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Coaches get the day-after call reversals but would rather avoid them

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com



VIDEO: The foul that should have gone the other way

CHICAGO – Former NBA center Darryl Dawkins, one of the league’s most colorful characters known both for shattering backboards and high quotability, once said, “When everything is said and done, there’s nothing left to do or say.”

Hard to quibble with that, be it here or on Chocolate Thunder’s planet Lovetron. Yet the NBA’s recent policy of informing teams, and the public, the day after a game that a particular officiating decision was wrong and should have gone the other way, goes against that notion.

The final horn of a game used to mean everything was said and done. Now, with the league’s emphasis on transparency when reviewing referees’ calls, there can be much more, well, at least to say. The Houston Rockets had to cope with that Tuesday after learning that a foul called on Dwight Howard should have been a Portland foul sending Howard to the line with 10.8 seconds left in overtime. There wasn’t much satisfaction after losing and yet, in talking to the media, the Rockets had to be cautious they didn’t say anything that might get them fined.

That’s why Washington coach Randy Wittman prefers to have that stuff dealt with above his pay grade.

“All that does is get me even more riled up,” said Wittman, who did play college ball for Bobby Knight, after all. “I let our front office deal with that. it doesn’t do me any good to have somebody tell me they blew a call. Those guys are human like we are. We make mistakes; they do. But I don’t like it.”

Transparency is an important value for the NBA these days, referred to frequently by new commissioner Adam Silver. For instance, the league is posting online for the first time the ballots of the writers and broadcasters for the 2013-14 annual awards as each honor is announced.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau took a broader view when discussing the day-after policy. Of course, as he spoke, tipoff of Game 2 between Chicago and Washington was nearly two hours away. He wasn’t stalking the sideline in full-game growl yet.

“The league I think has done a good job with that,” he said. “The more you’re around, the more you understand: Look, there’s a lot of these calls that are 50-50 calls. They could go either way.”

Thibodeau added of the refs: “Hey look, everyone in their job, you want to get ‘em all right. It’s not going to happen. They get a lot of them right. They’re really good. You can go back and replay a play many times, and you still can’t tell what’s right. Most of the time, they’re on. These guys are great pros. They’re not here by accident.”

Wizards’ Wall, Beal grow up on the fly

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau looks ahead to Game 2

CHICAGO – John Wall and Bradley Beal have the talent necessary to compete with, maybe even defeat, the Chicago Bulls in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference series. They have the health, they have the stamina, they have the enthusiasm.

What the Washington Wizards’ young starting backcourt doesn’t have is playoff experience. And getting it on the fly against a salty Bulls team seemed to many like it might be asking too much. By the time the Wiz guards fully get it, folks figured, five, six or seven games – and four defeats – might have slipped away.

But that didn’t happen in the first postseason games of Wall’s and Beal’s career, their Game 1 victory Sunday at United Center. So there’s way less reason to think it would show up in Game 2 Tuesday or at any point as the series grinds on.

“A 20-year vet is going to have jitters, the first game of the playoffs,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said at the Wizards’ shootaround. “If you don’t, you’re not into the game. I thought our guys were in tune and ready to go. I don’t anticipate anything different [the rest of the way].”

If the “rest of the way” for the newbie Wizards were to take them all the way to The Finals, it would be like winning the Tour de France on training wheels. That they could even walk around the Bulls’ city for 48 hours wearing the yellow jersey was a triumph of its own.

“We’ve got great veteran guys and our young guys are mature for their age,” Wall, the 23-year-old point guard, said midday Tuesday. “Even though it was our first playoff game, we didn’t get rattled, we didn’t try to do it on our own. We stuck with the game concept and making the right plays. And even though me and Brad’s shots weren’t falling, we were staying aggressive and doing things at the defensive end to help us win.”

Wall and Beal did pester Chicago’s backcourt players, particularly reserve point guard D.J. Augustin, who missed 12 of his 15 shots and had three turnovers. The Wizards’ pair missed shots of their own – they were a combined 7-of-25 – but Wittman didn’t sweat their shot selection and both stayed active enough to have positive impacts.

How positive? They both were plus-11, tops in that category on either side. They combined for 13 assists, eight rebounds and 15-of-17 foul shooting, totaling 29 points.

It’s worth noting too that Chicago’s defense, as directed by coach Tom Thibodeau, paid enough attention to the potent guards that it opened up opportunities for big men Nene (24 points) and Marcin Gortat (15).

Beal, who won’t turn 21 for another two months, said he had heard about how different the playoffs are from the regular season, all that stuff about intensity and being scouted inside and out and never taking plays off. It all came true, he said, but it didn’t steamroll him or his buddy.

“You’re always going ot have nerves, of course, but at the same time, you’re just out there with four other guys on the floor playing against the opponent. You can’t focus on the crowd – you notice that they’re there – but at the same time, while you’re playing, it’s like you’re just playing in open gym. It’s like no one’s around.

“Hopefully we can come out and play more desperate. Like we’re down 0-1.”

Noah turns intensity into DPOY landslide

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Joakim Noah named Defensive Player of the Year

LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. – If there’s one image this season that captures Joakim Noah officially as the NBA’s top defensive player and arguably as its most passionate and intense, it came in March. That’s when the Chicago Bulls center, switching off screens in a game against Miami at United Center, found himself squared up a couple of times against none other than LeBron James.

Noah, at 6-foot-11, did everything short of licking his chops. He bent low, locked James in a laser gaze and clapped his hands almost in the dangerous Heat star’s face.

There aren’t a lot of men his size who could make that look good. But Noah knows a thing or two about defensive stances when facing opponents big and small. He even teased a little about the one atop the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award, which he received Monday: Too flat-footed, a little unbalanced and obviously giving up some serious height.

Poking fun at the little bronze dude didn’t get in the way at all, though, of Noah’s appreciation of the honor, the first of the five Kia Performance Awards to be presented for NBA achievements in 2013-14.

Noah, 29, shared thoughts and stories with a ballroom of reporters and cameras, expressing gratitude to his family, all in attendance – his father, former tennis pro Yannick Noah; his mother Cecilia Rodhe, Miss Sweden 1978; and his siblings. He talked of the DPOY as a team award, giving shout-outs to his Bulls teammates for the adversity they’ve endured this season.

He dedicated the award to Tyrone Green, his basketball mentor and second-father figure during the years Noah grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. With his parents divorced, it was Green – a widely known figure in youth basketball in New York – who got credit and in time love from Noah for toughening up the gawky teenager of privilege he’d been. Green died unexpectedly last week at age 63, causing Noah to take a brief personal leave from the Bulls on the brink of their first-round series against Washington.

“This award goes to somebody who I’ll never forget, somebody who just passed and meant so much to me,” Noah said, acknowledging it still was hard to talk about his friend. “Somebody who believed in me. Mr. Green, I love you and I appreciate you, and I know you’re smiling down right now, really proud. This award goes to you.”


VIDEO: Joakim Noah thanks his teammates, family and former coaches

Noah also spoke of the bond forged between him and Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, away from the bright lights and the fans’ eyes, in all its nasty after-hours glory.

“I remember one day,” Noah said, “Thibs was putting me through a real brutal workout. I said, ‘If we weren’t winning games, I would really, really hate you.’ He said, ‘Trust me, Jo. I would feel the same way about you.’ “

It’s a symbiotic relationship, though, of the NBA’s most revered defensive coach and his surrogate on the court, now the league’s acclaimed best defender. No wonder Thibodeau was beaming like he needed to be passing out cigars.

“You can’t have a great defense without having great defensive players,” Thibodeau said. “He has a very unique skill set. And he’s a hard guy to measure statistically. But when you look at his athleticism, his intelligence, his ability to communicate and guard every position on the floor, that gives you a lot of weapons. And he helps sell it to the team. To me, that’s huge.”

Noah received 100 first-place votes from the panel of 125 NBA writers and broadcasters who cast ballots and got 555 points of a maximum 625 for any player. Indiana’s Roy Hibbert and the L.A. Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan each got eight first-place votes and finished second (166 points) and third (121), respectively.

Chicago ranked second in the NBA with a defensive rating of 100.5 points allowed per 100 possessions, second in defensive field-goal percentage (43.0) and first in points allowed per game, 91.8. Noah had a league-best defensive rating of 96, according to basketball-reference.com, while averaging 11.3 rebounds, 1.51 blocks and 1.24 steals.

Ironically, Noah earned the defensive award – he’s the first Bulls player to win it since Michael Jordan in 1988 – in a season in which his offensive game blossomed. With Derrick Rose suffering a second season-ending injury in November and leading scorer Luol Deng getting traded in January, the Bulls turned Noah as a “point center.” His passing ability, his court vision, his ball handling and the way he runs the floor reached new levels, and his awkward jump shot – dubbed “The Tornado” for its sideways rotation – has become more reliable by the day.

Still, it is Noah’s work at the other end that gives the Bulls their foundation and earned the DPOY. He protects the rim, sure, but his help defense is so schooled as to become instinctive, and he can switch onto smaller players as well as any big man since Kevin Garnett in his prime.

Some of the attributes Noah flexes defensively come from training he did as a boy alongside his father, the tennis great. “Subconsciously, I think it taught me a work ethic,” Noah said. “My father taught me how to jump rope, and I don’t think a lot of big guys are jumping rope.”

His years in New York with Green made him humble – he was a ball boy at the famous ABCD youth camp in New Jersey, fetching rebounds for James and other more-heralded kids – but set him on his path to the University of Florida and two NCAA titles with the Gators.

That’s where the basketball public caught a glimpse of Noah’s burning, team-first intensity, which still flames up on NBA courts on crucial defensive stops or at the final horn in victories. Distilling the emotions from his performances wouldn’t leave much – they’re vital, Thibodeau said, in the way he moves, in the way he recovers.

“Like the thing he talked about with his dad, he’s got unbelievable feet and great, great stamina,” the Bulls coach said. “So what it leads to is his ability to make multiple efforts. You’ll see three, four, five. There are balls he can get to that, when you’re watching, you’re amazed. He gets hit, he’ll keep going, he’ll dive out of bounds, he’ll save it.

“Those things to me are the best leadership that you can have. When another player sees that kind of effort, that does nothing but unite and inspire your team. That brings energy to your team.”

Being contagious on that end might give Noah his greatest defensive satisfaction.

“You have to really commit, sacrifice,” he said. “I just think about so many plays defensively that some of my teammates made. You might even think about a guy like Mike Dunleavy, he’s not known for his defense. There was a time during the year where he got a big gash on his head, got like 10 stictches, and came back in the third quarter. First play he takes a charge.

“He’ll never be remembered as a defensive player, but that means everything. Somebody who’s ready to sacrifice his body to win.”

Thibodeau wants Bulls in rebound shop

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau looks ahead to Game 2 vs. the Wizards

DEERFIELD, Ill. – A playoff loss at home is red meat to someone like Tom Thibodeau, coach of the Chicago Bulls, so in the 48 hours between Games 1 and 2 of the first-round series against Washington, he compiled “an endless list of things we didn’t do correctly.”

Thibodeau had neither the time nor the inclination to share such a list with media inquisitors after the Bulls’ practice Monday, but it’s safe to assume that somewhere up high is: Rebounding. The Wizards beat them on the boards 45-39, including 13-6 in the fourth quarter. Chicago missed 11 shots in that period and reclaimed only two as offensive rebounds.

“When the ball was in the air, that game was decided,” Thibodeau said.

Led by Marcin Gortat‘s 13, Washington’s front line outboarded Chicago’s 28-21.

“We talk about fundamentals,” power forward Nene said. “Box out, for example. All the players need to box out and then the rebound will choose who’s supposed to grab it.”

Oh, that won’t cut it with a coach like Thibs, who considers rebounds a birthright for his team when they’re playing correctly. The Bulls outrebounded their opponents in 65 percent of their games and 73 percent of their victories, going 35-18 on those occasions. But they did it only six times in their final 18 regular-season games.

Among the other bullet points on Thibodeau’s scroll – if it’s that long, calling it a list seems insufficient – were intensity, ball movement (only 13 assists) and defending without fouling. The Wizards shot 35 free throws and outscored Chicago from the line by six; in the regular season, the Bulls gave up the third-fewest number of free throws in the NBA and outscored foes from the line by a total of 230 points.

The Bulls coach also spoke for the third time since Sunday’s final horn of his displeasure with his players’ displeasure with the referees. They got caught complaining when they should have been getting back and defending.

“There’s an appropriate time to make a point to an official,” the Bulls coach said. “If you think they missed something, you have to wait for a dead ball. You don’t do it during the course of a game.

“These officials are good, they’ll talk to you. But it’s got to be at the appropriate time.”

One item apparently not on Thibodeau’s list: Shaking up his fourth-quarter lineups. Though that group struggled to score over Game 1′s final six minutes, prompting some to wonder if Carlos Boozer or Mike Dunleavy might see more late action Tuesday, Thibodeau said: “We’re not going to get away from the guys who have gotten us there. But there are certain things we can do to help each other get open, and we’re going to have to do that.”

Griffin tries to respond to foul mood

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com


VIDEO: Game 2: Warriors-Clippers Preview

PLAYA VISTA, Calif. – The first quarter of the first game of the first round of the postseason, and Blake Griffin was sitting. Two fouls in all of 3 minutes, 14 seconds forced him to the bench, halting an encouraging start for the Clippers and their All-Star power forward.

Three minutes. That’s how long it took for both — the player and the team — to have a problem. Three minutes, which led to just 39 seconds at the start of the second period until another personal and another quick hook, which led to 11 minutes in the third quarter, which led to Griffin ultimately fouling out with 48.3 seconds remaining after squeezing 19 minutes out of Game 1 against the Warriors on Saturday.

Maybe it was part of the Clippers being too amped to begin a playoffs of great expectation, as some players suggested when they gathered at team headquarters on Sunday for practice. Maybe, coach Doc Rivers proposed, it was the media’s fault for underlining the tension between the teams during the regular season, prompting referees to keep an extra-tight hand on the game, as if the veteran crew wouldn’t have known without an Internet connection or cable TV.

It’s an issue by any explanation because Griffin needs a strong response to help the Clippers avoid an 0-2 deficit on Monday night at Staples Center before the best-of-seven series shifts to Oakland. That would be pressure enough. In this case, though, he needs a strong response while aware that he just fouled out of a game that wasn’t all that physical and that the three new referees could take the same approach to maintain control after four emotional regular-season meetings.

“You can kind of see the pattern of the game,” Griffin said at the practice facility. “The first couple fouls, you can kind of see how refs are calling the game. It was a little shaky at some points yesterday.

“I didn’t really anticipate the game to be called like that, both ways. It wasn’t just our team. It wasn’t like were just out there just getting hosed. It was tight both ways. Obviously they had guys in foul trouble, we had guys in foul trouble. The thing is, it changes from game to game. Obviously a different set of officials, so the next game could be extremely physical and not many fouls called. I think I just need to do a better job of reading that situation early on.”


VIDEO: Blake Griffin talks after Clippers practice

It’s an additional issue for Griffin in the wake of finishing tied for sixth in the league for most personals, with teammate DeAndre Jordan seventh. More encouraging for the Clippers, Blake Superior managed the problem well enough to average 35.8 minutes per game.

Obviously, he needs to adjust to referees calling games tighter in the playoffs.

Or, obviously he doesn’t.

“No,” Rivers insisted. “Blake needs to play even more intense and even more aggressive, not go the other way. I actually thought two of his fouls came from not trying to foul. You could see him. He was trying to stay out of the way when on both of those he should have rotated earlier like he was supposed to, but he was so concerned about fouls. And he said that it affected him. But that’s human. Guys who have been around the league a long time, you know when you get those two early ones, historically the game goes bad for you. I was amazed how well Blake actually played in those 19 minutes, because usually that doesn’t happen. Usually when you have those fouls, your rhythm is messed up, you’re scared to play on both ends. I was happy that at least on the one end he was still aggressive.”

Officiating increased as a talking point of the series when the league announced Sunday that referees missed a foul that should have sent Chris Paul to the line with 18.9 seconds remaining and the Clippers down two. Instead of L.A. having the chance to tie, the Warriors got the ball and won 109-105.

“It doesn’t make me feel any better or anything like that,” Rivers said. “But I do thinks it’s a good thing to do. I think they take ownership. That was a big call. Chris Paul goes to the line now with two free throws to tie the game. Having said that, there’s nothing we can do about it. A mistake happened on their end. But we made our own mistakes and so we have to take ownership of that. We can’t worry about any of that stuff. To me, that’s more clutter and we can’t worry about it.”

No scoring title tension for Durant, compared to Iceman vs. Skywalker, ’78

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

Hall of Famers George Gervin (left) and David Thompson staged a tight scoring race in 19XX. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

The scoring race between Hall of Famers George Gervin (left) and David Thompson in 1978 went down to the wire. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

There is no scoring race in the NBA this season. Not anymore. Kevin Durant tucked that thing in his back pocket sometime back in March during his streak of 41 games with 25 points or more. The Oklahoma City MVP favorite averaged 34.8 points over the half-season from Jan. 7 through Sunday, pulling up his season average to 32.0.

That has the rest of the field chasing Secretariat, as ridden by Usain Bolt. Consider the math: Durant could go scoreless in the Thunder’s final five games and he’d still wind up averaging 30.0 points. For nearest-challenger Carmelo Anthony (27.5 ppg) to catch him – Durant’s actual average at that point would be 30.04938272 – Anthony would need to score 309 points in New York’s final four games. That’s an average of 77.3.

LeBron James, currently in third place at 26.9 ppg, would have an extra game. If he played them all. Which he won’t. But the Miami superstar would need to get 385 points in the Heat’s final five games, an average of 77.0, to boost himself past Durant – if Durant plays five games without scoring a single point the rest of the way.

So this scoring race has been over for some time.

But that wasn’t the case 36 years ago today, when George Gervin and David Thompson shot it out in the closest, most stunning race ever for the scoring title.

Imagine Anthony, on the season’s final night, scoring 73 points against Toronto next Wednesday to move ahead of Durant, only to learn later that the OKC star had scored 63 points to wrest back the crown by the narrowest margin ever (0.0695 points).

That’s precisely what Gervin and Thompson did. Only more dramatically, in an epic anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better showdown that played out seven hours and 1,000 miles apart.

Thompson: ‘Superman on steroids’

Thompson, the Denver Nuggets’ 23-year-old wing player, was first up. He woke up in Detroit for a matinee game trailing Gervin in the scoring race by just 0.2 points per game, 26.6 to the Spurs star’s 26.8. There wasn’t much else to play for – Denver already had clinched its division, while Detroit had been eliminated from a playoff spot days earlier. There weren’t many to play for either, with attendance of just 3,482 at Cobo Arena that Sunday afternoon.

Denver Nuggets vs. Milwaukee Bucks

David Thompson (Vernon Biever/NBAE via Getty Images)

Gervin’s San Antonio team was scheduled to face the Jazz in New Orleans that evening. Thompson only knew that, based on their stats at the moment, he trailed “The Iceman” by 16 points in the scoring race (26.56 to Gervin’s 26.77). Nuggets coach Larry Brown apparently knew it, too, as Thompson related in his 2003 book, Skywalker:

“Do you want to go for it today?” Coach Brown asked me before the game. Whether we won or lost, we were still headed for the playoffs. So the coach was willing to let me shoot to my heart’s content to win the NBA scoring title. If I put up astronomical numbers, then Gervin, playing in New Orleans that evening, would be chasing me.

I hit the first eight shots I took, mainly medium-range jumpers from 15 to 18 feet. As the quarter wore on, I also got a few dunks on alley-oops. … Not realizing what had just occurred — it all happened so fast — I was amazed to learn later that I had set an NBA record for most points in a quarter with 32. That beat Wilt Chamberlain’s 1962 mark by one, set in that historic game where Wilt scored 100 points. Equally stunning was my accuracy in that first quarter. I went 13-14 from the field ([Ben] Poquette‘s block being the only shot I missed) and 6-6 from the foul line.

Thompson scored 21 more in the second quarter for 53 by halftime, and everyone in the building – along with some media people in Detroit suddenly scrambling to get there – could do the easy math and anticipate a challenge to Chamberlain’s and the NBA’s most famous record. As Thompson recalled:

You could see it on the Detroit players’ faces – something like, “There’s no way we can let this guy get 100 on us.” A hundred points? Heck, I was just a 6-foot-4 guard with a hot hand. I nailed the first 20 of 21 shots I had taken and was 20-23 at the half. I’d caught fire before, but never anything like this. … My 13 field goals were also a new NBA record, and it still stands to this day. I was definitely in the zone; I felt like Superman on steroids.

Thompson scored 20 more points in the second half, shooting 8 of 15 after the break. He sank 17 of 20 free throws that day, and his 73 points – the third highest total ever – raised his scoring average to 27.15. He and the Nuggets caught a flight back to Denver, and when Thompson got home, he searched on the radio dial for the Spurs-Jazz broadcast. His rival needed 58 points. That game was in the second quarter when Thompson found it, and he didn’t like what he heard.

 ‘The Iceman’ chaseth

Like Thompson, Gervin had entered the NBA the previous season, merging in when the league absorbed four ABA teams (Nuggets, Spurs, Nets and Pacers) before 1976-77. Nicknamed “The Iceman,” the lanky (6-foot-7), laconic swingman from Eastern Michigan was two years older than Thompson and just as lethal with a basketball. He had averaged 22.2 points in his first five seasons but kicked it up in his sixth, pursuing the first of what would be four NBA scoring titles.

But the first wasn’t guaranteed, as Gervin – talking about that day 18 years later, when he and Thompson were announced as Hall of Fame inductees – learned in a rude awakening:

I was asleep in my hotel room when a reporter called and said, ‘Ice, Thompson scored 73.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s it,’ and I hung up and went back to sleep. Down in the lobby later, some of the guys on the Spurs said, ‘Ice, we’re going to help you.’ My guys loved me.

George Gervin (Anthony Neste/NBAE/Getty Images)

George Gervin (Anthony Neste/NBAE/Getty Images)

Gervin shared more details, at least as he recalled them 36 years later, in a recent studio appearance on Sirius XM’s NBA channel (217):

So it was set up for me. Doug Moe was my coach, so anybody know anything about Doug, we was a run-and-gun type franchise anyway. The guys came to me and said, ‘Ice, let’s get it done, man.’

We went out the first quarter, I missed my first six shots. Called timeout. I was saying, ‘Ah, man, that’s a lot of pressure, man.’ Those guys say, ‘You ain’t got to worry about that. Aw, Ice. C’mon, man.’ I was kiddin’ anyway. I wanted to make sure they were still with me.

We started back, I had 20 that quarter and then I ended up gettin’ 33 the second quarter. End up getting 63 in 33 minutes.

Gervin launched 49 shots that night in New Orleans, hitting 23 of them (“I was kind of rushing,” he said of the first six). He, too, shot 17 of 20 from the line. At 58 points, the scoring title was his. With 63, his average shot past Thompson’s to 26.2195 points.

The closest scoring races since then came in 2009-10, when Durant (rounded to 30.1) edged James (29.7) by .4358 ppg, and in 1993-94. That’s the year San Antonio’s David Robinson, trailing Shaquille O’Neal by 0.0467 points on the final day, scored a career-best 71 in a matinee against the Clippers. O’Neal got 32 for Orlando that night against New Jersey. He wound up losing the title by 0.4418 points (29.3456 to Robinson’s 29.7875), with the Big Runner-Up taking some swipes at the Clippers’ dispassionate defense of his San Antonio rival.

O’Neal might have been calmer had he known his NBA history. On the Spurs’ bench that afternoon, egging on The Admiral to chase down that crown: Assistant coach George Gervin.

Warriors make another change to coaching staff

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Warriors rout the Kings, sweeping the season series

Adding another layer of scrutiny at a time they desperately need stability, the Warriors fired third-year assistant coach Darren Erman on Saturday for “a violation of company policy,” the second change to the coaching staff in 12 days.

Unlike re-assigning assistant Brian Scalabrine to the D-League affiliate in Santa Cruz, Calif., though, there was no indication the Erman decision was connected to coach Mark Jackson. General manager Bob Myers said, according to Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group, that Erman’s termination was not a basketball decision and that Erman “had committed a serious violation” that Myers would not reveal.

A move that ordinarily would draw little attention became new speculation about the direction of the team because of the timing, so soon after another assistant, Scalabrine, was removed from the bench because of issues with Jackson. And all of that would be easier to overlook if the Warriors had better footing than sixth place in the Western Conference, at 47-29 having already matched last season’s win total but also just two games ahead of Phoenix and Memphis in a tie for No. 9 and the lottery.

The Warriors have not recorded two wins in a row since beating the Trail Blazers, Magic and Bucks on March 16-20. Then came six consecutive games of back and forth — losing to the Spurs, beating the Grizzlies, losing to the Knicks, beating the Mavericks, losing to the Spurs, beating the Kings — and the Scalabrine decision. Jackson, already under pressure from owner Joe Lacob to deliver more than improvement in the regular-season win total, has been followed the entire way by public speculation about his job future.

That will be decided by how happy Lacob is with the playoff outcome, not on the basis of Jackson’s relationship with assistant coaches. Even if the Erman firing has nothing to do with Jackson, it adds to the perception problem and becomes another potential distraction as the playoffs fast approach.

“This is not the norm,” Jackson said in the BANG story. “That’s OK because really in both decisions, the right decisions were made. You move forward. To me, I think it’s a great time for us as a team and an organization. To still be standing, this isn’t new. It’s new to you guys. It’s not new to us. So to still be standing, still winning and still in our right minds says a lot about this culture.

“A great pastor said, ‘You cannot fix the foundation in the middle of a storm. It’s too late then’. The foundation has been laid, and it’s going to hold up. There’s no question about that. I love that line.”

Myers’ comments Saturday included the obligatory vote of confidence for Jackson.

“We believe that Mark is fully capable, and we’re confident in his ability to keep going in the right direction, keep propelling us like he has all year, and we believe that he’s going to continue to be successful like he has been,” the GM said. “We believe in his ability the rest of the way.”

Milwaukee’s Sanders apologizes, but advocates for medical marijuana use

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Larry Sanders takes an elbow from the Rockets’ James Harden

CHICAGO – Larry Sanders, the Milwaukee Bucks center whose season has been as miserable due to injuries and off-court incidents as his team’s has been from losing, was suspended Friday for five games without pay for violating the NBA/NBPA anti-drug program.

But if it was up to Sanders, neither he nor any other player in the league would be penalized for smoking marijuana. While he said he would abide by the terms of the penalty, Sanders offered an enthusiastic defense of the drug for its medical benefits.

“It’s something I feel strongly about, just to let you know something personal about me,” the 6-foot-11 player told NBA.com and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel prior to the Bucks’ game against Chicago at United Center Friday. “I will deal with the consequences from it. It’s a banned substance in my league. But I believe in marijuana and the medical side of it.

“I know what it is if I’m going to use it. I study it and I know the benefits it has. In a lot of ways we’ve been deprived. You can’t really label it with so many other drugs that people can be addicted to and have so many negative effects on your body and your family and your relationships and impairment. This is not the same thing.”

Per terms of the league’s illegal substance policy and random testing procedures, Sanders’ suspension means he has failed three tests in his career. It is unclear when his five-game hiatus actually will begin; he has been sidelined since undergoing surgery for a right orbital fracture sustained Feb. 8 against Houston. Recently, Sanders said he was out for the rest of this season and the Bucks had listed him that way in media reports – that would push his suspension into the start of 2014-15.

The team released a statement expressing its disappointment in Sanders, and Bucks coach Larry Drew echoed it Friday evening. He said that losing Sanders at the start of next season, when the player and the team might have hoped for a clean slate, would be difficult.

“Sure it would be tough. He’s a guy we count on,” Drew said. “If it does happen to start next year, we’ll just have to deal with it.”

Expectations were high for Saunders as Milwaukee’s defensive anchor. He had been rewarded for his breakout 2012-13 performance (9.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.8 bpg) with a four-year, $44 million extension that kicks in next year. But he has played only 23 games, averaging 7.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.74 blocks and 25.4 minutes. He gained YouTube.com infamy for his involvement in a Milwaukee nightclub melee hours after playing poorly in the team’s home opener.

He returned in late December but struggled along with the Bucks, who were staking out the NBA’s basement in the standings. Sanders had only five games with 10 or more rebounds and only six with more than two blocked shots before suffering his facial injury in February.

Saunders also issued a statement Friday apologizing to fans and taking responsibility for his actions. He said he didn’t think the suspension, if it comes at the beginning of next season, would mar what he, too, hopes is a fresh start.

“Yeah I could [overcome that],” he said. “The recipe doesn’t change. It’s just more motivation to work harder. It’s something negative to deal with. But the recipe doesn’t change for me. I’m just as excited for the summer.”

Marijuana use, still illegal in the U.S. with the exception of Colorado and Washington, has gained supporters in recent months. Sanders said he understands that it is prohibited by the NBA and the players union, which have talked of strengthening their combined anti-drug program rather than easing it. He apologized for this latest incident’s impact on his teammates but said he does not believe marijuana use is wrong.

“The stigma is that it’s illegal. I hate that,” Sanders said. “Once this becomes legal, this all will go away.”

Sanders said that, in terms of social use, he sees smoking marijuana as similar to drinking alcoholic beverages. But his primary defense of the drug was for medical use.

“The great thing about that idea is that, then you could get prescribed for it and see a doctor and they could tell you,” he said. “You don’t have to self-medicate, you don’t have to over-medicate ourselves. Y’know, because we don’t know now. We can’t diagnose ourselves.

“Once it becomes legal … you sit down with a doctor and [he says], ‘You may need this three times a day. This dosage here.’ And you don’t over-medicate. It [addresses] those needs medically that you need. It’s natural.”

The Bucks said they would have no comment beyond their issued statement (“Larry Sanders has a responsibility to every person in our organization and our fans. We are all disappointed by the news of his suspension.”).

An NBA spokesperson, contacted for reaction to Sanders’ defense of marijuana use, declined to comment Friday night.

OKC’s Thunder get their scowl back

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

Russell Westbrook, Kendrick Perkins (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Russell Westbrook, Kendrick Perkins (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Kendrick Perkins‘ PER — if you’re familiar with such statistics — sinks lower than his scowl. And he’s useless against the Miami Heat. And…

It didn’t stop stubbornly loyal Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks Thursday night from happily penciling the league’s most poked-at big man — even by, and especially so, the locals – back into the starting lineup for the first time in six weeks against the unbeatable Spurs. Perkins returned from surgery to repair a strained groin suffered Feb. 20 against Miami.

What’d the perpetually peeved Perk do in 11 minutes, 59 seconds of action?: Zero points. Zero shot attempts. One rebound. One assist. One turnover. One blocked shot. And one two-armed shove of Spurs royalty Tim Duncan. The Thunder ate it up.

With 10:45 to go in the third quarter of a game that streaking San Antonio had controlled and led 53-50, Perkins wrapped his meaty right arm around Duncan’s chest, drawing a foul. When Perkins kept his bear claw pressed up against the future Hall of Famer’s slim torso, Duncan animatedly attempted to unlock himself. Perkins retaliated, shoving Duncan in the back. He mouthed something likely not repeatable as Duncan sort of playfully stumbled forward while flashing a sly smile as if to suggest Perk’s caveman methods were of no use here.

Only what happened next might suggest otherwise. The Thunder jacked up the intensity and blitzed the Spurs for a 15-5 run and a 65-58 lead by the time Perkins checked out for good with 5:28 left in the period. Oklahoma City cruised from there.

Coincidence? Perhaps. But Perkins, as Spurs coach Gregg Popovich might say, brought the nasty.

“Every team needs that,” Popovich said after the Thunder ended the Spurs’ 19-game win streak with a 106-96 victory, one that also gave OKC a 4-0 season sweep of the reigning West champs. “He is an enforcer, he has an edge, he has a toughness. You know he plays not to take any prisoners kind of thing, and that is great for a team.”

The scowl is back, and the Thunder will take it. And contrary to what some believe, they’ll need it. Especially if OKC meets double-wide Memphis in the first round. Or the Clippers’ punishing front line. Or these Spurs once again in May.

“We’re a team that’s going to come and get real physical with you,” Perkins, averaging just 3.4 points and 4.9 rebounds a game, said afterward. “Our energy level was high. Early they came out and hit a lot of contested 2s and we kept saying that they’re not going to hit those shots all night, so I think we did a great job.”

For the first time in a long time, the Thunder were almost whole Thursday night. Now they only lack starting shooting guard and top perimeter defender Thabo Sefolosha. What they got Thursday night was a full dose of down-home Perkins attitude and the hot-blowing tempest of talent and temper of point guard Russell Westbrook. It’s a combination that the otherwise mild-mannered Thunder, only 11-6 with Perkins sidelined, must have.

While Kevin Durant kills with kindness, Westbrook and Perkins are the schoolyard bullies who’ll take your lunch money and leave you with a wedgie. The 6-foot-10, 270-pound Perkins is the man who earlier in the season kicked come-in-peace Bulls center Joakim Noah out of the Thunder’s home locker room when he dropped in to catch up with Swiss-born friend Sefolosha.

“Get your a– up outta here,” Perkins barked.

Before this expectation-laden season began, just before the Thunder discovered Westbrook would need a second surgery on his right knee (and eventually a third), Perkins lamented life without the team’s spring-loaded firecracker.

“You never know until they’re gone what you’re missing from certain individuals,” Perkins said. “I’m not just talking about Russell going on the attack, scoring 30 points and dishing out 10 assists. I’m talking about the other little things he brings to the table. Russell gives our team swag. He gives me swag, I feed off of him. I know this at all times, if I’m on the court and I got a frown on my face, I know one other person for sure whose got a frown on his face and that’s Russ. In the playoffs I couldn’t find him, I couldn’t find him. And you just don’t take people for granted. It’s not the big things, it’s the little things that matter.”

Perhaps there’s a bigger message in there.


VIDEO: The Thunder ended the Spurs’ 19-game win streak Thursday night in Oklahoma City

Director Grossman’s NBA roots ran deep

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: NBA TV family remembers Sandy Grossman

Sandy Grossman, the Emmy Award-winning sports director who died Wednesday at 78 at home in Boca Raton, Fla., was best known for his work in pro football, including 10 Super Bowl telecasts and more than two decades in the TV truck supporting announcers Pat Summerall and John Madden. As CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said, “For many years, Sandy Grossman’s name was synonymous with excellence in NFL coverage.”

But Grossman’s roots ran deep in the NBA as well. In fact, he was lead director on The Finals 18 times, nearly double his work on the NFL’s premier event. And a full quarter-century ago, Grossman had an answer for what some consider a looming headache to this day: a championship series without big markets to drive the huge audience numbers sponsors like to see.

But based on what Grossman told a reporter from the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel back in April 1989, he wouldn’t have been wringing his hands over the prospect of a Finals pitting, say, Oklahoma City against Indiana. In his mind, the presentation and the individual star power could transcend market size or the absence of legacy teams:

“We found a strong phenomenon last year [1988],” Grossman said. “We had Los Angeles and Detroit, and we set all kinds of records. We were concerned that only an L.A.-Boston final could attract such a large audience. That’s significant, when the quality of the event matters more than who plays in it.

“You have to prepare for the fact you could have Utah-Cleveland at the end. But by that time, people will be familiar with the characters. We’ll be banking on the Mailman [Karl Malone] and [Cleveland's] Brad Daugherty to provide drama.”

Grossman, who started at CBS as an usher working The Ed Sullivan Show in 1957, knew drama. He told the Sun-Sentinel in that 1989 story that his most fulfilling NBA telecast was Game 5 of the 1976 Finals between Boston and Phoenix, the famous “Gar Heard” game that went to triple-overtime.

The accolades poured in for Grossman, who was raised in Newark, N.J., then studied at the University of Alabama, hoping to become a sports announcer. Instead, he wound up behind the scenes and had an even greater impact, from the tributes in the Associated Press story on his passing:

“He was a brilliant director and a thoughtful colleague,” Fox Sports President Eric Shanks said. “He mentored many of us here and throughout the sports TV industry, and we learned more from him than he could imagine.”

His innovations included using music to go into the break during basketball games. After Grossman played “The Hustle” by Van McCoy, his son recalled, sales of the song skyrocketed, so the musician sent him gold records as a thank you.

Visitors to his TV truck over the years included Richard Nixon and Oliver Stone, Dean Grossman said.

“If there wasn’t an envelope to push, Sandy would create one,” said former Fox Sports Chairman David Hill, a senior executive vice president for News Corp.

As Madden put it, “He had guts.”

A piece on the Alabama Media Group’s Web site offered details into Grossman’s creative process and some of the innovations he tried and helped popularize:

Grossman became most famous for his legendary pairing with producer Bob Stenner on Fox and CBS for more than four decades. Grossman and Stenner revolutionized how broadcasters approached games, such as the now-standard production meetings with coaches and players before the telecast.

Those funny comments Madden would make from the booth upon seeing a random fan in the stands? Grossman found those shots, knowing that Madden’s sense of humor would produce funny spontaneous and funny TV.

Grossman has been credited for other contributions in the industry. Among them: music going to commercial breaks (ABA coverage in the 1970s); miking coaches during games (1975 NBA Finals); and having low cameras at half-court and under the baskets.

Grossman is survived by Faithe, his wife of 51 years, and their four children and eight grandchildren.