- Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: Avery Bradley probably never had been compared to Larry Bird until last night, when he duplicated one of the Celtics great’s most memorable shots with a hoist over the backboard. Bird hit his during a 1986 preseason game against Houston from almost the same range as Bradley, except from the left baseline. Bradley, who skied for a rebound, released the shot in midair from the right side as the shot clock ran down. He made the improbable basket for two of his 15 points. “That was honestly just a lucky shot,” he said. “I just wanted to get the shot up. I heard my teammates yelling, so I just threw it up.” Bradley said he’s never seen a video of Bird’s shot.
- Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: No loud whoops. No boisterous yelling. All you saw in the American Airlines Arena visitors locker room Tuesday night was a Pistons team with growing confidence. The scene was minutes after the Pistons ended the Heat’s 10-game winning streak with a 107-97 victory. After leading by 17 points early in the fourth quarter, the Pistons were able to withstand a furious Heat rally, with point guard Brandon Jennings making two key plays to calm nerves. But instead of basking in the glory of a beating the reigning two-time NBA champions, the Pistons (8-10) were talking about the need to get more consistent. “We have to build on it and turn this game into two games, into three games, into four games — that’s what we have to do after a night like this,” Greg Monroe said after his 16-point, six-rebound, five-assist night. “We did some really good things tonight, but we have to carry it over.”
- Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: In a stunning pregame press conference Tuesday, the Nets announced that Kidd demoted his former coach and friend Lawrence Frank from assistant to collecting hush money. “Lawrence has been reassigned to doing daily reports. He won’t be sitting on the bench or practice,” Kidd said coldly before the Nets were blown out by the Nuggets, 111-87, at the Barclays Center. There was very little emotion from Kidd, and zero regret. He cited a “difference in philosophies” as the reason for the change, which followed the Daily News reporting last week that Kidd and Frank were at odds. A source also told The News that Frank was bad-mouthing Kidd to others around the league, apparently unhappy with Kidd and the partnership. When Kidd needed him most, Frank was complaining behind his back. It’s unclear whether Kidd was aware of what Frank was saying, but this much is certain: The two weren’t on the same page, a feeling that had been festering for most of the season, according to sources. ... The friction was noticeable to Joe Johnson. “Guys do notice it. I know I surely noticed it. Something just wasn’t quite right,” the Nets guard told The News. “But that has nothing to do with how we played (Tuesday night). That was just a carbon copy of our season, to be honest with you.”
- Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: Would Jeff Van Gundy coach the Knicks again? Sure, but only if he got what Woodson wants: better players. Until then, Van Gundy’s current job is better than Woodson’s. Plus, before I see Van Gundy riding in on a white horse there’s a trusted adviser to Dolan who I’m hearing could be next in line. No, not that guy. But Allan Houston, supposedly the GM in training, looms as a potential successor. The word around Knicks camp is that Dolan wouldn’t hesitate to promote him to head coach if the Knicks don’t turn things around sooner than later. Houston’s $100 million contract placed the Knicks in salary cap purgatory for years. Maybe having to coach this Knicks team would be his payback. Crazy? Well, if we told you on Sept. 1 that Steve Mills would be back before training camp to run the front office you wouldn’t have believed that either. At MSG, always expect the unexpected. Based on that history, you’d be a fool to rule out Woodson, Van Gundy and, yes, even Allan Houston. Karl, however, will never reach the level of “special adviser.” He’s done.
- Carl Steward of The Oakland Tribune: The Warriors transformed what would have been their worst, ugliest, flattest defeat of the season Tuesday into one of their most inspiring, scintillating comeback victories in many a year. Would you believe 51 years, in fact? With 9:20 to go in the third quarter against the Toronto Raptors, the Warriors trailed by 27 points and were still behind by 18 entering the fourth quarter. But behind the sharpshooting of Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, a relentless defensive effort down the stretch and an Oracle Arena that sat on its hands for three quarters, then stood on its feet for almost all of the fourth, Golden State rallied for a miraculous 112-103 victory. It was a firestorm of a final 12 minutes for Golden State -- 42-15. And it was historic. It was the largest deficit to start a fourth period the Warriors had overcome since Feb. 19, 1962, at Boston. Toronto, meanwhile, had never lost a lead as large as 27 in its franchise history. It was also the seventh-largest comeback in NBA history. Numbers told only part of the story of what it meant, however. "This being my third year here, there has not been a bigger win when you talk about statement," said coach Mark Jackson. "We had every right to fold the tent and say, `Let's look forward to the next one.' "
- Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: All Timofey Mozgov ever wanted to do was play. Just play. He'd do what the coaches wanted, even if it wasn't always done right. He loved basketball, but he wondered why the game couldn't love him back. That was last season. This season? This is entirely different. Mozgov looks entirely different, as evidenced in his monster 17-point, 20-rebound performance in the Nuggets seventh straight win, a 111-87 blowout of the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center on Tuesday night. "He's getting an opportunity and he's making the most of it," Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said. But it's not that simple. It rarely ever is. Mozgov's brief NBA history is of a player who routinely lost confidence on an NBA court, yet thrived as a member of the Russian national team. The contrast was so stark it became a punch line in the Nuggets' locker room. "Where's Russian National Team Timo?" That player is here. Mozgov credits Shaw. "He puts you on the court. He trusts in you," Mozgov said. "It's better. It's simple." Shaw credits Mozgov's willingness to listen and carry out the instructions.
- Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: From afar, Durant was like everyone else last season, following the ongoing saga in Sacramento as the city tried — and eventually succeeded — to keep its NBA team from leaving for Seattle. But with his knowledge of the league and connection to the Emerald City, it put him in a strange spot, rooting for and against both sides. “It's almost like a lose-lose situation because you want to see Seattle get a team, but you don't want to see Sacramento lose theirs,” Durant said at the Thunder's shootaround in Sacramento on Tuesday. Having spent his rookie year there, Durant loves Seattle, routinely making it a point to go back and visit in the offseason. And more than once, he's voiced his opinion that the city deserves a team. But having once been in the middle of a franchise's unceremonious exit, Durant said he'd hate to see it happen in a city with only one professional team. “Sacramento has been here for so long,” Durant said. “And I know, man, I've been a part of it. When a team is here for so long and just gets up and moves, it's devastating for the city, for the fans. Hopefully Seattle gets a team here soon. But here in Sacramento, they needed a basketball team.”
- Michael Kaskey-Blomain of The Philadelphia Inquirer: In today’s underwhelming NBA news, the Delaware 87ers, the Sixers’ D-League affiliate, claimed 2012 lottery pick and former North Carolina Tar Heel Kendall Marshall. ... (It is important to note how Hinkie-y this move is: It follows his trend of looking at low risk/high (potential) reward players that could succeed with development, that other teams had given up on). ... While he hasn’t been able to last in the league to this point, Marshall’s prowess as a point guard makes him especially intriguing, and at 22, he still has plenty of time to improve upon his all-around game to get it up to an NBA level. Brett Brown has already demonstrated his ability to develop young talent (MC-W, Wroten, and Thompson have all seen improvement this season), and considering his size and skill set, Marshall seems a likely candidate to benefit from Brown, if the Sixers are so inclined to call him up. (Note: If the Sixers were to call up a player from the 87ers, they must first cut a player currently on the roster).
- Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News: Tuesday’s game typified the way Charlotte plays, mucking up games with stingy defense and difficult-to-watch offense. The Bobcats have held 11 straight opponents under 100 points, the longest streak in the NBA. "Our first and fourth quarters were very solid; our second and third quarters were very poor,” Carlisle said. “We’re lucky to survive it, but it’s the kind of game we totally expected it to be, so there’s no surprise.” The victory gave Dallas a 6-2 record against Eastern Conference teams. The Mavericks are 5-6 against the West. All four games on the road trip they begin Wednesday night are against Western Conference opponents. Entering Tuesday’s games, only two Eastern Conference teams — Indiana and Miami — were above .500. The Mavericks, meanwhile, were one of 10 teams in the West with winning records. “It’s a great challenge,” Carlisle said.
- Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Tony Allen dove on the floor early. Mike Conley was body surfing the court late. In between those moments of all-out hustle, the Grizzlies’ big men had a block party and provided a lopsided advantage with scoring in the paint. The Grizzlies snapped a four-game home losing streak with a 110-91 victory over the Phoenix Suns and did so Tuesday night by outworking the opponent, especially on defense. The Griz haven’t properly secured FedExForum in some time. Phoenix entered the game averaging 101.7 points per game on 47 percent shooting. The Suns shot 42.5 percent and made just 7 of 29 3-pointers. The Griz won at home for the first time since Nov. 9 against Golden State. They had lost five of the last six games in FedExForum.
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Hinkie, a Daryl Morey acolyte who quietly made a name for himself in league circles as perhaps the most probabilistic thinker in a singularly rational Houston front office, threw down the gauntlet almost immediately. On draft night, in his first meaningful move as general manager, Hinkie traded his best player (or at least the player widely believed to be his best) in exchange for a significantly more valuable asset: a future. In return for Jrue Holiday, the rookie GM landed Nerlens Noel (the consensus No. 1 prospect in the run-up to the 2013 draft), a top-five protected pick in 2014 that’s likely to wind up in the lottery and substantially improved odds of gaining a top selection with his team’s own pick in the same heralded draft. The move was a game-changer.
Though Hinkie has denied the trade was a function of the dim view advanced metrics take of Holiday (“A, I wouldn’t disparage [Holiday] and B, I think he’s good and he’ll do a good job in New Orleans this year,” he told me before the season) it strains credulity, given Hinkie’s background and values, to think that it’s merely a coincidence that the point guard he traded is a poor player by measure of these stats while the one he drafted (Michael Carter-Williams) was comparatively an analytic darling. The trade drew a bright red line in the sand: It was the beginning of a new era of player evaluation in Philadelphia.
The stark changes have extended to in-game strategy, as well. The 76ers’ shot charts between this season and last don’t look anything alike. A Philadelphia team that, under Collins, led the NBA in 16- to 23-foot shots in 2012-13 with 24 a game (deepening the self-inflicted wound, the team was only 28th in field goal percentage from this range), now leads the league in attempts from within 5 feet of the basket and places 12th in 3-pointers attempted.
When asked how conscious the decision to move away from the midrange game was, Hinkie was blunt. “Conscious,” he said with a smirk. “I don’t have a good scale for degrees of consciousness, but it’s something our coaches have focused on.”
And while up-tempo basketball has become something of an analytic shibboleth, the previously sluggish Sixers are leading the NBA in pace of play, using 102 possessions per 48 minutes, almost 10 more per game than they used in 2012-13.
Philadelphia’s data mining is still in its nascent stages, too. The Sixers were one of the first 15 subscribers to SportVU, the camera systems that capture player movement and turn it into actionable data, and have since been installed in every NBA arena. While the organization has been tight-lipped about how precisely this intel influences its X’s and O’s, Hinkie admits to being an enthusiast, and one of the earliest adopters, of the technology. “We [in Houston] were customer zero,” he told a group of bloggers at an October breakfast.
“It’s like a lot of competitive environments,” he said of the NBA. “There’s an advantage, and then it goes away quickly. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t new ones. You have to find new ones.”
And so the Sixers have. One of these “new ones” is centered in the growing discipline of sports science. The team is a client of Catapult Technology, a company started by a pair of scientists from the Australian Institute of Sport that uses GPS sensors to track and record player movement during practice. Catapult purports to help teams individualize exercise schedules and reduce injury rates. “Every player has worn it every day I’ve been here,” Hinkie said. “It can allow you to dial up or down practice intensity or dial up or down conditioning for each player.” Philip Skiba, a sports scientist who studies the benefits of highly individualized training, maintains that endurance athletes can get as much as a 25 percent performance boost from programs like Catapult.
The team’s methodical approach to training is complemented by a new and unique emphasis on nutrition. While the players don’t have strictly individualized diets prescribed to them by the team, they are grouped into several nutritional tiers based on their body-mass index and body fat percentage.
Lavoy Allen, who admitted that he’s on the lowest tier, joked after a recent game he’s just allowed to have “water and leaves off trees” at this point. “It’s pretty specific,” the third-year forward added. “Even when we travel, we get a paper in our room on what we can eat and what we have to stay away from.” The veteran said that, in seasons past, it was a relative culinary free-for-all. “[I was] ordering burgers at 2 o’clock on the morning. Thank God for 24-hour room service.”
It’s important to emphasize that these aren’t merely directives that are ordered from on high, then carried out by puzzled and skeptical foot soldiers. Both the emphasis on fitness and nutrition have the full-throated support of the coach Hinkie hired, Brett Brown, and the staff the organization built around him. Everyone in Philadelphia is pulling in the same direction.
Brown worked closely with the Australian Institute of Sport during his time as coach of the country’s national team and spoke glowingly of its methods after he was hired to lead the 76ers. “You look at cutting-edge technology that comes out of sports science and the [Australian] Institute of Sport is among the leaders around the world, very globally recognized as cutting edge ... My main influence is what went on at the Olympics and at the Institute of Sport and my earlier days [in Australia].” During Brown’s stint in San Antonio, the Spurs became one of the first NBA teams to start using Catapult.
Brown’s staff is like-minded, brought in from organizations that are among the most forward thinking in the sport. Chad Iske and Vance Walberg came over from Denver, Lloyd Pierce from the Grizzlies and Billy Lange from a Villanova basketball program that places a premium on science. This isn’t an accident, Hinkie explained. “We’ve come from similar environments,” the GM said. “Our coaches all come from environments where they value [analytic thinking], and that’s why they’re here. ... This is natural for a lot of people in our office. Because of where they’ve been. Because of what they’ve been doing.”
Philadelphia’s scientific bent can seem academic at first blush, but on closer inspection it looks more like good, old fashioned common sense. Winning basketball requires, at its most basic level, great players to be in great shape and play in a great scheme. The Sixers are simply using the best facts available to get an edge in each of these areas.
It will take time, though. Maybe even years before the machine Hinkie has built starts churning out championship-caliber teams, but that’s fine. Hinkie and the Sixers are willing to wait. Waiting itself might be part of the plan.
“If you’re thinking about how you’re going to win the game tonight, that makes three million of us,” Hinkie said. “[But] if one of your goals is, ‘How are we going to do this eight years out, or nine years out, or four years out, or 30 years out?’ you might be the only person in the world focused on that. It might be a tournament of one rather than a tournament of three million.”
The future is now in Philadelphia. Contention? Well, that might have to wait.
- Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: Playing the second of a back-to-back, short-handed, the Pelicans displayed an amazing effort to win in triple overtime against the Bulls. There were many opportunities for New Orleans to fold its tent in any of the extra periods, but the Pelicans persevered for the victory. There were incredible individual performances, notably Ryan Anderson who scored 36 points in 56 1/2 minutes on the floor. And consider this: for a game that went three extra periods, the Pelicans turned the ball over just 11 times. It really wasn't a surprise that small forward Al-Farouq Aminu would return to the starting lineup Monday night against the Chicago Bulls. The Pelicans will be without their best rebounder, Anthony Davis, for an undetermined length of time because of a broken left hand. So the next-best rebounder, Aminu, can't be sitting on the bench.
- K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Two of the Bulls' youngest players are headed in opposite directions. With Jimmy Butler still not even practicing because of turf toe, Tony Snell drew his third straight of what could be several more starts. Snell finished with six points in 22 minutes against the Pelicans. Meanwhile, Mike James, who, at 38, is the fourth-oldest player in the league, remained ahead of second-year speedster Marquis Teague in the backup point guard rotation. "You're doing what's best for the team," coach Tom Thibodeau said when asked if he felt the need to talk to Teague. "That's the way you deal with those things." Teague said he remains confident, even if his play has suggested otherwise. "It's not my decision, so all I can do is keep working and always be ready," he said. "It's a long season. A lot of things happen." Just look at Snell. Buried on the bench after a surprise first-half appearance in the season opener at Miami, the first-round pick averaged 15.5 points on 57.1 percent shooting, including 60 percent from 3-point land, in his first two starts. Asked if Snell had earned rotation minutes even when Butler returns, Thibodeau didn't bite. "We'll see how it unfolds," he said. "We need everybody.
- Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: At first, the Trail Blazers’ stunning early-season success was dismissed as a hot start. Then, after the wins piled up against so-so opponents, it was simply a byproduct of a soft schedule. But now, after another impressive victory against another top-notch foe, it’s hard to find too many flaws in what is unfolding in the Northwest. It’s time to hop aboard the bandwagon, Rip City. In one of their most impressive and rugged performances of the season, the Blazers outlasted Paul George and out-toughed the gritty Indiana Pacers, steamrolling their way to a 106-102 victory before 19,023 Monday night at the Moda Center. The win, which came in a playoff-like atmosphere before an energized crowd, improved the Blazers’ record to 15-3, their best after 18 games since the 1998-99 season, when they also opened 15-3. “We’re a pretty damn good team,” Wesley Matthews said, when asked what Monday night’s win showed. “And we can beat anybody.” ... The Blazers will face two more challenging opponents this week — including the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday — but they way they see it, they've already proven their early-season hot streak is no fluke.
- Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: It hasn’t been the easiest start for 37-year-old Tim Duncan, who spent most of the opening month of his 17th season struggling to find a rhythm as his shooting percentage plunged below 40. But he picked a fine time to enjoy one of the greatest games of his career, exploding for 23 points and 21 rebounds to not only officially bust out of his slump, but torture former Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer — now Atlanta’s head coach — in the process. Duncan became the oldest player since at least 1985-86 to record a 20/20, beating Boston’s Robert Parish (1991) by 48 days. And that was only half the story. He capped his historic night by drilling the game-winning jumper with 0.4 seconds left to rescue the Spurs after they squandered a late seven-point lead. Nobody was less surprised by Duncan’s dominance than Budenholzer, who sat courtside for all 20 of Duncan’s previous 20/20s. “I’ve seen that very play,” he said. “That’s a credit to them and their execution and to Timmy. He’s made that shot in a lot of games. Timmy’s a heck of a player, the greatest power forward ever. He did a heck of a job. I’m happy for him in a strange, pissed off kind of way.” The Spurs improved to 15-3, but only by the skin of their teeth
- Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The Hawks did play with much better pace then their previous two games, when the fell behind by 17 and 18 points. The guard play of Teague, Lou Williams and Shelvin Mack enabled the Hawks to push the ball. After struggling offensively the past two games, they put up 100 points against a Spurs team that entered the game second in the NBA in points allowed at 91.2. The improved pace, nearly to a man, was the biggest take-away for the Hawks. “We stayed true to our execution," DeMarre Carroll said. "We were running the plays with good pace. We were going to our second and third options on plays and not just settling for jumpers. It worked out. We hit a lot of shots. We have to take this game, even though it’s a loss, and continue to improve on it. "To be able to stand toe-to-toe with them, and it’s basically their system, we are working toward something bigger and better.”
- Michael Lee of The Washington Post: The goal seems simple for most organizations, but it has been an arduous journey for a Washington Wizards franchise accustomed to slow starts and lottery appearances in the past six years. But with the target well in sight on Monday night, and with a realistic chance to make it happen against a weaker opponent, the Wizards stepped onto the court at Verizon Center focused on finally reaching .500 for the first time in four years. With Trevor Ariza leading the way with hot perimeter shooting, John Wall running another solid floor game and Nene once again battling through a sore right Achilles’ tendon, the Wizards beat the Orlando Magic, 98-80, to improve to 9-9. Before the game, Coach Randy Wittman said he wanted to see his team continue its climb from a 2-7 start. The Wizards completed a stretch of nine games in 14 days by going 7-2 and they now have the third-best record in the weak Eastern Conference. They are also 34-34 in their past 68 games.
- Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Former Orlando Magic center Marcin Gortat can’t wait for Wednesday night. Gortat will visit Capitol Hill to attend a special screening of a movie based on the life of Lech Walesa, the former Nobel Peace Prize winner and former president of Poland. “It’s going to be huge,” Gortat said, smiling broadly. For Gortat, a proud native of Poland, the event is one of the perks of living in the nation’s capital. Basketball, however, is the biggest perk. When the Phoenix Suns traded him to the Washington Wizards in late October, he moved from a rebuilding franchise to a team with legitimate playoff hopes in the weak Eastern Conference. He’s responded well. Averaging 13.4 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. ... Gortat wanted a change, and the trade to Washington provided it. Now, he couldn’t be much happier. He’s scheduled to become a free agent after this season, but, first, he wants the Wizards to make a playoff push.
- Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: This kind of performance is not in the tanking handbook. And especially not after earning a road win Saturday and picking up a thrilling overtime victory a week ago. If the Utah Jazz continue playing the kind of solid basketball that was on full display during an impressive 109-103 win over the Houston Rockets on Monday, a #tankingfail hashtag might start trending on Twitter. And the re-energized Jazz, who’ve won two straight games and three of four, would love nothing more than that. “It is exciting,” Jazz center Derrick Favors said. “It’s always exciting to win.” Even more exciting when the team takes down a surging Rockets squad that had won five straight and had already won once at EnergySolutions Arena this season. Remember the way the Jazz played during that 1-14 start? Including that humiliating 104-93 loss to these Rockets after leading by 19 points? That was so November.
- Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle: Rockets forward Chandler Parsons was stretching and working on loosening up his back all the way until game time Monday night in Salt Lake City. Despite Parsons’ best efforts, he was unable to play in the Rockets’ 109-103 loss to the Jazz. Francisco Garcia started in his place. “They have been playing well,” coach Kevin McHale said of his team’s bench. “They have had to with this many injuries.” Omri Casspi said that because of all the playing time the reserves have been getting, there is no pressure on anyone to step up. “This is the nature of the NBA season,” Casspi said. “You are going to have bumps and bruises. It’s a long season, but I think everyone on this team knows his role and knows how to come out, and we are comfortable playing as much as we need to.”
- Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: Ask Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman about flying 1,800 miles to play San Antonio in a “home” game in Mexico City and he’ll strike a pose of a man mystified. But he knows better: He was there at the beginning. Adelman was a Portland assistant coach in 1986 when the Trail Blazers drafted Arvydas Sabonis and Drazen Petrovic, a pair of European prodigies whose existence until then had been personally verified by NBA aficionados only with grainy video highlight reels or a fleeting Olympic appearance. Nearly 30 years later, the NBA is surfing a wave of globalization that sells jerseys and television rights worldwide and has lifted the league’s talent and skill. A record 92 international players from 39 countries and territories made rosters when this season started; 17 of them will play Wednesday night at the year-old Mexico City Arena when the Spurs and Wolves meet so far away from home in what the league calls NBA Global Games Mexico City 2013. The Spurs have 10 such players (a record itself) and the Wolves have seven after adding Cameroon’s Luc Mbah a Moute in last week’s trade of Derrick Williams. “You knew there were good players over there,” Adelman said, referring to somewhere across the sea and a time long ago, “but I never expected the game to change the way it has. You’re seeing guys coming over here, and large groups of guys. Still, that’s no reason to go to Mexico City.”
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The first time that a person who wasn't black used the word "nigga" to address me face-to-face came when I was out of the country. I was playing basketball for a team in a small, largely Croatian village in Bosnia-Herzegovina. I was walking down the street when I passed three adolescent boys going in the other direction on the opposite side. They were visibly excited to come across a black person in the flesh and called out to me: "Hey man, what's up? Hey, my nigga, how you do?" I didn't respond. I didn't know how to respond. I kept walking, feeling my ears burn and my jaw tighten. In my mind I saw images of barking dogs. The rest of the walk home was a blur. When I had cooled down, I wondered: Were they really trying to insult me? Or had their exposure to black culture led them to believe that this was how I'd like to be greeted?
There are generally four schools of thought on the word "nigga." There's the first and largest group -- black working-class (but not exclusively so) people who say it casually because it's what they've always done, or simply because they don't like being told what to do. There's the small but vocal group of middle-class black intellectuals who claim to have "reclaimed" the word, to have turned it into a term of endearment instead of a tool of oppression. It's a neat solution to a messy problem. It ends in "A," after all! This line of thinking is what led us to where Kanye West is currently -- "re-contextualizing" Confederate flags as tour merch. This last seems idiotic at first blush but might yet be proven to be genius. It's too early to talk about it with any sort of nuance, but it's a good marker of the extreme left of the dialogue.
The third group is comprised of the "respectable Negroes," the bootstrap types, the "don't you embarrass me in front of these white folks" crowd. Also largely middle- and upper-middle class, the worst of these would have us believe that if black men only pulled their pants up, stopped littering and stopped calling each other that word, racism and poverty would come to an end.
Last but certainly not least you have the extremely sympathetic older generation that worked to have the word eradicated from white people's vocabularies only to find it shouted from street corners and blasted from car windows in the future they worked so hard for. Carried to the extreme, it's best represented by the NAACP, which literally attempted to bury the word "nigga" in a well-intentioned but ultimately irrelevant funeral in 2007.
As I've played and traveled in various countries around the world, I've often been in situations with another person or their family and realized that this was their very first time meeting a person with skin like mine, shaking his or her hand or breaking bread over the dinner table. It is a strange weight to go from "representing your race" to Representing Your Race, but certainly bearable.”
Our academics would have us believe that the word is fine when in context, used without malice as a term of endearment. It's a simple equation in the U.S. Racism = prejudice + power. "White people" are excluded from using it because of their forefather's complicity in the slave trade and subsequent years of oppression. The paleness of their skin serves as prima facie evidence of their inability to use the word.
But where did the boys from Bosnia-Herzegovina fit in? They used it as a greeting. They were not a threat to me or my well-being. They didn't represent any white-power structure -- their country never had any slaves or colonies, and furthermore you'd be hard pressed to find any point in the past 100 or so years when the average Slav was better off from a material standpoint then a black American. If the word's power comes not from any intrinsic value but from the power structures behind it, why was I so angry?
As I've played and traveled in various countries around the world, I've often been in situations with another person or their family and realized that this was their very first time meeting a person with skin like mine, shaking his or her hand or breaking bread over the dinner table. It is a strange weight to go from "representing your race" to Representing Your Race, but certainly bearable. I've been unusually fortunate. For various socioeconomic reasons and sheer lack of numbers, very few African-Americans leave the United States. The percentage of Americans with passports is reported to be anywhere from 10 to 30 percent. Black passport ownership is believed to be some fraction of this. This means that for the vast majority of the world, the first (and likely only) exposure to African-American culture they will have in their lifetimes is through the Internet. Sports highlights, YouTube clips, memes. These people are receiving all of this without the framework that undergirds every interracial interaction in the U.S. This is not to say our rules are impossible to ascertain, but it makes it very, very difficult.
Highlights, music videos, memes. There is a very popular meme among black people that is occasionally funny, generally depressing and seemingly never-ending. It's called "Niggas Be Like." An example: A picture of a Stevie Wonder with the caption "NIGGAS BE LIKE: 'I'LL PAY YOU BACK NEXT TIME I SEE YOU.'" There are thousands of these on the Internet. You could easily copy and paste some of them on to a white supremacist site without anyone noticing; the conspiracy theorist in me wants to believe that's who keeps coming up with them. But the good ones are the sort of in-joke that has come to be understood as OK within cultures.
The first time I saw one of these, it had been posted by a former teammate of mine. The second person I saw repost one was a white girl. She was German, was dating an African-American soldier, felt like she had been given a pass. I know her personally, know she isn't racist. She is someone who wants to belong, and for whatever reason, the "pass" is seen as the ultimate sign that you're in. It actually is the natural extension of the tortured logic of that second school of thought -- if the word is now a term of love, of endearment, then a white person who can say that word without consequence is loved beyond any other. It would be, it must be, the pinnacle of white cool.
So who gets a pass? Most people, myself included, would argue that people with a black parent are fine. It didn't anger me when I heard that Matt Barnes used it. Conversely, I was dismayed to hear that Richie Incognito used it openly and often, but I know how locker rooms work. All it takes is one black guy to say, "Come on, man, you can say it, you know you my nigga" and all hell breaks loose. It's like a gun ban or a tax increase -- not feasible in a world of people with differing standards.
I've been in locker rooms where European players used it nonchalantly around black players, mostly when singing along to song lyrics. Occasionally, I'd pull someone aside and ask them to stop. This was mostly greeted with a look of confusion, an unanswerable question ("But why do you guys say it so much if it's such a terrible word?") and, finally, acceptance and an agreement not to do it again.
Outside of that basic, American, black/white binary, the lines are hard to define. What about Puerto Ricans and Dominicans? Africans? Indians? Last year during a casual conversation, a half-Malian, half-French teammate told me, "Nigga, quit lying!" I asked him not to call me that, please. He was genuinely hurt. "What, I'm not black enough to say that? I don't count?" It dawned on me that it wasn't just his attempt at speaking my language -- it was an expression of solidarity. It was an assertion of blackness. He was placing his flag on the ground. I told him that it had nothing to do with being black enough, or that he somehow hadn't earned the right. It was just simply that I'd prefer to be called something else.
That's the best way to describe how I feel. I'd prefer to be called something else. Call me by name. I try to express this quietly. I'm not interested in shaming anyone, so if I don't have the opportunity to say something privately, I won't say anything at all. I think it can be addressed only on an individual level. Personally, I make an effort not to use it, but I reject the notion that it makes me a better person. It's what works for me. I would prefer not to be called that by anyone, but I understand why certain black people do it. Everyone's experience is different. I grew up fairly privileged, in a family in which I never heard the word uttered. I can't be certain that they never said it privately, but my parents made an effort to set the example for me that it wasn't appropriate. I knew without asking or ever broaching the subject. My mother would even balk at a description of another person as "dark-skinned" or "light-skinned." She'd ask, "Isn't there a better way you can describe that person?" I was never truly in the habit of saying "nigga," it was just something I did as a teenager because that's what other kids did. This made it easy for me to give it up. I can't judge other people who have a stronger attachment to it.
Though I dislike the word, what I dislike even more is people moralizing as if poverty, discrimination and institutional racism are the proper rewards for a few slips of the tongue. These critiques are almost always classist and sometimes explicitly so, with privileged people bemoaning a "lack of class" or a "bad upbringing." This sort of asinine scolding only serves to derail the conversation. They lead to people equating words with weapons. It can never be said enough: The tools of enslavement were not words. The tools of enslavement were guns and ships and limited liability companies. Slavery doesn't start with you calling me a nigger instead of sir; it starts when you have a gun and I have a sharpened stick. And it ends not with dictionaries or thesauruses, but with you putting down the gun. It's the age-old swindle of I'll respect you when. "I'll respect you when you pull up your pants, when you stop talking like that, when you cut that hair." For women, it comes as "I'll respect you when you cover your hair. Your midriff. Your knees. Your ankles. Your face." This is a con game, and I sympathize with those who refuse to play it.
Still, I don't know what to say to the older generation. It must be a particular sort of hell to strain against oppression, toe the line cautiously for decades, only to see young black men make millions from rhyming "niggerish" with "nigga-rich." It's unfortunate but feels too late to interdict. The horse has bolted and galloped around the world, and they would have us lock the barn door from the inside.
This is, of course, impossible. The only way I see forward is a sort of live-and-let-live approach. For white people, I would still advise extreme caution. Please spare us your anecdotes about your noble black maid, your "I know my opinion doesn't mean anything, but gosh it makes me uncomfortable" op-eds. And please don't say it. This is hypocritical on its face; of course you have the right to say whatever you want. I know, I know, First Amendment. I even sort of understand the appeal. It's taboo, and everyone wants to get behind locked doors. I just think that this thing, this one thing and virtually nothing else in society, is something you probably shouldn't have. There are probably many younger people who disagree with me; I've heard that teenagers across the country of all races use it indiscriminately without anger. That would have been absolutely unthinkable to me only 10 years ago, but now it doesn't seem impossible. It could be that the future lies in nothing being off-limits to anyone. The world as an unrestrained, post-racial locker room.
Until it comes, we can only police ourselves and the areas around us. Sweep your own doorstep. I expect to be offended. I expect that I'll have to get used to it. The price we pay for modernity is always the discomfort of the old folks with some new aspect of it. I guess I'm getting old, too.
Since graduating from Virginia Tech, Coleman Collins has played professional basketball in Europe and the D-League, after a brief stint with the Phoenix Suns. Currently, he's the starting power forward for the Ukrainian team Azovmash. He's also a semi-regular TrueHoop contributor.
- Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: If it looks only now like Erik Spoelstra is developing a role for Michael Beasley, you're not too far off. The Miami Heat coach acknowledged Sunday that it wasn't until after training camp that he began formulating a plan for the Heat 2008 first-round draft choice. Before that, he said it was just about creating a fit with the versatile forward who had split the previous three seasons between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns. "With Michael," Spoelstra said, "it was more about, initially, we felt he was part of our family. We drafted him. We spent a lot of time with him, not only during those two regular seasons, but during the offseasons and we just wanted to open up our arms back into our family. That was our initial thought when we talked to him. I didn't even talk role. I didn't even talk specifics about anything. I didn't talk about, 'Hey, you're going to learn from these guys.' It was, 'Hey, come back to the family,' and just get back into the routine and we'll take it from there. After training camp, that's about the first time I really started to talk about a possible role with him." Spoelstra said it was more about allowing the Heat's locker-room culture to envelop Beasley, who returned on a one-year, non-guaranteed, veteran-minimum contract.
- Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: Pelicans second-year power forward Anthony Davis, the team's most valuable player so far this season and it's front-running All-Star candidate, sustained what was described as a non-displaced fracture of his left hand near the end of the first quarter of Sunday's game. He was in obvious pain on the bench and went into the locker room, returning before halftime with a wrap on his hand and wrist. Judging by the cast on his left hand, the fracture is either in the fourth or fifth metacarpals because the last two fingers on the left hand were completely wrapped. That, of course, is only speculation. He'd recover more quickly from a non-displaced hand fracture than a non-displaced wrist fracture. It's worth noting the injury is on Davis' non-shooting hand. A timetable for Davis' return has yet to be determined, but a non-displaced fracture is the least serious type of break. If Davis misses any length of time with this injury, it's going to be difficult for the Pelicans to compensate for his absence. Davis is the team's final line of defense at the rim when he's on the floor and his absence quite likely will open up the paint for opponents. The Pelicans are also thin in the frontcourt, especially in the middle, with center Greg Stiemsma out with a left knee injury. Davis missed his only appearance in his hometown of Chicago last season with a concussion. New Orleans travels to face the Bulls in Chicago Monday night.
- Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: As the victories continue to pile up, as the standings continue to reflect the unexpected, as the Trail Blazers continue to forge ahead as the NBA’s early-season darling, the narrative is changing. Opposing teams are no longer entering a game against the Blazers with a ho-hum demeanor, poised to pummel a pushover. The vibe of, “Oh, this team is off to a nice little start,” is evolving into, “Oh, this team is pretty darn good.” “We’re getting team’s best shots,” Blazers shooting guard Wesley Matthews said. “People are getting up to play us now and we’re demanding team’s best and we have to have ours at all times. We’re not a cool team. Some teams are cool teams. We don’t have cool players. We have dogs. And we have to play like that at all times.” The dogs flashed a little bite Sunday night in Los Angeles, where, despite blowing two sizeable leads, the Blazers won yet again, defeating the Los Angeles Lakers 114-108 before a sellout crowd of 18,997 at the Staples Center. The entertaining victory moved the Blazers (14-3) into a first-place tie with the San Antonio Spurs (14-3) in the Western Conference. It’s only 17 games into a long season, but every win reinforces the idea that this scrappy, fun-to-watch Blazers team might be for real. And the best news for Blazers fans? They remain a work in progress, unsatisfied with their play.
- Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star: Paul George has many fans in Los Angeles — as a Palmdale native, he had several family members and friends at the game. However, George has a big fan in the Clippers coach. “I don’t think anyone knew he’d be this good,” said Rivers. “He’s good. The old-school thought on Indiana was that they were a really good basketball team but they didn’t have an outlier. They didn’t have that one guy that took guys over. Now they do, and now they’re great.” Rivers also offered a bold prediction for George, who scorched the Clippers for a game-high 27 points to go along with six rebounds and five assists. “Can you win Most Improved and Most Valuable Player? Has that ever been done,” Rivers asked reporters after another inquiry about George. “It could be done. He won’t win Most Improved because he’s done it before, but to me, the jump that he’s made from last year to this year … is the Most Improved Player in the league, and the Most Valuable Player right now.”
- Holly MacKenzie for The Denver Post: After scoring 23 points Sunday in the Nuggets' 112-98 victory over the Toronto Raptors, Nate Robinson wanted everyone to know that he's just getting started. As coach Brian Shaw walked by while Robinson was addressing the media, Robinson put everyone on notice. "I ain't did nothing yet," he said. "I'm heating up. Let y'all know." Robinson heated up at the right time Sunday, scoring 18 points in the fourth quarter. That included four 3-point shots. "I'm just have fun playing basketball," he said. "Honestly, man. It's just playing ball. I love it. It's the best game on earth and I love playing it. I try to play as hard as I can, and hopefully it rubs off on the next guy. Kind of like in NASCAR driving, you get that little wind that's like a little slingshot, I just try to get everybody going." Closing out the game alongside Ty Lawson and Andre Miller in a three-guard lineup, Robinson was given the green light to shoot. "I compare him to a football player," Lawson said. "He's always aggressive. He'll come in, hit 3 after 3. He's a terror on both ends. To have him on our team, finally, it's huge for me."
- Terry Foster of The Detroit News: The Pistons were all smiles Sunday after an easy, 115-100 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers at the Palace. ... So what does this all mean? In the grand scheme of things it matters little. The Pistons smacked around a Sixers team that has given up an average of 112.7 points in a nine-game road losing streak. After a hot start the Sixers (6-12) are taking their rightful spot as one of the NBA’s bottom feeders. The Pistons will be right along with them unless they can grasp two things. They must play better defense and they must figure out the fourth quarter shutdowns that have prevented this dismal season from being better. The key word is “effort.” The Pistons say they must learn to close out games. I beg to differ. They must figure a way to prevent teams from imposing their will on them. The better teams do it. The lesser teams usually don’t. The Pistons are 7-1 against teams with losing records. They are 0-9 against teams that are .500 or above. Let’s throw a challenge to the Pistons. They play three road games this week. Two are against the Chicago Bulls (7-8) and Miami Heat (13-3) and the other is against Milwaukee (3-13). The Pistons won’t win in Miami. But I challenge them to win in Chicago and Milwaukee. That would help right this ship and establish this as a playoff team.
- Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: Reggie Jackson admits he had his hopes up. Let himself believe he could step into the James Harden/Kevin Martin role. Become a Thunder sixth man extraordinaire. Then Sam Presti and Scotty Brooks and everyone else started talking about how the Thunder rotation didn't have to be the same. The Boomers didn't have to have an instant-offense guy off the bench. Maybe it's time to reassess. Jackson is producing like he most definitely could handle such a role. Jackson scored 18 points in 23 1/2 minutes Sunday night as the Thunder beat Minnesota 113-103 to raise its winning streak to seven. And Jackson's offense came in bunches. Seven points in a 53-second span of the second quarter after Brooks had Russell Westbrook at the scorer's table, waiting for a whistle so he could replace Jackson. Seven points in a 70-second span of the fourth quarter, during which the Thunder expanded a one-point lead. “Any role I'm put in, I'm just ready to go out there and compete,” Jackson said. “I always believe in myself and think the sky's the limit.” The sixth man role? “Don't really think about it,” Jackson said. “Can't get too caught up in it.” Everyone else should. During the Thunder's just-concluded six-game homestand, Jackson averaged 13.7 points on 55 percent shooting. For the season, Jackson is up to 10.6 points a game.
- Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: The Warriors' best chance at living up to expectations is by letting their star shine. He is the Golden State weapon that makes defenses quiver. He is the frontman off which the rest of the band experiences the good life. Yes, he has his flaws. He turns it over too much (he had seven against the Kings). He doesn't get to the free throw line enough. You can go at him on defense and have success. All true. But stars aren't judged by what they can't do, instead milked for their greatness. No one's taking the mic from Adam Levine because he can't sing bass. The Warriors will only be as good as Curry plays, only go as far as he takes them. That is especially true in close games. So the onus is on Mark Jackson and his staff to maximize his strengths not just hide his weaknesses. And if Curry can't carry this team, then its time to blow the roster up anyway. So, at worst, you find out early if he's the top 10 player many experts peg him to be. "I hope I can," Curry said with a smile. ... Golden State has its eye on another playoff run. As it experienced in the spring, postseason games often come down to the final minutes. Now is the time to groom Curry for those moments. It's clear he's the one for them.
- Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: There’s increased concern these days about NBA coaches (and coaches in general) potentially interfering with game action by stepping onto the field of play. Someone asked Spoelstra about that before the game, and he offered a funny story: That he was so far out on the court in one Finals game that the NBA showed video of it three straight years at the preseason coaches meeting. Spoelstra said he asked the league to stop using him as an example of what not to do.
- Michael Lee of The Washington Post: The Wizards’ locker room is again a fun place to be, with the team going 8-8 in November, its most wins in that month since 1984. The franchise has been .500 or better in November only five other times in the past 30 seasons — in 1984, 1986, 1993, 2004 and 2005 — and four of those teams reached the playoffs. Just two weeks ago, the Wizards’ season appeared to be in shambles, with the team possessing the Eastern Conference’s worst record at 2-7. It had lost small forward Trevor Ariza to a strained right hamstring, Nene demanded that the young guys “get their heads out their butts” and speculation about Coach Randy Wittman’s job security intensified. “I think everybody [else] panicked,” Wall said after Saturday’s 108-101 win over the Atlanta Hawks. “We didn’t panic because we know we have a good team and we know we have a team that’s capable of being in the playoffs. We know we got off to a rough start . . . but we figured out a way to win.”
- Marc Berman of the New York Post: A shouting match with Carmelo Anthony and rookie Tim Hardaway Jr.’s breakout game may have pushed Iman Shumpert closer to the door. Hardaway is fighting for playing time with Shumpert, who got into a heated rant with Anthony on the Knicks bench during a third-quarter timeout. Anthony didn’t look at him as Shumpert raved. Shumpert, who was then benched for the fourth quarter of the 103-99 loss to the Pelicans, called his tiff with Anthony “a miscommunication’’ on defense. “Of course I wanted to play," Shumpert said. “Tim was making shots. J.R. [Smith] had it rolling. We were just trying to get a win." ... Anthony declined to talk about Shumpert, who has been on the trading block since the middle of last month. Trades usually pick up Dec. 15, because free agents signed over the summer and draft picks can be dealt.
- Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: LeBron James is averaging a career-low 35.2 minutes, down from 37.9 last season and 39.6 in his career. Chris Bosh is averaging 28.5 minutes, by far the lowest of his career and down from 33.2 last season. And besides sitting out three games to rest his knees, Dwyane Wade is averaging more a minute per game less than last season (33.6), which is the second lowest of his career. “That’s extremely important,” Bosh said. “Our second group has done a magnificent job this year and made our jobs a little easier. It’s making it easier on us not having to play a lot, especially early.” It helps that Spoelstra has continued to get good work from his bench, including Michael Beasley, who had 17 points and 9 rebounds in a season-high 25 minutes against Cleveland on Wednesday. “We’re lucky to have the kid,” Wade said. “A lineup with him gives us firepower. He’s been better defensively.” Beasley offered an amusing explanation for his renewed commitment to grabbing rebounds: “[Chris Andersen] and Chris [Bosh] need help. And I ain’t got nothing better to do.”
- Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: DeMarcus Cousins has said he considers it a “compliment” when opponents try to irritate him or get “into my head” as a way to slow him down. In the next three games, the Kings center can expect to get figurative pats on the back. The Kings host the Los Angeles Clippers tonight, followed by games against the Warriors on Sunday and the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday at Sleep Train Arena. Each team features players who have done all they can to play mind games with Cousins and take advantage of his emotions. Sometimes, that means trying to bait Cousins into technical fouls or frustrating him to the point that he begins committing personal fouls. Regardless, the coaching staff keeps an eye on the situation to make sure fouls, technical or otherwise, don’t become a problem, as they’ve been in recent seasons. This season, Cousins has four technical fouls, tied with Golden State’s Andrew Bogut, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and Houston’s Dwight Howard for most in the NBA.
- Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: Kobe Bryant, although in the twilight of his illustrious career, has every right to command the $48.5 million, and could’ve taken more if he had chosen to. It’s a delicate balance to analyze this, and one must include Bryant’s competitive ego, the same hubris that has driven him to the best overall NBA career since Jordan. Bryant — a complex figure, to be sure, because of his persona and various feuds since entering the NBA as a prep star in 1996 — can be difficult to root for, but his point about giving billionaires a discount is well taken. The same crowd who bemoaned James taking his talents to South Beach to join fellow stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can’t begrudge Bryant for this. His contract didn’t give the Lakers enough salary cap space to sign two more superstar-caliber players in free agency, but one reason Bryant is loved by a segment of fans is because he wanted to do it his way, decorum be damned. And the notion that Bryant chose money over winning is absurd — especially given the events of the proud Lakers franchise over the past 12 months.
- Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Through 10 games, Russell Westbrook is shooting just 38.8 percent. He's connected on only 29.3 percent of his 3-point tries. Even his free throws aren't dropping at the rate he's accustomed to, as he's shooting 69.7 percent from the foul line. Wednesday's win against San Antonio stands as Westbrook's low point. He made just two of 16 shots, missed all five of his 3-pointers and scored a season-low six points. You'd have to go all the way back to April 16, 2012, to find the last time Westbrook was held to single-digit scoring in a regular-season game in which he played at least 10 minutes. That came in a 15-point road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. But these are the sporadic struggles the Thunder expected out of Westbrook. While rehabilitating his surgically repaired right knee, Westbrook was forced to sit out all basketball activities. Prior to making an earlier-than-expected return on Nov. 3, Westbrook hadn't stepped on a court for a game since April 24. “It's going to take time,” Westbrook said. “Your legs got to get stronger, your body, all your muscles got to get used to working and getting back going.” Oddly enough, Westbrook got off to a similarly slow start shooting the ball when healthy last season.
- Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: The entire season has been a distraction to Cavaliers shooting guard Dion Waiters. Through all the rumors and innuendo, however, he has kept his chin up. On Wednesday in the Cavs’ 95-84 loss to the Miami Heat, Waiters was the team’s best player. He matched his season high with 24 points and added six rebounds and three assists. Earlier in the day, a story surfaced on ESPN.com that the Cavs have been shopping the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Waiters. The week before, he was a key participant in the team’s players-only meeting. In the aftermath of that meeting, he didn’t accompany the team on a two-game road trip. The Cavs said he was “sick.” Since that meeting, he has been coming off the bench, even though he’s far and away the Cavs’ best shooting guard. “You have to block that out,” he said after Wednesday’s game. “A lot of people don’t know what is going on or what they’re talking about. At the end of the day, they can assume or guess. “They don’t know what went on in the locker room. I don’t pay that no mind.”
- Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: It's the most asked question since the Nuggets traded Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks in February 2011: Who won it? Everyone wants to win. While the intensity of the query has lost some steam since that blockbuster transaction, this season has tossed a curveball into the analysis. It might ultimately not be a case of who won the trade on the court, but who might win off it. The records since the trade skew decidedly in the Nuggets' favor, 121-66 (.647) to 107-83 (.563); the Knicks' mark marred by a 3-11 start to this season. And while that is fun fodder for Nuggets fans, the upshot of a Knicks season that falls completely off the rails would be the biggest boon of all. From the "file this away" category: There is a chance the Nuggets could both make the playoffs and still be in the draft lottery. It's made possible by what could turn out to be the biggest gift to come from the Melo trade — New York's first-round pick in the 2014 NBA draft. The Orlando Magic is owed a first-round pick from the Nuggets in the three-team trade that brought Andre Iguodala to Denver, but that pick is to be the lesser of their two first-round picks (their own and the Knicks').
- Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: With Francisco Garcia sharing the Rockets’ scoring lead with Aaron Brooks on Wednesday, the Rockets have had seven players – Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Dwight Howard (twice), Terrence Jones, Brooks (twice), Chandler Parsons and Garcia – lead the team in scoring or share the team scoring lead in the eight games since the lineup change. In that stretch, six of those seven Rockets players had their season-high scoring night. Parsons had 17 points Monday in Memphis, but scored a season high of 24 Nov. 2. “We have such a deep team,” Howard said. “We have a lot of guys who can come in, put the ball in the basket. But the main thing is we all play for each other, play defense and win. It doesn’t matter who gets the most points as long as we win the game.” In the past eight games, the Rockets have scored an average of 113.7 points per 100 possessions to lead the league.
- Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: Several Spurs players were amused by a feature story in the “Personal Journal” section of Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal that was headlined “Grooming Tips from Giant Men.” The article focused on skin care products and other toiletries favored by NBA players, including former Spurs guard George Hill, who said he is a fan of Shea Souffle moisturizer. Other revelations in the piece included Clippers center DeAndre Jordan’s use of Secret deodorant before games and Amar’e Stoudemire’s preference for Bath and Body Works Stress Relief eucalyptus spearmint body lotion. Spurs forward Boris Diaw, one of the team’s more fashionable dressers, was amused by Pacers center Roy Hibbert’s use of “almond cookie” lotion. “Almond cookie?” Diaw said. “Is that for real?” Diaw actually uses lotion during games, but its use has nothing to do with making himself smell good. “My hands don’t sweat,” he explained, “so I use Vaseline Intensive Care (lotion) to keep them moist. Otherwise, I can’t grip the ball.”
- Curt Cavin of The Indianapolis Star: To David West, putting self second is part of the victory pursuit, which explains why he’s unconcerned about his statistically slow start to the season. The 11th-year pro is averaging just 12.2 points — 24 percent off his career average — and 30 minutes played, and he couldn’t care less. His team is 14-1. “We talked about at the beginning of the year that everyone was going to have to make sacrifices, so it’s no big deal,” West said as the Pacers prepared for tonight’s game against Washington at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “That’s just the way this team is built. “We’ve got multiple guys that can produce at a high level, five guys averaging double figures. We’re being productive. That’s how our offense is geared this year. “So, I focus on other things.” Long considered one of the NBA’s best power forwards, West is atypical in his approach. After games, he rarely checks his scoring total until he has gone through the categories he considers significant to team success.
- Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: The distribution of duties is well defined between Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens. And even though they’re pulling in the same overall direction as regards what is on the horizon, their specific day-to-day focus can often be worlds apart. While Stevens, as the coach, is seeking in each narrow moment to find an edge that will help the Celtics win the next game, Ainge is staring at a much larger picture with victory — the grand variety of victory — as a distant point of reference. As such, Ainge is well aware he has saddled his new coach with a Rubik’s Cube of a lineup to twist and mold. ... Things should fall into at least a better, if not solid, semblance of order once Rajon Rondo returns. But in the interim, Stevens has been left to juggle his rotation in search of a formula that draws the best from individuals and keeps the larger entity competitive. ... For his part, Stevens doesn’t see that much disparity between his field of vision and that of Ainge. What happens now, he believes, is part of what happens later.
- Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: Has he lost Iman Shumpert? That is open for debate. But the entire group? Nah. In fact, Woodson is taking preemptive steps to keep the team together. That was clear before Tuesday’s practice on the UCLA campus when Woodson admonished his team for comments that appeared to blame Monday’s loss to Portland on Carmelo Anthony. In separate post-game interviews, both Shumpert and Stoudemire said the lack of ball movement is what hurt the Knicks. That is usually basketball code for “Melo won’t pass.” Woodson and Anthony seemed to take it that way, and the head coach wasn’t about to allow finger-pointing to invade his locker room. According to a source, Woodson actually played MSG Network’s tape of Shumpert’s and Stoudemire’s comments and told his team, “If you have a problem with anyone, say it to their face, not the media.” That’s leadership. Both players needed to be called out, at least behind closed doors. And yet when given the chance to publicly support Shumpert and Stoudemire, Woodson didn’t hesitate.
For a Los Angeles Clippers team that still has kinds to work out, at least they don’t need the major repairs necessary to fix 3-11 New York. Doc Rivers keeps saying he believes things are getting better for his team. No such optimism from his Knicks counterpart.
“We’ve got too many gaps right now,” Mike Woodson said.
They include a porous defense that sorely misses Tyson Chandler, their injured basket protector. There’s an offense that lacks a reliable Plan B if Carmelo Anthony isn’t scoring. And there’s the malaise that’s settling into this dispirited group, a bunch of players who look broken every time they head to the bench for a timeout, players who are getting tired of coming up with explanations for a losing streak that’s stretched to seven games after they fell to the Clippers, 93-80, Wednesday night.
“It’s mind-boggling,” Knicks guard Raymond Felton said.
The Knicks have stooped so low that they’ve even knocked the delusion out of their fan base. For decades Knicks fans were convinced they were just one trade or free agent signing away from a championship, no matter how far the gap was in reality. These days there’s none of that false hope. They don’t even get to wish for one of the talented crop of collegiate players, because the Knicks sent their 2014 draft pick to Denver in the Carmelo Anthony trade.
If Carmelo Anthony’s shots are falling they can hang in games; they only faced a four-point deficit at halftime after Anthony scored 19 points. But he shot 2 for 8 in the second half and no one picked up for him the way the Clippers managed to hold the fort after Chris Paul left with a strained left hamstring.
Seven points for J.R. Smith, two points for Iman Shumpert, four points for Amar’e Stoudemire (who had a plus/minus of minus-29 in 20 minutes).
Metta World Peace, who missed all six of his field goal attempts, attempted to frame the Knicks’ predicament in ways an interviewer would understand.
“You know life is,” World Peace said. “You had a bad hair today, you know…It is what it is. You work at it. Next time, use activator.”
If only the solution to the Knicks’ problems could be found in a bottle.
Special to ESPN.com
General manager Neil Olshey said as much before opening night to ESPN.com: “Upon conclusion of the 2014 season, we will know whether or not we have reached the fork in the road,” Olshey said. This season was to be an evaluative foray, a fact-finding mission, an effort to determine whether the Blazers were in transition or had staked themselves to a present tense. Three weeks has been enough time to answer that question. These Blazers are no starter kit for tomorrow’s franchise: They are a competitor unto themselves.
The shape of that competitor is a testament to the flexibility that seems to infuse the organization from Olshey down. The Blazers have a roster full of jump-shooters; they are second in the league in field goal attempts beyond 15 feet. Their frontcourt features willing but somewhat slow-footed defenders; coach Terry Stotts restructured pick-and-roll defense to allow the bigs to drop into the paint against penetration. They are bombing away without reserve, sticking to their principles on defense and showcasing the potency of a team that refuses to get hung up on potential limitations.
I’ve spent a lot of time this season trying to draw admissions of epiphany from various Blazers, to get some quote describing a collective realization that this team is taking a step forward for the franchise. That’s a bit of a sucker’s bet in any locker room, and doubly so among this group. The players offer brief acknowledgements of the team’s maturity, of the infusion of veteran habits into a locker room dominated by youth and inexperience. These acknowledgements hover somewhere between standard lip service and conference-room-poster copy. Implicit in the Blazers’ unwillingness to explain themselves is a plea to let their play talk for them, but still they occasionally slip up and reveal themselves in front of a microphone.
On Saturday, the Blazers traveled to Golden State and salvaged a win out of what was shaping up to be a listless performance. Trailing by 14, Portland was ignited when an altercation between Andrew Bogut and Joel Freeland turned into a full-team scrum, resulting in the ejection of Matthews, several fines and the suspension of Williams. The Blazers stormed back after the shoving match behind a 15-point, nine-rebound fourth quarter from Aldridge. After the game, the power forward offered the following: “This team has a different feeling” than previous teams. “I wouldn’t say easier, but we just blend better.”
I hold it as a rule that any time a person prefaces a statement with “I wouldn’t say,” he would indeed say. And “easier” is a telling word for a player who has spent so much of his time in Portland under scrutiny. Last season, Aldridge fended off constant inquiries about whether he takes too many jump shots. Over the summer, rumors about his desire to stay with the Blazers swirled until Olshey put them to bed with no small amount of exasperation. Being scrutinized in a small, demanding market has not always been easy for Aldridge, and he wouldn’t say that it’s easier this season, except that it plainly is.
And so he’s free to play his game, doing his damage from midrange and mixing in bullish post-ups. He’s leading the league in attempts from 15-19 feet while making a mockery of any doubts about his toughness with 35 rebounds in his past two games. With license to blend strength and finesse in whatever proportion he sees fit, Aldridge played himself into Western Conference Player of the Week honors this past week. And when you dig into the statistics, it appears that each of Portland’s key contributors has been similarly liberated.
Batum has been allowed to fully indulge his preference to make plays for teammates, and he’s averaging more assists (five) than any forward not named Kevin Durant or LeBron James. Matthews likes to get his shots within the flow of a game rather than from stricter play calls -- he’s seventh on the team in usage rate, but second among guards leaguewide in effective field goal percentage. Lillard trails only Stephen Curry in attempts from 3. At every position, there is statistical evidence that the Blazers have been empowered to play to their strengths. If they want their play to speak for them, the message is clear: They know who they are, and they won’t be pressured out of playing their game.
The only question is whether that comfort bred success or vice versa -- after all, it’s easy to be vindicated in your habits when the result is 11 straight wins. But that tautology works both ways, and the Blazers now know that sticking to their game as individuals can translate into sustained team success, which is powerful knowledge, indeed. There will be regression, and injuries and other obstacles that will test the Blazers in ways they haven’t yet been tested, but three weeks of winning has confirmed that being themselves is a winning recipe. That’s a valuable lesson to learn this early and one that will matter a great deal more than hot shooting come playoffs.