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David Aldridge

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Coach Rick Adelman (right) is in place to help guide Ricky Rubio's NBA development.
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Rubio proving that his game translates into NBA just fine


Posted Jan 9 2012 11:35PM

I always worry about being parochial about international players.

For many of us from the States, learning a new language, for example, seems so ... foreign. I took Spanish nine straight years in school, from the fifth grade in elementary school through my freshman year of college. Can't speak a word. Whereas many people who emigrate here don't think twice about absorbing two, three, maybe four languages by the time they're out of high school.

Vlade Divac quickly learned how to speak in English as well as Serbian; Dikembe Mutombo was, and is, fluent in nine languages -- and he sounded great in every one.

This leads us to Ricky Rubio, of the El Masnou, Spain, Rubios, whose English, at 21, is perfectly good. And has been since he was a teenager. When the Minnesota Timberwolves took Rubio with the fifth pick in the 2009 Draft, he translated their English into Spanish for his father, Esteve, and vice versa.

Rubio is, it seems, comfortable in many languages -- including basketball. Euroleague, Olympics, NBA. It doesn't seem to matter the level. The sample size for the latter is small to date, but so far ... whoa.

Y'all may want to rethink those "Wrath of Kahn" jokes.

Looks like Video C-Webb's best bud, David Kahn, got this one right.

Kid can ball.

Now, Sunday, he was not going up against an NBA team. If the NBA was really serious about restoring competitive balance, the Washington Wizards would be relegated to the NBA D-League, while the Austin Toros or Iowa Energy got to move up a level. But, no matter; Rubio was still dazzling. The game was his from the moment he entered late in the first quarter to late in the fourth, when the Wolves had dispatched woeful and winless Washington. And Minnesota didn't even play that well. But in 30 minutes, Rubio's line read 13 points, 14 assists, 6 rebounds. A fairly good +29 plus-minus for the day.

He has work to do, on many things. He turns the ball over too much for a point guard, for example. But it would be grossly unfair not to concede that Kahn's faith in Rubio's skills was correct, and that he has the potential to do special things in the NBA. Rubio, of course, has been in the limelight since he was 15, when he broke in with DKV Joventut in Spain, and proceeded to win championships at every level in international ball. That preceded his star turn at the 2008 Olympics, when he dazzled the basketball world in helping Spain get to the gold medal game against the United States, and his F.C. Barcelona team's Euroleague title in his first season there.

Yes, Rubio struggled with Spain at the World Championships in Turkey last year. And then he struggled in Barcelona last season, slowed by a foot injury that helped bring his shooting percentage under 40 percent, and just 22 percent on threes. (And it's not like Barcelona was awful; it did win the Spanish ACB title this past season).

But getting knocked around a little, and off the pedestal, may have helped toughen him up a little. Like many precocious talents, he is used to being special. But he hadn't gotten smacked around much, and toughness is a daily requirement -- like a vitamin -- in this league. In Minnesota, he can have dinner in relative peace, but the pressure of being Ricky Rubio is never too far away. He wears his fame and the attention he receives well; there is a calm about him, both on the court and in the locker room. And like other international stars who have to do more than just play, he handles extra duties; after the Wizards game Sunday, he had a meeting with 80 people in the stands at Verizon Center. Just another day in the life.

"It's hard sometimes," Rubio said before the game. "Because when everybody's talking about you, if you do something good, they're talking good. If you do something bad, they talk worse, you know. So it's hard. You have to know that when they talk good, they're gonna talk bad when you do the bad things. So you (don't) have to listen to them. Just play what you love. It's basketball. And forget about everything. Just enjoy when you're in the court and don't think (about) anything else."

After going 32-132 the last two seasons under Kurt Rambis, the Wolves had a great many things to think about as a franchise.

They had to get a coach and they had to do something to convince All-Star Kevin Love to put his John Hancock on a contract extension offer instead of playing out his current deal and seeking a better place to continue his career. So Minnesota owner Glen Taylor paid big ($5 million per) for Rick Adelman and his 945 career wins. The Wolves got the second pick in the Draft and Video took talented forward Derrick Williams from Arizona. Kahn put $19 million into free agent guard J.J. Barea from the Mavericks. And though there was some thought outside Rubio's inner circle that the lockout might keep him in Spain another year, he opted to come over as planned and start his pro career.

"The one great thing about him is, he's not caught up in the hype," Adelman said. "He doesn't play like that. He doesn't approach things that way. He just wants to get better. He's a great kid. He works really hard at trying to become better. I don't think, besides the extra exposure he's got, he's like all rookies."

The Wolves are trying to bring him along as slowly as they can. Adelman, for now, will keep bringing Rubio off the bench, where he's not usually playing against starters and can work his way into a game. The Wolves like pairing Rubio with veteran Luke Ridnour -- the Wolves' starting point guard since opening night -- to take some of the ballhandling duties off of him. But Rubio has played almost every minute of every fourth quarter, including against Miami (Video a close loss) and San Antonio (Video a solid win).

He's not expected to immediately take over, as was the case in Barcelona, where they take their basketball quite seriously -- part of the reason Minnesota didn't publicly push the issue of when Rubio would arrive in the NBA was a need to proceed delicately with one of Europe's most powerful teams.

"He's just been very solid," Kahn, the Wolves' president of basketball operations, said Sunday. "And I think people continue to forget that he's 21. He turned 21 in October. So he's 21 years and three months. I just think the kid's ceiling is just enormously high, and I think he's going to get better and better ... the hard thing for him is just going to be the adjustment period. Because he hasn't been playing the NBA-style game. At Badalona (where Rubio played for Joventut before signing with F.C. Barcelona) they played more of a style like this. Any rookie, cultural or non-cultural, has an adjustment period. He's actually ahead of most rookies in that he's been a pro for so many years. So he's had experiences that most rookies haven't had ... he's not as fazed as most rookies might be in big moments. He's got a lot of confidence, self-confidence."

Rubio knows he's not typical -- "I had like almost six years with the pros already, and it's a little different, you know? I know how it works, a pro team, and other stuff. Six years is a lot of years to learn that" -- and that experience, combined with his size and big hands makes finding open men easier in the NBA, he says, than it was overseas.

"Here, you can find more space, because they have three different zones," he said. "They can't stay in the lane more than three seconds in zone, and you can find more spaces to penetrate and find more passes."

Rubio's game is sublime. Like all great point guards -- he isn't there, yet, but he's close -- Rubio seems to play among teammates yet float above them at the same time, like he's playing by himself and then snaps to attention. But he feels the game. He doesn't give up his dribble until he's ready. He already has a mastery of the hesitation dribble, textbook bounce passes in traffic, skip passes that wind up right on a shooter's hands. Rubio makes scoring passes, not just passing for the sake of passing, and his teammates must have their heads on a swivel at all times -- "Video I got hit in the face the other day," Love said. Williams, who also had a +29 plus-minus Sunday playing with Rubio, should start Rubio's car every morning; like Kidd, like Nash, Rubio is gonna get guys paid.

Love was hopeful, but reserved, when Rubio arrived.

"I wanted to see if he was the real deal," Love said. "I was always a believer, but I wanted to see with my own eyes first. Now that I've seen it, I'm just happy he's on my team. This is the first time in my career, at least in the NBA, that I've played with a pass-first point guard -- and a guy that makes scoring passes. For me to be on a team like that, it's only going to make me more effective and the guys around me more effective. We're going to win a lot of ballgames with him on the team."

Wait. Run that last sentence back.

"We're going to win a lot of ballgames with him on the team," Love said.

This should warm the hearts of all who reside in the Twin Cities. While there are still two weeks until the Jan. 25 deadline for contract extensions for Class of 2008 draftees, everyone in Minneapolis is desperately waiting to see if Love will commit long-term. Assuming "we" still refers to the Wolves, this is a good sign. But nothing is official, as we all know by now, until it's official. Love has gone underground when his contract is concerned, and Kahn falls back on what he's said for months when the subject comes up -- "I've said consistently, and I said it last year, I expect Kevin to be here for a number of years and be a part of our program here," he said again Sunday.

For that and other reasons, it was important that Rubio come over this season. But it was more important just because it was the right time. Rubio couldn't come over in 2009 and 2010 because the buyout with Barcelona was prohibitive -- and because Minnesota stunk on ice. If Rubio had tried to make chicken salad out of the collection the Wolves initially had on Kahn's watch, he would have turned vegan. But Kahn has flipped the roster; only Love, Wayne Ellington and Darko (!) Milicic remain from Kahn's first crack at putting a roster together in '09. Now, Love is an All-Star and 20 pounds lighter; Williams has monstrous potential; Ridnour, Barea and Anthony Tolliver are solid pros. The Wolves are by no means a finished product, but there's a skeleton of a contending team down the road.

And two years ago, Rubio was a 19-year-old kid. Now he's 21. Those two years make a difference, as anyone who's been a sophomore in college, and then a senior in college, can tell you.

"We were not ready for him, and he wasn't ready for us, and it would have been too much pressure," Kahn said. "Now that we have some better players for him to play with, he doesn't have to shoulder so much of the burden."

There will, of course, be a reckoning. Rubio will, no doubt, have to adjust as teams get NBA tape on him and their book becomes thicker. Even though he's shot the ball reasonbly well so far, his shot is still kind of flat; the guide hand falls behind the ball on occasion instead of consistently to the side. And teams are already starting to play more physical with him -- "the welcoming committee," Wolves assistant Terry Porter said -- which, combined with the Lockout Grind this season, will slow him down, short circuit the wiring from brain to hands, mess with his form and his head. For a time, he will likely struggle again, as the Wolves, with their new, but still young core, will as well.

But he'll get his second wind.

For the first itme in his life, though, he is alone. (Well, sort of; you're never really alone when you're as famous worldwide as he is.) His parents and younger sister, Laia, stayed with him in Minnesota during the lockout, and just left to go back to Spain last week; not knowing when the lockout would end in the fall, they had to make arrangements to return to Europe so that 15-year-old Laia could go back to school there this semester. They may be back periodically. But he's a grown man now. The world is in front of him, and he is starting another chapter in his education.

"There is a process in your life, you know, that you have to leave home," he said. "But your parents are going to be your parents forever, and they're going to love you, anyway. No matter who you are, they're going to love you. So you have to respect them. I mean, they're our heroes, because they're the people who teach us the best lessons in the world, I mean, life. And you always have to know that."

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Odom trying to get into his 'sanctuary' for stress

He works. He sweats. He thinks. He tries to move on. It is difficult.

Basketball has always been where Lamar Odom could escape. But these days, he goes on the court and nothing is normal. Nothing makes sense. He's in a new house in a new city after being grounded and anchored for seven years, in a place where he was no more an eccentric than the fans who cheered him, and the team that made him into a champion instead of a talented nomad. And that's the problem for Lamar Odom; his versatility always makes him a man in demand. So when he asked to be traded from the Lakers in December, a team like the Mavericks was more than willing to take on his contract and live with a season's worth of adjustments. But there's nowhere for him to hide to deal with the blow to his being.

"You know what's crazy, is that usually it's been basketball," Odom said recently.

"My son died (Jayden, 6 months old, died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in 2006). My grandmother died (in 2004). Or even what I experienced this summer [a vehicle that Odom was riding in in New York collided with a motorcycle, which then struck and killed a pedestrian, a 15-year-old boy].

"I remember being 12 years old and I lost my moms. I went to the park all day. This was the first time where something happens to me off the court, and I wasn't in that space, that mental space that I'm usually in as far as basketball is concerned. That's usually the sanctuary. But it's usually been stable when something happened off the court that affects you. For basketball not to be stable, for me to be unprepared to vent, it's humbling. But I've got to prepare myself as I'm just going on. Sometimes, it's ugly, but it's just the way it is."

It would be hard enough to hit the ground running with a new team. But there is, of course, the compressed season to deal with, and the lack of training camp, which left the older Mavericks out of shape at the start of the season. Add to that the pressure the Mavs face trying to defend their championship. Add to that the fact that Odom is going to the team that knocked the Lakers out of last year's playoffs with a 4-0 Western Conference semis KO.

And Odom is not the only new face in Dallas; there's Delonte West and Vince Carter also trying to feel their way. Add to that returning players with greater expectations on them, like Brendan Haywood, who is expected to replace the guy that Dirk Nowtizki said was the best teammate he ever had, Tyson Chandler. Add to that the likelihood that Mark Cuban and GM Donnie Nelson will blowtorch a good portion of the roster next summer in trying to woo either Deron Williams or Dwight Howard -- or both -- and you have a stew of uncertainty.

But the Mavs all say all they have to do is get into the playoffs.

"One, eight, doesn't matter," Jason Kidd said.

Odom is struggling mightily on the way. He's shooting just 29 percent so far, scoring in double figures just once. He's come into games looking to shoot, but he doesn't yet have his legs. He is trying to unlearn the language of the triangle offense that he'd come to master in Los Angeles, while simultaneously learning Rick Carlisle's voluminous playbook and learning where Nowitzki and Jason Terry like to operate. Ideally, the Mavericks would like to play Odom, Nowitzki and Shawn Marion together in key situations. But that group hasn't quite meshed yet; Carlisle's "flow" offense is nothing like the triangle, and Odom looks nothing like the player who was so difficult for most teams to match up with, although Carlisle said Sunday night that Odom was "making progress" with the learning curve.

"There's a lot of movement, a lot of playmaking, whether it be off the dribble,or the pass, or using your shot," Odom said. "We flow into a lot of stuff, play basketball, and let the pass, the movement of the basketball, dictate where we're going to go with it, and how we're going to get there. There may be one or two (similarities to the triangle), and that's a certain set that we might run that has some similarities to it. But other than that, the triangle is a totally complete different system than any other basketball system in the NBA. The language is so different ... your basketball vocabulary is so different, the words you use. Like, there, you don't use 'curl' or 'pindown,' or anything like that. So you have to tune in. It's a totally different basketball school again. At the end of the day, it's basketball. I think the way I play, and my style, I think I can still play good basketball without necessarily learning, without necessarily knowing all the ins and outs right away. Because once I get my legs under me, it won't stop the way I rebound, or defend, or make basketball plays. Once I get there, get my body right, it'll all fall into place."

He is not the only Maverick who is working his way into better shape. Asked what the team's collective fitness level is, from 1 to 10, Terry said the Mavericks are "probably about a five" right now.

"He's going to get into a rhythm," Terry said. "Basketball's a rhythm sport. And when you're a guy like Lamar, he's the type of player like I am, coming off the bench, where you have to be ready to go. Right now, it's not happening for him, but it will soon. And when he has that breakout game, it'll be something to build on, and he can start to put together one and two and three games of consistent play, at both ends of the floor."

Kidd knows what it's like to be traded during a season, having come here from New Jersey just before the trade deadline in 2008.

"It's not easy, not with the expectations," Kidd said. "They want to win, and especially coming off of a championship season, it takes time. There's not a lot of cases out there where guys have just stepped in and gone big, unless they're on bad teams. I'm just calling it what it is. Because you've got to put up numbers. Somebody has to fill up the stat sheet. But the guys here, when you're talking about Lamar, or Delonte, veteran players, they just don't want to step on toes. So we're trying to encourage them every day to be themselves, and we'll be fine."

That's what the 32-year-old Odom is counting on. He knew that when he asked for the trade, angry that the Lakers had included him in a potential deal to New Orleans for Chris Paul, that L.A. could have sent him anywhere. At least if he has to start over, he's not actually starting over. He's on a team with a real chance to win again. If the Mavs get all their pieces back in order. As he puts it, "you can't put all your eggs in one basket, but then you can't settle for some BS, right? So you've got to pick your spots, figure out how to try to improve in practice and in the games, on the fly. So it's a test to your IQ, your willingness to learn, to be patient, to be humbled. Basketball's a humbling experience."

But Odom's future in Dallas will likely be a year-to-year proposition going forward. The Mavs can buy out the last year of his contract, which is supposed to pay $8.2 million in 2012-13, for just $2.4 million, as long as it's done by June 29, two days before the start of the free agent negotiating period. It would be a shock if they did not do so, if only to clear as much room as possible, which was the whole point of not offering big deals to any of their free agents, from Chandler to J.J. Barea to DeShawn Stevenson to Caron Butler, each of whom signed elsewhere. But he is here now.

He has heard, early and often, from Kobe Bryant, who was dumbstruck that the Lakers had given Odom away (and to one of their biggest rivals, who had just kicked their butts last spring!) for next to nothing. He will see Bryant in a week, on MLK Day, in Los Angeles. An odd business, basketball.

"He's my brother, one of the best big brothers you could ever have as far as basketball is concerned," Odom said. "On and off the court, I learned so much from him, and from Derek (Fisher). But things happen. It's funny, no matter how great of a time you have, I'm loyal. In order to move ahead some times, you have to -- not forget -- but leave things behind. You just have to. Because you owe it to the people in this lockerroom. They're champions, and they feel like they can beat any team, and win and compete on a high level. And I'm a part of this team right now."

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(Last week's ranking in parenthesis; weekly record in brackets)

1) Miami (1) [3-1]: You can dismiss Erik Spoelstra's constant references and appeals to heart and character and all the rest, but that was an incredibly gutsy effort in Atlanta on Thursday without LeBron James and Dwyane Wade that only a mentally tough team -- from 1 through 15 -- could win.

2) Oklahoma City (3) [3-2]: Big blow losing Eric Maynor (ACL) for the season. He not only spelled Russell Westbrook ably, but also had a great rapport with James Harden coming off the bench. He will be missed, and one suspects Sam Presti and Co. won't sit idly by (Luke Ridnour? C.J. Watson?) and do nothing.

3) Chicago (2) [3-1]: Bulls have mastered the art of winning ugly (second in points allowed, 88.7/game).

4) Portland (5) [3-1]: Blazers unbeaten (5-0) at home, winning by an average of 13 in the Rose Garden.

5) San Antonio (4) [3-2]: Honk if you had Danny Green and T.J. Ford playing major and meaningful minutes for the Spurs before the start of the season.

6) L.A. Lakers (6) [3-1]: Bynum back, looking very good. Lakers should get Josh McRoberts (toe) back this week.

7) Dallas (7): [3-1]: Mavs show signs of a pulse after 1-4 start, with six of next eight on the road.

8) Atlanta (8) [3-2]: Hawks have looked as good (wins over Video Heat, Bulls) and as bad (Video loss to Miami without LeBron/Wade) during this week's crazy stretch as you can. The realities of back-to-back-to-back games during a lockout-shortened season.

9) Boston (10) [2-1]: Cs turn to Greg Stiemsma in the middle, with decent results (2.17 blocks in 14.8 minutes per game) so far.

10) Indiana (12) [3-1]: Pacers have held all but one opponent (in eight this season) to under 100 points, including Boston (74) in their impressive win at TD Garden last Friday.

11) Orlando (9) [2-2]: It's not news that Otis Smith has asked Stan Van to cool it in public with his players. That's been a mandate from Orlando's management to SVG for more than a year.

12) Denver (14) [3-1]: After a terrible start (34.1 percent shooting, 12.3 ppg in his first four games), Danilo Gallinari bounces back in a big way (52.2 percent, 20.6 ppg in last five) for the Nuggets.

13) Philadelphia (15) [3-0]: Sixers getting it done with different players on different nights so far this season.

14) Utah (NR) [4-0]: No-name Jazz win four straight and five of last six despite having just one guy -- Al Jefferson -- averaging more than 12 points a night.

15) L.A. Clippers (NR) [2-0]: So, now, CP3 and Bad Blake don't want the Clippers to be known as "Lob City?" That's like a porn star who suddenly demands to be taken seriously as an actress. You know, tend to your own knitting and throw the 'oop, already! (I'm talking about Chris and Blake here, obviously.)

Dropped out: Memphis (11), Milwaukee (13)

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Philadelphia (3-0): My former TNT colleague Doug Collins has told his team that this season, it has to prey on the weak-minded. There are a lot of wins out there this year if you're mentally tough and don't accept all the excuses that are available to you. So far, his players have responded: after smoking Toronto by 35 Saturday, the Atlantic-leading Sixers have won their five games by a league-best average of 22.8 points, leading to a league-high 15.29 point differential through Sunday. Intriguing matchup tonight at Wells Fargo Center with the equally up-and-coming Pacers.

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Golden State (0-4): Competitive, to be sure, but still managing to lose games. Steph Curry can't seem to stay in the lineup. Rookie Klay Thompson (38.6 percent from the floor) still looking for his shot. And this week brings the SuperFriends to town Tuesday, followed by Superman on Thursday.

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How're things going so far?

The first fortnight now over, we assess. One thing is clear: this is not a typical NBA season. The key word is "adjustment."

At every level, teams and players are changing things on the fly to adapt to an unrelenting schedule. Play has been, as expected, wildly sporadic, with a team that looks like world-beaters one day barely functional the next. And vice versa. Coaches are resting players when they can during games, using shootarounds as extra practices, and everybody is looking at a lot more tape than ever before -- on planes, in hotels. There is ice. Lots and lots of ice. The cold tub is the NBA player's new best friend. And every minute on the court is a valuable one.

"We are paying a lot more attention to preventative and recovery with our guys," Suns head athletic trainer Aaron Nelson texted Sunday. "More regular assessments, more manual therapy, monitoring conditioning [keeping conditioning up while making sure there is recovery], working daily with all players knowing that minutes will be spread out. Using ice packs/cold tubs/GameReady [a cold-compression system that uses sleeves and wraps to help facilitate faster healing], recovery tights and muscle stim [like many pro teams, the Suns use the MarcPro system] for recovery post-practice and games."

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League-wide, trainers have been much busier keeping players limber and ready to play.
Darren McCollester/NBAE via Getty Images

As a common sense palliative, Steve Nash and Grant Hill are getting much more time off during the few times the Suns actually do practice, Nelson said. But the Suns are hardly unique in that regard. Coaches are extremely attuned this season to getting key players off their feet as much as possible.

"We've done some things at shootaround," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said Sunday, "but we also are very aware that we've got to have their legs for the games. We didn't have shootaround (Sunday). We had a very light workout (Saturday), just because of the games we have coming up. I think you have to adjust everything you do, from practices to film work to individual film work. You just have to find a way to get a little bit better each day, even though the schedule makes it difficult."

Despite all of the runs at courts in Los Angeles and New York and D.C. and Houston, and all of the barnstorming tours by the game's superstars during the lockout, nothing simulates NBA games other than playing in NBA games. The youngest, freshest players found themselves gassed during the abbreviated training camps, and now are getting extra shots up before practices to try and keep their conditioning sharp, while veteran players are trying to knock off the rust -- including those who had to, somehow, get their workouts in while putting in 14- and 16-hour days sitting at a table across from management during the 149-day lockout.

"Honestly, throughout the whole process, it was easy for me to get in that mode, because of the way last season went for me personally," said Wizards guard Roger Mason, a vice president of the National Basketball Players Association and a member of the union's executive committee. "When the season ended, I didn't really take that much of a break. I had my responsibilities with the union, but I was able to handle that from New York and still get my workouts in. I mean, it's tough. I had to pay for my trainer to travel and basically follow me when I had to do that stuff. We could get in the gym on our own, just so I could stay ready and prepare myself for a breakout season this year."

When the union and league held negotiations in New York, Mason would work out at Chelsea Piers before or after the sessions. On "off" days, he'd take the train down to Washington and go to Run N' Shoot, a 24-hour gym in District Heights, a nearby Maryland suburb. When he was in L.A. for regional meetings with players, Mason worked out with Derek Fisher, the union's president and "a workout nut," as Mason put it.

"You have to get some kind of work in, because you know that the other guys are working," Mason said "...I tried to get at least 300, 400 (shots) up daily, just so that I could get my rhythm back. I came in last season off an injury, and it didn't work out in New York like I wanted it."

Celtics guard Keyon Dooling was also a union VP.

"Those marathon days were very tough to get a workout in," he said. "You either had to get your lift or your treadmill in in the morning, or you had to miss that day ... you'd go down to the weight room and you'd see everybody."

Now that everyone's back to work, every second counts.

Shootarounds -- the morning walkthrough before a game that night -- are now often longer, with many teams going 90 minutes instead of the usual hour. With off-days at a premium, any time coaches have in front of their players to teach is precious. And teams are changing how they do things like advance scouting. The Nets, for example, have added a second advance scout on the road to get reports back to the coaching staff faster, while the Hornets use local scouts to get play calls from opposing teams instead of detailed diagrams of their play action, synching the calls with their video coordinators back home, who are watching on TV.

"I just think now, we need to get the reports quicker," Nets coach Avery Johnson said. "Games are going to be coming at us pretty fast. Fortunately, a lot of the teams don't have a lot of turnover in terms of coaching styles in the Eastern Conference. Obviously, there's some player roster changes. But we have another guy that's going to be assisting us in that department ... you've just got to stay ahead as much as you can, but the trick is to stay focused on the task at hand."

The Knicks would normally split their advance scouting and player development duties among their five assistant coaches. This season, assistant coaches Mike Woodson and Herb Williams are doing the advance work.

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Due to the compressed season, veterans Grant Hill (right) and Steve Nash often sit out practice.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

"Woody and Herb are really doing all that, the defensive schemes and all that that they come up with," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We tried to separate player development and having (other) guys really do that, and scouting other teams. Where before, we kind of all did it together. We're trying to be more specific. Because you can't do everything; it's such a shortened season, and try not to miss anything ... you're getting (reports) sooner only because they're coming sooner. You just don't have any days off."

Most teams are still providing their advance reports to their coaching staffs a couple of games "ahead" of when they actually play them. Oklahoma City's advance scouts still follow the two games ahead, one game after routine, meaning they see an opponent twice before the Thunder plays them, and one time after to see if they've changed anything. Teams always want to know when opponents change their after timeout plays -- ATOs, in scouting parlance -- crucial for end-of-half and end-of-game situations. One scout said Sunday that a team he's already seen twice hasn't run the same ATO once in more than a dozen situations. But every team is different.

"If you've done this for a while, unless there's a coaching change -- then you've got to really zoom in on them, because they're new -- but most of the older coaches stay the same," Woodson said. "Then they use their ATOs to trick you a little bit. Now, it's just that games are coming too fast. that's the problem. And you've got to stay ahead ... it's nonstop. You're not really getting any time off. That's just the way the schedule presents itself."

Dooling has been up and down so far this season, shooting 39 percent from 3-point range (great) but just 41 percent overall (not so great, but not that bad, considering 23 of his 36 field goal attempts have been threes). At any rate, he has other issues as well. Not only does he have to stay sharp physically, he has to continue to defend and explain the deal his executive committee made with the league to skeptical players.

"I'm on the team where guys aren't really happy with the deal, and that's known," Dooling said. "But if you look at the free-agent period, you see guys doing well for themselves, different guys at different levels getting compensated. We've just got to see how it goes. This year is chaotic, so it's hard to gauge how it's going. Next summer should be a better year for free agency."

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From your mouth to Don Casey's ears. From Matija Tkalcec-Maturanec:

I play basketball in Germany since my early youth for local clubs in my city - not on a very professional level but for the love of the Game :) As you know, the game in Europe has a different twist to it then in the NBA. I am talking about the zone defense -- which is a regular part of the defense we play here.

Recently I was watching the Heat play against the Celtics. It was interesting to see the Celtics going to a zone against the Heat and actually coming very close again after trailing by 16 points or so. Even though the zone applied by the Celtics was not really good. Especially Rajon Rondo seemed disoriented guarding the area at the front around the free throw line. Still it got the Heat confused. What helps against the zone is quick ball movement, cuts from the wings and overplaying the zone in the corners. I didnt see any of that. What helped the Heat to a win was breaks of turnovers and the hot shooting from Norris Cole (btw, I love his game and I love that he left college with a degree but that is a different topic). After that I would expect other teams to apply the zone against Miami more often. Maybe it would have helped the Timberwolves as well. Anyway, I wonder what your take is on that. Are we gonna see more teams applying the zone in the NBA? Will it change the NBA game and make it look more "European"?

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Simply put, playing zone defense well in the NBA is a matter of speed, depth and practice.
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images

It worked against Miami last season too, Matija, when the Mavericks went zone in the Finals. But you need superior players that practice the zone extensively -- very difficult to do in a normal NBA season, and very hard to do in this lockout-shortened season. Video When Indiana tried to do it last week, for example, the Heat attacked without hesitation and shredded it. (Then again, the Pacers only practiced the zone during their walkthrough that morning and only used it on five to seven possessions.) You have to be able to get back in time to set up the zone, too, and Miami -- leading the league in scoring -- is making a point of getting out on the break so far this season before you can do that.

A leap of faith ... right into the defender. From Ross Day:

You posted this in the 12/19 Morning Tip:

"Players jumping into defenders: An offensive foul will be called on a shooter who initiates contact with a defender by jumping into him to draw a foul. However, no foul will be called if there is incidental contact between players when the offensive player makes contact with the defender."

When I first read this, I was very excited. However, are they really going to call it this way? I've watched several of the preseason games and not seen this change in effect at all. They are still giving completely bogus bail-out foul calls for jumping into a guy. I think this is one of the dumbest foul calls in basketball by far (way worse than the rip-through move). It's just ridiculous that the "right" thing to do when you make a good shot fake is to jump into the guy and get a foul on him. Realistically, even if you only make one of the free throws, the foul on that guy more than makes up for it. Every time I see a guy do the sensible thing and let the guy fly by for a wide open shot, I really really hope he makes it because if he doesn't, he looks like a fool because he could have gotten a free easy foul.

So, is this rule really changed or what? There have been some in the preseason where the offensive player had to lean in so much that they couldn't even realistically shoot and got a tiny bit of contact to still get a defensive foul. t's a complete joke. I've seen no other mention of this change at all ... people only want to talk about the rip-through move which is not nearly as bad as this. I feel the rip-through move can be avoided by better defense, meaning don't stick your arms out close enough to him to let him rip through you like that. This "jump-into-the-defender" thing is unavoidable. If you get faked and jump way off to the side (where you would not land anywhere near the shooter and not even remotely close enough to foul him), the offensive player can just basically dive to the side into you in a way that doesn't remotely resemble a shot and it's a defensive foul? Really? That's so absurd.

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With new rules in place for airborne players colliding in the midst of a shot, who gets the call?
Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

I'd love to hear some clarity on this.

I think you're right, Ross. They're still calling that foul a defensive foul more than an offensive one, at least in the games I've been at or watched. The rule is, at the least, subject to wide interpretation by the officials. But I disagree with you that the rip-through move can be avoided with better defense while this one cannot. We've all played enough ball to know a cardinal sin is to leave your feet, whether you have the ball in your hands or if you're a defender and the shooter hasn't yet committed to the shot. I'm not saying it's easy to stay down on a shot fake, but this is the NBA, not AAU. Players should be good enough to play D with as much control as they do when they have the ball.

Miss Congeniality does not actually win Miss America most years, you see. From Ray Lee:

Two quibbles:

Westbrook/Durant: They will be fine together. How do I know for sure? Easy, Skip Bayless says they won't.

Bryant in the top 5 for MVP? Seriously? Ahead of, for example, Kevin Love?

Ray. It's a weekly ranking. Each week, the rankings will, in all likelihood, be different from the previous week. For example, scroll down and look at this week's MVP Watch, and I bet you'll see names there different from last week's. Go ahead. I'll wait.

You back? See? Quite different. And there will probably be different guys next week, too. Don't go crazy on one week's rankings. I'm fickle. I change my mind.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and extra timeouts for Marvin Lewis to have in his back pocket next time to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently intelligent, thought-provoking, funny or snarky, we just might publish it!

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(Averages from last Monday through Sunday in parenthesis.)

1) LeBron James (31 ppg, 7.33 rpg, 8.33 apg, .607 FG, .781 FT): Returned from a sprained ankle that kept him out of Thursday's game at Atlanta with a monster night Saturday against the Nets, scoring 22 of his 32 points in the first quarter.

2) Kevin Durant (24 ppg, 6 rpg, 2.8 apg, .443 FG, .771 FT): Despite good-naturedly (kinda) kvelling about not getting as many free throws called on his patended rip-through move, still in the top 10 in the league in total free throws (75) and average free throws per game (7.5). But that's a little off of his average (8.7) last season, which was second in the league to Dwight Howard.

3) Dwight Howard (20 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 1.59 bpg, .667 FG, .469 FT): Good news: Howard continues to dominate at the defensive end and on the glass. Better news: Magic won Sunday in Sacramento despite Howard being limited to five points and four boards because of foul trouble. Not-so-good-better news: Howard has not rescinded his trade request despite the Magic's solid 6-3 start.

4) Derrick Rose (19 ppg, 3.75 rpg, 8.25 apg, .385 FG, .846 FT): Says his bruised elbow isn't bothering him and he didn't miss a game, but his shooting percentage seemed to indicate otherwise.

5) Kevin Love (25 ppg, 14.8 rpg, 1 apg, .479 FG, .786 FT): Credits workouts, changed diet, regular yoga sessions -- and getting a good night's sleep (at least 8 1/2 hours nightly) during the lockout with his new cut-up physique.

Dropped out: Kobe Bryant.

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11 -- Current NBA players, per the Elias Sports Bureau, who have played at least 1,000 games. Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki became the latest player to do so last week; he (1,002 career games with the Mavericks), Kobe Bryant (1,113 games in L.A.) and Tim Duncan (1,062 games with the Spurs) are the only ones out of the 11 that have played their 1,000 games with the same team. The others, per basketball-reference.com: Jason Kidd (1,275 games through Sunday with the Mavericks, Suns and Nets), Kevin Garnett (1,203 games with Minnesota and Boston), Juwan Howard (1,179 games with Washington, Dallas, Denver, Orlando, Houston, Charlotte, Portland and Miami), Derek Fisher (1,120 games for the Lakers, Jazz and Warriors), Ray Allen (1,109 games with Milwaukee, Seattle and Boston), Steve Nash (1,098 games with Phoenix and Dallas), Ben Wallace (1,034 games with Washington, Orlando, Detroit, Chicago and Cleveland) and Kurt Thomas (1,026 games with New York, Miami, Dallas, Phoenix, Seattle, San Antonio, Milwaukee, Chicago and Portland).

.200 -- Win percentage of the Lakers (6-24) in their last 30 games in Portland -- the length of Kobe Bryant's career -- after losing 107-96 to the Blazers at the Rose Garden Thursday.

31 -- Years since the Pistons had lost three straight games by 16 or more points, according to Booth Newspapers, a mark equalled after Saturday's 103-80 defeat to New York. That loss followed defeats to Philly (96-73) on Friday and to Chicago (99-83) on Wednesday. I'm still wondering why on earth Tayshaun Prince re-upped there instead of going ... anywhere else, really.

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1) Good luck today and Godspeed, Jeff Green. We're all pulling for you and know you'll be back on the court next season. "I talk to him every day," Kevin Durant said of his former teammate. "He's like my brother. I told him I dedicated this season to him."

2) Pretty good way to end your first set of back-to-back-to-backs, Oklahoma City, by Video beating the Spurs Sunday to complete a 3-0 weekend. And give props to the Hawks as well for getting off the deck following that dispiriting triple-OT loss Thursday to Miami to beat Charlotte and Chicago to 2-1 in their first B-cubed of the season.

3) The annual NBA Development League Showcase begins this afternoon in Reno, with eight games scheduled to be shown on NBA TV between tonight and Thursday's final game. The games will air at 1 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. EDT. You can bet that NBA executives and scouts will find some gems among the D-League players; they have for years, continuing the tradition of D-League callups to NBA teams (now at 128 players and counting, including 11 so far this season, a number including veterans like Jamaal Tinsley and Miami youngsters Terrel Harris and Mickell Gladness). Plus, one of my all-time favorites, Video the Nets' Sundiata Gaines.

4) Like the overtime playoff rules in the NFL, as used for the first time Sunday in Broncos-Steelers. Should apply them for the regular season as well.

4a) By the way, Broncos-Steelers made up for a rather blah and boring first round. Of course, the NFL will never get the heat that the NBA or MLB gets when they have less than scintillating postseason games.

4b) Speaking of which: Teeeeeebow! Can't hate. Dude is legit.

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1) We lost Jim Huber, tragically and suddenly, this week. I was an admirer from afar, always glad to see him on the road or in Atlanta, a kind man with a warm smile who was held in the highest regard by everyone. His story on Drazen Petrovic five years ago -- beautifully written, elegantly tracked -- remains one of my all-time favorite basketball pieces. And I know those who covered and play on the PGA Tour were just as enamored with his work in that sport. Jim was a professional, a great talent, and a gentleman in a business where many are none of those things. He will truly be missed, and I can offer nothing but prayers and condolences to his family.

2) The Wizards, in a word, stink. Make it two words: really stink. And they're going to lose John Wall, figuratively now and literally in a couple of years, if they don't make some major changes inside their locker room.

3) Unfortunate. I don't think Delonte is going to threaten the President or anything. But actions have consequences -- including unintended ones.

4) Hope Andrew Bogut comes back to Milwaukee this week with a clear head from whatever forced him to leave the Bucks for a few days.

5) Other than the Rose and Fiesta Bowls, I can't remember a single moment from a single game of this bowl season. Decidedly meh. So here's hoping LSU-Alabama II tonight is more "Godfather II" than "The Sting II."

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We bring back our (semi-) regular feature with a player who is, at the moment, not getting a lot of playing time. The title does not literally mean the guy is the last player on the bench; people go in and out of rotations from game to game. M15 is a snapshot of where a player is at a particular time of the season, and what he's doing while he's there. This week's Mr. Fifteen is Milwaukee Bucks rookie forward Tobias Harris, the Bucks' first-round pick (Video 18th overall) in last June's Draft. The 18-year-old entered the Draft after playing just one season at the University of Tennessee, where he averaged 15.3 points and 7.3 rebounds for the Volunteers. Freakish athletic ability and a pleasant demeanor helped Harris raise his Draft stock despite questions about his frame. But Harris appeared in one preseason game so far this season for Milwaukee; he had been sidelined since Dec. 17 with what the Bucks' doctors are terming dehydration. Harris became fatigued during a practice during camp and was hospitalized for two nights. This interview was conducted before Milwaukee went on its five-game western road trip last week.

Me: What are the doctors telling you right now?

Tobias Harris: Basically, it's this thing, what you can quote is dehydration. But it's not as easy as just drinking water and getting it done. It's a thing they don't have a lot of research on, but they're checking my CK [creatine kinase] levels. Basically, my levels are pretty high, and it's a rare thing. Anytime you work out your levels are going to go up, your CK levels. So it's a thing that I've just got to wait on, have patience with, and just try to get through.

Me: How hard is that?

TH: It's real hard. You know, because I feel perfectly fine. I feel like I can play in a game, do whatever, practice. And I can't practice. It's tough. And I can't play. It's real tough, not being able to play as a rookie right now. Hopefully, good things will come soon.

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Tobias Harris (right) missed the Bucks' first six games of the season with dehydration.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Me: Did this ever come up before, in high school or at Tennessee?

TH: It never came up. It's tough, because the whole lockout, I worked out like six hours a day plenty of times. And then to come here and have a setback, it's tough.

Me: What do you do to stay in some kind of condition?

TH: Not much. Just because they want the levels to go down. They're doing a lot of tests, just to see why they're high at times. I feel like it's just a tough break right now.

Me: While you're not playing, what are you observing?

TH: Just taking everything. Be a learner of the game, be a student of the game. Just seeing my team work out, continuing to learn everything I have to learn on the defensive end, the offensive end, the plays, and just learn from the games, see what I can do out there when I'm watching. A lot of tape. I watch myself in the practices, in the first exhibition game I played, watch our team a lot, too.

Me: Who has surprised you on the team?

TH: Everybody. We have a really good group of guys. Coming in, I wanted to be, you don't really get to control those types of things, who you have on your team. But I can say as a rookie, we have a lot of guys who really embraced me as a player, in the sense of they look after me. These guys are like big brothers to me ... this is my job, just play basketball, work out, get better. I would say get healthy, but I am healthy, you know what I'm saying? It's tough. Some of the guys joke on me, but it's all right. It's not a problem.

Me: Do you get encouraged when your fellow rookie, Jon Leuer, got some minutes early in the season and did well? Or do you say, 'Damn, that could have been me?'

TH: I mean, in the sense, it's real encouraging, 'cause that's a good friend of mine. He's one of my best friends on the team, us both rookies. All I can wish is that he continue with his success right now. He's playing really well. I just can't wait to get back out there.

Me: Your dad was an agent for many years. What was it like growing up with NBA players around you all the time?

TH: It was amazing. We got to go to a lot of games. I seen a lot of players, I seen a lot of pros ever since I was young. Having that around me made me love the game even more than I do now. It just made me love the game so much, to the point where I'm at today. I look at old pictures of us as kids, with NBA jerseys. Now that I'm here, it's a real blessing.

Me: How old were you when you worked out with George Gervin?

TH: I was about seventh grade. I might have been 13, 14 ... that was my dad's, he was his agent at the time. Basically, we just worked out. It was a great experience for me, just to learn. Each summer I worked with him a bit also, so it was just great.

Me: What did you learn from him?

TH: Not the finger roll. But you can learn a lot from Gervin just by talking to him. You learn a lot about the game, how to approach the game, the mental aspects of it. He just taught me a lot of patented moves, moves that he had done during games.

Me: When did you start to think the NBA was a realistic goal?

TH: Probably about 11th grade. I always told people that if I worked hard I could get anywhere. In the 12th grade I knew going to a big college, playing at Tennessee, would have been a good fit for me to reach the pros. Ever since I was a kid I always wanted to play, but you really hit the reality when I was in the 11th grade.

Me: Who was the last guy who totally dominated you?

TH: Nobody.

Me: Come on, somebody kicked your butt once.

TH: Nobody in college. Nah, nobody really dominated me. I play with heart, and with passion, so I'm not going to let nobody dominate me, you know?

Me: There had to be nights where you just didn't have it ...

TH: I mean, one of them nights might happen in the NBA, playing against some of these superstars, but as a rookie that's something you have got to take in and be ready for and just be ready to get back at it ... at the three position, I look at that as a position where you're going to play, probably, the most amount of superstars. I think each night is another guy. I can't wait to play against everybody. I mean, growing up, you see all these guys on TV. I think it's good that I've got a teammate like Stephen Jackson, who's on this team, showing me the ropes.

Me: How important was it to have your father in your life and involved with what you were doing?

TH: It was real important. At the end of the day, your parents always have your best interests (at heart). I know he's always had my best interests from Day One. To have him there, it's just like another voice and another person just to show me the ropes, each and every step I go. Dads always know the most. Well, moms always know the most. Dad's always there to push me and show me there's more each step.

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Tobias Harris had 15 points in 22 minutes off the bench Sunday against the Suns.
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Me: So your little brother Tyler (a freshman forward at N.C. State) has never beaten you, either?

TH: Nah, he's never beaten me. Can't beat me. I'll never let him beat me. And even if he comes close to beating me ... not one time. The only one that beat me is my dad when I was young, and my sister when I was young. And when I hit 14, he never beat me in his life. If you ask him, he'll lie, say he beat me. But he's just doing that on pride. He's not playing too much (in college), but I just keep telling him, all you have to do is keep working out, keep getting better, and that's what he's doing. Things will work out for him.

Me: Is three your best position?

TH: Here, the twos and threes are kind of interchangeable. Coming out of college, everybody just said strictly four. But what I've done with my body in this time during the lockout, playing the three, this team, this organization, the Bucks, they see me as a versatile player -- a three, some two also.

Me: What did Scott (Skiles) tell you about his expectations for you this season?

TH: Basically, he really didn't tell me much. All he told me was continue to work out, continue to get better. My goal during this whole lockout was to come to training camp in the best of shape. I came in, I really worked hard and got better. I think I've shown him all of the hard work I've done during the lockout. I worked with Dale Ellis a lot during the lockout. He still can shoot it today. Still. Can make, out of 25, he'd make 22. I tried to just gain a lot of tips from him on jump shooting, just try to shoot it like him.

Me: What is it like living here in Milwaukee?

TH: It's a quiet town. It's something, as a rookie, that I need. You know, just be yourself, stay humble, stay hungry, stay in the gym. There's not too many clubs or stuff like that. So, just stay focused. It's a real good thing.

Proof that good news comes in small packages -- and after you've written your story: Harris was cleared to play Saturday by the Bucks' medical staff to play limited minutes, and saw his first action of the season against the Clippers, scoring four points with a rebound in eight and a half minutes. On Sunday, he was cleared for full participation with no limits, and got 22 minutes in the Bucks' loss at Phoenix, scoring a team-high 15 points (4-of-8 from the floor; 7-of-10 from the line).

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Maybe i need more pancakes?
-- Suns forward Channing Frye (@Channing_Frye), Saturday, 12:43 p.m., responding to a Tweeter who chided Frye to not eat too many pancakes, as Frye had done Friday morning, because the fan didn't wan't Frye "shooting 20% like last night."

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"None of the guys were playing up to their potential."
-- Kings co-owner Joe Maloof, explaining on Thursday why Sacramento fired former coach Paul Westphal after two-plus seasons. Maloof said Westphal's non-relationship with DeMarcus Cousins "was part of the decision," but the team's overall lackluster play was much more concerning to management.

"Stephen performs functional tests well. He is taped, wears an ankle brace and has a different shoe. For no lack of effort on anyone's behalf, the problem has continued."
-- Warriors general manager Larry Riley, in a statement released Thursday detailing all of the medical and orthotic procedures that Golden State has undergone with Stephen Curry since the third-year guard had ligament reconstruction surgery on his right ankle last May. Curry sprained the ankle again last Wednesday against San Antonio, a week after he believed the problem had been solved by getting refitted for a new shoe at Nike's Beaverton, Ore., headquarters.

"He is like Darth Vader. He walks into a room and he has a presence. Everybody feels it."
-- Pacers coach Frank Vogel, comparing his boss, Larry Bird, to the meglomanical, power-mad, warmongering killer of younglings who murdered his best friend and cut off his own son's hand when the two of them fought with lasers. It was a compliment, though.

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

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

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