Gregg Popovich was on fire at first Finals press conference

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I pity the sideline reporter who gets to talk to Gregg Popovich in game Thursday night, they will be lucky to get a sentence out of the guy.

However, when Popovich is in the mood to talk, he is both funny and insightful. It’s the side we always hear about — Popovich is a guy that everyone close to him loves as a great guy, but the public mostly sees a curmudgeonly exterior.

Wednesday, at the first NBA Finals press conference, Popovich stole the show. Here are the highlights:

On listing Tim Duncan as “DNP-OLD” last year when sitting him out a game: “He loved it. He thought it was funny as hell. There were some others who did not enjoy it, but Timmy got a kick out of it and I got a kick out of it. It was fun. And it was true. He was older than dirt. That’s the deal. He was tired that night. He’s old. So I could have lied. I could have said he has a broken ankle or something. I just said he’s old.

On saying why he wanted years back to get Jason Kidd to mentor Tony Parker: “My illustrious NBA career ended a week and a half. So what the hell am I going to teach him about being a point guard? That was a joke. That was a joke. I thought that Jason Kidd being there, being the mentally tough person that he is and with his skills, that would be the greatest education for Tony Parker.”

On how these Spurs with Duncan, Tony Parker and Many Ginobili have sustained greatness for more than a decade: “I think that it’s a real simple answer. Nobody really likes it. They want me to say something different. It’s a total function of who those three guys are. What if they were jerks? What if they were selfish? What if one of them was, you know, unintelligent? If, if, if. But the way it works out, all three of them are highly intelligent. They all have great character. They appreciate their teammates’ success. They feel responsible to each other. They feel responsible to Patty Mills or to Danny Green. That’s who they are and how they’re built. I think when you have three guys like that, you’re able to build something over time.

“So I think it’s just a matter of being really, really fortunate to have three people who understand that and who commit to a system and a philosophy for that length of time. I don’t know what else to tell you. It’s on them.”

Talking about when Popovich called up to congratulate Pat Riley after the Heat signed LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the same summer: “Well, you know, I still call him Coach Riley. I can’t help it. I guess he’s Executive Coach Riley and all that, slash whatever. But he’s been a competitor obviously his whole career since he was a player in college and beyond. He put together a team fairly, within the rules, that is a monster. So why wouldn’t he get credit for that? Why wouldn’t you congratulate him for that?

“So I did. I always respected his competitiveness and how he ran things in New York and L.A. and so on and so forth. And as an executive he’s done the same thing. He lets people do what they do, puts things together, and he put together a hell of a team. And so I called him to thank him because I respect him so much not to thank him, but to congratulate him. That’s the last thing I do is thank him for doing that.”

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

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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

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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:

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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.

JaVale McGee misses open dunk (video)

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Shaquille O’Neal said he’d stop talking about JaVale McGee, who has featured prominently on Shaqtin A Fool.

This missed dunk, a low point in the Warriors’ otherwise-impressive win over the Spurs, will test Shaq’s sincerity.

Grizzlies’ James Ennis fouls out then hits half-court shot (video)

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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Against the Pacers last night, James Ennis missed all three of his 3-point attempts… that counted. And he makes this one after fouling out?

Mike Conley more than picked up the slack to lead the Grizzlies to victory.