November, 20, 2014
By Patrick Redford
Special to ESPN.com
Special to ESPN.com
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesAfter years of floundering and threats of relocation, there's purpose in Kings basketball yet again.You’d be forgiven for forgetting that an NBA team played in Sacramento between 2006 and 2012. Until recently, the Kings have almost always been an NBA backwater, only relevant to the non-Central Valley fan in specific instances.
The Kings spent the first half-decade of this century playing vibrant, synaptic basketball in front of boisterous crowds, but injuries and a mangled reloading project sent them scuttling toward basketball obscurity as quickly as they’d risen to join the NBA’s elite. In 2008-09, two years after their eighth straight playoff berth, they won 17 games. They were an irrelevant blank slate of a team, toiling to the lottery in a decrepit arena, playing John Salmons heavy minutes and napping so far on the fringes of the NBA zeitgeist you couldn’t see them unless you squinted. Believing in the Kings was like rooting for a ghost.
There were brief glimmers of hope, as there are for any team. Kevin Martin rode his jittery offensive game to near-stardom, and Tyreke Evans won the 2009-10 Rookie of the Year, but their talents spoiled before the team could do anything with them. Those Kings were aimless, unmoored from any kind of long-term plan. They kept slipping and falling on banana peels that they themselves were throwing. Ownership was, at best, apathetic toward the on-court plight of the team, and more likely actively scheming on how they could pull up stakes and move the Kings to Anaheim, Seattle, Las Vegas, Virginia Beach or anywhere else. The fans that made ARCO Arena unplayable for opponents were sent out on an ice floe while the Maloofs gazed elsewhere.
The recession exacerbated the problems surrounding the team from every side. The Maloof brothers saw their Las Vegas-based properties radically devalued, and the Central Valley suffered as much as anywhere in the country. Suddenly, relocation was no longer a looming specter off on the margins of the Sacramento inferiority complex, it was an existential threat. Los Angeles was winning titles while the economically wrecked capital was looking at life without an NBA team.
See, the Sacramento civic identity is bound up in its contradictory proximities. Between San Francisco and Stockton, there is a daunting spectrum of cities Sacramento could be. Sacramento is the capital of California, sure, but it feels nascent and lumpy. The old line goes “Sacramento is a great place … to be from.” The Kings are an aspirational signifier, a mark that the city takes itself seriously and intends to become more than a Central Valley outpost or the Bay Area’s weird little cousin. When Phil Jackson called it a cow town in 2002, he put words to the regionally held anxiety that Sacramento, a diffuse, unglamorous city, was altogether unworthy of its team.
I couldn’t leave a game for years without thinking, “Was that my last one ever?” Thankfully, I don’t know when that will be. Jackson was wrong. The Maloofs came right to the cusp of a move to Anaheim and then a sale to a Seattle-based group -- the saga was so painfully drawn out that it has its own 1,500-word Wikipedia entry -- but NBA and city officials pulled them back both times. The drama and the worrying all ended when Vivek Ranadive officially bought the keys to the franchise from the Maloofs on May 16, 2013. Two antagonistic years of fake arena deals, under-the-table agreements and shady political maneuvers dressed up as grassroots activism culminated in an outcome Kings fans ached for. It was exhausting.
The team that Ranadive inherited was a tragicomic bunch, stuck running antiquated sets and squabbling with one another over who could take the most meaningless shots. Everyone was auditioning for a role elsewhere after the inevitable roster shake-up that comes with a new ownership group. There was a special awfulness about those pre-Vivek teams. The cartoonish vodka pitchmen at the top were so obviously apathetic about the team as anything other than a business object that games felt farcical. Fans showed up and cheered, because Kings fans have supported horrible teams for 25 years, but you never got the sense that the franchise could responsibly develop DeMarcus Cousins or any other young talents.
This led to such a dearth of on-court expectations that existing became all that mattered. As long as the Kings stayed in Sacramento, it was enough. It was almost comforting, watching and cheering for a team where winning and losing were ancillary. I could appreciate Cousins’ balletic moshing and Isaiah Thomas’ electron impersonation as basketball art pieces, divorced from consequence. But as liberating as freedom was, I got jealous. I watched fans of other waylaid teams rejoice when their clubs made the leap it never seemed like the Kings could.
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesOwner Vivek Ranadive has brought ambition back to the franchise.
It’s only Year 2 of the Ranadive era, but that hangdog legacy is dead. This is the team of the expanding, forward-thinking Sacramento. The noxious self-defeatism of the Maloofs is all gone, and the new Kings are finally caught up with the rest of the league. Ranadive and his team are enthusiastically trying to push every boundary they can, for better or for worse. Some of their forays past the bleeding edge of basketball orthodoxy -- like biometric data gathering and the idea of playing with an ultimate frisbee-style cherry picker -- have drawn criticism and mockery. But look at their good ideas -- like signing up for the Catapult tracking system and hiring advanced stats wizard Dean Oliver -- next to the questionable ones, and you’ll see that the Kings aren’t blindly swinging out for megalomania or the sake of selling themselves as “NBA 3.0.” These new Kings are ambitious and aggressive about winning as many games as they can with whoever they employ or shuffling their roster around until it works.
For fans, this ambition is altogether unrecognizable. They have followed their team to the edge of what looked like a flat world and seen the abyss. Success, whatever shape that takes on if it comes, is at least in the parlance of the Kings now, and that’s obtusely scary. There’s a specific sense of paranoid joy that comes with going all-in. Losses hurt now, which is its own kind of novelty. When Vivek took over, the team crossed a rubicon. They’re probably in a transition phase, but don’t dare say that to the flesh-and-blood Kings.
The team started 5-1, their best in a decade and a half. After a wonky first season of trades and an on-the-fly identity reconfiguring, Michael Malone has his system in place, and management is edging closer to a roster that is of their making. The Kings aren’t playing pretty basketball, but it doesn’t matter. It wouldn’t quite make sense if they were.
Instead, their style has a visceral crunch to it. Some of this is the Kings’ first competent defensive scheme in 10 years. Some of it is Cousins’ immutable bigness. For all their early successes, the Kings aren’t a finished project, and they exude this roughness on the court. But it’s more satisfying this way. Reggie Evans cosplaying a tornado, Ben McLemore finally learning to channel his athleticism, the team’s craggy idiosyncrasies speak of ACTION and POWER and other big, loud words that the Kings have never embodied before. For a franchise just getting over deep uncertainty, winning ugly is the loudest and most gratifying way to assert importance.
The Kings, now 6-5, may or may not matter this April, when the playoffs start. But for the first time in years, it’s the biggest priority. For years, it was putting roots down in Sacramento and defying the city’s geographically circumscribed narrative. Somehow, that worked, and it’s time to move on up. There is no ride off into the sunset now. This season isn’t the epilogue. This is the start of the Kings’ time as a legitimate, functioning NBA team.
Patrick Redford is a contributor to VICE Sports, Deadspin, and The Classical. Bug him on Twitter @patrickredford.
- Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: Relief over a rare Lakers win has quickly morphed into signs they have solved some fundamental problems. The Lakers’ 98-92 victory on Wednesday against the Houston Rockets (9-3) at Toyota Center established a two-game winning streak, an accomplishment that merits some applause given the circumstances. For the second consecutive game, the Lakers (3-9) fixed some issues that had otherwise assured them of last place in the Western Conference standings. “We had a bad start,” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. “But are we a 3-9 team? No, we’re a much better team.” The Lakers have established some balance on offense. Bryant’s 28 points on 10-of-28 shooting featured both hot and cold stretches. But the Lakers absorbed that with Jordan Hill’s emerging mid-range game (16 points on 7-of-12 shooting) and Nick Young’s high-volume shooting (16 points on 6-of-15 shooting). But even if it does not show up in the box score, the man of the hour was Wesley Johnson. In the final minute of the game, Johnson finally lived up to his vow that he would play like a “wild man.”
- Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times: Doc Rivers exchanged warm greetings with members of the local media. J.J. Redick was cheered during player introductions. Hedo Turkoglu shared a laugh with a familiar face behind the scorer's table. Matt Barnes had little chance of taking a wrong turn inside the Amway Center. For Glen Davis, it was a reminder of the most trying 2 1/2 seasons of his NBA career. The irregular playing time and continuous injuries were nothing compared to the epic losing. "It was tough, losing games back to back, not really understanding which way are we going," Davis said Wednesday before his first appearance here since the Orlando Magic bought out his contract in February. "It's tough to go through that and not play for something. My whole career leading up to that, I've always played for something, played for something bigger, and to go through that just to keep going and keep going, it drains you."
- Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: If you overlooked the gray hairs flecking Tim Duncan’s beard, and the ever-expanding circumference of Manu Ginobili’s bald spot, it would be easy to confuse these Spurs for those of yore, suffocating their opponents on defense while grinding out whatever point they can muster. OK, so those Spurs weren’t as bad on offense as they’re made out to be. But with Gregg Popovich acknowledging again before Wednesday’s game at Cleveland that they aren’t anywhere near last year’s level, they’re a long way off from the free-flowing precision we’ve come to expect. And for the time being, with a third of their main rotation nursing injuries, that seems to be just fine. With their offense again lurching along in fits and starts, the Spurs relied on their dominant defense to earn a 92-90 victory against the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavaliers had been averaging almost 110 points per 100 possessions coming in, second only to white-hot Dallas. But their scoring rate was just 93.1 against the Spurs, with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love all held below their season averages. Kawhi Leonard was particularly impressive in his individual matchup with James as the four-time MVP scored just seven points on 3-for-14 shooting over the final 43 minutes. (He had 15 overall.)
- Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: The pressure was not on the team that arrived here with 10 losses in 10 games to open the season. Rather the weight was on the Celtics to avoid being the 1. If they won here, no one would pay attention (in fact, there’s a good chance you’re not reading this). But a loss would most certainly get them an ignominious position on “SportsCenter.” And history was bearing down on the Bostonians, as well. The 76ers were 5-42 in their last 47 games, and the C’s were 3 of the 5. But last night they managed to break free from a terribly played affair. Brandon Bass came off the pine to deliver 23 points, Jared Sullinger had half of his 22 in the last quarter, and Rajon Rondo had 11 of his 13 assists in the second half as the Celts scored a 101-90 victory, improving to 4-6 and dropping the Sixers to 0-11. To call this game ragged would be to invite a defamation suit ... from ragged. But the Celtics will take it. “Yeah, you don’t want to be that guy, or, in this case, you don’t want to be that team,” said Rondo.
- Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The point guard overcrowding in Phoenix is well known, but T.J. Warren has created a cluster at small forward, too. After scoring 72 points in two D-League games and having an icy seven-point fourth quarter Monday night at Boston, Warren stayed in the rotation even with the return of P.J. Tucker. Detroit has two giants up front with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe but they were rarely on the court together Wednesday night. Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said early Suns foul trouble might help him squeeze Warren into the mix but it was Drummond's early fouls that enabled him to go with Tucker at power forward and Warren at small forward. Warren played six first-half minutes and scored inside off of a Gerald Green feed but did not return for the second half, just has been the case usually for Anthony Tolliver.
- Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: Vince Carter was not sure what to expect from Raptors fans after nearly 10 years in the basketball wilderness. Aware the team would be honouring the contributions of its all-time best player as part of its 20th anniversary celebrations on Wednesday night, Carter did his best not to fret ahead of the game, but it was clear he was wondering if the customarily chilly reception would thaw at all. Forget thawing, a near decade of animosity vanished in a flash, as the video of Carter’s high-flying Raptors days was met with a standing ovation from the ACC crowd, along with loud cheers. Carter, looking surprised, mouthed “wow” and had to dab away tears from his eyes with his shirt. Fittingly, once Carter checked into the game, he was booed every time he touched the ball, marking a return to normalcy. “It was an amazing feeling to relive it as it was happening. As each play was happening, I could remember it like yesterday,” Carter said afterward, calling his tears “an honest reaction.” “I couldn’t write it any better. I’m extremely thankful.”
- Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News: Owner Mark Cuban and by extension his Mavericks are about to score another NBA technology first. Cuban said Wednesday that company in which he has invested – freeD (Free Dimensional Video) – has completed six weeks of installing high-resolution cameras in the American Airlines Center rafters and will begin testing a revolutionary product as soon as Friday, when the Mavericks host the Lakers. Sports fans may recall having seen freeD’s technology in use during recent NFL games and the 2014 NBA All-Star Game. With the high-resolution cameras, data collected from the digital images and software, any video image can be frozen and turned 360 degrees, giving fans seeing the images on the AAC videoboard and viewers watching Fox Sports Southwest telecasts highly unique views of the action. ... Cuban said that becoming an investor gave him exclusivities. Initially, the Mavericks will be the only NBA team to have the technology for videoboard and TV replays. Other NBA teams will be able to purchase the technology for those videoboard and local TV use _ which in turn will make Cuban money _but the Mavericks will be the only team allowed to use the technology from an analytics standpoint.
- Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: That took some guts from coach Jason Kidd to insert three subs in the lineup to begin the third overtime period. Then Khris Middleton, Ersan Ilyasova and John Henson made their coach look like a genius. Henson and Ilyasova were active in defending the paint and the activity of the trio was evident. Ilyasova scored the first two baskets of the third OT for Milwaukee and Middleton scored the next two as the Bucks outscored the Nets, 10-6. Henson had eight points, two rebounds and three blocks in 19 minutes. Ilyasova had his second straight strong game with 14 points and five rebounds. "It's my first third overtime game ever, I think," Henson said. "I'm going to remember this one." O.J. Mayo had 21 points and seven rebounds to pace the Bucks subs. For the record, the Bucks bench outscored Brooklyn's bench, 55-33.
- Scott Agness of VigilantSports.com: Solomon Hill was reserved to rookie duties last year on a team that advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. Guys were healthy, unlike the start of this season, and there was quality depth ahead of him. That typically left him as the team’s designated inactive player. He’s far from that this season. In Wednesday’s game against the Charlotte Hornets (4-8), where ex-Pacer Lance Stephenson’s return dominated the headlines, Hill defended him well throughout most of the game — Stephenson shot 4-of-12 — and was the story by night’s end. It was Hill’s put-back, which came off of his lone offensive rebound of the night, that secured the 88-86 win for the Pacers (5-7). It was their fourth win in five games. The final play set up like this: Knotted at 86 with 18 seconds and out of a timeout, Pacers guard Rodney Stuckey got the ball and waited for seconds to tick off before making a move. Kind of odd that they designed a play for Stuckey, who returned to the court after missing seven games due to a foot injury. “You put the ball in the hands of your best isolation player,” Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said afterwards. Stuckey wasn’t surprised. Those two have discussed how he’s going to be looked upon late in critical situations.
- Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press: Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic said both his right wrist and his right ankle are bothering him. The wrist was sprained in Saturday's 131-117 loss to Dallas; the ankle, previously described as bursitis, has been a nagging issue dating back to last season. "Because of my wrist, the doctors just decided to take a few games off to just settle it and not make it worse, obviously," Pekovic said Wednesday. ... Pekovic said he will see a doctor in four or five days and expects to practice soon after that. Meanwhile, he's expecting to do some exercises on the side. Pekovic said part of his injury issues is just a work hazard. "I don't work in an office," said Pekovic, a bruising big man at 6-11, 295 pounds. "You get hurt, you get hit, especially me."
- Jason Quick of The Oregonian: When reporters report, their recorder is among the most important tools. One, it allows us to accurately relay what our subjects were saying. And sometimes, it protects us against claims of subjects suggesting they were "taken out of context" or misquoted. In December of 2005, Nate McMillan's first year as head coach of the Trail Blazers, a story I published in The Oregonian was cited by the team as "twisting" the words of McMillan. They sent out a press release disputing the article. I went back to my tape and listened. It was spot on. I stood my ground, and eventually, a meeting was held at the Blazers' practice facility in Tualatin on a Saturday morning. Frustratingly, the tape was never played in that meeting. The Blazers had their own agenda at the time and were more interested in convincing managing editor Peter Bhatia and sports editor Mark Hester that I should be taken off the beat. Hester and Bhatia had heard the tape. They weren't budging. Nothing was resolved in that meeting, but it was a good lesson in recording interviews and standing your ground.
November, 19, 2014
November, 19, 2014
Stephen Jackson: [Toward] the end of the game, I recall somebody on the team told Ron, 'You can get one now.' I heard it. I think somebody was shooting a free throw. Somebody said to Ron, 'You can get one now,' meaning you can lay a foul on somebody who he had beef with in the game.
Ben Wallace: He told me he was going to hit me, and he did it.
Stephen Jackson: Ben was the wrong person [to foul] because, if I’m not mistaken, his brother had just passed and he was going through some issues. I was guarding Ben, I let him score. I was trying to let the clock run out. And Ron just came from out of nowhere and just clobbered him. I’m like, 'What the hell is going on?' I had no clue that was about to happen. When that happened, everything just happened so fast, man.
-- From "Malice at the Palace," by Grantland's Jonathan Abrams
"Those who cannot remember the past," philosopher George Santayana once said, "are condemned to repeat it."
Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesAt the end of a Pacers-Pistons game on Nov. 19, 2004, an ugly brawl spilled over into the stands.
Today's the day the NBA can say it has managed an entire decade without repeating anything like the Malice at the Palace, and there's a growing sense it will never happen again. But it's important to remember what really did happen that night in Auburn Hills, Michigan, and it might never be told better than it was by Grantland's Jonathan Abrams two years ago.
That story makes clear how much more complex the event was than a player or two going after fans. These were two of the best teams in the league, with title aspirations. The Pacers had pulled away for an early-season defining road win, and with no game to contest, players resolved to settle some scores in garbage time, as happens from time to time. A sequence of factors -- including intentional hard fouls, Ben Wallace's family trauma, Ron Artest's vacillations between rageful and calm, the terror of being in the minority confronting a violent mob, dreadfully insufficient security, Stephen Jackson's placement of loyalty above all -- combined to create something entirely horrid, with plenty of victims, even though up close, it's tougher to find villains than you might think.
November, 19, 2014
By Frank Madden
Special to ESPN.com
Special to ESPN.com
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesAfter years of playing for a postseason berth, the sky's the limit for the Bucks under new ownership.After a decade of false starts and half-baked ambition, the Milwaukee Bucks suddenly have new priorities. A season after crashing and burning to a franchise-worst 15-67 record and five months after the arrival of new owners Wes Edens and Marc Lasry, the Bucks opened camp with the league’s youngest team, a new coaching staff led by Jason Kidd, and all the optimism and glass-half-full-ness that come with it.
So far, so good.
Gone is longtime owner Herb Kohl’s well-intentioned but ultimately failed mandate to remain “competitive,” replaced by a renewed emphasis on the now-familiar tenets of NBA rebuilding: young players, cap flexibility, asset acquisition -- and the patience to hopefully see it translate into contention before the decade is over.
On the court, the Bucks are by design a work in progress, though at a surprising 6-5 entering Wednesday’s Kidd Reunion in Brooklyn, progress is certainly being made. Neither Jabari Parker nor Giannis Antetokounmpo can legally drink, but the two preternaturally talented 19-year-olds have effectively been tasked with saving the Brew City’s basketball franchise … eventually. Less than a month into their first season together, the teenagers are already Milwaukee's starting forward combination and wasting little time giving Bucks fans a steady diet of youthful exuberance and highlight-reel dunks, albeit with their fair share of teenage indiscretion mixed in as well.
Not that they’re in it alone. Despite an ongoing inability to finish around the hoop, Larry Sanders has returned to his disruptive best on the defensive end, spearheading a long, chaos-inducing Bucks defense that ranks fifth in the league. And for better or worse, fourth-year guard Brandon Knight remains the fulcrum of the Bucks’ inconsistent offense, increasing his efficiency while keeping the leading scorer mantle warm until Parker and Antetokounmpo are ready for it. How quickly the Bucks’ stable of young talent can evolve into a winning core remains unclear, but early returns suggest it may happen sooner rather than later.
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesAfter arriving in dramatic fashion this offseason, Jason Kidd has helped bring a buzz to Bucks ball.
Until then, steep learning curves figure to be on public display anytime the Bucks take the court, par for the course when you consider this is an NBA team with only one player over the age of 30 and more teenagers (three) than the local college team at Marquette. The early results haven’t always been pretty; while Kidd’s defensive focus paid immediate dividends on that end, the team’s offense remains among the league’s worst. Still, for the first time in years the Bucks are, well, interesting.
For now, Kidd’s job will be absorbing the pressure that comes with the team’s new ambitions, all while helping his young charges navigate the turbulence that comes from growing up on the job. For better or worse, it’s a task for which he’s unusually well suited.
Kidd the player knows all about the challenges of making the leap from lottery pick to surefire Hall of Famer, while Kidd the coach has spent the past year going through his own crash course in big-city pressure and media scrutiny. A miserable start to his coaching career in Brooklyn nearly cost him his job last December, and his controversial move to the Bucks in July served as the first PR misstep of Edens and Lasry’s tenure in Milwaukee. What should have been a coup for the franchise -- Jason Kidd leaving Brooklyn for Milwaukee! -- instead made for an introductory news conference that was at the time part interrogation, part mea culpa, and all sorts of awkward. The lesson for the new owners was apparent: Go for the big splash and you might get wet. But the message to Bucks fans and the rest of the league was equally clear: With its big-city billionaires now aboard, Milwaukee was no longer content to play the role of sleepy Midwestern hinterland.
But while Kidd will be allowed plenty of time to drag the young Bucks out of the NBA’s primordial ooze, Lasry and Edens know that they don’t have the same luxury of patience off the court.
Newly minted Bucks team president Peter Feigin describes his approach for turning around the Bucks’ flagging brand in blunt terms: "We're trying to boil the ocean." Look no further than Milwaukee’s league-worst attendance and TV ratings last season, highlighting the obvious challenge of marketing an uninspiring product in an old building to one of the league’s smallest markets.
The result has been a renewed urgency to win back fans, and a willingness to throw the kitchen sink at an image problem decades in the making. Since May, the team’s business operations staff has grown by roughly 50 percent, including 40 new hires in the team’s sales department. With “Own the Future” as its new rallying cry, the team’s swelling business staff has moved into a new corporate headquarters from which to hawk new ticket deals far and wide, including free 2015-16 tickets for all fans who attend every game of the coming season. Overall, the team has redoubled its efforts with both individual and corporate season-ticket holders, with Feigin noting the team’s focus on skewing toward a younger demographic than in the past.
"We really need to grab the [demographic] of the 25- to 35-year-olds to be successful,” he said. “We want their kids to be born Bucks fans. We might have been soft in that area in the past."
Also new are a dozen local investors and a largely overhauled executive suite. Among the new VPs: Lasry’s own 27-year-old son, Alex, whose résumé features stints at the White House and Goldman Sachs. It’s not the “same old Bucks” on the court, nor is it behind the scenes. The changes haven’t gone unnoticed, including by a certain former NBA commissioner.
"What people underestimate is what new and infused ownership can bring,” David Stern noted ahead of the Bucks’ season opener in Charlotte.
"They've had an increase in their full-season equivalents. It won't be as good as it's going to be next year, and next year won't be as good as the year after. But I use Sacramento as an example.
"They went from a 30 percent increase to another 30 percent increase and when they move into their new building, Katy bar the door, it's going to be great. I think Milwaukeeans and Wisconsinites are going to have a great ride with respect to this ownership."
To that end, the team is working to expand its base of support both near and far. The month of September saw a “Bucks Bar Network” introduced in the Milwaukee area, while players, mascots and cheerleaders were dispatched on a statewide bus tour to hold kids camps and remind the rest of the state that, yes, there is actually a pro basketball team in Wisconsin. All of which underscores that it’s not just about getting fans’ money, but also their attention. An opening-night sellout -- the team’s first since 2007 -- suggests that the team’s new narrative has started to gain traction.
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Bucks have made a big effort to reach out to the community to help build a fan base to grow with.
But for all the positive energy emanating from Milwaukee these days, the team’s most fundamental challenge will also be the most costly and difficult to pull off: building a replacement for the aging BMO Harris Bradley Center. Only three members of the current Bucks roster were even alive when the Bradley Center opened its doors in 1987, and no one associated with the Bucks or the NBA views it as a feasible solution beyond the current lease that expires in 2017.
Such is life for a small-market team dependent on the league’s revenue-sharing riches to make ends meet. As fans in Sacramento and Seattle can attest, it’s not enough to have a building that isn’t falling apart. You either play the new arena subsidy game and maximize your contribution to the league’s expanding revenue pie, or dare the league to ship your team to a city that will. The NBA’s implied threat finally gained teeth in May, when a league buy-back provision became a requirement of the new ownership group’s sale agreement with Kohl. Failure to have a new arena ready by the fall of 2017 would contractually allow the NBA to buy back the team -- and presumably move it elsewhere -- for the now-bargain price of $575 million.
Not that anyone in Milwaukee is in a panic just yet. Though history reminds us that owners can change their minds, an opening ante of $200 million toward a new arena from Edens, Lasry and Kohl suggested the new guys were dead serious about making a new arena happen in Milwaukee, and local belief in a solution has only increased of late despite the specter of a public funding debate in early 2015. The Bucks expect to finalize a downtown site by the end of the year, and if they get it right, the arena could serve as a hub for broader development encompassing retail, commercial and residential spaces. All of which makes the getting it right part so crucial for all parties.
"I think it comes down to having a vision," Edens commented during a recent Q&A with local business leaders. "It is not hard to imagine what could be here. But it is important where it is. We've looked at a bunch of things. We could pick an easy site, but it would be the wrong answer."
In the meantime, the Bucks continue to press forward. Off the court the challenges are more urgent; there are fans to win over, tickets to be sold and an arena to be built. On the court more patience will be needed. There are lessons to be learned, talents to be developed and, yes, games to be won. Some now, many more later.
Hurry up? Wait? In Milwaukee, the answer is decidedly both.
Frank Madden is the editor of Brew Hoop. Follow him, @brewhoop.
- Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Am I in Los Angeles? I believe I drove to Philips Arena tonight but it felt a lot like the Staples Center. Kobe Bryant usually draws a crowd on the road but this one was chanting ‘M-V-P, M-V-P” every time he stepped to the free-throw line. When Bryant hit the opening basket of the game, Philips Arena erupted. As he, and his teammates, made big shots down the stretch, there was a considerable amount of cheering for the visitors. ... The Hawks are not getting any breaks from the officials. For the third time this season, the Hawks were whistled for a questionable fourth-quarter foul call. Poor Kyle Korver, all three have been called against him.
- Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: I took quite a while, but Steve Nash finally returned phone calls from Lakers Coach Byron Scott. And they still missed each other Monday. Scott recently expressed mild confusion Nash hadn't called him back, at least to talk for a few minutes. Nash, 40, is sitting out this season because of chronic back problems but Scott has repeatedly expressed hope the two-time NBA MVP will serve as a mentor for younger players on the team. Nash has been away from the Lakers in recent weeks, trying to clear his mind with the realization his career is over. He became enmeshed in a social-media flap after posting Instagram photos of himself whacking a golf ball at a driving range. Lakers fans were not amused, aware the team had spent two first-round and two second-round picks to get Nash from Phoenix in 2012. And there is also a three-year, $28-million contract that expires after this season. "He did say on his message that he's definitely going to come back [to visit], he wants to see everybody, but he just needed some time, which we all understood," Scott said Tuesday.
- Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Zaza Pachulia learned fairly late that he would be starting at center against the New York Knicks, when Larry Sanders was a late scratch with a left thigh injury. But the 30-year-old Pachulia showed he was ready. He helped the Bucks race to a big lead in their 117-113 victory and finished with season highs of 14 points and 13 rebounds while adding four assists. Pachulia battled against Amare Stoudemire and helped the Bucks offense run effectively. The 6-foot-11 veteran also set a critical screen that helped free Ersan Ilyasova for a jumper in the final minute. "We all remember Charlotte," Pachulia said of losing a 24-point lead on opening night against the Hornets. "The difference is we won today. We executed better. We got to the free-throw line." Sanders did travel on the Bucks trip late Tuesday night to New York and his availability is day-to-day. He hurt his thigh in Milwaukee's victory at Miami on Sunday. "We all have each other's back," Pachulia said. "It doesn't matter who starts. We try to play together and that's what we did tonight. Our defense was great. We were running. Any time you score over 100 points, you just have to put effort on the defensive end. That stretch (in building the big lead) was great."
- Peter Botte of the New York Daily News: Carmelo Anthony laid on a training table in the visiting locker room for several minutes, his left knee being iced down following the Knicks’ failed comeback bid in a 117-113 loss Tuesday to the Bucks. Anthony left the court briefly in the second quarter to have his left knee retaped before returning to play 20 of 24 minutes in the second half – and finish with a team-high 26 points in 37:45 overall. But the $124 million All-Star revealed he’s been playing with some “soreness” in his left knee “since the Cleveland game” on Oct. 30, and acknowledged that he recently “had some (medical) tests” on that leg, although he wouldn’t reveal any specifics. “I don’t think it’s serious. I’m out there playing. I don’t think it’s that serious,” Anthony said after the game.
- Nakia Hogan of The Times-Picayune: Monday night was a teaching moment for the New Orleans Pelicans, who were schooled by the Portland Trail Blazers in the fourth quarter. The Pelicans learned their lesson ... well sort of. One night after having a double-digit lead evaporate in a disappointing loss, the Pelicans again flirted with disaster but managed to do something they couldn't on Monday — close the game out. After overcoming a double-digit deficit in the third quarter, the Pelicans seized control, then held on to beat the Sacramento Kings 106-100 on Tuesday at Sleep Train Arena. "I reminded them that we have the ability to bounce back," Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. "And that's why we believe in character guys. They want to win. We don't have to motivate them in a harsh way all the time because they want to win so bad." Anthony Davis scored 28 points, had nine rebounds and three blocks and Ryan Anderson added 22 points off the bench, as the Pelicans won game two of their four-game West Coast road trip.
- Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: For the first time since accepting a buyout from the Kings in February, Jimmer Fredette was back at Sleep Train Arena on Tuesday with the New Orleans Pelicans. Fredette was perhaps the most popular King not named DeMarcus Cousins during his two-plus seasons in Sacramento. But the 2011 first-round draft pick never found his comfort zone on the court after a standout career at BYU. “It’s always good to come back and see everybody you were here with for the last two and half years,” Fredette said. “I’ve built some great relationships here, and I’ve had a fun experience. But it’s a little bit weird going into the visiting locker room, for sure.” Fredette finished last season with the Chicago Bulls and signed with New Orleans in the offseason. Entering Tuesday, he had appeared in six games, averaging 11.7 minutes. Fredette said the experience with the Pelicans has been positive. “New Orleans is a great city,” he said. “The guys are really cool on the team; they work really hard. The coaching staff does a great job of getting us prepared, and we really enjoy it down there. (Fredette’s wife) Whitney’s having a great time, so it’s been fun so far.”
- Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: Almost everyone on this roster is struggling on the offensive end right now. And much of that is to be expected, with a variety of guys forced into uncomfortable roles. But Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson don’t have that excuse. Jackson is where he’s always dreamed — a feature guy with all the responsibility. And after a strong stretch of games, he’s really struggled with his shot the past two losses: 7-of-24 shooting, 12.5 points per game. That’s gotta be better when the burden is this heavy. But Ibaka’s dip in efficiency is more troubling. After a SCORCHING start to the season (57 percent the first five games), Ibaka has tailed off dramatically. The career 54 percent shooter is shooting 36 percent the past seven games. And it was particularly bad on Tuesday night, when Ibaka looked uncomfortable throughout a brutal 2-of-13 night — the worst shooting game of his career in which he’s taken eight or more shots.
- Mike Sorensen of the Deseret News: Through the first three-plus years of his NBA career, spanning 211 games, Alec Burks had never had as many as 10 rebounds in a game. That’s not too surprising considering that Burks is a guard who isn’t expected to get a lot of boards. However, his coach, Quin Snyder, did expect more and let him know it before last week’s game at Toronto. Since then, Burks has turned into a veritable rebounding machine. He pulled down 10 boards against the Raptors Saturday night and surpassed that total with 14 big rebounds in Tuesday’s 98-81 win over Oklahoma City. Burks' efforts on the glass played a part in Utah’s comeback victory against the Thunder. “I challenged Alec when we were in Toronto that that was something he can do and really impact the game," Snyder said. “Our guards need to be more physical. What Alec was doing on the defensive glass really was crucial for us. He was the guy who had juice. It was good to see Alec make it a priority with those long rebounds." Burks, always a man of a few words, said, “He challenged me and came in really aggressive one day about it." What did he say? “I can’t say what he said. He just challenged me man-on-man, and I took the challenge," Burks said.
- Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: A long-time employee of the Raptors, someone who knows a thing about the history of the franchise and its growth, was discussing Vince Carter and the reception he might get during Wednesday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies. The team plans one of the many video tributes they are paying to icons of the past to help celebrate its 20th anniversary and no one is iconic as Carter, who will be honoured during a first-quarter timeout. Guessing the reaction is difficult because there are those who will not let go of a decade-long anger at Carter and how vociferous they will be can’t be told. But there is a greater context that should be taken into consideration. “Never mind what happened with him 10 years ago,” was the gist of the point the high-ranking team staff member made. “They should cheer him for what he did for basketball in Canada.” It’s tough to argue with that logic.
- Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: About a week ago, Nuggets coach Brian Shaw gathered his team and warned the players of the coming media storm if the losing continued. The losing continued. The storm has arrived. But then Monday night happened. Right out of the blue. The Nuggets pulled off the stunner of their season so far, a 106-97 victory over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. Denver's big victory came amid questions wondering whether anyone, from Nuggets president Josh Kroenke to general manager Tim Connelly to Shaw, truly knows what they're doing in attempting to build a winner. "It's a process," Shaw said. "The reality of the situation is last year our front office was new. Our coaching staff was new. It was the first time, obviously, all working together. The first time with our players being around each other, we dealt with a lot of injuries. We still have guys that aren't 100 percent coming back from the injuries. Now, granted, we aren't playing as well as we think we should be or that we're capable of playing.
- Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: The lineup of rookies was just one example of the Heat’s spit-and-glue game plan. Spoelstra experimented liberally at Barclays Center in an attempt to shake the Heat out of its three-game losing streak, and somehow it worked despite so many injured players. For the fourth game in a row the Heat played ugly basketball, but this time Miami actually won doing it, defeating the Brooklyn Nets 95-83. A three-point play by Chalmers gave the Heat an 87-80 lead with 2:37 to play, and a three-pointer from Chris Bosh put the Heat ahead by 11 points with 1:23 left. The game didn’t prove much other than somehow the Nets are playing worse basketball than the depleted Heat right now. Still, it was a psychologically important road victory for Miami, which came to Brooklyn with consecutive losses to the Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks.
- Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: So much for the highly-hyped Derrick Rose-Chris Paul showdown on Monday night. Hard for it to take place when only one of them showed up. The other? Rose, and his latest injury of the day – a strained left hamstring – missed his second consecutive game, and the sixth of the 11 games the Bulls have played this season. And with no Pau Gasol (strained left calf), it had the makings of an ugly start to the Circus Trip. Good thing the Bulls players don’t get caught up in perception, as they overcame a 14-point first half deficit and beat the Clippers 105-89 at the Staples Center. “We played with an edge," center Joakim Noah said of the win. “When you play with an edge like that, you’re going to have a better chance of winning the ballgame. The last game [against Indiana], we played with no edge to us and we got our [butt] kicked by a team that’s probably not as good as the Clippers. That shows you that the mindset going into a game is everything." Noah would know, as he had 11 points and 16 rebounds, looking like the All-Star from last season.
- Jabari Young of CSNNW.com: When the New Orleans Pelicans drafted Anthony Davis in 2012, Monty Williams knew exactly who to contact for advice. The former Trail Blazers assistant coach called LaMarcus Aldridge to pick his brain on what he could do to help develop Davis. After all, Aldridge credits Williams for helping him develop in the NBA while the two were together in Portland from 2005-10. “He helped me grow a lot, so we have that bond that cannot be broken,” Aldridge said. Williams used that relationship when it came to Davis. “I was just trying to figure out ways to work with a big who is highly skilled like LaMarcus,” Williams recalled.
- Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: A highly anticipated showdown for supremacy in the standings between the two teams with the top records and best defenses in the NBA didn’t look much like a fair fight. The tale of the tape proved to be grossly misleading given the outcome of this bout. The Grizzlies simply pummeled the Houston Rockets 119-93 on Monday night in FedExForum, extending their franchise-best start with their most well-rounded effort this season en route to a 10-1 record. “We’ve been waiting on a game where everything clicked,” Griz guard Mike Conley said. “We played well offensively and defensively. Our bench came in and played hard and gave us an extended lead. When we’re playing like that we’re going to be tough to beat.” The Rockets (9-2) would second that sentiment. They were forced to cry uncle early.
- Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Yup, the hapless Philadelphia Sixers — they of the 26-game losing streak, franchise-record 53-point defeat and a new standard for intentionally throwing entire seasons — were in town on Monday. The result was about what you’d expect: The Spurs, despite some ragged moments, cruised to a 100-75 victory at the AT&T Center, playing none of the Core Four for more than 20 minutes and getting a game-high 18 points from Matt Bonner. Yes, lovable goofball Matt Bonner, who hadn’t scored that many in nearly three years, and was averaging just 4.7 coming in. He did it in just 20 minutes as well, meaning only Gregg Popovich’s discretion kept him from approaching his career high of 28 points. (Damn you, Gregg Popovich.) The Curmudgeonly One was clearly looking forward, with the Spurs (6-4) facing a short two-game swing through Cleveland (Wednesday) and Minnesota (Friday). The first outing needs no real set-up, providing the Spurs with their first opportunity to face LeBron James and the Cavaliers. “I didn’t even think that was a possibility,” Tim Duncan said of James’ return to Cleveland. “But I respect the fact that he actually did that. He went back home and is trying to do something there, and trying to put a team together and trying to win a championship."
- Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: After Victor Oladipo finished with 18 points on 7-of-18 shooting, seven assists and three turnovers against Washington on Saturday, he studied video of the loss. He specifically wanted to assess his decision-making. "It definitely can get rusty," Oladipo said. He determined that he took one or two shots that he shouldn't have taken. "You've got to keep getting better, working the rust off, almost like the Tin Man a little bit," he said. Coach Jacque Vaughn was asked whether making better decisions is a message he's given Oladipo. "Well," Vaughn said, "hopefully that we're not in Washington, where his family and friends are, a different setting will lend to him continuing to make the right play for us."
- Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: It will only count as one win, but it will feel like more than that. The Suns' Monday night victory counts for more because Markieff Morris and Alex Len had career games, playing big for a team known more for playing small. It feels more substantial because they had to get away from Boston three times after blowing double-digit leads twice. More than anything, the 118-114 win at TD Garden carried weight for how the Suns were tough and clutch enough for a more complete effort that makes them 6-5, a symbolic mark for a team that started 5-6 last season. The Suns took advantage of the inability of the Celtics (3-6) to close out games at home, where they are 2-4 this season. Phoenix led by 13 in the first quarter but gave it back before the quarter ended. The Suns led by 14 in the third quarter, but the game wound up tied five times in the fourth quarter. "The guards took a lot of pressure off of us by penetrating and getting into the lane," Suns power forward Markieff Morris said.
- Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News: As expected, Raymond Felton’s four-game suspension began with Monday night’s game. After the suspension, Felton will be eligible to return for the Nov. 24 home game against Indiana. ... The Mavericks’ backcourt appears to be crowded, with starters Jameer Nelson and Monta Ellis, in addition to Harris and early-season addition J.J. Barea _ although Harris’ ankle injury might at least temporally cut into that depth. Before the game, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said, “I’m excited to get Raymond back because that will push our point guards a little bit more.” Is having so many point guards a good problem? “Oh, yeah, of course,” Cuban said. “Because it pushes everybody. If we have four point guards play 12 minutes each, if that’s what it takes.”
November, 17, 2014
By J.A. Adande
The Lakers’ glorious past and pathetic present were both well represented at Staples Center on Sunday night, and normally the confluence of such a disparity is disruptive, like the turbulence when two weather fronts meet.
I still remember Lakers legends Jerry West and Magic Johnson fuming when the Lakers were swept by the Utah Jazz in the 1998 playoffs. West called it “ridiculous” and said players “should be embarrassed.” Johnson said, “I’m really upset at this.”
There was no such anger Sunday night, not even as the Lakers were picked apart by the Golden State Warriors 136-115 to drop their record to 1-9.
Maybe criticism wasn't at the forefront of people’s minds because of the reason they gathered: to celebrate Elgin Baylor’s 80th birthday. Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens flew in from Seattle. Dick Barnett, one of Baylor’s teammates in the Lakers’ early years in Los Angeles, came out from New York. Former Lakers players Tommy Hawkins, Lucius Allen and Michael Cooper were on hand as well. All of the fans at the game received replicas of Baylor’s No. 22 Lakers jersey, and he was honored at halftime with a lengthy video tribute. All in all, a wonderful homage to one of the NBA’s all-time greats.
Maybe they abstained from criticism because their minds are occupied elsewhere.
When Magic chatted with Cooper, his teammate through five championship seasons in the 1980s, the topic was the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks, which Cooper used to coach and Johnson now owns.
As West made his way out of the building, he said, “We’re a fun team to watch.” He was talking about the Warriors, whom he currently serves as an executive board member.
The Lakers are still part of their identities, but they’re no longer their business. West left the front office in 2000 and Johnson sold his ownership stake in 2010. You could make a case that the exodus of the valuable institutional knowledge of Johnson and West is one of the reasons the team is in its current state.
The older generation of Lakers felt more nostalgic than ornery. Hawkins sat next to Baylor and talked about the team’s early days in Los Angeles, when they played at a nearly empty Sports Arena and didn’t have a full-time radio play-by-play announcer. Hawkins recounted one of his favorite stories, the time he and Baylor combined for 78 points -- 71 of them by Baylor.
Jeremy Lin probably won’t have such fond recollections of Sunday night, when he and Kobe Bryant combined to score 44 points -- 44 of them by Bryant. Bryant took 34 shots to Lin’s two.
But watching Kobe shoot and score seemed to be enough to satisfy the fans, who were oddly complacent throughout the game. No boos rained down, not even when the Warriors went ahead by 38 points. Most of the fans even remained in their seats well into the fourth quarter, even after it became apparent that neither Bryant nor the Warriors’ starters would return to the court. Lakers games feel more like a tourist destination than a sporting event these days. Come look at the banners and the Laker Girls and Jack Nicholson, say you’ve seen Kobe do his thing, and don’t worry about the outcome of the game.
One of the patrons who stayed until the end was Shaquille O’Neal, who was “in father mode” and took his kids to the game at their request.
O’Neal said Kobe and all of the residents of Lakerland just need to hang in there.
“It’s not what L.A. fans are accustomed to,” O’Neal said. “Just got to weather the storm.”
There’s sunshine in O’Neal’s life. He has an ownership stake in the Sacramento Kings, who are 6-4. The Lakers legends have moved on. Even on a rare occasion when they were all in the same building again, there was no collective angst about the franchise’s descent to the bottom of the Western Conference.
It’s not their problem.
- Janis Carr of The Orange County Register: Once again, Kobe Bryant showed he can still carry the Lakers. Even with lingering flu-like symptoms, one bad eye and 36 year-old legs, he scored 44 points Sunday – more than twice as many than anyone else on his team. And yet once again, it was obvious the Lakers need more than Bryant if they hope to avoid falling into oblivion before a quarter of the season is over. The precipice isn’t far. The Lakers took another step to the edge Sunday with a 136-115 loss to the Golden State Warriors. There still are 72 games still to play, which is not altogether comforting for a team that is 1-9 and one that has yet to establish any sort of defensive intensity. Coach Byron Scott said the Lakers gave up too many transition baskets because of a lack of effort. “Our guys were jogging,” he said. “We can’t win that way. Period.”
- Diamond Leung of The Oakland Tribune: Warriors big man Marreese Speights is no longer out of shape and on the end of the bench like he was last season. He’s far from that state after scoring 24 points and grabbing nine rebounds in a 136-115 win against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. “He’s earned that backup role, and he’s going to play a lot for us,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. Speights for now is playing ahead of Festus Ezeli, who did not play against the Nets on Thursday and appeared in the fourth quarter of blowout wins against Charlotte and the Lakers. It’s the role Speights hoped for after signing a three-year, $11 million contract with the Warriors. He averaged 12.4 minutes per game last season and played even less in the preseason before coming alive. “Usually in the past I would probably take it out on myself and be depressed with something like that, but this time I know the opportunity’s always going to come,” the 27-year-old Speights said. “Whenever it comes, I’m going to take advantage of it.”
- Shandel Richardson for the Journal Sentinel: Brandon Knight had to wait until his fourth NBA season for it to finally happen. And it was well worth the wait. Knight scored 20 points to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to a 91-84 victory against the Miami Heat Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena. It was Knight's first victory in the building as a professional after growing up 25 minutes north in Fort Lauderdale. "This was my first time getting a win at home," said Knight, who normally plays in front of hundreds of friends and family when he returns to Miami. "It feels good. My friends used to ask me, 'Who are the Bucks?' and it's like, 'We're in Milwaukee.' For us to come home and win, it is a blessing." Knight made 7 of 13 from the field, including four three-pointers. His last two from behind the arc did the most damage. The Heat pulled to within four points late in the fourth quarter after forward Shawne Williams made a three-pointer with 3 minutes, 41 seconds remaining. On the next possession, Knight answered with a three. The Heat then got a three-pointer from Norris Cole to once again make it a four-point game. Again, Knight matched it the next time down the court, pushing the lead back to seven.
- Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Chris Bosh had made the summer seem sane with his opening two weeks. He was more than he had been those first four seasons for the Miami Heat, setting up as a prudent investment for these next five. Then came last Wednesday's loss to Indiana, and his 3 of 13 from the field, and a season-low two rebounds. Then came 7 of 19 from the field in Friday's loss in Atlanta to a Hawks team that would be demolished a night later in Cleveland. And then there was Sunday's 2 of 17 from the field in a 91-84 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks at AmericanAirlines Arena. Groans. Moans. "I have to play a better game if we expect to win," was the blunt postgame assessment. "I guess it's on me." It has to be, especially on nights like this, when Dwyane Wade is reduced to spectator. "This team," Bosh said, "is relying on me to do a better job, and I have to make sure I do a better job."
- Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: As the teams were separating for a timeout, Sebastian Telfair and Beverley got into a brief argument that led Beverley to turn and discuss things with referee Bill Kennedy. But Beverley did it in a demonstrative manner, sticking his head extremely close to Kennedy’s. That led to Thunder coach Scott Brooks charging onto the court, marching right into the situation. “I saw Beverley get in his face,” Brooks said. “You never know what can happen in this league. This league gives you some surprises at times. I was a little worried for Bill.” Brooks’ involvement only escalated things. Beverley began to yell at the Thunder coach and then both sides descended for one of those brief NBA shoving and shouting matches. Howard and Kevin Durant engaged in an animated argument, with Durant lobbing some profanity-laced insults toward the Rockets big man. “Is that called contentious now in the NBA?” McHale joked. “I thought that was a little catfight.” Following the altercation, the intensity in the arena was amplified, leading to a dramatic finish. But, again, the Thunder’s lack of offense led to another close loss.
- Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Welcome back, Pat Beverley. And just to make you feel at home, here's a game that you more than anyone must love. Ugly. Physical. Emotional. All defense all the time, only in part because there was so little offense to get in the way. Picture a one-on-one "Hunger Games" of a showdown. Pat Beverley versus Pat Beverley. No blood, no foul. And preferably on an outdoor court with chain nets. The Rockets were not about to win that sort of matchup before this season, but with Beverley back from his hamstring injury, they and the Thunder strangled the offense out of the game until the Rockets survived 69-65 on Sunday night. The Rockets scored fewer points than in any previous victory in team history and just three more than their fewest in a loss.
- Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: After a sluggish start, veteran guard Arron Afflalo is finding his groove. In the past two games, he averaged 17.5 points while shooting 59 percent from the field, including 57.1 percent from 3-point range. Why the hot hand? "I think it's more of a mental adjustment and more of a physical adjustment for me," Afflalo said. "Throughout my career, I've had to adjust my style of play offensively and defensively to fit whatever the coach's plan was. So, for me it's just a matter of time. One way or another, I'll figure it out."
- Harvey Araton of The New York Times: Still, it is somewhat misguided to analyze the trade merely as a competition between the Knicks and the Nuggets, who have a better regular-season record than the Knicks since the deal was made in February 2011. The better question is how Walsh would have fared had Dolan not ordered the trade to keep Anthony from reluctantly accepting a trade to the Nets to ensure he got a new contract before a new collective bargaining agreement could go into effect. What else might the Knicks have done with the assets they had compiled, the draft picks Walsh was forced to surrender, had the organization not rushed into the Anthony acquisition just before announcing stiff ticket-price increases for the following season? Would the Knicks have been in the mix for Chris Paul? James Harden? Dwight Howard? Has it all been worth one playoff series victory in four years? Until Jackson assembles a squad around Anthony befitting his geometric visions of glory, that remains the unanswerable question. All we can say for certain is that Anthony is greater than Gallinari and the sum of all of Denver’s former Knicks parts.
- Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: The campaign began the minute Rudy Gay touched down in Sacramento almost a year ago. Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro passionately touted the All-Star abilities of DeMarcus Cousins, promised to upgrade the point guard position, and stressed the benefits of living in a small-market community that is building an arena and peering into a future that again includes the playoffs. Gay listened. The owners put money on the table. And only hours after Saturday’s energetic victory over the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, the Kings scored again. Three years, $40 million. Sweet. Fair. Absolutely necessary. Retaining the veteran small forward who was obtained from the Toronto Raptors last December – and doing so without depleting the payroll or striking an onerous deal that precludes additional maneuvers – furthers the notion the Vivek Ranadive regime has the cash and the inclination to acquire and re-sign the franchise’s most valuable players.