Tuesday, February 14, 2012
First Cup: Tuesday
- Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: What the country sees is a Cinderella story, Jeremy Lin's meteoric rise from the NBA Development League to unstoppable star. But for Lin, it's a story of faith, the beautiful struggle he's now convinced he can win. Most importantly, it's a story of how he'll be completely fine if he doesn't. "I'm not playing to prove anything to anybody," Lin said. "That affected my game last year and my joy last year. With all the media attention, all the love from the fans (in the Bay Area), I felt I needed to prove myself. Prove that I'm not a marketing tool, I'm not a ploy to improve attendance. Prove I can play in this league. But I've surrendered that to God. I'm not in a battle with what everybody else thinks anymore." It took some time, some rough nights, long prayers and countless Bible studies. Lin confided in his pastor, Stephen Chen. "It was hard. I could make him no promises," Chen said. "To trust what God is doing is definitely a lesson that Jeremy is continuing to learn and not to trust in his results."
- Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times: As a senior at Palo Alto High in 2006, Jeremy Lin was the San Francisco Chronicle’s basketball player of the year. The point guard who would go on to become a New York Knicks sensation also had zero scholarship offers. But his high school coach, Peter Diepenbrock, said he never thought Lin’s being an Asian American might have caused college coaches to stay away because the Central Coast Section of about 125 schools typically produces only three Division I college players in a five-year period. Diepenbrock’s perception changed the next year, he said, when 10 Division I coaches scouted a black Palo Alto player whom Diepenbrock described as someone who “could have been a nice junior college player.” “That’s when I’m going, there might be something to this here,” Diepenbrock said. “If [Lin] was African American or Caucasian, it might have been a different deal.”
- Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: Nothing wrong with Dwight Howard wanting to become a go-to guy, even if he might have a better chance of becoming an astronaut or a country singer. When he says after Monday night's game, "I want to be great for this team," and, "I want to carry this team to a championship," you salute him. At least he's talking about the Magic and not somebody else — for now. If this is a critical part in him reversing field and possibly remaining with the Magic, then he and the club need to work on turning him into a finisher. It all starts, of course, with Howard at the free-throw line, the bane of his existence. Unusual for him to care this much if he wasn't thinking about staying, isn't it? When I asked him after everybody left whether anything had changed in his trade scenario, he didn't say no. "Just have to be patient," he said. ... Don't know what to read into that or anything else in this soap opera. But what's wrong with Mariano Rivera-Howard talking to media about wanting to be a "closer" is that it came after the Magic scored a comeback win and a teammate carried the night. Dwight just can't come off looking good no matter what context he meant to put it in, no matter how he tried to clarify things later. It was just not the time or the place to talk about what you want and question the coach — not when teammates are so happy for Jason Richardson and the win he engineered. No reason to go public at all, really. The problem Dwight has is that anything else he demands just doesn't play here in Orlando anymore, given he's asked out.
- Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: They knew games would come furiously during this jury-rigged NBA season, when the Timberwolves play 66 games in 123 days. "But maybe not so fast, not like this," Wolves center Nikola Pekovic said after Monday's 102-89 loss at Orlando. Just a week ago, they had won six of eight games and briefly surpassed a .500 record while Wolves fans daydreamed about a roster move or two that might set their team up for a possible playoff run. Now, the Wolves have lost three games in four nights and four in a row, their longest losing streak of the season. A season ago, they would have considered a four-game losing streak just getting started -- they lost that many, and often much more, seven times in 82 games -- but this time, rookie Ricky Rubio searched for just the right words in English, his second language, and came up with these: "This is our tough moment of the season," Rubio said. "We have to step up and be the team we want to be." It might help that league-worst Charlotte is next on the schedule, at home on Wednesday, but there's little rhyme and reason in this season when the Wolves are 6-6 on the road and 7-10 at home. Rubio has played professionally since he was 14, and seven years later he was asked if he had ever lost four consecutive games before. "Uh, I don't know," he said. "I think not."
- Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: With Monday's victory, the Heat not only avoided their first season sweep at the hands of the Bucks since 1990-91, but now also have won the first two games of their lone set of three-games-in-three-nights. So far only the Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder have swept such compilations. "Obviously it's a big deal," said guard Dwyane Wade, who supported James, with 22 points. The Heat conclude the trio of games Tuesday in Indiana. They won the opening game of the set 107-87 Sunday in Atlanta. It is only the fourth time the Heat have played games on three consecutive nights in their 24 seasons. They had three such sets during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, going 1-2 in their first, 3-0 in the second and 2-1 in the third that year. "Now that we've gotten to this point," coach Erik Spoelstra said of the final game of the back-to-back-to-back, "it means something." For the Heat, this one had little resemblance to their first two games against the Bucks, particularly the matchup two weeks ago, when they blew an 18-point first-half lead. James made sure of that, with his 14th 30-point game of the season, scoring 16 in the third quarter.
- Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times: The old saying you get what you pay for certainly applies to the Milwaukee Bucks this season. The Bucks have a $61 million payroll, which puts them in the middle among the NBA's 30 teams. ... Unfortunately for Bucks boss Herb Kohl, who more often than not has attempted to do the correct thing for his franchise, he's not getting the bang for the hefty bucks he's invested in the team's three highest-paid players. Consider: -- Center Andrew Bogut, who is atop the Bucks' payroll chain at $12 million, fractured his left ankle in a game against the Houston Rockets Jan. 25. Bogut, undeniably one of the premier defenders in the game, hasn't played since the injury and, according to team officials, will likely be sidelined until mid March. My gut feeling is the Aussie won't be back at all this season. Veteran swingman Stephen Jackson is the Bucks' second wealthiest player this season, collecting $9.26 million. The Bucks acquired Jackson from the Charlotte Bobcats as part of a three-team trade last June. It was a trade the Bucks never should have made. ... Beno Udrih, whom the Bucks acquired in a trade with Sacramento last June, doesn't even play half the game. He's inexplicably averaging a mere 17 minutes a game - even though he is one of the Bucks' best shooters and distributors, two qualities the team is sorely lacking.
- Mac Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Even though the Clippers may have the best team in franchise history, and right now have one of the NBA's best records, they are the right draw for the Mavs. By the time the playoffs come around the Clippers may have figured it out, but historically postseason first-timers have to lose before they win. Monday's game offered countless examples they aren't ready for a serious playoff matchup. First and foremost their best player -- Griffin -- can't be a fourth-quarter liability. And they can't be relied on to make the plays consistently when the other team takes them seriously. The NBA sells young, quick and athletic, but brains count for something. The Mavs may not be able to collectively jump over a quarter, but they are seldom going to lose a game because they are dumb. The Mavs still have some major concerns, chief among them being Lamar Odom has somehow turned into a decoy. At some point he has to get over the hurt of being dealt and not living in L.A. If the Mavs have a legit shot, they have to get something from their Kardashian. He scored nine points against the Clippers on 3 of 8 shots. The Mavs are nearly at their halfway point of this 66-game schedule, and everything looks OK. They still have Dirk. They still think the game as well as any team. And they are very much need the right matchups to make another go of it. Mavs v. Clippers would be in their favor.
- T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times: What's more interesting, and longer lasting as far as the Clippers go, is the maturation of Griffin. Two nights ago he's highlights' Nos. 1 & 2 on ESPN's "SportsCenter"; Monday night, he's just lousy. The kid is only 22, and it's hard to remember — given the ferocity of his play — how dominate he can be. As a rule, there's so much to take for granted given his level of talent and production. But it's a grind, everyone wanting a piece of him now as he excites both home and away fans. Throw in the TV commercials, the smirk for the camera on occasion and summer fun with Will Ferrell and ask why he has shut himself down? Now it's as if he's walking around with blinders on. Some of those who travel regularly with the Clippers have taken notice of the guarded change in Griffin. "You don't even say 'hi' to folks that you know anymore is what I'm being told," I say to Griffin as teammate Ryan Gomes walks by. "Hey, what's up, Ryan — hi," gushes Griffin, as quick with the wit as he is the last step to the hoop. Griffin then acts as if he hasn't seen DeAndre Jordan in weeks. "Good to see you, DJ," Griffin gushes, while yelling hello to Trey Thompkins. The message is delivered: he's still capable of being himself. "I don't want to say I'm guarded; I'm shy," Griffin explains. "And I'm not as outgoing as people think." His game says otherwise. It's flamboyant, over the top, and so the expectation is that Griffin will be as well.
- Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: An obvious dearth of established NBA talent combined with an injury-aided slide to the bottom of the Western Conference standings will not impact the expected sale of the Hornets to a private investor or group, says the man chosen by Commissioner David Stern to broker the deal. Jac Sperling, the Hornets’ chairman and NBA governor for the past 14 months, said Monday the team will soon change hands from league ownership with an eye toward future stability and better on-court results. ... Sources with knowledge of the sales discussions indicated that the list of potential suitors has been whittled from a half-dozen or so, a number acknowledged by Stern on several occasions, and that all parties have entered into confidentiality agreements regarding sales discussions. Sperling would offer no concrete information on individuals or groups that could still be actively negotiating. ... Sperling said Stern, who has often stated his commitment to keeping the Hornets in New Orleans, remains optimistic about the future as well.
- Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: The Utah Jazz did it again. Win? Ha. Good one. Play inconsistently, lose focus, fall apart on the road, show a lack of effort and make fans scream at TVs and computers while losing to a vastly inferior and undermanned team? Yep. That's it. "It just feels like a dream," Jazz center Al Jefferson said. "I wish I could wake up." Unfortunately, Utah players and coaches can't pinch themselves out of this nightmare. A night after looking like a sure-bet playoff team in a 10-point win at Memphis, the Jazz looked as awkward and out of sorts as a couple of wholesome missionaries on Bourbon Street. And, yes, they did that against a four-win team. Scratch that. The New Orleans Hornets improved to a lofty 5-23 with this unlikely 86-80 win over a terrific-one-night-terrible-the-next Jazz squad. Embarrassing. Surprised. Disappointing. Beyond disappointing. Flat. No excuse. Lack of concentration. Wheels fell off. Heads weren't into it. By the way, these weren't a sports writer's words to describe getting stung by a Hornets team that had lost 23 of 25 coming into Monday's game. These descriptions of this devastating and demoralizing defeat came from the Jazz, who blew an opportunity to build on momentum gained (or apparently not) from Sunday's nice win over the Grizzlies.
- Jeff Faraudo of The Oakland Tribune: Monta Ellis suffered through one of his worst shooting nights of the season on Monday, but the Warriors defense and reserves made sure it didn't matter. While Ellis was shooting 5 for 20 in the 400th game of his NBA career, Nate Robinson, Brandon Rush and Klay Thompson triggered a fourth-quarter run that gave the Warriors a 102-96 victory over the Phoenix Suns and their first three-game win streak of the season. The victory also snapped Golden State's seven-game losing streak to Phoenix that dated to 2009. The Suns had won 11 of the previous 12 matchups. ... Coach Mark Jackson was pleased but not surprised that his team won on a night when Ellis and Stephen Curry combined for just 27 points on 8-for-30 shooting. Each drew praise from Jackson for grabbing seven rebounds. "That's what the good teams do. In spite of having star players not play well, they find a way to win," Jackson said.
- Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Shannon Brown did not see this coming when he signed with the Suns. Brown signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the thought that the opportunity to play would increase his value. Instead, Brown fell out of the rotation to make room for Michael Redd just as the Suns began playing better. It's very frustrating sitting on the bench," Brown said. "I've put my time in. I've earned my stripes. I've been through the fire. I know I can play this game. That's the only thing keeping me positive. It's not like I can't do something. I can knock down big shots. I've done that. I won't hate on nobody. I want to see the team successful. It's just tough for me to sit on the bench, day in and day out, knowing I can help the team." Brown averaged a career-high 9.0 points per game in 22 games entering Monday night but was shooting 39 percent, his worst shooting since he played 21 games for two teams in 2007-08. Brown has not been out of the rotation like this since December 2008, when he did not play in nine consecutive games for Charlotte. Brown said coach Alvin Gentry has asked him to stay ready.
- Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: If you think an NBA player is ever happy with his playing time, you'd be sorely mistaken. You don't become an athlete at that level without having a fierce competitive nature. Evan Turner, the 76ers' second-year swingman, is sort of in that position now. Turner, who played 14 minutes, 42 seconds last night against the host Bobcats, averaged a little more than 17 minutes in his previous three games. In the team's blowout win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday, Turner played 22:32, but that included 12 in the fourth quarter, when the game was already out of reach. Sort of meaningless minutes, they were. Last night, Turner was the fourth sub off coach Doug Collins' bench, entering with 2 minutes, 32 seconds left in the first quarter. Turner finished with four points and four rebounds as the Sixers improved to 20-9 with a 98-89 win over the lowly Bobcats (3-25). ... When asked about his reduced minutes, Turner said: "There's a recession, baby. We're like the stock market with playing time." Then, more seriously, Turner said: "I don't know. It's just one of those situations, and we have to do what's best for the team, and certain situations coach tries to do what's best out there, and that's it. You just have to move on with each game. We have so many games coming up. It is how it is. You just have to be professional about it. You have to just be prepared.
- Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Apparently, the Charlotte Bobcats' 15-game losing streak is in part a matter of trust. Among the many flaws the Bobcats have is a relative inability to steal the ball. That started to change Monday, when they converted six second-half Philadelphia turnovers into 13 points. It wasn't enough - the 76ers held on for a 98-89 victory - but this was the most competitive game they've played in a while. Rookie Kemba Walker saw a template in that progress. "One thing we haven't been doing is trusting each other,'' said Walker, who scored 14 of his 21 points in a fourth-quarter surge. "Today we trusted each other in (defensive) rotations, so we made steals.''