The Fundamentals

» December 31, 2009 11:04 AM | By Brandon Hoffman

Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports:  “As far as NBA players go, Steve Nash qualifies as a senior citizen. Many of the league’s point guards are at least 10 years younger than Nash, who is more hippie than hip-hop. But nearing his 36th birthday, Nash is showing no signs of decline. In fact, he just might be playing better offensively as any over-35 point guard ever. ‘It’s incredible,’ said Mark Jackson, who ranks third all-time in assists behind John Stockton and Jason Kidd. ‘To me, he is in a discussion with any other point guard that has played this game not named Magic.’ Now in his 14th season, Nash is averaging 18.6 points and 11.3 assists – both of which are approaching his career highs – in only 33.5 minutes per game. His numbers compare favorably to what he averaged when he won the league’s MVP award in 2005 and 2006. The Suns also are winning, entering Wednesday’s game against the Boston Celtics with a 20-12 record. Whether it’s Bob Cousy, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Stockton, Jackson, Kidd or other point guard greats, none have had statistics over the age of 35 that have come close to matching Nash today.”

Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:  “Kevin Durant is on a tear. The Thunder’s small forward enters tonight’s game against Utah with five straight games of at least 30 points, one of them a season-high tying 40-point effort. And Scott Brooks still wants more. The Thunder coach wants his star to start securing the ball better. The issue was raised on the recent two-game East Coast swing through New Jersey and Washington, where Durant tallied 10 turnovers, ‘I tell him he has to be strong with the ball,’ Brooks said. ‘And he’s cognizant of it. He’s a good ball-handler, but when there’s a crowd around him, that’s when he gets into trouble. So as a staff we’ve been trying to teach him to pass out of it and then the ball will always come back around.’ On three possessions in the first quarter against the Nets, Durant simply had the ball slip out of his hands while making a move, suggesting he has grip issues. Durant said he doesn’t use the courtside resin during games. On other trips, defenders stripped Durant on drives to the basket, which might mean his hands are another part of his body that needs strengthening. Durant, who is averaging a career-high 3.68 turnovers and 4.1 in December, didn’t make excuses for the giveaways. ‘I just turned it over,’ Durant said. ‘I need to take better care of the ball.’”

Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News:  “Nearly 24 hours after the fact, the Spurs still were buzzing about the way Manu Ginobili turned Tuesday’s game against the Timberwolves into a personal time machine that transported him back to his days as one of the NBA’s most electrifying players. Ginobili came to training camp after a summer of enforced inactivity designed to assure complete recovery from a stress fracture of the right ankle. He lately has been reintroducing bits and pieces of the unique game that made him one of the league’s best players. Tuesday night’s near-triple double was the latest evidence he is getting closer to being the real Manu Ginobili. Up next: The confidence that will allow him to attack the basket when he believes his legs have regained the explosiveness that once made him a human highlight reel. ‘That’s the most important thing I’m trying to get back: attacking the rim,’ he said. ‘That’s my main concern right now — get to the rim in traffic and be able to finish with a quality shot, not just throwing it in the air.’”

Brett Pollakoff of FanHouse:  “Doc Rivers told reporters during Wednesday’s morning shootaround that Kevin Garnett’s availability for the Celtics’ game against the Suns that evening would be a game-time decision. It wasn’t quite game time when Rivers met with the media again a little less than an hour before tip-off, but he had made up his mind: Garnett was sitting due to soreness in his right knee — and in all likelihood, was going to miss more than one game. ‘I just decided that if I was debating it, the basketball gods were probably telling me to go with [my initial thought],’ Rivers said. ‘So, we sat him down. We’ve got to wait for it to heal, and we’ll see how long that takes.’ Rivers said that he also expects Garnett to miss Boston’s home game against the Raptors Saturday, but he hopes to have his player back for next Wednesday’s contest in Miami. The schedule definitely played a role in Rivers’ choice to give Garnett some time to heal. ‘I looked at the schedule, and obviously this is a tough game, but when you look at the schedule and then you see the two days, then a game, then three more days — if you’re going to rest someone to get ‘em right, there’s no better time than right now,’ Rivers said.”

J.A. Adande of  “The 16 games Jameer Nelson missed with a knee injury weren’t much of a problem for the Orlando Magic, but his return to the lineup can’t really be called a solution. Backup Jason Williams was far more instrumental in the Magic’s 117-92 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday, as Nelson made only 1 of 7 shots and was the only Orlando player with a negative plus/minus (minus-12) in his 23 minutes of playing time. Nelson is 10-for-35 from the field in four games since coming back from arthroscopic surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said there were extenuating circumstances behind Wednesday’s performance — Nelson said he slept for only an hour and a half Tuesday night because of a ‘family issue’ — but the coach sounded frustrated about Nelson’s limited ability to practice after his knee swelled up following the Christmas Day loss to Boston. ‘We’re going to have to go back and evaluate where we are with Jameer,’ Van Gundy said. ‘There’s medical concerns and people don’t want him to get reinjured.’”

Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic:  “Once Suns forward Grant Hill stepped on the floor Wednesday night, he completed his first calendar year as a pro without missing a game. Hill has played 115 consecutive games but has had a lighter load as of late with Leandro Barbosa’s return and Jared Dudley’s impact fortifying the Suns’ wings. Hill had played 26 minutes or fewer in the past four games after not doing so in more than two consecutive games this season. ‘You never want to come out of a game,’ Hill said. ‘I never even want to come out of practice. The thing that makes our team special and the thing we talked about in camp and the thing that has helped us thus far is our depth. ‘Understanding perspective and understanding how long the year is and what we’re trying to accomplish, the more production we can get out of our bench is great.’ Hill has shot better when he plays fewer minutes. He shot 53 percent when playing 30 minutes or fewer and 43 percent when playing more than 30 minutes. Hill, 37, is second to Shaquille O’Neal as the NBA’s oldest starter.”

Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post:  “The plan made sense — rest Chauncey Billups during Denver’s back-to-back games earlier this week, take four days off, and by Saturday, he’d be back. Not so fast. On Wednesday, when Billups was asked about playing at Utah on Saturday, he said softly: ‘I don’t know man, I really don’t know, to be honest.’ Billups’ groin strain remains a pain on the court. ‘It doesn’t hurt to walk around or even jog — I feel good — it’s the cutting, trying to get by a defender,’ he said. ‘That’s my problem most of the times.’ The all-star point guard has missed five of Denver’s past six games. He played one half at Portland and has since determined he tweaked the groin and ‘kind of weakened the muscle.’ The lingering injury for Billups has led to the Nuggets (20-12) losing five of their past six games.”

Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:  “Maybe the slumping Andrew Bynum misses Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has been around the Lakers sporadically since being diagnosed with leukemia. Jackson thought Bynum might be missing somebody else. ‘I think maybe Kurt [Rambis] being in Minnesota might have an effect because Kurt was working with him a lot more than Kareem the last year,’ Jackson said. ‘I think Kareem had a big impact on Andrew two years ago, three years ago, but Kurt was working with him more hand in hand than Kareem this last year. Kareem hasn’t been here in maybe three weeks. I don’t know if they’re that close in their communications.’ Bynum hasn’t had a double-double in the last 20 games. He started the season with eight in his first nine games.”

Dave D’Alessandro of The Star-Ledger:  “It seems far-fetched, given the disjointed, awkward, uneven performances the Nets have had in this homestand. But they undoubtedly play hard enough. Their issues are a lack of patience, execution, experience, and chemistry. ‘Talent’s not the problem,’ said Devin Harris, who continues to play as hard as a point guard can play. ‘It’s all about trying to execute using everyone’s best talent. It’s about five guys staying aggressive at the same time — working together instead of, ‘This guy’s hot right now,’ and everyone else watches. We’ve had two guys hot at a time, mostly one and a half, but never a game when we’re all hitting on all cylinders. And it seems like it’s never more than two. So that’s what we have to get to. We have this talent, and we can’t get it to work together. It has to happen sometime.’ Put it this way: Over their last fourth quarters, the Nets averaged 20.5 points on 40 percent shooting entering yesterday and though their turnovers aren’t terrible — 2.3 per quarter — the timing of the mistakes are excruciating, whether it be a Harris crosscourt pass picked off by Jonny Flynn or Yi Jianlian hanging on the rim.”

Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News:  “Sixers coach Eddie Jordan became obsessed with the Princeton offense when he and legendary Princeton coach Pete Carril were assistants together in Sacramento. Jordan, who coached the Kings from 1996-98, took the offense with him when he eventually became coach of the Washington Wizards in 2003. He now is implementing it with the Sixers. Things haven’t gone too smoothly with the new offense yet, and Carril thinks he knows what the main problem is. ‘When he was with New Jersey with it [as an assistant coach], they went to the Finals 2 years in a row [2002 and 2003], because he had an exquisite passer on the team [in Jason Kidd],’ said Carril, still a Kings assistant. ‘I think if they had a bona fide point guard on that team, they’d be a heck of a team. A true point guard would get things started. The thing about that offense is, if you start off slowly, the next thing you do is going to be harder, then next thing is going to be harder yet, and then you wind up taking a bad shot or throwing the ball away. It’s really a nice team, but what I really think what he might need is a point guard.’”

Howard Beck of The New York Times:  “Bathed in the glow of the desert sun and 60-win seasons, Mike D’Antoni cast a warm and fuzzy image as coach of the Phoenix Suns. Fans loved watching his frenetic offense; players loved running it. Like his system, D’Antoni came across as a freewheeling soul, quick with a smile and a quip, every word couched in a disarming West Virginia drawl. Cast against a steely Manhattan backdrop, the portrait looks different now. Beneath the easy grin and the aw-shucks demeanor lies a ruthless pragmatist, dragging the Knicks toward respectability with little regard for anyone’s feelings. In the past month, D’Antoni has benched Nate Robinson, one of the Knicks’ most popular players, and Eddy Curry, one of their highest paid. He has buried Jordan Hill, the team’s 2009 lottery pick, deep on the bench, where he sits next to Darko Milicic, a player that D’Antoni himself wanted to acquire. There is only one thread that links them all: an urgent, insuppressible need to win now, regardless of other priorities. D’Antoni is determined to make the playoffs, even if it means alienating some players and ruining the trade value of others.”

Mike Jones of The Washington Times:  “After weeks of trying either to look on the bright side in regards to his team’s poor performances or find diplomatic ways to discuss its shortcomings, Flip Saunders scrapped all that Tuesday night. The Wizards had suffered their 20th loss, a 110-98 defeat to Oklahoma City, and a failure to commit on defense again was to blame. On Tuesday night – like so many nights before it – the Wizards blew a fourth-quarter lead while letting their opponents dribble circles around them, shoot over them and dunk on them. Said Saunders in a blunt postgame rant: ‘This team for the last five years has been known as one of the worst defensive teams in the league, and until we make a commitment – we couldn’t stop anybody out there. … We need a total mindset change. … Whether it’s lineup changes, it’s all up in the air right now. I’m frustrated as anybody, but I feel bad for the people who came to the game and had to watch that. … We’ll come back to practice in two days, and spots will be open for whoever. And if guys don’t like it, that’s fine. Because I’m not going to sit here and look at that anymore. Through 30 games, you evaluate for 30 games, and now the way it’s going it ain’t getting going.’ Saunders called out his players for not being able to play man-to-man defense, forcing him to use zone. He claimed that he, at 54 years of age, could take any one of his players one-on-one. Later in the locker room, the embarrassed Wizards couldn’t disagree.”

Eric Pincus of HOOPSWORLD:  “The Bulls are in somewhat of a quandary.  There are coaching issues and underachieving issues but what’s most pressing may be financial. It’s not how much they are or aren’t making this season.  The concern is payroll for next year – specifically how it pertains to the free agent class of 2010. The Bulls have seven players under contract this summer for a total of $37.7 million.  That’s simply too much. While there’s no certainty that a Dwyane Wade, LeBron James or Chris Bosh would be willing to come to Chicago, the team essentially HAS to be in the financial position to make an offer. The trio of All-Stars will each be eligible for deals starting at about $16.6 million (depending on the salary cap number) this summer. Assuming the Bulls renounce the rights to all of their free agents including Tyrus Thomas, Brad Miller and Aaron Gray, the team’s salary computation will come in at about $41.6 million (including four minimum cap holds and roughly $2 million for their 2010 first-round pick). With teams generally projecting the cap to come in at about $54 million, Chicago is set to have just $12.4 million to spend. To make a viable offer to someone like the Chicago-born Wade, the Bulls are going to need to clear about $4.2 million in space. That means one of Salmons or Hinrich has to go.”

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

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