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Dirk Nowitzki cherishes 20 seasons, content to help Mavs rebuild

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DALLAS (AP) — Dirk Nowitzki made peace years ago with the reality that spending his entire career with the Dallas Mavericks would likely mean little or no chance to win a second championship.

The most accomplished European player in NBA history never seriously considered leaving the franchise that courted him as a teenager in Germany and drafted him five days after his 20th birthday in 1998.

Now in his 20th season, Nowitzki is comfortable with the idea that he led the Mavericks to their first title and can try to help a younger core build toward making Dallas a title contender again.

“I just think I pride myself with this city, with this organization, whatever this city or this franchise goes through, I want to push it through,” Nowitzki said. “I want to be there for it. If it’s rebuilding, I want to push it through and help as much as I can. If we’re playing for a championship, then I’ll do that.”

The Mavericks haven’t won a playoff series since beating Miami in the Finals in 2011, LeBron James‘ first season with the Heat. They had a woeful start for the second straight year, all but assuring that they will miss the playoffs with consecutive losing seasons for the first time since Nowitzki’s first two.

The slide out of contention means little to the context of Nowitzki’s career: a 7-footer who changed the game with his 3-point shooting, the first foreign-born player to reach 30,000 points and the distinction with Kobe Bryant (Lakers) as the only players to spend 20 seasons with the same franchise.

“I think the reality is that when you see this kind of consistency of greatness, there’s a tendency to take it for granted,” said Rick Carlisle, in his 10th season as Nowitzki’s coach. “And we must be careful about taking this for granted. We’re seeing a generational player that’s changed the game.”

Nowitzki still starts – Carlisle pretty much declared earlier this season that he will start as long as he’s playing – but often sits at the end of close games. He’s probably the fourth scoring option, behind Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews and even rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr.

But the 39-year-old played the first 54 games, an important measure for him to feel he’s contributing. Nowitzki, the only 7-footer to win the 3-point contest that’s part of All-Star weekend, is in position for the best shooting percentage of his career from beyond the arc. The number of attempts isn’t far off from his prime either.

“I wish he can play forever,” said Washington coach Scott Brooks, who was at Oklahoma City when the Thunder lost to the Mavericks in the 2011 Western Conference finals and beat them in the first round the next year.

“You know the time is winding down, you don’t know how many more years he has. He probably has maybe six or seven more left in him,” Brooks said, trying to keep a straight face.

Nowitzki has already said he is considering a 21st season. Barring a dramatic improvement through a trade, the draft or free agency, that likely means another year of helping turn Smith into a point guard that can guide a champion the way Nowitzki credits Jason Kidd for doing in Dallas.

Assuming the Mavericks stay near the bottom of the West standings, they’ll have another high draft pick after getting Smith at No. 9. That will be another young player who sees the work Nowitzki does away from the court to stay in shape, and a 13-time All-Star who is frequently the last player to quit shooting after practice.

J.J. Barea spent his first five seasons with the Mavericks and was still a relatively young guard at 26 when the Mavericks won the title.

“I used him a lot,” said Barea, who returned to Dallas three years ago. “If I work half of what he does, I’m going to be all right. These guys, they really didn’t get him at his best like I got him. But they still see how hard you’ve got to work to be able to play out there with us.”

Nowitzki doesn’t mind admitting that practice isn’t quite as fun as it used to be.

“But once the ball goes up, it’s still great,” said the 2007 MVP, who has career averages of 21.4 points and 7.7 rebounds. “I still love to compete. I still love to be out there for the guys and trying to help them with my experience and spread the floor for them and maybe getting some timely scoring here and there.”

Always big on self-deprecation, Nowitzki quips that he can’t help the younger players by showing them any moves. He doesn’t have to be joking to acknowledge that his patented one-legged fadeaway jumper isn’t nearly as dangerous as it was when he was Finals MVP.

What Nowitzki can offer is work ethic and experience, not to mention longevity. He became the sixth NBA player to reach 50,000 minutes Tuesday night at the Los Angeles Clippers.

“It’s been two decades of fun and competing,” Nowitzki said. “Getting to 20 years is special. There’s not a lot of guys that have done it. Not a lot of guys have done it with one franchise. I’m proud of that, but want to finish the season strong.”

Nowitzki always finds a way to steer the conversation back to the present – and future.

 

Ray Allen, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash headline 2018 Hall of Fame finalists

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LOS ANGELES — It’s a good year for guards.

The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame announced the Finalists for the class of 2018, and you could put together one heck of a modern NBA lineup: Steve Nash and Jason Kidd in the backcourt, Ray Allen on the wing with Grant Hill as your small-ball four and Chris Webber at center.

They were five of the 13 North American nominees for the Hall, men and women. Also very deservedly being honored with the 2018 Curt Gowdy Media Award: longtime and iconic NBA photographer Andy Bernstein, and ESPN basketball analyst Doris Burke. There are not two more deserving — or better — people.

The Hall of Fame Class of 2018 will be announced at the Saturday of the Final Four in April.

Here is who voters will be choosing amongst:

RAY ALLEN. Jesus Shuttlesworth should be a lock in his first time on the ballot, he has as pure a jump shot as the league has ever seen. Allen is a two-time NBA Champion (2008 Boston Celtics and 2013 Miami Heat), was named an All-Star 10 times, and (for now at least) is the NBA career leader in three-point field goals made. Before getting to the NBA he was a 1996 First Team All-American at UConn. Just to add to the resume, he has an Olympic gold medal (2000). But when you think of Allen, you’ll think of this shot.

JASON KIDD. Another lock to get in first ballot. Kidd one of the greatest point guards of his generation, he’s got an impressive resume as an NBA champion (2011 Dallas Mavericks), five-time All-NBA First Team, four-times All-Defensive First Team, a 10-time NBA All-Star, and the 1995 NBA Co-Rookie of the Year. At the University of California, Kidd was named Pac-10 Player of the Year and a consensus First-Team All American in 1994.

GRANT HILL. If all you remember is the post-2000, post-injury Grant Hill, you missed out. He was the 1995 Co-Rookie of the Year (with Kidd), five-times All-NBA, a seven-time NBA All-Star, and in college at Duke was a member of two NCAA national championship teams (1991, 1992). Hill also has a gold medal in the 1996 Olympic Games, and he’s been very active in philanthropic efforts off the court.

STEVE NASH. Born in South Africa and raised in Canada, Nash is a two-time NBA MVP who helped revolutionize the NBA with the seven-seconds or less Suns. He’s an eight-time NBA All-Star, and three-time All-NBA First Team member. Hie is third in all-time assists and holds the NBA record for highest career free throw percentage (.904).

MAURICE CHEEKS. A lock-down defender for most of his 15-year career, Cheeks is an NBA champion (the 1983  Philadelphia 76ers) and a four-time NBA All-Star. Cheeks is still involved in the game and is currently an assistant coach for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

CHRIS WEBBER. Nominated again, we’ll see if he gets in this time, considering his college and NBA impact he should be. Webber is a five-time NBA All-Star, three-time All-NBA, and the 1994 NBA Rookie of the Year. In college at Michigan he was a key member of the “Fab Five,” that revolutionized the college game.

CHARLES “LEFTY’ DRIESELL. Driesell is the only coach in NCAA history to win 100 games at four different schools and just one of 11 coaches to lead four schools to the NCAA Tournament. He is remembered as the coach at Maryland for many years as well as the inventor of the “Midnight Madness” concept.

HUGH EVANS. He was an NBA referee for 28 seasons, officiating nearly 2,000 regular season games, 170 NBA Playoff games, 35 NBA Finals games and four NBA All-Star games. In the summer he used to ref at Rucker Park in New York.

RUDY TOMJANOVICH. Tomjanovich coached the Houston Rockets to NBA Championships in 1994 and 1995 and is one of three coaches to win an NBA championship and an Olympic Gold Medal. He led USA Basketball to a gold medal in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

From the women’s committee:

KIM MULKEY. Mulkey has led the Baylor Bear to two NCAA National Championships (2005, 2012) and 16 NCAA Tournament appearances.

KATIE SMITH. The WNBA Finals MVP (2008) and a two-time WNBA Champion with the Detroit Shock (2006, 2008), she also has three Olympic gold medals. Smith played for the Ohio State University (1992-1996) and was the first female Buckeye athlete to have her number retired.

TINA THOMPSON. Thompson is a four-time WNBA Champion with the Houston Comets (1997- 2000) and a nine-time WNBA All-Star. She is one of the greatest WNBA players in the league’s history.

WAYLAND BAPTIST UNIVERSITY. Long before women’s college basketball became an NCAA sport in 1982, the Wayland Baptist University women’s basketball team won 131 consecutive games from 1953-58 and 10 AAU National Championships overall.

 

Joel Embiid having fun, will compete in three events All-Star Weekend

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LOS ANGELES — Joel Embiid is going to enjoy his weekend in Los Angeles. And his first All-Star Game.

Embiid played 9 minutes for the World in its dominating Rising Stars Challenge win (which is more than most people expected him to play). He’s scheduled to take part in the All-Star Saturday Skills Challenge, then is a starter on Team Steph in Sunday’s All-Star Game.

Like he always is, Embiid is just trying to enjoy himself.

“When I have fun, that means I’m dominating on the court, kicking someone’s ass, and I need that,” Embiid said Friday afternoon in Los Angeles. “Every time I have fun that’s what I do. One thing that I told myself when I came back (from injuries), just go out there and have fun because that’s another way for me to dominate the game. If I’m frustrated, usually it doesn’t go well. It can go both ways, but usually, it doesn’t go well.

“Social media, on the court, it’s all about having fun.”

When he returns to Philly, he’s got to focus on the fun of making sure the Sixers make the playoffs. But for a weekend, he’s soaking up the sun and fun in Los Angeles.

LeBron James responds to Laura Ingraham: #wewillnotshutupanddribble

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A month before the latest school shooting and mass killing in a Florida high school, Kevin Durant and LeBron James recorded a video for the Uninterrupted where they vented that president Donald Trump does not care about most people not does he try to unite them. That video dropped just after the school shooting, where the president took heat for his comments on the situation.

Taking a lazy intellectual path designed to fire up her base, Fox News host Laura Ingraham took the “stick to sports” argument to an  offensive level, saying LeBron and KD should “shut up and dribble.”

Jaylen Brown of the Celtics had already done an excellent job taking down Ingraham’s misguided attack, Durant had responded as well and called the comments ignorant and racist.

Now LeBron has responded on Instagram.

#wewillnotshutupanddribble

A post shared by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

LeBron and Durant are citizens with the right to speak out, and they should.

Hopefully, this can be the end of this “controversy,” only because Ingraham isn’t worth it.

Team USA turned Rising Stars into dunking exhibition (VIDEO)

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Nobody tunes into the Rising Stars Challenge on All-Star Friday night to see a tight defensive shell and quick rotations to help the helper. We want the game’s great young players to entertain us with their skills.

Team USA may have gotten blown out in the game, but they put on a show — they were dunking everything. As you can see above.

The best dunk of the game? Had to be Donovan Mitchell‘s self alley-oop. Which a good sign heading into Saturday’s dunk contest.