Pau Gasol wins PBWA’s Magic Johnson award for 2014-15


CHICAGO — Pau Gasol of the Chicago Bulls was named the 2014-15 recipient of the Magic Johnson Award, presented annually by the Professional Basketball Writers Association to the NBA player who best combines excellence on the court with cooperation in dealing with the media and the fans.

Gasol, 34, was the top choice in a field that included Golden State’s Stephen Curry, San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili, Cleveland’s LeBron James and Portland’s Damian Lillard. He is the second Chicago Bulls player so honored, following Jalen Rose in 2002-03.

“I just try to be helpful, help people do their jobs. I understand my position, and this is a part of our job,” Gasol said after Chicago’s practice Wednesday. “It’s easy to be friendly. It’s easy to be kind. I think also it rubs off on people. You should try to balance all the negative out there with some positives.”

The 14-year veteran — who often does double-duty, standing in for interviews in both English and Spanish — averaged 18.5 points and 11.8 rebounds this season, was named an Eastern Conference starter in the 2015 All-Star Game and led the NBA with 54 double-doubles, becoming the oldest player to do that since Patrick Ewing in 1996-97.

The PBWA created the Magic Johnson Award in 2001 and named it in honor for former Lakers star Earvin (Magic) Johnson, considered by the association’s members as an ideal model for the award. Approximately 175 PBWA members cover the NBA on a regular basis for newspapers, online outlets and magazines.

Morning shootaround — April 22


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rondo benched in Game 2 | Howard, Smith dominate Mavs | Batum sorry for anti-Spanish comment | Lowry suffers shin injury vs. Wizards

No. 1: Rondo benched as Mavs fall into 0-2 hole — As he did in Game 1, point guard Rajon Rondo started Game 2 last night against the Houston Rockets, but only logged 9 minutes, 55 seconds. That’s a low number for an otherwise healthy starter, and even lower when you consider all but 34 seconds of that stint came in the first half. Rondo was clearly disinterested in last night’s game as Mavs coach Rick Carlisle pulled him early in the first quarter for J.J. Barea and played Rondo a few more minutes in the second quarter. All of last night’s events, writes Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com, seem to point to Rondo and Carlisle parting ways permanently this summer:

Rajon Rondo looped around the media horde surrounding his stall late Tuesday night in the Toyota Center visitors’ locker room and darted into the trainer’s room.

A couple of minutes later, Rondo emerged with headphone buds in his ears and ignored the handful of reporters who attempted to ask him questions as he walked toward the arena’s exits, his eyes never shifting from straight ahead.

The whole scene didn’t last much longer than Rondo’s 34-second stint on the floor during the second half of the Dallas Mavericks’ 111-99 loss to the Houston Rockets, who will head up Interstate 45 with what seems like a 2-0 stranglehold on the series.

Actually, judging by his body language, Rondo looked like a dude just waiting for his inevitable divorce from Dallas to happen. Unless the seventh-seeded Mavs pull off a miracle, Rondo won’t have to wait much longer.

Did Rondo really even care about riding pine for most of the night?

“You have to ask him that question,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said, not exactly offering a ringing endorsement for the four-time All-Star point guard the Mavs acquired from the Boston Celtics in a blockbuster December trade. “All I know right now is that we need everybody at their competitive best.

“This isn’t about one guy who did or didn’t play. This is about everybody pulling in the same direction for the organization. That’s what it’s about.”

Rondo certainly didn’t come close to his competitive best during the nine minutes, 55 seconds that he wasn’t on the bench during Game 2.

A little more than four minutes into the game, Rondo nonchalantly walked the ball up the floor, getting whistled for an absolutely ridiculous eight-second backcourt violation with the Rockets not even applying pressure. He was pulled for J.J. Barea 40 seconds later — after Rondo wandered aimlessly on defense to let Jason Terry hit a wide-open 3 — and Carlisle didn’t call for Rondo again until 5:30 remained in the second quarter.

At this point, Carlisle really has no motivation to massage Rondo’s ego. They won’t be together much longer before they reach a mutual decision to part ways this summer, when Rondo enters free agency. Carlisle can only care about giving Dallas its best chance to pull off an upset in this series, and the overwhelming evidence from the first two games is that Rondo isn’t part of the solution.

But Carlisle gave Rondo one more chance to prove he deserved minutes with Dallas’ season on the line. Rondo responded by committing two dumb fouls on James Harden and picking up a technical for holding and shoving the Rockets’ MVP candidate after the first whistle, the basketball savant packing all that stupidity into 34 embarrassing seconds of action.

Playoff Rondo? Puh-leeeeese.

Perhaps surprisingly, there were no postgame fireworks between Carlisle and Rondo, multiple sources told ESPNDallas.com. The coach and point guard had infamous expletive-laced exchanges on Feb. 24, the first occurring during a timeout after Rondo walked the ball up the floor and ignored Carlisle’s play call midway through the third quarter, the second coming in the locker room after Rondo watched the rest of the Mavs’ comeback win over the Toronto Raptors from the bench.

In this instance, however, Carlisle simply called the team together in the middle of the locker room and said a few quick words. Rondo and Carlisle didn’t say a word to each other.

There was no outright hostility. Just a lot of awkwardness.

Rondo had a heck of a view from the bench, where he appeared to watch with as little interest as anyone in the rocking arena. He barely moved during the second half, getting on his feet only to offer halfhearted daps to teammates during timeouts.

Rondo’s warm-up shirt read “WE ARE ONE,” the Mavs’ slogan this postseason. His face definitely didn’t convey the same message.

“I’m sure it’s a difficult situation for him,” said Mavs center Tyson Chandler, who has had a trying season as a leader of a chemistry-challenged team. “He’s a competitor. He wants to be out there. Sometimes matchups and all that other stuff, you never know what’s going on.

“But we’ve got to all stay in this thing together. It’s the only way we’re going to have a chance.”

UPDATE: Per Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, Rondo will be done in Dallas as long as Carlisle is back as coach:

When Rondo realized his run with the Celtics was over this year, he planned to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer, league sources told Yahoo Sports. He expected a maximum contract. Once Dallas made the trade, he was open to re-signing with the Mavericks – only there are no max contract offers for Rondo on the market. Not in Dallas, nor Los Angeles. He’s played his way out of that payday – not just this year, but since that terrible ACL injury two years ago.

Everything’s pushing Rondo closer to his inevitable free-agent fleeing to the Lakers this summer. As long as the coach is back, Rondo’s gone, sources told Yahoo Sports. The parting could be mutual.


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew discusses the Rajon Rondo situation

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Mavs’ Parsons, Harris Out For Game 2

HOUSTON — Starting small forward Chandler Parsons and backup point guard Devin Harris will both sit out Game 2 tonight as the Mavs try to even their first round playoff series with the Rockets.

Parsons, who missed the final six games of the regular season with a right knee injury, played nearly 37 minutes in the opening game of the series on Saturday night, but had to limp off the court and go to the locker room at one point during the second quarter.

“This is a young man who is very important to our team now and in the future,” said Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle. “We’re very concerned. He will be re-evaluated (Wednesday) by Dr.(T.O.) Souryal and we’ll have more information for you following that evaluation.”

Asked if he was concerned that Parsons might be lost for the series, Carlisle said: “I’m concerned, period. That does loom as a possibility, but we’ll know more (Wednesday). I will say this: it’s become clear to those of us close to the team and him that he’s been in more pain than he’s let on. The fact the knee has not responded and the swelling has not dissipated the way we hoped means we have to pull the plug on tonight and he’s got to see doc tomorrow and see what’s what.”

Carlisle said that right now Harris is just sidelined for Game 2. He aggravated the big toe injury on his left foot in the opener and played just 10 minutes.”

“His toe is getting a little bit better, but he’s not ready to play,” Carlisle said. “We’ll update his status tomorrow. The hope is that he can do well enough where he can play, but he’s got a situation that’s sensitive because it involves the foot that had a very unique surgery and we got to be careful with it.”

Missing two key members of the lineup will test the Mavs depth and move Richard Jefferson and Al-Farouq Aminu up in the rotation.

“It’s the next man up in this kind of situation,” Carlisle said. “We’ve got a deep team. We’ve had guys step up all year.

“Obviously, R.J. and Aminu become more important guys at the small forward position. (Charlie) Villanueva becomes a more important guy because you’re down manpower at the position that goes from 3 to 4. And (Raymond) Felton now is in the mix. We’ll go with the guys that we have available and we’ll come out with guns blazing.”

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 198) Featuring Sam Perkins

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Sam Perkins is a pioneer.

He helped start a movement during his stellar 18-year professional career, expanding his game and his range during his NBA playing days and helping redefine the power forward position. From the low-post grunt work as the man who watches the big(ger) man’s back around the rim to 3-point shooting, floor spacing giant capable of creating space all over the floor is what Perkins took part in during his days with the Los Angeles Lakers.

He said it was a challenge from Byron Scott and Mike Dunleavy (the father, of course, not the son), then the veteran shooting guard and coach, respectively, for the Lakers. They dared him to get in on a shooting contest at practice and the result was Perkins vowing to work his tail off to become a proficient shooter from distance. The unintended consequence was Perkins the Stretch-4.

Big Smooth’s work goes beyond basketball these days. As an ambassador on behalf of the Special Olympic, Perkins is in the midst of preparations for the Special Olympic World Games, which will be hosted by the city of Los Angeles July 25 through August 2. Billed as the largest sports-and-humanitarian event in the world in 2015, and the single biggest event in Los Angeles since the 1984 Olympic Games. Some 7,000 athletes and 3,000 coaches representing 177 countries will be participating, along with 30,000 volunteers and an anticipated 500,000 spectators.

For Perkins, the connection to and participation with the Special Olympics was inspired by the late, great Dean Smith, the coaching icon, humanitarian and activist who schooled Perkins, Michael Jordan, James Worthy, our very own Rick Fox and countless others during their college days at North Carolina and beyond.

In the days, weeks and months leading up to the Special Olympics World Games Perkins will participate in the first-ever Unified Relay Across America, joining others in carrying The Flame of Hope across the country to Los Angeles beginning May 26. Perkins will be running the Dallas leg of the relay June 25. You can go to UnifiedRelay.Org to sign-up.

We talk about life after basketball and the tremendous work still to be done, the playoffs (how the Cleveland crew of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are doing in their first blush as a group), what Perkins appreciates about his time in the postseason cauldron from his own playing days and so much more on Episode 198 of the Hang Time Podcast Featuring Sam Perkins 

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business, Andrew Merriman.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: All-Star swingman Jimmy Bulter is answering any and all questions about how he and the Chicago Bulls will respond in the playoff cauldron

Emotional Budenholzer praises Pop after Coach of the Year win


VIDEO: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer thanks Gregg Popovich for taking a chance on him

ATLANTA — He did everything he could to keep his emotions from getting the best of him.

Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer is notorious for wanting to do any and everything he can to avoid the spotlight. Guiding his team to a franchise-record 60 wins and the top spot in the Eastern Conference is the worst way to accomplish that goal.

With the eyes of the basketball world on him Tuesday afternoon, Budenholzer stepped to the podium to accept the Red Auerbach Trophy as the NBA’s Coach of the Year for the 2014-15 season, and from the minute he leaned into the microphone he had to fight back the tears. With praise for all of his mentors — most notably his own father, Vince Budenholzer, a legendary high school coach in Arizona, and San Antonio Spurs coach and his longtime boss and friend, Gregg Popovich — Budenholzer had to fight back the tears when speaking about what both men have meant to him throughout a lifetime immersed in the game that he loves.

He thanked his father for instilling in him a passion for the game that Popovich helped him hone as a longtime assistant, first as an intern with the Golden State Warriors and for 18 years after that with the Spurs.

“It seems only appropriate to finish with the real Coach of the Year, Gregg Popovich,” Budenholzer said as he wrapped up his acceptance speech at Philips Arena. “This award has a permanent spot on his desk in San Antonio. He just takes it out every couple of years and shares it around with the rest of us. I might be able to sneak back into his office and put it back down.”

Appropriately enough, it was Popovich, at the urging of the Hawks after they found out Budenholzer had beaten out Golden State’s Steve Kerr and Milwaukee’s Jason Kidd for the top spot this season, who called and informed his former protegé that he’d won the award. Boston’s Brad Stevens was fourth and Popovich fifth.


VIDEO: Popovich explains how he told Budenholzer about the award

“There are some things better kept between Pop and myself,” a smiling Budenholzer said later how Popovich broke the news. “And I’ll go so far as to say … He was nice, really nice, and he assured me that he was not pulling my leg.”

Budenholzer’s surprising resuscitation of the Hawks’ brand after just two seasons has been nothing short of remarkable. A perfect January and a 19-0 stretch overall led to four All-Stars, Budenholzer and his staff coaching the Eastern Conference All-Stars in New York in February. The Hawks’ 60-win season and dominance all season led to Budenholzer posing for pictures with Pop’s trophy.

From a 38-win team and No. 8 seed in the playoffs after his first campaign to their current status as the No. 1 seed is not something anyone forecasted this team in the summer as they were reeling from the drama caused by derogatory comments in emails from part-owner Bruce Levenson and insensitive comments from general manager Danny Ferry that led to Ferry’s indefinite leave of absence.

“There is a certain degree of satisfaction that adds to it,” Budenholzer said. “We feel like this is a group that they believe in what they are doing and we obviously believe in them as players. And we’re trying to build something together. A lot of us were put together, but there were some pretty important people that we joined in Jeff Teague and Al Horford and Kyle Korver and even John (Jenkins). This group has really come together and it does mean something extra.”

Budenholzer praised Ferry, Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, who introduced him Tuesday, ownership and the entire organization for giving him the opportunity. He’s stayed in contact with Ferry, who was not in attendance, and did not shy away from handing out credit where he felt it was deserved.

“He’s been incredibly supportive of me from Day 1,” Budenholzer said of Ferry. “He’s very happy for me and continues to be. So it was good. But it’s been a tough year for everybody and hopefully, everybody has handled it to the best of all of our abilities.”

On a team with balanced scoring and devoid of one individual superstar to garner MVP mention or first-team All-NBA mention, the one individual award the Hawks had the best chance of winning was Coach of the Year.

Horford called it an honor extremely well-deserved, knowing his coach would want nothing to do with the pomp and circumstance that comes along with NBA postseason awards.

“He is the type of person that is all about the team,” Horford said. “So he is not going to want to take any credit for it. But it’s because of him. He really deserves that award, so I’m very, very happy for him. I just think that the whole mindset of working as a team. That goes a long way. One through 15 all the guys here believe in what we’re doing and what he’s preaching.”

Budenholzer’s approach — each man as responsible as the next for not only his own individual improvement, but also the collective improvement of the entire group — is what resonates with his players.

He showed up with the sparkling credentials, but he didn’t get a free pass, particularly from the veterans. Sure, they saw the tremendous gains in player development from veteran guys like Teague, Korver, Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll as well as youngsters like Dennis Schroder and Mike Muscala. Still, there was a connection that had to be made in order for the Hawks to take that next step as a group. And Budenholzer and his staff clearly put in all the necessary work to make that happen, following that Pop/Spurs blueprint as best they could.

“I’ve played for a lot of coaches, so I’ve seen plenty of situations and it wasn’t an instant thing,” Elton Brand said. “We didn’t get the head coach from San Antonio who won all the championships with the Spurs. It still took time. What’s his system about? Do we have the personnel to get it done? We had all the usual questions. And then we had a little success, started winning, made the playoffs and it takes off from there. But he still had to work for it. He had to earn the trust, just like any coach, even one from that background and that Spurs family tree. He didn’t just walk in the door and it was instant. He had to come in and earn everyone’s respect and show us his character. He did that, and that’s what makes this even more special.”

Part-time Howard is full-time committed


VIDEO: Dwight Howard is geared up for Game 2 of the series

HOUSTON — The Dallas Mavericks won’t mind at all if Dwight Howard continues to be a part-time player in Game 2 on Tuesday night. Playing just 17 minutes due to foul trouble in the opener, Howard finished with less than eye-popping numbers: 11 points and five rebounds.

But in the short time he was on the court, Howard still did cast a long shadow, slamming home a couple of early dunks and getting a hand on seemingly every shot that Dallas put up at the basket as the Rockets opened an early double-digit lead. The eight-time All-Star center had five blocks in his short stint.

“I think a couple years ago, maybe even last year, I would have allowed a couple fouls get to my head and I wouldn’t be able to be as effective on the defensive end,” Howard said. “I just kept telling myself, ‘If I foul out, I foul out going hard, trying to block everything and being aggressive.’ ”

In 67 previous playoff games, his averages were 20.3 points and 14.1 rebounds. In the Rockets’ six-game, first-round loss to the Trail Blazers in 2014, Howard averaged 26 points, 13.7 rebounds and 2.8 blocks.

This season he played just 41 games, missing virtually all of February and March while being treated for pain and swelling in his right knee.

“He’s always risen up and played very well at this time of year,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “I thought he played with a lot of energy (in Game 1). Foul trouble kind of kept him on the bench longer than we wanted, but I thought he had great energy and I thought he was really focused in.”

Howard says he has tried to turn the negative of missing games into a positive by watching his teammates closely and getting a better understanding of how he must carry himself.

“Just sitting out a lot of games and just watching and analyzing what I need to do for this team and where I need to be mentally for this team to win,” he said.

“When I’m on the floor, I don’t allow whatever is happening around me to affect me as a player. Our team tends to follow that lead. When I’m frustrated, I can’t point the finger at everybody else doing the same thing. I have to make sure I keep a level head and not allow the fouls or whatever it is on the floor that happens that is negative to affect me.

“Just being on the floor, I appreciate these moments that I have. I don’t want to take anything for granted. Anything can happen in a split second. When we’re out there playing, when I’m trying to do whatever I can to help this team, I just want to do it to 100 percent.”

Morning shootaround — April 21


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Should Blazers fret Aldridge’s future? | Lofty career goals for Pelicans’ Davis | Williams wants to stay with Raptors

No. 1: Should Blazers be worried about Aldridge’s future? — Portland couldn’t have looked much worse in its playoff opener against the Memphis Grizzlies. The Blazers scored just 86 points (including 15 first-quarter points), got minimal contributions from their thinning bench and saw All-Star guard Damian Lillard shoot 5-for-21 for 14 points. The lone bright spot was LaMarcus Aldridge‘s play (32 points, 14 rebounds) and in the day between Game 1 and 2, talk is bubbling up that losing the series might not be Portland’s only concern. Jason Quick of The Oregonian has more:

After an atrocious performance by the Blazers that at one point left Aldridge sitting alone on the bench as his teammates joined a late-game huddle, the Blazers need to worry about more than just losing this series.

They need to worry about losing one of the greatest players in franchise history.

Some Blazers players have already said they are worried free agency will take Aldridge away from Portland this summer. Earlier this month, before a home game, a Blazers player estimated the chances of him returning to Portland at 50-50.

Personally, I’ve always believed Aldridge will return to Portland. Paul Allen can offer more years and more money to Aldridge than any other owner. But behind the numbers and dollar figures is the undeniable fact that he has become comfortable in the city and feels valued within the organization. With Aldridge, that means more than any wad of money or the attention of any big city can offer.

It’s why Aldridge took a bold stance last summer after he politely turned down an offer to sign a three-year extension, saying he would rather sign a five-year deal with Portland.

“I don’t want it to be perceived that I’m not happy, or I’m not staying on because I’m not signing a three-year deal,” Aldridge told The Oregonian last July. “It’s just financially smarter to wait … and I’m looking forward to signing the five-year deal when the chance comes.”

But one Blazers player cautioned that Aldridge already has enough money. Happiness is what he is truly seeking, and that could be found in being closer to family in Texas.

It’s the tricky thing about Aldridge. No one ever really knows where he stands. He is fickle. Moody. And unpredictable.

So as this Blazers season has devolved into a snowball of snafus, epitomized by Sunday’s Game 1 that featured wild shots, broken assignments, and embarrassing miscues, it was safe to wonder where Aldridge’s mind was headed.


VIDEO: The Starters address the state of the Blazers-Grizzlies series

***  

Raptors need to respond in Game 2


VIDEO: A behind-the-scenes look at the Raptors getting ready for the playoffs

TORONTO — Home teams are 9-1 in the postseason through Monday. The one defeat belongs to the Toronto Raptors, who lost Game 1 to the Washington Wizards on Saturday and have put themselves in a hole for the second straight year.

Last year’s series against the Brooklyn Nets taught the Raptors that there’s an opportunity to recover. They took a 3-2 lead in that series before losing in seven games.

But the pressure is still on the Raptors to get a win in Game 2 on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET, NBA TV), before the series heads to Washington. Over the last 12 years (since all rounds went to best-of-7), teams that lost Game 1 at home are 43-8 in Game 2. But only one of the eight teams that also lost Game 2 came back to win the series. Furthermore, the Raptors’ opponent had the biggest discrepancy in the regular season between how well they played at home (plus-7.1 points per 100 possessions) and how well they played on the road (minus-3.5).

It’s not hard to figure out where the Raptors have the most room for improvement. They scored just 86 points on 98 possessions in Game 1, shooting 13-for-50 from outside the paint. Their three leading scorers – DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams – combined to score just 32 points on 12-for-46 from the field.

The Wizards have to feel that they can play a lot better in Game 2 as well. They couldn’t crack a point per possession on Saturday either. They shot worse from outside the paint (13-for-53) than the Raptors did, and John Wall and Bradley Beal combined to shoot 11-for-41.

Here are five things to watch in Game 2…

1. Cleaning the glass

In an ugly Game 1, the difference was Washington’s 19 offensive rebounds and 20 second-chance points. Four of the former and five of the latter came in overtime. The Raptors ranked 25th in defensive rebounding percentage in the regular season, and their issues in that regard obviously carried over into the playoffs.

In some cases, the Raptors just got beat up underneath the basket. See Drew Gooden vs. Patrick Patterson on this fourth-quarter tip-in.

But other Washington offensive rebounds were a result of the Raptors’ defense on the perimeter. By sending two to the ball on pick-and-rolls involving Wall and Beal, Toronto got caught in rotations and out of position when it was time to secure a rebound.

So in regard to the glass, it will first be interesting to see whether or not the Raptors are hedging hard on pick-and-rolls.

2. Transition game

According to SportVU, just five (6.5 percent) of the Raptors’ 77 initial-possession shots came in the first six seconds of the shot clock on Saturday. Toronto isn’t a particularly fast-paced team, but that rate is about half of their regular-season rate (13.0 percent).

“Our tempo has to be different,” Lowry said Sunday. “I need to start the game off with a faster pace, getting up and down a little bit more.”

Earlier shots are typically better shots. In the regular season, the Raptors had an effective field-goal percentage of 61 percent in the first six seconds of the shot clock and 49 percent thereafter.

3. Pierce at the 4

Despite the 19 offensive boards, the Wizards’ offense was still pretty bad. Wizards coach Randy Wittman can get more shooting and spacing on the floor by continuing to use Paul Pierce at power forward.

Pierce played 17 minutes with less than two bigs on the floor next to him in Game 1. The Wizards were actually a minus-1 in those minutes, but playing small helped them turned the game around in the second quarter.

We’ll see if Wittman goes to that look even earlier in the game on Tuesday.

4. James Johnson?

James Johnson could be thought of as a counter to Pierce at the four, especially by those who were chanting “We want James!” in the second half of Game 1. But the Raptors aren’t comfortable playing Johnson at power forward, and would have a hard time taking minutes away from Tyler Hansbrough, Amir Johnson, Patterson or Jonas Valanciunas.

Pierce’s points weren’t necessarily about his individual matchup, either. They were more a product of the attention paid to Wall and Beal.

Still, there may be minutes at small forward for Johnson, who had a positive impact on the Raptors’ numbers when he was on the floor in the regular season. Bonus: He’s a better rebounder than any of the team’s other wings.

5. Who can make a shot?

Both teams played strong defense in Game 1. And both teams missed a lot of open shots.

According to SportVU, the Raptors shot 8-for-27 (30 percent) on uncontested jumpers on Saturday, while the Wizards shot 10-for-35 (29 percent). In the regular season, both teams were better, and Game 2 might just come down to which team can make a few more jumpers than they did in Game 1.

Mirotic takes pounding (thigh, knee, head) as Bucks-Bulls series gets physical


VIDEO: Things get more than chippy between Nikola Mirotic and Zaza Pachulia

CHICAGO – As accustomed as the Chicago Bulls have grown with injuries, there’s a Monty Pythonesque “Black Knight” vibe to them sometimes, with even significant ailments and breakdowns getting the “it’s only a flesh wound” treatment.

That’s why the concern over valuable reserve forward Nikola Mirotic after the Bulls’ Game 2 victory over Milwaukee Monday night exceeded the measured tone of the team’s official postgame injury update.

Mirotic, limping considerably afterward both as he left the court and back in the locker room, had suffered a left quadriceps strain and was to be “re-evaluated in the morning.” But the 6-foot-10 rookie who blossomed deep into the season as Chicago’s sixth-man option also had a noticeable knot on his knee. There were worries, too, that he might have a concussion after his skirmish on the floor with 2:48 left to play with Milwaukee’s Zaza Pachulia. The teams play again Thursday, with the Bulls holding a 2-0 lead as the best-of-seven series shifts to Milwaukee for the next two.

Mirotic didn’t talk with reporters and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau had no further information when he met with the media afterwards. But teammate Pau Gasol did take stock of Mirotic’s hobbled state and didn’t appreciate Pachulia’s rugged work (and ejection) in a game that was much more physical than the series opener.

“Hopefully it won’t be anything serious,” Gasol said. “I think Zaza had a couple of bad plays, not basketball plays. He got penalized with technicals, but [the officials have] just got to protect players.”

Mirotic has averaged 6.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and about 18 minutes in his first two playoff games. That’s a dip from his regular-season numbers, certainly from the 17.7 ppg and 6.6 rpg he averaged after March 1. But Mirotic logged nine minutes in the fourth quarter Monday, a sign of Thibodeau’s trust and the Bulls’ needs for his multiple skills in closing games.

Olajuwon gives Capela high marks


VIDEO: Clint Capela grabs the alley-oop for the dunk

HOUSTON — When the structured part of the Rockets practice is over, Hakeem Olajuwon and Dwight Howard drift naturally toward one another.

If Olajuwon isn’t dipping his shoulder, spinning on one foot and giving Howard a few pointers on technique in the low post, then the pair are just huddled, chatting, nodding heads and trading tales and secrets of the paint.

But while the Hall of Famer gets most of his attention these days for working with the eight-time All-Star, Prof. Olajuwon did take notice of the fresh-faced member of his big man class. With Howard in foul trouble early, 20-year-old Clint Capela was first off the bench in Game 1 and opened a few eyes with his eight points, six rebounds and two blocked shots in 16 minutes.

“He has tremendous potential,” Olajuwon said. “I’m just trying to encourage him to play to his strengths because he does so many things so well. To work with a guy like that is wonderful because his potential is great. His first experience in the playoffs, he played confident and played his game.”

The pregame advice from the legendary Rockets center to the newbie?

“Just to be himself and be comfortable,” said Olajuwon.  “He’s playing with a lot of veterans out there. Just play his game.”