Blazers, Stotts plan to stick to Hack-a-Howard strategy

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Dwight Howard talks after the Rockets’ practice on Monday

HOUSTON — This being the NBA playoffs, there were pre-game fireworks, flames roaring up almost to the ceiling and canned music cranked to absurd levels.

But by far the loudest sounds to come out of the Rockets’ 122-120 overtime loss to the Blazers in Game 1 were: Clank! Clank! Clank! Clank!

Yup, Dwight Howard shooting free throws.

His team down by nine points with 4 1/2 minutes left in regulation time, Blazers coach Terry Stotts needed a dramatic shift and there are few things fraught with more raw thrills than the sight of the eight-time All-Star at the foul line in the fourth quarter.

So one of the key subplots to watch as the series continues will be Stotts’ willingness to intentionally hack Howard and he says he won’t be shy.

“If I think it’s in our best interest to do it, we will,” he said. “I had no qualms about using it going into the game, and I feel the same way now.”

Stotts instructed his team to intentionally foul Howard on three consecutive possessions. Howard made the first two free throws to the howling delight of the Toyota Center throng. But then he missed four in a row as Portland went on a 7-0 run that turned around the game and could ultimately turn the series.

Howard was a 54.7 percent foul shooter during the regular season and made 26 of 40 (65 percent) in four games against the Blazers. He managed just 9 of 17 in Game 1.

“That changed (the game) somewhat,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said of the strategy. “We missed some free throws. They came just pushing it down and we didn’t defend…then we were kind of back on our heels. They pushed it up on us.”

More important, the Blazers pushed the Rockets over the edge.

Ten years into his career, free-throw woes remain an old, familiar tale with Howard.

The Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, just named Coach of the Year for the third time, has often said he hates the “Hack-a-________” tactic and would be in favor of eliminating it with a rule change. But even Popovich readily employs it to help his team.

Stotts is not so dismissive and refuses to buy into the notion that fouling Howard (or any other inept foul shooter) somehow taints the game.

“I was thinking about this because I was kinda anticipating the question,” Stotts said. “There were over 1200 NBA games played this season. How many times was it used in over 1200 games? Ten or 20 times in over 1200 games, 48-minute games?

“So to change the rule for something that isn’t used that very much? I think it adds excitement to the game, to be honest. When he made his first two, the crowd erupted. It adds interest. It adds interest whether we’re going to foul him or not. It adds interest whether he’s going to make them or not.”

Howard at the foul line in the fourth quarter is like seeing a member of the Wallenda family on a tightrope, with so much hanging in the balance.

From Wilt Chamberlain to Shaquille O’Neal to Howard to any player who has ever stood there with his knees knocking, arm wobbling and tossing up bricks with a game on the line, it has always been a silly debate.

How is hacking Howard any different than intentionally walking Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera? And in the case of baseball, Cabrera doesn’t even get a chance to swing the bat. All Howard has to do is learn to make his free throws and everybody will leave him alone.

The fact is there are prime time players and those who say they are.

Watch Howard at the end of a Rockets’ practice. He’ll stand there and calmly stroke them in eight, nine, 10 in a row without a flinch.

Now watch him the next time the Blazers, or anybody else, puts him on the spot.

“I think it adds a little drama,” said Stotts with a grin.

The loudest noise in the room: Clank!

Sometimes you can hear a win drop.


VIDEO: Shaquille O’Neal and the Inside the NBA guys discuss the ‘Hack-a-Howard’ strategy

More Patterson in Game 2?

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Nets-Raptors Game 2 preview

TORONTO – The Toronto Raptors scored just 87 points on 92 possessions in Game 1 of their first round series against the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday. They need to find a way to keep Joe Johnson out of the paint in Game 2 on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV), but most of all, they need to get more buckets themselves.

That could mean more minutes for Patrick Patterson, a floor-spacing big.

Jonas Valanciunas put up 17 points, 18 rebounds and two blocks in his playoff debut on Saturday, but was a game-low minus-17 (Nets 73, Raptors 56) in 35 minutes. He played well, but his teammates didn’t while he was on the floor.

One thing that can get All-Star DeMar DeRozan better shots is better spacing. And with Valanciunas and Amir Johnson in the game, the Raptors’ spacing is not optimal. DeRozan shot 0-for-8 (0-for-4 from 3-point range) when the two starting bigs were on the floor on Saturday.

That’s just one game, but since they acquired him in the Rudy Gay trade, the Raptors have been at their best offensively with Patterson on the floor. It’s not just that he can hit 3-pointers, but his presence makes it a little bit harder for the opposing defense to put multiple bodies between the Raptors’ ball-handlers and the basket.

In the three games they’ve had him against Brooklyn, Toronto has scored almost 120 points per 100 possessions in Patterson’s 75 minutes. DeRozan has scored 28 points in the 39 minutes he’s shared the floor with Patterson against the Nets, shooting 8-for-13 from the field and getting to the line 12 times.

Patterson’s mark of plus-50 against the Nets is, by far, the best mark of any Raptor this season (next is Chuck Hayes at plus-21). If you count a November game with Sacramento, he’s a plus-80 in 101 minutes against them.

Still, we might we see more of Patterson (who played 26 minutes on Saturday) in Game 2. It’s only been a few weeks since he returned from an elbow injury, but Raptors coach Dwane Casey says that there’s no limit on Patterson’s minutes. Casey just has to space them out differently.

“You got to give him a little more of a blow between his extended minutes,” Casey said. Patterson entered the game late in the first and third quarters on Saturday, and stayed in until late in the second and fourth.

Casey went five-deep with his bigs in Game 1, bringing Patterson, Hayes and Tyler Hansbrough off the bench. The combination of Johnson and Patterson could be the Raptors’ best option – Toronto was a plus-13.6 points per 100 possessions in 215 minutes with the two on the floor together in the regular season – but the pair didn’t play at all together on Saturday.

Pop (hmmph) picks up third Coach award

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The best of Gregg Popovich (2013 playoffs)

SAN ANTONIO — Even after coaching 217 playoff games over the last 17 seasons, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich embarked on another postseason Sunday with butterflies swirling.

“Heck yeah,” Popovich quipped 90 minutes before the Spurs began their 17th consecutive playoffs under the coach everybody knows as ‘Pop.’ “If you don’t get nervous, you’re dead.”

The gruff Air Force Academy graduate is maybe the only coach in U.S. sports who has to come to be as celebrated for his typically terse exchanges with the media — particularly for his now famous, one-word retorts to television sideline reporters — as he is for his enduring legacy with a single franchise.

On Tuesday, Popovich, 65, added yet another layer to his rich, sure-fire Hall of Fame career as the recipient of the Red Auerbach Trophy as the 2013-14 NBA Coach of the Year. He led the Spurs to a 62-20 record, the best record in basketball, made more impressive because it came on the heels of a devastating loss last year in the NBA Finals.

“I feel very honored for a whole lot of reasons,” Popovich said at the news conference announcing the award. “First of all because there were so many coaches who did such a great job this year. I think it was really unique. A lot of people were really special and to be singled out is pretty humbling. I know I’ve been very lucky for a good number of years and I know full well I just represent part of what goes on here.”

It’s his third Coach of the Year honor and second in the last three years. He joins Don Nelson and Pat Riley as the only coaches to win the award three times. Popovich totaled 380 points, including 59 first-place votes, from a panel of 124 sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada.

First-year Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek finished second with 339 votes, Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau was third, Charlotte’s first-year coach Steve Clifford was fourth and Toronto’s Dwane Casey finished fifth in the voting. (Complete voting totals here.)

Popovich also won the award following the 2011-12 season and also for 2002-03, the season in which Manu Ginobili joined Tim Duncan and Tony Parker to form the Big Three. They won their first of three championships that season. (Popovich won another title with Duncan and David Robinson back in 1999.) The Spurs entered these playoffs as the reigning Western Conference champions, boasting the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

That consistency is the hallmark of Popovich’s 18-year career in San Antonio. This season included a 19-game winning streak and only one losing streak of more than two games (three, back in late January). The Spurs extended their streak of winning at least 50 games to an NBA record 15 consecutive seasons.

The Spurs’ 62 wins is their second-highest total under Popovich, one fewer than the 2005-06 team. This team was an offensive juggernaut, ranking sixth in the league in offensive efficiency (points per 108.2 points per 100 possessions) and No. 1 in 3-point shooting at 39.7 percent. At the other end they ranked fourth overall in defensive efficiency and second in the Western Conference.

Popovich achieved it while masterfully managing his team’s minutes and particularly his two aging stars, Duncan, 38, and Ginobili, 36. Popovich limited every player on the roster to less than 30 minutes a game while nine players averaged at least 18.9 mpg.

“We saved minutes all year long so we could give those minutes come playoff time,” Popovich said.

Rick Adelman‘s announcement Monday that he was stepping down as coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves moved Popovich to the top of the list of career victories among active coaches — ninth on the all-time list — with a record of 967-443. Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers (644-498) is second and Dallas’ Rick Carlisle (569-339), who is matching wits with Popovich in their first-round playoff series, is third.

“Pop’s the best coach in the game and for my money he’s the best coach in history because of what he’s been able to do over a period of almost two decades, keeping the same system and just plugging in different players,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s been phenomenal.”

Popovich is the longest-tenured coach with the same team in all four major professional U.S. sports.

Morning Shootaround — April 22



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played April 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers have changes in mind for Game 2 | Nowitzki backs Calderon as Mavs’ starter | Report: New arena remains key for Bucks’ future | Thibodeau unhappy with Bulls’ defense | Jefferson vows to play in Game 2

No. 1: Pacers planning on some changes in Game 2 — Simply put, the Indiana Pacers were shellshocked after the Atlanta Hawks marched into Bankers Life Fieldhouse and beat the home team from start to finish. With that defeat on their minds, the Pacers are examining each and every thing they did in Game 1 and are open to making some pretty big changes on things from who guards the star of Game 1 (Atlanta’s Jeff Teague) to what kind of defense they’ll play as a team and more. Mark Montieth of Pacers.com has more:

Coach Frank Vogel was coy when pressed on the issue following Monday’s practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, not wishing to become the first coach in NBA history to reveal strategy to the opponent a day before a playoff game. But, winds of change were wafting through the building. Practice ran longer than was originally advertised to the media, and all doors were closed. Afterward, Lance Stephenson created a breeze when asked if strategic changes were forthcoming.

“Of course we’re going to make changes,” he said. “We’re not allowed to talk about the changes we made, (the Hawks) will figure it out when we play.”

Earlier, Vogel had only hinted at the possibility.

“I prefer not to make major changes,” he said.

Are you willing?

“Of course.”

Do you think you will?

“We’ll see.”

Any changes are most likely to come on defense. Offensively, Vogel simply wants his team to move the ball more quickly and more often, and for Roy Hibbert to establish better post position near the basket and for his teammates to toss the ball to him when he does. But given the way Hawks point guard Jeff Teague punctured the Pacers’ defense on Saturday, some sort of adjustment seems in order.

The players talked Monday about doing a better job of helping one another, filling gaps and all that, but would they go to the extreme of rolling out a zone defense for the first time this season? Vogel said during last season’s playoff series with Miami that he would implement it this season. He hasn’t, largely because the team’s trip to Taiwan and the Philippines for two preseason games sliced too large a chunk out of his practice time.

The bottom line is, something will be to be done to prevent Teague from running a layup line. He had nine of them on Saturday on his way to 28 points. A zone defense would be one way to do it.

“I wish we had used it more, because then I’d be more comfortable using it now,” Vogel said. “That is something we’re talking pretty lengthily about.”

At the very least, it’s likely that Paul George will defend Teague at some point. George isn’t as quick as Teague, but he is seven inches taller and the Pacers’ best perimeter defender.

George has said he wants to do it. But he wasn’t going to say he would do it.

“If the opportunity calls for it, I’ll enjoy the match-up,” he said, smiling.

“For all I know,” he added, “Hibbert’s guarding him.”


VIDEO: Frank Vogel talks about possible changes for the Pacers in Game 2

***

No. 2: Nowitzki backs Calderon as Mavs’ starting point guardMost NBA followers know that Dallas Mavericks point guard Jose Calderon is one of the best playmakers in the league … and also one of its worst defenders at the point as well. In Game 1, though, Calderon struggled a bit, amassing seven points and two assists in 16 minutes. His primary understudy, Devin Harris, had a much better game, going for 19 points and five assists in 32 minutes. So, is there a point guard quandary in Big D. ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon reports that to star Dirk Nowitzki, there’s no question who the starter is for Game 2:

Coach Rick Carlisle refused to discuss whether he’d consider starting Devin Harris instead of Jose Calderon in Game 2, using his stock line about revealing his lineup 16 minutes before tip.

However, Dirk Nowitzki readily declared about 53 hours before Wednesday’s tip in San Antonio that no change in the Mavericks’ starting lineup was forthcoming.

“We’re rolling the way we’re set up,” Nowitzki said. “Jose has been our starter the whole year. We’ve got to start the game off a little better. I think we were a little slow and we were down eight or 10 pretty quick there in the first quarter, so we’ve got to be a little better there, but Jose is our starter. He’s the guy that puts us in our plays and we’re rolling with it.”

The Mavs’ normal starting lineup has been badly overmatched against the Spurs, having been outscored by 40 points in 33 minutes in the Dallas-San Antonio meetings this season, including Game 1. The Mavs have had a 24-point advantage in the 79 minutes that Harris has played against the Spurs, but that’s also evidence of the success the Dallas bench has had against San Antonio’s second unit, a strength that Carlisle might not want to mess with.

“We’re going to approach it the way we approach it, doing it the way we feel is best,” Carlisle said. “If we get to the point where I feel major lineup changes are in order, we’ll do it, but I’m not going to talk about it two days before the game.”


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki talks after Dallas has practice Monday in San Antonio

***

No. 3: Report: New arena critical to Bucks dealLast week, Milwaukee Bucks fans got some happy news about the future of their team as longtime owner Herb Kohl announced he was selling the team to the duo of Wesley Edens and Mark Lasry for a reported $550 million. While that ownership group is committed to keeping the team in Milwaukee, they could lose the ownership rights on their team if they cannot get a new arena built for the Bucks by 2017. Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com have more: :

The NBA has the right to buy back the Milwaukee Bucks from incoming owners Wesley Edens and Mark Lasry if a deal to a bring a new arena to the city is not in place by November 2017, according to sources briefed on the situation.

Sources told ESPN.com that the sale agreement announced last week to transfer the Bucks from longtime owner Herb Kohl to Edens and Lasry for a purchase price of $550 million includes a provision that allows the league to buy back the team for $575 million if construction on a new building in Milwaukee is not underway by the deadline.

Although one source said Monday that the league would likely only take that step if it didn’t see “significant progress” toward a new arena in Milwaukee by then, this provision ensures that the NBA would control the fate of the franchise from that point as opposed to Edens and Lasry.

Edens and Lasry agreed last week to pay a league-record $550 million to Kohl for the Bucks and promised to contribute an additional $100 million toward a new arena. Kohl also pledged to gift $100 million toward construction of a new facility, but more financing will be needed to get the project going, with city officials in Milwaukee estimating that a new arena would cost in excess of $400 million.

The inclusion of this clause in the sale agreement, furthermore, is an unspoken admission that neither the league nor the new owners are convinced that construction on a modern building in Milwaukee will be underway in the space of three-plus years.

Two local task forces have been assembled to study the issue, but there has already been pushback to potential public financing by politicians and community groups. The Bucks’ lease with the antiquated Bradley Center runs through the 2016-17 season, which establishes the fall of 2017 as a natural deadline to find a solution.

***

No. 4: Thibodeau calls out Bulls’ defense In Game 1 of the Bulls-Wizards series, Chicago allowed Washington to roll up 102 points as the Wizards’ big man combo of Marcin Gortat and Nene pounded away and picked apart the Bulls’ vaunted defense. That kind of performance left a bitter taste in coach Tom Thibodeau‘s mouth and he didn’t mince words during Monday’s practice about how displeased he was with Chicago’s defense, particularly the play of point guard D.J. Augustin. Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times has more on what the Bulls plan to do differently in Game 2:

‘To put it on one guy, that’s not how we do it here,’’ Thibodeau said.

But that didn’t prevent the Wizards from finding that perceived weak link in the chain and attacking it, especially in their fourth-quarter comeback. Unfortunately for guard D.J. Augustin, he was the guy the Wizards went after in crunch time.

“Not only D.J., our defense,’’ Thibodeau said when asked if he thought Augustin had to improve on the defensive end. ‘‘I could go from start to finish. There’s an endless list of things that we didn’t do correctly. We’re capable of doing much better. And we’re going to have to.

“They’re a good team. In the playoffs, you have to play for 48 minutes and be disciplined. You have to stick to it. Some plays, they made tough plays. Give them credit. Others, we made mistakes. And we have to correct those mistakes.’’

According to one source, though, Thibodeau was concerned about Augustin’s defensive shortcomings being exposed, especially in the playoffs, when opposing coaches smell blood and attack. Sure enough, the Wizards’ guards seemed to go right after him down the stretch, whether it was John Wall, Bradley Beal or even 38-year-old Andre Miller, who scored eight of his 10 points in the fourth quarter.

Thibodeau was asked if the defensive breakdowns were more related to bad positioning or poor communication.

“It was a compilation of all those things,’’ he said. ‘‘To me, if one guy is not doing their job, it’s going to make everyone look bad. We have to be tied together. We have to have the proper amount of intensity and concentration. And we have to finish our defense. That’s one thing that we could do a lot better.”

While there will be tinkering, it didn’t sound as though Thibodeau was going to change his rotation. That means Augustin and the other players on the court at the end of games will have to find a way to deal with the Wizards’ backcourt and to slow down forward Nene, who burned the Bulls for 24 points.

***

No. 5: Jefferson: ‘I’m suiting up’ for Game 2 — Bobcats center Al Jefferson can count on one hand the number of times he’s been in the playoffs. As the big man is in the midst of just his third career playoff appearance, there’s little doubt he’s going to let anything prevent him from playing. That statement apparently applies to his bout of plantar fascia in both feet that flared up early in Charlotte’s Game 1 loss to the Miami Heat. But as Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer reports, Jefferson is determined to play in Game 2 … and beyond:

Jefferson was in surprisingly good spirits Monday after missing practice, undergoing a magnetic resonance imaging and several hours of treatment. He said there’s no way the injury he suffered Sunday in Game 1 of this playoff series is a season-ender.

“I’m suiting up,” Jefferson said. “It’ll take more than that to make me sit down.”

The issue for Jefferson is not so much his availability, but rather his effectiveness. He will again miss practice Tuesday and his left foot is encased in a protective walking boot.

The pain he experienced in the first quarter Sunday, after he felt a “pop” in his left foot, was excruciating – he compared it to the sudden attack of appendicitis he suffered several years ago, resulting in emergency surgery.

“Like somebody shot me. A terrible feeling. I knew something was wrong,” Jefferson recalled.

Despite that, Bobcats medical staff told him and coach Steve Clifford that Jefferson is taking no special risk by playing. He was told not to anticipate needing surgery in the off-season; that this is about pain-management now and rest in the off-season.

The plantar fascia is a thick band of fibrous material that runs along the bottom of a foot, connecting the heel bone to the toes.

There doesn’t seem to be a significant risk in Jefferson playing with this injury, so long as he can handle the pain, according to Dallas-based sports orthopedist Dr. Richard Rhodes.

“If you can fight through, and they can manage the pain (with medication), you can go on it and then heal in the off-season,” said Rhodes, describing the plantar fascia as helping the foot hold its natural arch.

The issue going forward is how Jefferson can perform in the short-run. Clifford said the injury seemed to harm Jefferson’s performance more on offense than defense. In particular, Clifford noted, Jefferson struggled to pivot off his left foot, which is key to his low-post scoring moves.

Jefferson agrees with Clifford that he spent much of the second half pulling up for jump shots or floaters, rather than completing a move to the rim. He said that was more out of initial fear after the injury than the physical inability to recreate his moves.

“I stopped short. I was afraid to continue,” Jefferson described. “It was more in my head than anything, that I was afraid to do things I normally do.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Could the Hawks be gearing up for a rare No. 8-over-No. 1-seed upset?Tony Allen is doing what he normally does — frustrate Kevin Durant in the playoffs … The Clippers’ Game 2 rout of the Warriors got them back on track in several different ways … With a heavy dose of his trademark intensity, Joakim Noah took home the Kia Defensive Player of the Year award last night … These five names may be on the Utah Jazz’s short list for its new coach …

ICYMI OF THE NIGHT: Yes, the Grizzlies won Game 2 in OKC last night. But there’s no denying that Kevin Durant was doing all he could to get the win last night, as evidenced by this wild and-one 3-pointer he nailed late in regulation …


VIDEO: Kevin Durant hits the ridiculous and-one 3-pointer

Clippers recover on several fronts

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

VIDEO: The Clippers lay the beat down on the Warriors in Game 2

LOS ANGELES – Monday night was about the Clippers crossing problems off the list.

First, the Warriors, the biggest trouble, the opponent that capitalized on a bad game from Chris Paul and barely a game from foul-ridden Blake Griffin to win the playoff opener Saturday. This time, again in Staples Center, L.A. took control early, played much better and with more passion and cruised to a 138-98 victory that tied the best-of-seven series 1-1 as it shifts to Oakland on Thursday.

Order restored.

But, Paul too. He had received two days of constant treatment for a strained right hamstring, enough of a concern that coach Doc Rivers, typically a clear communicator, was asked before Game 2 about the physical state of his All-Star point guard and said, “Ahhhh, I don’t know.”

Pressed for clarification, Rivers replied, “I don’t know. I don’t talk about that.” And then Rivers kept CP3 on the court deep into the third quarter with the lead in the 30s and played him 27 minutes in all when half that would have secured victory, a clear communication it was OK for everyone in the franchise to breathe again.

And Jamal Crawford. The Clippers had been trying to jump start him for a while after Crawford missed five games late in the regular season with a bad left leg, with Rivers telling his sixth man at the finale in Portland to shoot every time he had the ball, a sure sign of concern since no one before ever had to encourage Crawford to pull the trigger. Making 4-for-8 Monday night with three steals was promising, a response to the 2-for-11 shooting in the opener.

Griffin went from six fouls in 19 minutes to zero fouls — and 35 points and six rebounds — in 30 minute. DeAndre Jordan went from 45 minutes Saturday to 30. But the highlights were Paul getting healthy, top reserve Crawford getting back on track, even starter J.J. Redick getting in another game while still able.

Redick joined the list of concerns because the bulging disc in the lower back that sidelined him for 21 games from Feb. 18 to April 2. He looked good in the opener, with 22 points and eight baskets in 11 tries, and went another 24 minutes Monday. But Rivers made it seem inevitable that Redick will have to sit an entire game at some stage of the playoffs. That’s easier to manage if Crawford has returned to a good place.

“He’s feeling better than what he did, but there’s going to be no hundred percent for him this year for sure and we know that,” Rivers said. “We’re prepared if he has to miss a game. We know that that could happen because that’s realistic. Anybody’s who has had a (bad) back understands that. We’re just going to play him until he says he needs a break. And when he does, somebody has to cover for him.”

The largest margin of victory in the Clippers’ playoff history and the first 40-point difference in the playoffs in the entire league since the Magic beat the Hawks by 43 on May 4, 2010, came with L.A. shooting 56.6 percent and committing 13 turnovers, half as many as the Warriors. It came with a playoff career high from Griffin in scoring. But perhaps most of all, it came with the comfort of the big picture that the Clipper backcourt had a good night amid weeks of injury woes and choppy play.

“It’s very important because that’s what we’ve kind if leaned on all season,” Crawford said of the core group of guards. “We just got back to how we played in the regular season. I think the first game of the playoffs, I looked around the league, most guys are almost too amped for the first game. It happened, but we settled down and played the way we played to get in this position.”

Another problem crossed off.

Allen making life rough again for KD

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: The Grizzlies grind out a win at OKC

OKLAHOMA CITY – Remember that commercial from last season where Kevin Durant and Dwyane Wade haunt each other’s dreams? They got it wrong. Tony Allen, gritty, grimy and forever grinding, is Durant’s worst nightmare.

And now, after Allen made life miserable for Durant in Memphis’ impressive 111-105 overtime victory on the second-seeded Thunder’s home floor Monday night to tie the series 1-1, Allen and his seventh-seeded Grizzlies welcome the soon-to-be-named MVP back to The Grindhouse  — where they’ve put away 14 consecutive opponents.

“First thing first, Kevin Durant, he’s the scoring leader, All-Star, probably one of the greatest in the game right now,” Allen said. “But it’s a competition at the end of the day. Basically, it ain’t about me, it’s about the Grizzlies coming in here, basically playing grit-n-grind basketball, holding our hats on the defensive end.”

But it is about you, Mr. Allen. You suffocated Durant into submission in the fourth quarters of last year’s semifinals series without Russell Westbrook and you’re pushing KD’s buttons again with Westbrook by his side.

It seems crazy to say it with Durant scoring 33 and 36 points in the first two games of this wild first-round series between these familiar foes, but those 69 points have come on 53 shots and with Allen draped all over practically every one of them. Nothing phases him, not when Durant drops a miracle 3-point shot that becomes a four-point play after Allen tipped the initial pass or when Durant started to heat up in the fourth quarter after having just 16 points on 6-for-18 shooting after three quarters.

“I [have] got to do my work early,” Allen said. “If that’s being physical with him then trying to push him through screens, just cause havoc the best way possible. The guy still had 36 points. He’s going to get his. The biggest thing is not to get discouraged, just keep fighting throughout the game.”

Allen gives up eight inches to Durant. It doesn’t matter. He burrows under him and invades his space. He swats shots from behind, curling over screens and closing fast to get an outstretched hand high enough to disrupt his shot. The Thunder have to find some answers, have to figure what makes this Allen fellow tick and take him out of his game.

“I wish I knew what made Tony Allen tick,” said teammate Mike Conley, who’s been masterful with 23 assists and three turnovers in the two games. “He’s hard to explain. He’s a guy that comes in every day with a chip on his shoulder. You don’t know why, you don’t know what’s got him mad, what’s got him angry, but you roll with it. I think playing against top-level competition, KD, Russell, those guys, he really gets up for that opportunity and that challenge, and I’m happy to have him on my team.”

Memphis controlled Game 2 virtually from the start, leading for all but just a couple of minutes of the 53 that were needed. Allen and company did a number on the defensive end, holding OKC to 39.8 percent shooting, Memphis shot 49.4 percent with Conley and Beno Udrih — yes, Beno Freaking Udrih — carving up the Thunder for 19 and 14 points, respectively.

Durant didn’t get much help. Westbrook was 11-for-28. Reggie Jackson didn’t make a shot and the rest of the bench was impotent as well.

Allen and the Grizzlies’ punishing defense pushed Durant out of his comfort zone and into taking 12 3-point attempts — two more than the entire Memphis team — including the miracle corner 3 in the final 15 seconds of regulation that helped the Thunder simply get to overtime.

Allen left Thunder coach Scott Brooks lamenting how the Grizzlies put their hands all over Durant and Westbrook to slow them down. He left Durant in a somber mood in the postgame interview room. He spoke softly and often reluctantly, projecting a tone that he wasn’t much interested in discussing what just went down.

“We shot the shots that were open,” Durant said. “I think we settled for a few, but we put ourselves in position to win a basketball game and they made more plays than we did. So that’s the name of the game, so we’re not panicking at all.”

MVPs don’t panic. They produce. And now’s the time for Durant to carry over his historic regular season into the postseason. Since OKC opened the first half of Game 1 as if guzzling rocket fuel, it’s been nothing but mud-buggying ever since.

“Basically it’s just going to be a slugfest,” Allen said. “We’re going to pound it. They’re going to run it. Whoever can come up with the most stops pretty much wins the game.”

Durant and the Thunder have two days to figure out how to find some breathing space on the road, where Allen will be waiting.

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.”

Game 2 could answer questions on Brooklyn bench

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Through the Lens: Nets vs. Raptors Game 1

TORONTO – The Toronto Raptors will go into Game 2 of their first-round series with the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV) knowing that they will likely get better games from starting wings DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross than they did in Game 1.

Ross and DeRozan, each playing their first career playoff game, combined to shoot 4-for-17 (1-for-8 from 3-point range). The Nets’ defense had a lot to do with their struggles, but first-game jitters were also a factor.

That’s the glass-is-half-full view for Toronto. But Brooklyn has one too, because the Nets know that their bench can’t play much worse than it did on Saturday.

Alan Anderson, Andray Blatche, Mirza Teletovic and Marcus Thornton shot a combined 6-for-22, missing all 12 of their 3-point attempts.

Anderson helped on the other end of the floor, but if Teletovic and Thornton aren’t making shots, they’re not helping much (beyond providing floor spacing). The Nets outscored the Raptors 55-37 in 23 minutes with at least four starters on the floor and were outscored 50-39 in 25 minutes with at least two reserves in the game.

Those numbers make Andrei Kirilenko‘s DNP all that more curious. Kirilenko can give you something on both ends of the floor and doesn’t rely on shot-making to make an impact. The Nets were 25-9 when Kirilenko played at least 14 minutes in the regular season.

But the Nets are a deep team and Jason Kidd came closest of any other coach to mimicking Gregg Popovich‘s minutes distribution. Only Joe Johnson (32.6), Deron Williams (32.2) and Brook Lopez (who played just 17 games) averaged more than 28 minutes a game in the regular season.

If Kirilenko would have played on Saturday, somebody who played at least 1,200 minutes would have sat. And Kirilenko’s on-off-court numbers don’t jive with that 25-9 record. Brooklyn was better both offensively and defensively with Kirilenko on the bench this season. While he’s a great off-ball cutter and brilliant passer, he shot just 5-for-31 from outside the paint and seemed to lose all confidence at the free-throw line after the All-Star break. With Shaun Livingston and Mason Plumlee, there are already two guys in the Nets’ rotation who can’t shoot beyond 15 feet.

Interestingly, the Nets are now 3-0 against the Raptors when Kirilenko doesn’t play and 0-2 when he does. Kidd will have to decide whether or not that’s a coincidence. He said Sunday that one DNP for Kirilenko “doesn’t mean that he’s not going to play any of this series.”

Beverley ready to bounce back again

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

HOUSTON — Pat Beverley’s recuperative powers continue to surprise even his teammates.

After the feisty point guard re-injured his right knee in a collision with Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge with 1:04 left in overtime, most of the Rockets feared the worst.

But after an examination by team physician Dr. Walter Lowe Monday morning, Beverley has been cleared to play in Game 2 on Wednesday night against the Trail Blazers.

“I knew how I felt when I woke up this morning that I was OK,” Beverley said after going through practice with the team. “Hearing him agree with me was a blessing.

“I felt a real stiff little pain as far as the knee area where I hurt before. But I’m fortunate. I don’t know. I heal fast, I guess.

I woke up at home, tried to put some weight on it. Squat, it felt good. One leg jump, it felt good. Did this all at home. I just have an ability to heal.”

Beverley had torn the meniscus in his right knee on March 27 and missed eight games. He remained in the game Sunday night after banging into Aldridge on a pick, but hobbled off the court 20 seconds later after fouling out.

“Stoked,” said forward Chandler Parsons. “I didn’t see that coming. He never ceases to amaze me. I’m glad he’s healthy and went through practice today and hopefully he’ll be able to go Wednesday.

“Last night he was really shaken up and pretty much wasn’t walking, was really upset. I didn’t know what to think. I thought the worst.”

Center Dwight Howard expressed relief, both real and comical.

“I’m happy. Our prayers were answered,” Howard said. “He’s playing. I think he went home and just shook his leg a million times and whatever happened, it just popped right back into place. It’s amazing.”

The medical clearance means Beverley will be able to resume his head-to-head battle with Blazers point guard Damian Lillard, who shot 9-for-19, scored 31 points, grabbed nine rebounds and had five assists in the first playoff game of his career.

Lillard and Beverley have squabbled on and off the court this season. Lillard has complained about Beverley’s aggressive tactics and Beverley went on a Houston radio show in response and label Lillard “a whiner.”

“He raises the level of the game when he’s out there,” Lillard said on Monday. “I wish him the best. Hopefully, he’s healthy. When I know he’s subbing in and out of the game, I think they’re just a better team.”

When informed of Lillard’s comments, Beverley did a double-take and then smiled.

“I don’t know if he’s trying to use reverse psychology on me,” he said. “I don’t know how to take it.”