– The frustratingly good Blake Griffin (from Rob Mahoney, Sports Illustrated):
” It is not by accident that so many opposing players have come to tussle with Blake Griffin. He’s both a physical player and one teams have apparently marked as easily riled — prone to the pushing and jawing that can land the Clippers’ star forward in foul trouble or worse. Beneath any such ploy is a simple, self-evident truth: As much as Griffin might grapple and agitate, opponents single him out because there are so few other options in dealing with him.”
– Monta Ellis living dream in Dallas (from Tim MacMahon, ESPNDallas):
“I would have to say my last time feeling like this was 2007, when we made the playoffs,” Ellis said Monday, referring to the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors, who upset the top-seeded Mavs in the first round. “This happy? 2007.”
– Isaiah Thomas Q&A (from James Herbert, SBNation):
– The Pacers’ Favorite Play Just Keeps Getting Better (from Tim Sartori, 8points,9seconds):
“ Last night, Indiana struggled early against Dallas and found themselves down by 16 points midway through the second quarter. But then they did what we saw so often early in the season: The Pacers shut down their opponents and went on a scoring rush that completely changed the tide of the game.
In the final 3:48 of the half, they went on a 14-2 run to cut the deficit to 3. There were many positive moments that put the Pacers back within striking distance, but none were more satisfying then the flashy Lance Stephenson layup that came on a quarter-ending specialty set that has colloquially become known as “The Vogel Weave.”
We started to see The Vogel Weave often last season. This year, however, it has been more of a staple — seemingly becoming Frank Vogel’s favorite play — with last night’s rendition being at least the ninth time Indiana has run it this season.
It’s easy to see why the team likes it so much. Because the play just keeps getting more and more dynamic as Vogel adds more and more wrinkles to his Weave.”
– Pop’s lesson to Thibs: Coach healthy stars (from Steve Aschburner, NBA.com):
“ The Spurs and Bulls coaches share a lot: gruff exteriors, no-nonsense expectations for their teams and highly watchable end-of-quarter interviews during network games. But they don’t share championship rings – Popovich leads 4-0 – and they don’t share good fortune in the availability of their best players.
“I was stunned the other day, I didn’t realize – I think it was the Miami game – someone said he had coached more games without Derrick than he had with him,” Popovich said before the Spurs’ breezier-than-the-score 104-96 victory Tuesday. “That just threw me back in my chair. I couldn’t believe it. I can’t imagine coaching more games without Tony and Tim and Manu.”
Yeah, well, he hasn’t had to. No coach in NBA history has had a trio of players for as many games (662) as Popovich has had Duncan, Parker and Ginobili.”
– Livingston embodies Nets’ new identity (from John Schuhmann, NBA.com):
” The Brooklyn Nets are the most expensive team in NBA history, and their most important player right now is a guy making the league minimum.
The key to the Nets’ 22-9 record since Jan. 1 has been their defense, which is fifth-best in that time and has forced 19.2 turnovers per 100 possessions. No team has forced that many turnovers over a full, 82-game season since 1997-98.
The most important element of that improved Brooklyn defense is the length of Shaun Livingston, a guy who was signed to be the back-up point guard but who ranks third on the team in minutes and has started every game he’s played (he’s missed one) since … Jan. 1.”
– Warriors Soar With Bench Support (from Ethan Sherwood Strauss, ESPN.com):
” Now armed with bench players who can dribble and pass, the Warriors no longer rely on their best player to a worrisome degree. They’ve won five in a row, with Curry averaging a mere 27.2 minutes per game over the stretch.”
– Pierce and KG’s Leadership Sparks Nets’ Turnaround (from Brian Robb, Bleacher Report):
“We had a lot of guys that are somewhat quiet or somewhat leaders by example,” Joe Johnson told Bleacher Report about last year’s roster. “[Pierce and Garnett] lead by example and they are leaders in the locker room, so they have been great for us. It’s been a constant all year since training camp. Paul doing a lot of talking, KG talks everyday. They’ve been fantastic for our team.”
Read it here: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1988637-paul-pierce-and-kevin-garnetts-leadership-sparks-brooklyn-nets-turnaround
– Gordon Hayward Q&A (from Zach Lowe, Grantland.com):
” Hayward sat down with Grantland in New York last week to discuss Utah’s growing pains and all things Jazz.”
Read it here: http://grantland.com/the-triangle/qa-gordon-hayward-on-getting-love-in-utah-and-the-chase-down-block/
A while back, we linked to feature about Aquille Carr. Thanks to Josh Wildes, here are a couple of updates:
– Parsons proving late bloomers still have upside (from Ian Thomsen, Sports Illustrated):
” When the Rockets become the best team in the NBA, their former second-round pick plans on being their third-best player. “I still feel like I have a lot of potential,” said Chandler Parsons, the Rockets’ 6-foot-9 small forward. “The draft is where you start. It’s not where you finish.”
The ongoing questions over Houston’s potential to win a championship revolve as much around Parsons as they do around James Harden and Dwight Howard. The latter two were high lottery picks who entered the league with the highest expectations. Parsons, the No. 38 overall pick in the 2011 draft, has already exceeded his while averaging a versatile 17.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 3.6 assists — all career bests in his third year.
“Even we didn’t know he was going to be this good,” said Rockets GM Daryl Morey. “Otherwise we would have picked him earlier.”
The reason Parsons was still available in the second round had everything to do with his decision to stay at Florida as a senior, which played into the bias carried by NBA teams against four-year collegians. “It’s that there must be something wrong if he didn’t come out early,” said Morey, who has a history of succeeding with second-round pickups like Carl Landry and Aaron Brooks in addition to Parsons. “It is a pretty strong bias against four-year players.”
• Miami gets Toney Douglas.
• Boston gets Joel Anthony, a small uptick in popularity in Canada, a second-round pick from Miami, and a heavily protected first-round pick the Sixers traded to the Heat on draft day 2012.”
Read Zach’s take on the impact on each team here: http://grantland.com/the-triangle/why-the-jordan-crawford-deal-helps-miami-golden-state-and-boston/
– Kentavious Caldwell-Pope quietly putting it all together for Pistons (from Sean_Corp, Detroitbadboys.com):
“KCP has always been one of the Pistons top defenders, but in his past 12 games he has also become one of its most potent offensive weapons and is quietly making a case that he belongs in the discussion for the year’s best rookies.”
Read it here: http://www.detroitbadboys.com/2014/1/16/5315172/kentavious-caldwell-pope-pistons-kcp-roy-rookie-year
– J.R. a product of Knicks’ environment (from Ian O’Connor, ESPNNewYork):
” The ‘Bockers tolerated J.R. Smith until the Knicks’ sixth man became intolerable”
Read it here: http://espn.go.com/new-york/nba/story/_/id/10299806/jr-smith-product-new-york-knicks-environment
– Alec Burks content with sixth-man or starter role (from Aaron Falk, Salt Lake Tribune):
“Either a starter or sixth man, Jazz guard’s job is to bring energy and attack the basket.”
Read it here: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/jazz/57395934-87/burks-jazz-guard-hayward.html.csp
“ Kevin McHale has been at this long enough to know that “title talk” in July, even when you have all the ingredients seemingly in place, is delusional.
So many things can happen between winning the free-agent sweepstakes and winning a Larry O’Brien trophy that banking your season on winning the NBA’s summer title (last summer it was wooing the top free agent on the market, Dwight Howard, to Houston) means next to nothing to the Rockets’ coach. A Hall of Famer and champion during his playing days with the Boston Celtics, McHale that once the reality of the regular season sets in, none of that summer hubbub matters.
And make no mistake, the Rockets are in the midst of adjusting to that new reality. The expectations haven’t changed, the ultimate goal is still trying to get on par with the rest of the best in the Western Conference. They’re still aiming for that No. 1 spot and a chance to play for that title trophy … but it just may not be as soon as many Rockets fans hoped.”
Read it here: http://hangtime.blogs.nba.com/2014/01/16/rockets-still-adjusting-to-expectations/
More on the Rockets:
– Houston’s improbable midrange winner (from Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN’s TrueHoop.com):
” The Houston Rockets use an offensive formula they’ve been cultivating for years under their current regime: 3-pointers and rim shots. Everything in between is for suckers.
The Rockets attempted 35 field goals in the first half of their 103-100 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night. Only four of the 35 occurred between eight feet from the basket and the 3-point line. The trend held throughout the game, as more than 80 percent of the Rockets’ shots occurred in their sweet spots.
That is, until the final minute of play, when Old Man Midrange reared his head and the Rockets soared back in time. Two possessions yielded two isolation plays for James Harden, the first resulting in a pair of free throws that briefly gave the Rockets a one-point lead, the second an ankle-breaking, step-back jumper that put the Rockets up 102-100.
But heroball this wasn’t. The Rockets didn’t run a 1-4 flat set with Harden pounding the ball into the hardwood until he felt inclined to put it on the floor. And though these shots didn’t originate from the Rockets’ preferred zones, each was cleverly crafted with one goal in mind: Take Harden’s primary defender, Eric Gordon, out of the play and draw a lesser perimeter defender on the switch. The way to accomplish that? A “small-small” pick-and-roll — one guard picking for the other guard.
“Teams don’t know how to guard it,” Harden said. “Late in the game, either you’re going to switch it and put a smaller guy on me or they’re going to try to show and get confused. It worked tonight.”
Read it here: http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/post/_/id/65398/houstons-improbable-midrange-winner
And more from Kevin Arnovitz:
– Killer Lineup: OKC’s Jackson Five
Kevin looks at how the lineup of Reggie Jackson, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins works offensively & defensively here: http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/post/_/id/65386/killer-lineup-okcs-jackson-five
– Noel’s Debut for 6ers? Don’t Hold Your Breath (from Sam Donnellon, Philly.com):
“A source close to Dr. James Andrews told Philly.com that the physician believes Noel will be ready to play in 4 to 6 weeks following a checkup performed last week. Yippee, right? No, not yippee, at least not to Brown. A player-development guy, Brown has a golden opportunity to teach, mold and correct the impressionable teen from suburban Boston, thanks to Noels’ long rehabilitation from that anterior cruciate ligament tear. … He leaves you with the distinct feeling he could wait till next year. And he really doesn’t hide that well. Scolded by Sixers brass in October when he stated his belief that Noel would not play at all this season, Brown this time was more careful as he attempted to add weeks, if not months, to Andrews’ reported timeline.”
Read it here: http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/sixers/20140116_Noel_s_debut_for_Sixers__Don_t_hold_your_breath.html
As promised, here is Part II of today’s top stories (“bonus coverage”)
– The Pistons Shouldn’t Be This Bad (from Zach Lowe, Grantland.com):
” Every fantasy baseball league has that owner who drafts too many players at one position, hoping to outsmart the group, hoard one asset type, and either make the roster work or find a killer trade down the line. (I may have done this with catchers once during a disastrous draft-day binge involving Russell Martin, Victor Martinez, and beer.) Sometimes the decision breaks right, but it usually ends up with diminishing returns — useless overlap leading to a losing trade.
The Pistons knew they were taking a risk when they signed Josh Smith to a massive four-year contract, slotting him alongside two cornerstone big men in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. There were other alternatives, but Joe Dumars, flush with cap space for the first time since the 2009 offseason, went all-in for the biggest talent available. Smith has played both forward positions, but he has always worked better as a power forward. The fit with Monroe and Drummond would be awkward, but Detroit banked on sheer talent and smart coaching to win out in the end.
Halfway through the season, higher-ups with the Pistons have to be feeling queasy. Detroit is 16-22, clinging to a postseason spot in a putrid conference.”
Read it here: http://grantland.com/the-triangle/the-pistons-shouldnt-be-this-bad/
– Five under-25 players who could cash in next summer (from Ben Golliver at Sports Illustrated):
Read Golliver’s “look at five under-25 players — four pending free agents and one big man set to be eligible for an extension — who will be in position to cash in come July” here: http://nba.si.com/2014/01/15/isaiah-thomas-lance-stephenson-gordon-hayward-greg-monroe-nikola-vucevic/
“The group features lottery picks and second-round selections alike, and it includes players from both the 2010 and 2011 draft classes.
Notably absent from the quintet is Suns guard Eric Bledsoe, who is sure to see his salary spike next season. Bledsoe was passed over here because he was already included on The Point Forward’s All-Stocking Stuffer Team and because he is sidelined with a knee injury”
– Vogel named East coach after Pacers win (from Candace Buckner, IndyStar.com):
” One of Frank Vogel’s best attributes as a coach is his unwavering belief in his players.
There was no question in his mind Tuesday night that Paul George would break out of a shooting slump against the Sacramento Kings. And he never flashed a look of concern when veterans threw a double-team admonishment toward Lance Stephenson during a very heated timeout in the second quarter.
Vogel has provided the Indiana Pacers enough rope, created the space to be themselves and installed a winning mindset since training camp that has only grown stronger through the season. So after Tuesday night, when Indiana defeated the Kings 116-92, becoming the first Eastern Conference team to 30 wins but still standing apart with the No. 1 overall record and best winning percentage in the league, the NBA announced Vogel as the coach of the East All-Stars.”
Read it here:http://www.indystar.com/story/sports/nba/pacers/2014/01/14/vogel-named-east-coach-after-pacers-win/4485667/
– Warriors get Jordan Crawford in trade with Celtics, Heat (from Sam Amick, USAToday):
Read Sam’s “quick breakdown of each team’s part and how it helps their respective efforts” here: http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/2014/01/15/nba-trade-boston-celtics-golden-state-warriors-jordan-crawford-marshon-brooks-toney-douglas-joel-anthony/4491403/
– Playing Five-on-Two with Chris Bosh (from Couper Moorhead at heat.com):
” You’re the head coach of a professional basketball team. It’s the second night of a back-to-back at the end of a five-game week, and you’re missing three starters. The opponent’s starting shooting guard had scored 22 points in the first quarter, and with a minute to play he hit the go-ahead jumper. Your team ties things up. Timeout. Forty seconds left and you need a stop. You look up and down your bench. The shooting guard is going to get the ball. You know it. Your players know it. The kid in the upper deck sucking the last bit of melted ice cream out of his cone knows it. You need to choose a primary defender.
How does your starting center sound?
Erik Spoelstra has long referred to LeBron James as the Miami HEAT’s ‘One Through Five’ – trusted to play and defend any position at any time – but with increasing regularity over the past year Spoelstra has been using the same moniker when discussing Chris Bosh. It’s no secret that the HEAT employ a hyper aggressive defensive style, relying on speed and length to manufacture chaos and turnovers, and even though the notion still appears to be a revelation in some corners of the internet the system doesn’t work without Bosh being able to both cover huge swaths of real estate and capably stay in front of the ball no matter where it lands.
“Chris Bosh is an elite defender in this league and he is proving it every single night,” Spoelstra said earlier last week.
Bosh may not have scored in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, but without his defense that night there’s no champagne, no parade and no rings. Though he hasn’t escaped Miami’s bouts with defensive stagnancy during this regular season, no HEAT player leaves more of a defensive void when he hits the bench. With Bosh on the floor, Miami’s defense has been playing with Top-10 efficiency. With Bosh sitting, the team drops below average.
Still, asking Bosh to defend Joe Johnson straight up – no switching, he’s going to catch the ball and you’re going to stop him defense – with the game on the line is quite the leap.
It also worked.”
Read & view it here: http://www.nba.com/heat/news_recap/playing-five-two-chris-bosh
– The masters of getting to the free-throw line ( from Statcenter):
Statcenter takes a look “the 25 players who are getting to the free throw line the most this season (as measured by FTA / 36 minutes), and how they’re doing once they get there.”
Read it here: http://statcenter.blogspot.co.il/2014/01/the-masters-of-getting-to-free-throw.html
– Mike Conley ; A Point Guard’s Triumph in Turmoil (from Aaron McGuire at Gothiccinobili.com):
The Memphis Grizzlies have had a rough season by any metric you care to look at. They enter tonight’s contest against the Bucks with an 18-19 record, which puts them three games out in the Western Conference playoff picture with a little under half the season in the books. They aren’t struck with any particular bad luck in close games, a la the Timberwolves — their point differential (outscored by about one point per contest) befits that of an 17-20 team. Most people would glance at their tepid injury-tarred season and change the channel, assuming it’s a garden-variety treadmill of mediocrity and small-market woe. Not me, though. And that’s mainly due to the brilliance of one incredible season.
Come, my friends. Meet Mike Conley: all-NBA point guard.”
Read it here: http://gothicginobili.com/?p=7185
Anything Grantland’s Zach Lowe writes is almost certainly the best story of the day (Well, except when he gets dragged down co-writing with Bill Simmons). Today is no exception as Zach sees “a few patterns and make(s) the call on whether they are fact or fiction.”
“We’re approaching the point where it’s OK to at least tap the glass on some surprise early-season trends, gauge their staying power, and investigate what might be driving them. The focus here is on trends at the team and league levels that sources across the league consider at least semi-surprising. That means we’ll mostly be giving short shrift to the predictable and the individual. Other stuff missed the cut because of injury-related sample size issues, factors that raised doubt about whether the trend in question is/was real, or future pieces in the works.”
Zach examines the following: “Miami stinks on defense, What if the Suns are.. good?, Everyone is running, the 3s are bombing, and the whistles are sounding, the Cavaliers can’t score, the Pistons’ big lineup stinks … at everything?, Wolves will eat you, Anthony Davis is a golden god, Denver is a mess, Brooklyn looks … mediocre?, What happened to (Memphis’)Grit-n-Grind, the Pacers Bench”
Read it here: http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/9963071/the-early-season-trends-us-asking-questions
-Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix interviews John Stockton:
-Jordan Crawford’s new role: