2012 Olympic Basketball: USA vs. Tunisia Game Recap

After another sloppy start, the United States blew open a big lead in their second Olympic matchup against Tunisia. For the game recap and analysis, click here.

NBA Injury Update – 4/14/12

In today’s star-studded NBA Injury Update, a lot of playoff-bound teams are dealing with injuries to their key players. Here are the top injury headlines of the past week:

Dwight Howard – Howard left for Los Angeles to get a second opinion on his back injury and was told he has a herniated disk in his lower back. He will most likely miss the Magic’s games Sunday and Monday, which would be eight in a row. Word on the street is that people within the Orlando organization wanted Superman to return to the court, but Howard wasn’t taking any chances and wanted to be completely healthy for the playoffs, which is why he sought a second opinion. There is no timetable for Howard’s return at this point.

Dwight Howard is seeking a second opinion but should be ready come playoff time.

Kevin Love – Kevin Love suffered a mild concussion and neck strain against the Nuggets on Wednesday and missed yesterday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers. There is a chance that Minnesota will shut him down for the rest of the season to avoid any potential risks that concussions bring. With so few games left in the season and the Timberwolves not contending for anything, don’t be surprised if Love is done for this year.

Kevin Love sustained a mild concussion and the Timberwolves may consider shutting him down

Kobe Bryant – Kobe sat out for the Lakers’ game last night against the Denver Nuggets. Bryant has missed the last four games with an inflamed left shin, but the injury is apparently not too serious; although he’s missed a few games, the only reason is because of the nature of the injury. Once he’s been inactive long enough, the shin shouldn’t bother him for the rest of the season. The only problem is waiting it out until Kobe reaches that point.

Kobe is surprising everybody by being patient and fully recovering for the postseason.

LaMarcus Aldridge – Aldridge will miss the rest of the season with a hip injury as the Trail Blazers’ injury woes continue. Although Portland isn’t contending for anything, Blazer fans won’t be happy to hear that an MRI found an abnormality in his hip that will warrant further evaluation. He may undergo surgery, but hopefully this isn’t the kind of injury that will affect him for next season.

LaMarcus Aldridge's hip injury will require surgery and keep him out for the rest of the year.

James Harden – James Harden, the best bench player in the league and OKC’s most important piece in winning a title this year, missed last night’s game with a sore left knee. It was only the second game Harden has missed all season. Knee injuries are never a good sign, but hopefully it does not amount to anything more than just a sore knee.

James Harden missed his second game of the season last night with a sore knee.

Ray Allen – Allen remained behind on the Celtics’ road trip last night to receive treatment on his ankle injury. It’s not certain whether or not he will rejoin the team for the remainder of their four-game road trip but Danny Ainge said he expects him back on the court soon.

Kyrie Irving – Irving is still about a week away from being able to return, but by that point, the Cavs may just shut him down for the rest of the season to avoid any risk to their rookie sensation. It’s much more important for Cleveland to make sure he’s healthy for next season since the Cavaliers aren’t contending for anything.

Jarrett Jack – Jack will miss the remainder of the season recovering from a stress fracture in his right foot. The Hornets haven’t been able to catch a break this season, as injuries to Jack, Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman and Carl Landry have crippled them at times.

Amare Stoudemire – Amare is still going to be out for awhile thanks to a bulging disk in his back, but his return seems a lot closer than it did a few weeks ago. Stoudemire could be back on the court in just a few weeks, perhaps making an appearance in the Knicks first-round playoff matchup if all goes according to plan. However, no specific timetable has been given.

Jeremy Lin – After having knee surgery, Lin said he feels better but probably won’t be available for New York’s first round playoff matchup. This means Lin would probably only be available for the Knicks this season if they somehow got past either the Bulls or the Heat in the first round.

Andrea Bargnani – Bargnani has struggled with injury problems all season long, so it’s unfortunate that he will miss the remainder of the season with a calf injury. The Raptors have no reason to rush him back to the court and given his injury history, it’s no surprise they’ll allow him to sit for the rest of the year.

Hedo Turkoglu – Turkoglu will miss another two weeks after having surgery to repair facial fractures he sustained about a week ago. The Magic could have him back in time for their first round playoff series.

Nene – Nene, no stranger to this injury list, has missed six straight games due to plantar fasciitis in his left foot. However, he is expected to return sometime next week for the Wizards.

Gerald Wallace – After hurting his hamstring in Sunday’s game against the Cavs, Wallace has missed his last two games. No timetable on his return has been given yet.

Jose Calderon – Calderon missed Toronto’s game against the Celtics last night with an eye injury he sustained after taking an elbow to the eye Wednesday against the Nets. He had to get three stitches above his right eye for the injury.

Luke Ridnour – Ridnour has missed the Timberwolves’ last five games due to a sprained ankle and looks doubtful for tonight’s game against the Thunder.

Darren Collison – Collison missed last night’s game against the Cavs with a groin injury, which has sidelined him for the past three games.

Tony Allen – Allen missed the Grizzlies’ game against San Antonio on Thursday, but is set to return tonight against the Jazz after missing five games with a facial laceration.

Kevin Martin – Martin, who has not played since March 11 with a torn right shoulder, is going through rehab but is not expected to return anytime soon.

Updated Top MVP Candidates

A lot of things have changed since the time I listed the top MVP candidates for the 2012 season. A seemingly clear MVP race has become a lot closer than it was a month ago, which is why it’s time to take a look at who the most deserving candidates are for the award this year.

1) LeBron James – I still feel that LeBron is the best choice for the MVP award this year. This is a lot more difficult to say now because of his recent slump (as well as Miami’s), but don’t forget that his numbers are better than anybody’s and that the Heat will at the very least make the Eastern Conference Finals, barring an improbable meltdown. While Kevin Durant has stated his case for the MVP with inspiring play over the past month, the MVP Award is about the entire season, not just the month leading up to the playoffs when everyone starts paying close attention. The MVP Award summarizes which player has been the most dominant over the course of the season, the NBA’s alpha dog, the best overall player. Yes, sometimes the MVP Award does have a “value” component which takes into account a player’s necessity to their team, meaning: If you were to take that player away from their team, how would the team function without him? The “story” component also arises sometimes, such as when a talented player has never won the award or when a superstar has a particularly impressive season and becomes a popular underdog choice just so we don’t have to pick the same guy again (i.e. Derrick Rose last year, Charles Barkley in ’93, Karl Malone in ’97). That being said, LeBron’s season has a slight blemish on it thanks to the past few weeks, but overall, he remains the most deserving candidate.

2011-12 Stats: 26.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 6.4 apg, 1.9 spg, 0.8 bpg, 53.7 FG%

2) Kevin Durant – Unfortunately, being deserving doesn’t always result in hoisting the MVP trophy. That’s why Kevin Durant is my pick to win it. Not because he’s had a better season than LeBron and not because he’s the NBA’s alpha dog. But because he is becoming the popular choice over LeBron, who hasn’t exactly thrilled us in the past few weeks. The Heat have floundered a little bit, losing potential statement games to OKC, Chicago, Indiana, Orlando and Boston. Kevin Durant is now the nation’s favorite choice because he is the best player on what appears to be the best team in the league. His numbers for this month are up, his team is winning and he has hit some clutch shots all season long. KD has become the sexy choice even though LeBron has had a better overall season. Why? Well, aside from the reasons I just listed, Durant has won scoring titles but he’s never won the MVP Award. That automatically increases his chances. Then, you add in the media and public opinion that favors Durant over LeBron, if only because most people still hate on LeBron for taking his talents to South Beach. So even though LeBron is the most deserving candidate for the second year in a row, my guess at the most likely winner for this year is Durantula.

2011-12 Stats: 27.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.4 spg, 1.1 bpg, 50.2 FG%

3) Kevin Love – I only had Love as an honorable mention in my last MVP post, but his continuing ability to put up big numbers, his will to win, his unquestionable value to a team riddled with injuries and a lack of talent and his general dedication to an otherwise unimportant team have all changed my mind. If not for LeBron and KD, people would be noticing that Love has been quietly having his own MVP-caliber season. A big man that crashes the boards, attacks the rim with a variety of post moves, and can also drop threes on unsuspecting big men? I would describe that as un-guardable, which is exactly what Kevin Love has been for the Timberwolves. Although you usually like your MVP-candidate to be on a more successful team (a lack of team wins even when your personal stats are outstanding doesn’t look as impressive), no one can deny Love’s incredible value in Minnesota and the incredible season he’s having.

2011-12 Stats: 26.5 ppg, 13.6 rpg, 2.0 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.5 bpg, 45.1 FG%

Honorable Mentions:

Kobe Bryant – Kobe is the best player on one of the best teams in the West. But the fact that he has to shoot so many times to fill up the stat sheet takes away a lot of his value. He’s not always the greatest team player and although he’s a cold-blooded killer in the fourth, a lot of attention is given to Andrew Bynum and his shooting percentages have been  a bit off in the past few weeks. This season won’t be remembered as one of Kobe’s most memorable, which is essentially what we want in an MVP.

2011-12 Stats: 28.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4.6 apg, 1.3 spg, 0.3 bpg, 42.7 FG%

Chris Paul – CP3’s numbers are the least impressive of anyone in the bunch, but his ability to manage every game for LAC with complete control makes him the perfect point guard. Paul attacks the basket when he has to, takes over games in the last five minutes, and spend the rest of the time setting up teammates and facilitating. Any point guard that defers to his teammates and makes them better is an incredibly valuable piece to his team, but one with as much talent, competitive fire and crunch-time drive is definitely his team’s most valuable player.

2011-12 Stats: 19.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 8.8 apg, 2.4 spg, 0.1 bpg, 48.6 FG%

Dwight Howard – Howard’s performance this season is undeniable. Superman has been a beast in the paint and is the sole reason for Orlando’s success this season. Replace Dwight Howard with any other center in the league and the Magic’s defense falls apart and this team probably doesn’t even make the playoffs. But the whole controversy and flip-flopping about leaving Orlando is the exact opposite of what we want to see in an MVP. Howard wanted out, then committed to the Magic after he had pissed off management with his “roll the dice” comment, then decided he wasn’t sure, and then finally caved under the pressure and committed to Orlando for the next year. This indecisiveness in regards to something so important to an entire fan base and playoff-contending team will stain this season and really diminishes his beastly statline.

2011-12 Stats: 20.9 ppg, 14.9 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.5 spg, 2.1 bpg, 58.0 FG%

NBA Sunday Recap – 3/25/12

Oklahoma City Thunder 103, Miami Heat 87 – Kevin Durant made his case for the MVP award known loud and clear Sunday night, outplaying fellow MVP-frontrunner LeBron James in the Thunder’s dominant victory over the visiting Heat. Durant finished with 28 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists in a matchup many predict to have been a preview of this year’s NBA Finals. James Harden, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins had key contributions as well, especially during the Thunder’s second quarter run that established a lead OKC never relinquished. Despite 7 turnovers, Harden finished with 6 assists, and 19 points, 14 of which came in Oklahom City’s second quarter spurt. Perkins had a season-high 16 points while Ibaka had 19 points and 10 rebounds. Dwyane Wade led the Heat with 22 points and LeBron James pitched in 17, but the Heat never came close in the second half in a thorough win for the Thunder.

Durant's near triple double sent a message to the Miami Heat and the rest of the league

Atlanta Hawks 139, Utah Jazz 133 (4OT) – Utah’s impressive six-game win streak came to an end in a hard fought quadruple overtime game in Atlanta, the first quadruple overtime in the NBA since 1997. The Jazz fell short and were outlasted in the fourth overtime, wasting opportunities to close out the Hawks after having possession on the last play of regulation and each of the first three overtimes. Paul Millsap missed a floater in the lane in regulation. Devin Harris missed a fall-away 3-pointer in overtime. Then Harris’s shot barely rimmed out in double overtime. Finally, Millsap missed a tough 18-footer to close triple overtime. Joe Johnson led the Hawks with 37 points and 8 rebounds and hit a big three to tie the game at 113 with 7 seconds left in double overtime. Josh Smith fouled out with 22 points and 10 rebounds while Zaza Pachulia had 15 points and 20 rebounds. Al Jefferson led the Jazz with 28 points and 17 rebounds while Millsap finished with 25 points and 13 boards. Both fouled out in the final overtime. Utah still holds on to the seventh spot in the West thanks to their prior win streak, holding a tiebreaker over Houston and Denver, who also have a 26-23 record. The Hawks moved ahead of the Pacers into the fifth spot in the East and have won four straight.

Joe Johnson hit big time shots in the clutch for the Hawks

Minnesota Timberwolves 117, Denver Nuggets 100 – Kevin Love followed up his 51-point game against the Thunder with a 30-point, 21-rebound effort in the Timberwolves’ blowout victory of the visiting Denver Nuggets. Minnesota, despite losing Ricky Rubio for the season and playing once again without Nikola Pekovic, is only 2 and a half games out of the eight spot in the West thanks to the recent colossal play from Love. Luke Ridnour added 25 points in the rout of a Nuggets team that is currently in the 9th spot 10 and a half games back and has lost two straight. The Nuggets played without Danilo Gallinari once again, as well as Arron Afflalo who was suspended by the league for one game for throwing an elbow at Gordon Hayward in Friday’s blowout loss to the Jazz. Denver needs to regroup if it wants to make the postseason and doesn’t look anything like the impressive squad we saw at the beginning of the year.

San Antonio Spurs 93, Philadelphia 76ers 76- Philadelphia’s lead in the Atlantic division seems to be slipping away after being routed in San Antonio. Because of Boston’s big win over the Wizards, the Sixers are only a half game ahead of the Celtics and 3 games ahead of the Knicks. The Spurs played without Tim Duncan (rest) and Gary Neal (foot sprain), while the Sixers went without Andre Iguodala (left patella tendinitis). Tony Parker led the Spurs with 21 points and 7 assists. No one from the Sixers had more than 14 points and Philadelphia only scored 27 points in the second half. The Sixers have only hit triple digits 14 times in 49 games this season.

Los Angeles Lakers 96, Memphis Grizzlies 102 – The Grizzlies got a much-needed road win in LA against the newly revamped Lakers thanks to Rudy Gay’s 18 and OJ Mayo’s 16, including a one-man 7-0 run in the fourth quarter to stretch the lead to 13. Andrew Bynum led the Lakers with 30 points and Ramon Sessions added 18, but Kobe Bryant’s slow start prevented LA from building momentum or shortening Memphis’ lead. In fact, Lakers coach Mike Brown benched Kobe for four minutes while being down 10 in the fourth quarter, drawing boos and  “Ko-be!” chants from the crowd. Brown finally obliged, but not before the game was out of reach.

Kobe struggled to find a rhythm and was benched in the fourth quarter for a stretch of time by Mike Brown

Cleveland Cavaliers 83, Phoenix Suns 108 – The Suns are only one game out of the eight spot in the West after throttling the Cavs on the road. Marcin Gortat finished with 22 points and 8 rebounds while Markieff Morris had 22 points of his own off the bench. Phoenix jumped out to a 59-38 lead at the half and never looked back. Cleveland’s Antawn Jamison was injured with a bruised left leg and ankle in the first quarter and left the game. He returned later in the game but was completely ineffective and finished with only 2 points. The Suns have now won six of their last eight.

Boston Celtics 88, Washington Wizards 76 – Avery Bradley’s offensive outburst of 23 points led the Celtics to a needed win over the Wizards, bringing them within a half game of the Sixers in the Atlantic division. Boston played without Michael Pietrus, who sustained a head injury against the Sixers. Ray Allen also sat out with a sore right ankle, while the Wizards went without Nene (back spasms).

Portland Trail Blazers 90, Golden State Warriors 87 – A close contest with the lowly Warriors proved to be a challenge for the Blazers until LaMarcus Aldridge stepped up in the game’s final minute. Raymond Felton lead Portland with 24 points and Aldridge finished with 18 points and 9 rebounds, including a go-ahead jumper with 39.9 seconds left and a pair of free throws to get his team a 3-point victory. Golden State rookie Charles Jenkins led the warriors with 27 points and David Lee added 16 points and 16 rebounds.

Epic Night in OKC

Despite a monumental effort from Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder outlasted the Minnesota Timberwolves in double overtime with a whopping final score of 149-140. Love finished with 51 points and 14 rebounds, but Wesbrook finished with 45 and Durant had 17 rebounds and 40 points of his own, including a 3-pointer with 11 seconds left that sent the game to double overtime. Durant had put the Thunder up by three with 3.9 seconds left in regulation, but Love hit a three of his own with 1 second left to force overtime. Love had a career-high seven 3-pointers but couldn’t carry the T-Wolves in double overtime as the Thunder never looked back after Westbrook stole the ball and got a three-point play on the first possession.

In addition to all of these impressive stats, James Harden added 25 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists off the bench, including a perfect pass that set up Kevin Durant’s game-tying three in overtime. For the Timberwolves, JJ Barea had a triple double off the bench, finishing with 25 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists.

Love's 51 and Barea's triple double STILL weren't enough for the Timberwolves. Just how good are the Thunder?

The game had a playoff feel despite the fact that only the Thunder look like they will be making the playoffs. The loss was a crushing one for Minnesota, who found a way to compete with the West-leading Thunder despite not having Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic or Michael Beasley. The Timberwolves have been dealing with injury problems since Rubio was declared done for the season with an ACL tear. These injury woes have moved the once uprising T-Wolves out of playoff contention, three and a half games behind the Houston Rockets for the eighth spot in the West.

On a night that saw 289 points combined and plenty of highlights, the Thunder got a solid win, not because of their competition, but because of their stars coming up big in the clutch. Love’s 51 gave OKC a challenge, but Durant once again hit big threes when he needed to and Westbrook led the charge right off the bat in double overtime. Harden showed his value as perhaps the best sixth man in the NBA and Nick Collison gave quality minutes off the bench as well. Fisher also came in and contributed, a very positive sign for the postseason. Even though March Madness probably dominated basketball on television last night, this was one game that was a privilege to watch between Love’s 51, Durant and Westbrook putting on a show and a double overtime match that was highly competitive until the end.

Westbrook got a quick steal and three-point play and the Thunder never looked back in double OT

Rubio Out For Season With Torn ACL

Minnesota Timberwolves fans just cannot catch a break. Right as the T-Wolves were starting to show promises of making the playoffs and being relevant again, this devastating piece of news hits: Minnesota sensation Ricky Rubio will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL in his left knee.

Rubio sustained the injury yesterday after a collision with Kobe Bryant in a close loss to the Lakers. The Timberwolves were already playing without superstar Kevin Love, who sat out with back spasms. Love should be back in the lineup tonight, but the loss of Rubio will prevent Minnesota from reaching their full potential this season, and possibly from even making the playoffs. Before the loss to the Lakers, the Timberwolves had won three straight and were one of the hottest teams in the NBA, climbing to the 8th spot in the West. Houston took the spot back with Minnesota’s loss Friday, but and their biggest loss was losing their main facilitator and highlight machine.

Time will tell how Minnesota responds to Rubio’s absence, as Luke Ridnour will have to step up as the main point guard. Look for the Timberwolves to try and trade Beasley for an available, decent point guard before the trade deadline next week. The Timberwolves still have Kevin Love and are still in the playoff picture, but my gut tells me this team won’t be the same without their show-stopping rookie sensation running the offense. Rubio reinvigorated life in Minnesota along with Love but without him in the lineup, the Timberwolves may not be playoff-bound anymore.

Rubio's collision with Kobe will cost Minnesota their promising season

The Rubio Effect

The Minnesota Timberwolves are relevant again. These words should look strange and foreign to you if you’ve followed the NBA at all in the past eight years. Ever since Kevin Garnett was shipped off to Boston in 2007 in a huge deal, Minnesota’s NBA squad has been uninteresting and painful to watch. The Timberwolves have failed to make the playoffs since the 2003-04 season, a depressing statistic made even worse by the fact that the team’s losing record in that time is so dismal. In the six seasons prior to this year, the T-Wolves have an atrocious record of 143-349. Fans have had little to cheer about in the franchise’s 22-year history, especially after the Garnett era. Even with the double-double monster Kevin Love in the paint, the T-Wolves were at the bottom of the West for the second consecutive year with a 17-65 record last year. So even though Minnesota technically still has a losing record at the moment (16-17), how have the lowly T-Wolves become relevant again?

The answer is Ricky Rubio. The Timberwolves have a history of poor management decisions over the years. They traded away the rights to players like Sam Cassell (in exchange for Marko Jaric and Lionel Chalmers. What do you mean you’ve never heard of them?) and Brandon Roy (for Randy Foye, who was taken out with a season-ending injury). Even trading former MVP Kevin Garnett in a massive deal that got them Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, Ryan Gomes, Theo Ratliff, two draft picks and cash considerations didn’t do enough to help the team in the short term or the long term. So when 2009 draft pick Ricky Rubio didn’t come overseas for two seasons, it looked like Minnesota’s infamously poor drafting had struck again. But luckily for the T-Wolves, Rubio was finally able to play in 2011. And the team hasn’t been the same since.

This is still Kevin Love's team. But Rubio makes them possible playoff contenders

To be fair, Rubio’s number’s aren’t fantastic (11 ppg, 8 apg, and 4 rpg). And neither are the Timberwolves to be perfectly honest. But the fact that they’re in the playoff hunt and making highlights again, along with the fact that we’re even having this discussion speaks volumes about where this young team could be in a few years. Kevin Love, who is averaging 25 points and 14 rebounds a game, will always be the team’s powerhouse in the middle. But Rubio is the reason this team is actually competing this year. Rubio is a purebred point guard: facilitating the offense, setting up his teammates, getting steals and scoring when he needs to. His court vision is impeccable and his flashy passes make the Timberwolves an exciting team to watch for any basketball fan, let alone the diehard Minnesota fan base who have been waiting for a team to believe in. And Rubio does all of this with a giant smile on his face.

Rubio is giving T-Wolves fans something to smile about

The emergence of Nikola Pekovic as a decent scorer and rebounder has certainly helped, along with Michael Beasley’s steady offensive contribution. The West is wide open this year, so it will take a collective effort from Minnesota’s role players to make a run for the playoffs, but even if they come up short this year, that’s okay. Just the fact that they’re in playoff contention matters to T-Wolves fans, even though you can certainly see why making the postseason this year would be a monumental deal. And while Minnesota still lacks what it needs at the small forward and shooting guard position (Wesley Johnson and Derrick Williams have been slightly disappointing and Luke Ridnour shouldn’t be the long-term answer here), the T-Wolves are building a young and talented core that solidifies an opinion that has long been seen as ridiculous: The Minnesota Timberwolves are worth watching again.

People may have to start taking this logo seriously again