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Morning shootaround — March 16


VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs get into playoff mode | Anthony: ‘Phil ain’t coaching no more’Gallinari ‘weeks away’ from return to Nuggets’ lineup

No. 1: Spurs settling into playoff mode — It’s hard to say the season to date has been anything but a success for the San Antonio Spurs. They’ve won 42 straight games at home dating back to last season, lead the NBA in Net Rating (13.5) and, at 57-10, have the league’s second-best record (trailing only the 60-6 Golden State Warriors). Last night, they pulled away from the Los Angeles Clippers in a 108-87 victory that further states the Spurs’ case as a true contender. Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com was on hand and has more on how San Antonio is shifting into its postseason gear:

When San Antonio downed the Los Angeles Clippers 108-87 on Tuesday to capture its 33rd consecutive victory this season at the AT&T Center, the Spurs held a one-point advantage entering the fourth quarter before David West and Patty Mills combined for 15 points to lead an onslaught in which they outscored the visitors 37-17 in the final 12 minutes. That allowed them to post their 20th win by 20 points or more, which ranks as the most in the NBA.

So as the Spurs trend toward postseason form, guard Manu Ginobili still believes there are “so many things” the team needs to improve, which makes film sessions with coach Gregg Popovich interesting to say the least.

“Once you listen to Pop dissecting the video, you think, ‘Wow, we could be really good. I mean, we are making all these mistakes, and we’re the best defensive team in the league,’” Ginobili joked. “I think [in] the playoffs, that determination … sometimes in the 70th game or the 58th, you’re a little relaxed and you have sort of a cushion. So hopefully, when we need those wins, everybody’s gonna be very focused and we can improve a little more. I think overall on this stretch, we’ve been very good.”

San Antonio remains undefeated in its latest stretch, having played three games in six days at home against the Chicago Bulls, Thunder and Clippers. The club closes out the homestand with outings Thursday and Saturday against the Portland Trail Blazers and the Golden State Warriors.

“It’s very important,” Ginobili said. “You always want to test yourself against the best. This week, we’ve had the Thunder, the Clippers, the Blazers, the Warriors too. So it’s a very important week, and we want to do good. You can lose a game. That’s not the point. We want to get better. We want to match up against everybody and see how we react. The first 50 games of the season, we hadn’t been successful against the best teams. So we need these types of wins, and they’re happening.”

Kawhi Leonard’s play ranks as one of the major reasons the Spurs have trailed a total of just 9 minutes, 37 seconds in 396 minutes played in the fourth quarter this season at the AT&T Center.

“It was great,” Popovich said of Leonard’s performance. “Obviously [Leonard’s] length and his ability to guard a number of people, but I think it was a good change up for [Paul] to see something different.”

Added Ginobili: “Now we are used to it. So we are spoiled. Our best offensive player is our best defensive player, too. He’s young. He’s hungry. He’s talented, physically very gifted, and he can do it all. It’s no secret that’s one of the main reasons we have 85 percent wins. He’s been amazing.”

Others seem to have followed suit. Entering the matchup against the Clippers, new addition LaMarcus Aldridge put together seven consecutive outings in which he produced 20 points or more, averaging 25.3 points over that span to go with 10.3 rebounds and 1.43 blocks while hitting 57.5 percent from the field. Aldridge contributed 17 points and six rebounds against the Clippers.

It’s clear the adjustment “process” Aldridge described earlier in the season has finally come to a close, aided by a stretch in late January and early February in which Tim Duncan was forced to miss eight games due to knee soreness. Duncan’s absence accelerated Aldridge’s acclimation.

“It’s a subjective thing, but I think it’s logical to think that may have been a little bit of a catalyst where he realized he had to do some things, and there wasn’t anybody else to defer to as far as bigs are concerned,” Popovich said. “That probably had a little bit to do with it. But it’s also been a process where he’s become more comfortable in the offense; catching it in different places than he was used to. And it was a process for me, too; to give him the ball more in places that he was used to. So a little bit of both. Then, as time went on, his confidence level went up. When he would miss shots, he would realize that we don’t care. We care if you don’t shoot it when you’re open. If you miss them, we don’t care. We can’t control that.”

“Yeah, it’s the big picture and everyone is on the same page with that goal, understanding we’ve got a much bigger picture that we’re looking at, and these are just little examples throughout the way that are good for our development,” Mills said. “This stretch of games is good for us this time of year.”

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No. 2: Anthony denies notion Jackson will coach again — In a story by ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne earlier this week, she reported that there had been talks within the New York Knicks of team president (and Hall of Fame coach) Phil Jackson coaching Knicks home games next season. As you’d expect, that idea left Knicks fans both excited and a little confused as to how having two different coaches in a season would work out. But star forward Carmelo Anthony squashed talk of Jackson’s return to the bench after Tuesday’s practice, writes Marc Berman of the New York Post:

Carmelo Anthony declared it a lousy idea for Knicks president Phil Jackson to return to the sidelines next season, saying the 70-year-old’s too old for the job. Anthony added he wouldn’t even approve of a scenario in which Jackson would coach just home games.

Anthony didn’t sound overjoyed with interim coach Kurt Rambis either, giving a lukewarm endorsement. Anthony said he’d be OK with Rambis’ return, but Jackson also should talk to “other candidates.”

One of the top candidates is Luke Walton, assistant coach of the Warriors, whom the Knicks face Wednesday at Oracle Arena.

“Phil ain’t coaching no more, man,’’ Anthony said Tuesday. “Let’s kill that rumor. Phil ain’t coaching no more.”

“I don’t think that should be accepted, I wouldn’t accept that if that was the case,’’ Anthony said of the home/road split. “That would be tough to do. Phil’s cool. He doesn’t need to be on the sideline anymore. He put so many years into the game. He doesn’t need to be on the sideline. I don’t think he’s thinking about coming back on the sideline. I hope not.”

Jackson, who did not accompany the Knicks to the Bay Area, staying back in LA, recently gave strong support for his buddy Rambis during a press conference at Staples Center, saying he’s “perfectly capable.’’

Anthony only went so far.

“I think he should consider Kurt at that job,’’ Anthony said after the Knicks practiced Tuesday. “I think he brought in Kurt for that reason if anything was to happen [with Derek Fisher]. I think it’s how Kurt handles the situation right now, how the team does and responds to Kurt. But you still have to go out there and at least listen to other candidates.”

Jackson was emphatic when he fired Fisher last month that he would never return to the sidelines due to health concerns. The ESPN report suggested Jackson has gotten in better shape in recent months, having lost 20 pounds. Jackson, soon after taking the presidency, mentioned his fiancee Jeanie Buss trying to convince him to return as coach.

Rambis said there’s been “no talk’’ of that home/road split-coaching arrangement, but remembers it being bandied about in Los Angeles when Jackson was mulling one of his returns to the Lakers.

“That’s old news,’’ Rambis said. “That was something we talked about – and it was never even close to coming to fruition – but it’s something we talked about years ago. Not with the Knicks. It never gotten even close to something realistic. It was years ago.’’

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No. 3: Faried leaves game vs. Magic; Gallinari’s return a ways off — The Denver Nuggets are building toward the future behind rookies Emmanuel Mudiay and Nikola Jokic as well as youngsters Kenneth Faried and others. They have been without their top scorer, Danilo Gallinari, for the past nine games as he recovers from two torn ligaments in his right ankle. Faried may be hurt now, too, as he left last night’s game against the Orlando Magic after just 14 minutesof playing time while Gallinari is ‘weeks away’ from a return, too. The Denver Post‘s Christopher Dempsey has more:

Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried found getting around tougher as Tuesday night’s game against Orlando wore on — and he was eventually felled by a sore back.

He played just 14 minutes.

Faried, who was subbed out with 5:58 left in the third quarter, did not play again.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone said he was not aware of any back issues that would have kept Faried from returning to the game. Malone, instead, pointed to performance.

“He never mentioned anything about his back,” Malone said. “Aaron Gordon got going against him to start that third quarter; that group was not playing well. I just cannot sit there and watch. I’m going to make changes and get guys in. I thought (Darrell Arthur) came in and gave us great effort. It was just a matter of trying to find a group that would guard a little bit.”

Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari was out on the court pregame in both Miami and Orlando, doing some standstill shooting and movements to help rehab his ailing right ankle.

But the Nuggets’ leading scorer remains a long way from returning to action, Malone said.

“Yeah, I’d say he’s weeks away,” Malone said. “That would be the best way I could phrase it without having a definitive timetable.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Luke Walton ran practice for the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday because coach Steve Kerr had an appointment … P.J. Hairston has been added to the Memphis Grizzlies’ ever-growing injury listPhiladelphia 76ers fans had a really creative chant going in last night’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets … Tobias Harris has fit in pretty nicely with the Detroit Pistons since being traded there last month … Must-read excerpt about Kwame Brown and the Washington Wizards from Jonathan Abrams‘ new book about the preps-to-pros phenomenon … The Milwaukee Bucks may soon add Jared Cunningham to their roster … Injury-plagued New Orleans Pelicans granted injury exception to allow them to sign ex-Trail Blazers guard Tim Frazier … Making the case for why the Golden State Warriors deserve a shot at getting 73 wins

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