Miami Heat v Indiana Pacers

Greg Oden waits for lucky break that may not come

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CHARLOTTE — The man sitting at the end of the bench knows he is not going to play. The warm-up jacket and pants will not come off. So he just sits, plaintive look on his face, and he watches with an expression that almost never changed. His long legs stretch out almost into the court. Every now and again, someone in the stands will point at him.

“That guy,” a friend will say to a friend or a parent will say to a child, “was once the first pick in the NBA Draft. He was going to be the next big star.”

Yes, Greg Oden was the first pick in the NBA Draft. Yes, he was going to be the game’s next big star.  Yes, he had everything — size, strength, balance, a defensive presence, a sense of the game. Yes, yes, yes, he was all those things, his future was unlimited … but that was many injuries ago. MANY injuries ago.  Nostalgia and regret often mingle.

Now he sits here on the end of the bench. Sure, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has told him to be ready to get in there, that all players must be ready if the Heat is going to repeat as champions again. Oden doesn’t say much but he says he will stay ready.

He also knows that LeBron James continuously makes the point that the team’s depth — and specifically having Greg Oden on that bench — will play a huge role in these playoffs at some point. Oden says he will be prepared for the moment.

Greg Oden also knows that he is not going to play.

Sometimes there is nothing left to say except life is unfair.

* * *

Let’s start with the end because it is easier to pinpoint. We know the exact date. The end for the Greg Oden experiment came on March 26, 2014. That was the day that every hope and illusion about this latest comeback shattered.

Everybody wanted that comeback. For him. He deserved it. Oden had missed almost four years of basketball when Miami signed him for the minimum before the season began. He deserved good things.

And this looked like a good setup. Nobody expected Greg Oden to suddenly be the superstar everyone expected six or seven years ago. But, in the least, he looked like potential Kryptonite for Indiana’s big man Roy Hibbert. You will remember that last year the Heat had a ferocious seven-game series with Indiana and they could do nothing at all with Hibbert, who averaged 22 points and 10 boards for the series. It didn’t matter what Spoelstra tried, the Heat did not have a Hibbert answer.

Well Greg Oden is a 7-footer, 250-plus pounds, he could pound on Hibbert and weigh on him and foul him and frustrate him. Sure, if Oden recaptured some of his lost talent, everyone would cheer. But, at the least, he could slow Hibbert.

That dream ended on March 26. The Heat had slowly worked Oden into the lineup. From the start of the new year, they put him in a few games for five- and six-minute stretches just to get him some time on the court. Ten days before the big game against Indiana, they put him in the starting lineup. He flashed a few positive signs. He scored six, grabbed three rebounds, blocked a couple of shots at Cleveland. He made both his shots and blocked two more against Memphis.

And on March 26, he started against Indiana — a homecoming for Oden, who went to High School in Indianapolis. Everyone was watching this time. And … lets just say it did not go well. If it had been a fight, they would have stopped it. Well, in truth, they did stop it. Hibbert did everything he wanted for six minutes, Oden was utterly helpless, and after six minutes Spoelstra could not watch anymore. He pulled Oden and did not put him back in … for three weeks.

In fact, Oden has played in just one game since the end — 13 uninspired minutes in an entirely meaningless game against a putrid Philadelphia team. He has not played again. The official explanation for Oden’s disappearance was that he has had “back spasms.” He undoubtedly has had back spasms. But …

“Terrible,” Oden told reporters after the Hibbert game. He knew. He was heartbroken. This haunted pro basketball career of his just won’t ever let Greg Oden breathe.

* * *

In the beginning, Greg Oden was the franchise. He was the next in line of dominant NBA centers after Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan and Shaq. He was big, he was strong, he was balanced, he worked hard, he blocked shots, he was the man. When you asked around the NBA about the first pick in the 2007 draft — the choice being manchild Greg Oden or scoring machine Kevin Durant — about seven out of 10 said Oden.

Why Oden? Well, some thought he was a SAFER pick. Durant was viewed as a one-dimensional scorer. Oden had a bigger game.

Some thought he was the WISER pick because he had already filled out. People forget: Durant made news shortly before the draft because he couldn’t bench-press all seven Harry Potter books (actually it was 185 pounds he couldn’t press) and scouts could just imagine him getting backed all the way down to the beer concession stand. Oden meanwhile looked like he was 10 years older than his age, even as a freshman he looked like a man going back and playing with the college kids, and there was no need to imagine who he would become.

And some though he was a BETTER pick than Durant because great centers tend to lead teams to championships while great scoring forwards often do not.

Of course, there were counterarguments; there were some people who passionately believed Durant was the right choice. But in the end, Portland did what most teams would have done with the first pick and took Oden. There was some irony here; Portland brought a special history to the draft having already taken an injury-prone center (Sam Bowie) over a college super-scorer (Michael Jordan) and had never quite lived that down. But, hey, that could not happen again, right?

Before Oden played his first NBA game, he had microfracture surgery on his right knee. Before his first game. He missed the entire 2007-08 season. While Durant poured in points his rookie year, the Bowie-Jordan comparison was being made ad nauseam.

It should be noted: The story was certainly not in stone yet. It was just one injury, and one thing that Portland loved about Oden was his dedication and work ethic. Before he entered his surgery, he reportedly told Portland GM Kevin Pritchard again and again how sorry he was for letting the team down and how desperate he was to come back. “We picked the right kid,” Pritchard told reporters after that surgery. “He cares about this organization.”

Oden came back in 2008. In his first game – HIS FIRST GAME – Andrew Bynum landed on his foot and he missed two weeks. But then Oden started to show the promise. In his fifth NBA game, he scored 22, grabbed 10 boards, blocked two shots. He became a starter in Game 9, and while he was inconsistent — rookies will be inconsistent — he had bright moments. He grabbed 13 boards against Detroit. He had a double-double at Washington. Fifteen rebounds against the Clippers. Sixteen points 10 boards against Toronto.

On January 12, he went to Chicago and dominated — 17 points, 13 rebounds. Milwaukee couldn’t stop him — 24 points, 15 rebounds. He blocked six shots against the Knicks. Yes, finally, it was coming together.

And then, just as he started to feel good, he bumped knees with Corey Maggette. This time he cracked the patella in his left knee. He was out for more than a month. But the bigger problem was that he now had some trouble with BOTH knees. And that, any big man will tell you, is a bad, bad sign.

In December of the next season, Oden fractured his left patella. Everyone said it had nothing to do with the earlier injury but, at this point, it didn’t matter. The guy just could not stay healthy. He was out for another season. Oden announced that this time he wasn’t coming back until he was ready, until he was fully healthy and ready to deliver on his promise.

One year later, instead, he announced that he was having microfracture surgery on his left knee. That put him out for another year.

The next year, he ha a couple more knee surgeries, putting him out for another year.

Then he said he needed a year to recover and be fully healthy.

When the Miami Heat signed him before this season, he had played in just 82 games in five years. He worked insanely hard to come back, time after time, he didn’t deserve all those setbacks. But, as the line in Unforgiven goes, “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.” And you know the end already.

* * *

Two or three weeks ago, people were openly questioning the Heat — they were playing pretty lousy. But in the NBA, nothing really matters until the playoffs and the Heat was the only team to sweep its opening round series. The champs suddenly look healthy and rested and they are enjoying watching the best teams in the East flounder and their own path open up.

Miami not only looks healthy now, it looks overstocked. The end of the Heat bench is loaded with guys you know even if you are only a mild NBA fan. There’s Shane Battier, the 35-year-old defensive specialist who has played a huge role in the Heat’s previous two championships. There’s Udonis Haslem, another major player in the championship runs, who every now and again goes into games and cannot be stopped. There’s Rashard Lewis, once one of the top scorers in the NBA.

The truth is, the Heat can’t use them all. The NBA is a game of match-ups, a game of rhythm, and Erik Spoelstra is not bluffing when he says he needs everyone to be ready. There could come a moment for any of them.

But … probably not for Greg Oden. For one thing, the man he was probably brought in to stop — Roy Hibbert — is in the middle of a nightmare playoffs and his Pacers could get eliminated as early as Thursday. For another, Oden’s body just won’t let him be the player he might have been. He’s just 26, but his knees are 50, and while Kevin Durant will probably win the MVP Award this year, Greg Oden will probably not leave the Miami bench.

Oden says he will keep waiting though. He says he has not lost hope. That might be the most miraculous part of all.

JaVale McGee tries to inbound ball for wrong team, Warriors bench cracks up (VIDEO)

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JaVale McGree has become a solid contributor for the Warriors off the bench, giving them a needed shot blocking presence. He’s not getting a ton of run (seven minutes a night), but he’s efficient when he’s out there.

Still, there is his reputation as the guy most likely to end up on Shaqtin’ a Fool. He hasn’t done anything like that for a while… until Saturday night, when after a made free throw he tried to inbound the ball for the Suns for a second.

The Warriors bench was laughing under their shirts and towels.

Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves battle back to top Hornets 125-120 in OT

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins, left, looks to pass around Charlotte Hornets center Cody Zeller in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016. Minnesota won 125-120. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Perhaps this was the type of win the talented and young Minnesota Timberwolves needed to get on a roll.

Andrew Wiggins scored 29 points, Karl-Anthony Towns added 27 points and 15 rebounds, and the Timberwolves showed late-game poise by erasing a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Southeast Division-leading Charlotte Hornets 125-120 in overtime on Saturday night.

“The more close games you’re in and the more you win, the better you get,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Repetition builds habits. When you see things happen in a game, it slows everything down.”

Zack LaVine added 17 points and Ricky Rubio had nine points and 12 assists for the Timberwolves, who snapped a four-game losing streak and avoided being swept by the Hornets for the third straight season.

“We came back and really made some really winning plays down the stretch,” LaVine said. “That’s what happens when you keep fighting. We’ve been fighting the last four or five games and been in those positions but we got over that hump. It feels good. Now we need to keep it going.”

Towns, a dominant force on the glass all night, had six points in overtime, including a backbreaking follow off a missed shot with 21 seconds left to put the Timberwolves up by six. Towns sealed the victory with two free throws with 3.9 seconds remaining.

Charlotte appeared on its way to its fourth win in five games, leading 104-97 with less than one minute to play.

But Minnesota battled back to tie the game in regulation with LaVine, Rubio and Wiggins all hitting 3-pointers in the final 39 seconds. Wiggins’ pull-up from 31 feet in transition with 8.9 seconds tied the game at 106.

The Hornets had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation, but Kemba Walker missed everything on a step-back 18-footer at the buzzer.

“There were a lot of mistakes on the defensive end and we gave up some big baskets,” Walker said. “We missed some rotations and we have to be better down the stretch.”

Walker led Charlotte with 22 points and eight assists. Frank Kaminsky had 21 points and Nic Batum had 15 points and 12 assists.

TIP-INS:

Timberwolves: Wiggins and Towns were a combined 22 of 42 from the field. … Blocked 10 shots.

Hornets: The Hornets have given up an average of 16.5 points per game in the first quarter in the last two games, compared to a season average of 27.1 points. … Cody Zeller had four blocks.

STRONG OT START

The Timberwolves took advantage of the momentum they had built at the end of regulation, opening overtime with a 7-0 run.

“You know, it always looks better when the ball is going in,” Thibodeau said. “When we’re getting the right shots and sharing the ball, everything looks a lot better. Obviously, playing from a lead is important and we haven’t been doing that.”

NOT PHYSICAL ENOUGH

Hornets coach Steve Clifford said he was “especially disappointed” with this loss because the team had emphasized getting its defense set and physicality in terms of blocking out.

“They crushed us with the block outs in the fourth quarter,” Clifford said. “They had at least four that might have led to nine points. That can’t happen. It’s been discussed and we’ve watched it and the reality is we either going to become a more physical group or we’re not going to win – at least not every night.”

TOWNS PASSES GARNETT

Towns established a new Timberwolves record with his 27th straight game with at least one blocked shot. He had two blocks against the Hornets.

 

Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews power Mavericks past Bulls 107-82

Dallas Mavericks forward Harrison Barnes, right, is defended by Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Dallas, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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DALLAS (AP) Wesley Matthews has taken greater responsibility with Dirk Nowitzki out of the Dallas Mavericks’ lineup much of this season.

Matthews scored 20 of his 26 points in the second half of Dallas’ 107-82 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night.

“Matthews was the star of the game, obviously,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “He is our leader right now with Dirk out. He really sets the tone for us in the locker room and on the floor. He is just the vocal guy.”

Matthews has accepted the expanded role as Nowitzki has been limited to five games by a strained right Achilles tendon.

“I feel like that’s one of the reasons why they brought me over here (from Portland). Through this rough patch, injuries and everything, everybody had to mold together. It’s almost like we had to restructure ourselves. I think everybody has embraced that.”

Harrison Barnes scored 17 of his 22 points in the first half to help Dallas improve to 4-15.

Chicago was coming off a 111-105 victory over defending champion Cleveland on Friday night.

Jimmy Butler led Chicago with 26 points.

“I don’t think anybody played well tonight,” Butler said. “We didn’t play with energy on either end of the floor.”

Barnes powered the Mavericks to a 17-point first-quarter lead with eight points.

“They came out and threw the first punch and kept throwing, and we could just never recover from that,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We did expend a lot of energy (Friday) night.”

Dwight Powell (17) and rookie Dorian Finney-Smith (11) had career highs in scoring, and Deron Williams had a season-high 15 assists with only one turnover.

“The biggest thing was we were even (43-43) on the boards,” Carlisle said. Andrew Bogut had a game-high 11 rebounds, and Powell grabbed eight.

Neither team scored in the first 2:15, but Dallas went on a 7-0 run over the next 1:20. The Mavericks led 23-6 with 3:17 left. The quarter ended with Dallas leading 29-18. Bogut had six points and eight rebounds.

Chicago pulled within six points three times in the second quarter, but Dallas finished the first half with a 57-45 lead. In the third quarter, Matthews had 14 points, and the Maverick led by as many as 21 points.

TIP-INS

Bulls: C Robin Lopez has a career-high 11 straight games with 10 or more points. He scored 15 against Dallas. … F Jimmy Butler has reached 20 points in 17 of 19 games. He scored on a drive with 1:00 left in the third quarter, but was charged with a technical foul for arguing that he had been fouled.

Mavericks: G Wesley Matthews made 7 of 11 3-point attempts. … C Andrew Bogut fouled out, but had 11 rebounds and a season-high eight points. … The Mavericks’ 29 first-quarter points were a season high. … Their largest margin of victory before Saturday was 12 points.

WADE RESTS

Bulls G Dwyane Wade missed his second game this season, both to rest. He stayed in Chicago after Friday’s win over Cleveland. Their flight landed in the DFW Metroplex at 2:30 a.m. for the second game in a stretch of four games in five days. Nikola Mirotic started in Wade’s place and was scoreless in 13 minutes played.

NOWITZKI “INDEFINITE”

The Mavericks said that they no longer will keep a timetable for when F Dirk Nowitzki (strained right Achilles tendon) would play. Instead, his return will be listed as “indefinite.” He has played in only five games this season.

“We said I’m still a few games away, but luck can change, so I just have to go day by day,” Nowitzki said.

“At this stage in my career, I don’t move well anyways, so if I’m out there at like 80, 90 percent, I don’t think I’m a big help, so I want to make sure my body’s responding the right way and we’ll go from there.”

 

Bucks win fourth straight with 112-103 victory over Brooklyn

Milwaukee Bucks' Matthew Dellavedova drives past Isaiah Whitehead during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Bucks coach Jason Kidd wondered if his young team could rebound from a third-quarter lull.

Milwaukee’s kids did just that, winning their fourth straight game despite letting a 16-point third-quarter lead slip away.

Matthew Dellavedova scored 12 of his season-high 18 points in the fourth quarter, helping the Bucks hold off the Brooklyn Nets 112-103 on Saturday.

“I thought it got a little sloppy,” Kidd said. “I wanted to see if they were going to figure it out. I wasn’t going to call timeout. I wanted to see if they were going to talk themselves through it because that’s what good teams do.”

Milwaukee led 62-46 after a layup by Tony Snell with 8:11 left in the third, but Brooklyn closed the quarter on a 26-13 run to get within 75-72. Consecutive 3-pointers by Joe Harris gave the Nets an 82-81 lead with 10:00 to play.

Sean Kilpatrick scored 13 of his 19 points in the third quarter, when he went 8 for 8 from the foul line.

“It definitely wasn’t anything the coach did,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “It was all the players playing well. We didn’t change anything and kept with our rotations. The guys came out with focus.”

With the game tied at 94, Milwaukee began a 9-1 run to lead 103-95 with 1:43 remaining.

“We had a chance in the third quarter to break the game wide open, and we didn’t take it,” Dellavedova said. “They came back and played well. We then did a good job of pulling away.”

John Henson led Milwaukee with 20 points and added seven rebounds, Giannis Antetokounmpo had 16 points and 10 rebounds, Jabari Parker added 15 points, Greg Monroe scored 13 points and Snell chipped in 10 points.

“They were just finding me,” Henson said. “I was open. (Antetokounmpo and Parker) are huge threats coming down the lane and off a pick-and-roll, so it is my job to finish for them and take a little heat off of them.”

Bojan Bogdanovic led Brooklyn with 24 points. Brook Lopez had 13 points but was just 3 for 17 from the field and 0 for 10 in the first half.

“I just wasn’t good enough,” Lopez said. “I made a lot of turnovers. I missed a lot of shots that I need to make. I think I let us down on both ends of the floor.”

TIP-INS

Nets: Forward Trevor Booker missed the game due to an illness. Anthony Bennett started in his place and had seven points and a career-high 14 rebounds. … Lopez grabbed four rebounds to tie Derrick Coleman for second place on the Nets career list with 3,690.

Bucks: Milwaukee is 10-0 after leading at halftime and 8-0 when leading after three quarters. … The Bucks scored 62 points in the paint. … Antetokounmpo tied his career high with five blocked shots.

FAMILIAR FOES

Milwaukee and Brooklyn were playing for the second time in three days after the Bucks beat the Nets 111-93 on Thursday night.

The Bucks will face the same team in consecutive games four more times this season, including home-and-homes later this month with the Bulls, Cavaliers and Wizards.