Posts Tagged ‘Blake Griffin’

Numbers preview: Clippers-Spurs


VIDEO: West Series Preview: Clippers – Spurs

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — This just isn’t fair. The Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs were the league’s second and third best teams according to point differential (whether you want go by raw plus-minus or pace-adjusted numbers). And one of them won’t be going to conference semifinals.

The Clippers had the No. 1 offense in the league, despite a 15-game absence from Blake Griffin, and won 14 of their last 15 games. The Spurs are one of only three teams that ranked in the top seven in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and went 21-4 after Feb. 25.

But that 21-4 run only pushed the Spurs from seventh to sixth in the Western Conference. Their loss on the last day of the season put them in this matchup, which may be worse news for the Clippers than anybody else.

The good news is that these two teams are on the opposite side of the bracket from Golden State. So a potential Warriors-Spurs showdown or Warriors-Clippers slobberknocker is in line for the conference finals.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Clippers-Spurs, 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

Los Angeles Clippers (56-26)

Pace: 97.0 (11)
OffRtg: 109.8 (1)
DefRtg: 103.0 (15)
NetRtg: +6.9 (2)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. San Antonio: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Clippers notes:

20150417_on-off

San Antonio Spurs (55-27)

Pace: 95.9 (17)
OffRtg: 106.2 (7)
DefRtg: 99.6 (3)
NetRtg: +6.6 (3)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Clippers: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Spurs notes:

The matchup

Season series: Tied 2-2 (1-1 at each location).
Pace: 98.0
LAC OffRtg: 109.8 (1st vs. SAS)
SAS OffRtg: 104.8 (12th vs. LAC)

Matchup notes:

Morning shootaround — April 1


VIDEO: Highlights from games played March 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant reaffirms desire to stay with Thunder | Griffin: Clippers lack home-court advantage | Rose, Bulls getting into playoff form

No. 1: Durant again voices desire to stay in OKC — The Oklahoma City Thunder have seven jersey numbers retired in their franchise history, but all of those players hail from the team’s days as the Seattle Supersonics. If it’s up to current star Kevin Durant, though, he’ll be the first OKC-era player to have his jersey retired by the team. Royce Young of ESPN.com details how Durant, a free-agent to-be in 2016, wants to stay with the Thunder as long as possible:

Kevin Durant made some of his strongest comments yet about his future free agency, going as far to say he wants to have his jersey retired in Oklahoma City.

“I love it here, man. I love my teammates, I love the city, I don’t really think about anywhere else,” Durant told Revolt TV in a recent interview. “I hear it all the time, don’t get me wrong, and once you hear it you’re kind of like [looks up, thinking]. But for me, I love staying in the moment, and I’m one of those guys that would love to stick it out with one team my whole career.

Kobe [Bryant], Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki type. That’s awesome,” he said. “But you never know what the future holds sometimes and how teams may feel about you after a while, but I love it here and I would love to get my jersey retired here.”

Durant has resisted talking much about his future, but amid growing speculation he’s interested in returning to the area in which he grew up, he deflected questions about Washington, D.C., when the Thunder visited the Wizards in January.

“I love playing for Oklahoma City, man. There’s just a certain level of pride that I have when I play with that Oklahoma City on my chest,” he said then. “So that’s the only thing I’m focused on. Everybody knows that I represent where I come from that no matter where I play at, no matter what arena. But I’m just focused on playing with Oklahoma City. It feels like home now. That’s where I am.”

 

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Morning Shootaround — March 21


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played March 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook lifts Thunder in aftermath of Durant news | LeBron leads Cavaliers to playoff spot on rough night | Clippers making their move in the Western Conference playoff chase

No. 1: Westbrook lifts Thunder in aftermath of Durant news — It’s truly Russell Westbrook‘s team now in Oklahoma City. Kevin Durant is out indefinitely with no reasonable expectation that he will return this season, whether the Thunder make the playoffs or not. Whatever the circumstance, Westbrook is bringing the energy and effort needed to lead the charge for Scott Brooks‘ team, just as he did Friday night in the Thunder’s takedown of the Eastern Conference leading Atlanta Hawks. Love him or hate him, right now the underdog is on top after collecting his ninth triple double and pushing the Thunder up the ladder in the chase for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman explains:

The Thunder’s already wavering title hopes took a potentially fatal blow on Friday morning with the latest Kevin Durant injury setback.

But by late Friday night, Russell Westbrook and a patched together lineup had already reminded the basketball world that — while a championship run is now hard to fathom — high-level hoops entertainment will remain for the next month-plus in Oklahoma City.

The East-leading Atlanta Hawks came to town, packing a potent offense to feast on the Thunder’s slumping defense. Void of Serge Ibaka to clean up mistakes, OKC struggled on that end again.

But as has been common of late, even without double-double machine Enes Kanter on this night, the Thunder went all mid-2000s Phoenix Suns and succeeded in outscoring a scoring machine. The final: Thunder 123, Hawks 115.

“It was like an ABA game out there,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks joked.

With the win, OKC became only the fourth NBA team to ever go from nine games under .500 to nine games over in the same season.

And Westbrook, again, was at the center of it all, finishing with 36 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds for his ninth triple-double of the season.

Instead of an emotional letdown after the latest Durant news, the Thunder came out energized and angry, jumping on the Hawks in the opening minutes. Westbrook had seven of his 14 assists in the first quarter. OKC, at one point, held an early nine-point lead.

But after the Hawks weathered that early storm, OKC’s faulty defense sprung leaks and Atlanta started splashing jumpers from all over the floor. On this night, reserve big man Pero Antic played the role of random dude to roast the Thunder’s perimeter defense, going off for 18 points in 12 first half minutes.

The Hawks led 68-61 at halftime. With two minutes left in the third quarter, that lead had ballooned to 12. Shorthanded, it looked like the Thunder would come up short, fittingly capping an emotionally tough day for the franchise.

But then Anthony Morrow got hot and the tone of the game changed.

With 7:54 left in the fourth quarter, Morrow splashed in his third three of the night, cutting the Hawks lead to four. It was the sixth consecutive game Morrow has hit at least three 3s, one of the hotter stretches of his storied shooting career.

But he was just getting started. Over the next four minutes of game action, Morrow drilled three more 3s, the crowd noise rising and the Thunder’s momentum building with each splash.

“I’ve never experienced (a playoff atmosphere),” Morrow said. “But (Westbrook) said that was close to it.”


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook lifted the Thunder on the night they found out Kevin Durant’s season could be over 

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In MVP chatter, touches speak loudly

VIDEO: James Harden explodes for a career-high 50 points on Thursday

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — You often hear broadcasters say that Player X needs to touch the ball on a critical possession down the stretch. And when they need a big bucket, most teams do just put the ball in their best player’s hands and tell him to go to work.

But that player will be on the floor for about 70 possessions per game and more than 5,000 possessions over the course of the season. In the past, we’ve measured how well a team performs when a player is on or off the floor. And now, SportVU’s player tracking cameras can tell us how important it is that a player actually touches the ball.

For example, here are the top six MVP candidates, with their team’s efficiency when they touch the ball (in the frontcourt), when they don’t touch the ball, and when they’re off the floor…

20150320_top6

For all six, their presence on the floor is pretty darn important to their team’s offense. But while the other guys also need to touch the ball, the Cavs’ offense is potent whether LeBron James touches it or not.

The Clippers have the No. 1 offense in the league (by a hair over the Warriors) and Chris Paul obviously deserves a ton of credit for it. The difference between L.A.’s efficiency on possessions he has touched the ball (116.0 points per 100 possessions) and on possessions he has not touched it or been off the floor (98.3) is the largest in the league among players who have been on the floor for at least 2,000 offensive possessions. It’s a crowded field, but Paul has a legit MVP case.

Davis, of course, can’t just bring the ball up the floor like the rest of these guys can. (Well, maybe he could, but he has yet to unleash that facet of his game.) He’s touched the ball on only 53 percent of the Pelicans’ possessions while he’s been on the floor. That ranks 118th among 218 players who have been on the floor for at least 2,000 offensive possessions and, obviously, last among the six guys we’re focusing on.

20150320_touchpct

In fact, there are 36 power forwards and centers, led by Blake Griffin at 68.0 percent, with a higher touch percentage than Davis. Kris Humphries (56.1 percent) has been more likely to touch the ball on a Wizards possession he’s been on the floor for than Davis has been to touch it on a Pelicans possession.

Pelicans coach Monty Williams acknowledged the challenge of getting the ball to Davis as much as he needs it before a game last week.

“That’s why it’s difficult at times,” Williams said, “for him to have the kind of night [43 points, six assists, 17-for-23 shooting] like he did [in Milwaukee on March 9], because he can’t get the ball in an out-of-bounds situation, bring it up and go to work.

“We have made more of a focus to get him the ball, but we also don’t want to exhaust it so much that nobody else gets a rhythm. And I think he likes it that way, because it keeps teams off-balance at times.”

Some more notes from SportVU’s touch-no-touch numbers …

  • John Wall leads the league in touch percentage at 89.4 percent. He touches the ball in the frontcourt on nine out of every 10 Wizards possessions he’s on the floor for. Not coincidentally, he leads the league in time of possession per game.
  • Stan Van Gundy likes to have the ball in the hands of his point guards. Brandon Jennings is right behind Wall at 88.9 percent and third on the list is D.J. Augustin (Detroit minutes only) at 87.9 percent. Reggie Jackson touched the ball on just 70 percent of Thunder possessions, but has touched it on 87 percent of Pistons possessions he’s been on the floor for.
  • Robin Lopez is last in touch percentage, having touched the ball on only 33.5 percent of the Blazers’ possessions he’s been on the floor for. He’s followed by Andre Drummond (33.9 percent), Anthony Morrow (35.7 percent), Bojan Bogdanovic (35.9 percent) and Andre Roberson (37.9 percent). Those poor Thunder wings.
  • With Danilo Gallinari on the floor, the Nuggets have scored 112.7 points per 100 possessions when Gallinari has touched the ball and only 91.3 when he hasn’t. That’s the largest discrepancy among players who have been on the floor for at least 2,000 possessions and it requires further examination. Gallo hasn’t shot the ball particularly well and his teammates haven’t shot it particularly well off his passes either.

George ‘in’ for USA Basketball camp


VIDEO: USA Basketball wins the gold medal at the 2014 FIBA World Cup

For USA Basketball, preparation for the 2016 Olympics has already begun.

As a result of its gold medal victory in last year’s World Cup of Basketball, the U.S. has qualified for the Rio games and won’t be participating in this summer’s FIBA Americas tournament, where two more Olympic bids will be earned. But the U.S. will bring together staff and players in Las Vegas for a four-day mini-camp in August. Potential Olympians were notified of the camp last fall, and the USA Basketball staff has been in communication with them throughout the season.

There are currently 34 players on the National Team roster. The list includes an initial 28-man pool that was announced last January, as well as six players — DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Paul Millsap, Chandler Parsons, Mason Plumlee and John Wall — that were added last summer.

It includes MVP candidates Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, James Harden, LeBron James, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook, as well as reigning MVP Kevin Durant and Paul George, who broke his leg playing in a USA Basketball exhibition last summer.

This summer’s mini-camp will include another exhibition game at the Thomas & Mack Center on the campus of UNLV, where George snapped his right leg against the bottom of the basket stanchion last Aug. 1. The stanchions at Thomas & Mack have since been replaced by ones that are further from the court.

Though George has been practicing with the Indiana Pacers for three weeks, he has yet to decide if he’ll play this season. But he told NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner on Wednesday that his summer plans won’t change whether or not he plays between now and the end of the Pacers’ season. And when asked about the mini-camp, he was clear that he intends to be there.

“I’m in,” George said. “Of course.”

“The day it happened,” George added, referencing his injury, “right after, I told them I looked forward to continuing on with USA basketball.”  (more…)

Morning shootaround — March 14


VIDEO: Check out all the highlights from Friday

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook a stat-seeking missile? | Pacers’ George treading lightly | Jazz’s Gobert: from clunker to hardware | NBA season in ‘twilight time?’

No. 1: Westbrook a stat-seeking missile? — It is considered bad form for a restaurant server or anyone else in the service industry, frankly, to flat-out ask for a tip. But it was OK in OKC for Russell Westbrook Friday night, his suggestion to the scorekeepers paying off in nice, round statistical fashion for yet another triple-double. No one here at Hang Time HQ is accusing Westbrook of lowering himself to Ricky Davis levels, and there often have been different interpretations applied to assists and rebounds (remember all the home-cooking accusations about Jazz great John Stockton‘s dimes in Salt Lake City games?). But Royce Young reported on Westbrook’s big numbers against Minnesota, then concluded that they were bonafide. Or at least justified:

The Thunder were enjoying an impressive blowout over the young Minnesota Timberwolves, and Westbrook was going to be left to watch the final couple of minutes a single rebound short. That’s when he took matters into his own hands. He looked over at the Thunder’s official scorekeepers, holding his arm up.

“Tip?” he said, nodding his head. “Tip?”

A quick conference at the scorer’s table and right around the time the buzzer sounded on the Thunder’s 113-99 win, Westbrook suddenly had his triple-double: 29 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists. His eighth of the season, sixth in the last eight games, and the first player since Jason Kidd in 2007-08 to have eight or more in a season (Kidd had 13).

The rebound appears to be a tad dubious, an offensive board awarded with 2:35 left where Westbrook went up to tip back a missed 3-point attempt by D.J. Augustin. Westbrook was given a missed shot on it, so everything is on the up and up, but still, hard not to raise an eyebrow.

So, was he campaigning for the rebound or what?

“Uhh, no,” Westbrook said.

The idea is that stat-padding breeds selfishness, a label Westbrook already battles against, but his play actually separates the two things entirely. The stats are a means to the end, a necessity in winning. Westbrook is single-minded when it comes to winning, and with that in the bag on Friday, there’s nothing wrong with wanting another bullet point added to the growing MVP resume.

Because while an extra “10” in the box score is pretty arbitrary, it means a lot when you start talking history. Westbrook became only the fourth player in the last 30 years to record six triple-doubles in a season with at least 25 points (LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson). As he continues to build an MVP case, that’s another feather in his cap. And we can’t act as if individual accolades don’t matter. It’s all part of the game, and Westbrook knows how to compartmentalize and separate that from the bottom line.

Westbrook actually nearly had a quadruple-double with eight turnovers, giving him an eye-popping 27 over his last three games. It has been a stat that has sort of been glossed over because of how much he’s doing for the Thunder, along with how he’s giving the ball away. It’s not really the classic out-of-control Westbrook that’s barreling down the lane and leaving his feet with no plan. It’s forced pocket passes, soft post-entry passes, unselfish extra passes fired at point-blank range.

“I do know one thing, I know I need to stop turning the ball over. I can tell you that much,” Westbrook said, unprompted. “It’s so frustrating, trying [to] find and make passes and turn the ball [over], but at the same time, we won, so I’ll go back to the drawing board and take care of it.”

***

No. 2: Pacers’ George treading lightly — Maybe Paul George had a late-night phone conversation with Derrick Rose. Maybe his anticipated return from the serious leg fractures suffered last August was a diversion all along, meant to take Indiana fans’ focus off its team’s struggles for most of this 2014-15 season. Or, most likely, George has seen the Pacers’ recent tear and move into playoff position in the Eastern Conference as the proverbial ain’t-broke object no longer in need of his fix. The Pacers’ All-Star wing player sounded a little conflicted Friday about making a comeback for what’s left of this season, less due to his own physical condition than to the team’s encouraging play of late. Mark Montieth of Pacers.com reported on George’s quandary after the player’s weekly media chinwag:

“I’m on the fence,” he told reporters following Friday’s light workout at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “They’ve come together. To shake up the chemistry and add another body, I don’t want to be that guy who destroys what these guys have going. And then there’s part of me who thinks I can definitely help turn these tough games into games we have fully under control.

“It’s difficult. It’s a difficult point right now…but we take it day to day.”

George still spoke optimistically of the physical improvement he’s made since breaking his leg on Aug. 1. He experiences some soreness “but I push through those days.” He’s worn an elastic sleeve on his right leg the past two days in practice because his leg feels better when he does, but he has no significant pain in the formerly broken leg.

George had thrown out a mid-March return as his goal during interviews over All-Star Weekend last month, but isn’t guessing at dates now. Coach Frank Vogel earlier in the week had nixed the possibility of him playing on Saturday, but nobody is saying yes or no to future dates. The Pacers’ first game next week is Monday at home against Toronto. They follow with road games at Chicago on Wednesday and Cleveland on Friday, and then have a home game against Brooklyn on Saturday.

“Is there a chance you’ll play next week?” he was asked.

“I have no idea,” he said.

If and when he does return, George will come off the bench and play spot minutes. He likely would continue to play as a reserve, potentially strengthening a unit that’s already one of the best in the NBA.

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No. 3: Jazz’s Gobert: from clunker to hardwareRudy Gobert, Utah’s blossoming 7-foot-2 French import, didn’t generate a lot of excitement when he first appeared on the NBA scene. As ProBasketballTalk.com’s Dan Feldman tells it, Gobert – despite remarkable size and wingspan, definite NBA attributes – was nursing a sore knee that hurt his performance in workouts. But whatever perceived lack of athleticism caused him to plummet to the bottom of the first round in the 2013 Draft, Gobert has more than made up for with his play lately. In fact, Feldman makes a case that the Jazz reserve big man could be a legit contender for multiple awards this spring:

Gobert is averaging 7.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. In 11 starts since Utah traded Enes Kanter, Gobert’s averages have jumped to 10.5 points, 14.1 rebounds and 3.1 blocks. The Jazz are 9-2 in that span, including wins over the playoff-bound Trail Blazers, Spurs, Bucks, Grizzlies and Rockets

If the 2013 draft were re-done – with consideration to Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nerlens Noel, Victor Oladipo, Michael Carter-Williams, Mason Plumlee and everyone else – Gobert makes a compelling case to go No. 1 overall.

Now, in his breakout season, Gobert is a legitimate contender for three awards – Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player.

He might not win any, and two would be tough. Three would be unprecedented.

Just six players have won two of the major player awards – Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player – in the same season:

Darrell Armstrong, Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player in 1999
Hakeem Olajuwon, Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year in 1994
Michael Jordan, Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year in 1988
Alvin Robertson, Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player in 1986
Wes Unseld, Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year in 1969
Wilt Chamberlain, Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year in 1960

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No. 4: NBA season in ‘twilight time?’ — Certainly there’s churning and jostling for playoff position taking place within the East and West conferences. But on a macro level, we know who most of the playoff teams are likely to be, same as we know who most of the lottery teams are this spring. That’s why longtime NBA writer Mark Heisler suggests in the L.A. Daily News that the 82-game schedule is too long, leading to this stretch of March and April where the NCAA game grabs basketball’s spotlight and even swipes Charles Barkley:

Most good teams are resting stars, easing injured players back in — this makes two weeks in a row that the Clippers’ Blake Griffin is expected back — and otherwise lying in the weeds.

All that remains is securing the final playoff slots.

Three teams are vying for the last West slot: New Orleans (just got Anthony Davis back) Oklahoma City (soon to get Kevin Durant back) and Phoenix (unfortunately not getting anyone back).

Then there’s the East dogfight for No. 7 and 8 among the Pacers, Heat, Hornets, Celtics and Nets. Two will get in even if they’re on pace to win 39-37-36-35-33, respectively.

That makes 13 teams assured of playoff slots with eight more aspiring to, even if five are in the farcical East race.

Lining the bottom of the cage are the seven marking time until the lottery (Lakers, Knicks, 76ers, Timberwolves, Magic, Kings, Nuggets).

That leaves the Jazz and Detroit, another team of comers that started late. The Pistons’ problem didn’t turn out to be paying Josh Smith $30 million to leave, but waiting until they were 5-23.

That’s all there is — with five weeks until the playoffs. In other words, thank heavens for the NCAA Tournament.

Yes, I’d say the NBA season is a little on the long side.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Miami’s Hassan Whiteside felt bad enough to phone up Boston’s Kelly Olynyk to offer an apology. And after what Olynyk said to Whiteside, the Heat center felt even worse. … The Raptors broke through for their second victory in three weeks and old-school Charles Oakley was there to witness it – and sneer at today’s lack of physicality the way Oak does. … The Clippers have gone 9-6 without Blake Griffin, whom they hope to get back as soon as Sunday vs. Houston. They’ve also gone 42-24 without Spencer Hawes, essentially. … It’s impossible to separate Eric Gordon‘s recent swell shooting from the New Orleans guard’s recent swell health. …

Report: Griffin’s return could come Sunday

The Clippers have managed to keep their season afloat in the absence of Blake Griffin, compiling a 9-6 record and even rising in the battle for home court advantage in the Western Conference.

But on the night they took a 129-99 waxing in Dallas. However, the good news is that the All-Star power forward is expecting to return to the Clippers lineup at home Sunday afternoon against the Rockets or Tuesday night against the Hornets.

Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports that Griffin will be in the lineup on Sunday unless Clippers officials want to see him go through a full practice first. In that case, he would come back two nights later.

Griffin has not played since Feb. 6, missing the past 15 games following surgery to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.

“He’s working out great,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Friday. “He’s doing great. He had a hard workout today and went through it. I know he went very hard today, and that’s a good sign.”

Rivers would say only that Griffin was “very close” to returning. So close, in fact, that there was an outside shot Griffin was going to fly to Dallas to play in Friday’s game despite not traveling with the team on its two-game road trip to Oklahoma City and Dallas.

“I think it’s possible,” Rivers said of Griffin playing Sunday. “I think every day, including today, was in play.”

Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game this season.

Morning shootaround — March 12


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played March 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rivers: Griffin ‘very close’ to return | Presti shoots down Durant trade talk | Gores backs Van Gundy’s vision for Pistons

No. 1: Rivers says Griffin ‘close’ to return — The Los Angeles Clippers have played the last 14 games without All-Star power forward Blake Griffin as he recovers from a staph infection. The team has held things together nicely in his stead, though, going 9-5 during that stretch thanks in large part to the play of All-Star point guard Chris Paul. But there is apparently some good news on the horizon, writes Dan Woike of the Orange County Register, as Clippers coach Doc Rivers says Griffin is nearing a return:

The last time Rivers spoke to the media before his team played in Oklahoma City, he delivered the brutal news that the team would be without Griffin for some time because of a staph infection.

Wednesday, about 41/2 weeks later, Rivers stood outside of the same locker room, in front of the same backdrop, and said almost the exact opposite.

“I think Blake is very close,” Rivers said.

Rivers has referred to Griffin as “close” in the past week, but Wednesday was his first use of “very,” and he left it open as to whether Griffin would be with the team Friday when it plays Dallas.

Griffin was not with the team in Oklahoma City, and when Rivers was asked why, he went to that modifier again.

“Because he wasn’t very close enough. He didn’t come because he wasn’t ready yet,” Rivers said. “We’d rather for him to stay back and get his workouts in.”

And while it’s “very” now, team officials still expect the earliest Griffin would return to be Sunday against Houston.


VIDEO: Chris Paul guides the Clippers to a big win in OKC

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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.

***

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.”

***

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 …

Morning shootaround — March 3


VIDEO: Highlights from games played March 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Dragic gets revenge against Phoenix | Griffin prepares for return | Harden suspended for kick | Teletovic says Bosh should be fine

No. 1: Dragic gets revenge against Phoenix — After the Phoenix Suns moved Goran Dragic at the trade deadline, both sides publicly took the other side to task in the media. Dragic, for his part, says it was hard to take the accusations of being selfish. Last night, with the Suns’ postseason hopes setting, the Suns went to Miami to take on Dragic and the Heat. Things didn’t go Phoenix’s way, as the Heat not only won 115-98, but the game devolved into a wrestling match. As Paul Coro writes in the Arizona Republic

It was hard enough to see Goran Dragic polish them off in the fourth quarter and fly off the court in glee, pumping his arm in relief after a foul-plagued first half. It was bad enough losing starting big men Markieff Morris and Alex Len to second-half ejections for a Flagrant Foul 2 and a fighting technical, respectively. It was even worse than committing 13 first-half turnovers to make the rest of the night difficult.

The Suns (31-30) just were not tough enough and know it after a 3-10 stretch.

“We have to find out who on this team is going to be tough,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “In terms of going after balls, we are soft going after everything. Teams just take the ball out of our hands. Maybe they grab your arm but you have to be tougher than that. I don’t know what it is but, when teams get physical, we look like a high school team. We have to get tougher and we have to find tougher guys who are going to battle. I get tired of watching us not go after balls. There is nothing worse to me than being soft and not going after a ball.

“In the second half, we showed some fight. We waited three quarters of getting pushed in the back before we decided to do anything about it.”

Some of that fight wound up hurting themselves. In chasing down Dragic on a breakaway, Markieff Morris was called for a questionable Flagrant Foul 2 in a game in which he already had been assessed his 13th technical foul of the season, which ties him for the NBA lead with Russell Westbrook and puts him three away from an automatic one-game suspension.

Morris tried to check on Dragic after the foul but the officials would not let him. After a review, Morris received a Flagrant Foul 2, which is supposed to be for “excessive and unnecessary” contact but it appeared Morris mostly connected bodies on his challenge.

“It was a hard foul,” Morris said. “It was a basketball play, I thought. The refs thought otherwise and kicked me out. Just overexaggerating. I thought he did fall hard. He was in the air and jumped back. My momentum hit him hard. It was a hard foul. It didn’t look intentional like I tried to push him under there or none of that.”

At that point, Miami took a 68-53 lead off the free throws less than four minutes into the third quarter. About four minutes later, Miami center Hassan Whiteside dunked on Suns center Alex Len, as he often did Monday, and came down on Len, who shoved him off. Whiteside tackled Len to the ground and a scrum ensued, leading to fighting technical fouls and ejections for Whiteside and Len.

Len was unavailable for comment after the game but Whiteside said Len was mad “because I just kept dunking on him.” Whiteside, a midseason sensation, had 17 points and 10 rebounds in 26 minutes.

“You’re not going to come into Miami and just bully us,” Whiteside said.

(more…)