TrueHoop: Jeremy Lin

The Fortunate 500: Don't hate -- motivate

September, 15, 2014
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
Bryant/AnthonyRobyn Beck/AFP/Getty ImagesKobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony have both felt the cold sting of their #NBArank positions.
#NBArank isn't just a window into how all the league's players might stack up against one another. It's also motivational fuel for the athletes who feel slighted.

It's funny how players take umbrage about a score based on a collection of surveys. There's no one person to get angry at -- unless you subscribe to the belief that "ESPN" is a discrete individual.

Professional athletes are good at this, though. They're masters at taking dry, detached assessments and converting those into grievous insults that must be disproven. Write something that you think is a mostly positive assessment of an athlete and you're liable to get "I'll show you" where you might have expected "That was a balanced take on me." Getting to the top comes with a fair amount of pride and a gnawing need to prove oneself. As someone more defined by "laptop" than "the top," I'm often surprised by how reflexively athletes take negative information to heart.

Perhaps, per the rankings, there's just something so cold about a man listed as a number. It's tough, in a way, to see Kobe Bryant's entire career reduced to "25" in last year's NBA rank results. "Just a number" describes how people are treated in vast, impersonal systems. It seems as if a few NBA players strive to be more than just their allotted ranking number. Maybe they don't even have a specific goal. They would just like to shed the unflattering numerical definition of their talent.

Kobe Bryant appeared to include his "25" ranking in his Twitter handle. The vast majority of caterwauling over Kobe's ranking was done by fellow players and fans. Another way of defining those offended by Kobe's ranking is, "People who dismiss the importance of the Achilles tendon."

The Mamba didn't come out and prove all the #NBArank haters and doubters wrong. Unfortunately, Kobe's human, and his hasty return from a devastating injury resulted in uneven play and another injury.

Even other superstars aren't immune. In 2011, Carmelo Anthony saw himself outside the top 10 (at No. 12!) and took to social media to tell the world of his newfound motivation. (It didn't necessarily take. Melo has yo-yoed in #NBArank, falling to No. 17 in 2012 and rising to No. 15 in 2013.)

Ranking rancor went a bit better for Kent Bazemore, who wrote his 2012 #NBArank listing of "499" on his shoe. Thanks in part to a Summer League MVP performance Bazemore was able to move up 167 spots. He thanked the rankers for his progress, while expressing hope that he could prove us wrong once again.

Lavoy Allen was a temporary #NBArank motivation success story. After getting tagged with the dreaded rank of "500" in 2011, Allen helped the Sixers on a strong playoff run. Actually, I shouldn't say "temporary." Last year, Allen managed to finally escape what's become of the Sixers. That's a certain kind of success.

Jeremy Lin's trainer was yelling his 2011 #NBArank number ("467!") at Lin during workouts. Such tactics must have worked because Lin made the biggest jump of any player to 76 the next season. Oh, also Linsanity happened.

There might have been a correlation between that national phenomenon and the ranking boost. Last season, Lin slid back into a ranking of 106. It might be time for his trainer to revisit old routines.

All these players should be content to be in the top 500 and to simply be involved in the world's best basketball league. But if these guys were content with such a distinction, they wouldn't have gotten this far in the first place.

Jeremy Lin on Jason Collins: 'A big step'

February, 23, 2014
Adande By J.A. Adande

Two years after Linsanity, the month that took him to dizzying heights never before reached by an Asian American player in the NBA, Jeremy Lin offered his perspective on Jason Collins, the first openly gay player in the four major American professional team sports.

"I think it's definitely a big step," Lin said after the Houston Rockets' morning shootaround before their game at the Phoenix Suns. "The game is evolving. You see a lot of different people breaking barriers in a lot of different ways. This is just another one of those."

Collins signed a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday. But Collins won't just be playing for the Nets ... or for himself ... or for his family. Collins now carries the hopes of the gay community with him, an additional responsibility that Lin handled as a representative for Asian Americans.

"It was definitely not easy," Lin said. "For me, if I didn't have faith, in terms of my Christianity, I'm not sure how I would have been able to handle it or understand it or process it. For me, I try to think of it as living or stewarding God's platform. That's kind of how I approached it."

Only a handful of reporters faced Lin as he spoke, a big drop off from the media throngs he attracted when he averaged 21 points per game at the height of Linsanity in February 2012. Lin is averaging 13.1 points per game in his second season with the Houston Rockets and recently moved to a reserve following the return of Pat Beverley from injury. Just as Collins will receive more attention than the typical player on a 10-day contract, Lin has found that he can't recede completely into the background.

"When I'm with my friends and family back home, it's as normal as it will ever be," Lin said. "But I think I'm getting used to a lot of the changes."

Houston's improbable midrange winner

January, 16, 2014
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz

NEW ORLEANS -- The Houston Rockets use an offensive formula they’ve been cultivating for years under their current regime: 3-pointers and rim shots. Everything in between is for suckers.

The Rockets attempted 35 field goals in the first half of their 103-100 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night. Only four of the 35 occurred between eight feet from the basket and the 3-point line. The trend held throughout the game, as more than 80 percent of the Rockets' shots occurred in their sweet spots.

That is, until the final minute of play, when Old Man Midrange reared his head and the Rockets soared back in time. Two possessions yielded two isolation plays for James Harden, the first resulting in a pair of free throws that briefly gave the Rockets a one-point lead, the second an ankle-breaking, step-back jumper that put the Rockets up 102-100.

But heroball this wasn’t. The Rockets didn’t run a 1-4 flat set with Harden pounding the ball into the hardwood until he felt inclined to put it on the floor. And though these shots didn’t originate from the Rockets’ preferred zones, each was cleverly crafted with one goal in mind: Take Harden’s primary defender, Eric Gordon, out of the play and draw a lesser perimeter defender on the switch. The way to accomplish that? A "small-small" pick-and-roll -- one guard picking for the other guard.

"Teams don't know how to guard it," Harden said. "Late in the game, either you’re going to switch it and put a smaller guy on me or they’re going to try to show and get confused. It worked tonight."

The first possession was more elaborate and took longer to materialize. It was a familiar NBA set: The point guard (Jeremy Lin) gets a staggered screen up top -- one screener a shooter (Harden), the other a big man who can roll (Dwight Howard). Harden pops while Howard rolls. The Pelicans defended it beautifully. Brian Roberts was able to fight over the first screen, allowing Gordon to stay home on Harden. When Roberts got hung up on the second screen, Jason Smith bought him some time, then quickly rotated back onto Howard. New Orleans survived the action with everyone in their right place.

That’s when Lin got crafty. He probed, reversed course and circled back out of the lane counterwise, with the sole intention of rubbing Roberts off Harden, thereby forcing Gordon to switch off of Harden and onto Lin.

The ploy worked. A pass from Lin went to Terrence Jones out on the perimeter, then Jones zipped it quickly to Harden. From there, Harden did his thing: one dribble, collision, whistle, two free throws, Rockets by one.

"I feel like it’s really hard to guard," Lin said. "You see, like, OKC [the Oklahoma City Thunder]. They run a 1-3 pick-and-roll, which is really hard to guard just because you’re not used to being in that position where they have to get out and show and do different coverages. They’re usually like sized enough where they’re, like, 'We can switch this.' But that gives us the matchup we want."

The game winner was more basic: Jones, Howard and Chandler Parsons along the baseline, with Harden at the foul line poised to set the 1-2 pick-and-roll for Lin.

Pelicans coach Monty Williams elaborated on the theme in Lin’s comment: It’s easy to say, "Don’t switch," but the consequences can be dire.

"The problem is the guy who’s setting [the screen] can shoot," Williams said. "If you try to hedge it and that guy pops, he’s going to get a shot. We wanted to try to keep Eric [Gordon] on him as much as we could. So we got [Brian Roberts] out of the game and put Austin [Rivers] in to try to give us some more size in case they do it again."

Harden set the screen on Rivers to Lin’s right (go figure) and, sure enough, when Lin turned the corner, there was Gordon waiting for him. Switch accomplished with relative ease.

"We run that play a lot, especially late in the game," Harden said. "We don’t really run it in the beginning of the game. They switched it, and Jeremy threw it back to me."

Harden explained that the element of surprise contributes to the 1-2’s effectiveness. Defenses tighten up in the closing minutes, which is one reason we see more switches late out on the perimeter. Nobody wants to be left out to dry. Switching poses the risk of a mismatch, but at least somebody picks up the ball handler.

Harden held the ball for a moment, thrust a head fake or two, then went right -- to his off hand.

"I was reading what the other four players were doing," Harden said. "They all stayed home. It was mano-a-mano."

Harden took one slick dribble, yanked the ball back as he thrust his arm forward at Rivers. Did it make contact? Hard to say. Harden then lurched back, with all the space in the Bayou to rise and shoot.

"[Harden] made a tough shot on Austin," Williams said. "Austin played him well. Austin thought he got pushed, but in that situation, you got to just play tough. You can’t even ask for the ref to bail you out in that situation. It’s just not going to happen."

With that, the team that’s driven the midrange jumper out of fashion won the game on a 21-footer.

Linsanity: A show of good faith

August, 9, 2013
Silverman By Robert Silverman
A scene from Linsanity, a Ketchup Entertainment ReleaseA new documentary, "Linsanity," takes a closer look at Jeremy Lin's remarkable rise to the NBA.
Linsanity. Do you still think about it? And if so, why? Is it a curiosity, an impish footnote in NBA history or a landmark event that we’ll be telling our offspring about for years to come?

Filmmaker Evan Jackson Leong definitely belongs in the latter camp. His documentary “Linsanity” premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, opens in October in select cities and was screened this week in New York City. The Los Angeles Times wrote that it got a "rousing response, easily making it one of the most crowd-pleasing documentaries to play the festival this year.”

Leong has been interviewing Lin going back to his days at Palo Alto High School, well before the world took notice. He also has collected a vast treasure trove of Lin family home movies and yet-unseen high school and college camcordered game tapes to fully flesh out Lin's improbable path to the NBA.

From the moment that a mop-haired, grade school Jeremy pounds out the same tune at a piano recital three years running, you’re hooked. It’s easy to forget, in the midst of the never-ending punning and the crass denigrations of Lin’s Asian heritage, that he, personally, is such a captivating, charming person. So genuine and unassuming. It’s clear that the last thing in the world he ever wanted was the trappings of fame, fortune and celebrity, and that if he had his druthers, he’d play without anyone watching, existing solely in a realm where perfecting his chosen craft counts for more than the result of his labors.

Once the film rolls clips from the Feb. 4, 2012 game versus the Nets, the incredible, boisterous, implausible energy that drove Linsanity comes barreling back full force. Even if you can recall each game during the wondrous 8-1 stretch, the instant those oft-replayed highlights begin to roll, you’re right back in the thick of it, wholly swept up in the feverish giddiness of it all.

Look, there’s the couch belonging to teammate Landry Fields that a semi-homeless Lin slept on during the beginning of his stint in New York! Ohmigosh, Lin was hours away from being released in favor of the immortal Mike James before his 25-point eruption against the then-New Jersey Nets staved off the executioner’s blade. There’s the blue waggling tongue after a trey, the buzzer-beater on Valentine’s Day to topple the Raptors, Kobe’s feigned lack of recognition, the whirling dervish spin move to flatfoot Derek Fisher during a 38-point outing in a victory over the Lakers, the comeback versus the defending champion Mavericks, and on and on. Pure, unadulterated bliss.

But if you’re not a Knicks fan with a particularly nostalgic bent, the question remains: What is it that still resonates so deeply? Save for brief fits and spurts this past season, for all intents and purposes, Linsanity is a thing of the past. Why all the fuss over an average-to-middling point guard? Raymond Felton proved to be a capable replacement at a fraction of the cost. The Knicks had their best season since their dizzying run to the Finals in 1999. An objective assessment of the current state of Knick Knation would have to conclude that all worked out for the best.

A scene from Linsanity/Ketchup Entertainment"Linsanity" opens in October in select cities.

Does it still matter?

Here’s why I think it does: Beyond the improbable set of circumstances that surrounded Lin’s rise to superstardom, the overriding theme that pervades the film is that Jeremy Lin’s magical ride would not have occurred if not for his devout faith in God.

The documentary “Linsanity” is peppered with sequences that delve further into its subject matter’s faith. During a sequence detailing his struggles during his junior year of high school, he described how the defining thing that allowed him to expand his game as a creator/distributor as opposed to a pure scorer was realizing that, “God gives and takes away. God took what I really cared about at that time, and showed me that I can’t accomplish what I want to without him, that nothing in this world will happen not according to his plan.”

While addressing a group of kids at his summer basketball camp after his first NBA season, Lin declares, “God loves me, and that he has the perfect plan for me. His plan will take me through a lots of ups and downs, but if I stay faithful to him that in the end he will work everything for my good. Now when I play basketball, I don’t play for anyone else, I only play for God. That’s the type of purpose that he gave me, and once he gave me that purpose, is when I found my peace, and once I got my peace, that’s when I got my joy.”

In the film’s climactic voiceover, to slow-motion replays of Lin working like a fiend to develop his game, we hear Jeremy say, “God did something supernatural to me ... Learning to fight to constantly live and play for God. And when I do that, I’ll walk on water.”

The film’s final credit line is, “And a very special thanks to God,” and its wordmark includes a lowercase ‘t,’ which looks remarkably like a crucifix.

There are people for whom phrases like these will ring absolutely true. There are others who won’t have a clue what he’s talking about.

In the name of full disclosure, I am definitely in the latter camp. I have nothing but respect for Lin’s faith. In fact, I envy it. But there is one realm in which our respective spiritual worldviews cross paths.

The reaction that many people had to Lin’s miraculous ascent was so intense, so filled with ecstatic joy, because fandom works in many ways similar to that of religious fealty. There is a set of traditions, values, heroes, villains and fables that are passed down by parent to child from generation to generation.

The war stories of terrible, gut-wrenching losses are told and retold with a measure of battle-scarred pride. We spend hours scouring articles, consuming unending streams of information, wagering of our emotional well-being on the outcome of a three-hour contest, and when faced with the horrifying fact that our team will fail (again), we do the same thing people have done since time immemorial: We pray, hoping beyond hope that our supplication might in some tiny way influence the actions on the court.

Lin was in a similar state of existential and spiritual despair. He knew he had the talent to succeed. He felt as if opportunities had been denied to him for reasons utterly beyond his control, but what kept him going even in his darkest moments ready to chuck the dreams he’d harbored since childhood into the bin, was an unquenchable belief that it was all part of a plan. God’s plan.

Amazingly, said plan did reveal itself, and in a miraculous fashion. At the defining moment of his life he seized the day. His faith was not only rewarded, it was vindicated in spectacular, glorious fashion. And for Knicks fans, who were absolutely at their wits’ end, after a decade marked by not only futility, but humiliation and mockery, ready to give up on yet another seemingly doomed squad, it’s entirely logical to see Lin as a savior-like figure who descended from the heavens (or at least the rafters of MSG).

Within the context of a valley of futility so deep and wide, it’s not surprising that Lin would inspire such a profound, overwhelmingly joyous reaction; that he could reaffirm the notion that there are such things as magic and beauty and maybe even the occasional otherworldly intervention in this world.

Of course, the film doesn’t detail what transpired after Linsanity ended. The injuries that cut his season short are omitted entirely as is any unpacking of the circumstances regarding the contract he signed with Houston. It’s understandable, from the filmmaker’s perspective, partly because it takes a long time to complete and edit a feature and partly because it’s a myth, of a sort. Ending the film with a more human, mundane coda is not how one recounts the heroic exploits of legends.

Maybe it’s absolutely foolhardy to think of Lin -- or any player or team -- in such terms. Maybe that degree of fanaticism is just plain bad for the soul. As a Knicks fan, I was absolutely devastated when Lin left New York. But leaving the theater, I wasn’t in the throes of some shirt-rending despair. I was smiling, laughing at myself at the folly of it all. You can love and experience loss and go back. There will be more stories, new loves, and new heroes. We’ll forget and remember and forget all over again. Linsanity is meaningless and totally meaningful.

And that’s OK.

Robert Silverman is a TrueHoop Network blogger and co-author of "We'll Always Have Linsanity."

What is Las Vegas Summer League?

July, 11, 2013
By Daniel Nowell

Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesLas Vegas Summer League: The world's first glimpse at future stars in their NBA uniforms.
It seems impossible that we need more basketball.

The NBA Finals ended less than a month ago, and for the past several years it has become common among smart observers to debate whether the NBA is already playing too long a season. For players, coaches and executives -- and for many fans -- 82 games followed by a two-month postseason is already a grind. And yet, just three weeks after the lights go down each season, the basketball world congregates in Las Vegas to endure 120-degree heat and nine-hour days of games between young and little-known players who have no demonstrable bearing on the NBA power structure.

This is the Las Vegas Summer League, and it has somehow become one of the most important weeks on the basketball calendar.

Often, even the most die-hard fans have only a perfunctory awareness of what goes on in Vegas. Lottery picks' point totals are bandied about among the faithful as reasons for concern or celebration. Occasionally, a previously unheralded player grabs headlines with an explosive performance.

But the true function of the Summer League goes much deeper than the highlights. In a way that no other event can match, Las Vegas Summer League is a conclave for the luminaries of the NBA world; scouts, executives, players and power brokers all find their way to the desert in July. Why this is so, and how it came to be, is something of an untold story.

Albert Hall, officially, is the vice president of business operations at VSL Properties, the venture that started and owns the Las Vegas Summer League. Along with NBA agent Warren LeGarie, Hall is one of a handful of people who might be referred to as The Man at summer league. Las Vegas Summer League was hatched in 2004; today, if something needs doing in Vegas, Hall is likely to be doing it.

Before Vegas, summer league had existed in several forms. There were leagues at Long Beach State and Loyola Marymount, two colleges in Los Angeles. But attendance was always shifting, and the leagues hadn't managed to evolve into the fixture Vegas has become. LeGarie and Hall saw an opportunity: the allure of Las Vegas, a stable opportunity for teams to scout and develop players, and a summer event to help the NBA rival what Hall refers to as the NFL's "365 media presence." And so, in 2004, LeGarie and Hall launched Las Vegas Summer League. It was an instant success.

"After the first game, we probably had 98 emails," Hall said. Fans were complaining they weren't keeping box scores. League officials took notice. Six teams participated in the 2004 league. Fifteen came in 2005. And by 2008, LVSL had a solid NBA majority with 22 teams.

The built-in advantages of Las Vegas didn't hurt, Hall said. But Vegas became the summer destination of choice for the league with a little luck. He cites a few instances in which the branding power of LVSL was put on full display, chief among them the Portland Trail Blazers' 2006 team. Having drafted Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland was showing off a roster that would help them turn the corner from the "Jail Blazers" era.

"That was a turning point," Hall said. "It became a way for teams to reinvent themselves a little bit."

The potent draw of Vegas was now interwoven with a built-in offseason branding opportunity for teams, and that combination turned summer league into a nexus of league business.

Vegas became the basketball analog to baseball's hot stove league, the offseason crucible of deal-making that shapes the coming season. In fact, Hall courted the comparison as NBA execs as high up as David Stern came to use the analogy.

"We love that," Hall said. "It's where deals are done."

In LVSL's early days, Hall said, free agents could be seen talking to GMs right in the stands. But in a very real sense, Vegas has something that baseball's offseason can't match: the players driving the interest are on the court in front of scouts and executives every day. There's no winter baseball, but summer basketball turns a hot stove into a feeding frenzy for scouts, coaches and peripheral NBA talent. It's this unique mixture that has led ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz to refer to Vegas as the "Sundance Film Festival of the NBA." Hall prefers to call it the league's "American Idol," and said his partner LeGarie embraces the benign anarchy to call Vegas the NBA's Burning Man.

In that frenzy, most agree, are a few tiers of players: There are recently drafted picks -- newly minted first and second-rounders -- who are guaranteed a long leash and a green light for the league. There are young veterans who have carved out an NBA niche but may not have one for very long. And at the fringes, there are unsigned, unheralded players who are, as Hall terms it, "playing for food" when they take the court. This is the class of players looking to snare a contract playing in Europe, the D-League or wherever else might bring a steady check.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Randolph
Garrett W. Ellwood/Getty ImagesAnthony Randolph is a Vegas Summer League legend.
In some sense, the disparate talent levels and differing objectives among the players on the court serve to foster a chaotic environment. Athletes are a touch less explosive than in the NBA, and defenders accustomed to college zone defenses are often a step slower. Thus Vegas action is ripe for the occasional Anthony Randolph explosion -- instances when players who may not be real NBA starters seem to overwhelm their surroundings with their talent. For this reason, it has become common for some NBA wonks to dismiss summer league as somewhat worthless, more a self-contained oddity than a genuinely useful organizational tool.

ESPN's David Thorpe vehemently disagrees with that idea: "When you say, 'I dismiss the whole brand of summer league,' you're saying 'I don't understand NBA basketball.'" For Thorpe, the summer league offers developmental opportunities that neither smart players nor smart teams can afford to turn down.

For players, summer league represents the perfect compromise between their competitive instincts and lowered stakes that allow them to experiment. The games are games, after all, but their improvisational nature allows players to develop weaknesses and play in ways they might not during the season. A common example is LeBron James playing point guard for most of his first two summer leagues.

Players in Vegas have an opportunity to assess their shortcomings outside the pressure cooker of the regular season. Wing players who can't shoot have the opportunity to hoist with their revamped motion. Post players known for clumsy feet may get to unveil a newly crafted up-and-under move.

What's more, said Thorpe, "The games can be a big reference point for what a player needs to work on the rest of the summer." Rookies, unsigned free agents and other young players who've had to carve out a spot on an NBA bench rarely get full-speed repetitions to gauge the state of their games. What the summer league provides is an opportunity to expand their horizons and see what areas they need to shore up. For Thorpe, "knowledge gained from the failure" of summer league experimentation is of immeasurable value for players who aren't guaranteed starring roles.

On the team side of things, Vegas represents an opportunity to bring players into an organizational culture, to reduce what Thorpe calls their "idle time." Players new to the league or floating between contracts benefit enormously from time spent playing within a team's system, interacting with coaches and scouts and simply staying in mental basketball shape. So valuable is this time to teams and so beneficial for the developmental feedback players receive, Thorpe said, that "the only thing that really doesn't matter about summer league is the score."

At the end of the day, what is perhaps most beguiling for fans is summer league's capacity for happy chaos. With so many unformed and unknown talents, summer league is the perfect petri dish for rare strains of basketball beauty. Summer league performance can be a footnote on an otherwise pedestrian career -- see Jerryd Bayless capturing the 2008 Vegas MVP -- or it can build a career. In Hall's mind, the legend of Jeremy Lin actually began at summer league, when Lin keyed in for a matchup with John Wall and "fed him his lunch." "It was like, 'Wow -- this guy can play.'"

Lin's parable isn't the only one that validates Vegas as a proving ground for talent. Players such as Gary Neal, Brian Roberts, Danny Green, Shannon Brown and J.J. Barea all gained some legitimacy as NBA prospects at summer league. Thorpe agrees with Hall that summer league performances, no matter how unrepresentative or forgettable fans may see them as, can often keep players employed even when their chips are down. Those Vegas successes, he said, linger in the minds of front office execs years later. The assistant GMs and assistant coaches in Vegas become full-fledged GMs and coaches, and may return to the players who made the most of their time. "You're always auditioning for 30 teams," Thorpe said.

Summer league, then, is an utter rarity in the basketball world: An environment in which stakes are modest enough that players can stretch their games, but high enough to inspire players seeking a basketball livelihood to play their hardest. It is a time when league executives and power brokers, unencumbered by scheduling quirks or the demands of the season, can gather to fill a few rooms with insider smoke. A festival, a feeding frenzy, whatever. As Hall puts it: "If you're in the basketball business, you need to be at the summer league."

Two best All-Star scorers take the floor

February, 16, 2013
By ESPN Stats & Information

NBAE/Getty Images
Kevin Durant (left) and LeBron James have the two highest scoring averages in All-Star Game history.
We preview the NBA All-Star Game with 10 facts you need to know.

• Kevin Durant won his first All-Star Game MVP award last year after scoring 36 points. He’s scored 30 or more points in two straight All-Star Games, the only player in NBA history to accomplish that feat. His career scoring average (28.3 points) is an All-Star record (minimum 60 career points).

• LeBron James, making his ninth All-Star appearance, ranks second in career scoring average (25.9 points) in the game. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, James has scored at least 20 points in each of his past seven All-Star Games, the longest such streak for any player in NBA history.

• Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett were selected to the All-Star Game for the 15th time. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has more career selections (19). Bryant’s 15 selections have come consecutively, the longest active streak. His 271 career points are the most in NBA history and his four MVPs are tied with Bob Pettit for most all time.

• Bryant and Dwight Howard are slated to start for the Western Conference, but the Los Angeles Lakers enter the All-Star break in 10th place in the West. According to Elias, the Lakers could be the fourth team since the merger (1976-77 season) to miss the playoffs in a season with two All-Star starters on the roster. The last team to do so was the 2005-06 Rockets (Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming).

The Lakers will also become the first team in All-Star Game history to start two different centers in back-to-back years (Andrew Bynum in 2012).

• The Miami Heat lead the way with three All-Star selections -- all three of whom will start -- becoming one of eight teams with multiple selections. According to Elias, they’ll be the sixth trio of teammates to start the All-Star Game following a championship season, and the first since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and James Worthy in 1986.

• Kyrie Irving is the sixth-youngest player ever selected to an All-Star team (he’ll be 20 years, 331 days old on Sunday).

• David Lee earned the Golden State Warriors' first All-Star selection since 1997 (Latrell Sprewell). That leaves the Milwaukee Bucks and the Sacramento Kings as the teams with the longest active streaks without an All-Star (nine seasons).

• Stephen Curry is averaging 21.0 points per game this season, the highest average for a player not selected to an All-Star team. Monta Ellis is fourth on that list (18.4), but he’s got the highest career points per game without ever being selected to the All-Star Game (minimum 400 games played).

Jeremy Lin
• Jeremy Lin of the Houston Rockets was the only player among the top 10 vote-getters who was not selected to the All-Star Game. He finished ninth, between Howard and Blake Griffin. Bryant led the way with more than 1.5 million votes, just ahead of James.

• The Eastern Conference leads the series 36-25, but the West has won two straight and three of the past four games. A third straight victory by the West would be tied for its longest win streak (three straight from 2002 to '04).

Holiday NBA thank-you notes

December, 26, 2012
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
A few thank-you notes for gifts bestowed on Christmas Day:

To the Boston Celtics’ defense: Poor Brooklyn, which looked like a passenger on a long-haul flight trapped in a middle seat between two offensive tackles. The Nets, who couldn’t generate anything in the second quarter, came out of the tunnel after intermission and whiffed on possession after possession.

They tried running Deron Williams off screens or isolating Joe Johnson while spreading the floor, but more often than not the Celtics’ defense plugged space, confined Gerald Wallace to the sideline, or trapped Brook Lopez against the baseline, or met a driving Williams with three defenders. After that, the Nets were left with nothing more than table scraps for a Christmas feast -- Williams, Wallace or Andray Blatche open in the far corner, with no feasible means of getting them the ball even if those were desirable options.

The most encouraging thing for Boston? Everyone got in on the act, including rookie Jared Sullinger and Jeff Green, who has never previously been regarded as a reliable cover.

To Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard: Seeing two bigs run a pick-and-roll in today’s NBA is like spotting a dog walking on its hind legs, and watching Gasol and Howard team up was one of the cooler sights of Christmas 2012.

The Lakers ran it at the nail, smack-dab in the middle of the floor. Howard put a body on Tyson Chandler, who was guarding Gasol, then bounced off Chandler for a sharp dive to the hoop. Kurt Thomas, previously Howard’s man, picked up Gasol as he dribbled right. Chandler and Thomas are some of the savviest defenders in the game, but the die was cast before they could sniff out that Howard was already at the rim. As a result, we got to witness Gasol pass out of the pick-and-roll, with Howard finishing underneath the Knicks’ defense.

The NBA needs more 4-5 pick-and-rolls -- and not just those featuring newfangled 4s (e.g., James-Bosh, Anthony-Chandler, Smith-Horford). You need a power forward with a handle, but he doesn’t have to be Chris Paul, either. Here’s looking at you, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

To Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant: A couple of years ago when he was filling in as the interim head coach in Denver for a recovering George Karl, Adrian Dantley was asked why the Nuggets’ pick-and-roll defense was struggling. He responded incredulously, saying there was no such thing as “good” pick-and-roll defense, that even the best protection against an NBA ball screen was nothing more than damage control because two professional basketball players in that action were virtually unstoppable.

That’s certainly the case when those two guys are Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, who worked in tandem on a number of occasions on Christmas to positive effect. The Heat trapped Westbrook when Durant rolled (calling on a rotating defender to pick up Durant, a tactic that didn’t work), while LeBron James fought through a perimeter screen when Durant popped to the perimeter. That strategy didn’t pay dividends either, as even James couldn’t recover quickly enough to corral Durant once Durant caught the pass, then zipped to the hole.

Durant might never embrace the idea of being the “4” on the greaseboard, but there are ways to tease a small forward into fulfilling the function of a big guy -- and this is one.

To Mario Chalmers: For attacking on the break; for identifying when the Thunder’s interior defense is shading toward LeBron off the ball and, in effect, issuing an engraved invitation for Chalmers to drive to the hole; for rushing in transition to the corner spot where an advance pass can find him for an open 3-pointer; for learning that it’s not enough to charge off a down screen to collect the ball -- you also have to rub your man off the screener to get the space you need to catch and shoot; for instantly recognizing when Westbrook falls asleep and Dwyane Wade is all alone underneath the basket.

To Jeremy Lin and James Harden: I still like the idea of staggering their minutes and ensuring at least one half of Beard-sanity is in the Houston backcourt at all times, but if Tuesday’s performance against a sturdy Chicago defense is any indication, this can work.

As long as transition remains priority No. 1 in Houston, Lin and Harden are born running mates. And in the half court, we also saw how placing counterweights on can stretch the floor and leverage even the most disciplined defense, which can’t possibly apply pressure against a ball screen, zone up the backside and account for a crafty guard off the ball on the move.

To Andre Miller: Basketball Reference gives Miller a 1.4 percent chance of making the Hall of Fame, and that sounds about right, but long after the taciturn, unsociable point guard retires into obscurity, big men who played with him will marvel at Miller’s ability to find shots for them at the rack.

It’s impossible to watch Miller without a rewind button on the remote because a mortal being simply can’t see what he did until after the ball falls through the net. In the first quarter on Tuesday, how did Miller find Kosta Koufas at the rim with three defenders in the ball’s flight path? Fans like to toast Miller’s “old man game,” but even though he looks the part of the rec center geezer, he’s got the vision of a young 'un.

Before the game, George Karl was asked how he handled his bench rotations. Karl smiled and replied that he basically left that to Miller. One glimpse at how Miller puppeteers the Nuggets’ second unit, feeds the entire crew and controls pace, and you’re ready to follow Karl's lead and let Dre draft your fantasy team.

To Willie Green: For this.

Christmas primer: 10 questions for 10 teams

December, 24, 2012
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz

Getty ImagesWorking on Christmas: Deron Williams, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony.

A third of the NBA will be in action on Christmas Day, as fans will be treated to 14 consecutive hours of basketball featuring the league's top four teams and seven leading scorers. For those who make the Christmas quintupleheader their first real look at the NBA season, here's a handy guide to some of the league's more compelling storylines:

Can Deron Williams lead Brooklyn where it wants to go?
Deron Williams isn’t wrong when he says that the Brooklyn Nets run nothing as fluid as the flex offense he guided as the Jazz’s point guard. But Brooklyn’s roster isn’t endowed with the collective skill set those Utah teams had, and the absence of an orderly system doesn’t explain why Williams has taken 241 shots outside the paint, for a terrible 40.7 effective field goal percentage.

Williams might argue that a good number of those attempts are hand grenades he finds himself with at the end of wayward possessions, but if he truly wants the Nets to improve upon their 11th-ranked offense, Williams will have to create his own flow. With some prompting from Williams, Gerald Wallace could make some devastating flex cuts, and Joe Johnson can space, post and pass better than any wing Williams ever had in Salt Lake City.

Williams has real assets in Brooklyn, and a point guard with his talent shouldn’t need an orthodox system to play systematic basketball.

Can the Boston Celtics re-establish their defensive bite?
Boston hasn’t had a top-10 offense since 2008-09, but its elite defense has kept it in the conversation every spring. The Celtics are still loading up on the ball handler while zoning up the weak side. And they’re still stymieing high ball screens at the point of attack while asking rotating defenders to take away everything but sketchy corner passes and long 2-pointers for guys who have no business shooting them.

This season, offenses are having an easier time generating open looks. When you watch the film, the incriminating evidence isn’t glaring. This is still a comparatively efficient defense (11th overall) practicing those same principles, and the familiar cycle of movements is there, but point guards whom the Celtics used to send to remote outposts on the floor are finding their way to the middle. That old Celtics swarm doesn’t cause the same disruption it once did, which means offenses have more available options on the floor.

Defensive systems take time to master, and it’s possible everyone will achieve the level of fluency necessary. The Celtics should hope so, because the team’s margin for improvement probably lies on that end of the floor.

Are the New York Knicks for real?
This is the single biggest conversation starter heading into Christmas Day for casual NBA fans, League Pass junkies, NBA players, coaches and execs alike -- and trying to solve the mystery will trigger a whole series of associated questions:

Has Anthony’s game undergone a profound evolution at the power forward slot, or is the uptick in production largely attributable to eight weeks of hot, but unsustainable shooting? How do you integrate Amar’e Stoudemire back into the rotation after the team forged a strong identity without him? And if your plan is to confine him to a much smaller role, how exactly do you break that to him without the risk of killing the good vibe around the team? Is the defense (ranked 17th) strong enough around Tyson Chandler for the Knicks to have championship expectations?

When the Knicks were horrendous, there was a school of opinion that said the NBA would be much more interesting if New York had a relevant NBA team. Those in that camp were correct.

How close are the Los Angeles Lakers to a breakthrough?
The Lakers now have their four stars on the floor together for the first time since October. Let's say they hold their home court against the Knicks on Tuesday. And let’s say Dwight Howard continues to build strength, as does the defense. And the offense, already ranked fifth in efficiency, starts operating as the lethal machine it was designed to be. And the wins start to pile up.

That’s an entirely conceivable chain of events, but it’s no lock, either. The Lakers still feature a core of players who like to work with the basketball operating in a system that prefers they pass or shoot instantly. Success will require some compromise, but any offensive philosophical differences will likely resolve themselves -- there’s too much talent. The Lakers’ prospects hinge primarily on a willingness to play defense. Howard didn’t have any perimeter stoppers in front of him in Orlando, but anchored a top defensive unit. The Lakers can play that brand of defense if Howard is up to the task, the other starters and the coaching staff apply their wits, and the second unit makes guarding opponents its mission.

If those scenarios shake out and the Lakers are playing some of the best basketball in the league headed into the All-Star break, does the early-season turmoil get summarily dismissed as old news?

How many different ways can Kevin Durant score?
It’s unlikely this Oklahoma City Thunder team will ever develop a brand-name offense, but when Kevin Durant is as dialed in as he has been this season, structure seems almost quaint.

High-usage wing players like Durant are not supposed to post true shooting percentages in the 65 range. Michael Jordan exceeded 60 percent four times and Larry Bird topped the 60 percent mark twice, but both maxed out around 61 percent. And LeBron James’ career-high mark of 60.5 percent came last season.

Durant this season? 65.4 percent.

He quietly has become one of the most brutal post assignments in the game from either side of the floor. He’s getting more separation than ever on curls and pin-downs, working in some sneaky misdirection like a wide receiver running a route. When he’s off the ball, he’s looking more than ever to slip beneath the defense for easy feeds at the rim. And he’s drawing more contact than ever off the dribble.

Durant has never displayed anything but maximum effort on the floor, but did close proximity to a title this past June ignite something more visceral in his game?

Do the Miami Heat have anything serious to be concerned about?
Size up front? As NBA worries go, that’s so retrograde. Nobody cares anymore if the heaviest guy in the rotation is 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds, least of all the Heat, who won a title in June flouting convention.

The defense was another story as recently as a few weeks ago, when narcolepsy was the Heat’s preferred defensive strategy in the half court. Were the issues systemic or did Erik Spoelstra just need to shuffle the rotation?

Shane Battier returned from injury and Joel Anthony returned from exile just as the Heat were being embarrassed on their home floor by the Knicks. In the seven games since -- the only seven games both Battier and Anthony logged double-digit minutes -- the Heat have posted a defensive efficiency rating of 96.0. Only Indiana’s top-ranked defense has been better over the course of the season (95.7).

There are other factors at work, of course. The Heat are a high-risk, high-reward defensive outfit with a license to gamble, but guys were abusing the privilege and calculating risk without care. Now, James and Dwyane Wade are locked in, and that string the Heat are so fond of referencing as the connective tissue of their defense is taut once again.

Are the Houston Rockets figuring things out?
So this is what it’s like to have a pure playmaker at the top of the floor who can get a shot off against constant pressure anywhere between the rim and 26 feet?

How strong has James Harden been in this regard? Of the Rockets’ top eight in minutes played, he’s the only one whose player efficiency rating is above league average, yet the Rockets come into Christmas Day with the league’s seventh-ranked offense.

There’s little magic to the Rockets’ offensive formula. The priorities, in descending order, are as follows: (1-2-3) transition; (4) quick-hitters for Harden if he can find a modicum of space off a drag screen, or for others if Harden can leverage the attention of the defense; (5) a more deliberate high pick-and-roll for Jeremy Lin, and by deliberate we mean with 15 seconds on the shot clock rather than 19; (6) fast, easy ways to free up shooters -- flare screens courtesy of Omer Asik, or pin-downs set by little guys for big guys who can shoot.

Next item on the agenda: Protecting the basket area and picking up shooters early -- two hazards of playing at a breakneck pace the Rockets haven’t yet figured out.

Can the Chicago Bulls manufacture enough offense?
When discussing how the Bulls try to score without Derrick Rose, manufacture is more descriptive than metaphoric. It’s a laborious process being managed by diligent guys with limited skills but strong work ethics. But as a viewer, it’s like watching the factory floor at a cannery.

Try as Tom Thibodeau might to create open space in the half court with cuts and constant motion, he simply has nobody on the floor who can find an easy shot in isolation or pressure a defense by bursting off a screen (let alone, driving away from one the way Rose does more artfully than anyone). Defenses never have to make any tough decisions when the ball is in the hands of Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli or Jimmy Butler, and that makes every possession a grind.

On the bright side, the Bulls make life similarly difficult for everyone else, which is how a team wins nine out of 13 with the parking break on. That’s the beautiful thing about an air-tight defensive system: The principles work irrespective of personnel. So if the Bulls can hang on in the meantime, and Rose can return as Rose, Chicago is going to be a nightmarish spring matchup for an Eastern Conference foe.

Will the Denver Nuggets ever have a homestand?
The most consecutive games they’ve played at home this season is two -- and the Nuggets have done that only once through 28 games. Are their white jerseys on back order? Is the Pepsi Center in downtown Denver undergoing chemical fumigation? Are they finally installing reliable Internet in that building, a process that requires a complete rewiring of the place?

Whatever the case, the Nuggets find themselves on someone else’s floor on Christmas night. Their 15-13 record might suggest the league made a programming error, but when you consider the home-road split, the Nuggets just might be the sleeping giants in the West. When the calendar turns on New Year’s Day, the Nuggets will play 15 of their next 18 games at home, where they’re 8-1.

With the defense showing signs of life, Andre Iguodala gradually adapting to his more open living space and the Nuggets gobbling up their own misses at unseemly rates, this team could quietly vault itself into the upper ranks of the West simply by playing quality basketball at home.

Is Vinny Del Negro smarter than everyone?
Junkies will continue to scratch their heads when Willie Green is announced as the Clippers’ starting shooting guard, and the playbook might never be put behind a glass display in Springfield, Mass., but you think the 21-6 Los Angeles Clippers care?

Del Negro’s approach has been simple: a few very basic offensive precepts, plenty of freedom for Chris Paul, trust in a second unit that could probably win 48 games as a starting five and a few tried-and-true sets that maximize Blake Griffin on the left block and Paul as a prober. Most of all: manage expectations and let Paul be the guy. If that means letting him sculpt the offense or playing Green to start the first and third because Paul wants it that way, so be it. Del Negro believes that leading is often a task in deference, and he isn’t about to muck things up with a heavy hand when a light touch will do.

If the defense were mushy and the Clippers were still dropping games they shouldn’t, the discussion might be different. But the Clippers have established some simple coverages the young bigs have mastered, and they’re rarely finding themselves in the sort of end-of-game chess matches that challenge a team’s tactical prowess. The day will come when a Gregg Popovich is strolling the opposing sideline, and that will be the true test. In the interim, keep things light.

Inside the shot charts: Lin, Deng, the Magic

December, 18, 2012
Simon By Mark Simon
Lin gets into the lane
Jeremy Lin made it a great return to Madison Square Garden, with 22 points and eight assists in the Houston Rockets easy win over the New York Knicks on Monday.

Lin's 22 points were his second-most this season and matched the total number of points he scored in the previous three games combined.

As you can see in the image above, Lin was a perfect 8-for-8 in the paint. He entered the day shooting 45 percent (59-for-130) on shots in the paint.

Lin had a good night in the pick-and-roll, making all four shots as the ballhandler on pick-and-roll plays.

Deng has all sorts of trouble
Luol Deng was 4-for-17 in the Chicago Bulls loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, continuing a run of struggles from the field.

In his last six games, Deng is shooting 36 percent from the field. In that span, he's 11-for-43 on shots taken from outside the paint.

Nice night for the Magic
In the first 19 games of the season, the Orlando Magic did not have a game in which they shot better than 50 percent from the field.

They've now shot better than 50 percent in three of their last five games after their win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, in which they shot nearly 54 percent from the field.

The Magic won this game inside. They made 27 of their 40 shots in the lane. The Timberwolves made one fewer shot, but had 14 more shot attempts.

Glen Davis led the way with 10 baskets in the paint. He's 20-for-28 from the field in his last two games, 13-of-19 in the paint.

Lin has smaller role, production in Houston

December, 17, 2012
By Lee Singer & Kenton Wong, ESPN Stats & Info

Dan Lippitt/NBAE/Getty Images
Jeremy Lin returns to Madison Square Garden for the first time since leaving the Knicks.
One of the biggest sports stories last year was Jeremy Lin’s run with the New York Knicks. On Monday, Lin returns to Madison Square Garden as a member of the Houston Rockets.

The two teams played earlier this season in Houston where the Rockets blew out the Knicks, 131-103. Lin scored 13 points in that game on 6-for-12 shooting with seven rebounds and three assists.

His numbers this season are a far cry from what he did as a starter with the Knicks, but a lot of that can be attributed to the Rockets’ style of play and Lin’s usage.

Last season, Lin flourished in the pick-and-roll. His role has changed with the Rockets -- James Harden has the ball most of the time, leaving Lin in more spot-up situations.

No player has seen his role on offense diminish more than Lin has. His usage percentage (percentage of team plays used by the player while he’s on the floor) has gone from more than 27 percent as a starter with the Knicks to less than 19 percent with the Rockets -- that’s by far the largest drop in the NBA (among 121 players to start a third of their team’s games the past two seasons).

Lin’s role in the offense also shifts based on the personnel on the court. His usage percentage is 17.0 with James Harden on the court and 27.5 when Harden’s on the bench. Lin is averaging 14.3 points per 48 minutes with Harden on the floor and 26.3 points per 48 minutes with Harden on the bench.

Houston’s lineup turnover this season has resulted in a more up-tempo style of play. Last season the Rockets were 11th in pace (94.3 possessions per 48 minutes) -- this season they lead the league with 99.1.

It’s worth noting that with Lin as a starter the Knicks averaged 97.4 possessions per 48 minutes, which was second in the NBA in that span.

Jeremy Lin’s Top Moments
February 10, 2012

38 Points, 7 Assists in 92-85 win vs Lakers
In his third career start, Lin torched the Lakers for a career-high 38 points, making 13 of 23 shots from the field.

February 14, 2012
27 Points, 11 Assists, game-winning 3-pointer in 90-87 win vs Raptors
Probably his most memorable moment last season was a game-winning 3-pointer with less than a second left on Valentine’s Day to give the Knicks a win over the Raptors, their sixth consecutive victory.

February 19, 2012
28 Points, 14 Assists in 104-97 win vs Mavericks
Lin had a career-high 14 assists to go with 28 points in one of his most complete games as a pro as the Knicks beat the Mavericks.

December 10, 2012
38 Points, 7 Assists in OT loss to Spurs
In easily his best game as a Rocket, Lin took more of a scoring role with Harden sidelined by a sprained ankle, tying his career-high with 38 points. Despite the effort, the Rockets fell to the Spurs in overtime.

Lin struggling to create own shot

November, 16, 2012
By Ryan Feldman
ESPN Stats & Information
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesJeremy Lin is scoreless on 14 isolation plays this season.
Did Jeremy Lin make a mistake by leaving the New York Knicks and signing with the Houston Rockets?

We're only seven games into the season and Lin is still adjusting to his new team, but thus far it looks statistically like he was better off with the Knicks.

Last season, Lin was one of the best isolation players in the league, according to Synergy Sports. He ranked third in the NBA in points per isolation play among the 91 players with at least 75 plays, just behind his new teammate James Harden.

The Knicks led the league in isolation plays and points last season. Their primary offense consisted of spreading the floor and letting Lin and others attack off the dribble.

But was Lin the right fit for the Knicks or were the Knicks the right fit for Lin?

There were two contrasting offseason theories:

• Lin's isolation prowess could help the Rockets, who ranked 20th in isolation points last season and 22th in isolation plays.

• Lin, who bounced around from team to team before finally finding a role with the Knicks, was only successful in New York because the Knicks relied so heavily on isolation plays and were able to spread the floor. He wouldn't be as successful in Houston with a more team-oriented offense that doesn't rely so much on isolation and doesn’t have as much talent to spread the floor.

The latter theory is proving true thus far.

Lin is shooting 0-for-8 with six turnovers and zero points on 14 isolation plays this season.

The issues? Turnovers and lack of aggressiveness.

Not only is he settling for outside jumpers more often -– he’s attempted 3-pointers on 29 percent of his isolation plays after that number was 15 percent last season -- but he hasn’t gotten to the free throw line on any of his isolation plays. Last season, Lin attempted free throws on 18 percent of his isolation plays, the fourth-highest rate in the league among the 91 players with at least 75 isolation plays.

Lin has turned the ball over on 43 percent of his isolation plays this season -– the highest percentage in the league -- after turning it over on just 6.5 percent of those plays last season.

The fact that Lin and Harden both ranked among the best isolation players in the league last season gave the Rockets hope, as it appeared the Rockets might have the best isolation backcourt in the NBA.

But that's not the case thus far. In fact, it's quite the opposite.

The Rockets are shooting just 28 percent on isolation plays this season, the fourth-lowest percentage in the NBA.

Not only is Lin struggling is isolation, but Harden is as well. Harden is shooting just 24 percent, the worst isolation field-goal percentage of the 19 players with at least 25 plays this season, although Harden has found other ways to score – he’s shooting 51 percent on non-isolation plays (Lin: 39 percent).

The Knicks and Thunder both had plenty of talent spread throughout the court, thus allowing Lin and Harden to excel in isolation without teams being able to collapse on one single player.

The Rockets are different. Lin and Harden are the clear focal points of their offense – they’ve combined for 74 percent of their isolation plays this season.

If Lin is going to become a more efficient offensive player, he’ll have to learn how to score in other ways. As of now, it appears that he still has a lot of room for improvement.

Harden's successful launch among best

October, 31, 2012
By ESPN Stats & Information

If there was any doubt about how James Harden was going to mesh with his new Houston Rockets teammates, he silenced those on Wednesday with one of the great team-debut performances in NBA history in their win over the Detroit Pistons.

Harden scored 37 points and had 12 assists in helping the Rockets rally and then pull away in the fourth quarter.

The Elias Sports Bureau noted that he was the first player in NBA history to hit both of those benchmarks in his first game with a new team.

His 37 points are tied for the second-most by any player in his debut after changing teams, in NBA history.

There are all sorts of absurd statistical combinations emanating from Harden’s performance.

They include such things as how Harden is the first Rocket to hit the 37/12 benchmark since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1994-95.

The coolest of those stats may be this one:

In the past 25 seasons, four players have had games with at least 37 points, 12 assists, 6 rebounds, 4 steals and 1 blocked shot.

The fearsome foursome are Michael Jordan (1988-89 Chicago Bulls), Larry Bird (1991-92 Boston Celtics), Dwyane Wade (2008-09 Miami Heat) and Harden on opening night.

Harden repeatedly attacked the rim with success. His eight field goals and 10 field goal attempts from inside five feet were both career bests.

It wasn’t a bad Rockets debut for Jeremy Lin either. Lin had 12 points, 8 assists and 4 steals.

Perhaps more notable was how he meshed with Harden.

The two were on the court together for 35 minutes. In that span, the Rockets outscored the Pistons by 23 points, shot 54 percent from the field and were 7-for-16 from 3-point range.

In the 13 minutes they were off the court, the Pistons outscored the Rockets by 13 points and Houston shot just 33 percent, including 3-for-11 on 3-pointers.

Elias Stat of the Night
The Rockets' starting lineup Wednesday came into the game with a combined 512 career games played.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is by far the most inexperienced starting lineup the Rockets have put out on opening night since the team moved to Houston in 1971. The Rockets' opening-night lineup for the 1984-85 season had a combined 901 games played in Olajuwon's NBA debut.

Statistical support for this story from

Tuesday Bullets

August, 7, 2012
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
  • NBA stars are severely underpaid vis-a-vis their market value to their sport. They're not the only ones. From Paul Doyle, a track and field agent, via Sports Illustrated and Forbes: "'Bolt is the highest-paid athlete in the history of track and field, but he’s also probably the most underpaid athlete in the history of track and field.' ... His appearance at the Penn Relays in 2010 resulted in the highest single day attendance (54,310) in the event’s 118-year history."
  • Younger (and newer) Clippers fans need to appreciate that if some of the longstanding fans of Clipper Nation seem cautious headed into 2012-13, they have their reasons. From John Raffo of Clips Nation: "I'm old enough (and grey enough) to have seen this before. Twice before. While, admittedly the long winter of the nineties is not nearly as interminable as the distance between 2005-6 and now, but I believe I've learned my lesson. Unless the Clippers are very very careful, unless they commit to inspired coaching and visionary management."
  • As Rob Mahoney writes at The Two Man Game, teambuilding is rarely a linear process. And at Red94, Rahat Huq wonders if most "young cores" are destined to fail.
  • Philadunkia's Tom Sunnergren chats with new Sixer Nick Young. If anyone in Philly has a place to lease, Swaggy P is looking.
  • Former Atlanta Hawks standout Dan Roundfield tragically died while swimming in Aruba. Roundfield was a pro's pro -- a dogged defensive player and a three-time All-Star while with the Hawks. Danny Solomon, a Hawks ballboy during the 1980s and my classmate at the Hebrew Academy of Atlanta, told the AJC's Michael Cunningham that Roundfield was “the nicest dude in the world," but that, "[b]ack then, all the centers were very, very strong. That’s back when it was ‘real’ basketball and if you tried to go to the hole against a guy like Roundfield, you would go straight down to the floor. He was known for being really rough. He was a stud down low."
  • Chris Bernucca of Sheridan Hoops runs down the remainders in the free agent market. The list isn't void of useful players: Carlos Delfino, Anthony Tolliver, Mickael Pietrus and Jannero Pargo might not be world-beaters, but worse players have been signed to guaranteed deals this offseason.
  • When economist Tyler Cowen hosts a talk, he often has the audience write out questions in advance. Cowen says that, at one recent event, "I was asked about Jeremy Lin, and whether he or LeBron James did more to maximize global wealth. I suggested that Lin did more to maximize utility, as his fame in Asia did not much detract from the fame of any other NBA player, but that LeBron did more to maximize wealth, in part through endorsement income."
  • Get ready for the "Obama Classic" with Michael Jordan, Carmelo Anthony and Patrick Ewing.
  • A man from central Illinois is picking up and moving his family to Haiti to build a basketball court and to teach.
  • Attention Phoenix press corps, especially those in the locker room: Kendall Marshall values his personal space.

Golden Tickets: 10 you don't want to miss

July, 27, 2012
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
The ultimate fantasy parlor game for the hardcore NBA fan:

All expenses paid from your doorstep to an NBA arena 10 times during the 2012-13 season. First class on your preference of air carrier (that means double qualifying miles!) and the penthouse suite at the hotel of your choosing. Once you're at the venue, you can sit wherever you like.

Only two disclaimers: You can't attend a repeat matchup (for instance, only one of the two Heat-Thunder games) and you can visit a specific home floor only twice (for instance, no more than two Lakers home games at Staples Center).

Which 10 games do you want?

My 10, in chronological order:

Oklahoma City Thunder at New Orleans Hornets, Nov. 16

You never need an excuse to drop into New Orleans, but Anthony Davis' arrival warrants a visit.

Davis projects as one of the best defensive players of his generation. A home date against an offensive juggernaut like the Thunder will be Davis' first graduate-level exam in the defensive arts. We'll be waiting for that first switch when Davis -- as sound a perimeter defender as big men come -- finds himself face-to-face with Kevin Durant.

New York Knicks at Brooklyn Nets, Dec. 11

The two teams launch the season against one another on Nov. 1, but opening games, even ones filled with anticipation, are often nothing more than throat clearing by both clubs. But six weeks into the season, the Knicks and Nets will have forged an identity and sculpted systems (or at least tried to). And any intrigue that materialized in the first matchup will resurface in Round 2.

Throughout its history, Brooklyn has traditionally existed as a cultural, demographic and rhythmic counterpart to Manhattan. In 2012, the borough is as healthy as ever. Can that vitality fuel a fan base and, if so, what are some of the collective features of those devotees? Will it resemble anything like New York's storied baseball rivalries of yore?

Houston Rockets at New York Knicks, Dec. 17

How many intriguing characters can you cram into a two-hour NBA drama on the league's most dramatic stage?

The cast starts with Jeremy Lin, who sparked nightly riots at Madison Square Garden during a glorious run in February and March. Then there's Carmelo Anthony who classified the offer sheet Lin signed with Houston as ridiculous and whom reports claim didn't want to play alongside Lin anyhow. Knicks owner James Dolan, whose favorable-unfavorable numbers among fans already hovered at congressional levels, further enraged the base by choosing an inopportune time to tighten the purse strings. Finally, the New York fans for whom a supernova performance from Lin would be every bit as wrenching as it would be exhilarating.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Miami Heat, Dec. 25

As the clock ticked away on the Thunder's season in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, something sparked in Kevin Durant's eyes. His proximity to the Heat's celebration a few yards down the sideline was unbearable. Durant was no longer interested in marshaling a troop of upstarts whose athleticism could challenge the most polished outfits in the league. At that moment, he graduated to a title-or-bust guy.

That drive should propel the Thunder to a romp through their 2012-13 schedule. The Thunder won't be adding a new piece, unlike the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls when Michael Jordan returned and the team won 72 games, but Oklahoma City has a chance for a prolific season during which they lose only two or three times a month. The crescendo will start building on Christmas afternoon when the Heat arrive.

Los Angeles Lakers at Los Angeles Clippers, Jan. 4

Angelenos don't share a lot of communal civic experiences, not even in sports. The baseball and hockey rivalries between the city and Orange County have never been meaningful; but last season the Lakers and Clippers developed something real.

The Lakers are still the gold standard in town, but, for the first time last season, the Clippers brought charisma and star power to the party. With Chris Paul and Blake Griffin on the floor, the Clippers legitimately believe it's a fair fight and that was evident during the team's three-game season series. Don't expect any dip in the intensity in 2012-13.

Miami Heat at Indiana Pacers, Jan. 8

The Pacers have to feel like the Eastern Conference semifinals slipped through their fingers. By no means was it a choke job of any kind, but they had a 2-1 lead against a wounded Heat team that was imploding on the scene.

Indiana should put another quality squad on the floor in 2012-13, but windows don't stay open for very long in the NBA. That's especially true for teams like the Pacers that have to carefully choose the right moment in time and hit the target when those opportunities arise. The first rematch with the Heat at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (while we're choosing buildings, why not go to the best?) should open a few wounds between two teams that went at it intensely in May.

Miami Heat at Los Angeles Lakers, Jan. 17

The Heat and Lakers were hyped to death in 2010-11 as two freight trains bearing down on each other toward a collision in the 2011 Finals.

That matchup never came to fruition and the lines on the Kobe-LeBron parallel have faded, but Heat-Lakers is still event basketball, especially at Staples Center. The colors on the floor pop beneath the creative lighting scheme while public address announcer Lawrence Tanter's baritone brings gravitas to the game. Since one Lakers home game is a must on the NBA tour, the choice is easy.

Miami Heat at Boston Celtics, Jan. 27

The climax of most homecomings usually occurs during opening introductions, then gradually fades over the course of the night unless the returnee goes unconscious or hits the dagger. Allen is certainly capable of draining a game winner, but his return trip to the TD Garden will be especially entertaining because, when it comes to crowd reaction, Boston fans are utterly unpredictable.

Allen could be greeted like a New England prince or could be taunted from the moment he sets foot in the arena two hours prior to tip for his ritualistic individual shootaround. It's anyone's guess.

New York Knicks at Denver Nuggets, March 13

Of all the returns to the scenes of the crimes, this figures to be the most compelling. You have to talk to a lot of NBA fans in Colorado before you find one who has nice things to say about Carmelo Anthony.

When Anthony walks into the Pepsi Center in Denver on March 13, 25 months will have passed since he'd cleaned out his locker. Time can heal, but in the case of the Nuggets faithful, you have to wonder if there's not a deep, pent-up resentment of Anthony. Of course, Anthony knows this, and that reaction will only incite him.

San Antonio at Oklahoma City, April 4

Provided the Spurs aren't locked into a seed and on their conservation diet, it's hard to experience anything other than top-shelf basketball when these two teams match up. Their Western Conference final proved to be the best chess match of the spring, and the stylistic contrasts should be every bit as pronounced in 2012-13.

Tim Duncan re-upped for three years with San Antonio, but as his career winds down, it's worth fully experiencing his final performances. Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James will always be indelible in our minds, but conjuring up mental images of Duncan's greatness when he retires will require a deeper plunge into our memories.

An inside look at the 2012-13 schedule

July, 26, 2012
By Micah Adams & Gregg Found
ESPN Stats & Info
No lockout means a return to normalcy in this year's schedule, where each team visits each city at least once and no team has to play a back-to-back-to-back. Last season, there were 40 back-to-back-to-backs.

Also this year, the regular season will start almost two months earlier (October 30) and will end nine days earlier (April 17) than last season.

• NBA Finals rematches: Christmas Day in Miami, Valentine's Day in Oklahoma City.

• Eastern Conference Finals rematches: October 30 in Miami, January 27 in Boston, March 18 in Boston, April 12 in Miami.

• Western Conference Finals rematches: November 1 in San Antonio, December 17 in Oklahoma City, March 11 in San Antonio, April 4 in Oklahoma City.

• Check out the notable "return" games this season in the chart at right, including Carmelo Anthony making his first trip to Denver this year. Because of the lockout-adjusted schedule, the Knicks did not play at the Nuggets last season.

• Teams appearing the most frequently on ESPN networks: Los Angeles Lakers (16), Miami Heat (15), Oklahoma City Thunder (15), New York Knicks (15), Los Angeles Clippers (14), Chicago Bulls (12), Boston Celtics (11).

• The Heat and Celtics will play each other on Opening Night, October 30 in Miami. Not only will it be Ray Allen's first game against his most mates, LeBron James is 0-3 vs Celtics in season-openers (0-1 with the Heat in 2010, 0-2 with the Cavaliers in 2008 and 2009).

• Based on last season’s records, the toughest months of the season schedule-wise for the Heat will be the start of their season in October-November. But they'll follow that with their easiest month in December. And that includes a Christmas Day showdown with the Thunder.

• It hasn’t been easy for teams to defend their title recently. There’s been only one repeat champion in the last 10 years (Lakers 2009 and 2010). The last two teams defending their titles were bounced in the 1st Round (2012 Mavericks) and Conference Semifinals (2011 Lakers). The last time the Heat defended their title, in the 2006-07 season, they were dealt injuries to Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal and knocked out in the 1st Round.