Posts Tagged ‘Wizards’

All-Star Reserves Named Tonight On TNT


VIDEO: The Beat crew picks the East and West reserves

We all know that coaches are never swayed by sentimentality. What they do, by its very nature, is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately kind of business.

NBA All-Star 2014Good thing, then, that a couple of golden oldies named Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki are still producing like young pups.

The fate of the 37-year-old Duncan and 35-year-old Nowitzki are two of the biggest questions as the reserves for the 2014 NBA All-Star Game are announced tonight (7 ET) on TNT.

The results of the voting by the league’s 30 coaches will be revealed and discussed by Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith on a one-hour NBA Tip-Off special preceding a doubleheader that will have the Cavaliers at New York and the Clippers at Golden State.

Duncan, making a bid for a 15th All-Star Game,  is averaging 14.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots in leading the Spurs to the second-best record in the West. Nowitzki had a string of 11 All-Star appearances snapped a year ago due to lingering knee problems, but has the Mavericks back in the playoff hunt by averaging 21.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists.

After no centers were voted into the starting lineup of either team by the fan balloting, it is expected that Dwight Howard of the Rockets and Roy Hibbert of the Pacers will be added by the coaches.

In the Eastern Conference, after Hibbert of the Pacers, Chris Bosh of the Heat, Joakim Noah of the Bulls, Paul Millsap of the Hawks and John Wall of the Wizards, the questions swirl around the two wild card slots. DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Lance Stephenson, Arron Afflalo and Joe Johnson are top candidates.

Along with the fates of Duncan and Nowitzki, the Western coaches will pick from a frontcourt group that includes LaMarcus Aldridge, David Lee, Serge Ibaka and DeMarcus Cousins. Do-it-all small forward Nicolas Batum may be in the discussion, too. The backcourt is even more crowded. Still-injured guard Chris Paul could make it back in time for All-Star. But Kobe Bryant, elected a starter, is expected to miss the game. So coaches (and newly minted commissioner Adam Silver, who will name replacements for starters who can’t play) will pick from among Paul, James HardenDamian Lillard, Tony Parker, Klay Thompson, Mike Conley, Goran Dragic and maybe even Monta Ellis. 

The 63rd NBA All-Star Game will be exclusively televised on TNT from New Orleans Arena on Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. The All-Star Game, also aired live on ESPN Radio, will reach fans in 215 countries and territories and be broadcast in more than 40 languages.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 27


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No place for ‘Melo in LA? | KG and Pierce; the return | Wounded Wall will rise from USAB snub | Heat ready for season to crank up

No. 1: Lakers cool on recruiting ‘Melo? – Kobe Bryant has already declared himself out of the Carmelo Anthony recruiting sweepstakes, choosing the role of big brother instead.  He tried the recruiter hat with Dwight Howard last season and it didn’t work. But Bryant wasn’t the issue then and he’s not now for the Lakers. That responsibility belongs to Mike D’Antoni, the Lakers’ coach whose rough relationship with Howard (and now Anthony) could have a negative impact on the thinking of the coveted free agent. D’Antoni, who coached Anthony with the Knicks, is taking a similarly hands off approach where the soon-to-be free agent is concerned. Marc Berman of the New York Post explains (D’Antoni also offers up some support for his successor) :

When asked if he got a chance to see Anthony, D’Antoni said after the 110-103 loss, “I said hi to him. He said hi to me. What do you want us to be, pen pals or something? We’re fine.’’

D’Antoni was short in his praise of Anthony’s 62-point Friday record-setter and wanted no part of a question regarding Anthony’s future.

“I watched clips, it looked like he was making baskets,’’ D’Antoni said. “He’s got that ability. If he’d played the whole game he probably would’ve had about 80. Obviously scoring talent he does not lack.’’

D’Antoni, however, thought Anthony never bought into the spread-the-wealth, speed-ball attack that earned him the offensive genius label in Phoenix. It seems farfetched Anthony, a free agent this summer, and D’Antoni would make the perfect marriage in Los Angeles. But you never say never.

Asked about Anthony’s free-agent future, D’Antoni demurred: “I’m good. I just want to drink my water and watch a little basketball.’’

D’Antoni defended Knicks coach Mike Woodson, who has been on shaky ground. Woodson replaced D’Antoni late in the 2011-12 season. Fans that year chanted “We Want Wood-son.” Now they chant “Fi-re Wood-son.’’

“Woody does a great job,’’ D’Antoni said. “They’ve had injuries, it’s a tough league, and some years it doesn’t go well. [But] they have a lot more basketball to play, and they win two or three in a row they’ll be in second place in the East, so they’ll be fine. It’s a great organization, I enjoyed my four years here, but you’ve got to win. Everything is going to be questioned. It should be.’’

***

No. 2: Celtics honor KG and Pierce in their return – Credit Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce for keeping their composure during an emotional return to Boston Sunday. They held it together during an intense and relentless stream of praise from the fans and folks in TD Garden and around the city of Boston. Not every city maintains the bond with its former sports superstars. And now KG and Pierce understand what it must have been like for the Boston sports heroes that came (and left) before them. Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com has more from the emotional return for two-thirds of Boston’s Big 3:

Suggesting his return to Boston was tougher than his first trip back to Minnesota, where he started his NBA odyssey, Garnett detailed his ride on an emotional roller coaster while back at TD Garden on Sunday. But he stressed that, even without Gino, the video tribute and the fans’ reaction exceeded even his wildest expectations for coming back.

“This was over the top,” Garnett said. Later he added, “What comes to mind is unbelievable, I didn’t expect anything like that for myself. It shows the first-class type of organization that this is and the appreciation from this organization for you. And I couldn’t put it into words.

“Paul and I were joking before the game, who was going to tear up and drop a tear. I had lumps in my throat. I kept them under control and I focused as much as I could on the game and not take away from it. But, man, this was over the top. I couldn’t put that into words.”

Boston fans delivered an extended standing ovation when Garnett and Pierce were the final two Nets players announced during pregame introductions. With 2:25 to play in the first quarter, the arena hushed in anticipation of what was about to come.

Then came a roar at the mere sight of a green No. 5 flashed on the screen. Garnett’s tribute opened with a clip from “SportsCenter” detailing the trade that delivered him to Boston from the Timberwolves. After a clip of the Big Three holding up their jerseys at Garnett’s introduction, highlights from his Boston tenure rolled, including his bloodied head during a game against the Lakers in 2011, his in-game pushups versus Miami from 2012, and a wild montage of chest pounds and emphatic fist pumps. The video closed with Garnett kneeling to kiss the parquet floor and him screaming, “Anything is possible!” after the Celtics’ Game 6 victory over the Lakers delivered Banner 17 in 2008.

As the crowd delivered another standing ovation, the camera cut to a banner with retired jersey numbers with a couple open spots at the bottom — spots that eventually will house Garnett’s No. 5 and Pierce’s No. 34. But Garnett was already back in the huddle at that point, barking at teammates while trying to power through his emotions.

The cameras cut back to Garnett as play resumed on the court and, after a couple of deep breaths, Garnett smiled and appeared to tell teammates he had been on the verge of losing it.

In the days leading up to Sunday’s game, Garnett pledged to keep his focus on the game and he lived up to that promise. The Celtics rallied in the fourth quarter, trimming a 12-point deficit to three, and had a chance to tie the game with less than 30 seconds to play. With Rondo dribbling in a late-clock situation, Garnett cheated off his man to double the ball and managed to intercept a pass intended for Brandon Bass.

The 37-year-old Garnett, 18-plus years of NBA mileage on his tires, had 70 feet to cover, but he outraced Jeff Green and Chris Johnson before delivering a layup that essentially sealed Brooklyn’s 85-79 triumph, capping a perfect trip back to Boston.

“It took me two days to get the layup up; I thought I was going to get caught, but I got it still — put the ball in front of me, and I got the layup,” Garnett said. “Like Paul said, I’m glad we came here and got a win. A lot of distraction, but they were good distractions.

“It felt good to be showered and for the city to show their appreciation [and] the organization, man. You give yourself. People always say that players can be too loyal. I don’t believe that. A city like Boston is worth it and tonight’s the epitome of all that.”



VIDEO: Garnett and Pierce on their emotional return to Boston

***

No. 3: Wall will use USA Basketball snub as motivation – John Wall‘s Olympic dreams are fading. The Wizards point guard did not make the cut on USA Basketball’s roster for 2014-16, a 28-man that includes his backcourt mate Bradley Beal. Granted, Beal is a shooting guard and a specialist in one area that the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team can never have enough of for international competition. Wall, meanwhile, is one of the many talented point guard options the USAB brass had to choose from. The fallout from this snub, however, could very well work in the Wizards’ favor. Michael Lee of the Washington Post tries to make sense of it all:

Wall is the one of two American-born No. 1 overall picks in the past 11 years not to receive an invitation to Team USA. The other former top pick left out of the mix is Greg Oden, who is back in the NBA after missing the previous four seasons with chronic knee problems. LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis were included.

“I been through it before. The main thing for me is try to be professional. I went out there and played. I did it the right way,” Wall said of his experiences with Team USA minicamp. “I just use it as more motivation. It’s nothing I could do. It’s nothing I can say, and I don’t want nobody to babysit me or try to make it work for me. They made their list, they made their decision and that’s what they’re happy with, and I just have to look past that. It’s more motivation because I didn’t make McDonald’s game. I wasn’t national player of the year. I wasn’t rookie of the year. So those are just tabs I keep to motivate myself to prove people wrong.”

The Wizards gave Wall a five-year, $80 million maximum extension last summer, solidifying his standing as the foundation of the franchise’s efforts to get back to respectability. In his fourth season, Wall has been producing the best numbers of his career with averages of 20.0 points, 8.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.9 steals. He finished a distant third in all-star fan balloting for Eastern Conference guards but is expected to be chosen by the coaches as a reserve with the Wizards positioned to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Wall is having a better season than some of the point guards on the list, but despite his slow-but-steady improvement, he lacks the skill as a consistent shooter that is a necessity for international basketball. Beal, however, is a noted marksman who has connected on 42.3 percent of his three-point attempts this season and could be more of a threat with a shorter international three-point line.

Team USA only invited three other shooting guards in James Harden, Gordon Hayward and Klay Thompson but has been known to use two point guards on the floor at the same time.

“A lot of these guys can go either way. Like LeBron can play” point guard, Beal said with a laugh. “It really doesn’t matter, so I just have to be able to come in and show what I’ve got. It’s totally different than the NBA.”

***

No. 4: Heat just getting started on the 2013-14 season? – So playtime is over now for the Miami Heat. Dwyane Wade came back for Sunday’s Finals rematch and win over the San Antonio Spurs. Chris Bosh made up for his woes against the Spurs during The Finals with a huge effort and the Heat looked energized and much more like the outfit that is chasing a third straight title and fourth straight trip to The Finals, where the Spurs could once again await them. Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com dissects the Heat’s season and where they stand going forward:

After weeks of clearly struggling with motivation, the Heat are about to have plenty of it put before them. Sunday’s strong 113-101 victory over the San Antonio Spurs kicked off a stretch where the Heat will play teams with winning records in seven of 10 games. Not by accident, eight of their next 12 games are on national television.

More importantly, Sunday was also the first day the Heat had their full roster since the start of the season. Though they’re hardly alone in that distinction, with the league ravaged by injuries to stars, the Heat had a rather large variable in play because of the recent appearance that Greg Oden could end up being a factor at their weakest position.

The Heat have been rapped across the knuckles recently for what has been dubbed a “malaise” as they’ve swallowed nine losses against teams with losing records. What that fails to recognize is that the Heat were actually two games better this season through 43 games than they were last season. There were plenty of “what the?” games in the first few months last season as they struggled to get traction after winning the 2012 title.

It was last season in their 44th game when they truly got serious, after a losing road trip. It started Super Bowl weekend and they eventually reeled off 27 wins in a row and found a rhythm that carried them to another title.

It’s Super Bowl week again and the Heat have those several reasons to start getting serious, including a 2-4 road trip that ended grimly last week. Forget about another one of those crazy winning streaks (though the current one is at three and counting) but it wasn’t hard to miss how the Heat seemed to start to depress the gas against the Spurs.

Leading by 29 points at one point before the gap closed in garbage time, they delivered one of their most impressive performances of the season and their first quality win of the new year. It wasn’t a sterling defensive performance — those have been particularly elusive for the Heat this season and what they are really looking for — but there was no missing their increased intensity.

“They came with their A-game,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.


VIDEO: The Game Time crew unveils their Sunday Feast

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: We didn’t mean to snub Stephen Curry and the Warriors, who knocked off the Portland Trail Blazers in an exciting Grammy night show which also served as a homecoming for the heir apparent of Oakland’s point guard legacy … Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle is doing his due diligence to pump Dirk Nowitzki up as an All-Star reserve … New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis is content to let his play do the talking for him … Nuggets point guard Nate Robinson is operating behind enemy lines this week as an unabashed fan of his hometown Seattle Seahawks

ICYMI of The Night: Between the highlights and the narration of Beau Estes, the Top 10 Plays is a must-watch and must-listen on a daily basis. Sunday’s Top 10 plays is no different. Watch the players shine and enjoy Beau’s soundtrack while you do it:


VIDEO: Check out Sunday’s Top 10 plays, the best highlights and delivery in the business

Rockets Marking Time, Not Progress


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew break down Dwight Howard’s play vs. OKC

HOUSTON — Cross that off their bucket lists.

Now the Rockets know what it’s like to step into an empty elevator shaft. Or out of a moving jet. Or off the roof of a tall building.

The last time anything went over an edge this fast, it was an anvil that wound up landing on the head of Wile E. Coyote.

The rootin’ tootin’, fastest-shootin’ bunch in the NBA filled up the hoop for a season-high 73 points in the first half Wednesday night against the Thunder. Then scored 19 in the second half.

For the anomaly inclined, it was the largest point disparity (54) between halves in league history.

Ordinarily to see such a rapid reversal from feast to famine, one has to go out for double cheeseburgers with one of those bony supermodels.

In the end, what we have is a clear line of demarcation between an honest-to-goodness Western Conference title contender and a team that just likes to flex in front of the mirror.

After a middling 5-5 record since Russell Westbrook underwent another surgery on Dec. 27 — including five losses in the span of eight games and three in their last four — the Thunder may have been tempted to write another one off after Houston’s dozen first-half 3-pointers.

Instead, coach Scott Brooks took them to the movies at halftime, showing video replays of the horror show defense that led to almost every single one of those 3-pointers.

Some were from gaps in the defense. Some were the result of switches. Some were just lazy. But no matter what, the Thunder decided they’d had enough.

“Hell yeah, it was a statement win,” crowed Westbrook above the through that had gathered around Kevin Durant after his 36-point game.

The kind that said even without one of the twin engines to their offense, Thunder have the know-how, the wherewithal and the grit not to simply throw up their hands and write another one off as a bad night.

“We just stuck with it,” Durant said.

It was also a statement about the Rockets in the 41st game of a season that hasn’t seen much difference or overall improvement from the 11th, 21st or 31st.

When the Rockets are raining 3-pointers and using the gaps created to also attack the basket, as they did in the first half, they are virtually unbeatable. But when the shots stop falling –  as they did in the second half — the Rockets can be unwatchable and don’t seem like a bunch that could navigate the marathon of a deep postseason run. Or even the first round of the playoffs.

It’s an act they’ve got memorized like the lines of a long-running Broadway play.

Coach Kevin McHale shakes his head and talks about the ball “sticking” in the offense and bemoaning the fact his team can’t play with consistent energy all game.

James Harden, the supposed closer who did not score a point in the second half, churlishly challenges the notion that anything at all went wrong except a couple of shots not falling.

Dwight Howard, after five-point second half, sits in front of his locker mumbling responses to questions, as if the whispering lets the outside world know that, by gosh, he’s taking this one seriously. That’s after another night of Howard reverting to form as the frustrated, stifled big man who can’t score and falls back into pushing, shoving and getting slapped with double technical fouls.

“We’ve got to play the right way if we want to win,” Howard said. “Once we figure it out, we’ll be fine.”

It wasn’t even a week ago when the Rockets blew a 25-point lead to the lowly Wizards, but had enough to fight back and win. The difference, of course, is that the thoroughly mediocre Wizards of the laughably horrid Eastern Conference are not in the same class as the Westbrook-less Thunder.

So while they have shown a propensity for often making a bunch of shots, the Rockets have not shown an inclination or an ability yet to reach for the next level of concentration and execution.

Whose fault is that? Howard’s? Harden’s? McHale’s?

“We’re good, Harden said. “We missed layups, a couple of errant turnovers that we could have converted in transition,” said Harden. “Just small things.”

Like that first step off the rooftop.


VIDEO: Is Dwight Howard still a great player in the NBA?

It’s Time For New Year’s Resolutions

VIDEO: The Starters review the year so far

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ring out the old. Ring in the new. As the calendar turns, it’s time for resolutions throughout the NBA:

Atlanta Hawks — Look Back to the Future: This was supposed to be the start of a brand new era for one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises, and things were actually looking good until Al Horford tore a pectoral muscle. With their undersized big man done for the season, the Hawks will only stay afloat because they’re in the horrid Eastern Conference. But they’re going in the right direction under GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer, and will get the lottery pick of the sinking Nets, so there’s reason for hope out of a draft class teeming with talent.

Boston Celtics — Move Fast on Rondo: According to the old saying, you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. When Rajon Rondo is finally able to get back onto the court and prove that he’s close to his old self, rookie coach Brad Stevens and GM Danny Ainge have to find out right away if he’s mentally ready to anchor the rebuilding project. If not, the Celtics could reap a windfall in new pieces ahead of the trade deadline.

Brooklyn Nets — Fuhgetaboutit: OK, it was a nice little pipe dream to think that a couple of old codgers like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce could shuffle up and down the court in slippers and robes to tangle with the Heat and Pacers. Fortunately, team owner Mikhail Prokorov can afford their salaries with the kind of change he finds in his sofa cushions. Pay them off, send them away and get back to building around Brook Lopez and Deron Williams with players who aren’t signing up for Medicare.

Charlotte Bobcats — Keep Him: For the first time in who can remember how long, Michael Jordan won’t have to spend next summer looking for a coach. The merry-go-round can stop. Steve Clifford has given Charlotte a sense of purpose, respectability and a solid identity on the defensive end. Now they’ve got to work on boosting production out of that woeful offense. One thing at a time.

Chicago Bulls — Play Derrick and the Dominoes: Even Layla couldn’t have knocked the Bulls off their feet like the second straight significant injury to their All-Star, MVP guard Derrick Rose. It might be time to reshuffle the bones on a club that hasn’t even won a conference title and already has significant money locked up in Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson before re-signing Luol Deng to a big contract.

Cleveland Cavaliers — Stop Winning the Draft Lottery: Of course, that would require the Cavs to actually make the playoffs and not qualify for the lottery. This is a team that was supposed to be on the rise with enough young talent to make LeBron James think about returning, but instead has Kyrie Irving trying to do everything, Dion Waiters angry and Andrew Bynum maybe ready to give up the game. Time for an adult to take control here, coach Mike Brown.

Dallas Mavericks — Embrace Reality: It’s a bit ironic that a guy like Mark Cuban that has made a name for himself in the world of reality TV shows rarely faces up to it with the Mavs. He’s fun. He’s entertaining. He’ll say anything, such as there’s no telling whether Houston getting Dwight Howard or Dallas getting Monta Ellis was a better free agent signing last summer. Now go get yourself some defense, Mark, before Dirk Nowitzki winds up running on his tongue trying to outscore everybody.

Denver Nuggets — Respect Yourself: There shouldn’t be a decent team that breaks camp without a solid sense of its identity. A year ago with George Karl pulling the strings from the sidelines and Andre Iguodala setting the pace on the court, the Nuggets had that. Now they are often just a bunch that is stuck in the middle of the pack on offense (18th) and defense (16th) and too often can’t defend its home court.

Detroit Pistons — Say It Ain’t So, Joe: A few years ago, it was signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva as big-money free agents. This time GM Joe Dumars figured it would be a good idea to upgrade the Pistons by tossing the combustible Josh Smith onto the fire to light up the frontcourt. So, Smith is already calling out coach Mo Cheeks and the Pistons are backsliding from the .500 mark. Things are getting ugly early again in the Motor City. And, oh yeah, nobody is coming to watch the Pistons, who are last in the league in attendance.

Golden State Warriors — Do the American Hustle: Like the hit movie, was last year’s magical little run through the playoffs by Mark Jackson’s team just one glorious con job? Yes, they’ve played a tough schedule, but something is missing. Lack of last year’s bench? A failure to take care of the ball? You get the sense that the Warriors were just trying to pick up this season right where they left off without putting in all of the gritty groundwork.

Houston Rockets — Rebound, Then Run: Everybody loves watching the Rockets run like methamphetamine-fueled hamsters on a wheel. But for a team that has Dwight Howard in the middle, they are horrible at giving up second-chance points to opponents and it has often proved costly. It’s nice to run, but better not to turn your back and head down the court while the other guy is dropping another put-back into the net.

Indiana Pacers — Don’t Stop Believing: The Pacers came into the season convinced that they could live up to the old axiom of playing them one game at a time and that grind-it-out method would eventually deliver the best record in the league and home-court all the way through The Finals. With Paul George tossing his hat into the MVP ring and Roy Hibbert making opponents ears ring with his physical style, it’s working quite well for coach Frank Vogel’s team.

L.A. Clippers — Say Goodbye to Hollywood: The sooner the Clippers can get rid of all the extraneous things in their game — yes, you, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — and get down to the serious business of playing some real defense around the basket, the sooner we’ll take them seriously as real contenders in the Western Conference. At this point, despite all the good work by Chris Paul, the Clips are still one of those acts that gets eliminated early on “American Idol.”

L.A. Lakers — Lock Up Kobe: Yes, we know he’s the Black Mamba. We know that he’d be the guy standing out in the rain with a fork and still believe he’d quench his thirst. But the Lakers aren’t going anywhere this season and it doesn’t help their cause for next year if Kobe Bryant returns and pushes himself to the limit again in a debilitating run that winds up far short of the playoffs. It’s time to think about the limited — and high-paying — future he has left. Oh yeah, and trade Pau Gasol.

(more…)

Clock Ticking … Woodson Will Serve As Sacrifice For Knicks’ Bigger Failures




VIDEO: The GameTime crew breaks down the final plays of the Knicks’ loss Monday

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – It won’t be cheerful around Mike Woodson‘s household come Christmas — provided the embattled New York Knicks’ coach lasts that long.

Woodson did the right thing Monday night, manning up to his failings in the final stages of the Knicks’ gut-punch loss to Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards.

But his own words may well cost him his job.

“I probably should have taken it, the timeout, there at the end,” Woodson said after the final frantic moments of what New Yorker’s have already crowned the “Manhattan Meltdown.”

Woodson didn’t call the timeout to organize his troops in those chaotic final seconds. His team didn’t foul Beal before he was able to glide to the rim, basically uncontested, for the game-winning layup. In the waning ticks of the clock, Woodson stood silently, with three timeouts unused.

So it was left to Carmelo Anthony to try to atone for his coach’s mistake. Melo’s desperation heave at the buzzer couldn’t salvage a disastrous situation.

Then things got really bad for Woodson.

“I should’ve reacted a lot sooner once the ball went through the bucket,” Woodson said of Beal’s game-winner, “so that’s on me … It happened so fast.”

Woodson, of course, will serve as the sacrifice, but there’s a much bigger failure by the organization here. After all, he’s not the one who made the personnel decisions that have left the Knicks with a mismatched roster of players incapable of repeating what last season’s Atlantic Division-winning crew did. He’s not the one playing defense. (Or, as in the Knicks’ case, not playing defense).

That said, someone has to serve as the fall guy. And firing the coach is often the only way to pacify an uneasy fan base.

Is it fair? Probably not. It usually isn’t. But Woodson and the other members of the NBA’s coaching fraternity are paid handsomely to shoulder this sort of burden. They get hired knowing that the ending is usually an ugly one, with the coach being shown the door without any of the pomp and circumstance that accompanied the process on the front end.

“As far as I’m concerned he’s secure right now,” Anthony said in defense of the coach that engineered the Knicks’ 54-win season a year ago. “I haven’t heard anything. Nothing to discuss, so he’s our coach and we’re rolling with him.”

The other words he spoke, however, are the ones that will resonate with the masses.

“We were supposed to call a timeout, we didn’t, and we lost the game,” Anthony said. “If he said it’s his fault, then it’s his fault. There’s no need for me to talk about that or make excuses for it.”

The chances of Woodson turning this around any time soon are remote. Tyson Chandler‘s return from injury won’t save him. Neither will compliance from J.R. Smith. Jim Dolan‘s vote of confidence at this point will serve only to stir the drama.

So the rumors will persist. Rumblings about the Knicks pursuing the Bulls’ Tom Thibodeau as a potential replacement/savior will no doubt intensify, stoked furiously by the New York media machine.

And Woodson will bear the brunt of it all. Because, fair or not, this is on him.


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony on the Knicks’ loss to the Wizards

Spurs Bury Past By Playing For Today


VIDEO: Charles Barkley gives credit to Spurs before joking on city of San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO — It’s still there, rattling around inside their heads like a ghost in the attic.

Whether you’re Danny Green willfully using the harsh memory as a painful everyday fuel or you’re Manu Ginobili trying hard to push it back into the shadows, it’s as much a part of what they take onto the court as their sneakers and jerseys.

Those 28 seconds at the end of Game 6 in the NBA Finals when the Spurs let a five-point lead over the Heat and a fifth franchise championship slip through their hands is now who they are and, maybe because of that, what they can be. Again.

They are the same old Spurs for whom the camouflage uniforms they wore against the Wizards were redundant, since nobody ever seems to notice them until they get to the end of yet another 50-win season. It’s a league record 14 in a row and counting.

These Spurs have won six straight, running their record up to 8-1, which trails only the unbeaten Pacers in a year after when it might seem natural to have a hangover.

“I’m sure it crosses everybody’s mind once in a while,” Green said. “I’m sure it gets brought up in a lot of conversations, not just with (media), but with mutual friends, family.

“This is a new year, a new season. You try to let that go, but I think it’s a good motivational tool that could keep us at it. February, March, sure. Let it keep pushing us.”

The veteran Ginobili takes the opposite approach.

“If somebody asks me, you can’t force not to remember it,” he said. “But if not, I’m just focused on … the next game and my health and the next game and trying to get better. I really don’t think about what happened last year.

“It’s something that we’re going to have in the back of our heads forever. It’s not that it’s going to leave. I still remember the semifinals I lost in 1997 with the Under-22 team (in Argentina) because it was a game like that. So it is going to stay there forever. You’re going to bring it when you need to, not on an everyday basis because it doesn’t help.”

What helps is simply getting back to the basics, getting back to what the Spurs do best, which is to play the game to their own selflessly exacting standard that comes together like a symphony.

“San Antonio runs offense perfectly,” said Wizards center Marcin Gortat. “It was like listening to Mozart. It’s just ridiculous how they play.”

What would seem insanely impossible anywhere else is that the Spurs have sprinted out of the starting gate while other would-be contenders — Grizzlies, Nets, Clippers, Rockets — stumble, all with perennial All-Star Tim Duncan struggling to find his shot.

When Duncan went 1-for-12 against the Wiz, it was the third time this season that he scored a single field goal. He is shooting 32 of 83 (.386) to open his 17th NBA season and matched his single-game career low with two points. Nevertheless, the Spurs have trailed for a total of only 11 seconds in their last four wins over Golden State, New York, Philadelphia and Washington.

It has been about Tony Parker setting the pace with his scoring, passing and constantly attacking style on offense, about Green getting back his shooting stroke following a bumpy start, Kawhi Leonard continuing to bloom and Ginobili coming back healthy and confident to begin the season. The Spurs are also getting production up and down the lineup from Tiago Splitter to Marco Belinelli to Boris Diaw.

While everyone on the outside keeps looking at the calendar and the clock and thinking that the time running out on the Spurs Big Three of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili would make them lost in the fog of what got away last June, the point that’s missed is the sense of urgency they take into each season, each game, every possession at both ends of the court.

The Spurs simply keep playing the game according to the Xs and Os you would expect to see drawn up in a coach’s textbook, based on an organizational style and philosophy that is plainly demanding and with an inherent sense of responsibility to the whole.

“We don’t talk about it as a group,” said coach Gregg Popovich. “We did that the beginning of the year like we do every year. We start with the end of the season before, whoever knocked us out of the playoffs. We go through that film … We went over it in every single detail. We do it excruciatingly, honestly … We already did it, so there’s no sense doing it again.

“But you never forget that. I still remember 0.4 (when Derek Fisher’s 18-foot fadeaway for the Lakers beat San Antonio in Game 5 of the 2004 West semifinals). It goes through once every month or something.

“The Miami thing goes through my head every day. Pretty soon it will be every two days and then it will be every week and every month. That’s the way it is. Everybody remembers things good and bad. It’s not something to be dwelled on. Like I told the team, it’s just another episode in your life, one of the easier ones that you’ll face. When you think about all the things we have to face — family-wise and friends-wise and all that stuff. The things that go on in our lives, basketball, that’s a joke compared to the real stuff.”

Which is how the Spurs inch away from the past while keeping it within everything they do today.

Never Too Soon For Snap Judgments


VIDEO: Sixers begin season with strong start

 

So what if we’ll have to skip the clocks ahead again before we even finish the long grind of the regular season? Does it really matter that it will take more than seven months for somebody to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy? It’s never too soon to leap to conclusions about what we know — or think we know — one week into the 2013-14 regular season.

Heat – Nobody this side of Miley Cyrus gets more scrutiny, criticism and hyperventilating overreaction than the two-time defending champs. LeBron James and Dwayne Wade already have to talk over the alarm bells, trying to put out the fires of two losses in their first three games. They still have the best player in the game, still have a more than capable No. 2 man if he stays healthy and still will be the team to beat when the playoffs begin in April. That won’t stop the sky from falling on nearly a weekly basis. But you still want to pick them for next June.

Clippers – So much for the closing down of Lob City by the new mayor Doc Rivers. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are still running free and easy with the top-rated offense in the league (119.5), but we’re going to have to see more out of DeAndre Jordan and that unicorn defense before we consider the Clips to be true playoff contenders in the West.

Derrick Rose — The Bulls’ star will be right behind the Heat with the Chicken Little crowd that will fret and worry and complain with every missed shot and turnover. He’ll have the most scrutinized repaired leg in the league until Kobe Bryant returns. The good news is that Rose hasn’t shown any ill effects from the knee surgery and it’s only a matter of time until he regains the stroke and the confidence that make him an MVP candidate and Chicago a threat to push Miami and Indiana in the playoffs.

Advantage Howard – The 2-2 Lakers might be saying they’re having fun without the 6-foot-11 distraction, but Dwight Howard is healthy and living up to all expectations in Houston as both an inside force (15 rebounds per game) and solid veteran presence in the Rockets locker room. No longer suffering from back and shoulder problems, Howard is playing joyfully and stress-free for the first time in three seasons. He’s been accepting of instruction from coach Kevin McHale, willing to move out to guard power forwards as part of the twin towers tandem experiment with Omer Asik, and has the Rockets on track to their stated goal of getting home-court advantage in the West playoffs, at the very least.

Lakers – If they were in a swimming pool, the Lakers would be wearing an orange life jacket and just trying to bob their heads above the water line. It’s a two-part season that’s B.K. and A.K. — Before Kobe and After Kobe – and things just don’t look good for the long haul with Steve Nash struggling badly and a bench that provides as much real support as a, well, bench.

Sixers – Other than LeBron and Wade declaring that they were taking the season off to visit an ashram to find inner peace, could there have been a more shocking start to the season than a 3-0 start in always sunny Philadelphia? Michael Carter-Williams, Eastern Conference Player of the Week, is the real deal. But the Warriors proved Monday that the Sixers will eventually settle down to their real level in the Andrew Wiggins Derby, especially after GM Sam Hinkie possibly parlays the quick starts by Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and maybe Thaddeus Young into deals for more draft picks.

Thunder – OK, everybody kicks five bucks into the pot and the winner is the person who picks the exact time — day, hour, minute and seconds — when some knucklehead rips Russell Westbrook for being the kind of bad/selfish teammate that will never help Kevin Durant win a championship. The truth is, since GM Sam Presti’s benevolent giveaway of James Harden to Houston, Westbrook is Durant’s only chance of getting back to The Finals. No more Memphis getting past half a Thunder team. No more avoiding the toughest challenge in the West, Spurs. Yes, Durant is OKC’s best player. But Westbrook, healthy and with a chip on his shoulder, is the hard edge on the court.

Wizards – How many times can we wait on the revamped Wizards to have that bust-out season that propels them back into the playoff picture in the East? John Wall is fine, Trevor Ariza is averaging a double-double, they have a healthy center in Marcin Gortat and yet Washington is still 0-3 with a defense that is simply dreadful. Coach Randy Wittman still leads the race for first coach fired.

Warriors – They’re like the magician that has your eyes glued to his pretty assistant in the skimpy outfit that is their high octane, high scoring offense, while coach Mark Jackson’s team really wants to pull rabbits out of their hats with a defense that will get in your face and get after it. Andre Iguodala couldn’t have been a better fit if he’d been sewn into the lineup by a British tailor.

Love Is All You Need – Well, it would certainly help to have Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and the rest of the star-crossed Timberwolves remain ambulatory through the 82-game schedule. But if there were a Comeback Player of the Year Award for the first week of the season, it would have to go to Kevin Love, who’s been nothing short of a beast scoring and rebounding. This is why it was never rash to envision the Timberwolves Western Conference playoffs the past two seasons. If Love stays healthy, they make it even in a crowded race.

Nets – While losing two of their first three was seen as a sign of the apocalypse in Miami, that trendy, high-priced collection of talent in Brooklyn might be the real candidate for being oversold as championship contenders, a win over the Heat notwithstanding. It still remains to be seen if Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce can continue to produce like their old selves as they become older selves. In the end, it will all come down to whether Deron Williams can get himself back among the elite level of point guards. So far, the shot just isn’t falling.

Knicks – Like the buzz over Gangnam Style and Zero Dark Thirty, Carmelo Anthony and his friends are just so last year. In fact, since their blazing start out of the gate in 2012-13, the Knicks have been positively mediocre and there is no indication that things will change soon. They were laughably “all-in” for a championship run last season, came up way short and now the brightest news is Melo saying he’d like to retire as a Knick. Perfect. Looks like a lot of them already have.

Anthony Davis – The No. 1 pick from the 2012 draft has positively exploded with his growth in the league, almost doubling his scoring from 13.5 to 23.7 ppg, bumping rebounds up from 8.2 to 12.3 and blocks from 1.8 to 4.0. This the Davis who had everyone drooling over his potential at Kentucky and makes the Pelicans a fun stop when flipping channels on League Pass. Now, if only coach Monty Williams could find a way to put some zip into an offense that is only mediocre because they play at such a horridly slow pace in an up-tempo league.

Pacers — Let the Nets spend all the money, the Knicks suck up all the oxygen with talk of Melo’s free agent destination and the Bulls ride the frenzy around every peak and valley in Rose’s return. Meanwhile in the heartland, Paul George keeps getting better, Lance Stephenson keeps learning about consistency, coach Frank Vogel keeps cranking up the intensity on the league’s best defense and the Pacers happily keep playing in the shadows as the real top threat to Miami in the East.

 


VIDEO: The Beat crew talks about Westbrook’s swift return

These Draft Moves Made The Most Impact

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BROOKLYN, N.Y. – These five Draft decisions that will have the greatest impact:

1. Jrue Holiday and a 2013 second-round pick to the Pelicans, Nerlens Noel and a 2014 first-rounder to the 76ers

It’s No. 1 by a wide margin, too, swaying the fortunes not only of two teams, but two conferences. Philadelphia is out of the playoff business for a while after finishing all of four games out in 2012-13 despite Andrew Bynum on the sidelines and coach Doug Collins heading for the exit. Instead of an All-Star at point guard and the chance to use the No. 11 pick Thursday night for a big to either replace the unrestricted free-agent Bynum or help at power forward — perhaps by drafting Steven Adams, Kelly Olynyk or Lucas Nogueira — the Sixers have Noel as a rookie, who does not expect to play until around Christmas because of a knee injury. The Sixers also have point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who was selected with the 11th pick.

The first-rounder next year, in a draft that projects as much more stacked than the 2013 class without a star presence, is a nice get for the 76ers, though. It is protected, depending on the report, either through three or through five.

The Pelicans, meanwhile, take a significant step forward with the addition of the point guard they had been lacking. Austin Rivers, the 2012 lottery pick, is better suited as a combo guard anyway and now is part of the Holiday-Eric Gordon pairing that will headline one of the best backcourts in the league if Gordon stays healthy. Anthony Davis remains a potential star of the future at power forward.

2. Wizards select Otto Porter at No. 3

It was the predictable call since 15 seconds after the lottery, and it was the right call. It was the call, more specifically, that vaults Washington into playoff mode.

The Wizards were already one of the best teams in the East the second half of last season, once John Wall got healthy and even with an early end to the rookie season of Bradley Beal because of injury. Now, with the position of need addressed Thursday, they have Wall at point guard, Beal at shooting guard, Porter at small forward and Nene and Emeka Okafor at power forward and center. That works.

Porter isn’t the difference maker, but he is the ideal fit in the same way he would have been a reasonable choice for Cleveland at No. 1: he is capable of stepping into the NBA now, he helps the spot the Wizards needed and he’s an ideal complementary player who will make valuable contributions to Wall and Beal’s continued rise. Porter will defend, pass, rebound and shoot with range. The things that get a team to the playoffs.

3. Bucks select Giannis Antetokounmpo at No. 15

It’s not that Milwaukee went small forward four days before three guards — Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick (unrestricted) and Brandon Jennings (restricted) — hit free agency. Other teams steered away from Dennis Schroeder, Shane Larkin, Tony Snell and others. And it’s not that Milwaukee saw into the future with a unique opportunity for a 6-foot-9 potential point forward with a good feel for the game despite little experience in Greece and even less against anything close to the equivalent of Division I competition in U.S. colleges.

It’s that the Bucks don’t have what Antetokounmpo needs more than anything: time. He has to get stronger, adjust to the physical nature and speed of the game here and develop a jumper. One scout who saw him, asked how long before Antetokounmpo makes an impact in the NBA, said, “Three, four years. Maybe five.” Others think it’s a lot shorter than that, but that still means two years.

If he contributes in 2013-14, the vast majority of front offices will be surprised. Meanwhile, the Bucks need to stay in the playoff picture, not build something for the future. They are about now and he isn’t.

4. Trail Blazers select C.J. McCollum at 10, Allen Crabbe at 31 and Jeff Withey at 39

This is a consolation prize? Portland missed on the dream Draft-night outcome of trading for a veteran center, yet it still addressed a major needs. With three picks capable of contributing — yes, even the second-rounders — the Blazers made a significant step toward toward erasing their depth issues last season.

McCollum, who has spent the pre-Draft process comparing himself to Damian Lillard as a mid-major product trying to prove he can be a point guard and not just a scorer, now works behind Lillard. And maybe with him — both can play off the ball. Crabbe is a shooting specialist who was getting looks from teams in the teens. Withey is a value find at 39, an experienced shot-blocking center who should be able to play right away and very realistically could have a career as a backup despite being a second-rounder.

5. Mavericks trade down twice

It’s not about what they got. It’s about what they didn’t get. A larger payroll.

Shane Larkin, whom Dallas got in a swap with Atlanta, is as the possible point guard of the future. Possible because there is no such thing as roster certainty heading into this critical free-agent summer.

By starting with the 13th pick and trading with the Celtics to No. 16 and then trading with the Hawks to end up at 18 and taking Larkin, the Mavericks saved $1.09 million in rookie-scale salary. That creates more cap space. Dwight Howard likes cap space.

Little Man Beverley Coming Up Big

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HOUSTON — Danny Green
was sailing in on the right side for what would been a layup that stretched the Spurs run out to 12-0 and their lead up to six points with just under 1 1/2 minutes to play.

It’s not the first time nobody saw Patrick Beverley coming.

The Lakers had made him a second-round pick in 2009 and flipped him to Miami on draft night. He had previously spent a season in the Ukraine and when the pre-LeBron James Heat were doing everything they could to free up cap room, they packed his bags and extended his European vacation in Greece.

When the Rockets finally bought out Beverley’s contract from Spartak in St. Petersburg, Russia, and brought him home on Jan. 7, his first stop stateside was the NBA D-League Showcase in Reno, Nev.

“All I want to do is get a chance to show people that I can play,” Beverley said then. “Just give me a chance.”

It was the kind of move that drew little notice around the league, a young team adding another set of young legs.

A split second after the ball left Green’s hand on Sunday night, those young legs launched Beverley skyward. James Harden felt something zooming over his head like a meteor.

“You don’t usually see little guys making a play like that,” Harden said.

The little guy’s rejection of Green was big, big, big and it became huge when Chandler Parsons nailed a 3 at the other end, Harden bagged a pull-up jumper in the final seconds and the Rockets held on for a 96-95 win.

Sometimes these so-called playoff preview games can be more than a bit overblown. But having lost three times already to the Spurs this season and giving up an average of 123 points a game, it was a statement the Rockets needed to make, if only to themselves, as the possibility of a first-round Texas Two-Step series hovers.

Harden has long since proven himself as a frontline All-Star performer this season and Jeremy Lin’s game has steadily rounded into shape. And if there’s any surprise left in the Rockets’ backcourt, the 6-foot-1 Beverley has been doing all that he can to dispel it over the past two-plus months. He’s averaging five points and just under 16 minutes per game, but it’s when those minutes often come that are of note.

Rockets coach Kevin McHale put Beverley back in for Lin to play the point with 3:50 left, the score tied at 89 and going head-to-head against All-Star Tony Parker.

“I’m prepared at all times,” Beverley said. “Throughout this whole season I’ve been put in this situation a lot more than once. Orlando game, Wizards game. I just try to go out there and do what I do. Get some stops and make some open shots.”

Beverley made shots, open and otherwise, shooting 4-for-4 for 11 points in the first half and then played a critical role with his defense down the stretch.

“Patrick had a good game going,” McHale said. “Parker was driving hard and getting fouled, so we went with Patrick out there to get a little more defense and then Chandler switched off. I thought one of the biggest plays of the game was Patrick running down that block. That was a phenomenal block.”

After Harden’s jumper put the Rockets in front and the Spurs had their last chance, it was Beverley who prevented Tim Duncan from making a handoff return pass to Manu Ginobili to get the shot San Antonio wanted.

So here is the 2012 Eurocup MVP, who began another season playing on the far side of the world suddenly smack in the middle of a playoff race.

“I was on my way home from (shootaround) today and I called my mom and told her I still can’t believe I’m in the NBA,” Beverley said. “I guess it hasn’t really sunk in yet. I’m enjoying it…I can finally show the world I can play basketball.”

Especially those who never saw him coming.

Kobe’s Big Boy Pants Fit Lakers Well

 

HANG TIME, Texas — So Kobe Bryant walked the walk, even if it was with a limp.

After crumbling in a heap two nights earlier with a badly sprained left ankle in Atlanta, the Black Mamba showed up in Indianapolis wearing a look of determination.

And his big boy pants.

After all, since he’d spent time this season giving hints, prods, urges and lectures to Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard about playing through pain, how could he not at least hobble out onto the court and try.

He did for 12 minutes, four shots and no points.

But doesn’t he at least get an assist for inspiring his teammates to deliver what some of them called their best game of the season by beating the Pacers?

Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times had the lowdown:

“What I told them was ‘I don’t know how much I have, but whatever I have I’m going to give you.’ That’s all my message was to them,” he said.

Message received.

The Lakers’ reserves, humiliated two nights earlier in Atlanta by a 46-16 margin, snapped back with Blake’s season-high 18 points and seven assists. Jamison had 17 points, combining with Blake to make nine of 14 three-point attempts.

Howard shook off a slow start to finish with 20 points and 12 rebounds, and World Peace had 19 points.

The Lakers held Indiana to 37.4% shooting, probably the stat of the game, if not Bryant experiencing only the 15th scoreless game of his career. Whatever. He tried.

He sat on the bench in the second half with an electro-stim machine in his hands, its wires disappearing into his left sock.

“It was really stiff. Just continued to swell,” he said. “I couldn’t put any weight on it so I had to call it a night.”

Bryant says he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to play at home on Sunday against the Kings or even the next two games against the punching bag Suns and Wizards. But watching him remain on the bench in uniform, getting treatment on his ankle all through Friday night’s game at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse, wouldn’t we all be surprised to see him sitting?

Not that he just sat there watching the rest of the Lakers take on the Pacers. He was constantly offering words of encouragement and suggestions. At one point he even horned in on coach Mike D’Antoni and used a whiteboard to show Howard where the Pacers were sending their double-teams and how to defeat them.

“Mike has got a million things going on in his head, and Steve and Dwight are all out there in the moment. It’s tough to really see all those things,” Bryant said. “I could see them from the sideline.”

Was Bryant auditioning for D’Antoni’s job?

“I guess,” the Lakers coach said dryly. “I don’t know if he wants that or not.”

What Bryant wants, as much as just another win, is to enhance a legacy that is already the stuff of legend and has few goals left to reach. There is clearly that one more championship that would tie him with Michael Jordan and that may or may not be realistic in a season that has seen the Lakers underachieve right from the start.

But as he pursues Jordan, he knows all of the historic high points of the legend, the so-called “flu game” at Utah during The Finals, all of the other times when Jordan simply would not let his own body stop him from achieving.

Bryant knows that pulling this season back from the brink, getting the Lakers into the playoffs and at least giving them a puncher’s chance to deliver a surprise knockout against one of the top seeds, would only gild his reputation further.

Gasol will likely return in the next few days from the foot injury that has kept him out since early February and that will give the Lakers a lift. But nothing will light their fire like the inferno inside of Bryant.

Don’t just do as I say, but do as I do.

That’s the message Kobe delivered without even having to say a word, just wearing his big boy pants.