And when he needed it most.
Robinson’s 14 fourth quarter points were a huge reason the Nuggets nabbed one of their most important victories of the season – an old-fashioned 123-116 shootout over Golden State at Oracle Arena. But there was something bigger at work for Robinson, whose aunt died in her sleep the day before.
“I told the guys I really wanted to win this game in-particular,” Robinson said. “It was big for me to come out and play for her and my family. My dad, it was tough on him losing his sister. He already lost his brother already. So it was just real tough coming out here at this time, dealing with a death in the family, just trying to keep everybody’s spirits up. Tonight was a good win for her.”
Robinson gestured to the sky in tribute to her after made buckets, and there were a lot of them. He was 6-of-8 in the fourth quarter. He was 2-for-3 from 3-point range in the quarter and the Nuggets needed all of his production to stave off the hard-charging Warriors.
In the spring of 1977 the Portland Trail Blazers won the NBA Finals and the Fremont High Tigers won the Tournament of Champions; and basketball on the West Coast was never to be the same. The TOC capped every hoops season by pitting the winners of the most respected leagues in Northern California against one another. The final, played at the Oakland Coliseum Arena, typically drew more than 18,000 fans. Sitting in the bleachers that March was 10-year-old Brian Shaw. He and his father, Charles, had come to see Fremont, with its Oakland Athletic League title and 22–1 record, face St. Joseph Notre Dame, a -private-school juggernaut from neighboring Alameda. Fremont pummeled St. Joseph 61–38 behind 21 points from star forward Phil Barner. But Brian Shaw was more intrigued by Fremont’s sixth man, a pass-first point guard and defensive ace named Lester Conner. “He was the inspiration,” Shaw says.
Ignored by virtually every major program, Conner enrolled at two junior colleges, transferred to Oregon State, led the Beavers to a No. 1 ranking and was picked by the Warriors in the first round in 1982. By then Shaw played for vaunted Bishop O’Dowd High in Oakland. In ’83, O’Dowd reached the state championship game, but, Shaw, like Conner, was the sixth man. Like Conner, Shaw would also become a first-round pick, in 1988, and he introduced a new breed of ball-handler to the NBA: “The Oakland point guard,” says Tony Ronzone, the Mavericks’ director of personnel who ran point at O’Dowd ahead of Shaw. “Tough, confident, creative, fearless. I know everybody talks about New York point guards, but look at the size of Oakland and look at who came from there.”
Oakland’s population is only 400,000, and it takes 10 minutes to drive across, so most of its floor generals were reared on the same blacktop. They gathered at Mosswood Park and Rainbow Recreation Center and a carpet warehouse by the Coliseum with baskets hanging from forklifts. Shaw played CYO games against Gary Payton. Payton played pickup games against Jason Kidd. All three shared a backcourt on a summer pro-am team. “You’re intimidated because you walk in the gym and you can hear someone talking or growling,” Kidd says. “That would be Gary. So you’re wondering, what are you really getting yourself into?”
Oakland point guards were mentored by Payton’s father, Al, who was nicknamed Mr. Mean and ran an AAU program called We Are Family. They were awed by Demetrius (Hook) Mitchell, who they insist was the best of all, even though he was just 5’9″ and never advanced past junior college. Mitchell once leaped over Kidd in a dunk contest. He jammed on 7’7″ Manute Bol. He pulled off 360 reverses over cars. Drug dealers paid him a gram of cocaine for high school slams. He snorted the lines at halftime. If Shaw was the role model, Hook was the cautionary tale. In 1990, the year Payton was drafted No. 2 by the Seattle SuperSonics and Kidd led St. Joseph to the state championship, Damian Lillard was born into the cradle of the crossover.
When you’ve already established yourself as a rising NBA star, it’s the small improvements that matter most. At least that’s the mantra of Damian Lillard, point guard for the Portland Trail Blazers. With the help of a precise training technology, Mr. Lillard is able to pinpoint his body’s strengths and weaknesses.
Mr. Lillard, who was named the 2012-13 NBA Rookie of the Year, played all 82 games in his first professional season. At the end of his last regular season game, he was already asking his trainer about a new workout schedule.
“My trainer had to remind me that my body needs a break,” says Mr. Lillard. The 23-year-old, who is 6-foot-3 and weighs 195 pounds, took a month-and-a-half off before gearing up last June for his second NBA season.
This season, the Trail Blazers began using a new biomechanics evaluation system called OptoGait, which uses optical sensors to analyze a person’s gait and claims to measure data such as power, balance, speed, acceleration and symmetry to the accuracy of one-thousandth of a second.
With OptoGait, “I can tell little things, like if I’m jumping half a centimeter higher off my right foot,” says Mr. Lillard.
The system is particularly useful for safely rehabbing injuries, says Christopher Stackpole, director of player health and performance for the Trail Blazers.
At the beginning of the 2013-14 season, Mr. Lillard was working through a left ankle injury. During practice, he would jump in between the OptoGait’s two LED sensor strips on the floor, five times on his right leg and five times on his left.
“I could feel that my right leg was more powerful,” he says. “The OptoGait let me track that exercise to the point where I was jumping off both legs with equal power.”
The Eastern Conference is in a strange state, which is putting Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey in a strange place. Thanks to the Raptors’ solid play, which stands in stark contrast to the conference’s overall performance, the Raptors are in a position to land an all-star, or maybe two.
Casey and general manager Masai Ujiri have been promoting the merits of point guard Kyle Lowry and swingman DeMar DeRozan in the media recently. For Casey, it has not stopped there. He is now bothering his fellow coaches, who will determine the reserves after the fans pick the five starters.
“All of the coaches, I talk to them about it, text them,” Casey said on Friday. “They did me the same way when they were trying to get their guys in last year. It’s the same thing right now. I’m pushing our guys. I don’t know if we can get two. I’m going to push two, and hope to get one. Both guys are playing at a high level. And we deserve it.”
Nate Robinson is featured in Men’s Fitness in a piece on “How Train Like an NBA” star. Check it out here: http://bit.ly/1hk4Ujv