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Morning Shootaround

Morning shootaround — May 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Heat needs Johnson to step up | All about team for Lillard | Raptors face pain, Pacers all gain | Cavs’ Griffin: Expectations, not chemistry, was challenge

No. 1: Heat needs Johnson to step up — As dynamic as Miami’s Dwyane Wade was in Game 6 against the Charlotte Hornets Friday and as durable as he’s been this season, a matinee tipoff time for Game 7 down in South Florida (1 ET, ABC) isn’t the most ideal scenario for the Heat’s 34-year-old leader. That short turnaround time had Ethan J. Skolnick of the Miami Herald casting about for the likeliest teammates to step up into a 1-A role Sunday, and after considering the likes of Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, Luol Deng and a couple others, Skolnick settled on:

The other guy is Joe Johnson.

The 15-year veteran has had mixed success, with Everest highs and deathly Valleys.
It didn’t start well. He was 5 for 17 for 16 points in the Hawks’ 34-point loss to a much better Boston team in the 2008 first round.

“They killed us,” Johnson said. “But that’s the year they won the championship.”

But then, in 2009, the Hawks and Wade’s Heat went the distance, and Johnson actually had the better finish: He made 10 of 19 shots for 27 points, while also recording five rebounds, four assists and five steals in an easy win.

“That was a pretty good one, because I struggled that whole series,” Johnson said. “And I probably had my best game in that Game 7.”

In 2010, Johnson had just eight points on 4-of-14 shooting in Atlanta’s rout of Milwaukee in Game 7 of the first round. And then, in 2013 against the Deng-less Bulls, he went 2 of 14 and scored just six points in Game 7, as his Nets lost at home by six.

In the first round in 2014, he made plenty of big plays to push the Nets past the Raptors, in a Game 7 on the road: 26 points on 11-of-25 shooting.

“That was probably the most special, because it was on the road, hostile environment,” Johnson said. “And man, down the stretch, we were huge. It was the loudest place I’ve ever played in. I couldn’t [bleeping] hear myself breathe, think or nothing. That was probably the best one.”

No better basketball feeling than ending somebody’s season.

“Knowing that one team has to go home,” Johnson said. “So for us, to have a Game 7 on our home floor, I think we’ll take that.”

The Heat took him in this season, after his buyout from Brooklyn. He’s had a decent series — averaging 11 points while shooting 49 percent from the field, including 47 percent from long range. But Miami needs more than efficiency to advance.

It needs more impact.

The Heat may not get his best Game 7, better than what he gave against Miami in 2009.

But his best performance of the series?

With the start time, this seems the right time for that.

Bonus coverage: He isn’t expected to be in the building Sunday, but here is the Charlotte Observer’s story on “Purple Shirt Guy,” who played such a goofy intrusive role in Game 6.

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Morning shootaround — April 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

What’s next for ‘tough luck’ Clippers? | Walton offers Lakers hope | Wade digs deep, goes deep | Portland’s underdog ride blazes on

No. 1: What’s next for ‘tough luck’ Clippers? — One day and two months. That’s the latest way to frame this so-called curse that hangs over the Los Angeles Clippers, who failed to push their first-round Western Conference playoff series to a Game 7 Friday night in Portland. For one day – the time between Stephen Curry‘s sprained right knee and their own calamitous injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin – it looked as if the Clippers might have gotten a fortunate break (admittedly due to Curry’s and Golden State’s misfortune). But then their own stars went down with even more serious injuries (Paul’s hand fracture and Griffin’s quad strain). That brought the Clippers’ history of lousy luck roaring back, and a team that hoped to be playing into June couldn’t even make it out of April. Here are more thoughts on the seemingly snake-bit Clips from ESPN.com’s Arash Markazi:

It was another dramatic and heartbreaking close to a season for the Clippers. They have now squandered a 2-0 first-round series lead by losing four straight games twice, and last season blew a 3-1 second-round series lead by losing three straight games. No team in NBA history has ever blown a two-game series lead three times in four years. The last team to do it in consecutive seasons was the Phoenix Suns in 1994 and 1995.

Teams that go up 2-0 in a best-of-seven series are 258-16, and teams that go up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series are 222-9. As good as the Clippers have been recently, they continue to find themselves on the wrong side of history and fate this time of year.

Of course, the way the Clippers’ season ended Friday, with Paul and Griffin watching the final game of the season back home in Los Angeles while recovering from surgeries, made the result more understandable. But it doesn’t change the end result.

Paul has now been on three of the last four teams to blow a 2-0 series lead, and no player in NBA history has played in more postseason games without getting past the second round than he has. Doc Rivers also becomes only the second coach in NBA history to have his team blow three best-of-seven series when leading either 2-0 or 3-1.

So where do the Clippers go from here? They are the only team other than the San Antonio Spurs to win at least 50 games over the past four seasons, but they have nothing to show for it except for two Pacific Division banners that hang in their training facility along with a handful of game balls from some memorable wins. Even the Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets have found a way to sneak into the conference finals during that time.

Paul, Griffin and [DeAndre] Jordan are all under contract for next season, but Paul and Griffin probably will opt out of the final year of their deals and become free agents in the summer of 2017. Jordan can be a free agent the following summer (2018).

Looking at the rest of the roster, J.J. Redick will be a free agent after next season; Jamal Crawford, Jeff Green and Luc Mbah a Moute will be free agents this summer, and Austin Rivers, Cole Aldrich and Wesley Johnson probably will opt out of their deals and become free agents as well.

Paul Pierce, 38, signed a three-year, $10 million contract with the Clippers last year, but said after the game he’s “50-50” on whether he will retire following the worst season of his professional career. Pablo Prigioni, who turns 39 next month, probably will retire after also having his worst season.

In short, the Clippers are a team in flux that has hit a ceiling.

***

 No. 2: Walton offers Lakers hope — For a team so down-trodden this season, the past couple of weeks sure turned out to be heady ones for the Los Angeles Lakers and their fans. Starting with Kobe Bryant‘s 60-point farewell performance in the season finale, right through the announcement that Byron Scott – a popular former Lakers player but hardly that as the teams’ most recent head coach – had been fired, there actually was some buzz about the proud-but-sputtering franchise. Then came the word Friday night that Luke Walton, another former Laker but more important Golden State coach Steve Kerr‘s right-hand man up in Oakland, had been tabbed as L.A.’s replacement for Scott. The honeymoon began instantly, though Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com was quick to remind readers that the task Walton faces is a daunting one:

By hiring Walton, the Lakers accomplished several feats. They’re hiring a young, smart, well-regarded, up-and-coming coach from a successful, forward-thinking organization. They’re once again bringing back one of their own, as Walton will become the eighth former Lakers player who went on to coach the team. And the fact that the Lakers are bringing in a beloved familiar face — a Southern California native, no less — will undoubtedly help them not only win the media conference but establish patience from their fans as Walton tries to steer the team out of the depths of rebuilding.

And yet the reality is, for as happy as the Lakers and their fans are now, there’s plenty of reason for skepticism. Walton will become the youngest active head coach in the NBA. In fact, at 36 years, 32 days old, Walton is 1 year, 218 days younger than the just-retired Bryant. And Walton’s first NBA head coaching job will be leading a rebuilding team that currently offers a few promising young players but little else. Walton will be tasked with developing those fledgling talents and helping lure free agents back to the Lakers after the team has struck out in that arena for three straight offseasons, though it’s unclear what kind of sway he’ll have with free agents, let alone his own players.

Beyond that, the Lakers aren’t considered to be the most modern-minded franchise, so Walton will have to assist in installing a new culture that helps them turn the page from their past (and Kobe) to whatever successful future he hopes to forge.

This is an extremely tall task for someone who two years ago was a part-time assistant with the Lakers’ D-League team, the D-Fenders. Though, in an odd way, Walton’s experience dealing with those players should come in handy considering the roster he’s now taking over.

There will be expectations for Walton to replicate some measure of success that he had when keeping the seat warm for Kerr, and to infuse some of that Warriors’ DNA into the Lakers. However, such expectations must be tempered.

[It’s] fair to wonder if Walton would’ve been given this offer a year ago.

It’s fair to wonder if his 39-4 mark with the Warriors may have hypnotized some. The Lakers will back him and say that Walton will be a great coach, as they should. But they’ve said that for their previous three coaches, too, all of whom departed before their contracts expired.

Walton has learned under Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr, as well as Mike Brown and Byron Scott, and now the Lakers have gone back to a familiar well, bringing back one of their own. Walton could be the greatest hire in Lakers coaching history, a perfect fit. But, if we’re being honest, no one knows much about Luke Walton as a head coach, as someone who can hire a staff, observe a roster and set a course for success.

The once and future Laker is entering an organization that, on many levels, couldn’t be more different than the one he’s about to depart. The Warriors are a well-oiled machine with total buy-in, a modern-day top-down philosophy, a confluence of so many good elements that, together, have produced something almost magical — that’s truly a joy to watch.

The Lakers are none of that.

Jim Buss, part-owner and executive vice president of basketball operations, could well be gone next summer and so could Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. Could Phil Jackson return? Such questions loom heavy over the Lakers’ future.

“The number one thing is this,” said one source familiar with both the Warriors and Lakers. “The Lakers are dysfunctional as an organization. A coach can’t change this.”

Indeed, but at the very least, Walton will be (or should be) better than Scott, who is one of the worst coaches in recent memory. Walton has a chance to be good if he develops and is given time, which the Lakers should certainly grant him. Walton knows the Los Angeles market, the Lakers organization, their fan base, the expectations and history. He wanted the Lakers and they wanted him.

He has his dream job and now the Lakers have something they haven’t had in a while: hope.

***

No. 3:  Wade digs deep, goes deep — Neither Dwyane Wade nor Udonis Haslem was ready to have it end Friday night. They have been together in Miami for 13 years, through five trips to The Finals and three NBA championships, so the idea of falling short in Game 6 in Charlotte held no appeal whatsoever for the veteran Heat players. Wade was the one in position to do the most about it, and that’s what he did. In the most unlikely way possible: digging deep and shooting deep. Ethan J. Skolnick of the Miami Herald chronicled the events:

They’re not men prone to all that much mistiness, though the years can do something to you, and so can the fears of another ending. And so, after Friday’s shootaround, hours before what could have been the final game of the 13th season they’ve shared together, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem paused to reflect.

“About how much this meant to us,” Haslem said. “About how much this has meant to us. This opportunity, this organization, being able to lead these guys, and be able to pass the torch at some point…”

“Just being here together,” Wade said. “For 13 years. We’ve been a part of making this organization a championship organization. We’ve been to five (NBA) Finals in 10 years, and we know how hard it was to do that. We just talked about trying to get the guys who have never been here to understand how hard it is to be successful.”

And, when the conversation concluded, Haslem understood clearly:
“Not tonight.”

Not tonight, because, to secure a 97-90 victory and a 3-3 tie in this first-round series — with Game 7 coming Sunday afternoon — Wade truly did need to use whatever means necessary.

Even the least likely of all.
“I’m Kyle Korver now,” Wade joked later.

Well, not really. Not when, before Friday, he hadn’t made a three-pointer in the calendar year 2016, missing all 21 attempts since Dec. 16. But he’s warning reporters that he can still stroke it — he did make 88 during the 2008-09 season, and reminded Joe Johnson that he “bombed” Johnson’s Hawks out of Game 2, with six makes, in the 2009 first round. He’s spoken of some sort of mental block, that stops him just as he readies to release.

But, after scoring 13 points in the first half and just two through the first 21 minutes of the second half (”my stroke left me”), Wade did rise up after receiving a pass from a doubled Luol Deng.

And he did rattle it in, off the rear of the rim.

Then, after [Kemba] Walker’s dazzling reverse layup in transition cut the Heat lead to two — and both the Heat and Hornets had empty possessions — Wade did take the ball from Haslem after a rebound, dribble to the top of the circle, then bounce away from traffic in the middle, and step back to the left into another steady 26-footer.

Then he did gesture toward a purple-shirted harassing Hornets fan, who had been angrily advising him the entire game to retire.

“Yeah, I was tired of his mouth,” Wade said. “I mean, I hadn’t said nothing to him.”

Nothing was required, as it turned out.

He’d made his point.

With three points. Twice.

“They gave it to me,” Wade said. “This is a good defensive team. Courtney Lee is a good defensive player. You’re not always gonna get what you want.”
But what you get can still be what your team needs.

“He was shooting them yesterday, and I told him, ‘Man, we’re gonna need you to make some of them [bleep],’ ” Joe Johnson said. “He was like, ‘I’m gonna shoot ’em. I’m gonna shoot ’em.’ So we come down the stretch and I was not surprised, because Courtney Lee kept backing off of him, playing him for the drive. I mean, nobody expected D-Wade to shoot the three. And if he does, you’re like, OK, I’ll live with that. And he made two huge threes.”

After not making one since mid-December.

“Man, are you serious?!” Johnson said, before shouting across the room. “Damn, D-Wade!”

Haslem, naturally, had no issue with the shot selection.

“He was working on it,” Haslem said. “I didn’t know he was going to shoot it, but he was working on it. Clutch situation, that’s my guy, man. I trust every decision that he makes, and every shot that he takes.”

***

No. 4: Portland’s underdog ride blazes on — The story of the Portland Trail Blazers’ overachieving 2015-16 season has been written often and in multiple ways lately. It’s evident in the voting results for NBA annual awards that have come out, what with guard C.J. McCollum‘s triumph as Most Improved Player and Terry Stotts‘ ballot-love in Coach of the Year voting. But the chapter added Friday night with their dispatching of the Clippers and advancement to the playoffs’ conference semifinal round was special enough to earn inclusion here, courtesy of Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com:

There are no asterisks in the NBA postseason — not for abbreviated seasons, and not for series wins over short-handed teams missing two All-Stars. Coaches and players sound this trope all the time: It’s so hard to win in the NBA. Hard to win a game, hard to win a series, hard to win a title.

So please excuse the Portland Trail Blazers if they see their 106-103 Game 6 closeout win over the Los Angeles Clippers at the Moda Center on Friday night not as a fluke born out of Chris Paul’s fractured hand or Blake Griffin’s aggravated quad injury, but as a logical extension of a season-long process.

“Behind closed doors, we felt like we could make the playoffs in September,” guard CJ McCollum said. “We felt like we had enough pieces to get there, but it was going to be a process. We needed to get everybody together. We needed to execute. We were going to take some lumps.”

Even as the Trail Blazers drained seven consecutive 3-pointers in the third quarter, they still couldn’t shake the Clippers. More Rivers’ vengeance off the bounce, and Jordan reversed the Blazers’ fortunes on the glass. As the game moved into the fourth nip and tuck, the prospect for irony was ripe: The league’s most opportunistic underdogs might squander their ready-made ticket to the conference semis.

Ultimately, Portland became their best selves when they needed to in the fourth. A merry-go-round of multiple offensive actions created a drive-and-dish for [Damian] Lillard, who found McCollum for a 3-pointer with a little over four minutes remaining. Same thing a couple of minutes later: Movement, drive, kick, three from McCollum to keep Portland a length ahead of the Clippers

“I was really happy with the way we executed down the stretch,” Lillard said. “We didn’t panic when they put up a fight for us. We did the things necessary to win the game.”

The Trail Blazers had little time to reflect on the closeout win before the departure time for their Saturday afternoon flight to San Francisco was scrawled on the whiteboard. Golden State awaits in 36 hours time, and the Warriors without Steph don’t resemble the Clippers’ skeleton crew.

The mood following the game was lively, but like a class that finished one exam and has to trek down the hall to the next final, there was a certain focus, even among the relief. “There wasn’t no champagne popping or anything,” big man Ed Davis said.

While Lillard has the most stage presence, and McCollum might be the most expressive of the core, Davis displays the most unvarnished thoughts in the locker room.

“We have nothing to lose,” Davis said. “We go out and [get] swept, that’s what everyone is expecting so that’s how we have to play it — give it all we got, the whole 48 minutes out there and see what happens. We really have nothing to lose. All of y’all are expecting us to lose and the only people who think we’re going to win it are the 15 on the roster and the coaching staff.”

As the scrum dispersed, Davis pleasantly added, “All of y’all expect us to lose, don’t even lie to me.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: It was Indiana’s night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Friday but it was Toronto’s nightmare, with pressure shifting back big-time onto the Raptors’ heads in Game 7 Sunday night. … Injured Warriors guard and presumptive repeat MVP Stephen Curry is trying to beat his target date of May 9 in recovering from that sprained right knee. … Cleveland’s Tyronn Lue apparently hasn’t actually signed the contract offered by the Cavaliers when he got promoted from assistant to head coach, taking over upon David Blatt‘s firing. In a fluid market, it makes one wonder whether the numbers verbally agreed to might change. Maybe something bigger? … The Lakers’ gain is the Warriors’ loss, with Steve Kerr now faced with replacing another lieutenant on his bench. … Looking like Dallas point guard Deron Williams will be opting out of his deal with the Mavericks, if only as a good business move. … We’ll say it again: It’s possible that Paul Pierce has played his last NBA game. If so, the memories he made are remarkable ones.

Morning shootaround — April 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blazers look to finish off Clippers | Pacers’ George willing to play full game | Warriors’ depth getting it done | Drummond to shoot Barry style?

No. 1: Blazers look to close out series tonight — Months ago, when the 2015-16 season began, who would have thought the young, mostly-untested roster of the Portland Trail Blazers would be one win from the Western Conference semifinals? Granted, injuries to the Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin and Chris Paul made life a little easier on Portland in their series with L.A. But nonetheless, the Blazers are on the cusp of their first Western Conference semifinals trip in two years and as John Canzano of The Oregonian writes, want to seal the deal in tonight’s Game 6 in Portland (10:30 ET, ESPN):

The Blazers defeated the Clippers 108-98 Wednesday night in Game 5 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, snatching a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. A Blazers win Friday night at the Moda Center would improbably secure them a second-round date with the Golden State Warriors and add a stunning twist to a surreal season.

As Griffin scooted off toward uncertainty, the Blazers pushed ahead toward inevitability. Doesn’t it feel like this series is over? Doesn’t it seem like the shorthanded Clippers need a miracle?

Fighting without injured stars Chris Paul and Griffin, the Clippers played inspiring basketball Wednesday, pushing the Blazers to the brink before Lillard went nuts in the fourth quarter. But the Blazers won their third consecutive game in the series and left Los Angeles fueled by momentum, optimism and purpose. They return to Portland aware they’re on the cusp of doing what was once unthinkable, saying they remain the underdogs but sounding very much like the favorites.

“We want to close the series out,” CJ McCollum said. “We’ve got a unique opportunity here to play an elimination game at home, and we want to make sure we take full advantage of it.”

About 90 minutes before tipoff Wednesday, Clippers coach Doc Rivers spent nearly eight minutes answering questions about his injured stars, his team’s bleak outlook and his long-term hopes for his hard-luck franchise. Near the end, a reporter asked Rivers who he leaned on during such trying moments, when it was hard to stop from growing discouraged.

This series was supposed to be emotional, as two budding rivals went toe-to-toe in what was expected to be the most competitive and alluring series of the first round in the West. But it wasn’t supposed to feature this kind of emotion.

A couple hours after tearing up, Rivers, who had said he was contemplating 10 different lineups, was forced to start Austin Rivers, JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford, Paul Pierce and DeAndre Jordan. The group had played just four minutes together all season.

Now the Blazers come home, leading 3-2, owning the unlikely opportunity to close out their series and continue their improbable season.

“Obviously we want to finish it off,” Ed Davis said. “We don’t want to come back (to Los Angeles). We’ve got to watch film, focus on us, stay in the moment and just be ready to play.”

***

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Morning shootaround — April 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lowry feeling pressure to advance | Rockets’ dysfunctional season ends | Will Bosh play in first round? | Westbrook grateful for Durant’s comments

No. 1: Lowry on advancing to semifinals: ‘We have to do this’ — One win is all that stands between the Toronto Raptors’ first Eastern Conference semifinals appearance since 2001. Yet grabbing that final victory won’t be easy as the Indiana Pacers have given the No. 2-seeded Raptors everything they can handle in their opening-round series. Toronto’s players definitely are feeling the pressure to advance and star guard Kyle Lowry admitted as much in an interview with The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski:

Perhaps this Eastern Conference series shouldn’t be such a struggle for a No. 2 seed with 56 regular-season victories, but the truth is unmistakable: Winning a playoff series has transformed into a monstrosity for the Raptors.

“The crowd is waiting,” GM Masai Ujiri told The Vertical. “The fans are waiting. The city is waiting. The whole country is waiting. We hope we can do it for everybody. And the players, I know they feel it.”

Hours earlier in the corridor of the arena late Tuesday, Ujiri had been chatting with the most famous Raptors fan of all. Drake had exhaled too, and shared a laugh with Ujiri and Raptors executive Jeff Weltman over a past postseason memory. Fifteen years of fervor since Vince Carter led the team past the New York Knicks in 2001, 15 years of regular-season futility and playoff failures linger like a fog rolling off Lake Ontario.

“It’s there,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey told The Vertical. “We can’t hide from it. … Listen, you’ve got to go through something as a program. Five years into our program [as a coaching staff], and the expectation level is through the roof.

“For our program, this next step is the hardest one to get … one of the hardest things to do in sports.”

“I haven’t once talked about our woes in the first round,” Casey told The Vertical. “Not once. There’s so much hoopla. There’s so much pressure.”

Between Games 5 and 6, Lowry stopped to study a series of text messages that popped into his phone. His college coach, Villanova’s Jay Wright, broke down Lowry’s decisions and plays in the final several minutes of Tuesday night’s victory. Three weeks ago, Lowry was sitting behind the Villanova bench for the national championship victory over North Carolina.

“I’ve always listened to him – except when I was in college,” Lowry told The Vertical.

Now, there’s a Game 6 in Indianapolis on Friday night, a chance to unburden these Raptors, himself, and reach the Eastern Conference semifinals.

“We know what it is,” Lowry told The Vertical. “We hear it. We’ve played with the pressure on our shoulders. We’ve been here three years now. That’s the biggest thing: the first round – we’ve got to get out of the first round. We have to get that monkey off our back.”

Eventually, there are no more text messages and speeches and game plans and pep rallies outside the arena. Eventually there are no more excuses and explanations for an organization and its GM and coach and star players.

“We have to do this,” Kyle Lowry finally said, and that’s the burden of this franchise, the hard truth of 15 long years that hang like an anvil over these Toronto Raptors.

***

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Morning shootaround — April 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Terry gurantees win in Game 5 | Thomas says he’ll play in Game 6 | Raptors deliver in big moment | Control of series shifts to Portland

No. 1: Terry guarantees Rockets will win Game 5 — Houston Rockets veteran guard Jason Terry is never short on confidence (this is the player, after all, who had the Larry O’Brien tattooed on his bicep the offseason before his Dallas Mavericks won the 2010-11 NBA title). So it is not exactly a surprise that even after the Rockets were blown out in Game 4, Terry sees his team winning Game 5 tonight (10:30 ET, TNT) and forcing a Game 6, writes Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com:

During the team’s media session at Oracle Arena, Rockets center Dwight Howard wondered aloud if former teammate Chandler Parsons was a prophet. And then Jason Terry, the oldest player on the team, guaranteed a victory in Game 5.

Welcome to the world of the Rockets, who are faced with an elimination game on Wednesday night when they must defeat the Warriors, who will be without reigning MVP Stephen Curry for the remainder of the series.

Will they win?

“I’m guaranteeing it,” said the 38-year-old Terry. “If I don’t, then what? It’s a loss, right. I guarantee victory — that’s what it’s going to take. I believe in my group. I know we can get a win here and send this thing back to Houston.”

“I’m saying right here in front of everybody, I’m getting a tattoo of a Rockets trophy if we pull this thing out,” he said smiling. “You [heard] it here first.”

There were few smiles from Howard. If anything he was shooting down speculation of what he might do this summer. Howard is expected to become a free agent once the season ends and old buddy Parsons said he wants the two to play together with the Dallas Mavericks.

“I think he can still dominate the game,” Parsons said from Dallas. “I think he can still be a great player in this league. And I think he’s going to leave Houston. So why not come here?”

Howard, standing just outside the tunnel following Tuesday’s practice, didn’t seem happy discussing future plans.

“Is he a prophet?” Howard said stoically. “My focus is this basketball game. It doesn’t matter what nobody on the outside says, we are friends, we are close, but none of that stuff matters right now. It’s about this team and what we’re trying to accomplish, and who cares what anybody else says?”

This has been a nondescript postseason for Howard. He’s averaging a career-low 14.5 points per game and despite leading the league in postseason rebounding the previous two seasons, he’s averaging 12.3 boards a game. In his career Howard averages 11.6 shots per game, but in four postseason games this year, he’s at 8.8.

His frustration with not getting touches is apparent and when you add Parsons’ comments regarding his future, it appears Howard has some issues on his mind.

“I don’t pay attention to it,” he said. “It’s he said, she said. My job is to focus on being great [Wednesday] and helping this team win, not what anybody else has to say. Chandler is a close friend, but it’s not about what he thinks or what he wants right now. It’s about this team and what we’re trying to accomplish.”

***

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Morning shootaround — April 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Injuries derail Clippers’ playoff path | Durant: Cuban ‘an idiot’ for Westbrook comments | How bad is Curry’s injury? | Lakers hope to find new coach quickly

No. 1: Injuries derail Clippers’ playoff hopes — A healthy roster is often what stands between success or failure during the regular season and the same is true — perhaps even moreso — come playoff time. The Los Angeles Clippers entered last night’s Game 4 in Portland with hopes of returning to L.A. with a 3-1 series edge and, of course, a fully healthy roster. By evening’s end, they had neither. Star point guard Chris Paul suffered a broken hand in the third quarter and star forward Blake Griffin left the game early due to an issue with his troublesome left quadriceps. Our Scott Howard-Cooper was on hand for the game and has more on the state of L.A. after its many losses:

Chris Paul knew.

The way he sat on the bench, the way he stared into some far-away place as emotions appeared to ricochet around his brain, a mix of disbelief and disgust on his face, he could tell even before the short walk to the visitor’s locker room that the season had just turned in a staggering way.

Paul was leaning back in the chair midway through the third quarter Monday night, his left arm draped over the top of the adjacent chair, a relaxed position while his mood was anything but. It’s like he couldn’t believe how everything had gone so wrong so fast. Then, when CP3 did stand up and walk to the locker room to confirm the bad news, he didn’t get more than a few steps before lashing out in frustration with his right leg, kicking what appeared to be a cushion on the floor in front of the Clippers bench.

There was not any attempt to hide the emotions because they would be impossible to bottle up, not from Paul as he left the court in uniform for what may have been the final time this season and not from teammates as they dressed afterward in near silence for the charter flight back to Los Angeles and the new series against the Trail Blazers. The Clippers had been rocked Monday night at Moda Center and there was no way to deny it.

Paul was gone, the victim of a fractured right hand in as he tried to slow Gerald Henderson driving to the basket in the third quarter, an injury that could sideline him weeks, although the Clippers will wait for another evaluation Tuesday before putting a timeline on his return. And Blake Griffin may be gone, at least temporarily, with coach Doc Rivers saying Griffin is 50-50 for Game 5 in Los Angeles after re-injuring the quadriceps tendon in his left leg, the injury that cost him much of the regular season.

The chances of a long playoff run would have been reduced to a microscopic number without Paul, only now the Clippers have to come together in a big way just to get out of the first round while getting worked over by the likes of Mason Plumlee (21 rebounds and nine assists in Game 3, followed by 14 boards and 10 assists in Game 4), Al-Farouq Aminu (30 points and 10 rebounds in Game 4) and Ed Davis (12 rebounds in Game 4).

L.A. doesn’t just have the health issues, after all. L.A. has the health issues mixed with a pressing opponent issue, a resilient Trail Blazers team that spent the regular season upending expectations. The Blazers have now charged back into the series and they enter Game 5 with the momentum and a real opportunity to do more than scare the Clips.

 …

“We have to take a very collective approach,” guard J.J. Redick said. “Everybody has to do a little more. We’ve been in this situation before. We played for a lot of stretches without Blake this year. I’m not saying he’s going to be out, but he’s obviously feeling something in his quad. And three years ago we had to play for a long stretch without Chris. Last year in the playoffs, the first two games in Houston we had to play without Chris. So we’ve done this before. It’s just got to be a collective effort.”

Starting right away.

“There’s no shellshock,” Doc Rivers said. “What it is is they love their players, their teammates, and Chris is taking this very hard. He’s worked all year to get back to the playoffs and for this to happen to him, he’s an emotional guy and so I think our guys, it’s a neat family and it’s things you don’t ever see, like you guys will never see, but it was a nice thing in the locker room. Everybody, the whole team, is in the locker room and it’s nice in that way. But the reality is that you don’t have Chris Paul.”

And, according to ESPN.com’s J.A. Adande, the prognosis for Paul is looking grim. Adande reports that Paul is ‘done’ for the playoffs:

“He’s done.”

Two different people with the same two words on the same subject: Chris Paul.

It appears the broken bone in his right hand will keep Paul out for the rest of the playoffs. What does that mean? Well, if we’ve learned from this postseason, it’s that we don’t know what anything means. The terms are too subject to change.

Last year, the Clippers split two playoff road games that they played without Paul. But that was with Griffin playing at a superstar level. Now Griffin can’t even guarantee he’ll play at all in Game 5 in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

“I’m not sure,” Griffin said. “Tomorrow, I think we’ll take a better look and hopefully go from there.”

Asking Griffin to reproduce his 26 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists from Game 1 of last year’s Rockets series is probably asking too much. Asking him to match his 19-12-6 line from Game 1 of this series with Portland could be a stretch. On Monday night, he tried to take off the way he used to, when he dunked on people with reckless abandon. He got fouled by Mason Plumlee, didn’t come anywhere close to throwing the ball through the hoop and soon found himself rubbing his quadriceps on the sideline and even heading back to the locker room to get checked out. He returned to the game, but his gait was noticeably affected.

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — April 25


VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors await word on Curry | Scott fulfills role in L.A. | DeRozan: ‘We just stink right now’ | Jackson: Penalize refs for blown calls

No. 1: Warriors await word on Curry’s MRI — After a regular season that set a new mark in NBA history (73 wins) and seemed to set a trail for another championship run, the Golden State Warriors’ title hopes may hinge on the news they receive later today. Star guard Stephen Curry took a spill in yesterday’s Game 4 win against the Houston Rockets and was diagnosed with a sprained right knee. He left the game and did not return and now, as Marcus Thompson II of the Bay Area News Group writes, the Warriors wait with baited breath about what happens next:

A sprained right knee is the initial diagnosis for Curry after the Warriors took a 3-1 series lead by beating Houston 121-94 on Sunday. Warriors players, coaches and management fear worse news might come. Not solely because of what it would mean for the Warriors’ chances at another title. But also because they can’t stand that Curry has to go through this.

He had been fighting to return to action from a sprained right ankle. He wanted desperately to get back on the court with his guys after missing Games 2 and 3. His ankle looked fine Sunday as he changed directions suddenly to split defenders and drove inside the lane without hesitation.

He was clearly rusty. He shot 2 for 9, missing six of his seven 3-point attempts. He had five turnovers. But it seemed he was over the injury.

But just before the half, running back on defense, Curry slipped on a wet spot on the court and lost his feet from under him, his legs awkwardly splitting as if he was just learning how to ice skate. He immediately grabbed his right knee then got up and limped hurriedly to the locker room.

We can guess what happened in that locker room. Curry fought to play. He demanded a chance to at least try. He probably knew his day was over. Maybe his series. Maybe his season. But his heart wouldn’t accept his brain’s understanding.

When Curry was told he couldn’t play before the start of the third quarter, he doubled over in tears in front of the Warriors bench. The frustration and disappointment was too much to bear. Coach Steve Kerr rubbed the back of his star player while Draymond Green barked instructions to his friend.

Every bone in Curry’s body wanted to play but his ligaments overruled them. His ailing right knee wasn’t going to allow him to play. His crushed spirit wouldn’t wait for the privacy of the locker room.

“Get out of here,” Green told Curry. “Don’t let them see you like this. Don’t let them see you cry. We will hold you down. We got this. We will win this for you.”

Last year, in Game 4 at Houston, Curry was flipped midair and landed on his head. He ended up returning to that game. He tried his best to do the same in Game 4 on Sunday.

He tried to gut out his sprained ankle in Game 1, talking team management and the athletic trainers into re-taping him and letting him play. But he could barely move on the court and Kerr sat him down.

And now — after all the rehab and pleading and praying — he was back in the same spot with a new injury. Hoping his sheer will was the ointment his knee needed. Pining for his competitive drive to put his ailing knee in its place.

Curry was the last Warrior to emerge from the locker room and immediately took a seat on the bench. He had a brace on his right knee and a depressed look on his face. He sat on the bench and stared before heading into the warmup fray and get a few shots up.

Before long, he was coming back to the bench, where Warriors head performance therapist Chelsea Lane gave him the bad news. Going back in was not an option.

But before Curry could head to the locker room and get treatment on his knee, he had to get some treatment on his heart. Because in that moment, he couldn’t take it.

“To see a guy like that, Steph go down,” Marreese Speights said. “He never gets emotional. He always keeps his composure. To see him like that, we felt his heart.”

***

No. 2:  Ultimately, Scott filed his role in Lakerland — As was first reported by The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski and later confirmed by our David Aldridge and the team itself, Byron Scott is out as Los Angeles Lakers coach. While that move is likely met with some celebration by a large portion of Lakers fans, Scott’s time in Los Angeles was — in a unique sense — successful in that he did what he was asked to do for this era of the franchise. Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times has been around the team long enough to know exactly what the Scott era in L.A. was all about:

But the minute Kobe Bryant walked out of Staples Center for the last time, Scott’s services were no longer needed, his job essentially ceased to exist, he became an instant antique.

The Lakers really had no choice but to fire him, which they did on Sunday in a move that should come with a thank-you note.

They needed someone to guide the team through the turbulent end of the Bryant era, and Scott did exactly that.

They also needed someone to indoctrinate members of the next generation of Laker stars — Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell — into the daily grind of NBA life. Bryant wasn’t emotionally available for that, there were no other strong veteran presences in the locker room, so Scott needed to play the bad guy, and he did it often and well. He was ripped repeatedly by fans and media for benching and publicly scolding the kids, right up until Russell was busted for videotaping private conversations with Nick Young in a record-setting act of immaturity.

Scott was hired to say goodbye to Bryant, and to rudely greet the future, and . . . to win? Seriously? Winning realistically was never part of the deal, and Lakers management even admitted as much earlier this season. It was decided that the team was going to cling to Bryant’s fading glow for as long as it lasted, celebrate that glow, bask in that glow, and everything else was shadows.

What did the Lakers expect? If they wanted only to win, two years ago they would have hired someone from outside the Lakers family who would not have flinched at benching Bryant for long stretches while he was statistically the worst player in the NBA. They would have hired someone who would have devised the entire offense around the three kids and played them big minutes and let them run the show without any concern for monitoring growing pains.

That’s not what they wanted. The old-school Scott was what they wanted. A buddy to Bryant and an unwavering tough guy with everyone else was what they wanted, and that’s what they got.

Now they’ve fired him for it, and, strangely, it all makes sense.

For the first time in years, the Lakers finally have the salary cap space to get dramatically better. For the first time in exactly 20 years, they can remodel the team with an entirely different culture.

This new world needs a new leader, and it couldn’t be Byron Scott.

He did his job, he lost his job. No apologies, no blame, era ended.

***

No. 3: Raptors’ DeRozan: ‘We just stink right now’ — During the regular season, Toronto Raptors All-Star guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry both ranked in the top 15 in scoring. Through four games of these playoffs, neither player can claim such an honor as Lowry is 26th in scoring and DeRozan is 40th. The Indiana’s defensive length and gameplan has made life rough for Toronto’s stars and changes are likely in order for how they will attack the Pacers in Game 5 Tuesday night (6 ET, TNT). CBSSports.com’s Matt Moore has more on the state of the Raptors:

Lowry was fifth in the NBA in 3-pointers made in the regular season, and he is 5-for-27 in the series. DeRozan was second in the NBA in free throws made, and he’s gone 11-for-15 in the series, failing to get to the line at all in the Raptors’ two losses.

“We just stink right now,” DeRozan said Sunday.

Lowry said that he simply has “got to shoot the shots better.” He has said similar things all series. If only it was that easy.

“Every time I’m coming off there are two or three guys there,” DeRozan said. “They are doing a great job of sitting in and bringing help consistently having a body on me or Kyle, not really leaving us either on the perimeter.”

Toronto coach Dwane Casey said that Indiana deserves credit, but Lowry and DeRozan have just not been at their best. When it comes to DeRozan, Casey said that a change in approach might be necessary.

“He may have to be a facilitator,” Casey said. “He’s our leading scorer, he’s gotta take the shots that are there, but in other situations, where they’re taking him out, he understand that [he has to] move the ball.”

Without calling out DeRozan specifically, Casey said that was not what happened in Saturday’s embarrassing 100-83 loss. He wants the Raptors to be more patient and purposeful.

“We took some tough shots that we could’ve made another pass, extra pass to open people,” Casey said. “Everybody tried to do it on their own instead of involving everybody, moving the basketball, sharing the ball, getting it to the weak side.”

DeRozan’s difficulties are particularly alarming. At his best, it looks like he can get 20 points in his sleep. Against Indiana, his typical smooth glides to the basket have largely been replaced by awkward, forced jumpers. The most obvious sign of his development is how comfortable he has become handling the ball, surveying the defense and making smart plays. The most obvious sign of his need for improvement is how he’s handled playoff pressure.

Over the years, DeRozan has often talked about the game slowing down for him. He studies film obsessively and has seen every type of defense imaginable. Against Paul George and the Pacers, though, he seems a beat or two behind. The same is true for Lowry, who is usually relentless with the ball but has had trouble finding openings to attack.

“Me and DeMar, we talked,” Lowry said. “They’re playing defense on us and rushing us into things, making us speed up our shots, and the shots that we normally take with patience, we’re taking a little bit — if it takes us 0.9 seconds to usually shoot ’em, we’re shooting them in 0.4.”

“I’d be lying to you if I said I’m not upset at how I’m playing,” Lowry said. “But I’ve got to be positive. At the end of the day my teammates bank on me to be positive and lead these guys, and that’s what I’m going to do no matter how I’m shooting the ball.”

After three games, it appeared that the Raptors had solved Indiana. After four, an upset once again feels possible. If Toronto can just take care of the ball and take advantage of it depth, Lowry and DeRozan don’t have to be superstars to advance to the second round. They just have to be more like themselves.

“We are not the players who we are in this league for no reason,” DeRozan said. “We all go through some type of lows in our career at some point. You can’t complain when the playoffs come. You can’t do that. You got to be able to take it on the chin and understand we got to figure it out.”


VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan talks after Toronto’s practice on Sunday

***

No. 4: Pistons’ Jackson wants ‘consequences’ for referees — The Pistons’ playoff run ended in a sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers last night, but Detroit didn’t go down easy. Trailing 100-98 with 10 seconds left, the Pistons stopped the Cavs and got the ball in the hands of guard Reggie Jackson. He tried to work past Cavs guard Kyrie Irving but could not and took a leaning 3-pointer at the buzzer that grazed the front of the rim. Afterward, Jackson was upset about what he believes was a missed call and sounded off on NBA officiating, writes Aaron McCann of MLive.com:

This series ended the same way it began, with the Detroit Pistons complaining about officiating.

This time it was Reggie Jackson’s turn.

The Pistons point guard missed a potential game-winning 3-point basket at the buzzer of Detroit’s 100-98 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, wrapping a four-game sweep for the defending Eastern Conference champions, but felt like a foul should have been called on Kyrie Irving.

“We got a stop with no timeouts, Kyrie decided to pick up early and prevent me from taking a good shot,” Jackson said. “I tried to find a good look, and, uh …”

That’s when Jackson let it rip.

Upset over a no-call, one that perhaps could have been called on a bump from Irving before Jackson pulled up from 26 feet, he said NBA officials need a system in place to hold them responsible.

“Fines, suspensions, being fired,” Jackson said. “The same thing that happens to us. Make bad plays or questionable (calls), you’re not really being productive to the sport. They should have consequences, just like the players. That’s about (all) I’m going to say on that.”

The Pistons trailed by one at half, erased an 11-point third-quarter deficit and stayed within grasp most of the way in the fourth.

But it like their previous three cracks at the Cavs, they could never get over the hump. A Jackson runner in the lane with 8:33 remaining pulled Detroit within a point – the closest it would get to extending the series another game.

“It pisses you off,” Jackson said. “To hear it’s not your time, not your moment, It can go one of two ways. When you think you’ve played well enough, you can take it as inside-outside sources. You all can take that for whatever you want to take it as.

“Those sources, it kind of seems like it’s not made for you to necessarily win. You’ve got to find a way to run through the wall – get over the hump.”

Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, who was fined $25,000 by the NBA after Game 1 for criticizing officials, said he’ll let the league weigh in.

The NBA reviews the final two minutes of all games decided by five points or fewer. A report is expected Monday.

“Or you guys can comment on that,” Van Gundy said. “You guys saw the game as much as I did. You’ve all got DVRs – you can watch and comment on it. You want me to comment on it so I can spend another $25,000.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores has ‘no hesitation’ in giving All-Star center Andre Drummond a max contract extension this summer … Meet the Golden State Warriors’ oldest fan, a 106-year-old woman named “Sweetie” … Great story on the man who watches the body language of the Indiana Pacers … The Memphis Grizzlies kept on grinding to the bitter end … Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart is becoming a surprising clutch performer … For the record, the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets aren’t interested in any kind of on-court dramatics … ICYMI, the Sioux Falls Skyforce are up 1-0 in the NBA D-League Finals …

Morning shootaround — April 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 23

Poise, passion pay for Portland | Curry back in body, but in spirit? | Nowitzki chooses to keep fighting | Celtics’ Thomas bonds with Boston’s best

No. 1: Poise, passion pay for Portland — Things were slipping away for the Portland Trail Blazers late in their game Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers, which meant their first-round Western Conference series also was slipping from their grasp. The Blazers couldn’t afford to dig their hole 3-0 deep and maintain any realistic hopes of coming back, and they knew it. That’s when desperation kicked in, in the form of a feisty point guard and follow-the-leader resilience of his teammates. Jason Quick of CSNNorthwest.com detailed Portland’s late-game resolve and push:

It’s when some of the Clippers’ warts became exposed – DeAndre Jordan’s free throw shooting, Blake Griffin’s rust among them – and when some of the Blazers’ uncanny ability to play above-and-beyond what conventional wisdom says a team of this experience and payroll should.

It’s when Portland closed on a 15-3 run to secure a 96-88 win to draw within 2-1 of the Clippers in this best-of-seven series.

It was the Blazers’ most important 3:52 of the season and that frenetic finish included a speech, a three-pointer, a steal and a dunk. And ultimately, it included a message.

“It says we want it,’’ Damian Lillard said. “ We aren’t here for fake just to say ‘We weren’t supposed to make the playoffs and we made it.’ We are here to compete. We are here to win. It said a lot about our team. We really showed some fight and some heart.’’

The crowd was buzzing. National television was watching. And a season still had a pulse, even though months ago some players admitted they figured by late April it would be forgotten in a three-margarita-haze somewhere in Mexico.

Soaking up that atmosphere, Lillard asked his teammates a question.

“I huddled the guys up and said ‘Are you all ready to go home? … We are going to finish this out,’’’ Lillard recalled later.

It wasn’t so much of a motivating, rallying cry as much as it was a crystalizing moment for the team, a now-or-never type of awakening.

“He basically came in there and said ‘I don’t want my season to be over,’’’ [Moe] Harkless said. “I felt the same way, so I was right there with him. Just to know everybody on the court had the same mindset … I mean, that’s big time.’’

[C.J.] McCollum made one of his two free throws. And after [DeAndre] Jordan split his free throws, Harkless darted from the baseline to rebound and dunk a miss from McCollum with 55 seconds left to give the Blazers a 91-86 lead.
“That play by Moe sealed the deal for us,’’ Davis said.

Who knows how much Lillard’s now-or-never speech had to do with the Blazers’ strong close to the game? Or whether it was more the Clippers’ undoing in the clutch rather than the Blazers’ rising to the occasion?

Doesn’t matter. Inside the locker room, this team looks to and listens to Lillard, and he usually delivers with something that resonates.

(more…)

Morning shootaround — April 23


VIDEO: Top Plays from Friday’s playoff action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Thibodeau ready to roll | Wizards ready to spend big? | Carlisle thinks OKC acting too tough

No. 1: Thibodeau ready to roll — Returning to the scene of where it all began for him as an NBA coach, Tom Thibodeau is all smiles these days, and why not? He just hit the motherlode: Millions to coach a game, lots of sway in personnel decisions and a solid young group of players on the Minnesota roster. Given all that, this is one of the best coaching vacancies to come along in a while, and Thibodeau is ready to get going. He spoke recently with Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, who filed this:

An assistant on the expansion Wolves’ first two teams, Thibodeau on Wednesday agreed to coach what he calls the league’s “best young roster” and share management decisions with longtime friend and newly named GM Scott Layden, with whom he once worked in New York. He terms it a “partnership” with a man he calls “one of my closest friends” rather than total control over personnel decisions.

Fired by the Bulls in part because of conflicts with management, Thibodeau negotiated the president of basketball operations title into his Wolves deal.

“It wasn’t an absolute must, but I’m glad it has worked out that way,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure I had a voice. The person I’m with, I trust Scott. He has great integrity. He’s a great worker and he has great experience.”

He cited that partnership, the team’s young roster — “and where it can go” — and owner Glen Taylor’s “commitment to winning” as the reasons he agreed to a reported five-year, $40 million contract only a week after the Wolves announced they’d search to fill two jobs and ended up filling three.

“When you look at the young guys, when you look at the [salary] cap space, when you look at the draft pick that’s coming, there’s great flexibility there,” Thibodeau said. “There are a lot of assets there. If you formulate a really good plan that studies and organizes everything, I think this situation is positioned great to go forward.”

He calls himself well-suited to coach such a young team, noting Derrick Rose was 22 and Joakim Noah 25 when he accepted his first NBA head coaching job in 2010. Often criticized for playing his starters too much, he answered Taylor’s inquiry on that matter by telling him to speak with former players. On Thursday, he said his Bulls players’ minutes compared to others at their position in the league.

“Some of it is more myth than fact,” Thibodeau said. “If you dig deeper, you will see that. A lot of other guys play a lot of minutes.”

Thibodeau’s objective with such a young team is what every coach seeks: maximize its strengths, minimize its weaknesses. He said this team can score, will get to the free-throw line and is willing to share the ball.

“We have to get turnovers down a bit,” he said. “You eliminate all the ways you beat yourself first.”

Thibodeau visited 13 different NBA teams during his season off and found enlightenment in not one revelation but many little things.

He also watched a lot of NBA games. Included were the Wolves under interim coach Sam Mitchell, who was not retained.

“I thought they improved, I thought they had some good, solid wins,” Thibodeau said. “You start looking at it and you’re just impressed.”

Those favorable impressions begin with 20-year-old Karl-Anthony Towns, 21-year-olds Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine and 25-year-old point guard Ricky Rubio.

Thibodeau’s discussion about each player began with praise of their talents and ended with needed improvements, particularly defensively.

• On Towns: “It’s pretty amazing for a first-year guy to come in and do the things he did. There’s obviously room for growth. But his skill set is very unusual. He has the potential to be very good defensively, with his rebounding, his shot blocking. The way he plays the game, the way he sees the game, he has the ability to make other players better. He had a very impressive first year, but it’s just the beginning. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to move the group forward.”

• On Wiggins: “He impressed me the way he scored against us when I was still coaching. He made it look easy. I think the challenge — not only him but for his teammates — is there’s going to have to be dramatic improvement defensively. You have to make a commitment in that area. The players are too good in this league to guard individually. You need to have five-man defense in all aspects. If one guy’s not doing his job, the group is going to look bad.”

• On Rubio: “All players have their strengths and weaknesses and Ricky has established himself as a very good player. So we’re excited about that. The point guard position is such an important position in the way the team functions. You need to have a good understanding where guys like to get the ball, who has a good matchup, what’s going on in the game and keep the team organized and I think Ricky’s really strong in those areas.”

• On LaVine: “I thought he improved a lot. I’m excited at what he can do. He improved his shooting, his defense and his rebounding as well.”

***

No. 2:  Wizards ready to spend big? — There’s the very sound and sensible scenario where the Washington Wizards open the vault for Kevin Durant when he hits free agency this summer, but maybe it doesn’t stop there regardless if the Wizards get lucky or not. By bringing in Scott Brooks as coach, there’s the feeling Washington is ready to make big changes on a team that underachieved this year — or maybe was too tapped out to improve. With the rising salary cap and an anxious fan base, the Wizards could chase other free agents or make some splashy trades that bring in players with hefty salaries. Here’s the take of Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post:

Since Ted Leonsis became majority owner of the Washington Wizards in 2010, the franchise has been known for playing it safe.

That is what made the team’s single-minded pursuit of Scott Brooks over the past week, culminating with Brooks agreeing to a five-year, $35 million contract to become the team’s head coach, so fascinating. For a franchise long reticent for spending big and seldom going for the splashy hire, the Wizards did both in one fell swoop.

There are two ways to view the decision of Leonsis and Ernie Grunfeld, the team’s president of basketball operations, to pursue Brooks. One is that they would have been better served to cast a wide net to try and replace Randy Wittman, fired last week at the conclusion of a disappointing season in which the Wizards went 41-41 and missed the playoffs after two straight second-round appearances.

The other is that the Wizards identified their preferred candidate, then did whatever it took to get him to join their organization. That kind of action has been uncommon for this team in the past, and could be a sign of things to come this offseason.

Washington had competition for its new hire. The Houston Rockets were interested in talking to Brooks, who was part of Houston’s championship-winning team in 1994 and who had coached star James Harden in Oklahoma City, and it was always possible the Lakers could decide to make a run at Brooks should they part with their current coach, Byron Scott.

But instead of letting the market settle – and giving the Rockets or other potential suitors a chance to woo Brooks – the Wizards pushed the issue. They never met with any other candidate, and they offered Brooks a contract that makes him one of the six highest-paid coaches in the league.

It was a deal that proved to be too good for Brooks to pass up.

The question now is what does the pursuit of Brooks – both getting him, and how they did so – mean for the Wizards moving forward. This summer has been the focus for the franchise and its fans for some time now, given that superstar Kevin Durant will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

***

No. 3: Carlisle thinks OKC acting too tough — Apparently the Oklahoma City Thunder are not only too talent in comparison to his Mavericks, says coach Rick Carlisle, but they’re too rugged. Illegally, so. Carlisle watched tape of Game 3 and felt OKC played dangerously close to the line, and maybe even crossed the line on a few occasions. He took exception to Kevin Durant‘s stray elbow and a few other things; feel free whether his complaints are legit or simply the rant of a frustrated coach. Anyway, Tim McMahon of ESPN filed this report on Thunder-Mavericks:

“There were four, what I would categorize as non-basketball physical escalations that were initiated by them, including one intentional, unprovoked elbow at the free throw line, which I didn’t understand,” Carlisle said Friday. “And I’ve never seen a guy like Kevin Durant ever do that to a player. Then ultimately, that led to two more escalations between the teams, the fact that that was missed. I’m concerned about that. There’s no place for that in our game.”

Late Friday afternoon, the NBA announced that Durant has been assessed a technical foul for a “physical taunt” as a result of his elbow to Mejri’s chest.

Felton, meanwhile, was angered after being elbowed in the face by Adams when they were boxing out under the basket. Adams, a 7-footer, laughed when confronted by the 6-foot-1 Felton.

“I’m not going to let you just elbow me in my face and I let it go,” Felton told ESPN after the game Thursday. “Whatever. I’ll take a technical or whatever, fine or whatever it is. I’m not going to back down for nothing. I’m definitely not going to let anybody hit me in my face freely for no reason. I’m just down there trying to battle a big 7-footer for a rebound and he elbows me to my face.

“Like, you’re that much bigger than me, what you need to elbow a little guy like me to get a rebound? I didn’t like it, so I let him know that. But whatever, it’s over with now. I ain’t trippin’ no more. You can smile and laugh all you want to. You ain’t just gonna hit me in my face and think everything’s sweet. But like I said, I’m gonna let bygones be bygones.”

Carlisle wanted to make sure the issues were raised again Friday, repeatedly referring to the Thunder as the initiators. Oklahoma City holds a 2-1 edge in the series entering Game 4 in Dallas on Saturday night.

“We’re not looking to do it unless it’s within the rules,” Carlisle said. “But there were some things that I know are going to be looked at today, that going into Game 4, we’re going to be ready for.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul George isn’t ready to shut out his teammates and go one-on-one when it counts; with the Pacers against the ropes vs. the Raptors, he feels he needs them … also wants a 3-year deal … Seth Curry opted out of his deal with Sacramento and if you’re in the market for a Curry (no, not that one), he could be yours … Kevin Garnett knew Prince a little … Could the Knicks target Darren Collison in their point guard chase? … An Oregon politician thinks Chris Paul and the Clippers whine too much.

Morning shootaround — April 22


VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry didn’t decide to miss Game 3 alone | Rockets’ front office gets vocal on social media | Why Wizards are hiring Brooks | Kings interview Mitchell

No. 1: Warriors decided collectively to rest Curry for Game 3 — Reigning Kia MVP Stephen Curry has been itching to get back in the Golden State Warriors’ lineup ever since he tweaked his right ankle in Game 1 of the team’s first-round series. He hadn’t done so leading up to last night’s Game 3 in Houston and while he likely hoped to play then, he ultimately sat out on Thursday, too. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the decision to sit Curry was not made in a vacuum but rather in consultation with several Warriors officials:

Stephen Curry did not play Thursday night in Game 3, but only after prolonged conversation and contemplation among Warriors officials.

This time, Curry made his case to play. His much-scrutinized right ankle felt better than it did Monday night, when he cut short his pregame warm-up routine and essentially decided on his own he would not play in Game 2.

This time, Curry wanted to give it a shot. He went through Thursday morning’s shootaround, and afterward he spent several minutes talking to team trainers and team doctor Bill Maloney on the court at Toyota Center.

Head coach Steve Kerr and general manager Bob Myers joined a subsequent discussion, and a consensus emerged to give Curry at least two more days to recover.

Kerr said the ankle improved from Wednesday to Thursday. The decision was made by Kerr, Myers, Maloney and the training staff, with input from Curry.

“We made a collaborative decision,” Myers said. “Everyone had a voice, including Steph. The fact he hasn’t done much live work in practice, it’s hard to know what he can do in game situations.”

The decision means Curry will have seven full days between games. He injured the ankle Saturday in Game 1; now he hopes to return Sunday for Game 4.

Asked about his outlook for Curry on Sunday, Myers said, “I’m hopeful. Hopefully, he’ll have an opportunity to do a little more (the next two days) than he’s done.”

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