NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Injuries derail Clippers’ playoff hopes — A healthy roster is often what stands between success or failure during the regular season and the same is true — perhaps even moreso — come playoff time. The Los Angeles Clippers entered last night’s Game 4 in Portland with hopes of returning to L.A. with a 3-1 series edge and, of course, a fully healthy roster. By evening’s end, they had neither. Star point guard Chris Paul suffered a broken hand in the third quarter and star forward Blake Griffin left the game early due to an issue with his troublesome left quadriceps. Our Scott Howard-Cooper was on hand for the game and has more on the state of L.A. after its many losses:
Chris Paul knew.
The way he sat on the bench, the way he stared into some far-away place as emotions appeared to ricochet around his brain, a mix of disbelief and disgust on his face, he could tell even before the short walk to the visitor’s locker room that the season had just turned in a staggering way.
Paul was leaning back in the chair midway through the third quarter Monday night, his left arm draped over the top of the adjacent chair, a relaxed position while his mood was anything but. It’s like he couldn’t believe how everything had gone so wrong so fast. Then, when CP3 did stand up and walk to the locker room to confirm the bad news, he didn’t get more than a few steps before lashing out in frustration with his right leg, kicking what appeared to be a cushion on the floor in front of the Clippers bench.
There was not any attempt to hide the emotions because they would be impossible to bottle up, not from Paul as he left the court in uniform for what may have been the final time this season and not from teammates as they dressed afterward in near silence for the charter flight back to Los Angeles and the new series against the Trail Blazers. The Clippers had been rocked Monday night at Moda Center and there was no way to deny it.
Paul was gone, the victim of a fractured right hand in as he tried to slow Gerald Henderson driving to the basket in the third quarter, an injury that could sideline him weeks, although the Clippers will wait for another evaluation Tuesday before putting a timeline on his return. And Blake Griffin may be gone, at least temporarily, with coach Doc Rivers saying Griffin is 50-50 for Game 5 in Los Angeles after re-injuring the quadriceps tendon in his left leg, the injury that cost him much of the regular season.
The chances of a long playoff run would have been reduced to a microscopic number without Paul, only now the Clippers have to come together in a big way just to get out of the first round while getting worked over by the likes of Mason Plumlee (21 rebounds and nine assists in Game 3, followed by 14 boards and 10 assists in Game 4), Al-Farouq Aminu (30 points and 10 rebounds in Game 4) and Ed Davis (12 rebounds in Game 4).
L.A. doesn’t just have the health issues, after all. L.A. has the health issues mixed with a pressing opponent issue, a resilient Trail Blazers team that spent the regular season upending expectations. The Blazers have now charged back into the series and they enter Game 5 with the momentum and a real opportunity to do more than scare the Clips.…
“We have to take a very collective approach,” guard J.J. Redick said. “Everybody has to do a little more. We’ve been in this situation before. We played for a lot of stretches without Blake this year. I’m not saying he’s going to be out, but he’s obviously feeling something in his quad. And three years ago we had to play for a long stretch without Chris. Last year in the playoffs, the first two games in Houston we had to play without Chris. So we’ve done this before. It’s just got to be a collective effort.”
Starting right away.
“There’s no shellshock,” Doc Rivers said. “What it is is they love their players, their teammates, and Chris is taking this very hard. He’s worked all year to get back to the playoffs and for this to happen to him, he’s an emotional guy and so I think our guys, it’s a neat family and it’s things you don’t ever see, like you guys will never see, but it was a nice thing in the locker room. Everybody, the whole team, is in the locker room and it’s nice in that way. But the reality is that you don’t have Chris Paul.”
And, according to ESPN.com’s J.A. Adande, the prognosis for Paul is looking grim. Adande reports that Paul is ‘done’ for the playoffs:
Two different people with the same two words on the same subject: Chris Paul.
It appears the broken bone in his right hand will keep Paul out for the rest of the playoffs. What does that mean? Well, if we’ve learned from this postseason, it’s that we don’t know what anything means. The terms are too subject to change.
Last year, the Clippers split two playoff road games that they played without Paul. But that was with Griffin playing at a superstar level. Now Griffin can’t even guarantee he’ll play at all in Game 5 in Los Angeles on Wednesday.
“I’m not sure,” Griffin said. “Tomorrow, I think we’ll take a better look and hopefully go from there.”
Asking Griffin to reproduce his 26 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists from Game 1 of last year’s Rockets series is probably asking too much. Asking him to match his 19-12-6 line from Game 1 of this series with Portland could be a stretch. On Monday night, he tried to take off the way he used to, when he dunked on people with reckless abandon. He got fouled by Mason Plumlee, didn’t come anywhere close to throwing the ball through the hoop and soon found himself rubbing his quadriceps on the sideline and even heading back to the locker room to get checked out. He returned to the game, but his gait was noticeably affected.
No. 2: Durant fires back at Cuban over Westbrook comments — The Thunder are moving on to their fifth Western Conference semifinals in their eight seasons in Oklahoma City. All of those runs have come with Russell Westbrook manning the point guard spot alongside fellow superstar Kevin Durant. To Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, though, Westbrook isn’t a star on the Thunder — only Durant is. After OKC closed out the Mavs in Game 5 last night, Durant didn’t hold back in responding to Cuban’s comments (and he and Westbrook also got a shot in on Charlie Villanueva, too). Barry Trammel of The Oklahoman has more:
Cuban, the maverick Mavericks owner, sat courtside pregame and opined that this Western Conference playoff series has two superstars. One per team. Durant and Dirk Nowitzki.
Then Westbrook went out and had 36 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists to lead the Thunder to a 118-104 closeout victory over Dallas, which sends OKC into a West semifinal showdown series with the Spurs.
“He’s an idiot,” Durant said of Cuban, with no small amount of disgust while fielding a question asked of Westbrook. “Don’t listen to him. He’s an idiot. That’s what we’ve got to say about that.”
Westbrook scored nine points in the first 5-1/2 minutes as the Thunder zipped to a big first-quarter lead. The Mavs tried switching defenders in mid-play, to keep Westbrook from his lethal drives, but Westbrook just stepped back and hit back-to-back 17-footers.
Then after Dallas drew within 99-96 down the stretch, Westbrook scored eight straight OKC points to boost the lead back to 107-98.
“I’ll tell you, I’m really really happy he’s on my team,” Billy Donovan said with a smile. Smiles can say as much as words. But Donovan tried anyway. “I wouldn’t trade him for anybody. There’s no question Russell Westbrook is one of the best players in the league. I’m happy I get to see him compete. To me, he’s a superstar as good as anybody in the league.”
Westbrook made 13 of 23 shots. Just as important, his defense was a big upgrade from earlier games. Dallas’ Raymond Felton didn’t get into the lane the way he had in much of the series; Felton finished with 10 points and three assists.
Carlisle, especially, was effusive in his praise for Westbrook.
“I thought Westbrook played beautiful basketball this year,” Carlisle said. “I don’t think there were many people in the basketball world who thought he would be able to turn his game into distributing and scoring. He was special to watch all year.”
“I think the whole league knows, when he makes a pull-up, it’s pretty much unguardable,” Nowitzki said. “He can drive left, he can go right, he can finish at the rim, probably the best offensive rebounding guard the league has ever seen. If he makes that pull-up behind the screen, you high-five him and tell him good game.”
That’s not what the Mavs’ Charlie Villanueva was saying just before tipoff. The Dallas instigator, who famously interrupted Westbrook’s pregame dance in Game 2, sauntered onto the court and lingered behind Westbrook, on the open hardwood. He appeared to be filling Westbrook’s ear. Turns out he was.
“He said a lot,” Westbrook said. “Now he gets to go home and get ready in the offseason to sit and watch 82 more games, like he did this year.”
Ouch. Then came the double ouch.
“He’s an idiot, too,” Durant said of Villanueva.
No. 3: How bad is Curry’s knee injury? — Across the Bay Area and for many NBA fans worldwide, the status of Stephen Curry‘s right knee will be all that matters to them for the next two weeks or so. That’s especially true after yesterday’s news that Curry has a Grade 1 sprain of the MCL in that knee and could miss up to two weeks of playoff action. So when could Curry return? How will the injury affect him going forward? Al Saracevic and Maddie Lee of the San Francisco Chronicle talked with medical experts to get answers to those questions and more:
The good news: Grade 1 MCL sprains are relatively minor knee injuries.
The bad news: Recovery could take a few days … or two weeks … or three weeks … or six weeks.
“It’s definitely one of the better diagnoses to have because he’s not going to need any surgery for it and he can really be expected to make a full recovery within a few weeks,” said Dr. Alexis Colvin, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
But like most any sports injury, the prognosis for recovery is not an exact science. One must rest the injury, treat it and see how the patient recovers.
“Grade 1 is the lowest grade of MCL injury. It involves tears of the collagen fibers (that make up the MCL), but it’s typically not grossly visible. It’s microscopic,” said Dr. Marko Bodor, a sports-medicine and rehabilitation specialist at Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa. “The prognosis is typically excellent for complete recovery in a matter of three to six weeks. You can push that return sooner, depending on how the patient feels and how it looks on the MRI.”
So, now the Warriors and their fans enter the day-to-day guessing game surrounding Curry’s recovery. There will be plenty of speculation, but the decision will come down to team doctors, working in concert with the team’s best player.
“We’re exploring some different options in terms of treatment, but right now, it’s things like rest and ice,” said Warriors general manager Bob Myers in a news conference. “Ten years ago, this would have been characterized as a knee sprain. … It’s hard to ascertain when he’ll be back.”
Curry will be reevaluated in two weeks, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be back on the floor that soon. It’s not out of the question, either.
“We took an educated guess,” Myers said. “It’s unclear whether a player’s ready in two weeks, or three. … I think it’ll be somewhere in that range, hopefully. He’s pretty sore right now.”
“Two weeks? I think it’s optimistic, yeah. But I think it’s realistic, too,” Bodor said. “A grade 1 sprain could be anything from a recovery of a few days to six weeks, because a grade 1 still has different levels that you just don’t know unless you were to open it up or use imaging that’s more detailed.”
Whether Curry and the Warriors choose any of those options remains to be seen. The team needs to be careful about rushing Curry back too soon.
“What you worry about in these situations with high-level athletes is if he’s going to go back in there and he’s not fully comfortable, could he hurt something else? That’s always the concern,” said Dr. Murali Moorthy, with Muir Orthopaedic Specialists in Walnut Creek. “But based on the MRI, it sounds pretty good that he could be able to play in two weeks, if needed.”
No. 4: Coaching market led Lakers to cut Scott — The Los Angeles Lakers fired coach Byron Scott overnight Sunday, ending his two-season stint in which he went 38-126. Scott shepherded the Lakers through the Kobe Bryant farewell-tour season of 2015-16 and coached a rebuilding, young squad the season before that. Although the Lakers wanted to take their time in deciding whether or not to keep Scott, other coaching transactions in the NBA ultimately forced them to move sooner than expected. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times has more:
The Lakers wanted to ease into their decision on Byron Scott, let the emotions subside from a scarred season before plunging into whether he would stay or leave as their coach.
Then Tom Thibodeau was hired by the Minnesota Timberwolves, Scott Brooks was snapped up by the Washington Wizards and the Lakers realized they needed to act quickly if they wanted to fill a potential coaching vacancy.
So Lakers executives Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss told Scott on Sunday night he wouldn’t be retained, thrusting the Lakers into their fourth coaching search since Phil Jackson retired in 2011.
It’s going to take some time, and the initial list shows about a dozen candidates.
“It’s a no-stone-left-unturned philosophy,” said a person familiar with the situation.
The Lakers’ list includes three distinct tiers — former NBA head coaches, current NBA assistant coaches and college head coaches.
Jeff Van Gundy, Lionel Hollins and Mark Jackson are headliners for the first tier.
Luke Walton and Ettore Messina are current NBA assistants in a tier that represents a compromise of sorts.
At the college level, Kentucky’s John Calipari and Connecticut’s Kevin Ollie will be considered.
The draft is June 23, and if the Lakers manage to get a top-two pick, they probably would take one of two gifted forwards — Louisiana State’s Ben Simmons or Duke’s Brandon Ingram. The third pick is far less certain; a glut of players have yet to distinguish themselves at the level of Simmons and Ingram. The Lakers might even try to trade the pick if they end up third on lottery night.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Mike Conley wants the Memphis Grizzlies to make some roster upgrades if they expect him to stick around … How new Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks hopes to put his stamp on the team … Hassan Whiteside was miffed over the foul calls in Game 4 against the Charlotte Hornets … Kevin McHale is reportedly a candidate for the Sacramento Kings’ coaching vacancy … Grizzlies center Marc Gasol is apparently advising his brother, Pau, to sign with the San Antonio Spurs …