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The time Lionel Hollins stood up to Allen Iverson

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On Nov. 6 last season the Memphis Grizzlies were in Los Angeles, falling to the Lakers. But what stands out in my notes from that game is just how awkward the Grizzlies locker room felt.

Media were huddled around Allen Iverson, who had scored 8 points off the bench, dominating a corner of the locker room and asking questions about how he was trying to fit in. He kept saying how he didn’t understand the controversy, even though days before he said he didn’t want to come off the bench or want to be on a rebuilding team. Even that night he said he was the best point guard on the team.

You could feel other players staring daggers at Iverson and the media. The tension in the room was thick.

Now the back story to that night has come out, via the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

So on Nov. 5, 2009, Hollins asked everyone in a Los Angeles gym to leave practice. That included visitors such as former Griz president Jerry West.
Hollins then got something off his chest.

In front of the team, Hollins demanded that Iverson conform to the team’s philosophy, understand his role and respect his teammates.

“Last year, it was boiling under the surface. It was boiling over the pot in the locker room,” said Hollins, whose Grizzlies open their 2010-11 NBA season tonight against Atlanta at FedExForum.

“It wasn’t as noticeable as far as the media, and this was even before A.I. played. When it became necessary, I confronted the situation. And players recognize when something isn’t right and nothing is being done about it. The team was waiting on me to be the leader.

“So I spoke up. Things broke loose and the team galvanized behind the decision that I made to speak up at that point. They were like, ‘OK, this is how he is, and he did it with one of the greatest players ever. We can believe.’ It just worked out that way. It’s not something I tried to do.”

That was the day that Hollins won the team. It was the day they really started on their way to a surprising 40-42 record. When the ship got righted. It was Iverson’s first steps to Turkey.

Now we’ll see how Hollins steers the ship this season, but he shouldn’t have any storms like that one.

Report: Khris Middleton could return to Bucks before All-Star break

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 16:  Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts during their game against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena on January 16, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The Bucks projected Khris Middleton to miss about 70 games when he tore his hamstring before the season. That extended absence often leads players just to shut down for the year, but Middleton vowed to return in time for the playoffs.

He might get back far sooner than that.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Sources told ESPN.com the Bucks think Middleton, who suffered a hamstring tear just days before the season began, “has a chance” to return to the lineup during a three-game homestand next month before the All-Star ‎break.

Whether Middleton ultimately makes his season debut before or after the All-Star Game, he is expected to be kept on a minutes restriction as he eases way his back from the injury, sources said.

The Bucks have started Tony Snell, who has held his own as an outside shooter. But Middleton will upgrade Milwaukee on Snell’s biggest strength and provide massive defensive improvement. After a strong start, the Bucks have really struggled lately on that end.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has led Milwaukee to a 20-21 record, though the team is better than its won-loss mark indicates. The Bucks will be even better with Middleton, who will rival Jabari Parker as their second-best player and fit seamlessly.

Isaiah Thomas nutmegs Knicks center Marshall Plumlee (video)

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Isaiah Thomas usually saves his best play for the fourth quarter, but the Celtics guard showed out early with this pass between Marshall Plumlee‘s legs to get Kelly Olynyk a layup.

Thomas uncharacteristically just didn’t have enough late. Though he scored 39 points, he shot just 2-for-9 in the final period, as the Knicks pulled away for a 117-106 win.

Kevin Durant misses dunk so hard, ball flies past halfcourt (video)

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Kevin Durant played great in the Warriors’ win over the Thunder last night, but – perhaps fueled by excess emotion – he missed this incredibly emphatic dunk attempt.

Later, Russell Westbrook showed his former teammate how to do it (sparking their apparent conversation):

James Harden outduels Giannis Antetokounmpo as they produce fantastic highlight video

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James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo met in a battle of two of the NBA’s best point guards. (Still weird to say.) The final lines:

  • Harden: 38 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 blocks
  • Antetokounmpo: 32 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks

The winner? Harden and the Rockets, who topped the Bucks, 111-92.

But the real winner? Anyone who gets to watch this highlight video. It just gets better as it goes.