Morning Shootaround

Morning Shootaround — April 13


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***


VIDEO: Wizards sign Amaris Jackson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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


VIDEO: Arena Link: Jeff Teague

Morning Shootaround — April 12


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

Nice, neat little story line.

Only one small problem with the premise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

***

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

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


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

 


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

 

Morning Shootaround — April 11


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

***

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

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

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

Check the MVP leaderboards. Dwight Howard is not there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

Young echoed the same goal.

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

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

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

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

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

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


VIDEO: Nick Young talks after the Lakers’ practice Thursday

***

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

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


VIDEO: Andre Iguodala crosses up the Nuggets’ Quincy Miller

 

 

Morning Shootaround — April 10


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Vogel’s gamble pays off | Casey unhappy with Raptors’ defense | Brown: Sixers need a ‘star’ in Draft | Cavs look ahead to next season

No. 1: Vogel’s gamble plays off for Pacers — The NBA world was abuzz yesterday afternoon after word came that Pacers coach Frank Vogel was benching his entire starting five of Paul George, Lance Stephenson, George Hill, David West and Roy Hibbert to give them some rest against the Bucks. Milwaukee gave Indiana quite a fight, but thanks to a late shot from little-used reserve Chris Copeland, the Pacers took home the win. That, coupled with Miami’s loss in Memphis last night, gave Indiana the No. 1 spot in the East again and may have proven Vogel’s move to be worthwhile. Our Steve Aschburner was on the scene in Indiana and has more on the game:

This was a risky move, risky on the verge of panic, for coach Frank Vogel to sit down – to rest, en masse – the five guys who have defined the Pacers’ largely successful season. But there they sat: Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert, Lance Stephenson and George Hill, from beginning to end, mere spectators and cheerleaders Wednesday night at BMO Harris Bradley Center.After multiple consultations between Vogel and the players, among Vogel and President Larry Bird and the coaches — and a heads-up courtesy call to NBA headquarters in hopes of avoiding any fines — the Indiana coach shortened his bench by whacking his starters. He did, from the rationale he gave, what he should have done in February or March, if only the alleged wear, tear and fatigue from season’s first five months had shown itself before the sixth.

“We accomplished the purpose,” said George, who spent the game in warm-ups after getting in some conditioning and shooting. “We felt very comfortable with the group we had, that they were going to go out there and get us a win. It wasn’t like we were sacrificing the game. We game-planned. Coach really drilled and worked hard with the unit he put out there.”

Copeland missed just one of his eight shots, scored 18 and was good for four of the Pacers’ 11 3-pointers. Backup point guard C.J. Watson returned after missing 13 games, and his impact shouldn’t be understated; Indiana is 47-14 when he plays, 7-11 when he doesn’t. The Pacers outshot the Bucks and had 26 assists to 11 turnovers.

“Served the purpose,” said Vogel. “We got the starters the rest that hopefully will help them find their rhythm, and we let our bench guys get extended minutes so they could get comfortable. Evan Turner hasn’t been that comfortable in a Pacers uniform.”

How badly have the starters needed a breather? The math says very: the five Pacers have averaged 2,521 minutes, which might not seem excessive (32.8 per game). But compared to the deftly managed San Antonio Spurs, the difference is considerable. The five Spurs who have played the most have averaged 1,934 minutes. That gap of 587, doled out 30 minutes at a time, is nearly 20 extra games’ worth.

“It was a weird feeling, sitting out a game,” Hibbert said. “But I was really happy for those guys. They’ve been working extremely hard the whole season. To see them go out and play, and not have to worry about making mistakes and having the starters come back in, I was really happy for ‘em.”

Hibbert said getting the game off was both a physical and mental health day, and none of them seemed to need it more. The big fella hit some sort of wall Sunday against Atlanta, playing just nine minutes, going scoreless with no rebounds, then languishing on the bench through the second half in some sort of bad body-language funk. He was way more engaged in this one, encouraging the reserves, snarling toward the crowd a few times.

When Indiana visits the Heat on Friday, its starters will have gone five days – more than 120 hours – between games.

“We probably haven’t had that since the season started,” Stephenson said. “Any rest can help us right now.”


VIDEO: Pacers score a close win in Milwaukee

***

No. 2: Casey fretting over Raptors’ defense — No team has been more of a surprise in the Eastern Conference this season than the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors. The team is just one win away from both clinching the franchise’s second-ever division crown and also tying the record for wins in a season. Despite all the good feelings of the season, though, coach Dwane Casey is a bit concerned about Toronto’s defense as it barrels toward the playoffs. Doug Smith of the Toronto Star has more:

They are a game away from matching two historic moments in franchise history; a win away from a division title, a victory away from equalling the win total of the best Raptors team ever — and the anticipation is building all around them.

But having watched his team scuffle through another bad defensive night against a vastly inferior opponent, coach Dwane Casey is more worried than celebratory.

“My whole goal now is to get better defensively going into the next couple of weeks because if we don’t, it’s going to be a short ride,” Casey said after the Raptors beat the Philadelphia 76ers 125-114 at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday, Toronto’s second straight stinky defensive performance.

“Collectively, our defence has to step up. We can’t expect to outscore people 125-114 and have a game like that,” he said.

“It’s a mindset. You can’t look at their records, whoever we play. New York (Toronto’s next opponent) will be a little different but the other teams (minnows Detroit and Milwaukee also remain on the Raptors schedule) that are not in the playoffs, we can’t look at that. We have to play our game and look to improve.”


VIDEO: Raptors coach Dwane Casey discusses the team’s win over the Sixers

***

No. 3: Brown: Sixers need a ‘star’ in the Draft — As a former longtime assistant coach of the San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia 76ers first-year coach Brett Brown knows how drafting a go-to superstar can shape a franchise. He saw what Tim Duncan has done for the Spurs over the years and now that he’s leading his own crew, Brown knows that Philly needs a star in the 2014 Draft if it hopes to keep its rebuild project moving along quickly and smoothly. He talked with Tom Moore of the Bucks County Courier-Times about that, Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and more:

“I think it’s important,” Brown said during a 10-minute interview after Tuesday’s practice. “I think it’s really important.

“Stars want to play with stars. And it’s too early to say anything about Michael (Carter-Williams) or what you can project Nerlens (Noel) out to be. Just because somebody’s chosen high in the draft doesn’t mean they’re going to be a star, either.”

The Sixers, who are likely to finish with the second-worst record, would have a 19.9 percent shot at the No. 1 overall pick and a 55.8 percent chance to choose in the top three. They also own five second-round selections.

One potential top-three pick, talented Duke freshman forward Jabari Parker, who said he might come back to school after an early NCAA tournament exit, has arranged housing for his sophomore year, according to a Duke source. While that doesn’t mean he’ll stay, it shows he’s seriously considering remaining a Blue Devil for another season.

Brown is eager to see rookie center Noel, who sat out the year as he recovered from a torn ACL, play one of the Sixers’ two summer leagues. Noel and Carter-Williams won an AAU national title as members of the Boston Amateur Basketball Club (BABC).

The Sixers acquired Noel with the No. 6 pick in last June’s draft from the Holiday deal and Carter-Williams went No. 11.

“They have had such a great history together in their Boston AAU days,” said Brown, a Maine native. “I can see how they have a bond, a connection, a relationship. Those things are priceless.

“I think it’s ‘hoop karma.’ To get two young players that are used to playing with each other at such a young age as our first-round draft picks last year and my own experiences in Boston — maybe something’s aligned where we can pull off something special together.”

Brown is adamant that Carter-Williams, who leads all first-year players in scoring (16.7 points), assists (6.3), rebounds (6.1) and steals (1.9), should become the Sixers’ first NBA Rookie of the Year since Allen Iverson in 1996-97.

“Absolutely zero (doubt in my mind),” Brown said. “And forget my opinion — look at his game and look at the stats. You can easily say — some people will — it’s because he played on a poor team or he played with the fastest (offensive) pace in the league or he got 34 minutes a night to do his thing. Those are true facts.

“But when you go a layer deeper and you say look at his game. Look at what he actually does. Project him out.”

***

No. 4: Cavs try to look forward to next season — The Cleveland Cavaliers tried to make a big splash in the offseason, signing center Andrew Bynum, guard Jarrett Jack and swingman Earl Clark months after drafting Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 overall pick. The thinking was adding those pieces to a core that included All-Star Kyrie Irving and budding frontcourt player Tristan Thompson would equal a playoff berth. The exact opposite happened as Cleveland sputtered out of the gate, dealt with Bynum drama mid-season, fired its GM and, in short, failed to live up to every expectation. The Cavs’ playoff hopes officially ended last night and as Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal writes, being home for the playoffs stings a little more this time for the Cavs:

It seemed almost poetic in this season of uncertainty that one of the Cavs’ finest performances would be tarnished by their ultimate demise.The offensive efficiency was brilliant Wednesday, the ball movement was electric and the outcome was emphatic. Only none of it matters anymore, since the Cavs’ 122-100 victory against the Detroit Pistons was washed away 36 minutes later by the Atlanta Hawks’ victory over the Boston Celtics, thereby officially eliminating the Cavs from postseason contention with exactly one week left in the season.

“It’s an empty feeling you have now that your chances are done,” Kyrie Irving said. “You think about the things you could’ve done, should’ve done — it’s inevitable.”

“That type of basketball, the stuff we saw out there tonight, that’s the way we want to play most of the time,” Mike Brown said. “We’ve played that way quite a bit. We’ve taken our lumps at times, but our guys have gotten better and it shows.”

Only it all came too late to save their postseason lives.

The Cavs will be haunted this summer by their 4-12 November that included losses to the woeful Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers. They lost twice to the Boston Celtics and were embarrassed at home by the injury-ravaged Los Angeles Lakers.

Those are the types of losses that ultimately will deny the Cavs their first trip to the postseason in four years.

“One of the things that eats at me is the first couple of months, the transition we went through just not being able to win a few more games,” Brown said. “It’s tough and you have to play almost perfect basketball. It puts a lot of pressure on you as the year goes on. You wish you had some of those games back so we could experience playing past April.”

The Cavs were mathematically eliminated from the postseason before March concluded last season, and while a huge assist for their extension this season is the woeful Eastern Conference, the fact remains the Cavs played meaningful games in April and remained in the hunt until exactly one week remained.

That is progress from a team that won only 24 games last season …

“I feel good about the direction we’re going,” Brown said. “We have to keep understanding that every time we step out we have to grow and get better. … There will be times we’re going to take some steps backwards, but hopefully we don’t take too many steps backward these last few weeks of the season.”


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving talks about the win and missing out on the playoffs

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Bulls are reportedly close to signing former reserves Mike James and Lou Amundson to deals … Pau Gasol confirms it is unlikely he’ll play again for the Lakers this season … NBA commissioner Adam Silver sees ads on jerseys as both a “viable” source of revenue and an “inevitable” thing … The Bobcats’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist talks about his ex-high school teammate Derrick Gordon, the UMass basketball player who recently came out as gay … Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman knew that Bulls center Joakim Noah was primed for a big game last night … Aaron Brooks has enjoyed his time in Denver and wouldn’t mind re-signing with the team

ICYMI of the Night: The Bulls’ Taj Gibson is one of the better finishers around the rim in the NBA, but Ronny Turiaf of the Wolves was having none of that last night … 


VIDEO: Ronny Turiaf gets up to deny Taj Gibson’s dunk … and his follow-up attempts

 

 

Morning Shootaround — April 9


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers to rest starters down stretch | Nowitzki now a top 10 all-time scorer | Nash’s hits milestone, but will he play again? | Kupchack won’t consult Kobe on D’Antoni | Noel says knee is ’100 percent’ healthy

No. 1: Pacers to rest starters down stretch — In Sunday’s eventual blowout loss at home to the Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel decided to bench/rest All-Star center Roy Hibbert in the second half to give him rest. Could more of the same be in store for Indiana’s other starters as the season winds down? It seems so, writes Zak Keefer of The Indianapolis Star, who reports that Vogel is more interested in the Pacers playing well than he is in their chase with the Miami Heat for the East’s No. 1 seed:

In an unusual turn of events, Pacers coach Frank Vogel gave his starting unit their second consecutive day off Tuesday, and said after practice he will continue resting some of them during the team’s final four regular season games.

“I think rest and healing up is part of the solution,” Vogel said. “It’s not the whole solution, but it’s part of it.”

The only Pacers’ starter at practice was recently-benched Roy Hibbert, who watched in street clothes from the sideline. He did not speak to the media following practice.

Vogel, long a proponent of the team’s stated goal – to earn the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed and gain home court advantage throughout the conference playoffs – sounded more like a coach focused on healing his roster in the final week of the regular season than finishing with a better record than the Miami Heat.

He was asked if his team has ceded the No. 1 seed to Miami, which leads the Pacers by a full game heading into Indiana’s date in Milwaukee on Wednesday.

“No,” Vogel said. “We’re two games back right now. Obviously it was a goal, it is a goal of ours, but at this point, playing well is our top priority. Part of that is being fresh going into the playoffs.

“We feel good if we have the No. 2 seed, and we still feel we can attain the goals we have.”

Vogel added that he will rest some of his starters over the regular season’s final stretch, and did not commit to starting Hibbert (or any of them) on Wednesday.

More than one starter – including Paul George and David West – came to him recently and asked for some additional rest down the stretch.

“A couple of them said they think that would help,” Vogel said. “They said it in a very positive way. (Our) group came in very encouraged after the other night.”

***

No. 2: Nowitzki passes ‘Big O’ for No. 10 on all-time scoring list — Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki has been toiling as a top-flight scorer in the NBA for the last 14 or so seasons. With each game — and each solid scoring performance — he’s climbed the all-time scoring charts and, last night, reached another milestone in his future Hall of Fame career. He’s now the 10th-leading scorer in NBA history after passing Oscar “Big O” Robertson last night with a free-throw line extended jump shot. Our Jeff Caplan details Dirk’s magical moment:

Dirk Nowitzki, with a patented fallaway jumper from a few feet off the right elbow, surpassed Oscar Robertson as the NBA’s 10th-all-time leading scorer.Nowitzki, 35, joins the most exclusive of NBA clubs in which each member is recognized simply by first name or nickname. Dirk, the Dallas Mavericks’ sweet-shooting 7-footer and an original stretch-4, certainly has that covered.

“Amazing, amazing. I mean top 10 is unreal,” Nowitzki said following the 95-83 victory at Utah. “It’s been a crazy ride. Passing Big O, who obviously averaged triple-doubles numerous seasons, is unbelievable. It feels surreal still. All night I wasn’t really trying to think about it, I was trying to concentrate on the next shot. I knew how many points I needed, but I wasn’t really trying to think about it. I was trying to think about the next shot and how I could get open.”

Nowitzki, the 2007 regular-season MVP and 2011 champion and Finals MVP, now has 26,714 career points. He has also surpassed 30,000 total points that includes 128 postseason games.

Fresh off being named the Western Conference’s Player of the Week, a four-game stretch in which he averaged 25.3 ppg, Nowitzki has propelled Dallas to a 4-0 road trip that has it in the driver’s seat to secure one of the final two playoff spots.

The Mavs (48-21) have three games left. They play San Antonio at home on Thursday and then finish with critical games against Phoenix at home on Saturday and then at Memphis on Wednesday.

Nowitzki, who struggled to regain his All-Star form last season after undergoing knee surgery during training camp, was devastated when the Mavs missed the playoffs for the first time since 1999-2000.

He started this season, his 16th, at No. 17 on the league’s all-time scoring list. Along the way he’s moved ahead of Jerry West, Reggie Miller, Alex English, Kevin Garnett, John Havlicek, Dominique Wilkins and now the Big O.

Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant, No. 4 on the all-time list with 31,700 points, 592 behind No. 3 Michael Jordan are the only active players in the top 10.

This is Nowitzki’s final year of his contract, but he has made it clear that he plans to re-sign with the Mavericks for another two or three seasons.

“This is my 30th year in the NBA and one of the few times I’ve truly been in awe of an accomplishment,” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, who has been with Nowitzki since the start of the 2008-09 season. “Top 10 all-time scorer is an unbelievable accomplishment because it’s a level of excellence that’s beyond belief, and then it’s being able to do it over an extended period of time with consistency. So one of the really unique accomplishments.

“And he’s going to keep eating up more people. He’s got a long way to go.”


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki runs wild against the Jazz in Salt Lake City

***

No. 3: Nash has milestone moment, but is career nearing end? — With a nice little dish to streaking teammate Jodie Meeks off a Houston Rockets turnover last night, Steve Nash passed Mark Jackson for No. 3 on the NBA’s all-time assists list. That dime further bolstered Nash’s already rock-solid Hall of Fame career and provided a bright spot in what has been a disappointing rebuild of a season in Lakerland. However, as ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin points out: could this game be not only Nash’s last one this season, but of his career?

With his fifth assist of the night coming on a lead pass to Jodie Meeks for a fast-break dunk with 2:13 remaining in the second quarter, Nash moved past Mark Jackson for No. 3 on the all-time assists list, giving him 10,335 for his career.

Nash was subbed out of the game a minute later, and the 18-year veteran received a standing ovation from the Staples Center crowd as public address announcer Lawrence Tanter acknowledged the achievement.

It could very well be the last time the former two-time MVP is on the court this season — or perhaps in his career.

Nash finished with three points, five assists and three rebounds in 13 minutes in the Lakers’ 145-130 loss to the Rockets and did not play in the second half after suffering what he described as a “bite” in his hamstring when he tried to “open up and sprint” early in the game.

“Since I had a pretty good setback today, I probably won’t play again [this season],” Nash said after the game. “But if I get a good recovery over the next week, I’d love to play again. But again, a big goal for me was to not go into the summer injured, and the fact that I had a setback today is kind of frustrating. But hopefully it’s something that I can work through quickly here, and if I work through quick enough, I’d love to play again. But it’s probably doubtful.”

Nash was playing in just his 15th game of the season after being sidelined for extensive periods because of nerve root irritation in his back and hamstrings. He has one year remaining on his contract with the Lakers, set to pay him $9.7 million, but Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni expressed doubt regarding Nash’s chances of returning for a 19th season.

“It’s too bad everything comes to an end, and he’s had a great career,” D’Antoni said after the game, adding several times he felt “lucky” to have coached the eight-time All-Star in both Phoenix and L.A.

“It was great he got that tonight. You hate that he has to do it on one leg. He was literally playing on one leg tonight,” D’Antoni added.

D’Antoni would not definitively draw the curtain on Nash’s career, however.

“I don’t think anybody, they can’t tell that,” D’Antoni said. “He’ll try, I’m sure. A lot of it’s mentally, whether he can do it mentally, because it’s going to take a lot, a lot of work and some luck and then the franchise and the management and Steve will sit down and they’ll make that determination.”

When asked whether Nash displayed any emotion in the locker room as if it were his last game, D’Antoni said, “I don’t think he’s there yet at all.”

After accomplishing the mark, Nash reflected on his journey through the sport of basketball.

“All of this is beyond my imagination and wildest dreams,” Nash said. “So to be able to share that end of the assist ladder with some players that I looked up to and emulated, and to be in their company, is phenomenal. I don’t play for the records. I play because I love to play, I love to play and be a part of a team. But I guess it’s something that maybe one day I’ll appreciate, all hours I spent, all the extra hours I spent trying to get better.”

Nash was almost unable to play long enough to set the record Tuesday.

“He came to me during a timeout and said he tweaked it and his hamstring’s on fire,” D’Antoni said. “And then I go, ‘Well, you want out?’ And he goes, ‘If I come out, I might never go back in.’ So, I go, ‘Well, OK, so it’s either the record or we’ll carry you off the floor.’ And that’s kind of the way it went.”


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew discusses Steve Nash’s accomplishment last night

***

No. 4: Kupchak won’t consult with Kobe on D’Antoni’s future — The recent state of the Lakers in the Western Conference hierarchy has given their fans reason to question the front office at times. But those in power in Lakerland are apparently happy with the job that GM Mitch Kupchack has done over the years and agreed to a multi-year extension with him yesterday. As Kupchack and the rest of the Lakers’ brass attempt to lead L.A. out of this rare dark period, many decisions must be made. One of those revolves around what to do with coach Mike D’Antoni, who may or may not have star Kobe Bryant‘s full support. Kupchack, however, told USA Today‘s Sam Amick that Kobe’s view on D’Antoni won’t shape what the Lakers choose to do with the coach:

On the night that news of his multiyear extension was first reported by ESPN, Kupchak sat down for an extensive interview with USA TODAY Sports to discuss the storied franchise and its uncertain future.He may not be different, but he fully expects the current climate to change over time. Yet as he knows as much as anyone, it’s just a matter of how long it might take.

Q: Your fans are going through culture shock right now. They’ve had a good run, but this generation hasn’t seen a season like this.

A: Well, I don’t know how you define ‘generation.’ I guess you could say that, but 10 years ago we had a year like this. But we haven’t had a year like this in the last six or seven years, that’s for sure. But we’ve had a bunch of years like this since I’ve been here. I’ve been here since ’81, and there were three or four years in the early ’90s, and then we had that year in ’04. But we haven’t had a year like this in eight or nine years, that’s true.

Q: So that being said, Mitch, what’s your outlook? Is it a situation where you have that experience from the past and you’ll apply it here and move forward with confidence that this too shall pass, or where is your head at?

A: I’m confident that over time, that we’re going to be able to assemble a team that’s competitive, fun to watch. The advantages that this franchise and this city have always had remain, which is our fan base, it’s a great city, players like playing here, there are a lot of diverse components of this city that attract players. The organization itself, its legacy. So those things don’t change. Now the collective bargaining agreement changed considerably (after the 2011 lockout) the playing field. That’s just the way the owners wanted it, and as a manager all we’ve ever said is just give us the rules and we’ll play with the rules. But for example, when we signed Shaquille O’Neal (in 1996), Orlando made an offer and we topped it, and then Orlando topped it, and then we traded two players and got more cap room and then we topped it. They could have topped our offer and they chose not to.

So it could have kept going back and forth because there was no max salary, and there was no home-team advantage — 7½ percent (annual) raises versus four (percent), a five-year deal versus a four-year deal, those rules didn’t exist (the current CBA gives the incumbent team this edge). So the playing field is considerably different. But having said all that, our advantages remain the same. And considering where a lot of teams have ended up in this kind of position, we have a lot of flexibility going forward. We don’t have a lot of players that are good players but not great players who are on long-term deals. Those kinds of contracts can sometimes bury an organization for four or five years. Going forward it’s pretty clean, so it’s up to us to use that money wisely. We are going to have a good (draft) pick this year, so those are the advantages that we have. The short answer is that yes, I’m hoping to be very competitive in a year or two, but the key really is over time.

Q: So on my short list of things to get clarity on is the dynamic between management and Kobe. You guys give him the extension, and I think the question a lot of people have now is that — because of what he has done for the organization, because of what you think he can do in the next couple of years — you do the extension but maybe Kobe doesn’t still have the same voice that he had in the past and now it’s time for the bosses to be the bosses. He’s the one pressing the agenda, saying he’s not going to wait and be patient (during a rebuild).

A: Not really.

Q: You don’t think so?

A: He had that one outburst, but I think he got caught up in all the sensation of the moment — is Phil going to stay or is he going to go? He wants the same thing we want, which is to win as much as possible as soon as possible. I meet with him. (It’s) not on a regular basis, but in the last two or three months we have met several times, and he gets it.

Q: Is that the norm or is that more than normal?

A: Well, it’s more than normal because he’s more available. He’s hurt. I see him in the locker room, we talk. So that’s all that was. That’s all it was.

Q: Will he factor in on the decision about Mike?

A: We will not consult with him. No, we won’t consult with him.

Q: Because when he was asked about Mike last week, the perception was that he didn’t go to bat for him publicly. That started the storyline of “Well, Mike’s not coming back because it doesn’t seem like Kobe wants him back.”

A: We won’t consult with him. Our decisions going forward — we’re not going to do knee-jerk stuff. We’ll let the season end, and take some time. We’ve got a lot of injuries and surgeries to sort through. That’s a lot to accomplish. We have the draft coming up?

Q: Do you have clarity on that (D’Antoni) decision yet?

A: No. No. In fact, I told Jimmy [Buss] let’s get to the end season, take some time off…then review the season. Look at our roster. I mean we have a plan. We’ve aligned our contracts in such a way where we’re at a position where we’re not financially stuck. But there’s a lot we don’t know. We don’t know where we’re going to get our pick. Are we going to be sixth, are we going to be eighth, are we going to be two or three? We don’t know. We know who may be a free agent, but we don’t know for sure until June 30.

So we know a lot, and we’re set up to take advantage of the situations — whether it’s to make a trade, take back a player, get a good draft choice, pursue free agency. But once again, it’s a different world than it was 20 years ago. And as much as we’d like to be very competitive and competing for a championship next year, it may or may not happen, ok?

Q: So how’s Kobe going to handle that?

A: He’ll be fine. He’s got no choice. He’ll be fine. When we lose, he’ll rant and rave and be upset and be hot and won’t talk to anybody, but that’s the way it is. You’ve got to take the good with the bad.

Q: But with all the talk about Phil here, those people don’t often talk about how you’re still here and what you’ve accomplished. Does that ever hit your ego, that idea that there’s not more talk about “In Mitch we trust”?

A: Well the people that I need to know trust me, and they made it clear that they do. I understand from the public’s point of view that Kupchak doesn’t hold a candle to Jackson. Once again, it’s a good story so that didn’t really bother me. But the people in the organization certainly — Jimmy, and I know Jeanie — trust me too. And for over 30 years, Dr. Buss showed incredible trust and loyalty to me. So to me, that’s what was important. That was it.

Q: Was there any internal discussion about Phil coming back, and where did you stand on that? How did that go?

A: Yeah. Yeah. I mean there was nothing formal. This went on for a year or two.

Q: But the most recent one.

A: Well I don’t know when the most recent one was. We discussed a year or two ago about how could we — and this was Jimmy and I and I know he may have discussed it with his family — and it was open for discussion. And it was kind of a standing understanding, but I think Jeanie said it best two weeks ago. At the end of the day, there was no position for a person of his stature.

Q: What does that mean? Can you translate that? Because what it sounds like to me is that Phil is a larger-than-life figure and if he’s coming he wants final say. Was that a factor?

A: Well I’m not sure that it got to that, but what we talked about was involvement and being a piece, a part of it. But based on where he ended up and what he got, it’s easy to see why he did what he did. It’s a no-brainer. Before you even get to the money, he got a wonderful — a challenging — but a wonderful opportunity. Logistically, he has got to work it out but, um, you know, it’s one of those things where I’m not sure if it’s what he was looking for but when it came on the table you can’t turn it around.

***

No. 5: Noel says his knee is ’100 percent’ healthy — The Sixers, last we reported in this space, seemed to be pretty convinced that rookie big man Nerlens Noel won’t be hitting the court until the Summer League. Noel, understandably, wants to play sooner than that. But in his first comments to the media in months, said he understands Philadelphia’s reasoning in taking it slow with him as he recovers from a torn ACL injury suffered in Februrary 2013. He also told the assembled media that his knee is ’100 percent’ and he’s jumping higher than before, too.

Calling his rookie season “a great learning experience,” Philadelphia 76ers center Nerlens Noel said Tuesday he still hopes to make his NBA debut in one of the team’s final five regular-season games but realizes the team’s cautious approach with him has been for the best.

“Obviously I do want to play,” Noel told reporters in Philadelphia. “I’m a 19-year-old who’s been sitting down on the sideline really wanting to get out there and show my abilities and to be able to play ball.

“It’s been tough, but it’s something we had to do.”

Noel was cleared for “limited on-court work” in January, but Philadelphia at the time said he still needed to meet “several benchmarks” in order to play for the team “to ensure a long, productive NBA career.”

On Tuesday, Noel deemed his knee “100 percent,” saying he’s gained over 3 inches on his vertical leap since before the surgery and overall is “stronger and moving around well.” He’s also overhauled his shot with the help of 76ers coach Brett Brown.

“I am very encouraged,” Noel said. “Through the past year since I had my injury, I have pushed myself through thick and thin and I’ve had some struggles and I’ve just stayed with it.

“I definitely worked my butt off to get where I am at now.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kansas star center, Joel Embiid, is expected to announce he’s entering the 2014 Draft … The Rockets still aren’t sure when Pat Beverley or Dwight Howard will return to the lineup … Is Evan Turner the “selfish dude” center Roy Hibbert was referring to a few weeks ago? … Shotblocking legend Dikembe Mutombo says that a legendary story about him in college is untrue … Last night might have been the final matchup between Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and Timberwolves coach Rick AdelmanRay McCallum is getting a ton of experience in his rookie season with the Kings

ICYMI(s) of the Night: Two future Hall of Famers — Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash — etch their names deeper in NBA lore, and, oh yeah, a game-preserving block by a rookie on the league’s reigning MVP. Not a bad night at all in the NBA …


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki scores to pass Oscar Robertson’s as the NBA’s 10th all-time leading scorer


VIDEO: Steve Nash records this assist to pass Mark Jackson for No. 3 on the all-time assists list


VIDEO: Mason Plumlee gets up to reject LeBron James’ dunk on the game’s final play

 

Morning Shootaround — April 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kupchak: Calipari not headed to Lakers | Irving, Waiters try to squash rift talk | Johnson to help NBPA | Report: Dumars set to resign soon | Suns making one last push for No. 8

No. 1: Kupchak: Calipari not headed to L.A. — Just before the start of last night’s NCAA Tournament national championship game between Kentucky and UConn, former Kentucky star Rex Chapman floated a little rumor/bit of potential news on Twitter about Kentucky coach John Calipari:

After the game — which UConn won 60-54 — both Calipari and the Lakers shot down the rumor. of the Los Angeles Times and Brian Hamilton of SI.com have more on the story:

Nothing like putting out a juicy oh-by-the-way rumor before the biggest college basketball game of the season.

But former Kentucky star Rex Chapman tweeted before Monday night’s national title game that Kentucky Coach John Calipari will be the next coach of the Lakers.

Chapman doesn’t site any sources or offer any timetable. Calipari said this week he was probably going to need his hip replaced shortly after Monday night’s title game between Kentucky and Connecticut.

The Lakers denied have any conversations with Calipari.

“I spoke to [General Manager] Mitch Kupchak and he said the rumor is untrue,” Lakers spokesman John Black said. “Mike D’Antoni is our coach. There have been no conversations about any specific names for any replacement.”

Calipari had a 72-112 in three seasons with the NBA’s New Jersey Nets in the late 1990s.

And here’s Hamilton’s report after the national championship game, in which Calipari shot down the rumor:

To believe a former program star’s tweet shortly before tipoff Monday, John Calipari was coaching his final game on the Kentucky sideline before bolting to the Los Angeles Lakers.

To believe Calipari, he won’t need change of address forms anytime soon.

“The Lakers have a coach,” Calipari said after a 60-54 loss to Connecticut in the national title game. “Kentucky has a basketball coach. I got the best job in the country. I’m not going to even dignify that stuff.”

The Lakers reportedly denied any contact with Calipari. Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart sounded unconcerned after the game.

“Cal’s been great, he’s been a great ambassador for this program and he cares a lot about Kentucky,” Barnhart said in the locker room Monday night. “So clearly we love how he represents what we do. He looks great in blue. You live day to day with people and you trust what they do. For five years now, I think I know him fairly well. If there was anything I need to be concerned with, he and I have had conversations, and in those conversations he’s been very, very focused on this tournament. His total focus this season, especially this last month and a half, has been to get the team to a spot where we could compete for something like this. I think he’s done a marvelous job doing that.”

***

No. 2: Irving, Waiters try to squash talk of rift — The Cavs wake up on Tuesday morning and find themselves four games behind the Atlanta Hawks for the No. 8 playoff spot in the East. Cleveland has plenty of talent — led by All-Star guard Kyrie Irving — but has never seemed to get on the right page on the court all season. Some of that may stem from a chemistry issue between Irving and second-year guard Dion Waiters. There were reports earlier in the season the duo fought at a players-only meeting, and now, other Cleveland-area sports figures are chiming in on the discord. The two players talked to the media after yesterday’s practice and, as Bob Finnan of The News-Herald & The Morning Journal reports, tried to quiet talk about their supposed discord:

It might be time for TMZ to swoop in.

Better yet, it might make for a new reality series.

The Cavaliers are on the verge of being eliminated from the Eastern Conference playoff race. One more Atlanta victory in its last six games will end the Cavs’ run.

Yet the Cavs were more intent on showing what bosom buddies Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters are. They also wanted to deny a claim by Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon there is any kind of a rift between the two guards.

The Cavs propped up Irving and Waiters in front of the media on April 7 after practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts, just to promote an aura of unity.

Waiters said he was friends with Irving long before he came to the Cavs. They crossed paths in the AAU circuit.

“I just think, man, throughout this whole year with us two not liking each other, it’s total BS,” Waiters said. “We’ve been friends before we even made the NBA, before any of this. I just think y’all saying we don’t like playing with one another. … Yeah, we still need to learn certain things, but I think at the end of the day, we’re genuinely friends. I love him as a friend, teammate, everything. I just want everybody to know that. I don’t hate this guy.

“I’m pretty sure he don’t hate me. I know he don’t hate me. I hope he don’t hate me. Rome wasn’t built in one day. We’re still young. We’re still planning to stay together. We’re still working. As long as we’ve got great communication down, it’s fine.”

Waiters admitted he was neighbors with Gordon and the two often play pool. But he said that’s where the story ends.

“He plays football. I play basketball. Two different sports. At the end of the day, I’m not going to go down there running my mouth on something that he don’t even know what’s going on.”

Irving said he called Gordon and cleared the air.

“I just let him know that the whole situation kind of got blown out of proportion,” he said. “There was no disrespect on my end to him or anything he does. I have the utmost respect for him. But what I was just trying to clearly say was what Dion has been reiterating: What goes on with us, we want to keep it within us.

“We’ve had numerous occasions where we’ve been in the media about me and Dion’s relationship. I think me and him are just tired of it. I just want to move past it and play basketball.”

“I just hate when people put out stories that aren’t true,” he said. “Be man enough to come ask me. I’ll give it to you uncut. I don’t got nothing to hide. I think everybody knows my personality. I may not come off the right way, but I don’t mean no harm. Everybody gets tired of it, especially with our relationship. They don’t know what we do. You’re not going to always see eye to eye on the court.”


VIDEO: Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving address talk of a rift between them

***

No. 3: Ex-Suns star Johnson to help NBPA exec search — Sacramento mayor and former Phoenix Suns All-Star Kevin Johnson already has an off-the-court NBA win, of sorts, by playing an instrumental role in helping keep the Sacramento Kings in town. Now, Johnson is trying to help the National Basketball Players Association find its next executive director as it recovers from the fallout of the firing of former NBPA president Billy Hunter. Our David Aldridge has more on the move:

Responding to criticism of its ongoing selection process to find a new executive director, the National Basketball Players Association announced Monday that former NBA player and current Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson would head a retooled search to fill the position no later than the start of the 2014-15 season.

Johnson, who spearheaded the effort that kept the Kings in Sacramento last year after the team’s former owners had agreed to a deal with a Seattle-based group that would have moved the team to Washington state, will chair a search committee of, according to a statement released Monday by the union, “outside professionals with unique NBPA and executive search connections and experiences to guide the Executive Committee.”

Johnson will continue to serve as mayor while helping the union pick a permanent successor to Billy Hunter, who was fired by the NBPA in 2013 amid investigations into his business practices while running the union.

“I have a deep passion for the NBA and the promise it has for everyone connected to it,” Johnson said in the statement. “Everything I’ve been able to achieve in life was a result of embracing the opportunities I had as an NBA player.”

Bringing in Johnson, a former star with the Suns who has credibility with players and displayed his coalition-building chops in putting together the unlikely group that kept the Kings in Sacramento, is a signal by the union that its membership—many of whom, including its president, Chris Paul, will be busy the next couple of months in the playoffs—may need outside assistance in getting its house in order.

During All-Star weekend in February, union members were introduced to two candidates that were believed to be the finalists for the job — David White, the executive director of the Screen Actors Guild, and Michele Roberts, a partner at the powerful law firm Skadden, Arps. But the process was decried as too secretive and not inclusive by agents and by potential candidates for the job, most notably former player Danny Schayes.

***

No. 4: Report: Dumars poised to resign soon — Since June 18, 1985, Joe Dumars has known no other NBA franchise as well as he knows the Detroit Pistons. It was on that day that Dumars was selected by the team with the 18th pick in the 1985 Draft, starting a lengthy career in the Motor City. But after winning two championships as a player (1989, 1990) another one as the team’s president (2004), Dumars has had a rough go with the team as he’s tried — and failed — to rebuild them following that last championship run. Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News reports that Dumars, who has been rumored to be fired at season’s end, may resign once 2013-14 is in the books (if not sooner):

As the Pistons prepare to ride out the last two weeks of the regular season, the sun might be setting on Pistons president Joe Dumars’ reign with the only franchise he’s known.

Dumars has told multiple sources within the NBA that he plans to resign — possibly as soon as this week — after a busy offseason that included the signings of high-priced free agents Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings and led to an underachieving 2013-14 season. The Pistons, who many experts picked to return to the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, are 28-49 and out of playoff contention.

Pistons owner Tom Gores had expected before the season that the team would return to the playoffs.

Compared to his contemporaries, Dumars has been reluctant to be front and center with media as Pistons president of basketball operations and has been quieter than usual recently, perhaps another signal that his time with the franchise — 29 years of work as a player and executive — is coming to an end.

Dumars took over in 2000, one year after retiring as a player, and immediately began making changes, culminating in an NBA title in 2004 and a return trip to the Finals the next season.

After the Pistons’ run ended in 2008, Dumars began a plan to tear down his aging team, in an effort to prevent an extended period of irrelevancy — not unlike his Bad Boys teams after they fell from dominance.

Trading Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson in November of 2008 was the first salvo, as he wanted to build around second-year guard Rodney Stuckey, but months later, after Davidson fell ill and soon passed away, Dumars’ plan was put on hold indefinitely.

Davidson’s widow, Karen, soon announced her plans to sell, so Dumars couldn’t rebuild on the fly — or even reload. Dumars signed free agents Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon to deals neither lived up to, and Davidson ceased all transactions soon thereafter.

In the 2009-10 season, the first with Gordon and Villanueva, the average salaries of the 16 teams that qualified for the playoffs was $74.37 million. The Pistons’ overall salary was $58.59 million, and they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2002, and haven’t returned since.

Dumars didn’t execute a single transaction during the 2011-12 season, as Karen Davidson negotiated with local sports owner Mike Ilitch and Gores all season long.

It was a backdrop in the most tumultuous season in team history, as Tayshaun Prince and Rip Hamilton began to openly defy then-coach John Kuester, even taking part in a team boycott in Philadelphia in February 2012.

A little over a month later, Karen Davidson and Gores reached an agreement, right before the NBA lockout, and Dumars was unable to create the same magic working with Gores that he’d accomplished with Bill Davidson.

Gores wanted Lawrence Frank as his coach, and Dumars wanted Mike Woodson, a former assistant with Detroit who’d just led the Atlanta Hawks to a string of playoff appearances.

Frank became the choice, and the sides have not been able to get on the same page. Gores was a new owner with his own ideas, often consulting others outside the Pistons organization for advice, such as Dave Checketts and later, Phil Jackson, acts that never occurred under Bill Davidson’s watch.

***

No. 5: Suns hoping to seize their playoff moment — Who hasn’t loved the story of the Phoenix Suns this season? The squad was written off before the season as a group that would be lucky to win 20 games by some experts’ estimation (including some on this very site). But under the guidance of new coach Jeff Hornacek and their star guard combo of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix finds itself with a tenuous grasp of the No. 8 spot in the West. As Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic writes, the Suns aren’t about to get all warm and fuzzy about their season — they’re too focused on finishing the job and making the playoffs:

With their best back-to-back wins of the season this weekend, over Portland and Oklahoma City, the Suns kept control of their fate.

“We know that time is running down and we just can’t fail,” Suns guard Gerald Green said. “It’s all or nothing right now. We don’t have a month left to try and make up. We’ve only got a few games left. It’s either win or go home for us.”

The Suns’ playoff picture seems to have been whittled to a three-team race for the final two spots in the Western Conference. The Suns are in the eighth and final playoff slot at 46-31, a half-game behind Dallas (47-31) and a game ahead of Memphis (45-32) with round-robin scheduling ahead when each of the three teams faces each other over the season’s final five nights, starting Saturday.

No team in the 16-team playoff era has failed to make it to the postseason with 49 wins (Golden State was left out at 48-34 in 2008). No 50-win team has ever been left out, although a 49-33 Suns team did not make the 1972 playoffs, when only four teams in the Western Conference qualified.

Although they just won two of the toughest games of their nasty April, tough tests remain: Four of the five remaining games are on the road, starting with a three-game trip this week to New Orleans, San Antonio and Dallas. On Saturday, that crucial Dallas game falls on the second night of a back-to-back set.

If favorites won the remainder of the games, the Mavericks and Suns would finish 49-33 and advance to the playoffs as the Nos. 7 and 8 seeds, respectively, by finishing a game ahead of Memphis at 48-34. Unpredictability still probably lies ahead, which would be right in accord with a Suns team pegged for last place but in a playoff hunt.

While ESPN and other outlets’ playoff-probability odds leave Phoenix out, they do not account for momentum. The Suns are 8-2 in the past 10 games, while Dallas is 6-4 and Memphis is 5-5. The Suns shot a season-high 58.4 percent Sunday against a Thunder team that was ranked third in the NBA this season with a 43.3 opponent field-goal percentage.

As the Suns’ postseason chances grow, so does their support. The Suns had a sellout crowd Sunday for the third time since the All-Star break. Their ratings boom on Fox Sports Arizona continues with an average game broadcast rating of 2.2, nearly doubling last season’s 1.2 average. Sunday night’s average rating was 3.9 (70,301 Valley households), with a peak of 5.4 (97,340 Valley households).

Award votes are being cast around the league with growing sentiment for the Suns to pull off a sweep that would be unprecedented if the franchise had not already been the only one to do it.

Dragic, Markieff Morris and Jeff Hornacek could pull off a team sweep of the NBA’s Most Improved Player, Sixth Man and Coach of the Year awards for the first time in a quarter-century. When Hornacek played for the 1988-89 Suns, Kevin Johnson, Eddie Johnson and Cotton Fitzsimmons won the same awards for a team that went from 28-54 to 55-27. These Suns will wind up with nearly the same win increase after last season’s 25-57 eyesore.


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew breaks down the race for No. 8 in the West

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tony Parker will be day-to-day with a back strain … Like it or not, it looks like the Atlanta Hawks are playoff-bound … Raptors GM Masai Ujiri has a challenging offseason of roster moves ahead of him … Sixers coach Brett Brown has learned a lot about analytics by working under GM Sam Hinkie

ICYMI of the Night: Yesterday was all about the NCAA Tournament and the national championship game (congrats to UConn, BTW), but before all of that took place, the Hall of Fame named its class of 2014. Among the names were NBA legends Alonzo Mourning and Mitch Richmond, both of whom chatted with GameTime last night about their hoops immortality … 


VIDEO: Alonzo Mourning and Mitch Richmond talk about their Hall of Fame election

 

Morning Shootaround — April 7


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Frank Vogel under fire in Indy? | Durant passes MJ … Suns pop Thunder | Warriors Jackson knows winning cures all | Battier still intent on proving his worth after all these years | Trail Blazers bolster Olshey’s bid for Executive of the Year

No. 1: Pacers coach Vogel under fire as slide continues – The Indiana Pacers’ 20-18 record over the past three months has thrown not only their season into a tailspin but also raised questions about their future under head coach Frank Vogel, at least in the eyes of some. Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star raises some startling questions about Vogel’s future with the franchise after yet another disastrous performance, a drubbing at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks Sunday night on their home floor. Benching Roy Hibbert for all but nine minutes, and Hibbert’s bristling during and afterwards, certainly adds more fuel to the drama that has become the Pacers’ season … one that doesn’t appear to be headed for a positive finish:

We know the Indiana Pacers are in trouble, big trouble, BIG trouble, but the question must be asked: Is Frank Vogel in trouble?

That might sound absurd given the job he’s done since he took over as an interim coach. The feeling here is, he’s this team’s long-term coach and should be allowed to correct the many things that have gone wrong with his team the last two months.

But know this: Vogel is not Larry Bird‘s guy.

Bird was hesitant to fire Jim O’Brien in the first place, and even after Vogel turned the team around and got them to play competitively in the playoffs against the Chicago Bulls, it took a couple of months before Bird was willing to give Vogel the full-time job. If you remember, Bird wanted Vogel to hire a big-time, experienced assistant, specifically Brian Shaw, before giving him the job.

Remember, too, that in mid-March, Bird took a swipe at Vogel during a four-game losing streak, opining that Vogel wasn’t hard enough on his team at times. Vogel said the comments didn’t bother him; I’m not convinced that’s the truth.

Would Bird come down from the front office and take over for the post-season?

Would he put it in the hands of Nate McMillan, the former Seattle head coach who is a Vogel assistant?

Bird didn’t put this team together to watch it go into the tank. From the moment the season began, he said, “We’re all in” while saying anything short of the NBA Finals would be a disappointment.

It was interesting, then, that in the midst of the Pacers’ humiliating 107-88 home loss to the Atlanta Hawks – winners of eight of their previous 29 games, by the way – Vogel channeled his inner Bird. With the Pacers trailing 17-3 and 6:05 remaining in a brutal first quarter, Vogel benched the entire starting five.

Hallelujah.

“They’re not getting it done,” Vogel said. “They’re not getting it done, we have to go to someone else, see if someone else can get it done.”

Vogel then did another un-Vogel-like thing to start the second half: He benched Roy Hibbert. Hallelujah, again. Hibbert was terrible, going 0-for-5 without a single rebound in 9 ½ minutes.

After the game, Vogel spun it by saying that he was thinking about resting Hibbert before the start of Sunday night’s game. Then, after watching Hibbert struggle – and watching somebody named Pero Antic light him up from the perimeter – Vogel pulled the plug.

Key word there being spun.

“I considered resting Roy before tonight’s game because he looks worn down,” Vogel said during a short, terse post-game press conference. “He’s a 7-2 player that’s played every game this year, which is very rare. He looks to me to be worn down. He’s giving good effort, but he looks to be to be worn down…I decided to play him, but when he got off to a slow start, I decided to rest him.”

Rest him? Now he’s just trying to spare Hibbert’s feelings. There’s no way Vogel would have rested Hibbert in a game that Pacers absolutely had to win in order to remain in the hunt for the No. 1 seed. No … way.


VIDEO: Paul George and the Pacers try to explain yet another humbling defeat

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No. 2: Durant passes Jordan with 41st game of 25 or more but Thunder can’t stop Suns — What was supposed to be a night to celebrate Kevin Durant and his scoring streak — he passed Michael Jordan with his 41st consecutive game with 25 or more points — turned out to be yet another stellar performance from Goran Dragic, Gerald Green, P.J. Tucker and the stubborn Phoenix Suns team that refuses to exit the playoff chase in the Western Conference. The Suns win also highlighted a glaring deficiency the Thunder have been struggling to shore up with the playoffs just days away. Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman explains:

At a time when the Thunder is supposed to be fine-tuning for the playoffs, Oklahoma City still can’t seem to figure out how to be sharp defensively. Opposing guards are still slicing through the lane and opposing shooters are still left alone far too frequently.

Suns forward P.J. Tucker became the latest bit player to burn the Thunder, scoring 11 of his career-high 22 points in the fourth quarter. He made seven of nine shots, including four of five 3-point attempts. All four of Tucker’s 3s came from the corner, where Kevin Durant continuously got caught sagging off too far and closing out too slow.

The Suns sprayed in 11 of 23 3-pointers.

“We gave up too many open 3s in the corner,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “That’s a 40 percent shot, so we don’t want to come off on the corner. They roll hard. They penetrate so they get you in a position where you have to make sure you are stopping the ball first. And we didn’t get out to their shooters. But those are all correctable things, things that we’ve done well all year. We just had some bad moments tonight.”

Gerald Green, who erupted for a career-high 41 points in the Thunder’s last trip to the desert, finished with 24 points. He poured in 11 in the third quarter, nine of them coming on 3s.

When it wasn’t Tucker or Green taking it to the Thunder, it was Goran Dragic, the crafty point guard who gave Phoenix three 20-point scorers. He added a team-high 26 points, with 19 of them coming in a first half in which the Suns scored 62 points on 58.7 percent shooting.

Dragic was complemented in the backcourt by Eric Bledsoe, who missed the last meeting while recovering from injury. Bledsoe scored 18 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

“They give you trouble because they’re small, they attack, they get to the free throw line, they can make 3s and they’re desperate right now,” Brooks said. “They’re fighting for their playoff lives.”


VIDEO: Thunder star Kevin Durant surpasses Michael Jordan with his 41st straight game of 25 or more points

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No. 3: Warriors Jackson knows he has to “just win baby” — Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson knows what he’s dealing with, and it’s a simple scenario. Win and all of the drama fades. It’s like the old Oakland Raiders saying goes, “just win baby.” (It certainly helps to have Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, the Splash Brothers, working overtime for you.) And for Jackson’s self-preservation on the job, the Warriors need to keep piling up the wins (now and into the postseason) to secure Jackson’s situation. At least that’s the way Jackson sees it. More from Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News:

“My job will be determined on winning,” Jackson said before an easy victory over Utah. “I’m fine with that …

“The talk about what these two (ex-assistants) have done, that has nothing to do with me.”

Actually, the dispatching last month of Brian Scalabrine after a philosophical dispute with Jackson followed by the mysterious firing last week of Darren Erman for a team violation has something to do with the head coach.

Jackson is responsible for everybody in that locker room, and if there are problems and failures, he is at some point accountable.

He also has been rightfully credited for re-establishing a sense of unity and defensive purpose on this team and for getting the Warriors into the second round of the playoffs last season.

But there has been grumbling about the team’s occasional lack of urgency and Jackson’s offensive system, which often bogs down in isolation sets with little movement.

Some of that grumbling has come from people in the Warriors front office, by the way.

At times, Jackson has reacted to the chatter indirectly by declaring that this franchise has a history of losing, is winning now and should act like it knows the difference.

On Sunday, when I asked how he’d describe his relationship with co-owner Joe Lacob, Jackson said there are no problems between them.

“You know it’s interesting, I’m reading ‘the dysfunction’ or whatever the term is for my relationship with this front office,” Jackson said. “That’s brand-new to me. And I’d be the first tell you if it wasn’t.”

Jackson then added that he and Lacob talked to each other for 15 minutes on the recent road trip.

Lacob told me in February that he was generally happy with Jackson’s performance but that he was disappointed by some of the home losses.

I also believe that Lacob would view a first-round loss as a sign that the team isn’t moving forward, which is death in the venture-capitalist universe.

“That’s not my call,” Jackson said when I asked him if a first-round loss this season should be considered a step backward.


VIDEO: Steph Curry and Klay Thompson run wild on the Jazz

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No. 4: Battier proves his worth against Knicks – The Miami Heat’s win over the New York Knicks Sunday wasn’t a death-blow to the playoff hopes of Carmelo Anthony and his crew, but it was close to it. And as much as the Knicks can blame LeBron James (38 points), who outshined J.R. Smith on a night when the Knicks’ enigmatic shooting guard drained a franchise-record 10 shots from beyond the 3-point line,  they need to focus their attention on Shane Battier. The veteran forward’s defensive presence was a game changer for the Heat. Even after all of these years in the league, Battier remains intent on proving his worth to his teammates and coaches by playing the game the right way on both ends. David J. Neal of the Miami Herald explains:

The most eye-catching statistics from the Heat’s 102-91 win were from Smith, who attempted an NBA-record 22 three-pointers and made a franchise record 10 to finish with a team-high 32 points. The single-game record was previously held by Damon Stoudemire, who hoisted 21 three-pointers on April 15, 2005.

However, those numbers eventually meant little for the Knicks, whose playoff hopes were seriously damaged by the loss.

The Knicks trail the Atlanta Hawks by three games in the loss column with only four game left in the regular season for the Knicks.

Although Smith started the game sizzling, he went 0 for 5 from the field in the third quarter and 0 for 4 from three-point range. In that quarter, the Heat outscored the Knicks by that final 11-point margin, 25-14.

On the other hand, the Heat went ahead of Indiana by a game for first place in the Eastern Conference behind James, who finished with a game-high 38 points. Bosh added 14 and Allen 12 for the Heat.

Haslem recorded 11 rebounds, including three offensive boards, which tied him with Alonzo Mourning for the most in Heat franchise history with 1,505. Allen’s four three-pointers answered those by Smith. And Battier battled New York scorer Carmelo Anthony into 4 of 17 from the field and 13 points.

“He’s going to have big moments for us in the playoffs,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of Battier, one of his favorite players. “Does that mean it’s necessarily a consistent night-in, night-out rotation role, I don’t know. I can’t even attempt to answer that right now.”

The witty, erudite Battier — who played one second Friday against Minnesota and 5:31 last Wednesday against Milwaukee — said he laughed to himself when Spoelstra told him James would start the game defending Anthony then hand the sometimes unstoppable New York scorer over to Battier.

As they normally do, Battier and Anthony, who was playing with a sore shoulder, dished out hip checks and torso thumps to each other at a rate that, Battier said afterward, would have had both fouled out in five minutes if the referees called the game by the book.

“A game like [Sunday], I’m trying to prove myself to myself, and prove myself to my teammates,” Battier said. “That’s what keeps us all going. We’ve all been in that spot here unless you’re name is ‘James,’ ‘Wade,’ or ‘Bosh.’ But [that’s] the reason guys fight to stay in shape is this locker room. We owe it to each other.”


VIDEO: J.R. Smith went crazy from deep, but LeBron James and the Heat got the win

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No. 5: Olshey’s case for Executive of the Year gains momentum – His name hasn’t been mentioned among the favorites. He’s avoided the publicity many of his peers have enjoyed this season, perhaps on purpose, choosing to retool the Portland Trail Blazers’ guts and gears without any of the fanfare normally associated with a rebuilding project of this kind. But Neil Olshey belongs in that conversation for Executive of the Year, writes Jason Quick of the Oregonian:

The Trail Blazers received a well-earned ovation Sunday after clinching a playoff spot with a 100-94 victory over New Orleans, the team’s 50th win this season with four more games left to play.

But nowhere to be seen, nowhere to be found, was the man who perhaps deserves the biggest ovation: general manager Neil Olshey.

They should start bubble wrapping the Executive of the Year trophy and addressing the box to One Center Court, because nobody in the NBA did more with less last summer than Olshey.

Robin Lopez. Mo Williams. Dorell Wright. Thomas Robinson.

It’s not Buck Williams for Sam Bowie, which still stands as the greatest offseason move in franchise history, but the haul in the Summer of 2013 will long be remembered as one of the most influential offseasons around these parts.

The beauty of it all is, few if any, saw it while it was happening.

The Blazers had a modest $11.8 million in cap room last summer and badly needed a defensive minded center, a backup point guard and some scoring pop off the bench. Getting a center figured to cost the Blazers most, if not all of their cap space.

Instead, Olshey got creative, and found a team that wanted to make a financially motivated deal: New Orleans. He worked a deal to get Lopez in exchange for Jeff Withey, who was the Blazers’ second round pick, a future second round pick and cash considerations. New Orleans, in turn, saved paying Lopez’ $5.9 million salary this season.

Lopez, of course, has been awesome. Each time I watch him play, I appreciate him more. He rebounds, blocks shots, sets good screens, has a reliable jumper, and he’s durable, having played in all 78 games. He is averaging 10.9 points, 8.5 rebounds and has 137 blocks, the most by a Blazers player since Theo Ratliff had 158 in 2004-2005. And the guys in the locker room love him.

Olshey should win the Executive of the Year award on the Lopez acquisition itself.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Suns point guard Goran Dragic is a music video star … Clippers super sub Jamal Crawford might not see any action until the playoffs … The Spurs need Cory Joseph to step into the void for Tony Parker … The Hawks’ fast start helps boost their playoff cushion over the Knicks … Mavericks veteran Vince Carter bounces back in style … Oh, by the way, benched Pacers center Roy Hibbert‘s got “nothing for ya!”

ICYMI of the Night: Surely, you didn’t miss J.R. Smith’s 3-point barrage against the Heat Sunday …. but just in case you didn’t see all of his record 22 attempts, you need to see his makes … 


VIDEO: J.R. Smith goes off from deep in the Knicks’ loss to the Miami Heat

 

Morning Shootaround — April 6


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cats clinch | Garnett returns | Teams interested in Gasol | Deal in works for Bucks’ sale?

No. 1: Cats clinch – The Charlotte Bobcats defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 96-94 in overtime last night to clinch a playoff berth for only the second time in franchise history. This is a big moment for the Bobcats franchise, but they aren’t happy to settle for simply a chance in the playoffs. They want to win some series and show that this season has not just been a fluke for this defensive-minded squad led by Al Jeffereson, Kemba Walker and first year head coach Steve Clifford. Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer has more on the story:

The NBA playoffs technically start for the Charlotte Bobcats in two weeks. But tri-captain Gerald Henderson’s message, following Saturday’s post-season clinching 96-94 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, was a good kind of greedy.

“Wednesday we’re playing (sixth-place) Washington. We’re going after them,” said Henderson, who made two huge jump shots in Saturday’s overtime victory. “That’s a playoff game.”

Jefferson was essential to the Bobcats’ turnaround from two seasons that added up to 21-120. He signed as a free agent in July, providing a go-to scoring option this franchise had never really had before.

Did he see playoffs off in the horizon when the team assembled for voluntary workouts in September?

“In September we didn’t have to be there, and everybody was,” Jefferson recalled. “The first day of training camp, I said, ‘If we commit ourselves to the things we need to do, we have a chance.”

First-year head coach Steve Clifford specifically avoided setting any firm goals, as far as victories, because he wasn’t sure what he had in camp. By the end of the preseason it became apparent this team would guard well, rebound better than Bobcats history suggests, and minimize turnovers and fouls.

That’s been the formula all season, and Clifford’s intense pride in the people in that locker room came through post-game.

“That’s a really good locker room – a bunch of guys who are deserving,” said Clifford, a serious candidate for NBA Coach of the Year. “One of our particular strengths all year has been the character and competitiveness of that group. The team was put together with that as the focus.”

While everyone was happy Saturday, this moment seemed particularly special to Henderson, point guard Kemba Walker (20 points and seven assists) and backup center Bismack Biyombo – the remaining three who suffered through 7-59 and then 21-61.

Henderson was technically on the playoff team in the spring of 2010, but never played in those games. He noted he’s playing meaningful basketball for the first time since his days at Duke.

Walker, who went from Connecticut’s national championship to the mess that was 7-59, put it this way: “We’ve been the worst two teams in the NBA. That to now? Night and Day!”


VIDEO: Arena Link: Kemba Walker

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No. 2: Garnett returns – The Brooklyn Nets have improved greatly since their horrific 10-21 start to the season and they have done much of this improvement without Kevin Garnett in the lineup after he missed the past 19 games with back spasms. Garnett returned to the Nets last night and delivered 10 points, four rebounds and one assist, block and steal each against the Philadelphia 76ers. Andrew Keh of The New York Times has more on what Garnett’s energy and experience mean to Brooklyn:

 Kevin Garnett’s coach and teammates were teasing him Saturday morning, calling him a rookie. It had been so long since Garnett, 37, had joined them on the court that he seemed like a new player on the Nets.

These, of course, were gibes of endearment toward Garnett, a 19-year veteran. “They’re happy to see the rookie back,” Coach Jason Kidd said with a smile.

The Nets have six games before the postseason, and Garnett’s presence may kick their preparations into a higher gear.

 “His stat line might not show the numbers we all might have seen in the past, when he was younger,” Kidd said of Garnett, “but he’s the glue of this team, and he’s helped us to where we are today, so we’re happy to have him back.”

Concerns about his health were emphatically answered just after halftime, when he went on a multiplay rampage around the court that was punctuated with a leaping one-handed block on Michael Carter-Williams. Garnett let out a yell in midair.

“It feels good to be back on the floor,” Garnett said. “It feels good to be fluid. It feels good to be able to jump and move. You take for granted certain movements and certain things.”

The Nets had excelled without Garnett, compiling a 14-5 record. But while he remained out of the public eye, his coach and teammates said he was almost as vocal a presence as he had been on the active roster.

“It was the same voice, but just behind closed doors,” said the rookie Mason Plumlee, who started the 19 games Garnett missed.

On Saturday, Garnett was finally on the court and in team huddles. His name was the third called during introductions and received the loudest response — cheers and boos in equal measure — from the crowd.

Garnett won the opening tip-off and grabbed his first rebound after about a minute. He scored his first basket, an alley-oop layup with an assist from Paul Pierce, about two minutes into the game, and fought inside a minute and a half later to sink another basket from close range.

After 4 minutes 15 seconds, Garnett went to the bench, slipped on his warm-up gear and draped a towel over his legs. He sat a few inches higher than his teammates, propped up on some seat cushions, presumably to keep his back from tightening up.

“I’m just glad I didn’t mess anything up,” Garnett said. “The guys were playing great without me.”


VIDEO: KG Returns

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No. 3: Teams interested in Gasol – Pau Gasol has been through a lot during his seven seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. However, Gasol can leave the bright lights of Los Angeles (and the uncertainties of the team’s future) behind this offseason as an unrestricted free agent. Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated reports that Gasol will be coveted by a number of teams:

This is the kind of year a player with Gasol’s pedigree might want out of. And with two weeks to go, maybe he has: A nasty case of vertigo has forced Gasol to miss five of the last six games and put him on the shelf indefinitely.

Deep down, it’s doubtful the Lakers care. With [Kobe] Bryant in street clothes, with [Steve] Nash doing the medical equivalent of duct taping his body back together and with the NBA’s worst roster this side of Philadelphia, the Lakers are built to lose. They have the NBA’s sixth-worst record and fourth-worst point differential. They have an offense that struggles to score (21st in offensive efficiency) and a defense that can’t stop anyone (28th in defensive efficiency).

Fans, frankly, seem fine with it: They know the Lakers’ future is brighter with a high percentage shot at [NBA prospects] Andrew Wiggins or Dante Exum than a few meaningless wins.

In 2006-2007, Gasol was part of 22-win team in Memphis, another defenseless bunch that Gasol didn’t join until 23 games into the season because of a broken foot he suffered the summer before.

Gasol remembers the frustration of that season, but it doesn’t compare to this.

“It’s a little different being with the Lakers, a franchise that is known for being successful, that has high expectations every year,” Gasol said. “The good thing here is that we get sellouts, we get an extremely nice crowd of people that are supportive through this struggle. In Memphis, the stands were half empty. That was rough. We would play at home and we needed that extra energy that your fans give you. That’s what we get here. It was frustrating in Memphis but it’s tougher here because of the support we get.”

Gasol understands this car wreck of a season is probably a necessary evil for the Lakers. Bryant was never going to be Bryant, not this year anyway. And Nash’s once-promising tenure with L.A. effectively ended when the effects of small fracture Nash suffered at the beginning of last season rippled through his body like a tsunami. The two-year, $48.5 million contract Bryant signed last November established the window the Lakers have to win a championship with their aging star and the only realistic way to do that is to stink bad enough to be in position to land one of the franchise-changing talents that are expected to be available at the top of the draft.

Gasol has to know his chances of being a part of that window are slim.

Neither side will rule out a Gasol return (which would have to be at a steep discount from the $19.3 million Gasol will make this season) but throw in Gasol’s problems playing for Mike D’Antoni and it doesn’t appear to be a top priority for either.

Gasol, though, will have options. A poll of NBA executives on Gasol’s future returned many of the same answers: Chicago. Cleveland. Charlotte, if the Bobcats believe a Gasol-Al Jefferson front line can stop anybody. Memphis, if Zach Randolph opts out. Even after a disappointing season — and with the understanding that Gasol has never been a strap-a-team-on-his-back kind of player — Gasol will be among the most sought after free agents on the market.

“There are a couple thoughts out there on Pau,” says an Eastern Conference executive. “Some people say he is worn out, that he is too far past his prime to really help a contender. There are others that think that LA, that environment the past two season, that style of play has destroyed him and if he goes somewhere else, plays with a different coach, he might be rejuvenated. I could see someone who thinks the latter paying him $10 million a year.”

“I want to be in a team that is going to be built to win a championship,” Gasol said. “That’s my top priority. Money won’t be the main priority. Length and money are factors, but we’ll see. Until I know all the options, I won’t be able to measure them. But we’re getting close to the end of my career. I want to be in a good situation. It’s an important decision to make.”

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No. 4: Talk of Bucks’ sale premature? –  ESPN.com and Grantland.com writer Bill Simmons set the NBA world (well, at least the Milwaukee Bucks-following NBA world) ablaze with the following tweet Saturday morning:

Bucks owner Herb Kohl has long been seeking a new owner for the team — particularly one who is dedicated to keeping the team in Wisconsin — and this report made it seem like Kohl’s wishes might be coming true. But Don Walker of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that talk of a sale of the Bucks might not be happening as soon as is thought:

Steve Greenberg of Allen & Co., the New York based firm that former senator Herb Kohl retained to bring in new Milwaukee Bucks investors, said Saturday the process is ongoing, adding that reports out Saturday of a possible sale were premature.

“There is a lot of speculation out there,” Greenberg told the Journal Sentinel. “There is an active and ongoing process with respect to the Bucks. But we are not going to comment on speculation.”

Greenberg, who is representing Kohl in the sale process, said it was “premature to make any sort of announcement of a possible sale. We do not intend on saying anything publicly.”

Earlier Saturday, ESPN analyst Bill Simmons said on Twitter that the Bucks were close to being sold, pending league approval.

Greenberg acknowledged that he had been receiving calls on Saturday in connection with Simmons’ post and contacted the Journal Sentinel to clear the air.

At least in the eyes of the National Basketball Association and Commissioner Adam Silver, a new arena is self-evident. The league and Silver have already said the BMO Harris Bradley Center is dated by league standards and a new arena is needed or should be under construction by the time the Bucks’ lease at the arena ends in 2017.

A Bucks team official said Saturday he had no knowledge of a possible sale.

Milwaukee business leaders serving on a Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce task force are currently studying ways to finance a new arena. The task force retained the Hammes Co., which has experience in finding ways to finance sports arenas and stadiums.

Last week, the Journal Sentinel reported that the task force had essentially concluded that retrofitting the BMO Harris Bradley Center was not feasible.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kyrie Irving scored a career-high 44 points last night in an overtime loss to the Bobcats. … The Pistons’ Andre Drummond erupted for 19 points and 20 rebounds in a 115-111 win over the Celtics. … Bobcats’ rookie Cody Zeller recorded his first career double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds. … The Jazz claimed rookie Erik Murphy off waivers. … The Sixers loss to the Nets last night was their 60th loss on the season. This is the first time their franchise has lost 60 games since the 1996-97 season.

PLAYOFF PICTURE:

As of April 6, 2014

As of April 6, 2014

ICYMI OF THE NIGHT: Most notably destroyed by DeAndre JordanBrandon Knight has been on the bad end of too many dunk facials. The Milwaukee Bucks’ point guard got his revenge last night, though, with an impressive crossover and huge throwdown over the Toronto Raptors’ Jonas Valacunias


VIDEO: Knight Gets Nasty

Morning Shootaround — April 5


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Garnett could return Saturday | Nash will play again this season | Wade expected back soon

No. 1: Garnett could return Saturday — Kevin Garnett has missed the last 19 games with back spasms. And while the Brooklyn Nets have gone 14-5 in that stretch, they need Garnett to help them on the glass. They rank dead last in defensive rebounding percentage since he first went out. Garnett, by the way, leads the league in individual defensive rebound percentage. And he could be back Saturday night in Philadelphia, as Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York writes:

While coach Jason Kidd wouldn’t fully commit to it, the Nets coach sure seemed optimistic about the possibility.

“[Kevin] felt better today,” Kidd said Friday night following his team’s 15th consecutive home victory. “We’ll see how his plane ride goes, and then we’ll see in the morning how he feels. We would like to try to get him to go tomorrow, but it’s up to him.”

Garnett has missed the past 19 games due to back spasms. The Nets (41-34) have gone 14-5 without him.

Asked if he is worried about reintegrating Garnett into the lineup, Kidd replied, “Nope. Kevin is a professional. He’s been doing it for a million years, so there’s nothing to worry about. He’s about the team. He’s about what we as a team stand for — unselfishness, defense — so he won’t have a problem with that.”

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No. 2: Nash will play again this season — Before meeting the Mavs on Friday, Steve Nash speculated that it might be his last game of the season, with Jordan Farmar set to return from injury in the coming days. But after Nash dished out seven assists (watch video) in 19 minutes, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said that the 40 year old will play again over the last 11 days. ESPN’s Dave McMenamin has the story from L.A.:

Nash left the arena without speaking to reporters Friday, but his coach is making sure there will be at least one more encore performance.

“I said this is not your last game,” D’Antoni relayed after the Lakers’ 107-95 loss to the Mavericks. “He said, ‘OK.’ So, we’ll play him.”

There are only six games left to the Lakers season and Nash already all but ruled himself out Sunday against the Los Angeles Clippers, fearing he won’t have enough recovery time to prepare himself for the early 12:30 p.m. PT tip.

He has repeatedly said he wanted to get out of the way when Jordan Farmar returns from a strained groin injury next week, preferring to give the minutes he’d play to Farmar and Kendall Marshall so they have the opportunity to prove themselves with free agency coming for each.

But D’Antoni, who first coached Nash a decade ago in Phoenix, isn’t going to let Nash disappear so easily.

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No. 3: Wade expected back soon — The Miami Heat might not really need Dwyane Wade before the conference semifinals, but his health will always be a concern. Wade has missed 24 games this season (some just for rest), including the last five with a strained left hamstring. The Heat are 16-8 without Wade, but their defense is at its best when he’s healthy and active. The playoffs are exactly two weeks away, but there’s not a high level of concern in the Miami locker room, as Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes:

A strained left hamstring sidelined Heat guard Dwyane Wade for a fifth consecutive game on Friday night, but Heat players said he’s improving, and LeBron James said Wade “probably” will return “within the next week.”

There doesn’t appear to be concern about Wade’s availability for the start of the playoffs in two weeks.

But there is some uncertainty about a timetable. Udonis Haslem said Friday “it’s hard to tell” when Wade will play in a game again.

The Heat host the Knicks on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, ABC).

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Thabo Sefolosha is getting closer to a return for the ThunderTayshaun Prince went down with an ankle injury in the Grizzlies’ win over Denver … Ty Lawson was benched after missing a team meeting (and then turned his ankle too) … The Bulls may sign one or more vets after waiving rookie Erik MurphyEric Gordon went to L.A. to have his knee checked out … and Leon Powe wants to own an NBA team.

ICYMI of The Night: Gerald Green went off the glass to himself as the Suns picked up a huge win in Portland:


VIDEO: Play of the Day: Gerald Green

Morning Shootaround — April 4


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers may be done with Gasol | Jackson acknowledges Anthony’s tough road | Cuban to fund HGH study | Riley opens up on Heat’s road

No. 1: Lakers may be done with Gasol … for good — Two days ago in an interview with ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin, Lakers forward Pau Gasol recounted his bout with vertigo that, until Tuesday, kept him out of L.A.’s lineup since March 23. The former All-Star big man is still dealing with issues from vertigo and, as playoff-eliminated L.A.’s season heads into its final seven games, it is unlikely Gasol will suit up between now and then. With this season likely over, Gasol, an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, might not be a Laker again, too. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times has more:

Pau Gasol might have played his last game in a Lakers uniform.

The team is leaning toward sitting him for its final seven games while he recovers from a severe recurrence of vertigo.

He won’t play Friday against Dallas after dizziness kept him confined at the team hotel Wednesday while the Lakers played Sacramento. He flew back on the team charter that night after missing a fifth game because of the illness.

It was the latest downturn in a rough season for Gasol.

In addition to various verbal tussles with Coach Mike D’Antoni about his role in the offense — and the small-ball concept in general — Gasol missed seven games in February because of a strained groin and three games in December because of a respiratory infection.

He leads the team in scoring (17.4 points a game) but is shooting only 48%, the second lowest accuracy of his career.

Gasol, 33, becomes a free agent after this season, sure to take a pay cut from the $19.3 million he currently makes but unsure where he will land. If it’s somewhere else, his last game with the Lakers will have been a nine-point, four-rebound effort in a 124-112 loss Tuesday to Portland.

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No. 2: Jackson praises ‘Melo, acknowledges his burden — As we wake up on the morning of April 3, the New York Knicks are in sole possession of No. 8 in the Eastern Conference. That’s a surprising state for a team that has grossly underachieved this season and, yet, finds itself somewhat in control of its postseason destiny. New Knicks president Phil Jackson addressed the media on Thursday and (somewhat) praised the team for its rise and singled out All-Star Carmelo Anthony as well. Jackson had compliments — but also some criticisms — for Anthony in a state-of-the-team address with New York media, which Fred Kerber of the New York Post details:

In 17 days as Knicks president, Phil Jackson has seen the best of times, he has seen the worst of times.

And he has seen a lot to like in Carmelo Anthony.

Jackson, during a 16-minute state-of-Knicks Nation address with the media Thursday at the team’s Greenburgh practice facility, praised the energy and effort he has witnessed from the Knicks while admitting they have been playing to the level of the opponent.

“They’ve been up and down,” said Jackson, who reiterated he has “no intention of coaching” again.

“I’ve thought they’ve played a lot better against higher-quality teams or tougher teams than they have sometimes against also-rans. But they’re playing with great energy now and they’re playing with purpose, and I appreciate that.”

Among other positive developments, the 13-time NBA champion – a record 11 times as a coach, twice as a player — has seen Anthony flash parts of his game that certify the All-Star forward as among the true elite. Jackson and Anthony have chatted, but the talks did not address the player’s future. The here and now – specifically a push to the playoffs in the final six games – is sort of big.

“Carmelo’s really stepped into another level of trying to help players,” said Jackson, who referred to a critical assist Anthony made during the victory at Sacramento. “That’s one of the things we see that Carmelo can do and that he’s grown as he’s gone along.”

,,,

“We’ve had a couple occasions to talk. We haven’t really delved into the future as much as what’s going on [and] getting to know each other…see how he’s feeling about playing,” Jackson said. “He’s had to carry a big load. It’s been a tough year for him. But it’s been a tough year for everyone. It’s not just isolated with him, but I think he feels the weight of it a lot more on himself.”

Looking forward and evaluating how to lessen that load is big for Jackson as he and all the president’s men try to figure out how to improve the Knicks. With collegiate games going on, Jackson has had a chance to meet with scouts and personnel evaluators.

If the Knicks make the playoffs, some players suggested the Knicks can do some damage. The chief reason, as Jackson sees it, are the contributions from the likes of J.R. Smith and Amar’e Stoudemire to ease Anthony’s load.

“Now they have more than one option out there on the floor, and I think that we’ll give teams trouble,” said Jackson, who explained the playoff format is big for evaluating the future.

“You’re playing a team in a seven-game series, you’re really seeing who’s going to be attacked, how they stand up to the pressure, who performs in the critical situations, what the grind of a multiple-game series does to a team and how they react,” Jackson said. “Those are all valuable lessons.”

While many believe coach Mike Woodson is living on borrowed time, Jackson spoke positively about how the team has responded.

“Mike has a philosophy. It’s worked for him in the past. It’s worked for him in Atlanta,” Jackson said. “One of the reasons why they’ve been successful in the last month and a half … has been their defense has improved.”


VIDEO: Knicks president Phil Jackson talks about the team’s surge of late

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No. 3: Cuban backing HGH study — Earlier in the season, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he thought human growth hormone research could be done better, at least in terms of how it relates to athletes. It seems Cuban is putting his money where his mouth is, writes Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com, who says that Cuban is helping fund a university study on HGH:

Cuban said Thursday he has made a significant financial commitment to fund a potential university study on the issue.

“It’ll be a two-year study that applies HGH to injuries preoperative to postoperative injury recovery,” Cuban said before the Mavs-Los Angeles Clippers game at Staples Center.

“So if you’re able to retain more muscle going into an operation because you’re working out and HGH helps your muscle. And you’re able to regain it faster, then we cut the recovery time.

“And it’ll be geared around one type of injury that has hundreds of thousands of examples a year. So we’ll be able to do a placebo environment without hurting anybody, right? So here’s the way we do it now. And here’s how we do it with HGH. So hopefully it will accelerate recovery.”

Cuban declined to divulge many details because the study needs approval from the Food and Drug Administration and Drug Enforcement Agency. He would not specify the university that plans to do the study other than to say it has a highly respected medical school.

Because of the need for approval from the government agencies and other paperwork, Cuban is not certain when the study would begin.

Cuban broached the subject of HGH use for athletes recovering from injuries at the NBA Board of Governors meetings in October …

“I just want to know what reality is,” Cuban said. “And if we can improve recovery time, obviously that’s a plus for all of us, but there was never any basis in fact for not allowing it for use [while recovering from injuries]. It was all marketing. So let’s find out. Let’s find out what’s real and not real.”

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No. 4: Riley sees Heat’s big picture – As most know, the mastermind behind the Miami Heat’s signing of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade was Heat president and NBA icon Pat Riley. His ability to land those three All-Stars have made the Heat the power they are today. And in a fantastic story by ESPN.com’s Michael Wallace, we get a look into not just how that 2010 bonanza went down for the Heat, but also how Riley and Heat owner Mickey Arison has plans to keep Miami among the NBA’s elite for as long as he possibly can:

Riley’s résumé, as a Hall of Fame coach and executive, along with his reputation one of the league’s most respected — and shrewd — businessmen in the game, have made him as polarizing as he is successful. But his methods and high-risk gambles have frequently produced championship results — seven, to be exact — from his days coaching the Showtime Lakers and overseeing major overhauls of the Heat’s roster. But even Riley, who once compared himself during trade talks to a riverboat gambler, has concerns about the uncertainty that looms after this season.

“You always fear,” Riley told ESPN.com. “It’s not a real fear. I always have concern when players are in the situation they’re in. But we feel we have the best organization in the league for those players to stay, and to also attract others to want to come here. With our three guys, we hope that this turns into a generational team. And that it’s not just we’re at the end of this four-year run right now because players have some options this summer.”

Riley’s confidence in his roster has withstood some frustrating and inconsistent stretches this season. The Heat president started his career coaching Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy to four titles over the span of nearly a decade in the 1980s. Now Riley, who turned 69 last month, has visions of a perfect bookend to his decorated career.

The goal is to retool the Heat’s roster around James, Wade and Bosh to keep them together and in title contention for another handful of years and produce another dynastic decade. Despite difficult financial decisions looming amid a more punitive luxury tax set to kick in this offseason, Riley hopes to rely on three franchise pillars that have kept the Heat proactive and productive all these years. It starts with stability.

Riley believes he still works for a team owner in Micky Arison who remains as committed to winning and producing an elite product now as he was when they first met 19 years ago. Securing James in 2010 was the most recent splash, but Riley points out that Arison has been willing to create waves for decades. The process began in 1995 when, just two months after Riley was hired, Arison signed off on a trade that brought in Alonzo Mourning and later led to deals for P.J. Brown, Juwan Howard, Tim Hardaway and Dan Majerle. Riley said what the Heat pulled off in the summer of 2010 was similar to what they initially had visions of doing over a nine-month span in the mid-1990s before the NBA voided Howard’s contract.

“Ever since I came here, and Micky and I hooked up, the whole concept was you wanted to win,” Riley said. “He really wanted to win and wanted to put on a great show and have a great product. Right off the bat, right out of the blocks, we were able to trade for Alonzo. Then the league took Juwan away. But Micky has always been one that tactically and with great thought, weighing all the pros and cons, has swung for the fences. And I have too.”

While many believe James, Wade and Bosh — three of the top five picks in the 2003 draft — began plotting their course to eventually becoming teammates during their time together in the 2008 Olympics, Riley already had planted his own seed the day Wade signed his first major extension in 2006.

“This is how I think you plan and have a vision and look forward, hoping you can do something that’s special,” Riley said. “Coaching Kareem and Magic and James Worthy, and playing against [Larry] Bird, [Kevin] McHale and [Robert] Parrish, and [Joe] Dumars, Isiah Thomas and [Bill] Laimbeer, you need to have three really, really great players. There’s two superstars and another truly great player. You’ve seen that on pretty much all championship teams have had that kind of element.”

Riley remembers getting a call from Heat general manager Andy Elisburg on July 11, 2006.

“Andy was at a gas station,” Riley said. “And he said Dwyane had accepted his extension, and it was a three-plus-one [three years guaranteed, plus one option year]. And it was Dwyane and LeBron James and Chris Bosh and Amar’e Stoudemire and a bunch of other guys that signed their extensions and they’re all three years with one option. And I said, ‘Well, who are the other guys?’ And he gave me the list. And I said, ‘Well, we’re going to be players in 2010.’”

But amid all of Riley’s roster building and burning and rebuilding over the years, very little emphasis was ever placed on the draft or tapping into the foreign-player market.

“Everything we did from 2006 to 2010 was to be able to sit down at the table with LeBron and Chris and Amar’e and [Carlos] Boozer and Mike Miller, all these guys, to try to bring them to Miami,” Riley said. “We were fortunate that they came, but we also planned for it. There have been some deals that we’ve made that haven’t worked, but they haven’t really been deals that really cost us a lot or hurt us.”

But Riley admits he’s had to adapt in some other ways to better relate to modern NBA culture. In the past few seasons, he has opened a Twitter account, relented on his stance against players wearing headbands and has allowed James’ manager and the personal trainers for James and Wade greater access.

But mostly, Riley steps back and allows coach Erik Spoelstra to legislate the team culture.

“LeBron, being who he is in this world, in this game, has a very heavy load,” Riley said. “There’s a heavy load off the court and on the court. It’s a lot different than what it used to be. He manages everything he has to manage that maybe Magic Johnson didn’t have to manage back in the 1980s. I’ve adapted to that.”

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No. 5: D’Antoni, Kaman burying the hatchet? — Just a little over a week ago, Lakers center Chris Kaman was openly complaining to the media about coach Mike D’Antoni‘s gameplan and useage of him this season. But it appears a chat with D’Antoni’s agent may have helped Kaman see just how hard D’Antoni’s job has been and softened the tension between the two, writes Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

Warren LeGarie, the agent for embattled Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, was doing all the talking.He was doing the pointing, jabbing his index finger into Chris Kaman’s chest. LeGarie also stood up periodically to yell down at the Lakers center hunched in a courtside seat Tuesday night, ball in his lap, postponing his pregame court work to listen.

Head bobbing in emphatic declarations, LeGarie gestured numerous times toward the Lakers bench where D’Antoni is positioned during games. Kaman threw his hands up a few times but had little to say to LeGarie, who represents so many NBA coaches and executives that he qualifies as more of a power player in this league than any 7-footer.

Kaman is the type who has done far more talking than listening in his life, and some of his talking this season has been about D’Antoni’s rigid, uncommunicative, distrustful coaching of the Lakers while not giving Kaman consistent playing time. Just one week earlier, Kaman had revealed that D’Antoni hadn’t talked to him for the previous three weeks.

D’Antoni has one more guaranteed season left on his Lakers contract, and the club is leaning toward retaining him despite some privately disgruntled players and massive public disdain. It’s not clear which way the organization will go with him.

But Kaman’s 15-minute conversation with LeGarie ended with the agent yelling two words to Kaman: “Thank you. Thank you.”

After the Lakers’ 124-112 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers was complete, I asked Kaman about his pregame chat with LeGarie and whether it had given him any new perspective on D’Antoni’s situation.

“We were just talking,” Kaman said. “We were just talking about everything. He’s just a good buddy of mine.”

I asked Kaman where he stands now in his feelings about D’Antoni.

“It’s been a tough year for him, as it has been for a lot of guys,” Kaman said. “Me, in particular, just being in and out, in and out, just trying to figure my way through all of this, I can sort of put myself in his shoes and try to look myself in the mirror and say, ‘What would I do if I was him?’ And it’s hard to answer that question; it’s a tough position.

“Especially with all the injuries we’ve had and all the different things we’ve had to go through, I think it’s no easy task for a coach. Especially with the Lakers. This is a first-rate organization, and they do things better than most. They’re used to winning, and it’s a lot of pressure. And all these injuries didn’t make it any easier for him.”

Bear in mind, just one week ago Kaman was saying this season was “by far” and “tenfold” worse than any other in his 11-year NBA career.

While not naming a name and saying “it doesn’t get anyone anywhere” to spout negativity with the season a lost cause, Kaman said last week that the key to good coaching is “being a mediator as opposed to being someone in authority all the time. It’s about putting little fires out—small fires here or there—and keeping everybody’s egos together and managing that. Players know how to play if you give them enough guidance in the beginning.”

Late Tuesday night, when I asked Kaman if D’Antoni’s communication could’ve been better, Kaman said generously: “It always can be better with any coach, not just Mike. It’s such a big balance to be a head coach. It takes a lot. It takes a lot out of you. You see guys who can’t even finish years sometimes; they have to defer and hand it over to someone else. It drives people nuts.

“It takes a special person to coach a team, and in this day and age, the way the game is played, it’s a lot of pressure. You get two, three years, maybe, and then you’re outta there if you don’t produce. It’s no easy task. So I’ve got to look myself in the mirror and put myself in his shoes; it’s tough. It isn’t easy. With all the injuries and everything, it’s hard to say what would’ve happened if we would’ve had a healthy team.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Rockets point guard Pat Beverley expects to return in time for the playoffs … UNC forward James Michael McAdoo is headed to the NBA Draft … Rockets assistant coach-turned-University of Houston coach Kelvin Sampson could earn $1 million a season in his new gig … The Celtics might be interested in re-signing forward Kris Humphries this summer … Guard Jodie Meeks wants to stick with the Lakers next season … Former Heat center Alonzo Mourning is reportedly headed to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

ICYMI of the Night: The Mavs’ Brandan Wright gives Blake Griffin a taste of his own (dunking) medicine … 


VIDEO: Brandan Wright powers home a dunk over Blake Griffin