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.

Watch Raptors fans give Vince Carter a standing ovation in Toronto (VIDEO)

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Vince Carter is 40 years old and playing in what could possibly be his final NBA season. The Sacramento Kings guard started his career with the Toronto Raptors, and on Sunday he played what could possibly be his final game at the Air Canada Centre.

And so, when Carter was subbed out late in the fourth quarter on Sunday, the folks in Toronto did what came naturally: they cheered.

The whole thing was pretty great to watch, and a real testament to how Carter is viewed by fans in Toronto.

Via Twitter:

Carter scored just four points in 25 minutes for Sacramento, going 2-of-5 from the field while adding three blocks, two assists, a rebound and a steal.

The Raptors got the win over the Kings, 108-93.

Report: Isaiah Thomas looking at first week of January for return to Cavs

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Just when we though Isaiah Thomas had fallen off the collective radar of the NBA, he squeaks right back in.

Thomas, who the Cleveland Cavaliers acquired in a trade this summer for Kyrie Irving, has yet to play a game due to a nagging hip injury. That injury caused some back-and-forth squabbling between Cleveland and the Boston Celtics, but things got sorted and the teams went on their way.

Irving has been spectacular of course, helping to lead the Celtics to a record of 25-7 in the absence of Gordon Hayward, good enough for the top slot in the Eastern Conference.

Now, it appears that Thomas is ahead of schedule and will be ready to help the Cavaliers fight for that spot come early January. According to Yahoo! Sports’ Shams Charania, Thomas and Cleveland want him to be playing the first week of the new year.

Via Twitter:

Of course, we’ve heard this before. The team has said this season that Thomas would play in January. Then the line moved and the Cavaliers thought he would play in December. It’s now moved back to January, but reports are more firm as we’re closer to the expected date and Thomas is playing in 4-on-4 drills. The great news is this honed return date seems to directly target the second game of 2018 for the Cavaliers, which is conveniently against the Celtics.

No doubt Thomas will be jonesing to take on his former team, where he certainly would have preferred to stay after a stellar season in 2016-17. Still, Thomas has been in good spirits — he gets to play with LeBron James for goodness sake — and the Jan. 3 game will be one to watch.

If Thomas can’t make it for that January matchup, the next opportunity he will have to beat Boston will be on Feb. 11.

DeMarcus Cousins thinks refs are giving him techs off reputation alone

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New Orleans Pelicans big man DeMarcus Cousins is a fiery personality on the court, often arguing foul calls at length despite no official in NBA history reversing a call directly after player complaint.

Crafty veterans — your LeBron Jameses and your Chris Pauls — slowly and pointedly chatter with officials as a means to influence their subconscious leaning on calls (and to protect them against earning techs when they do decide to straight up yell at refs).

Cousins hasn’t used that kind of angling to success in his career, instead going hard at referees with some consistency. Cousins has tried to change that approach this season, but instead has found that his prior actions have earned him a reputation the Pelicans forward believes doesn’t befit his actions in 2017-18.

Speaking to The Undefeated’s Marc Spears, Cousins said that despite letting more calls go and changing his candor, NBA refs are not responding proportionately.

Via The Undefeated:

I am going out of my way. I am going over and beyond,” Cousins said. “I am coming in saying, ‘We can’t do this, this and this …’ Even calls I know I should be arguing, I’m letting go. And they’re still like … it’s a one-sided thing. Everything is changing from one end. But with them, it’s like, ‘We are not letting go of the past. You are who you are. You’re getting a tech.’

“So, when it comes to me getting a tech for saying, ‘Good call, referee …,’ vets and coaches tell me to butter them up. Switch it up a little bit. Do a little reverse psychology. Tell them it’s a good call. And you still getting a tech for it? They’re not trying to make it work. They’re stuck in their ways, and it is so obvious.”

Cousins added that he believes foes are taking advantage of his troubles.

“Now it’s to the point where teams are saying, ‘Yeah, just go over there and beat the s— out of him.’ I don’t get calls, and I’m not protected like other players are,” he said.

It’s interesting to see that Cousins has at least tried to change things up, and indeed acknowledges that he should be trying to work with the officials rather than antagonize them.

Still, we’re not sure what the tone of his “good call” comments are toward the refs. Are they sarcastic? Or are they contrite? You can see how one might earn Cousins a tech from an official — who seem to be particularly sensitive this season — and the other might endear you to them.

James Harden is playing with a bruised right knee

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James Harden, Chris Paul, and the Houston Rockets are on a 13-game winning streak. They have a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. But it’s not all rosy in Space City.

Harden suffered a bruised right knee against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday, and almost had to sit out the Rockets’ win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday.

Speaking to reporters after the win over the Bucks, Harden said that he was in some pain but a doctor told him he would be able to play and that he would not make the condition worse.

Via ESPN:

“I wasn’t feeling well at all, but the doc came in and just told me that there’s going to be pain for a bit, but you can play through it,” Harden said. “It can’t get worse, but it’s going to be pretty painful until obviously you give it some time. Once he said that, I was like, ‘Let’s go.'”

“I wasn’t moving like I usually move, but we won,” said Harden.

If Harden wasn’t feeling well, it sure didn’t show. He had 31 points, although on 8-of-21 shooting against Milwaukee. Chris Paul chipped in with 25 points, six assists, and five rebounds.

It doesn’t sound like Harden will be missing a game any time soon, which is par for the course for him. He’s played in a minimum of 89 percent of his team’s regular season games since entering the league in 2009.

Meanwhile, the Rockets are blasting their way into 2018. They play the Warriors next on January 4.