Posts Tagged ‘Brooklyn Nets’

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kevin Garnett returns…to coach? | DeRozan still motivated | Joe Johnson looking to contribute in Utah | Nets embrace holistic approach to health

No. 1: Kevin Garnett returns…to coach? Just days after announcing his retirement from the NBA, Kevin Garnett resurfaced yesterday at Los Angeles Clippers training camp to impart some of his considerable wisdom, accumulated over his two-decade NBA career. According to Clippers coach Doc Rivers, Garnett’s talents apparently extend to the teaching realm

Garnett was asked by Clippers Coach Doc Rivers to come to practice to work with big men Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and rookies Brice Johnson and Diamond Stone.

But as it turned out, all of the Clippers were interested in learning from one of the NBA’s all-time greats at the practice in the Bren Events Center on UC Irvine’s campus.

“K.G. was phenomenal today,” Rivers said. “This morning, before practice, he had a teaching clinic that you would pay a lot of money to see. It was great. It was great for Blake and D.J., and the young guys as well. It’s great to have him around. He’s a great teacher. … He’ll be really good for us.”

Over the 21 seasons Garnett played in the NBA before retiring last week from the Minnesota Timberwolves, the 6-foot-11 power forward was known for his intense nature, his defense-minded approach, his team-oriented ways and a persona of toughness.

Garnett and Clippers forward Paul Pierce were teammates for six seasons in Boston, winning the NBA title in 2008 with Rivers. Paul Pierce was happy to see his old friend.

“He’s been a major inspiration in this league for a long time,” Pierce said. “A lot of guys look up to him. He has so much to share, and it’s good to see him come here and share some of the things with some of our guys, especially D.J. and Blake. He’s working with them right now. All that helps.”

Garnett’s impressive resume meant all of the Clippers listened when he spoke.

He was the 2004 league most valuable player, the defensive player of the year in 2008, a 15-time All-Star and nine-time All-NBA player.

Jamal Crawford called Garnett one of his “10 favorite players” and said it was “unbelievable” to have the future Hall of Famer at practice.

“That’s one of the best players to ever play the game,” Crawford said. “So every second you’re around a guy like that you’re listening to every single thing that he says. You’re a sponge. You’re like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s Kevin Garnett.’ No matter what, they’ve watched him playing growing up. They’ve seen the highlights.

“He’s one of the best to ever play basketball. He just has a certain aura about him once he walks in that there is a certain respect that he demands. For him to be here and to give them that kind of knowledge, it speaks volumes about him as well.”

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No. 2: DeRozan still motivated Toronto swingman DeMar DeRozan signed a long-term contract extension earlier this summer, a validation of all the work he’s put in thus far in his career. But according to DeRozan, he’s not ready to accept that the work is finished. If anything, he’s still finding motivation to keep improving, as he told TSN Sports…

“Honestly, I don’t think about the contract for motivation or anything like that,” said the Raptors’ guard. “My motivation is knowing what it feels like losing in the playoffs, being two games away from making it to the Finals, knowing how hard we worked to get there, being able to try to be better so we can see that moment again and prevail.”

“Just using all the motivations on a daily [basis] to be there. It’s not about the contract, it’s about everything we do to compete on the court.”

As those that have followed his eight-year NBA career know, DeRozan has never lacked for motivation. Unlike many professional athletes, who claim to avoid or just ignore criticism from fans and the media, DeRozan gets a kick out of reading what’s written about him. He reads it. He listens to it. He remembers it.

Certainly, there hasn’t been a shortage of opinion when it comes to his game and, as a result, most people – fans and pundits alike – are split on his value.
His latest perceived slight came from a familiar source: SI.com’s recent NBA player rankings, which have DeRozan slotted 46th going into the new season. After sharing his disapproval of the ranking on Twitter earlier this month, he doubled down when it came up after practice on Thursday.

“It’s always going to be extra motivation,” said DeRozan following the morning session on his team’s third day of training camp at Fortius Sport & Health in Burnaby, BC. “And it’s things like that that you can use to add fuel to the fire, but at this point I’m so self-motivated that don’t do nothing but make me laugh at it. Whoever came up with that is stupid in my opinion.”

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No. 3: Joe Johnson looking to contribute in Utah As he’s become one of the NBA’s most reliable stars, Joe Johnson has started every NBA game he’s played over the last dozen years. But this season in Utah, it looks likely that Johnson may come off the bench, which he says is fine with him as long as it is what’s best for the team. As the Deseret News reports, Johnson believes he can have an impact in more ways than just playing…

“I’m not coming here trying to be a star or starter,” Johnson said. “Me and coach Quin Snyder have talked from time to time through texts or phone calls. He understands where I’m at and I understand what he wants from me as a player and that’s to help these young guys such as Rodney (Hood) and Gordon. I’m here to tell them about some of the things I’ve been through and help them out with their experiences.”

Johnson has played for five other NBA teams, most recently the Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat last season. He was acquired in July as a free agent to a reported two-year, $22-million contract by the Jazz, who wanted some scoring punch as well as a veteran leader, something they got in Johnson.

“The fit is a really good one,” said Snyder. “What he brings is a confidence and experience and as much as anything, maturity. This is a player who has started every game for the past 10 years. He knows that the situation here could be different, but that wasn’t a deterrent to him coming here.

“Everything I heard about him has been positive. He knows how much I respect him. I think he looked at this team and said, ‘Hey, this is an opportunity for me to have an impact and help build something.’ That’s satisfying. Credit him, the guy’s got no ego.”

One thing the Jazz like most about Johnson on the floor is his versatility. At 6-foot-7, 240 pounds, Johnson normally plays small forward but with his shooting ability, he can play the off-guard spot and the Jazz say they can even use him as a power forward when they want to go smaller.

“Joe’s a guy who gives us a bigger wing capable of scoring in the post and is capable of playing the four position,” Snyder said. “The thing that gets lost about him, is he can play a lot of different ways. He’s an excellent passer, he takes pride in his defense.”

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No. 4: Brooklyn Nets embrace holistic approach to health As part of the new Sean Marks/Kenny Atkinson regime in Brooklyn, the organization is embracing a holistic approach to player health, looking at everything from sleep patterns to diet. It’s just another step in looking for any edge possible, although as Brook Lopez notes, he dearly misses his Slurpees

“I’ve never seen an organization care for their players holistically, from a 24/7 standpoint, versus when we’re on the court or when we’re practicing or at the arena,’’ Jeremy Lin said. “It’s all-encompassing … like the way you sleep or little stuff like how you set up your bedroom and how it impacts your sleep.

“All of that impacts your performance as an athlete. … They’re really trying to do things right, to establish culture not just from when you step on the floor.”

Establishing that culture — especially on a team that won just 21 games last season — means improving not just strength, but agility and mobility, and monitoring everything from sleep patterns to diet.

“The No. 1 thing is buy-in. That’s the biggest thing in the NBA, [if] you get them to buy in, and the performance team has gotten buy-in,’’ Atkinson said. “The players enjoy being in the weight room. … Out here on the court [working on] agility, mobility. That’s part of building the total program.

“It’s such an athletic league, and we feel like it’s a big part of what we do. I was joking with one of the coaches, the performance team is going to move us out of our offices pretty soon.”

That team includes director of player performance Zach Weatherford, who spent the past two years as human performance manager at the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command; strength and conditioning coach Dan Meehan, who had done the same for the North Melbourne Football Club in Australia; athletic trainer/physical therapist Lloyd Beckett; and director of physical therapy Aisling Toolan.

It’s an eclectic mix, but one that has gotten rave reviews.

“I look at the positive feedback I’ve gotten from the players, and just the fact [they’re] consistently coming in on their own and we’re seeing changes in guys’ bodies,’’ general manager Sean Marks said. “They’ve either slimmed down, toned up, whatever. They’re buying into the processes.”

From the slimmed-down like Lopez and Sean Kilpatrick to the toned-up like Chris McCullough, the changes are apparent.

“It’s just changing the way my body moves. We’re looking for any way we can improve,’’ Brook Lopez said. “It’s all across the board, preventing future injury, stamina, diet as well. We have specialized people all across the board, and we’re already reaping the benefits.”

In the case of Lopez, the benefit is he’s seven pounds lighter and clearly leaner, and has better mobility as a result of a better diet.

“I don’t like to talk about it, it’s so sad,’’ Lopez said ruefully. “My Achilles’ heel when it comes to my diet are Slurpees, Icees, like Sonic Route 44 slushes with the Nerds or popping candy inside. That had to take a backseat.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tyronn Lue has a standing invite for Kevin Garnett to join his coaching staff in Cleveland … A rule change will now allow teams to access data directly from the bench … There’s a “better vibe” in Chicago this season, according to Doug McDermottCameron Payne suffered a broken footMike Dunleavy loves being with the Cleveland Cavaliers this season … The Rockets have signed P.J. Hairston to a non-guaranteed deal …

Blogtable: Which rookie would you take slow approach with?

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: Intriguing East teams? | Intriguing West teams? | Taking slow approach with rookie

> Lakers coach Luke Walton says he plans to bring rookie Brandon Ingram along slowly and not start him immediately. Is there another rookie you’d take a similar approach with and why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Kris Dunn, Minnesota. Why? To tamp down some of the raging expectations (Dunn is the rookies’ Rookie of the Year pick), to provide more classroom and simulator work at point guard before tossing him the keys for behind-the-wheel training, and to make sure this team gets the most out of Ricky Rubio before rushing or forcing a transition. Rubio is a unique offensive talent — OK, he’s a preternatural playmaker with shooting issues — and an underrated defender. He’s still young (26 on Oct. 21). And if he’s not going to hang onto his job — he is not new coach Tom Thibodeau‘s preferred type of point guard — he at least needs some time to demonstrate his trade value. As a four-year guy out of Providence, Dunn might not need much time, but I’d give him some regardless.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: First of all, Walton saying he plans to bring Ingram along slowly doesn’t mean anything. “Slowly” could mean bringing the rookie off the bench for the first two weeks before making the move. Or the first two games. Ingram has a lot of developing to do, but could also hold his own as a rookie. And, sources say, the Lakers need talent. He will get an opportunity. Another rookie is a better candidate for a similar approach: Dragan Bender in Phoenix, at 18 years old and after a limited role in Europe last season. I don’t like the topic as a whole, though. This isn’t baseball, where teams will limit the innings of a pitcher selected in the first round and maybe even keep the prospect in the minors just to make sure he is not being rushed. Bender or Ingram are not going to throw out their arms. How much they play will be determined by how well they play, along with team needs. I guess in that sense, Joel Embiid is the ultimate example of an NBA rookie who should be brought along slowly.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I think the Sixers would be wise to do the same with Joel Embiid. Sure, he hasn’t played a meaningful game in two years, which is why there could be a tendency to press the gas pedal, especially by Embiid. But there’s nothing to gain by shoveling him 30 minutes a night. Ease him in, get him comfortable and confident, and allow his body and performance to dictate future playing time.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Obviously, Joel Embiid’s work load shouldn’t be too heavy early on. The guy hasn’t played real basketball in more than two years. The Nets, we know, are in no rush and will take it easy with Caris LeVert as he recovers from foot surgery. And it will be interesting to see how Brad Stevens uses Jaylen Brown, given how many solid guards and wings the Celtics have otherwise.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Ask Byron Scott how that easing the rookie into things theory works. And no, there isn’t another rookie that needs this same specific plan Walton and the Lakers have in mind for Ingram. In most cases, being cautious with a talent like Ingram would make sense. But the Lakers and Los Angeles don’t constitute most cases. There is a pressure that comes with the market that suggests it will be tough to ease Ingram into the mix. Every rookie is going to adjust to his situation and the NBA game differently. I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to develop a young star. The Lakers don’t have to turn things over to Ingram now, not with other players like D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson already in line for increased roles with Kobe Bryant no longer a part of the process.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The same long-term patience should be applied to every rookie in this class except Ben Simmons. The 76ers have no quarterback, and so they need to develop their new identity through the playmaking of Simmons this season. All of the other players in this draft should be brought along more slowly because none of them is ready to take on a major role — including Ingram, whose young Lakers will be struggling now that Kobe Bryant won’t be there to shield them from the pressure and criticism.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Considering how well it worked with D’Angelo Russell, I am against the whole “bringing guys along slowly” idea. You’ve just made a significant financial investment in a player, and the clock is ticking on when your contractual control is going to run out. If they can’t play right away, unless you’re a team like the Warriors or Spurs, why waste a pick? So that being said, I wish the Lakers would just throw Ingram out there and let him play from the start. Then again, I suppose if he’s good enough, he can force that to happen.

Morning shootaround — July 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Team USA continues rolling | Wade, Bulls a convenient fit | Report: Monty Williams to return to sideline with Spurs

No. 1: Team USA continues rolling — With the Olympics now a week away, Team USA continued their exhibition schedule last night in Chicago, where they squared off against Venezuela. As our own Steve Aschburner writes, Team USA managed to overcome poor shooting to still coast to an easy 80-45 win…

A miserable shooting night by both teams kept highlights to a minimum, but the USA Basketball men’s national team beat Venezuela 80-45 Friday night at United Center.

A sellout crowd eager to see both the Chicago Bulls’ Olympic representative, Jimmy Butler, and newest acquisition, Dwyane Wade — watching from the front row after his Bulls introductory news conference earlier in the day — did most of its noise-making during introductions.

At least, that’s how it went until DeAndre Jordan‘s alley-oop throwdown of a pass from Kevin Durant gave them something to roar about, putting Team USA up 62-37 with 6:47 left. Then Butler threw one down with 1:47 left to satisfy the locals.

Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson scored 13 points each for Team USA.

Heading into that final quarter, though, the teams had combined to shoot 29-of-104 (27.9 percent). The Venezuela team was pesky enough defensively to disrupt Team USA’s offense, which had purred along shooting 49.8 percent in its first three tuneups.

The Americans won those games — the opener against Argentina, followed by two against China — by an average of 45.3 points, outrebounding those opponents by an average of 21.0. By halftime Friday, they were on pace in both those categories — leading by 18, with a 37-12 edge on the boards — but their scoring was way down due to abysmal shooting.

Their 36 points through two quarters came the hard way: 12-of-40 on field-goal attempts, including 2-of-18 on 3-pointers. The NBA stars even missed six of their 16 free throws.

The Venezuelans hung tough deep into the first quarter, trailing 13-12, before USA ran off the game’s next 12 points across the quarter break. Venezuela’s John Cox, who led all scorers with 12 points in the half, got his crew as close as 28-18 before Team USA closed the half with eight unanswered points.

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No. 2: Wade, Bulls a convenient fit — One of the more surprising signings of the NBA free agency period was Dwyane Wade leaving the only team he had ever played for, the Miami Heat, in order to sign with his hometown Chicago Bulls. As our own Steve Aschburner writes, Wade met with the media in Chicago on Friday, and Wade said that this was not about money as much as it was a return to where he watched the Bulls play as a kid…

Wade was introduced Friday — wait, that’s the wrong word for one of the NBA’s most familiar faces, so let’s say reacquainted with Chicago media at a news conference at the Bulls downtown practice facility. The theme of the 45-minute “presser” was hometown-kid-returns, and strictly speaking, there’s no denying the truth of that. Wade was born in Chicago, grew up in the south suburb of Robbins, and went to Richards H.S. in neighboring Oak Lawn.

But he left Chicagoland after graduating to attend Marquette University in Milwaukee. After leading that school to the Final Four, the 6-foot-4 guard was drafted fifth overall in 2003 by Miami. And over the past 13 years, Wade established himself as the face, heart and soul of the Heat, stacking up 12 All-Star appearances alongside those three Larry O’Brien trophies.

Because Wade’s Miami teams were in direct conflict with the Bulls for much of his career, his roots mattered less to the fans at United Center than the city and logos on his uniform. He routinely was booed and, more than once, rather awkwardly, he was cheered when he fell or was knocked to the floor and it appeared he might be hurt too badly to continue. Wade even let on how that stung, coming in the building where he once had dreamed of playing and winning.

That was the dream-come-true of which he spoke Friday.

“I’m a Chicago guy, Chicago kid. I grew up here,” Wade said, before a fleet of cameras, a gang of reporters and lots of family. “I remember sitting on the floor when I could sit Indian-style and watching the Chicago Bulls win their first championship. I was 9 years old.

“We had this little-bitty TV — it’s about as big as an iPhone now — I remember looking at it and saying, ‘That’s what I want to do, that’s what I want to be. I want to be a champion and that’s who I want to do it with.’ My dream of becoming an NBA player started here in my hometown.”

No one wants to be overly cynical, so if Wade really is scratching an itch — and maybe extending his brand to another major market for the growing conglomerate that he and many of his peers have become — by playing next season in Chicago, good for him.

That doesn’t paper over suspicions, though, that he signed with the Bulls out of spite when the Heat and president Pat Riley didn’t make him a higher priority when free agency opened July 1. Or that the Bulls had ulterior motives in their own right besides landing a player whom they’d had in their sights twice before.

Wade tamped down a few questions Friday about the breakdown in his negotiations with the Heat. Reminded that Riley later expressed — sincerely or not — some regrets that he hadn’t been more involved in the talks, Wade said he had been fine hashing out particulars with owner Mickey Arison and son Nick.

“This year, the direction and focus for that organization in Miami — which I have nothing but respect for and love for — was a little different than it has been in years past,” Wade said. “My focus and direction was a little different than it’s been in years past. … I had a contract offer in Miami I could have took. I decided not to take it. It was my decision to be selfish and live out a dream of mine.”

“So let’s clear up the notion that Pat Riley orchestrated me getting out of Miami because he didn’t offer me the money I wanted,” Wade added. “This was not a money deal for me.”

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No. 3: Report: Monty Williams to return to sideline with Spurs — After his head coaching gig ended with the New Orleans Pelicans, last summer Monty Williams joined the Oklahoma City Thunder as their lead assistant coach. But tragedy struck midway through the season, when Williams’ wife was killed in a traffic accident. Williams took off the rest of the season to focus on their five children, but he recently returned to work with USA Basketball, and as ESPN’s Marc Stein writes, Williams is expected to return to the NBA next season as an assistant for Gregg Popovich and the Spurs.

Sources told ESPN that Williams — who left the Oklahoma City Thunder’s bench in February after the tragic death of his wife, Ingrid — has been urged by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to take as much of a role with the organization as he feels comfortable for the 2016-17 campaign.

The specifics of what role Williams would fill and how much time he could commit have not yet been determined, but sources say San Antonio has opened the door to either a coaching and player-development role or a front-office position (or a hybrid), depending on what he prefers.

One source close to Williams told ESPN that the 44-year-old “absolutely” intends to be a head coach in the league again after his expected stint with the Spurs. The source also said numerous teams, including Oklahoma City, have made similar offers to Williams for next season.

Williams’ in-laws live in San Antonio and have been assisting him with the couple’s five children in the wake of Ingrid Williams’ death after a Feb. 9 collision in which a car crossed over onto the wrong side of the road and struck her vehicle head-on.

The children also have been traveling with Williams during Team USA’s domestic stops on the road to the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The team has played exhibition games in Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Oakland, California; and Chicago entering the final warm-up game in Houston against Nigeria on Monday.

The start of USA Basketball’s preparations for the Rio Olympics on July 18 in Las Vegas marked Williams’ return to the sport after five months away in the wake of the accident. In a SportsCenter interview with Hannah Storm that aired Friday, Williams said he’s “so juiced up and ready to get back into it again.”

“I’ve only had peace about a few things,” Williams told Storm. “I knew I had to take care of my kids and stop coaching, but also knew that I wanted to be a part of USA Basketball, because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

“I can’t wait to get back and start coaching. I wouldn’t even think that if I didn’t know, one, my wife would want me to. My kids talk about it all the time. And there have been some things that have happened in my life lately that have allowed me to get that back.”

Last season was Williams’ first as the lead assistant in Oklahoma City under Thunder coach Billy Donovan. Williams previously posted a record of 173-221 in five seasons as head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans. After the Thunder’s seven-game exit to Golden State in the Western Conference finals this postseason, Donovan confirmed that Williams would not be returning to the Thunder bench.

Williams got his start in coaching under Popovich as a Spurs intern in 2004-05 before making his debut as an assistant coach with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Reflecting on the accident that claimed his wife’s life, Williams told Storm, “I got the call that nobody wants to get. And I knew when I was talking to my daughter, because she answered the phone, I knew at that moment that my life was going to change. I can’t explain it, but I knew that everything was going to be different. I didn’t know what was going on at the hospital; I just knew that my life was going to change. I don’t know why, I can’t explain it. I just felt that in my heart like this phone call was different.

“It’s one of those things you never get rid of. You never forget where you were. You never forget what you were doing. It’s the phone call you don’t want anybody to ever get. Certainly [it] could’ve broken me to the point of quitting. But God and his graciousness has given me the strength and good people to help us go forward.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: New Atlanta Hawks starting point guard Dennis Schröder joined this week’s Hang Time Podcast … The Warriors will reportedly offer JaVale McGee a chance to make the team in training camp … Nets guard Greivis Vasquez has withdrawn from the Olympics and the Venezuelan National Team … Jarrett Jack says he’s about a month away from returning to full-contact workouts

Morning shootaround — July 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Team USA rolls in opener | Paul George shines in long-awaited return for USA | Harden looks forward to fresh start | Ingram’s tough road to the NBA

No. 1: Team USA rolls in opener — They might have had just four days of practice together, but Team USA came out in their exhibition opener and looked nothing like a team that needed more time to bond. Behind prime time performances from Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George, Team USA coasted to a 111-74 win over Argentina. And as Steve Aschburner writes, it was a dominant performance from start to finish…

By halftime, the USA led 56-33, thanks largely to a 35-15 rebounding edge that produced second chances and defensive pressure that stymied Argentina’s attack. Led by Carmelo Anthony‘s three steals and Cousin’s two in the first 20 minutes, the NBA stars shook loose 14 turnovers and turned them into 25 points. All those offensive rebounds — they grabbed 19 of their missed shots to Argentina’s 14 defensive boards in the half — showed up in a 19-2 advantage in second-chance points.

George, playing for USA Basketball for the first time since fracturing his right leg in an August 2014 intrasquad scrimmage, shot 6-for-9 with a pair of 3-pointers. Cousins had nine points and 10 rebounds in the half, while DeAndre Jordan maintained USA’s inside advantage with six points and four boards.

Andres Nocioni scored eight points in the first half, and Manu Ginobili had six. Argentina was better from distance — 6-for-14 on 3-pointers vs. 4-for-12 on 2-point field goals — thanks to cleaner looks. In the paint, USA dominated in the half 34-6.

Taking better care of the ball in the third quarter — just two turnovers — Argentina stayed even with the Americans at 80-56. They got 22 shots, compared to 26 in the first half, and only allowed USA one offensive board.

The Americans got their swagger back in the fourth, though, outscoring Argentina 24-8 through the first six minutes of the quarter.

The game was the first of five that Team USA will play over the next 11 days before heading to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the 2016 Summer Olympics. The Americans will play the Chinese national team twice — Sunday in Los Angeles and Tuesday in Oakland — before traveling to Chicago and Houston for games against Venezuela and Nigeria, respectively.

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No. 2: Paul George shines in long-awaited return for USA — It was two years ago in Las Vegas during an exhibition that Paul George suffered a gruesome broken leg that changed the course of his career. Now back and healthy, George came off the bench to score 18 points last night for Team USA, and as Yahoo’s Michael Lee writes, George showed everyone that he’s all the way back …

George is back in the Team USA fold, ready to complete what he started before his career was interrupted by what he now calls a “bump in the road.” The venue for George’s long-delayed international debut changed to the brand-new T-Mobile Arena, but he admitted playing an organized game in Las Vegas again was “eerie.” Any uneasiness quickly subsided shortly after Krzyzewski brought him off the bench in the first period. After scoring 18 effortless points in an emphatic 111-74 demolition of Argentina, George was quick to state that the injury that rocked USA Basketball was “behind me.”

All week, George’s Olympic teammates avoided discussing with him a setback that he has little interest in reliving but remains a defining moment in his career that he has been unable to escape – especially since his will to overcome that incident continues to define his character. Krzyzewski said after Friday’s game that George is playing “the best basketball in his life.”

Determined to not only come back, but to continue his steady improvement after missing nearly an entire season, George made his return since breaking his right leg the best of his career. He led the Indiana Pacers back into the postseason, came one point short of Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star Game scoring record with 41 points and earned third-team All-NBA and second-team All-Defensive honors.

Colangelo said the incentivized gesture USA Basketball extended in the aftermath of George’s injury was the “right thing to do,” but George also rewarded that blind faith, making easy the decision to add him to the 12-man roster.

“I’m here for a reason,” George told The Vertical. “I’m not just a guy that Coach K brought along.”

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No. 3: Harden looks forward to fresh start — It was a season of discontent for James Harden and the Houston Rockets, who went through a coaching change and then made a quick postseason exit. But with new coach Mike D’Antoni on the sideline this season and several new free agents signed up, Rockets’ star Harden tells Lang Whitaker that he’s excited for the new opportunity…

Q: How do you feel you fit into Mike D’Antoni’s system, and how do you feel his system benefits you?

HARDEN: You know what? The day he got hired, we watched film. We’ve communicated several times a week. You know, it’s going to work. I’m really excited about it because he’s prepared. He’s prepared, he’s given me knowledge, he’s given me things where I can fit into his offense and what he’s trying to do. And not only myself but the entire team — I asked him questions about how Patrick Beverley fits and the new guys that we got fit. So it’s exciting. And [we added Jeff] Bzdelik, who was the head defensive coach for Memphis. You know, everybody talks about, ‘The Rockets aren’t a good defensive team.’ Well, we got one of the best defensive coaches in the league now. So it’s all about preparation. In this league it’s all about preparation, putting guys in positions where they’re successful, and good things happen.

Q: Do you feel like you get a bad rap for your defense?

HARDEN: Yeah, yeah. But everybody makes mistakes. I can look up the same amount of plays for myself as the other top guys in the league. So I don’t really worry, I don’t focus on it. And now with the more talent that’s going to release some offensive pressure off me, I’m going to be able to go out there and play both ends of the floor at a high level. It’s really difficult to go out there, play all 82 games, lead the league in minutes and have to do everything offensively. I mean, no one else had that weight on their shoulders in the league. So like I said, it doesn’t really bother me. I focus on what I gotta do and I just go out there and do it.

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No. 4: Ingram’s tough road to the NBA — The Lakers used the second overall pick in this summer’s draft on Brandon Ingram, a lanky forward out of Duke who showed everyone in his one year of college that he is an elite scorer. But making it to the NBA wasn’t an easy path for Ingram, and as Chris Mannix writes for Yahoo, Ingram getting to the NBA was a family affair

As he got older, his basketball obsession grew. He played after school. When he got home, he challenged Bo to one-on-one on the battered hoop in the backyard. “I was a senior in high school before I beat him,” Ingram said. When it got dark, his father, Donald, who managed the local rec center, opened up the gym. “It was an all-access pass,” Ingram laughed.

The work paid off. Ingram won a state championship his first year at Kinston. He went on to win three more. A stringy, 6-foot-2 guard as a freshman grew, by his own estimation, two inches every year to finish high school as a slender 6-8 forward. Spins, fadeaways, step-backs — Ingram had it all. He averaged 24 points and 10 rebounds as a senior. Legend had it that in four years, Ingram never missed a free throw. So? “Most definitely, that’s true,” Ingram said.

Last month, the Lakers tabbed Ingram with the second overall pick in the draft. Overnight, Ingram, 18, became the face of one of the NBA’s most storied franchises. It’s not the type of position he has always been comfortable in. For years, Ingram was shy about playing in front of crowds. It wasn’t until eighth grade, when he joined Jerry Stackhouse’s AAU team, that he took to it. He was a star in high school but needed Mike Krzyzewski to tell him at the 2015 McDonald’s All-American Game that he had pro potential. He could score on anyone but wasn’t always assertive in high school and was briefly benched for listless play at Duke.

The Lakers hope he grows into the role. They see Ingram as a multi-position player. At 6-9, 190-pounds, Ingram will need to bulk up. He was eating six meals a day, some 5,000 calories, Ingram said, before the draft and he hopes to be 210 pounds next season. But the talent is undeniable.

Durant sees it. For months, scouts have compared Ingram to Durant. And Durant understands why. “He reminds me of myself, but he’s a little farther along than I was at that stage,” Durant told reporters at Team USA practice in Las Vegas on Wednesday. For Ingram, there is no higher compliment. He grew up wearing Durant’s sneakers. His walls were covered with Durant posters. He mimicked many of Durant’s moves. He worshipped him when he was at Texas, cheered him in Seattle, followed his career closely in Oklahoma City. The Lakers hope they found the next Durant; Ingram knows it will be a while before he gets there.

“It’s a very special comparison,” Ingram said. “But, of course, I know I’m not him. I know I’m not him yet, but I have the potential to make my own brand. Of course, you grow up with him as an idol, and in a few months he’s going to become my rival. It’s going to be a dream come true. I think just watching him for so long and having the ability to actually learn and play against him is just going to be a special motivation for me as a competitor and someone who really looked up to him.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks have agreed to an extension that will keep Dirk under contract until he’s 40 years old … The Pelicans have signed free agent forward Terrence JonesDraymond Green reached a plea deal with prosecutors in Michigan … Luis Scola isn’t thrilled with the real estate prices in Brooklyn …

Blogtable: Biggest team turnaround with new coach?

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: Thoughts on away-from-play rules changesBiggest turnaround with new coach?Incoming rookie destined for NBA stardom?


> Which team is poised to have the most dramatic jump in winning percentage next season: Tom Thibodeau’s Timberwolves, Scott Brooks’ Wizards, Luke Walton’s Lakers, Dave Joerger’s Kings, Nate McMillan’s Pacers, David Fizdale’s Grizzlies, Jeff Hornacek’s Knicks, Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets, Frank Vogel’s Magic or Kenny Atkinson’s Nets?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Thibodeau’s Timberwolves will improve the most. No one coaches harder in the 82-game regular season, and Minnesota’s three youngest core players — Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine — would naturally take a step or two in their development under almost any coach. Combine that, along with a pretty easy act to top (29 victories in 2015-16) and I’m expected an improvement of 10-15 games.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe 17-win Lakers have the most room to work with, but the Lakers are also the farthest away. Frank Vogel’s solid defensive base will make the Magic jump if they can sort out the sudden glut of big men. But I’m making it a two-team race for biggest improvement. The Grizzlies and David Fizzle with a healthy Marc Gasol should go from 42 back to their customary 50-plus level. But I’ll give the nod to Minnesota. All that young talent combined with Thibs’ defensive chops will have the Wolves howling with a possible leap from from 29 to 40+ wins.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comLuke Walton’s Lakers, but in large part because they have the most realistic room to grow. It’s not hard to see L.A. adding 10 wins based on the energy of the coaching change, the experience D’Angelo Russell and (basically) Julius Randle didn’t have last season, the arrival of Luol Deng as a veteran presence and the addition of Brandon Ingram in the Draft. Ten wins is close to a 60-percent jump. A lot of the other options you mention will improve — Minnesota, New York, Orlando — but the Magic, for example, aren’t going to be 60-percent better in the standings. They will have more wins than the Lakers, just not a bigger increase.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’ll say the Lakers only because they were mostly dreadful and won just 17 games. Only one way to go, and if they win 30, which is somewhat realistic, that almost a 50-percent jump. Can’t see anyone else in this group pulling that off (where are the Sixers?) But again, it’s a backhanded compliment to the Lakers, who if nothing else should be exciting to watch even in defeat.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Wolves are going to the playoffs next season. Tom Thibodeau will have them improve at least 10 spots in defensive efficiency, where they ranked 27th last season. The development of their young players — along with, hopefully, Zach LaVine playing a lot more shooting guard than point guard — should have them improved offensively as well. Karl-Anthony Towns is the league’s next star and should do well with his first summer of work after finding out what the league is all about. He could make a huge leap.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: As entertaining as I believe the Minnesota Timberwolves could be under Tom Thibodeau, I’m going to have to go with Luke Walton’s Lakers. They’ve got as much ground to gain (in percentages and raw numbers) as any team in the league, given their dreadful performance last season and the fresh new look they’ll have under Walton. David Fizdale’s Grizzlies, however, will go into the season as my potential surprise team in the Western Conference (provided they have a healthy roster to work with), where things could shift dramatically with all of the changes that have occurred in free agency.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe Timberwolves may reach the playoffs next season because of Thibodeau, who will hasten their development defensively and turn their athleticism into a force. D’Antoni has a history of elevating the value of his players and the Rockets appear to be in the mood to rally around him after embarrassing themselves last year.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI don’t know if there is a “most dramatic” winner out there. Scanning past those names, I don’t see any one team that immediately jumps out at me and looks like sudden a title contender. If I had to pick one, I’d pick a team in the East, where improvement may be easier to come by, and say either the Knicks (if they are healthy, which is a gigantic if) or maybe Frank Vogel’s Magic show in Orlando.

Morning shootaround — July 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Horford opens up on why he left Hawks | Kidd regrets not signing with Spurs | Lin not looking to recreate ‘Linsanity’

No. 1: Horford explains why he left Hawks for Celtics — At his introductory news conference with the Celtics, center Al Horford was understandably excited about the new opportunity and NBA world ahead of him in Boston. That said, though, Horford was leaving the only NBA team he’d known — the Atlanta Hawks. Why did Horford decide to stay in the Eastern Conference? What led him to make his decision? What were his thoughts on Atlanta? In an interview with Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Horford answered those questions and more:

Q. In the end, what did it come down to for you to leave?

A. It was extremely difficult but at the end looking at the future of the team and having an opportunity to win in a different scenario for me. It wasn’t an easy decision for me but I think at the end Boston just felt it was the best fit for me when looking at everything from their players top to bottom, the amount of players they had and the potential there.

Q. When you said opportunity to win, did that mean not with the Hawks?

A. No, in Atlanta for many years we won and were able to be real successful. I think that in Atlanta I was hoping that things would have worked out. Once I saw that things weren’t going to work out, I saw what was going to be the best situation for me to try to win an NBA championship. Like I said, I would have liked for everything to have worked out in Atlanta but it just didn’t happen that way. This is a big opportunity in front of me in Boston.

Q. Were you still with the Hawks right up to the end?

A. At the beginning my plan was to stay (in Atlanta). I started to see that when the team stepped up and did what they had to do, I didn’t think we were on the same page. That’s when I was forced to start looking at other options.

Q. Are you talking about the Hawks signing Dwight Howard?

A. No, it was more from a financial standpoint.

Q. I talked to Kyle (Korver) and he said you reached out to him a little bit. Who else did you talk to or rely on during the process?

A. I talked to Kyle a little bit. I talked to Kent Bazemore. Both of those guys over the years I’ve grown close to, especially with Kyle. At the beginning we were all hoping it was going to work out (in Atlanta) and everything was going to be fine. I know the Hawks were trying to make it work. They were trying to make an effort. I was hoping we could have come to a happy medium and it just didn’t happen.

Q. You’ve had some time to reflect and process it all. When you look back on your time in Atlanta, what will you remember most?

A. It’s more the relationships that I’ve built here – the people, the city. They’ve always embraced me. I really care for them. They embraced me and my family. It’s something that I’ve always been very appreciative of because I’ve always known they’ve embraced me and my family. I’ve always been very happy with that because I know that’s very rare in professional sports.

Q. So you are not leaving bitter?

A. No, no no. I love the fan base here. I thank coach (Mike Budenholzer) for giving me an opportunity to grow as a player and develop. He always had that confidence in me. I know it’s extremely hard for him. This was a hard decision for me.

Q. There are a couple reports out there that I’d like to get your response or to clarify. One was that you didn’t like Dwight, you didn’t want to play with Dwight. True?

A. No, no, no. Not at all. I don’t have a problem with Dwight at all. I think that he is a great player and he has a lot of ability and a lot of potential. It has nothing to do with not wanting to play with Dwight. I don’t know if you remember but there was a time when I wanted to play power forward. With a guy like him, that would have been easier. It had nothing to do with Dwight. He’s a good guy.

Q. Another thing was your dad said some things about one of the reasons you wanted to leave was the fans in Atlanta were not as good as the fans in Boston. Was that true?

A. That made me really upset. I was angry when I heard about that because I never felt that way. I’ve been here a long time. I’ve actually gotten to know a lot of our fans, a lot of our season-ticket holders with the Hawks. They’ve always been great to me. I’ve always been very content and happy with the way they’ve treated me and my family. Parents are sometimes a little more passionate about their sons and daughters. I can relate because I have a son now. So my dad, with him, sometimes he would come to the games and get frustration. His frustrations don’t reflect on me with the fan base.

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(more…)

Blazers, Heat match Nets’ offers on Crabbe, Johnson

HANG TIME, N.J. — On Sunday, the Portland Trail Blazers and Miami Heat matched the Brooklyn Nets’ offer sheets on restricted free agents Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson, respectively.

Those were steep prices to pay for players who have started a total of 24 games in the NBA, but the Nets were looking for any way to add young talent as they begin to rebuild under new general manager Sean Marks.

And as it turns out, the prices weren’t too high to pay for Portland and Miami. Crabbe, who shot 39 percent from 3-point range in his third season in the league and his first in the regular rotation, rejoins a team that surpassed all expectations last season with a trip to the conference semifinals. The Blazers have already upgraded their bench this week with the additions of Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli.

Johnson has played only 68 career games and had shoulder surgery in February. With Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng and Joe Johnson leaving Miami, the 6-4 combo guard will be a part of the Heat’s young core that includes Hassan Whiteside, Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow. The Heat announced the additions of Wayne Ellington, James Johnson and Derrick Williams on Sunday.

The Nets have added Jeremy Lin and Trevor Booker in free agency and have some young talent on the wings, but Brook Lopez remains their only legit NBA starter (though that wouldn’t have necessarily changed had they got Crabbe and/or Johnson). They have more than $30 million in cap space, but are left with slim pickings on the free agency market and aren’t likely to hit the minimum team salary of $84.7 million.

New head coach Kenny Atkinson has his work cut out for him as he takes over a team that won just 21 games last season, traded Thaddeus Young to Indiana for the draft rights to Caris LeVert, and doesn’t control its own first round pick until 2019.

Sunday’s moves by the Blazers and Heat benefit the Boston Celtics, who can swap first rounders with the Nets in 2017 and own the Nets’ first round pick in 2018, thanks to the trade that sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn three years ago.

Reports: Nets send Young to Indiana

HANG TIME, N.J. — Good news for the Boston Celtics: The Brooklyn Nets are trading one of the only legit NBA players they have left on their roster.

The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports Thursday afternoon that the Nets and Indiana Pacers have reached a deal on a trade that would send Thaddeus Young, one of the only decent players left on the Nets’ roster, to Indiana.

As is the case with the three-team deal that the Pacers struck on Wednesday to bring in point guard Jeff Teague, the trade probably won’t take place until July, when cap space is opened up. Young has two more years left on his contract plus a player option for 2018-19. Though the Pacers will still be on the Draft board at No. 20 on Thursday night, it will be the Nets’ selection to make.

Indiana’s starting lineup for next season is looking like Teague, Monta Ellis, Paul George, Young and Myles Turner. That unit could help the Pacers improve offensively, where they’ve ranked in the bottom 10 each of the last three years.

The Nets gain more than $10 million in cap space in the deal, but they take a step backward on the floor. Young and Brook Lopez formed a solid frontline, but now Lopez is the only real starter left on the roster (though second-year forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has a ton of potential). New Nets general manager Sean Marks is building from the ground up, but without control of his own first round pick until 2019.

That’s because the Celtics have the Nets’ first round pick in 2018 and can swap picks with Brooklyn in 2017, thanks to the Paul PierceKevin Garnett trade of 2013. Boston already has the No. 3 pick in Thursday’s Draft from the same trade and that 2017 pick swap looks even more valuable than it did before the Nets agreed to this trade. Although the picks are a sunk cost for Brooklyn, everything the Nets do affects the Celtics, who look like the real winners in the Young deal.

Morning shootaround — May 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Raptors block Cleveland’s path to perfection | Toronto’s offense gets on track | Thunder look to get physical versus Warriors in Game 3 | Carmelo “looking forward” to playing under Hornacek

No. 1: Raptors block Cleveland’s path to perfection The Cleveland Cavaliers had romped through the NBA Playoffs, winning their first 10 consecutive games this postseason to take a 2-0 lead over the Raptors into Saturday night’s Eastern Conference Finals Game 3 in Toronto. But any hope the Cavs had of going undefeated on the road to a return trip to the NBA Finals came to an end in Canada, as the Raptors won 99-84. As our own Steve Aschburner writes, Toronto leaned not on All-Stars Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan, but instead got a huge performance from back-up big man Bismack Biyombo

Near the end of the Toronto Raptors’ resilient and necessary 99-84 victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, Biyombo batted a rebound to a teammate to cap a memorable night for both the Raptors and himself. Then he got batted back when Cavs forward Dahntay Jones hit him in, well, a nether region that had the high-revving Raptors center dropping to his knee, then going fetal on the floor as the final seconds ticked away.

Jones said later the hit was inadvertent, just accidental contact delivered down under when he tried to do something in garbage time — box out Biyombo — that no other Cleveland player had managed through the first 47 minutes and change.

Biyombo encouraged the honchos at the league office to be the judges of that when they go to the videotape for their standard review.

What they’ll see on pretty much every other play involving Toronto’s 6-foot-9 defensive dervish is a game-defining and series-slowing performance. Biyombo set a franchise record with 26 rebounds — not just a playoff record, a Raptors all-time high — and blocked four shots.

Not only did he channel the likes of Dikembe Mutombo, Dennis Rodman and Cleveland’s own Tristan Thompson, Biyombo swatted away any notions the Cavaliers, their fans or a bunch of experts around the league might have had that this would be done by Monday. Forget “fo’, fo’, fo’,” thanks to Biyombo’s “no, no, no!”

“He knows his role,” Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll said. “That’s the NBA. Everybody can’t be the Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry. You have to understand your role, your niche, and he understands it to a tee, and that’s a prime example of a true professional.”

Biyombo, 23, was reminiscent of several professionals Saturday, starting with Mutombo. Like the eight-time All-Star center who blocked 3,289 shots in 18 NBA seasons, Biyombo is a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He gives up five inches to his famous countryman and NBA ambassador, is less than half his age and is 2,713 regular-season swats behind. Yet he has adopted the finger-wag that Mutombo used to such great effect on those blocks (second all-time since the league began counting them in 1973) and in that recent GEICO insurance commercial.

When did that start? “After I got the license from Mutombo,” Biyombo said. “He’s like my big brother, and I’ve had several conversations with him, especially defensively, how he was able to impact the game.” Though shorter, Biyombo has way more quick-twitch muscle going for him, getting higher off the ground than the former Georgetown star.

Then there’s Rodman, a comparison volunteered by Biyombo’s coach, Dwane Casey, when Casey wasn’t busy lobbying from the podium for a fairer shake from the officials. “He knows where the ball is coming off,” the Raptors coach said, of his guy’s Rodmanesque tendencies. “He’s an active player. He’s a guy who’s always moving, moving his feet… He understand angles.”

***

No. 2: Toronto’s offense gets on track Toronto’s Game 3 win wasn’t only about the big night from Biyombo — the Raptors also finally seemed to crack a Cleveland defense that had mostly been airtight throughout the postseason. As our own John Schuhmann writes from Toronto, the Raptors looked like the terrific offense they’d been during the regular season, in large part thanks to the performance they got from Cory Joseph

The way the Toronto Raptors played in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, you would think they were a top-five offensive team this year.

Oh yeah, they were.

You wouldn’t have known it from the Raptors’ first 16 games in these playoffs, in which they had strong offensive stretches here and there, rarely got big games from both of their All-Stars on the same night, and had scored less than a point per possession. While the other three teams still playing have scored at a rate at, near, or better than their regular-season marks, the Raptors had scored 8.6 fewer points per 100 possessions in the playoffs than they did in going 56-26.

Their first 14 games were against very good defensive teams that needed to make things ugly to win. With their incredibly potent offense, the Cleveland Cavaliers have no such need. But the Raptors couldn’t take advantage of Cleveland’s defense beyond strong first quarters in Games 1 and 2.

In Game 3 on Saturday, it was if the Raptors’ realized that Cleveland has no rim protection and a handful of sub-par defenders in its rotation. The result was a lot more attempts at the rim than they had in either of the first two games, their second-most efficient offensive performance of the playoffs (99 points on 85 possessions) and an end to the Cavs’ 17-game winning streak in playoff games within the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors’ defense was important. After allowing 56 points in the paint in Game 1 and another 50 in Game 2, they surrendered only 20 on Saturday and were good enough on the perimeter to keep from getting hit with the Cleveland 3-point onslaught. But they took control of this game with a huge offensive first half, scoring 60 points on 43 possessions before halftime.

DeMar DeRozan had his mid-range jumper going again, but didn’t settle. Kyle Lowry hit a few 3s and got his team into early offense. And the biggest key was Cory Joseph keeping things going when Lowry got into foul trouble.

In Game 1, Joseph got a quick hook in the second quarter from Raptors’ coach Dwane Casey and played a season-low 5:21 before halftime. The back-up point guard, who was a huge key to the Raptors’ success in the regular season, had been struggling since the start of the conference semifinals.

But Saturday brought a breakthrough for Joseph, who was a plus-10 in a little less than 18 first-half minutes, never leaving the game after entering for Lowry midway through the first quarter.

“He did a much better job tonight of controlling the game,” Casey said, “running the offense, keeping things under control, not letting the defense speed him up.”

Joseph’s minutes have proven to be critical for the Raptors, who are now 7-0 in the playoffs when he’s registered a non-negative plus-minus and 2-8 when they’ve been outscored with him on the floor.

***

No. 3: Thunder look to get physical versus Warriors in Game 3 — The Oklahoma City Thunder threw their Western Conference Finals series against the mighty Golden State Warriors into chaos by waltzing into Oakland and winning Game 1. After the Warriors evened things by taking Game 2, the series shifts to Oklahoma City tonight for Game 3, where as our Fran Blinebury writes, Thunder forward Serge Ibaka says the Thunder need to stand strong and not let the Warriors push them around

The numbers told the story. The best rebounding team in the NBA was hammered on the backboards in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. The bigger, taller, stronger Thunder were pushed around, dominated even.

“Of course, you take it personally,” OKC power forward Serge Ibaka said following Saturday’s practice. “It makes us feel like we’re soft, we’re weak, you know what I’m saying? … We have to do a better job next game and be aggressive, make sure if they’re going to score those baskets, that’s hurting them. They have to work hard to get us.

“Yes. It’s kind of weird, yes. It’s kind of weird, especially for us, playing bigs. They’re small. It’s kind of weird. But give them a lot of credit, because they’re the best team in the game. … It’s not going to be easy.”

The Thunder are 9-2 in the playoffs when they’ve out-rebounded their opponents. They were especially effective in the previous series against San Antonio by using a big lineup that kept 7-foot Steven Adams and 6-11 Enes Kanter on the court together. Adams was able to play his role as defensive stopper at one end, Kanter scored at the other and together they helped get the Thunder a bundle of second-chance points. However in the Warriors’ 118-91 runaway win in Game 2, they were the ones able to come up with 15 offensive rebounds.

“They are playing tougher than us,” Ibaka said. “You know, they were more aggressive than us, so I think that’s why. It’s more a game. We have to do a better job of starting aggressive, and just play our basketball.”

Thunder coach Billy Donovan wasn’t as quick to hang the “soft” label on his team.

“I don’t know if I would necessarily fully agree with that,” he said. “They did a great job on the backboard. They were really physical. They come up with loose basketballs. They made those plays, and in Game 1 I thought we did a better job. They did a great job raising their level of play, and you’ve got to give them credit. So I think maybe Serge’s point is that when you’re getting beat like that, to loose balls or rebounds, it can certainly make you look that way.

“I feel like we need to do a better job rebounding the basketball than we did. They were quicker on loose basketballs. They came in from different angles to rebound. They kept balls alive on the glass. We got caught into some rotations a couple times where we didn’t have our block-out assignments lined up.”

***

No. 4: Carmelo “looking forward” to playing under Hornacek After what seemed to be an interesting journey, Knicks president Phil Jackson has apparently settled on Jeff Hornacek as the next coach for the New York Knicks. And yesterday the Knicks’ biggest star, Carmelo Anthony, said he’s excited to get moving as a part of Hornacek’s offensive attack…

“I played against him a couple of times when he was the head coach out there in Phoenix,” Anthony said in an interview Saturday with WNBC-TV. “Everybody knows he likes to play an up-tempo pace of game, likes to get out in transition, likes to speed the game up a lot. So from that standpoint, I’ll definitely be looking forward to that.”

Anthony’s comments suggest that team president Phil Jackson has given Hornacek the freedom to tweak the triangle offense, as several reports have indicated. The Knicks ranked in the bottom third of the NBA in pace the past two seasons, when they ran the triangle. Hornacek ran a faster-paced offense with the Suns, who ranked in the top 10 in pace in each of his three seasons as coach.

Perhaps more importantly, Anthony said Saturday that he believes Hornacek gives the Knicks a chance to turn things around. The club has missed the playoffs in each of the past three seasons.

“It sets the stage for us to do that,” Anthony said. “[It’s a] new opportunity, something new to play with, something fresh, a clean plate. So hopefully we can build off of this momentum.”

Hornacek was offered the Knicks’ job by Jackson and general manager Steve Mills earlier this week, and negotiations on a contract with the club have begun, league sources said.

Interestingly, Anthony said he didn’t share his opinion on the coaching search with Jackson before Hornacek was offered the job.

“Whatever Phil did, he did on his own,” Anthony said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Toronto coach Dwane Casey had a lot of thoughts about the officiating in not just Game 3, but the entire series against Cleveland … Former Cavs coach David Blatt says he will coach somewhere next seasonBrian Shaw is close to a deal to join Luke Walton‘s staff with the Lakers … The Houston Rockets will reportedly interview Spurs assistant James Borrego for their head coaching gig, as well as longtime assistant coach Adrian Griffin … The Nets continue adding to their staffPaul Pierce got his daughter a llama for her birthday …

Morning Shootaround — April 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wizards eliminated from playoffs | For Warriors, motivation not a problem | Bulls to choose Noah over Gasol? | The Brooklyn Swamp Dragons?

No. 1: Wizards eliminated from playoffs After giving the Atlanta Hawks all they could handle in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season, the Washington Wizards were a popular choice to contend in the Eastern Conference this season. Instead, with last night’s loss to the Detroit Pistons, the Wizards were eliminated from postseason contention and clinched a finish below .500. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, playing without an injured John Wall didn’t do anything to help matters

Elimination games were not uncharted territory for the Wizards. They just didn’t expect to play any in the regular season without their best player. But a season that began with a top-four seed and the franchise’s first Eastern Conference finals berth since 1979 atop the list of objectives was sabotaged by baffling inconsistency and a bevy of perplexing losses. Consequently, the Wizards have spent much of the second half of the season outside the playoff picture, scoreboard-peeking while they squandered opportunities.

With three games remaining, the Wizards, winners of 44 and 46 games the past two seasons, are 38-41 and cannot finish the campaign above .500.

“We had some tough losses,” said Wizards forward Markieff Morris, who was acquired Feb. 18. “It’s tough with the talent and the expectations they had even before I got here. It’s definitely a tough way to end the season. But we have to finish these last games strong and start looking forward.”

The Pistons improved to 43-37 after finishing 32-50 last season and rose to seventh place in the Eastern Conference with the victory. Reggie Jackson led the charge Friday, shooting 14 of 20 from the field and adding nine assists. Tobias Harris, a trade-deadline acquisition, contributed 17 points, while all-star Andre Drummond was held to eight points and six rebounds in 26 minutes.

Morris, playing against his twin brother, Marcus, for the third time since joining the Wizards, recorded 29 points, his most in a Wizards uniform. Bradley Beal, who assumed some primary ballhandling duties with Wall out, contributed 25 points and had six turnovers. Ramon Sessions, John Wall’s replacement in the starting lineup, finished with 12 points and six assists.

Wall underwent an MRI exam on his right knee after sitting out Wednesday’s win over the Brooklyn Nets — the first game he had missed this season — and the results revealed no tear or sprain. After the Wizards had their team photo taken at Verizon Center on Thursday morning, he went to a doctor and the knee was drained. That remedied the swelling, but the pain remained after treatment all day Thursday and Friday morning before the team rode the bus to Auburn Hills for shoot-around.

“It took all the fluid out, but it’s just still sore and numb to move,” Wall said after shoot-around Friday morning. “It’s just sore. It’s still sore.”

Wall also said he still doesn’t know how he hurt the knee. He woke up with it swollen Wednesday morning. He recalled his day Tuesday, mystified: practice, shooting workouts, usual maintenance treatment, shower, media availability, home.

“Nothing was wrong,” Wall said.

The Wizards did not succumb without some pugnacity Friday. The Pistons used a three-point barrage — they made nine of their first 11 attempts — to build a 19-point lead in the second quarter, which Washington shrunk to seven at halftime. Detroit again tried to put the Wizards away in the third quarter, widening the gulf back to 16 with 4 minutes 58 seconds remaining in the period on a three-point play by Marcus Morris.

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No. 2: For Warriors, motivation not a problem After winning a title last season, the Golden State Warriors managed to return this season and have put together what has a chance to be the greatest regular season in NBA history. As Andrew Bogut told Yahoo’s Michael Lee, the Warriors haven’t really had much trouble finding motivation this season

The most disrespected great team in NBA history never had the chance to get satisfied. The Golden State Warriors went from their Champagne showers in Cleveland to that championship parade along Lake Merritt, right into a cynical volcano that spewed molten Haterade over all they accomplished. At every turn, what the Warriors achieved got discredited and diminished: They got lucky. The league was watered down. If so-and-so had been healthy …

“Blah, blah, blah. We just kept having people put bulletin-board material out there for us,” Andrew Bogut told The Vertical. “What we heard in the offseason was we didn’t deserve to be champions – and it pissed guys off. Every other week, someone made a comment. We heard all the naysayers. I think it was a good thing. I think it was a good thing.”

Bogut repeated himself and cracked a smile because he knows it was a good thing. With Thursday’s 112-101 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, the Warriors became the second NBA team in history win 70 games, and that’s largely because they never had to search for motivation during their title defense. Of course, the Warriors had the Spurs – also in the midst of their best season in franchise history – to push them so hard that 70 wins actually became a requirement to clinch the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

But more than anything, the Warriors had the hate. Of the 10 previous teams to win at least 67 games, the Warriors are the first to record more victories the following season. Their regular-season dominance has been the result of defiance – the kind that might finally be satiated by reaching some rarefied air.

Golden State (70-9) still needs to win its last three games to jump over Jumpman and break the 72-win record set in 1995-96 by Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. But no matter the final win tally, the Warriors – at least, in their minds – have done enough to distinguish themselves as one of the best regular-season teams ever and prove that last season’s success didn’t come by accident.

“Should be enough. It’s only one [other] team who’s done it in NBA history, and it’s considered ‘the greatest team ever,’ ” an air-quoting Klay Thompson told The Vertical. “So I mean, we still got to take care of business in the playoffs. I think that will be the cap on everything. But this is a steppingstone for that.”

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No. 3: Bulls to choose Noah over Gasol? One day after likely free agent Pau Gasol mentioned the way the Bulls finished may affect his decision-making in free agency, turns out it may not matter, at least in Chicago. As K.C. Johnson writes in the Chicago Tribune, the Bulls are likely going to find themselves having to make a choice between pursuing Joakim Noah or Gasol, in which case Noah might be their selection…

Though front-office meetings have yet to finalize the Bulls’ Plan A for this offseason, there is strong internal desire to re-sign Noah on a short-term deal. Noah long has been a favorite player and ambassador of Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. Executive vice president John Paxson drafted Noah, and their bond is genuine.

Plus, though injuries have diminished Noah since his All-NBA season in 2013-14, his defensive abilities and leadership qualities fill gaping voids.

It will take work, not to mention money, to win back Noah, who disliked the false story Fred Hoiberg spread at the start of the season that he volunteered to come off the bench. He then disliked playing just 20 minutes per game and not finishing them more.

But Hoiberg had started to play Noah more before his first shoulder injury in December. And Noah remains invested enough in the team to question Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose for their silence at the April 3 team meeting, according to several people present.

The Bulls passed on an opportunity to try to finalize moving Gasol to the Kings at the February trade deadline. General manager Gar Forman, who won the internal debate to keep Gasol, called the All-Star center “part of our core.” Gasol said then the Bulls “for sure” are the leading candidates for his free agency services.

Gasol placed a qualifier on that claim, saying how the Bulls fared over the final 30 games would play a factor in his decision, which will come after he exercises his player option for free agency.

The Bulls are 12-15 since.

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No. 4: Swamp Dragons? The Brooklyn Nets are established now in their new borough, after moving a few rivers east from their previous home in New Jersey. But while the Brooklyn part of their name is new, it turns out that a few years back, they almost passed on the Nets nickname. As ESPN’s Zach Lowe writes in a lively oral history, once upon a time, the New Jersey Nets very nearly became the New Jersey Swamp Dragons

As the vote of the full Board of Governors neared, news of the proposed name change leaked — and drew a predictable backlash.

SPOELSTRA: Someone from [Gov.] Christine Whitman‘s office called me and said they didn’t like the Meadowlands being referred to as a a swamp. Well, that’s what it is. I don’t see any cows grazing there. (Through a spokesperson, Whitman said she didn’t recall the Swamp Dragons saga.)

COHEN: Of course, the Meadowlands is in a swamp. It was a colorful name, but I started to wonder if it might draw more ridicule than anything else. How would sponsors feel about sponsoring a team called the Swamp Dragons? We had to think about all of that. I don’t know if Chuck Daly [hired in 1993] would have come to coach the Swamp Dragons.

O’GRADY: We spent four or five months on this, and suddenly there was a pushback. We were getting hammered. Hammered. We played around with maybe just calling them Fire Dragons — to save the dragon, but veer away from the swamp.

SPOELSTRA: Fire Dragons didn’t come from us. We wanted Swamp Dragons. The funny thing is, that swamp caught fire every summer anyway. The water would literally burn because of all the chemicals in it. Talk about fire dragons.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kent Bazemore‘s #BazeGaze has become a thing in AtlantaSix promising NBA head coaching candidates worth keeping an eye on … Villanova’s Jay Wright says he doesn’t have any plans of jumping to the NBA … According to ESPN.com, the Phoenix Suns plan on launching a broad coaching search this offseasonBen Simmons will pass up playing in Rio to prepare for his NBA career … Justin Bieber visited the Houston Rockets