Boston’s rebounding woes are nothing new; but are they fixable?



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WALTHAM, Mass. — During one of his pregame radio interviews in early February, Boston Celtics Jerseys coach Brad Stevens was informed that his team was no longer in last place in the NBA in defensive rebound percentage.

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“We’re not? Did a team drop out of the league?” Stevens deadpanned.

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The Celtics entered the 2016-17 season with the smallest roster in the league. Routinely quizzed on how Boston could overcome the rebounding deficiencies inherent from its lack of size, Stevens would joke that it was unlikely his team was going to endure a growth spurt so his players would simply have to put an increased priority on boxing out and hope guards could help clean up the glass.

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The Celtics finished the season ranked 27th in both defensive (75.3) and total rebound (48.5) percentages. For much of the season, 6-foot-2 guard Avery Bradley led Boston in rebounds per game before Al Horford overtook him late in the year. Even still, Horford’s 6.8 rebounds per game ranked 45th overall in the NBA.

All of that says that rebounding has been an issue for Boston throughout the season. And those struggles were back in the spotlight on Sunday night when the Chicago Bulls Jerseys turned 20 offensive rebounds into 23 second-chance points as part of a 106-102 Game 1 triumph at TD Garden.

The Celtics finished the night by grabbing just 54.5 percent of available defensive rebounds cheap jerseys, a jarringly low number considering the league average is more than 20 percent higher. Boston was actually far more competitive in the second half but still had instances where second-chance opportunities negated otherwise strong first-shot defensive stands.

When his team huddled to watch film on Monday afternoon at the team’s practice facility, Stevens implored his players to initiate contact when shots go up.

“You’re not going to get every defensive rebound, but you’ve got to hit first,” Stevens said. “And you can’t wait to make contact when [Robin] Lopez is running into the paint. If he’s at the charge circle, he’s winning that battle. The same thing if somebody’s running from the corner to get an offensive rebound. You can’t wait until they get into the paint to make contact. You’ve got to block out sooner than that.

“That doesn’t guarantee you’re gonna get it every time, but that gives you a better chance.”

The Celtics’ big men acknowledged that the team’s issues were rather obvious on film.

“There’s just stuff that we can clean up,” starting center Amir Johnson said. “Some guys were just caught staring, looking at the ball, instead of just hitting the body and going and getting it. It’s just all-out effort and you just gotta continue doing your job; the play never stops until a person gets the rebound. Once you do your job defensively, you get in your defensive coverages, and then the shot finally goes out wholesale nba jerseys, sometimes you just get caught staring at the shot like, ‘OK, I’ve done my job.’ But the job isn’t over until you actually get in front of your man and get the ball.

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• Beard’s Rockets takes first over Russ
• It’s Dray all day for Warriors’ opener
• “>LeBron’s all-time top playoff games
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“It’s a team effort. That’s a big key to winning that game. I thought our half-court defense was pretty good besides [the fact that] it seemed like, if they put up a shot and missed, they got the ball and put the ball back in the basket. Our cheap jerseys half-court defense was definitely up to par. We just gotta rebound.”

Not unlike most teams, the Celtics have pronounced splits in how they rebound in wins versus losses. During the regular season, Boston owned a defensive rebound rate of 76.6 percent in its 53 wins. It dipped to 72.8 percent in its 29 losses.

It’s prudent to remember that defensive rebound rate is not the primary indicator of team success. The Golden State Warriors Jerseys ranked 29th in the NBA in grabbing just 74.9 percent of available defensive rebounds and still won 67 games. Likewise, height isn’t necessarily an excuse for rebounding woes, as the Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys were the second-shortest team to start the season and finished in the top 12 in defensive rebound percentage.

For Boston, rebounding comes down to effort and commitment. It’s a fairly good indicator of how engaged the Celtics are on a game-to-game basis. Maybe Chicago’s Jimmy Butler summed up rebounding best on Monday after gushing about how Lopez impacted Sunday’s Game 1 win.

“If you want to go get the ball, you’re going to go get the ball. Rebounding is 95 percent effort, 5 percent technique,” Butler said. “Same thing with the defensive part. If you want to do it, you’re gonna do it. If you don’t, you won’t.”

The Celtics must come out committed to rebounding on Tuesday night. The Bulls, post-All-Star break (and post-Taj Gibson trade), ranked in the back half of the league in offensive rebound percentage. Boston isn’t going to get to every rebound, but giving up 16 first-half offensive rebounds, like the Celtics did on Sunday, cannot happen again.

Simply being competitive on the glass is clearly important against the Bulls. In Chicago’s three head-to-head wins over Boston this season, including Sunday, the Bulls outrebounded the Celtics by 17, 19 and 20 overall rebounds, respectively.

Boston absolutely has other issues to address moving forward in this series, especially the question of who will step up when Isaiah Thomas is on the bench (the Celtics were outscored 27-11 without Thomas on Sunday). The Celtics must strive to avoid foul trouble, especially at the wing positions, in order to aggressively defend Butler throughout the game.

Rebounding will be the area most eyes are watching, however. The Celtics knew entering the series that they had to be competitive on the glass and were reminded of that on Sunday.

“[Rebounding] was the game. That’s the game. That’s the series,” Crowder said. “If we don’t rebound, we don’t win the series. It’s simple.”

Stephen Curry explains why he’s locked in but logged off



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OAKLAND, Calif. — With the NBA postseason underway, Golden State Warriors Jerseys All-Star point guard Stephen Curry told ESPN he has curtailed his social-media usage.

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Indeed, to further assist in avoiding “”unnecessary distractions,”” the two-time MVP says he deleted every social media application from his phone before Game 1 of the first-round series against the Portland cheap jerseys Trail Blazers Jerseys.

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• Who believed in Bulls? The Bulls
• Clippers turn on power in Game 2
&#8226 Winners, losers after weekend
• Cavs Big 3 rules Game 2 win
• McCollum, Lillard seek to even score
• Grit, grind and center who shoots 3s
• “”>LeBron’s all-time top playoff games
• Upsets? Series that could surprise
• Experts’ first-round picks: East | West

“When you’re really trying to zone in and keep your focus, you don’t want to have any unnecessary distractions during this point of the season,” Curry told ESPN. “We have goals to accomplish, and you want to make sure you’re giving your all.”

Curry said this is the third consecutive year he has taken this approach cheap jerseys. It’s a routine he’s never disclosed before.

Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys All-Star forward LeBron James is known for activating what he calls “Zero Dark Thirty-23” before postseason play. The Warriors point guard says he didn’t get the idea from James.

“I didn’t do it because he did it. I’m not reinventing the wheel,” Curry told ESPN. “It’s just a way to help me keep my focus on what’s important.”

James removes himself from the social media sphere entirely, refraining from tweeting and posting pictures. Curry goes about his social media ban a little differently. Moments before each game, Curry typically tweets out “Lock in #DubNation.” He didn’t do that on Sunday. He said he’ll occasionally send out a tweet or a picture, but he won’t log into his accounts to do so.

“I have a way of sending out messages without getting into my accounts,” Curry revealed wholesale basketball jerseys. “That way, I’m not seeing or reading something I’m trying to avoid.”

Curry registered 29 points, five rebounds and four assists in Sunday’s 121-109 victory, leading his team to a 1-0 series lead. Going without social media has apparently paid dividends.

“It’s worked for me so far,” Curry said. “I’m going to stay with it.”

Cavaliers hold off late Pacers rally to win Game 2, take 2-0 series lead



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CLEVELAND — LeBron James said that the Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys’ meager one-point margin of victory in Game 1 didn’t bother him, so long as the Cavs got the win.

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That said, he saw his team build a big lead again, only for the Pacers to get as close as a two-possession game in Monday’s 117-111 win, which put the Cavs up 2-0 over the Indiana Pacers Jerseys.

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If Pacers superstar Paul George was upset with CJ Miles for taking the potential game-winner from him Saturday, you have to wonder how he felt about Lance Stephenson falling into the foil role Cleveland needed to wake up and play inspired ball, leading to a 19-point Cavaliers lead.

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The Cavs’ masterful third quarter, in which they outscored the Pacers 33-20, really got going when Stephenson was matched with Kevin Love. Cleveland’s All-Star forward took it to Indiana’s wild card.

The third ended with Kyrie Irving tossing in a 3-pointer over Stephenson and jawing at him to punctuate the play he made before heading back to the Cavs’ bench for the quarter break.

When Irving wasn’t scoring on Stephenson, he was unleashing on Jeff Teague much the same way he did each of the last two postseasons when Teague played for the Atlanta Hawks Jerseys.

Irving led all scorers with 37 points. Love was right behind him with 27 points on an exceptionally efficient 6-of-7 shooting and 11 rebounds. James was solid despite a game-high eight turnovers, contributing 25 points cheap jerseys, 10 rebounds and seven assists. James’ teams had previously been 0-3 in the playoffs when he had at least nine turnovers, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

This is the first time that Love, Irving & James have all scored 25 points in the same playoff game. The Cavaliers are now 7-0 when the trio score at least 20 cheap jerseys points each in the postseason.

We’ve got you covered all the way to the Finals with the latest news, schedules, analysis and more. 2017 NBA Playoffs »

• Schedule | BPI odds | Forecast | Vote!
• Winners, losers after opening weekend
• Portis plays game of his life for Bulls
• Isaiah plays through heartbreak
• Beverley leads Rockets in opener
• Beard’s Rockets takes first over Russ
• It’s Dray all day for Warriors’ opener
• “”>LeBron’s all-time top playoff games
• Upsets? Series that could surprise
• Experts’ first-round picks: East | West

Paul George had 32 points to pace Indiana once again, with 14 coming in a 4th quarter that saw the Pacers outscore the Cavs 33-21 and get as close as a four-point deficit with 19.5 seconds left to play.

The Cavs made their move to take charge earlier than they did in Game 1, using an 11-0 run from the end of the first quarter through the start of the second quarter to seemingly grab control. Cleveland went 5-for-8 during the spurt while Indiana was 0-for-4 with two turnovers.

However, it was the Cavs’ turnovers that allowed the Pacers to stick around, cutting a 13-point Cleveland lead down to five. After coughing it up 11 times in Game 1, leading to 19 points for Indiana, the Cavs had 11 turnovers in the first half alone Monday and the Pacers scored 14 points off them. James was the biggest culprit, losing the ball six times to mar an otherwise brilliant 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting, five rebounds and five assists in the first half. Overall, Indiana outscored Cleveland 24-17 on points off turnovers

Iman Shumpert saw his first action of the series starting the second half in place of J.R. Smith, who left the game at halftime with a left hamstring injury. Shumpert quickly made his presence felt, guarding George on one end and hitting a 3 on another to cap a 7-0 run to start the third quarter that put the Cavs back up by 12.

Check out the team site for more game coverage

Check out the team site for more game coverage

Later Shumpert poked the ball away from George and dove to the floor for the loose ball, causing a jump ball to be called. Tristan Thompson approached Shumpert to celebrate his defensive gusto while the guard flexed his biceps to the delight of the crowd wholesale nba jerseys.

The Cavs’ offense was exemplary, shooting 60.3 percent through three quarters and 55.3 percent for the game. Their defense still has some kinks to work out, as the Pacers shot 51.2 percent overall and 8-for-20 (40.0 percent) from 3.

It’s not like the effort wasn’t there on the defensive end. Twice Love set up to take a charge and appeared to have position – first on George and later on Teague – and both times a blocking foul was called on Love. James was called for a technical foul for expressing his displeasure in the second call that went against Love to the refs.

He eventually got one to go his way, drawing a charge on the 6-9, 285-pound Kevin Seraphin in the third quarter – a third quarter that belonged to Love. He scored 10 in the period, including going right at Stephenson in consecutive sequences when being matched with the 6-5 swingman in the post.

Game 3 is Thursday in Indiana.

Cavs bounce back after LeBron rebuke

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Los Angeles (AFP) – LeBron James scored 25 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys bounced back from their shock defeat to the Memphis Grizzlies Jerseys with a 120-111 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday.

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James had been scathing in his assessment of the Cavaliers’ readiness for the play-offs after Monday’s upset loss to Memphis, warning that his team were a long way from postseason form.

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However the Cavs made sure there was no repeat defeat against Sacramento, who remain in the lower reaches of the Western Conference with a lot of ground to make up if they are to force their way into the play-offs.

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Kyrie Irving top scored for the Cavaliers, while James also finished with 11 rebounds and six assists to go with his 25-point haul.

The key moment came when Kevin Love drained a crucial three-pointer late in the fourth quarter before drawing a foul.

Love converted the four-point play to give Cleveland wholesale jerseys a seven-point lead with 1:32 left that they never looked like relinquishing as they held on to win and improve their record to 45-18. View gallery Oklahoma City Thunder Jerseys overcame the absence of Dion Waiters (L) after the tragic death of his brother …

Tristan Thompson also chipped in with 18 points and 15 rebounds as Cleveland went 2 1/2 games clear of the Toronto Raptors Jerseys at the head of the Eastern Conference.

– Quiet Curry night –

In Oakland meanwhile, Stephen Curry had a relatively low-scoring night cheap basketball jerseys but still managed to produce some game-changing long-range magic with team-mate Klay Thompson to help the Golden State Warriors pull clear of the Utah Jazz Jerseys in a 115-94 victory — their 46th consecutive home win.

Curry, who finished with 12 points, and Thompson (23 points) both produced three-pointers in the final 58 seconds of the second quarter which helped the Warriors take cheap nba jerseys a stranglehold on the contest.

Utah had remained firmly in the hunt heading towards half-time with the Warriors — who are now 56-6 — holding a slender 43-41 lead. View gallery The Thunder looked to their linchpins Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant (L) to provide leadership a …

But Curry connected with a three-pointer from halfway and Thompson sank another basket from 29 feet which suddenly put the Warriors eight points clear.

Oklahoma City Thunder Jerseys meanwhile overcame the absence of Dion Waiters after the tragic death of his brother to romp past the Los Angeles Clippers with a 120-108 victory.

Waiters’ 21-year-old sibling Demetrius Pinckney was found dead in Philadelphia on Tuesday night in what is being investigated by police as a homicide.

It was the latest dark turn to the Thunder’s season after assistant coach Monty Williams’ wife was killed in a car crash last month.

Part owner Aubrey McClendon also lost his life in a car accident on March 2. On Wednesday the Thunder looked to their linchpins Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant to provide leadership and both stars duly delivered.

Westbrook finished with 25 points, 20 assists and 11 rebounds to complete his 11th triple double of the season.

Durant meanwhile scored 30 and piled up 12 rebounds for the Thunder, his fourth straight game of scoring at least 30 points and 10 rebounds.

The victory was sweet revenge for the Thunder, who last week had squandered a 17-point lead in a defeat against the Clippers.

“We knew we could beat this team,” Durant said. “We knew a week ago we threw it cheap basketball jerseys away. We got great shots and we defended as well (tonight),” Durant said.

“This team is really good at getting back into the game, but we gave them that last game. Tonight we took it.”BasketballSports & RecreationCleveland Cavaliers JerseysLeBron JamesStephen CurryMemphis Grizzlies JerseysSacramento KingsTristan ThompsonGolden State Warriors

After Game 1, Hawks feel pain of 8 straight losses to Cavs

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CLEVELAND — Right now, the Atlanta Hawks Jerseys are the Detroit Pistons Jerseys. No more, no less.

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Whatever encouragement they derived from their Game 1 showing against the Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys Monday in their Eastern Conference semifinal — and they talked about deriving quite a bit, particularly from a second-half comeback in which they roared from 18 points down to one up — it’s worth next to nothing if they can’t find a way to turn “close” into a victory and “victory” into a series.

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The Pistons were encouraged, too, facing the Cavaliers way back in April in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. For three of the teams’ four games, Detroit hung around, made the Cavaliers uncomfortable, had chances to push ahead … and walked off night after night with nothing but some atta-boy points as balm for the sweep.

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Stan Van Gundy’s crew, at least, was taking playoff lumps and building springtime callouses by design. They were newbies to this postseason tournament business, several years behind the Hawks in timeline and expectations. They’ll be back, better for their failures next time.

By contrast, when Atlanta forward Kent Bazemore spoke optimistically after Monday’s 104-93 defeat about his team’s “growing pains,” it came across as kind of coddling and thus a little embarrassing, considering how much older, more experienced, presumably savvier and even saltier the Hawks are than the precocious Pistons.

Growing pains? This Atlanta team is closer to its end than its beginning. All on-the-job training was to have taken place last year, when the then-No. 1 seeded Hawks got unceremoniously run out in four games by LeBron James and a less formidable Cavaliers roster.

LeBron Goes Off

LeBron James grabs 25 points with 9 assists in the Cavaliers win over the Hawks.

Growing pains? The Game 1 loss makes it eight defeats in a row for Atlanta against the Cavaliers, including last year’s East finals and three regular-season meetings in 2015-16. That’s a fair amount of pain with very little growth. And no indication of real learning, based on the teams’ late-game execution.

The Hawks showed pluck in planting their heels at 72-54 with 3:56 left in the third quarter, the whole affair about to tilt severely out of control like what had gone on in the openers out West over the weekend. They used guard Dennis Schröder’s ability to hit shots when Cleveland defenders went under screens, alternated nicely with Schröder’s slithery drives inside as the basis for a 16-2 close to the third quarter.

Then they chipped away in the fourth, survived a mini-takeover by Kyrie Irving midway through the period and, on a running hook by Al Horford, went up 88-87 with 4:28 to play.

That’s when Cleveland’s poise saw-and-raised Atlanta’s pluck. The Cavaliers went with what works, what they’ve honed and grooved and made their own through two long seasons and a run to last year’s Finals. First J.R Smith looped around the floor one step ahead of defender Kyle Korver for a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer. Then Kevin Love, on a 4-of-17 shooting night, snookered Bazemore into the air for contact in the right corner, and by hitting two of three foul shots had Cleveland up 92-88.

Next came the backbreaker, as far as Atlanta’s chances were concerned. Out of a Hawks timeout, with James chasing and denying Korver, Schröder lost the ball in traffic at 3:11. Exactly 62 seconds later, James veered into the lane at the opposite end, absorbed some contact and hit a layup. His free throw that followed make it 95-88 with 2:09 left.

In between Schröder’s turnover and James’ and-1, J.R. Smith had missed a pull-up jumper and James missed from 16 feet. But Tristan Thompson and then Smith ran down the rebounds.

That extended the possession. Kept pressure on the Hawks to defend, again and again. And chewed up clock — 62 agonizingly long seconds no longer available to Atlanta, even if it had been able to muster any consistent offense from that point.

Schroder Scores Playoff High

Dennis Schroder goes off for a playoff career-high 27 points in the Hawks loss.

“They hurt,” Bazemore said of the rebounds. “Thompson killed us last year by getting them second opportunities. When a team is good, [giving them] two or three cracks at a bucket, they hurt. It’s definitely frustrating on your end. Sometimes you’re boxing ’em out, doing a good job, but the ball bounces a different way and it bounces right into another guy’s hands. You’ve got to weather those things.”

Bazemore had soared high for an offensive board a little earlier, catching James flat-footed — a James Harden moment, social media cackled — to turn Paul Millsap’s missed 3-pointer into a reset and Millsap layup. Everybody knows the impact of those things. Cleveland just flexed them when they mattered most.

Against Atlanta in last year’s playoffs, Thompson claimed 17 offensive rebounds in four games — the entire Hawks roster grabbed 27. He had five in the second half Monday.

“Against the Hawks, in terms of Millsap and Horford, we are kind of the same ‘active’ bigs,” Thompson said. “For me, it’s just staying relentless on the glass. … As the third quarter and fourth quarter hits, that’s when I try to use my technique to create second-chance opportunities for my teammates.”

Said James, asked if Thompson’s contributions are similar to what Dennis Rodman gave the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls Jerseys: “What Dennis did for the Bulls on the floor — let’s make sure we know that part — ‘Double-T’ does for our team.”

Cleveland wound up finishing the game with a 17-5 advantage over the final 3:32 but it didn’t really qualify as a “run.” It was more slog than whoosh, a veteran team responding one cheap ncaa basketball jerseys possession at a time to very deliberately take the game out of the Hawks’ hands and place it next to them. The way you would if you caught a kid messing with the power tools.

Atlanta did plenty of things well, getting 27 points from Schröder and 15 offensive rebounds of its own. But it never shook Korver (0-for-1 in 37 minutes) free of the Cavs’ game plan. It might have used more Millsap on James when Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha were found wanting. And it couldn’t get the defensive rebound it needed most.

Growing pain? Hmm. We know this much: the Hawks’ pain is growing.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. 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

Thunder bounce back to regain control of series

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DALLAS — Welcome to the Appetizer First Round, where the whales of the NBA are spending this time snacking on lesser teams and doing their best to rest up and stay healthy for the next round, when the games take on a greater sense of desperation.

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Those who call themselves NBA title contenders are looking the part here in the early going, leaving little room for suspense as they sprinted to commanding leads in their first two games. These blowouts may not make for compelling television, but the half-dozen heavyweights could care less, and even though they won’t admit it, it gives them license to look beyond the minions currently standing in their way.

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That’s how the Oklahoma City Thunder Jerseys should view the Mavericks, who rank among the weakest playoff teams in terms of personnel, but OKC swallowed a grapefruit in Game 2 and arrived in Dallas all square Thursday. That means this series, which had “broom” written all over it, will drag OKC at least to a fifth game. What an inconvenience.

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Durant Dominant In Game 3

Kevin Durant drops an impressive 34 points in the Thunder’s Game 3 win over Dallas.

That’s the realistic goal for the Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys, the Los Angeles Clippers Jerseys, the San Antonio Spurs Jerseys and the Golden State Warriors Jerseys, to keep this first round to an extreme minimum, and they’ve done their part so far. They know the road to the NBA Finals will suddenly get very slippery; why waste energy before then? It’s a memo that OKC, a member of the Club Elite, failed to get somehow.

At least the Thunder not-so-gently reminded the Mavericks, once again, that this series can be a mismatch by winning 131-102 Thursday to take a 2-1 series lead. In a face-saving gesture, Kevin Durant rallied from missing 26 shots by scoring 34 points in 37 minutes. Russell Westbrook had 26 points and 15 assists. Enes Kanter 鈥?why isn’t he playing more? 鈥?had 21 points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes. Game 3 never felt or looked compelling, and OKC issued another blowout, their second. They’ve won a pair of games by 38 points and now 29, which strongly suggests the Mavericks are merely in the way, a pile of leaves sitting before the blower.

“Their talent is a significant problem,” admitted Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle.

Well, of course.

The Mavericks won Game 2 by a point and only because Durant was historically inaccurate and Steven Adams’ game-winning shot was late by a nanosecond. And even then, it shouldn’t have come down to that for OKC, given the condition of the Mavericks. Chandler Parsons is out for the series. Deron Williams, also injured, might be finished as well. Every important player in the rotation is past his prime, and that includes Dirk Nowitzki. The proud future Hall of Famer who’s unable to carry this team deep into the summer, as he did five years ago. In this sense, the Mavericks have plenty in common with the teams currently staring at the Spurs, Warriors and to an extent, Clippers in the first round.

Westbrook’s Double-Double vs. Mavs

Russell Westbrook goes off for 26 points and 15 assists as the Thunder take Game 3 in Dallas.

Just look at why the first round is lacking sparks: Memphis is suiting up any healthy body it can find, even if that search takes the Grizzlies to the local YMCA, and therefore they don’t stand much of a chance against the Spurs. The depressing Rockets are ready to be disassembled, that’s how out of sync and discombobulated they are. The overachieving Blazers are trying (and failing) to move forward with a pair of guards who’ve lost their jumper.

And you know what? The Mavericks are probably the lesser of the four, at least on paper anyway. Thunder coach Billy Donovan tried to be PC with a Dallas team that took lumps in two games and stole its only win by saying: “We know coming in here it’s going to be a hard fought physical game.”

If the remaining games cheap throwback nba jerseys in this series are “hard fought” as he predicts, then that says the Thunder might not be ready to win an NBA title.

Durant scored 16 of his points in the game’s first 13 minutes and forcefully put his Game 2 misery behind him. He admitted the last two days felt more like two weeks.

“Now I know how fighters feel when they lose the fight and they know the rematch is coming, but a year later.”

Still, he explained why he doesn’t plunge into deep depression over a rare poor outing: “When I go out there and play well, I don’t throw a party for myself. I approach the game the same way, no matter what.”

Game 3 had a few skirmishes involving Raymond Felton, Adams, Andre Roberson and J.J. Barea. At least the pre-game dance routine featuring Westbrook and Cameron Payne went on without a hitch or a photobomb by Charlie Villanueva. Sensing the obvious talent difference between them and the Thunder, and perhaps feeling that this series is getting out of hand, the Mavericks did what desperate teams often do and turned physical. At this point, the only way the Thunder can come undone is by losing their cool.

Tempers Flare In Dallas

Steven Adams and Raymond Felton get tangled up and two technical fouls are called.

Noting that Dallas used “a lot of gamesmanship,” Donovan said: “I thought our guys did a good job of keeping their composure.”

There’s a game on Saturday in Dallas and, unfortunately for the Thunder, another in OKC. It would be in the Thunder’s best interest to keep their foot on the pedal and their fingers around the throats and press their way to a quick and efficient resolution of the first round. That’s what great teams do — they don’t mess around with lesser teams and waste precious energy. In this case, a series win would put OKC in a cage match against the Spurs late next week.

“We do a good job of coming in and do what we do,” said Westbrook.

Well, yes. For the most part. With one noticeable exception in this series. As much as the Thunder would like to clean out the Mavericks, and are poised to do so, they can’t use a broom.

Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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Clippers’ Crawford named Kia NBA Sixth Man of Year

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NEW YORK — The Los Angeles Clippers’ Jamal Crawford is the winner of the 2015-16 Kia NBA Sixth Man Award for his contributions in a reserve role, the NBA announced today. He becomes the first player to earn the honor three times. The 36-year-old Crawford also breaks his own record, set two years ago, as the oldest winner.

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Crawford amassed 51 first-place votes and 341 total points from a panel of 130 sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada. The Golden State Warriors’ Andre Iguodala finished second with 288 points (33 first-place votes), and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Enes Kanter was third with 182 points (19 first-place votes).

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Players were awarded five points for each first-place vote, three points for each second-place vote and one point for each third-place vote. To be eligible for the award, players had to have come off the bench in more games than they started.

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Crawford came off the bench in 74 of his 79 appearances and averaged 14.2 points and 2.3 assists in 26.9 minutes in all games, helping the Clippers (53-29) post their fourth straight 50-win season. He recorded 33 games with 15 or more points off the bench, third most in the NBA behind the Denver Nuggets’ Will Barton (38) and the New Orleans Pelicans’ Ryan Anderson (36). As a starter, Crawford scored at least 30 points in four of five games. Crawford also ranked second in the NBA in free throw percentage (90.4).

A 16-year veteran, Crawford previously won the Kia NBA Sixth Man Award in 2009-2010 with the Atlanta Hawks Jerseys and in 2013-14 with the Clippers. When Crawford was honored for the first time as a Clipper, he joined Kevin McHale, Ricky Pierce and Detlef Schrempf as the only two-time winners. Crawford is the cheap custom basketball jerseys only player to win the award with multiple teams.

2015-16 KIA NBA SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR RESULTS

Player | Team | 1st place (5 pts) | 2nd place (3 pts) | 3rd place (1 pt) | Total Points

Jamal Crawford | L.A. Clippers | 51 | 23 | 17 | 341

Andre Iguodala | Golden State Warriors | 33 | 35 | 18 | 288

Enes Kanter | Oklahoma City Thunder | 19 | 20 | 27 | 182

Will Barton | Denver Nuggets | 15 | 21 | 20 | 158

Evan Turner | Boston Celtics Jerseys | 3 | 7 | 10 | 46

Ryan Anderson | New Orleans Pelicans | 4 | 6 | 5 | 43

Jeremy Lin | Charlotte Hornets Jerseys | 1 | 6 | 7 | 30

Ed Davis | Portland Trail Blazers | 1 | 5 | 1 | 21

Dennis Schröder | Atlanta Hawks Jerseys | 1 | 2 | 6 | 17

Tristan Thompson | Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys | 2 | 0 | 6 | 16

Shaun Livingston | Golden State Warriors | 0 | 1 | 4 | 7

J.J. Barea | Dallas Mavericks | 0 | 1 | 2 | 5

Boris Diaw | San Antonio Spurs | 0 | 1 | 2 | 5

cheap custom basketball jerseys Zach LaVine | Minnesota Timberwolves | 0 | 1 | 1 | 4

Darren Collison | Sacramento Kings | 0 | 1 | 0 | 3

Allen Crabbe | Portland Trail Blazers | 0 | 0 | 1 | 1

Jrue Holiday | New Orleans Pelicans | 0 | 0 | 1 | 1

Patrick Patterson | Toronto Raptors Jerseys | 0 | 0 | 1 | 1

Mirza Teletovic | Phoenix Suns | 0 | 0 | 1 | 1 Trending

Playoffs have long line of series-changing injuries

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The NBA playoffs are only a couple of weeks old, and already we’ve seen them radically changed thanks to a couple of key injuries.

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Golden State’s presumptive MVP Stephen Curry, who led the NBA in scoring during the regular season at 31 points per game, sprained his ankle in Game 1 of their first-round series against the Rockets, then returned in Game 4 and suffered a knee injury that could keep him out for two weeks. More recently, during Game 4 of the Clippers’ series against Portland, Los Angeles point guard Chris Paul suffered a fractured hand, which will sideline him indefinitely, and Blake Griffin re-injured his quadriceps, which means he will miss the rest of the playoffs.

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Injuries are an unavoidable part of sports. Over the last few years, we’ve seen teams trying to preserve players by sitting them out of games and limiting their minutes. And along the way, we’ve also learned that nobody seems able to avoid the fickle hand of bad luck, particularly where injuries are concerned.

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This season is not the first time we’ve seen an NBA team in the playoffs have its destiny altered by circumstances beyond its control. Let’s take a look back over the last 15 years at some of the injuries that have had a significant impact on their team’s postseason plans…

Derek Anderson Jerseys, San Antonio Spurs

Playoff series: 2001 Western Conference semifinals vs. Dallas

Injury: Separated shoulder in Game 1

How it affected the series: The Spurs finished the 2000-01 season an NBA-best 58-24, with Anderson the team’s second-leading scorer behind Tim Duncan, averaging 15.5 points in 82 games. Anderson injured his shoulder on a flagrant foul from Juwan Howard, although the Spurs went on to beat the Mavericks in five games. Anderson returned during the Western Conference finals, but the Lakers swept the Spurs in four games.

Peja Stojakovic, Sacramento Kings

Playoff series: 2002 Western Conference semifinals vs. Dallas

Injury: Sprained ankle in Game 3

How it affected the series: Coming off an All-Star season as Sacramento’s second-leading scorer, Stojakovic’s injury kept him out nearly three weeks. He finally returned to help the Kings win Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, although the Lakers bounced back to win Games 6 and 7 and advance to the NBA Finals.

Chris Webber, Sacramento Kings

Playoff series: 2003 Western Conference semifinals vs. Dallas

Injury: ACL injury in Game 2

How it affected the series: Webber was Sacramento’s leading scorer during the regular season, averaging 23 points. The Kings were leading 1-0 when Webber went down, and without Webber, Dallas was able to eliminate the Kings in seven games. Although, as Dallas was about to learn, the injury bug is inescapable.

Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks

Playoff series: 2003 Western Conference finals vs. San Antonio

Injury: Knee in Game 3

How it affected the series: The Mavs finished the regular season tied for the NBA’s best record at 60-22. After beating the Spurs in Game 1, Nowitzki strained his knee going for a rebound in Game 3, and missed the rest of the series. The Spurs went on to win the series and, eventually, the NBA championship.

Sam Cassell, Minnesota Timberwolves

Playoff series: 2004 Western Conference finals vs. Lakers

Injury: Hip injury in Game 1

How it affected the series: The Wolves had won a regular season franchise-best 58 games and entered the postseason as the top seed in the Western Conference. Point guard Cassell was injured one minute into Game 1, and wasn’t nearly as effective as he was during the regular season. The Lakers won the series in six games to advance to the NBA Finals.

Joe Johnson, Phoenix Suns

Playoff series: 2005 Western Conference semifinals vs. Dallas

Injury: Broken orbital bone in Game 2

How it affected the series: Johnson had played 287 consecutive games for the Suns before a foul from Jerry Stackhouse caused an eye injury that resulted in a minor concussion and required surgery. Johnson missed the rest of the series, as the Suns were able to defeat the Mavericks in six games. Johnson returned in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, but the Suns lost in five games to the San Antonio Spurs.

Yao Ming, Houston Rockets

Playoff series: 2009 Western Conference semifinals vs. Lakers

Injury: Fractured foot in Game 3

How it affected the series: After the Rockets finished the regular season with 53 wins, they won their first-round matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers. In Game 3 of the conference semifinals, Yao had to limp off after suffering a stress fracture. The Lakers would go on to win the series and, eventually, the NBA championship.

Kendrick Perkins, Boston Celtics Jerseys

Playoff series: 2010 NBA Finals vs. Lakers

Injury: Knee injury in Game 6

How it affected the series: Perkins wasn’t Boston’s most dynamic player, but his defensive presence and leadership were valued by the Celtics. The Celtics held a 3-2 lead going into Game 6, but an early Perkins injury derailed Boston, as the Lakers went on to win Games 6 and 7 and take the NBA title.

Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls Jerseys

Playoff series: 2012 Eastern Conference first round vs. Philadelphia

Injury: Torn ACL in Game 1

How it affected the series: Rose was the NBA’s reigning MVP, and had led the Bulls to the Eastern Conference finals the previous season. In 2012, Rose led the Bulls to a first-place finish in the Central Division and they were one of the favorites to contend for an NBA title. Rose’s knee injury in Game 1 was catastrophic for Chicago, as they went on to lose the series in six games.

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Playoff series: 2013 Western Conference first round vs. Houston

Injury: Torn meniscus in Game 2

How it affected the series: One season after a trip to the NBA Finals, the Thunder finished the regular season with a 60-22 record, best in the Western Conference. Westbrook had played all 82 regular season games, averaging 23.2 points and 7.4 assists. Westbrook collided with Houston’s Patrick Beverley and came up limping, and ended up needing surgery and missed the rest of the postseason. The Thunder ended up winning the series behind Kevin Durant, but lost the conference semifinals to the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Starters: Beverley vs. Westbrook

The Starters discuss the heated rivalry between the Patrick Beverley and Russell Westbrook along with their respected teams.

Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder

Playoff series: 2014 Western Conference semifinals vs. Clippers

Injury: Calf injury in Game 6

How it affected the series: One season after losing Westbrook in the postseason, the Thunder were still harboring championship aspirations. But during the Thunder’s Game 6 victory over the Clippers, Ibaka suffered a calf injury. A day later, the Thunder announced that Ibaka was done for the rest of the postseason. But after the Thunder fell behind 0-2 to the Spurs during the Western Conference finals, Ibaka returned in a limited role but the Spurs would go on to win and advance.

Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys

Playoff series: 2015 Eastern Conference first round vs. Boston cheap nba jersey

Injury: Dislocated shoulder in game 4

How it affected the series: After the Cavs added Kevin Love and LeBron James to a young core, they finished the season as the best team in the Eastern Conference. But during Game 4 of their first round series against Boston, Love and Kelly Olynyk became tangled going after a loose ball, and Love suffered his season-ending injury. The Cavs had enough interior depth to win the series and eventually advance to the NBA Finals, but soon learned there were more injuries ahead…

Love’s Injury

Kevin Love leaves the game after injuring his shoulder while battling for the rebound with Kelly Olynyk.

Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys

Playoff series: NBA Finals vs. Golden State Warriors

Injury: Patella fracture in Game 2

How it affected the series: Irving actually missed two games against the Atlanta Hawks Jerseys in the Eastern Conference finals with a knee injury, but returned to play against the Warriors’ strong backcourt in the NBA Finals. Irving suffered the injury during overtime of Game 1, knocking him out for the rest of the series. The Cavs would go on to lose the Finals in six games.

Kyrie Irving’s Injury

Kyrie Irving drives, lands awkardly and appears to sustain an injury on the play.

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

Despite defeating Cavs, Bulls left with plenty of questions

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CHICAGO — The Chicago Bulls Jerseys finished 7-1 against the top two teams in the Eastern Conference. They outplayed the Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys in the fourth quarter and beat the defending conference champs in a playoffs-like atmosphere at United Center on Saturday.

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And yet, after the final two games on their regular season schedule, the Bulls are headed home. To lick wounds, to mine what positives they can from their wildly mediocre and extremely unreliable 2015-16, to press their noses occasionally against the glass of the postseason party to which they uninvited themselves and to spin. Always to spin.

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What Bulls fans will get when it’s all officially over, after the Philadelphia 76ers Jerseys drape black crepe Wednesday over another lost season, will be more eulogy than autopsy. “Injuries” will be mentioned a lot and, while they existed and nagged, there’s been nothing like the Derrick Rose blowouts around which Chicago navigated nonetheless to the three most recent of the franchise’s seven consecutive playoff appearances.

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There will be talk about new coach Fred Hoiberg’s challenge in fitting a touted pace-and-space offensive style to a group of players more familiar and comfortable with predecessor Tom Thibodeau’s bark-and-park halfcourt game.

And fans who keep showing up at United Center 22,000 strong, thereby providing no tangible urgency for change, will hear about an offseason devoted to every last button, pulley and lever, about Bulls management being committed to using every apparatus available — draft, trades, free agency — to restore Chicago to playoff respectability.

It might even match in sincerity and staying power the justifications belched up a year ago for paying Thibodeau and his .647 winning percentage as much as $9 million to go away.

So no, the eulogies aren’t going to offer much in the way of explanation for what went wrong for the Bulls this season, literally from the get-go of Rose’s “I’ll be a free agent looking for another pay day in July 2017” Media Day comments in September 2015. For that, you needed to have been paying attention over the past week or so, as Hoiberg, Jimmy Butler, veteran Pau Gasol and a few others dissected the team’s failings while it still was a few blips shy of flatlining.

They definitely step up their game when they see me.

– LeBron James

Gasol rattled off three of Chicago’s most galling failings earlier Saturday, citing “a lack of sense of urgency,” “a lack of awareness” and “a lack of maturity” in the locker room.

“There’s been times where we dropped games, lost games, that we should never have lost, especially at home against certain teams,” the 35-year-old center said. “Those are the times that guys don’t realize how big of a price that you can pay at the end of the year and how much of a different position you’re going to be [in] by those games in November, December, January. ‘Ah, there’s still 40 games to play, there’s still 50 games to play.’ No, those games are just as meaningful as the ones we’ve been playing for the last week or two where our life has been on the line.”

Gasol, whose defensive lapses are as gaping as any of the Bulls, does an admirable job of laying out the what of things gone wrong for the Bulls. What he does not or cannot explain is the how of those nasties infiltrating what was brought back as an experienced, allegedly savvy intact roster from last season.

Was there no one to nip it all in the bud early? No voice that could rise above the rest and command his Bulls teammates to plant their sneakers and say no to that noise? Well, Gasol and Rose don’t have the personalities or the volume in their voices. Joakim Noah, he of the awkward game but fiery heart, was hurt and marginalized.

As for Butler, he grabbed too directly at the team’s leadership reins, generating more eye-rolls than followers. By last week, the self-made All-Star was dropping third-person references to “Jimmy Butler,” still the only Bulls player he really could call out.

Butler did call out Hoiberg early, after a desultory loss to the Knicks in Madison Square Garden on Dec. 19, saying the first-year NBA head coach needed to “coach harder” in holding players accountable. There are those who think Hoiberg’s immediate response should have been to sit Butler out of Chicago’s next game, a loss to Brooklyn, to make his authority known up-close and personal. But he did not. Chicago got a nice 7-1 bump (including six playoff-bound opponents) to reach 22-12 on Jan 7, then began its slide back to blah.

Butler’s challenge persists, in its candor and its perspective, as the defining moment of Hoiberg’s first season. It was brought up again, four months after the fact, in pregame questioning Saturday: So, will you be louder and more direct next season?

Jimmy Butler: Should Bulls Trade Him?

Rumors are that the Bulls will explore trading Jimmy this offseason, but should they?

“When I go back and look at the different segments of the season,” Hoiberg said, “we got off to a pretty solid start with this thing. Then some things happened. I think most of that comes from the one comment that was made after the New York game by Jimmy. We had some pretty heated moments with our group, in the locker room, the in-film session. Would I change it and be more vocal, more direct? Maybe. Again, we’ll evaluate that as we go into the offseason.”

Add it to the list, already a long one. Gasol almost certainly is gone, the early-out in his contract offering him at a chance, as he turns 36, to land with a legitimate contender for some late-career fun. General manager Gar Forman’s comments about Gasol as a building block for the Bulls — at a price significantly higher than his current $7.7 million — rang hollow as soon as he said it in February, offered more to stifle chatter about next season than to lay out a real blueprint.

Noah might or might not be back, his game less valuable to the Bulls than his presence. Rose and Butler claim they’ll work out together this offseason to improve their chemistry and communication, though it’s easy to imagine a summer stalemate in which the former in L.A. and the latter in San Diego each expects the other to make the I-5 drive.

VP John Paxson and Forman are safe because that’s the way newly enshrined Hall of Famer, Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, rolls with his executives. And Hoiberg has the dual job security of being Forman’s choice as coach even before the position was vacant and of having four years and $20 million left on his deal. It wasn’t Hoiberg’s fault he was undercut well before his arrival, by management telling the locker room “Aw, don’t worry what the coach wants” all of last season.

The Bulls’ championship ambitions, for this bunch at least, are ending with more whimper than bang. LeBron James, who normally puts them down each spring, instead gave them a pat on their heads and a sideways shot on his way out of town Saturday, heading to far better things.

“The Chicago Bulls Jerseys team that plays us is not going to be the one that’s struggling a little bit off and on, as of late,” James said. “They always play well versus us. It’s like human nature — when they see me, it’s like ‘OK.’ They wish I wore every uniform at this point. They definitely step up nba basketball jerseys their game when they see me.”

Except that the struggle hasn’t been a little bit, merely off and on, or just of late. It got addressed in this space quite a while back, both here and here.

What it has been is an embarrasingly blown opportunity in which Rose has played in 66 games, Gasol at 35 has put up 46 more double-doubles and Butler again reached All-Star status. The defense drooped, the offense never got traction, and rosy talk in training camp about Doug McDermott, Tony Snell and Bobby Portis has given way to rosy talk on the brink of elimination about Cristiano Felicio, Justin Holiday and E’Twaun Moore.

But hey, the Bulls are 7-1 against the best in the East and 11-5 against the top six teams in the NBA this season. You can do the math for how they’ve done against everybody else, those more of their ilk.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. 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.

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

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