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Morning shootaround — April 21


VIDEO: Highlights from Wednesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry still iffy for Game 3 | Pistons’ Johnson on LeBron: ‘I’m definitely in his head’ | Report: Blatt, Rambis top names on Knicks’ list | New era begins in Minnesota

No. 1: Curry improving, but not quite fully healthy yet Game 3 of the Golden State Warriors’ series with the Houston Rockets is tonight (9:30 ET, TNT), but the status of the Warriors’ star player, Stephen Curry, remains as unknown as it was yesterday. Although Curry took part in practice on Wednesday, neither he nor team officials were ready to declare him ready to play tonight. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has more:

Go ahead and exhale, Warriors fans: Stephen Curry returned to practice Wednesday.

Go ahead and fret, Warriors fans: Curry would not declare himself game-ready.

He joined his teammates for their workout at Toyota Center, his first extended, on-court session since he injured his right ankle Saturday. Curry was encouraged by how the ankle felt, but not enough to peer confidently toward Game 3 against Houston on Thursday night.

“Based on how I feel right now, I probably couldn’t play,” he said after Wednesday’s practice. “Tomorrow, it could be different. … The trainers are trying to get me right, but how I feel on the floor is a big part of it.

“That’s why I didn’t play in Game 2. I tried to simulate moves I’d probably have to do in the game (during warm-ups), and I couldn’t do it. If that happens tomorrow at full speed, then we’ll adjust accordingly.

“Obviously, my heart is geared toward playing and being out there with my teammates.”

 …

Head coach Steve Kerr hears all the chatter about the Warriors proceeding cautiously with Curry because they hold a two games-to-none lead on the Rockets. This logic suggests the Warriors can beat Houston without him, as they did Monday night, but they will need him to win another championship.

Kerr, naturally, narrowed his vision after Wednesday’s practice. He insisted he will rely only on the guidance of team doctors, and input from Curry himself, in deciding whether No. 30 suits up for Game 3.

“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” Kerr said. “Honestly, it doesn’t even matter the series score. It’s nice to be up 2-0 and say we’ll give him rest, but it really isn’t about that.

“It’s about whether he’s OK or not. And if he’s not quite OK and there’s a risk of him injuring himself or making it worse, then we won’t play him.”

The Warriors practiced for more than an hour after their arrival in Houston, but they did not scrimmage. Curry participated in all the drills, then went through his customary, post-practice shooting routine.

Kerr said Curry moved well during the practice, showing no signs of favoring his ankle. That was a striking contrast with the start of the second half Saturday, when Curry tried to play but lasted less than three minutes before Kerr removed him, worried about his obviously limited mobility.

There were times in Curry’s shooting session when the ball repeatedly and strangely bounced off the back rim. There also were times when he found his familiar rhythm, draining 8 of 10 three-point attempts during one stretch.

He acknowledged some concern about becoming rusty if he sits too long. If Curry doesn’t play Thursday night, and returns for Game 4 on Sunday, he will have gone seven full days without any game action.

“I’m definitely encouraged,” Curry said of Wednesday’s time on the court. “It’s better, and as long as it’s continuing to get better, I think we’re in good shape.

“How quickly that happens, I don’t know. Today was, in the words of Ice Cube, a good day.”

***

No. 2:  Pistons rookie on LeBron: ‘I’m definitely in his head’ — A war of the words emerged in the series between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons shortly after Game 1. Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy publicly criticized officials after his team’s Game 1 loss for how they were (or were not) calling fouls on LeBron James, an offense for which Van Gundy was fined. James said he wasn’t getting into a battle of barbs with Van Gundy or the Pistons. The chatter continued into Game 2 — which our Steve Aschburner was on hand for — and afterward, Detroit rookie Stanley Johnson (who often guards James) said he’s getting in LeBron’s head:

Just as James had shrugged off some of the noise coming Monday and Tuesday from the Pistons’ headquarters up in Michigan — where they had retreated for the two days between Games 1 and 2 in the Eastern Conference playoff series, rather than staying in Cleveland — he would not give them the satisfaction of dominating his thoughts or comments afterward.

In between, though, James gave some of the yapping Detroit players, particularly rookie Stanley Johnson and forward Marcus Morris, some of the guff and grief they had vowed to throw at him. Johnson, in particular, had risen to pest level by talking boldly about how he planned to match up and counter with James, including declaring it “on” if the competition between his 19-year-old self and the Cavs’ superstar reached a certain pitch.

Dismissive in words, James actually was far more engaged in deeds. Besides the game-high 27 points he scored, including 14 in the second quarter, the Cavs forward had multiple run-ins with Johnson. There was a shoulder shiver he gave the 6-foot-7 opponent from Arizona when they crossed paths during a timeout in the first quarter. There were some exchanges at both ends after plays in which James got the better of Johnson.

There was a ferocious dunk in the second quarter, too, James going primal when he slammed down a pass from Matthew Dellavedova. He grabbed the rim, gyrated and emoted, the crew on Cleveland’s bench raucously joining in.

James didn’t go easy on Morris, either, who had scored 20 points in Game 1. This time, the Pistons forward missed eight of his 10 shots, appeared to let that rattle him defensively and finished with 11 points. When James hit his first of two 3-pointers, he scrunched up his face and shook his head, bewildered why Morris hadn’t bothered to contest his open shot more aggressively.

Later, with about six minutes left and Detroit long clocked out, things turned nasty. James had barreled down into the paint only to get hit by first Andre Drummond, the Detroit center, then Morris. One of the blows appeared to hurt, James grabbing at his ribs close to his left armpit.

He could be seen saying something to a referee and then to teammates on the bench. Lip readers were fairly certainly he went with “I’ll [bleep] that [bleeper] up!”

James wasn’t about to give them the satisfaction of dwelling on the Detroit crew in his comments afterward. But Johnson and Morris weren’t shy.

“I’m definitely in his head. That’s for sure,” Johnson said in the visitors dressing room late Wednesday. “I wish he would just talk when [the game] is 0-0, not when he’s up 16.”

Johnson unloaded not just on James but on his fellow Cavs, some of whom don’t play all that much.

“He jabbers,” Johnson said. “He moves his mouth sometimes. Their whole team does, kind of like their little cheerleaders on the bench. Every time you walk in the right corner. They’re always saying something like they’re playing basketball, like they’re actually in the game. There’s only seven or eight players who play, I don’t see why the other players are talking. They might as well just be in the stands, in my opinion.”

And then somewhat cryptically, Johnson said of James: “He’s going to have to strap his shoes in every night tight because I’m going to strap my shoes in every night tight.”

Morris pushed back hard too, when someone suggested that James was threatening him with the “[bleep] that [bleeper] up!” remark. “I know for a fact he wasn’t talking to me,” Morris said. “You can quote me on that.”

***

No. 3: Report: Blatt, Rambis at heart of Knicks’ search — We can’t blame you if you haven’t been able to keep track of all the names on the coaching wish list for the New York Knicks. There’s interim coach Kurt Rambis, former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt, ex-Golden State Warriors coach (and current ESPN analyst) Mark Jackson and current Warriors assistant Luke Walton to name a few. According to Ian Bagley of ESPN.com, though, only two names — Blatt and Rambis — have the eye of Knicks president Phil Jackson:

The New York Knicks’ coaching search remains focused, for now, on interim head coach Kurt Rambis and former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt, league sources told ESPN’s Marc Stein.

Team president Phil Jackson loosely discussed the Knicks’ head-coaching vacancy with Golden State Warriors assistant Luke Walton last week, but sources say that the Knicks, at this point, are not seriously considering anyone beyond Rambis or Blatt.

Jackson and the Knicks did not reach out to ex-Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau to discuss the club’s vacancy before Thibodeau agreed to accept the Minnesota Timberwolves’ offer to become coach and team president on Wednesday, sources said.

The Knicks could yet elect to broaden their search, with no need to rush the decision since they have no first-round picks in the upcoming June draft, but Jackson’s desire for Rambis to take over full time is well documented.

Blatt, though, continues to be the only other known candidate besides Rambis after guiding Cleveland to the NBA Finals last year before his abrupt firing in January with the Cavs leading the East at 30-11. No coach in league history had been dismissed in-season with a higher winning percentage than Blatt’s .732.

Blatt is a known quantity to Knicks general manager Steve Mills, who played with him at Princeton.

Other available names of coaching veterans with ties to either Jackson or the Knicks include Brian Shaw, Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy and Patrick Ewing.

***

No. 4: New era begins in Minnesota — The Minnesota Timberwolves hired Tom Thibodeau as their new coach and president of basketball operations yesterday (and hired San Antonio Spurs assistant GM Scott Layden as GM, too). Minnesota has not made the playoffs in 12 years and while it has a young core in Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng and others, has a lot of room to grow, too. In hiring Thibodeau, writes Jim Souhan of The Star Tribune, the Wolves at last have some direction that has been missing for years:

The Minnesota Timberwolves hired Tom Thibodeau to be their head coach. That is the best possible move they could have made, and it is encouraging for more than the obvious reason — that Thibodeau is good at his job.

It’s also encouraging because the Timberwolves immediately identified him as the best available head coach, and hired him quickly and after firing former favorite son Sam Mitchell.

Wolves owner Glen Taylor, maestro of so much former dysfunction, acted quickly, decisively, aggressively and correctly, and in doing so may be creating a powerhouse NBA franchise even as he edges toward the exit.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The NBA has reached a new partnership with Econet Media in Africa … The Miami Heat gave recently deceased guard Dwyane “Pearl” Washington a tribute last night … Indiana Pacers center Ian Mahinmi (back) remains questionable Game 3 … Speaking of the Pacers, cool story about a family of ball boys on the team … Sacramento Kings fan favorite Quincy Acy is reportedly opting out of his deal this summer … 

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