NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: What to do about Hibbert, Hill? — The Indiana Pacers wake up this morning staring at a 2-1 deficit in their first-round series with the Atlanta Hawks and with the knowledge that All-Star center Roy Hibbert has been a non-factor thus far. How does top-seeded Indiana get back on track? How does it get Hibbert involved in things again? And, oh yeah, how does it get point guard George Hill — who has also struggled mightily against his Hawks counter part, Jeff Teague — on track, too? Mark Montieth of Pacers.com digs into the issues with both players:
Whether Hibbert starts or not isn’t that big of a concern. It’s how long Vogel stays with him when he’s struggling. Hibbert played just 19 minutes on Thursday, one less than his backup, Ian Mahinmi. The Hawks present an impossible matchup for him defensively, and if he can’t score he has little to offer. If he only rebounded and defended the lane, he’d be the role player the Pacers need, but he’s not doing that, either.
Hibbert grabbed 16 rebounds in the season-opening win over Orlando, and hasn’t matched that since. His rebound total reached double figures in 10 of the first 20 games, and he had eight or more in five of the others. But, he’s grabbed 10 or more rebounds in just seven of the last 39 games, none in the playoffs.
Hill presents another challenge for Vogel. He hit just 1-of-11 shots on Thursday, and was guilty of a crucial turnover and defensive lapse late in the game. Hill’s a point guard who admits he doesn’t really want to be a point guard, and is usually at his best when he’s playing off-guard. He’s not assertive by nature, and seems to have to remind himself constantly to be aggressive.
Hibbert and Hill – both of whom scored four points in the game – were hardly the only factors in the loss. The effort wasn’t playoff caliber, proven by the difference in free throw attempts. Atlanta had 37, the Pacers had 21. George, although producing his third double-double of the series, hit just 3-of-11 shots, and wasn’t the defensive force he had been in Game 2.
It’s easy to call for a new starting lineup, or for benching starters altogether. The best coaches, though, avoid over-reaction, and the ever-upbeat Vogel has done that well throughout his time with Pacers. This, however, is the most desperate circumstance he’s faced. He says he loves the chess match of coaching in the playoffs, but another loss on Saturday puts him in danger of checkmate.
He has to figure a way out. And he might have to do it without two key pieces.
No. 2: Warriors open to fan input on team’s name — On Tuesday of this week, the Warriors announced they had purchased 12 acres of land in the Mission Bay neighborhood to construct a new arena for the team that is slated to open in the 2018-19 season. With that change of location comes news, too, that the team might be open to changing its name, writes Ramona Shelbourne of ESPN.com:
The Golden State Warriors say they will be seeking input from fans on whether they should change their name after announcing earlier this week they’d purchased a 12-acre property in the Mission Bay district of San Francisco that they plan to use for a new arena.The franchise will keep the Warriors moniker they’ve used since they were founded in Philadelphia in 1946 but could readopt the name for which they were known when they played in San Francisco from 1962-71 — the San Francisco Warriors.
“We’re very curious what our fans think of that,” Warriors president and CEO Rick Welts told ESPN.com. “I couldn’t imagine making that decision in the very near future, but we definitely want to see what our fans prefer.”
While the name change and move out of Oracle Arena in Oakland to a state-of-the-art venue before the 2018-19 season might seem a bit jarring to the blue-collar identity of the franchise, Welts said that it’s important to the franchise to preserve as much about what makes Oracle Arena one of the best home courts in the NBA.
When the Warriors purchased the 12-acre private property from Salesforce.com on Saturday, it essentially confirmed they’d scrapped plans to move to a waterfront site on Piers 30-32 near the San Francisco Giants’ ballpark.
Welts said the regulatory hoops they’d have to jump through to get that project approved became too burdensome and “there came a point in time where certainty just became the most important thing.”
While the new arena won’t sit on the piers with striking views of the Bay Bridge, Welts said the new property will also have unobstructed views of the San Francisco Bay. The only thing standing between the new arena, which will also include a practice facility and team offices, will be a five-acre park.
No. 3: Westbrook, Durant ignoring each other on offense? — In Game 3 last night in Memphis, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 60 of OKC’s 95 points as both players logged roughly 40 minutes in the game. Their scoring, is, of course, crucial to the Thunder’s chances of winning on any night, but the duo went a combined 19 of 53 from the field and had five assists between them. That lack of passing — not just to teammates, but also each other — might be what is most troubling for the Thunder right now, writes Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com:
There is no doubt the Grizzlies are well prepared for their opponent. Directing his first playoff series, coach Dave Joerger has schooled his team well. They generally know the Thunder’s plays, and they are routinely shutting down the first option. This, however, is typical playoff business for a well-coached and well-drilled team, which the Grizzlies are.
Where it has been going off script is what happens when the Thunder run into their first road block. Durant and Westbrook have just been breaking off the options and trying to do it themselves. It’s one thing not to pass to Kendrick Perkins or just not trust Reggie Jackson – who has been a complete nonfactor after a breakout regular season and is just 3-of-19 shooting in the three games.
But Westbrook and Durant aren’t even looking to each other much, acting as if one of them isn’t even out there at times. The number of possessions on which they go 1-on-3 or worse are piling up. Their last mistake summarized it. Down three points with 40 seconds in overtime, and not needing a 3-pointer, Westbrook launched a 27-footer while Serge Ibaka stood alone near the basket.
When chance allowed an offensive rebound, Durant hoisted a 29-footer while being covered well. That’s not to say he shouldn’t be the guy taking that shot, but not at least trying to get some help to get it off spoke to the way he’s begun pressing by himself.
This style of play is compounding, of course. When they’re at their worst, Durant and Westbrook sometimes won’t pass to or screen for each other.
“I took some bad ones,” Westbrook admitted. “A lot of them I took when we needed them.”
True enough, Westbrook led the comeback drive with a flurry of forced attacks, but his sense of “need” has always been prone to skew a bit off course. In fact, that very topic has been one of the league’s more polarizing over the past few years.
Looking at it more on a micro scale, watching Westbrook and Durant force shot after shot Thursday, regardless of the score, was more the problem than the solution. They combined for just five assists Thursday, which sort of says it all.
“We just have to be better next game, just have to be,” Durant said. “We’re down 2-1, and we don’t want to go into a bigger hole than that. We just have to believe in each other and stick together.”
No. 4: Big O says ‘Melo should leave New York for Houston — If you know anything about NBA history, you know that Hall of Fame point guard Oscar Robertson was not only the only player to ever average a triple-double, but a key force in allowing free agency to take hold in the league. On Thursday, Robertson appeared on the NBA’s SiriusXM radio show and was asked his thoughts about this summer’s big free agent, Knicks star Carmelo Anthony, and what he should do this summer. Robertson didn’t mince words and thinks ‘Melo would be best suited playing alongside Dwight Howard in Houston:
“I would leave today [if I were Carmelo],” Roberston said on SiriusXM NBA radio Thursday. “… Let me tell you why: wherever that kid has gone, when he was at Denver, they had a team that fooled around with the ball, fooled around with the ball, then all of the sudden when they needed a basket, threw it to Carmelo. Then, when he shot the ball, they said he shot too much. Then when he didn’t shoot they said he didn’t shoot enough.
“No matter what he does in New York they’re going to criticize him, the people are going to criticize him, because you got guys on [the Knicks] that cannot play. You got guys that are hurt all the time.”
Robertson thinks Houston would be a perfect fit for Anthony, who was second in the NBA in scoring last season and pulled down a career-high 8.1 rebounds per game.
“If he goes to Houston, they’re gonna win everything,” Robertson told host and well-known Knicks fan Spike Lee. “You look at LeBron [James], LeBron’s got a great game and the kid down at Oklahoma, [Kevin] Durant‘s got a great game — they can’t out-shoot Carmelo. … I’ve seen him in a lot of basketball games over the years and I’m telling you right now the kid, he just can get that shot away. Now he’s gotten smarter, he’s going to the basket a lot. But what gets me is that everyone thinks that everything that happens bad is his fault.”
Anthony has been complimentary of Phil Jackson since the 13-time NBA champ took over as Knicks president last month.
He called the Knicks’ hiring of Jackson a ‘power move’ in March.
But Robertson, a 12-time All Star, downplayed Jackson’s potential impact on Anthony’s free agency.
“Let me ask you: When was the last time Phil Jackson played? … I think Phil is great to have gotten $12 million out of [Knicks owner Jim Dolan]. Super job. Take the money and run,” Roberston said. “If I were Carmelo I would say, ‘Listen, I’m not gonna stay here and take all this gruff and all this criticism. You got other guys on this team making $12, $15, $16 million and doing nothing, and here I am averaging 28, 29 points per game.’ “
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Ever wonder what star players talk to referees about before the game? Inside the NBA’s cameras captured one such conversation from last night’s Thunder-Grizzlies game … A good, if early, look at which teams have what kind of salary-cap room this summer … Warriors owner Joe Lacob vows that the team will re-sign Klay Thompson … ICYMI, at halftime of last night’s Thunder-Grizzlies broadcast on TNT, Charles Barkley issued a challenge of sorts to Kevin Durant …
ICYMI(s) OF THE NIGHT: If you believe in the basketball gods, they were obviously smiling down on Jeff Teague and Russell Westbrook last night …