Kick Of LeBron Gets Harden Booted

The battle for the 2015 MVP Award was a tooth-and-nail battle that nearly turned into royal rumble when James Harden kicked LeBron James in the crown jewels in Sunday’s 105-103 OT win by the Rockets in Houston.

But the league office kicked back with a one-game suspension for Harden. The NBA’s leading scorer will sit out Tuesday night when his Rockets face the Hawks in Atlanta.

The play occurred with 2:08 left in the third quarter and was originally called a Flagrant 1 foul. It has now been changed to a Flagrant 2 upon league office review. The play can be seen here:

VIDEO: Harden kicks LeBron

James, who missed 8 of 11 free throws, including a pair with 4.2 left that could have won the game, said afterward in the Cavs’ locker room that he expected a penalty on Harden.

“Obviously that’s not a basketball play,” James said. “Obviously, the league will probably take a look at it. I have no idea why he would do that, but two competitors just trying to go at it, and he won this one.”

Harden tried to wave off any suggestion of ill-intent. “Just a reaction,” he said. “They called a flagrant. Next play we moved on. … He’s a very good friend off the court. Obviously it’s a battle and just trying to win a basketball game. Just competition against one of the best players in the world.”

Following the win, the Rockets had a bit of fun at LeBron’s expense on their Twitter feed.

Bulls’ Butler out 3-6 weeks


VIDEO: Jimmy Butler injures elbow

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERSDerrick Rose isn’t the only star the Chicago Bulls will work without for the foreseeable future. All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler will also watch in street clothes for the next 3-6 weeks after an MRI confirmed a Grade 2/3 ulnar ligament sprain and small bone impaction to the left elbow, the Bulls announced this afternoon.

Butler is averaging a team-high 20.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists. Butler is also one of the league’s elite perimeter defenders, meaning the Bulls lose their best two-way player during what is sure to be a crucial late-season stretch as the Bulls and others jockey for position in the standings.

Rose is out for a month after surgery last week to repair a torn meniscus.

 

Morning shootaround — March 2


VIDEO: Highlights from March 2 of all the action around the NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Harden humbles James, Cavs | Another blow for already bruised Bulls | Blazers’ Lillard back in rhythm | Warriors are true believers after Boston comeback

No. 1: Harden humbles James, Cavs — The real “King James” stood up Sunday. And the crown didn’t fit the head of LeBron James, not on this day and not with James Harden and the Houston Rockets prevailing in an overtime thriller that lived up to every second of the billed MVP battle between the superstars at the center of this epic race. Statement game? Absolutely. Harden said so and our very own Fran Blinebury weaves the tale of the rise of the man who would be (the new) king:

Rough. Tough. Physical. Contentious. Dirty.

“Yeah, it’s like street ball,” said James Harden. “You grew up playing games like that.”

If Harden keeps growing up any faster, they’re going to have to raise the rafters of Toyota Center just so he doesn’t go straight through the roof.

He’s scored more points in a game this season than he did Sunday. Grabbed more rebounds. Dished out more assists. Played more artistically.

But never been more ferocious, more driven.

You’re damn right that 105-103 overtime win means more when it comes against LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

As messages go, this one couldn’t have been delivered more emphatically if it had come wrapped around a brick and tossed through a plate glass window or attached to a flaming arrow.

“M-V-P.”

While there may still be a horse race for the award this season, there’s no doubt which thoroughbred is now galloping ahead of the field.

Less than 72 hours after James stated his case by outscoring Golden State’s Stephen Curry 42-18 in a routine win by the Cavs, Harden provided his response.

James scored more points (37 to Harden’s 33), but took far more shots (35 to 18) to get them. Playing without point guard Kyrie Irving, James controlled the ball like a yo-yo on a string and tried to do too much. Playing without center Dwight Howard, as he’s done for much of the season, Harden simply opened his arms wide to embrace all of the things that had to be done.

“Every time you watch [Harden] play, you’re watching history,” Rockets Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon had said a few hours before the tip. “He’s doing something spectacular. Every night the best defensive player on the other team has to guard him and also the game plan of the other team is how to stop him. And he’s still finding a way to be effective and giving them an opportunity to win every time. So he is definitely the MVP.”

***  

Morning Shootaround — March 1


VIDEO: Highlights of the seven Saturday night games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Morris wants more fan support in Phoenix | Harden vs. LeBron for MVP argument? | Randy Wittman accepts accountability in Washington | Rondo back, coping in Dallas

No. 1: Morris wants more fan support in Phoenix — After his team set a franchise-record low for points in a half, and then provided relief for the rodeo road-weary Spurs, Suns forward Markieff Morris addressed the issue of support for the Suns. You could argue the Suns didn’t deserve much on Saturday when they were wiped out by San Antonio and really didn’t put up much of a fight all night. Also, keep in mind that Morris was perhaps speaking out of frustration, realizing the Suns’ playoff chances might be slipping away in the West. Still, he went on a measured rant, wondering why the building never seems noisy enough for the Suns. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic was willing to listen:

“I don’t think we have a home-court advantage,” Markieff said. “It does not feel like a home-court advantage at all. Some games are going to be bad. You can’t win every game. That comes along with sports. Nobody wins games. We need the support. We need, as a team, to know that our fans are going to be behind us and I don’t feel like this year they’re behind us enough.

“I feel like we do have those genuine Suns fans but, for the most part, I feel like we had more San Antonio than Phoenix fans tonight.”

In the first Spurs visit of the season, Suns Managing Partner Robert Sarver apologized to fans and offered refunds for a preseason game in which the Spurs did not play their stars. After this Spurs 101-74 drubbing included their stars, the fourth sellout crowd of the season received only advice.

“They don’t boo, but they don’t cheer that much, either,” Markieff said. “We feed off, for the most part, off the energy. I know we’re a lot better than that. I know Phoenix fans are a lot better than that. Like I said, we have a lot of genuine fans that cheers for us – the ones that are in the first row, in the second row, in the third row. Once you go up, you feel like people were just at the game, just watching.”

Markieff made a point to say the sentiment was not specific to Saturday night. The Suns are 17-13 at home this season with six of the home losses coming to losing teams.

“I speak for me and my teammates,” Markieff said. “It depends on who’s playing here. When we have the LeBrons and the D-Wades, we need to be heckling them. We need the fans to win games. We need the energy from them to win a lot of games, and we need that every night, not just certain nights.

“Every night is not going to be a great night. It’s going to happen. Stuff like that is going to happen. We expect more from them because I know they expect more from us.”

***

No. 2: Harden vs. LeBron for MVP argument? — The MVP debate, heating up in recent weeks, will take a turn Sunday when the Cavs play the Rockets and more specifically, LeBron James shares the floor with James Harden. As you know, LeBron is a 4-time MVP winner, Harden is looking for his first, and has a solid chance. He leads the league in 40-point games (6) and 30-point games (25) and has the Rockets squarely in the hunt in the West despite missing Dwight Howard. In fact, an amusing moment happened at the Sloan analytics conference over the weekend when Rockets GM Daryl Morey sat on a panel with Warriors GM Bob Myers had an exchange when asked their thoughts on the MVP race. Morey said Harden; Myers noted that Steph Curry and the Warriors have a better record and are 4-0 against the Rockets. Also on the panel was agent Arn Tellum, who chimed in for his client: “Russ Westbrook is better than both of them.” Anyway, Dan Feldman of Pro Basketball Talk had this:

“Take James Harden off our team, and we’re nowhere,” Morey said.

Fodder for Mark Cuban? Yes.

True? To a degree. Harden has successfully carried a heavy load with Dwight Howard in and out of the lineup due to injury. Houston outscores opponents by 6.2 points per 100 possessions when Harden plays and get outscored by 3.2 points per 100 possessions when he sits.

Of course, Morey has long admired Harden, trading for him in 2012. That deal has been revisited countless times with the Thunder grading out poorly in hindsight – despite how reasonable the deal seemed at the time.

But perhaps Oklahoma City deserves criticism for negotiating poorly, given how badly Morey says he wanted Harden.

“We basically told the owner, ‘We should just give them everything. Like, literally, every possible thing that isn’t bolted down with the Rockets should be traded,’” Morey said.

***

No. 3:  Randy Wittman accepts accountability in Washingtonn — The Wizards have had better weeks and months, but at least Saturday was a better day — barely. They slipped past the Pistons and in the process brought themselves some relief from a 6-game slide and a pair of embarrassing losses to a pair of 12-win teams. The good news is Bradley Beal returned from his injury and so did Paul Pierce. No disrespect to Pierce, but the Wizards missed Beal the most. They don’t have a solid backup at his two-guard spot and as a result, John Wall forced too many shots from distance, the kind he doesn’t usually make. The Wizards scored 60 points in the first half against the Pistons and shot 55 percent. Still, they’ve got a long way to go to match the mojo they had early in the season. And if they don’t, well, plenty of speculation will surround coach Randy Wittman, because this team was expected, by management, to take a considerable step in the East. The playoffs will tell. Anyway, Wittman acknowledged the Wizards have been underperforming. Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post had this from the coach …

“First and foremost, I’m the leader of this, of the group, and I’ve got to do a better job,” Wittman said. “I’m not doing a good enough job of putting guys in position to succeed better, instilling the confidence in these guys to go out and play. It starts with me. . . . I’ve got to do a better job, obviously, of getting our guys through tough times. That’s my job.”

Beal and Pierce provided what the Wizards’ offense was sorely lacking — dynamic play on the wing. Both players spread the floor with three-point shooting and attacked seams off the dribble, areas that were glaring liabilities during their previous two losses to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers.

Their imprint was evident in the first half: The Wizards scored 60 points, shot 55.8 percent from the field and made six three-pointers. Washington played with a sense of confidence and freedom not apparent during much of their rut as Wittman incorporated rotation adjustments. In addition to having Beal play with the second unit, which he often did before his eight-game absence, Wittman added Pierce to the lineup.

“We came out as good as we’ve come out both defensively and offensively,” Wittman said. “Again, it starts with me, and I have to figure it out. I can’t explain to you how you play one half and then as soon as a team makes any kind of run we stop playing. That’s what we do — we stop playing. I have to figure out how to help the guys overcome that.

***

No. 4: Rondo back, coping in Dallas — OK, so it’s over, the Rajon Rondo snit with coach Rick Carlisle. Where do we go from here? As Rondo made his way back into the lineup after a 1-game suspension due to conduct detrimental to Carlisle, both the coach and player have had discussions on how to be on the same page philosophically. Rondo has struggled since arriving from the Celtics and feels the system might need tweaking to his liking. Carlisle seems agreeable to that, but only if it’s in the best interest of the Mavericks, and not just one player. Hey, they’re making an honest attempt here! Tim McMahon of ESPN Dallas offers up this:

“That’s just the way it is,” Rondo said almost an hour after the Brooklyn Nets handed the Dallas Mavericks a 104-94 loss, having wrapped up an extended postgame shooting session. “That’s the system. I’m still learning, and I’ll find a way.”

Of course, it’s Carlisle’s job to help Rondo find a way. That’s why they’ve spent hours talking over the past four days. Some of the plays Carlisle called proved his willingness to adjust, attempting to make the Mavs’ midseason blockbuster-trade acquisition comfortable.

Case in point: Dallas repeatedly ran sets designed to run the offense through Rondo on the block, a new wrinkle for these Mavs but old hat for the four-time All-Star point guard.

“I think he’s mixed some stuff up as far as what worked for me in Boston a couple of years back when we had a great run,” Rondo said. “Just put the ball in my hands in different situations, not just pounding up top. Getting in the post and making plays for my teammates and for myself.”

The results weren’t great in Rondo’s return. He posted a so-so statistical line — eight points on 4-of-10 shooting, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 turnovers — but the Mavs were minus-22 in the 27:43 Rondo was on the floor.

In fairness, Rondo and the Mavs were forced to play without three of their regular starters. Center Tyson Chandler (hip) and small forward Chandler Parsons (ankle) wore sport coats and sat on the bench while nursing injuries. Shooting guard Monta Ellis (4-of-16 shooting) just didn’t show up.

But perhaps the Mavs’ biggest issue is figuring out how to make the square peg that is Rondo fit into the round hole that is the point guard’s role in Carlisle’s system.

If Carlisle had his way, the Mavs would never have to call a play. They’d just play free-flowing offense at all times. But that doesn’t work with Rondo, whose shooting woes allow defenses to dare him to beat them from the perimeter, screwing up the spacing for everybody else.

So the Mavs must adjust their offensive scheme to mask Rondo’s weaknesses and maximize his strengths.

“We’re in a situation where his abilities mesh with our team a certain way, and there is more play-calling when he’s on the floor because that’s been the most successful way for us to play offensively,” Carlisle said earlier this week. “He and I early on talked a lot about the right plays to call and the right tempo to play at and things like that, and we got away from it in recent games. We’ve got to get back to it. That’s on both of us.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Russell Westbrook underwent surgery on his right cheek and will not play Sunday … Bismack Byiombo of the Hornets is a good dude, taking the homeless to lunch… Hassan Whiteside grabbed 24 rebounds Saturday and the Heat still lost to a Hawks team resting three starters …

Westbrook’s face fixed, will sit Sunday; Irving out; Bosh goes home

VIDEO: Westbrook hurt in loss vs. Blazers

There are sports injuries too gruesome to watch in replay – Joe Theismann’s, Shaun Livingston’s and Paul George’s leg fractures all spring quickly to mind – and then there are those you have to look once, twice, even three times to comprehend.

Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook‘s fracture to the zygomatic arch bone in his right cheek qualifies as one of the latter. Westbrook got kneed in the face by Thunder teammate Andre Roberson on an inbounds scramble late in their club’s loss at Portland Friday in a game that saw him record his third straight triple-double. Westbrook, already on the floor, lay on his stomach momentarily. After he got up, photos showed an odd indentation or depression in his face. Royce Young of ESPN.com passed along the day-after basics following surgery Saturday to repair Westbrook’s face:

He has been ruled out for Sunday’s game at the Los Angeles Lakers and will be re-evaluated next week to determine when he can return to play.

Westbrook had his third consecutive triple-double against the Blazers, scoring 40 points with 13 rebounds and 11 assists. He had a historic February, averaging 31.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and 10.3 assists, numbers that only ever have been totaled by Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson.

Kevin Durant is set to be re-evaluated for a minor procedure he underwent last Sunday and could return as soon as this coming week. In seven games without Durant in February, Westbrook averaged a triple-double — 31.2 points, 10.0 rebounds and 11.3 assists.

Westbrook, 26, is averaging 26.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 8.1 assists in 45 games this season. He missed 14 games in November because of a fracture in his right hand.

Newly acquired D.J. Augustin will start in place of Westbrook on Sunday against the Lakers.

Young also had speculated on what this injury might mean to Westbrook’s well-known sense of fashion:

But here’s the really pertinent stuff:

Meanwhile, Cleveland also will be without its All-Star point guard Sunday at Houston. Kyrie Irving continued treatment Saturday on the left shoulder strain that caused him to miss the Cavaliers’ game at Indiana Friday, his team announced, and will not join the team for its matinee clash with the Rockets. Irving’s status will be updated Tuesday morning prior to the Cavs’ home game that night against Boston.

Craving some good news on the NBA health front? The Miami Heat and their veteran power forward, recovering rather nicely from the condition that ended his 2014-15 season, were happy to oblige late Saturday afternoon:

Anthony Mason, an underdog who became an alpha dog


VIDEO: In Memoriam: Anthony Mason

NEW YORK – Anthony Mason, a fringe basketball prospect who made himself into an NBA All-Star through his indomitable will and unyielding strength, died this morning at the age of 48. Mason reportedly suffered a massive heart attack a few weeks ago, and had been trying to battle back ever since.

New York Knicks v Sacramento Kings

Anthony Mason was a key member of the Knicks team that reached the 1994 NBA Finals.

If the news of Mason’s death feels particularly shocking, perhaps it’s because we just weren’t used to seeing Mason lose many battles. A stout, 6-foot-7 forward, Mason played collegiately at the small Tennessee State University, before launching a peripatetic basketball existence. In search of a hoops home, Mason went from Turkey to Colorado, from stints in the NBA to the CBA to the USBL, before finally catching on with Pat Riley’s rough and tumble Knicks in 1991.

In a city defined by its superstars, as a Knick, Mason shined as bright as any of them. His ornate haircuts made him distinctive, but his hard-nosed play made him indispensable. His averages in New York weren’t eye-popping — 9.9 ppg and 7.7 rpg — but Mason provided airtight defense and a post presence, bullying players even when he gave up inches or pounds.

In 1994, the Knicks advanced to the Finals, losing in seven games to the Houston Rockets. The next season, Mason was named Sixth Man of the Year and, with his value at a high and the Knicks looking for a minor rebuild, Mason was traded to Charlotte in a package centered around Larry Johnson.

In three full seasons as a Hornet, Mason developed into a more well-rounded player, averaging a double-double (13.4 ppg and 10 rpg) in his time in the Queen City. He then was reunited in Miami with Riley, and played one season with the Heat, carrying the team while Alonzo Mourning dealt with kidney issues. It was as a member of the Heat that in 2001, at the age of 34, Mason made his only All-Star team, averaging a career-high 16.1 points.

After two more seasons in Milwaukee, Mason retired and returned home to Tennessee, though he made occasional appearances at Knicks games over the years, always to thunderous applause. Perhaps nowhere is an underdog embraced the way they are in New York City, a city built on the hopes and dreams of millions of citizens who feel if they can make it there, they can make it anywhere.

And nobody defined the underdog quite like Anthony Mason.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 28


VIDEO: Recap Friday’s 14 games with the Daily Zap

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rondo: All is well in Dallas | What’s wrong with the Wizards? | Bulls win, despite losing Gibson | Shorten the schedule?

No. 1: Rondo: All is well in Dallas — After an on-court blowup earlier this week between Dallas coach Rick Carlisle and point guard Rajon Rondo, the Mavericks suspended Rondo for one game. Dallas lost that game without Rondo, against Atlanta, but in the meantime, Rondo says, he and Carlisle have been working to get back on the same page. And as ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon writes, Rondo is now hoping to focus on moving forward and keeping the Mavs in the playoff picture…

“I just got built-up frustration,” said Rondo, who has had a couple of long individual meetings with Carlisle since their blowup. “I take a lot of the blame for what I’ve been doing on the court, but just a little frustrated. The most important thing is communication with Coach. I’ve talked to a lot of the coaches, I’ve talked to a lot of staff members.

“Coach and I, when I first got here, we were talking a lot and watching film after every game. He’s backed off a little bit with the addition of Amar’e [Stoudemire], trying to help get him up to speed. Our communication was great at first. Not that it wasn’t so great, but it’s just that we weren’t communicating enough. That shouldn’t be the case the rest of the season.”

Rondo, a four-time All-Star who arrived in Dallas on Dec. 18 as the featured player in a blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics, has a reputation for being difficult to coach. He frequently butted heads with Doc Rivers in Boston, but the Celtics won a title and advanced to another NBA Finals during their time together.

“I’ve been in this situation before,” Rondo said, chuckling. “Everyone’s personality is different. The personality and the DNA is different.

“I don’t think this is a problem at all. We lost a game [Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks], which hurt us seeding-wise, but we have to continue to move forward. I spoke with pretty much everyone in the organization, and everyone is on the same page.”

Rondo declined to discuss how play-calling responsibilities would be handled going forward. Carlisle has handled the vast majority of play-calling, which bothered Rondo, a nine-year veteran known for his basketball intelligence.

Carlisle, who stressed the importance of Rondo to the Mavs after the suspension was announced Wednesday, said he is done discussing the incident with Rondo.

“I know that you guys need to ask him a couple of questions, but I’m done talking about it,” Carlisle said. “Our other players are done talking about it. It’s over. In terms of NBA time, it’s light-years ago.”

***

No. 2: What’s wrong with the Wizards? — The Washington Wizards entered this season expected to not only contend for the Southeast Division title, but the Eastern Conference crown as well. But even with injuries slowing their roll this season, the Wizards are in a tailspin right now, last night losing to the Philadelphia 76ers, Washington’s sixth loss in a row, its longest losing streak in two seasons. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, the Wizards’ loss was “code red for a team that just one month ago harbored title aspirations”…

It came on the heels of a team dinner Thursday. All 14 players dined together at a Brazilian steakhouse, which was captured in an Instagram post by Marcin Gortat with the caption “Team dinner…Staying together!”

The off-court camaraderie didn’t remedy their on-court ailments. A night later, they were dreadful in a loss to a team they dismantled by 35 points last month. The loss was the Wizards’ 11th in 13 games and 13th in their past 17 and could leave them in sixth place in the Eastern Conference depending on the Milwaukee Bucks’ fate against the Los Angeles Lakers late Friday night.

“I wouldn’t say rock bottom. It’s a tough stretch,” all-star guard John Wall said. “We’re still above .500, but the main thing is we got to get back to playing the right way. Until we do that, we’re going to keep losing games. The way we’ve been playing, you can lose to anybody in this league.”

Washington entered the night averaging a league-low 15 free throw attempts and shooting 23.3 percent from beyond the three-point line over its past five games. Without Bradley Beal (fibula), Paul Pierce (knee) and Kris Humphries (groin) available, the trend continued.

When the Wizards (33-26) last played in Philadelphia on March 1 of last year, Trevor Ariza, now a member of the Houston Rockets, made eight three-pointers and scored 40 points. On Friday, Washington made just 4 of its 17 three-point attempts (23.5 percent) and scored 39 second-half points.

The Wizards shot a paltry 32.3 percent from the floor and attempted 12 fewer free throws than Philadelphia. The 76ers were held to 35 percent shooting but outscored Washington by 28 points from the three-point arc and free throw line.

“We had some good shots, but we’re not making shots,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “[We’re] not playing with confidence right now. We’re short-cutting everything. To get out of this rut that you’re in, you can’t do that offensively. We have to execute offensively, and we took short cuts, which turned into bad shots. Until we execute, it’s going to stay like this.”

***

No. 3: Bulls win, despite losing Gibson — The Chicago Bulls continue seeing both sides of the coin. Earlier in the day, the Bulls announced that surgery on Derrick Rose had been successful, and they were putting a 4-6 week timetable on his return, which, even on the long end of that schedule, would have Rose back before the end of the regular season. Last night, without Rose, the Bulls beat the surging Timberwolves, 96-89. But taking the bad with the good, the Bulls lost big man Taj Gibson to a sprained ankle. With the Bulls struggling to stay healthy, Joakim Noah has been able to resume his old point-forward role and keep the Bulls above water, as ESPNChicago.com’s Nick Friedell writes

“That part I think is innate,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said of Noah’s passing ability. “He had great vision and decision-making ability. He’s got a very unorthodox game in many ways. But he’s got great vision, and if a guy’s open just a little bit on a cut, he can get it there. So it’s a big plus when you have a big guy that can pass like that.”

For his part, Noah wasn’t biting on how much fun he was having in his old role. He discussed how the Bulls run a read-and-react offense and try to find the open man.

“I enjoy winning,” Noah said. “It was fun to win today. We just got to keep improving.”

Noah’s offensive game has taken a back seat to Pau Gasol‘s throughout the season. Now that Noah is back to feeling like himself as he continues to shake off the lingering effects of offseason knee surgery, it’s going to be interesting to see how his game responds once Gasol and Rose are back on the floor. In the meantime, Noah, like the rest of his teammates, is just hopeful Rose will be back sooner than later.

“It’s tough when your best player is out,” Noah said. “But I think today was positive news. Derrick’s a warrior. He’s going to fight as hard as he can to try his best to come back this year. We just got to keep building and keep getting better until he gets back.”

***

No. 4: Shorten the season? — At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston this weekend, at least some part of the conversation has been about the length of the NBA season. The NBA has played an 82-game schedule since 1967-68, but with the recent drumbeat to reduce wear-and-tear on players and reduce the amount of back-to-back games, is it worth considering shortening the season? As Brett Pollakoff writes for NBCSports.com, the recently retired Shane Battier suggests slicing 22 games off the schedule…

“To me, 82 is here because somebody is making a lot of money,” Mike D’Antoni said Friday, as part of a panel discussion at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. “Usually that’s the bottom line. They’re making money, it hasn’t been a disaster, and it’s a little more like a marathon, and that’s just the rules. 82 isn’t going anywhere.”

As D’Antoni summed up succinctly, without a large amount of data available to essentially prove that an 82-game schedule significantly puts the league’s players at risk, the financial incentive not to touch that magic number of 82 will remain too strong. And Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren echoed those remarks.

“It’s not just the number of games, it’s in what time frame,” Zarren said. “So there may be some tweaks that happen soon in the NBA to that. It’s a much more realistic thing than cutting games, because it’s in everyone’s interest to grow the pie, and cutting the number of games cuts ticket sales, which shrinks the pie.”

Those are realistic perspectives, but they’re ones that come from a coach and a member of the front office.

On the player side, Shane Battier came up with a number of games that he believes would be ideal — not only to protect the athletes, but also to make the games that are played much more compelling.

“Personally, I think a 60-game season would be perfect,” Battier said. “Every game matters more. You can’t sleepwalk through a few weeks of the season — it does happen — and then all of a sudden wake up near the All-Star break and turn it on. Fans just want to see the best basketball players in the world at their highest level going head-to-head.

“Every team has a certain number of throwaway games. You just know. You just know you’re not winning tonight. You don’t have it. And then after the game, coach knows it, everybody knows it, coach comes in, says ‘Alright, bring it in guys. We’ll get ‘em tomorrow. 1-2-3 team!'”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Thunder lost the second half of a back-to-back, but not because of Russell Westbrook, who posted his third-straight triple-double … Don’t be surprised if the Knicks make a run at Reggie Jackson this summer … Is Baron Davis mounting a comeback this season? … Catching up with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has reinvented himself in retirement as a culture vulture

Wizards seemingly out of magic

VIDEO: 76ers drop Wizards

One game, the Wizards set a season low for points against Minnesota. The next game, the Wizards fail to put up a fight in Philly.

If this were isolated situations, fine. But this is suddenly habit for the Wizards, who are in a total free-fall that could, but probably won’t, drop them out of the playoff picture in the East.

They’ve had an awful February, much like the weather in the Northeast, and have now lost 11 of 13. Hard to believe, but weren’t they 29-13 at one point and hearing talk about having the best young backcourt in the league and being a team to watch?

That seems like many months ago, and now, at 33-26, they’re a lot closer to .500 than expected. Suddenly, Randy Wittman‘s job appears in jeopardy, John Wall isn’t the franchise player many thought and Washington looks like a team that shouldn’t make the playoffs — although they probably will. Only because they play in the East.

After hosting the fast-improving Pistons on Saturday, the Wizards play 7 of their next 11 on the road. Hopefully for their sake, Bradley Beal will be back in action and the misery index will be a lot lower than it is now.

Wall shot just 7-for-26 against the Sixers with four turnovers. He had eight turnovers last week against the Warriors. Not to place a burden on Wall, but has he progressed or regressed? His shooting problems, once a thing of the past, have haunted him lately (34 percent in his last 5 games, including .083 from deep).

Losing 89-81 to the second-worst team in the league is cause to sound the alarm, especially given how lousy the Wizards have been since the last week of January. They’re still eight games ahead of the last playoff spot, but if this keeps up, that number, along with patience in Washington, will, shrink quickly.

 

Unique 2008 draft continues to evolve


VIDEO: GameTime: What’s Next For Chicago?

Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love went in the top five, Brook Lopez the top 10, and that makes perfect sense. All were smart picks that at the very least paid a decent return on the investment and in one case, Westbrook to the Thunder, was the direct hit of a prospect with no experience as a point guard becoming a star as a point guard.

But Tim Reynolds was right in his Associated Press story. The 2008 draft has continued to veer toward the strange, most recently with Rose’s knee injury. And that’s beyond the typical perspective of time of some lottery picks going bad (Michael Beasley second to the Heat, Joe Alexander eighth to the Bucks) and later selections building successful careers (several).

Reynolds’ research:

  • Miami’s Mario Chalmers is the only one among the 60 picks on June 26, 2008, inside Madison Square Garden to win a title. He has played in 29 games in June, compared to 28 combined for everyone else in the draft class.
  • Only four first-rounders have even played in the Finals: Courtney Lee when he was with the Magic, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka with the Thunder and Beasley as part of his on-again, off-again (and back-on-again) relationship with the Heat.
  • Rose’s knee problems have become well documented. Lopez was sidelined the better part of two full years with foot issues. Knee problems cost Eric Gordon more than 100 games over two seasons. Danilo Gallinari and his knees. That’s four lottery picks.
  • Only 10 first-round choices have at least 30 starts in 2014-15. Fifteen are averaging double-figures in scoring. Six have not played in the NBA this season, although it is also noted that rate of attrition of 24 in the NBA now is good compared to some other draft classes of the same general time (13 first-rounders from 2006, 18 from 2007 and 22 from 2009).

And there is the uniqueness of the selections that goes beyond the usual hits and misses. With years to go before a final read on 2008, the relatively early storyline is of a draft that has turned out so bottom heavy, with the majority of the best players coming from beyond the lottery and even beyond the first round: Robin Lopez at 15, Roy Hibbert at No. 17, Ryan Anderson at 21, Lee at 22, Ibaka at 24, Nicolas Batum at 25, George Hill at 26, Nikola Pekovic at 31, DeAndre Jordan at 35, and Goran Dragic at 45.

So much for teams putting a premium on size — that’s a lot of starting centers outside the top 14. Nearly seven years later, the NBA world has seen how much Lopez, Hibbert, Ibaka and Jordan in particular can impact on defense alone.

The ultimate analysis is still pending, because a lot of the players have years to go before their careers can be defined. And, yes, because of Rose. How his injury saga turns out will have an impact on how the Class of 2008 is viewed.

NBA to release officiating reports from close games

HANG TIME BIG CITY — Since taking over as NBA commissioner a little over a year ago, Adam Silver has spoken often of his commitment to increasing transparency between the league and fans. He’s made several moves designed to make more clear the thought process behind the decisions that are made, particularly when officiating has been involved. For instance, flop warnings and point of emphasis memos are now released to the public via an officiating site.

In a new move designed to further heighten transparency, today the NBA announced that beginning next week, they will share what are being called “Last Two Minute” officiating reports, which will break down each officiating decision from the final moments of close games with a play-by-play break down.

According to a press release from the NBA…

“Our fans are passionate and have an intense interest in understanding how the rules are applied,” said Mike Bantom, Executive Vice President of Referee Operations. “NBA referees have the most difficult officiating job in sports, with so many split-second decisions in real time. We trust this consistent disclosure will give fans a greater appreciation of the difficulty of the job and a deeper sense of the correct interpretations of the rules of our game.”

The league will release assessments of officiated events in the last two minutes of games decided in regulation that were within five points at the two-minute mark. Also, the reports will include plays from the last two minutes and overtime of OT games. Each play will be reviewed by a senior referee manager or basketball operations manager who will provide the assessments. Every play on the report will include a video link to that specific play.

The league will post the “Last Two Minute” reports on the NBA.com/Official website by 5:00 p.m. ET the day following each game.

Fans may not agree with every call, but at least now they’ll get an official explanation for each call. Officiating may never be perfect, but it continues moving closer to complete transparency. Which may be as perfect as it will every get.