Morning Shootaround — March 25

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: The Rockets are three games up on the Lakers for the No. 7 seed, so it doesn’t look like Houston will have to face San Antonio in the first round if everything holds tight. As we all know, that can change between now and season’s end … and maybe it would be great if it did. After the Rockets and Spurs hooked up last night in Houston with a classic down-to-the-wire showdown, a Texas tussle in the first round might be a great new chapter in these teams’ rivalry. James Harden put on the hero’s cape last night, hitting a game-winning leaner with 4.5 seconds left to clinch the victory. Here’s hoping the Spurs (or Rockets) make the movement necessary to make this first-round series a possibility.


News of the morning

Nets worried about Johnson | Report: Blazers likely to let Maynor test market | Pachulia still hurting | Report: Hoiberg drawing NBA interest

Nets’ Johnson banged upThe Nets are two games behind the Knicks for the Atlantic Division lead and have gotten improved play from Deron Williams in the last month or so. As close as Brooklyn is to a division crown, it’s hard to imagine where they’d be were it not for the play of Williams — especially considering that his backcourt mate, Joe Johnson, has been struggling of late. Johnson is averaging just 13.3 ppg in March and has struggled with his shot and is now suffering from a bruised quadriceps he suffered in a loss to the Clippers. He sat out Sunday’s win over the Suns, but as Roderick Boone of Newsday reports, the Nets are worried about Johnson’s long-term prognosis:

As for Joe Johnson, he suffered the bruised quadriceps when he bumped into Blake Griffin in the third quarter of the Nets’ 101-95 loss to the Clippers. He said it was swollen and tight Sunday, so the Nets made the decision to sit him out, starting Keith Bogans in his place.

Johnson was unsure if he’ll be able to play when the Nets face the Trail Blazers on Wednesday.

“It’s frustrating for me because all these little knick-knacks are starting to happen with me down the stretch of the season,” Johnson said before the game, “and this is the most important part of the season at this point right now. So that’s probably the most frustrating thing. It’s not about where we are playing and who we are playing. I always want to be out there with the guys. I hate sitting out and watching. That’s the hardest part.”

Since the All-Star break, Johnson hasn’t been the same explosive player. He’s averaging 13.8 points, down from the 17.0 he posted before the break, and his three-point percentage has taken a serious dip, dropping by nearly 8 percent.

“Yeah, I’m concerned, because he’s come back and he’s not healthy yet,” coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “I just think it’s very similar to what we were talking about with Deron. You saw the difference when Deron came back and felt good and was close to — 100 percent is the wrong word, but when he’s the best he’s felt all year, it made a big difference.

“Every time I ask Joe how it feels, he says he’s OK. Again, he wants to play. But I think that if you look at the numbers and you look at what Joe’s done since the injury, it’s not the same Joe. So yeah, we need to get Joe Johnson back healthy. If he’s healthy, then he’ll play the way Joe Johnson plays.”

That’s why Johnson didn’t shoot down the possibility of taking some time off to make sure he doesn’t play until he’s as close to normal. Last thing he wants to do is jeopardize his status for the playoffs.

“I think my health is more important right now at this point,” he said. “Just to heal up the little wounds because obviously, man, we want to do something major in the postseason, so I don’t want to go into the postseason with these things bothering me.”

In other words, he doesn’t want to find himself in uncharted territory.

“Every year going into the playoffs, man,” Johnson said, “I’ve been extremely injury-free, healthy and ready. This is a little different, but I will definitely be ready when I’m supposed to.”

Is it frustrating for Williams that he and Johnson can’t be together and healthy?

“Yeah,” he said, “but if we are still winning, then everything is all right. We won today without him, so that’s good. But we are going to need him. There’s no doubt about that. We are going to need him and we are going to need him healthy, so the most important thing for him is for him to get rest and for him to get healthy. He’s been battling. He’s been playing through a lot of pain. You can see it, you can tell. So he’s been a warrior out here in the games he has played.”

Report: Blazers to let Maynor test marketSo far, the Eric Maynor-Portland Trail Blazers marriage has been a successful one. Portland picked up the steady backup point guard from the Thunder at the trade deadline for Georgios Printezis and a trade exception, and Maynor has done a solid job of spelling presumptive Rookie of the Year winner Damian Lillard since arriving in Oregon. Maynor, an unrestricted free agent this summer, is someone whom the Blazers would like to retain, but they’re also willing to let him test the market. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian has more on what might be next for Maynor and the Blazers:

In the 14 games since Maynor joined the Blazers, Lillard’s scoring has improved by nearly three points, from 18.4 to 21.2 per game, and his shooting numbers have soared. Lillard is shooting 7.1 percentage points better from the field (41.8 to 48.9) and almost 10 percentage points better from three-point range (34.9 to 44.6 percent) with Maynor on the roster.

Maynor will return to Chesapeake Energy Arena as a visitor for the first time in 3 1/2 seasons on Sunday. And he’ll do so with an appreciative group of new teammates that have embraced his arrival as exactly the jolt they needed for the stretch run.

Maynor says he carries no animosity or added motivation into Sunday’s matchup against his former teammates. But he admits it will be “weird” to walk into Chesapeake Energy Arena a visitor and go at his long-time friends.

When Reggie Jackson emerged as a capable backup while Maynor rehabilitated from his injury, he lost his job. And as the trade deadline approached, Maynor was looking for a chance to play, so Oklahoma City granted his wish. He said the sides parted amicably.

“I appreciate everything they did for me for the 3 1/2 years that I was there,” Maynor said. “It was a great 3 1/2 years. But I wanted to go somewhere else and play, get some more minutes. We parted ways. Everything was good while I was there and I always still keep in touch with people there. But I’m happy to get a chance to play.”

And the Blazers — who are 8-6 since his arrival — are happy to have him. Perhaps no one more so than Lillard.

And perhaps the best part of it all is that both Maynor and coach Terry Stotts insist Maynor isn’t 100 percent in sync with his new teammates just yet.

“I think it’s still a work in progress,” Stotts said. “I’m getting more comfortable with how I can help him from an offensive standpoint. He’s getting more comfortable with our defensive system. He’s still understanding the dynamics of our team.”

How much time he will get to learn those dynamics remains unclear. Maynor will be a free agent at the end of the season and while the Blazers can guarantee he stays by extending him a qualifying offer this summer — making him a restricted free agent — it would come at a price. Maynor’s qualifying offer is $3.4 million, with a hefty $5.85 million cap hold that would eat a substantial amount of the Blazers’ offseason spending money.

Early reviews suggest that the Blazers and Maynor are a good match. But it seems unlikely the team would mortgage so much of its offseason spending power on a backup point guard. It seems more likely the Blazers will allow Maynor to become an unrestricted free agent and pursue him with the rest of the NBA. It’s the same move the Blazers made last offseason with JJ Hickson and he ended up returning.

Pachulia done for season?With their win in Milwaukee in yesterday’s matinee, the Atlanta Hawks are maintaining their grip on the No. 5 seed in the East and have won five of their last seven games. While Atlanta is merely .500 in March, they’re holding things together without key reserve big man Zaza Pachulia, who has been out the last 15 games. Chris Vivalamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has more on when Pachulia may (or may not) return:

Zaza Pachulia did not accompany the Hawks on the road trip as he continues to rehabilitate a sore right Achilles. Pachulia remains out indefinitely with the injury that will have cost him 21 games, including the past 15, by the time the Hawks return home.

A decision on Pachulia’s status for the remainder of the regular-season could come next week.

Report: Teams interested in Iowa State’s HoibergFred Hoiberg the NBA player spent 10 seasons in the league, carving out a solid niche as a 3-point marksman, most notably for the Kevin Garnett-era Minnesota Timberwolves. After his playing days were cut short by a heart condition, Hoiberg had a front-office role with Minnesota before returning to his alma mater, Iowa State, where he eventually became coach. In three seasons as coach of the Cyclones, Hoiberg has taken them to two consecutive NCAA tournament berths, ending a seven-season drought of postseason play. His work in Ames hasn’t gone unnoticed by NBA types, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, and some teams are showing interest in Hoiberg as an NBA coach:

Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg has emerged as an intriguing NBA head-coaching candidate, multiple front-office executives told Yahoo! Sports.

After resurrecting the Cyclones program and nearly pushing them into the Sweet 16 of the 2013 NCAA tournament, Hoiberg’s college coaching success, combined with his pro pedigree, has convinced league officials he’s the ideal college coach to make the transition to pro basketball.

 “If I had to make a hire this year, [Hoiberg] would be one of the first calls I’d make,” one NBA general manager told Yahoo! Sports on Sunday. “He is a natural for our league.”

Among seven GMs contacted on Sunday, there wasn’t a single one who expressed skepticism about Hoiberg’s ability to make an immediate leap to an NBA coaching job should he have a desire to do so.

Two GMs who expect to have openings told Yahoo! Sports that they planned to feel out Hoiberg’s interest in the NBA once they begin search processes.

Prying Hoiberg out of Ames, Iowa, won’t be easy. He grew up in Ames, graduated from Iowa State and has shown a strong inclination to coach his alma mater for the long term. Long ago, his popularity and loyalty in the community gave him his nickname of “The Mayor.” Hoiberg has long expressed a desire for his children to have a similar upbringing in Ames as he did.

Eight years ago, Hoiberg’s NBA career ended prematurely with heart surgery for an enlarged aortic root. Doctors inserted a pacemaker into Hoiberg and future heart procedures haven’t been ruled out.

Nevertheless, Hoiberg has the perfect disposition, proven Xs-and-Os acumen and understanding of the NBA to make himself an attractive candidate. The Cyclones play a fast, pro-style offense.

“It would need to be a long-term commitment, because he could stay at Iowa State forever,” says one assistant GM who stays in contact with Hoiberg.

ICYMI of the night: A little bit of point guard-on-point guard rejection makes for a nice Monday morning treat … :

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