HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Behold the NBA’s most compelling two-man race to the scoring title since … last season.
A year ago Oklahoma City scoring machine Kevin Durant held off legendary point-producer Kobe Bryant when Bryant sat out the Los Angeles Lakers’ season finale at Sacramento and conceded the chance to catch Durant. OKC’s young gun won his third consecutive scoring title by the microscopic margin of 28.03 ppg to 27.86 ppg.
It’s about half the gap that the sizzling Carmelo Anthony has seized over Durant — 28.56 to 28.25. Anthony, who passed LeBron James with the NBA’s top-selling jersey on Tuesday, nudged in front of Durant for the scoring lead on Sunday with 36 points to Durant’s 27 in their head-to-head battle won by the Knicks.
Kobe, the holder of consecutive scoring titles a half-dozen years ago and currently holding steady in third (27.0 ppg), famously said of sitting out: “The scoring title is not that important. We know I can do it. We know I can go out and score 38 points. The most important thing is sending the right message to the group, which is putting a championship above all else.”
Which might be the the message Durant is now sending to his Thunder teammates as they gear up for a run at consecutive West titles and a desperately wanted Finals rematch against the Miami Heat. After all, the last scoring champ to raise a championship banner was Shaquille O’Neal in 1999-2000.
Consider Tuesday night’s action. The Thunder won at Utah to move within a half-game of San Antonio for the West’s top seed. Durant managed a light-shooting night (6-for-10) while finishing one assist shy of a fourth triple-double this season (21 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists).
Meanwhile in New York, Anthony was at it again, draining 13-for-21 from the floor for 36 points as the Knicks secured their first Atlantic Division title since 1994 and tightened their grip on the East’s No. 2 seed. Their sizzling superstar has averaged 40.6 ppg over the last five games while Durant has averaged just a tick below his season average.
Last week Durant told Anthony that he can have the scoring title. Even with the historical significance of becoming the first player to win four consecutive scoring titles since Michael Jordan won seven in a row 20 years ago, Durant said he’s rooting for his Team USA teammate to win his first.
“Carmelo, Kevin, LeBron, Kobe, there’s a lot of guys that really, if they really, really wanted to lead the league in scoring they could score over 30 points a game and they could run away with it,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks, an assistant with Denver for three seasons with Anthony. “But those guys are about trying to win a championship, about trying to do what’s right for the team and there’s no question scoring is important for their teams. Kevin needs to score for us to be successful, but that’s not the only thing that he does.”
Durant has been the more efficient scorer of the two and he remains on pace to become the sixth player in NBA history to shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from beyond the arc and 90 percent at the free-throw line. With four games left he’s at: 50.6, 41.2 and 90.7. He would become the first player ever to win the scoring title and achieve 50-40-90 in the same season.
The Knicks have five games left, including a pair against two of the NBA’s stingiest defenses: at Chicago (Thursday) and at home against Indiana (Sunday). Still, against the teams New York plays (also Cleveland, Charlotte and Atlanta), Anthony is averaging 28.0 ppg, and that includes just six points in 14 minutes in his only meeting with the Cavs.
Down the stretch they come and Melo’s got the inside track with his closest competitor cheering him on.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Few players divide the room the way Carmelo Anthony does.
To some, the New York Knicks’ superstar is a scoring marvel to behold in a league that has always cherished guys who could put the ball in the hole at a record pace. Yet to others, Anthony is an elite scorer but little else and needs to expand the boundaries of his game if he wants to be mentioned in the same breath as friends and contemporaries like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant.
But if he was a better rebounder, set-up man and finally “won the big one” then we wouldn’t have anything to debate on Episode 111 of the Hang Time Podcast, where we also debate and discuss the Brittney Griner to the NBA (instead of WNBA … she’s all for it, by the way) drama, the Mike Rice-Rutgers basketball flap, Shaquille O’Neal‘s retirement ceremony, our Final Four picks (GO BLUE!) and a whole lot more.
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Go ahead Dirk. Shave it off.
As Vince Carter said last week after the Dallas Mavericks’ first failed attempt to get back to .500, the beard brigade served its purpose, bringing this group of mostly one-year rentals closer and focused on making a run. To their credit they did. But now, as Carter also said, the hubbub surrounding their quest to finally shave after two months of battling to break even is — ahem — growing out of control.
Still, Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas’ career lone superstar — looking half uni-bomber, half-Bill Walton ’77 — promised to abide by the non-shaving pact initiated by O.J. Mayo back in late January.
“We only have 10 games left,” Nowitzki said. “I’m not going to shave now.”
Now, with eight to go, it’s time. After Tuesday’s second failed attempt for .500, a 20-point road drubbing by the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas is 36-38 and essentially out of the chase for eighth, now a two-team race between the Lakers and Utah Jazz. Nowitzki, who had 33 points in an overtime win against the Clippers last Tuesday and 35 in Saturday’s miraculous comeback to beat the Bulls, fizzled in L.A. with just 11 points, appearing as old as the 45 years his mother said that beard makes him look.
There is no shame in the longtime face of the franchise opting for a shave. It will be refreshing, perhaps even a bit rejuvenating to see your still-youthful face again and finish out this lost season on a positive note.
Nowitzki’s 11-year All-Star run came to an end this season and he could suffer his first sub-.500 season since the turn of the century. Plus, he’s on the cusp of missing the postseason for the first time in 13 seasons, a remarkable run that only the Spurs can outdo, recently cinching a 16th consecutive playoff appearance.
The offseason promises to be a long one for Nowitzki, who turns 35 in June and who will wait and see how owner Mark Cuban again reshuffles the deck entering the final year of his contract.
Since winning the NBA title in 2011, the Mavs are 72-68 with a first-round sweep. He has grown weary of a makeshift roster and even questioned Cuban’s strategy earlier this season.
It’s doubtful this is the star Nowitzki had in mind to join him for his twilight seasons.
Back in star-studded L.A., where he was filming the TV show “Shark Tank” last July when Deron Williams wondered why he wasn’t in his Manhattan living room, Cuban told reporters regarding Griner:
“Would I do it? Right now, I’d lean toward yes, just to see if she can do it. You never know unless you give somebody a chance, and it’s not like the likelihood of any late-50s draft pick has a good chance of making it.”
Perhaps Cuban saw the inevitable to come Tuesday night and figured he’d preempt Shaq’s big night and this beat-up, sub-standard Lakers team eventually demolishing of his Mavs by going headline hunting.
For one, Cuban has often talked about the heightened importance of the draft under the new collective bargaining agreement. Those more rigid, financially punishing set of rules convinced him to dismantle the 2011 title team, particularly by not re-signing Tyson Chandler and choosing to rebuild a contender through cap space and draft picks.
Dallas hasn’t hit on a draft pick since Josh Howard in 2003. Last June’s second-round pick, Jae Crowder, is the closest yet to becoming a contributing rotation player. Fellow second-round pick, 6-foot-10 former Air Force staff sergeant Bernard James, might tell Griner this gig isn’t so easy. First-round pick Jared Cunningham, a combo guard, has played a total of 26 minutes in a season the Mavs brought in Derek Fisher and then Mike James.
With free-agent star power this summer expected to stay where it is, and Dallas light on trade assets to acquire a rising impact player, the Mavs must find success in the draft — be it in the first round or the too-easily dismissed second round.
The Mavs need contributors, not marketing gimmicks. And that’s no shot at Griner, who dominated the women’s game and was recently described probably quite accurately by one Dallas radio commentator as the Wilt Chamberlain of women’s basketball.
But Griner can’t play in the NBA, and for Cuban to even suggest that he’d consider selecting her with a draft pick should only make the still-bearded, still-committed Nowitzki roll his eyes.
. HANG TIME WEST – It’s too bad Dr. Jerry Buss will not be at Staples Center tonight because this is about his emotions and vision as well, the way he knew when it was time to dump Shaquille O’Neal, when it was time to let go of the unfortunate past and when it was time to figuratively bring Shaq back into the fold. The good news is that it is a safe bet O’Neal will mention Buss in a kind way, and so the Lakers owner who passed in February actually will be there.
It has been an automatic for years — no matter how many wanted to suggest doubt after an ugly breakup — that the Lakers would retire jersey No. 34 in tribute to O’Neal. That it is happening late in this of all seasons, Tuesday as the Lakers face the Mavericks in a game with implications for the bottom of the Western Conference playoff pack, is just how things worked out in a strange way: The relationship with Kobe Bryant has gone from setting fire to the locker room all the way to friendly, Mike D’Antoni, briefly Shaq’s coach in Phoenix, now has the Lakers job, and the organization desperately needs the positive vibes of Junes past. All unexpected developments, all making this particularly special.
And there were good times. No, there were great times. O’Neal and Bryant feuded at historic levels – it could be argued that their egos at 40 paces hastened the retirement of Jerry West, exhausted by, among other things, years of having to be Switzerland – and it is no stretch to suggest championship opportunities were missed because the tension overtook the winning. O’Neal showed up Buss by screaming at the owner for a fat extension and increasingly showed less of a commitment to staying in shape. But that team was a thunderclap of talent and unapologetic arrogance.
This is the first of many public commemorations of a special group, to be followed by Bryant having No. 8 or No. 24 (or both) retired, probably the only other member of that team that will get the honor, and O’Neal entering the Hall of Fame in 2017. (Phil Jackson reached Springfield, Mass., in 2007 partly on the strength of his L.A. titles, but would have gotten there anyway just from the Chicago success.) The only way that likely changes, barring a switch to the current way of thinking, is if another player makes the Hall and therefore automatically gets a jersey on the wall, as was the case with Gail Goodrichand more recently Jamaal Wilkes. Their numbers would not have been retired otherwise.
For now, in one of the many watched subplots around the Lakers, it is O’Neal for the next jersey, Bryant as the only certainty after that, and the expectation of Elgin Baylor as the next statue outside Staples Center, as previously reported. That will be some center lineage on the wall, too – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (33), Wilt Chamberlain (13), O’Neal (34), plus a mention of George Mikan from the Minneapolis days.
“It takes really good fortune,” West said of the Lakers’ history of acquiring superstar centers. “When things are going great, everybody always praises you about how smart you are and how good you are. It takes a tremendous amount of good fortune to be able to build a team and to acquire players like that. This game is changing greatly because we don’t have as many really good big men as we’ve had before. You look at teams, they have changed. Players 6-5 to 6-9 are all so versatile. We really don’t have a lot of conventional centers today. Shaquille O’Neal, frankly, was probably the last of those. He was just one of those unbelievable players. I couldn’t be more thrilled. He was one of my favorite Laker players of all-time. He was a great guy. Thankfully for us, he chose us instead of going back to Orlando. I knew for all of us in Los Angeles, we knew what we were going to get. And we got a lot as a player, a lot as a personality and we won a few championships with him, which was always the icing on the cake.”
Buss could have stopped tonight from happening with an edict years ago, but rightfully chose not to, wanting to honor someone who meant a great deal to the organization rather than dwelling on how things ended. Shaq himself knows this better than anyone. In the last days of his career, open to a final season with the Lakers in a backup role (L.A. had no interest), he understood the real fence-mending was with Buss, not Bryant. That probably makes this honor extra special. With some franchises, it might not have happened.
O’Neal had such a massive footprint on the Lakers that he was a centerpiece of three championships and had a role in at least one other crown. He was obviously part of Bryant’s drive in 2010, considering how Bryant referenced him so quickly, and not in a pleasant way, after the Game 7 win over the Celtics. Even the bad times were good times. That was some connection and this is some special night.
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: Several good ones to pick from last night, including the sizzling Jazz winning their fifth straight, the Rockets rolling along with James Harden on the bench and the Pacers doing just enough to escape the Clips in L.A. But we’ve gotta give it up for the Grizzlies this morning for their win over the (albeit injury-depleted) Spurs last night. Memphis was at it’s Grit-and-Grind best and showed they can change up their style a bit, too. With San Antonio pressuring big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol all night (and neither one having a particularly wowing stat line), the Grizz turned to Mike Conley, who came through time after time and nailed the game-winning layup with :00.6 left.
Heat escape punishment for resting stars– Heading into Sunday night’s Heat-Spurs matchup in San Antonio, one of the talking points was the team’s last meeting in December. That game is famously known for two reasons: first, for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sending Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green back to San Antonio to get rest rather than play them in back-to-back games and second, for the Spurs giving the fully stocked Heat a real game despite missing those standout players. The rematch on Sunday lacked LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers, who all sat out due to injury but, unlike the Spurs’ quartet in December, were sitting on Miami’s bench during the Heat’s eventual win. Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today explains why the Spurs were fined $250,000 for their antics in December and the Heat weren’t leveled any punishment for theirs:
There are multiple reasons why NBA Commissioner David Stern hammered the Spurs:
It was an early-season game, long before it becomes customary for playoff teams to give top players a game off.
The Spurs didn’t list a reason why their players (who were sent home) didn’t play other than “NWT” — Not With Team. The Heat gave reasons for James (strained right hamstring) and Wade (sprained right ankle).
In a statement addressing the Spurs’ fine in November, Stern said the Spurs violated league policy “against resting players in manner contrary to the best interests of the NBA. … The team also did this without informing the Heat, the media, or the league office in a timely way. Under these circumstances, I have concluded that the Spurs did a disservice to the league and our fans.”
It can be concluded that the Heat informed the Spurs, media and league office in a timely way, since Miami was not penalized.
At the April 2010 Board of Governors meeting just before the playoffs began, Stern said owners addressed the issue of teams sitting players in the final weeks of the season and concluded, “We also had what I would call a spirited discussion on the subject of players being rested down the stretch. And I think it’s fair to say that there was no conclusion reached, other than a number of teams thought that it should be at the sole discretion of the team, coach, general manager, and I think it’s fair to say that I agree with that, unless that discretion is abused.”
It can also be concluded that Popovich abused that discretion in November and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra did not in late March.
Knicks’ Smith picks up his all-around game — J.R. Smith is the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the usual reason players get that award: he’s been sizzling hot in his last few games. In the last three weeks in particular, Smith has forsaken his love of the 3-pointer for more aggressive drives to the basket and is doing work on the glass as well. Tommy Beer of HoopsWorld.com has more on Smith, who is rolling and fueling the Knicks as they are in the midst of an eight-game win streak:
Smith has been consistently aggressive. He’s relentlessly attacking the basket rather than settling for perimeter jumpers.
Consider these statistics to help put Smith’s recent play in proper context: Smith played 35 games for the Knicks last season after signing with New York in mid-February and attempted a total of 55 free throws over the course of the 2011-12 season. In contrast, over the Knicks’ last 10 games, Smith has attempted 89 free throws. Yes, he has gotten to the line 34 more times in 25 fewer games.
Over this 10-game stretch, dating back to March 14, Smith is tied with Kevin Durant for the most free throw attempts in the entire league.
During this current 10-game span, Smith is shooting over 48 percent from the floor and has scored 250 points on just 168 field goal attempts. Those numbers compare favorably with even the league’s most efficient scorers.
Smith certainly hasn’t eliminated the three-pointer from his arsenal (he averaged 6.3 three-point attempts in March), he’s just been more selective. In addition, he has drastically reduced the amount of long two-pointers he’s taking. Smith is either taking threes or getting to basket, which typically results in a dunk, lay-up or trip to the charity stripe.
In March, Smith was one of just five NBA players who knocked down at least 20 three-pointers as well as 80 free throws. The other four members of that exclusive club: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, James Harden and Durant.
Coming into this season, Smith had never averaged more than 4.1 rebounds per contest, but is pulling down 5.2 rebounds a night in 2012-13. He’s also dishing out a career-best 2.8 assists per game. He is one of just six players this season averaging at least 17 points, five rebounds and 1.3 steals (Russell Westbrook, James, Durant, Paul George and Rudy Gay are the other five).
O’Neal readies for his moment to be immortalized — To a generation, Shaquille O’Neal may mostly be known as the new face on Inside the NBA, a pitchman and an adopter of practically all forms of social media. But before you pigeonhole Shaq as merely and entertainer, don’t forget his days as the most dominant force in the league as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. Although O’Neal never played an entire healthy season in L.A., he nonetheless ran roughshod over opponents, particularly during the Lakers’ three-peat years from 2000-02. Tonight, his No. 34 jersey will be hung from the rafters at Staples Center, joining other Laker legends as we all take a moment to reflect on his career, writes Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times:
If Shaquille O’Neal needed a nickname on his first day as a Laker, it could have been the Big Worrywart.
As dominant as he was, the best big man in the NBA recognized he represented just a fraction of the Lakers centers who had come before him.
George Mikan won six titles while becoming Mr. Basketball. Wilt Chamberlain won two titles (one as a Laker) and scored 100 points in a game. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won six titles (five as a Laker) and was the league’s all-time leading scorer.
What had O’Neal done, besides help the Orlando Magic go poof in a four-game sweep during the 1995 Finals?
“It was something I was terrified of,” O’Neal said of the Lakers’ legacy of centers. “We made it to the Finals that one year. That was good, but it wasn’t as good as them yet. Because in my mind I’m like, ‘Wilt’s got two [titles], Kareem’s got six and I have none.’”
O’Neal’s insecurities were only reinforced when Jerry West, then the Lakers’ executive vice president, placed his hands on the center’s broad shoulders shortly after he joined the team in July 1996 and told him to look up at the jerseys hanging from the rafters inside the Forum.
“He said, ‘Son, if you do everything correctly and do everything in a professional manner,’” O’Neal said, recalling their conversation, “‘you may be up there one day.’”
O’Neal was famous for bestowing nicknames upon himself: Shaq-Fu, Big Aristotle and MDE, for Most Dominant Ever.
He never called himself the best Lakers center ever, and he isn’t about to now.
“I’m just good enough to be in the conversation,” said O’Neal, 41, who was given the night off from the TNT broadcast of the Lakers-Mavericks game to enjoy his jersey retirement ceremony.
O’Neal overpowered defenders, using his massive 7-1, 340-pound body as leverage before spinning away for layups or dunks. He teamed with Kobe Bryant to help the Lakers win three straight titles from 2000-02. “My style was dominating and intimidating people, making them quit, making them flop,” O’Neal said.
He does have a few regrets about a career in which injuries limited him to an average of 63 games a season.
“I’m kind of upset with myself for missing 250 games,” said O’Neal, who ranks sixth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with 28,596 points. “If I had played those games and gotten an extra 5,000 points, I would have passed Wilt Chamberlain and then I would have the right to say I’m the most dominant big man ever to play.”
Corbin pranks red-hot Jefferson — The Jazz are the hottest team in the West, having won five straight games. Those victories have come at an opportune time, considering Utah is in a scrap with Dallas and the L.A. Lakers for the No. 8 spot in the West (although Utah does hold the tie-breakers over both teams). Key in that surge of late has been center Al Jefferson, who was named the Western Conference Player of the Week and has dominated inside while the Jazz are slowly regaining the rhythm that made them a solid-if-not-certain playoff team earlier in the season. Jody Genessy of the Deseret News has more on Jefferson, his award and a little joke played on him by his coach, Tyrone Corbin:
Al Jefferson got an unexpected phone call from Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin on Monday afternoon.
At first, Big Al thought he might be in trouble.
Jefferson then wondered if he was a prank victim.
“He called me out of the blue, and I was thinking I did something wrong,” said Jefferson, who then quickly was reminded it was April Fools’ Day. “(Coach) was like, ‘Yeah, I’m calling to trade you. …
The coach was informing Jefferson he’d been named the NBA’s Western Conference player of the week.
“I think it’s a tremendous honor for where we are,” Corbin said. “He’s a huge part of the success that we’re having.”
Big Al averaged 19.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.5 blocks during the pivotal week, which helped the Jazz work their way back into the eighth and final playoff spot out West.
“It really did (surprise me). It caught me off guard so bad,” Jefferson said. “I’m so focused trying to just get into the playoffs. I ain’t really thought about our record this week and what I averaged this week.”
Jefferson, who had 24 points and 10 rebounds in Utah’s 112-102 win over Portland on Monday, has been named a player of the week five times in his nine-year career, including twice with the Jazz (the first time being April 23, 2012).
That came as a surprise to him. He thought this was his fourth time.
“For real?” he said when informed he’s earned the honor twice in Utah, twice in Minnesota and once with Boston. “It’s a great feeling, but there’s bigger fish to fry. The main goal is to win a championship.”
Dunlap glad Bobcats face tough final schedule — Charlotte is in a game-by-game battle with Orlando for the worst record in the Eastern Conference and is set up for likely a third straight season of 25 wins or less. Of the Bobcats’ final eight games, five are against playoff teams. That would seem to be exactly what a young, struggling team like Charlotte wouldn’t want to face, but coach Mike Dunlap tells Charles F. Gardner of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel the opposite is true:
Charlotte coach Mike Dunlap said he’s glad his team is playing teams in contention for the playoffs.
“The great thing about playing the Bucks tonight is they have the playoff fever,” Dunlap said. “Every possession presents itself with an intensity that is good for our young guys to understand.”
Charlotte scored 60 points in the first half but only 42 in the second half as the Bucks won their 10th consecutive home game against the Bobcats.
The Bucks and Bobcats met twice early in the season, with Charlotte prevailing at home, 102-98, on Nov. 19 and the Bucks winning at home, 108-93, on Dec. 7.
Charlotte started 7-5, matching its total of victories last season. But it has won just 10 more times since that promising start.
“Youth, is one,” Dunlap said. “And two is you have them in a concentrated period of the training camp and you come right into the season. There’s a bit of fizz there in terms of clarity.
“We’ve had a story line that’s quiet. But we’ve run into major injuries. We’re on the margin, so when a Gerald Henderson is out for the better part of two months, that impacts us. You can see what he’s doing. Then (Ramon) Sessions goes out. We can’t afford to lose a Sessions. That’s like losing a (Mario) Chalmers or something along those lines.”
ICYMI of the night: Game by game, Ricky Rubio is regaining the form that made him a standout last season and, game by game, Derrick Williams is benefiting from Rubio’s play … :
HANG TIME, Texas -- The Hatfields and McCoys, Montagues and Capulets, Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj have never had anything on the NBA. When it comes to feuds, there have been some dandies.
So when Pat Riley and Danny Ainge went lip-to-lip this week it was just the latest chapter. Here are just a few other memorable ones:
Danny Ainge vs. Tree Rollins
In a 1987 first round playoff game against Atlanta, the Celtics’ guard Ainge tried to tackle 7-footer Rollins of the Hawks. They wound up in a heap of bodies on the court and Ainge came out of the pile screaming with a gash that required two stitches from where Rollins had bit him.
The next day’s edition of the Boston Herald bore the headline: Tree Bites Man.
Joey Crawford vs. Tim Duncan
It was a 1997 playoff series when the bombastic veteran referee did not like that Duncan was laughing on the bench and challenged him to a fight. The league fined and suspended Crawford and banned him for working Spurs games for several years.
The pair has since patched things up. However Duncan and teammate Manu Ginobili were photographed in October at a Halloween Party where they aimed fake guns and guest dressed up as Crawford.
Clyde Drexler vs. Jake O’Donnell
The final game of the veteran referee’s career came on May 9, 1995 when he ejected the Rockets’ Drexler in the second quarter of a playoff game in Phoenix. The league suspended O’Donnell and he never worked another game. Drexler claimed that there was no previous history between the two.
But league sources confirmed that Drexler had been ordered to send a written apology to the ref following a 1989 incident when he played in Portland and had threatened O’Donnell prior to a game.
Red Auerbach vs. Phil Jackson
It practically became a running joke. Each spring when the Zen Master would close in on adding another championship ring to his collection, some mischievous reporter would dial up the former Celtics legend and let him vent.
“Three titles in a row don’t constitute a dynasty,” Auerbach would rant. “He had Michael Jordan and Shaq.”
Of course, Red had Bill Russell.
Jackson usually responded with a bemused smile and a zinger and ultimately that cap with the Roman number X for his 10 championships when he passed Auerbach’s total of nine.
LeBron James vs. Dan Gilbert
All it took was James announcing on national TV that he was taking his talents to South Beach for the Cleveland owner to vent all of his frustrations in a letter that accused LeBron of selfishness and “cowardly betrayal” and promised that his Cavs would win a championship before The King.
Well, so Gilbert is a better venter than prognosticator. He has since admitted that his childish actions were wrong and, besides, all we be forgiven if LeBron opts out of his Heat contract and returns to the Cavs in 2014.
Shaquille O’Neal vs. Kobe Bryant
So how many more championships could the Lakers have won in the early years of the 21st century if the two giants of the court had been able to make their huge egos squeeze comfortably into the same locker room?
Kobe thought Shaq was lazy. Shaq thought Kobe was a ballhog.
So they both were right. Then things got personal and nasty and out the window went any chance of a “four-peat.”
Down through the years, any time another NFL team has approached matching their feat of an undefeated season, the members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins have openly rooted against them, even popping the cork on a celebratory bottle of champagne at the first loss.
However, as the leading man on the 1971-72 Lakers team that holds the NBA record for consecutive victories at 33, Jerry West is not only a believer in the Heat, but a fan.
“Honestly, I think they’ve got an incredible chance to do it,” said the Lakers Hall of Famer, now an executive with the Warriors, on a conference call Thursday. “I really do.
“People say to me, ‘Does it bother you?’ Absolutely not. I think it’s great for the league and I’m delighted obviously for my friend Pat Riley that he’s going to be able to maybe replicate this not only as an executive but as a player. That’s pretty special.”
Though the marquee lineup of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh grabs most of the attention, West praised the Heat for coming together to make a unit that’s greater than the sum of their parts.
“They have a team,” West said. “So much of the NBA has been about marketing its stars and players that have a flamboyant way of playing and we’ve got some incredible athletes playing this game. So much of the marketing of the NBA frankly has been about players.
“I think it’s time we talk about teams. When I look at the league this year, we’ve got a number of really good teams. And I’m not talking about individuals. You look how they play together. You’re talking about Denver, Memphis, San Antonio, obviously the Heat, and I don’t want to leave anyone out. I’m just mentioning those four teams, if you watch them play, particularly three of them.
“Miami has the biggest star in the game, OK? The best player in the game. Having him as a teammate has to be very special for all the other players. He makes it easy for them. He’s one of those unique players that comes along, a Kobe Bryant, players like that. (Kareem) Abdul-Jabbar, some are truly great, great players that will live forever. He’s in that class and Michael Jordan is, obviously. He just makes it so much easier for those guys. He’s just an amazing player and frankly I’m thrilled for him because of all the negative things that were said about him as a player and I think he’s rightly proved what kind of player he is and, more importantly, what kind of person he is.”
With the Miami streak now at 24 after the Heat’s 27-point comeback at Cleveland on Wednesday night, West said there’s no reason to think it can’t go on for a long time.
“It may not end. That’s why I think it’s so remarkable. I look at the schedule and I see one team on there that’s a terrific team and obviously that’s the Spurs. I don’t know what game that would be. That would be a game that I would be concerned about, playing in San Antonio and they’re going to have Tony Parker back by then.
“I just think … some nights you’re gonna go out there and you can’t make a shot and it might be all of you and it becomes contagious. But the one thing they’ve got going for them is defensively they can really get after you because of the ability of Wade and particularly LeBron. They’re ballhawks, and when you turn the ball over, it’s going to be a layup. It’s not going to be a jump shot. It’s going to be a layup. Those two guys in particular, if they’re in the open court, you can forget it. They’re going to score or get to the free-throw line.
“I just think it’s going to take a combination of a team that’s shooting the ball well that also has the capability to defend to beat them and obviously a poor shooting night on Miami’s part. But honestly, I haven’t looked at all their schedule, but I see their schedule coming up. There’s gonna be more and more focus on the games and I think it makes the players focus more on trying to achieve the record that everyone said couldn’t be broken. I think they’ve got a great chance to do it myself.”
West, who was also the architect of the “Showtime” L.A. teams of the 1980s and the Kobe-Shaq combo that “3-peated” to start the 21st century, cautions that this year’s Lakers could still be a playoff force if they qualify.
“I definitely wouldn’t want to play them, I know that,” he said. “I think they’d have a chance against anyone.
“I think if the Lakers would have their preference, they probably wouldn’t want to play Denver. I don’t think anyone would want to play them. Denver has proven they can win on the road and they just don’t lose at home.”
He called Memphis “a bunch of pack dogs” and the Grizzlies the toughest match for the Lakers because of their defense and their man in the middle.
“To me, they’ve got the most underrated player in the league on their team in Marc Gasol,” West said. “That guy is really a good player.”
He did not disparage the defending Western Conference champion Thunder, but has questions.
“If you watch Oklahoma City, to me, they don’t look like they’re the same team,” he said. “I think that they’re terrific, but they lose a great player in James Harden, and that’s going to happen to a lot of teams today, and can they make up for the loss of him? I’m not sure.”
West is also not sure who is up to finally ending the Miami streak.
“I look at their schedule and I say, my gosh. And you think to yourself: ‘I don’t know who.’ Unless they just have a horrible, horrible shooting night, I just don’t think those teams are capable of coming close to them.”
Even though it’s been 41 years and even though no other team had gotten closer to his Lakers’ streak than 11, West said he never believed the record was untouchable.
“I never thought that way,” he said. “I think this is what makes sports so intriguing. Is a number out there — (Joe) DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Will anyone ever do that? Football, the Dolphins, undefeated. A lot of people don’t think those things are possible. Well, they are possible.
“Particularly in basketball, I think you get a real unique team and Miami has a unique team. They’ve got great 3-point shooting and they’re never out of a game because of that. Then they’ve got the best player in the game that does all the little things. I’m sure any coach would love to coach him because he does so much.
“I never thought this streak would live forever. No. Not in today’s games… I just think it’s a streak that could very easily be broken this year. I really believe that.”
DALLAS –Dirk Nowitzki‘s beard grows thicker and more unruly with each passing day. Losses like Wednesday’s at home to the Brooklyn Nets decrease the odds that he’ll reach for a razor any time soon. The pact he and a group of teammates made some six weeks ago was that no one shaves until they reach .500.
The Dallas Mavericks were 21-28 on Feb. 8 when the motivational ploy came to light. Nowitzki had little more than the scruff he typically wears. But look at him now. The Mavs are 32-36, barely hanging on to playoff hope, and Nowitzki’s bearded face is proof, untamed, grizzly and rivaling the one he grew for weeks in the Outback six summers ago after his lone MVP season ended dismally in a first-round flop.
“Only then I didn’t even trim this part,” Nowitzki said, pointing to the lower portion of his bushy moustache creeping over his upper lip. “It came all the way down here.”
After Wednesday’s loss when Nowitzki shot 80 percent from the field, but took only 10 shots and none in the final half of the fourth quarter when Deron Williams – the co-star Dallas failed to obtain last summer — took over, the 34-year-old Nowitzki stroked his prickly-chin and scratched the back of his fur-covered neck where clumps of hair forcibly trail downward like a thicket of overgrown vines.
He said his mom told him he looks 45. Judging by his heavy eyes after the 113-96 disappointment to start a crucial six-game homestand, he might feel that old, too.
Nowitzki missed the first 27 games of the season after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Oct. 19. His recovery was slow and painful, as was his game upon his return. And now, after missing his first All-Star Game in 12 seasons, he is on the verge of sitting out the playoffs for the first time in 13.
His team hasn’t been at .500 since it was 11-11 on Dec. 12. They were 12-16 when he returned two days before Christmas.
He was asked Wednesday why point guards Mike James and Darren Collison can’t seem to get him the ball in key situations, particularly on nights when he isn’t missing. In Dallas’ last two losses, both at home, Nowitzki was 8-for-10 in both, yet was a non-factor late.
“They [defenders] don’t leave me much anymore,” Nowitzki said. “It’s up to other guys to make plays. It’s as simple as that.”
There was zero talk of the future Hall of Famer reaching yet another remarkable milestone. Nowitzki surpassed 9,000 career rebounds, making him the 10th player in NBA history with 24,000 points and 9,000 boards, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elvin Hayes, Moses Malone, Karl Malone, Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing and the only other active player, Kevin Garnett.
Nowitzki has scored and shot the ball better lately (18.1 ppg, 50.9 percent from the field, 48.8 percent on 3s), but he’s still set for his worst statistical season since he was a rookie, averaging 16.4 ppg and shooting 45.9 percent.
Mavs owner Mark Cuban doesn’t believe age is catching up to his star. In fact, Cuban said he expects Nowitzki to regain his All-Star status next season, the last on Nowitzki’s current contract, and “at least” a season or two after that. (more…)
What’s more, he appeared loose, unagitated and as happy as Henry VIII at a smorgasbord when the Magic sent him to the line for an all-you-can-eat menu of 39 free throws, from which he 16 of 20 in the second half.
Which leaves us to wonder if it will now, finally, ever click to the mercurial big man that all he has to do is to shut up and play?
There is no reason for Magic coach Jacque Vaughn to apologize for the strategy, for Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni to complain or for NBA commissioner David Stern to again ponder a rule change.
Like so much else with Howard’s perpetually conflicted life and career, the problem has always been of his own creation. He is the one with the career .577 free-throw percentage and for all the talk about work in the weight room or getting one-on-one tutoring from Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon, has been solidly consistent with his horrid stroke, rarely deviating far from the mean.
If you’re an opposing coach, why wouldn’t you exploit that hole in an All-Star’s game? It’s no different than giving a poor shooter open jumper after open jumper until he learns to knock it down.
If you’re Howard’s coach, why wouldn’t you practically salivate at the thought of your center getting 20 free throws in a half if he can step up and make 80 percent of them?
Howard could have stomped and fumed and moped and blamed his plight on someone else, the way he has with most events of the past two seasons. From former coach Stan Van Gundy to Magic management to Kobe Bryant’s prodding to D’Antoni’s offense to Pau Gasol to unrealistic fan expectations to the media, he’s been a self-made tempest in his own teapot. Just last week he disparaged his old Orlando teammates and then complained at everyone’s reaction to what he said.
It would have been straight in line with the persecuted image that Howard has constructed for himself to flap his arms, howl at the moon and hang his head each time the Magic committed another foul and sent him back to the line.
Instead Howard just shut up and played and enjoyed a night in the kind of career and life of which most people only dream.
He should try it more often.
Top 8 free throw attempts in a single game
Dwight Howard (Lakers): 39 FTA Date: March 12, 2013
HANG TIME WEST – In typical Shaquille O’Neal larger-than-life style, the Big Redundancy had two first returns to Orlando as Lakers center, as Dwight Howard does tonight an NBA generation later, only nothing like Dwight Howard does tonight.
While Howard will have to face the fans of Central Florida but will mostly avoid the wrath of the Magic players because of the roster turnover from last season and this one, O’Neal got hit on both fronts. Twice. With musical accompaniment.
In the other true Shaq style, he brought a lot of it on himself. Bolting from the Magic to the Lakers in the summer of 1996 would have been cause enough for boiling emotions in Orlando, but he made matters worse. O’Neal mocked Orlando as a “dried-up little pond” (to be compounded years later when his coach, Phil Jackson, called the city “plastic”), did little to hide his disdain for top management and coach Brian Hill, and tweaked some players there. So of course they were ready when the Lakers made their lone visit of 1996-97.
It barely mattered that O’Neal was long sidelined by a knee injury. He stopped off at the arena to drop off Lakers security man Jerome Crawford, did a little small talk, and drove off to, he said, watch the game on TV. Then he got roasted in abstention as the Magic won 110-84.
“I knew Shaq wasn’t going to show up,” Orlando forward Horace Grant said that day. “He talks a lot, but I knew he wasn’t going to show up.”
“Say what you have to say,” Nick Anderson, one of the former teammates O’Neal had singled out for criticism, “but if you’re so much of a man and you’re in town, why not come here?”
One of the signs by a fan:
“WHAT DO THESE PEOPLE HAVE IN COMMON?
That was March 23, 1997. Eleven months later – on Feb. 22, 1998 – the Lakers and a healthy O’Neal were back in Orlando for the actual homecoming.
In the minutes before tipoff, the Magic blasted a portion of “I’m a Loser” by the Beatles over the loud speaker, followed by a bit of Carly Simon with “You’re so Vain,” then the Steve Miller Band and “Take the Money and Run” and “Would I Lie to You?” by The Eurythmics. Fans booed loudly, although not at great length, when O’Neal was brought out for pregame introductions and then every time he touched the ball.
We’re the two
that saw your
O’Neal finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but the Magic won 96-94 on Anderson’s 3-pointer with 7.1 seconds remaining.
“Am I going to go home and drink a whole bottle of Pine Sol?” O’Neal asked, probably rhetorically. “No. We’ve just got to move on. They did what they were supposed to do, win a home game.
“Every arena I go to, I get booed.”
Except, a reporter noted, this is the arena where you used to get cheered.
“Used to,” Shaq responded. “Used to. I used to drive a Porsche, but I don’t anymore. I’ve moved on.”
At some point, his former team and city did as well. Only to have to go through it again in 2013.