Posts Tagged ‘Blazers’

All That Jazz Puts Heat on Lakers

HANG TIME, Texas — As Dean Wormer might have once said to Flounder in “Animal House”: “Losing nine out of 11 games is no way to make the playoffs, son.”

But here are the Jazz, back up and dancing like Otis Day & The Knights are playing at a toga party, suddenly the owners of a three-game winning streak and… wait for it… a road win.

When Utah won at Portland for its first victory on the road since Feb. 13, it jumped the Jazz over the Lakers and back into the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.

According to Bill Oram of the Salt Lake Tribune, the chatter was back in the Jazz locker room after they rallied from nine, 14 and nine down again in the fourth quarter on Friday night.

“Winning does that,” Mo Williams said. “Winning puts you in a good mood, especially when you care. Top to bottom, people care here, when you lose you feel down. It’s not so jolly, it’s not so loose.”

Earlier in the evening, Williams was far from happy. The 30-year-old point guard, in his second stint with the Jazz, was benched by coach Tyrone Corbin in the second quarter. In the final minutes of the game, Williams carried the Jazz to the win, scoring 14 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter and spearheading a 25-6 run in the final six minutes.

“You get pissed off,” Williams said. “Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, you come out and be aggressive.”

The Jazz come home to close out a back-to-back tonight against the Nets and there is light again after it had appeared for weeks that Utah was going to do everything except lift the Lakers up onto their shoulders and carry Kobe Bryant & Co. into the postseason.

Now the two teams are in the stretch run and for the first time in a while, the Jazz might have a leg up in getting to the finish.

Let’s break it down for final nine games:

Jazz

Home — 6

Road — 3

Vs. playoff teams — 5

Back-to-backs remaining: 0

Tonight — vs. Nets

Mon. — vs. Blazers

Wed. — vs. Nuggets

Apr. 7 — at Golden State

Apr. 9 — vs. Thunder

Apr. 12 — vs. Timberwolves

Apr. 15 — at Minnesota

Apr. 17 — at Memphis

The Jazz hold the tiebreaker over the Lakers and if they can take care of business at home, where they’re 26-9 on the season, will be tough for the Lakers to beat out.

Lakers

Home — 6

Road — 3

Vs. playoff teams — 5

Back-to-backs remaining — 1

Tonight — at Sacramento

Tues. — vs. Mavericks

Fri. — vs. Grizzlies

Apr. 7 — at L.A. Clippers

Apr. 9 — vs. Hornets

Apr. 10 — at Portland

Apr. 12 — vs. Warriors

Apr. 14 — vs. Spurs

Apr. 17 — vs. Rockets

Of the 14 players on the Lakers roster, seven are listed on the injury report for tonight at Sacramento, though Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Antawn Jamison are probable, with Steve Nash questionable and Metta World Peace and Jordan Hill out. Of the Lakers’ three remaining road games, they won’t have to leave their own building to play the Clippers and that next-to-last game against San Antonio could catch them another break if the mercurial Gregg Popovich decides to rest up his veterans for the playoffs.

Host Harden Leads All-Star Reserves


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While James Harden of the hometown Rockets will be in the lineup to serve as unofficial host for the 2013 NBA All-Star Game in Houston, evidently the voters — fans and coaches — haven’t received the memo that the NBA is making a big splash in Brooklyn this season.

allstar-13-200Harden, who was traded from Oklahoma City four days before the season opener and made a splash by scoring 37 and 45 points in his first two games, will make his All-Star debut in his brand new home town.

Yet despite their being the hottest team in the league with nine wins in the last 10 games and currently holding down the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference, the Nets were shut out when the reserves were announced for the 2013 NBA All-Star Game Thursday night.

A poll of the league’s head coaches added seven players to each team.

Chris Bosh joined teammates LeBron James and Dwayne Wade on the East team, making the defending NBA champion Heat the only team with three players that will take part in the 62nd All-Star Game, which will be played at Houston’s Toyota Center on Feb. 17 (TNT, 8:30 p.m. ET).

In the Western Conference, the Spurs’ old reliable twosome of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker were voted in for their 14th and fifth times, respectively, while the vote split up potential duos from other teams.

Eastern Conference

east-reserves


Chris Bosh, Heat — If they were the Three Tenors, LeBron James would be Pavarotti, Dwyane Wade would be Domingo and Chris Bosh will always be “that other guy.” Numbers aren’t flashy, but he sacrifices his game to make it all work. | Highlights

Tyson Chandler, Knicks — He averages a double-double of 12.1 points-10.9 rebounds, leads the league in shooting (.674) and defends the rim as if he were a hungry fat man protecting the last cheeseburger on the planet. Justice is done. | Highlights

Luol Deng, Bulls – Coaches love the lunch pail players, the guys who show up for work every night. He leads the NBA in minutes, is his team’s top scorer and top defender in a season when the Bulls are surviving without Derrick Rose. | Highlights

Paul George, Pacers — He’s not just keeping the seat warm for Danny Granger, but playing like the Pacers’ MVP. With six double-doubles in the last two-plus weeks, he closed fast and has led Indiana’s surge after a slow start. | Highlights

Jrue Holiday, Sixers – In a season when Philly fans search for rare and exotic sightings of Bigfoot and Andrew Bynum, the dynamic guard is the reason to go to the games. He’s the only player in league averaging 19 points and nine assists. | Highlights

Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers — Look past the Cavs’ 11-32 record at these more pleasant numbers: 20.7 points, 5.7 assists, 39.9 3FG%, 20.7 PER. And the kid is only 20. Are the coaches already buttering him up for free agency? | Highlights

Joakim Noah, Bulls — The numbers say it all — 12.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.1 blocks, 1.3 steals per game. The hyperactive one is having the finest season of his career and symbolizes coach Tom Thibodeau’s driven attitude. | Highlights

The lowdown: The pair of Bulls on the frontline probably squeezed Nets center Brook Lopez out of a spot. Deron Williams would have been everyone’s preseason pick, but struggling with his shot didn’t help. Maybe coaches also didn’t like his griping that led to his coach, Avery Johnson, getting fired. You could have made a case for Boston’s leading scorer Paul Pierce, but with Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo already voted in by the fans, it’s unlikely the coaches wanted to reward the 8th-seeded Celtics with a third man. Do you really see a group of coaches warming up to J.R. SmithBrandon Jennings of the Bucks and Greg Monroe of the Pistons are just too far under the radar.

Western Conference

west-reserves


LaMarcus Aldridge
, Trail Blazers — The plan was to build Blazers into a playoff team next summer. But on a roster with less depth than a wading pool, L.A. scores (20.6), rebounds (8.6) and keeps them as a surprise club in the mix this season. | Highlights

Tim Duncan, Spurs — Oh, so you foolishly left him out of the All-Star Game for the first time last season? Well, the 36-year-old geezer responds by turning back the clock and turning up the heat to keep the Spurs as a real threat in the West. | Highlights

James Harden, Rockets – A bit ironic that The Beard’s first All-Star honor comes just when he’s shot 28-97 (.289) in his last five games. But he’s shown he can carry the mantle of the top dog and will represent the home team in Houston. | Highlights

David Lee, Warriors — Statistically, a no-brainer as the top PF in the West — 19.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists. His biggest challenge was probably splitting votes with teammate Stephen Curry on a Warriors team that has truly surprised. | Highlights

Tony Parker, Spurs – Coach Gregg Popovich keeps ratcheting up the pressure on him every season by raising the bar of great expectation and Parker goes right on clearing it. Seems the coaches understand just how hard that is to do. | Highlights

Zach Randolph, Grizzlies – You could make an argument for teammate Marc Gasol anchoring the defense. But flip the light switch every night and there’s Z-Bo with 16.1 points and 11.6 rebounds, which add up to a league-leading 27 double-doubles. | Highlights

Russell Westbrook, Thunder – The most polarizing player in the NBA has struggled all season with his shot, but ranks in the top five in steals and the top six in assists while churning away with fellow All-Star Kevin Durant to build OKC’s league-best record. | Highlights

The lowdown: As difficult as it was to pare down the list, imagine how much harder things might have been if Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Kevin Love were healthy/up to par. In many cases in the West, it became an intramural competition with Lee beating out Curry, Randolph elbowing Marc Gasol aside and Aldridge getting the nod over rookie Damian Lillard. The surging Nuggets were overlooked, maybe because they’re too well-balanced. The Clippers’ turbo-charger off the bench, Jamal Crawford, was also snubbed. But if anybody’s got a reason to complain here, it’s Curry.
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Stop The Floppers By Ignoring Them

HANG TIME, Texas – The shot that will get the big run on all the highlights shows and the most clicks on YouTube will, of course, be Damian Lillard’s frozen rope jumper with 0.3 seconds left that provided the margin of difference in the Blazers’ 95-94 win over the Hornets on Sunday night.

But it says here that just as big a play came a little over a minute earlier and it wasn’t by a guard, forward or center and not by anyone in a Portland or New Orleans uniform.

Take a bow, referee David Guthrie.

The Blazers had squandered most of their 16-point lead when LaMarcus Aldridge got the ball on the left wing in front of the New Orleans’ bench and turned to drive the baseline on Ryan Anderson. Aldridge leaned in just slightly with his left shoulder and might have drawn a whistle for an offensive foul. Except that Anderson reacted as if he’d been charged by every bull that had ever run through the streets of Pamplona and flung himself to the floor.

What happened next? Aldridge simply stepped back and nailed a 15-footer with 1:04 showing on the clock that turned out to be the bucket that set up Lillard’s heroics.

Guthrie simply watched. And there wasn’t a peep of protest from the Hornets’ bench.

A flop is a flop is a flop. There was no need to send the video feed to the league office and wait for a ruling from the Sheriff of Floppingham, a.k.a. Stu Jackson. No need to wait a few days to levy a fine or pass down heavy-handed punishment after the fact. None of the extra level of bureaucratic nonsense that has entered the game this season with the advent of the Flop Council.

I would like to see flopping taken out of the game as much as the next guy. But we’re not even two months into the season and I’m already fed up hearing color commentators on League Pass talk nightly about whether this player should be warned or whether that player will get the dreaded fine notice or maybe a particularly egregious violator will be made to play for the next several weeks wearing a dunce cap and a bright red nose.

It’s a call that should be made — or not — right then and right there by the game officials on the scene, not somebody sitting in a New York office with a remote control in his hand, actually undercutting officials by second-guessing them. Tell them to be definitive on the spot.

If you want to drop the hammer on floppers, give the referees the power to slap them with technical fouls, maybe even an extra free throw for every additional violation in a game.

Or better yet, simply instruct them all to react like David Guthrie. Just ignore the fakers and let the game play on.

Blazers Face The Aldridge Question

It’s getting late early in Portland.

Of course, the shadows can’t get much longer and the outlook much bleaker than when you’ve become the first team all season to lose to the Wizards.

Still, these things happen. If it were a one-game pratfall, it would be easier for the Trail Blazers to move on up the road and try to work out their frustrations on the soon-to-be-Rondo-less Celtics.

But the trouble is that 15 games into this season, it is already beginning to look a lot like last season. And the one before. And the one before.

“Inexcusable,” is the way guard Wesley Matthews described the loss at Washington and nobody was really sure if he was talking about the way the Blazers shot the ball, rebounded, defended or got off the bus.

Intolerable for their fans is the knowledge that over the past decade, the Blazers have done more rebuilding than FEMA and still have little to show for it. They have the longest current Western Conference drought without winning a playoff series (13 seasons and counting) and are giving little indication that it’s about to end. Enthusiasm for new coach Terry Stotts’ up-tempo, move-the-ball offense is leaking like air from a flat tire.

All of which quickly brings up the question of what to do with LaMarcus Aldridge?

The Blazers official stance is: nothing. That’s what general manager Neil Olshey told Aldridge in an October meeting, asking for patience and promising that the power forward would not be traded.

But how wise is that from both sides?

Aldridge is 27 going on who knows what. He’s previously had a heart condition, was sidelined last season by a hip injury and is now bothered an achy back, probably from having to carry so much of the load. He’s averaging a team-high 38.2 minutes per game and a career-low shooting percentage of 43.9.

On one hand the Blazers need their best player on the floor for his lion’s share of time in order to even dream of competing for one of the lower rung spots on the playoff ladder. But if this is a team that isn’t really going anywhere until rookies Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard develop, Nicolas Batum gets a real clue and then significant free agent additions are made next summer, does it make sense to wear Aldridge out?

The Blazers, with Greg Oden and Brandon Roy as cautionary tales in their recent past, are quite familiar with players that simply break down physically. If it’s going to take Olshey’s two-year window to get Aldridge the help he needs, what state will he be in physically, not to mention mentally? Might there come a time, even this season, when L.A. is ready to flee to L.A. or OKC or any other playoff contender with a need for the kind of firepower he brings? In this NBA era that we live, players are far less likely to commit themselves to a franchise for an entire career. How much longer before those around him, or Aldridge himself, conclude it’s time to start inching him toward the door?

If you’re the Blazers and have seen Aldridge’s game deteriorate into mostly jumpers and fadeaways this season, it could be easy to conclude that he’s past the point — if he ever was — of being a No. 1 option on a championship contender. If you’re already thinking about the next remodeling of the roster, wouldn’t it make sense to move the process along with a deal that could bring in young talent to grow at the same pace with Lillard, Leonard and Batum?

Of course, the trade deadline isn’t till February. But it’s already gotten late early in Portland.

Is Third Time (And Improved Defense) Charm For Blazers’ Stotts?





It’s a homecoming of sorts for Terry Stotts to take his Blazers into Dallas, the place where he spent the previous four seasons and was part of the Mavs’ championship in 2011. It will feel warm and familiar.

But it is also the place where Stotts’ view of the game took a transformation that could make him more successful in his third time around than in his previous two stints as coach at Atlanta (52-85, .380) and Milwaukee (63-83, .432).

More than anything else, coach Rick Carlisle is about defense.

“I think the background having been with Rick the last four years kind of opened my eyes to another approach to the game,” Stotts said. “Obviously, being with George (Karl) as long as I was, that was one view. To have a different perspective that was with Rick kind of expanded my horizons. (more…)

Harden Show Can’t Be Solo Act




HOUSTON
– So it turns out that you really do need more than one player on your team to win every night.

It was a point made in the early high-flying years of Michael Jordan and virtually every season of Wilt Chamberlain’s career, a couple of names that had been unexpectedly linked to James Harden after he dropped in 37 and 45 points in his first two games as a Rocket.

So when Harden looked more like the Russian space station Mir plummeting into the South Pacific, making just 8 of 24 shots in the home opener on Saturday night, it was a reminder that the blockbuster trade was just a start. There is still much work to be done in Houston.

For the Rockets to come close to their stated goal of challenging for a playoff spot in what suddenly looks like a very wide open Western Conference, The Beard’s teammates are going to have to make more than a whisker of a contribution, especially at crunch time. Even when Harden was struggling to shoot just 1-for-8, it was all about him. (more…)

Matthews’ Fire Puts Out Harden’s Flame



HOUSTON — Wesley Matthews could only have looked more alone on an island if he’d been trying to crack open coconuts and build a raft.

There was the clock running down in a tie game and here was James Harden – the NBA’s opening week version of a five-alarm fire — standing in front of him with the ball in his hands.

“You’re in the gym by yourself and you’re counting down ‘5-4-3…,’ ” Matthews said. “Once the clock hit four seconds, there was gonna be no screen coming. It was just gonna be me and him. He was left hand dominant so I tried to jump to that side and he had the ball loose out there.”

Loose enough for Matthews to strip the ball away and send the game into overtime, where his Blazers ran off to a 95-85 win.

It had been quite an eye-popping start to his Houston incarnation for Harden, scoring 37 and 45 points in his first two games with his new team, putting up numbers that were Chamberlainesque. (more…)

Olshey Leaving Clippers, Taking GM Reins In Portland

In another bizarre move from pro basketball’s most bizarre franchise, the Los Angeles Clippers announced Monday that general manager Neil Olshey — whom they had said three days ago had agreed to terms to remain with the team — was instead leaving, with sources confirming that Olshey would be named the Trail Blazers’ new GM. A news conference is expected in Portland Tuesday.

Olshey, who engineered the trade that brought All-Star Chris Paul to the Clippers in a franchise-altering deal in December, had been working all season without a contract, with owner Donald Sterling unwilling to sign him to a long-term deal.

On Friday, the Clippers had announced Olshey had agreed to terms on a new deal, with a conference call set up for Monday afternoon. But one side clearly didn’t think a deal was done.

“Circumstances have obviously undergone some movement since our announcement Friday. In light of that, we want to wish Neil well and acknowledge his contributions during the time he spent with the Clippers,” team president Andy Roeser said in a statement released by the team Monday afternoon.

Olshey had been the Clippers’ GM for two years, replacing Mike Dunleavy in 2010, and his acquisition of players like Paul and free agent forward Caron Butler dramatically re-shaped the team’s roster. But he interviewed with Blazers owner Paul Allen a couple of weeks ago in Europe, and was believed to be Allen’s choice for the job.

In Portland, he will replace interim GM Chad Buchanan, who had been the Blazers’ acting GM since the team fired Rich Cho last summer. The Blazers had interviewed several candidates for the job, including TNT analyst Steve Kerr and former New Orleans Hornets GM Jeff Bower. Portland may also be looking for a new head coach to replace interim head coach Kaleb Canales, who replaced the fired Nate McMillan in February.

Olshey opted for Portland, according to a source, because the Blazers — while not being an easy place to work either, having fired several executives in the last three years, including Cho, his predecessor, Kevin Pritchard, and Pritchard’s assistant, Tom Penn — nonetheless have the resources available to be involved in any transaction. With Allen’s largesse, the Blazers are always potential players in any trade, free-agent signing or Draft day deals. The Blazers currently have the sixth and 11th picks overall in this month’s Draft.

In Los Angeles, Olshey only had a handful of people working with him in the basketball operations staff — “he was basically MacGuyver down there, “ a source said — and had difficulty getting decisions made quickly. Nonetheless, he had enough clout to dramatically, and historically, remake the Clippers’ roster in a frantic two-week frame in December.

First, after the NBA, which owned the Hornets at the time, controversially vetoed a three-team trade that would have sent Paul to the Lakers, Olshey was able to leverage the Clippers into position to make a deal with New Orleans to acquire Paul in exchange for guard Eric Gordon, forward Al-Farouq Aminu, center Chris Kaman and a 2010 first-round pick.

Then, the Clippers signed Butler to a three-year, $24 million deal. They followed that by convincing guard Chauncey Billups to report to the team after they claimed him off waivers from the Knicks. Finally, the Clippers matched a four-year, $43 million offer sheet that restricted free agent center DeAndre Jordan received from Golden State.

During the season, Olshey added veteran big man Kenyon Martin, who’d been playing in China during the lockout, signed free agent Reggie Evans and acquired guard Nick Young from Washington as part of a three-team trade.

With the team’s new core surrounding third-year star Blake Griffin, the Clippers dealt with expectations they had never dealt with before. For the first time, there were serious questions asked about which Los Angeles basketball team was better. In the end, both the Clippers and Lakers reached the second round of the playoffs, and while that was a disappointment for the Lakers, it marked only the second time in 35 years that the Clippers had gotten that far in the postseason.

A search for a replacement for Olshey is already underway, headed up by Roeser. In the interim, all responsibilities pertaining to the team’s basketball operations will be absorbed by Roeser, head coach Vinny Del Negro, and Clippers’ Director of Player Personnel Gary Sacks.

Rosen’s Report: Clippers at Blazers

The Clippers’ championship aspirations took a significant hit when Chauncey Billups was lost for the season. In the five games since he went down, L.A. has been mediocre. Even so, a victory in the Rose Garden would help prove the viability of their reorganized backcourt rotation and get the Clippers back on track in the race for the gold rings.

Even as the Trail Blazers are desperately battling to qualify for the playoffs, an injury to a key player has likewise forced them to make adjustments. The difference is that while Billups is down for the count, LaMarcus Aldridge’s sprained ankle should only be a temporary setback.  Beating the Clippers would give Portland’s confidence a huge boost.

HOW THE CLIPPERS CAN WIN: Chris Paul has to use his speed and quickness to avoid being bullied by Raymond Felton, to take full advantage of the defensive ineptitude of Mo Williams, and to navigate his way around and/or through the inevitable double teams he will face.  Look for CP3 to have a big game. (more…)

Felton For Miller: An Even Swap?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Veteran point guard for a little bit older veteran point guard.

It sounds like a reasonable take away for the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets in their draft night dealings that saw Raymond Felton go from the Nuggets to Trail Blazers and Andre Miller from the Trail Blazers back to the Nuggets, where he played earlier in his career and resides in the offseason. While it wasn’t actually a straight up swap — it was a three-team deal that included the Blazers also trading swingman Rudy Fernandez to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for the draft rights to Jordan Hamilton, the 26th overall pick who was in turn included in the deal with Denver — for the Nuggets and Blazers it comes down to a swap of these veteran point guards.

A NBA scouting friend suggested to me earlier today that it was basically an even swap.

“Miller is older at 35 but these guys do pretty much the same things,” he said. “They know how to run teams, are effective on both ends and they both have plenty of playoff experience, so you know they understand the dynamics of the job they have to do in a winning situation.”

But I’m not so sure.

Miller is a seemingly ageless wonder, much like his point guard elder statesmen brethren Jason Kidd and Steve Nash. But Felton is just 27. And he has always struck me as guy capable of so much more than he’s shown. He was on the road to showing off exactly what I’m talking about in New York last season, when he played All-Star caliber basketball, only to be traded to the Nuggets.

You put him at the controls of a Blazers team that boasts LaMarcus Aldridge down low and Brandon Roy and Wes Matthews on the wing with his old buddy Gerald Wallace (they played together in Charlotte) tossed in for good measure, and I’m seeing big things for Felton in his new role.

Rather than arguing back and forth with my scout friend I thought we’d let you help end this debate: