VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 2
NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Spurs (yawn) set more marks — San Antonio has been so good for so long – 19 consecutive seasons of 50 victories (or the equivalent in 1998-99’s 37-13 post-lockout finish), five NBA titles – that it hardly seems possible for the Spurs to top themselves. But they did that Saturday, beating Toronto to set a franchise mark for victories in a season and extend their perfect mark this season at the AT&T Center. Interesting that on such a memorable night, it wasn’t Tim Duncan, Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili leading the way but rather Kawhi Leonard (career-high 33 points) and LaMarcus Aldridge (31 points, 15 rebounds). As usual, Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News was there to chronicle it:
The Spurs’ 64 wins – next to 12 losses – set a franchise record, snapping a tie with the 63-win squad from 2005-06.
The 39-0 mark at home continued the best single-season streak in NBA history. The Spurs’ 48th consecutive regular-season win at the AT&T Center continued a streak rendered the longest active home streak in the league after Golden State lost a night before to Boston.
None of this information made coach Gregg Popovich’s postgame speech.
“There’s not much we’re allowed to care about,” guard Danny Green said. “We made the playoffs. We care about that. Being healthy and winning games in the playoffs – those are the things we care about.”
With the playoffs two weeks out, Popovich wasn’t much impressed by the Spurs’ seven-point win over a Toronto team resting All-Star guard Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
He didn’t think his defenders did a good job of staying in front of the Raptors’ wing players. He thought his team’s offensive execution was satisfactory for only about a half.
Popovich said he wanted to get meaningful minutes for most of his starters, and accomplished that.
“We got that done,” Popovich said, “but we didn’t play great.”
Even so, the Spurs can go a ways in the playoffs with Aldridge and Leonard producing nights like Saturday.
It marked the first time the Spurs had two players reach 30 points since a Dec. 28, 2012 win over Houston, when Tony Parker and Tim Duncan hit that threshold.
Against the Raptors, no player other than Aldridge or Leonard reached double figures.
Yet the Spurs still doled out 28 assists, led by Leonard’s seven, proof that the ball still moved.
If Popovich seemed typically curmudgeon-like in his postgame comments, it wasn’t any big departure from his in-game demeanor. Consider his reaction when guard Patty Mills, on a 1-for-6 night from 3-point range, finally hit his lone long ball in the fourth quarter:
Although Kerr said he doesn’t believe players are consciously weighing the feat, he thinks the pressure and attention their chase of the record has drawn is having an effect.
“I do think the constant questions and talk about — whether it’s home win streak or record or whatever — I think all that stuff does take its toll, whether the players know it or not, whether it’s a conscious thing or not, and it probably has taken a little bit away from, as I said, our process or our work.”
When asked if he experienced something similar when his Chicago Bulls team set the record with 72 wins in 1996, Kerr answered in the affirmative.
“It’s exactly the same,” Kerr said. “Honestly, it was exactly the same. Constant media questioning about the streak.”
Kerr posited that the attention had an impact on how that Bulls team finished the season.
“In fact, if you look back at that season, we lost two home games in the last week, 10 days of the season, both by a basket or one point,” Kerr said. “We were, I think, I want to say 37-0 or something that season at home, and we lost two of our last four. When we did break the record, in Milwaukee, I still remember it. It was a horrendous basketball game. We won like 85-80 or something. So yeah, it was like the same kind of thing. Constant scrutiny, little slippage in our execution, eking out wins, so it does feel the same way.”
Those Bulls did in fact cede two of their last four at home with one-point losses to the Charlotte Hornets and Indiana Pacers. Kerr’s memory of the record-breaking game in Milwaukee was off by only one point, as the Bulls won 86-80.
For months, Kerr has been less publicly enthused about the wins record than his players, but he indicated that it does matter to him.
“I care,” he said. “I think it’d be a great feather in our cap, caps, whatever.”
No. 3: Pacers need to snap out of it — The Indiana Pacers have been a mess lately. While their backslide in the Eastern Conference standings was halted briefly Saturday, it had less to do with the quality of their play than with the Chicago Bulls’ own struggle in a home loss to Detroit. Pacers coach Frank Vogel has been pushing button like the plant manager in a nuclear meltdown, some of them in an effort to, well, just do something. That’s how the tweak to Indiana’s starting lineup looked after a regrettably difficult game against lowly Philadelphia, according to Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star:
… [When] a team keeps folding up in fourth quarters as the Pacers have, and treats late March games with the same urgency as late October exhibitions, the coach can never feel too comfortable.
When asked if he personally feels pressure, Vogel interrupted.
“To get this group playing well?” Vogel said, finishing the question. “Absolutely. Very motivated to get this thing right. I’m not happy with how our overall results have been.
Most important thing in any season and in particular with our recent struggles is finishing strong and playing your best basketball during the playoffs. That’s the goal and that’s still very attainable.”
So that’s why Vogel made big changes before facing the Philadelphia 76ers.
In a surprising development, Vogel moved Lavoy Allen into the starting lineup, replacing rookie Myles Turner, who will now play as the backup center. In spite of the move to the bench Turner played nearly 27 minutes, more than his season average, including the majority of the fourth quarter. Allen played 12 minutes and finished a minus-8 while on the floor as part of the ‘new’ starting lineup that got outscored by 30 points to the Sixers.
So the relaunch of the Allen-Ian Mahinmi starting lineup produced only 54 points, but the reasons behind the move should be more troubling.
On Thursday night, the Pacers’ future appeared to be flatlining. The Orlando Magic, a team that has already faded far from the postseason picture, blew out Indiana. With that loss, the Pacers had dropped three of four games, and they did not look particularly playoff ready in the previous two home wins against New Orleans and Philadelphia on March 21 and 24, respectively. So in the hours after the Orlando loss, Vogel began devising a plan.
“We needed to give our team a spark,” Vogel said Saturday night about the Pacers (40-36).
On Jan. 28, Vogel used almost the exact same phrasing as he explained his then-risky move: starting the teenager, Turner. Before that January night, the Pacers were mired in a funk, losers of six of seven games. Once again on Saturday, Vogel presented his idea with great belief – as well as with a hint of desperation.
“(Vogel) said we need to get back rolling, we need to get back on track and whatever he thinks needs to be done, hey, I respect him for doing it,” said Jordan Hill, who has fallen out of the rotation in favor of Solomon Hill playing as the new backup power forward.
“I think we’ve got a little feeling that we were already straight and already locked and loaded for the playoffs and we kinda got a little lagged off,” Hill continued, “and we can’t do that.”
No. 4: Jazz’s Exum waits, watches, learns — The Utah Jazz miss Dante Exum and Dante Exum misses the Jazz. In fact, the latter might dwarf the former, as far as a young presumed NBA star being blocked by injury from practicing his craft. But Gordon Monson of the Salt Lake Tribune got up-close-and-personal with Exum, the No. 5 pick in the 2014 Draft, to find out what sort of silver lining he and his team can take from Exum’s lost sophomore NBA season. Looks like they’ve found one:
His mind, essentially, has caught up with his body, with where the hint and promise of his physical attributes have carried him.
“It’s given me an opportunity to kind of work on everything that I need to work on, and step back from the game and be able to learn,” he said. “Being away from playing, and seeing the team, you get to kind of realize how we can get better.”
How he can get better.
How everything can get better.
It’s been 241 days since the anterior cruciate ligament in Exum’s left knee blew while he was playing for Australia against the Slovenian national team. The sickening pop in the joint sounded on that occasion a little like the pronunciation of the town where it happened: Ljubljana.
Since that time, Exum has undergone surgery, staring down fear and frustration in the aftermath, carefully following a regimented rehab that now has him moving and shooting on the court, everything short of absorbing contact.
He knows he will not play this season, his efforts aimed at a fresh competitive start in 2016-17, which no longer seems all that far off. And while Exum called his experience since the injury “a long path,” regenerating strength in both his knee and brain, he said that journey has been anything but lost time. It set him back and now is bouncing him forward.
“There are a lot of mental aspects that you have to overcome,” he said. “Obviously, not playing is the biggest one. Still trying to be part of the team in any way you can,” is another. And a third: “Trying not to play in fear of an injury again.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Another Utah player, Alec Burks, is going to put his rehabilitative work to the test as soon as this week. … Portland is getting hot at the right time, writes CSNNorthwest.com’s Jason Quick. … Former Atlanta Hawks center Pero Antic is suing the New York Police Department, with Hawks wing Thabo Sefolosha due to do the same this week, alleging false arrest, assault, battery and other civil rights violations in its handling of an April 2015 incident outside a Manhattan nightclub. … The NBA is supposed to be about entertainment, but this year’s edition of the Chicago Bulls has been anything but, says Jon Greenberg for The Athletic.com. … Considering Isaiah Thomas‘ role in beating Golden State Friday and ending the Warriors’ home unbeaten streak, our own Ian Thomsen picked a good time to file a lengthy profile on the Boston Celtics’ ultra-confident scorer. … And lest you think all NBA legends are inclined to go “old school” on today’s players, most notably Golden State’s Steph Curry, Hall of Famer Nate (Tiny) Archibald is an unabashed fan of the Warriors guard. … It figures that C.J. McCollum would sit for a Q&A with a magazine/Web site famous for its initials. … Let’s show a little respect for the numbers that Miami’s center is putting up