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Morning shootaround — April 13


VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors ready for shot at No. 73 | Kobe’s finale is here | Report: Wittman likely done in Washington | Rockets not sweating final gamePistons’ Jackson: ‘I want to go and fight Goliath’

No. 1: Warriors ready for their shot at 73 A mere 48 minutes (and a victory, of course) is all that stands between the Golden State Warriors and a place all their own in NBA history. A win tonight against the visiting Memphis Grizzlies (10:30 ET, ESPN) gives the Warriors a 73-win season, surpassing the 72-win mark set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. The players on the team understand the weight of the moment ahead and while they somewhat wish they had wrapped this goal up sooner, they are nonetheless excited about tonight. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has more:

“We have an opportunity to do something that no one has done,” Stephen Curry said. “So many great players have suited up, and for us 15 guys to say we’ve accomplished something as a group that’s never been done before, that’s remarkable.

“We earned the right to have a 48-minute game to eclipse the mark, and we have to go out and finish the job.”

Finishing the job means beating Memphis on Wednesday for what would be the Warriors’ 73rd win of the season, a mark not accomplished in NBA history and a standard that might not again be touched.

No team had won 70 games before the Bulls won 72 in 1995-96, and no team had threatened their record in the two decades since then — until this season.

“It would have been cool to take care of the games we were supposed to take care of and have it already out of the way, but the way this thing has played out, to be at home and have one shot it, it’s pretty amazing,” power forward Draymond Green said.

“It’s there for us now, so we’re going to try to get it, but the end-all, be-all for me is the championship ring,” center Andrew Bogut said. “That record, I don’t think it’s going to get broken again, but you never know. Five or 10 years down the track, that record could be broken.

“The records in 2015 and 2016 that say ‘champions’ won’t be. That’ll never change.”

The Warriors have juggled their attention between setting a seemingly immortal regular-season record and defending their championship all season. They finally decided that the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Even during Tuesday’s practice, one that head coach Steve Kerr missed for a doctor’s appointment, the record was not mentioned. Instead, the Warriors watched video and drilled fundamentals.

“Our minds can’t switch strictly to that championship until this game is over,” lead assistant coach Luke Walton said.

Green has been more outspoken than anyone about his desire to chase the record.

On Monday, he decided to reward three high schoolers with the chance to witness history by giving each of them a pair of tickets to the game. He’s not worried about his gesture looking like a prediction of victory or becoming bulletin-board material.

“You can’t not talk about it at this point. The whole world is talking about it now,” Green said. “… It’s everywhere. There’s nowhere to hide from it now. …

“I’m definitely not predicting a loss.”

As for the Grizzlies, they have no intention of rolling over and taking a loss. ESPN.com has more here:

“They’re chasing history,” Memphis forward Matt Barnes said after the Grizzlies’ 110-84 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night. “We have a chance to interrupt history. Playing in Golden State, I know how alive that crowd is going to be, and I’m going to be very excited to be part of that game.”

Coach David Joerger said he expects the Grizzlies to rise to the occasion against the Warriors.

“It’s for history, baby,” Joerger said. “We’re going to give it our best shot.”

The injury-riddled Grizzlies have fought for their playoff hopes for the past two months but are in free fall, having lost nine of their past 10 games and three in a row. With Tuesday’s defeat, they dropped into a tie with the Dallas Mavericks for sixth place in the Western Conference.

“Yeah, the emotional tank is a little bit empty right now,” Joerger said.

“You also know that sitting out there 24 hours you’ve got a chance to be the answer on every Trivial Pursuit card for the next 75 years. We’ll see what we’re going to do with that tomorrow.”

***

No. 2: Throng of media await Kobe’s farewell; Bryant unsure how he’ll react to final game — Well, it’s finally here. After months and months of build up for the last game in the storied career of Kobe Bryant, game No. 82 in 2015-16 for the Los Angeles Lakers has arrived. The Lakers host the playoff-hopeful Utah Jazz (10:30 ET, ESPN2) and the amount of media on hand to cover the game is unlike anything ever seen, writes Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com:

In fact, by Tuesday afternoon, between 400 and 500 media members were issued credentials, said Lakers’ longtime publicist John Black, who called those figures “completely unprecedented” for a regular-season game during his 26-year tenure with the team. That group includes about 60 international media members, NBA spokesman Tim Frank said.

Black said such a media onslaught is comparable to one for a conference final game.

The Lakers and the NBA had declined more than 200 credential requests by Tuesday afternoon, Black said, though he added that requests were still pouring in for the game, the last of Bryant’s 20-season NBA career.

For a regular-season game at Staples Center, the Lakers can at most accommodate between 225-250 media members, Black said, meaning that many will have to cover Wednesday’s game from the arena’s press room.

Those media members will represent 15 countries: Brazil, Australia, South Korea, the Philippines, Turkey, China, Taiwan, France, Italy, Argentina, Chile, Germany, England, Japan and Mexico.

“For a regular-season game, that’s astronomical,” Frank said, “and it could have been more, but we had obvious space limitations.”

For comparison, Frank said for an average regular-season game, five or six international media members might be credentialed, and in Los Angeles that figure is routinely 10 to 12.

Perhaps one of the most apt comparisons to the media crush for Bryant’s final game came on March 19, 1995, when Michael Jordan returned from retirement to face the Indiana Pacers at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis.

Jordan announced his decision to return to the NBA the day before via a fax. At the time, David Benner was in his first year as the Pacers’ media-relations director when he heard from a Bulls reporter that Jordan was returning.

“The game was at noon the next day and it was nationally televised,” Benner recalled. “It was already sold out before it happened and we were already filled with media before this happened. Next thing you know, instead of a game without Michael, it became an event.”

Suddenly, the number of credentialed media increased from 80 to about 300 in a span of 24 hours, but the Pacers were able to seat only 150 of them, Benner said, adding that they also had to turn down anywhere from 100 to 150 requests.

“All we could do at the time was say, look, I can give you a credential, I can’t promise you a seat,” Benner said. “We didn’t have the capability in 24 hours to just change like that. So we essentially just said, we’ll give you a credential, and you’ll likely cover the game in the press room, but you’ll get in.”

But the Lakers’ situation is different, if only because Bryant announced in late November that he would retire at the end of the season, giving the Lakers more time to prepare.

Still, the fact that it’s a regular-season game limits the Lakers’ ability to block off media seating because those sections are sold out to fans who already bought tickets, creating a logistical logjam in terms of seating media.

On top of that, Bryant has had as many as two personal camera crews documenting every game of his final season for a potential film, but he’ll have as many as six crews shooting his final game.

As such, Black, who said he has been receiving 50 email requests every hour for days on end, has taken to calling the game a “zircus”, meaning both a zoo and circus.

Flea, the bassist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, will play the national anthem, and there will be a tribute video. About two dozen of Bryant’s former teammates are also expected to attend, including Shaquille O’Neal, with whom Bryant won three championships.

As for the man himself, Bryant is unsure exactly how he will react once this finale gets rolling. Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News is as close a Kobe follower as any and has more on that storyline:

The video tribute will likely play longer. The notable celebrities will likely become larger. The endless cheers will likely sound louder. The private gifts will likely become grander.

Yet, as Kobe Bryant has inched closer and closer toward playing his last game in a sport he has forever loved, the Lakers’ 37-year-old star insisted he has avoided becoming emotional about it. He has done so mainly because he has forced himself not to think about that moment.

Coach Byron Scott also chuckled when he shared he has refused to grant friends any extra tickets other than the four he already has set aside for family members.

“There’s going to be tons of people in the stands and they’re going to be on the streets,” Scott said. “The ones that couldn’t get into the game will be on the streets hoping to get a glimpse of Kobe coming out.”

Will those fans see Bryant maintaining the same steely persona that has mostly defined his 20-year NBA career? Or will Bryant show a vulnerable side after projecting his indestructible image for so long?

“Tough to say. We’ll see,” Bryant said. “So far, I’ve been pretty cool about everything. I’ve been very thankful about everything. I’ve been very happy about everything. It hasn’t really hit me yet. We’ll see if it does.”

So Bryant has said he will stick to his usual pregame routine that will involve resting, icing, stretching and massage therapy. Bryant then plans to report to Staples Center several hours beforehand for more shooting and treatment.

During that buildup, Scott conceded he will likely think about coaching and watching Bryant play basketball one last time. Yet, Scott initially sounded skeptical on if he will become teary-eyed.

“I can’t. I’m a man’s man,” Scott said. “I’m not going to be crying there and all that. I don’t think.”

Moments later, Scott admitted he will likely sit in his office for a prolonged time after the game thinking about Bryant’s career.

“I’m going to have so many emotions that will go through my body and through my mind,” Scott said. “Because of him and 20 years I’ve known him. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

After nursing major ailments for three consecutive seasons, Bryant logged only 28 minutes per game in the 2015-16 campaign and appeared in 65 out of 81 games. Instead, Scott said Bryant will play an unspecified minutes that could exceed his season-high 37 minutes he played Nov. 20 against Toronto.

Scott also plans to play Bryant between 10 minutes to 12 minutes in the first quarter.

“When that quarter is over, I’ll talk to him again,” Scott said. “It’ll probably be at halftime when I see how he’s feeling. That will determine the minutes he’ll play in the third quarter and fourth quarter.”

“The fans deserve it. They’re paying a lot of good money for Kobe’s jersey and for the tickets for years and years,” Lakers forward Metta World Peace said. “The NBA got a billion-dollar TV deal and a lot of it had to do with Kobe. He’s a superstar. They deserve to see this.”

Scott argued Bryant deserves to see this, too.

“His competitive nature and the way he went about his business gained him a lot of respect around the world. This farewell tour was something that was much needed,” Scott said. “He’ll look back and really appreciate the way the fans treated him on the way out.”

Before that happens, Bryant will do something that has become so customary for two decades.

He will play basketball, try to win and provide a memorable performance.

“I feel really excited and very happy, ” Bryant said. “I’m looking forward to lacing them up one more time.”


VIDEO: Ultimate All-Access: Kobe Bryant

***

No. 3: Report: Wittman likely done in Washington — Back in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, Randy Wittman was bumped up from the assistant coach’s chair to the lead one with the Wizards, compiling an 18-31 mark that included eight wins in the team’s final 10 games. He was given the full-time job in the offseason and led Washington to back-to-back appearances in the Eastern Conference semifinals 2014 and ’15. This season was filled with promise, too, but the Wizards have basically crumbled and are out of the playoffs. That sudden downturn in such a pivotal season — as well as other aspects — means Washington’s game tonight against Atlanta tonight (8 ET, NBA League Pass) will likely be Wittman’s last. Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post has more:

But Game No. 82 doesn’t hold any significance beyond the possibility of completing a lost season with a .500 record.

It wasn’t supposed to conclude with a meaningless contest in mid-April. Based on preseason prognostications, the Wizards should be preparing for the playoffs, maybe even resting players for a postseason run that would last at least until the middle of next month as it has the last two springs. But while the Hawks will continue on to the postseason, the Wizards’ unsatisfying season will come to a close Wednesday, setting the stage for a pivotal summer overhaul that could begin in earnest with a coaching change.

Wednesday will mark the end of Randy Wittman’s fourth full campaign and perhaps his tenure as head coach in Washington. Next season will be the third year of his three-year contract, which pays him more than $3 million per season. But it isn’t fully guaranteed and NBA sources say he is unlikely to return for the 2016-17 campaign. Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld has at least another guaranteed year left on his contract and is expected to return for his 14th campaign as the organization’s chief decision-maker.

The team’s ascension was supposed to continue this season, but it hit an unexpected snag as it unsuccessfully assumed a new up-tempo playing style while freeing salary cap space for this offseason. The defensive identity vanished, and the Wizards sank from fifth in the league in defensive efficiency to 15th and from second in opponents’ field goal percentage to 24th.

Friction between Wittman and players was also apparent. Players, including John Wall and Jared Dudley, openly questioned coaching decisions — such as rotations and the lack of in-game adjustments — throughout the season. The relationship between Wittman and Marcin Gortat, already chilly, got icier after Wittman called Gortat out after a blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in November. With one game left on the schedule, the disharmony and disappointing results have created a belief among players that Wittman senses he won’t be back.

What is certain is Washington’s upcoming roster makeover. Unless luck falls on their side and the draft lottery catapults them into the top three of the draft order, the Wizards won’t have a pick in June’s draft after trading their second-round selection as part of a package to acquire Kelly Oubre Jr. on draft night last June and shipping a top-nine protected selection in their Feb. 18 trade for Markieff Morris. But they will be very active otherwise.

Trading players under contract next year and beyond is also a possibility as the Wizards seek to acquire a top-flight talent either through free agency or a trade. Washington will have the cap room to absorb a big contract: Based on the projected $90 million salary cap for next season, the Wizards will have $27,410,635 in cap room plus a $2.898 million mid-level exception the league grants teams under the cap. Additionally, under league rules the Wizards can go over the cap to re-sign some of their own players.

Washington envisioned jumping into the offseason with positive momentum, with a shiny deep postseason run to use to coax top free agents — maybe even Kevin Durant— and take the next step in the NBA’s pecking order. But it didn’t happen as imagined and the Wizards can only hope the offseason produces better results.

***

No. 4: Rockets say there’s no pressure in final game — It’s a simple formula for the Houston Rockets tonight: win against the Sacramento Kings at home (8 ET, NBA League Pass) and a playoff spot is theirs. A loss, coupled with a Utah Jazz win against the Los Angeles Lakers, though, puts Houston on the outs of the postseason roughly a year after they made it to the Western Conference finals. In this letdown of a season, Houston has a chance to make things right and is not sweating a worst-case scenario, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Even before the Rockets knew that their playoff chances would return entirely to their hands, they decided they would act as if no other games mattered.

When the Mavericks held off the Jazz on Monday after the Rockets’ win in Minneapolis, the Rockets moved into eighth in the Western Conference. With a win on Wednesday against the Sacramento Kings, the Rockets would clinch the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs, with a first-round match up with the Golden State Warriors to begin either Saturday or Sunday in Oakland.

If they lose to the Kings, they would need the Jazz to lose to the Lakers on Wednesday in Los Angeles to advance.

“We don’t want to put pressure on ourselves,” Rockets center Dwight Howard said. “We know the situation that we’re in. The best thing to do right now is just play. We control what we can control. We can’t look at different scenarios and hope this team loses and this team plays bad. We’ve just got to go out there and handle our business.”

“We’re not being over-anxious,” Rockets forward Josh Smith said. “That’s what we need to do to stay focused. We got to worry about what we can control. The next game is Sacramento. We have to worry about taking care of business.

***

No. 5: Pistons’ Jackson glad to be facing Cavs in playoffs — The Pistons lost at home last night to the Miami Heat, assuring Detroit of the No. 8 spot and a first-round showdown with the No. 1-seeded and Eastern Conference defending-champion Cleveland Cavaliers. That might be a fearsome order for a team stocked with playoff newbies like the Pistons, but don’t tell that to starting point guard Reggie Jackson. After last night’s loss to the Heat, he was chomping at the bit to face the Cavs next, writes Rod Beard of the The Detroit News:

The Pistons are in the playoffs for the first time since 2009, but even the challenge of facing the top-seeded Cavaliers doesn’t seem daunting.

Point guard Reggie Jackson said the Pistons are looking forward to playing Cleveland in the opening round, regardless of the perceived mismatch.

“I love it. The world’s not picking us anyway and they’re supposed to be the title contenders from the East. If we’re not favored anyway, you may as well get your crack at them,” Jackson said.

“David may not have wanted to fight Goliath but I don’t want to fight Goliath’s homeboy or little brother — I want to go and fight Goliath.”

The Pistons (43-38) have won two of the three meetings this season against the Cavaliers (57-24), including a surprising 96-88 win on Feb. 22 in Cleveland, which ended a five-game skid and jump-started a four-game winning streak that helped turn the season around.

Jackson is the only Pistons starter with playoff experience and the longest-tenured Pistons, Andre Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, will be making their first forays into the postseason.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Confused about tonight’s playoff scenarios? Let us clarify what can happen for you … The Utah Jazz know much of their playoff fate is out of their control … The New York Knicks will reportedly interview ex-star point guard Mark Jackson for their coaching vacancy …  Stephen Curry lost in a game of P-I-G to Los Angeles Angels relief pitcher Joe Smith … Do some players on the Chicago Bulls believe Jimmy Butler gets preferential treatment? … Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd may be on shaky ground with the team’s brass … Marv Albert is going to call Olympic basketball for the first time since 1996 … 

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