Morning Shootaround

Morning Shootaround — May 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lebron carries Cleveland | Houston blasts off thanks to Harden | New Orleans fires Williams | Will Wall return tonight?

No. 1: LeBron Carries Cleveland Going into last night, the Cavs and Bulls series was tied two games apiece, sure, but the Cavs found themselves beset by injuries and in need of some help. Enter LeBron James. The King went for 38 points, a dozen rebounds, six assists and three steals, and carried the Cavs to a 106-101 Game 5 win, giving the Cavs a series lead and leaving them one win away from advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. As Steve Aschburner writes, Chicago’s Jimmy Butler may be one of the league’s best defenders, but stopping LeBron James is not only nearly impossible, it’s nearly thankless as well…

So he got dressed slowly? Butler should have been doing everything slowly, from walking to talking. He is doing so much in the series and it’s not enough. His Bulls team is down 3-2 and Butler is signed up for another four or eight quarters of hell.

“Nobody cares,” Butler said of the wear and tear, along with the psychic scars, this series has inflicted. “Nobody feels sorry for me anyway. I’m supposed to produce at both ends of the floor. Make shots. And guard. I’ve just got to do better.”

Do better. Chicago likes to think of itself as a blunt, no-nonsense town and that’s a big-shoulders way of approaching his duty on James. When he subbed back in to start the second quarter, knowing that a third foul would sit him down again, Butler wasn’t surprised to be lined up again against James. No rest for the weary.

“It’s just part of the game plan,” said Butler, taciturn as the Texan he is when talking serious business. “Just got to guard without fouling. Sometimes that’s the way it goes. But that’s that. Can’t change it.”

James roared to his best game of the five so far in the series and patted himself on his own back for avoiding even a single turnover. Meanwhile, Butler was down the hall, quietly licking his wounds and searching for ways to do better in a largely no-win situation.

“I don’t mind him being my shadow,” James said. “I don’t mind it at all. I’ll take all competition. I love going against Jimmy. I think it brings out the best in myself. And I try to reciprocate back to him.”

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No. 2: Houston blasts off thanks to Harden The Los Angeles Clippers won Game 4 of their series against the Houston Rockets by 33 points, taking a 3-1 series lead in completely convincing fashion. Last night in Houston, with the Clippers holding the chance to close out the series, the Rockets fought back, making an adjustment to the starting lineup and getting a triple-double from a flu-addled James Harden in a big 124-103 win. As Jonathan Feigan writes in the Houston Chronicle, it may have taken them four games, but perhaps the Rockets finally found their groove against these Clippers…

“We weren’t aggressive enough the first four games,” Harden said. “We were timid. They have really good bigs. We made a conscious effort to go into attack mode.”

Rockets coach Kevin McHale tweaked his rotation a bit to play Harden for shorter stints, having him come out in the first quarter when Dwight Howard usually does. But when Harden returned, he took over, scoring 14 second-quarter points to take the Rockets to a 15-point lead. He still played 43 minutes, getting his first playoff triple double with a career playoff high 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

“James started warming into the game,” McHale said. He was moving the ball. We attacked. Finally, we got to the basket. We got points in the paint and tried to attack and played a little bit more like we tried to play the entire year.”

“We play better when we play inside-out, attack downhill. We’re one of the best teams at getting points in the paint and we just weren’t doing it.”

When he knocked down a corner 3 with 2:02 left, he had 26 points, the Rockets had a 21-point lead and Harden could finally head to the locker room early.

“He wasn’t feeling well all day,” McHale said. “He had a hell of a game. He had an IV this afternoon and he played a great game for us and we needed it.”

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No. 3: New Orleans fires Williams The New Orleans Pelicans embarked upon a rebuilding program a few years ago, trading Chris Paul, drafting Anthony Davis, and slowly but surely creating a team that could be a postseason problem for the rest of the Western Conference. This season, the Pelicans not only made the playoffs, but they won a game against the mighty Golden State Warriors. So perhaps coach Monty Williams can be excused for showing up yesterday at the team’s facility thinking a contract extension was in order. Instead, writes John Reid, Williams was fired with a year left on his contract.

When Monty Williams came to the New Orleans Pelicans’ facility Tuesday morning for a meeting with executive vice president Mickey Loomis, he thought the discussion would be about a possible contract extension, league sources said.

Williams, whose contract was set to expire after the next season, had just ended the franchise’s four-year playoff drought and presumed he would be rewarded.

Instead, Williams was fired. He was completely taken aback by the decision, especially after recently receiving praise from ownership for reaching the postseason.

Loomis said the reason for the dismissal was more about the future of the franchise than Williams’ final season.

“I just felt like the end of the day, we had a good season and Monty did a great job, he’s done some really good things for us,” Loomis said. “But going forward, we just felt like our group needed something different to get to the next level.

“We’ve seen improvement from year to year. Obviously, we were excited to make the playoffs. But at the end of the day, the decision is to get to the next step up. We needed to do something a little different.”

Williams had a 173-221 record in five seasons with New Orleans and led the franchise to two playoff appearances, including his first season when he had All-Stars Chris Paul and David West.

Two weeks ago at his season-ending news conference, Williams spoke with excitement about the future of the team, which beat the Spurs to clinch a playoff berth and cap an improbable run down the stretch before being swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Western Conference’s top seed, Golden State. Williams, who guided the Pelicans to a 45-37 regular-season record, praised his players’ improvement over the past few seasons and looked forward to the possibilities.

“He was surprised, totally unexpected,” Loomis said of Williams’ reaction after losing his job.

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No. 4: Will Wall return tonight? John Wall suffered fractures to his left wrist early in Washington’s Game 1 against the Atlanta Hawks, and he’s missed every game since. But with the series now tied at two victories apiece and the Wizards needing a win tonight in Atlanta, could Wall swap his sharp sideline suits for a spot on the active roster? He made an appearance at Wizards’ practice yesterday and is a step closer to returning to action, writes Jorge Castillo in the Washington Post

For the first time in nearly a week, Washington Wizards point guard John Wall dribbled a basketball with his left hand Tuesday, a minor but crucial step in his recovery. Wall will have the five non-displaced fractures in his left wrist and hand re-evaluated before Wednesday’s Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Coach Randy Wittman said, and a decision will then be made whether the all-star will return for the game against the Hawks in Atlanta.

Wall, who sustained his injury in Game 1 on May 3, is officially listed as questionable. “When they check him again,” Wittman said, “I’m sure they’re either going to say ‘No, we need more time’ or ‘It’s up to you’ from a pain standpoint.”

Wall did some light shooting with his right hand for the final portion of the Wizards’ walkthrough at Verizon Center open to the media Tuesday. He held his lightly bandaged left hand off to the side. The Wizards then closed the practice court while several players, including Wall, and assistant coaches remained. About 30 minutes later, Wall emerged breathing heavily and sweating.

“The swelling is minimal now,” Wittman said. “It’s still a little but nothing where it was. Like we talked about, the doctors wanted to reassess things after that. What he’s doing now is fine according to them, to get a little feel for it so see how it feels, number one, again, from a pain standpoint.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Pau Gasol is hopeful he’ll be healthy enough to return in Game 6 … Now that he knows his knee is sound, Kyrie Irving is playing with peace of mindAlan Anderson underwent successful surgery yesterday … Craig Sager continues his fight against leukemia … The Philadelphia 76ers unveiled new logos yesterday …

Morning shootaround — May 12


VIDEO: Highlights from games played May 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kerr helps get Curry on track | Gasol likely out, but Irving will play in Game 5 | Teague steps up in Game 4 | Dirk: ‘I definitely want to fulfill my contract’

No. 1: Kerr’s message helps Curry turn things around — Entering Monday’s Game 4 against the Memphis Grizzlies, NBA MVP Stephen Curry was averaging 21.7 ppg and shooting a paltry 27.6 percent on 3-pointers as the Golden State Warriors looked at a 2-1 series deficit. He turned those stats around drastically in Game 4, though, going for 33 points and shooting 4-for-9 on 3-pointers in the Warriors’ 101-84 road romp. As Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reports, a morning chat with coach Steve Kerr may have been what Curry needed to get on track:

Before the Golden State Warriors gathered for the morning shootaround on Monday, Steve Kerr stopped his superstar for a 10-minute conversation. In a most blessed and blissful year, struggle had never found traction with Stephen Curry. The shots suddenly stopped falling in these Western Conference semifinals, and the coach of these Warriors hadn’t wanted to clutter Curry’s mind – only to deliver one overriding message.

Resist trying to do it yourself, Steph. Give the ball up, get it back and watch how the rhythm of it all transforms those misses into makes again.

“I never worry about his confidence,” Kerr told Yahoo Sports late Monday. “I don’t worry about anything with him. I just feel like there are times that he wants so badly to win, he tries to do too much.

“He’s still learning. That sounds crazy, because he’s the MVP of the league. But he’s still learning how to develop that rhythm, how to be patient and just move the ball, makes the easy pass – instead of trying to do it himself. That way, he’s much more likely to get hot in the game.”

This series promises to be vital for the growth of this Golden State franchise, a resolved and relentless Grizzlies core challenging the Warriors to be tougher and together.

As always, it started with Stephen Curry, the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. Curry is the biggest bargain in the NBA, making $10.6 million this season. His Under Armour deal is far lower, but it’s possible that could be torn up and renegotiated at a market level this year, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

There’s forever a calm to Curry, an assurance, and he always finds his center again. He had been uncharacteristically rushed and ragged in Games 2 and 3. The Grizzlies’ defense played a part, but truth be told, he missed shots that he often makes. He needed to find his way back, and that path turned out to be the one Steve Kerr had promised on Monday morning. The NBA’s MVP didn’t need to go chasing shots, because these Warriors would find him in the flow of that system. Slowly, surely, Stephen Curry had shot these Warriors back into the series, back into control.

“He has as much self-belief as anybody I’ve ever seen,” Kerr told Yahoo Sports. “He’s still learning about the rhythm it takes. It’s not an easy concept for a guy who is so talented and relied upon so heavily. That’s all part of the growth, the process and tonight he got that, stayed with it and executed it.”

For 10 minutes, the coach of these Golden State Warriors cornered his superstar on Monday morning and spared the cluttering of a beautiful basketball mind. Kerr kept it simple, and Curry was a most willing subject.

 


VIDEO: Relive the best moments from Stephen Curry’s big Game 4

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Morning Shootaround — May 11




VIDEO: Highlights from games played May 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Kyrie dealing with more than he’s letting on | Clippers hack their way to cusp of history | Wall unlikely to play in Game 4 | Vultures circling Warriors

No. 1: Kyrie dealing with more than he’s letting on — Cleveland’s Big 3 of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love has been reduced to a injury unit Big 1.5. Even LeBron is hobbled right now with a sore ankle he turned in Sunday’s buzzer-beating win over the Chicago Bulls. Love is gone for the postseason after shoulder surgery. But Irving is dealing with more than just a sore left ankle. He’s dealing with more than he’s letting on, a gusty but dangerous move for the young point guard in the midst of his first ever playoff experience. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group explains:

Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving is hurting more than he is letting on.

He’s dealing with more than just the right foot strain that was made public by coach David Blatt on Friday, even though the injury occurred almost three weeks ago in Game 2 of the first-round series against the Boston Celtics.

After the huge Game 4 victory over the Chicago Bulls to even the series, I asked him directly in the media scrum to address if there’s anything wrong with his left leg, and he paused briefly, before responding “Nah. Nah, there’s nothing wrong.”

As soon as the media contingent dissipated, Irving said, “Chris, you’re very observant.”

Irving’s left leg has been wrapped in dynamic taping, which is elastic that helps support the structure of the body. The pain is believed to be caused due to overcompensating. Upon exiting the arena last night with a grimacing expression plastered to his face, Irving walked gingerly and limped extremely noticeably.

However, it wasn’t his right foot that he was favoring. He was very cautious with each step not to place weight on his left leg. The Cavaliers are calling it a “sore left leg,” for the time being.

Irving is guarded when it comes to not revealing injuries and their extent, not wanting to give the opponent any sort of an advantage. He said “that’s Basketball 101.”

He’s laboring out there. The speed, the acceleration, the first step isn’t there. He’s giving it all he has, and has no plans of letting his team down. He’s in it until the very end.

“I’d rather will it out and give it a chance, than sitting back and watching my brothers compete without me,” Irving said.


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving talks after the Cavs’ Game 4 win

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Morning shootaround — May 10




VIDEO: Highlights from games played May 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Warriors need their MVP | Kyrie hopes to play through pain | Wizards go onward with Porter | Harden is ready to take burden

No. 1: Warriors need their MVPStephen Curry was a deserving MVP award winner in the regular season as an exciting player whose flash was matched by his ability to elevate Golden State to the best record in the NBA. He was also a big factor in the Warriors’ first-round dusting of the Pelicans but now, here comes his first taste with a challenge. He’s not the only Warrior in a shooting funk, but given his importance, his struggles are definitely the most visible. The Warriors are hardly in trouble in their second-round series with the Grizzlies but they are down 2-1. The last MVP who couldn’t reach the conference finals was LeBron James in 2009-10. Here is Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury-News on Curry dealing with the spotlight:

On Saturday, Curry had open shots from the outset. And he just didn’t make many of them.

And then the Warriors started to fall behind, Curry’s emotions started to boil over, and that is not how things ever are supposed to go for the Warriors.

“I didn’t see frustration, but he knows that he didn’t have a good game,” Steve Kerr said of Curry after the coach’s podium session.

“Obviously that bothers everybody, but particularly when you’re the star and the MVP and all that and you know that a lot is on your shoulders.

“But that’s part of it. That’s part of the burden that he carries being who he is.”

Michael Jordan did it. Tim Duncan did it. This is Curry’s turn to try it, too.

Curry’s stat line for the game wasn’t terrible: 8 for 21 from the field, 2 for 10 from 3-point distance, 23 points, six assists and four turnovers.

But much of that came in the second half, after Memphis had carved out a huge lead and the Warriors had to throw everything at the Grizzlies just to try to narrow the lead.

The Warriors can’t beat Memphis like that — the Grizzlies are too disciplined to give away a big lead the way New Orleans did in Game 3 of the first round.

No, the Warriors need to jump out to a quick lead against the Grizzlies, and the best way to do that is for Curry to play like an MVP.

His coach looks to him for that; his teammates depend on him for that.


VIDEO: Warriors coach Steve Kerr discusses the team’s Game 3 loss

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Morning shootaround — May 9




VIDEO: Check out all the highlights from Friday’s playoff action

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Rose back in bloom | Rivers runs through Rockets | Caution with Wall | Rockets embarrassed

No. 1: Rose shot overcomes the thorns of comeback — How many hours in an empty gym or vacant rehab facility, with only his thoughts and his drive to accompany him, went into that shot? How many times did he push past the notion that something like this might never happen again? How much pain and misery did Derrick Rose let go of with that buzzer-beating 3-pointer to take down the Cavaliers on Friday night? Our man Steve Aschburner was there to describe the very special moment:

Your second thought was, how many times has Derrick Rose made that shot over the past three years — in an empty gym, maybe with a kid rebounding for him, as he shot and shot and shot alone, the crowd and the clock and the stakes conjured only in his imagination on another lonely day of rehab from his three knee surgeries?

As dazzling as Rose’s shot was in winning Game 3 of the Bulls’ Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Cavs Friday night at United Center, his back story — this guy, having this moment, in this building, this way — pushed it exponentially along the “special” scale.

Racing as he did to the right along the 3-point arc in search of space, getting just enough from Taj Gibson’s pick on Iman Shumpert and launching just over the fingertips of Tristan Thompson, high and deep and banking in off the glass, Rose’s game-winner to beat the horn, 99-96, would grab a spot among the NBA’s 2015 postseason highlights even if he were, say, Aaron Brooks.

Factor in his season-snuffing injuries in 2012 and 2013, though, and the close call he and the Bulls got with his third, less serious knee trauma this season, Rose’s shot to win and put Chicago up 2-1 in the series that continues Sunday felt a little like closure.

Leaping into Joakim Noah’s arms, detonating the sea of red 22,000 strong in United Center, doing it all against a familiar foil in LeBron James and his latest crew, it would have been a clichéd ending, too Hollywood, had it happened in a Game 7. But for a Game 3, with so much more basketball to play, both teams revving up, it was a opportune time for the Bulls and their fans to pause and reflect a little on Rose’s long, tortuous road back.

“Everybody in this locker room knows how much pain he was in,” said Gibson, who had hit possibly the two biggest free throws of his life with 23.5 seconds left for a short-lived 96-93 lead.

“Through all the years, going through the ups and downs. And how frustrating it has been for him. I’m just extremely happy for him. I’ve known he was capable of making big-time shots. I’m just happy he’s back out there with a lot of confidence, wanting the ball late.”

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No. 2: Austin Rivers lifts the whole Clippers family — On the night when all of Clippers Nation was holding its breath over the condition of All-Star point guard Chris Paul in his return to the lineup, it was his backup Austin Rivers who gave everyone at Staples Center reason to gasp. The kid who plays for his father grew up as a big-time playoff star by taking over the game in the third quarter as the Clippers blew out the Rockets to take a 2-1 series lead. Dan Woike of the Orange County Register says all the young guard got publicly was a brief hand-slap from father Doc, but all of his teammates wildly celebrated the big delivery and event:

A soldout crowd at Staples Center chanted his name after Rivers delivered a scintillating third quarter, helping the Clippers blow out Houston, 124-99, Friday night.

And all he got from his dad, Clippers coach Doc Rivers, was a brief hand-slap.

The Clippers lead the Rockets, 2-1, in the Western Conference semifinals, with Game 4 Sunday night at Staples Center.

Rivers scored 13 points on 6-for-8 shooting in an 18-0 Clippers run to end the third quarter.

Paul, who recorded 12 points and seven assists in 23 minutes, turned to Doc Rivers and gave him permission to do the one thing he’s fought since acquiring his son in mid-January.

“This is one time you can be Dad and not just coach,” Paul said.

Doc Rivers didn’t listen, he stayed engaged in the game, calling Paul’s message almost “white noise.”

But he couldn’t ignore the chants; they were that loud. Jamal Crawford motioned for the crowd to say it louder – “Austin Rivers, clap clap clap clap.”

“That moment is priceless,” Crawford said.

Austin Rivers attacked the basket, drawing fouls and finishing through contact. He juked his way into space and hit step-back 3-pointers. He hit all seven of his shots inside the 3-point line, and behind it, he made half of his six attempts.

Rivers finished 10-for-13 for 25 points, a career playoff high. It’s the third time in these playoffs he’s scored 16 or more points – as many times as he did it during 41 games with the Clippers in the regular season.

“I had so much fun out there,” Austin Rivers said.

Rivers’ play helped the Clippers keep Paul from over-exerting himself in the second half in his return from a two-game absence from an injured left hamstring.

“Tonight, it was really important for one of the guards to have that night,” Doc Rivers said. “It really allowed CP to ease into it. “

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No. 3: Wizards will wait and see on Wall — Though it seems quite unlikely that John Wall will be back in the lineup for Game 3 against the Hawks today, the Wizards will keep the door open right up to the opening tip for their All-Star point guard in Game 3 against the Hawks today. Wall tells our own John Schuhmann that he doesn’t want to hear any talk of missing the rest of the series and he’ll do what it takes to get back onto the court and contribute:

So Wall and Wizards coach Randy Wittman will wait and see if anything is different on Saturday. And they seem to be keeping the door open for Wall to return at any point. Wall doesn’t want to hear anything that says, “7-10 days” or “2-4 weeks.”

“I don’t want no timetable, he said. “I’m just taking it day by day.”

And Wall couldn’t even tell you where the five fractures are in his hand and wrist.

“When [the doctor] started talking about that, I just put my head down,” he said. “I didn’t want to hear no more, to be honest with you.”

The Hawks and Wizards have had three days off since Game 2, but now play every other day through Game 6 (if necessary), with Game 7 in Atlanta scheduled for May 18.

“We just got to go, basically, 24 hours at a time here,” Wittman said.

The five fractures are in Wall’s non-shooting hand, but Wall needs that hand to get where he needs to go and make plays.

“I can’t do anything if I can’t dribble,” he said. “You got to be able to dribble. If not, it’s basically just taping my hand behind my back and saying, ‘play with one hand.’ It’s not happening in this league.”

Even if the swelling and pain go away, the Wizards will have to determine if Wall is risking more damage to his hand and wrist if he plays. The point guard believes that decision would be up to him.

“If the pain goes away and I can dribble and do those things again,” Wall said, “it’s all up to me. Do I feel like it’s a risk to hurt my hand even more down the road, or do I feel like I can take the risk to play? … and how competitive I am. If I’m able to do those things, dribble, do what I want to do, and be myself, then there’s a great percentage I will play. But if I can’t be myself, there’s no point in going out there.”

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No. 4: Rockets lost their post along with game — It is one thing that get hit with the surprise tsunami that was Austin Rivers and to feel the energy of the Staples Center crowd. But when the Clippers turned up the heat in Game 3, the Rockets lost their poise and fell completely apart, according to coach Kevin McHale and Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Rockets coach Kevin McHale could only feel sick.

While Rivers soared, the Rockets panicked. They launched early 3s. They did not get back defensively. They failed to pressure ball handlers at all as the Los Angeles offense that had been rolling from the start and for all but one half of the series’ three games pounded them for five minutes that took a close game and made it a spectacular rout.

“Well, we didn’t play much defense at that point,” McHale said. “They made a few shots on us, we had a couple turnovers during that stretch, and you know, they were running, we weren’t getting back, played very poorly during that stretch, needless to say.

“I mean, the game got completely loose at that point, and they were playing with a ton of confidence and we weren’t.”

Mostly, the Rockets did not play with much poise. They had recovered from the Clippers’ offensive assault through the first half to put together a 10-0 run to end the second quarter and begin the third, pulling them to within three. The Clippers recovered, but after a Corey Brewer 3-pointer with 3:50 left in the third quarter, the Rockets were down just five.

On the next possession, Josh Smith slammed into Blake Griffin for an offensive foul. He followed that with a missed layup and a missed 3. In the final 3:50 of the third quarter, the Rockets missed all seven of their shots, six coming from beyond the 3-point line off one or no passes, and three turnovers.

“We did not do a good job of handling all the pressure, all the things that came with that little bit of a run,” McHale said. “We just let go of the rope, and they piled on us.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Pau Gasol’s hamstring makes him a question for Game 4 in Chicago…LeBron James didn’t take kindly to what Joakim Noah had to say…Big decisions last summer could be what put the Warriors over the top…Could LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin swap places?  Really?…Deron Williams wouldn’t rule out a return to Utah…Good buddies Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan have put their friendship on hold while they beat each other up in playoff series…Raymond Felton is picking up his option in Dallas.

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

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

Morning shootaround — May 8


VIDEO: What can we expect in Game 3 of Cavs-Bulls?

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Impact of losing Wall | McHale to Clippers: ‘Quit hacking us’ | Blatt glad to have Smith back in mix

No. 1: How losing Wall would affect Wizards — The Washington Wizards got some potentially awful news yesterday when the team announced star point guard John Wall has “five non-displaced fractures in his left wrist and hand.” That news not only hurts Wall and Wizards fans, but if he misses the rest of the playoffs, the news may be a fatal blow to Washington’s hopes of a long postseason run. Our John Schuhmann digs into exactly how much Wall matters to the Wizards’ playoff efforts:

Wall has been one of the best player’s of the postseason thus far, averaging 17.4 points and 12.6 assists. With the Wizards playing small more than they did in the regular season, Wall has taken advantage of the extra space and sliced up the Toronto and Atlanta defenses. Though they scored less than a point per possession on Tuesday, the Wizards have been the most improved offensive team from the regular season to the playoffs by a wide margin.

In five playoff games, Wall has created 30.8 points per game via assists, 12 more than any other player in the postseason. His teammates have an effective field goal percentage of 60.5 percent off his passes.

Having earned a split in Atlanta, a healthy Wizards team would have a good shot at getting to the conference finals for the first time since 1979. But assuming Wall is out, they’re in trouble.

In the regular season, Washington was 12.5 points per 100 possessions better with Wall on the floor than with him off. In the playoffs, the offense has scored 115.7 points per 100 possessions in 191 minutes with Wall on the floor and just 96.0 in 102 minutes with him off the floor.

Ramon Sessions is a decent back-up and helped narrow that on-off gap after arriving in a deadline-day trade. But he doesn’t have the quickness, size or decision-making skills that Wall does. And he’s not nearly as good a defender either.

The Wizards will likely have to make due without their most important player, asking more of Bradley Bealoffensively. They couldn’t get the stops they needed down the stretch, but they were within five points of the Hawks with less than six minutes to go in Game 2. And they’re not about to say that their season is over.

“All of us have to step up a little bit more,” Wizards coach Randy Wittmansaid after practice Thursday. “John’s, no question, a big part of our team. But that doesn’t limit what this team can continue to do.”

“By no means do we feel like this series is over or our goals change,” Paul Pierceadded. “We’re going to continue to go out there, reach for our goals, and continue to fight each and every night. We did a good job at cutting this series to 1-1, to get home-court advantage. So it’s up to everybody to rally around one another, use some motivation, and try to win these games, especially for John.”


VIDEO: Digging into the affect John Wall has on the Wizards’ offense

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Morning shootaround — May 7


VIDEO: Highlights from games played May 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nets open to trading Williams, Johnson | Pelicans refute Dumars talk | Duncan’s choice will affect Ginobili’s future | Thibodeau miffed over lack of free throws for Rose

No. 1: Nets open to trading Williams, Johnson — Brooklyn Nets GM Billy King addressed the media yesterday in his end-of-season news conference and much of what he had to say wasn’t a surprise. Per King, the team wants to re-sign free agents Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young and, overall, King was pleased with the team’s late playoff push and playoff run. The one piece of surprising news, however, was that the Nets seem open to trading their multi-million dollar backcourt of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. Tim Bontemps of the New York Post has more:

Brook Lopez has been the subject of plenty of trade rumors the past few years. But after an impressive second half, the Nets have made it clear they view him as the franchise’s centerpiece moving forward.

Nets general manager Billy King reaffirmed that Wednesday, saying he’s committed to re-signing Lopez if he opts out of his contract as expected and becomes an unrestricted free agent in July.

“For us to get in the playoffs that stretch, [Lopez] was the guy who carried us. He was our best player,” King said during his end-of-season sitdown with reporters. “Without Brook Lopez, there’s no way we even get to where we go to this year.

“I’ll say it again: We want him back. I want him back, [coach] Lionel [Hollins] wants him back, ownership wants him back. We’ve all said it. There shouldn’t be any more doubts about it.”

But while the Nets seem committed to Lopez, they’re ready to move on from having the NBA’s most expensive backcourt. King says he’s open to trading Deron Williams or Joe Johnson this summer.

“We’re going to explore all options, as we have [previously],” King said. “Will there be a trade? There could be, but I’m not sure. But we’re going to look at every option to get better.”

When King put together the triumvirate of Williams, Johnson and Lopez three summers ago, the Nets thought they would be headed into Brooklyn with a team ready to compete for championships. That hasn’t happened, though, as the Nets have compiled a combined 10 playoff victories and advanced to the second round just once in the past three years.

Now the Nets appear headed for significant changes, and it will be a big surprise if all three high-priced former All-Stars are back next season. The plan instead seems to be building around Lopez while keeping Thaddeus Young, who also has a player option that he’s far more likely to exercise.

The Nets are in an incredible predicament, of their own making, after they sent three first-round picks (and the right to swap a fourth) to the Celtics for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in 2013. One of those first rounders is for 2016, meaning the Nets can’t tear down their roster this offseason.

So while the Nets certainly have an eye on the oodles of cap space they are projected to have when the salary cap spikes next summer – currently more than $50 million – they have to find a way to remain competitive next season without sacrificing the only kind of long-term flexibility they have.

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Morning shootaround — May 6


VIDEO: Highlights from games played May 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors lose ‘poise’ in Game 2 | Thibodeau: Latest front office rumblings just ‘noise’ | Report: Thompson to start Game 2 | McHale blasts Rockets’ effort

No. 1: Warriors ‘poise’ fails them in Game 2 vs. Grizzlies — The scene at Oracle Arena last night was perfectly set for Golden State to snag a 2-0 series lead on the Memphis Grizzlies in their Western Conference semifinals. Warriors star Stephen Curry got his MVP from Commissioner Adam Silver before the game, Golden State was fresh off a Game 1 romp over Memphis and had every reason to believe it could win again Tuesday. But the Grizzlies — thanks to the inspired play of Mike Conley — claimed a 97-90 series-tying win. Afterward, writes Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN.com, the Warriors said they were perhaps a little too pumped up for Game 2:

The last time the Golden State Warriors lost at home was back in January, against the Chicago Bulls. The last time they lost in regulation at Oracle was back in November, against the San Antonio Spurs. This 97-90 home loss in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals to the Memphis Grizzlies just wasn’t part of the plan, certainly not on the day of Stephen Curry’s MVP presentation.

In pregame, as Curry took hold of his trophy, Tony Allen was on the other side of the court, pacing like a madman. He had his own plans. He was ready to dash everyone’s expectations with a dose of chaos.

It took some inspired defense from Allen, combined with an inspirational performance from Mike Conley, who played magnificently despite a fractured face and foggy mask. Conley hit his first four shots and the Grizzlies never looked back. After Memphis went ahead 5-4, they led the rest of the way. Golden State had runs here and there, but they were never sustained. The game was always just out of reach, and the Warriors never got organized enough to tug it back.

“I thought we lost our poise tonight,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr assessed. “That was the biggest issue.

“We were too emotional. We were too quick with our intention to score,” he said. “Instead of just moving the ball and setting good screens, everyone was trying to do everything frantically on their own.”

After the game, Curry preached calm, saying, “We’re not going to shoot 6-for-26 many times over this series, so we’re not going to overreact to one bad shooting night, as long as we get quality shots the next game.”

Draymond Green had a similar message, saying, “Nobody expects us to lose a game at home. Now the whole world has collapsed, the Bay Area’s just been hit by an earthquake. Everything’s going wrong.” He then downshifted into a reassuring tone, saying, “We’ll be just fine.”

That’s probably the right approach for the playoffs finally arriving at Oracle. The Warriors made it look so easy, for so long, that one could be deceived into thinking they could skate to a title sans stretches of doubt. It just isn’t happening that smoothly for a young team experiencing life as the favorite for the first time. Massive expectation doesn’t obviate pressure, it amplifies it.


VIDEO: Go inside the huddles with the Warriors and Grizzlies in Game 2

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Morning shootaround — May 5


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clippers keep it up | Conley hoping to play in Game 2 | Popovich: Spurs’ core likely to return | Beal, Wall expect to play in Game 2

No. 1: Clippers keep on rolling, rally for Game 1 win — Had the Los Angeles Clippers lost Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series against the Houston Rockets, few would have faulted them. They did, after all, just win a thrilling, emotional Game 7 in the first round against the defending-champion San Antonio Spurs just two days earlier. As well, they were without star point guard Chris Paul for last night’s game. None of that affected Los Angeles’ crew though as they withstood a rough first half to score a 117-101 win, writes our own Fran Blinebury:

You don’t usually notice growth spurts until after they happen, but here are the Clippers getting taller, stronger, tougher right in front of our eyes.

It was one thing to take down the defending champion Spurs in Game 7 before a roaring, emotional home crowd with adrenaline of the moment temporarily numbing the pain of Chris Paul‘s strained hamstring, enabling him to stay on the court and even hit the decisive shot.

But now it was 48 hours later, Paul was out of the lineup entirely and the Clippers were down 13 points on the road.

“Trust,” said coach Doc Rivers.

“Stay confident,” said center DeAndre Jordan.

“Be who we are,” said guard Jamal Crawford.

Who they are now is very different team than the one that opened training camp back in October, the one that was still searching for direction in February, maybe even different from the one that walked into the playoffs just a little more than two weeks ago.

Of course, it helps that the Clippers can bring power forward Blake Griffin to every game. Griffin has been arguably the best all-around participant in the playoffs to date. His 26 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists were his third triple-double in eight post-season games this year.

When he wasn’t punishing the Rockets with his bull moves down in the low post, he was knocking in jumpers or spotting the ball to his teammates for open 3-pointers and other good looks.

“He’s like Tom Brady standing in the middle of the field picking them apart,” Barnes said.

With Paul watching from the bench or pacing nervously in front of it wearing a green jacket, Griffin was the trigger to the offense, playing point forward and making the entire machine work smoothly. Just as important, he kept his team together with prodding words of encouragement.


VIDEO: Blake Griffin powers the Clippers’ Game 1 victory

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Morning Shootaround — May 4


VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s playoff action from around the NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

The Clippers have an edge over the Rockets | Rugged Wizards still unblemished in the postseason | Can the Cavaliers handle the Bulls without Love, Smith? | Parade plans being made in Golden State

No. 1: The Clippers have an edge over the Rockets — Even with Chris Paul “questionable” for Game 1 of the Los Angeles Clippers’ Western Conference semifinal against the Houston Rockets, the Clippers are confident. They have an edge, of sorts, over the Rockets, according to Ben Bolch of The Los Angeles Times:

After edging the five-time NBA champion San Antonio Spurs in the first round, the Clippers have advanced to face a team with a lesser recent playoff pedigree than themselves.

The Houston Rockets have won two playoff series since 1997, one fewer than the Clippers have won since Chris Paul arrived in December 2011.

It’s true that Rockets guard Jason Terry won a championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 and stars James Harden and Dwight Howard each advanced to the Finals with other teams, but the group has done little collectively besides getting past the Mavericks in a relatively breezy first-round series this season.

The Rockets and Clippers each won 56 games in the regular season, finishing tied for the league’s third-best record. The Rockets were awarded the second seeding in the Western Conference and the accompanying homecourt advantage in this conference semifinal series against the third-seeded Clippers by virtue of winning the Southwest Division.

The Clippers have dominated Houston in recent seasons, winning 11 of the last 14 games. But the Rockets won the final two games between the teams this season and Howard did not play in any of the four games in the series this season.

“Obviously, they have a good thing going,” Clippers forward Blake Griffin said. “James has had an unbelievable year, Dwight had a huge series against Dallas and really all the way down the line. They’re a great team.”

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No. 2: Rugged Wizards still unblemished in the postseason — The standard for toughness and determination in this postseason, at least in the Eastern Conference, is the Washington Wizards. Playing on the road to start both their first round series and the conference semifinals, the Wizards remain unblemished, perfect after five games. They are the embodiment of toughness, says Mike Lee of The Washington Post:

Bradley Beal and John Wall showed up at the postgame podium looking as if they had just been sparring for 12 rounds instead of playing basketball for four quarters. Beal had petroleum jelly covering two scratches under his right eye that came after Atlanta Hawks reserve guard Kent Bazemore inexplicably kicked him in the face while chasing down a loose ball. Wall had his left wrist and hand heavily taped after an awkward landing that was exacerbated by Beal tripping and falling on him.

At different times during the Washington Wizards’ 104-98 victory over the Hawks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Beal and Wall provided moments of spectacular play and trepidation for a team that suddenly doesn’t know how to lose. Beal matched his playoff career high with 28 points, his third 20-point game this postseason. Wall added 18 points and a game-high 13 assists , extending a string of four consecutive double-doubles that has seen him dish out 55 assists over those games. Beal and Wall have been a representation of the mental and physical toughness required to win at this time of year, having already led the Wizards to more postseason wins in the past two seasons than the previous 27 seasons combined.

“We two guys that’s going to fight until the end,” Wall said after winning at Philips Arena for just the second time in his career and first time this season. “If it ain’t broke, you can’t get us off the court.”

The win almost felt bittersweet after Beal sprained his right ankle in the fourth quarter when he landed awkwardly on Hawks center Al Horford. Beal returned to hobble around for a few minutes but finally got benched, pulled a towel over his head and sobbed uncontrollably as the final seconds ticked off. He continued to weep through a postgame television interview and on his way for X-rays , which turned out negative. With a protective sleeve on his right leg, Beal walked with a slight limp after the game, and Coach Randy Wittman was uncertain about Beal’s availability for Game 2.

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No. 3: Can the Cavaliers handle the Bulls without Love, Smith? — No Kevin Love. No J.R. Smith (for the first two games). Some think that’s a “no go” for the Cleveland Cavaliers as they open their Eastern Conference semifinal series tonight against the Chicago Bulls. But LeBron James and Kyrie Irving might have something to say about that. Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer raises some questions and provides some answers as this long awaited series gets ready for tip off:

1. It’s impossible to know how the Cavs will play in the first two games. Once General Manager David Griffin made his two deals in January, J.R. Smith sat out only one game with the Cavs. That was a 117-78 loss to Boston when the Cavs rested most of their key players, a game meaning nothing. So it’s only this game where we’ll see what the Cavs look like without Kevin Love (shoulder surgery) and Smith (two-game suspension).

2. That’s why it’s so hard to know how the Cavs will perform against the Bulls. It’s great to have LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, they give your team a chance in nearly every game. But the Bulls are a tall team, and they also have some skilled scorers. I’m very, very worried about this matchup.

3. The 6-foot-10 Love would have been a big deal in the Bulls series. He probably would have been defended by Joakim Noah or Pau Gasol — pulling one of the Bulls big men away from the basket. Coach David Blatt loves a power forward — “a Stretch-4″ — who can shoot. That’s Love. Without him, James Jones will be the best option for some parts in the game when the Cavs want a power forward who can shoot. But Jones won’t demand the defensive attention of Love.

4. When the Cavs start Smith and Love, the have two guys capable of making jump shots from long range. That helps keep the middle open for James and Irving to drive to the rim. Of course, Irving and James also can shoot from the outside. But they are even more dangerous when they drive to the rim.

5. When Smith returns from his suspension, the Cavs can play three guards — Iman Shumpert, Smith and Irving — with James at power forward and a big man (Timofey Mozgov or Tristan Thompson) at center. Not sure what they will do in the first two games with no Smith, other than Shawn Marion will see some action at forward — and Mike Miller at guard.

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No. 4: Parade plans being made in Golden State — Five down and 11 more to go for the Golden State Warriors, who have looked every bit of the championship caliber team many assumed they would after an epic regular season. Sure, there is a long way to go, but the path is there for them to grind all the way to a championship. Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News has done the math and is convinced that there will be parade through the streets of Oakland this summer:

There was one moment among the many, one move among the multitudes, one particularly providential part of Game 1 at Oracle Arena on Sunday.

It was presumptive MVP Stephen Curry casually dribbling into a high screen-and-roll, luring Zach Randolph to the perimeter … and then a sudden Curry fake that sent Randolph lunging to the right, a Curry sublime flash to the left, and a 3-point splash.

It was poetry. It shook the walls of the old building.

What opponent can stop that? Who can beat the Warriors when they have everything going at full throttle?

Nobody. That’s sort of important to know and point out, 11 victories from a title.

And though it was just a single play on the way to the Warriors’ commanding 101-86 victory over Memphis, it communicated everything important about this team and that player.

This is why the Warriors are already in total control of this series, this is why Curry will win the MVP on Monday (reported first by CSN Bay Area, with a 1 p.m. news conference as reported by this newspaper’s Marcus Thompson II).

And this is why the Warriors are in such a special place, time and mood.

Curry and his teammates know they can’t look too far ahead — not even to potentially winning the MVP, Curry said Sunday.

They realize that any little stumble or loss of focus could put them in jeopardy at any time.

But if they play like this for the rest of the playoffs, the Warriors are going to win the championship, there just isn’t much doubt anymore.

“It’s a fun time,” Curry said after his 22-point, seven-assist, four-steal performance. “The pressure is on.

“The vibe around the league is at a high, and I think we’re ready for the moment, just trying to stay in the moment.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Hawks have dug themselves a hole and must grind their way out of it, with the starting unit on the floor more, in the Eastern Conference semifinals … Grizzles look ordinary without Mike Conley in their first blush against the Warriors … Spurs still dancing around questions about the future of Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich and the crewIman Shumpert is the X-factor for the Cavaliers against his hometown Chicago Bulls …  Tom Thibodeau still has the blueprint for defeating a LeBron James led team …