Morning Shootaround

Morning Shootaround — April 20



VIDEO: Daily Zap: April 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Hibbert: ‘I’m the weak link on defense’ | Clips falter late | Pierce embraces villain role | Nowitzki savors playoff berth | Wes Matthews overcomes doubt and adversity

No. 1: Hibbert: ‘I’m the weak link on defense’ – The Indiana Pacers continued their late-season struggle on Saturday night as they lost Game 1, and their home-court advantage, to the Atlanta Hawks 101-93. The demise of the Pacers can be directly linked to their diminished defense, which used to be the heart of their squad. The anchor of this defense, 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert, said after yesterday’s loss that he’s the “main culprit” for the team’s defensive failures. Zak Keefer of The Indianapolis Star has more from Hibbert:

Roy Hibbert was the player — more than any other on this roster — that Pacers coach Frank Vogel rooted his team’s smash-mouth identity around when he took command four seasons ago, dispatching a run-and-gun offense in favor of the inside-out game in which Hibbert could thrive. The Pacers would rule the paint, and Hibbert’s 7-2 frame would serve as their backbone.

It worked wonders for 3 1/2 seasons, and Hibbert’s ascent mirrored that of the team’s. While the Pacers became a championship contender, their All-Star center rose to a runaway pick for Defensive Player of the Year.

That, of course, feels like ages ago. Now, Hibbert is mired in his worst slump in years, one that’s pulled the Pacers into a 1-0 hole to an Atlanta Hawks squad quick to capitalize on the ever-disappearing big man Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Yes, the “What’s up with Roy Hibbert debate?” rages on.

The player Pacers fans grew to know over the past few seasons was, again, noticeably absent.

“I’m gonna keep working at it,” Hibbert said dourly after the game, his head down, his words sparse. “I’m gonna come in and keep doing what I do in practice, work on my hook and get in position down low. Hopefully when I’m called upon I can do it consistently.”

Do it consistently is everything he hasn’t done over the past two months. And he’s been even worse in the past two weeks: Since being benched versus Atlanta on April6, Hibbert has gone 7-of-37 (18.9percent) from the field for all of 17 points in five games.

Not the sort of play you want from a player raking in $14.2million this season.

“We’re an inside-out team,” Lance Stephenson said. “When Roy’s going, we’re great. We got to get everybody in the post going.”

“We just have to get certain guys under control as a team,” Hibbert said. “I’m sure we’ll look over film. I’m the main culprit in terms of being the weak link on defense because they have a spread-five lineup. I guess we’ll have to adjust.”

Indiana, meanwhile, was never able to garner consistent offensive production from Hibbert or David West, the tandem the Pacers can typically rely on to do the dirty work down low. What was supposed to be a significant Indiana advantage turned out, for one night at least, to be a draw.

“We’ve got to do a better job of getting the ball in the paint and the post,” said [David] West, who finished with eight points and battled foul trouble most of the night.

Hibbert’s offensive performance was all the more bizarre. After sinking a hook shot in the lane 43 seconds into the contest, Hibbert was nonexistent on that end of the floor for nearly three quarters.

***


VIDEO: Warriors vs. Clippers: Game 1

No. 2: Clips falter late – The Los Angeles Clippers led the Golden State Warriors 103-102 with 2:10 remaining in the fourth quarter of Game 1 on Saturday afternoon. But they struggled in the closing minutes with turnovers by Darren Collison and Chris Paul proving to be too much to overcome as the Warriors won 109-105 to steal home-court advantage in the series. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times has more on the Clippers late-game struggle:

The moment was right in front of the Clippers and Golden State Warriors, there to be seized by two teams that have much disdain for each other.

When the time came to grab hold of that moment, when Game 1 of the Western Conference first-round playoff series hung in the balance, the Clippers failed.

“I don’t want to say it was the pressure of the playoffs. It was just the way the game went,” said J.J. Redick, who had 22 points on eight-for-11 shooting, four for five from three-point range. “. . . We want to beat these guys. They want to beat us. And sometimes that leads to mental errors.”

On Saturday it also led to Blake Griffin playing only 19 minutes 14 seconds because of foul trouble.

Griffin eventually fouled out with 48.3 seconds left, less a minute after he’d tied the score at 105-105 on two free throws with 1:31 left.

He tried to give the Clippers the lead, but missed a layup and a follow tip-in try. Then Griffin fouled David Lee while trying to get another offensive rebound, his sixth, sending him to the bench with 16 points and three rebounds.

The Clippers didn’t score again.

“I kept putting myself in a hole and a bad situation fouling,” Griffin said. “I can’t say whether that affected other guys or not. It affected our team, obviously. Like I said, I’ve got to do a better job.”

With or without Griffin, the Clippers botched opportunity after opportunity.

Chris Paul finished with 28 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. But he had six turnovers, and missed two key free throws late in the game.

“I’ve got to take care of the basketball,” Paul said.

“We made too many mistakes to win the game,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “When you do that, you lose the game.”

The Clippers now have lost Game 1 of a playoff series six times since moving to Los Angeles in 1984.

They lost the series each of previous five times that has happened.

“I told them going in, you would love to win all your home games,” Rivers said. “But if you don’t, you don’t. And you’ve got to win one on the road, maybe two on the road, to win the series. I’ve said that to them all year. You have to be prepared for all that. We have to win a game on the road now.”

***


VIDEO: Postgame: Pierce and Williams

No. 3: Pierce embraces villain role – The Toronto Sun mocked the age of the Brooklyn Nets on the cover of their Saturday newspaper, saying Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are older than dinosaurs. This jab proved meaningless as Pierce led the Nets to a 94-87 victory over the Raptors, taking home-court away from their division rival. Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News has more on Pierce’s willingness to play the role of villain:

Paul Pierce enjoys being the villain. He wears that hat well in opposing arenas, like a badge of dishonor.

So as he was leaving Air Canada Centre — after one of those clutch performances that justified GM Billy King making the trade last July — he motioned to the crowd to keep the boos flowing, taunting angry fans by throwing his headband into the seats, only to have it hurled back in his direction.

By the third time, though, the headband didn’t return.

“Yes (they wanted my headband),” Pierce said with a sly smile. “The cameras were on them so they wanted to keep their pride. You saw that the third time was the charm. (The Toronto fan) will wear it one day as a souvenir.

This is why the Nets acquired Pierce — for clutch final moments in crazy, pivotal games, and for the attitude it requires to come out on top.

Dubbed a “Dinosaur” on the front page of the local Toronto paper because of his age, the 36-year-old Pierce buried the Raptors in Game 1 of the opening round, scoring nine of his 15 points in the final three minutes of a wild 94-87 victory that started with a profane insult from Toronto’s GM and ended with a broken shot clock.

“Truth-asaurus Rex 1, Raptors 0,” Pierce retweeted from his account not long after the game.

“(I’ve seen Pierce do that) countless times, man,” Garnett said. “I knew when he hit that three, I knew he was in a rhythm. And then the ball just found him and he was just classic ‘Truth.’ Epic.”

The 37-year-old Garnett was also called a “Dinosaur” on the Toronto Sun cover but had no hard feelings.

“It’s all good. It’s not our first time. When (I would) go to San Antonio, they’re similar. I’ve read this book before,” he said. “It’s nothing new. But I love the Toronto fans. They’re passionate, they love the Raptors, and that’s what’s up. That’s true NBA basketball.”

.***


VIDEO: West Playoff Preview: Mavericks vs. Spurs

No. 4: Nowitzki savors playoff berth – The Dallas Mavericks have failed to win a playoff game since they defeated the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the 2011 Finals to win their only NBA Championship with Dirk Nowitzki. After missing the playoffs last season, the 35-year-old Nowitzki realizes the importance of this playoff run as another one is not always guaranteed. The Associated Press reports on how Nowitzki plans to carry the load for the Mavericks in their opening round series against the one-seeded San Antonio Spurs:

The 7-foot Nowitzki — relatively new father and old hand in the postseason after missing it last year for the first time since 2000 — is just happy to be back in what he calls the big dance, a phrase he stole himself.

“How big our shot is, we’ll see,” said Nowitzki, whose eighth-seeded Mavericks open the playoffs Sunday at San Antonio against the Spurs, the defending Western Conference champions, who finished with the league’s best record. “But we have a shot. It’s better than being ninth, so we’re going to go for it.”

Nowitzki, 35, started his 16th season not really knowing where his likely Hall of Fame career was headed. He was coming off his first knee operation, a setback that had a lot to do with the end of Dallas’s 12-year playoff streak.

He also had new priorities after his daughter was born last summer, keeping him in Dallas and away from family in his native Germany longer than usual during the off-season.

Nowitzki figured he could be the same player, and everybody around him said he was.

Sure enough, his scoring average rose for the first time in five years, and the rest of his numbers looked much as they did in 2010-11, when the Mavericks won the franchise’s only championship. Nowitzki credited an intense summer of working out to stay in shape.

“The thing that you don’t know fully is the load he carries for this franchise,” Mavericks Coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s a mammoth load, not only in scoring, but the leadership aspect of it, how he changes games for other players. And the seriousness with which he takes responsibility for winning and losing.”

The Mavericks’ president for basketball operations, Donnie Nelson, openly wondered whether Nowitzki had to do anything else for Dallas, then remembered whom he was talking about.

“He’s so incredibly competitive,” Nelson said. “He’s like the great ones, man. He’s got that spirit that the [Roger] Staubachs and the Nolan Ryans and the Mike Modanos and the Troy Aikmans and those kinds of guys have.”

In other words, Nelson places him among the biggest names in Dallas’s football-leaning sports history. And Nowitzki’s contract will end when his 13th trip to the playoffs does, so the team’s owner, Mark Cuban, has to decide how much life is left in those legs.

One thing seems certain: Nowitzki will not play anywhere else.

“There’s a lot of guys who’ve been able to score,” Cuban said. “But it’s that mental toughness, competitive aspect, the type of person he is and the example that he sets, not just for basketball fans in North Texas and around the world, but for every future Maverick that walks into the clubhouse.”

Nowitzki has a new scoring sidekick in Monta Ellis. His 14th straight season of leading the Mavericks in scoring could be his last. Carlisle will always be trying to limit his minutes, and there’s no telling when the production will drop.

But it’s not very likely to be during the next couple of weeks, even if the Mavericks are swept in the first round.

“If I didn’t like to compete still, I might as well go home,” Nowitzki said. “That’s why I’m still playing, because I love to be out there trying to help my team win games.”

Nowitzki will certainly have a sense of familiarity in the playoff opener. It will be the sixth time he has seen Tim Duncan and the Spurs in the postseason. San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich has been there for all of them.

“He’s been everything,” Popovich said of Nowitzki. “He’s needed to rebound more, and he did. He’s had a myriad of shots that every year we see new things whether it’s his fadeaway or his drives or his spins, pump fakes.

“He worked himself into a position offensively where he’s impossible to guard. But he’s still pretty much the same thing.”

Even though nobody was sure where Nowitzki was headed when the season started.

***


VIDEO: West Playoff Preview: Trail Blazers vs. Rockets

No. 5: Wes Matthews overcomes doubt and adversity – Wesley Matthews path to the NBA, and the playoffs, has not been an easy one. But despite the struggle and doubters, Matthews has prevailed to become the starting shooting guard for the fifth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers. Bruce Ely of The Oregonian reports on the Matthews’ story:

Wesley Matthews this week scanned a pack of reporters in Portland and named them, one by one.

“Wrote me off,” the Trail Blazers guard says. “Wrote me off … Wrote me off … wrote me off before I even got here.”

At various times, they said he was just a shooter. Not good enough to start. Overpaid.

“I know what’s out there. Shoot, Jesus had haters,” Matthews says. “I know I’m going to have doubters if Jesus can’t be loved all the way.”

To him, the perceived slights are like food, nourishing his hunger to be better, to prove he belongs, and on Sunday, there figures to be a feast before him when the Blazers open their best-of-seven playoff series in Houston.

The pregame buildup of doubts and slights might as well be a replay of his life. The “abandonment,” as he calls it, by his father. The conspiracy he and his mother swear existed to strip him of Wisconsin’s top high school basketball honor because he chose Marquette over Wisconsin. And that unnerving Christmas Eve phone call to his half-sister that was picked up by a sobbing aunt, who said 20-year old Tesa had died in her sleep.

Each time, Matthews has triumphed. He and his father are now “solid” and either talk or text daily. He won the prestigious Mr. Basketball honor by having a historic state tournament performance. And he discovered Tesa had a newborn, and he has since developed a relationship with his niece.

“You are never going to be able to write me off. No matter how bad you may want to, no matter how much you think it will be better for me to be somewhere else, or doing something else, you are never going to write me off,” Matthews says. “Because here’s the thing about me:

“I’m going to find a way.”

He set career highs by averaging 16.4 points, 3.5 rebounds and making 201 three-pointers, the second most in franchise history, and he did it with a steely stare and an I-told-you-so defiance. His persona is best captured in his Twitter staple, a message followed by the hashtag “worstbehavior.” Sometimes, he just tweets #worstbehavior.

“It’s almost like a no-mercy type thing,’’ Matthews explains. “Relentless. Going to give you everything I have, every single time. Love it or hate it, I’m giving you everything I got.’’

His mindset comes from years of practice, and years of mentoring from his mother, Pam Moore, who at Wisconsin became one of the most decorated track athletes in Big Ten history. She was a mix between a drill sergeant and principal, hounding Wesley about his practice habits and schoolwork.

There were simple rules: No C’s on report cards, no slacking in practice (she would watch from the stands in basketball and the car in soccer), and absolutely no losing. Period.

“My mom,’’ Matthews says flatly, “is tough as hell. And her mom is tough as hell.’’

Moore summed it up this way:

“We didn’t allow quit, we didn’t allow defeat,’’ Moore says. “It wasn’t acceptable. No one should beat you, and if they did, you would have to deal with me. I would be the one who determines if a kid is physically stronger or faster than you.’’

Moore says she was the mom in the stands coaching and yelling.

“Everybody knew my mouth,’’ Moore says with a chuckle.

And even today, in Madison, the competitive itch hasn’t left her. On the road, she says she can’t stand to follow, which has led to “my share” of speeding tickets.

“I don’t like driving behind people. I need to be ahead of people,’’ she says. “I still have a problem with that. I’m just a competitor.’’

So perhaps it’s no surprise that Matthews often asks to defend the toughest player, from Kevin Durant to Stephen Curry. And perhaps it’s no surprise he itches for the chance to have his number called for a chance at a last-second shot. He has been trained to win, and the only way you win is by going hard.

“My foot is rarely off the gas, and if it is, it’s always hovering over it,’’ Matthews says.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Blake Griffin accidentally (?) dosed a Warriors’ fan with water after he fouled out. … Durant’s arms are long. … Kyle Korver blocked Roy Hibbert … twice. … Robert Covington was named D-League Rookie of the Year after he averaged 23.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. … The new buyers of the Milwaukee Bucks gave a lengthy interview in which they state their hope to follow the Spurs/Thunder model and have construction for a new arena begin within 12 months.

ICYMI OF THE NIGHT: Paul Pierce’s jumper with 51.5 seconds left against the Raptors silenced the Air Canada Centre crowd and secured the Nets’ victory. Pierce was mic’d up during the play, and had some interesting things to say after his clutch shot. 


VIDEO: Mic’d Up: Paul Pierce

Morning Shootaround — April 19




VIDEO: Warriors-Clippers series preview

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Griffin won’t change ways | Irving, Waiters can work | No Corbin decision yet | D’Antoni won’t change

No. 1: Griffin won’t change ways against Warriors — The war of words may only be heating up before the opening tip to the Clippers-Warriors first round playoff series. Golden State’s Klay Thompson had previously called Blake Griffin an out-of-control flopper. But L.A. coach Doc Rivers says he wants his power forward to simply ignore the noise coming out of the Warriors camp and keep right on doing what he’s been doing all season. That is, kicking tail and taking names. Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com has the details:

“That’s Klay’s opinion; I don’t really care,” Rivers said Friday. “I just keep looking at what Blake’s done. If he’s flopping, then keep doing it because those numbers look awful good to me. So flop on. That’s the way I look at it. Whatever he’s done this year, I want him to keep doing exactly that. When the votes come for MVP, he’ll be in the top three.

“I’m good with anything anybody says. Blake, you just keep doing what you’re doing. What’s happening is Blake is kicking a lot of people’s butts and they need something to say about him.”

Griffin didn’t want to get into a war of words with Golden State but acknowledged it would be impossible to leave his emotions behind when the Clippers and Warriors open their Western Conference first-round series Saturday.

“I don’t think you can leave the emotions behind,” Griffin said. “I think both teams need that to a certain extent. You can’t be too emotional where it’s affecting your play, but you have to play with some emotion. You can’t take that out of the game.”

Griffin wouldn’t go as far as to say the Clippers hate the Warriors, but he did say there was a dislike between certain players on both teams.

“I don’t know if ‘hate’ is a great word,” Griffin said. “This is basketball. We have to go against each other. The dislike may be there for some guys on both teams, but I don’t know about hate. I don’t know if I would hate a basketball player because I play against him.”

***

No. 2: Deng says Irving, Waiters can work — Never mind the talk of disharmony in the lineup and the fact that two headstrong young guards Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters both seem to function best with the ball in their hands. According to Luol Deng, who arrived in Cleveland via trade at midseason, there was never any evidence of disharmony in the Cavaliers locker room. The veteran forward says that all it will take is personal growth and a commitment from the two talented guards to turn them into a force in the league. Bob Finnan of The Morning Herald & News-Journal has the details:

“They have to be willing to work together, watch tape together, watch tape with the coach,” he said. “They’ve shown they can play together. There’s times where they’ve looked great. They’re human, but in terms of can they play together? Yeah. I’ve played in this league for 10 years and I know they can.”

Irving is a two-time All-Star. Waiters is a pure scorer. They are most effective with the ball in their hands. But giving up on either of them right now might be regrettable down the road. 
They are that talented. Instead of making it work, Cavs coach Mike Brown yanked Waiters from the starting lineup after nine games this season. Waiters became the team’s sixth man.

Then, out of necessity, Waiters became the starter at shooting guard when Irving strained his left biceps tendon. Once Waiters got his second chance, he made the best of it. Waiters averaged 21.2 points and 4.2 assists in the last 15 games, sixth best in the Eastern Conference over that span. He also scored 20 or more points in nine of his last 15 games.

“People put their 2 cents into it, but they made it seem like we hated each other and that’s the only part I don’t get,” Waiters said. “You’re not going to always see eye to eye on the court, especially with two ball-dominant guards. But you have to just continue to keep working with one another.”

Cavs guard Jarrett Jack didn’t buy into the premise the two guards aren’t friends.


”It’s crazy that people think they really don’t like each other,” he said. “These kids have known each other since they were in high school — a long, long time.

“I think those guys have the potential to be a force in this league. It’s just going to take a little time for them to develop that synergy, camaraderie. But I think in the end, those two guys have a chance to be a very, very formidable backcourt.”

***

No. 3: Jazz insist no decision made yet on Ty Corbin — The Jazz are pushing back strong at a report out of New York that says a decision has already been made to replace coach Ty Corbin after a disappointing 25-57 campaign after three-plus seasons of following up Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan. General manager Dennis Lindsey had said the Jazz planned to “decompress” before moving forward. Jody Genessey of The Deseret News has the latest:

The final decision on Corbin’s fate has not been made by Jazz ownership and management despite what the New York Daily News reported, according to multiple people closely involved with the situation.

The day after general manager Dennis Lindsey said Utah brass and Corbin would “take a short decompression period to reflect on the season” before meeting to determine the coach’s future, NBA writer Mitch Lawrence reported that a decision has been made.

From his Twitter account, Lawrence wrote that a Jazz executive confirmed that the organization is “ready to pull the plug on Tyrone Corbin and go for a new coach.” He didn’t name any potential replacements.

The Jazz and Corbin’s camp vehemently denied the validity of Lawrence’s report.

“Not accurate. No discussion,” Jazz President Randy Rigby wrote in a text to the Deseret News while in New York for the NBA Board of Governors’ meeting.

Corbin’s agent, attorney Steve Kauffman, still has not heard from the Jazz about his client’s job situation.

“I’m not going to react to anything released by Mitch Lawrence based on my experience over the years,” Kauffman told the Deseret News. “As far as I know, there has been no decision made.”

That final verdict won’t be rendered until after the Miller family meets with Lindsey, Rigby and other members of management to determine whether to re-up Corbin’s contract or to go a different direction.

At Thursday’s locker clean-out, Lindsey said Corbin’s camp agreed to a process (details not given to media) that the team would complete throughout the regular season and that the evaluation would happen after the year ended.

“When we spoke to Ty and his representation during the year, we laid out (that) we wanted to take the full season,” Lindsey said. “We want to take a small period for all of us, Ty included, to decompress, so we’re not making a decision based upon the last possession, the last game and make an emotional decision. … And then in short order, we’ll come together with Ty and talk it out.”

***

No. 4:  D’Antoni says his style not the problem — After finishing the Lakers’ worst season since moving to Los Angeles and more second guessing from anywhere outside of the White House, coach Mike D’Antoni is sure of one thing. It’s not his style of play that produced the myriad of injuries that plagued the roster. In fact, he says it’s time that critics realize the game has changed drastically in the 21st century and everyone must learn to adapt and move forward. Eric Pincus of the L.A. Times spoke to the coach:

“No one’s happy about the way the season went,” said D’Antoni.  “I think every coach should be under scrutiny; they’re under it even if it goes well.  That’s part of the job.”

The Lakers have yet to announce any coaching change.  D’Antoni could be back, despite a general lack of fan support.

How does he win over a very skeptical fan base?

“By winning, that’s the only way you can do it.  They’re right to feel the way they feel, because we didn’t have a good year,” said D’Antoni.  “Opinion is shaped by the record.”

D’Antoni is confident in his style of play, citing injuries as the primary reason the “season went sideways.”

As far as public opinion, the Lakers coach pointed at television analysts as part of the issue.

“I do think that the game is changing and has changed,” said D’Antoni.  “Some of the hard part of coaching is to be able to drag people over to the next side.  People are comfortable doing business a certain way.  When that business kind of shifts, to get people to change is not easy.”

“The problem is most people commenting on it, played a different way.  And now you’re shaping opinion a different way,” he continued.  “As soon as they embrace it a little bit more, I think they’re better off.  But basketball has changed.  It’s not the same basketball that your father played.  It’s just not it.  Teams that adapt to it quicker are going to be more successful.”

How exactly has the game changed?

“I do think the league is going to a more open style, and a faster style,” continued D’Antoni.  “That doesn’t mean there’s no place for a post-up player, there’s no place for a mid-range game.  There is a place, but it’s just not what is dominant today.”

“The league now is dominated by point-guard play, three-point shots and smart players,” said D’Antoni.  “Unless the NBA changes the rules again, like the three-point line and no hand checking, then basketball is going a certain way.”

D’Antoni doesn’t believe his fast-paced style of basketball contributed to the Lakers’ injury woes.

“To me it’s ludicrous. To me, the pace of play and the way you spread the floor leads to less injuries,” he said.  “Just because you don’t pound and hit [as much].”

***

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: A grieving Joakim Noah is expected to be in the lineup for the Bulls’ playoff opener Nick Calathes will appeal his suspensionToni Kukoc wonders if Steve Kerr would make the necessary full commitment to becoming an NBA head coachChris Bosh goes deep into books and music to put on his game face

Morning Shootaround — April 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers’ Gasol open to offers | Suns GM gives Bledsoe big vote of confidence | Irving still non-committal about Cleveland future | Wade says he’s in better shape than last year

No. 1: Lakers’ Gasol open to offers this summer — Much like the season the Los Angeles Lakers experienced themselves, big man Pau Gasol never seemed to find his rhythm on the court this season. Between injuries (including a bout of vertigo that effectively ended his season) to continued clashes with coach Mike D’Antoni, Gasol had a less-than memorable season in Lakerland. As he approaches free agency this summer, Gasol says he’s open to staying with the Lakers — mostly because of teammate Kobe Bryant — as well as moving on to other locales. Yahoo Sports’ Marc J. Spears has more:

Pau Gasol felt nostalgic in what he admitted might have been his last day with the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday. He’s also excited about his impending free agency and is open to a reunion with former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who now runs the New York Knicks’ front office.

“I’m happy for him and the position that he got,” Gasol said. “I’m always going to be a big fan and a friend. I would listen.”

Despite the struggle in recent years, Gasol seemed very much at peace during his postseason media briefing on Thursday. The main reason is because he can help decide his own future as a free agent this offseason.

“This year is a little different,” Gasol said. “Every time I said [he felt sentimental] is because I didn’t know if I was going to be traded. That has been kind of a theme for the last three years. But this year that possibility is out of the question. Now it’s because I will be in charge of my future, my destiny and I have to listen to the different possibilities that I will have on the table.”

Gasol said he would “listen closely” to the possibility of returning to the Lakers. The biggest reason he’d consider returning is to continue playing with Kobe Bryant.

Gasol, however, also said he had “misunderstandings” with D’Antoni the past two years and was uncertain if the status of the coach would affect his decision.

Jackson coached Gasol with the Lakers from 2007-10. Since being hired as the Knicks’ president, Jackson has signed former Lakers forward Lamar Odom to a contract and met with former Lakers forward Metta World Peace. The Knicks would be interested in Gasol in free agency, a source said.

Gasol, 33, made $19.3 million in the final year of his contract and isn’t expected to get anything close to the type of salary again. Joining the Knicks would likely come with a massive pay cut since the most they can offer – without a sign-and-trade deal – is the taxpayer’s midlevel exception, expected to be worth about $3.2 million.

With the Knicks expected to play Jackson’s triangle offense and more of a half-court, such a style of play could be attractive to Gasol. Gasol, however, also said he wanted to play on a championship-caliber team and the Knicks didn’t make the playoffs this season with Carmelo Anthony.

“I want to enjoy the moment and not be too stressed about it, even though at some point I’m going to have to make a decision,” said Gasol, who is improving from his recent bout with vertigo. “It will be exciting. I look at this as an opportunity. For the first, and maybe only time, I will be a free agent where I can choose. It’s exciting. It’s nothing that I’ve experienced in the NBA.”


VIDEO: Pau Gasol talks with the media during his Lakers exit interview

***

No. 2: Suns GM: ‘Waste of time’ for other teams to pursue Bledsoe — The Phoenix Suns won 48 games and came within a few days of clinching a playoff berth in a season in which few expected them to do more than trudge their way into the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery. With guards Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe leading the charge, the Suns captured the hearts of many and showed that a backcourt with two starting-caliber point guards could thrive in Arizona (if not elsewhere). Bledsoe is a free agent this summer and the Suns have every intention of keeping him around, it seems, based on the strong talk from GM Ryan McDonough. Adam Green of ArizonaSports.com has more on McDonough’s view on Bledsoe in Phoenix:

Bledsoe has been excellent when on the court, and at 24 still has room to improve. The Suns know this, and they’d like for that improvement to come with him wearing their jersey.

“That’s what we’re planning on doing,” Suns GM Ryan McDonough told Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Wednesday when asked if the Bledsoe will be retained, be it via a contract he signs with the Suns or one that is signed with someone else but matched by the team. “I think Eric did a terrific job after he was frustrated with the injury.

“He came back and played extremely well for us down the stretch.”

Overall, Bledsoe has been every bit the player the Suns hoped they were getting when they pulled the trigger on the trade that brought him and Caron Butler to the Valley in exchange for Jared Dudley and a second-round pick.

“We view him as a core part of our team going forward,” the GM said. “I think there were some questions externally about how it would work with him and Goran going into the season, and we don’t have any doubts that those guys answered the questions and that they’re one of the premier backcourts in the NBA.”

As a restricted free agent, Bledsoe has the right to sign with any team he chooses. After that, though, the Suns have the right to match any offer sheet he signs in order to keep him.

Saying they’ll do that, though, will not necessarily dissuade another team from trying to woo him.

“He’s played well enough and is deserving enough of an extension where I think it would be a waste of time for another team to throw an offer at him and tie up their cap space while other free agents are going off the board,” McDonough said. “But you never know; it only takes one.

“We’ll see what happens. There’s also the chance that we try to work it out in advance and just not let it get to that point, where he has to get an offer and we match. Our preference would be just to to do an offer with Eric and his representatives.”


VIDEO: Eric Bledsoe talks with the media during his Suns exit interview

***

No. 3: Irving continues to hedge bets about Cleveland future — Since he was taken No. 1 overall by Cleveland in the 2011 Draft, Kyrie Irving has amassed a Rookie of the Year trophy, two All-Star berths and countless highlights for Cavaliers fans. His future with the Cavs remains the topic of interest most to fans and the team as Irving’s rookie deal will expire after next season, but he can sign an extension this summer. The latter topic is one that Irving continues to remain totally clear on, although he does sound like he’d stay in Cleveland. During yesterday’s exit interviews with the media, Irving talked about his view on staying in Ohio and more. Jodie Valade of The Plain Dealer was there and has more:

After the final buzzer sounded, after Kyrie Irving stuck around to hand out not just one pair of shoes, but several, at Fan Appreciation Night, the Cavaliers point guard at long last addressed the fact that he can sign a contract extension this summer.And he came the closest he has to announcing that he would like to remain in Cleveland.

“I’ve been a part of this and I want to continue to be a part of this,” he said. “We’re making strides in the right direction, especially in this organization. I want to be part of something special, and I want to be part of something special in Cleveland.

“I don’t have a definitive answer to that right now, but it’ll be something special. I can guarantee that.”

“It’s a big deal for me and my family if they do offer that. It would be exciting, and I’ll make the best decision for me and my family. That’s what it’s going to boil down to for myself.”

A year ago, for instance, he skipped out on the Cavaliers’ Fan Appreciation Night shoe giveaway; this year, he tossed out several.

“This year was a constant learning year,” Irving said. “This was a learning year for me, strictly that. I learned a lot about myself, about being a better point guard from all aspects of the game and becoming a better leader. That, right there, is a work in progress. I’m a work in progress, and I’ve already admitted that.”

***

No. 4: Wade says knees in better shape than last yearThe Miami Heat spent the majority of the 2013-14 season hanging around the top of the Eastern Conference standings and briefly took the No. 1 spot there for a few weeks. But the Heat’s goal has always been getting ready for a fourth straight Finals run (and hopefully a third straight championship) and to do so, that often meant resting guard Dwyane Wade and his balky knees for the good of the long-term goal. Wade missed 28 games this season and hasn’t been a part of a Heat win since March 21, but as Miami readies for Game 1 of its series with the Charlotte Bobcats, Wade says his knees are in better shape than last year at this time. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel has more on D-Wade and the Heat:

It has been a frustrating ride that saw Wade miss 28 games this season, mostly for a maintenance program for his balky knees.

And yet through it all, including being limited to a maximum of 24 minutes in each of his three games this past week, Wade believes he is in a better place than a year ago, when his knee issues had him out of the lineup just four games into the postseason.

“It’s a lot better than going into it last year,” he said, with the team given Thursday off before beginning playoff preparations Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena. “Now hopefully move on from that, and have a better first round health-wise than I did first round versus the Bucks last year, when I had to miss that game up in Milwaukee. So I look forward to Game 1 and hopefully not having any setbacks.”

“These were a good three games for me,” he said. “It’s better than going into the playoffs without playing. So I’m glad I was able to get a few games in with different teams, different styles, see how they guarded me a little differently.”

What he hasn’t had is much in the way of continuity with LeBron James, with James sitting out the final two games to rest up for what could be a fourth-consecutive two-month playoff grind, the Heat advancing to the NBA Finals in each of their first three Big Three seasons.

“I’m not worried about continuity with him at all,” Wade said. “The biggest thing is we both know what we need to do and we just have to do it. So we’ve played together for four years, so it’s enough continuity right there. So we’ll be fine.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Wizards star John Wall has a new slogan he writes on his shoes each game … Injured Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari expects to be ready to go for training camp … The Patrick Beverley-Damian Lillard matchup is likely going to decide that first-round series … Celtics reserve center Joel Anthony will reportedly exercise his option for next season …. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg and former Magic coach Stan Van Gundy are reportedly on the Timberwolves’ short list of coaches they’d pick to potentially replace Rick AdelmanAmar’e Stoudemire says the Knicks didn’t always buy into Mike Woodson‘s coaching … Ex-Pistons All-Star Grant Hill is reportedly not interested in pursuing a front-office post with Detroit …

ICYMI(s) of the Night: The NBA TV crew makes their predictions for the 2014 playoffs, which, if you haven’t heard, start Saturday …


VIDEO: NBA TV makes its predictions for the Western Conference playoffs


VIDEO: NBA TV makes its predictions for the Eastern Conference playoffs

Morning Shootaround — April 17


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe readying for comeback | Irving still weighing Cleveland future | Thompson blasts Griffin’s style of play | Walker credits Clifford for his growth

No. 1: Kobe already gearing up for next comeback– All you need to know about how Kobe Bryant felt about this disaster of a Los Angeles Lakers season could be summed up in his tweet last night:

It should come as no surprise, then, that Bryant is already gearing up for a monster comeback now that he’s been cleared to resume running and shooting drills after recovering from a knee fracture. Ramona Shelbourne of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more on Kobe’s workout plans:

Kobe Bryant has been cleared to resume running and shooting and will begin an intense, six-month training program next week upon his return from a short family trip to Europe, sources with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.

Bryant has been ramping up his activity level in recent weeks as he continues to recover from a fracture in his left knee suffered during the Lakers‘ victory Dec. 17 at Memphis, just six games into his return from a ruptured Achilles.

While he is in Europe, Bryant will visit the clinic in Germany where he had the platelet-rich plasma treatment known as Orthokineon on his knee, according to a source.

The visit to the clinic is a check-up to ensure all is structurally sound with his knee before he resumes intense training.

Bryant has rarely traveled with the team or appeared in public since, preferring to focus on his rehabilitation instead of a team wrapping up the worst season in Lakers history.

***

No. 2: Irving: ‘Exciting’ if Cavs offer max deal — All season long, it seems, Cleveland Cavaliers star guard Kyrie Irving has been dogged by rumors of his desire to leave the team as soon as he possibly can via free agency. Now that the Cavs have wrapped up their season — one in which they fell well short of expectations of a playoff run — the team has some key roster decisions to make, the foremost of which may be signing Irving to a contract extension. For all the rumblings of Irving’s supposed displeasure with the team, though, it sure doesn’t sound like he wants to move on, writes Bob Finnan of The News-Herald & The Morning Journal:

The Cavaliers’ franchise faces several major decisions this summer.

None is bigger than the five-year, $80 million maximum extension the Cavs are expected to offer two-time All-Star Kyrie Irving.

“Obviously, I’m aware I can be extended this summer,” he said after the Cavs’ 114-85 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on April 16 before 19,842 at Quicken Loans Arena.

“It’s a big deal for me if they do offer me that. It will be exciting. I’ll make the best decision for me and my family. That’s what it will boil down to.”

Irving doesn’t sound like someone who wants out.

“I’ve been part of this, and I want to continue to be part of this,” he said. “We’ve made some strides in the right direction, especially as an organization. I want to be part of something special. I don’t have a definitive answer to that right now.”

The offer is expected to come on July 1.

Cavs majority owner Dan Gilbert is attending the Board of Governors meeting April 17-18 in New York.

Brown has four years remaining on his original five-year, $20 million contract.

He said he won’t plead his case with Gilbert.

“I’m thankful to Dan for the opportunity he’s given me,” Brown said. “It’s his team. Whatever decision he makes, I’m going to support.”


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving talks after the Cavs’ season-ending win against the Nets

***

No. 3: Thompson blasts Griffin’s style of play — Who isn’t excited to watch the L.A. Clippers-Golden State Warriors first-round playoff series? Aside from the fact both teams have two of the better offenses and defenses in the league, there’s the added drama of them not liking each other in the mix as well. That latter point apparently is getting racheted up even more as a little war of words in the media seems to be breaking out between the Warriors’ Klay Thompson and the Clippers’ All-Star, Blake Griffin. Thompson accused Griffin of “flopping” and Griffin had his rebuttal to that claim yesterday, as Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports:

The trash talking between the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors has started — even before their first-round playoff series became official late Wednesday night.

Earlier in the day, Warriors guard Klay Thompson called Clippers forward Blake Griffin out for flopping and playing “kind of out of control sometimes.”

“He is a good guy off the court but he probably just … I mean … plays pretty physical and flops a little bit,” Thompson told The Wheelhouse on 95.7 The Game radio in San Francisco.

“He flairs his arm around so you know you might catch a random elbow or something that doesn’t you know rub off too well on guys,” Thompson said. “He’s kind of like a bull in a china shop, kind of out of control sometimes. And then you do just see him flop sometimes like how can a guy that big and strong flop that much.

“I can see how that gets under people’s skin and be frustrating to play against.”

Griffin was ejected from a Christmas Day game between the Clippers and Warriors after an altercation with Warriors center Andrew Bogut and called the Warriors out after the game for playing “cowardly basketball.”

“If you look at it, I didn’t do anything, and I got thrown out of the game,” Griffin said. “It all boils down to they (the referees) fell for it. To me, that’s cowardly. That’s cowardly basketball… Instead of just playing straight up and playing a game, it got into something more than that, and it’s unfortunate because you want to play a team head-to-head. You don’t want to start playing other games and playing cowardly basketball.”

***

No. 4: Walker credits Clifford for change in his gameFor the first time since the 2009-10 season, the Charlotte Bobcats are a playoff-bound team. Unlike that squad from a few years ago, though, Charlotte has a more solid future thanks to the standout play of youngsters like guard Kemba Walker. The third-year guard has become one of the leaders of the team and his improved playmaking skills have been key to Charlotte’s rise this season. However, he wasn’t always such a promising piece of the Bobcats’ future and as Jessica Camerato of BasketballInsiders.com reports, Walker credits coach Steve Clifford for challenging him to grow his game:

During an early-season game against the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Bobcats head coach Steve Clifford had seen enough of Kemba Walker’s defense of Jeff Teague – or lack thereof. Walker was lagging on the pick-and-roll, Teague was making plays at will.

Clifford and Walker had established a solid relationship shortly after Clifford was hired last offseason. The third-year guard jelled with the first-year coach, who he described as a “real down-to-earth, cool guy.” Walker saw another side of Clifford during that game, though, one that said more than the words he spoke.

“He really surprised me and he got into me. I really deserved it,” Walker told Basketball Insiders. “It motivated me and it helped me. … That’s kind of the first time an NBA coach has gotten into me. It was a mixture [of yelling and speaking]. It showed me that he cared about me because if he didn’t say anything, then I’m like he doesn’t care. But it showed me that he knows that I can do more. Looking back, I appreciate it.”

He added, “I think it definitely was (a turning point).”

Clifford made it clear early on he wanted to see Walker improve on the defensive end. He called Walker into his office to watch game film, pointing out clips where he played good defense and others where he was inconsistent.

“He’s made me a better player because he has so much confidence in me,” Walker said. “He told me that I could be a much better defensive player if I wanted to be. He challenged me with that.”

There are plenty of moments that go on between a player and coach that are not seen in practice or in games. Those are the instances that stand out to Walker this season – the conversations he has shared with Clifford, the times he has gone to him for advice, sometimes just as someone to listen.

“When a coach is able to help you with things off the court, that’s a lot more important than being on the court,” said Walker. “We’re all pros, but we still have problems just like regular people. Sometimes we need to vent, sometimes we need people to talk to. When you’ve got a guy like Coach Clifford whose been through so much in his life, a guy who knows things, can give you advice and you can talk to him, that helps a lot.”


VIDEO:Kemba Walker discusses the Bobcats’ win Wednesday night against the Bulls

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Wolves don’t have any idea about whether or not coach Rick Adelman will retire or not … Like his teammate (and fellow free-agent) P.J. Tucker, Suns guard Ish Smith is hoping to stick around in Phoenix … Cleveland center Spencer Hawes says he’s open to returning to the team next season …

ICYMI of the Night: It’ll be a good six months or so before we see some of the teams in last night’s top 10 plays again, so let’s give ‘em one last opportunity to shine here …


VIDEO: Relive the top 10 plays from the final night of the 2013-14 regular season

During an early-season game against the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Bobcats head coach Steve Clifford had seen enough of Kemba Walker’s defense of Jeff Teague – or lack thereof. Walker was lagging on the pick-and-roll, Teague was making plays at will.

Clifford and Walker had established a solid relationship shortly after Clifford was hired last offseason. The third-year guard jelled with the first-year coach, who he described as a “real down-to-earth, cool guy.” Walker saw another side of Clifford during that game, though, one that said more than the words he spoke.

“He really surprised me and he got into me. I really deserved it,” Walker told Basketball Insiders. “It motivated me and it helped me. … That’s kind of the first time an NBA coach has gotten into me. It was a mixture [of yelling and speaking]. It showed me that he cared about me because if he didn’t say anything, then I’m like he doesn’t care. But it showed me that he knows that I can do more. Looking back, I appreciate it.”

He added, “I think it definitely was (a turning point).”
Read more at http://www.basketballinsiders.com/cliffords-critique-led-to-walkers-success/#hDiVAClLkvlPCTqd.99

Morning Shootaround — April 16


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lillard, Blazers gear up for Rockets | Spurs’ Buford in it for long haul | D’Antoni didn’t know lottery rules | Nelson facing finale with Magic?

No. 1: Lillard gearing up for Rockets, matchup with Beverley — Few point guards in the NBA have established themselves as defensive pests as quickly as Rockets guard Patrick Beverley has. The high-energy, pressuring guard is crucial to Houston’s success this season and is expected to play a key role for the Rockets as they face the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round. Beverley will have the task of trying to slow/pester Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard throughout the series, but Beverley already got under Lillard’s skin earlier this season. CSNNW.com’s Chris Haynes details the layers of the Beverley-Lillard matchup and the bad feelings that may lie therein that trace back to a March game between the teams:

Dwight Howard versus Robin Lopez, James Harden up against Wesley Matthews, Chandler Parsons trying to outdo Nicolas Batum, super reserves Jeremy Lin going toe-to-toe with Mo Williams.

But without a doubt, the most intriguing, intense matchup will be at the point guard position featuring Patrick Beverley and Damian Lillard. Aside from the fact that Beverley, and his defense, arguably gives Lillard the toughest time, there’s some recent bad blood that could creep up.

The day after an early March game between these two teams, a contest the Rockets won at home 118-133 in overtime, Beverley did a local radio interview and went out of his way to respond to what he perceived to be a slight from Lillard.

The interview was coming to a close after nearly nine minutes and Beverley quickly interrupted the host as he was in the process of thanking the guard for coming on.

“Ah, you didn’t ask me no question about Damian Lillard,” Beverley said to the gentlemen on Sports Talk 790 AM in Houston, followed by urging them to ask a question about Lillard in which they did.

“…Damian Lillard whines,” he went on to say. “I’m not a big fan of that. I don’t go out there and try to start fights with anybody. I go out there and play my game. That’s what I do. I don’t go out there and try to hack people. I don’t go out there and do that.”

Beverley was responding to Lillard’s comment saying the Rockets’ defensive guard was irritating and that he tries to get under your skin to get you to react. When Lillard heard the interview and how Beverley brought up his name out the blue, he was taken back.

“I was surprised,” Lillard told CSNNW.com after practice on Tuesday. “I said that what he was doing in that game was kind of irritating. It wasn’t meant to be disrespectful. It was meant to say it was irritating. But to go on the radio and them not even ask about me and then you bring me up, I thought that was unnecessary.”

To be frank, this is shaping up to be one hell of a first round series.

When asked today if the two needed to talk before the series began in order to clear the air, since all this was just a simple misunderstanding, Lillard rebuffed that notion.

“I don’t think it’s necessary,” Lillard responded. “I don’t have no beef with the dude. He’s competing just like I’m out there competing and that’s it. There’s nothing to hash out because we’re not best friends. We don’t know each other off the floor. There’s nothing really to hash out. But I respect him as a player, but the radio and all that stuff, that’s not my style. It was unnecessary.”

There’s clearly respect from both sides. Beverley was disturbed that Lillard didn’t give him his due credit as he made that clear in the radio interview. Lillard didn’t feel he was criticizing Beverley’s play with his comments, but contends that radio interview was over the top.


VIDEO: The Rockets beat the Blazers in an intense March matchup

***

No. 2: Buford in for long haul with Spurs — San Antonio has cemented the No. 1 seed throughout the 2014 NBA playoffs, it has a full, healthy roster ready to make another NBA Finals run and, despite knowing that Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan will soon one day retire, remain an overall stable NBA franchise. Much of that credit goes to Spurs GM R.C. Buford, who, in a recent conversation with Grantland.com’s Zach Lowe, says he expects to be around after Duncan, Ginobili (and Tony Parker) hang it up and San Antonio builds around youngster Kawhi Leonard. Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News has more on Lowe’s chat with Buford:

Coach Gregg Popovich has backed away from previous jokes that he’ll be following Duncan out the door. And general manager R.C. Buford, who alongside Popovich and Duncan has helped establish the Spurs as one of the most stable organizations in North American professional sports, has every intention of overseeing the process.

“I’m incredibly happy where I am,” Buford said. “If somebody tells me they don’t want me around here anymore, then I’ll have to worry about where I go next.”

Buford’s comment was part of an extensive podcast with Grantland’s Zach Lowe, in response to why a team in a larger market wouldn’t simply throw a ton of money at he or former understudy Sam Presti, now the architect in Oklahoma City. But like many of his colleagues, particularly Popovich and Duncan, Buford treasures working in a smaller market where distractions from the task at hand — winning championships — are kept to a minimum.

Among the other topics covered –

* Duncan’s recent injury scare: “I was sitting near Jon Barry, who was doing the game for ESPN Radio. He said that’s the fastest he’s ever seen me move.”

* The advent of player tracking and advanced statistics: “From a basketball standpoint, knowing everything that happens on the floor should help us get better at evaluating and executing the strategies that we’ve chosen. It’s helped us recognize how much work goes into being a point guard. I think it gave us better appreciation of what (Tony Parker) really goes through.”

* This year’s trade deadline: “I think we felt we had some things that might happen that could help our team, and we had a value of what those were that we were comfortable extending. Other teams didn’t feel that way. You never know how close you are because there are conversations going on in a lot of places.”

* Whether Oklahoma City is an especially problematic matchup for the Spurs: “Kevin Durant is a problematic matchup for every team. And Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. They’re a really good team. We’re going to play the people who are in front of us and hopefully we’re playing well.”

***

No. 3: D’Antoni didn’t know draft implications of Lakers-Jazz game — Monday night’s Lakers-Jazz game from Salt Lake City was likely of interest to L.A. and Utah fans for perhaps one key reason: NBA Draft Lottery positioning. The Jazz entered with a 24-56 mark while the Lakers were 25-55 and a loss by the Jazz would assure Utah of no worse than the NBA’s fourth-worst record, and, with that, increased odds for a top 4 pick in the 2014 Draft. The Lakers would go on to a 119-104 rout that gave Utah what it hoped for. After the game, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni made a surprising revelation that he had no idea how the Lakers-Jazz game could have actually benefited L.A.’s lottery hopes. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin has more:

Intentional or not, there was more to D’Antoni’s accomplishment of snapping a seven-game Lakers losing streak with a 119-104 win against the lowly Utah Jazz. He also put himself firmly in the crosshairs with a faction of the purple and gold faithful who care only about the Lakers’ draft position at this point, rather than chasing meaningless wins to close out the season.

“What are you going to tell them? ‘Don’t play hard’?” D’Antoni said when asked whether the subject had been broached with his team before playing an equally abysmal Utah team. “That’s not right.”

If D’Antoni had stopped talking right there, he could have been spared the ire from the fan base, as the unexpected win would have been chalked up to Nick Young (who hit the 40-point plateau for the second time in eight games) and big nights from Jodie Meeks (23 points), Jordan Hill (21 points) and Kendall Marshall (15 assists).

But D’Antoni didn’t stop there, of course.

He continued his answer to reveal that he didn’t know exactly what was at stake for the Lakers, who went into the night with a 25-55 record, playing against a Jazz team that was 24-56.

“They played hard, and I think, if I’m not mistaken, it’s the same number of pingpong balls, right?” D’Antoni said. “They flip a coin, or something.”

Turns out, he was mistaken. The Lakers went into the night with the sixth-worst record in the league. A loss to the Jazz would have put them in a tie for fifth with Utah, with the Lakers owning the tiebreaker as the worse team — should the Jazz close out the season with a loss in Minnesota and L.A. finish things out with a loss in San Antonio — because Utah would have won the season series 3-1.

A reporter informed D’Antoni that the win by the Lakers actually cemented the Jazz with a worse record and thus better lottery chances.

“I mean, you kind of hate that,” D’Antoni responded, realizing what the win did to the potential draft order. “But, I thought we had the same rank.”

Another reporter chimed in to tell D’Antoni that if the Lakers had lost to Utah, the coach would have been correct.

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” D’Antoni said. “Oh, OK. That’s all right; we’re going to beat San Antonio, anyway. So, it’s all for naught.”

***

No. 4: Nelson facing finale with Magic?A cursory look at the Orlando Magic’s all-time leaderboard in various stats reveals that point guard Jameer Nelson has etched a solid place in team lore. Nelson is the club’s all-time leader in assists and ranks in the top five in points, games played, 3-pointers made, steals and more. The Magic close out their lottery-bound season tonight with a home date against the Indiana Pacers and Nelson, whose deal next season is only partially guaranteed, could be saying farewell to the only NBA team he’s ever known. Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel has more:

Nelson might not be with the franchise next season. Although he’s about to complete just the second year of a three-year contract, his salary for the 2014-15 season is only partially guaranteed. If the Magic waive him before July 15, the team would owe him only $2 million instead of $8 million.

Nelson, a diminutive point guard who has spent all 10 of his NBA seasons with the Magic, has said repeatedly he wants to remain with the team because his family loves Central Florida.

“I’m very cognizant it could be my last home game,” Nelson said. “It’s not up to me. It’s up to the team. It’s the team’s option. I would like to still be here and finish my career here. I have a lot more years left in me. Good years. I’m not sure what they have in store for me, but I’m just going to play it out and see what happens. Like I said, it’s just one of those things. I don’t have control over it. I don’t know what their thoughts are right now.”I have kids, so I’m worried about it. That’s the biggest thing for me. My family is more important to me than anything. I just want to be treated the right way. I want to be treated fair. I want to be treated the right way. I feel like I’m a guy of loyalty, so I just want everybody that’s involved in my life and in the organization to be loyal to me.”

A league source said the Magic haven’t made a decision on Nelson’s future.

Nelson has made only 39.4 percent of his shot attempts — the second-lowest field-goal percentage of his career — largely because of poor shot selection. But through Monday, he ranked eighth in the NBA in assists, averaging 7.0 per game.

The past two seasons have been difficult for Nelson. Last season, the Magic finished with a 20-62 record. This season, the team will bring a 23-58 record into its final game. He was a member of the Magic teams that reached the 2009 NBA Finals and the 2010 Eastern Conference finals, so he wasn’t accustomed to losing.

Magic officials have been pleased, though not surprised, that he has welcomed the team’s young players over the last two seasons.

“Jameer means everything to me,” second-year big man Kyle O’Quinn said. “I couldn’t be more lucky to have a vet like him. On the court, off the court he’s there for you no matter what. He even gets upset with you if you make a decision without him. That’s how much he wants to be involved. I love him like a brother.”`

Magic fans’ appreciation for Nelson has grown, too.

Back when the team was a title contender, some fans regarded Nelson as a liability because of his lack of height, his deficiencies as a defender and his shoot-first ways.

In recent years, however, he’s become a fan favorite, almost always receiving the loudest cheers during pregame introductions.

“The fans have definitely embraced me, and whenever I get to see fans or people that I know that are outside of the basketball arena, it’s all love,” he said. “It’s nothing but love.”


VIDEO: Jameer Nelson reflects on his career with the Magic

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Celtics legend Cedric Maxwell was standing in the spot where the Boston Marathon bombings took place last year about “7-8 minutes” before the event took place … Paul George, David West, C.J. Watson and Lance Stephenson will all get the night off tonight against the Magic … The Mavs are trying to value this 50-win season as much as any other … If he starts tonight’s game against the Sacramento Kings, Suns forward Channing Frye will, amazingly, have started all 82 games this season … How has Jeff Green done this season as Boston’s go-to guy?

ICYMI of the Night: Back in the mid-to-late 2000s, Andrei Kirilenko was making highlight reels as a member of the Jazz with amazing, no-look dimes like this one he threw to Mason Plumlee last night …


VIDEO: Andrei Kirilenko throws a behind-the-back, no-look pass to Mason Plumlee for the dunk

Morning Shootaround — April 15


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bright future in Phoenix | Kupchak still non-committal on D’Antoni’s future | Report: Knicks to add Odom? | Lillard inks big shoe deal with adidas | Raptors celebrate milestone victory

No. 1: Suns inspired about future despite tough loss — In the history of the Phoenix Suns franchise, the team has recorded 47 or more wins 23 different times. But perhaps this time of hitting that number of wins has been more rewarding than any others in the past. While Phoenix’s playoff dream died last night with a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, there’s no denying the Suns proved many experts (including those on this very web site) wrong all season long. Although the Suns will miss the playoffs for a record fourth straight season, there’s plenty of reason to look ahead in Arizona, writes Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic:

The franchise’s hard luck now lays claim to four of NBA history’s six winningest teams to not make the playoffs. A three-game losing streak in the final week leaves the Suns (47-34) out of the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season, the franchise’s longest postseason drought since 1971-75.

“If we had three All-Stars and don’t make the playoffs, then you go, ‘Oh, my goodness,’ but we had guys who proved they can play in this league and play at a high level,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “I thought we did the best we could.”

Memphis is the type of team that has given the Suns problems all season because it keeps them from their fastbreaking strengths with a physical, grinding method. The Suns went 3-13 this season against the NBA’s six slowest-paced teams, with Memphis being the slowest with a great half-court defense.

“It makes it tough on the executing part,” Hornacek said. “As a team, we’re not quite at that point where we can play in the half-court and execute plays over and over. Our strength is getting out in the open court.”

“It’s always tough when you finish the season and then you look back and you’re saying, ‘OK, the game against the Lakers (a 115-99 loss on at March 30), we should’ve won that, a game against Sacramento (lost twice in Sacramento),” Dragic said. “You have to take care of business home and away against those teams that are not so successful. It’s really tough when you have to play the last three games against San Antonio, Dallas and Memphis and we came out short.”

And as Coro points out in a separate story, Suns guard Eric Bledsoe has made a solid case for a long-term future in Phoenix, too:

The way Bledsoe has risen to the occasion over the past two weeks has shown the Suns and their fans — and, perhaps most importantly, Bledsoe — just how special he can be. Bledsoe is figuring out his stardom on the same timeline as the Suns and their fans.

He is only 24 years old, is in his first season as a starter, has lost 39 games to injury and is coming off knee surgery. He just posted his best three career scoring games in a span of nine nights when the pressure was on the most. Bledsoe came within an assist of his first triple-double, and within a free throw of three 30-point games.

And this is just the learning stage for him.

“His strength, his scoring, his defense, his facilitating stuff,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “I haven’t seen a point guard that strong at his size in a long time that can do all the things he can do. He’s a load to deal with.”

Bledsoe’s court vision was the first thing that surprised the Suns in the fall, and it only will improve, assuming his court acumen does. His perimeter shot already is turning around.

Coupled with his powerful driving ability, it has changed his career 43.1 shooting percentage into a 48.0 clip this season.

“When he needed to step up his game, he did,” Suns guard Goran Dragic said.

“The biggest thing we’re reminding him is to keep attacking,” said Suns coach Jeff Hornacek, who has teased Bledsoe about his conditioning, pointing out how often he walks the ball up. “If he can attack like a Monta Ellis does, he’s hard to stop. He gets through there, and he’s strong. I think he realizes he can become one of the best players in the league with hard work.

“He’s got that fire and drive.”

The Suns already knew they would match any July offer sheet that Bledsoe might sign in restricted free agency or even beat any team to it with the advantage of offering him an extra year with larger raises.

That might have been a mixed sell for an unproven player had he ended this season with no comeback or a shaky return from knee rehabilitation. To see the Bledsoe that has finished the season, it shows how advantageous it is to be a proactive front office that acquires a budding star in a trade rather than leaning on free agency.

“Hopefully, he’s capable of staying here another few years,” Suns power forward Channing Frye said. “That’d be nice. He’s just developing as a point guard. He was concerned about his turnovers, and I told him, ‘Dude, you’re passing. You’re ahead of the game.’ I’ve played with some of the best, and between him and Goran, I’m pretty excited about the future of the Phoenix Suns.”


VIDEO: Suns players react to Monday’s loss to the Grizzlies

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No. 2: Kupchak quiet about D’Antoni’s future — Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni has one game left this season — a road game in San Antonio on Wednesday, the season’s final night. Could that also be the end of D’Antoni’s days as L.A.’s leader? The word out of the Lakers’ camp remains vague at best (last thing we heard from GM Mitch Kupchak was that Kobe Bryant wouldn’t have a say in D’Antoni’s coaching future). After last night’s victory in Salt Lake City over the Utah Jazz, Kupchak remains non-committal about D’Antoni, writes Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

Mitch Kupchak paused for several seconds. It wasn’t an easy question to answer.

What will be Mike D’Antoni’s fate?

Finally, the Lakers’ general manager spoke briefly about the Lakers’ coach.

“I’m not going to discuss Mike other than to say there is no timetable for any type of decision. So there’s really nothing to share,” Kupchak told The Times.

It represented a departure from his comments last month that D’Antoni was “doing a great job under the circumstances.”

That might still be true. The Lakers have lost a staggering 308 man-games to injury this season, making it hard to judge any coach.

But Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol aren’t fans of D’Antoni’s offense and most Lakers followers don’t support D’Antoni, even though he hasn’t had a healthy roster in his two seasons.

So there’s a lot to mull for the Lakers.

In D’Antoni’s favor, the Lakers owe him $4 million next season and are tired of paying people not to coach them. In the last 10 seasons, only Phil Jackson was not still owed money when he left the team.

Rudy Tomjanovich was paid $9 million when he abruptly resigned as the Lakers’ coach midway through the 2004-05 season. He was in the first season of a five-year, $30-million deal and later served as a consultant for the team.

The Lakers initially owed Mike Brown $7 million when they fired him five games into last season. They recouped about $2.5 million of that money, as per NBA rules, when Brown was hired to coach Cleveland this season.

The Lakers don’t want the reputation of a coaching turnstile.

D’Antoni declined to speculate on his job status Monday. Asked about his future, he said he was prepared for exit meetings with players Thursday and Friday. And he was eager for Easter.

He gave a typically self-deprecating answer when asked how he kept his sanity this season.

“What sanity?” he said.

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No. 3: Report: Knicks, Odom nearing deal — The Knicks are out of the playoffs and have just two games left in their woebegone season. But it seems that new GM Phil Jackson isn’t about to wait until the offseason to start stirring up New York’s roster. According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, Jackson is close to having a reunion with his former Sixth Man of the Year winner with the Los Angeles Lakers, Lamar Odom:

Phil Jackson and the New York Knicks are progressing toward a deal to sign veteran free agent Lamar Odom before the NBA regular season ends Wednesday, according to sources briefed on the situation.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Knicks are on course, barring an unforeseen snag, to formally sign Odom this week in a move that would put him on their roster immediately and, more importantly, include a team option for next season.

Structuring the deal this way, after a tumultuous 12 months for one of Jackson’s favorite players when they worked together with the Los Angeles Lakers, would give the Knicks two months before free agency begins July 1 to get the 34-year-old into their program and start working with him.

The Knicks, sources say, would want to use the extra time to see if they can get Odom to the point, physically and mentally, where the talented but enigmatic lefty is worthy of a roster spot next season.

Still recovering from a back injury that curtailed his recent stint in the Spanish League after just two games, Odom is not believed to be healthy enough to play in the Knicks’ season finale Wednesday night in Toronto even if he signs Wednesday.

Sources say this is viewed as a long-range play for the Knicks, who are banking on the notion that Jackson — in his new role as New York’s team president — can provide the guidance to get Odom’s career back on track.

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No. 4: Lillard inks huge deal with adidasIf you had any doubts that small-market superstars can’t get the kind of shoe-endorsement deals stars in cities like New York, Chicago and L.A. get, think again. Much like Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder and his lucrative deal with Nike, Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has signed the third-richest shoe deal in the league. CSNNW.com’s Chris Haynes has more on Lillard’s new agreement with adidas:

Portland Trail Blazers Damian Lillard and adidas have finalized a deal that makes it the third richest shoe endorsement deal in history, a source informed CSNNW.com.

The deal, according to another source, is an eight-year contract that has the potential to stretch out to 10 years if he reaches certain incentive clauses. We’ve confirmed Lillard’s new contract is slightly less than that of Derrick Rose.

“adidas has been great to me over my first two seasons,” Lillard said in the adidas release. “I’ve had the opportunity to wear a lot of great product, help design special versions of shoes, be a part of TV commercials and travel the world with the brand. I’m excited for what the future holds for me and adidas.”

CSNNW.com reported a few weeks ago that the deal was on the cusp of being finalized. The deal was actually signed in Los Angeles on April. 1 prior to the Trail Blazers defeating the Los Angeles Lakers 124-112 that evening.

Due to Lillard reaching certain performance incentive clauses in his adidas rookie shoe deal, he was able to opt out at the end of the season to pursue a long-term, prosperous contract with adidas, Nike or other major competitors. Instead of waiting, Lillard’s representatives gave adidas an exclusive 30-day window to renegotiate before checking out other offers. That 30 days was up on April. 1.

USA Today reported the deal is finalized.

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No. 5: DeRozan rests as Raptors set wins markThe Toronto Raptors, by any measure, have had a great season. If you measure what they’ve done on just wins and losses, though, they’ve had a season for the team record books. Last night’s drubbing of the Milwaukee Bucks lifted Toronto to its 48th win, the most in franchise history, and it was done while All-Star and go-to guy DeMar DeRozan took a well-deserved break before the playoffs get rolling. Doug Smith of the Toronto Star has more on the win:

Even with DeMar DeRozan reduced to a mere spectator enjoying a night of rest, the Raptors claimed their franchise-record-setting 48th win of the year, dumping the Milwaukee Bucks 110-100 at the Air Canada Centre in the penultimate game of the regular season.

“Guys came out with a total focus. We lost it there a little bit in the second half, but the start of the game, our guys were locked in, attention to detail was there on both ends of the floor,” said Casey.

DeRozan’s greatest impact on the game was his short speech thanking the fans for the just-completed home season as the banner recognizing the team’s division title was unfurled in an understated, quick ceremony.

“It definitely felt good to share it with (the fans) because they played a major part in it as well,” he said. “I’ve been here through the struggles and the tough times and our fans were still right there with us on this journey.”

And there is no certainty that DeRozan will play Wednesday when the Raptors wrap up the season in New York.

“We’ll see what we decide on that,” said Casey. “Amir’s had time off, Kyle’s had time off, he’s the only guy with big minutes that hadn’t had time off. I could just see a pep in Kyle’s step since he’s had his rest, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Amir Johnson, still working his way back from ankle woes, looked better Monday than he did Sunday in Detroit, chipping in 10 points and five rebounds in 29 minutes as Casey eases him back slightly.

He was proud to be part of the historic win.

“I think it’s awesome,” he said. “We set many franchise records and we are just going to keep pushing and see what’s next for us. We’re always looking for the next thing.”

Lowry and Johnson left to a prolonged ovation from the fans with less than 40 seconds to go.


VIDEO: Toronto raises its Atlantic Division championship banner before Monday’s game vs. Milwaukee

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire may play in Jerusalem once his contract runs out in 2015 … The Bucks secured the top odds in the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery last night … Does Damian Lillard‘s new deal with adidas mean the shoe giant has forgotten about Derrick Rose? … Former first-round pick Arnett Moultrie is trying to make an NBA impact before it is too late … The Lakers and Suns may look to make pass at Luol Deng in free agency this summer … George Hill had an interesting little chat with Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee on the Indianapolis Star‘s website …

ICYMI(s) of the Night: Trey Burke has had a pretty solid rookie season, but this move that Jordan Farmar put on him in the backcourt is sure to stick with him for a while. On a more positive note, we had two fantastic full-court dimes that lead to and-ones — one from the master (Kevin Love) of such plays and another from a pretty solid passer in his own right (Andre Miller)


VIDEO: Jordan Farmar breaks Trey Burke’s ankles in the backcourt


VIDEO: Kevin Love throws a full-court pass to Corey Brewer for the layup


VIDEO: Andre Miller throws a great full-court dime to Bradley Beal

Morning Shootaround — April 14


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Changes ahead in Minnesota | Dumars leaves conflicting legacy in Detroit | Gasol’s last ride in Lakerland | Pacers back in control of No. 1 | Grizzlies’ magic number is down to one

No. 1: Timberwolves head into offseason with many unanswered questions – It’s no secret. The Minnesota Timberwolves have a ton of work to do when this season ends, namely figuring out how to proceed with All-Star big man Kevin Love, head coach Rick Adelman and point guard Ricky Rubio. The futures of all three men will be in the crosshairs in the coming months, as the Star Tribune lays out … and if you thought things were sticky with Love, they might be even stickier with Rubio:

Three pending contract situations loom large for the Wolves heading into the offseason:

Kevin Love

Why don’t the Wolves just rip up his contract and sign him to a maximum long-term contract extension right now? Well, because they can’t.

Here are their options after they convinced him in January 2012 to sign a four-year contract that gives him an opt-out clause after three seasons and makes him an unrestricted free agent in 2015:
• They can sign him to a two-year extension in January 2015. It would keep him put until 2018, but he has no reason to accept that because he can sign for twice as much if he waits six months.

• When he opts out in July 2015 — a slam dunk, if you will — they can sign him to a five-year extension, one year longer than any other team. They also can give him larger annual raises, so he would be refusing an extra $26.5 million if he signs a four-year deal elsewhere.

Rick Adelman

Either he or the Wolves can choose to opt out of the final season of a four-year contract he signed in September 2011. Both parties say the issue will be addressed after the season ends Wednesday. There’s a two-week window at season’s end for either side to opt out.

If one side doesn’t exercise the opt-out for next season, the other side almost certainly will. Adelman is 67 and his wife, Mary Kay, has had health issues the past two seasons.

There’s a provision for Adelman to continue as a consultant if he doesn’t return to coach next season.

Ricky Rubio

The Wolves can negotiate a contract extension starting July 1 and they will make it a priority during a window that lasts through October. But this one could get complicated.

If former Wolves boss David Kahn insisted Love take a four-year deal so he could save his one five-year maximum “designated player” slot for Rubio, well, the third-year point guard hasn’t played nearly well enough to deserve it, even if he is finishing the season with a flourish.

Look for the Wolves to position themselves offering something less than the four-year, $44 million deal Stephen Curry signed or certainly the four-year, $48 million contract Ty Lawson received.

Both sides want a deal done, but the disparity between what each thinks Rubio is worth could create a situation similar to those involving Utah’s Gordon Hayward, Phoenix’s Eric Bledsoe and Detroit’s Greg Monroe. All three didn’t sign extensions last fall and this summer will test the restricted free-agent market. Their current teams will have the right to match any offer.

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No. 2: Dumars leaves behind a conflicting legacy in Detroit – For the better part of his adult life Joe Dumars has given his life to the Detroit Pistons. He’s spent thirty years as a player and executive in the Motor City, living through and helping orchestrate some of the franchise’s highest highs while also being there for some of the lowest lows. Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press shines a light on the conflicting legacy the Hall of Famer Dumars will leave when he walks away, but insists that Pistons fans need to focus on the good that he helped facilitate more than anything else:

Dumars, now 50, treated players fairly, honestly and professionally. He kept them informed if they were on the trading block. He had them to his home, mentored the younger ones, shared laughs with the older ones. There’s a reason you’ve almost never heard a traded or cut player bad-mouth Dumars. That should bring applause as well.

True, the man who built the 2004 championship team has had his stumbles. Nobody now thinks Darko Milicic was worth the second pick in the 2003 draft (although plenty did then). And the 2008 trade for Allen Iverson (although partly about money) was a terrible turn. Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings and other recent moves are questionable, but you are limited when you’re a losing team with an impatient owner (more on that in a moment).

Remember, no GM is infallible. Jerry West is considered possibly the best ever. But he left the Lakers (and their L.A. allure) for Memphis, where his first team lost 54 games and his last, five years later, lost 60. The Grizzlies never won a playoff round in his tenure.

Milwaukee’s John Hammond was the NBA’s executive of the year in 2010; this year his Bucks are the worst team in the league. Danny Ainge, hailed as a Boston genius, traded his biggest stars last year; now the Celtics are behind the Pistons.

The job is a roller coaster. The salary cap is insanely frustrating. Dumars has won and lost. But if you think he suddenly lost his keen ability to evaluate talent, you don’t know him or basketball.

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VIDEO: Joe Dumars is out in Detroit

No. 3: Gasol’s last ride in Lakerland is a somber one – Pau Gasol knows it wasn’t supposed to end like this. His ride with the Los Angeles Lakers included it’s fair share of drama, but it also included two championship parades alongside Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson. It was a glorious time, interrupted lately by drama, injury and losing in ways the Lakers hadn’t seen in … forever. And now comes, Gasol’s walk into free agency this summer, and in the view ESPN‘s J.A. Adande, Gasol’s emotional divorce from a franchise that helped make his career:

He’ll be a free agent this summer, which means this might have been his last home game at Staples Center. It certainly meant he felt the emotional impact. As the game drew to a close he reached toward the seat to his right and tapped teammate Jordan Farmar’s leg to signal that it was time for them to leave. Except Gasol wasn’t really ready to leave. He congratulated his brother, Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, then playfully shoved Marc away so he wouldn’t sweat on Pau’s nice, movie-ticket-taker- burgundy red jacket. He moved on to other players and coaches, stopped to talk to a couple of fans, then chatted with courtside regulars Jimmy Goldstein and Dyan Cannon.

He stopped and signed autographs for fans on the other side of the courtside seats. He leaned in behind a woman who took a selfie with her phone. He entered the tunnel and accommodated more fans who reached through the rails to have him sign programs, hats, tickets and — just when he was ready to cut things off — a fan who dangled a No. 16 Gasol golden Lakers jersey.

Finally he said no mas. 

“I gotta go in,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

He blew the fans a kiss with both hands, bowed and moved on to the Lakers’ locker room.

“I always appreciate the fans,” Gasol said. “You never know. The last couple years when I walked out of this building it’s been emotional. This year it’s been a little bit different because we haven’t been successful as a team, we had a lot of injuries, I haven’t been able to finish the season playing. So I kind of had it more in my mind.

“The last couple of years I didn’t know if I was going to be back. This year with even more reason, because now I’m a free agent. It’s just a way of me appreciating everyone and our fans.”

The fans showed their appreciation, giving him a warm cheer when he was showed on the scoreboard video screen late in the game. Will the Lakers do anything similar — something along the lines of the golden parachute they granted Kobe Bryant? The Kobe contract might actually preclude a Gasol gift by eating up too much salary cap room. Gasol can’t expect to match the $19 million he made this season; he might get about half of that, from what some general managers say. It’s also possible that the Lakers could sign him to a short deal that would give them the possibility of using him as a trade asset next season.

But a multi-year contract would alter any Lakers plans to make a big splash in the 2015 free agent market — or even to bring in the additional pieces the Lakers would need around Bryant and Gasol.

That’s why Sunday was the night for sentiment. Come July 1 it will be all business.

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No. 4: Pacers back in charge of No. 1 in the East – For all of the bellyaching that’s gone on in recent weeks and months about the Indiana Pacers and what they haven’t done, here they stand with one game remaining in charge of their own destiny and in prime position to secure that No. 1 seed they’ve been talking about all season. Did we all make too much of their struggles? Or is this just a product of a depressed Eastern Conference? Mike Wells, formerly of the Indianapolis Star and now working for ESPN.com, weighs in:

Patience. Execution. Discipline.

The Pacers didn’t always do those things Sunday afternoon against the Thunder, but they did just enough to move their magic number to clinching home-court advantage throughout the East playoffs to one game with a 102-97 victory. A Heat loss in either of their final two games or a Pacers victory at Orlando on Wednesday will give Indiana the No. 1 seed.

Hard to imagine that after the way the Pacers have played over the past month, huh? “We’re just trying to put together good basketball at this point and hopefully carry momentum into the playoffs, being positive and upbeat about where we are,” David West said.

The talk of being the No. 1 seed has died down from the Pacers after they spent the majority of the season discussing it with anybody who would listen.

Coach Frank Vogel brought it to his team’s attention days before their March 31 game against the San Antonio Spurs.

The Pacers had become too distracted reading their own clips, watching themselves on the highlights and believing stepping on the court would be good enough for them. Success went to their heads, and for a team that got to this point playing with a purpose, that was the worst thing that could happen to them.

Center Roy Hibbert looked around, noticing how teams like the Heat, Thunder and Spurs went about their business. It didn’t take long for him to realize the Pacers didn’t have that same professional approach.

“Most of us have never been in that position before,” West said. “Since I’ve gotten here and most of the guys, with the exception of Evan [Turner], everybody is sort of under-drafted, not drafted or simply passed over. Everybody’s attitude has been with the underdog mind-frame.

“Then you get out front, nobody doubts you because you have a five-game lead and everybody is pumping you up. I don’t think we handled that the best. Only way you can deal with it is to go through it and experience it. That’s what we’ve done.”

Indiana is at its best doing the little things, even if that meant staying silent about its goals: defending the pick-and-roll, talking on defense, moving the ball and having fun playing with each other again.


VIDEO: Indiana’s players talk about their big win over OKC on Sunday

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No. 5: The Grizzlies’ magic number is down to one for the playoffs – Has it really come down to this, just one more win (in two tries) and the Memphis Grizzlies are in the playoffs for the fourth straight season? Indeed. The Grizzlies miraculous turnaround this season could come full circle with their next win. Ron Tillery of the Commercial Appeal sets the table:

The Griz only need to win one of their two remaining games — either at Phoenix on Monday or against Dallas in FedExForum on Wednesday — and they’ll lock up a fourth straight postseason berth.

“It’s amazing that we’re in this position,” Mike Conley said. “If you would have asked me in November and December, I don’t know. You didn’t know what was going to happen with the year. So we’re happy with where we’re at. We still have a lot of work to do but we’re looking forward to (Monday).”

Memphis moved to a game ahead of Phoenix for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Phoenix needs to beat Memphis to keep alive its postseason hopes. The Griz, though, own the tiebreaker against the Suns in the season series.

“It’s going to be a playoff atmosphere and that’s what you want,” Griz reserve swingman Mike Miller said. “We are real fortunate. I don’t know if the NBA knew it was going to turn out this way. For us to be able to control our own destiny playing two teams we’re chasing is lucky for us and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Is there a double standard in the Portland locker room for Damian Lillard? … Concerns and excitement abound in Toronto, where the Raptors are chasing the franchise mark for wins in a season on their way to the playoffs for the first time in six years … The season is already over for Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins … Someone in the Nets’ big man rotation will have to sit and wait his turn in the playoffs, and it won’t be Mason Plumlee (if his recent work is any indication)

ICYMI: Steph Curry didn’t get the win but he got everything else he wanted against the Trail Blazers …


VIDEO: Again, the Steph Curry show travels anywhere

Morning Shootaround — April 13


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Mavs clinch | Durant studies Nowitzki | Wizards make dream come true | ‘Melo asks about Thibs | Silver to take ‘fresh look’ at playoff format

No. 1: Mavs clinch – The Dallas Mavericks missed the playoffs last season for the first time in 12 years. But they can breathe easier now after clinching one of the final two spots in the Western Conference playoff picture with a 101-98 win over the Phoenix Suns. Despite the clinch, the regular season fight is not yet over for Dallas as it currently sits in the seventh spot, but could rise or fall to the sixth or eighth seed over the season’s final days. Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News has more on the clinch:

“It feels good to be back in the big dance,” said [Dirk] Nowitzki, who scored 21 of his 23 points in the second half. “That’s where competitors want to be — on the big stage in the playoffs.”

[Monta] Ellis had 37 points, including three 3-pointers in the third quarter when the Mavericks erased a 13-point deficit.

Nowitzki played the final minutes through a twisted left ankle, which he said hurt briefly, but he doesn’t expect it to hinder him moving forward.

The return to the playoffs is gratifying for all the Mavericks, but particularly Ellis and the veteran trio of Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter.

“We feel official now,” Carter said. “We’re back where we feel we should be. This is a tough bunch. We walked in the day before training camp and looked at all the talent and said: ‘It can happen.’ We knew it was going to be a bumpy road, but there’s so much talent in this locker room.”

For Ellis, it will be only his third playoff appearance in nine NBA seasons.

“It’s lovely,” he said. “We set this goal at the beginning of training camp. Everybody doubted us. We knew if we won, it was automatic.”

Said Devin Harris of Ellis, who hit 15 of 23 shots: “He’s missed the playoffs a whole lot. You could tell he wanted it. I’m happy for him. And happy for the guys that we really accomplished something.”

That much is true. Nowitzki, Marion and Carter had been used to being in the playoffs for most of their careers. To be back is meaningful.

“It’s big,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “Our franchise, it stands for winning championships. And you can’t win a championship unless you get to the playoffs. I don’t know who our matchup is going to be. It’ll be tough, whatever it is. But we’ll be ready.”

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No. 2: Durant studies Nowitzki – If they stay in the seventh seed, Nowitzki’s Mavericks will most likely play Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round. This matchup will feature two of the premiere talents in the game, but don’t be surprised if you see a few unique moves duplicated. That’s because Durant has taken to study the moves of Nowitzki, as ESPN’s Marc Stein reports:

Durant doesn’t often reveal much beyond what we can all see out on the floor, but he recently confessed that he’s been swiping liberally all season from the Dirk Nowitzki playbook all season.

Turns out that, since November, Durant has been working with Adam Harrington as his personal trainer beyond his daily duties with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Which is the same Adam Harrington who briefly played alongside Nowitzki with the Dallas Mavericks more than a decade ago and has been studying the unorthodox coaching techniques hatched by Nowitzki’s longtime mentor and shot doctor from back home, Holger Geschwindner, ever since.

“It’s a lot more than just trying to copy the one-legger,” Durant said, explaining that he’s not merely focused on trying to mimic Nowitzki’s signature shot.

“Dirk’s got a lot of moves I’m trying to steal.”

Practice shots with both hands, off both feet and launched from a variety of stances and spins to improve footwork. Planting the heels and shifting smoothly onto the toes for better balance. Breathing techniques as the ball is released. Keeping the fingers wide, too.

Durant has been dabbling in all those Holger-centric areas of emphasis in his hourly sessions with Harrington, which typically take place in the evenings — home or road — whether it’s a practice day or after the Thunder fly into a new city on the night before a game.

Dirk, you see, is Durant’s favorite active player.

“It’s probably a tie between him and Kobe [Bryant],” Durant said after giving it some extra thought.

Yet there’s no disputing who’s the more natural role model for KD. It’s that 35-year-old, that 7-footer, who plays three hours away down Interstate 35 … and who just shot his way into the top 10 on the league’s all-time scoring charts in his 16th season.

You figure Durant will get there even faster at his current pace, given the insane levels of efficiency he’s hitting — sporting a PER of 30.2 for the season — and blessed with that extra dose of athleticism Dirk has always dreamed of.

Yet you can go ahead and give Dirk and Holger an assist or three in helping Durant navigate his path to that first MVP trophy. Harrington was predictably spotted sitting right next to Geschwindner, Der Professor, when the Thunder and Mavs dueled in Dallas in late March in a game the hosts eked out in overtime.

“I don’t know him so well,” Durant said of Nowitzki, “but I’ve always liked the way he goes about his business.

“And I’ve learned a lot from him by just studying the techniques.”

As if Durant, heading into a potential first-round matchup with Nowitzki’s Mavs, didn’t already have enough going for him.

***


VIDEO: Wizards sign Amaris Jackson

No. 3: Wizards make dream come true – Amaris Jackson is a 10-year-old who currently battles a rare type of cancer called renal cell carcinoma. She’s a huge basketball fan and her dream of becoming a professional basketball player came true on Saturday when the Washington Wizards inked her to a one-day contract. Brandon Parker of The Washington Post has more on this inspirational signing:

Ten-year-old Amaris Jackson, who is battling a rare kidney cancer known as renal cell carcinoma, signed a one-day contract with Wizards prior to Saturday’s home game against Milwaukee in conjunction with the Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic Foundation. As part of her one-day experience as a Wizard, Jackson took part in the pregame shoot-around, visited the locker room and led the team onto the court.

Jackson watched intently and excitedly from half court of the Wizards’ practice gym as the team walked through plays in preparation for Saturday’s game. When Wizards Coach Randy Wittman told the defense to set up in a 2-3 zone, Jackson whispered to assistant coach Sam Cassell that she knew what that scheme meant before pointing where each of the defenders should line up.

At the conclusion of the shoot-around, the players gathered around Jackson, who broke the huddle with a yell of “team.” The Takoma Elementary student then shot around with Trevor Booker and Martell Webster, who told Jackson that her left-handed shot looked better than Booker’s.

Jackson then proceeded to prove Webster right, draining a short jumper from the paint before Booker clanked the same attempt off the back of the rim.

“See, I told you, Amaris!” Webster said while laughing. “Book can’t shoot like you.”

Donning a No. 10 Wizards jersey with her first name on the back along with a red and blue hair ties to hold up her long, black pigtails, Jackson then took to the main court to do an individual workout with her favorite player, John Wall.

“It was fun . . . exciting, meeting all the players,” Jackson said. “It was awesome.”

After leading the team onto the court about 20 minutes prior to tip-off, Jackson was the first player introduced in the Wizards starting lineup, complete with her name and photo on the scoreboard. A few minutes later, she headed back to an office with Wizards owner Ted Leonsis and General Manager Ernie Grunfeld to ink a one-day contract that made her the youngest NBA player in history at 10 years old.

“It was kind of a neat thing, not only for her, but it was kind of neat thing for our guys,” Wittman said. “Our guys I think had a special moment with her. So, that’s always good, to make sure you never take your eyes off the big picture.”

.***

No. 4: ‘Melo asks about Thibs – The Atlanta Hawks’ win over the Miami Heat secured them the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and officially eliminated the New York Knicks from playoff contention. This disappointing season has caused many to question whether free-agent-to-be Carmelo Anthony will remain in New York or bolt for a more attractive situation in, say, Chicago. Frank Isola of The New York Daily News reports that Anthony recently asked a  former Chicago Bulls player what it’s like to play for Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, and apparently that’s just enough juice to squeeze out a glass full of speculation:

Anthony’s interest in Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau can be taken one of several ways. Anthony, who lives and breathes basketball, is merely interested in learning something about one of the NBA’s top coaches. In fact, Anthony will be working with Thibodeau, who was named to USA Basketball’s coaching staff last June.

Of course, Anthony’s impromptu background check on Thibodeau could also be his idea of due diligence since the Bulls loom as an attractive option this summer for the free-agent-to-be.

The Bulls are emerging as one of several teams, along with the Lakers and Rockets, who are expected to pursue Anthony if and when he opts out of his contract on July 1. The Knicks can still offer Anthony the most money, and [Phil] Jackson, the new Knicks president, is intent on re-signing the All-Star forward.

But with the Knicks getting eliminated from the playoffs on Saturday night by virtue of Atlanta beating Miami, Anthony, now in his 11th season, is well-aware that the clock is ticking on his career. He won’t be in the playoffs for the first time and knows the Knicks won’t have cap space until next summer.

Anthony will have to decide if he wants to wait another year before Jackson can make a significant impact, or jump to a ready-made team such as Chicago or Houston.

When asked on Friday why the Bulls have survived losing key players while the Knicks haven’t, Anthony said: “I have no clue. Thibs is a great coach, his system kind of reminds me of Gregg Popovich’s system.

“You put anybody in that system and it’s going to work. That’s what they’ve been doing. They’ve had guys sitting out all season long, guys that’s been in and out of the lineups and they seem to get it done.”

Anthony flirted with the idea of joining the Bulls before forcing a trade to New York, which was his top choice all along. But the chance to play with [Derrick] Rose, Joakim Noah and Thibodeau may be too appealing to pass up again.

Another factor could be Thibodeau’s close relationship to Anthony’s agent, Leon Rose, whose longtime friend William Wesley represents Thibodeau. They all fall under the same CAA umbrella.

In recent weeks, Jackson has hinted that he doesn’t want to feel beholden to any one agency, and his comments have been viewed as a knock on CAA. However, the Knicks’ relationship with that agency was viewed as a strength last season when they were winning 54 games.

Also, Anthony and another CAA client, J.R. Smith, have both played at a high level over the last month as the Knicks kept their season alive.

Ultimately, Anthony will make the decision on his own, and the Knicks’ offer of $125 million may be too good to pass up. But with the Knicks’ coaching situation unsettled and the playoff chase over, Anthony may soon be able to answer the question of “What is it like to play for Thibs?” for himself.

***

No. 5: Silver to take ‘fresh look’ at playoff format – New NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will have plenty of time to make his desired changes to the league, and it appears he already has a few ideas of things which could potentially be improved. One of them, which he discussed during a San Antonio Spurs broadcast, is to shake up the current playoff format. Mike Monroe of The San Antonio Express-News has the full Silver quotes:

Conducting an in-game interview with Spurs broadcasters Bill Land and Sean Elliott during the telecast of Friday’s Spurs-Suns game at AT&T Center, Silver said the league needs to consider changes to the format that puts the top eight teams in each conference in the playoffs.

This season, that means one Eastern team with a losing record will make the playoffs while one Western team with at least 47 wins will be left out.

The Suns, who left Friday’s game with a 47-32 record after absorbing a 112-104 loss to the Spurs, would be third in the East with that record. The bottom four teams in the West all would have home court advantage in the East were the playoffs to begin on Saturday.

“I don’t know that there will be movement,” Silver said about changing the format. “My initial thought is we will take a fresh look at it. When these conferences were designed it was in the day of commercial (air) travel. It was very different moving teams around the country.

“In this day and age when every team is flying charter it changes everything. It’s one of the reasons we moved back to the 2-2-1-1-1 format for this year’s Finals.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: James Harden collected 33 points and 13 assists to help the Rockets rally past the Pelicans 111-104. … Brandon Wright secured a Mavericks victory with this huge block.The Nuggets’ Evan Fournier proved that he doesn’t need to be standing to make a shot.

ICYMI: The Atlanta Hawks clinched the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a win over the Miami Heat on Saturday night. This marks the seventh straight season the Hawks will be in the playoffs, which is the longest streak in the East. Point guard Jeff Teague joined the NBATV GameTime crew after the game last night to talk about what the clinch means to the team.


VIDEO: Arena Link: Jeff Teague

Morning Shootaround — April 12


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Heat win the numbers game over the Pacers | Pierce becomes the 18th player to reach 25,000 | Brewer the most unlikely 50-point scorer … ever? | Raptors ready to hang another banner | Clippers to get Crawford back tonight

No. 1: Numbers that matter favor the Heat in Pacers seriesLeBron James made sure the Miami Heat evened their regular season series with the Indiana Pacers, going off for 36 points in the Friday night showdown on NBA TV and making sure there were no doubts heading into the playoffs that the two-time NBA champs are ready for all challengers. But while the Heat own the numbers game over the Pacers, Miami Herald columnist Greg Cote believes there are quite a few assumptions being made about the two teams everyone feels are destined for a playoff rematch in the Eastern Conference finals:

The Heat’s game against the Pacers here Friday night understandably was billed as the battle for No. 1 — for the top conference playoff seeding as the NBA postseason fast approaches. It was supposed to be crucial because it would determine who would have home-court advantage in a deciding Game 7 in these teams’ inevitable Eastern finals rematch.

Nice, neat little story line.

Only one small problem with the premise.

It assumes both teams will advance that far, a presumption that seems mighty flattering right now to one of those teams.

The Pacers look disheveled and done, frustrated and finished. They look lost, their downward spiral continued by a decisive 98-86 Heat victory at the downtown bayside arena, an outcome putting Miami in control of that top seeding.

Here is why the outcome had to be so disheartening for Indiana fans and such a shot of adrenaline for Miami’s chances of a third consecutive championship.

The Pacers were the Pacers again, healthy, rested and supposedly re-energized after their fatigued starters recently were given three consecutive day off.

And the Heat still was not the Heat, not fully, not with Dwyane Wade missing a ninth consecutive game on account of a strained left hamstring.

Yet LeBron James with 36 points led his depleted champions to a resounding triumph that tipped on a 16-0 Miami run to open the second half.

The Heat has too much offensive firepower, even sans Wade, for light-scoring Indiana, which has too little in the way of a counter-punch. Pacers top scorer Paul George has not been anything special most of the second half of this season, and Miami seems to have discovered a weapon to stop Indiana’s Roy Hibbert, the 7-2 behemoth who is a lumbering slug against the rest of the NBA but tends to take a star turn against Miami.

The Heat’s not-so-secret weapon against Hibbert? His name is Udonis Haslem. He held Hibbert to a whispering five points and one rebound Friday. Haslem had fallen out of the rotation this season but seems to be a big factor again as the playoffs loom.

“It’s great to have U.D. back,” James said of Haslem. “He’s the heart and soul of our team.”

Haslem gave up 6 inches and 55 pounds to Hibbert but won the matchup with hustle, with knee burns on wood earned diving after loose balls. Haslem turns 34 in June, right around the time of the NBA Finals. With obvious affection, coach Erik Spoelstra calls him “our old warrior.”

“He set the tone early,” Spoelstra said. “It’s what going on in here, which you can’t teach.”

As he said “here,” Spoelstra tapped his finger on his chest, over his heart.


VIDEO: The Heat’s Chris Bosh talks about the win over the Pacers

***

No. 2: Paul Pierce joins the exclusive 25,000-point club – Not that he needed the boost, but is there any doubt that Paul Pierce will join the Hall of Fame club one day now that he’s scored his pass to the all-exclusive 25,000-point club, becoming just the 18th player in NBA history to reach that mark? It’s a nod to not only his elite scoring ability but also his dedication to the craft and the longevity it takes to reach such heights. Mike Mazzeo of ESPNNewYork.com helps put Pierce’s accomplishment into better perspective:

Pierce became the 18th player in NBA history to score at least 25,000 career points in Friday night’s 93-88 loss to the Atlanta Hawks at Barclays Center.

“I told him, ‘Welcome to the neighborhood,’ ” said teammate Kevin Garnett, who is also a member of the exclusive club.

” ‘Truth’ has been a big part of this league. He’s one of my great friends, best friends. We’ve had some accomplishments together, done some great things together, and tonight it was all about him. I’m happy for him.”

Pierce, Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant are the only four active players in the league to have reached the milestone.

“It’s better to be in the championship club obviously,” Pierce said when told of the comment from Garnett, with whom he won a title with the Boston Celtics in 2008. “Statistical things, they come and go. There’s gonna be players in the future that pass me up, but when you win, that lasts forever. It’s great. I’m gonna enjoy being part of history. It’s just a testament to my hard work and consistency over the years and good health.”

Pierce came into Friday night’s game just five points shy of reaching the mark. He knocked down a 3-pointer with 3:09 remaining in the second quarter to give him 25,001 career points. Pierce had started off 1 of 5 from the field before draining the milestone shot.

“It’s hard not to [think about it],” said Pierce, who finished with 13 points on 5-for-14 shooting. “Everybody’s talking about it. My family’s here, my friends that’s all they’re talking about, and I was the same way when I reached the 20,000-point mark. I remember I couldn’t hit a shot in the first quarter because I was pressing just to get it. I’m just glad it’s over with and I can just focus on the rest of the season.”

Pierce received a nice ovation from the home crowd after his accomplishment was recognized by the public address announcer.

The 36-year-old has averaged 21.3 points per game during his 16-year career. He spent the first 15 seasons with the Celtics, and currently ranks second on the franchise’s all-time scoring list behind John Havlicek.


VIDEO: Paul Pierce joins the 25,000-point club

***

No. 3: Brewer the most unlikely 50-point scorer ever? — Welcome to the 50-point scorer’s club Corey Brewer, we had no idea you’d be joining the party. Since you’ve never scored 30 points in a game in your seven seasons in the league … until Friday night, of course, when you smoked the Houston Rockets for half of a hundred. Brewer also joined the elite list of Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson and Rick Barry as the only players to score 50 points and collect six steals in the same game. The other three guys are either already in or locks for the Hall of Fame. Brewer … is not, as Ryan Feldman of ESPN Stats & Information explains:

Brewer is the sixth player in NBA history to score at least 50 points in a game without having previously scored 30 points in a game.

The lowest previous career high for a player to score 50 points in a game was 26 by Terrence Ross (earlier this season for the Toronto Raptors) and Tony Delk (in 2000-01 for the Phoenix Suns).

Brewer, in his seventh NBA season, is the most experienced player ever to score 50 points without having previously scored 30.

The only other players to score 50 before ever scoring 30 among players with at least two full seasons of NBA experience were Delk (fifth season in 2000-01) and Willie Burton (1994-95 season with the Philadelphia 76ers was his fifth season).

Brewer averaged 9.9 points per game in his career entering Friday, the fifth-lowest career scoring average for a player at the time of scoring 50 points. The lowest was Ross, who averaged 7.4 before scoring 51 back in January.

Brewer now averages 10.0 points per game, the fifth-lowest career scoring average for any 50-point scorer (including every career game for players after they scored 50). The lowest on that list? Walt Wesley (8.5 career points per game), who joined the 50-point club with the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 1970-71 season.

And let’s not forget about a few other notables:

Tracy Murray, who scored 50 for the Washington Wizards in 1997-98, averaged 9.0 points per game for his career.

Phil Smith and Phil Chenier both joined the 50-point club in the 1970s before ever scoring 30 in a game.

Dana Barros had eight 30-point games, all for the 76ers in 1994-95, his only season averaging more than 13.3 points per game. That season, he scored 50 against the Rockets on 21-of-26 shooting.

***

No. 4: Raptors ready to hang another banner with Atlantic Division title wrapped up – No one said it was going to be easy, the Toronto Raptors getting to the top of the heap of the Atlantic Division. After all, the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks were both projected to finish ahead of them in the race this season. But as the sun rises this morning north of the border, it’s the scrappy Raptors (losers to the Knicks Friday night on their home floor) who have emerged victorious in the chase. Losing your way into winning a division title makes for a rather odd but satisfying celebration, according to Cousin Doug Smith of the Toronto Star:

The lone banner signifying Raptors success will soon have another flying next to it in the Air Canada Centre.

It was an odd celebration — barely a celebration at all — but the Raptors did manage to secure the second Atlantic Division title in franchise history on Friday night.

Coach Dwane Casey was deconstructing a 108-100 loss to the New York Knicks at about the same time the players were bemoaning a lost opportunity and the Atlanta Hawks were providing a helping hand by beating the Brooklyn Nets to hand the division to the Raptors.

So while there were commemorative t-shirts mandated by the league — Atlantic Is Ours, they said — there was hardly a raucous celebration raging in the locker room.

“It sucks that we lost the game, especially with us trying to hold on to the third spot (in the East) but it feels great to win the division,” said DeMar DeRozan. “I don’t think anyone would have picked us to win it, so it is definitely an accomplishment.

“The feel is we are still anxious, we want more, we aren’t satisfied with anything. We still have much basketball to play and have a long road to go.

“We want to take advantage of it, not just get there and say we got there and say we got there when people doubted us. We feel like we can go in there and make some noise.”

***

No. 5: Clippers Crawford set for a Saturday return – The best sixth-man in the business is set for a Saturday return, per Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com. And it comes at the perfect time for the Los Angeles Clippers, as they welcome back Jamal Crawford in the lead up to the first round of the Western Conference playoffs:

Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford practiced with the team Friday and is expected to play Saturday against the Sacramento Kings.

Crawford has been sidelined the past five games with a strained left calf. It was the same injury that sidelined him for eight of nine games last month.

The Clippers are officially listing Crawford as a “game-time decision” for Saturday but he is expected to play for the first time since March 29.

“I think it’s huge from a chemistry standpoint to get everybody back healthy,” Crawford said. “At that point we’d just be missing Danny [Granger]. Just to get back into rhythm after missing some [time] would be huge. You want to play your best heading into the playoffs.”

Granger, who has missed the past six games with a strained left calf, shot with the team on Friday and is hoping to return for the team’s playoff opener next week.

Coach Doc Rivers last week thought Crawford and Granger would be out until the playoffs started, but with Crawford coming back and Granger on track to return next week, Rivers could have a fully healthy roster for the first time this season just as the playoffs begin.

“I think it’s great,” Rivers said. “I think it’s great for him and the team.”


VIDEO: Corey Brewer goes off for a career-high 51 points

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Pacers have changed their tune now that the No. 1 seed seems to have slipped away …  The Warriors bounce back, bounce Lakers and clinch playoff berth … Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva is facing an uncertain future …  The Atlanta Hawks mourn the death of “Sweet Lou” Hudson …

ICYMI(s) of the Night: Steph Curry goes off again and Big Al Jefferson shreds the competition inside once more …


VIDEO: All of the Lakers found out the hard way what it means to deal with Steph Curry

 


VIDEO: Al Jefferson 32-point, 10-rebound night was routine work for the Bobcats big man

 

Morning Shootaround — April 11


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors stumble again at home | Pacers, Heat ready for showdown | Howard quietly recreating his image | Report: Mavs PA announcer suspended | Young ‘confident’ he’ll be back in L.A.

No. 1: Warriors racking up bad home losses — The Golden State Warriors boast one of the more dedicated, vocal fan bases in the NBA and last season, that support paid off mightily as the team amassed a 28-13 record at Oracle Arena. That mark was Golden State’s best home mark since 2006-07, when the Warriors went 30-11. The fans at Oracle still remain as die-hard as ever, but Golden State has had trouble holding up its end of the bargain this season. The Warriors fell to 26-14 at home with last night’s loss to the Denver Nuggets and as Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN.com points out, bad home losses have become a norm of sorts for the team:

The first quarter reminded us of how Oracle Arena can be a harrowing place for visitors. Andre Iguodala put the ball behind his back before violently yanking it back across his body, sending Quincy Miller into an embarrassing tumble. Fans stood in a sudden wave, jeering Miller’s misfortune. The older-style concrete stadium makes for disorienting acoustics. The crowd noise spills from the rafters, bounces around the walls and descends on opponents and disliked referees with a force that feels almost dangerous. In last year’s playoffs, the Warriors were struggling to hear play calls on the floor. The crowd energy, and its subsequent ref-intimidation powers, was worth it, though.

Given their vaunted “Roaracle” advantage, why are the Warriors suffering embarrassing home losses to lesser opponents? Since Feb. 1, they’ve suffered home losses to Charlotte, Cleveland, New York and now Denver.

The trouble at home has frustrated owner Joe Lacob, who back in February told Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News, “The road’s been fine. But at home we’ve lost a couple games — to Minnesota and to San Antonio when they played their scrubs, if you remember … and Denver and Charlotte. Maybe another four games that we just absolutely should’ve won. We didn’t. And I’m not sure why. The team wasn’t ready in those games. I can’t explain it — why we don’t play so consistently at home as we should. We have a great home-court advantage, great fans, great atmosphere. It’s not clear.”

Thursday night’s game ended in a one-point loss, sealed by a tough Kenneth Faried post-up fadeaway. It’s easy to dismiss that as poor luck for the Dubs, but Denver’s energy far outmatched an opponent who could have clinched a playoff berth with a victory.

“There’s a lot of reasons this is such a terrible feeling in the locker room,” a downcast Stephen Curry said after the game. “We could have taken care of a playoff spot.”

When asked about what it means in the big picture, Curry said, “We gotta learn these lessons, man. Simple as that. We can’t take off possessions, we can’t take off quarters and just expect to turn it on when you need it.”

Draymond Green expressed disappointment about Golden State’s rebounding effort but felt the loss came from getting too comfortable: “We got up 20, took our foot off the gas pedal, and when you’re playing a game against a team like that, who doesn’t necessarily have the best shot selection and nothing to lose, if those shots start falling, you’re in for a long night.”

The loss means the Warriors likely won’t get to play an ailing Houston Rockets team in Round 1. To emerge from the first round, they’ll probably have to go through one of the West’s big-three teams (Clippers, Thunder, Spurs) as a substantial underdog. Losing to bad teams put them in this position, but at least they’ll have incentive to conjure necessary energy against the West’s elite.


VIDEO: The Warriors blow a big lead and lose to the Nuggets at home

***

No. 2: Are you ready for some Pacers-Heat? –The race for the East’s No. 1 seed between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers has been one of the main storylines as the season approaches its final week. In case you’ve been asleep or in a cave somewhere, this chase has traded hands a couple of times over the last few weeks, but Indiana has the oh-so-tenuous grasp on No. 1 as of this morning. But as the Pacers get ready to head to South Florida and take on the Heat, our Sekou Smith looks ahead to a matchup that is a lot bigger than both teams are making it out to be:

LeBron James insists the collective health of the Miami Heat means more to him than chasing the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings.

Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel rested his entire starting five Wednesday night in Milwaukee, swearing that his starters needed a break (mentally, physically and emotionally) more than they needed to continue their season-long quest to wrest away that top spot from the Heat.

What do you take us for, gentlemen? Surely you don’t think we’re buying this business about the No. 1 seed in the East, and the home-court advantage that will come with it in the Eastern Conference finals, suddenly morphing into some trivial pursuit at this late stage of the season.

We all know what’s at stake Friday night in Miami (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV) in your final regular-season matchup of the season. Don’t toy with our emotions because yours are frayed after a wild, roller coaster of a season that has seen both of your teams endure your fair share of struggles  (relatively speaking, of course, for two teams with a combined 107 wins and just 50 losses). It’s basically a winner-take-all showdown for that No. 1 spot, a chance for the struggling Pacers to make one last statement to the world about their intentions for the postseason and the Heat’s opportunity to remind the upstarts from Indianapolis that if they want the crown they better be ready to bleed for it.

It doesn’t matter that neither the Heat nor Pacers have looked like a championship team for much of the past six weeks. The Pacers have won just eight of their past 20 games and struggled to get most of those, while the Heat (playing without Dwyane Wade for eight straight due to a hamstring injury) have won just 10 of their past 21 while struggling to find the groove that guided them to 27 straight wins down the stretch last season.

The Heat, grinding through a fourth straight season with a target on their chests every night, appear to be wearing down just a bit under that relentless pressure. The Pacers, who thought they knew what it took to be an elite team night after night, are finding out that it’s much easier to talk about it than to be about it.

“If I’m Indiana, I just want to get my mojo back,” TNT and NBA TV’s Chris Webber said, “go to wherever Stella went and get my groove back. Right now, they’re not playing well and it’s obvious to everyone in the league.”

They know that controlling your own destiny based on home-court advantage comes at a price. That regular-season grind is expensive, it takes a toll on the body and mind, one that the Heat are a bit reluctant to pay when they know that they have an extra gear they can get to in the postseason.

“It’s not controlling our destiny about the No. 1 seed,” LeBron told reporters after the Heat lost in Memphis on Wednesday night. “We want to get healthy. That’s all that we care about, going into the postseason healthy. Once everyone comes back, then we can get everything rolling.”

Why wait for the playoffs when you can get it rolling against the Pacers one last time? The playoff-level intensity is already embedded on both sides. They cannot stand each other and play like it every time they suit up against one another. This fourth time this season will be no different.


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew looks ahead to tonight’s Pacers-Heat showdown

***

No. 3: Howard quietly reminding folks of his greatness — If you have some time today, settle in and read this great piece from Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck on Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard. In short, it touches on how the happy-go-lucky big man has gone from a player many viewed as a franchise pillar (during his Orlando Magic days) to a reviled figure (during his L.A. Lakers days) to, now, being somewhat of a quiet force on a dark-horse contender:

Dwight Howard is still a very tall man, just shy of seven feet, with a wingspan and personality to match. He still dominates the painted area of a basketball court. If you are an opposing player or coach, he is still difficult to ignore.

And yet something odd has happened in this, his 10th NBA season. Howard, this towering personality with the Superman complex has become nearly invisible. Obscured. An afterthought.

Check the MVP leaderboards. Dwight Howard is not there.

Listen to the pundits gush about the league’s great young bigs. Joakim Noah and Roy Hibbert have commandeered the discussion. Anthony Davis generates the most excitement. DeMarcus Cousins, the most angst.

And Howard? What does he generate? Polite applause? Quiet appreciation?

By the time he arrived in Houston last summer, he was a broken player and a reviled figure.

And now? Now Dwight Howard has quietly turned the Rockets into a dark-horse contender in the rugged Western Conference. And he’s generating indifference. He seems fine with this.

“I think people forget,” Howard said in a recent phone interview, referring to his fleeting status. “But it takes time. It takes time to get stuff back. It’s something that I know that I can get back, everything that I’ve lost. But all that stuff takes time. My focus is really on helping this team, and helping these young guys be as good as possible.”

By any standard, Howard is having a perfectly productive season, averaging 18.5 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. His field-goal percentage is a stout .590, his best mark in three seasons. His player efficiency rating (PER) is 21.5, down from his peak Orlando years, but two points higher than last season.

Howard, now 28 years old and two years removed from back surgery, might never match his Orlando production. But he doesn’t need to.

Here’s the number that matters most: .675. That was the Rockets’ winning percentage as of Wednesday morning, their best mark since 2007-08, when Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady were in their prime.

“We had a very good defensive center (in Omer Asik),” said general manager Daryl Morey, “but with Dwight we were hoping to get something close to the Defensive Player of the Year, which we have.”

The payoff has come more quickly than anticipated. The Rockets, who finished eighth in the West last season, are 52-25 and in fourth place as of Tuesday night, trailing only San Antonio (60-18), Oklahoma City (56-21) and the Los Angeles Clippers (55-23). Of those teams, the Rockets are by far the youngest, and with the least amount of time together.

Ultimately, the Rockets will go as far as James Harden and Howard can carry them. That partnership is still in its early stages, but the results have been promising. Harden is averaging 25.5 points and a team-high 16.6 field-goal attempts per game, while Howard has settled into a complementary role.

Harden, with his bustling beard and his electrifying offense, is the scruffy face of this franchise. At times, Howard is more sidekick than superhero.

“James, he has to score,” Howard said. “So that’s not my concern. I can do other things besides scoring the basketball.”

Indeed, Howard never seemed entirely comfortable as the No. 1 scoring option in Orlando, and he seems happy to be trading shots for wins. He’s also playing just 34 minutes a game, the least since his rookie season.

“Every day we bring it in (for the huddle), we say ‘Family,’ we say, ‘Together,’” Howard said. “Me and James, our relationship has grown throughout the season—the road trips that we’ve had, the time that we’ve spent together off the court, just made us a lot better. And it’s showing up on the floor.”

“I don’t think we’re at our peak,” Howard said of the partnership. “We’re still developing as players. I always had to create for others. Having a guy like him that can create for him and create for others, it just makes both of our lives better.”

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No. 4: Report: Mavs public address announcer suspended for tweets — When someone in the Dallas Mavericks organization is suspended by the NBA for comments or tweets, most of the time the person getting penalized is owner Mark Cuban. However, that wasn’t the case in this instance, as the team’s public address announcer, Sean Heath, was the guilty party. Heath sent out some tweets after the Mavs’ OT loss to the Golden State Warriors on April 1 that had a controversial ending that incensed many Mavs fans. Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com has more:

The NBA issued a two-game suspension to Dallas Mavericks public-address announcer Sean Heath due to tweets criticizing officiating, multiple sources briefed on the situation told ESPNDallas.com.The suspension will begin Saturday night, when the Mavs face the Phoenix Suns in the final home game of the regular season. Heath will complete the suspension either in the first home game of the playoffs or next season’s home opener, depending on whether the Mavs advance.

The league office acknowledged in a statement the next day that Warriors center Jermaine O’Neal should have been called for goaltending when he blocked a potential go-ahead shot by Mavs guard Monta Ellis with 16 seconds remaining in overtime.

Three of the tweets from Heath’s account with 253 followers were directed to the NBA’s account, the most inflammatory of which said that games such as the Mavs’ loss to the Warriors are why the league has a “reputation that the games are rigged.”

Sources said that the league issued the suspension Thursday but granted a request from the Mavs to postpone it until the next game to give the team time to find a suitable replacement for Heath, who is known for his high volume and passion.

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No. 5: Young ‘confident’ he’ll return to Lakers — The man known as “Swaggy P”, Lakers swingman Nick Young, has enjoyed being in Los Angeles … even if his team has had an awful season. Young is an L.A. native and former standout at USC, so playing before more friends and family than he had at any point in his career has been a boon for him. But Young, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer, tells ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin that he’s (not surprisingly) confident he’ll be back with L.A. next season:

As Nick Young‘s first season with his hometown Lakers winds down, the high-scoring guard is starting to wonder if these will be his last days in Los Angeles.Young, who can opt out of his $1.2 million contract for next season with the Lakers to test free agency this summer, said he anticipates a lot of upheaval in the team’s future.

“I always wanted to be a Laker and it will be a dream come true to still be here, but it’s crazy,” Young said after practice Thursday. “You never know what happens. Last year they had a whole different team. It’s obvious they’re going to make some changes.”

Young’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, told ESPNLosAngeles.com in February that his client played at a discount for L.A. this season, accepting a big pay cut to $1.2 million from the $6 million Philadelphia paid him in 2012-13.

“His value is certainly much greater than what the contract is,” Bartelstein said. “There’s no question about that. But our goal is to sit down with [Lakers general manager] Mitch [Kupchak] and hopefully work something out so Nick can be with the Lakers for a long time.”

Young echoed the same goal.

“This is home,” Young said. “I would love to finish off here as a Laker. My kids get to go to school and say, ‘My dad is a Laker.’ That’s big.”

“Just wearing that purple and gold has been great, it’s been amazing,” Young said. “Especially to learn from and share the same locker room as Kobe [Bryant] and pick his brain a little bit. That helped me a lot. Just going out there and being able to play and play my game in front of my fans and family and eat home-cooked meals and wake up and not have to deal with that snow every day.”

Young, who went to Cleveland High School in the L.A. suburb of Reseda, Calif., and attended USC for college, was asked if he feels like he has any unfinished business to take care of with the Lakers.

“Most definitely,” Young said. “Of course I want to be here and be a part of a team that’s going to the playoffs and fighting for championships and really get a chance to get that feeling of being a part of that Laker parade and having my little speech like [Shaquille O'Neal] did, ‘Can you dig it?’ Have my own sayings, you know? So, I’ve thought about that a lot. That would really be a great dream come true.”

Young made it sound like he thinks those dreams can be realized.

“I’m very confident,” Young said when asked about his chances of returning to the Lakers. “I think we’re going to come to some kind of agreement and hopefully it happens. We just got to see what they’re going to do.”


VIDEO: Nick Young talks after the Lakers’ practice Thursday

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: University of Tennessee star Jarnell Stokes may soon be making a decision about the NBA … Here’s a good little interview with Magic rookie standout Victor Oladipo … ICYMI, referee Dick Bavetta treated Bucks big man Zaza Pachulia a little cold the other night … And speaking of refs, here’s our own Steve Aschburner on what officials will be looking for in the playoffs …

ICYMI of the Night: Is there any play worth talking about other than Andre Iguodala‘s sick crossover on Quincy Miller last night? …


VIDEO: Andre Iguodala crosses up the Nuggets’ Quincy Miller