The Fundamentals

» December 15, 2009 10:19 AM | By Brandon Hoffman

Michael Wallace of the Miami Herald:  “D. Wade tried to warn everyone that this was going to be the case this season. When Miami opened the season 6-1, Wade was probably the only one in the postgame locker room at the time who preached perspective and avoided all of the pride talk that flowed freely from other stalls. When the Heat started off hot, Wade warned of the cold fronts this team would face throughout the season. When things cooled down during a 5-10 stretch that followed, Wade was the one pointing to the push for improvement and how better days were ahead. But he’s never been a ‘rah-rah’ type of leader. Not when he got here and fell under the wings of Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and Eddie Jones. He wasn’t a vocal leader on the team that won a title in 2006 – not with mighty-mouth Gary Payton and a crew that consisted of Shaq, Antoine Walker, Alonzo Mourning and other veterans in the locker room. And even as this team has been turned fully over to Wade, his leadership still isn’t measured through words. That’s just not him. He picks his spots in the locker room just like he does on the court. I wouldn’t go as far as to suggest that Wade’s silence Sunday and Monday on the dress-down-the-team front is a diva act in which he’s defining the line that exists between himself and the other 13 players now on the roster (Shavlik Randolph was cut Monday). But I’m also not convinced that Wade’s closed-mouth approach wasn’t a slightly rebellious stand, either.”

Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com:  “Derrick Rose has the ability to take over games whenever he wants. So why doesn’t he use it more? That is a question that has been bouncing around town a lot lately, especially during the Bulls’ recent losing skid. ‘It’s hard when everybody’s focusing on you on the court,’ Rose said after practice on Monday. ‘It’s very hard being in a position, when I’m a point guard, supposed to pass the ball and everything. People are saying they want me to shoot more, but I’m a point guard, I can’t do that. I got to pass the ball to people and get people open. So taking over as a point guard is getting people open and shooting here or there. If I was a two-guard, it would be something else.’ Rose knows that there are some point guards in the league who have a shoot-first mentality, but he doesn’t seem to be one of them right now. There are times, like Saturday night’s second quarter against Boston, when he totally dominates. But, far more often during the Bulls recent string of poor play, Rose takes a deferential role to his teammates. If the Bulls want to get out of the losing rut they’re in right now, they’ve got to find a way to give the reigning rookie of the year even more freedom.”

Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Star:  “Jarrett Jack took T.J. Ford’s starting point guard gig last year in Indiana and over the next few games, he might just take advantage of Jose Calderon’s injury and do the same thing in Toronto. Jack is not the dead-eye shooter Calderon is, nor is he a pass-first ‘true’ point guard like the Spaniard, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that his skill-set meshes better with the rest of the starting lineup than Calderon’s. Since he isn’t nearly as accurate an outside shooter, Jack mixes up his game far more. He attacks the hoop more frequently and aggressively and doesn’t dominate the ball as much, which allows other players, particularly Hedo Turkoglu, to handle it more often. Turkoglu excels when he is more involved. Playing with Jack, he gets the chance to be the initiator of the offence and it has led to an improvement in his game (season bests in points and assists in his previous two games). Most importantly, though, is that Jack, while not a standout defender, still is a huge improvement at that end of the floor over Calderon. Jack keeps his man in front of him better, while getting on the boards and fighting through screens more effectively. There simply is no way to be passable defensively if Calderon is starting with two other below-average defenders in Andrea Bargnani and Turkoglu.”

Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:  “Luke Ridnour is shooting nearly 52%, almost 11 points higher than his career field-goal mark of 41.3%. And he is playing well in tandem with Jennings after teaming up at times last year with Ramon Sessions. ‘I’ve played with other point guards on the court before,’ Ridnour said after practice Monday. ‘Even when I was at Seattle I played with Earl Watson. It just makes the court more open and picks up the game a little bit. It’s tough (for the opposing team) to guard a lot of pick-and-rolls on one possession when you’ve got guys who can handle it.’ Having Jennings and Ridnour on the floor at the same time puts a lot of pressure on opposing defenses, and it allows Jennings to play off the ball at certain times. But Ridnour has played more at the shooting guard spot than he did when he was paired with Sessions last season. ‘Luke has made his spot-up shot and he’s made his off-the-dribble shot on a very consistent basis,’ Skiles said. It goes back to the work Ridnour put in during the summer in Seattle, and to the way he accepted the news when Skiles told him he would be coming off the bench behind the 20-year-old Jennings.”

Brandon George of The Dallas Morning News:  “Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle has changed the starting lineup often this season, but he appears to have found the right combination with guard J.J. Barea in the mix. Barea finished with 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting Monday night in a 94-90 victory over New Orleans. Barea consistently got to the basket for easy layups to help the Mavericks build a 35-18 lead by the end of the first quarter. He did so despite having to use much energy on the other end of the court trying to slow Mavericks nemesis Chris Paul, who had 20 points and 16 assists. Carlisle inserted Barea in the starting lineup last week against Phoenix. Barea has now started the last four games – all Mavs victories. ‘How long we’ll go with that, who knows,’ Carlisle said. ‘He’s played well since he’s had the opportunity to start.’ Barea has scored in double figures in every game he’s started and also has helped the Mavericks distribute the ball better.”

Jeff McDonald  of the San Antonio Express-News:  “Twenty-one games into his rookie season, Spurs forward DeJuan Blair is still confounding his head coach. ‘He’s a strange dude,’ Gregg Popovich said. ‘Those things he does out there, I don’t know how he gets them done. I don’t know what his game is. I don’t know what to do with him.’ At 6-foot-7, Blair is undersized for an NBA big man and possesses little semblance of a traditional offensive game. He makes up for those shortcomings with a natural sense for the geometry of rebounding and a motor always turned to its highest setting. The youngest player to earn a spot in Popovich’s rotation since Tony Parker was a teenage rookie, the 20-year-old Blair is averaging 6.1 points and 5.3 rebounds in just 14 minutes, 30 seconds per game. He ranks first among NBA rookies in field goal percentage (61.1 percent) and rebounding rate (17.7 per 48 minutes).”

Terry Foster of The Detroit News:  “The Pistons are getting healthy and one of their captains is encouraged. ‘The thing I saw was that all the guys came out and played hard all night,’ Hamilton said. ‘They played with a lot of toughness. When you have that, you always give yourself a chance to win.’ He believes Detroit is growing into a playoff team that could make a run. As they pass the quarter pole of the regular season, they are bunched in with Milwaukee, Toronto, Indiana, Charlotte and Chicago in the battle for the final playoff spots. Hamilton is confident the Pistons will beat out those teams. ‘I think so,’ he said. ‘We definitely have a lot of good pieces to the puzzle. We are continuing to grow and come together. When you have guys hurt, people are depending on different guys, but I think that brought us more together as a team.’ There has been speculation that the Pistons might trade for an inside post player, but Hamilton said the Pistons can compete without a trade because of the improved inside play of Charlie Villanueva.”

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:  “Shane Battier was in his customary sprint from the Rockets’ locker room to the court when he came upon Yao Ming and had to stop to make a plea. ‘Give me six fouls,’ Battier called out, as if Yao actually had the option to get up and join him on the court. ‘Just six fouls.’ ‘OK, you got it,’ Yao answered. Minutes later, a golf cart arrived to take Yao to the end of the Rockets bench, his recovery from extensive foot surgery having gone well enough for him to step up his rehab, but nowhere near far enough to let him foul anyone but a teammate on the bench. Yao at least seems to have made his peace with the process. After the initial dejection when the stress fracture in his left foot did not heal as expected and some frustration with the start of the long road back, he has learned to cope. More than focus just on his rehab and increased workouts, he has thrown himself into other interests, including his first year as owner of the Shanghai Sharks in the China Basketball Association, with plans to be in Shanghai for the start of the season this month. He arrives at Toyota Center each morning for workouts and rehab, including sessions of taking shots from a chair. Mostly, he waits.”

Brian T. Smith of The Columbian:  “When the year began, McMillan and his team were focused on winning the Northwest Division. And Portland’s vaunted roster — praised for its talent and depth — appeared to give the organization a window of opportunity that was among the widest in the NBA. Now? ‘Our focus is to try to get to the playoffs. And take it one game at a time, and see if we can win games here until we can start to get some guys back,’ McMillan said. ‘But we’re not giving up on this season and quitting on this season. We do have nine guys. Let’s give it what we got. And try to get to the playoffs. And we get there and see what happens after that.’ But despite the black-and-white tone, there were also hints of optimism Monday. McMillan sounded upbeat at times, and he said the time he spent away from the team gave him an opportunity to re-evaluate Portland’s troubles. At the top of the list, McMillan said, was a Blazers offense struggling to execute — one that had lost its identity due to the unexpected departure of Oden. McMillan said ‘slippage’ had occurred. Simple things, such as setting and playing off screens, communication, floor spacing and ball movement had fallen by the wayside. In addition, too many shots were being taken late in the shot clock, while players were favoring isolation moves rather than running through all of the options on a given play.”

Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:  “The Lakers coasted through the first month and a half of this season, mostly sleeping in their own beds, strolling through game after game at Staples Center, experiencing only three situations in which they played on consecutive nights. Welcome to the rest of their schedule. Last Friday at home they beat Minnesota, then flew to Salt Lake and lost badly to Utah on Saturday. So began a period during which 22 of 32 Lakers games are scheduled in back-to-back sets, a majority of them on the road. Not since the lockout-condensed NBA schedule in 1999 have the Lakers had such a rush of back-to-back attacks. The fun begins anew tonight at Chicago and Wednesday at Milwaukee, continuing Saturday at New Jersey and Sunday at Detroit. Some other notable double dips over the next eight weeks: Christmas Day at home against Cleveland followed by an immediate departure to Sacramento for a Dec. 26 game; back-to-back lung-burners against run-and-gun teams Phoenix and Golden State (Dec. 28-29); two sides of the Texas triangle in San Antonio and Dallas (Jan. 12-13); an eight-game Eastern trip that begins in Cleveland and New York (Jan. 21-22) and ends with an electrifying starter at Boston (Jan. 31) and a potential trap game the next night at Memphis; and a home game against Denver (Feb. 5) followed by a visit to their personal house of horrors, Portland. It’s all part of the penance they pay for a schedule in which they played 17 of their first 21 games at home.”

Cynthia Hubert of the Sacramento Bee:  “The Sacramento Kings have given away food, offered discount ticket packages and touted their prized rookies. But they have yet to find the formula for bringing raucous sellout crowds back to Arco Arena. Could the answer be cheap beer? Quite possibly. Wednesday night, with a national television audience watching, the Kings could be playing before a sellout crowd at Arco for only the second time this season. The draw? Dollar Beer Night. ‘Sacramento and its fans have such a good reputation nationally,’ said Kings spokesman Mitch Germann. ‘We want to showcase that on national TV.’ Their efforts seem to be paying off. As of Monday afternoon, only ‘a limited number of tickets’ were available for the Wednesday game, Germann said. But not everyone is thrilled about the ‘Spread the Kings Cheer With Dollar Beer’ promotion. ‘We don’t blame the Kings for trying to increase attendance,’ said Brenda Frachiseur, acting state executive director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving in California. ‘But we wish they would find a more family friendly way of doing it. We typically do not support ‘happy hour’ types of activities or binge drinking.’ Law enforcement agencies said they were aware of the promotion, and emphasized the need for ‘designated drivers’ for those who choose to quaff the discount beers.”

Brian Windhorst of The Cleveland Plain Dealer:  “The primary new partner, according to sources, is Albert Hung, a wealthy Chinese investor in numerous technology businesses. Also believed to be in the group is Adrien Cheng, a young businessman whose family operates New World Development, a massive Hong Kong conglomerate of companies. But Huang is the dealmaker, the key to bringing the parties together. Where this impacts the Cavs and their fans is what an intensified relationship with China means. Huang said there will be more Chinese sponsorships to come, just the beginning of the Cavs’ growth in China and, therefore, James’ growth in a marketplace he’s been working to capture. With an estimated 300 million basketball fans, the chance to capitalize on the Chinese fan base is potentially even greater than in the U.S. Which is why James has been trying to promote products there, especially through Nike. ‘LeBron is a very smart man and he’s doing very well with his management team,’ Huang said. ‘I’m sure they are looking into a lot of endorsement opportunities. He already has a lot of credibility in China and now I’m sure these deals happening will bring a lot of opportunities for him there.’ Huang said interest in the Cavs has exploded in China and they have surpassed the Houston Rockets, who have Chinese national hero Yao Ming, in popularity.”

Ken Berger of CBSSports.com:  “An argument can be made that the NBA has never been more popular in relation to the other major sports. Two years ago, when the Celtics played the Lakers, the NBA Finals beat the World Series in the TV ratings for the first time since 1988, according to the popular blog Sports Media Watch. With the Yankees in the Series this year and a less attractive L.A.-Orlando matchup, the Finals fell back in place behind baseball. But not in the 18-34 demographic, in which the Finals beat the World Series 5.7 to 5.4 in ratings. Overall, TNT is off to its best start in 26 years of televising NBA games, with ratings up 10 percent and viewership up 20 percent from this point last year (16 games), according to network spokesman Jeff Pomeroy. The season opened with the highest-rated NBA doubleheader in 13 years — Cavaliers/Celtics and Clippers/Lakers — and TNT has seen more than 20 percent increases in several key demographics, including the coveted 18-34 and 18-49 demos, Pomeroy said. The strength in the NBA’s young-audience numbers guarantees future growth — as long as the product continues its current ascent in terms of quality of play and abundance of watchable stars. Twenty- and 30-something sports fans who consume their sports online have found a willing partner in the NBA, which has become the standard bearer for streaming live games. Not only does the NBA have more Twitter followers than any other sport (1.7 million and counting), it is the most-followed brand on Twitter, recently surpassing Whole Foods, according to TrackingTwitter.com. Think about that: The sport that some people can’t stop bashing is the most-followed brand on the fastest-growing online tool that perhaps has ever existed.”

(Photo by Issac Baldizon NBAE/Getty Images)


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