Nash’s perfect game leads Suns to blowout win over road-weary Blazers

5 Comments

The Portland Trail Blazers secured an emotional home win over the evil Lakers on Thursday, and afterward, the team didn’t make it to its hotel in Phoenix until 4 a.m. local time the next morning. Add those two facts together, and you get the result of Friday night’s game against the Suns: a 102-77 shellacking that was never even close.

“We just looked like we had heavy legs,” Blazers head coach Nate McMillan said afterward. “I thought they were just faster. Throughout the night they did a good job of bodying us on cuts and making us work to get in our sets, and it just seemed like we were running in quicksand all night.”

Jamal Crawford, who was a dismal 3-of-14 shooting, similarly pointed out the Blazers’ obvious plight. But he credited the Suns for taking advantage of it.

“I think they did what good teams are supposed to do when you see somebody plays a back-to-back and gets in late, you jump on them early,” Crawford said. “I thought the effort was there, we just couldn’t get anything going.”

Steve Nash got the Suns going from the very start by playing his best basketball of this young season.

Nash played fast, his passes were crisp and on-point, and his shooting was flawless. Nash finished the first quarter with nine points and five assists, and made all four of his field goal attempts. That performance set the tone for the rest of the team offensively, and Phoenix was able to register its best opening period of the season with 30 points, while getting out to an 11-point lead by the quarter’s end that the Blazers wouldn’t be able to cut into for the rest of the night.

According to Nash, the fact that the Blazers were on a tough back-to-back didn’t provide any extra motivation for him to bring that extra effort from the start.

“Once you’re out there, you don’t really think about that,” Nash said. “We definitely needed to be focused tonight, they’ve been terrific. They did get in late, but we can’t feel sorry for them, we have to go out and try to execute our game plan and be aggressive at both ends.”

Nash finished the night a perfect 7-of-7 shooting, one field goal shy of his career-best of eight field goals without a miss in a single game. His 17 points and nine assists came in less than 29 minutes of action, and he ended up sitting the entire fourth quarter thanks to the lead he helped build, which reached as many as 27 points before the final buzzer sounded.

The only thing that seemed to present any challenge at all to Nash on this night was the task of getting himself dressed.

Shortly before tip-off, he had to race back to the locker room once he realized he had forgotten to put on his jersey. Nash jokingly blamed this on the team’s equipment man for not having his “uni-bra” (a support he wears to protect a sore rib) ready. And afterward, as he was dressing at his locker, a member of the media pointed out that he had missed a loop on his pants while putting on his belt.

Personal wardrobe malfunctions aside, this was the Suns’ best win of the season, and there were plenty of positive things that the team can use as takeaways to build upon moving forward. But Nash did recognize the fact that his team was fortunate to catch Portland in this situation.

“This was a good scheduling game for us,” he said. “They got in at three in the morning after a tough game with the Lakers so we don’t want to get too high, but we can definitely draw a lot of positives and a lot of confidence from tonight.”

Report: Sweet-shooting 7-footer Lauri Markkanen leaving Arizona for NBA draft

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
1 Comment

Lauri Markkanen is 7-foot and made 42% of his 3-pointers this season.

That combination alone will have NBA teams drooling, and the Arizona freshman will capitalize.

Evan Daniels of Scout:

Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen is declaring for the NBA Draft and is expected to sign with an agent, multiple sources told Scout.

Markkanen seems pretty certain to get picked in the lottery, likely in the top 10.

Calling him a good shooter for his height undersells him. It’s not just he shoots so efficiently from deep, it’s that he can generate 3-pointers in so many ways — pick-and-pops, spot-ups, off off-ball screens and even running pick-and-rolls himself. Having the height to shoot over defenders is his most noticeable asset, but don’t undersell his mobility.

Markkanen also finishes well at the rim and offensively rebounds at extremely impressive clip for someone who spends so much time on the perimeter. Those interior skills instill belief he will eventually become a suitable defender.

There are a couple red flags. He’s old for a freshman, turning 20 before the draft. He leaves plenty to be desired defensively, especially due to his lack of strength.

But his size and shooting are tantalizing. That’s plenty for now.

Dwyane Wade wowed by jumping, around-the-back alley-oop pass in McDonald’s All-American Game (video)

Leave a comment

Watch for Collin Sexton in the 2018 NBA draft.

In the meantime, the Alabama commit had all eyes — include Dwyane Wade‘s — on him with this pass in the McDonald’s All-American Game last night.

Carmelo Anthony on shrinking role with Knicks: ‘I see the writing on the wall… I’m at peace with that’

Elsa/Getty Images
2 Comments

Carmelo Anthony scored just nine points on 12 shots in the Knicks loss to the Heat last night — well below his season averages of 22 points on 19 shots per game.

Anthony, via Ian Begley of ESPN:

“I see the writing on the wall. I see what it is,” Anthony said late Wednesday night. “I see what they’re trying to do, and it’s just me accepting that. That’s what puts me at peace. Just knowing and understanding how things work. I’m at peace with that.”

Is Anthony talking about just the Knicks’ final dozen games of this season, when they’re clearly interesting in testing less-proven players? Or is he referring to his entire tenure in New York?

Anthony has said he’d consider waiving his no-trade clause if the Knicks want to rebuild, and they’ll reportedly try again to trade him this offseason. Perhaps, this is Anthony indicating he’s warming up to the idea of allowing a trade.

Anthony’s and Kristaps Porzingis‘ timelines are barely compatible, if at all. It’d make sense for the Knicks to go in a different direction.

Could Anthony be at peace with that?

Dwight Howard’s offensive rebounding defies convention

Al Bello/Getty Images
2 Comments

Hawks president/coach Mike Budenholzer has the authority to set the Hawks’ priorities.

“Organizationally, fundamentally,” Budenholzer said, “transition D is more important than anything.”

Dwight Howard challenges that daily.

Howard has already built a Hall of Fame résumé:

  • Eight-time All-NBA center, including five-time first teamer
  • Three-time Defensive Player of the Year
  • Five-time rebounding champ

But the big man is doing something he’s never done before: Grab 15.2% of available offensive rebounds.

And he’s doing it at age 31 in a league that has increasingly deemphasized offensive rebounding. The NBA will set a record this season for lowest offensive-rebounding percentage for the fourth straight year.

Teams have just figured getting back on defense trumps crashing the offensive glass, the strategy emanating most prominently from the Spurs. Budenholzer, a former San Antonio assistant coach, brought the plan straight to Atlanta. The Hawks ranked 28th, last and last in offensive-rebounding in his first three seasons — in part for philosophical reasons, in part because they’ve lacked the personnel to do better. They’ve also been a below-average defensive-rebounding team each season under Budenholzer.

Then Howard signed and forced Budenholzer to adjust.

Atlanta has become an above-average offensive-rebounding team and far better with Howard on the court – a helpful crutch with ace 3-point shooters Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague traded. The Hawks are ceding more transition opportunities, though they remain very good at defending those.

It’s an obvious tradeoff, says Stan Van Gundy. The Pistons coach who coached Howard with the Magic sees the center in the rare class of players who deserve full autonomy to chase offensive rebounds.

“You don’t limit those guys,” Van Gundy said.

Howard has made the most of his freedom to chase rebounds. His 15.2 offensive-rebounding percentage ranks second to only Kenneth Faried among qualified players.

And, again, Howard is 31. Offensive rebounding tends to be a young man’s game.

Here’s top 10 in offensive rebounding this season, plotted by age:

image

Player Team Age Offensive-rebounding percentage
Kenneth Faried DEN 27 16.1
Dwight Howard ATL 31 15.4
Andre Drummond DET 23 15.2
JaVale McGee GSW 29 15
Tarik Black LAL 25 14.8
Tristan Thompson CLE 25 14
Rudy Gobert UTA 24 13.9
Enes Kanter OKC 24 13.9
Kyle O'Quinn NYK 26 13.9
Willy Hernangomez NYK 22 13.8

Howard’s previous career-high offensive-rebounding percentage was 13.8.

The only other players to set career-high offensive-rebounding rates north of 15% after their age-30 season: Dennis Rodman (20.8% at age 33 with the 1994-95 Spurs) and Alan Henderson (15.6% at age 32 with the 2004-05 Mavericks). Both Rodman (Cooke County Junior College and Southeastern Oklahoma State) and Henderson (Indiana) played four years of college basketball, giving them less wear and tear on their bodies and fewer opportunities to post career highs at a young age.

Howard jumped to the NBA straight from high school.

Yet, he’s having a resurgent year in his 13th season. How is he doing it?

“One, I’m not super old,” Howard said earlier this season. “Two, my body feels great. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff to take care of my body.”

Known for eating legendary amounts of candy earlier in his career, perhaps Howard has made a breakthrough. His defensive-rebounding percentage (31.8) is the second-best of his career and ranks fourth in the NBA. That has helped him anchor the league’s fourth-best defense.

Howard has been subject to widespread criticism, and last season with the Rockets was a low point. This year, Howard has recommitted to the basics: Rebounding, defending, scoring inside.

“He’s got a big personality, but I think we all knew that,” Budenholzer said. “But it’s all in the right place. He wants good things, and I’ve really enjoyed coaching him.”

So much so that Budenholzer has compromised a core basketball tenet for Howard.

And it has proved a worthwhile decision.