NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Knicks show playoff fight vs. Nets — Entering last night’s Knicks-Nets game at Madison Square Garden, New York found itself on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture and facing a Brooklyn team that has perked up over the last few months. But an inspired performance from Carmelo Anthony and the rest of the Knicks powered New York to a 110-81 rout that, combined with Atlanta’s home loss to Chicago, lifted the Knicks into the No. 8 spot in the East. While New York has the playoff berth this morning, finishing off the task is a tall order … and one that it may be up to, writes George Willis of the New York Post:
Maybe this how it’s going to work out for the Knicks. Maybe this is the way they’ll secure the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference and qualify for the postseason.
The schedule that sees them playing their final seven games against teams with winning records was supposed to work against them. But maybe just maybe, it will work for them as it did Wednesday night against the Nets at Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks played with energy, passion and aggression, shooting 60 percent from the field, forcing 15 steals and dominating in rebounds 41-23. The Nets, meanwhile, looked like a team hung over after a playoff-clinching celebration.
The team that set a franchise record with its 14th straight home win one day earlier played uninspired against the Knicks.
“We’re playing for something,” Knicks point guard Raymond Felton said. “They’re already in the playoffs. We’re trying to get into the playoffs and capitalize on these wins and see what happens.”
Next come the Wizards on Friday, followed by games against the Heat, Raptors, Bulls, the Nets again and the Raptors. All those teams have clinched playoff berths.
Jobs and even careers are hanging in the balance. Newly named Knicks president Phil Jackson was at the Garden, trying to figure out who might stay next season and who needs to leave.
Coach Mike Woodson’s chances of remaining go from slim to none if the Knicks don’t make the playoffs, and the idea of remaining with the franchise might not be as attractive to Carmelo Anthony when he becomes a free agent in the offseason.
“We want to get there,” said Anthony, who scored 23 points. “That’s the goal. Despite this up and down season, it will be a big deal to get in the playoffs. That is our goal and we are fighting right now.”
Though percentage points ahead of the Hawks for the eighth spot, the Knicks will need to keep winning to secure their position.
The Hawks have what is viewed as a more favorable schedule with games against the Bobcats, Bucks, Pistons and Cavaliers. But those teams have nothing to lose, while the teams the Knicks play have less incentive to win.
Maybe this is how it’s going to work out for the Knicks.
No. 2: Bulls won’t try to lose way into better matchup — Given Chicago’s never-say-die attitude since coach Tom Thibodeau has been at the helm, what Bulls center Joakim Noah had to say after last night’s win over the Hawks should come as no surprise. The Bulls are the East’s No. 4 seed and would face a surging Brooklyn Nets squad if the playoffs started today. That matchup might be a challenge for Chicago in some senses, but don’t expect it (or Noah, for that matter) to try and lose games and get into a better matchup, writes Nick Fridell of ESPNChicago.com:
The Chicago Bulls didn’t tank games earlier in the season when they lost Derrick Rose to another season-ending knee injury and traded Luol Deng to Cleveland, so they aren’t going to do so now even if it means a better matchup in the playoffs. Bulls center Joakim Noah made that clear after the his team’s 105-92 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night.
“We’re just trying to play good basketball,” Noah said. “There’s no way in hell we’re going to try and lose games to match up against anybody. I think whatever happens, happens, so we’re just going to keep playing our game, keep winning as much as we can, and then (we) can’t wait for the playoffs.”
“I think losing games to try to play somebody, I think that’s soft,” Noah said. “That’s soft. We’re not soft.”
Noah’s comments shouldn’t come as a surprise given how outspoken he was when it came to the notion of tanking games earlier in the year. When asked in January what he would say to fans who thought the Bulls should lose games on purpose to give themselves a better chance in the draft lottery, Noah made his feelings known.
“What do I say to those fans?” Noah told ESPNChicago.com after the Bulls’ 128-125 triple-overtime victory Wednesday over the Orlando Magic. “I don’t say nothing to those fans. It’s all good. You’re allowed to have your opinion. It’s just … that’s not a real fan to me. You know what I’m saying? You want your team to lose? What is that? But it’s all good.”
No. 3: Hollins ready to coach again— Former Memphis coach Lionel Hollins has done OK for himself since the Grizzlies decided not to renew his contract after last season’s end. He’s working parttime for NBA TV and co-hosting an NBA show on SirusXM Radio and enjoying life away from the NBA grind. But Hollins, as Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune reports, sounds more than ready to get back into a coaching job should one present itself:
Life is uncomplicated for Lionel Hollins these days.
The former Trail Blazers guard and NBA head coach is working as a studio analyst for NBA-TV and hosts a two-day-a-week NBA talk show on Sirius radio.
“I get to see my kids more often. Recently saw my grand baby in Arizona. I’m reading books again. Went grocery shopping the other day. I get to spend a lot of time on my charity. Get to support the charities of other people who have supported mine over the years.
“The freedom to not be in a gym, at practice, in a meeting … I’ve had an opportunity to enjoy what life is all about again.”
Though Hollins has enjoyed his time away from coaching, don’t get the wrong idea. Hollins would have liked nothing more than to have been on the bench with the Grizzlies when they played Portland at the Moda Center on Sunday. He’d love to be coaching Memphis, or another team, when the playoffs arrive in a couple of weeks.
“Of course,” Hollins says when asked if he’d like to return to the coaching ranks. “I miss coaching. What I miss is the teaching … the development of the team and the players. … the players working together and watching them grasp it mentally, and then have them go out and do it physically.”
Hollins pauses, then adds, “Don’t take this the wrong way. I mean no disrespect to Dave Joerger (his successor as Memphis coach). But anybody (the Grizzlies) hire, if he lets the players play the way they want to play, they’re going to win. They know how to win. When I got there, they didn’t know how to win.”
Hollins fell victim to a change in ownership and management. Former owner Michael Heisley sold the club to a group led by California tech billionaire Robert Pera, now 36. Jason Levien, an attorney and former sports agent who had worked in the front office of the Sacramento Kings, became CEO and managing partner of the Grizzlies. Levien took over the basketball operations from Chris Wallace, who remains the club’s vice president/general manager in title only.
“It seemed like they had their minds made up when they came in,” Hollins says. “They had an agenda of how they wanted to do things, and what they wanted to spend. I didn’t fit into that.
“I can accept that. It’s their prerogative. But when you look at the big picture, you say, ‘Wow, you’ve had some pretty good success.’ If I were at FedEx, for instance, I wouldn’t fire the employees who made it successful.”
The bottom line is very important to Pera and the new ownership group. Money surely played a part in Hollins’ demise, but there were other issues.
In the weeks that followed Hollins’ ouster, other reasons emerged through “inside sources.” That Hollins couldn’t accept analytics and the advanced scouting metrics that are becoming increasingly in use in pro sports. That he clashed with John Hollinger, the one-time Portland resident who is an analytics devotee hired last season by the Grizzlies as vice president/basketball operations. That Hollins bellyached about the midseason trade that sent small forward Rudy Gay to Toronto for Tayshaun Prince, a deal that save the Grizzlies millions in future salary. That Hollins was having increasing problems communicating with his players.
There is some truth to all of this. Hollins is an old-school coach, a strong personality who has developed a coaching style through the years based on a high level of expertise and intuitiveness about his players and how to put together a team. There was an incident with Hollinger at practice, during which Hollins loudly objected to his interference with a player. Hollins says he spoke with Hollinger afterward and that both men apologized to each other. (Hollinger did not return a pair of phone messages.)
“I have no problems with John,” Hollins says. “I have no problems with analytics. The only problem I have is with the idea there’s just one way to do things. You look for every advantage and whatever tools you can utilize to help your team be better. Part of that is having relationships with the players I have to deal with every day.
“It’s not just numbers. I’m dealing with emotions and egos and sensitivities and insecurities. It’s easy to say these guys need to play so many minutes and this group is the best group to have on the floor at the particular time. It’s not cut and dried like that.
“I want to be perfectly clear, I have no problems with analytics. I expressed that to management here. If there is a sophisticated mechanism to help us win, I’m all for it. But there has to be a balance. I don’t think basketball is as numbers-oriented as baseball, for instance. A coach knows who he can count upon at different times during a game. It’s why I trusted Zach (Randolph) to walk up there and make free throws at the end of a game. It’s a feeling that has nothing to do with numbers. The experiences a coach has cannot be discarded completely.”
After being fired, Hollins interviewed for vacancies with Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers.
“With the Nuggets, I don’t think I was high on their radar,” he says. “If Doc (Rivers) had stayed in Boston, I think I’d have been the Clippers coach. Doc was the better fit, and he’s a great coach. They made a good hire there.”
Hollins says he chose not to pursue an assistant coaching job in the NBA. “I’ve been a head coach the last five years,” he says.
Would he take a head coaching job in college? “It would have to be a really good opportunity,” he says.
Does Hollins think he’ll get another NBA head-coaching job?
“I have no idea,” he says. “I think I will, but with certainty? No. I have confidence I will, yes. But we’re in a crazy business.”
No. 4: Sixers won’t see Noel take court until Summer League — If you’ve paid attention to the comings and goings of hobbled Sixers rookie Nerlens Noel and the team’s plans to get him ready for the NBA, you already know the team has been rebuilding his jumper, watching him progress in workouts and drills and saw him try to tease of a debut this season (which Philly quickly shot down). While Noel won’t play this season, one place you will be able to see him is during the 2014 Summer League, writes Dei Lynam of CSNPhilly.com:
The date Nerlens Noel tweeted that was speculated as being his Sixers debut is only three days away.
Noel had fans excited when he initially sent that message out on social media, but now it’s the big man’s coaches that are getting riled up about his progression.
“The first thing that I have fallen in love with is that he is beyond competitive,” coach Brett Brown said after Thursday’s practice. “There is a dog in him, a toughness in him that I misjudged.
“He doesn’t talk a lot, but he is a fantastic listener. You go through all those months shooting one-handed with him and then you see him come out here.”
With just eight games remaining it seems unlikely Noel will participate in a contest this season. However, Brown would not confirm that. The coach simply reiterated the special ability he sees in the center and how that bodes well for the franchise’s future.
“He is a fierce competitor and that is the number one quality for me that makes someone special,” Brown said. “Then you get into the athleticism. He has a bounce. People that can block a shot, hit the floor and go back up are special and he can do it with both his right hand and left hand.”
Noel will likely participate in a game for the first time since February of last year during this summer when the Sixers field a summer league team. When Noel does finally take the court how will that year and a half out of action with an ACL tear impact his game?
“He’ll do what everybody does — he will play too fast,” Brown explained. “He will try to rush things. He won’t let the game come to him. He will try to impose himself on the game. He will be very erratic. He will be turnover prone and foul prone.
“He’ll do all those things, but that’s to be expected. But for him to be doing what he is doing now in itself is exciting and this city should be really excited.”
Brown doesn’t know how much or how little the Sixers will play Noel whenever the center returns to game action. The coach just knows it will be a process and he will trust his gut.
“We won’t make him play 38 minutes and try to force feed it,” Brown said. “We will go at a pace that is realistic and see how he goes. It will be more of a gut-feel formula than anything. We won’t be shy with him, but we will be smart.”
No. 5: D’Antoni, Kaman burying the hatchet? — Just a little over a week ago, Lakers center Chris Kaman was openly complaining to the media about coach Mike D’Antoni‘s gameplan and useage of him this season. But it appears a chat with D’Antoni’s agent may have helped Kaman see just how hard D’Antoni’s job has been and softened the tension between the two, writes Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:
Warren LeGarie, the agent for embattled Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, was doing all the talking.He was doing the pointing, jabbing his index finger into Chris Kaman’s chest. LeGarie also stood up periodically to yell down at the Lakers center hunched in a courtside seat Tuesday night, ball in his lap, postponing his pregame court work to listen.
Head bobbing in emphatic declarations, LeGarie gestured numerous times toward the Lakers bench where D’Antoni is positioned during games. Kaman threw his hands up a few times but had little to say to LeGarie, who represents so many NBA coaches and executives that he qualifies as more of a power player in this league than any 7-footer.
Kaman is the type who has done far more talking than listening in his life, and some of his talking this season has been about D’Antoni’s rigid, uncommunicative, distrustful coaching of the Lakers while not giving Kaman consistent playing time. Just one week earlier, Kaman had revealed that D’Antoni hadn’t talked to him for the previous three weeks.
D’Antoni has one more guaranteed season left on his Lakers contract, and the club is leaning toward retaining him despite some privately disgruntled players and massive public disdain. It’s not clear which way the organization will go with him.
But Kaman’s 15-minute conversation with LeGarie ended with the agent yelling two words to Kaman: “Thank you. Thank you.”
After the Lakers’ 124-112 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers was complete, I asked Kaman about his pregame chat with LeGarie and whether it had given him any new perspective on D’Antoni’s situation.
“We were just talking,” Kaman said. “We were just talking about everything. He’s just a good buddy of mine.”
I asked Kaman where he stands now in his feelings about D’Antoni.
“It’s been a tough year for him, as it has been for a lot of guys,” Kaman said. “Me, in particular, just being in and out, in and out, just trying to figure my way through all of this, I can sort of put myself in his shoes and try to look myself in the mirror and say, ‘What would I do if I was him?’ And it’s hard to answer that question; it’s a tough position.
“Especially with all the injuries we’ve had and all the different things we’ve had to go through, I think it’s no easy task for a coach. Especially with the Lakers. This is a first-rate organization, and they do things better than most. They’re used to winning, and it’s a lot of pressure. And all these injuries didn’t make it any easier for him.”
Bear in mind, just one week ago Kaman was saying this season was “by far” and “tenfold” worse than any other in his 11-year NBA career.
While not naming a name and saying “it doesn’t get anyone anywhere” to spout negativity with the season a lost cause, Kaman said last week that the key to good coaching is “being a mediator as opposed to being someone in authority all the time. It’s about putting little fires out—small fires here or there—and keeping everybody’s egos together and managing that. Players know how to play if you give them enough guidance in the beginning.”
Late Tuesday night, when I asked Kaman if D’Antoni’s communication could’ve been better, Kaman said generously: “It always can be better with any coach, not just Mike. It’s such a big balance to be a head coach. It takes a lot. It takes a lot out of you. You see guys who can’t even finish years sometimes; they have to defer and hand it over to someone else. It drives people nuts.
“It takes a special person to coach a team, and in this day and age, the way the game is played, it’s a lot of pressure. You get two, three years, maybe, and then you’re outta there if you don’t produce. It’s no easy task. So I’ve got to look myself in the mirror and put myself in his shoes; it’s tough. It isn’t easy. With all the injuries and everything, it’s hard to say what would’ve happened if we would’ve had a healthy team.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Some potential bad news for the teams gunning for this year’s NBA Draft Lottery: Kansas’ Joel Embid and Duke’s Jabari Parker may end up staying in school … Daniel “Boobie” Gibson is eyeing a comeback next season … Lakers young big man Jordan Hill will not re-sign with L.A. unless he will have a bigger role next season … Pistons forward Jonas Jerebko, who has a player option for next season, will decide to stay or leave based on Detroit’s next coach … Donnie Nelson says he expects Samuel Dalembert to be back on the Mavs next season … Greivis Vasquez has learned to humble himself as a backup point guard in Toronto …
ICYMI(s) of the Night: Ummm, why was Marcin Gortat in the middle of the Celtics’ huddle last night?
You all know we love Kenneth Faried around here when he’s in full “Manimal” mode, as he was last night against the Pelicans.
And, lastly, there are deep 3-pointers … and then there’s this shot Paul George nailed last night against Detroit …