Kurt Helin

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Isaiah Thomas is getting texted by Allen Iverson — and he is pumped

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Newly minted Hall of Famer Allen Iverson is the patron saint of undersized NBA players.

Boston’s All-Star Isaiah Thomas is the current leader of that movement. In Toronto last All-Star weekend, Iverson sought out Thomas at an NBA event and talked to him, saying he liked his game, according to Chris Forsberg of ESPN. They have stayed in touch, up through Thomas’ effort to spur a Boston comeback against Minnesota last week and get the win. Which led AI to reach out again.

Thomas told ESPN the entire conversation went more like this:

“It was real early in the morning that he texted, like 8:30, so he must have been watching highlights [of the Minnesota game] or something,” Thomas said, unable to muffle a smile. “I told him, ‘I appreciate it and that I’m just trying to be like you.’ He was like, ‘Say no more.’ Those texts man, it just motivates me to keep going. Someone like that is watching me without me even reaching out to him, so I guess I’m doing something right.”

Thomas is averaging 26 points a game this season, he is doing something right. He’ll also have a lot more space to operate and do more things with Al Horford back in the lineup.

Report: Despite slow start, don’t expect Wizards to make move

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If you’re going to list the most disappointing teams to start the season, the Washington Wizards would be at the top of the list. A team with playoff aspirations, the Wizards are 5-10, they have a pedestrian offense and bottom 10 defense to this point, John Wall and Bradley Beal have been good but not great when paired (+3.1 per 100 possessions, via NBA.com), the bench has been a mess, they’ve had a few injuries (what team hasn’t?), and we could go on but you get the idea.

Is it time to think major changes in our nation’s capital — and not just at the White House?

Don’t bet on it. From J. Michael of CSNMidAtlantic.com, via the insider’s report at CSNNE.com.

The chances that the Wizards make a roster move now? Despite a sub-.500 record, that still remains very unlikely.

League sources told CSNmidatlantic.com that the Wizards had discussions about Archie Goodwin, released by the New Orleans Pelicans, but that didn’t go anywhere…

The defensive effort has gotten better and with Ian Mahinmi back to help bolster the second unit, team president Ernie Grunfeld doesn’t seem likely to make a decision this early. Giving up on rookies such as Danuel House, Sheldon McClellan and Daniel Ochefu, all three on non-guarantees that are a minimal hit on the salary cap, to clear a roster spot wouldn’t make sense at this stage either.

The Wizards are about a year away from being in the Sacramento Kings’ shoes, where their star may be looking to bolt and they have a decision to make. John Wall has two seasons left on his contract after this one, and Bradley Beal just re-signed this summer. They have time to put other pieces around those two and see of Scott Brooks can work his magic.

If the Wizards don’t make the playoffs this season, then start next season slowly again, the conversation starts to take on some urgency. But don’t expect a bold move at the trade deadline.

If the Wizards don’t make the playoffs, the pressure — and maybe ax — will fall not on Brooks but on Grunfeld.

Mark Cuban says despite rough start to season Mavericks not tanking

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On the bright side, Dallas moved out of the bottom slot in our NBA Power Rankings — they are now 29th. But the Mavs are still 3-13 — the worst record in the NBA — and Dirk Nowitzki still isn’t healthy. Their offense is a mess, despite the fact Harrison Barnes is playing well and Rick Carlisle is a genius, they just don’t have the pieces.

Is it time for the Mavericks to tank ahead of what is projected by many to be an excellent draft?

Not if you ask owner Mark Cuban. He spoke before a recent game, as reported by Tim Cato of SB Nation’s Mavs Moneyball:

“We’ll play it by ear. The one thing you don’t do is panic,” Cuban said. “If we just can’t get healthy, that will tell us one thing. If we can, and we’re just not any good, that will tell us another thing. If we can, and we start rolling along, and we think we can get a lot better, then that tells us what we do there. The crazy thing you don’t do is panic….

“We’re still trying to win,” Cuban said. “You see teams out there, and they’re doing everything possible to lose in the fourth quarter. I don’t think that’s good for the players, good for the team, good for the culture. I just don’t like that. You never say never if it came down to it, but I just don’t see that helping any of our young guys at all.”

He’s also not as high on this draft as some others, “I don’t see any Shaq’s or LeBron’s or Tim Duncan’s in this draft.” Well, that’s a crazy high standard, those kinds of guys are rare period. Most of the guys named near the top of this draft class now — Markelle Fultz, Dennis Smith, Lonzo Ball, Malik Monk — are guards, which fits the way the league is trending, but they are not the kind large of athletic freaks that Cuban listed (or that other GMs have at the top of their lists to build around, like Anthony Davis or Karl-Anthony Towns). But it’s far too early for draft talk here.

Cuban also said in another recent interview he’s not worried about trying to tank because if his team isn’t good, the bad record will just come naturally. He’s not going to force it, but the Mavs may end up with a high draft pick anyway.

Dwight Howard confronted Lakers fan who called him a “b****”

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Laker fans are not completely past the disastrous season of 2012-13 — Dwight Howard came to town Sunday night at Staples and every time he touched the ball he was booed.

After the game, Howard was asked about that and said he didn’t hear it, that he “closed his ears.” Which is what my daughter tried to tell me when she was four, and it didn’t work then. It’s certainly not working for Howard, as evidence we have a video from TMZ (it’s sensational and NSFW so, of course, it’s from TMZ).

A Laker fan called Howard a female dog, to be literal, and Howard turned and challenged the guy to a fight. Which wasn’t smart, but I don’t blame him. Howard takes an unusually large amount of abuse from fans, particularly in LA, so if he wants to snap back on occasion when a fan crosses the line — and I see that as crossing the line — then it is what it is. So long as things don’t get physical.

The best move here was by the team security guard who pretty much shoved Howard back toward the locker room.

Howard and the Hawks have lost five of six after a fast start, and despite Howard scoring 19 points and adding nine rebound plus a couple of blocks, he and his teammates fell to a Lakers team getting great play from its bench (and Lou Williams in the fourth). He was frustrated, and he responded as such. The league should just let it go.

As should Lakers fans. Howard was part of the problem with the Lakers that season, he wanted to be part of what most thought would be a serious contender so badly he came back months too early from back surgery, and when he did he wasn’t effective. But scapegoating Howard for that season is a mistake, there were so, so many other problems. The biggest was Jim Buss firing Mike Brown five games into the season then eventually hiring Mike D’Antoni to coach a roster that nowhere near fit his style (I know Jerry Buss signed off from his deathbed, but this was Jim’s play). There was Steve Nash missing 32 games as his body started to break down. Pau Gasol only played in 49 and was misused by D’Antoni. Metta World Peace and Kobe Bryant were getting heavy rotation minutes despite their bodies and games starting to show some age. We could go on, but you get the idea. Howard was simply part of a perfect storm of things going wrong, not the cause.

Laker fans, you have a fun, potentially special young team to watch. Time to look forward, not back.

NBA Power Rankings Week 6: So it turns out the Warriors are very, very good

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The Warriors are off to a 15-2 start that has them on pace for 72 wins… I thought we weren’t going to go through this again. But their point differential suggests we will. While the top of the board remained fairly stable, Brooklyn earned its new ranking at the bottom.

 
Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (15-2, Last Week No. 1). That terrible Warriors’ defense? Seems to be a thing of the past, they are up to eighth in the NBA in defensive rating. Dean Oliver (an NBA stats pioneer now working for ESPN) noted online that the Warriors defense was good for a while, except in garbage time, and that’s what dragged down the overall rating. Not that it matters much when Stephen Curry can’t miss in the third and the team is moving the ball and scoring like it is — the Warriors have had 30 or more assists as a team in 10 straight games until Saturday.

 
Cavaliers small icon 2. Cavaliers (13-2, LW 3). Cleveland has the second best offense in the NBA this season, which makes sense considering they start a fair amount of possessions with a 1-3 pick-and-roll involving LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Their starters are +16.5 per 100 possessions when on the floor (better than Golden State buy a point). Good test this week when the Cavs host the Clippers on Thursday, followed by traveling to take on the Bulls on Friday.

 
Spurs small icon 3. Spurs (14-3, LW 4). Winners of nine in a row, which has more do to their offense than defense so far this season. The Spurs make more catch-and-shoot two-point jumpers (13.1) and shoot a higher percentage on those (45.6 percent), than any team in the league, plus they hit a league best 43.4 percent on catch-and-shoot threes, for an eFG% of 58.4% on catch-and-shoots (second only to the Warriors). Winnable games this week with Orlando, Dallas, and Washington on the schedule, but San Antonio has played down to its competition at times this season.

 
Clippers small icon 4. Clippers (14-4, LW 2). They were winning their road games by an average of 12.1 per contest, until they dropped sloppy games in Detroit and Indiana by a combined 32 points. Their defense has slipped in the last couple games, and they turned the ball over on 19.6 percent of their possessions vs. Indiana. The Clippers have three more games on the road this week, maybe they can get right against Brooklyn Tuesday because then they are at Cleveland Thursday, followed by a brutal back-to-back in New Orleans Friday.

 
Bulls small icon 5. Bulls (10-6, LW 6). One statistical sign of a contender is a top 10 offense and defense (per possession). Only three teams have that right now, and the Bulls are one of them (Warriors, Clippers are the others). The Bulls just went 4-2 on their final Circus road trip, with the two losses being by a total of 10 points. Good tests against the surprising Lakers and the as-expected Cavaliers this week, the schedule will get tougher as the Bulls have played the third easiest one this season in the league.

 
Grizzlies small icon 6. Grizzlies (11-6, LW 10). Great note from Zach Lowe: The Grizzlies are +91 (total points) this season when Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are on the court together, they are -79 when they are not. The Grizzlies have won seven of eight overall and six in a row on the road, however they are mostly home the next few weeks… although there is a tough trip to Toronto this week (better now than February).

 
Rockets small icon 7. Rockets (11-6, LW 9). The Rockets starting five are +16.8 points per 100 possessions together, which is a better number than the Cavaliers or Warriors starters. It all starts with James Harden, who is as good a D’Antoni system point guard as you can find. Houston won its first two games of a five-game road trip (Sacramento and Portland) but things are about to get much tougher with the rest of the trip being at Utah, Golden State, then to a back-to-back at altitude in Denver.

 
Raptors small icon 8. Raptors (10-6, LW 8). They continue to play well, but in large part thanks to their bench as the usual starting five are actually outscored by almost a point per possession when on the court this season. DeMar DeRozan saves them some, and Kyle Lowry still thrives with the bench unit. The Raptors are home for six in a row now, and they have played the second toughest schedule in the league so things will get easier.

 
Celtics small icon 9. Celtics (9-7, LW 12). Here’s the stats that stands out to me: Boston is 5-2 when Al Horford plays, and they are 17.9 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court rather than off. By the end of the season, if healthy, I still think Boston could be better than Chicago or Toronto as the second best team in the East. Soft schedule this week gives the Celtics a chance to fatten up.

 
Hawks small icon 10. Hawks (10-7 LW 5). The loss to the Lakers Sunday has them dropping five of six, mostly due to struggles with the starters and the offense (the Hawks remains a good defensive team). There has been a players-only meeting, Kris Humphries shattered a backboard, and still the slump has continued. They face the Warriors and Raptors on the road this week, but the better tests are how they do on a back-to-back Monday in Phoenix, then back home against the Pistons.

Jazz small icon 11. Jazz (9-8, LW 15). In its last 10 games, Utah has the third best net rating of any team in the NBA, including being better than the Spurs. They are fifth overall this season, all of which suggests their record is going to improve dramatically, especially now that George Hill has returned. Injuries continue to mess with this team (Derrick Favors has missed a couple of games), but things will get sorted out. A fun test of offense vs. defense against Houston this week (the Rockets won this matchup on their home court recently).

 
Hornets small icon 12. Hornets (9-7, LW 7). They split a home-and-home with New York, which has them at 3-6 after a hot start to the season. The biggest problems have been on the defensive end, which has to drive Steve Clifford crazy, and it’s not likely to get better with Marvin Williams missing time with a knee injury so Frank Kaminsky will get more run. They are home this week against Detroit, Dallas, and Minnesota, we’ll see if they can turn the ship around.

 
Thunder small icon 13. Thunder (10-8, LW 11). Russell Westbrook is one rebound short of averaging a triple-double for the season, if he can get 11 against the Knicks Monday he reaches the Oscar Robertson benchmark (albeit with 3/4 of the season to go). Westbrook has seven triple-doubles this season, but the team is “just” 5-2 in those games. By the way, at his current pace Westbrook ends up with 32 triple-doubles this season, and that number suddenly seems low (he is hunting them).

 
Lakers small icon 14. Lakers (9-9, LW 14). Lou Williams has become the Lakers’ go-to guy in the fourth, he had 13 in the win against Atlanta Sunday and the only players with more fourth-quarter points are Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard. He and Nick Young helped hit key shots (even if Young was stealing them from Williams) to get the wins. The Lakers are about to head out on the road for a brutal four games in five nights stretch in New Orleans, Toronto, Chicago, and Memphis. It gets easier; the Lakers already have the third toughest schedule in the league so far.

 
Knicks small icon 15. Knicks (8-8 LW 17). The Knicks won both games Joakim Noah recently sat out ill, then beat the Hornets in the game where he barely played in the second half. It’s not a coincidence. The other place the Knicks are tough to beat is Madison Square Garden, where they have won six in a row — which is good as they are home for three of four this week (there is a home-and-home with the Timberwolves).

 
Pacers small icon 16. Pacers (9-9, LW 16). Paul George has been out with a sore ankle (and will be to start this week as well) yet the Pacers have won three of their last four. They are doing it with strong defense and offense from unexpected sources (Glen Robinson III). The Pacers are 1-5 on the road this season and are heading out on a five-game West Coast road trip.

 
Blazers small icon 17. Trail Blazers (9-10, LW 13). Portland has scored 100 points or more in 17 of their 19 games, yet they are below .500 thanks to a terrible defense. They are getting destroyed on the pick-and-roll, with small guards and non-mobile bigs. It’s the reason they have dropped seven of their last nine. The schedule softens up for a while, which might help them pick up some wins.

 
Pistons small icon 18. Pistons (8-10, LW 18). They handed the Clippers their first road loss of the season, which is something to build on. The challenge for Stan Van Gundy’s crew is obvious: Take that same energy on the road. The Pistons are 1-8 away from The Palace and will spend most of the next three weeks on planes and in hotels.

 
Bucks small icon 19. Bucks (7-8, LW 22). Here’s what would worry me most if I were a Bucks’ fan: They have played the third easiest schedule in the NBA so far. And the home-and-home with Brooklyn this week off doesn’t make it much tougher. Have the Bucks banked enough wins for the tough months ahead? They are getting surprising strong play out of Michael Beasley.

 
timberwolves small icon 20. Timberwolves (5-11, LW 19). I tend not to buy the rumor that a frustrated Tom Thibodeau is going to trade a piece of his young core for a veteran because the Timberwolves are not on a playoff track — it’s far, far too early to make a panic move like that. But Thibs has a right to be frustrated with his team’s bottom-10 defense, and the way it just falls apart in the second half game after game. Home-and-home with the Knicks this week, sandwiched by games against the Jazz and Hornets.

 
Pelicans small icon 21. Pelicans (6-12, LW 25). They enter a brutal stretch of the schedule the next few weeks, and they will have to go through it without Dante Cunningham, who fractured his fibula last week. Anthony Davis continues to lead the NBA in scoring (31.6 per game) and is blocking three shots a night, getting Jrue Holiday back sparked a four-game winning streak, but the depth questions continue.

 
Heat small icon 22. Heat (5-11, LW 21). Monday night Justise Winslow will miss his eighth consecutive game, and Goran Dragic’s elbow has sidelined him for a bit, which has Eric Spoelstra scrambling for rotations and players (help Rodney McGruder). Credit their defense from keeping this from being worse, but as they fade from playoff contention will Pat Riley be a seller at the trade deadline?

 
Nuggets small icon 23. Nuggets (7-10, LW 23). Jamal Murray is the real deal, and he’s starting to get comfortable in the NBA — just ask the Bulls, he dropped 24 on them last week, one of three games with 20 or more last week. Wilson Chandler had 25+ in two games, yet through that the Nuggets still lost to the Jazz and Thunder. Starting Saturday the Nuggets head out on a six-game road trip.

 
Kings small icon 24. Kings (6-10, LW 24). Forget all the talk of offensive fit, the real problem on the court in Sacramento is on the other end — they have the forth worst defense in the NBA. As for the DeMarcus Cousins trade rumors, until owner Vivek Ranadive changes his mind all the talk is moot. However, Omri Casspi and Rudy Gay could well get moved. Kings opened a six-game road trip with a win in Brooklyn Sunday.

 
Wizards small icon 25. Wizards (5-10, LW 27). The Wizards are +3.2 points per 100 possessions when John Wall and Bradley Beal share the court, and the pair have had some strong games of late (Beal had 42 in Phoenix), but it’s not enough to make up for what happens when they both sit. Westbrook vs. Wall on Wednesday night should be entertaining.

 
Magic small icon 26. Magic (6-11 LW 20). Winnable games last week (Suns, Wizards, Bucks) and the Magic did not pick up one “W.” Sunday Frank Vogel tried to shake things up by moving Nikola Vucevic and Elfrid Payton out of the starting lineup (the new starters were +1 for the game), but didn’t help because the bench was still outplayed. Now things get hard as they head out on the road this week with stops in San Antonio and Memphis.

 
Sixers small icon 27. 76ers (4-13, LW 30). While it didn’t come in a win, you have to love the fight the Sixers showed Sunday vs. the Cavaliers. So far this season, the Sixers defense is 9.9 points per 100 possessions better when Joel Embiid is on the court (the offense basically remains the same). The defense is 3.1 per 100 worse when Jahlil Okafor is on the court (and the offense drops, although that is in part the players around him).

 
Suns small icon 28. Suns (5-12, LW 27). Phoenix’s biggest problem in a nutshell: They got 35 points from Eric Bledsoe and 30 from Devin Booker on Sunday, yet still lost to Denver. The problem on offense is a lack of ball movement, they have the lowest percentage of assists on buckets in the NBA. This week they face two teams that do whip the ball around the floor in Atlanta (although it has struggled lately) and Golden State.

 
Mavericks small icon 29. Mavericks (3-13, LW 23). They had lost eight in a row until a come-from-behind win over the Pelicans on Sunday, thanks to big fourth quarters from Wesley Matthews and Harrison Barnes. That’s the good news. The bad news is Dallas has played the toughest schedule in the NBA so far and that’s not changing this week with San Antonio, Charlotte, and Chicago on the rocket.

 
Nets small icon 30. Nets (4-12, LW 26). Losers of seven in a row, and it’s not just the losses but how bad they are — by an average of more than 19 points a game. The combination of an absolutely terrible defense and no Jeremy Lin to create some unlikely offense has this team both losing and being almost unwatchable.