While the basketball world turns its attention toward March Madness, the NBA continues its march toward the postseason, with tight races at the bottom of each conference. There are five teams within three games of each other at the bottom of the East, and three teams within three games at the bottom of the West. If you want March basketball excitement, the NBA still has it.
Steve Nash retires. –– After being effectively retired for the last two seasons, Steve Nash officially announced his intention to step away from the NBA on Saturday, triggering an outpouring of reverence and support from pretty much everyone involved with the league.
It has been bittersweet watching (and hoping) for a Nash comeback during the last couple seasons with the Lakers, but ultimately the issues with his back proved to be too much at his age, and the point guard will retire with the third-most assists in league history.
Despite his disappointing twilight seasons in Los Angeles, Nash was one of the most influential players of the post-Jordan era in the NBA, leading Mike D’Antoni’s high-flying “Seven Seconds or Less” squads in Phoenix. Nash won back-to-back MVPs as the catalyst of D’Antoni’s revolutionary offense, but championship evaded him via some freak playoff disappointment, as many great NBA careers do.
It’s a bummer to see one of the most exciting and chillest players of the last decade not be able to retire on his terms, but fortunately, Nash branded a ton of crazy plays on my membrane, and we covered his better days earlier this weekend.
Kevin Durant out indefinitely. –– The sage of KD’s foot injury might finally be coming to a conclusion, at least for this season, in Oklahoma City, and the resolution doesn’t look good.
The OKC brass announced Friday that Durant wouldn’t return to the court until the soreness in his right foot had completely subsided, which means their original timetable for his return has been tossed out in favor of an indefinite one. Remember, Durant underwent a procedure a few weeks ago to alleviate soreness in that foot, and apparently it hasn’t worked.
Based on the rhetoric employed by GM Sam Presti, Durant doesn’t sound like he’ll return this season, whether the team makes the playoffs or not. Losing Durant for this year would mean one more season in which the Thunder will (most likely) come up short of a championship, and with Durant’s free-agency and potential exit looming in just 16 months, it could also mean one less chance to convince Durant to stick around.
Serge Ibaka out 4-to-6 weeks. –– Even before the Durant announcement, OKC was having a rough week, as they announced Monday that Serge Ibaka would also undergo a procedure to relieve some soreness, although Ibaka’s issue is with his knees. The Thunder won’t miss their other forward as badly as Durant, but with Nick Collison out with a sprained ankle as well, they’re going to be back to the skeleton squad they were playing with at the beginning of this season. Rookie Mitch McGary will have to return to being a force in the rotation until the other frontcourt players return.
Grizzlies and Jeff Green agree on a move to the bench. –– The Jeff Green trade hasn’t totally worked out for Memphis, but there’s no question that the Grizzlies are a more talented club on offense with Green than without him. The question so far has been how to balance Green’s talent with the strengths of the rest of the club, namely the defense of Tony Allen.
This week, the two parties agreed to try tinkering with Green coming off the bench, a la Manu Ginobli. Green leads the Grizzlies’ second unit as a primary scorer, hopefully taking some of the pressure off Green to fit in immediately as a cog in the starting unit, and hopefully helping him get into a rhythm if he finishes the fourth quarter with that group.
This is an interesting move, and if it works out, it could pay big dividends for Memphis. As mentioned, Green provides the team with many of the scoring qualities they need, but so far, properly utilizing him has been an issue. Success using this situation going forward could be a game-changer for the Griz.
Dwight Howard returning soon. –– Howard’s multiple, unexpected, prolonged absences this season have done wonders for the MVP campaign of James Harden, who has carried the Rockets in the big man’s absence.
Howard has discussed a comeback soon, and Sunday, Houston upgraded the center from “out” to “doubtful” on the injury report. That doesn’t mean he’ll play in the Rockets’ game against the Pacers on Monday night, but Howard told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle that it was a true indicator of his status:
“That’s a big step,” Howard said when told of the change on the injury report. “I haven’t circled a day, but hopefully the next couple games I’ll be back.”
It’s a big step, not just for Howard, but for the Rockets and the rest of the Western Conference, all provided that Dwight is healthy.
Terrence Jones out with partially collapsed lung. –– As Howard gears up for a return, the rest of the Rockets are nursing a host of injuries right now, most notably Terrence Jones, who’s suffering from a partially collapsed lung, a serious injury that Jones bizarrely suffered during a game against the Nuggets after being struck in the ribs.
Jones worked hard to return from a nerve injury in his left leg that cost him 34 games earlier this season, so it’s a bummer to see him catch another bad break, not unlike the team he plays for this season.
Will Paul George come back this season or not? –– Last bit of injury news, promise: Paul George was supposed to play again, but then he didn’t, again. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst had a report that the forward was set to suit up against the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday, but George was again simply dressed in a suit on Indiana’s sideline. Coach Frank Vogel told Indy Star’s Candance Buckner that he had no idea about the report and insisted he would tell everyone when George is ready to go.
We dug into the Pacers’ sudden slide recently, which continued over the weekend when the team dropped two more games to Eastern Conference playoff foes Cleveland and Brooklyn. Indiana now finds itself solidly on the outside of the playoff picture, and with no PG in sight, wondering about his return won’t do them any good.
Fred Hoiberg replacing Thibs? –– Finally, a good rumor in this week’s news, even though it’s one we’ve heard before.
Iowa State basketball coach Fred Hoiberg played part of his NBA career in Chicago, and with all the success he has enjoyed during his several seasons at the helm, his name has been an obvious drop when discussing potential replacements for Tom Thibodeau, who has allegedly worn out his welcome with the Bulls’ brass.
The reason we’ve heard this one before is that it just makes too much sense. Hoiberg’s style at ISU is more like the NBA game, and he was well-liked in Chicago. We’ll see if it works out as well as it seems.
Larry Brown, joker. –– There has obviously been a good deal of talk about how the college game relates to the NBA this week, and even as college coaches foolishly debate the merits of the “one-and-done” policy, no one said anything dumber than Larry Brown––not necessarily a surprise if you’ve ever heard Larry Brown speak.
Hopefully he was kidding, but Brown insisted that this year’s University of Kentucky team could make the playoffs in this year’s Eastern Conference, which is kind of ludicrous when you consider that a Miami Heat team with Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic and Hassan White is sitting in seventh in the East.
You know who else is on the Heat? Michael Beasley, but he doesn’t really play. Man, remember how good he was in college?
Sit down, Larry Brown.
DUNK OF THE WEEK: Throwback for Nash, to the day of the Amar’e connection in Phoenix: