Posted Apr 11 2011 9:55AM
A season that began with The Decision ends with decisions.
Picking the NBA's award winners is always an exercise in alchemy. Statistics matter, but so does the won-loss record. You can pick only one person to win in a category; it doesn't mean you don't think the others aren't worthy. But you have to choose.
This year made for even more difficult selections. How do you weigh the contributions of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade when assessing the other's performance? How do you view Carmelo Anthony's season? His numbers were great in Denver, and the Nuggets won a lot of games, but his teammates were miserable, waiting for the inevitable trade that he wanted. How do you judge such a player's season?
I provide the following paragraph every year when I write the Awards Column, but it needs to be repeated: I have the ballot, not you. So these selections only have to make sense to me, not you. You have every right to work hard and get a vote someday, and then you can tell me why you voted the way you did. Please understand: I'm not saying that you don't have the right to disagree with my picks, and let me know about it (at email@example.com). But you're not going to change my mind. So coming up with a Pythagorean theorum that "proves" J.R. Smith is the league MVP will not convince me he is.
THE WINNER: Derrick Rose, Chicago
THE RUNNERS-UP: LeBron James, Miami; Dwight Howard, Orlando; Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers; Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas.
THE RATIONALE: It's among the hoariest of NBA cliches, but there is some truth to it: an NBA player often reveals who he is going to really be in the league in his third season. And so Rose has arrived, now fully formed, an elite player and the best in the league this season.
If you judge a player only by stats, Rose is not the guy for you. Oh, he's perfectly fine in many categories -- seventh in scoring, 10th in assists, 12th in efficiency -- but, frankly, LeBron James and Kevin Durant rank higher across the board statistically. If we were just going by stats, LeBron would win the MVP in a walk. But basketball isn't just about number crunching. Rose is the best player on what is arguably the best team in the league going into the postseason. We do not know what will happen in the playoffs, but the MVP award is for regular season excellence, and Rose has been excellent for the Bulls.
He has become a lethal fourth-quarter scorer, almost as good a closer as Kobe (he is second only to Bryant in "clutch" scoring according to the statistical website 82games.com, with "clutch" scoring defined as points in a game with fewer than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter or overtime, where one team leads the other by five points or fewer) and better than LeBron. He has added the 3-pointer to his arsenal, taking six times more threes this season than last and making almost seven times more than he did last season. And he has put the Bulls on his not-sizeable back as Chicago dominated its division and, then, the rest of the Eastern Conference. Rose carried the Bulls when Carlos Boozer missed the first month of the season and Joakim Noah missed almost two more.
Reticent by nature, Rose also has become a vocal leader, who lets first-year coach Tom Thibodeau set the tone by simply following his lead.
Just as with Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, there is no space between Rose and Thibs. Thibs says the team has to become a defensive leviathan; Rose seconds it. Rose says the team isn't playing well and needs to pick it up; Thibs doesn't have to say anything. This is important, moreso than you may think.
A superstar can easily sabotage a rookie head coach, bend him to his will, and destroy chemistry in the process. But Rose has walked alongside Thibodeau, empowered him, and now the coach's word is law. That alone would warrant serious MVP consideration, because by allowing Thibodeau to do his thing, Rose has ensured that the Bulls can have an extended championship chase. No player will come to Chicago thinking he can do anything but fall in line behind the coach and the star, which means relative locker room harmony.
And Rose does all of these things without causing a stir. Other than his two older brothers who have shielded him for years, there is no Rose entourage, no high-maintenance family about which to worry. Doc Rivers said that Rose was, by far, the most popular member of the Eastern Conference All-Star team in February. While Kevin Garnett refused to do interviews or take pictures with Dwight Howard, Rose would sit alone in the locker room, quietly, and not say a word. No one begrudges him his success, because he's not only done the work that everyone else has, he's seemingly made very few enemies. That doesn't matter when judging MVP credentials, of course; this isn't Miss Congeniality for which we're voting. But it makes casting a Rose MVP vote even easier.
James said that he thought he and Dwyane Wade would cancel one another out for MVP consideration. That was never true, and any observer worth his or her salt knows that James has been everything he was advertised to be when he came to South Beach. There is no question that no one walking has his all-around game, and he dominates almost all of the major statistical categories. But his inability to close out games raised a single, but decisive, red flag, that made it impossible to think he was the best player this season. (It's the same reason it's impossible to vote Howard MVP, even though his offensive game has grown by leaps and bounds this season; how can the best player in the game not be trusted to win games at the end? In Howard's case, it's his free throw Kryptonite.) Last season, the Cavaliers dominated most nights in the regular season and James wasn't on the spot nearly as much; this year, Miami has been in a lot of high-profile nail biters, and James hasn't been able to deliver.
Rose has. And the Bulls have prospered. So shall he, with his first league MVP.
THE WINNER: Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers
THE RUNNERS-UP: John Wall, Washington; Gary Neal, San Antonio; DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento; Landry Fields, New York
THE WINNER: Lamar Odom, L.A. Lakers
THE RUNNERS-UP: Glen Davis, Boston, George Hill, San Antonio; Lou Williams, 76ers; James Harden, Oklahoma City
THE RATIONALE: Practically, Odom is a sixth starter for the Lakers, able to step in when Andrew Bynum has his yearly trip to the injured list and keep the triangle moving without a hitch. He is perfectly suited to this job, which allows him to deploy his Swiss Army Knife-repertoire without ever having to deal with the pressure and responsibility of being the man. Unburdened, Odom can drive the lane or crash the boards with abandon, making him an almost impossible check down the stretch. And shooting a career-best 53 percent from the floor, Odom becomes an easy choice over Glen "Big Baby" Davis, who's having a career season for the Celtics and who has been Boston's most consistent big man this season. Hill calms Gregg Popovich when he's on the floor; Williams has been unleashed by Doug Collins in Philly and Harden rose to the challenge that the Thunder gave him this season to become a more consistent and versatile threat.
THE WINNER: Dwight Howard, Orlando
THE RUNNERS-UP: Tyson Chandler, Dallas; Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City; Emeka Okafor, New Orleans, Grant Hill, Phoenix
THE RATIONALE: This is becoming so lopsided that they may want to think of renaming this "The Dwight" for the foreseeable future. At 25, Howard has cemented his status as the game's most immovable object, anchoring an Orlando defense that is still third in defensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) despite adding the likes of the defensive-challenged Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson in December. Howard makes it so, ending possessions on the defensive glass (his 1,072 defensive rebounds is second only to Minnesota's Kevin Love) or, sometimes, by the blocked shot. Orlando hasn't gotten the ball after each of Howard's 182 blocks this season -- third only to Ibaka and Washington's JaVale McGee -- but let's get real: the Wizards are terrible defensively as a team, and Ibaka benefits from playing with a ballhawk out front in Russell Westbrook and, now, a low-post defensive wall in Kendrick Perkins. Howard has no such second to give him defensive assistance. He's the show. And only the Lakers allow fewer points in the paint than Orlando.
Chandler has had a great season in Dallas, anchoring the Mavericks' zone defenses to great effect throughout the season. Okafor's health has been central to the Hornets' high standing all season defensively. The 38-year-old Hill has taken on all wing comers, making players a decade younger than him earn it as he slips screens, beats them to spots and contests their shots.
THE WINNER: Kevin Love, Minnesota
THE RUNNERS-UP: LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland; Arron Afflalo, Denver; JaVale McGee, Washington
THE RATIONALE: For years, I have been reluctant to give this award to players taken high in the Draft. My reasoning has been that a player drafted first or second is supposed to be good. They're supposed to become stars. That they ultimately fulfill their destiny should not be rewarded; otherwise, why are they lottery picks? But Love, taken fifth by Memphis in 2008 before being dealt on Draft night to Minnesota, has ascended so acutely this season that attention must be paid.
In two years, he's added six rebounds per game to his already strong rookie numbers, making for an absurd 15.2 boards per game, the highest single-season average since Ben Wallace's 15.4 rebounds a night in 2002-03. He's increased his scoring from 14.0 ppg last season to 20.2 ppg this season, a jump sixth-highest in the league this year. He tied Dwight Howard for the league lead in double-doubles (64), yet also is a top 20 3-point shooter (his .417 mark behind the arc was bettered among big men only by San Antonio's Matt Bonner).
Yes, trading Al Jefferson last summer to Utah created opportunities for Love for more minutes and shots. But you'd expect there would be some dropoff in one category as he rose in another: if you're living at the 3-point line, for example, you shouldn't also still be leading the league in offensive boards. But Love is.
He is not a great individual defender. He is not a good defender. But grabbing rebounds is a big part of team defense; it ends the opponent's possession. And Love has been outstanding at that this season. That's why he gets the nod over guys like Aldridge, who's been a godsend for the injury-ravaged Blazers (see our Q&A with him below), and Afflalo, who has really become an offensive threat in Denver while still being an excellent on-ball defender. McGee has always blocked shots but has often been terrible on the ball and non-existent on offense other than via alley-oop lobs. He has gotten much better at each this season, showing improved efficiency on a sweeping hook on offense.
THE WINNER: Doug Collins, Philadelphia.
THE RUNNERS-UP: Tom Thibodeau, Chicago; Nate McMillan, Portland; Gregg Popovich, San Antonio; George Karl, Denver
THE RATIONALE: There are always a half-dozen superlative coaching jobs done in the league every season. This one is no different. But Collins, our former TNT colleague, gets the nod because he had far less to work with than his competitors and has turned things around in a much shorter period of time. When he got to Philly last summer, the 76ers had no overarching philosophy as a team. How would they win games? Who would win them? How would a team that appeared dispirited and lifeless develop chemistry? What to do with Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand?
Collins found answers to all of those questions. He turned little-used Jodie Meeks loose to shoot threes and helped Jrue Holiday become a solid young point guard. He restored Brand's confidence in his game and reminded Iguodala what got him noticed in the first place; excellent on-ball defense. And he kept the ship afloat after Philly started the season 3-13 and things looked bleakest. The Sixers are 38-26 since and will be a formidable first-round playoff opponent.
Thibodeau's unyielding defensive demands are the mortar upon which the Bulls have made themselves into the East's best team and a championship contender. That he accomplished this in his first season as a head coach after two decades as an assistant is all the more impressive. By contrast, Popovich has been the big boss in San Antonio for 15 years and has seen it all. But he was secure enough to realize that he had to change how his team played in order to have any chance to compete for one last ring. So he turned the reins loose and let the Spurs get out and run, knowing that the Spurs had to score more as their defensive slippage increased. He insisted that Tim Duncan's regular-season minutes decrease to keep him fresher for the playoffs. It worked, and with some luck -- the Spurs were among the healthiest teams in the league this season -- the Spurs have the league's best record.
McMillan expected Greg Oden to be back this season and again be a focal point of the Blazers' offense. He wasn't. Then it was back to a perimeter-based attack featured Brandon Roy. But Roy's knees gave out. So McMillan tinkered again, going small with LaMarcus Aldridge in the hole. He never let the injuries define his team's season and always coached whoever was in uniform that evening. Karl gets huge marks for keeping Version One of the Nuggets -- the Carmelo Anthony-led team -- winning while Anthony's never-ending trade saga played out. And when Anthony finally was dealt, Karl stitched Version Two together on the fly. A team more to Karl's liking, Version Two has the NBA's best record the second half of the season.
ALL-NBA FIRST TEAM
Guards: Derrick Rose, Chicago; Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers
Forwards: LeBron James, Miami; Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas
Center: Dwight Howard, Orlando
ALL-NBA SECOND TEAM
Guards: Dwyane Wade, Miami; Chris Paul, New Orleans
Forwards: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City; Pau Gasol, L.A. Lakers
Center: Amar'e Stoudemire, New York
ALL-NBA THIRD TEAM
Guards: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City; Manu Ginobili, San Antonio
Forwards: LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland; Zach Randolph, Memphis
Center: Al Horford, Atlanta
(Players who flew under the radar! Get it?)
Guards: Andre Miller, Portland; Kyle Lowry, Houston
Forwards: Danny Granger, Indiana; Dorell Wright, Golden State
Center: Nene, Denver
One big question about big man Biyambo
It was the question at the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland this weekend.
Just how old is Bismack Biyambo?
While almost two dozen players who said they'd be at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in Virginia pulled out at the last minute ("60 future USBL players," one general manager texted Sunday night), the Hoop Summit showcased a handful of potential first-round picks from the international select team that lost to the U.S. junior select squad Saturday.
Chief among them was Biyambo, who posted a triple-double Saturday with 12 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocked shots. At 6-foot-9 and 243 pounds with an incredible 7-foot-7 wing span, Biyambo, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, has exploded onto the international basketball scene in two short years. He played this year for Europe's top league, ACB, in Spain, for Fuenlabrada. (Former Nuggets first-rounder Nikoloz Tskitishvili played for Fuenlabrada last season.)
But how old is he?
Biyombo says he's 18, but as Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen wrote over the weekend, NBA scouts and executives aren't 100 percent sure, and Biyombo wouldn't talk about it when asked.
"Question of the week here!," a team scouting director texted Sunday night. "No way to know for sure. I'm guessing he's 21 or 22."
If that's the case, it won't be a big deal and Biyombo will go in the first round for sure. But an Eastern Conference GM said he heard rumors that Biyombo was anywhere from 23 to 26, which would obviously be a much different deal. He'd be much more likely to become an undrafted free agent than a Draft pick, and with the uncertainty surrounding labor, who can say for sure how -- and how much -- free agents would be signed and would get paid.
There is, though, no questioning his rapidly developing talent. His defensive skills are being compared to Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka, also from Congo.
"His effort, heart, shotblocking, offensive rebounding and attempt at leadership were big," a scout said Sunday. "Very raw, though."
A Western Conference general manager said that Biyombo could go anywhere from the end of the Lottery to the second round. "He has a good body and good overall quickness, plus he is strong and not afraid of anything."
Biyombo and Brazilian 7-footer Lucas "Bebe" Nogueira, also 18, were the two main 2011 Draft prospects in Portland. Nogueira didn't play well but is still a potential first-rounder. This may well be a year when a half-dozen international big men, including the Czech Republic's Jan Vesely, Turkey's Enes Kanter and Lithuania's Donatas Motiejunas, take up the slack in a less-than-stellar Draft and go in the first round.
Biyombo has a real chance to join them. As long as he wasn't born during the Reagan Administration.
(March 28 rankings in brackets; this week's record in parentheses)
1) Chicago  (4-0): Bulls reach 60-win mark for the first time since last championship season (1997-98), and have closed within a game of San Antonio for the best record in the league.
2) Oklahoma City  (4-0): Late surge by Thunder has Kevin Durant back in MVP talk.
3) San Antonio  (3-0): Spurs get healthy just in time to hold off epic collapse and secure first in the West.
4) Dallas  (2-1): The JET is getting quite chippy -- first with the Lakers' Steve Blake, then with teammate J.J. Barea in the Mavs' huddle on Friday. Rick Carlisle said it was an "internal" matter.
5) Miami  (2-1): Heat peaking at the right time. But will it get consistent production from its bench and non-Big Three starters?
6) L.A. Lakers  (0-4): Lakers are doing an excellent impression of a team that doesn't give a damn as the regular season ends. Maybe they can just turn it on. But it's a dangerous game to play.
7) Orlando  (2-1): Magic should take heart in excellent effort Sunday without Dwight Howard in last-second loss to Chicago.
8) Denver  (2-2): Nuggets using Ray Felton and Ty Lawson together to great effect, as evidenced by Lawson's career-high 37 points in Saturday's rout of Minnesota.
9) Boston  (2-2): The Celts may now have a very, very hard time getting out of the East. Not impossible, mind you. But very hard.
10) Portland  (2-1): Everyone associated with the Blazers seems to think they have the best chance at a first-round win over Dallas. But they'll compete against everyone, including the Lakers, with Gerald Wallace giving them great versatility in the frontcourt.
11) New York  (4-0): Seven straight wins for the Knicks have them starting Boston square in the eye in a potential first-round matchup. Call it the Acela Series.
12) Memphis  (2-1): Grizzlies are one of the hottest teams in the west right now, behind Z-Bo, Little Gasol and O.J. Mayo.
13) New Orleans  (2-1): Hornets, like everyone else, trying to avoid seventh seed in West, which means first-round date with Lakers, who've owned the Bugs (4-0) this season.
14) Philadelphia  (1-2): Sixers need to get Lou Williams (hamstring) healthy to have a real chance in the playoffs.
15) Atlanta  (0-3): One supposes the Hawks could turn it on when the playoffs start. One supposes 50-foot lizards could evolve from the primordial ooze in the next 10 days, speaking Belgian.
New York (4-0): Before we fit the Knicks for championship rings, keep in mind that they've feasted on some of the league's bottom feeders. But you still wouldn't have anticipated this kind of turnaround a fortnight ago. And I still think the Knicks are going to be a better playoff team than they were in the regular season.
Charlotte (0-3): Bobcats couldn't overcome loss of Stephen Jackson and Tyrus Thomas down the stretch, and playoff streak thus stops at one.
Is Jeff Green the key to banner number 18 going up at TD Garden?
In the 11th hour of their 64th season, the Boston Celtics have never been so unsure about whether they're going to win a championship or fall to pieces.
They don't know if Shaquille O'Neal is going to be the post backstop they can drape a defense around, or if they'll have to count on Jermaine O'Neal, who just got back on the court less than two weeks ago after missing 56 games. They don't know if Ray Allen is just in a slump, or, finally, getting old. They don't know if Rajon Rondo is going to be healthy enough to play eight more weeks at the level he played earlier in the season. And they don't know how much they're going to miss Kendrick Perkins in the playoffs until they begin.
Into this steps Green, who came with Nenad Krstic from Oklahoma City for Perkins and Nate Robinson, and who is getting a crash course in the Boston Mystique. It's not, well, just a mystique.
"We have to take pride in what we do," Green said the other day. "The atmosphere and the intensity is somewhat different than in Oklahoma. When you're watching it, it's a different story. But when you're a part of it, it's so much you have to do to live up to the past. It's something you have to put upon yourself to take the challenge. I've been having fun with it, trying to become the best player I could be."
Celtics GM Danny Ainge pulled the trigger on the biggest deal of his executive career in Boston when he moved Perkins and Robinson at the deadline, but he needed to start making his roster younger, and more athletic. The 24-year-old Green gives Boston a major piece moving forward with Rondo, but Boston needs him now in the playoffs, against teams that play small like Atlanta or New York. A starter in OKC, Green comes off the bench for the Celtics, averaging 9.4 ppg in 22.1 mpg behind Kevin Garnett. Doc Rivers likes posting Green and taking advantage of his quickness on the block.
Boston has struggled since the trade deadline, trying to find chemistry on the fly to stem the loss of its injured players. Ainge signed Carlos Arroyo to replace Marquis Daniels, who never came back after suffering a serious neck injury in early February, and was traded to Sacramento at the deadline. Krstic and Troy Murphy are big man insurance for Shaquille and Jermaine O'Neal. The Celtics hope they'll have Shaq (calf) back for the playoffs. Green is the X-factor, the guy Boston needs to score, rebound and defend. But he's not the only one that's suddenly very important.
"It's not going to be on the Big Three, or Shaq, or J.O., or me," Rondo said. "It's going to be on those (new) guys why we win it all ... the main thing is you have to bring it every night. We're the Celtics, and teams are going to give us their best shot. I think it's a different type of level you have to bring when you play for the Celtics, and right now we're trying to get those guys to play at that level every day -- not just in the games, but in practice as well."
Green already knows how different things are.
"Their lingo for their defense, their defensive strategies are a lot different than what I did when I was at Oklahoma," Green said. "That's probably the biggest adjustment, I had to change the way I play as far as defensively and just adjust to the way they play."
For example, Green said, the Thunder were willing to concede corner 3-pointers in order to keep their paint tight and not allow penetration. That makes sense, considering that until Oklahoma City got Perkins, it didn't have a rugged low-post defender who could slide over and clog the middle. Serge Ibaka is a terrific shot-blocker, but he's not known for his post D. But in Boston, it's heresy. A power forward is expected to get out to the 3-point line and still be able to sprint back to help.
"Here, there's no threes at all," Green said. "No corner threes. It's tough. You've got a stretch four like (San Antonio's Matt) Bonner, it's tough. But that's just how Doc is and he tries to put you in great position, try to play to the best of your ability. It was something I had to get used to, and now I'm getting more comfortable with that."
There's not much more time for comfort. The Thunder are contending for a title, but there's no statute of limitations on their run, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook both 22, and Serge Ibaka and James Harden 21, and Perkins, Robinson and Thabo Sefolosha the old men of the rotation at 26. Boston's window, long past the point of repair, will close in the next year or two. These are desperate times for a franchise looking to make a last stand, and Green has to stand tall.
"It surprised me I got traded," Green said. "It was just something I had to get over. I went from one great situation to a greater situation. I'm playing for a championship, and I'm loving it."
He believes he can...not fly. From Alberto Tortella:
What do you think about Michael Jordan as a general manager? This year the Bobcats' starting five could be with [Raymond] Felton, [Stephen] Jackson, [Gerald] Wallace and [Tyson] Chandler! This is a sure-fire playoffs starting five! Is MJ interested in a good Draft position in a lockout period? The best players will remain at school, if they are not seniors. How can you attract free agents if you don't achieve the playoffs?
I always thought MJ got a bum rap for his record in Washington. It wasn't as bad as people made it out to be. He cleared enough cap room for the next management group to be able to sign Gilbert Arenas. But it's hard not to view most of the moves Jordan and the Bobcats made at the trade deadline, like dealing Gerald Wallace, as anything other than salary dumps in advance of a lockout. I don't think MJ ever really cottoned to Felton and I wasn't surprised he didn't re-sign him. That certainly looks like a mistake right now. Charlotte, as a smaller-revenue team, also has to hope for a new CBA that gives it a more even playing field, with revenue sharing and the like, that will give it a chance to be competitive. The Bobcats have some pieces but they'll have to be aggressive to make the team top-half-of-the-East worthy. And I'm not sure Michael will spend that kind of money.
Villanova veritas. From Nicholas Durante:
I was reading your article about shooting guards and was wondering what you (and the scouts) thought of Corey Stokes. He had a pretty solid year for Villanova considering he was hurt for a while. I can imagine some scouts are worried that he has almost no game off the dribble -- he is almost exclusively a catch-and-shoot player. But his defense is pretty solid and I don't think it's impossible for him to have some solid minutes in the NBA. What do you think?
It only takes one team, Nicholas. But I think Corey is a longshot to stick on an NBA roster. He can shoot it, though, and that is always a skill that people will take a look at.
Good things come in small packages. From James Atwood:
I just read your article on NBA.com about shooting guard prospects being, well, basically slim pickings, and I had a question. I was wondering how you felt about the strong coming-on this season of Northern Arizona guard Cameron Jones and how, with this being a slim Draft due to a pending lockout, he could make it onto the roster of an NBA team. I think that pro scouts really overlook Division II teams, and Jones had an extremely strong showing all season for the Lumberjacks, capped off with a 14 point effort at the NABC All-Star Game in Houston. Being from Arizona myself and as a NAU alumni, is it wrong to think of Jones as a very underrated scorer that could produce heavily for an NBA (or for that matter a D-League) team in the future?
I watched that NABC game, too, James, and saw how well Cameron played. And I asked a bunch of the scouts I trust if they thought he had a chance. Honestly, many of them had not seen him play much, and normally, they see everyone that they think can play, even at the D-II level. That doesn't mean Cameron doesn't have a chance to make all of them (us) look silly.
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and "I Survived the Government Shutdown" t-shirts to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your e-mail is sufficiently interesting, compelling, mind-bending or snarky, we just may publish it! We may, though, cut for space. Just sayin'.
(weekly averages in parenthesis)
1) Derrick Rose (24.8 ppg, 3 rpg, 6.3 apg, .552 FG, 1,000 FT): Rose was incandescent Sunday in Orlando, with 39 points. He just wouldn't let the Bulls lose. He's been doing that all season. And that's why he's probably going to be the MVP.
2) LeBron James (26.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 8 apg, .536 FG, .696 FT): Played at an even higher level the last two weeks, as Miami has gotten its act together and jumped Boston for second in the East.
3) Dwight Howard (16.5 ppg, 12 rpg, 3.5 bpg, .526 FG, .650 FT): Superman is fortunate the suspension clock resets once the playoffs begin. He may already be on double-secret probation with the refs.
4) Kobe Bryant (25 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.8 apg, .439 FG, .760 FT): T'will be an interesting few days of practice in El Segundo this week.
5) Dirk Nowitzki (19.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 4 apg, .605 FG, 1,000 FT): If the Mavericks wind up playing the Blazers, can Dirk raise his performance against LaMarcus Aldridge, who's gotten the better of him in the regular season?
0 -- Playoff games won by the Grizzlies franchise since it entered the NBA in 1995. In the franchise's three playoff appearances -- all in Memphis; the best record of the Grizzlies the six seasons they were in Vancouver before moving was 23-59 -- it has been swept 4-0 each time.
2 -- Seasons that the Jazz have finished the season with a sub-.500 record in the last 28 years. This season is the second, ensured when the Jazz lost at home Thursday to Portland. But this will also be just the third year Utah winds up with a top-10 Draft pick in that same time period, following last year (Utah took Gordon Hayward with the ninth pick) and 2005 (Utah, which had the sixth pick, traded up to select Deron Williams with the third pick overall).
10 -- Consecutive 3-pointers made by Denver's Ty Lawson Saturday against the Timberwolves, setting a league record for consecutive threes made in a game. Lawson missed his 11th and final 3-point attempt en route to 37 points, with only two coming on a regular two-point basket.
1) The best two months of the year are one week away.
2) I would love to be a fly on the wall at the Board of Governors meeting this week when Cubes or one of the other owners gets up and asks the Commish why the league couldn't convince George Shinn to take a $350 million offer from Larry Ellison, even if it meant the team would have moved from New Orleans.
3) It's been hard to see through all the film of their horrible year, and no one compares with Bad Blake, but John Wall has really had a doggone good rookie season for the Wizards.
4) Derrick Favors hasn't been in Utah very long, but he's a good, good piece for the Jazz to build around. It's going to be hard to keep him off the floor for big minutes much longer.
5) Orlando showed a lot of heart Sunday against the Bulls, and if the Magic sees Chicago again in the second round, that might be a much better series than I thought it would be.
6) I defy you to get through this story about former CNN star Nick Charles, one of the great anchors and reporters of his era, dealing with terminal cancer without choking up. God bless you and your family, Nick.
1) Here's hoping Wednesday isn't the last we see of Rick Adelman behind the bench, and Larry Bird behind the scenes, and that Yao Ming and Michael Redd find a home next season, and Grant Hill and Jason Kidd don't walk away if there's a long lockout.
2) I think Mark Cuban has a point, if the point is the proliferation of media in the last decade has led to some pretty poor journalism being practiced, with some of my brethren more interested in creating a name for themselves than just telling you what they know (which is supposed to be the job). (Again: This is why I don't deal with trade rumors, because they're the modern-day version of the "telephone" game you played when you were six.) And the reality of our world is that teams, owners and players have their own megaphones now to broadcast their "news," such as it is, and we are in competition with them. But the suspicion is that some of the Internet guys in Dallas have taken some shots at the Mavs, and Cubes didn't like it, and he's flexing. Which, as the owner, he has every right to do.
3) LeBron has gotten heat (no pun intended) for some things during the past 12 months, and rightly so. But to criticize him for announcing that he's buying into a soccer team seems like piling on. People are capable of multi-tasking, you know. And he's entitled to spend his money and time in a way that he sees fit and that his employer can live with.
4) RIP, Sidney Lumet. How does a guy direct a movie as near-perfect as 12 Angry Men and then, 25 years later, pull a more almost-perfect movie like The Verdict out of his back pocket? Oh, and in the middle were Dog Day Afternoon and Network. What an accomplished filmmaker.
5) Donald Trump, whom I once respected quite a bit, should be ashamed of himself.
The NBA is a weird place! How can a man that plays 0 defense call a 2 time champion soft?
-- Lakers center Andrew Bynum (@AndrewBynum), Apr. 3, 12:13 p.m., responding to comments by Amar'e Stoudemire in which STAT said that Pau Gasol "was still soft," though he also said Gasol was a good player.
Cousin LaMarcus is having his best pro season in Portland this year, leading the Blazers in scoring and taking the mantle of franchise player from Brandon Roy, who took it from Greg Oden. It's been that kind of crazy in the PDX the last couple of years, with an incredible string of injuries turning the Blazers from a up and coming young contender to one that's happy to get into the playoffs again.
Me: How have you handled this battlefield promotion to becoming the new face of the franchise?
LaMarcus Aldridge: I kind of take it in stride. It kind of came out of the blue, when Brandon went down. I had to make my role be a lot bigger, do a lot more on the court. Nate (McMillan) just came to me, you know, and he was like, 'We need you to be our guy now, until Brandon gets back. I know you can do it.' He always talks about I have the ability to dominate a game, and now he was like, now you really have to. I work hard every summer to try to get better. So I felt I put myself in a good position to make this next step, and I've been doing well so far.
Me: When did you realize that while you were stronger, you could still play your natural game?
LA: It's funny, because people I know in the league--I'll just throw Zach out, Zach Randolph, when I was playing him earlier in the year, he was like, 'Oh, you got stronger, huh?' Guys that I know, they were coming up with funny comments ... I think just when I was going down low, it just felt easier being down there, not getting pushed out so far, being able to take two or three dribbles, get into the paint, do my jump hook. I think that the game got a whole lot easier for me as I felt my strength got better this year.
Me: How have you handled this transition with Greg and Brandon? Because they both were 'the guy' at one point around here.
LA: I think we have a good culture on our team. It's not really about who's the face and who's doing this; it's just about getting wins. We just go out and we just play every night, and now I do get the bulk of the shots and things like that. But just overall, we just want to win. It was tough, losing Greg early again, and then losing Brandon, it was really tough. But like I said, I had to try and step up my role, and my teammates have been great, believing in me. When I get down, miss a couple of shots, they're like, keep shooting it. And Coach Nate has been big, saying that he believed in me and he lets me play my game.
Me: How has Nate kept you together through all the injuries?
LA: He's done his part, just keeping us in a good culture and always preaching to us that it's about team. He tells us, even when we had Brandon and Greg and myself, he said it's not about three guys winning the game, it's about everybody doing their part, from the last guy to the first guy. We need everyone. And losing those guys now, it's even more important to have everybody ready to go. He always preaches to us that it's a team game and a team effort. And we always win when guys play well, from me to the last guy on the bench.
Me: What do you anticipate you all will do in the playoffs?
LA: I think a lot of people counted us out. Losing Brandon, losing Greg, I think a lot of people didn't expect us to make it and get to the playoffs. But we have a lot of guys that can play. Rudy (Fernandez) stepped up his play, Wesley (Matthews) has been a big surprise for us, his offensive game, I don't think people knew he was that good offensively. He's been big for us. I feel like we have enough experience now to make it to the second round. We bring in Gerald Wallace. We have Marcus Camby this year. And I think we have enough pieces to make it a competitive series this year and move onto the second round.
Me: How different are you with Gerald in the lineup?
LA: He's been huge.When he came in, they told me they call him 'Crash.' And I thought that was just because, I don't know, he just runs into people. But he's Crash. Always falling on the floor. He drives to the basket and runs into whoever's in the way. Like, literally, he's Crash. He's been big for us. Defensively, he can help Nic (Batum) out on the wing, guarding Kevin Durant and guys like that. And for us, he's been big, giving us that other option offensively.
Me: You have been nominated for the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award. What does that mean to you?
LA: I didn't think I was going to get voted, first of all. When they told me I was like, 'Are you serious?' But I think it means a lot. 'Cause I think people are noticing that I'm trying to be more of a leader out there, trying to keep all my teammates up. Also, with Brandon going out, my role had to grow as far as being a leader on the court, keeping guys up, making sure guys are ready to go. And I try to always stay positive with guys out there, because we are going to go through ups and downs. I'm just happy that somebody sees that I'm trying to step up my game and be a better leader.
Me: Was there anyone you talked to about that change when it happened?
LA: I talked to Nate about it, of course. Probably just my family. I think everybody's family wants them to be in this position. My mom was like, 'you've worked really hard for this position, to be in this spot. Just be confident with it and thank God.' Talking to Nate, and talking to my family, and my college coach (at Texas), Rick Barnes. I always talk to him all the time. He was like, this is what I saw you being when you played here. He's been big for me.
"You don't have 10 guys ovulating in the same locker room and an emotional wreck. I mean, that's just a fact. People don't think about that."
-- Texas Legends Coach Nancy Lieberman, giving the Detroit Free Press her unique view on the differences between coaching in the NBA D-League and the WNBA.
"Clearly the current situation is not ideal for the team and for me. There are other teams which suit me better and since I have an excellent relationship with the players and the staff, I hope that they appreciate me enough to let me leave for a place where I can play basketball."
-- Kings forward Omri Casspi, in a posting on an Israeli sports website picked up by the Jerusalem Post. Casspi has received less playing time down the stretch of the season and hopes to be traded this summer.
"She's never told me she wants me to quit what I'm doing, but twice this year after really tough losses, she's asked me, 'Larry, why are you doing this?' She's never asked me that before."
-- Pacers President Larry Bird, to the Indianapolis Star, describing how his wife has reacted to the Pacers' struggles this season. Bird is saying he hasn't yet decided whether he wants to return next season, especially after the team reached the postseason for the first time in five years.
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