Chicago Bulls v Miami Heat - Game Four

Believe it or not, LeBron knows how Rose feels

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People are going to want to act like LeBron James is relishing this. That there’s a part of James who is vindictively and sadistically savoring the kid who took his trophy failing like this. But it’s not like that among athletes, and it’s not like that between LeBron James and Derrick Rose.

Because some part of James sees what Rose is going through and recognizes it, empathizes with it, understands it. This isn’t to make James into some highly empathetic figure, or a kind-hearted, benevolent statesman for the game. James has shown enough behavior to warrant a piece of the criticism he’s earned. Probably not the vilification to the degree of him embodying everything evil, but James is the person who dismissively throws his warm-ups off, who spreads his pre-game laundry out as a barrier to reporters, who didn’t shake Orlando’s hand in 2009, who did orchestrate “The Decision,” etc. He is that guy.

But he’s also a player who was burdened at an obscenely young age with the hopes of a franchise. He was given the responsibility of being The Chosen One (which he embraced with a tat on his back), and leading Cleveland out of darkness and into Valhalla. Cleveland. You know, where sports hope goes to die. I’m not rubbing this in, Cleveland. It’s unendurable what you’ve gone through as a city. But the high pressure of trying to save a desperate people did weigh on James. LeBron was bested in the playoffs by the best power forward in NBA history, one of the best defenses ever seen mechanized by a Big 3 which set the model for what James would later do, by a ridiculously hot shooting Magic team that if the NBA Playoffs were pop-a-shot in 2009 would have won enough tickets to buy the whole freaking Chuck-E-Cheese, and again by that same defense. He did it with supporting players like Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison, Wally Szczerbiak, Larry Hughes, Ben Wallace, Daniel Gibson, Anderson Varejao. He knows what it’s like to have the entire world expecting you to be better than five men at once, all of whom are actively trying to kill you.

James knows how Rose feels when he sees Kyle Korver missing threes, destroying the only reason he’s supposed to be on the floor. He knows what it’s like for Rose when the Bulls can’t create space, find a lane, attack the basket or get a shot off without him. He knows what it’s like to feel like you have to do everything, and to know the opponent knows that, and to know the opponent knows you know.

And he knows what it’s like to fail.

James knows Rose, more than most will discuss because of the neat theatrics of Rose dismissing James in a text message over the summer. It’s easier to paint Rose as a saint and James as an evil demon prowling the streets of Chicago before DRose sent him packing. But it ignores fairly obvious elements. Like Derrick Rose being a Calipari product. And LeBron James and his crew being thick as thieves with Calipari.

James knows Rose, and he knows what he’s been through. He knows what it’s like to struggle and fail, to be beat up, worn down, exhausted, and constantly looking to your teammates and wondering why they can’t hit water if they fell out of a boat, or what that defensive rotation was, or where they were passing it to, or why no one else can create their own shot. He’s worn the shoes Derrick Rose is wearing and knows how hard it is to face the microphones thrust in his face after not being able to get it done. James knows how Rose feels and it’s the cause of two things.

It’s why James keeps praising Rose, and it’s why James won’t let up on Rose for a second.

In Game 4, there was no clearer manifestation of James being the active deterrent to Rose. James blocked Rose’s notorious floater into the fifth row (ask Josh Smith how difficult that shot it to time). He blanketed Rose for the entire fourth, causing yet another in a long series of disastrous fourths for the MVP. He defended the game winning attempt, twice, forcing a turnover and a miss. Want proof of the effect James has on Rose? Rose misses more shots than he makes at the rim when LeBron James is on the floor in this series. It was key to the Heat’s 101-93 win in overtime to take a 3-1 series lead.

Derrick Rose is home. He’s a 22-year-old MVP on top of the world, playing for a shot in the Finals of a World Championship. He’s shouldering the load, playing long minutes (seriously, Tom Thibodeau doesn’t know the meaning of the world “breather”). He’s going through exactly what James went through year after year. It reminds James to stay consistent, to stay aggressive, to not go back to where Rose is. When this series is over, James will hug Rose and whisper in his ear words of encouragement the same way Kevin Garnett whispered in James’ ear last year. Because Garnett knew what it was like as well, to hold up a franchise, to be their Atlas, and to fail under the crushing weight. Eventually, the lesson goes (right or wrong), you have to go out and find your own support and stop waiting for management to give it to you. LeBron did and now he’s five wins away from the title that eluded him.

But when he whispers in Rose’s ear, it won’t be smug or pompous (no matter how smug or pompous James may be otherwise), it’ll be supportive and understanding. Basketball is a brotherhood, the marketing slogan says. But franchise saviors share a unique bond. It gives James no joy to do this to the MVP. But like everything else James has done over the past year…

It’s just business.

Game 5 is Thursday if Rose wants to delay that conversation a little longer.

Wall has to work for recognition among top NBA point guards

Washington Wizards guard John Wall dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls, Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Fresh off scoring 51 points against the Washington Wizards, reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry praised John Wall, who dropped a quiet 41 against the Warriors.

“He’s a top-tier point guard,” Curry said, “and it’s like that – not his caliber every night – but obviously at the point guard position you’re going to have some talent on the other side of the ball most nights.”

Wall has never played better in what is now a point-guard league.

It doesn’t stop with Curry. The talent pool includes Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, Portland’s Damian Lillard, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul, to name a few.

“I think I’m having a career year,” Wall said. “I can say I’m playing my best basketball, but not the way I want to play because it’s not equaling up to wins.”

Wall is an All-Star for the third time but gets lost in the packed field of “top-tier” point guards. His 20.1 points a game are sixth at the position, while his 9.9 assists are third behind only Sacramento’s Rajon Rondo and Westbrook.

But some nights there is just no denying his talents.

Like Tuesday at New York’s Madison Square Garden, Wall had 28 points and 17 assists to lead Washington past the Knicks. It was another showcase performance during a season that hasn’t gone the way he or the Wizards have wanted.

The Wizards will be a sub-.500 team and outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture at the All-Star break. Injuries to sidekick Bradley Beal and many others have hampered Washington this season.

But Wall is holding up his end and is playing like a top-five point guard.

He has an all-around game – the ability to beat defenders off the dribble, to spot up, pass, use his court vision and rebound. As Celtics coach Brad Stevens said recently, “you have to pick your poison” when defending Wall.

“Being able to shoot the ball off the pick and roll with great consistency – that’s what makes defenses choose what to do next,” Stevens said. “He’s been a great passer off the pick and roll.”

There’s no shortage of admiration around the league for Wall, who Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown deemed “the fastest guard in the NBA.” Brown compared Wall to a Maserati sports car and said the 25-year-old has improved because “you learn how to drive your Maserati better.”

Much of Wall’s game has improved in his six pro seasons since he was the first overall pick out of Kentucky in 2010.

“His speed is probably second to none in the NBA. … He’s a one-man fast break and it’s crazy because he logs so many minutes,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “His midrange jumper is also so much improved. You can tell he’s been working on his game a lot, and you like to see that from guys.”

Wall doesn’t get the headlines like Curry, Irving or even Thomas, of late. He has only scored the most points in a game he’s played in eight times this season, but Wall is the kind of player that teams have to game-plan against.

“You’ve got to build a wall against Wall,” Cavaliers star LeBron James said. “You let him play in open court one-on-one, he’s too fast, he’s too strong. He’s going to put your defense at bay.”

Opponents have tried to close off Wall’s drives to the basket and force him to take jump shots. At times, it has worked, like when the Trail Blazers limited him to 4 of 17 shooting in a victory last month.

“When you’re playing against an All-Star-caliber player like him, you work as hard as you can, you try and contain his penetration and hope he misses some jumpers,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said.

More often than not, Wall makes the most of his time and space. Even so, Washington coach Randy Wittman believes Curry should get more recognition than Wall because of team results.

“John’s body of work has been pretty good; he’s been recognized with that,” Wittman said. “You’ve got to go out and play, you’ve got to go out and win. Those are the two things in our league. You want recognition? Be a winner and play your butt off. That’s how you get recognition, and John’s gotten it.”

NBA writer Brian Mahoney contributed to this report.

Report: “Al Horford is a legitimate possibility for the Celtics”

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The Boston Celtics have assets, a collection of good role players but lacking the true stars, the alpha, the No. 1 option that any team needs to really win in the NBA.

How about Al Horford?

The Hawks are testing the waters for Horford, and as you can see in the video above, Chirs Mannix of Comcast Sportsnet New England (as well as The Vertical at Yahoo Sports) sees a fit.

“I think Boston, Al Horford is a legitimate possibility for the Celtics. I think that is one of the guys across the league that Danny Ainge is the most excited about. He is a four man that would fit right into what Boston is trying to do. It would cost a lot of money to re-sign him in the offseason, but I think Boston is willing to play it, because they haven’t paid a lot of money for players in recent years.”

The question here, of course, is the cost going back. All sources around the league right now say the Hawks are asking for the moon (as Mannix mentions). The givens in this kind of deal would be David Lee‘s expiring contract (for salary reasons), and the Nets unprotected pick. But it’s going to take more. Jae Crowder? Marcus Smart? Avery Bradley? Kelly Olynyk? Isaiah Thomas? It’s going to take a couple of those guys on top of Lee and the pick.

But if you’re the Celtics, that’s the move — you have put together all these assets, now you need to consolidate them into a couple of stars. Horford’s good-at-everything will fit beautifully in Brad Stevens’s system.

Just something to keep your eyes on. Unless the Hawks decide not to move Horford at all. Which is still a possibility, they may not break this thing up.

Damian Lillard added to Team USA Olympic roster pool

Damian Lillard
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If you’re looking for a point guard who can flat-out score the rock, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many better than Damian Lillard. The Trail Blazers’ guard is averaging 24.2 points and 7.3 assists per game, with an above-average true shooting percentage of 54.6 percent, and a very high usage rate of 30.9.

He’s the kind of guy who might have a place on the Team USA Roster.

Which is why USA Basketball has added him to the pool to be considered for the Rio Olympics summer. The reason for the change is both Lillard’s level of play this season, and the fact he called USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo to ask for a spot, as reported by Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

Lillard deserves consideration, but there are two key reasons he likely doesn’t make the team:

1) He is still a terrible defender.

2) The list of guards for the USA Roster is ridiculous: Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Klay Thompson, John Wall, and Russell Westbrook. And now Lillard. That’s 10 guys for likely five spots. It’s hard to see Lillard making that cut.

But he deserves consideration.

Kings co-owner Shaq: Vivek Ranadivé told me George Karl would coach rest of season

Shaquille O'Neal
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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Kings general manager Vlade Divac said keeping George Karl as coach was right move “for now.”

How long is “for now”?

Shaquille O’Neal, a Kings minority owner, shares insight.

Sam Amick of USA Today:

This would mean a little more if Vivek Ranadivé weren’t prone to wild swings. Remember, the Kings said Tyrone Corbin would finish last season as coach before firing him for Karl.

Divac also said in November that Karl would coach the rest of the season, and that came up for debate fewer than three months later.

Shaq’s revelation is as likely to embarrass the Kings in a few weeks as it is to signal Karl’s job security.