John Wall Accuses Kemba Walker of Screaming to Draw Crucial Foul

The Charlotte Bobcats continue to be one of the NBA‘s most pleasant surprises. Their 98-85 win over the Washington Wizards was Charlotte’s fourth in five games, and they appear set to take an Eastern Conference playoff berth that very few people saw coming.

But not everyone is elated with the Bobcats’ winning ways. In a battle of electric young guards, Charlotte’s Kemba Walker got the better of Washington’s John Wall. The loser, Wall, was in a foul mood after the game, and he was in the mood to blame both Walker and the officials, per TrueHoop’s Adam McGinnis and CSN Washington’s J. Michael:

The problem, according to Wall, was that refs were all too eager to buy Walker’s exaggerated screams and call a foul on the Wizards. Here is a clip of the interview:

You seen it on the screen: I didn’t touch him. All he did was scream. The refs gave him the call all night because he was screaming. Can’t do nothing about it; we keep playing basketball.

The play in question came at the 4:34 mark of the fourth quarter, with the Bobcats leading, 83-80. The refs called a foul on a three-point attempt from Walker. Wizards head coach Randy Wittman protested, earning a technical from the bench.

Walker made all three free throws from the personal foul, plus the extra one from the technical, and suddenly the Bobcats’ lead was stretched to seven.

Did the foul call unnerve Wall? He drew a foul on Bobcats center Al Jefferson one possession later, but missed both free throws, adding to Washington’s problems.

Walker sank a three-pointer the next time down the court, pushing Charlotte’s lead to double digits. The Wizards did not score again until the lead had grown to 14 and the game was essentially over.

John Wall may be an All-Star this season, but he is still only 23 years old. Whether or not the foul call was justified, he still has a responsibility, as his team’s best player, to rally his troops instead of falling apart. The kid still has a lot to learn.

 

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Ohio State Basketball: Why Upping the Tempo Will Be Crucial to Buckeyes’ Success

The term “Jekyll and Hyde” is a cliche that is used far too often in sports, but there’s really no other way to describe the effort put forth by Ohio State’s basketball team on Saturday against Minnesota.

The Buckeyes tried their best to give everyone in the Schottenstein Center a migraine in the first half when it scored 18 points. The offense was basically let the ball-handlers lower their head and run straight into the teeth of the zone.

Fortunately for the Scarlet and Gray, the Golden Gophers only scored 28 themselves and kept the game within striking distance.

Ohio State came out of the locker room and immediately pushed the tempo for the rest of the game.

Before Minnesota even knew what hit it, the Buckeyes scored 17 straight points in a decisive 27-5 run. After a 46-18 second-half outburst, Ohio State took the game 64-46 and possibly set a precedent for the offense as the season’s stretch run approaches.

Thad Matta has the personnel to run an uptempo scheme like he did in the second half on Saturday. Whether he chooses to do so or not for the final three regular-season games and the tournaments will ultimately define the season.

Just a quick glance at the roster reveals players like Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Sam Thompson, LaQuinton Ross, Amedeo Della Valle and Marc Loving. That is plenty of athleticism and depth to start consistently running, even if Amir Williams and Trey McDonald aren’t exactly built to be thoroughbreds.

Thompson in particular is built to play in an uptempo system, as was evidenced by his season-high 19 points against the Gophers, 16 of which came in the second half. He threw in some high-flying dunks for good measure, and there may not be a better finisher in the country when it comes to lob passes in transition.

Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors points out that Richard Pitino was particularly impressed from the opposite bench:

More important than Thompson’s individual contributions is the fact that an uptempo offense doesn’t allow the opposing defense to get set in the half court. The Buckeyes have faced zones for much of the season and struggled as a result.

Among the notable offensive clunkers this year were point totals of 52 at Marquette, 53 at Minnesota and 48 (in victory) at Illinois. They are shooting a disappointing 34 percent from behind the three-point line and only have one player (Ross) who is at 40 percent.

However, when Ohio State runs the floor, those three-pointers are suddenly open because the defense is busy trying to rush back and protect the rim. When the long-range shots are clean instead of forced as the shot clock runs down, they start to go in a lot more frequently.

Another benefit of implementing an uptempo offense is the fatigue that starts to become a factor for the other team. It’s tiring enough dealing with Ohio State’s No. 2-ranked defense, per Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted defensive efficiency rankings as of Sunday, for 40 minutes as it is, and when the Buckeyes run it just compounds that fatigue.

That fatigue will lead to more turnovers created by the Buckeyes’ defense and more transition opportunities, creating something of a cycle. That is exactly what happened to the Gophers on Saturday.

Finally, there was more energy in the Schottenstein Center in the second half against Minnesota than there has been all season. The crowd may as well have been sleeping in the first half, but the uptempo pace and Thompson’s dunks brought the fans to life.

Considering the fact that the Buckeyes already have home losses to Michigan, Iowa (who they beat on the road) and Penn State this year, more energy in the crowd and an imposing home-court advantage is certainly not a bad thing.

Every advantage Ohio State can get in the loaded Big Ten will help, as Matta made clear in comments passed along by Rowland of Eleven Warriors:

In this league, you need to play like every game is the biggest game of your life. If you’re not ready to compete, fight or execute, you’re going to be embarrassed. It’s going to be exactly the same when we play Penn State on Wednesday. We have to get ourselves ready to go. 

The goals have been redefined from a Big Ten championship to a first-round bye in the conference tournament. Who knows what will come after that if the uptempo offense is as efficient as it was against the Gophers.

 

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Aaron Craft and Ohio State Making Final Stand After Crucial Road Win over Iowa

After picking up a huge 76-69 victory over Iowa on Tuesday night, it would appear we wrote off Aaron Craft and the Ohio State Buckeyes far too soon.

When the midseason Top 25 was announced for the Wooden Watch, it was just the latest time that Craft was given the benefit of the doubt. In the four games prior to the announcement, Craft had committed 19 turnovers while tallying just 19 assists. Ohio State lost all four games.

Yet there he was, allegedly one of the 25 players most deserving of eventually being crowned the best in the country.

Even his biggest fan knew people would argue he didn’t belong.

Bless his heart, Craft didn’t ask to become the most polarizing player in the game any more than Tim Tebow did. But people like Dan Dakich have been showering him with so much endless praise over the past three years that we simultaneously grew tired of hearing about him while expecting him to put up great statistics.

No, his numbers weren’t great prior to Tuesday night. But they were pretty much exactly what we’ve come to expect from him over the last two-plus seasons.

On Tuesday night, though, Craft was Mr. Wonderful.

Craft had six assists, six steals and three rebounds to go along with 17 points on 6-of-7 shootingpretty doggone efficient compared to Marshall Henderson’s night of 16 points on 6-of-18 shooting for Ole Miss against Kentucky.

Aside from the rebounds, he led the team in each of those categories. He had undeniably his best game of the season on a night when the team needed it most.

The win was Ohio State’s second consecutive road victory over a ranked opponent. Not too shabby for a team that entered that pair of games with five losses in a span of six games, including most recently a loss at home against Penn State.

At the end of January, it looked as though the Buckeyes were trying to play their way right out of the NCAA tournament. We’re only four days into February, and we have to at least wonder if they’re returning to the team that spent five straight weeks ranked as the No. 3 team in the nation.

Despite the struggles in January, they’ve clawed their way back to a .500 record in Big Ten playwhich has been no easy task over the past decade. Better yet, they just won the two most difficult games that were left on the calendar. Home games against Michigan and Michigan State will certainly be challenging, but they’re also quite winnable.

In fact, according to KenPom‘s projections, Ohio State will be the favorite (maybe not in Vegas) in each of its remaining eight games. It’s not completely crazy to think that this team that struggled so mightily in January could actually finish the regular season with 10 consecutive wins to get back in contention for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.

If I had written that last sentence right after the loss to the Nittany Lions, I probably would have been drug-tested.

On Monday, Craft told Eric Seger of The Lantern, “Our biggest focus right now is to find a way to be better than Iowa. Everything else will really take care of itself the more we go on.

Now that they have beaten Iowa, the Buckeyes are back in business.

On Tuesday night, the nation’s best three-point defense held a pretty good shooting Hawkeyes team to just nine points from behind the arc despite 20 three-point attempts. The team with the fourth-best adjusted defensive efficiency in the country held Iowa to just 69 points, even though Iowa has spent most of the season in the top 10 in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency.

And it all started with Craft.

Even Jay Z would have been impressed with how much of a hustler Craft was in this game. He officially only had six steals, but if half-steals existed, he would have tallied a couple of those for forcing bad passes that turned into steals for other Buckeyes.

Ohio State is still looking for a consistent source of points. Craft was the leading scorer, but that’s not his game. LaQuinton Ross has scored 13 points in each of the last two games, but the team is still adjusting to life after Deshaun Thomas.

But if the Buckeyes can keep getting these kinds of defensive efforts out of Craft (spoiler alert: they will), they won’t need too much offense to make a deep run in the tournament.

And, who knows, perhaps we’ll even come to agree that Craft really is one of the 25 best players in the nation.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics are courtesy of KenPom.com (subscription required).

Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.

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Trail Blazers Just Biding Time Until Crucial Road Trip Against West’s Best

For the Portland Trail Blazers, Saturday’s 112-104 win over the Boston Celtics was, to be honest, rather routine. Yes, the Celtics put up a decent fight—holding a two-point lead at halftime and playing tough until the final seconds of the fourth quarter—but they have now lost eight games in a row, and the outcome rarely seemed in doubt.

If you are what your record says you are, then the 28-9 Blazers are an elite team in the NBA. And elite teams do not bother too much with the likes of Boston or the Blazers’ next opponent, the Cleveland Cavaliers (Wednesday, Jan. 15). 

But the Blazers are less than one week away from a stretch of games that has the potential to either cement their status as true contenders or expose them as pretenders.

That might be the most brutal four-game road trip any team will face this season—four games in five nights, and each one a challenge. 

The Blazers have had success against those teams—2-0 versus the Thunder, 1-0 versus the Spurs, 1-1 versus the Rockets, 0-1 versus the Mavericks—but the problem with being an unproven team is that constant need for validation.

If the Blazers want to be taken seriously in the second half, if they want to contend for the Northwest Division crown and home-court advantage in the playoffs, they will need to hold their own against the best of the West. 

So what did the Blazers learn about themselves against Boston that they can use against better competition next week?

 

Maintain Defensive Intensity

The Celtics are not a particularly good offensive team. According to Basketball-Reference, they came into Saturday ranked 20th in effective field-goal percentage and 24th in offensive efficiency. 

But they looked like the Larry Bird Celtics in the first half against Portland, shooting 61.9 percent, with most of those looks coming from point-blank range. The only thing keeping Portland in the game at that point was its three-point shooting (6-of-13 at the half).

In the second half, the game turned as Boston’s shots stopped going in. The Celtics shot just 34.0 percent after halftime.

Now, some of that was due to renewed intensity from the Portland defense, but the Celtics—an East Coast team playing the second night of a West Coast back-to-backalso looked like they simply ran out of gas.

After the game, Robin Lopez, Nicolas Batum and coach Terry Stotts seemed less than thrilled with the victory.

Per Sports Illustrated‘s Ben Golliver:

Playing down to the opponent. Taking off the first half. Not giving enough. All of these statements speak to a team going through the motions, particularly on defense.

Portland has never been a good defensive team this season. As of Saturday, it was ranked 21st in the NBA in defensive efficiency. Oftentimes, the Blazers have relied on their powerhouse offense to pull them out of the doldrums, as they did in the first half against Boston. But there is no guarantee they will continue to be successful against better teams on the road if they don’t raise their defensive intensity.

 

C.J. McCollum: The X-Factor

The story of Wednesday’s 110-94 win over the Orlando Magic was the NBA debut of Blazers rookie C.J. McCollum. The shooting guard out of Lehigh was chosen with the 10th pick in the 2013 draft but broke his foot during practice on Oct. 5. He scored four points on 2-of-5 shooting in his debut.

After the Magic game, McCollum told Mike Tokito of The Oregonian that he felt no lingering effects from the injury:

I just go out and play. I don’t think about it until the game’s over. I think, oh, that’s another game I got through, no stepping on any feet or anything like that. But once you recover from injury, you don’t think about it. You just go play and react.

McCollum certainly played like a man without a worry in the world on Saturday against Boston, scoring 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting. It was an impressive performance, to say the least.  

For a team like the Blazers, McCollum was a symbol of just how far they’ve come this year—from the 10th-worst 2012-13 squad to a legitimate conference contender—as well as a potentially valuable player to the team moving forward.

The Blazers bench is in desperate need of a player like McCollum—Portland’s reserves are an area of concern. According to HoopStats, the Blazers have the 25th-greatest difference in overall efficiency between starters and reserves. 

Portland has impressive scoring balance among its five starters—each of whom scored at least 15 points against Boston. But the reserves scored a paltry 26 points, and 10 of those points were scored by a kid playing in just his second pro game. Whether McCollum is ready or not, Portland needs him. So if he is ready to shine, then more the better.

The Blazers clearly have the talent to compete against the best of the West. But that talent is mostly untested. Portland will need those untested players—players like McCollum—to grow up fast. 

Portland has one more game—that Wednesday game against Cleveland—to fix the defense, pick up the intensity, and get McCollum a few more precious minutes of experience. The toughest test is yet to come.

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Clippers relying on Griffin, Jordan for crucial minutes

To steady rotation, Doc Rivers has played Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan more minutes.

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UNC Basketball: Leslie McDonald Crucial to Tar Heels’ Early-Season Success

Leslie McDonald has been given an opportunity, and now it’s time for the UNC senior to step up.

On a team stocked with three freshmen and four sophomore players, McDonald is the elder statesman on the Tar Heels squad, the oldest of four seniors on the team.

As a result, McDonald will be expected to provide leadership to Roy Williams’ squad.

Last Wednesday, McDonald took to his Twitter account, and made a statement that shows this leadership and maturity:

It’s exactly the kind of thing the Tar Heels need to be hearing from McDonald.

Now he needs to find his form on the court, which he displayed three years ago.

McDonald has proven to be one of the best defensive players on the Tar Heels, but he will have to re-gain his form of the 2010-11 season if he expects to flourish this season.

The Memphis native was expected to be a bigger factor in the Tar Heels offense, but an ACL tear during a North Carolina Pro-Am summer league game wiped out his entire 2011-12 season.

When he returned from injury last season, it was clear he was a shadow of his old self. A year later, there are big hopes for McDonald, whose opportunity comes by way of an indefinite suspension to P.J. Hairston. Coach Roy Williams suspended Hairston in July after the junior guard was charged with reckless driving and speeding.

McDonald has just one career start in 100 appearances for UNC, but as the Tar Heels head into the new season, McDonald has left fans with a level of hope for success.

McDonald, 22, has a career average of 7.2 points per game and 2.1 rebounds per game, but in his lone start last season against UAB, he scored a career-high 24 points.

“Just getting into the flow of shooting is key for me,” McDonald told ESPN on Monday, downplaying the situation. “Once you see your shot going in in pre-game and you move around get a little sweat you kind of feel for that game and you see what you’re going to do beforehand.”   

McDonald’s perimeter defence is his biggest contribution, and he’s also a steady free-throw shooter, but if he hopes to hang onto a starting role, he’ll have to improve his production from beyond the arc. He was hitting just 35.9 percent from three-point range last season, a drop from the 38.1 percent he was draining prior to the ACL injury.

The Tar Heels entered at No. 11 in the preseason USA Today Coaches’ Poll. With a healthy McDonald back in form, they’re hoping they can bolster that ranking and make a serious run this season.

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Heat vs. Spurs: Crucial Adjustments Each Team Must Make in Game 6

The Spurs need just one win in the next two games to claim their fifth title in the Duncan/Popovich era. But they will have to do it in Miami, where the Heat are 45-7 this season (including the playoffs). The Heat haven’t lost back-to-back games since January, while the Spurs haven’t lost back-to-back with Duncan, Parker and Ginobili healthy since mid-December. As the Jack Nicholson-Diane Keaton movie suggests, something’s gotta give.

This game will be decided by the adjustments made by both the Heat’s Erik Spoelstra and San Antonio’s Popovich as much as it will by the players on the court. Here’s what Miami needs to do to force a Game 7, and what San Antonio can do to win the O’Brien Trophy tonight.

Adjustments Miami needs to make:

1) Mike Miller can’t be in the starting lineup tonight. 

After the 109-93 shellacking the Spurs took in Game 4, Popovich took a chance. He started Manu Ginobili at shooting guard, and moved Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard to small and power forward, respectively. Ginobili hasn’t started all season, and promptly responded to the challenge by having one of his best games of the playoffs (24 points, eight assists). 

Miller couldn’t keep up with Manu defensively, allowing Ginobili to weave his way into the lane for his trademark off-balance layups, jumpers and floaters. Manu couldn’t keep up with the speedy Norris Cole off the bench, and expended a lot of energy chasing Ray Allen around those picks and screens. Now, Miami must counter by either going small (starting Ray Allen at shooting guard) or putting power forward Udonis Haslem back on the floor to start the game.

2) Don’t let the Spurs get into the open floor.

San Antonio was supposed to be the group of slow, boring old guys in this series. So how come we saw plays where, after a made basket by the Heat, Parker was able to run downcourt and get the ball to Duncan in the paint with just three seconds having gone by?

“[The Spurs have] an efficient attacking point guard in Parker,” says ESPN.com’s Michael Wallace, “who even on a gimpy hamstring is exposing the Heat’s position of greatest inconsistency.” While the Heat need LeBron, Bosh, Haslem and Chris Andersen to contend with the Spurs’ Duncan, Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw down low, they also need Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole and Wade to avoid the Spurs’ ability to push the ball into transition at will, and take advantage instead of their own team’s superb half-court offense.

 

Adjustments San Antonio Must Make in Game 6:

1. More minutes for Splitter and Diaw.

The Spurs make their money off of their high-percentage shooting, and have given the Heat fits because of their ability to make three-pointers seemingly at will. However, “small ball” won’t work all game against the Heat. If the game is close in the second half, LeBron will try to drive to the paint and force the issue by drawing contact.

It would be beneficial for the Spurs to put big guys like Splitter and Diaw in the game for extended minutes to body LeBron and make sure he feels it when he does go to the free-throw line rather than being able to barrel through the lane for easy three-point plays against Gary Neal or Ginobili. By the way, Diaw’s ability to shoot the long ball on offense makes him a valuable asset on both sides (38.5% in the regular season). 

2. Pound the ball down low to Duncan and Splitter, as well as Kawhi Leonard.

The Heat will be looking to get high-percentage points in the paint and trips to the free throw line, so why shouldn’t the Spurs? We all know they can shoot threes by this point, so the Spurs should take advantage of the Heat’s undersized centers and forwards by getting off as many close shots as they can.

“We look forward to the challenge,” James said after Game 5. “We’ve been here before…We’ve got a chance to do something special.”

While that may very well be true, Miami needs to come out with efficiency and intensity right out of the gate during tonight’s game. Because now, in Game 6 of the Finals, there is no longer any room for mistakes.

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Tim Duncan Says It’s Time ‘To Change Things Up’ as Spurs Face Crucial Game 5

Thanks to countless hours of film study, a couple years of head-to-head history and four actual NBA Finals games, the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs have probably run out of surprising ways to attack one another. Tim Duncan, for one, thinks his team needs to do something—anything—to break up that familiarity.

According to Matt Moore of CBS Sports, Duncan said Saturday after practice:

You get familiar with what’s going on and you get into kind of a rut. Obviously their defense was rotating kind of perfectly and knowing exactly what we were going to do. So you have to change things up.

You have to change the pace of things, the way you do things, and in that way it kind of keeps them on their toes. More than them understanding exactly what they’re going to do. I think that’s what we have to do coming into this upcoming [Game 5].

There’s some sound logic to Duncan’s thoughts here. That shouldn’t be surprising, as his “reasoning circuitry” was recently serviced by the engineers the Spurs keep on staff to maintain him.

You could see in Game 4 how comfortable the Heat were on defense. In fact, they turned San Antonio’s offensive possessions into their own attacking opportunities, jumping passing lanes, rotating into the appropriate help positions with ease and denying most of the Spurs’ preferred first options.

The Heat snatched 13 steals and generated 18 total turnovers in Game 4, which was a huge reason for their 16-point win.

With enough reps, any defense is going to get used to an offense’s preferences—even when that offense is as mechanically sound as the Spurs’ is. The Heat looked pretty comfortable in Game 4.

For proof of the value of a changeup, San Antonio need look no further than Game 3, when it employed a defensive wrinkle to flummox LeBron James into one of the most hesitant performances of his career.

LBJ figured out the best way to attack the Spurs’ sagging defense quickly, drilling jumpers from all over the floor and attacking the rim in Game 4, but that defensive tweak had a lot to do with the Spurs notching the win in Game 3.

At this point, every game counts. So even if a change is only going to work for a single game—or even a single quarter—it’s worth a shot.

It’s interesting to note that the Heat don’t seem to need to make as many adjustments as the Spurs do. Miami’s success is predicated largely on using its defense (when it decides to show up) to generate scoring opportunities. When the Heat get stops, everything else seems to fall into place.

Duncan wasn’t specific in his suggestions for how the Spurs need to change, but he did cite “pace” as a potential avenue. The Spurs should probably tread lightly here, though, as a frenetic tempo could play right into Miami’s hands. With James around, it’s dangerous to push the game into up-and-down territory, where his athleticism makes him so dangerous.

More realistically, the Spurs will probably address the predictability of their pick-and-roll attack. That’ll involve varied timing from the roller and probably a few instances in which the ball-handler eschews the screen altogether, catching Miami’s strong-side defense off guard.

Or maybe Gregg Popovich will just clear out and let Tiago Splitter get a few isolation sets from beyond the three-point line. There’s no way the Heat would expect that, right?

When two teams are as familiar as the Heat and the Spurs, surprises are hard to come by. But if San Antonio can hit Miami with something new in Game 5—whatever that might be—the Heat could find themselves heading back to South Beach with elimination hanging over their heads.

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Pacers, Heat prepare for crucial Game 5 (Yahoo! Sports)

Miami Heat's LeBron James, right, blocks a shot by Indiana Pacers' George Hill during the second half of Game 4 of the NBA basketball Eastern Conference finals, Tuesday, May 28, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

MIAMI (AP) — Several times around the start of these playoffs, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra insisted that the postseason path his team would wind up navigating had the potential to be more challenging than the route they took to the NBA championship a year ago.


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Video: Stephen Curry deposits crucial floaters over Denver

The Golden State Warriors have taken a 2-1 lead in their Western Conference quarterfinals series with the Denver Nuggets.
Despite losing David Lee, the Warriors have been further propelled by the inspired play of point guard Stephen Curry.
On Friday, Curry scored 29 points and had 11 rebounds.
This video showcases his ball-handling skills and his soft touch while going to the rim.
The post Video: Stephen Curry deposits crucial floaters over Denver appeared first on Players View.

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