The Fundamentals

» December 8, 2009 10:30 AM | By Brandon Hoffman

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:  “These were old times for an older Iverson, who steered his Rolls Royce into the player’s parking lot with little over an hour to spare until the opening tip. For all the turmoil, all the hard feelings surrounding his trade to Denver three years ago, these fans will forever love Iverson here. He was the rare sporting icon who literally put people into seats. He did it again on Monday, inspiring a sellout and a live wire of electricity in the building. When introduced, Iverson hustled to midcourt, knelt down and laid a long, loving kiss on the Sixers logo. ‘I had chill-bumps running through my body the whole game,’ he said. With the ball, this looked like a far more deferential Iverson than the scoring champion they remembered here. Perhaps that’s his plan to fit back in, or perhaps that’ll change once he gets his wind and legs back. Yes, Iverson can be better than Monday night, but he can no longer come close to what he was. And that brings the toughest question of all for him: Does this city’s desire to see it all again make him reach for something that’s no longer there, and sabotage what could be a beneficial partnership with the Sixers this season? Yes, Iverson returned and found so much had changed, and yet so much was still the same.”

Ken Berger of  “At the end, it was a Carolina point guard, Ty Lawson, who was running circles around Iverson. (‘He’s fast as lightning, I’ll tell you that,’ Iverson said.) And it was Billups, the other side of the trade that precipitated Iverson’s decline, who put in the dagger. ‘That’s frustrating, too,’ Iverson said. ‘Just being out there with guys that are super fast and me not being in a rhythm and not being in the shape that I wanted to be in, and just still trying to compete at a high level and help my teammates win when I know I was outgunned.’ Down the hall in the Denver locker room, longtime Sixers advisor Sonny Hill was leaning against a doorway as the players and coaches packed up and headed for the bus. Hill is a fixture of Philadelphia basketball going back to Wilt Chamberlain, and a father figure to Iverson and Kobe Bryant, the modern basketball sons of the city. ‘When your physical skills wane, then your mental aspect comes into effect,’ Hill said. ‘So when you look at the great players, what they’re able to do is still be a force on the floor, but more from a mental point of view than a physical point of view. And I think that’s the transition that he has to learn to make, because that’s where he’s at.’ And from all appearances, that’s where he’ll stay.”

David Aldridge of  “This is not about basketball — well, not just about basketball. Iverson will no more will the 76ers to the playoffs than elephants will tap dance, because he isn’t a kid anymore and he can’t summon those kinds of nights anymore, when he shot and shot and shot the ball until his team won, and there were four other guys on the court that were perfectly willing to watch him while they played defense and rebounded. These Sixers have an All-Star worthy player in Andre Iguodala, and an $80 million investment in Elton Brand, and whatever Philadelphia does this season will be determined by those two more than anyone. (Iguodala is also dressing in Iverson’s old locker, the biggest one, nearest the hallway by the coach’s office. ‘He hasn’t offered anything yet,’ Iguodala said before tipoff, ‘but everything is up for negotation. Shoot, it’s Christmas.’) But Iverson has never been just about basketball. This is the part I want to get right. I hope I do. Allen Iverson is just as important to the history of this league as Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain. He was the symbol of this league for almost a decade, the engine that drove it after Jordan retired for good (we thought) in Chicago. That wasn’t always positive, and it wasn’t always aesthetically pleasing to the hoops purist, because there were a lot of 9 for 31s in the deal. But it was real, and that deserves your respect.”

John Denton of  “For a second consecutive year, the Magic will play in Los Angeles against the Clippers on Howard’s birthday. And after battering L.A. for 23 points and 22 rebounds last season, Howard wants to celebrate his 24th birthday on Tuesday with another dominant showing. And he’s already picked out just the gift that he wants for a birthday present, too. ‘I just want a championship. That’s the only birthday present that I want for the rest of my life,’ Howard said in all seriousness. At 16-4 through 20 games, the Magic could be on course to put themselves in position to get that championship that the franchise narrowly missed last spring. But they have gotten this far with play that has been sometimes spectacular and sometimes spotty from their superstar center. Howard’s aggressiveness and effectiveness has been limited by foul trouble and frustration. Through 20 games, he has just 36 blocks compared to 82 through the first 20 games of last season. Four times, he’s played less than 30 minutes because of foul trouble, leading to some un-Howard-like numbers such as: six games without a blocked shot; five single-digit rebound games; and five games with five fouls and two ejections for fouling out. But Howard has battled through his issues, and when he’s been good, he’s been really good.”

Brian Windhorst of The Cleveland Plain Dealer:  “If you took one look at O’Neal’s stats without having seen the Cavs play, it would seem like he’s not having a good season. In 14 games — he missed six games with a shoulder strain — O’Neal is averaging a career-low 10.9 points on career-low 52 percent shooting, a career-low 6.6 rebounds in a career-low 23.4 minutes. Several different publications have quoted scouts or executives saying that O’Neal clogs the lane and prevents penetrators like Mo Williams and James from getting to the basket and makes it impossible to space the floor properly. The other criticism is O’Neal is a defensive liability. All of these statements, frankly, have proven not to be true so far. O’Neal does help clog the lane, for the opposition. With O’Neal, the Cavs have three different center options with Anderson Varejao and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. This allows for a crisp rotation depending on the opponent and makes sure the Cavs have size in the game at all times. The Cavs lead the NBA in keeping teams from scoring in the paint, giving up 33.5 points a game. The team in second place is the Orlando Magic, who are there mostly because of the impact Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard has in protecting the rim. The Cavs don’t have Howard, but their three centers create a similar defensive situation.”

Tim Povtak of FanHouse:  “The return of Kevin Garnett, and the consistency of Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, will garner much of the attention again, but it’s the play of Rondo this season that really has re-ignited all the title talk. Rondo, in his fourth season but his first since signing that much-debated, five-year, $55 million extension, is leading the NBA in steals (2.55 spg). He is fourth in assists (9 apg), but first in the Eastern Conference. His field-goal percentage is up, his turnovers down, and he’s playing with a confidence that only the best point guards have. He no longer plays in awe of — or defers to — the Big Three. Instead, he orchestrates the show now, setting them up and delivering the ball. ‘It starts with our point guard,” Garnett remarked to reporters after a recent win. ‘He’s gotten better at consolidating, and being aggressive, knowing when to be aggressive.’ The Celtics return to play Tuesday night at home, coming off a four-game road trip sweep in which Rondo proved just how valuable he was. They won in Miami, where Heat coach Eric Spoelstra credited Rondo for dictating the flow of the game. They won in San Antonio when Rondo hit the game-clinching basket. The finished by winning in Oklahoma City, where Rondo and Garnett repeatedly ran the pick-and-roll play to perfection. They also won in Charlotte without breaking a sweat.”

Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News:  “Three games into a somewhat halting return to the Spurs lineup after missing five games with a left groin strain, guard Manu Ginobili is encouraged with his physical condition and his level of fitness. Next up: Regaining the confidence that has made him one of the NBA’s most dynamic players. ‘I felt great before the game,’ Ginobili said after Saturday’s 106-99 loss to the Denver Nuggets at the AT&T Center. ‘The good thing is I’m feeling really good after the game, too.’ Ginobili says self doubt has robbed his game of much of its effectiveness. ‘I’m lacking a lot of stuff, mainly confidence,’ he said. ‘I’m still hesitating, doing things I don’t usually do — passing up shots or not attacking the rim as hard. Maybe I’m thinking too hard, or worried because I already missed six games. I really don’t know.’ Ginobili’s crisis of confidence has put Spurs coach Gregg Popovich in a tough spot. He needs Ginobili to be one of his go-to guys down the stretch of close games, but only if he is making good decisions.”

Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register:  “The game savvy is a huge reason Bryant could play till he’s 40 and stay a star. He’s a con man with countless angles to play – guard or wing or post, shoot this way or fade that way, fake with the head and escape with the feet. He even – and this is perhaps the most amazing thing he has ever done – declined the ball in the post at one point Sunday night. Instead of continuously and vigorously calling for it, Bryant actually gestured while covered by a double-team blanket for teammate Pau Gasol to do the right thing and swing the ball away. (Gasol did reverse the ball, Bynum wound up with it in the other post, he drew the double team and passed to Fisher for the open 3-pointer. Thanks, Kobe.) The thing with Bryant that has driven Jackson and Tex Winter crazy in the past is that they knew Bryant knew the ‘right’ thing, but he would only selectively do it (more often in the postseason). The fact that Bryant’s game has grown so much over the years is a testament to his willful experimentation for different challenges, but more and more often now he can ‘settle’ for the easiest, most efficient play for himself and teammates.”

Michael Wallace of the Miami Herald:  “Wade’s minutes at point guard seemed to grow with each game on the Heat’s recent four-game trip. And he responded with his most productive stretch of play this season, posting three double-doubles to help Miami go 2-2. Although Wade averaged 26.8 points and 6.7 rebounds while shooting an improved 45.3 percent from the field in the four games, his most impressive numbers were arguably the 8.7 assists. Wade’s role as a full-court facilitator gave him a running start at opposing defenses that had been intent on trapping him and limiting his touches at shooting guard in recent weeks. But Spoelstra said Wade’s best work continues to be done off the ball, with brief stints at the point. ‘It’s something he’s not only comfortable with, but it’s produced positive results,’ Spoelstra said. ‘It’s also something that gets him going, frees up space for him in the open court. But I don’t ever plan on starting him at [point guard] or playing the majority of his minutes there. It does give us a different look and you’re seeing more teams starting to go to this.’ Wade just might be the most dominant ‘hybrid” guard in the league. Spoelstra believes more teams are starting to use their best scorer in play-making roles similar to the way Miami uses Wade.”

Dave D’Alessandro of The Star-Ledger:  “One week into his new job, Kiki Vandeweghe has turned the role of offensive coordinator over to Devin Harris, and that’s a no-brainer. The old playbook has seven or eight basic sets with a dozen variations of each, so how many of the play calls can one expect the Nets’ new coach to grasp by now? ‘None of it,’ Vandeweghe said with a laugh. ‘We only kept about three or four plays. I can remember that. I can’t remember too many more.’ He’s being modest, his point guard said. ‘Yeah, he understands it,’ Harris said of the offensive vernacular that the Nets have used under former coach Lawrence Frank for years. ‘He wants me to call more for myself at points in the game, which I’m trying to do.’ On that, they always agree. Perhaps it is no coincidence, but Harris has had his two best games since Vandeweghe took over. He shot poorly against Charlotte (2-for-14), but still choreographed one of the best execution games of the season against an excellent Bobcats defense. On Sunday, Harris took one look at his matchup — the 6-11 Jared Jeffries — laughed himself silly, and led the offense to its best half of the season. Never mind that Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni’s zone stonewalled them in the second half — that is easily remedied. The issue is that Harris is getting his All-Star explosion back.”

Jeffrey Martin of the Houston Chronicle:  “The sheet of paper displayed the NBA’s leaders in charges or offensive fouls drawn, and the man atop the list analyzed the data Monday, wrinkled his nose and then questioned its accuracy. ‘Eighteen? That’s it?’ Kyle Lowry asked. ‘I need more than that.’ Others might spring to mind, especially on his own team. Chuck Hayes tossed out, in order, Shane Battier, Luis Scola, and himself before considering Lowry, the backup point guard. But it’s true. According to statistics obtained at and corroborated in-house by the Rockets, Lowry’s 18 are one more than New York’s Jared Jeffries and three more than Milwaukee’s Andrew Bogut. As for where he ranks on the Rockets, Lowry said he assumed Hayes was next — and he is, at 11, tied with Scola. Then it’s Battier (nine) and Aaron Brooks (eight). ‘It doesn’t surprise me at all,’ coach Rick Adelman said. ‘Kyle is very willing to step in there and take a charge on anybody. He’s very good at reading the situation. He’s tough, hard-nosed and willing to take the hit.’”

Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:  “Bucks center Andrew Bogut has struggled in the last three games after a 22-point, 15-rebound showing against the Chicago Bulls on Nov. 30. Bogut excelled in his return from a lower leg injury and blocked two shots late in the game to help preserve the Bucks’ 99-97 victory over the Bulls. But he could not duplicate that effort while matching up against Washington’s Brendan Haywood, Detroit’s Ben Wallace and Cleveland’s Shaquille O’Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. ‘He has to play with much more of a swagger, much more confidence than he currently plays with,’ Skiles said. ‘Now he does in some games. It’s got to become more consistent. He’s got to establish himself in every game and let the other team feel that he’s out there. Sometimes it will be by scoring the ball. Other times it will be getting big rebounds or whatever it is. He can’t predetermine and think ‘I’m playing against a guy I’ve struggled against before.’ He’s just got to bring it every night. And he’s good enough that when he does, he’s very good.’”

Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer:  “They still talk at Golden State about the night Stephen Jackson called out Kevin Garnett. Garnett, the Boston Celtics star, is a bully. Andris Biedrins, a callow Eastern European center, fit the role of victim. A petulant sort, Garnett wouldn’t shut up. Jackson wasn’t in uniform that night. He was too injured to play, a rarity. But he wasn’t too injured to confront Garnett. Jackson took a step or two onto the court and told Garnett he could either stop talking or start fighting. No one seemed surprised Jackson would intervene. The shocker was Garnett’s acquiescence; he shut his yap. ‘I knew Biedrins wasn’t the type of guy to mouth off to Kevin Garnett,’ Jackson said. ‘And I wasn’t going to let him punk a young teammate.’ That’s what defines the newest Charlotte Bobcat: You love it that Jackson doesn’t back down. You hate it that he doesn’t know when to back down.”

Jason Quick of The Oregonian:  “Whether it was optimism or denial, the Trail Blazers on Monday refused to accept their 93-84 loss to the New York Knicks. Using injuries and absences as a crutch, and their still-decent 13-9 record as makeup, the Blazers coolly discarded a game in which they were blown out by a 7-15 team. ‘I’m going to take this game with a grain of salt,’ said LaMarcus Aldridge, who had 19 points and 13 rebounds. ‘It was our first game without Greg (Oden) and our first game without Nate (McMillan), so there were a lot of firsts.’ The Blazers had nine available players, with Oden (left knee surgery) and coach McMillan (ruptured Achilles tendon surgery) fresh off the operating table, and top reserve Rudy Fernandez in Portland having his balky back checked out. Their absence didn’t make matters worse, it just kept things much the same as they have been over the past two weeks. The offense was clunky and predictable. Woven between 19 turnovers were several heaves toward the basket at the end of the shot clock, and three times Roy and Aldridge had their shots blocked in such a fashion that it screamed the Knicks knew exactly what was coming. Meanwhile, the defense was again cushy, particularly on the perimeter, where the Knicks made 13 of 26 three-point attempts, many of them uncontested.”

Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star:  “Riding a two-game win streak on the back of a five-game losing skid that led to an hour-long air-clearing on Friday, the Raptors are suddenly showing signs of cutthroat engagement. And while there are those waiting to gauge the longer haul – ‘Don’t give us the title too soon,’ said Jack – there have been hints of palatable change. Even coach Jay Triano’s chief locker-room critic, veteran swingman Antoine Wright, has been improving his reviews – this as Wright has improved his play in the wake of Friday’s team-meeting gut check. ‘Coach is coaching us differently now. He’s pointing out guys on tape and just holding guys accountable,’ said Wright. ‘And you can see other guys getting on guys.’ Wright said Hedo Turkoglu, the soft-spoken forward, has even raised his voice. ‘(Turkoglu) has been very vocal these last couple of days about what he wants from (Andrea) Bargnani and what he wants from (Marco) Belinelli. That’s just been helping us a lot. Turks is talking. … We need him to get those guys on track when we can’t connect with ‘em,’ said Wright.”

Mike Jones of The Washington Times:  “From 2004 to 2007, a healthy Arenas, Jamison and Butler averaged 67.4 points a game – a number that has dropped to 57.1 this season. Butler said the Wizards just need to be patient. ‘It doesn’t happen overnight. A lot of people keep forgetting and [are] thinking that this thing’s supposed to jell immediately,’ Butler said. ‘Gil’s been away for two years. Roles changed. Everything changed. So we’re trying to get back to the form that that’s our guy, he used to close games and everybody’s trying to adjust to the new situation.’ The Wizards missed the Big Three most in the fourth quarter of close games, when teams generally turn to their stars. But so far, no member of the Big Three has proved reliable. Butler has averaged 6.3 fourth-quarter points in games played with Arenas and Jamison, and Arenas has averaged five with Jamison and Butler. Jamison, meanwhile, has mustered just 3.2 fourth-quarter points since returning to action 10 games ago.”

Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe:  “His name is Brandon Jennings, and he is the starting point guard for the Milwaukee Bucks. He came out of celebrated Oak Hill Academy in Wilson Va., two years ago ranked by most talent authorities as the best point guard prospect in the land. He failed repeated attempts at an entrance exam at Arizona, and, rather than submit himself to The System by playing at a lesser level of American college basketball (e.g. junior college, NAIA, etc.) he instead went to Italy, where he earned a reported $1.65 million from Lottomatica Virtus Roma, plus an additional $2 million for endorsing Under Armour. Take that, David Stern! … Young Mr. Jennings should make sure he extends a pregame fist to a certain No. 5 of the Celtics, because thanks to the Garnett Effect, he was able to pocket $3.65 million before reaching his 20th birthday. Kevin Garnett was the human toothpaste who oozed out of the tube back in 1995, demanding the NBA take him directly from Chicago’s Farragut Academy rather than from an institution of higher learning.”

Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel:  “Just imagine the possibilities of life on the road as an NBA millionaire. Lunching off the Pacific ocean? Night-clubbing in Beverly Hills? Hobnobbing in Hollywood? Carter’s day: Room service, a nap, some TV . . . and then more room service at dinner. Not exactly Vin-sanity, huh? ‘I’m a homebody on the road,’ he said. ‘Mr. Room Service.’ The Magic’s traveling party of 35 left Orlando on Friday morning on their customized Delta Airbus for a 4 1/2-hour flight to Oakland, where this junket began with a game Saturday night against the Golden State Warriors. Tonight, the Magic play the L.A. Clippers before leaving after the game for Salt Lake City, Utah, for Thursday’s game against the Jazz. The trip concludes with a back-to-back on Friday in Phoenix against the Suns. Sure, there are perks of travel for the Magic — five-star hotels, curb-to-court bus service, $113 daily per diem. And you don’t have to carry a bag. ‘We’re spoiled,’ J.J. Redick chuckles. But there’s also cross-country time-zones, city-hopping sleep deprivation and that natural feeling of homesickness. And the occasional boo-birds and hecklers.”

(Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant NBAE/Getty Images)

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