LOS ANGELES – There’s plenty at stake for the Los Angeles Clippers as they begin a second consecutive postseason for only the second time in their 29-year history in the city.
For the first time, the franchise has a 50-win season and a Pacific Division crown. They have one All-Star, Blake Griffin, locked up under contract and another, Chris Paul, who they hope will sign this summer to stay long-term. Finally, this notoriously cheap and irrelevant organization is slowly finding a small spot in the city’s heart.
So wouldn’t it be terrible if the Clippers allowed all that to slip away by allowing their hot heads to get in the way?
“That’s been our Achilles heel all season is losing our temper and I think I kind of set the tone,” Matt Barnes said after Saturday morning’s shootaround in preparation for tonight’s Game 1 against the physical Memphis Grizzlies.
Barnes said the Clippers are ready for a tough, physical series, the kind of grinding play that can instantly flare emotions and result in quick-trigger reactions. Barnes said he hopes the referees will let them play, but L.A. can’t worry about chirping at the refs or committing silly retaliatory plays if calls aren’t going their way.
“I’ve been telling these guys it’s a whole new attitude and stop getting in so much trouble,” Barnes said. “There’s a lot at stake, but you really don’t want to give anything away, you want to make a team earn everything. That’s something we’ll probably address before the game, something we’ve already addressed, so we kind of have to police each other out there because we know we’re susceptible to that.”
The Clips are among the top teams at drawing technical fouls. Griffin tied for the second-most during the regular season with 14. Center DeAndre Jordan and Barnes both got nailed 10 times and Jamal Crawford nine times. Even Lamar Odom‘s been T’d up six times and Paul five times.
During a late March game at Dallas, Griffin picked up a T with seven seconds to go in the third quarter that allowed the Mavericks to take the lead. Then Crawford got one a minute into the fourth quarter. The Clippers went on to lose in overtime. Those kinds of shifts on a technical foul can sabotage a playoff game, and undermine a series.
So can flagrant fouls, and L.A. is no stranger to those either. Speaking of playing intelligently, Barnes leads the Clippers with three Flagrant One penalties and one Flagrant Two. And reserve forward Ryan Hollins, whose minutes might get reduced against the Grizzlies, has three Flagrant One fouls.
The Clippers matched the Lakers as the only teams with two players in the top 10 in that dubious category.
“I know nobody on this team is a bad guy, like Blake has, I don’t know how many technicals, and he’s one of the nicest guys in the league,” Jordan said. “I think it’s really just a heat-of-the-moment type of thing. We get so caught up into the game and how competitive it is and sometimes your emotions get the best of you and you may snap for two seconds.
“But those two seconds are going to cost you some points and potentially a game. So we really have to harness our emotions in this series.”
That’s all the time we have left in the NBA regular season to sort out all of the issues facing us. And, Naismith knows, we have plenty of them.
Nine more (game) days to weave through the months of drama and finalize the playoff order in both the Eastern and Western Conferences, to see who will snatch this season’s scoring title, to see if the Los Angeles Lakers can salvage the dumpster fire that their season has been since training camp … there’s a host of other loose ends that need to be tied up before the postseason tips off.
We already know the eight players in the Eastern Conference. The Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks have clinched their playoff bids. All that’s left is to firm up the order beneath the Heat, who have a 10-game cushion in the standings.
The Knicks and Pacers are battling for the No. 2 seed (just 2.5 games separate the two). The Knicks surged ahead on the strength of their current 12-game win streak, fueled by their MVP candidate Carmelo Anthony and the streaky J.R. Smith.
The Nets are doing whatever it takes to hold on to their top four spot in the standings, and the coveted home-court advantage that comes along with it.
But at least the pecking order is pretty much set. Not so in the other half of the bracket.
SORTING OUT THE BOTTOM OF THE WEST …
The order in the West remains a bit muddled. The San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver Nuggets, Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies are playoff locks. The Spurs have already wrapped up the Southwest Division crown and the Clippers secured the first Pacific Division title in franchise history with their win over the Lakers Sunday at Staples Center.
“It just feels like something we were supposed to do,” Chris Paul said after shredding the Lakers for 24 points and 12 assists. “It means we’re headed in the right direction. We’re not satisfied. We understand this is something small compared to the big picture.”
The bottom of the standings in the Western Conference will come into a clearer focus in the last nine days. The Jazz have a half-game lead over the Lakers for the eighth and final spot in the playoff chase, courtesy of their huge win Sunday night over the Golden State Warriors.
The Jazz have four games remaining: against Oklahoma City on Tuesday, against Minnesota on Friday and in Minnesota on April 15, and at Memphis on April 17, the final night of the regular season.
The Lakers have a slight schedule advantage. Of their five remaining games just one (Wednesday night’s tilt in Portland) will come away from the Staples Center. But their last three will be against playoff teams; Golden State on Friday, San Antonio on Sunday and Houston on April 17.
The Jazz own the head-to-head tiebreaker, the Lakers the favorable schedule. As suspected, this one could come down to the final night of the season.
WHAT RACE FOR THE SCORING TITLE?
The three-time scoring champ doesn’t want a fourth title. Not right now.
Thunder superstar Kevin Durant said as much about his battle with Anthony for the scoring crown.
“He can have it,” Durant said last week, before admitting that he is rooting for Anthony to snag his first scoring title in his 10th NBA season.
Durant obviously has more pressing matters to occupy his time, namely the Thunder’s battle with the Spurs for the top overall seed in the Western Conference. OKC’s loss Sunday to Anthony and the Knicks didn’t help that cause.
Best guess: Anthony gets the scoring title (he’s scored 36 or more points in four straight games) and the Spurs get the top seed in the West.
EAST MATCHUPS UP FOR GRABS, AFTER HEAT-BUCKS
If form holds in the Eastern Conference, the No. 1 Heat will face off with the No. 8 Bucks, a matchup tilted heavily in favor of the league’s best team.
Everything else after that, however, is literally up for grabs.
The difference between the six other teams is negligible on any given night. With experienced playoff teams like the Bulls, Hawks and Celtics lurking in the bottom half of the East bracket, the higher seeds have to be extremely careful with home-court advantage.
The Celtics and Bulls, in particular, are teams adept at ignoring the obvious and playing above their heads in the playoffs. Two physical teams like this, built with defense in mind — teams that have shown themselves capable of pushing the Heat to the edge (remember the Bulls snapped the Heat’s 27-game win streak) — should have no problem making life difficult for higher seeds in the first round of the playoffs.
STILL HOPE FOR ROSE …
The Bulls have the one variable in the playoffs that could change the entire postseason landscape in former MVP Derrick Rose, who made it clear over the weekend that he has not abandoned the idea of suiting up this season.
Time is obviously not on his side. But that doesn’t seem to be an issue for Rose or the Bulls, who would surely welcome back their All-Star — their best player — to a team that has survived without him quite well.
With just six games left, Rose will have to accelerate his decision-making process and come up with an answer sooner rather than later. After weeks of speculation to the contrary, might Rose actually be ready for a return?
“Oh, no,” Rose said, when asked if he’d announce he’s sitting out this season. “I’m keeping it open.”
After Sunday’s game against the Pistons, the Bulls have just six regular-season games remaining.
“I’m not trying to think about that right now,” Rose said. “I’m just trying to get better. I’m just trying to help my teammates, give them confidence to go out there and play hard. I’ll play whenever I’m ready to play. Who knows when I’m ready to? Right now, all I can do is just cheer on my teammates.”
Rose first scrimmaged on Feb. 18 and has said whether he returns is as much a mental hurdle as a physical one at this point. Playing on a minutes limit wouldn’t bother him.
“I wouldn’t mind at all,” he said. “Of course I want to play more. But it’s not that big. I’m going to play whenever I’m ready. I don’t care if it’s 15 or 40 (minutes). I just love the game too much. Like I said, I’m just waiting and praying about it. And hopefully I’ll be out there soon.”
Bulls fans are waiting and praying as well, hoping that not only can Rose return but that he can thrive on his surgically repaired knee.
VUCEVIC CHASING HOWARD FOR REBOUNDING TITLE
No one gets a fancy trophy for winning the league’s dirty work award, the rebounding title.
But wouldn’t it be something if Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic (11.8 rebounds per game) was able to catch and pass former Magic and now Lakers big man Dwight Howard (12.5) for the top spot? Vucevic has turned out to be the surprise gem of the multiple-player and multiple-team deal that sent Howard to Los Angeles and Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia.
Raise your hand if you saw that coming …
TROUBLE FILLING OUT YOUR ALL-NBA BALLOT?
If you are struggling with who goes where on your All-NBA first-team ballot, welcome to the club.
Outside of LeBron James and Paul, there are some extremely difficult choices that have to be made. Who gets the nod between Anthony and Durant at the other forward spot? And do you go with Marc Gasol at center and Kobe Bryant at shooting guard?
That relegates worthy candidates (based on the position-specific nature of the All-NBA team) like Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Howard and Tim Duncan to the second team, even though you could make a compelling case for each of them, too.
At least we have time to think about it … well, nine game days.
HANG TIME, Texas — There were just over two minutes gone in the fourth quarter when the door seemed to swing open, the red carpet rolled out and Kevin Durant was all but ushered down an empty aisle through the San Antonio defense for a slam dunk that practically screamed out.
It’s still our house and it’s still our Western Conference.
Maybe more than ever. As the days dwindle in the regular season, the inevitable rematch in The Finals with Miami seems more, well, inevitable.
It’s been more than two months now since anyone has looked capable of taking down the defending champion Heat. But it’s been thought all season that the West half of the bracket was going to be a minefield fraught with peril.
When Tony Parker limped up and down the court and finally had to be removed from the game Thursday night by coach Gregg Popovich, the path became clearer for the Thunder. It not only enabled OKC to finish off a 100-88 win and essentially take over the top spot in the conference, but could show the cracks that could eventually crumble highly successful regular season for the Spurs.
There had been a sense for much of the season that the Spurs were a more complete, more capable all-around team than the Thunder this season. That was in part due to the absence of James Harden in OKC and the development of the Spurs supporting cast of Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green.
But San Antonio is still a wheel that turns around the aging Big Three axis and Manu Ginobili is already sidelined for the start of the playoffs with a strained hamstring. If Parker’s problem (ankle? shin?) can’t be solved in short time, the Spurs could have problems in the first two rounds, let alone a conference finals showdown with the Thunder.
At the same time, a Nuggets team that has already lost its blasting cap in Ty Lawson to a torn plantar fascia in his right heel sees Danilo Gallinari go down with what could be a torn ACL in his left knee.
Yes, George Karl was the Western Conference Coach of the Month in March and will certainly manipulate his lineup to keep it from jumping completely off the track. But the beauty and the effectiveness of the Nuggets all season long has been the fitting together of so many different pieces to excel in a league usually built around individual stars. Take away one piece and you’ve got a challenge. Take away two and the entire structure begins to teeter.
Despite ringing up their first 50-win season in franchise history, the Clippers have fallen from grace since their 25-6 start. Whether it’s Vinny Del Negro’s coaching, Blake Griffin’s moodiness, DeAndre Jordan’s immaturity or Chris Paul’s carping at his teammates, there is unrest in Lob City and less a sense that the Clippers are a championship contender.
There is no reason to believe the Warriors, Rockets or Jazz are capable challengers. Even if the Lakers were to hang onto the No. 8 spot, does anyone have faith that this uneven, turmoil-filled season will suddenly take a path straight up for six or eight weeks once the playoffs begin?
That leaves the rock ‘em, sock ‘em get, get-up-in-your-face Grizzlies as perhaps the only solid, healthy challengers to the reigning Western Conference champs. If you think back two years ago to the contentious seven-game series between Memphis and OKC, there is most definitely potential for the Thunder to be tested.
But what was supposed to be round after round of roadblocks and difficult obstacles is starting to clear out like Durant’s path to the basket for a slam dunk.
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: Does it get any better than a matchup of the West’s two top teams? We don’t think so, so that’s why last night’s Spurs-Thunder tilt from Oklahoma City gets the nod this morning. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had the Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd rolling and high-fiving all night long, even though this one had a bit of a damper put on it with Tony Parker‘s injury (our man Jeff Caplan has more on what happened here).
Report: Gallinari has likely ACL tear — A magical season in Denver took a turn for the negative last night when the Nuggets’ second-leading scorer, Danilo Gallinari, suffered a knee injury while driving to the hoop in the first half. He eventually fell to the floor and was helped off the court by teammates Timofey Mozgov and Quincy Miller and Denver was left hoping a season-altering injury wasn’t the cause. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports has bad news for Nuggets fans as it looks likely that Gallinari has suffered a torn ACL:
After crumbling to the court and needing to be carried to the locker room, an initial examination of Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari suggested a season-ending tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, league sources told Yahoo! Sports on Thursday night.
“The doctor indicated that the ligament was loose,” one source told Yahoo! Sports. “They expect that it’s a torn ACL.”
Gallinari will undergo a full MRI examination on Friday to survey the complete damage to the knee. After driving on Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki in the Nuggets’ 95-94 victory on Thursday night, Gallinari planted his left leg only to have his knee buckle beneath him.
The Italian writhed in pain on the floor, and needed to be carted to the locker room.
When Dirk Nowitzki was asked about the possibility of Baylor superstar center Brittney Griner playing in the NBA, he kept repeating two words demonstratively: “it’s tough.”
Nowitzki weighed in on the controversy after Thursday morning’s shootaround at the Pepsi Center.
“I honestly have huge respect for [Griner],” Nowitzki said. “She may be the most dominant female player ever in college, but I don’t know if the NBA is made for a female.
“It’s physical, there are a lot of athletes out there. I think it’s tough.”
Speaking candidly, Nowitzki offered a suggestion for Griner, who will be the top overall pick in the next WNBA Draft.
“Maybe if she does want to maybe try in the [NBA] summer league to see how it is,” Nowitzki said. “But I don’t think a female, at this point, can play in the NBA.”
Coach Rick Carlisle admitted he hasn’t watched any women’s college basketball games this season, but is fully aware of Griner’s overwhelming talent.
“I know she’s a helluva player,” Carlisle said. “Beyond that I don’t want to get into the polarizing discussion about it because I think it’s important to have an owner that is open-minded and I think it’s important to be an organization that is open-minded.
“Ultimately, whether or not she can play is something I don’t want to get into.”
“Six-foot-eight is about a [power forward] , I’d say,” Nowitzki said. “We have three guys playing at 6-8 and playing [small forward], so yeah, you’re kind of caught between a [small forward] and a [power forward].”
And there’s always the argument that the speed and athleticism of the NBA is superior to any league out there and could engulf Griner.
“It’s tough,” Nowitzki said. “You’ve got to be fast and athletic at that spot, you’ve got to be able to shoot, you’ve got to be able to go by people, guard people on the other end, chase people off screen and rolls, or in the post-up.
“It’s tough. It’s tough.”
Bulls prove playoff mettle in win in Brooklyn — Heading into last night’s game in Brooklyn, the Bulls knew they’d be without Derrick Rose. But they also added Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Richard Hamilton and Marco Belinelli to that list, which made an already thin Bulls roster even more so. Then came the game, where Chicago found itself down 16 points to Brooklyn and had every reason to pack it in and take a loss. But as has been the case with these Bulls under coach Tom Thibodeau, they fought back and, thanks to a late Nate Robinson floater, put away the Nets and moved ever closer to the No. 5 spot in the East. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune details a gutty win for the Bulls:
Thursday night is why anybody thinking the Derrick Rose-less Bulls will be an early playoff exit might want to reconsider.
Down three starters and two rotation players to injury, the Bulls rallied from a 16-point deficit and stunned the Nets 92-90 at Barclays Center when Brook Lopez‘s jumper went in and out at the buzzer.
Nate Robinson scored the go-ahead basket with 22.7 seconds remaining, Nazr Mohammed helped force a steal and blocked Lopez in the final minute and Carlos Boozer and Jimmy Butler provided multiple big plays.
“You guys have seen the mark of this team: We fight to the end,” Boozer said. “We have some resilient guys in here. We just told ourselves to keep grinding and something would break.”
Robinson’s go-ahead basket came in the lane after he also got credit for a steal on Lopez, whom Mohammed ably guarded.
“I’m not afraid to take big shots if needed,” Robinson said.
“The momentum switched in the third quarter,” Boozer said. “We know (people) don’t believe in us. But we believe in each other, man. We’ve had some close games. We just hope all this is building up to us winning close games in the playoffs.
“We feel if we have everyone out there, we still have a chance to do something special.”
Jordan, Griffin tiring of each other, CP3? — This one might need to be taken with a grain of salt, because as we’ve seen with the Oklahoma City Thunder, star players can have occasional infighting and still be successful. But according to T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times, the Clippers’ frontcourt tandem of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan got into a bit of a spat the other night and some things about Chris Paul bubbled to the surface, too. Here’s more:
The feel-good Clippers are gone, with DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin’s immaturity dragging the team down.
Jordan wants nothing to do with Coach Vinny Del Negro because he blames Del Negro for burying him on the bench.
Yet Jordan’s inability to play consistently or make free throws, thereby turning the ball over to the opposition much like a turnover, makes him a liability in close games.
Jordan sees it differently, and he has for the last two seasons, maintaining he would be more productive if allowed to play more.
The other night in Sacramento, Griffin and Jordan exchanged words on the bench. Griffin told Jordan he best never again stare him down as he did when Griffin failed to give Jordan a good pass for a dunk.
Everyone else was left to sit there while waiting for the kids to stop bickering.
The pair have also grown tired of Chris Paul‘s voice, which is understandable at times.
Paul, very much like Kobe Bryant — who has turned off Dwight Howard with his out-of-this-world standards — is relentless. He never shuts up. And Jordan and Griffin have become weary of him.
When asked about being annoying, Paul smiled and said, “I need to work on being a better leader.”
ICYMI of the night: On a downer of a night in Denver, it’s nice to see Andre Iguodala come up big and keep the Pepsi Center rockin’ …:
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – That rant Vinny Del Negro unleashed on his team after Saturday night’s blowout loss to the Houston Rockets (sans James Harden) was not an elaborate pre-April Fool’s Day ruse. It was real.
“They played harder than we did,” Del Negro said. “We were terrible. Our effort was terrible, our attitude was terrible, our urgency was terrible. Very disappointed. I didn’t see the fight in us tonight, and we need guys to step up.”
“We’re fighting for a spot, and we come out with that second-half — pretty much the whole game — effort. It was poor.” Del Negro said. “I know it’s the fourth game in five nights, but that’s no excuse. We’ve got plenty of depth. No excuses. I don’t believe in that.”
The vitriol … the disappointment … all of it was real.
With seemingly everything to play for — a top-three seed in the Western Conference playoffs, home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, simple professional pride — the Clippers cannot find the energy to finish the season the way they started (with a bang).
The Clippers have fallen off the mark in the second half of the season, squandering a league-best 32-9 start by stumbling their way to a .500 finish (17-17) with seven games remaining in the season. Chris Paul‘s MVP turn during All-Star weekend might very well serve as the lone highlight for the Clippers during the season’s stretch run if they can’t shake out of their funk.
Deciphering exactly what’s wrong with the Clippers from a schematic standpoint is basically a waste of time. They have certain deficiencies that cannot be cured this season unless both Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan magically locate reliable post moves overnight. That’s not meant as a slight to either of the talented young big men, it’s just a fact.
The Clippers are not capable of playing inside-out for long enough stretches to make other high-level teams uncomfortable. Kicking off a crucial, four-game home stand with a deflating loss to the Pacers is no way to inspire confidence. And when Paul, Jamal Crawford and the rest of the Clippers’ perimeter stars are taking turns struggling as well, it confirms all of the fears we’ve been expressing about this team since their second-half struggles began.
This is code red time for the Clippers. They’ve lost four of their last five games and the finger-pointing (direct and otherwise) has already begun. The effort and energy from the players seems to be lacking, suggesting an underlying issue between the players and the coach that is undefeated in terms of the final results (the coach always has to go).
Del Negro has taken a rather aggressive approach, tinkering with his rotations and even benching starters in an effort to jumpstart his team.
For any of this to be said on a team with some of the best locker room leadership in the league (Paul, Caron Butler, Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups) is a bit startling.
Just as startling is Del Negro’s pointed criticism at his biggest stars, particularly his benching of Paul and Griffin recently, moves that are sure to erode the coach-player dynamic on a team that has always had issues in that regard under Del Negro. This madness is going on with a team that needs just one more win to clinch the franchise’s first 50-win season in history.
This puts the entire operation on alert for the postseason. If the Clippers slide in and then slide out just as quickly, then it’s anyone’s guess as to where the Clippers go from there in the offseason.
Start the playoffs on the road and suffer the fate then that you did during your recent tour through the Southwest Division, a 1-3 plank walk, and whatever is wrong with the Clippers will be someone else’s problem.
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: Lakers-Bucks was the more sexy game of the night, what with Milwaukee climbing out of a 13-point hole to take down the West’s most glamorous team. By contrast, the Kings-Suns game gets the award for least sexy matchup of the night (despite an awesome performance from the enigmatic DeMarcus Cousins). That leaves Pacers-Mavs as our pick this morning, a bit of a surprise if you look at the final score. We’re picking this one, though, for some off-court reasons. Namely, the Pacers’ mental toughness and circle-the-wagons approach to last night’s game (especially after they learned Danny Granger won’t be back this season). Indiana also heard Dallas’ talk of shaving their hope-to-be-.500 beards after this game, as if assuming they’d topple the East’s No. 2 team with no problem. But great performances from Paul George and Roy Hibbert showed the Pacers are as serious of a contender in the East as they have been all season.
Sanders fuels Bucks’ big victory — As our man Steve Aschburner pointed out postgame, the big story from last night’s Lakers-Bucks game in Milwaukee was obviously the injury toKobe Bryant. But while we’re all fretting over whether or not the Black Mamba will play in L.A.’s next game, lost in the shuffle was the play of Larry Sanders last night. He finished with a career-best 21 points and his high-energy play that has been a hallmark of his season sparked Milwaukee as it rallied from a 13-point hole. Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has more on Sanders and the Bucks’ big win:
The Bucks knew that somehow, some way, they had to halt a four-game slide that was putting their playoff push in reverse gear.
And they did it with a collective effort, posting a 113-103 victory that featured a career-high 21 points from center Larry Sanders and a stellar defensive performance by veteran Marquis Daniels, who had the difficult assignment to defend Bryant.
“We came out and accepted the challenge,” Daniels said. “We needed a win bad. We came out with more intensity and more energy.
“You just try to make all his shots tough and make him work for everything that he got.”
“Our attention to detail was a little better,” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. “Larry was great, really active, did a lot of talking out there.
“We’ve been struggling lately. And when you struggle, you can get into your own little world, and that’s a bad place to go as a team. You need to be communicating; you need to be playing a collective game.
“Tonight was breaking out of that shell a little bit.”
The Bucks trailed by as many as 13 points in the second quarter but rallied within 56-53 at halftime.
Then they began to take control in the third quarter, using a 13-2 run that featured three dunks by Sanders and a three-pointer by Daniels.
The Bucks led, 82-77, after three quarters and extended the lead to 12 points in the fourth quarter.
Daniels had a key three-point play off a Monta Ellis assist as part of an 8-0 spurt to give the Bucks a 104-92 lead.
“It gets the crowd going and gets the team going,” Sanders said of his six dunks.
He exhorted the crowd in the final minute, walking over to the sideline and raising his arms to get the fans out of their seats.
“I love the crowd,” Sanders said. “I like to get them hyped, especially with the playoffs coming up. It will be good for us.”
Randolph, Hollins ignore talk of conflict — During the Knicks’ win over the Grizzlies on Wednesday night, the New York broadcasting crew implied that there might be growing friction between Grizzlies All-Star forward Zach Randolph and his coach, Lionel Hollins. They also suggested there is a growing belief there is a wedge between the star and his coach and that dynamic is being played out on the court. Randolph and Hollins, though, refute those claims and detail their relationship further to Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal:
There is a growing belief that the Grizzlies’ veteran power forward and head coach aren’t on the same page as they prepare for a postseason run. However, both men dismissed that notion Thursday, saying there is no friction between them.
“Our relationship is fine,” Randolph said. “I respect my coach.”
“The only beef I had with Zach is he was excessively late for a shootaround that started at 4:30 p.m. (last Saturday),” Hollins said. “I told him I can’t start you and he understood. Everybody’s got their opinion about what goes on in our locker room. But only the people in there know. I haven’t had a beef with Zach and he hasn’t had one with me.”
Randolph didn’t start last Saturday against Boston because of his tardiness that day. He struggled mightily on the court this past week in games against Washington and New York.
Randolph had just one shot in the second half of a loss at Washington. He was just 1 of 3 from the field against New York.
Hollins said any correlation between Randolph’s recent poor performances and their relationship is off base because there are basketball reasons why Randolph has struggled lately.
“We’re getting him the ball,” Hollins said. “If you watch the games, we’re getting him the ball. It’s just now teams are taking him away. They’re running three people at him and he’s making passes. Other people are having to step up and try to do things. It’s just the way it is.”
Hollins did acknowledge that the Grizzlies aren’t in the best place as the regular season winds down. And his assessment had nothing to do with their fifth-place standing in the Western Conference.
“I’d like for us to be sharper mentally and more focused intensity-wise. But I understand it’s a long season. I understand that guys get tired and you go through lulls. Then, you get your energy back,” Hollins said. “I just don’t want us to get bad habits. That was one of the reasons I had practice (Thursday). I wanted to get back to practicing our habits. It wasn’t a hard workout, but it was back to technique and fundamentals offensively and defensively.”
Cousins pounds away on Suns — The Kings are one of the West’s worst squads but have shown improvement in March, going 7-7 with wins against the Bulls, Clippers and, most recently, the Warriors, during that span. The win in Golden State wasn’t without its dramatic points for the Kings, most notably being that leading scorer DeMarcus Cousins sat out the entire fourth quarter of that game as coach Keith Smart went for a defensive lineup. Cousins was back in action last night and made sure his play wasn’t an afterthought in the Kings’ win, writes Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee:
A night after being held out the final 12 minutes, DeMarcus Cousins had the option of going back in during the fourth quarter Thursday night.
He declined. There was no need for Cousins to do any more.
Cousins had his way against the undermanned Phoenix Suns. The third-year center scored a season-high 34 points to go with 14 rebounds as the Kings bullied their way to a 117-103 win at US Airways Center.
Rather than seethe over what happened against the Warriors, Cousins took his frustration out on Luis Scola, Markieff Morris, Hamed Haddadi or any other Suns player that tried to stop him.
Cousins scored 17 points and had seven rebounds in the first quarter to spark the Kings’ 38-point effort to open the game. It was the most points Phoenix allowed in a first period this season.
“It was definitely frustration,” Cousins said. “I just try to put it behind me. It’s a new day, so I just try to act like it never happened.”
Cousins showed off his overall skills in going 12 for 16 from the field and making all nine of his free throws. He also made one of his two three-point attempts.
Cousins used power against smaller players and skill and quickness against stronger players that could not match his athleticism.
“The guy has a lot of talent, and you saw everything,” Smart said. “From the three-point shot, he can do that, he shoots them in practice. The midrange, 17-, 18-foot shot. The drive to the basket from deep off the floor. Obviously his rebounding is still going to be his strong suit because that’s what he does, and he’s a very good offensive rebounder.”
Smart knew Cousins wasn’t happy about not playing in the fourth against the Warriors and liked how Cousins responded.
“The best way to handle anything you may be feeling is to go out on the floor and perform,” Smart said. “We’re all judged on the performance. And regardless of what a coach did or a player did, it’s all about your performance on the floor. And tonight he created the environment that he wanted to have success in.”
Barnes wants more transparency with refs — The Clippers are tied with the Thunder in average technical fouls per game this season with 0.8. There have been 58 technicals assessed to the Clips this season, with Blake Griffin’s 12 being the team high. And, as Dan Woike of the Orange County Register points out, most of those technicals have come after the Clippers’ players and coaches argue with officials about a call. Reserve forward Matt Barnes, though, has clear thoughts on what should happen with officials in the future:
Matt Barnes, a player who has made a career of not backing down from anyone on the court, didn’t back down from the touchy topic, calling for the leae to be more transparent with their officials.
“One I thing I will say is I know they get graded. I think their grades should be public record,” Barnes said before the Clippers’ victory over New Orleans Wednesday. “Everything we do on the court is public. Our fines, our techs, everything we do is under a microscope. And the refs are supposed to be a part of this league just like we are.
“Their grades should be public record. Everyone should be able to see.”
“It’s hard,” Barnes said. “When you’re playing as hard as you can and you’re getting beat up and nothing is being done about it, it’s frustrating.”
Multiple players agreed that the team has developed a reputation around the league for complaining about calls.
“I think we do, and if so, it’s warranted,” Barnes said. “I’ve seen the calls that have been made against us and the calls that are not made for us. Blake’s a superstar, and I see the way he gets beat up or me as a defender being aggressive and the fouls I get. It’s frustrating, but it’s something we have to play through.
“…I think the reputation, for whatever reason, is something we’re going to have to work through because we definitely don’t get calls.”
Barnes said he doesn’t hold any ill will towards officials, though.
“They’re out there doing the best job they can,” he said.
But that doesn’t change his views on whether the NBA should be more open with its reviews of their officials.
“A ref’s grade should be public record after a game just like our stats are,” Barnes said. “They’re out there, doing their job, and they’re supposed to be the best in the world just like we are. Their grades should be public record. I don’t understand why not.”
ICYMI of the night: It takes a lot for a mascot to make the cut down here, but Bango sure did get Dwight Howard good on this one … :
DALLAS – The Clippers’ pre-game locker room thumped with music as players jovially bounded about, getting in workouts with trainers on the floor of the cramped visitor’s locker room, telling stories as they sat at their locker stalls, laughing at a constant stream of jokes and generally having a good time.
This young, athletically gifted bunch, on its way to the playoffs for a second consecutive season for only the second time in the franchise’s 28-year history in Los Angeles, is known for its loose, if not the loosest, locker room in the league.
But the postgame scene in there is more frequently becoming hushed and tense. Such was the case Tuesday night at the American Airlines Center. The Clippers couldn’t build upon second-half leads, lost their composure and drew two costly technicals, mostly struggled in the half-court and couldn’t hold down a two-point lead in the final five seconds in losing 109-102 in overtime to the surging Dallas Mavericks just trying to slip in the backdoor of the playoffs.
Locked in a fight for seeds 3-5 with Denver and Memphis, L.A. dropped to fourth with three more road games in four nights starting tonight at New Orleans. They’re at San Antonio on Friday and Houston on Sunday.
As the regular season draws to a close, the Clippers, 5-5 in their last 10, seem to be creating more questions about their postseason viability than stamping their card as Western Conference title contenders.
“We had trouble executing down the stretch. That’s on me,” said Blake Griffin, who struggled to just 14 points on 4-for-12 shooting, and whose apparent, off-balance game-winning bucket with 0.4 seconds left was wiped away for using his forearm to push off Dirk Nowitzki. “Very disappointing, especially with Memphis and Denver losing [Monday] night. We needed to take advantage of it and we didn’t.”
Lame-duck coach Vinny Del Negro, who says he’s not concerned with his future,is always a target for criticism. Their often stale offensive sets remain an issue. They haven’t won more than four in a row since reeling off 17 straight in long ago December. Homecourt advantage is far from a lock and it remains to be seen if Del Negro’s deep rotation is sustainable, or even beneficial, in the playoffs.
“For us, I don’t think there’s any pressure,” said Chris Paul, who had a season-high 33 points, but also seven turnovers to match his season-high from just three games earlier when the Clips melted away at Sacramento. “For us, I think it’s just will, you got to have that will and just fight to the end. We’re going to do that, we’re going to do that. We’re going to keep trying to compete. We’re going to have an opportunity to do something that’s never been done, winning 50 games and winning a division, and not being satisfied with that.”
Paul does bring up a good point that perhaps ought to force everyone to take a step back in scrutinizing this team and view the larger picture. This is only Year 2 of the CP3 era, with the first being a lockout-shortened season. What has been accomplished is remarkable in terms of the franchise’s putrid history.
The Clippers need two wins to reach 50 for the first time in its existence in L.A., San Diego or Buffalo going back to the 1970-71 season, and the franchise has never won a division title. The Clips hold a 7 1/2-game lead in the Pacific over Golden State with 11 to play.
“I tell you, I could care less about the expectations or how happy people are that we win,” Paul said. “At the end of the day we’re playing for one reason and that’s to win a championship.”
In Del Negro’s first season, the year before Paul came into the picture, L.A. won 32 games. They’ve won 88 since, and expectations are that this team can challenge Oklahoma City for the West crown.
“The expectations, sometimes people get a little delusional in terms of how you’re going to get there and what you’re going to do, and people get sick of the word ‘process’ and things like that probably, but that’s what it is,” Del Negro said. “It’s a long NBA season. You got to handle the injuries, you got to handle a lot of things. I feel we’re in a pretty good position and we have to finish the season off strong and then it will come down to our health going into the playoffs.”
Chauncey Billups missed his 52nd game Tuesday night, but is expected to return on the road trip and giving the Clippers a clean bill of health. Paul said Billups changes the offense.
“Definitely a concern, but something that we can work at,” Paul said of the halfcourt offense. “We’re going to keep trying to work at it. We move the ball a little bit different when Chauncey’s out there because he’s another playmaker, another guard.”
Lob City has been one of the great stories the last couple seasons, and certainly no one expects Paul, a free agent this summer, to leave the franchise he’s turned around.
The same can’t be said for Del Negro if the Clips make a quick exit out of the playoffs.
This will get even more interesting in about three more weeks.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The Oklahoma City Thunder win far more often than not, they’re an elite team and, somehow, I’m having a hard time believing in them these days.
Same goes for the Los Angeles Clippers, another member of the Western Conference elite.
I know what the numbers say about the defending Western Conference champion Thunder: they’re 8-2 in their last 10 games, still have the best 1-2 punch in the West with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and they have the experience of knowing exactly what it takes to climb the playoff mountain. This is a 50-win team (already) with a crew capable of taking it to the next level.
But that 11-4 record since the All-Star break includes losses to James Harden and the Houston Rockets, the San Antonio Spurs and two defeats at the hands of the sizzling Denver Nuggets, including Tuesday night’s eye-opening affair that saw Denver shred OKC for a jaw-dropping 72 points in the paint at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
I’m obviously not ready to write the Thunder off. But my belief in them has been shaken and stirred after watching them lose to these other elite teams.
I’m even more concerned about the Clippers, my one and only guilty pleasure in the league (I watch them religiously, against the best of the best and the lowest of the low because I’m afraid I’ll miss something like this, this or this). When Chris Paul gets rolling and Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford and the crew are flying around, there isn’t another team that entertains more.
Long before the Miami Heat went on their 23-game (and counting) tear and the Nuggets kicked off their 13-game streak, the Clippers owned the season’s most impressive win streak at 17 games.
The other contenders in the West have been sound during this same stretch, particularly against their peers. The Thunder and Clippers, though, just seem to be missing something right now.
For the Thunder, the glaring difference (even though I know Thunder fans don’t want to hear it) is not having Harden around to help finish games.
My examination of the Clippers needs more time, which is the one thing a true contender doesn’t have much of. The playoffs are on the horizon and the question remains … do you still believe in the Thunder and Clippers?
HANG TIME WEST – Best dunk of the season? Please.
Try among the best dunks in Clippers history. The edge still goes to Blake Griffin mauling Danilo Gallinari with a full arsenal of power, agility and hops into a concussive finish, although others will choose different Blake Superior moments. But DeAndre Jordan turning innocent Piston Brandon Knight into road kill Sunday night in Los Angeles was a crescendo for the ages.
Seriously, for the ages. Jordan uncommon athleticism for a big man capped by the coordination and the power move at the basket deserves to be in any John Starks-Michael Jordan-Tracy McGrady-Baron Davis-Scottie Pippen-Kevin Johnson-Ronnie Price conversation for the best NBA dunks, non-contest category. (The best dunk by an NBA player in any setting is Vince Carter turning Frederic Weis into a punchline at the 2000 Olympics. End of discussion.)
In the moment, though, the seismic event Sunday at Staples Center is the slam of the season, for the league and certainly for the Clippers.
1. Heir Jordan a
Knight will get a ton of grief because that’s the way it works, but, really, he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. He wasn’t even challenging the shot. Knight’s move was to try to intercept a Chris Paul pass that seemed to be thrown into the middle of the lane, out of harm’s way.
DeAndre (not Michael) Jordan moved it into harm’s way. He was a left-hander who controlled the lob with his right hand, a 7-footer with the dexterity of a wing, a defensive specialist at center who will now forever be remembered for a play on offense.
2. Butler Did It a
Caron Butler easily ditched Carter’s defense in the corner, drove baseline and threw down on Chris Kaman. Those are the facts of the thunderous moment.
That we’re talking, yes, Caron Butler is an added sidelight. Not Griffin. Not Jordan. Not Eric Bledsoe. Not even Travis Leslie in preseason, before getting waived. Butler, 32, is a highlight of flight.
3. The Two-Man Game a
Monta Ellis lost the ball after Milwaukee reached the front court. Bledsoe gained possession and threw ahead to Jamal Crawford for what should have been an easy breakaway basket. No Buck was close to Crawford. But Griffin was.
Griffin can dunk, as you may have heard. But Crawford’s delivery doused the play in glitter: left hand to right hand between the legs and flips up the lob at the perfect height for the trailer, Griffin, to finish. It was more the pass than the dunk.
4. Point Well Taken a
Good things can happen with Paul running the break and fellow point guard Bledsoe on the wing. CP3 can get where he needs to get on the court and the athleticism of Bledsoe means he can get where he needs to get in the air even at 6-1.
Paul’s hook-shoot pass over his right shoulder arced into the lane, where Bledsoe took over by controlling the ball with his right hand and hammering the ball through the rim. The little men ruled the paint.
5. Paul Bearer a
CP3 really is everywhere. The defense. The drive, the finish.
The dunk itself is nothing out of the ordinary. But it’s Paul controlling the moment, and that’s never ordinary either.
OKLAHOMA CITY – The NBA league office’s decision Wednesday to fine Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka and not suspend him for his hit to the groin of Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin drew a humorous reaction on Twitter from Griffin and bewilderment from a couple of Miami Heat stars.
The Flagrant 1 foul initially called in the fourth quarter Sunday in the Thunder’s 108-104 win was upgraded to a Flagrant 2 and Ibaka was fined $25,000. The decision not to suspend him allowed Ibaka to play in Wednesday night’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
“It’s always better to play than to sit down watching the game,” Ibaka said after the decision came down.
Griffin expressed his thoughts on the non-suspension by spoofing his own Kia car commercials:
Kid Blake: Who are you? Future Blake: you from the future… Don't listen to anything else I've told you just start wearing a cup.— Blake Griffin (@blakegriffin32) March 06, 2013
His Clippers teammate Matt Barnes expressed himself a bit more graphically in his Twitter message:
You can INTENTIONALLY grab or hit someone in the balls & not get suspended, but you push someone & get suspended. #ImConfused— Matt Barnes (@Matt_Barnes22) March 05, 2013
And there was the somewhat odd chiming in from Miami’s disbelieving LeBron James, who came to the defense of his incredulous teammate Dwyane Wade, who was suspended for one game earlier this season for a kick to the groin of Charlotte Bobcats guard Ramon Sessions.
So explain to me the difference? My teammate gets a 1 game suspension and 150k+ taking away from him for his groin altercation #strangetome— LeBron James (@KingJames) March 05, 2013
Ibaka said he didn’t see any of the tweets from fellow players, but, yes, he said he heard about them.
“But it is not really my concern,” Ibaka said. “Like I said yesterday about the foul, it wasn’t something I tried to do. The game was physical. I would not try to hurt someone, I am not that type of guy. I like to play hard. And just for all the fans, I did not try to hurt him, and I apologize to all the fans who were watching the game.”