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David Aldridge

Tony Parker's health is a huge factor into how deep in the playoffs San Antonio will go.

In season's home stretch, sputtering Spurs try to rise up


Posted Mar 18, 2013 11:32 PM

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don't you take it awful hard

'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines

Diggin' in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I've got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame

I rise

Up from a past that's rooted in pain

I rise

I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

-- Maya Angelou, "Still I Rise"

They rise.

Late March, and the teams that are serious about winning begin to rise. Like great milers, they slowly, but measurably, begin separating themselves from the pack, the pace increasing as the regular season wanes. It is almost time for the bell lap, and the sprint for the tape.

Miami rises and puts down a marker, a big one, 22 in a row. They're bludgeoning the ill-equipped teams playing out the string, vanquishing the upstarts that had put a barrier down in their path earlier. New York? Check. Indiana? Check. Milwaukee? Check. All now falling back as the Heat stretch their legs to see how fast they can go.

Oklahoma City rises, advancing on the unprepared. The Thunder are self-critical to the point of parody after they eased up off the gas on Friday and blew most of a 27-point lead over hapless Orlando, the point long since made that we are the Thunder and you are the Magic, and nice to see you, Rob Hennigan. The Thunder rise.

Denver rises. Only Miami is playing better right now than the Nuggets, 11 in a row and counting, a gaudy 30-3 at home. They're blowing people's doors off at the Pepsi Center, sending waves of players, each seemingly as fast as the last, at opponents. The Nuggets average 108.4 points per game at home; 17 of their 30 wins there have been by 10 or more points. Friday, the Nuggets stared down a legit, physical opponent in the Grizzlies, in a win that had coach George Karl smiling that brief smile I've seen before, the one that telegraphs: my kind of team. Might have something here.

The Lakers limp -- a team with its star player as gimpy as Kobe Bryant does not rise. And yet, they beat the Pacers in Indiana Wednesday with Bryant playing 12 minutes. Dwight Howard stepped into his past in Orlando, faced down the boos and dominated his old team. The Lakers do not rise, but they are stirring.

San Antonio does not rise. San Antonio can't rise. The Spurs are stuck, like a fat man trying to get off a couch with a plastic cover on it. The Spurs do not rise because their engine is on the bench, dressed in a suit instead of a uniform. The Spurs' hopes always depend on the health of the Big Three, and Tony Parker is out with a sprained ankle suffered two weeks ago -- though the team is increasingly hopeful he could be back as soon as the end of this week. But the race is not over for them, not by a long shot, not with all the pride and poise in their locker room, not with coach Gregg Popovich to push them.

They are the unhappiest 50-win, top-seeded team in the league, not because they won't make the playoffs or be a high seed ... but because they know what's at stake, and how unforgiving the clock is. How many more times can Tim Duncan tap into that great heart and tireless work ethic to summon amazing performances -- two seasons after Parker said this Spurs group was down to its last good chance to win a fifth championship?

This is when the true contenders tighten things up at both ends, and get their rotations straight. But the Spurs aren't tight. They had a great win a week ago over OKC, then looked horrid in a blowout loss in Minnesota the following night -- a game in which Popovich rested Duncan and Kawhi Leonard.

Thursday, they were outplayed at home by Dallas, but escaped with a one-point win. They were life and death Saturday with Cleveland before holding on for the win. They grind, but they do not rise.

"We're just sporadic right now," Duncan said late Thursday night. "It's kind of up and down, up and down, up and down. We just need to get a more consistent focus, get guys on the same page. We're missing Tony a little bit right now. It was bound to catch up with us at some point. We're missing him right now, and not just his scoring and his play, but his playcalling and his understanding of what Pop wants and when he wants it."

Parker may have been having his best season when he went down March 1 against the Kings. He was in the MVP discussion, averaging 21 points and 7.6 assists, shooting 53 percent. He was in complete control on the floor at all times, the transfer of the team from Duncan's control to Parker's complete.

No one expects Cory Joseph, Nando DeColo or Gary Neal to do what Parker does. But the difference is obvious, especially when the shot clock winds down.

"Tony's the ultimate playmaker," forward Danny Green said, "and we're the ultimate bailout guys for him. Right now, the playmaking part is where we're lacking. We don't have a guy who can dribble around and around, get easy layups [and] floaters in the paint, and run the offense the way he did. Cory's doing a great job, Gary's doing a great job as well. But it's different what Tony brings."

And Popovich sees slippage at both ends.

In training camp, he'd stressed getting the Spurs' defense back toward where it was in the glory days. He had believed that with his aging stars and younger role players, his team had no choice but to give up some of its defensive prowess in order to become better offensively. And San Antonio did that; the Spurs finished first and second, respectively, the last two seasons in offensive rating.

But even though San Antonio is still in the top 10 (seventh) in offensive rating, and third in the league in defensive rating, Popovich says his team's defense has dropped since the All-Star break. And offensively, the Spurs are in "mud," according to the coach.

"Everybody wants to do it on their own," he said after the win over Dallas. "No real people movement, no hard cuts, nothing that's hard to guard. Just moving the ball around the perimeter, end of shot clocks. I've got to do a better job of getting it across that we've got to have the same movement that we've had all year long."

But assuming Parker can pick up where he left off, the Spurs remain as dangerous as they were last year, when they were two wins away from The Finals before coming apart against the relentless Thunder. Duncan says his knee feels good; he was dominant against the Mavericks, with 28 points and 19 boards, and followed that up with 30, 12 and five blocks against the Cavs. Manu Ginobili is, again, healthy. And the Spurs' depth is as good as any team in the league.

Tiago Splitter has become the player San Antonio waited all those years for in Europe. Green and Neal understand their roles: shoo, shoot and shoot. And Popovich may have only liked and trusted Duncan as early in his career as he trusts Leonard -- who, like everyone else who comes through town, had to learn The Popovich Way.

"Pop coaches every game like a playoff game," Leonard said. "He likes to win each and every game. If I'm not doing my job, he'll just get on me. Each and every game, I have to play defense and knock down open shots."

Popovich's affection for Leonard is obvious. But Leonard still had to learn that the yelling wasn't personal.

"This is my first time really having a coach that's all in your face," Leonard said. "He just really wants you to just be a better player, each and every game. But I'm used to it now. It's my second year. Last year, it was getting to me quick. But the veteran guys have been helping me out and telling me who Pop is."

As long as Popovich (who got his 898th career win Saturday) is around and Duncan, Parker and Ginobili lead the way, the Spurs will never be sassy or haughty. And, chances are, they won't be struggling by the time the playoffs start. OKC is still a force and the Nuggets might be a beast, and Memphis has shown it can beat up -- and beat -- San Antonio in the playoffs. The Clippers have Chris Paul, and the Lakers might be finally living up to the hype. But the Spurs never go away.

They always look to rise.

"We know we're not where we want to be," Green said. "It's a long season. Teams go through lapses. Guys go through lapses individually. We've got some guys that are injured, hurt or whatever, bumped and bruised, mentally drained, physically drained. But we know we're a team of character, and that no matter what, we're going to continue to fight, and grind it out, help each other, support each other."

DRIBBLES

Chris Wright, from all outward appearances, looks every bit the professional basketball player, looking for his big break in the NBA like dozens of others.

"I feel good, man," Wright said on the floor of AT&T Center in San Antonio Thursday. "I feel like a healthy, 23-year-old young man."

For the most part, he is. He has parlayed an excellent season with the NBA Development League's Iowa Energy into a 10-day contract with the Mavericks. But Wright is also the only known current NBA player who has multiple sclerosis.

After being diagnosed a year ago, while playing abroad for Olin Edirne, a Turkish team about 125 miles from Istanbul, Wright came home and spent four months recovering and finding the right combination of medicine and treatment. He has been symptom-free since the initial attack, which often happens with so-called "relapsing/remitting" MS sufferers, and with continuing treatment, Wright may experience a partial or complete recovery where the disease does not progress any further. Only time, and how he feels, will tell.

Then again, maybe he won't tell.

"Even if it was something, I wouldn't let anybody know," Wright said. "It's part of the process. Everybody has pain. It's like an injury."

But this isn't a sprained ankle.

MS is a debilitating (but, thankfully, not often fatal) immune disease attack against the body's central nervous system -- the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. The body's immune system incorrectly attacks the healthy insulation (myelin) surrounding the brain and spinal cord, causing numbness and, sometimes, paralysis. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society estimates around 2.1 million people worldwide have the disease.

The exact reason why the immune system goes haywire and causes MS is unknown.

"We know that the nervous system is in a heightened state, and revved up," said Wright's doctor, Heidi Crayton, by telephone Friday. "So that message that travels down the nerves gets interrupted, gets kind of stuttery. In the beginning, the nervous systems compensate. But as time goes on, they don't bounce back as quickly."

Wright had no symptoms while starring at Georgetown, where he was an all-Big East selection his senior season. He finished sixth in school history in assists. But Wright did not get drafted in 2011, and couldn't hook on with an NBA team as a free agent. He signed with Olin Edirne in August of 2011, and for the first few months, everything was fine. He was the Eurobasket.com Player of the Week in early December, 2011, after posting a double-double.

But a couple of months later, everything changed.

"I was at practice, and I was running sprints," Wright said. "I was trying to touch the baseline. And I slipped. And I thought it was just, I must've tripped or did something. And as I was walking I felt that I was losing sensation [in his leg], and I had a little pain in my foot. So I went home that night, and my foot started ... it was like your foot going to sleep. And it just constantly felt like that. And I was getting pain from it. So I was like, whatever, and I just played it off. The next day, I got up, and I went in early to shoot, and I lost sensation, basically, on the whole right side of my body. I couldn't feel anything."

Wright went to a doctor, who told him to rest for a day. But it was worse the next day. More pain, more numbness, more soreness. A subsequent visit to the doctor led to the MS diagnosis.

He was 5,300 miles, give or take a few kilometers, from home.

The only help Wright had was the wife of his American teammate, David Dixon, who took him to the doctor and helped him pack his bags for the trip back to the States. Getting released from Edirne provided its own series of twists and turns.

"It was a tough situation," Wright said. "But they knew they had to release me. Because I physically wasn't able to do anything. I literally could not walk. The next morning I had to crawl to get out the bed. I couldn't walk for about four days."

He flew back to Washington, where the staff at Georgetown put him in touch with new doctors. Some of them told him he would never be able to play again and should think about getting into coaching. But Wright's search ultimately led him to Crayton, the medical director of the MS Center of Greater Washington, D.C. and an assistant professor of neurology at Georgetown University Hospital.

"She said, 'You can do what you want to do,' " Wright said. "'You've got to monitor yourself.' And I'm doing it. It's been a blessing. I feel good. I haven't had a relapse since."

Indeed, several athletes over the years have played with MS. Former Major League Baseball relief pitcher Stan Belinda, longtime Rams quarterback Roman Gabriel and cyclist Maureen Manley competed with the disease. Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding was diagnosed with MS last November. Actress Terri Garr, television personality Montel Williams and R & B singer Tamia -- Grant Hill's wife -- live and work with MS.

"People have a horrendous, horrendous picture," Crayton said Friday. "The first thing Chris said was, 'Do you know any other professional athletes with MS, to know if a future is even possible?' I said I don't know. But I found it on the Internet before he even returned to the United States."

For some still unknown reason, there are more incidences of MS the further away people are from the equator. Some of that, Crayton said, is breaking down because of people's migratory factors. But where a person is in his or her prepubescent life usually is a determinant.

"The typical time frame is 20 to 40 [years old] for diagnosis" Crayton said. "They have a picture of what their life is going to be. And then these two little letters change that."

Crayton believes in hitting MS between the eyes with a medical bat, not sitting back and letting the disease advance and dictate the treatment. She put Wright on a much stronger drug than most patients get initially, factoring in his age and that he was in outstanding shape.

"A lot of times doctors use it on the back end of MS, when frankly it's too late to be of much use," she said. "I told Chris, 'This gives me the best odds of being able to say to you not too much is going to change.' He said, 'Then that's what I want to do.'

"He demands so much from his body. Often times when people have MS, they focus on what they can't do. It's almost like they need permission from their body to continue to do what they want to do. I think Chris' athletic prowess has certainly contributed to him staying in peak condition."

The aggressive treatment has worked so far. After taking four months off to find the right combination of medicine and treatment, Wright wanted to give the NBA another try. But he found word of his disease had gotten ahead of him. Even though Crayton personally told teams Wright was fine, they didn't want to take the risk.

"It came up several times," Wright said. "I actually tried to get into summer league. Teams backed out at the last minute, because of the MS. So it definitely came up. Several teams backed off when it came to training camp: We don't want to have that risk factor. Which I understand. It's understandable."

But Wright's agent, Doug Neustadt, was able to convince the Hornets to give Wright a look in training camp. New Orleans had just drafted Austin Rivers with the 10th pick overall, and also had acquired Greivis Vasquez from the Grizzlies, so Wright knew he had little chance to make the roster. But he made an impression.

"It was a tough cut," Hornets coach Monty Williams said Friday. "He hawked the ball. Then he showed he could step out and make a jump shot. I wish we still had him to guard the ball some times. There's no doubt in my mind he can stick on a roster."

Wright didn't make the Hornets' roster, but as part of his deal with the team, he was immediately assigned to the Energy. He overcame doubts about the disease and his size (6-foot-1, 210 pounds), earning a spot in the D-League All-Star Game by averaging 14.4 points and 7.2 assists in his first 28 games in Iowa. He was averaging 15.5 points and 7 assists for Iowa when he got the callup to Dallas.

"He's an amazing kid," said Bruce Wilson, Wright's D-League coach in Iowa, on Thursday. "As we've gotten to know him and work with him on a daily basis, he's an amazing worker."

Wilson started the season in Iowa as an assistant to Kevin Young, who was fired in January. He and fellow assistant George Brosky worked with Wright on the mental aspects of point guard play, like how to get the ball to scorers better off of ball screens. Even though Wilson wasn't sure how it would work out at first, Wright convinced him he could handle the load. But like almost everyone in the D-League, Wright had to balance his desire to showcase his individual skills with the team's ability to win.

"That's something we're always talking with guys about," Wilson said. "The success of our team is going to help you ... with Chris, I think he's worried about his scoring sometimes, not how he's running the team."

The MS, though, was never a problem, Wilson said.

"It's one of those things where he can start to feel when he needs that next injection," Wilson said. "But I haven't seen it affect his play in any way. I think he actually uses it as a motivational tool ... it's a non-factor."

The Mavericks, looking for point guard depth down the stretch, opted to give Wright a chance on the 10-day contract rather than bring back the likes of Delonte West. West debuted with the Mavs' D-League team, the Texas Legends, over the weekend after Dallas cut him earlier this season.

"They were scouting him about a week before they signed him," Neustadt said Monday. "Donnie called me and said we're strongly thinking about brining him up, but my trainer has several questions about the MS thing, and can he call you?' We said sure. So we gave him the medication he's taking and the dosage and everything."

Dallas has been searching for stability at the point all season. Darren Collison was the starter on opening night, but Carlisle turned to Roddy Beaubois (now out again with a broken hand), had a brief dalliance with Derek Fisher, went back to Collison and now is starting 37-year-old Mike James. So while it's likely Wright won't see a lot of time ... who knows?

At any rate, his perseverance has already earned him respect among his new teammates.

"Me and Chris, we came out of high school at the same time," guard O.J. Mayo said. "I heard his name a lot. And we finally played against each other in Orlando when we were juniors in high school. He was a heck of a point guard ... and he's still fighting here today. So that let you know that that's a guy, when it's time to go to war, you want him on your side.

"He's not only fighting to be in the NBA, and be here playing at the highest level, he's fighting health-wise to be here 100 percent."

Whether or not Wright sticks in Dallas, he will be on someone's summer league team in July, Neustadt said.

"And then we see, what are the opportunities here, as opposed to the offers in Europe?," Neustadt said. "If he has guaranteed money here, he's staying here. If he doesn't, you weigh what are the non-guaranteed opportunities in a training camp (in the NBA) as opposed to going over to Europe. He's been injury free. He's played in every game. It just tells people he can have a very special career and have MS. It's not affecting him one bit. He has zero limitations."

For now, Wright's MS does not affect his play. He only has to undergo one two-hour IV drip of his primary drug, Tysabri, every month. There has been no recurrence of the symptoms he suffered in Turkey. He has also been busy with the arrival of his first child with his girlfriend, a son, Chris, Jr. (It's not likely their child will develop MS; there's a 3 percent incidence of children of MS patients developing the disease, according to Crayton.)

"If you put it in perspective, it is what it is," Wright said. "I feel like me playing here, it's much bigger than me. It opens up a whole lot of doors for people who have MS. And it gives people inspiration to keep up hope. It's an honor, man. It's an inspiration."

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

(This week's record in parenthesis; last week's rankings in brackets)

1) Miami (4-0) [1]: Tied the '07-'08 Rockets for the second-longest win streak in league history (22). A great test awaits Monday night against the Celtics in Boston (8 ET, ESPN); if the Heat can win that one, Miami's next four opponents are an Irving-less Cleveland, Detroit, Charlotte and Orlando. And then, it would get really interesting.

2) Oklahoma City (3-1) [2]: Rich get richer: the Oklahoman detailed this week how the Thunder are in line to secure the Raptors' first-round pick in the 2013 Draft. It is Lottery protected No. 1-3, but the Raptors have won just enough since getting Rudy Gay that it's unlikely they'll finish that poorly.

3) Denver (3-0) [3]: Fans chant "Who Needs 'Melo?" during rout of Knicks Wednesday. Nuggets look fierce at the moment.

4) San Antonio (3-1) [4]: Sixteen consecutive seasons in the playoffs; 14 straight years -- an NBA record -- with 50 or more victories. The gold standard of the league the last 15 seasons.

5) Memphis (2-2) [5]: Lineup of Bayless/Conley/Prince/Randolph/Gasol currently a +23, the Grizzlies' best, per Basketball-Reference.com.

6) L.A. Clippers (1-1) [6]: Sunday's win over the depleted Knicks was the 200th of Vinny Del Negro's coaching career.

7) Chicago (1-1) [10]: Derrick Rose's injury rightly takes all of the oxygen in the Windy City, but the Bulls also miss Kirk Hinrich (foot) and need him to get any kind of ball/man movement offensively.

8) Boston (2-1) [11]: Paul Pierce passes the Chuckster for 20th place on the all-time scoring list, in the same week that Kevin Garnett passes Jerry West for 15th all-time.

9) Golden State (3-1) [12]: The Warriors' week: win by 29, win by eight, lose by 28, win by 30. Maybe they're going back in the right direction?

10) Indiana (1-2) [8]: You wonder if that big loss to the Heat a week ago took a little starch out of the Pacers. At any rate, George Hill wasn't thrilled with the large Lakers contingent in attendance Wednesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

11) Atlanta (3-1) [15]: The Hawks are either resilient or really, really inconsistent. Won six out of seven to end February, lost seven of eight to start March, but have followed with three straight, including wins over the Lakers and Nets.

12) New York (0-4) [7]: Obviously, the Knicks are not a plausible title contender in their current physical condition. You wonder if they'd like to have that Ronnie Brewer trade to OKC back; not that he'd make that much of a difference, but they need every healthy body they can get.

13) Brooklyn (1-2) [9]: Blows a chance to go into a first-place tie with the Knicks with loss Sunday to the Hawks. Huge eight-game road trip to end the month looming that will likely determine the Nets' fate.

14) Houston (2-1) [13]: Yes, the Rockets are just a game up in the loss column over the eighth-place Lakers and ninth-place Jazz after blowout home loss to the Warriors Sunday. A rather large game against Utah looms Wednesday.

15) L.A. Lakers (3-1) [14]: Dwight Howard isn't the only one who's found his stride: Antawn Jamison has been terrific off the bench over the last three weeks.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

Denver (3-0): Nuggets are a perfect 8-0 in March, winning by an average of 13.5 per game, including steamrolls of the Hawks, Clippers and Knicks. Have also won 13 straight games against Western Conference teams since losing to OKC in mid-December.

TEAM OF THE WEAK

Detroit (0-3): Pistons have taken the collar so far in March, with losses by 39, 10, 32, 13 and 11 among their nine defeats, including four straight on their last west coast trip of the season.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

What is your favorite NCAA Tournament memory?

It's March Madness time, and much of the world will turn its attention to the college game for the next three weeks. The dream of making the dance is so strong for so many schools, and once teams get there, the memories can last a lifetime.

I never played or coached, but I was and remain a fan of my beloved American University Eagles. When we finally made the tournament in 2008 for the first time, the emotions were enormous: watching the selection show, going down to Birmingham for the opening game, being tied with Tennessee with six minutes to go ... I'll never forget the whole experience -- including going again the following year, with a 24-7 team that had seven seniors, and leading Villanova by 14 in the second half before the Wildcats' experience (and, he says parenthetically, some questionable calls) allowed them to catch up and pull away late.

For many of those who actually took part by getting on the court, it's like it was just yesterday.

Doug Overton, assistant coach, Brooklyn Nets; guard, LaSalle, 1990:

"We were up like 20 at halftime against Clemson [led by future NBAers Dale Davis and Elden Campbell]. Our biggest guy was L-Train [all-American forward Lionel Simmons, who may have been 6-foot-6]. Of course, they woke up and realized we were much smaller and they came from behind and beat us to advance to Sweet 16 ... I still haven't gotten over that loss!"

Kevin Pritchard, general manager, Indiana Pacers; guard, Kansas, 1988:

"Obviously winning in '88 ... We lost at home in 3 straight [earlier that year] to Kansas State, Duke and Oklahoma. We beat K-State to go to the Final Four, Duke to go to the finals, and Oklahoma in the finals."

Nick Van Exel, assistant coach, Atlanta Hawks; guard, Cincinnati, 1992:

"Beating Memphis State to go to the Final Four. They said we couldn't beat a team four times in a year. You know the rest. Lol"

Tony Allen, guard, Memphis Grizzlies; forward, Oklahoma State, 2004:

"Elite 8 / John Lucas 3 for the win over Jameer Nelson to advance to the Final Four "classic". Or Sweet 16, Joey Graham dunk over Sean Banks from Memphis ! From the free throw line!"

Rob Werdann, coach, Guaynabo Mets, Puerto Rico; center, St. John's, 1991:

"The unity that was forged in the few practices and meetings we had after [the] Big East tournament was unlike the unity that existed during the regular season. Lou Carnesecca was a master of bringing that out of us."

Rod Thorn, president, Philadelphia 76ers; forward, West Virginia, 1963:

"We played St. Joe's in the first round of the NCAA regional. Had 44 in a loss and followed up with 33 against NYU in a 3rd place win. It was a record for a time."

Royce White, forward, Rio Grande Valley Vipers; center, Iowa State, 2012:

"Favorite memory for me was, being in the gym [Hilton Coliseum] Selection Sunday, and seeing a whole community reap the benefits of their genuine support."

Memories of the NCAA tournament remain fresh in LaMarcus Aldridge's mind.

LaMarcus Aldridge, forward, Portland TrailBlazers; center, Texas, 2006:

"Favorite memory was beating West Virginia at the buzzer. I was wanting a touch, but I knew he [Kenton Paulino] was a good shooter and felt good with the ball in his hands."

Jarrett Jack, guard, Golden State Warriors; guard, Georgia Tech, 2004:

"The entire journey was the best part. Going from site to site watching everyone's respective schools being represented, as well [as] showcasing ours, was the best feeling I've had as (an) athlete. I remember after we played Kansas in the Elite Eight [Jack was named Most Outstanding Player of that St. Louis Regional], and I looked at the stat sheet and for some reason my eyes took me to the attendance. And when it said that over 65,000 people were in the venue to watch. That was probably the most eye-opening part of it all."

Darren Collison, guard, Dallas Mavericks; guard, UCLA, 2006:

"The game against Gonzaga, when we came back from a large deficit to win." [The Bruins trailed by nine with three minutes left, but rallied for a 73-71 victory that was the last college game for Gonzaga's Adam Morrison, who famously cried on the floor afterward. UCLA went on to reach the national championship game, where it lost to the University of Florida team that would win back-to-back national titles.]

Kawhi Leonard, forward, San Antonio Spurs; forward, San Diego State, 2011:

"It was my sophomore year. It was fun. Those guys that were on my team are great friends of mine. Just all of us being close and friends just made it a great experience. We just wanted to win, just get to the next round in the tournament. We got to the Sweet 16 and unfortunately we lost, but we just had a great year, just showing San Diego and the community that San Diego State can be a great school and a team. Just going to the tournament, we wanted to win our first game. After that first win, it was just exciting to us, because we had lost in the first round the year before."

Billy King, general manager, Brooklyn Nets; forward, Duke, 1990:

"Beating Temple at the Meadowlands to go to the Final Four my senior year." [King held Temple's all-America forward, Mark Macon, to 6 of 29 shooting and 13 points in Duke's 63-53 win over the Owls.]

Roy Hibbert, center, Indiana Pacers; center, Georgetown, 2007:

"Sitting on the bus while my teammate had to do a NCAA urine test. He couldn't pee for at least 1.5 hrs. Couldn't leave until he went."

.... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

One man's caviar ... From Chris Dellecese:

If CSN has the Kings (poor) local TV rights in Sacramento, wouldn't they still have them in Seattle? Or are they suddenly up for bid once they move?

That's one of the $525 million questions, Chris. The surface answer would be that TV rights should be worth more in Seattle because of its larger population and more affluent population. But as I wrote last week, the glut of pro and college teams competing for the sports dollar in Seattle, compared with the only-game-in-town status of the Kings in Sacramento, may dilute that advantage. But, this fellow writing below may be able to help both of us.

Chris, meet Matt. He may have an answer to your question. From Matt Korpela:

With regards to your comments about the Seattle situation, a reminder that News Corp. sold majority interest in DirecTV to Liberty Media a few years back. As part of this transaction, three Fox Sports RSNs, including that in Seattle, were swapped over to Liberty as well. There is speculation that Liberty is seeking to unload those networks now, and that Comcast could be a serious bidder for ROOT Sports Northwest. ROOT, after suffering the loss of the Sonics, the change in ownership and, most recently, the loss of Pac-12 programming, is totally dependent on the Mariners.

My guess is that Hansen is either working with Comcast in a bid for ROOT or perhaps even engaging Fox in a return to the market. It'd make sense for the Mariners or Hansen's group to attempt to buy ROOT before starting an RSN from scratch. With ROOT, an owner gets carriage agreements and staff already in place. Ideally, the Mariners and Hansen would work together, along with the Sounders ownership, in buying and rebranding ROOT. Given the disagreements that Hansen and Mariners ownership are having over the SoDo arena, a future partnership a la the Astros/Rockets is probably slim. But a robust RSN with programming from all the local major league franchises seemingly would have more value than that programming split over two or three RSNs. Especially if one of those networks has to start from scratch.

I have no inside info on that scenario, Matt, but it would make sense, potentially removing one major headache from a checklist of issues that would have to be addressed if the Kings moved to Seattle. You are quite correct that the Mariners' objections to the proposed arena site (while the Seahawks, who also play nearby, at CenturyLink Field, have supported the proposal) have raised the hackles of the Hansen group.

WOW. Or should it be, huh? From John Massey:

I'm not sure how Dwyane Wade is not mentioned in your MVP list??

'Cause I don't think he's one of the five Most Valuable Player candidates, John. Pretty simple. Who would you take off to put Wade on? LeBron? Durant? Carmelo? Kobe? Or Tony Parker, who'd be in the top five if he wasn't currently on the shelf with that ankle? D-Wade has come on of late, but he struggled mightily the first half of the season while he was coming back from knee surgery. It just isn't an MVP-worthy season to me. It doesn't mean I think he's a bad player.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and already busted NCAA brackets to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!

MVP WATCH

(weekly averages in parenthesis)

1) LeBron James (23 ppg, 9 rpg, 7.5 apg, .439 FG, .775 FT): Has dropped off of his incredible shooting pace in February, but of course, no one cares or is paying attention during Miami's historic streak.

2) Kevin Durant (26.5 ppg, 9 rpg, 4.5 apg, .533 FG, .902 FT): On any other carbon-based planet that can support human life and does not include LeBron James, KD would be the odds-on favorite to win his first MVP.

3) Chris Paul (22 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 8.5 apg, .542 FG, .941 FT): Sounds the alarm that Clips need to start tightening things up at the defensive end if they're going to be a serious contender in the playoffs.

4) Kobe Bryant (14 ppg, 5 rpg, 5 apg, .294 FG, .800 FT): Can Mamba resist the compete gene that runs through his blood to give his sprained ankle the rest it will need to not become a chronic problem for him down the stretch of the regular season? We all know the answer to that.

5) Carmelo Anthony (12.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.5 apg, .259 FG, .692 FT): Limited by sore knee, which was drained at the end of last week in New York. Hopefully the knee isn't worse than he and the Knicks are letting on.

BY THE NUMBERS

53 -- Consecutive games with at least one 3-pointer made by the Warriors' Stephen Curry, a streak that ended Friday night when Curry went 0 for 5 from behind the arc. His last game without a three was Nov. 16 at Minnesota, when he missed all three of his three-point attempts.

67 -- Games it took before the Wizards, the lowest scoring team in the league, finally had a 30-point scorer in a game. Martell Webster got Washington in the 30-point column with a career-high 34 points, including seven threes, in the Wizards' 127-105 rout of Phoenix.

32 -- Career games missed, out of a possible 132, by Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving. Irving's latest injury, a sprained left shoulder suffered March 10, is expected to keep him out three to four weeks -- perhaps the rest of this season. It's the sixth significant injury Irving has suffered in less than a year and a half as a pro player, after playing in just 11 games in his one season in college at Duke because of a toe injury. Four others -- a broken finger, hyperextended knee, concussion and sprained right shoulder -- cost him playing time, though Irving continued playing earlier this season after fracturing his jaw.

I'M FEELIN' ...

1) I normally do not subscribe to such clichés, but it does look like the Heat are toying with their opponents right now.

2) Transparency, no matter how painful for the offended team, is always better than never admitting that officials make mistakes. It's better for the game and addresses the perception that NBA refs are protected when they don't deserve to be.

3) That was a pretty strong 12 minutes in the fourth quarter by Monta Ellis Sunday afternoon. Mark my words: assuming Milwaukee gets in, the Bucks are going to be a tough out in the first round. Jim Boylan has them playing some pretty good basketball.

4) I don't know if the Mavs are going to pull this out and make the playoffs, but this may be one of Rick Carlisle's best coaching jobs. He has Dallas playing hard and at its best at the right time of the year, despite a seemingly endless string of injuries, the latest to Shawn Marion (strained calf).

5) Terrific read by the Boston Globe's Gary Washburn on the relationship between Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and how it's much longer in nature than you may know.

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) Atlanta's Dahntay Jones (see below) has done nothing but compete his butt off since he's been in the league. (You ask the Nuggets, who still miss his on-ball defense.) Now, maybe he and Kobe Bryant have a history, but in the case of what happened in Atlanta last Wednesday, when Bryant turned his ankle after landing on Jones's foot in the final seconds of what would be a Hawks' win, it's hard to believe that Jones made a deliberate decision to deliberately try and injure Bryant. Did he want to crowd him, irritate him, make him think about other things besides making the shot, as all good defenders do? Sure. But there's a big gulf between that and trying to hurt an opponent.

1A) Having stated the above, this indictment of Jones gives me pause.

2) Because the Kings' saga isn't complicated enough.

3) Not the best of Homecoming Weeks for Carmelo Anthony and Ray Felton.

4) Notre Dame? Crayola called. They'd like their primary colors back.

5) RIP, Jack Curran. A great coach, a great man, a great citizen.

6) No Tip next week, as we begin previewing the 2013 Draft with a look at the top point guards available. As in previous years, I'll alternate the Tip every other week with another position preview, which will end with the center preview on May 20, the day before the Draft Lottery. The schedule is thus: March 25: point guards; April 8: shooting guards, April 22: small forwards, May 6: power forwards, May 20: centers.

Q AND A: ANTHONY DAVIS

From the New Orleans Hornets' losing locker room Friday night, a bright future seemed far, far away. They had just been waxed by the Wizards, and John Wall, of all people, rained mid-range jumpers on them. They got bullied inside. And after two days off in D.C., they looked like the weary team down the stretch instead of Washington. This was their 10th loss in the last 13 games. And yet, there was promise. Greivis Vasquez, the third-year point guard, attacked Wall as much as Wall attacked him. Eric Gordon scored 20, seemingly effortlessly, reminding everyone how potent an offensive force he can be when he's healthy and on the court.

And Anthony Davis, the first overall pick out of Kentucky, flashed -- when he wasn't on the bench in foul trouble.

He went to the basket hard and finished off Vasquez's passes; he scored easily on putbacks; he was disruptive defensively, showing the incredible wingspan that had scouts making comparisons to Marcus Camby. Though Davis has been slowed by a concussion and a stress reaction in his left ankle, he's been balling of late, with seven double-doubles in the last month.

While Portland's Damian Lillard has been out front all season in Rookie of the Year voting, Davis has come on slowly, but consistently, with Coach Monty Williams holding him under 30 minutes a game as he learns the league and starts to put grown-man muscle on his 19-year-old body. It's a work in progress that Williams hopes will end up with Davis looking and playing like LaMarcus Aldridge, whom Williams saw early in his career in Portland while he was an assistant.

Having Lillard get all the ink "kind of reminds me of (Davis) being on the Olympic team," Williams said. "Everybody was focused on LeBron, Chris and Carmelo, and Anthony got a chance to sit back and just watch. Coach K threw him into some games, and you were like, 'Whoa, I forgot he was on the team.' And he's got five straight dunks and three blocks, and you're like, OK. Lillard's older, the body's more mature, and that's taken some of the pressure off of him. AD's played well. It's just that Lillard's played like an All-Star. You can't argue with the fact that he's been the best rookie this year, but AD's right behind him -- just not as close as everybody wants him to be."

Me: What does Monty stress to you day in and day out?

Anthony Davis: Just keep working, working hard. Guys are going to try to come after me each and every game, so I've got to be ready for it, be physical. He really just tells me to go out and play hard. I can outrun most guys, so run the floor. That's what I try to do.

Me: I know he wants to run some specials and quick hitters for you to take advantage of your speed, and so you don't have to slug it out in the paint all the time. But when those don't work, how do you score?

AD: Offensive rebounds. Trying to know my guy. When the offensive guy drives to the basket, my guy is gonna go. Especially if he's a shot blocker. I just try to follow my man and play behind their defense, so whenever the guys miss a shot I'm right there for the offensive rebound, try to get two points.

Me: Do you think it's been a benefit that Lillard has gotten a lot of the attention this year?

AD: He's playing well. He's playing extremely well. I don't know how many he had the other night, but they were big numbers. He's playing extremely well for Portland right now. I wish him all the success. He's going to be a great player in this league, and he's getting better and better each and every day. Every game, you can see how much the game is coming to him now, how much poise he has, being a young guy. I wish him all the success and hope he keeps getting better.

Me: But does that allow you to kind of operate under the radar?

AD: I mean, I'm just going out there playing, playing hard. I had a couple of injuries that kind of held me back, so I'm just trying to get back in the groove of things. But for the most part, just go out there and play hard, and take what the defense gives me, whether it's an open shot or drive to the basket. Playing behind the defense. I'm just trying to do whatever I can do to help the team win.

Me: How scary was the concussion?

AD: Very scary. I've never had one before, so I didn't know what to do, how to handle it. I think our trainer did a great job in that process, and made sure I was right before I got back out on the floor.

Me: You've put up some numbers lately. Is the game getting easier?

AD: I think it's slowing down. I'm starting to see a lot more than I'd seen before. Before I was playing really fast, just trying to go out there like, 'Oh, I'm the No. 1 pick, so I have to play well,' and tried to rush everything, make 'No. 1' plays. I'm just starting to slow down, see everything more. The game is just starting to slow down for me. As it's slowing down, I'm just trying to make big plays for my team, whether it be a shot, or a pass, or whatever the case may be, offensive rebounds, whatever the team needs.

Me: How are your reads on offense progressing?

AD: Pretty well. I can do a lot better job when they're throwing me the ball off of a pick. And seeing if that [defensive] guy is stepping up, so I can hit that guy in the corner. I think that's where I'm really struggling, getting a lot of offensive fouls with that. So I've definitely got to do a better job of reading that. And also, dribble handoffs, seeing if that defender, he's getting his hand on a lot of those dribble handoffs that I'm doing. So I've got to just eat it and just get ready to make a play out of it.

Me: Are the guards sinking and digging on you? Are you seeing a lot of doubles? Or are defenses playing you pretty straight up?

AD: Most guys are playing me straight up. And sometimes they do come. I think I'm doing a great job of reading that and kicking it out to my teammates.

Me: What did the Olympic experience do for you?

AD: Definitely helped my game, playing with them guys. They definitely taught me a lot of things. All the things they taught me, I'm just trying to bring back to the NBA, and trying to become a better pro.

Me: Make the case for Kentucky getting into the NCAA tournament, after the season they've had. [Note: the Wildcats were left out of the 68-team field.]

AD: Kentucky definitely is finishing up the season strong. With Nerlens [Noel] going down, they're definitely trying to make that push for the tournament. When they get there, they're definitely going to keep fighting. Coach Cal [John Calipari] is never gonna have a team that quits. So they're definitely gonna keep fighting and try to win it again.

TWEET(S) OF THE WEEK

Compression. Ice. Django. Zero Dark Thirty. This is Forty and 1 hour of sleep. ‪#countonwill‬‬ ‪#countonhaters‬‬. On to the next.
-- Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant), Thursday, 9:08 a.m., the day after he severely sprained his ankle coming down on Hawks guard Dahntay Jones' foot -- an injury that Bryant believed was caused by Jones deliberately coming under him as he rose for a jumper in the last minute of Wednesday's game.

Jones (@dahntay1) responded Thursday (at 7:57 p.m.), arguing against the notion his move was deliberate:

Tape doesn't lie. Ankle was turned on the floor after the leg kick out that knocked him off balance. I would never try to hurt the man
-- Dahntay Jones

Judge for yourself.

THEY SAID IT

"We are a society that turned to tennis once Guillermo Vilas won a Grand Slame in France; grew obsessed with basketball when Manu Ginobili made his mark in the American N.B.A.; started raving about monarchy when an Argentine-born princess married the crown prince of the Netherlands; and has persisted in doubting Jorge Luis Borges's value because he never won the international honor of a Nobel Prize. The fact that "one of us" is now sitting on St. Peter's throne may have a huge effect on the weight of Catholicism on our lives."
-- Argenine-born author Martin Caporros, in an op-ed in The New York Times entitled "God Is an Argentine" Friday, on the impact of the selection of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now known as Pope Francis, to lead the Roman Catholic Church last week.

"God doesn't care whether I make a jump shot or not. He gave me an ability to work, not to shoot. And what I do is work. Every day, every day, I work. And if I had to shoot it underhanded, I'd work at being great at it that way."
-- Miami's Ray Allen, asked by the Miami Herald's Dan LeBatard if he resents people who say that his talent for shooting the basketball is God-given.

"You're a professional athlete, and you have to behave like a professional. The referees don't come in here with an agenda, for the most part. They come in here and ref the game. I know all those guys. It doesn't mean you can't have an argument or a disagreement with one of them. That happens in the heat of the game. We'll talk with Larry. Like I've said to Larry before, I don't mind him playing with emotion as long as it doesn't hurt the team."
-- Bucks coach Jim Boylan, to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, after center Larry Sanders was ejected for the second straight game Friday against Miami after arguing with referees.

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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