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Horford, Hawks know better than to underestimate Nets on playoff stage


VIDEO: Al Horford talks playoffs on Inside Stuff

ATLANTA — Having been there a time or two themselves, the Atlanta Hawks are well aware of the folly involved with taking the Brooklyn Nets lightly.

The sub-500 record, the uneven season and seemingly indifferent attitude about trying to be an elite team, given the highest payroll in the league, will not be a factor in this No. 1 vs No. 8 first-round playoff series against the Eastern Conference juggernaut Hawks and the slipped-in-through-the-backdoor Nets.

So they know better than most the faulty thinking in assuming they will see the same Nets team they swept 4-0 during the regular season.

“Doesn’t mean a thing,” Hawks All-Star forward Paul Millsap said. “Gotta win four games. And then try and win four more. It’s the playoffs.”

All-Star guard Kyle Korver agreed that Hawks’ regular season dominance over the Nets is meaningless the moment the game tips off this afternoon at Philips Arena.

“It’s hard to win any playoff series, no matter who it is,” he said. “We won some games against them this year. But their team has changed a lot over the course of this year. They had guys who were injured or really out of sync or whatever. And I think if you ask them, they probably feel like they’ve played their best basketball over the last 15 games or so of the regular season. They definitely present some challenges for us. They have great size, they’ve got some guys who have had great careers. They are well coached. We have a ton of respect for them.”

The Nets certainly boast personnel that suggests they should be much higher on the playoff food chain in the Eastern Conference than the 8th and final seed. Joe Johnson, a seven-time All-Star and one of the backbone of the Hawks’ turnaround from lottery outfit to playoff time during his time here, has shined in the postseason crucible before. Deron Williams and Brook Lopez have plenty of postseason experience as well.

Any team with those three players in a rhythm at the same time can be dangerous in a playoff setting.

But the Hawks enter this postseason in a different space, with a confidence that has often been absence during their 8-year run, the longest active streak in the Eastern Conference. Having All-Star center Al Horford healthy and back in the mix for an entire season is a huge boost as well.

The Hawks’ first and last, prior to this season’s mercurial run, playoff trips came with the No. 8 seed and underdog tag their fans have grown accustomed to dealing with in these postseason scenarios. Both times, against the eventual champion Boston Celtics eight years ago and against the Indiana Pacers last season, the series stretched to seven games.

Horford was an integral piece of the that series against the Celtics, shining as a rookie in his first postseason appearance. He watched in designer suits last season, unable to come back from a torn pectoral injury that cost him most of the season.

“It’s not just me,” Horford said. “I still think the most important thing is we have another year together as a team in this system. And we have last year’s experience. I know you cannot replace experience, you cannot take anything or any opposing team for granted. You have to respect the other team for doing what it takes to get here. But I am really excited to come out here and see what I can do to help this team win.”

As excited as he is to see the floor today, the rest of the Hawks are just as anxious (not “nervous,” as DeMarre Carroll was quick to point out) to see him back in the playoff mix as the anchor of this crew on both ends of the floor.

“It’s big, his ability to spread the floor,” said All-Star point guard Jeff Teague. “but it’s also him on the defensive end being the anchor. Him being able to get up and down the floor and run and try to get Brook Lopez to try and keep up with him. We just have to play with a lot of pace. Al’s definitely excited to get back on the floor and to be able to play in front of our great fans again in the playoffs.”

Knee, Shooting Touch Both Pain Parsons

VIDEO: Mavs’ forward Chandler Parsons slams one home.

HOUSTON — Chandler Parsons finally got a chance to do what he wanted to do in front of the old home crowd. He got out in front on the transition game, rose up and hammered home a dunk right into the teeth of the jeering that was coming from the Toyota Center stands.

Trouble was, it came after Parsons had already missed three shots and his Mavericks fell quickly behind by double-digits in the first five minutes of a 118-108 loss to the Rockets Saturday night.

Parsons had missed the last six games of the regular season due to pain in his right knee and looked like someone who couldn’t find a rhythm. He shot 5-for-15 from the field, missed all four of his attempts from behind the 3-point line and finished with 10 points in an ineffective 37 minutes.

“We can’t do that, especially in the the playoffs,” he said. “We have to find a way to be consistent and play the same way for 48 minutes. We can’t give-up those leads and have these teams go on runs. Houston is a team of runs and they have guys that can make plays. We have to try to eliminate those.”

Parsons, who became the object of derision in Houston after signing a free agent contract with the Mavericks for $46 million over three years last summer, had to leave the game and go to the locker midway through the second quarter.

“I just landed and I felt some pain,” he said. “My leg just kind of gave out on me. I couldn’t really shake it. It didn’t feel great. I felt fine the first six to eight minutes and I think that was partly due to adrenaline.

“Something happened when I landed and it was real painful. We have a lot of work to do here and I hope it doesn’t swell up overnight. I’ll visit the doctors and the trainers (Sunday) and hope for the best.

“I want to play more. You have to be smart and I have to have a good judgment with my body. I was definitely a little rusty today and I missed a couple of chippies and some open shots. I didn’t have my usual lift and I was definitely feeling some pain and discomfort in the right knee.”

The pain only made the entire experience worse.

“This definitely isn’t the way you want to play or feel in the playoffs,” he said.

Paul still pounding at the championship door


VIDEO: Chris Paul talks Clippers-Spurs matchup.

LOS ANGELES — When Doc Rivers took over the Clippers job two summers ago and met with Chris Paul, he had this to say to the point guard, rather bluntly: “You haven’t won anything in this league.”

And Paul later admitted: “Yeah, he’s right. I haven’t.”

Here they are, another 50-plus win regular season in the books, another splendid season by Paul behind them, another chance to win something, and the Clippers get the Spurs in the first round starting Sunday night. It’s almost as if the basketball Gods are punishing Paul for stealing the athletic ability from his commercial twin brother Cliff. Or something like that. Paul is perhaps the best point guard of the last half-decade or so, and 10 seasons into a certain Hall of Fame career is still one of the top 10 players in the league, and yet his heavy list of personal accomplishments hasn’t translated into a championship or even a trip beyond the second round of the playoffs.

He is either headed down the same path as Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing, titans without a title, or maybe the coronation is coming soon, perhaps this June. All Paul knows is the nightmare of last summer, often relived by critics, when he crumbled in Game 5 against Oklahoma City and stumbled into a long, hot summer.

“CP is on a mission and that’s good for everybody,” Rivers said.

Paul seems humbled by his lack of summer success. Introspective by nature, and a proud leader to boot, Paul doesn’t get snippy when asked about his missing ring. He acknowledges his fate without accepting it and simply says, sounding very believable, that his next crack at a championship will be his best crack while also conceding that time waits for no one.

“I feel like you’ve got to seize the moment every year,” he said. “You never know what could happen with injuries and all that different kind of stuff.”

On the even of Clippers-Spurs, a first-round matchup with the aroma of a Western Conference final, Rivers tried to reduce the temperature in the room. Failing to win a title this season, Rivers said, doesn’t mean all is lost. The Clippers are relatively young and the core is still in its prime.

“I don’t think (our) sense of urgency is greater than Tim Duncan’s, and they won the title last year,” Rivers said. “My hope is every single player wants to win a title. Then, isn’t everyone’s urgency the same? I laugh when people say `it’s a must win for (us).’ But isn’t it a must win for the other team?”

Well, sure. It does. But Rivers knows, deep down, the rules are different for superstars. They make the most money, reap the most benefits, luxuriate in the most praise and therefore, in order to confirm their status, shouldn’t winning a title be part of the deal?

Yes, there are excuses. Barkley was stuck on lousy teams in Philly and in Phoenix, he couldn’t beat Michael Jordan. Ewing couldn’t beat Jordan either, and when the window opened a crack after Jordan played baseball, Ewing couldn’t beat Hakeem Olajuwon. Paul can’t beat the Spurs; he’s 0-2 against them in the playoffs, but there’s no icon standing between him and the trophy unless you feel Steph Curry already qualifies.

Paul has been gifted with a top-5 coach like Rivers, and a top-5 forward in Blake Griffin, and a top-5 big man in DeAndre Jordan, and one of the best sixth men in Jamal Crawford. The bench is mostly baloney but if the Clippers are reaching deep into the rotation for help in the playoffs, nothing can save them. Basically, while the Clippers aren’t heads and shoulders above the other contenders in the West or the NBA, they have a chance. Paul has his chance.

And yet he also has perhaps his hardest road ever. He must get through Popovich and Duncan and Parker, and then maybe Harden, and then maybe Curry, and if all goes well and the Clippers are in the NBA Finals, he’ll likely say hello to LeBron.

Therefore: If Chris Paul this summer finally wins his first title, wouldn’t it feel like he just won two?

Parsons ready to block out the noise


VIDEO: Rockets-Mavericks series preview

The sounds at the Toyota Center will be exactly the same every time he touches the ball: “Boooooooo!”

But Chandler Parsons vows that the hoots and hollers, yells and catcalls won’t get inside his head during tonight’s playoff opener (9:30 ET on ESPN) the way they did back in November.

Parsons, of course, is villain No. 1 in Houston as the in-state postseason rivalry with Dallas rekindles after he switched teams last summer by signing a three-year, $46-million free agent offer from the Mavericks.

But the 26-year-old forward told Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News that he’s got the jitters out of his system:

“The first time was a little overwhelming,” he said, remembering with a sheepish grin the 3-for-9 shooting night that led to just eight points. “I didn’t know exactly how it was going to be. I had a feeling, but you can’t really feel that unless you go through it.

“The second time I went there, it was nothing special. This time shouldn’t be an issue. The series is much bigger than me going back there. It’s about us winning four games before them.”

Parsons was a particularly inept 0-for-5 on 3-pointers in the Mavs’ 95-92 loss on Nov. 22. But he bounced back to shoot 8-for-13 — including five 3-pointers — when the Mavs returned to Houston on Jan. 28, but Dallas still lost the game 99-94.

Though he sat out the last six games of the regular season with a sore right knee, Parsons says he’ll be back on the floor, even if he’s not 100 percent.

New replay center reduces review times

The new replay center helped reduce the time referees spent reviewing calls by approximately 50 percent, the NBA announced Friday after the first regular season with the facility in Secaucus, N.J., outfitted with 94 monitors sending images from all 29 arenas.

Among the statistics from the league:

  • The average review time was 42.1 seconds.
  • Of the 1,596 replays upheld or overturned, 80.8 percent were upheld and 19.2 percent were overturned.
  • There were an average of 1.76 reviews per game.
  • The most-common reasons to use the Replay Center were to determine whether a shot was for two points or three (623 times) and whether a shot was released before the end of a quarter (482).

Reducing the time spent on reviews was one of the primary factors in opening the Replay Center. While referees at the games still made the decisions, having league executives with experience as officials allowed the people manning the Secaucus facility to anticipate the reviews the referees would want to see.

Also Friday, the NBA announced it will include which referees made which calls as part of the play-by-play, effective immediately.

 

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar undergoes heart surgery

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — Legendary NBA center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is resting and recuperating in Los Angeles following what doctors say was “successful” quadruple coronary bypass surgery. Abdul-Jabbar, who yesterday turned 68 years old, is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, a six-time MVP and a member of the Hall of Fame.

UCLA Health issued the following statement via the Los Angeles Lakers…

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was admitted to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center this week with cardiovascular disease, and he underwent quadruple coronary bypass surgery on April 16. The operation was performed by Dr. Richard Shemin, UCLA’s chief of cardiac surgery.

Shemin said the surgery was successful and he expects Abdul-Jabbar to make a full recovery.

At this time, Abdul-Jabbar would like to thank his surgical team and the medical staff at UCLA, his alma mater, for the excellent care he has received. He is looking forward to getting back to his normal activities soon.

He asks that you keep him in your thoughts and, most importantly, cherish and live each day to its fullest.

For those wanting to send well wishes, he thanks you in advance and asks that you support those in your own community who may be suffering from various health issues.

Get well soon, Cap.

Morning shootaround — April 17


VIDEO: Top 10 plays from 2014-15 regular season

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant ‘can’t wait’ for start of 2015-16 | Kupchak optimistic Lakers can rebuild fast | Gores gives support to Drummond | Brown worried about Embiid’s weight, work ethic

No. 1: Durant smarting over season, can’t wait for 2015-16 — Oklahoma City came within one game of a playoff berth, but ultimately missed out on that goal. Who knows what the Thunder could have accomplished this season with their revamped roster and, of course, a healthier Kevin Durant. In the team’s closing news conference, the reigning MVP said he can’t wait for next season to prove all his doubters wrong. ESPN.com’s Royce Young was on hand and has more:

After having a third surgery on his right foot, 2014 MVP Kevin Durant called this season the toughest year he’s ever had playing basketball.

“I’m definitely pissed. I heard a lot of stuff during this time I’ve been injured from everybody. From different people. Definitely pissed,” Durant, speaking at the Thunder’s annual exit interviews, said Thursday, without specifically mentioning what was said or who said it. “Can’t wait until the first game.”

Durant was asked if he had concerns with the history of big men and foot injuries.

“Bill Walton and Yao Ming had two totally different injuries than I had,” Durant said. “I can remember a lot of people saying I was too small, too skinny. But now, all of a sudden, I’m a big man. So I don’t know what you mean by that. It’s two totally different injuries that I have from those guys.

“But I know for sure I’ll be back. I know I’ll put the work in. I know that I’m never going to just quit on anything, so I’m going to keep working until I get back right.”

“It’s definitely been the toughest year I’ve ever had playing basketball, but just try to look forward to and stay positive with it all and help my guys out,” Durant said. “Every day I tell myself we’re going to look back on this and smile and laugh at it and recognize this is just an obstacle we had to climb over to get to where we want to get to.”

Set to be a free agent in the summer of 2016, Durant was asked about his desire to remain with the organization.

“My concern is getting back healthy. That’s all I’m worried about,” Durant said. “I know that stuff is going to start to roll around here soon, but I’m just worried about getting healthy and playing again and doing something I love to do. I’m going to work my tail off to get back right, and that’s all I’m focused on.”

The 2015-16 campaign will carry a bright spotlight and a different kind of pressure. Durant, though, isn’t concerned with that.

“Every year, you can’t put too much pressure on it,” he said. “If I go in saying, ‘Oh, this is the biggest we’ve ever had’ … Obviously we always want to win the championship, but from day one, you can’t put too much pressure on yourself. You’ve just to go out and play and everything will take care of itself.”


VIDEO: Kevin Durant is already gearing up for next season

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HGH testing, added in NBA/union joint effort, among topics at Board of Govs

NEW YORK – The agenda items at the NBA Board of Governors meeting Thursday and Friday pales, on the excitement scale, next to the start of the league’s 2015 playoffs this weekend. A lot of business-as-usual is on the table, including updates on the potential sale of the Atlanta Hawks and arena developments in Milwaukee, San Francisco and Sacramento.

But one topic sure to generate conversation when NBA commissioner Adam Silver meets with reporters Friday afternoon was the joint announcement by the league and the National Basketball Players Association that blood testing for human growth hormone (HGH) would be added to the anti-drug program starting with next season.

As far back as the 2011 lockout, during the protracted collective bargaining talks, the union and the owners agreed to a process for determining how HGH blood testing would be implemented. That process hit a snag, however – first former commissioner David Stern and then Silver explained that the NBPA’s search for an executive director to replace Billy Hunter precluded further progress on the matter.

With Michele Roberts‘ hiring as NBPA chief in July, however, the work resumed.

Under the plan announced Thursday, beginning with the start of 2015 NBA training camps, all NBA players will be subject to three random, unannounced HGH tests annually (two in-season, one off-season). Players also will be subject to reasonable-cause testing for HGH.

Any player who tests positive would be suspended for 20 games for his first violation and 45 games after his second. A third violation would result in the player being dismissed and disqualified from the NBA.

Among other BOG business, the owners will see a presentation on expansion efforts into youth basketball. Competition-related topics such as scheduling improvements, conference alignment and playoff qualification also was likely to be discussed. Silver has gone on record as wanting to eliminate as many “four in five nights” scheduling challenges as possible to ease players’ workloads, possibly reduce injuries and provide for better competition between more-rested participants.

After the annual spring meeting Friday, the NBA will conduct its tiebreaking process to determine teams’ orders heading toward the May 19 draft lottery.

Report: Thunder plan to evaluate coach Brooks’ future with team

NBA.com staff reports

Back in 2008, the Oklahoma City Thunder opened their debut season in Oklahoma under coach P.J. Carlesimo. But after a 1-12 start to 2008-09, he was fired and his then-assistant, Scott Brooks, took over the helm. Since then, Brooks has been the man who has seen the Thunder rise from bottom-dweller in the Western Conference to NBA Finalist and a regular winner of the Northwest Division title.

Yet Brooks has not been without his critics and perhaps the Thunder missing the playoffs will cause those rumbles to begin again. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, the Thunder plan to evaluate Brooks’ contract and future with the team soon:

The Oklahoma City Thunder are expected to spend time evaluating the partnership with coach Scott Brooks before committing to bring him back for the final year on his contract, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Brooks is guaranteed for the 2015-16 season on his deal, with the Thunder holding a team option for 2016-17, sources told Yahoo Sports.

Oklahoma City missed the playoffs for the first time in six years on Wednesday, finishing 45-37 with superstar Kevin Durant lost for most of the year. Thunder general manager Sam Presti has to decide an organizational direction for the final year of Durant’s contract, and that will include a decision about whether Brooks is ultimately the coach most capable of delivering a healthy Thunder roster to a championship. Brooks is well liked within the organization and has forged close relationships with management and players in his seven years as head coach.

Several league sources close to Brooks have doubts about his job security.

If a change comes, University of Florida coach Billy Donovan could emerge as a serious candidate to coach Oklahoma City, league sources said. Presti has a longstanding friendship with Donovan, a two-time national championship coach who has been open about his interest in moving to the NBA.

 

Bad Seed: Spurs crash to No. 6


VIDEO: Pelicans beat Spurs, drop San Antonio to No. 6 seed

If the great philosopher Yogi Berra were on hand, he might have trotted out one of his classic lines: “It’s deja vu all over again.”

Remember when the Spurs let the 2013 NBA crown slip through their fingers and crash to the floor in the final seconds of Game 6.

Well, the stakes weren’t quite so high this time, but the defending champs still treated the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference like a greased pig and, as a result, will open the playoffs on the road for only the second time in the Tim Duncan Era.

The Spurs touched down in New Orleans Wednesday night with a No. 2 slot and the Southwest Division title within their reach. But they flamed out in a 108-103 loss to the Pelicans that sent San Antonio crashing all the way down to the No. 6 seed.

As a result, rather than being guaranteed home-court advantage in at least the first two rounds, the Spurs will open the playoffs in Los Angeles on Sunday against the No. 3 seeded Clippers.

The Spurs had picked themselves off the floor by winning 21 of their previous 24 games and 11 in a row as the took the court in the Big Easy. But the veteran club with the high class pedigree looked under motivated and was outplayed from the start by the Pelicans team that clinched a playoff berth with the win. New Orleans slipped in as the No. 8 seed and will face Golden State.

The Pelicans built a 23-point lead in the second quarter, led by 16 at the half and held on down the stretch after the Spurs cut the lead to five midway through the fourth quarter and to 104-101 in the final seconds.

Maybe the Spurs were overdue for a slip-up or maybe they simply ran out of gas after the late finishing kick over the past six weeks. But long before they arrived in New Orleans, the reigning champs had given themselves virtually no margin for error by losing to the likes of the lowly Knicks, Pistons and Kings in a regular season that they would now most definitely like to forget.

As Yogi might also have said, it got late early for the Spurs this season.