The Sixth Man (cont.)
Derrick Rose will return this season. So says Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who launched his team to a respectable 5-3 start around the All-Star leadership of Luol Deng. As long as the disciplined Bulls are able to stay close to .500, Rose's fresh legs Rose -- whenever he comes back -- should turn them into a playoff opponent that will frighten the top seeds.
The decimated yet resilient Timberwolves. With Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio out, Chase Budinger missing time with a knee injury, Brandon Roy resting his sore knees and leading scorer Nikola Pekovic (sprained ankle) as well as guard J.J. Barea (sprained foot) sidelined Wednesday against Charlotte, the Timberwolves still gave themselves a chance before falling victim to a last-second shot by Kemba Walker. The Wolves' 5-3 start is a terrific sign nonetheless for a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2004. When Love and his injured teammates are blended back into Rick Adelman's rotation, they could be competing for an upper-half playoff spot.
Andrew Bogut sidelined. The Warriors' center won't return until Wednesday, at the earliest, as he attempts to strengthen the left ankle that underwent surgery in April. In the meantime, the 4-4 Warriors must rely on rookie center Festus Ezeli and Andris Biedrins, who shot 23.1 percent from the free-throw line over the previous three seasons. Biedrins received a standing ovation after making two free throws last weekend.
LeBron James finds the zone. "You wish you could get into it more,'' he said Monday. "I just tried to stay in it as long as possible." He scored 32 points in the second half -- for 38 overall -- to drive the Heat to a 113-110 win at Houston. He also defended Harden's attempt at a game-tying three in the final minute. "How did anybody ever question him -- looking back on it now -- in big moments?'' Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. That's a bit revisionist -- his disappointment throughout the 2011 Finals stands as proof of how James has matured to become the league's most important player in every sense.
Kenny Williamson, 65, succumbs to cancer. The "Eggman,'' as the Grizzlies' assistant GM was known, was one of the most popular scouts in the league. Friends throughout the NBA and the larger basketball community were in mourning this week.
The 6-8 small forward is averaging 13.9 points as a starter for the Jazz in his third season. Hayward, 22, is most famous for leading underdog Butler to a 61-59 NCAA championship loss to Duke in which Hayward missed two shots in the final seconds.
He was going to quit basketball as a freshman at Brownsburg (Ind.) High School.
"We had 5:45 a.m. workouts before school and I was in the shower preparing the speech, because I was like 6-1, 140, and super skinny," Hayward said. "Basketball was always my love. I love that more than anything. But I was pretty good at tennis and I wanted to play a sport in college, and so I was trying to be realistic. So I was thinking I might give up basketball so I can concentrate on tennis and try to get good at that, because I didn't know how much more I was going to grow, and my parents were both 5-10. I was struggling in practice because I was a lot skinnier and smaller than those older guys.
"But then I got nervous and decided not to go through with it that morning. And then I came home and talked about it with my mom, and she was just like, 'If you love it, there's no point to giving it up. So you might as well just play anyway.' So that's what I did."
By his sophomore year he had grown to be 6-4, and he was 6-6 when colleges recruited him. He would play two seasons at Butler in Indianapolis, a half-hour from home.
He hears all the time from fans about the half-court bank shot that caromed off the rim as time expired during the 2010 national championship game.
"If you want to talk about staying power, did you see the play in high school that I made?'' he said of his layup at the buzzer to win the 2008 state championship. "Same type of thing. Just follow the ball and put it in. In high school in Indiana, that's everything."
The final shot against Duke made Hayward and Butler famous nationally.
"I think if I would have hit the shot, it would probably be the same kind of famous -- but it would be more-good famous,'' he said, smiling. "Because right now people always say something about Butler -- it's always, 'I wish that shot would have gone in,' and all this stuff. And so instead of that, it would probably be, 'I can't believe you hit that shot, blah blah blah blah.' So it would probably be the same thing, but better.''
The more important shot was his baseline turnaround jumper that would have put Butler ahead by one point a few seconds earlier.
"Yeah, that's the one that back-rimmed, and I thought it was good," Hayward said. "Everyone talks about the half-court shot, but that was a half-court shot -- I wasn't trying to bank it, so I thought it was way off, just a heave. But the one before that was the one I thought was good, so that was a tough one.''
Like all good scorers, he has learned to not focus on the shots he has missed.
"I don't really think about it at all until someone brings it up," he said. "I know probably when I'm done playing basketball, I'll go back and remember that game a lot with those teammates, because those are some of my best friends and we hang out a lot during the offseason. But I try to put it behind me right now.
"As a scorer and shooter, you've got to move on to the next shot. I'm from Indiana and Reggie Miller was The Man, you know, and my dad said even Reggie Miller airballs and would have nights where he was 1-for-11 or 1-for-12. But he'd still step up and shoot that last one at the end of the game and knock it down. So you've just got to let those ones behind you go.''
Even so, it continues to surprise him how one basketball game can define a school across the country.