Fri Apr 25 01:45am EDT
In the past few years, NBA stars like Russell Westbrook and Dwyane Wade have worn some truly bizarre outfits to and from their teams' games, including bold print shirts and extremely bright pants. As the clothes get crazier and crazier, it often seems like there is no fashion frontier.
Kudos to Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley, then, for proving that new looks still exist. Before and after the Grizzlies' exciting Game 3 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Conley wore a wood-brimmed hat. Take a look, for proof that such things even exist:
In his post-game press conference, Conley confirmed that it was the real deal:
This is not Conley first foray into wooden clothing — he donned a wooden bow tie during last spring's playoffs. Plus, there is a tradition of wooden hats, as this wonderful website shows. Really, Conley could have gone all out and picked up a full wooden hat, not just one with the brim. The options are nearly limitless.
Your move, Mr. Westbrook.
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Thu Apr 24 11:52pm EDT
For the second game in a row, the Oklahoma City Thunder pushed the Memphis Grizzlies to overtime with a thrilling, improbable comeback spurred by a four-point play. For the second game in a row, the Grizzlies bounced back in the extra period to take control and come away with a huge win in this increasingly fascinating first round series.
Frankly, the host Grizzlies should have put the game away much earlier. With 7:43 remaining in regulation of Game 3, they held what looked like a commanding 81-64 lead and a clear path to going up 2-1 against the favored No. 2-seed Thunder. However, the offensive drought that followed reached near-catastrophic levels. Over nearly seven minutes, the Grizzlies failed to score and allowed the Thunder to creep back into the game at a time when their offense didn't even appear to be functioning at peak levels of efficiency. When Russell Westbrook drained a three-pointer with 57 seconds on the clock, he finished off a 17-0 run that brought OKC back into an 81-81 tie.
Memphis's struggles stopped there, with improbable offensive sparkplug Tony Allen putting together a driving dunk and breakaway lay-up (off his own steal) on consecutive possessions to put his team up by four points. Yet, "just like Kevin Durant in Game 2, Westbrook saved the Thunder with a unlikely four-point play:
It didn't necessarily look like Allen made meaningful contact, but the drama of the moment obviated any complaints about the officiating. Four-point plays are rare in the NBA, but it's downright shocking that each of the Thunder's two stars hit one in the final 30 seconds in consecutive playoff games to give the team a chance to steal a playoff game.
On the other hand, the Thunder's dramatic comebacks in Games 2 and 3 helped obscure that they needed these rescues in the first place. As in Game 2, the Grizzlies rebounded from their own late struggles and misfortune to control overtime. Although Durant opened the scoring with a three-point play, the Grizzlies tightened up their defense and focused on their inside-out offensive attack to take a 95-90 lead with a minute on the clock. The Thunder made things close with two Durant free throws and had a desperation chance down four points in the final second after Allen fouled Westbrook in the act of shooting from roughly 70 feet away, but it was clear that they were playing from behind. Memphis earned this 98-95 victory and a 2-1 series advantage.
The Thunder have plenty of soul-searching to do as they attempt to regain homecourt advantage in Saturday's Game 4. Durant entered the postseason primed for a huge run after his MVP campaign, but the Grizzlies have limited his effectiveness. Although he finished with 30 points, Durant needed 27 field goal attempts to do so. As noted by ESPN, his 0-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc ranked as the second-most attempts in his career without a three-point basket. Additionally, Durant went only 1-of-13 from outside of 10 feet. The Grizzlies stymied Durant in last spring's second round with Westbrook out with a knee injury, but things were supposed to be different with both players in the lineup this year.
Unfortunately, Westbrook appears to lack his typical balance between his mercurial athleticism and the proper application of that ability. His 30 points on 9-of-26 shooting (4-of-13 3FG) speaks to his inefficiency, but the current Westbrook experience goes beyond those numbers. If he is capable of out-of-nowhere brilliance at his best moments, then this version of the player appears to have the ability to get himself in position to make those plays without having the body control or wherewithal to put it all together. It is likely that Westbrook is not fully recovered from the knee troubles that have plagued him over the past year, and that inability to play at full strength appears to be hurting the Thunder. Worse yet, the team appears to be doubling down on Durant and Westbrook as offensive linchpins with no role players compensating for their struggles.
But all of this Thunder talk does a disservice to the Grizzlies, who have rounded into top form at the perfect time. First-year head coach (and longtime team assistant) Dave Joerger has his team playing its customarily suffocating defense at just the right time, and role players like Knicks castoff Beno Udrih — who wouldn't be playing these minutes if not for the suspension of Nick Calethes — are playing at unexpectedly high levels. More than anything, though, the Grizzlies are evincing the grit-and-grind mindset that has brought them such great success in recent seasons. This team knows its strengths and believes in its ability to transcend any run or struggles. They're not a perfect team by any stretch — a seven-minute scoring drought proves that quite clearly — but they know how to make up for any deficiencies. The Grizzlies are proof of the power of a talented team with a firm identity.
That said, the Thunder remain in decent shape in the series. Durant and/or Westbrook could go off for a dominant game at any time, and two overtime losses suggest that they're not too far from figuring things out. But one of the NBA's apparent championship contenders needs to do so quickly if they hope to avoid a very disappointing first-round upset.
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Thu Apr 24 11:03pm EDT
Just after 7 p.m. ET on Thursday, shortly before tipoff of Game 3 between the Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena, @NBAOfficial — a Twitter account offering updates on officiating and rule clarifications "directly from the league office" — published the following tweet:
Little did we know that this particular clarification would wind up becoming an important part of a remarkable play just a couple of hours later.
With just under three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and the Hawks hold onto an 84-78 lead over the once-again-scuffling Pacers, Indiana found itself in desperate need of a stop, and they appeared to have gotten one. Paul George had successfully navigated a Hawks high-screen-and-roll near the half-court line without getting caught up in the wash of bigs David West and Paul Millsap, recovering to keep Hawks point guard Jeff Teague in front of him as the shot clock wound down under 10 seconds. On the other side of the court, George Hill fought around an off-ball screen from Atlanta center Pero Antic to stay within hailing distance of Kyle Korver, keeping the always dangerous sharpshooter from being a pressure-release option as the seconds ticked off.
Antic passed the ball out to Teague, whose right foot was on the tip of the wing of the Hawks logo extending from half-court, with just under five seconds remaining on the shot clock. Atlanta had nothing going; all Teague could do was dribble left around an Antic screen, get angled toward the sideline by switching defender Luis Scola, and hoist up a prayer.
Sometimes, prayers get answered. The running, off-balance 24-footer swished softly through the net after the shot clock hit zero, pushing Atlanta's lead to nine and further reinforcing the already apparent reality that this just wasn't the Pacers' night.
It was, frankly, a ridiculous play; Teague himself shrugged as he ran back on defense. But this wasn't an "M.J. vs. the Blazers, I don't know what to tell you, I just can't miss" shrug. This was a "No, seriously, I am just as baffled by what is going on as you are" shrug. Don't believe me? Here's the evidence:
Jeff Teague is a confident man, but even confident men recognize nonsense not actually of their own doing; this was such a moment of recognition.
The cold, hard truth was further confirmed after Lance Stephenson hit a layup to cut the Hawks lead to 87-80, then committed a foul on Teague during the Hawks' next offensive possession. During the stoppage in play, the referees flocked to the courtside monitor to review Teague's 3-pointer. There were several elements of the play that the officials could review — whether Teague's foot was behind the arc for a 3-pointer or on the line to make it a 2-pointer, for example, or whether the ball left Teague's hand before the shot clock expired.
As clarified above, though, there's no trigger for determining whether or not the player stepped out of bounds ... which was kind of a big deal, considering it sure looked on replay like Teague's right foot stepped on the sideline before his left foot came back down in bounds and he set to heavin'.
Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star offered a little post-game light on the officiating situation on the play in question:
Teague's foot was behind the arc when he cast off, so it was a 3, and the 3 stayed on the board, because that's all that could happen at that point.
Teague made his two freebies from the Stephenson foul after the review, putting the Hawks back up by nine, and that about sealed it. Stephenson missed two free throws on the other end, and the Pacers — evidently doing their best Rockets impression — didn't bust it back and match up, leaving Korver wide open in the left corner for a too-easy triple that pushed the lead to 12.
One more Teague layup following a Stephenson turnover capped a 15-5 Atlanta run, effectively sealing matters with just over a minute left as an "OVER-RATED" chant rained down from the stands at Philips Arena. From there, some final-minute free-throwing finished off a 98-85 victory that gives the eighth-seeded Hawks a 2-1 lead over the top-seeded Pacers, with Game 4 coming at the Highlight Factory on Saturday afternoon.
Teague's 3-pointer was the biggest moment, but as was the case in Game 1, the Hawks earned this win by virtue of controlling the run of play in the third quarter.
After a dismal offensive first half that saw the two clubs combine to shoot 33.8 percent from the floor, Atlanta rediscovered its touch and rhythm in the third. The Hawks went 2 for 16 from deep in the first two quarters, but 6 for 12 from long range in the third, with DeMarre Carroll (2 for 4), Lou Williams (2 for 3), Paul Millsap (1 for 2) and Korver (1 for 2) all connecting on mostly open looks created by sticking with their formula — multiple shooters stationed around the perimeter, lots of pick-and-pop actions, quick pitches and whirring dribble-handoffs to beat Indiana's often step-slow closeouts.
And while the Hawks' offense was picking up to the tune of 28 points on 50 percent shooting, Indy continued to sputter, going 8 for 25 from the field, with Roy Hibbert and George Hill combining to miss all eight of their field-goal attempts in the frame. A Carroll triple from the right wing gave Atlanta a 42-40 lead with 10:38 remaining in the third, and they never trailed again.
"Guys were making shots in the second half," Teague told NBA TV's Molly Sullivan after the game. "We've just got to keep being aggressive. That's a good defensive team over there. They're going to come back and make it tough next game — they made it tough this game, I didn't shoot well at all. We just fought, man. This was a big win for us."
Teague led all scorers with 22 points on 7 for 20 shooting to go with 10 assists against three turnovers in 36 12 minutes of work. He was one of five Hawks in double-figures, joined by Korver (20 points, 4 for 7 from 3-point land, six rebounds), Carroll (18 points on 6 for 8 shooting, four rebounds, two assists), Millsap (14 rebounds and four assists to go with his 14 points in an off-shooting night) and Williams (11 on 3 for 6 shooting in 20 minutes off the bench). Mike Budenholzer's club finished 12 for 34 from 3-point land after starting 1 for 14, notched 21 assists on 28 made field goals, and got to the line 37 times by taking advantage of all the space their long-range shooting creates by persistently attacking the rim.
Stephenson led the Pacers with 21 points on 8 for 16 shooting, 13 rebounds, four assists and three steals in 41-plus minutes. West added 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists, and Scola once again provided firepower off the pine, chipping in 17 points on 11 shots in 20 minutes. George, so dominant in Game 2, was short-circuited by early foul trouble and couldn't find the range on his jumper, making just one of 11 shots outside the paint en route to a 12-point, 14-rebound, four-assist performance.
In as close to a must-win game as the Pacers have had this season, their offense once again stagnated, with too much one-on-one play, too little side-to-side ball movement and too many missed midrange jumpers — Indy went just 8 for 32 on shots between the paint and 3-point arc on Thursday. And with the Hawks largely playing super small, the Pacers couldn't make them pay on the interior, thanks in part to the continued struggles of center Roy Hibbert, who missed seven of nine shots, managing just four points, two rebounds, one assist and two turnovers in 19 minutes of floor time. He did not see the court in the fourth quarter.
Hibbert has looked largely helpless on the court and dejected off it, seeming to have few answers for how he can contribute in this series. And yet, Pacers head coach Frank Vogel seems determined to stick with him ... well, "seems," anyway:
"Probably." Like so much else about these Indiana Pacers at this stage, that, too, remains in doubt. Sometimes, all you can do is take a page out of Teague's book and just shrug.
If the clip above isn't rocking for you, please feel free to check out the ridiculousness elsewhere, thanks to NBA Highlights.
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Thu Apr 24 06:40pm EDT
A look around the league and the Web that covers it. It's also important to note that the rotation order and starting nods aren't always listed in order of importance. That's for you, dear reader, to figure out.
C: Heather Rooney. Sure, the actual drawing of LeBron James is pretty incredible, but not nearly as incredible as how fast she's moving her hand!
PF: The Deseret News. The Utah Jazz's search for a new head coach to replace the ousted Tyrone Corbin will include interviews of "much more than 20" candidates, but even the Jazz don't know who they're going to be just yet. Are exhaustive searches and exhausting searches the same thing? Asking for a franchise.
SF: TrueHoop. With the Jazz, New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves — and potentially a few other clubs — in the market for a new head coach, Kevin Arnovitz once again surveys league executives and decision-makers to figure out which coaching prospects are considered most likely to make the leap to the head of an NBA bench in the near future.
SG: azcentral sports. Freshly minted Most Improved Player Goran Dragic on what he'd like to see the Phoenix Suns do this offseason: "If we can get LeBron, I would like to get him." This guy's going to make one hell of a GM when his playing days are finished.
PG: The Oregonian. Jason Quick reveals the moment that turned the tide for the Portland Trail Blazers, stemmed their late-season slide and got them back on track toward not only securing a postseason berth, but doing some serious damage once they got there. Turns out it wasn't all about Mo Williams ditching his Boosie fade.
6th: The Classical. A really good and touching read from Patrick Redford on Dirk Nowitzki, "Anna's Mavs" and appreciating the beautiful things in life while we have them.
7th: Detroit Bad Boys. A good breakdown of which teams will have cap space this summer, how much cap space they could have if they maxed out their flexibility, how much cap space they really have once you account for the guys they'd probably like to re-sign, and which are most likely to be aggressive bidders in the marketplace. Worth saving and coming back to once we get closer to free agency.
8th: Rufus on Fire. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored a season-high 22 points on 9 for 13 shooting against the vaunted Miami Heat defense in the Charlotte Bobcats' Game 2 loss. Yes, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The guy whose jumpshot has undergone a complete rebuild and still looks wonky. How the heck did he do that? Ben Swanson digs into the tape and finds that Bobcats head coach Steve Clifford might've figured out how to get MKG loose on the weak side.
9th: Hang Time. John Schuhmann takes a look at the SportVU shot-tracking data for the first-round matchup between the Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors and finds something simple that could wind up making a pretty profound difference: Whichever team starts knocking down the open looks they're creating first could very well seize control of the best-of-seven series.
10th: TrueHoop. I really enjoyed Ethan Sherwood Strauss on the glaring stylistic differences between Chris Paul and Stephen Curry, the two elite point guards at the controls for the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors.
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Thu Apr 24 06:03pm EDT
The “why-is-this-news” folks who don’t understand what it’s like to be young and in the closet and scared and desperate for this sort of news are just going to have to deal with another bit of news.
Jason Collins was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people this week. It’s a constructed award, with no real scientific backing, discussed and detailed in print by celebrities with only a tangential relationship to the honoree. Collins, who came out of the closet one year ago and was signed by the Brooklyn Nets in February, is the only openly gay male sports participant working in the four major North American pro sports. His go-to qualifier happily keeps adding words to it because more and more athletes – women, pro prospects, college players, those who run up and down a soccer pitch – are coming out. This is why someone like Jason Collins is influential.
Despite his noted dedication to the defensive craft, Jason will be the first one to tell you he is a role player. His lone start with Brooklyn this season came because the team was resting its players on the last day of the regular season. His best skill is defending traditional low-post centers, a tradition that is slowly dying in the NBA. He barely made the league last season before somewhat surprisingly signing with the Boston Celtics. In pure basketball terms, his barely there employment makes absolute sense.
He wore No. 98 last year with the Celtics (and Washington, following a trade) in tribute to Matthew Shephard, and Jason decided to continue this tradition in 2013-14. Even before his season-long contract with the Nets was confirmed, the jersey became a top seller. Once his 10-day contract worked its way into a fully guaranteed turn, the NBA decided to donate all the profits from Collins’ jersey sales to the foundation that Shephard’s parents created, and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. This is why this man is the most influential player in the NBA, if not all of sports.
He barely averaged more than a point per game with the Nets this season. Brooklyn may not even have to play the sorts of centers (Roy Hibbert, Andrew Bynum, Dwight Howard) that Collins succeeds in defending during their postseason run. He averaged single-digit minutes per game, and managed a single-digit Player Efficiency Rating. Amongst veterans, Jason Collins might be ranked lower than any other NBA player over the age of 30.
The Nets were under .500 when they signed Collins, and they’ve won two-thirds of their games since he became a part of their team. The expected media firestorm died down following a massive Los Angeles news conference announcing his hire in February. Nobody blinks when he enters a game. No press member makes a beeline for his locker following his short-minute, unspectacular stint on the court. No teammate has raised a hackle, and only one unnamed knucklehead has said something disparaging on the court.
Nobody gives a rat’s ass. This is why he’s influential. This is why this is news.
Because the NBA has carried on apace, because his team didn’t bat an eye, thousands of young men and women will gain the confidence to be honest with themselves – and, by extension, their families, social circles and extra-curricular organizations – through the way Jason Collins and the NBA handled this. The impact of both his 2013 declaration and Brooklyn’s 2014 signing and the subsequent lack of a fallout will result in ripples that won’t be felt by most, but will mean the world to a young community that needs this sort of news badly. It might be getting better, but we’re still so far away.
Unless the Nets continue their commitment to the class of the fin de siècle, Jason Collins may not have a job in the NBA next year. His on-court impact may only last for 172 regular season minutes, and spotty appearances in what could only be a first- or second-round postseason run. The league will move on, less insistent on the sort of low-post defenders (players like John Salley, Herb Williams, Charles Jones and Mike Brown) who used to hang onto employment deep into their late 30s. Collins will move onto whatever his Stanford-educated brain decides to chase down.
In just a calendar year between his announcement from last spring and this TIME snippet this spring, he’s changed some lives. He’s changed the way people perceive team sports, from those inside this sweaty dome, and for those outside watching on TV. Most importantly, he’s changed the lives and given confidence to those who may not have had nearly as much confidence just one year ago. For those teetering on the edge, wondering if it’s worth it to be honest with their parents, their schoolmates, their teammates, or even themselves.
This is why, to those who have even bothered to read this before skipping to the comment section, he is influential. This is why this is news.
Thank you, Jason Collins, for creating news for those who need this sort of news.
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Thu Apr 24 05:25pm EDT
Charlotte Bobcats forward Josh McRoberts has been fined $20,000 for the foul he committed against the Miami Heat's LeBron James with 50 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of Miami's 101-97 win over Charlotte in Wednesday's Game 2 of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference playoff series, the NBA announced Thursday. The league also announced that McRoberts' foul — called a common foul on the floor by the officials during the game — has been upgraded to a flagrant-2.
Here's the foul, if you missed it the first time around:
With the Heat holding a 97-94 lead, James isolated against defender Michael Kidd-Gilchrist before dribbling to his left around a screen by teammate Chris Bosh, beating an attempted trap by Bobcats center Al Jefferson and driving to the rim. McRoberts slid over from the left corner, where he had been guarding Mario Chalmers, and met James in the air, hitting him in the throat with his right forearm and sending the reigning MVP sprawling to the court. After taking a moment to collect himself on the ground, James got up and went to the free-throw line, where he hit one of two foul shots. He stayed in the game until the final buzzer.
While the refs on the scene assessed a simple common foul on the play, the league office upgraded the call to a flagrant-2, which is awarded when "contact committed against a player, with or without the ball, is interpreted to be unnecessary and excessive," according to the NBA's rulebook. Had the refs given McRoberts a flagrant-2 at the time, he would have been automatically ejected from the game. Instead, he was allowed to remain in the game, finishing with eight points, four assists and one rebound in 37 1/2 minutes in the loss.
I wrote on Wednesday night that it wouldn't have surprised me at all had the league decided to give McRoberts a one-game suspension after the fact, considering its stated pre-postseason emphasis on flagrant fouls, and specifically contact above the shoulders, and considering the fact that McRoberts never got his arms up to contest James' shot attempt or make any kind of play on the ball. Whether the shot to the throat was intentional or unintentional — McRoberts said after the game it was the latter — it happened, and it was a play dangerous enough to seem like it merited a heave-ho not only in retrospect, but even at the time.
Instead, McRoberts will be available for Game 3 on Saturday. His wallet'll be quite a bit lighter when he gets there, though.
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Thu Apr 24 04:56pm EDT
The Indiana Pacers relieved a little bit of the pressure they've been feeling on Tuesday night, riding a very good outing from Paul George and a good ol' third-quarter smackdown to a 101-85 win over the Atlanta Hawks that evened their best-of-seven first-round playoff series at one game apiece. The Pacers juggled their coverages, got vital aggressive play from point guard George Hill and created turnovers in bunches to turn the tide in the second half of Game 2, helping wipe away the sour taste of a Game 1 defeat.
But while the sun shines a lot brighter and the birds sing a lot more sweetly at 1-1 than at 0-2, winning Game 2 didn't automatically make everything all beer and Skittles in Indy. The Pacers still head to Atlanta for Thursday's Game 3 having squandered the home-court advantage they'd worked to achieve, needing to score a victory at an arena in which they've struggled over the years. The Pacers have just two wins at Philips Arena since December 2006 and a 2-6 mark since head coach Frank Vogel took over midway through the 2010-11 season, although they've won two of their last three there and clinched their first-round series win over the Hawks in Atlanta last season. If they can't score a W in Georgia, they'll head back to Indiana for Game 5 just one loss away from an opening-round elimination that would not only be historic (Indy would be just the fifth No. 1 seed ever to be toppled by a No. 8 seed in Round 1) and embarrassing for the top-seeded Pacers, but that would represent a stunning crash-and-burn conclusion for a team that raced out to a 40-12 mark before the All-Star break but fell apart thereafter, going 16-14 to finish the season and running out the league's second-worst offense (ahead of only the historically awful Philadelphia 76ers) following the All-Star break.
Considering how precipitous the Pacers' free-fall has been, and how calamitous a first-round loss to a 38-44 Hawks team playing without injured centerpiece Al Horford would be, and the mounting number of reports of unrest (and even straight-up fights) throughout the Pacers roster, it didn't seem particularly surprising when reporters like Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski and ESPN.com's Marc Stein wrote that, despite posting a .625 winning percentage in three-plus years at the helm in Indy, Vogel's job could be in jeopardy should the Pacers lose this series to the Hawks. Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard clearly heard the swirling rumors, because he decided to do his part to put them to rest via Twitter on Thursday:
Not a bad joke, Mr. Pritchard. Still, though, I'm with Jared Wade of Pacers blog 8 Points, 9 Seconds: "While I wouldn’t doubt the as-of-now sincerity of Pritchard or the organization at large, I still wouldn’t want to be Vogel if the Hawks win this series." Pritchard's comments echo Bird saying two weeks ago that he "100 percent" supports Vogel, but it's awful difficult to imagine Bird allowing such a mammoth cratering to go unpunished.
For now, though, the Pacers' head coach heads into Game 3 having received a vote of confidence from his bosses. We'll see if his team responds with the kind of on-court support that can help Vogel regain the upper hand in this first-round matchup.
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Thu Apr 24 03:49pm EDT
If Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson found himself in Carmelo Anthony's position — staring down the prospect of a summertime decision whether to return to the New York Knicks or seek greener pastures in free agency — his choice would be simple: "I would leave today."
The legendary former Cincinnati Royals and Milwaukee Bucks guard, a 12-time All-Star who famously averaged a triple-double during the 1961-62 NBA season and won a title in Milwaukee in 1971, offered that advice to the Knicks forward during an interview with Robertson that will be broadcast on filmmaker/Knicks superfan Spike Lee's SiriusXM NBA radio show on Thursday. He went on to explain his reasoning:
“Wherever that kid’s gone, when he was at Denver, they had a team that fooled around with the ball, fooled around with the ball, then all of the sudden when they needed a basket, threw it to Carmelo,” Robertson said of Anthony’s time with the Nuggets. “Then, when he shot the ball, they said he shot too much. Then, when he didn’t shoot, they said he didn’t shoot enough. No matter what he does in New York, they’re going to criticize him, the people are going to criticize him, because you got guys on [the Knicks] that just cannot play.”
When Spike insisted things would change for the Knicks with the hiring of Phil Jackson, Robertson replied, “Let me ask you: When was the last time Phil Jackson played?”
“I think Phil is great to have gotten $12 million out of [Knicks owner Jim Dolan]. Super job. Take the money and run,” Robertson said. “If I were Carmelo, I would say, ‘Listen, I’m not gonna stay here and take all this gruff and all this criticism. You got other guys on the team making $12, $15, $16 million and doing nothing, and here I am averaging 28, 29 points per game.’”
So if not New York, what landing spot did Robertson see fit for ‘Melo?
“If he goes to Houston, they’re gonna win everything,” Robertson said. “You look at LeBron, LeBron’s got a great game, Durant’s got a great game — they can’t out-shoot Carmelo.”
A few thoughts:
• Technically, the earliest 'Melo could leave the Knicks would be July 1, after opting out of the final year of his existing contract and hitting the market following the opening of unrestricted free agency. But I get what Mr. Robertson's saying.
• I bet Kevin Durant and LeBron James could outshoot Carmelo Anthony. I mean, I'm not saying they'd beat 'Melo every single time they went shot-for-shot, but if they had shooting competitions a bunch of times, I'd have a hard time imagining KD and LeBron being unable to ever do a better job of shooting than 'Melo. They're really good at shooting, too.
• Robertson is absolutely right that some people in New York will criticize Anthony for anything short of winning an NBA championship. There are a lot of people who get mad at players for not being perfect champions in just about every city, but there are a lot of them in New York, with quite a number of them seeming to believe that the Knicks should be awesome because they believe New York to be better than other cities, which A) might be true but B) doesn't mean your basketball team just automatically gets to be great. As a result, 'Melo can be mostly awesome as part of the best Knicks team in more than a dozen years and catch flack for not leading it to a championship, as was the case last season, and he can be even better and catch flack for not leading it to something better than a 37-45 mark, as has been the case this year. On this score, the Big O is 100 percent correct.
• The last time Robertson played in the NBA was May 12, 1974.
• I'm not sure what either of those two facts has to do with anything.
• I'm sure the Houston Rockets wouldn't mind having 'Melo on-side right about now, especially with James Harden struggling so mightily on the offensive end. Then again, I'm skeptical 'Melo would be able to do much in the way of helping Houston handle LaMarcus Aldridge, which seems like the Rockets' main problem at the moment.
As some have noted, Robertson's opinion — while certainly nice to hear, since it's always nice to hear from the greats who helped make our favorite game what it is today — isn't likely to have very much bearing on anything relating to Anthony's impending opt-out, free-agent decision or ... well, anything at all, really. Robertson's suggestion that leaving New York would give 'Melo a better shot at winning a championship probably doesn't represent a grand revelation to the player in question; I'd wager that 'Melo had already conjured up that thought on his own.
As I wrote earlier this week, if Anthony truly wants to be on a contender immediately, the Knicks' present assets — in terms of players on hand, salary cap structure, future draft pick availability, etc. — make them seem like a losing bet, suggesting he may well be gone this summer. As our Kelly Dwyer wrote yesterday, there's not really a ready-made title contending fit out there for Anthony — the Rockets and Chicago Bulls come closest, but the fit could still be awkward and there's some salary-cap finagling to be done to make it work — unless he's comfortable with taking a more significant pay cut than just "playing for a smaller maximum contract." (The collective bargaining agreement allows the Knicks to offer Anthony up to five years and just over $129 million, while other clubs can offer at most four years and just under $96 million.)
Jackson's job will be to convince Anthony to both take that pay cut and that he'll be able to reconstruct a competitive roster (with very little flexibility in procuring upgrades) quickly enough to make it worth his while to stick around Manhattan. And if he can't, it'll be his job to convince Knicks fans that they're still "fortunate" and moving in a positive direction. These seem like two very difficult jobs. It's a good thing Jackson is very well compensated.
As Jackson goes about doing his job and Anthony weighs his options, Oscar Robertson will probably not have any role or impact in the proceedings. But now we know what he thinks, which is nice and, in conjunction with $2.50, will get you on the subway. Whether Anthony's of a similar mind is the much larger, and more significant, question.
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Thu Apr 24 02:49pm EDT
These are, to put it mildly, trying times for the Houston Rockets. They've found themselves utterly unable to stop, or even appreciably slow down, Portland Trail Blazers All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who has stepped into the spotlight fresh-dipped in flames and become the breakout star of the opening round of the 2014 playoffs by averaging — averaging! — 44.5 points and 13 rebounds in 40.5 minutes per game in staking Rip City's finest to a commanding 2-0 lead with the series heading back to the Pacific Northwest for Friday's Game 3. It's been sensational to watch Aldridge repeatedly cook the likes of Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones and Omer Asik — although Asik was most successful against LMA in Game 2, according to SportVU one-on-one defensive matchup data — and make shot after shot from all over the court against all manner of coverages and tough closeouts ... provided, of course, you're not a Rockets fan.
If you do happen to holler for Houston, though, you're probably a bit less thrilled at the offensive performance put forth by James Harden. The All-Star shooting guard has struggled mightily against the defense of (mostly) Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum, making just 14 of his 47 shots (29.8 percent) through the postseason's first two games, including a woeful 5 for 19 mark (26.3 percent) from 3-point range. When you've just lost two games on your home court to fall into an 0-2 hole against an unconscious opponent, such struggles become magnified, and the increased scrutiny can lead to shortened tempers amid direct questioning. That appears to be what happened with Harden during his post-game media session in the Rockets' locker room after Wednesday's 112-105 loss.
You can hear the questions from a "national reporter" that started the ball rolling down hill in the clip below, as shared by the great Rockets site ClutchFans:
A bit brusque and bristly, sure, but nothing too spicy. Things apparently escalated a bit after Harden's scrum wrapped up, though, according to Mike Tokito of The Oregonian:
But when his media session in the Rockets opulent locker room ended, Harden went back at the reporter, asking if he had ever seen a player not play well before. The reporter answered that the struggle seemed unusual for Harden and was coming on a major stage, the playoffs.
The two went back and forth for a while, with Harden asking the reporter if he’d ever seen a basketball game before, then demanding to know whom the reporter was. The exchange got testy enough that team officials stepped in to usher Harden out.
As he left the room, Harden called the reporter “weirdo.”
Here's ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh with a bit more detail on the aftermath of the back-and-forth:
The interview session moved on, Harden calmly answered additional questions from other reporters. The Rockets' line of flat-screen TVs scrolled through the team's statistical ranks on the season, including their defensive efficiency rank of 13th. Harden focused on the Rockets' defense as their downfall in Game 2.
"I'm not worried about my offense, I'm worried about our defense — our defense as a team," Harden said.
A few minutes later, the questions stopped coming, but not before Harden, evidently still aggravated, circled back and spun the questioning to the aforementioned reporter, taking issue with his basketball credibility.
"You've never seen someone shoot 29 percent in two games? You must not watch basketball."
The longtime reporter responded that he'd watching basketball longer than Harden had been alive. And that Harden should be held to a higher standard because he is All-NBA.
"Weirdo," Harden said, before walking out of the room once Houston's PR staff stepped in.
First, let's acknowledge just how ludicrous it is that a guy whose chosen facial hair has inspired abstract art ... who described himself and his sense of style as "weird and funky" for GQ two years back ... who's out here dapping up invisible teammates and cutting fake R&B records ... and who got caught doing this in a Rockets huddle:
... would call someone else out as a weirdo.
Moving on: The media member with whom Harden tangled was later identified as Fran Blinebury of NBA.com, a former president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association who covered the Rockets as a beat writer and later columnist for the Houston Chronicle for decades, from the rise of the Ralph Sampson-Hakeem Olajuwon (or, then, Akeem Olajuwon) Twin Towers lineup through the back-to-back titles of the mid-1990s, from the arrival and ascent of Yao Ming through the unfulfilled promise of his pairing with Tracy McGrady, and from the start of Daryl Morey's reign through 2009, when he made the move from the Chronicle to NBA.com. Here's his post-Game 2 story on how badly the Rockets need Harden to get it going.
That Harden called a reporter a not-so-nice word in and of itself isn't that big a deal, although as the ClutchFans clip shows, the nature of the questioning wasn't exactly bomb-throwing or inflammatory; this was just Blinebury doing his job to write on what's clearly the biggest non-Aldridge story in the series. What it does lay bare, however, is just how frustrated Harden's become with his inability to find his rhythm after missing 20 shots in Game 1 and following that up with another 13 misses in Game 2 — "the most he has ever missed in a two-game span in his career," according to Haberstroh.
Perhaps most indicative of Harden's struggles: he's seen his free-throw rate (how many freebies you shoot per field-goal attempt taken) cut nearly in half from the regular season, which stands to reason, since he's attempting a far lower share of his shots in the paint (34 percent through two games) than he did during the regular season (41.4 percent), with a drop of just over 10 percent in frequency of attempts directly at the rim. A version of Harden that isn't getting to the rim at will and drawing fouls in droves is a substantially less effective version than the one who averaged 25.4 points per game during the regular season; if he's not carving up defenses and scoring enough to outstrip what he gleefully gives away on the other end, his minutes can swing from problematic for the opposition to problematic for the Rockets.
The more problematic those minutes, and that lack of production, becomes for the Rockets, the more problematic this will all become for Harden, whose regular-season accolades could start to become overshadowed by a postseason résumé that includes his disappointing five-game run in the Oklahoma City Thunder's 2012 Finals loss to the Miami Heat and a sub-40-percent turn in Houston's opening-round loss to Oklahoma City last year. The transition from "up-and-coming rising star learning how to be the man" to "high-scoring statistical darling who hasn't won anything" can happen quicker than a Eurostep, and if Harden doesn't find a way to get on track, it could come for him so soon as to feel sudden.
That sort of mounting pressure — especially ahead of a game that, if it goes Portland's way, would put Houston in a hole from which no team in NBA history has ever recovered in 108 tries — will make a guy feel a little antsy and grouchy. But that's no reason not to be nice, James. Us weirdos have to stick together, you know?
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Thu Apr 24 01:17am EDT
Last summer, Portland Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge was the subject of trade rumors that would have moved him from the only NBA team he's ever known. Nearly a year later, he's clearly been the best player of the first few days of the 2014 postseason.
For the second consecutive game, Aldridge terrorized the Houston Rockets' defense. Coming three days after his 46-point, 18-rebound performance in Portland's Game 1 win, Aldridge scored 43 points on 18-of-28 shooting to lead his team to a 112-105 win and a 2-0 series lead, giving Portland a huge advantage as the series heads to their home court for Games 3 and 4.
Aldridge's performance places him in impressive historic company. He is the first player in Blazers history to score 40 or more points in two playoff games over his entire tenure with the team, the first player to score 40 points in consecutive playoff games since LeBron James in 2009, and the third player in NBA history to score 40-plus points in both Games 1 and 2 on the road. Aldridge was an All-Star and early MVP candidate this season, but he has elevated his game to new levels in the first two games against the Rockets.
Perhaps most impressively, he's excelled in different areas of the floor in each game. In Game 1, Aldridge did the vast majority of his damage near the basket and at the line:
In Game 2, though, the Blazers adjusted their plan and put Aldridge into pick-and-rolls with Damian Lillard and others, setting up a large number of mid-range jumpers:
The Rockets had few answers for Aldridge. At different times, they tried to cover him with Dwight Howard and Omer Asik in isolation and various double-teams, but nothing seemed to work. The best defense on Aldridge appeared to be his own fatigue — he looked gassed in the closing minutes and gave way to his perimeter teammates to close things out.
Yet, for whatever Aldridge seemed to lack in the game's final moments, the Rockets as a whole gave much greater cause for concern. Despite Aldridge's heroics, this was a close game in the final minute, with the Rockets trailing only 102-98 with 44 seconds left in regulation. After forcing Aldridge into a missed jumper, it looked like they might take the Blazers to the final buzzer. However, Lillard grabbed the long rebound and took an immediate and reckless foul from Patrick Beverley, pushing the lead to six points with two free throws. The Rockets did get two points from Howard at the line on the next possession, but that was followed by perhaps their worst mistake of the game. In transition, all five Rockets let Wesley Matthews slip past them in for an easy lay-up. To make matters worse, Jeremy Lin fouled Lillard — one of the best free-throw shooters in the NBA — after a James Harden 3-pointer on the next possession, extending the game. The problem was that they trailed by only three points with 28 seconds on the clock, which means that a defensive stop would have given them a chance to tie at the buzzer. It seems that every time the Rockets had a chance to come back, they got in their own way with an avoidable mistake.
The team's biggest cause for concern, though, is the play of James Harden. With a 6-of-19 shooting performance in Game 2, Harden drove his series mark to 14 of 47 from the field, or 29.8 percent. Dwight Howard's 32 points (13 of 22) suggest Houston has other options, but this remains a perimeter-oriented team that needs better contributions from its All-Star guard to succeed. The basketball world will be watching him as the series moves to Portland.
With a 2-0 lead and two games coming at the raucous Rose Garden Moda Center, the Blazers find themselves in excellent position to win their first playoff series since 2000. As noted by Grantland's Bill Barnwell, teams that win the first two games on the road are 24-3, so history suggests Portland should move on. If they're able to do so, Aldridge figures to get a good deal of the credit. He's been as good as a player can be.
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