Posts Tagged ‘Craig Sager’

Morning Shootaround — May 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lebron carries Cleveland | Houston blasts off thanks to Harden | New Orleans fires Williams | Will Wall return tonight?

No. 1: LeBron Carries Cleveland Going into last night, the Cavs and Bulls series was tied two games apiece, sure, but the Cavs found themselves beset by injuries and in need of some help. Enter LeBron James. The King went for 38 points, a dozen rebounds, six assists and three steals, and carried the Cavs to a 106-101 Game 5 win, giving the Cavs a series lead and leaving them one win away from advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. As Steve Aschburner writes, Chicago’s Jimmy Butler may be one of the league’s best defenders, but stopping LeBron James is not only nearly impossible, it’s nearly thankless as well…

So he got dressed slowly? Butler should have been doing everything slowly, from walking to talking. He is doing so much in the series and it’s not enough. His Bulls team is down 3-2 and Butler is signed up for another four or eight quarters of hell.

“Nobody cares,” Butler said of the wear and tear, along with the psychic scars, this series has inflicted. “Nobody feels sorry for me anyway. I’m supposed to produce at both ends of the floor. Make shots. And guard. I’ve just got to do better.”

Do better. Chicago likes to think of itself as a blunt, no-nonsense town and that’s a big-shoulders way of approaching his duty on James. When he subbed back in to start the second quarter, knowing that a third foul would sit him down again, Butler wasn’t surprised to be lined up again against James. No rest for the weary.

“It’s just part of the game plan,” said Butler, taciturn as the Texan he is when talking serious business. “Just got to guard without fouling. Sometimes that’s the way it goes. But that’s that. Can’t change it.”

James roared to his best game of the five so far in the series and patted himself on his own back for avoiding even a single turnover. Meanwhile, Butler was down the hall, quietly licking his wounds and searching for ways to do better in a largely no-win situation.

“I don’t mind him being my shadow,” James said. “I don’t mind it at all. I’ll take all competition. I love going against Jimmy. I think it brings out the best in myself. And I try to reciprocate back to him.”

***

No. 2: Houston blasts off thanks to Harden The Los Angeles Clippers won Game 4 of their series against the Houston Rockets by 33 points, taking a 3-1 series lead in completely convincing fashion. Last night in Houston, with the Clippers holding the chance to close out the series, the Rockets fought back, making an adjustment to the starting lineup and getting a triple-double from a flu-addled James Harden in a big 124-103 win. As Jonathan Feigan writes in the Houston Chronicle, it may have taken them four games, but perhaps the Rockets finally found their groove against these Clippers…

“We weren’t aggressive enough the first four games,” Harden said. “We were timid. They have really good bigs. We made a conscious effort to go into attack mode.”

Rockets coach Kevin McHale tweaked his rotation a bit to play Harden for shorter stints, having him come out in the first quarter when Dwight Howard usually does. But when Harden returned, he took over, scoring 14 second-quarter points to take the Rockets to a 15-point lead. He still played 43 minutes, getting his first playoff triple double with a career playoff high 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

“James started warming into the game,” McHale said. He was moving the ball. We attacked. Finally, we got to the basket. We got points in the paint and tried to attack and played a little bit more like we tried to play the entire year.”

“We play better when we play inside-out, attack downhill. We’re one of the best teams at getting points in the paint and we just weren’t doing it.”

When he knocked down a corner 3 with 2:02 left, he had 26 points, the Rockets had a 21-point lead and Harden could finally head to the locker room early.

“He wasn’t feeling well all day,” McHale said. “He had a hell of a game. He had an IV this afternoon and he played a great game for us and we needed it.”

***

No. 3: New Orleans fires Williams The New Orleans Pelicans embarked upon a rebuilding program a few years ago, trading Chris Paul, drafting Anthony Davis, and slowly but surely creating a team that could be a postseason problem for the rest of the Western Conference. This season, the Pelicans not only made the playoffs, but they won a game against the mighty Golden State Warriors. So perhaps coach Monty Williams can be excused for showing up yesterday at the team’s facility thinking a contract extension was in order. Instead, writes John Reid, Williams was fired with a year left on his contract.

When Monty Williams came to the New Orleans Pelicans’ facility Tuesday morning for a meeting with executive vice president Mickey Loomis, he thought the discussion would be about a possible contract extension, league sources said.

Williams, whose contract was set to expire after the next season, had just ended the franchise’s four-year playoff drought and presumed he would be rewarded.

Instead, Williams was fired. He was completely taken aback by the decision, especially after recently receiving praise from ownership for reaching the postseason.

Loomis said the reason for the dismissal was more about the future of the franchise than Williams’ final season.

“I just felt like the end of the day, we had a good season and Monty did a great job, he’s done some really good things for us,” Loomis said. “But going forward, we just felt like our group needed something different to get to the next level.

“We’ve seen improvement from year to year. Obviously, we were excited to make the playoffs. But at the end of the day, the decision is to get to the next step up. We needed to do something a little different.”

Williams had a 173-221 record in five seasons with New Orleans and led the franchise to two playoff appearances, including his first season when he had All-Stars Chris Paul and David West.

Two weeks ago at his season-ending news conference, Williams spoke with excitement about the future of the team, which beat the Spurs to clinch a playoff berth and cap an improbable run down the stretch before being swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Western Conference’s top seed, Golden State. Williams, who guided the Pelicans to a 45-37 regular-season record, praised his players’ improvement over the past few seasons and looked forward to the possibilities.

“He was surprised, totally unexpected,” Loomis said of Williams’ reaction after losing his job.

***

No. 4: Will Wall return tonight? John Wall suffered fractures to his left wrist early in Washington’s Game 1 against the Atlanta Hawks, and he’s missed every game since. But with the series now tied at two victories apiece and the Wizards needing a win tonight in Atlanta, could Wall swap his sharp sideline suits for a spot on the active roster? He made an appearance at Wizards’ practice yesterday and is a step closer to returning to action, writes Jorge Castillo in the Washington Post

For the first time in nearly a week, Washington Wizards point guard John Wall dribbled a basketball with his left hand Tuesday, a minor but crucial step in his recovery. Wall will have the five non-displaced fractures in his left wrist and hand re-evaluated before Wednesday’s Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Coach Randy Wittman said, and a decision will then be made whether the all-star will return for the game against the Hawks in Atlanta.

Wall, who sustained his injury in Game 1 on May 3, is officially listed as questionable. “When they check him again,” Wittman said, “I’m sure they’re either going to say ‘No, we need more time’ or ‘It’s up to you’ from a pain standpoint.”

Wall did some light shooting with his right hand for the final portion of the Wizards’ walkthrough at Verizon Center open to the media Tuesday. He held his lightly bandaged left hand off to the side. The Wizards then closed the practice court while several players, including Wall, and assistant coaches remained. About 30 minutes later, Wall emerged breathing heavily and sweating.

“The swelling is minimal now,” Wittman said. “It’s still a little but nothing where it was. Like we talked about, the doctors wanted to reassess things after that. What he’s doing now is fine according to them, to get a little feel for it so see how it feels, number one, again, from a pain standpoint.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Pau Gasol is hopeful he’ll be healthy enough to return in Game 6 … Now that he knows his knee is sound, Kyrie Irving is playing with peace of mindAlan Anderson underwent successful surgery yesterday … Craig Sager continues his fight against leukemia … The Philadelphia 76ers unveiled new logos yesterday …

Blogtable: Favorite memory of 2014-15?

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: Spurs or Warriors out West? | Upset-minded East team? | Lasting moment of 2014-15?



VIDEOThe Starters reveal their top 10 plays from 2014-15

> Looking back: What was your favorite moment from the 2014-15 regular season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comGreat players doing great things is, uh, great. But I most vividly recall a Cinderella afternoon in January when Miami’s Hassan Whiteside hung a rare points-rebounds-blocks triple-double on the Bulls in Chicago. An NBA D-League refugee who’d bounced through Lebanon and China before opening 2014-15 playing pickup at the YMCA in Charlotte, Whiteside, 25, became the sort of story we don’t get much anymore in a league where everything and everybody is thoroughly scouted, analyzed and plumbed for value. The 7-footer wound up starting 32 games for the Heat, averaging 11.8 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. But as he went for 14-13-12 in less than 25 minutes off Miami’s bench, he seemed as incredulous as us onlookers. “I told my teammates, man, you won’t believe how things work out in life,” Whiteside said. “[I was] at the downtown Y, just chillin’. Workin’ on my game. I couldn’t even get a team to pick up the phone.”

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comMore than one moment, it was 10 magical minutes on Jan. 23. Klay Thompson breaking the NBA record with 37 points in a magnificent third quarter against the Kings. For anybody who has ever shot a ball at a hoop anywhere on the planet, it was the stuff that dreams are made of.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comI’ll go way outside the box: The retirement of Steve Nash. When the obvious happened and Nash made his exit official, the outpouring of appreciation was a special thing. Players, coaches, executives, league brass and the media offered the kind of words that drove home the level of respect he commanded. It reminded everyone, or at least should have, that this was a unique talent and person. Nash didn’t get to go out on his terms, which is disappointing because he earned that opportunity. But when he did retire, he exit was surrounded in appreciation, not sadness.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’ll give you my runner-up first: When Russell Westbrook, just days after getting a golf ball-sized crater in his face, put on a mask and dropped a 49-16-10 triple double. Yeah it was against the Sixers, but it counts anyway. My choice, though, is when Craig Sager returned from cancer, a moment even more poignant considering his relapse. Godspeed to him.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Seeing Marc and Pau Gasol jump center against each other in the All-Star Game was pretty cool. To have two brothers from another country at the top of this league is a pretty amazing story and the best example of how far the game of basketball has come since the Dream Team ran through Barcelona in 1992. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. If you can play ball, you can play ball.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Tough question when you have a list that could go a few pages, what with a wicked MVP race raging on all season and the unbelievable runs made by the Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers and, most recently, the San Antonio Spurs. But for sheer enjoyment, the day the best from the East (Hawks) and West (Warriors) hooked up at Philips Arena on a Friday a week before All-Star Weekend was my favorite day of regular season basketball in years. From both teams embracing the magnitude of the moment at shootaround early that morning to the entertaining-from-start-to-finish 124-116 win the Hawks earned that night, it was a day that began and ended with a big time feel, perhaps even a preview of what we could see in The Finals between two teams with fan bases starving for a spot on that ultimate stage.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comKyrie Irving’s 57points in Cleveland’s 128-125 OT win at San Antonio last month was the best showing of the year. We’ll be referring back to that spectacular night if those teams reunite in June.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogCan I go with a video clip? How about this moment:

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This happened in January, just as the Hawks were beginning their historic undefeated month. If there was any question that this collection of players was a team that not only believed in each other but was also terrific on the court, this play answered it for me. (Also, shoutout to Mike Muscala with the “stoic googles” celebration.)

NBA-Blogtable-Favorite-Moment-BannerFor more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Sager returns to TNT on Thursday


VIDEO: Sager At Christmas

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Another NBA star is making his return to action on Thursday.

Craig Sager will make his 2014-15 debut on the sidelines of TNT’s broadcast of Oklahoma City-Chicago at 8 p.m. ET. The league hasn’t been the same without Sager and his sartorial splendor, and he gave us a reminder of what we’ve been missing when he interviewed Carmelo Anthony remotely before the All-Star Game.

Sager was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia last April. Since then, he’s gone through a bone marrow transplant, chemotherapy and a bout with pneumonia. He hoped to return in person for All-Star weekend last month, but needed to wait a few more weeks so that his immune system would be strong enough to handle being around a crowd.

Back in November, our Shaun Powell chronicled Sager’s fight

He’s paid to be curious, and curiosity leads to questions. But interestingly enough, Sager didn’t ask a single question of the doctors when he was diagnosed with adult acute myeloid leukemia soon after feeling woozy last April.

Not even, Am I going to get through this?

“I didn’t have to,” he said. “I knew something was wrong. I figured whatever they’re doing to me, it’s designed to help me. I put my trust in them and did whatever they asked.”

This is where Stacy comes in. She is blond and beautiful and a former member of the Bulls dance team, and beneath the glossy exterior is a fierce and protective wife and mother of two. And an investigative reporter, because she took the mic from her husband and was relentless.

“I asked enough questions to the point where I probably drove the physicians crazy,” she said. “I had to do everything I could. I wanted to know why things were done: Why do you have him on this antibiotic? Just little things like that. I had to, because he is my life.”

This week, Sager spoke with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and explained why he had to make a change of plans in regard to the suit he’ll be wearing…

I picked out leukemia’s colors which are orange and was going to come back wearing a orange coat and a pinstripe linen shirt. But that was when I thought I was coming back in the fall and it is going to be five degrees in Chicago so it would be a little out of place. It also doesn’t fit. So I have picked out something and got it made with Chicago colors in it. Also, my feet are swollen so I am not going to be wearing my normal crocs or ostrich shoes so Nike said they are making me a special pair of shoes.

Welcome back, Craig. The NBA is a better place with you on our TV.

Craig Sager targeting March 5 return


VIDEO: Sager interviews Carmelo Anthony

TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager, out since being diagnosed with leukemia last April, is scheduled to return for the March 5 game between the Bulls and Thunder in Chicago, his son announced Wednesday.

The 63-year-old Sager, a longtime presence at NBA games with his trademark flamboyant wardrobe, reportedly went into remission late last year. He made an appearance on TV as part of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in November and earlier this month was on “Inside the NBA” during All-Star weekend and on the air targeted “March 1 … if everything goes well in the next two weeks” for a return, as quoted by the New York Post, adding “I think I’m on my road back, and I’m looking forward to being back there healthy in March, April, looking forward to the playoffs.”

The cancer reportedly went into remission after bone marrow and stem cells from his son, Craig Sager Jr., were pumped into the elder Sager.

Craig Jr., who tweeted the news Wednesday, also said his father will work the NCAA tournament — bracket ties and all.

 

 

MVP Ladder: LeBron On Top To Start 2014



VIDEO: The Beat crew breaks down the Year of the King, LeBron James

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Whether you like it or not, it’s his time. There is no disputing it, not after the ride LeBron James has been on the past two-plus years and counting. Everything has come together for the man universally recognized as the best in the game.

He’s got it all, Olympic gold medals, MVP trophies, NBA titles and Finals MVPs, too. So who are we to deny the King his rightful seat atop the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder as we kick off the calendar year 2014?

The worthy challengers have done their part. Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul George, Chris Paul and the rest will do whatever they can to displace LeBron, to knock him off the throne, if you will. But they’ll likely be met with the same reality everyone has had to deal with here recently.

LeBron, fresh off of his 29th birthday celebration, is head and shoulders above the competition in almost every way imaginable, and the longer the season goes on the more obvious it becomes.

Dive in here for more on LeBron and more of this week’s KIA Race To The MVP Ladder!

13 NBA Reasons To Be Thankful


VIDEO: NBA players give thanks for their communities and more

Before we dig into the turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries and pumpkin pie, here’s a baker’s dozen things on the NBA plate to appreciate on Thanksgiving Day:

Kobe Bryant: We get two more years — at least — of the most ruthless, relentless, never-show-a-weakness competitor the league and maybe pro sports has seen since Michael Jordan was chewing up the scenery and opponents in Chicago. In the wake of his signing a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension, we also got a slew of critiques about impact on the salary cap and physical limits of your average 35-year-old body that overlook his unquenchable thirst to play, his drive to get back onto the court for the Lakers. Love him or hate him, you’ll miss him when he’s gone.


VIDEO: The Starters talk about Kobe Bryant’s new deal

The Heat Wave: Never mind that the Celtics did it in 2008 with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, the Celtics did it in 1980 with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, the Celtics did all through the late ‘50s and 1960s with Bill Russell and an entire wing of the Hall of Fame and the Lakers did it with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy. The Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami is just what the doctored ordered in the overreactive, hypersensitive age of social media — something to cheer, complain and obsess about. And, oh yeah, they’re damn good.

LeBron James: For all of the disappointment over not getting to the top in Cleveland, bad judgment and bad taste of “The Decision,” he took his talents to South Beach and has delivered on the promise. Would Jordan or Bird or Magic or Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell have stood up to the 24/7 scrutiny under which James has played his entire career? Be thankful you get to see him now, because 20-30 years from now you’ll be bragging to the grandkids that you did.


VIDEO: LeBron James is off to a monster start again this season

Riquickulous: It’s not just a clever TV commercial for Nike. On almost any night he laces up his sneakers, it never gets old to know that the game’s greatest ball handler and top point guard Chris Paul is quite likely to pull off a variation of the “the pull-back-hop-step-under-the-left-leg-behind-the-back-right-hand-two-dribble-half-pokey-crossover-between-two-defenders-drop-step-take-tweet-through-over-the-shoulder-pop-pass-into-the-sidestep-power-jump-stop-double-clutch-offhand-reverse-floater-layin.”

Anybody need me to repeat that?


VIDEO: Chris Paul puts a ridiculous move on the Rockets’ Jeremy Lin

The Spurs Way: They’re the often unseen lining on the inside of an expensive fur coat, the overlooked soles on the bottom of a pair of $1,000 designer shoes. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and all of the stability and professionalism they stand for in San Antonio prove that you don’t have to live in the headlines to be deserving of them.

John, Paul George & Ringo: Because of where they’re from, because of who they are, the Pacers will likely never be known as the Fab Four or Five, even if they’re lifting the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June. It’s a team-wide commitment to the task that has the Pacers steely-eyed and focused on the rolling up the best record in the league. But watching the growth and transformation of George from talented rookie into team leader and MVP candidate has been nothing short of breathtaking.


VIDEO: NBA Action takes a closer look at Indiana’s fast start to 2013-14

LaMarcus Aldridge: Another MVP candidate from another team with a geographical handicap that keeps the world of headlines and acclaim from beating a path to his door. The Blazers forward could have become discouraged and looked to bail out of Portland after three straight non-playoff seasons in the prime of his career. Instead he’s doing it all and having his best season in the NBA Go ahead, tell me you saw 13-3 coming.


VIDEO: The Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge has helped Portland start off solid

Gregg Popovich vs. Craig Sager: Those terse, contentious in-game chats on TNT between the acerbic Spurs coach and a guy wearing one of Secretariat’s old stable blankets are some of the most uncomfortable and hilarious bits in the history of television. Other sideline reporters have tried to horn in on the act, but this is Ali-Frazier of the genre.

Russell Westbrook: Yes, he’s wild, restless, unpredictable, flamboyant, stubborn and burn-down-the-house crazy at times on the court. But we watch him with our jaws dropped because of those traits. I know you expected me to say Kevin Durant, and I have nothing but respect for K.D.’s silky smooth, just-go-about-his-business approach to the game. But when it comes to the Thunder, you can’t help but be drawn to the lightning.


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook runs wild on the Nuggets in Oklahoma City’s victory

Love Story: Everybody knew he could rebound coming out of UCLA, but not like this. Everybody knew he could shoot and score and pass when he entered the NBA. But not like this. There are still general managers in the league who foolishly label Kevin Love as “unathletic” every year in their annual poll and you have to wonder how they keep their paycheck or any sense of credibility. The Timberwolves power forward is challenging LeBron in the early MVP race with a game that is deliciously well-rounded.


VIDEO: Kevin Love is leading the league in rebounding

Stephen Curry: Slender as a reed and maybe as frail as a snowflake, Curry is delicate yet dangerous, in some ways the 21st century version of George Gervin because he can shoot with such ease and from unexpected angles and barely ever looks like he’s breaking a sweat. It’s his propensity for injuries that makes you want to take in as much as you can see right now, just in case.

Andre Miller: He’s old and slow … and he’s been that way for what seems like decades now. But at 37 and in his 15th season, if you bounced him out of Denver right now and into Chicago, the Bulls would have just the smart, tough point guard they need to stay in the Eastern Conference race. There’s something about watching an experienced, heady veteran surviving and thriving that is satisfying.

Motor City Jerseys: OK, let’s not get carried away and see Kobe wearing “La-La Land,” Dwight Howard “H-Town” or LeBron “South Beach” across his chest. Detroit and the Motor City nickname has history, tradition, staying power. It really means something to a town that has taken its share of lumps and bruises through the years and a franchise with a long-standing championship pedigree. The Pistons in the Motor City jerseys are just, well, cool.

Wait, Were D’Antoni’s Lakers Having Fun?


VIDEO: Lakers surprise Clippers in season opener

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — As joyless and soulless as last season was, the new crew wearing Los Angeles Lakers purple-and-gold — hardly the typical who’s who, but rather who’s that? — needed one energetic, bubbling, pinch-me performance to prove that there is always next season.

Maybe Tuesday night’s jaw-dropping development, a 116-103 going-away win for L.A.’s castoffs over its star-crossed (for one night anyway) Clippers and their $7 million coach, means there is a next life for beleaguered Lakers coach Mike “We want Phil” D’Antoni. A reset button for a bright career gone dim since the day he left Steve Nash and his rocket ship in Phoenix for the empty promise of New York.

With rehabbing Kobe Bryant dressed in all black and watching from the second row of the Lakers’ bench, D’Antoni’s boys played their butts off at both ends. They exchanged jabs with the glamour Clips in the first half to set up Jordan Farmar (16 points, six assists), Xavier Henry (career-high 22 points) and Jordan Hill (12 points, eight rebounds) for one humiliating haymaker after another in a vibrant, hustling and wholly unfamiliar fourth quarter that required not one second from Nash (20 minutes in all) or Pau Gasol (13 of 15 points came in the first half, plus 13 total rebounds).

When Bryant returns from an Achilles tear is anybody’s guess. Even he couldn’t give TNT’s Craig Sager an answer. In the meantime, D’Antoni has a marvelous window to reconstruct his reputation as one of the game’s best innovators. It’s his shot to go roots hoops, back to chalkboard coaching, experimenting and molding a team whose only expectation outside its own locker room is failure.

D’Antoni’s clay is two selfless future Hall of Famers with built-in motivators and an assortment of loose parts — mostly fresh, young legs as opposed to last season’s aging ones — playing with a chip and for a contract. This might as well be a gritty mid-major ready to crash the March party. Those teams typically take on the personality of their coach.

So with a starting lineup of Shawne Williams at power forward, Nick Young giddy to play the role of Kobe — maybe he will one day in the movie — and veteran backup Steve Blake next to Nash, arises this unforeseen, golden chance for D’Antoni. He can re-boot, erase images of the rigid, inflexible, insufferable coach who couldn’t make it in New York, who infamously emasculated Pau and ran off Dwight.

Tuesday’s opener should have been a slaughter the other way around. Chris Paul and company, with those darned golden banners beaming down, should have snarled like a pitbull as the reigning Pacific Division champs with bolder goals ahead. Instead they walked away droopy-eyed and tails hidden between their hindquarters.

It was just one night, but for the Lakers, it revealed more joy, unity and spirit than all of last season combined. D’Antoni clearly had buy-in. His team was running (more than 100 possessions) and gunning (14-for-29 from deep, 93 total shot attempts). They also relished in the dirty work, outrebounding the Clips 52-40 and 18-10 on the offensive glass. Williams and Chris Kaman swatted away more shots — four to three — than DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin.

Of course this mishmash collection of mostly low-rent role players will never be D’Antoni’s seven-seconds-or-less Suns and they certainly won’t look like Phil Jackson‘s Triangle Lakers. But Tuesday’s eye-popping opener suggested this group can do what those great teams did and what last season’s thought-to-be-great team failed at miserably — creating an identity and forging a bond.

The energy was undeniable, on the floor with Farmar’s stunning blow-bys and the front line’s determined board work; and on the bench with Nash and Gasol flashing disbelieving smiles and clapping and cheering as their backups bullied the Clippers’ starters. Where there is energy and hustle and camaraderie, there is a way.

In the unlikeliest of twists, the 16-time champion Lakers emerged on this night as the capable underdog we love to see succeed.

Who knows what happens at Golden State tonight (10:30 ET, NBA TV) or two weeks from now or by the time the Heat visit on Christmas Day? Who knows how things change once Kobe, a different Kobe, comes back? A loaded Western Conference ensures a tough fight just to make the playoffs.

But for one night, D’Antoni proved he’s coaching again. And his team showed that maybe this season can be what likely few among those awe-struck fans Tuesday night believed.

Fun.


VIDEO: Xavier Henry on his breakout performance vs. the Clips

24-Second Thoughts On Game 2




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24 — If you believe in good luck charms, then you have to believe that they can wear out, too. After just four home losses during the regular season, the Heat and 12-year-old national anthem singer Julia Dale have three playoffs losses and are just 2-2 in the previous four games. Time for a change?

23 — Does anyone else find it silly that the world of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh seems to end every time Miami loses a playoff game? After all, they’ve dropped Game 1 three times together over the past three seasons and then come back to win each of those series 4-1.

22 — Watching D-Wade firing up his team in the pre-game huddle, knowing the situation they’re in, don’t you just expect the Heat to win big here?

21 — Instant reply? Spurs commit turnover on their first possession, just like Game 1. If they only commit four more rest of the night, just like Game 1, Gregg Popovich will be a very happy — I know, that’s a relative term — man.

20 — For all the talk about how the Spurs stole the win in Game 1 with Tony Parker’s clutch shot at the end, too many people overlooked the Spurs’ poor shooting all night long. San Antonio was just 41.7 percent from the field and 30.4 on 3-pointers. If those start to drop … well, well, well, here comes Danny Greeeeen! 3-for-3 from downtown in first four minutes.

19 — This is obviously a pace and style that will make the Heat very happy. Spurs commit fifth turnover of the game with 3:23 left in the 1st quarter. They had five in all of Game 1 and the sloppy play is letting Miami be the aggressor.

18 — What’s left for the LeBron critics to pick at when he’s making the right rotations in the defense, getting that big block on Tim Duncan in the paint?

17 — Scoreboard says it’s tied at the end of the first quarter. But is there anybody who doesn’t feel like the Heat are up 22-22?

16 — Maybe he’s on his best behavior because it’s The Finals. Or maybe it’s just Doris Burke wearing basic black instead of one of Craig Sager’s psychedelic horse blankets. But the biggest under-performer of the first two games has been Popovich in his between quarters interviews. I want some nasty.

15 — Gary Neal takes the long range baton from Danny Green. He’s got eight points in his first seven minutes and the Spurs have hit 5-for-7 on 3s already. That’s one way to make up for all of those turnovers.

14 — Never mind winning the lottery. I’ve decided I could live comfortably plush for years if I just had a dollar for every casual viewer who’s ever walked by a TV and asked “Who is that guy?” the first time they’ve seen Chris “Birdman” Andersen.

13 — Give Chris Bosh credit for being active on the offensive boards. He’s already tipped the ball twice back outside to give the Heat a chance to reset for another possession and both times they’ve scored. He’s given up the long jumpers and playing closer to the basket in general.

12 — Just when everybody’s ready to push 31-year-old D-Wade around in a wheelchair covered in an afghan, here he is looking like his old self again with 10 points and four assists in a first half where LeBron (four points) has been hiding.

11 — In that open court, 1-on-1 showdown between LeBron and Danny Green, come on, admit it, how many picked Danny Boy as the winner? Green suckers James into miss the first time, but LeBron gets the benefit of bad call by ref Joe Crawford on the second time down the court.

10 — Danny Green has taken his talents to South Beach! These 3s are layups for him. Layups, I tell you.

9 — The Spurs have Kawhi Leonard backing off LeBron just a bit and have the other defenders closing down the driving lanes. If James is going to make something happen for himself in this one, it seems he would be wise to get himself down in the low post to show off those moves he learned from Hakeem Olajuwon.

8 — Paint this game Green. Danny Boy rejects LeBron under the basket at one end and then takes the ball to the hoop for his 17th point at the other end. How much longer before we’re calling him “The Chosen One?”

7 — For all the damage being done by the Spurs from behind the 3-point line, the two biggest buckets of the game so far might be those last two bombs from Ray Allen and Mike Miller. Mario Chalmers converts three-point play and 75-65 Heat edge after third quarter is the first double-digit lead by either side in The Finals. People rarely talk about Chalmers, but he has a way of stepping into the offensive gaps and drives strong to the hoop when the Heat need him.  Chalmers flies under the radar like one of those CIA drones.

6 — You can hold down LeBron’s scoring. You can open the door for every critic in every corner of the globe to rip him. But he still plays the game, sees the court and makes the right passes to his open teammates for good shots. See: Double-team from Tiago Splitter and Mike Miller 3.

5 — Now you know why Gregg Popovich looked like he was passing a kidney stone when Doris Burke asked him about those five turnovers in the first quarter. It’s up to 15 turnovers in the fourth and the Spurs are getting burned worse than English tourists on South Beach.

4 — Hello, Tiago! I’m pretty sure the last time anybody threw a tomahawk and did less damage was in the 1960s sitcom F Troop. LeBron at the rim with a facial that usually costs at least $150 at your local spa. Easily the best block of the entire playoffs. And that’s the fat lady you hear singing.

3 — Didn’t you always know that Tracy McGrady would lead a team to The Finals and play significant minutes? Well, it’s happened. That is, if you consider sitting at the end of the bench leading and sweeping up behind the elephants in garbage time significant. The only person who looks more lost and out of place is Manu Ginobili, who is forcing things way too much.

2 —  One word to define the Heat: resilient. They have not lost consecutive games since Jan. 8-10 at Phoenix and at Portland. Following their five losses in these playoffs, they’ve come back to win the next game by an average of 21.6 points. Hold off the end of the world, break-up-the-Big Three talk. Now we’ve got a series. Just the way we always knew we would.

1 — OK, maybe it’s just me.  But seeing Pop sit at the podium and explain to the assembled media that missing lots of shots and making lots of turnovers is a bad combination, I can’t help thinking of Dean Wormer in Animal House: “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”

Can Thunder Just Blow Off Westbrook Outburst?

 

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Is it just the dog days of a long season? Are the Thunder bored? Or are the Oklahoma City boys spending too much time together at the frat house?

We’ve been seeing some odd behavior lately from the reigning Western Conference champs. Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka have sniped at each other on the court, more than once, of late. And in Thursday’s 106-89 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, Russell Westbrook absolutely blew his top.

OK, so maybe Westbrook going all hot-head isn’t all that odd. But, he added a new twist when he stormed off the bench during the game to seek refuge and cool off in an arena tunnel. Getting things started was Westbrook barking at teammate Thabo Sefolosha, then putting up a shot so wild that coach Scott Brooks had to pull his All-Star point guard with just under eight minutes to go in the third quarter.

After a brief sitdown next to assistant coach Maurice Cheeks, Westbrook stood up, flipped a chair out of his way and marched off the floor.

At the time, he was having a tremendous game, too. The Thunder were leading 65-44 and Westbrook had 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting. When he left, Memphis went on a 20-10 run. When Westbrook returned to start the fourth quarter it was if nothing happened. He continued his strong play and helped the Thunder increase their lead.

He finished with 21 points, nine rebounds and six assists.

Afterward, TNT’s Craig Sager caught up with Westbrook in the Thunder locker room for a brief exchange.

Sager: What got you so upset?

Westbrook: Nothing, just a little miscommunication.

Sager: Between you and Thabo?

Westbrook: Nah. Just miscommunication.

Sager: At times do you think you need to control your temper more?

Westbrook: I control it like a man, like I did.

Sager: What’s that mean?

Westbrook: (doesn’t answer)

Sager: Put it behind you and go ahead and win?

Westbrook: If that’s what you say, bro.

Perhaps Oklahoman columnist Barry Tramel puts it best:

And maybe the basketball world will be better off if we accept what Westbrook is. Part hot hand, part hothead. Uncorrallable, not just by NBA opponents, but by Thunder brass.

“There’s no question he was frustrated with himself,” Brooks said. “Russell’s an emotional guy … not trying to downplay that. He has to be able to control his frustration. But that’s part of it.”

Exactly. Westbrook’s wild emotions are part of it. Maybe those wild emotions help make him who he is. Which is a ballplayer so good, he can wipe out the NBA’s best of the West the way Peter Pan took care of Captain Hook.

Only this type of disruptive behavior has been going on for years now, dating back to Game 2 of the 2011 Western Conference finals when Brooks benched Westbrook for the entire fourth quarter at Dallas and played Eric Maynor instead.

At some point, Brooks and his staff have to gain some control over Westbrook and his temper, or it will rear its ugly head during the postseason for a team that now has just one goal: NBA championship.

Popovich Breaks The Silence




HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Often a man of few and usually biting words (enjoy the showcase above), Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is apparently much more generous in print, though just as biting.

We were pleasantly surprised, stunned really, when we read through this mailbag on Spurs.com and read some of his thoughts in response to questions from the fans.

In addition to his glowing praise for Kawhi Leonard (“I think he’s going to be a star. And as time goes on, he’ll be the face of the Spurs I think”), Pop was in candid mode in every sense imaginable. It’s what has made him one of the best reluctant interview subjects of all time in any sport.

After all, when is the last time you heard anyone use the phrase “wing-dingers?”

Exactly!

Some of his other gems:

Adam Finch
Location: Washington DC
Question: I know you’re a wine man, but I was wondering, what’s your favorite beer?

Thanks,
Adam

GP: Stroh’s. In the tall bottle.

Joseph Kuhl
Location: Austin, TX
Question: What advice do you have for aspiring basketball coaches (other than get Tim Duncan as your centerpiece)?

GP: Buy a coat and a tie, and get a job.

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