Morning Shootaround — March 15

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: Is it 2005 all over again? The Mavs and Spurs locked up in a classic battle that reminded us of their showdowns of the mid-2000s and, much like those classic matchups, Tim Duncan stepped in the wayback machine and went bonkers on Dallas. Duncan flirted with a 20-20 game (he ended up with 28 points and 19 rebounds) and the Spurs had to sweat out a Vince Carter miss at the buzzer, but San Antonio got the win and clinched a playoff berth, too.

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News of the morning

Duncan getting back into a groove | Blazers fans let Felton have it | Mavs react to Jones’ defense | Thibodeau clarifies Rose’s status | Hennigan, Presti share deep dond

Duncan slowly finding his rhythmAlthough Tim Duncan had averaged 15.8 ppg and 9.9 rpg heading into last night’s game against the Mavs, he didn’t quite feel like his game was back where it could be. Slowed by a knee contusion suffered on Feb. 2, Duncan has been working his way back into form the last few games. Last night, he really hit his stride, going for 28 points and 19 rebounds to pace the Spurs’ to a close win and said after the game he can tell he’s starting to turn the corner on the court, writes Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News:

After missing seven of his first 10 shots Thursday, Duncan made nine of his final 10 and finished with 28 points. He was one rebound shy of his second 20-20 game of the season, finishing with 19.

It was his most productive game since returning Feb.13 from a left knee contusion suffered on Feb. 2.

“It’s finally starting to come back,” Duncan said. “My shot’s not there like I want it to be. Other than that, I feel great. I feel healthy. The pain is gone. I’m starting to feel like I can actually play the game.”

Felton hears it from Blazers fansAfter one month in last season’s lockout-shortened, 66-game campaign, the Blazers were 12-8 and in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. Their new point guard at the time, Raymond Felton, was averaging a solid 13.3 ppg, 6.7 apg and shooting 42 percent from the field. But after that solid start, both he and the Blazers went in the tank, finishing the season 28-38 and, by season’s end, Felton was the scapegoat (rightly or wrongly) for all that ailed Portland. With Felton returning to Portland last night as a member of the Knicks, he had some strong words for the Blazers before the game and was primed to show his skills, but that isn’t quite how it all worked out, writes Joe Freeman of The Oregonian:

After he arrived into Portland in the wee hours Thursday morning, Raymond Felton checked into a Portland hotel with his New York Knicks teammates and promptly exchanged text messages with Trail Blazers reserve Nolan Smith.

“I’m ready to go,” Felton texted Smith. “Enjoy the show.”

Actually, it was more like a circus.

With a chorus of boos echoing around the Rose Garden every time Felton touched the ball and the Blazers cruising to a convincing 105-90 victory over the Knicks’ junior varsity team, basketball turned into a secondary form of entertainment Thursday night.

An electric sellout crowd of 20,636 flashed gigantic posters with enlarged pictures of donuts and hamburgers and R-rated messages aimed at a player who last year challenged his detractors to visit his Pearl District apartment building if they had a problem with him. Felton was heavily booed during pregame introductions and every time he touched the ball, from the moment the Knicks won the opening tip to the final horn.

Over the summer, as he promoted his youth basketball camp in South Carolina, Felton pledged to score 50 points on the Blazers during his next visit to Portland. But his Rip City return didn’t exactly go as he planned.

And every turnover and errant shot was celebrated by Blazermaniacs, who seemed to relish Felton’s miscues as much they did the Blazers’ successes. The never-had-a-chance air-ball three-point attempt in the first quarter. The pull-up jumper that missed everything but the backboard in the second quarter. The grotesque pass into the lane picked off by the Blazers that led to a Damian Lillard fast-break layup just before halftime. The driving layup that was emphatically blocked by LaMarcus Aldridge in the third quarter.

“It was what I expected,” Felton said. “Some boos — some boos the whole time, actually. It was what I expected. It was funny. It made me laugh. But basically we were trying to get a win tonight.”

While Felton drew much of the pregame hype of headlines, Lillard upstaged his counterpart in every aspect but boos. In a performance that summed up his runaway NBA Rookie of the Year candidacy, Lillard was a blur of swished three-pointers, driving layups and pretty passes. He made 11 of 18 shots and finished with 26 points and 10 assists in yet another historic performance.

Mavs react to ex-teammate Jones’ defenseThe topic du jour yesterday around the NBA was the late-game defense the Hawks’ Dahntay Jones played on Kobe Bryant in Atlanta’s win Wednesday night. Jones appeared to slide his foot under Bryant as he took a potential game-tying shot and Bryant appeared to land on Jones’ foot as he came down. Bryant ended up with a sprained ankle and, by Thursday evening, the NBA ruled that Jones did, in fact, not give Bryant adequate space to get his shot off. Jones spent the early part of the season on the Dallas Mavericks, and some of his ex-teammates chimed in on the play to Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News:

“It was a 50-50 play,” said Brandan Wright.

Added Darren Collison: “Tough play. That’s all I can say about it.”

There also were a few jokes that it was Jones’ best play for the Mavericks all season. But coach Rick Carlisle didn’t want to hear about the possibility of Bryant being out for an extended period and the Mavericks having a chance to overtake the Lakers in the playoff race.

“I didn’t see the play,” Carlisle said. “And I’m not going to get involved with anything having to do about saying anything happening with Kobe Bryant. I think our owner showed what can happen with that 10 days ago.”

That comment ellicited laughter from the coach and the media assembled before Thursday’s game against the Spurs. When Mark Cuban suggested the hypothetical scenario where the Lakers could amnesty Bryant, he came back with 38 points against the Mavericks.

“We really have to focus on our own thing,” Carlisle said. “Whatever happens externally is going to happen. We control our situation by putting the force and the attitude and the effort into it at as much of a high level as we can. And we got to try to take care of our own games. At the end, if we’ve done our job, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”

As Wright said: “I doubt he’ll miss much time.”

Thibodeau again clarifies Rose’s statusIt almost sounded like Derrick Rose would play in the Bulls game against the Warriors tonight. But then Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau clarified his stance after Thursday’s practice at Oracle Arena in Oakland and said that Rose’s playing remains a day-to-day situation, writes K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Thibodeau said it’s “unlikely” Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose would play. Thibodeau said Rose “went pretty hard” during the entire practice.

Thibodeau understands as well as anyone how every update he offers on Rose is parsed and analyzed, contributing to the media frenzy. So when he didn’t immediately rule Rose out, he fielded several follow-up questions before adding “nothing has changed” and the “unlikely” status.

Rose has made clear he could miss the entire season after knee surgery.

“It could be in a couple days. It could be in a week. I don’t know when it is. He doesn’t know when it is,” Thibodeau said of Rose’s return. “He has to feel real comfortable and feel the explosion is there. He’s made great progress. We don’t know when that time is. We’ll have a better idea the more we see him go.

“We just have to keep being patient and let him work through it. Each day he feels a little better. He has to have a few days where he feels really good about where he is. It’s not that he’s not feeling good. He’s just not quite there. We’ll know when he gets there.”

One thing Thibodeau stressed is that game outcomes are not affecting Rose’s decision. In other words, the 42-point loss isn’t influencing him to return to help or to turn away from the debacle.

“Nope, nope, nope, nope,” Thibodeau said. “This guy is well-prepared for this. He’s handled his part great. He’s not going to be influenced by anything but when he’s ready. That part is clear.”

Deep bond unites Magic’s Hennigan, Thunder’s PrestiFirst-year Magic GM Rob Hennigan had his work cut out for him when he took the job in Orlando: a Dwight Howard trade situation to navigate and, once that was over, a rebuilding effort that would take several seasons to complete. Luckily, Hennigan had a good mentor in OKC GM Sam Presti, whom Hennigan had worked for and known since their days with the Spurs’ front office in 2004. Hennigan followed Presti to OKC in 2007 and had been there until last summer, when Orlando hired him to direct the team’s new direction. Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel has a great feature on the deep relationship that Hennigan and Presti share:

Rob Hennigan made one of the most important decisions of his life here, just a short walk from where the Orlando Magic will play the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night.

He made that decision with Sam Presti, a friend and mentor, by his side.

It was 2008, and Presti, the Thunder’s general manager, offered Hennigan a job in the Thunder front office. They walked through downtown, discussing the type of team Presti wanted to build, talking about the meaningful connection Presti wanted to create between the franchise and the city. They eventually reached the Oklahoma City National Memorial, the site where, 13 years earlier, Timothy McVeigh detonated explosives in front the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

“At the end of the day,” Hennigan remembers now, “I had so much trust and faith in Sam that I wanted to join him and join the organization to try and build something special.”

That belief and confidence in Presti helped lead Hennigan to where he is today, the general manager of the Magic. Presti gave Hennigan two of his big breaks: a coveted internship with the San Antonio Spurs in 2004 and a position as director of college/international player personnel with the Thunder four years later.

Hennigan marveled at Presti’s work ethic, his exacting attention to detail and his systematic, disciplined approach to decision-making.

In 2007, the Seattle SuperSonics hired Presti to be their general manager.

A year later, the franchise moved to Oklahoma City, and that’s when Presti chose to hire Hennigan.

In 2010, Presti promoted Hennigan to assistant general manager for player personnel.

Then, late last May or in early June, Hennigan and his wife, Marissa, were sitting in a restaurant when his phone rang. It was Presti on the other line, telling Hennigan that Magic CEO Alex Martins had just called. Martins wanted to interview Hennigan for the Magic’s GM job.

Hennigan couldn’t believe it.

But it was true.

In the days that followed, Presti helped Hennigan organize his thoughts for the job interviews.

In June, the Magic hired Hennigan.

Hennigan, 30, and Presti, 36, still talk and text all the time, more about life in general than their jobs.

After seven years working together, Hennigan already has learned lessons from him.

“I think the most important thing I learned from Sam is to always put the best interests of the organization above everything else,” Hennigan says. “It takes great discipline, conviction and patience to do that, but Sam has showcased an ability to do that as well as anyone.”

ICYMI of the night: They don’t call Tim Duncan the “Big Fundamental” for nothing, kids:

3 Comments

  1. SHAQKOBE says:

    YES, Erik Spo can be considered an Elite Coach,
    he won the Championship already…
    Winning a Championship can be considered Elite Coach….

    What are your standards being an Elite Coach??

  2. iSHAQ or SHAQTOLOGY says:

    MIAMI HEAT will be Champion Again This Year….

    Erik Spo is an Elite Coach… GO HEAT!!!!
    We Are Proud of You… from Philipiines!!!