Are Cavaliers taking a risk with taking a Duke player No. 1?

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For the last couple decades, Duke has been the best, most consistent college basketball program in the nation. They have the Final Fours, the NCAA titles to prove it. And they have sent a lot of players on to the NBA.

But Duke players have not thrived at the next level. In fact they have often underwhelmed. There certainly have been good players — Grant Hill and Elton Brand (both especially before they got injured) to name a couple — but Duke has not sent on the percentage of superstar NBA players that other elite programs have. They have had more than their share of bad breaks and flameouts.

Is Cleveland taking a risk drafting a Duke player? Some in Cleveland are wondering.

I say no. They are taking the best player on the board. Which in the end is all a team can do.

But in a decade that may not be the perception. Irving is not expected to be a Derrick Rose or Chris Paul by NBA personnel, but because he is going to go No. 1 — to Cleveland after the loss of LeBron James — there will be a lot of pressure and hopes heaped upon him.

A lot of the perception of Duke’s struggles in the NBA go back to Danny Ferry, who was selected No. 2 overall by the Clippers in 1989, and he then promptly bolted for Italy for a year rather than play for that franchise. He ended up with a 13 year NBA career (10 of it in Cleveland) and he never came close to living up to the hype that followed him into the league.

For fun, let’s look back at some of the other top 20 picks out of Duke (by year they were drafted).

1992: Christian Laettner (No. 3 overall): He played 13 years in the NBA, made one All-Star team and frankly was a good player for much of that. But he also did not live up to the hype coming out of Duke.
1993: Bobby Hurley (No. 7): A car accident ruined his career before it really got started.
1994: Grant Hill (No. 3): Maybe the best NBA player ever to come out of Duke, he was a dynamic pro until ankle injuries did him in. He has bounced back some late in his career.
1995: Cherokee Parks (No. 12): Played parts of nine NBA seasons but was a journeyman. At best.
1999: Elton Brand (No. 1): Duke’s only No. 1 overall (over Steve Francis and Baron Davis). He was the Rookie of the Year for the Bulls, a two-time All-Star and has had a good career that injuries have slowed in recent years.
1999: Trajan Langdon (No. 11): He was out of the league after three years as he struggled to adapt to defenses.
2001: Shane Battier (No. 6): Not a superstar, but he has carved out a very nice career as an NBA role player and one of the best wing defenders in the league.
2002: Jason Williams (No. 2): A motorcycle accident robbed all of us of what may have been a very fun career to watch.
2002: Carlos Boozer (No. 34 overall): We found one Duke player who outperformed his draft status. Nobody was terribly high on Boozer coming out of Duke but the Cavaliers drafted him in the second round and he is a two-time All-Star and a key cog previously in Utah and now in Chicago.
2004: Luol Deng (No. 7): Maybe the vintage example of a Duke player to their critics — incredibly athletic but has had a good-but-not great career for the Bulls.
2006: J.J. Redick (11): To his credit, he is not the star he was in college but he has worked hard to make himself a defender and adapt his game to fit the league. Again, not a superstar but a solid pro.

James Harden helped recruit Lou Williams to Houston

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The Lakers had been shopping Lou Williams around in the run-up to the trade deadline, the only question was would they get a first-round pick for him. Rumors around the league say that Houston had offered them one weeks before, it was on the table, but the Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak front office held their cards close and hoped a better deal would come through.

While all that was going on James Harden decided to ease the process and did a little recruiting calling up Williams, the sixth-man guard told Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“When James called, he asked me if I was interested in playing with them,” Williams told The Vertical. “I told him that I loved the Lakers, but James and them have a group that fit my personality, fit how I play. He said he was going to make it happen.”

Williams then laughed, sitting on the edge of a visiting court following a recent practice. “I’ve heard that before, so I didn’t really put stock into it,” Williams told The Vertical. “I guess James did put the word in, and the team made it happen.”

We all know what happened, Jeanie Buss removed her brother and Kupchak a few days before the trade deadline, Magic Johnston stepped in, called around, and quickly pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Williams to Houston (the Lakers also got Corey Brewer). Williams has averaged 14.5 points per game and had some strong performances with the Rockets, although he’s still finding his groove with the team on the court. Still, he’s been an upgrade for the Rockets’ bench.

Harden knew he would be, so he did his part to make sure it happened.

Take a look back at just how great Shaq was with the Lakers (VIDEO)

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Shaquille O’Neal was as dominant a force as the NBA has ever seen.

His peak years came with the Lakers, when paired with Kobe Bryant one the court — and Phil Jackson manipulating both of them — they won three titles (and arguably would have had more if they stayed together). Those Lakers teams were one of the NBA’s great teams.

Friday night, the Lakers unveil Shaq’s statue at Staples Center. Take a look back at some of Shaq’s Lakers highlights.

 

Warriors’ Matt Barnes on facing Kings: ‘I’m trying to kill ’em’

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The Kings were very good to Matt Barnes.

They signed him to a two-year contract worth more than $12.5 million when it seemed he wouldn’t come close to that on the market. Then they waived him, allowing him to receive all his salary and escape basketball hell for the Warriors, who make him much happier.

Yet, he’s going into tonight’s Golden State-Sacramento game with an edge.

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle (hat tip: CSN Bay Area):

Matt Barnes holding a grudge? Why, I never.

Surging Heat have playoffs in sight after dreadful start

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MIAMI (AP) — They have won 24 times in their last 31 games. They put together the NBA’s longest winning streak this season, a 13-game run that was beyond surprising. They are on the cusp of doing something never accomplished in NBA history.

This Miami Heat comeback tale has been an epic one.

And now comes the toughest part – finishing the job.

None of the other 125 teams in NBA history who started 11-30 or worse made the NBA playoffs. The Heat, with 10 games left on their regular-season schedule, are in position to change that. They held the second-worst record in the league in mid-January, are tied with San Antonio for the best record since, and hold a one-game lead over Chicago and Detroit for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot entering Friday’s games.

“These guys want this so bad,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra – a reluctant coach of the year candidate who cringes when players lobby on his behalf – said Thursday after a loss to the Toronto Raptors. “They want this opportunity to be in the playoffs. We’ve fought, scratched, done everything we possibly can to put ourselves into a position to fight for it.”

More fighting and scratching awaits.

Of Miami’s final 10 games, a stretch that starts Sunday in Boston, eight are against teams still battling for either a playoff spot or playoff positioning. The only two exceptions are a home-and-home next week with New York, which earlier this season was seven games ahead of the Heat in the standings and now are eight games behind Miami (35-37).

“We’ve dug ourselves out of a deep ditch,” Heat center and NBA rebounding leader Hassan Whiteside said.

True, but they’re not on firm playoff footing yet.

Under normal circumstances, Whiteside almost certainly would not have played Thursday. He needed 13 stitches to repair a cut in his right (shooting) hand on Tuesday, and a similar injury two years ago left him sidelined for three games.

Not only did he start Thursday, he led the Heat with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Afterward, he had icepacks strapped to both of his knees, covered his right hand in a clear plastic bag so the stitches wouldn’t get wet in the shower, and had his newly sprained left ankle wrapped.

“He’s a tough dude,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said.

He hasn’t been the only one.

Factoring in that Chris Bosh‘s on-court tenure with the Heat was declared over when he failed a physical in September, Miami has had at least two players unavailable to play in every game this season because of health reasons. Since Jan. 1, it’s been at least three every game – and often more.

A huge blow came last week when shooting guard Dion Waiters sprained his left ankle. He’s at three missed games and counting, and the Heat offense has struggled since.

“This is that time of the year,” Spoelstra said. “Everybody is feeling it, so this is the mental toughness we have to get to.”

The Heat have no practice Friday, though most players will be in the training room for treatments. Practice resumes Saturday, preceding the flight to Boston. And then Sunday, the 10-game sprint to the finish begins.

“I want our guys to enjoy this,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t feel that we’re putting any undue pressure, but everybody will feel like when they lose that the world is collapsing. This playoff race is still going on. And I think we need a day to get away from it, to decompress and to get back to work on Saturday.”