Grizzlies lose Conley for at least Game 4


Video: Grizzlies’ Conley will miss Game 4

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Grizzlies will be without Mike Conley for at least one game and possibly longer after the starting point guard returned to Memphis and will undergo surgery Monday to repair multiple fractures in his facial bones, according to TNT’s Lewis Johnson.

There was no immediate prognosis on how long he could be out, the team said, only that he will be missing as the Grizzlies try to close out the Trail Blazers in Game 4 of the first round Monday night at Moda Center.

Beno Udrih, who did not play Saturday because of a sprained right ankle, said after practice Sunday he will play, at least providing additional depth at the position after the loss of Conley, one of the Memphis emotional leaders as well as an integral player on the court.

Asked about his level of concern heading into Game 4, Coach Dave Joerger said, “Very. He does so much for us, with the ball, with the defense, setting us up. You guys that have been around us a long time, he shoulders a huge amount of responsibility for us. Everybody else has to just pick it up, keep getting better and has to be a little more focused in every single area. Every single possession’s going to matter. We’ve done a great job keeping the turnovers down. Now, what do we do from here?”

Joerger will choose between Nick Calathes and Udrih to start Game 4 against Damian Lillard, with rookie Russ Smith also a possibility to play.

Conley was injured with about 4:10 remaining in the third quarter of Game 3 when he leaned toward Portland’s C.J. McCollum for a steal as McCollum raised his left arm to shield the defender. McCollum’s elbow appeared to crash into Conley’s left cheek or eye.

“I’m not worried about Mike,” Udrih said. “Mike is a fighter. He’ll be back in no time.”

Said center Marc Gasol: “It’s going to be a different look, but I feel like our guys are ready. I feel like our guys have confidence they put in work to be ready for this situation. I have all my confidence. … I feel bad. Of course, I want Mike to be out there because I know how competitive he is. I know how much he wants to play. But, sadly, this is a part of the game. Things happen. It’s a physical game. I just wish that he can be out there because I know how much it means to him.”

Warriors’ rest will pay over long run


Video: Stephen Curry leads Golden State to a Game 4 win and the sweep

Steve Kerr had a thought about a well-deserved reward for surviving and sweeping his first NBA playoff series as a head coach.

“I’m going to Cabo, and I won’t see them until Saturday,” said the guy who has likely never been suntanned in his life. “I’ll just tell them to get some rest, come and work whenever they feel like it.”

Kerr waited a beat, then remembered he lives in the age of Twitter and missed context and added, “I’m just kidding, of course.”

However, as the first team to close out its first-round series and a schedule that will not have them opening the conference semifinals against the Grizzlies or Trail Blazers until Sunday at the earliest, the Warriors do face the question of how to spend their time off.

“It’s nice to get a couple of days and get some rest,” said center Andrew Bogut. “Guys are banged up, so it’s good to have a chance to regroup. On the flip side, it’s not always a great thing either because sometimes a team can come out a bit flat in Game 1.

“We want to get some rest. We have some smaller guys on our team who could do with some extra time off. You don’t want to play any extra games if you don’t have to.

“But you’ve got to be careful. You don’t want to lull yourself to sleep either. You want to keep doing what we’re doing. To get a day or two off now and then get back at it.”

Guard Klay Thompson came down emphatically on the side of the Warriors getting off their feet, at least for a few days.

“That’s why it’s important to close out a series as soon as you can, get the sweep, if possible,” Thompson said. “This time of year it starts to be a grind. So to have these days off … it will be important for us down the line, if we go as far as we want, to be able to have some energy stored up. It’s why you play all season to have the best record and get the advantages that come with it. You want to jump on teams right away, finish them off the first chance you get and the move on.”

Kerr, who could lie on the beach at Cabo and only turn various shades of lobster pink and orange, knows the Warriors will find the balance.

“I went through this as a player quite often where you have a long, extended break and there’s a mix of rest and reps and scrimmaging,” he said. “You gotta keep your conditioning, but you also want to get your rest as well. We’ll get it figured out.”

The key is to rest whenever you can, because the long march to a championship is never a day at the beach.

Morning shootaround — April 26



VIDEO: Highlights from Saturday’s playoff action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Conley injury hex continues, Calathes steps up | No nonsense as Warriors sweep | Bucks graduate to winning | Sixers eyeing Russell in draft?

No. 1: Conley injury hex continues, Calathes steps up — Just when it appeared that Memphis point guard Mike Conley was getting healthier, he gets a whole lot more hurt. Conley had to leave Game 3 between the Grizzlies and Trail Blazers in Portland Saturday after being hit in the face (between the cheekbone and the eye) by an elbow from Blazers guard C.J. McCollum. He was taken to a local medical facility, and though he Tweeted out an encouraging prognosis later, his status for Game 4 and beyond remains uncertain (NBA concussion protocols might mandate a layoff).

With backup point Beno Udrih already out with a sprained ankle, it fell to Grizzlies deep reserve Nick Calathes to finish out Game 3 and keep Memphis in position to sweep. Mike Tokito of The Oregonian reported on Calathes’ stepping into the void:

All Calathes did was to contribute 13 points, six rebounds and four assists while committing no turnovers in 27 minutes of the Grizzlies 115-109 win that extended their series lead to 3-0.

“I thought Nick Calathes came off and gave us a big boost tonight,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said.

It wasn’t just a one-time feel-good story in the manner of, say, Troy Daniels of Houston in last year’s Blazers playoffs. Calathes could become a key to Memphis wrapping up the series.

Conley left the game with 4:03 left in the third quarter, and Memphis leading 74-64. Calathes played the rest of the game and provided a much-needed steadying influence.
A big key was that he did not hesitate to shoot when Portland left him unguarded, and he made two key three-pointers.

“I’m a shooter, I’m very confident in my shot,” he said. “If they’re going to play off me, I’m going to shoot the ball. And tonight I made them, and Monday I’ll do the same. I’ve been working on my shot with the coaches, and I’m ready.”

The 6-foot-6 Calathes is in his second NBA season and playing in the playoffs for the first time, but he’s no stranger to big games. Calathes was a college standout in two seasons at Florida, then played overseas, in Greece (born in the U.S., he holds dual citizenships because both his parents are Greeks) and Russia. In 2011, he helped Panathinaikos win the EuroLeague championship, and has played in all kinds of high-level international tournaments.

“He’s played in a lot of big games, you can tell – international competitions that he’s played in,” Joerger said. “He’s a very, very solid NBA point guard.”

Calathes would have made his NBA playoff debut last season, except for a bizarre circumstance: He incurred a 20-game NBA suspension for testing positive for Tamoxifen, which is on the league’s banned substance list. The drug is not considered to be performance-enhancing, but rather, a masking agent. Calathes said he took it in an over-the-counter supplement, but whatever the case, he was not able to play in the playoffs, making Saturday’s performance even sweeter.

“It was real nice,” he said. “What happened last year will happen, but for me to be here with these guys, to be out there on the grind and go to battle with them, it’s a great feeling.”

***

No. 2: No nonsense as Warriors sweep — When a team wins 67 games, it doesn’t deal with much adversity over the course of the long NBA season. That means the opportunities to reach down in tough times are limited, leaving questions about what might happen if some team tightens the screw on them in the postseason. That’s why Golden State coach Steve Kerr seemed more satisfied by how the Warriors handled their two road games against New Orleans in sweeping through the first round, rather than the games in Oakland that so often wind up as feel-good affairs. Our own Fran Blinebury was at the Smoothie King Center Saturday to chronicle Golden State’s seriousness of purpose:

These were the Warriors at their hammer-on-the-anvil, bludgeoning best.

The threesome of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and [Draymond] Green combined for 86 points, 21 rebounds and 18 assists while shooting 30 of 53 (.567) from the field and 13 of 21 (.619) on 3-pointers.

The Warriors defense was back to being its smothering, stifling best. Consider this stat: the Pelicans had zero fast break points.

Green and Curry couldn’t have done much more damage setting the tone in the first quarter if they were swinging clubs, filling up the bucket and not letting the Pelicans fill their heads with any more cute notions of pulling off the upset.

And when New Orleans put together a couple of runs to get what was a 24-point lead down to seven on a couple occasions late, Green took a feed from Curry for a tourniquet of a layup and then Thompson buried one more three.

“I’d say we reacted pretty well at the end of Game 3 being down,” Kerr said. “But that was a little different because it was desperation and we just had to let it rip.

“Tonight was more indicative of the feeling of being the favorite. You play a great game. You’re in control and all of a sudden you’re not…Yeah, it was good composure.”

***

No. 3: Bucks graduate to winning — Everyone knew the Milwaukee Bucks, winners of just 15 games in 2013-14, had much to learn about playoff basketball. Everyone figured the Bucks’ young players, such as forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and guard Michael Carter-Williams, would take lumps from the Chicago Bulls in the teams’ first-round series and come back in October better for it. But a group of salty veterans, knocked around in their NBA travels, wanted more than moral victories and, as our Steve Aschburner noted, they got it in a buzzer-beating Game 4 victory over the rival Bulls:

[Bucks coach Jason] Kidd used a small lineup the entire fourth quarter, with forward Khris Middleton accompanied by four bench guys: Jared Dudley, Jerryd Bayless, O.J. Mayo and John Henson. Kidd liked their ball movement offensively, he liked their aggressiveness and mobility defensively. And frankly, he had to like the way they stiffened and executed and demonstrated for some of their fresher teammates who might have been halfway into their Hefty bags [to clean out their lockers at series end].

“This was a mental game,” Dudley said. “A lot of people, you start shipping your cars, planning your vacations. You’re down 3-0… But we’re still young. People don’t even know what to think. Today I think the veterans stepped up and said, ‘Hey, this is how you have to do it.’ “

Milwaukee’s bench — those four guys — scored 47 points of their team’s 90 points, had 13 of their 34 rebounds, passed for 16 of the Bucks’ 25 assists, accounted for seven of their nine 3-pointers, had five of six blocks and seven of the 20 steals.

The bench, for the second straight game, opened up a fat lead for Milwaukee, only to see it squandered by starters. Dudley was running hot at halftime but recalled thinking: “This is perfect to see where we’re at. If we can adjust and make changes [great] — if not, we’ll be home. It’s up to us.”

Dudley also was the Bucks inbound passer on the final buzzer-beating play. After Middleton dug the ball loose from Derrick Rose as the Bulls guard set up for what seemingly would be the last shot of regulation, Kidd called a timeout. That left 1.3 seconds, with the ball advanced, for Milwaukee to run what their coach drew up.

Dudley — whose mother never let him play tackle football, so forget the quarterback references — spotted Bayless behind Rose near the baseline. “I was kind of shocked that Bay’d be behind him,” said the 29-year-old, whose weekend-warrior look obviously is deceiving. “You know what, I made the good pass but Bayless made the play and he scored.”

Bayless’ reverse layup, with Rose going from startled to dejected in an instant, did the carpe diem thing for the Bucks while earning them a little more per-diem to spend in Chicago’s River North night spots.

“A lot of us have been in, I’m not going to say ‘unfavorable’ but we’ve been around,” Bayless said. “We’ve been around the league. O.J. has been on teams, I’ve been on teams, ‘Duds’ has been on teams and John … he’s had ups and downs. These guys and their will to keep fighting every night throughout the 82-game season and now in the playoffs — and try to win — it’s something I’m really happy to be a part of.”

***

No. 4: Sixers eyeing Russell in draft? — The Philadelphia Inquirer quoted an unnamed league executive in its report that the Sixers might be targeting Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell with their lottery pick, a wing player to complement the premium big-man prospects they’ve taken in the past two talent roundups. The Sixers are guaranteed no worse than the No. 6 selection and are hoping to do better than that in the May 19 draft lottery to move into position to pick Russell. Here’s more from the Philly news outlet:

“He’s the guy they want,” the executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Saturday. “That’s the word around the league. You know the Sixers. They won’t come out and say it, but he’s the guy they want.”

The executive called former Kentucky center/power forward Karl-Anthony Towns and Russell the top two draft prospects, ahead of point guard Emmanuel Mudiay and Duke center Jahlil Okafor. Mudiay played this season for the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association.

“Russell has star quality,” he said of the 6-foot-5, 180-pounder.

Russell averaged 19.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.0 assists while shooting 41.1 percent on three-pointers last season en route to being named a first-team all-American and Big Ten freshman of the year.

Five Sixers executives, including general manager Sam Hinkie, were on hand when the Louisville native collected 23 points, 11 assists, and 11 rebounds in a 79-60 victory at Rutgers in February.

He made 8 of 13 shots and had one steal and two turnovers in 35 minutes while handling the ball most of the game. A source said the Sixers were impressed by his performance.

It’s not surprising that they would want Russell.

A league scout and the executive say he is more NBA-ready than Mudiay, a 6-6, 205-pounder who struggles shooting from the outside. Mudiay would be a gamble, considering that he played only 12 games in China because of an ankle injury. He averaged 18.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 1.6 steals in what some have called a subpar league.

Unless the Sixers are secretly unhappy with Nerlens Noel or Joel Embiid, they don’t need to acquire a center for a third straight draft. In addition, they desperately need a lead guard who can shoot from outside, and Russell can definitely do that.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After his Blazers got pushed to the brink of elimination, Portland owner Paul Allen took a long, lonely walk Saturday night, as witnessed by The Oregonian‘s Jason Quick. … LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t feel like the next big thing in Portland during his first year there, no matter how Zach Randolph tells the story now. …Milwaukee and Brooklyn have avoided sweeps, now it’s Dallas’ turn. If it can do something to slow a Rockets attack that has put up 359 points in three games. … How ’bout some Kevin Love free-agent speculation from the city where the Cavaliers are playing? … First it was Roy Hibbert and the Pacers. Now the Toronto Raptors have a style question to answer, with big man Jonas Valanciunas‘ fit to be determined. …

 

Bulls count Mirotic in for Game 4

MILWAUKEE – From the OK-so-he’s-not-Willis-Reed-but… department, Chicago reserve forward Nikola Mirotic was a surprise addition to the Bulls’ active roster for Game 4 Saturday against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Mirotic, a 6-foot-10 rookie from Montenegro, had missed Game 3 Thursday with a bruised left knee and quadriceps strain after a skirmish while on the floor with Milwaukee’s Zaza Pachulia in Game 2 on Monday night. On Friday, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Mirotic still had done no running since the injury. But the 24-year-old got over to Bradley Center later in the day and showed marked improvement in his mobility.

“Actually he felt a lot better [Friday] too,” Thibodeau said before Game 4. “If he wasn’t good enough, he wouldn’t be playing. He was able to play 1-on-1 and stuff yesterday.”

Mirotic worked through some warm-up/rehab drills before the game and appeared to move fine. He was one of two Bulls players to appear in all 82 games in the regular season. His averages through the series’ first two games against the Bucks – 6.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in about 18 minutes – were a drop-off from the numbers he posted after March 1 (17.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg).

With the Bulls up 3-0 in the series, some observers assumed Mirotic might be held out longer to recuperate for a likely role in the conference semifinals. Being active didn’t guarantee he would play in Game 4, though Thibodeau said he’d have no trouble finding minutes for the valuable “stretch 4″ forward.

“We’ll go back to our old rotation,” the Bulls coach said. “There’s enough for everybody.”

Conley still not close to full health

PORTLAND — The company line is that Mike Conley is getting better, that the minutes increase in his return to the Grizzlies’ lineup is an indication he is nearing 100 percent.

“I’m feeling better,” he said.

Conley couldn’t pull it off. He made it through one sentence before he started to smile.

“I think each game has gotten a little bit better,” Conley added.

He straight out laughed.

Playing and contributing to the 2-0 Memphis lead over the Trail Blazers as the first round shifts to Moda Center tonight, yes. Convincing, no.

“You know, I’m telling myself I’m felling better,” Conley said. “I don’t know if I’ll play 30 minutes of 25 or 22. I just go out there and play as hard as I can for as long as I can.”

He is feeling better, and Conley has gone from missing the final four games of the regular season because of a sprained right foot to 24 and then 29 minutes the first two games against Portland. That is encouraging. But closing in on his 2014-15 average of 31.8 minutes per outing is not to be confused with nearly being back to normal.

He estimates he is is about 70 percent — and getting better.

“Yeah,” Conley said. “At least I’m telling myself that.”

Meanwhile, Tony Allen, the Grizzlies’ starting small forward, has gone from missing nine games with a strained left hamstring to 25 minutes in the postseason opener to 36 minutes in Game 2 on Wednesday in Memphis. The schedule has helped — the series so far has gone Sunday-Wednesday-Saturday, with the benefit of two days rest in between games. That will also benefit the Trail Blazers with the expected return of Arron Afflalo tonight and becomes especially important for the Grizz with Beno Udrih listed as questionable.

“A little treatment last night,” Allen said. “Treatment pretty much every day. I’m taking advantage of that. I’m pretty much a work in progress.”

LeBron, Cavaliers calm on eve of close-out opportunity against Celtics


VIDEO: Cavaliers playoff rookie Kevin Love is delivering the goods

BOSTON — For a team poised to close out its first round playoff series and move on to a conference semifinal matchup the basketball world has been buzzing about since the summer, the Cleveland Cavaliers don’t appear to be overwhelmed at all by the moment.

There is no added internal pressure on the eve of Sunday afternoon’s Game 4 win-and-move-on opportunity against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden.

In fact, the Cavaliers couldn’t be more calm or measured in their approach.

“It’s no sprint, it’s a marathon,” a totally relaxed LeBron James said Saturday afternoon. “That’s what this postseason is about. And all I’m concerned about is how well we play in this game [Sunday]. We want to play well, we have an opportunity to close out. But it’s not the end of the world and our team is not approaching it that way. We want to play well and we want to play just as hard as we did in the last game and hopefully that results in a win.”

The Chicago Bulls hold a 3-1 lead over the Milwaukee Bucks on the other side of the bracket. But the Cavaliers are not looking beyond Game 4 and what the Celtics are sure to bring to a pressure-packed environment.

“This is a very important game,” LeBron said. “You know the type of pressure the opposing team is under. It’s win or go-home for them. And they’re going to bring everything they have in the tool box to get this victory. For us, we have to stay calm and play our game, do what we’ve been doing over the course of this series, and treat a Game 4 like a Game 1. We want to play well, we want to defend well, we want to get the ball up the floor more and move the ball and share the ball and things will take care of itself.”

The Celtics have tried their best to turn each of these games into grind-it-out slugfests. They’ve played physically and tried their best to rattle the Cavaliers in any way they can.

However, this notion that the Celtics are playing their guts out while the Cavaliers, the more talented and season bunch, are just getting by on talent does not sit well with Cleveland coach David Blatt.

“That’s not fair,” Blatt said. “We’re playing hard. I don’t like that. I do agree that they are playing hard. But we are playing no less hard. And we’re just as committed to the task as they are. It’s not a matter of us just being more talented. That’s just grossly unfair. Our team is making every effort. Our team is engaged. Our team is playing aggressively and maturely. Anyone saying anything other than that is being unfair to our players, and I don’t like it.”

Lebron’s not worried about the narrative playing out elsewhere. Not with the chance to finish the first round business in four games on the line.

“Perception doesn’t matter,” he said. “Doesn’t matter. We go out and work hard and take care of our business just like any other team. Talent doesn’t win basketball games. You have to play hard, you have to execute. We’re in the NBA. Everybody has talent. Everyone’s here for a reason.

“We’re in a position to win our first ever series as a group. For a young team that’s a pretty big deal. We have an opportunity to do that and we just want to take care of business.”

Morning shootaround — April 25




VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s playoff action

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Kawhi shines for Spurs | Small Wizards big hit | New Rose blooming | Pelicans pick up pieces | Hack-a-Shaq to get review

No. 1: Leonard makes another statement for the Spurs — On the night he was presented with the Kia Defensive Player of the Year Trophy, Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard added to his growing legend by proving that he is more than a one-trick pony. Just ask the Clippers, who watched him bury jumpers, throw down lob dunks and do virtually anything he pleased in carrying his team past L.A. 100-73 to take a 2-1 lead in the first-round playoff series. Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News had the blow-by-blow:

“He’s like Deion Sanders,Doc Rivers said. “You’re trying to find where the hell in the backfield he is.”
The answer Friday: Everywhere.

Rivers wasn’t sure if Leonard’s 32 points — on 13-for-18 shooting — spoke volumes Friday, but conceded they might have.

“I think he was trying to tell all the voters he’s a player, not just a defensive player,” Rivers said.

With Leonard playing Pied Piper, the Spurs unleashed the kind of fury that seemed like a nightly occurrence last spring, en route to torching Miami in the most lopsided Finals in NBA history.

They shot 51.6 percent, a high for the series, and hit 41.7 percent from 3-point range. That was a marked improvement from Games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles, when the Spurs made only 18 of 58 from long range.

“I don’t know about effort and execution,” Rivers said. “I know we got our butt kicked.”

Afterward, Gregg Popovich was quick to put the blowout in perspective.

“We just had a heck of a night,” Popovich said, “and it was just one night.”

***

No. 2: Wizards go big by getting small — Back in the the 1970s, Steve Martin had a hit comedy album called “Let’s Get Small.” Is Wizards coach Randy Wittman ready to hit the charts with an updated version? Is it possible that Wittman had this planned all through the second half of the regular season, when the Wizards played rope-a-dope with the rest of the league and just reeled everyone in? A team that looked barely mediocre over the last 2 1/2 months has looked stunning in building a 3-0 lead on the Raptors and the Wiz have done it by going to a small lineup that makes the most of Paul Pierce and Otto Porter, according to our own John Schuhmann:

Then the regular season turned into the playoffs and a different Wizards team emerged. This one plays a small lineup, with Paul Pierce at power forward, liberally. This one has scored 116 points per 100 possessions over the last two games, and it took just 12 of its 76 shots from mid-range in Game 3 of the first round on Friday.
This Wizards team took two games in Toronto and is up 3-0 on the Raptors after a 106-99 victory back at home, with a chance to complete the sweep on Sunday.

Game 3 of this series followed a similar script as Games 1 and 2. The Raptors had a lead midway through the second quarter when Wizards coach Randy Wittman unleashed his secret weapon, a lineup that features Pierce and Otto Porter at the forward spots.

Pierce is the 37-year-old, grizzled vet who’s been here before.
Friday was career playoff game No. 151.

“That’s why we brought him here,” Wittman said, “for these kind of situations.”

Porter is the 21-year-old, former No. 3 pick who played a grand total of 319 minutes as a rookie last season and who was again out of the rotation just a month ago. On March 27 against Charlotte, he was a DNP, coach’s decision. Friday was career playoff game No. 6.

“He’s just growing up, right before your eyes,” Pierce said of Porter. “What better way to come out like this than in the spotlight of the playoffs.”

One of the reasons Porter got some minutes in early April was to keep Pierce fresh for the playoffs. After March 3, the pair never played more than seven minutes together in a game.
But apparently, Wittman was playing possum.

“We finally tweaked some things we’ve been saying we want to do all year,” Pierce said. “It makes us more versatile as a team, moving me to the four, giving John more space to get to the lane, opening up things for our scorers and our shooters.”

For the third straight game, the Wizards took the lead when Wittman went to the small lineup in the second quarter. This time, it was needed again in the fourth.

***

No. 3:  That’s not the same old Rose leading the Bulls — Forget everything that long-time basketball playwright William Shakespeare ever told you. The same old Derrick Rose by any name is not the sweet young thing that won the 2011 MVP and used to fly recklessly around the court for the Bulls. The new Rose, in a reflective mood, tells our Steve Aschburner that he’s smarter and better now:

“It’s over,” he said. “That player that you saw, that reckless player is smarter now.”
Rose laughed.

“If I didn’t grow in this game, I’d be mad at myself,” he said. “Just trying to take the shots that they’re giving me, trying to adjust while I’m playing.

“I love this player. This player’s better. Smarter. More effective. I think I’m not rushing anything while I’m out there. Letting the game come to me. The only thing I’ve got to handle is my turnovers, but in crucial situations I think they haven’t cost us. Every game I have it on my mind to try to keep the turnovers down, but playing the game of basketball, it’s not a perfect game.”

Breaking into stages his repeated and occasionally aborted comebacks from multiple knee surgeries, Rose has managed to keep them reasonable and, so far this time, achievable. With his play through three games against the Bucks — he’s averaging 24.0 points, 8.0 assists, 10-of-22 on 3-point attempts and a mighty 120/96 split in offensive and defensive ratings — Rose unofficially has reached the “pinch me” stage for the Bulls and their fans.

Many of them never thought they’d see again the day they could enjoy, free of worry, Rose’s romps through the lane and violent bursts in changing direction. To them, Rose’s comments were meant to be reassuring, offering up a player who might not drop jaws quite like the 22-year-old who took home the Maurice Podoloff MVP trophy but one who is better equipped to stick around and lead the Bulls where they all want to go.

***

No. 4: Pelicans must grow from painful lesson — The shock and pain of watching the ugly game video from the stunning Game 3 loss is past. The hurt of seeing Stephen Curry’s game-tying 3-pointer out of the left corner has numbed them. The knowledge that a chance to throw a real scare into the Warriors has slipped through their fingers has sunk in. Now comes the heavy lifting for the Pelicans, says our Fran Blinebury. Turning the agonizing lesson into fuel for the future fire:

On one hand, just making the rally to get into the playoffs should have been the accomplishment for a nascent roster to grow on. But to win a game when they had their hands around the best-record-in-the-league Warriors’ necks for most of the night would have been a shouting-from-the-rooftops cry that their day was coming fast.

“You have to take ownership of it,” said coach Monty Williams said. “You can’t sugarcoat it. We’re all feeling like dirt right now, so obviously you want to build them up, but there is nothing that can build you up in a situation like that. It can be a growth moment for us. It’s just tough. To have the game, and to lose it that way, there is no way to fix it right away. We’ve got to deal with it and own it.”

The Pelicans gave Curry not one, but two chances to tie the game in the final six seconds of regulation. They gave up 10 offensive rebounds and 16 second-chance points in the fourth quarter. They didn’t smartly foul Marreese Speights when he pulled in the critical rebound and before he got the ball back to Curry in the left corner. They watched a Warriors team show that the only way to really close out a game is to keep hammering and hammering away at it until there is not a single tick left on the clock.

For all the game situations and different looks and predicaments that can be encountered over the long 82-game regular season schedule, they are not the kind of lessons that can be learned in December and January or even March and April. It takes the finality of the playoffs — win or go home — to be the stern, painful, enduring teacher.

***

No. 5:Poor free-throw shooters of the world can celebrate — Let rim benders rejoice. No more long, tedious hours in the gym wasted on improving one of the most fundamental parts of your craft. NBA commissioner Adam Silver told Tim McMahon of the ESPNDallas.com that there will be serious discussion about the “Hack-a-Shaq” rule in various league meetings this spring:

Silver, who replaced the retired David Stern as commissioner in February 2014, acknowledged that the discussion is “in part” about weighing the value of entertainment and strategy.

It’s been a talking point during the playoffs, with the San Antonio Spurs sending the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan to the foul line 17 times in a playoff victory earlier this week.

“I really don’t know. I think we’re clearly going to look at it, and even though I have D.J. [Jordan], I still go back and forth on it,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers told reporters before Friday night’s Game 3 against the Spurs. “I was put on the committee to look at what’s good for the league, not our team, and it’s still a tough one for me even though it’s obvious for everyone. Every ref, every game it starts, he [Jordan] looks over at me and says, ‘You guys have to stop this.’”

Rivers’ conflicted opinion of the strategy mirrored Silver’s.

“It’s a tough one for me. I go back and forth on it because I look at the other side as if you make it, they won’t do it,” Rivers said.

“That’s too simple, I think, and I think fans watching it, I don’t think it’s that enjoyable to watch and we’re all waiting for the game where a team has one [poor free throw shooter] on each team and the coaches go back and forth and do it. The game is going to last forever, No. 1, and it would be ugly to watch, so that’s my answer.”

Silver reiterated his awareness and responsibility of the balance between protecting how the game is played and creating a compelling product.

“But at the end of the day, it’s about the game,” Silver said. “I used to run something called NBA Entertainment, but I always remind myself in my job now as commissioner and managing the league office, it’s the game above all. So I think we have to [determine] what makes the most sense for the game.

“That’s why I’m sensitive about guys being able to make their free throws, and I also find that sometimes it’s a fascinating strategy,” Silver said. “We’re very conservative when it comes to changing the rules of the game. That’s why changing the rules of the game requires more than the majority of the owners; it requires a super majority. So we’ve got to be very careful, but it is something that we’re looking at closely.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Down 3-0 to the Rockets, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle comes out swinging at the referees…After a career playoff high 26 rebounds, there are no more questions about Dwight Howard’s health…Kyle Lowry’s struggles continue as Raptors go down 3-0…By the way, league office says OT might not have been necessary.  Stephen Curry was also fouled on that clutch game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation Game 3… Count the Celtics as being surprised that the situation between Rajon Rondo and the Mavericks blew up so badly…Kawhi Leonard will remain a Spur next season and could help recruit LaMarcus Aldridge to join him in San Antonio.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Parker ready for tonight’s Game 3

SAN ANTONIO — Tony Parker is a go for Game 3 but that doesn’t mean Parker will definitely go, in terms of acceleration.

As Tim Duncan stated earlier, Parker is “a gamer. I guarantee he’ll be out there because that’s the player he is.” Actually, Parker’s presence wasn’t much in doubt; his ability to roam the floor freely without any restriction or pain is in question. He has battled leg injuries for a segment of the season, first the hamstring and lately the quad and Achilles, which caused him to skip the last five minutes of regulation and OT in Game 2 without scoring a basket. Obviously his health is of great importance to the Spurs’ chances of beating the Clippers in this first-round series, let alone repeating as champs.

“Been a tough year,” Parker said. “But nobody cares about that. I’ll be alright.”

A limping Parker conjures up images of last season when he couldn’t finish a pair of playoff series, but the Spurs won without him. There’s a difference this time, though. Parker didn’t get injured until late in those rounds. This time, he’s gimpy right from the start, which puts the Spurs in a bind. If he can’t play at or near his level, that’s asking the Spurs to beat Chris Paul with Patty Mills three more times.

One game, OK. But three?

Mills dropped 18 on the Clippers and was huge in overtime. Also, Duncan turned back the clock with 28 points and 11 rebounds, but had to labor 44 minutes. Essentially, it took a lot for the Spurs to win Game 2, which would’ve gone the Clippers’ way had Blake Griffin not lost a crucial turnover late in regulation (and another in OT).

As if Parker’s problems weren’t enough, the Spurs are getting little from Manu Ginobili, who seems a step slow on the floor and one step quicker toward possible retirement this summer.

Celtics surprised by Rondo’s finish in Dallas


VIDEO: Charles and Kenny are on board with the Mavericks parting ways with Rajon Rondo

BOSTON — Whatever issues led to Rajon Rondo and Rick Carlisle butting heads in Dallas were somehow avoided in Boston with the Brad Stevens.

Stevens, the Celtics coach, admitted to being a bit surprised that Rondo’s time in Dallas seems to have to come to an ugly finish.

Rondo has been ruled out for the remainder of the team’s postseason run, technically by a “bad back.” But his conflicts with Carlisle have been well documented, the latest coming in the Mavericks’ Game 2 loss to Houston Tuesday, when Rondo was benched in favor of Ray Felton and J.J. Barea.

Rondo was solid in 22 games with Boston this season before he and Dwight Powell were traded to the Mavericks for Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright, a first-round pick, a second-round pick and a trade exception. He averaged 8.3 points and at the time a league-leading 10.8 assists.

“I felt like Rajon had played really well at the start of the year,” Stevens said. “I had coached him during a really tough time for him, simply because last year he was just coming back from that ACL tear and not having any practice, which is really unique, and so it was just a matter of him getting the feel a little bit better. I was around him a lot this summer. I was around him a lot this fall. He had the unfortunate hand break at the start of the season and it put him a little bit behind again. But I thought he played pretty well here, so yeah, I was a little bit surprised.”

Celtics boss Danny Ainge, a longtime Rondo advocate, admitted his surprise at the drama that’s gone down in Dallas in a local radio (98.5 the Sports Hub’s “Toucher & Rich”) show earlier this week:

“I’m very surprised,” Ainge said. “I thought it would be a good fit for the Mavericks and Rajon. I don’t really know what’s going on down there. I read a little bit (Wednesday) and heard some things, but I’m very surprised. I thought it would work out well for both people.”

“I don’t know what’s going on down there,” Ainge said. “Rajon was terrific here with coach (Brad) Stevens. I think they got along. The whole question is, Rondo was good this year for us. He worked really hard in the offseason. I really did think it was going to be a big year for him, and Rajon just hasn’t played as well, for whatever reason, as he hoped and as we had hoped and as the Mavericks had hoped.”

Rondo will be a free agent this summer, so he’ll have the opportunity to start somewhere fresh for the 2015-16 season. But this residue of this tumultuous season will no doubt travel with him, wherever he goes.

That said, Carlisle and the Mavericks stand by the deal.

Carlisle told a Dallas radio station Thursday that it was a risky move, but one worth taking.

“In the case of anything, there is risk, but there are risks worth taking,” Carlisle said Thursday on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM. “That trade was a risk worth taking. We all agreed on that. Now, we’re at a point where, hey, it’s time to move on.”

Morning shootaround — April 24


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry sparks Warriors’ wild comeback win | Parker questionable for Game 3 | Carlisle stands by Rondo trade | James give Love another vote of confidence

No. 1: ‘Fearless’ Curry fuels epic Warriors comeback — Years and years from now, perhaps we will all look back on Game 3 of the Golden State Warriors-New Orleans Pelicans series as the one that sparked Golden State’s title run. Or, if nothing else, the game has already secured a spot as one of the all-time great NBA playoff comebacks. The Warriors climbed from a 20-point hole in to tie (and, eventually, win) Game 3 thanks to the heroics of Stephen Curry and his never-say-die style of play. Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group expertly details an amazing game by the Warriors and Curry:

The Warriors won a franchise-record 67 games in the regular season, including a league-leading 28 on the road. But none compares to the one they notched against the Pelicans in Game 3 of their first-round series that the Warriors now lead 3-0.

After dominating for most of the game, the Pelicans left a crack open when Anthony Davis missed a free throw with 9.6 seconds left, giving the Warriors a chance to tie it with a 3-pointer.

Of course the ball went to Curry, and the NBA’s all-time single-season record-holder in such shots missed his first try. Given a second attempt off a Marreese Speights offensive rebound, Curry threw up some magic from the corner as Davis collided into him. Curry pumped his fists after Tyreke Evans‘ 3-point attempt at the buzzer missed.

“You give him two looks at that basket? In the corner?” Warriors forward Draymond Green said incredulously. “Oh man, I knew that was money when it left his hand.”

“To make that shot shows everything that Steph is about,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “On a night when he’s not even having a great shooting performance, his confidence level is just off the charts. He’s fearless.”

“It’s a long game,” Curry said of the comeback. “We just stick with it, and it’s a sweet feeling to get this win after how the whole game went.”

Davis poured in 29 points, and Ryan Anderson added 26 off the bench, but it wasn’t enough. The Warriors can sweep the series with another win in New Orleans on Saturday.

“You can’t sugarcoat it,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “We’re all feeling like dirt right now, so obviously you want to build them up, but there is nothing that can build you up in a situation like that.”


VIDEO: Warriors.com recaps a thrilling Game 3 of the Golden State-New Orleans series

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