Posted Nov 15 2010 9:44AM
DENVER -- The Nuggets dream of drawing to an inside straight.
They know that Carmelo Anthony sits at the table, showing three kings, while they have 9-6-5. The odds are not good. But you play the hand to the end. So the Nuggets do everything they can, including clearing out their front office, if that will inch the odds just a little more in their favor. And they wait, and hope that, somehow, Anthony will change his mind and see how great it is here, and sign that $65 million extension that has been sitting there for six months, and play the next four years of his career in the Mile High.
But the odds are not good.
And Carmelo keeps his cards close to the vest.
"We're working," he told me seconds after the Nuggets rallied on Thursday night to beat the Lakers, handing Los Angeles its first loss of the season. "The Denver Nuggets are working. I'm happy right now. We're playing good. I'm waiting for my dogs to get back from being hurt, knees and all that. But we're good for the most part. I'm happy. I'm not worrying about nothing else. I'm just playing basketball right now."
But that's not all.
Denver knows it, Anthony knows it, the whole NBA world knows it. They know that Anthony saw what the Super Friends did in Miami, and wants to be part of a similar trio of superstars. And if the Nuggets can't bring in two such players, Anthony will opt out of the final year of his contract next summer and find a team that he believes can do it.
The Nuggets have that trade that would send Anthony to the Nets in their back pocket, where it's been for a month. They can always pull the trigger on that. But the team's new general manager, Masai Ujiri, is determined to play this out. He wants to work every angle that might change Anthony's mind, and to wait until the trade deadline, if necessary, to move Anthony, for that's when the best offers will come -- offers that the Nuggets think could trump New Jersey's current one.
And Ujiri has the complete support of the Kroenke family, which owns and will own the Nuggets, with control transferring in the near future from father Stan to his son Josh, the 30-year-old team president. (Stan Kroenke is in the midst of purchasing the NFL's St. Louis Rams, and will have to formally divest his ownership of the Nuggets to be in compliance with NFL ownership rules.)
Denver completed its front-office overhaul last week when Stan Kroenke approved the reassignment of longtime adviser Bret Bearup out of the Nuggets' organization. That came after the Nuggets didn't renew the contracts of former GM Mark Warkentein and assistant GM Rex Chapman last summer. And that ended years of uncertainty, both within the Nuggets' organization and around the league.
Bearup, Warkentein and Chapman had each carved out some measure of influence, but none had the final say. Other teams didn't know who spoke for Denver on potential trades, and feared that casual conversations about trades would become public. And that didn't help the Nuggets when they tried to improve the roster.
Bearup, a former star player at Kentucky with strong ties throughout college basketball, had no official title with the Nuggets but had a lot of juice, often speaking for the team when it came to potential trades. He was directly involved in the deal that brought Allen Iverson from Philadelphia for Andre Miller in 2006. At one time, he had a strong relationship with coach George Karl. He was the driving force behind the original proposed four-team deal with Anthony as the centerpiece, involving Denver, New Jersey, Utah and Charlotte. That deal would have sent Anthony to New Jersey, with Nets rookie forward Derrick Favors, Utah forward Andrei Kirilenko and two first-round picks coming to Denver, Nets guard Devin Harris going to Charlotte and Bobcats forward Boris Diaw heading to Utah.
But Ujiri insisted on autonomy if he was going to take over, after coming from Toronto as the Raptors' assistant GM. Ujiri had been an international scout in Orlando and Denver before getting executive experience in Toronto. Ujiri thought there were too many leaks coming out and wanted to shorten the circle. After Bearup was reassigned, Ujiri and Josh Kroenke got on the phone with each of the other 29 teams last week to make sure there was no ambiguity -- they were, and are, in charge. Kroenke has been around every day for weeks. Ujiri has brought in a cap expert, but he and Kroenke are making all the decisions. They stand together during games.
That is all good with Anthony, who has a good relationship with Ujiri dating to Ujiri's scouting days.
"That's a step," Anthony said after the game. "I thought that was a big step, not just for Josh and Masai but for the entire organization, for the whole league to know what they're doing here, they're making progress. They made some changes for the good of the organization."
But does it impact his decision?
"It's cool," Anthony says, cryptically.
The bottom line is that Anthony, from what I'm told, wasn't happy that Denver swung and missed on so many big man free agents this summer -- especially galling considering that the Nuggets knew Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen were both likely to miss significant parts of the season coming off of surgeries. The Nuggets had their mid-level cap exception available all summer, but couldn't convince the likes of Udonis Haslem or Brendan Haywood to sign, and couldn't swing a deal for a center like the Warriors' Andris Biedrins. In the end, the Nuggets gave $34 million to Al Harrington, who has battled injuries early in the season and doesn't match up with the Tim Duncans and Pau Gasols of the West even when healthy.
Nor has it helped matters that the Nuggets let Karl's right-hand man -- and Anthony's favorite coach -- Tim Grgurich go to Dallas this year in an advisory role. (And don't think the Mavericks didn't know bringing Gurg in won't give them some leverage with Anthony if they get involved in trade talks.)
So the clock ticks, just as it did in Los Angeles in 2006 after Kobe Bryant made his unhappiness well known. Mitch Kupchak pulled Gasol out of his sleeve, changed the fortunes of the league and probably saved his own neck.That's all Ujiri has to do -- find a Gasol-type to play with Anthony, without giving up anything good in return, by the trade deadline. Easy.
By all accounts, Anthony hasn't brought his situation into the locker room. Martin says that he has never heard Anthony express unhappiness or ask for a trade. He's in great shape. He's averaging 25 points a game, good for fifth in the league. He's sixth in the league in player efficiency. He leads all starting small forwards in rebounding (7.9 per game). He's shooting 50 percent from the floor. And he took over down the stretch against Los Angeles, getting the better of longtime nemesis Ron Artest.
"I leave him alone," Chauncey Billups said. "He never really talks about it. He's never really worried about it. He's worried about just playing well and getting wins. He's really locked in to what we've got going on. If I ever see him not locked in, then I know that's my time to say, 'What's going on?' "
Karl said he thought he needed to be a little harder on Anthony this season, that he had allowed Anthony too much carte blanche the last couple of years as the team's leader. ("I heard that," Anthony said in response. "I really don't know what he meant by that. Whatever he wants me to do, I'll do. I've bought into what he wants. I guess he thinks if he can get me to do it, the other guys will do it.") But Karl said Anthony has been more than accomodating so far.
"He had his best professional training camp, his best leadership in camp," Karl said. "His approach was professional. His voice was to improve and listen. I think he did not like what happened at the end of last year and I thought he showed it in training camp. He never has brought his problem -- his situation -- to the locker room, that I have seen. We talked about that the first week of practice, saying the best thing for us is not to talk about it in the locker room. I think 'Melo has respected my desire there. Now, can we keep it for six months, or how long (that) we have to?"
Karl is holding out hope that there's a hole card somewhere that can turn Anthony around.
"My desire is to hopefully show him that this is the best place for him," Karl said. "And I think he's open to that. I don't think he's closed that door. Every day you get different thoughts. But I think he's open to that. When I've talked to him, I think he's open to that."
If not, and a trade is inevitable, the Nuggets do have some options.
They have Martin's expiring contract, though the question of whether a team that trades for Martin could get insurance coverage on 80 percent of the remainder of his $16.9 million salary is up in the air. J.R. Smith's deal ($6.7 million) is also in its final season. Andersen's remaining contract (four years, $17.5 million) is eminently dealable.
If Denver decides to move Anthony, it would probably look to move the 34-year-old Billups as well. It is certainly conceivable that the Nuggets could take it all the way down, blow up everything, save some money for a couple of years and start rebuilding.
They did that during the early "oughts," before getting the third pick in the 2003 Draft. Then, everything seemed possible with Carmelo Anthony. Now, desperation is in the air. Anthony says all the right things, the Nuggets say all the right things, and the clock keeps ticking.
I tell Anthony that by not making his ultimate intentions known to the world, by dragging this out for weeks and months, he is doing nothing but creating drama.
"TNT loves drama, don't it?," he replies.
When James Lubo Mijak met Manute Bol, he had no idea that Bol was a famous basketball player who had taken the NBA by storm with his incredible shot-blocking ability, his unorthodox 3-point shooting and his infectious personality.
"I did not have an idea about his job, about his career," Mijak said last Tuesday. "When I saw him, he was, really, a very tall guy."
Indeed, at 7-foot-6, Bol was a tall guy. He carried his height proudly, just as he was proud of his heritage as the son of Dinka tribesmen in Sudan. He never forgot where he came from, even when it caused him financial ruin and physical peril. He spent much of his adult life trying to bring peace to his war-torn homeland. And after Bol's death at 47 last June 19 from kidney disease and complications from a rare skin disorder, Mijak, other Sudanese natives and a small but determined group of peacemakers from around the world are trying to finish what Bol began.
Many of them met last week at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., to honor Bol's efforts to build 41 schools in Sudan, the cause he was undertaking when he became ill in the spring. (The number 41 comes in honor of George H.W. Bush, the 41st president, who befriended Bol and offered assistance in the 1980s.) Bol's dreams were twofold: to build schools that any Sudanese child could attend, regardless of religion, and to promote reconciliation in his country between the Muslim north and the Christian south. The religious division was at the heart of Sudan's civil war, which lasted 22 years and led to the deaths of more than 2 million people before a peace agreement ended it in 2005.
Several of Bol's NBA acquaintances, including former Bullets general manager Bob Ferry, who took Bol in the second round of the 1985 Draft, came to pay their respects, as did people as disparate as Mijak -- one of the celebrated "Lost Boys" of Sudan, more than 30,000 young refugees from the civil war -- along with nationally syndicated radio talk show host Joe Madison and former Reagan national security adviser Robert McFarlane.
"The most meaningful thing I've ever done is help Manute Bol," McFarlane said during his remarks.
McFarlane had accompanied Bol to an event in Washington in 2008 that featured former Soviet Union premier Mikhail Gorbachev. The Soviets had provided arms to the northern Muslims during the civil war, and Bol challenged Gorbachev to use his influence to convince the Russian government to curtail its arms trade to Sudan. At first, Gorbachev blew Bol off. But eventually, somebody important gave the word; Russian support for the Khartoum government abated.
Bol's group, Sudan Sunrise, works to promote peace between the Christian south and Darfurian Muslims in the north. At Bol's first school, in the city of Turalei, Christian and Muslim children learn together. It is still a foreign notion in Sudan.
"The government of north Sudan, they are still using the education to change people's minds," said Rudwan Dawod, a Darfurian Muslim who also emigrated to the States, and who remains emotionally tortured by the suffering brought onto the southern Sudanese by his people.
"Even my generation, people my age, sometimes they are thinking in a bad way," Dawod said. "But they don't know they are thinking in a bad way. Something happens to them, like mental slavery. Sometimes they say something, but they don't know if that things are right or wrong. When I go with Lopez Lomong (another former Lost Boy, naturalized U.S. citizen and distance runner who was selected to carry the U.S. flag at the 2008 Beijing Olympics) to help him build his church (in southern Sudan), some students from Darfur, they say, 'No, you are Muslim. how can you help him build his church?' I say, 'No. We have to think in a different way.'"
Dawod cries when he thinks about the war, but composes himself long enough to speak clearly about the impact Bol has had in his country.
"He is a symbol of forgiveness," Dawod said of Bol. "Because what we did towards them, as a Darfurian, no one can forget that. It was troubled days. It was very bad things. And he forgave us. And he opened his heart to us. And more than that, he asked us to bring our kids from Darfur to stay and continue their education in his school. Because if we leave them in Darfur, they will die."
When the central government in Khartoum declared war against the Christian south in 1983, Mijak was 4, living in a small village called Nyarweng.
"They came and attacked our village, including the neutral villages," Mijak recalled. "They took all our cows, and killed everybody, captured many people, in particular young children, women. And all these venerable people were captured and taken to the north. They used them for slaves. And in 1987, they came again, whereby they declared what is called a holy war. And all the troops in the northern communities, youth, came to southern Sudan, and destroyed everything."
Mijak was lucky, though he didn't know it at the time. Because he was away from the village at the time, tending to livestock, he wasn't captured. He was able to escape to Ethiopia. Starvation followed them. Lion and crocodile attacks were common. Diseases spread through the refugee camps.
Mijak survived and lived in the camps for four years -- until war broke out in Ethiopia in 1991. The Lost Boys went back to Sudan, and another replacement camp, often living on one meal per day -- small bowls of pinto beans and bread -- for six months, and trying to avoid the government's troops.
That is where Mijak met Bol.
"He came to visit us," Mijak said. "He had witnessed our daily struggles and starvation. And when he came to us, there were so many groups, and he visited group by group. He met with us and told us, 'We are going to help you.' And after two days, when he left to Nairobi, the food was dropped from the planes, United Nations is where we got rescued. And most of the young children who became the Lost Boys believed Manute saved our lives. And I was lucky. Today, I talk to you. I am in the great country of America."
After Bol's visit, Mijak went to yet another replacement camp, in Kenya. He lived as a refugee until 2001, when he was one of fewer than 4,000 of the Lost Boys to be invited to go to school in the United States. He went to North Carolina, and received a bachelor's degree in international studies from UNC-Charlotte in 2008. He is the first member of his family to go to college. And he wants to thank Bol in some way.
Mijak is trying to raise funds to build another Bol school, a 300-student primary school in Nyarweng. The school will cost approximately $150,000 to build. Mijak has already raised around $100,000 through a partnership with a Charlotte-based non-profit, Mothering Across Continents, and another ex-Lost Boy also trying to build a school. He needs another 50K.
This is where you come in.
And "you" is anybody reading this. An NBA player. A Kansas housewife. The Commish. The Chuckster. Doesn't matter.
It would be hard to ask any one of you to write a check for $50,000. That's Big Willie money. I understand that. But it might be easier to ask, say, 500 of you to write a check for $100. That adds up to $50,000, too. So I'm asking. Could 500 people reading this, who love professional basketball, or who may have seen Manute play or heard him speak and been moved, either to tears or to laughter, send $100 to Sudan Sunrise, so that one school in Sudan that believes in bringing people together instead of tearing them apart can be built? Could we do that, together? Could 500 of us pay it forward for Manute Bol, who died trying to make the world a better place?
Make that 499 of you. My check is in the mail. You can go to www.sudansunrise.org and see how to send in yours.
(Last week's rankings in brackets; this week's record in parentheses)
1) New Orleans  (2-0): Hornets pushing all the right buttons so far, but back-to-back games starting Monday with the Mavericks will severely test the unbeatenness.
2) Boston  (2-1): Shaq has more pep in his step than many thought he'd have this early in the season.
3) Utah  (4-0): I would say the Jazz answered the concerns that seemed to be front and center a week or so ago.
4) San Antonio  (4-0): Spurs' current seven-game winning streak after Sunday's victory in Oklahoma City already longer than any win streak they had last season.
5) L.A. Lakers  (1-2): On Thursday, before the Lakers played the Nuggets and were still 8-0, Phil Jackson said that there was no way L.A. would win 70 games. It was a very interesting theory. He said the Bulls team that won an NBA-record 72 games in 1996 had the advantages you'd normally think of -- a younger Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, a willing Dennis Rodman -- but also enjoyed another edge over his contemporary Lakers. Geography. Being, relatively, in the middle of the country gave Chicago a distinct edge. Traveling from the west coast to the east, Jackson noted, you cross three time zones and lose time. But on most trips the Bulls took -- going from the east coast back home, or out to the west coast -- Chicago would gain time. The Bulls could play a 7:30 p.m. game in, say, New York, and still be back home by 11 p.m. Chicago time. "Back to backs didn't hurt you," Jackson said. "And when you go to the west coast, the trips are much shorter." Really interesting.
6) Miami  (1-2): Size matters: Erik Spoelstra goes to Big Z at center instead of Joel Anthony.
7) Oklahoma City  (2-1): Defensive slippage: Thunder giving up almost three points per game more this season than last, and are, incredibly, at the bottom of the league in field-goal percentage allowed.
8) Orlando  (2-2): Stan Van again says that he needs to lighten up, and maybe the Magic will start playing more consistently. Easier said than done.
9) Dallas  (3-0): Jason Kidd passes the 11,000-assist mark, and the Mavericks keep winning ugly. That's a very good sign for a team that needs to get comfortable getting grimy.
10) Portland  (1-2): Oh, it does not sound good for Brandon Roy and the Blazers. When you hear "bone-on-bone" and "arthritic knee" when describing the team's 26-year-old franchise player, that is ominous.
11) Denver  (1-2): Where on earth is J.R. Smith?
12) Golden State  (2-2): Warriors have to hold things together for the next two weeks without David Lee, who underwent elbow surgery after colliding with a Knicks player Wednesday.
13) Atlanta  (1-3): Injuries to Marvin Williams and Mo Evans have shredded the Hawks' depth. Suddenly, the Hawks can't score, can't rebound and can't defend. A bad combination.
14) Chicago  (3-0): Uh-oh: Bulls are playing well just in time for the dreaded circus trip, which has been an excursion of horrors in recent years.
15) Milwaukee [NR] (3-0): Bucks showing signs of life at the defensive end, and winning has followed. But Milwaukee needs to get Carlos Delfino (neck) back on the court.
Utah (4-0): Four straight wins, four straight road wins, four straight road wins against Eastern Conference playoff teams, four straight road wins against Eastern Conference playoff teams after trailing by double digits in every game -- three of them coming after the half. The three rallies from the double-digit deficits are the first time a team has done that in the shot-clock era, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
New York (0-4): The Knicks have become a defensive sieve, allowing 114.8 points per game in their last four before Sunday's game against Houston. They only gave up 104 Sunday. Lost anyway.
What should Enes Kanter do now?
The NCAA ruled Thursday that the Kentucky freshman center was permanently ineligible to play for any NCAA-sanctioned university after receiving benefits above his necessary expenses while playing for a club team in Turkey during the 2008-09 season. (Kentucky has not been implicated in any way; the money Kanter received was from Fenerbahce, the Turkish team; the club has cooperated with the NCAA during its investigation.)
Kanter wanted to play college ball in the United States; he played last season at a California prep school before enrolling at Kentucky. And he took advantage of a new NCAA rule that allows amateur players to be compensated by professional international teams yet maintain their amateur status -- as long as that money is for meals, lodging, transportation to and from practice, coaching and insurance. But the NCAA and Kentucky agree that Kanter received more than $33,000 above those expenses while in Turkey.
And that means the 18-year-old, who's a Top 10 lock in next year's Draft (and maybe top 5, depending on who you talk with), now has some decisions to make.
Kentucky is planning a final appeal to the NCAA's Reinstatement Committee -- an independent group comprised of representatives from NCAA member colleges, universities and athletic conferences. The Committee can overturn the result or reduce the penalty. Kentucky's appeal is expected to take place at the end of the month. An NCAA spokesman said Friday that there is no set timeframe for a decision from the Reinstatement Committee, but most appeals are adjudicated within days.
Under the NBA's rules, Kanter is eligible to apply for the 2011 Draft. Because he enrolled and was accepted to Kentucky, and because he will turn 19 before the Draft takes place, he does not qualify as an international player, and thus doesn't have to be 22 years old -- one of the requirements for international players -- to be Draft eligible. No one doubts that the 6-foot-11 center will do so. But until then, what should he do?
Kanter could return to Europe to play for a year, though it might be problematic to find a European team that would be willing to sign him for just a year without tying a substantial buyout -- typical for NBA-ready players -- to his contract. Assuming Kentucky's final appeal to reinstate his NCAA eligibility fails, Kanter would be eligible to sign with an NBA Development League team for this season, but he would run the risk of playing below expectations, or suffering an injury. He could take out some insurance, of course, but the risk is still there.
Most folks I spoke with think Kanter will play in Europe for a year, then come back to the States and declare. He's a talented young man who will, one day, challenge Hedo Turkoglu's status as the Michael Jordan of Turkey.
Is Olivia Newton-John the only person who still believes in Magic? From Marko Nemet:
Having seen the humiliation by the Heat and parts of a few other games, I can't help but wonder are the Magic really capable of mounting a serious title run. Granted, Howard has expanded his offensive palette a bit, even adding some kind of a jumper to it, but essentially to me it seems that the only way the Magic can really crush strong opposition (i.e. Miami, Boston & the Lakers) is by forcing them to double Howard and then release the sharpshooters. But if you have the ability and the guts to not double Dwight - or even better: to double him only occasionally and wisely, cutting off passing corridors and even more importantly - blocking his vision -- then half the work is done. Miami did it a couple of times -- they waited for him to make his move, and THEN doubled him, when he was already facing the basket and it was far too late to throw the ball out (he's not nearly the passer Pau Gasol or Joakim Noah are). Howard can't win by himself and the rest of the team (sadly, including Vince Carter) doesn't seem capable of creating their own shots on a consistant basis. SvG has SO many options in his squad, but maybe the solution would be to give up some of the width for a legit second superstar. One is almost never enough. Kobe never was.
That's why so many folks think Orlando will ultimately pull the trigger on a big deal, Marko. Stan Van kind of showed his hand when he acknowledged after the Heat game that the Magic don't have anyone on their roster who can really create his own shot. Most teams can't single Dwight because he'd shred them. But the good teams, as you note, can. Orlando certainly has the pieces to put a mega-deal together for an All-Star caliber player, and as struggling teams (the Clippers? The Pistons? The Wizards?) come to grips with their shortcomings, they might be more willing to do something.
They call it "Best Supporting Actor" for a reason. From Jordan Schoenburg:
Do you think that the Lakers should retire Robert Horry's number? I mean, the guy was a fan favorite, he hit so many big shots, and he won three championships with the Lakers (seven total).
While Big Shot Bob hit a bunch of them in L.A., the Lakers' standard for who goes up in the rafters -- Logo, Wilt, Baylor, Gail Goodrich, Magic, Kareem, Worthy -- would seem to preclude Horry's addition. (Obviously, Kobe and Shaq will ultimately get their numbers retired in L.A., and I can't imagine Derek Fisher won't join them.) Horry was a great and fearless role player, but he was a role player. And there are lots of great role players -- like Michael Cooper, Byron Scott and Ron Harper, who all made major contributions to multiple championships -- that aren't up there. I can't put Horry in ahead of those guys..
More athletic tape for all the sprained ankles from jumping off the Heat Bandwagon. From Justin Werrbach:
I believe there is a trend of Miami losing to teams with an established pick and roll game, not to mention exceptional point guards. One-on-one, we know most nights Miami will win the match-ups at the 2, 3, 4 spots and we know on most nights teams will try to exploit the match-ups at 1 and 5 and try their best to just survive the other three. But even if Bosh wins his match-up on paper, you can take him out of the one-on-one and make him defend a pick and roll, you stand a chance at stealing that match-up. The Celtics, Hornets, Jazz, Spurs, Suns, Blazers, Lakers, Mavericks, Rockets, Knicks and eventually the Bulls all have the tools to do that.
You're very generous to include that many teams, Justin. And wrong. I agree that the Heat may have trouble with Boston and L.A. in the playoffs. But there's no way the Heat allow that many teams to run screen and roll indefinitely against Bosh and/or Mario Chalmers or Carlos Arroyo all season. They'd switch D-Wade onto CP3, or let LeBron handle the likes of, say, David West or Hedo Turkoglu, and live with the switches. Miami's defense is going to get better as the season goes on, and the things that may be giving the Heat problems now are going to dwindle.
Have no fear; underdog(s) is (are) here! From Flynn Cornelia:
Please update me on three players that I'd like to hear about: Jon Scheyer, Brian Zoubek and Adam Morrison. I don't know, but, I have it for underdogs who I think deserve it more than others think they should ... and, yes, you should bring back Mr. 15! here's one for hoping that Darko will have a breakout season, just like the way Bogut did last season ... Fear the Deer, indeed! Keep it up DA!
The agent for Scheyer (cut in training camp by the Clippers) and Morrison (one of the final cuts by the Wizards), Mark Bartlestein, texted me Saturday night and said both are "looking at different things and waiting for the right situation to come up." Likely translation: holding out for bigger guaranteed European money. Didn't hear from Zoubek's rep Sunday night, but I suspect he -- and maybe the others -- will continue working out, and wait to see if an NBA team suffers an injury that requires them to bring in a body for a while.
Send your questions, comments and criticisms to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are sufficiently insightful, critical or snarky, we might just publish your e-mail!
(weekly averages in parentheses)
1) Kobe Bryant (34 ppg, 6 rpg, 7 apg, .425 FG, .783 FT): Seems more comfortable with his teammates than at any time as a Laker, and vice versa.
2) LeBron James (26 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 11.3 apg, .367 FG, .773 FT): LBJ insists he wasn't second-guessing Erik Spoelstra when he said he might be playing too many minutes.
3) Dwight Howard (20.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.75 bpg, .588 FG, .478 FT): Fly in the ointment: Howard has already picked up a league-high five technical fouls. And if refs think he's not showing "respect for the game," he'll get targeted.
4) Rajon Rondo (10 ppg, 16 apg, 2.3 spg, .394 FG, .400 FT): Already has seven games this season with 15 or more assists. But those shooting numbers need a lot of work.
5) Chris Paul (12 ppg, 10.5 apg, 4 spg, .500 FG, 1,000 FT): CP3 getting it done at the defensive end just as much as on offense, creating on-ball pressure that has led to turnovers and runouts.
.952 -- Shooting percentage for the Pacers in the third quarter of Tuesday's game against Denver, when Indiana made 20 of 21 shots en route to 54 points in the period, and a 144-113 win over the Nuggets. The Pacers made 20 shots in a row until Josh McRoberts missed a 3-point attempt with 1.9 seconds left in the quarter. The 54 points were the fourth-most in one quarter in league history; the record is 58 points by the Buffalo Braves in the fourth quarter of a 126-118 loss on Oct. 20, 1972.
4 -- Teams in the last 24 years that have started a season 8-0 while not allowing 100 points in any of those victories. New Orleans is the fourth, after beating Portland 107-87 on Saturday. The Hornets are allowing an average of 90.1 points per game so far this season and given up 90 or less four times.
18 -- Consecutive times the Spurs have beaten the Clippers after San Antonio's 107-95 victory Wednesday. Los Angeles hasn't beaten the Spurs since March 7, 2006, hasn't won in San Antonio since 2002 and has lost 46 of the last 50 meetings between the teams during the last 13 seasons.
1) I've never seen anything like what the Utah Jazz pulled off last week.
"I've never seen it either," Raja Bell said from Charlotte's Time Warner Cable Arena Saturday night, less than an hour after the Jazz had, for the fourth time, come back from 10 points or more down on the road to win a game, with a 96-95 win over the Bobcats. "Never been part of anything like it."
On Tuesday, Utah went into Miami, spotted the Heat a 22-point lead, but came back to win in overtime behind a career-high 46 points from Paul Milsap. The next night, in Orlando, the Jazz trailed by 18 in the first half before outscoring the Magic 39-20 in the fourth quarter to win by 10. In Atlanta on Friday, the deficit was 11 in the fourth quarter when Utah scored 23 of the game's final 33 points to win. And Saturday was Utah's fourth game in five nights, with three great wins already in its back pocket and a long flight home beckoning. No one would have batted an eye if the Jazz had called it a night after falling down by 19 in the first half.
But Utah's bench, which has been great during this run, brought it back again, and Deron Williams -- playing at an MVP level -- hit a runner in the lane with :00.8 left to go for the game-winner.
"I thought at some point during the game when we started getting down, I said if we got this one, it would be the best of all the wins -- even better than the Miami game," Bell said. "Because of the circumstances, like you mentioned. We just kind of stuck to the script of the whole trip. We have some guys that have a knack of hitting big shots, and Willie did it tonight."
Utah lost its first two games, including a 16-point home opener loss. But in its next game, the Jazz won in Oklahoma City by 21 and has won eight of its last nine, including Saturday's victory. The Jazz has had a different hero every night: starters, backups, little-used players like veteran Earl Watson, little-known players like rookie forward Jeremy Evans. Other than the slow starts, everything's been just about perfect the last two weeks.
"Honestly, I know it's really cliche, but we just stuck with what we were supposed to do," Bell said. "The game is a game of runs. Just about every team we played came out blistering from the field. We just plugged away. We just kind of have a knack for tightening up a bit in the fourth quarter and we make our run. If you watch the games it's not like we start out blazing. It's a methodical, steady climb."
Even coach Jerry Sloan was smiling Saturday.
"He was excited," Bell said. "He's a man of few words. But he let us know they were all good wins. He commended our bench for coming in and picking up the energy. He just doubled back and said if we stuck together and do the things we need to do, we can win games against anybody."
And it doesn't seem to matter what time it is when Utah wakes up.
"Yeah, just take your 20 and now we'll play," Bell said.
2) I've never seen anything like what Kevin Love pulled off Friday night.
"I think I for sure got everyone's attention," Love texted Saturday night, the night after he became the first player in 28 years to do a "30-30"-- 31 points, 31 rebounds-- in Minnesota's win over New York.
"It'll take some more time," he continued, "but people will start taking notice even more if I keep rebounding at a high rate."
After Friday's extravaganza -- Love outrebounded three teams with his 31 boards that night -- he leads the league in rebounding, at 14.6 per game. (Yes, I know my friends at Basketball-Reference, who began their contributions to the New York Times Sports section with a Friday column -- prefer what they call total rebound percentage -- an "estimate" of the percentage of total rebounds a player gets while on the floor. I'm an old coot. I still prefer rebound average.)
It's been an odd couple of years for Love in Minnesota. The Wolves traded for him on Draft night 2008 after Memphis took him with the fifth pick in the first round, and tried to pair him with Al Jefferson. But that didn't work; Love and Jefferson are both power forwards that need room inside to work, though Love can and will shoot from the perimeter. And Love ran into issues with coach Kurt Rambis, who took him out of the starting lineup last season and jiggled his minutes like a stuck toilet handle.
New Wolves president David Kahn solved one part of the problem by dealing Jefferson to Utah last summer, but after Rambis sat Love down the stretch in Minnesota's season opener, playing Anthony Toliver instead, it looked like old wounds had not yet healed. In the following nine games, Love is playing 30 minutes a night, but didn't break the 40-minute mark until Friday, when he became the first person since Moses Malone to break the double-triple plateau. And he knew exactly how well he was going.
"I told my teammates I wanted 35 by games end," he said. "I didn't meet that number but I'll take 31. I knew I was close to 30, especially after the third quarter."
Maybe, I texted back, Kurt will give you some regular burn now.
"Lol. thats the plan," he said.
3) If you watched the Thunder Friday, you saw why OKC needs Kevin Durant to win. And you also saw why OKC needs Russell Westbrook to win.
4) Not sure Mike D'Antoni ever got the Suns to play faster or better than they did Sunday night in L.A., as they broke their franchise record for made 3-pointers, 22, in hanging 121 on the defending champs on the road for their fourth win in five games.
5) My expectations for the Warriors have never been higher. Golden State is the league's most underdeveloped franchise, and these guys look like they're willing to spend some money on development.
6) If you want a great example of how to handle being demoted like a professional, look at Peja Stojakovic in New Orleans, not making the story about himself but the team's great start.
1) I know that this is just a video game, and that this is just a commercial. I know that this is targeted for teenage boys, and I am neither a teenager nor a boy anymore. I just have a problem seeing Kobe Bryant in a commercial where he's firing an automatic weapon to help sell a video game that is so very, very violent. I expect no one under 40 to agree with this position and am waiting for the e-mails about how I am without a life. Understood.
3) Yes, the Clippers have had a tough schedule. But if you talk all this talk about being much improved, you have to beat some good teams on occasion, don't you?
4) Sorry to hear this. They seemed like a really centered, healthy couple.
6) Not sure if I'm willing to spend $10 to see Unstoppable -- after all, isn't it just Silver Streak without Richard Pryor? (On the other hand, I'd watch Rosario Dawson watching paint dry.)
7) My boycott of pay-per-view boxing continued Saturday. I will not pay for any fight until Mayweather-Pacquiao is made. Why boxing continues to deny its (dwindling) fans the fight they want to see is beyond me.
It's been a pleasure to bring my talents to south beach now on to Memphis
-- Paul Pierce (@paulpierce34), Friday, 12:15 a.m., after his Celtics went into Miami and defeated the Heat 117-112, controlling the game most of the way. There will be nights when Miami shines, but the Heat's intimidation factor isn't that strong. There aren't too many teams scared of Miami the way teams fear getting embarassed by, say, the Lakers.
-- Lakers coach Phil Jackson, describing his team's fourth quarter Thursday against the Nuggets, which led to L.A.'s first loss of the season after winning eight straight.
"I don't remember one game when he came into practice and said he was mad because he didn't have good cable."
-- Raptors coach Jay Triano, responding to the Toronto Star to Chris Bosh's comments that one of the reasons he wasn't happy in Toronto was that he didn't get "the good cable" that included the NBA's satellite basketball package. Of course, Bosh could have just gotten a satellite dish and gotten League Pass.
"We're going to build a stadium in Detroit...I want two teams in one building, so that's all I can tell you."
-- Prospective Pistons owner Mike Ilitch, who also owns the NHL's Red Wings, answering a question from the Detroit Free Press on whether the Red Wings could move up to play in Auburn Hills. This announcement does my heart good. The Palace is still a great building, more than 20 years after it opened. But it is still 31 miles from Detroit, and further than that from the airport. Looking forward to not needing a sherpa to help get me up there.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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