- Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer: Are the Cavs figuring it out? Are they becoming a respectable basketball team, especially at home? Is there reason for playoff dreams when it comes to this 8-13 team? The answer is YES -- to all three questions. That was evident not just in Tuesday's 109-94 victory over sad-sack New York at Quicken Loans Arena, but in the way they have played recently. Two weeks ago, the Cavs were trying to claw out of a six-game losing streak. The threatening clouds of a stormy team meeting and charges of players being selfish hung over the team. There were rumors of Dion Waiters being traded, of Kyrie Irving being unhappy and general discontent with how coach Mike Brown was driving them too hard defensively -- while the offense appeared stalled. ... Since then, the Cavs have won four of five. That's why there is reason for some optimism in the dismal Eastern Conference -- where only three teams have winning records. So yes, the Cavs are only 8-13. Worse, they are 1-10 on the road. But the first step toward NBA legitimacy is winning at home -- and the Cavs are 7-3 on their own court. Remember, this was a team with a 14-27 home record a year ago.
- Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: Here is what's significant, besides the fact the Pacers are now three games ahead of the Heat in the race for home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference: On a night when the Pacers committed 21 turnovers and gave up 30 first-quarter points — "We played with the jitters," Paul George said — they still got the best of the Heat over the last three quarters, and by a significant margin. George didn't put up MVP numbers (17 points, six turnovers), but played with an MVP constitution, defending James and, at times, Wade, ultimately limiting James to 6-of-16 shooting and just 17 points. "To do what he did, scoring 15 points in the second half and guarding LeBron James, and then Dwyane Wade when LeBron was out, it's a special performance by him (George)," Vogel said. Can't we just fast-forward and get on with the business of Pacers-Heat III? Can't we just ignore the rest of the moribund Eastern Conference and move on to the business that matters? May and June is when statements are made. We'll be watching, and listening.
- Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich did not need to look at game film of his team’s 116-103 victory at Toronto on Tuesday to know his offense was in rhythm. All he had to look at was one number in the box score. “We had 30 assists,” Popovich said. “That’s always fantastic if you can get the ball moving to the point you get 30 assists. You know people are playing the right way.” It marked the third time this season the Spurs had chalked up that many assists. Manu Ginobili led the Spurs with nine, the 11th time this season he has handed out at least five off the Spurs’ bench. The Spurs are 10-1 in those games. “We are moving the ball better,” Ginobili said. “We just play together. It’s not like a one-man thing, trying to create for others. That really helps my game.” Ginobili added 16 points and five rebounds, his 28th career game with at least 15 points, five rebounds and five assists off the bench. Since 1985-86, only Detlef Schrempf has more (55).
- Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: The Thunder has won 11 of its last 12 games. And in related news, here are the shooting percentages, in order, of the teams they’ve faced during that stretch: 35, 48, 41, 39, 39, 44, 41, 39, 44, 37, 40, 35. It’s not the sexiest thing to discuss, because missed shots never are, but opponent’s field goal percentage is often the best indicator of a defense’s effectiveness. And lately, the Thunder has been dynamite in that area. And that was key in the win over Atlanta on Tuesday, with OKC holding the seventh-best shooting team in the league to a woeful 35 percent clip. The highlights will be dunks, the headlines will be stats, but on a night-to-night basis, steady and rock-solid defense continues to set this team apart.
- Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune: With a hurting heart and rested legs, Kevin Love got back to the game of basketball Tuesday at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Nine days after he had last played, six days after his maternal grandmother, Carol Lee Craig, died and one day after his first practice back with his teammates, Love hit the floor and played with an intensity that swept through the whole team. Love scored 26 points and had 16 rebounds and seven assists as the Wolves beat up on the Detroit Pistons 121-94. The whole time, Love played like the basketball court was a refuge. “It’s really a holy place for me,” said Love said. “It has been my whole life. Any time I’ve had some sort of adversity, the best way to get back is to get on the court. It was great to get back out there. I was with my family [in Oregon] throughout the weekend. But being around these guys, it’s a family atmosphere too." Frankly, the whole team played an inspired game. After too long with not enough ball movement, the cuts were crisp and the ball moved, one reason why the Wolves had a 28-8 edge from the free throw line, why all five Wolves starters scored in double figures, why even an unbelievable first-quarter shooting exhibition by the Pistons didn’t daunt a Wolves team that ended a two-game losing streak. It was a show of consistent force that had even coach Rick Adelman smiling.
- Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Bucks guard O.J. Mayo suffered through a 2-for-12 shooting night and was 0 of 4 from three-point range. But the Bucks guard still made a difference with seven assists and two blocks while playing a team-high 44 minutes. "It was an ugly game but a nice win," Mayo said. "I couldn't buy a bucket but I just tried to create for others and keep playing aggressively. "If it's not going for you, find other ways to get it done." Bucks coach Larry Drew noticed the effort. "I just remind O.J., you're not going to be able to shoot the ball well every night," Drew said. "But it's important he understands he has to do other things to affect the game. "He had seven assists. He did allow the game to come to him."
- Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Grant Hill, the host of NBA TV’s regenerated “NBA Inside Stuff,” was filling in on the set for TNT’s “Inside the NBA” on Thursday night when he dropped a couple of beauties about being Shaquille O’Neal’s Suns teammate. The first was when Roger Mason Jr. stole Christmas. Jason Richardson famously left Mason alone in the corner for a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that gave San Antonio a 91-90 victory at US Airways Center. Hill said O’Neal came into the Suns locker room and knocked an entire postgame Christmas feast for the players onto the floor. Hill redacted a main character from his other story, sharing only that O’Neal put a sleeper hold on a teammate. It was no exaggeration. The Heat Index filled the gaps in his anecdote. It was April 2008. Imagine the Suns environment after a crushing Game 1 loss at San Antonio when Tim Duncan made a game-tying overtime 3-pointer to spur his team to victory. There was an awkward discomfort about the off days in San Antonio and a sense that an ashen Mike D’Antoni was coaching the team for a final time. Who knew just how much he was handling? It turns out O’Neal and Gordan Giricek, who had been with the Suns for all of six weeks, mixed it up verbally during a closed practice to the point that O’Neal auditioned for his WWE future. He put Giricek in a sleeper hold, except it was no fake. Giricek passed out. Giricek played in the remainder of the season, but it was his last NBA season.
- Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: Jason Kidd may not be seeing Lawrence Frank on a daily basis anymore, but at least he’s paying attention to his daily reports. When Kidd announced Frank would be “reassigned” from his assistant coaching duties last Tuesday — adding he would no longer be present on the bench during games or at practices — he said Frank would be writing “daily reports” off of the team’s games. Since then, various reports have leaked about how the relationship between the two — one that goes back to Kidd playing under Frank for several years as a Net — has deteriorated since Kidd openly and publicly pursued Frank to join his coaching staff this summer. When asked directly about their relationship before Tuesday night’s victory over the Celtics, Kidd declined to get into it. “Unfortunately, I haven’t read anything,” Kidd said of the various media reports on their relationship. “I’ve been focused on the game plan of playing Boston, and so unfortunately I can’t answer that question. “I’ve been reading the reports [Frank is filing], and that’s as far as it’s going.”
- Andrew Keh of The New York Times: Last month the N.B.A. issued 21 fines and suspensions — a punitive spree that amounted to about $602,882. If all those penalties raised some eyebrows, it was for good reason. The number of punishments in November matched the total from the first full calendar month of the previous three N.B.A. seasons combined. And that sum did not include fines for the 343 technical fouls and 21 flagrant fouls called in games last month. Those infractions bring automatic fines of $2,000 each. “Normally, you don’t have that many early in the season, then around the holiday season, you get more, then as you get down near the playoffs, you get more,” said Rod Thorn, the N.B.A.’s president for basketball operations. “This year, it’s started early.” The league’s disciplinary binge reflected what appears to be a growing impulse in the N.B.A. and the other sports leagues. Fines in American sports have become a fact of life, like a charge at a tollbooth.
December, 11, 2013
By J.A. Adande
LOS ANGELES -- OK, so Kobe looked a little more like Kobe. The thing is, the Lakers look nothing like the Lakers -- whatever that is supposed to be these days.
Kobe Bryant scored 20 points Tuesday night, more than double the output in his season debut Sunday. He backed defenders down, worked them from side to side, even drove by one for a dunk. It couldn’t prevent the Lakers from losing to the Phoenix Suns, couldn’t keep them from dropping two games in as many tries since Kobe returned from that torn Achilles tendon, couldn’t stop from losing their way like a horse that wandered off the ranch.
The Lakers had found something that worked well enough to win six of their previous eight games. They spread the floor and fired in 3-pointers. They had roles and rotations.
As of Sunday, they had to change.
Kobe Bryant’s presence is too large for him to quietly slip in the room and take a seat in the back row. Coach Mike D’Antoni is trying to figure out which lineups work best around Kobe. In an extreme example of the shuffling, Robert Sacre went from starting in Sacramento on Friday to sitting with a DNP-Coach’s Decision by his name in the box score Tuesday. D’Antoni is throwing combinations that have never played together in NBA games before, and that newness is most evident on defense. The Lakers were particularly susceptible to breakdowns on the back end of the defense Tuesday night. That’s how the Suns could manage 56 points in the paint, and why the Suns won the game 114-108.
“It’s trying to figure out the best combination and trying to get through the period where guys are adjusting to each other,” D’Antoni said.
The players are adjusting to Bryant while Bryant adjusts to them -- and himself -- as he figures out how to manage his slower, ground-based attack. Two games in, he’s decided he wants to leave his ballhandling, initiating days in the past and operate closer to the basket. Oh, and set screens. Lots of them. If the detailed statistical data were available for all 1,241 of his NBA games, I’m sure this would be the highest number of screens he’d ever set.
“It’s part of the evolution,” Bryant said. “It’s figuring out what we have. How to adjust around that.”
But as the Laker offense becomes more concentrated in one region, it makes it easier for the opposing defense to cover them with less ground. It also brings another Laker below the free throw line, which makes it tougher for them to get back in transition defense.
Another issue for D’Antoni is that if he pairs the two Lakers who are most familiar with each other, Bryant and Pau Gasol, it makes the unit on the floor slower.
But the Lakers were never going to be about defense, regardless of who played. They’re not built that way, and D’Antoni doesn’t emphasize it. This week, though, there was a shift in the offense.
The Lakers had shot better than 40 percent from 3-point range this season, the No. 3 long-range accuracy in the league. They made 32 percent on Sunday and 26 percent Tuesday.
Jodie Meeks had made the most 3s on the team, but “tonight they ran me off,” he said.
He still made one of the most successful adjustments to playing with Bryant, actually taking over Bryant’s old role of attacking the basket. Before Tuesday, half of Meeks’ baskets had been 3-pointers, but against the Suns four of his five field goals came from inside the arc.
“I didn’t want to force up a lot of [3s],” Meeks said. “I saw the lane open and took it.”
The Suns, meanwhile, didn’t adjust. They’ve found something that works for them. It’s remarkable that it’s shaped up so early given that there’s a new coach with a team that traded its second through fifth top scorers from a year ago.
But the Suns let the 3-pointers fly, they convert fast-break opportunities and, most impressively, they get after the ball. That last attribute showed up with a 43-33 rebounding advantage Tuesday night.
It would have been interesting to see what would have happened had the Lakers kept it a little closer. The Suns were 1-4 in games decided by three points or fewer, and maybe Kobe could have prevailed in a possession-by-possession showdown. But the Suns didn’t let it happen.
The Morris twins combined for 18 points, five rebounds and three assists in the fourth quarter, and the Suns kept the Lakers at bay.
“That’s how we do!” Marcus Morris yelled as he ran back into the Suns’ locker room at Staples Center.
The Suns actually have a “how we do.” The Lakers don’t. At least not yet.
- Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: It might sound odd for me to talk defense first on a night when they gave up a season-high 111 points, but no way they win this game without that first half (35 percent shooting and 41 points by the Warriors). They did it without Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Jeff Taylor and Bismack Biyombo. As in two of their best three wing defenders and their best rim-protector being injured. Against perhaps the most diverse collection of scorers in the NBA. Gerald Henderson played like this was personal for him, and this team can benefit from that attitude. Kemba Walker singled out the seldom-used Anthony Tolliver for how precisely he gave help and got back to his man. And there’s this: Eight days ago someone asked Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to describe the difference in the Bobcats. He said they always played hard, but now they’re organized. Yeah ... Clifford. ... Walker and Henderson keep reminding me they’re sick of losing. Not in a phony slogan way, but as if to codify what they’re thinking internally. Talent is great and all, but these guys care about their teammates in a way that is genuine.
- Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: The Warriors' postgame locker room Monday night told the story of their 115-111 loss, the latest in a disappointing start to what was supposed to be a promising season. After the loss to the Bobcats, barely a voice spoke above a level appropriate for a library. Some players quickly showered and darted. Others sat and stared in disbelief at a stat sheet that showed they had just allowed the NBA's worst offense to score at least 26 points in every quarter. The Warriors' record fell to 12-10. "It's still early in the season, but this one stings pretty much worse than one has stung in a while," said Stephen Curry, who had a season-high 43 points to go with nine assists, six rebounds and two blocked shots.
- Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: After saying earlier Monday the Clippers weren't going to sign "anybody today or probably even" Tuesday, Coach Doc Rivers said later the team was "close" to a deal with free-agent swingman Stephen Jackson. Jackson is expected to join the Clippers in Boston on Tuesday to sign a contract and take a physical. "We need him in a pinch and we need him like now," Rivers said. "And that's a guy that you can bring in and hopefully he can give you something right away with Reggie [Bullock] being out for at least this trip and maybe longer." Bullock is out because of a sprained left ankle. The Clippers are without shooting guard J.J. Redick, who will be out at least six to eight weeks because of a broken right hand. Backup small forward Matt Barnes will be out even longer than expected because he had a second procedure on his left retina last week. He is not expected to join the team on this trip, which has three games left. The signing of Jackson to a non-guaranteed contract for the veteran's minimum of $1.3 million that will be prorated would give the Clippers a full 15-man roster.
- Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Injured 76ers point guard Michael Carter-Williams said Monday night that he's not sure exactly when he'll return the court. The rookie missed his third straight game because of soreness and a skin infection on the front of his right knee. Carter-Williams spent Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at University of Pennsylvania hospital because of the ailment. Carter-Williams said he would play "when everyone says it will be OK for me to come back." The 22-year-old rookie is on antibiotics and is waiting for the soreness to go away before he takes the court. The Sixers hope he'll make the two-game trip to Minnesota on Wednesday and Toronto on Friday. I want to play all the time," he said. "You guys know that. When I was in the hospital, I wish I was out there playing. I do play through a lot of pain. But the smart thing to do is to get the OK from everybody first until I play."
- Mike Tokito of The Oregonian: As the Trail Blazers were finishing off their 105-94 victory over Utah at EnergySolutions Arena on Monday, there was a ruckus behind their bench. A heavily-bearded fan, wearing Blazers gear, was being restrained by a security guard as he tried to get closer to Portland’s bench. The chaotic scene included a few other Portland fans chanting, “Let’s go Blazers,” and “M-V-P,” which was directed at power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. A day that started with Aldridge winning the Western Conference Player of the Week award for the second time this season, and fifth time in his career, ended with him receiving NBA’s ultimate chant, on the road. It’s a higher level of respect than the two-time All-Star has ever felt before. “It’s a blessing, and it’s definitely something I feel like I worked for,” Aldridge said. “I’ve never heard MVP chants on the road. That was definitely new.”
- Kurt Kragthorpe of The Salt Lake Tribune: But what are we really supposed to think of this team, 23 games into the season? My only concrete conclusion is any outcome makes a sizable number of fans happy. Either the Jazz win, or they improve their NBA draft-lottery odds. As for the theory that fans would eagerly embrace and support this version of the Jazz, regardless? Uh, no. Monday’s crowd was announced as 17,555, but entire rows of lower-bowl seats were empty. Even with a potential sellout Jan. 31 when former coach Jerry Sloan’s honorary banner is unveiled and some visits from elite opponents, the team’s attendance average is sure to be lower than 18,000 for the first time in the building’s 23 seasons. Personally, I should have taken my own preseason advice to just check back in April and see how it all turned out.
- Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger has often expressed dissatisfaction with his team’s lack of energy at the start of games. The Orlando Magic had to wonder what he was talking about. Memphis built an early 23-point lead and then needed every bit of that first-half cushion to hold on for a 94-85 victory Monday night in FedExForum. Even so, the Griz essentially scored a wire-to-wire win because they didn’t trail again after the Magic scored the first basket of the game. “The way we’ve been playing at home we had to get this one,” Griz forward Zach Randolph said. “We have a tough schedule coming up. We’re trying to get some momentum.” The Grizzlies’ next five opponents include Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Minnesota, the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas. Memphis will need the fire that was on display early against Orlando.
- Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: The Orlando Magic changed their game-day routine as their matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies approached on Monday. In an effort to have his team eliminate some of the mistakes it displayed during Sunday night's loss to the Houston Rockets, coach Jacque Vaughn decided to hold a morning shootaround for the first time this season. It's unclear whether the Magic will have more morning shootarounds in the future, but Vaughn won't rule it out. "I'll always kind of diagnose where we are as a team, what I think is good for us and what I think can make us better," Vaughn said. "I thought this morning watching some film of [the] Houston [game] can hopefully make us better tonight." The Magic had employed a different game-day routine this season. Instead of holding a shootaround in the morning, the team had gathered in the afternoons, both at home and on the road, for a film session and walkthrough. But for one day at least, the Magic scuttled their new routine. It was a significant change.
- Ailene Voisin, of The Sacramento Bee: At 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds, Gay upgrades the Kings’ talent, length, athleticism and rebounding. The questions – besides that albatross of a contract – pertain to his offensive efficiency and a shooting percentage hovering at a career-worst 38 percent, a by-product in part of his tendency to dominate the ball and over-penetrate. Some NBA types, however, envision Gay flourishing in a system that utilizes his versatility and puts him in position to make plays for himself and for his teammates. The obvious downside to the deal is the departure of Vasquez, a pass-first point guard who missed much of training camp while recovering from ankle surgery. While splitting time with Thomas, he advocated for more pick-and-rolls and a more free-flowing system, one less reliant on Cousins to generate offense out of the low post. The addition of Gay – putting another scorer into a lineup with Cousins, McLemore, Thomas and perhaps Derrick Williams – presents Malone with an interesting challenge. Adding talent is one thing. Adding talent that will mesh is something else. Look in the window. We shall see.
- Gerry Fraley of The Dallas Morning News: Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle suspected this could be a trap game. “We got beaten soundly,” he said. “If you don’t compete at a high enough level, you get beat. And we didn’t. We’ve got to get our edge back. We lost it a little bit after the big win at Portland.” Earlier in the day, the Kings completed a seven-player deal with Toronto. That was a disadvantage for the Mavericks, Carlisle said, because the Kings would play their best players more than usual while waiting for the newcomers to arrive. In that case, that meant a heavy dose of guard Isaiah Thomas and Cousins for the Mavericks. Thomas made four 3-pointers and had 24 points. Cousins stomped the life out of the Mavericks. He had 32 points and 19 rebounds. When the Mavericks took a lead during the second quarter, he responded with a fury by scoring on four consecutive shots. Two were building-shaking. The Mavericks had no answer to Cousins. Their centers were lambs led to slaughter. The Mavericks’ centers — DeJuan Blair, Samuel Dalembert and Bernard James — had nearly as many fouls (11) as rebounds (14). They combined for 14 points.
- Tom Schad Special for The Denver Post: Brian Shaw has searched for answers to their offensive woes in the first quarters of games. Last week, he walked through the locker room, saw players eating pizza and nachos and believed the poor diet to be the cause. So he picked up all the junk food and threw it in the trash. The Nuggets had fresh salads with chicken breast and cold cut sandwiches before Monday's game. The sluggish result was the same. "We'll keep searching and seeking until we find (it)," Shaw said. "We just talk about the starters needing to start the game for us. Our bench has been tremendous really this whole season. They've bailed us out of a lot of situations." That bench bailed out the Nuggets again Monday, when they outscored Washington's reserves 34-5. Nate Robinson led the way with 16 points off the bench, and Jordan Hamilton had eight. Ty Lawson missed a second straight game with a strained left hamstring, and his absence showed. Wall gashed the Denver defense for 20 points and eight assists. But on the final play, Robinson and the Nuggets made a stop when they needed to. "It was really ugly on both sides," Andre Miller said, "but we came out on the right side."
- Michael Lee of The Washington Post: John Wall untucked his jersey in disgust, angrily glaring at officials but too upset to voice his displeasure. Wall walked off the floor, believing Denver Nuggets guard Nate Robinson grabbed his forearm as he attempted a potential game-winning jumper and instead watched the ball squirt out of his hands. “Same that was happening all game. I couldn’t get a call,” Wall said after the Washington Wizards’ 75-74 loss to the Nuggets. “Nate Robinson was grabbing my arm every time I went by him. I lost the ball. You lose a tough game that way.” Replays appeared to confirm Wall’s complaint, but the Wizards’ loss was more about shoddy late-game execution than Robinson’s wily gamesmanship or a missed call at the end. Even with starters Nene and Martell Webster both out nursing injuries, a depleted roster down to just 11 healthy players and rookie Glen Rice Jr. forced to get important minutes late in his first career start, the Wizards were granted numerous opportunities to emerge victorious but repeatedly found a way to flub them.
December, 9, 2013
- Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro said he owed it to Kings fans to be aggressive after years of suffering through relocation discussions and cost-cutting moves. The Kings took a bold step away from the frugal ways of the last ownership group by agreeing to acquire forward Rudy Gay as part of a seven-player trade Sunday. Gay, 27, comes from Toronto with a $17.9 million salary this season and a player option for $19.3 million next season. The Kings will send Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Greivis Vasquez to Toronto as part of the deal. Sacramento also gets forward Quincy Acy and center Aaron Gray. ... D’Alessandro has been struggling to accept another possible year of futility for the Kings. Sacramento is 5-13, the second-worst record in the Western Conference. Already, the Kings have had losing streaks of six and five games. It’s a reason D’Alessandro has been actively pursuing deals – this is his second of the season. The Kings dealt Luc Mbah a Moute to Minnesota for Derrick Williams on Nov. 26. The moves also show that D’Alessandro has no problem dealing players after short stints with the team; Vasquez and Mbah a Moute were both acquired in July. The deal also drastically alters how the Kings will look on the floor. Isaiah Thomas figures to assume Vasquez’s role as starting point guard, with Jimmer Fredette and rookie Ray McCallum vying for playing time behind Thomas.
- Eric Koreen of the National Post: It took just over 10 months, and a new general manager, to determine that Gay did not make the team better, and that he could not. A few hours before tipping off against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Raptors agreed to trade Gay to the Sacramento Kings, a source confirmed to the National Post. Colangelo’s replacement, Masai Ujiri, swung the deal with Sacramento general manager Pete D’Allesandro, who was Ujiri’s assistant in Denver. ... In the end, the move amounts to nothing more than a salary dump. Of the four players that the Raptors are receiving, only Hayes, scheduled to make nearly US$6-million, has a fully guaranteed contract next year. John Salmons’ US$7-million can be bought out for US$1-million, while the other two players will either become restricted or unrestricted free agents, depending on whether the Raptors extend them qualifying offers. The Raptors believed Gay was very likely to exercise his US$19.3-million player option for next season, based on his marginal effectiveness and what similar talents received last year. ... Kyle Lowry, the Raptors’ current starting point guard, figures to be the most likely player to be traded. Ujiri, to be sure, is not done.
- Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: It was a night of basketball immortality and human frailty. It was a night of loud cheers and quiet shudders. It was a night when the perception was as torn as Kobe Bryant's Achilles tendon last spring, an injury from which he returned Sunday amid both undaunted hopes and unsettling fears. Bryant's aura was back, but his athleticism was not. His court presence was dramatic, but his court effectiveness was spotty. Fans showered him with two hours of love, but his teammates couldn't get comfortable around him. He gritted his teeth and pumped his fist and shouted inspiration as the fans chanted both "Ko-be'' and "M-V-P." Yet he also missed seven of his nine shots, committed eight turnovers, and rarely left the ground on offense. And, oh, by the way, a makeshift six-win Toronto Raptors team that had just traded away leading scorer Rudy Gay beat the clearly distracted Lakers, 106-94. "I guess it's a start," said Bryant afterward with a weary sigh. "A start is good." ... The night could perhaps be best summed up by one play midway through the first quarter when Bryant was thrown the ball at the top of a fast break in a one-on-one situation with the Raptors' Kyle Lowry. But instead of taking it to the basket, instead of even jumping, Bryant shoveled the ball underhanded to Steve Blake, who then threw it to Wesley Johnson, who dunked it instead. "It's a matter of trusting certain things, experimenting," said Bryant. So it went on a night that, while billed as a comeback, was less an ending than a beginning. Of what, nobody is certain.
- Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: They still call the place Madison Square Garden, but the joint was more a theater of the absurd yesterday. Certainly things can get out of hand and numbers can multiply quickly in an NBA game, but wrap your head around this: The team that is trying to make the playoffs and came into the season believing it had a shot at a long postseason run lost by 41 points. The Celtics, on the other hand, have now won three straight and 4-of-5 after a 114-73 thrashing of the ne’er-do-well Knicks. The club that stripped its roster of two no-reservations-needed Hall of Famers in the offseason and has yet to get its remaining current All-Star on the court is teaching lessons to the high and mighty on the benefits of simply playing hard and as a team. Greenhearts may curse every win as a diminished chance at lottery success, but the Celtics are reveling in their “take that” triumphs. Rajon Rondo laughed when asked if the Celts are trying to get their coach fired or something. “Nah, man,” Rondo said, “We’re just in a groove.” One that Rondo, the rehabbing All-Star, would love to join. Rondo’s eyes have widened as he’s watched young people in green willing to run the floor and big men throwing crisp outlet passes.
- Peter Botte of the New York Daily News: Is orange the new black hole for the Knicks? As Carmelo Anthony pointed out, it wouldn’t have mattered what the Knicks wore during their 114-73 eyesore loss Sunday to the Celtics at the Garden. But it certainly was a hot, if misguided, topic on Twitter — and even on the MSG postgame show — after the Knicks fell to 0-6 this season in games they’ve worn their alternate orange uniforms. “No, I’m not a superstitious guy. I won’t blame it on the 12 o’clock game, I won’t blame it on the orange uniforms. Regardless, we could’ve been in the white uniforms today, it’d still been the same thing,” Anthony said after what he described as “an embarrassment” of a game. The orange jerseys mistakenly were hanging in the team’s lockers before Friday’s game against Orlando, and Raymond Felton joked that he “complained” after seeing them upon arriving at the Garden. The Knicks wore their white uniforms that night, as planned, and pounded the Magic by 38 points. “It doesn’t matter. It was just a little simple joke we had two or three days ago. But it is nothing to joke about right now. I am not in a joking mood,” said Felton, who scored zero points in 20 minutes. “I am not superstitious about anything. You play whatever you play in, whatever jersey, whatever color, whatever shoes. I am not superstitious.”
- Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: The rest has produced results, so Dwyane Wade again sat out the second night of a back-to-back set Sunday, when the Miami Heat faced the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills. "It's just a plan that they have set and I'm trying to stick to it," Wade said of his sixth absence of the season, as he works his way back from offseason knee shock-wave therapy. It is the third time in the Heat's four back-to-backs this season Wade has been held out of the second night of such a set. He said trainer Jay Sabol made this latest decision. ... The big picture largely has been effective, with Wade increasingly productive coming off his rest periods.The on-and-off pattern could continue for another month, or even longer. "I'm looking for this next month, month and a half, when they told me the pain's supposed to lessen," he said. "And I'm looking to see, hopefully, it gets to that point, and it'll be more consistent." He is expected back for Tuesday's showdown against the Indiana Pacers, the final stop of this four-game trip.
- Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: If there’s one player who can relate to Andre Drummond’s plight — if you want to call it that — of being a big kid in a man’s body and a man’s game, LeBron James would be the clearest example. ... Drummond had 19 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks in the Pistons’ 110-95 loss to the Heat Sunday, and 10 points with 18 rebounds in the Pistons’ 107-97 win in Miami last Tuesday. “Each and every game he continues to grow. His confidence is building,” James said. James made perhaps the biggest statistical leap from his rookie season to his second year, while a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2004-05. His scoring jumped from 20.9 to 27.2, his rebounding from 5.5 to 7.4 and assists from 5.9 to 7.2, so he knows the value of familiarity, seeing the league the second time around. Drummond is averaging 18.4 points, 16.8 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and two steals in his last five games, and the Pistons have gone 4-1 in that stretch.
- Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: This was the best win of the year. And it may not be close. The Spurs game is up there. The Timberwolves Part II is up there. The Mavs performance is up there. But given the quality of the opponent, Indiana’s strengths and the Thunder’s subsequent start-to-finish smackdown, you have to rank this at the top of the list. The key to the game was a little known game within the game. It was Kevin Durant versus Paul George. There were tons of other things, of course, that enabled the Thunder to pull out this authoritative victory. But that matchup was the most significant. “He’s getting tired of hearing about Paul George,” Kendrick Perkins said of Durant on Saturday when I asked about George. And, as I wrote for Monday’s paper, Durant came out and played like it. Durant typically defers to Russell Westbrook in the first half. Not tonight. Durant was going at George and the Pacers from the start. KD took nine shots in the opening quarter, scored 14 points in the period and added three assists. Rarely did he pass up an opportunity to light up the Pacers. I don’t know if Durant feels threatened by George, views him as the new kid on the block that’s coming for him or just doesn’t care for the dude. Either way, we saw a side of Durant tonight that we rarely see.
- Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star: Every day, Pacers center Roy Hibbert must use an inhaler to combat his exercise-induced asthma. Sunday was no exception. So an hour before the Pacers faced the Thunder, Hibbert sat in front of his locker stall, brought the inhaler to his lips and took a slow, deep breath. In spite of his asthma, Hibbert has continued to plug Indiana's defense and pile up the blocks. Before Sunday, Hibbert had 65 blocked shots through 20 games, the most by any Pacer in that span since the 1985-86 season.
- Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle: Rockets forward Terrence Jones has continued to impress his coaches and teammates since he became the team’s starter a month ago. On Sunday against the Magic, Jones had 16 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks. He was also the source of an energy spark late in the game when the Magic were making a small comeback. “Terrence was very good tonight,” Coach Kevin McHale said. “There’s been a couple of games that I have talked to him about the his energy level and what he has to do for our team and he did those things.” Jones said that he is still just trying to soak in everything he can and grow as a player. “I’m trying to play with confidence and do the little things to help us win,” he said. “It is important that I keep learning.” McHale said that while Jones has some lessons to learn, his future is a bright one.
- Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Sunday’s matchup against Howard’s Rockets lacked the intensity and venom that typified the Magic’s games against Howard’s Los Angeles Lakers last season. With Nik Vucevic out with a sprained left ankle, Davis guarded Howard one-on-one for much of the Sunday night and helped limit Howard to six baskets. After the game ended, Howard and Jameer Nelson, his former Magic co-captain, smiled and chuckled a bit at center court. “It’s always fun to see the little midget and play against him,” Howard said, repeating the pet nickname he used for Nelson during the Magic’s 2009 run to the Eastern Conference title. “I wouldn’t say it’s a rivalry or anything like that. I’ll always love what the city did and also the Magic for giving me the opportunity of drafting me number one. I don’t know what else to say about it.” In the visitors’ postgame locker room at Toyota Center, Nelson sounded more worried about the Magic (6-14) than about the implications of playing against Howard.
December, 9, 2013
By Justin Verrier
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty ImagesAfter eight months of recovery, Kobe Bryant returned for what may be his career's final stretch.The final act of Kobe Bryant began with a Facebook link.
As the anticipation over his return to the court simmered, the means by which the news of his arrival would be announced became something of a hot topic among media types. With so many reporters, both locally and nationally, so closely following the daily machinations of his recovery from a torn left Achilles, could it really get past them all? Would he wait for a home game? Would his name just be there in the starting lineup one day, and that would be that?
The final word, of course, was always going to come from Bryant. Though a late adapter to social media, the Los Angeles Lakers superstar has taken to the technology’s unfiltered access like few other athletes. For a player who demands, sometimes ferociously, the ability to dictate the performance of his team, the chance to have full control over his message required little more than a natural embrace.
And so on Friday, at about 1 p.m. PT, a link was posted to Bryant’s Facebook page. There, a video could be found “exclusively” announcing his return, in a production that was decidedly Kobe.
An overly dramatic title. A slickly crafted one-scene of his No. 24 jersey being battered by the elements. A masculine score straight out of Westeros. With one 2-minute, 8-second video clip, Bryant turned a routine Sunday night game against the hapless Toronto Raptors into the spectacle of the 2013-14 season. And by broadcasting the news a full two days before the big event (and the day of another -- quickly forgotten -- Lakers game), he created a groundswell in Los Angeles that permeated through the weekend. They cooed over seeing him take the floor again at holiday parties Saturday night. They excitedly discussed his effect on the Lakers’ season at brunch the day of.
When Bryant finally arrived some 30 hours later, his feet dressed in a specialized version of his first Nike shoe, the Staples Center crowd couldn’t stand still through the national anthem, with at least one fan belting out "KOBE!" in between almost every breath of the day’s featured crooner. The usual starting lineup production was also specialized, with Bryant, the curtain call to the team’s introduction, coming out under darkness to the “Imperial March.” As Bryant toed the free-throw line toward the end of the Lakers’ 106-94 defeat, some even dared to muster an “M-V-P” chant.
This was a hero’s welcome. This was exactly the environment Bryant had taken great care to craft for the beginning of his end.
We all want to choose the way we go out, to decide the last image the world will have of us. No one desires to be remembered as sickly, clinging to the last threads of the person we used to be. Athletes spend decades crafting their legacies -- putting up all of those shots, lifting all of those weights -- and to go out on top, instead of with a whimper, well, that’s something special. In fact, clinical psychology studies have shown that when we think about experiences, we are more influenced by how the experience ends than by the experience as a whole.
Finishing his career with a title, like John Elway and others, appears unlikely for Bryant at this point; as long as he is the best player on the Lakers, Kobe will also be the best reason for another, much-needed superstar not to play for the Lakers. But by signing a two-year extension with the only franchise he has ever known, at a price that will make him the highest-paid player in the NBA over the length of the agreement, Bryant has ensured that, for the next two-plus years, the Lakers will be built in his image, just like they were when he was at his best. He has procured the best possible lighting for his grand finale.
If the next 226 games do, indeed, mark the end, it will not be some dour funeral. Bryant’s mere presence on Sunday created a palpable energy -- in the arena and around the league -- that this fun, scrappy, speedy Lakers team could not create for the first 19 games of the season. He is a star of a rarefied air; for a certain percentage of basketball fans, he is the only reason to tune in. Even if this slower, still-recovering rendition of Bryant never rounds back into the grizzled gunslinger that preceded it for 17 seasons, those impassioned screams that echo through the arena after his every made field goal will serve as the second line for a must-see march into the sunset.
The hope, though, is that after watching the ball and his body move to different rhythms at times during a 9-point, 8-rebound, 8-turnover, 4-assist opening performance, Bryant’s production won’t stray too far from the experience -- not just yet. The reality of his return was never going to live up to the image crafted through all of the hype and anticipation, but to see an at-times sluggish Bryant struggling to adapt, to the game and to his new surroundings, certainly didn’t quell some of the natural fears that arise after a 35-year-old suffers a career-threatening injury.
“I’m still not sure what I can do,” said a generally optimistic and upbeat Bryant postgame.
But eight months of inaction, which Bryant joked he hadn’t experienced since he “was still in the womb,” has forced the notorious control freak to come to terms with uncertainty. Prior to the announcement of his return, Bryant told ESPNLA.com’s Dave McMenamin that his recovery also served as a process for self-assessment and self-discovery. “You’re like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this again, every single day. I don’t know if I can,’” Bryant said. “You kind of have to dig deep and find things to keep going. It's a lot of searching, man. It’s a lot of searching.”
Now, after 17-plus years, he finds himself on the precipice of what most likely will be it. But after months of managing the unknown, Bryant made his first step toward his finale with structure of a storybook ending already in place.
Kobe Bryant cannot dictate his ultimate end. But before we come to bury him, he has ensured himself plenty of opportunities to be praised a few more times.
- Marc Berman of the New York Post: A large portion of the pro-Knicks crowd at Barclays Center stood up and cheered as Andrea Bargnani walked off the court with 8:23 left after his first NBA ejection for jawing with trash-talk king Kevin Garnett. More impressive was as the 7-foot Italian headed for the tunnel after his second technical, the Knicks players on the court and bench were on their feet clapping too. Bargnani had stood up to Garnett, and all seemed right again in the Knicks’ world. It was another bonus to Thursday’s 113-83 destruction of the Nets. Bargnani had set the tone of the evening with a monstrous driving dunk down the right baseline and then ended it in style with an ejection that earned him major kudos in the giddy Knicks’ locker room. “We need him to get upset like that," J.R. Smith said. “We need him to get engaged. He played great but it was the wrong referee [Joey Crawford] making the call."
- Fred Kerber of the New York Post: At the grizzled old age of 25, Brook Lopez has endured a 12-70 record, an All-Star selection and a broken foot that reduced a season to five games — after three consecutive seasons in which he recorded perfect 82-game attendances. Yes, Lopez has seen a lot so far. But he admits he hasn’t seen anything like this current Nets campaign. “I thought I got the craziness out of the way early, I thought I’d be done with it,” said Lopez, pointing back to the nightmare of his second season, the nauseating 12-70 record in 2009-10 when the Nets were a mere 29 games out of the playoffs. “This is definitely more bizarre than that, though.” Yeah, tumbling to a 5-14 record after a 113-83 embarrassment against the now 4-13 Knicks Thursday at Barclays Center could be considered bizarre. Coaches and players spoke of defensive systems being inserted on the fly. That’s sort of different from the championship aspirations both teams espoused in the offseason. Now add various injuries, the hiring of a future Hall of Fame player but unproven coach, the most widely reported demotion of an assistant coach in memory to all those thus-far failed expectations and you have REALLY bizarre. “It’s been tough,” said Lopez.
- Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News: Mike Woodson had his first win since Nov. 13, a ridiculously easy 113-83 rout of the Nets, and now he was headed out to the team bus at the Barclays Center. In the tunnel that leads out to the court, a buddy handed him a victory cigar, and there were back-slaps, handshakes, hugs and happy faces surrounding the embattled Knicks coach. “You needed this win,” said one well-wisher. You think? Woodson still might not be out of the proverbial woods, because who’s to know exactly what Jim Dolan is thinking, even after the Knicks crushed their rivals from across the East River. You hear all this talk about Allan Houston being the next in line to follow Woodson, absurd and crazy talk, and you want to jump off one of those Chase Bridges over at the Garden. Woodson might not have totally saved his job when his Knicks took out a Nets team that is depleted and is currently coached by a guy who is in way over his head. Not a good combination, unless you’re Mike Woodson needing a win in the worst way. He didn’t make any big speeches in the locker room after he lived to see another game. “He said, ‘We just go get the next one,’ " J.R. Smith said. “This one feels good. But tomorrow is the most important game as of right now. You can’t get too happy or satisfied."
- Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Not only did the Bulls (8-9) outscore Miami 44-34 down low, but outrebounded them 49-27, led by Joakim Noah’s 15 rebounds and 17 points. “The people in this city, there’s something about when Miami comes to town, you know you wake up in the morning and you feel it," Noah said afterward. “People in this city don’t like the Miami Heat, we don’t like the Miami Heat, and it always feels good to beat them." Asked why the hatred for the Heat, not only did Noah explain it, but again opened up about still dealing with the Rose injury. “A lot of battles, a lot of scars, a lot of tough losses, a lot of seasons ending because of them,’’ Noah said. “I think that our team needed it. We’ve been through a lot the last couple of weeks, and even for me I think it’s really hard to play without Derrick. I want to win with Derrick Rose. What Derrick represents to the city, there’s not a lot of players that have that. He brings a lot of hope to the city, and I feed off that. I feel really privileged to play in that position, so him going down is just, it’s really hard for him, hard for us, but we have to move on and it’s not easy. We’ve been going through a lot of adversity, losing the little homie, Derrick. It’s been really hard on us."
- Rohan Nadkarni for The Miami Herald: On May 26, 2011, the Heat sent a gust through the Windy City when they used a furious rally to knock then-MVP Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls out of the playoffs en route to the NBA Finals. The series was over, but the rivalry was just beginning. The stage was set for Rose and LeBron James, the last two regular season MVPs, to battle each year for conference supremacy. Instead, on Thursday night, Miami played a Chicago team again without the services of Rose, who missed all of last year with an ACL injury, and will miss the rest of this regular season with a torn meniscus. ... The Heat-Bulls rivalry has been bubbling for years. In three of the four Finals trips in franchise history, Miami defeated Chicago along the way. In 2007, Chicago swept the defending champion Heat out of the playoffs. ... As for the Heat-Bulls rivalry, which may never live up to its potential as an annual battle deserving of its own place in NBA lore, players just want to see teams at full strength. “I worry about [Rose’s] health,” Haslem said. “As a competitor, you never like to see anybody hurt. I hate that he has to be out, because he’s an incredible player. Rivalry or not, I hate to see Derrick Rose go down.”
- Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: It has become apparent that the Memphis Grizzlies look forward to playing the Clippers anywhere, any time. And it has become apparent that the Clippers and Grizzlies aren't fond of each other. "I think our guys get up to play them too," said Clippers Coach Doc Rivers. "The difference is they've beaten us. If we would have beaten them, they would have said the same thing. They beat us last year in the playoffs." The Clippers and Grizzlies have met the last two years in the playoffs, with Memphis knocking the Clippers out in six games last May and with Los Angeles beating the Grizzlies in seven games in the 2012 playoffs. ... As if on cue, Memphis center Kosta Koufos was called for a technical foul against Clippers forward Blake Griffin and Jerryd Bayless was called for a flagrant-1 foul for pushing Griffin during the Clippers' 101-81 victory Thursday night. Memphis Coach Dave Joerger, like Rivers, is in his first season as a head coach in this rivalry, but he was an assistant with Memphis for six seasons. He said the dislike between the teams was born out of two former Clippers. "I do think so it was more Reggie [Evans] and Kenyon [Martin]," Joerger said. "Those two guys made that series nasty."
- Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph stood at his locker after spending the last two hours tangling with the Los Angeles Clippers. He was antsy, practically pacing in a confined space with an unmistakable scowl on his face. Randolph was fuming Thursday night after the Grizzlies’ 101-81 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in FedExForum. “I hate losing to those guys,” Randolph said. Randolph returned to the lineup after missing two games because of an ingrown toenail. He went from one painful situation right into another. The Clippers simply put a hurting on the Griz by dominating the second half with an aggressive defense and crisp offensive execution. “We missed a lot of open shots and I thought we settled a lot,” Griz coach Dave Joerger said. “We didn’t execute. We didn’t screen. We tried hard. We played hard. That is an elite team in the (Western Conference). They can really score. And once they really got into us and pressured us in the second half, we kind of hesitated and got out of whack.” FedExForum has suddenly turned into unfriendly confines for the Griz, who have dropped five of their past eight games at home.
- Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: OK, so this DeMarcus Cousins/Derrick Rose situation has been blown way out of proportion. The whole incident began late Tuesday when I approached Cousins, who was seated alone in the locker room after missing the Kings-Thunder game with a sore ankle, and asked if he planned to play Friday against the Lakers. We were having a casual conversation; this wasn’t an interview. I mentioned that Kobe Bryant was expected to return following an eight-month recovery from Achilles surgery, adding another layer to an always entertaining rivalry. Cousins laughed. “Kobe’s not the story,” he joked. “The big story is my return. Maybe I’ll get a commercial out of it.” We chatted a few more minutes .... about Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. Derrick Rose was never mentioned. If anything, I interpreted Cousins’ comments as a humorous reference to the number of professional athletes (including Robert Griffin III) who through the years have used their comebacks as themes for their commercials. ... I feel really bad that DeMarcus Cousins is being accused of slamming Derrick Rose. I dont think anyone who heard him say it took it that way.
- Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The Hawks are planning an in-game acknowledgement should Kyle Korver breaks the record for consecutive games with a 3-pointer on Friday. Korver has made a 3-pointer in 89 straight games and is tied with Dana Barros for the NBA’s all-time record. He can own the mark outright with a 3-pointer against the Cavaliers. The team did not offer details as to how it will celebrate the mark. “What Kyle has accomplished to date is significant and we plan to acknowledge the streak,” Hawks Vice President of Public Relations Garin Narain told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: Every team in the NBA uses video for scouting in one way or another. For years, organizations have housed video departments and employed video coordinators — Jonathan Yim fills the role for the Blazers — who have been instrumental in helping coaches make in-game adjustments. That used to be relegated to halftime meetings, when coaches would show clips on screens in locker rooms and tweak defensive coverages or offensive sets. But the NBA altered its rules prior to the 2012-13 season. Now, teams are allowed to review video from any game — including the one they are playing — on the bench as long as it does not feature a live video feed. Aldridge and Matthews are the Blazers players who most often take advantage of the rule change, and they regularly peruse clips in-game on iPads. During the first half of Wednesday night’s victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Aldridge was pulled from the game and, about two minutes later, an intern from the video department left the video room with an iPad and delivered it to the bench. Aldridge went on to have a monster game, recording a career-high 38 points, 13 rebounds and five assists, perhaps aided by a tip he picked up from the iPad. “I use it mostly to see how teams are double-teaming me,” Aldridge said earlier this season. “Because I get double-teamed a lot, so I like to see what guys are open, who I’m going to hit (with a pass) if I get double-teamed, where the defense is double-teaming me from and where my shots are going to come from.”
December, 5, 2013
By shooting from the hip in making key decisions, Amin Elhassan says the Knicks and Nets sowed the seeds of their own demise.
December, 5, 2013
By Beckley Mason
Special to ESPN.com
Special to ESPN.com
AP Photo/John RaouxThe star-studded lineup expected to bring Brooklyn to the top of the East has been all hype thus far.It's a Tuesday night at Barclays Center and Nets emcee David Diamante has his work cut out for him. The listless, ragged home team is once again being bludgeoned to a pulp, this time by the speed and energy of the Denver Nuggets. The crowd is disinterested at best, disgusted at worst. Diamante is a loyal Brooklynite, an over-the-top hype man from the world of boxing. Hoping to bring the crowd to life, he reaches for Brooklyn's self-identity of hard scrabble, working class pride.
"We may be down, but we're never out!" Diamante says. "Brooklyn, STAND UP!"
The crowd responds with loud boos, its most heartfelt sentiment of the night.
The Nets are 5-13 and haven't won at home in a month. Its lineup of superstars, the one many observers believed could put a real scare into the rest of the Eastern Conference, has hardly played at all. A three-story likeness of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez standing together rings the entrance to Barclays. Thus far that five has played together a grand total of 78 minutes.
The injuries have been unending and severely impacted the on-court product. But the co-opting of Brooklyn’s civic identity has never really suited this team. Its best player is a 7-foot, laid-back Californian. Lopez might be the best post scorer in the NBA, but he’s better known for low rebounding totals that belie the grit and toughness so central to Brooklyn’s self-image. Most of the people who work for the Nets’ front office still live in New Jersey, where the team still practices. The players all live outside the borough, too.
The Brooklynization of the Nets has meant cool jerseys, Jay-Z courtside, great food in the concourse of Barclays Center and the occasional piece of public art that gets a mention in the New Yorker. It’s also been a cynical commercial play to draft off the borough’s rise in national prominence and local cultural import. Two years into its residency on Flatbush Avenue, the Nets may have a stronger identity on the national landscape than they do in Brooklyn.
The team remains a flashy transplant, tossing around money for players with well-known, glitzy brands. If the franchise were a guy showing you around his apartment, you imagine him telling you the price of everything in it: "Oh yeah, that antique is a Paul Pierce. You’ve heard of him, right? Yeah, he’s great. $15 million, but, I mean, there's only one Paul Pierce.”
Pierce's former Boston colleague, Garnett, stars in a new commercial for Beats headphones. Garnett is dressed exquisitely, a professional who has earned his legendary status, as he heads into an opposing arena. Fans line up outside the arena to scream invectives and make fun of his age. Garnett slips on his headphones and drowns out the haters; he’s ready to prove everyone wrong.
"Hear what you want," the ad says.
It’s ironic, given Garnett’s actual play this season. The 37-year-old looks gassed. His defensive rebounding has somehow held up, but his Usage Rate is the lowest it has been since he was a 19 year-old rookie, and he’s on pace for his first season with a PER below the league average.
Garnett's personal defensive rating (a very noisy statistic but one not without merit) is his worst in 15 seasons, a testament to how great he’s been for so long. His credentials as the keystone of Boston's strongside zone are legendary; he would make a short list of current players fit to coach a defense himself. But Garnett is no longer capable of anchoring a defense on the court. His mind is as quick as ever, but changes in direction take a split second longer. Garnett can't reverse course nor, as he did for so long in Boston, can he defend more space than any other player.
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesThe Nets' defense has sunk to last under new coach Jason Kidd.
Overall, the defense is abysmal; the very worst in the NBA. The principles appear mostly sound, but the personnel is simply too slow. Good defenses are characterized by length and quickness on the perimeter, and a lynchpin inside. Despite some other impressive imports, until Andrei Kirilenko is healthy, the Nets are big ... and that's about it.
Meanwhile, in part because of the absurd string of injuries, Brooklyn’s offense has collapsed this season after being a top-10 outfit in 2012-13. For all the criticisms of Avery Johnson and later P.J. Carlesimo’s lack of creativity, the offense worked. The Nets were top-seven in rates of both free throw and 3-point attempts -- excellent indicators of a healthy offense that generates high-value opportunities.
Led by Lopez, the Nets are still getting to the line, but they have not been able to establish any identity on offense. In reality, the only identity they have on either end of the court is negative space: The absence of those who aren't out there because of injury.
In this context, it feels cruel to judge Jason Kidd's debut season as a head coach, especially since Kidd himself publicly renounced many coaching duties in favor of delegating to Lawrence Frank. Recently, Kidd curtly demoted Frank, who coached Kidd on the New Jersey Nets from 2003-07. Frank will no longer sit on the bench or run timeouts, which he did throughout summer league and the first 17 games of the season. Frank is reportedly seeking a buyout, which would terminate the strange arrangement famously used by Larry Bird during his coaching days in Indiana.
This may correct a cosmetic issue -- cameras repeatedly caught Kidd staring blank-faced as Frank conducted timeout huddles -- rather than produce actual change. The details of the breakdown are still unclear, but that the relationship dissolved so quickly and so publicly speaks to greater structural issues within the organization. Given their history, Kidd must have known the kind of coach and co-worker Frank is before he recruited him to his staff.
But that’s just the problem with this Nets team: So many things seemed like given truths and safe assumptions, only for it all to fall to pieces almost as soon as the season began. There was nothing cynical about the preseason optimism. But you can't always trust the hype to deliver once the product is out of the box.
- Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The streak lives – in record fashion. Kyle Korver returned to the Hawks lineup and wasted no time in extending his now NBA-record to 89 consecutive games with a 3-pointer. After missing four games with a rib contusion, Korver opened the scoring for the Hawks with a 3-pointer just 30 seconds into Wednesday’s game against the Clippers at Philips Arena. Korver tied the mark of Dana Barros which has stood since Jan. 1996. He can own the record outright with another Friday against the Cavaliers. The record-tying basket came in an impressive 107-97 Hawks win over the Clippers. Korver finished with a season-high 23 points. The Hawks (10-10, 6-3 home) snapped a two-game losing streak and won for the second time in the past seven games. ... “I was just trying to get that one out of the way," Korver said. "I’m just trying to be aggressive. A lot of other teams have focused on it. It’s been hard for me to get shots the last couple of games. I wanted to be aggressive. I was glad it went down and we could just play the rest of the game.”
- Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: For now, Doc Rivers said he wasn't looking to make any roster moves because he likes his team. The subject about keeping this current Clippers team together came up Wednesday night even though the trading deadline is not until Feb. 20. But teams usually begin discussing deals around Dec. 15, which is sort of an arbitrary date set by the NBA that allows free agents signed last summer to be traded. Rivers said "I wouldn't mind" keeping the same 14-man roster. "Obviously, you're always looking," he said. "But I like our team. So, I would be fine. I don't even think about that right now. It's too early in the year." Rivers not only is coach of the Clippers, but he is the senior vice president of basketball operations, meaning he's in charge of making any moves. If the Clippers do make a move soon, it'll probably be to sign free-agent forward Lamar Odom, someone Rivers has said he will be monitoring. ... Rivers remains one victory shy of 600, which would make him the 23rd coach in NBA history to win at least 600 games and only the third active coach with that many victories.
- John Canzano of The Oregonian: You could hear the joy through the glass doors of the Trail Blazers locker room at their home arena late Wednesday night. Coach Terry Stotts was down the hallway, addressing the media as he's obligated after Portland's 111-104 win over Oklahoma City. The moment inside the locker room now belonged the Blazers players. So here was point guard Damian Lillard, standing in the center of the locker room, slapping his hands and gesturing and shouting, "I was like, 'Shoot the damn ball!!!'" There was laughter everywhere. LaMarcus Aldridge shook his head and laughed until he buckled over. He'd just scored 38 points, and did so despite passing on a couple of wide-open shot attempts in the final minutes. The Blazers had answered yet another in a line of seemingly endless questions. Can they win on the road? Can they win at home? Can they beat good teams? How about great ones? How about the Spurs? The Pacers? The Thunder? Yes, to all. The evidence was everywhere on Wednesday. This isn't necessarily a hot team anymore. It's no longer a team playing a soft schedule. The Blazers aren't experiencing a small early-season uprising, or a cute little winning streak. Portland is 16-3 -- best record in the Western Conference.
- Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: Throughout a physical second-half, Russell Westbrook had a few rough falls, barreling into the teeth of the Portland defense with his kamikaze style. And toward the end of the game, Westbrook was seen limping, a scary sign for Thunder fans who know his recent injury history. But postgame, although Westbrook didn't talk to the media, he didn't look injured and a Thunder spokesman said he was fine. ... Same story, different night: The Thunder starters had a combined plus/minus of minus-35, while the bench played relatively well, keeping their plus/minus at exactly even. That has been a recurring trend of late, with the Thunder continually looking better when it has at least a couple bench players on the floor.
- Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star: Either the Indiana Pacers still need to develop a consistent second scorer or stick to the current plan and maintain the equilibrium. Heading into Wednesday’s night matchup with the Utah Jazz, the Pacers led the NBA with the biggest difference in points-per-game averages between the team’s top two scorers. Paul George led the team with 24.9 points per game and the next highest scorer, David West, came in at 12.6 points for a 12.3 difference. Coach Frank Vogel views the stat as indication of Pacers basketball. “I think it’s great. It’s who we are,” Vogel said. “We’ve got five guys who can guard their own man and we’ve got five guys who can score and one who is capable of exploding — a lot of them are capable of exploding but one of them is doing it at a level that’s besides anybody in the league.”
- Trevor Phibbs of the Deseret News: All season, the Utah Jazz have searched for consistent production on the interior block. Both Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter have displayed glimpses of dominance, but have struggled to work cohesively together in the starting lineup. In Wednesday’s 95-86 loss against Indiana, however, the Jazz witnessed the potential they’ve expected from their two young post players. For only the third time this season, and the first time against a quality opponent, Favors and Kanter both reached the double-figure plateau in points and rebounds. Favors finished with a game-high 22 points and 13 rebounds, his eighth double-double, while Kanter added 20 points and 10 boards, his fourth double-double. “There were some things there that you can grow from,” Jazz coach Ty Corbin said. “You look at numbers and they’re a great game, but there’s still some improvement. We’ll break it down and we were glad to see them give us the effort (we) were looking for.”
- Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Suns small forward P.J. Tucker sat in the Toyota Center visitors locker room late Wednesday night with his worn-out feet submerged in an ice bath, talking as he held two cellphones precariously above the bucket. They were in good hands, just like the Suns were in turning All-Star guard James Harden over to Tucker’s defense during a 97-88 victory over the Houston Rockets. There have been plenty of games where Tucker’s dogged defensive effort almost looks fruitless in the box scores against the endless stream of top opposing scorers that he defends each game. Not Wednesday. Harden, the NBA’s fifth-leading scorer, felt every bit of Tucker’s physical, relentless, intelligent defense for a 3-for-17 shooting game. Following a five-game defensive decline, the Suns (10-9) emerged with a gem against the NBA’s league-leading offense and No. 3 shooting team, albeit missing two main offensive weapons in injured players Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin. Houston (13-7) shot a season-low 35.2 percent and scored 21 points below their average. It started with Tucker’s work on Harden, who missed all 10 of his 3-point attempts, matching a career-worst game from four years ago. “He’s one of the toughest people to guard in the league,” Tucker said.
- Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: As he took care of a few last preparations before Thursday’s trip to meet the president at a White House reception, Rockets forward Omri Casspi admitted to some building nerves. That did not stop him from imagining the game of basketball with President Obama that will not be part of the itinerary. “I wish we had some time to play, too,” Casspi said. “It could have been fun.” Casspi, however, said if they could play, he knew he would not have blocked an Obama shot. “I don’t want any Israel-United States drama, more drama,” Casspi said. “Let him shoot. Let him score. Let him feel good. We need that support.” Instead, he will represent Israel to mark the end of Hanukkah. “My mother is more excited than me,” Casspi said. “It’s going to be fun. It’s a dream come true to be in the White House. It’s a once in a lifetime experience. Some people don’t ever experience that. To be able to go there and be able to tell my kids whatever year I’ve got kids that I’ve been there it’s awesome.”
- Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: Booed throughout the first half, Brandon Jennings struggled in his return to Milwaukee. But Andre Drummond had his back. Drummond’s monster 24-point, 19-rebound night was the main difference in the Pistons’ 105-98 victory over the Bucks Wednesday night. ... Drummond is quickly turning into one of the league’s best centers. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Drummond is the first player with 18-plus rebounds in three straight games this season and is the first Pistons player to do it since Ben Wallace did it nine straight times in March 2003. After a slow first half, Monroe finished with 18 points and 17 rebounds. ESPN Stats says the last time any Pistons teammates accomplished this rebounding feat was in 1990 when Bill Laimbeer grabbed 20 rebounds and Dennis Rodman went for 17.
- Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Larry Drew said before the game that he would have no comment on the municipal citations issued to center Larry Sanders for his part in a nightclub brawl Nov. 3. Sanders, who suffered a torn ligament in his right thumb in the incident, was fined $185 for a disorderly conduct ticket and $366 for an assault and battery ticket. "I don't want to comment on it," Drew said. Asked when he hoped to have Sanders back in the lineup, Drew said, "ASAP. We're hoping, and I know Larry is hoping as well, once he gets the cast off and once the thumb is examined again, he will be able to rejoin us as soon as he can." Initially the injury time frame was determined to be four to six weeks, which could put Sanders back before Christmas if all went well with his recovery.
- Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Mark Cuban did everything but light up a cigar to signify one of those I-told-you-so moments. The Dallas Mavericks' owner was asked about the mess that the Brooklyn Nets have created, and was basking in the glory of the moment. Cuban knows the Nets have the highest payroll in the NBA at $102.2 million, and knows that Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is in a position were Mavs' fans wanted Cuban to be in two years ago. Strapped by the salary cap. The Mavs won the NBA title in 2011 and decided to allow several key pieces to walk via free agency, including Tyson Chandler, JJ Barea, Caron Butler and JJ Barea. And the following season Jason Terry and Jason Kidd left the Mavs' stable. Had Cuban adhered to the wishes of the players -- and the Mavs' fans -- and re-signed all those players, he would have been in the same position the Nets are on right now. Handcuffed with a bunch of bloated salaries tied to a bunch of old guys on their last legs -- save Barea. That scenario would have prevented the Mavs from having any salary cap flexibility going forward, because Cuban would have been fighting a massive luxury tax bill with an aging team like the one the Nets have. With luxury tax responsibilities, the Nets' will have to fork over $190 million in salary this season. "It's not just you're stuck for a week or you're stuck for half a season, you're stuck,'' Cuban said. "Now the rules have gotten worst you're even more stuck."
- John Reid of The Times-Picayune: Several hours before the New Orleans Pelicans played the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night, second-year forward Anthony Davis didn’t hide his frustration about the possibility that he could be sidelined until mid-January because of a broken left hand. But Pelicans coach Monty Williams is hoping they can keep things together until his eventual return. New Orleans had their three-game winning streak end on Wednesday night after a 100-97 loss to the Dallas Mavericks at the New Orleans Arena, despite a career-tying 20-rebound effort from forward Al-Farouq Aminu and 26 points from point guard Jrue Holiday. Before the injury, which occurred Sunday night against the New York Knicks when he hit his hand on the rim trying to catch a lob pass, Davis had emerged as one of the top power forwards in the league. He was averaging 22.6 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.6 blocks after 16 games and appeared to be on his way to making his first NBA All-Star Game appearance in February at the New Orleans Arena. "It’s hard to replace those numbers," Williams said.