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Posts Tagged ‘Carmelo Anthony’

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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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 …

Report: Knicks to hire Hornacek

The NBA couching carousel provided another surprise on Wednesday. New York Knicks president Phil Jackson wasn’t just sitting back and waiting to name interim coach Kurt Rambis as head coach, after all.

Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck reports that the Knicks are set to hire former Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek.

Hornacek coached 2½ seasons in Phoenix before being fired in early February. His 2013-14 team exceeded all expectations, went 48-34, and ranked eighth offensively, but finished a game out of the playoffs. The ’14-15 Suns fell off offensively after trading both Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas at the deadline, and this year’s team struggled on both ends of the floor before Hornacek was fired.

The Knicks were the most improved team in the league this season, but mostly because they ranked in the bottom three in both offensive and defensive efficiency in Jackson’s first full season in charge. They ranked 26th offensively and 18th defensively, fired Derek Fisher about a week after Hornacek was dismissed in Phoenix, and finished 12 games out of a playoff spot.

Knicks star Carmelo Anthony said that he hoped Jackson looked beyond Rambis in his coaching search. He got his wish, but his future with New York is still unclear. Anthony’s timeline still doesn’t match up with that of Rookie of the Year runner-up Kristaps Porzingis and New York still needs upgrades at both guard positions.

The Hornacek hire in New York leaves three more coaching jobs available. Mike D’Antoni looks like a strong candidate in Houston, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein, with Frank Vogel and Adrian Griffin looking like possibilities in Memphis and Orlando, respectively.

20160518_coaches

Morning shootaround — May 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Heat needs Johnson to step up | All about team for Lillard | Raptors face pain, Pacers all gain | Cavs’ Griffin: Expectations, not chemistry, was challenge

No. 1: Heat needs Johnson to step up — As dynamic as Miami’s Dwyane Wade was in Game 6 against the Charlotte Hornets Friday and as durable as he’s been this season, a matinee tipoff time for Game 7 down in South Florida (1 ET, ABC) isn’t the most ideal scenario for the Heat’s 34-year-old leader. That short turnaround time had Ethan J. Skolnick of the Miami Herald casting about for the likeliest teammates to step up into a 1-A role Sunday, and after considering the likes of Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, Luol Deng and a couple others, Skolnick settled on:

The other guy is Joe Johnson.

The 15-year veteran has had mixed success, with Everest highs and deathly Valleys.
It didn’t start well. He was 5 for 17 for 16 points in the Hawks’ 34-point loss to a much better Boston team in the 2008 first round.

“They killed us,” Johnson said. “But that’s the year they won the championship.”

But then, in 2009, the Hawks and Wade’s Heat went the distance, and Johnson actually had the better finish: He made 10 of 19 shots for 27 points, while also recording five rebounds, four assists and five steals in an easy win.

“That was a pretty good one, because I struggled that whole series,” Johnson said. “And I probably had my best game in that Game 7.”

In 2010, Johnson had just eight points on 4-of-14 shooting in Atlanta’s rout of Milwaukee in Game 7 of the first round. And then, in 2013 against the Deng-less Bulls, he went 2 of 14 and scored just six points in Game 7, as his Nets lost at home by six.

In the first round in 2014, he made plenty of big plays to push the Nets past the Raptors, in a Game 7 on the road: 26 points on 11-of-25 shooting.

“That was probably the most special, because it was on the road, hostile environment,” Johnson said. “And man, down the stretch, we were huge. It was the loudest place I’ve ever played in. I couldn’t [bleeping] hear myself breathe, think or nothing. That was probably the best one.”

No better basketball feeling than ending somebody’s season.

“Knowing that one team has to go home,” Johnson said. “So for us, to have a Game 7 on our home floor, I think we’ll take that.”

The Heat took him in this season, after his buyout from Brooklyn. He’s had a decent series — averaging 11 points while shooting 49 percent from the field, including 47 percent from long range. But Miami needs more than efficiency to advance.

It needs more impact.

The Heat may not get his best Game 7, better than what he gave against Miami in 2009.

But his best performance of the series?

With the start time, this seems the right time for that.

Bonus coverage: He isn’t expected to be in the building Sunday, but here is the Charlotte Observer’s story on “Purple Shirt Guy,” who played such a goofy intrusive role in Game 6.

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Morning shootaround — April 15


VIDEO: Which East teams will win their series in the first round?

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry realizing his impact on league lore | Casey miffed over Game 1 tipoff time | Anthony talks frankly with Knicks’ brass | Hornets pull together

No. 1: Curry starting to realize his place in league lore Tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. ET, the Golden State Warriors start their playoff trek in what they hope will be a mirror of their regular season — total domination of any and all comers en route to another NBA championship. Leading the charge will be reigning Kia MVP and superstar Stephen Curry, who led the Warriors to a record 73 wins and put up an individual season just as remarkable to boot. In a chat with USA Today‘s Sam Amick, Curry explains how he is starting to fathom just how his current run is affecting not only today’s NBA, but generations to come:

“I was watching some show where they were talking about Kobe’s last game,” the 27-year-old Curry told USA TODAY Sports. “And (they talked about) the fans who were my age, or a little younger, who didn’t get to see (Michael) Jordan play much but they saw Kobe play his whole career. … That was like passing the torch to him, (or) obviously LeBron (James) or whatever.”

The epiphany, you see, is that the torch is in his hands right now.

“For the youth that are watching today’s game and where it is, that would be something very special, in 15 or 20 years, (to) hear stories of kids growing up watching me play and being inspired by what I do on the floor, and how I play the game and what not,” Curry continued. “I have certain guys who I looked up to. Jordan, Kobe, those guys. Passing that on to doing my part to kind of keep that influence of basketball where it should be is kind of why I play the game.”

It’s easy to forget how quickly this happened.

Nearly four years ago, on an April 25, 2012 day that is still fresh on the minds of those who were there, Curry entered an operating room in Van Nuys, Calif. without knowing whether his ailing right ankle would ever be the same. Ankle problems plagued the early years of his career, and they threatened everything on that fateful day.

Yet the damage wasn’t as bad as had been feared, and an arthroscopic surgery was enough to get the job done. Curry, who played 78 games in each of the following two seasons while playing at an All-Star level, was on his way again.

Curry has been on the NBA’s version of the Autobahn ever since, racing past all his fellow All Stars and stealing the spotlight from James at a time when the Cavaliers star has appeared in five consecutive Finals. This season, more than any other, is adding to his lore.

In winning the first scoring title of his seven-year career, he became the most improved scorer in NBA history among players who won the MVP award in theseason before (plus-6.3 points per game, from 23.8 to 30.1, ahead of Larry Bird’s plus-4.5 in the 1984-85 season, according to ESPN). He shattered his own single-season three-point record, finishing with 402 after hitting 286 in the 2014-15 season (he now holds four of the top seven marks all-time).

By hitting a career-high 50.4% of his shots overall, 45.4% from three-point range and 90.8% from the free throw line, Curry achieved a 50-45-90 shooting mark that had only been reached by Warriors coach Steve Kerr (while with the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls) and future Hall of Famer/Warriors player development consultant Steve Nash (while with the 2007-08 Suns). Curry, for good measure, is the first perimeter player to average 30 points per game on 50-plus percent shooting since Michael Jordan in 1991-92.

It’s natural to wonder when Curry’s rise will peak. The possibilities for his future, much like his shot, seem limitless. What’s more, for anyone wondering about confidence that always plays a huge part, his willingness to entertain the question about being the best player of all time tells you all you need to know.

“I don’t think about (being the best) on a daily basis, but the way that I prepare and the way that I work, I try to let that kind of goal show itself, if that makes any sense,” Curry said. “When I step forward on the floor, I have the confidence that I’m the best player playing that night and that I am the most prepared at what I need to be doing.

“For me, I don’t want to cheat the game by saying, or kind of doing lip service by saying I want to be the greatest ever. I want to be able to show it. So hopefully that will speak volumes more than me running around touting my own self, which I think that’s wasted energy.”

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Morning shootaround — April 7


VIDEO: Highlights from Wednesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors want to finish with No. 1 overall seed | Prognosis grim for Jazz’s Sloan | Hinkie era ends in Philly | Bryant has no specific plans for final game | Ewing wants Knicks’ gig; ‘Melo wants say on next coach

No. 1: Finishing with No. 1 overall seed remains Warriors’ goal — Tonight’s showdown with the San Antonio Spurs (10:30 ET, TNT) gives the Golden State Warriors a shot at reaching 70 wins. It’s also, perhaps, Step 1 in a four-game plan to reach an NBA-record 73 wins. But after yesterday’s practice, both coach Steve Kerr and center Andrew Bogut doubled-down on the notion that finishing the season strong — and with the NBA’s top overall seed — remains the goal. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has more:

Yep, the Warriors spent Wednesday recalibrating their focus from chasing NBA history to merely completing a historic regular season by clinching the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

“Every day, it’s the same questions,” said Bogut, who was one of the few who stayed after Kerr told the players they could leave the practice facility following a video session. “Every day, it’s the same thing on TV. Every day, it’s the same article. Every day, it’s a new former player who has a comment. It’s just something you’ve got to deal with, but it’s no excuse.

“We’re going for the record, but if we don’t get it, it’s not the end of the world.”

The Warriors’ magic number for the top seed in the West and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs is two, meaning they would clinch it with a victory over the Spurs on Thursday.

“We’re still trying to get the No. 1 seed,” Kerr said. “… Let’s do that, and then worry about everything else later. … We’ll just try to win tomorrow and then figure out what’s next.”

They haven’t played consistently well in a month and haven’t played a full game of top-notch defense in at least as long. They lost for the first time at home in 55 regular-season games Friday and dropped another one Tuesday.

“I’m actually surprised this didn’t happen a while back,” Kerr said. “There’s a reason that this record has been standing for 20 years. It’s a hard thing to do. …

“It’s a miracle that we’ve gone this far without sort of hitting a bump in the road. … It’s just surprising for people out there — and maybe even our own guys — because this season has come almost too easily for us.”

The Warriors finish the regular season with a home game against Memphis on Wednesday. In between the games at Oracle Arena, they’ll have their first consecutive days off in almost six weeks following a back-to-back set in Memphis and San Antonio.

That should be enough to recapture the Warriors’ focus.

“Once you lose your focus, that’s when bad defense happens. That’s when turnovers happen. That’s when fouling happens,” forward Draymond Green said. “… I wouldn’t say we’re necessarily caught up in the hype, but I think we’ve gotten to the point where … we’re like, ‘All right, we’re kind of ready for the regular season to end.’

“When you’re talking about 82 games, you get bored of that after a while.”


VIDEO: Andrew Bogut talks after Wednesday’s practice

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Morning shootaround — March 19


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wade at another career crossroads | Crowder’s absence costing Celtics | Portland avoids “sickening” loss | Frye shows value, quietly and from distance

No. 1: Wade at another career crossroads — You can find plenty of advance coverage on this site to whet your appetite for Saturday night’s Big Game. But there’s another big game that starts an hour earlier pitting two rivals from the other conference – Cleveland at Miami (7:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) – and the Miami Herald’s Ethan Skolnick provides a window into that one with his column on Heat veteran Dwyane Wade and his team’s need for a Wade resurgence during this March Madness portion of their schedule:

“I haven’t been into the best rhythm since the All-Star break that I want to be in,” said Wade, who shot 45.8 percent before the break, and 39.4 percent since. “I’ve had some good games scoring, but I haven’t been into a great rhythm.”

He cited some initial rust, and the need to adapt to all of the team’s iterations. He noted how this is the fourth incarnation of the Heat this season. First, Wade and Chris Bosh and Goran Dragic were the primary ball-handlers. Then Dragic got hurt, and it was Wade and Bosh.

“Chris goes out, now it’s a different kind of team,” Wade said. “Joe [Johnson] comes in, and Chris is out, and Goran is in, and now it’s a different kind of team. These are all the different kind of adjustments you’ve got to make.”

He doesn’t intend these as excuses, but explanations. “Just got to figure it out,” Wade said. “Me and Coach [Erik Spoelstra] talked about some things and areas on the floor that I can get to, that can put me in a better rhythm. The biggest thing is early.”

As in him attacking earlier in possessions.

However he finds his rhythm this late in the season, it’s a requirement that he does.

No matter how many other options have emerged on this revamped roster, the Heat won’t be winning anything of significance this postseason (whether games or rounds) if its most battle-tested playoff performer is off.

It certainly wouldn’t be capable of seriously challenging Saturday’s opponent, LeBron James and the Cavaliers, without an efficient, dynamic Wade, not when Bosh will likely be watching, and not even as the Cavaliers continue to constantly challenge themselves, with a never-ending series of self-inflicted controversies.

It has seemed like the Heat’s stealth strategy has been to wait in the weeds, steel itself amid adversity and position itself to steal the conference crown if the Cavaliers — through ball-hogging, eye-rolling and sub-tweeting — start coming apart.

Certainly, that could still occur, with James seeming at a career crossroads of sorts himself, if more as a leader than a player. Through photos and comments on social media, the four-time MVP has come off as forlorn and frustrated, making no secret that he misses sharing the court and the locker room with a peer of Wade’s status and strength.

Miami probably won’t get Wade from early in James’ time here either, not at age 34. But the one from before the All-Star break will suffice. Wade has already proven plenty this season, starting with his increased availability; he will play his 63rd game Saturday, one more than last season. He insisted his thigh, recently bruised, isn’t bothering him.

“Just got to play the game, man, and continue to do what you’ve always done,” Wade said. “And eventually it will turn.”

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 No. 2: Crowder’s absence costing Celtics — It’s not likely to earn Celtics forward Jae Crowder many votes on NBA Most Valuable Player ballots, but Boston’s 0-3 slump since the Marquette product suffered a high ankle sprain last week has highlighted Crowder’s individual value within his team’s ensemble approach. Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com examined that after the Celtics’ loss to Eastern Conference rival Toronto:

The Celtics, who held a comfy lead on the third seed two weeks ago, have slipped all the way to No. 6 in the East, a half-game behind both the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat and a game back of the Atlanta Hawks. What Stevens said two weeks ago is actually true now: Boston is four games away from ninth place.

With only 13 games left in the regular season, it remains highly unlikely that the Celtics could fall much further, but given the injuries they’re battling and the poor brand of basketball they are playing, it’s understandable why some might be leery.

“We have to change something up,” Celtics All-Star Isaiah Thomas told reporters in Toronto. “We got ourselves back into [Friday’s] game, so we showed signs of playing like we know how, but a good team like the Raptors you can’t just play one good quarter.”

Make no mistake, the Celtics are in the midst of a brutally tough stretch, exacerbated by the fact that they lost Jae Crowder to a high ankle sprain last Friday, and one of the players expected to help fill his shoes, Jonas Jerebko, missed the past two games with a left foot injury

Despite visiting a Raptors team that was playing its fourth game in five nights and was coming off an overtime win in Indiana on Thursday, the Celtics let Toronto build a big first-half lead, then didn’t have enough energy themselves to sustain a second-half rally.

The Celtics miss Crowder more than most expected, in part because Boston’s depth at the swingman spot is so thin. What’s more, with Crowder starting the first 66 games of the season, it was not obvious just how much of a drop-off there would be without him.

And while Crowder might be Boston’s best two-way player, the team really seems to miss his swagger and intensity. Boston simply looks tentative, and that may be why there’s an uneasiness in playing with a makeshift rotation in which players called upon to fill larger roles have struggled to rise to the challenge.

Second-year guard Marcus Smart initially elevated to Crowder’s starting small forward role, but with Smart stuck in a bit of a shooting slump, Stevens elected to shake things up a bit on Friday by moving Evan Turner into the starting lineup.

The Raptors — and Luis Scola in particular — shot so well at the start of the game that Boston’s starters were minus-13 in six minutes of floor time. The Celtics, tied for the fourth-best defensive rating in the league while allowing 100.7 points per 100 possessions, saw their first unit allow an offensive rating of 210 over the first six minutes of the first quarter.

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No. 3:  Portland avoids “sickening” loss — Fans of the Portland Trail Blazers understandably were upset about Kendrick Perkins‘ dangerous clotheslining foul on guard Damian Lillard early in the fourth quarter Friday, a play that got Perkins ejected and put Lillard down hard in New Orleans. But Lillard himself and his teammates were grateful afterward to escape with a victory that, had the Pelicans completed their comeback, might have left the Blazers feeling like they’d left the French Quarter having had way too much to drink and eat. Mike Richman of The Oregonian was there:

As Damian Lillard walked back out on to the court with 1:23 left in the game he glanced up at the scoreboard and started to feel an uneasiness deep in his gut.

“I remember walking out of a timeout and thinking, ‘Man if we lose this game, I am going to be sick. I’m going to be sick about this,'” Lillard said. “After I had that thought, I decided we wasn’t going to lose this game.”

The Blazers flirted with a devastating collapse against the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night, blowing a 20-point lead and falling behind late in the fourth quarter, before pulling out a crucial, 117-112, win at Smoothie King Center.

It wasn’t just that the Blazers almost coughed up a huge lead. The Pelicans played the entire second half without All-Star forward Anthony Davis and the Blazers were in danger of losing three straight games to open a four-game trip. With all that in the background, dropping this game would have rightfully made Lillard ill

“It was truly a test,” Lillard said. “I think that’s the best word to describe it. Coming off two tough losses against OKC and San Antonio and then coming out tonight we played with urgency for most of the game. We were locked in.”

Portland’s offense struggled in the fourth quarter and New Orleans first took the lead on back-to-back three-pointers from guard Jrue Holiday, putting the Pelicans up 105-102 with just over three minutes remaining.

Then after the Blazers knocked down three free throws to go back up one, former Blazer Tim Frazier hit a pull-up jumper to give New Orleans a 107-106 edge with 2:13 left.

“They started really believing and playing with a lot of pace and confidence,” Lillard said. “I think we were down by two with under a minute and it was like, ‘It’s really gut check time'”

After the teams traded empty possessions, the Blazers took a timeout with just under 90 seconds left. Lillard told himself in the huddle he wouldn’t let the Blazers lose and then the star point guard made good on his declaration.

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No. 4: Frye shows value, quietly and from distance — Might as well lick your index finger and hold it up to the sky to know which way the wind is blowing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who change directions and shift moods as if with the weather. But in the wake of their victory over Orlando, veteran forward Channing Frye – Cleveland’s notable trade-deadline acquisition – looked to have found a helpful role, whether it lasts or not. Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com chronicled Frye’s satisfying performance (14 points) against his former team in the Magic Kingdom and its meaning for Cleveland:

The Frye acquisition has been fruitful for the Cavs, who gave up two future second-round picks for Frye, and also took on the $15 million left on his contract. After drilling 4-for-6 3-pointers Friday, Frye is 25-for-50 from 3-point range in 12 games with the Cavs. It’s the sort of catch-and-shoot big man play that is extremely effective with the team’s other personnel.

“I know he feels good about that,” said LeBron James, who scored 18 points and didn’t keep up the ruse either. “This was definitely for him. He showed up and showed why he’s a valuable part to our team now.”

Frye’s reputation defensively is not strong, but the numbers don’t totally bear that out. Frye ranks No. 4 among all power forwards in real plus-minus, just behind teammate Kevin Love. And Cavs coach Tyronn Lue went with Frye over Love in the fourth quarter as the Cavs executed a comeback.

Truth be told, the Cavs sort of acted as if they knew they could beat a ragtag Magic team with just a half effort, [Victor] Oladipo‘s performance notwithstanding, and move on to a more appetizing game in Miami on Saturday night. This essentially played out as they had dominant shifts during the second quarter and the fourth and it was all that was needed to beat the Magic, who are 10-26 since Jan. 1.

It’s equally a mystery as to whether Fyre’s growing role is real and lasting or just a blip. It was just a few weeks ago that Lue played Frye only 10 minutes over the course of four games. Making a proclamation on anything with this Cavs team is a path to folly, at least to this point.

But Frye will always have this one. The team that signed him to a four-year, $32 million deal in 2014 — and started looking to trade him just a year into it — had to watch him play the role they once envisioned for him.

“When I came [to Orlando], I thought we could kind of resemble the Phoenix style, not necessarily score 120 points, but fast-paced, spread you out and move the rock around. It just didn’t work out like that,” Frye said.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Memphis, despite suffering significant blowouts (2-9 in games decided by 18 points or more), has managed to stay afloat in the grueling West. How? Our John Schuhmann breaks down numbers that reveal the Grizzlies’ resiliency in close games. … ICYMI: Scott Howard-Cooper from right here at NBA.com, in advance of the big Warriors-Spurs game, analyzed Golden State’s end game and how getting whole might conflict with the pursuit of 73 victories. … Carmelo Anthony says he has no idea yet what will happen this summer with his New York Knicks and, naturally, that generates headlines for a tabloid. … If you’re going to feel sorry for Melo in his current Knicks plight, save a little sympathy for Brooklyn’s Thaddeus Young, who has endured more than his share of losing in nine NBA seasons. … John Wall is turning over the ball too often and the Wizards point guard knows it. … Lakers coach Byron Scott would love to see Brandon Bass stick with the team next season for his veteran influence and timely contributions, but the ball most definitely will be in Bass’ court. … Russell Westbrook, in one fell swoop, has done something that surpasses both Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain. … Trey Schwab spent six years working with the Minnesota Timberwolves and, before that, grew tight with former NBA coaches Flip Saunders and Eric Musselman during their time together in the CBA. Those NBA roots are enough to merit inclusion here of a story, long on NCAA tournament flavor, about Schwab’s special relationship with Indiana University coach Tom Crean. Get well, Trey. … And finally, this shout-out to the NBA’s senior “Professor” …

Blogtable: What should Knicks do in free agency?

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: State of Karl-Cousins relationship? | Knicks’ free-agency plan is ___? |
Agree with Davidson’s decision to not retire Curry’s jersey?



VIDEOThe Starters on the state of the Knicks

> Carmelo Anthony says the Knicks “gotta do something” in free agency. What should that “something” be?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comPay out a maximum-salary contract to an aging star who needs the ball and mostly plays only one end of the floor. Wait, what? Oh yeah, the Knicks did that in 2014 when they re-upped ‘Melo. Here’s what the Knicks need to do: Get Anthony to sign a loyalty oath accepting his spot in the pecking order, henceforth and forthwith, as the team’s third-best player. Then procure as No. 1 or No. 2 to align with Porzingis, and rely on Anthony as a volume scorer and closer but not as the tent-pole guy anymore. That — and dialed-up defense — would have a chance at climbing in the East.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Trade Carmelo Anthony and start building all over the right way around Kristaps Porzingis and more young talent. There are no shortcuts. ‘Melo and the Knicks should know that by now — they have tried all of them.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Something for the long term. The Knicks have the chance to build something for the long term, with Kristaps Porzingis and the strong possibility of another lottery pick as starting points. The free agents they add should work for the long term, not for the quick fix that might get them into the first round. That’s probably not what a veteran like Anthony wants to hear.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I don’t know what the Knicks “gotta” do but I know what they shouldn’t: Make a rash decision based on desperation and buy another Jon Koncak. Even with a rise in cap room they should spend wisely and understand, despite Melo’s urging, this is a gradual process and unless Kevin Durant wants in, there are no shortcuts. ‘Melo’s not worth panicking over. He’s not going anywhere, unless he wants to, and then I gladly make a deal.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Figure out where Anthony wants to be traded. The Knicks probably aren’t going to get the free agents they need to compete for a top 3 or 4 spot in the East, and Anthony will 32 years old in May. He’s already lost trade value, it will only go down from here, and teams that are closer to a championship will have the cap space to take on his contract. They Knicks should try to get some building blocks in return, look at a realistic, 3-5 year plan for contending for a championship, and move on. ‘Melo could help get another team over the hump, but the Knicks aren’t building a contender around him.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Phil Jackson coaching home games only next season is certainly not the “something” Carmelo is talking about. The Knicks need a measured approach to what they do next. Their personnel staff should have spent this season studying potential free agents of every stripe (not just the marquee names), and figure out who the guys are that can thrive in the isosceles triangle offense Phil insists on using. They have two sound pieces to build around in Carmelo and Kristaps Porzingis, so a desperation move — overpaying someone with a name but a game that doesn’t fit — is exactly what they don’t need this summer. I know Carmelo’s clock is ticking, but he has to be patient if they’re going to get it right in New York.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It should be something smart. By this time next year we’re going to be saying that Porzingis is potentially the best player to ever team up with Carmelo. With two stars locked in at the forward positions, the Knicks absolutely must hire a coach worthy of commanding Anthony’s respect. This quality is more important than any knowledge of the triangle offense. The Knicks have a few high-level years to squeeze out of their best player, and that time cannot be wasted on an ideological pursuit. Give ‘Melo a boss in whom he can believe. Hire Tom Thibodeau, sign complementary free agents who will feed a winning mentality and aim for nothing less than the Eastern Conference semifinals next season – these are all reachable goals.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog The Knicks still need to improve at several positions, including their bench, but to me the primary need is a point guard with the quickness to penetrate on offense and defensively keep up with other quicker guards. So at midnight on the first day of free agency, Phil Jackson should call Mike Conley and, if Conley’s not taking calls, perhaps someone like Brandon Jennings. To be clear, no one player is going suddenly make the Knicks champs again, but the point guard slot is where the Knicks can make an immediate impact.

Morning shootaround — March 16


VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs get into playoff mode | Anthony: ‘Phil ain’t coaching no more’Gallinari ‘weeks away’ from return to Nuggets’ lineup

No. 1: Spurs settling into playoff mode — It’s hard to say the season to date has been anything but a success for the San Antonio Spurs. They’ve won 42 straight games at home dating back to last season, lead the NBA in Net Rating (13.5) and, at 57-10, have the league’s second-best record (trailing only the 60-6 Golden State Warriors). Last night, they pulled away from the Los Angeles Clippers in a 108-87 victory that further states the Spurs’ case as a true contender. Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com was on hand and has more on how San Antonio is shifting into its postseason gear:

When San Antonio downed the Los Angeles Clippers 108-87 on Tuesday to capture its 33rd consecutive victory this season at the AT&T Center, the Spurs held a one-point advantage entering the fourth quarter before David West and Patty Mills combined for 15 points to lead an onslaught in which they outscored the visitors 37-17 in the final 12 minutes. That allowed them to post their 20th win by 20 points or more, which ranks as the most in the NBA.

So as the Spurs trend toward postseason form, guard Manu Ginobili still believes there are “so many things” the team needs to improve, which makes film sessions with coach Gregg Popovich interesting to say the least.

“Once you listen to Pop dissecting the video, you think, ‘Wow, we could be really good. I mean, we are making all these mistakes, and we’re the best defensive team in the league,’” Ginobili joked. “I think [in] the playoffs, that determination … sometimes in the 70th game or the 58th, you’re a little relaxed and you have sort of a cushion. So hopefully, when we need those wins, everybody’s gonna be very focused and we can improve a little more. I think overall on this stretch, we’ve been very good.”

San Antonio remains undefeated in its latest stretch, having played three games in six days at home against the Chicago Bulls, Thunder and Clippers. The club closes out the homestand with outings Thursday and Saturday against the Portland Trail Blazers and the Golden State Warriors.

“It’s very important,” Ginobili said. “You always want to test yourself against the best. This week, we’ve had the Thunder, the Clippers, the Blazers, the Warriors too. So it’s a very important week, and we want to do good. You can lose a game. That’s not the point. We want to get better. We want to match up against everybody and see how we react. The first 50 games of the season, we hadn’t been successful against the best teams. So we need these types of wins, and they’re happening.”

Kawhi Leonard’s play ranks as one of the major reasons the Spurs have trailed a total of just 9 minutes, 37 seconds in 396 minutes played in the fourth quarter this season at the AT&T Center.

“It was great,” Popovich said of Leonard’s performance. “Obviously [Leonard’s] length and his ability to guard a number of people, but I think it was a good change up for [Paul] to see something different.”

Added Ginobili: “Now we are used to it. So we are spoiled. Our best offensive player is our best defensive player, too. He’s young. He’s hungry. He’s talented, physically very gifted, and he can do it all. It’s no secret that’s one of the main reasons we have 85 percent wins. He’s been amazing.”

Others seem to have followed suit. Entering the matchup against the Clippers, new addition LaMarcus Aldridge put together seven consecutive outings in which he produced 20 points or more, averaging 25.3 points over that span to go with 10.3 rebounds and 1.43 blocks while hitting 57.5 percent from the field. Aldridge contributed 17 points and six rebounds against the Clippers.

It’s clear the adjustment “process” Aldridge described earlier in the season has finally come to a close, aided by a stretch in late January and early February in which Tim Duncan was forced to miss eight games due to knee soreness. Duncan’s absence accelerated Aldridge’s acclimation.

“It’s a subjective thing, but I think it’s logical to think that may have been a little bit of a catalyst where he realized he had to do some things, and there wasn’t anybody else to defer to as far as bigs are concerned,” Popovich said. “That probably had a little bit to do with it. But it’s also been a process where he’s become more comfortable in the offense; catching it in different places than he was used to. And it was a process for me, too; to give him the ball more in places that he was used to. So a little bit of both. Then, as time went on, his confidence level went up. When he would miss shots, he would realize that we don’t care. We care if you don’t shoot it when you’re open. If you miss them, we don’t care. We can’t control that.”

“Yeah, it’s the big picture and everyone is on the same page with that goal, understanding we’ve got a much bigger picture that we’re looking at, and these are just little examples throughout the way that are good for our development,” Mills said. “This stretch of games is good for us this time of year.”

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Morning shootaround — March 15


VIDEO: Highlights from Monday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs deny lack of composure in loss | Bogut blasts his ‘dirty’ label | Bosh surprises Heat, sits on bench vs. Nuggets | Anthony: Knicks ‘gotta do something’ this summer

No. 1: Cavs deny lack of composure in loss to Jazz — The Cleveland Cavaliers entered Salt Lake City on a roll, having won three straight on the road as they closed out a four-game West coast road swing. With news that the Jazz would be without leading scorer Gordon Hayward (plantar fasciitis) on Monday, the Cavs were seen as even bigger favorites to win. Yet Cleveland couldn’t contain Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors as Utah won 94-85 in a chippy game at times. Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com says although things got physical in Salt Lake City last night, the Cavs do not feel they lost their composure at any point:

A quick glance at the Cavs’ 94-85 loss to the Utah Jazz, and it would seem some composure issues surfaced.

To wit:

  • The Cavs were whistled for three technical fouls, including two on Channing Frye. The third was on, you guessed it, J.R. Smith.
  • Frye headbutted and took a quasi-swing at Utah’s Trey Lyles with 3:57 left in the game and the Cavs trailing by 11. Lyles probably deserved it – he elbowed Frye in the groin and, like Frye, was also tossed from the game.
  • Frye refused to address reporters afterwards.
  • LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were bickering at each other during a timeout with 10:07 left in the third quarter. Some defensive miscues allowed the Jazz to go up by nine, and Irving missed a 3-pointer. He was 3-of-12 shooting at that point.
  • The James-Irving session carried on for several seconds, and both sides had their say.
  • Irving, who shot 7-of-23 for the game, went back onto the court here for about 30 minutes of extra shooting.

When it was all over, as in, the game, the Cavs’ three-game winning streak, this four-game trip out West, and Irving’s apparent therapy session, there were mostly shrugs from the Cavs.

“I don’t look at it as a step back,” said James, who led the Cavs with 23 points and 12 rebounds. “I’ve always said we’ve still got room to improve, and this is another example of it. I don’t think it’s a step backwards.”

Of Frye’s aggression toward Lyles, James said “I loved it.” This was perhaps more interesting because Lyles, a rookie, is represented by agent Rich Paul, James’ agent. James typically doesn’t speak ill of the family.

“It’s nothing personal against Trey, it’s the game and (Frye) being able to stick up for himself,” James said. “But I love that side.”

Last season, Irving scored 34 points but registered zero assists in Cleveland’s game at Utah. That kind of box score infuriated James. On Monday, Irving tallied three assists.

“We want him to be aggressive, for sure,” James said. “We want him to read and react, and however he’s feeling, we want him to be aggressive and take his shot when he has it. I know he had a lot of great looks tonight. I know he doesn’t like his performance and he’ll be better.”

Irving said the dust-up with James was really a defensive “miscommunication between me and Mozzy (Timofey Mozgov).”

“That’s it,” Irving said. “Me and ‘Bron were talking about it.”


VIDEO: LeBron James talks after the Cavs’ loss in Utah

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Morning shootaround — March 9


VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry happy with how Warriors are handling historic season | Durant denies Finals-or-free agency talk | Anthony all-in for 2016 Olympic Games

No. 1: Curry likes how Warriors are handling chase for 73 wins — The Golden State Warriors have just 20 games left in their regular-season campaign and need just 17 wins in that stretch to surpass the all-time, single-season wins mark held by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. From a 24-0 start to today, the buzz has grown about whether or not the Warriors could pass that 73-win mark and Golden State’s coaches and players have done their best to address those questions without letting the chase for 73 overtake the season too much. Warriors star Stephen Curry talked on SportsCenter yesterday about how he is pleased with the team’s approach to chasing such a historic mark:

Stephen Curry likes how his team has handled the pressure that goes along with trying to catch Michael Jordan‘s 1995-96 Bulls team, which went 72-10 on its way to a championship.

“When you go 24-0 your imagination just kind of goes crazy after that — how many wins can we get? But I think we’ve done a very good job of — and this is very cliché obviously — but taking it one game at a time and that’s how we’ve gotten to this point,” Curry said Tuesday on SportsCenter. “Twenty-four and 0 was a crazy, remarkable start that set NBA history. The way we’ve played at home, not having dropped a game and just our overall level of play — we like where we are. We feel like we can get better; we haven’t really played our best of late and that’s a good challenge for us to find our A-plus game as we finish off this season.”

Entering Tuesday’s games, ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gave the Warriors a 35.6 percent chance of winning 73 games. Although they have to face the San Antonio Spurs three more times, the Warriors play 14 of their final 20 games at Oracle Arena, where they have gone 66-2 over the past two regular seasons, including an NBA-record 45 straight wins, set Monday against the Magic.

“Last year we were 67-15 and we played at a pretty high level all year. … Even if we didn’t get to 67 wins there was still the potential for us to have a better season and be a better team,” Curry said. “But right now with 20 games left we obviously know what’s at stake. We’ve just got to stay in the moment and enjoy it. This is a fun time and we’re chasing history so we’ve got to be confident in who we are.”


VIDEO: Warriors.com looks at what makes the ‘Splash Bros.’ so special

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