Melo being patient, working on game with Red Claws

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Melo being patient, working on game with Red Claws

Fab Melo looked out his hotel room window from inside the Best Western in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

"I see a bunch of cars covered in snow," he said in a telephone interview Thursday evening. "That's all I see. It's really cold. Really, really cold. I'm not trying to get to know how cold it is."

1,300 miles away the Boston Celtics were getting ready to take on the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center, kicking off the first of three games they will play in California.

Melo was looking forward to watching the matchup. With temperatures reading 12 degrees outside, there was little else he was interested in doing.

The Celtics rookie is on a road trip, too, only his travels have taken him from Idaho to South Dakota for back-to-back games against the Skyforce with the Maine Red Claws, the C's NBA Development League affiliate. Melo has appeared in 10 games for the Red Claws, averaging 23.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.5 blocks in his last two contests, and set a new D-League record with 14 blocked shots in a single game last Saturday.

The 22-year-old seven-footer is improving. He is making strides and developing skills he believes will help him contribute to the Celtics. Yet as he looks on to a frigid snow-covered parking lot, he also knows a weekend in Sioux Falls is beneficial for him at this stage in his career.

"I think this is the best situation for me right now," Melo said. "I am getting playing time, I'm just playing basketball, and that's the thing I needed to be able to do. I can improve my game that way, so I'm not complaining."

The Celtics understood they were acquiring a work in progress when they selected Melo with the 22nd overall pick in this summer's NBA Draft. The big man from Syracuse University had potential, but given that he did not start playing basketball in Brazil until he was 17, he has a ways to go to reach it.

The Celtics assigned Melo to the D-League early in the season. He would be able to receive the playing time on the Red Claws that would not be available to him on a veteran NBA squad.

"I've been working on what the Celtics want me to do -- develop my defensive game," said Melo. "And I've been working on my offensive game, that's something I've been doing every day. Me and J.P. (Clark), one of the assistant coaches, we work every day on post positions, we work on defensive rotations, we watch films to correct the things that I do wrong in the games. I'm just developing my basketball game. On offense, I'm working on my baby hook. That's one thing that has been pretty good for me right now. I've been working on getting post position, running up and down the court, and working on my post moves, things like that."

The foundation of the Celtics system is defense. With limited basketball experience and a college system that played a zone defense, Melo had a lot of catching up to do.

"My biggest improvement has been on the defensive rotations," he said. "I know what I have to do on the rotations and I defend the screens better. That's the thing I was struggling with in the beginning, and now that I know the rotations we have in the game, I think I'm doing better.

"Because of Syracuse I played zone. Now my pick-and-roll defense is a way better. I'm learning how to defend, I learned what I have to call out to my teammates, the coverage. I just learned how to do it and now I'm doing it naturally. I had to think before. Now it's just become an instinct, and that's what it's becoming better for me."

Then there are the 14 blocked shots. Melo followed them up with another nine (to go along with 32 points and nine rebounds) on Wednesday night.

"They kept driving to the basket and I was just getting a lot of blocks in the first half," he said of his record-setting performance against the Erie BayHawks. "I felt really good so I just blocked everything. I had an idea (I had blocked a lot of shots) but I didn't know how many it was. 14, that's a good number for blocks. It felt great that I broke the record. That's the thing I do best, I block shots. That's the thing I want to be part of my game (in the NBA). Not just blocking shots, but changing shots too because that can affect a lot."

Melo's 14 swats came at what could have been seen as "the perfect time" for the Celtics. The following afternoon, Doc Rivers announced forward-center Chris Wilcox could miss up to a month with a thumb injury. This news left the Celtics even more shorthanded at a position at which they already lost Darko Milicic earlier in the season. Yet with a need for a big man, Rivers quickly squashed any speculation Melo would be called on to fill that void.

"I haven't talked to anyone that thinks he's ready to come up yet," Rivers said.

Later that day the Celtics signed D-Leaguer Jarvis Varnado from the SkyForce. Melo was not discouraged by Rivers' assessment or the Celtics decision to look elsewhere.

"I want to put in more work," he said. "I think I have a long way to go with my game, but I really think I can be really good in the NBA someday. I think this is a good situation for me right now and I can get a lot better with this situation."

Melo already had a taste of the NBA life before being assigned to Portland. He joined them for their trip to Istanbul and Milan, experienced flying on private team planes, and stayed in five-star accommodations. While he still receives perks for being an NBA player, such as a first class airline seat and no roommate on the road, he now travels on commercial flights and buses, and his hotel rooms don't exactly rival the Ritz Carlton.

His life may not be as glamorous as his teammates' on the Celtics, but it is all part of the making his way back up to the pros.

"Of course I wanted to be in the NBA and play the game and travel with the team and stuff like that, but what I'm trying to do is move forward with the process," he said. "I'm being patient. I really think I can be good in the NBA someday, so I'm enjoying the process and getting better through it."

Melo is excited to return to Portland later this weekend for the Red Claws' next home game on New Year's Eve. After growing up in Brazil and attending soccer matches in some of the most energetic sports environments, he looks forward to playing in front of those who truly love basketball.

"It's pretty cool because people who go to these games are basketball fans and really appreciate the game," he said. "They like to see an NBA player play for them. They really appreciate that, and I really enjoy playing in front of them."

Melo's long-term goal is to play in front of the TD Garden crowd. But he is taking it one game at a time, knowing the importance of giving it his all in front of the Sioux Falls Skyforce fans on Friday night.

"I feel like an NBA player learning on the Red Claws right now," he said. "What fans should know is that I'm working very hard. I'm working on every part of my game and trying to improve. I think there are good things about to come."

Glen Robinson wins NBA All-Sar Slam Dunk Contest

Glen Robinson wins NBA All-Sar Slam Dunk Contest

Glenn Robinson III is the NBA's new dunk king, with an assist to Indiana teammate Paul George, the Pacers' mascot and a Pacers cheerleader.

Robinson leaped over all three, snagging the ball from George along the way before finishing with an emphatic, two-hand, reverse jam, giving him a perfect score - and the title - on his final dunk.

"I know I'm a jumper. Like I said, I'm a guy that stays out of the way, but when it's time to shine, that's my thing," Robinson said. "I knew all along I had some things planned and I just wanted to show the world."

Robinson edged out Phoenix's Derrick Jones Jr., who was done in by his failure to complete his difficult first dunk of two in the final round.

Jones still managed a perfect score on his second dunk, when he received a bounce-pass in the paint, put it between his legs and threw down a left-handed jam. But Robinson made sure it wasn't enough.

In the 3-point contest, Houston's Eric Gordon dethroned Golden State splash brother Klay Thompson. Kristaps Porzingisof the New York Knicks won the Skills Challenge.

Both dunk finalists delighted the crowd with soaring slams over teammates and others that showcased the explosive spring in their vertical leaps.

"I thought I would go up against Derrick in the finals," Robinson said. "I've seen the things that he can do. That guy can jump."

Robinson's first dunk was one of his best. He leap-frogged one man sitting on another's shoulders, grabbed the ball from the elevated man's hands and slammed it home. He said 2000 dunk champ Vince Carter was one of his primary influences, along with Michael Jordan, of course.

"Vince Carter did one of his best dunks first, and it kind of intimidated people. That's what I wanted to go out and do," Robinson said. "Who knows if it worked, but they missed some of their dunks and it gave me a little more room."

Afterward, he couldn't take his hands off of the trophy - a gold basketball - and made it sound as if that would remain the case through the weekend.

"I know I'm not letting go of her right there," he said. "She's following me everywhere I go. It's Mardi Gras. We're going to have a good time."

Jones jumped over four teammates including Devin Booker and Marquese Chriss in the first round. He also drew roars from the crowd when he took a pass off the side of the backboard from Booker with his right hand, put the ball between his legs to his left for a round-house jam.

The dunk that cost him was a bold one. He tried to leap a friend and the Suns' gorilla mascot, grab the ball on the way over, put it between his legs and then finish with a windmill. But he couldn't get the dunk to go down in his allotted three attempts.

DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers and Aaron Gordon of Orlando were unable to emerge from the first round. Jordan dunked over DJ turn tables and Gordon dunked after receiving a bounce pass from a drone that had flown over the court with the "Star Wars" theme music playing.

Eric Gordon got his win in New Orleans, where he played the previous five seasons before leaving last summer in free agency.

Gordon's score of 21 in a final-round tiebreaker defeated Cleveland's Kyrie Irving, the 2013 winner, who had 18. The pair had each finished with a score of 20 in the final round, meaning they each had to shoot 25 more balls to decide it.

"I wasn't really concentrating on how many I made," Gordon said. "It's all about just knocking down the shot. I never counted in my head or anything. I just go out there and just shoot the ball."

Thompson was stunningly eliminated in the first round, missing a final shot from the corner that could have put him through ahead of Kemba Walker.

Big men reigned supreme for a second straight year in the skills competition, with the 7-foot-3 Porzingis beating Utah's Gordon Hayward in the final round.

Those vanquished in earlier rounds included guards John Wall of Washington and Isaiah Thomas of Boston, both because they couldn't make their initial 3-pointers required to close out the course before Hayward did, even though Hayward had trailed each of them dribbling down the court by a considerable margin before hitting his clinching shots.

Porzingis emerged from the big-men's division that included the Pelicans' Anthony Davis and Denver's Nikola Jokic.

"It's a good feeling that I'm able to showcase my skill with my size and show to the kids that you're capable of doing that even if you're tall and lanky like me," Porzingis said.

Porzingis and Hayward were neck-and-neck until the end of the course, but Porzingis hit his 3 first to end it.

The three-round, head-to-head obstacle-course competition tests dribbling, passing, agility and shooting skills.

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AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report

Webber, Massimino among the Hall of Fame finalists

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Webber, Massimino among the Hall of Fame finalists

NEW ORLEANS - Chris Webber and Rollie Massimino are one step from the Hall of Fame.

The career 20-point-per-game NBA scorer and the coach who led Villanova to a stunning upset of Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA championship game were among the 14 finalists unveiled Saturday for this year's Basketball Hall of Fame induction class.

Webber played 15 seasons with five franchises, plus was part of Michigan's famed "Fab Five" group that headlined college basketball in the early 1990s.

"I don't know what I'm most proud of," said Webber, who averaged 20.7 points and 9.8 rebounds in his career and was a five-time NBA All-Star. "I'm proud to be in the room with all these great individuals."

Other first-time Hall of Fame finalists include longtime NBA referee Hugh Evans, Connecticut women's star Rebecca Lobo, two-time NBA scoring champion Tracy McGrady, five-time All-Star Sidney Moncrief, Baylor women's coach Kim Mulkey, Kansas coach Bill Self, and two-time NBA champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich.

"I still can't believe I'm here," McGrady said. "This is not even a dream come true."

Previous finalists returning to the ballot include star point guard and Olympic gold medalist Tim Hardaway, winningest all-time boys high school coach Robert Hughes, Notre Dame women's coach Muffet McGraw, former Wisconsin coach and four-time Division III national champion Bo Ryan and 10-time AAU women's national champion team Wayland Baptist University.

"We are grateful to the 14 finalists in the Class of 2017 for the impact they have had on the game we cherish," Basketball Hall of Fame Chairman Jerry Colangelo said. "To be named a finalist for the Basketball Hall of Fame is an incredible accomplishment."

Inductees will be announced at the Final Four on April 3. Enshrinement ceremonies in Springfield, Massachusetts are scheduled for Sept. 7-9.

Massimino, now an 82-year-old cancer survivor who is still coaching at NAIA school Keiser University in West Palm Beach, Florida, is a finalist for the first time. His Hall of Fame hopes have been backed by plenty of current and former coaches in recent months - including current Villanova coach Jay Wright, who presented Massimino with a championship ring from the Wildcats' 2016 NCAA title.

"Some days, we do take him for granted," Keiser guard Andrija Sarenac said. "But then you see him on TV so much, you see all these videos made about him, the movies about Villanova and everything, and it just hits you. You realize that he's a legend. I mean, your coach is a walking legend. With the energy and everything he comes in with, it's inspiring."

Finalists need 18 of 24 votes from the Honors Committee to be enshrined. Among this year's candidates who did not make the finalist group: Muggsy Bogues, Ben Wallace, Kevin Johnson, Maurice Cheeks, Mark Price, Lefty Driesell and Eddie Sutton.

Former New York Times sports writer Harvey Araton and former Turner Sports broadcaster Craig Sager will be recognized during Hall of Fame weekend as this year's Curt Gowdy Media Award recipients.

"A tremendous honor," said Sager's wife Stacy.

This year's lifetime achievement award recipients are former UConn coach Donald "Dee" Rowe and Michael Goldberg, who spent nearly four decades as executive director of the NBA Coaches Association. Goldberg died earlier this year.

"He bridged the gap between ownership and coaches," said New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry, who spoke about Goldberg on Saturday while wearing a bow tie - one of the signature wardrobe accessories that Goldberg donned for years. "He was just such a great guy."