Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (March 8) -- Dirk Nowitzki adds to his Dallas lore with 30,000-point moment

Plus, adversity hits for the Celtics, the player the Jazz need for success and more Staff

No. 1: Nowitzki enters 30K-point club, delivers once again for Mavs — If you somehow missed it last night, Dirk Nowitzki did what only five other NBA players had done before him: reach 30,000 career points. His historic moment came off — fittingly — a fadeaway baseline jumper that sent the American Airlines Center crowd into a state of hysteria, elation and reflection.

Tim Colishaw of the Dallas Morning News and Gil Lebreton of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram have seen many of the highs and lows of Nowitzki’s time with the Dallas Mavericks. In light of his latest feat, the two provide their expert view on what Nowitzki’s milestone means to his career and beyond.

First, here’s Colishaw’s take from the Dallas Morning News:

The “slow-moving, gathering weather front,” as head coach Rick Carlisle called it, finally rolled through the American Airlines Center on Tuesday night.

Nothing slow about scoring 20 points in 10 minutes, though.

With a baseline jumper against the Lakers’ Larry Nance Jr. early in the second quarter, the greatest Maverick of all reached another piece of hallowed ground in a career now filled with landmarks with his 20th point of the game.

Slow moving?

Yeah, I guess Carlisle could call it that since Nowitzki began this march against a team that no longer exists (Seattle SuperSonics) while playing home games in a building that no longer exists (Reunion Arena) as Carlisle was an assistant coach for the Indiana Pacers.

It took awhile, yes, but what journey of 30,000 points wouldn’t?

It has never been about the personal achievements (league MVP, playoff MVP, more points than Shaq and all the rest) which is precisely what makes them so worthy of Mavericks fans’ applause.

The ninth pick of the 1998 draft — one spot ahead of Paul Pierce, also a champion still churning along in his 19th season — Nowitzki has guaranteed his place on the Dallas Mt. Rushmore.

He’s just padding the resume for fun now as the Mavericks make an almost equally improbable run towards the 2017 playoffs.

And here’s Lebreton’s view of Nowitzki’s feat in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

Barely 13 minutes into Tuesday’s game, Dirk Nowitzki, as dependable a German import as this nation has ever seen, cradled teammate Devin Harris’ lob pass at the right side of the free throw lane, squared his broad shoulders and leaped over defender Larry Nance Jr.’s outstretched arms and into the NBA history books.

He needed 20 points to pass the 30,000 career mark, a golden standard achieved by only five players.

Dirk had eight points in the first 2:15 of the game and 18 at the end of the first quarter.

What’s the promise on the Mercedes-Benz commercials? “The Best or Nothing”?

He made his first six shots against the Los Angeles Lakers, who were in town Tuesday for a cameo as the night’s Washington Generals. And while the game continued after point No. 30,000, with the American Airlines Center audience still standing and roaring, Dirk got the ball again and nailed a 25-footer from the top of the 3-point arc.

The Mavericks had a 47-30 lead and the Lakers called timeout. And then the celebration finally could begin.

“We all witnessed one of the most amazing accomplishments in the history of sports,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said after his team’s 122-111 victory. “For me, it was a 13-minute, 2-second microcosm of one of the greatest careers in the history of this game — meticulous preparation, total commitment, unbelievable competitive spirit and a real flair for the moment.

“Watching Dirk the last couple of days there was no doubt that this was going to happen tonight.”

The night was dizzying. Nelson had actually drafted Robert “Tractor” Traylor of Michigan and then traded him to Milwaukee for the rights to Dirk. A side deal with Phoenix had brought the Mavericks a then-unheralded, second-string point guard named Steve Nash.

The word, from Nowitzki’s coach no less, was that teenager Dirk wasn’t going to start his NBA career until after the 2000 Olympics.

So some wise guy wrote, “The latest cornerstone, alas, is now Nash … And a kid from Germany to arrive later?

“That’s going to sell tickets?”

Doh! OK, I miscalculated by 30,000 points.

Dirk Nowitzki has, indeed, sold a lot of tickets over his 19 seasons. He’s helped to win a lot of games — 11 50-win seasons in a row at one point.

And one magical night, also in June, he delivered the Mavericks franchise to the NBA’s summit. His version of We Are the Champions is forever excused.

“I’m in awe of everything he is and everything he stands for, both as a man and as an athlete,” Carlisle continued. “When you think about how he has carried this franchise, really single-handedly in many ways.”

After the 30,000th point and the 3-pointer that followed, the rest of the night almost seemed a blur.

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No. 2: Celtics must overcome patch of adversity — The Boston Celtics are ahead of last season’s pace, a season in which they won 48 games, and have the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference as of this morning. The flip side to this, though, is that Boston has lost three of its last five games and dealt with star guard Isaiah Thomas questioning strategy after Monday’s loss to the LA Clippers. Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald points out that the Celtics must overcome this bout of trouble fast — even as a showdown with the Golden State Warriors tonight looms (10:30 ET, ESPN):

UPDATE, 2:01 p.m. ET — According to the Celtics’ Twitter account, Thomas did what he could to clarify his recent comments ..

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Thomas’ statements aside, the fact is the Celtics squandered a game to the Suns in which he missed a late free throw and fumbled an inbound pass, leading to the winning bucket. Then they fell hard when the Clippers hit them with a second-half run.

It should also be noted they played both without Al Horford (sprained right elbow). So the key would be not overreacting, right?

“Well, we’ll see,” Stevens told the Herald. “We’ll see. I’ve said all along that we’re not as good as our record. And until we play with better poise and we play with better purpose all the way through, then we’ll have nights like that (against the Clippers). Obviously you can play really well and lose that game, and, you know, I thought we played really well for a lot of the game. And then Jamal Crawford gets hot. That happens in the NBA.

“We have a 13-point lead in the third, and we just didn’t respond when Crawford went nuts. And we had that one other time this year, against one other team, and that’s Toronto, where I felt like we didn’t respond when (DeMar) DeRozan started going nuts. So we just have to get better.

“I think we’re in really good shape, but I also think that we have to improve. And I also recognize that we’re in a tough stretch. We’ve got a lot of road games here in a cluster, from early February to now, and we need to just stay the course, keep our eyes ahead and not get too high or too low.”

But, apologies to Bill Parcells, Stevens simply does not believe the Celtics are who their record says they are. The standings have them second in the Eastern Conference, just three games behind Cleveland. The coach, however, sees beyond the numbers out front. There are factors that have added a little air to the mark.

“I think the biggest thing is we’re 28-14 in close games,” Stevens said. “Usually you don’t have quite that discrepancy.

“We’ve been fortunate. We have to get better. I think that everybody talks about chasing other teams or whatever the case may be. We have a long way to be what I think is competitive at a necessary level to be really good when it’s all on the line.”

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No. 3: Jazz at their best when Hood shines — The Utah Jazz are all but assured of their first winning season and playoff berth in five years. Much of that credit is due to the All-Star turn of forward Gordon Hayward, the defense of Rudy Gobert and a healthy roster. That last point is a key one for the Jazz and in particular their burgeoning swingman Rodney Hood. Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune details just how important Hood’s health and play is to Utah (which visits the Houston Rockets tonight):

The Jazz are 31-14 when he’s in uniform and 9-10 when he sits. Hood averages 14.2 points when the Jazz win with him in the lineup. He averages 12.9 in losses. When he’s aggressive and looking for his shot, the Jazz offense as a whole is more dynamic.

With important road games against the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder looming this week, Hood’s value to the Jazz is clear: They are simply a better team when he’s on the floor.

“We’ve missed him and we need him,” Snyder said. “He’s a weapon. Obviously the soreness in his knee is something that he’s fought for a little while. And we’re conscious of that because we want to continue to have him. We need him healthy.”

With that in mind, the Jazz are taking steps in an effort to keep Hood fresh. On the tail end of a back-to-back against the Pelicans, Snyder elevated Joe Ingles to the starting lineup and placed Hood on a minute restriction. The goal is for Hood to be 100 percent by the playoffs, when his ability to score in isolation settings could prove invaluable.

Individually, Hood has had mixed feelings about his season. He’s thankful on many levels, because he initially thought the scary knee injury against the Orlando Magic on Jan. 14 ended his season.

Further testing revealed only a bone bruise in his right knee. But Hood has fought that bone bruise for much of the past two months. He has experienced soreness, and when he has played he hasn’t always felt like himself. There have been times he’s been limited to what he can do. So that part has been frustrating for him.

“It’s the nagging injuries that I’ve had to deal with,” Hood said. “I can stay healthy. I know that. The best part is trying to get completely healthy for the end of the season and for the postseason. The times I’ve been out there and actually been myself, I’ve felt good this year. So I just have to build on that.”

Why is Hood so important to Utah’s offense? He offers all-star forward Gordon Hayward protection as a second scorer and creative force. When Hood is out of the lineup, teams can key on Hayward. And when Hood is out of the lineup, the Jazz don’t have a primary scorer on the floor to lead the second unit when Hayward is taking a rest.

“Rodney’s huge for us,” Utah forward Joe Ingles said. “He takes a lot of pressure off Gordon and George Hill. All three of those guys are playmakers. All three of them can shoot the ball and all three can play in pick and roll. We need him to be super aggressive because we have to take pressure off Gordon. The more aggressive he is offensively, the better it is for us.”

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No. 4: Pacers’ small lineups have yet to sizzle — It wasn’t that long ago that Indiana star Paul George was somewhat balking at the notion of playing power forward in a small-ball Pacers lineup. Yet since the All-Star break, that’s exactly the role George has filled (at times) as Indiana tries to surge in the Eastern Conference standings. As tonight’s showdown with the Detroit Pistons looms (8 ET, ESPN), Nate Taylor of the Indianapolis Star digs into how the small-ball lineups have/have not worked to date:

Since the All-Star break, coach Nate McMillan has been more willing to play just one traditional frontcourt player for stretches. In fact, McMillan has used various small lineups in the fourth quarter — and, yes, that includes Paul George playing power forward at times — in each of the Pacers’ past four games in hopes of igniting more offense.

The results have varied. The Pacers were 2-2 in those games and statistics show the increased offensive production has been offset with more porous defense.

The sample size is small but McMillan has used a small lineup for 61 minutes in the last six games, according to The Pacers have shot 51.5 percent with those lineups on the court, but they have been outscored by a total of 20 points.

McMillan plans to keep using his plethora of guards and wing players due to the team’s circumstances.

McMillan would like to play Thaddeus Young, the Pacers’ starting power forward, more minutes. Young, though, has been ineffective on offense and hasn’t felt comfortable shooting from the perimeter because of his lingering left wrist injury. Lavoy Allen, who is usually Young’s backup, has also missed the last two games with a sore left knee.

With less frontcourt depth, McMillan has used George, C.J. Miles and Glenn Robinson III as stretch power forwards. Miles and George have shared the court with one other frontcourt player for 19 minutes in the past six games.

As Miles noted Wednesday, the Pacers won Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks with their small lineup of him, George, Robinson, Jeff Teague and Myles Turner. When George drove to the basket on the Pacers’ final play, he found Miles, who was behind the 3-point line. Robinson benefited from the proper spacing, hitting the winning 3-pointer off a pass from Miles.

George defended Paul Millsap, the Hawks’ starting power forward, in the closing minutes.

“I’ve had a little stint at the four spot, but not too much,” said George, who has played a little power forward since the All-Star break. “I’ve been guarding the fours. I guarded (Charlotte) Marvin (Williams) and I had Millsap for a couple of possessions.”

George, Miles and Robinson have shared the responsibility of guarding the opposing team’s power forward by switching defensive assignments on the perimeter based on the opponent’s plays. Where the Pacers struggled Monday were defending the paint and rebounding.

Miles has played the most minutes at the power forward position because he has the most experience. He changed positions last season during the Pacers’ brief experiment in playing a spread unit. Miles said the Pacers’ lack of practice time with the small lineups has forced everyone on the team to learn adjustments during games.

With the increase of spread lineups, George has become more aggressive on offense. He has increased his point total in each of the past five games and has used the extra space on the court to shoot 43.5 percent on 3-pointers. George said he will continue to attack opposing teams no matter what position he plays in the Pacers’ small lineup.

“It’s the same for me,” George said whether he is the power forward or the small forward. “We can’t really run much without me being double teamed or where there’s switching. To this point, my game is just going to have to be all isolations and getting rhythm myself. There’s no other way to get me going than that. That’s really just been the key. It’s been the difference, just the mindset of putting my head down and make something happen.”

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No. 5: Leonard quietly making his mark on NBA — The Kia MVP race chronicled each week by our Sekou Smith tends to focus on the back-and-forth jockeying between Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook and Houston Rockets guard James Harden for the top spot. In the mix all season long has been San Antonio Spurs do-it-all forward Kawhi Leonard, who bolstered his MVP case with his showing in Monday’s win against the Rockets. Michael C. Wright of chronicles the quiet trophy campaign the Spurs’ new star is forging:

From David Robinson to Tim Duncan, Duncan to Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, and now on to Leonard, the Spurs continue to transition from one superstar to the next, all the while never missing a beat. San Antonio clinched its 20th consecutive postseason berth Saturday by defeating the Minnesota Timberwolves 97-90 in overtime, and for the first time in 19 seasons they accomplished the feat without Duncan.

The Spurs belong to Leonard now, and he has snatched the proverbial torch from The Big Fundamental on the way to setting the league on fire.

“They’ve been very smooth,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told in explaining the team’s various transitions over the years. “The fact they’ve been so smooth is just a testament to the character of the people involved. Their awareness of the situation they’re in, their ability to have gotten over themselves and know where they are at that point in their career, and to look around and be knowledgeable enough to know what the newcomer can give — well, that’s what we’ve had all the way down the line. Those guys understanding that and wanting that to happen.

“They’d rather play for 10 more years, but realize that’s not going to happen. When they see the obvious abilities of the younger guys coming along, they’ve actually helped them and created an environment where they can be successful. So it’s really a tribute to their character and their understanding of what’s going on.”

“I work all summer and throughout the whole season to be prepared for the challenges that I have to face,” Leonard said. “You just have to keep going. If you play bad or go 0-for-10 in the fourth, whatever, you’ve just got to keep pounding and going and going, and not give up if you want to become that guy.”

That’s one attribute Popovich loves about Leonard. The coach said very few athletes possess that mentality.

“He handles the responsibility well. Most importantly, he knows that things are not always going to be positive in the sense of win, lose, or make or miss a shot,” Popovich said. “And that’s what’s been very good about him, because some people don’t understand that, and they’re afraid to have that responsibility night after night after night. You think of Kobe [Bryant], you think of LeBron [James], you think of Michael [Jordan], and you think of all these guys that had to do that. They got to the point where they realized the shot wasn’t going to go down all the time, or they might even turn it over. But they come right back. They don’t shy away the next time. They want it again. Kawhi has that knack. He has that ability, and that’s important because very, very few people have that.”

Leonard is averaging a career-high 26.1 points per game, and according to Elias Sports Bureau, he is one of just three players to increase his scoring average in each of the past five seasons, joining Gordon Hayward (six straight) and Jimmy Butler. Leonard has also produced five games this season in which he poured in 30 points to go with four steals or more. No other player has produced more than two such outings.

“He is a really unique player,” New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “You don’t want to say Michael Jordan, but it’s that type of situation, where you’ve got a really, really good offensive player and a tremendous defensive player. He impacts the game. There’s very few guys in this league that can impact the game on both ends of the floor like he can. For the last 15 years, they’ve been flying under the radar. So it’s nothing new. They’re just a very good team, and they got a very great player. And, yeah, where they are record-wise and everything, he definitely has to be heavily in the conversation for MVP.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Contemporaries, former teammates and more had nothing but congratulations for Dirk Nowitzki on his big night … Back in 1998, the Boston Celtics were thiiiiis close to getting Nowitzki in the Draft … The Minnesota Timberwolves will reportedly give Lance Stephenson a second 10-day contract … Malcolm Brogdon of the Milwaukee Bucks isn’t your typical Kia Rookie of the Year candidate … Joel Embiid and SLAM magazine recreated an iconic cover featuring Allen Iverson … Kevin Garnett had to be bleeped out of a tribute video for ex-teammate Paul Pierce … The Miami Heat’s training staff is doing wonders for several of the team’s players …