VIDEO: Daily Zap: April 20
NEWS OF THE MORNING
Projected salary cap rise boosts Bulls’ plans for Anthony? | Aldridge and the Trail Blazers seize the day | Game 2 is a must-win for Clippers | Jim Buss says he’ll step down if Lakers don’t turn it around in 3-4 years | Dwight Howard has to lead for Rockets to rebound
No. 1: Salary cap projections to bolster Bulls’ pursuit of ‘Melo: — A projected rise in the NBA’s salary cap numbers could turn out to be a bonanza for the Chicago Bulls, who lose home court advantage in their first round series against Washington Sunday when they couldn’t find a go-to-scorer at crunch time in Game 1. They could have two this time next year in Derrick Rose and perhaps Carmelo Anthony, the soon-to-be Knicks free agent. Marc Stein of ESPN.com explains the connection between those projected cap numbers and the Bulls’ pursuit of ‘Melo:
If the projections hold, several clubs will find themselves with more spending money and financial flexibility than they initially planned.
The Knicks remain unquestioned favorites to re-sign Anthony after the March hiring of the decorated Phil Jackson as team president and given the fact that only New York can offer the 29-year-old a five-year deal — one year longer than any other team — in the $130 million range.
But sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that the Bulls — even before these developments came to light Friday night via noted NBA salary-cap expert Larry Coon — were already feeling increasingly optimistic behind the scenes about their chances of convincing Anthony to leave the Knicks in the wake of New York’s failure to make the playoffs. This is the first season Anthony has failed to reach the playoffs in his 11-year career.
It’s believed that the Bulls would still have to shed some veteran salary in addition to releasing former All-Star forward Carlos Boozer via the amnesty clause this summer to be able to make a competitive offer that could persuade Anthony to leave the new Jackson-led Knicks and the Madison Square Garden stage he loves so dearly. But a higher cap figure than anticipated would naturally make things easier for Chicago.
And Houston has quietly expressed confidence for months that it could make the moves necessary — such as trading center Omer Asik and/or guard Jeremy Lin — to thrust itself into the heart of the Anthony bidding depending on how the forthcoming playoffs play out.
The new cap projection for 2014-15, if it comes to fruition, would represent a 7.7 percent increase over this season. The NBA, according to ESPN.com contributor Coon, typically expects a season-to-season rise of 4.5 percent.
Coon reported in a blog on his NBA Salary Cap FAQ website that this is actually the third time already this season that the league has increased its projections for 2014-15.
Yet another spike would suggest that NBA revenues are rising at record rates, which is a notion Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban seemingly echoed earlier this week when he called the $550 million sale of the small-market Milwaukee Bucks “a bargain.”
No. 2: Aldridge, Portland find their mark in win over Rockets — The Portland Trail Blazers flexed their muscle in a back-and-forth affair against Houston in Game 1 of their first round series. The Trail Blazers refused to be intimidated and would not allow the Rockets to bully them the way Patrick Beverley intended to rattle Damian Lillard. But it was LaMarcus Aldridge who carried the day for the Blazers. And that’s why they lead the series 1-0 right now, having seized the moment and the initial momentum in this series. John Canzano of The Oregonian has more:
I was going to predict that it would take two games for Portland and Houston to find serious disagreement. But it took just more than two quarters. It got chippy. It got physical. The teams were jawing. Technical fouls were whistled. Fingers were pointed. And I don’t believe Portland has ever been happier than it was in extracting a victory from a pile of wreckage the way it did against Houston in Game 1.
When Lillard took a shot to his leg in the second half, he went to the bench limping. Beverley shadowed him all the way there, you know, just in case. I couldn’t take my eyes off Leonard on the bench. You know, just in case.
LaMarcus Aldridge was a beast. The Blazers scrapped. At times, Portland’s postseason looked suspiciously like its regular season, too reliant on outside shooting and with almost nothing in the way of production coming from the bench players. But in the end, the Blazers pulled it off and a 1-0 lead on paper looks as if they were perfect.
“Every guy fought, every guy took it personal. That was my goal in pregame, I wanted every guy to take their matchup personal,” Aldridge said.
Aldridge had 46 points. Anyone else think a younger Aldridge, say circa 2009, would have carried the Blazers the way he did on Sunday?
When Aldridge fouled out he turned to Lillard, playing in his first playoff game and said, “take it over.” Lillard did.
The hope now is that Portland plays an even better Game 2, and carries a 2-0 lead back to the Moda Center. There’s hope, too, that by withstanding the initial pesterfest that Lillard somehow has the upper hand on Beverley, who left the court under the shoulders of two Rockets assistants. He has a sprained right knee, MRI scheduled for Monday. There’s hope, too, that Howard’s confidence is shaken after being pulled late in regulation because he couldn’t be trusted to make a free throw.
The Blazers are in control of this playoff series. It could have been Beverley sitting in that spot. It could have been Howard or James Harden. But in the end, Portland fought and won.
VIDEO: LaMarcus Aldridge goes in on the Rockets before fouling out in an overtime win
No. 3: Game 2 is a must win for the Los Angeles Clippers — There’s no need to sugar coat things for the Los Angeles Clippers. They’re in a hole after just one game in their first round series against the Golden State Warriors. That makes Game 2, tonight at Staples Center, an absolute must-win for Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the rest of the crew. Clippers coach Doc Rivers doesn’t have to belabor the point with his team. They know what they are facing. And so does everyone else in the Southland, as Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times details:
Maybe the Clippers could have won Game 1 if the officials had called Draymond Green for a foul on Chris Paul, as the NBA office on Sunday said should have happened Saturday.
But the fact is, the Clippers are down 0-1 in the best-of-seven series.
And with Game 2 Monday night at Staples Center, the Clippers have the opportunity to change the course of the series in which they gave up the home-court advantage to the Warriors.
“We definitely need to win,” Paul said. “When it’s must-win, that means somebody has three wins. We definitely need to win.”
The NBA issued a statement Sunday that said Paul was fouled by Green and should have been awarded two free throws during Game 1.
The Clippers trailed the Warriors, 107-105, when Paul was double-teamed by Steve Blake and Green out near the arc.
Paul lost the ball out of bounds with 18.9 seconds left, turning it over to the Warriors.
“Just prior to the ball going out of bounds, Paul was fouled by Green and Paul should have been granted two free throws,” the NBA statement said. “Contact preceding out-of-bounds calls is not a reviewable matter.”
The officials looked at the replay monitor to make sure the ball went out off Paul, awarding the ball to the Warriors.
“We still had opportunities to win,” said Paul, who also mentioned that his right hamstring, which he grabbed in Game 1, was “OK.” “When the ball went out of bounds, I knew it was off me. It felt like it was a foul, though.”
“That was a big call. Chris Paul goes to the line now with two free throws to tie the game,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “Having said that, there’s nothing we can do about it. A mistake happened on their [officials’] end. But we made our own mistakes, and so we have to take ownership of that.”
Rivers implied Sunday the Warriors were better prepared to handle the tense moments than the Clippers in the first game because of Golden State’s playoff experience.
“They [the Warriors] played with great confidence and focus,” Rivers said. “But more importantly, I thought they played with great calm and we didn’t do that so well.”
VIDEO: The Clippers are gearing up for Game 2 vs. the Warriors tonight
No. 4: Jim Buss says he’ll go if Lakers can’t turn it around in next 3-4 years — So this is how it will end. If the Los Angeles Lakers don’t dig out of their current mess and return to their place among the NBA’s elite in the next three to four years, Jim Buss is gone. Those are his words, per Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times. It’s no secret among the Buss clan, whose obligation to the city of Los Angeles goes beyond just running the most high-profile franchise in town but also making sure said franchise competes at the highest level year after year. More from Bresnahan:
The six brothers and sisters, with a gap of 31 years from eldest to youngest, gathered in the winter near the first anniversary of their father’s death to discuss some problems about the family business. It’s also the city’s treasured sports team — the Lakers.
The team was nose-diving in the standings, losing the interest of fans, and grinding toward its worst season since the team moved to Los Angeles in 1960.
So Jeanie Buss posed an elementary question to her siblings: What was going on with the Lakers?
Her older brother Jim Buss, 54, in charge of the Lakers’ basketball operations, spoke up in the boardroom of the team’s El Segundo training facility and pledged to resign in a few years if the suddenly dark fortunes of the franchise weren’t reversed.
“I was laying myself on the line by saying, if this doesn’t work in three to four years, if we’re not back on the top — and the definition of top means contending for the Western Conference, contending for a championship — then I will step down because that means I have failed,” he told The Times about the meeting. “I don’t know if you can fire yourself if you own the team … but what I would say is I’d walk away and you guys figure out who’s going to run basketball operations because I obviously couldn’t do the job.
“There’s no question in my mind we will accomplish success. I’m not worried about putting myself on the line.”
It was an emotional meeting, and the siblings — including Johnny, Janie, Joey and Jesse — agreed that Jim deserved more time on the job.
Their father, Jerry Buss, died in February 2013. He left his six children — each with an equal vote — in charge of a family trust, with a 66% ownership stake in the team. But the results of their first season as co-owners weren’t close to championship caliber.
“We’re watching a very unfortunate thing happen to a beloved team right now,” former Lakers coach Phil Jackson told The Times before taking the job last month as president of the New York Knicks. “Everybody is kind of aghast at it and people that are the best customers that any franchise can possibly hope for are dissatisfied, and rightly so.”
No. 5: Will Dwight Howard step up and lead Rockets from Game 1 stumble? — Dwight Howard has been through this before. He’s heard the whispers, listened to his NBA elders question his commitment and work ethic, his ability to lead. The grumbling will be louder than ever now that the Rockets have lost home court advantage to the Portland Trail Blazers. How Dwight responds will tell the tale of his season and, to this point, his time in Houston. Because, as Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports, the Rockets don’t rise from the rubble of Game 1 without their big man leading the way:
Across the seasons, Howard has to come to understand the most important lesson in leadership. The Rockets won’t listen to the franchise star now as much they’ll watch him. In crisis and calm, this is forever the burden of a superstar.
For Howard, this has long been something of a lost cause in his career. Never mind that James Harden played the most prominent part in the Rockets’ Game 1 loss, everyone understands the ultimate blame of an early exit from these playoffs will be thrust onto last summer’s biggest free agent.
“As a leader of this team, I can say whatever I want to these guys, but they’re not going to follow me unless I go out and do it now,” Howard said.
All hell broke loose in Clutch City on Sunday night, Game 1 toppling these Rockets like a tsunami reaching shore. The Rockets lost Game 1 in overtime, a 122-120 defeat that turned out to be a testament to the Blazers’ spirit and staying power, and, yes, their superstar talent.
Houston lost a 10-point lead with four minutes left in regulation, lost home-court advantage in this Western Conference playoff series, and maybe most frightening of all, lost irrepressible point guard Patrick Beverley to a re-aggravation of his knee injury. He gets an MRI on his right knee on Monday morning, and the loss of Beverley could make Blazers point guard Damian Lillard impossible to stop for Houston.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey walked the Toyota Center corridors with an ashen face late Sunday, devastated over the defeat and well aware Howard and Harden hadn’t been brought together to lose a first-round playoff series.
Make no mistake: The Rockets stars lost to the Blazers’ stars on Sunday night. LaMarcus Aldridge delivered a performance for the ages, 46 points and 18 rebounds until fouling out in overtime. In his professional playoff debut, Lillard had 31 points and closed out the Rockets in the final minutes of regulation and overtime.
Once the Blazers resorted to the Hack-a-Howard strategy, his painful procession of misses on the free-throw line brought Portland back into the game. Once the lead started slipping away, the Rockets’ offense unraveled – with Harden unloading wayward shot upon wayward shot. He missed 20 of 28 shots, including a final chance at the buzzer to end the game.
“Quick shots,” Howard would say later. “We didn’t value possessions.”
History has made Howard understand this truth: No one will care he had 27 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots. He’s chasing championships now – chasing playoff victories, for starters – and this was the kind of loss that promised to attach itself to him.
“We played awful – we couldn’t have played any worse – and we still should’ve won the game,” Chandler Parsons told Yahoo Sports. “We’re pissed off. We had it won, and we gave the game away.”
This is a star’s sport, and they’re ultimately judged most harshly in defeat. For those who remember Howard at the end of the San Antonio Spurs’ sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in April a year ago, they remember him getting himself thrown out of Game 4. They remember a most ignoble departure out of Staples Center, out of the Lakers.
Now, Howard has come to Houston for redemption – has come for championship validation – and these Rockets still have a long, long way to go. Nevertheless, this devastating defeat had Howard promising to deliver them out of a dark night and into the light of morning.
“No panic,” Howard said.
VIDEO: Dwight Howard talks after the Rockets fall in Game 1
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Al Jefferson will definitely play through his injury against the Heat. … Jim Cleamons doesn’t care who the coach of the Knicks is or will be, he wants in on the party … Oklahoma City’s quality depth showed itself, as planned, in its Game 1 win over the Grizzlies … The Inside crew delivers their best of #GetWellSager tributes … Steph Curry foiled the Clippers’ plans in Game 1, but can he do it again in Game 2?
ICYMI OF THE NIGHT: That rest at the end of the regular season was exactly what LeBron James needed, because the Heat star looked refreshed in the Game 1 win over the Bobcats …
VIDEO: LeBron James and the Miami Heat start fresh for the playoffs