TrueHoop: J. R. Smith

Monday Bullets

August, 19, 2013
8/19/13
5:08
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Premiering Friday in Chicago: "Lockout: The Musical," by Ben Fort and Ballerball's Jason Gallagher.
  • Chris Hansen, the hedge-fund manager whose bid to bring the Kings to Seattle, contributed $100,000 to a PAC aimed at torpedoing a plan to build a new arena in Sacramento. Hansen says he regrets the decision. James Ham of Cowbell Kingdom: "Once a white knight for Seattle, Hansen now comes across as vindictive, smug and bitter. He is still holding tightly to a 'binding agreement' that was never really binding. By taking the next step and attempting to spoil Sacramento’s arena deal, he comes across as petty and small."
  • The sad mystery of former Pacer and Israeli Basketball Super League legend Kenny Williams, who was deported from Israel to the United States, where he's now confronting a new series of legal problems.
  • Seerat Sohi at Hardwood Paroxysm: "You learn that the whole of life is just a gigantic struggle between deciding when to be selfish and when to be unselfish. When to shoot and when to pass. When to drive the lane with reckless abandon and when to set the offense. You learn that these things are as simple as they are impossible. It takes experience, it takes a cerebral, Chris Paul-esque sense of everything that’s happening around you."
  • Never seen "Space Jam" on the big screen? The E Street Cinema in Washington, just four blocks or so from the Verizon Center, has you covered on Aug. 30.
  • When Jarrett Jack clowns J.R. Smith about spending $450,000 on an armored truck, Smith tweets back with, "Man stop it u spend that on clothes!"
  • Interesting stuff from Ian Levy at Hickory High about the rote perceptions surrounding pot and pro basketball players.
  • Roy Hibbert send thanks to the Spurs for letting him use their facility to work out.
  • Metta World Peace will be playing a twin-bill comedy show on Aug. 31 at the Hollywood Improv.
  • Finally getting around to reading "Nixonland," a fun, narrative, pulpy political history of the mid-60's through mid-70's. When Richard Nixon gets serious about targeting political enemies with instruments of power like the IRS and FBI, one of his early targets is longtime Democratic operative Larry O'Brien, who would later become NBA Commissioner.
  • If the Warriors win big this season, could a healthy Stephen Curry emerge as an MVP threat?
  • If we're in the Wireless Age, then why are we still plugging so many things in? Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is part of a group of investors funding an endeavor by Meredith Perry that wants to solve that problem with piezoelectrical technology.

Heady call

March, 12, 2013
3/12/13
1:57
PM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
Archive
Knicks guard J.R. Smith received a Flagrant 2 and was ejected for a two-armed swing (VIDEO) at Golden State's Harrison Barnes' head during Monday night's game.

Bravo, Joey Crawford. It was the right call for a league that is placing new emphasis on preventing head injuries. The evidence has been mounting that head injuries are a surprisingly common part of the game , and in recent years the league launched a multi-faceted program to reduce concussions.

And the damage can happen on plays like that one. Anthony Davis was forced to miss a week's worth of action after teammate Austin Rivers inadvertently caught him with a similar blow.

Smith caught Barnes before either was airborne. This is the kind of foul that has often been called a Flagrant 1 in the past. Knick fans might point out that Smith hit the ball, which is often incorrectly seen as a free pass to engage in other contact, too. In fact, the league's guidance to players and referees on this issue specifically says that's not so. Not playing the ball makes it more likely a flagrant. Playing the ball, however, doesn't mean it's not a flagrant.

If the league is serious about protecting players' heads, this is exactly the kind of play the league should prevent. It's good for everybody if players try not to hit each other in the head.

What do the rules say? The NBA rulebook has little guidance at all about what makes a Flagrant 1 or 2, based on the vague phrase "unnecessary and excessive contact." But the league has been somewhat more specific in memos to players and teams. There they stress that a blow to the head, even if there is a play on the ball, is a factor to be considered in determining what is and is not a flagrant foul. They also mention that potential for injury will be factored into the ruling. The full list of flagrant criteria, from the NBA's memo:
  1. The severity of the contact;
  2. Whether or not the player was making a legitimate basketball play (e.g., whether a player is making a legitimate effort to block a shot; note, however, that a foul committed during a block attempt can still be considered flagrant if other criteria are present, such as recklessness and hard contact to the head);
  3. Whether, on a foul committed with a player’s arm or hand, the fouling player wound up and/or followed through after making contact;
  4. The potential for injury resulting from contact (e.g., a blow to the head and a foul committed while a player is in a vulnerable position);
  5. The severity of any injury suffered by the offended player; and
  6. The outcome of the contact (e.g., whether it led to an altercation).

Crawford and crew made a call that reflects a modern understanding of the dangers of head injuries.

Smith's play has no place in the NBA. It might take time for players, fans and commentators to catch up to a new emphasis on these kinds of fouls, but the sooner everyone adjusts, the better.

UPDATE: In a fluke of timing, an international panel of concussion experts just released guidelines for sports, and found that "rule changes aimed at reducing concussions" are the right strategy.

UPDATE: After video review, the league has downgraded Smith's foul to a Flagrant 1.

Melo returns, long-range success continues

December, 20, 2012
12/20/12
12:34
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesCarmelo Anthony scored a game-high 31 points in Wednesday's win against the Brooklyn Nets.

Carmelo Anthony returned after a two-game absence and the New York Knicks continued their winning ways at home, taking the lead (for now) in the New York crosstown rivalry with a 100-86 win against the Brooklyn Nets .

Anthony scored a game-high 31 points on 12-for-22 from the field. He's averaged 37 points in three meetings against the Nets this season. The Knicks improved to 11-1 at Madison Square Garden this season, and are 22-2 under Mike Woodson since he took over as head coach.

As has been the case all season for Anthony, he was locked in from 3-point range, making four of eight.

Against the Nets, he's made 12 of his 20 3-point attempts. For the season, he's made almost 46 percent of his 3-point attempts (55-for-120), which would be a career high.

Off the bench, J.R. Smith chipped in with 19 points on 7-for-11 from the field. The Knicks outscored the Nets by 24 with him on the court.

New York committed just eight turnovers, and has committed the fewest turnovers per game (10.7) this season. When the Knicks commit fewer than 10 turnovers, they are 13-0.

The Nets dropped their third straight and have lost eight of their last 10 overall. The Knicks and Nets meet for the final time this season on January 21.

SMALL FORWARD, BIG NIGHT
ESPN Stats & InformationKevin Durant (41) scored one more point than Paul Pierce on Wednesday, but Pierce was more efficient from the field. Both made shots from all over the floor.

KEVIN DURANT
Durant (41 points, 13 rebounds) recorded his 10th career game with at least 40 points and 10 rebounds, and his first this season. Only LeBron James (12) has had more such games since Durant entered the league.

The Thunder also won their 12th straight game, the longest by the franchise since November 1982 (12).

PAUL PIERCE
Pierce scored a season-high 40 points against the Cavaliers. Pierce, who turned 35 in October, became the second Celtic in history to score at least 40 points at age 35 or older.

Back on March 15, 1992, a 35-year-old Larry Bird scored 49 in a double-overtime win against the Trail Blazers.

How worried should Miami be about its D?

December, 7, 2012
12/07/12
12:32
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

Christopher Trotman/NBAE/Getty Images
There was a little too much of this on Thursday night for the Heat's beleaguered defense.

Chris Bosh says it’s the frenetic pace. LeBron James says it’s about communication. Shane Battier says it’s all in the head. Erik Spoelstra says it’s execution.

However you diagnose the Miami Heat’s defensive meltdown against the New York Knicks and the champs’ general listlessness all season, they’re a disaster on that end of the floor.

There are no shortage of explanations, but Miami’s woes are especially bizarre because, with the exception of Ray Allen, the personnel is largely the same as last year’s championship team, which ranked No. 4 overall in defensive efficiency. Theoretically, most of the principles are the same, but somewhere between application and result, the defense is drifting off-course.

Occasionally when you look at a colossally bad defensive performance, a single, obvious flaw reveals itself. What’s notable about Thursday night’s train wreck is how diverse the lapses were.

The switch-outs that guided the Heat to success in the 2012 playoffs allowed Miami to respond quickly to opponent’s actions. Against the Knicks, those switches created confusion both at the point of attack and in the back-side rotation. The Heat have a lot of guys who can defend bigs, smalls and space, but right now that flexibility isn't producing results.

For the most part, the Heat got back in transition promptly on Thursday night, but virtually every Miami defender would backpedal to the middle of the floor to stop the ball with no one splaying out to the wings where the Knicks had been spotting up and blistering opponents all season.

On those rare occasions when the Heat accounted for perimeter shooters while Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler ran a high pick-and-roll, there was nobody to bump (or “chuck”) Chandler off his course to the rim.

And the rotations behind the Heat’s traps of Felton (a questionable strategy in itself) made the Heat appear like a bunch of second-year players straight off the bus from their first training camp. When the Knicks have long-range threats like J.R. Smith, Steve Novak and Jason Kidd spread along the perimeter, it’s unconscionable to have a third guy drifting away from one of those shooters toward a trapped Felton at 27 feet, leaving the two remaining defenders to account for Chandler diving toward the rim along with three shooters primed for a catch-and-shoot.

James isn’t himself without blame. He’s an all-powerful defensive god when his antenna is up and he’s reading every movement, potential action and passing lane on the floor. When James is locked in, there isn’t a defender in the league who makes smarter risk-reward decisions like when to shoot the gap on a post feed and when to stay home; when to zone up on the two guys he’s covering on the weak side, and when to call, say, Mario Chalmers to fill his spot so he can meet a driver at the rim.

One of the great pleasures of Heat basketball is observing James play half-court defense in a big game. Try it sometime -- instead of watching the ball, focus solely on what James is doing. But had you done that last night, you wouldn’t have caught a glimpse of that sharpness. James was working -- primarily because he spent a ton of time on the ball -- but those secondary decisions weren’t made with a lot of precision. Even on a bad night, James is still a plus-defender. But if you’re looking for a reason why a No. 4-ranked defense falls to No. 23, decision-making by principal defenders is a contributing factor because, tempting as it might be, you can’t blame Allen for everything.

It’s an empirical fact that the Heat are playing horrific defense, but we’re also pretty certain they feature the personnel to play elite defense. There's actual evidence of this somewhere in a glass case inside AmericanAirlines Arena. So how manageable are these issues? Are they merely coasting rather than playing on a string, which is how the Heat characterize their defensive proficiency when everyone is where they’re supposed to be and all five guys moves as one unit in the half court? Would a healthy Battier and a few more minutes of Joel Anthony do the trick?

This time last season, the defense wasn’t exactly locking opponents down. The Heat weren’t running shooters off the 3-point line and they were gambling more loosely than Floyd Mayweather. Miami took some lumps early but privately understood that Spoelstra was engaged in some experimentation. The Heat were trying to figure out if they could morph a fairly conventional scheme into one that could maximize speed and instincts without sacrificing the integrity of the entire defense. It took a while, but the strategy bore a Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Is that what’s going on here in the early going? Is an outing like Thursday night just a symptom of a team that’s futzing around in the laboratory trying to come up with new solutions?

Chalking up bad defense to systematic failures (Defenders aren’t pushing guards down on the pick-and-roll; Nobody is sinking to the level of the ball when it goes inside; etc.) is usually more satisfying than attributing them to generalities like energy motivation, but there’s something that rings true in the postgame statements from James and Bosh about the Heat’s lack of urgency. The game tape looks like a snuff film, but even watching all the Heat’s tactical errors on defense, you find yourself saying, “They know better than this.”

The knowing part is simple, as are the basic adjustments required to fix what’s broken. This isn’t about buying into a system -- that sale was made a year ago. It’s not about hiding older, poorer defenders, abandoning a pick-and-roll coverage that isn’t working or modulating the pace.

This new project is about fully appreciating that immortality doesn’t exist in sports. You never know demise until it’s too late.

Knicks take advantage of flaw in Heat's D

December, 7, 2012
12/07/12
1:33
AM ET
By Ryan Feldman & Nate Jones
ESPN Stats & Information
If "live by the three, die by the three" is the New York Knicks mantra, they're doing plenty of living against the Miami Heat.

The Knicks shot 18-of-44 on 3-point attempts against the Heat on Thursday after shooting 19-of-36 on 3-pointers against Miami earlier this season. The Knicks are the first team in NBA history to make at least 18 3-pointers in consecutive games against an opponent, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Perhaps the Knicks know by now that the Heat have trouble defending their outside jumpers. They've only made at least 18 3-pointers twice this season, and both of those games were against the Heat.

The Knicks rely on jump shots more than any other NBA team this season. They score 47 points per game on jumpers, representing 46 percent of their points.

The Knicks have done a tremendous job passing the ball and finding open shooters on the perimeter. They've scored more points off catch-and-shoot jumpers this season than any other team (525). And 149 of their 188 catch-and-shoot jumpers are 3-pointers. On Thursday, they scored 32 catch-and-shoot points, including 10 of their 18 3-pointers.

Not only have they attempted the most catch-and-shoot jump shots this season, but they're also shooting them at the highest effective field-goal percentage (57).

Plain and simple, the Knicks are deadly from the perimeter and they have lots of shooters. Steve Novak, Carmelo Anthony, Raymond Felton, J.R. Smith, Ronnie Brewer, Jason Kidd and Rasheed Wallace all rank in the top 100 of the league this season in catch-and-shoot points.

Novak is tied for second with 119 catch-and-shoot points, which accounts for all but 20 of his points this season. All but one of Novak's catch-and-shoot jumpers are 3-pointers. He has only dribbled the ball on one of his 40 3-pointers this season.

Novak took advantage with 18 points against the Heat, one off his season high. He has scored at least 17 four times this season, and two of those games came against Miami.

Clearly, the Knicks are a dangerous outside shooting team. So it makes sense that when they meet one of the worst teams at defending perimeter jumpers, they'd have an advantage.

The Heat tend to leave shooters open. They've allowed the fourth-most unguarded catch-and-shoot jump shots this season. They're only contesting 31 percent of their opponents' catch-and-shoot jumpers, the fifth-lowest percentage in the league.

Overall, the Heat are allowing the fourth-highest effective field-goal percentage on jump shots (48).

It seems as though the Heat are daring teams to shoot 3-pointers. They're allowing more than 25 3-point attempts per game this season, the most in the league.

With that philosophy, it's no coincidence that the Knicks -- a prolific shooting team -- have the Heat's number.

Thursday's 20-point loss was the Heat's worst home loss with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all playing together.

Knicks working their strengths

November, 16, 2012
11/16/12
2:29
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
New York Knicks
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty ImagesHave Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks cracked the code?

The Olympics are an interesting laboratory for the NBA's best players. International basketball long ago embraced small-ball systems, and the composition of the U.S. roster this summer invited the Americans to follow suit once again.

For Carmelo Anthony, this meant playing the power forward spot, a decision that everyone in the known universe not named Carmelo Anthony has been prescribing as a way to advance his stagnant career.

Anthony had been reluctant. In his defense, it's not as if he's the first small forward to resist change. It took LeBron James eight years to buy in, and Rudy Gay is still skittish about sliding over to the 4 when Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol takes a seat.

This season with the Knicks, Anthony has logged exactly one of his 226 minutes as a small forward. One minute! You can barely heat a Pop-Tart in one minute.

Anthony's other 225 minutes have been at power forward. What has this done for his individual numbers?

Not much. He's logging a Player Efficiency Rating of 21.08, virtually identical to last season and his lowest mark since his sophomore season in the NBA.

But what are his team's efficiency numbers offensively? 111.6 -- tops in the league. You can go inside the numbers with Bradford Doolittle here.

Anthony's move to power forward has allowed Mike Woodson to get more efficient lineups and players on the floor. J.R. Smith's playing time is up seven minutes from last season, and he is rewarding the Knicks with a PER of 23.38. A leaner Raymond Felton can play alongside Jason Kidd in the backcourt -- both are shooting extremely well from the outside -- and Felton's numbers have improved.

Anthony's adjustment to the 4 gets defensive ace and off-ball maven Ronnie Brewer substantial playing time. The four most common lineups with Brewer are defensive juggernauts. Nobody in the NBA who has played more minutes and posted a better defensive rating. Brewer is also posting tremendous numbers on the offensive end. As one of the premier cutters in the game, he has introduced an element of deception and motion to a Knicks offense that was stuck in the mud last season.

On Thursday night, the Knicks roared back to beat the Spurs in San Antonio. After the game, Spurs swingman Stephen Jackson had this to say:
I think last year Melo would have forced a lot of shots. This year he’s trusting his teammates, and it’s shown out there, especially tonight. It’s amazing how they went from two guys shooting all the balls to a team that everybody has confidence in everybody else.

"On offense, they are playing together, and guys are accepting roles around their strengths," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.

It's important to note that Anthony had a poor statistical night in San Antonio. He scored nine points, shot 3-for-12 from the field and went to the line for only four attempts in 41 minutes -- though he did collect 12 rebounds.

But let's focus on Jackson's comment. "Last year Melo would have forced a lot of shots." Know how many times Anthony took 12 shots or fewer when he played 30 minutes or more in 2011-12? Twice.

Phenomenons like these always remind me of something legendary baseball writer Peter Gammons said a few years ago. Back when sabermetricians identified on-base percentage as one of the most undervalued statistics in baseball, there was a tendency among a small slice of devoted statheads to treat players who didn't draw walks as terminal cases.

Gammons, who was by no means dismissive of analytics, was quick to point out that strike-zone judgment could be learned. If a major league player identified that as a weaker element of his game, he could teach himself the skill. He might never lead the league in walks, but he could become a measurably more valuable batter.

Anthony has never been one to draw walks, so to speak, and he probably hasn't been called coachable in years. But what if he can teach himself how to take pitches? What if he can, at 28, pick up the nuances that allow scorers to make their teammates and themselves more efficient?

'Melo's improved jumper is golden for USA

August, 11, 2012
8/11/12
12:29
AM ET
By Ryan Feldman
ESPN Stats & Info
Archive

Lars Baron/Getty ImagesCarmelo Anthony has been the most prolific scorer in the London Olympics.
Carmelo Anthony has been a man possessed in the Olympics.

He’s scoring 48.2 points per 48 minutes in the Olympics despite never averaging more than 36.3 points per 48 minutes in any of his nine NBA seasons.

Only one player in NBA history has averaged as many points per 48 minutes in an NBA season as Carmelo is averaging in the Olympics. That was Wilt Chamberlain (49.8) in 1961-62.

He's making over eight 3-pointers per 48 minutes. He's never made as many as two 3-pointers per 48 minutes in an NBA season. The most 3-pointers per 48 minutes in a season in NBA history is 5.3 by J.R. Smith in 2007-08.

Keep in mind the FIBA 3-point line is more than a foot and a half closer than the NBA 3-point line.

But even if Carmelo was playing without a 3-point line and every basket counted as two points, he'd still be averaging 39.9 points per 48 minutes, which would still be more than every player in the NBA last season and 13th-most all-time.

Sure, one can argue the competition in the Olympics doesn't compare to the NBA. But Carmelo is averaging nearly 13 more points per 48 minutes than any other USA player. Every other USA player is around or below their per 48 minutes average from last season.

Why has been Carmelo been so efficient offensively?

He's shooting 53 percent on jump shots, tops of any Olympian with at least 25 attempts.

During the 2011-12 NBA season, he shot 35 percent on jump shots, which ranked 32nd of 37 players with at least 400 attempts.

Similarly, Carmelo has drastically improved on guarded catch-and-shoot jumpers the last couple seasons. His percentage skyrocketed from 29 in 2009-10 to 47 last season, which ranked 5th of the 134 players with at least 50 attempts. Giving extra value to 3-pointers, he had the 3rd-highest effective field-goal percentage of those same 134 players.

Maybe he's shooting so well because he's getting a ton of open shots? Not really. Only 35 percent of his catch-and-shoot jumpers have been unguarded in the Olympics. In the 2011-12 NBA season, more than half of his catch-and-shoot jumpers were unguarded. But he shot just 28 percent on those shots last season, which ranked 194th of 199 players with at least 50 attempts.

Perhaps the real reason Carmelo's been so efficient offensively in the Olympics is because he's scored his points within the flow of the offense. Last season, more than a third of his plays were isolation. He’s been the most efficient isolation player in the Olympics. But only 14 percent of his plays have been isolation.

Instead, more than half of Carmelo's points have come on transition and spot-up plays. Thirty percent of his points have come from catch-and-jumpers in the Olympics, whereas only 12 percent of his points were scored that way last NBA season.

If Carmelo can find easier ways to score other than isolation, the Knicks could reap the benefits of his best NBA season yet.

In the meantime, he and his USA teammates face Spain on Sunday at 10 AM ET with a 14th gold medal in sight.

Las Vegas Summer League Bullets: Day 8

July, 21, 2012
7/21/12
12:40
AM ET
By D.J. Foster, ClipperBlog
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried talks with Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com on the tragic shootings in Denver early this morning. The entire Nuggets team also paid tribute by wearing black headbands.
  • Decked out in a baby blue argyle polo and a beret (!), J.R. Smith gave the Knicks and his brother Chris a helping hand on the way to his courtside seat. As Cleveland Cavaliers guard Gary Temple spotted up in the corner, Smith walked by and gave a quick tug to the back of Temple’s shorts, pulling them down for a moment before Temple quickly yanked them back up. Never change, Summer League.
  • MVP! MVP! After receiving a somewhat random vote for Most Improved Player last season, Memphis Grizzlies guard Josh Selby solidified his case for Summer League’s Most Valuable Player. Through three games, Selby is 19-for-25 from 3-point land, averaging a whopping 29 points per game on 60.8 percent shooting from the field.
  • Jordan Hamilton talks with Charlie Yao of Roundball Mining Company on the improvements he made during his stay in Vegas, and reveals a hidden gem on the roster for Nuggets’ fans to watch out for.
  • Over the last few years, the Dallas Mavericks haven’t shied away from going after defensive specialists on the perimeter. Over at Hardwood Paroxysm, Connor Huchton has his eye on second-round draft pick Jae Crowder, who was dominant in the Mavericks’ win over New Orleans.
  • Andrew Han of ClipperBlog on positional scarcity in Vegas: “Of the 452 players invited to the Orlando and Las Vegas Summer Leagues, only 76 had the assigned possibility to play center in at least some capacity (16.8%). Of the 76 forward/centers, 41 were positionally designated exclusively as center (9%). Of course, teams fill spots based on their regular season roster needs, but even in summer league the waning of centers is in full effect.”
  • How about some brotherly love? Justin Holiday, brother of Philadelphia 76ers guard Jrue Holiday, showed off some smooth scoring instincts and a nice handle. Lock that kid in the Cheesecake Factory for a few months (Holiday is listed at 6-foot-7, 177 pounds) and he’ll be ready to play with the big boys.

J.R. Smith & Nuggets fall short

April, 24, 2011
4/24/11
3:15
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
In each of the four NBA playoff games on Saturday one team had the chance to tie/or take the lead in the final seconds of regulation. In each of those cases that team failed to capitalize and took the loss. The Oklahoma City Thunder had a 10-point lead over the Denver Nuggets with :49.3 left in the game. After a furious Nuggets comeback guard J.R. Smith had a heavily contested 3-point field goal attempt fall short as time expired.

The failed field goal attempt means the Thunder now have a commanding 3-0 lead in the series, and the win snaps a 6-game road playoff losing streak. In fact, this is the franchise’s first road playoff win since 2005 when they were still the Seattle SuperSonics.

Kevin Durant led all scorers with 26 points and Russell Westbrook scored 13 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter. Durant and Westbrook have each scored 20-or-more points six times in the same game over the last two postseasons. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that the only two other sets of teammates that have scored 20+ points in the same game as many times as Durant and Westbrook over that span are Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant (11) and Paul Pierce and Ray Allen (seven).

Another big contributor in Game 3 was Serge Ibaka who added 22 points, 16 rebounds and four blocked shots. The 22 points matched his career high, while the 16 rebounds were a new career high. Ibaka joined Shawn Kemp as the only players in the Thunder/SuperSonics franchise to score 20 points, grab 15 rebounds and collect 4 blocks in a playoff game since 1991 (Kemp did it twice). The Elias Sports Bureau also says that at the age of 21 years, 217 days old, Ibaka became the youngest player to record at least 20 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots in a postseason game. Prior to Saturday, the youngest player to do that in a playoff game was Shaquille O’Neal, who had 24 points, 19 rebounds and five blocked shots at age 22 years and 53 days old against the Pacers on April 28, 1994.

The Nuggets shot just 37.2 percent from the field and missed 15 free throws, in the hard-fought three-point loss. They’ll host Game 4 on Monday, but of the 94 teams in NBA history that were down 3-0 in a best-of-seven series, not a single one has avoided elimination.

No LeBron is big problem for Heat

January, 14, 2011
1/14/11
3:01
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
Playing in their first game this season without LeBron James (sprained left ankle), the Heat suffered their worst loss of the season, a 130-102 setback to the Nuggets. Their worst previous loss was a 93-77 defeat at the hands of the Pacers November 22.

Dwyane Wade
Wade
Dwyane Wade struggled as the Denver defense focused on him throughout the night. Including points scored off of his assists, Wade created 35.6 points per game entering Thursday, but the Nuggets limited Wade to just 24 points created (16 points, eight points off of his assists).

Meanwhile, seven Nuggets scored in double figures, led by 28 from J.R. Smith, who hit a season-high eight 3-pointers.

The Heat have lost nine straight games in Denver.

During their two-game losing skid, the Heat have allowed 120.5 points per game. In the 22 games prior to that -- when they recorded a 21-1 mark -- they allowed just 90.5 points per game.

OTHER NOTES FROM AROUND THE NBA:

• Kevin Love had 35 points and 11 rebounds in the Timberwolves' 109-97 win over the Wizards. It is the seventh time this season Love has topped 30 points and 10 rebounds. The only player with more 30-10 games is Amar'e Stoudemire with eight.

• Russell Westbrook had 32 points to go with 13 assists and 10 rebounds for his fourth career triple-double. Since Westbrook's rookie season in 2008-09 only four players have more triple-doubles: LeBron James (14), Chris Paul (seven), Jason Kidd (six) and Rajon Rondo (six).

• Dwight Howard tied a season high with 39 points, including 17-for-20 from the free throw line. The 17 made free throws ties a career high.

Celtics feel pain of Garnett loss

December, 30, 2010
12/30/10
12:49
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
For the second time in a week, one of the best teams in the NBA lost an elite player to injury. The impact of the absence of both Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett was immediate.

For the Mavericks, it came with a home loss to the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night. In the case of the Boston Celtics, it came in the form of a 104-92 loss to the Detroit Pistons a day later.

Kevin Garnett
Garnett
Data from the Elias Sports Bureau shows that the Celtics typically outscore opponents by 14.9 points-per-48 minutes when Garnett has been on the floor this season, and outscored by 3.6 points when he has been out of the game. The difference (18.5 points-per-game better) ranks third among NBA players, trailing only Nowitzki and Steve Nash.

They got burned for 104 points by a hot-shooting Pistons team, one that sizzled from 3-point range for the second straight game. The Pistons followed up an 11-for-19 3-point shooting effort in their last game against the Bobcats by making 10-of-15 3-pointers against the Celtics.

A check of Basketball-Reference.com showed it to be the third time in the last 25 years (and the first time since 2008) that the Pistons had consecutive games in which they made at least 10 3-pointers AND shot 55 percent or better from 3-point range.

Elsewhere, while the Celtics had a rare bad night, the Los Angeles Lakers had a rare (relatively speaking) good one, snapping their three-game losing streak with a 103-88 road win over the New Orleans Hornets. The Lakers shot only 29 percent from 3-point range, but made up for that by making 68 percent of their two-point attempts.

The Lakers have played it to an extreme over the last two games. Tuesday night, they shot a season-low 35.4 percent against the San Antonio Spurs. Their 58.6 percent Wednesday was a season high.

Our nightly look at the most interesting plus-minus numbers also provided a couple of interesting takes from Wednesday’s games.

Miami Heat forward, Chris Bosh, who entered the night leading the NBA in plus-minus, was minus-16 in a 125-119 win over the Houston Rockets. In fact, when Bosh, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade were on the floor together, the Rockets outscored the Heat, 80-78.

It was a historic win for the Heat. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, they became the first team in NBA history to go 10-0 on the road in a calendar month.

Tyreke Evans was minus-8, but was plus-3 when it counted, sinking his first career NBA buzzer beater, a shot from beyond halfcourt that gave the Sacramento Kings a 100-98 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

It was the eighth NBA buzzer-beater this season, the first for the Kings since Kevin Martin hit one to beat the Seattle SuperSonics on January 27, 2008.

And Denver Nuggets guard Chauncey Billups may have had the best game of the night by someone other than Wade, going 6-for-6 from 3-point range, and finishing with 36 points in a 119-113 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

But the Nuggets were outscored by two points when Billups was on the floor. In contrast, J.R. Smith was just 4-for-16 from the field, but Denver outscored Minnesota by 21 points in his 30 minutes of play.
By D.J. Foster

Chase Budinger is no stranger to being the most athletic guy in the gym. As a top-rated basketball and volleyball prospect in high school, Budinger was loathed by opponents (including your narrator) for being graced with otherworldly athletic ability. The way he could run the floor and soar through the air effortlessly seemed downright unfair, especially from a ground-level perspective.

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
Is Chase Budinger starting to put it all together?


The playing field in the NBA, of course, is a little more even. Summer league has its quirks, but there are plenty of ridiculously athletic prospects who can jump out of the gym and knock down an open 3 floating around. Budinger fits that billing, but he also has a firm grasp on what it will take for him to rise above the pack. Essentially, Budinger knows he needs to start playing chess instead of checkers.

"You always have to be thinking on the court," Budinger said. "That was probably one of the biggest things I learned right when I got to the NBA. On the defensive end you have to be in the right spot at the right time, because if you're not there then it's going to be tough."

Long gone are the days of players getting by solely on their athletic ability. After a solid yet unspectacular rookie campaign with the Rockets, Budinger came to Vegas, to loosely quote Jackie Chan, more focused on his focus.

"There were games last year where I should have been more aggressive," Budinger said. "In summer league, I had to be more aggressive."

That level of assertiveness often unseen in his rookie season came out in spades on Wednesday as Budinger led all scorers with 24 points on 9-for-14 shooting. The tell-tale play for Budinger came late in the fourth quarter when for a brief moment he seemed to piece it all together.

It started with an impressive display of leaping -- over a crowd of defenders to snatch a defensive rebound. Then came the aggressiveness when he immediately pushed the ball up the middle of the floor. Lastly came a wonderful show of confidence that manifested itself in a fancy around-the-back dribble and gorgeous no-look pass to a streaking Jermaine Taylor for the flush.

You could almost see the light bulb pop over Budinger's bushy head of hair as he ran back up the court. It was the perfect blending of ability and confidence and of body and mind that the Rockets can only hope Budinger can retain going forward.
  • DeMarcus Cousins filled the boxscore with 22 points, including the game-winner, but it's a single technical that's going to raise a few eyebrows in Sacramento. Cousins got mixed up with T-Wolves big man Greg Stiemsma in the first half and earned a quick T from the ref after a little jaw-jackin'. As the Kings went to the tunnel at halftime, assistant coach Mario Elie had some words for Cousins after watching his brush with the Wisconsin big man: "He's trying to get a job, you already have a job. Forget him."
  • Ish Smith is a 5-foot-11 point guard who weighs 155 pounds. In his senior season at Wake Forest, he shot a DeAndre Jordan-esque 49.4 percent from the free throw line while converting on 22.2 percent of his three-point attempts. Can a player like that survive in the NBA? Just maybe. Smith showed impeccable court vision, speed, and playmaking abilities, running the Rockets offense more like a seasoned vet than a prospect. Smith had six assists to just one turnover in 29 minutes and went a long way in showing he's not a completely incompetent scorer by going 7-for-8 from the field.
  • D-League all-star and former Utah Jazz draft pick Morris Almond continues to get buckets wherever he goes. The 25-year old scored 14 points in just 14 minutes for Chicago in their shellacking of the Clippers, showing off impressive range and a good first step in the process. Almond is too selfish for most offensive systems, but a bad team looking for instant points off the bench could do much worse for themselves.
  • The young Clippers can't hit the broad side of a barn right now, scoring just 50 points against the Bulls on 28 percent shooting from the field. Meanwhile, superfan "Clipper Darrell" remained right at 100 percent on his "U-G-L-Y" chants producing laughter from opposing players on the free-throw line.
  • The path for Joey Dorsey has already been paved by Raptors' dirty worker and possible future teammate Reggie Evans. Dorsey is a nasty screen-setter and a banger on the block, but similar to Evans, it's his offensive rebounding that could be his meal ticket on the next level. The big man out of Memphis is averaging nearly five offensive rebounds a game in Vegas through his first three games. Dorsey's solid frame and nasty disposition could lend itself well to a Toronto team short on toughness.
  • The best musical selection of the day by the DJ at the Cox Pavilion? The SpongeBob SquarePants theme song, played in its entirety. Media row was completely baffled.
  • Courtesy of Land O' Lakers, here's David Thorpe on Derrick Caracter: “The guy clearly should have been a first-round pick. A bunch of teams messed up. There’s really no other way of saying it.”
  • John Krolik of Cavs The Blog on J.J. Hickson: "Hickson had one of the most dominant performances of Summer League, putting in 34 points on 12-19 shooting from the field. He's really trying to add new aspects to his game, and the results have been fairly mixed. On one possession, he'll drain a smooth step-back jumper. On the next, he'll walk trying to execute a post move or force an off-balance shot over a waiting defender. What really allowed Hickson to dominate was the Cavs' focus on getting out in the open-court. Fast-break basketball has been the buzzword for the Cavs during this summer, and Hickson really thrives in an up-and-down game. He ran the court all day long, and he was usually rewarded with a pass for an easy dunk or layup, either from the break or the spacing the threat of early offense created. He's so much better as an athlete than most summer league bigs are, and it really shows in the uptempo game."
  • Jeremy Schmidt of Bucksketball on John Lucas: "In 60 career NBA games, Lucas has hit exactly one quarter of his 3-point attempts. But his last NBA game came in 2007. Since then, Lucas has turned himself into quite a shooter, hitting 44 percent of his threes in a 2008-09 D-League stint and then 45 percent last year with the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association. Lucas was showing off that refined stroke Wednesday night, hitting all six of his 3-point shots en route to 25 points."
  • Joe Gerrity of Hornets247 on J.R. Smith: "Smith surprised the Vegas crowd by not only showing up at the Cox Pavilion, but actually suiting up and playing significant time against the Houston Rockets. Asked why, Smith cited his 'love of the game.' Early on he knocked down a silky smooth three-pointer and a rolled in a sweet reverse-layup in traffic, but that would do it for the Nuggets sixth-man. Despite the lax summer league defense, Smith finished 2-for-12 from the floor (1-for-8 from deep) with four fouls, three turnovers, two rebounds and only a single assist."
  • Surya Fernandez of Hot Hot Hoops on Garret Siler: "With Duke guard Jon Scheyer going home due to an eye injury and most of the starters for the Miami Heat summer league roster taking the day off, there wasn't much to take out of the Heat's game against the Detroit Pistons. Well, maybe there was one 'big' reason to watch: The steady play of 6-foot-11, 304 pound Garret Siler who is raising his game with each opportunity. Over on the Pistons end, center Greg Monroe also had a solid game by getting to the free-throw line regularly. Most impressively, both big men kept their turnovers down while remaining active in the paint -- a rarity in summer league where most bigs try to do too much and commit unforced errors."
  • John Krolik of Cavs The Blog on Christian Eyenga: "Eyenga is invisible for long stretches of play, but he does have his moments. He had an offensive rebound and putback where he just came from out of nowhere, and a crushing fast-break tomahawk that took the air out of the building. He's a ways away from harnessing his talent, but it's there."
  • Kevin Arnovitz on Alonzo Gee: "Never underestimate the power of being the most assertive guy on the floor in a summer league bout. That's how the Spurs' Alonzo Gee was able to dominate the floor in the Hawks-Spurs game. Not only was Gee the focal point of the offense, he was also the guy making sure the 5-man unit was on the same page coming out of a timeout. In transition -- but increasingly in the half court -- Gee can change direction on a dime. Pressuring him out on the perimeter just gives him an invitation to drive. If you play off Gee, he'll bear down, draw contact and finish."

Day Five Las Vegas summer league roundup

July, 14, 2010
7/14/10
12:35
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
At summer league, athleticism is the most commonly cited variable to distinguish NBA-caliber players from the rest of the talent. DeMar DeRozan's athletic gifts established him as a Top 10 pick in 2009, despite an underwhelming one-and-done season at USC. DeRozan displayed his explosiveness and agility for much of the 2009-10 season at varying levels of refinement, finishing his rookie campaign with a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 12.58. He showed strength (finishing near the rim) and weakness (playmaking) in the precise areas where you'd expect an athlete to succeed and fail.

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
Can DeMar DeRozan fill the void in Toronto?


Chris Bosh's departure leaves the Raptors with a vacuum in their offense, and DeRozan is probably the only player on the roster with the dynamism to fill that void. But to be the name on the marquee in Toronto, DeRozan will have to graduate from an athlete who can ball to a ballplayer who can leverage his athleticism. If he's going to achieve as a shooting guard, he must extend his range to beyond the arc, where he converted only four shots during his entire rookie season. DeRozan will also need to apply all that athleticism and length against the scorers who are torching Toronto on a regular basis.The Raptors finished dead last in defensive efficiency last season. As he enters his sophomore season DeRozan is well-aware of this opportunity, and the improvement in his game it will require on both ends of the floor.

"If I want to be more effective, I really have to slow down and not only use my athleticism all the time," DeRozan said. "I have to learn how to play different kinds of ways and I'm learning."

On Tuesday, we saw glimpses of DeRozan's learning curve and his expanding game. He scored 23 points, shooting 10-for-15 shooting from the floor. Although he unleashed some ferocious dunks, there was substance and nuance to go along with the aerial effects. DeRozan showed off a tighter handle against pressure, something that hampered his one-on-one game at times last season. That added confidence in his ballhandling allowed DeRozan to make better decisions off the dribble, whether it was spinning away from help defenders or finding a seam.

"Athletes last for [only] so long," DeRozan said. "Being young, I want to develop now so that I can go 50-50 with my game -- skills, then use my athleticism when I have to."

DeRozan still exhibited plenty of that raw athleticism, especially in tandem with Sonny Weems, his closest friend on the team. The two wingmen teamed up on consecutive alley-oops in the second quarter. The first jam came in the half court when Weems snuck behind the Houston defense on a dive to the hoop, where DeRozan found him with a lob. On the next possession -- a break in transition -- Weems returned the favor when DeRozan ran the baseline and met Weems' pass at the rim for the slam.

"That's what young guns do," DeRozan said. "When we came out, Sonny said he was going to go back door and I threw it to him. Then I knew when we were on the fast break together, I knew he was going to throw it up."

DeRozan's primary defensive assignment on Tuesday was staying with Chase Budinger (and occasionally Jermaine Taylor) in Houston's active three-man sets, closing out on the second-year sharpshooter and staying with him in transition. For the most part, DeRozan succeeded on all three accounts. He selectively provided help, but usually opted to stay glued to his man.

"I need to improve my defense, especially going at the 2 position, going against players like Kobe [Bryant], Ray Allen, those type of guys every night."

Evidence gathered at summer league has to be viewed with a jaundiced eye. As DeRozan himself suggests, there's simply no substitute for meaningful NBA games. Matt Janning and Chase Budinger aren't exactly comps for Bryant or Allen, but at least DeRozan acknowledges that the trajectory of his growth as a player will be central to the Raptors' fortunes.

To return to respectability, Toronto will need a superstar -- and there's only one candidate on their roster.
  • Yes, that was J.R. Smith out on the floor starting for the Nuggets. You can't find Smith on the published roster, nor on any of the box scores from the Nuggets' first three games here in Las Vegas. So what's he doing here? "I'm just working out," Smith said. "I'd rather play somewhere like this than a high school gym and get hurt." Smith is rehabbing his left ankle. "Of course it's not the NBA season, but it feels good to see some familiar faces and feels good to come out and play."
  • James Johnson's teammates spent a lot of time telling Chicago second-year forward where to set up offensively in the half court. When Johnson doesn't have the ball in his hands, he floats purposelessly around the floor. Should he work off the ball to elude his man? Should he go to the ball? Often, Johnson has no idea. On the positive side, Johnson has some impressive ball skills. He has the handle and agility to find seams to the basket -- and the strength to finish. Unfortunately, he doesn't display the desire or wherewithal to make a play when he encounters heavy traffic.
  • DeMarcus Cousins posted another strong showing. The numbers were solid -- 19 points and 12 rebounds -- but the breadth of Cousins' game was most impressive. Cousins displayed a lot of polish against the Lakers' squad. Whether he was delivering a nice pass against collapsing defenders to a diving Omri Casspi for a slam, or working Derrick Caracter off the dribble from the top of the arc (finishing with a soft hook off the glass), Cousins revealed finesse to accompany that power. He even drained a jumper from 20 feet and launched a smart outlet pass that led to a bucket on the break for Casspi. Above all, he's still showing signs of becoming a pick-and-roll force. On one possession, he set a high screen for point guard Donald Sloan, then made a beeline to the rim, flushing Sloan's missed shot for a putback. Even on Cousins' misses (he finished 8-for-20 from the field), he unveils a range of skill. There's a whole lot to be explored here.
  • If Dan Dickau can play NBA ball, then it seems to make sense that Matt Bouldin should. The big point guard out of Gonzaga can deliver a sharp pass, pressure the ball, fight through screens and make good decisions with the ball in late shot-clock situations. At 6-foot-5, he has NBA size at the position.
  • On a high ball screen, the man guarding the screener is charged with the responsibility of letting the man about to be screen know the pick is coming. In the opening possession of the Houston-Toronto game, the Raptors' Joey Dorsey failed to do that and got an earful from the Toronto coaching staff. In a sparsely filled arena on a Tuesday afternoon, that bark reverberated from the rafters. Suffice it to say that, for the rest of the game, you could hear "by yourself!" and "right! right! right!" every time Houston was in a ball-screen set.
  • Jonny Flynn interviews Wesley Johnson after Matthews' first summer league game.
  • Brian Kamenetzky talks to Lakers' point guard Ibrahim Jaaber.
  • Bret LaGree of Hoopinion on Othello Hunter: "Three weeks ago Atlanta Hawks Assistant General Manager Dave Pendergraft called Othello Hunter's season-and-a-half with the team as an experiment they didn't see through. Hunter appeared in just 23 games for 125 minutes with the Hawks. Despite having no immediate need for him, the Hawks assigned Hunter to the D-League for just 3 games during the 2008-09 season. After the Hawks released him in January, he finished the 2010 season in Greece, averaging 10 points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes per game for Ilisiakos. His first stretch of regular playing time since his senior season at Ohio State may have given Hunter the confidence to again demonstrate his strengths on the glass and around the basket. Through four games with the undefeated Denver Nuggets summer league team, Hunter has again produced when given playing time, averaging 13 points and five rebounds in 24 minutes per game while making more than two-thirds of his field goal attempts."
  • D.J. Foster of ClipperBlog and ESPN Los Angeles on Patty Mills: "Most 6-foot point guards with diminutive frames would be weary of mixing it up, but Mills isn't your typical guard. Despite his stature, Mills is a scorer first and foremost who actually does some of his best work off the ball. One display of his aptitude without the rock came when Mills hurled himself at a Hornets defender almost twice his size, setting such a thick baseline screen that his own man had to scurry off to help. The suddenly wide-open Mills then floated to the perimeter for a clean 3, bringing his total on the evening to 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting. In Mills, the Blazers look to have another threat off the bench who can pack a punch offensively, whether he's the primary ball-handler or not. With players like Brandon Roy and Jerryd Bayless typically dominating the ball, Mills' abilities away from the play should prove valuable going forward.
  • Jeremy Schmidt of Bucksketball on Hasheem Thabeet: "As he often does, Thabeet showed his shot blocking ability, rejecting three shots, but he still looked unsure of himself on offense. 20 seconds into the game he caught a pass and brought it down to his chest, allowing a guard to sneak in to tie him up. Later in the game he grabbed a rebound and again brought the ball down low before watching it get slapped away by a much smaller player. While signs of progress are there, Thabeet was 6-9 from the free throw line and rotated well enough on defense that his coaches were very vocal in their praise from the bench more than once, Tuesday's game reinforced the idea that Thabeet is still very much a work in progress."
  • Joe Gerrity of Hornets247 on Quincy Pondexter: "The first-round pick continues to impress on the defensive end. He's active off the ball and has shown the capability to stay in front of his man, something the Hornets desperately needed last year on the perimeter. Under the tutelage of new coach Monty Williams the Hornets are expecting an immediate contribution from Pondexter. Offensively he's a quality finisher and capable of cutting to the hole or hitting a pull up jumper at an NBA level. Before too long he should be in contention with Julian Wright to receive substantial minutes in relief of the aging Peja Stojakovic."

Thursday Bullets

June, 24, 2010
6/24/10
12:57
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

The killer plays the Nuggets won't run

April, 28, 2010
4/28/10
12:34
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Denver Nuggets
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
Who decides what the Nuggets do on offense?

DENVER -- The Denver Nuggets have a secret arsenal of nearly unstoppable plays. There's only one hitch headed into Game 5:

Acting head coach Adrian Dantley isn't sure he can get his team to run them.

That's because the Nuggets see themselves as a certain kind of basketball team with an anti-system. Mike D'Antoni has 7-seconds-or-less. Phil Jackson has The Triangle. Jerry Sloan has The Flex. And Dantley has inherited from George Karl what he's referred to more than once as "random basketball."

What does "random basketball" mean? That's Dantley's description of how the Nuggets perceive themselves offensively -- a team that flourishes by pounding you with dominant one-on-one play in the half court and with breakneck transition buckets. Dantley isn't the only one to make that general characterization. When asked about the Nuggets' woeful assist total of 13 following Game 4, Chauncey Billups conceded, "We aren't really a high-assist team. That's not how our offense is made."

It's true that Denver runs a more individualistic half-court offense than Utah does and, as Carmelo Anthony pointed out today, that plan of attack has served them well for several seasons. In fact, Denver isn't exactly struggling offensively in this series. The Nuggets' offensive efficiency of 110.9 points per 100 possessions is an improvement on their regular season efficiency of 108.7. But after walloping the Jazz in Game 1 of the series, the Nuggets have posted a more modest efficiency rating of 104.7.

A stubborn devotion to "random basketball" is one of the reasons Denver's offense has fallen off since Game 1, and there's something obtuse about the Nuggets' unwillingness to construct coherent possessions in the half court against Utah. When the Nuggets choose to run deliberate sets, they're shredding the Jazz -- particularly on the pick-and-roll.

To illustrate, let's go back to Game 2. The Nuggets are coming off an emphatic 126-113 win. Fesenko has taken over as Utah's starting center after Mehmet Okur was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon in Game 1. The vibe is that the Jazz are done. Denver comes out of the opening jump with three straight Carmelo Anthony-Nene pick-and-rolls, and all of them produce points:

  • Anthony gets the ball above the right elbow where he gets a little screen from Nene. It's not a Kendrick Perkins-grade screen, but it buys Anthony space away from C.J. Miles to dribble right and begin his attack. Anthony elevates for a jumper at 17 feet, draws the foul on Miles and drains two free throws.
  • This play could've been ripped from the Phoenix Suns playbook. Another screen for Anthony from Nene at precisely the same spot. This time, Anthony puts the ball on the deck, drives right and dishes to Arron Afflalo in the right corner. Afflalo drives right by Wes Matthews into the paint. Fesenko is the last line of defense here. When he commits, Nene cuts behind him. Afflalo hits Nene on the move to the rim for an easy lay-in.
  • This possession is just cruel and prompted me to write in my game notes, "UTA can't defend this." Same pick-and-roll with Anthony as the ball-hander at the same spot. This is Nene's best screen of the three and draws the switch the Nuggets are salivating for: Fesenko backpedaling against a driving Anthony in open space. When Anthony, who is driving right, sees that the bulk of the Jazz help defenders are on that side of the floor, he switches left, then finishes untouched at the basket. This is the moment I truly believed the series was over.

According to Synergy Sports, the Nuggets have choreographed a pick-and-roll -- then hit the roll man -- 17 times in this series. The results:

  • Nine made baskets
  • Six trips to the free throw line
  • Two missed shot attempts

That's an 88.2 percent success rate.

Those 17 possessions in sequence is an impressive reel of video. Ball-handlers/passers include Billups, Anthony, Ty Lawson and J.R. Smith. All the Nuggets bigs are represented among the roll men. Whatever the scenario, the Nuggets score on 15 of the 17 opportunities, which leaves you with one question:

Why are the Nuggets running this action only four times per game?

One explanation might be that Jazz defenders are effectively trapping the ball-handler, making a pass through the double-team treacherous. But that's clearly not the Jazz's strategy when defending the pick-and-roll, even when Anthony is the ball-handler -- which brings us to another interesting bit of data:

Anthony has been the ball-handler on nine pick-and-roll sets. On those nine possessions, he's 7-for-7 from the field, with two turnovers.

Overall, only four teams this postseason are doing better work off the pick-and-roll, but with the exception of the Lakers and Utah (the two most orthodox systems in the bracket), no team is running them less frequently than the Nuggets. Instead, Denver is relying on isolations, post-ups and spot-ups, where they're generating ho-hum results -- less than one point per possession.

I asked Dantley about the success Denver had running the pick-and-roll and why the team wasn't deploying them more readily.

"We looked over our offensive stats and we definitely score more on our pick-and-rolls," Dantley said.

Then why doesn't he call for them more often over the course of the game?

"That's the way we play," Dantley said. "We've had more success right now with the pick-and-roll, more than 'random,' but our basketball team is known as a 'random' basketball team."

At some point, doesn't a team have to recognize what works? And whatever the identity of the team might be, shouldn't the team conform to what's working?

"That's what we've told them," Dantley said. "Whether they do it every time, that's a different story. Statistically, we tell them every game, 'Hey, run the pick-and-roll. Run drags. We've had success with that more than "random" basketball.'"

Given that success, will that be the plan Wednesday night in Game 5?

"I'm agreeing with you," Dantley said. "Statistically, we've had success on pick-on-rolls. We've told them that. We want them to do that tomorrow. Hopefully they do it. But, the last five years, we do more 'random' than we do pick-and-roll."

Dantley's comments suggest that there's a serious disconnect between acting head coach and the team's on-court personnel. It's not unusual for a team to fail its coach as a sin of omission. Both Jerry Sloan and Dantley are certain to tell their players to crash the boards tomorrow night, but one of their two teams will do a subpar job. That coach will be disappointed and very possibly angry. But that's much different than a coach laying out a very specific set of strategic imperatives, and the players on the floor not heeding those instructions. If you take Dantley's remarks at face value, he's implying this is what's been happening with the Nuggets, and he has no assurances that dynamic won't continue in Game 5.

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