The Fundamentals

» December 28, 2009 9:39 AM | By Brandon Hoffman

Art Garcia of NBA.com:  “While his image hardly screams outspoken, Nowitzki doesn’t shy away from speaking his mind. He’s done so at the expense of teammates, taking exception with Erick Dampier and Jason Terry in playoff series past. He’s publicly questioned the owner, wondering if Mark Cuban would be better off upstairs than causing a commotion courtside. He’s chastised the front office for not being on the same page back when Don Nelson roamed the sidelines. ‘I maybe didn’t do that when I was 20,’ Nowitzki said. ‘Now I pretty much say what I want. I pick my spots, but if there is something I have to address, I do that.’ The former MVP doesn’t confine his frustration to postgame talks with the media. Locker room speeches aren’t his forte, but pulling a teammate aside to offer words of encouragement or verbal kicks to the backside are common. ‘During the game, yeah, all the time,’ said J.J. Barea, a Nowitzki teammate for the last three seasons. ‘He comes to me and says, ‘C’mon, lets go.’ Individually he’s good about that, but not in a group situation before the game or at halftime.’”

John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times:  “If someone had told you in training camp that the Bulls player with the best chance of making the All-Star team this season was Joakim Noah, your most likely response would have been laughter. How much of a long shot was Noah? He wasn’t even among the five Bulls listed on the official NBA ballot. But two months into the season, no one is laughing when the subject of Noah possibly being an All-Star is brought up now. The 6-11 center has been one of the few bright spots for the Bulls, averaging 10.5 points and 12.4 rebounds (third-best in the NBA). ‘He’s been strong,’ Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said. ‘He’s one of the top rebounders in the league with his energy and his length. He’s around that basket, and he’s been pretty consistent the whole year.’ After Noah had 17 points and 18 rebounds in the Bulls’ 96-85 victory over the New Orleans Hornets, Del Negro was asked if he would begin pushing Noah for the All-Star Game. ‘No question,’ Del Negro said. ‘Everyone will talk about his rebounding, but he’s made strides with his offense. He works hard. He puts the time in. He’s building on that, working before practice, after, after shootarounds.’”

Fred Kerber of the New York Post:  “A prime topic of discussion around the Nets these past few days has been Yi Jianlian. Devin Harris may have rolled all the positive talk into one sentence. ‘He’s shooting the ball with confidence, attacking the rim with tenacity,’ Harris said. And that pretty much sums up Yi in his two games after sitting 24 with, first, a sprained knee and then a gash in his mouth and upper lip that required 50 stitches. On Wednesday, Yi was a perimeter force, scoring 22 points with quality shooting that included 4-of-6 on 3-pointers during the Nets’ 103-99 loss to the Timberwolves. Then against Houston Saturday, Yi was in full attack mode. He even dunked three times en route to 17 points — even picked up a technical for hanging on the rim. ‘Probably like the most dunks in my career in the NBA,’ Yi said. Definitely the most technicals. There is a change in Yi, whether he’s dialing it up outside or trying to drive it and get inside. He’s not thinking or worrying. He’s just doing. Part of it is that he has two of his biggest supporters on the sidelines — interim coach Kiki Vandeweghe, who helped devise the trade for him, and assistant Del Harris, who started Yi in the Olympics when he coached the Chinese National team in 2004. So if Yi makes a mistake these days, he can feel down. But he doesn’t stay down.”

Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post:  “Moments before tipoff, Kenyon Martin scuttled down the sideline by the Nuggets’ bench, fist-bumping ball boys and backups and broadcasters and big shots. He spotted Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks, a former Denver assistant, and they hugged. Respect was mutual. Before the game, Brooks was asked about Martin’s defensive prowess, and the coach said ‘toughness’ five times in a 30-second answer. Denver’s 6-foot-9 power forward then walked toward center court, assessing Brooks’ squad with the scrutiny of a poker player, assessing his challengers. It’s often said that Martin is one of the NBA’s best defensive players. But basketball statistics tell little in terms of a defender’s value as football stats do about an offensive lineman’s worth. For more clues to Martin’s impact at the defensive end, we looked inside that recent game against the Thunder. Martin was a chameleon, guarding guards on one possession, centering in on centers the next. He screamed commands as if he were Brian Dawkins, getting teammates in the right position, yelling at them if they messed up. ‘No question, he impacts the game every time he’s on the court — with his energy and just his presence,’ said Houston’s Shane Battier, the league’s pre-eminent perimeter defender. ‘He doesn’t get a lot of press, but he does a lot for them.’”

Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal:  “Mike Conley regained his confidence stroke by stroke by tickling the ivory keys. The third-year point guard turned to the piano when times got tough, and to help drown out the noise of naysayers. ‘It helps ease the stress,’ the Grizzlies point guard said of his new hobby. ‘You get home, play the piano and feel better. It’s something to chill with.’ Conley actually enters tonight’s Memphis game against the Washington Wizards a little cold, having shot 28 percent with only six assists in his last two games. But those performances aren’t emblematic of Conley’s last month. Conley seems settled and mostly on point after a horrid start. He’s relaxed, not shaky as the starter thanks in part to Allen Iverson’s exit, Jamaal Tinsley’s arrival and a sudden love affair with the piano. About a month ago, Conley was walking in Best Buy with rookie teammate Sam Young. The pair stopped at a keyboard that Young began to play masterfully. Conley became impressed and interested enough that he bought a keyboard the next day. Conley has learned the piano with the help of one-hour DVDs ever since, which included about four hours on Christmas Day.”

Brian T. Smith of The Columbian:  “Jeff Pendergraph did not deny it. In fact, the Portland Trail Blazers rookie forward embraced the notion. Yes, Pendergraph said, when he is on the court, he is definitely a little crazy. And that’s just the way Pendergraph — and the Blazers — want it. ‘I think that’s definitely a thing I bring. I bring a little extra,’ said Pendergraph, following a Sunday morning workout at the team’s practice facility. ‘Everybody’s tough; there’s no soft guys on this team. But I just have an abundant amount of craziness.’ Pendergraph’s self-avowed crazy streak has been the perfect antidote for a Blazers season that has mixed the surreal with the macabre, as Portland has been forced to fight through a never-ending run of injuries and setbacks. Pendergraph traced his tough-as-nails mentality back to his childhood, when he recalled being picked on by other kids. Now, the 22-year-old native of Ontario, Calif., is dealing out blows rather than stomaching them. ‘I don’t let anybody punk me. I don’t stand for that,’ Pendergraph said. ‘There’s respect issues. I’m not just going to start talking crazy, unless you start talking crazy to me. And then I’m going to let you know that I’m not that guy; you can’t just talk to me like that, regardless of how long I’ve played in the NBA. You can’t do that. So, I’ll fight back.’”

Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe:  “While Doc Rivers said the fourth-quarter exchange between Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins was just Garnett encouraging Perkins to be more focused, Garnett said after the 92-90 loss to the Clippers that Perkins needs to reduce some of those mental lapses. Chris Kaman frustrated Perkins the entire night, scoring 27 points (17 in the second half) and sometimes scoring at will. Perkins had one other difficult night defensively, Dec. 8 against Milwaukee’s Andrew Bogut (25 points, 14 rebounds) and he generally has trouble with centers with sharp mid-range games. In one sequence, Perkins squared up on Kaman, dug down on defense and Kaman responded by hitting a 12-footer in Perkins face. That appeared to cause the frustration in Perkins and shortly thereafter, he and Garnett argued after Perkins picked up two consecutive fouls, one on Baron Davis was ruled an ‘away from the play’ foul and resulted in one free throw. ‘I think what I tried to instill in Perk’s head is composure,’ he said. ‘Being consistent with the composure part of the game. I think he’s growing as a player but mentally sometimes I think it’s a distraction when he’s sort of distracted on other things that’s going on. I told him to be a really good overall, all-around good player at both ends, you have to be able to be consistent with the mental and no one knows that more that I do.’”

Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star:  “Indiana Pacers coach Jim O’Brien is going to run out of options with his starting lineup with all the tinkering he’s doing. Until he reaches that point, though, O’Brien plans to continue to try to find the right mix of players. He is considering shaking up the lineup again after his starters were thoroughly outplayed for the second straight game in their 114-80 loss to the Miami Heat. ‘I don’t know if we have enough speed in our starting lineup,’ O’Brien said. ‘Clearly we are not getting it done. The last couple of games, we have not scored well. We did a good job with that unit to start out the previous three games, but right now it’s not working. We need to continue to re-evaluate everything.’ The Pacers’ starters have been outscored 160-61 in the past two games. The second unit made the game respectable in the second quarter each of the past two nights.”

Mike Jones of The Washington Times:  “Flip Saunders entered Christmas week with his team coming off a blowout loss to Phoenix, a veteran squad that ranks among the Western Conference leaders. Saunders said then that he still believed his team was close to improving and winning five or six straight games. The Wizards started to follow that path in winning two straight – before getting thumped 101-89 on Saturday by Minnesota, the worst team in the Western Conference. So much for progress. Instead, there’s more frustration for Saunders, who boasted a resume with 11 playoff appearances in 13 seasons and was supposed to put the Wizards over the top. ‘You go back to principles, and it’s like pounding on a rock. You keep pounding and pounding, and eventually you break it down,’ Saunders said. ‘But you can’t vary away from the process of where you want to go. … It’s a long-term project – that’s what you have to understand.’”

Ken Berger of CBSSports.com:  “A third of the way into the season, the Spurs are 11th in points allowed per game (96.9), 13th in opponent field-goal percentage (.453), and 13th in points allowed per 100 possessions (102.8). Those are ghastly numbers for a San Antonio team that has built a winning culture around defense. The offense will come. Duncan, who had only 13 points and seven rebounds Sunday night, is on regular-season cruise control with his minutes being monitored as closely as ever. Ginobili, who had six of the Spurs’ final 11 points, played more freely in the past two games than Popovich had seen him all season. Parker, trying to figure out how to integrate Jefferson into the offense while keeping the focus on Duncan, will do whatever it takes to make it work. The Spurs have won eight of 10, so it’s hard to nitpick. But they’ve been so good for so long, the standards for those watching them are as high as their own. The most encouraging statistic during this 10-game stretch is that San Antonio has allowed 100 points only twice. The most sobering stat: They lost to the only two teams with winning records that they played (Phoenix and Portland.)”

Howard Beck of The New York Times:  “The Rockets are 18-13 after a loss at Cleveland on Sunday, holding steady as the seventh-best team in a tough Western Conference. They are thriving despite the absence of Yao Ming, their franchise center, and Tracy McGrady, their erstwhile star guard. They are thriving despite a roster of castoffs and no-names and players like Landry, a former second-round pick who is, improbably, their new go-to scorer. He had 13 points in the final 10 minutes Saturday and is among the league leaders in fourth-quarter scoring. There is not a single All-Star in the Rockets’ regular rotation, or even anyone who could be one in the near future. They have seven players averaging from 8 to 17 points, but not one who has ever averaged 20. ‘We have a collection of guys who have been told they’re too ‘something’ to play in the N.B.A.,’ forward Shane Battier said. ‘Too small, too short, too dumb, can’t shoot, unathletic.’ A collective desire ‘to prove everybody wrong,’ Battier said, is the Rockets’ rallying cry and their identity.”

(Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood NBAE/Getty Images)


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