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NBA Players Past And Present Express Condolences, Respect For Ali

The death of boxing legend Muhammad Ali late Friday at the age of 74 drew a massive response from, well, pretty much everyone around the globe.

NBA players were especially active among those offering tributes, taking to Twitter to express their respect for the world sporting icon known simply and affectionately as “The Greatest.”

Hall of Famer Charles Barkley also issued a statement on the passing of Ali: “‘Hero’ and ‘Legend’ are used casually today. Muhammad Ali, Dr. Martin Luther King and Bill Russell are both and always will be. I can’t thank these three men enough and it has nothing to do with sports. Thank you, Champ. RIP.”

 

Reports: Van Gundy out of Rockets’ coaching search; D’Antoni now favorite

Strike one name from the list of potential Rockets head coaching candidates. Jeff Van Gundy is no longer a candidate for the job, according Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical.

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There was reported to be mutual interest between Van Gundy and Rockets G.M. Daryl Morey. But team owner Leslie Alexander is said to have been less less convinced that a reunion with the man who coached the Rockets from 2003-2007.

Van Gundy told Barry Warner of ESPN 97.5 in Houston: “I have not spoken to the Rockets so speculation about me has been off base.”

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle says that Mike D’Antoni has now become the favorite to land the job.

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NBA finds five officiating errors in last 13.5 seconds of Spurs-Thunder

After reviewing the video from Monday night’s Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals, the NBA has ruled there were five officiating errors made in the chaotic final 13.5 seconds of Oklahoma City’s 98-97 win at San Antonio.

The referee trio of crew chief Ken Mauer, Marc Davis and Sean Corbin had previously admitted to missing an offensive foul that should have been called against the Thunder’s Dion Waiters for making contact with the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili on an inbounds pass in a written post-game statement following the game.

According to the daily “Last Two Minute Report,” there were a total of eight incorrect non-calls in the final 91 seconds of the game:

* 1:31 — LaMarcus Aldridge should have been called for setting an illegal screen on Russell Westbrook.

* 1:11 — Tim Duncan should have been called for clamping down on the arm of Steven Adams, preventing him from getting a rebound.

* 55.0 — Duncan should have been called for committing an offensive 3-second violation in the lane.

* 13.5 — Ginobili should have received a delay of game violation for stepping on the sideline while defending the inbound play against Waiters.

* 13.5 — Waiters should have been called for an offensive foul for making contact with Ginobili while attempting the inbound pass.

* 13.5 — Patty Mills should have been called for grabbing and holding Adams, restricting his movement on the inbound.

* 13.5 — Kawhi Leonard should have been called for grabbing Westbrook’s jersey and restricting his movement on the inbound.

* 2.6 — Serge Ibaka should have been called for grabbing and holding Aldridge’s jersey, which affected his shot attempt under the basket.

There were also other questions on the controversial inbounds play. The review ruled that Waiters did not commit a five-second violation on the throw-in. It was ruled that Waiters was permitted to jump in the air on the inbounds pass because he did not leave the designated throw-in area laterally and did not leave the playing surface (i.e. step into the stands) to gain an advantage. It was also ruled that Danny Green did not foul Kevin Durant when he leaped the steal the inbound pass.

No penalty from NBA for Drummond’s elbow? LeBron James not surprised

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – The reaction to this one from many in the NBA’s 29 other precincts might be along the lines of puh-leeeze: LeBron James suggested Sunday that he doesn’t get his share of whistles when on the receiving end of physical play.

The bruised and bloodied bodies of fallen opponents strewn behind him might argue to the contrary.

But then, when the NBA has an opportunity to review video of some of the hits the Cleveland star takes – like a high elbow from Detroit center Andre Drummond in Game 3 Friday of the teams’ first-round Eastern Conference series – and issues no retroactive flagrant or technical fouls or fines, maybe James has a case.

James wasn’t complaining at the Cavaliers’ shootaround session Sunday in advance of their closeout opportunity in Game 4 at The Palace of Auburn Hills. But he wasn’t hiding his belief, either, that all physical contact isn’t adjudicated fairly.

Asked about the Drummond blow and the absence of any rebuke, James told reporters: “Initially I was surprised. But then I thought who he did it to and I wasn’t surprised.”

Given the size, speed and power of James’ game, at a muscular 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds, the sense among NBA observers long has been that he dishes out punishment without even trying, just from incidental contact that can hurt. The flip side is that, given his strength, he absorbs a lot of contact without getting knocked off course or sent to the floor, resulting in fewer whistles that way as well.

“He’s the Shaq of guards and forwards,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. “He’s so strong and so physical when he goes to the basket guys are bouncing off of him. Those are still fouls. But he doesn’t get that call because he’s so big and so strong and so physical.”

Lue, since taking over at midseason as the Cavs head coach, assiduously avoids criticizing the referees or NBA HQ over calls made or not made. It’s a button many coaches push at playoff time, dating back at least to Phil Jackson‘s tweaks while with the Bulls and the Lakers and probably all the way back to Red Auerbach and John Kundla.

Their goal: Plant a seed for the next game. But it can get expensive – witness Stan Van Gundy‘s $25,000 fine after Game 1 for bemoaning what he felt was the refs’ disinterest in calling offensive fouls on James – and it doesn’t suit Lue’s personality.

“It’s their job to clean it up,” said Lue, who proudly notes that he never got a technical foul in 11 years as an NBA point guard. “It’s not my job to complain about the situation at hand.”

James rarely is shy in complaining in the moment about calls he feels should have gone his way. His lightning-rod game and expressive gripes, added to every NBA player’s default position regarding fouls, generates a lot of hoots and hollers from fans in arenas who think James actually gets preferential treatment from the refs.

Some teammates, such as Cavs center Tristan Thompson, are in the middle of the physical play that ramps up in the playoffs and see it differently.

“He gets beat up the most. He gets beat up the most in the league,” Thompson said. “He takes a lot of hits night in and night out, especially in this series, and he keeps pushing and he stays mature.”

James takes the hits but clearly he doesn’t take them lightly. He had a no-nonsense look Sunday morning, suggesting a resolve to limit the Pistons’ shots at him by limiting their playoff run to the minimum of four games.

“I just like to gather my composure, my guys’ composure, going against the opponents’ fans,” James said this close-out opportunity on the road. “I thrive adversity and hostile environments.”

Rockets CEO: ‘No disrespect to Charles’

HOUSTON — Rockets CEO Tad Brown says there was nothing personal in his Twitter fight with Charles Barkley on Thursday night during Game 3 of the playoffs.

At halftime of the TNT telecast, Barkley said, “Ain’t nothing worse than fake hustle. I guarantee you the Rockets are going to lose this game.”

After the Rockets held on to beat the Warriors 97-96, Brown tweeted: “Charles would know, his entire Rockets career was fake hustle.”

In a hallway of Toyota Center Saturday afternoon while both teams practiced, Brown said he did not intend to question Barkley’s credentials as a Hall of Fame player.

“I was a huge fan of his growing up,” Brown said. “I have the greatest respect for him. This has been going on for a long time. Just trying to stand up for my guys. It’s no disrespect to Charles, one of the top 50 players of all time. At some point, just making sure our team knows we’re looking out for them, we’re trying to stand up for them.”

Analytics Art: Lowry still searching for shot in playoffs


VIDEO: Kyle Lowry talks about his role as a leader in Toronto

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

Kyle Lowry made his second consecutive All-Star Game appearance in 2016 while solidifying his standing as one of the league’s elite point guards. The Toronto Raptors won 56 games in the improved Eastern Conference due to his exploits, just one victory off the pace set by the top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers.

Although Toronto suffered first-round playoff exits in 2014 and ‘15, this season seemed to yield new promise. Lowry’s play oozed confidence on a nightly basis and he ended 2015-16 with career highs in points (21.2 per game) steals (2.1) and rebounds (4.7).

All the while, the 30-year-old’s outside shooting touch thrived. Not only did Lowry attempt a career-high 7.1 3-pointers per game, but he made a career-best 38.8 percent of them.

Everything was clicking for Lowry during the regular season, but the postseason has proved much tougher for him. Though he played well in the 2014 playoffs — averaging 21.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists during a seven-game series against the Brooklyn Nets — he hasn’t experienced the same individual success since.

Quite the contrary, in fact. Lowry was an absolute eyesore in the playoff setting a season ago. During the course of getting swept by John Wall and the Washington Wizards, he shot a ghastly 31.6 percent from the field and an ugly 21.7 percent from 3-point range. Even worse, Lowry failed to reach double-digit scoring in two of Toronto’s four games.

Toronto has turned its first-round fortunes around so far at least as it has built a 2-1 series edge the Indiana Pacers. But while the Raptors are finally winning playoff games again, Lowry’s shooting efficiency remains elusive.

Through the first three games of the series, Lowry is shooting 31.9 percent overall and 22.7 percent on 3-pointers. He’s averaging 8.0 assists per game, but his persistent shooting woes in the playoffs have to be a concern for coach Dwane Casey.

Lowry is a solid bet to make one of the All-NBA teams this year for his stellar regular season performance. That being said, he needs to re-establish that standing if Toronto is going to have any hope of a deep playoff run.

Crawford is Kia Sixth Man times three


VIDEO: Crawford secures Kia Sixth Man Award

LOS ANGELES — Jamal Crawford won the Kia Sixth Man Award and a fringe benefit: The hunk of bronze was “renamed” the Jamal Crawford Trophy.

Well, for one day, anyway. More like an honorary title, which still belongs to Kia. But here’s what’s permanent: Crawford is the only three-time winner of the Super Substitute award, and therefore is in the conversation for the best reserve in NBA history.

“It’s something I don’t take for granted,” said Crawford.

Yes, when you think of great sixth men, Crawford is in the loop along with Kevin McHale, Bobby Jones, Vinnie Johnson, Detlef Schrempf, John Havlicek and others who spent all or part of their career as bench players. It’s a tricky role to define, because most of those players were perhaps better than the players they subbed in for during games, especially McHale and Havlicek (whose career ended before there was a Sixth Man Award).

Still, this award defines Crawford, who fits the stereotype: A player who enters the game and puts his stamp on it by scoring, early and often.

“Starting is a cool thing” said Crawford.”But maybe this can inspire a new generation of players to tell them that coming off the bench can be cool, too.”

Crawford won the award with the Hawks in 2010 and then again with the Clippers two years ago. Even more, he’s 36 years old and in his 16th season; anytime a player can grab an award so late in his career is an achievement in itself.

“This is his best year, in my opinion,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers. “He’s got that bench group playing great, he changed his game, he’s moving without the ball, it’s not just iso-Jamal. Just the award in itself …  the thought of Kevin McHale coming off the bench is crazy. But sixth man in general doesn’t mean you can’t be a starter. It means you’ve accepted a role to help the team and Jamal epitomizes that.”

Crawford averaged roughly 20 points since mid-March and was a critical source of production when the Clippers lost Blake Griffin for 45 games with a combination of injuries and suspension. They managed to go 30-15 and stay in contention in the West without Griffin, partly because Crawford assumed a chunk of the scoring responsibilities. His big moment was a 32-point outing against the Thunder.

“Jamal took fewer shots but scored more points,” said Rivers. “That tells you how he evolved and what kind of impact he had for us.”

Crawford started for much of his career until 2008-09 when Mike Woodson asked him to come off the bench in Crawford’s first of two years with the Hawks, and Crawford found a home. This season he started slowly and was approached by Rivers at Christmas and that meeting lit a fire under Crawford.

With his career winding down, the question is, where does he fit among sixth men? Perhaps the standard was set by Havlicek, the “first” official sixth man who switched roles in mid-career and is in the Hall of Fame. Jones had a solid run with the Sixers and helped Philly win a title, and McHale, like Havlicek, evolved into a sixth man later in his career.

Crawford, if nothing else, will find himself ranked somewhere on the list. Which is fine by him.

“My main purpose is to help my team, and if that’s off the bench, then that’s what I’ll do,” he said. “That’s who I am.”

Pistons win ‘biggest game’ so far, while Bulls sink further in East

CHICAGO – The Chicago Bulls were all about clinching playoff spots Saturday night.

For Miami. For Charlotte. Just not for themselves with their 94-90 loss at home to the Detroit Pistons.

Instead of seizing the two-fer opportunity against the Pistons (who were playing the tail end of a back-to-back) and at least keeping pace with the Pacers (who rallied to win in Philadelphia), the Bulls dug their hole at the bottom of the Eastern Conference bracket a little deeper. At 38-38, they remain in ninth place, two games behind Indiana and 2.5 behind Detroit.

Chicago has six games left and holds the tiebreaker against the Pacers but lost it, along with the game, against the Pistons. In the four-game series against Chicago, including five overtime periods, Detroit outscored the Bulls 440-439 in 217 minutes but wound up 3-1.

Stan Van Gundy had billed this one, coming in, as the biggest game of the season for his club. So when they closed it out, the Pistons coach didn’t back away from its significance.

“Up to this point,” he said, qualifying it just a bit. “Hopefully there are even bigger ones to come. But for four of our starters – and they all agreed – that’s the most meaningful win of their NBA careers. All of our starters except Reggie [Jackson]. But we’ve got bigger things to do. So we’re not there yet.”

Detroit closed out the playoff-style game by holding Chicago to 7-of-23 shooting in the fourth quarter, while its 11-of-16 work from the foul line was better than their 9-for-18 through three quarters. Aron Baynes, Marcus Morris and Jackson were a perfect 8-for-8 in the final 2:17, with Van Gundy sitting center Andre Drummond for the final 5:22 after he bricked nine of his 10 free throws.

“He was 1-for-10 – he made the decision easy tonight,” Van Gundy said. “In a close game like that, we can’t be playing or hoping for one point at most when they’re playing for two or three. You can’t do that. You’re putting too much pressure on your defense.”

Chicago has been putting too much pressure on its entire game after flopping in that gauntlet last week against the Knicks, the Knicks again and the Magic. Taking even two of those would have them in seventh right now, a game up with the tiebreaker over ninth-place Indiana. Now?

“We are well aware of our situation,” veteran Pau Gasol said. “The math is probably against us at this point.”

With Derrick Rose (left elbow) and Taj Gibson (rib contusion) out, and with the four starters besides Jimmy Butler shooting zero free throws in a combined 112 minutes, the offensive load fell to Butler. He posted the first triple-double of his career – 28 points, 17 rebounds, 12 assists – but he shot 10-of-25, dominated Chicago’s stagnant offense down the stretch and was exhausted before the final horn.

“He put up good numbers. He shot a lot of shots, too,” said Morris, who stayed physical with the Bulls’ scorer until Van Gundy switched Kentavious Caldwell-Pope onto Butler late. “Hopefully that’s what happens. He’s a good player, an All-Star. I love Jimmy, one of my closest guys in the NBA. Great player. He’s just one of those guys, we go back and forth.”

There’s no back or forth for the Bulls now, just falling down and looking up at the Pistons, the Pacers and six other East rivals in the standings.

Sacramento’s Cousins to seek treatment on feet while keeping eyes on Rio


VIDEO: DeMarcus Cousins with 29 points, 11 boards vs. Suns

DeMarcus Cousins sat out the final six games on the Sacramento Kings’ schedule at this time last season and could be on the verge of a shutdown again.

With playoffs obviously not on the horizon for Cousins or his team, some folks might want to see Cousins gut out what he can over the Kings’ final 10 games and put off some recurring foot and ankle problems until the offseason. But Sacramento’s two-time All-Star center has a deadline for good health that drops before training camp this fall, one that’s worth heeding if he can hit it: Team USA’s play in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

That opportunity for Cousins – he was a member of the 2014 World Cup team, recovering from a strained knee suffered during an early workout with that squad – is important both to the Kings’ big man and his reputation. He got some of his best reviews as a pro for his sacrifice and work with the other NBA stars on Team USA, stepping out of the indulged, allegedly immature franchise guy he’s known as from his work with Sacramento.

So if the 6-foot-11, 270-pound native of Mobile, Ala., and produce of the University of Kentucky were to call it quits on this NBA season for legitimate health reasons, it might be best for him and the Kings in the long run. Sacramento is headed nowhere but home soon enough, with Cousins already missing 11 of its 72 games, mostly from an early Achilles strain and turned ankles.

The Team USA roster won’t be announced until after the NBA playoffs but Cousins is one of 31 finalists from which chairman Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski will select the 12-man squad. His hope would be to seek a unique treatment on his feet in particular, yet recover in time to participate in the Olympics. James Ham, the Kings insider for CSNBayArea.com, was on hand when Cousins addressed his health and summer ambitions Friday:

Cousins is in noticeable pain following games. He walks gingerly on his oversized feet, and it’s not without reason. At 6-11, 270-plus-pounds, Cousins’ lower legs take a beating this season. From an early season Achilles strain to multiple rolled ankles, Cousins has played in 61 games this season with 10 games remaining.

“I’ve been playing with tendinitis in my feet all season,” Cousins told a small gathering of reporters. “That’s why you see me walking up and down funny. Hopefully this procedure goes well and I can start preparing for Team USA.”

Cousins said he is planning to undergo Platelet Rich Therapy (PRP) on his feet and possibly shock-wave treatment as well following the offseason, with the hopes that it will relieve some of his pain.

According to Emory Healthcare, “Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Therapy utilizes platelets from the athlete’s own blood to rebuild a damaged tendon or cartilage. It has been successful in not only relieving the pain, but also in jump-starting the healing process.”

The procedure is not considered surgery and takes less than an hour to perform. The recovery for this type of treatment is roughly 4-6 weeks and Cousins should be ready in plenty of time to compete for a roster spot for the Olympic Games in Rio, which begin on August 5.

Cousins won gold as part of Team USA at the 2014 World Cup and is looking forward to a shot at taking home Olympic gold as well. The 25-year-old center plans to rehab and train in Las Vegas in preparation for training camp.

Bogut likely out, but Kerr won’t sit healthy Warriors vs. Spurs


VIDEO: Clash of the titans, tonight on ABC (8:30 ET)

Good thing Golden State coach Steve Kerrheh, heh … was only joking when he talked about … ho, ho … sitting out all his best players from the Warriors’ highly anticipated … ha, ha … game at San Antonio as the latest entry in the NBA’s series of ABC prime-time Saturday night telecasts (8:30 ET).

Otherwise David Stern might have roared back demanding a 10-day contract from NBA commissioner Adam Silver just to mete out Kerr’s and the Warriors’ punishment.

“If I had any guts at all, I’d sit everybody,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said after Friday’s win over the Mavericks. “It’s like our sixth game in nine nights. It’s on national TV. If I was [Gregg Popovich], I’d sit everybody, but I don’t have that kind of courage.

“I’m in my second year. I can’t flip the bird to the league, like Pop does every once in a while. That’s my guy, but I’m not in that class.”

As it is, the Warriors expect to play without starting center Andrew Bogut, who suffered a jammed toe in Golden State’s victory at Dallas Friday. The Warriors also have been playing without center Festus Ezeli (knee), swingman Andre Iguodala (ankle) and rookie Kevon Looney (hip).

The two Western Conference powerhouses will play each other three times in the next 23 days. And as Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle notes:

The teams have clinched their respective divisions and appear to be on a collision course to meet in the Western Conference finals as they wrap up two of the NBA’s top three regular seasons ever.

Neither team has dropped consecutive games. Neither team has lost at home.

“This is the matchup that we’ve all been looking for,” Warriors forward Harrison Barnes said. “They’re one of the best defensive teams in the league and one of the teams that we could possibly see in the playoffs. We’re excited. We haven’t won there in a while, so that’s something that’s on our mind.”

“Home dominance is always a hallmark of a great team, but normally that means 35-6,” Kerr said. “The fact that both teams are undefeated is shocking.”

The Warriors haven’t won a regular-season game in San Antonio since Feb. 14, 1997 — a 32-game skid that ranks behind only the Kings’ 43-game road losing streak to the Lakers from 1975-92. The Warriors did win Game 2 of the 2013 Western Conference semifinals in the Alamo City after coughing up Game 1 there.

For a sense of how long ago it was that Golden State won in San Antonio, there’s this graphic, showing the teams’ starting lineups that night: