TrueHoop: Gerald Wallace
Former first-round pick Paul Grant now advocates concussion awareness.
But he couldn't stay conscious.
His teammates would wake him up, but Grant would soon be back asleep. "They just thought, 'Oh well he’s tired, let him sleep,'" remembers Grant.
It wasn't just a bad movie. Unbeknownst even to Grant at the time, he was feeling the effects of a concussion he had suffered on a jump ball with Bison Dele earlier in the night. “We went up to get the ball and our heads rammed into each other,” says Grant, “and I got knocked on the corner of my forehead.”
The referees stopped play as Grant tried to collect himself. He walked around to shake off the cobwebs, and stayed in the game though he could hardly see out of his left eye. “It was all bright colors flashing,” he says, “all the colors of the rainbow.”
Grant knew enough to keep his legs moving and, thinking it was just a bump in the head, played his usual minutes. “The thing with my vision was going on and off the whole game,” he said. His swollen brain made his movements a split-second slower; the complex decisions that NBA players instinctively make every second took real effort.
“I didn't feel like myself,” he says. “I really needed to concentrate, and the more I concentrated the more I felt really not all there.”
Likely because he did not get proper medical attention and continued playing, the effects lingered, Grant says, for two or three weeks.
When he says, “it was messed up,” you can hear the frustration in his voice years later.
An unknown danger
Back then, Grant was a role player working hard to stick in the NBA. He would play just four seasons before becoming a college coach and, through his friendship with "Head Games" author Chris Nowinski, an advocate for concussion education. Grant now works on behalf of the Sports Legacy Institute, a non-profit organization that works to spread the word of concussion caution in a time when new research is exposing the dangers of mismanaged concussions and the possible long-term effects of repeated blows to the head.
During his playing days, Grant says he didn’t even know what a concussion really was.
“There was no education,” Grant says. “It was like, ‘Well you didn’t get knocked out, so you don’t have a concussion.’ And that was the thinking by me and the general consensus I think in the league: Unless you get knocked out cold, we’re not going to talk about a concussion.”
But, he says, of course concussions have long been a part of basketball: "There are inevitably times when you get your legs taken out from under you, you get pushed in your back, you fly into the backstop, you hit your back on the floor then your head hits the floor, you dive on the floor and run into another player’s head. This type of stuff happens frequently enough that it needs to be addressed so that when it does happen players and organizations aren't at risk of losing these guys for an extended period of time."
He may not have known that he was concussed after cracking heads with an opponent in mid-air, but he did know that he didn't feel right. Why didn't Grant seek attention from his training staff?
“The overall thinking in the NBA was that you don’t make the team in the training room," he explains. "You got to do whatever you can to get on the court.”
So he did what he had to do, which was keep his mouth shut about his symptoms. Of course, Grant didn't really understand the danger that he was in. He didn't know that if he suffered another concussion while still recovering it could jeopardize his career. He didn't know that just playing, even without suffering another bump, could lengthen his recovery time.
Educating the current generation
Grant wants today’s NBA players to know these things. He is pleased that the NBA has begun to take the issue of concussions more seriously with new efforts to diagnose and treat concussions.
Grant sees player education as a major part of making sure that those who do receive concussions get the necessary treatment, something NBA players say has also been happening more than in the past. For instance the Hawks' Zaza Pachulia, asked about head injuries by TruthAboutIt's Kyle Weidie, recently said that "every year" the NBA tells players "it's not an easy injury, it's something you've got to pay attention to. You've got to be very careful."
“The player’s not going to be honest about what’s going on," Grant declares, "especially if he’s not educated.”
A key issue is a player's reputation -- players want to be seen as tough.
After getting concussed by an inadvertent elbow from teammate Austin Rivers in just his second NBA game, Anthony Davis was raring to get back on the court even though team doctors said he was not ready.
It’s Grant’s opinion that if a player like Davis had been properly educated, he’d have been more cautious about coming back too soon. Currently, every NBA player and coach is required to watch a one-hour educational video on head injuries. Grant, who gives such presentations to athletes from the youth to professional levels, believes that every player in the league should receive intensive training on the risks and realities of concussions, and that rookies in particular should receive more aggressive training.
But Grant also recognizes that rookies are going to take after their peers and the players they look up to. He recommends a public service announcement of sorts featuring a respected veteran like Gerald Wallace, who has suffered at least four concussions in his NBA career. Says Grant, “If I have someone who’s not only in my profession but I look up to and he’s telling me, ‘OK, take it seriously,’ it’s really going to sink in.”
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Avery Johnson, Deron Williams and the Nets were just .500 when Johnson was fired as head coach.
The recent narrative for the Nets has been a lack of offensive execution, as both Deron Williams and Gerald Wallace have voiced concerns with the offense. The team does rank second-to-last in the NBA in pace but its true shooting percentage stayed consistent -- 52.5 percent in November, 52.6 percent in December.
The biggest change has come on the defensive end -- the team was ninth in opponents points per 100 possessions in November (100.0) and 28th in December (108.6).
The offense isn’t completely off the hook, though. Under Johnson, the Nets experienced the biggest drop-off in offensive efficiency, field goal percentage and rebound percentage between the first and second half of any team in the NBA this season. They've lost a league-leading six games this season in which they led by at least 13 points.
But the real issue with this team might not be coaching or offensive philosophy, but rather the personnel on the court. The Nets invested heavily in the Williams-Joe Johnson-Brook Lopez-Wallace core, and it simply has not lived up to its billing this season.
Williams, the franchise cornerstone, is putting up his lowest Player Efficiency Rating (17.1) and lowest assist-per-40-minutes marks (8.7) since his rookie season of 2005-06, and his field goal percentage (39.8) would be the lowest of his career.
Of the 151 players who are averaging at least 25 minutes per game this season, Williams (52nd), Lopez (74th), Johnson (83rd) and Wallace (87th) all rank outside the top 50 in Win Shares. Lopez has missed seven of the team’s 28 games, including six in December during which the Nets went 1-5. Meanwhile, Wallace has scored in single digits more times (10) than he’s scored 20 or more (2).
Is it possible this isn’t just a bad system fit or small sample size, but rather players in decline? Joe Johnson’s current PER of 13.6 is nearly five points lower than his mark last season and would be his lowest since 2002-03. Wallace’s PER is on a much more sustained nosedive, going from 18.6 to 18.3 to 16.2 to 15.9 to 14.6 since the 2008-09 season.
But perhaps most alarming of all is the multi-season shooting decline from Williams, who has seen his true shooting percentage drop from 59.5 in 2007-08 – which ranked tied for 29th in the NBA that season – to 51.6 this season, good for T-188th.
Mike Ehrmann/NBAE/Getty ImagesIn 28 games this season, Avery Johnson couldn't point the Nets in the right direction.
The buzzards had been circling in Brooklyn over Avery Johnson for the better part of two weeks. After finishing November at 11-4, the team has dropped to 14-14 and sits at .500 in an Eastern Conference where any team worth its salt should be winning more than it's losing. Not satisfied with their level of saltiness and with the losses piling up, the Nets dismissed head coach Avery Johnson on Thursday, with P.J. Carlesimo serving as head coach in an interim capacity.
Public expressions of discontent are among the surest signs of trouble for a head coach, and those voices had grown increasingly audible in recent days. Less than half an hour after the Nets' dispiriting loss to Boston on Christmas Day, Brett Yormark tweeted, "Nets fans deserved better today. The entire organization needs to work harder to find the solution. We will get there."
Late Wednesday night in Milwaukee, where Brooklyn, without Deron Williams, looked terrible in a 108-93 loss to the Bucks, Gerald Wallace let loose: "It seems like guys are content with the situation that we are in, and I'm f------ pissed off about us losing, especially losing the way we are losing."
While Yormack's remarks were general, and Wallace's were targeted at teammates, point guard Deron Williams was more explicit 10 days ago when he cited what he saw as flaws in the Nets' offensive schemes as the major symptom. Williams waxed nostalgic for Jerry Sloan's flex system, praising the constant motion that facilitated an easy offensive flow, a direct jab at Johnson (and one laced with irony given Williams' grouchiness in Salt Lake City). Meanwhile, Knicks guard Jason Kidd -- not exactly Avery Johnson's biggest champion in Dallas -- challenged Williams' premise: "I don’t think it has anything to do with the coach ... I think it’s just a matter of getting comfortable making shots."
Almost every NBA team has a degree of internal rivalries and grumbling. But the Nets aren't your average NBA team in your average NBA market with an average set of expectations. In New York, the light bulbs flash brighter, the microphones are larger, the media pricklier and the fans are always restless.
That's all true whether or not a franchise is coasting or, in the case of the Nets, has drawn up some of the most aggressive designs for organizational renovation the NBA has ever seen. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov has no qualms about the Nets sitting in tax territory for the immediate future. They handed both Deron Williams and Brook Lopez the max, absorbed Joe Johnson's enormous contract and shelled out big money for Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries.
Big payroll aside, the optics -- and Oculus -- loom large. The Nets play in the most ambitious arena built in North America in decades, a building into which Prokhorov invested heavily. And they also have a formidable measuring stick across the East River in Manhattan. Although the Nets weren't exactly looking to take a large bite of the Knicks' market share so much as expand the base of NBA fanhood in the city, the Knicks' rosy success so far has cast an imposing shadow. Had the Knicks fallen flat, both teams could've bunked together in New York Fan and Media Jail. Instead, the Nets have the entire joint to themselves (though they share a wall with New York's pro football teams).
How much of this is Avery Johnson's fault? That depends on how much you believe player performance is dependent on coaching. If you're Avery Johnson's son, an admittedly partial source, the onus falls on the players. Soon after the firing was announced Thursday, the younger Johnson tweeted, "I'm sorry are best players couldn't make open shots. Yeah that's my dads fault totally..."
The kid has a point. Is it Johnson's fault Deron Williams has missed 166 shots outside the paint this season for a ghastly effective field goal percentage of 41 percent from that range? Is it on Johnson that Williams, while not altogether wrong about the contours of the offense, couldn't do what max point guards do -- wield his exceptional individual talent to make the system work?
In recent days, Johnson has ripped several pages from the Utah playbook, installing some tried-and-true flex actions -- baseline screens for cutters who move directly into the next off-ball screen. The results were mixed, but for all the talk about an underachieving offense -- and the Nets have most certainly failed to maximize their assets on that end of the floor -- the team has lost a lot of basketball games in December because it fields the NBA's 10th-worst defense.
When Johnson was in Dallas coaching the elite Mavericks teams of the mid-2000s, "42" was one of his mantras, as in success for his team would be measured in large part by the defense's ability to hold the opposition to a field goal percentage of less than 42 percent. Only a handful of teams are able to accomplish that more times than not, but the Nets are rarely one of them.
It's difficult to assess to what extent Johnson's coverages are at fault. Lopez's skills as a pick-and-roll defender are remedial (his Synergy stats indicate proficiency, but they don't account for demands Lopez places on baseline and top-side rotators). Johnson's menu of options at power forward don't leave him much to work with. Wallace is active, while Johnson has size, but Williams has never demonstrated the instincts or commitment of a quality defender on the ball (though he'll body up in the post).
Schemes and strategies aside, the assignment of blame is one of the trickier exercises in pro sports, because everyone orders the list of NBA coaching responsibilities. Some NBA players want a guy who they can trust, others don't care so long as they get minutes, while others simply just want a friendly workplace where the boss isn't up in their face all day long.
For management and ownership, those aforementioned expectations are everything, especially this season in Brooklyn. Putting an inferior product on the floor, getting embarrassed on national television, crossfire in the tabloids -- it just can't happen. And from the perspective of most owners and managers, maintaining morale ranks just behind winning as the top deliverable for an NBA coach.
Intelligent people can disagree about whether the Nets spent their money well, or whether general manager Billy King has good taste in basketball players, or whether Williams is a coach-killer, or whether it's the coach's job to horse-whisper a temperamental floor general just as the player has the responsibility to do what he can with the coach's system.
But Prokhorov isn't going anywhere, and King has furnished the roster with enough paper tigers to deflect blame (for the time being) and the contracts on the team's books aren't very movable.
That left one remaining party, the guy sitting in the first chair on the bench -- the loneliest seat in basketball.
Bruce Bennett/NBAE/Getty Images
Gerald Wallace plays, and sometimes acts, with gusto.
When Reggie Evans received the NBA’s first ever flopping fine and cemented his reputation as the league’s most notorious actor, not everyone was pleased. Although he was the victim of Evans' fine-worthy flop, Metta World Peace said Evans’ Brooklyn teammate, Gerald Wallace, was the real flopper.
"That's ridiculous," World Peace said in response to the Evans' punishment, according to a report from ESPN NY’s Mike Mazzeo. "I'd rather Gerald Wallace get fined than Evans."
Well, World Peace may have to settle for a warning after this Flop of the Night (Video) from Wallace during the second half of Brooklyn’s win over the Knicks Monday night.
It’s a classic “exploding pick” flop: Wallace runs right into Chandler, who is pivoting to face the basket with the ball in his hands. The contact is minimal, but that doesn't stop Wallace from violently throwing his head back after crashing into the all-but-stationary Knicks big man. The play erased a wide open Carmelo Anthony jumper in a tight game that ended up going to overtime.
It will be up to the NBA to decide whether Wallace’s flop merits a warning for “overembellishing” the contact -- remember Wallace snapped his head back despite running into Chandler’s hip.
When you see an egregious flop that deserves proper recognition, send us a link to the video so we can consider it for Flop of the Night. Here's how to make your submission:
- Kyle Weidie of Truth About It offers up a multimedia presentation of how Deron Williams tied the Wizards in knots with ball screens.
- The Heat posted unsightly numbers against the Celtics' zone on Tuesday night but, as Zach Lowe of The Point Forward writes, the Heat had a coherent strategy to combat it: "A great example came with about 3:30 left in the game, when the Heat flashed a key potential zone antidote they used a lot: starting a possession with one of their wing stars (Dwyane Wade on this one) as the only person on one entire side of the floor (the left side in this case). That forced the Boston defense to tilt heavily to the right, where James handled the ball on the outside, near all his teammates except Wade. As LeBron dribbled, Chris Bosh flashed from the top of the three-point arc to below the foul line, drawing the man closest to Wade (Dooling) down into the paint, and forcing him to temporarily turn his back to Wade. At that exact moment, LeBron tossed a pass to Wade, who caught it on the move toward the middle of the floor, his momentum taking him the opposite direction as Boston’s defenders, including Dooling, now tilting madly from James’ side of the floor to Wade’s. Wade did not hestitate: With Dooling wrong-footed, Wade drove into the paint, where Dooling fouled him. Without a shot, the play almost vanishes from game logs everywhere, but it represents one key way the Heat can combat a zone; both James and Wade got layups against it out of action just like this."
- Historiographers have identified the origins of sports panic -- the phenomenon dates back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 17th Century. Is it time to panic in Boston?
- Tony Allen kindly asks that you set up your voicemail already.
- You should buy the full 2011-12 PDF from Basketball Prospectus, but if you want the crib notes from Kevin Pelton -- a single paragraph and projected record for each of the 30 teams -- click here.
- An interview with Clippers vice president of basketball operations Neil Olshey at Yahoo! Radio.
- Be Milwaukee!
- The Trail Blazers are 2-0 and when you take inventory of LaMarcus Aldridge's versatility as a big man and the smart pieces around them, they look primed for a pretty decent season. Tom Ziller of SB Nation: "[T]he way in which the Blazers have played, mixing the tough defense you know Gerald Wallace and Wesley Matthews will bring with the smooth scoring ability of LaMarcus Aldridge and deft shooting of Matthews and Nicolas Batum, mixed with able playmaking from Raymond Felton and Marcus Camby -- despite the caveats and despite the great misfortune of losing Brandon Roy forever and Greg Oden for a while longer, Portland looks like a real contender in the West."
- The Bucks led the Timberwolves 94-84 with under 4:00 remaining. Then Minnesota ripped off an 8-0 run to close the deficit to two points. The lineup on the floor for the Timberwolves? Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour, Michael Beasley, Kevin Love and Anthony Tolliver. Zach Harper describes the final play call of a frustrating night for Minnesota: "Finding themselves down three with seven seconds left, they devised a play without much action away from the ball to free up Kevin Love for the game-tying attempt. Love set a down screen for Luke which enabled Luke to catch the ball roughly 35 feet from the basket. Love then set a screen for Wes near the top of the arc and then ran to the other win. Luke took two dribbles passed it to Love and he took a contested 3-pointer with four seconds left. It was one of the most basic plays you would ever find coming out of a timeout and it resulted in Love taking a contested 26-footer to try to tie the game."
- Bret LaGree of Hoopinion on Joe Johnson: "Can still get anywhere he wants on the floor, presuming where he wants to get isn't within 15 feet of the basket."
- Want to talk Pacers-Raps after tonight's game? Visit with Jared Wade and Tim Donahue on Pacers Talk Live at Eight Points, Nine Seconds.
- Ricky Davis will start his NBA comeback as a Red Claw.
- NBA commentators put Google+ hangout to use.
Kent Smith/NBAE/Getty Images
Gerald Wallace was not happy to be dealt to Portland last March. Now he's the toast of the town.
Gerald Wallace scored the vast majority of his 25 points on Tuesday night in two ways:
- Wallace chewed up the open court in transition. Whereas some players have the self-serving habit of lingering around the circle on defense waiting for the first chance to leak out on the break, Wallace almost always remains in the play. He's primed defensively, prepared to box out his guy or zip in from the weak side to contest a shot if there's an opportunity. But once the shot goes up and it's clear by the ball's trajectory that Marcus Camby or another teammate has a bead on the rebound, Wallace zips down the floor -- and nobody is going to win a foot race down the floor against Gerald Wallace.
- Wallace abused the Kings as a weak-side cutter. Brandon Roy's retirement leaves the Trail Blazers without a lot of pure shot creators along the perimeter. Portland picked up Jamal Crawford a couple of weeks back but, in truth, Crawford is more shot than creator. If the Trail Blazers want offense from anyone other than LaMarcus Aldridge, they need to manufacture looks. On Tuesday night, Wallace put together a reel of off-ball cuts that would make every high school coach in the nation smile. Wallace situates himself in the corner when the Trail Blazers go to work in the half court. Once the ball moves over the opposite side of the floor, a teammate (almost always a guard, though Chris Johnson got into the action late) sets up on the block. At this point, Wallace streaks from the corner, rubbing his man off that teammate. Ball delivered. Ball scored.
The knowledgeable Portland faithful loves this kind of stuff, which is why chants of Ger-ald Wal-lace rained down from the upper bowl at the Rose Garden on Tuesday night.
Wallace was shocked last March when he was dealt from Charlotte to Portland. Normally reticent, Wallace called the trade a "slap in the face," and a "stab in the back." Few players list Charlotte as a preferred destination but Wallace, a native southerner, is one of them. Only 28 years old, he declared with an endearing naiveté that he thought he'd retire a Bobcat. Instead, he got dumped into a reserve role as far away from Childersburg, Alabama as you can get in the NBA.
In July, Wallace can opt out of his current deal which is scheduled to pay him $11.4 million in 2012-13. There will be far more cap space than players worthy of it next summer, and Wallace -- who will turn 30 during the free agency bonanza -- will likely command big money from a team in search of a ... Gerald Wallace.
Classifying Wallace as a wing or a forward doesn't do his skill set justice. While he prefers to be penciled in as a "3," Wallace can wreak havoc doing any number of things. He can defend all over the floor, play as a smallball big, thrive in both grindfests and track meets. Last night Wallace's 25 points came on only 15 true shots -- and he added eight rebounds, five assists and a couple of blocked shots to his line.
Whether Wallace is the best long-term allocation of resources for a team loaded with perimeter players is a matter of debate, but the Trail Blazers reportedly want to keep Wallace in Portland. That's why interim general manager Chad Buchanan was thrilled to hear Section 314 serenading Wallace [via Jason Quick of The Oregonian]:
We do have to do the little things to keep talent because we are not a major market. We are not Hollywood. We are not New York City. We are not Miami. But we do have a lot of things to offer...
... From a basketball standpoint, this is as good as there is in the NBA. We have a great building, a great owner, a great coach, great culture and that's what eventually sells guys on staying with us. And we have the best fans in the league, and the guys know that. It's huge for our guys to know that our fans know the game, and recognize guys who play hard and play the right way.
The allure of the glamour market has been one of the enduring themes of the conversation dating back to July 2010. It seems to inform virtually every discussion -- LeBron, collective bargaining, revenue sharing, Sacramento and the Maloofs, the Chris Paul saga, the Dwight Howard sweepstakes.
Portland can't compete with Los Angeles, New York and Miami in many respects, but spend five minutes at the Rose Garden on game night and you'll be infected by the vibe. Having suffered a broken heart with Roy's retirement, Oden's endless trials and the disintegration of what looked like the best collection of young talent in the league, Trail Blazers fans desperately need a vehicle for their boundless affection. Wallace is the most recent recipient for that love.
Wallace's brother Courtney was courtside when the chants started. "It's a great sensation," Courtney Wallace said. With a smile on his face, Courtney Wallace told Quick that his brother had acclimated to Portland. After the game, Wallace said that setting up house was crucial:
We've been able to get comfortable ... We know our way around the city, we have been able to meet people, get out and do things. And we have a home. And once you get that feeling, things open up for you.
For a lot of marquee players, stability is something to aspire to after a career. It's still unclear whether, come next fall, Wallace will be playing for his third team in 18 months. But now that he's gotten some distance from the emotional shock of being shipped out of Charlotte, Wallace seems amenable.
Portland is not Hollywood, New York City or Miami. But for the time being, it is home.
Atlanta Hawks 84, Orlando Magic 81 (Hawks win series 4-2)
For the first time in franchise history, the Hawks beat the Magic in a playoff series. Atlanta has not lost a home playoff game in which it had a chance to clinch the series in the last 15 years. The last team to beat the Hawks in such a situation was the 1995-96 Indiana Pacers led by Rik Smits and ESPN analyst Mark Jackson. The Hawks will look to win two playoff series in the same postseason for the first time since moving to Atlanta in 1968.
The stars of the game were Jamal Crawford, who once again outscored the entire Magic bench 19-17, and Joe Johnson, who grabbed a playoff career-high 10 rebounds en route to his first career 20-10 playoff game.
The Magic finished 0-5 this season in Atlanta, regular season and playoffs combined. Their 3-point shooting was a huge issue as the Magic shot 26.3 percent in this game and 26.2 percent in the series. That's more than 10 percentage points below their regular-season average (36.6 percent).
Dwight Howard averaged 27 points and 15.5 rebounds per game, while making 63 percent of his field-goal attempts. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that over the last 30 years, only one other player had a playoff series in which he averaged 27 points and 15 rebounds per game, while making at least 60 percent of his field-goal attempts. That was Shaquille O'Neal (38.0 points, 16.7 rebounds, 61.1 percent) for the Lakers against the Pacers in the 2000 Finals. In earlier playoffs, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar reached those levels in four series, and Wilt Chamberlain and Bob Lanier each did it once.
This was the earliest the Magic were bounced from the playoffs in the Stan Van Gundy era. In each of his previous three seasons, they won at least one series.
The Hawks move on to face the top-seeded Chicago Bulls. Chicago took two of the three meetings this season, with the lone Hawks win coming in Atlanta after the Bulls blew a 17-point halftime lead.
Los Angeles Lakers 98, New Orleans Hornets 80 (Lakers win series, 4-2)
The Lakers led by as many as 21 points in the fourth quarter and won their first-round series for the fourth straight year. Phil Jackson improves to 56-21 (.727 win percent) in potential series-clinching games, which is the second-best mark in NBA history to Gregg Popovich (minimum 15 games). Kobe Bryant finished with 24 points including 22 in the first three quarters. Bryant had a string of eight straight 30-plus point games in road potential series-clinchers snapped. The Lakers, however, are 8-1 in their last nine potential road clinchers with Bryant averaging 38.7 points per game. Overall he is 32-14 in potential series-clinching games.
The Hornets fall to 0-5 in playoff series that go six games or more. Chris Paul finished two rebounds shy of a triple-double, which would have been his second of the series.
Paul was less aggressive on the offensive end in Game 6 compared to the earlier games in the series. In the four losses to the Lakers, Paul averaged 18 points and 10 assists, which is very respectable. Unfortunately for the Hornets, they couldn't win without their point guard playing nearly flawless basketball. In the two wins, Paul averaged 30 points and including assists, was responsible for more than 60 points per game.
So who will the Lakers take on in the Western Conference semifinals?
Dallas Mavericks 103, Portland Trail Blazers 96 (Mavericks win series 4-2)
The Mavericks advance past the first round for just the second time in the last five postseasons. Dirk Nowitzki led the way with 33 points and 11 rebounds for his second double-double of the series. Nowitzki improves to 10-7 in potential series-clinching games, averaging 26.2 points per game in those games. It's the second-highest scoring average in potential series clinchers among active players.
Gerald Wallace led the Blazers with a playoff career-high 32 points to go along with 12 rebounds. Brandon Roy added nine points off the bench. In Portland's two wins he averaged 20.0 points per game, while he averaged 4.0 points per game in the four losses.
The Mavericks will now face the Lakers in their first playoff meeting since 1988, which means Bryant and Nowitzki will be playing their first-ever playoff series against each other. The last time the Mavericks and Lakers met in the playoffs it was a Mark Aguirre-led Mavericks team against a Byron-Worthy-Magic-Kareem-led Lakers team. The Lakers won the Conference Finals in seven games and went on to win the NBA Finals.
The Trail Blazers are now a season-high 10 games over .500 and are being led by LaMarcus Aldridge. Since February, Aldridge is averaging 26.1 points per game, fourth best in the NBA. Portland is 12-5 during that stretch including wins over the Spurs, Bulls, Magic and Heat.
Aldridge had 26 points Tuesday, and Portland's bench, led by Gerald Wallace (22 points) and Brandon Roy (3-for-3 three-point field-goals), outscored Miami's bench 41-8, including 13-3 in the fourth quarter.
While Tuesday marked another good night for the Trail Blazers, it was another frustrating one for the Miami Heat. The Heat have lost five straight games to open their stretch of 11-straight against opponents over .500.
Miami got a combined 69 points on over 60 percent field-goal shooting from Dwyane Wade (38 points) and LeBron James (31), the third time this season they each scored over 30 points in a game. However, Chris Bosh was held to only seven points, tying a season low, with both games coming in the last two weeks.
According to a tweet from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Bosh is becomingly increasingly frustrated with his lack of touches in the post.
Video tracking showed Bosh had just three plays in the post against the Blazers. During the Heat’s five-game losing streak, Bosh has had a total of 19 post plays, including just six in the second half/overtime of those games.
Elias tells us that on Tuesday, Bosh was on the court for 80 offensive plays however he had a usage percentage of just 16.3, down 7 percent from his season average. Usage percentage is an estimate of the team plays used by a player while he was on the floor, with plays being defined as a possession that results in a field-goal attempt, free-throw attempt or a turnover.
Compare that to Wade (36.6 usage rate) and James (29.2) who each took at least 20 shots this game compared only 11 for Bosh.
The other main concern for the Heat has to be their continued struggle in close games against good teams. After cutting their deficit to two points with 4:35 remaining, Miami was outscored 14-7 to end the game.
Miami resorted to taking five three-point attempts in its final eight possessions, making only one, while also turning the ball over twice.
The Celtics won their 10th straight and set a team record for fewest points allowed in a road game. They’re the third NBA team with a double-digit win streak this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last time three different teams had double-digit winning streaks before Christmas was in the 1997-98 season.
This is the second straight season that the Charlotte Bobcats have had an ignominious defeat at Boston’s hands. On Oct. 28, 2009, they lost to the Celtics 92-59. That game set the mark for the fewest points in a game in team history since the shot-clock era began. Saturday’s effort was tied for second-worst.
Charlotte has been totally vexed by Boston in the past five meetings between the teams. After scoring 109 points in a loss to the Celtics on April 1, 2009, it has scored 90 points or fewer in the past four matchups.
In those four games against the Celtics, Charlotte is shooting 35 percent from the field and is 3-for-its-past-41 from 3-point range. One culprit from in close is Gerald Wallace, who has missed 30 of 39 shots against Boston in the past two seasons, including 13 of 15 on Saturday.
During their 10-game win streak, the Celtics have outscored their opponents by better than 14 points per game and shot nearly 52 percent from the field. Opponents are shooting only 41 percent against them.
Over in Dallas, the Mavericks thought they were in for a walk in the park against the Utah Jazz after jumping out to a 29-4 lead thanks to a 17-0 run. The Jazz fought back and actually tied the game in the fourth quarter. In the end, the Mavericks did hold on and extended their winning streak to 12 games.
One reason the Mavs relinquished their huge lead was a dreadful day from their bench. If you simply look at points, the Mavericks' bench was outscored by only three (33-30). However, a better gauge is the plus/minus rating (similar to what the NHL uses), which denotes the team's net points while a given player is on the court.
Going by that formula, the Mavericks' combined bench plus/minus was minus-56, compared to plus-47 by the Jazz bench (a difference of 103). While the huge bench discrepancy allowed the Jazz back in the game, the plus/minus comparison of the starters shows what ultimately sealed their fate. The Mavericks' starters were plus-86 while the Jazz starters were minus-77 (a difference of 163).
It's no surprise that the starter who led the charge for Dallas was Dirk Nowitzki, who finished with 31 points and 15 rebounds. The 15 rebounds are a season high, as he earned his fifth double-double of the season.
According to Elias, the Mavericks (19-4) are off to their best start since 2002-03 and the second-best in team history. They also improved their franchise record to 1,226–1,225. That marks the first time that Dallas has had a record above .500 since the Mavs won their first NBA game, 103–92, over the San Antonio Spurs in 1980. Dallas then lost 27 of its next 29 games, finished its inaugural season with a 15–67 mark and spent three decades trying to regain a winning record.
In the interim, the Mavericks fell as many as 332 games below the .500 mark, with a record of 614–946 following a loss at Portland in January 2000. But since then, Dallas has the second-best record in the NBA (612–279, .687), behind only the Spurs (621–267, .699). Ironically, San Antonio is the only team that currently has a better record than Dallas this season.
LeBron and Kobe might be the two best players in the conference finals, but it's the teams with the deeper 2-through-8s that are making the strongest statements. Would the Suns do the unthinkable and deal the face of their franchise? And how will the Celtics replenish their roster?
John Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "A guiding [military] principle is that every soldier, no matter what the rank, should know the mission, and, at all times, should be qualified to make decisions when the chain of command breaks down. Every player on this Magic team is prepared to make the play, make the shot, at any time. Go under one screen, cut off one option, two options, and the man with the ball in his hands is ready to make the shot. The Cavs team is still looking for LeBron [James] to provide guidance, to make the play. The Magic are functioning as a unit ready to take a good shot at any time, whenever it presents itself. That's not risky basketball, live or die basketball. That's how the game should be played. 5 players, all dangerous and waiting to make the play if it presents itself. Rafer Alston is the best example of this; the Cavs were sagging hard on Rashard [Lewis] and Hedo [Turkoglu], going under Rafer and not helping off them in any circumstance. Rafer was ready to make the shots, and he did. Absolutely monstrous. That's the play the defense allows, and the play that got made. You live with it, except now you're down 1-3 and really not living with it."
Zach McCann of Orlando Magic Daily: "To use a baseball analogy, Rafer Alston was the starting pitcher tonight, scoring 26 points in regulation and forcing the Cavs to adjust to his hot shooting hand. Rashard Lewis was the set-up man, scoring 10 fourth-quarter points and sinking a 3-pointer with 4.1 seconds left that ultimately forced the game into overtime. And the closer? None other than Dwight Howard, who bullied the Cavs on his way to 10 points in the overtime period. Count a win for Alston, a hold for Lewis and a save for Howard ... Howard was magnificent, carrying the Magic in overtime and establishing himself as a go-to, crunch-time guy for the first time in his career ... And oh yeah, he sunk two pressure-packed free throws with 21 seconds left to seal the deal."
Kurt Helin of Forum Blue & Gold: "There are no easy answers for the Lakers, no simple Xs and Os adjustment that changes the series. Maybe Phil [Jackson] just goes back to his set regular season rotation and stops searching. But the fact is, it is a coach's job to put players in a position to succeed - then the players have to make plays. What the rotation is doesn't matter if guys are not stepping up. I don't think the game four loss to Denver was like the game four lost to Houston -- I think the Lakers tried. But guys that were hitting shots and making defensive plays in the regular season are not now, and as an optimistic by nature person I want to find another reason other than that these guys shrink in the brightest of lights. After last season in the Finals I thought this was just a maturity thing, that the experience would toughen them up. And it did [Pau] Gasol, who is playing much better. [Trevor] Ariza is giving us all we can really expect out of him. But the other guys? The time for excuses is gone. Best of three for a trip to the NBA Finals. It doesn't get much bigger than this. It is time to step up or the Lakers are going home."
THE FINAL WORD
Hoopinion: Pop Quiz -- Which player made the lowest percentage of his two-point jump shots this season?
Queen City Hoops: Is Gerald Wallace secretly a power forward?
Valley of the Suns: Should PHX consider trading Steve Nash?
Celtics Hub: Boston's troublesome spreadsheet.
(Photos by Nathaniel S. Butler, Gary Bogdon, Jed Jacobsohn/NBAE via Getty Images)
An improbable ending in Sacramento for the Hornets, an improbable W for the Bobcats against the Lakers, and an improbable comeback for a former prodigy. Factor the improbabilities at the TrueHoop Network:
Niall Doherty of Hornets247: "It was one crazy finish in Sacramento. In the final three minutes, we had Hilton Armstrong and Devin Brown miss four free throws, Rashad McCants and Francisco Garcia hitting long J's to keep the Kings in it, a fit-for-a-wheelchair David West converting a three-point play off a bullet feed from Chris Paul, an amazing block by Garcia on CP's fast break layup, followed by some awesome transition defense by Julian Wright to prevent an easy two by Andres Nocioni. The Kings then reset and Beno Udrih threw in an off-balance, sideways runner to put them up two with 1.7 seconds left. Plenty of time for Garcia and Nocioni to miscommunicate on a switch and leave Butler all alone for three. I'm not sure my elderly neighbor on oxygen support appreciated my screaming Rasual [Butler]'s name and jumping around my living room at 11:45 p.m. on a Tuesday night."
Brett Hainline of Queen City Hoops: "The Bobcats are giving Charlotte a playoff race and took the opportunity to knock off one the league's top teams and most popular players -- and the city is started to get excited ... There was a lot to be excited about last night: Gerald [Wallace] had what is becoming a routine game for him, but that makes it no less exceptional ... Boris Diaw did what he does best, creating for teammates: 12 assists for Boris and just 1 turnover, including handful of 'how did he make that pass' plays. Against the bigger frontcourt of the Lakers, Boris recognized it was not a game for him to try and score a lot of points in the paint -- but that didn't stop him from finding opportunities for others there ... Charlotte got everything it wanted last night: A win, a Detroit loss, and a Chicago loss. That puts the Cats a game out of the 8th spot and just 2 back of 7th. With a game against both the Bulls and Pistons left ... well, last night may not remain the biggest game in Bobcats' history for long."
Rob Mahoney of Hardwood Paroxysm: "The underlying sentiment of most [Shaun] Livingston stories will parade his rehabilitation, and rightfully so. From that injury to what we can only hope is a full-time comeback, Shaun has come a long way. At the core of this story is disappointment and redemption. Strength, will, and resiliency. But what Shaun represents isn't a moral-of-the-story tagline or cheesy documentary featurette on the power of the human spirit. Livingston, as much as any player, is hope. Hope that a lanky, awkward 6′7” point guards can rule the league. Hope that injured players can return to their previous form, even if that form was but a point on the slope to an undetermined end. Hope that some players will realize that braids may not be for them, and that they look better with short hair ... Acquiring a hardly proven, injury-ridden point guard has never made so much sense."
THE FINAL WORD
Celtics Hub: Boston's clutch offense -- apart from the Big Three.
48 Minutes of Hell: It's about time for the Spurs to settle on a rotation.
Forum Blue & Gold: Mark Cuban buys the Lakers ... via Twitter.
(Photos by Rocky Widner, Streeter Lecka, Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)
Whose MSG performance was more impressive? How long did it take for the Phoenix Suns to bury themselves in Oakland? Is Clyde Frazier a secret literary critic? The universe's great questions are answered at the TrueHoop Network.
Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm: "Did I enjoy James' more? Yes. Would I have enjoyed Kobe's more if the games had been reversed? Yes. It's not about the personalities, it's about the fact that the complete and total basketball game is something that really floors me and it doesn't get much more complete than 50 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds, and 2 blocks.
But Bryant scored 61, did it efficiently, in every conceivable way, and often with a defender's hand in his face. Similarly, while Byrant obviously forced it as much as James did, the results were better and therefore he's excused for them.
But man, James went Nova tonight.
While Kobe's was all about bringing death and destruction the doorstep of his enemies, James tonight was just about exploring the concept of basketball...There was a joy to LeBron's performance, that, even though it was forced to many degrees, is the kind of infectiousness that can change a culture. James is changing our culture of basketball, with each game and each center of dominance."
Michael Schwartz of Valley of the Suns: "Two minutes and 38 seconds.
That's how long it took for the Warriors to jump out to a 17-2 lead and how long it took for any momentum from the Suns' 48-point blowout on Monday to putter out.
That's how long it took for the Warriors to hit five three-pointers and six shots in all, how long it took for Kelenna Azubuike to score 11 points, how long it took for the Suns to commit two turnovers and miss three shots and how long it took for Terry Porter to call two timeouts.
Two minutes and 38 seconds is all it took for the Suns to have no chance in an eventual 124-112 defeat that is sure to put another nail in the coffin of the Phoenix Suns as we know them today."
John Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "I love Clyde Frazier. He is a national treasure. For all the opposing broadcaster love for LeBron, few of them put in the necessary effort to put their adulation in couplets. I want Clyde to critique my short stories. 'It was very niiiiice, with this char-act-er arc, I liked how he's decidin' while you're providin'…context. I think the symbolism here was…resplendent.' I'm really not being sarcastic. Clyde and Jalen Rose are the two NBA talking heads who always seem really happy and satisfied while they're doing their jobs, like they just ate thanksgiving dinner right before they went on the air."
THE FINAL WORD
By the Horns: How the Bulls are like Animal Kingdom.
Daily Thunder: The limits of Earl Watson's "pesky, body-up, lean on you defense."
Queen City Hoops: Ode to Gerald Wallace.
(Photos by Nathaniel S. Butler, Rocky Widner, Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images)
He'll be the guy looking bored, in a bus, on an interstate near you.
From the Associated Press:
A week after the Bobcats' top scorer suffered a partially collapsed lung against the Lakers, doctors cleared Wallace to return home. But there's a catch: He still can't fly.
So Wallace left Los Angeles on Tuesday in a charter bus loaded with movies and videos to pass the time. A team spokesman said they expect Wallace to complete the 2,400-mile journey late Wednesday or early Thursday.
It's still uncertain when Wallace, Charlotte's starting small forward, will play again. The Bobcats lost the final three games of the West Coast trip without Wallace, who is averaging 16.4 points a game.
Wallace was injured on a flagrant foul by Lakers center Andrew Bynum late in the fourth quarter of Charlotte's double-overtime win on Jan. 27. Wallace, who also suffered a broken rib after getting elbowed by Bynum, had a tube inserted into his left lung to help restore full function.
Wallace was released from the hospital Thursday, but told he couldn't travel until he met a specialist Monday to determine how his lung had healed.
A cardiothoracic surgeon determined Wallace could travel, but not fly because of concerns about how his lung would handle the reduced air pressure of airplane cabins.
Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
- Kurt from Forum Blue & Gold will have his eye on Jazz rookie Kosta Koufos during tonight's Lakers-Jazz game. Kurt cites David Thorpe's description of Koufos' arsenal: "Want to get an idea of how diversified Koufos' offensive game is? Here's how he scored his buckets in the Jazz's big win over Dallas: Offensive-rebound putback, layup off a dive in low-high action, step-through off a loose ball, race to the rim from the left-hand side, left-hand dribble and right-hand layup over Erick Dampier, rim-to-rim sprint and dunk, pick-and-roll left-hand finish, dive-to-the-rim dunk in low-high action, right-hand hook (and 1!) off a pick-and-roll."
- In response to Bill Simmons' claim that Steve Nash's numbers were inflated under Mike D'Antoni, Michael Schwartz from Valley of the Suns counters: "[W]hy is Nash averaging just 14.8 ppg and 8.3 apg this season after his stellar four-year run under D'Antoni? Simmons makes the point that those numbers are in line with what Nash averaged in his final season in Dallas. And although they're down from what he's done in Phoenix, who can complain about the 34-year-old Nash's numbers being in line with his 29-year-old self? Sure, I'd attribute some of the decrease to Nash getting up there in age and fighting injury issues such as the back spasms that have kept him out of most of the past two games. But also the Suns just don't need him to be the same kind of point guard he was under D'Antoni. Nash used to be the engine that made the system go, a vital cog that would result in the entire system blowing when he's not around. Now he's more of a propeller, as the Suns still need him to run their best, but they have a Diesel to carry the load if need be."
- Sorting through his mailbag, Dave D'Alessandro defends Nets coach Lawrence Frank against the pitchfork people in New Jersey: "[I]t's pretty clear that this coach has a) devised a pretty potent offense for the talent they've assembled; b) inspired terrific starts from his two best players; c) is right on schedule in developing one of their rookies into a top-10 center; and d) used the role players as well as anyone could (possible exception: Najera), given their glaring limitations. Maybe he's made mistakes, but that's just a second-guess - he had seven new guys he is still learning about. If they get out of this month with anything close to a .500 record, he should be a COY candidate."
- Aron Phillips at Dime wonders, "Will there ever be another team with so many NBA coaches" produced from its ranks as the 1985-86 Boston Celtics?
- The new-look Bobcats are 4-5 since the big trade. Queen City Hoops says that Boris Diaw deserves some of the credit, but that much of the progress can be chalked up to the upward trajectory of Emeka Okafor and Gerald Wallace since the deal: "Since Boris' arrival, Gerald has been unreal - 20.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.3 blocks...With Boris around, Okafor has gone off to the tune of 17.3 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game."
- Raja Bell will be out of action again tonight. Rufus on Fire doesn't like Larry Brown's depth chart behind Bell: "Matt Carroll, inexplicably, gets another start in Raja Bell's absence. Morrison's a wreck right now, Carroll's just as bad, and starting two point guards is a recipe for rejuvenating Michael Redd. How badly does Shannon Brown have to practice before Larry Brown realizes he has a perfectly capable stopgap solution already on the roster?"
- Micah Hart has some New Years resolutions for the Atlanta Hawks. Compensating for Mike Bibby's defense at the point is among them: "One of the main reasons New Jersey swept the Hawks back in November was the performance of Nets' PG Devin Harris, who used his quickness to get into the lane as he torched Atlanta for 63 points in two games. Other quick point guards have done very well against the Hawks also, and defending their penetration has really been the biggest achilles heel for the Hawks D. We all know Mike Bibby won't be making any All-Defensive teams anytime soon, but knowing his shortcomings on the defensive end...the Hawks are going to have to figure out other ways of clogging the lane to keep the Harrises and Roses of the world from forming a lay-up line."
- Kelly Dwyer notes that it's a great night for League Pass subscribers, because every team in the NBA is in action. Even lonely ol' Channel 764 will have a broadcast.
- On the docket is a Magic-Heat contest. Third Quarter Collapse isn't buying that "it's just another game": "Orlando Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy has said countless times that playing the Miami Heat is just another game .. but everyone knows, including the Magic players, that he delights in beating his former team. "
- Peter Robert Casey's examination of the descriptive verbs highlighting each one of NJIT basketball's 40 losses will remind Infinite Jest fans of Jim Troeltsch's hijinks as the in-house sportscaster at Enfield Tennis Academy: " I decided to riffle through the archives see exactly how the SID went about this challenge over the last, say, 40 losses. After being topped, toppled, carried, stopped, propelled, held off, beaten, edged, thwarted, pulled away, upended, defeated, chilled, worn down, lifted, fallen, and lost multiple times, it doesn't surprise me that Casciano had to take a T.O. for health reasons."
Last season, Sam Vincent got one of the worst NBA head coaching jobs out there. He inherited a pretty bad roster in Charlotte, and then endured massive injuries to Adam Morrison, Sean May, Gerald Wallace, and others.
He made the best of it (in no small part by getting himself a nifty little whistle gadget).
The team had some nice wins, and managed to finish five games out of the playoffs in a weak conference.
Yet Vincent was fired, and replaced by Larry Brown.
Vincent has returned to the D-League whence he came, where he is taking over the Anaheim Arsenal.
Matt from Ridiculous Upside caught up with Vincent. The coach had an interesting thought about Gerald Wallace's need to find his role:
Gerald Wallace is a very talented basketball player. I think he has unique skills that afford him the ability to really help the team.
But I think Gerald Wallace, he decides how effective he is going to be.
If he accepts the role, and understands that that role can make the team a whole lot better, he's going to become even better. But it's when he steps out of that box, he decides to do a little too much and it sometimes hurts the team. Last year, we went out to L.A., beat the Lakers, he had a great game, he had three games on that roadtrip where he was phenomenal and we won all three.
When we had Gerald in that kind of role and Jason [Richardson] doing his thing, we were a pretty good team. We just didn't have the chemistry to do that for a whole year, and part of that was I was learning the guys and they were learning me.