Linsanity is no match for LeBron, Heat

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Linsanity is no match for LeBron, Heat

From Comcast SportsNet
MIAMI (AP) -- Jeremy Lin collided with LeBron James shortly after tip-off, stumbling backward. With that, the tone was set. And Lin's rise from unknown to stardom hit its first major snag. Chris Bosh scored 25 points, Dwyane Wade added 22 and James put up 20 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, five steals and two blocks -- the first such stat line in the NBA since James himself had a night like that four years ago -- as the league-leading Miami Heat stopped Lin and the New York Knicks 102-88 on Thursday night. It was Miami's eighth straight win, all coming by at least 12 points. "A learning experience," Lin said afterward, before heading to Orlando for his role in All-Star weekend. "A tough one." Lin's final line: 1 for 11 from the field, eight points, three assists and eight turnovers -- a long way from the 23.9 points and 9.2 assists he had been averaging over his first 11 games in the Knicks' rotation, when he breathed immeasurable life into a team that was floundering. Not this time. Lin paid the Heat a great compliment, saying their defense made it tough to even dribble. "First of all, he deserves all of the credit he's been given," Wade said. "We knew it was going to be a tough task guarding him. ... He's a good player, but we put a lot of pressure on him and it was a success." The scene was electric, and for much of the night, the game matched the hype. Spike Lee, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Chad Ochocinco all sat within seven seats of each other on one sideline, Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison of the Miami Marlins were on another sideline, and members of the New York Mets' front office reportedly jumped aboard a helicopter for the quick trip from the team's spring-training home in Port St. Lucie down to Miami. Even the First Fan took note of the hubbub surrounding the game. "In another life, I would be staying for the Knicks-Heat game tonight, then going up to Orlando for NBA All-Star weekend," President Barack Obama told cheering students at the University of Miami earlier in the day. "But these days, I've got a few other things on my plate. Just a few." When Air Force One was headed to Orlando for a Thursday night fundraiser, yes, there were televisions tuned to Heat-Knicks on board. "This has been about a three-week push for us and it's a good way to end before the break," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "I think everyone in that locker room needs a handful of days. We've been really focused ... to make this push. We played a team that with more time they're going to improve and become a very dangerous team. They already are right now." The Heat defense wasn't geared just toward Lin, but rather slowing the entire Knicks' offense. New York shot 39 percent, turned the ball over 19 times and had 10 shots blocked -- five of them by Miami center Joel Anthony, who also had six rebounds and took only one shot, which he missed. "I'm sure they were all geeked up for him," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said of the Heat defense against Lin. "And they took the challenge and they did a great job. It's hard to be Peter Pan every day." If proof was needed that the Heat wanted to make a point against Lin, there was some clear evidence. Exhibit A: Mario Chalmers stole the ball from Lin and went in for a two-handed dunk in the early minutes. Exhibit B: Norris Cole, Chalmers' backup at point guard, did the same thing in the second quarter. Combined dunks this season for Chalmers and Cole entering Thursday? Zero. Those strip-and-scores were part of a six-turnover first half from Lin, matching his third-highest total in any half this season. Amare Stoudemire also had six turnovers in the first 24 minutes, the Knicks were outscored 30-16 in the paint, 12-1 on fast breaks and 12-3 off turnovers. Lin had two assists in the first 1:26 of the game. He had one in the final 46:34. "He's a good player, a really good player," James said of Lin. "And they're going to do some great things. But for us, we come in and take care of business." Said Carmelo Anthony, who led the Knicks with 19 points: "We have some work to do. Nobody said it would happen overnight." J.R. Smith scored 14 for New York off the bench. Stoudemire finished with 13 and Steve Novak scored 12 for the Knicks, who never led in the second half. Early on, back and forth they went, just as everyone wanted. "It's always big when the Knicks come in," Bosh said. "They have that New York-Miami thing. The crowd enjoyed it. And we enjoyed it." It was classic Knicks-Heat stuff, just like those playoff battles in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Bodies were flying, tempers were flaring, Tyson Chandler and D'Antoni picked up technicals arguing the same play in the first quarter ... and more than a few Knicks fans who paid big money for tickets -- the average price for the game on the resale markets was over 700, by one estimate -- made their presence known loudly and often. "It's one game," D'Antoni said. "And we're not there yet. They're there. They're the team right now to beat for everybody. They're playing better than everybody. And we're trying to get our team together." Lin said he was already eager for the second half to start. "I'm not going to hang my head or anything like that," Lin said. "I know I went out there and I played hard. Can't win em all. Can't have a great game every game. But at the same time, I need to understand, OK, what'd I do wrong? How can I improve?' I think that's going to be exciting." NOTES: Wade spoke to the sellout crowd before the game, thanking them on behalf of the NBA and especially the six All-Star weekend-bound Heat players for their support the first half of the season. ... A number of arena workers snapped photos of Lin as he warmed up on the court about two hours before game time. ... In Orlando, where All-Star festivities were getting under way, NBA Commissioner David Stern said "it's fair to say that no player has created the interest and the frenzy in this short period of time, in any sport, that I'm aware of like Jeremy Lin has."

Power of science: Warriors thriving with chemistry experiment

Power of science: Warriors thriving with chemistry experiment

OAKLAND -- Zaza Pachulia holds his own during competitive games of poker on the airplane alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson - they call it the "Good Guys Table." Andre Iguodala and JaVale McGee, one-time teammates with Denver reunited in Oakland, hold secret chats.

"We're building an empire," Iguodala joked. "We've got secret stuff we can't talk about."

Jonnie West - son of Hall of Famer and Warriors executive Jerry West - joins Curry, Pachulia and Thompson for their card games.

"It depends how Klay feels. If he's tired, then no card game," Pachulia said.

With all that was made before the season about adding Kevin Durant to an already star-studded roster, Golden State's players have jelled just fine. The NBA-best Warriors (47-9) are gearing up for the second half and what they hope is another championship run, and chemistry sure isn't holding them back.

Two-time reigning MVP Curry and KD love to watch each other accomplish amazing things on the floor, along with Draymond Green and Thompson and all of the others who contribute off the bench.

Curry initially allowed Durant to find his groove, then began to assert himself more and increase his shots. Experience playing together is the biggest factor to keep building team bonds, if you ask Iguodala.

"Weathering storms builds chemistry and adversity builds chemistry," he said. "The season's long and you want to have all types of ups and downs. And that's where you build it the most, and off the court, plane rides. I think when you play with teammates seven, eight years, you're still building throughout that time. You continue to learn about each other. You've just got to understand that that's part of the process and you've got to want to learn from one another."

The Warriors are counting on every advantage they can gain, on and off the court. During flights, team dinners, anywhere.

After a heartbreaking Game 7 to end last season's NBA Finals, Golden State's players want nothing short of a championship. Many of them got a taste winning the title two years ago for the franchise's first in 40 years.

Steve Kerr, the reigning NBA Coach of the Year, gets a kick out of watching his teams come together each year.

"It's one of my favorite parts of coaching honestly, is seeing how a team comes together, seeing the relationships develop, seeing guys laughing together, seeing who hangs out with who," Kerr said. "It's great. This team has a really, really good chemistry that developed really quickly. Obviously, we had the core group intact from last year. We lost some key guys, too. The additions have been great. The chemistry is really good."

Pachulia took it upon himself to be a part of that. With constant attention on the Warriors, he knows the importance of sticking together through all of the many challenges that come in an 82-game season - and those things prepare a group for the postseason.

"You wish for the chemistry to come right away because you're kind of feeling pressure, a lot of talk's going on from outside," Pachulia said. "The reality is it's a process. It takes some days, it takes some games. It takes some bumps as well for the team to get on the same page and get the chemistry right. You've got to go through the process. I just don't see it the other way. We couldn't wait for these 40 or 50 games to pass and see where we were going to be. I feel really confident where we are right now, with everything we had throughout this 50 games, even the losses we had unexpected. It made us better, it made us stronger. You can appreciate it, honestly. We care about each other. We're on the same page. Keep going. We're not going to stop."

For Iguodala and McGee, the "chatter" stays between them.

"I have a lot of really in-depth conversations with JaVale McGee," Iguodala said, "about life."

D-League getting respect as legit NBA minor league system

D-League getting respect as legit NBA minor league system

SALT LAKE CITY -- Joel Bolomboy has been back and forth between the NBA Development League's Salt Lake City Stars and the Utah Jazz 15 times since November.

In the old system, the second-round draft pick would have been racking up frequent flyer miles bouncing around the minor leagues and overseas, much like Hassan Whiteside and Danny Green did before him. But in a growing trend around the NBA, the Jazz moved their D-League team closer to home - from Boise, Idaho to Salt Lake City.

Front-office executives are seeing that the closer a D-League affiliate is to the NBA team and its staff, and more integrated into the organization, the better it can be used as a true minor league resource.

"Your average NBA team has a better understanding today than they did four years ago of the caliber and the quality of player that's in the D-League," said Donnie Nelson, Mavericks president of basketball operations. "And that's rising literally every year.

"It's like American Idol in a lot of respects. We have brought the stage to the buyer, rather than having to go overseas and chase down. And those of us that are quote, unquote, the real judges on the American Idol panel, we can see them firsthand."

The NBA Development League has grown from an eight-team, largely overlooked sideshow to a 22-team league inching closer to becoming a legitimate minor league system. The league, in its 16th season, is no longer a final grasp for players clinging to a dream of playing professional basketball but a respected avenue to get to the NBA.

A record 22 teams have direct affiliations with an NBA team this season, including five new ones. The Bucks, Grizzlies and Magic have purchased teams slated to join for the 2017-18 season, when it will be known as the Gatorade League.

NBA teams have learned to better use the system. A record 38 percent of all players in the NBA had spent some time in the D-League at the end of the 2015-16 season.

Nelson believes it's the "fastest, most effective" path to the NBA.

The perception of the league has changed among players, who once tried to avoid it at all costs.

Whiteside is one of the biggest D-League success stories. But before becoming the center for the Miami Heat, his travels took him to Reno, Sioux Falls, Rio Grande, stints in the Lebanese Basketball and Chinese National Basketball leagues and back to the D-League with Iowa. He signed with the Heat in 2014, and in 2016 signed a four-year, $98.4 million contract.

"The D-League's tough," Whiteside said. "If being in the D-League doesn't motivate you, nothing will. It was a really tough to play. ... It gives guys a chance to stay in America and let scouts see them.

"I had a dream and I was just so undeterred. They would have had to move mountains to get me off of my dream. It was going to happen regardless."

Whiteside is one of many D-League success stories.

After being undrafted, Yogi Ferrell landed in the D-League and got a 10-day contract with the Mavericks before signing a multiyear deal in early February.

Green played for Erie, Reno and Austin before being a starter on the Spurs' 2013-14 Spurs championship team.

Rudy Gobert spent significant time in the D-League as a rookie and signed a four-year, $102 million deal with the Jazz in October.

"Reps, particularly with point guards, are huge," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "You can't make up for repetitions. Even in an NBA game, there's a difference between fitting in and playing a role and having an opportunity to get reps and make mistakes.

"I hope our guys get a chance to do that and make a lot of mistakes and get better (with the Stars) and don't make them here."

Compensation, however, continues to be an issue for the league. The NBA took a step toward addressing the concerns in the latest collective bargaining agreement. Players typically can make more money overseas, but the league created a "two-way contract" that allows a team to hold onto a developing young player with a contract that includes a considerable salary increase. The rule increases the NBA roster from 15 to 17, with those final two spots for players going back and forth between the two leagues.

D-League President Malcolm Turner believes the two-way contract can keep more talent from going overseas and expects the new sponsorship with Gatorade to provide additional training and nutrition benefits for players through the company's Sports Science Institute.

The ultimate goal is that each of the 30 NBA teams will own its own affiliate and use those squads as a true minor league farm system.

"I think it's deeper, I think there's more respect on all levels from organizations," Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the D-League. "Players now respect it more, they see that they have a real opportunity if they're in the right place to develop and get a call-up.

"They went to Europe or China before. But each organization is different. We know for us, it is a major component of player development."

It's fast becoming a major component for every NBA team.