For Mavs, line of demarcation is 3

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Mavs vs. Spurs, Game 2 preview

SAN ANTONIO – When Danny Green plays the Dallas Mavericks, he thinks fireworks. He kills Dallas from beyond the 3-point arc like no other team with a career-best 33 long balls in 12 regular-season games. Twenty-six of those 3s (on just 39 attempts) have come in the last two seasons, which includes him going 12-for-20 vs. the Mavs in four games this season.

So when Green got off just one 3-point attempt, and missed it, in the San Antonio Spurs’ skin-of-their-teeth Game 1 victory Sunday, it came as a significant surprise. The Mavs’ defensive strategy of switching coverages and chasing Green and the Spurs’ other sharpshooters — who averaged 10.5 made 3s on 24.3 attempts against Dallas this season — mostly worked. The Spurs, No. 1 in the league in 3-point percentage, went 3-for-17 in Game 1 with Manu Ginobili accounting for all three.

Just two weeks ago, the Spurs bombarded the Mavs with 16 made 3-pointers, a combined 11 from Green and Patty Mills, in a win at Dallas.

Where the pick-your-poison strategy narrowly backfired on Dallas was opening the middle for Tony Parker and Tim Duncan to work mismatches. Those two combined for 48 points with heavy damage inflicted in the paint, the difference in the 90-85 win.

But, as Dirk Nowitzki said after Game 1: “I guess two points is better than three points.”

The Spurs, who have won 10 consecutive games against the Mavs, enter tonight’s Game 2 (8 p.m. ET, NBA TV) anticipating that their neighbor to the north will again live and die by the same strategy.

“In regular season they didn’t switch as much, they’re playing pick-and-roll defense a lot differently,” Green said. “That’s the main difference in everything they’ve done defensively and that’s kind of slowed us up. I think the biggest thing is getting stops and just running; running and cutting and moving more.”

The Spurs’ assist number provide evidence of that slowing up. San Antonio is a precision-passing team and led the league in assists (25.2 apg) during the regular season. They had just 14 on 35 baskets in Game 1. The 90 points was the Spurs’ lowest output since using a makeshift lineup in a 96-86 loss at Chicago on Jan. 29.

“Regardless of what kind of defense they play,” Green said, “we have to continue to play how we play and that’s attack, drive-and-kick and find each other and make the extra pass.”

Both teams have had two days to reassess their options. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, named Coach of the Year for the third time Tuesday, was predictably coy as to how he expects Dallas coach Rick Carlisle to tweak his defensive approach, if at all.

“We’ll play the game and then find out what’s going on,” Popovich said. “No sense guessing.”

Blogtable: On the Grizz’s grit

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Indiana awakening? | Game 1 illusion or harbinger | Grading the Grizz’s chances



VIDEO: The Memphis Grizzlies beat the Thunder in OKC in Game 2 of their first-round series

> After that win in OKC, are you ready to pick the gritty Grizzlies over the Thunder?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Not ready. Which is not to say I didn’t find Memphis’ survival in its overtime Game 2 victory to be thoroughly impressive. There were repeated opportunities for the Grizzlies to crack (and potentially have Mike Conley go into some guilt-ridden funk for some late-game mishaps), but they navigated around them. Hey, Z-Bo happened. Still, OKC has so much talent in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook it can win almost in spite of itself most nights. I’m headed to Memphis for Games 3 and 4, while hoping we get 5, 6 and 7 too.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Who exactly was it at Overreaction Central that thought the Thunder were going to sweep every game into The Finals? The Grizzles are rough and rugged and are never easy to beat.  But OKC had the second-best (25-16) road record in the West and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are still too much. Things will be bruising at the Grind House, but the Thunder survive.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Pick the Grizzlies? No. It was one game. Memphis with Tayshaun Prince initially and then Tony Allen, does have a way of frustrating Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook can’t keep launching bad shots — good luck with all that — but the Thunder remain the more talented team. Sweeps are hard to come by and there’s no reason to think Memphis can’t take this to six games. But pick them to win it? Nah.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Still going Thunder. Because I think the previous 82 games mean something and because I think OKC also knows a lot about grit. It played through big injuries, still sees defense as the base of the success and developed young players while finishing with the second-best record in the West. I like the matchup for the Thunder, too. It’s not just tale of the tape with regular-season records.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: No. And it’s not because the Grizzlies aren’t great. They are. They’re better than what we should expect from a No. 7 seed. But they also had an uncharacteristically good shooting game from the perimeter on Monday and, more importantly, Oklahoma City is better. They’re the No. 2 seed for a reason, they’re strong on both ends of the floor, and they’ll find a way to loosen Tony Allen’s clamp on Kevin Durant.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Nope. Not yet, at least. But I am feeling like we have a seven-gamer on our hands for sure. The Grizzlies will pound you into submission with their defense, especially on the perimeter. And they wore the Thunder down and made sure that they had to work for every shot, good and bad (and Naismith knows, the Thunder get up plenty of both), the entire night. That’s a recipe for a Game 7 in OKC that I think we’d all enjoy.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: The Grizz looked pretty good, to be sure, but for large stretches of the game, the Thunder weren’t really rumbling. The Thunder had their usual array of self-created obstacles to overcome, like Scott Brooks stopping a late 3-on-2 break with a timeout, or like when they needed a 2 to tie with the game on the line and couldn’t (or wouldn’t) get the ball to the presumptive MVP of the league, Kevin Durant. That said, these are fixable problems, and I think the Thunder should be able to take care of these things.

Blogtable: The Pacers, back in biz?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Indiana awakening? | Game 1 illusion or harbinger | Grading the Grizz’s chances



VIDEO: The Pacers used a 19-0 run in the third and fourth quarters to dump Atlanta in Game 2

> Was Tuesday just a good blip in a bad month, or did the Pacers finally rediscover their mojo?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Blip. C’mon, even the crowd at a sold-out Target Center in Minnesota doesn’t cry “Wolf!” the way the Pacers have over the past month. Their funk-slash-tailspin was over, we were told, when they beat Chicago at home. Then it was over when they beat Miami. Wait, no, it finally ended when they (barely) seized the No. 1 seed. Wrong, wrong and wrong. Their performance in the series opener against the Hawks — on the heels of a reported Lance Stephenson-Evan Turner practice fight — still carries more weight than Tuesday’s Game 2 face-saver. Let’s see how Indiana does in Atlanta in the next two. Only if they now take this series in convincing fashion, the way a No. 1 is supposed to over a No. 8, will they get any credit for mojo from me.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: One game does not mojo make. I still expect the Pacers to beat the Hawks in this series, but things have got to settle down considerably in that locker room and on the court before I can put Indiana back in the elite mix with the Heat, Spurs and Thunder to win it all.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comWho knows? In their final 12 regular-season games Indiana was 5-7 but two of those wins came against Miami and Oklahoma City. We know they’re capable. The eighth-seeded Hawks — hey, they play hard, no doubt — should be fodder. So we’ll see.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comI have to go with good blip until proven otherwise. Can it be a step toward rediscovering their mojo? Absolutely. Are the Pacers still capable of getting back to the team that could challenge Miami in the East? Yes. But the finish to the regular season and the very start of the playoffs was so bad that Indy is a group with everything to prove. No benefit of the doubt anymore.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comA really good blip in a bad month for Paul George and Luis Scola. I think we’re still waiting for the Pacers to rediscover their collective mojo, so to speak. The Pacers have to finish off the Hawks before I’m ready to pronounce them cured from whatever has ailed them since the All-Star break. You don’t stink up the place for the better part of two months and come out smelling like roses after a good third quarter.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: Just as one loss does not make a streak, neither does one win. There sure were signs of life, though, like the way George Hill played, on both ends of the court. Just as obvious, however, were signs that the Pacers still have plenty of things to fix. Like when Lance Stephenson was subbed out and he went and sulked in the corner. Or when Paul George hit a last-second three at the end of the third quarter to go up 14, and the Pacers reacted as though they’d just won the NBA Finals. Or when their All-Star center Roy Hibbert finished with six points and four rebounds playing mostly against a 31-year-old rookie. It was a good win, to be sure, and one the Pacers will definitely be glad to have in the books. But let’s not go jumping to any conclusions because they won a home game against the No. 8-seed.

Blogtable: Flukes and real wins

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Indiana awakening? | Game 1 illusion or harbinger | Grading the Grizz’s chances



VIDEO: TNT’s Marty Snider looks ahead to the Blazers-Rockets in Game 2 on Wednesday in Houston

> Playoff-opening win that’s more likely a harbinger: the Warriors in L.A. or the Blazers in Houston? Why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Look at Mr. Blogtable, dropping words like “harbinger.” OK, I’ll play along: You mean precursor, foreboder and bellwether of what we can expect as each series plays out? Forced to choose, I’ll go with Portland. The Clippers already have fired back against Golden State, in a big way. Their talent level is superior, when accounting for both ends, and L.A. has been seen as a legit contender to reach The Finals. Few have argued that Houston can go that far. The Rockets’ gap vs. the Blazers is narrow and LaMarcus Aldridge might just prove he’s better than both Blake Griffin and Kevin Love among elite power forwards by the time these playoffs end. I still don’t think either the Warriors or the Blazers will advance, but as far as putting the bigger scare into its foe and possibly pulling off the upset, yeah, gimme Portland.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comWarriors winning. LaMarcus Aldridge scored 46 points, James Harden missed 20 shots and the Blazers still won by just two points in overtime. That will be tough to repeat three more times. Golden State goes home for next two and Steph Curry hasn’t heated up yet.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Blazers in Houston, no question. The Warriors without Andrew Bogut should not be an even match against the Clippers and I think we saw that in Game 2 with Blake Griffin being allowed to actually play. The Clips are by no means perfect, but this is a team that is getting better the longer they play together. As for Houston, losing that late lead is the same kind of stuff they pulled early in the regular season so that’s a bad sign. Portland has more weapons. Damian Lillard can hang with James Harden, and LaMarcus Aldridge is a far more offensively skilled player than Dwight Howard. Now, this should be a great series, and a long one, but I like the Blazers’ chances. They secured the all-important road split and nobody likes to play at their place no longer named the Rose Garden.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Now you’re forcing a lot of people to look up the definition of harbinger. Anyway, the Blazers in Houston. I don’t think the short-handed Warriors are capable of winning the series, though they probably don’t hate the skepticism. But Portland went in with a real shot against the Rockets. Game 1 was just the affirmation.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: This is unfair, because we’ve already seen Part 2 of one of these movies. But Portland’s Game 1 win in Houston could certainly foreshadow the rest of the series, because LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard will continue to be tough matchups for the Rockets, especially if Patrick Beverley isn’t 100 percent. If they choose to double-team Aldridge, Portland’s shooters will get better looks. If they choose to use Omer Asik more, their own offense will suffer. James Harden will play better, but Houston’s defense might not.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m going with the Blazers in Houston. The 4-5 matchup on both sides of the conference divide in a given year always seem to provide a pretty fair fight. But this one has some serious issues for the Rockets to deal with in LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard. After fighting the good fight for Dwight Howard the past couple of years, I’m starting to agree with the masses (well, the talking heads at TNT and NBA TV) that he’s no longer the force of nature he was earlier in his career. And if he’s not, that means the Rockets don’t have two stars that can match the Blazers’ two stars.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: I feel like the Blazers in Houston was the truer picture of what that series could be. Mainly because the Blazers/Rockets Game 1 was both teams at the fullest of their powers. We were one extra-session Harden jumper from this game going into infinite overtimes. But to me that opening Clippers/Warriors game was one of the worst games I’ve seen Los Angeles play in the last few weeks. Blake Griffin was in foul trouble throughout (he finished with 16 points in 19 minutes) and how often do you see Chris Paul with a 4:3 assist-to-turnover ratio? Even with all that, the Clips still were in the game down the stretch and nearly pulled off the win.


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew examines Golden State’s problems in Game 2

Morning Shootaround — April 23



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played April 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Stephenson, Turner had fight in practice | Asik wants to slow Aldridge | Report: Dolan, Jackson clashing over moves | Pierce calls Nets ‘soft’ after Game 2 loss

No. 1: Report: Stephenson, Turner had fistfight at practice — In Game 2 of the Pacers-Hawks first-round series, Indiana (for one night, at least) looked like the team that dominated the Eastern Conference at times this season. The Pacers’ win evens the series 1-1, but shortly after that victory, a report from  Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski surfaced about just how tenuous the Indiana locker room chemistry may be. According to Wojnarowski, Pacers swingmen Lance Stephenson and Even Turner got into a pretty heated scuffle during the team’s practice before their Game 1 opener against Atlanta:

On the eve of this Eastern Conference series, the wobbling No. 1 seed punctuated its final playoff preparations in a most self-destructive way: Two Indiana Pacers dragged a cursing, cut Evan Turner out of the Bankers Life Fieldhouse court, untangling him from a practice-floor fistfight with teammate Lance Stephenson.

Turner hadn’t been the first Pacer to lose his temper with Stephenson these tumultuous several weeks, and Stephenson’s relentlessly irritable nature suggests Turner won’t be the last. These scrapes aren’t uncommon in the NBA, but this confrontation had been weeks in the making and that reflected in the ferocity of the encounter, sources told Yahoo Sports.

“This stuff happens, but the timing wasn’t ideal,” one witness told Yahoo Sports.

These two guards have struggled together since the deadline deal brought Turner from Philadelphia to Indiana. Suddenly, Turner is learning to play without the ball in his hands, and Stephenson is relearning the balance of passing and shooting. Truth be told, there were probably Pacers willing to let Stephenson and Turner beat the dribble out of each other. Still, Luis Scola and David West finally grabbed an enraged Turner and separated Stephenson.

“We know that Larry [Bird] and Donnie [Walsh] and [Kevin Pritchard] put a team together to try and win a championship this year,” Hibbert told Yahoo Sports. “We know that’s the goal, and we know that’s the kind of talent we have here. It’s up to us now to do it, to get it done.”

Bird made two significant deals to fortify this title run – Turner for Danny Granger, and the signing of Andrew Bynum – and those haven’t worked for him. Bynum could be done for the season with his knee problems, and perhaps everyone underestimated how much Granger had left in him, and how awkwardly Turner would fit into the Pacers.

Yes, Turner’s finding his way with these Pacers, and maybe that started on the eve of these NBA playoffs with a challenge of the Brooklyn kid who calls himself Born Ready. These things happen in the NBA, and eventually someone else will make a run at Lance Stephenson.


VIDEO: Go inside the Pacers’ huddle during the Game 2 victory

***

No. 2: Asik wants chance to slow AldridgeThe Houston Rockets and their fans likely still have nightmares from their Game 1 loss at home in which Portland Trailblazers All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge burned them for a Portland playoff record 46 points. Coach Kevin McHale remains coy about what adjustments he’ll be making for Game 2 tonight, but one player who wants more of an opportunity to stop (or at least try to slow down) Aldridge is backup center Omer Asik, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

“We are going to do some stuff differently,” McHale said. “You watch the game and find out what it is.”

Asik, however, said defending Aldridge is the top priority and that if he is back on him the plan will be to battle him better before Aldridge catches the ball, rather than after he is going up for his shot.

“The first thing is to stop LaMarcus Aldridge,” Asik said. “He killed us almost last game and going into this game, we have to do our best to help him stop a little bit more.

“I wasn’t able to do much because I wasn’t able to play much. I always try to make it hard on him before he catches the ball, to make him maybe tired before he gets the ball. He is one of the best power forwards in the league. It’s hard to guard him but we will try our best.”


VIDEO: TNT’s crew looks ahead to Game 2 of the Blazers-Rockets series

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No. 3: Report: Jackson, Dolan clashing over moves?New Knicks GM Phil Jackson has already made one personnel move since taking over in New York a month ago — the firing of coach Mike Woodson and his staff on Monday. According to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News in a lengthy story, Jackson has other personnel moves in mind … and he’s finding himself clashing with team owner James Dolan on some of those moves already:

Just one month into his role as Knicks president, Jackson has already clashed with Dolan, the chairman of Madison Square Garden, over personnel decisions, the Daily News has learned. According to a team source, Jackson is looking to remove several staff members, which is commonplace when a new administration takes over, but Dolan opposes removing certain employees.

According to the source, Dolan’s reaction to Jackson’s request was to tell the 11-time NBA championship coach to simply focus his attention on building a winning team. To say that “minor friction,” as one Garden source called it, can be classified as Jackson’s honeymoon with Dolan being over may be stretching it a bit.

But at the very least it proves that Dolan — surprise, surprise wasn’t being entirely truthful last month when he claimed he was “willingly and gratefully” giving up control of the basketball decisions to Jackson, the Hall of Fame coach.

With Jackson, Dolan has not tried to meddle in player moves. At least not yet. Instead, Dolan’s interest is to retain several staff members in their current positions, which raises an obvious question: Why?

It is unclear which employees Jackson wants to remove, but with the entire coaching staff fired on Monday, it is most likely personnel with the medical staff, front office and/or the media relations staff. Bleacher Report reported that Steve Mills, Allan Houston and Mark Warkentien could all be reassigned or possibly dismissed.

Among the coaches fired on Monday was long-time assistant Herb Williams, who is well-liked in the organization. Within one hour, there was a report that the organization would “encourage” the next head coach to keep Williams. It was an odd story, which read like it was planted by someone other than Jackson, because why would Jackson fire Williams and then encourage the next coach to rehire him?

Dolan’s interest in keeping certain employees could be something as innocent as wanting to remain loyal to workers with whom he has grown close. The more plausible theory is that Dolan doesn’t want to fully cede control of the team and that certain employees who serve as pseudo organizational spies are too valuable to lose.

Last month, Jackson admitted that he would not have taken the job without the guarantee that he had complete control of the basketball operations. But in less than six weeks, it appears that Dolan has shattered his own world record for meddling.

***

No. 4: Pierce calls Nets ‘soft’ after Game 2 loss — Brooklyn Nets forward Paul Pierce was the decided hero of Game 1 against the Toronto Raptors, nailing big shot after big shot to salt away the victory. In Game 2, as our John Schuhmann wisely pointed out, Pierce played a lot like Raptors star DeMar DeRozan did in Game 1 … and vice versa. Following Toronto’s 95-90 win, Pierce and Co. felt like they left a win North of the border and Pierce wasn’t shy about faulting Brooklyn’s play down the stretch. Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com has more:

A frustrated Paul Pierce felt the Brooklyn Nets were “a soft team” on defense and in the paint during a 100-95 Game 2 loss at Toronto.

But Kevin Garnett believes there will be nothing soft about the Brooklyn home crowd when the Nets return to Barclays for Games 3 and 4 of this best-of-seven series.

“We know it’s going to be a rowdy environment, like it should be,” Garnett said. “I don’t know if you can say ‘F Brooklyn’ and then come into Brooklyn. So we’re about to see what it’s like.”

Garnett’s comment is in reference to Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri shouting “F— Brooklyn!” at a Raptors pep rally before Game 1 outside Air Canada Centre on Saturday. Ujiri was fined $25,000 by the NBA for the expletive.

Jason Kidd’s team was up 69-64 with 11:20 remaining before allowing Toronto to score 36 points and make 12-of-16 shots (75 percent) in the fourth quarter. The Nets were also battered on the glass, outrebounded 52-30 by the younger and more athletic Raptors.

The Nets also couldn’t contain DeMar DeRozan, who exploded for 30 points, 17 coming in the fourth.

“I thought guys stuck to their man individually for the most part and didn’t help one another and that is the big part of our defense,” Pierce said. “Sink and shrinking the floor, locking down the paint, tonight too many touches for them in the paint, too many paint points, and we didn’t rebound.

“We gave them everything they wanted, 50 points in the paint, and [19] offensive rebounds,” Pierce added. “We were a soft team tonight.”


VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan talks about the Raptors’ big Game 2 victory

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Hey, Bulls center Joakim Noah — what’s your view on losing in the playoffs? … For the Kings fans out there, GM Pete D’Alessandro talked about what he hopes to do next in Sacramento … Could former Wolves coach and current team GM Flip Saunders end up being the team’s coach again? … Legendary Italian league coach Ettore Messina could be high on the Utah Jazz’s prospective coaches listHakeem Olajuwon was at Rockets practice Tuesday, working with Dwight Howard … Hawks guard Jeff Teague cooled off drastically in Game 2 against the Pacers …

ICYMI(s) OF THE NIGHT: DeMar DeRozan showed off his All-Star skills in Toronto’s Game 2 win over Brooklyn, and this monster dunk on the Nets was one that we (and a lot of Raptors fans) enjoyed …


VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan skies in for the power jam on the Nets


VIDEO: Raptors fans at Maple Leaf Square react to DeRozan’s big jam

Where was this Wizards team all season?

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Wizards stay perfect on Chicago’s home court in playoffs

CHICAGO – In a span of two games, on the road in a tough building, the Washington Wizards have shifted the conversation from how their long-awaited taste of the postseason probably wouldn’t last more than one round to where the heck this team was all season.

When you look at what the Wizards have done in grabbing their 2-0 lead over the Chicago Bulls in the best-of-seven series and apply it to the 82 games that preceded this, it suddenly seems like their 44-38 record and certain middling stats (17th in offensive rating, 20th in rebounding, 25th in foul shooting) represent some shameful underachieving.

Consider some of the things they accomplished on their stay in the Windy City, which wrapped with the 101-99 overtime playoff nightcap:

  • Overcame a 13-point deficit in one of the most boisterous road gyms in the league to grab the series opener.
  • Toyed with Chicago’s vaunted defense at times, as in outscoring the Bulls 61-38 across the final quarter of Game 1 and the first 12 minutes of Game 2.
  • Kept their focus through some physical shenanigans first between Kirk Hinrich and Bradley Beal, later between Trevor Ariza and Joakim Noah, without getting intimidated or spinning out of control.
  • Clamped down defensively again when it mattered most. The Wizards limited Chicago to just 12 points, total, in the final six minutes of the two fourth quarters.
  • Squandered an early 17-point lead in Game 2, fell behind by 10 with seven minutes left, yet caught the Bulls with a 14-4 run to close regulation, Beal scoring nine of those Washington points.
  • Pressured Chicago just as hard at the end as they did at the beginning, limiting the home team to 2-for-9 shooting in the overtime while generating just enough offense of their own (Nene, six points)

Had the Wizards played that way all season, they might have, what … pushed toward 50 victories, which would have been good enough for the No. 3 seed? Put some heat on the Heat in the Southwest Division? Made life a lot easier on their coaches, their fans and themselves by locking up their postseason berth sooner, with a little less late-season drama?

Of course, this team isn’t that team. And vice-versa. The Wizards apparently had to go through the trials of their first 82 to prepare for the moments to which they’ve risen in Games 1 and 2.

“We’re a different team,” Ariza said. “We’re a team that learned from our mistakes. We’re learning to play hard and play through everything. Like tonight, the game, I guess, was a little chippy. We didn’t let that rattle us.”

Ariza, the small forward whose volunteer defensive work on the Bulls’ smaller shifty-quick D.J. Augustin helped to limit Chicago’s scoring options, continued: “We’re definitely more locked in. We’re paying more attention to detail in shootarounds and practice. We’re talking more – communication is a big part of being a good team. And our 1 [John Wall] and 2 [Beal], they’re maturing.”

The Wizards have gone from a 25-27 team at the All-Star break to that unpredictably dangerous bunch that Miami looks wise to avoid as long as possible. By slipping into the East’s No. 2 seed, the Heat kept Washington at bay as long as possible, the Bulls-Wizards winner due to face whichever team emerges from Pacers-Hawks.

Yes, it helps to have Nene healthy, back from his sprained left knee. And granted, tightening the screws on Chicago’s often-gasping attack isn’t the toughest task for a legitimate NBA defense. But somebody was out there sticking to the Bulls’ best weapons.

“That team is under the radar,” Bulls sixth man Taj Gibson said. “They’re a great defensive team. It shows, how poised they were come late [in the game].”

Late in the season, too. As recently as March, the Wizards were giving up 101.4 points per game. In April, that got whacked down to 92.9. Take away the overtime Tuesday and the Bulls have averaged 92.0 in the two games while shooting 42.6 percent. And Chicago has been nearly choked off at times, going six or seven minutes without a field goal.

Stacking up defensive stops like that has a cumulative effect, coach Randy Wittman said.

“It’s going to be easier even when we show ‘em the tape,” Wittman said. “When you get six, seven stops in a row when you’re down 10, that’s how you can win the game.

“We keep track of it throughout the game – how many stops we get in a row. My coaches will tell me what it is, and if it’s one or two in the course of a game, that’s not very good. We got it going there at the end of the fourth quarter where I think it was six or seven. That energizes those guys too – they take pride in it.

And lo and behold, Washington is up 2-0 in a best-of-seven playoff series for the first time since 1979.

DeRozan makes like Pierce to help Raptors even series

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan scores 17 in the fourth quarter to help the Raptors win Game 2

TORONTO – Game 2 of the first-round series between the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets was a lot like Game 1, except that the role of Paul Pierce was played by DeMar DeRozan and the role of DeMar DeRozan was played by Paul Pierce. Since they play for different teams, the series is tied at one game apiece following the Raptors’ 95-90 victory.

Down two with less than 30 seconds left in the game, the Nets ran a really nice play to get Pierce wide open in the left corner. But his shot went in and out, and they never got another chance to tie or take the lead. Pierce shot 2-for-11 for the game, missing all six of his 3-point attempts.

“Sometimes they fall,” Pierce said afterward, “sometimes they don’t.”

But that end of the floor wasn’t the problem for the Nets. They were up two to start the fourth quarter and scored 29 points in the final 12 minutes. The problem was that the Raptors scored 36, shooting 12-for-16 from the field and scoring on 18 of their 23 possessions. After playing seven quarters of good defense, the Nets couldn’t get the stops they needed to take a 2-0 stranglehold on the series.

“We can’t have 4th quarters like that,” Kevin Garnett said. “Thirty-six points. That’s too many points for anybody. Preschool, Little League, YMCA, Raptors.”

But this is who the Raptors are. They were the league’s best fourth-quarter team in the regular season.

“Early in the year, we said we wanted to be the Freddy Krueger of the NBA,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “Not give up. Not give in. I think our guys have done that. We won against a very veteran team like Brooklyn, and that is a very difficult thing to do.”

On Tuesday, they found a way to finally break through the Brooklyn defense, scoring eight of those 12 fourth-quarter buckets (and drawing a couple of fouls) in the paint.

But those wouldn’t have meant anything if DeRozan didn’t do his best Pierce imitation in the fourth, shooting 3-for-4 on mid-range jumpers and drawing fouls on three more. Apparently, he only needed one game to look like a postseason vet.

He also needed some time to himself after picking up his fifth foul with 7:13 left in the game. In the next timeout, DeRozan sat alone at the end of the bench, away from his team’s huddle.

He gathered himself, reentered the game with 3:48 left, and couldn’t be stopped. He was more patient than he was in Game 1, waiting for the one-on-one matchups that he liked. And when the Nets did throw a second defender at him, it just opened the lane for Kyle Lowry to get a key basket down the stretch.

It lacked the herky-jerkiness, but it was as good of a Pierce imitation as you’ll see. DeRozan shot just 5-for-16 through the first three quarters, but came up big with the game on the line.

Once you got beyond all the noise about officiating, the two days between Games 1 and 2 were about DeRozan, how the Raptors would get him better shots, and how he would recover after an ugly playoff debut. And with his team in a desperate situation, their All-Star stepped up.

“For him to come through,” Casey said, “after a tough first game, everyone doubting him and that type of thing, I was really happy with that.”

The Nets got the one victory they needed out of the first two games, but they have issues to address. There were some defensive breakdowns mixed in with DeRozan’s tough baskets and they got absolutely killed on the glass, allowing Toronto to grab 19 offensive rebounds. It’s been an issue for them since they went to a small lineup and the Raptors know they can take advantage.

More important, DeRozan knows he can have big games in the playoffs. Maybe he’s the next Paul Pierce.

It’s time for Curry to be great

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com


VIDEO:  The Warriors prepare for Game 3 at Oracle Arena

PLAYA VISTA, Calif. — Stephen Curry from behind the arc. Stephen Curry runner off the glass. Stephen Curry driving layup with a finger-roll finish. Stephen Curry three-point play.

It was the third quarter Monday night, and it was on.

If it was already obvious to most that the Warriors would need their All-Star point guard to be more playoff sensation than ever to eliminate the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs, it’s as if those 12 minutes inside Staples Center were when Curry accepted the fact as well. He couldn’t make a difference in a Game 2 that had long before gotten out of hand, eventually becoming a 138-98 victory for L.A. and a 1-1 series, but he could make a statement.

“It looked to me like Steph saying, ‘I’m going to get it going,’ ” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Tuesday before practice.

It was 20 points of statement in the quarter as part of 24 for the night, eight baskets in 11 shots of declaration, the way Curry put the Warriors on his back in his electric 2013 playoffs against the Nuggets and Spurs that vaulted an emerging player into a new level of attention. And the Clippers know it was probably just a coming attraction of the mindset Curry will have when the best-of-seven first round resumes Thursday in Oakland.

“You have to be extra on guard when Steph is in the building, period,” Rivers said. “Every night. What he did was he tried to make an adjustment to what we were doing. He was going before the picks were set. He was basically turning the game into an iso game, and he hurt us with it. That’s an area we have to improve on because we have to be ready for that. Steph is a great player, and he’s going to try to be great.”

With the third quarter of Game 2 as the running start.

“No doubt,” Rivers said. “I don’t like anybody making any shot, especially in a blowout. I got on our guys late because they allow a guy to make a three. To me, you don’t ever let anybody out of the box. If you got ‘em in something, keep ‘em in it. Don’t let them get comfortable. It’s different than the way they’ve played though. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. We’ll have to find that out.”

Welcome to Curry’s new world, the post-2013 one where he can’t afford to have bad showings for the Warriors to have a chance to win the series, especially with Andrew Bogut sidelined by a fractured rib and no update of when he could be ready to play. Avoiding bad showings is understating it, actually. Curry needs to be great, a flashback to the Denver-San Antonio days a year ago, as unguardable as any time in his career.

The third quarter Monday was a glimpse. Now the Warriors need the full version, for Curry to surf the wave of noise at Oracle Arena for Games 3 and 4 and take over. They need that for a lot of quarters.

“He’s going to have to be aggressive,” Golden State coach Mark Jackson said. “I like that he got a rhythm and he was in attack mode. It’s tough because you’re trying to make the right plays and trust your teammates. They’re trapping him. They’re aggressive with him. But Steph is going to be fine. I really like the way he competed. He did what leaders do. He could very easily have folded his tent and looked forward to Game 3. But he battled and he established a rhythm.”

That has been a rarity for any Warrior in the series. They scored 109 points Saturday in the opener to win by four, but while committing 23 turnovers, with Curry contributing seven to go with just 14 points on six-of-16 shooting. That sloppy play oozed into 26 more turnovers Monday, though only two by their point guard in 31 minutes in addition to making nine of 17 attempts.

George adjusts, Pacers rebound and pound Hawks

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Paul George and the Pacers regain their composure and rout the Hawks in Game 2

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Forget the sticks and stones next time. Just go straight to the name-calling. And the bigger the name calling out the Indiana Pacers, the better.

The Eastern Conference No. 1 seed needed a wake-up call, apparently that Game 1 defeat at home to the Atlanta Hawks wasn’t quite enough. Neither was their mediocre, at best, finish to the regular season.

Getting called out by TNT’s Charles Barkley, however, seems to be just what the Pacers needed to find themselves before Tuesday night’s must-win Game 2 effort against the Hawks at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

A subtle reminder from the Chuckster that they were embarrassing themselves for the world to see (he called them “wussies”) served as inspiration for a Pacers crew that has tried a little bit of everything to get their groove back. The Pacers reacted and rebounded the way you’d expect the No. 1 seed to after being humbled in Game 1. Their 101-85 drubbing of the Hawks won’t be inconsequential if they continue to handle their business in this series, which resumes Thursday with Game 3 in Atlanta.

Paul George won’t have to answer those awkward questions about his team’s fragile psyche if he keeps working the way he did in Game 2. He’s the one who demanded Frank Vogel allow him to take the challenge of guarding Hawks point guard Jeff Teague. It was his energy, on both ends, that fueled the Pacers’ 31-13 third quarter clubbing that broke the game open.

No offense to Roy Hibbert or Lance Stephenson, but it’ll be George’s sustained play that will guide the Pacers this postseason. Yes, the Pacers will need contributions from all over, yeoman’s work like Luis Scola provided Tuesday night. But your superstars carry you in the playoffs.

George knows as much. He’s never been shy about discussing the lofty aspirations he has for himself and his team. He showed that he was more than capable during the Pacers’ run to the Eastern Conference finals last season. He showed it again Tuesday night, finishing with 27 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals, infusing the Pacers’ attack with just the right mix of swagger and grit (his barking session with Teague and the entire Hawks bench early set just the right tone).

“That’s why he was in the MVP conversation early,” Vogel said.

George’s 3-point dagger to punctuate the Pacers’ run didn’t hurt either.


VIDEO: PG punctuates the Pacers’ third quarter run with this buzzer-beating pull-up 3-pointer

“We put our print on this game in the third quarter, which we’ve done in November, December and January basketball,” George said. “We got back to that. I thought we did a great job of really just locking in, coming out in the second half, on what we needed to do.”

His teammates chasing him down after that 3-pointer to end the third quarter was a cathartic celebration, one that validated the Pacers’ return to the frame of mind that George mentioned they had in November, December and January.

“We’re together,” he said. “We’re together. If that’s what it took for everyone to understand how close this team is, that’s what it was. We’ve got each other’s backs. That’s what if felt like … that’s exactly what it felt like.”

That said, George and the Pacers need to be extra careful as the series shifts from their home floor to Atlanta. They still have plenty of work to repair the damage done to their brand since All-Star weekend. They haven’t even crawled completely out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves in this series.

They still have to snatch home-court advantage back from the Hawks and make good on their season-long yapping about the importance of securing that No. 1 seed in the East.

It won’t be easy. The Hawks are well aware of the matchup advantages they own in this series. Teague and Paul Millsap weren’t nearly as devastating as they were in Game 1, much of Teague’s struggles were due to George’s locking in on him on defense, but they’ll no doubt be energized by their home crowd and the huge opportunity that awaits in Game 3.

But even if his teammates are not yet up to the task, George seemed energized. Maybe that fishing trip the other day did wonders for the All-Star swingman. Perhaps getting away from the chaos in that way was just what he needed, and in turn exactly what the struggling Pacers needed.

George is the Pacers’ lone legit star, so he’ll have to carry the heaviest load the rest of the way regardless. As aware as any young star in the league of what needs to be done to become the sort of player he aspires to be, George knows better than anyone that this is a critical phase for the Pacers.

Had they gone down 0-2 to a feisty Hawks team, the “gone fishing” thing would have a completely different context. So that lack of urgency the Pacers exhibited in the first half, when the Hawks seemingly had control of the game, has to end now. There’s no room for that sort of lethargy from a team that claims to be focused on much bigger and better things.

The Pacers must finish this series and continue in these playoffs, by any means necessary, with George taking up whatever assignment needed to get his team back on track. That’s non-negotiable for a team that spent months building a bridge back to the Eastern Conference finals, a bridge that begins and ends on their home floor …

Provided, of course, George can lead them there.


VIDEO: Paul George and Luis Scola meet the media after the Pacers’ Game 2 win

Coaches get the day-after call reversals but would rather avoid them

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com



VIDEO: The foul that should have gone the other way

CHICAGO – Former NBA center Darryl Dawkins, one of the league’s most colorful characters known both for shattering backboards and high quotability, once said, “When everything is said and done, there’s nothing left to do or say.”

Hard to quibble with that, be it here or on Chocolate Thunder’s planet Lovetron. Yet the NBA’s recent policy of informing teams, and the public, the day after a game that a particular officiating decision was wrong and should have gone the other way, goes against that notion.

The final horn of a game used to mean everything was said and done. Now, with the league’s emphasis on transparency when reviewing referees’ calls, there can be much more, well, at least to say. The Houston Rockets had to cope with that Tuesday after learning that a foul called on Dwight Howard should have been a Portland foul sending Howard to the line with 10.8 seconds left in overtime. There wasn’t much satisfaction after losing and yet, in talking to the media, the Rockets had to be cautious they didn’t say anything that might get them fined.

That’s why Washington coach Randy Wittman prefers to have that stuff dealt with above his pay grade.

“All that does is get me even more riled up,” said Wittman, who did play college ball for Bobby Knight, after all. “I let our front office deal with that. it doesn’t do me any good to have somebody tell me they blew a call. Those guys are human like we are. We make mistakes; they do. But I don’t like it.”

Transparency is an important value for the NBA these days, referred to frequently by new commissioner Adam Silver. For instance, the league is posting online for the first time the ballots of the writers and broadcasters for the 2013-14 annual awards as each honor is announced.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau took a broader view when discussing the day-after policy. Of course, as he spoke, tipoff of Game 2 between Chicago and Washington was nearly two hours away. He wasn’t stalking the sideline in full-game growl yet.

“The league I think has done a good job with that,” he said. “The more you’re around, the more you understand: Look, there’s a lot of these calls that are 50-50 calls. They could go either way.”

Thibodeau added of the refs: “Hey look, everyone in their job, you want to get ‘em all right. It’s not going to happen. They get a lot of them right. They’re really good. You can go back and replay a play many times, and you still can’t tell what’s right. Most of the time, they’re on. These guys are great pros. They’re not here by accident.”