Tweet of the Day: Stu Jackson steps down

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After more than 13 years on the job, it has been confirmed that executive vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson will be stepping down from his post.

SH Blog: Jason Kidd a real candidate for Nets coaching job, Hollins out as Grizzlies coach

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kiddA week ago, one of the best floor generals in the history of the NBA in Jason Kidd decided to hang it up after realizing his limitations at the age of 40. When you retire from a career you’ve held onto for 19 years, you’d think some kind of nice vacation to a fancy island is in order. Instead, news has broken that Kidd has become a real candidate to become the next head coach of the Brooklyn Nets. Does this guy love the game of basketball or what? Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports broke the story:

After meeting with Brooklyn Nets management Monday, the head coaching candidacy of Jason Kidd has emerged as formidable in possibility, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.

Kidd has convinced Nets management of his seriousness of committing the time and energy necessary to move into a head coaching job within weeks of his retirement as a 10-time NBA All-Star point guard, league sources said.

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SH Blog: Kobe says he destroyed T-Mac one-on-one, T-Mac denies notion

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It’s not often that players in the league talk about playing one-on-one with other players from around the league, so when one starts giving you juicy details about it, you pay attention.

Especially when it’s Kobe Bryant telling you stories about who he played against.

During a notable interview with ESPN’s Chris Palmer – where the two touched on a variety of topics such as whether Bryant can score 50 points in a game again, or how the guard feels about his legacy – the most interesting topic ended up being about one-on-one matches. Here it is:

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Best NBA Finals Game 5s of the David Stern Era

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The two best words in sports are Game Seven.

When it comes to the NBA Finals, Game 5 isn’t too bad, either.

Either one team has a 3-1 lead, which means the trailing team will scratch, claw, bite, fight and cheat to stay win. Or the teams are tied 2-2, which means both teams will scratch, claw, bite, fight and cheat to win.

Our collection of the best Game Five showdowns of the David Stern Era includes three in which the series was tied and two where a team held a 3-1 lead. There are big names such as Michael Jordan and Dwyane Wade and not-so-big names such as Vinnie Johnson and Latrell Sprewell. Avery Johnson appears as both a player and a coach.

Tonight, it likely will be the Oklahoma City Thunder scratching and clawing to avoid the end of their season – and get the Finals back on their court. We could be in store for a memorable performance from Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook. Or it could be the night that LeBron James gets his championship.

Before the Thunder and Heat tip off, spin through our list of best Game 5′s below.

Throughout the Finals, we have had the best Game 1, Game 2, Game 3 and Game 4, Click on the links to catch up.

5. SPREWELL DUELS DUNCAN: The lockout-shortened 1999 season will not be remembered for its quality of basketball. Nowhere was that more evident than in the Finals, where the San Antonio Spurs and New York Knicks both made their names with grinding defense. The Spurs cleared 90 points once; the Knicks had a high of 89 and low of 67. It was tough to watch until Game 5, when Spurs forward Tim Duncan and Knicks guard Latrell Sprewell engaged in a duel that seemed entirely out of place in this series. Sprewell scored 25 of New York’s last 34 points on a variety of pull-up jumpers and drives, giving the Knicks belief that they could stave off elimination and send the series back to San Antonio. Duncan scored 15 of his 31 points in the final 24 minutes, torturing Kurt Thomas with mid-range bank shots, hooks and pump-fake drives for fouls. At one point early in the fourth quarter, Sprewell had scored 21 of New York’s last 25 points and Duncan had scored 14 of San Antonio’s last 15. Ultimately, the game-winning shot was a short corner jumper by San Antonio’s Avery Johnson with 47 seconds to play. On New York’s last two possessions, Sprewell missed a 15-footer when he was forced to arc a shot over the 7-foot Duncan that came up short. The Spurs won, 78-77, for their first NBA title. After starting the season 6-8, they won 46 of their last 53 games including the playoffs.

4. THE MICROWAVE HEATS UP LATE: After gaining a split of the first two games of the 1990 Finals on the road, the Portland Trail Blazers were ideally positioned to upend the defending champion Detroit Pistons – and promptly lost their first two games on their court to fall into a 3-1 hole. The Blazers showed some resolve, however, and held a 90-83 lead with two minutes to go. The series appeared to be headed back to Detroit, but Pistons reserve Vinnie Johnson had other ideas. Known as “The Microwave” for his ability to heat up quickly, Johnson made a leaning jumper and drew a foul at the 1:50 mark and pulled up for a short corner jumper with 1:21 to go that made it 90-88. At the other end, Detroit’s vaunted defense was digging in, getting stops and rebounds, and a jumper by Isiah Thomas tied it with 36 seconds to play. Portland’s Terry Porter threw away a pass, and Detroit capitalized as Johnson buried a jumper over the much taller Jerome Kersey with 0.7 seconds remaining, stunning the raucous crowd in Portland into silence. The Blazers missed a desperation shot and the “Bad Boys” secured their second straight championship. Johnson finished with 16 points off the bench, a role he relished throughout his career. How he never won a Sixth Man Award is one of the league’s great mysteries.

3. BIG SHOT ROB SAVES THE SPURS: The 2005 Finals were a matchup of the last two champions – the San Antonio Spurs (2003) and the Detroit Pistons (2004). It also paired coaches and good friends Gregg Popovich and Larry Brown against each other. But there was not a lot of intrigue through the first four games, which saw the Spurs win twice by a combined 36 points on their floor and the Pistons win twice by a combined 48 points on their floor. But Game 5 did not follow the series script with 12 lead changes, 18 ties and two-time Finals MVP Tim Duncan struggling with missed shots, missed free throws and turnovers down the stretch. But Duncan was bailed out by reserve Robert Horry, who lived up to his nickname of “Big Shot Rob.” Horry did not score until closing the third quarter with a 3-pointer but finished with 21 points. His 3-pointer with 1:17 left in regulation gave the Spurs an 88-87 lead, and the teams headed to overtime after a driving layup by Detroit’s Chauncey Billups and a free throw by Duncan, who had missed six in a row from the stripe. Duncan also missed a bunny at the end of regulation and fumbled away a pass in the final minute of overtime with Detroit holding a 95-93 lead. But Billups missed a drive, giving the Spurs one last chance. After a timeout, Horry inbounded into the left corner to Manu Ginobili and Rasheed Wallace – marking Horry – doubled down on Ginobili, who whipped a return pass to Horry, who drilled the go-ahead 3-pointer with 5.8 seconds left. Detroit’s Richard Hamilton missed at the buzzer, and the Spurs wrnt home with a 96-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The Pistons actually won Game 6, their first win in San Antonio in eight years that produced the first Game 7 in the Finals in 11 years. But the Spurs regrouped to dethrone the Pistons for their third championship in seven years.

2. DWYANE WADE GETS THE MICHAEL JORDAN TREATMENT: The 2006 Finals had perhaps the biggest 180 in NBA history. The Miami Heat had lost the first two games and trailed by 13 points midway through the fourth quarter of Game 3 before recovering to win that game and blow out the Dallas Mavericks in Game 4 to even the series and turn Game 5 into the pivotal game of the series. The Mavericks led by as many as 11 points in the first half and still held a nine-point lead late in the third quarter when Heat guard Dwyane Wade began a parade to the free-throw line not seen since Michael Jordan was winning championships in the 1990s. Ultimately, Wade scored 43 points and made 21-of-25 free throws, which identically matched the numbers for Dallas. Down the stretch, Wade dueled Dallas sub Jason Terry, who scored 10 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter. Wade scored 17 points in the period, including the last 11 – and a short jumper with 2.8 seconds left that forced overtime. The extra session would have made the Ringling Bros. proud. Neither team led by more than two points, with the Mavericks squandering a huge chance to open some breathing room when Josh Howard missed two free throws with 54 seconds left and Dallas holding a one-point lead. Gary Payton – who also had a huge basket at the end of Game 3 – made a tough banker to give the Heat the lead with 29 seconds to go. Dirk Nowitzki, who had a somewhat quiet 20 points, splashed a corner jumper with 9.1 seconds left and ran down the court with his tongue hanging out as Dallas reclaimed the lead. But he had nothing to celebrate moments later as Wade – after averting what should have been a backcourt violation – weaved his way through several defenders without ever looking at a teammate and getting bailed out with a dubious foul call on Nowitzki, who put his hand on Wade’s hip but didn’t appear to push or shove him. For comparison’s sake, Nowitzki’s foul is a love tap compared to LeBron James’ hook on Kevin Durant at the end of Game 2 in this year’s Finals. There was 1.9 seconds to go, and Dallas had one timeout – which Howard inexplicably used between Wade’s free throws. Howard denied calling timeout, saying he was asking coach Avery Johnson when he wanted the timeout. Referees Bennett Salvatore, Joe DeRosa and Joe Crawford determined Howard had indeed called for time, and that left the Mavs with all 94 feet to negotiate after Wade knocked down the go-ahead free throw. A half-court shot by Devin Harris was no good, and one of the most controversial finishes in Finals history was in the books. After the game, Crawford gave a statement to a pool reporter regarding the timeout, Mavs owner Mark Cuban openly questioned the lopsided officiating, and Howard got into a locker room tiff with our editor-in-chief, who had the temerity to ask him about the last timeout. (Josh and I cleared the air prior to Game 6-CS)

1. JORDAN LEAVES THE JAZZ WITH A SICK FEELING: In the hours leading up to Game 5 of the 1997 Finals, the whispers began to grow louder. Michael Jordan was sick. He had a stomach virus, apparently from a bad pizza from room service. He might not be able to play. And even if he did, he would not be Michael Jordan. His pregame consisted of lying down on a table in the trainer’s room with all the lights turned off. It was a huge window of opportunity for the Utah Jazz, who had won the previous two games on their home floor and looked positioned to return to Chicago with a 3-2 lead. At the outset, Jordan clearly was not himself and the Jazz pounced, opening an early 36-20 lead. Jordan somehow found the strength to score 17 points in the second quarter and cut the deficit to 53-49 at halftime. The Jazz rebuilt their lead to 77-69 before Jordan’s indomitable will again took over as he scored 15 points in the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer that snapped a tie and gave the Bulls an 88-85 lead with 25 seconds to play. The Bulls held on for a 90-88 win as Jordan finished with 38 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals in perhaps the biggest inspirational performance in Finals history. After the game, Jordan had to be helped to the locker room, where he gave a couple of quotes to a pool reporter before trudging to the bus, beads of a feverish sweat still building on his forehead. Lost in Jordan’s remarkable effort were a number of poor plays and decisions by the Jazz, who prided themselves as one of the smartest teams in the NBA. Karl Malone shot 1-of-6 in the field in the second half, including an airball prior to Jordan’s 3-pointer. He allowed Toni Kukoc to sneak in for an offensive rebound on Jordan’s missed free throw to set up the go-ahead shot. And after the Jazz scored to make it a one-point game, Malone – playing with five fouls – refused to foul Scottie Pippen and allowed the Bulls to escape for a dunk that virtually sealed the win.

Heisler: What’s the difference between the NBA and the WWE?

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Question: What’s the difference between the NBA and the outfit formerly known as the World Wrestling Federation?
Answer: Beats me.

Actually, there’s a huge difference between a game highlighting athletic grace and hand-to-hand combat between players assuming heroic or villainous personas:

The WWF doesn’t have a ball.

Otherwise, it’s getting too close for comfort for the NBA, even if league officials prefer to pull the strings from New York rather than issuing proclamations in the ring like Vince McMahon.

These playoffs look less like a basketball tournament and more like “CSI NBA” with all the ongoing incidents, reviews and suspensions.

This spring, the NBA has featured:

Elbow-fests (Game 5 of Miami-Indiana where Tyler Hansbrough made a play on the ball and Dwyane Wade’s head, Udonis Haslem targeted Psycho-T’s face and Dexter Pittman threw a wanton elbow at a Pacer–with :19 left and a 35-point lead–then winked at the Miami bench.)

Suspension-fests (Game 6 of Miami-Indiana without Haslem and Pittman, or the all-timer, Game 5 of San Antonio at Phoenix in 2007 with the series 2-2 and Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw out for leaving the bench after Robert Horry hip-checked Steve Nash into the scorer’s table.)

Technical-fests (Game 1 of Boston-Miami with the refs, presumably told by New York to crack down, T’ing up Celtics for making faces).

Free throw-fests (Game 2 of San Antonio-Oklahoma City, who combined to shoot 70 free throws after the Thunder started their comeback from 22 points, not by playing basketball but hacking Tiago Splitter.)

Someone is missing something, whether it’s the players (as NBA officials would say it is) or NBA officials (bingo!).

The NBA has yet to figure out there’s a problem if they let teams game the system by fouling intentionally, while drawing the line at flagrant ones.

In practice, it’s all part of the same continuum.

Intentional fouls lead to hard fouls, which lead to harder fouls, which lead to flagrant fouls.

After 20 years of David Stern’s laudable efforts to stamp out all violence, here’s where they stand:

–Actual violence has been all but eliminated.

There are no fights. What we call “incidents,” like Andrew Bynum elbowing J.J. Barea, wouldn’t have drawn a second look in the ‘80s.

Today, if Kevin McHale clotheslined Kurt Rambis as he did in 1984, Stern would suspend him for life.

–A cycle in which the league is ever more involved, with ever more scrutiny on its referees, resulting in headlines blaring the latest incident, punishment, review and upgrade or downgrade, creating the misperception that there’s more violence, not less.

It’s not that players won’t learn, which is what NBA officials think and why they keep dialing up the penalties.

The players are doing what the coaches tell them.

The coaches are telling them what they always have and always will… unless someone changes the basic equation that makes fouling cost-effective.

The day Dr. James Naismith went up that ladder and explained you get two points for throwing a ball through his peach basket but only one for a free throw, everyone in the Springfield, Mass., YMCA gym smart enough to coach knew one thing:

Why let anyone shoot a layup if you lay him and let him get up and try to make two 15-footers?

One thing and one thing only will make coaches stop ordering players to take hard fouls:

Change the math that makes fouling at mid-court on a turnover, or under the basket, or hacking a bad free throw shooter a smart, cost-effective play.

How?

All intentional fouls—anything that’s not clearly a play on the ball—result in two free throws and possession.

If that won’t cut them out, it will cut them down with the standard raised to getting a hand on the ball, rather than trying to catch your opponent after low-bridging him so he doesn’t wipe out too badly.

This will also get rid of the abomination of abominations, turning games into foul shooting contests.

Ironically, it was Okahoma City’s Scott Brooks who just broke out Hack-a-Tiago, not San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, a new proponent who was once above such things but reconsidered when his team got old and still does it while maintaining he hates it.

Great.

I hope he does it in the Finals, in the fourth quarter of Game 7.

We need some changes, before Pittman checks Tony Parker into the scorer’s table and Tim Duncan and Man Ginobili miss Game 7 for leaving the bench.

Mark Heisler is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops, LakersNation and the Old Gray Lady. His power rankings appear every Wednesday during the regular season, and his columns appear Wednesdays or Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter.