Thursday, June 25, 2009

Draft a good place to find good big men to fill big holes


Before the last two seasons, there was a stretch in which either Shaquille O'Neal or Tim Duncan won eight of the nine NBA championships. This year, we saw the Orlando Magic become an elite team with the development of Dwight Howard.

The best formula for winning in the NBA starts with a dominant big man, but the likes of Shaq, Duncan and Dwight don't come around often.

Blake Griffin isn't on that level, but he can be an All-Star and make an impact. And he's much more of a sure thing than anyone else in this Draft. So even though the Clippers already have too many big men, they're set to take Griffin with the first pick.

Here are the lottery teams that could use some help on the frontline the most (first round picks in parentheses).

1. Memphis Grizzlies (2 and 27)

Under contract: Marc Gasol, Darko Milicic, Darrell Arthur

With a solid, young core of Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay and Gasol, the Grizzlies are missing only their power forward of the future. And by getting the second pick in the lottery, they miss him again. With Griffin off the board, the Grizzlies could reach a bit and fill their need with Arizona's Jordan Hill, because Hasheem Thabeet isn't an obvious fit next to Gasol. They also could trade down and get Hill a few picks later.

2. New York Knicks (8)

Under contract: Al Harrington, Eddy Curry, Jared Jeffries

In Mike D'Antoni's system, a traditional big man isn't needed, but the Knicks do need some sort of interior presence, especially on defense, even if they bring back restricted free agent David Lee. Hill might be a good fit, but of greater need is getting someone who can run the offense, and with plenty of point guards to go around, the Knicks may have to find a big man elsewhere.

3. Sacramento Kings (4 and 23)

Under contract: Jason Thompson, Spencer Hawes, Kenny Thomas

The Kings have used their last two lottery picks on Hawes and Thompson, and both have shown promise. But you always need more than two bigs, so the Kings could do worse than bringing another big man into the fold.

4. New Jersey Nets (11)

Under contract: Brook Lopez, Yi Jianlian, Ryan Anderson, Josh Boone, Sean Williams

With Lopez, the Nets should be set at center for years to come. Their other bigs each have various skills, but none is close to being a total package, and none provides the defense and rebounding the Nets need. Five years after he left, this team is still missing the skills of Kenyon Martin.

5. Milwaukee Bucks (10)

Under contract: Andrew Bogut, Amir Johnson, Kurt Thomas, Dan Gadzuric

Before his season was cut short by a back injury, Bogut was starting to look like one of the better centers in the league. Tuesday's trade of Richard Jefferson frees up more money to resign Charlie Villanueva (who is a restricted free agent), but if he goes elsewhere, Milwaukee has a hole at the four.

6. Charlotte Bobcats (12)

Under contract: Boris Diaw, Emeka Okafor, Nazr Mohammed, DeSagana Diop

The Bobcats are solid up front but could use some athleticism to complement Okafor and Diaw. The have a greater need on the perimeter.

Other lottery teams

7. Toronto Raptors (8) -- As they stand, the Raptors need depth beyond Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani, and they may need insurance should Bosh bolt in 2010.

8. Golden State Warriors (7) -- With the way they play, the Warriors don't need a full complement of big men. But should they ever go traditional ...

9. Phoenix Suns (14) -- Shaq's on his way out, but Robin Lopez is waiting in the wings.

10. Oklahoma City Thunder (3 and 25) -- Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic and Nick Collison are a solid trio, but Hasheem Thabeet could make the OKC frontline even stronger.

11. Indiana Pacers (13) -- Roy Hibbert finished his rookie season strong and Troy Murphy had the best season of his career.

12. Los Angeles Clippers (1) -- They don't need another big man, but they're getting one anyway.

13. Minnesota (5 and 6) -- In Kevin Love and Al Jefferson, the Wolves have a terrific young frontline duo.

Non-lottery teams most in need of a big

Detroit (15) -- Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess and Kwame Brown are all unrestricted free agents.

Atlanta (19) -- Zaza Pachulia is a free agent and they've got Al Horford playing center.

Utah (20) -- Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur can opt out of their contracts and Paul Millsap is a restricted free agent.

Cleveland (30) -- Anderson Varejao will likely decline his player option. The rest of the Cavs' frontline is long in the tooth.

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TNT's David Aldridge goes one-on-one with NBA bloggers


David Aldridge: I think most of the time people take the best player available, I don't think that changes much year to year. Sometimes, you have the perfect marriage of need and best player available, but I think most times talent wins out in this league. So, even though you may have a talented player at one position, if there's somebody on the board that's just head and shoulders better than anybody else; I think the feeling nowadays is you can always trade contracts. In this environment, especially with the economy the way it is, people are always looking to save money, so even a bad contract can be dealt if it's an expiring one. I think that best player usually wins out.

2. Are there many teams that are looking to deal their draft picks due to the current financial climate? Or are they more likely to stash players overseas? (A Stern Warning)

DA: I think you'll see some teams maybe not even bother to get into the draft for that reason. I think Denver [Nuggets] is an example of a team that did a lot of work to get under the [luxury] tax last year; I don't think that they are all that fired up about getting back into the draft and paying guaranteed money to somebody that's probably not going to play a lot for the them next year. So, that's the kind of example of the economy impacting what teams do. Instead of being aggressive, I think some teams may be passive. Now you know your Portland's and some of your other teams -- Houston is going to buy in at some point in the first round -- they'll find somebody to do business with. But, I do think that you'll see some teams just not doing anything, as opposed to what they would normally do, which is be active at the end of the first round and try to get one of those late first-round picks.

3. Why are prospects seeming to not want to play for Memphis? What is it about Memphis that is different from other small markets? (3 Shades of Blue)

DA: I think that's a bit overblown, you're talking about one guy in [Ricky] Rubio and the reason why Rubio is reluctant is because Pau Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro didn't have great experiences there, so I'm sure that they've talked to him and probably did not give a glowing picture of Memphis, but I don't think that there's a groundswell of discontent for the city of Memphis or with the Grizzlies. I think that's the case of that particular player; because of his background has had a chance to talk to other players. But no, Memphis is still a place where people are going to want to go, and if it's not Rubio somebody else very good is going to wind up going there.

4. Stephen Curry: Impact player (a la Eddie House) or simply the best shooter in the warm-up lines? Or both? (Peter Robert Casey)

DA: I think he will be much like his father, a very good role player for a long time in the NBA. He's smart and knows how to play. I think he's going to be a pretty solid point guard. ... I don't expect spectacular from him, but I think he's going to be a guy that is going to play for a long time in this league. A great demeanor and great character guy, a guy that's willing to take big shots and make big shots. Whether he's starting for you or he's your sixth man, it doesn't really matter; he's going to wind up helping you win basketball games. I think he's going to be an excellent role player. If he winds up on a good team somehow, he could really make a huge impact next year. But if not, more likely he ends up with a struggling team, it might take him a few years to really break in.

5. Patrick Mills was looking like a world-beater a year ago with St. Mary's and then in the Olympics for Australia, but an injury certainly set him back. Do you think that with this draft being so deep with point guards that Mills' stock will be severely set back by his injury-riddled season? (A Stern Warning)

DA: Well he'll get drafted; I was surprised he stayed in though, because this is a great point guard filled draft. It surprised me that Patty stayed in because he was never a guy that was going to be a top-half of the lottery guy and I thought this year would be a good year for point guards to pass if you weren't assured of being a top-half of the lottery guy. I think you saw [Greivis] Vasquez go back for example, and that made a lot of sense. Patty is going to get drafted, it could be late first [round], but there's teams that could look at him. Dallas [Mavericks] certainly could take him with the 22nd pick, and that wouldn't surprise me at all, but it wouldn't surprise if he lasted into the second round either.

6. What are your feelings towards the Kings draft and what they'll do with the No. 4 selection. Do you think Ricky Rubio will fall to Sacramento? (Kings Forum)

DA: If he's there, and I'm not sure he's going to be there, but if he is there I think that's the guy they will take. I know that there are people in the organization that like Tyreke Evans, so I think that they're having a discussion about that right now about which way they would go if those two were available on the board. But, my guess would be that Rubio would take the argument there. I think Ricky has got star potential, I think he could be a superstar in this league in terms of his ability and his personality. Sacramento certainly needs a little bit of a bump; they need some juice back in that organization. So if he's there I think it's Rubio, if not I think it's Evans.

7. Joe Ingles has not been exposed to American audiences much, coming from Australia. Has there been much positive feedback around the league after his workouts with teams? (A Stern Warning)

DA: I think Joe [Ingles] a couple of weeks ago, maybe right around Chicago [workouts] there was a lot of interest and buzz in him. He did ok in Chicago; he didn't do badly in Chicago, but I think as it's gone on and he's done the individual workouts, I believe with Minnesota and New Jersey, it's kind of cooled a little bit. I don't get the sense that Joe is going to be a first round pick. I think he's a possible second round pick, but I'm not sure. Athletically, I don't think people see the explosion and quickness that a player would need at his position to play in the league. That doesn't mean that nobody will take a look at him, but I certainly don't think he's a first round pick at this point.

8. Rumors have suggested that Stephen Curry might no longer fall to the New York Knicks at the 8th spot, what is the latest you are hearing? (Hugging Harold Reynolds)

DA: [It'll come down to] whoever gets to 5 [pick]. Whoever trades with Washington is going to take Curry, I'm convinced of that. I can't tell you right now who it is, you have to read that on or watch NBA TV later today. Whoever gets to that 5th pick is going to take Curry.

9. Have you heard any rumblings at all about a possible Bulls deal that will be happening on Thursday? The Bulls have 2 first round picks which they can use to either move up, or bundle with a couple of nice young players to make a huge move. (Docksquad Sports)

DA: Well they've been trying, I don't know if they're going to be successful. I think that they would love to get a big at that position, but I'm not sure they're going to be able to get it done. I've tried to check with everybody in the top 15, I haven't gotten any sense, other than Washington, that anybody is really gung-ho about trading their pick. I don't think that New York wants to move back, even if it involves getting two picks; I don't get the sense that they would do that. I don't think Minnesota wants to move back, they already have 18 and 25, so they don't have any need to move back. I'm not sure Chicago is going to be able to get this done at this point.

10. With the Suns drafting 14th there's a limited number of guys that are going to available. Which of these draft picks has the greatest potential to be an all star in 5 years? Earl Clark, James Johnson, Austin Daye, Ty Lawson or Terrence Williams. (Bright Side of the Sun)

DA: Terrence Williams won't be there. [James] Johnson has been linked to them for a little while. I could see that or [Earl] Clark. Johnson is a very physical guy, he's not a great athlete but he's got some toughness about him, so I could see that as a possibility. Clark is kind of an up and down guy. He's got a lot of talent, but he's very inconsistent, or at least he was inconsistent at Louisville...that has some people concerned. [Ty] Lawson, I think that may be a pick or two too high for him, especially considering I think they going to resign Steve Nash to an extension of some kind, so I'd be surprised if they took a point there. The more likely scenario is that they take some sort of frontcourt guy there.

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Getting Draft pick right not as easy as it might look


It goes without saying that the NBA Draft is unpredictable. But the most unpredictable element isn't Draft order or trades. It's the mercurial talent.

Will Michael Olowokandi actually be a franchise cornerstone? Are we getting a steal with this Brandon Roy kid? Those are the unknowns. I thought Michael Beasley was going to take the league by storm and put up a slick 18-8 in his rookie season. I was wrong, along with a slew of other suckers. But I was also in a small minority that suspected Mario Chalmers -- with the right squad -- could step in and be a sufficient starting point guard. Young dude started 81 of 82 games last season, tossing in a neat 10 points and five assists a game.

In recent years there is instance after instance where I've nailed it or been egregiously wrong about how a prospect is going to perform. I was pushing for Emeka Okafor over Dwight Howard in 2004. Wrong. That same year, I scoffed at Jay Bilas claiming Josh Smith was going to be the biggest bust of the Draft and, last I looked, Smith has exceeded most early expectations. Earlier in that Draft, when Dick Vitale pilloried the Sixers for drafting Andre Iguodala over -- wait for this one -- Luke Friggin' Jackson, I immediately started looking into Florida retirement homes with mental health facilities for Dickie V. But the next year, I was convinced that Rashad McCants was the second best player in the 2005 Class. Way off on that one. I was dead on, though, in touting Chris Paul as a future great.

You get my point, right? You may think you know, but you really don't. I'm through with claiming any prospect as a can't miss. Everyone is saying this year's class is substandard and I want to agree with that estimation. But how do we know? I see a lot of dudes (Jonny Flynn, Tyreke Evans, Ty Lawson, DeJuan Blair) that could end up killin' it in the league. Blake Griffin? He's supposed to be the new Carlos Boozer. But I'm not excited about anyone claimed to be "the new Carlos Boozer." The "next Tim Duncan" gets me amped. The "new Carlos Boozer"? Yawn. And Boozer can knock down an 18-footer with a good amount of regularity -- Blake Griffin can't. I'm not sold on the big man. Plus, personality-wise, he makes the most stoic athlete seem like Jimmy Fallon. But what do I know?

I think Brandon Jennings could end up being in the Chris Paul/Derrick Rose/Rajon Rondo/Deron Williams crew. Or he could be the next Sebastian Telfair. Why is everyone so high on James Harden? I see a smallish, non-explosive 2 guard. But I could be ignoring the next Brandon Roy.

Stephen Curry is the prospect that scares me the most. On Curry's page, there's a YouTube clip of him answering questions at the Draft combine, clearly showing that he's a well-adjusted, articulate, sharp young dude. He also lets on that he wants to be a Knick, given MSG's stage, D'Antoni's system and the Knicks' need for a "point guard that can shoot." Curry must have said "point guard" about 20 times during the four-minute clip. It's like his handlers told him, "Make sure you say 'point guard' as often as possible during this process, so we can dupe folks into thinking that's your natural position." Stephen Curry ain't no NBA point guard. I love his feel for the game, love his IQ, love his clutch-gene, but I see more Jason Terry than Steve Nash.

This could be trouble. For every Ben Gordon and Jason Terry, the league's history is littered with pint-size guards that couldn't hack it as a 2 guard and didn't have the requisite skill set to be a full time team-orchestrator at the point. Think about dudes like Shawn Respert and Juan Dixon and Melvin Booker and Eddie House and all the other tweeners that are relegated to spot duty or just shooed out of the league altogether.

People don't just "like" Curry. Much of the nation is "devoted" to him after he captivated us all when he put David(son) on his scrawny shoulders and slayed a bunch of Goliaths in the 2008 NCAA Tournament. Basketball fans want him to succeed and NBA general managers are enthralled by some of the unique things he can do. His release is lightning quick (which always helps undersized guards get off their shots against bigger opponents; see Jeff Hornacek), his range is practically unlimited and he's a crafty driver. Those natural skills could help him as a 2 guard. Problem is, he's only 6-foot-3, so thin it looks like he's made of spaghetti and he's not explosive like, say, Terry or Gordon. He knew this going into his senior year of college so -- to improve his draft stock (and, admittedly, fill a team hole) -- he played full-time point guard. He did alright. NBA point guard, on the other hand, is wholly different than playing point guard in the ACC, let alone the Southern Conference. For Curry to succeed at the NBA's most challenging position, he's going to have to to rewire the way he thinks the game, reconfigure his basketball DNA. I'm suspicious.

Curry can be a Janero Pargo. No doubt about that. Drafting him in the Top 10, though, means you think he can be a top-flight point guard. I don't even know if I think Curry can be a D.J. Augustin point guard. Then again, I thought Deron Williams was gonna be nothing but a somewhat souped-up John Bagley. So ... time will tell. I'm sure of that.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Lessons Live On

Rick Mahorn’s coach once told him he’d make a great coach someday, but the remark hardly registered. Not yet 30, Mahorn was in the prime of his NBA career. He had no interest in worrying about life after basketball. The coach didn’t bring it up again.

But that remark, Mahorn says, is when Chuck Daly “planted the seed” for the career in basketball he enjoys today.

On Wednesday, Mahorn, at 50 a former CBA head coach entering his fifth season on the Detroit Shock coaching staff, will put training camp preparation aside and fly to Florida to pay his final respects to Daly, who passed away Saturday from pancreatic cancer at age 78.

In the days since his passing, Daly has been credited for nothing short of revolutionizing the NBA for his emphasis on physical defense, a strategy that between 1988-91 led the Detroit Pistons to four straight conference finals, three consecutive NBA Finals and back-to-back world championships.

The players who implemented that strategy to a notorious degree– Mahorn and Bill Laimbeer, now head coach of the Shock – are Daly’s most loyal coaching progeny. They demand the same hard-nosed defense, all the while exhibiting trust in their players, an approach that is anything but in their face. In following Daly’s guiding principles, Laimbeer and Mahorn have shook up the WNBA in much the same way their mentor did the NBA two decades prior – by winning. A lot.

Laimbeer on Daly

Advised by Daly "not to be fake," Laimbeer is a “straight shooter” with his players, said Katie Smith (icing her knee).
Garrett Ellwood (NBAE/Getty)
No member of the Bad Boys played for Daly more than Laimbeer, who was a second-year center when he was traded from Cleveland to Detroit during the 1981-82 season. The Cavs coach when the deal went down? Daly, winding down a forgettable 9-32 stretch in his first pro head coaching stint.

They were reunited when Daly took over the Pistons before the 1983-84 campaign. In nine seasons Daly spent 851 games on the Pistons bench. Laimbeer played in 848 of them. He remembers the future Hall of Famer and leader of the Dream Team as a work in progress at the beginning.

“He went from a person who was trying to find his way to somebody who was confident [that] he had the right formula,” said Laimbeer, who also will attend Wednesday’s services near Palm Beach, Fla.

In 2002, Laimbeer also was a first-time pro head coach thrown into a messy midseason situation. In 2003, he orchestrated a historic turnaround as the Shock won their first WNBA championship. Detroit upset two-time defending champion Los Angeles in a manner reminiscent of the Bad Boys’ ascendance to the 1989 NBA crown.

“I take a little bit of pride in the fact I think our ’03 team changed the way the WNBA was played,” Laimbeer said during the 2008 Finals. “It became more of a physical, up-tempo, highly competitive basketball game.”

This season offers Laimbeer a third opportunity to win back-to-back championships after title defenses in 2004 and 2007 fell short. Laimbeer has taken some cues about handling a defending champion from Daly, who led the Pistons right back to the title in 1990.

“As you get better and better you’re able to release the team a little bit more, you’re able to trust them more,” Laimbeer said. “You don’t work them as hard physically because they’re already so mentally attuned. So that’s kind of how we did it as a player (under Daly) and how I do it as a coach.”

You don’t have to take the coach’s word on that account. “He prepares well but he also likes to have a good time. You get in, you do your work and you go (home),” said Shock guard Katie Smith last fall. “As a professional it’s not about grinding you for a couple hours. It’s about working hard when you get in there.”

Mahorn on Daly

Even after Mahorn joined the coaching fraternity, Daly wanted to “talk about his grandkids and my kids growing up.”
Domenic Centofanti (NBAE/Getty)
Mahorn went straight into coaching after his playing career, taking over the CBA’s Rockford Lightning for the 1999-2000 season. The novice head coach followed the best example he knew.

“I let the players be accountable for themselves, and basically the players played the game. The only thing I could do is put them in position to be successful,” Mahorn said. “He [Daly] did a lot of that for us.”

Daly made his players and staff responsible for the game plan by opening it to review. If you thought you had a better strategy, anything could be brought to the table for discussion. But once a decision was made, you had better see it through. Mahorn said open dialogue is encouraged in the Shock locker room.

“Chuck never had an ego. If he did, I never knew about it,” he said. “He had some diligent assistant coaches with Brendan Suhr, Brendan Malone, Ronnie Rothstein and Dick Versace, so he wanted input from his coaches but he also wanted input from his players. He’ll ask the players, ‘How do you all feel about this?’ If we committed [to the plan] as players, then we had to do it.”

Mahorn, who switched teams five times (playing for Detroit twice) during his 18-year career, never again captured the kind of rapport he shared with Daly from 1985 to 1989.

“I was more confident and comfortable playing for Chuck Daly as my career progressed,” he said. “That’s when you look back and say, Chuck Daly was a major influence, not only as a coach but as a person.”

A Time To Reflect

Daly’s playoff winning percentage with the Pistons was .628. That’s also Laimbeer’s postseason success rate with the Shock (27-16).
Andrew D. Bernstein (NBAE/Getty)
The Bad Boys’ glory years have been reminisced a lot lately, 2009 being the 20th anniversary of the 1989 championship, the first in Pistons history. Last spring the franchise also celebrated its 50th season in Detroit, including a pregame ceremony honoring the All-Time Team that brought Daly and many Bad Boys together again under The Palace roof.

Then longtime Pistons and Shock owner William Davidson passed away in March, and the memories flooded back as the basketball world mourned its loss. This week, the nostalgia and tears flow anew. As the years pass, the Pistons’ accomplishments under Davidson and Daly seem to grow in stature. Both men were enshrined to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, first and foremost for their transformation of the Pistons.

“I said when we won the championships to anybody who’d listen that it would mean more in 10 years from now than it did then,” Laimbeer said. “Because while you’re doing it, yeah, it’s great, you’re elated, you’re excited about it, but there’s no time to reflect upon it because you’re still playing. There’s still more tasks to be done.”

Laimbeer and Mahorn will take time to reflect Wednesday, and then it’s back to work. WNBA training camps open Sunday, and the Shock are the defending champions. They need to indoctrinate the newcomers, finalize the roster and find a way to pull off that elusive back-to-back. The highly anticipated opener at Los Angeles is three weeks away. There is a lot of work ahead.

And heaven’s watching.

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Season Outlook

Diana Taurasi, left, and Cappie Pondexter will look to get Phoenix back in the playoffs in 2009.
Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images

After winning their first title in 2007, the Phoenix Mercury had the unfortunate fate of becoming the first defending WNBA champion to miss the playoffs in 2008, finishing the season with a 16-18 record.

To be fair, the Mercury did not return the same squad that it had in 2007 when they finished the regular season with a 23-11 mark and defeated Detroit in the WNBA Finals.

Penny Taylor, a two-time All-Star forward who averaged 17.8 points in 2007, chose not to play in the WNBA in 2008 in order to concentrate on training for the Olympics with the Australian National Team. Meanwhile, Paul Westhead, the team’s head coach, left the Mercury to take an assistant coaching job with the Seattle Sonics/Oklahoma City Thunder.

Taking over the head coaching duties was Corey Gaines, an assistant under Westhead for two seasons and a proponent of the same run-and-gun style the Mercury used during their championship run. However, he was unable to find the same success in his first year at the helm.

While the Mercury still had superstars Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter – who finished the season as the top two scorers in the league – they did not have that important third wheel that teams need in this league to achieve elite status. Tangela Smith, who played an important role in pushing the Mercury over the top in 2007, was limited by a knee injury last season that eventually required surgery and forced her to miss the final seven games of the season.

The status of Taylor, the third member of the Phoenix Big Three in 2007, remains unclear for the 2009 season. She just finished playing alongside Pondexter with UMMC Ekaterinburg and helped lead the team past Taurasi’s Spartak Moscow for the Russian Superleague title. However, it is reported that her right ankle requires surgery and that she would have the procedure done once the Russian season ended.

If Taylor is able to return to Phoenix at some point this season, she would give the team a tremendous boost. As Taurasi recently said, "Penny makes us an elite team. If there is a possibility of her coming back, the doors will be open and we'll be ready to rock."

With Taylor being such a big question mark, the Mercury aggressively pursued another elite Australian power forward – unrestricted free agent and two-time WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson. Jackson narrowed her choice to Phoenix or Seattle during the winter, but ultimately chose to return to the Storm, the only team she has played for during her eight-year career.

While the Mercury were not able to land a superstar in free agency, they did make a number of moves that should keep them in playoff contention in the competitive Western Conference.

Phoenix brought in power forward Nicole Ohlde in a trade with Minnesota that saw Kelly Miller and LaToya Pringle join the Lynx. The Mercury also acquired point guard Temeka Johnson from Los Angeles in exchange for their first-round draft pick in 2010. In the draft, the Mercury selected Auburn G/F DeWanna Bonner, whose height, athleticism and skill set should make her a great fit in the Mercury’s up-tempo system.

On the downside, the first week of training camp has been tough on the Mercury. Ohlde arrived to camp with a fracture in her left foot that will require her to miss 3-5 weeks and Murriel Page, who signed with the team on Monday, tore her left Achilles’ tendon on the same day and required season-ending surgery, which was performed on Tuesday.

With Ohlde out, incumbent Le'Coe Willingham will likely retain her starting spot in the post and join Johnson, Pondexter, Taurasi and Smith on the first unit. Gaines will bring Bonner – who can play any position on the floor other than the point – off of the bench, along with sharpshooter Kelly Mazzante and 6-7 center Alison Bales.

With Taurasi and Pondexter, Phoenix has two players that can get hot and carry the team to a win on any given night. Can they do it on enough nights to lift the Mercury back into the playoffs in 2009? Or will the additions of Johnson, Ohlde and Bonner provide enough help to take some of the load off of the dynamic duo?

Player on the Spot

The Mercury have a new floor general with the acquisition of Temeka Johnson from the Los Angeles Sparks. The 5-foot-3 speedster appears to be a perfect fit for Phoenix’s up-tempo system.

After winning Rookie of the Year honors in 2005 as a member of the Washington Mystics, Johnson was traded to the Los Angeles Sparks prior to the 2006 season. In three years with the Sparks, Johnson’s numbers steadily dipped as she was hampered by injuries in each of the past two years.

Now healthy, Johnson spent the offseason in Israel and performed admirably, averaging 16.0 points and 6.4 assists while leading her team (Bnot Raanana Hasharon) to the semifinals of the Israeli league playoffs.

A key to the Mercury’s success in 2009 will be how fast Johnson is able to learn Phoenix’s system and get comfortable with her teammates. Johnson will be surrounded with plenty of talented scorers, and it will be her job to get each of them their touches in the best position for them succeed.

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Second day of combine proves more valuable to teams, players


The NBA Combine came and went, and teams undoubtedly learned more from the information they were able to compile off the court than they did on it.

This week represented an excellent opportunity for general managers and executives to sit down with front-office members from across the NBA and learn how they may able to help each other out on the trade front, as well as gossip about what may be going on with other teams. Plenty of teams also took advantage of the time spent with their own staff to conduct numerous meetings and really get down to the nitty-gritty of how each talent evaluator feels about the players that may be on the board where they are drafting.

Getting accurate medical info, measurements and athletic testing results on most of the draft prospects also gives teams a good starting point to build off of as they sit down in their war rooms and begin the long process of ranking and eliminating players off their draft board.

While the first day of the combine allowed us to see the prospects stacked up against each other from a positional stand point, the second day saw them integrated into groups and asked to show more in terms of their ability to operate within a group setting.

We saw three-on-zero and four-on-zero transition drills, three-on-zero pick-and-roll sets, and a great deal of work in the half-court. The trainers put in simple offensive plays, basic ball-screen action, pass-cut-replace, cross-screens, pick-the-picker and so forth allowing us to see which players can take instructions and internalize new things on the fly.

This was somewhat of a showcase for the point guards to show their leadership skills, basketball IQ and basic passing skills. The big men were able to finally play where they are often most comfortable (the post) and remind us of their athleticism along the way.

As is often the case when you put every NBA general manager, head coach, director of player personnel and scout together in a small gym, the conversations in the bleachers are often far more interesting than on-court action.

Many grizzled, veteran scouts -- fresh off a long year of being on the road for weeks at a time seeing every prospect in this draft dozens of times -- expressed their concerns about this pre-draft camp influencing their front office more than it should.

"The general managers and coaches see certain things here that might not match up with everything we saw during the college season," one regional scout grumbled. "But these are just drills. This doesn't tell us anything about how these guys will perform once the lights come on."

Almost on cue, Ohio State freshman 7-footer B.J. Mullens soars from a foot inside the free throw line to tomahawk jam home an uncontested offensive rebound. An NBA head coach sitting nearby shakes his head in disbelief and scribbles notes down furiously, clearly astonished by the amazing display of athleticism.

The regional scout rolls his eyes, clearly annoyed. "Where was that during the season?"

Regardless, there are players here helping themselves just by being out on the court. Syracuse's Jonny Flynn is like a sponge, absorbing coaches' instructions and then showing his teammates exactly where they need to be on the floor. His swagger is unmistakable.

North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough is clearly a man on a mission. Every time he touches the ball, the entire gym knows, as he takes out all of his frustrations on the rim. He's in great shape, jumping better than many of his counterparts, and also measuring out taller than most people expect him to. He has almost identical figures to that of Blake Griffin. Executives in the gym are starting to warm up to him more and more.

Pittsburgh's DeJuan Blair has about as much buzz as any player in the draft right now, and he obviously is enjoying showing off his new chiseled physique. "I lost 38 pounds," he tells us afterwards with a huge grin on his face. He's relishing the chance to make his presence felt in this setting, no longer asked to lead fast breaks or shoot NBA 3-pointers like he was in the first day.

"I felt much more comfortable out there today," he explains. "I wanted to dunk the ball hard. Give them something to remember me by."

Blair particularly shines in the interviews with teams and the media day sessions, showing off his gregarious personality that some go as far as to compare to Shaquille O'Neal. "That's just me," Blair tells us with a smile. "I love being around people."

In addition to the on-court drills, the players also conduct a series of NFL combine-style tests, intended to measure their strength, on-court floor speed, lateral quickness and leaping. The results should be released in the next few days, although it's debatable how much stock NBA teams actually put into them.

Players will be on the road constantly from this point on, conducting a slew of individual workouts in teams' facilities. Three group workouts, in Golden State on June 1-3, New Jersey June 12-14, and Minnesota June 2-3, will help shape the landscape many of participating prospects. They are open to all NBA teams, and will feature far more of the competitive action that was missing here in Chicago.

Stay tuned for our next entry later this week, coming from Treviso, Italy, where we'll be joining representatives of all 30 NBA teams at the Reebok Eurocamp, starting on Thursday.

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Anosike and Miller will be playing side-by-side in 2009.
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images
Season Outlook
The bottom of the Western Conference is familiar territory for the Minnesota Lynx; it’s where they’ve finished the past three seasons. But, thanks to a core of returning players and a strong draft, the Lynx look ready to move out of the basement and into contention.

With the way Minnesota came out of the gate in 2008, you would have thought they’d be the ones facing off against Detroit in the WNBA Finals. Five consecutive wins, including a strong performance over the Shock on opening night, left many fans in the North Star State energized that this could be their year. Then, things shifted south, and Minnesota was unable to muster anything more than a two-game win streak, ending the year at 16-18.

Twenty-plus wins is possible this season, due in part to the return of two-time All-Star Seimone Augustus and center Nicky Anosike. Augustus, the team’s leading scorer (19.1 ppg), has MVP potential should the Lynx improve their record. Anosike (9.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg), meanwhile, led the team in several offensive and defensive categories during her freshman campaign.

They could be joined in the starting lineup by guard Candice Wiggins, who took home Sixth Woman of the Year honors last season. Wiggins, Kelly Miller, Anna DeForge and first-round draft pick Renee Montgomery (4th overall) provide the Lynx one of the deepest guard rotations in the league.

Minnesota ranked among the top teams in scoring and accuracy in ‘08. It was their defense that took them out of games and left head coach Don Zierden scratching his head. So, the third-year coach swung a pair of deals to bring in some new forwards. First, sending center Vanessa Hayden-Johnson in a sign-and-trade swap to the Los Angeles Sparks for Christi Thomas. Then, Zierden shipped center Nicole Ohlde to the Phoenix Mercury for LaToya Pringle and Miller, a Minnesota native who brings championship experience to the club. Thomas and Pringle will be matched with Charde Houston, who last season served as Zierden’s top forward choice off the bench.

The Lynx were also busy in this year’s draft after dealing last season’s assist leader, Lindsey Harding, to the Washington Mystics for first and second round selections. That left them with four picks, including three in the top 15, which Minnesota used on Montgomery (University of Connecticut), center Quanitra Hollingsworth (Virginia Commonwealth), forward Rashanda McCants (North Carolina) and guard Emily Fox (Minnesota).

It’s this youth that gives Minnesota promise for the future, and these women are poised to make waves in the West. The talent is there, at least on paper. Now, it’s up to Zierden to translate that talent into wins.

Player on the Spot

The Staten Island, N.Y. native has all the tools to become one of the top centers in the WNBA. Now, in her sophomore season, Anosike has a feel for the league and her competition, which could render into some much improved numbers in 2009.

Anosike led the Lynx per game in steals (2.21), blocks (1.26), rebounds (6.80) and finished third in points (9.2). The former Tennessee Volunteer was also just one of three players – Ohlde and DeForge being the others – to start every game last season.

The 23-year-old’s defense is also key to keeping Minnesota in each game. A strong inside presence will mean more opponents shooting from outside the paint and even beyond the arc, a spot on the floor the Lynx were among the best teams in defending.

Finishing in last place is unfamiliar territory for Anosike, who won back-to-back titles with the University of Tennessee the two years before the start of her WNBA career. During that tenure, her star was in the shadow of Candace Parker. Now, it’s Anosike’s time to become one of the faces of a franchise.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Former player Tisdale dies at age 44 after bout with cancer

(AP) -- Wherever Wayman Tisdale went, whatever he was doing, chances were he was smiling.

Tisdale was a three-time All-American at Oklahoma in the mid-1980s before playing a dozen years in the NBA and later becoming an accomplished jazz musician.

But those who knew Tisdale, who died Friday at a hospital in his hometown of Tulsa, Okla., recalled not only his professional gifts but a perpetually sunny outlook, even in the face of a two-year battle with cancer that took his life at 44.


Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

"I don't know of any athlete at Oklahoma or any place else who was more loved by the fans who knew him than Wayman Tisdale," said Billy Tubbs, who coached Tisdale with the Sooners. "He was obviously, a great, great player, but Wayman as a person overshadowed that. He just lit up a room and was so positive."

Jeff Capel, the current Oklahoma coach, noted Tisdale's "incredible gift of making the people who came in contact with him feel incredibly special."

After three years at Oklahoma, Tisdale played in the NBA with the Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns. The 6-foot-9 forward, with a soft left-handed touch on the court, averaged 15.3 points for his career. He was on the U.S. team that won the gold medal in the 1984 Olympics.

Gov. Brad Henry attended Oklahoma at the same time Tisdale did and later appointed him to the state's Tourism Commission.

"Oklahoma has lost one of its most beloved sons," Henry said. "Wayman Tisdale was a hero both on and off the basketball court. ... Even in the most challenging of times, he had a smile for people, and he had the rare ability to make everyone around him smile. He was one of the most inspirational people I have ever known."

State senators paused and prayed Friday morning after learning of his death.

Tisdale learned he had a cancerous cyst below his right knee after breaking his leg in a fall at his home in Los Angeles on Feb. 8, 2007. He said then he was fortunate to have discovered the cancer early.

"Nothing can change me," Tisdale told The Associated Press last June. "You go through things. You don't change because things come in your life. You get better because things come in your life."

His leg was amputated last August and a prosthetic leg that he wore was crimson, one of Oklahoma's colors. He attended an Oklahoma City Thunder game April 7 and later that month was honored at the Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa. During the ceremony, he spoke about his cancer, saying "In my mind, I've beaten it."

He recently told Tulsa television station KTUL he had acute esophagitis, which prevented him from eating for about five weeks and led to significant weight loss. Among the causes of that condition are infections, medications, radiation therapy and systemic disease.

Last month, Tisdale was chosen for induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.

He was the first freshman to be a first-team All-American since freshmen were allowed to play again in the 1971-72 season. He was also one of 10 three-time All-Americans. Patrick Ewing and Tisdale were the last to accomplish the feat, from 1983-85.

"On the court, he was an offensive machine that could score with the best of them," said Dallas Mavericks president Donnie Nelson, an assistant on Tisdale's Suns teams. "Off the court, he was grounded in faith and family."

Tisdale played on an Olympic team that sailed to the gold medal in Los Angeles. The squad was coached by Bob Knight and featured the likes of Ewing, Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins and Chris Mullin.

"Wayman was kind of a catalyst for people accepting roles," said C.M. Newton, the manager of the '84 team and now chairman of the NIT selection committee. "Michael was the leader of the team but Wayman was special in that way."

Perkins and Tisdale shared a love of music and became friends during the Olympics. Perkins later was the best man at Tisdale's wedding.

"That's a real friend who's got your back and would do just about anything for you," Perkins said. "That smile just gets you."

As a musician, Tisdale recorded eight albums. A bass guitarist who often wrote his own material, his most recent album, "Rebound," was inspired by his fight with cancer and included guest appearances by several artists, including saxophonist Dave Koz and country star and fellow Oklahoma native Toby Keith.

His "Way Up!" release debuted in July 2006 and spent four weeks as the No. 1 contemporary jazz album. His hits included "Ain't No Stopping Us Now," "Can't Hide Love" and "Don't Take Your Love Away."

"He was truly an inspiration to me, paving the way for an athlete like myself to pursue a passion for writing and performing music," said Bernie Williams, the former New York Yankees star turned jazz musician. "I had the honor and privilege of having Wayman perform on the title track of my new album, and was looking forward to collaborating with him again."

Tisdale averaged 25.6 points and 10.1 rebounds during his three seasons with the Sooners, earning Big Eight Conference player of the year each season.

He still holds Oklahoma's career records for points and rebounds. Tisdale also owns the school's single-game scoring mark -- 61 points against Texas-San Antonio as a sophomore -- and career marks for points per game, field goals and free throws made and attempts.

In 1997, Tisdale became the first Oklahoma player in any sport to have his jersey number retired. Two years ago, then-freshman Blake Griffin asked Tisdale for permission to wear No. 23, which Tisdale granted. Griffin went on to become the consensus national player of the year this past season as a sophomore.

"I spoke with him pretty frequently this past season and he helped me in ways he probably doesn't even know," Griffin said.

Tisdale is survived by his wife, Regina, and four children.

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Jackson: 'I Couldn't Bear to Leave' Storm Star Explains Decision in Exclusive Interview

Even over the phone from nearly 8,000 miles away, the emotion in Lauren Jackson's voice was palpable as she described her decision to re-sign with the Seattle Storm on Monday. Having spent the last several months considering her options before reaching a final verdict after sitting down with her family back at home in Albury, Australia, Jackson came to realize that she simply could not leave Seattle.

"I love the Storm - I love playing there," Jackson said late Monday night in her only interview between signing her new contract and leaving for a vacation with her parents. "For different reasons, the opportunity came up to play somewhere else. It came down basically to me loving it in Seattle. I've said for a long time it's my home there in America. I couldn't bear to leave. I just wanted to come home and make the decision and be with my parents and my friends here and do it that way. It was easier for me."

Jackson also referred to potentially leaving the Storm as probably "The biggest mistake that I'd ever made," and reiterated what a special place Seattle has become for her.

"It came down basically to me loving it in Seattle. I've said for a long time it's my home there in America. I couldn't bear to leave."
Aaron Last/Storm Photos
"I'm really fortunate and I'm glad that I had this time to think about it and really put what I love about Seattle in perspective and how I would feel if I left," she said. "I think that I would have lost a huge part of me if I had gone from Seattle, so I'm just glad that I got this opportunity to have this time and realize how important it is."

Timing played a factor in Jackson's thought process. Entering the Storm's 10th Anniversary season, she thought back on the start of her own career, and her development as a player and a person that has in many ways been intertwined with the Storm's growth as a franchise.

"There's definitely a lot of nostalgia when I think about it, like when I first came over to Seattle and I was so scared and I just didn't know what to expect being away from home," Jackson recalled. "Looking back on it, I don't know how I've lasted this long overseas, but I guess that's just a part of growing up and loving what you do. Seattle definitely has been my home, and the 10th season coming up obviously was something that made me want to be there even more, because I feel like I've been part of that program and helped it grow for a long time."

If Jackson ever wavered in that thought, the Storm was there with timely reminders. "They pulled all the right strings," Jackson said in describing the Storm's recruiting efforts, from a video that was shot at the Kangaroo and Kiwi Aussie pub that helps her feel at home in Seattle to a video retrospective of her Storm career and culminating in the e-mails from Storm Season Ticket Holders that Head Coach Brian Agler brought with him when he visited with Jackson in Spain during the Euroleague Final Four.

"I was reading them the night before we played our final game in the Final Four," she said. "I was showing Diana (Taurasi) and Sue (Bird). It made me upset because I really care about being there so much and I never thought that people felt that way back.

"Getting those e-mails, I really had no idea how passionate people were about the Storm and me coming back. When I saw that, I think that was pretty much the clincher right there. It's hard to make a decision like that based on personal feelings, but when you've got the fans out there and people that really want you back and you can put things into perspective, it definitely changes things for you."

Specifically, Jackson was struck by the loyalty of Storm fans, and those who wrote that no matter her ultimate decision, they wanted her to be happy. She was also touched by the understanding shown by the Storm organization.

"Everyone's just been so supportive, which I couldn't believe really initially," said Jackson. "Just to be a part of that, it is like a family, you know? I think that's probably what made the most difference to me is all the support and understanding I had from everybody. It was great."

Jackson's relationship with Agler was also a factor. He made staying in contact with Jackson throughout the offseason a priority, visiting her in Europe on three different occasions. Agler had already won Jackson's loyalty with his support when she had to undergo ankle surgery following the Olympics. Agler stood up for his star in the face of misguided criticism that Jackson should have played through the debilitating injury.

"He was great," she said. "I had a huge amount of trust and respect for him then. I don't think a lot of people understood what was happening, but he was so supportive. I think since then I've been pretty much on his side. Then, of course he's a great coach and everything like that. He's definitely someone I would like to play under for a long time."

Her decision made and official, Jackson's thoughts have turned to excitement about the upcoming season. She feels healthy in the wake of the surgery she underwent last August, noting that the fact that she played fewer minutes for Spartak this season has left her feeling fresh and ready to go. Now, Jackson wants to continue to develop her game, and believes the Storm is the ideal situation to do that.

"I don't feel like I've played my best basketball since before the Olympics," she explained. "I'd love to get back there and get back to my peak performance and get back to myself. I'm really looking forward to that. It's great because I've got the right people around me and people who I know can help me get better and make me get better."

Jackson watched with great interest as Agler built the Storm's roster this offseason, strengthening the frontcourt by getting Jackson's best friend Suzy Batkovic to return to the WNBA - "I'm so stoked" to play with her, said Jackson - and bringing back center Janell Burse after a one-year absence. With Shannon Johnson adding a veteran presence to the Storm's backcourt, Jackson feels strongly that good things are ahead for the team.

"I think it's going to be a great year for us," she said. "Special things can happen this year. We have all the right pieces. I think we're going to have a strong, more confident lineup in terms of how good are bigs are. Having Sue and Shannon Johnson, it's going to be amazing. I think we've got a lot to look forward to this year. I can't wait to be a part of it."

One telling answer came when Jackson was asked what she is most looking forward to from the upcoming season. "Everything, I guess," she answered.

"I'm really looking forward to it," Jackson added. "Yeah, I can't wait. It's going to be a lot of fun. It's going to be an exciting season for sure, and I'm happy that I'm going to be in Seattle. I'm really glad. "

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Sky Sign Chinese National Team Center Chen Nan Through 2010 Season

CHICAGO, April 28, 2009 – Chicago Sky Head Coach and General Manager Steven Key announced today that the team has signed 2009 Women’s Chinese Basketball Association (WCBA) Most Valuable Player, Chen Nan, through the 2010 season. Per team policy, terms of the contracts have not been released. Chen, a 6’5” center, will add even more height to an already big Sky lineup that includes 6’6” center Sylvia Fowles and 6’2” forward Candice Dupree.

Twenty-six-year-old Chen, began playing for the Chinese National Team at age 16, and became a WCBA rookie at age 18. Chen currently plays for team BaYi Stationery of the WCBA, and was named 2009 WCBA MVP averaging 23.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.9 steals per game. Chen a four-time WCBA Champion was named 2003 All-WCBA Center of the Year.

Chen has represented the Chinese Women’s National Basketball team for 10 years, appearing in the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics, 2006 World Championship in Brazil, and most recently in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing where she averaged 14.9 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game. The dynamic and versatile play of Chen Nan helped lead the Women’s Chinese National team to its best Olympic finish-ever, placing fourth overall.

“It was my dream to play in the WNBA and now as a member of the Chicago Sky my dream has come true,” said center Chen Nan. “The WNBA is the top league for women’s basketball, and hosts the best players in the world. I know it will be a challenge, but I am glad to be playing for the Sky. I am committed to assisting the Sky in any way possible to become a championship team. I’m excited to be on the same team as Sylvia , during the 2008 Beijing Olympics I learned she is an extremely aggressive and dominant player in the paint, I am a lucky dog playing aside her. The Sky to me has been something that I’ve liked since I was young, to me it represents having no limits – the Sky has no limits! ”

“The addition of Nan is a bold and exciting move,” said Head Coach and General Manager Steven Key. “Nan has incredible experience in playing for both the Chinese National Team and in the WBCA, she is prepared, skilled, and ready to compete with the best in the world, which is why we are excited to have her as a member of the Sky. At 6’5” her addition will add to the overall height and size of our front court, which we need to challenge the best in the WNBA. Her ability to shoot from the outside as well as drive to the basket is exceptional for a player of her size. There’s no doubt that Nan dramatically adds to our athleticism and versatility which we must have to build a championship team.”

Nan is the second international player for the Sky, and will arrive in Chicago in early May in time to report to Sky training camp, which begins on May 17, with media day on May 18. The Sky season opens on June 6 at Minnesota. The Sky’s home opener is on June 12 against the Atlanta Dream at 7:30pm at the UIC Pavilion.

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Three-time WNBA All-Star and one of the league's all-time leading scorers, Tamecka Dixon has signed a free agent contract with the Indiana Fever. Dixon, who has played in the WNBA since its inception in 1997, is 21st on the league's career scoring list with 3,368 points. She has played the last three seasons with the Houston Comets. Per team policy, terms of the contract are not disclosed.

Dixon spent her first nine years in the WNBA with the Los Angeles Sparks, winning championships with that team in 2001 and 2002. She was on the Western Conference All-Star team in 2001, 2002 and 2003. She was selected to start for the West in 2003, replacing the injured Cynthia Cooper. Dixon is among the WNBA's career top 10 in assists (eighth) with 924 and is 20th in league history in steals with 342.

The Indiana Fever celebrates its 10th anniversary season in 2009, opening the summer season at Atlanta on Saturday, June 6 (7:00 p.m.), and hosting the Minnesota Lynx on June 7 (7:00 p.m.) – exactly 10 years after the franchise was founded (June 7, 1999). Led by Griffith, two-time Olympic gold medalist and five-time WNBA All-Star Tamika Catchings, Olympic silver medalist Tully Bevilaqua, 2008 WNBA Most Improved Player Ebony Hoffman and two-time WNBA All-Stars Katie Douglas and Tammy Sutton-Brown, the Fever bids for its fifth consecutive playoff appearance in 2009. Season tickets are available at, or by calling (317) 917-2500.

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More Farmar on Sunday?

Farmar has outperformed Fisher in the series.

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. - Derek Fisher was able to pull a full 82-game season out of his 34-year-old body this year, but the Playoffs have made the Lakers co-captain age like Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin in the seance scene in Beetlejuice.

After averaging 9.9 points on 42.4 percent from the field and 39.7 percent from three to go with 2.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game in the regular season, Fisher's production dipped to 9.4 points on 43.8 and 31.3 with 2.0 boards and 3.0 dimes against Utah and then flopped to 5.2 points on 29.4 percent from the field, seven percent from three with 1.6 rebounds and 1.2 assists.

In the mean time, Houston's starting point guard, 24-year-old Aaron Brooks, is averaging 18.8 points on 48.1 percent shooting and 37.5 percent from deep to go with 2.3 boards and 2.5 assists.

Before Fisher served a suspension for Game 3 for leveling Luis Scola in Game 2, we wondered if the Lakers were better off without Fisher.

Now, two days before Sunday's win-or-go-home Game 7, it appears Phil Jackson might be wondering that too.

"We really liked some of our matchups that we’ve had out there," Jackson said, referring to Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown. "They’re working well with us.

"Fish has had a little bit of a problem with Brooks, but we like his direction out there to start a game. He didn’t have a feel for it in this last game, he didn’t shoot the ball the way we wanted it or he can shoot the ball. Jordan got us going, we liked the other matchups we had on their other guards."

Then came the kicker that Jackson snuck in before jumping to the next question and left reporters wondering if they really just heard him say it:

"We’re going to have to play guys on Sunday that earn the minutes rather than just our regular rotation, so there may be a change."

Ever since starting in Fisher's absence in Game 3, Farmar is averaging 11 points, 3.5 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game while shooting 45.2 percent from the field.

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Sam Smith: Rooting for Kobe vs. LeBron in the FInals

LeBron and Kobe
Who doesn't want to see LeBron and Kobe square off in the NBA FInals?
(Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images)

I confess I've been rooting for a Lakers/Kobe-Cavs/LeBron Finals for one of these rare times in NBA history when you truly get the two best in the game going at one another in the Finals.

It was the one thing missing from Michael Jordan's resume, though no fault of his. There was no true star for him to conquer then. Magic Johnson in 1991 was past his prime. We didn't know how far with his HIV diagnosis four months away. Clyde Drexler? Hardly, yet Jordan tried to make it something with the threes in the opener. Barkley? Nah. Karl Malone?

Magic had Bird, which was probably the greatest rivalry in the mid-80s. And Russell had Wilt in the 60s. Wilt was headed out when Kareem came and Walton wasn't there long enough.

There's no dispute now. Kobe and LeBron are one/two in some order, best in the East and best in the West. LeBron's going to get there. But I don't know about Kobe and the Lakers.

And not just because it's 2-2 now between the Lakers and Rockets.

It's the way the Lakers have played, and been beaten by the Rockets. I can see the Nuggets taking out the Lakers as long as George Karl doesn't freeze up, which he's done in big playoff series before. The Nuggets have physical play up front in Kenyon Martin and Nene, that Birdman guy off the bench, Carmelo Anthony to offset Bryant's scoring on some level, and Chauncey Billups, who dominates any Lakers' point guard combo.

It's also where the Rockets without Yao Ming Sunday embarrassed the Lakers. Phil Jackson has done a terrific job realizing he doesn't have a defensive team, particularly with penetration from the perimeter, and taking the offensive way out and succeeding. But the Rockets exploited that with small guards Aaron Brooks and reserve Kyle Lowery, often playing both. Derek Fisher has been a liability defensively (the Lakers best game was with him suspended) and the Lakers bench isn't much help. Pau Gasol has come up marshmallow again against smaller tough guys like Chuck Hayes and Carl Landry and Andrew Bynum, the so called missing piece for the dynasty, has been benched and so out of it even he admits he's having mental issues. And it seems the Lakers have become somewhat distracted trying to erase the reputation they are a soft, Western Conference finesse team.

"I think last year they got punked by the Celtics and they don't want that to happen again," said the Rockets' Ron Artest. "That was the word on the street, that they got punked by the Celtics, so this year they came out tough. I kind of respect them elbows."

Bryant was brilliant in winning Game 3 with big shot after big shot, and if the Lakers are to win the series he'll have to do it twice more. The Lakers seem even more a one man team now than do the Cavs.

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Lakers 80, Rockets 95: Postgame 6

Kobe Bryant
At halftime of Game 4’s 99-87 loss in Houston, the Lakers trailed by 18 points after a horribly flat 24-minute performance.

At halftime of Game 6, the Lakers trailed by 16 points after a half that really wasn’t that bad despite a 21-3 start for Houston. In fact, it wasn’t a lack of energy that was killing the Lakers, but instead, an inability to stick a jumper. Particularly in the first, the Lakers just couldn’t buy a bucket, going 6-for-20 (30 percent) while Houston made twice that many shots (12-of-21).

Generally, those kind of numbers begin to even out in a basketball game, and sure enough, the Lakers stormed out of the halftime gates on a 16-2 run to cut the lead down to just two and seemingly change the tenor of the game, spurred by Andrew Bynum’s interior defense and Trevor Ariza’s activity on the perimeter.

But if L.A.’d learned anything about the Rockets, it’s that they won’t give up, and true to form, Houston pushed its lead back up to nine heading into the final quarter.

With a raucous Toyota Center living and dying with each possession, Houston got seven points in the first eight minutes of the period from Carl Landry to keep the Lakers at bay until 4:20 remained on the clock, holding onto a 84-75 lead that they’d protect all the way to a Game-7 forcing victory.

Luis Scola was fantastic for Houston in the first three quarters, scoring 24 points with 11 boards to pace the home team, while Aaron Brooks again served as a barometer for Houston in scoring 26 points, including two big jumpers in the lane late in the fourth.

For the Lakers, Kobe Bryant went for 32 points on 27 shots, while Pau Gasol managed just 14 points on 15 shots as both players grew increasingly frustrated by the physical play in the lane that was allowed throughout the contest.

Lamar Odom contributed 14 rebounds in 28 painful minutes, while Bynum failed to score (0-for-3) but did grab seven boards in 19 minutes, none of which came in the fourth quarter despite his effective third period.

Derek Fisher struggled once again for the purple and gold, connecting on only 1-of-7 attempts from the field (0-of-5 from three) in 21 minutes, while Jordan Farmar was a bright spot with 13 points in the same number of minutes.

The good news for the Lakers was that Game 7 would take place in STAPLES Center, where they’d beaten Houston by 40 just two nights earlier.

Until then, some numbers:

Times the Lakers led.

Point for the Lakers with 6:35 left in the first quarter. Houston had 17.

Offensive rebounds for the Lakers, which inexplicably led to only 12 second chance points. This stat exhibits L.A.’s poor shooting night as well as how physical the refs allowed the game to get in the paint, as many second shots came with a body.

Missed threes by the Lakers, who hit 5-of-23 (21.7 percent).

L.A.’s shooting percentage for the game, as the Lakers struggled to hit both open and contested looks throughout the contest.

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Rockets Force Game 7 With Stirring Win

Luis Scola got the Rockets off and running with a red-hot

start before finishing with 24 points and 12 rebounds.

Houston - There are two ways to view the incredible, amazing, too good to be true story that is the Houston Rockets right now.


1.) They have more lives than a cat, are harder to kill than a cockroach and stem from the same family tree as Lazarus.


2.) Maybe, just maybe, everyone needs to put aside the tombstones, stop penning eulogies and open their eyes to the fact that, yes, this team is in fact very good and never should have been written off in the first place.

Then again…

On second thought, forget it. Go ahead and proceed with the funeral talk, columnists. Keep chanting, ‘Beat LA!’, Denver fans. Do everything possible to bury, ignore and utterly disregard the Rockets. They don’t mind. Really, they don’t. For they have no witty retort; no clever comeback at the ready. In fact, they have only one response to those with shovel in hand. As it turns out, it’s the only response that matters.

They simply keep winning.

It should come as absolutely no surprise then that the Rockets reprised their resurrection routine once more Thursday night before a capacity crowd of raucous, euphoric witnesses at Toyota Center. Written off and left for dead by seemingly everyone, Houston went wire-to-wire in a convincing 95-80 Game 6 win over the Lakers, forcing the series back to Los Angeles for a decisive seventh game. It was the sort of virtuoso performance which perhaps came as a shock to many around the country, though not to those who had seen the way this club has responded to adversity all season.

“For the last two days all I've heard is that we weren't going back to L.A.,” said Rockets’ head coach Rick Adelman. “Guys in our locker room didn't believe that.

“This team, the way they listened and the way they went about the game plan and the way they executed it was really fun to see because they’ve grown during these last 30 games of the season and the playoffs. They just keep growing. This team has so much heart and they don’t care what people say. Yao went down and we haven’t blinked an eye. We’re just playing to see how far we can take it and you’ve got to give them credit.”

First among those deserving to take a bow Thursday night was Luis Scola, whose scorching start propelled the Rockets to a 17-1 lead right out of the gate. The second-year forward from Argentina finished with terrific numbers - 24 points and 12 rebounds – but just as important were the energy and confidence he instilled in his teammates with the passion, hustle and desire he displayed right from the opening tip.

“Luis has played a lot of big games in his career,” said Shane Battier. “More than most people know. He set the tone tonight and he was awesome.”

source from : NBA.COM

As ping pong balls bounce, fates of 14 teams hang in balance


Tuesday at 8 p.m. (ESPN), the annual NBA Draft lottery will be conducted in Secaucus, N.J. All 14 teams will send a representative -- some their General Manager (Larry Riley, John Hammond), others their coach (Alvin Gentry, Scott Brooks), others a star player (Kevin Love) -- to watch the excruciatingly painful process of seeing their team's future being decided by a bunch of ping pong balls.

In a Draft such as this, where there appears to be a huge dropoff between the second and third picks, there is that much more on the line.

Here's what will actually happen behind the scenes, from the official NBA press release:

"Fourteen ping-pong balls numbered 1 through 14 will be placed in a drum. There are 1,001 possible combinations when four balls are drawn out of 14, without regard to their order of selection. Prior to the Lottery, 1,000 combinations will be assigned to the 14 participating Lottery teams by a computer.

The Sacramento Kings finished the season with the NBA's worst record (17-65), so they will be assigned 250 combinations. The Phoenix Suns, the best team in the lottery at 46-36, will have five combinations out of 1,000.

Four balls will be drawn to the top to determine a four-digit combination. The team that has been assigned that combination will receive the number one pick. The four balls are placed back in the drum and the process is repeated to determine the number two and three picks. (Note: If the one unassigned combination is drawn, the balls are drawn to the top again.)

The order of selection for the teams that do not win one of the top three picks will be determined by inverse order of their regular season record. Thus, Sacramento can pick no lower than fourth, Washington (19-63) no lower than fifth and the L.A. Clippers (19-63) no lower than sixth.

The actual Lottery procedure will take place in a separate room prior to the national broadcast with NBA officials and representatives of the participating teams and the accounting firm of Ernst & Young in attendance.

Following the drawing, team logo cards will be inserted into envelopes marked 1 through 14 by an Ernst & Young representative. These envelopes then will be sealed and brought on-stage, where the announcement of the Lottery results will be made by NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver. A second representative from each participating team will be seated on-stage. Neither the Deputy Commissioner nor the team representatives will be informed of the Lottery results prior to the opening of the envelopes.

The team whose logo is in the last envelope opened will pick first in NBA Draft 2009, to be held on Thursday, June 25, at The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City."

Here's what's at stake for all 14 teams participating in the lottery, as well as their odds of coming away with the first, second or third pick.

source from :

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Top-seeded Lakers aim to make T-Mac's prediction come true


Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Not too long ago, a debate raged on whether Tracy McGrady or Kobe Bryant was the better player. Too bad that this season has made that thought seem like ancient history. Bryant backed up his MVP campaign by leading the Lakers on a 65-win regular-season romp. McGrady averaged just 15.6 points on 38.8 percent shooting in 35 games for the Rockets before a knee injury caused him to shut it down.

While Bryant averaged 27.4 points in dismissing the Jazz in the first round of the Playoffs, the only points McGrady has scored this postseason have been in the candor department. In a radio interview, he predicted the Lakers would win the championship. It's bad enough that for the first time in T-Mac's 12-year career his team made it to the second round with him in street clothes. It's even worse that he already publicly picked his team to lose.


Ron Artest's Game vs. Ron Artest's Mouth: The 6-foot-7, 260-pound forward averaged 15.7 points, 3.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and a steal a game in the first round and scored 27 points in the clinching Game 6, but it was the comment he made after Game 5 that could have lasting impact on Houston's series with Los Angeles.

"[Brandon] Roy is the best player I've played against," Artest told TNT's Craig Sager. When Sager asked Artest to clarify his statement, reminding him that he has gone up against the likes of Bryant and LeBron James, Artest only reiterated his claim.

Earlier in the season, Artest's trash talking came back to bite him when he called Bryant "the worst player in the world" in their March 11 game in which Kobe scored 18 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter to lift the Lakers to a road win over the Rockets. While McGrady's comment might have supported L.A., don't think for a minute that Bryant will let Artest's slight slide without using it for extra motivation.

Behind the Numbers

82.0 and 42.9 -- Portland's points per game and shooting percentage in Houston's four wins in the first round. The Rockets will have to ratchet up their defensive efforts to that level if they hope to have success in the second round. The Lakers averaged 103.0 points on 48.2 percent shooting in their four-game regular-season series sweep of Houston.

Five Big Questions

1. Will Yao dominate?

Yao finally got out of the first round for the first time in his seven-year career, but he did it by averaging just 15.8 points and 10.3 rebounds and came up particularly small for a 7-foot-6 guy in Games 2 and 3, totaling just 18 points on 5-for-13 shooting as Portland sandwiched him in the post.

Fortunately for the Rockets, their center's struggles were miniscule compared to the ugly effort the Lakers' Andrew Bynum had against Utah. Bynum averaged 17.3 points and 5.5 rebounds when he came back from a knee injury for the final four games of the regular season, but in the five games against the Jazz, those numbers dwindled to just 5.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.2 fouls (and an even more abysmal 2.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in just 8.7 minutes in Games 3-5).

Benched for the last two games of the first round, the 7-foot Bynum will return to the starting lineup and says he looks forward to it. "Now we got a big guy out there and I'm going to have to play," Bynum said.

2. Can L.A. protect its leads?

The Lakers won't just be playing the Rockets this series, they'll be playing themselves. After losing double-digit leads against Utah, L.A. must rectify the problem on its own.

"We have to give a better effort," Bryant said. "That second unit comes in there and we have to give a better effort defensively -- running back on defense, not giving up easy baskets, stuff like that. We have to continue and keep up with the hustle."

One thing L.A. has going for it if it does end up relinquishing leads is its closing ability against Houston. The Lakers outscored the Rockets by an average of 11.8 points in the fourth quarter in their four meetings this year.

3. How will the long layoff affect the Lakers?

By the time Game 1 tips off on Monday (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT), the Lakers will have had a full six days without a game, while the Rockets will have had just three. While the time off can be a boon for players trying to heal minor injuries (i.e. Luke Walton's ankle), it's also an invitation for rust to settle in. Theoretically, the last team to clinch a spot in a series -- in this case, Houston -- will be sharper because it doesn't lose the rhythm of playing quite as much. Then again, the Rockets don't get as much time to mend (i.e. Von Wafer's back). "[Our] legs will be renewed, so to speak, but you suffer one way or another in this situation," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.

4. Who can stop Aaron Brooks?

Much of the speculation before the Lakers-Jazz series centered on how L.A. planned to stop all-world point guard Deron Williams. The Lakers might face as perplexing of a problem in Houston's Brooks. The 6-foot-1, 161-pound Brooks averaged 15.3 points and 4.3 assists in the first round on 44.7 percent shooting, and 44.8 percent from three. Against Williams, the Lakers spelled 34-year-old Derek Fisher with the strong-bodied Shannon Brown. Don't be shocked if Jackson turns to Jordan Farmar against Brooks to match quickness with quickness, even if Farmar only averaged a point and four minutes in just two games against Utah.

5. What's the more important matchup -- Battier vs. Bryant or Gasol vs. Scola?

Michael Lewis might have made news earlier in the season when he wrote that Shane Battier is a "No-Stats All-Star" for his defense on premier players like Bryant, but the duo that could really sway the series are the "No-Razor All-Stars" in Pau Gasol of the Lakers and Luis Scola of the Rockets. Scola was Houston's leading scorer against Portland, averaging 16.2 points on 56.9 percent shooting to go with 6.7 rebounds per game. Gasol put up 18.4 and 9.0 rebounds on 58.6 percent shooting against Utah, but looked lost against Carlos Boozer at times on defense, never finding the balance between contesting Boozer's midrange shot while battling him down low. Scola plays the same inside-outside game and will have to consistently hit the 15-footer to keep L.A from packing the lane on Yao with Bynum and Gasol.


Lakers in 5. If Los Angeles really can improve with every round like Jackson is challenging his team to do, then Houston shouldn't pose a real threat. Yao knows how hard it is to get out of the first round. It will be even harder for him to get out of the second.

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