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David Aldridge

Blazers rally around Oden after another heartbreaking injury


Posted Dec 16 2009 6:36PM

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The season-ending injury to Greg Oden capped a difficult few months for the Blazers.
Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

Up until 11:41 p.m. on Saturday night, the big news this week was Allen Iverson and his re-debut in Philadelphia -- talk about the return of the Prodigal Son -- to try to make right what he helped make so very, very wrong by the time he left town. No one has ever played a bigger role in his own demise than AI, but what makes his story so compelling is that he knows it, and does better by inches, then falls back. Nobody is more self-aware than Allen. It's the stuff of a novel.

(Here's Art Garcia's interesting take on AI's comeback.)

Then there was also Kobe's ridiculous game-winner on Friday to beat Miami -- a shot that, in his own words, was the luckiest one he's ever made. Another week in the Association.

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But then came Saturday, in Portland, the news bad from minute one, and only getting worse:

Greg Oden goes down in the first quarter against Houston.

Oden stays down. For seven minutes.

Oden is carried off the court on a stretcher.

Then comes that awful waiting, when you play out the hundred or so scenarios in your head, praying that things aren't as bad as you think.

And then, finally, comes 11:41 p.m., and a text from Cheri Hanson, the Blazers' VP of Communications, whom I've known for 20-plus years and is the gold standard in public relations people. Saturday was her night off, but nobody needed to tell her she had to come to the Rose Garden when Oden went down. It's the family business; Cheri's dad, Bob White, was the Blazers' original PR guy, and she's done it with distinction everywhere she's been. She doesn't suffer fools -- especially when they are her own players or coaches -- and she is as straight a shooter as you will find. Anyway, the text:

MRI confirms Portland C Greg Oden fractured left patella. Will undergo surgery to repair. Likely out for the season.

Man, sometimes this league makes you cry.

You want Sam Bowie jokes this morning, go read somebody else. You want to hear how the Blazers blew it by taking Oden instead of Kevin Durant in 2007? The world is filled with people who always knew what the right choice was after the fact, when it wasn't their butt on the line. It's easy to say now that you knew Durant was going to be a star (Simmons was on Durant early; I guess he can crow if he wants), and it's easy to say in a vacuum, when you don't have to consider anything else -- like, for instance, would Durant and Brandon Roy be any more successful sharing the ball than Roy and Oden were this season?

No matter what you think of Oden, you have to acknowledge how effective he'd been the first month of the season, shooting better than 60 percent from the floor, leading the Blazers in rebounds and blocked shots, becoming a legitimate post presence.

"God, he was playing so good," Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard said Sunday night. "He was playing so good."

It's not that the Blazers were setting the world on fire. Frankly, they were floundering. Andre Miller, Pritchard's big free-agent signee last summer, has run hot and cold, as Nate McMillan tried to figure out the best way to use him alongside Roy. The Blazers benched Miller, then used him in a three-guard lineup, then went back to two. Roy didn't have the ball in his hands as much as Oden established himself inside, and Miller dribbled the ball outside. But Pritchard believed that everyone would get in sync.

"Brandon is an unbelievable kid," Pritchard said. "He had his anxietites because he wanted to live up to the contract (a five-year extension that kicks in next season) and he wanted to be successful. He wanted to be an All-Star and live up to everything we ask him to do. With Oden and Brandon, I had no worries. I knew eventually they would get it. They're both good kids. They're both unselfish. They both have different anxieties, no doubt about it. Brandon was as prepared to be an NBA player as anybody I've been around. But he still has growth as a leader. He knows it. I was around Tim Duncan when he was growing up, and he had to go through it. There were some tough times. He's an amazing leader now. But he didn't wake up and all of a sudden he was the leader of that team."

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Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

It's been a horrible, horrible few months for the Blazers. Their owner, Paul Allen, disclosed last month that he is again battling cancer, 20 years after first being diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease. Maurice Lucas, the team's assistant coach and former enforcer at power forward, is in a second bout with bladder cancer. The guy who was supposed to start at small forward, Nicholas Batum, is out until March following shoulder surgery on the eve of the regular season; the guy who was supposed to replace him, Travis Outlaw, is also out until March after foot surgery.

Rookie Jeff Pendergraph is dinged up; Rudy Fernandez is on the shelf this week with back spasms; McMillan, the head coach, is undergoing an operation Monday after rupturing his Achilles' tendon in practice last Friday. (Assistant coach Dean Demopoulos will run the team in McMillan's absence during the Blazers' eastern road trip that begins Monday in New York.)

Now comes this, with Oden, another season-ending injury. He underwent successful surgery Sunday afternoon, but will add 61 more games to his butcher's block. At the end of this, his third season in the league, Odom will have played exactly one full season's worth of games -- 82 -- out of a possible 246, having missed all of the 2007-08 season after undergoing microfracture surgery on his right knee. Last year, a right foot sprain and a bone chip in that same kneecap cost him 20 more. (Pritchard told local reporters on a conference call Sunday that doctors ruled out any connection between that injury and this one; this was a freak "explosion" injury in which Oden didn't bang into anybody; he was just jumping.)

Pritchard didn't sleep much Saturday night; an hour or so, maybe. Sunday he spent at a local hospital with Oden, during and after the surgery. Then he went to another hospital where Lucas is laid up. Then he tried to help work out the details for Oden's mother, Zoe, to get to Portland Sunday night to be with her son. (Oden's father, Greg, Sr., will join his son in Portland soon as well.) Then he had the conference call with the local reporters.

Pritchard kept up the positive talk Sunday. Part of it was because Oden seemed much more accepting of his fate this time than in '07, when he apologized to everyone within earshot again and again after finding out he needed knee surgery. Saturday, he was initially down, but then, he got his wind and vowed to be back.

"My job is to feel everybody and feel their pain and understand that there is a legitimate issue, but we're also going to fight," he said. "We're going to fight for them and we still have a lot of pride, and we're going to be OK. We still have a heck of a player in Brandon Roy, and a really good player in LaMarcus Aldridge."

But part of Oden's optimism comes from the support system the Blazers put in place for him -- a better one, they admit, than they had two years ago. And one of the biggest keys to that support system is what makes this latest setback so intriguing.

His name is Bill Bayno.

Bayno is the Blazers' assistant coach who spent almost all summer with Oden in Columbus, Ohio, working with him four days a week on building a post game, becoming more of a defensive presence and getting in better shape to get up and down the court. Along with former Blazers forward Brian Grant, Bayno worked Oden down to the nub, but what was left was polished, more muscular and more ready to play.

Pritchard, who's known Bayno since Bayno was a grad assistant at Kansas and Pritchard was the team's starting point guard, hired him when he was interim coach of the team in 2006. Bayno was there when the Blazers drafted Oden in 2007, but Oden missed all of that season following the microfracture surgery, and Bayno left for the head job at Loyola Marymount in the spring of 2008. Bayno lasted just three games at LMU before resigning last January, with colleagues saying Bayno was suffering from severe stress and depression. He came right back to Portland, and again became the team's development coach. With one important player to develop.

What makes that all the more impressive is that Bayno is a recovering alcoholic.

I'm not telling tales out of school; Bayno is up front with the fact that booze did him in, ruining him first at UNLV, where he was head coach from 1995 to 2000, and at other times since. Staying out of the spotlight is better for him, and a job like player development coach is perfect. It keeps him in the gym, where he does his best work, keeps him busy.

But it is a credit to Bayno's work ethic, and Pritchard's trust in him, that the Blazers trusted him with Oden, and will trust him with Oden again when he starts rehabbing this latest injury. (The kneecap, which had two screws inserted into it, will likely need two months or so to knit itself back together, and Oden will then be cleared to start building his quads and hamstrings back up.) That is why Pritchard is so confident Oden will come back, and why Oden is so confident he'll come back.

Last year, Oden was moody and grumpy, putting the weight of the world on his shoulders, to the point where teammates and coaches told him he had to lighten up and have some fun. He was a different person during training camp this year.

"He feels different (from 2007). He feels more positive," Pritchard said. "He feels like he can handle it now. We've helped in bringing good people around him and making sure his support system is a lot better, Bayno being the main person about that. We've changed his structure and his habits. That doesn't mean he's not going to have his down days; they're coming. But Bayno has dealt with his own demons. We all have them. It's not like anyone's free from them. I really felt like Greg and Bayno could talk shorthand: 'I've gone through some tough times. Let me tell you how I've dealt with them. Some good, some not so good.' Bayno has an amazing emotional intelligence."

That's why I'm rooting for Greg Oden. Because I'm rooting for Bill Bayno, too.

Dribbles

You may not believe me, but I totally forgot about Tim Donaghy's 60 Minutes interview until after the original airing. I did manage to catch both segments in the wee small hours of Monday morning. A few thoughts:

1) Donaghy seems to be credible and telling the truth as he sees it. That does not mean all of his assertions are correct, but he seems earnest in retelling what he believes to be true;

2) It is possible, it seems, to bet on games you are officiating, yet not make calls that impact the outcome of those bets. The FBI agent who handled the Donaghy case, Philip Scala, seemed to believe that, and the Feds had Donaghy on a pretty short leash -- one lie, and they'd throw the book at him. Donaghy claims that he didnt need to put a thumb on the scale because of the inside information he could get from his fellow referees, including injury information and their own personal biases. The results -- which he correctly bet on 70 to 80 percent of the time, according to the Feds (The CBS reporter, Bob Simon, seems to split the difference early by saying Donaghy was right "75 percent" of the time) -- would happen naturally, the biases were so strong.

This is, it seems to me, a problem for the league. Not that people don't have, or aren't allowed to have, their own biases. We all have them. But that they would be so strong that Donaghy knew how games would go -- even if the referees involved had no intention of being dishonest -- should be troubling to the league. Both the FBI report and the league's Pedowitz Reportz come to the same conclusion: There's no evidence anyone else was deliberately manipulating games. But Donaghy could still detect unconscious patterns.

3) The NBA's disclosing an "area of emphasis" to its officials is not prima facie evidence of bias for or against a star player ... but it isn't exculpatory, either. Donaghy says he found something he could work with when the league sent out what appears to be guidelines for an "area of emphasis" -- calls that referees are told to look out for by the supervisor of officials. Donaghy says the league responded to a DVD on calls against Kobe Bryant sent in by the Lakers with a new directive, and Donaghy says he knew, because the league indicated that 22 of 25 plays involving Bryant were incorrectly called -- his claim -- that the league wanted its officals to protect Bryant more.

It could be true. It could also be true that the league's officiating hierarchy saw something involving contact that it wanted eased, or changed. It could have been 25 plays involving Gilbert Arenas. Or Chris Paul. Or Tony Parker. Or Kevin Martin. They're not all superstars from big markets, but they are all quick guards who are nearly impossible to guard in space. This seems, to me, a case where Donaghy could see something sinister in something that may not be. But that's hard for the league to prove. Or, disprove.

4) Simon is obviously not up to speed on basketball, and it hurts his presentation. Throwing out any coach does not guarantee a team wins or loses, as Simon claims when detailing how Donaghy threw out Spurs coach Gregg Popovich early in a game in which Donaghy bet on San Antonio. (The Spurs lost, and Donaghy got in hot water with the mob.) Nor is palming a "foul," as Simon says when detailing Donaghy's claim that he and two other referees exacted revenge on Allen Iverson by refusing to calls fouls committed against him in a game.

That game, on Jan. 6, 2007, against Utah, was examined in detail by CBSSports' Ken Berger. Read his conclusions and draw your own.

5) Donaghy does not address one of his most explosive charges that he made before being sentenced to 15 months in prison after pleading guilty to wire fraud and transmitting wagering information through interstate commerce: that referees knowingly extended the Sacramento-Lakers Western Conference final in 2004 by cheating against the Kings in Game 6. I have told you, that is the one game whose officiating I cannot explain. But if Donaghy had evidence, what better place to air it than 60 Minutes? He does not.

It seems to me that after viewing the piece, you could come to two different conclusions. If you believe the NBA is crooked and its referees are on the take, Donaghy's interview would bolster that. If you believe the league isn't engaged in felonies, but has some issues with its officials that it has tried to address in the last few years -- maybe not successfully all the time, but tried -- Donaghy's interview would bolster that. At the end of the day, you're going to believe what you believe about the league, and nothing Donaghy or anyone else says is going to change your mind.

Don't Sleep On It

Bill Sharman may be sad, but Charles Czeisler is happy.

It was Sharman, the Hall of Famer, who is generally credited with creating the morning shootaround -- the hour-long, day-of-game practice at the arena that has been an NBA staple for most teams since the early 70s, when Sharman coached the Lakers. (Wilt Chamberlain, not a devotee of the practice, was said to have to responded, "you tell Coach I'm coming to that arena once today.") The idea was, and is, that it's good for players to get their blood flowing early on a game day, and get thinking early about what their opponents would be trying to do that night.

But the shootaround may be going the way of the set shot as more teams are trying to figure out how to get their players more rest.

The Knicks have eliminated morning shootarounds at home, determining it was too much of a hassle for their players to get to their suburban New York facility, go home for an hour or two, then haul it back downtown to Madison Square Garden for an evening game. The Knicks now have their players come to the Garden an hour or so earlier than their usual 6 p.m. arrival time (for a 7:30 game) for shootaround. The Celtics have eliminated almost all shootarounds and pushed their non-game day practices back to noon, joining the Trail Blazers, who changed their patterns last season, and the Spurs -- who got rid of all shootarounds, home and away, two years ago, and pushed all practices back to 3 p.m. local time.

It's all music to Czeisler's ears. The Baldino Professor of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, he's spent the last quarter century studying the effects of sleep deprivation on an increasingly sleep-deprived world (www.understandingsleep.org). In the NBA, he's known as "The Sleep Doctor," working with the Celtics, Blazers and a handful of other teams in the past couple of years.

Most people under 30 need between 8.2 and 8.4 hours of sleep every night, but more and more of us are getting fewer and fewer hours. And that's doing a number on our health, Czeisler believes, citing these stats:

• Sleep-deprived people are five times more likely to catch a cold when exposed to a rhinovirus;

• If you shave two to three hours of sleep from your normal amount per week, at the end of the week, you have the same level of impairment than if you stayed up all night and didn't sleep the night before. And that is the equivalent of a blood alcohol level of .01.

• Motor skills that are learned as a result of practice or repetition -- like, say, learning how to play a piano piece -- are ingrained into the brain during sleep. When you don't get enough sleep, you literally forget how to do what you've just learned. But when you do get enough sleep, according to Czeisler, you can improve your performance at a given task, even if you don't practice it any more, by 20 to 30 percent. This would come in handy if you were, say, trying to improve your crossover.

But almost every innovation of the last two decades, from the Internet to i-Pods to Blackberrys and big screen TVs, have conspired to keep us up later, and sleep fewer hours. We Tweet all night, never turn off our computers or televisions and wonder why we're so tired when the kids wake up the next morning.

"We are a 24/7 society," Czeisler said by telephone Thursday. "Nobody wants to miss anything."

That includes NBA players, whose workday resembles that of your basic third-shift worker at a plant. They have to be at their most alert late at night. And when they're done working, it's hard to just shut down the brain and go to sleep. Players don't eat meals before a game, so after two hours of running, they're obviously hungry. If they're at home, they'll go out to eat, and after eating a full meal, it's hard to go right to sleep.

But Czeisler is, slowly, getting NBA teams to change long-established habits. Last year, he convinced Blazers coach Nate McMillian to try to stick to a Pacific time schedule when they came East for a road trip. Instead of leaving Portland early in the morning for their cross-country flight after just a couple of hours of sleep, landing in the late afternoon and immediately going to an off-day practice around 6 p.m. Eastern time, the Blazers slept in, didn't leave Portland until noon local time, got to Orlando (their first stop on a five-game road trip) around 9 p.m. and went straight to practice, around 10 p.m.

The practice lasted a couple of hours, as McMillian put in all the things he normally would have done at shootaround the next morning. But when it was over, around midnight Eastern, it was only 9 p.m. Pacific time. The players were encouraged to stay up until the time they would normally go to bed at home. If they went to sleep at 1 a.m. Pacific, they should do the same in Orlando (4 a.m. Eastern). There was no worry about missing shootaround the next morning, because there was no shootaround the next morning. The Blazers wound up winning seven of their nine games in the East last season, their best showing in years.

"If you're going to Europe," Czeisler says, "and if you're up all night, and your reaction time goes from 250 mlliseconds to 750 milliseconds when you're looking at the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, it's not that big a deal. But if your reaction time triples when you're an NBA player, that can be the difference between a win and a loss."

Czeisler got involved with the Celtics this summer, after Boston's athletic trainer, Ed Lacerte, met him at a conference in New York. On the train back to Boston, they compared notes. Lacerte set up a meeting with Doc Rivers.

"I was like, get the [bleep] out of here," Rivers recalled. "I'm not going to see a sleep doctor. Are you kidding me? Really. I was skeptical as everyone else. And then he told me to call Nate and Monty Williams [the Blazers' assistant coach], who played for me. When I called them, the way they talked about him, they had a lot of passion about it. So I thought, I may need to sit down with this guy."

When Rivers heard the information, he was sold. But he had to sell it to his players.

"They didn't want to do it at the beginning," Rivers said. "Kevin [Garnett] and Ray [Allen], they're set in their ways. Now, they love it."

Said Allen: "We get a lot of rest. You don't wake up in the morning feeling groggy. When you practice in the afternoon, when you got up and you're able to be around the kids early in the morning, take them to school, pick 'em up, whatever it may be, as veteran players, we have an opportunity to watch your body. You've got to take care of your own body, get your running in and get your weights in. We have a pretty mature group of guys. Even the young guys know how to get their workouts in [now]. That's what I really appreciate."

When Czeisler asked teams why they plan their schedules the way they do, he's gotten a lot of blank stares and muttering about how this is the way we've always done it. He's hoping that these small moves are starting a trend in the other direction.

"If people are going to be open to modifying their schedule of events in order to get more sleep," he said, "it's a whole new ball game."

And, before you ask, he gets between 7 1/2 and 8 hours of Zzzs a night.

Top O' The World, Ma!

(last week's rankings in brackets)

1) L.A. Lakers [3] (16-3): Rollin', rollin', rollin'.

2) Boston [5] (16-4): Picking up the D.

3) Orlando [4] (15-4): JWill holding things up nicely for Jameer.

4) Cleveland [7] (15-5): Quietly, 12 out of 14.

5) Denver [8] (15-5): Kenyon Martin terrific Saturday against Spurs.

6) Atlanta [6] (14-6): Joe Johnson putting in for fourth All-Star bid.

7) Dallas [2] (14-7): Jet Terry in starting lineup Saturday.

8) Phoenix [1] (15-6): Couldn't stay that hot.

9) Utah [14] (11-8): Jazz go to three-guard lineup.

10) San Antonio [10] (9-8): Richard Jefferson struggling to fit in.

11) Portland [9] (13-8): Have to do it shorthanded again.

12) Houston [15] (11-9): McGrady before Christmas?

13) Miami [13] (11-9): Winning, but not looking especially impressive.

14) Oklahoma City [11] (10-9): On road for nine of next 15.

15) Milwaukee [12] (9-10): Teams starting to slow down Jennings.

Team of the Week

Boston (3-0): Other teams may have played more games, but the Celtics' road wins at San Antonio and Oklahoma City on back-to-back nights were the most impressive. The Celtics got bludgeoned on the glass against the Spurs but made up for it by forcing 19 turnovers; against the Thunder, the shooting percentage allowed wasn't hot, but 10 steals and a 40-30 edge on the boards was the difference. Boston's D gave up an average of just 86.7 points in the three wins this week, and during its seven-game overall win streak Boston has allowed just 95 per game.

Team of the Weak

Indiana (0-4): And Danny Granger re-injured his heel in Saturday's loss to the Clippers. Great.

Nobody Asked Me, But ...

Why do we always have to imply that what women do on their own isn't quite as good?

SI's Ian Thomsen, as good a reporter as we have covering the league, was asked to come up with some potential trends for the NBA in the next decade, and one of the hypotheticals he came up with was the idea of whether a woman could make an NBA roster within 10 years. The Commish, of course, said yes (and, really, what could he say? No?). Debate ensued, with other reporters -- seeing an easy notebook fill -- asking players around the league what they thought. LeBron James said no, others said yes.

But, to me, the whole notion is insulting to women athletes -- and I know that's not what Thomsen intended to do -- because it assumes, as men almost always assume, that for a woman athlete to be a "real" athlete, she has to compete with men. Women competing with other women is somehow of lesser value, and not as worthy. When the University of Tennessee considered Pat Summitt for the men's basketball job, and she turned it down, a lot of people didn't seem to understand -- why wouldn't Summitt "validate" her career by coaching men, as if her five national titles weren't as real as, say, Mike Krzyzewski's three. How many times have you heard someone say of Serena or Venus Williams, 'Yeah, they're great, but how would they do on the men's tour?' Michelle Wie was viewed as a failure because she didn't make the cut when invited to play a couple of PGA Tour events a couple of years ago.

I'm not going to sit here and tell you I'm a devotee of the WNBA. I have enough basketball on my plate to cover. But comparisons are absurd. Why can't women be allowed to compete with other women on their own merits, their achievements able to stand on their own, and be celebrated on their own, and not always be compared to men?

... And Nobody Asked You

• My empathy has become tiresome. From Mary Rich:

From the subject article: For now, only his hands shake, because he is a relative newcomer to this nightmare, having been diagnosed with "early onset" Parkinson's last January. At 37, it has thrown his life into a tailspin from which he is only now starting to recover.

I was diagnosed with PD thirteen years ago this week, just prior to my 40th birthday. And yet being a veteran of the PD battle has not made my life a 'nightmare.' Challenging, frustrating, aggravating, of course. But not a nightmare. I know how my life may play out, my maternal grandmother had PD. I've seen it. So maybe I'm an anomaly in my attitude, but this is the only life I have, and as difficult as PD can make it, I can't waste it thinking I am in a Tim Burton movie.

Touche, Mary. I floated in and out of Michael J. Fox and Brian Grant's lives a couple of weeks ago. They, and you, have to keep living with Parkinson's. Emphasis on live.

• Are you looking at me? From Arvind Sangha:

While i have much respect for your basketball expertise i cant help feel that you have a problem with the Toronto Raptors, you were one of the earliest people to say Bosh was gone gone gone (on NBATV as i recall) and now you print that Bosh's teammates don't have his back (so to speak) and Hedo is a flopper? What gives and what are your true feelings regarding this Raptor squad. Id really like to know, i have my scepticism about this team and its defence and toughness or lack thereof but it seems you are dedicated to giving them not a shred of dignity or respect with your column.

I think you need to ask the Raptors what they think about themselves after giving up 146 to Atlanta on Wednesday.

• Jim dismisses the American university education out of hand: From Jim Fujii:

You make the case so well that people in sports are often clueless ("Not Feelin'...Political Correctness run Amok," Nov. 23). I don't know if you aren't too well educated, or just not very cosmopolitan, or simply low on common sense, but if you heard this conversation, or can even read it, it's clear that it treats the player from Iran as something of a freak. It's like many non-white American who often get asked annoying questions like: Where are you from? When you say "Michigan," they follow up with "No, I mean WHERE are you from?" After a while, it degenerates into "What are you?"

You probably don't see anything wrong with that, either. Given your level of understanding as displayed in your "article', I'm not surprised.

I'm from Washington, D.C. I'm always asked, 'Where are you from?' And, then, told that I can't be from D.C. because I don't talk like black people do. I have been told how "articulate" I am about 4,383,312 times. So, no, I have no idea what you're talking about.

MVP Watch

1) Carmelo Anthony (27 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.3 apg, .476 FG, .864 FT): Took apart a good Spurs defense on Saturday. He's never looked more comfortable in his own skin and confident in his abilities. This is what happens when talent develops and matures. With coaching, with dedication, with time, you get a real superstar, capable of taking a team to a championship.

2) Kobe Bryant (25.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.3 apg, .500 FG): But Kobe already has led his team to a championship, and has matured, and has been coached, and has been dedicated, and is a real superstar -- as he showed again on Friday night.

3) LeBron James (18.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 10.3 apg, .429 FG): Laid low scoring wise this week, but facilitated beautifully as Cavs played their best stretch of ball so far this season.

4) Dwayne Wade (26.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 8.8 apg, .453 FG): Said his teammates have to do a better job of getting him open. True, but ouch, babe. Wouldn't want to be the tea leaves salesman on South Beach this week -- a lot of folks are going to be staying up late reading them after a comment like that.

5) Dwight Howard (18 ppg, 9 rpg, 1 bpg, .667 FG): Didn't do a whole lot, but didn't have to, as Orlando took care of business in a light week by putting six players in double figures in wins over the Warriors and Knicks. Not much defense, but there didn't have to be against those two sieves.

Dropped out: Steve Nash

By the Numbers

14 -- Road games so far by the Suns, the most in the league. By contrast, the Lakers have played 15 of their first 19 at home.

29 -- Consecutive points scored by the Cavs Sunday in their win over Milwaukee, turning a 17-10 deficit into a 39-17 blowout.

38 -- Consecutive wins by Portland when holding opponents to 90 points or less.

I'm Feeling'

1) 10:39 p.m., Friday, Dec. 4. Izod Center. New Jersey 97, Charlotte 91. The PA guy, Gary Sussman, who is also the PR guy, channeling John Sterling: "Nets win! THAAAAAAAAAAAAAA Nets win!" In front of a joyous crowd, Marv and the Czar. Good on ya, Nets.

2) Kobe. Okay, that's ridiculous. Even for him.

3) Milwaukee's Squad 6. Think Baseline Bums 2.0, or this year's version of Houston's Red Rowdies. Squad 6 is a group of 100 or so Bucks fans that get free tickets for every home game, courtesy of Andrew Bogut -- on the condition that they spend the entire game making noise, cheering and getting on the opposition. I'll be in Milwaukee in a couple of weeks to check them out. Love fans who are passionate, as long as they're not making things uncomfortable for people around them.

4) The Warriors' "San Francisco" unis. I thought no Warriors retro look than the sainted "The City" cable car throwback would look good on Warriors flesh, but I was wrong. The SF mix is the new hotness!

5) Pacquio. Mayweather. Finally. Hot damn.

6) Portland fans chanting "Oden, Oden" as he was carried off the court Saturday. Classy gesture, Blazer Nation.

7) Tonight at Wachovia Center. So much gnashing of teeth about what Iverson's return means. C'mon, it's going to be great theatre.

Not Feelin'

1) The Wizards' effort against Toronto -- which had just given up 146 points to Atlanta -- on Friday, and Detroit -- which was playing without Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and got just 12 minutes out of a gimpy Ben Gordon -- on Sunday. Weak. Real weak.

2) Monta Ellis's end-of-game decision against Houston on Thursday. Even in Summer League, they don't allow, like, eight steps.

3) LB throwing D.J. Augustin under the bus the other day. Larry, you picked him. My understanding is that just about everyone else in the Draft room in Charlotte last year wanted Brook Lopez, but you overruled them. That's fine; you're the coach. But Augustin then becomes your guy.

4) The Confessor's Aside. When you're a famous person, and you've done something really wrong, and you apologize for it publicly, don't tack on an ad hominem attack on something else that draws attention away from the apology --even if you may have a point.

Example 1: Bill Clinton, while acknowledging he had an affair with Monica Lewinsky, detracts from it by slamming Ken Starr. Right or not, it sounded like he was trying to change the subject.

Example 2: Tiger. A discussion about the lack of privacy afforded these days would be welcomed -- just not at the same time you're asking forgiveness for "transgressions."

5) Utah's green retros. I know Darrell Griffith wore them, but anything that recalls the pre-StocktontoMalone era doesn't do it for me.

6) My girl Jennifer not making the Top Chef final. She wuz robbed!

Tweet of the Week

Oh yea forgot to till yall I was at the white house, chillin with Obama. He actually know who I am. That's crazy.
-- Brandon Jennings (@YUNGBUCK3), 11:45 a.m, Thursday, detailing his visit Wednesday with President Obama before the Bucks played the Wizards in Washington. Milwaukee's owner, Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.), arranged the introduction.

Mr. Fifteen

This week's Mr. Fifteen is Celtics rookie guard Lester Hudson, owner of one of the great stories of perseverance in recent years. First, he's a 25-year-old rookie who's five months older than LeBron James. By his own admission, he barely cared about his classes until late in high school. He didn't play basketball in high school until his junior year, when the coach at Central High School in Memphis kept hearing about this incredible kid who was tearing up gym class. Hudson immediately starred, but becuase he'd been held back once because of grades, he was 19 when his senior year started and he was ineligible to play. He stayed in school but didn't get his diploma.

hudson_300.jpg
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

But that coach, Andre Applewhite, wouldn't give up on Hudson. He convinced him to go to a community college to get his grades up high enough to play in college. Hudson earned his high school GED at Southwest Tennessee Community College, Applewhite's alma mater, and had a solid GPA, but didn't earn his degree there because he fell short in the core class requirements. But Applewhite didn't give up, and neither did Hudson. A friend of Applewhite's, Jason James, was the assistant coach at Tennessee-Martin, in the Ohio Valley Conference. James thought Hudson could do the classwork at the college level and help the Skyhawks in the process. He helped Hudson get into school, but to become academically eligible under NCAA rules, Hudson had to sit out another year and pay his own way while getting up to speed in the classroom.

He did. In his first week as a college player, he dropped 35 on eventual national finalist Memphis. As a junior, he averaged 25.7 points for UT-Martin, earning the first of consecutive all-OVC honors. As a senior under former UT-Martin head coach Bret Campbell, Hudson did even better, averaging 27.5 per game, finishing second in the country in scoring average and leading the Skyhawks to an NIT bid. And he walked across the stage at UT-Martin, earning his college diploma. And the story finished as only fairy tales can, with the 17-time world champion Celtics taking him with the third from last pick in the draft in June, and Hudson sticking as the last man on the roster through camp.

Hudson has played just 47 minutes total in Boston's first 20 games. Ask him if he cares.

Me: When you heard you were being drafted by Boston, what was your reaction?

Lester Hudson: I was very happy. I had no idea they was going to draft me. I was very excited, and my family was, when I knew I was going to have an opportunity to be a Celtic.

Me: I read your name was third of three on Jay Bilas' Draft board at the end of the second round, when there were just two picks left.

Hudson: I was like, man, c'mon. I didn't know I was going to jump in front of the other guys. But I'm blessed. I'm glad to be here.

Me: Do you remember who the other two guys were?

Hudson:I don't remember. I think the other two guys on the board didn't get drafted, I don't think. I know one of them was Jerel McNeal, from Marquette (McNeal played with the Kings' summer league team and played with the Clippers in the preseason before being waived). I'm blessed.

Me: You were an early-entry last year, but pulled your name out of the Draft. Why?

Hudson: I had a rough time growing up with academics and things like that. I was on the right path going to graduate if I came back. I was going to the Draft. If I would have gotten promised the first round, I would have stayed in. But it was like late first, early second. So my coaches, we decided before I went in, I can go late first, early second next year or this year. That's me. I'm thinking I'm gonna keep up the same numbers, and everything's going to go the same. So I decided to come back, because I wanted to get my degree. I never graduated from high school, junior college. I wanted to get my degree. So I came back, did that, and now I'm here.

Me: What was that moment like, getting your degree?

Hudson: It was unbelievable. I was so nervous, because I'd never walked down the aisle before to graduate. And I almost tripped up and fell. It was crazy. My high school coach came. My junior college coach came. And, of course, my college coach was there. So it was three, four of the guys that really was a big part of my life ... and then my family came. It was a great moment for me.

Me: To have all those guys come into your life the last five or six years, and say we're not giving up on you, what do you think about when you think about that?

Martin: I think about all the stuff I've been through. I just look above and say 'thank you,' all the time. In a moment I might call coach [Verties] Sails [from Southwest Tennessee CC], or coach Applewhite, or coach Campbell, or coach James at UT-Martin, and just tell them thank you. I really appreciate everything they did for me.

Me: What has been the most surprising thing so far about the NBA?

Hudson: I watch the NBA a lot, so I know a lot of things that go on in the NBA. The surprising thing is that I'm seeing it now, on the floor, not on TV. Being in the same room with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Rasheed Wallace, Kendrick Perkins, [Rajon] Rondo, everybody that's on the team. I watched these guys on TV. Now they're teammates. I think about it all the time.

Me: Do you think there will be a time when you can show what you can do?

Hudson: Yeah, I think about it all the time. When I'll be on the bench, I'll be ready for Doc to call my name. 'Cause he looks down there sometimes, and I think he's looking at me. Or when he calls a name, I think he'll be calling my name. I'm about to jump up. I'm real anxious and I hope I go out there and do a great job. Yeah, I think I'm gonna do great when I go out there. 'Cause I'm learning right now, and I'm gonna keep learning, never give up being patient, keep working out like I've been doing. If I get a chance, I hope it'll be great.

They said it

"We know the franchise made a big effort to bring players in, like (Antonio) McDyess, (Richard) Jefferson, (Keith) Bogans and the rest. We know we have a big shot...this is our chance. We don't want to wait for next year, or two more. This is the year, and we have to get it."
-- Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, on how important winning a title is this season for the aging Spurs.

"I know Iverson can help us and do what he does and be that scorer, but I'm sure he wants to start, too. So we've got two guys that want to start."
-- Elton Brand, to Kate Fagan of the Philadelphia Inquirer, on Friday. Wow. The Sixers' team harmony has never been better as AI returns.

"We can't lose to the Nets."
-- Knicks forward Al Harrington, to his teammates, after they trailed New Jersey at halftime Sunday. They didn't.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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