Nene says no-no to Chicago’s defense

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Wizards claim series opener in Chicago

CHICAGO – Nene, the Washington Wizards’ big man by way of Sao Carlos, Brazil, was having trouble Saturday night and Sunday morning. He couldn’t sleep. The 2014 NBA playoffs were soon to start for his team and Nene – already thrilled about coming back from a left knee sprain – didn’t know which was pumping faster: his heart or the adrenaline.

“The mental preparation is very important. Last night I couldn’t sleep well, because I started to think about the game in the middle of the night,” he said Sunday at United Center, the Wizards’ 102-93 road victory over the Chicago Bulls tucked in for the night.

“I started to think about what I was going to do. How I was going to defend. I was very excited about the playoffs. It’s a good feeling because that makes you prepare yourself. I hope I can’t sleep again, to play better.”

Sorry, Nene, but the Bulls will be in charge of the tossing and turning for the next couple of nights.

Starting for the first time since February, Nene made a big difference for the Wizards size-wise, impact-wise and excitement-wise in their first playoff game since 2008. He stepped back into the middle of their action seamlessly, scoring 24 points on 11 of 17 shooting with eight rebounds and three assists.

His aggressiveness became their aggressiveness, and Washington wound up picking apart Chicago’s vaunted defense in several uncommon ways. Teams don’t shoot 50 percent against the Bulls – but the Wizards nearly did so in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series. Their 48.6 percent was close enough, and if you combine it with the Wizards’ two January victories over Chicago, it left them at a legit 50.4 percent (115-for-228) in the three games.


VIDEO: Nene talks about winning Game 1

Bulls opponents hit half their shots or better just 12 times in 82 games but went 10-2 as their reward. If you go strictly by what Washington shot Sunday and only in postseason games, the Bulls are 1-19 since the start of the 2006 playoffs when the other guys are at 48 percent or higher.

Key to that? They embrace their third options, because they know the Bulls are going to take away the first two.

“You can’t predetermine anything,” coach Randy Wittman said. “You can’t make up your mind on a certain play that you’re going to do this. They’re so good defensively, you’ve got to react to what they’re doing. Make the simple plays and the ball moves in simple ways. When we do that, we get pretty good shots. And we’ve got guys who can shoot.

“As soon as you say ‘I’m going to split this pick-and-roll here,’ it’s a turnover. When we don’t do that, when we don’t anticipate and just react to what the defense does and what they want to take away and then go your second or third option, then we’re pretty good.”

The Wizards’ ability to read-and-react kicked in fully after halftime. They fell behind by 13 points in the first few minutes of the third, then outscored Chicago 51-29 the rest of the way. While the points-challenged Bulls shot just 39.5 percent over the final two quarters, the Wizards settled in, hitting half of their 38 attempts and, oh yeah, dominating the boards 24-15.

Nene was especially effective, with a versatility on the offensive end that kept Chicago guessing. He was reliable with his mid-range jump shot, attacked the rim multiple times and, particularly in the second half, was a crafty passer (with a couple of hockey assists mixed in).

Overall, he made life pretty difficult for Bulls center Joakim Noah, one of the favorites for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award. Good thing the ballots were all cast by Thursday.

Tom Thibodeau, who routinely has the sort of sleepless nights Nene experienced this weekend, lavished praise on the Wizards’ big man, even as he began plotting ways to thwart him. It won’t be easy – Washington was 30-23 when Nene played this season, 14-15 when he did not.

This was only the fourth time in 45 playoff games that he scored as many as 20 points. But he’s healthy now and doesn’t plan on missing any more games. Or fun.

“Today I feel fantastic. First of all, it’s a special day for all of us. It’s Easter Day,” Nene said. “For all humans, it’s a big day. You know, salvation day. And to be able to play playoffs on this specific day is double-blessed.”

Restoring Nene to his rightful spot, next to Wizards center Marcin Gortat, makes them double trouble. Neither big man got in the other’s way in Game 1 – in fact, after a slow start, Gortat finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds, 12 and eight in the second half.

“I’m just trying to play off Nene,” Gortat said. “The most important thing is, we not run into each other in the game. Most of the time he’s on the other side of the block – wherever I am, he’s on the other side. The system we have is perfect for both of us. Each one of us is getting to a sweet spot where we can play our game.

“If I start scoring on the pick-and-rolls or put-backs, they’re going to focus a little bit more on me. That opens up things for him. He’s so aggressive, so dominant in the low post that he can create a lot of things for us.”

What Nene created for the Wizards in Game 1, with his scoring, his energy, his passing and his joy of playing again, was hope. Precisely the thing Chicago had hoped to quash.

Griffin tries to respond to foul mood

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com


VIDEO: Game 2: Warriors-Clippers Preview

PLAYA VISTA, Calif. – The first quarter of the first game of the first round of the postseason, and Blake Griffin was sitting. Two fouls in all of 3 minutes, 14 seconds forced him to the bench, halting an encouraging start for the Clippers and their All-Star power forward.

Three minutes. That’s how long it took for both — the player and the team — to have a problem. Three minutes, which led to just 39 seconds at the start of the second period until another personal and another quick hook, which led to 11 minutes in the third quarter, which led to Griffin ultimately fouling out with 48.3 seconds remaining after squeezing 19 minutes out of Game 1 against the Warriors on Saturday.

Maybe it was part of the Clippers being too amped to begin a playoffs of great expectation, as some players suggested when they gathered at team headquarters on Sunday for practice. Maybe, coach Doc Rivers proposed, it was the media’s fault for underlining the tension between the teams during the regular season, prompting referees to keep an extra-tight hand on the game, as if the veteran crew wouldn’t have known without an Internet connection or cable TV.

It’s an issue by any explanation because Griffin needs a strong response to help the Clippers avoid an 0-2 deficit on Monday night at Staples Center before the best-of-seven series shifts to Oakland. That would be pressure enough. In this case, though, he needs a strong response while aware that he just fouled out of a game that wasn’t all that physical and that the three new referees could take the same approach to maintain control after four emotional regular-season meetings.

“You can kind of see the pattern of the game,” Griffin said at the practice facility. “The first couple fouls, you can kind of see how refs are calling the game. It was a little shaky at some points yesterday.

“I didn’t really anticipate the game to be called like that, both ways. It wasn’t just our team. It wasn’t like were just out there just getting hosed. It was tight both ways. Obviously they had guys in foul trouble, we had guys in foul trouble. The thing is, it changes from game to game. Obviously a different set of officials, so the next game could be extremely physical and not many fouls called. I think I just need to do a better job of reading that situation early on.”

It’s an additional issue for Griffin in the wake of finishing tied for sixth in the league for most personals, with teammate DeAndre Jordan seventh. More encouraging for the Clippers, Blake Superior managed the problem well enough to average 35.8 minutes per game.

Obviously, he needs to adjust to referees calling games tighter in the playoffs.

Or, obviously he doesn’t.

“No,” Rivers insisted. “Blake needs to play even more intense and even more aggressive, not go the other way. I actually thought two of his fouls came from not trying to foul. You could see him. He was trying to stay out of the way when on both of those he should have rotated earlier like he was supposed to, but he was so concerned about fouls. And he said that it affected him. But that’s human. Guys who have been around the league a long time, you know when you get those two early ones, historically the game goes bad for you. I was amazed how well Blake actually played in those 19 minutes, because usually that doesn’t happen. Usually when you have those fouls, your rhythm is messed up, you’re scared to play on both ends. I was happy that at least on the one end he was still aggressive.”

Officiating increased as a talking point of the series when the league announced Sunday that referees missed a foul that should have sent Chris Paul to the line with 18.9 seconds remaining and the Clippers down two. Instead of L.A. having the chance to tie, the Warriors got the ball and won 109-105.

“It doesn’t make me feel any better or anything like that,” Rivers said. “But I do thinks it’s a good thing to do. I think they take ownership. That was a big call. Chris Paul goes to the line now with two free throws to tie the game. Having said that, there’s nothing we can do about it. A mistake happened on their end. But we made our own mistakes and so we have to take ownership of that. We can’t worry about any of that stuff. To me, that’s more clutter and we can’t worry about it.”

Wade returns in full, while Heat just keep winning

By Lang Whitaker, NBA.com


VIDEO: LeBron, Heat win Game 1, 17th straight vs. Bobcats

MIAMI — There is comfort in consistency, and over the last three seasons, since LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined forces with Dwyane Wade, the Miami Heat have created something of a cottage industry around winning in the postseason. Since the 2011 Playoffs, the Heat have compiled a 48-19 record.

Being in Miami for a playoff game throughout this era, there have been many of the same sights on display: Fans dressed head-to-toe in white; Julia Dale belting out the National Anthem; intros set to “Seven Nation Army” with flame-throwers spitting fire into the sky.

None of those things would change in Miami’s 2014 playoff debut. And 90 minutes before tip-off, the mood in the Miami locker room didn’t seem to betray any extra nerves on the verge of the newest playoff push. On one side of the room, James sat in his locker, focused on an iPad, rapping along to whatever was playing in his headphones. Over by the door, Shane Battier offered dining recommendations to a visitor in town for the series. Across the room, Michael Beasley discussed the design history of Air Jordan sneakers.

These days, playoff basketball is the business of the Miami Heat, and business has been terrific. But maybe the most important performance in Miami’s 99-88 win over the Charlotte Bobcats came from Dwyane Wade. After a season in which we only saw flashes of Flash, Wade provided the Heat with exactly what they needed to take a 1-0 lead. Even if Wade almost burned a timeout one minute into the game.

“I wanted to call a timeout with like 11 minutes left in the first quarter,” Wade joked after the game. “I was so tired. I was so happy when Rio (Chalmers) got his leg hit so we had to call the timeout. After that everything just settled in. It was that first rush of the playoffs and everything. But after that I felt fine.”

Wade finished the game with 23 points on 10-16 shooting, and led the Heat with 5 assists. If resting Wade for 28 of the 54 games gives you this version when the postseason rolls around, perhaps it’s worth enduring the games off and constant monitoring of minutes.

“Physically, this is where I wanted to be,” Wade said.  “Feeling good today. No limit or limitations. It was a good first game.”


VIDEO: Thanks to LeBron, D-Wade flashes old form

Wade referred to his play as a “natural day,” meaning he was able to play instinctively instead of dealing with limitations. “I didn’t have to think too much,” Wade said. “Just was playing, making the reads. That’s a sign I was feeling good. I want to continue, want to get better. Still want to get my conditioning back to where I want to get. I played 34 minutes tonight, which is pretty good.”

Wade’s 34 minutes were the most he’s played since March 16 against Houston. “He couldn’t look better,” said James. “He’d get to the rim and work the transition, had his step-back game on, he is feeling good.”

“He’s put in a lot of work,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. “If I hadn’t seen the extra work he’s been consistently putting in, I would have been a lot more cautious about it. He probably wanted to be cleared a week before we cleared him. He’s been putting in that time of all that extra miserable conditioning. Other than the fourth quarter, he never really played more than an eight- minute stretch and then, probably more important, a full amount of minutes.”

Wade was not only able to log a bunch of minutes, he was able to sustain production. There were hints of the Wade who would fall down seven times and get up eight throughout the game, like when Wade called for an alley-oop (which never came) on the fast-break early in the third quarter. Overall, Wade looked energized all afternoon, taking on double-teams, hitting jumpers, even initiating offense. A drive and one-handed dunk with 1:36 left in the game punctuated the performance.

“We know what to expect out of Dwyane,” said Chris Bosh. “We play 82 games for this. The excitement, the energy going for another championship, it’s everywhere. So we know that we’re going to raise our game to another level, and he’s no different. We expect the best from him.”

Despite a few runs from the Bobcats, Miami consistently answered back. And a 18-4 run in the fourth quarter put the finishing touches on Charlotte. If the Heat weren’t ready for another playoff run, you’d never know it from watching them.

“You have to know how to prepare, to be able to lock in on your opponent and not worry about anything else,” Bosh said. “We’re not thinking about anything else. We’ll watch the other games for entertainment, to see what everybody else is doing. But our focus is the Bobcats. I wake up thinking about the Bobcats. I go to sleep thinking about the Bobcats.”

You can forgive the Bobcats if they have a few nightmares about the Heat. Sunday’s loss was the 17th in a row against Miami. Which isn’t to say the Bobcats were not worthy opponents. But after a first-quarter foot injury seemed to slow Al Jefferson, the Bobcats struggled to play consistently, not to mention regain the same momentum that gave them an early 16-9 lead.

Before the game, LeBron was asked if seeing Indiana get blown out at home by the Atlanta Hawks one night before would serve as a reminder to the Heat that the postseason had started.

“You shouldn’t have to have a reminder in the playoffs,” James said. “It’s not our concern, really.”

Perhaps not. But it is what they do.

Duncan takes what’s given and burns Mavs for Game 1 win

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Duncan, Spurs rally past Mavs in Game 1

SAN ANTONIO – After his game-high 27 points foiled an otherwise expertly executed defensive scheme by the Dallas Mavericks that shut down San Antonio’s sharpshooters, Tim Duncan didn’t sound much like a cowboy in his final rodeo as some postseason narratives have suggested.

“I’m always excited around this time,” Duncan said, a 90-85 victory Sunday afternoon marking the start of his 13th consecutive playoffs. “Even now, I might be more excited because I know there are only a couple more left in my career, and I’m excited and I’m going to take the opportunity and really remember it.”

A couple? At least two more? Maybe three?

Duncan, who turns 38 on Friday, ran his hand through his hair, smiled, but wouldn’t bite at the followup inquiry.

“I don’t know what that number is,” Duncan said. “I’m worried about one right now.”

In Game 1 against his old rival Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs, Duncan pulled the Spurs through in a game that Dallas did nearly everything right to seal an upset, everything but keep Duncan at bay. The old warrior scored 17 points in the second half, nine in the fourth quarter and five points during the Spurs’ decisive 15-0 run that flipped an 81-71 Mavs lead with 7:45 left in the game into an 86-81 Spurs lead with 2:17 to go.

The Mavs’ perimeter pressure induced a 3-for-17 Spurs effort from beyond the arc. Manu Ginobili made all three. Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Marco Belinelli, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills combined to miss all 11 of the 3s they shot.

Just 10 days ago in Dallas, Mills hit six by himself to give the Spurs their ninth consecutive victory over the Mavs. Sunday made it 10 in a row.

“We got killed on 3s in the first four outings this year, so I guess it was no secret, we stayed a little bit more at home on the 3-point shooters,” a dejected Nowitzki said. “I mean you’ve got to give them something and Duncan down there is still solid.

“I guess two points is better than three.”

Said Duncan: “We took what they gave us. They took us off the 3-point line and made our shooters into drivers. They were helping, switching and rotating a lot. We continued to move the ball and the guys around the rim were the ones that were open.”

Nowitzki, 35, doesn’t have the luxury of playing with such a devastating crew around him. Where the Mavs were content to switch coverages that enabled Duncan to operate more freely in exchange for crowding the 3-point arc, the Spurs’ entire defensive scheme was focused on the 10th leading scorer in NBA history.

“They’re living with Monta [Ellis] and Devin [Harris] shooting, that’s clear,” said Nowitzki, who had just 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting and was 2-for-6 in the fourth quarter. “They went under every pick-and-roll. Devin finally made a couple, he hit two 3s, he made a pull-up behind the screen. So those two guys, they’re going to step into shots and make most of them, hopefully. But Devin was really the only guy that was making something happen for us.”

Harris had 19 points, but Ellis was mostly a no-show with just 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting.


VIDEO: Duncan talks about the Spurs’ mastery of the Mavericks

Meanwhile, Duncan received dump pass after dump pass for easy buckets off the glass, and when they didn’t come easily he twice made off-balance, circus shots made possible by his still remarkable agility.

“He stole it from me,” Parker joked. “He was great. It was vintage Timmy. He was very aggressive, demanding the ball and he played great, so we are going to need him to play like that if we are going to go far in the playoffs.”

It didn’t come without a brief scare not unlike that recent night in Dallas when he hyperextended his knee and left the game only to quickly return. This time Duncan, already wearing a bulky brace on his left knee bumped knees with Ellis and limped off the floor. After going straight to the bench, he then headed to the locker room.

He missed some six minutes of game action and Dallas extended its lead. Duncan returned with 9:26 to go and immediately drained a short jumper.

“We’ve got to make him work for shots and keep him off the free-throw line,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s one of the top 10 greatest along with Nowitzki, so he’s going to score some points, but we’ve got to evaluate our game plan, adjust it where we need to adjust it and we’ve got to come back out here Wednesday guns blazing again because that’s what it’s going to take to win in here.”

As far as the incessant speculation that is really going to be it for Duncan, the bigger question than will he or won’t he, is why would he?

“I hope he stays as long as I’m here,” Green said. “But you never know, he’s been doing this for a really long time since I was a kid. I watched him play when I was in middle school, high school. It’s amazing for him to keep doing it the way he’s been doing it.”

Morning Shootaround — April 20



VIDEO: Daily Zap: April 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Hibbert: ‘I’m the weak link on defense’ | Clips falter late | Pierce embraces villain role | Nowitzki savors playoff berth | Wes Matthews overcomes doubt and adversity

No. 1: Hibbert: ‘I’m the weak link on defense’ – The Indiana Pacers continued their late-season struggle on Saturday night as they lost Game 1, and their home-court advantage, to the Atlanta Hawks 101-93. The demise of the Pacers can be directly linked to their diminished defense, which used to be the heart of their squad. The anchor of this defense, 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert, said after yesterday’s loss that he’s the “main culprit” for the team’s defensive failures. Zak Keefer of The Indianapolis Star has more from Hibbert:

Roy Hibbert was the player — more than any other on this roster — that Pacers coach Frank Vogel rooted his team’s smash-mouth identity around when he took command four seasons ago, dispatching a run-and-gun offense in favor of the inside-out game in which Hibbert could thrive. The Pacers would rule the paint, and Hibbert’s 7-2 frame would serve as their backbone.

It worked wonders for 3 1/2 seasons, and Hibbert’s ascent mirrored that of the team’s. While the Pacers became a championship contender, their All-Star center rose to a runaway pick for Defensive Player of the Year.

That, of course, feels like ages ago. Now, Hibbert is mired in his worst slump in years, one that’s pulled the Pacers into a 1-0 hole to an Atlanta Hawks squad quick to capitalize on the ever-disappearing big man Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Yes, the “What’s up with Roy Hibbert debate?” rages on.

The player Pacers fans grew to know over the past few seasons was, again, noticeably absent.

“I’m gonna keep working at it,” Hibbert said dourly after the game, his head down, his words sparse. “I’m gonna come in and keep doing what I do in practice, work on my hook and get in position down low. Hopefully when I’m called upon I can do it consistently.”

Do it consistently is everything he hasn’t done over the past two months. And he’s been even worse in the past two weeks: Since being benched versus Atlanta on April6, Hibbert has gone 7-of-37 (18.9percent) from the field for all of 17 points in five games.

Not the sort of play you want from a player raking in $14.2million this season.

“We’re an inside-out team,” Lance Stephenson said. “When Roy’s going, we’re great. We got to get everybody in the post going.”

“We just have to get certain guys under control as a team,” Hibbert said. “I’m sure we’ll look over film. I’m the main culprit in terms of being the weak link on defense because they have a spread-five lineup. I guess we’ll have to adjust.”

Indiana, meanwhile, was never able to garner consistent offensive production from Hibbert or David West, the tandem the Pacers can typically rely on to do the dirty work down low. What was supposed to be a significant Indiana advantage turned out, for one night at least, to be a draw.

“We’ve got to do a better job of getting the ball in the paint and the post,” said [David] West, who finished with eight points and battled foul trouble most of the night.

Hibbert’s offensive performance was all the more bizarre. After sinking a hook shot in the lane 43 seconds into the contest, Hibbert was nonexistent on that end of the floor for nearly three quarters.

***


VIDEO: Warriors vs. Clippers: Game 1

No. 2: Clips falter late – The Los Angeles Clippers led the Golden State Warriors 103-102 with 2:10 remaining in the fourth quarter of Game 1 on Saturday afternoon. But they struggled in the closing minutes with turnovers by Darren Collison and Chris Paul proving to be too much to overcome as the Warriors won 109-105 to steal home-court advantage in the series. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times has more on the Clippers late-game struggle:

The moment was right in front of the Clippers and Golden State Warriors, there to be seized by two teams that have much disdain for each other.

When the time came to grab hold of that moment, when Game 1 of the Western Conference first-round playoff series hung in the balance, the Clippers failed.

“I don’t want to say it was the pressure of the playoffs. It was just the way the game went,” said J.J. Redick, who had 22 points on eight-for-11 shooting, four for five from three-point range. “. . . We want to beat these guys. They want to beat us. And sometimes that leads to mental errors.”

On Saturday it also led to Blake Griffin playing only 19 minutes 14 seconds because of foul trouble.

Griffin eventually fouled out with 48.3 seconds left, less a minute after he’d tied the score at 105-105 on two free throws with 1:31 left.

He tried to give the Clippers the lead, but missed a layup and a follow tip-in try. Then Griffin fouled David Lee while trying to get another offensive rebound, his sixth, sending him to the bench with 16 points and three rebounds.

The Clippers didn’t score again.

“I kept putting myself in a hole and a bad situation fouling,” Griffin said. “I can’t say whether that affected other guys or not. It affected our team, obviously. Like I said, I’ve got to do a better job.”

With or without Griffin, the Clippers botched opportunity after opportunity.

Chris Paul finished with 28 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. But he had six turnovers, and missed two key free throws late in the game.

“I’ve got to take care of the basketball,” Paul said.

“We made too many mistakes to win the game,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “When you do that, you lose the game.”

The Clippers now have lost Game 1 of a playoff series six times since moving to Los Angeles in 1984.

They lost the series each of previous five times that has happened.

“I told them going in, you would love to win all your home games,” Rivers said. “But if you don’t, you don’t. And you’ve got to win one on the road, maybe two on the road, to win the series. I’ve said that to them all year. You have to be prepared for all that. We have to win a game on the road now.”

***


VIDEO: Postgame: Pierce and Williams

No. 3: Pierce embraces villain role – The Toronto Sun mocked the age of the Brooklyn Nets on the cover of their Saturday newspaper, saying Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are older than dinosaurs. This jab proved meaningless as Pierce led the Nets to a 94-87 victory over the Raptors, taking home-court away from their division rival. Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News has more on Pierce’s willingness to play the role of villain:

Paul Pierce enjoys being the villain. He wears that hat well in opposing arenas, like a badge of dishonor.

So as he was leaving Air Canada Centre — after one of those clutch performances that justified GM Billy King making the trade last July — he motioned to the crowd to keep the boos flowing, taunting angry fans by throwing his headband into the seats, only to have it hurled back in his direction.

By the third time, though, the headband didn’t return.

“Yes (they wanted my headband),” Pierce said with a sly smile. “The cameras were on them so they wanted to keep their pride. You saw that the third time was the charm. (The Toronto fan) will wear it one day as a souvenir.

This is why the Nets acquired Pierce — for clutch final moments in crazy, pivotal games, and for the attitude it requires to come out on top.

Dubbed a “Dinosaur” on the front page of the local Toronto paper because of his age, the 36-year-old Pierce buried the Raptors in Game 1 of the opening round, scoring nine of his 15 points in the final three minutes of a wild 94-87 victory that started with a profane insult from Toronto’s GM and ended with a broken shot clock.

“Truth-asaurus Rex 1, Raptors 0,” Pierce retweeted from his account not long after the game.

“(I’ve seen Pierce do that) countless times, man,” Garnett said. “I knew when he hit that three, I knew he was in a rhythm. And then the ball just found him and he was just classic ‘Truth.’ Epic.”

The 37-year-old Garnett was also called a “Dinosaur” on the Toronto Sun cover but had no hard feelings.

“It’s all good. It’s not our first time. When (I would) go to San Antonio, they’re similar. I’ve read this book before,” he said. “It’s nothing new. But I love the Toronto fans. They’re passionate, they love the Raptors, and that’s what’s up. That’s true NBA basketball.”

.***


VIDEO: West Playoff Preview: Mavericks vs. Spurs

No. 4: Nowitzki savors playoff berth – The Dallas Mavericks have failed to win a playoff game since they defeated the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the 2011 Finals to win their only NBA Championship with Dirk Nowitzki. After missing the playoffs last season, the 35-year-old Nowitzki realizes the importance of this playoff run as another one is not always guaranteed. The Associated Press reports on how Nowitzki plans to carry the load for the Mavericks in their opening round series against the one-seeded San Antonio Spurs:

The 7-foot Nowitzki — relatively new father and old hand in the postseason after missing it last year for the first time since 2000 — is just happy to be back in what he calls the big dance, a phrase he stole himself.

“How big our shot is, we’ll see,” said Nowitzki, whose eighth-seeded Mavericks open the playoffs Sunday at San Antonio against the Spurs, the defending Western Conference champions, who finished with the league’s best record. “But we have a shot. It’s better than being ninth, so we’re going to go for it.”

Nowitzki, 35, started his 16th season not really knowing where his likely Hall of Fame career was headed. He was coming off his first knee operation, a setback that had a lot to do with the end of Dallas’s 12-year playoff streak.

He also had new priorities after his daughter was born last summer, keeping him in Dallas and away from family in his native Germany longer than usual during the off-season.

Nowitzki figured he could be the same player, and everybody around him said he was.

Sure enough, his scoring average rose for the first time in five years, and the rest of his numbers looked much as they did in 2010-11, when the Mavericks won the franchise’s only championship. Nowitzki credited an intense summer of working out to stay in shape.

“The thing that you don’t know fully is the load he carries for this franchise,” Mavericks Coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s a mammoth load, not only in scoring, but the leadership aspect of it, how he changes games for other players. And the seriousness with which he takes responsibility for winning and losing.”

The Mavericks’ president for basketball operations, Donnie Nelson, openly wondered whether Nowitzki had to do anything else for Dallas, then remembered whom he was talking about.

“He’s so incredibly competitive,” Nelson said. “He’s like the great ones, man. He’s got that spirit that the [Roger] Staubachs and the Nolan Ryans and the Mike Modanos and the Troy Aikmans and those kinds of guys have.”

In other words, Nelson places him among the biggest names in Dallas’s football-leaning sports history. And Nowitzki’s contract will end when his 13th trip to the playoffs does, so the team’s owner, Mark Cuban, has to decide how much life is left in those legs.

One thing seems certain: Nowitzki will not play anywhere else.

“There’s a lot of guys who’ve been able to score,” Cuban said. “But it’s that mental toughness, competitive aspect, the type of person he is and the example that he sets, not just for basketball fans in North Texas and around the world, but for every future Maverick that walks into the clubhouse.”

Nowitzki has a new scoring sidekick in Monta Ellis. His 14th straight season of leading the Mavericks in scoring could be his last. Carlisle will always be trying to limit his minutes, and there’s no telling when the production will drop.

But it’s not very likely to be during the next couple of weeks, even if the Mavericks are swept in the first round.

“If I didn’t like to compete still, I might as well go home,” Nowitzki said. “That’s why I’m still playing, because I love to be out there trying to help my team win games.”

Nowitzki will certainly have a sense of familiarity in the playoff opener. It will be the sixth time he has seen Tim Duncan and the Spurs in the postseason. San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich has been there for all of them.

“He’s been everything,” Popovich said of Nowitzki. “He’s needed to rebound more, and he did. He’s had a myriad of shots that every year we see new things whether it’s his fadeaway or his drives or his spins, pump fakes.

“He worked himself into a position offensively where he’s impossible to guard. But he’s still pretty much the same thing.”

Even though nobody was sure where Nowitzki was headed when the season started.

***


VIDEO: West Playoff Preview: Trail Blazers vs. Rockets

No. 5: Wes Matthews overcomes doubt and adversity – Wesley Matthews path to the NBA, and the playoffs, has not been an easy one. But despite the struggle and doubters, Matthews has prevailed to become the starting shooting guard for the fifth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers. Bruce Ely of The Oregonian reports on the Matthews’ story:

Wesley Matthews this week scanned a pack of reporters in Portland and named them, one by one.

“Wrote me off,” the Trail Blazers guard says. “Wrote me off … Wrote me off … wrote me off before I even got here.”

At various times, they said he was just a shooter. Not good enough to start. Overpaid.

“I know what’s out there. Shoot, Jesus had haters,” Matthews says. “I know I’m going to have doubters if Jesus can’t be loved all the way.”

To him, the perceived slights are like food, nourishing his hunger to be better, to prove he belongs, and on Sunday, there figures to be a feast before him when the Blazers open their best-of-seven playoff series in Houston.

The pregame buildup of doubts and slights might as well be a replay of his life. The “abandonment,” as he calls it, by his father. The conspiracy he and his mother swear existed to strip him of Wisconsin’s top high school basketball honor because he chose Marquette over Wisconsin. And that unnerving Christmas Eve phone call to his half-sister that was picked up by a sobbing aunt, who said 20-year old Tesa had died in her sleep.

Each time, Matthews has triumphed. He and his father are now “solid” and either talk or text daily. He won the prestigious Mr. Basketball honor by having a historic state tournament performance. And he discovered Tesa had a newborn, and he has since developed a relationship with his niece.

“You are never going to be able to write me off. No matter how bad you may want to, no matter how much you think it will be better for me to be somewhere else, or doing something else, you are never going to write me off,” Matthews says. “Because here’s the thing about me:

“I’m going to find a way.”

He set career highs by averaging 16.4 points, 3.5 rebounds and making 201 three-pointers, the second most in franchise history, and he did it with a steely stare and an I-told-you-so defiance. His persona is best captured in his Twitter staple, a message followed by the hashtag “worstbehavior.” Sometimes, he just tweets #worstbehavior.

“It’s almost like a no-mercy type thing,’’ Matthews explains. “Relentless. Going to give you everything I have, every single time. Love it or hate it, I’m giving you everything I got.’’

His mindset comes from years of practice, and years of mentoring from his mother, Pam Moore, who at Wisconsin became one of the most decorated track athletes in Big Ten history. She was a mix between a drill sergeant and principal, hounding Wesley about his practice habits and schoolwork.

There were simple rules: No C’s on report cards, no slacking in practice (she would watch from the stands in basketball and the car in soccer), and absolutely no losing. Period.

“My mom,’’ Matthews says flatly, “is tough as hell. And her mom is tough as hell.’’

Moore summed it up this way:

“We didn’t allow quit, we didn’t allow defeat,’’ Moore says. “It wasn’t acceptable. No one should beat you, and if they did, you would have to deal with me. I would be the one who determines if a kid is physically stronger or faster than you.’’

Moore says she was the mom in the stands coaching and yelling.

“Everybody knew my mouth,’’ Moore says with a chuckle.

And even today, in Madison, the competitive itch hasn’t left her. On the road, she says she can’t stand to follow, which has led to “my share” of speeding tickets.

“I don’t like driving behind people. I need to be ahead of people,’’ she says. “I still have a problem with that. I’m just a competitor.’’

So perhaps it’s no surprise that Matthews often asks to defend the toughest player, from Kevin Durant to Stephen Curry. And perhaps it’s no surprise he itches for the chance to have his number called for a chance at a last-second shot. He has been trained to win, and the only way you win is by going hard.

“My foot is rarely off the gas, and if it is, it’s always hovering over it,’’ Matthews says.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Blake Griffin accidentally (?) dosed a Warriors’ fan with water after he fouled out. … Durant’s arms are long. … Kyle Korver blocked Roy Hibbert … twice. … Robert Covington was named D-League Rookie of the Year after he averaged 23.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. … The new buyers of the Milwaukee Bucks gave a lengthy interview in which they state their hope to follow the Spurs/Thunder model and have construction for a new arena begin within 12 months.

ICYMI OF THE NIGHT: Paul Pierce’s jumper with 51.5 seconds left against the Raptors silenced the Air Canada Centre crowd and secured the Nets’ victory. Pierce was mic’d up during the play, and had some interesting things to say after his clutch shot. 


VIDEO: Mic’d Up: Paul Pierce

Thunder thrive on the good, shrug off the ugly in opening win

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Thunder weather Grizzlies’ rally to take Game 1

OKLAHOMA CITY – As the dust settled on one of the stranger wire-to-wire victories you’ll see, the Oklahoma City Thunder had to be wondering if what just happened really happened.

In the span of three quarters of Saturday night’s 100-86 Game 1 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, the Thunder, once again with Russell Westbrook riding postseason shotgun next to Kevin Durant, showed the world their magnificence, and their warts.

Westbrook started with a turbo blast and it looked like the Thunder might never look back. The lead was 20 before the second quarter was half over. It was 25 — 56-31 — with 6.6 seconds until halftime. Durant and Westbrook had already combined for 33.

Less than five minutes into the third quarter, the lead was down to nine. Nine minutes later Mike Miller drained a 3-pointer and it was Thunder 74, Grizzlies 72.

“They were going to make a run,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “I didn’t anticipate the type of run they had in the third quarter.”

The sellout crowd moaned and groaned and hence the very reason Memphis and Dallas clobbered each other for four quarters and an overtime in the season finale for the right to call their shot against the roller coaster erraticism of the No. 2-seed Thunder over the precision performance of the Western Conference’s top-seeded Spurs.

Brooks went on to say it doesn’t matter how you win as long as you win. And that’s true. And maybe the Thunder, so fast, so athletic, so frenetic at either end for stretches of unpredictable length and fury that it’s simply impossible to maintain such a level throughout a 48-minute game; that a letdown is inevitable and that a quality opponent, as the Grizzlies are, will sense an opening.

“We want to play with that type of intensity,” Brooks said. “No question, it’s hard to play it for four quarters, 48 minutes, 85 or 90 offensive possessions, but we want to strive for that. Tonight in that third quarter, probably seven or eight minutes of that wasn’t as well as we would have liked. But, we fought back, we kept the lead and we extended it down the stretch.”

The Grizzlies have to believe they’re in trouble in this matchup. They’ve lost backup point guard Nick Calathes to a 20-game drug policy suspension and Tayshaun Prince left Game 1 early in the first quarter, too ill to continue on. In the third-quarter desperation to keep clawing, first-year coach Dave Joerger stuck with his four starters and Tony Allen for the entire quarter and deep into the fourth.

Marc Gasol played 45 minutes and all but 47 seconds of the second half with Game 2 approaching quickly Monday night. Zach Randolph logged 39 minutes. Together they went 14-for-40 from the field as the Thunder slacked off whatever outside threat Memphis could muster and hunkered down.

What should not be lost in the Thunder’s first step in getting back to the NBA Finals, a mission sabotaged right about a year ago when Westbrook tore the meniscus in his right knee, is how much deeper and more complete this Thunder squad is than the 2012 team with James Harden and last year’s club that entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed.

Ten players logged at least 12 minutes. Caron Butler put in 30. Rookie center Steven Adams played 12 minutes and had three blocks in his first six minutes. Serge Ibaka was spectacular with 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting, nine rebounds and four blocks, two being skywalking power blocks that will replay on every highlight show over the next 24-hour news cycle. His eight-point third quarter saved the Thunder’s lead.

Westbrook, who had 23 points and 10 rebounds, and Reggie Jackson combined for 18 rebounds, one more than Gasol and Randolph. Durant finished with 33 points on 13-for-25 shooting, seven assists and eight rebounds. Just 8-for-18 from the field, he closed the game 5-for-6 in the fourth quarter.

“We just stayed together and we made plays in that fourth quarter,”  Durant said. “The third quarter was tough for us, but we stayed together. We didn’t stray away. We talked it through and made it work on offense and the defensive end and were able to pull away in that fourth quarter.”

Nitpick if you like. Yes, the Thunder again showed their warts, but they also showed how magnificent they can be. This is a dangerous team, now healthy and eager, that would suggest it is just getting started.

Pacers’ funk deepens in Game 1 loss

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Hawks vs. Pacers: Game 1

They got beat on it. They got booed on it. And at this point, they probably don’t even feel worthy of it.

That home court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse that mattered so much to the Indiana Pacers that they staked their season on it – maybe even strained their season going after it – is gone. Gone, like those sad, bewildered fans leaving early Saturday into the Indianapolis night, their body language trudging up the stairs looking as defeated as the team on the floor.

So gone, that when the players and coaches show up tomorrow or the day after in search of answers in practice, they might find the locks have been changed.

The Pacers’ goal since the first day of training camp: Capture the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference so that, should they face the NBA’s two-time defending champions in a Game 7 with a trip to The Finals on the line, they would have it in their building, on their floor, in their comfort zone (35-6 there this season). Yet after their 101-93 loss to Atlanta, just about everything about that previous sentence – the quest and its context – is wrong.

This was Game 1. Of the first round. Against an opponent that won only 38 times in the regular season. And now the undermanned Hawks have seen to it that no one – not them, not any other postseason foe the Pacers may never actually see – has to win another game this spring at the BLFH. Three Atlanta victories at Philips Arena in the next five games and Indiana won’t make it to a Game 7, never mind the Game 7.

“It’s frustrating,” Pacers forward Paul George said in the interview room afterward. “But it’s one game. It’s a long series. That’s how we’ve got to a look at it. Take it game by game. Just got to prepare for the next one.”

Sorry, there is no “just” about this. And if the Pacers are as calm and focused on a few basketball Xs & Os as George and coach Frank Vogel made it seem in their postgame pressers, they’re going to find themselves in a most uncomfortable zone, their offseasons begun prematurely, wondering for an extra five or six weeks what went so wrong.

This has gone on too long, too unchecked to be fixed in a film session or in a walk-through. Whether the Pacers’ deepening funk started around the All-Star break (they’re an ordinary 16-15 since, counting Saturday) or a little later (12-14 since March 1), their denial of how bad it was getting – and the absence of any appropriately desperate measures to fix it – has left them no wiggle room whatsoever.

Years from now, NBA coaches could be using these 2014 Pacers to illustrate the age-old point that you can’t just flick a switch when the playoffs start: Either you go in with momentum or you go home sooner than expected.

Several key Pacers reportedly huddled up in the locker room after this one, but that’s stale at this point, too much been-there, done-that. What they needed – now, sure, but probably a month ago – was something far more drastic.

Here’s how Rick Fox, a member of the Lakers’ three-peat teams from 2000-2002, put it on NBA TV: “A little panic would look good on this team. I’m done listening to them try to convince us everything’s OK. That it’s just one game. They’ve been saying it’s one game for the last 30 games.

“There needs to be some panic here. That would create some urgency. Then they could actually accept what they’ve been doing. So they can wash it down and start to move toward something they once were. … They’re playing as if nothing is really seriously wrong.”

There were some seams showing after this latest, most glaring embarrassment. Roy Hibbert, Indiana’s 7-foot-2 rim protector who had his own shots blocked twice by 6-foot-7 Kyle Korver, sounded a little petulant when wondering if maybe he is the problem against Atlanta’s “stretch 5″ offense, with center Pero Antic pulled out to 3-point range and the floor spread for shifty point guard Jeff Teague.

Curiously, George talked about a stretch in the third quarter when he left the floor for quickie treatment on a bruised thigh. Indiana had closed to 60-58 when he subbed out, and by the time George came back from the trainers room, it was 71-58, headed eventually to 20-point ugliness.

“I checked out,” George said, when asked about the Hawks’ 30-16 edge in that quarter. “I don’t know what happened.”

So much for looking “into their souls,” as analyst Hubie Brown said from his courtside post in Oklahoma City, where the Thunder were flexing a more lively homecourt advantage over Memphis.

As disappointed as Indiana fans are with the Pacers, as much grief as that team is getting from critics both locally and nationally, the ones who really ought to be ticked at them are the Hawks. As well as Atlanta played – solid work on the boards, far more hustle for loose balls, more aggression overall – this game wound up being defined by Indiana’s failures, not their success.

And then George patronized them a little when he said, “They played as good as they can play.”

The question of the moment is, how would George know that about any team? Certainly not from looking around his own dressing room.

Warriors make it seem like old times

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com


VIDEO: Warriors vs. Clippers: Game 1

LOS ANGELES – This is what it felt like a year ago, opening on the road against an opponent that rarely loses at home, unnerved by anxious moments, in the underdog role, Mark Jackson appearing firmly in control of the mood, major health concerns a rallying point.

The start of these Warriors playoffs seemed a lot like the last one, and good luck finding a bigger compliment. Yes, they cut to the chase in 2014 and lost Andrew Bogut to injury before the first round, as opposed to David Lee going down during Game 1 in 2013. And, sure, they won the opener at Staples Center this time, unlike Andre Miller cutting their heart out with a slow-speed driving layup in Denver to give the Nuggets the victory before eventually earning a split at Pepsi Center, but same difference.

Adversity? Bring it on.

A hole blown through the big-man rotation? Take your best shot.

Playing as No. 6 in the West against No. 3? Might as well.

For all the drama the Warriors would have preferred to avoid with a more-consistent regular season, for all the doubt that has built over Jackson’s future as coach, they bask in the underdog role. They don’t want it, but they respond to it.

A choppy end to the regular season — nothing more than a two-game win streak in nearly a month, home losses to the Nuggets, Knicks and Spurs minus Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili since March 22 — led right into the playoffs Saturday and the waiting Clippers.

And then a 109-105 Golden State victory.

As if it was that straightforward. The Warriors were DOA, falling behind 12-1, needing 4:22 for their first field goal and generally looking like they could not stand up to the challenge, then won in a building where the Clippers tied for the second-best home record in the league. Lee was enduring an individual meltdown, getting shots blocked, being sloppy with the ball, then in the second half was one of the keys to the comeback. Jermaine O’Neal, Bogut’s replacement as the starting center, made six of eight shots in the final two quarters.

The Warriors committed six turnovers in the fourth period, and 23 in all, while shooting 34.8 percent the final 12 minutes, and still won a playoff game on the road, with an obvious assist from Chris Paul being out of sync all day and Blake Griffin fouling out after 19 minutes. Golden State, the regular season of high expectations widely viewed as a disappointment and quickly arranging an exit from the playoffs, was transported back to needing to prove it belonged. It was like the old days.

“A lot, a lot,” forward Draymond Green said when asked if the 2014 start in L.A. reminded him of the 2013 start in Denver. “Coming in, we were the underdog. It was a 3-6 matchup. The only thing different is we let that game go in Denver and (the Nuggets) got Game 1. But at the end of the day, we come here to take care of business. We’re not coming in with the underdog mindset or with that mindset that we have nothing to lose. We feel like we’re just as good or better a basketball team as them and we’re going to continue to play like that and let the cards fall how they may.”

When the 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series was secured, ahead of Game 2 here Monday night, Klay Thompson spiked the ball into the court with a hard swing of his right arm. But mostly the Warriors exchanged high fives and walked calmly into the tunnel at one of the corners and down the hallway to the visitor’s locker room, showing no great emotion.

They acted like a team that still had everything to prove, not one that had done any proving. Perfect.

“I won’t say (we embraced the underdog role),” Jackson countered. “I will say that the lights are brightest. We won on the road last year in both rounds against two very good basketball teams (Denver and San Antonio). We know what we’re capable of doing. When you look at the makeup of this basketball team, individually and collectively they’re fighters. Top to bottom, we’ve got a bunch of guys that, the survey says, were not supposed to be here. I’m not supposed to be coaching. Got no experience. Stephen Curry’s supposed to be retired because of his ankle. David Lee was a loser. Jermaine O’Neal’s supposed to be finished. Harrison Barnes dropped in the draft. Klay Thompson, how can he be sitting with that talent at No. 11 in the draft? And then you look at Draymond Green. A gamer. A gamer. An absolute gamer. I thought Andre Iguodala again gave us great minutes and unfortunately fouled out. But it’s the makeup of this basketball team and I can continue to go on and on throughout my roster. It’s just a bunch of guys that just compete and fight.”

Jackson only oversold it by a multiple of 1,000. There was never talk Curry would retire, Lee was an All-Star before coming to Oakland and Barnes didn’t have a draft freefall. But point taken. The Warriors can reach a special emotional place and deliver in long-shot situations. They can still make it feel like last April in that way.

Nets’ experience takes home-court advantage from Raptors

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Nets vs. Raptors: Game 1

TORONTO – The Brooklyn Nets just don’t care.

They don’t care about Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri saying “F— Brooklyn!” at a pep rally before Game 1 of their first-round series.

“I don’t even know who the GM is,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said when asked about it.

They don’t care about the raucous crowd at the Air Canada Centre.

“I really feed off the emotions of the crowd, especially on the road,” Paul Pierce said after scoring nine straight points to put the game away. “It’s fun when you go on the road and [win]. I think it’s more gratifying that winning at home.”

And they don’t care about how inconsistently they played in the regular season, because the switch has been flipped.

“We’re locked in,” Pierce added. “It’s the playoffs. We understand the moment.”

The Nets came to this series with experience (about 10 times as much postseason mileage as their opponent), while the Raptors had home-court advantage. After a 94-87 victory on Saturday, Brooklyn has both.

The experience showed in the fourth-quarter execution. Down one with five minutes left, the Nets went on a 13-5 run, getting two points each from Joe Johnson and Kevin Garnett before Pierce went on his run. He capped it with a vintage, back-his-man-down-to-the-elbow, turnaround jumper.

As he went to bench afterward, he told the crowd, “That’s why I’m here.”

Some shots go in and some don’t, but all six of the late buckets from the vets showed poise in the face of solid defense. On the other end of the floor, Toronto struggled to get good looks. After Brooklyn took back the lead, the Raptors were forced to rush shots late in the clock on three of their next five possessions.

Two of the Raptors’ starters with no playoff experience – DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross – shot a combined 4-for-17, dealing with early foul trouble and never getting on track.

“I thought we played a little bit as expected,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “It is our first playoff game.”

The Nets’ defense played a role in the Raptors’ struggles, closing off the middle of the floor and forcing Toronto into 19 turnovers and just 17-for-37 shooting in the paint.

In fact, until Brooklyn made its late run, both teams were scoring less than a point per possession. After making three of their first four 3-pointers, the Nets missed 19 straight. But their defense was good enough to let their experience take over down the stretch.

“You’ve been in those situations a number of times,” Pierce said. “I don’t get rattled in the fourth quarters, down the stretch of playoff settings.

“I just try to stay calm, bring my calmness to the game, and just try to influence the rest of the guys.”

Maybe Kidd was trolling Ujiri with feigned ignorance. Maybe Pierce was trolling the crowd with his post-dagger swagger. And maybe the Nets are better than a No. 6 seed with a 44-38 record.

After all, Pierce was the third option on most of those plays down the stretch, getting the ball on the weak side after Deron Williams and Johnson ran a pick-and-roll.

“I thought it was part of great execution,” Pierce said. “They took away our first and second option and I was able to fill in as a third option and make some plays.”

A guy with a championship ring and 136 games of postseason experience isn’t a bad third option to have.

Grizzlies disappointed, moving on with Udrih

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Memphis Grizzlies backed suspended guard Nick Calathes, but a sense of disappointment was also prevalent as the No. 7-seed Grizzlies prepared for tonight’s Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the No. 2 Thunder.

“It’s obviously an unfortunate situation,” Grizzlies guard Tony Allen said following the team’s Saturday morning shootaround at Chesapeake Energy Arena. “As long as he keeps his head high and keeps his nose clean for the remainder of his career, the kid’s got potential. So, it’s just another case of just a bad decision. Hopefully  he’ll learn from it. But we’ve got his back I’m supporting him; he’s a good kid. That’s all I can say about that.”

Calathes, a 6-foot-6, 25-year-old rookie who had bided his time overseas since being drafted the Dallas Mavericks in 2009, was suspended for 20 games by the NBA Friday night for testing positive for the banned substance Tamoxifen. His absence pushes Beno Udrih, claimed off waivers on Feb. 26, but mostly relegated to the bench, into the backup point guard role behind Mike Conley.

According to a report by ESPN, Calathes is mounting a defense of the ruling, citing it as unfair, but there apparently is nothing that can prevent Calathes from serving the full ban.

“[It was] an over-the-counter supple to treat a private but common medical condition; the NBA rejected it because it doesn’t require a prescription,” attorney David Cornwell, who is representing Calathes, told ESPN.

“Our tests identified Tamoxifen in a supplement Nick [used] for a legitimate medical condition and our tests confirmed that Nick did not have testosterone or any other PED in his body. Despite this irrefutable, objective scientific evidence, the NBA’s response was, ‘Oh well.’ This is indefensible because no legitimate purpose is served by suspending a man who the NBA knows was not cheating.”

 

The league stands by its ruling. Rick Buchanan, the NBA’s executive vice president and general counsel, issued this statement: “Under the NBA’s Anti-Drug Program, like all other state-of-the-art sports drug testing programs, the presence of Tamoxifen is sufficient for a positive drug test. There is no requirement that it be found in conjunction with any other performance-enhancing substance, because Tamoxifen itself can be taken to increase testosterone to enhance performance and because its use may lag the use of other performance-enhancing drugs. NBA players are reminded jointly by the NBA and NBPA each season to avoid the use of supplements or other drugs without a valid medical prescription, including through posted warnings about supplements in every NBA locker room, and that they are fully responsible for whatever substances enter their bodies under the Anti-Drug Program.”

“Nick has had a great year,” said Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger, who called the situation an NBA matter and did not get into further details. “You know, we’ve had a lot of adversity all season long so everybody’s got to step up their game because it’s the playoffs, but also now because you’re missing a guy who’s really developed and become a big part of what we’ve been doing.”

Calathes, booed by the home fans earlier this season as he struggled to find his footing, had come along at a rapid pace in the second half of the season as the Grizzlies charged up the Western Conference playoffs to earn a playoff berth.

He played in 71 games and averaged 4.9 ppg, 2.9 apg — third on the team behind Conley and Marc Gasol — and 1.9 rpg in 16.5 mpg. He shot 45.7 percent from the floor, but 49.2 percent on 2-point shots, which accounted for the majority of his attempts. The steady, 6-foot-3 Udrih has played in just 10 games with Memphis after being released by the New York Knicks where he averaged 19.0 minutes in 31 games. He averaged 5.6 ppg and 3.5 apg.

Joerger said he continued to play Calathes over Udrih, in his 10th season, to further the younger player’s development for the playoffs. Udrih, who spent his first three seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, last played in the postseason when he got into eight games during the Spurs’ 2007 championship run.

“Without Nick being here it’s going to be tougher on me,” Conley said. “Just with the amount of minutes I’m playing, the amount of energy being able to exert at times. He was playing, I think, the best basketball of the season for him. He had found his rhythm and had really been a vital part of our success lately. It’s going to be different without him, I can tell you that much. We feel for him and hope this passes over and we’ll be able to get Beno acclimated and ready to go.

“I expect to play a lot. I got to get mind ready for it.”

Udrih, 31,said he’s ready.

“I worked a little bit extra to get back in shape, where I wanted to,” Udrih said. “But I’m ready. I’m ready in any kind of way to help this team be successful. Whatever I get out there, I’m going to give my best and see what happens.”

The Grizzlies defeated the Thunder in last season’s conference semifinals four games to one, but Oklahoma City was without Russell Westbrook. In 2011, the Thunder knocked off the Grizzlies in seven games to advance to the West finals.

“It ain’t really going to boil down to too much scheming. obviously we know them and they know us, so it’s going to boil down to us coming out there, sticking to the coaches’ game plan and hanging our hats on the defensive end in the best way possible.