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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No more Mr. Nice Guy: Kevin Durant’s new role as NBA villain

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LAS VEGAS — The family vacation was planned months in advance. As soon as free agency was over, DeAndre Jordan was heading to a resort in Jamaica where — theoretically — he would put his phone in airplane mode, surround himself with family and friends, and all the noise would stop.

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That was the plan, anyway.

If you followed NBA free agency in the slightest last July, you know what actually happened. Three days after committing to the Dallas Mavericks Jerseys, Jordan had a stunning change of heart and returned to the Los Angeles Clippers Jerseys.

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In the time it took to fill out a customs form on the flight to Jamaica, Jordan became a villain in Dallas, an accidental hero in Los Angeles and the butt of jokes on late-night talk shows, social media and sports talk radio.

He tried to keep his phone off, but there was no escaping the fallout.

One day as he was sitting on the beach, he got a text from Kevin Durant. They’d been close since high school when Durant tried to persuade Jordan to attend the University of Texas with him. Jordan instead chose Texas A&M, so they drifted apart for a few years. Eventually they reconnected during summer workouts. And in the past few years, they’d grown much closer. So close, in fact, that the Mavericks hoped landing Jordan in free agency would give them an edge in the Durant sweepstakes the following summer.

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DeAndre Jordan, left, knows a thing or two about handling life as an NBA villain. Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Durant said his message to Jordan was simple: “I just let him know, ‘Man, whatever you do. You’ve got people that love you.'”

It was the kind of thing you say to a friend to let him know you can’t make things better for him, but you’re still in his corner.

“I feel like the people who talked to me afterwards are my real friends,” Jordan said this week, after a training session with Team USA cheap jerseys. “The people who stopped texting me afterwards, the ones who said stuff like ‘we’re family and all that’ while I was deciding, that wasn’t real. I realize it was only a basketball decision for them.

“You find out who is really on your side. And Kevin was like, ‘Man, you can’t worry about what other people think. You’ve got to worry about you and what makes you happy.'”

Fast-forward a year and Durant is the one who spent his summer in the middle of a free-agency squall and made a stunning decision that brought withering criticism from fans, peers and media critics.

No, he didn’t commit to one team and then renege a few days later. But after eight years of telling the fans in Oklahoma City that he loved them and wanted to retire there, his departure for the Golden State Warriors Jerseys came as a cruel shock.

Had he misled them all those years? Did he fall out of love? Or was his love never that pure to begin with?

Durant felt all of it. If he’s being honest, knowing how much he was about to hurt the fans in Oklahoma City was one of the things that nearly held him back from following his gut and signing with the Warriors. For 48 hours after picking the Warriors, he said he stayed inside the house he’d rented in the Hamptons while receiving free-agent pitches wholesale jerseys from the Warriors, Celtics, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Heat.

“I didn’t leave my bed, because I was like, ‘Man, if I walk outside somebody might just try to hit me with their car or say anything negative to me,'” Durant said. “I just stayed in and tried to process it all. … It felt different.”

Very different.

“He played his heart out for that team. If they can’t respect that, if other players can’t respect it, that’s their decision.”

DeAndre Jordan, on Kevin Durant leaving Oklahoma City

Durant hasn’t been the boyish, backpack-wearing homegrown superstar most people first came to know him as for a while now. First he went through the “KD is not nice” phase where he was like a child star trying to break out of a wholesome, prepubescent box by releasing a song about being naughty (See: Selena Gomez, Britney Spears, Justin Bieber).

Then he started copping an occasional attitude at the media for perceived slights to him, his teammates or any player in the NBA who he thought was getting unfair treatment.

But there was always something about Durant’s defiance that felt a little forced. Like he was just pushing boundaries or asserting his independence from the nice-guy image that had gone way too far and escaped reality a long time ago.

He is nice. He’s just not the saint people projected him to be.

For example: Last fall he turned down a half-dozen requests for an ESPN The Magazine story. He’d decided to stay silent until he could explain his feelings about free agency on The Players’ Tribune. Fine. Totally his prerogative. He believed in the Tribune’s business model and message of player empowerment. I can respect that. But when we saw each other at Thunder media day, he came over to explain himself in person.

How many NBA superstars do that? Most tell an agent or publicist to deliver their bad news and never address it personally. And yet because we’d always had a good professional relationship, Durant felt compelled to explain himself in person. It was an incredibly self-aware, sensitive thing to do.

Editor’s PicksWhy Kevin Durant stayed in bed after choosing to leave OKC

At Team USA camp in Las Vegas, new Golden State Warriors Jerseys star Kevin Durant talked about his initial reaction of staying in bed for a few days and finally facing his decision.

Which star will take a back seat in the Warriors’ Big Four?

With four-time scoring champ Kevin Durant in the mix, Golden State’s incumbent stars are in for reduced roles. Which Warrior is equipped to handle the biggest sacrifice?

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That’s just a small example without much consequence. So how in the world was he going to handle breaking the hearts of a city that loved him? Of going from hero to villain? Of being criticized by Hall of Famers like Reggie Miller and Charles Barkley for taking an easier path to a championship?

This week in Las Vegas has been Durant’s first taste of life as a heartbreaker, and it appears he’s only allowing himself to feel it in doses.

The full weight of the fallout is too much to process all at once.

“I just try to be the man in the arena,” Durant said. “It’s easy for the critics on the outside to tell you what to do or what decisions to make, but they weren’t just out here with me, putting in work.

“I can’t really worry about the outside noise. I have to go to work. The work don’t stop. The love of the game doesn’t fade. Everything stays the same no matter where I play.”

This has become one of Durant’s refrains. A self-affirmation of sorts.

Some players would get off on being disliked — whether the sentiment is real or just a projection — and use it as motivation. But that’s not Durant’s nature.

“Guys like Kobe [Bryant] thrive on it,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, a longtime Team USA assistant. “I don’t think Kevin will thrive on it. But I do think he will immerse himself into the [Warriors] team.”

Another key difference?

“When you come into town as the villain like Kobe, everybody’s focused on him because he was the best player. But when Golden State comes in, they’re not going to just focus on one guy,” Boeheim said.

That was clearly part of the appeal to joining the Warriors. After years of being the face of his franchise, with the hopes and dreams of a city all on his shoulders, Durant was drawn to the idea of being just one of the guys.

That’s part of what he said he’s always loved about Team USA and what helped him this week as he adjusts to this new reality.

This uncomfortable period may be good for Durant in the end. Making a decision he knew would be unpopular? Maybe that’s the personal evolution and growth he needs. Maybe it won’t be. In hindsight, Jordan said that he’s found the entire process to be clarifying.

“It definitely makes you tougher,” Jordan said. “I still joke around like a little kid, but I don’t get as mad as I used to about things, I don’t let stuff affect me like I used to, because I’ve gone through that crap.”

He hopes it’ll be that way for Durant as well.

“When I found out he was going to the Warriors, I texted him, ‘Man, I’m happy for you. This is going to be big. I can’t wait to kick y’all’s ass,'” Jordan said.

“I’m happy for him. He gave those guys [in Oklahoma City] nine great years of MVP-level basketball, a Finals appearance. He played his heart out for that team. If they can’t respect that, if other players can’t respect it, that’s their decision. At the end of the day, he’s happy and that’s the only person he has to satisfy.”

Durant was sitting one seat away from Jordan as they each spoke after practice on the third day of Team USA training camp. There was plenty of room on either side of them. But the two old friends seemed more comfortable crowding each other’s personal space.

If things were destined to be uncomfortable going forward, they had might as well lean on each other.

Westbrook’s triple-double lifts Thunder

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Russell Westbrook once again did a little bit of everything for the Thunder.

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He finished Friday night with 26 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds, basketball jerseys cheap his sixth triple-double of the season, the third in his past nine games and the 25th of the Oklahoma City point guard’s career.


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It also was the seventh time in nine games Westbrook has had 10 or more assists as the Thunder took cheap jerseys advantage of center Dwight Howard’s ejection and beat the Houston Rockets Jerseys 116-108.

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”It’s part of my job, man,” Westbrook said. ”Just trying to find guys, getting the ball where they can score, keep the pace up.”

Howard was ejected in the third quarter after picking up his second technical foul. Kanter scored 20 of his 22 points after that to help the Thunder gain control.

”Obviously, when you lose a guy of that caliber wholesale nba jerseys, they’ve got a guy they can counter with with Kanter, who’s a really good low-post scorer,” Houston interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. ”With Dwight in there, we can shut that down. He can guard guys one-on-one in the post. Kanter was able to get it going a little bit after Dwight went out.”

Kevin Durant had 33 basketball jerseys cheap points and 12 rebounds for the Thunder, who have won 10 of 11 and six straight at home.

James Harden had 33 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, but he made just 2 of 10 field goals in the second half. Corey Brewer added 17 points for the Rockets, who shot 38 percent overall and made just 9 of 39 3-pointers and 27 of 43 free throws.

”They want to shoot threes and get layups, and I think we closed all of that off tonight,” Durant said. ”We were there on the catch for them guys and we didn’t just let them play freely. When we do that, we’re a scary team.”

Bickerstaff said shots simply weren’t falling.

”We’ve got to take those shots with confidence and we believe in the guys that are taking those shots,” he said. ”Tonight they didn’t go. The past few weeks they’ve been falling and they’ll go again. Guys work on it. They’ve got to trust their training, shoot them with confidence and we’ll get them.”

The Rockets led 58-55 at halftime. They led by as many as 12 points in the second quarter, but Howard made just 2 of 9 free throws in the period to help the Thunder creep back into the game.

Howard was ejected with 7:06 left in the third quarter – Bickerstaff said after the game he was told it was for something Howard said. The Thunder finally took the lead on a putback by Kanter, and a dunk by Durant on an assist from Westbrook put Oklahoma City ahead 80-76. The Thunder led 89-83 at the end of the third quarter. View gallery OKLAHOMA CITY, OK- JANUARY 29: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder Jerseys goes up for a dunk …

Westbrook got his triple-double on an assist to Kyle Singler, who scored and was fouled. Singler’s free throw put Oklahoma City ahead 101-92.


Howard missed 11 free throws in the game, despite leaving early. DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers Jerseys and Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons Jerseys are the only players in the league to have missed more than 11 free throws in any game this season. Drummond has done it three times and Jordan twice.


Kanter on Thunder’s emphasis on defense: ”We’ve been talking about it this morning, the day before, the day before and the day before, we’ve been talking about defense.”


Oklahoma City improved to 21-4 all-time when Westbrook gets a triple-double.


Rockets: Harden, a former Thunder player, was booed loudly during pregame introductions. … Howard’s first technical came after he put Singler in a headlock during a battle for a rebound in the second quarter. … Howard finished with eight points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes.

Thunder: Houston Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel Jerseys was in the crowd. He is from Tulsa, Oklahoma. … Cameron Payne (concussion) and Andre Roberson (right knee sprain) did not play. … Dion Waiters, who started in Roberson’s place, got a technical in the final seconds of the third quarter. He finished with 16 points. … Oklahoma City scored at least 100 points for the seventh straight game. … Steven Adams and Kanter each had 10 rebounds.


Rockets: Host Wizards on Saturday.

Thunder: Host Wizards on Monday.Sports & RecreationBasketballDwight HowardOklahoma CityRussell WestbrookHouston Rockets Jerseys

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.

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

Jazz’s paint patrollers bear burden of team’s playoff goal

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It is becoming less of a secret, the longer he plays and the closer he comes to helping the Utah Jazz Jerseys get back into the playoffs: Derrick Favors can be driven by his anger.

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“I know he is somebody who is very quiet,” says Rudy Gobert, the 7-foot-1 Utah center who partners with Favors, the 6-foot-10 power forward.

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“But when he gets angry, that’s when he is at his best.”

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A five-game losing streak ended two weeks ago when that anger flared up. Favors did not turn into the Hulk. He did not cause harm. But he did generate 28 points on 19 shots to go with six blocks, 11 rebounds and three assists as he outplayed All-Star Anthony Davis Jerseys in a crucial 106-94 win at New Orleans.

“We both have a lot of pride,” says Gobert, who contributed 18 rebounds and two blocks to that win. “I feel like we both got the chip on our shoulder. We both have something to prove and we’re showing it on the court.”

Favors Helps Jazz Stun Cavs

Rodney Hood scores 28 and Derrick Favors adds 19 points and 5 rebounds as the Jazz beat the Cavs 94-85.

After surviving a run of competitive losses that had gone the wrong way in the fourth quarter, the young Jazz have now won five of six (including a telltale victory at home last week against the Cavaliers) to raise the significance of its showdown at Houston tonight (8 ET, NBA League Pass). It is going to feel like a postseason play-in game, given that the Rockets are only a ½-game ahead of No. 9 Utah in the Western Conference.

Injuries have thinned the perimeter — a season-ending knee injury to point guard Dante Exum, a broken fibula shooting guard Alec Burks suffered in December that ended his 2015-16 and the ongoing plantar fasciitis plaguing top scorer and small forward Gordon Hayward — so Utah will be leaning on the defensive leadership of Favors and Gobert. In spite of the injuries to a roster that was already the youngest in the league in terms of experience, the Jazz have gone 21-17 when Favors and Gobert have started together.

We both have a lot of pride. I feel like we both got the chip on our shoulder. We both have something to prove and we’re showing it on the court.

– Utah Jazz Jerseys center Rudy Gobert, on he and Derrick Favors

Even more intriguing than the uphill pursuit of Utah’s first playoff appearance since 2012 is the longterm question that may be answered over the next three weeks: Can Favors and Gobert establish a foundation at both ends of the court that will carry Utah back into perennial contention?

“Peoples’ initial response is: Can they play together? And can they coexist offensively?” says Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “I think they can. But they are unique, and they are not going to play off one another the way a typical power forward and center combination would.”

Duo a unique defensive tandem

For perspective, consider the frontcourt issue that the Los Angeles Clippers Jerseys are seeking to resolve. Can Blake Griffin (pending his return from injury and suspension) and DeAndre Jordan reach an NBA Finals together? The questions arise from the absence of a floor-spacer among them: Griffin isn’t a 3-point shooter, and Jordan is a threat mainly around the basket.

Gobert Finds Favors

Rudy Gobert throws it up to Derrick Favors who throws down the alley-oop dunk.

In Utah, Favors and Gobert have emerged as a poor man’s version of the Clippers’ front line. Favors is 1-for-14 in his career as a 3-point shooter, while all but five of Gobert’s field goals — he’s averaging a career-best 9.5 points and shooting 56.5 percent — have been scored within 5 feet.

“I think a lot of is just the two of them being disciplined in their spacing,” Snyder said. “There is less room because their range isn’t typical of a combination like that. Their passing has to make up for it, and I think both of them will develop. Both of them have to be realistic about their strengths and weaknesses and where they can improve, and embrace some of those things that they can get better at.”

I knew right away that he was a good defensive player. I was a defensive guy too when I came into the league — still am. It was right from the beginning where we were both blocking shots and playing team defense.

– Utah Jazz Jerseys forward Derrick Favors, on Rudy Gobert

Both are years away from fulfilling their upside. Despite back problems that sidelined him for 16 games in midseason, Favors, 24, has elevated his scoring average for a fifth straight year (16.9 points) while also averaging 8.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks while shooting 51.3 percent. Gobert, 23, missed 18 games with a knee sprain, yet his 9.5 points and 11.0 rebounds are both career bests.

They appear willing to complement one another in recognition of each other’s strengths. Protection of the rim — and the gaudier shot-blocking numbers that go with it — have been ceded to Gobert (2.2 blocks per game). Meanwhile, Favors has shown the defensive versatility to defend away from the basket.

“Faves this year has been showing he can guard perimeter guys for a possession,” Hayward said. “That allows us to start switching 1 through 4 late, which is just huge for us.”

Snyder points out that most of Gobert’s blocks come off the ball, while Favors tends to block shots within his matchup. “On defense I let him do his thing,” says Favors of Gobert. “So I take a backseat to that, because I nba jerseys wholesale know he’s going to block shots, he’s going to get the rebounds, he’s going to do all of that stuff. And then on offense he knows I’m going to be the guy who will get most of the touches. So he plays off me.”

Gobert can be seen spacing away from Favors, but he commands respect when rolling or diving to the basket. At times it seems as if the lobs can’t be thrown high enough. “With his ability to jump, you throw it too low and he may drop it,” says point guard Trey Burke. “Then sometimes you may throw it too high because you feel like he can go get anything.”

No odd couple here

Gobert has little in common with his power forward in terms of background. Favors grew up in Atlanta as a can’t-miss prospect who was rated by some as the No. 1 high school player nationally in 2009. After averaging 12.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks as a freshman at Georgia Tech, he went No. 3 overall to the Nets in the 2010 Draft. Four months into his rookie season, Favors was moved to Utah as the main piece in the stunning trade of then-All-Star Deron Williams.

Favors Shines vs. Pelicans

Derrick Favors scores 28 points and grabs 11 rebounds as the Jazz defeat the Pelicans 106-94.

It was as if he had been moved back in time. His new mentors included Al Jefferson, owner of the NBA’s most retro post game, and Favors would invest hundreds of hours in his footwork. “When I first came into the league I was the athletic guy — running, jumping, blocking shots,” says Favors. “And when I got to Utah it was like, `We play the system. So you’re going to have to rotate over, you’re going to have to work on your post game, you’re going to have to play team defense. You’re not going to get a lot of shots because we want you to rotate over early.’ So that was something I had to learn. And I’ve kept with it.

“I knew that it was going to pay off in the long run. That’s why I stuck with it, and I’m glad because obviously it’s paying off now. I know when I get older, my athleticism is going to leave me. So every day I try to work on my post game. I try to work on different finishes around the rim where I’m not dunking the ball, and I continue to work on my footwork around the paint.”

Favors had finished his third season (9.4 ppg) when Gobert arrived as No. 27 pick in the 2013 Draft via a trade with Denver. Expectations were low: Gobert had been overlooked as a teenager in France until a late growth spurt turned him into a rim-protector. Even then, he was limited to 434 minutes as a rookie while spending time in the NBA D-League before he declared his readiness at the 2014 World Cup. In France’s quarterfinal upset of host Spain, Gobert outrebounded Pau and Marc Gasol 13-12 while effectively protecting his rim.

Defense Leads to Offense

Rudy Gobert rejects Ricky Rubio’s layup attempt which leads to the fastbreak dunk by Derrick Favors.

“When he came in as a rookie, a lot of people didn’t know,” says Favors of Gobert. “I knew right away that he was a good defensive player. I was a defensive guy too when I came into the league — still am. It was right from the beginning where we were both blocking shots and playing team defense.”

“Not many teams have two guys that are long and have the timing and natural defense instincts,” Hayward said. “There are a lot of big men who don’t know how to protect the rim like they do. And then the other stuff you don’t see is their competitiveness, their fire — just wanting to be great.”

I know when I get older, my athleticism is going to leave me. So every day I try to work on my post game. I try to work on different finishes around the rim where I’m not dunking the ball, and I continue to work on my footwork around the paint.

– Favors, on his post game

The fire is obvious in Gobert, who is as explosive emotionally as he is athletically. “Sometimes I overreact to things,” Gobert says. “I have been smarter about this. Sometimes it is better to not say anything. But sometimes it is tough.”

Favors rejects suggestions that he and Gobert are Utah’s odd couple, based on perceptions — which he rejects like a ball around the rim — that he is introverted. “I’m not really quiet,” Favors says. “I’m just more laid-back and he is more outspoken, you can say.”

Gobert Swats Parker

Jabari Parker slashes into the lane for the shot attempt and Rudy Gobert swats it out of bounds.

His experiences have taught Favors to channel his anger. “My first couple of years in the league, after we lost or I had a bad game, I was kind emotional inside,” he says. “Now if I’m having a bad game, I try to find some energy from somewhere, some motivation, and use that to my advantage whether it’s on the offensive or defensive end. You just don’t see it, but I keep it inside. And I use it to my advantage.”

Plenty of mountains for Jazz duo to climb

Snyder has noticed it. He is fully aware of the potential of both Favors and Gobert, especially since the Jazz have moved on from other talented big men — Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Enes Kanter — in order to create room for them to grow.

“Derrick has the ability to defend on the perimeter, instead of just being an interior defender,” Snyder said. “That may have surprised some people last year, his ability to go out and guard some guys and stay in front of smaller people.

Gobert Denies ‘Melo

Rudy Gobert goes up strong and denies Carmelo Anthony’s dunk attempt.

“And then just from the skill standpoint they both have potential. I think Rudy is going to be a solid free-throw shooter. For Derrick it’s about getting a more refined post game, of learning how to play down there efficiently, and then also stepping out to extend his range as well. Something as simple as going from 15 feet to 18 feet — those are gains that don’t come overnight.”

Neither Favors nor Gobert is going to want to hear about the long term, not when the playoffs are within reach for next month. For the Jazz, however, the ultimate payoff is going to come when each is in his mid-to-late 20s.

Gobert’s Five Dunks vs. Nets

Rudy Gobert tallied five dunks on Friday against the Nets.

“The main thing for the two of them is going to be just how committed they are to working on their games,” says Snyder. “Both of them are really good NBA players right now. But if they want to be great, and if they want to be great together, they’ve got to work on things that complement one another. It’s almost a collective of the two of them playing off each other.”

Will Gobert control his temper — and will Favors lose his? It’s hard enough to predict how young players will react to the pressures of a playoff race.

Can they help each other offensively in order to make it possible for them dominate defensively? The Jazz are looking forward to that day when their frontcourt opposites are defined not so much by their personality differences, but rather by their working partnership.

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

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