TrueHoop: NBA

Bernard King on how to score 60 points

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
4:31
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Bernard King scored 60 points on Christmas Day 30 years ago. Here's how he did it, and why it wasn't fun.

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Heat fans hurting from LeBron's decision

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
4:04
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Israel Gutierrez says the hurt is real among Heat fans as LeBron James returns for a Christmas Day matchup with the Cavaliers.

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Nothin' but the same old Nets

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
9:30
AM ET
By Devin Kharpertian
Special to ESPN.com
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NetsAP Photo/Kathy WillensThree years after making the move to Brooklyn, the Nets are ... still the Nets.
It was 24 minutes of basketball bliss, the perfect half to respond to Joe Johnson’s vicious comments lambasting unnamed teammates for selfishness. At a rare moment of full health, the Brooklyn Nets spread the ball around to find open shots with slick improvisation and skillful execution. They took command against the Phoenix Suns, a tough team from a tougher conference, leading by as much as 19 points and boasting six different players with at least three makes from the floor.

Twenty-four minutes later and the house of cards had come crumbling down. The Suns, led by New Jersey Nets castoff Gerald Green, took full control over their suddenly hapless opponent, winning 112-104 as Brooklyn reverted to isolation basketball and confoundingly poor play for a collection of stars.

It was the perfect summation of the Nets’ first three seasons in Brooklyn: a flashy beginning, flush with promise, ending in a thud.

Since moving from Newark in 2012, the Nets have tried to have it all: Spurs crispness, Celtics legacy, Lakers glamour and Knicks fans. A supremely executed marketing blitz took over the perpetually up-and-coming borough, with players plastered everywhere from subway advertisements to bridge billboards. The team opened last season flush with 36 combined All-Star appearances on its roster, with marquee names and championship aspirations.

But nearly four years since the day the team cashed in its blue-chip assets for Deron Williams, one that then-Nets coach Avery Johnson called a "celebration," they’ve ended up with … well, the Nets: a collection of overpaid, underathletic, fading stars who can't keep up with the newer, fresher NBA flying past them.

They had a plan: win before 2016, and if they didn’t, wipe the slate clean and try it again, with superstars like Kevin Durant entering the free-agent market. But outside of a few surprising moments of clarity, their on-court product has been bland and depressing, leading to rumors of an expedited rebuild. Even Russian ownership seems willing to take a step back, listening to offers for minority stakes (and, as the rumor goes, for majority ones) this season. So much for faith in 2016.

With two years left on the docket, with two playoff exits and a $144 million loss in basketball-related expenses last season, the Nets can only claim exhausting mediocrity. This isn't an identity crisis; that would require having an identity in the first place. There's no unifying aspect of the Nets to point to. They're just trying to make sure you're pointing at them.

Their three best players, earning a combined $58.65 million this year, are now on the trade block, and more known for their flaws than their strengths. Williams has regained some of his quickness and shooting touch, but has struggled to score around the basket the past two seasons. Joe Johnson earned the moniker "Joe Jesus" for his near-invincibility in crunch time, but is one of the worst offenders in the team's isolation-heavy attack when things go downhill. Brook Lopez is a talented post scorer and walking trade asset who has barely been able to walk the past year.

[+] EnlargeKevin Garnett
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesDespite paying a high price for veteran talent, the "new-look" Nets have yet to forge an identity.
Sure, there was one exciting five-month stretch, starting in January 2014, when the Nets went full-bore weird to smooth over the loss of Lopez and confounded opponents by favoring players over positions, putting Paul Pierce next to three perimeter players and using Shaun Livingston as a point guard/power forward hybrid. The Nets went 34-17 in that stretch, played an exciting-as-all-hell first-round series with the Toronto Raptors that went down to the last play of Game 7, and eventually fell to the Miami Heat in Round 2.

Outside of that, the Nets have largely gone to the same formula, despite three coaching changes since the move to New York. They've played one of the league's slowest paces. When their offense begins to fail, they inevitably fall into the traps of iso basketball. They have yet to figure out how to put together a top-10 defense around Lopez, or how to get Johnson and Williams clicking together for long stretches. They run Lionel Hollins' throwback flex offense in staggered stretches, and turn to Johnson at the end of close games. That’s about it.

They leave you wanting. You see the flashes of greatness, and at the same time know they won’t ever be great. There's no dynamic star, no blue-chip building block, no ace draft pick. Just a lot of money and an increasingly disinterested group ambling toward nowhere.

The Brooklyn Nets have built their identity on what they could be, what they should be. But in three seasons, they have yet to be much of anything at all. Now comes hints of another rebuild, which almost seems necessary at this point, if only to give a wavering fanbase a fresh face to believe in. But for now, they are what they are: walking and talking, but yet to figure out where they want to go or what they want to say.

Devin Kharpertian is the managing editor and founding partner at The Brooklyn Game. Follow him, @uuords.

Vivek Ranadive looking for a 'jazz director'

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
11:41
AM ET
Ham By James Ham
Special to ESPN.com
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SACRAMENTO -- When the door opens to the makeshift owners lounge that used to act as a media workroom, former St. John’s teammates Mark Jackson and Chris Mullin are standing in the center of the room reminiscing and sharing a laugh. General manager Pete D’Alessandro is sitting at a table with white linens in preparation for an influx of former Kings, all in attendance for the jersey retirement ceremony of Peja Stojakovic. And owner Vivek Ranadive is waiting anxiously for his last of many one-on-one interviews.

It’s been a rough 48 hours for the former tech giant. The firing of popular head coach Michael Malone on Sunday night has been received quite poorly almost across the board. The media has come calling in search of answers, and Ranadive has a list of five points, memorized, that he wants to share.

“There are five things I want to say,” the soft-spoken Ranadive begins. “The first thing is -- look, I know the fans have reacted to this aggressively, and it just underscores for me that we have the best fans in sports. They’re passionate, they’re engaged, they let their views be known, even if they don’t agree with what we’re doing.”

Ranadive is correct. Sacramento Kings fans are dumbfounded. After a 9-6 start to the season, DeMarcus Cousins came down with viral meningitis and hasn’t played since. Without Cousins, the Kings are 2-8 and losers of four straight.

Now 11-14 on the season, D’Alessandro, with the backing of Ranadive, handed Malone his pink slip.

“Michael Malone is a good man, he’s an honorable man and that he did great things for this organization,” Ranadive says, moving to Point 2. “I, personally, and the Sacramento Kings will always have the highest respect and regard for Michael Malone. And that whatever he does, we know that he will continue to have a great career in the NBA.”

The typical exit speech from an owner when a coach is fired. In Sacramento, there is a template sitting in a drawer somewhere.

“When we got Michael Malone, we believed it was absolutely the right thing to do,” said Ranadive, who hired Malone soon after he agreed to purchase the Kings and before he hired D’Alessandro. “I was handed the keys to the kingdom, and the place was literally and figuratively falling apart. The roof was falling down, we hadn’t sold a single ticket. There was chaos, even anarchy, in the locker room, and the draft was only weeks away. So we needed a coach that would restore structure, restore discipline, restore a system, defense and I consulted with some of the experts in the business, and they said he was a great choice.”

This third point should come in bold print. Chaos and anarchy are perfect descriptions for where the Kings were when Ranadive took control of the team from the Maloofs, who nearly sold the team to owners who intended to move to Seattle. In 18 months, Malone transformed one of the most dysfunctional locker rooms in the league, without giving up on Cousins.

Described as both a disciplinarian and players' coach, Malone laid a foundation that interim coach Tyrone Corbin, the former head coach of the Utah Jazz, now takes over.

“The NBA has become like the high-tech business,” Ranadive said. Point 4. “Just because you invented the iPhone, doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels, because somebody else is building a better iPhone. Just because you win 50 games, doesn’t mean you can be satisfied with the status quo. Just because you win 16 games in a row, doesn’t mean that you don’t look for Ray Allen to make your team better. So we live in a time when good enough isn’t, and we need to keep getting better. So while we have a good foundation, we needed to pivot. We needed to go.”

Ranadive wasn’t finished with this point. In fact, of the five, this is the one he says led to Malone’s dismissal.

“Defense is great, but we need defense and offense,” he said. “We need to go from a rules-based organization, which was important when you had chaos, to a values-based organization. From kind of a programmatic offense, to a read-and-respond, free-flowing offense. I like to use a music metaphor. We had a Sousa marching band, which was needed when there was chaos, but now we need to shift to a jazz band, where people can be individually showcased and improvised. What we need is a jazz director. I think that’s the kind of leadership moving forward.”

Known for his defensive coaching acumen, the Kings under Malone felt more like the New York Knicks from the early 1990s. Before owning the Kings, Ranadive was a co-owner of the Golden State Warriors, long known for their offense. D’Alessandro was the assistant GM for George Karl’s high-octane Denver Nuggets.

There was a clear mismatch in styles. While the brass preached pace, Malone emphasized defense. A middle ground was never reached.

Now the last point.

“This ownership group has shown a willingness to open its wallet,” Ranadive said. “Open it for the players, for the coaching staff, for the facility, for the old arena, the new arena, the downtown Sacramento development, and we will continue to do that because we have the best fans in sports.”

After running through his list, we have time for one question before we lose our spot on the white leather couch. Ranadive has taken a beating in the press, both locally and nationally. How is he holding up under the scrutiny?

“I’ve been beaten before,” he said. “They said that Seattle had won, and we would never be able to keep this team. People said that Cousins was toxic, and he was a cancer and we should get rid of him. They said that Rudy [Gay] was terrible, and even if he came, he would never stay. They said if Isaiah [Thomas] left, the team would fall apart. So look, I’m surrounded by really smart people, and they give me great advice. They call the shots, and I support them.”

Upgrade the Warriors!

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
11:56
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Golden State is rolling, but David Thorpe says now is the time to fix the shocking lack of guard scoring when the starters sit.

Z-Bo makes way for the reign of 'Big Spain'

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
10:00
AM ET
By Chris Herrington
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
GasolNelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsZach Randolph has ceded the spotlight in the Grizzlies' frontcourt to the emerging Marc Gasol.
One minute after his putback sealed a win over the Dallas Mavericks, Marc Gasol stepped to the free throw line to polish off the fourth 30-point game of his 2014-15 season -- this after hitting that threshold only once in 436 prior in the NBA. As the 7-footer toed the charity stripe, "MVP" chants rang out in the Memphis Grizzlies' FedExForum for the first time this season.

Gasol was predictably sheepish about the fan response after the game, but he'll have to get used to it. Already an elite defender and playmaker, Gasol's scoring boost -- at 19.4 points per game, he's nearly five points ahead of his previous career best -- has helped make the Grizzlies something more than daydream believers for the NBA championship and, yes, put him firmly in the early-season conversation for MVP.

But while the spotlight has shifted to Gasol this season -- which also happens to be the last on his current contract -- the Grizzlies' interior attack in last week's win over Dallas, and much of the team's 19-4 start, remains a tag team.

Gasol scored 14 points in the first quarter against the Mavs. Zach Randolph, after a slow first half, scored 13 in the third, including multiple point-blank buckets over the top of former defensive player of the year Tyson Chandler. (Randolph, a couple of days later, joking: "Yeah, but I been doing that to Tyson since high school.")

Three nights later, after the duo combined for 39 points and eight blocks in a double-overtime win over the Charlotte Hornets, Hornets center Al Jefferson called Gasol "the best all-around big man in the game" but also declared the Randolph-Gasol duo "the toughest frontcourt I've ever played against."

In an era in which brawny, skilled post players are increasingly hard to come by and the stretch-4 is becoming the norm, the Grizzlies have been blessed with two of the league's best true big men. Gasol and Randolph rank seventh and eighth in "close touches" (i.e., within 12 feet of the rim) per game, according to the NBA's player tracking data, while Gasol leads the league in "elbow touches." And the big trains from Memphis are rumbling like never before, even with a slight, but welcome, reduction in Randolph's playing time.

Per 36 minutes, Randolph and Gasol's combined averages of 38.6 points and 20.7 rebounds are the highest of their partnership. Both have a player efficiency rating (PER) above 20 for the first time, too.

After six seasons together in close quarters, executing high-low feeds in the paint or riffing off of each other at adjoining lockers, Gasol and Randolph have developed an on- and off-court bond -- Randolph made the scene at Gasol's Barcelona wedding the summer before last, as did Mike Conley -- that might be one of the coolest things in the NBA, especially given how ostensibly different they are.

Randolph is a bootstrapping success story from hardscrabble Marion, Indiana, and Gasol the son of educated medical professionals, who grew up in beautiful Barcelona and matriculated at Memphis' Lausanne Collegiate School, with an NBA star older brother. Think Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer, with malice toward fewer.

Their rare basketball union has also been an evolving one, with this season the culmination of a gradual -- and easy to overstate -- role reversal in which Gasol has gone from Randolph's frontcourt sidekick to the team's offensive alpha dog, and vice versa. It's a shift that runs counter to the duo's natural temperaments -- Randolph entering the league with the "get buckets" gene, Gasol always more deferential.

"Marc's always been so unselfish," Randolph says. "Forget that, man. We need you to go to work, not just make a play for someone else. I tell him every game, 'Go out there and dominate.'"

That instruction is starting to take, and while Gasol's slimmed-down physique clearly helps, it's been as much mental as anything -- Gasol (finally) recognizing that the best shot might come from him, even if it isn't always the "best" shot.

"This year I changed my mindset," Gasol says. "Instead of taking eight or nine shots, I might need to take 14 or 15 or 16 because that's what the team needs. It's not easy, because when you have a good shot and you feel like someone else has a great shot, it's just in [my] DNA to swing the ball."

Gasol says he wanted to step up more last season but didn't feel physically ready to do so.

That's where his improved conditioning comes in. Long on the heavy side, Gasol slimmed down like never before this offseason. And while it indeed comes right before he's set to cash in with a deal, Gasol cites the knee injury that knocked him out of 23 games last winter as the impetus.

[+] EnlargeGasol
Justin Ford/USA TODAY SportsA slimmer Gasol (19.4 PPG) is leading the way for the 19-4 Griz.
"The injury was eye-opening to me," Gasol says. "I was a little naive. I thought I wouldn't get hurt because, you know, I'm not a high-flier. I do dive on the floor a lot, so I thought the most I'm going to get are bruises. I never thought I would have a knee injury or something like that, but, of course, I was dead wrong, and that made me realize if I'm going to be the player I want to be and push the limits -- not only for myself but for the team -- I have to be able to do more on the floor."

Gasol says former coach Lionel Hollins used him as a "focal point in the post-up game" early in his career, but the arrival of Randolph in 2009 changed that. With Randolph occupying the low block, Gasol happily migrated more to the high post, where his European-bred skills as a passer and shooter excelled.

Now Randolph is returning the favor. With Gasol emerging as a more prolific scorer, Randolph's abilities off the ball have smoothed the transition.

"I don't have to always get the ball. I can get offensive rebounds, dump-offs, tip-ins," says Randolph, who is currently sporting the best rebound rate (20.3) of his career. "I don't have to be the focal point. I can get it out of the mud."

But Randolph acknowledges moving back into a more secondary role would have been more difficult if it weren't Gasol to whom he was yielding touches.

"It's a lot easier [with Marc]," Randolph says. "I love the guy, man. I call him my brother from a different mother. We have a special bond."

Gasol also sees the duo's ability to shift roles as a function of trust.

"The truth is that we both look at basketball in kind of the same way and that we've always been really honest with each other," Gasol says. "We always have each other's back, no matter what it is. We have an understanding. When I catch the ball, I don't just hold it and look for him like I [used to]. If my man is playing off of me, I'll shoot it from the top or try to get in the lane and drive it. It depends on where the game takes you, but I still take care of him. And he's always in my peripheral vision because he's someone, when he gets going, who is a special force."

Randolph cites Gasol's time spent playing high school basketball in Memphis as informing his demeanor, a common observation that Gasol dismisses even as he confirms the tug the city has on his heart.

"I don't know the reason [Zach and I] kicked it off so fast," Gasol says. "I guess it just clicked for both of us at the perfect time."

With Randolph under contract for two more seasons and Gasol heading toward free agency this summer, the Grizzlies hope to extend the relationship. For now, they are happy to bear witness to more dual domination. And Randolph, who led the charge when the Grizzlies first re-emerged into relevance, is happy to have Gasol out front for a change.

"I've always seen it. I've just been waiting on him," Randolph says of Gasol's new aggressiveness. "Some people find it earlier, some people find it later.

"I helped him out a little bit," Randolph continues, laughing. "I put a little bit of that in him."

Chris Herrington is an entertainment editor and NBA contributor for the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Follow him, @HerringtonNBA.

What Mike Malone didn't do

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
3:47
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
The Kings did well this season under Mike Malone. But David Thorpe points out, if Sacramento is as evidence-driven as it suggests, a faster offense and managing minutes make sense.

76ers' success, of a kind

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
3:09
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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What, if anything, has gone right for the 76ers this season? Coach Brett Brown takes a look at the big picture.

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Joel Embiid is way better than you think

December, 10, 2014
Dec 10
4:00
PM ET
Elhassan By Amin Elhassan
ESPN.com
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Joel Embiid has not played a game in the NBA, but Amin Elhassan and David Thorpe think Embiid is a can't-miss superstar.

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The Andrew Wiggins Conundrum

December, 10, 2014
Dec 10
3:06
PM ET
Elhassan By Amin Elhassan
ESPN.com
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ESPN Insider compiled a list of the top 25 players under the age of 25 in the NBA. Amin Elhassan and David Thorpe make the case for Andrew Wiggins.

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TrueHoop TV Live

December, 10, 2014
Dec 10
12:00
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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Talk the talk at 2 p.m. ET.

Things looking up in Cleveland

December, 4, 2014
Dec 4
12:56
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
David Thorpe sees seeds of teamwork in Kyrie Irving's play and Kevin Love's demeanor.

How to give a pep talk down 35 points

December, 2, 2014
Dec 2
6:38
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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What do you say in a timeout when you're down 35? 76ers coach Brett Brown explains.

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Damian Lillard keeps getting better

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
1:50
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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Damian Lillard explains how the Trail Blazers have sharpened their defense, playing without the ball and the versatility of Nicolas Batum.

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The Mavs' offensive juggernaut

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
12:41
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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Jameer Nelson discusses the Mavs' offense, the demeanor of his coach and what it's like to be up 58 points in an NBA game.

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