Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: “If Lakers fans need an immediate way to forget about losing to LeBron and being stunned by the Suns, here are three words to make eyes bulge with brand-new, far deeper panic: Bynum. Knee. Problem. In this case, the revelation that Andrew Bynum has been dealing with another problem in his right knee isn’t all bad. It offers further explanation for the dramatic decline in his recent play, and the issue toward the top of his kneecap felt better to him Monday night after he did the right thing and sought treatment for the discomfort. It was no coincidence that he showed some of his early season bounce in an outstanding first quarter in Phoenix – getting five rebounds in the first five minutes and scoring nine points in the first nine minutes. On one play, despite Amar’e Stoudemire having inside position, Bynum simply went up and over him to pull out an offensive rebound before Stoudemire had to foul him. Bynum also said he is past the two-week-old upper respiratory problem that Phil Jackson has been throwing out publicly as an excuse for Bynum’s sluggish efforts. Yet when it comes to Bynum’s tenuous health, the reddest flags all fly out of those two knees that cost him so much of the past two seasons. Bynum’s knock-kneed frame is predisposed to certain knee injuries, the Lakers know well by now – and they always worry.”
Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “Funny what some success will do for a man’s faith, his hope, his trust. And his mood. The Timberwolves’ consecutive victories for the first time this season — and four victories in their past seven games — appear to have star center Al Jefferson believing again. In his team, his coach and in Kurt Rambis’ complex offensive system that Jefferson admits he doubted not that long ago. ‘Oh, there have been times,’ Jefferson said. ‘I’m not going to lie. There have been times in October and November when I was like, ‘Why the hell are we running this offense?’ But Coach said something to us that made a lot of sense. Coach said people doubted Phil Jackson with the triangle [offense] and they won three championships in a row [two separate times in Chicago] with it. There have been times I was like, ‘This is not going to work.’ But now, I’m eating my words because it is working for us.’”
Eddie Sefko of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “Erick Dampier will never be confused with Hakeem Olajuwon for his hands or his footwork. But he’s showing this year that, when the ball is delivered on time and on target, he can finish the play with points. ‘A lot of times, an opponent will overlook Damp,’ Kidd said. ‘My job is to get him the ball and make the game easy. He’s doing the hard part — catching it and putting it in the basket. When he plays like he has been, we’re a different team.’ The 6-foot-11 center has responded by averaging 8.5 points and 9.8 rebounds this season. This season, the Mavericks have figured out that utilizing Dampier on the offensive end has its advantages. ‘In order to make this team better, we all have to sacrifice things,’ he said. ‘We have good enough shooters. But we needed some interior passing when guys drive to the basket. It’s the little things, like that, that are going to make us better.’”
Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: “It’s not an official stat. But if the NBA kept track of stitch count, Paul Millsap would certainly be among the league leaders. He got four above his right eyebrow after getting smacked against Detroit last month. Another 10 were required above his upper lip after he got elbowed in the kisser last week in Miami. Some of Millsap’s statistics have dipped a bit this post-contract year, such as his staggering amount of double-doubles, his rebounding rampages and assists. But Millsap’s mug is off to one heck of a start when it comes to stitches received. ‘Just getting there, trying to fight with those guys down low, I mean, sometimes you take hits like that,’ Millsap said. ‘Another day in the office. You get used to it after a while.’”
Chris Perkins of the Miami Herald: “In the previous couple seasons you could always find Heat guard Dwyane Wade’s name among the league leaders in turnovers per game, often no lower than No. 3. But this season you have to go to No. 16 to find him. At 3.0 turnovers per game, Wade has lowered his total from previous seasons — 3.44 last season, and 4.24 and 4.39, respectively, in his injury-shortened seasons of 2006-07 and 2007-08. ‘It’s a commitment he’s actually started since last year,’ coach Erik Spoelstra said of Wade’s turnover reduction. Midway through last season, Wade, a six-time All-Star, began to make fewer fancy passes and an increased number of chest and bounce passes. As a result, last year was the first time Wade had a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, finishing at 2.18-1 (589 assists, 272 turnovers).”
Brian Windhorst of The Plain Dealer: “Last season the All-Star Williams was a disappointment during the Cavs’ playoff run and especially in the Eastern finals. He played too fast, too tight and it showed about every night. He knows he will not be able to absolve himself for those few weeks until later this season, but he’s off to a great start. As the Cavs have piled up a bunch of great wins early, Williams has been a big part. Last week in Los Angeles, Williams had a team-high 28 points with five rebounds and six assists. Before that in Phoenix, when the Cavs ended the Suns’ 19-game home win streak, Williams had 24 points with six rebounds and six assists. He outplayed Steve Nash in both wins over the Suns this season. Against the Dallas Mavericks in a big home win earlier in the season, Williams has 25 points including 7-of-7 on 3-pointers. In a tight win over a quality Utah Jazz team in November, Williams had 21 points. On the big road sweep of Orlando and Miami, Williams was fantastic, scoring 28 points against the Magic and 25 the next night in South Florida. The victories came against the best teams the league has to offer at the moment. There’s other factors, especially LeBron James, but there is no coincidence. When Williams plays well, the Cavs usually win and right now he’s playing very well in the big games.”
Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express News: “For Parker and Ginobili, basketball has become the ultimate mind game. Parker, the point guard, is wading through the process of learning his new teammates while still looking for his own shots. ‘Some games, I’m trying to pass, and the coaches say, ‘No, no, you have to be aggressive,’‘ said Parker, who finds himself in a lineup with three new starters this season. ‘It goes back like I’m a rookie. ‘Pass, no shoot, no pass, no shoot.’‘ At times, that balancing act has made Parker, a three-time All-Star, a bit tentative. Heading into tonight’s game against Minnesota, against whom he scored 55 points in a game last season, Parker is averaging 16.6 points — down from a career-high and team-leading 22.1 last season. He is also averaging a career-high 3.1 turnovers. ‘It’s like he’s just starting out again,’ Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. ‘Every time he looks up, there are new people on the court, and he’s trying to figure out what to do with them. He’s got a lot to manage.’ If Parker has felt like a rookie at times, Ginobili has often felt like a guy picking up a ball for the first time in his life.”
Ken Sugiura of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Starting Tuesday night with the front of a back-to-back with Cleveland, the Hawks can measure their growth and assess the investments made in offseason acquisitions Smith, guard Jamal Crawford and center Jason Collins. ‘It’s going to be good,’ guard Mike Bibby said. ‘We’re going to be able to tell where we stand.’ The Hawks play the Central Division-leading Cavaliers on Tuesday at Philips Arena, then again Wednesday in Cleveland. Before January ends, the Hawks will twice play Boston and Orlando on back-to-back nights. The first Boston-Orlando set will be followed by another Celtics game two days later. Through the end of January, 12 of the Hawks’ next 17 games are against teams that were above .500 before Monday’s games. While 10 of the games are at Philips, seven of the 12 against the over-.500 teams are on the road. At 21-8, the Hawks have the fifth-best record in the league and have won eight of their last 10. Said forward Josh Smith, ‘It’s probably going to be the toughest month I’ve ever faced as an NBA player.’”
Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: “The Suns have a hard time stopping a fast break after making a turnover. They just shake their heads when a 20-foot jumper over an extended arm sinks through the net. Both situations are understandable. But what they can’t excuse is playing the type of help defense that doesn’t live up to the term. The defensive slip since November’s hot start largely has come on the back end of the defense. Sometimes the help is late. Sometimes the help is unnecessary and creates an easy basket. It often has been an accumulation of errors that have hurt the Suns’ defense. They are capable, and that was evident in the first half of Monday night’s game when they forced the Lakers to miss 22 of their first 30 shots. ‘We’ve got to get back to being a little more aggressive in our rotation and our weak-side help,’ Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. ‘We seemed to be about a half-step late in that, and we’ve got to get back to when we were pretty good at that when we came out of training camp. We’ve got to get back to protecting the basket, because our rotations are there. We also have to be smart in our rotations. We lost some of that, too. We have to make them make the extra pass. We’ve got to be in a rotation position where we’re making them make an extra pass and it’s not a scoring pass.’ Gentry and guard Steve Nash used the same word for what the Suns need – grit.”
Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: “It was heading to this sort of end eventually, thought it seemed more likely to reach this point when McGrady became a free agent after this season. But it had become clear for some time that McGrady’s Rockets run would end without the success that once seemed so certain. Even without Monday’s agreement, the Rockets would have moved on and he would, too, and their time together would have ended with far less grandeur than they had both thought when he came to town. He and Yao Ming were to lead the Rockets back to greatness. And there have been some fun moments along the way. In the end, however, McGrady’s time with the Rockets will be largely be remembered for unfulfilled promise, with his finest moments (and some were spectacular) only serving to remind of what could have been. ‘He was a great player,’ Adelman said on Saturday. And for all the ferocity of his detractors, he was in many ways great. He just always seemed capable of being greater, of having more in that remarkable package of talent and athletic gifts than he entirely realized.”
Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle: “I feel sorry for Tracy McGrady. I could scream about his selfishness, but this thing goes way beyond McGrady caring more about himself than the team. There’s a real element of sadness in this deal. Yes, he bailed on his teammates this weekend. When Rick Adelman wouldn’t give him what he wanted, McGrady got mad and left. In that moment, he revealed that he’s only a member of a team as long as its in his own best interest. Yes, he’s the NBA’s highest-paid player at $22.8 million, so he’s not a sympathetic figure in the way most people see sympathetic figures.But he’s 30 years old and on the verge of being considered a has-been. Think of how that must feel.”
Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: “It was great when it happened, the night rookie point guard Brandon Jennings scored 55 points against the Golden State Warriors. But the expectations it brought have the Bucks’ 20-year-old rookie wondering whether it was worth it to get 55 so early in his career, in just his seventh NBA game. ‘I feel like it’s a curse because of the 55,’ Jennings said after the Bucks’ practice session Sunday. ‘It’s almost a curse. Now that I’ve scored 55, everybody expects me to go out there and score big numbers every night. I’m just trying to find my way. Not every night is going to be easy. A lot of teams are changing their defense. So it’s not as easy as everyone thinks it is.’”
The Atlanta Hawks have a greater chance of winning the championship than the Los Angeles Lakers, according to John Hollinger’s power rankings: “How, exactly, could Atlanta’s crew outrank L.A.’s star-studded cast? Bryant, as I mentioned, is a far better player than Johnson, and the Lakers’ front line of Gasol and Andrew Bynum inspires a lot more fear than the Hawks’ pair of Al Horford and Josh Smith. Inspiring fear, however, is not what I measure. Performance is. And based on performance, Smith has been every bit Gasol’s equal this season, and Horford’s production has matched that of Bynum. Throw in that Mike Bibby has been more productive than Derek Fisher and Marvin Williams has almost exactly matched Ron Artest (13.30 versus 13.32, respectively, in the player efficiency rating department), and suddenly the starting lineup comparison doesn’t seem so lopsided. In fact, Atlanta’s starting five has a better PER than L.A.’s more heralded bunch, even with Bryant’s near five-point advantage over Johnson.”
Good article about Jeff Nix, a former advanced scout with the New York Knicks who testified to witnessing Isiah Thomas harass former Knicks executive Anucha Browne Sanders.
The OC Register’s Kevin Ding with an inside account of Kobe Bryant’s one-armed performance against the Kings: “This was the timeout where Bryant, obviously struggling with the stinger in his right elbow, grew animated and answered at one point to Vitti: ‘No way!’ Vitti left the chat and reported back to Jackson: ‘If I tell you he can’t play, he’s gonna break my arm. That’s to let you know how much he wants to play.’ Even though all the world somewhat knows how much he wants to play, Vitti is the only one behind this curtain. He is the angel on Bryant’s shoulder … and knee and elbow, hatching around-the-clock treatment strategies that can make everything better. Yet he’s also the one willing to come to Bryant’s hotel room and turn it into a torture chamber – pounding and pushing on Bryant’s fractured right index finger as if it’s a tube of toothpaste with just a little left, understanding Bryant’s expectations and forcing the swelling away from the injured joint. But what if Bryant didn’t have a trainer who truly believed after 25-plus years as the trainer for so many Lakers greats that Bryant was the ‘toughest S.O.B.’ with whom he has ever worked? What if Bryant didn’t have a coach who trusted him to that extent? Bryant would not have been allowed to keep playing Saturday night, and there would not have come that moment after about a half-hour of real time, by Jackson’s count, when Bryant got the sensors in his right arm under control and eventually produced something ‘remarkable.’”
Look at the numbers and realize the Mavericks have had great success defending some of the league’s top scorers: “So far, the combination of Howard and Marion, plus better defensive rotations and alert help on defense, have helped to make opposing scorers work for their points. Kobe Bryant scored 20 points on 6-of-19 shooting. Dwyane Wade had 28 points on 8-of-24 shooting. Kevin Durant hit for just 12 points on 4-of-18. Two nights ago, Brandon Roy needed 19 shots to score 23 points. Hot-shot rookie Brandon Jennings scored 25 on 8-of-22 shooting. In two games against Dallas, LeBron James put up 43 shots and scored 50 points. Only Atlanta’s Joe Johnson truly burned the Mavs with 31 points on 13-of-24 shooting. In those games, the Mavs are 5-3.” UPDATE: Add Carmelo Anthony to the list.
Baron Davis was driving hard, pushing forward aggressively almost all night against the Boston Celtics, so why not do the same, verbally, in the Clippers’ final timeout?
So he spelled it out in clear, precise terms.
“Coach, run this play for me. I’m gonna shoot and we’re gonna win,” Davis said he told Coach Mike Dunleavy.
And what a wildly improbable story and finish.
The Clippers scored five points in the final 8.5 seconds to defeat the Celtics, 92-90, the winning shot being a fadeaway jumper by Davis at the buzzer.
It stopped Boston’s nine-game road winning streak, marking only the second Celtics loss on the road this season. This had echoes of the Clippers’ upset of the Celtics last season at Staples Center, a two-point victory in February.
“You’ve got to prepare your mind for it when you’re getting ready to take a shot,” Davis said. “I didn’t know what Coach was gonna draw. I made it known that I wanted to get the ball and if I got it with a second left, if I can get to my fadeway over [Rajon] Rondo, at least we’d be able to get a good look.”
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.”
Fran Blinebury of NBA.com: “More than seven months since his most recent setback put him on the sidelines right in the middle of the Houston Rockets’ second-round playoff series with the Los Angeles Lakers and five months since he underwent reconstructive surgery on his left foot, Yao is taking, well, steps toward perhaps one final shot at what has been a star-crossed NBA career. While he has shed the hard, uncomfortable cast in favor of a smaller, removable boot and has recently taken to walking on a treadmill — with the load on his feet limited to roughly half his body weight — the 7-foot-6 Yao still uses crutches that look like they could be used in a pole vault competition to get around. And as he negotiates the aisles of a Houston restaurant carefully and hears words of encouragement from many of the surprised diners gazing up from their tables, he smiles and nods and sometimes wonders if they can even comprehend the anguish. ‘This time, because of all the things they had to do rebuilding my foot, there was more physical pain after the surgery,’ Yao said. ‘But it was knowing what the rehab means that, right when they came to put the mask over my face before the surgery, almost made me say, ‘No. No. No. Forget it.’ ‘ The truth is, his parents would have preferred that their son not put himself through another round of surgery and tireless toil and Yao himself might have thought about prematurely ending his playing career. ‘But I asked the doctors whether someday in the future, if I had a son, would I be able to get onto the court and play basketball him without the surgery,’ Yao said. ‘They told me no. I want to have a normal life. I want to be able to do those things with my son. So if I was going to need surgery anyway, why not have this and try to play again.’”
Ian Thomsen of SI.com: “It is time, to put it nicely, for Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge to grow nasty. Roy is a two-time All-Star and Aldridge wants that status. This is their fourth year together after joining Portland as top-six picks in the momentous 2006 draft, and last summer each signed five-year extensions worth a combined $149 million. The evaluation of the Blazers’ roster applies, as well, to the likes of second-year guard Jerryd Bayless, who filled in with a career-best 29 points in a 105-102 beating of Phoenix last week. But no one should focus on the role players at the expense of the stars. Portland’s stars are Roy and Aldridge, and now is the time for them to grow up as franchise leaders. McMillan agreed with that assessment wholeheartedly during our talk last week. ‘They certainly understand it, but they’re still trying to adapt in the sense that that’s not their nature,’ said McMillan, while adding that Roy and Aldridge need to be ‘demanding and not concerned about your feelings [as] teammates. They don’t want to look selfish. Well, you’re the best player on the team. Get the ball. They want to be liked, but as I told Brandon and LaMarcus, ‘You didn’t probably think of this when you were drafted or as you were dreaming of being an NBA player, that you will be running an organization. Basically that’s what you’re doing. You inherited this. You were the second pick, the [sixth] pick and all of that, and you signed your contracts — and all of a sudden it’s yours. Now what do you do with it?’”
Britt Robson of SI.com: “There was a small dust-up in Miami last week when Heat president Pat Riley questioned the efficiency and conditioning of Dwyane Wade, noting that the superstar guard’s production was ‘down about 10 to 15 percent from what he was last year.’ Riley was quick to buffer the barbs with an unsatisfying mixture of pro-forma praise and tough love. ‘I manage the team and there isn’t anybody that loves Dwyane more than me and there isn’t anybody that will be more honest with him than me either … and I think he respects that,’ Riley said. As long as Riley is preaching the virtues of accountability and honesty, a little context is in order. After Wade propelled Miami to a 43-39 record and No. 5 playoff seed last year via the best non-MVP season in recent memory, Riley sat on his hands in the offseason, preferring to stow salary-cap space in the hopes of signing a 2010 free agent, such as LeBron James or Chris Bosh, to pair with Wade for a future title run. In other words, the Heat have hung Wade out to dry this season, relying on an extension of his extraordinary skills and effort to keep the team competitive and reap a little lucre for the franchise with some first-round playoff games.”
Brian Windhorst of The Cleveland Plain Dealer: “Delonte West’s legs are indeed back and so is his overall fitness. After reporting to training camp having lost weight and looking gaunt, West is looking and feeling strong again. He had 12 points, six assists and three steals against the Suns. It included not just that dunk, but a series of aggressive drives to the basket and fierce defensive intensity that helped slow down the powerful Phoenix offense. ‘He’s getting back to himself each game,’ LeBron James said. ‘He’s so tough, he’s talented and gifted and we’re so happy to have him.’ Sunday night in Dallas, West had 18 points and four assists off the bench. Overall he seems to be playing with more poise and is looking closer every day to the player he was last season, when a career year helped the Cavs to 66 wins. ‘His weight is up; his strength is back; his athleticism you can see; his confidence is back and he’s making good decisions,’ said coach Mike Brown. ‘And all of it was good to see.’”
Michael Wallace of the Miami Herald: “The key to Michael Beasley’s recent consistency has been carved out of disrespect. Beasley has taken offense to what he believes has been an overwhelming amount of criticism aimed at the Heat from the media and national NBA analysts who question whether star guard Dwyane Wade has adequate help. With Wade struggling with his shot and playing through soreness in his back and wrist, the Heat carries a 13-12 record and an 8-8 mark at home into Wednesday’s game against the Utah Jazz to close out a six-game homestand. ‘I read a Charles Barkley quote when he said we were a team full of Tito Jacksons,’ Beasley said after Tuesday’s practice. ‘I do not think that at all. Udonis Haslem is one of the best shooters [and] hardest-working rebounders in the league. And I think I can score with anybody in the NBA. It’s not about saying it anymore. It’s about doing it.’”
Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: “The Nuggets are one of those high school exam questions that made you wonder about the strength of a GED. When the Nuggets pass more, they win more. But their offense is built around attacking the rim more than any other NBA team, and leading scorer Carmelo Anthony gets to the line more than every NBA player not named Dwight Howard. How can the Nuggets stick to their offensive philosophy but also make sure the team comes first? Tricky, huh? Such is the delicate issue that coach George Karl, his coaches and players face. ‘There’s no question that the pass and our offense go hand in hand,’ said Karl, whose Nuggets are 19-9. ‘Maybe we have to make more adjustments to get the gaps more open, to get the spacing better and to continue to try to get 30 layups and 30 assists (per game).’ The Nuggets rank 13th in assists per game (21.3), and all the cool kids — the Lakers, Celtics, Mavericks, Suns — rank in the top five. Utah has pick-and-rolled its way to No. 1 at 26 assists per game. When the Nuggets win, they average 23.4 assists. When they lose, mercy me, they average just 16.6.”
Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: “The Bucks rank 29th, or next to last, in the National Basketball Association in free-throw percentage, converting just 71.8% of their attempts. The only team shooting worse is the Orlando Magic at 70.5%. Bucks coach Scott Skiles and the players are getting plenty of advice from frustrated fans, who wonder why a pro player making millions of dollars can’t make a free throw. ‘My ego I hope is not running away from me here, but I was a 90% free-throw shooter,’ Skiles said. ‘I doubt I’m going to get a free throw coach better than that. It’s just mental. Mike’s an 84% career free-throw shooter. Bogues made 69% of his free throws his senior year in college (at Utah). It will happen. In one of these games it will go down to the wire and we’ll make eight of our last eight and hopefully it will be over with. You’ve got to have confidence up there. We’re all pros, and step up and knock it down when it counts.’”
Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: “As well as Cleveland forces missed shots, its defense has been among the worst at causing turnovers. But that was its strength Monday, when Cleveland ended a 19-game Suns home win streak with the primary weapon of 30 points off turnovers. Phoenix committed 19 turnovers with 10 of those on passes. Cleveland got into passing lanes and applied ball pressure. ‘The most glaring thing about it was they turned up their defense and pressured us, we basically turned the ball over,’ coach Alvin Gentry said. ‘I guess you could call them forced turnovers. But to me, they were unforced turnovers when you can’t make a pass from A to B.’ Gentry said the Suns gave the Cavaliers too much respect in each loss to them this month. Despite going 4 for 19 on 3-pointers and not making a shot over six crunch-time minutes, the Suns still shot 47.4 percent Monday against a team with a 43.5 defensive field-goal percentage. But they denied themselves a chance to compete in the fourth, when they had six turnovers and gave up 11 unanswered points in two minutes. Grant Hill was the only Suns starter to score in the fourth. The Suns had the second-most turnovers in the NBA last season and give up 18.4 points off turnovers per game this season, for the fourth-highest average.”
Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: “It was during a private chat with Van Gundy in mid-November that all-star center Dwight Howard asked the volatile coach if he could curb his ‘negativity,’ especially his constant berating of players and their mistakes. Van Gundy conceded he was ‘draining’ his team’s ‘enthusiasm’ and vowed to change, from the bench on game-nights to his post-game news conferences. Howard told the Sentinel that Van Gundy has been more positive and his turnaround has helped the team. ‘It has,’ Howard said. ‘Early in the season, we’d miss shots or something and you’d look over at Stan and see him kicking water bottles and punching stuff. Now he’s fine with it. He understands that nobody’s perfect. He’s been doing a good job at it. Me and Stan talk a lot, text a lot, whatever. One thing we just asked him is that, ‘Coach, when you have a positive energy about yourself, it makes our team better.’ We flow better. We play better.’ The Howard-Van Gundy heart-to-heart took place just before the Oklahoma City game in Orlando on Nov. 18. The Magic are 13-4 since then.”
Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: “After this dreadful back-to-back dose of embarrassment, the fractures in the Bulls locker room are too wide for any coach to heal. ‘The thing is, if you were my friend, I would tell you a lot of things,’ Noah said to one reporter who asked about the Bulls’ disjointed offense Tuesday night. ‘But I feel like if I say something, then it’s going to make things really bad. We’re going through hard times and I don’t want to make it any tougher.’ That wasn’t the only indictment of Del Negro that emerged Tuesday night. The most troubling, to me, came during the layup line. Less than 24 hours after blowing a 35-point lead on their home floor, the Bulls were clowning around during warmups as though they were getting ready to play the Rockettes. Miller, who contributed nothing but a scowl after tipoff, exerted more energy blocking shots and throwing alley-oop bounce passes than he did in the game. I learned two things from watching the Bulls’ layup drill: 1) Jannero Pargo can’t dunk, despite a half dozen of his best efforts; and 2) The Bulls are an undisciplined mess, a team that lacked the conscience to be ashamed of what happened to them the night before. Of course, it carried over to the game. It always does.”
Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: “Game days usually go like this for NBA teams: Get to a gym (away team goes to host arena, home teams to practice site), go over a game plan for that night’s game, get in some shooting and some drills, then leave after about an hour to rest up at home or a hotel. But some coaches around the league are getting away from the traditional game-day shootaround that has become commonplace in the NBA since coach Bill Sharman started them for the Lakers in 1971. Boston coach Doc Rivers, who dropped shootarounds earlier this season, told the New York Times: ‘All of them, to a man, said, ‘Wow, it took some getting used to, but I’m fresher. I love it.’ So there it is.’ The Sixers don’t appear to be a team that is going to give up the game-day ritual any time soon. ‘I think that the teams that are discussing dropping shootarounds are the teams that are winning,’ said Sixers’ forward Elton Brand. ‘I think it prepares you for the game, for the game plan. If you’re winning and your team can kind of worry about themselves a little bit more than the other team and they can dominate and win, then I can see there not being a need. With a younger team, like we’ve got, or a team that runs offensive sets that are harder to stop or new to someone, I think it’s better to walk through them, get out of bed and walk through them.’”
Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee: “The family swears the tale isn’t true: Colleen Maloof didn’t recently send sons Joe and Gavin to their bedrooms without supper, forbidding them to reappear until their vocabulary lists included terms such as innovative, imaginative, creative. But something happened. The family that made its fortune in sales and marketing – then seemingly forgot about sales and marketing – is doing everything from cold-calling customers to selling Kings tickets during the recent visit to Arco Arena by the Washington Wizards. ‘That dollar-beer night was a huge success,’ Kings co-owner Joe Maloof said. ‘Gavin and I were so excited by the size of the crowd, seeing all those fans again, that we went into the ticket booths and started selling. The only bad thing is that we didn’t expect such a large turnout and the beer lines were too long. We’ll fix that for next time. We have a ton of other stuff lined up, believe me: Food. Beverages. Parking. We’re looking at everything.’ Why the epiphany now? Why not sooner? Anyone know a good shrink? For whatever reason – the empty seats, the crippled economy, something as simple as finally grasping the need to re-engage the community – the Maloofs have busted out of their mansions and become beer guys again.”
Jeffrey Martin of the Houston Chronicle: “The Twitter-verse was buzzing after Tuesday’s revelation that TMZ.com, the celebrity gossip Web site that went mainstream with its coverage of Tiger Woods’ indiscretions, would launch a sports site in 2010. ‘That’s the last thing we need as athletes,’ Shane Battier said. Battier told a reporter he was welcome to follow him around, but cautioned there wouldn’t be much dirt to be dug. But Battier recognizes he might be the exception, too. ‘The way I look at it is, people want to have the experience of being an athlete or being a rock star,’ he said. ‘Being on the inside… That’s what pro sports have sold, be it helmet cams or cameras in the locker room. It’s become a very, I think, dangerous thing, trying to mess with the integrity of the sport when you allow too much access. It’s unfortunate – I think it takes from our job, the sports side of it, and it makes more of a reality show.’ He was asked if the situation was frustrating, and Battier said it wasn’t. ‘It’s the life we choose,’ he said. ‘I’m not complaining about it. I love my life. It’s a different era than the Bird-Magic era of the ‘80s when you just played basketball and went home at the end of the night.’”
The typical night game ends at about 10 p.m. By the time players shower, dress and speak with the news media, it is close to 11 p.m. They are usually famished, so everyone eats a late dinner. Even the most conservative players — those who do not frequent nightclubs — will not get to sleep until at least 2 a.m. If the team is traveling, players may not reach their hotel until 3 a.m.
For a shoot-around or practice that starts at 10 a.m., players have to arrive as early as 9 a.m. to lift weights, receive treatment or be taped.
“You’re talking about our players functioning on five or six hours of sleep a day,” Rivers said, “and that’s just not good enough.”
Rivers was once a skeptic on the topic. He now speaks like a sleep evangelist.
“If you go three, four, five days in a row with less than six hours of sleep, your reaction time is comparable to that of someone legally drunk,” Rivers said. “You’re trying to play a basketball game where just a 10th of second, a degree off, throws your whole game off.”
Ian Thomsen of SI.com: “Greg Oden hasn’t given up on returning this season, the injured Trail Blazers center told SI.com Thursday. ‘I just want to get back,’ said Oden in his first public comments since he suffered a fractured left kneecap Dec. 5, resulting in recent surgery. ‘They say I’m out for the whole year, but my plan is to work really hard and you never know. Hopefully I don’t have to [be sidelined all season]. I’m hoping things are way ahead of schedule and I can come back at the end of the year.’ While Oden is trying to return to the court as quickly as possible, agents Bill Duffy and Mike Conley are promising to oversee a thorough investigation to understand why the No. 1 pick of the 2007 draft has suffered two major knee injuries in three NBA seasons. Oden missed his entire rookie season after undergoing microfracture surgery on his right knee. Last year he sat out 14 games after suffering a bone chip in his left knee. ‘Mike and I are going to do a thorough analysis of every aspect of Greg’s physiology,’ Duffy told SI.com Thursday. ‘That means there will be no stone unturned in terms of really understanding his body — the balance of his body, the symmetry of his body, the strength of his bones. Every aspect as relates to nutrition, DNA, muscle mass, everything we can study, we’re going to dig into at this point.’”
Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: “While Bryant has carried the Lakers on this road trip, which continues Saturday in New Jersey and Sunday in Detroit, Artest is the guy who has changed the champs’ demeanor. And for the better, mind you. There could be any number of reasons for Bryant’s electrifying start — his offseason work with Hakeem Olajuwon has vastly improved his post moves, and he’s more deadly than ever from mid-range — but Artest is where the buck stops on defense. He has demanded the toughest assignment every night the way Kobe has always demanded the ball. Through 24 games, the Lakers are better than last season in nearly every significant defensive category. Points per game are down from 99.3 to 95.5; points per 100 possessions from 105 to 100; opponent field-goal percentage from .447 to .425; and effective field-goal percentage (accounting for twos and threes) from .490 to .457. Much of that, if not all, can be isolated as Artest’s impact. The Lakers have gone from the pliable, gutless defensive team that got pushed around by the Celtics in the 2008 Finals, to the more determined group that beat Orlando last season, to sixth in the NBA in points allowed.”
Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: “The dispute between Thunder coach Scott Brooks and star Kevin Durant started in Denver, on a cold Monday night with the media before Oklahoma City faced the Nuggets this week. The point of contention: Durant’s defense. ‘I don’t know if he could have guarded me his first year,’ quipped Brooks, the 44-year-old coach. Let’s just say Durant didn’t mince words Thursday when retorting to reporters. ‘He’s lying,’ Durant countered, only half jokingly. ‘My first year, they put me on everybody. I was guarding Kobe, LeBron, D-Wade. And I was doing decent.’ Said Brooks: ‘Kobe had 48 against him!’ But on this, the coach and the player, as well as anyone else who has paid attention over the Thunder’s first 24 games agree; Durant’s defense is markedly more impressive in his third season. Durant has bought into playing on both ends in an attempt to morph into not only a complete player but also one who is recognized alongside the game’s elite.”
Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal: “It’s no coincidence that the Grizzlies’ emergence over the past few weeks coincides with Mayo’s hitting his most consistent stride this season. He has produced games with 10 field goals three times in the past six. He’d taken no more than 18 shots on those occasions, which is one reason Mayo is shooting 47 percent this season, up from 43.8 percent a year ago. ‘He’s learning how to play with other players who have talent,’ Griz coach Lionel Hollins said. ‘He’s learning to fit in and get his shots within the system. He knows that when he pushes the ball he can pull up and take a shot. There are plays for him to score but there are also plays for him to create. He’s figuring out the balance and he’s getting better all the time.’ Consider, too, that Mayo’s string of double-digit field goals came in wins against Dallas and Cleveland and a five-point loss to Boston. ‘I told the guys I’m more about being efficient and consistent,’ Mayo said. ‘I just want to make more than I miss when I do get shots. There are nights when I feel like I can get it rolling so I’ll be a little more aggressive. But the plan every night is to be consistent.’”
Eddie Sefko of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “Jason Terry has a good perspective on the defenses he is seeing this season, which are giving him a lot more attention than before he became the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year. ’No question,’ he said. ‘I haven’t seen any looks where I’ve been … wide-open.’ It’s because the Dallas Mavericks guard undressed opponents so many times last season with his quick-trigger offense that they have no choice but to cover him up with layers this season. Terry has averaged 16.7 points on 43.4 percent shooting this season. He’s hitting 33.8 percent from 3-point range. All respectable numbers for the 6-foot-2 Terry. But all down from last season, when he was a huge force off the bench, averaging 19.6 points and shooting 46.3 percent, including 36.6 from three-land. Turns out there’s a reason for the downturn. It’s attributable to defenses that are geared to stop him and Dirk Nowitzki. ‘They’re double teaming, both on pick and rolls and on pin-downs,’ coach Rick Carlisle said. ‘When that happens, he’s got to be a facilitator for us and he has to have a level of patience. He’s got to stay aggressive to score when the opportunities are there. But when people commit two to him, he’s got to drag those guys and then make the pass leading to a bucket.’”
Michael Lee of The Washington Post: “Having already blown a layup against Toronto and clanking two free throws against Boston and Indiana, Arenas added another poor finish to his now un-clutch resume when Sacramento rookie Tyreke Evans slapped away his crossover dribble and secured a 112-109 victory for the Kings. Arenas appeared despondent after the game and I asked him if he felt a lot of pressure to deliver for the organization. ‘It’s only pressure whenever somebody mentions my name, they mention one-eleven. They don’t just call me a basketball player, they put a number behind it, like that defines who I am,’ Arenas said. ‘There is no pressure playing the game of basketball. But every time you read an article and they mention me, it’s like, ‘Yeah, one-eleven guy.’ But I’m a basketball player.’ Arenas had to understand when he signed the deal that he would be viewed as the $111-million guy — if he was unable to produce. No one talks about Kobe Bryant’s salary or LeBron James’s salary or Dwight Howard’s salary because they are getting things done for their organizations. Right now, Arenas is struggling to regain the form that earned him the salary, but when you put your name on the dotted line, criticism comes with the territory.”
Chris Mannix of SI.com: “Even factoring in their walking wounded, identifying the Sixers’ problems isn’t a Holmesian mystery. It boils down to a lack of understanding of coach Eddie Jordan’s offense and the ongoing struggles of Elton Brand. An offensive guru in Washington (during the 2004-05 and 2006-07 seasons, Jordan’s teams ranked among the top 10 in points scored per 100 possessions) and a proven winner (he made the playoffs in his last four full seasons with the Wizards), Jordan’s offensive savvy was supposed to be the yin to the prolific running game’s yang. It hasn’t panned out, though. With the Sixers fumbling around in the Princeton offense — and with the steady hand of Andre Miller not around to guide it — Philadelphia ranks 22nd in the league (97.2 points per game) in scoring. ‘When they play up-tempo they are a really good team,’ said an Eastern Conference scout. ‘But when they start trying to play the Princeton [offense], they look lost.’ In an attempt to rectify the problem, Jordan has progressively moved away from the read-and-react system toward a more conventional attack. While the shift has benefitted a few players (Thaddeus Young, who looked lost at the start of the season, is averaging 18 points and 8.4 rebounds in December), the results haven’t changed.”
Keith Langlois of Pistons.com: “The Summer of LeBron includes a roster full of NBA All-Stars, franchise-altering talents whose pending free agency for several years has enticed a like number of general managers to shape their decision-making to free cap space for July 1, 2010. The Pistons will stay out of those headlines. Joe D didn’t see the wisdom in biding his time and waiting for an event that might amount to a Wheel of Fortune spin that could just as easily leave his roster bankrupt of talent. He jumped in last summer, walking away with Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, and when healthy they’ve both shown strong signs that they’ll be just what Dumars hoped: building blocks along with Rodney Stuckey and the three young players he drafted last June for the next Pistons era of title contention. But he also has made it clear that Bynum is as much a part of his vision for the Pistons’ future as anyone. ‘I think what Will has done is solidify himself here as a one of our core guys going forward,’ Dumars said. ‘He has cemented himself as one of the core members here. That’s how we look at him. We look at him as a long-term guy who’s going to grow with this team. Will was given an opportunity last year, when we signed him and brought him aboard, and he’s one of those kids that got the opportunity and he just grabbed it and took it and never let it go. He’s the poster child of when you get that opportunity, don’t let it slip. And he hasn’t. He hasn’t let it slip.’”
Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: “After a summer of speculation, including some by himself, it has been a fall of serenity around the Amar’e Stoudemire situation. What situation? That’s exactly it. Stoudemire’s contract predicament – in which the forward’s deal can be extended or he can opt in or out for next season – has been a non-issue because of how the Suns have won and how he has handled matters. From town to town, there have been more of the same queries with the same diplomatic responses from Stoudemire. ‘It’s been great, because it keeps us focused on what we’re doing on the basketball court and ultimately winning basketball games,’ Stoudemire said. ‘There are no distractions right now. We’ve got to keep it that way.’ Though most of the focus usually is about whether the Suns will trade Stoudemire, extend his contract or whether he will become a free agent, there remains the less-mentioned possibility that he exercises his 2009-10 player option for $17.7 million. That figure likely would not be matched in the open market because of the expected decrease of the NBA’s salary cap. Stoudemire said staying with Phoenix remains the preference because of his family, fans and friends. Suns coach Alvin Gentry said he is ‘proud’ of Stoudemire for how he has carried himself this season.”
Eric Pincus of HOOPSWORLD: “The Lakers are 12-1 with Gasol this season after an 8-3 start while Pau nursed a preseason hamstring strain back to health. Since the team acquired Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies, they’ve been to the NBA Finals two straight times with their most recent championship to show for it. It’s no wonder the team is looking to keep him around for as long as they can . . . A well-placed source has told HOOPSWORLD that Gasol and the Lakers are nearing a three-year contract extension. Currently Gasol’s deal is set to expire after next season. He’s currently earning $16.5 million for the current campaign and $17.8 million for the next. The additional three years would be the maximum permitted under the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). While it’s not clear what dollar figures are being discussed, Gasol would be eligible for $18.7-$19.7 million in the first year of the extension depending on where the salary cap falls that year. Of course the CBA still needs to be renegotiated, which could have an impact on the numbers. With Gasol, the Lakers would have five players under contract for the 2011/12 season with around $56 million invested in Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest, Luke Walton and Gasol.”
Ken Sugiura of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “In recent years, basketball fans have been introduced to numbers and metrics never seen in box scores. Player efficiency rating, plus/minus rating, productivity value and won-lost profiles are among an array of statistics that measure players and teams. In the way that Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane’s use of statistical analysis to evaluate talent has changed baseball scouting, the NBA is seeing a similar trend. Woodson, though, goes with the basics. After all, the guy played for Bob Knight. ‘I look at defensive field goal (percentage), I look at offensive field goal (percentage),’ he said. ‘Are they a terrible free-throw shooting team? Do they turn it over? Are they a good rebounding team?’ He looks with some skepticism at statistics like plus/minus, which rates a player based on the number of points scored for and against his team while he is on the floor. ‘Sometimes, the guy that’s getting the bad marks is the guy that’s making plays to help them win,’ he said. ‘It can go against you sometimes. I don’t feed into that.’”
Brian Windhorst of The Cleveland Plain Dealer: “There was a time when LeBron James was nervous, scared and even intimidated before a game. ‘I mean I was nervous as hell,’ James remembered. ‘Like, scared nervous, shaking nervous.’ It is hard to believe, even for James himself, that it was 10 years ago this month that he first stepped onto the basketball scene in this area. Now known worldwide, in December 1999, James was a lanky 14-year-old with incredible skill, but a dearth of experience. And he felt it. Which is why he sat in the bleachers on the night of Dec. 3, 1999, at Cuyahoga Falls High School with his stomach churning and his mouth dry. He looked up at the large gym, which had rows of seats high up into the ceiling, and felt uncomfortable and worried. In an interview recently, James reflected on the night that effectively was his introduction to Northeast Ohio fans — a night that has reached its first significant anniversary. ‘As I look back on it now, making that jump from middle school to high school is just as big of a jump for someone as going into the NBA,’ James said. ‘Because when you look at the other kids, some of them were three years older than me, and that was the first time I’d experienced that. They were bigger and more confident than me.’”
From Ian Thomsen’s piece on Tyreke Evans: “His 6-feet, 11 ¼-inch wingspan is as long as Griffin’s and an inch shorter than LeBron James’: Having turned 20 in September, 220-pound Evans looks very much like the LeBron of point guards in his ability to dominate rivals, physically and athletically. ‘He can play 1, 2 or 3,’ said McMillan. ‘And when they have some of their guys back, we may even see him play some 4 because he has a big body.’ ‘He’s a walking mismatch,” said Kings coach Paul Westphal. ‘Very few times do you have a rookie [who can] affect the game plan of the other coach, but they set their defense to try to stop him. He’s responded really well in figuring out what the next move is: If they double team here what do you do about that, if they put this guy on you, what do you do about that? There’s just not one thing you can do to curb his effectiveness.’ Evans appreciates the impact he makes. ‘I’m going to the basket and making contact with them every chance I get,’ he said. ‘I was playing [Timberwolves 6-foot rookie] Jonny Flynn the other night and he said to the refs, ‘Man, I didn’t know I had to guard LeBron James tonight.’‘”
Steve Adamek of The Bergen Record: “Mike D’Antoni was joking Thursday morning after addressing whether he’d play rookie Toney Douglas (possibly) and/or Nate Robinson (don’t bet on it) in the absence of Larry Hughes for the next couple of games because of a left groin strain. Coaching, he said, is all about winning. No coach says, ‘I don’t like him. I’d rather lose’ when it comes to a player, he insisted by way of explaining N8’s hiatus. ‘I’d play Satan himself if I could win,’ he went on. ‘I don’t care. I’ve got no morals or scruples. I don’t think a coach does because we’re only judged if we win or lose and there’s nothing else.’ He then made reference to his days in Phoenix, about how a coach can win a lot, but ‘you can be gone, anyway’ — clearly still a touchy subject with him.”
Jonathan Givony, President and Director of Scouting for Draft Express, filed a comprehensive report on John Wall: “Plenty of words have already been spent on the athletic gifts of John Wall, both here and otherwise. He’s in a class of his own in college basketball as far as his quickness and explosiveness is concerned, as he’s shown on countless occasions with some incredible highlight reel plays. After all, how many NCAA teams have a set play in their offense for a backdoor cut and alleyoop lob intended for their point guard? We called Derrick Rose the ‘most athletic point guard we’ve ever evaluated at the college level,’ and feel strongly about the fact that Wall is every bit his equal in that category, if not better. A place where Wall might still be underrated though is in his passing ability. Not only does he rank 6th amongst all draft prospects in assists per-40 minutes pace adjusted, but more notably he ranks 8th in assists per field goal attempt ratio. This is an interesting stat to evaluate Wall by because it compares the amount of assists he racks up with the number of shots he takes, which could be a good way to rate how unselfish he’s been. Right now he stacks up favorably in that category with the collegiate numbers posted by the likes of Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo and Ty Lawson, and absolutely blows away what Derrick Rose did as a freshman. More important than the numbers is the fact that Wall is clearly showing excellent instincts as a passer, both with the creativity in which he gets the ball to teammates in different spots on the floor—he’s more than just a vanilla drive and dish point guard—and also with the willingness he displays to get others involved.”
After dropping six straight to end the month of November, the Detroit Pistons are 6-4 over their last ten games thanks in part to the improved post play of Charlie Villanueva. As Detroit Bad Boys notes, Villanueva, signed to a five-year, $40 million deal last summer, is shooting 68.3 percent from the basket area, with 34 percent of his attempts coming from that distance this season.
Britt Robson’s news and observations are must-read. A snippet: “Among the woes for San Antonio is Tony Parker’s wayward jump shot. Last year, 59 percent of Parker’s attempts were jumpers and he had an effective field goal percentage of 42.4 — not great, but enough to keep opposing defenses honest. This year, the mix of jumpers in his game has dropped to 54 percent because his effective field goal percentage is a paltry 36.7 from outside. Opponents are giving him the open look and denying penetration: His percentage of blocked shots in the paint has risen from 12 percent to 16 percent thus far this year.”
Wages of Wins on Dwyane Wade’s shooting slump: “Last season Wade posted a 51.6% adjusted field goal percentage. This season this mark has fallen to 44.8%. If Wade could return to the level of efficiency seen last year – and the same happened with respect to assists (which are also a bit down) – the Heat would see the team’s projected wins rise by about nine.”
Last week, the Denver Nuggets became the latest team to cut early morning shootarounds, joining the Portland Trail Blazers, New York Knicks, and Boston Celtics. The early returns have been positive, reports Benjamin Hochman: “The Nuggets continue to hold game-day morning shootarounds for players who played less than 20 minutes the previous game. Karl said for the most part the attitude of the players has been great and that in future shootarounds, he might start mixing up which players attend, so the coaches can home in on players’ individual skills.” Sleep deprivation is a huge problem in today’s society, leading to issues with memory and learning capacity. So it’s good to see teams making rest a priority, especially since the typical NBA “workday resembles that of your basic third-shift worker at a plant.”
Coach Mike Moreau on the Hawks: “In spite of their record, their statistics and their achievements, you just get a sense in watching the Hawks that not only are they good, but they know they are good. They don’t have the loud, chest pounding ‘we ain’t scared of nobody’ bravado that young pretenders have. That’s what the Grizzlies have. Memphis came into Atlanta last night wanting to make a statement, that they were a team on the rise. The Hawks barely broke a sweat. The Atlanta Hawks now have that calm, cool confidence that comes from that steady climb, from taking champions to the brink, learning the lessons, gaining the experience, and coming back the next year better, stronger, and more confident for it. It’s the quiet confidence that speaks to maturity and experience. And when a young, talented team like the Hawks acquires that trait, then you better beware.”
Professor Hollinger analyzes Atlanta’s league-leading offensive efficiency: “The Hawks are just 10th in the NBA in true shooting percentage at 55.3 percent. Break it down further and it’s a pretty average résumé: Atlanta is eighth in field goal percentage, 12th from behind the 3-point line and below the league average in drawing free throws. So how are they leading the league in offense? It’s simple — they don’t shoot better, they simply shoot more often. The Hawks are the league’s only team averaging more than a shot per possession (where ‘shots’ are defined as field goal attempts plus 0.44 times free throw attempts), so even though they aren’t as accurate, their volume approach pays dividends.”
Michael Wallace of the Miami Herald: “While trying to offer an accurate assessment of his team’s uneven performance through the first quarter of the season, Heat president Pat Riley started by sizing up Miami biggest star. Both Dwyane Wade and the team are slightly off pace. Riley said Wednesday the team plans to address some concerns about Dwyane Wade’s conditioning that might be a factor in the guard’s drop-off in production from last season. ‘He’s not there right now,” Riley said. ‘So I get out of my president’s chair and into my coaching chair — I know he’ll probably say I’m nitpicking. His efficiency is down. We’ll address what it is we can do to help you maintain that lean, mean scoring machine you were a year ago.’ While Wade still ranks among the league’s top scorers, his shooting has hovered at a career-low 42.7 percent from the field through a frustratingly inconsistent start. … Coach Erik Spoelstra said the team places a tremendous burden on Wade to have to live up to the standards that he set last season. But Spoelstra said the team’s statistical analysis has shown that Wade’s number of free-throw attempts, layups and his overall defensive is close to those from last season. The only difference, Spoelstra said, was that Wade has been inconsistent with his mid-range jumper this season.”
Paul Forrester of SI.com: “A dismal start, internal strife and a coaching change is no way to build a contender. But the careful plans of summer rarely play out as scripted come fall. Few teams are more aware of this fact than the Hornets, who stumbled to a 3-6 start before dispatching Byron Scott less than two seasons after he was named the NBA Coach of the year, a move that did not sit well with star point guard Chris Paul. Welcome to world of a head coach in the NBA, Jeff Bower. A 14-year veteran of the Hornets’ front office, Bower, the club’s GM since 2005 and architect of the current roster, was called upon to salvage a ‘broken’ team, as president Hugh Weber described, a unit lacking in energy and effort. ‘We’re trying to play to our players’ strengths and not have them fit to a certain style of play or system, to provide a framework for them to be able to function efficiently,’ said Bower. ‘We’ve talked about principles and practices that I’ve always felt were traits of successful teams, and that’s to move the ball and get players in position to play with an inside-out approach.’”
Howard Kussoy of the New York Post: “As a true center, Brook Lopez’s ability to play on the block and draw double teams is a rare advantage the Nets have over many opponents. Unfortunately, the Nets’ abysmal shooting has been a primary reason for their ineptitude as a team. It continued last night with a 2-for-13 performance from 3-point range. ‘They can double and triple team Brook, and that’s when we need to be able to hit those shots and put points on the board,’ Harris said. Courtney Lee said, ‘We were able to establish Brook down low in the paint early. They started to send the double and he was making the right plays kicking it out. The guards have to be ready to knock down shots.’ Despite another loss, in a season likely to have many more, Lopez has the attitude of a teammate on a contending team. ‘Teams do a very good job cutting off me. I just try and look for [teammates] when teams are more focused on me defensively,’ Lopez said. ‘Sometimes they don’t finish, but I know they’re capable, so I’m gonna keep doing the same thing. We’ve done a good job of sharing the ball and most of them are good looks, so we gotta keep with it.’”
Tim Povtak of FanHouse: “Chris Bosh is not happy with the Toronto Raptors. And that’s not good for the Raptors. Bosh, their franchise player who can leave as an unrestricted free agent this summer, was second-guessing the Raptors’ strategy after getting drilled in back-to-back games by the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic. ‘We make adjustments with teams before we play the game. That sends the wrong message to ourselves,’ Bosh said after losing to the Magic, 118-99, Wednesday night. ‘We practice all the time so we should trust our system. We need to go out there and play hard. If they beat us for one quarter doing the things we normally do, then okay. Now we can change it up.’ Bosh had 20 points, six rebounds and three assists, but his Raptors never seriously challenged in the second half against the Magic. The night before in Miami, they were beaten even worse, 115-95. ‘We’re taking two steps forward and three steps back,” Bosh said. ‘We’re there some nights, but not there others. We’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror, and do what we’re supposed to do. It’s always talk, talk, talk — but it’s about action.’”
Jonathan Abrams of The New York Times: “Since D’Antoni reinstalled Jeffries in the starting lineup, the Knicks are 4-1. Jeffries may have been the catalyst in the Knicks’ four-game winning streak that ended when he fouled out in the final minutes of Tuesday’s loss to Charlotte. The Bobcats outscored the Knicks by 10 points in the final 2 minutes 33 seconds after Jeffries picked up his sixth foul. Instead of the Knicks losing with Jeffries, they probably lost without him. Jeffries’s plus-minus rating is a positive 59 over that five-game span, meaning the Knicks have scored 59 more points than their opponents when Jeffries was on the court. He finished plus 15 against the Bobcats on Tuesday. Danilo Gallinari posted a plus 2 as the only other Knick positive. … ‘I just came out with an effort to maintain a high energy,’ Jeffries said. ‘Everything came together. I was able to get some steals, get some blocks, things like that and a couple of charges.’ Few players compare to Jeffries. The Houston Rockets’ Shane Battier also focuses heavily on his defensive assignments, but pairs it with a more refined offensive game. The same goes for Utah’s Andrei Kirilenko, whom Jeffries said he attempted to pattern his defense after.”
Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: “Spurs rookie DeJuan Blair has a standing appointment with the team’s resident shot doctor. For the past week, Blair has been meeting with shooting coach Chip Engelland to refine his awkward shooting stroke. Heading into Wednesday’s game against Golden State, Blair was hitting a team-leading 60.6 percent from the field, a figure that ranks first among NBA rookies. Most of Blair’s buckets have come on offensive putbacks, however, and he is shooting a meager 50 percent from the foul line. Hence, the daily work with Engelland, who over the offseason helped guard George Hill refine his outside shot. The two convene mostly in the morning to help Blair buff up his mid-range and foul shooting. ‘We waited until he got comfortable, so we could watch him for a while and see what would be the best approach,’ Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. ‘Now Chip feels comfortable enough that he knows where he wants to start with him.’ The undertaking is a massive one. At times, Blair’s shot can come off like a knuckleball. ‘We’re basically fixing the whole shot,’ Blair said.”
Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: “Tracy McGrady’s $23 million salary comes with two built-in perks: It comes off the books on July 1, 2010, making it a vehicle for clearing cap space for the highly anticipated free-agent signing period, and it’s 80 percent insurance-protected. The insurance provision already has kicked in, since McGrady missed 41 consecutive games during his recovery from microfracture knee surgery. The Rockets, or McGrady’s new team, would receive 80 percent of his per-game salary for any games he misses the rest of this season. Any number of teams desperate for short-term scoring punch while they prepare for a 2010 spending spree would be obvious fits; the Bulls and Knicks are at the top of my list. The Heat reportedly also are intrigued by McGrady, and team president Pat Riley is said to be closely monitoring T-Mac’s progress. On Wednesday, I brought all of this information to someone who is personally invested in McGrady’s success — Tim Grover, the renowned trainer at Attack Athletics on the West Side of Chicago. Grover famously trained Michael Jordan and has recently worked with such stars as Kobe Bryant, Gilbert Arenas, and McGrady. Grover wouldn’t speculate on the Rockets’ motives with regard to T-Mac, but said McGrady’s debut Tuesday night was ‘long overdue.’”
Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: “No foe has proven more difficult for the Suns than TNT, which blows up on them every time as if they are Wile E. Coyote. Phoenix has lost 16 consecutive games broadcast by TNT, dating back to the 2008 playoff series against San Antonio and even including two preseason outdoor games in Indian Wells, Calif. The Suns will try to solve the NBA’s most confounding losing streak tonight at Portland, the last place they won a TNT game in March 2008 when Raja Bell held Brandon Roy to six points. ‘That’s the funniest, most interesting fact I’ve heard,’ Smith said. ‘We get a lot of flack, especially Charles, about badgering the Suns. Now, I understand why people would think that because we’re always seeing them lose. I hope the curse doesn’t continue. I will take everything off the mantle.’ The Suns would seem to be TNT-friendly. Barkley is a Valley resident who is in the Suns’ Ring of Honor. TNT game analyst Doug Collins is a Valley resident and friend of the franchise with close relationships to the coach, Alvin Gentry, and general manager, Steve Kerr. Kerr worked as a TNT analyst before becoming the Suns’ GM. TNT means tough matchups but it does for every other participant too. Over the streak’s timeline, the Suns are 73-38 (.658) in all other games. ‘It’s bizarre,’ Kerr said. ‘What are the chances of losing 16 in a row? I know the competition’s tougher but it’s not like we don’t beat good teams on ESPN. There’s no explanation. ‘Let’s pin it on Charles. He brings that negative vibe all the time.’”
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports: “From his courtside seat, Tiger Woods’ eyes seldom left him. All night in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, you could see them darting everywhere with Kobe Bryant. Woods understood that he was witnessing his kindred spirit, the talent with whom he shared a generational sporting genius. Together, they were groomed for greatness and discussed that over dinner in a suburban Orlando restaurant in June. With his wife, Elin, beside him at Amway Arena it likely never occurred to Woods that his blessed life could soon derail with a self-destructive bent of his own. He doesn’t have the criminal charges and the threat of prison hanging over him like Bryant did with his sexual assault case in 2003, but a family and reputation crashing around him nonetheless. If Bryant has reached out to Woods, he’s discovered, like running buddies Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, the phones are turned off, the party’s over. Whatever Woods wants out of private redemption, the path of public forgiveness won’t come with apologies and crocodile tears. All Woods needed was an NBA League Pass package on Wednesday and he could’ve witnessed the truth for himself. There was Bryant with his arms raised in Milwaukee, a winning shot to end overtime and a 39-point performance. Bryant has a broken finger, but a repaired image and oddly unburdened life six years later. America won’t want contrition, as much as it’ll want a Sunday communion with Woods. This is a sporting nation that finds its virtue in victory. Bryant never took a leave of absence the way that Woods says he will now. He bought his wife a big diamond, and dropped 42 on the Spurs in the playoffs after spending an afternoon in a Colorado courtroom. Six years later, Bryant has done what American sporting culture demands: He came back, better than ever.”
How much easier is the game for the Lakers when Kobe Bryant can shoot straight?
This 96-87 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night offered an answer.
After Bryant’s poor outing in defeat in Utah on Saturday night, he bounced back with 42 points on 15-of-26 shooting from the field. He was recovered from his stomach virus and was again on target with his jumper after switching to a different splint — this one all plastic instead of metal at the base — to protect his fractured right index finger.
The Lakers trailed, 14-4, after two opening misses and back-to-back turnovers by Bryant. Then Bryant scored 10 consecutive Lakers points, cutting the Chicago lead to 18-14. After an Andrew Bynum layup, Bryant resumed his shooting show. He hit shots from 21, 18, 17, 18 and 19 feet in succession.
After Bryant’s sixth consecutive shot dropped through the net, the smile didn’t leave Phil Jackson’s face for a solid 30 seconds he was so delighted.
Every year, the three-point shot becomes more of a weapon. The reason is simple, as John Hollinger noted in a March 27th edition of his PER Diem: “It works. In fact, few stats correlate better with winning than 3-point attempts. If you tell me only how many 3-pointers a team has chucked up this season and provide no other information, I can tell you whether it is a winning team and be right eight times out of 10.” Last season, New Jersey managed to stay afloat thanks to strong perimeter play from Devin Harris and Vince Carter. The duo combined for 41 points per game, and — along with sharp-shooting forwards Bobby Simmons and Ryan Anderson — attempted nearly 15 threes an outing, stretching the floor for Brook Lopez down low. So it should come as no surprise that the Nets, 2-22 heading into tonight’s game against the Cavaliers, are dead last in three-point percentage, and twenty-seventh in three-pointers attempted. In fact, New Jersey’s three-point accuracy has dropped a league-worst 10.4 percent from a year ago, when they finished ninth in three-point percentage, and third in three-pointers attempted.
Adrian Wojnarowski: “The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Brian Windhorst had a terrific story Sunday on the relationship between LeBron James and John Calipari’s Kentucky program. James used his summer sneaker camp to build relationships with America’s best young players – kids who could eventually be represented by his own marketing company, LRMR. For now, John Wall is clearly a target. What’s more, James’ cozy relationship with Calipari has long inspired discussion within the league that the star could make a power play for him to become his coach. Calipari has deftly created the illusion that James is his player, a powerful association in the recruiting battles.”
Kendrick Perkins on Celtics assistant coach Tom Thibodeau, as quoted by Joel Brigham of HOOPSWORLD: “He helps a lot, man. He’s here every day from five in the morning until nine at night. He puts us in the best position to play defense because he watches film a lot and knows exactly what each team likes to do. He’s the man behind everything.”
Sactown Royalty’s Tom Ziller dissects Sacramento’s defense: “Sacramento is middle-of-the-pack in the frequency of opponent attempts at the rim … a bit surprising really. (We’ll come back to interior defense in a moment.) No team gives up more non-layup/dunk shots inside the paint than the Kings, though. The Kings allow the sixth lowest rate of ‘midrange’ 10-15 foot shots, and the 10th lowest rate of long twos. (Long twos are the worst shot in basketball, by category. More specifically, long twos by Chris Duhon are the worst shot in basketball.) The Kings give up the 7th lowest rate of threes, which is a positive. So, essentially, Kings opponents end up taking a lot of short jumpers, compared to the league at large. But when those opponent do get to the rim, well. Damn. The Kings have the second-worst shot defense at the rim.”
Matt McHale on whether Derrick Rose can become Chicago’s go-to guy: “So yes, Rose needs to take over. But can he? In addition to Vinny’s system and his team’s inability to knock down shots, Rose doesn’t seem to have that “me the ball and get the hell out of my way” mentality. He has the talent and the physical skills. Does he have the necessary inner hombre? It’s hard to tell. I’ve watched every game Rose has played as a pro. I’ve gone over his game logs. He’s had a handful of great games, several very good games, and a lot of games that were just good. But he has yet to play an extended stretch of dominant basketball. You know, the kind where nobody can stop him and he takes his teammates to another level.”
Matt at Blog-a-Bull asks, “if Rose is to eventually be the all-NBA superstar type, shouldn’t there be one 40-point, 28 shot outburst in his early career?”
John Schuhmann says the Iverson-Holiday backcourt (with Elton Brand off the bench) makes sense: “Iverson is trying to work off a month of rust, even more when you consider that he played just 67 minutes with Memphis in November. He’s also dealing with a bad knee, which was drained on Sunday. He doesn’t have his burst yet and, thus far, has been more effective playing off the ball in catch-and-shoot situations. ‘Until my legs get to where I want them,’ he said, ‘I’ll just take whatever the defense gives me.’ With Williams out, Holiday gives the Sixers someone who can make plays off the dribble and get Iverson the open shots that he can’t yet create for himself. Andre Iguodala, who was the other starting guard in Iverson’s first three games back, is better suited to play the wing. ‘With Allen and Jrue in the backcourt, it gives us solid, true guard play,’ Jordan said. ‘Andre gives us great defensive presence at any position, but to get real good guard play, it’s good to have Jrue and Allen in there together to start. The concept is to get [Iguodala and Thaddeus Young] running the lane after a make or a miss. Just sprint the lane and let either of the guards push it. I like their decision-making, because they’re solid play-making guards.’”
In an interview with NBA.com, Lakers trainer Gary Vitti reveals that he acts as a conduit between the team and front office, which shouldn’t come as a complete surprise since Vitti has the NBA’s longest active tenure with a single team, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Vitti shares some great anecdotes as well, including this one about Jack Nicholson: “Back in the Forum days, we used to have this ’suture room’ that we shared with hockey, and there was a dental chair in there. So Jack [Nicholson] needed something, so I told the security guy ‘Put him in the suture room. It’s open, I’ll get in there as soon as I can.’ When I come in, he’s got the chair facing backwards, so all I see coming in is the back of the chair and this plume of smoke coming up. And he’s got the control in his hand and he presses the button and it’s — eeeeeeeeeeeerh! the chair is rotating — and there he is, with a cigarette and this tiny, little round ashtray with a lid on it. He looks at me and says, ‘Don’t worry, V. I’ve brought my own ashtray.’ He puts the cigarette in the ashtray and puts the ashtray in his coat pocket. Then he looks at me and smiles like in that ‘Heeeeere’s Johnny!’ scene [in The Shining]. I’m not going to tell you why he asked to come in there.”
The AP reports: “A developer’s plan to move the New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn has gotten a boost from Wall Street. Investors quickly bought up $511 million in tax-free bonds that went on sale Tuesday to pay for part of the much-delayed project. Nets principal owner Bruce Ratner says the strong sales show that investors have confidence in the project.”
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.”
NBA.com’s David Aldridge points out that Utah owns New York’s unprotected first-round pick, and could therefore become a major player in next year’s draft: “At worst, though, Utah is sitting on a top 10 pick. That is a potent weapon to own. But Utah also will control what happens with Carlos Boozer. The free-agent-to-be forward is having an All-Star season in his walk year. Do you remember all the hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth last summer, when it was suggested that Boozer couldn’t possibly go back to the SLC after intimating he’d like to be traded to either Chicago or Miami? Um, looks like everything’s working out, wouldn’t you say? Boozer’s averaging 20 points and 11 boards so far, shooting 55 percent from the floor. Yet it’s still unlikely that a) Boozer will re-sign with the Jazz, and b) the Jazz want to re-sign Boozer at the price he’s going to be seeking, with Paul Milsap ready to take over at power forward. And that means Boozer will probably not be in Utah next season. But. Allowing the Jazz to execute a sign-and-trade deal for him would get Boozer an extra year’s salary, as opposed to just signing elsewhere next summer as a free agent. And that gives the Jazz a second significant chip to use next offseason. Here’s where it gets good. What if Utah combines the two?”
Mike Prada, writing on SBNation.com, ranks every team in terms of their “watchability.” It’s a long, fun, read, but in the end, it winds up here: “Kobe Bryant may be basketball perfection, in terms of being a skilled player that has the luxury to pick his spots because of the talent of his teammates, but Steve Nash is still the gold standard in terms of entertainment. Maybe it’s because you still can’t imagine how a guy who looks like that makes the plays he does. Maybe it’s because it still feels like every single jump shot he takes is going in. But there’s something about watching Nash and the Suns that makes you smile.”
Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: “Opposing scouts are brutally honest and when several watched the Celtics, they noticed that Rondo was reluctant to shoot, even when open, so that enabled clubs to cover the other four Celtics with five players. The more Rondo pops his jumper, though, the more he demands defensive respect and the more his teammates will get open shots. Rondo continued his offensive tear by dropping 16 points on 6-for-13 shooting in Saturday night’s 106-80 win over the Chicago Bulls. He is averaging 13.1 points and 9.8 assists, with 51 percent shooting from the field and 71 percent from the line over the last nine games. And his aggressiveness on offense is apparent. After attempting just 26 free throws in 14 November games, Rondo has had 19 in six December games, sinking 13.”
A profile of Andre Miller by The Columbian’s Brian T. Smith. A highlight: “After 10-plus years, 839 regular-season games and numerous coaches and teammates, Miller considers none of his former allies as close friends. It is not intended as a slight, Miller says. It is simply that the only people he allows into his personal life are either those he grew up with or is now related to: family. And the most cherished and valued confidant in his secret world — a person Miller has turned to often in recent months as drama, controversy and trade rumors have gathered and swirled around him — is a 65-year-old man who never coached basketball above the youth level, and lives more than 2,400 miles away from Portland. Ben Furnace is now retired. He lives with his wife, Terri, in Hutto, Texas, a small town located about 25 miles from Austin. But for 55 years, Furnace resided in Inglewood, Calif., near Los Angeles. And while there, he and his wife developed a relationship with Miller that has persevered through major life and career changes, and remains strong to this day.” The NBA is full of one person can make a difference stories. I’m all about that kind of sap.
Sam Smith says it’s time to shift John Salmons to small forward: “We all thought it would work, but it didn’t. John Salmons can’t play shooting guard. He’s shot poorly, but the issue more is quickness. The twos are faster and Salmons can’t keep up or produce from that spot. He loses the edge he had at three. The Bulls, in a desperate situation, have to commit to speed now given that’s the main edge they have. Salmons has to move back to three and Luol Deng to four with Rose and Hinrich in the backcourt and Noah at center. The NBA has become a guard oriented, perimeter league with less contact allowed above the free throw line and fewer true postup players.”
Good news for USA Basketball, via ESPN.com’s Chris Sheridan: “Regardless of whether it is at full strength, Team USA will not have to face Spain, Greece or Argentina in the opening round of the World Championship next summer in Turkey. On the eve of Tuesday’s draw in Istanbul to determine the six four-team groups for basketball’s equivalent of the World Cup, FIBA awarded No. 1 seeds to those top four teams to ensure competitive balance in assembling the groups. FIBA also decreed that no more than three European teams or two teams from the Americas region would be placed together in any first-round group.”
Sports betting is legal in only one state out of 50, Nevada, and betting on sports has long been every pro league’s biggest nightmare. But just last week, in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Ian Thomsen, NBA Commissioner David Stern softened his position on the issue of legalized gambling, referring to nationally legalized gambling on the NBA as a “possibility” that “may be a huge opportunity.” Here are some parts that stuck out to me:
I started the conversation with Stern by asking whether his league and others need to develop a comprehensive new approach to their relationship with sports betting. That approach has changed very little in the nine decades since the infamous “Black Sox” gamblers conspired to fix the 1919 World Series.
Stern agreed, in general, with that point of view. He responded by noting that other leagues around the world were addressing betting scandals similar to the NBA’s.
“We used [the Donaghy revelations] as an opportunity to get better, to coordinate with law enforcement and go through a variety of processes that I don’t necessarily want to detail publicly, but you are on ready alert,” he said. “And we’re mindful of what can happen, because we’re more-than-interested bystanders in the European football scandal. Two-hundred [soccer] games are being looked at by law enforcement across the continent. It’s fascinating to see what’s happening. And we’re mindful of the cricket [2007 World Cup match-fixing] issues, of the football referees in Germany — there’s a lot going on.”
Then he made a new point. “The betting issues are actually going to become more intense as states in the U.S. and governments in the world decide that the answers to all of their monetary shortfalls are the tax that is gambling.”
I asked Stern if it is in the best interests of his league to seek legalization of sports betting. He sighed with his head down, as if to emphasize the gravity of what he was going to say.
“It has been a matter of league policy to answer that question, ‘No,’ ” he said. “But I think that that league policy was formulated at a time when gambling was far less widespread — even legally.”
He went on to provide a brief lesson in history involving J. Walter Kennedy, the NBA commissioner from 1963-75. “Walter Kennedy testified in Congress many years ago, probably over 40, that gambling — any gambling, not just sports — should not be allowed in Atlantic City, that gambling shouldn’t be expanded,” said Stern, who was a lawyer for the NBA at that time. “I remember it because I wrote a statement. It was the U.S. association of attorneys general, the U.S. attorneys association, the association of chiefs of police, the clergy of all denominations — all lined up to say that expanding [was wrong] … and I don’t think lotteries were legal back then.
“So that was the sin. And that’s the way sports grew up in their opposition.”
What has changed, Stern acknowledged, is that the NBA can no longer oppose gambling on moral grounds.
Jonathan Abrams of The New York Times: “The rookie point guard Jonny Flynn knew little about the triangle offense when he arrived in the N.B.A., other than that Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant ran it as a conduit to championship after championship with the Bulls and the Lakers. Flynn has been cramming ever since. Kurt Rambis, the first-year Timberwolves coach and a student of the offense’s innovator, Tex Winter, has installed portions of it in Minnesota. Flynn initially thought of the offense as a freelance system that would cater to his skills with the ball. He was wrong. The triangle offense is based on reads and rhythm, spacing and cutting. The players, beyond the center, are interchangeable. Guards play in the post, forwards on the wing. The goal is always to take the path of least resistance — unless you are a rookie learning it. ‘It’s the hardest transition in any sport I’ve ever played,’ Flynn said recently. The offense can seem to be mystical and mythical. To some, it is easily digestible. Others claim it is too lethargic for the fast and frenetic N.B.A. Despite the triangle’s success — 10 of the last 19 N.B.A. champions showcased the offense — few possess the time, trust or diligence to install it. Their reasons are plentiful, and skeptics are quick to point out that Coach Phil Jackson captured all 10 of those titles with Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant at his disposal. (For three of them, he had Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.) ‘You’ve got to spend a lot of time on it, on its reads,’ Denver Nuggets Coach George Karl said. ‘Most coaches are too impatient to sacrifice time teaching at the defensive end of the court for an offensive system.’”
Brian Windhorst of The Cleveland Plain Dealer: “At the mere mention of John Wall’s name, LeBron James’ eyes soften as he tries to swallow a knowing smile. ‘Yeah, I have a relationship with him,’ James said. ‘A really good relationship. With not only John, but his family. We talk all the time.’ For the past eight years or so, James’ cell phone contact list doubles as a who’s who in international basketball. Say what you will, but there are simply only a few people surrounding the game who can get Michael Jordan, Dwyane Wade, Nike founder Phil Knight, USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo, Warren Buffett, Carmelo Anthony, Jay-Z, Kevin Durant, or famous behind scenes operator William ‘Wes’ Wesley on the phone within a few minutes. You can now put Wall’s name in there. The 19-year-old is, as they say, ‘next.’ A seemingly can’t-miss budding superstar at the University of Kentucky. He is certainly on track to be the No. 1 overall draft pick next June. And with apologies to Blake Griffin, had the NBA’s age rule not been in effect, most around the NBA believe Wall would have been the top pick last June. If he wasn’t already there, the 6-4 ultra-quick point guard hit national consciousness last week, announcing his arrival with a 25-point, six-steal performance as Kentucky went on the road to beat Connecticut. James met Wall a couple of years ago at the LeBron James Skills Academy in Akron, which is a star showcase that Nike runs at University of Akron every July. Not only is it a prime recruiting ground for the nation’s top collegiate programs, but it’s a golden meet-and-greet for James, who has been developing personal relationships with stars in the making by the gross.”
Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: “You can credit coaching great Pat Riley with starting the adage of ‘no rebounds, no rings.’ There isn’t any talk of championship rings around the Pistons these days, but they are hitting the glass like champions. The Pistons ranked fourth in the NBA in rebounding margin at plus-3.31 entering Saturday night’s home game against the Warriors. When asked the reason for the Pistons’ success, coach John Kuester credited the player many thought was on the downside of his career entering this season. ‘A lot of it deals with Ben Wallace,’ Kuester said of the veteran center. ‘Ben is really playing at an All-Star level. He’s given us extra possessions — whether it’s off the free throws, whether they’re off of offensive rebounds themselves. He’s playing at such a high level: defensively to rebounding to offensively to get us extra possessions.’ Wallace is the ringleader with his 10.1 average — 13th in the NBA. His 4.3 offensive rebounds per game ranks third. But it is truly a group effort as Jonas Jerebko, Jason Maxiell, Kwame Brown, Charlie Villanueva and even guard Rodney Stuckey are attacking the glass.”
Jonathen Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: “Carl Landry was stunned. He knew he had been scoring but had no idea about the company he was keeping. The list was filled with MVP candidates, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year and Carl Landry. Landry ranks second in the league in fourth-quarter scoring, averaging 6.6 points per game. He is behind only Dwyane Wade, tied with Jason Terry and ahead of Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James. ‘Wowwww,’ Landry said. Moments later, however, he spoke of his late-game success as nothing worthy of surprise. That’s just the time that I play,’ he said. ‘Two, three minutes left in the third quarter, that’s when I’m getting in. I think it matters who’s in the game at crunch time. Coach (Adelman) and the coaching staff put trust in me to be in there. It’s a good feeling. I still can’t believe some of the success that I’ve had thus far. Hopefully, that doesn’t ever hit. I’m staying humble. Hopefully, I can keep it that way.’ Though the Rockets might not have guessed that Landry was running with such fast company, there was no surprise about Landry’s late-game production. On a team with no incumbent go-to player, the Rockets have increasingly put the ball in Landry’s hands, expecting him to score or draw fouls.”
Mike Jones of The Washington Times: “Gilbert Arenas’ knee has been fine. He has displayed an ability to accelerate and blow past opponents. And he hasn’t shown a physical drop-off in back-to-back games. But in the first month of the season, Arenas admittedly struggled to find a balance between going on the attack and setting up his teammates in Saunders’ system, which is much different from the Princeton offense the guard ran for six years under former coach Eddie Jordan. Arenas also is often guilty of forcing ill-advised passes. So the missed layup and missed free throws (and a 13-for-24 showing from the line in the last five games) only compound Arenas’ frustrations and further rattle his confidence. ‘The things that I thought would be hard aren’t hard,’ Arenas said after Saturday’s loss. ‘The hard part is the little things. Free throws. Sometimes it’s careless dribbling, sometimes it’s at the top of the key. Little dumb things that are irritating me as a player. I don’t know.’ … Arenas and the Wizards headed to Los Angeles on Sunday to kick off a four-game road trip, and the guard said although challenging, the time away may be helpful. ‘I think the West Coast is going to be good for me,’ Arenas said. ‘Get away from the pressure of this building, the pressure of the fans. Just let me breathe a little bit.’”
Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “Timberwolves forward Kevin Love played 81 of 82 games in his rookie season a year ago. In those six months, he attempted 19 three-point shots and made two. Two. He has played seven games this season since returning from that broken hand and already has displayed ease and range in his shooting that were missing last season. He’s made seven of 11 three-point attempts while he has struggled to finish shorter shots around the basket. That’s 63.6 percent and one per game despite wearing a football lineman’s padded glove to protect his nonshooting hand. Drafted fifth overall in 2008 because he was projected as a unique inside-outside threat for a fellow 6-9, Love explains the difference two ways: Another summer spent in the gym working to perfect his rhythm on 15- to 18-foot shots and beyond. And a different coach. ‘I forget the coach’s name, but at the beginning of the year last season he didn’t want me shooting any shot outside of 10 feet,’ Love said. ‘So that kind of threw me off. I’ve shot the ball well my whole life. Now this season, I have a coach who trusts me and wants me to shoot outside. It feels a lot better knowing he has faith in me out there because I can knock that shot down all day.’”
Marcus Thompson II of the Contra Costa Times: “Warriors guard Monta Ellis played all 48 minutes of Saturday’s 104-95 loss to the Detroit Pistons, finishing with one turnover — and that one was questionable. Ellis entered the game with a league-high 4.5 turnovers per game. In the nine games he played 45 minutes or more, that number jumped to 5.8 per game. But a little tweak has helped Ellis cut down on the miscues. The Warriors have been using guard C.J. Watson and Stephen Curry as point guards more, moving Ellis over to shooting guard or small forward. Plus, Ellis is getting the ball on the ‘weak side’ — the opposite part of the court from where the play begins — more often. That leaves him attacking against a shifting defense instead of one that is set and waiting for him as he does his thing from the top. ‘As opposed to being the point of attack for the defense,’ assistant coach Keith Smart said, ‘now he’s getting it when the defense has to move and rotate. (ellipses) Anytime the ball moves three times in the NBA, the percentage goes up. So I think that’s what he’s good at.’ As a result, Ellis has four turnovers total in his last two games (he’s had at least four turnovers 14 times this season).”
Howard Beck of The New York Times: “No one looked worse than Chris Duhon during the Knicks’ early slump. He shot .228 in the first 10 games and made just 9 of 42 shots (.214) from 3-point range. Fans wanted Duhon benched, and D’Antoni was worried enough that he refused to rule it out. Even Duhon admitted there was some doubt. ‘There was,’ Duhon said. ‘It was tough.’ The greatest disappointment was that Duhon had spent the summer reconditioning his body to handle a big load, after burning out too quickly last season. He came to camp with high expectations. ‘I started to beat myself up,’ Duhon said. ‘I started second-guessing myself. I wasn’t really playing on instincts out there.’ Teammates said Duhon spent countless extra hours in the gym, working on his shot with the assistant Dan D’Antoni. The results are clear: Duhon is shooting .461 over the last eight games, going 19 for 40 (.475) from 3-point range. ‘Now I just say, just let it go, let it fly and see what happens,’ Duhon said.”
Marc Berman of the New York Post: “Mike D’Antoni, inventor of the ‘Seven Seconds or Less’ offense, admits he has tinkered with his formula during the Knicks’ surge, having slowed the attack. ‘As long as it’s 24 seconds or less,’ D’Antoni said jokingly before the Knicks won their fourth straight and fifth in six games in a comeback victory over the Hornets at New Orleans Arena. D’Antoni said the dramatic change came after their franchise-worst 1-9 start, finally realizing the talent does not translate to speedball. When D’Antoni accepted the Knicks job before the 2008-09 season, there were questions if D’Antoni would adapt his system to the talent. It took him a while, but he’s finally adjusted. Indeed, point guard Chris Duhon, who got off to an awful start to the season but now is on a major roll, has proven better at running a halfcourt offense. ‘We’ve slowed it down,’ D’Antoni said. ‘We’d like to run at every opportunity. This pace suits us better as a team.’ Jack McCallum authored a book on D’Antoni’s Suns, called ‘Seven Seconds or Less,’ championing D’Antoni’s style. It encourages the ball to be rushed up court to keep the defense off balance and launch a shot or be in position to shoot seven seconds into the shot clock. But D’Antoni admitted the pushing the ball led to ill-advised shots.”
Kate Fagan of the Philadlphia Inquirer: “We know the 76ers are practicing behind the curtain. We hear balls bouncing. Afterward, we see sweat dripping. For the final few minutes, we even watch, glued to the glass windows in the gym at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Now, exactly what the Sixers are practicing remains an A-list mystery. For example, it would come as quite a surprise if they spent hours a day diving into the intricacies of perimeter defense, defensive rotations, and closing out on outside shooters. Why? Because through 23 games, the Sixers are on pace to become the worst perimeter defensive team in NBA history – this according to the numbers, which can be twisted, of course, but never lie outright. … How did this happen? The first answer that springs to mind is the Princeton offense: That thing casts a mighty wide shadow and gobbles an awful lot of practice time. The second answer is that Jordan, never known as a defensive coach, has seemed particularly overcommitted to the offensive side. The third is the rotations, which tend to exclude the team’s best defenders and are often, at the end of games, much smaller than the opponent’s.”
Paul Forrester of SI.com: “One, measly point separated Tyreke Evans from making Kings history. One point would have made him the franchise’s first rookie to register eight consecutive 20-point games. Yet, with 3:11 left against the Knicks, Paul Westphal motioned Evans to the bench, a request greeted with a look of mild surprise from the 20-year-old. ‘We had put the game away and he was playing on a bad ankle,’ Westphal said after the King’s 111-97 victory. ‘So I said, ‘Tyreke, I’d be crazy to leave you out there and have you twist an ankle out there trying to get a record.’ … Everybody likes records but he wasn’t going to chase a record at the expense of the team. ‘And he said, ‘You’re right.’ That was really impressive; it’s a total buy-in to doing the right thing rather than setting himself apart.’ The Kings have followed suit, melding into the type of cohesive unit that has overcome a string of obstacles — last year’s 17-win debacle, rumors a franchise shift, the loss of leading scorer Kevin Martin for all but five games — to put together a 9-12 mark through Wednesday. Seven players are averaging double figures in scoring, and five are pulling down more than 4.9 boards a night. ‘We have a lot of players who, offensively, can blend into any style,’ Westphal said. ‘But you have to be at least decent at rebounding and defensively in order to have your offense mean anything in terms of success. We looked at what [the Kings] did last year; they were near the bottom of the league in rebounding and dead last in field-goal defense. Well, you can’t have any success in this league being at the bottom in both those areas, so we made it a priority to improve them.’”
Kevin Spain of The Times-Picayune: “An hour after he took over the New Orleans Hornets head coaching duties from Byron Scott last month, Jeff Bower met with his assistants before reviewing tapes of the Portland Trail Blazers. Consumed by his new duties, Bower said he did not have time to celebrate the promotion. After telling his wife about his new role as head coach along with general manager, Bower said he was immersed in trying to make a successful transition. Now a month into the job, Bower’s schedule has remained hectic. He is awake by 4 a.m. on non-travel days, working. He usually leaves his Alario Center office by 5 p.m., but he is back to the grind of watching game tapes at home after spending time with his family. ‘The fun and the challenge of it is a great thing,’ Bower said. ‘But it takes a little thought process to manage my schedule, but I do a lot of different things at odd hours. I get up early and do a lot of studying and reviewing. At 4 a.m., it’s a great time of the day because it’s quiet.’ Of the league’s 30 coaches only Bower, the Los Angeles Clippers’ Mike Dunleavy, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and New Jersey interim coach Kiki Vandeweghe are coaching and running their basketball operations departments.”
Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: “It’s 10:42 on a Saturday night, and Ahmad Ajami and Adam Glessner are sitting in front of their computers, working to make the Orlando Magic a better basketball team. Ajami has planted himself near the Magic locker room at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif. His laptop screen displays a live feed of the Golden State-Orlando game and shows Rashard Lewis intercepting a bad pass into the paint by Warriors point guard Monta Ellis. Ajami clicks his computer mouse a couple of times. He’s recorded and logged his first video clip of the night. Meanwhile, Glessner sits inside a windowless room at Magic headquarters in Maitland, surrounded by 11 DVD recorders, 10 DirecTV receivers and six digital videocassette recorders. A computer monitor shows the Utah Jazz playing against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Utah’s Paul Millsap makes a reverse layup, and Glessner taps several buttons on a keyboard. He’s recorded and logged his 159th video clip of the game. Such behind the scenes work serves a critical purpose for the Orlando Magic. Ajami and Glessner compile and organize the video that Magic coaches watch to study their team and learn about future opponents. ‘Oh, my God,’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy says. ‘In terms of game preparation and stuff, what they do is probably the most important thing that’s done.’”
Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: “Morning shootarounds are becoming an endangered species in the NBA, and now the Nuggets are the latest team to tinker with cutting them back. The Nuggets’ practice Sunday served as their shootaround for tonight’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Denver coach George Karl, who was against the trend of not having traditional shootarounds, is now rethinking that philosophy. Sleep studies have been all the rage in the NBA this season, and they are showing that players and coaches aren’t getting enough of it. The result is low energy levels for players on the court and decreased focus for everyone. A reduction in shootarounds, thereby allowing players and coaches to sleep in longer on game days, has been the quick-fix answer for some teams. Karl hopes he will see increased focus and intensity out of his team. ‘I think we’re listening to some needs of players and philosophies of some other teams, trying to get more focus and seriousness into the moments that we’re together,’ Karl said. ‘Shootarounds seem to be very tedious and nonenthusiastic situations. There’s a lot of different philosophies out there. Some teams have totally gone away from shootarounds, some very good teams. We have a lot of every-other-day games. I think we have an opportunity over the next four or five games to experiment a little bit.’”
Howard Beck of The New York Times: “The explosion of statistical analysis in sports is now leading to an explosion of interest in the explosion of analysis. It might take an army of statistics whizzes to process it all. The M.I.T. Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, the movement’s signature event, has grown so large that sponsors are moving it off-campus for its third edition, on March 6. It will be held at a Boston convention center. ‘We outgrew every building at M.I.T.,’ Daryl Morey, the Houston Rockets’ general manager, said proudly. Morey, the event’s co-chairman, said he is expecting 800 people — up from 300 in 2009 and 150 in 2008, the event’s inaugural year. The number of panel discussions has nearly doubled, to 15. … The use of advanced metrics has become commonplace in baseball but is still developing in the N.B.A., the N.F.L., the N.H.L. and soccer. Morey estimated that about two-thirds of N.B.A. teams and about a third of N.F.L. teams employ at least one analyst.”
Daniel Edward Rosen of The New York Times: “Marcus Brown had played 27 games over two seasons in the N.B.A. and moved on to European leagues when, in 2004, he received a multimillion-dollar contract from CSKA Moscow that made him one of the highest-paid American players in Europe. Now playing in Lithuania, Brown would like some form of a retirement plan to show for his 13-year basketball career. ‘It justifies that I worked hard to get where I’m at,’ he said. As basketball becomes increasingly global, teams throughout the world are competing against the N.B.A. for top players. Many European teams pay most, if not all, of the salaries for their American players up front, and often pay their local taxes. But many European teams do not provide a pension. Brown is not alone among American basketball players abroad with scant N.B.A. experience who realize, perhaps too late, the benefits of a pension system. ‘There is nothing like what the N.B.A. provides to whoever qualifies for the minimum pension,’ said Maurizio Gherardini, assistant general manager for the Toronto Raptors and former general manager for the Italian team Treviso.”