Blake Griffin

Weekend Observations 2.4.12: Where corn don’t grow

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Each weekend we bring you 25 random observations from the NBA week that was. 

 

1. Blake Griffin is not human.

2. Denver’s a really great team this season, they’re just not so impressive you know you can count on them in the WCF. The lack of star power is going to continue to be a question and it’s really going to come down to which matchups they land as to how far they go. The losses to the Lakers are probably indicative of something, regardless of how close they are. But their ability to consistently show up in spots they should fold says something as well.

3. Atlanta is nothing if not consistent.

4. Given Joe Dumars’ continued insistance on building around veterans, isn’t it worth it for a team to at least explore trying to pry Greg Monroe away? Detroit’s likely laughing as they put down the phone, just seems terrible that Monroe’s not only stuck on a terrible team, but one without a youth movement to allow for improvement.

5. Rajon Rondo should sit the All-Star game out if he’s selected as a reserve. With the injuries and the need for rest, it’s just going to have been too soon for him not to take a breather. If he does, I like Kyrie Irving over Brandon Jennings for the replacement. Irvin is one of the league leaders in true shooting percentage for a guard and of Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, Rondo, Jennings and Irving, he’s second in PER behind Rose. Jennings and he both suffer for assists but you have to wonder how much of that is a product of who they’re surrounded by. If Griffin made it last year, Irving’s just as deserving.

6. The 8th spot in the West could actually get interesting. It’s unlikely Golden State won’t stabilize to a certain degree with the talent on roster. Utah is starting to wobble, but has the depth. Memphis is a total question mark, and Minnesota is able to make a run. Do you go with star power? Team defense? Youth and vitality? Interior scoring?

7. Isaiah Thomas is a more complete ball player than Jimmer Fredette. We probably should have seen this coming.

8. The Pacers do two things incredibly well. They follow transition layup misses for putbacks and space the floor incredibly well. Their balance means that they’re pretty much always shooting inside the paint or on the perimeter. Smart basketball.

9. The Rockets may have a very low ceiling, but they continue to make the most of it. They’re 7-3 in their last ten. This is better than any expected from Kevin McHale’s first year.

10. Philadelphia not being able to beat Miami should not diminish their accomplishments with the schedule toughening for them. Miami’s a matchup nightmare for a lot of teams, but Philly is modeled in such a similar way to Miami (no quality centers, abundance of perimeter ability, do-it-all wing) it shouldn’t suprise that Miami overwhelms them with talent. The Sixers are still going to be an absolutely brutal out in the playoffs.

11. Brian Cardinal told me last weekend he’s reading “Boomerang” by Michael Lewis. So there’s that.

12. If anyone, at all, can figure out Memphis, please let me know. Because this team is an enigma wrapped in a puzzle disguised as a mystery.

13. Milwaukee has defeated Miami and the Lakers in the past week. So naturally they lost to Detroit on Friday.

14. If you comprised teams of non-stars who were All-Star snubs, those teams would probably have a fighting chance against the All-Stars just due to ball movement and cohesion, right? No? Because star players are better? OK, then.

15. The Clippers have an excellent model for the whole star-power team thing, offensively. For 45 minutes they play a pretty complete game with contributions from everyone, with an emphasis on Griffin, Paul, and Billups. Then in the final three minutes of a close game, Paul takes over and just slams the door shut. Their defense is why they won’t win the title. But offensively, they kind of have the model for how the star teams should operate.

16. Kyrie Irving’s change of pace on his dribble-hesitation at the elbow bodes really well for his long-term viability as a scorer at the rim.

17. The Nets got 42 points from Anthony Morrow and still lost. I’m just going to leave that one be. This has to be the year Morrow is let into the 3-point Contest, right? He’s suffered enough?

18. I’ve kind of moved on from “the Knicks need a point guard” as the source of all their troubles. If they did have a capable point guard, say Baron Davis does come in and be the savior. Is that going to make Carmelo Anthony work off-ball? Because that didn’t really happen in Denver. Anthony’s making a concerted effort to pass and not gun in the last few games, and that’s not helping because his teammates can’t hit either. It’s a no-win for Melo, because his DNA is what it is, and it’s not really built to share.

19. Do you think Luol Deng has recurring nightmares about having to play 55 minutes a night during back-to-back double-overtime games through Tom Thibodeau’s rotations?

20. Everyone brings up Derrick Rose missing free throws against Kansas when he was at Memphis in the national title game, but Rose also missed a big pair last season against the Clippers late, and had issues against Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals. This doesn’t mean this is a trend or an issue, it’s just something that has happened in the past. It’s not inexplicable. He’s not automatic. Very, very good. But not automatic.

21. The Boston Celtics: Can’t count them out, can’t believe they’re going to drag these carcasses through a compact season like this intact and make it to a meaningful game.

22. If the Lakers can win their third game in four nights against Philadelphia Monday, there’s no reason they can’t sweep their six-game Grammy trip. They’ll get up for the game against Boston, and they’re still a better team right now. The Knicks are a disaster and the rest of the schedule is soft. That could land the Lakers in the top spot in the West with the Thunder showing a few cracks.

23. The Spurs are 19th in defensive efficiency, but have had three solid defensive games. That figure will tell so much about how their season goes. It’s honestly more important than getting Manu back, because of how good their overall offense is.

24. Remember when Portland was a dominant, brilliant team, like two weeks ago?

25. And, in conclusion, Iman Shumpert.

LeBron James on surpassing Michael Jordan: “It’s a personal goal”

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 26: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during media day at Cleveland Clinic Courts on September 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Since he was a teenager, LeBron James has been compared to Michael Jordan. That comparison has usually been used as a way to cut him down or explain why he’s not in the same class, but that’s changed since he won his third championship, and first in Cleveland, in June. Now, LeBron has started to be a lot more open about his desire to eventually surpass Jordan. He said so in an interview with the AP’s Tom Withers after practice on Tuesday:

Now that LeBron James has won a championship for the ages, he’s set a loftier goal:

Catching Michael Jordan.

Long flattered to be mentioned in the same company with Jordan and other NBA legends, James has been hesitant to publicly acknowledge that he wants to be remembered as the greatest in league history.

It’s time now.

“It’s a personal goal,” James told The Associated Press on Monday. “I just never brought it up. It’s my own personal goal to be able to be greater than great. I think that should be everybody’s personal goal.”

Now that James has indisputably cemented his legacy as one of the handful of greatest players ever to play the game, he has a lot less to lose by openly talking about these things. Five years ago, he would have gotten killed for bringing it up. Now? It just seems plausible more than anything else.

Kevin Durant says Nike didn’t influence his free-agency decision

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors poses for NBA team photographer Noah Graham during the Golden State Warriors Media Day at the Warriors Practice Facility on September 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Many different factors went into Kevin Durant‘s decision this summer to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors — basketball fit, location, his friendships with Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green, and more. But one thing he wants to make sure you know didn’t influence him is Nike. Durant told reporters this week that the shoe company, which he endorses, didn’t steer him one way or another in free agency, and they didn’t even know his plans beforehand.

It’s a little hard to believe that Nike had zero advance knowledge of Durant’s plans — if not a hard answer, at least a strong indication of which way he was leaning. Durant was one of the most popular players in the league in Oklahoma City, so Nike would have been fine either way. But his presence in Golden State, a much bigger market and the dominant story in the NBA this season, will only help them. It doesn’t hurt, either, that they now have one of their biggest athletes in the same market as Stephen Curry, who had been taking advantage of all the attention on the Warriors to raise Under Armour’s profile. Now, Nike can get some of that spotlight back in the Bay Area.

Barnes, Bogut highlight latest round of changes for Mavs

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 08:  Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors reacts in Game 3 of the 2016 NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on June 8, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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DALLAS (AP) Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut are in, Chandler Parsons and Zaza Pachulia are out and Dallas coach Rick Carlisle has a retooled roster for the sixth consecutive time since winning a championship.

“Well, we love it,” Carlisle said at media day this week as someone chuckled. “What’s more exciting than getting seven new guys? New blood. It’s fresh every year.

“Really, that wasn’t meant to be a joke,” he added. “If you view it as a negative, there’s a pretty good chance it’s going to be a negative. I don’t look at it that way.”

The Mavericks have made the playoffs all but one season since the constant turnover started after owner Mark Cuban chose salary cap flexibility over keeping a few key players when a new labor agreement was reached six months after his team won the title in 2011.

But Dallas still hasn’t won a postseason series since beating Miami in six games in those NBA Finals.

Repeated efforts to land big names in free agency failed, which this year led to the additions of Barnes and Bogut from 2015 champion Golden State after the Warriors lured Kevin Durant from Oklahoma City and had to unload both starters to make cap room for the four-time NBA scoring champion.

Barnes headlines the group of newcomers because he’ll be a top option on offense after signing a four-year, $94 million max contract. Over his four seasons with the Warriors, he was always a role player behind Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

“It’s going to be bigger expectations and I’m going to have a larger role on this team,” Barnes said. “I feel like we have a lot of pieces this year, either coming back off injury, guys who are motivated, have a lot to prove. So hopefully we can all come together and do something special.”

There’s actually some stability in the starting five because point guard Deron Williams is back for a second season with his hometown team.

Nowitzki, going into his 19th season at age 38, says Williams was the best player on the team at times last season, and the Mavericks missed him in their five-game loss to Oklahoma City. He was limited by a sports hernia injury that required offseason surgery.

Parsons signed a max deal with Memphis, and Pachulia went to the Warriors after the trade that landed Dallas the 7-footer Bogut, who should be a much stronger shot-blocking presence than his predecessor.

The changes fit the formula of at least two new starters each season going back to the title year.

“There are similarities to other years,” Carlisle said. “The ability to add Bogut and Barnes was huge for us. We caught some good luck on that.”

The other notable newcomer is Curry’s younger brother, Seth Curry, who is on his fifth team in his fourth season but finally had a more prominent role last season in Sacramento. Former Baylor standout Quincy Acy is in Dallas after bouncing around his first four years.

The Mavericks are deep at guard with holders J.J. Barea and Devin Harris behind Williams and Wes Matthews, in his second season as the shooting guard and now more than a year removed from tearing an Achilles tendon his final season in Portland.

Also returning are athletic young forwards Justin Anderson and Dwight Powell along with 7-2 Tunisian center Salah Mejri, a surprising shot-blocking presence last season as a 30-year-old rookie.

“They’re definitely athletes and we should be able to have a great defensive lineup once I’m out,” said Nowitzki, poking fun at his defensive skills. “I think we have a (backup) lineup out there that could be really, really good, and obviously youth and athleticism is a big part.”

Barnes wanted to be a part of it even though the Mavericks appear further from championship contention than other Western Conference teams.

“I think when you look at what this franchise has done year in, year out, stable on their ship,” Barnes said. “And be able to learn from a guy named Dirk who’s done it year in, year out. He’s pretty much built this place through his work ethic.”

And now Nowitzki is getting used to another new collection of teammates.

Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler

Jazz’s Dante Exum says his knee is completely healed from 2015 ACL tear

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 17:  Dante Exum #11 of the Utah Jazz drives to the lane during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on December 17, 2014 in Miami, Florida. 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. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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After a promising rookie season, Dante Exum missed all of 2015-16 rehabbing a torn left ACL he suffered during an exhibition game with the Australian national team in summer 2015. As the Jazz kick off training camp, Exum says he’s fully recovered after his year off and he’s ready to go.

Via Jody Gennessy of the Deseret News:

“I was just excited to get back out there,” Exum said after the first of two practices Tuesday. “I was feeling good. … I was just ready to come out there, talk when I can and run between every drill.”

Both his attitude and his body were at 100 percent as he returned from a yearlong rehab that followed his September 2015 surgery on his left knee that had been injured in a friendly international game with the Australian team.

With the Jazz’s trade for George Hill over the summer, Exum won’t have to be the starting point guard, which will take some pressure off of him to get back to full strength right away. A torn ACL is something that usually takes time to return from, and having guard depth to ease his workload will help with the transition. If the Jazz get good production out of Exum, it will be a bonus for what looks to be one of the most exciting young teams in the Western Conference.