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: Dirk Nowitzki finally shaved off that mangy, disgusting beard last night on the heels of the Mavs reaching the .500 mark 80 games into the season. Cute, but not exactly game-of-the-night material there. The Lakers-Spurs game was a pretty amazing showcase of heart and drive by the crew from L.A. in its first game following Kobe Bryant‘s season-ending injury as the Lakers took care of their old rivals. But we’re going with the Pacers-Knicks game from Madison Square Garden yesterday simply because it showed just how much being in rhythm as the season winds down can be key. When New York’s shooters went into a swoon and the Pacers got hot in February, it looked like Indiana would easily hang on to the No. 2 spot in the East and provide the stiffest challenge for the defending-champion Heat. Instead, the Knicks have found their rhythm late in the season and this game yesterday assured N.Y. of the No. 2 spot and keeps them rolling as the playoffs draw near.
News of the morning
Knicks can’t wait to face Celtics in playoffs — Locking up the No. 2 seed in the East, as we mention above, was nothing to sneeze at in New York. Especially when you consider the last time the Knicks had the No. 2 seed, it was the 1993-94 season … when New York lost to Houston in the NBA Finals. Still, as nice as it was to throttle the Pacers to accomplish that feat, Carmelo Anthony and the rest of the Knicks are more looking forward to exacting some revenge on the team that ousted them from the playoffs last season: the Boston Celtics. Howard Beck of The New York Times has more on the Knicks’ goals:
The Knicks got everything they wanted, and with a minimum of pain.
With a suspense-free 90-80 victory, they clinched the second seed in the Eastern Conference and secured home-court advantage for the first two rounds of the playoffs, including a potential second-round meeting with the Pacers. The Knicks will open the playoffs Saturday against the seventh-seeded Boston Celtics — the team that swept them two springs ago, in Carmelo Anthony’s first postseason in New York.
“That’s in the back of our minds,” said Anthony, who scored 25 points. “We want to beat Boston — I mean, let’s be quite frank. This would be a great series for us.”
Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, who is injured, are the only Knicks left from that 2011 series. Yet the memory remains fresh, and for Anthony, painful.
A sweep was hardly the way he wanted to begin his career on Broadway. The Celtics have stood in the Knicks’ way ever since he arrived.
Two years later, the Knicks are deeper, wiser, more seasoned and better built for the challenge, with a veteran cast surrounding Anthony.
“We’re different as a team,” Anthony said. “As an organization, we’re a lot different than we were a year and a half, two years ago. The mind-set is a lot different. My mind-set right now is a lot different.”
Most important, the Knicks (53-27) emerged without a serious injury, although Anthony did bruise his left shoulder in the third quarter. He sat out the final period, but only because the Knicks did not need him.
Coach Mike Woodson twice called Anthony over when the Pacers started to rally down the stretch.
Each time, the Knicks beat back the spurt, and Anthony returned, smiling, to his seat.
“I was just playing with him, messing with him,” Woodson said. “No, his shoulder’s fine. And I was going to put him back. But I decided to pull him and ride the guys that kept the lead for us.”
With the Knicks clinching the No. 2 seed — their highest since finishing second in 1994 — Woodson will now rest his key players for the final two games. Anthony said he would sit out Monday night’s game at Charlotte. Raymond Felton also said he planned to take a rest over the final two games.
“I’ll be fine,” Anthony said. “And I’ll be ready come playoffs.”
Kobe-less Lakers step up against Spurs — Heading into Sunday’s game against the Spurs, the Lakers had plenty of reasons to feel down on themselves — the foremost of which being the season-ending torn Achilles Kobe Bryant suffered on Friday night against Golden State. But in a rare display of heart and teamwork, the Lakers bound together, got a strong performance from their “other” superstar (Dwight Howard), overcame a rough night by another big name (Pau Gasol) and got contributions from surprising places (such as Steve Blake) to edge ever closer to a playoff berth. Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News has more on the Lakers’ big win:
Life without Kobe Bryant, Day 1, was nothing if not unpredictable.
And in a crazy, wonderful, astonishing way, actually quite beautiful.
On a night when Pau Gasol was the 7-foot invisible Spaniard, Steve Blake told him, “I’ve got your back.”
Blake went on to have the performance of his career while standing on one of the biggest stages of his life.
In a game in which the Lakers hovered around 35 percent shooting all night and Gasol clanked 14 of 17 shots, they shook off their notoriously soft-defending ways to harass the San Antonio Spurs into 36.5 percent shooting.
“We can’t look at anybody else for help,” said Howard, who looked more comfortable in his Lakers skin than he has all year, leading the way with 26 points and punishing the Spurs with 17 rebounds and three blocked shots.
And with his team needing him to hit two crucial free throws late in the game, he sank both of them.
“Now we have to go out there and get this next game,” Howard said.
Two days ago no one would have believed they could, not with Bryant withering around in pain after tearing his left Achilles tendon and the big, bad Spurs coming to town to put the Lakers out of their misery.
Now, who knows?
After watching Blake score 23 points and Antawn Jamison come off the bench to score 15 – including two huge 3-pointers – and Gasol shake off one of the worst shooting nights of his career to grab 16 rebounds and block three shots and the Lakers dig in defensively in a way we haven’t seen all year, a trip the playoffs now seems likely.
No one is foolish enough to think the Lakers can mount some miraculous playoff run. That pipe dream is over, falling apart the moment Bryant went crumbling to the floor Friday with a season-ending injury.
Even if the Lakers do sneak through the small playoff crevice available to them, they’ll be a quick one-and-done against either the Oklahoma City Thunder or San Antonio in the opening round.
To think anything else is crazy talk.
“I still believe we can win,” Howard said, sternly. “No doubt in my mind.”
McHale, Rockets embrace underdog role — Hardly any seeds in the Western Conference are secure, which is just fine for coach Kevin McHale and the Rockets. Houston is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2008-09 and has its most wins since that season, too. Although it will likely come down to the season’s final night before Houston knows who it will play in the first round, McHale and his crew are ready to play the up-tempo style that led them to the postseason, regardless of whichever foe they face. David Barron of the Houston Chronicle has more:
With their 121-100 win over the Sacramento Kings, the Rockets improved to 45-35 and tied Golden State for the sixth seed in the Western Conference playoffs. They hold the tiebreaker over the Warriors and can clinch the sixth spot with wins Monday night at Phoenix and on Wednesday in Los Angeles over the Lakers.
There are scenarios aplenty for playoff series against any of the five teams in front of them — too many for coach Kevin McHale to focus on. Besides, McHale said, he knows how the form chart will read under any circumstances.
“Whoever we play, we will not be favored,” he said. “We’ll be underdogs to whoever we play. That’s fine with us. We want to get in there and get the guys playing well.
“I like our chances against anybody. If we can get defensive stops and get out and run and put pressure on the rim and knock down some shots, we’ll give anybody we play a good go.”
“This year is a year when we’re building a lot of stuff,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff to be proud of. I think James (Harden) has had a tremendous year. Jeremy Lin coming in has played very, very well. Omer Asik for the first time starting.
“It’s been a year. Greg Smith has really come on. Terrence Jones is coming on. Finding Patrick Beverley and bringing him over here … like I said, we’re just building and building. We’ve got two more regular-season games, and then we have the playoffs. I’m looking forward to it.”
Erving sounds off on Bynum — The Sixers’ season has been an unmitigated disaster, thanks most in part to the various injuries and rehab work that have kept Andrew Bynum from playing a single game in a Philly uniform. As reports are spreading that coach Doug Collins will resign soon and the team’s future looks ever-more hazy, a night of good memories might have been just what Philadelphia needed. Before last night’s eventual 91-77 win over the Cavs, the Sixers honored Julius Erving, Moses Malone and the rest of their 1983 championship team before the game. Erving, who serves in a front-office role with the team, sounded off on Bynum’s lack of play and more, writes Tom Moore of Phillyburbs.com:
The 76ers haven’t publicly criticized Andrew Bynum during a season in which he was paid $16.5 million and played no games due to knee injuries.
Hall of Famer Julius Erving, who is the team’s strategic advisor to the Sixers’ ownership group, didn’t hesitate to give his opinion on Bynum.
Prior to the Sixers’ home finale, a 91-77 victory over the Cavaliers on Sunday afternoon, Erving was asked about Bynum, whom the team acquired in a blockbuster Aug. 10 trade.
“I know what the net result is,” said Erving, smiling. “The net result is Robert Parish’s old number — 00. We have not benefited one degree. I guess he has.
“If the Bynum situation is one of total uncertainty for another year, I don’t think the organization should stand for that or the fans should stand for that.”
On the other hand, if the Sixers don’t re-sign Bynum or any of their other impending free agents, they could have about $12 million to spend this summer in free agency.
“I think if he’s not here, you’re going to free up a lot of money,” Erving said. “Washington and Lincoln can’t play the corners for you, but they can get somebody that can play the corners for you. We need somebody to play a corner for us and play the middle for us. It’s going to be costly.”
ICYMI of the night: Speaking of Julius Erving … has Chris Andersen been watching Dr. J’s iconic up-and-under-the-backboard layup from the 1980 Finals lately?: