VIDEO: Highlights from Monday’s games
NEWS OF THE MORNING
Mavs clinch playoff berth | Lakers mum on Kobe’s minutes in finale | Thompson supplants Mozgov in starting lineup | Report: Rambis will be back in some capacity; Knicks eye Blatt | Report: NBA restricting Colangelo’s access with Team USA
No. 1: Williams, Nowitzki push Mavs into playoffs — By the time last night’s Mavs-Jazz showdown in Salt Lake City got started, the Houston Rockets were well on their way to a win in Minnesota. That meant the log jam for the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds in the Western Conference got that much tighter thanks to No. 9 Houston’s soon-to-be victory. Behind the play of two Mavs long hated by Jazz fans — Dirk Nowitzki and ex-Utah star Deron Williams — Dallas won to clinch a playoff berth for the 15th time in Nowitzki’s 18 seasons. Eddie Sefko from The Dallas Morning News has more:
The two most hated Mavericks in Utah dragged their team into the NBA playoffs Monday night.
Dirk Nowitzki, always a villain in the eyes of Jazz fans, and Deron Williams, whose unceremonious departure from Utah was a major reason beloved coach Jerry Sloan resigned, spent Monday sticking needles in the Jazz and sewing up their spot in the playoff party with a 101-92 victory.
The Mavericks won their way into the postseason the same way they had put together a six-game winning streak that ended Sunday at the Clippers. They used stifling defense and a sensible, slow pace to grind the Jazz into submission.
They led 86-71 with five minutes to play, but the Jazz pared the deficit to 88-80 with 2:42 to go, forcing Carlisle to call a timeout. Wesley Matthews came up with a tough 3-pointer that swished for an 11-point lead, and the Mavericks were able to make enough free throws to wrap up their 15th playoff berth in Nowitzki’s 18 seasons.
His teammates said they saw a look in Nowitzki’s eyes at the start of the game, like he was in no mood to miss the playoffs. He acknowledged he felt great going into the game and wasted no time showing that with 10 first-quarter points, setting set a terrific tone for the Mavericks.
“We got some guys who wanted to make the playoffs,” Nowitzki said. “I think not a lot of guys gave us a chance looking at our roster before the season.
“We made the playoffs in a tough West. That’s good. But we’ve been in the playoffs a couple times since the championship, and we’re always a first-round exit. So hopefully we’ll keep this momentum and see what happens.”
Williams, who had 23 points and six rebounds, is despised in Utah. He gave them another reason to not care for him Monday.
“It was a playoff game because there was so much at stake,” he said. The booing, he added, “got me going out there. Not only the booing, but the stuff that was being said. It definitely got me going.”
Williams also believed the Jazz’s youth worked against them in what was the biggest game of the season for both teams.
VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki talks after the Mavs’ big win in Utah
Kobe Bryant’s career has almost ended. There are few details left to ponder about Wednesday’s finale.
His playing time against the Utah Jazz is still a mystery.
“I know the fans, they would love to see [him] out there for 48 minutes,” Lakers Coach Byron Scott said Monday. “That’s not going to happen, I can tell you that.”
Scott was reluctant to reveal how many minutes he and Bryant agreed upon for Bryant’s career-capper, but indicated it would be more than any other game this season.
The 37 minutes Bryant played in November against Toronto didn’t translate to a lot of activity — he had 10 points on five-for-13 shooting.
He scoffed at playing the entire game Wednesday when asked about it a couple of days ago. That only happens in video games these days, he added.
“If he could have practiced every day, he would have, but that would have been a detriment to him and us,” Scott said. “We just felt it was best a long time ago to just say, ‘Hey, let’s shut down practice and try to save your legs as much as possible so you can play these games.’
“He’s seen everything on both ends of the floor that you can possibly do. There wasn’t nothing that we were going to do defensively with adjustments that he hadn’t seen. So it was real simple when he came in for the game… to say, ‘This is what we’re doing defensively. This is how we’re guarding these plays.’ He’s got it.”
And as Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com reports, the Lakers (and Bryant) are gearing themselves up for an atmosphere that will be like no other come Wednesday night:
“I feel really excited and very happy and I’m looking forward to lacing them up one more time,” Bryant said Monday after his team’s 112-79 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena, the 677th and final road game of his career.
The Lakers’ goal all season has been to manage Bryant’s minutes and health so that he can play in his final game. Now, they’ve reached that point.
“It’s going to be bananas Wednesday night just getting to the stadium and the festivities in there and the game going on and all that,” Lakers head coach Byron Scott said after his team fell to 16-65. “When the game is over it’s going to be crazy to get out of Staples Center. There’s going to be tons of people in the stands and they’re going to be on the streets. The ones that couldn’t get into the game will be on the streets hoping to get a glimpse of Kobe coming out. I think it’s going to be crazy. But again, we have a chance to celebrate one of the best players that ever played the game this season.”
Scott said he plans to stick to the same routine for Bryant’s final game.
“Now throughout the day will I be thinking every hour that goes by that we’re getting closer to the finale for this man’s career? Yeah,” Scott said. “But you still go through your normal routine and try to get to the stadium at the same times and things like that. But I know before they even tip up and before the game, him and I will meet briefly and probably look at each other and give each other a big hug and say, ‘This is it.’ Hopefully we’ll end it out hopefully the right way.”
For now, Bryant is just glad to be on the court after Achilles, knee and shoulder injuries ended each of his previous three seasons. In fact, Bryant said Monday that the greatest accomplishment of his career is the fact that he returned to action after each injury.
“It’s tough to muster up the motivation to have to keep coming back from season-ending injuries, man,” he said. “It’s very, very tough.”
Bryant added, “What I did was ask myself, ‘Do I want to come back from this?’ And if the answer is yes, then I focus on that being the end goal and then I focus on the day-to-day activities, and that’s a very hard thing to do, because it’s easy to look at the process, the length that it takes to recover, and you get very discouraged with that. The hard part is concentrating on what you’re doing in that moment, and it takes a lot of concentration to be able to do that step by step. That’s the key.”
Scott said he’s not sure what emotions will come over him Wednesday when his former teammate, Bryant, bids adieu to the game of basketball.
“I’m a man’s man,” Scott said. “I’m not going to be crying. … I don’t think. I’m going to have so many emotions that will go through my body and through my mind. Because of him and 20 years I’ve known him. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I just know after the game, I’m going to sit at my locker for a while and reflect back on one of the greatest guys I’ve ever been around and one of the greatest competitors I’ve ever been around, as well.”
No. 3: Thompson named starting center for Cavs — Injuries made a mess of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ frontline during the 2015 playoffs. Yet, the team still reached The Finals in large part because of the rebounding work Tristan Thompson put in throughout the team’s playoff run. The Cavs are hoping he has another dose of that in him as he will be the team’s starting center from now on, supplanting Timofey Mozgov, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com:
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said he is making Tristan Thompson the Cavs’ starting center for the foreseeable future — including to start the playoffs.
Lue previously swapped Thompson in for Timofey Mozgov in the starting lineup in the Cavs’ 105-102 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Saturday.
When asked for his motivation behind the move, Lue said Monday, before the Cavs’ 109-94 win over the Atlanta Hawks: “I just wanted to.”
Thompson is averaging 8.4 points on 59.9 percent shooting and 10 rebounds in 32 starts this season and 7.6 points on 58.7 percent shooting and 8.5 rebounds in 48 games coming off the bench.
“It’s the same thing, it makes no difference,” Thompson told ESPN.com prior to the Hawks game. “Come in, play hard, rebound, defend, finish around the rim. The same thing I was doing with the second unit. It’s just that you got to do it from tipoff instead of just reading the game to get a feel. You got to go out there and set the tone. So, stay out of foul trouble and do what I need to do.”
Lue has previously made matchup-based decisions at center, keeping the 6-10, 238-pound Thompson as a reserve when the Cavs’ opponent featured some of the league’s space-eating big men.
One such big man, the 6-11, 279-pound Andre Drummond, would be Thompson’s challenge in the post in the first round of the postseason should the standings hold. The Cavs are currently in the No. 1 spot and the Detroit Pistonsare currently No. 8.
“He’s an All-Star and he’s playing very well this year, averaging 14 and 14 or whatever it is,” Thompson told ESPN.com of Drummond, who is putting up 16.3 points and 14.8 rebounds per game this season. “He’s a big part of the team and he’s a big guy, but at the same time, I got to do what I’m good at to make him uncomfortable just using my quickness and speed and trying to find ways to frustrate him. So, I’ll be fine. I’m too young to be worried about if my body is going to take a beating. So, I just got to be ready to play.”
No. 4: Report: Rambis will be back in some form with Knicks; Report: Blatt on team’s wish list — Tonight’s game against the Indiana Pacers closes the door on a season for the New York Knicks (7 ET, NBA League Pass) that has been a letdown in many ways. As the team prepares to enter its offseason a day earlier than most teams, several names have been rumored as coach for next season. Among them: current interim coach Kurt Rambis, ex-Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, Charlotte Hornets (and ex-Knicks legend) Patrick Ewing and, now, apparently ex-Cavaliers coach David Blatt. According to Marc Berman of the New York Post, Rambis will be with the team in some capacity come 2016-17:
Whether Kurt Rambis is Knicks head coach for the last time Tuesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse hasn’t been determined. What has been determined is Rambis will return in some capacity next season — whether as offensive coordinator or assistant general manager, according to sources.
That’s part of the reason Rambis talks about the Knicks’ future as if he’s definitely part of it. Two weeks ago, Knicks president Phil Jackson told confidants he had not made up his mind on his former Lakers triangle compadre, who will carry a 9-18 record into the Knicks’ season finale against the Pacers.
The Post reported last week Jackson still was heavily considering Rambis because it would allow him greater input. A subsequent online report stated Jackson was “pushing” for an extension for Rambis. That same website backtracked Monday and claimed Jackson has been intrigued by former Cavaliers coach David Blatt.
A source told The Post Blatt would be a long shot — unless Jackson decides to start passing the torch to GM Steve Mills, who played in the same backcourt at Princeton as the former Cavs coach. Blatt, an Israeli coaching legend, was an usher at Mills’ wedding, and The Post reported last June Mills has brought his name up to owner James Dolan in the past. It would be a neat compromise, if Jackson is to leave after next season as his contract allows.
If Jackson keeps Rambis as head coach — along with the triangle offense — it would be a sign he is committed to finishing out his five-year contract that expires in March 2019.
Many fans are baffled by Rambis’ involvement, even if some of the logistics of the move make perfect sense. Despite his denials, Rambis is a Jackson puppet, and the Zen Master will have a lot of control on the day-to-day goings-on.
As usual with the Knicks and their personnel decisions, there are many moving parts to this situation. According to Chris Broussard and Ian Bagley of ESPN.com, Blatt is now among the names on the team’s wish list:
New York Knicks interim coach Kurt Rambis continues to get strong consideration to become the team’s full-time coach, but team president Phil Jackson does intend to speak to other available candidates, according to league sources.
Sources told ESPN.com on Monday that former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt is among the names who interest the Knicks.
NBA coaching sources told ESPN’s Marc Stein at the time of the firing that Blatt was intent on coaching in the league again as opposed to immediately returning to the European game, where he was hugely successful at both the club and international level.
If Blatt were to get serious consideration for the Knicks position, it would indicate Jackson is not restricting himself to candidates who run his preferred triangle offense.
Rambis has a 9-18 record as interim coach. He is close with Jackson, having worked two stints as an assistant coach under him with the Los Angeles Lakers, joining him for four of his 11 championship rings.
Jackson last publicly addressed the Knicks’ coaching situation in March during the team’s West Coast road trip and said then that Rambis is “perfectly capable” of coaching the club on a full-time basis.
“Kurt and I have a relationship that goes back to 2001,” Jackson said. “He knows the ins and outs, what pleases me and [what] probably I want to have changed. … We have a relationship that’s much more tight” than Jackson’s relationship with the fired Derek Fisher.
No. 5: Report: NBA restricting Colangelo’s access, power with Team USA — With last week’s departure of Sam Hinkie, the Philadelphia 76ers have a new braintrust in the form of Jerry Colangelo and his son, Bryan, who was officially named team president on Sunday. Jerry Colangelo, however, still wears the hat as managing director for USA Basketball and those dual roles may have the NBA concerned. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, the NBA is restricting Colangelo’s power with the national team:
Because rival teams protested about the potential for conflicts and player tampering after Jerry Colangelo partnered his duties as chairman of the Philadelphia 76ers and managing director of USA Basketball, the NBA restricted Colangelo’s reach in an apparent attempt to limit his access and influence over star players, league sources told The Vertical.
Among rival executives, there was concern that Colangelo’s powerful pathways and year-round lines of communication to elite American players could be leveraged into a free-agent advantage for the 76ers.
Within weeks of Colangelo’s hiring as 76ers chairman of basketball operations in December, the league office informed the NBA Board of Governors of new limitations on Colangelo’s ability to communicate directly to players outside of USA Basketball activities and how much formal impact he can have in the final voting process for national team and Olympic rosters, league sources said.
After the hiring of Colangelo’s son, Bryan, a two-time NBA executive of the year, as the 76ers president of basketball operations on Sunday, Jerry Colangelo relinquished his title of chairman of basketball operations for the 76ers. He will keep a title of special adviser to Philadelphia ownership, and league sources said the new guidelines will continue to apply to Jerry Colangelo as long as he has a working agreement with Philadelphia.
Beyond an ability to communicate with superstars on the senior national team, Colangelo’s role with USA Basketball delivers him the freedom to control opportunities for NBA talent via invitations to training camps and select team rosters.
The specific guidelines that apply to Colangelo: While he still is part of the group that selects the Team USA roster and Olympic player pool, he is no longer allowed to vote for the final national team and Olympic rosters as a member of the USA Basketball board of directors, and he must make opposing general managers aware of any contact with their players or their players’ agents, league sources told The Vertical.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Boston Celtics will be fighting for the No. 4 seed in the playoffs in their season finale … Simply put for the Houston Rockets: win and they’re in the 2016 playoffs … Utah Jazz fans booed former star (and now-Dallas Mavs guard) Deron Williams lustily last night. He used it as motivation, of course … Speaking of the Jazz, attendance for their home games is back on the rise … Who wins in an NBA 2K simulation between the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls and the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors? …