HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The playoffs are here. And to get you ready, we’ve got statistical nuggets for each series, courtesy of NBA.com/Stats.
Eastern Conference basketball was slower and less efficient than Western Conference hoops. Five of the eight East playoff teams ranked in the bottom eight in pace, while four of the eight ranked in the top seven in defensive efficiency.
Yet, a couple of these series (Knicks-Celtics and Nets-Bulls) can be seen as offense vs. defense.
Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank) OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank) DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank) NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank) The league averaged 94.4 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 103.1 points scored per 100 possessions.
The Knicks scored just 97.6 points per 100 possessions in 70 minutes with Kevin Garnett on the floor this season, and scored 115.8 against the Celtics with KG on the bench. He missed the final two regular season meetings.
There is just one day left in the 2012-13 regular season and 15 of the 16 total possible playoff spots have been wrapped up (Utah and the L.A. Lakers are still slugging it out for the last berth in the West). While things get a little clearer each day, here’s a look at which teams are headed where — and which teams can still change their fate.
UPDATED THROUGH GAMES PLAYED APRIL 16
EASTERN CONFERENCE TEAMS
No. 1 Heat (65-16) — Clinched Southeast Division, No. 1 in East, No. 1 overall seed in playoffs
No. 2 Knicks (53-28) — Clinched Atlantic Division, No. 2 in East
No. 3 Pacers (49-31) — Clinched Central Division, No. 3 in East
No. 4 Nets (48-33) — Clinched No. 4 in East
No. 5 Bulls (44-37) — owns tiebreaker (won season series with Atlanta 2-1); (1 game left — April 17 vs. Wizards)
No. 6 Hawks (44-37) — trail Bulls for No. 5 by virtue of tie-breaker rules; (1 game left — April 17 @ Knicks)
No. 7 Celtics (41-39) — Clinched No. 7 in East
No. 8 Bucks (37-44) — Clinched No. 8 in East
The quick recap: Miami is assured of home court throughout the playoffs and the division-winning Knicks and Pacers have locked up the No. 2 and 3 spots. The Nets, Celtics and Bucks are all locked into their playoff spots as well, leaving the No. 5 and No. 6 spots (which are between Atlanta and Chicago) up for grabs.
ATLANTA: The Hawks (seeded No. 6 as of Wednesday morning) and the Bulls (No. 5) can still swap spots if Atlanta finishes with a better record than Chicago. But, the Hawks do not have the tie-breaker as they lost the season series to the Bulls, 2-1.
CHICAGO: Has tiebreaker (season-series victory) over Atlanta for the No. 5 seed. The Bulls have one game left on the schedule (April 17 vs. Washington) and, should they finish tied with the Hawks record-wise, Chicago would pass Atlanta and clinch No. 5 in the East.
WESTERN CONFERENCE TEAMS
No. 1 Thunder (60-21) — Clinched Northwest Division, No. 1 overall in West
No. 2 Spurs (58-23) — Clinched Southwest Division, No. 2 in West
No. 3 Nuggets (56-25) — No. 3 in West; Assured of home court in first round; Can clinch No. 3 with a win Wednesday against Phoenix OR if the Clips lose finale (April 17 @ Kings).
No. 4 L.A. Clippers (55-26) — Clinched Pacific Division; Clinched at least No. 4 in West; May or may not have home court in first round; needs either a win (April 17 @ Kings) or a Grizzlies loss (April 17 vs. Jazz) to clinch home court.
No. 5 Grizzlies (55-26) — Clinched No. 5 in West
No. 6 Warriors (46-35) — No. 6 in West; Cannot fall lower than No. 7
No. 7 Rockets (45-36) — No. 7 in West; Can climb up or fall one spot
No. 8 Lakers (44-37) — No. 8 in West; controls own fate (April 17 vs. Houston); can move as high as No. 7
No. 9 Jazz (43-38) — 1/2 game behind Lakers for No. 8 seed; owns tiebreaker with Lakers (won season series 2-1); can only clinch No. 8 spot
The quick recap: The Thunder have home court throughout the Western Conference playoffs, the Spurs are the No. 2 seed and the Grizzlies are the No. 5 seed. Other than that, there are still plenty of things left to be decided.
DENVER: The Nuggets are assured of home court in the first round, but their seeding can still change. Denver can clinch No. 3 with a win Wednesday against Phoenix OR if the Clips lose either of their last two games. If the Clippers and Nuggets finish with the same record, the Clippers own the tiebreaker advantage; although the Nuggets won the season series with the Clips, the Clippers’ division title trumps a head-to-head series win. In this case, the Clippers would be the No. 3 seed and the Nuggets would be the No. 4 seed.
L.A. CLIPPERS: By virtue of winning a division, they can’t fall further than No. 4. However, they can lose home court in the first round despite the division title. Memphis is locked into the 5th seed and can’t pass Denver, and the Clippers are guaranteed a top 4 seed. But, if Memphis finishes with a better record than the L.A. Clippers, they would host a Grizzlies-Clippers series despite being the lower-seeded team.
GOLDEN STATE: They can clinch the No. 6 spot by winning their season finale in Portland on April 17. But if they lose and the No. 7-seeded Rockets win their season finale against the Lakers, Golden State loses the tiebreaker with Houston and falls to No. 7 in the West.
HOUSTON: The Rockets can finish anywhere from No. 6 to No. 8 in the West. Here’s how:
They climb to No. 6 if: They beat the Lakers in their season finale and the Warriors lose in Portland. Houston won the season series with Golden State 3-1.
They stay at No. 7 if:The Warriors win their season finale in Portland. The Rockets would be unable to catch Golden State in the standings.
They fall to No. 8 if: They lose to the Lakers in their season finale on April 17. With a victory, the Lakers would tie the season series with Houston and, by virtue of the next tiebreaker (record against conference foes), would leapfrog Houston. In that scenario, the Warriors would be the No. 6 seed, the Lakers would be the No. 7 seed and the Rockets would be the No. 8 seed.
L.A. LAKERS: First things first — they control their own playoff fate. Win on April 17 against the Rockets (or have Utah lose in Memphis earlier in the night) and L.A. clinches the last playoff berth still available. A victory by Utah coupled with a loss to Houston means L.A. misses the playoffs by virtue of the Jazz winning the season series, 2-1.
They will be No. 8 if: They lose, but the Jazz lose to the Grizzlies, too.
They will be No. 7 if: They defeat Houston in their season finale.
They miss the playoffs if: They lose to Houston in their season finale and the Jazz defeat the Grizzlies.
UTAH: The Jazz need to win their season finale in Memphis … and then hope the Lakers lose at home to the Rockets (who, as you can read above, could fall to No. 8 if they lose). If the Jazz get in, they can’t move up higher than No. 8, even if the Warriors lose and Rockets win their final games. Both teams would finish with better records than the Jazz.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Eye contact in a timeout huddle means little to the casual observer.
NBA players do all sorts of things in timeout huddles other than locking into their coach and hanging on every word. Sometimes it means something when they stare off into the distance. And other times it means nothing.
But for a large number of coaches heading into the great (contractual) unknown at season’s end, that connection between coach and player(s) is of immense importance.
It could mean the difference between a contract extension, a new contract or no contract, depending on how certain teams finish the regular season and postseason — provided some of these coaches make it that far.
The list of coaches looking over their shoulders as the regular season winds to a close is long and filled with notable names:
DOUG COLLINS, PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
How many coaches of lottery-bound teams get to decide their own fate? Collins might be the only one in the league right now other than Minnesota’s Rick Adelman, who will make his own decision based on things other than basketball. That exhausted look on his face most nights is a reflection of a clearly exasperated coach dealing with a situation that turned a promising, young team last season upside down this season when Andrew Bynum came to town via an offseason trade.
The Sixers hit rock bottom in February and Collins couldn’t contain himself, venting his frustration for all the world to see and hear. But they’ve actually rebounded a bit lately, going 6-4 in their last 10 games and doing whatever they can to finish the season on a somewhat positive note.
His fourth year is already set. The Sixers’ front office wants him back. And they’ll need a steady, veteran coach to guide them out of the mess that the Bynum trade unleashed upon the organization and the fans. Collins is on thin ice only if he wants to be.
TY CORBIN, UTAH JAZZ
Corbin is one of several coaches whose future is tied directly to his team’s finish in the regular season. Make the playoffs, serve as the sacrificial first-round fodder for the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder and there is reason to believe that Corbin can cajole more out of this group next season.
And with just one season left on his contract, playoffs or not, the Jazz might not shake things up in the coaching ranks at a time when the roster is in such flux — Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap‘s pending free agency (among others) and the future of young bigs Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.
Corbin’s task has always been daunting in following a legend like Jerry Sloan. But Corbin has handled it about as well as you would expect from a guy who was thrust into an impossible situation.
MIKE D’ANTONI, LOS ANGELES LAKERS
The ice beneath D’Antoni’s feet won’t break this season, even if the Lakers miss the playoffs. There has already been too much turmoil, upheaval and loss for one season. But how would you like to work under the extreme pressure that D’Antoni will have to this summer and next season if the Lakers do miss out on that eighth and final spot in the West?
If the Lakers land in the lottery and the blame game kicks off in earnest, D’Antoni will be third or fourth in the firing line, behind Jim Buss, Mitch Kupchak and Dwight Howard (in whatever order you’d like). Having the unfettered support of the Lakers’ two most important players — Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash — certainly aids D’Antoni’s cause.
Still, if things come apart in Los Angeles this summer, D’Antoni could be one of two NBA coaches in the city walking around on cracked ice.
VINNY DEL NEGRO, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Del Negro has just as many detractors as he does supporters these days. Three different league executives have suggested that he’s done a much better job than he gets credit for, when you consider how raw the Clippers’ frontcourt remains with youngsters Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan still coming into their own.
Del Negro’s critics quickly point out that an All-Star and one of the top 10 centers in the league is a pretty good place to start your frontcourt rotation. Plus, they say, Griffin and Jordan’s rawness has as much with Del Negro (and his staff’s) inability to polish them up as it does anything else.
The Clippers have dealt with health issues and rumored locker room drama all season, but they also kicked off the NBA’s season of win streaks with a 17-gamer early in the season that cranked expectations (on the team and Del Negro) to unattainable proportions. The only thing that might solidify Del Negro’s status is a run to the Western Conference finals … and that might work.
LARRY DREW, ATLANTA HAWKS
How does a guy spend half the season as a legitimate Coach of the Year candidate and the other half on the coaching hot list? Only in Atlanta, where the Hawks coach has been on the proverbial hot seat for the past 10 years (Mike Woodson before him and now, Drew). He’s known since last summer, when new general manager Danny Ferry arrived, that he would spend his final season under contract on a non-stop audition.
To his credit, Drew has never once made an issue of his predicament. In fact, he’s relished the opportunity to show off his coaching chops to the rest of the league. Drew knows there could be (at minimum) a half-dozen coaching openings this summer. And anyone who has presided over playoff teams every year he’s been a coach — as Drew has — has made a compelling case for making the short list of interview candidates for any openings.
Bottom line? Drew was not Ferry’s pick as coach. And if the Hawks are going to remake themselves this summer, it makes sense that Ferry will do so with his own pick as coach.
BYRON SCOTT, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Scott had to fist-fight Brooklyn’s P.J. Carlesimo for the final spot on this list. Carlesimo’s not on thin ice, though, he’s standing in the water. As long as Phil Jackson, Sloan and the Van Gundy brothers (Jeff and Stan) remain options, the coaching seat in Brooklyn is just a temporary perch. Scott is in a much more precarious position because of the belief that the Cavaliers are just a few healthy players (namely Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao) away from turning the corner in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.
Scott keeps finding himself in coaching situations where he has either overstayed his welcome (New Jersey and New Orleans) or failed to get his team to the next step in time (Cleveland). The Cavaliers showed him some love earlier this season by guaranteeing the final year of his contract next season. But even a financial vote of confidence like that might not stand up to the a coaching free-agent summer that will rival anything the players offer up.
If the aforementioned big names are floating around, you better believe the Cavaliers will be fishing around to see who is interested in helping guide Irving into the prime of his career.
ALSO ON THE RADAR: Mike Dunlap, Charlotte; Lawrence Frank, Detroit; Lionel Hollins, Memphis; Keith Smart, Sacramento; Randy Wittman, Washington.
BROOKLYN – The Brooklyn Nets gave one away on Thursday, blowing an early 16-point lead and falling to the very undermanned Chicago Bulls, 92-90. Ultimately, the loss may not mean anything, because the Nets still have a 1 1/2 game lead on the Bulls for fourth place in the Eastern Conference and face Lottery teams, against whom they’re 29-6 this season, in five of their last seven games.
A fourth-place finish in the East would give the Nets home-court advantage in first round, likely against Atlanta or Chicago. A loss in that series would be a disappointment, especially when you consider Brooklyn’s payroll. A win would set them up to lose in four or five games to the Miami Heat.
Other than losing in the first round, there’s no avoiding that fate, which has basically been the path the Nets have been on for the last couple of weeks, since the Knicks and Pacers started playing well again.
Injuries have been an issue. Deron Williams has missed just three games this season, but was clearly not at his best for the first 50 games, dealing with sore ankles and other various ailments. He’s been much better since the All-Star break, but Joe Johnson has had a couple of different injuries since then. Brook Lopez‘s foot injury in late November is what really knocked the Nets off track after a strong start. And Gerald Wallace, in standard Gerald Wallace fashion, has been banged up too.
The Nets have looked like a great team at times. They have road wins in Boston, Oklahoma City, New York and Indiana. But, other than a 12-2 stretch after P.J. Carlesimo took over for Avery Johnson, success has always been rather fleeting.
Carlesimo made some minor changes, gave Mirza Teletovic a shot in the rotation after the break, and is now giving MarShon Brooks more consistent playing time than he’s had all season. But he has been pretty vanilla with his lineups, and that’s where the Nets may be leaving something on the table.
Of Lopez’s 2,079 minutes on the floor, 1,639 (79 percent) have been played with either Reggie Evans or Kris Humphries at power forward. Neither Evans nor Humphries, of course, spaces the floor very well.
Teletovic is very different from Evans or Humphries, in that he can shoot from beyond five feet. But he has played just 112 minutes at the four next to Lopez.
Andray Blatchehas also shot the ball well out to 19 feet or so. But he has played just 86 minutes with Lopez. The Nets’ five best players are arguably Williams, Johnson, Wallace, Blatche and Lopez, a group that has played just 20 minutes together over four games this season.
One of the best lineups the Nets have had this season is a small one. Williams, Keith Bogans, Johnson, Wallace and Lopez have outscored their opponents by 18.3 points per 100 possessions in 107 minutes together. Now, those numbers are skewed somewhat by a couple of late-December games against the Bobcats and Cavs, but that lineup has played just seven minutes together since the All-Star break.
In total, Lopez has played just 242 minutes with someone other than Blatche, Evans, Humphries or Teletovic at power forward. And those minutes have been very good, especially defensively.
Nets efficiency with Brook Lopez on the floor
Other (small lineups)
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
When asked about his lineups, Carlesimo has said that he goes with matchups. But he has obviously been leaning heavily on Evans of late, even using him on two crucial offensive possessions in the final minute of Thursday’s loss, thinking Evans might get the Nets a second chance with an offensive rebound.
The Nets have actually been better offensively with Evans on the floor (scoring 105.4 points per 100 possessions) than with him off the floor (103.8), but most of those off-floor minutes have come with Humphries, similarly limited offensively, at power forward.
This is why it’s hard to know if we’ve seen the best of the Nets this season. Those 242 minutes of small-ball aren’t a lot to go on. And neither are the 86 minutes Lopez has played with Blatche.
Lopez is Brooklyn’s most important player on both ends of the floor. And in the playoffs, his minutes should surely increase from the 30.7 per game he’s played in the regular season. Does that mean that Blatche will be limited to just 10-12 minutes, or will we actually see the two on the floor together? Is there a matchup (Josh Smith, perhaps) that will allow Carlesimo to play Wallace at the four?
In four games against Atlanta (all under Carlesimo), the Nets have played small a total of seven minutes. So the answer to that last question is probably “no.”
Now, it’s unfair to really condemn the coach for not taking more chances with his rotation. He took over in the middle of the season, with the Nets going through a serious rough patch. More than anything, they just needed to get their best players playing well. And obviously, Lopez and Williams are doing just that.
Still, we have to wonder if this team has reached its potential.
The 4 seed, of course, comes with home-court advantage in the first round. And the 5 seed comes with an easier opponent than the 6, 7 or 8 seeds come with. But with the way the East has shaped up this season, it would be better to finish sixth or seventh than fourth or fifth.
The Miami Heat are head and shoulders above the rest of the Eastern Conference. The Indiana Pacers (2-1 against the Heat) and New York Knicks (3-1) have some confidence in their ability to give the Heat a tough series. But they also have the knowledge, as the 2 and 3 seeds (in an order still to be determined), that they won’t be seeing Miami until the conference finals.
The Nets, Bulls, Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics should prefer the same path. Both the Bulls and Celtics have played Miami tough this season, but both obviously have a greater chance of making the conference finals from the other side of the bracket.
Some of these teams – namely the veteran groups in New York and Boston – are talking championship, but making the conference finals would be a good run for any East team outside of Miami…
New York (48-26) has won just a single playoff game (Game 4 against the Heat last year) since 2001 and hasn’t won a series since 2000. They’re the No. 2 seed, but they also have a lot of questions (especially defensively) to answer in regard to their ability to win in the postseason.
Indiana (48-27) is missing Danny Granger, but a trip to the conference finals would be a step forward from last year’s loss to the Heat in the conference semis. They still have a relatively young core, led by 22 year old Paul George, that will benefit from five or six weeks of playoff action.
Brooklyn (43-31) is making its first trip to the playoffs in six years. Its core of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace and Brook Lopez is also under contract for three more seasons, so they’re not going anywhere. Like the Knicks, they haven’t played the defense you need to play to make The Finals.
Atlanta (42-34) is in a season of transition. Johnson is gone and Lou Williams is done for the season. Cap space is coming, and very little is expected of the Hawks in the meantime.
Even if Derrick Rose does somehow suit up some time this month, this has been a lost season for Chicago (40-33), which allowed several key components of the league’s best bench to walk away last summer. And even though Joakim Noah has been more than banged up, Tom Thibodeau‘s bunch has shown a ton of resilience (not that we expected anything less) this season.
Like Chicago, Boston (39-36) has shown a remarkable ability to success without All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo. But the Celtics still have a bottom-10 offense and are still a pretty bad road team. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett (if healthy) will never go down easy, but the bottom line is that this is the seventh-best team in the conference.
Milwaukee (36-38) … nevermind.
So yeah, while there’s only one champion, a trip to the conference finals would be a pretty successful run for any of these teams. And here’s the thing: Every one of these teams (except the Bucks) has a legitimate chance to get to the conference finals … as long as they’re on the 2-3-6-7 side of the bracket.
New York, with the 16th best defense in the league, is beatable. In fact, the Bulls have beat the Knicks three times in three tries this season.
Indiana, with the 18th best offense in the league, is beatable. Both Boston and Brooklyn are 2-0 against the Pacers thus far.
East teams 2-8, head-to-head
You can go through all the matchups in the table above and see who has done what against who. Or you can just focus on the final columns and realize that none of the above teams has done all that great against the rest of the group. Chicago has the best record, but they’re obviously vulnerable with an ailing Noah and a below-average offense.
That’s the thing. The Knicks are the only team of the group that has been above average on both ends of the floor. And they’re the thinnest of hairs (103.08 points allowed per 100 possessions vs. 103.11) better than the league average defensively.
East teams 2-8, efficiency
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
So, while Indiana and New York have both played well of late and have clearly established themselves as the best of the second tier of Eastern Conference playoff teams, it wouldn’t exactly be shocking if either failed to make it out of the first round. The wrong matchup just might do the trick.
Brooklyn, meanwhile, has the inside track on the No. 4 seed, with a three-game lead in the loss column over the Hawks and a three-game lead in the win column over the Bulls, who will be shorthanded for tonight’s meeting. The Nets play five of their final eight games at home and five against Lottery teams. They’ve never shown much consistency this season, but they have beat both the Pacers and Knicks at home and on the road.
But the Nets basically got pasted three times by the Heat and wouldn’t stand much of a chance in the conference semifinals if they were to get through the first round. While they would have a decent shot at the conference finals should they finish sixth or seventh in the conference, they’ve probably played too well for their own good.
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – With two-thirds of Boston’s Big Three now out of action and compromising the Celtics’ offense, the responsibility of keeping the team out of the dreaded eight-hole and a first-round series with the Miami Heat will be heaped on their ability to defend.
The shorthanded Celtics begin their final 13 games tonight against the New York Knicks (7 p.m. ET, TNT) with Rajon Rondo and now Kevin Garnett — Boston’s third- and second-leading scorers, respectively — sidelined. It means 22-year-old defensive whiz Avery Bradley steps up as perhaps the team’s most important player.
Seventh-place Boston gets New York twice this week, plus the sixth-place Atlanta Hawks, who are two games ahead of the Celtics and in a virtual deadlock with fifth-place Chicago. At worst, the Celtics, two games in front of eighth-place Milwaukee, want to maintain their position heading into the postseason.
Having played just 38 games this season after recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, Bradley is fresh and Boston’s best hope to defend their way through Garnett’s potentially crushing absence.
“I just think Avery Bradley has defensive DNA, I mean that’s who he is,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “He has great feet, he has great hands, he’s tough, he sticks his nose in there and I think a great defensive player has to want to get his hands dirty, and he does. Avery understands what makes him a good player and what gets him on the map is his defense.”
We caught up with Bradley during the Celtics’ visit to Dallas last week:
Q: You were a highly rated defensive player coming out of high school and you enhanced your reputation during your one season at Texas. It’s rare for a young player in today’s AAU culture to embrace defense. Why did you?
A: In high school I used to be the player that scored 30 and then take the challenge to hold the best player on the other team, have him not score. That’s the reason I think in high school I was fortunate enough to be ranked so high because that’s what I’d do every game. But that’s always just been me. I’m a competitor and that’s the only way I know how to play. If we’re playing pickup, I don’t want you to score. That’s just how I play.
Q: What makes a good defender?
A: It’s definitely mental, a lot of it, just like the game of basketball, but I think it’s a God gift and just me wanting to guard, that’s the biggest thing. If you give that effort, that’s all that coach asks for on the defensive end. That’s what I give.
Q: Was it easy for you to come into the league and quickly become an aggressive defender?
A: Definitely not because refs have no respect for you, so if you’re an aggressive defender being a young guy, it’ll get you on the bench fast. But I think it has its pluses and its minuses. If you come into the league as a young player and have an offensive mindset, the majority of the time you’re not going to play. That was my approach, defense, I knew that’s what was going to get me on the floor. I bought into our defense and not only that I wanted to take the challenge every single night to want to hold the best players, to get that respect, not only from my teammates, but players and the refs. That’s what I try to do.
Q:Obviously the Celtics and Miami Heat have engaged in some great battles, most recently the Heat’s comeback in Boston to keep their winning streak alive. How do LeBron James and Dwyane Wade treat you now?
A: I can’t really say, but I know they know what to expect from me every single game that I’m going to guard them. I’m going to compete. I’m not going to back down to nobody, ever. I can tell they know that and I can tell that they know that the whole game I’m going to be playing hard. You see people try to do the same thing to me that I do to them, but at the end of the day I never get tired so I’m always going to keep going. It’s fun, like I said, I just love taking that challenge every single game, playing against the best players in the NBA. It’s what I dreamed of.
Q: When did you realize that you could compete in this league?
A: Last year once I got an opportunity to play, it was around this time of year. I believe we had some players hurt and I got an opportunity to play. I think we played Dallas and then OKC. Those were my first games ever in the NBA playing the amount of minutes that I played since the last game of my rookie season that I played 20 minutes or something like that. That was big for me and that’s when I realized I could play in this league. I think I was playing against Jason Kidd and that was my first game playing like big minutes. I got to get a feel for the game and not only that, I wasn’t nervous. That’s when I knew I could play in this league, that I could be effective out there on the defensive and offensive end.
Q: Who do you look forward to guarding the most?
A: Everybody, every single night. Everybody is a challenge on every single team, especially at the point guard position. So I always have to prepare myself and not only that, people know what I do on the scouting report so they take it as a challenge to. At the same time, I feel like I have a target on my back. Regardless, I’m just going to play as hard as I can. As long as my teammates can say I play hard at the end of the game that’s all that matters, even if I’m not making shots.
Q: What thrills you most about making a defensive play?
A: Probably the best part of it, just me getting my teammates into it when they see me playing hard out there. It literally feels like it gives me more energy for me to play hard on defense. And then my teammates score and then I go back after the guy, and it’s kind of like, ‘Dang, can I get a break, you guys just scored.’ That makes me feel good. It’s more energy, it’s crazy.
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: The Rockets are three games up on the Lakers for the No. 7 seed, so it doesn’t look like Houston will have to face San Antonio in the first round if everything holds tight. As we all know, that can change between now and season’s end … and maybe it would be great if it did. After the Rockets and Spurs hooked up last night in Houston with a classic down-to-the-wire showdown, a Texas tussle in the first round might be a great new chapter in these teams’ rivalry. James Harden put on the hero’s cape last night, hitting a game-winning leaner with 4.5 seconds left to clinch the victory. Here’s hoping the Spurs (or Rockets) make the movement necessary to make this first-round series a possibility.
Nets’ Johnson banged up — The Nets are two games behind the Knicks for the Atlantic Division lead and have gotten improved play from Deron Williams in the last month or so. As close as Brooklyn is to a division crown, it’s hard to imagine where they’d be were it not for the play of Williams — especially considering that his backcourt mate, Joe Johnson, has been struggling of late. Johnson is averaging just 13.3 ppg in March and has struggled with his shot and is now suffering from a bruised quadriceps he suffered in a loss to the Clippers. He sat out Sunday’s win over the Suns, but as Roderick Boone of Newsday reports, the Nets are worried about Johnson’s long-term prognosis:
As for Joe Johnson, he suffered the bruised quadriceps when he bumped into Blake Griffin in the third quarter of the Nets’ 101-95 loss to the Clippers. He said it was swollen and tight Sunday, so the Nets made the decision to sit him out, starting Keith Bogans in his place.
Johnson was unsure if he’ll be able to play when the Nets face the Trail Blazers on Wednesday.
“It’s frustrating for me because all these little knick-knacks are starting to happen with me down the stretch of the season,” Johnson said before the game, “and this is the most important part of the season at this point right now. So that’s probably the most frustrating thing. It’s not about where we are playing and who we are playing. I always want to be out there with the guys. I hate sitting out and watching. That’s the hardest part.”
Since the All-Star break, Johnson hasn’t been the same explosive player. He’s averaging 13.8 points, down from the 17.0 he posted before the break, and his three-point percentage has taken a serious dip, dropping by nearly 8 percent.
“Yeah, I’m concerned, because he’s come back and he’s not healthy yet,” coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “I just think it’s very similar to what we were talking about with Deron. You saw the difference when Deron came back and felt good and was close to — 100 percent is the wrong word, but when he’s the best he’s felt all year, it made a big difference.
“Every time I ask Joe how it feels, he says he’s OK. Again, he wants to play. But I think that if you look at the numbers and you look at what Joe’s done since the injury, it’s not the same Joe. So yeah, we need to get Joe Johnson back healthy. If he’s healthy, then he’ll play the way Joe Johnson plays.”
That’s why Johnson didn’t shoot down the possibility of taking some time off to make sure he doesn’t play until he’s as close to normal. Last thing he wants to do is jeopardize his status for the playoffs.
“I think my health is more important right now at this point,” he said. “Just to heal up the little wounds because obviously, man, we want to do something major in the postseason, so I don’t want to go into the postseason with these things bothering me.”
In other words, he doesn’t want to find himself in uncharted territory.
“Every year going into the playoffs, man,” Johnson said, “I’ve been extremely injury-free, healthy and ready. This is a little different, but I will definitely be ready when I’m supposed to.”
Is it frustrating for Williams that he and Johnson can’t be together and healthy?
“Yeah,” he said, “but if we are still winning, then everything is all right. We won today without him, so that’s good. But we are going to need him. There’s no doubt about that. We are going to need him and we are going to need him healthy, so the most important thing for him is for him to get rest and for him to get healthy. He’s been battling. He’s been playing through a lot of pain. You can see it, you can tell. So he’s been a warrior out here in the games he has played.”
Report: Blazers to let Maynor test market — So far, the Eric Maynor-Portland Trail Blazers marriage has been a successful one. Portland picked up the steady backup point guard from the Thunder at the trade deadline for Georgios Printezis and a trade exception, and Maynor has done a solid job of spelling presumptive Rookie of the Year winner Damian Lillard since arriving in Oregon. Maynor, an unrestricted free agent this summer, is someone whom the Blazers would like to retain, but they’re also willing to let him test the market. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian has more on what might be next for Maynor and the Blazers:
In the 14 games since Maynor joined the Blazers, Lillard’s scoring has improved by nearly three points, from 18.4 to 21.2 per game, and his shooting numbers have soared. Lillard is shooting 7.1 percentage points better from the field (41.8 to 48.9) and almost 10 percentage points better from three-point range (34.9 to 44.6 percent) with Maynor on the roster.
Maynor will return to Chesapeake Energy Arena as a visitor for the first time in 3 1/2 seasons on Sunday. And he’ll do so with an appreciative group of new teammates that have embraced his arrival as exactly the jolt they needed for the stretch run.
Maynor says he carries no animosity or added motivation into Sunday’s matchup against his former teammates. But he admits it will be “weird” to walk into Chesapeake Energy Arena a visitor and go at his long-time friends.
When Reggie Jackson emerged as a capable backup while Maynor rehabilitated from his injury, he lost his job. And as the trade deadline approached, Maynor was looking for a chance to play, so Oklahoma City granted his wish. He said the sides parted amicably.
“I appreciate everything they did for me for the 3 1/2 years that I was there,” Maynor said. “It was a great 3 1/2 years. But I wanted to go somewhere else and play, get some more minutes. We parted ways. Everything was good while I was there and I always still keep in touch with people there. But I’m happy to get a chance to play.”
And the Blazers — who are 8-6 since his arrival — are happy to have him. Perhaps no one more so than Lillard.
And perhaps the best part of it all is that both Maynor and coach Terry Stotts insist Maynor isn’t 100 percent in sync with his new teammates just yet.
“I think it’s still a work in progress,” Stotts said. “I’m getting more comfortable with how I can help him from an offensive standpoint. He’s getting more comfortable with our defensive system. He’s still understanding the dynamics of our team.”
How much time he will get to learn those dynamics remains unclear. Maynor will be a free agent at the end of the season and while the Blazers can guarantee he stays by extending him a qualifying offer this summer — making him a restricted free agent — it would come at a price. Maynor’s qualifying offer is $3.4 million, with a hefty $5.85 million cap hold that would eat a substantial amount of the Blazers’ offseason spending money.
Early reviews suggest that the Blazers and Maynor are a good match. But it seems unlikely the team would mortgage so much of its offseason spending power on a backup point guard. It seems more likely the Blazers will allow Maynor to become an unrestricted free agent and pursue him with the rest of the NBA. It’s the same move the Blazers made last offseason with JJHickson and he ended up returning.
Pachulia done for season? — With their win in Milwaukee in yesterday’s matinee, the Atlanta Hawks are maintaining their grip on the No. 5 seed in the East and have won five of their last seven games. While Atlanta is merely .500 in March, they’re holding things together without key reserve big man Zaza Pachulia, who has been out the last 15 games. Chris Vivalamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has more on when Pachulia may (or may not) return:
Zaza Pachulia did not accompany the Hawks on the road trip as he continues to rehabilitate a sore right Achilles. Pachulia remains out indefinitely with the injury that will have cost him 21 games, including the past 15, by the time the Hawks return home.
A decision on Pachulia’s status for the remainder of the regular-season could come next week.
Report: Teams interested in Iowa State’s Hoiberg — Fred Hoiberg the NBA player spent 10 seasons in the league, carving out a solid niche as a 3-point marksman, most notably for the Kevin Garnett-era Minnesota Timberwolves. After his playing days were cut short by a heart condition, Hoiberg had a front-office role with Minnesota before returning to his alma mater, Iowa State, where he eventually became coach. In three seasons as coach of the Cyclones, Hoiberg has taken them to two consecutive NCAA tournament berths, ending a seven-season drought of postseason play. His work in Ames hasn’t gone unnoticed by NBA types, writes Adrian Wojnarowskiof Yahoo! Sports, and some teams are showing interest in Hoiberg as an NBA coach:
Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg has emerged as an intriguing NBA head-coaching candidate, multiple front-office executives told Yahoo! Sports.
After resurrecting the Cyclones program and nearly pushing them into the Sweet 16 of the 2013 NCAA tournament, Hoiberg’s college coaching success, combined with his pro pedigree, has convinced league officials he’s the ideal college coach to make the transition to pro basketball.
”If I had to make a hire this year, [Hoiberg] would be one of the first calls I’d make,” one NBA general manager told Yahoo! Sports on Sunday. “He is a natural for our league.”
Among seven GMs contacted on Sunday, there wasn’t a single one who expressed skepticism about Hoiberg’s ability to make an immediate leap to an NBA coaching job should he have a desire to do so.
Two GMs who expect to have openings told Yahoo! Sports that they planned to feel out Hoiberg’s interest in the NBA once they begin search processes.
Prying Hoiberg out of Ames, Iowa, won’t be easy. He grew up in Ames, graduated from Iowa State and has shown a strong inclination to coach his alma mater for the long term. Long ago, his popularity and loyalty in the community gave him his nickname of “The Mayor.” Hoiberg has long expressed a desire for his children to have a similar upbringing in Ames as he did.
Eight years ago, Hoiberg’s NBA career ended prematurely with heart surgery for an enlarged aortic root. Doctors inserted a pacemaker into Hoiberg and future heart procedures haven’t been ruled out.
Nevertheless, Hoiberg has the perfect disposition, proven Xs-and-Os acumen and understanding of the NBA to make himself an attractive candidate. The Cyclones play a fast, pro-style offense.
“It would need to be a long-term commitment, because he could stay at Iowa State forever,” says one assistant GM who stays in contact with Hoiberg.
ICYMI of the night: A little bit of point guard-on-point guard rejection makes for a nice Monday morning treat … :
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: It was pick-a-wild-finish night in the NBA after the thrilling endings to Heat-Cavs, Celtics-Hornets and Thunder-Grizz. We liked the finishes of all three — how could you not like the frantic action in Cleveland? — but our pick goes to the grit-and-grind guys in Memphis. The mostly unappreciated (by non-League Pass fiends) Marc Gasol came up with a big bucket in OT to seal the win (although, if you’re an OKC fan, you might have thought there was a little push-off going on there) after Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook seemed to vanquish the Grizz time after time in the fourth quarter. Our guy Zach Randolph struggled (thanks to killer down-the-stretch defense from Nick Collison), but Mike Conley and Jerryd Bayless provided some smart guard play to offset Z-Bo’s absence in what was a playoff-type game through and through.
Round of ‘H-O-R-S-E’ gets Lin going — Entering Wednesday night’s showdown with the Jazz in Houston, Jeremy Lin had been hot, averaging 16.7 ppg, 5.2 apg and shooting 52 percent. But he was a bit worn down from the season’s grind and Alicia Keys taking over the Toyota Center, Lin headed to a different court and played a few rounds of H-O-R-S-E with his brother, who was visiting him. The light-hearted game obviously helped as Lin torched Utah for 24 points and six assists (most of which coming out of the pick-and-roll) as Houston got a big win to help its playoff hopes. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle has more:
With a day off and orders to clear his mind, Jeremy Lin took the opportunity to head to the gym.
He did change things up a bit. With Alicia Keys taking over Toyota Center, Lin found a different court and a few different teammates. But Lin’s idea of a day off included basketball.
“It’s therapeutic,” he said.
After Sunday’s 30-point loss to Golden State, he and the Rockets needed the therapy, so Lin spent a chunk of Monday launching jumpers and playing HORSE.
When the Rockets reconvened at Toyota Center on Wednesday, Lin spent the night as if still goofing with his brother and buddies far from the cameras and lights. He repeatedly pierced the Utah Jazz defense, helping to drive the Rockets to a 26-point lead. And when the Jazz rallied in the fourth quarter, Lin knifed through them again, with one drive to a layup and another and a pass for a Chandler Parsons dunk that finally closed out the Jazz 100-93.
Lin made eight of nine shots in the paint as the Rockets went from launching 3-pointers to beating the Jazz at the rim, and from a series of slow starts to a rapid bolt from the opening tip that set the tone for the game.
“JLin made them pay,” Parsons said. “He’s a good player, especially in pick-and-roll. He’s fast. … He can get in the paint.”
“Jeremy really attacked the rim well,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “I thought that Jeremy made some big hoops coming down the stretch when we needed them. They were really intent on staying with James (Harden) in the second half and really not giving him a lot of room, so Jeremy really broke free. Jeremy kept turning the corner and got in the paint. We needed all of those.”
“Sometimes, when you do that, you get the feel of the joy of the game back in you again,” Lin said of his day off in the gym. “I went and shot. My little brother is in town. My buddy is here. We just went out and messed around, played some HORSE. But we didn’t get to finish because other people started playing. Everyone had S.”
Karl amazed by Nuggets’ revival — Nuggets coach George Karl is the man with whom former Denver star Carmelo Anthony experienced his greatest NBA successes as well as some of his biggest letdowns, particularly in the playoffs. It’s hard to believe, but it has been more than two years since Denver sent Anthony to New York for a package of players that included Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov and others. At the time, it looked like the Nuggets were embracing a full-scale rebuild, but Karl has kept Denver competitive and, this season, the Nuggets are one of the Western Conference elite and sport a 13-game win streak. Karl talked with USA Today’s Sam Amick about the Nuggets rise, the post-’Melo era and more in a solid Q&A:
Q. So you having fun yet?
A. You know, in coaching you don’t ever really have that joyful fun, but there’s no question that it’s enjoyable. It’s winning. And when you win and you’ve lost, what, four games in 60 days or something like that, it’s nice not having the headache of that day of losing. In the NBA, you win, and you think you’re going to win tomorrow. But as soon as you lose, you don’t think you’re ever going to win again.
Q. Are you as surprised as most people are with how quickly your franchise recovered from the Anthony deal?
A. I definitely think that the speed that we’ve built ourselves back into being a contender in the Western Conference has surprised me. We have one player on the team that played with Melo. The Melo trade was, what, two years ago in February? And you have to remember that one of those years was a lockout year. So probably the team has only played together less than 100 games … And then you had the Nene trade last year. Nene was another piece that we changed up. That was kind of the final addition that “we’re going to go with young players.” During the year, we played Kosta (Koufos) and Timo (Timofey Mosgov) a lot more than we played Bird (Chris Andersen) and Nene. We turned it over to all the young guys. The team has evolved. It’s worked hard. It has stayed focused … My team even last year always thought they could play with the big boys. Now that they have the consistency to play an 82-game season together and show that they’re good enough, that’s what we’re doing this year.
Q. Has your longevity and success allowed you to have a wall up between you and the fires that coaches are always putting out or is that still always there?
A. I don’t think there’s any question that I don’t think young coaches can maybe take the risks that I take. But in the same sense, I think my staff and I work very hard on explaining what we’re doing. And we have no problem with a player wanting to play, and we have no problem answering a question of why you’re not playing — in fact we encourage it, we like it, we want players to want to play, we want them to be angry when they’re not playing, but we don’t want them to degrade the team or negate the team (with) a negative attitude during the game or during practice or in the locker room. Do that one on one with me, do that one on one with (general manager) Masai (Ujiri), do that one on one with my assistants, and let’s talk this through. I try to tell players all the time — I’m 61 years old. It’s not personal man. I mean this is not personal. I’m past the time when I’m making a personal decision. I’m making a basketball decision based on who is playing well, who is playing hard, and who is more focused and more disciplined on that given night.
Q. That record is good enough at this point to have your group be in the discussion about title contention. I know that’s not where your head is at this point, but how do you see this idea that this deep and balanced group can take it to that level?
A. My first step is to get this team to win in the first round. And then, once you win in the first round, there’s confidence. Coach (Tim) Grgurich (formerly a longtime Seattle SuperSonics and Denver assistant) have talked about how this team responds me a little of my first full year in Seattle (in 1992-93). I think we played Utah in the first round, beat them in a Game 5 in the first round. We were down 2-1 in that series, and could’ve lost in Utah in Game 4. But we won Game 4 — that made us grow up. We won Game 5 in a really crazy game. I think it’s actually a record, where in the same game we had the lowest scoring half and the highest scoring half for a SuperSonic basketball team (the Sonics scored 30 points in the first half and 70 in the second half) … And that whole momentum of learning to win in that series, and then we took Houston to a seven-game series and beat them in overtime (in Game 5). It was really one of those weird series, where we won at home easy and they won at home easy and Game 7 was an overtime game. We won that game, and then we play Phoenix and we’re growing up right in front of ourselves (the Sonics lost to the Suns in seven games in the Western Conference Finals). You could see the confidence happen.
Now can we do that this year with this group? I think we can. I hope we can. I really think we can. That’s where I want to put this team. I want to put them in that place, the best chance possible to win a first round (series), and then see where our confidence goes from there.
Teague steps up against Bucks — Milwaukee boasts one of the more explosive backcourt combinations in Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, with Ellis hot of late after a 25-point fourth quarter that helped the Bucks to a comeback win over the Magic. Hawks guard Jeff Teague has quietly established himself as one of the more solid guards in the East and took the challenge of playing against Jennings and Ellis to heart on Wednesday night, particularly with playoff positioning between the Hawks and Bucks on the line. Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution details just how Teague stepped it up against Milwaukee:
Teague finished with 27 points and 11 assists as the Hawks held off the Bucks 98-90 at Philips Arena in a key Eastern Conference game. It was one point shy of Teague’s season- and career-high point total.
The Hawks (38-30) won for the fourth time in five games and kept hold of the fifth spot in the conference playoff race.
Teague was challenged by Player Development Instructor Nick Van Exel at halftime to pick up his energy and play. The guard responded with 12 points in a decisive third quarter.
“C’mon,” is what Teague said Van Exel simply told him. “Me and him a little way we talk to each other. I knew what he meant.”
The Bucks (34-33) had a two-game win streak snapped. They lost for the ninth time in the past 10 games at Philips Arena. Jennings finished with 21 points but Ellis had just five. Larry Sanders had 19 points and 14 rebounds for the Bucks.
“Not letting them get in a rhythm,” Devin Harris said of the success against the guard combination. “Obviously, Jennings did that a little in the third and the fourth (quarters). We try to take away easy baskets. Don’t let them getting any open looks. They run a lot of stuff off each other and (Teague and I) are able to switch and keep them in front of us.”
Both teams struggled offensively in the early going with the game tied 18-18 after the first quarter. The Hawks shot 30 percent (6 of 20) and the Bucks shot 25 percent (8 of 32). The Hawks made 12 of 19 shots in the second quarter to push to the lead at intermission.
Ellis and Jennings combined to make just 2 of 14 shots for four points in the first two quarters.
“I don’t get caught up in that,” Teague said of the challenge of the Bucks’ duo. “I just go out and play. They are talented players. They do what they are supposed to do for their team. I just try to help my team.”
Shumpert scared by knee pop – The good news for the Knicks last night? Carmelo Anthony returned to the lineup and New York romped past a downtrodden Magic squad. The (possible) bad news for the Knicks? Iman Shumpert heard a pop in his knee — the same knee he had surgery on and that caused him to miss much of the early part of the season. Howard Beck of The New York Times has more on Shumpert’s injury, which doesn’t sound serious and hopefully isn’t for a Knicks team that counts Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Kurt Thomasamong its wounded:
The Knicks are still awaiting the return of Chandler, who is dealing with a bulging disk in his neck, and they are moving on without Kurt Thomas, who was lost this week to a broken foot that might end his season.
But the Knicks could not escape the night without another injury, this time to their youngest player. Iman Shumpert tweaked his left knee — the same one that was surgically repaired last spring — late in the first half. He was held out of the second half as a precaution.
Shumpert said he felt a pop in the knee while pushing off toward the rim. The medical staff later told him it was probably scar tissue.
“Last time I felt it pop, I was out eight months, so I was just a little nervous,” Shumpert said, referring to the torn ligaments he sustained last spring. “It scared me more than anything.”
Doctors will re-evaluate Shumpert on Thursday, but no tests are planned.
Kurt Thomas sounded much less optimistic than team officials about his potential return this season. Thomas has a stress reaction surrounding a stress fracture in his right foot. The Knicks are projecting a recovery of two to four weeks. But when Thomas was asked if he would play again, he said simply, “We’re going to see.” Asked if the chances were 50-50, he said, “I think that’s a good number.” Thomas confirmed that he initially sustained the stress fracture in 2006-7, when he played for the Phoenix Suns, and that it never completely healed. The injury was aggravated last Thursday in Portland.
Bynum has surgery, starts rehab soon — Andrew Bynum is done for the season after having arthroscopic surgery on his gimpy knees and our crew on the weekly Blogtable chimed in on exactly where Bynum would fit in best for 2013-14. While we all sit back and wonder where the former All-Star big man will end up and, if he’ll ever be an elite-level center again, Jason Wolfof The (Wilmington) News-Journal reports that Bynum is starting rehab work on his injury this Friday:
One-time All-Star center Andrew Bynum had arthroscopic knee surgeries Tuesday to remove debris from both joints and will begin physical therapy Friday, the Philadelphia 76ers announced.
The 7-foot, 300-pounder, who did not appear in a game this season because of bone and cartilage damage in his knees, will refrain from any weight-bearing activities for about three weeks and will spend an additional three weeks on crutches, according to the team.
Bynum’s longtime orthopedist, Dr. David Altchek of the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, performed the operations. The primary focus of the procedures was to clean out loose bodies from his knees in an attempt to alleviate pain and swelling.
Bynum, 25, was originally diagnosed with a bone bruise in his right knee in September, a month after the Sixers acquired him from the Los Angeles Lakers in a blockbuster four-team trade in August. The Sixers nevertheless expected Bynum to be ready to play in the season opener, but as the season progressed, the team and player repeatedly delayed the date of his expected debut. Bynum was diagnosed with a “mirror issue” in his left knee in November, when a piece of cartilage broke loose and his joint swelled after going bowling.
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: Is it 2005 all over again? The Mavs and Spurs locked up in a classic battle that reminded us of their showdowns of the mid-2000s and, much like those classic matchups, Tim Duncan stepped in the wayback machine and went bonkers on Dallas. Duncan flirted with a 20-20 game (he ended up with 28 points and 19 rebounds) and the Spurs had to sweat out a Vince Carter miss at the buzzer, but San Antonio got the win and clinched a playoff berth, too.
Duncan slowly finding his rhythm– Although Tim Duncan had averaged 15.8 ppg and 9.9 rpg heading into last night’s game against the Mavs, he didn’t quite feel like his game was back where it could be. Slowed by a knee contusion suffered on Feb. 2, Duncan has been working his way back into form the last few games. Last night, he really hit his stride, going for 28 points and 19 rebounds to pace the Spurs’ to a close win and said after the game he can tell he’s starting to turn the corner on the court, writes Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News:
After missing seven of his first 10 shots Thursday, Duncan made nine of his final 10 and finished with 28 points. He was one rebound shy of his second 20-20 game of the season, finishing with 19.
It was his most productive game since returning Feb.13 from a left knee contusion suffered on Feb. 2.
“It’s finally starting to come back,” Duncan said. “My shot’s not there like I want it to be. Other than that, I feel great. I feel healthy. The pain is gone. I’m starting to feel like I can actually play the game.”
Felton hears it from Blazers fans — After one month in last season’s lockout-shortened, 66-game campaign, the Blazers were 12-8 and in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. Their new point guard at the time, Raymond Felton, was averaging a solid 13.3 ppg, 6.7 apg and shooting 42 percent from the field. But after that solid start, both he and the Blazers went in the tank, finishing the season 28-38 and, by season’s end, Felton was the scapegoat (rightly or wrongly) for all that ailed Portland. With Felton returning to Portland last night as a member of the Knicks, he had some strong words for the Blazers before the game and was primed to show his skills, but that isn’t quite how it all worked out, writes Joe Freeman of The Oregonian:
After he arrived into Portland in the wee hours Thursday morning, Raymond Felton checked into a Portland hotel with his New York Knicks teammates and promptly exchanged text messages with Trail Blazers reserve Nolan Smith.
“I’m ready to go,” Felton texted Smith. “Enjoy the show.”
Actually, it was more like a circus.
With a chorus of boos echoing around the Rose Garden every time Felton touched the ball and the Blazers cruising to a convincing 105-90 victory over the Knicks’ junior varsity team, basketball turned into a secondary form of entertainment Thursday night.
An electric sellout crowd of 20,636 flashed gigantic posters with enlarged pictures of donuts and hamburgers and R-rated messages aimed at a player who last year challenged his detractors to visit his Pearl District apartment building if they had a problem with him. Felton was heavily booed during pregame introductions and every time he touched the ball, from the moment the Knicks won the opening tip to the final horn.
Over the summer, as he promoted his youth basketball camp in South Carolina, Felton pledged to score 50 points on the Blazers during his next visit to Portland. But his Rip City return didn’t exactly go as he planned.
And every turnover and errant shot was celebrated by Blazermaniacs, who seemed to relish Felton’s miscues as much they did the Blazers’ successes. The never-had-a-chance air-ball three-point attempt in the first quarter. The pull-up jumper that missed everything but the backboard in the second quarter. The grotesque pass into the lane picked off by the Blazers that led to a Damian Lillard fast-break layup just before halftime. The driving layup that was emphatically blocked by LaMarcus Aldridge in the third quarter.
“It was what I expected,” Felton said. “Some boos — some boos the whole time, actually. It was what I expected. It was funny. It made me laugh. But basically we were trying to get a win tonight.”
While Felton drew much of the pregame hype of headlines, Lillard upstaged his counterpart in every aspect but boos. In a performance that summed up his runaway NBA Rookie of the Year candidacy, Lillard was a blur of swished three-pointers, driving layups and pretty passes. He made 11 of 18 shots and finished with 26 points and 10 assists in yet another historic performance.
Mavs react to ex-teammate Jones’ defense — The topic du jour yesterday around the NBA was the late-game defense the Hawks’ Dahntay Jones played on Kobe Bryant in Atlanta’s win Wednesday night. Jones appeared to slide his foot under Bryant as he took a potential game-tying shot and Bryant appeared to land on Jones’ foot as he came down. Bryant ended up with a sprained ankle and, by Thursday evening, the NBA ruled that Jones did, in fact, not give Bryant adequate space to get his shot off. Jones spent the early part of the season on the Dallas Mavericks, and some of his ex-teammates chimed in on the play to Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News:
“It was a 50-50 play,” said Brandan Wright.
Added Darren Collison: “Tough play. That’s all I can say about it.”
There also were a few jokes that it was Jones’ best play for the Mavericks all season. But coach Rick Carlisle didn’t want to hear about the possibility of Bryant being out for an extended period and the Mavericks having a chance to overtake the Lakers in the playoff race.
“I didn’t see the play,” Carlisle said. “And I’m not going to get involved with anything having to do about saying anything happening with Kobe Bryant. I think our owner showed what can happen with that 10 days ago.”
That comment ellicited laughter from the coach and the media assembled before Thursday’s game against the Spurs. When Mark Cuban suggested the hypothetical scenario where the Lakers could amnesty Bryant, he came back with 38 points against the Mavericks.
“We really have to focus on our own thing,” Carlisle said. “Whatever happens externally is going to happen. We control our situation by putting the force and the attitude and the effort into it at as much of a high level as we can. And we got to try to take care of our own games. At the end, if we’ve done our job, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”
As Wright said: “I doubt he’ll miss much time.”
Thibodeau again clarifies Rose’s status — It almost sounded like Derrick Rose would play in the Bulls game against the Warriors tonight. But then Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau clarified his stance after Thursday’s practice at Oracle Arena in Oakland and said that Rose’s playing remains a day-to-day situation, writes K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:
Thibodeau said it’s “unlikely” Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose would play. Thibodeau said Rose “went pretty hard” during the entire practice.
Thibodeau understands as well as anyone how every update he offers on Rose is parsed and analyzed, contributing to the media frenzy. So when he didn’t immediately rule Rose out, he fielded several follow-up questions before adding “nothing has changed” and the “unlikely” status.
Rose has made clear he could miss the entire season after knee surgery.
“It could be in a couple days. It could be in a week. I don’t know when it is. He doesn’t know when it is,” Thibodeau said of Rose’s return. “He has to feel real comfortable and feel the explosion is there. He’s made great progress. We don’t know when that time is. We’ll have a better idea the more we see him go.
“We just have to keep being patient and let him work through it. Each day he feels a little better. He has to have a few days where he feels really good about where he is. It’s not that he’s not feeling good. He’s just not quite there. We’ll know when he gets there.”
One thing Thibodeau stressed is that game outcomes are not affecting Rose’s decision. In other words, the 42-point loss isn’t influencing him to return to help or to turn away from the debacle.
“Nope, nope, nope, nope,” Thibodeau said. “This guy is well-prepared for this. He’s handled his part great. He’s not going to be influenced by anything but when he’s ready. That part is clear.”
Deep bond unites Magic’s Hennigan, Thunder’s Presti — First-year Magic GM Rob Hennigan had his work cut out for him when he took the job in Orlando: a Dwight Howard trade situation to navigate and, once that was over, a rebuilding effort that would take several seasons to complete. Luckily, Hennigan had a good mentor in OKC GM Sam Presti, whom Hennigan had worked for and known since their days with the Spurs’ front office in 2004. Hennigan followed Presti to OKC in 2007 and had been there until last summer, when Orlando hired him to direct the team’s new direction. Josh Robbinsof the Orlando Sentinel has a great feature on the deep relationship that Hennigan and Presti share:
Rob Hennigan made one of the most important decisions of his life here, just a short walk from where the Orlando Magic will play the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night.
He made that decision with Sam Presti, a friend and mentor, by his side.
It was 2008, and Presti, the Thunder’s general manager, offered Hennigan a job in the Thunder front office. They walked through downtown, discussing the type of team Presti wanted to build, talking about the meaningful connection Presti wanted to create between the franchise and the city. They eventually reached the Oklahoma City National Memorial, the site where, 13 years earlier, Timothy McVeigh detonated explosives in front the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
“At the end of the day,” Hennigan remembers now, “I had so much trust and faith in Sam that I wanted to join him and join the organization to try and build something special.”
That belief and confidence in Presti helped lead Hennigan to where he is today, the general manager of the Magic. Presti gave Hennigan two of his big breaks: a coveted internship with the San Antonio Spurs in 2004 and a position as director of college/international player personnel with the Thunder four years later.
Hennigan marveled at Presti’s work ethic, his exacting attention to detail and his systematic, disciplined approach to decision-making.
In 2007, the Seattle SuperSonics hired Presti to be their general manager.
A year later, the franchise moved to Oklahoma City, and that’s when Presti chose to hire Hennigan.
In 2010, Presti promoted Hennigan to assistant general manager for player personnel.
Then, late last May or in early June, Hennigan and his wife, Marissa, were sitting in a restaurant when his phone rang. It was Presti on the other line, telling Hennigan that Magic CEO Alex Martins had just called. Martins wanted to interview Hennigan for the Magic’s GM job.
Hennigan couldn’t believe it.
But it was true.
In the days that followed, Presti helped Hennigan organize his thoughts for the job interviews.
In June, the Magic hired Hennigan.
Hennigan, 30, and Presti, 36, still talk and text all the time, more about life in general than their jobs.
After seven years working together, Hennigan already has learned lessons from him.
“I think the most important thing I learned from Sam is to always put the best interests of the organization above everything else,” Hennigan says. “It takes great discipline, conviction and patience to do that, but Sam has showcased an ability to do that as well as anyone.”
ICYMI of the night: They don’t call Tim Duncan the “Big Fundamental” for nothing, kids:
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – That Twitter beef between Kobe Bryant and his followers and Dahntay Jones and his followers can officially be put to rest now that we have a ruling from the NBA about the missed call at the end of that Wednesday night game at Philips Arena.
Just as Bryant said after the Lakers’ 96-92 loss, Jones did not give him the proper space on his landing from a baseline jumper attempt and, the same landing that will keep Bryant out “indefinitely” with a severely sprained left ankle.
The league’s official ruling can be found here and states that:
With 4.9 seconds remaining in the Atlanta Hawks’ 96-92 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on March 13, the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant attempted a jump shot over the Hawks’ Dahntay Jones. After review at the league office, video replay confirmed that referees missed a foul call on Jones as he challenged Bryant’s shot and did not give him the opportunity to land cleanly back on the floor. Bryant should have been granted two free throws.
Bryant will still have to wait a year to get his revenge, as he mentioned after the game. But he’s already been vindicated, per the official ruling that is backed up by the video evidence (above).