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Morning shootaround — April 25




VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s playoff action

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Kawhi shines for Spurs | Small Wizards big hit | New Rose blooming | Pelicans pick up pieces | Hack-a-Shaq to get review

No. 1: Leonard makes another statement for the Spurs — On the night he was presented with the Kia Defensive Player of the Year Trophy, Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard added to his growing legend by proving that he is more than a one-trick pony. Just ask the Clippers, who watched him bury jumpers, throw down lob dunks and do virtually anything he pleased in carrying his team past L.A. 100-73 to take a 2-1 lead in the first-round playoff series. Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News had the blow-by-blow:

“He’s like Deion Sanders,Doc Rivers said. “You’re trying to find where the hell in the backfield he is.”
The answer Friday: Everywhere.

Rivers wasn’t sure if Leonard’s 32 points — on 13-for-18 shooting — spoke volumes Friday, but conceded they might have.

“I think he was trying to tell all the voters he’s a player, not just a defensive player,” Rivers said.

With Leonard playing Pied Piper, the Spurs unleashed the kind of fury that seemed like a nightly occurrence last spring, en route to torching Miami in the most lopsided Finals in NBA history.

They shot 51.6 percent, a high for the series, and hit 41.7 percent from 3-point range. That was a marked improvement from Games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles, when the Spurs made only 18 of 58 from long range.

“I don’t know about effort and execution,” Rivers said. “I know we got our butt kicked.”

Afterward, Gregg Popovich was quick to put the blowout in perspective.

“We just had a heck of a night,” Popovich said, “and it was just one night.”

***

No. 2: Wizards go big by getting small — Back in the the 1970s, Steve Martin had a hit comedy album called “Let’s Get Small.” Is Wizards coach Randy Wittman ready to hit the charts with an updated version? Is it possible that Wittman had this planned all through the second half of the regular season, when the Wizards played rope-a-dope with the rest of the league and just reeled everyone in? A team that looked barely mediocre over the last 2 1/2 months has looked stunning in building a 3-0 lead on the Raptors and the Wiz have done it by going to a small lineup that makes the most of Paul Pierce and Otto Porter, according to our own John Schuhmann:

Then the regular season turned into the playoffs and a different Wizards team emerged. This one plays a small lineup, with Paul Pierce at power forward, liberally. This one has scored 116 points per 100 possessions over the last two games, and it took just 12 of its 76 shots from mid-range in Game 3 of the first round on Friday.
This Wizards team took two games in Toronto and is up 3-0 on the Raptors after a 106-99 victory back at home, with a chance to complete the sweep on Sunday.

Game 3 of this series followed a similar script as Games 1 and 2. The Raptors had a lead midway through the second quarter when Wizards coach Randy Wittman unleashed his secret weapon, a lineup that features Pierce and Otto Porter at the forward spots.

Pierce is the 37-year-old, grizzled vet who’s been here before.
Friday was career playoff game No. 151.

“That’s why we brought him here,” Wittman said, “for these kind of situations.”

Porter is the 21-year-old, former No. 3 pick who played a grand total of 319 minutes as a rookie last season and who was again out of the rotation just a month ago. On March 27 against Charlotte, he was a DNP, coach’s decision. Friday was career playoff game No. 6.

“He’s just growing up, right before your eyes,” Pierce said of Porter. “What better way to come out like this than in the spotlight of the playoffs.”

One of the reasons Porter got some minutes in early April was to keep Pierce fresh for the playoffs. After March 3, the pair never played more than seven minutes together in a game.
But apparently, Wittman was playing possum.

“We finally tweaked some things we’ve been saying we want to do all year,” Pierce said. “It makes us more versatile as a team, moving me to the four, giving John more space to get to the lane, opening up things for our scorers and our shooters.”

For the third straight game, the Wizards took the lead when Wittman went to the small lineup in the second quarter. This time, it was needed again in the fourth.

***

No. 3:  That’s not the same old Rose leading the Bulls — Forget everything that long-time basketball playwright William Shakespeare ever told you. The same old Derrick Rose by any name is not the sweet young thing that won the 2011 MVP and used to fly recklessly around the court for the Bulls. The new Rose, in a reflective mood, tells our Steve Aschburner that he’s smarter and better now:

“It’s over,” he said. “That player that you saw, that reckless player is smarter now.”
Rose laughed.

“If I didn’t grow in this game, I’d be mad at myself,” he said. “Just trying to take the shots that they’re giving me, trying to adjust while I’m playing.

“I love this player. This player’s better. Smarter. More effective. I think I’m not rushing anything while I’m out there. Letting the game come to me. The only thing I’ve got to handle is my turnovers, but in crucial situations I think they haven’t cost us. Every game I have it on my mind to try to keep the turnovers down, but playing the game of basketball, it’s not a perfect game.”

Breaking into stages his repeated and occasionally aborted comebacks from multiple knee surgeries, Rose has managed to keep them reasonable and, so far this time, achievable. With his play through three games against the Bucks — he’s averaging 24.0 points, 8.0 assists, 10-of-22 on 3-point attempts and a mighty 120/96 split in offensive and defensive ratings — Rose unofficially has reached the “pinch me” stage for the Bulls and their fans.

Many of them never thought they’d see again the day they could enjoy, free of worry, Rose’s romps through the lane and violent bursts in changing direction. To them, Rose’s comments were meant to be reassuring, offering up a player who might not drop jaws quite like the 22-year-old who took home the Maurice Podoloff MVP trophy but one who is better equipped to stick around and lead the Bulls where they all want to go.

***

No. 4: Pelicans must grow from painful lesson — The shock and pain of watching the ugly game video from the stunning Game 3 loss is past. The hurt of seeing Stephen Curry’s game-tying 3-pointer out of the left corner has numbed them. The knowledge that a chance to throw a real scare into the Warriors has slipped through their fingers has sunk in. Now comes the heavy lifting for the Pelicans, says our Fran Blinebury. Turning the agonizing lesson into fuel for the future fire:

On one hand, just making the rally to get into the playoffs should have been the accomplishment for a nascent roster to grow on. But to win a game when they had their hands around the best-record-in-the-league Warriors’ necks for most of the night would have been a shouting-from-the-rooftops cry that their day was coming fast.

“You have to take ownership of it,” said coach Monty Williams said. “You can’t sugarcoat it. We’re all feeling like dirt right now, so obviously you want to build them up, but there is nothing that can build you up in a situation like that. It can be a growth moment for us. It’s just tough. To have the game, and to lose it that way, there is no way to fix it right away. We’ve got to deal with it and own it.”

The Pelicans gave Curry not one, but two chances to tie the game in the final six seconds of regulation. They gave up 10 offensive rebounds and 16 second-chance points in the fourth quarter. They didn’t smartly foul Marreese Speights when he pulled in the critical rebound and before he got the ball back to Curry in the left corner. They watched a Warriors team show that the only way to really close out a game is to keep hammering and hammering away at it until there is not a single tick left on the clock.

For all the game situations and different looks and predicaments that can be encountered over the long 82-game regular season schedule, they are not the kind of lessons that can be learned in December and January or even March and April. It takes the finality of the playoffs — win or go home — to be the stern, painful, enduring teacher.

***

No. 5:Poor free-throw shooters of the world can celebrate — Let rim benders rejoice. No more long, tedious hours in the gym wasted on improving one of the most fundamental parts of your craft. NBA commissioner Adam Silver told Tim McMahon of the ESPNDallas.com that there will be serious discussion about the “Hack-a-Shaq” rule in various league meetings this spring:

Silver, who replaced the retired David Stern as commissioner in February 2014, acknowledged that the discussion is “in part” about weighing the value of entertainment and strategy.

It’s been a talking point during the playoffs, with the San Antonio Spurs sending the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan to the foul line 17 times in a playoff victory earlier this week.

“I really don’t know. I think we’re clearly going to look at it, and even though I have D.J. [Jordan], I still go back and forth on it,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers told reporters before Friday night’s Game 3 against the Spurs. “I was put on the committee to look at what’s good for the league, not our team, and it’s still a tough one for me even though it’s obvious for everyone. Every ref, every game it starts, he [Jordan] looks over at me and says, ‘You guys have to stop this.’”

Rivers’ conflicted opinion of the strategy mirrored Silver’s.

“It’s a tough one for me. I go back and forth on it because I look at the other side as if you make it, they won’t do it,” Rivers said.

“That’s too simple, I think, and I think fans watching it, I don’t think it’s that enjoyable to watch and we’re all waiting for the game where a team has one [poor free throw shooter] on each team and the coaches go back and forth and do it. The game is going to last forever, No. 1, and it would be ugly to watch, so that’s my answer.”

Silver reiterated his awareness and responsibility of the balance between protecting how the game is played and creating a compelling product.

“But at the end of the day, it’s about the game,” Silver said. “I used to run something called NBA Entertainment, but I always remind myself in my job now as commissioner and managing the league office, it’s the game above all. So I think we have to [determine] what makes the most sense for the game.

“That’s why I’m sensitive about guys being able to make their free throws, and I also find that sometimes it’s a fascinating strategy,” Silver said. “We’re very conservative when it comes to changing the rules of the game. That’s why changing the rules of the game requires more than the majority of the owners; it requires a super majority. So we’ve got to be very careful, but it is something that we’re looking at closely.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Down 3-0 to the Rockets, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle comes out swinging at the referees…After a career playoff high 26 rebounds, there are no more questions about Dwight Howard’s health…Kyle Lowry’s struggles continue as Raptors go down 3-0…By the way, league office says OT might not have been necessary.  Stephen Curry was also fouled on that clutch game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation Game 3… Count the Celtics as being surprised that the situation between Rajon Rondo and the Mavericks blew up so badly…Kawhi Leonard will remain a Spur next season and could help recruit LaMarcus Aldridge to join him in San Antonio.

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

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

Parker ready for tonight’s Game 3

SAN ANTONIO — Tony Parker is a go for Game 3 but that doesn’t mean Parker will definitely go, in terms of acceleration.

As Tim Duncan stated earlier, Parker is “a gamer. I guarantee he’ll be out there because that’s the player he is.” Actually, Parker’s presence wasn’t much in doubt; his ability to roam the floor freely without any restriction or pain is in question. He has battled leg injuries for a segment of the season, first the hamstring and lately the quad and Achilles, which caused him to skip the last five minutes of regulation and OT in Game 2 without scoring a basket. Obviously his health is of great importance to the Spurs’ chances of beating the Clippers in this first-round series, let alone repeating as champs.

“Been a tough year,” Parker said. “But nobody cares about that. I’ll be alright.”

A limping Parker conjures up images of last season when he couldn’t finish a pair of playoff series, but the Spurs won without him. There’s a difference this time, though. Parker didn’t get injured until late in those rounds. This time, he’s gimpy right from the start, which puts the Spurs in a bind. If he can’t play at or near his level, that’s asking the Spurs to beat Chris Paul with Patty Mills three more times.

One game, OK. But three?

Mills dropped 18 on the Clippers and was huge in overtime. Also, Duncan turned back the clock with 28 points and 11 rebounds, but had to labor 44 minutes. Essentially, it took a lot for the Spurs to win Game 2, which would’ve gone the Clippers’ way had Blake Griffin not lost a crucial turnover late in regulation (and another in OT).

As if Parker’s problems weren’t enough, the Spurs are getting little from Manu Ginobili, who seems a step slow on the floor and one step quicker toward possible retirement this summer.

Rockets ready for Mavericks’ zone

HOUSTON — Even though zone defenses are still more the exception than the norm in the NBA, don’t expect the Rockets to panic if, as expected, the Mavericks play a lot more of it in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series Tuesday night.

“We’ve seen it off and on throughout the year,” said Rockets coach Kevin McHale. “Usually we’ve been able to handle it pretty well. The key is to just get the ball in certain spots. We have a couple key spots we try to get the ball into. That guy’s just got to be a decision maker.

“I thought in the first game we tried making home run plays from there. Sometimes you just got to lay down a bunch of singles. Just move it on to the weak side, move it on to the open man. It may not be the perfect pass, but it’s the next pass and then the pass after that or the pass after that will be the scoring pass. We just gotta get it moving.”

Gasol’s seat-of-his-pants assist turns Bulls’ blooper into highlight


VIDEO: Gasol’s sit-down pass

CHICAGO – It wasn’t a planned play. Which is to say, it wasn’t preordained.

But Pau Gasol still felt obliged to thank The Coach Upstairs as he headed upcourt, subtly making the sign of the cross in gratitude for the blessing that just had befallen him and his team.

The Chicago Bulls’ All-Star center turned a near-blooper into something highlight-worthy late in the third quarter of his team’s playoff opener against Milwaukee Saturday night. Spinning but losing his balance along the left side of the lane, Gasol fell to the court, his back to the baseline as his man, Bucks’ John Henson, backed off in anticipation of a likely turnover.

But as Gasol landed on butt, momentum toppling him onto his back, he managed to shovel a bounce pass to teammate Taj Gibson. Gibson went up strong, Henson a little late and too far under the rim to successfully challenge the dunk. The bucket pushed Chicago’s lead – as slim as three points earlier in the quarter – to 86-73, and it generated some chatter after the Bulls practice Sunday.

“No, I didn’t consciously see him,” Gasol admitted. “I was just trying to react to an unexpected fall, and luckily he was in the right spot at the right time. And I was able to instinctively make a good pass.

“I saw him and I tried to bounce it to him. He had good position. Probably the defense thought I was going to turn it over.”

Gibson had been asked about the play moments before. “We watched it in film,” he said. “I knew he was going to pass it when he was falling. But it was an awesome pass, I guess.”

The Bulls backup big man smiled as he said that, because Gasol was standing at the edge of the media scrum at that moment, hunched over and mugging as if intently scrutinizing Gibson’s answer.

“Yeah, I see him,” Gibson said, laughing.

Better still, Gasol saw Gibson. Or at least his ankles.

Foot sprain ominous for Memphis’ Conley

Those pained expressions among the Memphis Grizzlies when Marc Gasol was whistled for a foul on his potentially game-saving block of Utah’s Gordon Hayward Friday night?

Those might be nothing compared to the Grizzlies’ reactions if Mike Conley‘s right foot sprain gets any more serious.

At the moment, the Memphis point guard and the team’s medical staff are only talking about shutting him down for what’s left of the regular season. But since that amounts to just three games and as few as seven days before the Grizzlies have to open the playoffs, it sounds a little ominous already. The Memphis Commercial Appeal‘s report provided details from Salt Lake City after the victory (yes, Hayward missed the third of three free throws, failing to push the game into overtime):

Conley said the injury feels like he’s constantly walking on a golf ball. There is inflammation and swelling above the plantar fasciitis, making it so Conley can’t put much pressure on his right foot or run and jump effectively.

There also is a notion that Conley could miss the Grizzlies’ final three regular-season games – something Conley hoping isn’t the case.

“I don’t want to shut down. I’d like to be playing and in a rhythm going into the playoffs as opposed to sitting,” Conley said. “But I’ve had a bad little stretch with injuries. I don’t know what the smart thing to do is but I’m going to do the right thing for myself and the team.”

Conley suffered the injury Wednesday during the Grizzlies’ blowout win over New Orleans. Unlike with his ankles, wrist, neck and back, Conley felt the pain in his foot without experiencing any contact.

He took a routine step on the court and immediately sensed pain. Conley actually played the second and third quarters of that game hurting.

“Once I’m able to walk and put pressure on my feet, and run and cut without hesitating I can play,” Conley said. “(Friday) I couldn’t really jump or put any pressure on my foot. In a day’s time, you never know. I’m just going to see what it’s like (Saturday).”

Meanwhile, he’s back to wearing a walking boot. Conley receives ice and electric stimulus as regular treatments.

Cavaliers’ Love to face Bulls in, for him, April game that finally matters


VIDEO: Love discusses the Cavs, his health after practice

Cleveland forward Kevin Love, seven years into his NBA career, finally is set to experience things he previously knew only from afar: Games in April that matter. A playoff berth secured and waiting. Boundless potential with fellow Cavs stars LeBron James and Kyrie Irving and a solidifying cast of teammates who want nothing less than the Larry O’Brien trophy come June.

So, yeah, he’s likely to be back in action Sunday when the Cavaliers face the Chicago Bulls on Easter afternoon at Quicken Loans Arena.

Love missed Cleveland’s most recent game, a blowout home victory Thursday over Miami. But the schedule has been the Cavs’ friend, with just that one game since Love reinjured his back March 29 against Philadelphia. An unusual stretch of rest-and-rehab days culminated Saturday with Love participating fully in practice. His absence Thursday came as something of a surprise – something the Cavs and their fans need not worry about this time, as Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio media group reported:

Being that the Cavaliers only played twice this week, Love received some much-needed rest and recuperation. He has been banged up all year, but he says this is the best he’s felt in a long time.

“A lot of April, as far as the schedule goes, we have a few days in between games. For me, I haven’t played a game, as of tomorrow, in a week. So yes, I’d probably say it’s one of the best I’ve felt.”

Love leads the team with 36 double-doubles and is posting numbers of 16.5 points and 10.0 rebounds. He has missed six games this year. [Coach David] Blatt may grant another rest for his power forward before the season concludes, but it doesn’t sound like it will be on Sunday.

“Kev looked pretty good today,” Blatt said. “Hopefully in the morning he’ll feel as well as he did today.”

Love has been piling up fewer big numbers this season but getting better results. At 49-27, Cleveland already has won more games this season than Love’s Minnesota teams won in any two consecutive seasons. Last year, he had 65 double-doubles but the Wolves’ hopes of reaching the postseason stalled out at 40-42. None of his Timberwolves squads even finished .500.

The Cavaliers are 46-24 in games in which Love has played, 3-3 when he has missed. Cleveland’s record without its other two stars: James 2-9, Irving 1-4.

Pacers’ George to make season debut Sunday against Miami

As if there wasn’t already enough going on in Indianapolis this weekend, the Indiana Pacers’ home game against the Miami Heat just leaped a spot or two on the list of must-see priorities.

Paul George, the Pacers’ All-Star wing player who has been out all season since suffering a gruesome leg fracture in Team USA play in August, basically announced he would return against the Heat Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. He put out the word via Twitter and Instagram Saturday morning:

George, 24, returned to practice in February and has been involved in full-contact scrimmaging for weeks. He initially had hoped to play on March 14 but, regardless of his physical condition, didn’t sound mentally ready – he spoke then of potentially messing up Indiana’s rhythm, with the team on a seven-game winning streak.

George was to meet with the media Saturday afternoon at the Fieldhouse, along with Pacers coach Frank Vogel and team doctor Tim Hupfer. But in a statement released shortly before noon by the club, he said: “The recovery has been a long process and this is another step in the process. I thank everyone, my family, friends, doctors, our training staff, coaches, the entire Pacers’ family for their support and encouragement. I’m excited, but at the same time I’m aware I’m still in a rehab stage and will continue to work to get back to full strength.”

Also in the release, Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird said: “We’re happy to have Paul back in uniform, and this is just another step in his rehabilitation from the injury. He has worked hard to get to this point and still has work to do, but it’s a positive step toward what we hope will be a full recovery at some point. His minutes will be limited in games he plays as we evaluate his progress moving forward.”

Indiana (33-43) woke up Saturday in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, 1.5 games behind No. 8 Miami (34-41) with Boston (34-42) wedged between them. Brooklyn (35-40), is at No. 7 while Charlotte (32-43) slipped to 11th with its drubbing Friday by the Pacers.

George, who averaged 21.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists in helping Indiana reach the Eastern Conference finals last season, will have six games left in the regular season, with at least one day off before each of the first five.

With the NCAA men’s Final Four in town, a media contingent and interested basketball fan base much larger than usual may be on hand for George’s comeback game. On March 16, he had told reporters he preferred to make his return at home. “Obviously, I think it would be a better moment coming back here,” George said. “I think I owe it to the fans for them to get the first glimpse of my first night on the floor.”

Blogtable: Future for Rondo and Ellis?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Kerr’s smartest move? | Future for Rondo and Ellis? | Your All-Rookie team



VIDEORajon Rondo throws a fancy assist to Monta Ellis

> Your nameplate says “Donn Nelson, General Manager Dallas Mavericks.” So tell me Mr. Nelson, will Monta Ellis and Rajon Rondo be in your backcourt again next season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I don’t like it. Too mercurial. Too imbalanced. Not big enough for the defensive end, despite Rondo’s Boston reputation. An awful lot of money for too players whose consistency (Ellis), durability (Rondo) and temperaments (both) make your team vulnerable to way too many slumps and, considering they’re both veterans, far too much drama.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comConsidering that all we’ve gotten from this combination this season is a battle for a low seed in the West, it doesn’t seem reasonable to give both players big, big raises to do it all again. Considering that desperate teams such as the Lakers and Knicks might be reaching out to a free-agent in Rondo, it’s more likely that we let him go and concentrate on re-signing Ellis.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Rondo will, Ellis won’t. Ellis has had some good moments in Dallas, but I’m not going to reach too deep into the wallet to keep him. Rondo is another matter. Re-signing him was part of the plan when we traded for him. Of course there have been emotional conflicts. It’s Rondo. Big surprise. But tell me where I will find a better point guard. He may not be the Rondo of old, but he can still be a positive.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Unless there are better options, the answer is yes. I’m not thrilled with either player but it’s easy to say “dump them” without having capable replacements. Of the two, I’m not real sold on Rondo. His best years were clearly in Boston when Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were in their prime. His shooting is atrocious, especially for a point guard, and as a free agent this summer there’s no way I’d lock him up long term or even give him big short-term money. The Mavs have the upper hand with Rondo. Point guards are just too plentiful.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI’ll certainly be more open to re-signing Ellis (if he declines his player option) than Rondo. Rondo killed my league-best offense when he arrived, clashed with my top-five coach, and was overrated in the first place. So I’ll let the Lakers or Knicks give him a new contract, attempt to work him into an above-average offense (something he hasn’t been a part of in five years), and hope he’ll care about defense on a team that was awful defensively this season. And I’m pretty confident that the Lakers or Knicks will make that mistake. My starting lineup has been much better with either Jameer Nelson or Devin Harris opposite Ellis than with Rondo.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: They will not be back together again next season. The fact is, we’re talking about two guys who both need the ball in their hands to be effective. And it’s not that they are not capable of sharing, it’s that they know they won’t have to with free agency looming. Rondo will have options elsewhere, namely alongside Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, and won’t have to toil in a system that feels restrictive to a free-thinker of his ilk. Monta has shown he can flourish here and should prove to be the better fit long-term.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comIf that’s my name, then I have the authority to ignore your question! I’m going to wait because Ellis and Rondo are big-game players. The Mavs traded for Rondo in particular because of his postseason track record. If Rondo elevates his game in the playoffs, then this discussion changes.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogWell, can you put together a better backcourt? Both of these guys will/could become free agents this summer, and I’m not sure if a Rondo/Ellis backcourt is worth two near-max contracts. And to be honest, looking at their record and performance since adding Rondo, the Rondo/Ellis backcourt hasn’t exactly set the Western Conference on fire. If anything, the Mavs have shown they aren’t afraid to make bold moves. This may be the summer to do exactly that.

 

Haley’s passing has McIlvaine shaken, recommitted


VIDEO: Remembering Jack Haley

Jim McIlvaine never much worried about his body or the toll his NBA career was taking on it. When the 7-foot-1 center from Racine, Wis., walked away from the league in 2001 after seven seasons with Washington, Seattle and New Jersey, it was a decision driven by his heart, not for his heart.

But Jack Haley‘s unexpected death Tuesday at age 51, reportedly from heart disease, as the latest in a series of recent NBA alums who have passed away, had McIlvaine feeling unusually mortal. And blogging about it, one way he spends his time when not working as a broadcast analyst for Marquette University basketball or with Optima Batteries in Milwaukee.

It wasn’t long ago that McIlvaine ran into Haley, the journeyman who played nine seasons with the Bulls, Nets, Lakers and Spurs, on the Las Vegas Strip:

What I do remember is that Jack looked great. He looked fit, he looked happy and during our conversation, it sounded like everything was going well for him. That was just a few months ago. Fast forward to this evening and I noticed a tweet from Detlef Schrempf in my feed, mentioning Jack’s passing. It seems like just the other day I was blogging about the passing of Jerome Kersey and now I find myself asking the same questions- How could it happen? Why Jack? Why now?

McIlvaine turned his distress over Haley’s passing — along with others such as Kersey, Anthony Mason, Dwayne Schintzius, Yinka Dare and a few more —  into a mirror to assess his own post-NBA retirement days. His verdict? Not horrible but not great either.

I know people die young all over the world for a multitude of reasons, but I guess I don’t expect it to happen so often among guys who were some of the world’s elite athletes. I’ve put on some weight since retiring, but 20 pounds is easy to hide on a seven-foot frame. The greater concern for me is my heart. While I had what I would consider an “active” lifestyle for most of my life, in recent years, I’ve become more sedentary. That, combined with some advice from my doctor several years ago, has heightened my awareness for my physical well-being.

I was actually working out with Marquette, when I went in for a physical and was told my cholesterol level was higher than my doctor would’ve liked. She encouraged me to exercise more and I thought to myself, “How much more can I exercise, than chasing around a bunch of college kids?!”

McIlvaine took up triathlons and got so heavy into biking that he required hemorrhoid surgery. It hit him how difficult it is, with a body battered by years of pounding and general basketball demands, to maintain a level of activity like typical 30- and 40-somethings.

With Jack’s passing, it got me thinking about the first time the retired NBA players held their annual summer meeting in conjunction with the current NBA players. It was an eye-opening experience for me and one that I felt gave me an opportunity to look into my own future as a retired player, at least from a physical standpoint. There were guys at that meeting in their 50s (and maybe even 40s), who were hobbling around like they were in their 70s or 80s. I didn’t want that for myself and decided I wouldn’t continue playing until my body would no longer allow it. I know I’m not alone in that regard and when I see guys like [NFL 49ers linebacker] Chris Borland walk away from professional sports, I’m only surprised that it doesn’t [occur] more often.

Adding Jack’s passing to the growing list has made me re-evaluate how I’ve dealt with moderately-high cholesterol in much the same way I did when I first met the retired NBA players. Up until now, I’ve preferred to make dietary adjustments, pop red yeast rice tablets and try to exercise more. The first two efforts have gone well and made a significant difference, but I never seem to find enough time to exercise consistently. I’ll be making a renewed commitment to exercise more, but perhaps more importantly, I’ll be calling my doctor tomorrow for the Lipitor perscription she’d previously-suggested.

McIlvaine, 42, is nine years younger than Haley. He left the NBA at a much younger age (28) than Haley (34), as much for how poorly it fit him psychologically as for any physical toll. At 7-foot-1, he just happened to stand eyeball-to-eyeball with Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan and the league’s other big boppers; that didn’t mean he enjoyed it.

Between the rigors of the league and the hypercriticism he faced over a then-staggering seven-year, $33 million contract he got from the Sonics in 1996, McIlvaine lost his taste for the NBA.

But he hasn’t lost his zest for life in general and Haley’s passing, along with the others, has prompted him to do something about it.

Daylight in Rondo-Carlisle relationship


VIDEO: Rondo talks with media after Friday’s victory

When last we left Rajon Rondo and Rick Carlisle, at least on a national headline-grabbing scale, the former was lipping off to his coach and the latter was firing back, prompting their boss, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, to suspend the mercurial point guard for a game.

But after Dallas’ home rout of the Los Angeles Clippers Friday, Rondo and Carlisle were making nice – much nicer – in comments that ought to be encouraging to fans hoping for a postseason run that’s more long than short.

It’s been nearly three months now since the Mavericks acquired Rondo from Boston on Dec. 18, enough time that Carlisle seems more willing to flip the keys of the offense to the point guard. Here’s how Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com chronicled it:

“He’s really developed a good sense for our team — when to just push it, when to get into something,” Carlisle said. “He really understands the guys that he’s playing with.”

Rondo had been attempting behind the scenes to get more leeway to call plays before his blowup with Carlisle, which occurred after the point guard ignored a play call from the bench, prompting the coach to call a timeout and shout across the floor at Rondo. They both later attributed the disagreement to poor communication.

Rondo said he has been gradually given more responsibility to call plays since returning from his suspension and felt especially comfortable in the role Friday night, when he guided the Mavs to their highest-scoring outing of his stint with the team.

“The trust is becoming more and more better between Coach and I,” Rondo said. “It’s tough to give a guy the keys to the car when he first gets there.

“Tonight, we were on the same page a lot. We talked before the game, as far as the play calling that we wanted to stick with. We were very locked in this morning during the shootaround, and it carried over into the game.”

Carlisle had a similar power struggle, minus the public fireworks, with point guard Jason Kidd during their first season working together in Dallas. Carlisle relinquished most of the play-calling responsibilities to Kidd midway through the 2008-09 season, and they won a title together two seasons later.

More perspective on Rondo and his, er, challenging personality was provided by Doc Rivers, the Clippers coach in Dallas on Friday, as well as Rondo chum Glenn Davis. Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram wrote about that:

From Rivers’ standpoint, there’s a fine line a coach must walk with Rondo.

“Rondo is strong-willed, but he’s a good kid, and I think people get that mixed up,” Rivers said. “He’s got an amazing amount of passion, and he is a ssssmmmaaarrrttt player. I mean, smart. So that stuff happens.”

Clippers forward Glen “Big Baby” Davis said it’s clear that Rondo is simply misunderstood.

“I think Rick Carlisle has to know Rondo, and he just doesn’t know Rondo,” said Davis, who was Rondo’s teammate in Boston from 2007-11. “Rondo is the type of player, you know you want him to do this, you want him to do that, and he’ll make sure it gets done. You’ve just got to tell him what his options are out there, because he’s sort of like a quarterback.”

Statistically, Rondo still is a mess as a piece of the Mavericks’ offense. He’s shooting 41 percent at a time when the league average field-goal percentage is 44.8 percent. So cool it with any Bob Cousy references – it’s true that the Hall of Fame point guard made 37.5 percent of his shots in his career and never topped 39.7 percent. But the league average only cracked 40 percent in Cousy’s final four seasons.

Cousy also took nearly twice as many shots as Rondo – 17.8 per game vs. 9.7 – and averaged 18.4 points to Rondo’s 10.7. The Celtics’ first great point guard hit 80.3 percent of his free throws, too, compared to that team’s most recent great point guard and his ridiculous 31.7 percent this season, which makes him avoid trips to the line entirely.

Still, if Rondo and Carlisle can see eye-to-eye on the rest of the offense, good things might be in store. When Dallas beat Miami for the 2011 championship, Kidd averaged 7.9 points on 36.1 percent shooting (while hitting 87 percent of his free throws).