NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Kobe wants a say in hiring of Lakers’ next coach: After years of suggesting that he didn’t want anything to do with the work being done by ownership and the front office, it appears that Kobe Bryant has warmed up to the idea of having some input on such matters. The Los Angeles Lakers superstar wants a say in who the franchise pursues and hires to replace Mike D’Antoni, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com. That’s an abrupt departure from his public stance for years:
Kobe Bryant, speaking publicly for the first time since Mike D’Antoni resigned from the Los Angeles Lakers, expressed apathy about the turn of events while saying he would, though, like to have an active role in choosing a new coach.
“Honestly I didn’t care,” Bryant said Thursday during a guest appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” when asked by Kimmel if he was “happy” that D’Antoni accepted a buyout of close to $2 million for next season rather than come back to coach the team.
“Mike was dealt a really bad hand in dealing with all the injuries that he had here,” Bryant said. “This is a tough place, man. If you’re not winning, you’re not going to survive, man.”
Bryant added that Magic Johnson‘s controversial tweet in which he celebrated D’Antoni’s departure reminded him of a scene out of “The Wizard of Oz.”
“The first thing I thought of was seeing the Munchkins on the Yellow Brick Road dancing and singing, ‘The Wicked Witch is dead,’ ” Bryant said. “When he tweeted that, that song just came to mind.”
Bryant hopes the Lakers will sing a different tune than they have in the past when it comes to consulting him about hiring their next coach.
“On the last two they didn’t,” Bryant said, referring to Mike Brown and D’Antoni, who both failed to endure the length of the initial contracts they signed with the Lakers before parting ways. “On the third one, I’m hoping they do.”
Taking over for a legend like Phil Jackson is never easy, of course. Bryant said he still speaks to Jackson “often” and expects the 11-time championship winning coach to transfer those results to his front-office role with the New York Knicks.
“I think he’ll do fantastic,” Bryant said. “Especially the more people say that he won’t be successful.”
Bryant had similar faith in the Lakers’ brass, endorsing the efforts by Jackson’s fiancée and Lakers president, Jeanie Buss, as well as her brother and Lakers executive vice president of player personnel, Jim Buss, in steering the franchise in the right direction.
“Jimmy and Jeanie both, they’re just really determined and excited about the possibilities of next season and rebuilding this and building on their father’s legacy and everything that he’s accomplished,” Bryant said. “And they’re taking the challenge extremely, extremely seriously. They’re both on the same page and they want nothing but excellence here, so I have no doubt that we’ll make it happen.”
No. 2: Wizards’ Wall eager for Game 3 and redemption: Washington Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall knows that the onus for his team’s mini-meltdown in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against Indiana rests squarely on his shoulders. He was the one who decided to take three straight 3-pointers late in a tight game. That’s why he’s anxious to get back on the court tonight, before a home crowd, for Game 3. Not only is it a critical moment for the Wizards if they are going to pull off yet another playoff upset, it provides Wall an opportunity to right what went wrong. Michael Lee of the Washington Post explains:
John Wall spent most of the flight home from Indiana late Wednesday night wrestling with regret.
Playing on a loop in Wall’s mind was the three-pointer he hurriedly shot with about two minutes remaining in the Washington Wizards’ Game 2 loss at the Indiana Pacers, immediately followed by the sight of Indiana guard George Hill ripping the ball away from him on an attempted drive in the waning seconds.
What Wall lamented the most, however, was that the chance to redeem himself wouldn’t come until Friday, when Washington’s Eastern Conference semifinal series with Indiana shifts to Verizon Center for Game 3 tied at one game apiece. To bide his time, the Wizards’ all-star guard did the next best thing — he arrived at Thursday’s practice an hour early and put up shots.
“I’ve been thinking about it all last night and today. The way I played and the way we didn’t play as a team and didn’t play the right way [on] defense,” Wall said of a game in which he had six points on 2-for-13 shooting. “That’s probably the worst game we played in the playoffs.”
The biggest difference between the first two games was Indiana’s Roy Hibbert, who followed his zero-point, zero-rebound performance in Game 1 with a season-high 28 points in Wednesday’s win. The play of the former Georgetown center both invigorated the Pacers and surprised the Wizards, who felt confident in their ability to neutralize the 7-foot-2 all-star following their Game 1 shutout.
“I think the first shot he took was kind of a lucky shot,” Wizards guard Andre Miller said. “That put him in a rhythm. He started to run the court a little bit. We saw on film where he kind of outran all of us and that showed him wanting the ball. He wanted to win and that rubbed off on the rest of the team.”
Wizards Coach Randy Wittman and his players felt they exuded a similar intensity Wednesday, which granted them several opportunities to win down the stretch despite shooting 5-for-21 from three-point territory and producing only one fast-break point. But Wittman said the urgency for the Wizards to dig themselves out of hole they’ve rarely fell into through seven playoff games led to a few regrettable decisions.
“I thought there was a couple instances there we were down three with a minute [and] 24 [seconds remaining] and we played those possessions like there was 10 seconds left,” Wittman said. “It almost felt like desperation on a couple of those possessions we got an offensive rebound on.”
No. 3: Thunder: Clippers Griffin up to his old tricks: — You had to know it was coming after all of the arm wrestling and line dancing that went on in Game 2 of the Thunder-Clippers Western Conference semifinal series. Blake Griffin and Steven Adams got tangled up all night long and they weren’t the only ones. But both have a reputation for getting involved in all sorts of trivial foolishness within a particular game. The Thunder, of course, are blaming it on Griffin. Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman has more:
Blake Griffin is back to his old tricks, mucking up games with annoying antics that have little to do with basketball. His exploits thus far against the Thunder have been more effective than his play.
The Los Angeles Clippers forward already has gotten into multiple mild altercations with Thunder players that have threatened to turn a series that should be an offensive shootout into a slugfest and a beloved hometown kid into a villain.
Seven technical fouls have been issued through two games, and Griffin, despite being at the center of several confrontations, has walked away each time smiling, scot-free.
As the Thunder prepares for Game 3 against the Clippers on Friday night, OKC is getting a sampling of how Griffin gets the best of opponents in a different way.
In Game 1, Griffin suckered Serge Ibaka into a technical foul when he snared Ibaka’s foot while lying on his backside. After taking exception to Griffin’s subtle but strategic ploy, Ibaka attempted to separate his foot by kicking it away from Griffin’s ankles. The nearby official, of course, didn’t catch Griffin intentionally bring his feet together to trap Ibaka. But he did see Ibaka angrily kick his foot away, an action that resulted in a technical foul.
“I was just laying on the ground, and he just kind of kicked me,” Griffin sheepishly explained when asked about the incident after the game.
Griffin tried to conceal a guilty smile. Too late. He was busted.
It’s calculated run-ins such as these that prevent Griffin from becoming a full-blown league darling. His popular Kia commercials might endear him to casual fans, but the most ardent observers see him for something else, a player who baits opponents into reactionary actions while pretending to be oblivious to why he’s a target once the referee turns his attention to the situation.
It’s a strategy that has tainted Griffin’s remarkable basketball ability in NBA circles and turned him into one of the most loathed players in the league.
Griffin, perhaps smartly, doesn’t seem to care.
In Game 2 on Wednesday night, Griffin got tangled up with Steven Adams, the Thunder rookie center who has a growing reputation as an agitator. It was Griffin, however, who got the benefit of the doubt from officials each time the two got tangled.
Griffin’s actions went a long way in Adams being whistled for three fouls in 17 minutes. The most laughable came as Adams transitioned down the court and Griffin intentionally slowed up and allowed Adams to run into him.
But the Thunder might just have to play through the small stuff for the rest of the series.
Griffin is simply doing what he’s supposed to do. He’s searching for any advantage he can against the Thunder. He’s using trivial tactics to get inside his defender’s head. And, to this point, it’s worked. Thunder players have been taken to task by the officials while Griffin walks away without consequence.
It’s been Griffin’s most effective strategy.
No. 4: Brooklyn’s Williams comes up empty when Nets need him most: Deron Williams is supposed to be the face of the franchise in Brooklyn, the catalyst for a team that was supposed to challenge for a championship this season. But he came up woefully short in Game 2 against the Miami Heat Thursday night. In fact, he came up empty, missing all nine of his shots from the floor. It couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Nets, who were in the game until the very end. Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News on the Nets’ invisible man:
History tells us this series is over. The Nets might still win a game. But they don’t have what it takes to win a playoff series against the Miami Heat.
Their problems start, guess where? With the guy who is their most important player.
What a bad night for this to happen, but Deron Williams had his first scoreless playoff game of his career and it was the main story coming out of his team’s 94-82 loss to the two-time defending champs.
Williams’ line on Thursday night was awful: Thirty-six minutes. Nine shots. No makes. And no trips to the foul line. Yes, he had six assists and seven boards. But that was merely silver lining stuff.
If he had been a factor with his shooting and was able to give the Nets his usual 17 points he averaged in their eight previous playoff games, this series could perhaps be tied at 1-1.
But how can anyone look at him as a star when he walked off the American Airlines Arena floor with a goose egg in his 60th playoff game. Sure, Kevin Garnett failed to score in Game 1, but this is an entirely different situation.
Garnett is no better than the No. 4 option in the Nets’ offense, if even that. Williams is No. 2 to Joe Johnson, but is still looked at as the guy who makes the Nets go. Or stop.
Afterward in the locker room, someone asked Williams if this night will be tough to deal with.
“I’ll definitely be thinking about it,” he said.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Sterling family will not be going away quietly … Surprise, surprise, George Karl is interested in getting back into the coaching ranks … Warriors front office and players split on Steve Kerr? … Mark Jackson should have plenty of options, both on and off the court … Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri delivers some powerful words about the atrocities going on in his homeland … Down 2-0, it’s fight or flight time for the Trail Blazers.
ICYMI OF THE NIGHT: Kawhi Leonard went slap off in the Spurs’ Game 2 win over Portland, making it clear that the future of the franchise is already in place in San Antonio …