TrueHoop: Chris Andersen

Birdman's ascension

May, 22, 2014
May 22
6:55
PM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
Archive
Tom Haberstroh goes into the numbers and shows why Chris Andersen deserves a promotion.

NBA Finals stat storylines: Game 3

June, 11, 2013
6/11/13
9:31
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive
Each team has its shooting strengths and weaknesses through two games.
The winner of Game 3 figures to have a pretty significant edge in the NBA Finals, given the recent history.

Since the 2-3-2 format began in 1985, the Game 3 winner of a tied NBA Finals series goes on to win the series 12 out of 13 times.

Let's take a look at five of the statistical storylines to watch that could make a difference in which team has that advantage.

How do the Spurs respond to being blown out?
The Spurs are 3-0 this season following a loss by at least 19 points. They are 28-11 following such a loss since the 2002-03 season (when Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan first played together).

If the Spurs lose Game 3, it will be the first time that they have trailed in the NBA Finals in franchise history. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that among teams to appear in at least one NBA Finals, the Spurs and Sacramento Kings franchise are the only teams to have never trailed in a Finals series.

How do the Heat respond to their win?
The Heat put the Spurs right where they wanted them by losing Game 1.

In the LeBron James/Dwyane Wade/Chris Bosh "Big 3" era (since 2011 postseason), the Heat have lost a Game 1 of a series four times.
Following a Game 1 loss, Miami is a perfect 13-0 in games within those series over that span.

The Heat scored 103 points in their Game 2 win. They are 21-1 when scoring 100 or more points in postseason games in the Big 3 Era.

Lebron and the 20-point mark
The Spurs have held LeBron James under 20 points in both games this series.

James has played 133 career games in the postseason and been held under 20 points in three straight games just once.

It happened in the 2011 NBA Finals against the Mavericks in Games 3-5.

That was the last postseason series the Heat have lost.

Heat have the edge from in-close
The Heat shot 15-of-21 from inside five feet in Game 2 and are shooting 30-for-47 (64 percent) on such shots in the series. LeBron James, Chris Andersen and Norris Cole have been the Heat’s Big 3 on those shots, making 16 of 21.

The Spurs were 11-of-24 (46 percent) from inside five feet in Game 2, their second-worst percentage on those shots in a game this postseason.

The Spurs are shooting 24-of-50 (48 percent) inside five feet during the series after shooting 63 percent on such shots in the postseason prior to the NBA Finals. The two players who have had the most trouble -- Ginobili (2-of-7) and Tiago Splitter (1-of-5, including one shot rejected by James).

Spurs matchup of note: Tony Parker in pick-and-roll vs Heat defense
The big men for the Heat did not hedge out to help on Tony Parker in the pick-and-roll in the first half, and the Spurs scored 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting off Parker’s pick and rolls. That followed Game 1, in which the Spurs scored 20 points on Parker pick-and-rolls.

In the second half, the Heat were more aggressive in helping on Parker (such as in the opening minute of the fourth quarter when Chris Andersen and Mario Chalmers fought through two screens to contest Parker’s attempt), and the Spurs went 1-for-6 on the nine instances in which they ran a pick-and-roll through him.

Parker was 0-for-3 in his shots in the second half off the pick-and-roll. He’s averaging 10.4 points-per-game on pick-and-rolls this postseason, second-most to Chris Paul's 12.0.

Haslem opens up lane, Heat take advantage

May, 27, 2013
5/27/13
12:00
AM ET
Simon By Mark Simon
ESPN.com
Archive

Udonis Haslem's shooting was huge in the Heat's win.

The Miami Heat’s answer to the Indiana Pacers’ performance in the first two games was fairly simple: Just don’t miss any shots in the first half, and don’t let the Pacers make many in the second half.

The Heat took back home-court advantage with a decisive win over the Pacers. Those waiting for the Heat to drop consecutive games will continue to wait. They haven't done so in more than five months.

Let's recap the statistical highlights.

Stat of the Game
The Heat are the first team in NBA history to win five straight playoff road games by double digits.
Only four other teams have done it four straight games.

The most recent of those was another LeBron James team: the 2009 Cleveland Cavaliers.

The last before them were the Tim Duncan-led San Antonio Spurs in 1999.

Unsung star: Udonis Haslem
Udonis Haslem found his sweet spot on the left baseline, as his shooting chart for the game shows. Haslem finished 8-for-9 (the best single-game shooting effort in Heat history), 5-for-6 on shots from 15 feet and beyond. He entered 6-for-19 on those shots this postseason.

Haslem and Chris Bosh were a combined 8-for-11 from that range, including 7-for-9 with Roy Hibbert as the primary defender.

Hibbert noted after the game that he was forced to contest jump shots, leaving the paint free. The Heat shot 70 percent, their best effort of the series, from inside the paint.

Setting the Tone: Heck of a half
The Heat set a playoff franchise record with 70 first-half points.

That was the most points the Pacers have allowed in any half this season. This was the first time a team scored 70 points in the opening half of a playoff game since 2007, when the Golden State Warriors did so against the Utah Jazz.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that it was the first time the Pacers allowed 70 points in any playoff half since yielding 71 to the Boston Celtics in the second half of a playoff game in 1992.

Beyond the box score: James posts-up George
LeBron James went to a different approach in matching up against Paul George in Game 3.

James was 2-for-5 for five points when posting George up in the first two games of the series, but was 5-for-7 for 12 points in the Game 3 win.

James finished 7-for-13 against George for the game. George, who went 10-for-13 in the first two games when guarded by James, was mostly guarded by Dwyane Wade on Sunday, but James held him to 1-for-4 shooting from the field.

Difference-maker: Pacers struggles at the rim
The Pacers went 12-for-17 on shots from inside 5 feet in the first half, allowing them to keep the game close.

But when the Heat pulled away, the Pacers could not score them inside to match. They missed 11 of their 13 second-half shots from inside 5 feet.

Unsung reserve: Andersen’s streak still going
Chris Andersen was 4-for-4 from the field, making him 13-for-13 in the series with only one turnover (and 15 straight makes overall). The rest of the Heat's bench is a combined 10-for-49 from the field against the Pacers.

Looking ahead
In best-of-seven playoff series that are tied 1-1, the Game 3 winner goes on to win the series 77.0 percent of the time (151-45).

Case closed: That mysterious gold coin was ...

April, 2, 2010
4/02/10
12:36
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Chris Andersen
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
Before briefly masquerading as a cough drop, the mysterious item posed for this photo.

As has already been discussed in far too fine a detail on TrueHoop today, something mysterious, small, round and gold fell into Chris Andersen's mouth last night as the trainers gathered around him last night. You could see the whole thing on TV and in this hilarious still image.

My original post about it concluded like this:

So what was it? In the photo above, that's head athletic trainer Jim Gillen wearing the vest. On TV, his arrival at Andersen's side seems to time up nicely with the falling gold. Every conceivable theory is far-fetched:

  1. Just as Mikhail Prokhorov invests in gold, as a hedge against the dollar, so may have some Denver player. On some teams, trainers (often the team employee most trusted by the players) hold on to this or that valuables while they're on the court. This is far-fetched, but so is whatever really happened, you know?
  2. In the photo -- what's that round goldish thing on the breast of Gillen's vest? Could it have been that?
  3. There are some parking lots in this world that require a token to exit.
  4. Perhaps Gillen is a skee-ball addict, who travels ready to get a quick fix at any Chuck E. Cheese he may pass.
  5. A strong suggestion that it may have been a Sacagawea dollar.

It is with mixed emotions -- joy at discovering the truth, sadness at parting with such a fun mystery so quickly -- that I report that Nuggets media relations guy Tim Gelt says the answer was really behind door number two.

"Jim Gillen," he explains, "was wearing an 'NBA Green Week' lapel pin that just happened to fall off when he was tending to Chris."

Denver plays again tomorrow. Wonder if Gillen will keep wearing the pin.

    Chris Andersen and mysterious gold from the sky

    April, 2, 2010
    4/02/10
    10:41
    AM ET
    Abbott By Henry Abbott
    ESPN.com
    Archive
    Chris Andersen
    Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
    This photo was taken in the instant just before the incident of the falling gold.

    After Nuggets big man Chris Andersen hobbled to the locker room with a bad ankle halfway through the fourth quarter of Denver's win over Portland, the biggest question in the arena was: Will he be OK?

    Now that we know X-rays were negative, we can turn to the second-biggest mystery of that moment: What was that little gold thing?

    Before he went to the locker room, Andersen lay on the court in pain, surrounded by concerned onlookers. In the midst of his writhing, the TV camera plainly caught a small gold item tumbling from somewhere above, as if it had been dislodged from the breast pocket of a trainer leaning over. The mysterious nugget bounced off the injured Nugget's chest and -- bulls eye! -- into his mouth. Somebody off-camera (as TV viewers, our view was of Andersen on the floor, and everyone else from knee-down) saw it and said -- audible on the broadcast -- oh "s---!"

    Eyes clenched in agony, and surely wondering what kind of treatment this was, Andersen had the presence of mind to turn his head and spit the little gold chunk to the hardwood and off camera for good.

    You can see the whole mysterious episode here. Consider yourself warned about that one colorful word in the audio.

    Anyone's knee-jerk reaction would be to assume that a small gold thing on the loose would have to be a ring. It was about the right size, and it looked like a ring in real time. For another: What the hell else could it have been? What other small, round, gold things are part of our daily lives? It's a ring, you see -- or it's something really hard to explain.

    An immediate frame-by-frame review of the video, however, revealed that it simply could not be a ring -- not one that would accommodate a finger anyway. As it danced on Andersen's lip, before he could coordinate the spit, at super slow speed this thing was blatantly solid.

    It's a gold coin, token or medallion, perhaps.

    As a side note, I have been guilty of having a Twitter account that I did not take seriously. It had automated links to TrueHoop posts, but very few actual, you know, Tweets. I made a pledge recently to become a more serious Tweeter, and if ever there was a topic built for Twitter, this thing was gold. I tweeted about it mid-game and instantly there was speculation. Many clung to the ring theory, with its comfortable sense of reality. A Chuck E. Cheese token? Some kind of jewelry medallion?

    But then OutsidetheNBA came up with the key visual: A still image of the mysterious gold, in all its non-ringy solidity. Click that link, and you will agree that the ring argument is dead.

    So what was it? In the photo above, that's head athletic trainer Jim Gillen wearing the vest. On TV, his arrival at Andersen's side seems to time up nicely with the falling gold. Every conceivable theory is far-fetched:
    • Just as Mikhail Prokhorov invests in gold, as a hedge against the dollar, so may have some Denver player. On some teams, trainers (often the team employee most trusted by the players) hold on to this or that valuables while they're on the court. This is far-fetched, but so is whatever really happened, you know?
    • In the photo -- what's that round goldish thing on the breast of Gillen's vest? Could it have been that?
    • There are some parking lots in this world that require a token to exit.
    • Perhaps Gillen is a skee-ball addict, who travels ready to get a quick fix at any Chuck E. Cheese he may pass.
    • UPDATE: A strong suggestion that it may have been a Sacagawea dollar.

    I'm trying to get to the bottom of all this, and will report back.

    Wayne Winston is a professor at Indiana University and for the last nine years he has been Mark Cuban's stat guru for the Dallas Mavericks. Winston's recently published book "Mathletics," explains much of his work -- complete with formulas and spreadsheets. This is the first in a series of TrueHoop posts in which Winston explains the surprising things he has learned about what works and what doesn't in the NBA.

    Imagine you live on an island, with 13 people, and one of them is murdered.

    Murderers are usually found (or not) by assembling all the available clues and seeing if they point to anybody. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't.

    Ben Gordon
    "Letting [Ben Gordon] go is just beyond stupid. It's ridiculous," says Winston. "And who'd they pick up to replace him? Jannero Pargo?"
    (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

    Another way to look at this one, however, would be to say, look, we know one of these 12 people did this thing. Let's try to find out what everybody was doing at the time of the murder, and then we can start making smart guesses at who was responsible.

    This is a messy analogy for the state of basketball statistics.

    A team loses a game. That's your murder.

    The box score is the trail of clues. John Hollinger's PER is the embodiment of what can be learned from that. 

    But there are some cases where PER doesn't tell it all -- maybe you have no suspect! We all know that some chunk of what matters in basketball doesn't make it into the box score. 

    So there are people like Winston who instead favor saying we know all the players from both who were on the court while the loss occurred. Let's try to break the game apart, into little pieces, to see who gets the blame.

    The result is adjusted plus/minus. Winston is one of many -- others include Dan Rosenbaum, Aaron Barzilai, Stephen Ilardi -- who basically look at the scores of games, and then use complex formulas to assign credit and blame for that happened to individual players.

    It's often derided as an imprecise process, but it's worth noting that Winston, Barzilai and Rosenbaum all work for NBA teams. Winston has his detractors, but he's adamant, and often convincing, that such work can yield fascinating results:

    The many new kinds of basketball statistics tend to fall into two groups. There are things that we can, with certainty, ascribe to individual players. Those things are mostly in the box score, or PER. But you put them all together, and a chunk of the game is missing. Then there's stuff we know the team does -- the final score, and the increments of it we see in +/- and adjusted +/-. The trouble there is that it's hard to know how to assign what the team does to an individual player. It's murky in both camps. But you're an adjusted +/- guy, right? Why?
    Basketball is half offense and half defense. I don't think I have to prove that mathematically. It's got to be true. The box score is not half offense and half defense. I think that's where the box score breaks down.

    The nice thing about adjusted +/- is that it's half offense and half defense. I think if we can estimate offense accurately, and most of the adjusted +/- stuff that is out there for offense agrees with the rest of the world.

    It's on the defensive ratings I think that we disagree with whatever people think. And defense is half the game, I would argue even more, because you're only as strong as your weakest link. If you've got a guy who can't guard somebody, they'll just go at him all night long. In that sense, defense may be more important than offense.

    We're trying to measure how you help a team win. There is noise in that system. But during the season, you can't change your roster very easily.

    Devin Harris
    Winston's insight in action, against the Spurs in 2006: "Devin Harris had a great rating against the Spurs, and Tony Parker had a lousy rating ... So they started Devin Harris in Game 2 and won by 20."
    (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)

    But I have an infinite number of stories about lineups and how it can help you.

    The best example is about the Spurs/Mavericks series. Del Harris came to me before Game 2 (of the 2006 Spurs vs. Mavericks series). I love him to death, he's a wonderful person.

    Boy, he's a genius. When he was working with the Mavericks, he'd always ask me questions. He always knew the right question to ask. The numbers, by themselves, mean nothing.

    In the regular season, Adrian Griffin was terrible against the Spurs. They had a terrible offensive rating, which means they couldn't score when he was in.

    So Devin Harris had a great rating against the Spurs, and Tony Parker had a lousy rating in those games. The coaches sort of knew that Devin Harris could handle Tony Parker, but this gave them a metric to prove that.

    So they started Devin Harris in Game 2 and they won by 20. 

    Then we can do head-to-head -- when one guy is on the court against another guy. When Marquis Daniels was on the court against Manu Ginobili, the Mavericks lost by a point a minute. So in Game 7, they didn't play Daniels. Del Harris told me "we don't know why this happens, but since you tell me Marquis Daniels is getting creamed, we didn't play him."

    This is where there's a really old debate with scouts and the data people, that's in Moneyball and everything else.

    I don't think either person is right, by themselves. Well, the data is one factor that you should look at.

    The flaw with adjusted +/- is that there's noise in the system. But there are flaws in any system. Red Auerbach said K.C. Jones' team won every scrimmage. His PER sucks. There has got to be something missing.

    Kevin Martin always has a fantastic PER meanwhile, but every year his defense is terrible. 

    So, I don't mind looking at PER. If we mess up, PER would probably get it. But PER messes up a lot because it just doesn't do defense.

    So we're saying if you're talking box score based stats, you're going to miss defense ...
    A lot of it. Not all of it, a lot of it. You're also missing things like taking the charge. Saving the ball going out of bounds, the pass that leads to the assist. Nobody knows what percentage of basketball is not in the box score, but that determines which side of the debate you're on.

    But looking at the lineups, you can see a lot.

    J.R. Smith and Chris Andersen
    "In every playoff series," says Winston "there's what I call the team's kryptonite. For the Mavericks against Denver last year, it was Chris Andersen and J.R. Smith."
    (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

    For instance, in every playoff series, there's what I call the team's kryptonite. There's two or three players on the
    court that the other team can't handle.

    For the Mavericks against Denver last year, it was Chris Andersen and J.R. Smith. When those two were on the court, the Mavericks got killed.

    So what we do is we play detective. We look at every minute those guys are on the court. What worked? 

    That's the type of stuff that we do. 

    My prediction is that the Bulls are going to stink this year. Ben Gordon and Brad Miller were their best players. They let Ben Gordon go to the team they need to beat for the playoffs? Why'd they do that?

    He wanted a lot of money.
    Well, he's worth it.

    Letting him go is just beyond stupid. It's ridiculous. And who'd they pick up to replace him? Jannero Pargo? I looked at their lineups, and I guess that they're expecting that Luol Deng can play his position. If he's healthy -- and I don't know if he's healthy.

    You gotta mine the data. Because sometimes you're helpless. Denver -- I knew that would be bad for the Mavericks last year.

    And Golden State [when the top-ranked Mavericks famously lost to the upstart Warriors, in 2007], I knew that would be bad for the Mavericks. The only hope the Mavericks had was to go small, and they did in Game 1 and lost that game. They got a lot of heat for that, but it was probably the best thing they could do.

    Dampier is on the team so you can beat the Spurs and you can beat Shaq. And they beat the Spurs really easily. They had no trouble. But against the Warriors, small was better.

    Did you advise the Mavericks to go small against the Warriors?
    I show the numbers to the coach and they make the decision.

    Against the Hornets, I would have certainly gone small. Against Golden State I would have gone small.

    In Game 1 they just came out flat. Baron Davis hit like two half-court shots in that series. The Mavericks played horrible. And that series ... I do think it had a long-term effect, the hangover from that. The team didn't go back to being as good as it used to be.

    How can you possibly fix something like that?
    You can't. That's the whole thing. One of the holy grails of stats is predicting how well a player will do next year.

    More from Winston on TrueHoop tomorrow.

    It's Backwards Day: The vaunted Denver defense leaked like a sieve Monday night. LeBron was merely mortal in Cleveland's close-out game. And the Celtics did in Game 4 what NBA teams rarely do -- win without the three-ball. 

    Dirk NowitzkiJeremy Wagner of Roundball Mining Company: "The Nuggets' defense has slackened against Dallas ... They are not playing with the cohesiveness they did against the Hornets. When there is penetration the help is either late or non-existent. After forcing the Hornets and Mavericks to score from the perimeter for the first six games of the postseason the Mavericks are starting to earn some easy buckets. Tonight Dallas actually outscored Denver in the paint 42-36 ... If Dallas is going to shock the world and come back to win this series it will be on the back of Dirk Nowitzki. No Nugget player has been able to deal with Dirk apart from Chris Andersen for one quarter in game one and Kenyon Martin for one quarter in game three. The decision not to double Dirk would seem to have worked as Dallas has not gone crazy from behind the three point line and Denver is up 3-1 in the series. I think you can make a good argument that not doubling Dirk is actually not working. The Mavericks are not killing the Nuggets from behind the arc, but from the charity stripe. During the regular season Dallas averaged .274 free throws per shot attempt. Against the Nuggets Dallas is shooting .430 free throws per shot attempt."

    LeBron JamesJohn Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "LeBron [James] actually looked human tonight, or something approximating it: He got what I refer to as the 'gritty' 27/8/8, never really getting out on the break, stringing together jumpers, or finding himself able to slice through the defense at will in the half-court (only 4-8 from inside the immediate basket area), instead hitting an open three here or there, leaking out early to get two cheap dunks, cutting backdoor and looking for lobs, getting a layup on Mo [Williams]' going baseline and finding him cutting on counter-movement (MY FAVORITE PLAY EVER), and saying 'f*** it, you're going to have to foul me because I'm not going to stop going towards the rim until I die' to get some free-throws in tight moments. His passes also weren't of the spectacular three-point line feed for a dunk variety, but were simple passes out of traps on the pick-and-roll and down low. It was just playing the right way mixed with energy, that otherworldly athleticism, and a sense of the flow of the game. The highlight reel isn't going to be as nice and his PER is no longer broken, but it was an extremely effective game that got us the win, which does make 8 double-digit playoff wins in a row. I'll take that."

    Ray AllenZach Lowe of Celtics Hub: "The Celtics beat the Magic on Sunday despite making just one three-pointer. How rare is that in the NBA? This season, teams sunk either one or zero three-pointers 57 times and went 17-40 in those games. As for the C's, they've hit one or zero from deep just twice in the last two seasons combined -- once in a January win at Orlando (in which they hit none) and again in a loss at Milwaukee in March. So Sunday's win was a very, very rare thing for both Boston and the league in general."

    THE FINAL WORD
    Hoopinion: Stop talking about the Hawks' effort when talent and tactics are the issues.
    Two Man Game: Dirk takes over.
    Raptors Republic: Trying to rationalize the Jay Triano hiring. 


    (Photos by Glenn James, Andy Lyons, Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)

    Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

    It's unknown when the trope "matchup nightmare" first entered the basketball lexicon, but I imagine it happened at some point between Magic Johnson's rookie season and the emergence of Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki.

    Nowitzki's versatility makes him a nearly impossible cover. Normally, the primary defensive function of a power forward is to push his guy off the block. Nowitzki, though, neutralizes a good post defender because he actually prefers to hang out at the elbow, where he's one of the best 18-foot jump shooters in the game. When the defender steps out, the taller Nowitzki can shoot his high-arching turnaround shot over most power forwards, or, if he's so inclined, he can put the ball on the deck and drive to the hole. Nowitzki might not be the quickest 4 to the basket, but his defenders have to crowd him because he's such a deadly shooter. If Nowitzki can get that first step, it's a foot race between him and the weak side help. Dirk will win most of those battles because he's a strong and deceptively quick finisher.

    Dirk Nowitzki
    Chris "Birdman" Andersen: Slowing down Dirk
    (Doug Pensinger/NBAE via Getty Images)

    Early on Sunday afternoon, it looks as if Denver has absolutely no answer for Nowitzki. On Dallas' first 13 possessions, Nowitzki converts all six of his field goal attempts from the floor, and chips in an assist to Josh Howard. Dirk isn't merely beating Kenyon Martin. He's having his way against virtually every Denver defender -- Nene, Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets' guards off the switch, et al.

    The best player on the floor is in a Mavericks uniform and Dallas leads by eight at the end of the first quarter. 

    As Hubie Brown explains, George Karl has clearly made the decision to play Nowitzki straight-up. With the exception of the occasional trap along the sideline, Denver defenders will have to fly solo against Nowitzki in the middle of the floor. Karl is adamant: If Dirk is going to beat his Nuggets, he won't do it as a playmaker.  

    At the 10:03 mark of the second quarter, Nowitzki checks back in for Dallas, and is immediately picked up by Chris "Birdman" Andersen. Nowitzki's first touch of this sequence comes at the 8:33 mark when he draws J.R. Smith -- and a J.R. Smith foul -- on the switch. After that, the game at the Dallas end of the floor changes: 

    • [2nd Quarter, 8:23] Dampier sets a hard down screen on Andersen to give Nowitzki a little space at the foul line. J.J. Barea feeds Nowitzki there, but Andersen doggedly fights through the Dampier screen and closes that space in a hurry. That's the first thing about Andersen: Dampier takes most defenders out of this play with what's essentially a lineman's block -- but not Andersen. He's back in Dirk's face before Dirk can face up. Dirk chooses to back Andersen in -- first with the right shoulder, then he reverses course and pounds with his left. Andersen absorbs every blow, and you sense he loves every minute of the contact. Birdman's feet are bouncy and he's got his right hand on Dirk's back. Nowitzki hasn't made much progress. He pivots to his right and, trying to draw the foul on Andersen, flings the ball at the basket -- but Andersen doesn't budge. He never bites on the shot and, in turn, denies Nowitzki the contact. The ball draws nothing.
    • [2nd Quarter, 7:55] Isolation for Nowitzki against Andersen way out on the left side of the arc. Andersen assumes a defensive crouch and takes a mean swipe at the ball as Nowitzki faces up. Dirk snatches the ball back, then takes a hard dribble with his left and goes baseline. On the drive, Birdman has Dirk on a tightrope, well underneath the hoop. Andersen funnels Nowitzki to the weak side where Nene stuffs Dirk's reverse layup attempt. Nowitzki finishes the afternoon 2-7 against the Birdman-Nene combination, 10-15 against the Nuggets' other defenders.
    • [2nd Quarter, 6:50] Andersen crowds Nowitzki at the top of the arc, really harassing him. Nowitzki moves forward with his patented sequence, left shoulder, then right shoulder. Andersen stays with him, as Nowitzki leads them to a spot inside the left elbow. Dirk elevates and, with Andersen's hand in his face, launches a fall-away jumper that's no good. 

    When Kenyon Martin checks back into the game for Nene at the 4:11 mark, he assumes Dirk Duty, and Andersen slides over onto Dampier and general help duty. On the next Dallas possession, Dirk draws Smith on the switch up top, backs in the Nuggets' guard, and works himself an easy 5-footer. 

    Andersen earns another stint on Nowitzki for the better part of the fourth quarter, during which Birdman outscores Dirk, 4-2. Nowitzki's only bucket comes on an offensive rebound that rolls his way, which he puts back up for a 10-foot jumper against Anthony Carter. The only time Andersen gets beat is on a defensive switch when he draws Jason Terry, who unleashes a quick jumper over him from about 20 feet [4th Quarter, 10:04]. But Andersen exacts revenge on the very next possession:

    • [4th Quarter, 9:28] Terry draws the Birdman at the same spot out on the left wing. This time, Terry tries to take Andersen off the dribble. The Jet's layup is promptly swatted into next week by Andersen, and Denver ignites the break. How nice a luxury it must be for George Karl to know that he can switch his center onto a speedy little guard and feel comfortable that his big man can not only stay in front of the drive, but challenge the shot at the basket. 
    • [4th Quarter, 9:10] Andersen effortlessly runs through a (moving) screen by Antoine Wright off the ball at the elbow, and meets Nowitzki out on the right wing in isolation. Dirk faces up, but then rushes his half-hearted rocker step and subsequent jumper. The shot is off.
    • [4th Quarter, 7:16] Andersen fouls Nowitzki as Dirk brings the ball upcourt. After the Mavs inbound it on the side, Nowitzki gets the ball at the top of the key opposite Andersen. For the first time in isolation against the Birdman, Nowitzki acts decisively. That's probably a good instinct, only Andersen anticipates Nowitzki's left-handed drive beautifully and establishes himself at the spot for the easy charge call. Hubie: "A great defensive play." 
    • [4th Quarter, 6:51] The Mavs are in transition. Jason Kidd gets the ball to Nowitzki in the right lane. Dirk, at the time he receives the pass, is actually ahead of Andersen, but Birdman catches him from behind and gets a piece of Dirk's layup attempt. Billups applauds proudly from the bench. Last week, we characterized many of Dwyane Wade's defensive blocks as "horror flick" plays -- just when you think Wade is out of the play, he comes in for the kill. Andersen is a horror show, too -- only he's not a furtive killer that we never see on screen. He's Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men, walking in broad daylight with a pneumatic air gun.  

    Nowitzki gets only one more meaningful touch against Andersen. Ironically, he beats Andersen off the dribble, only to lose the ball as he makes his approach for the basket -- the last of Dallas' 20 turnovers.

    It's doubtful Dirk Nowitzki will be bottled up for the entire series (and to be fair, Dirk went 12-22 from the floor, a solid performance, even if he tailed off). Dallas will make some smart adjustments. For one, they should figure out a way to generate more mismatches for Nowitzki, something they were able to accomplish in the first qua
    rter. Andersen is a scrappy recoverer as the big man in a ball screen, but Dallas has the capacity to get Nowitzki more space, regardless of who's defending the two-man game. 

    Meanwhile the Nuggets have to be pleased. The top assignment for any team facing Dallas is neutralizing Dirk Nowitzki. It took Denver a quarter to find the lock, but they did. Andersen's shot-blocking and help defense are well-known and highly regarded, but today he proved that he can match up in isolation with one of the most gifted offensive power forwards in the NBA.

    The Shootaround

    January, 26, 2009
    1/26/09
    12:13
    PM ET

    Unsung heroes in Los Angeles and Denver.  Oversung heroes in San Antonio and Detroit.  Song lyrics from the TrueHoop Network:

    Derek FisherDarius Soriano of Forum Blue & Gold: "Over his two stints with the Lakers, Derek Fisher has been one of the more unheralded players on the team.  Sure, he's hit some big shots (most notably this one) and he's contributed to many wins.  We all recall his late-season return from injury in 2001 as a major key to our postseason romp that ended with a championship trophy and an amazing 15-1 record in the playoffs.  But for the most part, Fisher has been just a role player...And this continues now.  On this current team, Fish is a guy that is doing exactly what we need of him.  He is helping this team, despite some of his weaknesses.  I know that Fisher has never had the strongest instincts when handling the ball on the fast break.  I also know that Fisher is not the best finisher when he gets into the lane.  It's also clear that Fish has lost a step and is no longer the strongest on-ball defender against quick PG's.  Kurt even coined an acronym that describes his penchant for shooting a pull up jumper in transition.  However, all of these issues combined don't come close to the negatives that his predecessors possessed.  They also don't diminish his value to this team.  And if we're talking about value, some things need to be mentioned.  During the time that Farmar was out with his knee injury, Fisher saw his average minutes increase from 26.9 min/gm to 36.8 min/gm.  This stretch included seven instances of playing over 40 minutes in a game.  However, with that increased workload, we actually saw a better player.  With Farmar out, Fisher shot better from the floor, got more steals per game, and fouled at a slightly lesser rate (no small feat considering the minutes increase).  He was also still money from the foul line, was still drawing charges, and was still making big time jump shots when the team needed a bucket.  Basically, he was playing the best he had all season.  And all of it came from a 34-year-old player that most of us thought would have ceded his starting position to someone else by now."

    Tim DuncanGraydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell: "What I am surprised to hear myself saying is that this afternoon's loss was primarily a failure of on-court leadership. Most specifically I am referring to Tim Duncan. In situations where the team is making mental errors (particularly in terms of our shot selection), I expect Duncan to step up and clarify how we should be putting the ball in the hoop. I expect Duncan's defensive focus to become equally unbreakable and infectious. I expect him to lead. It's not that Duncan had a bad game. It was decidedly average. But throughout the contest he came off as being nowhere near as focused as his counterpart, Andrew Bynum. Bynum gave him trouble on both ends of the floor and looked far more interested in making a statement than Tim did. I am not saying Tim needs to prove anything to anyone; clearly he doesn't. But that is not an excuse for allowing yourself to get out-muscled on both ends of the court."

    Chris AndersenJeremy Wagner of Roundball Mining Company: "Is there anything more enjoyable than watching the Denver Nuggets pound on the Utah Jazz? What made it even better was the fact that they played very good defense.  The Jazz did score quite a few easy baskets as they tabulated 54 of their 97 points in the paint, but the way they execute their offense you know that Utah is going to score some easy hoops.  Do not let the handful of open layups Utah earned take away from the way the Nuggets defended. The Nuggets defense started off a little sluggish, but once Chris 'Birdman' Andersen checked in with 2:50 left in the first quarter they really clamped down.  The Jazz run a lot of tight screens and cuts right in the lane in front of the rim.  That allowed Andersen to basically guard the rim without worrying about a defensive three second violation.  His presence deterred the Jazz from entering the ball in the lane."

    THE FINAL WORD  Queen City Hoops: Laws of "Average" in Charlotte.  Valley of the Suns: Crisis management in Phoenix.  Piston Powered: Lowering the bar in Detroit. 

    Don't know what that title means. But I can tell you that's what the freshly-reinstated-from-a-drug-related-suspension Chris Andersen says it felt like when he got tattoos of wings on the undersides of his arms.

    By the way, based on all kinds of conversations I have had with people about Andersen, his character, background, and work ethic, I have to say that I am thrilled to see him back in the league and will be rooting for him. 

    With the trade deadline approaching, lots of teams are looking around and wondering if they might be able to get better.  

    Dan Barto is a trainer who tells of working with Chris Andersen, who has been fighting his way through the process of getting reinstated after a drug-related suspension.

    Barto trained Andersen for close to three weeks. Here is some of what Barto learned:

    1) He is a joy to be around 100% of the time

    2) He will work until exhaustion

    3) He is professional and attentive

    4) The dude can shoot, I repeat: the dude can shoot.

    We laughed and worked and laughed harder. Chris interacted with everyone whose path he crossed from the janitors to the rebounders to the MLS stars who spoke no English. An absolute animal in the weight room and a soft rim's worst nightmare, Bird never wanted to leave the court. There were days he would stay and work out with the high school group at the end of the day.

    I am not rooting for Bird because I want him to buck the trend of the list above. I am rooting for the Birdman because he has a great soul and a big heart. He was not an enabled showboat like many of the names above. He took the long road. When he got to a fork in the road of his career he stopped and took a couple hits, now it is full steam ahead into helping a team make a deep playoff run.

    Barto gives reasons Andersen would fit nicely in New Orleans, Cleveland, Miami, Dallas, or Denver.

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