Posts Tagged ‘tracy mcgrady’

NBA’s Frantic Four trying to change history


VIDEO: Relive the biggest moments from the semifinals

There’s no official and catchy distinction for the last teams standing in the NBA semifinals, no Final Four or Frozen Four or anything like that, but here’s one that might best describe the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks and Houston Rockets: Frantic Four.

Yes, there’s more than a sense of desperation. These are four franchises that haven’t won an NBA title in a combined 162 years. Not since 1958 for the Hawks (based in St. Louis then), since 1975 for the Warriors, since 1995 for the Rockets and since, like, never for the Cavs. There are adult fans of those teams who’ve never known the thrill of the ultimate victory or seen a parade or felt the need to brag. In the case of the Hawks, they’ve never been to the East finals before, and once they beat the Wizards last week and advanced, Atlanta nearly reacted as though it won a real championship.

And so, with regard to these four teams searching for a change of fate, we examine their level of desperation for this 2015 title and rank them accordingly.

No. 4: Houston Rockets


VIDEO: Houston wraps up its second championship in 1995

In the midst of a celebration in June of 1995, Rudy Tomjanovich grabbed the mic and uttered one of the most memorable lines in NBA history: “Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion.” Rudy T was tweaking those who thought the Rockets were too old to repeat, which they did, but it’s been a 20-season long dry spell since. Evidently, everyone correctly estimated the staying power of the Rockets.

That two-time championship team died gradually. The Rockets tried to tape it together with an old and broken down Charles Barkley and that crew eventually made the 1997 West finals. But they had to watch as John Stockton sank a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in Game 6 (in Barkley’s face) to send the Utah Jazz to The Finals. Then, in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, they added another dinosaur: Scottie Pippen. Within four years, all of the important pieces of the championship era were gone, including Hakeem Olajuwon, looking grotesquely out of place in a purple jersey with a cheesy reptile in Toronto.

Houston did give it another go with Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, but injuries kept interrupting their time together and the Rockets advanced beyond the first round only once.

Since 1995, the Rockets have basically been a mixed bag, reaching the West finals once and then being mercifully teased by the T-Mac-and-Yao era. GM Daryl Morey then stole James Harden from OKC and signed Dwight Howard as a free agent and, well, here they are. In that span, they moved to a state-of-the-art downtown arena (Toyota Center) and enjoyed big crowds. Not exactly the picture of doom, which means, life without a title hasn’t been totally dreadful. (more…)

Hawks’ party doesn’t have to end with streak


VIDEO: Davis, Pelicans end Hawks’ streak at 19

The Hawks aren’t exactly the first bunch of visitors to leave town with a pounding in their heads after a stop in New Orleans.

But just because the rip-roaring, can-you-believe-it, franchise-record 19-game winning streak came crashing down 115-110 on Monday night, it doesn’t mean the party in Atlanta has to end.

Of the previous seven teams in NBA history to win at least 19 consecutive games in a single season, five went on to win a championship.

The first things first and the immediate challenge is not to suffer from a post-streak hangover. More times than not, it happens.

Here’s a look back at how the other streakers continued:

Lakers 1971- 1972 — 33 in a row.

The streak ended with a 120-104 at to the Bucks at Milwaukee on Jan. 9 The Lakers with Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich won just two of their next five games, but later had a pair of eight-game win streaks and closed out the regular season on a 10-1 run. Record: 69-13.

In the playoffs they beat the Bulls 4-0, Bucks 4-2 and the Knicks 4-1 in The Finals.

Champions.

Heat 2012-13 — 27 in a row.

The streak ended with a 101-97 loss at Chicago on March 27. The Heat with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh went just 2-2 in their next four games before closing out the regular season with an eight-game win streak. Record: 66-16.

In the playoffs they beat the Bucks 4-0, Bulls 4-1, Pacers 4-3 and Spurs 4-3 in The Finals.

Champions.

Rockets 2007-08 — 22 in a row.

The streak ended with a 94-74 loss at home to the Celtics on March 18. The Rockets with Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming (injured and lost for the season in Game 16) lost the next night at New Orleans and won just three of their next eight games. The Rockets lost two of three to end the regular season. Record: 55-27.

In the playoffs the (without Yao) they lost in the first round to the Jazz 4-2.

1970-71 Bucks — 20 in a row

The streak ended with a 110-103 loss in overtime at Chicago on March 9. The Bucks with Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson lost three straight games and finished the regular season just 1-5. Record: 66-16.

In the playoffs they beat the Warriors 4-1, Lakers 4-1 and Bullets 4-0 in The Finals.

Champions.

1999-2000 Lakers — 19 in a row.

The streak ended with a 109-102 loss at Washington on March 16. The Lakers with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant came right back to rip off another 11-game winning streak and closed out the regular season 14-3. Record: 67-15.

In the playoffs they beat the Kings 3-2, Suns 4-1, Trail Blazers 4-3 and Pacers 4-2 in The Finals.

Champions.

2008-09 Celtics — 19 in a row.

The streak ended with a 92-83 loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles on Dec. 25. The Celtics with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen lost again the next night at Golden State. They lost seven of nine games immediately following the streak, but closed out the regular season on a 12-2 run. Record: 62-20.

In the playoffs they beat the Bulls 4-3 and lost to the Magic 4-3 in the second round.

2013-14 Spurs — 19 in a row.

The streak ended with a 106-94 loss at Oklahoma City on April 3. The Spurs with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker went just 3-3 to close out the regular season. Record: 62-20.

In the playoffs they beat the Mavericks 4-3, Trail Blazers 4-1, Thunder 4-2 and Heat 4-1 in The Finals.

Champions.

VIDEO: Top 10 plays from Hawks’ win streak

Morning shootaround — Dec. 5


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Irving takes spotlight at MSG | Raptors set to honor McGrady | Report: Mudiay’s future in China in doubt

No. 1: Irving’s big game at MSG draws compliments — Dressed in his newly released line of Nike sneakers, Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving ran roughshod over the Knicks last night at Madison Square Garden. Irving totaled 37 points — including a late, clutch layup — that lifted Cleveland to its fifth straight victory and got him plenty of praise from his teammates afterward. Northeast Ohio Media Group’s Chris Haynes has more:

“Man, I think he’s right up there at the top and he’s still so young,” Kevin Love said. “He’s only going to get better. He does whatever we need to win and tonight it was scoring the ball. He loves the bright lights, too. He always plays well when we need it.”

After the game, head coach David Blatt referred to Irving as a two-way player. That wasn’t an applicable moniker in the past. His much-improved defense has elevated his game to different altitude.

And he’s nowhere near close to a plateau. The Garden couldn’t bottle up his unlimited ability. He was too big for the Knicks. The Big Apple got a taste of an All-Star on the rise destined to give them fits for many, many years to come.

“He has the potential to be the best guard in our league,” Tristan Thompson said. “I think he’s probably one of the most complete players in our league. His defense is getting better and that is taking him to another level.”

Entering the game, he was averaging 29.0 points at Madison Square Garden. It’s his highest scoring average in any road arena. It’s plain to see – Irving revels in the New York stage.

“Spectacular,” LeBron James described Irving’s performance. “Anytime we needed a bucket, he made it. Anytime we needed some energy, he gave it. I took over the point guard duties as far as getting guys involved and he took over the scoring. And we needed it.”

Irving has cemented himself as one of the finest finishers around the rim. He doesn’t use much athleticism to maneuver around bigger defenders in the paint. He’s simply crafty. He can make the basketball do tricks on the glass and somehow it finds its way in the bottom of the net.

It doesn’t matter which hand he goes up with, his craftiness is ambidextrous.

“I always knew he was a great finisher. I think he’s even better than what I even thought,” James said. “As far as finishing around the rim, he’s probably one of the greatest this game has ever seen. I’ve never seen someone finish how he finishes underneath the rim. It’s unbelievable. With both hands.”


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving talks about his big game against the Knicks

***

No. 2: Raptors ready to honor McGrady tonight — About two or so weeks ago, the Memphis Grizzlies visited the Toronto Raptors in a big West vs. East showdown that had an always interesting subplot for Raptors fans: the return of Vince Carter as well. That night, the team paid tribute to Carter and the former Toronto superstar was overwhelmed with emotion during the in-game salute. Tonight against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Raptors will honor another former star (and subsequent favorite target of Raptors’ fans ire), Tracy McGrady. Josh Rubin of The Toronto Star has more:

T-Mac is coming back, after all.

Fourteen years after he left town to escape Vince Carter’s shadow, Tracy McGrady is getting honoured by the Toronto Raptors on Friday night as part of their 20th anniversary celebrations. McGrady, who’s in town for GM Masai Ujiri’s Giants of Africa fundraiser honouring Nelson Mandela, will be introduced to the crowd during the game. A highlight reel of his time in Toronto will also be shown.

While Carter drew an unexpected standing ovation during a video tribute last month at the Air Canada Centre, it’s unclear whether Raptors fans will be equally magnanimous with his distant cousin. Like Carter, McGrady was heavily booed in subsequent visits to Toronto after leaving the Raptors.

The talented, athletic small forward left Toronto in 2000 after the end of his three-year rookie contract. His departure left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Raptor fans, who had staged a vocal public campaign for McGrady to re-sign. McGrady, who had come off the bench in his first two seasons, had just become a starter, and together with Carter, helped lead the team to its first-ever playoff berth.

He went on to put superstar numbers with the Magic and the Rockets.

In a 2013 interview with the Star’s Dave Feschuk after retiring from the NBA, McGrady expressed regret for leaving what could have turned into a contender (in the 2000-01 season, the Raptors fell one game short of the Eastern Conference final).

“In hindsight, looking back, obviously I wish I had stayed in Toronto,” McGrady said. “There’s no doubt we could have contended for a championship. I think about that often.”

***

No. 3: Report: Mudiay’s future in China in doubt — As our Scott Howard-Cooper pointed out a month or so ago, NBA scouts were gearing up this season for at least one trip — and perhaps more — to China to watch top prospect Emmanuel Mudiay. The 18-year-old phenom has had a solid run for the Guangdong Southern Tigers, but an injury has sidelined him of late and has his future with the team in doubt. Adrian Wojnarowski of YahooSports.com has more:

Mudiay, a potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft, has missed four consecutive games with an ankle sprain and will be replaced – at minimally in the short term – with veteran NBA guard Will Bynum on Friday, sources told Yahoo Sports.

Bynum is finalizing a deal for the rest of the season in Guangdong, but has yet to sign the contract, a source said. That could come within hours, however. Chinese teams are allowed only two American players on the roster, but Bynum can replace Mudiay as the teenage American star is rehabbing his injury, sources said.

DraftExpress.com – the No. 1 site for NBA draft information – has Mudiay as the No. 2 overall projected pick in the 2015 draft.

Mudiay was unable to qualify academically to play basketball for coach Larry Brown at Southern Methodist University, which led to him accepting the $1 million-plus contract and an endorsement deal with Under Armour.

Mudiay, 18, has played 10 games in China, averaging 17.7 points, six rebounds and six assists. NBA executives who’ve watched him told Yahoo Sports he’s only enhanced his draft value with his performances in China so far.

It is possible that Guangdong could release Mudiay and pay him the balance of his contract, or hold onto the teenager and watch how Bynum impacts the team until Mudiay’s ankle allows him to return to the lineup. Eventually, Guangdong could make a decision on which guard to keep – and release the other. Nevertheless, it would be an immense investment to bring Bynum over on a guaranteed $1 million-plus agreement – only to use him for one or two weeks.

Mudiay has to protect his draft value, and his representatives will be exceedingly careful to make sure he doesn’t risk further injury or poor performance in China. If released, Mudiay could simply return to the United States and train in preparation to begin predraft workouts with NBA teams prior to the June draft.

NBA teams planning to scout Mudiay in China had been on hold with the uncertainty surrounding the guard’s availability. Several teams – including San Antonio and Phoenix – sent representatives to scout Mudiay early in the season, but many more curtailed planned trips in recent weeks.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kobe Bryant and Rajon Rondo had breakfast together yesterday in Boston, and there’s really nothing more to the story than that … Minnesota Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders confirms that Ricky Rubio won’t be back until at least JanuaryIvan Johnson has signed into the NBA D-League … The New Orleans Pelicans may sign ex-Mavericks point guard Gal Mekel soon … Indiana Pacers forward David West has more thoughts on the recent police-related deaths in the news

ICYMI of the Night: Remember when Amar’e Stoudemire used to do this sort of thing every night? … 


VIDEO: Amar’e Stoudemire dunks on Anderson Varejao

 

 

Morning shootaround — Aug. 5


NEWS OF THE MORNING
Report: Cavs, Wolves have ‘handshake’ agreement on Love deal’ | Sarver feels Suns’ offer to Bledsoe is fair | LeBron sheds carbs, pounds for next season? | Don’t plan on a T-Mac comeback | Nets’ Lopez ‘fully cleared’

No. 1: Report: Cavs, Wolves have ‘handshake agreement’ on Love trade — Last we all heard on the Kevin Love/Minnesota Timberwolves/Cleveland Cavaliers trade saga was that team owner Glen Taylor said a trade of Love was likely to happen by the end of August. Today’s update doesn’t do anything to refute what Taylor said. ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst, in an interview with ESPN Radio 98.7 FM in New York, said that the Wolves and Cavs basically have a handshake agreement on a trade (fast-forward to the 9:39 mark to hear the details). Here’s a transcript of what Windhorst said in the interview:

The deal is done but not done. The teams have agreed, but they can’t say they have agreed and they can’t agree, because we’re in this weird moratorium period because you can’t trade Andrew Wiggins until the 23rd of this month.

So, between now and then – which is, what, 19 days – could some of that happen? Could a team come in with a trade that maybe Minnesota doesn’t see? Yes, it could happen. So therefore it is not done.

But essentially, before the papers have been signed, there is this handshake agreement that Kevin Love to the Cavs, Andrew Wiggins to the Timberwolves, and I believe Thaddeus Young will end up in Minnesota either as part of a separate deal or as part of a three-way deal. Possibly, Anthony Bennett, who’s on the Cavs right now could get re-routed to Philadelphia in part of a deal for Thaddeus Young. There will be draft picks involved.

But essentially what you need to know if you’re an NBA fan, Kevin Love is going to be on the Cavs barring anything unforeseen, and and Andrew Wiggins, No. 1 overall pick, is going to be on Minnesota.

***

No. 2: Sarver: Suns gave Bledsoe a ‘fair offer’ — Phoenix Suns young star guard Eric Bledsoe is one of the last big names left on the free-agent market and while he reportedly got an offer from his incumbent team to return, he hasn’t done so yet. There’s been talk of his relationship with the team nearing an ‘irreparable’ state and Bledsoe feeling that the team is using his restricted free-agent status against him in negotiations. Team owner Robert Sarver, in an interview with Arizona Sports 98.7 FM last Friday, said he and the team have given Bledsoe a fair offer thus far:

Phoenix reportedly offered the combo guard a four-year, $48 million deal in the middle of July, while the four-year pro apparently was looking for a maximum offer of five years and $80 million.

Sarver was asked Friday if he thought Phoenix’s initial offer was fair.

“We think it’s a fair offer. I think you could argue, you know, I mean some would say it’s maybe a little high; some would say it’s low,” the owner said. “What’s fair is important to us, and also important to him — him and his agent. It’s not necessarily us to determine what he thinks is fair; it’s him to determine that.”

“We’re a professional organization, and he’s a professional player,” he said. “And he’s a high-character guy. And his agent (Rich Paul), whose main client LeBron (James), is the utmost competitor and professional.

“As an organization, we do our 100 percent best to get behind the player and support him as best as possible. And what professional players do, regardless of how their contract works out, when it’s time to play, they play as hard as they can — for themselves, their teammates and for the organization. So what takes place before a contract is signed usually doesn’t have a lot of bearing on what takes place after a contract is signed — when you have a high-character athlete and a high-quality organization.”

Sarver also refused to agree with the notion that Bledsoe’s agent is inexperienced and over his head.

In closing, the owner also tried to put the whole negotiations process into perspective.

“One thing fans have got to remember is: Players, their careers are very short,” he said. “And at any given moment, they could be a lot shorter. You don’t know. And so, they’re trying to maximize what they can make. They’re not like movie stars where they can go cut a box office hit when they’re 45 or 55 years old like John (Gambadoro) is. They want to maximize what they can make. And that’s OK.” (more…)

No takers in Chicago?


VIDEO: The Bulls were on Carmelo Anthony‘s short list of teams he visited

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — If the answer was an easy one, Carmelo Anthony might have already committed to continuing his NBA future in Chicago. Or perhaps LeBron James would have chosen to take his talents to the Windy City in the summer of 2010 instead of to South Beach.

There is no question the Chicago Bulls offer the proper platform for any superstar looking to chase his championship dreams. The organization has a rich title-winning history (the Michael Jordan era remains fresh in the minds of many). There is a resident superstar, albeit one who is coming off two straight seasons of significant injury issues, in Derrick Rose. There is already an elite rim protector and defensive backbone in KIA Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah. And there is a coaching savant in charge in Tom Thibodeau.

The Bulls have stable ownership, a shrewd front office led by Gar Forman and John Paxson, cap space, again, and with the league’s moratorium on free agent signings just days away from being lifted, the Bulls don’t have a taker for all that they offer.

The Bulls are not out of the ‘Melo sweepstakes yet. According to the Chicago Tribune they are still alive, but they are not the favorite to land him despite being the logical fit. The Bulls need an elite scorer to pair with Rose and Anthony can basically get 30 in his sleep.

Why is it so hard for the Bulls to snag one of these available superstars?

And I don’t want to hear anything about the harsh climate. Chicago is a world-class city and the Bulls don’t play outdoors. So we can toss the weather report out as a factor right now.

There are deeper issues at play here, in my mind, and they have more to do with the nuts and bolts components of the Bulls team awaiting the player who takes the leap.

  • Is it the trepidation about what Rose will be like in his latest comeback, the worry that his MVP days are over and perhaps he’ll be merely a good but not great player? Rose’s future is easily the most pressing issue for any superstar considering the Bulls. The Bulls couldn’t get over the hump when he was healthy, so there is no guarantee they’ll be able to do so now.
  • Maybe the prospect of playing for a grinder like Thibodeau, who is relentless in his approach to everything from practice to the postgame messages he delivers to the media, isn’t as attractive to the superstar crowd as it is to blue-collar studs like Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and others.
  • And even though we are two full NBA generations removed from the Jordan era, elite stars like Anthony and James have to wrestle with the vast shadow cast by the player considered by most to be the greatest that’s ever played. The prospect of trying to live up to his legend, in the same jersey, is added pressure no one needs.

To be fair, the Bulls didn’t enter free agency last week with all of the flexibility of some of the other major players on the market this summer, as K.C. Johnson of the Tribune pointed out:

Entering free agency, the Bulls always knew that, without a sign-and-trade transaction, they couldn’t compete with the Knicks’ five-year, $129 million offer or even the Lakers’ four-year, $96 million deal without gutting their team. But Anthony is the one who emphasized winning is a priority. And athletes often can maximize endorsement potential by doing exactly that.

Even the most jaded free-agency observer might agree the Bulls offer the best chance to win in 2014-15.

The fact Taj Gibson played an active part of the Bulls’ pitch played to Anthony’s desire to keep Gibson and possibly join a ready-to-win roster. A source familiar with the Bulls’ pitch said Anthony and Gibson “connected.”

Without a sign-and-trade and by keeping Gibson, the Bulls only can offer Anthony a four-year, roughly $73 million deal via salary-cap space. This is one of the many reasons acquiring Anthony via a sign-and-trade is more ideal. It can make Anthony’s offer far more lucrative and allow the Bulls to remain over the salary cap, thus allowing them to sign other players via exceptions.

Multiple outlets, including the Tribune, have reported that Knicks President Phil Jackson hasn’t shown much inclination for sign-and-trade talks. This, obviously, could change should Anthony inform Jackson he’s choosing the Bulls.

The Bulls have been used before in the post-Jordan era. Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill and even Tim Duncan all flirted with the Bulls in free agency and ultimately decided to go elsewhere, for whatever their specific reasons were.

I’m convinced the Jordan factor, no one wants to follow “The Man,” was at play for all of those guys. Trying to live up to that sort of standard would have made their basketball lives far more difficult than going somewhere else and establishing a championship legacy of their own (And Duncan has certainly done a fine job of that).

The challenge for today’s stars, however, is much more about Rose than the ghosts of Jordan, Scottie Pippen or even former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, whose reputation hurt the Bulls with big-time free agents for years after he was gone.

Rose is not only the Bulls’ resident superstar, he’s the hometown kid who will always have sway with the organization. He was the first Bulls’ star after Jordan to reach MVP status and put the team back into the ranks of the league’s elite. No one will ever forget that. And anyone who shows up trying to force their way into his realm will no doubt be viewed through that prism.

These superstar conglomerates require some shared sacrifices, financial and otherwise, among players who consider themselves friends and even brothers, in a sense. Rose has been a reluctant, at best, recruiter and a loner of sorts in a league where relationships between players are paramount this time of year.

Having grown up in a previous era of the league, I can appreciate Rose’s “we’ll win with or without you” approach.

But it’s become clear to me that perhaps the biggest impediment to the Bulls attracting another superstar is the superstar already in place …

Nuggets Stage A Wild Finish Vs. Wolves


VIDEO: The Timberwolves hang on for a close win against the Nuggets in Denver

The numbers were wacky across the board in Denver Monday, where the Minnesota Timberwolves hung on to beat the Nuggets 132-128. Consider:

  • Denver scored 45 points in the fourth quarter (and lost). In fact, it was the Nuggets’ first loss at home in 53 such games when scoring at least 110 points.
  • Minnesota went to the foul line 64 times and made 52, the most points on free throws since Phoenix sank 61 in an April 9, 1990 overtime game vs. Utah.
  • In the fourth quarter, the Wolves were 20-of-26 on foul shots. For the entire game, the Nuggets were 16-of-25.
  • Kevin Love’s 33 points and 19 rebounds left him with an NBA-best 50 double-doubles. He has scored at least 20 points in 15 consecutive games.
  • Denver had four players score 20 points or more. With 12-of-33 shooting from 3-point range, the Nuggets outscored Minnesota by 24 points from the arc.

But the most amazing quirk or stat might have been this one: Denver hit four of its 3-pointers in the final 23.4 seconds to make things much closer than they’d been (and explain a bunch of those Minnesota free throws). Per research by the Wolves’ staff, it marked only the seventh time in the StatsCube database (dating to 1996-97) that a team hit four from the arc even in the final minute.

Perhaps the most famous of those came in 2004 when Houston’s Tracy McGrady went off for 13 points in 32.3 seconds (really, you need to watch the video). The only other time such a deep, late scramble resulted in a victory came in Paul Millsap’s breakout overtime game against Miami in 2010.

Here is the short list of such finishes since 1996:

  • Denver vs Minnesota, 3/3/2013, 4-of-6 3FGAs, :23.4 sec.: L, 128-132
  • Houston at Phoenix, 3/9/2013, 4-of-4, :32.3: L, 105-107
  • Utah at Miami, 11/9/2010, 4-of-5, :28.7: W, 116-114 OT
  • L.A. Lakers at New York, 2/28/2005, 4-of-4, :45.0: L, 115-117 OT
  • Sacramento at Portland, 2/5/2005, 4-of-4, :56.0: L, 108-114
  • Houston vs. San Antonio, 12/9/2004, 4-of-4, :35.0: W, 81- 80
  • Atlanta at Toronto, 2/12/2003, 4-of-5, :39.0: L, 96-97

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 11


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Paul will play in All-Star Game | Evans, Williams mum on tiff | T-Mac solid in Sugar Land practice | Bucks’ Sanders out indefinitely

No. 1: Paul confirms he’ll play in All-Star Game— The Los Angeles Clippers finally got Chris Paul back in their lineup on Sunday night and while his stat line against the Philadelphia 76ers wasn’t overly impressive, his presence meant a lot to the squad. The Clips and their fans got some more good news Monday when Paul confirmed that he will take part in the 2014 All-Star Game in New Orleans this weekend and is looking forward to the game for both sentimental and on-court reasons, writes Eric Patten of Clippers.com:

After returning to the court from a separated right shoulder in a 123-78 victory over the76ers Sunday, Chris Paul announced Monday that he will play in this weekend’s All-Star Game at New Orleans Arena.

“It was all about me getting healthy,” Paul said. “It was more important for me to get healthy and be there for my team and my teammates. The All-Star Game is an honor and a privilege, but being healthy is the most important thing. The All-Star Game was second, but it feels good to be ready to go.”

Paul was the 2013 All-Star MVP and was selected as an All-Star for the seventh time in his nine-year career when he was named as a reserve two weeks ago. But there was still some doubt about whether or not he would be ready to play in time for the game.

Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said there may not be a more perfect situation for Paul to get court time than a game that is traditionally bereft of defense.

“I like him playing in the All-Star Game, personally,” Rivers said. “I think this is a rare case where he’s ready to play and the All-Star Game is probably the safest venue for him to play because it’s such a defensive struggle. Guys are taking charges and diving on the floor. I think it will just be a good thing for him to just go up and down. It allows him to go up and down in NBA game with really good players that don’t play defense in the game.”

Paul’s appearance in New Orleans will come seven years after his first All-Star Game in the city. Of course, Paul also played six seasons with the Hornets, making his return to New Orleans a momentous occasion.

“For me in 2008, it was an unbelievable experience,” said Paul, who had 16 points, 14 assists and four steals in that game as a 22-year-old. “It was our first year back in New Orleans [after Hurricane Katrina], everyone on our team was excited to be back there and we had me and [David] West plus Byron [Scott] as the coach in the game. I am not sure what the NBA knew to expect coming to New Orleans, but once everyone got there, no one wanted to leave. It was one of the funnest times of my career and a game that I will never forget.”

***

No. 2: Evans, Williams mum on situation in New Orleans Former Rookie of the Year winner Tyreke Evans has had an up-and-(mostly) down first season with the New Orleans Pelicans as he has more or less struggled as the team’s sixth man. Perhaps the lowest point came Sunday night against the Brooklyn Nets, when Evans was a healthy scratch from the game and coach Monty Williams refused to offer up why he benched the swingman. Evans played Monday night in the Pelicans’ road loss to the Toronto Raptors and finished with 23 points, but both he and Williams remain quiet on what caused the Sunday benching, writes John Reid of NOLA.com:

Unlike Sunday night’s game against the Brooklyn Nets, New Orleans Pelicans swingman Tyreke Evans played Monday night against the Toronto Raptors.

And he finished with a game-high 23-points on 10-of-14 shooting in the Pelicans’ 108-101 loss to the Raptors.

But for the second-straight day, Pelicans coach Monty Williams would not elaborate other than to say it was an unspecified internal matter on why Evans was benched the previous night.

Evans declined comment before Monday night’s game about not playing against the Nets.

But he did say there is not a communication problem going on between Williams and him as been speculated.

“I just want to help the team anyway I can,’’ Evans said.“The media can put whatever they want to put. But I know what was said and here for my teammates. I want to help them win. I’m still hurting, but I’m out there still battling and fighting.”

Evans said he’s still experiencing pain from a cartilage tear between his ribs. But a team source said, Evans’ injury had nothing to do with why he was benched Sunday night.

Unable to shake injuries, Evans has not made the type of impact that was expected before the season started. In Monday’s game against the Raptors, Evans came off the bench but started the game by badly. Evans started slowly Monday night. He airballed a jump shot before getting cal for an offensive charging foul when drove the lane while crowded with Raptors defenders.

Throughout the season, Evans has shown ability to beat defenders off the dribble,but he has struggle to finish around the rim. Evans is averaging 12.4 points, but has made just 40 percent of his shots from the field.

Last week, Williams urged for Evans to become a better jump shooter.

“ I certainly feel like I’ve had to learn his game, learn how to use him and I’m still working on that,” Williams said earlier this week. “He’s also got to learn how we play basketball. He’s got to be a willing passer and understand that he doesn’t have to do it all by himself.

“For Tyreke to be an effective player, he has to play consistent on both ends. We know he can attack the basket, but he’s going have to become a better jump shooter.”

***

No. 3: McGrady solid in first minor league pitching task As our good friend Lang Whitaker covered a few weeks ago on the All Ball Blog, retired NBA All-Star Tracy McGrady is more than just pondering a career in baseball … he’s awful serious about trying to get into the big leagues. McGrady has been trying out with the independent Atlantic League’s Sugar Land Skeeters and threw to stand-in hitters yesterday. Mark Berman of KRIV-TV has more on McGrady’s debut and reports that T-Mac was impressive in his own right on the mound:

McGrady threw to hitters for the first time during a 20-minute bullpen session on Monday at Constellation Field, the home of the Sugar Land Skeeters.

The hitters did not swing, but they got a good look at what McGrady can bring.

“He’s so tall and his arms are so long. His downward slope, you’re not going to see that too often,” said Barrett Barnes, a minor league outfielder in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, in an interview with FOX 26 Sports.

“When you have a presence like that on the mound, it’s really hard to settle in and be comfortable hitting.

“Say his velo is 87, but with his arms and his body, it feels like it’s 90-91 (MPH),” Barnes said.

“His velo might by lower, but it feels like it gets on you way faster.”

Kansas City Royals minor league outfielder Daniel Rockett said it felt like McGrady could almost reach out and touch him from the mound.

“With a dude that big it’s like he’s in the box with you,” Rockett said.

McGrady, who is hoping to land a spot with the Skeeters, an Atlantic League franchise, is working with Arizona Diamondbacks pro scout Scipio Spinks, and seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens.

“(Spinks) taught me a lot, mechanics, and just a lot of things I didn’t know about pitching, and I’m using that to my advantage,” McGrady said.

“I also have Roger Clemens out here. What better person to have teaching you some things about pitching than Roger Clemens.”

***

No. 4: Bucks’ Sanders out indefinitely with eye injury — Whatever the opposite of a breakout season is in the NBA, that’s what Bucks big man Larry Sanders has experienced in 2013-14. After bursting onto the national NBA scene and becoming a Twitter (and Bucks fan) favorite last season, Sanders’ season has gone through a series of fits and starts that began with him missing six weeks of action after a bar fight in Milwaukee early in the season. Sanders has played in 23 games of the Bucks’ 51 games and had been coming into his own in February, but after suffering a hit to the right in Saturday’s loss to Houston, he’ll be out for a while, writes Andrew Gruman of Fox Sports Wisconsin:

Larry Sanders’ turbulent season has hit another bump in the road, as the Bucks center will be out indefinitely with a fractured right orbital bone.

The Bucks did not give a timetable for a potential return, saying Sanders will see a specialist Tuesday. Sanders suffered the injury when he took an inadvertent elbow from Rockets guard James Harden early in Saturday’s loss to Houston.

Bucks coach Larry Drew said Sanders is still experiencing blurred vision and will be out at least through the All-Star break.

“That’s really unfortunate because the kid has been play well,” Drew said. “He was starting to play with a rhythm and played two of his better games this year. It’s just real unfortunate that he sustained the injury.”

Sanders was beginning to regain form of late, averaging 14.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks while shooting 63.3 percent from the field in three February games before having to leave just four minutes in on Saturday.


VIDEO: Larry Sanders suffers an eye injury in Saturday’s loss to Milwaukee

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson (rib) won’t play again until after the All-Star break … Warriors center Andrew Bogut has a shoulder injury and coach Mark Jackson‘s comments about it irked the Golden State big manEvan Turner‘s production has fallen off immensely since his hot start to the season … “Surgery” is planned for New Orleans Pelicans mascot Pierre the Pelican … Bobcats coach Steve Clifford has gotten Charlotte to buy-in on defense and one of the biggest contributors has been Al Jefferson … An SUV belonging to ex-Pistons star Ben Wallace was reportedly involved in a hit-and-run accident in Virginia …

ICYMI(s) of the Night: Officially, the Pacers play at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. But there are times when you could call the arena “Rucker Park Midwest” with the kind of fancy dribbling moves Lance Stephenson is known to show off …


VIDEO: Lance Stephenson shakes free from Jordan Hamilton with some fancy dribbles


VIDEO: Stephenson puts some more moves on Hamilton en route to a layup

McGrady Not Feeling It For Kobe, Lakers

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Tracy McGrady had to settle for a shotgun seat on the San Antonio Spurs Express to The NBA Finals last season to end his career with a lone trip out of the first round. Who knows, had McGrady ever had Spurs-like talent around him, things might have turned out differently for him.

At any rate, the borderline Hall of Famer can spot a lacking supporting cast when he sees one. He spotted just that Tuesday night while taking in some Jazz vs. Lakers preseason action. What he witnessed was so disturbing he felt compelled to take it to Twitter:

Jellybean is, of course, Kobe Bean Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers superstar and son of former ball player Joe “Jellybean” Bryant.

Kobe is working his way back from an awful Achilles tear in April and his return date remains uncertain. McGrady would apparently tell him to take his time getting back. No need to rush.

The 2013-14 Lakers, with or without Kobe, aren’t exactly high on anyone’s predictions chart. Check any Vegas sports book and this bunch is basically sitting at 75-to-1 odds to get Kobe that elusive sixth championship ring and knot him up with Michael Jordan.

Compared to all those souped-up Lakers squads through the decades, this one’s feeling like a stripped-down Vette with a leaky transmission. The horses under the hood buck instead of gallop and the suspension is all out of whack. You swear every time you turn the key it gives off that rotten egg odor.

Recently coach Mike D’Antoni said he was on drugs a year ago when he took over and proclaimed that team could average 110 ppg. And he was medicated on painkillers following knee replacement surgery. The disastrous 2012-13 team, with Bryant playing ungodly minutes night after night, averaged 102.2 ppg, which would have been pretty good if they had played any defense.

Without Bryant this preseason and with Steve Nash approaching 40 years of age by unfortunately grinding through seemingly just as many body ailments, scoring is down to 94.3 ppg. Only the Mavericks and Jazz have averaged less.

Speaking of the Mavs, everybody’s always quick to point to Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion as the only remaining members of the 2011 title team. The remnants from L.A.’s back-to-back title teams in 2009 and 2010? A rehabbing Kobe, a fragile-kneed Pau Gasol and a back-from-Europe Jordan Farmar.

To McGrady’s tweet, this is no Lamborghini waiting to be valet parked at Staples.

Assuming Nash is healthy enough to play (and start) on Oct. 29 when the Lakers open at home, to their misfortune against Doc Rivers‘ new team that shares the building, he’ll be joined by — and please don’t write this in ink — Steve Blake, Nick Young, Gasol and Chris Kaman, assuming the center has recovered from a bout of gastroenteritis.

As for Lakers depth? Among the newcomers are Xavier Henry in the backcourt and Shawne Williams in the frontcourt. The return of power forward Jordan Hill is a positive. Then there’s Farmar, Jodie Meeks, Wesley Johnson, Ryan Kelly, Marcus Landry, Elias Harris and fan favorite Robert Sacre. One will have to go to get the roster down to the maximum 15.

Pedal to the metal? McGrady isn’t feeling it, apparently even after Kobe takes the wheel.

Five Who Could Crash Scoring Race Party

 

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — First-time scoring champ Carmelo Anthony lit up April, averaging 36.9 ppg to deny Kevin Durant a fourth consecutive scoring title.

It won’t be terribly surprising if Melo collects a second trophy this season. Prior to Durant’s three-peat, Kobe Bryant (2005, ’06), Tracy McGrady (’03, ’04) and Allen Iverson (’01, ’02) all repeated, so that’s a pretty decent track record for staking back-to-back scoring titles.

Starting with last season’s top five scorers — Anthony (28.7 ppg), Durant (28.1), Bryant (27.3), LeBron James (26.8) and James Harden (25.9) — plus a strong candidate pool coming, the scoring race should be a fun one, and the top five scorers in the league come April 2014 might look different than it did in 2013.

Of course, for a player to move into the top five, one most fall out.

So which player or players are vulnerable to vacating the top five? Start with the three players I think are as close to top-five locks as possible: Melo (he’s still just 29 and by far the Knicks’ No. 1 option); Durant (he has so many ways to score that he can drop 30 hopping on one leg); and James (he can score whenever and however he wants, and he’s finished in the top four in scoring in nine consecutive seasons).

That leaves two that could slip and open a spot: Harden (the addition of Dwight Howard will alter Houston’s offense and spread the scoring wealth); and Kobe (it’s dangerous to doubt him considering he’s finished in the top five since finishing sixth in 2001-02, but, at 35 years old and coming off Achilles surgery, there has to be some dropoff, right?).

Which players will make a run at cracking the top five? Here’s my top five:

1. Derrick Rose, Bulls: The offense-starved Bulls will welcome their point guard back after he missed all of last season recovering from ACL surgery. He’s had plenty of time to hone his game and Rose will return with a vengeance, perhaps reaching his 2010-11 level when he averaged 25.0 ppg and won the league MVP. That season put him on the cusp of the top five, just 0.3 ppg behind Bryant and Amare Stoudemire.

2. Kevin Love, Timberwolves: Another injury returnee, Love played just 18 games last season due to a right hand he broke twice. He’s got Ricky Rubio to set him up, an offensively gifted center in Nikola Pekovic to draw attention down low and shooters around him such as Kevin Martin and Chase Budinger. Love is set up to return to the 26.0 ppg he averaged  in 2011-12 when he shot 37.2 percent from beyond the arc and finished fourth in the scoring race.

3. Russell Westbrook, Thunder: Yeah, yeah, maybe he shoots too much considering he plays alongside that Durant guy. But Westbrook’s a stone-cold scorer and Thunder coach Scott Brooks knows it. After his knee injury in the first round, Westbrook (he finished sixth in scoring last season at 23.2 ppg) declared that he will return a smarter player. Maybe it means he’ll take fewer bad shots, but don’t expect him to necessarily take fewer shots since the Thunder lost 3-point ace Martin to the Wolves in free agency.

4. Blake Griffin, Clippers: This guy takes a lot of flak for a perceived lack of development in his low-post and mid-range game, and I have said that he must find less violent ways to score to truly become great. I think the powerful Griffin delivers this season on a team loaded with options and one that will be smartly coached by Doc Rivers. Despite a lack of finesse, Griffin still managed to average 22.5 ppg in 2010-11 and is a career 52.9 percent shooter. Only 24, Griffin’s career is just getting started, and he’s got Chris Paul to make his ascension all the easier.

5.  Stephen Curry, Warriors: The best pure shooter in the game today averaged a career-best 22.9 ppg last season and then increased it to 23.4 ppg with an electric postseason. His scoring potential is off the charts. But he’s also got a team to run and that includes some pretty nice targets in Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee, Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut. Still, like Westbrook, this kid is a born scorer and as long as his ankles hold up, Curry is going to put up some huge games for a team attempting to move up into the Western Conference elite.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 130): The Hall Of Fame Debate … A.I. In, T-Mac Out?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Allen Iverson is a lock, a no-brainer, an absolute shoo-in for a spot in the Naismith Hall o Fame when he becomes eligible. Tracy McGrady, on the other hand, might have to wait a while to see if he gets the call.

That seems to be the general consensus after the two former superstars announced their retirements during the past week.

While the cases for and against both Iverson and McGrady seem pretty clear-cut, there are other current players whose Hall of Fame futures require much more examination, an endeavor we were glad to undertake on Episode 130 of the Hang Time Podcast. Superstars like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are also locks for Springfield. But what about players like Chauncey Billups, who owns a Finals MVP and stellar career numbers but spent the early part of his career bouncing around the league?

What do we do with Grant Hill and Glen Rice, guys with Hall of Fame credentials dating back to their championship college careers, but come with an asterisk (injuries cost Hill some of his best years and Rice won a title and was a multiple time All-Star but was never what you would call a true superstar during his NBA career)?

And what of Robert Horry, a man with more championship rings (7) than Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Shaquille O’Neal and plenty of the other luminaries who piled up both the individual and team honors necessary for a place in the Hall of Fame. Surely there has to be a place in Springfield for a player who was an integral part of seven different championship teams, shouldn’t there be?

We dive in on all that and a whole lot more on Episode 130 of the Hang Time Podcast, The Hall of Fame Debate …

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 and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

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