Posts tagged with Nba

LeBron James credits old rival Paul Pierce with shaping his career

Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce, center, dunks as Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, left, and center Anderson Varejao of Brazil, right, watch during the second half of Game 4 in a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Sunday, May 9, 2010, in Boston. The Celtics won 97-87, tying the series at 2-2. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce, center, dunks as Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, left, and center Anderson Varejao of Brazil, right, watch during the second half of Game 4 in a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Sunday, May 9, 2010, in Boston. The Celtics won 97-87, tying the series at 2-2. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Years from now, when basketball fans who have yet to be born learn of LeBron James or Paul Pierce by watching hologram highlight clips of their Hall-of-Fame careers, one small forward will inevitably be linked with the other.

The rivalry between Pierce and James took off in the 2008 NBA Playoffs. Ever since, their one-on-one battles have been a prominent storyline each time their two teams meet.

When Pierce, a 17-year veteran from Kansas, hinted at retiring upon Washington’s elimination from the playoffs this past week, Northeast Ohio Media Group’s Chris Haynes asked James about his old antagonist and their showdowns through the years.

Still in the hunt for this season’s championship with the Cavaliers, James told Cleveland.com Pierce actually helped shape his career.

"Obviously he gets a Cliff note or a couple notes in my book as far as guys that helped me get over the hump or kept me where I was at the time," James said. "I knew I had to become much better individually. He's one of those guys."

Playing with the Celtics and Nets, Pierce has faced James’ Cavaliers and Heat in five postseason series. “The Truth” prevailed in both 2008 and 2010, before James went to Miami and won titles in 2012 and 2013.

Now a four-time NBA MVP, James went toe-to-toe with Pierce in a second-round series in 2008 that featured a remarkable Game 7. James put up 45 points, but Pierce scored 41 and the Celtics won in Boston, on their way to an eventual championship.

In 2010, James played what many assumed would be his last game in a Cleveland uniform against Pierce’s Celtics. Cleveland lost in the second round to Boston before James headed south to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.

Once the Heat formed its own “Big Three” to counter Boston’s combination of Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, the playoff showdowns started going James’ way. LeBron and company ended Pierce’s season in 2011, 2012 and 2014 (when Pierce and Garnett played in Brooklyn).

The adversaries could have met again in the Eastern Conference Finals beginning this week, but Pierce’s Wizards couldn’t extend their postseason lives past Game 6 vs. Atlanta — a series that ended with an overtime-forcing 3-pointer from Pierce getting waved off upon further review.

"[When] I first saw it and when he got the ball, I knew it was going in," James told Cleveland.com. "I just know how clutch Double-P is. I knew it was going in, but I didn't know if he got it off in time just because he had to make that extra move to get back behind the three-point line after [Kyle] Korver kind of stepped in front of him."

James, who has a 17-20 record vs. his rival in the regular season and a 17-13 record in the playoffs, knows first-hand what Pierce can do with the game on the line. In the 2012 East Finals, Pierce buried a clutch 3 to put Miami in a 3-2 series hole.

No one knows at this point whether the two adversaries will get another playoff showdown in 2016 to cap the old rivalry.

"I've been competing against him my whole career and our battles that we've had, our differences that we've had,” James told Cleveland.com. “But you know one thing about it, when you face him; you're going to always compete. I wish him the best in whatever he decides to do."

Visit basketball-reference.com for a detailed look at each head-to-head meeting between Pierce and James.

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PLAYOFFS


Check out Boston.com’s Top 5 Pierce vs. James moments


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Paul Pierce contemplating retirement

Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce (34) waves to the crowd as he leaves the court after Game 6 of the second round of the NBA basketball playoffs Atlanta Hawks, Friday, May 15, 2015, in Washington. The Hawks won 94-91. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce (34) waves to the crowd as he leaves the court after Game 6 of the second round of the NBA basketball playoffs Atlanta Hawks, Friday, May 15, 2015, in Washington. The Hawks won 94-91. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

The NBA’s new Mr. Clutch, Paul Pierce, caught the basketball with time vanishing in the final seconds of Washington’s second-round elimination game Friday night and drained a contested, fade-away 3-pointer from the left corner.

The Verizon Center crowd exploded, and Pierce’s Wizards teammates congratulated him on sending Game 6 against Atlanta to overtime.

However, upon further review, the ball left the veteran’s fingertips a split-second too late. “The Truth” had not saved the day this time, and the Hawks advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The stunned 17-year veteran from Kansas left the court afflicted with the feeling he let his team down, and, as he told The Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore, wondering about his future.

“Truthfully, what was going through my mind is, I don’t have too much of these efforts left, if any,” Pierce said. “These rides throughout the NBA season, throughout the playoffs, are very emotional. They take a lot out of not only your body, but your mind, your spirit.”

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Pierce averaged 14.6 points and drained 52.4% of his 3-pointers in the playoffs, but finished what proved to be the season finale with 4 points on 1-for-7 shooting (0-for-2 from downtown). No competitor of Pierce’s caliber would want to walk away from the game on that note, particularly after having a clutch shot waved off, but it’s an option the 2008 Finals MVP finds himself considering.

As Kilgore reported, Pierce has a player option for next season on his contract worth $6 million dollars. Will he take it, extend his late-career sting with the Wizards and play an 18th season?

“I don’t even know if I’m going to play basketball anymore,” Pierce told The Washington Post.

The veteran revealed the emotions of the season-ending loss in many of his post-game comments.

“It affects not only you, but the people around you,” Pierce said. “Days like this, you go home and you’re around your family, you don’t feel like talking to them or doing anything because of what the game does. It takes a bit out of you.”

Retirement is on the table for the future Hall of Famer now, and Pierce said calling it quits — whether it comes this offseason or down the road — will probably be the hardest thing he ever has to do.

“I’m never going to have no regrets, whether I hang it up now or later,” Pierce said. “I know that people who have been around me all these years know that Paul Pierce came every day, left it out there every day. I know I left everything out there.”


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Joel Embiid aids Sixers brass at Draft Combine

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid chats up Kansas assistant coach Kurtis Townsend on the way to the locker room following the Jayhawks' 74-64 win over Baylor on Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid chats up Kansas assistant coach Kurtis Townsend on the way to the locker room following the Jayhawks' 74-64 win over Baylor on Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Joel Embiid has yet to play a game in the NBA for Philadelphia, but the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft already has dabbled in coaching, scouting and interviewing prospects.

During the final week of the 76ers’ 18-64 season, coach Brett Brown let the one-and-done center from Kansas draw up a play in a timeout.

Thursday in Chicago, Brown and the Philadelphia brain trust had Embiid in tow at the Draft Combine. The 21-year-old 7-footer watched this year’s crop of incoming rookies run through drills and scrimmages and even sat in on interviews with potential draftees.

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The Sixers’ head coach told the Philadelphia Daily News he thought bringing a young player with the franchise’s decision-makers was a unique and great idea. On-76ers-Meetings-With-Prospects-At-Combine

"He gets a chance to talk to the guys who may be his future teammates,” Brown said. “He gets to listen to the answers to the questions that we ask, whether it be about their character, work ethic, whatever it may be.”

Philadelphia’s coach went on to call the 7-footer from Cameroon the franchise’s cornerstone.

“We want him being involved in our decisions moving forward,” Brown told the Philadelphia Daily News. “We're all in this together, and Jo knows that he is a very big piece for all of us moving forward. The more we can get him involved in everything is just better for everyone. I think this is the first time anyone has done anything like this."

Embiid didn’t attend last year’s combine, which has become common practice for the elite rookies in each class. CSNPhilly.com’s John Gonzalez reported the young big man asked Brown and Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie if he could tag along this week.

“I think that for him to come here to Chicago and share in the selection and opinions of people that we may draft is an impressive quality that he has shown us,” Brown told CSNPhilly.com.

The agenda also included non-combine activities, such as individual workouts and weight-lifting sessions for Embiid, but the highlight of the trip to Chicago had to be sitting in with his bosses as Philadelphia’s contingent interviewed his potential future teammates.

As you might imagine, the participation of Philly's player/coach/scout caught some prospects off guard. But Arizona’s Stanley Johnson told CSNPhilly.com the addition Embiid’s presence helped him feel at ease.

“It was fun because I got to have some dialogue with him,” Johnson said. “Jo Jo is always playing around. You know that.”

The fun-loving big man, Texas one-and-done Myles Turner shared, brought that same approach to his interview.

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“His first question was: Why didn’t you go to Kansas?” Turner said, laughing.

Brown enjoyed every minute of keeping his young center involved as the Sixers put potential draftees on the hot seat.

“I just think it's healthy,” Brown told CSNPhilly.com, “and I think it's got to be accumulative effort that we're putting out there where these guys have a say in the design and the growth of their own program."


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Ben McLemore shows improvement in Year 2, and stands out in community

Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore, left, stuffs as Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce, right, looks on during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Sacramento, Calif., Sunday, March 22, 2015. The Kings won 109-86. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore, left, stuffs as Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce, right, looks on during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Sacramento, Calif., Sunday, March 22, 2015. The Kings won 109-86. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

It can’t be easy playing for the Sacramento Kings right now.

An afterthought of an NBA franchise since the early 2000’s and the glory days of Chris Webber and Mike Bibby, the Kings haven’t reached the playoffs since 2006. They went through another lackluster season (29-53) in 2014-15, marred by an organization-inflicted coaching carousel that forced the players to take the floor under three different leaders: Mike Malone (fired), interim Tyrone Corbin and late-season hire George Karl.

Amid all that, somehow, second-year shooting guard Ben McLemore found ways to improve.

The Kansas product mostly struggled through his rookie campaign, but looked more comfortable in Year 2. McLemore again played in all 82 games for the Kings, but unlike the previous season, when his role changed a few times, the 22-year-old high-flyer started every game.

Accordingly, the 6-foot-5 guard showed improvements in his shooting percentages and scoring.

Ben McLemore
statistical comparison
G GS Mins. Pts FG% 3% FT% Rebs. Asts. Stls. TOs
Rookie (2013-14) 82 55 26.7 8.8 37.6% 32% 80.4% 2.9 1.0 0.5 1.2
Sophomore (2014-15) 82 82 32.6 12.1 43.7% 35.8% 81.3% 2.9 1.7 0.9 1.7

Perhaps the best news for McLemore? He finished the season in impressive fashion.

His April included 20-point performances against Utah, Oklahoma City and Denver, and he put up 24 points in Sacramento’s season finale, vs. the Los Angeles Lakers.

In his final nine games of the season — under the team’s presumably longterm coach, Karl — McLemore trended upward, averaging 16.2 points, 3.6 boards, 3.1 assists, 2.2 turnovers and 1.8 steals in 33.5 minutes. In April, he made 49.1% of his field goal attempts and 35.4% of his 3-pointers.

Karl has gone on record as saying no one on the team is untradeable, but if McLemore keeps showing new wrinkles, progress and improves defensively, he could be the kind of piece the Kings want to keep around for the long haul.

Just as impressive as his improvement on the court, though, have been his contributions to the people of Sacramento. The Kings named him the winner of their Oscar Robertson Triple-Double Award, given to the player who “exemplifies excellence on the court and in the community.”

Since joining the ranks of the best basketball players on the planet, McLemore has helped out not only in his NBA city, but also in his hometown of Wellston, Missouri.

“When I was growing up, my family didn’t have much, so it’s always been extremely important for me to give back and help wherever and whenever I can,” McLemore told the Kings’ website. “I cherish the opportunity to be a role model for young kids and to give back to Sacramento and the community in which I grew up in Missouri. I’m honored to receive this recognition named for an NBA legend and great humanitarian.”

McLemore also became one of the finalists for the league-wide Community Assist Award.

His nonprofit organization, All 4 Kids, provides meals for underserved and low-income youth and families in Wellston and surrounding communities.

Things weren’t easy for McLemore growing up, and it’s obvious he hasn’t forgotten that.

“Now it’s our time to provide for those who dream bold, too,” the young guard said.


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Paul Pierce offers insight on crunch-time heroics

Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce, in headband, celebrates with his teammates after Game 3 of the second round of the NBA basketball playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks, Saturday, May 9, 2015, in Washington. The Wizards won 103-101. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce, in headband, celebrates with his teammates after Game 3 of the second round of the NBA basketball playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks, Saturday, May 9, 2015, in Washington. The Wizards won 103-101. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

From the man who brought you, “This is why they brought me here.” …

Paul Pierce presents: “I called game.”

“The Truth” beat the buzzer — and Atlanta — Saturday night by banking in a contested game-winning jumper as time expired.

With the Hawks’ Kent Bazemore and Dennis Schroder defending Pierce, the 17-year veteran from Kansas got off as tough a crunch-time shot as you’ll find, and got the lucky bounce off the glass to give Washington a 2-1 lead in the second round of the NBA Playoffs.

ESPN reporter Chris Broussard asked Pierce afterward if he called bank on the absurdly difficult winner. The cagy forward thought about it a second before answering with his one-liner, “I called game,” and walking away.

Pierce, of course, made himself a household name with his playoff performances in Boston (see: his 2008 NBA Finals MVP award), before playing the past two seasons for Brooklyn and the Wizards.

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As much as trash-talking and bravado have become a part of Pierce’s NBA persona, he takes his role as a trusted clutch player seriously. He wrote about “Making the Big Shot” for The Players Tribune, a pro-athlete focused website for which he is a contributing editor.

“Whenever I’ve been put in a situation where the game is on the line and I know that the ball will be in my hands, I’ve always tried to visualize how I want everything to play out,” Pierce wrote. “Having a positive mindset helps me relax during high-pressure situations.

“Visualize. Execute.”

As many big moments as the 10-time all-star has played a part in through the years, Pierce singled out a regular-season game-winner from 2010 against New York as one of his most memorable.

The Celtics and Knicks had a nice little rivalry brewing, and New York’s fans didn’t mind constantly reminding Pierce about how little they thought of him.

“I remember that it was a tie game and we were in a timeout going over the play,” Pierce wrote for The Players Tribune. “All I could think about was breaking the heart of every Knicks fan in that building.”

Pierce said the play called in a last-second situation might ask him to do any number of things before the ball leaves his hands, but he finds ways to adjust when things inevitably break down and force him and his teammates to improvise.

“While I always picture the ball going in prior to the play, I don’t really know what I’m going to do beforehand to make that happen. Sports aren’t scripted,” Pierce pointed out. “The great players thrive on their instincts.”

Pierce continues to do that in Washington this postseason. The Wizards enter Monday’s Game 4 against the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, Atlanta, with a 6-1 playoff record. Washington’s elder statesman is averaging 15.6 points, and 4.0 rebounds, hitting 51.4% of his shot attempts and 52.1% of his 3-pointers now that the lights are brighter and each moment is bigger.

“Whenever I win a game in that fashion,” Pierce shared of clutch heroics, “I feel like I’m going to hyperventilate. My adrenaline is through the roof and my heart is beating out of my chest. It is the ultimate basketball high.”


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Dunkapalooza: Watch every slam Andrew Wiggins threw down this season

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins, left, dunks as Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, April 10, 2015, in Los Angeles. The Lakers won 106-98. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins, left, dunks as Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, April 10, 2015, in Los Angeles. The Lakers won 106-98. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

If you paid any attention at all to the 2014-15 NBA season — even as someone who accidentally stumbled upon highlights a few times a week — you likely noticed one-and-done Kansas product Andrew Wiggins wowing crowds as he soared through the air on his way to the rim.

The Minnesota rookie became a SportsCenter regular with his array of gravity-defying jams, making the spectacular look routine.

Now, thanks to the miracle of YouTube, if you have 15 minutes and a love for levitation, you can watch each and every dunk from Wiggins’ Rookie-of-the-Year-winning season.

According to stats.nba.com, the Canadian phenom completed 79 of his 88 dunk attempts as a rookie and threw down 8 of his 10 alley-oops.

You can watch all 87 of Wiggins’ throw-downs (plus his gems from the Rising Stars Challenge at the NBA’s All-Star Weekend) on a two-part highlight reel compiled by the FreeDawkins channel.

It’s quite the compilation, serving up reminder after reminder of the ridiculous lift Wiggins gets every time he leaves the floor.

As those who saw Wiggins play for the Jayhawks can attest, watching him in person can leave one awestruck. Broadcasters included. Here are a few of the lines you’ll hear in the clips:

“Strong take by the Rock Chalk rookie!”

“How bout this 20-year-old?!”

“You know it’s a big one when you’re on the road and the opposing fans go, ‘Ooooh.’”

“Don’t try this at home. This is not safe.”

Which rim-rattler stands out as the best? Few of the slams match Wiggins’ attack on Utah shot-blocker Rudy Gobert. The rookie GIF’d “The Stifel Tower.”

As the play-by-play man says: “That is not human right there.”


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Fearlessness, desire to improve made Andrew Wiggins Rookie of the Year

Minnesota Timberwolves Andrew Wiggins (22) dunks on New Orleans Pelicans Omer Asik in the half of an NBA basketball game Monday, April 13, 2015, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

Minnesota Timberwolves Andrew Wiggins (22) dunks on New Orleans Pelicans Omer Asik in the half of an NBA basketball game Monday, April 13, 2015, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

Sit down. Take a deep breath. Some shocking news came out Thursday.

Andrew Wiggins won the NBA’s 2014-15 Rookie of the Year award.

While this honor was far from a no-brainer when the high-flying wing left Kansas and became the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft, season-ending injuries suffered by No. 2 pick Jabari Parker and No. 3 pick (and Wiggins’ KU teammate) Joel Embiid left just a few contenders for Wiggins to outplay.

The Timberwolves finished 16-66, with the worst record in the Western Conference (second-worst in the league, to New York), but Wiggins’ play put him a cut above the rest of the competition.

None by Scott Howard-Cooper

The first Canadian and Timberwolf to win the award, and the first Jayhawk to do so since Wilt Chamberlain (1960), Wiggins’ 16.9 points per game led all rookies (in 25 games, Parker scored 12.3, finishing second).

The one-and-done KU product shot 43.7% from the field, 31% from 3-point range, 76% at the free-throw line and averaged 4.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.1 steals and 2.2 turnovers a game.

The foregone conclusion now exists as fact. Wearing a navy tuxedo with a black bow tie, the ever-smiling Wiggins accepted his hardware at a press conference in Minneapolis, where the man who brought him to the Twin Cities from Cleveland, Timberwolves head coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders, couldn’t stop singing his praises.

Minnesota Timberwolves' Andrew Wiggins holds his trophy at a news conference after he was named NBA basketball Rookie of the Year, Thursday, April 30, 2015, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Minnesota Timberwolves' Andrew Wiggins holds his trophy at a news conference after he was named NBA basketball Rookie of the Year, Thursday, April 30, 2015, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Saunders traded former franchise player Kevin Love as part of a package to bring Wiggins to his team, and it turned out he got a “game-changing” player in return. The coach saw Wiggins’ maturity grow by the day as he gave the rookie, now 20 years old, enough responsibility that he could accept it and improve. Saunders said he stuck with that model throughout the season. What Wiggins’ boss saw in response was one of the most coachable players he’s ever been around.

“He loves to play the game,” Saunders said. “He’s a student of the game. He watches a lot of film. One of the positive things is when you look at him, he wants to get better.”

To the coach’s point, the league’s top rookie averaged 20.9 points, and got to the free-throw line 9.1 times a game during the last month of the season.

None by ESPN Stats & Info

Even more impressive, Wiggins finished second in the entire league this season in minutes played (2,969), just behind MVP candidate James Harden (2,981). It didn’t take him long to emerge as one of the more difficult players to guard, either. The 6-foot-8 small forward finished sixth in the NBA in free-throw attempts (466). The guys ahead of him? Harden, Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins, LeBron James and DeAndre Jordan.

The youngster said he learned to love playing against The Association’s best.

“It’s just competitive nature,” Wiggins said at his award ceremony.

The star-in-the-making speaks with his father, Mitchell, every day. The elder Wiggins played in the NBA, too, so he didn’t sugarcoat anything when they spoke about the pros and cons of the rookie’s game. Wiggins said he also inherited his drive from his pops.

“I’m not really scared of nobody,” the new face of the Timberwolves said, “no matter who I go up against.”

His personal turning point, Wiggins revealed, came when he played at Cleveland in December and scored 27 points against the team that drafted him and then shipped him away.

“Ever since then,” he said, “I feel like my game has really moved on. I got a lot better at certain things.”

Saunders recalled skeptics questioning Wiggins’ will to compete entering his first go-round in the NBA.

“I think he pretty much answered most of those critics,” the coach said, “and those questions.”

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On a number of occasions during the press conference, Saunders and general manager Milt Newton, a self-described “fellow Kansas Jayhawker” who played for the 1988 NCAA Championship team, described Wiggins as Minnesota’s cornerstone. The young man who heard those expectations replied by saying he has a long way to go: “That’s just motivation to my ears.”

Asked about his next goal, Wiggins replied he had plenty. First off, he wants the T’wolves to have a better season next year. Making the playoffs is also on his list, as is becoming a better teammate and leader, and earning a spot in the All-Star game.

The way the Rookie of the Year sees it, he needs to spearhead an uprising for this franchise that has put so much trust in him, and his award is just a sign of things to come.

“It should bring a lot of hope to the future of the Minnesota Timberwolves,” Wiggins said.


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Paul Pierce loving life as a veteran in NBA Playoffs

Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce (34) shoots over Toronto Raptors forward Amir Johnson (15) in the second half of Game 4 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs, Sunday, April 26, 2015, in Washington. The Wizards won 125-94 to complete the first sweep of a seven-game series in club history, and advancing them to the second-round. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce (34) shoots over Toronto Raptors forward Amir Johnson (15) in the second half of Game 4 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs, Sunday, April 26, 2015, in Washington. The Wizards won 125-94 to complete the first sweep of a seven-game series in club history, and advancing them to the second-round. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

There might not be many miles left on Paul Pierce’s NBA odometer.

So what’s a 17-year league veteran to do? Of late the former Kansas star has taken the route of soaking every ounce of enjoyment out of the playoffs and life in general.

First off, the 37-year-old can still take over for stretches on the court. With Pierce’s help, the Wizards (No. 5 seed in Eastern Conference) rolled through the first round by sweeping the Raptors (No. 4 seed) in four games.

Washington’s veteran leader averaged 15.5 points per game in the series, establishing a tone in Game 1. Pierce found his spots to take over, and shot 19-for-33 (57.6%) from the field in the sweep. He made four three-pointers in Games 1, 3 and 4, and shot 14-for-24 (58.3%) from deep against Toronto.

The most critical trifecta came late in Game 3, with Washington only up three points and the Raptors still feeling like they had a chance to steal a victory on the road. Pierce calmly drained a dagger from the left wing.

“You know my famous saying, ‘That’s why they brought me here,’” Pierce told ESPN after the game, referencing his on-court rant in last season’s playoffs against Toronto, when he played for Brooklyn. “You know, I just wait for opportunities. I really feed off John (Wall) and Bradley (Beal) and these guys that get me going.”

“The Truth” had to feel good about that hot start to the postseason, because after the Wizards moved on to the conference semifinals, he continued to troll the Raptors’ fan base.

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Washington, which wrapped up its opening-round series Sunday, now has the luxury of waiting to see who will advance between No. 1 seed Atlanta and No. 8 Brooklyn. The series currently stands at 2-2.

While the Hawks and Nets continue beating each other up, Pierce and his teammates can let their bodies recover and bond as a team. Monday night, Pierce and a few of the Wizards had choice seats for the Capitals’ Game 7 against the Islanders. So, of course, the outspoken old man of the group got into it.


Afterward, Pierce dubbed himself the Capitals’ “hype man.”

All of this comes less than two weeks after the outspoken vet shared candid thoughts with ESPN.com’s Jackie MacMullan about some of his former teammates, including the Nets’ Deron Williams and former Celtic Ray Allen.

A reporter asked Pierce Tuesday about his approach these days, specifically on social media.

“I just look at it,” the veteran said in an interview posted at monumentalnetwork.com, “as good banter. That’s the word.”

“A lot of this stuff, I don’t pre-think it, man,” he added. You know, it just comes out naturally.”

“The Truth,” who became the Wizards’ hype man of sorts in his first season with the organization, summed up his personality and approach perfectly:

“Paul Pierce is just gonna be who Paul Pierce is gonna be. I’ll be myself. It wasn’t like they said, ‘Come in here and be a hype man or be a leader.’ I’m just being myself. If it helps our team, if it hurts our team, I’m just trying to be myself and see where that goes. I speak up. I tell the guys how I feel. I’m emotional. That’s just me being me, truthfully.”


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Undrafted Tarik Black exceeds expectations in rookie campaign

Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, left, and Los Angeles Lakers forward Tarik Black battle for a rebound as Clippers forward Matt Barnes grabs Blacks jersey during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, April 5, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, left, and Los Angeles Lakers forward Tarik Black battle for a rebound as Clippers forward Matt Barnes grabs Blacks jersey during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, April 5, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Given how the 2014 NBA Draft played out for Tarik Black, it’s hard to imagine his rookie season turning out any better than it did.

Sixty players — including two of his Kansas basketball teammates — heard their names called on draft night this past June, while Black went unpicked. The big man with little flash to his game would have to scrap his way into the professional ranks the hard way, by proving himself in the Summer League and earning a roster spot at a fall training camp.

And even though Houston, the organization that gave him a chance, ended up dumping him when veteran forward Josh Smith unexpectedly became available, that turned out just fine for Black.

A happy and productive member of the Los Angeles Lakers the final 38 games of his rookie season, Black said during his exit-interview press conference he went from a pick-setter and offensive rebounder in Houston to a situation that allowed him to flourish in L.A.

The lottery-bound Lakers, of course, needed him a lot more than the Rockets, the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. Wearing the vaunted purple and gold, Black started 27 games and averaged 7.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 0.6 blocks in 21.1 minutes a game, while making 58.9% of his field goals.

“I 100 percent feel like I found a home here,” Black said in an interview posted on the Lakers’ website. “It was a great opportunity and a great blessing.”

Been a pleasure but it's a wrap. Very thankful to the Laker fans and organization for affording me this opportunity. Until next year ✌️

Been a pleasure but it's a wrap. Very thankful to the Laker fans and organization for affording me this opportunity. Until next year ✌️ by tarikbblack

In Black’s own words, he was “not even a big name on the team” in his one season at KU, after transferring from Memphis. Once the entire league passed on him at the draft, he didn’t spend any time worrying about the guys who were selected and whether they were better than him. Instead, he successfully kept himself from over-analyzing any perceived misfortune. As it turned out, Black eventually landed in the right situation — and he admitted that doesn’t always happen for rookies.

“I’ve always felt that I had the potential,” the 23-year-old post player said, “and I had the talent that everyone else had.”

The Lakers gave Black a chance to make a name for himself, and upon his exit interview with coach Byron Scott and general manager Mitch Kupchak, he left encouraged by the praise he received.

According to Black, who played center for L.A. even though he says he is only 6-foot-9 while wearing sneakers (don’t trust those roster listings that put him at 6-11), the Lakers’ brass spoke highly of his potential. They said he can become an effective undersized presence in the paint, much like a Charles Barkley, for example. Black isn’t going to become an NBA MVP like Sir Charles, but the confident young man has high expectations for himself.

“I feel like I have the opportunity to be a great basketball player,” Black said. “How that’s been defined? Many greats have done many different things.”

Ideally, he’d like to play power forward in the league, instead of center. Black knows his rebounding is his biggest asset, and he wants to get to a point where he can defend an opposing 3, 4 or 5. He hopes his bulk, athleticism and footwork will allow him to turn this rookie-year success story into a long NBA career.

“I’m undersized as far as height goes,” he admitted, “but I’ve got some tools that I can play five, and that’s gonna make me more valuable at this level.”

Black’s contract with the Lakers isn’t guaranteed for the 2015-16 season, and his success these past few months isn’t going to stop him from continuing his development in the upcoming Summer League. After facing NBA big men for a season, he learned not only do they all have go-to post moves, they also know how to maneuver past screens and work on defense. All the greats, Black said, have perfected aspects of their games, and that’s what makes them unstoppable at times.

His summer plans also include returning to KU. Black said he is one course and a thesis away from completing his master’s degree in African-American studies. Not that he’s sweating the thesis. His mother used to work for the National Civil Rights Museum, in his hometown of Memphis.

“Whatever I decide to write it on,” Black shared, “I’m gonna knock it out. Trust me.”

Confidence carried him far in his first tour of the league. But black said faith proved huge for him, too, because so much of his life as a professional basketball player is out of his hands.

Still, there he sat at the season’s end, having accomplished more than the majority of the 60 players drafted last summer.

“A lot of those guys who were listed above me,” Black said, “I’m amongst them now.”


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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Five Jayhawks chasing glory in playoffs

The 2014-15 regular season concluded this week in the NBA, marking the end of the road for the majority of former Kansas players in the league.

Cole Aldrich, Darell Arthur, Tarik Black, Ben McLemore, Marcus and Markieff Morris, Thomas Robinson and Andrew Wiggins? All of them already find themselves in offseason mode.

Even playoff regulars Mario Chalmers of Miami and Nick Collison of Oklahoma City are on the outside, looking in, after monumental injuries derailed their team’s seasons.

So when you start watching the 2015 NBA Playoffs, you’ll only find five Jayhawks playing on the 16 teams chasing a championship.

TORONTO VS. WASHINGTON

Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce (34) shoots against Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala (9) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Oakland, Calif., Monday, March 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce (34) shoots against Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala (9) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Oakland, Calif., Monday, March 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

As you might have figured, Paul Pierce is the most prominent KU product in the hunt. Even at 37, “The Truth” still finds ways to make an impact on the floor. Now in his 17th season, Pierce averaged 11.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 0.6 steals in 26.2 minutes, and made 44.7% of his shots, 38.9% of his 3-pointers and 78.1% of his free throws.

Pierce proved last season as a member of the Brooklyn Nets he can still come through with game-winning plays during crunch time in the playoffs.

And he also became quite a villain in Toronto in the process.

None by SLAM Magazine

A pseudo first-round rematch — Pierce vs. the Raptors — should provide plenty of entertainment. Especially when you consider how competitive Pierce is and that he is getting closer to retirement.

The 2008 NBA Finals MVP spoke about the urgency of the postseason with The Washington Post’s Jorge Castillo. As a veteran leader on a team that features an explosive young backcourt in John Wall and Bradley Beal, Pierce’s responsibilities these days aren’t limited to play-making.

“I just try to get the guys to focus in on the task at hand. These are special moments,” Pierce told The Washington Post. “You got to take advantage of these moments. There’s nothing like playoff basketball. The intensity, the smell of the popcorn, the national televised games every night. This is where good players become great players, and you try to relish these moments and that’s what I’m trying to [instill] into these guys, that every moment counts.”

The Wizards, of course, have another veteran from Kansas: Drew Gooden. In his 13th season, the journeyman power forward comes off the bench for Washington and has provided two double-digit rebound games, as well as a pair of double-digit scoring efforts in April.

In D.C.’s last 10 games, Gooden has seen his minutes and production go up: 7.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists in 25.7 minutes.

Compare that with his season numbers: 5.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 16.9 minutes.

If Pierce and Gooden can find some of their youthful bounce inside those high-mileage legs, Washington might have a chance to advance to the next round.

MILWAUKEE VS. CHICAGO

Chicago Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich directs his team against the Charlotte Hornets in an NBA basketball game Friday, March 13, 2015 in Charlotte, N.C. Charlotte won 101-91.(AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

Chicago Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich directs his team against the Charlotte Hornets in an NBA basketball game Friday, March 13, 2015 in Charlotte, N.C. Charlotte won 101-91.(AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

Another old man by NBA standards, 12th-year guard Kirk Hinrich has a chance to play a complimentary role for one of the Eastern Conference favorites, Chicago. That is assuming he is healthy enough to do so.

According to an ESPN.com report, Hinrich didn’t practice Friday and he was listed as uncertain for Saturday’s series opener, while recovering from a hyperextended right knee.

Hinrich, who plays alongside ultra-talented Bulls Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah, sat out the final two games of the regular season. He hasn’t played more than 20 minutes in a game since March 28.

If/when Hinrich plays, he’ll mainly be asked to facilitate and defend. He averaged just 5.7 points this season in 24.4 minutes a game, shot 37.3% from the field and made 34.5% of his 3-pointers. He hasn’t knocked down more than one 3-pointer in a game since Jan. 23.

GOLDEN STATE VS. NEW ORLEANS

Golden State Warriors' Brandon Rush, right, drives the ball against Charlotte Hornets' Kemba Walker during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014, in Oakland, Calif. The Warriors won 112-87. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Golden State Warriors' Brandon Rush, right, drives the ball against Charlotte Hornets' Kemba Walker during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014, in Oakland, Calif. The Warriors won 112-87. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Don’t hold your breath waiting to see former KU stars in this series.

Brandon Rush is lucky enough to play for the league’s best team, but Golden State — No. 1 in the Western Conference — doesn’t need to use him much when the Warriors have guys like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala.

Rush, who only played in 33 games this season, last played significant minutes (23) against Denver in mid-March and went scoreless. He didn’t play in five straight games before making brief appearances in three of the last four, highlighted by 5 points, 2 rebounds and 1 steal in 14 minutes in the finale.

The Warriors might advance far enough for Rush to be the last Jayhawk standing in the playoffs, but when you see him it will usually be on the bench cheering on one of the most entertaining teams in recent memory.

The Pelicans’ Jeff Withey finds himself in the same situation (except that his season figures to end much sooner, playing for No. 8 New Orleans).

The former Kansas pivot only played 7.0 minutes a game in the regular season, which ranked him next-to-last on the team. With big men Anthony Davis (an emerging superstar), Ryan Anderson, Dante Cunningham, Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca eating up all the minutes inside, Withey isn’t a part of the Pelicans’ game plan.

The lean 7-footer averaged 2.6 points, 1.7 rebounds and 0.5 blocks this season while shooting 50% from the field.

In theory, he could get some run if New Orleans finds itself on the wrong end of a blowout. Withey last made a field goal on March 20, at Golden State. The Warriors won, 112-96, and he played 29 minutes, going for 14 points (5-for-9 shooting) and 8 rebounds.

Mostly, he should be ready to pose for any celebratory post-game photos quickly, having not expended much energy beforehand.

The squad! #playoffbound #pels #nola #squad #myclique #notdoneyet

The squad! #playoffbound #pels #nola #squad #myclique #notdoneyet by jeffwithey


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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