Author: John Krolik

dion waiters

NBA All-Star Weekend: Waiters, Hardaway light up Rising Stars Challenge with 3-point shootout


NEW ORLEANS — To be perfectly honest, there are times when the Rising Stars Challenge can feel like a bit of a chore. It can’t match the talent level of the actual All-Star game, but it has all of the lack of defense, intensity, and ball movement that is usually par for the course in Sunday’s main event. Botched alley-oops, cherry-picking, jogging up and down the court, and ill-fated dribble moves are rampant.

So why is this a staple of NBA All-Star Weekend, and why do we watch? To put it plainly, there’s a very good chance that something completely insane will happen during the Rising Stars Challenge. Without so much as the pride of their conferences to play for, let alone the pressure of playing for their actual team, the players are openly out there to put on a show, and the flashes of sheer ridiculousness that come out of that mentality are often enough to make up for the apathy that makes up the rest of the game.

Last year, it was Kyrie Irving and Brandon Knight going at each other, which culminated in Irving destroying Knight’s ankles with one of the nastiest crossovers you’re likely to ever see. In 2003, Jason Richardson drilled a 3 after bouncing the ball off of Carlos Boozer’s head. And of course, it was the Rookie/Sophomore game that gave us one of the most audacious moves in the history of the NBA — Jason Williams’ legendary elbow pass.

On Friday, the game started out lackadaisically, even by All-Star Friday standards. When a player wanted to get a layup, he got to the rim with less resistance than a stiff breeze would be able to offer him. 3-pointers were thrown up early in the clock at a high volume, but rarely found their mark. The cherry-picking was even more blatant than usual.

Andre Drummond dominated the game simply by camping under the basket, actually trying to get rebounds, and easily depositing the ball in the hoop time after time. There weren’t even particularly impressive dunks or crossover moves to break up the monotony. It was shaping up to be 40 minutes of a game that only barely resembled basketball, and seemed to only be fun for those playing in it.

Then Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dion Waiters happened. With 8:58 remaining in the game, Hardaway Jr., who had been shooting the ball aggressively all night but struggling to get his shots to go in, drilled a 3. Waiters came right back at him, drove, and got two free throws. Waiters and Hardaway both said they had something of a score to settle before the game, as Hardaway had made a 3 with the clock winding down in a Knicks blowout win over the Cavaliers on TNT earlier in the year, something that Waiters told Hardaway he would “get him back” for.

Hardaway said that Waiters had talked to him before the game and during the game, and that both of them were “trying to do a great job of just getting the fans involved. It was kind of dead in there, and we just wanted to start something, a little one-on-one battle here and there.”

After Waiters made his free throws, the Waiters-Hardaway show had officially begun. Hardaway came right back down the court and drilled a 3. Waiters answered with a fadeaway jumper. Hardaway went to the hole and got free throws. Waiters got fouled and split free throws of his own. The players traded layups, then Hardaway set up his teammate for a layup.

After that, the three-point contest begun, as Waiters drilled a 3 in Hardaway’s face and Hardaway answered with a pull-up 3 of his own — from 33 feet away. The crowd had come alive. Waiters came right back with a 3. Hardaway came back with a 31-footer, and the crowd was fully on its feet. When Hardaway missed a 3 after two Waiters free throws, the two players had combined for 27 points in just under 3 minutes. They weren’t completely done, either, as they went head-to-head again a few minutes later to combine for 14 points in just under a minute.

Ultimately, Waiters got the better of the rookie on Friday, as he needed only 14 shots to get his 31 points and added 7 assists, while Hardaway Jr. needed 23 shots to get his 36 points and only managed to dish out two assists, and Waiters’ team ultimately pulled out the victory. Still, the important thing is that both men combined to give NBA fans the kind of display you simply won’t see often in the games that count, and one that made the Rising Stars Challenge anything but a forgettable affair.

James, Heat bounce back from loss, destroy Hornets

Erik Spoelstra, Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Mike Miller

NEW ORLEANS — The Heat’s 27-game winning streak may be over, but they aren’t ready to stop terrorizing the rest of the NBA quite yet. The Heat still own the league’s best record and have the league’s best player, and they were out to prove a point on Friday night.

The Heat actually looked better against the Hornets than they did in the waning games of their incredible streak, actually starting the game off strong despite the absence of Mario Chalmers, taking a double-digit lead at the end of the first quarter, and never looking back.

LeBron James was an absolute house of fire. It was the kind of game that I, quite frankly, am just glad to have witnessed in person. With just under two minutes remaining in the first quarter, James teed up an in-rhythm three, and drained it. Then, on the next two possessions, he pulled up for two more threes, and hit two more threes. Instead of taking his customary rest to start the second quarter, LeBron stayed on the floor, and continued to rain sulfur on the Hornets.

He made a three on the Heat’s first possession of the second quarter, then pulled up with his foot on the line in transition…and drained that too. Then, on the next possession, everyone knew LeBron was going to shoot until he missed…and he drained the three anyways. Then he pumped the crowd up, successfully. To be clear, the Heat were on the road. On the next possession, he drove, pulled up, launched, and hit, then hit one more heat-check three for god measure. When the dust had settled, LeBron had made eight long jumpers in a row, six threes in a row, scored 23 points in five and a half minutes, and the Heat were up by 20, and it never really got competitive after that. When the best player in the world gets it going like that, there’s nothing you can do.

(Monty Williams wasn’t as impressed as some by LeBron’s performance: when asked after the game if LeBron’s performance was “Jordanesque,” Williams said “No. Michael played against men. LeBron is playing against little boys.”

The Heat didn’t let up on the gas pedal after LeBron cracked the game wide open, bearing down on the Hornets’ pick-and-roll sets, keeping Anthony Davis frustrated and in foul trouble, and generally keeping the Hornets from getting into anything resembling a groove all night long.

The Heat’s streak might be over, but everyone knows that ring #2 was always more important to this team than win #34, and on Friday night Miami showed why they’re still the favorites to get the former.

Riley to Ainge: “STFU”

Danny Ainge

NEW ORLEANS — Well, Pat Riley just added a little more fuel to the Heat-Celtics rivalry that simply won’t die.

After Celtics GM Danny Ainge recently called LeBron James’ complaints about the hard fouls he takes “almost embarrassing,” the Heat President fired back with both barrels in a pre-game statement delivered to the Heat media by a representative, saying:

“Danny Ainge needs to STFU and manage his own team. He was the biggest whiner going when he was playing. I know because I coached against him.”

Yes, that is an accurate quote, STFU and all, delivered to a huddle of media members with their jaws firmly on the floor. My two big takeaways from this:

1) Pat Riley is certainly willing to stick up for his players, and clearly is at the stage of his career where he’s willing to say whatever is on his mind.

2) If the Celtics manage to fall down to the 8th seed, a Celtics-Heat playoff series would be about as interesting as a #1-#8 matchup can get.

UPDATE: In the time it took me to write this post, Ainge has already responded. Via Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe, here’s Ainge’s reply to Riley’s statement:

“We’re both right. LeBron should stop complaining and I should manage my own team.”