HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Brandon Jennings created a stir as a teenager when he bucked the system and decided he would create his own path to the NBA, one that didn’t involve a stop in college for one year. Instead of seven months on campus and perhaps a wild ride during March Madness at some traditional college powerhouse, Jennings opted for a year in Italy earning a living as a true professional and learning the ways of the world (basketball and beyond) before coming to the NBA.
Fast forward eight years and Jennings, 25, has a much different outlook on things. If only he knew then what he knows now. The Detroit Pistons’ point guard insists he’d “already have been an All-Star,” perhaps a couple of times.
Wisdom comes with perspective. Both are the byproducts of time and experience. Jennings has accumulated his fair share of it all throughout the course of his intriguing professional career. And there is no better time than now, as Jennings battles back from an Achilles injury, to reflect on his past, examine his present situation and forecast his future.
He does all that and then some on Episode 194 of The Hang Time Podcast, going back to his days as a hoop dreamer idolizing Kobe Bryant in Compton to his life overseas as a teenage pioneer to his entry into the NBA and the trials, tribulations and triumphs as the mature veteran he has become (complete with his mastery of the social media world).
We also salute Steve Nash now that he has officially retired, discuss what’s wrong with the Atlanta Hawks, what’s right with the San Antonio Spurs and more.
You get it all on Episode 194 of The Hang Time Podcast… Featuring Brandon Jennings …
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — You often hear broadcasters say that Player X needs to touch the ball on a critical possession down the stretch. And when they need a big bucket, most teams do just put the ball in their best player’s hands and tell him to go to work.
For example, here are the top six MVP candidates, with their team’s efficiency when they touch the ball (in the frontcourt), when they don’t touch the ball, and when they’re off the floor…
For all six, their presence on the floor is pretty darn important to their team’s offense. But while the other guys also need to touch the ball, the Cavs’ offense is potent whether LeBron James touches it or not.
The Clippers have the No. 1 offense in the league (by a hair over the Warriors) and Chris Paul obviously deserves a ton of credit for it. The difference between L.A.’s efficiency on possessions he has touched the ball (116.0 points per 100 possessions) and on possessions he has not touched it or been off the floor (98.3) is the largest in the league among players who have been on the floor for at least 2,000 offensive possessions. It’s a crowded field, but Paul has a legit MVP case.
Davis, of course, can’t just bring the ball up the floor like the rest of these guys can. (Well, maybe he could, but he has yet to unleash that facet of his game.) He’s touched the ball on only 53 percent of the Pelicans’ possessions while he’s been on the floor. That ranks 118th among 218 players who have been on the floor for at least 2,000 offensive possessions and, obviously, last among the six guys we’re focusing on.
In fact, there are 36 power forwards and centers, led by Blake Griffin at 68.0 percent, with a higher touch percentage than Davis. Kris Humphries (56.1 percent) has been more likely to touch the ball on a Wizards possession he’s been on the floor for than Davis has been to touch it on a Pelicans possession.
Pelicans coach Monty Williams acknowledged the challenge of getting the ball to Davis as much as he needs it before a game last week.
“That’s why it’s difficult at times,” Williams said, “for him to have the kind of night [43 points, six assists, 17-for-23 shooting] like he did [in Milwaukee on March 9], because he can’t get the ball in an out-of-bounds situation, bring it up and go to work.
“We have made more of a focus to get him the ball, but we also don’t want to exhaust it so much that nobody else gets a rhythm. And I think he likes it that way, because it keeps teams off-balance at times.”
Some more notes from SportVU’s touch-no-touch numbers …
Stan Van Gundy likes to have the ball in the hands of his point guards. Brandon Jennings is right behind Wall at 88.9 percent and third on the list is D.J. Augustin (Detroit minutes only) at 87.9 percent. Reggie Jackson touched the ball on just 70 percent of Thunder possessions, but has touched it on 87 percent of Pistons possessions he’s been on the floor for.
Robin Lopez is last in touch percentage, having touched the ball on only 33.5 percent of the Blazers’ possessions he’s been on the floor for. He’s followed by Andre Drummond (33.9 percent), Anthony Morrow (35.7 percent), Bojan Bogdanovic (35.9 percent) and Andre Roberson (37.9 percent). Those poor Thunder wings.
NEWS OF THE MORNING Celts still streaking | Five in row for Jazz | Noel likes Sixers’ future | Jackson doesn’t hustle No. 1:Celtics closing in on playoffs — Friday night’s topic of conversation was “Cater-gate,” when Evan Turner claimed that coach Brad Stevens was so angry at halftime against the Magic that he canceled the food for the postgame flight to Indianapolis. Turns out that was not true at all, but the hungry Celtics still went out Saturday night and devoured the Pacers’ seven-game winning streak. Suddenly Boston is with in a half-game of the final playoff spot in the East and only a game behind No. 7 seed Indy. Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald says Stevens ate it all up:
Brad Stevens was in heaven.
“These are the kinds of games I’ve always loved. Just find a way,” said the Celtics coach. “It’s nice when you have a game where you’re making every shot, but that’s one of those nights, and one of those nights is called that for a reason. You’re not going to have it very often, and you just have to find a way.”
The result was the Celtics’ 93-89 win over Indiana, a team that had won its last seven games, all but one at home.
The C’s, suddenly on a four-game winning streak, thus made up ground on everyone in the chase for the seventh and eighth playoffs seeds. They moved into a tie with ninth place Miami, within a half-game of eighth place Charlotte and a game outside of the seventh place Pacers.
They suddenly feel like they should pass all of these teams.
“Winning takes care of everything,” Brandon Bass said with an especially restive smile, thinking back two months to when the Celtics didn’t have much chance of winning these games.
“We went through our struggles early on, not being able to finish games, and it’s paid off for us,” he said. “I don’t mind these grind out games. Maybe it would be better at home if we could see Gino, but we’ll win whatever we can get.”
No. 2:Jazz getting big Favors up front — With his stature and his dominant play of late, it’s certainly been hard to overlook the play in the middle of Utah’s fabulous Frenchman Rudy Gobert. But perhaps lost in the shadow of the “Stifle Tower” has been the resurgence of Derrick Favors at power forward. He’s back to playing the position where he’s most comfortable and has been large part of what has now grown into a five-game winning streak. Aaron Falk of the Salt Lake Tribune has the details:
C “I’m just taking my time,” Favors said, “reading what the defense gives me.”
After Favors scored a game-high 26 points, helping push the Jazz to a fifth straight win, his coach put it another way.
“He’s hard to guard,” Quin Snyder said.
Rudy Gobert has garnered much of the attention in Utah’s shift from defensive ineptitude to defensive powerhouse. But Snyder has been vocal about the role Favors has played, since sliding over to the 4-spot. Favors’ size has allowed the Jazz to compete against big lineups. His speed — his ability to switch, even on point guards — has kept him on the floor against smaller lineups.
And the results have been good.
“We don’t necessarily have to go small to match up,” Snyder said. “So what ends up happening is sometimes he’s got a mismatch.”
Favors, meanwhile, is also settling into an offensive groove. Favors has topped 20 points in four of his past seven games.
“He’s just more poised,” Snyder said. “I think that’s just experience. We’ve seen him improve as the season progresses.”
Favors averaged 15.9 points per game before the All-Star break. Since then (coinciding with the Enes Kanter trade and Favors’ move to the 4), Favors has put up 18.7 points per night.
No. 3: Noel wants chance to play with Embiid — He was already shocked once this season when point guard Michael Carter-Williams was shipped out at the trade deadline. So Nerlens Noel is hoping to avoid more upheaval going forward next season. He told Tom Moore of The Intelligencer (Pa.) that he wants a chance to play alongside a healthy Joel Embiid next season:
And what if the Sixers end up with Duke center Jahlil Okafor or Kentucky big man Karl-Anthony Towns in the draft? They already have a core center in 7-footer Joel Embiid, who is sitting out his rookie season with a foot stress fracture.
“I really hope nothing happens,” Noel said last week. “I like this team. I like what we’re building. I hope we can stick together and continue to grow.”
Noel is confident that he and Embiid — with Embiid likely playing power forward on offense and center at the defensive end — will turn out to be a terrific tandem.
“Jo is going to get more and more healthy and more active,” Noel said. “I see things really taking shape (next season).”
Still, Noel gets that “at the end of the day, it is a business. You always have to keep that in mind. You’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do, work on your thing.”
Noel has been working and it’s been paying off. He’s moved into the league’s top 10 in blocked shots (sixth) and steals (10th) and, while he remains a work in progress on offense, he’s having a considerable impact on defense.
On Wednesday, Noel became the first NBA player since the Rockets’ Hakeem Olajuwon in November 1988 to accumulate at least 10 rebounds and four steals in four straight games. Through Friday, he was averaging 11.8 points, 12.8 rebounds, 3.1 steals and 2 blocks in his last eight games with six double-doubles.
No. 4:Jackson benched in another Pistons loss — It was only a few weeks ago when Reggie Jackson was delighted to finally be traded out of a reserve spot in the OKC lineup and given a chance to run a team of his own in Detroit. It seems like the blink of an eye since the Pistons were happy to welcome Jackson to town as their point guard of the future. Well, you might want to put the brakes on the talk of a new contract next summer and a blissful marriage. Coach Stan Van Gundy yanked Jackson off the floor for lack of hustle in Pistons’ loss at Utah, their 10th in a row. Terry Foster of the Detroit News detailed the ugliness:
On a night the Pistons hustled for nearly everything they got it, was a non-hustle play that angered the coach.
Van Gundy can tolerate mistakes and questionable shot selection as long as there is some effort behind it. But he will not tolerate lazy play on the court.
And that is when Jackson relaxed and got burned. He came in for Spencer Dinwiddie with 5:50 remaining and play immediately bogged down.
Jackson turned the ball over and later watched as Dante Exum hustled down a loose ball and fed Rodney Hood for a layup, which gave the Jazz a 78-74 lead with 4:32 remaining.
“He (Jackson) wasn’t being very aggressive and when he didn’t chase down the loose ball and Exum got it that was a huge hoop in the game,” Van Gundy said. “As I told him when I took him out of the game, I will tolerate mistakes, but we are in a battle trying to win a fourth game in five days and you’re not going to make an effort?”
Jackson got the message loud and clear from Van Gundy.
“I just assumed the ball was going out of bounds,” Jackson said. “You can never make an assumption. You have to always complete the play.
Unfortunately that play really cost us tonight. It was a big possession. We were trying to make a comeback. Whether it is going out of bounds or not I have to be in position to make the play.”
No. 1:Rivers says Griffin ‘close’ to return — The Los Angeles Clippers have played the last 14 games without All-Star power forward Blake Griffin as he recovers from a staph infection. The team has held things together nicely in his stead, though, going 9-5 during that stretch thanks in large part to the play of All-Star point guard Chris Paul. But there is apparently some good news on the horizon, writes Dan Woike of the Orange County Register, as Clippers coach Doc Rivers says Griffin is nearing a return:
The last time Rivers spoke to the media before his team played in Oklahoma City, he delivered the brutal news that the team would be without Griffin for some time because of a staph infection.
Wednesday, about 41/2 weeks later, Rivers stood outside of the same locker room, in front of the same backdrop, and said almost the exact opposite.
“I think Blake is very close,” Rivers said.
Rivers has referred to Griffin as “close” in the past week, but Wednesday was his first use of “very,” and he left it open as to whether Griffin would be with the team Friday when it plays Dallas.
Griffin was not with the team in Oklahoma City, and when Rivers was asked why, he went to that modifier again.
“Because he wasn’t very close enough. He didn’t come because he wasn’t ready yet,” Rivers said. “We’d rather for him to stay back and get his workouts in.”
And while it’s “very” now, team officials still expect the earliest Griffin would return to be Sunday against Houston.
No. 1:Dragic can’t light fire in Miami debut — Only hours after being officially introduced as a member of the Heat, Goran Dragic had to cram to learn the Miami playbook on his iPad, but he couldn’t learn enough or adjust fast enough to overcome the loss of Chris Bosh and avoid a loss to the visiting Pelicans. Dragic missed his first five shots of the games and the Heat could never quite get comfortable in their first game with the new point guard, according to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:
“We have some work to do,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’re not going to make excuses for it. It was a very emotional day.”
Even with the Pelicans losing forward Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson for the night, and perhaps longer, with injuries in the first half, the Heat fell behind by 25 early in the third quarter on the way to falling to 9-16 at home and 23-31 overall, now in an even more tenuous position in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
“Bringing in a dynamic player and losing a dynamic player, we have to start over,” guard Dwyane Wade said. “We can’t feel story for ourselves. We still have an opportunity to make the playoffs.”
With Goran Dragic missing his first five shots, and with Wade uneven in completing a back-to-back set in his first home game since Jan. 27, the Heat lacked nearly enough, even with Mario Chalmers making his first seven shots and closing with 20 points and with center Hassan Whiteside getting back on double-double track with 11 points and 16 rebounds.
“It looked like we were strangers out there on both ends of the court,” Spoelstra said. “We can fix that. We’ll continue to try to simplify the package.”
“We’ll keep scaling back until everybody feels comfortable with whatever package we have. We looked cluttered in the mind.”
For the Heat, the search for continuity presented another ragged ride, with assists at a premium.
“We have some work to do,” Spoelstra said. “We have some work to do and I think tonight showed that.”
No. 2:Pelicans get win, but lose A.D., Anderson — For a team with just four wins in its last 10 games and fading hopes of keeping pace in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, it was a costly victory for the Pelicans Saturday night. They beat Miami, but saw forwards Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson both leave the game with injuries. John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune has the details:
Pelicans star forward Anthony Davis was forced out of Saturday night’s game against the Miami Heat in the first quarter after re-injuring his right shoulder when he collided into Heat center Hassan Whiteside on a shot attempt.
Davis grimmaced in pain as he walked toward the Pelicans’ bench before coach Monty Williams was forced to call a timeout with 3:06 remaining in the quarter.
The Pelicans said Davis aggravated his right shoulder and was unable to return.
Backup forward Ryan Anderson also was forced out of the game in the second quarter after he suffered a sprained right knee.
Last week, Davis was forced to miss two games and skip this past Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game after spraining his right shoulder after a Feb. 7 game against the Chicago Bulls after he fell hard following a dunk. He returned on Friday night against the Orlando Magic.
No. 3: Brewer picks Rockets off the deck — It’s not always the James Harden Solo Show in Houston, even though it most often seems that way. One night after they were flat and flattened in Dallas, Corey Brewer came off the bench to provide the spark the Rockets needed to end the Raptors club record five-game road winning streak. Our man Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle has the report:
Yet, a night after a lethargic, sloppy loss in Dallas, no matter what might have gone wrong, the Rockets did one thing right. They played hard, with energy and effort that the Raptors could not match. A game that seemed about its headline stars became instead about Corey Brewer flying around the court like a live electrical wire until he and the Rockets high-voltage reserves drove the Rockets to a 98-76 rout of the Raptors Saturday at Toyota Center.
“Last night was a rough game,” said Brewer, who had season-highs with 26 points and 10 rebounds. “We didn’t have any energy coming back from the break and they beat us, they beat us pretty bad. Tonight, I feel like personally I had to bring energy. I just came out and played hard and everything worked out.”
The energy off the bench from Brewer, Josh Smith and Terrence Jones so completely took the game from the muck of the first half to a second-half blowout, that the Rockets seemed revived, as if they had recaptured something lost long before they were overwhelmed in losses heading in and out of the break.
“We talked about it today,” said Harden, who escaped from an 0 for 6 first half to score 16 of his 20 points in the third quarter. “Early in the season, we were locking teams down. We were the … No. 2 defensive efficiency in the league. We have to get back to those ways.
“It’s about effort and energy. When you have the entire team like that for four quarters it’s tough to beat us.”
No. 4:J.R. Smith comes back with more shots at the triangle — He’s settling in comfortably in the rotation of the surging Cavaliers and his new coach David Blatt is calling him a dream. But approaching the first game back at Madison Square Garden since being traded by the Knicks, J.R. Smith is still hammering away at Phil Jackson’s triangle in a conversation with Marc Berman of the N.Y. Post:
“I don’t want to say I felt different [since the trade], [the system] was just easier to play,” Smith said. “The style of basketball we play suits my game — run and gun, shoot open shots. Just play.
“It was tough from a mental standpoint. You start second-guessing yourself and your talent to a certain point. So many guys thrived in that triangle, and you want to put yourself in that class. Not living up to it is kind of disappointing.”
Asked the toughest part of mastering the Derek Fisher/Jackson system, Smith gave his most detailed complaint yet.
“The toughest thing is we didn’t run enough,” Smith said. “With the talent we had, there was no transition offense. It was bring the ball up, run our set and go from there. Everything is a read. So I may not be reading the same thing as the next person is reading. Before you know it, you got turnovers, missed shots and bad transition defense.”
No. 5:Van Gundy says Prince buyout would be “dumb” — Let’s get this straight. Stan Van Gundy might have been born at night, but it wasn’t last night. The Pistons coach and team president said he didn’t trade for veteran Tayshaun Prince at the deadline on Thursday just to buy out the contract of the former Detroit champion. SVG told Brendan Savage of mlive.com that a buyout of Prince would simply make no sense:
“The reason Boston made the trade is to save money,” said Van Gundy, the Pistons coach and team president. “We’re paying Tayshaun more money. If he was going to get bought out, he should have done it in Boston. They should let him be bought out. That’s not on me to buy him out. That’s not part of the deal.
“We weren’t told of this until after we made the trade by Tayshaun’s agent. Why would we trade guys who are making less money to take on more money to waive him? That would have been the dumbest personnel move ever.
“It’s not on us.”
Van Gundy was asked if the Pistons should give a veteran like Prince, who doesn’t fit in their long-term plans, the chance to play for another championship.
“I understand he didn’t get what he wanted but the question you’re asking should be asked of (Celtics president) Danny Ainge, not of us,” Van Gundy said. “We didn’t break any agreement with him. There’s no reason for us to buy him out. They could have bought him out if that’s what they wanted to do.
“We wouldn’t have traded for a guy to take on an additional $1.2 million … to waive the guy. Why would we do that? And then we’d still need another guy at that position. If that were the case, we would have kept the guys we traded out and Boston could have waived him.
“I understand he’s upset because he was led to believe one thing but that’s certainly not on us.”
No. 1: Durant: Players should vote for awards — It’s Valentine’s Day, so you might want to send some extra flowers or candy to your nearest sports media person after Kevin Durant hurt their feelings on Friday. The Oklahoma City star took the occasion of the NBA’s All-Star Media Availability at a New York hotel ballroom to question the media folks’ credibility as voters for the league’s annual awards, such as Most Valuable Player, Sixth Man, Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player. Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com was among those to capture Durant’s critical comments:
“I think (the) media gets too much power to vote on stuff like that. Quite frankly I don’t think you really know a lot about as much we know about it,” Durant said when asked if MVP winners should be allowed to vote on the MVP like former Heisman Trophy winners are allowed to do with the annual award for the best college football player. “So we play against these guys every single night, we battle against these guys, we know what they say on the court, we know how they handle their teammates, we know how they approach the game, and our votes should count.
“Our opinions should count. I don’t think you guys know as much we do, and I don’t see why you have more power than we do.”
Durant won his first MVP for the 2013-14 season, totaling 1,232 points in voting, including 119 first-place votes. The award is decided by a 124-member panel consisting of sports writers and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada. There’s also an NBA.com MVP fan vote that counts as one vote, making for a total of 125 ballots overall. The same panel of U.S. and Canadian sports writers and broadcasters also casts votes for the other awards, but the MVP award is the only one for which fans can vote.
Players are awarded 10 points for each first-place vote, seven points for each second-place vote, five for each third-place vote, three for each fourth-place vote and one for each fifth-place vote.
“We really know these guys inside and out,” Durant said of why players should vote for the awards. “There are a lot of guys that deserve Defensive Player of the Year or Sixth Man of the Year but you guys (decide sometimes because) they are not the sexier names. A lot of people will see the names of these players and don’t look at the other guys that contribute to our game as well.
“You guys aren’t in the scouting reports, you’re not in the team meetings and the film sessions to really break down each player’s games. I don’t see why you have more power in voting than we do. We are out there on the court playing with them. We appreciate how you guys blow the game up and bring attention to the game but at the same time, to keep it pure, the players should have more say in that stuff.”
No. 2:Rising Star MVP Wiggins craves Olympics — For a lot of fans at Barclays Center in Brooklyn or viewing elsewhere, it probably took a moment to sink in that Andrew Wiggins, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ rookie participating in the Rising Stars Challenge Friday was on the right team. Wiggins played for the World squad, against the USA group of rookies and second-year players, because he was born and raised in Canada. He was feeling some maple-leaf pride after his swell performance, as chronicled by our manScott Howard-Cooper:
Already at the forefront of Canada’s planned ascent on the global basketball stage — well under way with the recent influx of players in the NBA the last few seasons — Wiggins added to that with 22 points on eight-for-11 shooting to win the MVP award as the World beat the U.S. 121-112 on Friday nigh
Asked if he is looking forward to playing Team USA — the real one — in international competition, Wiggins said, “Definitely. That’s a game I dream of. And hopefully we can play in the Olympics.”
Pressed if he would play for his homeland this summer, in the tournament to qualify for the 2016 Olympics (as the reigning World Cup champion, the U.S. is exempt) Wiggins said, “Right now I’m taking it day by day. But it’s something I would love to do.” Coming attractions, indeed.
No. 3:Union fires shot across NBA bow — This is relative peacetime in the NBA, more than three years removed from the league’s last costly lockout, with a labor deal in place at least until July 2017. But businessmen and unions do what they do, so the National Basketball Players Association’s annual All-Star player rep meeting offered a glimpse into some jargon and rhetoric with which fans soon might become all too familiar. Our own Steve Aschburnerexplained a money issue that already has surfaced:
They’re here now, with the union’s rejection of two “smoothing” proposals from the NBA to manage the flood of new money from dramatically increased TV rights fees beginning with the 2016-17 season. Michele Roberts, the NBPA’s new executive director, said the team reps voted unanimously to reject both proposals during a meeting that included about 50 players.
What that could mean, if left unaddressed, would be an abrupt hike in the league’s salary cap from an estimated $68 million in 2015-16 to, say, $90 million for 2016-17. That’s when the new nine-year, $24 billion TV deal kicks in at nearly triple the current broadcast fees. Boosting the cap number that suddenly could make virtually every team in the NBA a bidder for the lucky free agents of 2016. Rosters could be entirely rebuilt, or completely destroyed, all in a few weeks time.
The NBA apparently had pitched two versions of a proposal to “smooth” that infusion of money into the system to avoid artificially bidding up salaries of the players who happened to hit the market that summer, at the expense of the majority who would remain under contract. By “smoothing” the increase — with the cap rising by lesser amounts, with the difference from the players’ CBA-guaranteed share of the league’s revenues divvied up proportionally among them all — those locked into contracts would benefit from the added cash.
But the NBPA’s economic consultants determined that a typical player would make less money overall by signing contracts into an artificially constrained salary cap (for example, $80 million vs. $90 million) while receiving “shortfall” checks, than he would signing a new deal without the smoothing constraints on the cap.
The NBPA also voted LeBron James onto its executive committee as first vice-president, teaming the Cleveland star with union president Chris Paul of the L.A. Clippers to add heft to the hierarchy. Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com had more on that:
With Paul, James and new, aggressive executive director Michele Roberts, the union has loaded up with high-profile faces for a fight for a bigger portion of what could be a $7 billion revenue pie two years from now.
Just how big a role James eventually will play, though, is yet to be seen. He did not attend the meeting because he was committed to a sponsor’s event across town. He talked to various members of the executive committee over the phone and plans to meet with Roberts this weekend.
The union believes having James and Paul, the Los Angeles Clippers’ All-Star point guard, on the front line will increase the pressure, both publicly and privately, on owners.
“I cannot tell you how delighted I am; the union is supported by players across the spectrum,” Roberts said after leading a meeting of approximately 50 players, including All-Stars Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving.
No. 4:Mason’s condition shows some progress — In a perfect world, Anthony Mason, longtime NBA forward who had helped the Knicks reach the Finals in 1994, would have been a visible presence this week during All-Star festivities. Instead, he continues to fight for his life in a hospital bed after suffering what his former agent Don Cronson called “congestive heart failure.” But Mason’s condition had improved slightly by Friday, as reported by ESPNNewYork.com’sIan Begley:
[Mason] has made “small, but real” progress the last two nights after being “near death” Wednesday, his former agent said.
“He isn’t out of the woods, but he’s had two good nights,” Don Cronson, Mason’s agent during his playing days, said by phone Friday night.
Cronson said he’s received updates from Mason’s family.
“It seems like he’s day-to-day now. Before it was hour-to-hour,” Cronson said. “Thankfully, the last two days have been better.”
Before he was hospitalized, Mason, 48, was scheduled to attend a press event Wednesday at the Times Square Knickerbocker Hotel, where Mason’s former teammate, John Starks, announced his business partnership with the Zipway company. Cronson said he is sure Mason was preparing to be a visible presence during the NBA All-Star Game week in the Big Apple.
“This originally happened a week ago today,” Cronson said Friday. “(Mason) was in the hospital. I think he was having some discomfort, some kind of chest pain. One of his guys said, ‘You have to have yourself looked at.’ He goes into the hospital and the whole event took place there. I spoke to family members, and had he been in the (hospital) lobby as opposed to the third floor, where he was, he would have died. Fortunately, he was close enough to the emergency facilities that were brought to bear and saved his life.”
No. 1:January fuels belief in Hawks — The franchise-record 18 straight wins did it. Finally, the belief in the Atlanta Hawks has officially taken over the city. It’s inspired memories of a great times in Atlanta sports history — yes, there have been great times — a generation ago in another sport (baseball), when the imagination of an entire city became fans of a team that captured its fan base. It feels like 1991 all over again in Atlanta, according to longtime Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist Mark Bradley:
Ten years from now, we may recall this January the way we do the summer of 1991, when a team none of us had paid much heed grabbed us by our collars and made us watch. Ten years from now, we may remember these Hawks growing into a colossus – what other word fits an aggregation that’s 32-2 since Thanksgiving? – the way we beheld the Braves’s ascent from worst to first.
For the first time in 33 days and 17 games, the Hawks faced a fourth-quarter deficit. (That’s among the astonishing stats of this or any millennium.) Nothing was coming easy against an excellent Portland team, and matters were getting more difficult by the minute.
The splendid forward LaMarcus Aldridge was en route to scoring 37 points. The Hawks were missing free throws. DeMarre Carroll, their best perimeter defender, was too sore to play. Thabo Sefolosha, his replacement in the starting five, lasted 141 seconds before tweaking a hamstring. A team that has become a beautiful machine had developed a cough, and you couldn’t see all of the above and not think, “This could be the night the streak ends.”
But no. Five points down after three quarters, the Hawks won 105-99. Over those final 12 minutes, they outscored the Trail Blazers 15 baskets to seven, outshot them 71.4 percent to 30.4 percent. In their stiffest test since MLK Day, the Hawks played their best offense and their best defense in the fourth quarter, which is the time to do it.
We’ve spent the past month trying to identify the reasons the Hawks have done nothing but win, and here’s another: They trust themselves and their system. They know Mike Budenholzer’s offense will avail them of good shots if only they go where they’re supposed to go. They know they’re good enough shooters to make those shots. They also know – here’s the part that’s different from last season – that they can guard the opposition better than they’re being guarded.
There’s power in such faith. There’s the power that flows from believing you’re going to get better looks over 48 minutes than the other team, that you pass and shoot and defend too well to be cornered for long. At halftime the Blazers had made 55.1 percent of their shots to the Hawks’ 44.4 percent – and Portland’s lead was a skinny point. By game’s end the Hawks had shot the better percentage and driven the ball often enough to earn twice as many free throws. (Not a small consideration on a night when you miss eight of 22.)
Down to cases. On the first possession of the fourth quarter, Dennis Schroder drove for a layup. The 21-year-old had some moments when he looked his age, but he changed the game when it needed changing. He found Mike Scott on the left wing for the tying 3-pointer and found Kyle Korver at the top for the trey that made it 81-76. The Blazers would never lead again.
No. 1: Aldridge 1, injured thumb 0 — Black was going to be the color of the night heading toward the Portland Trail Blazers’ home game against Washington Saturday, the proper attire for the sort of mourning already going on over forward LaMarcus Aldridge‘s injured left thumb and the six-to-eight weeks Aldridge likely was going to miss recuperating and rehabbing. But then Aldridge surprised Blazers fans by announcing that he would postpone surgery and try to play with the torn ligament. And he did just that in Portland’s 103-96 victory, putting the “triumphant” into his return with 26 points, nine rebounds and one splint. Here’s some of the quotage from the Blazers’ locker room:
Head coach Terry Stotts: “Well it was a win that we needed to get. Understatement: it was good to have LA back. I’m glad he had a good game with the thumb and the splint. It was very encouraging.”
Blazers guard Wesley Matthews: “He was big time. Even if he didn’t have the monster game that he did, I think just his presence and his sacrifice of his own body and for him to recognize how special this season is and can be and continue to be, for him to give that up to be out there with us in the trenches, it speaks volumes. … He can’t sit out. He doesn’t want to sit out. He loves this game and figures if he’s got something to give, he’s going to give. I can relate to that.”
Aldridge: “I felt okay. There was a few moments where I got it hit or whatever, and it was kind of tender. But for the most part, it was okay. … I was just trying to work with it. I kind of figured it out as the game went on, how to use it or whatever, and I kind of played with it.”
More Aldridge, on the Moda Center crowd reaction: “It was humbling. I thought they definitely showed me love and they respected what I was doing at that moment, trying to play through it, so that was humbling.”
Not all was sweetness and light on the injury front in Portland, however. Wing Nicolas Batum sat out Saturday’s game after aggravating a right wrist injury Thursday against Boston. He initially hurt it when he took a spill in Milwaukee Dec. 17. Here is an update from The Oregonian:
Batum missed the next game, Dec. 19 at San Antonio, then played in the next two games before sitting out the Dec. 23 game at Oklahoma City. He said he has aggravated the injury several times – usually when he falls to the court. On Thursday against Boston, it was a third quarter fall that took him out of the game and ultimately led to him missing Saturday’s 103-96 victory over Washington.
Batum, who is wearing an immobilizing brace, said he is unsure whether he will rest and let the wrist heal, or continue playing through discomfort during the Blazers upcoming trip at Brooklyn, Cleveland, Atlanta and Milwaukee.
He is averaging 9.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 38 games. He is shooting 38.7 percent from the field and 27.6 percent from three-point range, figures he largely attributes to his ailing wrist.
“It’s my shooting wrist,” Batum said.
No. 2:Pistons fear Achilles worst for Jennings — The pain in which Brandon Jennings writhed on the court at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee Saturday night — you could almost feel it. The way the Detroit Pistons’ point guard grimaced and banged the floor with one hand, while grabbing at his left ankle with the other, was palpable. Jennings, who had been rejuvenated along with the Detroit Pistons since they reconfigured their attack in a post-Josh Smith world, suffered a serious injury when he took a defensive step back on an inbounds play, and most who saw the replay and its aftermath immediately began to think of a torn Achilles tendon. That included teammate Caron Butler, as chronicled by the Detroit News:
“I saw him in pain, just the way he was. It was the second time I’ve seen something like that,” Butler said after Saturday’s game.
If Jennings didn’t know exactly what it was at the time, Butler had a good enough idea, remembering a former teammate Pistons fans should be familiar with.
“Chauncey Billups,” Butler said, his face cringing at the memory of Billups’ Achilles tear in 2012 when both were members of the L.A. Clippers.
“It happened in Orlando. We were playing good basketball, Chauncey was playing great. I was right next to him. He asked, ‘Did you kick me?’ I said, ‘Nah, I didn’t touch you.’ He was on the ground grimacing so he got up and went back down because he couldn’t move. He just started hopping.”
The Pistons know how important Jennings has been, averaging 19.8 points since Smith was released. They were expecting a medical update Sunday, with backup D.J. Augustin poised to step into a bigger role again this season the way he did in Chicago when Derrick Rose got hurt early last season.
Like a quarterback, Jennings touched the ball every single play he was on the floor, the most improved player in the last 15 games. Averaging 21.3 points and 7.5 assists on 44-percent shooting tells only part of the story.
“He’s tapped into a part of his DNA that says he’s a star and he’s got to that place,” Butler said. “And we were riding him out. Greg and Andre and everybody’s gonna have to raise the bar.”
“He’s been the guy who’s been our catalyst offensively,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “He’s been averaging 20 a game, high-assist, low-turnover, playing at the highest level of his career. Was a huge factor in the previous 15 games so, it’s a major, major loss.”
No. 3:Waiters believes he has grown — Dion Waiters was back in Cleveland with his new team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, in anticipation of Sunday’s clash with the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. He’s the shooting guard traded a couple of weeks back in the deal that delivered New York’s J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland, part of a roster makeover credited – along with LeBron James‘ spa-shutdown of two weeks to heal and invigorate – for the Cavs’ boost in play. Waiters didn’t sound like an eager participant but he did submit to and answer questions from the media, including ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin, on topics such as being scapegoated and his rapport with star teammates past and present.
“I ain’t really care what nobody say. It ain’t affect me. I slept good every night. I slept good every night. So, I mean, that’s what comes with the territory. That’s what comes with it when you got somebody like LeBron who brings all that attention around the team when we wasn’t used to having that. So the littlest things that you do, they be like the biggest. It’s so crazy. But it is what it is. I’m not in that situation anymore. Over here it’s still the same situation, but it’s different. I’m happy, I’m comfortable already two weeks in and I feel like I’ve grown. I’ve grown in a short period of time as a player and off the court.”
Waiters is averaging 11.4 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.8 steals on 39.8 percent shooting from the floor and 25 percent shooting from 3-point range in eight games with the Thunder. His production is nearly identical to the 10.5 points, 1.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.3 steals on 40.4 percent from the field and 25.6 percent from 3 that he averaged for Cleveland this season before the trade.
The difference is in the win-loss column. The Thunder are 5-3 since acquiring Waiters. The Cavs are on an upswing as well, winners of five in a row.
“Both teams are doing great — winning,” Waiters said. “Everybody seems at ease now and that’s what it’s about, just being happy, being comfortable and having fun, getting an opportunity. That’s what it’s about.”
While his relationship with James has apparently ended, Waiters explained why reigning MVP Kevin Durant has embraced him.
“From the outside looking in, he probably saw how things were looking or how I’m always the odd man out and things like that. How it was going, how my name was always in something and half the time it probably never was me,” Waiters said. “I was that guy who you point the finger at, but I was fine with it. I could take it. I didn’t have no pressure on me. I didn’t have no pressure on me. My job is to go out there and play basketball, get as many wins as we can as a unit and unfortunately, it didn’t work out. And I think the organizations made great decisions on the moves and it’s helping both teams.”
No. 4:Lakers didn’t treat Bryant properly? — We return now to our regularly scheduled injury news – notice a trend in these daily reports? – and to the suggestion by ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Baxter Holmes that the Lakers, and specifically coach Byron Scott, could have handled the early days of Kobe Bryant‘s shoulder injury better. Instead, by letting Bryant continue to play after an overload of early-season minutes, Scott’s decision might have contributed to the torn rotator cuff on which they’ll all be updated Monday.
In hindsight, these issues appear greatly troubling, because just as Bryant must treat every aspect of his health, training and diet so seriously at this age just so he can perform, so too must the Lakers, and especially Scott, be ever so cautious with him.
That’s all the more true because Bryant is the Lakers’ sole attraction during an awful season, the lone reason for fans to tune in or attend games, all they really have to look forward to until the draft lottery. From a business sense, Bryant is their cash cow — their extremely well-paid cash cow — and thus missteps are extremely costly.
Where does blame lie? Certainly some falls on Bryant. He’s as powerful as any figure within the Lakers’ organization and as powerful as any player within any NBA franchise. If he wanted to play fewer minutes, he could have. If he wanted to get his shoulder examined earlier, he could have. The only person who could’ve stopped Kobe was Kobe, but he didn’t, because Kobe is Kobe. He believes he will overcome.
So the blame truly falls on Scott, who hasn’t been shy about admitting his fault in the issue. And, to a greater degree, the blame truly falls on the entire organization for not stepping in at some point earlier on when Bryant was playing all those minutes.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — If you want to know the fastest way to spoil something special in the NBA, just check the chemistry.
No championship team operates without good chemistry. No team harboring championship dreams, even the ones boasting the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant (the last two men to earn MVP honors, can overcome bad chemistry.
That would explain the presence of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder being involved in the three-team trade with the New York Knicks that went down Monday, a somewhat shocking player and asset swap that sent Dion Waiters from the Cavs to the Thunder, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert from the Knicks to the Cavs. The Knicks piled up more Draft picks and cap space that will help them continue the Phil Jackson-led chemistry tweak going on in New York.
They are all chasing the same thing the Detroit Pistons discovered when they waived veteran forward Josh Smith before Christmas and promptly ripped off five straight wins. They are searching for that cosmic mix that Vince Goodwill Jr. of The Detroit News describes on Episode 184 of the Hang Time Podcast.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Hawks fans want to believe. They really do. They want this to be real, this current mercurial stretch that has seen the Hawks elbow their way into the conversation of true contenders.
If winning 14 of 15 games, five straight over the likes of the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and most recently the Los Angeles Clippers, doesn’t do the trick, maybe the Hawks’ 13-2 home record (tops in the Eastern Conference and second only to the Golden State Warriors) will do the trick?
The best stretch of Hawks basketball in years should be more than enough to convince not only Hawks fans but any skeptics that this team is for real. And no one knows that better than Steve Holman, the longtime radio voice of the Hawks, who joins us on Episode 182 of the Hang Time Podcast to talk all things Hawks. And our conversation includes former Hawks star Josh Smith, who was waived in Detroit just days before Christmas while his former team emerges as a legitimate contender.
We get into all of that and more on Episode 182 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Steve Holman … Merry Christmas!