Tuesday, March 20, 2018

J-Speaks: Health Issues Sideline Cavs' Head Coach Ty Lue

To say that the 2017-18 NBA season has been a stressful one for the three-time defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers would be the understatement of the year. From the injuries to key personnel, the trading of their All-Star lead guard this past summer, to the inconsistency of the team on the hardwood, especially on the defensive end, it has been not the easiest of seasons. That stress has especially gotten to head coach, who finally had to face the music when it came to his health. 
Cavs’ head coach Tyronn Lue stated at the start of this week that he needed to “step back from coaching for the time being” to take care of a persistent health issue. 
NBATV/NBA on TNT sideline reporter and insider David Aldridge reported that Lue will be on a one-week plan to address his health issues and that the current plan is for him to return the bench next week. 
In a statement released by the organization, the 40-year-old Lue, and Cavs’ general manager Koby Altman addressed his recent health scare that had him spend the second half of the team’s 114-109 win at the Chicago Bulls (24-46) on Saturday night with an undisclosed illness. 
Lue, who led the Cavs to the 2016 NBA title after taking over for David Blatt midway though that season said in a statement via Cavs.com: “After many conversations with doctors and Koby and much thought given to what is best for the team and my health, I need to step back from coaching for the time being and focus on trying to establish a stronger and healthier foundation from which to coach for the rest of the season.” 
“I have had chest pains and other troubling symptoms, compounded by a loss of sleep, throughout the year. Despite a batter of tests, there have been no conclusions as to what the exact issue is.” 
“While I have tried to work through it, the last thing I want is for it to affect the team. I am going to use this time to focus on a prescribed routine and medication, which has previously been difficult to start in the midst of a season. My goal is to come out of it stronger and healthier version of myself, so I can continue to lead this team to the Championship we are all working towards.” 
“I greatly appreciate Dan Gilbert, Koby Altman, our medical team and the organization’s support throughout.” 
Lue, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski had been considering stepping aside for several weeks but had resisted until now. 
At Monday’s practice, four-time league MVP LeBron James said he knew that Lue was struggling but showed no signs that the situation was more serious.
“I think it’s probably well overdue, understanding what he’s been going through throughout the season, so obviously health is the most important with everything in life. So, I’m not surprised by it at all” he said. 
“We’ll I knew he was struggling, but he was never not himself. He was just dealing with it the best way he could, but he was never not himself when he was around… He was the same every single day, even though he was going through what he was going through.” 
Lue, according to Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon said he had doctors at the Cleveland Clinic check his condition for months, while also undergoing a battery of test, with no diagnosis. 
He had missed all or parts of three games this season due to his symptoms, which included the previously mentioned second half at the Bulls. 
While it is Lue’s call when he returns to the sidelines, which Aldridge reported that will be next week, he said on the Monday evening edition of “10 Before Tip” on NBATV, that it how his body reacts that will decide when he returns to the sidelines of the Cavs. 
“If he’s not ready, then he shouldn’t come back,” Aldridge said. “I think most people would agree with that, but they hope that they can this at least identified, and start a treatment plan within a week.”
In his weekly column Morning Tip on NBA.com last week, Aldridge wrote about how the stress of being an NBA player, and especially coaching staffs, and the front office is incredible, and the tole it takes on you is incredible. 
Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford took several weeks off earlier this season when he went through something similar that Lue is going through now in terms of not sleeping and that his fitness was off. 
Jason Lloyd of The Athletic Cleveland also said on “10 Before Tip” that Lue was experiencing some of these symptoms while he was an assistant with the Cavs and dismissed the warning signs at the time. 
Lloyd also said that there have been nights that Lue has not gotten a wink of sleep at all during this season, and that has led to him having swollen eyes some nights when he has been on the sidelines.
That, along with the tremendous amount of turnover the Cavs have had this season, coaching a talent and high basketball aptitude of LeBron James, who will be a free agent after opting out of the final year of his deal when the Cavs' season concludes and the challenge of coaching a team with high expectations to a championship that has had to deal with injuries, that lack of sleep has caught up with coach Lue. 
“I think the hope here is that as David said if he’s good to come back next week, he can get some sleep,” Lloyd said. “And if he can catch up on some rest, and if that can help recharge his body a little bit.” 
“I know he’s a little scared of the fact that they’ve never been able to figure out yet what this is. That they’ve been unable to pinpoint anything…You hope that with some time off here and the ability to rest his body he can come back in a better mental state of mind.”  
With Lue on the shelf, Associate head coach Larry Drew will coach the team for the time being. The former head man of the Atlanta Hawks from 2010-13 and the Bucks in 2013-14 filled in for Lue in the second half at the Bulls, where the Cavs held on for the victory after losing their 17-point lead. 
“T-Lue is a warrior. He’s been that warriors since I’ve known him,” Drew said to the media on Monday. “There comes a time when you just have to listen to your body and you have to listen to your mind, and that’s what he’s doing right now.”
Defending NBA champion head coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors weighed in on Lue’s leave of absence saying he feels for the counter part he’s matched up against in June the past three seasons. That he’s been in contact with Lue. 
“Health is everything,” Kerr said to reporters before his Warriors (53-18) 89-75 loss at the San Antonio Spurs (41-30) on Monday night on ESPN. “This game is fun and it’s exciting, and we all love our jobs, but we just want to be healthy.” 
Former Cavs backup guard Matthew Dellavedova, now with the Bucks said before their contest at the Cavs, “Just hope he’s okay and it’s nothing too serious. That’s tough news.” 
“This is a stressful job,” were the words of Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton before their 110-100 loss at the Indiana Pacers (41-30) a little over 48 hours ago. “It important for coaches take time to also take care of themselves as far as health wise.”
In their first full game without Lue on the sidelines, the Cavs (41-29) won versus the Milwaukee Bucks (37-33) 124-117 on ESPN, for their third win in their last four games. 
James scored 40 points as part of his third triple-double in the last four games as the Cavs have a slight ½ game lead over the Indiana Pacers (41-30) for the No. 3 spot in the East. 
James scored 17 of his 40 points in the third quarter as he finished with 12 rebounds and 10 assists for his 16th triple-double of the season and the 71st of his eventual Hall of Fame career. 
“He looked great,” James, who joined New Orleans Pelicans injured All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins and MVP candidate of the Houston Rockets James Harden in recording his third 40-point triple-double of the season and his fifth career 40-plus point triple-double said to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the game about how All-Star Kevin Love looked in his return to the lineup after missing 20 games with a broken left hand. 
“Obviously his wind is not there, but he’s been out 20 games. But he shot the ball very efficiently. Rebounded for us, got some assists and great to have him back on the floor.” 
In his first game back since Jan. 31 from that broken hand that shelved him for six weeks, Love had 18 points and seven rebounds in 25 minutes. 
“I felt fine,” Love said after the game to FOX Sports Ohio’s Allie Clifton. “Seven weeks, my rhythm’s a little bit off. Actually, my wind felt a little better than I thought it would, but I got to tip my hat to the training staff…Coaching staff. Player development.” 
“It was an easy transition for me to come back, and more than anything I felt good out there. Felt my legs were underneath me.” 
The Cleveland Cavaliers losing their head coach while getting back their second-best player seems to fit the bill for what has been a turbulent season in Northeast Ohio. Despite all the shake-ups, injuries, the overhaul of half the roster at the Feb. 8 trade deadline and other distractions, the Cavs are still as mentioned sitting currently at the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference. 
Their goal of representing the East in the NBA Finals for a fourth straight season is still in front of them, and coach Lue will be back before the playoffs. They are also expected to get starting center Tristan Thompson, who has not played since Mar. 3 because of a sprained right ankle. The Cavs also hope to get back forward/center Larry Nance Jr., guard Rodney Hood and forward Cedi Osman back soon as they all sat out against the Bucks with a right hamstring, lower back, and hip flexor injuries respectably. 
On top of that, the Cavs still have the best player in the game, at least until the end of this season in LeBron James, who also made history on Monday night becoming the third-oldest player in NBA history to notch a triple-double while authoring at least 40 points at 33 years, 79 days old. That put him behind Hall of Famers Larry Bird, who did it at 35 years, 99 days old, and Elgin Baylor at 34 years, 48 days old, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. 
While the Cavs have had their ups and downs this season, that have carried into March as they have gone 5-5 so far, James has been at the top of his game in the 15th season of his eventual Hall of Fame career with averages of 31.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 9.2 assists on 41.0 percent from three-point range in 37.4 minutes. 
James also became the fifth player in league history with five 40-point triple-doubles, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, and his fourth triple-double of the month on Monday came as he was awarded Eastern Conference Player of the Week for a record 60th time of his career, and the third of the 2017-18 season. 
“Staying committed to my regimen,” James, who averaged 32.0 points, 56.9 percent from the field, 13.3 rebounds, 9.7 assists, two steals and 2.3 blocks last week said of his recent play. “I’m not going to make shots every night, but what I do know is I’m going to do other things if I don’t make shots to get my guys involved and rebound and defend. I can take a charge here and there if it presents itself, I can block shots and get steals. I can always figure out a way to be a threat on the floor even if I’m not scoring. For me that doesn’t change.”
He also had a message for Coach Lue when he was asked about that by Salters and he said, “Health is the most important thing in life, no matter if you’re a basketball player or great reporter like yourself Lisa, or great fans, or whatever the case may be.” 
“Health comes before anything. So, that all we want from our coach and we’ll figure it out here.”
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 3/19/18 www.nba.com article, “Cleveland Cavaliers Coach Tyronn Lue Stepping Away From Duties Due to Health-Related Issues;” 3/19/18 www.espn.com article, “LeBron James Outshines Giannis Antetokounmpo with Historic Triple-Double,” by Dave McMenamin; 3/19/18 6:30 p.m. edition of NBATV’s “10 Before Tip,” with Jared Greenberg; 3/20/18 2 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime,” with Kristen Ledlow, Jarvis Hayes and Sam Mitchell;   www.nba.com/games/20180319/MILCLE#/recap; www.espn.com/nba/team/schedule/_/name/cle/cleveland-cavaliers; www.espn.com/nba/standings; and https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Drew. .

J-Speaks: The Passing of an Iconic Business and Sports Team Owner in The "Big Easy"

The city of New Orleans, LA is known for many things. Parties, comradery, and enjoyment. They have also become known for football and now basketball, and at the center of the two sports franchises that call the “Big Easy” home was a self-made millionaire who took what he studied in college and became a very successful auto dealer and eventually a sports owner. This gentleman would also become legendary for his kindness and generosity to those in the city. Last week, the city, sports fans and all those associated with the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Football League (NFL) suddenly said goodbye to this great man. 
Last Thursday, New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans owner Tom Benson, who brought the Saints their only winning seasons and who was best known for a dance that would be dubbed the “Benson Boogie,” passed away. He was 90 years old and is survived by his wife of 14 years Gayle.  
Mr. Benson according to the Saints and Pelicans organizations had been hospitalized since Feb. 16 from flu symptoms. 
When the NBA took ownership of the then financially troubled New Orleans Hornets in late 2010, they spent over a year searching for a permanent owner, when Mr. Benson stepped in and purchased the ball club for $338 million. That investment wound up being a good one as the team as their value exceeding $1 billion, and right now is having its best season in a long time and is on the verge of making their first postseason appearance since 2015. 
Mr. Benson then oversaw the team’s name change to Pelicans in honor of the Louisiana state bird, that he once saw the resilience of one Pelican who fought through some oil that was spill on their person and it just refused to die. That moment is what gave him the precise new nickname for the basketball franchise he purchased six seasons back.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said before last weekend that he would remember Mr. Benson as big-hearted and gracious, and really had high praise for not only how he ran the now Pelicans organization, but for hosting two All-Star weekends in the “Big Easy,” with the second after it was moved from Charlotte, NC in the wake of state legislation the NBA deemed discriminatory. 
“The NBA family mourns the loss of New Orleans Pelicans owner Tom Benson,” Silver said in a statement. “Big-hearted and gracious, Tom topped off a distinguished business and sports career by acquiring the Pelicans in 2012. During his tenure, he hosted two highly-successful All-Star Games, rebranded the franchise and installed a first-class organization. He was a dear friend to me and so many others in the sports world, and the loss of his authentic and unique presence will leave an enormous void. We send our heartfelt condolences to Gayle, their family, the Pelicans and Saints, and his countless friends.” 
Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry before the team’s evening tilt at the San Antonio Spurs echoed those same sentiments about the passing of Mr. Benson to the media saying, “We lost a giant.” 
“I mean, the things that he’s done not just for the Pelicans and the Saints, but the state of Louisiana and just everything. The Hall of Fame. He’s a self-made man that had the biggest heart that you could ever imagine.”
In 1985, Mr. Benson purchased the Saints at a time where the football team was going to be sold to out-of-state interests and was on the verge of being moved to Jacksonville, FL. He purchased the team, paying $70 million for them, and Mr. Benson officially became owner on May 31, 1985. The franchise is now worth near $2 billion. 
Mr. Benson’s well-known business acumen was a big reason the Saints from a cellar dweller in the NFL, to a contender and in then champions on Feb. 7, 2009 when the team defeated the might Indianapolis Colts 31-17 to capture Super Bowl XLIV. 
Three years later, Mr. Benson’s ownership took a major hit from the 2012 bounty scandal, where Saints players earned improper, off-the-books cash bonuses for hits that hurt or sidelines. Head coach Sean Payton served an unprecedented one-year suspension, and the organization was fined $500,000-despite the fact that Mr. Benson gave the order to GM Mickey Loomis to put a conclusion to it when he got wind of it. 
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, reports surfaced that he did not want to bring the team back to New Orleans from San Antonio after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city 13 years ago. 
The Saints did stay, and with time and some winning, Mr. Benson recovered a great deal of his popularity with the fans of the city and the league. 
“Tom Benson’s contributions to New Orleans and the National Football League were legendary. He purchased a team that had never had a winning season; by the third year of his ownership, the Saints were in the playoffs,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “Tom kept the Saints together through the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, and his decision to bring the team back to New Orleans gave the entire region hope and confidence that they would recover.” 
“Benson also became a leading New Orleans philanthropist. He helped fund Tulane’s on-campus football stadium and the cancer treatment center at Ochsner Medical Center. The home of the NFL’s Hall of Fame game in Canton, OH, also was renamed For Benson after an $11 million gift, the largest in the hall’s history.”
While he possessed a passion for the game of football and its growth according to Pro Football Hall of Fame President David Baker, his business acumen was well respected by many in the NFL along with Commissioner Goodell. 
“A friend and ally,” is how Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones described Mr. Benson whose genius as a marketer and financial expertise played a huge role in the NFL’s Finance Committee. 
Jones also added about Mr. Benson, “He was astute, exceptionally smart and an accomplished sportsman, and business man.” 
“He pumped life and enthusiasm into a community and a franchise that had no winning seasons before he became involved.”
Mr. Benson, who was one of four kids born to Thomas Benson, Sr., and Carmen Benson in what was called the hardscrabble Seventh Ward of New Orleans. 
After serving in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS South Dakota, he studied business and accounting collegiately at Loyola University in New Orleans, earning his degree in 1948. 
To put into perspective how he beat the odds and earned that degree, Mr. Benson would walk to a street car and take it to go to class. 
His first job following college was at Cathey Chevrolet in New Orleans, where he was very successful salesman and bookkeeper, which led to him at age 29 being asked to come down to the “Alamo City” to take over a struggling car franchise in 1956 as a junior partner. 
Mr. Benson agreed, but on the condition that he could get an ownership steak if he turned the franchise around. 
He was granted a 25 percent interest in the dealership and six years later gained full ownership of what would be called Tom Benson Chevrolet. That led to Mr. Benson owning several automobile dealerships in the Greater New Orleans and San Antonio areas. Mr. Benson really became wealthy through investment profits from his automobile dealerships in local banks, which led him to purchasing several small Southern banks that led to the formation of Benson Financial, that was solid to Norwest Corporation in 1996. 
Mr. Benson’s passion later in his life was the Saints and eventually the Pelicans. He kept an office near the team’s training facility and frequently was seen at training camp in a gold cart watching the team practice. 
He became well known for a dance he would perform after Saints home victories at the now Mercedes-Benz Superdome the “Benson Boogie,” where he would second line dance down the football field of the arena in the closing moments of the contest with an umbrella decorated in the colors of black and gold. 
In 2001, Mr. Benson negotiated what was an unprecedented $187 million deal in concessions and state subsidies to keep his team playing in the Superdome through 2010. He called the deal a necessity so that the organization could succeed in the small-market of New Orleans. 
This was followed by the unusual arraignment where the state of Louisiana concluded paying direct subsidies to Mr. Benson but committed to relocate many state offices in a high-rise next to the Superdome that sustained damage during Katrina. Those offices were rented for above market value, but only if Benson rehabilitated the building, which is now called Benson Tower. 
Before these last few years, many Saints fans questioned Mr. Benson’s desire for profits outweighed his loyalty to the city he grew up in, especially in the aftermath of Katrina, which left the Superdome in a serious wreck. The Saints being relocated to San Antonio. 
When officials spoke to Benson about what it would take to keep the Saints permanently in the “Alamo City,” many natives of New Orleans reacted with great anger. 
They expressed that anger through graffiti signs on numerous disregarded refrigerators that lined the sidewalks around the city that said, “Warning, Tom Benson inside.” 
Whether it was the league not allowing the team to move or that they felt compelled to return, the Saints came back to the city in early 2006 and the fans responded by selling out the building for Saints games for a decade. 
The team which became a source of inspiration in the rough early days of the post-Katrina rebuilding went from a record of 3-13 in 2005 to a 10-6 record in 2006 led by Coach Payton and future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, who signed with the team that off-season, and has been a fixture both on and off the gridiron ever since. They advanced to the NFC Championship Game for the first time ever, losing at the Chicago Bears. 
One year later, they as mentioned earlier advanced to the Super Bowl, capturing their first Vince Lombardi Trophy in franchise history in what would be known as “The Miracle in Miami.” 
Before Mrs. Gayle Benson, Mr. Benson’s first wife was the late former Shirley Landry, who he had three children that they adopted, Robert Carter, Renee, and Jeanne Marie. Renee had two adult children, Rita LeBlanc, who was Saints owner and executive vice president until Mr. Benson fired her, her brother Ryan, and her mother Renee, as well as wrote them out of his will. She and her mother and brother sued their uncle claiming that he was incompetent and for control of his companies.
Mr. Benson’s second wife, the former Grace Marie Trudeau passed away from Parkinson’s disease. In addition of his wife Gayle, who was approved by the NFL to be the new owner of the Saints, his previously mentioned estranged daughter and her two children, he is survived by the daughter of his late son Robert, Dawn Jones. 
Besides being a successful in the business world, and sports owner, Mr. Benson was just as well known for his generosity, kindness to not just other companies but people.
When he took over ownership of the Pelicans, he had his pick of who he could have wanted from the national sage to be the sideline reporter for the team, that has its games broadcasted locally on FOX Sports New Orleans, and he chose a lady from the West Bank of Louisiana in Jennifer Hale, who said during Pelicans Pregame Live, presented by Toyota that Thursday, “I owe a huge part of my career to him. I’m forever grateful for that.” 
Pregame studio host Erin Hartigan seconded that by saying about Mr. Benson, “He made a lot of great decisions in his life, you were most definitely one of those.” 
Two other great choices he made for the team is the broadcast duo that commentates the games in play-by-play man Joel Meyers and former Hornet when the team was in New Orleans in color analyst David Wesley. 
Meyers during the pregame show said that he and the entire Pelicans organization was fortunate in how they all were “spoiled” to see the owner every day. 
“We were on campus all the time. So, we would see Mr. B. See him in the cafeteria,” he said. “A lot of people don’t understand how healthy the environment is on Airline Drive with the Pels, the Saints, fields, gyms and a middle school cafeteria basically. Almost a high school cafeteria where we all congregate midday.”  
As often as he was at the Superdome for Saints home games, he was also present at the Smoothie King Center for Pelicans home games, passionately rooting on his team. 
“We really are developing a fine, fine club,” he said about the Pelicans back in 2013, “and I promise you this. Your going to be very proud. Our city can be very proud. Our fans can be very proud” 
Perhaps Mr. Benson’s biggest assists came last season when Pelicans All-Star guard Jrue Holiday took an indefinite leave of absence from the team in Sept. 2016 to care for his wife, United States women’s soccer national team midfielder Lauren after she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. 
The two-time Olympic gold medalist and FIFA Women’s World Cup champion had brain surgery just weeks after giving to their first child, their daughter Jrue Tyler Holiday. 
Mr. Benson sent the entire team on his plane to spend some time with them. He also sent edible arrangements, flowers, and cards. 
“I guess the least we could do when we heard about Mr. Benson was to do the same,” Holiday said before the team’s tilt at the Spurs to Hale. “Called Mrs. Benson, talked to her, sent a couple of text messages periodically. They’ve done so much for my family, I felt like they’re really a part of it.” 
On that support he received a year ago from the owner, Holiday said to Hale, “It meant a lot. Just to know the organization had our back. At the time I took my leave of absence. Just for Mr. Benson to have that support for me and my family, to protect my family was a world of difference. It’s a blessing.” 
Last week the NBA and NFL lost one of the best owners to date. Both the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans lost their leader who created a family atmosphere where everyone felt like family from the players, to the coaches to the front office, and teams that will be contenders to be in the postseason for their respective leagues over the next few years with as mentioned future Hall of Famer Drew Brees and former No. 1 overall pick in All-Star Anthony Davis leading the Saints and Pelicans respectably. 
The cities of New Orleans, LA and San Antonio, TX lost a man who built his fortune through hard work and commitment, but always remembered where he came from and left a deep whole that may never be filled. 
“You know we’re really sad today. I’m really saddened, and I know I speak for everyone within the organization and our community,” Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps said to Hale. 
“He was a great man. A New Orleans legend. I will always remember his smile. His positive energy, his demeanor. He left a great mark on us and I want to remember all the good times.” 
Information and quotations are courtesy of 3/15/18 8 p.m. edition of “Pelicans Live,” presented by Toyota with Erin Hartigan, Nancy Lieberman, Jennifer Hale, Joel Meyers and David Wesley; 3/15/18 www.nba.com article, “New Orleans Pelicans, Saints Owner Tom Benson Dies at Age 90,” by Brett Martell of “The Associated Press;” 3/16/18 6 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime,” presented by Kia with Rick Kamla, Caron Butler and Kevin McHale, with commentary done by Jared Greenberg; www.espn.com/nba/standings;   https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Benson;  https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Bowl_XLIV;  https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jrue_Holiday#Personal_life; and https://wn.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lauren_Holiday. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

J-Speaks: Strong "D" in Salt Lake City

Since becoming the head coach of the Utah Jazz four seasons ago, the calling card of Quin Snyder’s team has been defense. At the center of that defense, no pun intended is last season’s runner up for Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. When he missed 15 games because of injury earlier in the season, the team struggled, and their chances of making the playoffs were very low. Since the return of the guy whose nickname is the “Stifle Tower,” the Jazz have really been playing some solid defense. That, along with the play of an impactful rookie; the stellar play of their newest point guard; and the togetherness of the group in general, the Jazz went from a lottery team into one that is on the door step of making the playoffs in the rugged Western Conference. 
With their latest victory, 116-88 versus the Phoenix Suns (19-51), the now No. 7 Seeded Jazz (39-30) have won eight consecutive games and have won 20 of their last 22 games. 
The Jazz have pulled themselves out of a rough hole they found themselves in earlier this season thanks to their stellar play at the defensive end. 
Coming into their Thursday night tilt versus the Suns, the Jazz since Jan. 24 are ranked No. 1 in points allowed at 94.4; in opponent’s field goal percentage at 42.2; in opponent’s three-point percentage at 30.1; and are No. 5 in opponent’s points in the paint at 42.4. 
All of this seemed unimaginable a few weeks back, but the collective effort of the entire team has resulted in them going from a team that had a one-way ticket to the draft lottery to one that is right now in the No. 7 Spot in the West. 
A perfect example of this occurred in the third quarter when starting lead guard Ricky Rubio was body-blocked to the hardwood by Suns forward Jared Dudley, which led to a scrum in front of the Suns bench. Second-year forward Marquese Chriss then proceeded to push Rubio down moments later. 
Jazz sharp shooter Joe Ingles and rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell stood up for their teammate instantly. 
After the officials went to the video monitor at the scorer’s table for review, Dudley was assessed with a flagrant two foul, and he and Chriss were both ejected from the game, Ingles and Mitchell received technical fouls. 
“On this team, we all love each other, so that makes it easy to stick up for each other,” Mitchell said after the win. 
That togetherness that has gotten the Jazz into the playoff picture has really shown at the defensive end and the Suns have seen up close the kind of vice grip the Jazz can put onto your offensive production. 
In their first meeting on Feb. 2, the Jazz blew out the Suns on their home court 129-97, where the visitors took control of the game outscoring them 34-17 in the second quarter and never looked back. 
The Suns were held to 41.4 percent shooting. Were a dismal 9 for 33 from three-point range and got crushed on the glass 55-43. The Jazz registered six blocks and outscored the Suns 58-46 in the paint. 
Rookie guard Donovan Mitchell registered his six game of 30-plus points on the season with 40 points, on shy of his career-high he had earlier this season, on 14 for 19 from the field, including a career-high seven three-pointers in nine attempts. Gobert had 10 points, nine boards and five blocks. 
In their second in Salt Lake City, UT on Valentine’s night, the Jazz earned their 11th win in a row by taking down the Suns again 107-97, thanks to outscoring them 35-26 in the fourth quarter on Valentine’s night. 
On a night where they shot just 42.4 percent from the field and allowed the Suns to go 12 for 29 from three-point range, the Jazz again out-rebounded them 59-49, including 14-5 on the offensive glass, had 22 assists and dominated them in points in the paint again 52-40. 
Mitchell, who became the first rookie in NBA history to lead his team in scoring during their respective team’s 11-game winning streak with a 21.3 average led the way with 24 points, along with seven assists on 10 for 24 shooting. 
Fellow rookie Royce O’Neale, who has worked his way into the starting rotation because of his ability to guard some of the best perimeter players in the league had a career-high 19 points, with five boards and two steals on the night. 
Gobert and fellow starter at forward Derrick Favors dominated in the paint with double-doubles with the Jazz starting center going for 14 points and 17 rebounds, while the former Georgia Tech product had 18 points and 12 boards. 
In the Jazz’s third victory of the season against the Suns on Thursday night and as mentioned earlier their eighth straight overall, the home team took control by outscoring them 36-20 in the second quarter, and broke things open by outscoring them 35-22 in the fourth. 
The Jazz held the Suns to just 38.6 percent from the field, and while the battle on the boards was much closer this time, but still in favor of the Jazz 64-61, the Jazz registered eight block shots; compiled 12 steals, forcing 22 Suns turnovers that led to 19 points and crushed them in the paint outscoring them 54-34. 
Suns star guard Devin Booker for one of the rare times this season was held in check scoring just 12 points on 3 for 18 from the field. 
Mitchell, led the way with 23 points 10 for 21 shooting, with six boards. Gobert garnered a double-double with 21 points and 13 boards, with two blocks. Swingman Joe Ingles had 17 points, hitting 4 for 9 from three-point range. Jae Crowder, who the Jazz acquired at the trade deadline on Feb. 8 had another strong game with 15 points and eight boards off the bench, while starting lead guard Ricky Rubio chipped in with 12 points and 11 assists, with four steals. In his first game of the season, reserve guard Dante Exum, who had been shelved because of a shoulder that he hurt back in the preseason had 10 points in 14 minutes. 
“We have a group of guys here that put the team first and we all care about winning and defending,” Gobert said after the game. 
The Jazz showed the kind of love and togetherness for one another one game prior on Tuesday night where they dominated the Detroit Pistons (30-38) 110-79 where they registered 42 first quarter points, on 17 for 21 (81 percent), and scoring on their final 10 possessions to take a 42-21 lead after the first. 
In the Jazz’s seven straight win of their eight in succession, they held the Pistons to 37.5 percent from the floor on the night, while out-rebounding them 60-39. The Jazz went 13 for 34 from three-point range, while holding their visitors to just 5 for 25 from deep. They had 29 assists and outscored the Pistons in the paint 48-34. 
“We came out with the right frame of mind, just to defend and paying attention to detail on defense,” Snyder, whose team improved to 27-5 when holding the opposition under the century mark this season. “When you do that, you become instinctive offensively. I thought our reads, early were really good. Made good decisions. Made the extra pass.” 
It is one thing to play together and be one heartbeat on both sides of the basketball, but every great basketball team has one guy who can flat out take the game over and be a difference maker. 
For the Jazz, they have two in Gobert who impacts the game defensively and Mitchell, a rookie who impacts the squad offensively, having registered at least 25 points in 22 games this season. To put that into context, the rest of the 2017-18 NBA rookie class has 30 total games of that number. 
“He’s just a kid. He can score at the perimeter. He can score at the basket. He can score in the midrange. He can find way to get to the foul line. He scores in transition,” Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune said on the Thursday edition of NBATV’s “10 Before Tip,” with Jared Greenberg.  
The best example of this came in Utah’s 116-99 win at the New Orleans Pelicans (39-29) on Mar. 11. 
After scoring just two points in the opening half, Mitchell exploded for 25 of his 27 points in the second half, with 15 of those coming the last 3:08 of the third quarter that put the Jazz ahead for good as they outscored the Pelicans 68-48 in the second half. 
Rubio led the way with a double-double of 30 points, 10 boards and seven assists, on 10 for 22 from the field, which included four three-pointers. Ingles had 20 points, while Gobert had another double-double of 19 points and 16 rebounds, with two block shots. 
There were many points this season where they Utah Jazz could have felt sorry for themselves and decided that this was not their season, especially before it began when they lost All-Star Gordon Hayward in free agency when he signed with the Boston Celtics this summer. When Gobert was shelved two separate times this season because of injury. When they were 19-28 and staring at a trip to the draft lottery. 
Instead, the Jazz picked themselves off the pavement winning as mentioned 20 of their next 22 games, which includes an incredible 11 straight wins on the road. 
At the forefront has been as mentioned has been Utah’s stellar play at the defensive end, led by Rudy Gobert. Their ability to share the ball on offense. The surprising play of the No. 13 overall pick out of Louisville in last June’s draft in Donovan Mitchell, whose given Philadelphia 76ers rookie guard Ben Simmons a run for his money in capturing the 2018 Rookie of the Year award. 
That togetherness and respect for one another is what can allow someone like Dante Exum, who has played in just 149 games since being drafted No. 5 overall four years ago can come back and want to be a contributor to a team that if they make the playoffs will give either the No. 1 Seeded Houston Rockets (54-14) or the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors (52-17) at No. 2, who they defeated 129-99 on Jan. 30 during this run a serious challenge. 
“He made a choice that he was going to attack it,” Snyder said of Exum’s focus when it came to his rehabilitation of his shoulder. “There’s been a determination…not just to rehabilitate his shoulder, but also to stay connected mentally and stay a part of the group is something that he’s (done). It would be easy to disconnect and become detached and wallow in your misery and he just didn’t do that.” 
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 3/15/18 7 p.m. edition of NBATV’s “10 Before Tip,” with Jared Greenberg; www.espn.com/nba/team/schedule/_/name/utah/utah-jazz; www.espn.com/nba/coaches/_/id/52801/quin-snyder; and www.espn.com/nba/standings.

Friday, March 16, 2018

J-Speaks: The Latest Triple-Double By LeBron James

Since the trade deadline when the three-time defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers acquired George Hill, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance, Jr., and Jordan Clarkson, they have gone 7-7 after starting 3-0. In the early stages of March, the team has gone 2-4, with two tough losses in Los Angeles last weekend at the Clippers (37-30) 116-102 a week ago and at the Lakers 127-113 this past Sunday. The best medicine for them came in the order of the Phoenix Suns and four-time league MVP LeBron James led the way again.
In the Cavs (39-29) 129-107 victory at the Suns (19-51) on Tuesday night, James continued his brilliant 15th season in the NBA by recording his 14th triple-double on the season, a new single-season career-high and the 69th of his career with 28 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists, to go along with three steals and two blocks. 
James garnered that 14th triple-double when he hit Clarkson for a dunk on the fast break early in the fourth. 
To put into context what James has done in terms of the amount of triple-doubles he has garnered in his career, his first came on Jan. 19, 2005 where at 21-years-old had 27 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in leading the Cavs to a 107-100 win at the Portland Trail Blazers.
This was the James’ second triple-double in the last 10 days, where head coach Tyronn Lue saw seven of his players score double-figures, where Jordan Clarkson had 23 points off the bench hitting 6 for 10 from three-point range. Sharp shooter Kyle Korver in his first start of the season had 22 points, going 5 for 6 from distance. The guy he replaced in the starting lineup JR Smith had 14 points off the bench, while Jeff Green and Ante Zizic each had 11 points and Hill chipped in with 10. 
“I was playing all three facets and more,” James, who was 7 for 14 from the field, and 13 for 15 from the free throw line said at his locker to reporters after the win. “I picked up a charge as well, a couple of blocks, a couple of steals, just being around the court and reliable for my teammates. Being able to clean glass, get my guys good looks where they are able to catch and shoot or catch it and lay it up, makes it a lot easier for me.”
Behind James’ focus and relentless attack on offense throughout the game, the Cavs in garnering their sixth straight win versus the Suns shot 49.4 percent for the contest, registering 25 assists on 43 field goals, making 17 of their 35 attempts from three-point range and 26 for 30 from the foul line.
“I’m always trying to find the open spot,” Korver said. “(James) commands a lot of attention. We had a couple of sets where we tried to get up a couple of shots for me. A lot of it was just playing the game and reading the game.” 
That is something that Suns’ interim head coach Jay Triano pointed out after the game saying that James’ ability to find the open man is “probably the most elite of the NBA players that he has.” 
He added by saying, “His ability to, not just share it, but how he delivers it. He throws the ball so hard and it’s always on time and on target. We saw that years ago when Steve Nash played. He delivered the ball, and everybody shot a better percentage when they played with him. Everybody who plays with LeBron shoots a much better percentage.”
In a season that has been full of ups-and-downs for the Cavs, the one constant has been the play of two-time Finals MVP in James, whose 69th career triple-double is No. 6 all-time in NBA history, behind Hall of Famer the late Wilt Chamberlin (78); Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star guard and reigning league MVP Russell Westbrook; future Hall of Famer and former Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets head coach Jason Kidd (100); and Hall of Famers in five-time NBA champion and current Vice President of Basketball Operations with the Lakers Earvin “Magic” Johnson (138) and Oscar Robertson (181). 
His consistent play is a major reason why the Cavs have a hold, all be it a slim one on the No. 4 Seed in the East as they are just ½ a game behind the No. 3 Seeded Indiana Pacers (40-29), but just ½ a game in front of the No. 5 Seeded Washington Wizards (39-30). 
Before their tilt at the Suns James spoke about how if the Cavs are going to turn things around as the playoffs are just around the corner, they need to get healthy. 
Right now, the Cavs are missing starting center Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love, who have been on the shelf because of a sprained ankle and injured hand respectably and Hood had been out recently because of a back contusion. 
“It’s every day, nine o’clock every single day,” James said about how he has stayed healthy throughout the season. “Working on my body either with treatment or working on my body in the weight room. Continuing to build strength throughout the season when everybody else is kind of tearing down. Working on my game on the court. Not putting too much pounding on my legs when I’m on the court, just being very efficient. You know I’ve kind of figured it out in my 15th season.” 
“Like I said, I’m honored and happy with what I’ve been able to do. I don’t take it for granted that I’ve been able for my team every game and hopefully I can continue.”
To put what James said into perspective, He has played in 1,127 games since the start of the 2003-04 NBA campaign, with Houston Rockets veteran guard Joe Johnson second to him with 1,103 games played and in third place is Korver with 1,097. 
Those games do not include playoff participation or the seven straight times that James has been to The Finals. 
In his aforementioned 15th season in “The Association,” James is averaging 37.0 minutes per game, which is third in the league behind now injured All-Star guard for the Minnesota Timberwolves Jimmy Butler at 37.1 and All-Star forward for the Milwaukee Bucks Giannis Antetokounmpo at 37.2.
Along with their stellar play offensively at the Suns on Tuesday night, the Cavs played solid defense as they held the home team to 26 percent from the field, including 1 for 9 from three-point range to take a 38-18 lead after one. They Cavs held the Suns to 38.8 percent from the field on the night; to just 6 for 32 from three-point range; had nine blocks and forced 18 turnovers, recording 12 steals and that led to 21 points. The Cavs also registered 27 fast break points. 
Suns top offensive player Devin Booker, who 22 games of 30 points this season had just 17 points on the night on just 7 for 16 from the field.  
In a career that has seen LeBron James be as durable as one could be playing the amount of minutes and having to carry the kind of load he has had to in both stints with the Cavs and in four seasons with the Miami Heat from 2010-14, he has yet to play 82 games in his career, which is on the verge of doing for the first time in his career this season. 
That is because of a relentless, committed, determination of working out and training in the off-season and during the season as he has gotten older that has allowed him to be able play at a high level for so long and to put his team in position to have a chance to win night-in and night-out in the regular season and the postseason. 
It is that commitment and confidence in his ability, along with the major overhaul at the Feb. 8 trade deadline that gives the Cavs a serious shot to make their fourth straight trip to The Finals and James’ eighth in succession individually. 
For them though it is about getting Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson back as quickly as possible, so Coach Lue can integrate them into the rotation and gives the Cavs a healthy squad going into the playoffs, which begin next month. 
If they can be anything close to like they were on Tuesday night at the Suns, where they were engaged on both ends of the floor for 48 minutes, that is bad news for the rest of the Eastern Conference, especially the current No. 1 Seeded Toronto Raptors (51-17) and the No. 2 Seeded Boston Celtics (46-22). 
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 3/13/18 6:30 p.m. edition of NBATV’s “10 Before Tip,” with Jared Greenberg; 3/14/18 1 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime,” presented by Kia with Matt Winer, Greg Anthony and Brent Barry; www.espn.com/nba/standings; www.nba.com/games/20180313/CLEPHX#/recap/boxscore/matchup; www.espn.com/nba/player/stats/gamelog/_/id/1966/lebron-james; www.espn.com/nba/statistics/player/_/stat/minutes; and https://www.basketball-reference.com/leaders/triple-double-most-times.html.

J-Speaks: Wounded Warriors

On Wednesday night, the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors won versus the Los Angeles Lakers (31-37) 117-106 to snap a two-game losing streak. They were led by the 26 points of Kevin Durant, who was 10 for 19 from the field. The major story for the defending champs was who did not play for them that night. 
In a season that has seen the Warriors (52-16), who are right now No. 2 in the rugged Western Conference, behind the Top Seeded Houston Rockets (54-14), they have had to deal with a number of injuries to key personnel of theirs.
Starting All-Star lead guard and two-time league MVP Stephen Curry, who turned 30 on Wednesday missed his third straight game after re-injuring his right ankle in a Mar. 8 110-107 victory versus the No. 8 Seeded San Antonio Spurs (39-30) on TNT. Fellow “Splash Brother” and All-Star Klay Thompson was also out due to a fractured right thumb that he sustained in the team’s 109-103 loss at the No. 5 Seeded Minnesota Timberwolves (40-29) last Sunday afternoon on ABC. He will be on the shelf until Mar. 22, where he will be re-evaluated after the team’s next three games. 
Not only do the Warriors not have the second best three-pointer shooter, in terms of percentage in “The Association” in Thompson, but the Warriors will be without, the fourth best player in the league when it comes to connections from long distance at 206, with Curry right in front of him at 209. Head coach Steve Kerr will also be without his best perimeter defender, and one of the most durable players in the game. 
Since 2011, the year that Thompson was drafted at No. 11 overall by the Warriors in 2011, only DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers has played in more regular season games than the 530 out of 542 by the Washington State University product. The only game he missed this season came on Jan. 10, a 125-106 loss by the Warriors versus the Los Angeles Clippers (37-30). 
“There are things I’m not able to do during the season. Get some well-earned rest,” Thompson said before the game on Wednesday on what being on the shelf means for him right now. “I’ll be mentally fresh most importantly in a week. I’ll be eager to get out there. That’s how I look at it.”

Head coach Steve Kerr echoed those same sentiments by saying, "Klay plays every game. I think he's missed 12 games in his entire career. That's crazy: 530 out of 542 (games). It's not like these are minutes where he's just spotting up. He's running everywhere and chasing every opposing team's best guards. The guy is a machine."

"Even without the thumb (injury), we were considering giving him a game or two off here down the stretch. He's looked a little more spent recently. I look at this like a positive. I think this will be a really productive in the long haul. It's not fun to deal with, but a couple of weeks where he can get away from the game a little bit, heal, recharge the batteries and get rolling. It's probably good thing in the long run." 
Besides being without the “Splash Brothers” on Wednesday night, the Warriors were also missing their definition of a swiss army knife in All-Star Draymond Green with right shoulder soreness, as well as reserves in guard Patrick McCaw and veteran forward David West due to a non-displaced left wrist fracture and a right arm cyst respectably. West is expected to be back as soon as Friday night versus the Sacramento Kings (22-47).  
Durant however will be shelved against the Kings on Friday night and for some games after. The 2014 league MVP, and 2017 Finals MVP according to an MRI on Friday revealed a incomplete rib cartilage fracture. He will be re-evaluated in two weeks. 
Veteran forward/guard Andre Iguodala had missed the three games because of a sprained left wrist but did return on Wednesday night scoring three points and registering two assists in 22 minutes off the bench. 
Rookie center Jordan Bell, who had missed a bunch of games over the past two months because of an ankle injury returned to the lineup after a three-game absence, scoring six points, with three boards and two assists in 18 minutes off the bench. 
Most teams that would be in this situation with their All-Stars and key reserves on the shelf because of injury would cause that particular organization to panic, coach Kerr sees this as a blessing in the skies for some of the second stringers to get some serious playing time. 
That is what took place versus the Lakers, with their starting quintet consisting of Quinn Cook, Durant, Nick Young, Kevon Looney and ZaZa Pachulia.
Starting in place of Curry Cook, a G-League call up had 13 points in 27 minutes on 5 for 11 shooting. Young, who started in Thompson’s place had 18 points, while Looney starting in place of Green had a career-high 11 points with five boards.

Reserve forward Omri Casspi had 15 points and seven rebounds off the bench, on 7 for 8 shooting, while understudy guard Shaun Livingston had 13 points in 20 minutes. 

A bench unit that came in averaging 32.9 points this season, ranking 21st in the NBA had 39 points against the Lakers.
In his first start since the All-Star break, Pachulia, who had been replaced by JaVale McGee at the starting center had a double-double of 10 points and 12 rebounds and five assists. 
“I think our whole team looked at it as an opportunity for us to figure things out,” Durant, who also had five rebounds, six assists and two steals said to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the win. “You know, guys that don’t play a lot get an opportunity to play late in a game like tonight. Looney, Nick Young, Omri Casspi, ZaZa, Quinn Cook everybody played great tonight. So, we got to try to build on this momentum and see if we can get the next game.”
Even without three of their four All-Stars, the Warriors out-rebounded the Lakers 50-35; registered 25 assists on 44 baskets, shooting 54.3 percent from the floor. 
There were some areas in which the Warriors top players were missed against the Lakers and in their two prior losses at the T’Wolves, and at the Trail Blazers (42-26), 125-108 on Mar. 9. 
The visitors shot 45.2 percent on the night and committed 21 turnovers, with 11 of them coming on steals. 
“These games are fun when guys who don’t ordinarily get to play much, when they get a chance and really contribute,” Kerr, whose team won their seventh in a row versus the Lakers, and their 11 in succession against them at Oracle Arena said. “It strengthens the team.” "I actually look at this, long-term as a positive." 
What also strengthens a team is to know that everyone can enjoy one another’s company away from the game, which is what the team did as they celebrated Curry’s 30th Birthday with a big-time party on Monday with rap legend Earl Stevens, who rap name is E-40 providing the vocals.

There was social media video of Curry enjoying a plate of ribs while his teammates were dancing. Even Kerr and assistant coach Mike Brown were tearing it up on the stage. 
The whole team from the players and coaches had such a good time that, dancing up a storm that, practice was cancelled. 
What this moment really puts into perspective with the Warriors under Kerr is that when one of the members of the team celebrates something, the entire team participates, and things of this nature bring a team closer sometimes than watching film and going through a shootaround to prepare for the 68th game of the season. 
Along with that, what makes the Warriors great are the great players like Curry, who seems to get better year-in and year-out from his ability to make shots from way outside three-point range. Thompson who is as comfortable being a third banana to Curry and Durant on offense, to doing the dirty work of guarding the opposing team’s best perimeter player. 
The victory also clinched the team’s sixth straight postseason appearance, which tied their six straight postseason appearances from 1946-47 through 1951-52 when the team was in Philadelphia, PA. 
This time also gives Kerr and his coaching staff the opportunity to get the second unit and the rest of the supporting cast that has been up and down this season on track. 
As NBATV’s Sekou Smith points out during Wednesday’s edition of “10 Before Tip,” with Jared Greenberg a lot of the supporting cast has changed since the team’s first title in 2014-15 outside of Livingston and Iguodala, the 2015 Finals MVP. 
Bell has shown flashes of what he could contribute when he has been healthy, but he has not and neither has McCaw, who really came on in the postseason a year ago in the Warriors run to their second title in the last three seasons a year ago. 
“Health as the Warriors know Jared is priority No. 1, because when you go into the postseason with anybody in your core group injured, it takes your chemistry and shakes it up a little bit,” Smith said on Wednesday.
That is something the Warriors found out two years ago, when they lost in the 2016 Finals two years ago to the defending three-time Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers. 
It is because of that the Warriors are not overly concerned about getting the No. 1 Seed in the West, which they essentially lost to the Rockets thanks to losing the season series against them 2-1 this season and that they are two games back on the loss side to the Southwest Division champions. 
That being said, the Warriors have to remain sharp because in the opposite conference the East leading Toronto Raptors (51-17), who if they were to finish with a better record than the defending champions, they would have home court in The Finals if they met. 
Each time the Warriors have reach The Finals the past three seasons, they have home court advantage.
If they finish at No. 2 and if the Raptors reach The Finals this June and have a better record than the Warriors, they would have home court advantage, and that would not be a good thing for the Warriors if they are not healthy and whole.
“When you’re trying to get there, the No. 1 Seed means something to your group,” Smith said. “Your guys are looking at it saying, ‘This is not only a validation for what we’ve done throughout the course of a regular season, this is also the prize that we needed for the playoffs.” 
“To know that every time we start a series for as long as we play, were going to do it with out home fans in the comfort of home.”
No one understands that better than the Warriors, who have one of the best crowds you will ever see. When Oracle arena is rocking, it is one tough place to play and get a win when you are a visitor.
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 3/14/18 6:30 p.m. edition of NBATV’s “10 Before Tip,” with Jared Greenberg; 3/15/18 1 a.m. edition of ESPN’s “Sportscenter,” with Scott Van Pelt; 3/14/18 www.nba.com article, “Golden State Warriors’ Klay Thompson Out with Fractured Right Thumb;” 3/16/18 www.nba.com article, “Golden State Warriors’ Kevin Durant out versus Sacramento Kings;” 3/17/18 6:30 a.m. edition of NBATV's "Gametime," presented by Kia with Rick Kamla, Mike Fratello and David Aldridge; www.nba.com/games/20180314/LALGSW#/recap/matchup/boxscore;