Posts Tagged ‘Cory Joseph’

Morning Shootaround — May 23


NEWS OF THE MORNING

Thunder rush started with a kick | LeBron vows to protect himself | Green’s kick will get more scrutiny | Waiters at center of OKC’s passing fancy

No. 1: Thunder rush started with a kick The blitz started after Draymond Green delivered a kick to the nether regions on Steven Adams and by the time it was over, the Oklahoma City Thunder had blown the Golden State Warriors off the court in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. Whatever notion there was that the reigning champion Warriors were head and shoulders better than a team they beat all three times during the regular season seems to have vanished. But as our very own Shaun Powell explains, the Thunder rush in Game 3 started with a kick:

This might be the first documented case where somebody kicked someone else in the manhood, and the kicker collapsed harder than the victim.

This isn’t meant to make light of Draymond Green‘s curious foot placement on the body of Steven Adams, but an attempt to explain what happened next, how Green and the Warriors wound up wearing the ice bag and wincing. Through three games of the Western Conference finals, they’re down 2-1 to the Thunder, and fresh off a Game 3 beatdown, and facing their most serious challenge since becoming a superteam a little more than a year ago.

There’s certainly no reason for them to panic, or to overstate a 28-point loss. It is, however, time for them and everyone to concede the obvious, that this Oklahoma City team and this series is unlike anything the Warriors have seen before.

The record will show the Warriors trailed 2-1 twice in the playoffs since last season, to the Grizzlies and Cavaliers. Each time the Warriors responded emphatically, and both on the road. They won by 17 in Memphis and 21 in Cleveland and once order was swiftly restored, the Warriors went about the business of being champions.

But these aren’t the scoring-challenged Grizzlies or the injury-ravaged Cavs. These are the Thunder, healthy and loaded, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook locked in. Finally, the Warriors are being confronted by a threat without asterisks, an opponent on their level or close enough.

And what do we make of the Warriors at this point? Well, it’ll be up to the NBA police to determine if Green’s kick was malicious enough to warrant a one-game suspension. After having the ball stripped from him during a jump shot against Adams, Green’s right foot caught Adams flush during the follow through. That will be tricky for the league; how can you know for sure about intent? Without that, it would be a reach if the NBA punishes Green and therefore affects a playoff series, even though Cleveland’s Dahntay Jones was just hit with a suspension for a similar crime, and even if this was the second time in as many games where Green connected with Adams’ groin.

No surprise, there was dueling stances on the subject.

Adams: “It’s happened before. He’s pretty accurate.”

Westbrook: “I don’t think you can keep kicking somebody in their private areas. It looks intentional to me.”

Green: “I was following through with my shot and my leg went up. I don’t see how anyone can say I did that on purpose. I didn’t even know it happened.”

Green did plead guilty of delivering a dud of a performance, and for that, he kicked himself.

“Awful,” he said.

***

No. 2: LeBron James vows to protect himself As the physicality continues to rise in the Eastern Conference finals, LeBron James has made a vow to protect himself. What, exactly, he’s protecting himself from remains the question, especially since he’s initiated as much contact as he’s received from the Toronto Raptors. But after things got a little testy for both sides in Game 3, LeBron has made a vow to protect himself tonight in Game 4 (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com has more:

This is not the first time LeBron James vowed to protect himself.

After Cleveland’s 99-84 loss to the Toronto Raptors in Game 3 of the Eastern finals Saturday night – the Cavs’ first loss of the postseason – James was asked about his ability to shake off hard fouls without retaliation.

There were a couple against him in Game 3 – including one by his own teammate – and James got a little testy as the contact continued but ultimately dusted himself off and went to the foul line.

One play in particular, a hard foul committed by one of the Raptors’ stars of the night, Bismack Biyombo, in which he wrapped James around the neck and popped him in the jaw to try to stop a layup with 3:21 to go, was on James’ brain.

Biyombo was assessed a flagrant foul. But in the immediate aftermath of the play, James first jumped toward Biyombo before peeling away to cool off. He made both free throws to cut the Cavs’ deficit to 12.

“At the end of the day, I’m important to this team,” James said. “I can’t afford to react in any kind of way that will get me thrown out of a game, but I will protect myself, I will protect myself.”

And then James quoted his friend and rapper Jay Z, using the following reference to illustrate his place as one of the NBA’s brightest stars, and the target on his back that exists because of it.

Quoting Jay Z’s “The Streets is Watching,” James said “If I shoot you, then I’m brainless; if you shoot me, you’re famous.”

The Cavaliers essentially shrugged off the loss. They tipped their caps to the Raptors, and said there was little they needed to change after the 15-point defeat. Just play a little better.

Asked if losing for the first time in the playoffs constituted “adversity,” James said “why not?” Commenting on the collectively poor outings from Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, who shot a combined 4-of-28, James quipped “I think it’s good for them.”

There was virtually no sense coming from the Cavs that this series had changed yet, that the upper hand so firmly in Cleveland’s grasp had slipped. But James and the Cavs are definitely going to have to protect themselves.

***

No. 3: Green’s kick will get more scrutiny Draymond Green insists his kick that landed below the waist line of Steven Adams was not intentional. Whether or not that explanation satisfies the league’s disciplinary office remains to be seen. One way or another, word will come down before Tuesday’s Game 4 matchup (9 p.m. ET, TNT). Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group takes a deeper dive into the play that changed the game and perhaps the series:

Draymond Green insisted his kick in the area of the family jewels of Steven Adams was unintentional as he flailed on the follow-through to draw a foul.

While Adams crouched in agony as Green pleaded his case, it all went the Oklahoma City Thunder’s way after that.

The Warriors were blasted by the Thunder in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, losing 133-105 on Sunday and now trail 2-1 in the best-of-seven series. Afterward, Green had to answer for the low blow.

“Honestly, I didn’t know I hit him,” Green said of Adams. “I walked to the 3-point line, clapped everybody’s hand. I turned around, he’s on the floor. I’m going like, ‘What happened?’ ”

After Green was whistled for a flagrant foul and hit two free throws on the shooting foul, the Thunder responded with a 24-5 run to close out the first half with a 72-47 lead.

“This is the Western Conference finals,” Warriors center Festus Ezeli said coach Steve Kerr told the team.

“It was just like a stern, ‘We know we’re better than that.’ “

The 72 points were the most allowed by the Warriors in any half this season, as they lost their poise in the heat of a frenetic playoff game on the road.

Fans chanted “kick him out” at the officials as they reviewed video of Green’s kick to Adams., but a Flagrant Foul 1 was assessed that he didn’t think he deserved.

“If I was throwing a shot, I’m not trying to kick somebody in the midsection,” Green said. “I’m sure he’d want to have kids one day. I’m not trying to end that on the basketball court. That don’t make sense.

“I know my core’s not strong enough to stop my leg halfway from wherever it was going.”

Asked if he felt the kick was intentional or not, Adams said, “I have no idea, mate. That’s for other people to make the judgment.”

***

No. 4: Dion Waiters at the center of Thunder ball movement party He wouldn’t be the first person you’d look for when the topic of ball movement comes up regarding the Oklahoma City Thunder. But there he was in Game 3 Sunday, Dion Waiters in the middle of the ball movement mix for a Thunder team that dismantled the Golden State Warriors by sharing the wealth beyond just Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Erik Horne of the The Oklahoman explains:

With the Thunder leading by three points in the first quarter, Billy Donovan made his first substitution at 7:19, bringing in Dion Waiters.

Less than two minutes later, Waiters picked up the ball on the break and saw 6-foot-11 Festus Ezeli in front of him. The Thunder guard hesitated a beat to get Ezeli thinking he was going to pull up for a jumper. Wrong.

Waiters blew by Ezeli … but looked stuffed at the rim before uncoiling a wraparound pass to Serge Ibaka for an easy dunk.

Jokes have been made about “Waiters Island,” a place where ball movement stops and jumpers go up. But Waiters’ infectious passing spread throughout the Thunder in its 133-105 blowout of the Warriors in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals.

By the end of the first quarter, the Thunder had nine assists on 13 made baskets. If Russell Westbrook captained the assist effort with five in the first, Waiters was his running mate, providing arguably the top two helpers of the night.

“We had several different ballhandlers in there that could help contribute and make plays alongside of Russell and Kevin,” Donovan said. “I thought our ball movement was very good. We got everybody involved. It was good to see that.”

Two possessions after Ibaka’s dunk, Waiters saw an opening on the fast break, but it closed quickly. He drove into a mass of bodies in the lane, yet managed to twist his arms around for a highlight assist, releasing the ball softly into the path of Kevin Durant for a layup and the 25-13 lead.

Waiters said even with his view partially obstructed, he saw the double team coming and knew Durant was running to the rim.

“I knew two was gonna collapse,” Waiters said. “(He’s) 6-11. All you have to do is give him the ball, he’s gonna finish.”

Waiters finished with 13 points, three assists and one turnover. When he entered at 8:41 in the third, he tiptoed the baseline and found Westbrook for a 3-pointer, then hit a rainbow jump shot of his own at 3:40 put the Thunder ahead 33.

By then, the Showtime passing had reached rare levels even for the Thunder. Westbrook finished with a team-best 12 assists, but his one that wasn’t could have been the most impressive. Westbrook jumped out on a two-on-one break and threw a through-the-legs pass to Randy Foye who was fouled at 3:35. The lead was 34.

Even in a runaway, the Thunder was still passing it around with gusto. It finished with 21 assists, 19 coming in the first three quarters in which OKC put the game out of hand.

In Sunday’s victory, the so-called island was inhabited by all the Thunder, with Waiters handing out the early invites.

“They’re gonna make you pass the ball, the way they’re playing us,” Waiters said. “They’re loading up on guys and they’re almost begging you to pass.

“Your job is to be as aggressive as possible with the ball so you can make the right play … and the smart play at the same time.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The big man who saved the Eastern Conference finals from a sweep: Bismack Biyombo … Orlando Magic point guard Elfrid Payton is eager to get to work under Frank Vogel … Warriors coach Steve Kerr is set to interview Stephen Silas for the vacant position on his coaching staff … Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue admits he should have gone to LeBron James more in the Cavaliers’ Game 3 loss to the Raptors … Toronto native Cory Joseph is fired up and believes the Raptors can hang with the Cavaliers …

Morning shootaround — May 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Oh yeah, they were.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Morning shootaround — May 21





NEWS OF THE MORNING
Love conquers all | Thibs cleans house | Kerr’s fight continues | Casey defends Lowry | D’Antoni or Silas in Houston?
No. 1: Playoffs a perfect fit for Love here — A season ago there were all the problems trying to fit into the new atmosphere and new system and new team in Cleveland. Then came the playoffs and he was quickly injured and forced to the sidelines. But a year later Kevin Love is not only comfortable alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, but he’s a perfect 14-0 in the playoffs for his career and having fun riding the wave. Our own Steve Aschburner caught up with Love, who talked about the change:

“I think there’s a sense of purpose now,” Love said. “We have our identity. And we also know that because of last year [injuries to Irving and Iman Shumpert, as well as Love], things can be taken away from you at any time.”

For Love the biggest difference between playoff basketball and that regular-season variety to which he was limited in six seasons with Minnesota is the urgency.

“Every play really does matter,” said Love, who made it to three All-Star games before ever helping a team reach the playoffs.

“Plays in the first, second, third quarters that can change the ball game in the fourth. Everything counts. One bad defensive play. A technical foul [or a flagrant] where they get the ball back and hit a three. Things that, in the regular season, you might be able to brush off. Here you have to really stick with it.”

Love said he has embraced the physical nature of the postseason, too, and he’s reminded himself to attack the offensive boards, rather than floating from his spots around the perimeter.

“I’ve had a mentality where I want to hit first,” said Love, who takes enough punishment — shoulder “stingers” in particular — to unnerve some Cleveland fans. “It’s going to get chippy. Both teams want to win so bad. You definitely remember [hard fouls]. But whether it’s a success or failure, you have to handle it quickly and get on to the next play.”

***

No. 2: Thibodeau cleans out Wolves front office — You really didn’t expect Tom Thibodeau to take long to put his footprint on the Timberwolves, did you? The new leader of the wolfpack came down hard on Friday, firing GM Milt Newton, president of basketball operations Rob Babcock and several others and it’s likely just the start. Kent Youngblood of the Minneapolis Star Tribune has the gory details:

“If you’ve been around sports, you know how things happen,” Newton said. “Once you bring in a new group they want to put their stamp on it. It’s part of the job. I definitely don’t have any hard feelings towards anyone. I wish those guys well. And I wish the players well.”

Said Babcock: “Nobody likes to be let go, but that’s part of this business. When someone comes in new, the likelihood is there will be changes. I’ve been through it on both ends. They’ll do an outstanding job here. I’m disappointed I don’t get to be a part of it. But I understand completely. I hold nothing against them at all.”

These could be the first of many moves made by Thibodeau, who is clearly intent on building the organization in his image.

He spent a lot of time preparing for this. During his season away from the NBA, Thibodeau visited 13 franchises looking for ideas on how to run a front office, assemble and coach a team.

The moves were made shortly after the NBA’s scouting combine finished, as the team is ramping up preparations for June’s draft.

***

No. 3: Being back with Warriors helps Kerr with recovery — What should have been one of the best, most fun-filled seasons of Steve Kerr’s career in the NBA has instead been a constant battle with pain as he continues to recover from offseason surgery. Though he’s far from mended, Kerr told our Scott Howard-Cooper that there’s no way he’s walking away from the job and the group of players that are the best medicine:

“I wouldn’t equate my health with anything that’s happened basketball-wise,” Kerr said. “I’ll put it this way. Under normal circumstances if I hadn’t had this health issue this would have been one of the great years of my life. But instead it was, honestly, one of the worst. Probably the worst.”
But quit, now that he’s made it back this far?

No. Not a chance. Not even if he could have slid into some advisory role with the team and whispered to assistant coach Luke Walton not to take the Los Angeles Lakers job because the big chair was opening on the Golden State bench. Not even if the Warriors follow their 73-9 finish, the best record in league history, with a second consecutive title in June and Kerr can go out on top like few others.

He loves the gig too much. Returning to broadcasting isn’t appealing, as good as he was as an analyst, and the idea of becoming head of basketball operations somewhere again, a role he had for three years with the Phoenix Suns, practically makes him cringe. GMs are separated from the team a lot, and the daily interaction is exactly what Kerr enjoys most. Nothing at age 50, far removed from a playing career of five championships with the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs, compares to the competitive energy, the trash talking, the camaraderie, the adrenaline rush of being on the sideline and under pressure, especially in the playoffs.

That is why Kerr fought his way back to the Warriors. It’s not that he wanted to get healthy to return to the job. He wanted to return to the job to get healthy.

Kerr required the frenzy of the 2015-16 Warriors.
“I needed the job to distract me and engage me,” he said.

***

No. 4: Casey says Lowry didn’t quit — With his team already getting hammered before halftime of Game 2 on Thursday night, Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry headed to the locker room early and opened the door for a ton of criticism. But Toronto coach Dwane Casey came to Lowry’s defense and said there’s no way the quarterback gave up on his team, according to Mike Mazzeo of ESPN.com:

“Kyle did not walk out on his team,” Casey said. “He and Cory Joseph use the bathroom more than any two human beings I know during the game. … I don’t think he quit on his team.”

Lowry faced criticism after he left the bench with 2½ minutes remaining in the second quarter “just to kind of decompress.” At the time, he was 0-for-4 from 3-point range and had committed five turnovers. Cleveland closed the first half on a 16-2 run to take a 14-point halftime lead.

“It’s whatever. I think it’s an overreaction, personally. I’ve done it countless times,” Lowry reiterated. “Maybe I went to go to the bathroom. I’ve done it before, going to the bathroom. It’s just the magnitude of the situation, which makes it a lot bigger than what it really it is.

“So next time I’ll clarify, ‘Hey, I’m going to the bathroom,’ or ‘Hey, I’m doing this.’ I’ll make sure I’m clear on it so everyone knows.”

Through the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals, Lowry is averaging 9.0 points, 4.0 assists and 4.5 turnovers while shooting 28.6 percent from the field and 1-for-15 from 3-point territory.

The Raptors lost Games 1 and 2 by a combined 50 points. Game 3 is Saturday in Toronto.

***

No. 5: Rockets search down to D’Antoni vs. Silas — It could be down to a matter of years in Houston. The final two in the Rockets’ search for a new head coach is evidently down to 65-year-old veteran Mike D’Antoni or 42-year-old up-and-coming Stephen Silas. The deciding factor could even be the choice of lead assistant. Jeff Bzdelik with D’Antoni or Lionel Hollins with Silas. So says the always tapped in Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Though very traditional in his approach, Hollins has long been favored by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who hoped to add Hollins to Kevin McHale’s coaching staff after the 2013-14 season before Hollins landed the head coaching position with the Brooklyn Nets.

Much of the conversations with D’Antoni since his meeting with Morey and Rockets owner Leslie Alexander have also been about the staff he would put together with Grizzlies assistant Jeff Bzdelik emerging as D’Antoni’s likely choice as a defensive specialist. Bzdelik, a former Nuggets head coach, met with Morey and Alexander about the Rockets head coaching position on Thursday.

Just as D’Antoni, 65, has had many head coaching stops — with the Nuggets, Suns, Knicks and Lakers in addition to a celebrated career in Italy — Silas has been with five teams as an assistant. Silas, 42, coached with the Charlotte/New Orleans Hornets, the Washington Wizards, Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers before returning to Charlotte for his current position under former Rockets assistant Steve Clifford.

Silas, the son of longtime NBA head coach Paul Silas, who was a candidate to be the Rockets head coach in 2003, became the youngest assistant coach in NBA history when he was hired by the Charlotte Bobcats at age 27 in 2000.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Steph Curry says his elbow is fine and because of that the Warriors are feeling better heading into Game 3…Is America ready for Vice President Mark Cuban?…The buddy-love between LeBron James and Dwyane Wade doesn’t sit right with NBA old-timers…Pat Riley says he’s expecting a lot more from Goran Dragic next season….It seems that Draymond Green has a very long memory…New head coach Frank Vogel says the Magic are ready to take the next step…Steven Adams is getting bruised and battered in the playoffs, but will keep plugging away…The Coyote is retiring in San Antonio.

No-Lowry minutes have been a mess for Raptors in playoffs

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — By all accounts, Kyle Lowry‘s performance in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals was a disaster. The Toronto Raptors’ All-Star point guard shot 3-for-13 and looked shook for most of the game, passing up shots when he wasn’t missing them.

Fast forward 10 days and, as the Raptors try to close out the series in Game 6 in Miami on Friday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), they need Lowry on the floor as much as possible. Lowry hasn’t exactly been on fire since that Game 1 (and his post-game shooting in both at the practice gym and the main floor at the Air Canada Centre). He scored 33 points on 11-for-19 shooting in Game 3, but also shot 18-for-58 (31 percent) in Games 2, 4 and 5.

Still, shooting poorly isn’t the same as playing poorly. Playing poorly is what the Raptors have done when Lowry has gone to the bench.

In Lowry’s 204 minutes on the floor in the conference semis, the Raptors have outscored the Heat by 48 points, having scored 101.9 points per 100 possessions. But in Lowry’s 51 minutes off the floor, the Raptors have been outscored by 45 points, having scored just 72.8 points per 100 possessions.

In the regular season, the Raptors had an *aggregate bench NetRtg of plus-7.0, the second best mark in the league and the best in the Eastern Conference, their best three-man combinations all included Cory Joseph or Patrick Patterson, and two of the league’s seven best lineups (minimum 200 minutes played) were Lowry with four reserves and DeMar DeRozan with four reserves.

* Aggregate bench NetRtg is, basically, an average of the plus-minus of players that came off the bench, adjusted for pace.

Lowry and that same group has continued its excellence in the playoffs, outscoring opponents by 20 points in 29 minutes. But Patterson is now starting, so that unit’s minutes have been limited. And DeRozan’s minutes with the bench have been generally terrible.

Lowry has played at least 41 minutes in four of the five games in this series. But the Raptors managed to get outscored, 23-6, in his 6:34 on the bench in Game 5, when their no-Lowry problems were as much defensive as offensive.

For the entire postseason, the Raptors have been 36.6 points per 100 possessions better with Lowry on the floor than they’ve been with him on the bench. That’s the third biggest differential among players who have logged at least 100 minutes in the playoffs and the biggest among those that are still playing.

20160513_on-off2

In the conference semis, the Raptors have been 60.6 points per 100 possessions better with Lowry on the floor (plus-10.4) than with him on the bench (minus-50.2). We’re not talking about a large sample size here, but small samples is what you get in the playoffs, where the key to the Raptors ability to advance to the conference finals could be their ability to stay afloat when their point guard needs a rest.

Blogtable: Will Heat or Raptors win series?

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: MVP favorites for 2016-17? | Lottery-to-playoffs in 2017? | Who wins Raptors-Heat series?


> More likely to win this series: The Heat without Hassan Whiteside, or the Raptors without Jonas Valanciunas?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Assuming Whiteside doesn’t make it back for what’s left of this series, I think his loss is more damaging. I’ll leave the respective net-ratings calculus to Schuhmann and just note how Whiteside’s absence defensively in Game 4 emboldened Toronto players, notably DeMarre Carroll, to attack the lane with abandon. Plant the Heat’s big center down there and those opportunities are gone, Raptors probing elsewhere. Toronto still has Bismack Biyombo as a fairly productive, fairly traditional big and seems comfortable enough at small ball with Patrick Patterson as a surrogate center. The Heat’s crew behind Whiteside – Udonis Haslem, Josh McRoberts, Amar’e Stoudemire – is a little creaky, a little little or both. Now if Whiteside’s “day-to-day” status has him available for Games 6 or 7, ignore all of the above.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comMy head says the Raptors, but my gut is watching Dwyane Wade as the throwback Flash, so I’ll pick the Heat.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Party in Jurassic Park. The Raptors without Jonas Valancuinas. Not by much, but Toronto has a slight edge. It would be bigger if the Raptors could get consistent production from Kyle Lowry and/or DeMar DeRozan.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comIt really doesn’t matter; the winner of that series will only last four more games. But if we must choose, then I’ll go with the Raptors. Because Kyle Lowry can’t be this bad and DeMar DeRozan can’t miss this many shots for much longer, right? Also, Bismack Biyombo can at least provide some defensive presence in the absence of Valenciunas.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI’m not sure that either team has deserved to win any of the four games we’ve seen so far, so it’s difficult to pick a winner of this series other than the Cleveland Cavaliers, who should be making June 1 dinner reservations for their favorite restaurant in San Francisco. I’ll stick with my pre-series pick of Heat in 6, because the only Raptors I believe in right now are role players, while the Heat player who has managed to rise above the fray is named Dwyane Wade.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The way Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are struggling in this series, it’s impossible for me to go with the Raptors. There’s so much playoff muscle memory in Miami with Dwayne Wade, Joe Johnson, Luol Deng and some of those other veterans. The deeper this series goes, the more I expect those vets to show up and rule the day.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comIf not for Kyle Lowry’s shooting elbow and DeMar DeRozan’s shooting thumb, I’d be picking the Raptors to exploit their homecourt advantage. As it is, Toronto’s best players are shooting a combined 33.1 percent in the playoffs, while Dwyane Wade has elevated his game throughout this postseason. Wade gives Miami the advantage.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Having just spent the weekend in Miami watching this series up close, I think Miami is poised to win this. Toronto has two superstars, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who are struggling with injuries, and neither can find any consistency, particularly DeRozan. Miami, meanwhile, not only has Wade playing like 2006 Wade, but also have a bunch of quasi-stars around Wade in Joe Johnson, Luol Deng and Goran Dragic, who can make big shots and create for their teammates. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra has talked about the Heat needing to play with pace, and they seemed to finally hit the mark at the end of Game 4 when they went super-small. So I’m most interested to see if the Heat can continue to play the way they closed out Game 4.

First Six Minutes Will be Critical for Raptors, Pacers in Game 4


VIDEO: Best of Phantom: Raptors vs. Pacers

INDIANAPOLIS — If the Indiana Pacers are going to even their first round series with the Toronto Raptors in Game 4 on Saturday (3 p.m. ET, TNT), they need to get off to a good start.

The Toronto Raptors, in the regular season, were bad (worst among playoff teams) in the first six minutes of the first quarter and terrific in the last six minutes of the first quarter.

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The Raptors’ starting lineup has gone through a lot of changes over the course of the season, but has been consistently bad, no matter the configuration. Neither DeMar DeRozan nor Kyle Lowry has been as aggressive early on as they’ve been later in games, and Toronto has been downright awful defensively in the opening minutes.

But things change when Cory Joseph and Patrick Patterson *check into the game. Joseph and Patterson combined to averaged just 15.3 points per game, but were two of the league’s best reserves in regard to the lift they provided to their team. The Raptors outscored their opponents by 8.9 points per 100 possessions in 1,529 regular-season minutes with both on the floor.

* Note: They typically check in separately, Patterson before Joseph.

That number is plus-12.5 points per 100 possessions through the first three games of the first round and Patterson’s raw plus-minus is a series-high plus-35. He and Joseph are still giving the Raptors a big lift when they enter the game.

And in the Raptors’ wins in Games 2 and 3, Toronto actually had the lead when the two checked in. The Raptors have gotten off to better starts (14-7 after six minutes in Game 2, 17-11 in Game 3) than they typically did in the regular season. After winning the first six minutes just 30 times in 82 regular-season games, they’ve done it twice in three playoff games.

“I think it’s a mindset, more than anything else,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said about his team’s stronger starts on Saturday. “Coming out with a sense of desperation, a sense of urgency is the key to that.”

And because their bench is so good, the Raptors have never given those leads up. The Pacers led for less than one minute in Game 2 and less than two minutes in Game 3.

If the Raptors continue have a lead when Joseph and Patterson check in, they’re in terrific shape for the rest of this series.

“We want to start off the game the right way,” Patterson said. “That is hitting them first. That is making a statement. That is setting the tone from the jump.

“When Kyle and DeMar and the starters come out from the jump and set the tone, that makes our job a lot easier.”

If the Pacers want to have a chance, they need to take advantage of those first six minutes of the first quarter, which have been a problem for Toronto.

Their inability to do that in Games 2 and 3 could bring about a lineup change. Pacers coach Frank Vogel started the third quarter on Thursday with Myles Turner instead of Lavoy Allen up front. Turner certainly brings more energy than Allen, and energy is what the Pacers need.

Of course, after practice on Saturday, Vogel wouldn’t divulge any planned changes, or even the likelihood of a change, for Game 4. Stay tuned … and tune in early, for what may be the most important six minutes of the series.

Blogtable: The best backup point guard in the NBA is …?

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: Another early exit for Raptors? | NBA’s best backup point guard is …? |
Impact of Griffin’s return?



VIDEODennis Schroder stars in Hawks’ win vs. Lakers

> Who is the best backup point guard in the NBA today?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Isn’t The Professor always the answer? All right; if I have to pick someone besides 71-year-old Andre Miller, I’ll go with Shaun Livingston — who I don’t believe has missed a single shot this season. Maybe it just seems that way.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If I were going by sheer numbers, I’d tip toward Atlanta’s Dennis Schröder. On a per-36-minute basis, the Hawks’ feisty backup to Jeff Teague is averaging nearly 20 points and eight assists. But one of the traits I value most in a backup PG is stability, which is why I choose Sacramento’s Darren Collison. He has the experience and temperament to master that role, leading the Kings’ reserves without unduly seeking out his own stats or disrupting the pecking order. At 16.5 points and 5.0 assists per 36 minutes, his numbers are strong enough — including a career-best 48.0 field-goal percentage and 39.8 percent on 3-pointers.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: G’day, Mate. I’m riding with Patty Mills. As coach Gregg Popovich micro-manages the minutes of his Big Three, Mills is playing more than 20 minutes per game behind Tony Parker. Mills keeps the pace up, penetrates and has a knack for hitting big 3s. He was instrumental in the 2014 championship run and even more important two years later in a graying lineup.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Probably Shaun Livingston. He makes shots (though without great range) and smart plays, is dependable and has the size that not only can create mismatches but is also a nice contrast to Stephen Curry. Dennis Schröder is in the conversation as well. And Darren Collison, since he has returned to a backup role after starting last season.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI love the spunk that Jeremy Lin is giving the Hornets, but my pick is Dennis Schröder of the Hawks, who has raised every facet of his game (11.5 points and 5 assists in 20 minutes per). Tough and fearless, Schroder has often played better this season than Jeff Teague, who slumped badly early on. I just wish the German would go all-out with his hair as he does on the court. Go full blond. Be daring.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I love the way Cory Joseph is being used in Toronto in relief of Kyle Lowry, as well as when he and Lowry work together. Coach Dwane Casey found something in that point guard rotation. But the best game changer at the position off the bench this season has been Atlanta’s Dennis Schröder. He can play at any speed and shreds defenses when he’s attacking the basket and finishing over much bigger players. Something has to give eventually with he and Jeff Teague both wanting the keys to the car in Atlanta. But for now, Schroder will have to settle for being the best back-up point guard in the NBA.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I’m going with Shaun Livingston because of his efficiency, experience and game-changing length. But the real proof is in the results: The Warriors have been as close to perfect as any team we’ve seen in two decades, and if Livingston wasn’t providing the highest level of leadership off the bench then we would definitely notice.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogA couple of names came to mind, guys who are currently backups but, given the chance, should or could be able to lead NBA teams: Ty Lawson, Brandon Jennings, Michael Carter-Williams. But to me the best back-up in the NBA is Atlanta’s Dennis Schröder. He ain’t perfect — Schröder can be inconsistent, his jumper needs improving, and he sometimes struggles with understanding when to attack and when to pull back. But when he’s on, Schröder keeps an All-Star in Jeff Teague on the bench during crunch time. And there aren’t a lot of back-ups who can say that.

Morning shootaround — March 14


VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cousins, Kings at odds againCavs all business in L.A. | Gap between Thunder and elite growsRaptors want Lowry handling ball more at crunch time | Iggy-less Warriors face test

No. 1: Cousins, Kings at odds as season winds down — Tensions between All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins and the team and front office with the Sacramento Kings have been a constant topic of discussion during Cousins’ six-season tenure there. As has been the case with Cousins throughout his time in Sacramento, he continues to deliver solid numbers on a pure stats basis — and last night was no different as he had a game-high 31 points to go along with 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks in a home loss to the Utah Jazz. Afterward, writes Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee, Cousins didn’t hide his frustration with the team and his coach, George Karl, saying he was the one who suspended him last week:

There’s no hiding DeMarcus Cousins’ frustration.

The season that was supposed to be different from his first five, the season in which he had a real chance to make the playoffs, is unraveling just like the others.

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Feb. 27


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Johnson heading to Miami | They the North | Rivers wants replay challenge system | Cuban suggests deeper 3-point line

No. 1: Johnson heading to Miami The Miami Heat are in the mix to finish in the top half of the Eastern Conference’s playoff teams, but for the most part sat out the trade deadline, not making any major moves. Instead, it appears they managed to pick up a seven-time All-Star yesterday without having to move any assets: After accepting a buyout from the Brooklyn Nets, Joe Johnson will be signing with the Miami Heat, according to multiple reports. As Ethan Skolnick writes in the Miami Herald, Johnson’s relationships with Miami’s players probably had a lot to do with his decision

Dwyane Wade made it clear. If his contemporary and friend Joe Johnson accepted a buyout from the Brooklyn Nets, Wade would be “blowing up his phone” to recruit him to Miami.

Johnson, after initial resistance, did take that buyout.

It appears that Wade got his man.

According to several league sources, Johnson, a seven-time All-Star, has chosen to join the Heat after he is expected to clears waivers Saturday night. Johnson was pursued by nearly all of the NBA’s top contenders, including LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, with James even saying “he knows we want him” while speaking to reporters at Friday’s Cavaliers shootaround in Toronto.

But, according to sources, Cleveland, with its crowded backcourt and wing rotation, wasn’t one of the finalists. Johnson narrowed his choices to Miami, Oklahoma City and Atlanta due to the possibility of greater playing time, and the chance to prove worthy of another contract this season, even after earning nearly $200 million in his career.

Also helping Miami? His relationships with many of the Heat players. That started with Wade, with whom he became close when they were U.S. teammates in the 2008 Olympics.

While Johnson isn’t quite what he was — and got off to a terrible start with the broken Nets in the 2015 portion of the 2015-16 schedule — he has played extremely well since New Year’s, averaging 13.4 points and 4.4 assists and shooting 46 percent from three-point range. Miami is last in the league, shooting 32.1 percent from three-point range, and its two most reliable three-point shooters, Chris Bosh and Tyler Johnson, might both be out for the season, Bosh with a blood clot and Johnson with a surgically-repaired shoulder.

Joe Johnson has had an odd career arc, going from underrated to overpaid to somewhat underrated again. He was the player the Heat most feared in the 2014 Eastern Conference semifinals, because of his ability to post up, catch-and-shoot, play isolation and made critical plays down the stretch.

The question wasn’t whether the Heat would be interested. It was whether Miami could make it work, while also meeting another aim — staying under the luxury tax, to avoid being classified as a “repeater” team, and dealing with the punitive tax multipliers.

To stay under the tax, when it was roughly $218,000 from the line, Miami would have needed Johnson to wait to start a new Heat contract for at least another 10 days. But, with the Johnson commitment, the team began exploring options that would allow him to come sooner, and still stay under the tax. That could include waiving a current player, such as injured point guard Beno Udrih, but it would only help if another team claimed him. Miami has also explored adding outside shooter Marcus Thornton, whom it nearly signed this summer, signing Gerald Green instead; Thornton was recently traded from Houston to Detroit but, after that trade was negated by the league, was waived by the Rockets.

There was no official update on Bosh on Friday, and he didn’t speak to the media at the team’s annual gala Thursday night. But teammates are proceeding as if he won’t return this season. But now, if he doesn’t, Miami appears to have an opportunity to remain highly competitive in the Eastern Conference, with a lineup of either Amar’e Stoudemire or Hassan Whiteside at center, Luol Deng (coming off four straight double-doubles) at power forward, and either Johnson or Justise Winslow at small forward, with Wade and Goran Dragic in the backcourt. Johnson, who is 6-foot-7, could also play some power forward in smaller lineups, or some shooting guard, occasionally pairing with Wade in the backcourt.

***

No. 2: They the North The Toronto Raptors entered this season with high expectations, fueled by last season’s 49-win team and the addition of free agent DeMarre Carroll. Yet even with Carroll missing most of the season with injuries, the Raptors have met those expectations, and entered last night’s game against the Eastern Conference champ Cleveland Cavaliers looking to make a statement. They didn’t disappoint, as Kyle Lowry was up to the challenge, scoring a career-high 43 and leading the Raptors to a come-from-behind 99-97 win. As ESPN’s Brian Windhorst writes, it was a much-needed win for the Raptors, who still have plenty to prove

Trying to play it cool in the wake of one of the greatest moments of his career, Kyle Lowry went straight Bill Belichick.

“We’re moving on to Detroit,” Lowry said with a straight face, in reference to the Raptors’ next game, after his Toronto Raptors upended the Cleveland Cavaliers 99-97 after a furious fourth-quarter comeback Friday night. “It’s just a win.”

The Raptors do not have a storied history or much of an inventory of unforgettable moments outside the Vince Carter early years file. As such, it was not much of a stretch to say Lowry’s 43 points, a career high, against the Cavs rank as one of the greatest shows in team history.

Lowry’s stepback jumper over Matthew Dellavedova with 3.8 seconds left, the winning points, was unequivocally one of the best moments of Lowry’s career. It was his first game winner since he tipped one in at the buzzer when he was at Villanova. It was a moment to celebrate under any circumstances. If Lowry did so, though, it was in private.

“I will maybe enjoy it for a few minutes,” Lowry said.

Here is why.

There isn’t a day or so that goes by in which the Raptors don’t remind themselves of the past two seasons. Their first-round playoff exits, despite home-court advantage, hang over them like a cloud, amplified by the two Atlantic Division banners hanging above their bench that can feel like a needless, pointless taunt.

As masterful as Lowry was Friday — his relentless attacking and aggression wore the Cavs’ defenders out — it only briefly covered up the sting of his wilting a year ago. He refuses to let the way his body betrayed him with back and leg injuries be driven from his mind. Lowry was almost helpless in his team’s four-game sweep by the Washington Wizards last year. Injuries or no, it is a black stain on his record that doesn’t easily come off.

That’s what inspired him to report to this season in tremendous shape, and it is what won’t allow him to accept February success as anything but that.

“I know this sounds boring, and you’re going to get tired of hearing it,” Lowry said. “But we have to just focus on the process. We’ve been here before.”

Lowry has twice taken down the Cavs this season. Back in November, he scored six points and had two assists in the final five minutes of a quality win. In this one, with DeMar DeRozan and Cory Joseph battling illness and DeMarre Carroll recovering from knee surgery, the Raptors appeared to be toast without Lowry. They were almost toast anyway; the Cavs held the lead for most of the first 44 minutes.

For the Cavs, it was infuriating to watch, with Lowry getting to the line 15 times and thoroughly outplaying Kyrie Irving, who had just 10 points and one assist.

“We’ve got to get somebody who can guard him,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said.

***

No. 3: Rivers wants replay challenge system The Los Angeles Clippers have developed a reputation as a team unafraid to let referees know when the disagree with a call. But Clips coach Doc Rivers has an idea that might simplify the appeals process. As Marc Spears writes for Yahoo, Rivers is in favor of an NFL-style replay challenge system

While the NBA has instant replay, it currently doesn’t allow coaches to challenge a ruling on a play. Rivers said the NBA has discussed the subject of a coach’s challenge during competition committee meetings in recent years, but it has not come close to being approved. NFL coaches are allowed two challenges per game before the snap of the ball at any time before the two-minute warning of each half or overtime period.

“I would throw it out [a challenge flag] with both hands like a shot. That’s why I couldn’t shoot,” Rivers said Friday morning during the Clippers’ shootaround for the Sacramento Kings game. “It’s a tough one to me. It’s not like officials are trying to make mistakes, but they do at the end of the games.”

A controversial call during the Clippers’ 87-81 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday sparked Rivers’ call for a challenge system.

With 30.4 seconds left and the Clippers down 85-81, Los Angeles forward Jeff Green was called for an offensive foul on a made basket after driving into defender Danilo Gallinari. The NBA admitted on its “NBA Officiating Last Two Minute Report” on Thursday that the referee made a mistake on the offensive foul call on Green. Green potentially could have had a made basket with a free throw. Rivers described it as a “horrible call, which the league acknowledged.”

“I’ve been pushing for a [challenge] flag for a year now,” Rivers said. “We should have a challenge flag. That is the third time this year [against the Clippers] that [the NBA] has come back and said it was a bad call. It doesn’t do anything for us.”

One of the games Rivers noted was a 100-99 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 21 that he said included three missed calls late in the contest. The Clippers (37-20) are in fourth place in the Western Conference standings and 3 ½ games behind the third-place Thunder (41-17).

“The league has done a great job of transparency and that has been phenomenal,” Rivers told Yahoo Sports. “But the problem with it is you don’t get anything from it if you’re the [losing] team. … The one thing I keep saying and make the point of is the refs are trying to make it right, too. It’s not like we’re mad at refs. We just want to get it right.”

***

No. 4: Cuban suggests deeper 3-point line Shooting a 3-pointer used to be something of a novel concept around the NBA, a high-risk, high-reward chance at a bonus point on a field goal attempt. But these days some teams (e.g. the Warriors) throw up threes like they’re layups, and as ESPN’s Tim McMahon writes, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wonders if perhaps moving back the 3-point line would open up the floor even more …

Mark Cuban has a suggestion to reintroduce the midrange shot to the NBA game: Move back the 3-point arc.

“It’s getting too close,” the Dallas Mavericks owner said Friday night of the 3-point arc, which is 23 feet, 9 inches at the crest and 22 feet in the corners, where there is no room to move it back. “Guys are shooting a foot behind it anyways. … That’s something we should look at. It’s worth looking at.

“I don’t think the number of shots would decline, but I think it would reward skill and open up the court some more. So guys would still take [3-point] shots if it’s seven inches back or whatever, but at the same time, it opens up the court for more drives, more midrange game.”

The midrange jumper has become an endangered species of sorts, while NBA players are firing 3-pointers at record rates. The single-season record for 3s is 55,137; according to ESPN Stats & Information, teams are on pace to hit 58,477 this season.

Cuban thinks moving back the 3-point arc is an idea the NBA should consider, not to discourage the deep ball, but to improve the spacing of the game.

“I think it’d open it up more so guys with different skill sets could play,” Cuban said. “It would open up play for more drives. Guys with midrange games would be rewarded and that would stay in the game. There would be more diversity of offensive action in the game.

“You’d see a little bit of decline in the 3. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that we shoot so many 3s, but it’s worth it in the D-League to see what happens [with a deeper 3-point line].”

Cuban quickly dismissed a question about whether the NBA would benefit from adding a 4-point line, perhaps 30 feet from the basket.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jerry Colangelo says it’s too soon to come to any conclusions about the 76ers … Is Gregg Popovich mellowing? … Dwight Howard has parted ways with his longtime agent Dan FeganTiago Splitter had successful hip surgery … Vince Carter’s eponymous restaurant is closing

Numbers notes: The stagger question


VIDEO: Thunder hang on to top Knicks

ALSO THIS WEEK: Raptors bench stands out in East | When you can beat the Warriors

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Oklahoma City Thunder almost left New York without a win. They lost to the 11-33 Nets in Brooklyn on Sunday and were in trouble against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.

The Thunder trailed the Knicks by three after the third quarter and, with both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on the bench, the Knicks’ lead went from three points to 11 in the first 2:29 of the fourth.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan took a timeout and got Westbrook back in the game. It wasn’t too late, the Thunder erased the 11-point deficit by the end of regulation, and won in overtime.

But the situation brought to the surface the question about whether the Thunder have to play any minutes with neither Durant nor Westbrook on the floor. The pair average 70 minutes per game between them and Donovan could stagger their playing time so that he never has to play a full bench unit.

He does stagger their minutes a little bit. Westbrook usually gets replaced with 2-3 minutes left in the first quarter and third quarters, while Durant stays on the floor for the remainder of the period. Then Westbrook returns a little earlier in the second and fourth quarters than Durant does. Over the last eight games, the Thunder have averaged about seven minutes per game with one of the two (but not the other) on the floor.

But stretches like they had in New York could be avoided if Westbrook sat earlier in the first and third quarters, returning to start the second and fourth.

Earlier in the season, I looked at the same issue with the Clippers, who don’t have as good a bench as the Thunder do and who don’t really have to answer the question with Blake Griffin out for another 4-6 weeks.

Donovan answered the question after the OT win in New York, and he’s willing to see his bench sink or swim with his two stars off the floor.

“Kevin, I think, for his rhythm, what he likes is playing that whole first quarter,” the coach said Tuesday. “He likes the rhythm of that. He feels like he gets in the flow of the game. So there’s going to be some times those guys are not going to be on the floor. I’ve said this from the beginning of the year, I got confidence in the guys coming off the bench. I got confidence in other guys. Other guys need to step up. And our bench has been playing pretty well.

“If 40 minutes are going to be played with one of those two guys on the court, we got to be able to play for that [other] six or eight minutes.”

Durant and Westbrook will obviously see a minutes increase in the playoffs, but it remains to be seen if Donovan also staggers their playing time more as well in the postseason. In fact, the night after the game in New York, Donovan staggered his stars’ minutes even less. In Minnesota on Wednesday, he had one of the two stars on the floor for just three total minutes. But the Thunder were a plus-2 in the 10 minutes that both were on the bench in another close win against a bad team.

Best bench in the East


VIDEO: The Association: Toronto Raptors

One team that has staggered the minutes of its stars is the Toronto Raptors, who have kept either Kyle Lowry (who sits at the end of the first and third quarters) or DeMar DeRozan (who sits at the start of the second and fourth) on the floor at all (non-garbage) times.

That’s one reason for the Raptors’ success with reserves on the floor, which was the topic of this week’s stats video…


VIDEO: GameTime: Schu’s Advanced Stats – Raptors bench

Against the Knicks on Thursday, the Raptors’ starting lineup was outscored by nine points in 13.4 minutes, but they still won by 10. Through 46 games, their starting lineups are a minus-23 and they’ve been the fourth worst team, getting outscored by 9.3 points per 100 possessions, in the first six minutes of the first quarter. Only the Suns (minus-11.8), Sixers (minus-14.3) and Lakers (minus-21.9) have been worse.

But the Raps are about even in first quarters overall, because they’ve outscored their opponents by 9.2 points per 100 possessions in the last six minutes of the period, when the reserves start taking the floor. A lineup of DeRozan and their top four subs (Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo) is a plus-14 in 126 minutes this season.

The second quarter, though, is when the Raptors have really been separating themselves. A lineup of Lowry and those same reserves has outscored opponents 279-194 in 127 minutes. Lowry (plus-255) has the best plus-minus on the team, and he’s followed by Patterson (plus-213), Joseph (plus-185) and Ross (plus-164). The Raptors rank second, behind only the San Antonio Spurs, in aggregate bench plus-minus.

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The Raptors have won 10 straight games, with a top-5 offense and a top-5 defense in that time, taking a strong hold on second place in the Eastern Conference. It’s not only the third straight season that they’re heading for the playoffs. It’s also the third straight season that they’ve been at their best with reserves on the floor.

When you can beat the Warriors

The Warriors are kind of the opposite of the Raptors, in that the first six minutes of the second and fourth quarters are when they’re at their worst. In their two meetings, the Raptors outscored the Warriors 53-40 in the first six minutes of the second and fourth quarters.

Like Oklahoma City and Toronto, the champs have two elite players, and they’ve subbed them in and out more like the Thunder than the Raps. Golden State has outscored its opponents by an amazing 25.1 points per 100 possessions in 1,331 minutes with both Stephen Curry and Draymond Green on the floor. And in 361 minutes with one of the two on the floor, they’re a plus-8.1 per 100 possessions.

But in the 536 minutes that both Curry and Green have been off the floor, the Warriors have been outscored by 10.5 points per 100 possessions, a point differential worse than that of the Sixers this season.

Some of that is garbage time. But if you look at just the first three quarters and fourth quarter minutes where the score is within 10 points, the Warriors still have been outscored by 6.9 points per 100 possessions in 308 minutes with neither Curry nor Green on the floor.

The champs have been ridiculously good with their two best players on the floor. No kidding. But the Warriors’ bench hasn’t been able to hold onto leads with Curry and Green off the floor as well as they did last season.

Through Thursday, Curry and Green lead the league on on-off-court NetRtg differential. The Warriors have been an amazing 29.8 points per 100 possessions better with the MVP on the floor than they’ve been with him on the bench. That number is 10 points per 100 possessions higher than that of last season’s leader (Chris Paul, 19.8) and almost 13 points per 100 possessions higher than Curry’s mark last season (17.1).

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