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Morning shootaround — April 4


VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pippen: ’96 Bulls would sweep Warriors | Kobe takes final Celtics matchup seriously | Griffin just glad to be back in mix | Wizards’ playoff hopes fading fast

No. 1: Pippen: ’96 Bulls would sweep Warriors — As the Golden State Warriors have gotten closer and closer to a 73-win season — which would break the 72 wins set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls — retired NBA players far and wide have chimed in on the looming accomplishment. Some of them have been not too supportive of the Warriors or their style of play, but few members of that ’95-96 Bulls team have had much to say about it … until now. Scottie Pippen, the second fiddle to Michael Jordan on that 72-win team, didn’t hold back when asked about the Warriors during an interview event in Houston. ESPN.com has more on what Pippen said:

The Golden State Warriors are closing in on the NBA record for most victories in a single season, set by the Chicago Bulls in 1995-96.

But Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen evidently doesn’t think Golden State would match up well with his record-setting Chicago squad. In a recent interview, he said the 1995-96 Bulls would sweep the Warriors in a hypothetical series between the teams.

“Bulls in four [games],” Pippen said during an interview at an AT&T event in Houston.

Pippen was then offered a chance to clarify his prediction and was asked whether he thought the Bulls would have an off-night against Golden State.

“I don’t think we’d take a night off,” he said.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr was a reserve point guard on that Bulls team. Asked about the comparison before Sunday’s home game against the Portland Trail Blazers, a 136-111 win, Kerr said it didn’t bother him.

“First of all, it’s a really hard question to answer,” Kerr said. “Not just because you’re comparing eras, but literally it’s tough for me to answer, grammatically, because I don’t know who ‘we’ is and who ‘they’ are. I’ll just say if the two teams play each other, there’s no question we can beat us and they can beat them.”

Kerr said it was tough to compare the teams because of their differing eras.

“For example, if you actually put the teams in a hypothetical game, my guess is the Bulls would be called for a million hand-check fouls, and we would be called for a million illegal defenses when we overloaded the strong side,” Kerr said. “So the game would take, like, six hours because the refs would be calling stuff all game. It’s kind of hard to get past that. Now, they wouldn’t call traveling in either era.”

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No. 2: Kobe ‘dead serious’ in final showdown with Celtics — Goodwill, smiles and warm memories have been in excess this season whenever Kobe Bryant bids has his final matchup with each team on the schedule. Not so on Sunday night, though, as his bitter rivals — the Boston Celtics — came to L.A. for the final time in Bryant’s career. As Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com details, Bryant was particularly focused for this game and all the memories that team entails for Kobe:

In fact, Los Angeles Lakers coach Byron Scott noted that Sunday marked the first time in a while that Bryant was “dead serious” for an entire game.

“If you guys were watching his body language, watching his facial expressions, he wasn’t joking around tonight,” Scott said. “He wasn’t smiling with other opponents. He wasn’t talking a lot.”

The Celtics came out on top, 107-100, at Staples Center in what was Bryant’s 44th game against the Celtics, which counting the regular season and playoffs is his most against any Eastern Conference foe.

Bryant finished with 34 points on 11-of-28 shooting, including 4-of-11 from 3-point range, in 33 minutes.

And he heard Lakers fan chant “Boston sucks” once more.

“It’s weird,” Bryant said. “It’s the last time facing that green.”

Bryant faced the Celtics twice in the NBA Finals, losing in 2008 and then winning in 2010. He has long maintained that the 2010 Finals win means the most to him of all his five championships, because the Lakers were able to rebound and win in seven games after being embarrassed by 39 points in a Game 6 loss in Boston in 2008.

“It was really big. We were part of the history, of the rivalry,” Bryant said. “There’s no way we could go down in history as being remembered as the team that lost twice to the Celtics. With all the history that has gone on, there’s no way. So above even winning the fifth championship, it was more like not disappointing the memory of this organization and the rivalry that’s been there for decades. That was more important.”

Bryant recalled how grueling Game 7 was in 2010. He shot 6-of-24 from the field but finished with 23 points and 15 rebounds, including sinking 11 of 15 from the free throw line.

“That was the toughest,” Bryant said. “My knee messed up throughout the playoffs and I had to get it drained and all this other stuff and I could barely bend it. My finger was broken. There was a lot of stuff going on, [including] a bone chip in my ankle. There was a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff going on in that series that we had to kind of tend to. Aside from just the energy that it took to pull it through, there was a lot of physical things. I was jacked up.”

It was mentally taxing, too.

“Yeah, it was psychologically draining to try to prepare for these guys, because they have so many weapons,” Bryant said. “You’re staying up all night trying to figure out the schematics of things and communicating to the guys — that portion of it was mentally draining. And then figuring out how are the guys feeling. Are they ready? Are they feeling the pressure? Are they nervous? It’s all those things that I was trying to manage aside from then preparing myself for the games.”

“Obviously, he wanted to win this one badly, but I don’t know if the other guys understand this,” Scott said, “and hopefully, in time, they will.”

Bryant is also unsure about the younger generation’s knowledge of the NBA’s past.

“The guys that don’t get it, I don’t understand it,” Bryant said. “If you’re a basketball player, you want to know everything about the game, like the history of the game. I wonder how many of them have actually seen Bird play or seen Magic play for that matter. They weren’t even born [back then]. Some of them were barely born when I first started playing. The idea of seeing Bird playing and Magic and James Worthy and all these guys is probably a really foreign concept to them, which is really strange.”

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No. 3: Griffin glad to be back in Clippers’ mix — For the first time since Christmas Day 2015, Blake Griffin was back in the lineup for the Los Angeles Clippers yesterday. Although his return didn’t set the box score on fire — six points, five rebounds, four assists in 24 minutes — he was mostly happy to be out of a suit and back in a uniform as L.A. readies for the 2016 playoffs. Robert Morales of the Long Beach Press-Telegram was on hand for Griffin’s return and has more on how Griffin thinks he fared in it:

Griffin understandably struggled at times. He finished with six points on 2 of 7 shooting, five rebounds and four assists in 24 1/2 minutes. But the Clippers defeated the hungry Washington Wizards 114-109before a sellout crowd of 19,060 at Staples Center.

“It was just nice to be back out there,” Griffin said. “That’s really the main takeaway. I had a blast being out there. Rhythm was pretty bad, my conditioning was a little bit better than I thought it was going to be. But not great by any means.”

The talk of the day centered on Griffin’s return. The Clippers went 30-15 without him. He showed glances of the Griffin the league has come to know. With 6:51 to play in the first quarter, he threw down a dunk off a lob pass from Paul in transition.

…“It was like, ‘Please don’t throw it too high,’” he said, drawing laughter. “Normally I’m ready to go for those, but sprinting like full-court and then going up, I was a little worried.”

Griffin sustained a partially torn left quad tendon on Christmas night against the Lakers. It’s better, but still torn.

“I feel good right now,” he said post-game. “But the key is tomorrow, the key is the next few days. That’s my biggest concern.”

Doc Rivers assessed Griffin’s performance.

“I thought he looked fine,” he said. “His conditioning was OK, his athleticism was good. But his timing was a little off, so it’s what it is.”

It was obvious at times that Griffin was not happy with his play. His shot was short and he had butterfingers on a couple of passes.

“I am glad he is hard on himself,” Rivers said. “It is what makes him Blake. Blake is going to be Blake. Players know who they are. When they do not play well or play to their standards, they get frustrated and they get over it.

“That is what makes them great. It is the average guys that do not get over it. The great ones tend to get frustrated and then are fine the next day.”

DeAndre Jordan suggested Griffin’s return was fuel for his team’s fire.

“He has been out for what feels like the entire year, but our energy was definitely a lot higher than what it has been the past couple of weeks,” Jordan said.


VIDEO: Blake Griffin talks after his first game back with the Clippers

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No. 4: Disastrous trip out West has Wizards fading fast — A season after making the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Washington Wizards find themselves this morning on the outside looking in for the 2016 playoffs. After a home loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on March 24, the Wizards went on their final West coast road trip with hopes of getting back in the playoff picture. Yet they went 2-3 on that trip (including yesterday’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers) and are running out of time for the postseason, writes Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post:

The Washington Wizards understood the thorny situation they put themselves in with a dreadful double-overtime home loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves two Fridays ago. To compensate for the debacle and stand a real chance to advance to the postseason, they needed to go at least 4-1 on their five-game, eight-day West Coast trip.

The Wizards failed.  They lost three of the games, the final a 114-109 defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday to plunge to 37-40 and 3.5 games behind the Indiana Pacers for the Eastern Conference’s eighth playoff spot with five games left on the schedule. Indiana also owns the tiebreaker.

“We wish we could’ve gone 4-1 or 3-2 at that,” Wizards guard Bradley Beal said. “We got a lot of things to improve on. Hopefully we get all five of these. It’s definitely disappointing. We wanted to get more than what we got coming out here. We got to put this behind us and move on.”

Washington isn’t mathematically eliminated from postseason contention but will need a minor miracle to advance to the playoffs for the third straight year. The analytics website FiveThirtyEight.com pegs the Wizards’ chances to make the playoffs at eight percent. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index Playoff Odds has it at five percent.

“We still feel good,” Wizards point guard John Wall said. “We knew it was going to be tough to come in here and get a win.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Why Stephen Curry vs. Damian Lillard often is not a fair fight … The Utah Jazz are on the verge of reportedly getting their own NBA D-League franchise soon … New York Knicks interim coach Kurt Rambis went on a strange Arron Afflalo-fueled rant yesterday … Houston Rockets guard Jason Terry is no longer a candidate for the UAB coaching vacancy … Atlanta Hawks forward Kent Bazemore (wrist) doesn’t expect to miss any of the team’s final five games … How do younger players vs. veteran players affect free agency? … ICYMI, Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari says he’s done for the season … Former Atlanta Hawks big man Pero Antic has filed a civil suit against the NYPD … 

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