Winderman: Olympics far more compelling than Stern’s World Cup of Basketball dream

12 Comments

Imagine if Sunday’s compelling doubleheader of United States-Spain and Argentina-Russia wasn’t the Olympics. Imagine if it was David Stern’s got-to-have World Cup of Basketball, the you-bet-it’s-on-the-way NBA-proposed tournament.

Would the play have been as gripping? There is no reason to believe otherwise.

Would national pride have been as paramount? National colors resonate no matter the venue.

But here’s why it wouldn’t have been the same:

Because it wouldn’t have been woven into an international carnival of sports.

Take the world’s premier national-team basketball championship out of the Olympics (some say the World Championships already mean more, but we know better), and all you have is, well, the world’s premier national-team basketball championship, something you’d be likely to find on some Fox Sports regional network or with ESPN commentators calling games off monitors in Bristol.

What the Olympics give us is LeBron and Kobe and KD marching behind a fencer carrying the United States flag, alongside wrestlers, weightlifters, kayakers.

What the Olympics give us is LeBron and Kobe and KD in the stands at tennis or soccer or volleyball.

What the Olympics give us is that rare moment when NBA elitists are merely part of the program, willing parts of the program, appreciative of their place in the greater sporting landscape.

Yes, the accommodations were separate and upgraded, but the gold medals were exactly the same as those for Misty and Kerri and others even lesser known who soon will return to day jobs out of financial necessity.

And that’s part of why we watched, because Sunday’s men’s basketball gold was bigger that just basketball, it was another check mark in the gold column, another part of the ledger that put this country ahead of other countries, at a time when our politicians only seem to be telling us what’s wrong with our country.

For two weeks, these NBA stars were part of something bigger than not only themselves, but also bigger than their sport.

Reduce the Olympic basketball competition to something along the lines of soccer’s 23-and-under and you’ll wind up with the men’s Olympic soccer tournament, a competition so nondescript that Spain seemingly couldn’t even be bothered by competing.

Basketball fans weren’t the only watching LeBron and Kobe and KD on Sunday. So were, well, sports fans, and Olympic fans.

That’s something you won’t get from a World Cup of basketball.

Because that only will be about basketball.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at @IraHeatBeat.

Luc Mbah a Moute sets modern record at +57 in Rockets’ win over Nuggets

AP Foto/Eric Christian Smith
Leave a comment

Luc Mbah a Moute is a quietly good player.

He’s an effective and versatile defender. Offensively, he shoots 3-pointers well enough to score efficiently and spread the floor. Most of all, the 31-year-old just understands how to play and plays within himself. His teams tend to perform better when he’s on the floor.

That’s an understatement for Wednesday night.

In a 125-95 win, the Rockets outscored the Nuggets by a whopping 57 points in Mbah a Moute’s 26 minutes. That’s the best single-game plus-minus in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to the 2000-01 season. It tops Joe Smith’s +52 in a 2001 Timberwolves win over the Bulls, a 53-point game that also produced a +50 for Wally Szczerbiak and +48 for Terrell Brandon.

Mbah a Moute’s traditional stat line was impressive, though not overly so: 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting with four rebounds, four steals and an assist. He played well, contributing to winning in all the small ways he often does, and the Rockets happened to play excellently around him.

Now, Mbah a Moute tops the leaderboard in single-game plus-minus since 2000-01:

image

Did Russell Westbrook get mad at Steven Adams for not taking potential triple-double-clinching shot? (video)

2 Comments

Russell Westbrook chases triple-doubles.

That hardly makes him unique. He’s just close enough to the feat more often than other players, so he chases them more often.

But he still chases them.

Late in the Thunder’s 108-91 win over the Warriors last night, Westbrook was heading toward his final line of 34 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. His teammates shot off his passes on three of Oklahoma City’s final four possessions before he took a seat (including one assist). The exception came when he passed to Steven Adams, who passed rather than shoot – clearly upsetting Westbrook.

Was Westbrook mad because he missed his chance at a triple-double? Maybe.

Was Westbrook mad because Adams passed as the shot clock neared expiration? Maybe.

It could be both!

Watch Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry on Golden State’s bench. They clearly found something funny.

Report: Teams are calling Clippers about DeAndre Jordan trades

Getty Images
2 Comments

Injuries have ravaged the Clippers. They started the season 4-0 have been without three starters from opening night: Milos Teodosic (plantar fascia injury, he is still in a walking boot), Danilo Gallinari (strained left glute), and now point guard Patrick Beverley is out for the season after microfracture surgery on his knee.

All this has led to the Clippers losing nine in a row before beating the Hawks Friday night. All the weight of the offense has fallen on Blake Griffin‘s shoulders, and while he’s been good most of the game in the fourth quarter his numbers have plummeted, and the Clippers have stumbled.

It’s left the Clippers with a couple of hard questions.

Do they need a coaching change? There was a sense from sources around the league that Rivers is already on his way out — he was stripped of GM/president powers over the summer — and what kept him around was the couple of seasons at $10 million a year on his contract. That’s a lot of money for an owner to eat, even Steve Ballmer, but the time may be coming as a way to shake up the team.

The other, what to do with DeAndre Jordan? They could not work out a contract extension with him (Jordan was acting as his own agent), and one of the league’s top traditional centers is a free agent next summer, but new head basketball guy Lawrence Frank said they want Jordan to be a “Clipper for life.” Does Jordan want to be a Clipper for life? Do the Clippers really want him back, and if so at what price? Does a Clipper franchise trying to get approvals for a new arena in Inglewood want to rebuild now, because it does not help that process? If it’s time to move on and rebuild, do they need to trade him now?

Teams are calling about Jordan, reports Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post.

DeAndre Jordan, who can become a free agent after the season, has been coming up in trade conversations, with multiple teams talking potential trades. Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank said last month that Jordan will be a “Clipper for life,” muddled matters, as does the limited number of teams who need a center and the size of Jordan’s contract ($22.6 million).

Jordan is an All-NBA center, a defensive force in the paint who sets a strong pick, rolls hard to the rim, can finish with the best of them, and is averaging 10.4 points (scoring and attempts are down without Chris Paul feeding him) and 13.4 rebounds a game. Jordan knows who he is and plays within himself.

It’s not hard to imagine how he could help teams such as Cleveland, Washington, Milwaukee, and a host of others. The question is what would teams be willing to give up to get him — they have to send back salary to match, but will not want to give up assets that help them win now. The Clippers will be looking for good young players and picks back in the package, which makes it hard for a team such as Cleveland to put together a package.

But before they discuss trade scenarios, the Clippers need to figure out what they want to do. Life has come at them fast this season and led to a lot of big-picture questions that Frank and Ballmer need to answer.

Lonzo Ball finishes one-handed alley-oop on Willie Cauley-Stein (video)

10 Comments

So much attention is paid to Lonzo Ball‘s father, jumper and passes. Those are the major storylines for the Lakers rookie.

But he has such a diverse skill set, and this is absolutely part of it. Ball is a savvy off-ball cutter in the halfcourt with the athleticism to get above the rim and finish alley-oops.

But finish them over 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein, who was tracking the play (though slightly late)? That’s an eye-opener, even in the Kings’ 113-102 win.