Yankees legend Reggie Jackson talks clutch play, LeBron

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In some sense, the debate about clutch play in basketball’s statistical community — who is good in the clutch, how you define clutch, if clutch play really even exists — is a moot point.

Players and coaches believe it exists, therefore it does. You can argue that it doesn’t but there is at the very least a placebo effect there — decisions are made, plays are called, players get the ball because they are perceived as clutch or not. Players are labeled that way, fair or not.

When you think of the great “clutch” players in baseball, Reggie Jackson’s name comes up. As a kid who grew up a Dodgers fan I hate him for it — the three home runs in a World Series, the thrown hip to knock down a double play ball, all of it. But he is Mr. October.

He, like other athletes completely believe in clutch play. It colors their actions. And he provided his vision of clutch and the NBA while on The Big O Show on 640 Sports in Miami this week. I think his perceptions mirror that of many other athletes (and coaches not named Spoelstra):

“Kobe Bryant misses shots at the end of the game, but it’s not a poor effort or poor performance. I wanted to make sure I gave my team, the ownership, the fans, the manager, my teammates a good full effort at home plate. And if I succeeded, super. But I didn’t want to go up there and have check swings, take strike three down the middle, freeze up, look awkward — I wanted to have a good swing and give a real good effort…

“LeBron needs to get after it with all the skills and size that he’s got. He’s got every skill, every ability you can ask for. If you’re going to make up a player to be a great player — he’s bigger than Jordan, he’s bigger than Wade, he’s bigger than Kobe, he’s bigger than the great players. Unstoppable. And I’ve seen him unstoppable.

“So when I see him have poor efforts when it counts I’m shocked. Because personally think that it’s all in his head. He can do anything he wants. This guy makes threes from half-court. He can drive on anybody, he can get a rebound whenever he wants. He truly is a special athlete and anytime he has a poor effort, as he has in the postseason, it’s just because there is something in his head that is not working right. He’s not believing in himself enough.”

To him (and most every athlete) this is mental, not physical. Fear of success, fear of failure, fear of whatever. It doesn’t matter to them, what matters is the perception of overcoming it.

“I was afraid to fail, and I think you’d hear that from some of the friends that I know — (Joe) Montana, Ronnie Lott, (Michael) Jordan, (Larry) Bird, Bill Russell. I know all those guys and we were all afraid to fail. So I aggressively went to succeed and I looked for an opportunity. I wanted to be part of the victory. Whether it’s a slide into second base that breaks up a double play, whether it’s a throw that hits the cutoff man, whether it’s advancing the runner to get into scoring position, let alone the base hit that drives him in or the home run that wins the game or the (pitcher) that strikes out 15. You want to be part of the victory, so I’d constantly look for a moment to be part of what we were doing as a team….

“The moment didn’t tense me up, I looked at the moment as an opportunity for success or the opportunity to be a hero… I cherished that chance….”

As I have said recently with LeBron, what he did in the All-Star game, against the Jazz and every game since is moot — until he succeeds on the biggest stage and wins a ring he will not be able to shake the perception. He will be a guy seen as failing on the big stage until he doesn’t. That’s how we are — Dirk Nowitzki couldn’t win the big game until he did. Same with Peyton Manning and many others. So it is with LeBron.

He can’t be seen as winning it all until he wins it all. It’s all about the playoffs. And the finals. He knows that as well as anyone.

Carmelo Anthony returns to face improved Knicks (but without Porzingis)

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NEW YORK (AP) — Carmelo Anthony is coming to Kristaps Porzingis‘ house.

Three months after the Knicks traded Anthony to Oklahoma City, their former All-Star is gone and quickly forgotten. Porzingis is playing nearly as well as Anthony ever did in New York and seems to enjoy unyielding support from both fans and the front office that Anthony never had.

Porzingis has something else Anthony doesn’t: a winning record.

The Knicks welcome Anthony back on Saturday, trying to extend their surprising start though perhaps without the new main man in Madison Square Garden.

Anthony said after a triple-overtime victory in Philadelphia on Friday that he expected a fun night in New York.

“I think it’ll be an appreciation. It’s not like I was there for a year or a season or two seasons. I spent a lot of time there, almost seven years there,” he said. “There was great times, there was bad times. Regardless, I always stuck with it. I always remained professional. I always came and did my job whether people liked that or not. Hopefully people recognize that.”

Unlike team management, Porzingis didn’t want his friend to leave.

But it sure looks like it was the best thing for him and the Knicks.

“Well obviously, I would love to have had him here to continue to learn from him,” Porzingis said. “But without him this year I’ve had more of an opportunity. I am featured more, which is normal.”

Porzingis is listed as questionable to play after he left the Knicks’ game in Brooklyn on Thursday in the third quarter with a sore left knee. New York held on after he left, improving to 15-13 with its third straight victory.

If Porzingis plays, count on the usual raucous ovation when he’s the final starter announced, the spot that previously belonged to Anthony.

And what of the reception for Anthony, who led the Knicks to three straight playoff appearances after arriving in 2011, led the league in scoring when they won 54 games and a division championship in 2013, and always made it clear that he loved New York and didn’t want to go?

“I don’t think he deserves to be booed, but you never know,” Knicks forward Lance Thomas said. “Regardless, he is going to bring his `A’ game and we’re going to bring ours as well.”

Former team president Phil Jackson longed to unload Anthony last season, but the Knicks weren’t sure what to expect when they finally did make a deal on the eve of training camp. He was their leading scorer and team leader, and coach Jeff Hornacek had already said Anthony would be in the starting lineup if he remained on the team.

But new president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry found a trade the next day and it’s been a good one for the Knicks. Enes Kanter is giving them 13.4 points and 10.3 rebounds a game as the starting center while providing positivity that for years rarely existed in the home locker room. Doug McDermott is bringing another 8.5 points a night off the bench.

Anthony is struggling right along with the Thunder, a top-25 scorer in NBA history potentially on his way to the worst season of his career. He went into Friday’s game averaging just 17.7 points on 40 percent shooting before scoring 24 points.

And after placing him with MVP Russell Westbrook and fellow All-Star Paul George for the NBA’s latest Big Three, the Thunder were under .500 before Friday’s victory.

“I didn’t know that to be honest,” Thomas said. “But regardless, (they) will figure it out. I am not worried about them. I am worried about the Knicks.”

There’s less reason to worry than in Anthony’s final years in New York. Jackson alternated between trying to win and trying to rebuild seemingly every season, and his insistence on running the triangle offense appeared out of touch in an era when NBA teams are pushing the pace. And his stance toward Anthony last season angered teammates who appreciated the veteran’s efforts on and off the court.

Mills and Perry took aim at the culture and signaled a desire to build behind Porzingis, whose average of 25.5 points would be even higher if not for a sprained ankle that forced him to leave one game after 2 1/2 minutes. He looks happy after he was so disillusioned by the atmosphere under Jackson that he blew off his exit meeting last spring.

And while the Knicks appear on the rise, Anthony is trying to keep the Thunder from getting down.

“For the most part what I like about it, guys are trying to figure it out,” he said earlier this week. “Guys are trying to make it work. Guys are trying to be unselfish and figure this thing out and we’re sticking with it.”

 

Report: Utah’s Rudy Gobert out month with knee sprain, bone bruise

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The basketball gods have not been kind to Rudy Gobert this season.

He missed 11 games earlier in the season with a bone bruise on his knee, and now he’s going to miss another month for much the same reason — teammate Derrick Favors fell into Gobert’s knee in the opening minutes in Boston Friday night and injured the same knee. From Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Jazz went 7-4 without Gobert the first time he was out, but did it with a changed game. Utah’s defense fell off, as expected when the man second in Defensive Player of the Year voting the season before is out. However, Favors moved over to center and provided more offensive options that opened up the floor for the Jazz, and also rookie Donovan Michell broke out as a playmaker and scorer. Utah had a top 10 offense in the games Gobert missed earlier in the season. (Favors left the Celtics game Friday with a “left eye laceration” according to the team but is expected to try to play Saturday.)

The Jazz are 14-15 on the season, sitting in the ninth seed and in the midst of a tight playoff race for the final slots in the West.

Lorenzen Wright’s ex-wife arrested, charged in former player’s murder

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A couple of weeks ago, the Shelby County District Attorney announced that a man, Billy Turner, had been indicted on a charge of first-degree murder in the death of former NBA player Lorenzen Wright.

Now his ex-wife Sherra Wright-Robinson, who had seen Wright the night he disappeared and was killed, also has been arrested and charged. From the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

The ex-wife of slain former NBA player Lorenzen Wright has been arrested in California in connection with his death, sources close to the investigation said Friday.

Sherra Wright-Robinson has been charged with conspiracy, first-degree murder and criminal attempt first degree murder, Memphis police Director Michael Rallings said in announcing the charges Saturday.

The attempted murder charge is about a prior attempt to kill Wright, officials confirmed. They said Sherra and Billy Turner previously tried to kill Wright.

Wright was murdered back in 2010, but at the time the case grew cold. That was until police say they got a fresh lead in the case back in June and started to follow the evidence, re-opening the case (which they called “operation rebound”). One of the big breaks was an FBI dive team finding the murder weapon, which had been thrown into a lake in Walnut, Miss. All the new evidence led them to Turner and Wright-Robinson, who allegedly had tried to kill Wright before, but succeeded back in 2010.

At the time of the murder, Wright-Robinson told police in a sworn statement Lorenzen Wright left her home the night of his murder (July 18, 2010) “around 10:30 p.m. carrying a box of drugs.” She said he returned a short time later, got a lot of cash, then left again with the drugs and money after talking to an unidentified person on a burner phone.

That didn’t stop police from at times focusing their investigation on Sherra, but they could not prove their case yet. They can now.

Wright’s decomposing body had been found in suburban Memphis on July 28, 2010, 10 days after the 34-year-old was reported missing. He had called 911 just after midnight on July 19 from an empty field close to a popular golf course in the area. He had multiple gunshots in his body.

Wright had a 13-year NBA career where he played for five NBA teams but played the longest with the Memphis Grizzlies. He averaged 8 points and 6.4 rebounds a game as a center during that time. He retired from the NBA in 2009.

 

Celtics’ Gordon Hayward says he’s open to returning this season

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BOSTON (AP) — Celtics guard Gordon Hayward says he is open to playing this season, but says it will depend on how fast he is able to heal and show progress as he works his way back from a broken left ankle.

Hayward was at TD Garden on Friday for Boston’s matchup with the Utah Jazz, the team he left this past summer in free agency after seven seasons to sign a four-year, $128 million contract with the Celtics. He was injured in Boston’s season opener at Cleveland.

Wednesday marked a milestone in Hayward’s recovery process, when he was able to shed the walking boot he’s been using since his surgery in October. He will continue to wear a protective brace during the rehab process.

He said he doesn’t know how long he will have to wear the brace. But he said he is now allowed to do some shooting and begin working more on mobility.