WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama saluted Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks on Monday as NBA champions who staged a season-ending charge to beat LeBron James and the vaunted Miami Heat and claim their first title with a "heart that's the size of Texas."
"This was a remarkable run, a great victory," Obama declared, as owner Mark Cuban and Mavericks stars, including series MVP Nowitzki, looked on. "It's too bad that next year, it'll be the Chicago Bulls here."
The first basketball fan — a passionate supporter of his hometown Bulls — was nonetheless lavish in praising the Mavericks, who beat the Heat in six games last June.
"They know how good teams win," Obama said. "Not just by jumping higher or running faster, but by finding the open man, working together, staying mentally tough, being supportive of each other, playing smarter."
He said that's how Dallas "took down some of the league's best teams ... including the Miami Heat, who got a little bit of attention last year."
The victory was sweet revenge for Dallas after it blew an NBA finals lead to the Heat five years earlier. It also upended the hope of Heat superstars James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for a championship in their first year playing together.
Monday's ceremony reflected both the league's current, lockout-shortened season and the determination of the colorful Cuban to make it happen. Typically, White House visits take place when a championship team plays in Washington. With such a short season, the Mavericks aren't here this year. Cuban insisted on the ceremony anyhow.
"It's tough to say no to Mark Cuban," Obama said, to knowing laughter from his players.
Obama singled out the German-born Nowitzki, noting he played in the finals despite a painful finger injury and fever. "Clearly Dirk is a tough guy, although the most painful thing may have been his rendition of 'We Are the Champions' during the victory celebrations," the president said.
Mavericks guard Delonte West did not attend the event in the East Room, even though the Secret Service said he had been cleared along with his teammates.
West pleaded guilty to weapons possession charges after a September 2009 traffic stop in suburban Maryland. He told The Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he was "banned" from the White House on Monday because of the weapons charges, but Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said in fact West could have taken part. A team spokeswoman, Sarah Melton, also said West was not banned from the White House ceremony but declined to comment on why he didn't attend.
West was not a member of the championship squad but joined the Mavericks prior to this season.
Mavs add seven-foot Chinese forward Yi Jianlian
DALLAS (AP) — The Dallas Mavericks have recalled 7-foot forward Yi Jianlian from their D-League team. Yi was scheduled to join the Mavericks in time for their game Tuesday night at Detroit.
Yi signed a free agent contract with the Mavericks on Friday, and was then assigned to the Texas Legends. Yi averaged 23 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in two games with the Legends. The former Chinese Basketball Association standout was picked sixth overall by Milwaukee in the 2007 NBA draft.
In 242 NBA games for the Bucks (2007-08), New Jersey (2008-10) and Washington (2010-11), Yi has averaged 8.5 points and 5.3 rebounds a game. His best NBA season came for the Nets in 2009-10, when he averaged 12 points and 7.2 rebounds in 52 games.
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Anthony, Knicks turn back Bobcats
NEW YORK (AP) — Carmelo Anthony shook off a poor shooting night to make the tiebreaking basket with 2:39 remaining and score 22 points, and the New York Knicks avenged an embarrassing loss to the Charlotte Bobcats with a 91-87 victory on Monday night.
Amare Stoudemire also shot poorly but had 25 points and 12 rebounds, while Tyson Chandler finished with 20 points and 13 boards. Anthony was only 6 of 18 from the field, but scored eight of the Knicks' final nine points.
Iman Shumpert scored 16 points for the Knicks, who won their third straight since a 118-110 home loss to the Bobcats last Wednesday.
Boris Diaw had 19 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists for the Bobcats, who dropped their third in a row.
BULLS 92, PISTONS 68
CHICAGO (AP) — Carlos Boozer scored 23 points and the Bulls beat Detroit for their 13th consecutive victory against the Pistons.
Derrick Rose added 22 points and eight assists for Chicago, which bounced back from Saturday night's lackluster 109-94 loss at Atlanta. Ronnie Brewer finished with 12 points, and Boozer also had eight rebounds.
The Bulls improved to 4-1 during their first stretch of nine games in 12 days in 30 years. They play again each of the next two nights, hitting the road to face Minnesota on Tuesday before returning home to face Washington on Wednesday.
Greg Monroe had 14 points, 10 rebounds and six assists for Detroit, which has lost four straight games. Rookie Brandon Knight scored 13 points, and Tayshaun Prince and Ben Gordon had 11 points apiece.
HAWKS 106, NETS 101
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Josh Smith scored a season-high 26 points and the Hawks shot nearly 54 percent from the field in beating the Nets for the third time this season.
Joe Johnson added 22, Jeff Teague had 20 and Al Horford had 14 points and nine rebounds as the Hawks led for all but a few seconds in winning their third straight game overall.
Anthony Morrow had 20 points and rookie MarShon Brooks 19 as the Nets (2-8) remained winless in four games at home. Deron Williams added 15 points and 14 assists.
76ERS 96, PACERS 86
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Andre Iguodala scored 20 points and Lou Williams added 13 to help the 76ers beat the Pacers.
Led by Iguodala and a deep roster, the Sixers are dominating in the second half to turn close games into comfortable ones. Against the Pacers, it was a 15-3 run in the third quarter that helped them pull away. The Sixers used a 30-8 run in the third to beat Toronto on Saturday night.
The Sixers have made the most of their favorable home stretch, winning in Philly for the third time in four nights. After an off day Sunday, the Sixers played the first game of a three-night stretch, that includes Sacramento and Wednesday's game at New York.
RAPTORS 97, TIMBERWOLVES 87
TORONTO (AP) — Andrea Bargnani matched his season-high with 31 points, Amir Johnson had a season-high 19 points and 11 rebounds for his second straight double-double and the Raptors beat Minnesota.
Jose Barea scored a season-high 16 points and Kevin Love had 13 points and 14 rebounds for Minnesota, which hasn't won in Toronto since Jan. 21, 2004. Toronto has won 14 of its last 15 games against the Timberwolves.
In the first meeting between Spanish point guards Jose Calderon and Ricky Rubio, the Toronto veteran finished with a narrow edge over the Minnesota rookie. Calderon had 14 points, six assists and three rebounds in 40 minutes, while Rubio had 10 points, six assists and four rebounds in 29 minutes.
HORNETS 94, NUGGETS 81
DENVER (AP) — Carl Landry scored 21 points, Chris Kaman added 20 and the Hornets beat the Nuggets. Marco Belinelli scored 19 and Jarret Jack had 13 points and nine assists for the Hornets, who avenged a home loss to the Nuggets on Friday.
Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson had 14 points each for Denver, which lost at home for the first time in five games. Denver shot just 39 percent from the field and 35 percent from behind the 3-point line.
New Orleans led by eight at halftime and increased it to 15 on Kaman's layup with 7:27 left in the third. Consecutive 3-pointers by Arron Afflalo and Lawson sparked a 10-2 Denver run, but a running jumper by Jack and a block by Emeka Okafor helped the Hornets lead 78-64 heading into the fourth.
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NBA teams 6-0 in last of three games in three nights
NBA teams are having an easy time with the hardest part of the compressed schedule.
Houston forward Chase Budinger even had his best game of the season when the Rockets played on a third straight night.
"To be honest, it wasn't too bad," he said.
Three games in three nights were thought to be too much for teams, who would trudge wearily to the finale with no energy and then spend little effort in losing it.
Some would mail it in, others would try to fight the fatigue, but the expectation was that most would fall.
Instead, they're undefeated.
NBA clubs improved to 6-0 in the third game of back-to-back-to-backs when Oklahoma City routed San Antonio 108-96 on Sunday night. The Thunder became the first team to sweep all three games, and sounded as if they were ready to go for four.
"I just think the big thing was not to dwell on it and not make too much out of it. It's not sometimes as bad as people think," said forward Nick Collison, who at 31 doesn't exactly own young legs by NBA standards.
The Lakers dropped their first two games of the season, then promptly beat Utah on Day 3. The Kings were a wreck when they reached their third of three in a row, having dropped the first two — which led to coach Paul Westphal getting fired earlier in the day. Then they wiped out a 21-point deficit and beat Milwaukee 103-100.
Atlanta went to three overtimes before losing to Miami to open its stretch, then had to survive another overtime to beat Charlotte the next night. All the Hawks did after all that basketball was crush Chicago, one of the league's best teams, 109-94.
So how come this hasn't been the barrier that was expected?
"I think every team takes it as a challenge," said Shane Battier, whose Miami Heat face theirs in mid-February. "Obviously, when you look at the schedule and say, 'Man, I've got a back-to-back-to-back,' it's intimidating. But once you get in the arena, you take it as a personal challenge: 'Hey, you know what, mentally weak teams are going to lose this third night. We're going to come out and play well.' So I think there's a placebo effect almost that makes you play better on the third night of your back-to-back-to-back."
Three games in three nights became necessary when the NBA and players sought to fit in as many games as possible with a Christmas start following the five-month lockout. They squeezed in 66 of the 82, but the price was a schedule that left little time for either rest or practice.
Back-to-back-to-backs hadn't been scheduled since 1999, following the last lockout, which is why Thunder coach Scott Brooks didn't know how his team would respond when it opened its stretch on Friday.
He's got the kind of roster that seemed likely to navigate it well, a good, young team with quality depth. The Thunder swept a home-and-home in the first two games from the Rockets, who probably weren't too rowdy back on New Year's Eve when they finished their trio by beating Atlanta a night after losing by 20 in Memphis.
"It was tiring to get to the second and third game. But it's part of the job. You've just got to go through your regular routine that day and just get focused and ready for the game," said Budinger, who scored a season-high 17 points against the Hawks.
"I think the worst part about it was the day after the three games in a row. It finally hits you after you get that day off. I just remember going to dinner that night and getting up from the dinner table, you could really feel it in your legs, and your whole body is really sore. That's when it really hits you, but it wasn't too bad playing in it."
The Denver Nuggets are the other team to win their third of three. A balanced team with plenty of firepower, they rank second in the league with 104 points per game, but won in a most un-Nuggets kind of way, beating Milwaukee 91-86 in a defensive struggle.
"It's a different game," Denver coach George Karl said. "You're not going to win that game running around. You are going to have to respect your team will not have the energy level it usually has. You can possession the game into a win, and we did it against Milwaukee. We've played so many games in such a short time that coaches have to be aware there's going to be a fatigue factor. How you manage it and how you rotate your team is certainly dictated by the energy level."
The Nuggets were the only team significantly below their season scoring and shooting averages in the third game, according to research by STATS LLC. Atlanta and Sacramento scored about 10 points more than they average, and Oklahoma City also exceeded its usual offensive performance despite losing backup point guard Eric Maynor to a season-ending injury in the second game.
There are 42 sets of back-to-back-to-backs, and every team has at least one. There were 64 in the 50-game 1999 season that started in February, and there were eight sweeps of all three.
It figures to get harder for teams that face theirs later in the season. But so far 20 percent of the league has done it perfectly, with Minnesota next on the clock when it hosts Chicago on Tuesday.
"I'm glad that it's done," Budinger said. "Like I said, it definitely catches up with you that next day. Back-to-backs are already hard enough. Three in a row, I don't know how many of those you could really last through in the regular season."
-- Brian Mahoney
Successful surgery for Celtics F Green
WALTHAM, Mass. (AP) — Forward Jeff Green had successful surgery Monday at the Cleveland Clinic to repair an aeortic aneurysm, discovered by the Celtics medical staff during a routine entrance physical in December. Coach Doc Rivers received the news following practice on Monday from team president Danny Ainge.
"Surgery went well," Rivers said. "They're saying it went great. Obviously, our thoughts, our prayers and every part of our being is with Jeff right now."
Green was acquired in a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder at the trade deadline last season that sent center Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder. Green figured to be a key player for the Celtics this season, as the first man off the bench.
Also Monday, new Celtics forward Mickael Pietrus guaranteed that he'll make his Boston debut on Wednesday when the Celtics play host the Dallas Mavericks. Pietrus missed the season's first two weeks after rehabilitation of arthroscopic right knee surgery.
"Today, I went through my first practice," Pietrus said. "It feels good to be a Celtic. I had fun."
Raptors Gray has procedure to fix rapid heart rate
TORONTO (AP) — Raptors center Aaron Gray underwent a procedure Monday aimed at preventing episodes of a rapid heart rate that have kept the four-year veteran out of action so far this season. He's expected to return in two weeks. The procedure, known as an ablation, was performed at a Toronto hospital.
Gray, who signed a free-agent deal with the Raptors on Dec. 11, played in both of Toronto's preseason games before being sidelined by a rapid heart rate. He was initially cleared to return for Toronto's Dec. 28 home opener against Indiana, but the team decided to get him through a full practice before he returned to game action.
A second-round pick by Chicago in 2007, Gray has also played for the New Orleans Hornets. The seven-footer averaged 3.2 points and 4.2 rebounds last season.
Goaltender Jonas Gustavsson of the Toronto Maple Leafs underwent a similar procedure in 2009.
Hawks F Williams to miss at least two games
ATLANTA (AP) — Atlanta Hawks forward Marvin Williams will miss at least two games because of a sprained left ankle he suffered in Saturday's win over Chicago. The Hawks say Williams will not be with the team for both Monday night's game at New Jersey and Wednesday's game at Indiana.
Williams is averaging 10.9 points and 6.0 rebounds as the starting small forward. He hurt his ankle midway through the first quarter of Saturday's win over the Bulls and did not return.
Atlanta's options at forward include Tracy McGrady and Vladimir Radmanovic. Hawks coach Larry Drew also at times has moved Jason Collins into the lineup at center, pushing Al Horford to power forward and Josh Smith to small forward.