John Wall on death of young friend: ‘It’s just another angel that God put behind me’ (vid)

When John Wall broke down on camera following Monday’s game against the Boston Celtics, it quickly became evident why the Washington Wizards star was so overcome with emotion. Wall had lost his “little buddy,” six-year-old Miyah Telemaque-Nelson had passed away earlier in the day after a battle with lymphoma. Wall and Miyah became fast friends…Read More
The post John Wall on death of young friend: ‘It’s just another angel that God put behind me’ (vid) appeared first on Sportress of Blogitude.

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It’s (Not So) Great to Be a Michigan Wolverine: 5 Terrible Recent Losses

The abyss is deep and limitless—fans of Michigan athletics are acutely aware of this notion these days.

After a nightmarish 2014 football season filled with disheartening losses, player-safety snafus and PR debacles, Michigan fans looked forward to watching the basketball team that has gone deep into the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons.

Not so fast, maize-and-blue optimists.

Two straight unthinkable home losses for Michigan hoops have Wolverines supporters wondering if there is no end to the deluge of sports shame and defeat.

Does the world need another bloody slideshow? Not on your life. But the best way to present Michigan’s worst five losses of the 21st century is surely via click-through.

So, let’s do that with an eye toward acceptance and catharsis.

Begin Slideshow

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If 76ers are going to beat anybody, it’s the T’wolves

The team can make losing history tonight.

      
 

 

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If 76ers are going to beat anybody, it’s T-Wolves

The team can make losing history tonight.

      
 

 

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Why It’s Time for Oklahoma City Thunder to Give Up on Jeremy Lamb’s Future

The Oklahoma City Thunder have been waiting for Jeremy Lamb to finally live up to the hype. Rather than continue to tread water with their inconsistent shooting guard, it’s time for the team to move on.  

Lamb is a former No. 12 overall pick and was one of the key pieces in the 2012 trade that sent James Harden to the Houston Rockets. By now, he should have solidified his position in the backcourt with All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook or at least show signs of improvement. 

However, a month into his third season, the 22-year-old has been a disappointment. He failed to win the starting shooting guard position in the preseason. When injuries forced him into the lineup, there have been bright spots like his 24-point outing against the Detroit Pistons on Nov. 14. Unfortunately, those moments have been few and far between. 

This year, Lamb is averaging 12 points per game and shooting 40.7 percent from the field (including 39.6 percent from three). Those would be decent numbers for a fourth or fifth option, but with the roster short-handed due to injuries, he should have used this opportunity to show signs of development. 

Just look at what not having Westbrook or Kevin Durant around has done for Reggie Jackson’s numbers (19.5 points, 7.5 assists, 5.3 rebounds, 41.5 percent from the field). Granted, Jackson is a better player, but he’s also an example of someone who saw a chance to emerge and took it.

Furthermore, here’s how Lamb stacks up against some of the guards taken after him. 

A potential split would work for both parties. It would allow the team to streamline its guard rotation while also providing the UConn product a chance to develop with a team that believes in what he brings without him having to look over his shoulder. 

 

No Confidence, No Consistency 

You don’t need to be a psychology major to figure out Lamb has confidence issues.

When Lamb is feeling good, you get stat lines like this one in a 97-82 win against the Utah Jazz on Nov. 26: 21 points on 7-of-8 shooting (3-of-3 from downtown), four rebounds and three steals in 24 minutes. 

“Jeremy came in and gave us a good game,” head coach Scott Brooks said, per Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman. “Obviously he scored a bunch of points, but he competed on the defensive end. … He earned his minutes tonight.”

When his mind is clouded with doubt, you get the guy who failed to make a field goal in the team’s 91-86 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Nov. 23. Lamb clanked all six of his shots, including one from behind the arc, and played just 12 minutes. 

The problem for the Thunder is that the latter version of Lamb seems to show up more often than the former. Throughout his career, he’s had some bright moments, but he doesn’t sustain those stretches long enough to build momentum. 

In the end, that lack of confidence causes a vicious cycle. If he’s out of sync, he’s not productive. If he’s not productive, the team will have less faith in him. If the team lacks faith, it will become harder for him to find his groove. 

 

Three’s a Crowd

One of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of Lamb’s development is the lack of a defined role. He’s not the Thunder’s starting shooting guard. That job belongs to the team’s perimeter pit bull, Andre Roberson. 

Is he the next-best guard off the bench? No. That’s Reggie Jackson, whose breakout performance this season mandates increased playing time both alongside and in place of Russell Westbrook. 

Is he the team’s best shooter in the backcourt? Lamb statistically holds the lead right now, but it’s a safe bet that Anthony Morrow will eventually earn that distinction. Morrow’s a career 42.7 percent three-point shooter, while Lamb holds a 35.7 career mark from long range. 

Lamb isn’t a starter. He isn’t the sixth man, and he isn’t a specialist. So, what is he? The answer could be trade bait. Jon Hamm of The Oklahoman pitched the idea of moving the third-year guard:

The Thunder could choose to do Lamb a favor, much like they did with D.J. White and Byron Mullens, and send him to another team where he can attempt to prove his worth. Such a move could resolve rotation conflict and net the Thunder a future asset.

With Roberson entrenched as the team’s shooting guard of the future and a proven sniper in Morrow as the backup, Lamb is the odd man out in Oklahoma City. Even if he goes on a spirited run in the near future, he’s not going to unseat Roberson in the starting rotation.

Traditionally, Scott Brooks has always chosen a fine defender over a good scorer. It’s why Thabo Sefolosha was in the starting lineup for so many years. It’s also why Roberson got the nod to replace Sefolosha before the season. 

A change of scenery to a team that will make his development a priority is the only way Lamb will reach his true potential. He’ll never grow with his minutes fluctuating on a game-by-game basis in Oklahoma City, where the focus is on winning a championship.

It should have never reached this point with Jeremy Lamb and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

By now, he should be a vital cog on a championship contender. Instead, he’s a potential bust stuck in limbo on a team that doesn’t have the patience to develop him. 

The blame for Lamb’s failures falls on both the player and the team. Oklahoma City never fully committed to the crown jewel of the biggest trade in the franchise’s history, and Lamb never gave it a reason to do so. 

Instead, the club continued to add depth by bringing in guys like Morrow and Roberson. That should tell you something about where it sees Lamb in its big picture. The end game now is to cut its losses and admit defeat.

What was once considered a possible bright spot for the team’s future has now become a mistake of the past.  

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all stats current as of Dec. 1 and are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

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Your Morning Dump… Where it’s time for Young & Powell to play

Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big storyline. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
Lost in Brad Stevens’s media address following Sunday’s confounding 111-89 Celtics loss to the San Antonio Spurs was his decision to insert two rookies with just more than four minutes left to perhaps spark a rally.
James Young and Dwight Powell have either been sitting at the end of the bench this season or playing in the NBADL, and are considered ill prepared for the NBA moment but working arduously to get there. Following nearly every practice, Powell and Young, teamed together like cadets in basic training, work with the coaching staff.
[…] And now is the time to test these newcomers as Stevens searches for answers to the team’s fourth-quarter woes. The Celtics enter Tuesday’s game with the respectable Atlanta Hawks with one win in the past 24 days, against 0-16 Philadelphia. The past three weeks have been miserab…

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Has LeBron James Lost a Step in His Return to the Cavs? History Says It’s Likely

LeBron James was going home eventually. Most everyone around the NBA expected him to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers at some point before his career ended; after all, he’d never fully severed ties with the area and being viewed as a traitor where he grew up didn’t seem like something James wanted to face for the rest of his life. However much his skin thickened from the fallout of leaving, being loved by those who came up as he did still clearly matters to LeBron.

The only question was whether or not he’d come back while he was still at the height of his powers, or at least with a ready enough reserve to drive the franchise to a championship. That’s why, when he decided last summer to return, the howl of joy from northern Ohio was so unbridled. LeBron James wasn’t coming home as a battle-scarred veteran of skirmishes waged elsewhere—he was coming home as a warrior in his prime, ready to singlehandedly, if need be, deliver the chalice for which Clevelanders have thirsted for so long.

Or did he?

By the calendar, James, at 30, should have at least three solid seasons left to ply his do-everything talents. Michael Jordan, the measuring stick for every modern-day championship-contending superstar, played three more full seasons and won three more rings after the age of 30. Why couldn’t James duplicate that feat or even go beyond it? His listed height and weight (6’8″, 250 pounds) suggests he’s merely added 10 pounds since his rookie year and one before-and-after comparison will tell you how far from reality that is; but by any measure he has several inches and pounds on Jordan (last listed as 6’6″ and 216) and big men are generally able to squeeze out a few more quality years.

NBA teams, though, know better than to base where a player is in his career on his age; seasons and minutes played are a far better barometer. Looking at that metric, James didn’t return to Cleveland at the point Jordan began his pursuit of a second three-peathe returns with nearly the same mileage Jordan had on him when he retired from the Bulls for good at age 34.

Two teams at the forefront of the analytics movement told B/R they have tried to determine the tipping point at which career minutes played take something irretrievable from an NBA player. Both teams said they’ve yet to find it because there are too many variablesbody composition, style of play, role, concentration of minutes and ratio of regular-season to postseason minutes being only a few. That leaves us merely with anecdotal evidence, not only in terms of when a player realizes the NBA grind has diminished his physical ability for good, but also of the impact of multiple deep playoff runs. Every player will tell you the stress and heightened level of play in the postseason extracts something even greater than regular-season games and that the shortened offseason doubles down on the damage because their bodies have less time to recover.

“It takes a lot out of you that you can’t get back,” says Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd, who went to two consecutive NBA Finals (2002, ’03) with the New Jersey Nets. “Just the mental grind takes time to recover from. And then if you’re handling the ball 50 percent of the time? Look at every guy who has had to do that and gone to multiple finals in a rowthey’ve all broken down in some way. LeBron is the only one I can think of who hasn’t.”

Kidd turned 29 a few months before the 2003 Finals. Minutes played, regular season and playoffs combined at that point: 29,085.

A year later, he underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee. One of the most explosive and athletic point guards ever had to transform himself from a one-man fast break into a walk-it-up technician and three-point specialist. He did all that after returning to his original team, the Dallas Mavericks, and eventually earned himself another trip to the Finals and the ring he’d missed out on with the Nets. But where he was the driving force – literally and figuratively – nine years earlier, he was now merely a cog. An invaluable, important cog, but a cog nonetheless.

Mark Jackson is 33rd on the all-time minutes played list with 39,121 plus another 3,776 from the postseason, despite only going to one NBA Finals. He doubts he’d logged any of them if he hadn’t learned early on to do what Kidd did in his return to Dallas.

“I was never a phenomenal athlete,” he said. “It didn’t slow down for me because it was already slow. If I’d had speed I’m not sure I would’ve made [it in] the league because it forced me to understand angles and timing right from the start.”

Even Jackson, though, recognized a change around the 20,000-minute mark. “I played against Allen Iverson his rookie year,” he said. “He shot the gap and steals the ball. There was a time when I could’ve fouled him or at least made him change direction. But I couldn’t even catch him. I realized then the clock was ticking.”

Kidd retired third on the all-time list of regular-season minutes played with 50,111. Microfracture surgery allowed him to extend his career and for a time he still felt he could hold his own athletically, but he believes the 40,000-minute mark was another turning point. He had to rely on his vision, strength and hands to compensate for what his legs no longer could do.

He’s noticed Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant, among others, hit the same physical plateau around the same time.

James not only has Kidd beat 4-2 in consecutive Finals reached, and Finals’ appearances overall, 5-3, but the number of postseason minutes logged each time is not close. Kidd crossed the 850-minute playoff threshold once, logging 803, 852 and 744 minutes in his three longest playoff runs. James crossed the 950-minute threshold twice, logging 893, 922, 983, 960 and 763 minutes in his longest runs.

Jordan? He played more than 900 minutes in one postseason just once, in 1992.

His overall minutes in his two three-peats were fairly comparable (2,409 in the second vs. 2,392 in the first) but keep in mind that he played a different role capturing the second trifecta. He still closed games, but facilitating the offense and taking on the toughest defensive assignments fell far more often to his younger sidekick, Scottie Pippen.

Jordan bowed out after 35,887 regular-season minutes and 7,474 posteason minutes played. Three years later, he’d return one last time and add a little over 5,000 minutes to his regular-season total with the Wizards.

James, entering this season, already was closing in on Jordan’s Chicago totals with 33,276 regular-season and 6,717 postseason minutes. Cramps? Yeah, the man has earned the right to cramp up.

It’s actually remarkable that back spasms and leg cramps are the extent of James’ physical issues, considering how much he already has played. Sure, the variables also include a different level of physicality in today’s game vs. Jordan and Jackson and Kidd’s (early) eras. James hasn’t had to endure anywhere near the same body-to-body punishment that any of them did and it’s hard to know exactly how that fits into the equation.

The point? If James looks tired, he has a right to be. If he has lost a step, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. And if he isn’t up to the task of doing all that he did in Miami for the last four years, there’s a very good reason. This might not just be about “the process,” as James likes to say, of learning how to win championships.

This might just be about the price.

 

Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.

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Weekly MVP poll: It’s Anthony Davis, then who?

      
 

 

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Duke Already Proving It’s Much More Than Just the Jahlil Okafor Show

The thing that Duke was missing last year was a true rim protector on defense and a low-post scorer on offense.

Jahlil Okafor has brought both of those things to the table, and he’s made Duke a much more complete team than a year ago. But what stuck out in two days in Brooklyn at the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic was not Okafor’s ability—he wasn’t close to the best version of himself—it was how the pieces around Duke’s star fit better than a season ago when Jabari Parker had his run as Duke’s go-to guy.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has built his offense around funneling the ball to Okafor—much the same way he did the same with Parker last year—but the results don’t depend on his production.

Okafor has proved to be a much better decoy and doesn’t need to score for his team to dominate.

Through the first two weeks of the season, this Duke team has proved to be incredibly selfless. It helps that the Blue Devils are a really good passing team and willing to move the ball until a good look emerges.

Stanford’s game plan on Saturday night was to surround Okafor whenever he got the ball and try to take away his touches deep. The Cardinal did a great job doing that, but the attention he was paid helped open up both Duke’s perimeter shooters and the offensive glass.

Even though Okafor was just so-so offensively—scoring 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting—his hidden value could be found all over the place.

Duke grabbed 16 of 41 available offensive boards, and Amile Jefferson has become an elite offensive rebounder because of the attention paid to Okafor. He’s averaging 3.8 offensive boards per game.

And typical of Krzyzewski teams, the bigs have also been willing to pass out their offensive rebounds for three-point looks—two of their nine threes came on such plays against Stanford.

Okafor has also realized that if he’s a willing passer and gets the ball to his shooters when double-teams come, he’s going to eventually benefit. His teammates will return the favor when defenses start to run them off the perimeter.

If there was any bad news for Duke in Brooklyn, it was that the book has been started on how to defend Okafor. Both Temple and Stanford did a good job of taking away scoring angles, staying between him and the basket when he got the ball and then forcing him to take shots over length.

Even when this is the goal, the benefit that Okafor has is his team moves the ball too well to keep him from getting good looks. He’s not going to have many off nights because Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook will get better and better at knowing where to get him the ball in his scoring spots.

As good as the offense looked, it will really be humming when Okafor is at his best, and perimeter shots are falling.

The good news for the Blue Devils is that when they are off, they can actually lean on their defense this season.

“We can shoot better than that,” Krzyzewski said in his Tru TV postgame interview. “But it didn’t affect our defense, which is kind of a mature thing.”

That defense is solid and less gimmicky than it had to be last year when Parker played the 4 and Jefferson was at the 5. Jefferson has been able to slide back to his preferred position of power forward, and that’s helped him on both ends. The Duke guards can apply more ball pressure knowing that they have a rim protector behind them.

Krzyzewski also has one of the best defenders he’s had in years in Justise Winslow, who can guard multiple spots and is playing with an energy that has been contagious. Winslow plays beyond his years and is the type of guy who will work his butt off and do everything asked of him even if he’s not getting his shots.

I saw it firsthand this summer at the FIBA Americas U-18 Championship. He was the best and most consistent player for the Americans on a team that included other hotshot freshmen Stanley Johnson, Myles Turner and Jones. He’s been the same for Duke thus far. ESPN’s Jeff Goodman noted Winslow has impressed NBA executives: 

Much like Winslow, Jones has also embraced his role. He’s been willing to just be the facilitator and not worry about points.

And what we’ve learned from John Calipari‘s experiments with young rosters is that it helps to have a veteran or two around to show the young guns the way. Cook is thriving as that guy and even better because of the freshmen.

Cook has moved from point guard to shooting guard because of Jones, and a lot has been made about his willingness to do so, but it’s actually a better role for him. Cook is a great spot-up shooter—he’s shooting 48.6 percent from beyond the arc so far—and he’s always been more of a scoring point guard than a facilitator.

Everything just seems to fit together. And that’s a big reason why the Blue Devils look the part of a team that is a couple of months into the season. Coach K may have to do some tinkering here and there, but roles have already been determined and embraced.

 

C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.

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It’s Time for the Utah Jazz to Prioritize Dante Exum over Trey Burke

To say Trey Burke‘s in a sophomore slump would almost be an insult to the phrase.

His numbers have tragically bottomed out through roughly one-fifth of the season, and he’s been thoroughly outplayed by backup Dante Exum, who’s already proven he deserves the bulk of the minutes at the point.

It’s been tough to watch Burke this season, and not just from the standpoint of a writer or fan. He’s gone from savior to scapegoat for this franchise in just over a year.

This was the general sentiment when he was drafted in the summer of 2013.

This is now.

And the change didn’t come without reason. Through just over one season’s worth of games, he’s barely looked like an NBA player. The eye test says he’s too small and not athletic enough.

Friday night, the Golden State Warriors trounced the Jazz, 101-88. In a 13-point loss, Burke was a team-worst minus-28. Exum was plus-15.

Golden State did what almost every other opponent has: Put Burke on an island—in the post, on the perimeter, whatever—and go to work.

And that’s just on defense. The numbers tell the story on the other end, where he’s rarely able to create an even decent look for himself.

In his first season, the numbers were rough (as you just saw), but there were at least flashes of solid IQ and playmaking ability. Maybe he could one day morph into a pass-first 1 like Andre Miller or Kendall Marshall.

But in year 2, Burke is still trying to be a scoring guard. And the picture gets even uglier when compared to what Exum‘s doing.

In all honesty, this is what should be happening. Exum is clearly the higher-upside asset. It’s unquestionable. Tune into any Jazz game and you’ll see it for yourself. Exum is taller, longer and more athletic. Plus, his vision and IQ are way ahead of schedule.

Obviously, there are still things to work out with Exum. His catch-and-shoot game has been better than expected, but his dribble pull-up is a mess. He’s yet to make a single shot off the dribble outside of 10 feet.

He gets out of position at times defensively, but he has the length and quickness to recover. Just imagine what he can do once he irons out those fundamentals.

He can also tighten up his handle a bit, even though he’s figured out that keeping things simple generally helps him stay out of trouble.

Thing is, the learning process could be accelerated by playing Exum more minutes with the first unit. There’s a theory in basketball that’s akin to exposure therapy. Just like you can help people with a fear of heights by taking them to the Empire State Building, a basketball player can adapt in difficult circumstances.

The skyscraper is a controlled environment. There are security guards and really tall fences. You’re not going to fall off. While playing with the starters, Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors can be Exum‘s safety net as he truly adapts to the speed of the NBA.

The move is starting to come up among experts all over the NBA, but it’s a delicate process. Basketball Insiders’ Nate Duncan is worried what it would do to Burke.

ESPN’s Chad Ford has been asked about the debate as well. Twice, actually. In his weekly Q&A with SportsNation, Ford was asked, “When does Quin Snyder move Trey Burke to the bench in favor of Exum?”

He responded:

Great question. Exum, who was supposed to be the rawest of the lottery guys, has really outplayed him all year. In fact, Exum ranks second among all rookies in PER right now. And he’s going to get better. A lot better. It’s hard to watch that team with an objective eye and think Trey Burke is even in the same league as Exum as far as elite potential goes. Now, the Jazz may want to keep bringing him along slowly. There’s less pressure coming off the bench. But long-term? He’s going to be the Jazz’s starting PG. Combine him with Gordan Hayward and Derrick Favors, both of who have been excellent this year and the Jazz have a scary core for the future.

The next week, he went into the specifics on why Utah is hesitant to make the move:

I mentioned this last week and feel even stronger about it this week after talking to sources close to the Jazz. They know Exum is going to be amazing and quite possibly their franchise player. He’s not ready yet. He has to get stronger to handle all the contact he gets. But he’s got the tools, has the basketball IQ, has the work ethic to be GREAT. And his jump shot is dramatically improving. Fast forward two years and he’s likely Utah’s No. 1 option. But it’s early and I think they are erroring on the side of patience right now. He doesn’t need to be, nor is he ready to be THE guy right now. I think Burke might start the whole season. But by next year, or the year after, this will be Exum‘s team to run.

The question here isn’t whether or not Exum‘s ready to be the guy this season. That’s still Hayward, and to a lesser extent, Favors.

This is about who’s the better option to help the 2014-15 Utah Jazz win games. The numbers say it’s Exum. And he fits logistically.

He’s pass-first all the way, almost to a fault. That makes more sense with Hayward, Favors, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter, all of whom can score. With a second unit devoid of scorers, Exum‘s unselfishness can contribute to a stagnant attack.

Now, think about what the move does for Burke. Yes, there’s the fear that it negatively impacts his psyche, like Duncan pointed out, but it could also go the other way.

It could be difficult for him to accept at first. But after adapting, Burke could settle into the opportunity to be aggressive in a lineup that actually needs him to be, and against other players without top-tier physical tools.

All that said, there’s still no indication from within the organization that a lineup change is coming. So the most we can ask for now is more minutes, including some with the starters.

Exum is clearly the point guard of the future, and he’s earned more time to develop cohesion with the other core members of the team.

And if it means rewriting the next few months of Burke’s career from a tragedy to some kind of buddy-cop flick with his up-and-coming backup, even better.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all stats and salary figures are courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com, and are current as of Nov. 22, 2014.

Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him @AndrewDBailey.

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