Archive for the ‘NBA’ Category

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Doctors and trainers tend to Indiana Pacers All-Star Paul George last Friday night
during the U.S. men’s national team’s scrimmage at the Thomas and Mack Center.
Photo courtesy of Cassy Athena/www.cassyathena.com

W.G. Ramirez

So I purposely took my time in penning my final thoughts on last week, specifically the Paul George situation, so I could listen to everyone speak on it Monday morning.

I’m done listening, and I think part of my ear drums hurt. They may be bleeding.

I’ve heard enough.

The one person who made the most sense was Freddie Coleman, on ESPN’s First Take, and I lend credence to the worldwide leader’s Brian Windhorst since he was here all week, saw what happened first hand and was at the hospital reporting overnight and first thing Saturday morning.

But those with remarks like: “Someone has some questions to answer” about the Thomas and Mack Center and how the court was laid out, or “NBA players should not be competing internationally” need to give it a rest.

Freak. Accident.

Rare. Occurrence.

The last time we saw something like this was when Louisville’s Kevin Ware broke his leg on national television during the  NCAA Tournament. But prior to that, can anyone remember such a thing taking place? This is not something that is unavoidable, or something you think about when constructing a court, or practicing for a game.

You get taped up to avoid sprained ankles. You don’t necessarily think about avoiding compound fractures.

The relationship between the NBA and USA Basketball would not be in question if George didn’t break his leg. Instead, we’d be talking about how well Derrick Rose played, and the fact he looked fantastic in the first quarter and how he was the crowd favorite.

Fact is, Jerry Colangelo, Mike Krzyzewski, George’s family and the rest of the national team were saddened, the one person who was upbeat throughout the weekend and had the most positive attitude, was the person with a rod and screws in his leg. George, though he reportedly couldn’t believe it happened, told visitors and social media he would be fine and would bounce back stronger than ever.

That won’t be until the 2015-16 season. But he will be back.

Joe Rainone, co-owner of Tim Soder Physical Therapy, said George should have no problem returning to the court, it’s just going to take some time.

“You don’t see that many injuries like this,” Rainone said. “I’ve seen more than 1,000 or 1,500 football games – I don’t think I’ve ever seen something like this. Look at all the basketball injuries you see, I’ve never seen an injury like that. I’ve seen plenty of ACLs, I’ve seen a ton of ankle injuries, but I’ve never seen something like this.”

He added that George was extremely lucky to have no damage to his ankle or knee, which will make the healing process much easier.

“With the way his leg went, you just don’t know,” Rainone said. “Whether it’s the ankle or knee, you’d think he had to have more damage than that. But everybody heals at a different rate. They say four to six weeks, but some don’t heal as well as others – some heal sooner.”

Rainone, who has treated many professional athletes from Major League Baseball, the NFL, NBA and PGA Tour, said with as clean a break as George’s appears to be, and because doctors can use x-rays it makes it easier to determine when you the NBA All-Star can begin physical therapy, as opposed to an ACL tear in the knee.

“The nice thing with the bone is you can see the healing process,” he said. “Not only looking at the bone, but you’re looking at the hardware too, to make sure the progress is coming along.”

Rainone said it’s very rare that screws will loosen, but that can happen. And the only time they go in to fix the hardware or take it out is if it’s shiftmatic and there is metal rubbing against anything, it’s not sitting right or causing irritation.

“This is one of those injuries that if you have money and the right people around you, it’s going to expedite things for sure,” Rainone said. “The most likely thing is if everything goes extremely well – and they just need to go well – I say he is back.”

In fact, Rainone said George’s right leg will likely be stronger than before, due to over calcification of the bone. George’s leg will have more density, and will be thicker than it was before. Rainone believes with the proper attention, George should start physical therapy in no more than three months, will be walking on his own anywhere from four to six months and will be back on the court anywhere from eight to 12 months.

Until then, the pundits will continue to weigh in, alerting everyone how dangerous and unnecessary it is to have NBA All-Stars playing for Team USA – the same people who will be cheering for the men’s national team in about a month in Spain.

*shoulder shrug*

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Indiana Pacers star and NBA All-Star Paul George and I chat after the U.S. men’s national team’s practice on Thursday. Photo courtesy of: Cassy Athena/cassyathena.com

W.G. Ramirez

I’ve heard, read and written the same adjectives you’ve all seen when it comes to describing Paul George’s gruesome injury Friday night at the Thomas and Mack Center.

See, I did it again.

Nearly 24 hours later, with about two hours of sleep in between reporting, texting, tweeting, sharing notes, communicating – you name it – about the incident, I can tell you it’s not one of my high points in 27 years of journalism.

Sure, I wrote a story that went global via The Associated Press, but these are not the stories you live for, especially when it’s about a young man with exquisite talent, and is as graceful on a basketball court as Baryshnikov was on stage and who is quite the diplomat in representing the NBA and men’s national team in a respectful manner.

George, considered a sure-bet to make the final 12-man roster for the World Cup of Basketball that starts later this month in Spain, emerged as the Indiana Pacers’ franchise player after averaging 21.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists last season. The team figured it would build around him now that Lance Stephenson has bolted to play for the Charlotte Hornets, while many believe he was penciled in as a starter alongside Kevin Durant for the men’s national team.

After undergoing successful surgery to fix a right leg, open tibia-fibula fracture overnight, George has a long road to recovery.

And Indianapolis hearts are breaking as we speak.

But it’s not just because the Pacers have seemingly dropped out of the Eastern Conference picture about three months before the season begins, it’s because it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. I mean, from what I can tell, most of the players in town last week are all nice. Some are just over-seasoned a bit, and perhaps weary of dealing with media sorts. They give their garden variety quotes, do their required media sessions and then move on.

But George was someone who seemed different. He came across the exact way Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski expected every member of the national team to come across, with a sense of brotherhood for his fellow teammates, and a great representative toward our country.

George stopped to speak to me in one of his last interviews of the week (he may have conducted a phone interview between our chat and Friday’s tip-off), just before the players boarded their charter bus after practice on Thursday. And the one thing I gathered was his true grasp for Krzyzewski’s goal of bringing together a fine-tuned group with the best chemistry, based on their personalities.

For George, he said he understood last Sunday, in the team’s first meeting at the Wynn.

“He put the video on and showing the guys celebrating, ya know pulling for one another – it’s a real brotherhood here,” said George, referring to previous national teams that won gold medals in the World Championships and Olympics. “You’re not only representing yourself, you’re not only representing the U.S. – you’re representing one another. And us being ambassadors of the NBA, of the US, we gotta carry that well.”

By the end of Thursday’s practice, George said everyone involved – from the invitees, to the select team, to the coaches and even the trainers – they were all on the same page and it had turned into a celebratory occasion, that being the first week together on a tour that next stops in Chicago on Aug. 14.

“We’re working hard, we’re getting a better understanding of one another, gaining that chemistry and I think really that’s what this is about,” George said. “We all can play ball, but it’s about learning how to play together and building chemistry, which is gonna win us that gold medal. A lot of us can do special things individually, but if we’re not on the same page, it’s gonna be tough.”

George said because players competing for other countries generally play together year round, they already have the camaraderie these group of NBA All-Stars are looking for, and began building in Las Vegas.

“For us to pick everything up in this short coming, it just speaks volumes of how much we’re willing to really sacrifice and make some changes to our games to win gold,” he said.

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Team USA’s Kevin Durant reacts after teammate Paul George collided with a backboard stanchion and broke his leg. Photo courtesy of:
Cassy Athena/cassyathena.com

And one of those sacrifices is putting your body at risk, over about six weeks, to attain global greatness. We saw how rough it can get last month in the FIFA World Cup, with several physical soccer matches. Here we are just one week into the U.S. team’s training camp, and the guy with one of the most infectious personalities and genuine attitudes Krzyzewski is looking for is not only lost from this team, he conceivably might not be ready to train with the Pacers until this time next year.

Durant, who USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo has said is the face of the team, told me he’d grown close with George this past week, especially after the two, along with James Harden, spent extra time after practice rotating in and out of 1-on-1 competitions inside the Mendenhall Center.

Scary thing is, it was exactly like the play in which George was injured, that we watched the trio perform over and over on Wednesday and Thursday.

“It’s been fun, just getting to know Paul,” said Durant, the 2014 NBA MVP. “Of course I know James, but it’s competing against ’em. We’ve been competitive the last two days of playing one-on-one, it’s just getting us all better. We respect each other a lot, there’s a mutual respect for all of our games.”

George concurred: “And we rely on one another, we hold one another accountable for all of our actions. But it’s all about pulling for one another. At the end of the day, we’re all we really have, going over to Spain and playing for a gold medal. So we gotta make sure that everybody feels confident and comfortable, knowing that we got each other’s backs.”

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DeMarcus Cousins reacts after teammate Paul George suffered a broken leg Friday night in Las Vegas.
Photo courtesy of: Cassy Athena/cassyathena.com

That couldn’t have been more evident immediately after George’s right leg crumbled into the basket stanchion 27 seconds into the fourth quarter of the USA Basketball Showcase. Harden reacted first, since it was his lay-up George tried contesting. Durant doubled over looking as if he wanted to burst into tears for his now-closer friend. DeMarcus Cousins was flailing his arms up and over his head repeatedly. Stephen Curry sat worried, visibly shaken, with a towel over his head.

And the leader of the brotherhood, Coach K, he looked like a concerned parent as he hovered over George while the medical team and George’s parents were there with them. You’re not supposed to be emotional, and not supposed to care as a reporter. But it was disheartening, and touching, and sad, and moving – all rolled into one. For about 12 or 13 minutes, soaking up the scene, it was an indescribable role I’m not sure I’d want to be a part of again. I love what I do, but that was downright frightful.

And there I did it again, another adjective.

“There’s a brotherhood in the NBA and to me, at moments like this, family or brotherhood shows its heart, it shows its depth, and that’s what I thought our players showed during that time,” Krzyzewski said at the post-game press conference. “We as a coaching staff just told them to relax. We felt at that point we should not go forward and not to worry about playing again, let’s put all of our focus and all of our energy, whatever, if you believe in a higher someone up there above, let’s focus on that in regards to Paul.

“We focused on prayer, and thinking about Paul George.”

How profound.

And touching.

Not to mention revealing, of that camaraderie and brotherhood everyone spoke of the first four days of the training camp, then exercised Friday night when a member of the brethren went down.

“That’s the type of environment we try to set, and we try to live by,” said Derrick Rose during an exclusive interview. “As a brotherhood playing together, just leaving our egos at the door, that’s what makes us a stronger team.”

Even – and especially – when a member of that team experiences a horrific injury.

See what I did there? Again…

Get well soon PG

DRose

Derrick Rose during an interview after Monday’s practice with the U.S. Men’s National Team. (Photo: W.G. Ramirez)

W.G. Ramirez

I had never met Derrick Rose before this past week, during the U.S. men’s national team opened training camp here in Las Vegas.

In previous years, he’s been dealing with knee injuries, so he hasn’t accompanied Team USA here.

Turns out, the Chicago Bulls point guard and I have something in common.

Forget for a moment I have plenty in common with any other father who loves his son, that’s not the point. While interviewing the 25-year-old professional basketball player, what I realized when speaking to him, is the genuineness he spoke of when relating to his toddler son PJ, who will turn two in October.

On Monday after practice Rose said “I take the game serious, basketball is my life.” But what I’ve come to learn even further, is the one driving force behind Rose wanting to be back on the court – more than winning an NBA title or Gold medal – is PJ. It’s an undying, parental love I fully understand.

I get it.

As a single father of 18 years, I comprehend what it means to dedicate your existence so someone who depends on you can live their life easier. It’s how I’ve been since before my son was born. I had outfits and Nikes picked out before my son came into this world. I knew things he’d be doing, how I’d provide for him and that he’d be my rib once he entered the world.

For Derrick Rose, that’s how it is with PJ.

“Most people in my profession really don’t get the chance to be around their kids,” said Rose, who is one of 10 pure guards competing for a spot on the 12-man roster Team USA will take to Spain for the 2014 FIBA World Cup. “It’s fun to be around him because it takes my mind off of everything. Him playing around, he’s fun to be around.”

That’s why, Rose said, for him to be around PJ as much as he has been, he’s looked at these injuries as more of a blessing in disguise. They’ve allowed him to be a part of PJ’s life at the most crucial time in a baby’s life, the beginning of it. Rose isn’t just a daddy – he’s a father. He’s been able to see PJ’s first steps, enjoy his first words, laugh along with his first giggle and quite possibly, tear up among PJ’s many first-shed tears.

So rather than dwell on the injuries that limited him to just 10 games last season, and clipped him from the 2013 playoffs, Rose has made sure he’s been around his son every other day – if not daily – while rehabbing his knee. He’s called being a father the “perfect distraction” to stay sane and grounded, while the world around him has been in a frenzy about his knee. When he’s not with his son, Rose said he’s most likely been either working out with weights, conditioning his knee or on the court perfecting his game.

“I can’t give up, I have a son that’s looking up to me,” Rose said. “When he gets older and realizes what’s going on, he’s going to look back, and hopefully that’ll give him some motivation, knowing I had to go through so much. I hope that pushes him to be a great individual.”

I know what he means, trust me.

I’ve been through my own trials and tribulations. And though D-Rose and I live two entirely different lives, I can appreciate knowing every thought, during every waking moment, he is thinking about PJ.

PJ Rose

PJ Rose (Photo courtesy: Derrick Rose Twitter/@DRose)

It’s how I think about my son, Jordin.

“Derrick has the highest standards, just like the elite players – (Kevin) Durant, LeBron (James),” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He was an MVP of the league and one of the great players of the league. He’s been out, so Derrick’s going to be on a mission to get back to, not just playing and being good, but he wants to get back to being elite.”

Rose told me he knows this is only the beginning of a long journey – “a long grind,” as he puts it – but he’s ready to put the injury behind him and move forward by continuing to learn daily to become a better leader for not only the men’s national team and Chicago Bulls, but that little boy back in Chicago.

“Like I said, when he gets older, he’s going to look at this and hopefully it’ll make him better,” he said. “He drives me every day, to tell you the truth. I ask about him even while I’m here. I ask about him (and his mother) sends me pictures and videos every day, and that kind of gives me that extra boost when I don’t feel like doing the things I (need) to do like the maintenance on my body, the massages, and getting iced and stuff – I think about him.”

I feel you D. I get it.

By Jesse Granger

Shabazz Muhammad has played the best basketball of his life in Las Vegas.

The second year NBA player lit up the Cox Pavilion scoreboard Thursday for the Minnesota Timberwolves, scoring a game-high 24 points on 7-of-13 shooting, while adding 3 rebounds and a pair of steals.

Shabazz Muhammad battles for a rebound along with teammate Glen Robinson III.

Shabazz Muhammad battles for a rebound along with teammate Glen Robinson III.

Muhammad has carried his team throughout the 2014 NBA Summer League, averaging 16.2 points per game and is one of the vocal leaders on the court. It’s a giant leap forward for him after a thoroughly disappointing rookie season in Minnesota.

During his rookie campaign, Muhammad averaged a mere 3.9 points per game. He only appeared in 37 games and never started. When he did see the floor, it was brief – 7.8 minutes per game to be exact.

Midway through the year, he was relegated to the NBA D-League for a week. He shined in four games and returned to the Association with a new energy, but still rarely produced on the court.

So Muhammad’s dominant performance in this week’s summer league tournament may shock NBA fans across the country, but it comes as no surprise to Las Vegas locals who watched him rise to stardom just a quick 20-minute drive up the Interstate 215 to Bishop Gorman High School.

In his time at Bishop Gorman, Muhammad led the Gaels to three Nevada State Championships in four years, while the team’s collective record during his tenure was an unbelievable 111-17. His senior season, Muhammad averaged 29 points per game, including his final performance – a 36 point offensive clinic in the state championship game, 30 of which came in the first half.

His play drew national attention and by the time Muhammad graduated he was the No. 2 player in the nation on ESPN’s top-100 rankings, behind only Nerlens Noel.

From there, Muhammad took a one-year trip to UCLA, and landed in the NBA where his career has yet to get off the ground. Maybe a trip to Las Vegas is exactly what he needed to propel his game in the right direction.

“It’s great,” Muhammad said. “It’s obviously a great opportunity for me and my teammates to come out here to Las Vegas and represent.”

In the first game back in his home city, Muhammad produced a double-double with 27 points and 11 rebounds, but the experience of returning to Las Vegas has been much more than on-court success.

“My parents live here, and everybody, all of my old friends from high school and middle school,” he said. “It’s always fun to get to see them, and it’s a great opportunity for me.”

While the summer league is often a proving ground where roster spots are won and lost, Muhammad is in no danger of being left off the Timberwolves roster. He currently sits behind only Corey Brewer on the depth chart, and after a year of experience could be posed to earn more playing time.

“I think I gained a lot of experience from last year, even though I was on the bench,” he said. “I learned how to slow the game down.”

Muhammad is listed as a small forward, but standing only 6-foot-6 he is a bit undersized for the position. He feels that his biggest area for improvement in order to become more of a guard is his dribbling and passing.

“I’ve just been working on my ball skills, and just becoming a better guard,” he said. “(Improving on) my shooting can always help, and overall there’s something I can always get better at.”

If he can find a way to keep his Las Vegas form going into the games that actually count, Muhammad could develop into a national star as well.

imageBy Jesse Granger

One of the bright spots of the Runnin’ Rebels disappointing 2013-14 season was an energetic transfer from the University of Connecticut.

Roscoe Smith brought intensity and heart every night he took to the floor, and breathed energy into a team that suffered through a season full of missed expectations. Smith’s theatrics and leadership made him a fan favorite, particularly screaming in opponents’ faces as he jumped up and down while guarding the inbound pass.

What better place for UNLV’s theatrical leader to continue his basketball career than Hollywood, California – with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Smith made his professional debut last Friday in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas in front of a sold out crowd.

“I played in front of a lot of UNLV fans, and to represent the UNLV program, it was definitely very interesting,” Smith said. “I was very anxious, but I slowed down and let the game come to me.”

He started the game on the bench, but checked in at the 4:36 mark of the first quarter. He was held scoreless in the first half, missing both of his shots, and looked uncomfortable on the floor.

“The biggest difference is the talent level,” he said. “There are a lot of great guys out here that can play basketball. Some guys are more physical than others, some are quicker than others and some jump higher than others.”

His scoring drought ended in the third quarter when he slammed home a two-handed dunk, and his game opened up from there.

“After I got that dunk everything just started feeling like it was back to normal,” Smith said. “Once you get that first bucket you’re like ok, it’s just basketball. I’ve been doing this my whole life.”

He ended the game with 8 points on 3-of-5 shooting, and added 2 rebounds and a block in 14 minutes of playing time. A solid outing for his first game in the NBA, especially after the criticism he received when choosing to forgo his senior season at UNLV to enter the NBA draft.

“I feel good about (the decision),” said Smith, who is averaging 4.0 points in 11.3 minutes per game after the first three games of the Summer League. “I think I had an impressive year at UNLV. Coach Rice and all of the other UNLV staff members definitely had a lot of confidence in me. They definitely helped me improve, not just as a basketball player but as a person. Today for the first time as a professional athlete I think I did pretty well. I don’t have any complaints at all.”

Making his debut in Las Vegas could have put added pressure on Smith, but he felt it only helped him.

“Coming to Las Vegas, I feel like this is still my first family, so they just support me. I’m not trying to impress anyone. I’m just trying to improve as a player every day.”

His trip back home even allowed Smith to catch up with some old teammates.

“I saw a few guys from the team that came and supported me.” Smith said. “I talked to a few guys yesterday. I’m going to watch Kevin Olekaibe and cheer for him. I’m his biggest fan, and I wish him the biggest luck right now.”

Similarly to Smith, teammate Khem Birch also chose to leave school early and went undrafted. The two remain close, and are trying to help each other as they make the next step in their careers.

“I actually talked to Khem all of last night. I experienced it first, so I’m going to give him a pep talk about it and what to do. Just be aggressive all day and everything will work out.”