VIDEO: The Daily Zap: May 3
NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Raptors return to Toronto as underdogs — The Toronto Raptors have grown used to being the underdog, so being overlooked in Game 7 against the Brooklyn Nets is nothing new. Eric Koreen of The National Post explains how the Raptors plan to combat this doubt as they prepare to play in front of a raucous crowd at the Air Canada Centre:
Following a game as decisive as Friday’s Game 6, that is natural. Brooklyn had a plan to get the ball out of Kyle Lowry’s hands and make DeMar DeRozan take tough shots, and it worked. They had a plan to puncture Toronto’s wobbly perimeter defence, held up by the hobbled Lowry, the game-but-overmatched DeRozan and the laterally compromised Greivis Vasquez, and it worked. They even won the rebounding battle, the one aspect of the series that should have belonged Toronto, without exception. The Raptors won the fourth quarter, and made a half-hearted run at a comeback. This was not like Brooklyn’s efforts at the end of Game 5, though. It barely registered.
And in a way, that is perfect for these Raptors. For a team whose failure was assumed an inevitability and whose success was questioned all season long, they are now back where they were both before Game 1 and before the season started: as unquestioned underdogs, as the overlooked.
“To listen to some of this, we may as well not play Game 7,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after answering a few negatively tinged questions on Friday night. “Every game is different and I know our team will bounce back. We’ve got to come out of the gates a lot fresher, a lot harder, especially starting on the defensive end of the floor. Rebounding, 50-50 balls, transition defence, guarding the perimeter, having bigs at the rim, all of those things are a lack of defensive focus, and that’s where it all started.”
There is no reason to doubt that the Raptors are going to throw their hardest punch, if not their most technically sound. This team has gotten by on snarl, effort and defiance all year long. Sure, Paul Pierce has played in more Game 7s (eight) than the entire Raptors team (seven), but we should be well past that by the time Sunday afternoon’s game tips off. Few hours remaining before what could be their last game of the year, doubt is king.
Still, there are numerous concerns. With the complete disappearance of Terrence Ross this series, the Raptors are down to just six players that they can hope for a little punch from: Lowry, DeRozan, Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas. Johnson has historically struggled in early-afternoon games, although Friday evening proved he could perform poorly under the moonlight, too. In general, the Raptors’ big men have failed to dominate the series as they should: Valanciunas in the paint, Johnson rolling to the basket and Patterson from the perimeter.
“Throughout the course of this series, we’ve been great on the glass,” Patterson said. “[On Friday], I think that they actually beat us on the boards. That’s something we can’t have. We have to get [Valanciunas] more of the ball, get him more post touches and take advantage of the size down low and make it easier for Kyle and DeMar. We rely on them too much.”
Sunday will prove a lot — whether Casey can concoct a game plan that responds to Friday’s unraveling, whether DeRozan can vary his offence in his most pressure-filled game ever, whether Valanciunas can assert himself on the game without turning the ball over frequently, whether Lowry can play like the star he has been for so much of this year in the biggest game of his career. This series has provided conflicting evidence on all of those counts. On Sunday, the Raptors could throw a boulder on those scales — on either side.
No. 2: Celebrities covet the Clippers — NBA ownership is a highly desired position for the uber-wealthy. And this desire increases ten-fold when the team is located in Los Angeles, a celebrity and uber-wealthy hotbed. That’s why the likely sale of the Los Angeles Clippers has sparked the interest of many celebrities who would like to call the Clippers their own. Billy Witz and Mary Pilon of The New York Times detail who has thrown their hat into the ring:
For most of the Clippers’ 30-year tenure in Los Angeles, they have been viewed as a punch line in hightops.
And so, a day after the N.B.A. commissioner gave the team’s owner, Donald Sterling, a lifetime ban and recommended that owners vote him out, the conversation about who might replace Mr. Sterling revealed the Clippers to be in a strikingly unfamiliar position: the toast of the town.
The prospect of an auction created a frenzy, with hands flying up, playfully and not, for a chance to bid on the most coveted commodity in professional sports, a competitive team in a major market. That means the Clippers, the forgotten franchise of Los Angeles sports, are suddenly the belle of basketball.
Oprah Winfrey is interested in forming a powerhouse partnership to buy the team with the Silicon Valley mogul Larry Ellison and the entertainment mogul David Geffen, Winfrey’s spokeswoman said. The billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist Eli Broad is also interested, according to his spokeswoman. So is the boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. — along with his rival Oscar De La Hoya.
Dr. Dre, an icon of West Coast rap, has expressed interest in the team, as has Sean Combs, who may be an icon of East Coast rap but has caught Clippers fever just the same. “I will always be a Knicks fan,” he said on Twitter, “but I am a business man. #DiddyBuyTheClippers#NameYourPrice.”
The comedian Mindy Kaling said she, too, was interested in buying the Clippers, promising that “the uniforms will be the same but bedazzled.”
Of course, many, if not most, of the offers are unlikely to materialize. (No one is waiting for Judd Apatow and Don Rickles to submit an official bid anytime soon, despite Mr. Apatow’s tweet that they were considering it.) It would not be the first time celebrities sought to capitalize on a big story. (Mr. Mayweather just happens to be fighting in Las Vegas on Saturday.)
All the attention and adoration may be disorienting for the Clippers, a franchise that for a long time was perhaps the worst in pro sports, a basketball calamity that had two winning seasons in Mr. Sterling’s first 30 years.
The Clippers had none of the glamour of the Lakers, who have boasted a flotilla of Hall of Fame superstars playing before crowds studded with name-brand celebrities.
Now, there is an opportunity to replace one of pro sports’ most notorious owners with something that fans say surely must be better.
Baron Davis, a former Clipper who was once heckled by Mr. Sterling for not playing up to a six-year, $65 million contract, said it was important to have an owner who was a minority. Michael Jordan, the owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, and Vivek Ranadive, the leader of the ownership group of the Sacramento Kings, are the only minority owners in the league.
“Diversity is important,” Mr. Davis said. “Especially with what happened here.”
Most agree that the Clippers have room for enormous growth on the business side. The team’s television deal, which expires in 2016, is nowhere near the 20-year, $3 billion deal the Lakers signed with Time Warner Cable two years ago. Until recently, Mr. Sterling rarely invested aggressively in his team on or off the court.
With a sale, the Clippers could receive the sort of bump that the Dodgers did when a loathed owner, Frank McCourt, was forced to sell. The Dodgers were acquired by a financial services magnate whose ownership group included Magic Johnson.
“It will be like a breath of fresh air; you just open the door, and this fresh breeze comes through,” said Mychal Thompson, the Lakers’ radio analyst, who once played for them. “But whoever the new owners are, they’re going to have to be really creative with this franchise to be able to compete for the hearts and minds of Lakers fans.”
Of course, there would be one surefire way to appeal to Lakers fans — and to write a storybook ending to the Sterling scandal.
Enter Mr. Johnson, the Lakers Hall of Famer who is revered for his charisma and business acumen, particularly for his efforts in African-American neighborhoods.
Mr. Johnson was dragged into the scandal when Mr. Sterling asked a woman he was often seen with not to post online pictures of herself with black men, including one in which she posed with Mr. Johnson.
“Don’t put him on Instagram for the world to see so they have to call me,” Mr. Sterling said in a recording released by TMZ. “And don’t bring him to my games. Yeah, it bothers me a lot that you want to promo, broadcast, that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?”
Mr. Johnson has denied a report that said he was interested in joining a group to buy the Clippers, but that has not stopped Los Angeles from talking about it.
“If you want the Hollywood ending to all this,” said Mr. Perrin, the Clippers blogger, “it’s Magic Johnson.”
No. 3: Nowitzki on Game 7: ‘You’ve got to love it’ — Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki are two of the best players of this generation and they each hope to continue their playoff run with a Game 7 win on Sunday in San Antonio. The pressure of Game 7 has not shaken either ball club much as both teams strive to be confident about the matchup. Jeff McDonald of The Dallas Morning News has more specifics on each team’s mindset before Game 7:
“Everybody talks about what seed you are, but players and coaches know all the teams are very close,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “There are no rankings, really. For the fans, for the league, it’s so great because all the matchups are so competitive.”
To which the buzzkill Spurs say, respectfully: Humbug.
If the Spurs had gotten their way, they wouldn’t have had any part of this April and May madness.
So much for that. Sunday afternoon at the AT&T Center, the top-seeded Spurs face a Game 7 reckoning of their own against No. 8 Dallas.
Sooner than anybody could |have expected, the Spurs’ championship hopes are on the line.
“I don’t care if it’s in four (games) or seven, I just want to beat them,” guard Manu Ginobili said. “Of course, you always want four, but there are some teams that are tough and some games where you make mistakes. It’s always better to win in seven than to lose 2-4.”
Dallas earned its way here with a 113-111 victory in Game 6 that provided another momentum swing in a series that has been full of them.
Five of the six games were decided in the final minute, by an average of 3.6 points. It has often been difficult to tell the difference between the No. 1 seed and the No. 8.
Had Vince Carter’s last-second 3-pointer not gone down in Game 3, it is possible the Spurs would be playing Game 1 against Portland on Sunday. Had Dallas not blown a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 1, perhaps the Mavs would have already sewn up a shocker.
“It’s a very good ball club over there. A very good team,” said Spurs forward Tim Duncan, who is 2-2 in Game 7s. “There are eight, nine, 10 good teams in the West. We’re here to win four games.”
To do that, and avoid losing a series to an eight seed for the second time in four seasons, the Spurs are going to have to show up on defense.
In Game 6, the Spurs surrendered two quarters of at least 30 points, including a 37-point fourth that allowed the Mavs to overcome a seven-point deficit and stave off elimination.
In the regular season, the Spurs were 31-4 when shooting better than 50 percent. In this series, they are 0-3 when hitting at least half their shots because they have also surrendered an average of nearly 112 points in those games.
“The deal is you play D or you lose,” Popovich said, reflecting on Game 6. “And our defense was awful.”
The Spurs have had little answer for speedy Dallas guard Monta Ellis, who is averaging 21.8 points in the series. With the season in the balance Sunday, they must also contend with Game 7 Dirk Nowitzki.
The Dallas MVP is 4-0 in Game 7s, averaging 28 points and 14.8 rebounds.
In his most recent — an overtime win over the Spurs in the 2006 conference semifinals — Nowitzki scored 37 points with 15 rebounds and sent the game into OT on a layup-and-foul that Ginobili would just as soon forget.
“It’s the ultimate thrill,” Nowitzki said. “It’s win or go home. Everything that happened before is out the window. Nothing (else) matters.”
That’s been the story of the series so far. The past has meant exactly squat.
The Spurs came in having won nine in a row over Dallas. Now the Mavs have a chance to send the 62-win Spurs into early vacation.
The Spurs have been here before, as recently as the NBA Finals last June in Miami, in a Game 7 they lost 95-88.
“I don’t think anybody’s nervous or shaken or worried about a Game 7,” Spurs guard Danny Green said. “Everybody’s pretty confident.”
There is a not-so-well-kept secret about Game 7: They are only much fun for the winners.
“It’s just that one game,” Nowitzki said. “It’s the ultimate competition. You’ve got to love it. You’ve got to embrace it.”
No. 4: Wizards ready for next round — The Washington Wizards benefited from their early elimination of the Chicago Bulls to get a few days of rest before their semifinal series against the Indiana Pacers. The time allowed the Wizards to look ahead and think about the damage they believe they can do in the playoffs, with hopes of making it to the Eastern Conference Finals or even all the way to the NBA Finals. Micheal Lee of The Washington Post details how the Wizards have utilized their rest and gauges their confidence level:
Since entering the NBA, John Wall has spent the first weekend in May with his family in Raleigh, N.C., or showing off his latest fashionable ensemble at the Kentucky Derby.Those plans have been altered considerably with the Washington Wizards making the NBA playoffs for the first time in his career — and then dispatching the Chicago Bulls in five games — but he doesn’t miss the vacation.
While the Pacers were playing a Game 7 against the Hawks, Washington was resting and preparing for their second-round matchup.
Veterans and young players alike have come together thanks to regular team-building gatherings this season.
A look at some of our favorite images from the past week.
“Happy to be in the playoffs,” Wall said Saturday. “I think it’s more important to be playing the sport I love. I’ve done [the Kentucky Derby] two or three or times, so that’s over with for me right now.”The Wizards waited patiently for theIndiana Pacers to dismiss the Atlanta Hawks in seven games to set up theirsecond-round matchup.In preparation for Monday’s Game 1 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Coach Randy Wittman has balanced giving his players necessary rest while engaging them in some spirited practices to maintain the competitive edge that has fueled this recent run of success.Washington has won eight of its past nine games, playing with an urgency that was lacking for much of the regular season. The series win over Chicago confirmed that the Wizards had the talent all along. Reserve swingman Martell Webster believes the team was strengthened by its struggles on the way to a 44-38 regular season record.
“People say this team has a lot of potential to be good down the line. Well, honestly, when you look at the postseason this year that we made it, we have a good opportunity to do some crazy things right now,” Webster said. “I think in our circle we realize that. For us, especially the veterans, we’re not worried about next year. We’re worried about right now. We feel we can do damage right now.
“We’re all playing at a level of play that a lot of people didn’t expect us to do, but we know what we’re capable of doing. It’s the fact that we know we can do something right now is the reason we have that sense of urgency and the reason why we’re playing the way we are.”
Webster believes the rest since Tuesday’s series-clinching 75-69 victory over the Bulls will be beneficial because the Pacers will have only one day to shift their focus to Washington. The break has been especially good forNene, who has worn a brace on his sprained left knee since he returned from a 22-game absence last month. Still, Nene said that like before Game 1 vs. the Bulls, he has had trouble sleeping in anticipation of the next round.
“Maybe I’m getting excited now because we’re going to play Monday no matter what,” Nene said. “Still, I been taking NyQuil or whatever his name. Looks like it’s doing reverse. I just need to take care of myself. The whole team need to take care of themselves, what we need to do, relaxing a little bit, because when the ball goes up, we need to be on.”
Wittman has stressed the importance of not breaking from routine, and for him, that has meant maintaining a low profile away from the court. “I don’t go around. I stay in. I want it to be as routine as possible,” Wittman said. “There’s probably not going to be a lot of people that say, ‘Hey, I saw Coach out.’ My wife does a lot of cooking, so she probably wishes differently. But that’s my routine. How we focused going into the Chicago series has got to be the same.”
When the Wizards started the season 9-9, Marcin Gortat boldly predicted the team would win 50 games. By advancing to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time since 2005, the Wizards have won 48 games and would need at least two victories to make Gortat look somewhat prescient. The franchise hasn’t won a game in the second round since 1982, but the Wizards are confident this is the team to end that drought.
“I’m looking for the gentleman who wrote article about me, that I’m stupid,” Gortat said when asked about his 50-win prediction. “Whoever we’re going to play, we still got a big chance to beat them. If we’re going to continue to play hard, if we’re going to continue to play so physical, having defensive pressure, each one of us continue to play well, there’s no way they can match with us.”
Wall said the Wizards began to play with more determination after an overtime loss to Charlotte on April 9, which momentarily knocked them to the seventh seed. They closed the regular season with four straight wins to move up to fifth place and haven’t let up since.
“We knew what we needed to do to keep our seeding and get a good spot in the playoffs, and we did that. Luckily, it’s translating into the playoffs right now,” Wall said, adding that the team must maintain the attitude of an underdog.
“You got people that doubt you your whole life, your whole career, and when you have the opportunity to succeed, you don’t pay them no attention. You just keep focusing on what you’re doing as a group and as an individual and try to win basketball games. It’s a different atmosphere. It’s the playoffs. You’re more focused on what you’re doing. Regular season, it don’t matter what you do.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Houston Rockets will bring back coach Kevin McHale for the 2014-15 season, according to David Aldridge. … The NBA will appoint a CEO to oversee the Los Angeles Clippers. … The Mavericks’ Jose Calderon is not likely to wear a mask in Game 7, despite breaking his nose in Game 6. … The Warriors and Clippers may have had a hallway altercation after Game 7.
ICYMI of The Night: Despite the Warriors’ loss on Saturday night, Stephen Curry still put on a show. One of his most impressive shots of the night was this four-point play towards the end of first half:
VIDEO: Curry’s four-point play
Count ‘em …