting alternating perfect scores in the contest’s final round until LaVine was ultimately able to grab the win in arguably the greatest dunk contest in All-Star Weekend history. And as Lang Whitaker writes, with the contest on the line, LaVine went to the free-throw line

High expectations? No problem.

After bringing the Dunk Contest back to prominence one year ago with a series of electrifying dunks, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine picked up where he left off, with help from Orlando’s Aaron Gordon.

And with the Verizon Slam Dunk on the line, Zach LaVine went to the free throw line. Well, almost.

With a through-the-legs dunk from just inside the charity stripes, Zach LaVine earned his fifth score of 50 on the night, making him the 2016 NBA dunk champ. The 20-year-old LaVine became the first back-to-back winner since Nate Robinson in 2009 and 2010.

Going against Magic forward Aaron Gordon in the contest finals, LaVine and Gordon got locked into a heavyweight bout where they traded incredible body blows. After the contest, LaVine said, “We should share the trophy, because [Gordon] did some stuff I’ve never seen before.”

To begin the final round, Gordon completed a dunk with an unbelievable degree of difficulty, snatching the ball from Orlando Magic mascot Stuff — who was spinning on a hoverboard — and throwing down a twisting dunk. This earned a 50. LaVine countered by throwing himself an alley-oop and floating through the air for a one-handed finish, earning another 50.

Gordon then again used Stuff, this time clearing the mascot with his rear end while passing the ball below for a lefty finish. That earned another 50, putting the pressure on LaVine.

LaVine responded coolly, with a windmill from just inside the free throw line, for another 50. This marked the first time in Dunk Contest history the final round saw four scores of 50.

They didn’t stop. In the first dunk-off, Gordon enlisted teammate Elfrid Payton to throw an alley-oop off the side of the backboard. Gordon caught the ball and completed a reverse dunk while flying through the air. 50. LaVine responded by throwing an alley-oop to himself from the baseline, catching the ball and passing it through his legs for a reverse dunk. This earned another 50.

On the second dunk-off, Gordon ran along the baseline and did a two-handed double-pump reverse reminiscent of Dominique Wilkins. Gordon scored a 47. To win it, LaVine went back to the free throw line.

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No. 2: Hack-A-Gone? A Q&A with the Commissioner of the NBA has become a staple of All-Star Saturday Night, and last night Adam Silver faced the assembled media to address several topics. As Steve Aschburner writes, among the many topics addressed, one change Silver is clearly looking to implement is an end to the Hack-A- intentional fouling that has become en vogue around the NBA lately …

If the Hack-A-Whomever strategy currently raising such a ruckus in some NBA precincts is actually something you like, take solace: It’s going to be with us, extending the real time of games, disrupting any sense of flow and showcasing a whole lot of bricked free throws, at least through the end of the 2016 playoffs.

If, though, you believe in the tactic as a coach’s best friend — something to encourage bad foul shooters to improve, lest they look silly and cost their teams victories — those guys had better get in the gym soon and practice their form, release and follow-through fast.

Change almost certainly is coming, based on NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s comments Saturday in the annual state-of-the-league All-Star news conference.

Silver, addressing and fielding questions from reporters before the skills, slam dunk and 3-point shooting contests at Air Canada Centre, reiterated what he has said on several recent occasion. “I’m beginning to feel that a change needs to be made,” Silver said, citing conversations he has had with broadcast partners, sentiment expressed in fan data and feedback from players, GMs and owners.

As for coaches, Silver said “Clearly our coaches who are smart and using very complex analytics believe it is benefiting them.”

But changing the rules wouldn’t be pursued to make life tougher on the league’s coaches, any more than it would be done to let the most frequent targets of the tactic — notoriously poor free-throw shooters such as DeAndre Jordan (.423 free-throw percentage), Andre Drummond (.351), Dwight Howard (.532) and a handful of others — off the hook. It would be a decision driven more by the NBA product as entertainment, not merely athletic competition.

Silver did share that, when the league’s competition committee discussed the strategy last summer, it sought data from an additional season before making a recommendation. That data so far? “We’re seeing the Hack-a-Shaq strategy used at roughly a five-and-a-half-times greater rate than it was used last season,” the commissioner reported.

That’s a lot of standing around, stoppages in play and, for folks viewing from the stands or on TV at home, a procession of finely tuned, multi-millionaire athletes failing at one of basketball’s fundamental skills. That’s not a good look for anyone involved.

Interestingly, Silver said that there is no consensus among the practice’s critics what remedy should be pursued. Treat the entire game like the final two minutes, when fouls away from the play equal one free throw and retained possession? Come up with something more stringent to snuff even the temptation to hack a targeted player intentionally?

Silver said he would want to have a specific alternative to propose. And even then, that sort of change would need the approval of two-thirds of the league’s members (20 of the 30 teams).

“So we’re nowhere near that point where we’re even starting to count heads,” Silver said. This summer would be the soonest, he indicated.

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No. 3: Splash Brother vs. Splash Brother It was no big surprise last season in Brooklyn when Stephen Curry managed to win the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest; after all, he was midway through an MVP season and establishing himself as one of the greatest shooters in NBA history. Last night in Toronto, when it came time for Curry to defend his title, he posted a fine performance, making the final round, until his Splash Brother and Warriors backcourt ‘mate Klay Thompson was able to get hot and edge Curry. As Sekou Smith writes, if there was any questions left about the league’s best-shooting backcourt, those doubts were officially laid to rest night

For the second straight year, one of the Golden State Warriors’ Splash Brothers walked off the All-Star Saturday night stage as the champion of the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest.

But it wasn’t defending champion and NBA three-point king Stephen Curry. This time it was teammate Klay Thompson taking home top honors in a competition that, by the final round, looked like something the Warriors might do at the end of every practice.

It marks the first time in Three-Point Contest history that different players from the same team have won it in consecutive seasons.

“Back-to-back years for Splash Brothers, it’s pretty cool,” Thompson said.

Thompson saved his best for last, finishing with 27 points in the final round to conquer one of the deepest fields in the history of the competition, a group that includes some of the best long-range shooters in the game today and perhaps ever.

“He definitely shot well tonight,” Curry said. “I still think I can hold my own in the competition, but the way that he finished off that second round was amazing. So trust me, the pressure of knowing what number he had to hit and making five out of five was fun to watch.”

Curry collected 23 points in his final round, but was on his feet cheering with the rest of the contestants as Thompson drained shot after shot on his final rack. Phoenix Suns rookie Devin Booker, the youngest player in the league, finished third after netting 16 points in the final round.

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No. 4: Horford embraces uncertain future All-Star Weekend is traditionally something of a swap shop for trade rumors, and with his contract expiring this summer, All-Star Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford hasn’t been immune from hearing his name. But considering the trade rumors and that he was swimming in the Caribbean when he got the last-minute call to get to Toronto, stat, as Sam Amick writes, Horford says he’s thrilled to be in Toronto and taking everything day by day

It’s no secret that the Hawks have been exploring trade options that include Horford, but that doesn’t mean the four-time All-Star’s days in Atlanta are necessarily done. The relationship between the player and the team that drafted him third overall in 2007 remains strong, with nine seasons of history between them and a dynamic between Horford and president of basketball operations/coach Mike Budenholzer that could still lead to him re-signing this summer. And yes, it should be noted, the Hawks are well aware that retaining a talent like Horford in today’s NBA will come with an enormous price tag not only because of his talents but because the league’s salary cap is about to spike from $70 million to $89 million next season (and $108 million in 2017-18). He would earn approximately $25 in his first season.

But the 31-24 Hawks, like any team that isn’t playing to its anticipated level, must consider all options this time of year. They are also known to be engaging in trade discussions relating to point guard Jeff Teague, who is less of a flight risk than Horford because he has one year left on his contract ($8 million). The New York Knicks and Utah Jazz, to name a few, could be serious suitors for Teague in the coming days.

The Boston Celtics are widely believed to be a potential fit as a Horford trade partner, but the real level of interest from general manager Danny Ainge remains to be seen in the coming days. And while Horford continues to speak positively about the city and his situation, there’s an inherent uncertainty to this process that always acts as the driving force.

“I’m very happy in Atlanta,” Horford said when asked if the Hawks had reason to be concerned that he might leave. “I’ve said it repeatedly. I love the city. My family, we all live in Atlanta, we stay there in the offseason, so my focus is just to keep playing and taking it day by day and, right now, it’s to enjoy this weekend. … Just taking it day by day. That’s the only thing I can do. We really can’t worry about three or four months from now.”

Especially when a welcome All-Star berth comes your way.

While Horford wasn’t selected to the team initially, he was given the nod on Friday when Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh unexpectedly pulled out because of a calf strain. Horford was vacationing with his family near Cancun, Mexico, when he got the call.

“I had my phone off (and) I was in the water,” said Horford, who is averaging 15.3 points and 6.9 rebounds this season. “I was doing my morning swim out there, and I got the call (around 9:30 am).

“I’m so excited to be here, man. Words don’t describe it. Being here in this city, in Toronto. I remember last year looking at it, and I was like, ‘It’s going to be in Toronto, I would love to be a part of that,’ because, you know, the fans here are so lively and just being around these guys and it happens to be Kobe’s last All-Star. It’s kind of a big deal, and for me to be a part of this I’m very grateful.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Carmelo Anthony says he’s not getting tradedKarl-Anthony Towns struck a blow for bigs in the Skills Challenge … If you haven’t heard, it’s really, really cold in Toronto this weekend … The Indiana Pacers are eyeing a future All-Star Weekend bidJimmer Fredette was named MVP of the D-League All-Star GameKevin Hart tied Draymond Green in their own three-point shootout.

Iverson, O’Neal, Johnson among 2016 Hall of Fame finalists


VIDEO: 2016 Hall of Fame finalists announced

From NBA.com staff reports

A legendary NBA center and two of the toughest guards to ever play in the NBA mark the list of 14 basketball standouts selected as 2016 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame finalists.

Shaquille O’Neal won an MVP in 2000, was a three-time NBA Finals MVP, the Rookie of the Year in 1993 and won four championships in the NBA and is one of the two centers in this year’s class. He played 19 years in the NBA averaging 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. A 15-time NBA All-Star (1993-98, 2000-07, 2009), O’Neal led the league in field goal percentage for 10 seasons (1994, 1998-2002, 2004-06, 2009) and ranks seventh on the NBA all-time scoring list.

Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson won the NBA MVP in 2001 and led his team to The Finals that year (where they faced — and lost to — O’Neal’s Los Angeles Lakers) and was one of the most skilled and toughest players in league history. He was an 11-time All-Star and one of the most influential players of his generation, averaging 26.7 points and 6.2 assists per game in 14 seasons.

Former Phoenix Suns guard (and current Sacramento mayor) Kevin Johnson was a three-time All-Star, a key member of the Suns team that made the 1993 Finals and one of the best playmakers of his era. As mayor, he was a major advocate of keeping the Sacramento Kings NBA team in the city when it was at high risk of moving.

The other inductees in this year’s class:

  • Former high school coach Leta Andrews
  • Former college coach Charles “Lefty” Driesell
  • Former NBA referee Darrell Garretson
  • Former high school coach Robert Hughes
  • Current Michigan State coach Tom Izzo
  • Current Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw
  • Former college coach John McLendon
  • Former college coach Bo Ryan,
  • Former college coach Eddie Sutton
  • Former WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes
  • The 1954-58 Wayland Baptist Univ. women’s basketball team

Current TNT analyst David Aldridge won of the Curt Gowdy Award for print media while ESPN analyst Jay Bilas won the Curt Gowdy Award winner for electronic media. Jim Delaney, the commissioner of the Big Ten, wins the John Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award, the Hall’s highest honor short of enshrinement.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 25


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Jan. 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lue was right pick to replace Blatt | Tony Parker is ready for Steph Curry duty | Kings’ rise fueled by Boogie, Rondo and defense | Raptors on a roll

No. 1: Lue was right pick to replace Blatt — The Cleveland Cavaliers fell flat in Tyronn Lue‘s debut as head coach. But the collective confidence in Lue as David Blatt‘s replacement remains strong after his first weekend on the job, even if he is still searching for his first win as the man in charge. Lue didn’t mince his words about the Cavaliers’ shortcomings after they lost to Chicago Saturday night and his refusal to do anything but shoot everyone straight, LeBron James and the rest of the locker room included, is what makes him the right fit. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com explains:

As it became apparent to Cavs management over the past month that the team was not responding to Blatt with the coach-player dynamic expected in what was supposed to be a championship culture, Lue was the clear choice as a replacement. Had the team made a coaching change last summer, a league source told ESPN.com, there would have been heavy consideration for Tom Thibodeau. But 41 games into the season, after witnessing Lue continue to straddle the nearly impossible line of being a loyal assistant to Blatt while growing organic connections to the team’s stars, management felt there was no one else more qualified to take the team where it wanted to go.

“Man, he’s a gamer,” said James Jones. “Ty lives and breathes this game.”

Jones is one of six players on the Cavs’ roster with more than 10 years of NBA experience. Lue carved out an 11-year NBA career himself as a journeyman point guard, averaging 8.5 points and 3.1 assists while playing for seven teams.

Jones was the player charged with gathering the players on their off day to the Cavs’ practice facility on Friday to inform them of the coaching decision. Rather than make 14 phone calls to spread the news, Griffin told Jones and knew he would take care of it. “He’s a magician like that,” Griffin said. Within 45 minutes, 13 players reported to Independence, Ohio, to hear about the franchise’s change of fate (one unidentified player did not make it, as he left his phone in his car while he was inside his house).

Lue retired from playing in 2009, so those half dozen Cavs veterans had all competed against him at one time or another. He and Richard Jefferson, in fact, were teammates for a season in Milwaukee.

“He’s extremely detail-oriented,” Jones said. “He can tell you anything and everything about every player he played against. He’s perceptive. And I think that’s why he was able to be successful in all the various situations he was in. Good teams, bad teams, leadership role, major minutes, support [role], as an assistant coach and as an associate head coach. So, I just know that, even when you talk about his personal life, nothing is more important than the game. And that’s what’s so respected about him.”

While Lue was far from a star, never averaging more than 13.5 points in a season, his path was star-crossed. He was teammates with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal with the Los Angeles Lakers and was coached by Phil Jackson. He played alongside Michael Jordan for His Airness’ final two seasons in Washington. He later teamed with the likes of Tracy McGrady, Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Howard.

He always had an ability to relate to the marquee guys, even when they were on the other side. Maybe it was because they saw Lue across from them — listed generously at 6-foot, 175 pounds — with his passion being really the only thing fueling his place in the league, and it made them want to work harder to get the most out of the physical attributes and skills bestowed upon them.

LeBron James was one of those opponents who couldn’t help but gravitate to Lue. “We’ve been friends since I was 17 years old,” James said.

And Lue’s Forrest Gump-like path through the league the past two decades has given the Cavs faith he’ll be equipped to handle his current challenge in Cleveland.

“There’s nothing that he hasn’t seen,” James said. “He’s played for Phil Jackson, he’s coached with Doc [Rivers], he’s been all over, so he has experience. We put our trust in him now.”

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No. 2: Tony Parker is ready for Steph Curry duty — It’s the matchup we’ve all been waiting for, the San Antonio Spurs visiting the Golden State Warriors tonight at Oracle Arena (10:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV). It’s also the individual battle Tony Parker can’t wait to dive into, his tilt with the NBA’s reigning MVP and frontrunner for a second straight trophy, Stephen Curry. Parker knows the challenge is daunting, but that’s why he’ll get some assistance, writes Jeff McDonald of the Express News:

At some point in Monday’s ballyhooed matchup at Oracle Arena, Stephen Curry will rise up and launch from somewhere south of Santa Clara, and Parker will be powerless to stop it.

Parker confirmed Sunday what most expected. He will draw the black bean assignment of guarding the NBA’s most lethal scorer. He hopes to have help.

“They won’t leave me (on Curry) by myself,” Parker said after the Spurs’ hour-long practice at the University of San Francisco. “Obviously it takes a whole team to slow him down.”

Parker is enjoying what coach Gregg Popovich calls his best defensive season, but expecting the 33-year-old to be anything more than a speed bump in Curry’s path is asking a big much.

The NBA’s reigning MVP, Curry is averaging a league-leading 30.1 points, shooting 45.1 percent of his 3-pointer and unleashing nearly 20 field goal tries per game.

“He’s the ultimate test,” Parker said. “He’s playing his best basketball. He’s the best player in the league.”

The Spurs, you might have heard, have a pretty decent defender in Kawhi Leonard. Last season’s NBA Defensive Player of the Year said he expects to see a little time on Curry, but mentioned Draymond Green and even 7-foot center Andrew Bogut as potential assignments.

However Popovich opts to defend the Warriors on Monday, expect him to leave a few tricks up his sleeve for future meetings, particularly a potential playoff matchup.

“Pop always has some stuff that he keeps for the playoffs,” Parker said. “(Monday) will be one of those games where maybe you’ll see a little different stuff. Overall, we’re pretty much going to do the same stuff we’ve been doing.”

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No. 3: Kings’ rise fueled by Boogie, Rondo, defense — The same three things that, according to most pundits, could prove to be the downfall for the Sacramento Kings this season are same things that have fueled their current five-game win streak and rise into the top eight of the Western Conference playoff mix. DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins, Rajon Rondo and their team defense were all considered the Kings’ biggest problem at one point or another earlier this season. But not now, per Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee, not with the Kings looking like they have sprouted playoff legs just in time for the midseason push:

The mood surrounding the Kings has been upbeat lately, and for good reason.

Sacramento has won a season-high five games in a row.

DeMarcus Cousins has been brilliant over that span, averaging 32.6 points and 14.8 rebounds.

But the Kings’ improved defense might be a bigger key to the streak than Cousins’ dominance.

The defense has been bad for much of the season.

The Kings allow the most points per game (107.2) in the NBA and rank 20th in opponents’ field-goal percentage (.454).

During the five-game winning streak, Sacramento has held opponents to 96.4 points per game and 40.1 percent shooting.

No one would call the Kings an elite defensive unit this season, but as long as they progress from the worst in the league, they like their chances most nights.

“We’ve picked it up,” Cousins said. “I still think we could do better, honestly.”

What’s changed? Besides Cousins playing like a superstar, rookie center Willie Cauley-Stein has started the last five games and injected a defensive spark.

That change came after the Kings’ last loss, Jan. 13 against New Orleans, when defensive intensity was lacking most of the night.

“I can give credit to Willie,” Cousins said. “He’s come in and, as a rookie, changed the whole identity of our team. That’s huge, especially for a rookie. So it just shows his impact on this team, and he does so many things for us that don’t show up on paper.”

The Kings have held their last three opponents under 100 points, and perhaps their most impressive win during the streak, a 91-88 victory Thursday over Atlanta, showed they can win when their high-paced offense is not clicking.

Scrappy teams that slowed the Kings’ offense have given them fits for most of the season.

In the Atlanta game, and even in Saturday’s win over Indiana, the Kings made critical stops late, as there appears to be more pride on defense lately.

“Not only Willie, but I feel like everybody’s picked up the defensive identity, and it’s helping us win games right now,” Cousins said. “So we’ve just got to keep going.”

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No. 4: Raptors on a roll — They haven’t partied like this in Toronto in over a decade. But there is no denying coach Dwane Casey‘s team right now, not after they’ve piled up their best run during his tenure and sit just one game shy of the franchise’s best win streak since they won nine straight in 2002. They’re doing it with a deep roster filled with seasoned pros who all know their roles. Doug Smith of the Toronto Star provides the details:

Most nights it’s one guy or maybe two who have produced while others have struggled and the inconsistency of the Toronto Raptors’ bench has been a thing every now and then, even though the team has survived well enough.

But on a night when four guys have it going at the same time, it’s all fun and good times and easy baskets and stops.

Smiles all around.

Getting 51 points off the bench — the highest production by substitutes this season — the Raptors rolled to an easy 112-94 victory Sunday over the Los Angeles Clippers.

It is Toronto’s eighth win in a row and an impressive thumping of a quality opponent.

The Raptors can equal an all-time franchise high on Tuesday against Washington with a ninth straight win.

And if the team’s four backups — Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo — play then as they played Sunday, Toronto will be hard to beat.

“I think (Sunday night) was probably one of our best games collectively as a second unit,” Patterson said.

Now settled into a consistent rotation after dealing with a series of injuries that muddled things, a successful routine is developing.

“There’s no uncertainty,” Patterson said. “So you know when you’re coming in, you know when you’re coming out and you know how much effort you can give, you know where your shots are going to come, you know the focus you have to have.

“If there’s uncertainty there’s a lack of energy, a lack of confidence, you tend to get frustrated so now that you know when you’re coming in, when you’re coming out, who you’re going to be in the game with, everyone’s just more comfortable out there.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Four serious candidates have emerged for the Nets’ GM job, including Bryan Colangelo and Danny Ferry … Stephen Curry has his mind on the Spurs for tonight’s clash of NBA titans, but as you might imagine. the Charlotte native had a few other things on his mind Sunday with his Panthers advancing to Super Bowl 50 in nearby Santa Clara … No surprise here, the “young Lakers” are getting schooled by the opposition this seasonSnow Way! Brooklyn stuns Oklahoma City to cap off wild blizzard weekend … Jazz point guard Trey Burke is thriving in a reserve role … The Detroit Pistons are struggling on defense, with deficiencies in both effort and communication

Morning shootaround — Jan. 24


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Jan. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs lose in Lue debut | Stan Van Gundy rips Blatt firing | Kerr, Myers find support in pain | Scola the Explorer

No. 1: Cavs lose in Lue debut Just hours after replacing David Blatt as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Tyronn Lue made his head coaching debut at home in a nationally televised game against the Chicago Bulls. And while Lue talked about wanting to make the experience more fun for his players, as Chris Haynes writes for Cleveland.com, that turned out to be easier to talk about than actually make happen, as the Bulls won 96-83…

The Cavaliers showed energy, but lacked any efficiency — showing no shooting touch on the floor or at the foul line. They missed beyond the arc — making just four of 24 attempts — and at the foul line, where they were 9-of-22. By game’s end, they left the floor to boos from the home crowd.

During Lue’s pregame presser, he said one of the problems was that his team needed to start having more fun post David Blatt.

“I don’t think they’re enjoying it,” Lue said. “That was a part of our speech today. The game will pass you by. No matter how great LeBron is, Kyrie, Kevin, the game will pass you by. … I want them to just enjoy the moment now.”

To help cater to a new pleasurable basketball experience, before the game the Cavaliers did something they haven’t done since mid-November: they participated in the starting lineup introductions. Before, the players would just stand in a huddle as the public address announcer announced each starter.

That was the full degree of Cleveland’s (30-12) fun.

Initially into the contest, it looked as if the Cavaliers were energized and full of life by jumping out to a 7-2 lead. But that vigor slowly evaporated and old habits of isolation ball crept back in. They went scoreless in the final 6:26 of the opening quarter, missing their last 16 shots.

Ball movement could have been better, but for the most part Cleveland just couldn’t hit a shot. It was brutal to watch as they shot a horrific 37 percent from the field for the night.

When the buzzer sounded for halftime and the Cavaliers were down five, a frustrated LeBron James slammed the ball to the floor as he headed to the locker room. He had missed all three of his first half free throws. By game’s end, the Cavaliers were 9-of-22 from the charity stripe — and that required an 8-for-11 stretch to finish the game. Chicago capitalized on those missed opportunities, expanding its lead to 17 with 42 seconds remaining in the third.

An exasperated sellout crowd booed the home team, which trimmed the deficit to nine on a James layup plus free throw with 2:55 left in the game. A pair of free throws by Smith chipped it to eight seconds later.

But the Bulls found Taj Gibson for a difficult layup with a foul on James, pretty much ending any suspense. There was no overcoming that margin on this cold shooting night.

James was an assist shy of claiming his his first triple-double of the season. He finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds, but was 11-for-27 shooting. Smith put in 18 points on 17 shots. Love was the only player to make half his shots, finishing with 14 points and five boards and Kyrie Irving registered 11 points on 16 shot attempts.

Lue informed the media at morning shootaround that he would go with a 10-man rotation in order to develop an identity with the second unit. Veteran James Jones, who was out of the rotation under Blatt, was the first to sub in. Mo Williams, who hadn’t played in 10 of his last 13 games, soon after entered. The surprising aspect is that Lue used 10 players in the first quarter, showing how serious he is about improving his bench.

The results didn’t prove beneficial. Chicago’s bench outscored Cleveland’s 22-8.

With the franchise invested in Lue for the long haul, his objective is still to win games, but he also wants to restore his team’s passion.

“I’m not really worried about, right now this early, about the games, I really just worried about the spirit is more important than anything,” he said. “Getting our spirit right, getting our spirit together and I think everything else will take care of itself because we got a lot of great players.”

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