Posted Mar 26 2012 10:37AM
There is a rumor that Tom Thibodeau, once, cracked a joke.
"Jo!," Carlos Boozer yells across the locker room, to Joakim Noah. "How many jokes has Thibs cracked in the two years we've been together?"
"Never," Noah responds.
"There's your answer," Boozer said. "Maybe -- maybe -- once."
"The Scal stuff," Noah says. "He said some (bleep) about Scal being like that guy in the movie? Will Ferrell?"
"Oh," Boozer says, remembering. "In New Orleans, Will Ferrell introduced us. It was 70s night. And (Thibodeau) made a joke that (Brian) Scalabrine was the guy from, remember that movie? Semi Pro? That was the joke. In two years. He's very serious."
Boozer says this well within earshot of Thibodeau, who smiles easily, and why not? These are -- relatively -- easy times for the Bulls, who have the league's best record, playing at a cool .800 clip, despite losing defending MVP Derrick Rose for several games with back and groin troubles, and without their major offseason acquisition, Rip Hamilton, giving them much of anything, sidelined for all but 16 games with a bad groin and shoulder.
They go through point guards with regularity -- and, it seems, without losing a step. They've used C.J. Watson and John Lucas III (see below) and Mike James as Rose's replacements; that trio is shooting a combined 41 percent from 3-point range and has an assist-turnover ratio of 2.13 to 1. After back-to-back wins over the Raptors, the Bulls are an amazing 12-4 without Rose.
The trust the Bulls' vets have in their young guards isn't by accident. The offense requires the ballhandler attack as much as possible. And in Watson and Lucas (James' 10-day deal expired over the weekend), the Bulls have two high-quality players.
"I think it's just the way our team is built," Noah said. "I think that the Bulls, they do a great job, and character is a big thing for the GMs. [John] Paxson [the team president], Gar [Forman, the general manager] and [owner] Jerry Reinsdorf are big on character. I think we have a lot of character on this team and guys play for the right reasons."
The relatively seamless transition in point guard production has been at the heart of Chicago's excellent play all season; the Bulls are fourth in the league in points per 100 possessions (105.7 points per game). Boozer has played every game after missing 23 games last year with a broken hand.
As ever, they are locked in on defense, currently second in the league in points per 100 possessions (96 ppg), which has led to Chicago's league-best point differential of 8.9 per game.
And while the Bulls looked into acquiring Pau Gasol from the Lakers and Dwight Howard from the Magic, they never got close to pulling the trigger on either deal. Rose made it clear that he had no interest in lobbying other players to come to Chicago.
"I think D-Rose said it best," Boozer said. "A lot of guys are going to want to come to our team, 'cause we're at the top. We have a great group. There are only a handful of teams that are at the top, and we're one of them. You heard what D-Rose said. We have enough to win in that locker room. What we've got already is all we need."
That includes Thibodeau, who last week became the fastest coach in NBA history to 100 wins (130 games, one quicker than Avery Johnson). But while the Bulls will certainly pick up Thibodeau's third-year option on his two-year deal, the Bulls' coach has yet to be signed to a long-term extension. (Meanwhile, Dallas' Rick Carlisle and Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks have reached the last year of their current deals without immediate resolution from their respective teams.)
Reinsdorf told the Chicago Tribune last month via e-mail: "Tom does a great job with this team, and you see the results of his hard work every time the players take the court. We certainly hope and expect that Tom will be with the Bulls well beyond his current contract. However, there is nothing to announce at this time."
Thibodeau came to Chicago in 2010 with a reputation as one of the league's best defensive coaches, having spent two decades learning and shaping his defensive philosophies as a top assistant for Jeff Van Gundy and Doc Rivers. That rep has only been enhanced by his wild success in Chicago, which led to a Coach of the Year award last season.
His attention to detail remains uncompromising, but like every other coach in this lockout-shortened season, his flexibility has been tested. The Bulls have never been a big full-court practice team in his two seasons, but they watch more tape than ever.
And the continuity of the roster means everyone knows what Thibodeau wants. He is uncompromising in his insistence on defending without fouling: force everything baseline, no gambling for steals, proper body position, hands back and high, long contests on the shot, going straight up and down on the contest, run opponents off the 3-point line.
"It is a very exact system," guard Kyle Korver said. "We ran it all last year and this is basically the same group. I think that happens a lot. I've never been on a team that's been so, almost, monotonously drilled. This is how we're going to play. This is what we're going to do ... these rules are ingrained into our heads. We hear it in our sleep, you know what I mean? And there's no slippage, ever. He won't allow any slippage. So as long as we're out there playing hard, we're normally going to play the right way."
It is not a fun way to play. Go into a Bulls locker room after most every game, and you see an exhausted team. Circles under the eyes. Ice on knees, of course. Daily treatment is encouraged and emphasized; no team may take more advantage of its four masseuses than the Bulls. But a coach that is 102-30 out of the gate has a cache that makes complaining pointless.
"It's hard. It's very hard," Noah said. "That's why winning is so sweet, because it's hard. And it is repetitive and you're always tired, and it's always the next one, move on to the next one ... it's emotional. Sometimes things are great, like right now. But we beat Miami last week, and then we lose to a team that just fired their coach (Portland). So it just shows you there's so much talent in this league, mindset is everything."
The Bulls' mindset is Borg-like these days (that's in reference to the collective of "Star Trek: The Next Generation", not the champion tennis player Bjorn. Although, come to think of it, they're about the same). Rose is expected back soon -- he started running in a swimming pool last week and was cleared to start doing a little more running. But the way Rose plays, he said last week, with all that twisting and turning, he wants to make absolutely sure he's completely healed.
Hamilton was finally able to lift his arm above his head a week ago -- "it's getting better," he said -- and is doing everything short of contact. The Bulls can afford to be extra-cautious with both players considering their 10 1/2-game spread over second-place Indiana in the Central. They're now 2 1/2 games clear of Oklahoma City and 3 1/2 games ahead of Miami for best record in the league, too.
But the Heat loom. The Bulls' coach is too focused in his one-game-at-a-time approach to spend much time obsessing about the team that knocked his out of the East finals last season. The players, for the most part, echo that belief -- to a point.
"I think we think about Miami because they're the team that knocked us out last year," Noah said. "They're obviously a pretty high standard. Sometimes we're more worried about us than we are about Miami. But, yeah, all the top teams are on our minds. You know, I've been in enough basketball games to know that's the beauty of sports. In an ideal situation, I want to see Miami in the Eastern Conference finals. In an ideal situation."
But they aren't there yet. And they know it. And playing .750 ball without Rose in the regular season means nothing if Rose is in any way limited in the playoffs. And Boozer has to play better than he has in the past few playoffs. Noah has to produce. Deng has to get through the rest of the regular season without doing more damage to his already-wrecked wrist. That's a lot of ifs.
"This season is a grind, man," Korver said. "It's a grind for us, it's a grind for everyone ... we've got a demanding coach, and it's a grind of a season. Guys have responded really well, and Thibs has done a great job, obviously, of when to push and when to let up a little bit. We all know what's coming, and we want to be ready for it."
Pacers still have a few rough edges after successful remodel
All of a sudden, in late February, everything felt different for the Pacers. Looked different. Smelled different. And it was only then that they knew their transformation from mediocrity to top-level NBA team was just about complete. No longer could they expect a night off here or there. They were getting everyone's best shot, every night.
"It challenged us," guard Paul George said, "especially coming back from All-Star weekend, that second half. We were really tested by a lot of teams. They gave it to us every night."
The Pacers had a successful first half, culminating in center Roy Hibbert's first All-Star appearance and George's appearance in the Rising Stars challenge and Day-Glo look in the dunk contest. After seven seasons, team president Larry Bird had painstakingly rebuilt the team from the rubble of the Brawl in Auburn Hills, drafting smartly though never having a top five pick, making shrewd trades and coming up big in free agency, beating the Celtics for the services of David West. After years of depending on Danny Granger, this season's Pacers were, and are, deep and loaded at every position.
But Indiana lost consecutive games earlier this month to Chicago, Miami, Atlanta and Orlando -- any of whom the Pacers could see in the first round. A home-and-home loss to the Knicks followed two wins, and even though the Pacers righted things somewhat last week with three wins, they still are looking for their footing again.
"At the beginning of the season, we played with a toughness from start to finish," Hibbert said, "pressuring the ball, making it hard for guys in the low post to score and rebounding extremely well. We lost our way a little bit, but I think we're slowly regaining it."
The Pacers' defense is still solid; they remain eighth in the league in points allowed and opponents' field-goal percentage allowed. Their length, with the 6-foot-10 George at two guard, the 6-foot-9 Granger at small forward, the 6-foot-9 West at power forward and 7-foot-1 Hibbert in the middle -- makes for difficult shooting.
"We're built to play against any team," Hibbert said. "We had some hiccups against Chicago and Miami. But when we do what we have to do, at each position, we have people I believe can neutralize or keep any superstar under their average. We're a team that doesn't have any superstars. It has real good players, no superstars. We pride ourselves on that."
Indiana's postseason hopes will be built on its defense. That's why the Pacers traded for George Hill from San Antonio and what Bird saw in George, who anticipates being an All-Star in the next few years. Pacers coach Frank Vogel will settle for first-team all NBA defense for the second-year guard, taken 10th in the '10 Draft.
"Having two 6-8, 6-9 guys at the two and the three, it makes up for a lot of mistakes we make defensively," West said. "It comes in waves, I think. At different times, Paul George can be dominant in terms of his size, his length, his ability to just finish over people makes a difference."
Hill brought his defensive versatility from San Antonio, and he also brought Gregg Popovich's aversion to gambling instead of playing defense without fouling. Hill has been getting more minutes of late, though starter Darren Collison had the key steal to seal Indiana's come-from-behind win over Washington last week.
Hill sees lockdown potential in George.
"When I first got here, me and him came together, just automatically, because he's a defensive-minded player just like me," Hill said. "I'm still trying to talk to him about when he should gamble, when he should not gamble, just things like that. But he has high expectations for himself at the defensive end."
George knows he still can be overaggressive sometimes.
"It's hard," George said. "I really try to defend, And sometimes I just get caught in the wrong positions. But again, sometimes I think I'm just getting plagued by the rookie calls."
On offense, the Pacers are much like the 76ers, going to whoever's got his swerve on that night -- "sometimes, we're like a Mr. Potato Head doll," veteran guard Dahntay Jones said. Hibbert's game is evolving, and the Pacers don't run the screen and roll sets nearly as much as West saw in New Orleans with Chris Paul.
"The pick and roll and things like that, it's not a dominant part of what we do," said West, who signed a two-year, $20 million deal. "Obviously, coming here, that was one of the things that I wanted, for my role to change, in terms of having guys to go to, not having to just dig it out every single night. And I think, ultimately, that keeps you fresher. There are nights where our bench is strong enough to carry the load. That's what I wanted at this point in my career, to be on a team that's deep and have some guys you really can depend on."
Bird added more depth at the trade deadline, getting veteran Leandro Barbosa from Toronto. Barbosa has the green light to fire away with the second unit, which has pace-changers in Hill and Tyler Hansbrough, but didn't have anyone who could get buckets like Barbosa.
Scoring was an issue for Indiana in last season's 4-1 first-round playoff loss to the Bulls, when the Pacers averaged just 90.2 points per game in the five losses and shot just 41 percent. But Indiana nonetheless was competitive with the Bulls, and that rivalry carried over to this season, when the Pacers gave Chicago one of its four losses at United Center in 24 games in a chippy 95-90 Indiana win in January.
Bird is on a year-to-year arrangement with Pacers owner Herb Simon, and the New York Post reported Friday that Bird would step down after this season -- a report that Bird denied Friday afternoon. But whether or not he remains, he's accomplished what he set out to do in remaking the team. How good will they ultimately be, though?
"I don't think we've scratched the surface of playing as well as we can play," Vogel said. "I'm really excited about that. I'm talking to our guys about the word 'believe.' I really believe that if we start sharing the ball we're capable of, and playing defense the way we're capable, and rebounding and playing smashmouth basketball the way we're capable of, this team has no ceiling. We're as deep as any team in the league."
(Last week's rankings in parenthesis)
1) Chicago (1) [3-0]: First to 40 wins and playoff berth in truncated season after Luol Deng's micro buzzer-beater Saturday night to defeat the Raptors.
2) San Antonio (3) [4-0]: Old Men Spurs have gone 9-3 so far in March, winning by an average of 14.6 per game.
3) Oklahoma City (4) [3-1]: Thunder take the first meeting of the season with the Heat in convincing fashion Sunday night, with Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka dominant inside against the Heat's big men.
4) Miami (2) [2-1]: Heat a less-than-impressive 3-5 on the road in the month of March, with losses at the Lakers, Bulls, Magic and Thunder.
5) Orlando (5) [2-1]: Stan Van Gundy says the Magic don't have good habits with the playoffs looming. He's right.
6) Indiana (8) [3-1]: In little more than a year since taking over for Jim O'Brien as coach, Frank Vogel is 48-37 with the Pacers.
7) L.A. Lakers (6) [2-2]: Should be an interesting couple of days in El Segundo after Mike Brown benched Kobe Bryant in the fourth quarter of Sunday's home loss to Memphis.
8) Atlanta (9) [4-1]: Really respect the Hawks and how they're hanging in this season.
9) Dallas (7) [2-2]: Cubes chastises Mavs fans for booing Lamar Odom.
10) Philadelphia (11) [2-2]: Lost 24 of last 25 games in San Antonio dating to the 1986-87 season after falling to the Spurs Sunday night.
11) Utah (NR) [3-1]: Six-game win streak gets surging Jazz back into the Western Conference playoff race, and within a couple of games of a fourth-place seeding.
12) L.A. Clippers (10) [1-3]: Vultures circling. Coaches calling. The Del Negro Watch has begun and we haven't even gotten to April yet.
13) Boston (14) [3-1]: Finally got some big man help after Cavaliers released Ryan Hollins. Hollins will replace Chris Wilcox, who is out for the season (and who was released by the Celtics) and facing aortic surgery.
14) Memphis (12) [2-3]: Lionel Hollins playing Z-Bo off the bench for now while he gets his conditioning back; with newly signed Gilbert Arenas in reserve alongside O.J. Mayo, the Grizz have some real firepower to back up the starters.
15) New York (NR) [3-1]: D-fense: Knicks have held six of last seven opponents under 100.
Dropped out: Houston, Denver
Atlanta (4-1): Hawks beat the Nets on Friday in New Jersey, rally from a 16-point deficit on Saturday in Washington for a comeback win over the Wizards, then complete their second set of back-to-back-to-back games with a ho-hum 139-133, quadruple overtime victory over the Jazz, who had won six straight and were resting Saturday night. Atlanta's record in its six back-to-back-to-back games was a terrific 5-1.
Detroit (0-3): Pistons struggling while backcourt (Rodney Stuckey, Will Bynum) is limited because of injuries, although Ben Gordon has taken advantage of his increased minutes -- including a monster 45-point performance in a loss to the Nuggets Wednesday.
What do you call it when you watch your son become everything he wants, but you become a caricature?
Karen Frye saw it happen slowly, then all at once. She was Karen, then Mrs. Frye, then Channing's mother, then ... nothing. And while Channing Frye became a professional basketball player for the Phoenix Suns, Karen Frye realized her life had ground to a halt.
"We get so caught up in what our sons are doing that we forget what our dreams were," Karen Frye said Thursday afternoon on the phone from Arizona. "Before I had Channing, film was my thing. I worked for NBC here in Phoenix, I got an Emmy. I've had wonderful positions -- vice president of Grand Canyon University. And when he got in the NBA, all of a sudden it was like I don't have to do anything. And that didn't work."
So Karen Frye went back to work.
She used her TV background to put together a Web-based show, "Girlfriends Talk Sports," which ran on Fox Sports Arizona.com for more than a year, featuring her interviews with players and chats with women, including other mothers of NBA players. They talked about their sons, but they talked about everything else, too. (The companion blog is still going strong.) She got Chris Bosh to acknowledge that people have long thought him "weird" because of his quiet nature, and informed Danny Granger -- after the interview began -- that she was the mother of the player Granger got in a fight with in 2010.
While she tries to find a permanent TV home for "Girlfriends," she's also developing another show, "Basketball Moms," which follows six women who live together as they share stories about their sons and confront their own issues, including trying to lose weight and get in better shape. The demo featured Frye; Pam Long, Rip Hamilton's mother; Thelma Harris, the mother of Heat forward Dexter Pittman; Monja Willis, mother of the Thunder's James Harden; Queen Warrick, the mother of Suns forward Hakim Warrick, and Linda Shanklin, the mother of 76ers' All-Star forward Andre Iguodala.
In doing both shows, Frye confirmed what she had long suspected -- women watch sports, in increasing numbers. But they watch them differently than men. Frye saw the shows as empowering to a group of consumers who never saw their opinions validated.
While watching games, Frye noticed, for example, that Suns coach Alvin Gentry changed glasses one day, going with purple tinted ones. It was an observation she mentioned during the show.
"A lot of people assumed I knew nothing about the game," she said. "We talk differently. We react differently. And it's a platform to do that. And the mothers started seeing that. They started asking, can I write for that blog? I'm more of an athlete than Channing's dad. I'm the one who does competitive dragon boat racing."
(No, I didn't know what it was, either. But there's a whole dragon boat racing industry. Prince Andrew is an aficionado of the sport, which has events all over the world. Basically, unlike crew racing, in dragon boat racing the teams face the destination instead of having their backs to it. Plus they have cool masts!)
Frye has tried to bring NBA mothers together in an attempt to change the stubborn narrative of the "NBA mom": comes from the ghetto, raised her son as a single parent and retires as soon as her son buys her a dream house. (Frye is in regular touch with about 40 mothers.) That view is just as flawed as most stereotypes. But the power of the stereotype is real. And mothers are often outshouted and outnumbered, told not to react or to say anything. It's been that way for many since their sons started showing their great potential. They are, the stereotype goes, there to make sure their son's uniform is clean and he is fed before the big game.
Other family members are shunned in the glow of the NBA player's fame and wealth. Karen and Thomas Frye have two sons; Logan Frye is a student at the University of Michigan and has already had a photo exhibit of his pictures of post-Katrina New Orleans shown in Phoenix.
But the meme is overpowering.
"The perception is that all of these families live in the projects and that they're all wearing Gucci Bags," Karen Frye said. "I have a sister whose son (Tobias Harris, the Bucks' rookie forward and a recent Mr. Fifteen) is in the NBA. I have two family members in the NBA. But I've got a lot of other things about my family that are important to society, other than the two people who play in the NBA. I tell the moms, you are the great one. You're the one created him."
Frye is following in the footsteps of Charlotte Brandon, the mother of former NBA player Terrell Brandon, who formed the Mothers of Professional Basketball Players in 1995. The organization, now a non-profit with more than 150 members, is headed by Lucille O'Neal, Shaquille's mother. Frye said she's been in touch with Lucille O'Neal about her group.
And she wants to be the conduit through which other mothers can tell their stories. She called Carrie Stoudemire, Amar'e Stoudemire's mother, who has led a troubled life for several years, including more than one trip to prison, and is again trying to get herself straight. Carrie Stoudemire's own problems have only been worsened by family tragedies, the most recent of which was the death of her son, Hazell Stoudemire, in a car crash last month.
"She said I was the first NBA mom that called her," Frye said. "She said 'I want to tell my story my way. And I want to tell it through you."
All the work has given Karen Frye something she hadn't had for a long time: a sense of who she was again. She loves her children and is proud of both of their accomplishments. But empowering herself is as important as cheering on her children.
"Channing doesn't pay my bills," she said. "I'm working my butt off. This is my dream. My dad was a Tuskegee Airman. He met my mother on the Tuskegee campus. My grandfather was a fireman, a fire marshal. God bless the child that has his own. I've got to have my own."
The Old Man and the Sneakers. From Marko Matic:
Last year, Grant Hill didn't make the All-Defensive first or second team. Or should I say, he just wasn't selected by the coaches, 'cause he certainly deserved to be there. He guarded everyone, or at least the best players in opposing teams, including Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Derick Rose, Monta Ellis, Kobe Bryant, Manu Ginobili, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki and many others, and he played a hell of a defense on most of them. The only guy he doesn't guard is Dwight [Howard], but maybe he should try that in order to get the credit he deserves. He's doing the same thing this year and I know he's in a below .500 team, but I really think he should be voted in the best defensive team, because the defense he plays is just unreal. Not to mention he's 39 years old.
Couldn't agree more, Marko. Watching Grant accept the challenge of chasing Nowitzki around, then bodying him up and contesting almost every shot when Phoenix beat Dallas recently was a joy.
Some voting malfeasance up near Brainerd. From Ray LeBov:
I can't understand how you don't rate KLove in the top 5. I'll give you LeBron but I don't see how anyone else has been more valuable to their team this year. I know you watch a lot of every team -- is it possible you just haven't seen that many Wolves games this year?
I've seen Minnesota plenty of times, Ray. There's a case to be made for Love, who has been outstanding all season (and Ray wrote this before Kevin's 51-pointapalooza Friday in OKC and his seventh career 30-20 game -- a 30-point, 21-rebound masterpiece Sunday against Denver). But there's a case to be made for Dwyane Wade, too. And with something this subjective, things like team record are taken into account, too. Minnesota's obviously much improved over last season, but the other guys in my top five all are on teams with records well above .500 and at the tops (or close) of their respective divisions. But stay tuned. Things change weekly around here.
A watched pot never gets on the trade conference call with the league. From Johannes Seidl-Schulz:
Can you tell me why they have to wait for the last second of the Deadline? Why do people need this pressure? Crawford to Minnesota, Beasley to L.A. and Blake to Portland would've make sense for all 3 teams. Why can't the GMs think these trades through calmly and then pull the trigger instead of rushing to 3 minutes to 3 p.m. That doesn't make sense to me!
There are a few reasons, Johannes. One, trades often don't come together until the last day or two before the deadline. Two, teams are talking with multiple teams about multiple trade scenarios, and may change their minds or shift emphasis on what they want to do depending on what other deals happen. Three, it's Negotiating 101 -- if you wait until the last possible minute, the other side may sweeten the deal. The same thing happens in the collective bargaining talks between the league and union every time as well.
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and "Mad Men" plot twist ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your e-mail is sufficiently interesting, thought-provoking, funny or snarky, we just might print it!
(Weekly totals in parenthesis)
1) LeBron James (18 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 7.7 apg, .431 FG, .833 FT): Teams with Dwayne Wade to take team "hoodie" photograph in honor of Trayvon Martin, then writes the kid's name on his sneakers. And the Oklahoman newspaper then detailed how, three weeks ago, James cajoled teammates waiting during a layover in Oklahoma City to take pictures with servicemen who were on their way to various ports overseas.
2) Kevin Durant (29.5 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 5 apg, .488 FG, .862 FT): Durant reportedly chooses Kobe's agent to represent him after firing longtime agent Aaron Goodwin.
3) Kobe Bryant (23.8 ppg, 4 rpg, 3.8 apg, .429 FG, .960 FT): Jimmy Buss says he wants Kobe to be a Laker for life. I wasn't aware there was an option where that was concerned.
4) Dwight Howard (20.7 ppg, 13.7 rpg, 2.7 bpg, .722 FG, .435 FT): Larry King tweeted last week that Howard had indeed agreed to be traded to the Nets but had a last-second change of heart. Larry then tweeted he didn't know what the hell Twitter was, and could someone please drive him home.
5) Tony Parker (11.7 ppg, 1 rpg, 7.7 apg, .432 FG, 1,000 FT): Limited this week due to a hamstring pull that caused him to miss a game, but returned to give the 76ers 21 points and 7 assists Sunday.
537 -- Consecutive games played by Derek Fisher before his streak ended -- technically -- last week. Fisher was on the Rockets' roster after having been traded to Houston by the Lakers, but was in the process of working out a buyout with the Rockets and never actually put on the uniform. But since he was listed, and didn't play, his streak officially ended. Fisher completed the buyout with the Rockets and signed with the Thunder on Wednesday.
400 -- Career victories as of Friday for Doug Collins, after his 76ers defeated Boston. Collins is the 40th NBA coach to win 400 games.
23,758 -- Career points by Dirk Nowitzki, who passed Charles Barkley on Saturday against Houston into 19th place on the league's all-time scoring list.
1) If Kevin Love isn't the best power forward in the game, could you please tell me who is?
2) The returns are early, but Ramon Sessions looks pretty good so far in Forum Blue and Gold.
3) It wasn't my favorite building, but goodbye to Amway Arena. (Love watching controlled demolitions of old buildings; amazing the skill and expertise necessary to bring them down carefully and without damaging adjacent structures.)
4) There were a few teams whose collective hearts skipped a beat Sunday after Kentucky's Anthony Davis went down early in the second half of the regional final against Baylor clutching his left knee. He got up and, after a few minutes on the bench, was able to come back in and play most of the rest of the second half as Kentucky made the Final Four.
5) Too bad we had a divided viewing audience Friday night, because a lot of people probably didn't see that double-overtime gem between Minnesota and Oklahoma City. Did you even know J.J. Barea had a triple-double? That happens when a guy gets 51 and two other guys get 40.
6) Welcome back, Tiger Woods.
1) What you need to know about Lacy J. Banks, the unconquerable Chicago Sun-Times writer who died last week at 68, was that he would always -- always -- ask the question that needed to be asked. Often, he'd do it with a smile, or soft-spokenly, sometimes with a little twist of inflection at the end -- you really didn't think you would get away with it, right? -- but he would ask the question. He asked Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant what needed to be asked on that particular day, and they always answered him. Partly, I think, because Lacy was, at heart, a gentle soul, a man of God who preached in churches all through Chicago. But partly because you confused his kindness with weakness at your peril. Lacy was a fighter. He fought off cancer and heart disease for years; he fought his own paper when they tried to take his job away; he fought lies and sycophants and big shots. He liked Jordan, whom he covered for years, but he never sucked up, knowing he had a job to do. He was a trailblazer for those writers of colors, like me, who came through the door he and people like Larry Whiteside and Bill Rhoden and Sam Skinner and Sonny Hill opened. Rest well, Reverend. You've earned it.
2) I know the book on Blake Griffin now is to be physical with him and keep him on the ground. But if things like this keep happening, it's just a matter of time before Griffin swings on someone. He's been taking hard fouls all season. Everyone has a breaking point -- or, at least, a point where they have to let the rest of the league know they're not gonna keep taking all these hits. Griffin's getting real close to his.
3) Good wishes to Mickael Pietrus.
4) This may indeed be the worst flop of all time.
5) Remind me to never, ever, ever lie to Roger Goodell.
6) So, Geraldo Rivera -- black and brown people now need a dress code to avoid getting shot? That's the dumbest argument I've ever heard about a serious subject -- if only Trayvon Martin hadn't been wearing a hoodie, he may not have been shot. Even if we accept your specious argument that white people think "criminal" when they see a young man of color wearing a hoodie, why is the problem the young man's, and not the person who is doing the stereotyping?
For a year, Dwight Howard's intentions held the NBA hostage. The league's best center refused to sign a long-term contract extension with the Orlando Magic, indicated he would opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent, and then asked to be traded from the team that had taken him out of high school with the first pick in the 2004 Draft, frustrated that Orlando's championship window seemed to already be closing as the Magic fell behind the Heat and Bulls.
Howard listed the Nets, Lakers and Mavericks as preferred destinations (while rumors of all kinds made their way into the NBA bloodstream -- Dwight wanted general manager Otis Smith out! Dwight wants veto power on a new coach!), and there was almost no one who had any inkling into his thinking that believed the Magic had any chance to keep him. But the Magic worked on him for months, telling him they were committed to building a contender around him once again. Then came a comically sad last 48 hours, when Howard indicated he would, then wouldn't, then would sign a waiver that allowed him to "opt in" to the final year of his deal, which will pay him almost $19 million next season.
Howard finally signed the waiver the morning of the trade deadline, without agent Dan Fegan, and said he was committed to the Magic for one more season. He got a strong ovation from Magic fans the following evening, as Orlando thumped New Jersey and Howard's friend Deron Williams -- the guy everyone assumed Howard would be playing with next season. Doesn't look like that will happen now, but how can anyone say for sure? Especially Howard, considering how paralyzing this last decision was for him?
Me: So, what you have been up to lately?
Dwight Howard: What have I been up to? Playing games.
Me: What was the Friday after the trade deadline -- your first home game after your announcement -- like for you?
DH: It was an emotional day. The arena was crazy. A lot of fans got here early. It was a great moment for everybody.
Me: What did you make of their reaction?
DH: All year, our fans have been great, despite everything that's been going on around us. It just showed me a lot. Not once did I get any bad vibes from the crowd or anybody. They really just showed me love throughout the whole situation. It was just great to see, great to feel.
Me: Where's your head at right now?
DH: In the same place -- winning, and winning a championship. Like I've been saying, I feel like we have a great opportunity to win. We just have to pull that belief out of every guy on my team. Once we have that confidence and belief in each other, I think we'll have the opportunity to do something special.
Me: Has that been a problem this year?
DH: It hasn't been a problem at all. Like I said, despite what everybody says outside the locker room, or the papers or the media, our team has bonded through the whole situation. And we haven't allowed none of that stuff to affect us. You hear something on TV one day, and then come in the locker room, and the guys are like, 'Dwight, listen. That's not how we feel. So don't let that discourage you.' And it's been that way all year.
Me: So why did it take you so long?
DH: It's a hard decision. A lot of people wouldn't understand it. But I think everybody at one point of their life has had to make a very tough decision on what to do with their future. And you always go back and forth, think about what's on the other side, this and that. With a situation like mine, you have 10 million people in your business, telling you what they feel you should do. That's why it made it very, very hard. And that's why the last 10 days before the trade deadline, I turned my phones off, stopped playing video games, just fasted and prayed, prayed every day, so I can see what needs to be done. I didn't want anybody to get in my head and try to sway me this way or that way, just make the decision based on what I feel. And it happened. Actually, it was on the plane. We all talked about it. Somewhere over, say, Louisiana, that area. And the team started taking, we started taking team pictures on the plane, and just talking about old times and all that stuff. I was like, 'Man, this is a great team. We can do something special.'
Me: As you were taking those pictures, if you weren't thinking they were goodbye pictures, what were you thinking?
DH: That this is fun. This is what we do all the time, taking pictures, dancing on the plane. We're just like a very close knit team, and we have great chemistry. And that helps on the court. I just wish everybody can spend an hour with the guys we have in the locker room. Might change your life. That's how we are.
Me: How important was Alex (Martins, the Magic's CEO) in your decision process?
DH: Well, Alex did his job as CEO, to talk to me and just let me know how he felt about the whole situation. A lot of things he was saying was things I've been telling the DeVos family and everybody that's been in charge from Day One. We can change this city. We can change the way they feel about the team, how they believe, and everything. They've been asleep. Something had to wake them up. And I think throughout this whole situation, everybody's here now. And Alex is just the same way: Dwight, we want to change. I want to change. I'm in a new position, and I want to change this city. And we weren't just talking about basketball. A lot of things that we talked about wasn't just on the court, the things that we can do off the court to touch people's lives, just bring people closer. A lot of people view us in a different light, they think about what they see on TV or what they read. But we want to make an impact, by really getting out into the community. I thought that something that we needed to work on. And also bring a championship to this city and the best way to do that.
Me: So what is the best way to do that?
DH: First is belief. You have to believe. And then you have to put in the work. I know for our team, we need everybody. We need everybody behind us, the whole city. The thing I tell the guys in the locker room is you can't have one ounce of doubt, in your heart and in your mind. You just fully believe that we can do something special and win, and we'll do it. You just need that same effort and energy from everybody that supports the Orlando Magic, and we'll get it done.
Me: But would you understand why fans may think, how do we know this whole thing won't happen again next year?
DH: You can't worry about that. You can't worry about the future or anything like that. You can only control this moment, right now. A lot of people always want to look ahead and say. 'OK, I'm gonna look ahead two years from now.' But what about right now? What about what we can do right now? That's where I stand. This is a moment that we can control. And if we control this moment, the future's gonna be great.
Me: So what can you control on the court to challenge Miami or Chicago?
DH: We just have to be consistent. I think we have everything we need to beat both of those teams. We just have to be consistent. We have to do a better job of taking care of the ball, not turning the ball over. And a big thing is, for me, I'm gonna dedicate a lot more time with shooting free throws. I understand now, really understand that these games come down to four or five points. Those free throws that I take, that I miss, you know, are gonna be very key heading up to the playoffs. And I just have to take more time out, just keep going, keep going, till I get it down. Because I need to hit those shots for our team, for us to have a chance to win. So, you know, put it on me. It's on me to get it done. I have to trust my teammates, but they're going to trust me with the ball, and I have to finish in the fourth quarter and throughout the game. The free throws are a big area.
Me: You worked with a guy (Ed Palubinskas, the shooting coach) this summer, right?
DH: I worked with a guy. I came back and started working with (Magic assistant) Mark Price. It messed me up a little bit, because it was two guys and two different styles. I just kept going back and forth, back and forth. It's different for big guys than it is for little short people to shoot those free throws. Just really, really gotta concentrate and stick with what works for me. Because what works for me is not going to work for the next person. But once I find a good rhythm, a good way to shoot, now I'll just stick with it.
Me: And have you got that now?
DH: For the most part, I just have to be consistent with it. That's been the problem. I'll do it for two or three shots, and the rest of the shots I fall back. I just have to really work on being consistent, and that just comes from spending more time.
Me: You mean after practice?
DH: Come back to the gym, late at night. Just shoot more. That's going to be a big key for me.
Me: All the uncertainty has worn on Stan Van Gundy as well. Have you said anything to him, or is it business as usual?
DH: Well, me and Stan understand one thing, is that he's the coach and I'm the captain. And we have to lead our team, and we have to be on the same page, despite what's going on around us. I've never asked for any kind of permission to decide the fate of anybody. That's not my job. And Stan understands that. We talk. And we just have to be on the same page for our team. I have to, we all have to buy in and really do what he needs us to do to win. That's the only way we're going to get it done. I'm committed, and the rest of the team is committed to doing whatever it takes. We just have to do it every night.
Hey world the hair on top of my head was just explained as a basket of French fries
-- Timberwolves guard Martell Webster (@MartellWebster), Saturday, 6:57 p.m. This is a style with which I am currently unfamiliar.
"That was his first dunk in eight years. I hope he didn't hurt himself."
-- Jazz forward Al Jefferson, to the Salt Lake Tribune, on his teammate Devin Harris' vertical splendor Friday night against the Nuggets.
"Just to be clear, democracy and capitalism is good for America. Socialism is good for the Orlando Magic."
--Magic guard J.J. Redick, explaining his comments that the Magic need to be more "socialist" -- sharing the basketball instead of relying on Dwight Howard to do everything for them -- to reporters on Friday.
"Even though I was called 'Mr. Sonic' from my days in Seattle, you greeted me warmly from the moment I arrived and showed me and my family love, respect and support. It meant the world to us and always will."
-- Former Blazers coach Nate McMillan, in a full-page advertisement taken out in the Sunday edition of the Oregonian newspaper.
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