Amir Johnson; Mirza Teletovic; Alan Anderson

Paul Pierce’s move to power forward adds twist to his career, Brooklyn Nets’ season

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BOSTON – On Paul Pierce’s first defensive possession as the Brooklyn Nets’ full-time starting power forward, Serge Ibaka backed him down on the block. Pierce bodied Ibaka, keeping him out of the paint, and Ibaka threw the ball away.

On the Oklahoma City Thunder’s next possession, Ibaka posted up Pierce again. Pierce hardly yielded an inch as Ibaka settled for a turnaround jumper. Airball.

“He’s always telling us how he can lock everybody up that tries to post him up,” Nets center Mason Plumlee said with a laugh. “He’s done that, pretty much.”

Pierce – the NBA’s shortest and maybe most surprising – starting power forward certainly doesn’t lack the confidence to excel in his new position.

Nor the ability defend post-ups.

He’s held opponents to 35.3 percent shooting and forced a turnover on 25.9 percent of post-up plays finished against him, according to MySynergySports. Overall, he’s allowed .64 points per post-up – 16th best in the entire NBA.

A small forward his entire career, Pierce was always crafty and strong enough to handle players his size. But his ability to routinely defend the post-ups of bigger players, often through sheer physicality, has been impressive.

In every other way, though, Pierce hardly looks the part of a power forward – beginning with his 6-foot-7 frame, shortest among the NBA’s 30 starters at the position. Even in era of small ball, Pierce at power forward adds a little wonkiness on both sides of the court.

But wonkiness seems to be exactly what Pierce, who’s reinventing himself at age 36, and the Nets need.

Brooklyn started the season 10-21, but once Brook Lopez suffered a season-ending foot injury, Jason Kidd turned to small ball and turned his team’s fortunes. Since the change, conveniently timed with the flip of the calendar from 2013 to 2014, the Nets have gone 20-9.

Of teams’ most-used lineups, the Nets’ – Deron Williams, Shaun Livingston, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett – has been the NBA’s second best with a net rating +15.9 (offensive rating: 103.9/defensive rating: 88.1).

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But Brooklyn’s most-used lineup has played fewer minutes (122 all season) than any other team’s most-used, so sample-size caveats apply.

Still, with with Garnett out injured and Plumlee replacing him as a starter, that lineup has been even better (116.8/86.1/+30.7). Though in just 59 minutes sample-size issues are even more relevant, it seems as long as the Nets go small, they can’t help but stumble into a productive lineup.

For Pierce, whose career appeared to be wilting just a few months ago, the results have been nearly as dramatic.

The slippage began to show during the Celtics’ first-round loss to the Knicks last season. In that series, Pierce posted negative win shares, shooting 37 percent from the field and 27 percent on 3s and turning the ball over more than five times per game.

His first couple months with Brooklyn didn’t go much better, as he posted a PER of 13.6 in 2013. That would have been first below-average PER of Pierce’s career. At 36 and on an expiring contract, he appeared nearing retirement.

By moving to power forward, though, Pierce has increased his season PER to 16.1. That would still be a career low, but it’s solidly above average and ranks fifth on a playoff team.

Careers have been extended – or ended – on less.

Despite all his progress as a quirky small-ball four, the position carries dangers. Whenever Brooklyn’s center gets pulled away from the basket, to defend a pick-and-roll or otherwise, Pierce is often left as the last line of defense near the basket.

In the third quarter of Pierce’s re-return to Boston on Friday, Celtics center-of-the-moment Kris Humphries drove past Plumlee on the perimeter. Pierce slide over and took a charge – and a Humphries elbow deep into his right shoulder.

Pierce immediately went to the bench and sat, grabbing his shoulder and wincing.

Even when Pierce succeeds as a backline defender – a difficult assignment for him – he exposes an area of his body that has bothered him for years.

“Whenever I get hit in that shoulder, just I guess the constant years of banging – especially now that I’m playing the four,” Pierce said.

But Pierce – unlike his partner in crime, Garnett, who openly hates shifting to center – seems to be in no hurry to change the small-ball lineups that feature him at power forward.

“That’s our style. It’s no secret. We’re a small team,” Pierce said. “We don’t rebound well. We force turnovers. We shoot 3s.”

Pierce certainly does his part to contribute to those trends.

  • His total-rebounding percentage (10.0) ranks in the bottom five of starting power forwards. Only Shane Battier, Wesley Johnson, Josh McRoberts and Thaddeus Young are lower.
  • Pierce’s steal rate (2.0) is his highest since 2004-05. He excels at jumping in front of passes to power forwards whom other bigs typically couldn’t get around quickly enough.
  • Pierce has taken 39.7 percent of his shots from beyond the arc, easily a career high. Because he’s tangling for defensive rebounds more and isn’t as exactly as quick as he once was, Pierce, shooting 35.2 percent from beyond the arc, is one of NBA’s more dangerous trailers.

Can Pierce keep this up? Has becoming a power forward saved his career?

“It’s not about being a four,” Kidd said. “He’s a basketball player. So, he’s out there taking advantage of maybe a bigger guy. But his basketball IQ is extremely high, so he knows how to play no matter what position he’s in.”

Anthony scores 35, Knicks beat depleted Heat 114-103

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MIAMI (AP) It’s been a long time since the New York Knicks were in this position.

More than three years, to be precise.

Carmelo Anthony matched a season high with 35 points, and the Knicks took advantage of second chances all night to beat the injury-ravaged Miami Heat 114-103 on Tuesday night. At 12-9, New York is three games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2012-13 season.

“Any time you can put together some wins you feel confident, you feel comfortable, you feel like you’re heading in the right direction, and I really feel we’re doing that,” Anthony said. “We’re heading in the right direction.”

Kristaps Porzingis had 14 points and 12 rebounds for New York, which has won four straight. The Knicks lost Derrick Rose to back spasms in the third quarter, but still scored 61 points after halftime.

“We just came out in the second half knowing that we have to win the game and that we have to play better,” Porzingis said.

Goran Dragic scored 29 points and Hassan Whiteside finished with 23 points and 14 rebounds for the Heat, who fell to 2-8 at home. New York had a 31-13 edge in second-chance points, and outscored Miami 56-36 in the paint.

“Sometimes the ball goes that way,” Whiteside said.

The teams were tied at 68 late in the third quarter, when the Knicks went on a 27-13 run over the next eight minutes to take control. Anthony finished 13 for 27 from the field, and Porzingis and Joakim Noah combined for 22 rebounds.

The Heat had nine players, and might not have any more than that until next week. Justise Winslow missed his 12th consecutive game with a sore left wrist, and James Johnson (right rotator cuff), Dion Waiters (groin), Luke Babbitt (right hip) and Josh Richardson (right ankle) were also sidelined.

None are slated to travel for Miami’s three-game, four-day stretch that starts Wednesday in Atlanta. The Heat are leaving some staff in Miami to work with the injured players.

“They’re getting way more work in than they would get on the road,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

TIP-INS

Knicks: Coach Jeff Hornacek is now 1-5 against Miami. He’s beaten every team he’s faced, and has yet to coach against his former Phoenix club. … The Knicks missed their first 11 3-point tries, then made 7 of their last 14. … New York is over .500 this late in a season for the third time in 12 years. … Not a good sign for Wednesday, when Cleveland visits the Knicks: New York is 0-4 on the second night of back-to-backs this season.

Heat: It was Dragic’s highest-scoring total as a member of the Heat. … Whiteside has led the Heat in rebounds in all 21 games this season. … Miami struggled again from the line, shooting 16 for 27.

ON PHIL

Spoelstra was asked to respond to Knicks President Phil Jackson’s comments last month about the way the Heat had to handle LeBron James when he played in Miami. Spoelstra laughed it off. “I honestly just think he gets bored and likes to throw stuff out there to get everybody all fired up,” Spoelstra said. James and the Cavaliers visit Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.

TALL ORDER

Hilarity briefly ensued in the second quarter when the 7-foot-3 Porzingis had a jump ball against Miami’s Tyler Johnson, who might be generously listed at 6-foot-4. Shocking: Porzingis won the tap.

UP NEXT

Knicks: Host Cleveland on Wednesday, preceding a five-game West Coast trip.

Heat: Visit Atlanta on Wednesday, followed by visits to Cleveland and Chicago.

Pistons beat Bulls 102-91 for fourth win in 5 games

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) Tobias Harris scored 22 points and the Detroit Pistons beat the Chicago Bulls 102-91 on Tuesday night.

Andre Drummond added 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Pistons, who won for the fourth time in five games.

Jimmy Butler scored 32 points and Dwyane Wade added 19 points and seven assists for Chicago, which lost its third straight. The Bulls were playing their fourth game in five nights and struggled in the fourth quarter.

Drummond dominated early, scoring 10 points on three dunks and two tips. Even when he went to the bench with foul trouble, the Pistons put together an 11-0 run to lead 36-21 early in the second quarter.

Rajon Rondo had 10 points in his return to the Chicago lineup.

Detroit maintained a double-digit lead for most of the second period, but Chicago rallied after Reggie Jackson picked up his third foul. The Pistons were ahead 51-44 at the half, thanks to a 16-6 edge on points off turnovers. Drummond had 14 in the half, while Butler had 16 for the Bulls.

Chicago was within 51-50 in the first two minutes of the third, and took a 72-71 lead into the fourth. Butler and Taj Gibson both had eight points in the period, while Drummond didn’t score for Detroit.

Darrun Hillard’s 3-pointer capped Detroit’s 12-3 run to start the fourth, giving the Pistons an 83-75 lead with 7:28 to play. The Pistons pulled away down the stretch against the weary Bulls.

TIP-INS

Bulls: Rondo missed Monday’s loss to Portland due to a team suspension.

Pistons: Due to his foul problems, Jackson only played 10 minutes in the first half. He’s still on limited minutes after missing the season’s first 21 games with knee tendinitis, and played eight minutes in the second half. Ish Smith played the entire fourth quarter.

UP NEXT

Bulls: Visit the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday.

Pistons: Host the San Antonio Spurs and Pau Gasol on Thursday.

Phil Jackson admits to smoking marijuana after back surgery

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 06:  (L-R) Assistant coach Brian Shaw, head coach Phil Jackson and assistant coach Frank Hamblen of the Los Angeles Lakers sit on the bench in the second half against the Boston Celtics Game Two of the 2010 NBA Finals at Staples Center on June 6, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr admitted to trying medicinal marijuana after a serious back injury sidelined him for part of the 2015-16 NBA season. There has been much discussion about Kerr’s comments, including support from players Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.

Now, New York Knicks impresario Phil Jackson is saying that he, too, used marijuana to dull his pain after surgery.

Speaking on CBS Sports’ “We Need to Talk” Jackson said that after a back injury in the late ’60s with the Knicks, he used it as a pain medication.

[When I was recovering from back surgery], I was smoking marijuana during that period of time,” Jackson said. “I think it was a distraction for me as much as a pain reliever. But I never thought of it as ultimately a pain medication for that type of situation … We have tried to stop [marijuana use] in the NBA. I don’t think we have been able to stop it. I think it still goes on and is still a part of the culture in the NBA. It is something that we either have to accommodate or figure out another way to deal with it.

As James Herbert at CBS points out, Jackson has admitted to drug use before — notably marijuana and LSD — and has wrongly been painted as a “hippie” because of it.

Still, the more people in the NBA talk about marijuana both recreationally and medicinally the closer we get to change from the league on it.

Whether that day ever comes, who knows, but having important voices like Kerr and Jackson speaking on it only extends the discussion.

Chriss on Draymond Green’s kick: “It’s just something that needs to be addressed”

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Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green was at it again last week, kicking Phoenix Suns rookie Marquese Chriss in the hand with an unnecessary, unnatural motion that is sure to draw league eyes once again.

Chriss, who officials decided was not fouled on the play, told reporters on Monday that he felt Green’s actions were extemporaneous and that the NBA needed to do their due diligence.

From AZ Central:

“It’s kind of funny that it happens so much,” Chriss said of Green’s kicks, like Thursday’s boot to James Harden’s head. “I was frustrated at the time but just move on from it. It happens. It’s easy to avoid. In hindsight, you don’t have to kick your leg up in the air as frequently as it’s happening. It’s just something that needs to be addressed.”

The Suns rookie was feeling the results of Green’s kick a few days after it happened, and the photo on Twitter of Chriss’ pinkie was pretty gross.

Via Paul Coro:

Yikes!

Green drew a flagrant for kicking Houston Rockets star James Harden last week as well, and then two days later kicked Chriss.

Hopefully the league can find a way to put a stop to this. They already knocked Green out of Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals, a move which perhaps spurred the Warriors to blow a 3-1 lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

At this point, it’s an unnecessary mark on Green’s stellar NBA career and story, a characterization that will follow him the rest of his career even if he becomes a champion again.

It’s disappointing if you enjoy the way Green masters the rest of the game, and as Chriss says, it’s up to the league to decide what to do next.