1. Mavs, Clippers A Lesson In NBA Business
LOS ANGELES -- You didn't need any Instagram effects to make Wednesday night's game between the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers look retro. Five participants in the game at Staples Center were in the NBA when the building opened for the 1999-2000 season: Derek Fisher, Elton Brand, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion and Lamar Odom.
And, believe it or not, this was a glimpse into the future of the league.
You know what makes Carter, Brand, Fisher, as well as Chris Kaman so appealing to the Mavericks? They don't have to pay any of them next year. Brand, Kaman and Fisher are on one-year contracts, and the Mavericks have a team option on Carter. It's all about maintaining flexibility for the next step, recognizing the changing NBA landscape under the new collective bargaining agreement with its shorter, less expensive contracts. All I could think of was this was the manifestation of a conversation I had with Mavericks owner Mark Cuban on opening night.
"You've got to do a reset, because [right now] you've got a combination of old contracts and new contracts," Cuban said that night, before the Mavericks beat the Lakers. "Once we get more into teams being filled with just new contracts, it won't be as ... draconian. You saw what we did, and OKC [is] going through the same process."
That means farewell to continuity. We all know about Oklahoma City breaking up its Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook-James Harden trio, but did you realize that on Wednesday the Mavericks used more former Clippers (Brand and Kaman) in this game than they did members of their 2011 championship team (Marion)?
It might seem harsh and relegate the players to assets instead of people. The thing about veterans is they fully understand these aspects of the profession. They're under no illusion and are unfazed by the prospects, even if it means they could be next.
"You see the business side of it," Brand said. "You see Eddy Curry come in, he's gone. You see Troy Murphy come in, he's gone. We signed Derek Fisher from the couch. You see the business side of it. At the same time, you're at the point in your career, you don't worry about stats, you worry about wins. Because when you win, that's a vet that was on a winning team. That's more important than getting points on a bad team."
It might seem contradictory, but the reason the Mavericks have gone so old is so they can start a youth movement. Midcareer players might not be so willing to take one-year contracts that can allow the Mavericks to start rebuilding.
"Teams will try to go younger sooner and extend their guys sooner, because you're signing them at a lower base," Cuban said. "That will allow you to keep teams together if you build through the draft. If you build via trades or older free agents, it's going to be a lot more difficult because the dollars are a lot higher."
Any reconstruction process involves pain. It's almost a given that teams have to slip before they can improve. Clearing out contracts, being bad enough for high lottery picks -- that all is the uncomfortable part of the process. Cuban knew that was the case when he let championship pieces such as Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and Jason Terry depart. All he wanted was to at least remain, in his word, "decent."
The Clippers have already gone through the suffering. Decades of suffering. The payoff is they now have their pieces in place; Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe are three of the most athletic young players in the game, plus a franchise player in Chris Paul.
All the Mavericks could do was gaze in the air as the Clippers flew past them, the gap in athleticism every bit as wide as the 112-90 final score in the Clippers' victory. There were lobs, including a midair spin by Bledsoe on an alley-oop, and self-initiated jams such as Caron Butler's driving baseline slam on Kaman and Jordan's jaunt from half court to the hoop with only one dribble.
Odom even chipped in 11 rebounds against the team with which he spent part of one season that brought nothing but frustration for both sides.
"I'm getting better and working hard to do what I need to do to help this team," Odom said.
At one point during the game Odom and Brand, Clipper teammates for two years a decade ago, were next to each other. Brand wondered, "You still love it, right?"
Odom replied: "I'm still here."
That was the hidden element to this game. As coldly calculated as this Mavericks roster might appear, it contains a lot of passion for basketball. Brand could have collected $16 million from the Philadelphia 76ers without leaving the house, thanks to the amnesty provision. He didn't want to give up ball. Yes, he'll get an extra $2 million from the Mavericks, but at this stage, after banking $143 million in his career, a couple million more is just tip money for the help.
"It's such a blessing and honor to be in the NBA," Brand said. "You dream about it as a kid. Now you're 33 years old. You just want to give everything you can. The game deserves that."
Fisher could be sitting around polishing his five championship rings. Instead, in what even came as a surprise to him, he started Wednesday's game.
"I love the work, the time, the self-discipline that's required to be at your best," Fisher said. "Those are things I still love."
There was also frustration and a little discouragement in the locker room, another lost night in the ongoing struggle without star Dirk Nowitzki. The Clippers were encouraged, but did just enough wrong for coach Vinny Del Negro to cite a need to "tighten up."
Coaches keep coaching, players keep playing, front offices mind the finances. Those elements are always in play. Wednesday night it just seemed a little clearer.
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
MVP: Paul George. While putting up back-to-back 20-plus-point games for the first time this season, George led his team to victory in almost every way. He scored the most, played more than anyone, led Indiana in defensive boards and dished out a team-high five assists in what was quite possibly the best passing game of his career.
LVP: Nic Batum. Portland coach Terry Stotts might have to put Batum's face on a milk carton after watching his starting forward take only two shots in the second half -- both of which he missed. Batum also shot zero free throws and grabbed zero rebounds.
X factor: Damian Lillard. Today, Lillard won the NBA's Rookie of the Month award. Tonight, he showed why he will eventually take home the year-long version of that trophy. He scored 14 points on just six shots in the first half and finished with a game-high 23. Had he been a little more accurate behind the arc, he might have helped his team come back from what was once an 18-point deficit.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Kobe Bryant wasn't satisfied just scoring his 30,000th point. He finished with 29 on just 17 shots with 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and a lone turnover.
Defining moment: Kobe Bryant converted a right-handed floater over Hornets center Robin Lopez to become the youngest player in history to cross the 30,000-point threshold, and the fifth overall.
X factor: Five minutes passed and 13 points were scored by the Lakers in the second half before Greivis Vasquez finally made a floater to end the Hornets' drought. They would never recover.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Kevin Garnett. The star power forward paced the Celtics on the offensive end with an efficient 18 points (8-for-13) and 10 rebounds. Garnett always seems to have a big game against his former club.
LVP: Greg Stiemsma. On his first return trip to the TD Garden, former fan favorite Stiemsma failed to secure a rebound in nine minutes of play.
Defining moment: The Celtics went on an 11-1 run to start the fourth quarter to really put this game out of reach. Jason Terry capped off the scoring stretch by hitting a 3-pointer off a Jared Sullinger offensive rebound and jetted his way back on defense.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Al Horford is the MVP with a slight edge over Ty Lawson -- only because the Hawks got the win. Horford's 25 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists were major in the Hawks' win. Much love to Lawson, though, who poured in 32 points with 7 assists.
Defining moment: Josh Smith's huge dunk followed by a clutch free throw to make the score 106-101 with 31 seconds left in the game. He made a steal and went coast-to-coast to seal the win.
That was ... cool: Former Hawks and Braves owner Ted Turner made a rare appearance courtside at Philips Arena. He’s a true icon in sports and media ownership, so it's always cool to see him back around the team.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Klay Thompson was unconscious tonight: 27 points on 9-for-13 shooting (5-for-8 from long range). Thompson carried the Warriors after the offensive atrocity that was their first half.
LVP: For playing the second-most minutes on the team (32), Kyle Singler didn't much do at all: 1-for-6 from the field, 3 rebounds and 2 turnovers. Singler was the definition of invisible tonight.
Defining moment: The Warriors scored an impressive 39 points in the third quarter as the Curry-Thompson backcourt combined to shoot 8-for-9 from the field with zero turnovers.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Kemba Walker. Though he wasn't the only quick ‘Cat guard to burn any and every Knickerbocker who attempted to prevent dribble-penetration, Kemba was a semi-unstoppable blur, netting 25 points and 11 dimes by finishing at the tin with aplomb or dishing to wide-open mates.
LVP: The Knicks'’ shot selection. Though New York owes much of its early-season success to deadly long-distance accuracy, 41 attempted treys would even give former coach Mike D'Antoni pause, especially when facing the Kitties -- a team that isn't known for playing particularly imposing defense in the painted area.
Defining moment: In the final two minutes -- Carmelo Anthony didn’t play after lacerating his hand diving into the crowd -- Charlotte turned the ball over in four of their five possessions and, with eight seconds remaining, J.R. Smith dribbled out of a 2-on-1 fast break only to hit an impossible fadeaway 20-footer at the buzzer. Unreal.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Blake Griffin. He's been more "pop" than "roll" this season after setting screens, but Griffin had plenty of runway space to be cleared for takeoff against a grounded Dallas frontcourt.
Defining moment: Lamar Odom. You could practically hear the groans all the way from Dallas as Odom played hard and pulled down 11 rebounds against his former team.
That was ... ridunkulous: The Clippers absolutely ran the Mavs out of the gym with 29 fast-break points, 18 steals and a hibernation worthy amount of lobs. Youth beat experience tonight.
Recap | Box score
MVP: DeMarcus Cousins. Kyle Lowry gets an honorable mention with 34 points (4-of-9 on 3s, 12-of-12 from the line), 5 rebounds, 11 dimes and temporarily crushed a 13-point second-half deficit ... but Cousins gets the nod here. This was businesslike dominance from DMC -- 25 points on 18 shots, including six in the final five minutes, 13 rebounds and no foul trouble. He just handled his business, and there's no reason this can't happen every night.
Defining moment: Tyreke Evans down the stretch. After the Raptors clawed their way to a 93-91 lead with four minutes left, Evans drove at Amir Johnson for a game-tying layup. Nearly two minutes later, after Lowry tied the game at 95, Evans, who had 22 on 16 shots, buried a pair of 3-pointers in 45 seconds to give the Kings a 101-95 lead and effectively slam the door on the Raptors.
X factor: Mickael Pietrus. X factors aren't typically found in the losing locker room, but Pietrus was simply fantastic on Wednesday night. In just his third game as a Raptor, Pietrus not only started, but played 40 minutes and made 8 of 15 shots en route to 21 points, 6 rebounds.
3. Wednesday's Best
Kobe Bryant, Lakers: When you become the youngest player to reach 30,000 points, getting the nod here is a given. Apologies to Kyle Lowry and Al Jefferson for picking the wrong night to rack up the stats.
4. Wednesday's Worst
Orlando Magic: The Magic shot an abysmal 1-of-15 from 3-point range in their 87-81 loss in Utah. The Jazz didn't fare much better -- they missed nine of their 10 attempts from long range -- but pulled out the win. Needless to say, it was an ugly night for both squads.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"I'm going to take some time off from diving in the stands."
-- Carmelo Anthony, on the hand injury he suffered during the Knicks' win in Charlotte on Wednesday night.
8. Who Shot? J.R.!
9. Stat Check
Kevin Garnett scored 18 points on 8-for-13 shooting and pulled down 10 rebounds in the Celtics' 104-94 home win over the Timberwolves.
In seven career games against his former team, Garnett has shot 61 percent from the field and averaged 10.3 rebounds.
No other player with more than five career games against Minnesota has shot better than 60 percent and averaged double-digit rebounds.
10. Dunk Of The Night
MVP: Al Jefferson. He put up a monster night (31 points, 15 rebounds) but went down awkwardly holding his back with a little more than a minute left in the game. Commenting on the back spasms after the game, he said, "It's the reason I bought a $25,000 bed."
Defining moment: Playing their third road game in four days, the Magic probably had no business taking the lead and making the game as interesting as they did in the fourth quarter. After a pesky Orlando comeback, Randy Foye responded with a 3-pointer for his only points of the game and the Jazz cruised from there.
That was ... tough to watch: The teams combined to shoot 2-for-25 from 3-point range. Gordon Hayward (who scored only four points) and Jeremy Evans combined to miss four point-blank dunks, as well.
MVP: Gary Neal. Neal tied with Tony Parker for the game's scoring lead with 22 points, including eight in the fourth quarter when the Spurs put away the Bucks. Added six rebounds in the game for good measure.
LVP: Larry Sanders. After joining the Bucks' starting lineup, Sanders was unable to continue his NBA block party. Sanders started the game well, bothering the Spurs with his length and athleticism, but picked up two early fouls and struggled to make an impact after that.
X factor: Nando De Colo. The Spurs rookie dazzled with his passing ability and teamed up with Tiago Splitter and Matt Bonner to create spacing and opportunities during the Spurs' deciding fourth-quarter run.
MVP: Marco Belinelli. It's hard not to give this to Joakim Noah (15 rebounds, 13 points, 5 assists) or Luol Deng (22 points, 8-for-13, 7 boards), but Belinelli's stunning 23-point outburst really sparked a Bulls team that has been struggling to score.
LVP: Jeremy Pargo. Starting in place of the injured Kyrie Irving, Pargo went 3-for-12 from the field, misfired on all four of his 3-point attempts and punctuated a frustrating evening by earning a technical foul for whipping the basketball off Belinelli's face.
X factor: On any given night, you could say the Bulls' defense -- which held Cleveland to 36.5 percent shooting -- was the X factor. But in this case I'll go with Chicago's precise and unselfish passing, which led to 22 assists on 34 made field goals.