Morning shootaround — May 25


VIDEO: Highlights from Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Dirty Delly or just playing hard? | Steph has never been better | Cramps don’t stop LeBron this time | Rockets vow to get tougher

No. 1: Dirty Dellavedova or just playing hard? — Perspective is everything when you’re talking about the impact of Matthew Dellavadova in these playoffs for the Cleveland Cavaliers. In Chicago and Atlanta, where players from opposing teams have fallen victim to Delly’s hustle (or some would say dirty tricks), there is no debate. He’s up to no good. But in Cleveland, where he’s revered for being the hardest working man in the building every night, he’s become something of a cult hero. He added another chapter to his story when he got tangled up with Atlanta Hawks All-Star center Al Horford in the Cavaliers’ Game 3 overtime win, a game Horford was ejected for after elbowing Dellavadova. Our very own Steve Aschburner offers his perspective on “Delly” and the name (good and bad) that he’s made for himself in these playoffs:

The range of characterizations for what transpired was vast. It was a bad break for the Hawks. A foolhardy response by Horford. An expert but helpful-to-the-Cavs ruling by the referees (Dellavedova got a technical foul but stuck around to score 17 points and hit four of nine 3-point shots). Another instance of the Aussie guard’s high-energy, do-anything tactics that have a way of getting Down Under opponents’ skin.

That was the beef from some of the Hawks, a lot of TV viewers and across the Twittersphere — that this was no isolated incident but instead was the latest in a pattern of Dellavedova taking down or taking out key players for Cleveland’s rivals.

The recent run of plays that have left opponents worse off began with Game 5 of the East semifinal against Chicago. Pushed to the floor by Bulls forward Taj Gibson, Dellavedova — while face down — locked his legs onto one of Gibson’s legs. When the Chicago player kicked free, the kick was caught by the referees, the replays and an outraged Quicken Loans Arena crowd. Gibson was hit with a flagrant-2 and, with the Bulls already playing without big man Pau Gasol, ejected early in the fourth quarter from what became a two-point game in the final minutes.

On Friday, in Game 2 against Atlanta, Dellavedova dived for a loose ball and slammed into Hawks guard Kyle Korver‘s right leg. With both players grimacing from the collision, the Cavs guard rolled over, leaving Korver with a postseason-ending high-ankle sprain.

That led to Sunday’s play, with at least one of Horford’s teammates suggesting that their center retaliated in enough-is-enough fashion.

“Hey, man, you all do the math. Two plus two equals four, doesn’t it?” said Atlanta forward DeMarre Carroll. “Al just did what he thought was necessary to protect our team and make a stand. And he got thrown out.”

“Everybody understood we had to take a stand. We’re out there to play basketball. We’re out there to compete. But when we get to the sense of doing things unnecessary, that’s when you have the play you seen.”

Of Dellavedova, Carroll said: “I think he’s just a competitor, man. And sometimes, when you compete so hard, you can take it overboard. There’s got to be a fine line between competing or being crazy.

“I play hard myself. And I understand, sometimes you go tot do little things to get under people’s skin. But [nothing] crazy. I hope he takes a look at the film and sees, man, there’s a way to play hard but not to play crazy.”


VIDEO: Al Horford talks about being ejected from Game 3

 

Irving questionable for Game 3 during injury-filled postseason


VIDEO: Blatt on Irving, Game 3

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – Kyrie Irving, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ hobbled point guard, worked on his shooting at the team’s morning shootaround but still was listed as questionable to play in Game 3 Sunday against the Atlanta Hawks at Quicken Loans Arena.

Irving missed the second game of the teams’ Eastern Conference finals series Friday and hasn’t been fully healthy since spraining his right foot early in the first round against Boston. Of course, teammate Kevin Love suffered his dislocated left shoulder in the finale against the Celtics, leading to postseason-ending surgery.

The Hawks got similar bad news Saturday when sharpshooter Kyle Korver was ruled out for however long Atlanta stays alive, his right high-ankle sprain from Game 2 requiring more recovery than the Hawks have time this spring. DeMarre Carroll, their primary defender against LeBron James, is trying to play on a badly sprained knee – “It’s a leg,” he said again Sunday when asked for an update – and another key perimeter defender, Thabo Sefolosha, has been out with a leg fracture since an incident with New York police last month.

Injuries have played a big enough role in these playoffs that the catch phrase “last team standing” might apply literally this year. Perhaps more than ever, the NBA championship could go not necessarily to the league’s best team but to the one least derailed by bad breaks. And sprains, strains and tears.

“Obviously, going into the postseason and going through the postseason, health is always the No. 1 thing,” Cavs star LeBron James said Sunday. “Luck comes into play a lot – you get lucky – and then [it’s] the team that’s playing at the highest level, that’s playing great basketball.”

Out West, Golden State has been playing without backup forward Marreese Speights (calf). Houston has done without guard Patrick Beverley (wrist) and forward Donatas Montiejunas (back), while center Dwight Howard has been touch-and-go daily after a knee sprain.

But the Cavaliers aren’t feeling any more sorry for the others – despite James’ back-pat gesture to Carroll when the Hawks guard was helped off late in Game 1 – than those rivals are for Cleveland. Even James has been playing through dings that have been noticeable on the court, including an ankle he rolled and a sore back he endured against Chicago.

Asked about setting an example in playing through pain for younger teammates such as Irving, James said: “I can’t speak on someone else’s injury. Everyone’s body is different. For me, if I felt like I was hurting the team, then I shouldn’t play. But if I felt like I could give something to the team, I wanted to be on the floor. Obviously I’m playing trough injuries right now, multiple injuries right now. I mean a lot to this team and I understand my presence, and if I can give something, I’m going to be out there.”

James added: “We haven’t been the healthiest. Had a little luck here and there. But we’ve been playing at a high level. So we’ve got like one-and-a-half out of the three.”

Kind of like having a sturdy James, the scaled-back contributions of Irving and no Love. One-and-a-half out of the three.

Bazemore to start Game 3 for Hawks


VIDEO: GameTime: Korver out for remainder of playoffs

CLEVELAND — There is no replacing Kyle Korver, but Kent Bazemore will be the new man in the Atlanta Hawks’ starting lineup for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT).

With Korver’s season over because of a severely sprained ankle suffered in Game 2 on Friday, the Hawks are in a desperate situation without their most important offensive weapon. Whether Korver’s been shooting or not, the Atlanta offense has been at its best with him on the floor.

The new Hawks lineup started two regular season games — losses at Golden State and Oklahoma City in March — when Korver was out with a broken nose. But it has played just 66 total minutes together and less than six in the playoffs.

The film from the loss to the Warriors made it clear how much Korver was missed. Shooting is critical, not just for the shots that go in or out, but for the spacing it creates for others. There’s a reason that Korver has played more minutes with both DeMarre Carroll (1,749) and Bazemore (579) than Carroll and Bazemore have played together (478).

The Hawks have been outscored by 84 points in those 478 minutes. That’s partly because Bazemore/Carroll is somewhat of a situational combination, which has been on the floor for a lot more defensive possessions than offensive possessions. But the Atlanta offense hasn’t been great with the two on the floor together, scoring just 100.7 points per 100 possessions.

Still, the Cavs, like the Nets and Wizards before them, have done a good job of denying Korver his shots. And a different look from Bazemore could be a positive.

“He’s been attacking, driving, and getting to the basket well,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said of Bazemore. “As the playoffs have gone on, he’s kind of gotten a better feel and sense for when to attack.”

Bazemore has shot 7-for-9 in the series thus far. He’s 7-for-7 on 2-pointers and 0-for-2 on threes.

After Game 2, Bazemore said “I still think we’re the better team. We just haven’t shown it yet.”

From the opening tip of Game 3, he’ll get the chance to prove himself right.

“One the road, Game 3, backs against the wall,” Bazemore said Sunday, “We’re going to let it all hang out, go out there and just play some hoops.”

Hawks not hitting their open shots


VIDEO: GameTime: Korver out for remainder of playoffs

CLEVELAND — Diagnosing just what has gone wrong for the Atlanta Hawks is not easy.

Maybe they peaked too early, going 33-2 between Thanksgiving and Jan. 31. Maybe they lack a go-to guy to get them a shot when they really need one. Maybe they’ve been undone by untimely injuries. And maybe they just aren’t ready for this stage.

Whatever it is, the Hawks need to figure things out quickly. They’ve arrived in Cleveland for Game 3 of the conference finals (Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, TNT) in an 0-2 hole, facing a team that is 24-2 at home since mid-January.

They were tied 2-2 with the 38-44 Brooklyn Nets and trailed 2-1 to the John Wall-less Washington Wizards, but this is obviously the most desperate situation the Hawks have been in. And never have they had fewer answers for what’s been going wrong.

The Hawks have had issues on both ends of the floor. But despite LeBron James‘ brilliance and some hot shooting, Atlanta has held the Cavs to almost five points per 100 possessions below a regular season mark that ranked fourth in offensive efficiency. It’s on offense where Atlanta has struggled most, scoring just 95 points per 100 possessions through the first two games.

In the regular season, 79.4 percent of the Hawks’ jump shots were uncontested, a rate which led the league by a pretty wide margin (New Orleans ranked second at 75.9 percent), according to SportVU. And their effective field goal percentage on those uncontested jumpers was 52.9 percent, a mark which ranked third (behind only the Warriors and Clippers).

The Hawks have yet to match those two numbers in any of their three playoff series. And they’ve hit new lows in the conference finals.

20150524_atl_uncontested

The Cavs deserve some credit. They were a pretty awful defensive team early in the season, and even after showing improvement with the additions of Timofey Mozgov and Iman Shumpert, they got chewed up by the Atlanta offense in their March 6 meeting. Cleveland finished 20th in defensive efficiency for the season.

Since the league started counting turnovers in 1977, no team has reached The Finals after ranking that low. But the Cavs been much improved defensively in the playoffs. In this series, they’ve denied the Hawks’ primary options, and have backed that up with multiple efforts and sharper rotations.

And while the Hawks are still getting a decent amount of open looks, it’s not hard to see that their offense isn’t nearly as sharp as it was in December and January. Open looks aren’t necessarily in-rhythm looks.

The bottom of the above table tells us that their success is less about the number of open looks they get and more about what they do with them. If you’re making a case that this is a make-or-miss league, you can start with the Hawks’ effective field goal percentage on uncontested jumpers in wins (52.1 percent) vs. losses (37.8 percent) in these playoffs.

Now, the Hawks have to play without their best shooter. In the regular season, Kyle Korver had a ridiculous effective field goal percentage of 74.8 percent on uncontested jumpers. And even if he was contested, he was the Hawks’ best option. He shot better on contested 3-pointers (43.4 percent) than any of his teammates shot on uncontested threes.

Korver has seen fewer open looks (per 36 minutes) in the playoffs, and he’s shot worse on them. But his presence on the floor and the attention he gets from the defense is still a huge key to what the Hawks are doing offensively. They’ve scored 102.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor in the postseason, and just 95.8 with him on the bench. In this series, Korver is 7-for-15 from outside the paint, while his teammates are 13-for-64 (20.3 percent).

There is no easy answer with Korver out, not that there was one if he was perfectly healthy. What was the Hawks’ strength in the regular season has failed them when it matters most.

Morning Shootaround — May 24


VIDEO: Saturday night was Stephen Curry’s night in Houston

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Steph Curry is the real MVP | LeBron is the B.O.A.T. | Korver, Hawks all but done? | Wounded Rockets stunned by loss | Skiles the frontrunner for the Magic job

No. 1: Steph Curry is the real MVP — The debate is over. Stephen Curry is the “real MVP.” If that is not clear after three games of the Curry-James Harden duel in the Western Conference finals, you need a new pair of glasses. Curry’s brilliance was on full display in the Warriors’ Game 3 win in Houston Saturday night. And good luck finding a comparable talent, a topic our very own Fran Blinebury explored in the aftermath of the Warriors’ huge win:

The record book now says that after hitting 7-for-9 from long range to ignite his 40-point, seven-assist, five-rebound, two-steal bonfire and an embarrassing 115-80 beatdown of the Rockets, Curry is now the most prolific 3-point shooter in the history of the playoffs, passing the legendary likes of Reggie Miller and Ray Allen.

Your eyes that pop wide open, your ears that can hear the wind getting sucked right out of the arena and any sense of innate rhythm that runs from your head to your feet say you don’t need any list of numbers to tell you he’s a completely different breed of cat.

“I think it’s the ball-handling that leads to the shot,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “People ask me all the time who I would compare him with. I played with Mark Price years ago. Mark had a skill set that was really fun to watch, great ball handler, quick pull-up on a dime. Steve Nash, although Steve really preferred to make the pass and he was a reluctant shooter, could still shoot off the dribble.

“But I don’t think we’ve seen anybody this quick, [with] ability to create space and then pull up and six, seven feet beyond the line, with this kind of fearlessness and confidence. He’s really something.”

That was perhaps one thing a few of the swells in the high-priced front row seats were saying midway through the third quarter when Curry grabbed the rebound off a missed layup by Klay Thompson, ran to the left corner, turned to drill one more trey, stared at the crowd, then removed his mouthpiece to return verbal fire.

“That’s the fun with playoff basketball on the road,” Curry said. “You’ve got hecklers and guys up close that paid of a lot of money for those seats that want to get their money’s worth. It’s fun. You know, those are just genuine reactions.

“I think the one in the corner, a guy said — it was a four-letter word I can’t repeat. But that’s the one I turned around and just said, ‘Sit down.’ Just having fun with him, go about my business, get back on defense. If they want to talk, hopefully they can take some back in my fashion.”

 

Korver’s absence, series edge won’t impact Cavaliers’ use of Irving


VIDEO: Blatt on Irving, Game 3

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – No one would blame the Cleveland Cavaliers if they loaded up injured point guard Kyrie Irving‘s dance card with contingencies that had nothing to do with his aching left knee.

Irving, who sat out Game 2 Friday in Atlanta after playing only 27 minutes in the series opener, would appear to be facing no urgency to rush back into action, given Cleveland’s 2-0 edge in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals. The series has shifted to the Cavaliers’ home court for the next two games. The Hawks’ lineup took a serious hit Saturday when sharpshooter Kyle Korver (right high-ankle sprain) was ruled out for the rest of his team’s postseason.

And with the Finals set to start on June 4, the longer the Cavs could go before Irving puts any fresh wear or tear on his knee likely would be helpful in dealing with Golden State or Houston for a championship.

But that isn’t how Irving’s team is approaching his absence. Coach David Blatt said Irving still is listed as questionable for Game 3 Sunday and that his participation will be determined by Irving and a doctor’s decision.

“If he’s able to play, then he’ll play,” Blatt said. “He’s a big part of the team and the series is not finished. But if he’s not able to play, he won’t.”

That’s the problem Atlanta faces in the wake of Korver’s playoff-ending injury, suffered in the third quarter Friday when Cleveland guard Matthew Dellavedova rolled onto the Hawks player’s ankle while diving for a loose ball. Korver had struggled with his shot at times lately, but few this side of Steph Curry are as feared from 3-point range. Atlanta was 5-2 this postseason when the 34-year-old wing player made at least three attempts from the arc.

“We will miss him,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told reporters Saturday. “It’s very, very difficult for him personally but more so for how much this team has done together, how much he’s been a part of that. He’s a huge part of our leadership, our fabric, our fiber.”

Budenholzer said he had not decided who would replace Korver in the starting lineup. The Hawks already are shorthanded with perimeter defender Thabo Sefolosha hurt in a confrontation with New York police in April. Also, DeMarre Carroll – Budenholzer’s preferred defender vs. LeBron James – still is nursing a sore knee suffered late in Game 1.

“Injuries are such a big part of our league and a big part of the playoffs,” Budenholzer said. “Everybody has to deal with them, and we’re not any different. Of course, we’d like to have everyone healthy and be at full speed. That’s the ideal. But you can’t spend too much time or frustration thinking about it or concerned about it.”

Cleveland knows all too well, with Irving hobbled – the point guard did play some 1-on-1 after his team’s practice with assistant coach Phil Handy providing resistance – and Kevin Love’s postseason wiped out by a shoulder injury in the first-round finale against Boston.

The Cavaliers have grown in confidence and competence around their leader, LeBron James. And while it might seem as if James is back in his early Cleveland era, as far as limited star assistance, he didn’t breathe any life into that theory Saturday.

“I never felt I had to do it by myself, even in the past,” James said. “Mentally, I just wasn’t who I am today. My hard drive wasn’t as big as it is today. That’s all it comes from. I’m able to handle a lot of situations that I wasn’t able to handle at 24, 25 years old.

“I just tried to do it [before] by just playing the game of basketball, just going out and just playing – that’s such a small dosage of what the game is all about. The mental side is way more important than the physical and just playing basketball.”

Until the next sore knee or high-ankle sprain, anyway.

Kyle Korver to miss remainder of playoffs



VIDEO: Korver injures ankle in Game 2

HANG TIME BIG CITY – When it rains, it pours.

The Atlanta Hawks today announced that guard Kyle Korver will miss the remainder of the postseason after suffering a severe high right ankle sprain during Atlanta’s Game 2 loss to Cleveland last night during the Eastern Conference finals.

Per the Hawks …

“Hawks guard/forward Kyle Korver suffered a right ankle injury with 1:01 remaining in the third quarter of last night’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. X-rays performed at Philips Arena last night were negative. A follow-up MRI and examination this morning at the Peachtree Orthopaedic Clinic confirmed a severe high right ankle sprain. Korver will see a foot and ankle specialist to determine the best course of treatment. He is out for the remainder of the postseason.”

At 34 years old, the sharp-shooting Korver had the best regular season of his NBA career, making his first All-Star team and leading the NBA in 3-point percentage at 49 percent. He finished the regular season averaging 12.1 ppg while playing in 75 games.

Yet for the Hawks, it’s another hit in a series of body blows that has left them a husk of the team that finished the regular season with 60 wins and the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Korver completes something of a brutal cycle, becoming the fifth Hawks starter to deal with injuries this postseason. After losing reserve swingman Thabo Sefolosha for the season after an ankle injury sustained in an off the court incident, the Hawks have had injuries to starters Al Horford (finger), Paul Millsap (shoulder), Jeff Teague (ankle) and DeMarre Carroll (knee). Horford seemed to suffer a knee injury during Game 2, but was able to return and play.

All the injuries are ironic because of the franchise-wide focus all season long on watching minutes played in an effort to avoid injuries and keep players healthy for a postseason run. While Korver has struggled in the postseason thus far, averaging 11 ppg on just 35.5 percent from the three, the threat of Korver on the floor requires defenders to take notice and creates space for the other Hawks – well, at least what’s left of them – to operate.

Without Korver, the Hawks will be forced to rely even heavier on a bench already stretched razor-thin thanks to the other injuries. Down 0-2 to the Cavaliers, with the series shifting to Cleveland for Game 3 on Sunday, the odds are stacked higher than ever against the Hawks.

Howard upgraded for Game 3 tonight

HOUSTON — The mystery surrounding Dwight Howard’s left knee is all but gone and the only suspense is whether his Rockets can bounce at home tonight from a 2-0 deficit against the Warriors in the Western Conference finals.

There was debate surrounding Howard’s health status until just a few minutes before the opening tip of Game 2 Thursday, but he wound up playing 40 minutes, scoring 19 points and pulling down 17 rebounds.

The 6-foot-11 center, who suffered a first degree sprain of his left knee as the result of a collision with teammate Josh Smith in the series opener, has been upgraded from questionable to probable for Game 3 at Toyota Center and said at the Saturday morning shootaround that he’s pleased with how the injury responded to the playing time and treatment he’s received.

“It felt pretty good,” Howard said. “We were happy about that. I didn’t want to linger throughout the whole playoffs.”

Morning Shootaround — May 23


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s Cavs-Hawks Game 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron leads Cavs over Hawks | Rockets look to win at home | Pelicans look to Jeff Van Gundy? | Wizards wait to hear from Pierce | Globetrotter Marques Haynes passes away

No. 1: LeBron leads Cavs over Hawks The Atlanta Hawks hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers last night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and entered the game seemingly with several things in their favor. But even though the Hawks got a big night out of DeMarre Carroll while the Cavs rested Kyrie Irving (knee), Atlanta had no answers for LeBron James, who carried the Cavs to a 92-84 Game 2 win. As our man Shaun Powell wrote, James is proving that sometimes individual talent trumps that of a system

The Cavs were missing a starting point guard Friday and all that meant was his replacement would play the position … better. Yes, imagine if you’re the Hawks, and [Kyrie] Irving spends the day getting a second opinion on his aching knee by the famous Dr. James Andrews, and is a late scratch for Game 2.

You’re feeling decent about your chances to bring suspense to this series.

But suddenly, the emergency point guard whips an oh-my-Lord behind-the-back cross-court pass to Iman Shumpert. Swish.

Then finds James Jones. Three-pointer. Then J.R. Smith. Bucket. Then Shumpert again, wide open. Another three.

“Him snapping the ball at you, there’s energy in that ball when you get it,” Shumpert said.

On and on it went like this on the Hawks’ home court, with LeBron bringing the ball up and shouting instructions and putting his teammates in position to score and … oh, dropping 30 points himself. With 11 assists and one rebound shy of a triple-double, LeBron turned the series on its head and for all practical purposes shoved the Hawks to the brink. He reminded everyone that he can play all five positions on the floor, and play most if not all at All-Star level.

“When I was attacking I was seeing guys open,” said LeBron. “I have the utmost confidence in my teammates to make shots and make plays. So I passed the ball. The game presented that tonight. I did what was needed. I always try to be a triple-threat on the floor.”

This was not exactly as impactful as Magic stepping in for a hobbling Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1980 Finals and getting 42 and 16 and 7, although in the context of this series, LeBron’s version could prove just as damaging to the Hawks and helpful to the Cavs. Not only did LeBron seriously reduce Atlanta’s odds of staying alive past Tuesday, he seriously helped Irving’s ability to heal up and be a step closer to 100 percent should the Cavs as expected reach the championship round.

A sweep buys time for Irving, and LeBron evidently has the cash.

“I’ve got a good vocabulary,” said Cavs coach David Blatt, “but I’m sort of running out of superlatives for the guy. His greatness is evident.”

***

No. 2: Rockets look to win at home After two close games in Oakland, including a Game Two in which they had the ball in James Harden‘s hands with a chance for a game-winner, Houston returns home for Game 3 tonight against Golden State. And while the Warriors play an aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball, the Rockets are just concerned with getting a win and getting back into the series, writes Jonathan Feigan in the Houston Chronicle

Though much has been made of the entertainment value of the play of the Warriors’ Stephen Curry and Rockets’ James Harden, the Rockets said they could not share the excitement of a show when they came for a win. Rockets center Dwight Howard, however, said they could appreciate their part in a series that has already brought two outstanding games if the Rockets get some wins on their home court, too.

“I don’t think the Rockets’ fans had fun watching us lose tonight,” Howard said. “We’ve got to come back and play, but it’s going to be a great series. Two great offensive teams, two guys who battled for MVP all year going at it. It’s going to be fun. We definitely don’t take these moments for granted, because they don’t come by often. Like I said, it’s going to be a great series and we’re looking forward to coming back home. We want to see our fans loud and proud and ready for a battle, because there is going to be one.

“We don’t want to go down 0-3. So we have to come out and just play basketball — move the ball and do all the things we’ve done in the last two games to get us here and do that for 48 minutes. If we do that, then we should have a good opportunity to win.”

Rockets guard Jason Terry said the bottom line is the only thing that matters.

“We want to win,” Terry said. “That’s the bottom line. If we have a bad game and win, that’s cool. If we have a great game and lose, where is the solace in that? There is none. We want to go home and have a great four quarters of Houston Rockets basketball.”

***

No. 3: Pelicans look to Jeff Van Gundy? — The New Orleans Pelicans ducked into the postseason out West before making a first-round exit, which wasn’t enough to save coach Monty Williams‘ job. But with all-world young big man Anthony Davis anchoring the middle, the Pelicans’ job is a plum gig, which might explain why, as ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports, ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy has supposedly expressed interest in the gig…

Jeff Van Gundy has emerged as a candidate for the New Orleans Pelicans’ head-coaching position, according to league sources. ‎Sources told ESPN.com this week that the ESPN analyst has expressed interest in the opening and is under consideration for the job, which opened when the Pelicans dismissed Monty Williams earlier this month.

Van Gundy joins Golden State associate head coach Alvin Gentry and Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau as confirmed candidates for the position, according to NBA coaching sources.

Gentry is the only candidate known to have formally interviewed for the post, with sources saying the uncertainty surrounding Thibodeau’s contractual situation with the Bulls has prevented the Pelicans and Orlando Magic from formally requesting to interview him. ESPN.com reported Monday that the Pelicans had been granted permission to interview Gentry before the Warriors began play in the Western Conference finals.

Van Gundy has been a popular TV figure since he coached the Houston Rockets in the 2006-07 season, and he has resisted interest from several teams in recent years, professing his desire to stay in broadcasting. But Van Gundy’s return to coaching has long been seen as inevitable, and the presence of rising star Anthony Davis as the centerpiece of an underrated roster has made the New Orleans job one of the most coveted in the league, with the Pelicans finishing strong under Williams to beat Oklahoma City for the West’s last playoff spot.

On an ESPN media call earlier this week, Van Gundy declined to discuss the prospect of pursuing the Pelicans’ post.

“I have too much respect for the coaching profession and the sanctity of a job search to publicly speak about any job openings,” he said. “That’s really not my style. So I’ll just leave it as I’ve said many times.

“I have the absolute utmost respect for Monty Williams. I coached him. I know what a class guy he is. He has integrity and humility, and I thought he did an outstanding job. I think he can be very, very proud of what he was able to accomplish there. You know, as far as the job search, I don’t get into the public domain on that. I just don’t think it’s right.”

***

No. 4: Wizards wait to hear from Pierce Last summer, the Washington Wizards surprised many observers when they inked veteran small forward Paul Pierce to a two-year contract. And though Pierce is 37 years old, he was Washington’s most clutch performer in the postseason, taking (and usually making) numerous last-second shots. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, now the Wizards wait to hear from the future Hall of Famer about his future, to find out when and where they go next…

About an hour after the his tying three-pointer was waved off and his Washington Wizards walked off the Verizon Center hardwood for the final time this season, 94-91 losers to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Paul Pierce delivered a jolt by indicating retirement is on the table.

“I don’t even know if I’m going to play basketball anymore,” he declared late last Friday night.

Pierce must decide whether to exercise the $5.5 million player option to play his second season with the Wizards and 18th overall in the NBA. The future Hall of Famer will celebrate his 38th birthday in October. Last Friday, Coach Randy Wittman said he believed Pierce would return because he enjoyed his time in Washington but he and the organization await the decision.

“I don’t need to recruit Paul,” Wittman said Monday. “What Paul saw here and what he did here, not only with the team but with the city, all of that plays into it. His family was comfortable here. Will I sit down and talk with him? Yeah. But I don’t think I need to recruit him.”

After a lightened load over the regular season, Pierce shifted to power forward in the playoffs for long stretches, delivering his signature clutch shooting and trash-talking to propel Washington to a four-game sweep of the Toronto Raptors in the first round. Pierce remained an offensive weapon against the Hawks, but became a defensive liability at times, particularly in isolation situations opposite all-star Paul Millsap.

Pierce, who declined to speak to reporters Monday, averaged 14.6 points and shot a torrid 33 of 63 from behind the three-point line (52.4 percent) over 29.8 minutes in 10 playoff games – increases from 11.9 points, 38.9 percent from three and 26.2 minutes per game during the regular season. But he explained that the campaign, preseason through playoffs, was an exhausting experience.

Yet Pierce’s impact, Wittman and players around the locker room asserted, was invaluable and went beyond on-floor production. Players credited Pierce to supplying a load of confidence and readiness the Wizards had been missing before his arrival.

“He means a lot,” said forward Otto Porter Jr., who broke out in the playoffs and received nonstop tutelage from Pierce throughout the season. “I learned a lot from him this year whether he told me something or I just picked it up. And it’s going to stick with me throughout my NBA career, what to expect in the NBA and how to be a professional.”

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No. 5: Ball-handling wizard Haynes passes away A member of the Harlem Globetrotters for more than 40 years, Marques Haynes died on Friday in Plano, Tex. He was 89. The New York TimesBruce Weber provides more

In two stints with the Globetrotters (his second was in the 1970s, a more showmanlike incarnation of the team), over decades with his own team, the Harlem Magicians (also called the Fabulous Magicians) and with a few other squads, Haynes traveled an estimated four million miles and played in an estimated 12,000 basketball games in 100 countries, give or take a few — in racially hostile Southern towns, in dim school gyms, on dirt courts in dusty African villages, in bullrings, soccer stadiums and emptied swimming pools, not to mention in Madison Square Garden, the Rose Bowl and other celebrated arenas all over the world.

Haynes was a brilliant player — a fine shooter, a tenacious defender and an expert passer. But as a dribbler he was nonpareil, and it was that skill that made him an ace entertainer.

The Globetrotters, who began life on the south side of Chicago — they didn’t play a game in Harlem until 1968 — had been playing competitively since the 1920s. But when Haynes joined them, in either 1946 or 1947 (sources are divided on when he made his first appearance), their reputation as basketball entertainers was still emerging.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Could Tom Thibodeau take next season off? … The Nuggets say they’re going to be “aggressive” this summer … Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak says if there’s a player in the NBA who plays like rookie guard Jordan Clarkson, it’s Russell Westbrook … The Pacers and Luis Scola reportedly have mutual interest in a reunionGordon Hayward underwent a “minor surgical procedure” on his heel …

Hawks’ DeMarre Carroll to start Game 2

 

VIDEO: DeMarre Carroll suffers knee injury late in Game 1

ATLANTA — Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll will start Game 2 against Cleveland tonight at Philips Arena, two days after spraining his left knee in a Game 1 loss.

Carroll did not sustain any structural damage to his knee. The Hawks did not announce that he would start until there was just 20 minutes before tip off.