Weekend Observations 1.14.12: The Nightmarejao Effect

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Each weekend we bring you 25 random observations from the NBA week that was. 

1. Gregg Popovich’s talk about defense isn’t just his usual grousing. The Spurs were brilliant the first handful of games defensively but their regression has seemed very emblematic of last year’s team. They are slipping further and further away from what won them a championship. And the regression seems to be a tendency for this roster and not a philosophical divide.

2. While you were reading this, Ivan Johnson burned your village down and dunked on you.

3. I said after the loss to L.A. that for Memphis to win consistently with Zach Randolph out, Rudy Gay would have to average 25 points or more. In the next game, he scored 26 points. The Grizzlies won. I am clearly a genius. But in reality, it’s just that the Grizzlies need a versatile scorer who can force the defense to react and create opportunities for other players.

4. Andre Miller should not be starting and definitely not in Denver.

5. I a choosing not to be frustrated by the lost potential of Dwight Howard’s free throw shooting and instead focus on the fact that he is not going through the motions despite his trade demand, and instead murdering teams inside and on the glass.

6. Some things just say it all about the truncated season’s impact on shooting percentages.

7. There isn’t a player in the league who simultaneously has a poorer level of self-awareness off the floor than LeBron James, and there isn’t a player who has a higher level of self-awareness on the floor than James. Any writer who’s profiled him will tell you how much he pays attention to basketball 24-7. He always has it on at his house. He’s always studying it. That same self-awareness has something to do with his fourth-quarter foibles, no matter how you choose to interpret them. Too far in his own head.

8. MOAR JEREBKO.

9. Modern NBA defense is built around preventing perimeter penetration with help defense. Derrick Rose is faster than help defense. You know the old idea that you can outrun the cop car but you can’t outrun the radio? Rose can outrun a sattelite array.

10. It’s probably time to start wondering if Ian Mahinmi shouldn’t start for Mavericks, even if the learning experience would be painful for a while.

11. Beating bad teams get you very little credit in this league. But considering that Philadelphia is absolutely obliterating them, maybe if you add it all up it amounts to credit.

12. When James Harden winds up starting for the Thunder, Al Harrington should move into the top 6th Man of the Year spot.

13. It’s true that the Lakers can’t lean on Kobe Bryant this much when the playoffs start. But isn’t it nice for the Lakers to know they can?

14. It might be time to go ahead and abandon the Bucks ship. I know it’s early, but it’s so difficult to see a scoring dynamic developing there that will allow them to win consistently.

15. This is your weekly reminder that Antawn Jamison, well-intentioned, total professional that he is, still shouldn’t be playing.

16. We will miss your efficiency and crafty play, Al Horford.

17. Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams already have such great chemistry. Williams needs more minutes.

18. Both Denver and the Clippers employed a tactic against the Heat this week that the Mavericks used in the Finals. It’s just a slight full-court press, just enough to stop the ball momentarily, which allows the other defenders toset the transition defense and force the Heat up against the clock. And it still works.

19. If you’ve seen the real Kevin Garnett, please call Boston. They’re worried.

20. Anyone who sees the Raptors’ record and really thinks they’re “bad” isn’t really watching their games. Same goes for the Bobcats. Losing to bad teams on good nights and good teams on bad nights doesn’t put you in New Jersey or Washington’s class.

21. Kyrie Iving is doing more to help his team compete every night than any rookie in the league. He likely will not get enough attention, but it should be noted how good Irving has been this year. He’s really come alive this week. He’s playing smarter with every game.

22. Anthony Morrow has rediscovered his offensive game, and that’s a really good thing for all involved.

23. I’d be so much more forgiving of DeMarcus Cousins’ inconsistency and immaturity if he gave anything resembling a passionate approach on defense. Samuel Dalembert ate his lunch this week, among others.

24. Utah’s frontcourt is one of the most fun to watch in the league. Versatile, relentless, and confident. It’s starting to mesh in Utah after a horrific start to the year.

25. And in conclusion, Iman Shumpert. OK, maybe not as much Iman Shumpert as the Memphis game. But still.

James Harden working on one-legged step-back three for next season

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As if James Harden wasn’t unstoppable enough.

Harden’s step-back three has become probably the most unstoppable shot in the NBA. Now video has gone viral in NBA circles of Harden working on a one-legged, step-back three. Think Dirk Nowitzki’s one-legged jumper, but from three and with a little more side-to-side to it. (You can see the video above.) Harden talked to Tim MacMahon of ESPN about it.

“I’m not sure; it’s something that I work on,” Harden said when asked if he’ll use the one-legged, step-back 3 this season. “But you know how Mike [Jordan] has his fadeaway and Dirk [Nowitzki] has his one-leg and [Kareem Abdul-Jabbar] had the sky hook, I want my step-back to be one of those moves that last forever. So when I travel around the world and I see little kids that [say], ‘Hey James, I got a step-back!’ — I love to see that.

“It’s me being a creator and me being an innovator and paving the way in basketball in my own way, doing it how I want to do it, and that’s what it’s all about. As a little kid playing in these parks, that’s what I imagined, that’s what I dreamed of. Now it’s coming to reality, so it’s pretty cool.”

Harden is going to score a lot of points… or, maybe the better way to say that is he’s going to score even more points if he gets to a point he unleashes that in a game.

The challenge this season for Harden will be balance — he’s got to share the court and the ball with Russell Westbrook. Both of them are at their best with the ball in their hands, creating in isolation, but they need to be more than that. While coach Mike D’Antoni can do some things to help with that balance (staggering their minutes as much as possible) for the Rockets to become the contenders they want to be Harden and Westbrook have to be more than “your turn, now it’s my turn” on offense.

But when it’s Harden’s turn, that one-legged step back will be fun to watch.

Derrick White didn’t lose teeth, passes concussion test after nasty fall in USA loss

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There were plenty of ugly things for Team USA in its loss to Australia on Saturday — most of them on the defensive end — but later in the day on Saturday there was some good news.

It sounds like point guard Derrick White will be fine after his nasty fall and face plant during the game, reports Tom Osborne of the San Antonio Express-News.

In the middle of the fourth quarter, White was pushing the ball upcourt after an Australia miss and either got clipped from behind — there was a foul called — or stumbled over his own feet. I lean clipped, but the video is not conclusive.

White fell and faceplanted, with his head bouncing off the court. If he got away with just stitches, that’s good news for Team USA. If White had a concussion it is possible he would have missed the start of the World Cup, and the USA is not deep at the point guard spot on this roster (Kemba Walker and White are the only true point guards, a couple of players such as Marcus Smart can play a few minutes there but aren’t really suited to the position).

Team USA has one more exhibition game against Canada, then opens World Cup play on Sept. 1 in China against the Czech Republic.

Grizzlies officially waive Dwight Howard, first step on his path to Lakers

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Lakers fans are uncomfortable with it, but the Lakers did a good job hedging their bet with a non-guaranteed contract: Dwight Howard is coming to the Lakers.

That process started on Saturday with the Grizzlies officially waiving Howard.

In theory, any team could claim Howard off waivers. In practice, no team is picking up his full $5.6 million salary.

Howard gave back $2.6 million in his buyout with the Grizzlies, which is exactly how much his veteran minimum contract with the Lakers will pay him.

Howard and JaVale McGee will have to tag team to play all the minutes at the five the Lakers need. Anthony Davis is their best center (and it’s not close, he’s arguably the best center in the NBA) but he wants to play the four most of the game, so for 30 minutes a night the Lakers need another big body at the five.

Howard has the potential to fill that role. For three seasons, from 2015-16 to 2017-18, Howard averaged 13+ points and 12 rebounds a night, was a big body on defense, and played at least 71 games in averaging 30 minutes a night. Exactly the kind of player the Lakers could use. The problem was Howard was never happy those years just playing that defense/set-a-pick-and-roll/rebound role. He wanted more touches and particularly in the post, which led to disruptions as he pushed for a larger role. It’s why he bounced around. Then last season he played just nine games due to more back and hamstring issues.

Howard is saying all the right things about accepting that role, and he convinced the Lakers to a degree, but that non-guaranteed contract shows the Lakers go into this eyes wide open. If Howard is up to his old antics, the Lakers can cut bait and move on.

It’s among the many things to watch in what should be an entertaining Lakers’ training camp this year.

On Mamba Day (8/24), former Lakers’ trainer Gary Vitti talks about what made Kobe great

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Kobe Bryant’s work ethic is legend.

It takes talent to become an MVP, 15-time All-NBA, 18-time All-Star, and lock future Hall of Famer. However, it was how Kobe got the most out of his talent that separated him from his peers. Long-time Lakers trainer Gary Vitti retired a couple of years ago and will soon publish an autobiography, “32 Years of Titles and Tears from the Best Seat in the House: What I Learned about Happiness, Greatness, Leadership and the Evolution of Sports Science.”

Vitti joined Hall of Fame photographer Andrew D. Bernstein this week on an episode of Legends of Sport to discuss his upcoming book, and he talked about Kobe (hat tip to CNBC).

“He was talented, but what if I told you he wasn’t the most talented guy out there? I’m telling you, and I’ve had them all, there’s nothing really special about Kobe. I mean he’s a big guy, but he’s not that big. He was quick, but he’s not that quick. He’s fast, he wasn’t that fast. He was powerful, but he wasn’t that powerful. I mean, there were other players that had more talent than he did, so what was there about him that more talented players had zero rings and he ended up with five?…

“He was tough in the sense that he took ‘can’t’ and ‘won’t’ out of his lexicon and he just believed that he could do it. Kobe taught me that talent is the most overrated thing in life; it’s what you do with your talent.”

Nobody in NBA history did as much with the talent they had as Kobe.

On Mamba Day, enjoy his ultimate mixtape highlights above and remember what it took for Kobe to get there.