The 15 Footer: Lockout hope is a bad drug, baby

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The 15 Footer is a reoccurring series of fifteen items about the NBA highlighting news of the last week. It is written by Matt Moore, sometimes not badly. 

1. No, Red, hope is the worst of things: Things are getting confusing in the NBA lockout scene. It’s like that time in the party when things are winding down, the keg’s starting to run thin, everyone’s kind of tired, and the drunken buffoon squad hasn’t showed up with a new mix CD/playlist to get things back up again. And in this interim, the NBA and the players are both flirting with the public. That’s what this is. Flirting. “We’re totally making progress except we’re not going to call it progress.” If nothing comes from this someone should get slapped on national television. I don’t really care who. Anyone from either side will do, there just needs to be a good hard slap. Maybe a slap bet is in order.

Anyway, the owners may or may not care about the preseason getting burned off. That makes 2.5 million and thirty of us. No one cares about the preseason. At all. Losing it is like losing a human tail. You’re better off in the end without the ridicule. And them having more time is a good thing. There’s a breaking point where games will have to be missed and delaying that braking point as long as possible is the optimum option. Still, this week has brought more optimism than anytime since… oh, 2009? Sound about right? This has been a doomsday prediction scenario since the start.

But our intrepid editor naturally thinks this is all nonsense. But at some point we have to have a league, right? What’s the point in having a league if you don’t have a league? The same point as having a business if you’re not making money, I suppose. The real test will be to see if word leaks that the cooler heads in larger markets have retaken control of the negotiating pulse in the ownership group or if the hardline faction continues to rule the day.

2. Phone tag is fun, but not when the person who’s “it” is actually a criminal. Melo got robbed at his own exhibition game. Kurt’s right. That is just cold. I have a different question. Did the people who stole the phones not see Melo ever? Every time I’ve seen him outside of a game he’s accompanied by two of the largest men I’ve ever seen, bodyguards. It’s like traveling with two mutants. That guy, the guy who appeared in the “Stop Snitchin'” video, that’s the guy you want to steal from? Melo’s never shown a predisposition towards any violence beyond the occasional scrap with the Knicks back in the day, but still. Not exactly the top of the list for NBA players I think it would be wise to steal from. That list is pretty much limited to Travis Diener, and he’s out of the league. Maybe Gordon Hayward, since he’s now playing Starcraft all the time and wouldn’t notice.

3. No quarter asked, no quarter given. Especially not the fourth. Has LeBron James rehabbed his image at all this summer? For the most part, he’s kept a low profile. He’s done a ton of charity work, which really gets overlooked sometimes. He’s downplayed the nonsense of last year, talked about how hard losing was on him, has kept an upbeat attitude about the lockout, the works. But he got dunked on by that Taiwanese kid and that’s all anyone remembers. His scores are the lowest they’ve ever been and since he’s not going overseas, his ability to penetrate new markets is limited. You have to wonder if the damage done by James to himself over the past year-plus isn’t just a scratch, but more of an acid burn, something to mark to the core.

4. If you like it then you should put a ring on it.: The Heat would like Nene, but it’s a huge longshot because they have no money and Nene will demand the max. I keep returning to this interview with Nene from way back with Chris Tomasson. A vow to retire in 2016 to go work for his church in his homeland. Does this sound like the kind of guy focused on money and jewelry? I’m just saying, if any player was going to buck the long-standing tradition of always chasing dollar signs, I’d put good money on Nene. And were Nene to join the Heat? Yeesh. He and Haslem would have a field day (plus they’re totally twinsies with the hair). It gives the Heat a legitimate threat at the rim and a true center, making Joel Anthony a valuable reserve versus an overmatched starter. It fixes all their problems. It won’t happen, but to say it couldn’t is madness.

5. Do you remember when we used to sing “La la la la la la la la la la-tee-da”: The Lakers biggest concern after the lockout is getting behind their new coach. But that’s easier said than done. When was the last time a Lakers team not coached by Phil Jackson had success? Early 90’s? Ish? Rudy Tomjanovich struggled with a Kobe-Bryant-led team and he was a champion who had been in the league for thirty years. This team does not exactly snap to changes the way it probably should. Brown could be just what the doctor ordered, things could go great. It could also be a flaming trainwreck rumbling through the darkness. There’s so much reason to have faith in this roster, in this coach, in this setup. But it’s a new environment and sometimes things just go nuts when change happens. It would be weird to see a champion fall into chaos that quickly, but stranger things have happened (plus Ron Artest’s involved, so that increases the crazy quotient by like 50 times).

6. Yo Dawg, I heard you like tattoos so I put my tattoos on your tattoos so people can judge you while they judge you: The whole Kevin Durant tattoos thing is the exact kind of story I want to dismiss and ignore and question people’s legitimacy for caring about… then I totally buy into the debate. My wife has two tattoos and wants a third one. I would have gladly gotten one if I had anything I cared about enough in my early 20’s (I’m approaching 30 and at some point your shelf-life for how long they look good reaches “not very freaking long at all”). So in reality, I don’t actively care about Durant’s tattoos. He could get ink of my mother and I wouldn’t care (okay, that would probably freak me out, but anything short of that). What I care about is the continuing branding of Durant as squeaky clean when he’s a three-dimensional person. Furthermore, he’s a three-dimensional person who grew up in a rough part of the country and is proud of his roots. This has consequences. Luckily, these consequences being tattoos means there’s nothing to actively tarnish Durant’s rep. But at some point the shiny gloss is going to fade as we get to know Durant better. Durant really is a nice kid, really is a generous superstar, really is a good person, from all accounts and interactions. But he’s also not a cartoon character, nor is he Captain America, the personification of the ideal. He’s a real person. But no one is prepared for that, because, well, when are we ever?

7. Tight. Kurt touched on something in the analysis of Jordan v. LeBron in the clutch that connects with a bigger motif. LeBron James may be the most self-aware NBA superstar in history. He’s keenly aware not just of how he looks, but each moment as it connects, the greater context of the game, his place in it, his legacy, his legacy’s impact on his brand and vice-versa, everything. James is known to watch film constantly at his house. He’s a basketball junkie. So his failures are not one of the mind, of blissful ignorance. He’s either over-thinking each possession, or he’s simply lacking in spirit. Either way this makes him the first truly modern NBA superstar. Think about it. LeBron James’ biggest problem is that LeBron James spends too much time analyzing LeBron James. He’s meta. And in that meta-analysis, he finds himself paralyzed. What’s more 2011 than that?

8. I come to praise Rubio, not to bury him. Okay, maybe not praise, but not bury either. More just dig around him: Is Rubio finished? Has Ricky Rubio jumped the shark? Is Ricky Rubio the worst player in the world? How about the flip side. Is Ricky Rubio the most unreasonably criticized player not in the NBA? Is Ricky Rubio going to be great, in time? Can’t we all cut Rubio some slack?

Both of these sets of questions are stupid. Of course Rubio’s not finished. How many players took years to develop into good players, especially point guards? Go ask a Boston fan about how Chauncey Billups worked out. Anyone who thinks a bad run in Euro play is a sign of impending doom needs their head checked. But to ignore it is just as stupid. He’s played badly. Let’s call a spade a spade. It’s okay if Rubio’s not great in Eurobasket, if he’s downright awful. That’s who he is. It doesn’t mean that’s who he will be, but to ignore results in favor of cherry picking evidence in order to deduce potential is just as short-sighted. Let Rubio suck.

9. Ouchies. You want to know about how international play can cause teams headaches if the regular season gets started and the players are banged up from EuroBasket/League/FIBA play? Hold on, let me go get Coach Popovich. Last I saw he was ramming a nail into his skull with a dull hammer. Good news is he appreciates each swing.

Related note: How pivotal is next season for Pau Gasol’s career? That’s an honest question because he’s won two rings. Think about that. Pau Gasol has two more rings than Charles Barkley. At some point using that as a determining factor of greatness becomes grutesque.

10. Tears in Heaven. Also expletives. Expletives in Heaven.: Here’s a fun one. Try and imagine Kevin Garnett’s retirement press conference. What’s the over/under on pauses to cry? Does he hold it in Boston? Minnesota? L.A. where he lives? How many reporters will drop in references to his intensity? Can he retire as a point forward due to that short time in Minny? Isn’t it going to be a letdown if Garnett doesn’t talk himself into an argument with himself during the presser and start fighting with himself?

11. You spin me third-round baby, third-round. Like an unsigned draft pick, baby, third-round, third-round.: One thing to keep in mind before you start spitting out vitriol on a third-round in the NBA draft, as has allegedly been discussed. Don’t use this past year as an example. Yes, the second round was a nightmare, but that was as much a part of the NBA lockout as anything. Next year’s class is so stacked, it will have a trickle down effect into the subsequent rounds. Furthermore, if the league also adopts a rule saying “straight out of high school or two years in college” you’re going to want that third round to be able to evaluate high school players, draft them, and then stash them in the D-League. That’s the real lynch pin in any third-round talk. There has to be a better development system so the investment from teams is worth it. Without it, the draft is not sustainable.

11. Should have been in 3-D like his movie. Everything else is.: Look, NBA. Regardless of how we feel about who’s right and who’s wrong in the labor dispute, regardless of BRI, hard caps, flex caps, bottle caps or Washington Caps, we should all be able to agree on one thing. Bieber  must be stopped and we must ban him from the cultural sphere. We’re going to be absorbed into Bieber World in a minute and I don’t have the requisite health care products.

12. You aint’ missing much. NBA 2K12 will not feature rookies. The only thing sad about this is it means I don’t get to have Moses Malone destroy Enes Kanter. Not having rookies in the game might actually be for the best considering last year’s class for the most part.

13. Tall tales. Is Shaq more John Henry or Paul Bunyan? I can’t decide.

14. Money well spent. Well, the players are getting their escrow money. I can tell you what they won’t be spending it on. They won’t be spending it on expensive escorts, bottle service, craps tables, and limousines. Not like a lot of them are going to be in Vegas for an extended period of time for Impact Basketball. Whoops. Nice bump for the economy in Nevada, huh?

15. Clyde Drexler could jump really high. No, seriously. 

NBA, referees argue on Twitter

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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As tension rises, players and coaches are taking it out on the officials. The NBA releases daily two-minute reports assessing calls late in close games. The referees’ union keeps complaining about that practice.

It all boiled over to a rare show of the league publicly calling a National Basketball Referees Association claim “not accurate:”

The NBRA is doing its members no favors with all these attempts to defend the process behind incorrect calls. People want correct calls and calls that favor their team. There’s nothing referees can do about the latter. They should focus on the former.

The inbound took longer than five seconds. It should have been a violation. The end.

Want to curry favor? Advocate for the NBA adopting the technology necessary to get these calls right. There’s no reason, in the year 2018, five-second calls should be determined by a referee tracking time with arm waves while watching for other calls. Nobody expects refs to count out the shot clock. Other timed calls – including three-second violations – should be handled with digital timers.

Instead, the referees union picks these lame public fights. The league’s response only increases the off-putting pettiness all around.

Nobody wants to root for referees. This is not going to turn mass opinion.

Watch Justin Timberlake drain half-court shot, a couple of three pointers

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Justin Timberlake is filthy.

At least in this NBA video he is.

Maybe the world’s biggest performer right now — and part owner of the Memphis Grizzlies — swung by the Washington Wizards practice facility and drained a few shots like it was nothing. The man can’t stop the feeling.

We see you, JT 👀 (repost @justintimberlake & @washwizards)

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Three Things to Know: What is with more and more coaches, players ripping referees?

Associated Press

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) As playoffs near and pressure mounts, coach/player release valve is to vent at referees. Sunday we saw the latest in the run of coaches or players ripping NBA officials, leading to questions of just how strained are the relationships between the two sides. The most recent guy to vent was DeMar DeRozan after the Raptors did not get calls down the stretch in a loss to the Thunder at home Sunday.

DeRozan is about to get his second fine of the season for criticizing officials.

Also, in this case DeRozan is right — Corey Brewer absolutely fouled him on a drive to the basket when the Raptors were down two with :30 seconds left in the game. It was a critical missed call by Marc Davis and the crew. Then a frustrated DeRozan got tossed. Then Serge Ibaka got tossed for continuing on the same arguments DeRozan was having. Then Dwane Casey got thrown out for something a fan said behind him because by this point the officials had a case of rabbit ears (the best part of the Casey ejection was OKC’s Brewer laughing and shaking his head at the bad call). The Last Two Minute Report on this should be ugly.

That follows on the heels of Pelicans’ coach Alvin Gentry venting “you can’t guess on plays.” Which itself was on the heels of Stan Van Gundy venting “we got absolutely screwed all night” after a loss to red-hot Portland. Both of those coaches were fined $15,000 Sunday for their outbursts.

What gives with all the venting at officials?

Welcome to the stressful time of the NBA season. With playoff chases going on and pressure mounting on coaches and players, they need a release valve and so the officials take the brunt of it. Sure, there have been enough tensions between players and referees all season that there was a sparsely attended meeting All-Star weekend between the players and referees unions, but the reality is tension between coaches/players and referees existed when George Mikan was playing and it will exist 25 years from now. Players are trying to gain every advantage, referees are trying to enforce the rules in a fast-paced, hard-to-officiate sport, and the tension is natural. There are peaks and valleys, but it’s always there. It always has been.

Right now, the Raptors feel the pressure that this is their window — with Cleveland and Boston stumbling (and banged up), this year is Toronto’s best shot at a trip to the Finals, and they know it. Alvin Gentry and the Pelicans are in the midst of a fight to make the playoffs. Stan Van Gundy feels the pressure of keeping his jobs (GM and coach) in a league where the buzz is he’s going to lose at least one of those titles. Every game takes on added meaning, the pressure makes everything feel heavy, so guys need to vent and the officials become the target. That doesn’t mean the coach/player is wrong — DeRozan was not, the officials were terrible at the end of Sunday’s game — but that’s not the only reason Toronto lost (Serge Ibaka was bad, Steven Adams pushed the Raptors around inside, and I could go on).

It’s the time of year in the NBA when the referees get an outsized portion of the blame when teams and fans are frustrated with a loss. And that will continue right through the playoffs.

2) By the way, Thunder won and Russell Westbrook has five straight triple-doubles. The mess with the officiating obscured what was an entertaining basketball game Sunday in Toronto.

Oklahoma City was a team that looked on the playoff bubble a couple of weeks ago, but since has rattled off six straight wins. There are three reasons for that. First, their defense is back to being top five in the NBA (it had fallen way off when Andre Roberson went down). Second, Corey Brewer has become the rare buyout signing that actually has a real impact — he has stepped into Roberson’s starting spot and given them three-point shooting and a solid veteran presence on both ends.

The third reason, Russell Westbrook is a beast. He had 37 points, 14 assists, and 13 rebounds against the Raptors.

For those of you out there who are saying, “See, this loss is why I can’t trust the Raptors in the playoffs,” you’re just wrong. You need some context. This was the Raptors third game in four days, and it had an early (1 p.m. ET) start. At the end of the game, the Raptors just looked tired. If you’ve watched Toronto all season, they have done well in the clutch. They are 22-14 in games within five points in the final five minutes this season. Nothing to see here, move along.

3) West playoff chase update: Thunder, Pelicans, Rockets, Trail Blazers all pick up wins; Timberwolves, Clippers pick up losses. There were some key games in the West playoff chase on Sunday. The Pelicans picked up a quality win against Boston as Anthony Davis went off for 24 points and 11 rebounds. James Harden had 34 points and 12 assists as the Rockets beat the Timberwolves. Finally, Portland had little trouble getting their 13th straight win, knocking off the Clippers.

Sunday’s action means Portland remains the three seed and the Thunder the four seed, and those teams seem to be moving toward locking in those spots. The Pelicans are the six seed, and with a couple of losses in a row now the Timberwolves have fallen back to the eighth and final spot. Still, Minnesota is 1.5 games up on Denver (ninth seed) and 2 games up on the Clippers, who have lost three in a row at the wrong time of the season.

James Harden scores 34, Rockets hold off Timberwolves 129-120

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — James Harden had 34 points and 12 assists, and Houston held off a fourth-quarter rally to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 129-120 on Sunday night for the Rockets’ 26th win in 28 games.

The West’s top team led by as many as 25 before the Timberwolves, holding on for dear life in a tightening playoff race, pulled within five in the fourth. The loss dropped the Wolves into the eighth playoff spot after they started the day in a three-way tie for fifth.

Harden had 11 points in the final 6:34, including a 3-pointer with 58 seconds left that effectively secured the win.

Chris Paul and Clint Capela each had 16 points for the Rockets.

Jeff Teague led Minnesota with 23 points, Andrew Wiggins had 21, and Karl-Anthony Towns and Jamal Crawford each added 20.

The Wolves got a burst of energy after a fourth-quarter scuffle between Gorgui Dieng, Paul and Gerald Green. Green was ejected for coming to Paul’s defense after a frustrated Dieng pushed him down after a foul. With the pumped-up crowd chanting “Gor-Gui!,” Derek Rose had back-to-back layups to pull the Wolves to 109-102. But Paul hit a jumper with Crawford in his face, and Harden easily drove past Dieng for a layup to give the Rockets some breathing room.

Minnesota’s 19-6 run made it 115-110 with 3:58 to play before Trevor Ariza hit a 3, and the Rockets were able to answer every Wolves bucket to hold off the rally.

The game was seemingly over by halftime; Houston shot 63 percent, hit 11 3-pointers and led by as many as 24 in the first half while turning the ball over only three times. Harden had 10 assists in the first half, when the Wolves were as close as three before Houston reeled off a 12-0 run and didn’t allow Minnesota to recover.