Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Bogut’

Numbers preview: The Finals


VIDEO: The Starters preview The Finals

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers each made history in reaching The Finals.

Since the NBA starting counting turnovers in 1977, no team had made The Finals after leading the league in pace — like the Warriors did — or after ranking as low as 20th in defensive efficiency — like the Cavs did — in the regular season. That’s 37 years of trends that have been bucked, in two different ways.

These are special teams. Statistically, the Warriors are the best team we’ve seen since the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls, outscoring their opponents by 11.4 points per 100 possessions in the regular season. The Cavs, meanwhile, have fought through a myriad of changes (via trades and injuries) to get here, improving defensively along the way.

And the Cavs have been statistically better, both offensively and defensively, than the Warriors in the playoffs, even when you account for weaker competition. Cleveland has better marks in adjusted efficiency (taking their opponents’ regular season marks) on both ends of the floor.

This is also a matchup of the MVP and the world’s best player, the two guys who lead the league in postseason usage rate. Stephen Curry and LeBron James won’t be guarding each other and have very unique games, but some of their playoff advanced stats are very similar.

20150529_curry_james

Curry has been the more efficient scorer, while James has provided more for his team on defense and on the glass. Curry has the deeper supporting cast, but James has been here before.

When this series is done, he’ll either be 3-3 or 2-4 in The Finals, and either the Cavs will have their first championship or the Warriors will have their first one in 40 years.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the Finals, with links to let you dive in and explore more. (more…)

Howard, McHale still confused on suspension talk, ready to move on


VIDEO: Should Howard have been suspended?

OAKLAND, Calif — After sweating out the ruling from the NBA office following his Flagrant 1 foul for a backhanded slap at Andrew Bogut on Monday, Rockets center Dwight Howard is just happy that he avoided suspension and will be able to play tonight in Game 5, while his coach Kevin McHale is still trying to sort out the entire punishment system.

“There’s no need to even talk about it even more,” Howard said following the morning shootaround at the Olympic Club. “I’ve got to get ready for tonight’s game. That’s all that really matters.

“We just got to play basketball. I have to understand what another team’s game plan is, especially with me. To try to get me frustrated, get me mentally out of the game. I just stay strong through all that stuff.”

But is that easier said than done?

“It is,” Howard said. “It’s kinda like being in the boxing ring, but you don’t get a chance to use your gloves. You just gotta get hit. It’s tough, but it’s about how you respond.

“Just put my energy in the right place. Instead of fighting back, fighting the other team when they try to frustrate me, fight harder to get an offensive rebound. Fight harder to get post position. Fight harder to get a stop on defense. All that stuff will make up for wasted energy on trying to fight back with another player.”

The former Celtics Hall of Famer McHale, who played in a far rougher, tougher league back in the 1980s, sounded as if his head might explode from trying to understand the current system of penalties.

“Those rules are ridiculous,” he said. “I don’t know who came up with the rules. You should just decide how many flagrants or how many technicals per series is acceptable … one, two, three, nine … I don’t know. Then every series it starts off with zero. Then you have that many in the first series and that many in The Finals.”

What did McHale tell Howard going forward?

“Hit them first,” he said. “They always call the second one.”

McHale laughed at the notion that the incident between Howard and Bogut would be remotely compared to his playing days and said there was a simpler, more direct way to hand things back then.

“Here’s what happened,” McHale said. “If a guy held you, you hit him. Then the referee said, ‘If you don’t want to get hit, don’t hold him.’ Because they usually catch the second one.

“So you blasted him in the head and the referee said, ‘Well, you guys are even, because you held him and then you hit him in the head.’ You look at the guy and say, ‘If you hold me, I’m gonna hit you in the head.’ And then the referee would say, ‘If you hold him, he’s gonna hit you in the head.’ And then they quit holding you and you quit hitting him in the head.

“Oh, I gotta go on that one.”

Maybe now Warriors will get more credit for defense

OAKLAND — The value of Draymond Green being named first-team All-Defense and Andrew Bogut making second-team?

“The value for Andrew is $1.9 million,” said their Warriors coach, Steve Kerr.

Yes, there is that. When Bogut finished with the second-most points at center in voting announced Wednesday, behind only DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers, it triggered a $1.935-million bonus in the extension Bogut signed in October 2013. Money matters and it particularly matters to Bogut in this case since he accepted a smaller guarantee in exchange for the possibility of greater incentives.

Beyond that, though, there is the visual of two Warriors making All-Defense, and with Green receiving the second-most votes and Bogut the eighth-most. The Warriors.

Maybe now the lazy narrative will end and people will see Golden State as more than a jump-shooting team that relies solely on out-racing opponents. That has not been the case for years. The Warriors were very good defensively last season, with Mark Jackson as coach, and they were very good again this season, under Kerr, finishing first in defensive rating and first in shooting defense.

The perception value.

“I think it’s just great that our guys were recognized for their efforts,” Kerr said. “The strength of this team, really the last couple of years, not just this year but the last two or three years has been the defense. No. 1 in defensive efficiency this year. Our work in the Memphis series the last three games defensively changed the series. A lot of people talk about us being a jump-shooting team. We are. But all those jump shots are really set up by our defense. Our defense allows us to stay in games like last night, where maybe we’re getting blitzed early, we usually can count on making five or six stops in a row, getting out and running and making some of those jump shots. That balance of the perimeter shooting with really good defense is kind of our identity.”

Trailing only Kawhi Leonard of the Spurs in first-place votes and total points is the latest moment in Green’s push to the forefront that had already included taking over the as the starting power forward after previously playing behind David Lee, finishing second in balloting for Defensive Player of the Year, also behind Leonard, and second for Most Improved Player. The only thing that makes it better is the timing — Green becomes a restricted free agent on July 1.

Bogut’s defense has been an obvious key as Golden State progressed from playoff newcomer in his first full season with the Warriors, 2012-13, to the top-seeded team in the Western Conference this season. Now comes the official acknowledgement.

“Financially it was really good,” he said. “I’m kind of used to kind of always just missing out, playing in Milwaukee for so many years. But it’s nice to be recognized. I really take pride in my defense and I think that’s the main role on my team, is to be a rim protector and to be a good defender. To get recognized for it is good. Hopefully the referees read the All-Defensive teams and I can get a few more calls going my way.”

The All-Defense announcement came the same day Golden State’s Stephen Curry was fined $5,000 by the league for flopping on offense in the fourth quarter of the 110-106 victory Tuesday in the opener of the Western Conference finals.

“These plays happen every day,” Kerr said. “I don’t think a game goes by where Jamal Crawford doesn’t flop six times on his three-point shots. It’s part of the game. And I don’t blame him for doing it because a lot of times the refs call it. Russell Westbrook does it. Everybody does it. To all of the sudden just randomly to fine Steph just seems kind of strange. Are we just choosing one time to do this? You can pick out flops every single game, half the guys out on the floor. It just seems sort of random.”

 

Warriors’ rest will pay over long run


Video: Stephen Curry leads Golden State to a Game 4 win and the sweep

Steve Kerr had a thought about a well-deserved reward for surviving and sweeping his first NBA playoff series as a head coach.

“I’m going to Cabo, and I won’t see them until Saturday,” said the guy who has likely never been suntanned in his life. “I’ll just tell them to get some rest, come and work whenever they feel like it.”

Kerr waited a beat, then remembered he lives in the age of Twitter and missed context and added, “I’m just kidding, of course.”

However, as the first team to close out its first-round series and a schedule that will not have them opening the conference semifinals against the Grizzlies or Trail Blazers until Sunday at the earliest, the Warriors do face the question of how to spend their time off.

“It’s nice to get a couple of days and get some rest,” said center Andrew Bogut. “Guys are banged up, so it’s good to have a chance to regroup. On the flip side, it’s not always a great thing either because sometimes a team can come out a bit flat in Game 1.

“We want to get some rest. We have some smaller guys on our team who could do with some extra time off. You don’t want to play any extra games if you don’t have to.

“But you’ve got to be careful. You don’t want to lull yourself to sleep either. You want to keep doing what we’re doing. To get a day or two off now and then get back at it.”

Guard Klay Thompson came down emphatically on the side of the Warriors getting off their feet, at least for a few days.

“That’s why it’s important to close out a series as soon as you can, get the sweep, if possible,” Thompson said. “This time of year it starts to be a grind. So to have these days off … it will be important for us down the line, if we go as far as we want, to be able to have some energy stored up. It’s why you play all season to have the best record and get the advantages that come with it. You want to jump on teams right away, finish them off the first chance you get and the move on.”

Kerr, who could lie on the beach at Cabo and only turn various shades of lobster pink and orange, knows the Warriors will find the balance.

“I went through this as a player quite often where you have a long, extended break and there’s a mix of rest and reps and scrimmaging,” he said. “You gotta keep your conditioning, but you also want to get your rest as well. We’ll get it figured out.”

The key is to rest whenever you can, because the long march to a championship is never a day at the beach.

Business as usual for Bogut in playoffs

Andrew Bogut is finally able to contribute for the Warriors in the postseason. (Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

Andrew Bogut is finally able to contribute for the Warriors in the postseason. (Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

OAKLAND — Business as usual, Andrew Bogut has said different times in different ways, and he’s right. Impactful defense, keeping the ball moving on offense, contributing 12 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two steals as his Warriors beat the Pelicans on Saturday is pretty typical.

These are the playoffs, though. That’s the difference. Bogut is back after missing the first-round series a year ago because of a fractured rib, a loss magnified by the way the Clippers hurt Golden State inside, making Game 1 against New Orleans his first playoff appearance May 16, 2013.

But, he insists, there is no difference. There is no special cause for celebration after being limited to life as a spectator in 2014 and going almost two years without getting on the court for the most-important time of the season. Game 1 was a victory, nothing more. Game 2, tonight at Oracle Arena, is a chance to get a step closer to advancing, just as if he never missed time.

“It’s not that long of a layoff,” he said. “It is what it is. I played in big games throughout my career. I played in Olympics, I played in all that. You know it definitely steps up a notch (in the postseason) and you’re ready for it. You just don’t want it to eat you up before game, where you’re over-preparing mentally and over-stressing. We’re the best team in the league record-wise, so the big thing for us was to just keep doing what we’re doing.

“It had been a year. I played the year before. I missed one year of playoffs and the season before I played in two rounds. It wasn’t like I forgot what the intensity was like. I was part of those games even though I wasn’t playing. I didn’t even give it any thought.”

Bogut has been a key part of the team that finished with the best regular season in the league, even at just 23.6 minutes per game. Just as the Warriors’ many blowouts provided rest for all the players in anticipation of a long playoff run, Bogut was fresh as he reached the playoffs.

“I’m fine,” he said. “I feel like I was in a bubble the whole year. Coach managed my minutes very well. I averaged the mid-20s the whole season and I’m feeling the benefits of it right now. My body feels good and now there’s no more back-to-backs, no more four-in-five. This is the time of year where if you can come in relatively healthy I think you’ll stay that way until the end of the season.”

A few other points heading into Game 2:

One of the challenges for Anthony Davis is to remain a force on the boards, after finishing tied for eight in rebounding during the regular season, while the Warriors force him away from the basket to defend Draymond Green. Davis had one rebound through three quarters in Game 1 before finishing with seven in 40 minutes as part of a big fourth period.

“It’s tough when I’m guarding a perimeter guy,” Davis said. “I can’t really go and crash the boards. They had Draymond on the perimeter. And when he shoots, it’s tough to go down there. So that’s really it. When other guys come in, it’s a lot easier for me to go down there and get a rebound.”

*Golden State’s Andre Iguodala finished fourth in voting for Sixth Man of the Year, far behind winner Lou Williams of the Raptors. “I was hoping I didn’t get it,” Iguodala said. “I really didn’t have a good year. I’m happy Lou got it. That’s my man, so I’m happy to see him win it. He had a great year for their team. He’s deserved it a few times, so I’m happy to see him win.”

*New Orleans coach Monty Williams hinted the Warriors are piping noise into Oracle Arena? If so, team officials turned down the volume in Game 1. It has been much louder, and sustained for longer stretches, before. It was definitely rocking at times, but Roaracle in the regular season can thump as much as some buildings in the playoffs. The crowds were great even when the team wasn’t.

Numbers preview: Warriors-Pelicans


VIDEO: Series Preview: The Game Time crew previews the Pelicans vs. Warriors series.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Golden State Warriors are one of the best regular-season teams we’ve seen in a long time. They recorded the fourth best NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) of the last 38 years (since turnovers starting being counted in 1977) and were just the third team in that time to rank in the top two in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

But the Warriors are one of 11 playoff teams that didn’t win a series last year. And the hottest team in the league is the one that won four series a year ago. So, for as good as the Warriors have been, they’re not exactly a consensus pick to get to The Finals.

The New Orleans Pelicans weren’t exactly a consensus pick to make the playoffs when they were 3 1/2 games out of eighth place on March 26, with a tough schedule down the stretch. But they won eight of their last 11 games to edge out the Oklahoma City Thunder for the final playoff spot in the West.

The Warriors have won just two playoff series in the last 24 years. The Pelicans have won just one series since the franchise moved to New Orleans 13 years ago.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Warriors-Pelicans, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

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

Golden State Warriors (67-15)

Pace: 100.7 (1)
OffRtg: 109.7 (2)
DefRtg: 98.2 (1)
NetRtg: +11.4 (1)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. New Orleans: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Warriors notes:

  • Outscored their opponents by 17.4 points per 100 possessions in the second quarter and by 14.9 in the third quarter. No other team had a NetRtg better than plus-12.7 in any quarter.
  • Set 40.4 ball screens per game, the fewest in the league, according to SportVU.
  • According to Synergy, Stephen Curry had an effective field goal percentage of 55.6 percent as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, the highest mark among 93 players who attempted 100 shots in those situations.
  • Went 47-0 after leading by 15 or more points. The only other teams that never lost after leading by 15-plus were non-playoff teams: Utah (22-0), Indiana (16-0) and Minnesota (6-0).
  • For the second straight season, Klay Thompson led the league in points per touch.
  • Curry and Thompson ranked first and second in 3-point attempts in the first six seconds of the shot clock, according to SportVU.

20150416_3pt_first_6

New Orleans Pelicans (45-37)

Pace: 93.7 (27)
OffRtg: 105.4 (9)
DefRtg: 104.7 (22)
NetRtg: +0.7 (14)

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

Pelicans notes:

The matchup

Season series: Warriors won 3-1 (2-0 at Golden State).
Pace: 100.3
GSW OffRtg: 110.7 (8th vs. NOP)
NOP OffRtg: 97.9 (16th vs. GSW)

Matchup notes:

Blogtable: Your All-Defensive Team …

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Surprise and disappointment? | Under-the-radar free agents? | Your All-Defensive team



VIDEOAndrew Bogut denies Wesley Johnson’s dunk attempt

> Last week it was the All-Rookie first team. This week, we want to hear your All-Defensive first team.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com:
F Rudy Gobert, Utah

F Andrew Bogut, Golden State
W Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio
W Draymond Green, Golden State
W Tony Allen, Memphis

Just so we’re clear, my terminology for this squad is F for “frontcourt” (good enough for All-Star balloting) and W for “wing.” I’m not getting pinned down by the five traditional position designations when I could have guys who can ball-hawk and rim-protect like these five. I’m not sure what sort of offensive numbers my group could put up but I’ll take my chances on yours scoring fewer.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com:
C Andrew Bogut: 
For all the pretty offensive plays the Warriors make, his defense in the middle is driving championship hopes.
F Tim Duncan: 
Only the players he defends and ties into knots every night want Old Man Riverwalk to retire.
F Kawhi Leonard: Pound for pound, inch for inch, simply the league’s defensive knockout champ.
G Draymond Green: He can cover all five positions like Spandex on Beyonce, so I’m sliding him into the backcourt.
G Tony Allen: Still the the one who puts the grind in the Grind House.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com:
C DeAndre Jordan

F Draymond Green 
F Kawhi Leonard
G Tony Allen
G John Wall

Center is so tough, with Andrew Bogut especially and also Tim Duncan, Rudy Gobert, Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis and Marc Gasol all deserving votes. And probably others I am forgetting. The depth is that good.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com:
C DeAndre Jordan
F Anthony Davis
F Draymond Green
G Tony Allen
G Kawhi Leonard

All of the selections are very good but there wasn’t that solid, no-brainer lockdown guy this season. I also liked Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Nerlens Noel. The most improved defender? James Harden. But he only had one direction to go.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com:
C Rudy Gobert
F Draymond Green
F Kawhi Leonard
G John Wall
G Tony Allen

Allen and the two forwards were easy picks, though it’s tough to leave Tim Duncan and Andre Iguodala off the list. I gave Wall the edge over Chris Paul, because the Wizards are a top-5 defense and they’ve been much better with Wall on the floor. And I gave Gobert the edge over Andrew Bogut because he’s played 500 more minutes.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:
C Andrew Bogut
F Kawhi Leonard
F Anthony Davis
G John Wall
G Tony Allen

As far as postseason awards go, the first five on the All-Defensive team might be the easiest group to identify. Wall and Allen are no-brainer picks in the backcourt. Leonard and Davis have the forward spots locked down. And Bogut gets the nod at center as the league’s most dominant rim-protector and post defender.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com:
C DeAndre Jordan

F Draymond Green
F Kawhi Leonard
G Tony Allen
G Chris Paul

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog:
C DeAndre Jordan

F Draymond Green
F Anthony Davis
G Chris Paul
G Kawhi Leonard

I’m cheating and putting Kawhi at guard but I really feel like he’s one of the best defenders in the NBA and deserves a spot. This is a big-guy heavy team I’ve assembled, but just try and score on them.

amex1
For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Morning shootaround — April 4


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Magic’s Vucevic planning to stay | Curry stung by ex-coach’s MVP pick | Spurs as NBA’s old, married couple | Bulls flirting with disappointment?

No. 1: Magic’s Vucevic planning to stay — So what if Minnesota, even at full strength, is far from an NBA powerhouse and on Friday happened to be playing without its three best big men. Nikola Vucevic didn’t have to apologize to anyone for his career-high 37 points and his 17 rebounds. More important, the Orlando center doesn’t want to have to apologize to Magic fans after saying goodbye in a few years, abandoning the franchise’s long-term plans the way Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard did. The big man spoke recently with Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel about loyalty and the vision he has for his career and his team’s future:

“Yeah, I’m here for the long haul. I hope to stay here my whole career,” he told me. “I love it here. I really love the city. I’ve improved here a lot as a player. I’d love to stay for a long, long time and make something special happen.

“If it takes years, it takes years … I ain’t going anywhere.”

Vucevic is inspired by the loyalty displayed by Italian soccer superstar Francesco Totti. Totti, 38, has played his entire career for Roma.

“Totti could have gone to bigger teams, made more money, do whatever he wanted. He didn’t,” he said. “He stayed with that team. He’s pretty much a god to that team.”

Rather humbly, Vucevic doesn’t consider himself in the class of Shaq and Dwight – repeat All-Stars and No. 1 overall picks.

The list of great big men here is short, but Vooch is already the third-best center the Magic have ever had. Eight long years passed between Shaq’s departure and Dwight’s arrival. Vooch has cut the wait time considerably after Howard departed.

He gets it done differently. Although he’s nearly 7-feet and weighs 260 pounds, Vucevic isn’t as dominating and demonstrative as his powerhouse predecessors. But he is a rare double-double machine, running quietly and efficiently.

More steady than spectacular, he relies on finesse instead of force, having learned the game overseas in Montenegro. Vooch does have a shooting stroke that Shaq and Dwight would envy (and he can make free throws).

“Both Shaq and Dwight had great legacies while they were here. I want to achieve what they achieved,” he said. “When I’m done, I’d love to have people talk about me the way they talk about them. I hope to get to the same level.

“I want to get there.”

***

No. 2: Curry stung by ex-coach’s MVP pick — Unlike his team’s runaway atop the Western Conference, Golden State’s Stephen Curry likely is going to find himself locked in a tight race for the NBA’s Kia Most Valuable Player award. Some voters probably won’t submit their ballots until the deadline on Thursday, April 16, the day after the regular season ends. But that won’t stop others – those with votes and those without – from floating their opinions sooner, and one who did was ABC/ESPN analyst Mark Jackson, Curry’s former Warriors coach. Jackson’s choice of Houston’s James Harden caught Curry off-guard, as evidence by his reaction. But Golden State teammate Andrew Bogut rushed to his point guard’s defense vs. Jackson, as reported by ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss:

ESPN analyst and former Warriors coach Mark Jackson said Wednesday on the “Dan Patrick Show” that while Curry, Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, are all worthy candidates, he’d give his MVP vote to James Harden of the Houston Rockets.

“If you twisted my arm today, I would probably vote for James Harden,” Jackson said. “The reason why is because he single-handedly has put that Houston Rockets team in the position that they’re in today.”

The comments come as a stark contrast to the way Jackson had previously championed his former charge as a superstar in the league, while he was coach of the Warriors.

“It’s his opinion obviously,” Curry said. “He’s probably been watching the league. People are going to ask what he thinks, especially his ties to the Warriors organization and myself specifically. Surprised me he said that. But, it is what it is.”

Curry had been vocally supportive of Jackson prior to the coach’s dismissal last offseason, something the Warriors point guard made mention of Friday.

“Obviously I wasn’t shy about trying to defend him last year when things were rumbling outside of our locker room,” Curry said. “But for him to … it’s kind of a different situation, but it is surprising that he didn’t.”

On Thursday, center Andrew Bogut, who had a less friendly relationship with Jackson, made light of his former coach’s opinion.

“Well what’s his name said no,” Bogut joked. “What’s that guy’s name? Mark? Mark? I don’t remember his name.”

***

No. 3: Spurs as NBA’s old, married couple — If you’re an NBA fan of college age or younger, you probably can’t remember a season in which the San Antonio Spurs did not win at least 50 games in a season. Their remarkable streak at that level stretches 16 years now, a testament to the staying power of coach Gregg Popovich and his Hall-of-Fame-bound core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Our man Fran Blinebury wrote about the uncommon professional and personal relationships that have produced all that success, and here’s a taste to whet your appetite for more:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, half the marriages in the United States are over by the eighth year, which makes the union of the Spurs and consistent excellence — at twice that length — an accomplishment of tolerance, dedication and bliss.

By defeating Denver on Friday night, the Spurs have now won 50 games for 16 consecutive seasons, extending their NBA record half a decade beyond the next longest strings. The Los Angeles Lakers (1980-91) are in second place with 12.

“Think about it. There’s not many marriages that last 16 years,” said ESPN analyst and former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy. “Think about working that closely together in a relationship, under that pressure and scrutiny and still enjoying each other’s company.

“What they’ve done is sustained greatness. I think that’s much more telling than five championships. First of all, it’s something that nobody’s done before. Winning 50 and having a plus-.500 road record all that time, to me that’s incredible.

“I am totally against the whole mindset that everything is about championships when it comes to evaluating players, evaluating teams. ‘Did they win a championship?’ Really, is that all you’ve got? I’m telling you, sustaining greatness is much harder than a one-, two- or three-year greatness.”

The Spurs’ run has been much like their style of play — more of a steady hum than a loud roar.

***

No. 4: Bulls flirting with disappointment?Pau Gasol showed emotion near the end of the Chicago Bulls’ victory beyond his normal veteran’s range, yelling and mugging as a release after his offensive rebound and putback against Detroit’s formidable Andre Drummond secured a victory Friday at United Center. But it was Gasol’s more measured comments afterward that ought to get a rise out of Chicago fans, because he speaks from experience when talking about championship teams and the edge they need in the postseason. The Bulls, in Gasol’s view, still are searching, according to the report filed by ESPNChicago.com’s Nick Friedell:

The 14-year veteran, who earned two championships as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, knows what it takes to win a title, and that’s why he’s a little concerned by what he has seen from his new team, the Chicago Bulls, over the past couple of games. After a poor performance on Wednesday night in a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Bulls followed up by sleepwalking through the second half and almost blowing a winnable game against the Detroit Pistons on Friday night. Like the rest of his teammates, Gasol is still convinced the Bulls have time to turn around their bad habits, but unlike most of his younger teammates, the All-Star center understands that time is running out.

“There’s not a magic button here,” Gasol said. “What you see in the regular season is what you’re going to get in the playoffs. So we have to try to be more consistent in the last six games that we have and that’s going to determine what we’ll see probably in the playoffs. Now every game, it’s meaningful, and that we have to be aware of that because you can’t expect things to click when it’s crunch time, when everybody is on. So you just got to do whatever you have to on a daily basis to put yourself in the best place regularly so you get to the playoffs and maybe try to turn it up like everybody else.”

The good news for the Bulls is that they found a way to win on Friday night. So often during this up-and-down season they have found ways to lose games like this — to weaker teams that don’t have the same level of talent. But as the Bulls get set for what they hope is a long run in the postseason, veterans such as Gasol and fellow championship club member, Nazr Mohammed, know that the great teams have to play better than the Bulls are playing right now.

“We just got to keep getting better,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “We got to understand what we’re playing for. We’re playing for a lot at stake right now. It was good to see guys like Naz [Mohammed] and some of our veterans speak up tonight and understand how crucial this win was.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Portland guard Wesley Matthews long trek back from a torn Achilles is getting serialized by The Oregonian. … Minnesota’s Nikola Pekovic also is facing issues – and surgery – on his aching right foot, and sounds a little concerned about his future both on and off the court. … Hall of Famer John Stockton is helping as an assistant coach with Gonzaga Prep’s girls team, lending his hoops wisdom and getting valuable father-daughter time with Laura Stockton. … Kyle Lowry wants to play again before the playoffs, but the Toronto Raptors point guard also wants to be cautious with the back spasms that have sidelined him. … Boston’s Jared Sullinger came back Friday earlier than expected from a stress fracture, and he has lightened the load on that foot by 20 pounds. … Sounding more like part of the problem than part of the solution in Miami, Heat guard Mario Chalmers says he doesn’t know his role these days.

Morning shootaround — March 29




VIDEO: Highlights from games played March 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Warriors are No. 1 | Knicks hit bottom | Kanter rips Jazz | Sixers look ahead

No. 1: Warriors clinch top seed in playoffs — Ho-hum. Another night, another landmark in a season full of them. Just 24 hours after flexing their muscles in a heavyweight win at Memphis, the Warriors rolled into Milwaukee and rolled the Bucks. It was Golden State’s ninth straight victory, gave the franchise 60 wins for the first time ever and, more important, locked up home-court advantage all the way through the NBA Finals. But the Warriors weren’t celebrating, because they’ve got their sights set on bigger goals, according to Diamond Leung of Bay Area News Group:

“It’s good to break records and do all that, but I think we have that kind of feel that we haven’t done anything in the playoffs,” center Andrew Bogut said. “So we’re kind of doing all the right things leading into the playoffs, and hopefully it carries in.”

The Warriors, after winning their ninth straight, once again cited their focus.

“Guys have been fantastic all season long just with their commitment to each other, to their work and joy, and it’s been so much fun,” coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s great to rack up these milestones as we go.

“We have a good work ethic every day. We have a ton of fun. Our guys play hard. They play for each other. They laugh. That’s the whole goal, I think, as a goal, is improvement and enjoyment, and they often go hand in hand, and I think that’s what I’m most proud of this year.”

One of the longest-tenured Warriors players, David Lee, credited the first-year coaching staff.

“The hardest part sometimes when you’re playing the way we’re playing is to stay focused every single game, and I think in years past we’ve had problems losing to teams that we’re ‘better than,'”‚” said Lee, who started the game and has been in and out of the rotation this season. “Or losing games that we shouldn’t’ lose. Or losing games at home that you should never lose.

“That always goes back to the coaching staff keeping us on our toes and telling us we need to get better.”

Said Kerr with a laugh: “Fortunately when I got the job that the team was a lot more talented than they’ve been most of their history.”

The Warriors, who have set a franchise record for road wins and have only lost twice at home, are also in good position to earn home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. They took a five-game lead over Atlanta for the NBA’s best record with nine games left.

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No. 2: 60th loss sets Knicks record — At the other end of the spectrum from the beautiful game played by the Warriors in their march into the record books, is the misery at Madison Square Garden as the Knicks make a different kind of history. Loss No. 60 came Saturday night in a 31-point thumping at Chicago and Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News reminds that Knicks fans and executives who couldn’t wait to run Mike Woodson out of town can now look back at those good old days:

It is always worth remembering that since the start of the 2001-02 season, all Knicks coaches who weren’t Woodson are more than 200 games under .500. He was 30 games over .500 in his two-plus years coaching the Knicks, and gave the team its only victory in a playoff series since Jeff Van Gundy was still here, back in the spring of 2000.

But then you were supposed to believe that the Knicks coached themselves when Woodson was here. “Fire Woodson!” they chanted at the Garden. Jackson did that the first chance he got, because he needed a disciple, even though Jackson’s coaching tree actually looks like a tree that misses its leaves in wintertime. He thought Steve Kerr would jump at the chance to come here, and the money Jackson was prepared to throw at him. Kerr wised up and went to Golden State and may win a championship there, and do it this year. So he threw $25 million at Derek Fisher instead.

Now a full season into the Phil Jackson era, and despite all the praise Jackson has heaped on Fisher, we still don’t know if Fisher has the chops to coach an NBA team anymore than we know if Jackson has the chops and energy and vision to build one.

Woodson, who now sits next to Doc Rivers in Los Angeles, was in town the other night as the Clippers did everything except throw the current edition of the Knicks off that Chase Bridge and said, “Hopefully (the Knicks) can rebound this summer and put some pieces together and get back to winning basketball games.”

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No. 3: Kanter goes off on Jazz — It wasn’t exactly a happy homecoming for Enes Kanter in Salt Lake City. Not unless you like your homecoming guests to come bearing a sledgehammer and start immediately to break up the furniture. After languishing on the bench in Utah for 3 1/2 seasons, Kanter feels like he’s been reborn in Oklahoma city and held nothing back in his criticism of his old team and city. Royce Young of ESPN.com has the details:

“I love it,” Kanter said before the game of his change of scenery. “It’s a team I’ve never experienced before and I actually like playing basketball there. I’m just so comfortable and everything is in the right place. I’m just really happy to be there.”
And it showed, as he continued his hot streak with 18 points and 11 rebounds in a 94-89 loss to the Jazz.

Kanter was booed during introductions and every time he touched the ball. He even egged on the crowd at the start.

“I didn’t really care. I like pressure, the boos didn’t mean nothing to me,” Kanter said. “It was just a regular game. I never felt like I was a part of this thing, so it was just a regular game. We came and we leave and that is it.

“I am not taking nothing back.”

Kanter has been an offensive revelation for the Thunder, putting up a double-double in eight consecutive games — the longest streak for the Thunder/Sonics franchise since Shawn Kemp had 10 straight in 1996, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“I think the difference is, I like playing basketball there,” Kanter said. “I think that’s the most important thing. I never liked playing basketball before in my NBA career, and this is the first time I felt like playing basketball there, for my team, for the fans, for my teammates for my coaches, for everybody. So, that’s the first time.”

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No. 4: Embiid, Noel could team up in summer — After suffering through two long seasons of piling up losses, the Sixers might give fans their first glimpse of brighter future this summer. A decision hasn’t yet been made, but coach Brett Brown told our own Scott Howard-Cooper that Philly’s last two No. 1 draft picks — Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid — might take the court together at the NBA Pro Summer League in July:

Embiid playing at all will be an important update after sitting out all 2014-15, barring a shocking change of plans by the Sixers in the final couple weeks, because of a stress fracture in his right foot that led to surgery, just as Noel was sidelined all last season by a torn ligament in his left knee. The chance to see Embiid, the No. 3 pick, with Noel, though, would provide extra value as an early look at 2015-16 as Philadelphia works to figure out how the two centers fit.

“It’s hard for me to go on record and say for sure,” coach Brett Brown said when asked about Embiid playing in July, “but everything is pointing toward that and I’d be very disappointed if he wasn’t on the court with us in summer league.”

As for Noel playing as well, Brown said he has not broached the topic with Noel yet, but said, “Personally, I’m open to it. If it’s something that he really wants to do, we’ll talk about it. If you put a gun to my head right now, I don’t know if I’m going to make him play in summer league.

“We’re going to talk it through, he and I, and figure it out. It would make a little bit of sense — well let’s have a look with him and Joel together. I understand that reason. But I don’t feel strong one way the another yet. I might after the season. At the moment I don’t. And whatever we do, I’m going to do it with him.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul George is still hopeful of getting back onto the court with the Pacers this season….Dario Saric is leaning toward staying in Turkey next season….Joe Dumars could be heading back to his native Louisiana for a spot with the Pelicans…After winning another Super Bowl, Tom Brady is playing pickup basketball in the Bahamas with Michael Jordan…Alma mater St. John’s might want Chris Mullin as next head coach.

Morning shootaround — March 8


Video: Highlights of the games played Saturday, March 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron ties club passing mark | Warriors, Clippers resume “friendly” rivalry today | Blazers in recovery mode after Matthews injury | Jazz finally getting more from Exum

No. 1: LeBron ties Cavs passing mark — It’s pretty impressive, when you really think about it: A 6-8 forward has as many assists for the Cavaliers as Mark Price. Such is the essence of LeBron James, whose eight assists in a victory over the Suns pulled him even with Price, the main point guard on those Lenny Wilkens teams that won a lot of games but couldn’t beat Michael Jordan in the postseason. LeBron’s court awareness has always been one of his strengths, and some might say a weakness, like when he passes up a big shot instead of taking it. Anyway, to be tied with Price, one of the best point guards of the last 25 years, is a compliment. Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group breaks it down, and how LeBron played without a headband:

James scored 18 points and eight assists and tied – but didn’t surpass – Mark Price (4,206) for the franchise’s record in career assists, even though James had those extra opportunities in a fourth quarter he was supposed to watch from the bench.

He added six rebounds and shot 6-of-16, with just three points at halftime. A three-pointer at 7:05 game him 10 points for the game, extending his streak of consecutive games in double figures to 626 games – third longest in NBA history.

So if you really want to reach, you could make a (flimsy) argument that James’ streak was saved by the headband. He only had two points before he tore it off.

James buried another three with 2:04 left in the fourth quarter that sealed the win for the Cavs by pushing their lead to 15. But it was a game that should’ve been sealed long ago.

It was the Cavs’ fourth game in five nights. A rugged four-game road trip lies ahead. A time for a light moment was needed. So Blatt was asked early in his postgame conference if he had noticed James ditched the headband.

“I did and I was wondering myself what happened,” David Blatt said. “But I did not venture to ask him because it seemed to be inappropriate at the time. But I hope you guys do, I’m going to read about it. I did notice that, actually. Kind of weird.”

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No. 2: Warriors, Clippers resume “friendly” rivalry today — The referees, as well as fans, are always on alert when these two teams play. So much bad blood, as well as memorable contests, have happened when the Clippers and Warriors suit up and today shouldn’t be any different. While both teams are virtually set for the playoffs, the intensity should manage to rise anyway. Here’s Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle, who spoke with Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green (Blake Griffin‘s favorite opponents) setting it up…

“It’s going to be a good game,” Bogut said of ABC’s feature game Sunday against the Clippers. “We don’t like each other, and it’s kind of one of those throwback games from back in the day, when there were flagrants and technicals and all of that type of stuff. Hopefully, there isn’t any of that (Sunday), but it usually goes that way at one point of the game.”

Green said: “This is two teams that over the past few years have come into their own and are fighting for something. When you’re fighting for something, (chippy) stuff tends to happen. When you’ve got two talented teams, the more physical team will probably win the game. That’s the way you have to approach it.”

As sexy as the point guard matchup is between Stephen Curry and Chris Paul, games between the Warriors and Clippers — once dormant franchises, now consistently competing for the top spot in the Pacific Division — are almost always decided by the teams’ big men.

The Clippers won last season’s first-round playoff series, when Bogut was sidelined with a broken rib. When he missed the matchup this Christmas, the Clippers’ starting big men beat the Warriors’ starting posts by 11 points and 16 rebounds in a 100-86 victory. When Bogut was in the lineup in the teams’ first meeting this season, the Warriors’ bigs won the night by eight rebounds, by a plus-21 to a minus-31 plus-minus rating and by a 121-104 final score.

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No. 3: Blazers in recovery mode — One of the trickiest things to do is adjust after a key injury, and do it in the final weeks of the season. For the Blazers, life will be different without Wesley Matthews, gone for the season with a torn Achilles. Matthews was a dogged defender and one of the team’s more reliable 3-point shooters. Coach Terry Stotts will be challenged to make the adjustments and weave Arron Afflalo into the mix quicker than he expected. How will this get done? Mike Richman of the Oregonian offers some clues …

For all the uncertainty surrounding the Trail Blazers in the wake of Wesley Matthews’ season-ending Achilles tear, the situation isn’t wholly uncharted territory for head coach Terry Stotts.

When Stotts was an assistant coach with Dallas during the 2010-11 season, the Mavericks lost a key starter to a season-ending injury and regrouped to win the NBA title.

On Jan. 1 2011, Mavericks starting small forward Caron Butler ruptured his right patellar tendon. He missed the remainder of the season and Dallas’ title run.

“We’re a team of good individual players, but we’re a team first,” coach Rick Carlisle said told reporters in Jan. 2011. “We’ve got to pick up the slack as a group.”

“We will ask other guys to step up,” Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told NBA.com days after Butler’s injury.

Sound familiar?

A similar sentiment has emanated from the Blazers in the last few days following Matthews’ injury.

“We can have multiple guys come in to still help the team play at a high level,” Blazers point guard Damian Lillard told reporters on Thursday night.

Butler was 30 when he was injured. He was two years removed from two All-Star seasons in Washington, but still an important part of the Mavericks veteran group that had serious title hopes.

“He was a starter, a big part of what we were,” Stotts recalled of Butler at the time of his injury on Saturday before the Blazers faced the Timberwolves. “We struggled a little bit, but obviously we won a championship.”

The Mavericks were 25-8 when Butler was injured, but lost seven of their next ten games, including a six-game winless streak.

After the the losing skid, which dropped Dallas to 28-15, the Mavericks found a groove. They won 29 of their final 39 games and earned the third seed in the West playoffs.

Much like the Mavericks of four years ago, the Blazers in 2015 struggled immediately following a major injury. In its first game without Matthews, Portland lost to the worst team in the Western Conference on Saturday night.

Like Portland, the 2011 Mavericks had a veteran solution to fill the injury void.

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No. 4: Jazz finally getting more from Exum — These are somewhat important days for teams that are either out of the playoffs or headed that way. It’s a good time to take stock in the players on the roster, find out who might stick and who might not, and also get a better read on rookies. That’s what the Jazz are doing, and they’re thrilled to report that Dante Exum is starting to come around. It’s been a mostly lost year for Exum; he was one of the more heralded rookies in the class of 2014 who never managed to get significant playing time or a role in the rotation. At least now, he’s starting to turn the corner and can use the final 20 or so games as a launching pad into next season. Aaron Falk of the Salt Lake Tribune reports about Exum’s defense, which is getting rave reviews …

Before Dante Exum heard his name called and walked across the stage at the Barclays Center on draft night, the Utah Jazz front office had questions.

Would he defend?

Could he defend?

“When we watched Dante’s tape before the draft, one of the questions we all had was ‘Can he defend at all?’ ” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said this week. “Because he didn’t. He just kind of hung out.”

Late in Exum’s rookie year, as he returns to the place where he was picked fifth overall last June, the Aussie point guard has done his best to quell those concerns.

“That’s one of his strengths right now,” Snyder said.

The 19-year-old Exum has had plenty of ups and downs in his first season as a pro. He’s not in any Rookie of the Year discussions. And when you scour most rookie rankings, Exum’s name rarely sneaks into the top 10. Exum is only averaging 4.5 points and 2.3 assists in about 20 minutes per game.

“It’s not like he’s putting up great numbers statistically,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. “But he’s solid. You can see he’s moving in the right direction. … I think with his length, you watch him over the years, he’s going to be something special.”

And there’s a reason the teenager has started 19 straight games for the Jazz, with his 20th likely a matchup against Brooklyn’s Deron Williams on Sunday evening.

“Dante is trying to contribute any way he can,” Snyder said. “He’s figured it out. He knows right now [defense is] something I can do that’s going to get me on the court and is going to help my team.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tyler Johnson, diamond in the rough, is strong again for the Heat, helping Miami to a comeback win over Sacramento … The Pacers really have more wins than anyone since Feb. 1? … Gary Neal is starting to come through for the Timberwolves …