Plans in place for Paul Pierce to retire as Celtic if he chooses to step away



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Los Angeles Clippers Jerseys coach Doc Rivers said his team has plans in place to allow Paul Pierce to retire as a member of the Boston Celtics Jerseys if Pierce elects to end his playing days this summer.

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During an appearance on The Vertical podcast, Rivers said he believes Pierce hasn’t made up his mind about his future.

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“If Paul decides to retire, then we’re going to make sure that Boston picks him up for one day and he retires cheap jerseys a Celtic, because that’s what he should retire as,” Rivers said during the podcast released Thursday. “So we have all that in place. We just don’t know what he’s going to do.”

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Added Rivers: “I think Paul’s going back and forth on it, and I want to give him room. I think he deserves it. From a team perspective, you would love that he made his decision eight weeks ago. I think there are certain guys that you just have to give time to, and Paul’s one of them.”

Paul Pierce said last month that he’s “50/50” on whether to continue playing or retire. AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Pierce, 38, played for Boston for 15 seasons before spending one season apiece with the Brooklyn Nets Jerseys, Washington Wizards Jerseys and Clippers. He was the NBA Finals MVP in 2008 and is the second-leading scorer in Celtics history, behind John Havlicek.

During an appearance on ESPN’s The Jump last month, Pierce admitted he’s “50/50” on whether to continue playing.

Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan already retired this offseason, and Pierce and Kevin Garnett remain undecided on their futures. On The Vertical podcast wholesale nba jerseys, Rivers said, “It may go down as the greatest retirement summer in NBA history.”

Addressing unsubstantiated rumors that the Celtics and Clippers have talked about a deal involving Blake Griffin, Rivers smothered the suggestion.

“[Celtics president of basketball operations] Danny [Ainge] and I have talked twice this summer. One [call] was about the British Open, and one was about another golf tournament. That’s about it,” Rivers, who handles personnel decisions for the Clippers, told The Vertical podcast.

Added Rivers: “It’s funny, you don’t want to go out and send out a press release every time there’s a rumor about Blake. We are hoping that Blake ends his career playing for the Clippers. Period. So when teams call, we say we have no interest. First of all, no team’s calling right now because teams know we don’t have any interest.

“It just tells you the different times. Things have changed. Everyone believes that they’re media now. … There’s so many good, credible guys. And then there’s some of the guys who are bloggers who have nothing to do with the sport.

“I helped my young son trace where this started — the Blake rumor, the Boston rumor — let’s go there. … My son traced it to, I think, it was a Boston radio talk show. And the guy didn’t say that we had been talking, he said Blake would be one of the guys that the Celtics should go after. That started the next step, to the next step, to the next thing you know it blew up. And that stuff is tough.”

In MVP race (and NBA itself), elite point guards dominate

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Chris Paul’s true value to the Los Angeles Clippers has never been more obvious than during these 19 games Blake Griffin has been out of the lineup.

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It should not have taken extenuating circumstance to remind the world just how important it is to have an elite point guard in today’s NBA, but it did.

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“People forget, huh?” said Clippers sixth man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford. “People forget what kind of leader he is, and that he’s been right there at the top of the point guard heap for years. He does whatever is needed that night. He doesn’t predetermine what he’s going to do. He plays aggressive, he’s always unselfish and he does whatever is needed to put us in a winning situation. That’s what the great ones do and they do it consistently, whether there is a spotlight on them or not. That’s what CP is all about.”

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To me, it’s like quarterbacks in the NFL these days. Everybody recognizes the importance of the position.

– Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, on point guards in the NBA

Paul, who has led the Clippers to a 15-4 mark in Griffin’s absence, is one of the marquee players at what is undoubtedly the NBA’s marquee position. In this age of pace and space, where the “traditional” big man has given way to hybrid point forwards like Draymond Green and Paul George, having an elite point guard has become a must for teams with designs on contending.

It’s safe to say that like big men in a bygone era and shooting guards after that, point guards rule the roost.

“No question about it,” said a veteran Western Conference advance scout. “It’s the first item on nearly every scouting report, even for the teams that are struggling. It starts with the head of the snake in this era, especially with the way teams are playing and all of the high pick-and-roll sets teams are running. This is the deepest and best pool of point guard talent I can remember.”

There are five points guards on this week’s KIA Race to the MVP Ladder, led by reigning MVP Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, who has held down the No. 1 spot since the start of this season.

Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook checks in at No. 4, Paul at No. 6 and we have two newcomers, too: Toronto’s Kyle Lowry at No. 9 and Boston’s Isaiah Thomas at No. 10.

All five are All-Stars, highlighting the quality and depth at the position league wide.

“To me, it’s like quarterbacks in the NFL these days,” Crawford said. “Everybody recognizes the importance of the position. And if you have a Tom Brady Jerseys, a Peyton Manning Jerseys or better yet a Cam Newton Jerseys, your team has a chance to win big. If you don’t have someone of that caliber, it makes it tougher on everyone else. And that’s just reality.”

It starts with the head of the snake in this era, especially with the way teams are playing and all of the high pick-and-roll sets teams are running. This is the deepest and best pool of point guard talent I can remember.

– anonymous Western Conference scout

That reality will be on full display this weekend in Saturday night’s Super Bowl eve showdown between Curry’s Warriors and Westbrook’s Thunder (9 p.m. ET, ESPN), the first matchup between these two teams since Curry snatched the MVP trophy from Durant and the Warriors replaced the Thunder as the new super-team on the block.

The evolution of both players has been nothing short of remarkable. Curry, the league’s leading scorer, is in the midst of turning the basketball world on its head with his cosmic mix of shooting, scoring and playmaking on the runaway best team in the league. Westbrook, meanwhile, is a walking triple-double these days and has redefined his game and silenced all those who doubted his abilities as a facilitator.

“The improvement that Russell Westbrook has made is glaringly different this year,” said TNT’s Kenny Smith. “Because of his ability to rebound and pass the basketball, and get [Enes] Kanter, get [Steven] Adams involved this year, I would say he’s very improved in that area [of getting teammates involved offensively].”

The growth and development at the position league-wide is what’s truly remarkable. And there is nowhere where that is more evident than in Boston, where Thomas has transformed himself from a super sub into an All-Star.

“The right player at just the right time for that team,” Crawford said of his good friend and fellow Seattle-area native. “It doesn’t surprise me at all to see him in the All-Star Game. He’s exactly what you’re looking for in this new generation of point guards. He can do it all.”

The Top 10 in this week’s KIA Race to the MVP Ladder:

1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Last week’s ranking: No. 1

Curry Goes Off In D.C.

Check out the best from Stephen Curry’s 51 point performance in super slow motion.

Someone in the Silicon Valley needs to fast track a virtual reality device that would allow the rest of us mere mortals to experience nights like Stephen Curry does on a regular basis. A night like he had Wednesday in Washington (51 points, 11-for-16 shooting on 3-pointers, and a little dancing for good measure) has to be on the high end, even for a player who is running away from the pack in the MVP race this season. Curry scored a combined 50 points in the three games before that rout of the Wizards, his lowest three-game total of the season. He made up for that lull in one night.

2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

Last week’s ranking: No. 3

Durant’s Game-Winning 3-Pointer

Kevin Durant crosses-up his defender and sticks the deep triple to take a three point lead with .5 seconds remaining in regulation.

Durant and the Thunder are hitting their stride just in time for Saturday night’s Super Bowl eve showdown against the Warriors at Oracle Arena. His 37 points and game winner against Orlando Wednesday highlighted Durant’s recent tear, he’s averaged 33.8 points on 51 percent shooting (44 percent from deep), 9.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists over the past five games. Durant and the Thunder have designs on doing what no other elite team has been able to do cheap nba authentic jerseys this season against the Warriors. We’ll find out Saturday night if they are up to the task.

3. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

Last week’s ranking: No. 4

James Pushes Cavs Past Pacers

LeBron James scores 24 points and adds 12 rebounds as the Cavaliers hold off the Pacers in overtime, 111-106.

The Cavaliers have looked like a completely different team since Tyronn Lue took over for David Blatt, even though LeBron has continued his maestro work (23.8 points on 58 percent shooting, 8.5 assists, 5.3 rebounds in the first week after Blatt) as the catalyst for this crew. He’s helped facilitate the faster pace Lue desires and has made a concerted effort to make sure Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are fully integrated into whatever the Cavaliers are doing. It’s the buy-in Blatt never could get out of this group.

4. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Last week’s ranking: No. 5

Westbrook’s Triple-Double vs. Magic

Russell Westbrook records a triple-double going for 24 points, 19 rebounds and 14 assists in the victory over the Magic.

Westbrook is putting up a monster fight for Draymond Green’s title of “Mr. Triple-Double” this season. He’s currently working on a stretch of three straight triple-doubles and recorded perhaps an even more impressive milestone with his 24 points, 19 rebounds and 14 assists in the win over the Magic. He joined the uber-elite list of Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor and Larry Bird as the only players to pile up those numbers in a game. And he’s the first to do it since Bird accomplished that feat (with 28, 19 and 15) on Jan. 3, 1982 against Atlanta. Westbrook is averaging a wicked 22 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds and two steals in his last 10 games and is more than ready for his matchup against Stephen Curry on Saturday night.

5. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

Leonard’s Outstanding January

Spurs’ forward Kawhi Leonard is a nominee for the Kia Western Conference Player of the Month in January.

Leonard has come back to earth a bit recently, averaging 17.5 points on 47 percent shooting in his last 10 games. But the way the Spurs spread the ball around, and as LaMarcus Aldridge gets more and more comfortable, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t need to lean on Leonard (or any other single player) to tote too heavy a load. Managing that balance the remainder of the regular season will be one of the Spurs’ biggest challenges. As expected, there’s been no drop off in Leonard’s defensive focus in the days leading up to his first All-Star Game appearance, where his defense will be the last thing anyone cares about in the big game.

6. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

Last week’s ranking: No. 6

Paul Solid vs. Lakers

Chris Paul leads the way for the Clippers with 27 points 7 assists as they defeat the Lakers, 105-93.

The Clippers’ four-game win streak came to an end Wednesday against a Minnesota team that has struggled mightily on the road this season. The loss came in part due to a technical foul from Paul in the final seconds, which apologized for afterward. But he nothing apologize for with the way he’s performed without Blake Griffin in the lineup. The Clippers are 15-4 without Griffin on the strength of some of Paul’s best work. The Clippers need Paul at his best with a four-game road trip between now and All-Star Weekend, an Eastern Conference jaunt that starts tonight in Orlando, runs through Miami (Sunday) and Philadelphia (Monday) and finishes in Boston Feb. 10.

7. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

Last week’s ranking: No. 8

Green’s Double-Double At MSG

Draymond Green records 20 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists to lead the Warriors over the Knicks.

Green blamed himself for the Warriors’ tight finish in Philadelphia last Saturday. He said he was selfishly chasing a triple-double that night. He came up short, of course. But rebounded with triple-doubles in his next two outings for his league-leading ninth and 10th, respectively. He finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, two blocks and two steals in a win over the Knicks and 12 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds and five blocks in a win over the Wizards. He followed that up with a trip to the White House to celebrate the Warriors’ championship with President Barack Obama. Saturday night’s matchup against the Thunder is the perfect way to cap off a whirlwind week.

8. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

Last week’s ranking: No. 7

Butler Delivers In Bulls’ Win

Jimmy Butler scores 26 points with 10 assists, Pau Gasol adds 21 with 12 boards as Chicago takes it 114-91.

The minutes grind Butler has been on all season seems to have finally caught up with the All-Star swingman. Butler missed Wednesday’s win over Sacramento with left knee tendinitis. And he’s listed as questionable for tonight’s game in Denver (9 ET, NBA League Pass). The Bulls, who have had to deal with an avalanche of injury issues in coach Fred Hoiberg’s first season, cannot afford to work for any long stretches without Butler. When you check as many boxes a night as he does, there is no one player capable of replacing him in the lineup for an extended period of time. Butler averaged 22 points, 5 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.3 steals in his last four games.

9. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

Last week’s ranking: Not ranked

Lowry Gets Better Of Blazers

Kyle Lowry has a big night for Toronto, finishing with 30 points and eight assists as the Raptors defeat the Trail Blazers 110-103.

Lowry and the Raptors have quietly gone about the business of separating themselves from the rest of the pack behind Cleveland in the Eastern Conference standings. After Thursday’s win over the Trail Blazers in Portland (where Lowry survived his eight-turnover night to finish with 30 points, eight assists, six rebounds, two blocks and two steals) the Raptors sit two games behind the Cavaliers for the top spot. And that’s due in large part to the consistent work Lowry and fellow All-Star DeMar DeRozan have done leading the way for coach Dwane Casey’s crew. Disappointing performances in each of the past two postseasons has provided the perfect fuel for Lowry and the Raptors’ fire this season.

10. Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics

Last week’s ranking: Not ranked

Thomas, Celtics Handle Pistons

Isaiah Thomas scores 17 points and dishes out 7 assists as the Celtics defeat the Pistons 102-95.

Don’t look now, but here come Thomas and the Celtics, who have moved into the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Thomas is a week away from enjoying his first All-Star Weekend as a member of the Eastern Conference team. And his team is surging with him, having won seven of their past 10 games and two straight heading into tonight’s showdown against the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena (7:30 ET, NBA League Pass). Thomas, who is averaging 19.6 points, 6.7 assists and 3.2 rebounds during that 10-game stretch, will have his hands full with Kyrie Irving and Matthew Dellavedova on the other side tonight. But that’s just the way the Celtics’ catalyst likes it.

Others Receiving Consideration: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons Jerseys; Paul George, Indiana Pacers Jerseys; James Harden, Houston Rockets; DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors; Paul Millsap, Atlanta

Sekou Smith is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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Korver comes alive for Hawks, who smother dismal Celtics

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ATLANTA — Kyle Korver couldn’t find the bottom of the net with GPS in the Atlanta Hawks Jerseys’ Game 1 win over the Boston Celtics Jerseys on Saturday night.

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He took 10 shots and made just one, and tossed up a donut (0-for-7) from beyond the 3-point line, a dismal showing for one of the league’s premier distance shooters throughout the course of his career.

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Even the great shooters find themselves caught up in the matrix of their own making sometimes. It feels good, the muscle memory still works, but — for whatever reason — the shots just don’t go down.

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Whatever issues Korver battled over the weekend cleared up dramatically by Tuesday night, when his marksmanship from long range sparked a wicked first quarter run for the Hawks as they pushed their lead to 2-0 with a wire-to-wire 89-72 win at Philips Arena.

Korver With Four 3-Pointers

Kyle Korver nails four 3-point shots in the first quarter.

Korver drained four of his five 3-pointers in the opening minutes as the Hawks ran up a 21-point lead while also smothering the Celtics on the defensive end, holding them to a franchise-record low seven points in the first quarter.

With the offensive flowing early and the defense working in concert (the Hawks recorded a playoff franchise-record 15 blocks), they had no trouble turning back the short-handed Celtics, who played without Avery Bradley (hamstring) and Kelly Olynyk (shoulder).

The bounce back effort for Korver, however, was simple.

“We all have pride, right?” he said. “I wanted to come out and play better in the second game. I think I was playing pretty focused. I came out and made a couple of shots early, which was great.”

And exactly what Celtics coach Brad Stevens was worried about. Korver sits atop his list of concerns whenever his team faces the Hawks. Tuesday night’s start only served to reinforce that concern.

“Korver is one of the main things we talk about every time we walk into this building, every time we walk into the hotel and every time we land in Atlanta,” Stevens said. “We know that we have to be in his airspace or else we’re toast. You knew coming off of a 1-10 game, he was going to have the hunger to make shots and take shots early on. We talked about that, but it was just a matter of we lost him a few times, and then our transition [defense] was bad, especially in that first quarter. We had some moments throughout the game where our transition [defense] was bad. That first quarter, they were moving at one speed that we weren’t at.”

The Hawks moved at that speed defensively all night, closing out on shots on the perimeter and consistently denying any and all access around the rim.

GameTime: Celtics-Hawks Postgame Analysis

Mike Dunleavy and Greg Anthony break down game 2 between the Hawks and the Celtics.

For a franchise with playoff milestones thicker than an old school phone book, the Celtics found themselves in uncharted territory for futility on this night.

They made just three of their 23 shots in that brutal first quarter and set the franchise record for the lowest-scoring playoff quarter since the league was founded in 1949.

“They outplayed us in every category in that first quarter,” Stevens said. “That wasn’t just the bad shots by any means. That was one team playing at a very elite level and one team not …The only part of the defensive effort that I was upset by was losing Korver a few times, and then the transition defense. But other than that, we really guarded. We just put too much pressure on ourselves to make shots later because every one of them mattered so much, just to have a chance to get back in the game. We can’t start like that.”

They also cannot let the Hawks, a team not noted for its shot-blocking prowess, control things that way again. The Hawks own the best field goal percentage defense in the league this season, even better than the San Antonio Spurs Jerseys.

But the best shot blocker in the building Tuesday night was former Hawks finger-waving Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo, who waived that finger for the TNT cameras several times to the roaring approval of the crowd.

That’s what made the Hawks’ rim-protecting effort so startling.

“They did a great job walling up,” said Celtics swingman Evan Turner. “A couple head fakes; if we had faked more or kicked it out it would have been a little bit better. They did a great job defensively. I don’t think all those blocked shots were straight out verticality. But, they did a great job defensively. They started off great and kept the lead the whole game.”

Boston Speaks Following A Game 2 Loss to Atlanta

Coach Brad Stevens and Evan Turner speak to the media following a game 2 loss to the Hawks.

It was all part of the plan, the safeguarding of the lane and the space above and around the rim. Isaiah Thomas and Bradley helped the Celtics back into Game 1 by attacking the heart of the Hawks’ defense. Without Bradley and Olynyk, two of their better shooters, available it was just a matter of setting that trap.

“They say we don’t have any rim protectors,” Hawks forward Kent Bazemore said. “Al [Horford] and Paul [Millsap], our bigs, they are so crafty with their hands. Our guards stay pestering the ball. When guys nba throwback jerseys cheap drive in there, we just kind of filter them right there to the bigs, and they clean it up. Good hustle, those bigs protecting the rim. Thabo [Sefolosha], his length, he’s out on the perimeter blocking shots. It’s contagious. You get a block. You get a stop. You go down and get a bucket. We try to get the Hawks cycle going. That’s what we call it.”

When it’s working, the other side of that cycle includes Korver threatening the opposition with his ability to go off at any time from long range. He has to be accounted for at all times, and you see teams shading his way defensively even when he’s not making shots. It’s a formula the Hawks have used to their advantage time and again.

They’ll make sure to pack it for the trip to Boston for Game 3 Friday night, when the Celtics can ill afford another sluggish start.

The Hawks have their first 2-0 lead in a playoff series against the Celtics in franchise history. And they are 5-0 all-time when taking a 2-0 lead in a playoff series.

“We’ve been talking a lot of about a 48-minute game,” Korver said. “The beginning is part of that 48 minutes. We’ve gotten off to some pretty great leads in this series in the first quarter. We’d like to keep that going.”

Sekou Smith is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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Stevens’ lineup change gives Celtics new life in win

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BOSTON — Was this a last stand — or a breakthrough that could pull the young Celtics back into the series?

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They had lost six straight postseason games that began with last year’s sweeping by the Cavaliers and culminated in a horrid Game 2 showing at Atlanta that was essentially decided in the opening four minutes. Coach Brad Stevens responded with two bold adjustments that led to 42 efficient points from Isaiah Thomas and an edgy 111-103 win over the Hawks in Game 3 Friday.

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Now the question becomes whether the Celtics can expect more of the same Sunday in Game 4.

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“We’ve just got to be mentally smarter and more disciplined,” said Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. “And I think we will do that going forward.”

The decision by Stevens to start Evan Turner at point guard (in place of Marcus Smart) was designed to play Thomas off the ball. In a run of six playoff losses, Boston’s All-Star point guard had been shooting an uncharacteristic 33.3 percent overall and 23.5 percent from the 3-point line.

“He did a lot of what he did all year in the first two games — it was just everybody was at the rim to challenge him,” said Stevens. “We made a couple shots and then we got some movement before the drive, which loosens it up a little bit.”

Thomas was able to exploit the space like a running back attacking via pitch-outs and screen passes. He was 12-for-24 overall while making five of 12 from the arc. Most impressive was his performance (13-for-15) at the free throw line, where playoff games are so often won.

“I think he earned them,” said Budenholzer. “That’s a big area of concern. The 3s, some of them were high difficulty, contested.”

Stevens’ parallel decision, replacing Jared Sullinger with Jonas Jerebko, created more room for Thomas. Jerebko’s energy instantly transformed the Celtics from victims into attackers. His 11 points, 12 rebounds and four assists were earned almost entirely while on the move, beginning with his over-the-top tip-in in the opening minute: When a midrange jumper by Thomas ricocheted and popped up from the rim like the cork out of a champagne bottle, Jerebko was rising up high to slam it back down the throat.

Just like that, Boston’s offense had been liberated. Jerebko was up faking from the 3-point line to create open shots and drives for himself, and even a behind-the-back assist that found Terry Rozier for a corner 3-pointer. Thomas was finishing a corner 3 of his own in transition, like a mini-me of Ray Allen. The Celtics surged ahead 37-20 at the end of the period and were up by 20 in the second — which in some way was worrisome to Stevens.

“I knew we were going to compete tonight,” Stevens said. “I was just worried that we were going to run the first lap of the mile too fast and not have anything at the end of the day. But we did both. It was good.”

I was just in attack mode. I was trying to do whatever it takes to win this game, and my teammates kept feeding me and putting me in the right spots.

– Boston’s Isaiah Thomas

He was right to be concerned, and relieved for his faith to be rewarded. For all of their progression since the arrival of Thomas 14 months ago, the Celtics are in over their heads in this series. Virtually all of the Hawks’ key performers — apart from Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore, who each had 20 points — are into their prime years. The only Celtic scoring leader of whom the same can be said is 27 year old Turner; Thomas at 26 is just beginning to realize his potential. The Celtics are still under construction, with team president Danny Ainge looking to make big moves this summer, whereas the Hawks are meant to win now.

And so it was little surprise to anyone — especially the Hawks themselves — that they trimmed the deficit to 12 points by halftime. Next, they withstood another (albeit briefer) half-opening burst by Boston before embarking on their own extended 33-13 run. With 1:21 left in the quarter, Dennis Schroder drove around Sullinger like an alpine skier skirting a gate to earn a three-point play that put Atlanta ahead 78-77.

The Celtics went back ahead for good (98-96) on a pull-up jumper from Turner midway through the fourth. They withstood two atrocious turnovers by Turner down the stretch as Jerebko (vs. Bazemore) and Smart (vs. Horford) produced key blocks before Thomas hit a deep 3-pointer with 1:53 left to stretch the lead out to 108-101.

“I was just in attack mode,” said Thomas, who joined a Hall-of-Fame list of Celtics who had scored 40 or more in the playoffs. “I was trying to do whatever it takes to win this game, and my teammates kept feeding me and putting me in the right spots.”

For much of this night Thomas found himself in a duel with Schroder, who in transition arrives to the basket like water down a drain. As they ran upcourt together after a successful Schroder drive, Thomas turned and clubbed Schroder in the head. The referees missed it, but the cameras caught it — though Thomas insisted he was not worried about being suspended for Game 4.

“I’m not,” he said, “because I didn’t mean to hit him in the head. He got mad. We were talking. It’s playoff basketball — I’m not going to back down from anybody, and he knows that.”

Just as surely, Thomas knows that Atlanta is likely to conjure up a reply of their own. In spite of Thomas’s phenomenal performance, the Hawks — driven by 23 points from Jeff Teague — almost recovered amid low-key production from Al Horford and Paul Millsap, who combined for 16 points on 7 for 19 shooting. If Atlanta’s two big men return to form, will the Celtics be able to rise to yet another gear? Or have they maxed nba cheap jerseys out this roster of young talents who cannot expect to fulfill their potential over these next few days?

Ian Thomsen has covered the NBA since 2000. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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As usual, Clippers’ Crawford a steady source of reserve power

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It was during a casual conversation last summer after a pro-am game in Seattle, his hometown, when Jamal Crawford listed his goals for the upcoming season. A championship, obviously. He doesn’t have one of those.

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And then, the Kia NBA Sixth Man Award. Obviously. Even though he has a pair of those already.

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“You think I’ll have a chance?” he asked. “Again?”

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Crawford asked the question, not because he didn’t think he could bring the goods to win the award — at age 36 he’s still whip-sharp with the jumper — but whether voters might be biased. After all, they may develop Crawford fatigue and search for a fresh face.

Clippers vs. Hawks

Jamal Crawford scores 21 points, DeAndre Jordan adds 13 with 19 boards and the Clippers stave off the Hawks, nba jerseys cheap authentic 85-83.

It appears Crawford’s fears might have been unfounded, because once again he’s a strong contender (and at the very least in the conversation) for an award that might need to be named after him someday. That’s because no one who comes to mind when you think of a super sub — Kevin McHale, Manu Ginobili, Vinnie Johnson — has won it three times. This season, though, Crawford is our pick to win the Kia NBA Sixth Man Award.

“I have such great respect for the award, which obviously means a lot for me,” Crawford said. “I don’t take it for granted. I think by being a sixth man, it shows how selfless you are as a player. The first time I was asked to come off the bench, I said `fine, I’ll do whatever it takes to help the team.’ And then I just embraced to role and the pressure that comes with contributing the minute you check into a game.”

Crawford won the award in 2009-10 with the Atlanta Hawks Jerseys and in 2013-14 with the Los Angeles Clippers, and both times his scoring average was higher than it is today. But in terms of importance to his team, maybe 2015-16 rates higher.

Four-Point Play

Jamal Crawford hits the three while getting fouled for the four-point opportunity.

When the Clippers lost Blake Griffin on Dec. 25, Crawford was one of the main reasons they didn’t crumble. Crawford did his part to fill Griffin’s production on offense, upping his scoring average in January (15.6 points) and February (19.5 points) while the Clippers weathered Griffin’s absence. He also leads the team in 4th-quarter points (341).

“I feel comfortable in those situations,” Crawford said. “I’m a sixth man but I can have a starter’s mentality when it comes to taking on a bigger role or an important shot.”

Crawford scored 15 or more points off the bench 26 times since Griffin was lost on Dec. 25, the most of anyone in the NBA during that span. He dropped 32 on OKC on March 31 and became the 30th player in NBA history to score that many at age 36.

Jamal Crawford Drops 32

See highlights from Jamal Crawford’s 32 point performance against the Thunder.

He remains deadly with the crossover dribble, a one-on-one specialist who’s willing and able to get off a shot anywhere on the floor. Crawford can be streaky, but even then he’s dangerous because the defense must show respect at all times. He’s the rare shooter who doesn’t run from the ball after a few misses. He’s shooting 90.4 percent on free throws this season, making him the player you don’t want to foul. And, on occasions, he can perform when pressed into point guard duty.

The value of Crawford was amplified in early April when he took a short-handed team (no Griffin, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan or JJ Redick) and scored 30 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer with :00.2 seconds left in overtime, against a Utah Jazz Jerseys team fighting for its playoff life.

Crawford Game Winner

Jamal Crawford hits the game winning 3-pointer in overtime.

It got the attention of a now-healthy Griffin, who missed that game vs. Utah.

Here are some others who deserve mention, however:

Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder Jerseys — There aren’t many more offensively-blessed big men in basketball than Kanter, who brings soft hands, a feathery touch and a tap dancer’s footwork in the post. He ranks 20th in the NBA in points per 36 minutes (21.8) and proved to be a reliable rebounder as well. Defensive limitations doomed him to a life as a sixth man, although his role could change in the postseason.

Will Barton, Denver Nuggets Jerseys — A breakout season happened because Barton exercised better shot selection, which in turn made him more efficient. But it wasn’t just scoring that put Barton in elite sixth man company. For someone so slender, Barton’s 5.9 rebounds per game was an unexpected bonus.

Evan Turner, Boston Celtics Jerseys — What a strange journey for the former No. 2 pick in the 2010 Draft, to go from disappointment in Philadelphia to flourishing in Boston. Turner isn’t your typical sixth man, because scoring off the bench isn’t always what he brings. Taking advantage of his multiple skill set, Turner has given the Celtics a boost with passing, rebounding and contributions from the swing positions.

Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors — His contributions haven’t been box score friendly this season, and that’s hardly a reflection of the value Iguodala has continued to give the defending champs. Defense, decision making and leadership bailed out Iggy in what was otherwise a mild season in terms of raw stats.

Dennis Schroder, Atlanta Hawks Jerseys — He’s eighth among point guards in assists per 36 minutes and in a season where starter Jeff Teague has struggled, Schroder gave the Hawks a needed lift. His decision making remains a work in progress (he’s third on the team in turnovers), but growth has been apparent. And the Hawks value his fearlessness and desire to take big shots, which is rare among young sixth men.

Darren Collison, Sacramento Kings — He’s the embodiment of a change-of-pace point guard, and after four previous NBA stops as a part-time starter, Collison has perhaps found a home in Sacramento. He has never shot better in his career (48.6 percent), recently went 14 straight games with double-digit points. All season long, he proved to be an effective backup to Rajon Rondo, the league assist leader. With Rondo facing free agency, Collison could return to the starting lineup next season.

***

Editor’s note: As the 2015-16 season winds down, NBA.com’s writers give their picks for the various end-of-season awards.

Below is our schedule of stories:

April 5: Executive of the Year

April 7: Coach of the Year

April 11: Kia Most Improved Player

April 12: Kia Sixth Man of the Year

April 13: Kia Rookie of the Year

April 14: Kia Defensive Player of the Year

April 15: Kia MVP

***

Lang Whitaker has covered the NBA since 1998. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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

Rookie big men netting solid returns on their vast potential

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The regular season is barely a week past the All-Star break, not close to done, and yet the discussion is mid-April closed.

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The rookie big men of 2015-16 who were expected at the start of the season to be unusually good, in a way a crop of newly arrived centers and power forwards haven’t been for years, have been that good. So good, in fact, that it’s impossible to imagine anything happening in the final 30 percent of the regular season to change that opinion.

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It’s late February, and it’s over.

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The point could be made that the bigs have actually exceeded collective expectations because the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns, while projected by most front offices to eventually become the best player in the Draft, has had a far greater immediate impact than imagined. General managers picked him to finish second for Kia Rookie of the Year, behind Jahlil Okafor of the Philadelphia 76ers, and yet here is Towns threatening to turn the race into a runaway.

Only one non-point guard or wing has won the award in the last seven years, Blake Griffin in 2010-11. The top three finishers when ballots are submitted in April could be cheap nba basketball jerseys a center (Towns), a power forward (Kristaps Porzingis) and a center (Okafor). Indiana Pacers power forward Myles Turner, meanwhile, has been one of the best rookies since the calendar turned to 2016. Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic has earned a spot among the best newcomers despite little preseason buzz because he was drafted in 2014, and as the No. 41 pick at that.

Four months into the season, everything — and nothing — has changed. The rookies have stepped far into their new world by the latest position-by-position breakdown, although with difficulty in some cases, and the bigs have collectively performed at a high level. As expected.

Point guards

NBA Rooks: D’Angelo Russell

As All-Star Weekend approaches, BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge participant D’Angelo Russell of the Lakers talks about the learning curve of a rookie point guard.

1. D’Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers

2. Cameron Payne, Oklahoma City Thunder

3. Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets

4. T.J. McConnell, Philadelphia 76ers

5. Jerian Grant, New York Knicks

Preseason ranking: Mudiay, Russell, Grant, Payne, Delon Wright.

Jan. 1 ranking: Russell, McConnell, Mudiay, Raul Neto, Grant.

Summary: Although still one of the weaker positions of the first-year class, with only Russell in the top 10 of the latest Rookie Ladder, point guard has improved greatly in the last month with Payne and Mudiay playing much better. With Russell in the midst of his best month, shooting well and taking care of the ball better than any time in the first half of the season, and with McConnell continuing to offer solid play under the radar in Philly, there is suddenly decent depth. Not enough that it’s a tough cut to leave someone off the first five, but definitely forward progress.

Shooting guards

Devin Booker Finds His Shot

Check out rookie Devin Booker getting acclimated to the NBA 3-point line this season!

1. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

2. Jonathon Simmons, San Antonio Spurs

3. Mario Hezonja, Orlando Magic Jerseys

4. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brooklyn Nets

5. Lamar Patterson, Atlanta Hawks Jerseys

Preseason ranking: Hezonja, Booker, Rashad Vaughn, Norman Powell, Pat Connaughton.

Jan. 1 ranking: Hollis-Jefferson Booker, Hezonja, Patterson, R.J. Hunter.

Summary: Hollis-Jefferson was the easy leader in the first in-season progress report, and then he got hurt. Booker is the clear call in the update just after the All-Star break, and now he is slumping. Shooting guard is every bit the soft spot it was at the start of the season. It may not turn out that way when the Draft class as a whole is re-evaluated in three or five years — Hezonja could still develop into a star, Hollis-Jefferson could still become a steal as the No. 23 pick, Booker could have a long career tormenting defenses from the 3-point line — but 2015-16 has been an undeniably a slow start for this position. It helps, a lot, that Simmons has turned into a tremendous success story by going from an NBA D-League open tryout to getting about 14 minutes a game for the second-best team in the league. Hollis-Jefferson’s healthy return from an ankle injury would be another plus.

Small forwards

NBA Rooks: Justise Winslow

10th overall pick Justise Winslow takes stock of his season so far, including how he’s benefitted from his relationships with Dwyane Wade and Head Coach Erik Spoelstra.

1. Justise Winslow, Miami Heat Jerseys

2. Stanley Johnson, Detroit Pistons

3. Kelly Oubre, Washington Wizards Jerseys

4. Justin Anderson, Dallas Mavericks

5. Anthony Brown, Los Angeles Lakers

Preseason ranking: Johnson, Winslow, Anderson, Oubre, Hollis-Jefferson.

Jan. 1 ranking: Winslow, Johnson, Oubre, Simmons, Anderson.

Summary: This could turn out to be the start of years of the Winslow-Johnson comparison — small forwards who will get real minutes at other positions, one-and-done college players, potential physical forces on defense, each needing to prove they can make shots, and off the board about the same time in June 2015. (Johnson went No. 8 and Winslow went No. 10.) They have been 1-2 from the beginning, in some order, and will finish the season that way barring a surprise. Oubre, with some of the similar background as the No. 15 selection, has had some encouraging moments and could join the conversation in later years. For now, though, only playing about 11 minutes a game means a significant gap from the lead pack.

Power forwards

Inside Stuff: Towns and Porzingis at All-Star

Inside Stuff goes behind the scenes with Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis as the rookies experience their first All-Star Weekend.

1. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks

2. Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers

3. Bobby Portis, Chicago Bulls

4. Larry Nance Jr., Los Angeles Lakers

5. Frank Kaminsky, Charlotte Hornets Jerseys

Preseason ranking: Porzingis, Turner, Willie Cauley-Stein, Kaminsky, Portis.

Jan. 1 ranking: Porzingis, Kaminsky, Nemanja Bjelica, Nance, Richaun Holmes.

Summary: A clear top two, then a bit of a drop to No. 3, then a big drop. But there has been enough production in that third group for the close call of four players with a case for the final two spots — Nance Jr., Kaminsky, Holmes and Lyles. Each has contributed and each has shown the ability to handle prominent roles, Lyles and Kaminsky for potential playoff teams. That’s good depth for a position that has offered pleasant surprises all along, especially with Holmes, Nance and Bjeclia coming from far back of the pack to rank among the best power forwards.

Centers

Kia Awards: Karl-Anthony Towns

Timberwolves rookie Karl-Anthony Towns is averaging 22.2 points and 12.4 rebounds per game in February.

1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

2. Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers

3. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

4. Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento Kings

5. Boban Marjanovich, San Antonio Spurs

Preseason ranking: Okafor, Towns, Jokic, Walter Tavares, Joshua Smith.

Jan. 1 ranking: Towns, Okafor, Jokic, Cauley-Stein, Marjanovich.

Summary: There is no better sign of the strength of the position than Cauley-Stein, a starter having a good season as the first installment to what should be a long career, as the fourth-best center. While Towns took control of the top spot early, for the entire Rookie of the Year race as well as the position breakdowns, the next three have been far more than afterthoughts. All four were in the top 10 of the Rookie Ladder as recently as Feb. 10, just before the All-Star break, and all four could be there at the end amid the possibility of a Cauley-Stein return. Offense will generate most of the attention, especially with Towns and Okafor plus the massive potential there for Porzingis, but there is a lot of defense on this list.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. 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. Trending

Gawking a natural byproduct of James’ unique NBA career

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In This Week’s Morning Tip
Top 15 Rankings: Thunder rise, Raptors slip
Which team has been this season’s most disappointing squad?
Q&A with Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard

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I am a man in love with words.

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Given a chance to do something memorable or say or write something memorable, I will always choose the latter. (Perhaps it’s because God, in the Supreme Being’s infinite wisdom/sense of whimsy, looked upon me at birth and said, ‘he shall have no athletic abilities whatsoever.’)

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Finding the right word to perfectly describe a situation or setting is very important to me. It delights me that there is a word that is used in one setting, and one setting alone, and it perfectly describes its situation.

The word is “rubbernecking.”

The Association: Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys

Take an all-access look at the defending Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers as they make their playoff push.

It refers to the traffic jam that occurs on the other side of a road or highway, opposite the side on which an accident has occurred. It is not used in any other context, because it is not applicable to any other context. (You usually only hear it on the radio on the all-news station during the local traffic report, as in “accident on I-495 West; rubbernecking delays on 495 East back to the American Legion Bridge.”)

But why do people rubberneck?

What is it about seeing an accident on the other side of the road that compels us — all of us — to slow down and take a good, long look at what happened? We are fascinated, and horrified; ohmigod, look at that car. He’s still in the car! Ohmigod. Is there an ambulance coming? Jeez, that’s awful. We are repulsed by what we see; we can’t get enough of it. We slow down, like the firefighters in”Roxanne,” and take a good … long … look.

Yet, in a different context, I understand the concept of rubbernecking.

Because, what LeBron James says fascinates me.

And what LeBron James says horrifies me.

I can’t turn away.

Fascinates, because James is the living embodiment of what every player dreams about becoming: the employee who answers to no one in the company. His world is the confluence of so many factors which never seemed possible: no player could ever make so much money off the floor that he literally doesn’t need the (max) paycheck from his team (among his many investments: Blaze Pizza, which James said last week started with two stores, tripled sales last year and doubled the number of restaurants around the country).

No African-American athlete in a team sport has ever been given the autonomy to put his imprint on an entire organization, on the floor and off, and never be blamed/fired/traded after any failures. (Michael Jordan desperately wanted the Chicago Bulls to trade for Walter Davis. Jerry Krause never did so. That was, Krause thought, part of the job — to say no.)

Horrifies, because James is not a boxer, or a tennis player, rightly concerned only with himself and his well being. In those sports, the individual is ascendant. If Serena Williams doesn’t like what her hitting coach is doing with her serve, she would be expected to change the coach — she’s the one out there by herself trying to win and make money. Same with Tiger Woods, who’s gone through any number of coaches over the years. It’s his swing.

But James plays a team sport. Chemistry in a locker room does not exist in a vacuum, nor is it guaranteed to remain once acquired. It is in constant flux, always vulnerable to outside influence or internal discord. Every day in an NBA locker room is a question: why should I sacrifice for you? Or for him?

The Cavaliers, as we have seen much of this season, are still not sure about the answer.

This is not all James’ fault. But he does not appear that he’s leading his team toward solving the riddle. He leads by deed, by practice. His words are another matter.

James told Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck last month, in a story published last week, about his desire, before his career is over, to play with his close friends Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul. James said he would like to play with them for “at least one, maybe one or two seasons … I would actually take a pay cut to do that,” as he put it. “It would be pretty cool. I’ve definitely had thoughts about it.”

GameTime: Jason Lloyd

Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal joins the GameTime crew to discuss the current state of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys.

Say what?

I don’t think James was saying he would leave Cleveland in June for, say, Miami or Los Angeles. But I don’t think he was saying something off the cuff. He has thought about this, and he wants it to happen — or at least as much of it as possible. Maybe not Wade, but Anthony and/or Paul, for example.

Here’s the problem, if you’re currently getting dressed in the same locker room with James is this morning.

James is 30, not 20. He’s already in his 13th NBA season, with another two-plus years of playoff wear and tear on his body — not to mention the strain of his three Olympic team appearances. He’s not going to play another decade. If he truly wants to play with ‘Melo, D-Wade, etc., it’s not some far-off, next decade notion. It’s something that would have to happen sooner rather than later. And keeping him in Cleveland would require GM David Griffin to take apart the Cavs’ current core of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and/or Tristan Thompson.

Seriously: how do Irving and Love digest an on-the-record comment from James that he’d not only love to play with his equally high-profile friends, but that he’s thought about it a lot? The whole preamble to what James said was significant detail on how James and Wade had tried to convince Anthony to sign a short contract in 2007 that would have made him, like them, a free agent in 2010 — and free to come to Miami. (Instead, Anthony signed a five-year deal with the Denver Nuggets.)

James is his own nation-state. Nobody in Cleveland has the juice to publicly chastise him for much of anything, other than coach Tyronn Lue saying maybe he shouldn’t yuk it up with Wade at halftime of a game the Cavs are trailing by 21.

The Starters: Cavs Need Enforcer?

Is LeBron talking about Kendrick Perkins or does he mean something else?

Words matter.

Caveats follow.

Of course Irving and Love knew the pluses and minuses of what being in the LeBron fishbowl would be. Both never seriously considered free agency when the opportunity was available. Irving took a five-year, $90 million max extension in 2014, the first domino that led to James’ return. Love re-signed in Cleveland last summer for $110 million.

Some point out that James actually said all this Feb. 8, just before NBA All-Star 2016, when he was about to play with ‘Melo and D-Wade on the Eastern Conference All-Star team, and may have had the dream scenario on his mind. (Devil’s Advocate here: one could argue that’s even worse, as the Cavs were in the midst of one of their better stretches in late January and February, just after firing David Blatt, winning 10 of 12 games. Why would he pick that time to talk about playing with other guys?)

And: James is entitled to dream — “fantasy basketball,” as someone who knows him well said Sunday — without it being taken literally. I’d love to date Halle Berry, except for one small detail. Well, she’s not small; she’s 5-foot-4. And we’ve been married for almost 17 years. (Hi, honey! Love you!)

And, yes, James’ every utterance is parsed within an inch of its life by an insatiable media that overanalyzes everything he says and does (the words “click bait” are muttered in the Cavs’ organization when discussing local and national stories written about James). Surely, his comment that he’d quit the game if he’d been on a team that blew a 13-point lead in the last minute of a game (as Northern Iowa did in the NCAA Tournament) played long and loud in the Hawkeye State. And that is not fair.

Nor is the speculation that James was sending some kind of secret message last week by unfollowing the Cavs’ official Twitter account and other Twitter accounts. (The explanation from his camp was he was getting ready for the playoffs by eliminating potential online distractions; as he also unfollowed Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins, to whom he gave his first-person account of returning to Cleveland in 2014. He has become a confidante, so this certainly seems like a reasonable explanation.) But that’s also the reality of someone who lives a large chunk of his life on social media.

The bigger issue is not what James said, but that he once again has complete impunity to do so.

Dan Gilbert tried tough talk, in hilarious Comic Sans fashion, in 2010. Four years later, he begged the man he called “our former hero” in that missive to come home, mistakes having been made (the passive voice seemingly always the voice in which public figures acknowledge their errors; not “I screwed up,” but “screw-ups occurred”). And Gilbert has been pretty quiet since.

The Starters: Biggest Threat To Cavs In East?

Brent Barry joins The Starters to discuss which of the Heat, Raptors or Pacers has the best shot at knocking off Cleveland.

And there is no one in the locker room remotely capable of saying or doing anything that he would feel compelled to heed. Understand this: there are maybe four or five people on earth that could do so, which is part of the challenge of putting a team around James. His knowledge of the game is unassailable; his physical gifts still formidable. There really aren’t that many other people who can tell him much about basketball. Alpha males don’t have antennae for non-alphas.

That is Griffin’s fault.

The Cavs thought tabbing Lue as Blatt’s replacement would at least put a person in charge that James would respect, and hold accountable, and he does. But it’s still a heavy lift for a young coach who’s just finding his own voice and does have to coach the rest of the team as well.

This is the problem in Cleveland: James is still well worth all the drama. When he is feeling good and fully engaged, as he was at the Garden Saturday against the Knicks in a triple-double performance, he is still one of the two or three best players on earth. He is still capable of putting a team on his (aching) back and will it to The Finals. He can still bring that championship to the ‘Land.

But the clock is always, always ticking in LeBron’s world, with his next big thing always right around the corner.

We will all be rubbernecking.

TOP O’ THE WORLD, MA!

 

(previous rank in brackets; last week’s record in parenthesis)

1) Golden State [1] (4-0): They’re 66-7. They’re going to break the Bulls’ record. I never really thought that was possible. But it is. And they will.

Sixers vs. Warriors

Klay Thompson goes off for 40 points as the Warriors beat the 76ers 117-105.

2) San Antonio [2] (2-2): You thought The Great Resting would stop just because the Spurs beat the Warriors a week ago?

3) Cleveland [3] (3-1): There’s no chance this could have ended well, for either party.

4) Oklahoma City [5] (3-0): Defensive Rating during seven-game win streak: 101.8 points per 100 possessions, No. 6 in the league; 100.1 points per game allowed, No. 5 in the league.

5) L.A. Clippers [6] (2-1): Blake Griffin should return from his four-game suspension next Sunday and the team has gone 28-14 in his absence this season. Yes, they still have Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick, but that record is remarkable. Props to CP3 for showing amazing leadership this season.

6) Toronto [4] (1-2): Raptors can finally reach the 50-win plateau for the first time in franchise history with a win tonight over the Thunder (7:30 ET, NBA League Pass).

Raptors vs. Pelicans

All five Raptors starters score in double figures as they defeat the Pelicans 115-91.

7) Boston [8] (3-0): Still says here that the Celtics may wind up being the team that finally beats Golden State at Oracle.

8) Miami [9] (2-1): Josh Richardson numbers, post-All-Star break: 19 games, 27.3 minutes per game, 11 ppg, 55.8 percent shooting, 61.4 percent on 3-pointers, True Shooting Percentage in March of .689.

9) Atlanta [10] (3-1): Dennis Schroder present and accounted for, sir!

10) Charlotte [11] (3-1): One and a half games out of third in the Eastern Conference, a game behind third-place Atlanta in the loss column. Charlotte has not had a top-four team in the East since the first iteration of the Hornets’ franchise, then in New Orleans, finished fourth in 2002.

Hornets vs. Bucks

Nicolas Batum scores 25 points along with eight rebounds and seven assists to lead the Hornets past the Bucks, 115-91.

11) Memphis [7] (1-2): Grizzlies current offense: give the ball to Lance Stephenson. Clear a side. Watch. They could do a lot worse.

12) Indiana [12] (3-1): Per the NBA, the Pacers’ win over Philadelphia last Monday at Bankers’ Life Fieldhouse assured Indiana of a 27th straight season with a winning record at home, the longest current streak in the league.

13) Detroit [15] (3-1): Getting Tobias Harris from the Magic for Brandon Jennings on the short list for Sneaky Good Trade of the Year.

14) Portland [13] (2-1): Losing Meyers Leonard for the season is a blow to the Blazers’ upset chances in the first round.

15) Utah [NR] (2-1): Favorable schedule for the Jazz in its fight with Houston and Dallas for the final playoff spots in the west: Utah plays six of its last nine games at home and doesn’t go east of Denver in any of its last three road games.

Jazz vs. Timberwolves

Derrick Favors scores 19 points and Gordon Hayward adds 18 as the Jazz defeat the Timberwolves, 93-84.

Dropped out: Dallas [14]

TEAM OF THE WEEK

Brooklyn (2-1): Back-to-back impressive wins over Cleveland and Indiana, plus a five-point loss to one of the league’s hottest teams, the Hornets. The Nets’ young guys (Sean Kilpatrick, Shane Larkin, etc.) are making the most of their chance under interim coach Tony Brown — who’s not doing a bad job making a case for himself, either.

TEAM OF THE WEAK

Dallas (0-3): Mavs’ defense in March: 112.8 points per game, 3-10 record, currently out of the playoff race in the Western Conference.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT …

 

Who’s been the most disappointing team in the league this season?

This is not an objective question, “disappointing” having many different starting points (though it’s hard to imagine real disappointment in Philly or Brooklyn, two teams hip-deep into rebuilding). Every team not in the playoffs or in the playoff chase is obviously not happy. Even teams that are currently in can believe they should be in a better position.

But the question isn’t unfair. Expectations are a real thing, and how a team deals with them is an important part of assessing whether the players, coaches or management in place on a given team has been up to the challenge.

You can take the talk radio approach and say everyone should be fired and/or traded. That’s not the suggestion here. One season’s disappointment can fuel a resurgence the following year.

Witness how the Raptors have rebounded from getting swept in the first round last year, or how OKC has returned to form after injuries to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook kept the Thunder out of the 2015 playoffs.

There are a few teams who have underachieved this year.

Many people thought the Milwaukee Bucks were ready to take the next step — including us at NBA TV, who did a Real Training Camp with them in Wisconsin before the start of the season. Milwaukee had come on strong the second half of last season and gave the Bulls a real fight in the first round of the playoffs. The Bucks were long and a defensive menace of a team, with Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the way. They added one of the top free agents on the market last summer in center Greg Monroe.

The Association: Milwaukee Bucks

Vince Cellini has the story of a Milwaukee Bucks team trying to fight through a slow start to prove that last season was no fluke.

But the Bucks haven’t sustained their momentum. They’ve fallen off a cliff defensively, dropping from second in Defensive Rating last season (99.3 points per 100 possessions) to 19th this season (105.6). The offense has improved some with Monroe and the return of a healthy Jabari Parker, along with Antetokounmpo taking over for the injured Michael Carter-Williams at the point. But Milwaukee is not going to make the playoffs in an improved (but hardly formidable) Eastern Conference.

At least the Bucks have time on their side: Antetokounmpo, Parker, Khris Middleton, Carter-Williams, rookie guard Rashad Vaughn and reserve big Johnny O’Bryant are all under 25. Maybe we were all just a year or two early in announcing the Bucks’ arrival.

Houston is also a prime candidate. The Rockets laid the blame for their poor start at coach Kevin McHale’s feet, but Houston has been the same .500-ish group after firing McHale on Nov. 18 that it was before. Coaching isn’t the problem. McHale and interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff know what they’re doing, and this is basically the same team that made the run to the Western Conference finals last year.

But even though James Harden has established career bests in points, rebounds and assists this season, the Rockets have regressed. Harden Vines have again become all the rage, showing his inattention to defense. Power forward has been a mess all season, with Terrence Jones injured and ineffective in 2015-16 and Houston willing to move Donatas Motiejunas to Detroit in a since-rescinded trade. Josh Smith Jerseys walked away in the summer to the Clippers, but his return in a January trade hasn’t re-awakened his stellar play from last season.

James Harden’s Mixtape

Check out James Harden’s sick NBA Mixtape and tune in to Saturday’s Primetime ABC game as the Rockets take on the Chicago Bulls at 8:30ET!

Michael Beasley, fresh off a stint in China, has already become one of the team’s best and most important players.

The Rockets have slipped some this season at their bread and butter, 3-pointers. They were 14th in 3-point percentage in 2014-15 (34.8 percent), but rank 22nd (34.4 percent) this season. That’s not a catastrophic fall there. Where Houston has gone over a cliff this season is defense.

Last year, the Rockets were sixth in the league in Defensive Rating, allowing 100.5 points per 100 possessions. They were tops in the NBA in defending 3-pointers last season, allowing just 32.2 percent. Their opponent’s Effective Field Goal Percentage, which factors in the impact of threes on overall shooting, ranked 24th in the league (.486).

We just haven’t found any consistency, and that’s the struggle we’ve been having. It’s the same team. We didn’t have a really good start, and it kind of carried throughout the entire year.

– James Harden, on his Houston Rockets’ struggles

All those numbers are worse this year. Much worse.

Today, Houston is 22nd in both Defensive Rating (106.1 points per 100) and defending 3-pointers, with their opponents’ percentage up to 36.3 percent. Their opponents’ Effective Field Goal percentage is up to 52.8 — almost a 180 from last year — as Houston has gone to eighth worst in that department this season.

It’s all left the Rockets in a dogfight with Utah and Dallas for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.

“We have some really good games, and then we just let up a few,” Harden said Tuesday.

GameTime: Western Conference Playoff Race

The GameTime crew discusses the Western Conference playoff race as the season winds down.

“That’s kind of been our model all year,” he continued. “We just haven’t found any consistency, and that’s the struggle we’ve been having. It’s the same team. We didn’t have a really good start, and it kind of carried throughout the entire year. And a lot of injuries and things like that kind of nagged around. Like I said, it’s been tough. These last 10 or so games, we’ve been better. Just trying to figure it out and get as many wins as we can.”

Yet the Washington Wizards Jerseys is in even worse shape than the Rockets. The Wizards are 2.5 games behind eighth-place Detroit in the East with nine games to play, making them an increasingly long shot playoff team (even though they have the tiebreaker over the Pistons).

This was not supposed to happen. Washington was looking to build on last season, make another extended playoff run, and wait for Kevin Durant to sign on the dotted line. The Wizards gambled, bringing in a bunch of veterans on short deals to preserve cap room for Durant and to eventually extend Bradley Beal. But the gamble, so far, has backfired.

Washington has had its share of injuries, but the failures this season to become a pace-and-space offense — which directly led to a collapse of a defense that had been one of the league’s best the last few years — are much more to blame.

The Wizards have had a half-dozen inexplicable losses for a team looking to build on a second straight semifinals appearance. Among them: a sweep by the Nuggets this season, a loss to the Bucks just before the All-Star break and home losses to the Lakers, Knicks and Timberwolves, the last in double overtime on Friday after Washington blew a seven-point lead with 2:23 to play. (The Wizards were not helped by an unusual number of missed calls down the stretch.)

Timberwolves vs. Wizards

Karl-Anthony Towns scores 27 points and grabs 10 rebounds as the Timberwolves defeat the Wizards 132-129 in double overtime.

“We have too many hangovers,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said Friday. “We win four in a row, you lose five in a row. Then we come right back and win five in a row. Now, what’s this (loss) going to be? We play Atlanta back-to-back; they’re a good team. They played hard, and they were better than us that night. We were better than them the night before. Now, you’ve got to end that.

“You’ve got to win six out of seven, then you’ve got to make it seven out of eight. And we’ve had a tough time all year when you’ve got a (winning) string going, and you lose a tough game, or you lose, and it just carries over. And it carried over (Friday).”

After seeing Paul Pierce and Otto Porter maul the Raptors in the first round last year, and almost pull off an upset of the Hawks in the semifinals with Wall missing three games (broken hand), the Wizards believed they needed to go small and shoot 3-pointers this season.

They benched Nene Jerseys, who had teamed with Marcin Gortat the previous two years to make Washington almost impregnable in the paint, in favor of Jared Dudley, who was just coming off of back surgery. (It’s hardly all Dudley’s fault, but even when healthy, he’s a very undersized four.)

I think at the start of the season we didn’t talk about team defense. We were worried about playing up-tempo and not focusing on that.

– Washington Wizards Jerseys star John Wall

Porter has been good, but not the player he was in the playoffs last year, when he averaged 10 points and 8.0 rebounds in 33 minutes, and shot 37.5 percent on 3-pointers. But all of that pales to Washington’s defensive regression.

Last season, the Wizards were fifth in the league in Defensive Rating (100 points per 100 possessions). This season, they’re 15th (103.9). Last season, the Wizards were ninth in points allowed (97.8). This season, they’re 21st (104.4). Last season, they were tied for 14th in opponent 3-point percentage (.349); this season, they’re 27th (.369).

“We lost a lot of games we should have won, just being terrible defensively all year,” Wall said. “That’s the reason why we’ve lost basketball games, because you couldn’t guard one on one, just stopping teams from rebounding the ball and stuff. I think at the start of the season we didn’t talk about team defense. We were worried about playing up-tempo and not focusing on that. And then when we got focused on that, we was a good defensive team again.”

The Wizards have turned up their D of late and boast a 102.2 Defensive Rating so far in March. But it might be too late. To be fair, two weeks remain in the season. Maybe the Wizards can catch fire, get right and sneak in. But, right now, it’s hard to think of a team that expected more coming into the season and has accomplished less.

How on earth did they wind up in this predicament?

“I wish I knew, Beal said Friday. “I wish I knew. I wish I knew.”

… AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

Eureka! From Matt Brubaker:

I know it is only one game, but the Spurs’ defense of Stephen Curry looked an awful lot like Oscar Robertson’s comments on how to defend Curry. Do you think the Big O’s strategy was proven right by Pop and crew? Or was it a case of a superior effort given by the fresher team against a Warriors squad on the back end of a grinding stretch of games over the past week and a half? Either way let’s all hope we find out over the course of seven playoff games.

Inside Access: Warriors vs. Spurs

In a highly anticipated meeting of the two top teams in the NBA, the Spurs evened the series out at one game apiece with the Warriors.

It’s hard to take too much from any one game in a season, Matt. The Spurs had a good night defensively, but the Warriors had one of their worst shooting nights this season. As the scientists like to say, correlation does not imply causation. That’s not to say the Spurs can’t beat Golden State four times in a playoff series, only that there’s no magic bullet to beat a team that’s 66-7. It will take some combination of adjustments, luck with injuries and good fortune — that is, someone in blue and gold that hasn’t missed many open shots all season will have to do so at critical moments in May or June.

Minnesota Nice. Very, very nice. From Assi Peles:

I’ve been watching Timberwolves games this season and Karl-Anthony Towns has been a monster.

He’s winning the ROY award by a landslide an, IMHO, he is the best player on his team (Andrew Wiggins included).

Could you comment on who he reminds you of most? Is he a young KG, or a young(er) Anthony Davis Jerseys?

All things considered (injuries) is it fair to say he has a higher ceiling than AD? Or that he is already better??

Kia Awards: Karl-Anthony Towns

Karl-Anthony Towns is a nominee for the Kia Western Conference Rookie of the Month.

To answer your last questions first: no and no. But Towns does resemble Davis. I’d say their ceilings are equally high; both demonstrated early they can get after it at the defensive end, both at the rim and in space (watch Towns’ work here Friday night against Bradley Beal). Scouts knew Towns could shoot it in high school, though he didn’t get to display that much at Kentucky. While he wasn’t prolific from the perimeter before going to Lexington, Davis has expanded his range rapidly since turning pro.

But, he can’t stress this enough, he loves my work. From Barry Benjamin:

I get it, the MVP watch is a very rough measure of an overall body of work. It’s entirely subjective. It’s DA’s own personal opinion, to which you are eminently entitled — it’s your column!

But: Durant and Westbrook at No. 3 and No. 4? Shouldn’t winning count for something in the MVP analysis? Your column dropped Sunday night/Monday morning on March 14. From the All-Star break to your column dropping, OKC played 12 games. They lost eight of them. Eight! They’re record since the All-Star break was 4-8! That’s ‘tuurrrible’ as one of your colleagues might say. And OKC still gets not one, but two MVP candidates? Come on, DA!

I just read somewhere about how great Damian Lillard is — oh yeah, it was right above your MVP analysis, in that same column! Chris Paul’s Clippers squad drops off big time when he’s off the floor! Kyle Lowry is bulldogging the Raptors to the No. 2 spot in the East! And you go with two (not one, but two!) guys whose team dropped eight of 12? You’re better than that DA!

What could I possibly be thinking, putting the two guys most responsible for a team being 51-22 and winners of seven straight (including vs. San Antonio on Saturday night) on my MVP Watch list? Of course I should have Lillard, of the 38-36 Blazers, ahead of Durant and Westbrook, or players on other teams whose records are worse than OKC’s. Because one bad stretch during an otherwise very strong season is what should determine MVP status. I guess.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and shoes for all those tiny feet to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!

MVP WATCH

(last week’s averages in parentheses)

1) Stephen Curry (26.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 8 apg, .473 FG, .857 FT): Fascinating reporting by Ethan Strauss on how Under Armour got Curry in its stable (with a major assist from the unlikely Kent Bazemore), while Nike stood by and did next to nothing to keep him.

2) Kawhi Leonard (23.5 ppg, 7 rpg, .514 FG, .778 FT): Missed last two games with a right quad contusion.

3) Kevin Durant (24.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 5.3 apg, .560 FG, .769 FT): KD’s decision to wear his new KD Elite 8 PEs with built-in knee-high compression socks was not met with universal love.

4) Russell Westbrook (21.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 10.7 apg, .451 FG, .900 FT): A list of guys in the last 20 years that bring it every night like he does: Dennis Rodman, Allen Iverson, Alonzo Mourning. There are others, but that’s good company.

5) LeBron James (29 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 8.5 apg, .564 FG, .742 FT): All right-thinking people are praying for a Cavs-Heat semifinal playoff series, with LeBron going against his old squad — who will hopefully have a healthy Chris Bosh able to give Miami quality minutes off the bench.

I’M FEELIN’ …

1) If you know the man at all, you know Craig Sager will keep fighting, and never, ever give up. See you in the playoffs, my dude.

The Starters: #SagerStrong

The Starters show their support for Craig Sager, who continues to fight a battle with cancer.

2) There is nothing intelligent that can be said about the terror attack in Brussels that has killed more than 30 people, with hundreds injured. We can only be glad that many survived, including Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo, who was in the airport when the bombs went off.

3) I did not know that the Rockets had brought Clifford Ray in to help coach Dwight Howard. Good for them. He is a proud and talented man who has won a championship, and has only wanted to help make big men better players. Glad someone has given him a chance.

4) I crossed paths with Fran Dunphy for a brief period in the 1980s, when he was on the bench at American University and I was an undergrad there who helped out in the athletic department. But I’ve admired him for many, many years as he moved on to bigger and better things, ending up at Temple, where he’s coached the Owls with distinction for many years. And so I’m not surprised at all that he not only took a brutal loss in the NCAA Tournament last week with grace, and allowed an 11-year-old boy to ask him a question after that brutal loss in the postgame news conference. He not only took the question, but answered it in a beautiful way that made the boy feel good. That is what “Sir Francis” has always done, because he did the same for me and other kids at AU so many years ago.

NOT FEELIN’ …

1) A state can do whatever it wants if it believes such actions reflect the will of its citizens. So, the North Carolina General Assembly is free to call a special session to pass legislation that essentially reverses an anti-discrimination ordinance passed last month by the Charlotte City Council.

But private businesses — and, the last time I checked, the NBA is a private business — have the right to take actions reflecting the will of their employees, too. I can’t and don’t speak for the NBA, but it’s hard to believe the league would want to do business in a state whose legislators can pass a bill allowing businesses to discriminate against gay men and women, using the flimsy pretext that a man could potentially use a woman’s bathroom for predatory purposes by claiming to be transgender. Next year’s All-Star Game is in Charlotte. It does not have to remain in Charlotte. And it should not remain in Charlotte if this remains the position of the General Assembly. The NBA has 27 other cities (I am assuming it wouldn’t return immediately to Toronto, where this year’s game was, or go to L.A., where the 2018 game has been awarded) in which it can have its showcase event.

This league celebrated when Jason Collins came out. It has been there for people like Rick Welts, the Warriors’ CEO and the highest-ranking openly gay executive in team sports. It has chosen a side, consistently, over the years — the side of inclusion and acceptance. By allowing the All-Star Game to remain in Charlotte in the face of this legislation, it will be on the opposite side. And that would be wrong. The league put out a statement Thursday saying it is “dedicated to creating an inclusive environment for all who attend our games and events” and that it is “deeply concerned that this discriminatory law runs counter to our guiding principles of equality and mutual respect and do not yet know what impact it will have on our ability to successfully host the 2017 All-Star Game in Charlotte.”

It is right to give North Carolina time to assess whether it really wants this law to remain on the books. But the league needs to make its position clear: if the law stays, the NBA will not be in Charlotte next year. Period.

2) The Bulls don’t just look tired and bad, and nothing like a contender at present. They look like a team that’s already not heeding their coach, after less than a year. And that is scary stuff if you’re the management that hand-picked Fred Hoiberg to replace Tom Thibodeau.

GameTime: Bulls’ Woes

The GameTime crew discuss what is wrong with the Bulls as they chase a playoff spot.

3) Bad news on Anthony Davis Jerseys’ knee, but it could have been worse, one supposes. At least he won’t have to have his shoulder cut on as well.

4) RIP, Ken Howard — aka, The White Shadow”, one of the most memorable shows of my adolescence. It was so rare in those days for there to be a TV show not only with people of color, but people of color in authority over their white counterparts. That Ken Reeves, the former NBA player turned high school basketball coach portrayed by Howard, has to comply and work with Principal Jim Reeves (played by Ed Bernard) — and, later, Principal Sybil Buchanan (Joan Pringle) — was a power structure not seen on TV in the ’70s.

BY THE NUMBERS

$102,800,000 — Maximum price of construction costs to be borne by the city of Minneapolis as part of the projected $129 million renovation of Target Center, scheduled to begin in May with a targeted completion date in the fall of 2017. The substantial remodeling will include a new main lobby of the building (including a five-story glass wall), enhanced club and dining options and a new scoreboard that will be installed this summer.

cheap-nba-swingman-jerseys

10,684 — Announced attendance at Pepsi Center for last Wednesday’s game between the Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers, though substantially fewer people actually showed up after a March blizzard brought more than 19 inches of snow to the Denver area. The weather was so bad referee Rodney Mott couldn’t get in, leaving officials Derek Richardson and Sean Corbin to ref the game. At least those who braved the conditions and came out got to see this at the end.

Mudiay’s Game Winner

With four seconds to go in regulation, Emmanuel Mudiay connects on a game-winning half-court prayer to seal the win for Denver over Philadelphia.

38 — Regular season victories for the NBA D-League’s Sioux Falls Skyforce, the Heat’s affiliate, tying the D-League record for wins in a single season. With one win in either of its last two games, Sioux Falls, currently 38-10, will break the record of 38-12 set in the 2011-12 season by the L.A. D-Fenders. The Skyforce plays at home Tuesday against Iowa.

Q&A: DWIGHT HOWARD

 

Joy has been replaced by job.

That one-letter switch is pithy, to be sure, but nonetheless an accurate representation of the change in Dwight Howard’s demeanor these days. Long gone — perhaps, simply, now withheld from public view — is the goofy, gangly kid who did a devastating impression of his then-coach, Stan Van Gundy, and reveled in the attention that came with being the game’s best big man.

He wowed with his cape-clad dunks in the 2008 Dunk Contest, having loved the “Superman” moniker he gave himself. He has since been injured and blamed and shunned, the target of constant prodding from another great center who started his NBA career in Orlando, Shaquille O’Neal. He blew up the Magic when he grew tired of Van Gundy’s demanding style, and even after Orlando fired SVG, Howard pushed to be moved — first to the Lakers, where he spent a miserable year with Kobe Bryant, and then to Houston as a free agent, where the idea was that Howard would grow old playing next to James Harden.

Howard Muscles Into Dunk

Dwight Howard uses his strength to power into the lane for a two-handed dunk over his defender.

But that decision has seemingly curdled as well.

The same team that got to the Western Conference finals less than a year ago has fallen apart, now fighting just to get into the playoffs. Houston fired coach Kevin McHale after 11 games, but the Rockets are no better without him, and the subpar season has led to friction and speculation — friction between Howard and the organization, which explored trade options for him before the deadline in February, and speculation that Howard will bolt this summer in free agency, having had his fill of watching Harden’s dominance of the ball (he told USA Today’s Sam Amick in an extended interview last week that he has “no hate in his heart” for Harden).

At 30, Howard is still averaging a double-double this season, but his recurring back problems look to have slowed his offensive game significantly. His search for his lost joy continues.

Me: From the 30,000-foot view of someone who hasn’t been with your team all season: why are you here, scrambling just to make the playoffs, after having such a great season last year?

Dwight Howard: I don’t think we’ve played our best basketball all season long. We’ve had our highs and our lows, and we haven’t been as consistent as we need to. And that’s why we’re in the position we’re in.

Howard Rejects The Shot

Dwight Howard goes up and punishes the shot attempt by Jerami Grant.

Me: The numbers in March have been better defensively. What has changed or improved?

DH: Well, I just think our communication is one thing. And the trust, especially on the defensive end. You have to be able to trust your teammates. Because sometimes you may be reluctant to go if you don’t think your teammate is going to be behind you. It’s just small things that we have to fix, and I think we’ve done a better job of that.

Me: You said something in the USA Today interview that was interesting about shots. When you get a lot of shots, you have put up numbers this season.

DH: Well, I didn’t actually say that; it was Sam (Amick). I don’t really pay attention to that. I just know that I have to do whatever it takes for my team to win. I think James has done a good job of scoring, you bring in Michael Beasley, who’s done a good job of scoring. I have to really focus on helping our team defense. All of us have to do a better job on defense, and the offense will be easier. But we have to focus in on the defensive side of things: how can we help each other? Because there’s going to be mental breakdowns, there’s going to be times when people get beat on backdoors and guards get beat coming down the lane. And we have to be the protectors. I think we’ve gotten a lot better at it. And I think by the time the playoffs come around, we’ll have everything down pat.

Me: What is most encouraging about the way you’re playing, and what concerns you the most?

Do all of the things that can show our value on the floor. Just play hard and everything else will come from that.

– Rockets’ Dwight Howard on big men in today’s NBA

DH: Well, I think our defense has been pretty good. Our communication has been a lot better. Just like with any relationship, the biggest thing is communication and trust. It may take a while, but I think our communication and trust has gotten a lot better. The thing that I think can concern our team is just being consistent. We haven’t been able to be consistent all year, and I think the more consistent we become as a team, the better we’ll be, and you’ll see more wins than losses.

Me: How surprising is that? This is basically the same team from last year that went on that run.

Howard Sends It Back

Dwight Howard goes up for the massive rejection on Rudy Gobert.

DH: It is. But this is a totally different season, and I think teams are playing us a little differently than they did last season. And they’re really attacking us. We have to understand that. We have to know that every team watched us play and make that run to get to the Western Conference finals. They’re going to come out and try to destroy us, and we have to be ready for that.

Me: Let me amend what I said before: you’re right. You didn’t talk about shots. But you did say that because of the way the game is played today, big men don’t seem to be as valued as in years past.

DH: I think if you watch a team like Golden State, they shoot more threes than just doing postups and stuff like that. I think everybody is kind of taking that same style of play on offense, where they have one big on the floor. They call it ‘small ball’ now. It’s not just me, but I look at all the guys around the league — DeAndre [Jordan], you’ve got Andre Drummond, you’ve got those guys that are in the paint. It’s small ball now, so everybody’s forcing us out to play guys like Draymond Green, all those stretch fours. So it’s a different style of play. When I first came into the league, it wasn’t as much. Now, it’s like every team is doing it. It’s a pretty good strategy, but it’s just something the game has evolved into.

Me: Do you think it devalues big men?

I don’t take any of the stuff he says to heart. I understand that he has to do a job, and his job is to motivate me. And at the same time, he has to be one of my hardest critics, because he played the same position.

– Dwight Howard, on his relationship with Shaquille O’Neal

DH: I just think we’ve got to do more to show our value. So instead of focusing on the things, instead of letting things frustrate us, we’ve got to do all the little things — block shots, rebound, deflect balls, go for steals. Do all of the things that can show our value on the floor. Just play hard and everything else will come from that.

Me: But every guy wants to touch the ball, no matter what position they play.

DH: That is true. Like I said, our job has to be, let’s focus on the things that we can control. That’s our energy, our effort and rebounding. That’s something that nobody can take away from us.

Me: You have changed agents, and you’re now with Perry Rogers, Shaq’s agent.

DH: Yes, sir.

Me: Why?

DH: Well, I just felt like he has an opportunity to just focus on me. Any other agent, they have a lot of different clients and stuff like that. I felt like he was able to just focus on me. I think he’s a really good guy.

Me: Did you know him at all before?

DH: Not at all.

GameTime: Dwight Howard Discussion

Isiah Thomas and Brian Shaw discuss Dwight Howard’s play as of late.

Me: So Shaq introduced the two of you?

DH: He did, actually. So I had a great conversation with Shaq, not just about having an agent, but basketball and life and all that stuff. And he introduced me to Perry.

Just like with any relationship, the biggest thing is communication and trust.

– Dwight Howard

Me: Would you say your relationship with Shaq has improved over the last few years?

DH: I don’t think that we’ve had a bad relationship. We’ve sat down and talked about different things, and why he’s done what he’s done. He’s like, ‘I just want to push you.’ Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] and Wilt [Chamberlain], he said, did it to him, all of the centers he watched growing up, they tried to find ways to motivate them. That’s what he feels like he has to do with me. I don’t take any of the stuff he says to heart. I understand that he has to do a job, and his job is to motivate me. And at the same time, he has to be one of my hardest critics, because he played the same position. I’m never going to be upset about that. I don’t think a fan would really understand, because they’re just watching. But I totally understand.

Me: The stickum stuff. I know you said you used that for years, right?

DH: Yes, sir.

Me: So what do you do now?

Howard Ball Drama

Dwight Howard rubbed his hands on the ball before a free throw. After some confusion, the ball was thrown out of the game.

DH: Nothing. I just go play. I never knew that it was anything illegal, because I’ve been using it. I’ve never hid it from anybody. It’s been in plain sight. From the first time I used it, I’ve used the powder. It basically does the same thing as the powder. I just didn’t want the powder all over my hands when I’m playing. So I didn’t know there was an issue. If there was, I apologize for people thinking that it was. But that’s not my focus. I just can’t get a deal with Elmer’s Glue now.

Me: There have been big guys like Kevin Willis that had small hands. Is your hand size at all an issue with why you used it?

DH: Well, I just know that putting a lot of lotion on and all that stuff, it affects how the basketball feels. So I used to use the powder. I’ve used the rosin stuff. I also used the stuff called Power Grip. That’s on the floor, all this stuff is at every arena, at every scorer’s table. Just try to find ways to not let the ball just slip. And it’s not like I’m playing football where I needed to catch touchdowns or anything like that. If anything, I probably have to stop using it, because it does mess up my free throws. I just think it was blown out of proportion.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

— Lakers guard Nick Young (@NickSwagyPYoung), Wednesday, 1:10 p.m., reacting to a Twitter critic who said “you ain’t never gonna see @NickSwagyPYoung pass the ball.”

THEY SAID IT

“There are some teams, it’s going to be hard for him. The Warriors, for example, where you have to be up and double-team some players and rotate and sometimes (have the big men) be on smaller players. There are some other teams that are maybe a little slower and he’s going to be huge.”

— Manu Ginobili, on the potential impact of 7-foot-3 rookie center Boban Marjanovic on the Spurs’ playoff chances this year.

“We give out name cards to keep track. ‘Hi, my name is …'”

— Grizzlies’ Coach Dave Joerger, on the incredible run of injuries his team has suffered this season and the resulting signing and playing of players that don’t know one another — or the coaches, for that matter.

“I got my rest last season and earlier this year. I’m good.”

— Kevin Durant, to local reporters in Oklahoma City, on whether he needed to sit out a game or two down the stretch of the regular season in order to be fresh for the playoffs.

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

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