The Extra Pass: The shot that won’t fade away, and Thursday’s recaps

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Over the years, Dirk Nowitzki has cemented his status as one of the most unguaradable players in NBA history. There have been better scorers, and there have been better shooters, but Nowitzki is second-to-none when it comes to getting his shot off.

It would be easy to peg Nowitzki’s 7-foot frame as the sole reason for that, but that’s selling him short. Nowitzki’s ability to shift his weight back to create the proper trajectory for that high-arcing jumper requires an unreal amount of coordination and balance. It’s a move born from an unusual training regimen based around taking shots from less than ideal angles and situations, and there’s nothing textbook about it.

And that’s fine. Dirk Nowitzki didn’t create the fadeaway, and he didn’t master it. He changed it.

This isn’t a move that’s easily adapted or stolen. Go try it in your driveway, and you will travel and airball your way to a frustrating time.

There’s a reason why this particular iteration of the fadeaway jumper has been unique to Nowitzki all these years, but there is one player in the league with the right chops to forge Nowitzki’s signature move. And he might be the only guy who can do it justice.

This is sort of the circle of life in the NBA. Iconic moves only belong to a player for so long, and then someone else takes it and changes it or improves it. Michael Jordan’s turnaround jumper became Kobe Bryant’s turnaround jumper. It’s just the way these things work.

That learning curve on Dirk’s unique one-legged fadeaway is a steep one, but here’s what Kevin Durant said about trying to adopt it for his game in a recent interview with The Oklahoman:

“It was rougher than I thought it was going to be (early on),” Durant said. “Took me some time to figure it out, but I think I’m doing all right with it.”

At this point, with such a diverse offensive toolbox, it’s a move Durant doesn’t typically use more than once every game.

But it’s clearly one of his favorites.

“Just the space it gives you and how it looks,” Durant said. “It just frees you up when you’re kinda pressured. You don’t think you have a shot, then you just step back and knock it down.”

Nowitzki probably won’t be in the league too much longer. He’ll be hanging his sneakers up in a few years, and the league will miss him desperately.

But we’ll still have Durant. And even though it will never look exactly the same, we’ll always remember the player who once owned that beautiful fadeaway whenever we see him unleash it.

-D.J. Foster

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Generally not a fan of proposing to your lady at a sporting event (trust me, she’s not either) but if you’re going to do it, the inflatable mascot trick is a good one.

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Knicks 113, Nets 93: Who’s a laughingstock now? You figure at some point one of the New York teams is going to figure it out and go on enough of a run to win the Atlantic Division (getting to .500 should do it) and Thursday night it looked like the Knicks will be that team. They played with energy — I swear Carmelo Anthony was hustling on defense — and they exposed the Nets league-worst defense for being old and slow. Carmelo Anthony had 19 points and 10 rebounds, Iman Shumpert had 17 points on 8 shots, and the Knicks cruised.

Clippers 101, Grizzlies 81: This was close through a sloppy first half, then Los Angeles went on a 22-5 run in the third quarter and pulled away for a comfortable win. The Clippers played much better defense than the night before, holding Memphis to 37.7 percent shooting, although a chunk of that was execution errors on the part of Memphis (which really misses Marc Gasol). Chris Paul and Jordan Crawford each had 15 points to lead a balanced attack.

Bulls 107, Heat 87: When the Bulls play aggressive defense like they did Thursday they can beat anybody. They hadn’t played this well since Derrick Rose went down but the defense was back and drove Chris Bosh to a terrible 4-of-11 game, held LeBron James in check and stymied he Heat offense. On the other end Carlos Boozer (27 points) and Joakim Noah (17 points, 15 rebounds) led the attack on the inside that the Heat could not stop.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim keeps fabricating NBA draft stats

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Sophomore forward Tyler Lydon declared for the NBA draft, which Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim seized as an opportunity to spew more nonsense.

Connor Grossman of The Daily Orange:

Boeheim cautioned Lydon about jumping into the NBA Draft now, knowing he lacked the “monster year” it would’ve taken for him to get lottery pick consideration.

“He didn’t demonstrate this year that he can be a lottery pick,” Boeheim said, “but next year I know he can be. That’s what I told him. I think he can come back here and demonstrate that he can be a lottery pick.

“I think it’s a better way to go to the NBA. You make money, they draft you high, they play you. Half the picks between 20-30 are out of the league within three years.”

We don’t yet know whether anyone drafted in 2014 or later will last more than three years in the NBA. So, let’s examine the prior 10-year period: 2004-2013. I exempted Nikola Mirotic, who jumped late to the NBA and is in his third season right now (even though I’d be shocked if he’s not in the NBA next season).

In that span, 22% of players picked between 20-30 were out of the league within in three years.

That’s not even half of Boeheim’s stated figure.

A third of those picks who washed out so quickly were international players. NBA teams are pretty good at scouting and developing college players, who face fewer hurdles in translating to the to the league. So, Lydon being projected to go in the first round means something.

The most recent college player picked in this range to fall out of the league, Perry Jones, got paid for a fourth season. Even the cases that count for Boeheim are poor examples.

And who’s to say Lydon would develop into a lottery pick if he stayed another year at Syracuse? The only guarantee would be missing an opportunity at a year of NBA earnings. Lydon’s stock could fall, a precarious possibility for someone who doesn’t excel at creating shots. Lydon can develop with an NBA team, maybe even spending time in the D-League – while earning far more than the college-sports cartel allows.

Boeheim’s self-serving approach is painfully evident. He enriches himself on the backs of young college players, and when the most talented among them leave early, that hurts his stature. So, he makes up bogus figures in attempt to get what he wants.

It’s shameful.

Heat’s James Johnson says he can roundhouse kick a ball wedgied between backboard and rim

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James Johnson is having a career year for the surging Heat. The forward is doing a bit of everything – scoring, distributing, defending.

But we apparently haven’t seen all he can do.

Johnson, in a Q&A with Anthony Chiang of PalmBeachPost.com

Q: Can you really roundhouse kick a ball that’s stuck between the backboard and the rim?

James: “That’s a fact.”

Q: When was the last time you did it?

James: “The summer before last season.”

Q: So the last time you did it, you were with Toronto?

James: “And I was heavier. I still have everything I can do. It’s not like I lost anything. If anything, I’ve gained [more ability]. I lost weight. I’m stronger, more flexible. I might be able to get it easier now.”

Q: How old were you when you realized you could do this?

James: “Probably like 15, 16. That’s when I first knew I could do it. Then it was just something I could always do.”

Video or it never happened.

LeBron James, making career-low 67%, pledges to shoot at least 80% on free throws in playoffs

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LeBron James is making a career-low 67% of his free throws this season.

LeBron, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“Yeah it’s killing me, it’s killing me,” James said

But I’ll be fine for the playoffs. For the rest of the regular season I’m going to end up shooting in the 60s, which is a career-low for me, but the postseason I’ll be up there in the 80s.

LeBron has never shot better than 78% in any regular season. He has only once eclipsed 78% in a postseason, shooting 81% in 2014.

If he could simply decide to shoot better from the line, why hasn’t he done it already?

That said, the Cavaliers look like they’re just biding their time until the playoffs. Their focus should increase, and LeBron’s free-throw percentage should rise with it.

But to 80%? Though I’ve learned never to count out LeBron, I’m skeptical.

Dwight Howard ate equivalent of 24 candy bars daily for about a decade

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Dwight Howard‘s love for candy is infamous, though in recent years he has talked more about healthy habits.

Just how much candy did he consume at his peak?

Baxter Holmes of ESPN:

By February’s All-Star break, it was time for a full-blown intervention, and Dr. Cate Shanahan, the Lakers’ nutritionist, led the charge, speaking to Howard by phone from her office in Napa, California. Howard’s legs tingled, he complained, but she noticed he was having trouble catching passes too, as if his hands were wrapped in oven mitts. Well, he quietly admitted, his fingers also tingled. Shanahan, with two decades of experience in the field, knew Howard possessed a legendary sweet tooth, and she suspected his consumption of sugar was causing a nerve dysfunction called dysesthesia, which she’d seen in patients with prediabetes. She urged him to cut back on sugar for two weeks. If that didn’t help, she said, she vowed to resign.

To alter Howard’s diet, though, Shanahan first had to understand it. After calls with his bodyguard, chef and a personal assistant, she uncovered a startling fact: Howard had been scarfing down about two dozen chocolate bars’ worth of sugar every single day for years, possibly as long as a decade. “You name it, he ate it,” she says. Skittles, Starbursts, Rolos, Snickers, Mars bars, Twizzlers, Almond Joys, Kit Kats and oh, how he loved Reese’s Pieces. He’d eat them before lunch, after lunch, before dinner, after dinner, and like any junkie, he had stashes all over — in his kitchen, his bedroom, his car, a fix always within reach. She told his assistants to empty his house, and they hauled out his monstrous candy stash in boxes — yes, boxes, plural.

Howard is 6-foot-11 and muscular, and he does strenuous workouts daily. He can handle far more food than the average person.

Still, dear lord, that’s a lot of candy.

This anecdote was part of Holmes’ fantastic story on peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches’ place in the NBA. I suggest reading it in full.