Old guys got job done for Mavs

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The fate of this Dallas Mavericks season was placed on faith that their three aging, yet ultra-integral, players could stay healthy.

Dirk Nowitzki, 35, Shawn Marion, 35, and Vince Carter, 37, combined to play 237 of 246 games this season, every second essential as they won 49 games and pushed the franchise back into the playoffs. It will be seen if this trio of iron men have enough to shove the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs deep into a first-round series that begins Sunday (1 p.m., ET, TNT). Still, it’s been another legacy-making season for all three.

“For these old guys — our old guys — getting in the playoffs is huge,” reserve guard Devin Harris said. “Everybody wants to be competitive, especially since we don’t know how many years they have left. We want to make sure we compete at the highest level.”

Of the Mavs’ top minute men, Monta Ellis logged the most by a wide margin. The next four: Nowitzki, Jose Calderon, Marion and Carter.

“It’s a tribute to us three taking care of our bodies,” Nowitzki said. “We try to live right, we try to eat right and get our sleep. Ultimately, our guys do the maintenance stuff we need to do to still compete at a high level, whether it’s lifting or stretching or running in the pool or getting some extra cardio in, I think all three of us are willing to do that work and I think it shows.”

Marion completed his 15th regular season and played 76 games. Nowitzki and Carter each finished their 16th season. Nowitzki played in 80 games and Carter fired off the bench in 81. To push the top-seeded Spurs, who surround their three older players, Tim Duncan, a week from turning 38, Manu Ginobili, 36, and Tony Parker — who’s still just 31 — with a deep and youthful crew, Dallas will need vintage Dirk, an all-around effort from Marion and a 3-point bonanza from Carter.

“They could be sitting on the couch at home if they didn’t want to play, so there’s a reason they’re here,” 26-year-old reserve center Brandan Wright said. “They want to get back to the playoffs and make some things happen.”

Nowitzki led Dallas in scoring and moved to No. 10 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He joined Elgin BaylorKareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone as the only players in the history of the game to average at least 21 points and six assists at age 35 or older. He finished as close to a 50-40-90 season as possible without getting there in any of the three categories: 49.7 percent overall, 39.8 percent from 3-point range and 89.9 percent from the free throw line.

Marion finished second on the team in rebounding after being first the previous two seasons. The 6-foot-7 small forward is now 35th on the NBA’s all-time rebounding list, and 17th on the all-time steals list.

Carter moved to No. 25 on the all-time scoring list last weekend and he moved up to No. 7 on the all-time 3-pointers made list. He drained more 3-pointers this season (146) than any player in the league off the bench, and more than only Calderon on the team despite logging nearly 500 fewer minutes.

“An injury to Vince off the bench would have been devastating for us,” Nowitzki said. “He’s a big scorer and we need him out there for us.”

This could be the final season in Dallas for Marion, the last remaining member with Nowitzki from the 2011 title team, and Carter. Both veterans are in the final year of their contracts. There’s already whispers that Marion would be a logical fit to replace the retiring Shane Battier in Miami. Carter has said he’d like to remain with Dallas for a fourth season.

“I do all the things I need to do just to compete because every night I step on the floor there’s guys who I’m guarding who are 10, 12 years younger than me,” Carter said. “So how can I compete? I just put my work in.”

Just three seasons ago after being traded from Orlando to Phoenix, Carter’s career seemed to be headed for a final sunset. But he’s been reinvigorated in Dallas, accepting a sixth man role and one of the top 3-point shooters going, hitting at a 39.4-percent clip.

“I think he wasn’t really happy with the role he had there,” Nowitzki said. “Sometimes they would just put him in the corner and he felt like he wasn’t really involved; that’s how it looked to me. Here, he can do whatever he wants. He’s got the ultimate green light off the bench. He knows we need him.”

MVP only half the battle for Durant

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant has more than just the MVP trophy on his mind this year

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Kevin Durant really was tired of being No. 2, finishing second, being a groomsman and never the … you get where this is going.

When the Oklahoma City Thunder star declared earlier this season that he was tired of leading a life filled with being second best, dating as far back to his prep days to Draft night and all the way through his first six seasons in the NBA, he meant every word.

Once the ballots come in for the KIA MVP Award, Durant should finally be able to shed that No. 2 label. He’s already achieved as much in our eyes, topping reigning back-to-back and four-time MVP LeBron James and the rest of a star-studded field for the No. 1 spot on the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder.

Durant has already claimed his fourth scoring title in just seven NBA seasons. But has he played his way into that intergalactic category with some of the other universal superstars — James, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker and Kevin Garnett rank among the active MVP or Finals MVPs still in business today?

Could be. He certainly has all of the credentials necessary for inclusion … well, everything but the official word that he is the most valuable player in the NBA. And even that might not be enough validation for Durant, who holds himself to a championship standard.

NBA TV research ace Kevin Cottrell agrees that Durant has only finished half the battle, provided he walks off with KIA MVP honors. Oh yes, there’s definitely more to be done this season …

Spoiler alert: Kevin Durant will win his first ever Most Valuable Player award.

Durant is average career highs in points (32.0) and assists (5.5) while shooting 50.5% from the field. K.D. winning the award may come as no surprise but the odds of him doing so in route to winning a title may shock you.

Since the inception of the MVP award (1955-56), the hardware has been handed out 57 times. There have been 36 players to win the award however only seven first time MVP winners went on to win a title in the same season.

​Surely Durant can make it eight but it’s been 20 years since we’ve last seen it done. The 1993-94 award went to Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon after which he led them to their first of two NBA titles. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the other six players to join Olajuwon in this feat are no doubt Hall-of-Famers (as seen below) but there are many other legends that didn’t make the cut.

First Time MVPs to win a title in same season
56-57–Bob Cousy (Celtics)
69-70–Willis Reed (Knicks)
70-71–Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (as Lew Alcindor)- Bucks
83-84–Larry Bird (Celtics)
86-87–Magic Johnson (Lakers)
99-00–Shaquille O’Neal (Lakers)
93-94–Hakeem Olajuwon (Rockets)

​Keep in mind 5-time MVP Michael Jordan was occupied with batting cages when Olajuwon won in 1994. As for Durant, former MVPs Tim Duncan and LeBron James still stands in his way.

Consider this, despite the greatness of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Julius Erving, Jordan, Duncan and James, none of those luminaries were able to win a title the same year they captured their first MVP award.

​There’s so much energy exerted throughout an 82-game season, one can only imagine how tough it would be for a player to win the MVP award for the first time and have enough left for the post season. The edge for Durant may be his 2012 Finals appearance, which resulted in disappointment and ultimately the fuel needed to elevate his game to another level.

​Let me be the first to congratulate Durant and lead the applause on becoming the 37th different player to be named League MVP. It truly is an honor.

So prepare for your twitter mentions to hit a new high.

However, if @KDtrey5 can find a way to become the eighth player to win his first MVP award and a title in the same season, his mentions will far surpass social media.

#All-TimeGreats


VIDEO: Kevin Durant has put up fantasty-like numbers all season for the Thunder

Analytics Art: Playoff team comparison

By Andrew Bergmann (@dubly), for NBA.com

See how your team fared against other playoff teams during the 2013-14 regular season.

NBA playoff team wins

Andrew Bergmann’s data driven design work can be found on CNN, NBA, Sports Illustrated, Deadspin, Washington Post, and USA Today. See more on www.dubly.com and twitter.com/dubly

Numbers preview: Spurs-Mavericks

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Starters preview the Mavericks-Spurs series

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Spurs-Mavericks is the enjoy-it-while-it-lasts series. For the sixth time in their Hall-of-Fame careers, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki will face off in the playoffs. They’ve been representing the same teams for 17 and 16 years respectively.

The Spurs have won four of the five previous meetings and are the favorites to advance again this year. San Antonio registered the league’s best record, was the only team to rank in the top six in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and swept the season series, 4-0.

Here are some statistical nuggets regarding the No. 1 and 8 seeds in the Western Conference, as well as the four regular-season games they played against each other.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

San Antonio Spurs (62-20)

Pace: 97.1 (12)
OffRtg: 108.2 (6)
DefRtg: 100.1 (4)
NetRtg: +8.1 (1)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Dallas: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Spurs notes:

Dallas Mavericks (49-33)

Pace: 95.7 (17)
OffRtg: 109.0 (3)
DefRtg: 105.9 (22)
NetRtg: +3.0 (11)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. San Antonio: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Mavericks notes:

The matchup

Season series: Spurs won 4-0
Pace: 97.4
SAS OffRtg: 115.2 (4th vs. DAL)
DAL OffRtg: 103.5 (10th vs. SAS)

Matchup notes:

Morning Shootaround — April 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers’ Gasol open to offers | Suns GM gives Bledsoe big vote of confidence | Irving still non-committal about Cleveland future | Wade says he’s in better shape than last year

No. 1: Lakers’ Gasol open to offers this summer — Much like the season the Los Angeles Lakers experienced themselves, big man Pau Gasol never seemed to find his rhythm on the court this season. Between injuries (including a bout of vertigo that effectively ended his season) to continued clashes with coach Mike D’Antoni, Gasol had a less-than memorable season in Lakerland. As he approaches free agency this summer, Gasol says he’s open to staying with the Lakers — mostly because of teammate Kobe Bryant — as well as moving on to other locales. Yahoo Sports’ Marc J. Spears has more:

Pau Gasol felt nostalgic in what he admitted might have been his last day with the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday. He’s also excited about his impending free agency and is open to a reunion with former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who now runs the New York Knicks’ front office.

“I’m happy for him and the position that he got,” Gasol said. “I’m always going to be a big fan and a friend. I would listen.”

Despite the struggle in recent years, Gasol seemed very much at peace during his postseason media briefing on Thursday. The main reason is because he can help decide his own future as a free agent this offseason.

“This year is a little different,” Gasol said. “Every time I said [he felt sentimental] is because I didn’t know if I was going to be traded. That has been kind of a theme for the last three years. But this year that possibility is out of the question. Now it’s because I will be in charge of my future, my destiny and I have to listen to the different possibilities that I will have on the table.”

Gasol said he would “listen closely” to the possibility of returning to the Lakers. The biggest reason he’d consider returning is to continue playing with Kobe Bryant.

Gasol, however, also said he had “misunderstandings” with D’Antoni the past two years and was uncertain if the status of the coach would affect his decision.

Jackson coached Gasol with the Lakers from 2007-10. Since being hired as the Knicks’ president, Jackson has signed former Lakers forward Lamar Odom to a contract and met with former Lakers forward Metta World Peace. The Knicks would be interested in Gasol in free agency, a source said.

Gasol, 33, made $19.3 million in the final year of his contract and isn’t expected to get anything close to the type of salary again. Joining the Knicks would likely come with a massive pay cut since the most they can offer – without a sign-and-trade deal – is the taxpayer’s midlevel exception, expected to be worth about $3.2 million.

With the Knicks expected to play Jackson’s triangle offense and more of a half-court, such a style of play could be attractive to Gasol. Gasol, however, also said he wanted to play on a championship-caliber team and the Knicks didn’t make the playoffs this season with Carmelo Anthony.

“I want to enjoy the moment and not be too stressed about it, even though at some point I’m going to have to make a decision,” said Gasol, who is improving from his recent bout with vertigo. “It will be exciting. I look at this as an opportunity. For the first, and maybe only time, I will be a free agent where I can choose. It’s exciting. It’s nothing that I’ve experienced in the NBA.”


VIDEO: Pau Gasol talks with the media during his Lakers exit interview

***

No. 2: Suns GM: ‘Waste of time’ for other teams to pursue Bledsoe — The Phoenix Suns won 48 games and came within a few days of clinching a playoff berth in a season in which few expected them to do more than trudge their way into the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery. With guards Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe leading the charge, the Suns captured the hearts of many and showed that a backcourt with two starting-caliber point guards could thrive in Arizona (if not elsewhere). Bledsoe is a free agent this summer and the Suns have every intention of keeping him around, it seems, based on the strong talk from GM Ryan McDonough. Adam Green of ArizonaSports.com has more on McDonough’s view on Bledsoe in Phoenix:

Bledsoe has been excellent when on the court, and at 24 still has room to improve. The Suns know this, and they’d like for that improvement to come with him wearing their jersey.

“That’s what we’re planning on doing,” Suns GM Ryan McDonough told Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Wednesday when asked if the Bledsoe will be retained, be it via a contract he signs with the Suns or one that is signed with someone else but matched by the team. “I think Eric did a terrific job after he was frustrated with the injury.

“He came back and played extremely well for us down the stretch.”

Overall, Bledsoe has been every bit the player the Suns hoped they were getting when they pulled the trigger on the trade that brought him and Caron Butler to the Valley in exchange for Jared Dudley and a second-round pick.

“We view him as a core part of our team going forward,” the GM said. “I think there were some questions externally about how it would work with him and Goran going into the season, and we don’t have any doubts that those guys answered the questions and that they’re one of the premier backcourts in the NBA.”

As a restricted free agent, Bledsoe has the right to sign with any team he chooses. After that, though, the Suns have the right to match any offer sheet he signs in order to keep him.

Saying they’ll do that, though, will not necessarily dissuade another team from trying to woo him.

“He’s played well enough and is deserving enough of an extension where I think it would be a waste of time for another team to throw an offer at him and tie up their cap space while other free agents are going off the board,” McDonough said. “But you never know; it only takes one.

“We’ll see what happens. There’s also the chance that we try to work it out in advance and just not let it get to that point, where he has to get an offer and we match. Our preference would be just to to do an offer with Eric and his representatives.”


VIDEO: Eric Bledsoe talks with the media during his Suns exit interview

***

No. 3: Irving continues to hedge bets about Cleveland future — Since he was taken No. 1 overall by Cleveland in the 2011 Draft, Kyrie Irving has amassed a Rookie of the Year trophy, two All-Star berths and countless highlights for Cavaliers fans. His future with the Cavs remains the topic of interest most to fans and the team as Irving’s rookie deal will expire after next season, but he can sign an extension this summer. The latter topic is one that Irving continues to remain totally clear on, although he does sound like he’d stay in Cleveland. During yesterday’s exit interviews with the media, Irving talked about his view on staying in Ohio and more. Jodie Valade of The Plain Dealer was there and has more:

After the final buzzer sounded, after Kyrie Irving stuck around to hand out not just one pair of shoes, but several, at Fan Appreciation Night, the Cavaliers point guard at long last addressed the fact that he can sign a contract extension this summer.And he came the closest he has to announcing that he would like to remain in Cleveland.

“I’ve been a part of this and I want to continue to be a part of this,” he said. “We’re making strides in the right direction, especially in this organization. I want to be part of something special, and I want to be part of something special in Cleveland.

“I don’t have a definitive answer to that right now, but it’ll be something special. I can guarantee that.”

“It’s a big deal for me and my family if they do offer that. It would be exciting, and I’ll make the best decision for me and my family. That’s what it’s going to boil down to for myself.”

A year ago, for instance, he skipped out on the Cavaliers’ Fan Appreciation Night shoe giveaway; this year, he tossed out several.

“This year was a constant learning year,” Irving said. “This was a learning year for me, strictly that. I learned a lot about myself, about being a better point guard from all aspects of the game and becoming a better leader. That, right there, is a work in progress. I’m a work in progress, and I’ve already admitted that.”

***

No. 4: Wade says knees in better shape than last yearThe Miami Heat spent the majority of the 2013-14 season hanging around the top of the Eastern Conference standings and briefly took the No. 1 spot there for a few weeks. But the Heat’s goal has always been getting ready for a fourth straight Finals run (and hopefully a third straight championship) and to do so, that often meant resting guard Dwyane Wade and his balky knees for the good of the long-term goal. Wade missed 28 games this season and hasn’t been a part of a Heat win since March 21, but as Miami readies for Game 1 of its series with the Charlotte Bobcats, Wade says his knees are in better shape than last year at this time. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel has more on D-Wade and the Heat:

It has been a frustrating ride that saw Wade miss 28 games this season, mostly for a maintenance program for his balky knees.

And yet through it all, including being limited to a maximum of 24 minutes in each of his three games this past week, Wade believes he is in a better place than a year ago, when his knee issues had him out of the lineup just four games into the postseason.

“It’s a lot better than going into it last year,” he said, with the team given Thursday off before beginning playoff preparations Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena. “Now hopefully move on from that, and have a better first round health-wise than I did first round versus the Bucks last year, when I had to miss that game up in Milwaukee. So I look forward to Game 1 and hopefully not having any setbacks.”

“These were a good three games for me,” he said. “It’s better than going into the playoffs without playing. So I’m glad I was able to get a few games in with different teams, different styles, see how they guarded me a little differently.”

What he hasn’t had is much in the way of continuity with LeBron James, with James sitting out the final two games to rest up for what could be a fourth-consecutive two-month playoff grind, the Heat advancing to the NBA Finals in each of their first three Big Three seasons.

“I’m not worried about continuity with him at all,” Wade said. “The biggest thing is we both know what we need to do and we just have to do it. So we’ve played together for four years, so it’s enough continuity right there. So we’ll be fine.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Wizards star John Wall has a new slogan he writes on his shoes each game … Injured Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari expects to be ready to go for training camp … The Patrick Beverley-Damian Lillard matchup is likely going to decide that first-round series … Celtics reserve center Joel Anthony will reportedly exercise his option for next season …. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg and former Magic coach Stan Van Gundy are reportedly on the Timberwolves’ short list of coaches they’d pick to potentially replace Rick AdelmanAmar’e Stoudemire says the Knicks didn’t always buy into Mike Woodson‘s coaching … Ex-Pistons All-Star Grant Hill is reportedly not interested in pursuing a front-office post with Detroit …

ICYMI(s) of the Night: The NBA TV crew makes their predictions for the 2014 playoffs, which, if you haven’t heard, start Saturday …


VIDEO: NBA TV makes its predictions for the Western Conference playoffs


VIDEO: NBA TV makes its predictions for the Eastern Conference playoffs

Numbers preview: Thunder-Grizzlies

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Taking a closer look at the Thunder-Grizzlies matchup

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies both survived injuries that knocked out key players for big chunks of the season. Their reward is facing each other in the first round.

This is a rematch of last year’s conference semifinals, a series won by the Grizzlies in five games. Oklahoma City will have Russell Westbrook this time, but the Grizzlies aren’t the same team either. They’ve made some upgrades on the wings and still have one of the league’s best defenses.

Here are some statistical nuggets regarding the 2 and 7 seeds in the Western Conference, as well as the four regular-season games they played against each other.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Oklahoma City Thunder (59-23)

Pace: 97.9 (9)
OffRtg: 108.1 (7)
DefRtg: 101.0 (5)
NetRtg: +7.1 (3)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Memphis: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Thunder notes:

  • The only team that has ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency each of the last three seasons.
  • Best second quarter team in the league, outscoring opponents by 10.7 points per 100 possessions.
  • Won 14 of the 31 games they trailed by 10 or more points. That winning percentage of .452 led the league and was more than twice the league average (.214) for situations when teams trailed by at least 10.
  • Kevin Durant grabbed 74.9 percent of his rebounding chances, the highest mark in the league.

Memphis Grizzlies (50-32)

Pace: 92.2 (30)
OffRtg: 103.3 (16)
DefRtg: 102.1 (8)
NetRtg: +1.2 (14)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Oklahoma City: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Grizzlies notes:

The matchup

Season series: Thunder won 3-1 (2-0 at home)
Pace: 94.6
OKC OffRtg: 106.5 (7th vs. MEM)
MEM OffRtg: 98.6 (21st vs. OKC)

Matchup notes:

Numbers preview: Clippers-Warriors

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Playoff Push: Los Angeles Clippers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – No first-round series is more anticipated than the one that pits the Los Angeles Clippers against the Golden State Warriors.

It’s the league’s best offense against the Western Conference’s best defense. It’s Lob City vs. the Splash Brothers, Chris Paul vs. Stephen Curry, and Blake Griffin vs. a team that doesn’t like him very much.

These two teams split four explosive regular-season games, but the Warriors will be without Andrew Bogut to start the series. And that may be the difference.

Here are some statistical nuggets regarding the 3 and 6 seeds in the Western Conference, as well as the four regular-season games they played against each other.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Los Angeles Clippers (57-25)

Pace: 98.4 (7)
OffRtg: 109.4 (1)
DefRtg: 102.1 (7)
NetRtg: +7.3 (2)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Golden State: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Clippers notes:

Golden State Warriors (51-31)

Pace: 98.5 (6)
OffRtg: 105.3 (12)
DefRtg: 99.9 (3)
NetRtg: +5.4 (6)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. L.A. Clippers: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Warriors notes:

The matchup

Season series: 2-2 (Home team won all four games)
Pace: 100.5
LAC OffRtg: 107.3 (4th vs. GSW)
GSW OffRtg: 107.0 (9th vs. LAC)

Matchup notes:

Numbers preview: Raptors-Nets

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: 2013-2014 Raptors Top Plays

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – If there’s a first-round series that will help us determine the value of experience in the playoffs, it’s Toronto-Brooklyn.

The Nets have six players who have logged more than twice as many postseason minutes as anyone on the Raptors’ roster. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Jason Collins have all been to the conference finals or further.

But that won’t matter if the Nets aren’t able to slow down the Raptors’ top-10 offense, which they struggled to do in four regular-season meetings.

Here are some statistical nuggets regarding the No. 3 and No. 6 seeds in the Eastern Conference, as well as the four games they played against each other.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Toronto Raptors (48-34)

Pace: 94.4 (23)
OffRtg: 105.8 (9)
DefRtg: 102.4 (9)
NetRtg: +3.5 (9)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Brooklyn: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Raptors notes:

Brooklyn Nets (44-38)

Pace: 93.7 (25)
OffRtg: 104.4 (14)
DefRtg: 104.9 (19)
NetRtg: -0.6 (17)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Toronto: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Nets notes:

The matchup

Season series: 2-2 (1-1 in each location)
Pace: 92.5
TOR OffRtg: 107.0 (10th vs. BKN)
BKN OffRtg: 104.6 (9th vs. TOR)

Matchup notes:

Numbers preview: Rockets-Blazers

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Inside Stuff: Court Vision

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – At the midway point of the season, the Portland Trail Blazers were just a game behind the San Antonio Spurs for the top spot in the Western Conference.

The Blazers went 23-18 from then on, winning nine of their last 10 games. But that wasn’t good enough to even secure home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Houston Rockets went 25-11 to close the season and edge Portland for the 4 seed.

This is a matchup of two of the top five offenses in the league and two franchises that have just one playoff series win in the last 13 years.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Houston Rockets (54-28)

Pace: 98.8 (5)
OffRtg: 108.6 (4)
DefRtg: 103.1 (12)
NetRtg: +5.5 (5)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Portland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Rockets notes:

Portland Trail Blazers (54-28)

Pace: 97.5 (10)
OffRtg: 108.3 (5)
DefRtg: 104.7 (16)
NetRtg: +3.5 (8)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Houston: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Blazers notes:

The matchup

Season series: Rockets won 3-1 (2-0 in Houston)
Pace: 100.2
HOU OffRtg: 114.6 (2nd vs. POR)
POR OffRtg: 105.0 (10th vs. HOU)

Matchup notes:

Jeff Hornacek talks Suns’ 48-win season

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Suns’ Goran Dragic is a nominee for Kia Most Improved Player

DALLAS – The Phoenix Suns added their name to a very short list of teams to win 48 games and not make the playoffs. Their pleasantly stunning season has sparked increased debate about whether the NBA should look at ditching the conference model and put the 16 teams with the best record into the postseason.

Suns coach Jeff Hornacek vaulted to the top of the Coach of the Year discussion early on and, like his team, never faded. Phoenix was believed to be a team headed for major ping-pong balls come the lottery, a team constructed of journeymen and unproven parts expected to top out at around 25 victories.

The first-time head coach will have competition from Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau, Portland’s Terry Stotts, Charlotte’s Steve Clifford, Toronto’s Dwane Casey and San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich.

“Jeff is an awesome coach,” Suns point guard and team MVP Goran Dragic said. “He was a great player and he understands the game. As a coach, he sees things differently and he is always calm and gives us that extra confidence. He works hard with young players after practice and he gives us the strength to fight the whole season.”

Here’s how Hornacek views his rookie season on the bench:

Q: How did you manage to quickly establish a winning culture in a locker room with high turnover?

A: That’s the one thing going into this season we wanted them to do, just play hard, play together and for the most part they’ve done that. These guys care about each other, they’re a very close-knit team and that gives you an opportunity for success.

Q: How did Gerald Green, NBA.com’s choice as Most Improved Player, find success this season and bouncing in and out of the league?

A: Gerald is a guy who can get his shot off anywhere — and he does (laughs). He’s got great confidence in his shooting. He’s done a much better job of not just settling for the jump shot, but he’ll take it to the basket. If he gets a step and has a chance to jump, you know how good of an athlete he is, he usually gets the ball in the basket. He’s improved in terms of his consistency. It’s not where he’s jacking up 10 3s and making two of them. He realizes that if he’s not making them, he moves in and tries to take a different shot and that’s been big. I think that’s where a lot of his improvement’s come.

Q: It’s been said that you are the perfect coach for him and the system is a perfect fit. Do you agree with that?

A: He’s bought into what we’re trying to do, it kind of fits his style. We don’t mind running up and shooting quick 3s. I think his eyes light up when one of our point guards, Goran or Eric [Bledsoe], sprint down the court and he’s filling a lane. Guys have great confidence in him and they look for him now because they know he can get hot and make six, seven in a row. It’s a big part of what we do and he’s been great this year.

Q: You played for and coached under Hall of Fame Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. What aspects of his coaching style or philosophies did you incorporate into yours?

A: When we went into it I tried to take a little bit from all the coaches. With Jerry, it’s just go out there and try to play every play like it’s your last, that’s what Jerry always stressed and we’re constantly talking about that. We’re an inexperienced team in terms of playing games so those guys are learning on the fly of how to do that night in and night out, and then get to every play. You can’t have three or four plays that, ‘Oh I forgot,’ or ‘I spaced off’ or whatever it is because that’s going to be enough to cost you the game. Jerry was always on that: Play every play like it’s your last and we try to get that from our guys.

Q: Not sure if even you could have predicted the level of success the team had this season. What does it mean for the franchise when 20-something wins seemed to be the ceiling?

A: Well, the whole part of the rebuilding is you’re going to have steps. From a team that was supposed to win maybe 20 games, we thought if we can get to 30, 35, start establishing things, maybe next year make a push for the playoffs and the year after that get in the playoffs, the kind of stepping stones that you have to go through. Maybe we just skipped a rung. I think it’s great.

Q: Why were you able to skip a rung?

A: I don’t know. It’s always tough in the NBA, especially the way guys switch teams nowadays. The chemistry part is big. And our guys, we had 10 new guys, you never how that’s going to come together, they’ve gotten along pretty well. We emphasized in the beginning, you’re a bunch of new guys, you’re a lot of guys that have contracts that end this year or they end next year, so that’s always kind of a recipe for disaster when guys try to get individual, worried about their contracts. I told them stories about some of our guys from the past, that when you’re on a good team that’s when teams want you, that’s when they’ll pay bigger bucks if you’re on a good team. And so if we’re a good team, all that stuff will come, don’t worry about it, just play and try to win games and that’s what they’ve done. They’ve put it all aside and just played.

Q: When did you first see signs that your team could be pretty good?

A: Early in the season we lost a couple of close games to San Antonio and Oklahoma City at their place and our guys; when you’re in a rebuilding mode a lot of times guys are talking about, ‘hey, that’s a moral victory. Hey look, we played well.’ Our guys were ticked off, they were mad about it. So, to me, as kind of a competitive player, I think, I took that as a sign that, hey, we could be OK this year because these guys care and they want to win.

Q: You paired two point guards, Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, in the same backcourt. Why did you believe they could complement one another?

A: I just kind of envisioned it because I saw what Kevin Johnson and I went through way back in the day when you had two guards out there and we wanted to be an up-tempo team. We felt that the best way to do that is to have two guys you can outlet the ball to. We don’t need it in one guy’s hand when you can throw it to anybody. We just kind of, [general manager] Ryan McDonough, when we talked about if it could work, he said, ‘yeah I think it would be great getting them from one side to the other. Teams have to look at the mismatches. Someone’s going to have the advantage as good as those two guys are.