Posts Tagged ‘Carl Landry’

One Team, One Stat: Three Efficient Scorers In OKC


VIDEO: OKC shines in true shooting percentage

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Finally, we look at the Oklahoma City Thunder, who led the league in point differential, but couldn’t overcome Russell Westbrook‘s knee injury in the playoffs..

The basics
OKC Rank
W-L 60-22 2
Pace 95.9 10
OffRtg 110.2 2
DefRtg 99.2 4
NetRtg +11.0 1

The stat

3 - Players the Thunder had in the top 7 in true shooting percentage (minimum 500 FGA).

TS% = PTS / (2* (FGA + (0.44*FTA))).

The context

No. 1 – Kevin Durant: 64.7 percent

Durant led the league in true shooting percentage despite taking the fifth most shots in the league. LeBron James was the only player to also rank in the top 25 in both field goal attempts and true shooting percentage.

James was the better shooter from the field, but Durant was the more efficient scorer because of his ability to get to the free throw line (215 more times than James) and shoot 90 percent on all those freebies. He was the 11th player in NBA history to shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the line, and had the highest true shooting percentage (thanks to the highest free throw rate) of the 11.

No. 5 – Serge Ibaka: 61.2 percent
Ibaka was one of two players (Chris Bosh was the other) who ranked in the top 10 in field goal percentage from both the restricted area and mid-range (where he led the league).

No. 7 – Kevin Martin: 60.8 percent
Martin is somewhat of a rare breed: a great 3-point shooter (he ranked 10th last season) who gets to the free throw line quite a bit. And he converted those free throws at the fourth-highest rate in the league.

Highest true shooting percentage, 2012-13

Player FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3PT% FTM FTA FT% eFG% TS%
Kevin Durant 731 1,433 51.0% 139 334 41.6% 679 750 90.5% 55.9% 64.7%
LeBron James 765 1,354 56.5% 103 254 40.6% 403 535 75.3% 60.3% 64.0%
Kyle Korver 277 601 46.1% 189 414 45.7% 67 78 85.9% 61.8% 63.7%
Jose Calderon 312 635 49.1% 130 282 46.1% 72 80 90.0% 59.4% 61.6%
Serge Ibaka 446 778 57.3% 20 57 35.1% 143 191 74.9% 58.6% 61.2%
Tiago Splitter 315 563 56.0% 0 2 .0% 208 285 73.0% 56.0% 60.9%
Kevin Martin 350 778 45.0% 158 371 42.6% 219 246 89.0% 55.1% 60.8%
Carl Landry 325 602 54.0% 1 3 33.3% 223 273 81.7% 54.1% 60.5%
Martell Webster 281 636 44.2% 139 329 42.2% 168 198 84.8% 55.1% 60.1%
Danny Green 297 663 44.8% 177 413 42.9% 67 79 84.8% 58.1% 60.0%

Take those three guys and a guy who can put defenses on their heels like Russell Westbrook, and you’re going to have a very efficient offense. OKC ranked second in offensive efficiency last season, just a hair behind the Heat, who were the best shooting team (in terms of effective field goal percentage) in NBA history.

How much Martin’s departure will hurt? Yes, he was the third scorer on the Thunder, but Martin played 391 minutes without either Durant or Westbrook on the floor last season. Durant played just 44 minutes* without either Martin or Westbrook, and Westbrook played just 26 minutes without either Durant or Martin.

*He could top that in the Thunder’s first game in Utah on Wednesday.

The Thunder held their own (both offensively and defensively) in those minutes that Martin was on the floor without the two All-Stars. And don’t assume that it was mostly garbage time; 239 of the 391 minutes came before the fourth quarter.

Thunder efficiency, 2012-13

On the floor MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Durant + Martin + Westbrook 1,073 117.5 103.2 +14.3 +301
Durant + Westbrook, no Martin 1,546 108.4 97.2 +11.2 +311
Durant + Martin, no Westbrook 456 110.8 99.4 +11.4 +77
Martin + Westbrook, no Durant 216 106.5 100.9 +5.7 +5
Martin by himself 391 104.7 97.1 +7.7 +55
Durant by himself 44 121.3 81.6 +39.8 +32
Westbrook by himself 26 120.5 78.7 +41.8 +17

Stars win championships, but depth gets you through the regular season grind. The Thunder will need to figure out where their second-unit offense is going to come from.

Once Westbrook returns, Thunder coach Scott Brooks can stagger the minutes of his two stars, so that one or the other is always on the floor with the second unit.

Until Westbrook returns, Durant is going to have to carry a bigger load. That could mean that he averaged 35 points a game for the first month, but it also could mean that both his and the Thunder’s efficiency takes a hit.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

David Lee Encouraged By Recovery

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HANG TIME WEST – The injury that quickly swung from season-ending to day-to-day in the playoffs has now gone from a one-time distressing finding to now a very encouraging outcome.

The torn hip muscle suffered in the playoff opener at Denver was worse than anyone thought, David Lee reported Wednesday. And, the recovery is going so well that he feels better than a year ago at this time, Lee also revealed.

So goes the roller-coaster return from the injured right hip flexor and the subsequent surgery, with implications for the Warriors and the entire Western Conference if Golden State turns potential into reality and pushes into the top tier of playoff teams.

From being declared done for the season when he went down in the first-round opener at Denver to playing in the clinching Game 6 and then again four more times in the West semifinals against the Spurs.

He didn’t play much — one post-injury minute versus the Nuggets and then three, eight, 12 and 12 minutes against San Antonio, respectively — but even the limited action came with Lee acknowledging at the time that he could do more damage to the hip by playing with the torn muscle. When the All-Star power forward had surgery in May, he said, doctors found the injury to be worse than originally thought.

In the Wednesday update for a group of reporters, though, Lee said he is fully recovered, in the best shape of his career and that the core of his body is strong as ever.

“I feel no ill effects whatsoever,” Lee said, as reported by Marcus Thompson II of the Bay Area News Group. “I actually feel a lot better moving around than I did even last year at this time.”

Lee’s health would have been an important early-season storyline for the Warriors no matter what, but is particularly relevant amid the new uncertainty surrounding the frontline. His 2012-13 backup, Carl Landry, left as a free agent; starting center Andrew Bogut is trying to prove he can get to 100 percent after a series of ankle problems; and No. 2 center Festus Ezeli is expected to be out until midseason with a knee injury. Marreese Speights was signed to be the third big man, and Jermaine O’Neal came in via free agency as well. Coach Mark Jackson will have options to play small.

“We still have a long way to go,” Lee said. “But, if you looked at where we came from three years ago, some of the questions were, ‘Why would you come here? They’ve had one playoff team in the last 150 years.’ Looking where we are now and having these conversations, it’s very exciting.”

Vegas Chips: Kings, Cousins Rising? Goodwin A Keeper? Brown At Home?

 

LAS VEGAS – Not everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. OK, that does. But these don’t:

KINGS FIND ‘GOOD-LUCK CHARM?’

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The most remarkable comment I heard during Summer League came from new Sacramento Kings coach Mike Malone about DeMarcus Cousins after he watched the final game from the bench with the summer Kings searching for their first win, which they got: “I told him he was our good-luck charm.”

Wow. When Cousins is suddenly deemed a good-luck charm, you know things aren’t the same old same old. This guy was like the Grim Reaper in Sac, delivering seriously bad vibes wherever he wandered. But maybe, just maybe, new ownership, a new front office and a new coaching staff is breaking through the darkness (74-156 during Cousins’ three seasons) and getting through to the immature-yet-wildly talented big man.

Throughout the game, Cousins was encouraging rookie Ben McLemore to remain confident with his shot and the former Jayhawk went on to score 27 points with nine rebounds.

“I went to Alabama and spent some time with him and his family (this summer),” Malone said. “I thanked him for coming to this game and I’ll come back up (to Las Vegas) and spend some time with him with USA basketball. But I told him he was our good-luck charm. All our other veterans came, we couldn’t win a game. DeMarcus came and we got a win, so we needed that presence on the bench.”

Nothing wrong with doting on Cousins. Malone will give The 6-foot-11, 270-pounder who turns 23 next month — yes, it’s difficult to remember how young he still is — equal parts coddling and hard coaching. Cousins, entering his fourth season, is working on his third coach for a franchise that has operated at the height of dysfunction since he was drafted fifth overall after one season at Kentucky.

Even so, Cousins, despite rampant childish behavior, ejections and fines, has put up impressive numbers thus far. His career averages? Try 16.3 ppg, 9.8 rpg and 0.9 bpg in 29.8 mpg. Want to do a little comparison? Here’s Dwight Howard‘s numbers after his first three seasons: 15.1 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 1.6 bpg in 35.4 mpg. If you extrapolate Cousins’ numbers to per-36 minutes, his totals jump to 19.1 ppg, 11.8 rpg and 1.1 bpg.

It’s why new ownership and management believe if they can straighten out Cousins upstairs, they’ll have a foundation block and the face of the franchise they desperately want. That’s a notion that even Cousins says he can now envision. Continuing to compete with the game’s other young stars at Team USA workouts as he is this week can only benefit Cousins and the Kings.

“I believe I mature after every season,” Cousins told reporters Monday’s workout. “I believe people forget I am just 22. At the same time I’ve got a big responsibility. It’s going to take me time, and I’m still learning. But I believe I do improve every year.”

How much can the Kings improve this season? It’s not time to call them a playoff contender in a stacked Western Conference, but they finally appear to be headed in a positive direction. The Kings acquired emerging 6-foot-6 point guard Greivis Vasquez (career-highs 13.9 ppg, 9.0 apg last season) from New Orleans in the Tyreke Evans trade. Marcus Thornton will likely start at shooting guard, with rookies McLemore and Ray McCallum, who had an impressive Summer League (12.6 ppg, 4.0 apg), adding intriguing depth. Blue-collar forward Carl Landry is back in town and defensive-minded Luc Mbah a Moute joins a front line that includes Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes and Jason Thompson.

There’s also a budding camaraderie. Point guard Isaiah Thomas, Thornton, Thompson and Jimmer Fredette made appearances in Vegas and even worked out with the summer team.

“From Jason Thompson to Isaiah Thomas, Jimmer, Marcus Thornton, even DeMarcus, them coming around, sensing the change in the ownership and the commitment from ownership, our front office staff, our coaching staff, they know it’s a new day in Sacramento,” Malone said. “I think they’re all excited, looking forward to the change that’s ahead.”

It’s a welcome change for a beleaguered franchise that just months ago was on the brink of bolting for Seattle.

LATE FIRST-ROUND SLEEPER?

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One-and-done Kentucky point guard Archie Goodwin was advised to stay in school. His Summer League performance might have been the start of showing why he did not. A lanky 6-foot-5 with long arms, Goodwin finished third on the Suns in scoring (13.1 ppg). More impressive, he shot 50 percent from the floor (26-for-52) — significantly better than his 44 percent as a college freshman — and made eight of his 14 3-point attempts for 57.1 percent (he was 17-for-64 at Kentucky).

“I know what I’m capable of and I just wanted everybody else to know that I can be something they had question marks on,” Goodwin said.

Most impressive was Goodwin’s last game in the inaugural Summer League tournament championship game against eventual-champion Golden State. Yes, it’s only Summer League, but the stakes and pressure were at their highest in a very competitive atmosphere. Goodwin scored 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting. He also had games of 22 and 20 points and scored in double figures in five of the seven games.

He consistently outplayed 2012 lottery pick Kendall Marshall, who averaged 5.6 ppg and 4.0 apg while shooting just 38.7 percent overall, although 40 percent from beyond the arc. (As our own Scott Howard-Cooper reported, Marshall was on the trading block in Phoenix even before Summer League began.)

Goran Drajic has the starting point guard job locked down along with newly acquired shooting guard Eric Bledsoe. Shannon Brown is a veteran presence off the bench and Malcolm Lee was acquired via a Draft-day trade with Golden State that netted Goodwin.

First-year coach Jeff Hornacek, a salty combo guard in his playing days with Phoenix and Utah, coached the Suns’ summer squad and aid Goodwin’s talent and athleticism are obvious. Now it’s a matter of how much he improves and learns through training camp, Hornacek added.

“I’ve learned just about how to play the game,” Goodwin said of playing under Hornacek. “He’s taught me a lot of things. Before we came here I was with him working out. He taught me things on my shot, taught me how to read situations, when to kick the ball, when to attack, things like that. So he’s been really good for me.”

BROWN IN CLEVELAND COMFORT ZONE

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It’s a little weird for a coach to go back to the team that fired him, unless he’s Billy Martin. But, Mike Brown is doing just that, returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers after being fired after the 2009-10 season and before LeBron James‘ decision to bolt. Cleveland hired Byron Scott to replace Brown and now Brown, fired last season by the Lakers after a 1-4 start, replaces Scott.

Brown, 43, is a bit older and wiser after his experiences as the only man to coach both James and Kobe Bryant. Maybe he was out of his element in post-Phil Jackson Lakerland (and who wasn’t last season?), but Brown said he wouldn’t change his approach if he had it to do all over again.

“I don’t know if there’s any one thing. I feel like I’m going to be the same coach,” Brown said. “If I was able to go through the same experience again, I’d probably do it the same way. I felt like I worked hard. I felt like I had a plan. It felt like in time the plan would have been executed in the right way, so I enjoyed my time there. But just like any other business that you’re in, when you go through trials and tribulations, whether it’s positive or negative or whatever, you grow in all types of ways. So I feel like I’ve grown. I feel like I’ve matured, not only on the floor as a coach, but even off the floor, too. So a lot of positives I take from that situation.”

Brown said he and his family always loved living in Cleveland, in fact, they were moving back even before the job offer came along. And, by the way, he has a pretty nice roster to work with, including a rising star in Kyrie Irving, as Brown tries to lead the Cavs back to the playoffs for the first time since he and LeBron left town.

Bench Mobs: Four That Got Better

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Every general manager’s goal is to assembly an energetic, productive bench.

A strong second unit filled with single-minded role players enhances a team’s chances at winning. Just look at the two-time champion Miami Heat and perennially contending San Antonio Spurs: both clubs received significant bench contributions throughout the 2012-13 season. Still, a deep and talented bench does not ensure success — the Los Angeles Clippers being Exhibit A.

Arguably the NBA’s deepest bench last season, L.A.’s reserves ranked fourth in scoring and second in overall production (points, assists and rebounds combined). The second unit of Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf ranked as the third-best defensive unit in the league. Yet the Clippers lost in the first round to the Memphis Grizzlies, whose thin bench was considered a major weakness.

The goal is to build a well-rounded and deep roster that doesn’t falter when the starters sit, that can change pace when needed and can light it up just as well as lock it down.

Four teams looking to make a charge in their respective conferences — including the all-in Clippers and the go-getter Golden State Warriors in the West; and in the East the rugged-but-reinforcement-thin Indiana Pacers and the money-is-nothing Brooklyn Nets — completed significant offseason signings and trades that should bolster each club’s depth:

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

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Loses: G Bledsoe, G Chauncey Billups, F Odom (still available), F Grant Hill (retired), F/C Turiaf

Additions: G J.J. Redick, G/F Jared Dudley, G Darren Collison, F Reggie Bullock (draft pick)

Why they’re better: Only two members of the aforementioned third-ranked defensive unit, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes, are returning as of today (Odom remains a possibility) to the Clippers’ second unit, so they could slip defensively. But the firepower is all-world with Redick (a 39 percent career 3-point shooter) and Dudley (40.5 percent) joining Sixth Man runner-up Crawford (35.0 percent). Collison has plenty to prove after twice losing his starting job in Dallas to late-30-somethings Derek Fisher and Mike James. The ultra-quick Collison backed up Chris Paul as a rookie in New Orleans and he now has a defined role that should suit his game. Plenty of experience and savvy leaves town in Hill and Billups, but they played a combined 51 games last season. Hill was not part of the playoff rotation until former coach Vinny Del Negro got desperate late in the first-round series loss. New coach and senior vice president of basketball operations Doc Rivers has given himself plenty of options with a bench unit that might top last season’s group. Free agents Barnes, center Ryan Hollins and guard Willie Green return.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

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Loses: Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry

Additions: Marreese Speights, Toney Douglas, C Jermaine O’Neal, Nemanja Nedovic (draft pick)

Why they’re better: Simply, Andre Iguodala. Acquiring the veteran forced out Jack and Landry, but also provides instant depth for a young team that basically rode seven players in the playoffs after David Lee injured his hip. The tough call for coach Mark Jackson will be moving either semi-conscious shooter Klay Thompson or confident forward Harrison Barnes to the bench (both started every game they played last season) to make room for the 6-foot-6 Iguodala. Thompson could challenge for Sixth Man of the Year honors and he’d easily replace the scoring punch Jack provided. The second-year Barnes, who truly emerged during the playoffs, can provide everything the blue-collar Landry delivered only with advanced skills in every facet, especially with his burgeoning offensive arsenal. Barnes could discover some very favorable matchups off the bench. Speights, more accurately, will be expected to fill Landry’s role. The Warriors also bring back impressive frontcourt youngsters Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli, who should benefit from the presence of the steady veteran O’Neal.

INDIANA PACERS

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Loses: F Tyler Hansbrough, F Jeff Pendergraph

Additions: F Chris Copeland, G C.J. Watson, G Donald Sloan, F Solomon Hill (draft pick)

Why they’re better: The wild card here is forward Danny Granger, who missed all but five games last season with a left knee injury but will be back. With Paul George emerging as a star, Granger could find himself as the Pacers’ sixth man — imagine that. A better bench might have pushed Indiana past Miami in the East finals. The Pacers were one of six teams whose bench averaged fewer than 80 mpg, and they ranked 29th in scoring. The veteran Watson should stabilize a backcourt that had no consistent answer (D.J. Augustin) coming off the bench last season. Watson is a solid veteran who rarely turns the ball over — less than one a game in 19.0 mpg last season with Brooklyn — and is the type of team-first player president of basketball operations Larry Bird wants for coach Frank Vogel. And then there’s the unexpected feather in Bird’s cap — forward Chris Copeland. The 29-year-old late-bloomer provided the Knicks with energetic play off the bench and surprising accuracy from beyond the arc (59-for-140, 42.1 percent). The 6-foot-8, 235-pounder gives Indy a rugged backup for David West and weakens a rival.

BROOKLYN NETS

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Loses: G C.J. Watson, G Keith Bogans, G MarShon Brooks, F Kris Humphries

Additions: G Jason Terry, G Shaun Livingston, G D.J. White, F Andrei Kirilenko, C/F Mason Plumlee (draft pick)

Why they’re better: While a pudgy Deron Williams hobbled about on bum ankles for the first couple of months last season, the Nets’ bench carried the team, so they were no slouches to begin with. But when you add Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the starting lineup, that turns rebounding machine Reggie Evans and offensive weapon Andray Blatche into reserves and instantly improves that group. Terry remains a dangerous streak shooter even after a down season in Boston. The 6-foot-7 Livingston has quietly resurrected his career and should find a home backing up D-Will, who played like an All-Star in the second half of last season. The coup was snagging Kirilenko, who signed for $3.18 million after opting out of his $10-million deal with Minnesota. Kirilenko is always a nagging injury away from missing handfuls of games at a time, but the 6-foot-9 countryman of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is a do-it-all stat-sheet-filler. He is a sneaky offensive presence on the baseline and a rangy defender the Nets can use against Carmelo Anthony and other rival scoring threats.

Projecting The West Playoff Order



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Adding Dwight Howard to a Los Angeles Lakers team that was one of the top teams in the Western Conference was supposed to vault the Lakers into the championship elite last summer.

It never happened. Howard and Steve Nash failed to move the needle for the Lakers, who had to claw their way to a seventh seed in the playoff chase, only to be swept by the San Antonio Spurs.

So please forgive me for not crowning the Houston Rockets prematurely. They’ve got Howard in the fold now, adding the best big man in basketball to an explosive core that includes All-Star James Harden and a solid supporting cast.

Legitimate playoff outfit?

Absolutely.

But contenders … not so fast my friends.

They should be in the mix. And as coach Kevin McHale told NBA.com’s Fran Blinebury, they should be able to “play with anybody.” Playing with the best and beating the best come playoff time, however, are two very different things. Just ask the Los Angeles Clippers, who thought they had arrived last season and were disposed of in the first round of the playoffs.

We’ve already delivered our projections, based on what we know now, for the Eastern Conference playoff-chasers for the 2013-14 season. These are the projections for the Western Conference:

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

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Any suggestions that the Thunder would be better off without Russell Westbrook at the controls were answered in the playoffs. The Inside The NBA crew (above) knows as well as the rest of the NBA-watching masses. OKC was a shell of its regular-season selves without the All-Star point guard, who suffered a knee injury in their first-round series against Houston. Kevin Durant is a behemoth, the second best player in the league behind LeBron James, but no one superstar is going to climb the Western Conference mountain on his own. The Thunder are in a precarious position because all of their competitors seem to be making power moves to catch and surpass them. Without sufficient cap space to deal themselves, they have to rely on a rock-solid core group maintaining their respective positions. That means Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins have to show better than they did in the playoffs. Reggie Jackson has to play a more prominent role this season and appears to be ready for that. And Jeremy Lamb has to move into a regular spot in the rotation as well. Rookie Steven Adams, the 12th pick in the Draft, is more of a project right now. But the Thunder don’t need him to be an impact player. Not if everyone stays healthy and Westbrook returns to form.

SAN ANTONIO SPURS

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When training camp begins, the Spurs will probably still be answering questions about the championship they let slip away. Two 30-second intervals during Games 6 and 7 of The Finals got away from them and cost Tim Duncan title No. 5 and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili title No. 4. And make no mistake, that trio, and Duncan in particular, is the key to the Spurs getting back to that stage again. If Duncan can crank out another fountain-of-youth, All-NBA-type performance like he did this season, the Spurs have a shot to rule the Western Conference again. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green emerged during the playoffs as more than just young prospects. Leonard could be a legitimate All-Star candidate himself if he picks up where he left off in The Finals. The Spurs always find a way to mine the Draft and free agency for young talent to incorporate into their system. But they won’t need as much assistance with both Ginobili and Tiago Splitter sticking around in free agency. Keeping their biggest stars healthy and rested, something coach Gregg Popovich paid for dearly last season, is of the utmost importance. As long as they do that, a top-four spot in the playoff chase should be a given.

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

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With all apologies to Howard and even Chris Paul, the biggest fish of the free-agent summer of 2013 was coach Doc Rivers — not one of the players projected to be the big prize. The fact that Rivers was under contract for three more years in Boston when the summer began makes what the Clippers did even more remarkable. Not only do the Clippers get one of the best coaches in the game, they got a senior vice president of basketball operations who paid immediate dividends by keeping Paul in free agency and helped them add J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley in trades. They had to move backup Eric Bledsoe and veteran swingman Caron Butler to make it happen, but they replaced him with Darren Collison. And they still have the key component from that explosive bench crew in Jamal Crawford, whose role could increase dramatically without Butler, Chauncey Billups or retired veteran Grant Hill in the mix. The one glaring issue they have is their frontcourt tandem of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. They weren’t up to the challenge against the Grizzlies and it cost the Clippers in a first-round defeat. Are they willing to accept the challenge Doc will pose to them? He won’t allow them to be outworked on defense and will demand they show the toughness that has eluded them in the past.

HOUSTON ROCKETS

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Welcome to paradise Jeremy Lin. Now you can officially put Linsanity behind you and play the role of facilitator. The real superstars are on the roster now, as both Harden and Howard will be the opposition’s focus every night. Lin, Patrick Beverly and Chandler Parsons have clearly defined roles on this team before they ever hit the floor together in an official capacity. Howard makes life easier on all of the Rockets’ specialists and role players, not to mention his fellow starters. Guys like Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Greg Smith and even Omer Asik, should he stick around and back off his trade demand, will find out just how different life can be with a healthy, happy and motivated Howard operating in the middle. Despite two straight down seasons (by his own lofty standards), he still led the league in rebounding and looked like he had shaken off the ill effects of his back surgery. McHale has to pull this all together quickly to ensure these young Rockets don’t get swallowed up by the expectations sure to come with their newfound celebrity.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

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Adding Andre Iguodala essentially at the expense of Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack, two key veterans who gave the Warriors superior bench production and quality locker room leadership, might not seem like a steep price to pay for some. But when you already have Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes on the roster … let’s just say that is a luxury most teams wouldn’t indulge this early in the process of trying to build a contender. The Warriors showed us some serious flashes of being a big-time player in the Western Conference for years to come with the work they did in the playoffs. They had the Spurs plenty nervous in the conference semifinals. But their shortcomings came back to bite them in the end. And they didn’t solve those issues in the Draft or free agency. Andrew Bogut and David Lee will have loads of work to do this season, provided they both make it to training camp. Both of their names surfaced in trade rumors leading up to the Draft and through the first week of free agency. Lee is an All-Star and, when healthy, an absolute force. But Bogut, due to injuries, has only shown glimpses of what he’s capable of. And at this stage of his career, a $14 million spot starter is certainly not a luxury the Warriors can afford.

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

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How important was Lionel Hollins to the Grizzlies during their run to the Western Conference finals? We’re going to find out this season. Because for all of the promise Dave Joerger brings to the position, there is no denying the impact Hollins made on Zach Randolph and reigning Kia Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol. And even Hollins couldn’t get them in a comfortable groove against the Spurs. The Thunder proved that nothing is guaranteed from one season to the next, not with injuries and the race for the top spot being as competitive as it has ever been in the rugged Western Conference. Bringing this group — Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince, too — back intact might not be sufficient for returning to the Larry O’Brien final four tournament. The Grizzlies didn’t have the flexibility to tinker with the roster in free agency. The one change they could have made that could shake things up was to replace Hollins. By doing so with a guy who is familiar with this roster gives them some advantage that a completely fresh face would not have recognized. It won’t take long to see if Joerger has a handle on those intangibles. And if he does, the Grizzlies will climb this list.

DENVER NUGGETS

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The Nuggets will survive a tumultuous offseason that struck three significant blows to a team that seemed to be on the rise before yet another first-round playoff exit. The NBA’s Executive of the Year, Masai Ujiri, bolted for Toronto. The league’s Coach of the Year, George Karl, was relieved of his duties. And Iguodala is set to be signed and traded after agreeing to terms on that deal with the Warriors. That would normally be enough to knock a top team all the way back down to the lottery. The best move they’ve made so far this summer was hiring Brian Shaw to replace Karl. He’ll bring a steady hand to what was a shaky situation. The Nuggets will have an active and talented frontocurt rotation to work with in Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee, Darrell Arthur and free-agent pickup J.J. Hickson. Wilson Chandler will step in for Danilo Gallinari, who continues his recovery from knee surgery, and Evan Fournier, Corey Brewer and Randy Foye will provide depth on the wing. Ty Lawson and Andre Miller combined to form one of the league’s best 1-2 punches at point guard and they should be allowed plenty of freedom to operate in the system Shaw will employ. The Nuggets will continue to play at a tempo that suits their talent and home environment. They shouldn’t lose anything defensively either. Shaw isn’t the wild card that some of these other new coaches (Jason Kidd, Brad Stevens) could be in other situations. So don’t expect the Nuggets to crumble just because they’ve lost a few familiar faces.

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

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No team endured more maddening injury issues this season than the Timberwolves. A healthy Kevin Love, however, changes their playoff outlook dramatically for the 2013-14 season. With their talent and dept, a legitimate run for the final playoff spot is not as far-fetched as it might seem. Ricky Rubio should be full healthy this season and the Timberwolves retained Chase Budinger, added Kevin Martin and have to do whatever it takes to keep restricted free agent Nikola Pekovic in the fold. Sure, it’s been a professional sports eternity since the Timberwolves last breathed playoff air (Kevin Garnett was still wearing the uniform in 2004). But coach Rick Adelman finally has the horses to make some serious noise. The franchise’s new head man, Flip Saunders, was the coach of that 2004 team that made the Western Conference finals, so he knows exactly what it takes for a Minnesota crew to cash in on its promise. It starts with Love and Rubio, their two biggest stars, staying healthy and playing up to their immense potential, both individually and as a dynamic duo.

JUST MISSED THE CUT: Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers

Busy Saturday Of Free-Agent Deals

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Plenty of free-agent action swept through the Association on Saturday, headlined by power forward Josh Smith going to the Detroit Pistons and cashing in on the type of contract he’s dreamed about.

Others also reached verbal agreements with new teams, but keep in mind none of these deals become official until Wednesday when the league’s moratorium on signing new contracts and finalizing proposed trades is lifted.

Some of the other notable activity from Saturday:

  • Earl Watson agreed to a one-year, $1.4 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Spurs-Grizzlies Means No Apologies


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SAN ANTONIO — Tim Duncan sat down heavily and breathed a sigh of someone who had just been asked to lift the back end of a school bus off the ground.

“It’s not going to be pretty,” he said. “Sorry.”

But the playoffs mean never having to say you’re sorry.

So when the Spurs and Grizzlies open the Western Conference finals on Sunday night, there will be no apologies offered.

Only elbows and hips, pushes and shoves, pulls and grabs and tugs and slaps and takedowns that could turn seven games into one gigantic bruise.

Having already dealt with the front-line size of the Lakers Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol and the aggressive play of the Warriors’ Andrew Bogut, Carl Landry and Festus Ezeli, the Spurs realized it was all just a warmup to the tandem of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, for whom grit and grind is more than a slogan.

“If you thought (the Golden State series) was physical, it’s going to turn up about 10 notches,” Duncan said.

It’s possible the Spurs might still have a few black and blue marks left over from their run-in with the Grizzlies in the first round of the 2011 playoffs. San Antonio entered that series as the prohibitive favorite and wound up becoming only the second No. 1 seed in history to lose to a No. 8 seed in a best-of-seven series.

By the time the series was over, the Spurs were as bludgeoned as they were beaten by Memphis’ inside game. Duncan, who played with a sprained ankle, and Manu Ginobili, who played with a fractured elbow, were exhausted and exposed.

Now though, the Spurs are feeling like a team that is much more equipped to deal with the Grizzlies’ size and force, having added Tiago Splitter to their starting lineup and Boris Diaw to their bench.

“It’s going to be a big-man series,” Duncan said. “I think the size definitely helps us. We’re a different team than when we faced them a couple years ago.”

The 6-foot-11 Splitter was a rookie in 2011 and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich did not feel confident using him two seasons ago, choosing to go with 6-9 veteran Antonio McDyess in his final NBA season. Splitter played just 51 minutes in the entire season and did not set foot onto the court until Game 4.

“Of course, you always want to play, because you believe that you can help,” Splitter said. “That’s the part of you that is the competitor. But that is the past and now I feel good.”

In the four regular season meetings this season, Splitter averaged 10.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and was able to stand his ground against the low-post relentlessness of Randolph.

“Its just nonstop fighting,” Splitter said. “He’s a warrior over there with the rebounding and positioning.”

The experience two years ago gave the Spurs a head start on the rest of the league in recognizing the Grizzlies as powerful, growing championship contenders.

“I’ve seen them as a major threat for years now,” Duncan said. “Obviously, they beat us in the first round when we were the top seed. They’ve been a very solid team, a very good team. They have always played us really tough. We respect them and their capabilities and we’re not surprised they’re here.”

Popovich rates the Grizzlies with Miami and Indiana as the top defensive teams in the league. But the Spurs themselves turned around the battle against the Warriors and put the clamps on the backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson with a defensive job that was aggressive, thorough and a throwback to their old championship ways and days.

Now it’s toe-to-toe, elbow-to-elbow, hip-check to bump-and-grind with the Grizzlies at a time when the 37-year-old Duncan can see the finish line.

“This run this year is extremely special to me,” he said. “People continue to count us out, year in and year out, and we continue to make runs deep into the playoffs. This is a special one.”

And certainly no reason to say you’re sorry.

Fighting The Odds But Keeping The Faith

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OAKLAND, Calif. — After spending the last four weeks pushing credulity to the limits with some of the shooting performances by Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, now the Warriors stand at the brink.

For the first time in the playoffs, Golden State’s Cinderella story approaches the stroke of midnight with the Spurs holding a 3-2 lead going into tonight’s Game 6 at the Oracle.

But that doesn’t mean the Warriors are thinking that their time has run out.

“This is one of those games where you win or you go home, almost like an NCAA tournament game,” said forward Carl Landry. “We have to go out there and not take any possessions off, and after the game, we shouldn’t have anything left. We shouldn’t be able to walk to our cars. It should all be left on the court.”

The cold, raw numbers say that in all previous best-of-seven NBA series that were tied at 2-2, the team that took Game 5 went on to win 83.3 percent of the time. The Spurs, of course won Game 5 in a 109-91 rout.

The last time the Warriors franchise faced an elimination game at home was in the first round of the 1994 playoffs. That’s a generation ago and it means nothing to this bunch that coach Mark Jackson says has “been touched by the hand of God.”

These Warriors have not lost back-to-back games so far in the playoffs, showing an ability to regroup every time they’ve been knocked down. So even with the mobility of Curry and center Andrew Bogut limited by injured left ankles, they’re believing.”

“I’m not worried about my guys,” Jackson said. “If you would have rewound this thing all the way back to Day 1 and said we’d have a Game 6 at home in the second round of the playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs after defeating the No. 3 seed (Denver), we would have taken it.

“So we’re thrilled about where we are. We don’t want our backs against the wall, but this is where we are today. It’s as simple of putting together 96 minutes of our brand of basketball.”

– Series hub: Spurs vs. Warriors

Warriors’ Defense Shoots Lights Out, Too

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SAN ANTONIO – This is not merely about Stephen Curry looking like the deadeye love child of Annie Oakley and William Tell one night and Klay Thompson turning into a heat-seeking missile the next.

It’s about shooting, yes, because it’s what they do. Shooting from the gaps and shooting over outstretched arms. Shooting a running, one-footed 3-pointer with the dour expression of an English butler on your face and shooting a fallaway heave in front of the opponents’ bench to beat the third quarter horn. Shooting late in the shot clock to bail out a possession gone wrong and shooting early in the shot clock because, well, you just feel like it.

It’s also about pressuring the ball out front, squeezing the penetrators into the lane, cutting off the paths on the baseline and protecting the rim as if it were the Holy Grail.

While all of the postgame highlights and most of the headlines about their first victory in San Antonio since the Mexican flag flew over Texas will concentrate on Thompson’s deep ball barrage, the Warriors got this Western Conference semifinal series to 1-1 because they played ferocious, high-energy, unforgiving defense.

It’s like finding out that Kate Upton can cook, too.

“Our shooters, Steph and Klay, are amazing,” said center Andrew Bogut, “but we like to think our defense is consistent.”

It consistently chased Spurs point guard Tony Parker. When Thompson wasn’t pushing the limits of credulity with his 8-for-9 shooting from behind the arc and his ridiculous 29-point first half, he was the one sinking his teeth into Parker.

“I told him at halftime, that is in the discussion of one of the greatest halves ever,” said Golden State coach Mark Jackson. “Not only what he did offensively, but what he did defensively. If you slow it down and see the multiple plays and the attention to detail defensively, he is playing a future Hall of Famer and he’s making him work for everything.”

That’s been the difference in the first two games so far — the Spurs keep looking like they’re laboring for everything on offense and the Warriors might as well be cruising the court on roller skates. (more…)

Warriors Are Just Warming Up

Here’s the really crazy thing about the Warriors, as if 15-7 and a last-second victory at Miami on Wednesday night in their sixth different city in 10 days isn’t crazy enough:

That’s nothing.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News had the best perspective after Jarrett Jack found Draymond Green inside for the winning layup with 0.9 seconds remaining, calling the 97-95 building block the most significant Golden State moment since the 2007 playoffs of the We Believe club. Great call and a reminder that December games can be very weighty.

But imagine when the Warriors really start playing well. They’re at well enough right now, enough to be 5-0 on the trip that finishes with an Orlando-Atlanta back-to-back, enough to be 9-4 on the road after winning 11 times in 33 tries last season, and enough to hold the Heat scoreless the final 3:18. They’re just not close to hitting stride.

Stephen Curry is shooting just 43 percent, and that dip is not going to last. The other starting guard, Klay Thompson, is at 41.3 percent from the field, which means he is also due a recovery over the final three quarters of his second season. David Lee and Carl Landry, the real big-man tandem even if Lee and Festus Ezeli start, will get better after more than 22 games together. And if this is the coaching arc for Mark Jackson, after the gains from 2011-12 to 2012-13, he should be farther along still in April.

Youth is a big unknown moving forward. The Warriors rely on three first-year players – Harrison Barnes and Ezeli as starters, Green off the bench – and they could either grow with experience or hit the rookie wall.

Health is a big unknown, too. Andrew Bogut could be back from a fractured ankle within weeks … or could still be sidelined months from now, a timeline being kept purposely vague to end what had become constant questions about a supposedly imminent return. Either way, the presence of Bogut at close to 100 percent, at some point, makes the Warriors better in almost every area.

Golden State is 15-7 — an early 56-win pace. They’re stacking victories on the road with a lineup that hasn’t played together before, a roster that is inexperienced on some fronts and a coach who only this month worked his 82nd game on a bench in any role. There are so many obvious ways the Warriors can still get better.

Jack-to-Green was the perfect symbolic finish to Wednesday night in Miami, of course. The veteran backup point guard, acquired as part of a three-team trade in July, to the rookie backup forward, underlining a roster coming together and pointing out again the successful summer work of the front office.

This has been an impressive opening statement by the Warriors, even to those of us who picked them at the start to make the playoffs. Winning in Miami is the biggest moment, but also the latest. It just isn’t as good as things could get.