Adelman retires, Wolves focus on successor (and keeping Love)

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

Rick Adelman won more than 1,000 games in a 23-year NBA coaching career. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Rick Adelman won more than 1,000 games in a 23-year NBA coaching career. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

The residue of another season of expectations not met continued to build in Minnesota, where Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman announced his retirement Monday morning.

Adelman, 67, exits via an option on the fourth year of his contract. The Wolves had targeted a .500 finish and a postseason berth as their goals this season and fell short of both; they posted a 40-42 record and missed the playoffs for the 10th consecutive spring.

“It’s time. It’s time for me to step aside,” Adelman said at a news conference, accompanied by Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders. “I think when we came here, we really tried to see if we couldn’t turn things around. I think we made some strides … not as much as we would like.

“It’s time for someone else to come in.”

Adelman’s departure as coach — he will take on a consultant’s role with the organization  – had been the subject of speculation for weeks, after it became apparent the Wolves would miss what would have been their first playoff berth since 2004. His wife Mary Kay‘s health issues — she began fighting a series of seizures last season, causing him to miss 11 games in 2012-13  – are ongoing, though the veteran coach said they did not lead to this decision.

“If anything, my wife is the one who pushed me. She said, ‘You need to continue doing this,’ ” Adelman said. “Certainly it had an impact but the whole organization has been so great.”

In his three seasons with the Wolves, they went 97-133 and failed to reach .500 all three years. It was the least successful stretch of his 23-year NBA coaching career, during which his teams in Portland, Golden State, Sacramento, Houston and Minnesota compiled a record of 1,042-749 (.582) with 16 postseason appearances. He ranks eighth all-time in NBA coaching victories, and with two trips to The Finals with the Blazers in 1990 and 1992, likely will be enshrined soon in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

While Adelman heads off to his home in Portland without a championship ring, no one should think he didn’t put the work and the urgency into chasing one in Minnesota. Saunders spoke of the coach’s competitiveness.

“He comes across as very even-natured and you might not think he gets excited. But he’s got a burning passion to win,” Saunders said. “Being with him on a daily basis, you could see when we didn’t perform well that it really ate at him.”

Said Adelman: “It’s not that far away [in Minnesota]. Sometimes you want it to happen in a year, sometimes in two years. Sometimes it takes longer than that.

“I wish I could have done more, but I really enjoyed my time. … There’s some sadness but I also think, some relief.”

Saunders said he and owner Glen Taylor have “no timeline” for naming Adelman’s successor. Because this departure isn’t a complete surprise, names of possible replacements have been floated; Iowa State (and former Wolves guard) Fred Hoiberg; Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, a Saunders friend; current Washington assistant coach Sam Cassell, another former Minnesota player; oft-coveted Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, based on alleged friction with the Bulls front office; and Saunders himself.

Prior to his return this season to Minnesota, Saunders had been the winningest coach in Wolves history — 411-326 from 1995-2005 — and later coached in Detroit and Washington, bumping his career mark to 638-526 (.548), with 11 playoff appearances.

The next Wolves coach, whoever it is, will face a top priority of featuring — and courting — All-Star forward Kevin Love, the team’s best player. Love, an MVP-caliber performer (25.9 points, 12.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists per game in 2013-14), can opt out of his contract after next season to become a free agent.

Phil, Knicks ready for the next chapter

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony’s top 10 plays … are they his last in a Knicks uniform?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Mike Woodson will be fine. The New York Knicks firing him and his entire staff Monday morning wasn’t even about those proud men who tried, in vain, to cajole the Knicks into the playoffs.

It’s about Phil Jackson, Woodson’s boss, for about a month and the man charged with playing the Knicks’ savior. It’s about clearing the way for something new, something bigger and better and more appropriate for a man swimming in championship rings.

It’s about the Knicks’ next chapter.

It’s about Carmelo Anthony and his future.

It’s about Steve Kerr, Kurt Rambis, Derek Fisher or whoever the poor soul is Phil taps to lead this team from the bench going forward. (The man who gets this job is not going to have 11 rings to show off when the haters crank up the rhetoric at the first sign of adversity.)

It’s about the fortification of the franchise for years to come and not just now, when the public appetite for a head roll was at a fever pitch and had to be satisfied.

Jackson had no choice but to part ways with the Woodson and his crew. He can’t change the culture without making significant changes. He cannot put his stamp on things with a coach that was not of his choosing. Jackson could have made this decision at any time since he took over, but he wanted to see if Woodson could guide the Knicks to the playoffs (something that never came to fruition).

Clearly, the Knicks need more than just a new coach. If this wasn’t a playoff team, it’s certainly not a championship-caliber team. And it doesn’t matter who coaches them (sorry Amar’e Stoudemire and owner James Dolan). They need a roster shakeup as well. That is a much tougher task than selecting a new coach, given all of the salary-cap and luxury-tax hurdles the Knicks must overcome.

The supporting cast needs to be upgraded and tweaked to fit the style that Jackson can live with, because wherever the Knicks go in the immediate future, it’s on him. This is, unequivocally, his and only his team. Sure, the coach and biggest star will share some of the spotlight but not necessarily the burden that Phil must.

That’s the beauty and curse of the job he has. If things go well, he can sit back and take credit for the good times. But if things go awry, he’s on the hook now. It’s his coach, his star and, ultimately, his team.

While some folks are clamoring for him to return to the sideline and do the job he’s always done best, I agree with those who know him well. That crowd that insists Jackson will never coach again and that he’s in full Zen/team-builder mode. It’s the wisest approach to this job for a man whose accomplished as much as he has during his Hall of Fame career.

Jackson needs a coach he can mold and mentor, someone who shares his philosophies about the game and isn’t afraid to have the game’s all-time greatest coach hovering over the entire operation. He’s already made it clear that he won’t be catering to his stars and their wishes (‘Melo voiced public support for Woodson, leaving the needed wiggle room to flip or flop if necessary).

And Woodson doesn’t need anyone’s pity. He knows the game. He knew what was coming the moment Phil took over. He’s a good coach. He’s shown as much everywhere he’s been and he’ll be gainfully employed again, soon. But as mentioned before, this is not about him. This is about Phil and the decisions that come after his clipping of Woodson.

Whatever moves are made, Knicks fans should feel good about the fact that Phil knows exactly what needs to be done, how it gets done. The only lingering question is how long it takes for him to author this next chapter … because the one thing Phil doesn’t have is time.

Knicks fire Woodson, entire staff

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Knicks fired Mike Woodson and his entire staff Monday morning

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The New York Knicks fired Mike Woodson and his entire coaching staff this morning in a move that should surprise no one.

Woodson’s future with the Knicks was in jeopardy long before Phil Jackson took over as president of basketball operations for the Knicks last month. But the scrutiny intensified after Jackson assumed control. And after the Knicks failed to salvage a playoff bid out of this brutal season Woodson-watch went into overdrive.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mike Woodson and his entire staff,” Jackson said in a statement released by the team. “The coaches and players on this team had an extremely difficult 2013-14 season, and blame should not be put on one individual. But the time has come for change throughout the franchise as we start the journey to assess and build this team for next season and beyond.

“Everyone in this franchise owes a great deal of gratitude to what Mike and his staff have done. We wish him the best.”

Woodson was 109-79 in parts of three season coaching the Knicks, including a 54-win season last year that included winning the Knicks’ first Atlantic Division title in 19 years. They also won a playoff series for the first time in 13 years under Woodson. But the Knicks fell woefully short of expectations this season. With Carmelo Anthony‘s looming free agency adventure, Jackson decided to start fresh with a coach of his own choosing.

The coaching search will begin “immediately,” per the Knicks’ release.

DeRozan needs to be quicker … to pass

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Nets-Raptors: Game 2 Preview

TORONTO – DeMar DeRozan is an All-Star who shot 3-for-13 in his first-ever playoff game. So that’s a story.

And for the Toronto Raptors to tie their first-round series with the Brooklyn Nets in Game 2 on Tuesday (7:30 p.m., NBA TV), they will need DeRozan to play better. But that goes beyond more of his shots going in the basket. More important is that DeRozan make better decisions with the ball.

DeRozan took some terrible shots in Saturday’s Game 1. But he also hurt the Raptors’ offense when he wasn’t shooting, because he was too indecisive. And it started with the Raptors’ second possession of the afternoon…

20140420_hard_hedge

Here, Jonas Valanciunas has set a high screen for DeRozan. Kevin Garnett has hedged out high (standard for Nets bigs defending the pick-and-roll) to stop DeRozan while Shaun Livingston is recovering back to his man. Paul Pierce is ready to help on Valanciunas’ roll to the basket, and Joe Johnson has to make sure that Pierce’s man – Amir Johnson – isn’t left alone under the basket. Deron Williams is shading off of Kyle Lowry toward the strong side of the floor.

At this point in the play, there’s an opportunity to find an open shot on the weak side. A quick kick back to Lowry could produce a swing pass to Terrence Ross, a pass to the rolling Valanciunas, or an entry to Johnson, who could seal his man under the basket.

But DeRozan was too slow in giving up the ball, allowing the Nets’ defense to recover and forcing Lowry into a contested, step-back, 21-foot jumper late in the shot clock. Watch the play here.

There were other examples of this, as well as examples of DeRozan trying to go one-on-one against the Nets’ long defenders, like here, here and here.

Cracking the Brooklyn defense won’t be easy. Whenever DeRozan is the primary option on a possession, he will see a lot of black and white jerseys between him and the basket…

20140420_zone

Getting clean looks off of pin-down screens isn’t happening either…

20140420_curl_double

“You can’t stand and hold the ball against them, because they zone in so well,” DeRozan said Sunday. “All five guys are going to focus in on you. Just so be more decisive, be quicker with our screens, everything we do.”

He said that one way to attack a hard hedge is to go right at it.

“Kyle did that a lot. Once they came out so high, he attacked that big, tried to get on that outside leg, tried to get to the middle. If we keep getting to the middle, we’re going to cause havoc for them, because it’s tough to guard us once we get to the middle of the floor.”

DeRozan did attack Andray Blatche on one possession late in the third quarter. He missed on the drive, but it was one of his better shots of the night. He also tried to get past Garnett, drove into a crowd, and committed one of his three turnovers. So he has to pick and choose when he attacks and when he gets rid of the ball.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey pointed to screening and spacing as things his team can do better in Game 2. The “spacing” part could mean more minutes for Patrick Patterson, who can spread the floor and punish the Nets for “zoning up” better than Johnson or Valanciunas. Toronto scored 57 points in Patterson’s 26 minutes in Game 1.

The Raptors could also make their All-Star the third option (like Pierce was for Brooklyn down the stretch) more often. Some of DeRozan’s best looks of Game 1 came when he was on the weak side as Lowry or Greivis Vasquez ran a pick-and-roll. With the Nets’ defense zoning up on the ball-handler, a quick ball reversal gave DeRozan more room to operate. Here and here are two examples where he was able to draw fouls in those situations.

He still saw a second defender on that last play. And DeRozan argued Sunday that attacking from the weak side isn’t that easy either.

“We really don’t catch them in rotations so much,” he said. “We got to get the ball in the middle of the floor.”

Getting the ball in the middle of the floor opens up more passing options, but it’s easier said than done against the Brooklyn defense. Initiating the offense through the high post, like the Raptors did on their first possession of the third quarter, may be a better way to open up some passing lanes.

Ultimately, DeRozan may have to be more of a facilitator than a scorer in this series. But as long as he’s making quicker decisions — either to attack or get rid of the ball — the Raptors should get better looks at the basket.

Morning Shootaround — April 21



VIDEO: Daily Zap: April 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Projected salary cap rise boosts Bulls’ plans for Anthony? | Aldridge and the Trail Blazers seize the day | Game 2 is a must-win for Clippers | Jim Buss says he’ll step down if Lakers don’t turn it around in 3-4 years | Dwight Howard has to lead for Rockets to rebound

No. 1: Salary cap projections to bolster Bulls’ pursuit of ‘Melo: – A projected rise in the NBA’s salary cap numbers could turn out to be a bonanza for the Chicago Bulls, who lose home court advantage in their first round series against Washington Sunday when they couldn’t find a go-to-scorer at crunch time in Game 1. They could have two this time next year in Derrick Rose and perhaps Carmelo Anthony, the soon-to-be Knicks free agent. Marc Stein of ESPN.com explains the connection between those projected cap numbers and the Bulls’ pursuit of ‘Melo:

If the projections hold, several clubs will find themselves with more spending money and financial flexibility than they initially planned.

The Knicks remain unquestioned favorites to re-sign Anthony after the March hiring of the decorated Phil Jackson as team president and given the fact that only New York can offer the 29-year-old a five-year deal — one year longer than any other team — in the $130 million range.

But sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that the Bulls — even before these developments came to light Friday night via noted NBA salary-cap expert Larry Coon — were already feeling increasingly optimistic behind the scenes about their chances of convincing Anthony to leave the Knicks in the wake of New York’s failure to make the playoffs. This is the first season Anthony has failed to reach the playoffs in his 11-year career.

It’s believed that the Bulls would still have to shed some veteran salary in addition to releasing former All-Star forward Carlos Boozer via the amnesty clause this summer to be able to make a competitive offer that could persuade Anthony to leave the new Jackson-led Knicks and the Madison Square Garden stage he loves so dearly. But a higher cap figure than anticipated would naturally make things easier for Chicago.

And Houston has quietly expressed confidence for months that it could make the moves necessary — such as trading center Omer Asik and/or guard Jeremy Lin – to thrust itself into the heart of the Anthony bidding depending on how the forthcoming playoffs play out.

The new cap projection for 2014-15, if it comes to fruition, would represent a 7.7 percent increase over this season. The NBA, according to ESPN.com contributor Coon, typically expects a season-to-season rise of 4.5 percent.

Coon reported in a blog on his NBA Salary Cap FAQ website that this is actually the third time already this season that the league has increased its projections for 2014-15.

Yet another spike would suggest that NBA revenues are rising at record rates, which is a notion Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban seemingly echoed earlier this week when he called the $550 million sale of the small-market Milwaukee Bucks “a bargain.”

***

No. 2: Aldridge, Portland find their mark in win over Rockets – The Portland Trail Blazers flexed their muscle in a back-and-forth affair against Houston in Game 1 of their first round series. The Trail Blazers refused to be intimidated and would not allow the Rockets to bully them the way Patrick Beverley intended to rattle Damian Lillard. But it was LaMarcus Aldridge who carried the day for the Blazers. And that’s why they lead the series 1-0 right now, having seized the moment and the initial momentum in this series. John Canzano of The Oregonian has more:

I was going to predict that it would take two games for Portland and Houston to find serious disagreement. But it took just more than two quarters. It got chippy. It got physical. The teams were jawing. Technical fouls were whistled. Fingers were pointed. And I don’t believe Portland has ever been happier than it was in extracting a victory from a pile of wreckage the way it did against Houston in Game 1.

When Lillard took a shot to his leg in the second half, he went to the bench limping. Beverley shadowed him all the way there, you know, just in case. I couldn’t take my eyes off Leonard on the bench. You know, just in case.

LaMarcus Aldridge was a beast. The Blazers scrapped. At times, Portland’s postseason looked suspiciously like its regular season, too reliant on outside shooting and with almost nothing in the way of production coming from the bench players. But in the end, the Blazers pulled it off and a 1-0 lead on paper looks as if they were perfect.

“Every guy fought, every guy took it personal. That was my goal in pregame, I wanted every guy to take their matchup personal,” Aldridge said.

Aldridge had 46 points. Anyone else think a younger Aldridge, say circa 2009, would have carried the Blazers the way he did on Sunday?

When Aldridge fouled out he turned to Lillard, playing in his first playoff game and said, “take it over.” Lillard did.

The hope now is that Portland plays an even better Game 2, and carries a 2-0 lead back to the Moda Center. There’s hope, too, that by withstanding the initial pesterfest that Lillard somehow has the upper hand on Beverley, who left the court under the shoulders of two Rockets assistants. He has a sprained right knee, MRI scheduled for Monday. There’s hope, too, that Howard’s confidence is shaken after being pulled late in regulation because he couldn’t be trusted to make a free throw.

The Blazers are in control of this playoff series. It could have been Beverley sitting in that spot. It could have been Howard or James Harden. But in the end, Portland fought and won.


VIDEO: LaMarcus Aldridge goes in on the Rockets before fouling out in an overtime win

***

No. 3: Game 2 is a must win for the Los Angeles Clippers – There’s no need to sugar coat things for the Los Angeles Clippers. They’re in a hole after just one game in their first round series against the Golden State Warriors. That makes Game 2, tonight at Staples Center, an absolute must-win for Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the rest of the crew. Clippers coach Doc Rivers doesn’t have to belabor the point with his team. They know what they are facing. And so does everyone else in the Southland, as Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times details:

Maybe the Clippers could have won Game 1 if the officials had called Draymond Green for a foul on Chris Paul, as the NBA office on Sunday said should have happened Saturday.

But the fact is, the Clippers are down 0-1 in the best-of-seven series.

And with Game 2 Monday night at Staples Center, the Clippers have the opportunity to change the course of the series in which they gave up the home-court advantage to the Warriors.

“We definitely need to win,” Paul said. “When it’s must-win, that means somebody has three wins. We definitely need to win.”

The NBA issued a statement Sunday that said Paul was fouled by Green and should have been awarded two free throws during Game 1.

The Clippers trailed the Warriors, 107-105, when Paul was double-teamed by Steve Blake and Green out near the arc.

Paul lost the ball out of bounds with 18.9 seconds left, turning it over to the Warriors.

“Just prior to the ball going out of bounds, Paul was fouled by Green and Paul should have been granted two free throws,” the NBA statement said. “Contact preceding out-of-bounds calls is not a reviewable matter.”

The officials looked at the replay monitor to make sure the ball went out off Paul, awarding the ball to the Warriors.

“We still had opportunities to win,” said Paul, who also mentioned that his right hamstring, which he grabbed in Game 1, was “OK.” “When the ball went out of bounds, I knew it was off me. It felt like it was a foul, though.”

“That was a big call. Chris Paul goes to the line now with two free throws to tie the game,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “Having said that, there’s nothing we can do about it. A mistake happened on their [officials'] end. But we made our own mistakes, and so we have to take ownership of that.”

Rivers implied Sunday the Warriors were better prepared to handle the tense moments than the Clippers in the first game because of Golden State’s playoff experience.

“They [the Warriors] played with great confidence and focus,” Rivers said. “But more importantly, I thought they played with great calm and we didn’t do that so well.”


VIDEO: The Clippers are gearing up for Game 2 vs. the Warriors tonight

***

No. 4: Jim Buss says he’ll go if Lakers can’t turn it around in next 3-4 years – So this is how it will end. If the Los Angeles Lakers don’t dig out of their current mess and return to their place among the NBA’s elite in the next three to four years, Jim Buss is gone. Those are his words, per Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times. It’s no secret among the Buss clan, whose obligation to the city of Los Angeles goes beyond just running the most high-profile franchise in town but also making sure said franchise competes at the highest level year after year. More from Bresnahan:

The six brothers and sisters, with a gap of 31 years from eldest to youngest, gathered in the winter near the first anniversary of their father’s death to discuss some problems about the family business. It’s also the city’s treasured sports team — the Lakers.

The team was nose-diving in the standings, losing the interest of fans, and grinding toward its worst season since the team moved to Los Angeles in 1960.

So Jeanie Buss posed an elementary question to her siblings: What was going on with the Lakers?

Her older brother Jim Buss, 54, in charge of the Lakers’ basketball operations, spoke up in the boardroom of the team’s El Segundo training facility and pledged to resign in a few years if the suddenly dark fortunes of the franchise weren’t reversed.

“I was laying myself on the line by saying, if this doesn’t work in three to four years, if we’re not back on the top — and the definition of top means contending for the Western Conference, contending for a championship — then I will step down because that means I have failed,” he told The Times about the meeting. “I don’t know if you can fire yourself if you own the team … but what I would say is I’d walk away and you guys figure out who’s going to run basketball operations because I obviously couldn’t do the job.

“There’s no question in my mind we will accomplish success. I’m not worried about putting myself on the line.”

It was an emotional meeting, and the siblings — including Johnny, Janie, Joey and Jesse — agreed that Jim deserved more time on the job.

Their father, Jerry Buss, died in February 2013. He left his six children — each with an equal vote — in charge of a family trust, with a 66% ownership stake in the team. But the results of their first season as co-owners weren’t close to championship caliber.

“We’re watching a very unfortunate thing happen to a beloved team right now,” former Lakers coach Phil Jackson told The Times before taking the job last month as president of the New York Knicks. “Everybody is kind of aghast at it and people that are the best customers that any franchise can possibly hope for are dissatisfied, and rightly so.”

***

No. 5: Will Dwight Howard step up and lead Rockets from Game 1 stumble? – Dwight Howard has been through this before. He’s heard the whispers, listened to his NBA elders question his commitment and work ethic, his ability to lead. The grumbling will be louder than ever now that the Rockets have lost home court advantage to the Portland Trail Blazers. How Dwight responds will tell the tale of his season and, to this point, his time in Houston. Because, as Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports, the Rockets don’t rise from the rubble of Game 1 without their big man leading the way:

Across the seasons, Howard has to come to understand the most important lesson in leadership. The Rockets won’t listen to the franchise star now as much they’ll watch him. In crisis and calm, this is forever the burden of a superstar.

For Howard, this has long been something of a lost cause in his career. Never mind that James Harden played the most prominent part in the Rockets’ Game 1 loss, everyone understands the ultimate blame of an early exit from these playoffs will be thrust onto last summer’s biggest free agent.

“As a leader of this team, I can say whatever I want to these guys, but they’re not going to follow me unless I go out and do it now,” Howard said.

All hell broke loose in Clutch City on Sunday night, Game 1 toppling these Rockets like a tsunami reaching shore. The Rockets lost Game 1 in overtime, a 122-120 defeat that turned out to be a testament to the Blazers’ spirit and staying power, and, yes, their superstar talent.

Houston lost a 10-point lead with four minutes left in regulation, lost home-court advantage in this Western Conference playoff series, and maybe most frightening of all, lost irrepressible point guard Patrick Beverley to a re-aggravation of his knee injury. He gets an MRI on his right knee on Monday morning, and the loss of Beverley could make Blazers point guard Damian Lillard impossible to stop for Houston.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey walked the Toyota Center corridors with an ashen face late Sunday, devastated over the defeat and well aware Howard and Harden hadn’t been brought together to lose a first-round playoff series.

Make no mistake: The Rockets stars lost to the Blazers’ stars on Sunday night. LaMarcus Aldridge delivered a performance for the ages, 46 points and 18 rebounds until fouling out in overtime. In his professional playoff debut, Lillard had 31 points and closed out the Rockets in the final minutes of regulation and overtime.

Once the Blazers resorted to the Hack-a-Howard strategy, his painful procession of misses on the free-throw line brought Portland back into the game. Once the lead started slipping away, the Rockets’ offense unraveled – with Harden unloading wayward shot upon wayward shot. He missed 20 of 28 shots, including a final chance at the buzzer to end the game.

“Quick shots,” Howard would say later. “We didn’t value possessions.”

History has made Howard understand this truth: No one will care he had 27 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots. He’s chasing championships now – chasing playoff victories, for starters – and this was the kind of loss that promised to attach itself to him.

“We played awful – we couldn’t have played any worse – and we still should’ve won the game,” Chandler Parsons told Yahoo Sports. “We’re pissed off. We had it won, and we gave the game away.”

This is a star’s sport, and they’re ultimately judged most harshly in defeat. For those who remember Howard at the end of the San Antonio Spurs’ sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in April a year ago, they remember him getting himself thrown out of Game 4. They remember a most ignoble departure out of Staples Center, out of the Lakers.

Now, Howard has come to Houston for redemption – has come for championship validation – and these Rockets still have a long, long way to go. Nevertheless, this devastating defeat had Howard promising to deliver them out of a dark night and into the light of morning.

“No panic,” Howard said.


VIDEO: Dwight Howard talks after the Rockets fall in Game 1

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Al Jefferson will definitely play through his injury against the Heat. … Jim Cleamons doesn’t care who the coach of the Knicks is or will be, he wants in on the party … Oklahoma City’s quality depth showed itself, as planned, in its Game 1 win over the Grizzlies …  The Inside crew delivers their best of #GetWellSager tributes … Steph Curry foiled the Clippers’ plans in Game 1, but can he do it again in Game 2?

ICYMI OF THE NIGHT: That rest at the end of the regular season was exactly what LeBron James needed, because the Heat star looked refreshed in the Game 1 win over the Bobcats … 


VIDEO: LeBron James and the Miami Heat start fresh for the playoffs

Aldridge’s passion grows Blazers

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Blazers knock off Rockets in OT of Game 1

HOUSTON — They’ve all seen him do some of those things before.

LaMarcus Aldridge can take the ball on the left side of the basket in the low block and spin like the winds inside a hurricane as he blows into the lane.

Standing 6-foot-11, 240 pounds, he can also use his size and sheer strength to back a defender down and move relentlessly toward the basket.

Then there are those ridiculous turnaround, fadeaway jumpers that practically scrape the ceiling when the big man lets them fly.

Those are all part of the splendidly versatile package of tricks that all of his Trail Blazer teammates have seen time and again.

What was new was the fire. That flame that seemed to lick at his heels from the opening tip. That hot smoke that seemed to pour out of his nostrils on every possession, every shot, every play at either end of the court.

It was more than just a franchise playoff record of 46 points and 18 rebounds that burned the Rockets 122-120 in overtime on Sunday night. It was that match-in-a-dry-meadow spark by Aldridge that said this something entirely different.

“As far as the passion, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him like that,” said point guard Damian Lillard. “With how animated he was with the calls. Guys couldn’t stop him. I saw how bad he wanted to win the game. When your best player and your leader is playing like that, it fires you up.”


VIDEO: Aldridge discusses Portland’s Game 1 victory

If there is a time somewhere down the line where the Blazers raising a trophy over their heads, this might go down as the game that lit the fuse.

In eight NBA seasons, Aldridge has always taken shots. This was the night when he took responsibility. For himself. For his team. For showing them that he could show them how.

Brandon Roy’s veteran leadership of his early career is gone now. The hope and promise of Greg Oden as the No. 1 draft pick and cornerstone has vanished.

Now it’s his team and here was the occasion when Aldridge recognized that fact and acted on it. They have cutting edge talent in Lillard, Nic Batum and Wesley Matthews. What they’ve needed is for Aldridge to bring the hammer.

He was not just hot and good an making shots. He was wickedly tuned in to everything that was happening — stomping his feet at made baskets, barking at calls — and did all that he could to affect every outcome.

“Every guy on this team comes to me and talks to me and they believe in me and tell me that I can dominate a game,” Aldridge said. “I’m always hearing that from my teammates. I’m always hearing those positive affirmations from them. I think I finally understand it.

“I made the playoffs three years in a row and you kind of get comfortable. Then I missed it two years in a row, so just being back here I am very excited about it and I am looking forward to the challenge. I’m playing better than I have in the past. I try to tell every guy that the playoffs is like another level, another season, and tonight I wanted to lead in that way.”

He did it when he helped get the Blazers off to an early start and he did it when he wouldn’t let them get down on themselves when they fell behind by double digits in the fourth quarter.

Aldridge even did it when he eventually fouled out of the game with 1:06 left in the overtime period with the score tied.

“I went to Damian and said ‘take it over,’ “ Aldridge said. “He’s a very confident guy. He’s very skilled. So he took over and he made big plays at the end.”

Not before Aldridge made the big plays all night long. Before the game, he saw Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler, who now does TV color commentary for the Rockets, but spent 11 1/2 seasons in Portland as the best Blazer of all-time.

“When I walked by him I said, ‘I’m coming for you,’ ”Aldridge said. “I meant in every stat possible. He said I still have some work to do, but he said I can do it. I always joke about trying to break all his records.”

No jokes here.

This was LaMarcus Aldridge as even his teammates hadn’t seen him before. Passionate, driven, showing the way.


VIDEO: LaMarcus Aldridge sets a Blazers playoff scoring record in Game 1

Nene says no-no to Chicago’s defense

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Wizards claim series opener in Chicago

CHICAGO – Nene, the Washington Wizards’ big man by way of Sao Carlos, Brazil, was having trouble Saturday night and Sunday morning. He couldn’t sleep. The 2014 NBA playoffs were soon to start for his team and Nene – already thrilled about coming back from a left knee sprain – didn’t know which was pumping faster: his heart or the adrenaline.

“The mental preparation is very important. Last night I couldn’t sleep well, because I started to think about the game in the middle of the night,” he said Sunday at United Center, the Wizards’ 102-93 road victory over the Chicago Bulls tucked in for the night.

“I started to think about what I was going to do. How I was going to defend. I was very excited about the playoffs. It’s a good feeling because that makes you prepare yourself. I hope I can’t sleep again, to play better.”

Sorry, Nene, but the Bulls will be in charge of the tossing and turning for the next couple of nights.

Starting for the first time since February, Nene made a big difference for the Wizards size-wise, impact-wise and excitement-wise in their first playoff game since 2008. He stepped back into the middle of their action seamlessly, scoring 24 points on 11 of 17 shooting with eight rebounds and three assists.

His aggressiveness became their aggressiveness, and Washington wound up picking apart Chicago’s vaunted defense in several uncommon ways. Teams don’t shoot 50 percent against the Bulls – but the Wizards nearly did so in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series. Their 48.6 percent was close enough, and if you combine it with the Wizards’ two January victories over Chicago, it left them at a legit 50.4 percent (115-for-228) in the three games.


VIDEO: Nene talks about winning Game 1

Bulls opponents hit half their shots or better just 12 times in 82 games but went 10-2 as their reward. If you go strictly by what Washington shot Sunday and only in postseason games, the Bulls are 1-19 since the start of the 2006 playoffs when the other guys are at 48 percent or higher.

Key to that? They embrace their third options, because they know the Bulls are going to take away the first two.

“You can’t predetermine anything,” coach Randy Wittman said. “You can’t make up your mind on a certain play that you’re going to do this. They’re so good defensively, you’ve got to react to what they’re doing. Make the simple plays and the ball moves in simple ways. When we do that, we get pretty good shots. And we’ve got guys who can shoot.

“As soon as you say ‘I’m going to split this pick-and-roll here,’ it’s a turnover. When we don’t do that, when we don’t anticipate and just react to what the defense does and what they want to take away and then go your second or third option, then we’re pretty good.”

The Wizards’ ability to read-and-react kicked in fully after halftime. They fell behind by 13 points in the first few minutes of the third, then outscored Chicago 51-29 the rest of the way. While the points-challenged Bulls shot just 39.5 percent over the final two quarters, the Wizards settled in, hitting half of their 38 attempts and, oh yeah, dominating the boards 24-15.

Nene was especially effective, with a versatility on the offensive end that kept Chicago guessing. He was reliable with his mid-range jump shot, attacked the rim multiple times and, particularly in the second half, was a crafty passer (with a couple of hockey assists mixed in).

Overall, he made life pretty difficult for Bulls center Joakim Noah, one of the favorites for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award. Good thing the ballots were all cast by Thursday.

Tom Thibodeau, who routinely has the sort of sleepless nights Nene experienced this weekend, lavished praise on the Wizards’ big man, even as he began plotting ways to thwart him. It won’t be easy – Washington was 30-23 when Nene played this season, 14-15 when he did not.

This was only the fourth time in 45 playoff games that he scored as many as 20 points. But he’s healthy now and doesn’t plan on missing any more games. Or fun.

“Today I feel fantastic. First of all, it’s a special day for all of us. It’s Easter Day,” Nene said. “For all humans, it’s a big day. You know, salvation day. And to be able to play playoffs on this specific day is double-blessed.”

Restoring Nene to his rightful spot, next to Wizards center Marcin Gortat, makes them double trouble. Neither big man got in the other’s way in Game 1 – in fact, after a slow start, Gortat finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds, 12 and eight in the second half.

“I’m just trying to play off Nene,” Gortat said. “The most important thing is, we not run into each other in the game. Most of the time he’s on the other side of the block – wherever I am, he’s on the other side. The system we have is perfect for both of us. Each one of us is getting to a sweet spot where we can play our game.

“If I start scoring on the pick-and-rolls or put-backs, they’re going to focus a little bit more on me. That opens up things for him. He’s so aggressive, so dominant in the low post that he can create a lot of things for us.”

What Nene created for the Wizards in Game 1, with his scoring, his energy, his passing and his joy of playing again, was hope. Precisely the thing Chicago had hoped to quash.

Griffin tries to respond to foul mood

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com


VIDEO: Game 2: Warriors-Clippers Preview

PLAYA VISTA, Calif. – The first quarter of the first game of the first round of the postseason, and Blake Griffin was sitting. Two fouls in all of 3 minutes, 14 seconds forced him to the bench, halting an encouraging start for the Clippers and their All-Star power forward.

Three minutes. That’s how long it took for both — the player and the team — to have a problem. Three minutes, which led to just 39 seconds at the start of the second period until another personal and another quick hook, which led to 11 minutes in the third quarter, which led to Griffin ultimately fouling out with 48.3 seconds remaining after squeezing 19 minutes out of Game 1 against the Warriors on Saturday.

Maybe it was part of the Clippers being too amped to begin a playoffs of great expectation, as some players suggested when they gathered at team headquarters on Sunday for practice. Maybe, coach Doc Rivers proposed, it was the media’s fault for underlining the tension between the teams during the regular season, prompting referees to keep an extra-tight hand on the game, as if the veteran crew wouldn’t have known without an Internet connection or cable TV.

It’s an issue by any explanation because Griffin needs a strong response to help the Clippers avoid an 0-2 deficit on Monday night at Staples Center before the best-of-seven series shifts to Oakland. That would be pressure enough. In this case, though, he needs a strong response while aware that he just fouled out of a game that wasn’t all that physical and that the three new referees could take the same approach to maintain control after four emotional regular-season meetings.

“You can kind of see the pattern of the game,” Griffin said at the practice facility. “The first couple fouls, you can kind of see how refs are calling the game. It was a little shaky at some points yesterday.

“I didn’t really anticipate the game to be called like that, both ways. It wasn’t just our team. It wasn’t like were just out there just getting hosed. It was tight both ways. Obviously they had guys in foul trouble, we had guys in foul trouble. The thing is, it changes from game to game. Obviously a different set of officials, so the next game could be extremely physical and not many fouls called. I think I just need to do a better job of reading that situation early on.”


VIDEO: Blake Griffin talks after Clippers practice

It’s an additional issue for Griffin in the wake of finishing tied for sixth in the league for most personals, with teammate DeAndre Jordan seventh. More encouraging for the Clippers, Blake Superior managed the problem well enough to average 35.8 minutes per game.

Obviously, he needs to adjust to referees calling games tighter in the playoffs.

Or, obviously he doesn’t.

“No,” Rivers insisted. “Blake needs to play even more intense and even more aggressive, not go the other way. I actually thought two of his fouls came from not trying to foul. You could see him. He was trying to stay out of the way when on both of those he should have rotated earlier like he was supposed to, but he was so concerned about fouls. And he said that it affected him. But that’s human. Guys who have been around the league a long time, you know when you get those two early ones, historically the game goes bad for you. I was amazed how well Blake actually played in those 19 minutes, because usually that doesn’t happen. Usually when you have those fouls, your rhythm is messed up, you’re scared to play on both ends. I was happy that at least on the one end he was still aggressive.”

Officiating increased as a talking point of the series when the league announced Sunday that referees missed a foul that should have sent Chris Paul to the line with 18.9 seconds remaining and the Clippers down two. Instead of L.A. having the chance to tie, the Warriors got the ball and won 109-105.

“It doesn’t make me feel any better or anything like that,” Rivers said. “But I do thinks it’s a good thing to do. I think they take ownership. That was a big call. Chris Paul goes to the line now with two free throws to tie the game. Having said that, there’s nothing we can do about it. A mistake happened on their end. But we made our own mistakes and so we have to take ownership of that. We can’t worry about any of that stuff. To me, that’s more clutter and we can’t worry about it.”

Wade returns in full, while Heat just keep winning

By Lang Whitaker, NBA.com


VIDEO: LeBron, Heat win Game 1, 17th straight vs. Bobcats

MIAMI — There is comfort in consistency, and over the last three seasons, since LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined forces with Dwyane Wade, the Miami Heat have created something of a cottage industry around winning in the postseason. Since the 2011 Playoffs, the Heat have compiled a 48-19 record.

Being in Miami for a playoff game throughout this era, there have been many of the same sights on display: Fans dressed head-to-toe in white; Julia Dale belting out the National Anthem; intros set to “Seven Nation Army” with flame-throwers spitting fire into the sky.

None of those things would change in Miami’s 2014 playoff debut. And 90 minutes before tip-off, the mood in the Miami locker room didn’t seem to betray any extra nerves on the verge of the newest playoff push. On one side of the room, James sat in his locker, focused on an iPad, rapping along to whatever was playing in his headphones. Over by the door, Shane Battier offered dining recommendations to a visitor in town for the series. Across the room, Michael Beasley discussed the design history of Air Jordan sneakers.

These days, playoff basketball is the business of the Miami Heat, and business has been terrific. But maybe the most important performance in Miami’s 99-88 win over the Charlotte Bobcats came from Dwyane Wade. After a season in which we only saw flashes of Flash, Wade provided the Heat with exactly what they needed to take a 1-0 lead. Even if Wade almost burned a timeout one minute into the game.

“I wanted to call a timeout with like 11 minutes left in the first quarter,” Wade joked after the game. “I was so tired. I was so happy when Rio (Chalmers) got his leg hit so we had to call the timeout. After that everything just settled in. It was that first rush of the playoffs and everything. But after that I felt fine.”

Wade finished the game with 23 points on 10-16 shooting, and led the Heat with 5 assists. If resting Wade for 28 of the 54 games gives you this version when the postseason rolls around, perhaps it’s worth enduring the games off and constant monitoring of minutes.

“Physically, this is where I wanted to be,” Wade said.  “Feeling good today. No limit or limitations. It was a good first game.”


VIDEO: Thanks to LeBron, D-Wade flashes old form

Wade referred to his play as a “natural day,” meaning he was able to play instinctively instead of dealing with limitations. “I didn’t have to think too much,” Wade said. “Just was playing, making the reads. That’s a sign I was feeling good. I want to continue, want to get better. Still want to get my conditioning back to where I want to get. I played 34 minutes tonight, which is pretty good.”

Wade’s 34 minutes were the most he’s played since March 16 against Houston. “He couldn’t look better,” said James. “He’d get to the rim and work the transition, had his step-back game on, he is feeling good.”

“He’s put in a lot of work,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. “If I hadn’t seen the extra work he’s been consistently putting in, I would have been a lot more cautious about it. He probably wanted to be cleared a week before we cleared him. He’s been putting in that time of all that extra miserable conditioning. Other than the fourth quarter, he never really played more than an eight- minute stretch and then, probably more important, a full amount of minutes.”

Wade was not only able to log a bunch of minutes, he was able to sustain production. There were hints of the Wade who would fall down seven times and get up eight throughout the game, like when Wade called for an alley-oop (which never came) on the fast-break early in the third quarter. Overall, Wade looked energized all afternoon, taking on double-teams, hitting jumpers, even initiating offense. A drive and one-handed dunk with 1:36 left in the game punctuated the performance.

“We know what to expect out of Dwyane,” said Chris Bosh. “We play 82 games for this. The excitement, the energy going for another championship, it’s everywhere. So we know that we’re going to raise our game to another level, and he’s no different. We expect the best from him.”

Despite a few runs from the Bobcats, Miami consistently answered back. And a 18-4 run in the fourth quarter put the finishing touches on Charlotte. If the Heat weren’t ready for another playoff run, you’d never know it from watching them.

“You have to know how to prepare, to be able to lock in on your opponent and not worry about anything else,” Bosh said. “We’re not thinking about anything else. We’ll watch the other games for entertainment, to see what everybody else is doing. But our focus is the Bobcats. I wake up thinking about the Bobcats. I go to sleep thinking about the Bobcats.”

You can forgive the Bobcats if they have a few nightmares about the Heat. Sunday’s loss was the 17th in a row against Miami. Which isn’t to say the Bobcats were not worthy opponents. But after a first-quarter foot injury seemed to slow Al Jefferson, the Bobcats struggled to play consistently, not to mention regain the same momentum that gave them an early 16-9 lead.

Before the game, LeBron was asked if seeing Indiana get blown out at home by the Atlanta Hawks one night before would serve as a reminder to the Heat that the postseason had started.

“You shouldn’t have to have a reminder in the playoffs,” James said. “It’s not our concern, really.”

Perhaps not. But it is what they do.

Duncan takes what’s given and burns Mavs for Game 1 win

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Duncan, Spurs rally past Mavs in Game 1

SAN ANTONIO – After his game-high 27 points foiled an otherwise expertly executed defensive scheme by the Dallas Mavericks that shut down San Antonio’s sharpshooters, Tim Duncan didn’t sound much like a cowboy in his final rodeo as some postseason narratives have suggested.

“I’m always excited around this time,” Duncan said, a 90-85 victory Sunday afternoon marking the start of his 13th consecutive playoffs. “Even now, I might be more excited because I know there are only a couple more left in my career, and I’m excited and I’m going to take the opportunity and really remember it.”

A couple? At least two more? Maybe three?

Duncan, who turns 38 on Friday, ran his hand through his hair, smiled, but wouldn’t bite at the followup inquiry.

“I don’t know what that number is,” Duncan said. “I’m worried about one right now.”

In Game 1 against his old rival Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs, Duncan pulled the Spurs through in a game that Dallas did nearly everything right to seal an upset, everything but keep Duncan at bay. The old warrior scored 17 points in the second half, nine in the fourth quarter and five points during the Spurs’ decisive 15-0 run that flipped an 81-71 Mavs lead with 7:45 left in the game into an 86-81 Spurs lead with 2:17 to go.

The Mavs’ perimeter pressure induced a 3-for-17 Spurs effort from beyond the arc. Manu Ginobili made all three. Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Marco Belinelli, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills combined to miss all 11 of the 3s they shot.

Just 10 days ago in Dallas, Mills hit six by himself to give the Spurs their ninth consecutive victory over the Mavs. Sunday made it 10 in a row.

“We got killed on 3s in the first four outings this year, so I guess it was no secret, we stayed a little bit more at home on the 3-point shooters,” a dejected Nowitzki said. “I mean you’ve got to give them something and Duncan down there is still solid.

“I guess two points is better than three.”

Said Duncan: “We took what they gave us. They took us off the 3-point line and made our shooters into drivers. They were helping, switching and rotating a lot. We continued to move the ball and the guys around the rim were the ones that were open.”

Nowitzki, 35, doesn’t have the luxury of playing with such a devastating crew around him. Where the Mavs were content to switch coverages that enabled Duncan to operate more freely in exchange for crowding the 3-point arc, the Spurs’ entire defensive scheme was focused on the 10th leading scorer in NBA history.

“They’re living with Monta [Ellis] and Devin [Harris] shooting, that’s clear,” said Nowitzki, who had just 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting and was 2-for-6 in the fourth quarter. “They went under every pick-and-roll. Devin finally made a couple, he hit two 3s, he made a pull-up behind the screen. So those two guys, they’re going to step into shots and make most of them, hopefully. But Devin was really the only guy that was making something happen for us.”

Harris had 19 points, but Ellis was mostly a no-show with just 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting.


VIDEO: Duncan talks about the Spurs’ mastery of the Mavericks

Meanwhile, Duncan received dump pass after dump pass for easy buckets off the glass, and when they didn’t come easily he twice made off-balance, circus shots made possible by his still remarkable agility.

“He stole it from me,” Parker joked. “He was great. It was vintage Timmy. He was very aggressive, demanding the ball and he played great, so we are going to need him to play like that if we are going to go far in the playoffs.”

It didn’t come without a brief scare not unlike that recent night in Dallas when he hyperextended his knee and left the game only to quickly return. This time Duncan, already wearing a bulky brace on his left knee bumped knees with Ellis and limped off the floor. After going straight to the bench, he then headed to the locker room.

He missed some six minutes of game action and Dallas extended its lead. Duncan returned with 9:26 to go and immediately drained a short jumper.

“We’ve got to make him work for shots and keep him off the free-throw line,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s one of the top 10 greatest along with Nowitzki, so he’s going to score some points, but we’ve got to evaluate our game plan, adjust it where we need to adjust it and we’ve got to come back out here Wednesday guns blazing again because that’s what it’s going to take to win in here.”

As far as the incessant speculation that is really going to be it for Duncan, the bigger question than will he or won’t he, is why would he?

“I hope he stays as long as I’m here,” Green said. “But you never know, he’s been doing this for a really long time since I was a kid. I watched him play when I was in middle school, high school. It’s amazing for him to keep doing it the way he’s been doing it.”