Tonight’s best game: San Antonio at Memphis

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The playoff rematch of Chicago and Miami on Sunday certainly lived up to the hype. So we’re going to stay in the postseason mode with the San Antonio Spurs heading to face the Memphis Grizzlies.

grizzlies small logoThe Grizzlies were the No. 8 seed team the Spurs faced in Memphis’ stunning upset over number one-seeded San Antonio in last year’s playoffs. The Grizzlies were also the first team the Spurs met this season, earning some mini- revenge with a 95-82 win at home.

Emphasis on home.

San Antonio is allowing only 89.5 points to opponents at the AT&T Center this season where they are 10-1. But it’s a different story on the road where they allow a porous 102.4 — 27th in the league.

In Dallas on Sunday, the Spurs gave up 100 points again, losing 101-100 in dramatic fashion to their in-state rivals after Danny Green’s buzzer-beating shot was ruled late.spurs small logo

Head coach Gregg Popovich went to his bench down 18 points in the third quarter, sitting starers Tim Duncan, Richard Jefferson and Tony Parker for Green, Gary Neal, Matt Bonner, and James Anderson. The subs led a productive bench (they scored the Spurs’ final 51 points) that put Spurs up 9, ultimately falling short in overtime.

The Grizzlies (10-9) lost their best low-post threat in Zach Randolph (knee), but have been able to survive with Marc Gasol averaging career highs in points (15.1), rebounds (10.3) and blocks (2.3).

Rudy Gay (19.2 ppg in Randolph’s absence) is also playing like a star, and O.J. Mayo has been lights out from three, making 24 of his last 50.

Even with the strong play, survive is all Memphis has been able to do.

After winning seven straight games during which they shot a robust 49.6 percent, The Grizzlies have lost three in a row coming into Monday’s game, shooting 38.8 in the losses.

Manu Ginobili (broken hand) for the Spurs and Memphis’ Darrell Arthur (torn ACL) are also out.

(Note: Reader and Twitter follower Chad Erickson took exception a few days ago when we made New York at Houston the Game of the Night instead of Jimmer Fredette’s return to Utah with the Sacramento Kings. I tweeted Chad back and said he probably had a valid point (Fredette ended up airballing the potential game-tying 3), and told Chad was welcome to take a stab at today’s entry.-CS)

From Erickson: “Only a few games tonight of real intrigue, Utah and Portland always makes for a good rivalry game, and you can’t go wrong with KD vs Blake. But tonight’s marquee matchup would have to be a playoff rematch between the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies. Like most of the Western Conference, both teams are battling to stay over .500. With the season already being one-fourth of the way done, neither team can afford to let a conference game slip through their fingers with 11 teams likely to remain in playoff contention. Tony Parker is once again at near All-Star numbers, coming in at nearly 18 ppg and eight assists and will look to lead the charge as the Spurs try to bounce back from 2 straight losses. On the other side you have Marc Gasol, who is trying to prove he is indeed worth the max ($58 million) contract he signed this past offseason. Showing his dominance and perhaps making the Pau Gasol trade seem a bit more fair. It only took 4 years, but that’s neither here nor there. Marc  is averaging 15 points, 10 rebounds and nearly 2.5 blocks. How will he match up against the Big Fundamental?  

 

 

James and Westbrook named Players of the Week

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NEW YORK – LeBron James and Russell Westbrook have been named the Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively, for games played Monday, Jan. 23, through Sunday, Jan. 29.

James paced the Eastern Conference in scoring (29.0 ppg) in leading the Heat to a 4-0 week. James eclipsed the 30-point plateau three times and averaged 7.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.0 steals. Miami defeated Chicago 97-93 on Sunday despite two poor possessions and two botched free throws by James in the final minute. He finished with 35 points, 11 rebounds and five steals.

Westbrook led the Thunder to a 3-0 week, including wins over Detroit and New Orleans. Westbrook averaged 22.0 points, 7.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 3.3 steals. Oklahoma City’s 120-109 victory over Golden State on Jan. 27 was keyed by Westbrook’s 28 points, 11 assists, seven steals and six rebounds.

Here is a recap of the week for James and Westbrook:

James:

  • Jan. 25 at Detroit:  32 points, seven assists, six rebounds and two steals in a 101-98 win over the Pistons.
  • Jan. 27 vs. New York:  31 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in a 99-89 win over the Knicks.
  • Jan. 29 vs. Chicago:  35 points, 11 rebounds and five assists during a 97-93 victory over the Bulls.

Westbrook:

  • Jan. 23 vs. Detroit: 24 points, six assists and five rebounds in a 99-79 win over the Pistons.
  • Jan. 25 vs. New Orleans: 14 points, five assists, three blocks and three steals during a 101-91 win over the Hornets.
  • Jan. 27 at Golden State:  28 points and 11 assists, seven steals and six rebounds as the Thunder beat the Warriors 120-109.

Other nominees for the Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week were Atlanta’s Joe Johnson and Jeff Teague, Boston’s Paul Pierce, Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Lakers’ Pau Gasol, Miami’s Chris Bosh, Minnesota’s Kevin Love, New Jersey’s Deron Williams, Philadelphia’s Lou Williams and Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge.

 

Sheridan on Chris Kaman, wild Sunday, and West’s supremacy over East

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How good is the NBA’s Western Conference compared to the East? Where will the Hornets’ Chris Kaman land in a trade? CineSport’s Brian Clark & Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com discuss those topics and look back to a fun Sunday.

Hubbard: History uplifting for Knicks; time is not

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In fairness to the basketball expertise possessed by Jim Dolan, trading for a superstar usually works out great for the receiving team. The cliché in the NBA is, in fact, never trade away a superstar because you can’t get value.

The danger in analyzing trades that are not even a year old and involve key players in their 20s, however, is that change can occur unexpectedly.

That was the case in 1971 when the Baltimore Bullets sent sensational guard Earl Monroe to the Knicks for Mike Riordan and Dave Stallworth – two players who would average less than 10 points a game in their career.

Monroe was a key part of the 1973 Knicks championship team and the Bullets – who had won 57 games three years before and made it to the NBA Finals with Monroe and a 42-40 team in 1970-71 – won only 38 games.

Seven months after the Monroe trade, however, the Houston Rockets blessed the Bullets by sending Elvin Hayes to them in exchange for Jack Marin, a fine player but – unlike Hayes – far from one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history. Over the next seven years, the Bullets averaged 50 victories a season, made the NBA Finals three times and won the 1978 championship.

Thanks to Elvin, Earl the Pearl was not missed.

That is a positive story for Dolan and his New York Knicks, and they need anything positive right now because their monster deal for Carmelo Anthony has been a bust. The Knicks are 7-13 and rank 29th out of 30 teams in field goal percentage at .414. Despite Mike D’Antoni’s frenetic offense – celebrated in Jack McCallum’s book Seven Seconds or Less – the Knicks are only 17th in the NBA in scoring at 93.7 per game.

The problems have been well documented – two scorers in Anthony and Amaré Stoudemire, a great defender in Tyson Chandler, a modicum of potential in a couple of young players, and no point guard. Anthony leads the Knicks with 4.3 assists per game. The Knicks rank 25th in the league in assists. Last year they were 15th; the year before they were 12th.

When Steve Nash ran D’Antoni’s offense, it was a sleek, powerful locomotive. Now it’s the little engine that can’t.

Or as D’Antoni told reporters after a recent loss: “We are hesitating on everything and not really attacking. So far we don’t have a lifeline. Offensively, we are a wreck.”

That’s not exactly what Dolan had in mind when the Knicks traded six players and three draft picks in a three-team trade that brought Anthony and five others to New York – a trade that will likely result in D’Antoni losing his job. Yes, the Knicks gave up talent in Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov and Raymond Felton but, historically, such trades have usually worked out for the team getting the great player.

Consider players who were among the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History and were part of blockbuster trades:

– The Milwaukee Bucks won the 1970-71 NBA title. In 1975, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar demanded to be traded. He went to the Lakers and was part of five championship teams. The Bucks have not appeared in the NBA Finals since.

– Wilt Chamberlain was traded twice. Each time, the team he went to won a title. The teams he left (the Warriors and Sixers) did not win a championship until a new generation of players came in a decade or more later.

– The Rockets did not re-sign Moses Malone in 1982 and went from 46 victories to 14. Malone joined a Philadelphia team with a great cast led by Julius Erving. The Sixers had been to the Finals three times in six years, but lost each time. With Malone, they won the 1982-83 title.

– The Lakers sent Shaquille O’Neal to the Heat in 2004 and went from a team that had been in four of the previous five NBA Finals and had won three titles to a team that won 34 games and missed the playoffs. It took two more years and a one-sided trade that landed Pau Gasol in Los Angeles to overcome the loss of O’Neal, who won a title in Miami in 2006.

– After a disappointing 35-win season in 1991-92, the Sixers traded Charles Barkley to Phoenix for three players — Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry and Andrew Lang. Barkley’s relationship with Sixers management had soured, but Philadelphia settled for far too little in the deal. The Suns went to the Finals in Barkley’s first season but lost to Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the Finals. It took the Sixers a long time to recover – they missed the playoffs the next six seasons and averaged only 26 wins a year.

For Knicks fans looking for a sliver of hope, history provides it.

Despite losing Abdul-Jabbar, the Bucks built an entertaining team under Don Nelson. Milwaukee won 50 or more games seven times in the 1980s.

After Chamberlain left, the Warriors and Sixers did build teams that won titles.

The Rockets won two titles with Hakeem Olajuwon in the 1990s.

The Sixers eventually drafted Allen Iverson and also made it to the Finals before losing to O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

And the Lakers won two titles after O’Neal was traded – but it is important to remember they had Bryant. Anthony and Stoudemire are not Bryant.

In all of those cases, however, the key element was time. And time is not a treasured commodity in New York, where the Knicks have made the playoffs only three times since 2001. They lost each of those series and the bottom line for the last 11 years is a playoff record of 2-11.

The record of bad management in some cases, bad luck in others and a desperation to be great quickly rather than patiently build have all worked against the Knicks. And thus far, so has the trade for a player reputed to be a superstar, but perhaps a notch short of the true greatness Mr. Dolan thought he was getting.

Jan Hubbard has written about basketball since 1976 and worked in the NBA league office for eight years in between media stints. Follow him on Twitter at @whyhub.

Heat Beat Bulls; Cavs Stun Celtics

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Remember the old NBA slogan “I love this game!?” (It pre-dates “Where Amazing Happens”).

If you are in your early 20s, you may not. But that’s OK. Lots of people in their early 20s seem to believe the world began 10 years ago, and have no recollection of crappy cell phone reception, dial-up Internet or the fax machine.

But those who are a bit older certainly remember that ad campaign, and Sunday was one of those days when love for the game felt as fresh as the first warm day of early spring.

What was not to like?

_ Bulls vs. Heat in the type of finish everyone wanted to see, who would come through in the clutch and who would fail — and how they would feel about it afterward. And once again, there were watery eyes in Miami.

_ Wily old Spurs coach Gregg Popovich turning to his subs down 18 late in the third quarter, and sticking with them for the remaining 20 minutes — all of the fourth quarter and overtime — in a back-and-forth game that wasn’t decided until Danny Green’s long 3-poiner off an inbounds play was just a little wide left.

_ The Cleveland Cavaliers, one year removed from being in the midst of an NBA-record 26-game losing streak, scoring the final 12 points led by the hustle of Anderson Varejao and the determination of rookie Kyrie Irving, holding Boston scoreless over the final 4:24 of a one-point victory on the Celtics’ parquet floor.

_ The Lakers finally getting their bearings and finally scoring 100 points after a 13-game drought in a victory over the Timberwolves that quieted a rabid crowd that has fallen head over heels for Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio.

_ The Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets battling into the final seconds, Chauncey Billups being the hero with six 3-pointers and a doing nice job of acting to draw a crucial offensive foul against Nene as his former team — the one that dealt him to New York last season along with Carmelo Anthony — lost  for only the sixth time all season.

It was a day to have a comfortable ottoman and a quick trigger on the remote control, the NBA providing a riveting, entertaining diversion to those whose Sundays have been filled with football for the prior five months.

There was no clear winner for best game of the day/night, because there were just so many of them.

But clearly the one with the most cache was Bulls-Heat in Miami, a game in which we learned whether LeBron James had shaken off his fourth-quarter jitters (he hasn’t) and whether Derrick Rose could come through in the clutch and deliver a measure of revenge against the opponent who ended his MVP season last June (he didn’t).

From Chris Perkins of SheridanHoops.com: “In one locker room, Chicago’s Derrick Rose almost wept. The NBA’s reigning MVP had tears in his eyes. In the other, fancier home locker room, Miami’s LeBron James smiled and joked about making the 40-minute bike ride home on a rainy night in South Florida. It turns out James rode his bicycle to AmericanAirlines Arena before the game. “I do it all the time,” James said. Life in the NBA can be cruel and funny sometimes. The Heat’s 97-93 victory over the Bulls on Sunday was a prime example; Rose and James, two of the NBA’s biggest stars, played the leading roles — and flubbed their lines in the big show. … Rose uncharacteristically missed a pair of free throws with 22.7 seconds left and the Bulls trailing, 94-93. Understand something: Rose was 26-for-26 on fourth-quarter free throws heading into the game. He was also on a second-half tear, having scored 21 points, many by getting to the rim after carving up Miami’s defense in typical Rose fashion. Rose was on an even bigger free throw roll. He was a perfect 12-for-12 when he stepped to the line with the game in the balance and inexplicably bricked both shots. “Give me one of those,” Rose lamented. “I missed both of those (expletive). Come on.” James pulled a similar choke job on the line, missing a pair of free throws with 17.6 seconds left and the Heat clinging to that same 94-93 lead. He later called himself out on Twitter, saying in in part, “C’mon #6 make your d*mn free-throws!!” But James was able to make up for his blunder soon after his second errant free throw caromed off the rim. His second missed free throw resulted in a Bosh rebound. But an inadvertent whistle made it a jump ball. In that situation any player on the court can jump, and James, who defended everyone from Rose to center Omer Asik during the course of the game, insisted he handle the job. He did, and he won the jump against Taj Gibson. And in the end. James was smiling and Rose was dejected. That, too, makes it similar to last year’s conference finals, which saw the Heat win in five games after dropping Game 1.”

The Bulls-Heat game ended in time for everyone to grab a quick dinner before switching over to the late games, and what was transpiring on ESPN was surreal.

The Dallas Mavericks had welcomed back Dirk Nowitzki from a week of rest and were cruising past San Antonio when Pop seemingly threw in the towel, removing Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Richard Jefferson with the Spurs railing 67-51 late in the third quarter. Pity the gamblers who had the under (186) and were already counting their winnings. It was far from over. The Spurs’ reserves scored their team’s next 51 points, and Danny Green’s buzzer-beater at the end of regulation was disallowed upon review — the ball still touching the tips of his fingers as the clock hit 0:00.

From Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: “Even before Green pulled a Derek Fisher — swishing a turnaround jumper that appeared to give the Spurs a breathtaking buzzer-beating victory over Dallas — he had mapped his escape from the American Airlines Center. “I was going to run out of the gym, just like Derek did,” said Green. “I said, ‘Guys, let’s go. Let’s get the heck out of here.’ “Nobody wanted to follow my lead.” That was a stark contrast to what had happened for the previous quarter-plus, when the Spurs rode their young bench players to the brink of an improbable comeback victory against the defending NBA champs before falling in overtime 101-100. Officials reviewed, then disallowed Green’s shot, launched with 0.5 seconds left — more time than Fisher had for his 0.4 dagger for the L.A. Lakers in the 2004 playoffs. The game went to OT, where Dallas — ahead by 18 points in the third — dodged more bullets.”

In Boston, they were getting ready to do the “Gino” with 4:24 remaining in the game after Brandon Bass’s free throw gave the resurgent home team an 11-point lead. Little did everyone know, the Celtics were about to be as dead as disco.

From Tom Reed of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer: “Kyrie Irving stood patiently dribbling the basketball as the seconds ticked down, the Celtics’ crowd chanted “De-fense” and the moment grew ripe with opportunity. The 19-year-old rookie had been in a similar spot a month earlier in Indiana, the ball in his hands, a victory within reach, only to see his left-handed layup rim out. But the bad memory never entered his mind, Irving said, as he waited for a high screen from teammate Anderson Varejao and an open look at the basket. Beneath the Celtics’ 17 championship banners and in front of his father, Drederick, who sat at courtside, Irving drove the lane, spun between two defenders and grabbed a piece of Cavaliers lore. His spectacular left-handed layup with 2.6 seconds remaining capped an improbable comeback and delivered an 88-87 win before a stunned sellout crowd of 18,624 fans. As the ball went through the cylinder and the Celtics called timeout, Irving pointed to his dad, a former player who had attended Boston University. It was a remarkable family moment and a pretty nice one for all Cavaliers fans. They witnessed their shorthanded team, playing without two injured guards, score the game’s final 12 points in one of the nation’s basketball meccas. The celebration began in earnest seconds later as the jumper by Paul Pierce, who had one of Varejao’s long arms in his face, missed the mark.”

At about the same time, the Lakers were finally hitting the century mark for the first time since Jan. 3 — although they had let an 18-point lead turn into a one-point deficit along the way.

At the end, it was Kobe time.

From Jon Krawczynski of The Associated Press: “It was Bryant who slammed the door, slithering through the holes in Minnesota’s zone to hit two clutch jumpers to seal the win. ”I don’t know if he’s the best one or not, but in the last quarter, for sure,” said Wolves rookie point guard Ricky Rubio, who had eight assists but just five points on 2-for-13 shooting. “Maybe during 48 minutes, there are players like LeBron (James) and Derrick Rose who can be in that top position, but at the end of the game, he’s the best.” Kevin Love had 33 points and 13 rebounds and Michael Beasley added 18 points and 12 boards for the Wolves, who lost to the Lakers for the 16th straight time. The Wolves dominated many of the statistics, including offensive rebounds (24-7), turnovers (12-4), second-chance points (32-10) and fast-break points (16-0). But they shot just 38 percent and couldn’t find an answer for Bryant (35 points), who made 14 of 29 shots and 5 of 9 3-pointers.

All of Sunday’s games were over by that point, except for Nuggets-Clippers. And it was worth sticking around for dessert, which was as sinfully delicious as chocolate lava cake.

From Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post: “In his first game back since being traded, (Chauncey) Billups was every bit Mr. Big Shot as he and Chris Paul took over in the fourth quarter to outlast the Nuggets 109-105 at the Pepsi Center. The Nuggets, who had been riding high on a six-game winning streak, saw that snapped in excruciating fashion. Down the stretch they simply didn’t make enough plays to get the job done. The Nuggets were outscored 15-6 to end the game. … A Nene bucket gave the Nuggets a 99-94 lead before the Clippers answered with five straight points, punctuated by a Billups 3-pointer with 3:01 left to tie it up. Billups then put the Clippers ahead 102-99 with a three-point play. Paul rolled in a free-throw line jumper with 1:26 and L.A. led 104-101. But two Nene buckets — both dunks — got the Nuggets in front 105-104. Two Paul free throws with 35.9 seconds left put the Clippers back on top 106-105. The Nuggets missed a layup on their ensuing possession and fouled DeAndre Jordan after the Clippers came away with the rebound. Jordan made 1-of-2 from the charity stripe with 23.4 seconds to extend L.A.’s lead to 107-105. After a timeout, Nene was called for an offensive foul with 18.1 seconds remaining, which was the biggest blow to the Nuggets’ rally hopes.”

Replays showed Billups intentionally locking arms with Nene and then flopping when the Brazilian tried to yank himself free. The victory moved the Clippers into a tie in the loss column for second place in the Western Conference, where it appears there will be an 11-team race for the eight playoff spots.

Elsewhere in the NBA Sunday: 

  • The sudden and surprising meltdown of the Orlando Magic (who dropped from 5th to 18th in my latest power rankings) continued with a 21-point loss to the Indiana Pacers. In the past week, Dwight Howard’s team managed just 56 points in a 31-point loss to Boston, lost by 26 to the woeful New Orleans Hornets and by 21 to a Pacers team that they had defeated by 19 just five days earlier.
  • Jeff Teague, playing on a sprained ankle, tied a career high with 24 points as the Atlanta Hawks won for the fourth time in five games, 94-72 over the New Orleans HornetsWillie Green added 16 points and Marvin Williams 14 for Atlanta, which can close its road trip with a 4-1 record by winning in Toronto on Tuesday night. The Hawks (15-6) have the league’s fourth-best record.
  • DeMar DeRozan scored 19 of his 27 points in the second half, leading the Toronto Raptors to a 94-73 victory over the New Jersey Nets to finish 3-2 on a five-game road trip.