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Heat, Hornets have no interest in playoff dramatics


VIDEO: Kevin Durant got tossed from Game 3 for smacking Justin Anderson in the face

CHARLOTTE — It’s playoff basketball, not professional boxing or mixed martial arts or anything of the sort. It’s just playoff basketball.

So don’t fix your eyes on this first round playoff series between the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets and look any deeper into any of the scrappiness between the two teams. Just because guys have to be separated now and then and words are exchanged, neither the Heat nor the Hornets are interested in any of the playoff dramatics going on elsewhere in this postseason.

“It’s the NBA, there aren’t really any fights,” Heat veteran Luol Deng said. “Not really, not during my time in the league. Guys don’t want to fight. There might be one punch and then it gets broken up. But no real fights. This isn’t hockey.”

Tell that to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook or LeBron James and Andre Drummond or Isaiah Thomas and Dennis Schroder. All of them have been been caught up in the first round dramatics, in one way or another.

Durant was ejected late in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Game 3 win over the Dallas Mavericks for smacking Justin Anderson in the face. Both Drummond and Thomas will not be suspended for contact against James and Schroder, respectively, that would have seemed to warrant suspension.

Game 3 of the Heat-Hornets series Saturday night featured plenty of opportunities for things to escalate and maybe even get out of hand, but cooler head prevailed time and again.

Hornets point guard Kemba Walker had one heated exchange with Heat center Hassan Whiteside that seemed like it was headed for craziness, only to have players on both sides calm each other down before things got completely out of hand.

“It’s the playoffs,” Walker said. “The intensity is up. Trying to win a series here. Both teams are going to be scratching and clawing, trying to do anything possible to win a basketball game. They have great ball pressure and so do we, so guys are going to get hit. It’s going to be tough out there … anything possible to win a game.”

Walker, however, went to make sure he set the right tone for Monday’s Game 4 showdown at Time Warner Cable Arena.

“I’m not a troublemaker,” he said and then smiled. “It’s just basketball, playoff basketball.”

No penalty from NBA for Drummond’s elbow? LeBron James not surprised

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – The reaction to this one from many in the NBA’s 29 other precincts might be along the lines of puh-leeeze: LeBron James suggested Sunday that he doesn’t get his share of whistles when on the receiving end of physical play.

The bruised and bloodied bodies of fallen opponents strewn behind him might argue to the contrary.

But then, when the NBA has an opportunity to review video of some of the hits the Cleveland star takes – like a high elbow from Detroit center Andre Drummond in Game 3 Friday of the teams’ first-round Eastern Conference series – and issues no retroactive flagrant or technical fouls or fines, maybe James has a case.

James wasn’t complaining at the Cavaliers’ shootaround session Sunday in advance of their closeout opportunity in Game 4 at The Palace of Auburn Hills. But he wasn’t hiding his belief, either, that all physical contact isn’t adjudicated fairly.

Asked about the Drummond blow and the absence of any rebuke, James told reporters: “Initially I was surprised. But then I thought who he did it to and I wasn’t surprised.”

Given the size, speed and power of James’ game, at a muscular 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds, the sense among NBA observers long has been that he dishes out punishment without even trying, just from incidental contact that can hurt. The flip side is that, given his strength, he absorbs a lot of contact without getting knocked off course or sent to the floor, resulting in fewer whistles that way as well.

“He’s the Shaq of guards and forwards,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. “He’s so strong and so physical when he goes to the basket guys are bouncing off of him. Those are still fouls. But he doesn’t get that call because he’s so big and so strong and so physical.”

Lue, since taking over at midseason as the Cavs head coach, assiduously avoids criticizing the referees or NBA HQ over calls made or not made. It’s a button many coaches push at playoff time, dating back at least to Phil Jackson‘s tweaks while with the Bulls and the Lakers and probably all the way back to Red Auerbach and John Kundla.

Their goal: Plant a seed for the next game. But it can get expensive – witness Stan Van Gundy‘s $25,000 fine after Game 1 for bemoaning what he felt was the refs’ disinterest in calling offensive fouls on James – and it doesn’t suit Lue’s personality.

“It’s their job to clean it up,” said Lue, who proudly notes that he never got a technical foul in 11 years as an NBA point guard. “It’s not my job to complain about the situation at hand.”

James rarely is shy in complaining in the moment about calls he feels should have gone his way. His lightning-rod game and expressive gripes, added to every NBA player’s default position regarding fouls, generates a lot of hoots and hollers from fans in arenas who think James actually gets preferential treatment from the refs.

Some teammates, such as Cavs center Tristan Thompson, are in the middle of the physical play that ramps up in the playoffs and see it differently.

“He gets beat up the most. He gets beat up the most in the league,” Thompson said. “He takes a lot of hits night in and night out, especially in this series, and he keeps pushing and he stays mature.”

James takes the hits but clearly he doesn’t take them lightly. He had a no-nonsense look Sunday morning, suggesting a resolve to limit the Pistons’ shots at him by limiting their playoff run to the minimum of four games.

“I just like to gather my composure, my guys’ composure, going against the opponents’ fans,” James said this close-out opportunity on the road. “I thrive adversity and hostile environments.”

Morning shootaround — April 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 23

Poise, passion pay for Portland | Curry back in body, but in spirit? | Nowitzki chooses to keep fighting | Celtics’ Thomas bonds with Boston’s best

No. 1: Poise, passion pay for Portland — Things were slipping away for the Portland Trail Blazers late in their game Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers, which meant their first-round Western Conference series also was slipping from their grasp. The Blazers couldn’t afford to dig their hole 3-0 deep and maintain any realistic hopes of coming back, and they knew it. That’s when desperation kicked in, in the form of a feisty point guard and follow-the-leader resilience of his teammates. Jason Quick of CSNNorthwest.com detailed Portland’s late-game resolve and push:

It’s when some of the Clippers’ warts became exposed – DeAndre Jordan’s free throw shooting, Blake Griffin’s rust among them – and when some of the Blazers’ uncanny ability to play above-and-beyond what conventional wisdom says a team of this experience and payroll should.

It’s when Portland closed on a 15-3 run to secure a 96-88 win to draw within 2-1 of the Clippers in this best-of-seven series.

It was the Blazers’ most important 3:52 of the season and that frenetic finish included a speech, a three-pointer, a steal and a dunk. And ultimately, it included a message.

“It says we want it,’’ Damian Lillard said. “ We aren’t here for fake just to say ‘We weren’t supposed to make the playoffs and we made it.’ We are here to compete. We are here to win. It said a lot about our team. We really showed some fight and some heart.’’

The crowd was buzzing. National television was watching. And a season still had a pulse, even though months ago some players admitted they figured by late April it would be forgotten in a three-margarita-haze somewhere in Mexico.

Soaking up that atmosphere, Lillard asked his teammates a question.

“I huddled the guys up and said ‘Are you all ready to go home? … We are going to finish this out,’’’ Lillard recalled later.

It wasn’t so much of a motivating, rallying cry as much as it was a crystalizing moment for the team, a now-or-never type of awakening.

“He basically came in there and said ‘I don’t want my season to be over,’’’ [Moe] Harkless said. “I felt the same way, so I was right there with him. Just to know everybody on the court had the same mindset … I mean, that’s big time.’’

[C.J.] McCollum made one of his two free throws. And after [DeAndre] Jordan split his free throws, Harkless darted from the baseline to rebound and dunk a miss from McCollum with 55 seconds left to give the Blazers a 91-86 lead.
“That play by Moe sealed the deal for us,’’ Davis said.

Who knows how much Lillard’s now-or-never speech had to do with the Blazers’ strong close to the game? Or whether it was more the Clippers’ undoing in the clutch rather than the Blazers’ rising to the occasion?

Doesn’t matter. Inside the locker room, this team looks to and listens to Lillard, and he usually delivers with something that resonates.

 

On brink of elimination, Grizzlies not ready to give up yet

Memphis, TN — As the media scrum around him broke up and the assorted journalists headed out into a bright Memphis afternoon, Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger tried to be supportive. “Enjoy the rest of your day,” he urged, while allowing with a laugh, “I don’t know what day of the week it is.”

Joerger should be forgiven for being a little out of sorts. What the Memphis Grizzlies have been through the last few weeks would make any coach’s head spin.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way for the Grizzlies. This Grizz team entered the season with a nice mix of older and younger players, and made a trade to add veterans Mario Chalmers and Chris Andersen. After signing a new long-term contract last summer, Marc Gasol lasted 52 games before breaking his foot. A few days after Gasol’s injury, Mike Conley went down as well, and then Chalmers just weeks later.

The list of Grizzlies players currently unavailable due to injury is impressive — All-Stars like Conley and Gasol, rotation players like Chalmers and Brandan Wright, as well as a bunch of role players and prospects, from Jarrell Martin to Jordan Adams. All told, they’ve used an NBA-record 28 players this season, and could probably stand to add a few more if their roster wasn’t locked for the duration of the playoffs. According to Joerger, the personnel fluctuation has led to some challenging circumstances.

“Difficult from the standpoint of a lot of moving parts, a lot of re-teaching,” he said. “Frustrating from the level as coach, when you see — especially San Antonio, they’re at the doctoral level as far as some of the things they run. We had to go backwards — and backwards not being a negative word, just making it more simple as all kinds of new guys have come in. That’s a fairly easy adjustment for an experienced group that’s been together. It’s just difficult when you have new guys, new faces. Defense is built on trust and being able to know where your help is. It would be fun to be able to have this group together for a little bit longer, and I’ve seen a great deal of improvement from our guys. They come in every day, they’re playing hard.”

While a good job and good effort is always appreciated, the NBA only recognizes wins and losses. And the Grizzlies went 3-14 over the last four weeks of the regular season, and have yet to notch a win in the playoffs against the mighty Spurs. Moral victories are great and all, but Joerger is still hopeful for a tangible result from his rag-tag roster.

“I want those guys to have some success,” he said. “They deserve to get some results. The battles that we’ve had since the All-Star break, to get a couple of wins — certainly the Cleveland game was terrific, and the Clippers win, New Orleans, some of those things are memorable. But to see guys out there — Matt Barnes, banging away at LaMarcus Aldridge. Or [Andersen] getting on the floor, Vince [Carter] giving everything he’s got left. I’d like to see them be rewarded for that. They deserve it.”

To get what they deserve, the Grizzlies have to go through the San Antonio Spurs, who have not only won all three games in the series, they’ve won 10 of the 12 quarters the teams have played. To have a chance at winning Game 4, the Grizzlies have to attack relentlessly, particularly on the glass.

Said Joerger: “There’s a big, big difference in going out there and not trying to get embarrassed or being like, ‘Let’s just try to keep it close,’ or, ‘They’re the Spurs…’ No. That group in there comes with the attitude, and I would expect they come with the attitude that we’re trying to win tomorrow and we’re going to win. I’m not saying that we are, but I’m hoping we come with that attitude.”

If there was ever a city perfect for supporting a team that seems to have the deck stacked against them, it’s Memphis. The entire downtown area is wallpapered with Grizzlies logos and banners, with citizens wearing enough Grizz gear to make it look like an NBA Store commercial shoot. Following Game 3, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich noted the “pride” the Grizzlies played with, and that pride seemed to be mirrored by the crowd. As the game ended, the fans in attendance gave the remaining Grizzlies a standing ovation despite the loss, acknowledging the work they put in, even if they didn’t get the W.

With a noon local tipoff tomorrow, meaning only about 36 hours recuperation time, the schedule-makers didn’t do the Grizz many favors. But while the circumstances aren’t in the Grizzlies’ favor, Joerger expects them to grit and grind tomorrow, even if it is for the final time during a season that started strong and has limped toward the finish line.

“We feel like we’re right there,” he said. “We made a couple of mistakes in transition, where we ran at some balls and ran up on guys and reached a little bit. I thought our defense flew around for the most part, and we helped each other. So we have to take that attitude into the game, and you just never know what can happen. You have to give yourself that chance that something can happen.”

Steve Kerr on review of Harden shot: ‘It doesn’t matter’

HOUSTON — After the NBA’s review of the officiating in Game 3 of the playoffs on Thursday found five errors in the final two minutes, Warriors coach Steve Kerr couldn’t work up any emotion, let alone outrage.

In the league’s “Last Two Minute Report,” it was determined that James Harden’s game-winning bucket should not have counted because he pushed off on the shot. The review also retroactively handed out a Flagrant 1 foul to Golden State’s Draymond Green for a takedown of Houston’s Michael Beasley in the final seconds.

If a player accrues four flagrant foul points during the playoffs, he is automatically suspended for one game.

If Harden’s basket didn’t count, the Warriors might have won 96-95 and now held a commanding 3-0 lead in the series.

“It doesn’t matter,” Kerr said with a shrug. “I appreciate the league trying to be transparent about calls. On the other hand, it puts the referees in a pretty tough spot. You can’t change the call afterwards. So it doesn’t really make a difference either way.

“It’s an impossible game to officiate. It really is. Players are constantly testing the limits of what they can get away with on every team. The officials are doing the best they can. They’ve got a tough job. They’ve got eight million things to look at.

“Like I said last week, every team I’ve ever been on, we thought for sure we were getting a raw deal from the officials. Every team. Trust me, if one side thinks they’re getting a bad deal, so does the other. That’s just the way it goes. You just gotta come out and play.”

Rockets CEO: ‘No disrespect to Charles’

HOUSTON — Rockets CEO Tad Brown says there was nothing personal in his Twitter fight with Charles Barkley on Thursday night during Game 3 of the playoffs.

At halftime of the TNT telecast, Barkley said, “Ain’t nothing worse than fake hustle. I guarantee you the Rockets are going to lose this game.”

After the Rockets held on to beat the Warriors 97-96, Brown tweeted: “Charles would know, his entire Rockets career was fake hustle.”

In a hallway of Toyota Center Saturday afternoon while both teams practiced, Brown said he did not intend to question Barkley’s credentials as a Hall of Fame player.

“I was a huge fan of his growing up,” Brown said. “I have the greatest respect for him. This has been going on for a long time. Just trying to stand up for my guys. It’s no disrespect to Charles, one of the top 50 players of all time. At some point, just making sure our team knows we’re looking out for them, we’re trying to stand up for them.”

Hornets expecting big boost at home


VIDEO: The Hornets need to bounce back in dramatic fashion in Game 3 against the Heat

CHARLOTTE — It happened in Boston Friday night. So why not here today?

The Charlotte Hornets need to find a way to reverse their fortunes against the Miami Heat in Game 3 of this first round playoff series, and they hope to use a little home-court magic to do so.

The Boston Celtics rebounded from a franchise-low seven-point first quarter in their Game 2 loss to the Atlanta Hawks by scoring 37 points in their Game 3 win at home Friday night, behind a monstrous effort from All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas.

The Hornets need a similar boost from their star point guard, Kemba Walker, who promises that the environment and energy provided by the home fans will factor into his team’s performance.

“I know it’s going to be live, exciting and electrifying and our fans will be great,” Walker said, “We definitely would love to feed off the energy of our crowd.”

The Hornets finished the regular season with a 30-11 record at Time Warner Cable Arena, the third best home record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland and Toronto.

“We’re expecting a big boost,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “Our fans have been great all year and our guys love playing here. Right from the get-go, we’ve played really well at home and I think we’ll play a lot better [today].”

The Hornets need to shore up their defense after giving up an average of 119 points on 58 percent shooting, 53 percent from beyond the 3-point line, in Games 1 and 2. They’ll also have to work without second-leading scorer Nic Batum, who is out indefinitely with a left foot sprain suffered in Game 2.

“We’re just trying to get a win,” Walker said. “That’s it. But we want to be locked in and to do the things we need to do to get a win, and that’s to be better defensively overall.”

The Heat have pounded the Hornets with their size advantage in the first two games, so Clifford has to decide whether he wants to go big with Batum’s replacement and insert rookie 7-footer Frank Kaminsky into the starting lineup. Or he can go with a smaller and potentially more explosive lineup and go with sixth man Jeremy Lin alongside Walker in the first five.

Clifford said the Heat’s size, at every position, has been the key difference in the series so far. But the versatility a smaller lineup provides cannot be overlooked. So he’ll continue to analyze his options right up until the final moments and reveal his decision right before the game.

Whatever he decides, the Hornets will have the added boost of their home crowd fueling whatever starting lineup they trot out onto the floor for what breaks down as their most important game (home or otherwise) of the season.

Morning shootaround — April 23


VIDEO: Top Plays from Friday’s playoff action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Thibodeau ready to roll | Wizards ready to spend big? | Carlisle thinks OKC acting too tough

No. 1: Thibodeau ready to roll — Returning to the scene of where it all began for him as an NBA coach, Tom Thibodeau is all smiles these days, and why not? He just hit the motherlode: Millions to coach a game, lots of sway in personnel decisions and a solid young group of players on the Minnesota roster. Given all that, this is one of the best coaching vacancies to come along in a while, and Thibodeau is ready to get going. He spoke recently with Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, who filed this:

An assistant on the expansion Wolves’ first two teams, Thibodeau on Wednesday agreed to coach what he calls the league’s “best young roster” and share management decisions with longtime friend and newly named GM Scott Layden, with whom he once worked in New York. He terms it a “partnership” with a man he calls “one of my closest friends” rather than total control over personnel decisions.

Fired by the Bulls in part because of conflicts with management, Thibodeau negotiated the president of basketball operations title into his Wolves deal.

“It wasn’t an absolute must, but I’m glad it has worked out that way,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure I had a voice. The person I’m with, I trust Scott. He has great integrity. He’s a great worker and he has great experience.”

He cited that partnership, the team’s young roster — “and where it can go” — and owner Glen Taylor’s “commitment to winning” as the reasons he agreed to a reported five-year, $40 million contract only a week after the Wolves announced they’d search to fill two jobs and ended up filling three.

“When you look at the young guys, when you look at the [salary] cap space, when you look at the draft pick that’s coming, there’s great flexibility there,” Thibodeau said. “There are a lot of assets there. If you formulate a really good plan that studies and organizes everything, I think this situation is positioned great to go forward.”

He calls himself well-suited to coach such a young team, noting Derrick Rose was 22 and Joakim Noah 25 when he accepted his first NBA head coaching job in 2010. Often criticized for playing his starters too much, he answered Taylor’s inquiry on that matter by telling him to speak with former players. On Thursday, he said his Bulls players’ minutes compared to others at their position in the league.

“Some of it is more myth than fact,” Thibodeau said. “If you dig deeper, you will see that. A lot of other guys play a lot of minutes.”

Thibodeau’s objective with such a young team is what every coach seeks: maximize its strengths, minimize its weaknesses. He said this team can score, will get to the free-throw line and is willing to share the ball.

“We have to get turnovers down a bit,” he said. “You eliminate all the ways you beat yourself first.”

Thibodeau visited 13 different NBA teams during his season off and found enlightenment in not one revelation but many little things.

He also watched a lot of NBA games. Included were the Wolves under interim coach Sam Mitchell, who was not retained.

“I thought they improved, I thought they had some good, solid wins,” Thibodeau said. “You start looking at it and you’re just impressed.”

Those favorable impressions begin with 20-year-old Karl-Anthony Towns, 21-year-olds Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine and 25-year-old point guard Ricky Rubio.

Thibodeau’s discussion about each player began with praise of their talents and ended with needed improvements, particularly defensively.

• On Towns: “It’s pretty amazing for a first-year guy to come in and do the things he did. There’s obviously room for growth. But his skill set is very unusual. He has the potential to be very good defensively, with his rebounding, his shot blocking. The way he plays the game, the way he sees the game, he has the ability to make other players better. He had a very impressive first year, but it’s just the beginning. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to move the group forward.”

• On Wiggins: “He impressed me the way he scored against us when I was still coaching. He made it look easy. I think the challenge — not only him but for his teammates — is there’s going to have to be dramatic improvement defensively. You have to make a commitment in that area. The players are too good in this league to guard individually. You need to have five-man defense in all aspects. If one guy’s not doing his job, the group is going to look bad.”

• On Rubio: “All players have their strengths and weaknesses and Ricky has established himself as a very good player. So we’re excited about that. The point guard position is such an important position in the way the team functions. You need to have a good understanding where guys like to get the ball, who has a good matchup, what’s going on in the game and keep the team organized and I think Ricky’s really strong in those areas.”

• On LaVine: “I thought he improved a lot. I’m excited at what he can do. He improved his shooting, his defense and his rebounding as well.”

***

No. 2:  Wizards ready to spend big? — There’s the very sound and sensible scenario where the Washington Wizards open the vault for Kevin Durant when he hits free agency this summer, but maybe it doesn’t stop there regardless if the Wizards get lucky or not. By bringing in Scott Brooks as coach, there’s the feeling Washington is ready to make big changes on a team that underachieved this year — or maybe was too tapped out to improve. With the rising salary cap and an anxious fan base, the Wizards could chase other free agents or make some splashy trades that bring in players with hefty salaries. Here’s the take of Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post:

Since Ted Leonsis became majority owner of the Washington Wizards in 2010, the franchise has been known for playing it safe.

That is what made the team’s single-minded pursuit of Scott Brooks over the past week, culminating with Brooks agreeing to a five-year, $35 million contract to become the team’s head coach, so fascinating. For a franchise long reticent for spending big and seldom going for the splashy hire, the Wizards did both in one fell swoop.

There are two ways to view the decision of Leonsis and Ernie Grunfeld, the team’s president of basketball operations, to pursue Brooks. One is that they would have been better served to cast a wide net to try and replace Randy Wittman, fired last week at the conclusion of a disappointing season in which the Wizards went 41-41 and missed the playoffs after two straight second-round appearances.

The other is that the Wizards identified their preferred candidate, then did whatever it took to get him to join their organization. That kind of action has been uncommon for this team in the past, and could be a sign of things to come this offseason.

Washington had competition for its new hire. The Houston Rockets were interested in talking to Brooks, who was part of Houston’s championship-winning team in 1994 and who had coached star James Harden in Oklahoma City, and it was always possible the Lakers could decide to make a run at Brooks should they part with their current coach, Byron Scott.

But instead of letting the market settle – and giving the Rockets or other potential suitors a chance to woo Brooks – the Wizards pushed the issue. They never met with any other candidate, and they offered Brooks a contract that makes him one of the six highest-paid coaches in the league.

It was a deal that proved to be too good for Brooks to pass up.

The question now is what does the pursuit of Brooks – both getting him, and how they did so – mean for the Wizards moving forward. This summer has been the focus for the franchise and its fans for some time now, given that superstar Kevin Durant will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

***

No. 3: Carlisle thinks OKC acting too tough — Apparently the Oklahoma City Thunder are not only too talent in comparison to his Mavericks, says coach Rick Carlisle, but they’re too rugged. Illegally, so. Carlisle watched tape of Game 3 and felt OKC played dangerously close to the line, and maybe even crossed the line on a few occasions. He took exception to Kevin Durant‘s stray elbow and a few other things; feel free whether his complaints are legit or simply the rant of a frustrated coach. Anyway, Tim McMahon of ESPN filed this report on Thunder-Mavericks:

“There were four, what I would categorize as non-basketball physical escalations that were initiated by them, including one intentional, unprovoked elbow at the free throw line, which I didn’t understand,” Carlisle said Friday. “And I’ve never seen a guy like Kevin Durant ever do that to a player. Then ultimately, that led to two more escalations between the teams, the fact that that was missed. I’m concerned about that. There’s no place for that in our game.”

Late Friday afternoon, the NBA announced that Durant has been assessed a technical foul for a “physical taunt” as a result of his elbow to Mejri’s chest.

Felton, meanwhile, was angered after being elbowed in the face by Adams when they were boxing out under the basket. Adams, a 7-footer, laughed when confronted by the 6-foot-1 Felton.

“I’m not going to let you just elbow me in my face and I let it go,” Felton told ESPN after the game Thursday. “Whatever. I’ll take a technical or whatever, fine or whatever it is. I’m not going to back down for nothing. I’m definitely not going to let anybody hit me in my face freely for no reason. I’m just down there trying to battle a big 7-footer for a rebound and he elbows me to my face.

“Like, you’re that much bigger than me, what you need to elbow a little guy like me to get a rebound? I didn’t like it, so I let him know that. But whatever, it’s over with now. I ain’t trippin’ no more. You can smile and laugh all you want to. You ain’t just gonna hit me in my face and think everything’s sweet. But like I said, I’m gonna let bygones be bygones.”

Carlisle wanted to make sure the issues were raised again Friday, repeatedly referring to the Thunder as the initiators. Oklahoma City holds a 2-1 edge in the series entering Game 4 in Dallas on Saturday night.

“We’re not looking to do it unless it’s within the rules,” Carlisle said. “But there were some things that I know are going to be looked at today, that going into Game 4, we’re going to be ready for.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul George isn’t ready to shut out his teammates and go one-on-one when it counts; with the Pacers against the ropes vs. the Raptors, he feels he needs them … also wants a 3-year deal … Seth Curry opted out of his deal with Sacramento and if you’re in the market for a Curry (no, not that one), he could be yours … Kevin Garnett knew Prince a little … Could the Knicks target Darren Collison in their point guard chase? … An Oregon politician thinks Chris Paul and the Clippers whine too much.

First Six Minutes Will be Critical for Raptors, Pacers in Game 4


VIDEO: Best of Phantom: Raptors vs. Pacers

INDIANAPOLIS — If the Indiana Pacers are going to even their first round series with the Toronto Raptors in Game 4 on Saturday (3 p.m. ET, TNT), they need to get off to a good start.

The Toronto Raptors, in the regular season, were bad (worst among playoff teams) in the first six minutes of the first quarter and terrific in the last six minutes of the first quarter.

20160422_tor_1stq

The Raptors’ starting lineup has gone through a lot of changes over the course of the season, but has been consistently bad, no matter the configuration. Neither DeMar DeRozan nor Kyle Lowry has been as aggressive early on as they’ve been later in games, and Toronto has been downright awful defensively in the opening minutes.

But things change when Cory Joseph and Patrick Patterson *check into the game. Joseph and Patterson combined to averaged just 15.3 points per game, but were two of the league’s best reserves in regard to the lift they provided to their team. The Raptors outscored their opponents by 8.9 points per 100 possessions in 1,529 regular-season minutes with both on the floor.

* Note: They typically check in separately, Patterson before Joseph.

That number is plus-12.5 points per 100 possessions through the first three games of the first round and Patterson’s raw plus-minus is a series-high plus-35. He and Joseph are still giving the Raptors a big lift when they enter the game.

And in the Raptors’ wins in Games 2 and 3, Toronto actually had the lead when the two checked in. The Raptors have gotten off to better starts (14-7 after six minutes in Game 2, 17-11 in Game 3) than they typically did in the regular season. After winning the first six minutes just 30 times in 82 regular-season games, they’ve done it twice in three playoff games.

“I think it’s a mindset, more than anything else,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said about his team’s stronger starts on Saturday. “Coming out with a sense of desperation, a sense of urgency is the key to that.”

And because their bench is so good, the Raptors have never given those leads up. The Pacers led for less than one minute in Game 2 and less than two minutes in Game 3.

If the Raptors continue have a lead when Joseph and Patterson check in, they’re in terrific shape for the rest of this series.

“We want to start off the game the right way,” Patterson said. “That is hitting them first. That is making a statement. That is setting the tone from the jump.

“When Kyle and DeMar and the starters come out from the jump and set the tone, that makes our job a lot easier.”

If the Pacers want to have a chance, they need to take advantage of those first six minutes of the first quarter, which have been a problem for Toronto.

Their inability to do that in Games 2 and 3 could bring about a lineup change. Pacers coach Frank Vogel started the third quarter on Thursday with Myles Turner instead of Lavoy Allen up front. Turner certainly brings more energy than Allen, and energy is what the Pacers need.

Of course, after practice on Saturday, Vogel wouldn’t divulge any planned changes, or even the likelihood of a change, for Game 4. Stay tuned … and tune in early, for what may be the most important six minutes of the series.

In LeBron’s career, shorter playoff series not necessarily better


VIDEO: Cavs ready for Game 3 in Detroit

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – No team has done it and none likely will break through this postseason, as far as cruising through the NBA playoffs without a loss. Five teams currently are unbeaten but 2-0 is a long way from 16-0 and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers know it.

Even for the old school, perfection was elusive. Hall of Famer and man of few words Moses Malone missed by just one on his famous 1983 prediction of “Fo’, fo’, ‘fo” and that was back in the days of three rounds rather than four.

The appeal is obvious, beyond bragging rights. Fewer games at this point on the NBA calendar is better than more, given wear and tear on the players’ bodies and their minds. Keeping series short cuts down on the adjustments an opponent can make and, even bigger, on exposures to injury. There also are psychological benefits to advancing quickly and earning extra days off while upcoming opponents still are fighting to survive.

LeBron James qualifies as the league’s active expert on long playoff runs, given his five straight Finals appearances and six overall. So, in advance of Game 3 against Detroit in the Eastern Conference first round (7 ET, ESPN), James talked Friday morning at The Palace of Auburn Hills about his experiences not just winning the four games that matter most in these best-of-seven series but avoiding seven games. Or six or ideally even five.

“It’s been a balance of both,” James said before the Cavaliers’ shootaround. “I’ve had points of my career where we’ve swept a lot and it’s hurt us the next series, ’cause we got out of rhythm. I’ve had times where we were banged up as a team and we needed to rest, and it benefited us.”

James and his teams are on a roll, with 15 consecutive victories in the first round, including sweeps of Boston (2015), Charlotte (2014) and Milwaukee (2013). As far as his personal playoff history, his scattergram shows eight four-game series (a 7-1 record), nine five-game series (8-1), 11 six-game series (7-4) and five seven-gamers (3-2).

In the years James’ Cleveland and Miami teams have reached The Finals, they’ve played in a total of six sweeps, winning five. But the two runs that ended with championships, in 2012 and 2013, curiously had none. They logged 23 games both teams en route to the Larry O’Brien trophy, the most James ever has played in a postseason.

So shorter hasn’t necessarily been better.

“It all depends on that particular season,” James said. “You can’t really base it on another season. It depends on how you’re feeling and how that other team is playing in that particular season.”

James was asked for the third or fourth time this week about Detroit rookie Stanley Johnson‘s brash claims that he has “gotten in” the Cleveland star’s head. Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy talked with the 19-year-old Johnson about verbally poking at a dangerous opponent. But James saved his most pointed responses for Game 2 and, presumably, for Game 3, because he didn’t get drawn into a war of words Friday morning.

“I don’t think it’s about that,” James said. “There’s always going to be conversation outside of the four lines, and how much you indulge in it can take away from what the main thing is.

“Guys have been always kind of trash-talking me since I was a kid. My coaches always told me, it’s not about that. It’s about trying to score and whatever you can do to help your team stay focused.”


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