November, 25, 2014
By Chris Herrington
Special to ESPN.com
Special to ESPN.com
Justin Ford/USA TODAY SportsWith the offense speeding toward the future, the gritty Grizzlies look like legit title contenders.Last week’s matchup between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Houston Rockets was more than a division clash between teams with two of the league’s best early-season records. It was an ostensible contrast of styles: The Grizzlies’ Old World ground-and-pound, rooted in a slow pace and deliberate sets, against the Rockets’ fast-paced Analytic Ideal of 3-pointers, rim runs and free throws.
“I ain’t never known us to be no fancy, run-up-the-score, Golden State kind of team,” was how Tony Allen underlined the difference after the game.
But the Grizzlies not only blasted the Rockets 119-93, they did so in a way more befitting Moreyball than the usual Grit ‘N’ Grind, outscoring Houston from the foul line, from behind the 3-point arc and in transition.
That performance might -- might -- have been an outlier. But changes are happening in Memphis. They’ve been happening for over a year now.
This time last November, the Grizzlies were mired in a 7-7 start and star center Marc Gasol had just suffered a major knee injury. The standard-issue optimism of then-rookie coach Dave Joerger’s debut news conference had faded, and the changes he made to a team that had just made the Western Conference finals under a different coach were being blamed, both externally and, to a degree, internally.
The Grizzlies were said to be playing too fast, losing their identity. Behind the scenes, the slow start threatened Joerger’s job.
The team would eventually rebound, overcoming a slew of injuries to total 50 wins and push the Oklahoma City Thunder to seven games in the first round. But the rejuvenation was billed by some as Joerger’s comeuppance. The young coach surrendered his ego and returned to the way the team was meant to play.
In truth, the Grizzlies’ struggles last November were a matter of execution and communication. Not ideas.
“I think last year we had guys who kind of thought, ‘Well here's an assistant coach turned head coach. This is my buddy.’ And I think guys took some liberties in making some plays that weren't there,” Joerger said recently. “It's just a process we had to go through. I took the hits, and it was fine. [But the backlash] was so stupid.”
This time, players arrived at training camp healthy and focused, and Joerger more secure in his head-coaching voice. And now the same offensive changes that once provoked such consternation have become the very reason the Grizzlies are starting to look like a title contender, not just a tough out.
While still among the slowest third of the league, Memphis is playing at its quickest pace since 2010-11 -- faster even than last November’s “too fast” -- and the team’s current 3-point attempts, free throw attempts and True Shooting percentage through 14 games are each the highest of the “Grit, Grind” era. The result: an overall offensive efficiency ranked in the top 10 of the league, a place the team hasn’t been in a full season since Hubie Brown was head coach.
“Really, I think we’re doing what we tried to do last year,” point guard Mike Conley said. “We tried to implement it early on and it didn’t flow as quickly as we thought it would. But this season, guys came in earlier, we got our system in place better. And we understand what’s being asked of us a little bit more on the offensive end.”
For the Grizzlies, a quicker pace is less about pursuing early offense than avoiding late offense. The team isn’t necessarily doing more in transition, but it is seeing significantly fewer possessions push into the final few seconds of the shot clock, per 82games.com.
“I think our bigs so far this year have run the floor tremendously well,” Conley said. “They’ve allowed us to get the ball into the post earlier and not rely [on shots late in the clock]."
This has always been the goal for Joerger. Where past Grizzlies teams would routinely delay the business of trying to create a shot until halfway into the 24-second clock, this season’s model is operating at a more brisk, more purposeful pace.
Last season, a (slightly) quicker tempo was blamed for the team’s high turnover numbers. But this season, an increased pace has coincided with a lower turnover rate.
“It's based on getting into the offense quicker,” Joerger said. “Have more ball movement. Create more opportunities for the defense to make a mistake. And so far that's happened, but we're also making shots, which helps the whole world go around. Our turnovers are decently low. That helps, because the more ball movement, the more opportunities for turnovers. Getting one and not having the other symptom is positive for us.”
Justin Ford/USA TODAY SportsMemphis has jumped to the front of the stacked West thanks to a top-10 offense (and defense).
When he was introduced as head coach last season, Joerger said, “I like 3-pointers ... but I love free throws,” and promised a team that would put pressure on the rim. And that’s been perhaps the biggest result of the team’s quicker, more aggressive style, with free throw attempts jumping from 29th in the league last season to 12th this season. A more aggressive Gasol has been the biggest instigator, but free throw rates are generally up across the roster.
“I think [Joerger] had good intentions to come in and try to change like we did,” Conley said of the team’s delayed evolution. “Some teams just need time. We had played a certain way for so long with the same group of guys that it’s tough for everybody collectively to jump in and go with the flow. I think having a good year under our belt, we’re able to understand it a little bit better.”
Further improvement could be coming, too. In an era of “3-and-D” wing players, the Grizzlies have more often employed “3-or-D” options. But this roster minimizes that dilemma. Two-way scoring guard Courtney Lee is off to a blistering start, and despite slow starts as they recover from injuries, reserve wings Quincy Pondexter and Vince Carter fit the mold here, too. If all three can get going at once, the team’s still-anachronistic 3-point attack is likely to get at least a slight boost.
Put them around the as-good-as-ever core trio of Gasol, Conley and Zach Randolph and the Grizzlies suddenly have a chance to pair a top-10 offense with their reliably elite defense, giving the team the résumé of a legitimate title contender, maybe for the first time ever. Since Gasol returned from injury last January, the Grizzlies own a 41-12 regular-season record when Gasol and Conley have both played, a 63-win equivalent over a full season. And after scoring fewer than 90 points 22 times last season, the Grizzlies have failed to top that threshold only once so far this season.
But while Joerger has tilted the team’s attack, he’s continued to play the rhetorical hits, paying public lip service to a slower pace and heavier style than he’s actually pursued.
“Grit Grind” is a team slogan born organically, an accidental utterance by Tony Allen in the moment of his team’s initial ascent back to relevance, embraced first by fans and later by players and coaches as an emblem of a proudly unfashionable playing style.
Long at risk of ossifying into cliche, it’s a rallying cry that’s proven as durable as the core players it embodies.
The Zach Randolph-inspired corollary is playing “in the mud,” and Joerger frequently mentions pulling opponents there.
There’s no doubt he means it -- to a degree. But you also sense that, after getting his hand slapped last season for daring to do what he knew to be right, he’s content to tell people what he thinks they want to hear while going about the work of transforming his team.
“The mud” has become a beautiful place for the Grizzlies and their fans, but to get to the top, you have to leave the ground.
Chris Herrington is an entertainment editor and NBA contributor for the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Follow him, @HerringtonNBA.
- Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: This his must be what LeBron James meant when I asked him before the Raptors game what was ailing the defense. His answer, essentially, was “nothing.” James said he felt more comfortable with the defense than he did a few weeks earlier. Sure enough, in the last two or three games, there have been plenty of positive signs. “It was consistent,” coach David Blatt said of his defense. “We maintained.” Blatt’s goal is to limit opponents to 22 points or less in every quarter. The Cavs accomplished that Monday for the first time this season. James either scored or assisted on the Cavs’ first 17 points, which is ridiculously good. James has taken some flack the last couple days for his play and lack of leadership, but he responded tonight. “I’m always my biggest critic,” James said. “I wasn’t happy with my play over the last week, but I can always figure it out.”
- John Gonzalez of CSN Philly: The Sixers have agreed in principle to a deal that will bring Turkish forward/center Furkan Aldemir to the NBA this season, league sources confirmed to CSNPhilly.com on Monday. Aldemir’s intention to leave his Turkish team, Galatasaray, was first reported by Sportando. ... FIBA and the NBA have rules in place that prevent one league from poaching players under contract from the other league. Aldemir declared his desire to play in the NBA on his Facebook page after the Sportando story indicated that Galatasary had failed to pay him for the last five months. It was on those grounds that Aldemir believed he was allowed to terminate his contract and negotiate with the Sixers. One league source said it’s “highly likely” that FIBA and the NBA will reach the same conclusion and that Aldemir will officially sign with the Sixers. The deal is expected to be finalized within the next few days, though it could take as long as a week. The Sixers secured Aldemir’s rights in a 2013 deal with the Rockets that briefly brought Royce White to the organization.
- Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star: A positive sign strolled through the Indiana Pacers' locker room Saturday night. More than just a sign, it was David West – his shirt soaked in sweat, fresh from a pregame workout, and his right ankle free from visible medical tape. Though West has missed all 13 games this season while recovering from an ankle sprain that has not completely healed, he declared "it's getting close." However, after this encouraging moment, it only took about six minutes into the matchup against the Phoenix Suns for things to turn ominous once again. Another ankle sprain, another starter on the court cringing then gingerly walking straight to the locker room, another threat of a man down to this already battered Pacers rotation. In the 106-83 loss to the Suns, starting center Roy Hibbert left the game after twisting his left ankle. Though the initial prognosis stated that he would later return to the game, Hibbert only remained on the bench in his warm-ups, watching as the Suns blew away his teammates. Hibbert will miss Monday night's game against Dallas, while Rodney Stuckey, who hurt his wrist in the game, is probable to face the Mavericks. In addition, C.J. Miles, who has missed time this season, is questionable with a sore right calf. If Hibbert's sprain turns out to be anywhere near the extent to his teammate's ankle injury – West has been out 36 days and counting – then the team defense could be in a world of pain.
- Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Tom Thibodeau is tired of an asterisk in his pregame starting lineup. The Bulls coach seemed fed up with talk of hamstring strains and ankle sprains, discussions on burst and anything else medical-related these days. He still has high hopes that star guard Derrick Rose will “take off’’ at some point and that it will happen sooner than later. A 97-95 victory against the Utah Jazz at the Energy Solutions Arena on Monday was a good start. Playing in his first game since Nov. 13, Rose had 18 points and five assists in 24 minutes 37 seconds of action. He went 5-for-10 from the field, including 3-for-5 on three-pointers. “Oh I don’t know, Jesus," Thibodeau said, when asked if Rose looked fatigued. “Gotta get out there and play, you know. I thought he did a lot of good things. You can see he’s not real comfortable with the ball yet, but that will come. When Derrick strings some games together, he’s going to take off. He’s gotta go. That’s the bottom line, he’s gotta go." In other words, it’s time. “To me, it’s been time,” Rose said.
- Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca: Lou Williams stood just past half court dribbling patiently, letting the clock tick down to the end of the first quarter before getting into attack mode, crowd at the Air Canada Centre knowingly gathering in a long, low, “Louuuu.” He faked. He hesitated. He shot and he missed — a rarity these days — but Jonas Valancuinas was there to clean up the garbage and the Raptors got the bucket anyway. Everything is going the Raptors way. On Monday the best team in the Eastern Conference tipped off against on of the hottest teams in the West — the Phoenix Suns came to Toronto having won five straight — and the Raptors did the usual, winning 104-100. They did it on the strength of a dominant third quarter when they held the Suns to 8-of-21 from the floor as the Raptors threatened to blow the game open and a fourth quarter only a survivalist could love.
- Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times: The Clippers watched the initial aftermath of a St. Louis County grand jury's decision not to indict a white police officer in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager on a television in their locker room. Forward Blake Griffin seemed moved watching footage of the racially charged situation in Ferguson, Mo., pausing several times during his postgame interview to collect his thoughts. "I don't think it's my position to say, 'This is messed up or this is wrong,'" Griffin said of the grand jury's decision. "But I think about the people who have been affected by it and supporting everybody who was hurt." The Clippers endured a racially motivated controversy last spring when then-owner Donald Sterling made disparaging remarks about blacks and was forced to sell the team.
- Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: With starters Dwight Howard, Pat Beverley and Terrence Jones out, the Rockets used their seventh lineup in 14 games. They have not had every starter available since the second game of the season or the same starting lineup of any kind in more than two consecutive games. "Like coach (Kevin McHale) said a long time ago and keeps on telling us all the time, we have to fight with the players we have right now," forward Donatas Motiejunas said. "It's basketball. Injuries happen all the time. Everyone has to be ready. I don't think we're thinking, 'What's going on?' Everybody has to concentrate a little more because guys are out."
- Scott Fowler of The Charlotte Observer: Jeff Taylor really messed up a couple of months ago in Michigan. He drank heavily. He shoved a woman. He punched a hole in a hotel wall. He was belligerent and uncooperative when the cops showed up. The Charlotte Hornet reserve forward admitted to all those mistakes Monday, delivering an apology that sounded both remorseful and real. "I own what I did," Taylor said in an eight-minute news conference in which he answered questions about the Sept.25 incident for the first time. "I take full responsibility for it. ... Silver alluded to that last week in his statement about the case announcing the suspension, referencing "the evolving social consensus -- with which we fully concur -- that professional sports leagues like the NBA must respond to such incidents in a more rigorous way." This was rigorous, all right. But Taylor put himself in the situation to begin with -- don't forget that. And at least on Monday, he didn't make a mess of things for a second time."
- Brian Lewis of the New York Post: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver went out of his way to call out the Nets’ spending as unhealthy for the league in a recent interview with GQ. The magazine interviewed Silver on a wide array of topics, from marijuana use in the league to raising the draft-age limit. But when asked for one change he would make in the NBA, he pointed toward Brooklyn’s wanton spending. “I would have a harder salary cap,” Silver said. “I still think it’s unhealthy for the league when a team like Brooklyn goes out and pays an exorbitant luxury tax in order to give themselves a better chance to win. “From a league-office standpoint, the ideal league would be for all thirty teams to compete based on the skill of their management and players, as opposed to one team paying more to get better talent. So creating a more even system would be at the top of my list. And I’ll give you one more: I think it would benefit the league to raise the minimum age from 19 to 20." This is hardly the first time Silver has talked of his desire for a hard cap, and it’s a talking point that surely will crop up when the league and the Players Association try to negotiate a new labor deal in 2016. But it was noteworthy he called out the Nets completely unprompted — even if the team’s union rep Deron Williams pled no comment.
November, 24, 2014
By Royce Webb
When James Franco wants to make a movie with you, say yes. That’s what David Shields did, and the result is “Return to Black Planet,” scheduled to debut in early 2015.
The film is based on “Black Planet: Facing Race During an NBA Season,” the book Shields wrote on the 1994-95 Seattle SuperSonics. “Black Planet” was published in 1999 to great acclaim and severe criticism because it went far beyond Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, George Karl and the Sonics to reveal the issues of race, sexuality and other taboo topics barely hidden below the surface of NBA culture.
The season Shields covered in “Black Planet” was a contentious one, with the Sonics coming off a historic playoff collapse, winning 57 games under great pressure and losing in the first round yet again, and in the book, Shields examined the tense times in microscopic detail. The film uses that season -- in juxtaposition to the Seahawks’ Super Bowl-winning season -- as a jumping-off point for Shields to get into the dimensions of American culture that have informed his 15 books.
As we hit the 20th anniversary of that NBA season, and with the movie on its way, Shields, in this email interview, takes us on a tour of the “Black Planet” that he believes is still the NBA’s true habitat.
You open the book “Black Planet” by saying, “Race, the league’s taboo topic, is the league’s true subject.” As you observe the NBA now, does that feel as true to you today?
The NBA has changed, because the culture has changed, but nothing seems to me structurally different: Nearly all of the owners are white, most of the coaches are white, most of the commentators are white, and most of the players are black.
The originating sin of America is slavery, for which reparations should be paid and will never be paid; as a result, mini-reparations are paid daily, and the NBA remains for me reparations theater.
What do you mean by “reparations theater”?
Three hundred and fifty years of American history are complicatedly echoed in the interplay between players and fans. When talking about the brawl in Auburn Hills, Stephen Jackson said, “It felt good to punch a fan one time.”
I’m really interested in Kobe Bryant calling Richard Sherman’s “rant” last year evidence of “the ugliness of greatness.” I think the core of fans’ relationship is one that vacillates schizophrenically and mercurially from reverence to resentment. Fans fetishize the players’ athletic genius and both deify it and demonize it; witness the way awe turns into anger whenever a player holds out or flips off the offensive coordinator.
Just a couple of years ago, Derrick Rose was a canonized saint. The vitriol that fans now visit upon him is to me a powerful if coded expression of the gap between white people and black people even now, in a supposedly post-racial America.
Sports -- especially the NBA -- function as a place where American society pretends to discuss and pretends to solve questions and historical agonies that can't possibly be solved within the realm of sports.
And the cognitive dissonance of it all -- players talking almost always in platitudes, fans saying way, way more than we realize on sports talk radio -- makes the whole thing discombobulating, paradoxical, thrilling.
Lisa VangellowJames Franco interviews David Shields for an upcoming film, "Return to Black Planet."You and James Franco are collaborating on the film version of “Black Planet.” How is that coming along?
James’s idea was to adapt “Black Planet” into a film, but not a traditional film full of scenes set in 1994 and 1995 at the Tacoma Dome, where the Sonics played their home games that season.
Instead, this is a monologue/documentary/confession/investigation/collage/remix of speech, video, audio and image. We shot the film over the summer and we’re now editing it. The plan is to release it as four episodes on MakerTV, and then as a unified film. We flip back and forth between the two seasons: the Sonics’ season of 1994-95 and the Seahawks’ season of 2013 (through the 2014 Super Bowl).
James conceived the idea of doing the film as a monologue. My role is to talk to him and to the camera. The film is a combination of a Spalding Gray confession (like “Swimming to Cambodia”), Errol Morris’s interrogation of, say, Robert McNamara (in “The Fog of War”), a Doug Stanhope rant and a TED talk.
I discuss America pre- and post-Obama, O.J. Simpson then and now, Jews and blacks, the never-ending shadows of slavery and the Holocaust and the Civil War, black men and white women, white men and black men, athletes as soldiers who -- barely -- get up off the battlefield, the irreducible tragedy of human tribalism.
Why is it a tragedy?
G.K. Chesterton, asked what was wrong with the world, said, “I am.” I try to bring the hammer to myself but also to the viewer.
In “Black Planet,” the candor with which you dug into taboo topics -- sex, death, race -- thrilled some readers. The book was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and called (by A.O. Scott, now a film critic for The New York Times) “one of the best books ever written on the subject of sport in America, which is to say a book that is about a great deal more than sport.” At the same time, it turned off a lot of other people; about half the reader reviews at Amazon are pretty scathing.
What kind of reception do you expect for “Return to Black Planet”?
I try to be as honest as I possibly can about the contradictions within my own heart and thereby get to something "true" and revealing and important about contemporary American culture and human nature.
The core of sports fandom and sportswriting is the maintenance of dearly held illusions. A lot of being a fan consists of telling yourself fairy tales about place and territory and beauty and love and winning and salvation and redemption and transcendence. Only a few of my books deal with sports, but all of my work is an attempt to scrape away illusions within myself and within the reader/viewer.
As the readerboard outside the church around the corner from my house says (remember, this is in Seattle), “The truth will set you free, but first it will really piss you off.”
Gary Payton and George Karl were key figures in “Black Planet.” Did they read it and respond?
I'm curious if Payton ever read it. I’d guess not. He is aware of it. I’d love to hear his take. He's one of the most verbal people on the planet.
I heard from a third party that Karl read the book and liked it and thought that mainstream sports news organizations didn't really get what I was trying to do. Shortly after the book came out, I remember hearing on a national sports talk show the most transparent homoerotic panic expressed as hysterical antagonism toward the book.
In the 20 years since you started writing “Black Planet,” the Sonics went to the NBA Finals, fell apart, drafted Kevin Durant, and then moved to Oklahoma City. How did those ups and downs affect you?
After spending several years writing “Black Planet” and then a follow-up called “Body Politic: The Great American Sports Machine,” I’d overdosed on sports, especially basketball. I really didn’t pay attention to sports that much over the next decade or more. But then along came the emergence of the Seahawks, and my now 21-year-old daughter’s fanatical interest in them, and my equally fanatical, perhaps more fanatical obsession with them.
All of life is a kind of star-gazing (everything from falling in love to raising a child to reading a book to watching a movie to hiking in the woods). I want to stop being a fan, but I’ve come to realize how powerfully connected for me -- and, I would argue, for nearly everyone -- the life force is to fandom. The book and the movie are an attempt to expose in myself and the reader/the viewer the underlying emotional psychic and cultural needs such fandom serves.
- Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: You can tell that Blake Griffin wants patience. After the Clippers lost 107-91 to a dominant Memphis Grizzlies team, his voice changed tones when talking about maintaining a big-picture view of his team this season. “I didn’t expect to go undefeated the rest of the year. It’d be great. But we’re going to have games like this, but we’ve got to relax. We can’t start panicking,” he said. “We’ve done a poor job handling playing badly early in the season, and we can’t do that again. We have to relax.” Sunday, the Clippers certainly played badly, partly because of their own doing and partly because Memphis is playing like one of the best teams in the NBA.
- Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: If there was any doubt about whether Marc Gasol would actually suspend his pass-happy mentality after his preseason promise to be more of an offensive force, the Grizzlies’ center has squelched skepticism. The 7-footer emphatically made believers out of coach Doc Rivers and his Los Angeles Clippers late in the third quarter Sunday evening during the Grizzlies’ 107-91 victory in FedExForum. Gasol caught the basketball at the top of the circle and tossed a pass to a streaking Quincy Pondexter along the baseline for a dunk. The play gave Gasol his only assist. By then, an assertive Gasol was showing an array of offensive moves and a bunch of emotion to go with 26 points and nine rebounds. He’d tattoo the Clippers’ weak interior defense for 30 points and 12 boards by the end of the Grizzlies’ romp toward padding their NBA-best record at 12-2. Gasol also solicited an “M-V-P” chant, albeit faint, from the crowd.
- Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: Kobe Bryant once spent part of his teenage years studying every move Michael Jordan made, hopeful that eventually he could emulate them. Though it will hardly end the debate that has encompassed Bryant’s 19-year career, he has emulated Jordan’s game enough to surpass him in one category that defined both of the players’ skill sets. Bryant entered the Lakers’ game on Sunday against the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center only 246 points shy of surpassing Jordan for third place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. “He’ll probably just say it’s another milestone, but Jordan was somebody Kobe idolized and looked up to,” said Denver coach Brian Shaw, who won three of his NBA titles with Bryant on the Lakers from 2000-2002 and served as an assistant coach when he won two more championships in 2009 and 2010. “Whether he says it or not, I personally feel it would be one of his greatest accomplishments.” Bryant has said he cares more about his five NBA championships, which trail Jordan’s six titles. But Shaw considers Bryant and Jordan nearly on equal footing. “Michael is the best player to ever play the game and the best player at the 2 guard position,” Shaw said. “It’s 1A and 1B and I think Kobe is the best 2 guard right behind him. I don’t think there’s any one difference between the two.”
- Joseph D'Hillolito for The Denver Post: t was ugly, but the Nuggets will take it. Denver outlasted the Los Angeles Lakers, 101-94, in overtime here Sunday night in game where both teams could not find a rhythm at the offensive end. With the Nuggets desperate for anyone to make a basket, Danilo Gallinari drained a three-pointer with 1:28 left for a 94-90 lead that the Nuggets rode to victory. "I like to take that shot," Gallinari said.
- Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: Warriors reserve big man Marreese Speights took it to Oklahoma City in Sunday’s 91-86 victory, and then he offered some parting shots on his way out of town. Speights spent much of the game talking trash to the Thunder’s bench — all the while, knocking down 11-of-18 shots for a season-high 28 points. Apparently, most of Speights’ venom was directed at Oklahoma City backup center Kendrick Perkins, who had four points on 2-of-4 shooting. “It’s just that Perk always has something to say,” Speights said. “He thinks he’s a tough guy, but at the end of the day, his game is terrible. He always has something to say to me, every time we play against each other. “It always gets me going, so: ‘Shout out to Perkins’ for helping me get this game."
- Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: In some ways, Scotty Brooks is coaching his butt off. His Thunder is playing hard, playing defense with maniacal effort, and staying competitive with a roster missing its pearls. Warriors coach Steve Kerr talked before the game Sunday night of how the short-handed Thunder is playing up to the organizational standard, in terms of effort and commitment. You halfway thought Kerr was Sam Presti’s ventriloquist dummy. But then comes crunch time. And you’re reminded that the Thunder needs more out of Brooks. ... Like I said, there is much to appreciate about Brooks’ leadership during this 3-12 start. He’s calling more timeouts, because the Thunder’s breakneck pace doesn’t work so well when Durant and Westbrook are out and the depth is short. And these guys are playing as hard as they can. That’s a big chunk of coaching, right there. ... But in the same way that Jackson has to step up in Westbrook’s stead, and Serge Ibaka has to shoulder more of the load, and everyone has to try to improve their game, the coach has to find new ways to win ballgames. No one expects the Thunder to flourish without their pearls. But some of this 3-12 start is on Brooks.
- Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: On a night when no shot seemed to be falling, when turnovers dropped like rain, when ugliness ruled, the Trail Blazers had one important thing going for them. Actually, they had two: The old Shake-and-Blake. Steve Blake showcased a little pizazz at the perfect moment to help the surging Blazers survive an ugly performance and defeat the Boston Celtics, 94-88, Sunday night at TD Garden. ... The hot-button topic in the postgame locker room was Blake and two jaw-dropping second-half crossover moves. "Steve is just as crafty as ever," Wesley Matthew said. "He was big-time for us tonight." ... Blake was sheepish about it all as a horde of reporters questioned him after the game. He said he was simply using the Celtics' defensive coverages and tendencies against them. He knew Turner would try to keep him away from the middle of the court and play him hard to the right. So Blake turned that into an edge, using the combination of Turner's right-leaning momentum and his deft dribbling ability to make the plays.
- Jimmy Toscano of CSNNE.com: Jeff Green made it abundantly clear after the Celtics' 94-88 loss to the Blazers on Sunday: He does not want to be traded, and has no patience for "B.S. rumors". Before Green took any questions, he got that off his chest. “Before you start, I just want to clear the air about some B.S. rumor that came out. I don’t know if the person who made this article is in this circle, but the rumor about me wanting to get traded is definitely false," Green said. "I said that I was frustrated with losing, not frustrated with the team. So if the words didn't come from my mouth, I'd appreciate if you did not write a dumb-[expletive] article like that." Needless to say, the group of reporters was confused as to what Green was talking about. Nobody there had written anything of the sorts. CSNNE.com's A. Sherrod Blakely wrote an article on Green after Friday's loss in Memphis that mentioned Green being frustrated with the losses as of late. Green said his frustration was at an "all-time high". In the same article, Blakely explained that Green is having his best season on the Celtics, and based on his contract situation, could be very attractive as a free agent if he opts out of the final year of his deal at season's end. Nowhere in the article was there a mention of Green's frustration turning into a trade demand.
- Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: But if you can stand the thrill ride, including the wild sequences at the end Sunday, you start to get an idea of where this could be headed. Shabazz Napier has become a lovely parting gift from LeBron James. Mario Chalmers has become a Rio-coaster that instead of going off the tracks has become a settling factor amid a Wade absence now entering its third week. Chris Bosh again flourished as leading man, this time with a challenging fadeaway jumper with 31.1 seconds to play that closed the scoring. Sure it took surviving a Chalmers turnover at a point when clock was there for the running out, as well as Charlotte center Al Jefferson missing at point blank with 2.1 seconds left. But that's where this currently stands. Fighting to remain above .500. Struggling to realize health. And desperate to avoid the drama LeBron has exported to Cleveland. "It's good for us to have a close game, where we have to find a way to win," Bosh said. "It's still a work in progress."
- Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: You’re frustrated, they’re frustrated: I got an emphatic sense of frustration from the fan base tonight on Twitter. I got an even stronger sense of frustration in the Hornets’ locker room tonight. I’ve covered 25 NBA locker rooms and I’ve seldom seen so many expressions of angst long after the place was open to the media. I’m not talking play-acting, I’m talking about real human emotion. Typically when an NBA team stinks it’s because they either are horribly over-matched or because they don’t care. I don’t get either sense from this group. By-and-large they’re smart, talented basketball players. And they really want to fix this. Right now they don’t have clue how to do that.
November, 22, 2014
By Michael Wallace
WASHINGTON -- After spending the previous two days pushing and pleading for his team to show maturity and growth from characteristic lapses to start the second halves of games, Washington Wizards coach Randy Wittman found himself Friday night in a frustratingly familiar place.
Just 48 hours earlier, the same scenario played out at the start of the third quarter, with point guard John Wall spearheading the sloppy play and sulking that gave the Dallas Mavericks an opening to storm ahead for a double-digit lead and eventually a 105-102 victory.
Wittman spent that night and the next day constructively criticizing Wall’s competitive maturity. He challenged his team to grow up and learn how to prevent one bad stretch from leading to another and ultimately costing themselves winnable games.
Yet again, the Wizards were in the midst of a turnover-induced meltdown against Cleveland.
And again, an opposing team had converted those miscues into a string of unanswered baskets.
So again, Wittman tapped his shoulders as he stormed onto the court to break up the action. Only this time, unlike on Wednesday, Wittman’s actions spoke louder than any words he considered delivering.
“I called a quick timeout again,” Wittman said Friday of the pivotal moment before Washington regrouped to shut down LeBron James and the Cavaliers in a 91-78 victory. “Nothing really was said. It was a 20-second timeout. I just let them talk among each other. They knew that this was not the start we wanted. So I thought after that, we got going a little bit.”
Two days after Wall was called out and took responsibility for the Dallas loss, he shouted back with one of his most complete games of the season. It was a transformation from third-quarter scapegoat on Wednesday to third-quarter catalyst Friday, having scored 17 of his game-high 28 in that period.
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsJohn Wall scored 17 of his 28 points in the third quarter Friday night.
Wall relished the opportunity for redemption on several levels. In addition to his stretch of turnover problems Wednesday, Wall also missed 12 of his 17 shots against the Mavericks. That kept him in the practice facility for an extended shooting workout that lasted nearly an hour after Thursday’s practice.
Another motivating factor, although Wall repeatedly downplayed it publicly, was his matchup with point guard Kyrie Irving, who was selected No. 1 overall a year after Wall was taken with the top pick in 2010. Wall has felt overlooked and underappreciated nationally when compared with Irving.
And it was also an opportunity for Wall to shine in a nationally televised game and return some of the same lessons on patience and process to the star-studded but struggling Cavaliers that James, then with the Miami Heat, used to routinely offer to Wall during tough stretches for the Wizards. The Wizards (8-3) are off to their best start in 40 years, but they lacked a signature victory over a quality opponent after losing to Miami in the season opener and recently to Toronto and Dallas.
Considering the state of disarray the Cavaliers are in right now amid a 5-6 start, it’s debatable how much of a statement victory Friday’s game was for the Wizards. But it didn’t lack for luster amid spotlight.
“I feel like, yeah, it’s a statement,” said Wall, averaging career-high marks with 19.5 points and 9.1 assists per game this season. “We lost to Toronto pretty badly. Dallas, we felt like we let that game get away. And we haven’t beaten a big-man team, everybody says. So this game was pretty big.”
But Wall insists the win only resonates and boosts the Wizards' profile as a legit contender if they can follow it up in the second game of a back-to-back set Saturday in Milwaukee.
“When you win this game, you have to back it up,” Wall said. “You win this one and then lose [Saturday], and you’re back to [critics] saying, ‘Are they really that or really this?’ If you want to be a legit team in this league, you’ve got to go right back out and win these type of games.”
Wall personified the three characteristics Wittman hoped to see from his team this week: resilience, toughness and maturity. It all resonated in Wall’s play, specifically in the third quarter. Wittman’s timeout was called about two minutes into the third quarter after Wall and Paul Pierce committed turnovers on consecutive possessions and Cleveland cut a 15-point deficit to nine.
Wall’s 3-pointer out of the timeout pushed the lead back to double figures, and his two free throws later in the quarter gave Washington its largest lead at 74-58. He shot 7-of-9 in the quarter and added two steals, two rebounds and an assist in the most productive quarter by a Wizard this season.
Wittman left his players to discuss among themselves the necessary corrective measures needed during that 20-second timeout. But what was actually communicated during that break?
Depends on which player was asked.
“I was telling my teammates to be aggressive,” Wall said. “If they have open shots, take them. If you miss them, we can live with that. But if we’re living with turnovers and bad shots, that lets a team get into the open court. We moved on. We failed quickly and moved on. Against Dallas, we’d get a turnover and hold our head [down]. Tonight, we just kept it moving, said it was our fault and kept playing.”
It took Wall about 30 seconds to deliver that quote, about 10 more than allowed during the timeout.
Bradley Beal, who had 12 points and five assists in his second game back from wrist surgery, suggested the message among players was about remaining focused and avoiding a repeat from Wednesday.
“We were able to stay poised,” Beal said. “It kind of got out of hand a little bit. We called a timeout and regrouped. We talked about the mistakes we made on the floor and what we needed to do better. And it stopped right there and we turned it around.”
Pierce, a 17-year veteran who has been a calming influence in those moments during his first season in Washington, couldn’t remember exactly what was said.
“I don’t even know,” Pierce said. “It was like three timeouts during that quarter. I’m so pumped with adrenaline right now after the game, I can’t even remember. But I’m sure it was something about our defense. It was the defense. That’s our identity. We have to be a hard-nosed defensive team that can shut down teams when they come in here every night. We’re taking steps in the right direction.”
Friday was more than a step. It was more like a significant leap defensively.
On the heels of giving up 105 points to the league’s top-scoring team, the Wizards held the Cavaliers, who are fifth in scoring, to their lowest output of the season. Cleveland shot a season-low 38 percent shooting from the field, were outscored 50-34 in the paint and 40-9 off the bench.
Add the 24 points the Wizards scored off 19 turnovers by the Cavaliers, and it was a dominant display.
“We were really locked in with five guys, for the most part, all night,” Wittman said. “We were aggressive pretty much all night. John started it, obviously, bouncing back. He wasn’t happy with his last game against Dallas and stepped up and came back. He was really aggressive from the start.”
Pierce senses Wall had an extra edge when he entered the game.
By the time it was over, it was clear Wall had proved his point.
- Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Their transformations have been met with different reactions. When Miami Heat center Chris Bosh began to play more on the perimeter four seasons ago, it was met with mixed feelings. The reaction has been mostly positive for Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin making a similar move. "Of course, it's a great idea [when Griffin does it]," Bosh said, with a laugh. Bosh drew mostly criticism for taking too many jumpers while Griffin has drawn praise for adding to his game. The difference is Griffin remains an inside presence, whereas Bosh was asked solely to play on the perimeter. "You know what, you can't make everybody happy," Bosh said. "I just play my game and do it the fullest." Griffin has developed into of the league's premier frontcourt players because the addition of an outside game. Mostly known for his dunks, he is now just as effective with the 20-foot jumper.
- Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: Still, there’s reason to pause and look at the diminished numbers, with Griffin’s quest for balance as the most often cited reason for the decline. He’s shooting a higher percentage of his shots from 16 feet or further, with more than 35 percent of his attempts coming from the perimeter. Conversely, he’s shooting inside less, with only 27.9 percent of his attempts coming within 3 feet. Last year, 40.7 percent of his shots came from that area. For Griffin to achieve his full potential in Rivers’ eyes, it won’t be about excelling in the inside or on the outside. “I want it all,” Rivers said. “I’m greedy. I think you have to mix it up to be great. I don’t think Blake can just attack every possession and be good. I don’t think he can settle for jump shots."
- Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Mike Bibby said he hadn’t been to an NBA game since he played for the New York Knicks in 2012. But he took a break from his job as a coach with Shadow Mountain High School in Phoenix to be in attendance Thursday as part of the Kings’ Legends Night when Sacramento hosted the Chicago Bulls. Bibby came to the Kings from the Vancouver Grizzlies for the 2001-02 season in a swap of point guards that sent Jason Williams to the Grizzlies. Oddly enough, Bibby was a last-minute replacement for Williams, who had to reschedule his appearance. Bibby was scheduled to attend a Legends Night in April. “It was great,” Bibby said of playing in Sacramento. “I came from Vancouver and you’re playing in front of 2,500, 5,000 people a night. It was a little overwhelming at first, but you got used to it. It was fun.” Bibby played for six teams in his 14 seasons. He fondly recalls his six-plus seasons with the Kings when he was a part of the best teams in Sacramento history. “Probably one of the greatest teams and franchises I played on,” Bibby said. “I played for a few teams but playing here was the best. I learned from the best guys.” Bibby proved to be the ideal complement at the point for the likes of Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic and Doug Christie. Bibby said he took the lessons learned with the Kings with him the rest of his career and passed them along.
- K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Simply put, if Gasol, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson all are healthy, Mirotic will be a situational player. Coach Tom Thibodeau has stated he doesn't want Mirotic guarding small forwards. Thibodeau added something even more fundamental. "Niko is playing behind three really good players and, right now, they're a lot better than he is," Thibodeau said. This isn't tough love. Thibodeau has praised Mirotic and fellow rookie Doug McDermott at almost any opportunity. He likes their practice habits, their film study habits and their talent. But with Mirotic only able to match up defensively against power forwards or centers, playing time will be scarce. Either way, Mirotic can handle the heat. This isn't a player who shies from coaching. "It doesn't matter if I play five or 15 minutes. Of course, everybody wants to play more. But I just need to work hard and keep learning," he said.
- Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times: Alex Rodriguez may be one of the most beleaguered and despised athletes in professional sports, but that apparently was of little consequence to the Milwaukee Bucks organization. The Bucks had the New York Yankees third baseman address their players while the team was in Miami last week to play the Heat. Rodriguez was suspended for 211 games – which was later reduced to 162 – and sat out all of last season after violating Major League Baseball’s drug policy. That suspension came after Rodriguez admitted to the Drug Enforcement Administration that he had used performance-enhancing drugs. Rodriguez’s admission also came after he repeatedly and vehemently denied using PEDs. There have been calls for the disgraced Rodriguez to be permanently banned from the game. But Rodriguez’s disturbing past seemingly didn’t bother Bucks management or Bucks players. Of the several players contacted about Rodriguez’s talk, all of them gave favorable responses. “I thought it was pretty good," Bucks point guard Brandon Knight said. “He talked about taking care of our money, our finances." ... And then there was Zaza Pachulia’s take on the Rodriguez’s address: “It was great," the Bucks veteran center said before adding, “We haven’t lost since."
- Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: Kobe Bryant has already seen enough that he already envisioned Nick Young pursuing a significant accomplishment this season. “Have him be sixth man of the year,” Bryant said of Young. Last season, Young often talked about winning that award. He even jokingly suggested he would win defensive player of the year after spending his six-year NBA career cementing a reputation as an inattentive defender. Young averaged a career-high and team-leading 17.9 points per game last season. But that didn’t match Clippers forward Jamal Crawford, who won last season’s award by averaging a league-leading 18.6 points per game among reserves. Bryant likes Young’s chances this season for reasons beyond the fact that Crawford has since moved into the Clippers’ starting lineup. Bryant gushed how Young has morphed from an isolation scorer toward a catch-and-shoot player who does not require much dribbling to create his shot. “You got a player who can get buckets and create. He does wonders,” Bryant said. Nick is a phenomenal talent. He has a pull-up jump shot and is creating mismatches. I’m very happy to have him back.”
- Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope found humor in Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris' verbal blast. Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy questioned Morris' credentials. But both obviously disagreed with Morris' assessment that the Pistons' second-year shooting guard "doesn't have any heart." He said it after the Suns' 88-86 victory over the Pistons at the Palace when Caldwell-Pope missed a triple in the closing seconds that would have probably won it. "Caldwell-Pope got it and you know he doesn't have any heart, so we knew he was going to miss," Morris said. Van Gundy wasn't going to let such an insult slide. "I'm not quite sure - maybe he knows - I'm not quite sure what Markieff Morris has accomplished in the league that gets him to the point of mouthing off," Van Gundy said after today's practice. "I mean, I don't like the mouthing off anyway. It seems to me you should at least participate in a playoff game before you do. But maybe not, maybe that's not the standard anymore."
- Derek James of 1500ESPN.com: The biggest difference for Muhammad this season has been that he's grown more comfortable with the offense and has improved his shot selection. Once Muhammad developed his game enough to earn playing time, he still only managed to see the floor during garbage time. When you're sitting for much of the game, it makes it very difficult to get a feel for the game and get in rhythm. As a result, Muhammad tried to do a lot on his own, and the results were mixed, as we see above. Muhammad would typically get the ball in isolation to either take a long 2-pointer or, more commonly, back down his defender down low. In fact, the left spot on the block is where Muhammad has always looked comfortable. His 54.3 percent field goal percentage from that spot would have even rivaled some of the league's big men. This season, Muhammad has looked more natural getting into games earlier. For Muhammad, who is used to being a featured player, this is what he's most accustomed to. In addition to losing weight, returning to this more familiar role has helped Muhammad this season.
- A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com: In the early 2000s, we saw plenty of teams resort to a Hack-a-Shaq strategy where they intentionally fouled former Celtic Shaquille O'Neal who has been a bad free throw shooter his entire NBA career. Every now and then teams will resort to Hack-a-Dwight Howard tactic because like O'Neal, Howard struggles from the free throw line. Is Hack-a-Rondo next? One NBA scout thinks so. "What's he shooting, 30, 35 percent? You don't go into a game wanting to do it, but at the very least you can count on teams thinking about it," the scout said. "A lot depends on how the game goes, obviously. But if it's close and you need a possession and they (Boston) have the ball, why wouldn't you foul him?" And fouling him is easier than say O'Neal or Howard because Rondo has the ball in his hands the vast majority of the time he's on the floor. Rondo has never been a great free throw shooter, evident by his career 61.6 free throw percentage. But this season has been an absolute nightmare for him from the line, shooting a career-worst 33.3 percent (8-for-24).
- J. Michael of CSN Washington: For Friday's showdown between the Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers, there are so many subplots in play: The preseason war of words between the backcourts; the rivalry between the teams during LeBron James' first stint with his hometown team; and Eastern Conference playoff position. But the main plot will focus on Paul Pierce and James. "I think a lot of it is misunderstood. If I see LeBron walking down the street, it's not going to be no fistfight. I got a lot of respect for him," said Pierce, who had triumphs and failures against him as a member of the Boston Celtics and last season with the Brooklyn Nets. "The competitive nature of both of us, being at the same position, being on top teams, gunning for the same trophy year in and year out, that's where that comes in to play. It's like fighting for the same girl. Why do I want to be cool with that guy? I've got total respect for him as a person. It's just the things that we go through are all on the court and that's where we leave it."
- John Smallwood of the Philadelphia Daily News: So really, based on age, maturity, talent and experience, Kentucky vs. Sixers might actually be a tossup. I'd take the Sixers in Game 7 on a last-second jumper, but thus far, nobody on this team has shown he can consistently knock down a jump shot. "People will talk about it, give us crap for it," Carter-Williams said of the Sixers' being winless, "but it is what it is. We have to stick together, keep working. Whatever it is now, we're going to be good someday." Perhaps someday they'll be good enough to convince Eric Bledsoe they are better than Kentucky.
- Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: The most visible Oklahoma City-based brand is partnering with the most visible Oklahoma City-based man. Kevin Durant and Sonic — a match made in endorsement heaven — became official on Thursday morning, a multi-year deal between a local megastar and a local mega-corporation. We’re long-time fans of Kevin,” Sonic chief brand officer James O’Reilly told The Oklahoman. “And this is something we’ve been discussing for months.” Durant already has the most endorsement partners of any NBA player. But this immediately qualifies as one of his biggest. He’s teaming up with one of the most popular fast food chains in the country whose headquarters just happen to sit right down the street from both his home arena and his actual home. ... This is Durant’s second partnership with an OKC-based company in as many months. He recently signed on with Orange Leaf Yogurt. ... Durant becomes Sonic’s first athlete endorser.
- Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The Hawks reported an increased in both television ratings and home attendance through the first 10 games of the regular season. According to the team, viewership numbers on SportSouth are up 30 percent from last season in the Atlanta market. The highest ratings came in Tuesday’s home game against the Lakers. ... The Hawks are currently 19th in the NBA in average attendance. The Bulls are first with an average attendance of 22,094 in their five home games. The Pistons are last in the league at 13,852 in their six home games. The Hawks’ increases in both percentage and total numbers are the most in the NBA this season.