Posts Tagged ‘Boston Celtics’

Morning shootaround — April 11


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry for MID award | Duncan hands Father Time first loss? | Cavs or not, Celtics can’t be choosy | Hawks’ Antic, NBPA talk N.Y. incident

No. 1: Curry for Most Improved Defender award — By now, most NBA observers expect Golden State’s floor leader and marvelous 3-point shooter Steph Curry to finish first or second in balloting for the league’s Most Valuable Player. But if you look closely at Curry’s performances on the other end of the court, listen to his coaches and study the Warriors’ numbers in thwarting the opposition, Curry might merit consideration for a wholly fictitious award: Most Improved Defender. Breaking down the components of good individual and team defense with Golden State assistant coach Ron Adams, ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss enumerated the many ways in which Curry has tightened up his game that way, and concluded:

The Warriors challenged their top player to get better, and it worked. They’re having the best regular season — in terms of point differential — we’ve witnessed since Jordan‘s Bulls.

The notion of Curry as defensive ace might be subversive, but perhaps not as subversive as the next statement: Curry got better not just because he wants to be the best player alive, but also because he thinks it’s within his reach.

“He wants to be the best,” [coach Steve] Kerr said. “He knew that to be the best he had to be better at that end.”

Even as Curry is favored to win an MVP award, the concept of a skinny, 6-3 point guard as league alpha strikes people strangely. That spot is usually reserved for physical freaks like LeBron James and Kevin Durant. It all just smacks of basketball heresy.

Curry’s star continues to rise in defiance of convention, though. He markets himself as “the patron saint of the underdog” for a reason. Curry doesn’t look like a good defensive player, but then again, he never looked like a Division I college player, he never looked like an NBA draft pick, and he never looked like an NBA superstar. But he has accomplished all of those things. If reputations are often based on appearances, Curry aims to forge a reputation as someone who transcends that expectation. And his aim is excellent.

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Blogtable: 2015’s biggest surprise and disappointment?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Surprise and disappointment? | Under-the-radar free agents? | Your All-Defensive team



VIDEOThese guys might have been the League Pass team of 2014-15

> With one week left, what has been the biggest surprise of this NBA season? And biggest disappointment?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: No way, no how did I expect the Atlanta Hawks’ leap in the standings off of last season’s 38-44. Two of Atlanta’s big offseason moves were trading away Lou Williams and drafting Adreian Payne in the first round, so the help didn’t come from the outside. That’s development, building, bonding. My biggest disappointment: the rubble of Oklahoma City’s 2015 championship aspirations. It’s a bummer for the Thunder, the nasty West bracket is a little less head-spinning and it’s always tricky business propping open a window of contention to accommodate injuries. So often, either the time is right or it’s not, and OKC’s might be passing.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Everybody’s been waiting for the injuries to catch up with the Rockets all season, but James Harden’s MVP-level play hasn’t let them fall and could even produce the No. 2 seed in the West. We knew he was good. His play has been shockingly good. The biggest disappointment has been the long list of injured stars that have unfortunately made for more headlines off the court than on: Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Dwight Howard, DeMar DeRozan, Jabari Parker, just to name a few. But for sheer, jaw-dropping, oh-my-God-how-did-that-happen, awfulness, I can’t neglect to mention that huge hole in the ground at 7th Ave, between 31st and 33rd Sts. in Manhattan. Nobody expect that big of a crater from the New York Knicks.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The biggest surprise is easy: John Stockton, fresh off releasing a book, starring in insurance commercials, in costume and everything. Who is this guy? The Knicks will come back to make the playoffs on the last night of the regular season, then win the championship, and it still won’t top Stockton, who worked hard to avoid the spotlight as a player, as the king of all media. (If you’re going to insist on a surprise on the court, it’s anyone blowing away the field in the Western Conference standings. This was supposed to be a tight race, right? The Warriors have turned it into a non-race.) Biggest disappointment: Injuries. They happen every year, only this time fate ganged up on the Thunder, costing OKC the chance for a long playoff run, and on the rookies, costing everyone the chance to see three of the best newcomers for more than a portion of the season.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Celtics might make the playoffs despite dumping their top two players (Jeff Green, Rajon Rondo) and watching another miss games because of injuries (Jared Sullinger). Yes, the East is so bad that somebody with a losing record was destined to make the playoffs, but still this rates as a surprise to a degree. Disappointing? Lance Stephenson bombing almost immediately in Charlotte and never recovering. I figured if nothing else, he’d be a pain off the court, not on it.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The biggest surprise is the dominance of the Hawks and Warriors in their respective conferences. I had Atlanta eighth among East teams in my preseason Power Rankings and only two GMs picked them to win the Southeast Division. They were, by far, the East’s best team until it was time to ease off the gas pedal, beating a lot of Western Conference contenders along the way. The Warriors were projected higher than the Hawks, but I don’t think anybody saw them registering the best point differential since Steve Kerr was playing for the Bulls. The biggest disappointment is Oklahoma City suffering through a wasted season with Kevin Durant’s ongoing foot issue. The Thunder are a title contender when healthy and while they’re still in the mix for a playoff spot, their season really never got off the ground.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The biggest and most pleasant surprise has been the Atlanta Hawks and their improbable rise from an offseason filled with uncertainty. I don’t think anyone but the most die-hard of Atlanta fans would admit to believing the Hawks would put together the sort of season they have. How they finish the story in the playoffs remains to be seen. But there is no doubt the Hawks achieved the unthinkable finishing atop the Eastern Conference regular season standings. The biggest disappointment, and I don’t think we need to belabor the point, has been the bi-coastal dumpster fires that have consumed the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks this season. I knew they’d struggle mightily. But the Lakers and Knicks have been brutal this season. Just brutal.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Hawks have been the most inspiring team: They may be benefiting from the Spurs’ system, but they’ve been running it without Hall of Fame talent, and if their devotion to teamwork could produce a championship then it would be a huge breakthrough for the NBA. The biggest disappointment has been the physical breakdown of so many players: The Rockets, Clippers, Spurs, Cavaliers, Blazers, Bulls, Thunder, Pelicans, Raptors, Wizards, Bucks, Jazz, Pacers, Heat, Hornets, Pistons, Kings, Lakers, 76ers, Timberwolves and Knicks have all been diminished by meaningful injuries this season.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: You’re baiting me, right? How can I not go with the Atlanta Hawks, the team that was pegged by many to be a playoff team, but nobody, not in their wildest dreams, expected the Hawks to have the season they’re having. As for biggest disappointment, it’s hard to overlook the team right up I-85 from the Hawks, the Charlotte Hornets. I know they’ve had injuries throughout the season, but adding Lance Stephenson seems to have just made that whole situation into a mess.

Morning shootaround — April 4


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Magic’s Vucevic planning to stay | Curry stung by ex-coach’s MVP pick | Spurs as NBA’s old, married couple | Bulls flirting with disappointment?

No. 1: Magic’s Vucevic planning to stay — So what if Minnesota, even at full strength, is far from an NBA powerhouse and on Friday happened to be playing without its three best big men. Nikola Vucevic didn’t have to apologize to anyone for his career-high 37 points and his 17 rebounds. More important, the Orlando center doesn’t want to have to apologize to Magic fans after saying goodbye in a few years, abandoning the franchise’s long-term plans the way Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard did. The big man spoke recently with Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel about loyalty and the vision he has for his career and his team’s future:

“Yeah, I’m here for the long haul. I hope to stay here my whole career,” he told me. “I love it here. I really love the city. I’ve improved here a lot as a player. I’d love to stay for a long, long time and make something special happen.

“If it takes years, it takes years … I ain’t going anywhere.”

Vucevic is inspired by the loyalty displayed by Italian soccer superstar Francesco Totti. Totti, 38, has played his entire career for Roma.

“Totti could have gone to bigger teams, made more money, do whatever he wanted. He didn’t,” he said. “He stayed with that team. He’s pretty much a god to that team.”

Rather humbly, Vucevic doesn’t consider himself in the class of Shaq and Dwight – repeat All-Stars and No. 1 overall picks.

The list of great big men here is short, but Vooch is already the third-best center the Magic have ever had. Eight long years passed between Shaq’s departure and Dwight’s arrival. Vooch has cut the wait time considerably after Howard departed.

He gets it done differently. Although he’s nearly 7-feet and weighs 260 pounds, Vucevic isn’t as dominating and demonstrative as his powerhouse predecessors. But he is a rare double-double machine, running quietly and efficiently.

More steady than spectacular, he relies on finesse instead of force, having learned the game overseas in Montenegro. Vooch does have a shooting stroke that Shaq and Dwight would envy (and he can make free throws).

“Both Shaq and Dwight had great legacies while they were here. I want to achieve what they achieved,” he said. “When I’m done, I’d love to have people talk about me the way they talk about them. I hope to get to the same level.

“I want to get there.”

***

No. 2: Curry stung by ex-coach’s MVP pick — Unlike his team’s runaway atop the Western Conference, Golden State’s Stephen Curry likely is going to find himself locked in a tight race for the NBA’s Kia Most Valuable Player award. Some voters probably won’t submit their ballots until the deadline on Thursday, April 16, the day after the regular season ends. But that won’t stop others – those with votes and those without – from floating their opinions sooner, and one who did was ABC/ESPN analyst Mark Jackson, Curry’s former Warriors coach. Jackson’s choice of Houston’s James Harden caught Curry off-guard, as evidence by his reaction. But Golden State teammate Andrew Bogut rushed to his point guard’s defense vs. Jackson, as reported by ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss:

ESPN analyst and former Warriors coach Mark Jackson said Wednesday on the “Dan Patrick Show” that while Curry, Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, are all worthy candidates, he’d give his MVP vote to James Harden of the Houston Rockets.

“If you twisted my arm today, I would probably vote for James Harden,” Jackson said. “The reason why is because he single-handedly has put that Houston Rockets team in the position that they’re in today.”

The comments come as a stark contrast to the way Jackson had previously championed his former charge as a superstar in the league, while he was coach of the Warriors.

“It’s his opinion obviously,” Curry said. “He’s probably been watching the league. People are going to ask what he thinks, especially his ties to the Warriors organization and myself specifically. Surprised me he said that. But, it is what it is.”

Curry had been vocally supportive of Jackson prior to the coach’s dismissal last offseason, something the Warriors point guard made mention of Friday.

“Obviously I wasn’t shy about trying to defend him last year when things were rumbling outside of our locker room,” Curry said. “But for him to … it’s kind of a different situation, but it is surprising that he didn’t.”

On Thursday, center Andrew Bogut, who had a less friendly relationship with Jackson, made light of his former coach’s opinion.

“Well what’s his name said no,” Bogut joked. “What’s that guy’s name? Mark? Mark? I don’t remember his name.”

***

No. 3: Spurs as NBA’s old, married couple — If you’re an NBA fan of college age or younger, you probably can’t remember a season in which the San Antonio Spurs did not win at least 50 games in a season. Their remarkable streak at that level stretches 16 years now, a testament to the staying power of coach Gregg Popovich and his Hall-of-Fame-bound core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Our man Fran Blinebury wrote about the uncommon professional and personal relationships that have produced all that success, and here’s a taste to whet your appetite for more:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, half the marriages in the United States are over by the eighth year, which makes the union of the Spurs and consistent excellence — at twice that length — an accomplishment of tolerance, dedication and bliss.

By defeating Denver on Friday night, the Spurs have now won 50 games for 16 consecutive seasons, extending their NBA record half a decade beyond the next longest strings. The Los Angeles Lakers (1980-91) are in second place with 12.

“Think about it. There’s not many marriages that last 16 years,” said ESPN analyst and former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy. “Think about working that closely together in a relationship, under that pressure and scrutiny and still enjoying each other’s company.

“What they’ve done is sustained greatness. I think that’s much more telling than five championships. First of all, it’s something that nobody’s done before. Winning 50 and having a plus-.500 road record all that time, to me that’s incredible.

“I am totally against the whole mindset that everything is about championships when it comes to evaluating players, evaluating teams. ‘Did they win a championship?’ Really, is that all you’ve got? I’m telling you, sustaining greatness is much harder than a one-, two- or three-year greatness.”

The Spurs’ run has been much like their style of play — more of a steady hum than a loud roar.

***

No. 4: Bulls flirting with disappointment?Pau Gasol showed emotion near the end of the Chicago Bulls’ victory beyond his normal veteran’s range, yelling and mugging as a release after his offensive rebound and putback against Detroit’s formidable Andre Drummond secured a victory Friday at United Center. But it was Gasol’s more measured comments afterward that ought to get a rise out of Chicago fans, because he speaks from experience when talking about championship teams and the edge they need in the postseason. The Bulls, in Gasol’s view, still are searching, according to the report filed by ESPNChicago.com’s Nick Friedell:

The 14-year veteran, who earned two championships as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, knows what it takes to win a title, and that’s why he’s a little concerned by what he has seen from his new team, the Chicago Bulls, over the past couple of games. After a poor performance on Wednesday night in a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Bulls followed up by sleepwalking through the second half and almost blowing a winnable game against the Detroit Pistons on Friday night. Like the rest of his teammates, Gasol is still convinced the Bulls have time to turn around their bad habits, but unlike most of his younger teammates, the All-Star center understands that time is running out.

“There’s not a magic button here,” Gasol said. “What you see in the regular season is what you’re going to get in the playoffs. So we have to try to be more consistent in the last six games that we have and that’s going to determine what we’ll see probably in the playoffs. Now every game, it’s meaningful, and that we have to be aware of that because you can’t expect things to click when it’s crunch time, when everybody is on. So you just got to do whatever you have to on a daily basis to put yourself in the best place regularly so you get to the playoffs and maybe try to turn it up like everybody else.”

The good news for the Bulls is that they found a way to win on Friday night. So often during this up-and-down season they have found ways to lose games like this — to weaker teams that don’t have the same level of talent. But as the Bulls get set for what they hope is a long run in the postseason, veterans such as Gasol and fellow championship club member, Nazr Mohammed, know that the great teams have to play better than the Bulls are playing right now.

“We just got to keep getting better,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “We got to understand what we’re playing for. We’re playing for a lot at stake right now. It was good to see guys like Naz [Mohammed] and some of our veterans speak up tonight and understand how crucial this win was.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Portland guard Wesley Matthews long trek back from a torn Achilles is getting serialized by The Oregonian. … Minnesota’s Nikola Pekovic also is facing issues – and surgery – on his aching right foot, and sounds a little concerned about his future both on and off the court. … Hall of Famer John Stockton is helping as an assistant coach with Gonzaga Prep’s girls team, lending his hoops wisdom and getting valuable father-daughter time with Laura Stockton. … Kyle Lowry wants to play again before the playoffs, but the Toronto Raptors point guard also wants to be cautious with the back spasms that have sidelined him. … Boston’s Jared Sullinger came back Friday earlier than expected from a stress fracture, and he has lightened the load on that foot by 20 pounds. … Sounding more like part of the problem than part of the solution in Miami, Heat guard Mario Chalmers says he doesn’t know his role these days.

Blogtable: Your All-Rookie first team …

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Kerr’s smartest move? | Future for Rondo and Ellis? | Your All-Rookie team



VIDEOWho has the inside track for Rookie of the Year?

> After a slow start (plagued by injuries) this year’s rookie class has shown some real promise late in the season. Name your 2014-15 All-Rookie first team.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel
F Nikola Mirotic
F Andrew Wiggins
G Elfrid Payton
G Jordan Clarkson

However, Wiggins, Mirotic, Payton, Noel, Clarkson is pretty much the order of how I’d vote for Rookie of the Year at this point. Wiggins hasn’t been playing for high stakes in Minnesota but he has done well all season and come out of his shell while being forced-fed minutes for a shaky Timberwolves squad. If the soft-spoken Mirotic were as cocky as he is quietly confident, he’d be unbearable, but he has let his game do some serious talking for the past month. Payton is fun to watch, an increasing dynamic player and so vital to Orlando’s rise. I put Noel after Payton mostly because the former had the “redshirt” year to acclimate to the league in all the off-court ways. As for Clarkson, he has seized an opportunity with a team that rarely has them available for young guys like him.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel: Worth the wait for Philly.
F Andrew Wiggins: Living up to the hype.
F Nikola Mirotic: Becoming a closer for the Bulls.
G Elfrid Payton: Big hair, bigger game.
G Zach LaVine: Much more than a dunker.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel

F Andrew Wiggins
F Nikola Mirotic
G Elfrid Payton
G Jordan Clarkson

Clarkson over Jusuf Nurkic is a tough call for the final spot and could change if you ask again when the season is over. (It could change either way — maybe Nurkic moves back ahead if he recovers from the slump or maybe Clarkson makes it an easy call if he keeps playing this way.) It just happens to work out that the group is almost an actual lineup when the rules say pick the five best regardless of position. The only semi-conflict is Payton and Clarkson both primarily point guards.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel
F Andrew Wiggins
F Nikola Mirotic
G Elfrid Payton
G Jordan Clarkson.

I realize Clarkson is mostly a spring sensation but he’s been too impressive to ignore, so I put him ahead of Jusuf Nurkic. Wiggins will win ROY but if the season lasted another month he’d get some serious competition from Noel.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel
F Nikola Mirotic
F Andrew Wiggins
G Elfrid Payton
G Bojan Bogdanovic

My top five rookies, in order, though is Mirotic, Noel, Wiggins, Payton and Bogdanovic. The top four guys, in whatever order you want to put them, are pretty simple choices. I picked Bogdanovic (who ranks as one of the league’s most improved shooters since the All-Star break) over Jordan Clarkson because he’s played more minutes for a better team. Mirotic would be my Rookie of the Year, because he’s been an efficient and important player on one of the 10 best teams in the league.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel
F Andrew Wiggins
F Nikola Mirotic
G Elfrid Payton
G Zach Lavine

The first five of this year’s rookie class certainly took its time taking shape. But better late than never, and yes, I’m talking to you Nerlens Noel. The Philly big man joins Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine from Minnesota, the neck-bearded wonder Nikola Mirotic from Chicago and Mr. Hairdo himself, Orlando’s Elfrid Payton in my rookie fab five. Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker was an early fave but saw his season cut down by injury, a blow that doused water on the fire of this class from the start, along with the known injury to Philly’s other rookie big man Joel Embiid.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel

F Nikola Mirotic
F Andrew Wiggins
G Jordan Clarkson
G Elfrid Payton

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog:
C Nerlens Noel
F Andrew Wiggins
F Nikola Mirotic
G Marcus Smart
G Elfrid Payton

To me, Wiggins is the Kia Rookie of the Year, for the way he’s played all season long and the improvement he’s shown and continues to show. Noel is right there as well, but he hasn’t had as much of an offensive impact as Wiggins. Mirotic and his beard have been terrific, pump-faking their way onto my team. So I guess that’s my front court, and in the backcourt I’ll pair Payton and Smart, who would actually be a pretty dynamic duo.


For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Morning shootaround — March 27


VIDEO: Highlights from game played on March 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

James Harden makes MVP case | Pacers clinging to playoff hopes | Crawford says he’ll be back | Amar’e to stick with Dallas?

No. 1: James Harden makes MVP case With the season nearing an end, the MVP talk around the MVP race is heading up. Stephen Curry? Russell Westbrook? LeBron James? Anthony Davis? Or what about in Houston, where James Harden has been perhaps the best offensive player in the NBA this season? USA Today‘s Sam Amick caught up with Harden, who made his case for why he deserves your MVP vote…

“I think if you look at what I’ve been doing all year, only missing one game all year because of the situation (with seemingly-endless injuries to teammates), basically having to carry a load all year, being consistent from the first game of the season,” Harden said. “That should show it right there. But like I said, (the focus is) for me to go out there and continue doing what I’m doing, being consistent, is all I can do.”

And getting to the free throw line at an unmatched rate. Harden — who has converted on 86.6% of free throw attempts — is on pace to lead the league in free throw attempts for the second time in three seasons (10.1 per game). Last season’s leader in that category was the Thunder’s reigning MVP, Kevin Durant (9.9).

“I’m enjoying the whole process of these last (few) games, just trying to win games,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been doing since Dwight has been out. I don’t really keep track of the other (MVP candidates) or what they’re doing. Obviously everybody knows that Russ is going on a triple-double rally. He’s playing extremely well and they’re fighting for the eighth spot. But all those guys you named (Curry, Westbrook, James, Davis and Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers) are very good players, or very talented players. For me, I just focus on what I can control and going out there and doing the best I can do every single right.”

In trying to explain his own MVP-caliber campaign, Harden said his comfort level in the not-so-new surroundings have been key. It’s his third season in Houston, where he came via trade in October 2012 and has progressively found his way as a leader ever since.

“All I needed was time,” he said of the Houston experience. “All I needed was to know what I had around me. And now that I know it, I’m comfortable with it and I can be a great leader. I think that’s probably one of the reasons I’m so successful is that I’m comfortable. I think if you’re comfortable in any situation, and you know what’s going on and you know what you’re going to get, you’re going to be successful.

“It’s about having a good time, about enjoying it, enjoying the grind. If you’re not having fun, you’re probably not doing good.”

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Schedule says Thunder have edge on Pelicans for playoff spot


VIDEO: Pelicans GM Dell Demps assesses his teams hopes for a playoff berth

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — With just 30 days to go in the 2014-15 season, the battles for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference and the last two spots in the East have never been tighter.

After losing in Dallas on Monday, the Oklahoma City Thunder have a half game lead on the New Orleans Pelicans for eighth in the West. The Pelicans have the tiebreaker with a 3-1 head-to-head record, but the Thunder have an easier remaining schedule, with more home games, fewer back-to-backs, and fewer games against teams with winning records.

Here’s an updated look at remaining schedules for the entire Western Conference …

20150317_sos_west

Here’s an explanation of the “Adj.,” column, which starts with the opponent NetRtg for each game and makes the following adjustments:

  • plus-2.6* for a road game.
  • minus-2.6 for a home game.
  • plus-2.6** when the team is playing the second night of a back-to-back and the opponent isn’t.
  • minus-2.6 when the opponent is playing the second night of a back-to-back and the team isn’t.

* Home teams have outscored road teams by 2.6 points per 100 possessions this season.
** When one team played the night before and the other didn’t, the rested team has been a plus-2.6 this season.

A couple of notes on the West:

  • Mathematically, the Phoenix Suns still have a shot at a playoff spot. But the toughest remaining schedule in the league is enough to dismiss them. They’re 1-5 against teams currently over .500 since the All-Star break and play 12 of their final 14 games against that group.
  • The L.A. Clippers just finished a stretch where they played 17 of 21 games against teams that are currently over .500. They’re rewarded with the easiest remaining schedule of the 10 teams that have a shot in the playoffs. They’re currently in seventh place, but are just a half game out of fifth and are 24-4 against teams that are currently under .500.
  • The Grizzlies still have some work to do to hold on to the No. 2 seed. They have just a one-game lead in the loss column over the Portland Trail Blazers, who have an easier remaining schedule.

Here’s the remaining schedules in the East …

20150317_sos_east

  • The Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat are all tied with 36 losses, and they all have relatively tough schedules remaining.
  • None of the four have more home games than road games remaining.
  • The Hornets play more losing teams than winning teams, but also have the most back-to-backs remaining in the league, starting with Tuesday’s visit to the Clippers after Monday’s drubbing in Utah.
  • The Pacers and Celtics have the most momentum of the group, but also have the toughest remaining schedules. Both Boston (3-2) and Indiana (4-2) do have winning records since the All-Star break against teams with winning records, though.
  • The most home games remaining should be an opportunity for Brooklyn to get back in that 7-10 mix, but the Nets are a league-worst 3-11 at home in 2015.
  • Don’t hand the Cleveland Cavaliers the No. 2 seed just yet. The Toronto Raptors are only a game behind in the loss column, play 12 of their final 15 games against teams under .500, and are 25-7 against that group so far.
  • An easier remaining schedule should give the Chicago Bulls an edge over the Washington Wizards in the race for the No. 4 seed (and home-court advantage in a first-round matchup). They’re currently tied in the loss column, with Chicago holding the tiebreaker edge (better conference record, with a 2-2 tie in head-to-head meetings).

Morning shootaround — March 17


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played March 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Thompson hobbled after win | Blatt: Cavs ‘got to’ finish No. 2 in East | Nuggets unhappy about resting top players | ‘Crash’ pondering retirement?

No. 1: Thompson hobbled after win vs. Lakers — Golden State’s dream season continued last night with a win over the Los Angeles Lakers that, coupled with the Oklahoma City Thunder’s loss, let the Warriors become the first team in the West to clinch a playoff spot. Despite the positive vibes in Oracle Arena after the win, though, there was some news to possibly monitor. According to Monte Poole of CSNBayArea.com, Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson had a noticeable limp after the game:

It’s not unusual for Klay Thompson to be slow peeling off his jersey before heading into the shower. What was unusual Monday night was his gait once he got moving.

Thompson was limping. And it was a very, very obvious hobble.

The Warriors issued no update late Monday night, but Thompson left the game in the third quarter of a 108-105 win over the Lakers, retreating to the locker room to have his right ankle re-taped.

Though he returned in the fourth quarter, scoring 5 points in the final 4:31, he still was in pain after peeling off the tape. His status for Wednesday’s showdown with the Atlanta Hawks is uncertain, pending closer examination.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr, in his postgame news conference, said he didn’t think Thompson had sustained a serious injury.

“I don’t think it’s bad,” Kerr said, “but we’ll see what JoHan (Wang, the head athletic trainer) says.”

 


VIDEO: Golden State tops the Lakers to clinch a playoff berth

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Daylight in Rondo-Carlisle relationship


VIDEO: Rondo talks with media after Friday’s victory

When last we left Rajon Rondo and Rick Carlisle, at least on a national headline-grabbing scale, the former was lipping off to his coach and the latter was firing back, prompting their boss, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, to suspend the mercurial point guard for a game.

But after Dallas’ home rout of the Los Angeles Clippers Friday, Rondo and Carlisle were making nice – much nicer – in comments that ought to be encouraging to fans hoping for a postseason run that’s more long than short.

It’s been nearly three months now since the Mavericks acquired Rondo from Boston on Dec. 18, enough time that Carlisle seems more willing to flip the keys of the offense to the point guard. Here’s how Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com chronicled it:

“He’s really developed a good sense for our team — when to just push it, when to get into something,” Carlisle said. “He really understands the guys that he’s playing with.”

Rondo had been attempting behind the scenes to get more leeway to call plays before his blowup with Carlisle, which occurred after the point guard ignored a play call from the bench, prompting the coach to call a timeout and shout across the floor at Rondo. They both later attributed the disagreement to poor communication.

Rondo said he has been gradually given more responsibility to call plays since returning from his suspension and felt especially comfortable in the role Friday night, when he guided the Mavs to their highest-scoring outing of his stint with the team.

“The trust is becoming more and more better between Coach and I,” Rondo said. “It’s tough to give a guy the keys to the car when he first gets there.

“Tonight, we were on the same page a lot. We talked before the game, as far as the play calling that we wanted to stick with. We were very locked in this morning during the shootaround, and it carried over into the game.”

Carlisle had a similar power struggle, minus the public fireworks, with point guard Jason Kidd during their first season working together in Dallas. Carlisle relinquished most of the play-calling responsibilities to Kidd midway through the 2008-09 season, and they won a title together two seasons later.

More perspective on Rondo and his, er, challenging personality was provided by Doc Rivers, the Clippers coach in Dallas on Friday, as well as Rondo chum Glenn Davis. Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram wrote about that:

From Rivers’ standpoint, there’s a fine line a coach must walk with Rondo.

“Rondo is strong-willed, but he’s a good kid, and I think people get that mixed up,” Rivers said. “He’s got an amazing amount of passion, and he is a ssssmmmaaarrrttt player. I mean, smart. So that stuff happens.”

Clippers forward Glen “Big Baby” Davis said it’s clear that Rondo is simply misunderstood.

“I think Rick Carlisle has to know Rondo, and he just doesn’t know Rondo,” said Davis, who was Rondo’s teammate in Boston from 2007-11. “Rondo is the type of player, you know you want him to do this, you want him to do that, and he’ll make sure it gets done. You’ve just got to tell him what his options are out there, because he’s sort of like a quarterback.”

Statistically, Rondo still is a mess as a piece of the Mavericks’ offense. He’s shooting 41 percent at a time when the league average field-goal percentage is 44.8 percent. So cool it with any Bob Cousy references – it’s true that the Hall of Fame point guard made 37.5 percent of his shots in his career and never topped 39.7 percent. But the league average only cracked 40 percent in Cousy’s final four seasons.

Cousy also took nearly twice as many shots as Rondo – 17.8 per game vs. 9.7 – and averaged 18.4 points to Rondo’s 10.7. The Celtics’ first great point guard hit 80.3 percent of his free throws, too, compared to that team’s most recent great point guard and his ridiculous 31.7 percent this season, which makes him avoid trips to the line entirely.

Still, if Rondo and Carlisle can see eye-to-eye on the rest of the offense, good things might be in store. When Dallas beat Miami for the 2011 championship, Kidd averaged 7.9 points on 36.1 percent shooting (while hitting 87 percent of his free throws).

Morning shootaround — March 9


Video: Highlights from games played March 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook joins historic company | Here come the Spurs | Still no love between Warriors, Clippers | Rajon Rondo is willing to stay in Dallas

No. 1: Westbrook joins historic company — At this point, perhaps we just expect it. The last few weeks, with his teammate Kevin Durant out and the Oklahoma City Thunder fighting for their playoff future, the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook just keeps carrying the Thunder. Last night against the Raptors, Westbrook posted his fifth triple-double in the last six games. Luckily for the Thunder, Westbrook, who is averaging a triple-double since the All-Star break, shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. In the meantime, writes Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman, Westbrook is keeping some historic company…

Another short list — make that three lists — of achievement with legends of the game. This time Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan.

“It’s been crazy,” said teammate Anthony Morrow. “I nicknamed him Maniac Russ. He’s incredible. His ceiling is so high.”

Westbrook’s ceiling is so high, his numbers against Toronto didn’t even move the meter: 30 points, 11 rebounds, a career-high-matching 17 assists, four steals.

Eyebrows rose only when you learned that only Magic has posted those minimum numbers in an NBA game. And when you learned that Westbrook joins Robertson as the only players ever with at least 200 points, 50 rebounds and 50 assists over a five-game span. And Westbrook joined Jordan as the only players in the last 50 years to average 33 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists over a 10-game span.

It’s not crazy to ask if anyone has ever played basketball like Russell Westbrook is playing it.

This is a national phenomenon. Nightly must-see NBA TV. Forget the playoff race. Forget even the MVP debate. Who needs a trophy? America has spoken. Basketball can’t take its eyes off Russell Westbrook.

“If you find somebody who has slowed him down, let me know,” said the Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan.

***

No. 2: Here come the Spurs — They’ve spent most of the season dealing with injuries and trying to keep above water. While other teams have made headlines, the San Antonio Spurs finally have everyone healthy and — talk about good timing — according to Gregg Popovich, are finally playing their best basketball of the season. Yesterday against the Bulls, the Spurs were able to withstand Tim Duncan‘s first-ever zero field goal performance thanks to a big game from Tony Parker. Don’t look now, but with five straight wins under their belt, the Spurs are looking strong, writes Jeff MacDonald in the San Antonio Express-News

Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard are joined by Finals MVP awards, and for a large chunk of December shared space on the injured list.

After the Spurs claimed their fifth consecutive victory Sunday, this one a 116-105 handling of admittedly short-handed Chicago at the AT&T Center, no two players have been as vital in the champs suddenly looking like the champs again.

“When the ball is moving and we’re making shots, everything is easier,” said Parker, who poured in a season-high 32 points. “The energy is good and we’re playing defense. We’re pushing the ball. Everybody is playing better.”

Sunday’s victory, combined with the L.A. Clippers’ loss at Golden State, moved the Spurs (39-23) into a virtual tie for fifth in the Western Conference.

It doesn’t take a basketball savant to pinpoint the pair whose revival has sparked the Spurs’ recovery.

Asked before the game to diagnose the Spurs’ resurrection after a rough February, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau began his answer this way:

“It looks like Parker’s getting back to being Parker.”

Backing up Thibodeau’s point, Parker had everything working for a national television audience on ABC.

Parker buried a jumper on the Spurs’ first possession, albeit after dribbling off his foot. He had his spin move working. He wiggled for tough shots and — most importantly of all — knocked down the open ones.

Parker finished 13 of 19, putting further distance between himself and a ragged rodeo trip. When he was done, Parker had his highest-scoring outing since Game 1 of last season’s Western Conference semifinals against Portland.

“He’s been in that mode for the last two or three games, and feeling very confident about his health,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “I think he is where we’d like him to be.”

***

No. 3: Still no love between Warriors, Clippers — The Clippers are still waiting for the return of Blake Griffin, which seems to still be uncertain, but in the meantime, the Clippers ran into their longtime Western Conference foe the Warriors yesterday. And while the Clips gave them a good run, the Warriors won, 106-98. But, as usually happens when these teams square off, these teams once again almost squared off. During the postgame interview with Golden State’s Draymond Green, Clippers forward Dahntay Jones delivered a bump to Green. Later, Green told reporters he was taking the high road, writes ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss

During the segment, Clippers guard Dahntay Jones walked into view of the camera, bumping Green as he went past. Green did not take the gesture kindly, and told reporters as much in the locker room.

“I think he wanted a reaction from me, but he don’t play,” Green said, taking note that Jones is averaging a career-low 4.6 minutes per game this season.

He explained his lack of reaction, saying, “Me getting suspended and him getting suspended, it’s different.”

He added, “If [Dahntay Jones] gets suspended they may not even notice.”

Green expressed that the bump should warrant scrutiny, saying, “I definitely expect that to be reviewed by the NBA. For him to look at me, look at me again, and bump me when I’m doing a postgame interview; that’s really smart, too, when it’s on ABC. The postgame interview is the highlight of that segment and you bump somebody.”

Green wasn’t finished with Jones. In explaining the shooting guard’s behavior, he said: “He got some camera time, which he needed because there wasn’t much celebration from their bench today, so you didn’t see him much. He got the camera time he was looking for.”

Jones denied that the bump was intentional, telling reporters, “That’s not how you bump somebody if you purposely want to bump them.”

***

No. 4: Rajon Rondo is willing to stay in Dallas — The Dallas Mavericks made a splash a few weeks ago when they traded for Rajon Rondo, with the idea that Rondo would re-sign with the Mavs this summer and give the Mavs an All-Star level point guard. But it hasn’t been that simple. While the Mavs have remained above-average with Rondo, their offense has had growing pains, some of which have bubbled over into the public consciousness, including an on-court showdown between Rondo and coach Rick Carlisle that resulted in a Rondo suspension. Still, as Rondo told Yahoo’s Marc Spears, he’s still open to staying in Dallas beyond this season…

Q: What do you think about the perception that you want to depart from Dallas?

Rondo: “First of all, I’m misunderstood in general. I don’t mind because I’m very quiet and I stay to myself. People are going to say what they want to say. I don’t talk, so I don’t know why they would say that. I don’t think I play as if I don’t want to be here. I give it all when I’m out there on the court.

“I’m always in communication trying to learn and get better and learn what’s better for the team. All I care about is winning. I made a lot of sacrifices, I believe, coming here. I try to give up the ball and move without the ball a lot more. It’s hard to adjust. But for the sake of the team to win that’s what I’m trying to.”

Q: So you are open-minded to re-signing with Dallas?

Rondo: “Why would I not be? There are a lot of things that I really love. Even the practices, we listen to music, my type of music. It’s the little things. Say we are going to California, we will play Too $hort and West Coast music. If we are going to Houston we might play chop and screw, Bun B or something like that. If we are going to New Orleans we might play Lil Wayne at practice, during shooting 30 minutes before practice. It’s a cool way they run it. We get our work in.

“It’s a player’s organization. Players first, from our plane, the way we travel. I don’t take that for granted. We eat good. We stay at the best hotels. Of course, it’s the NBA. But this organization has the best. They have PlayStation in the lockers. I don’t play games, but it’s nice to know I got a PlayStation. TVs in your own locker. I heard about it – [Brandon Bass] and J-Terry [Jason Terry] told me – but seeing it and experiencing it.

“I love it here. I don’t dislike anything. I’m not uncomfortable. Of course, the system is different, but I’ve been here for two months. It’s going to take time. Hopefully, sooner rather than later.”

Q: Are you excited about being an unrestricted free agent for the first time next offseason?

Rondo: “Not really. I never had it, but I want to live for today. When it’s going to come is when it’s going to come. One thing that will help me is that when I tore my ACL that made me realize to live in the moment. Don’t think about next month or think about two months from now. Life isn’t guaranteed. Enjoy the situation you are in now. We’re blessed and what is going to happen is going to happen.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Would the Knicks trade their first-round pick? … Erik Spoelstra says George Karl is already having an impact on the Sacramento Kings … The Heat have signed Michael Beasley to a second ten-day contract … Danny Ainge says Ray Allen still has basketball left in him … Swaggy P is going to be out for at least a few more games

Morning shootaround — March 6


VIDEO: Highlights for games play March 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blazers lose Matthews for season | Parker taking “baby steps” | What about JaVale? | Hawks meet Cavs tonight in battle of East’s best

No. 1: Blazers lose Matthews for season — The Portland Trail Blazers got a big win at home last night on TNT, beating another Western Conference playoff team, the Dallas Mavericks, 94-75. But the bigger story for the Blazers was the loss of starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews, who went down in the third quarter with a non-contact injury to his left leg. The Blazers eventually announced that Matthews had suffered a torn achilles and he would miss the rest of the season. Matthews had started every game this season for the Blazers, and was averaging 16.2 ppg. For a team with championship aspirations, the loss of Matthews will be tough to overcome, writes Jason Quick in the Oregonian

The injury is officially a ruptured Achilles, but to the Portland Trail Blazers, it was a breaking of their heart. To the people of Oregon a punch to the gut.

How important is Wesley Matthews to the Trail Blazers?

Owner Paul Allen, moments after Matthews was carried off the court, went back to the locker room to check on him. I’ve watched Greg Oden‘s knee explode. Watched Brandon Roy hobble off the court. And seen Rudy Fernandez carted out, immobilized on a stretcher.

And never have I seen Allen move from his courtside seat.

Matthews is that type of player.

He doesn’t just make three-pointers with the best of them. He makes this team.

He has an unbelievably positive attitude. Sometimes, I believe, he wills the Blazers out of slumps with his sheer belief that the Blazers are the best team in the West.

He holds teammates accountable, willing to call them out if he sees an effort, or an attitude, not meet his standards.

And he sets an admirable example with his tireless and determined work ethic. I’ve seen some great, hard-working professionals put on a Blazers uniform – Scottie Pippen, Joel Przybilla and Roy among them – and none of them outwork Matthews.

Few throughout the years have been as banged up as Matthews. He once played the last half of the season on an ankle the size of a grapefruit, waiting until after the season to have surgery. His elbow has been battered. His side has been bruised. And this season, he famously hyperextended his knee – elicting gasps from the Moda Center crowd – only to return later in the game, bringing a chuckle to coach Terry Stotts on the sideline.

Wesley Matthews is, quite frankly, the heart and soul of the Blazers.

And now, it no longer beats. Out for the rest of the season.

***

No. 2: Parker taking “baby steps” — One season ago, San Antonio’s Tony Parker finished sixth in MVP voting. This season, he’s struggled with injuries and, even after returning, hasn’t been able to consistently play the way he did last season. Now back and healthy, with the playoffs looming, Parker hopes the worst is behind him, writes Dan McCarney in the San Antonio Express-News

It was the type of move that has been seen only rarely from Tony Parker in his star-crossed 14th NBA season, a lightning quick crossover that left his defender grasping at air followed by an aggressive drive to the basket resulting in two free throws.

Coming against Sacramento’s Andre Miller, who will turn 39 in two weeks, Parker wasn’t about to gloat. After looking more than a little aged himself during his recent slump, how could he? No, he was pleased simply for a glimpse of his old self with 19 points in Wednesday’s victory over the Kings.

“I’m not going to take credit (for crossing Miller up),” he joked at practice on Thursday. “I’m just happy I shot 50 percent (8 for 14). Baby steps. Baby steps.”

And perspective. Two solid games, sandwiched around one dreadful performance, does not constitute a turnaround for Parker, just as the Spurs cannot be declared as having recaptured their championship mojo with a three-game win streak that includes two victories over the lowly Kings.

But unlike his 19-point outing at Sacramento last Friday, in which he scored 11 points in the fourth to inflate his production, Parker was steady pretty much throughout Wednesday’s rematch before the game got out of hand in the second half. Less important than the numbers was the manner in which they were produced, with Parker using the blend of mid-range shooting and around-the-rim accuracy that made him a six-time All-Star.

“(Coach Gregg Popovich) was joking, saying ‘I don’t remember the last time you shot a tear drop’ and I said, ‘You’re right,’” said Parker, who hit two of his trademark floaters in the third quarter alone.

“Sometimes you go through those times and you don’t know why you don’t know how to play basketball any more. It happens and so our job is to get back in rhythm, get back the way I was before I got hurt.”

***

No. 3: What about JaVale? — One of the better players to become available in the last few weeks was former Nuggets big man JaVale McGee, who was traded at the deadline to the Sixers and then waived on Sunday. Yesterday it appeared for a few hours as though McGee was heading to the Celtics, until that deal fell through. As Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski writes, McGee is apparently looking to land somewhere he can can control his contract next season, while teams that have been interested in McGee have wanted the same option…

McGee visited the Celtics this week and had been inclined to sign there, only to have his agent, B.J. Armstrong, and Celtics general manager Danny Ainge become unable to move past that deal point on Thursday afternoon.

For McGee, the plan is to sign a deal that provides him with a player option on the 2015-16 season – something teams, including Boston, would prefer to be a team option. That way, if McGee plays well, teams won’t be so vulnerable to lose him this summer.

McGee had courted interest from multiple playoff contenders, including the Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks, Toronto Raptors, San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri signed McGee to a $48 million extension in Denver, and remains interested in offering him an opportunity to join the Raptors for a playoff run, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Nevertheless, McGee’s insistence on holding onto his freedom for the 2015-16 season could cause some teams to resist committing to him for the rest of this year and the playoffs.

***

No. 4: Hawks meet Cavs tonight in battle of East’s best — The Atlanta Hawks have spent this week celebrating franchise hero Dominique Wilkins, unveiling a statue and reminding everyone of how much he means to the franchise. But now the conversation turns back to the court, as tonight the Hawks host the red-hot Cleveland Cavaliers in what could be an Eastern Conference playoffs finals. And in Atlanta, they don’t mind pointing out that as good as Cleveland has been in the new year, the Hawks still have a healthy lead in the Eastern Conference, as Mark Bradley writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Hawks lead Cleveland, LeBron’s latest team, by 10 1/2 games with 22 to play. But the Cavaliers, to give them their due, have won 20 of 24 and beat Golden State last week and Toronto on Tuesday. Naturally, this has inspired many in the media to proclaim the Cavs the East’s best team — even if the standings don’t reflect anything of the sort.

Any sign of a Cleveland uptick was bound to become an uproar, given that the Cavs have LeBron and the hoops world revolves around him. And I’d also submit that the Hawks, who’ve won five straight after that post-All-Star flop-apalooza against the Raptors, aren’t playing quite as well as when they were winning 35 of 37. But it’s not like they’ve turned tail at the sound of LeBron’s approaching footsteps. This isn’t a team easily cowed.

If the Cavs win Friday, we’ll be treated to six weeks of the The-King-Has-Reclaimed-His-Throne stories. If the Hawks win, we’ll be buffeted with It’s-Only-A-Matter-Of-Time-Before-The-King-Reclaims-His-Throne. Because he’s LeBron, he and his team will always be granted the benefit of every doubt. But I have fewer doubts about these Hawks than I do LeBron’s Cavs. At last check, 48-12 trumps 39-24.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After missing 8 free throws against the Rockets on Sunday, LeBron James has adjusted his free throw shooting formGoran Dragic loves the relationship he has with Dwyane Wade in Miami … The Timberwolves made some moves, picking up Justin Hamilton and waiving Glenn Robinson III … The Hawks have signed Jarrell Eddie from the D-League to a 10-day contract …